Con & conjure, p.33
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       Con & Conjure, p.33

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
 
Page 33

 

  Mago’s smile was borderline mischievous. “Nothing’s been shot to hell yet. ”

  I raised an eyebrow. “You have another plan?”

  “Let’s just say I haven’t given up. ”

  “Speaking of not giving up. ” I pulled Rache’s glove out of the front of my doublet. “This belongs to Rache Kai. I took it out of his room at the Grove last night. ”

  Imala raised one flawless eyebrow. “My, you do have other irons in the fire. ”

  “Rache was a bonus. We didn’t expect him to be there, but while we killed time waiting for supper with Balmorlan, I wanted to have a talk with my ex. He admitted to being hired to assassinate Chigaru. He wouldn’t spill who did the hiring, but Taltek Balmorlan is the front runner. ”

  “Well, there are two suspects I can remove from the list,” Imala told me. “Sathrik didn’t hire Rache Kai; neither did Sarad. ”

  “Distaste of hiring an elf?” Mago asked.

  “That and they would hire the assassin they thought best qualified to complete the job. I am more than familiar with Rache Kai’s qualifications. However, goblins prefer a more personal touch. They have someone on the inside and it appears that someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to make it look as if the threat to the prince’s life has now ended his own. ”

  “Chatar didn’t commit suicide,” I told her.

  “I would be surprised if he had. As you no doubt remember, he never shied away from confrontation of any kind. ”

  Like wanting to obliterate me that day on the pier. “I got that impression. ”

  “That included being accused of the assassination attempt. Chatar vehemently maintained his innocence, and he didn’t seem to feel the weight of any guilt. Hardly the behavior of a man about to commit suicide. ” Imala was silent for a moment. “You have done so much for our people already, but I have to ask—”

  I knew where this was going. “If I could tell you who the murderer was by touching the corpse?”

  “Yes. I’m sorry, Raine. If there was any other way—”

  “I’ll do it. ” My voice said the words, but I wasn’t eager.

  I still had nightmares about a corpse I’d touched to find how and where he had died. It’d been one of Sarad Nukpana’s victims whose life force he’d fed on to regenerate his body. The goblin had left a surprise message for me, delivered by a corpse who grabbed me and didn’t let go until Nukpana had promised to do the same to everyone I loved and then me.

  No, I wasn’t eager to have a repeat of that experience.

  But Sarad Nukpana hadn’t infested Chatar’s body.

  At least not that I was aware of.

  Way to be paranoid, Raine.

  “Thank you,” Imala said.

  “You might want to hold off on those thanks. The last corpse I touched reached up and touched me right back. There was unsightly screaming involved. ”

  “I would have done the same. ”

  I smiled, my first real one of the morning. “Somehow I doubt that. ”

  “You believe the murderer to be here, among your own people?” Mago asked Imala.

  “It’s likely that they’re here in this very building at this very moment. Now that they have eliminated Chatar, they would again be focused on their primary task. ”

  “The prince is well protected?”

  “By my most trusted agents. His Highness is quite safe. ” Imala smiled in a vicious flash of tiny fangs. “His potential killer is not. ”

  Mago chuckled. “You do appear to be a lady who enjoys her work. ”

  “What the lady will enjoy is catching the bitch or bastard who’s made themselves so inconvenient. ”

  “And he—or she—tried to make Chatar’s death look like a suicide so you wouldn’t dig any further,” I said.

  “I’ve got news for them; I haven’t even begun digging yet. ”

  “If someone felt Chatar needed killing, it was in all likelihood because that someone wanted him quiet,” Mago noted.

  I glanced sharply at Mago. “Think he might have said something to the girl? You know . . . pillow talk? You’d tell your bartender your troubles. Is the same true for working girls?”

  My cousin smiled. “I make it a point not to share my troubles with anyone outside of the family. One can’t be too cautious. ” He turned to Imala. “Did Chatar make it a habit of frequenting bordellos?”

  “Not that I am aware of,” Imala replied. “He has a mistress in Regor who he hasn’t seen in some time. With the prince being in exile, his retinue hasn’t exactly stayed in places where such . . . creature comforts are available. Since they arrived, more than a few have visited the finer establishments Mid has to offer. ” She smiled, her dark eyes shining. “We are a most passionate people. ”

  I slowly pushed myself out of the chair. “Well, hopefully I can get Chatar to tell me what his last trouble was. ”

  Imala led us into what looked like a ballroom. There were a few chairs against the walls, but a table in the center of the room had my full and complete attention. There was a body on that table—Chatar’s body. It was covered with a long piece of black silk. I don’t know what that table’s purpose had been before it’d been drafted into service as a funeral bier, but if it’d ever been used to serve food, I sure as hell wouldn’t eat off of it ever again.

