I stared at Melanie as she approached, tail lashing. Tawny smirked at me; she didn’t have to say two against one for me to get the message.
As I’d guessed, other cop cars were on the way now. Norwich and Waters had stopped a couple of blocks away, staring up from a distance they probably thought was safe. It wasn’t. I told you they weren’t great at their jobs.
“You’re in on it, too. I guess I wanted to think better of you.”
The giant otter looked annoyed enough that she didn’t even notice an irritated tail wiggle took out a machine shop, mechanics running into the street screaming as car parts flew around. “I’m not ‘in’ on anything, Nora. I just don’t want you to mess up the good thing we have at the studio!”
“You mean the blackmail operation, or the trafficking ring?”
Melanie’s face fell, anger slipping into wary confusion. “Trafficking?”
“I don’t know what she’s talking about,” Tawny snapped. “And I told you, Mallory, Waterman was the one doing the blackmail.”
“All of you, stop!” Norwich had gotten a megaphone. “Put your hands in the air!”
I sighed, looking down at the bear and rhino. They might as well be ants. “For Christ’s sake, Norwich, you don’t have to worry about our hands, you have to worry about our paws. You want us to keep ’em where you can see ’em?” I pointed down at one of my sandaled feet.
Norwich lowered the megaphone for a moment, then raised it again. I couldn’t really make out his expression, but I didn’t have to. “Just stay where you are,” he shouted.
Tawny leaned toward them. “You don’t have any size-shifters left on the force after you fired Hodges last year.”
He backed away hurriedly.
I lifted a brow. “How’d you know Hodges?”
She smirked, rolling her hips suggestively.
“Never mind.” I held up my free hand. “Look, I believe you weren’t involved with the blackmail, Tawny. But you’re wrong about Waterman being behind it. And…” I opened the box and held it out toward Melanie.
The otter looked inside, at the prisoners holding on for dear life and staring up at us fearfully. Her eyes got huge. “Holy shit.”
“My god.” Tawny’s shocked expression was so genuine-looking, even I almost bought it.
“What the hell’s going on, Mallory?” Waters had grabbed the megaphone.
I looked at the other two giantesses with my best don’t try anything expression, and slowly knelt down, setting the box on the ground in front of the two cops. The two lead cops, by this point; a half-dozen uniformed officers stood behind them, all with guns drawn on me.
They looked at the box warily. “So what’s in it?”
“I’m going to pick you up and show you, and you’re going to tell all the flatfoots behind you not to shoot at my fingers.” I set my hand in front of them, palm up.
Waters stepped back, then looked annoyed when Norwich climbed onto my palm pad. The rhino muttered, “Hold your fire,” and climbed on after him.
Melanie looked stricken. “Tawny, what the hell have you gotten us into?”
“It’s not me! Not us!”
“What…are we looking at, Mallory?” Norwich said, looking down into the box and then up at me.
“Trafficking victims, run through East-West Global. They’re shrunken on the other end—wherever that is—and brought in this box. They just get processed like any other shipment.”
I sighed. “I was holding the box when I grew. That’s why I got this big, to get them back to normal.”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Waters was making a time-out signal with his hands. “I thought anything you all changed the size of returned to normal after a few hours?”
“About ten to twelve hours, if a shifter isn’t with them to keep them small. They’d have to have somebody like me to shepherd them along and keep them trapped at doll size until they reached their destination. Somebody like me…or Tawny Thorne.”
Melanie’s already big eyes got even bigger. Then she clenched her fists. “I did not sign up for this.”
The rabbit’s lower lip trembled, and for about three full seconds she looked like she was about to burst into tears. Then she snarled and launched herself at me. “You goddamn fucking bitch!”
I had just enough warning to let Waters and Norwich drop to the ground safely—I hoped—before a few hundred tons of rabbit slammed into me hard enough not only to knock me over but to send both of us sliding through buildings. The silver lining was that we only demolished what little was left of the distillery, not anything new; the cloud was that my back was now soaked in unaged whiskey. I hoped nothing around us caught fire any time soon. I’d go up like a fireworks factory.
“Tawny—” I started, but I got cut off by protecting my face from her claws. And teeth. I’d faced off with less feral wolves. With a grunt, I rolled to the side, away from the box and the cops, bringing her with me and doing my best to slam her to the ground hard enough to stun her. “It’s over!”
