Con & conjure, p.15
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       Con & Conjure, p.15

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 15

 

  I couldn’t exactly walk up to the front desk and ask where Mago Perrone’s suite was. I mean I could, but it would be ill-advised. Hotel staff generally wanted to know personal details that are best not shared in my kind of situation, like your name and what business did you have with the hotel guest in question. Then they would oh so politely offer to send a bellboy up with a message. Pretty much everyone knew who I was, and having me connected in any way, shape, or form with Mago would have scuttled our plan before we got a chance to break even one law.

  Over the years, we’d worked out a sign in our family for letting another family member know where we were. For an inn or hotel, the tip of a handkerchief discreetly visible in the upper right corner of the door said that a Benares was in residence. To keep me from wandering suspiciously from floor to floor looking for his door merely took a little deductive reasoning. Mago never stayed on the ground floor, to prevent anyone from breaking in. Someone stealing from Mago would be the ultimate irony. My cousin also never stayed on floors too high up to prevent him from easily getting out. Escape was a good option for a Benares. He always carried a ladder woven out of Caesolian silk; it was light, fit neatly in his luggage, and could be pulled down quickly after him. That ladder had seen a lot of use over the years. It would reach three stories, no more. Chigaru was on the fifth floor—naturally the top floor—that would put Mago on the third. He’d want to be close to the prince, but close enough to the ground so that his getaway ladder would reach.

  Unlike Prince Chigaru’s floor, there were no guards on Mago’s hall; in fact, there was no one in the hall except for me. The golden glow from recessed lightglobes set into the walls at regular intervals revealed a faint gleam at each end of the hall. Sentry beacons. Sometimes magic was a major inconvenience. Hotel security could see everything going on in every hall. Though one of the first spells I learned as a seeker was for disabling any magical device that let anyone see me when I didn’t want to be seen.

  Focus, a touch of will, and a muttered spell later, all the security guard downstairs would see was a lot of empty hall. There would be no record that I’d been here.

  I found the tip of a pale blue handkerchief peeking out of the door of the suite closest to the stairs—another prudent Mago precaution. I used the knock that would tell him it was me, and my cousin answered the door a few moments later, drink in hand, color back in his face.

  I slipped quickly into the room so Mago could step up to the threshold, look both ways in confusion, shrug, and close the door.

  Mago’s hair was still damp from a bath, and he was wearing a dark blue silk lounging robe. Most of a meal was still on a small dining table by the window. I stayed by the door and Mago crossed the room and closed the drapes. Standing on a floor that didn’t pitch and roll definitely agreed with my cousin.

  “You’re looking almost lifelike,” I noted.

  Mago raised his glass in salute. “You’re a silver-tongued flatterer, as always. ”

  I nodded toward the table. “Still can’t keep anything down?”

  “I ordered more than I wanted. ” Mago smiled. “I knew either you or Phaelan would put in an appearance and would be ravenous from one nefarious activity or another. ” He raised a flawless eyebrow. “And what sort of trouble have you escaped this afternoon?”

  I glanced down at myself. No blood that I could see. “What makes you think I’m in trouble?”

  “I don’t think anything. I know you. ”

  I grinned. “Touché. ”

  “Quite so. Would you care for dinner? The poached salmon is excellent. ”

  “You don’t have to ask me twice. ” I sat down and fell to.

  I was sure that Phaelan would put in an appearance later in the evening, but he would be more interested in refreshment of a liquid variety while he and Mago regaled each other with stories of monetary acquisition that, if heard by an officer of the city watch, would land them both in jail. Naturally, the stories would embellish reality to an obscene degree, but it was the telling of the stories and the drinking until neither of them could find the door that was more important, not that trifling thing known as the truth.

  I regaled Mago with a story of my own, first about Carnades’s threats against Phaelan unless I surrendered myself to the elves, and then about the pending goblin invasion unless I gave myself up to the goblins.

  By the time I’d finished, Mago had drained his glass and was at the suite’s bar pouring himself another.

  “Don’t worry about Carnades,” Mago assured me. “This isn’t the first time someone came up with the bright idea to sell my little brother to the highest bidder. ” He laughed. “One time, I was the winning bidder. ”

  I was incredulous. “You actually paid someone for Phaelan? You’re slipping, cousin. ”

  Mago raised a finger. “Ah, there’s a big difference between ‘bought’ and ‘paid for. ’ I made the purchase, acquired the merchandise, and double-crossed the seller, leaving her with no Phaelan and no gold. I think the entire operation went exceedingly well. ”

  “Her?”

