Con & conjure, p.38
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       Con & Conjure, p.38
 

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
Page 38

 

  Great.

  Just great.

  I went to the bar and sat down two stools away from Rache.

  “What’ll it be?” The barkeep’s voice was gravelly, and his sleeves were rolled up to expose scarred forearms. Knife fighter and good at it. His scars didn’t tell me that—that he was still upright and breathing did. No one came away clean in a knife fight. Winners got scars; losers got dead.

  “Whiskey, neat,” I told the barkeep. It wasn’t my voice; it was an exact copy of Rache’s.

  Rache’s own drink paused halfway to his lips. He finished the movement, took a swallow, and set the glass back on the bar as one hand dropped to his side where he’d always kept a stiletto. It was small enough to hide, large enough to get the job done. I didn’t know if he still carried it there, but I think I was about to find out.

  He looked at me out of the corner of his eye, and I pushed back the brim of my hat just enough to give him a good look.

  “We meet again,” I said.

  The corner of Rache’s lips twitched in a grin. “Get tired of the banker?”

  I shrugged. “He wasn’t my type. ”

  My voice carried, and the barkeep stopped wiping glasses, frozen in place, his eyebrows raised. All conversation in the bar had ceased, even the muttering drunk in the corner.

  Rache chuckled. “You’re ruining my reputation again. ”

  “I’m not here to ruin anyone’s reputation, just to finish the talk we started last night. ”

  “That would be the talk that you started. I had other things I’d much rather have been doing. I don’t want to talk about it here. ” He waved the barkeep over. “Tom, can I use your office?”

  The man tossed him a ring of keys and Rache nimbly snatched them out of the air.

  “I like it here just fine,” I told him. “I like company. ”

  Rache shrugged and tossed the keys back to the barkeep. The man caught them without even looking.

  Rache half turned to face me. “All right. What do you want to know?”

  “Your competition. I need his name. ”

  “So you and Eiliesor can take him down. ”

  “Something like that. ”

  Rache snorted and raised his glass in a half salute. “I wish you luck. ”

  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

  “Exactly what I said—good luck if you think you’re going to catch that one flat-footed. ”

  “I’m good. ”

  “He’s better. ”

  “Tell me why, give me his name, and let me be the judge of that. ”

  “And in return, I get . . . ”

  “We get rid of your competition for you. ”

  “And as soon as I leave here, the men with you are going to try to get rid of me. ”

  “What makes you think I didn’t come alone?”

  “Eiliesor and that goblin friend of yours, Nathrach. ”

  I raised my own glass. “Well played. ”

  Rache didn’t move, but his eyes took in the men around us in various stages of consciousness. “If all of these fine gentlemen hadn’t been here when I arrived, I’d think that one of them was the paladin. ” He lifted his glass and took a sip. “The two down the bar have been entertaining themselves for the past half hour watching me drink. ”

  “Who are they?”

  Rache shrugged. “The gut on the short one tells me they aren’t Guardians. Could be watchers. Could be something else. ”

  The last thing I needed was something else.

  I knew I was wasting my breath, but I told him about Sathrik’s plans after baby brother Chigaru was dearly departed—murder, invade, and enslave elves. Rache wasn’t a patriot unless he was paid to be, but there was a first time for everything. Then for good measure, I told him what Taltek Balmorlan had planned.

  For me.

  When I finished, Rache didn’t say anything, but just because he wasn’t talking didn’t mean he hadn’t been listening. He’d heard every word I said, and now he was measuring what he’d been paid to do with what the son of a bitch who was lining his pockets would be paying mages to do to me.

  I hoped the scales in Rache’s head wouldn’t call that deal even. Yes, I broke up with him. Yes, I’d hurt him. He’d hurt me, so I called that even.

  “You want to take out a hit on Balmorlan?” Rache asked.

  “I wouldn’t shed any tears if he washed up at low tide tomorrow morning. ”

  Rache laughed, low and soft. “You’re asking me to do him for free?” He, like Mago, was a firm believer in the power of currency.

  “I’m saying you might want to be more selective who you take money from. ”

  Rache met that statement with silence. I’d just as much as said that Balmorlan had been the man who’d hired him. Rache knew that in addition to his competition’s name, I wanted confirmation on Balmorlan being his latest client.

  “Quite a few of my clients have deserved killing more than the target they were paying me for,” Rache said quietly.