She kept rolling, bringing me with her so I ended up on top of her. She brought her legs up, scrabbling to get her broad paws under me. “Then I don’t have anything to lose, do I?” With a strained grunt, she drove both of those broad paws right into my stomach as hard as she could.
Even without much leverage, “as hard as she could” was hard enough to send me flying. My luck held as far as not landing on the rescuees, but the building I did hit went from unscathed to rubble in no time flat. I didn’t hear any screams, at least, so hopefully it had been unoccupied. Sitting up, I started to brush off the rubble when Tawny came at me again. I had just enough time to put my hands in front of my face; she kicked my ribs instead.
As I fell back into the rubble, she raised her other paw, and I kicked back at her blindly. It didn’t hurt her, but I knocked her off balance enough to get to my paws and give her another punch.
She reeled, but didn’t fall, instead snarling and grappling with me, jaws snapping at my ears. Melanie screamed at her, but she wasn’t listening to the otter, and I couldn’t afford to divert my attention. I managed to push her back, getting her into a wobbly choke hold. “Saints on pogo sticks, lady, I thought you and Cross were all about making size-shifters look good!”
“We could have brought you in, Nora.” She pushed at my hands, hissing. “But no, you had to be a goody-goody. What do you owe any of these little grease stains, huh?”
“My business, for a start—” I got cut off by her driving her elbow into my side. My grip slipped just enough for her to squirm away, and when I made another grab for her she was ready, slamming her head into me. I staggered and fell down, taking out what looked like a boathouse. Dammit. We were perilously close to the docks, weren’t we?
“You’re barely scraping by as a shamus, and what other jobs can you get? Who’s going to trust you? Your old boss Millings did, and he got killed for it!” She reared back with another growl, and I braced—
But Tawny’s kick went over my head. All of Tawny rose into the air. Melanie had grabbed her from behind, massive webbed paws wrapped around the rabbit’s waist, lifting her up—and she kept lifting.
“Melanie!” The rabbit kicked, wriggling. “Come on! Whose side—”
The otter lifted Tawny all the way over her head, then threw her forward with an ear-shattering roar. The gargantuan rabbit sailed over my head right into the harbor. A full-fledged tsunami crashed over the piers, the docks, the boathouses, flooding the streets for a block.
Melanie was already charging after her, wading in. “Please don’t kill her,” I called, but I wasn’t sure she was listening.
I crouched, looking for Waters and Norwich. They’d joined the other coppers in just staring dumbly at the chaos. “So…she…uh…” Norwich ran a hand through his hair, and stared up at me pleadingly. “Explain?”
“And for God’s sake, shrink, please,” one of the cops said.
I smirked, standing up and stepping back, then did as asked. I managed not to double-take at the destruction around me as I walked back up to them; from above it didn’t look as real. From ground level, it looked like a war zone. “East-West Global Trading runs a smuggling ring, the Woodleys are behind it, and Tawny Thorne—the giant rabbit the otter just threw in the water—is in it up to her ear tips. She might even be the ringleader. I don’t know. Tawny and the head of Starling Studios, the photography studio that does shots for the giantess pinup magazine, also blackmail people, which is how the Lambert case led me to all this.”
“Because…they were blackmailing Lambert?”
“Yes, but Thorne didn’t know they were blackmailing him. He’s not the kind of person they usually blackmail.”
“So who do they normally blackmail?” Waters crossed his arms.
“Whoever Samuel Cross tells them to.”
They looked at each other, then back at me. “Can you prove that?” Waters said.
“No. I can’t prove he knew about the smuggling at East-West, either, but I overheard the Woodleys say he was providing protection. One of ’em might roll on him.”
“And the giant otter holding the rabbit under the water?”
I looked to the harbor, watching Tawny splash desperately as Melanie held her down with a murderous expression. “Oh, she’s harmless.”
They stared up at her, then back at me incredulously.
I started jogging toward the half-washed-away waterfront. “Come on. I’ll shrink Thorne down when she passes out. Then let’s go arrest Elsa Lambert’s real killer.”
Norwich cursed under his breath, but they all followed me.