  Mago nodded. “Phaelan protested that I purchased him far too soon. He was about to make headway of an intimate nature with the lady in question. ”

  I blinked. “He was going to boff his own kidnapper?”

  “Phaelan considered the bidding process a novel kind of foreplay. ”

  “I don’t think I need to hear any more. ”

  “It’s a very entertaining story. You should really let me tell it to you when you have a few hours. ” He gave me a reassuring smile. “Raine, don’t worry about Phaelan. He’ll be coming here later tonight and I’ll tell him. ”

  “Can you also keep him from doing anything stupid?”

  He laughed. “I’m incredibly good, but I have yet to work an actual miracle. ”

  “Then do what you can. ”

  “That much I can promise. ”

  “Okay, back to the goblin part of my problem. You can siphon all the money out of Taltek Balmorlan’s account into one to fund Prince Chigaru, but it’ll be too late to help anyone if Nukpana gets that Gate built. ”

  “Due to the prince’s injury, my meeting with him has been postponed until breakfast tomorrow. King Sathrik keeps an absurdly large amount of imperial goblin gold on deposit at our bank, but he rarely makes withdrawals from it, only deposits. ”

  “How much is in there?”

  “The last time I checked, it was in the area of thirty million kugarats. ”

  I whistled.

  “The goblin army is doing most of the manual labor on the Gate?” Mago asked.

  “As far as I know. ”

  “Do you know how the goblin army is paid and from what source?”

  “No, but I could find out. Or better yet, you could ask Tam—and tell him precisely who you are. That’d make me coming to visit you a lot simpler. ”

  Mago looked like he’d swallowed a bug. “You’re quite serious, aren’t you?”

  “Deadly serious. After what happened this morning, we don’t have time for your prim-and-proper banker act. If necessary, keep it going for the prince, but Tam needs to know the truth. ”

  “And you know Chancellor Nathrach how well?”

  “Very well. ” I proceeded to give Mago the shortened version of meeting Tam two years ago in Mermeia, up to sharing an umi’atsu bond with him until a month ago. The only person who knew Tam better than me was Imala Kalis and Tam himself.

  “And having been chief mage to the goblin queen for five years, Tam would know where Sathrik gets his money right down to the pocket change he keeps on the royal nightstand. ”

  “Men—even disciplined soldiers—will work only so fast if their pockets are empty,” Mago said. “It won’t matter what psychotic goblin mage is cracking the whip. But first I need to know where the king keeps the money that he uses to pay his army. No doubt he pays them from the palace trea
sury, but he has to replenish that from somewhere. ”

  “If you don’t know about it, chances are it’s not from your bank. ”

  Mago took a sip and smiled like a man with a secret, the fun kind. “I have friends, in banks all over the world, who would be only too glad to help a colleague in need. In fact, they might even be willing to help with our noble cause. ” He winked. “Especially if there was something in it for them. ”

  I knew I shouldn’t be surprised, but I had to ask. “Does everyone in this business need their palms greased?”

  “Only if you need something from them in return. ”

  I pushed the now empty plate away from me and sat back in the plush chair with a satisfied sigh. I’d been hungrier than I’d thought. “I need to know the details of your plan for Taltek Balmorlan and Carnades Silvanus. Intercepting Sathrik’s payroll is critical, but I need Carnades’s wings clipped. Now. ”

  “I take it from that vindictive gleam in your eyes that the trouble you encountered this afternoon involved Silvanus’s colleague Inquisitor Balmorlan?”

  “Correct. ” Though at the thought of who Balmorlan had been hiding and paying, my face did a little wince and cringe. Mago most definitely knew about Rache Kai. They had been friends and Mago had been the one who introduced us. He’d never forgiven himself for that—or Rache. I hadn’t been the only one Rache had fooled. Mago swore that no one would ever fool him again, and no one ever had.

  Mago sat perfectly still, the firelight glinting on his spectacles. “What is it?”

  I told him.

  You don’t usually think of bankers as being the types to cuss a blue streak, but there weren’t that many bankers with the last name Benares, either.

  Let’s just say that Mago did the family name proud.

  “You think Balmorlan hired Rache?” he asked.

  “I don’t have proof, but Rache’s trail went cold on Embassy Row. Both the elves and goblins had defensive wards up and at full power, but I can’t see Imala’s people taking out a hit on the prince. ”
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