  That was as close as I was going to get to a confirmation. I’d take it.

  I set my drink on the bar. “You give me your word, your blood oath not to kill Chigaru Mal’Salin, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure your competition takes the fall for you. ”

  “And just how do you propose to do that?”

  “I’m a Benares, Rache. We can set people up in our sleep. ”

  “You can say that again. It’s not like I’m going to forget what happened in Laerin anytime soon. ”

  “That wasn’t my fault and you know it. ” I leaned toward him. “Rache, we were no good for each other; you know that, too. I hurt your pride; you broke my heart. I’d call us even. ”

  He arched an eyebrow in surprise. “I broke your heart?”

  “I cried at least twice. ”

  “Impressive. ”

  “Believe it. ”

  Rache ran his finger idly through the ring his glass had made on the bar. “My client was going to pay me a bonus if I took out the prince within four days. ”

  “Let the prince live and you’ll get your bonus,” I said.

  “From you?”

  “An interested party. ”

  “Interested in what?”

  “You don’t need to know. ”

  “Let me decide that. ”

  “Not a part of the deal. ”

  Rache shrugged. “Very well. If you can find the bastard, all the better for me. He’s a goblin by the name of Nisral Hesai. ”

  “Never heard of him. ”

  “You just don’t run in the right circles. ”

  “Meaning hired killers. ”

  “He’s young, not much experience, but by all accounts shows extreme promise. ”

  “Apparently he’s good enough that Sathrik has hired him to kill his baby brother. ”

  “He’s not an assassin,” Rache said, “though he does it when the money’s right. Nisral Hesai’s a thief. The best. He’s a decent enough assassin, but you don’t need much skill when you can get close enough to touch your target. Anybody could kill like that. ”

  I think I might have stopped breathing. “A thief?”

  Rache nodded. “The bastard can change back and forth right before your eyes. And if he can study his target for a while, their own mother couldn’t tell the difference. An exact copy even down to the voice and mannerisms. That trick alone makes him the best damned thief in the kingdoms. Better than some of your family even. They don’t call him the Chameleon for nothing. ”

  The goblin wasn’t stalking Mychael to kill him. He was memorizing Mychael. Sarad Nukpana didn’t send him only to kill Chigaru.

  He was here to steal the Saghred.

  And glamoured as Paladin Mychael Eiliesor, he could walk in to the citadel and take it.

  Chapter 17

  I had to warn Mychael.

&n
bsp; I had to find that goblin before he became Mychael and stole the Saghred. Or before he killed me, and converted his pencil sketch into a memorial painting.

  “From the look on your face, I’d say the Chameleon has his silvery fingers in more than one pie,” Rache noted.

  “And on a couple of poison strawberries,” I muttered.

  “Pardon?”

  “Doesn’t matter; I’m not going to be eating either one. ” I looked him in the eye. “I know this probably goes against your professional ethics, but you wouldn’t consider lending a hand to find this Chameleon, would you?”

  “Old time’s sake and all that?”

  I shrugged. “If that’s what you’d do it for. I was going to give you money, but if you want to—”

  Rache’s grin reached his eyes. “What old times?”

  “How does goblin gold to catch a goblin work for you?”

  “If the gold’s goblin, it works just fine. ”

  “It would be,” I said.

  “Then I would be interested. I take it the prince will be paying?”

  “Not if you try to kill him again. ”

  “I suppose you want assurances of some sort. ”

  “A plain old promise would work for me. ”

  I actually got to see surprise on Rache’s face.

  “You’d take my word?” he asked.

  “I don’t know if I’d take it, but I’d certainly consider it. Do you know where the Chameleon is?”

  “Don’t have a clue. ”

  “Do you think you could get one? Turn that energy of yours from killing a prince to hunting a lizard?”

  Rache laughed. “I don’t think he’d like being called that. ”

  I didn’t laugh. “He can bite me. ”

  “After what you did yesterday, I don’t think he’d want to try. ”

  I didn’t move. “What do you know about yesterday?” I didn’t think Rache was involved in setting up Balmorlan’s demonstration of death and destruction, but if he had been, I wanted to know about it. Rache had taken Balmorlan’s money to assassinate Chigaru. Yesterday most definitely qualified as an assassination attempt. Killing hundreds of people to take out one prince was heavy-handed, but . . .
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