  The goblin guards’ hands went to their sword hilts at the sight of me and Mago. I couldn’t blame them, considering I still smelled like scorched leather, and Mago didn’t look any less disreputable.

  “Stand down,” Imala ordered. “Mistress Benares and Master Peronne are here at my invitation. Leave us for a few minutes. Mahet, I want you to stay. I will tell the rest of you when to return. ”

  All but one of the black leather-armored goblin guards left. Imala closed the massive doors.

  An amused voice came from a shadowy corner. “I’d hug you from behind, but I’d probably get a knife in the ribs. ”

  Tam.

  Goblin guard be damned. I ran across the room and wrapped my arms around him in a crushing hug. I got the same in return. Considering that I’d last seen him battling a buka that wouldn’t die on the top floor of a hotel on fire, I thought it was an entirely appropriate response.

  I raised my head and grinned up at him. “You’re alive. ”

  “Of course I am. Didn’t Imala tell you that I was at—”

  “Yeah, but being told and seeing for myself are two different things. ”

  Tam chuckled. “It wasn’t like you left us all that much more to do. ”

  “Just kill a buka. ”

  “Well, there was that. Mychael and I finally managed to dispatch the thing, then all we had to do was haul our asses down burning stairs. We met Imala and the prince at the basement door. ” His hands tightened on my shoulder. “I heard what happened outside . . . what you did. Thank you. ”

  “You should be thanking the rock. ”

  He studied my face, his dark eyes solemn. “I’m thanking the lady in charge of the rock. I had an easier time fighting the buka than I did wrestling Mychael into that tunnel. The ceiling was caving in and he was still determined to get to you. ”

  “Then I’m the one who should be thanking you. ”

  “Mychael already did. ” Tam grinned. “That is after he apologized for trying to knock my head off. ”

  “Ouch. ”

  “And it still does. ”

  Mago cleared his throat from behind me. “I’d rather not stand next to a dead body for any longer than I have to. ”

  I didn’t like being in rooms with dead bodies, either. “Well, once we see what secrets Chatar here can tell us, we can all get the hell out of here. ”

  Without any ceremony at all, Imala stepped over to the table and pulled down the covering. Chatar was still naked, but thankfully Imala had only pulled the sheet down to just above his waist.

  I didn’t give myself t
he chance to think about what I was about to do. I went to the end of the table where the goblin mage’s head was, placed my palms on either side at his temples, and tried not to think that I was touching cool, lifeless flesh. Chatar’s mind no longer functioned; but while he lived, it had been the center of his life force and his memories. Standing at the head of the table also had the benefit of putting me out of reach should his corpse suddenly get grabby. I knew that would probably never happen to me again, but I’d taken enough unnecessary chances lately.

  The first image I got wasn’t an image at all, but a scent. Wild rose. The girl. I remembered her perfume from standing near her at the Satyr’s Grove. The girl was lying on the bed; the scent of her perfume in the air was like a freshly gathered bouquet. She was smiling and stretching like a cat that had been on the receiving end of a most proficient petting. Apparently Chatar was good in bed; something I really didn’t need to know.

  There was a small table with a dish of candied fruit. Chatar selected a pair of chocolate-covered strawberries and bit into one of them. An instant later he gasped and jerked upright, his throat closing, unable to speak, unable to breathe. The mage’s limbs were paralyzed; he couldn’t move or fight back as his vision went dark, the strawberries dropping from his dying fingers.

  Poisoned.

  Death by after-sex snack. Damn.

  As he fell, strong hands caught him around the chest and lowered him quietly to the floor.

  Hands that definitely didn’t belong to a girl.

  Chatar had only turned his back on the girl for a moment; there was no one else in the room, and certainly not a man strong enough to hang him from that rafter. He knew there was no one there. He knew because he had checked, searched every corner of that room.

  Chatar had known that someone would try to kill him.

  I moved my right hand down to his chest, where the killer’s hands would have grabbed him.

  A man . . .

  How the hell had he gotten in the ro—
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