“Wolves Make Great Actors

story by Mabel Harper & Cassidy Webb
written by Cassidy Webb

“How about we keep it to a nice game of checkers today?” grunted Elisha as he settled into his usual chair in front of Noman’s desk.

Noman smiled knowingly. The checkers box floated over from his board game shelf and alighted gently on the desk between them. “Tough week, my friend?”

“Oh, you know.” Elisha gave a dismissive little wave of his hand. “Every man comes to that time in his life when he finds out his protégé murdered fifty-two people. No big.”

“Oh—of course.” A frown clouded Noman’s usually serene expression. The checkerboard drifted out of the box and laid itself open on the table, as a pair of empty Mountain Dew cans zipped out of its path and into the nearby recycling bin. “Duncan’s like a son to you, isn’t he? I really can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

You truly have no idea. “Yeah, well.” Elisha pursed his lips, gave a slight shrug. “What’s a boy to do? Life’s a bitch.”

Noman gave a small, sympathetic smile. “Black or red?”

Elisha thought for a moment. “Black.”

“I hope you at least get to relax and enjoy your birthday bash tomorrow,” said Noman. “Try to put it all behind you, even if it’s just for a few hours.”

Elisha blinked. “Is that stupid thing tomorrow? Fuck.”

He tensed suddenly and patted his chest, thinking he might have felt his pocket watch buzz—but it turned out to be a false alarm. The watch, as it happened, was more than a watch; or, more accurately, it wasn’t a watch at all. It was one of a dozen identical communication devices he’d enchanted and distributed among Caliban’s hired mercenaries, so that any of them could alert him discreetly the instant they picked up Amelia’s trail. When contacted, Elisha’s own watch would vibrate silently in his pocket, and a glance at its face would reveal, by the direction of the hour hand, which of his hirelings was paging, allowing him to get back to that individual as soon as he got a moment to himself, and access to a secure enough method of two-way communication.

“You sure you don’t want to just relax and talk today?” asked Noman. The checkers aligned themselves neatly on the board. “You seem pretty distracted.”

“What’s to talk about?” Elisha gave a lazy flick of his fingers. His first checker inched forward clumsily on the board. “None of us know anything yet. Why he did it. Who he was working for.”

This was, in fact, by design. Devisha had carried out Elisha’s instructions regarding the press release to the letter. By Elisha’s reckoning, as long as the public knew Duncan was in custody but not whether he had confessed yet or what the content of his confession might be, Amelia’s people would believe they still needed Monique and Andrew for leverage—so they’d keep them alive. Which bought Elisha time to hunt down the perps and bring Duncan’s family home safe.

Another factor in his reasoning had been that, of course, he didn’t want to implicate Khmun, even as a ruse, when it was seeming pretty likely they hadn’t been involved after all. That could only lead to an interfaction-relations nightmare.

Needless to say, the membership wasn’t too pleased about the ongoing media blackout. They wanted answers, and they wanted them now.

But if Elisha had played his cards right, his little scheme wouldn’t have to drag on for very long.

He realized Noman was gazing at him patiently, hands folded on the table in front of him, and noticed one of the red checkers had already made its move. “Ah, shit. Sorry, Nome.”

“No worries.” The mini fridge behind Noman’s desk opened. A pair of beers drifted over. “You look like you could use one of these,” noted the gnostic sage, with a small smile.

“Ehhh … I probably shouldn’t,” said Elisha, only pretending to consider it. He knew perfectly well he had to remain clear-headed, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. “Got thinky-type stuff I gotta do this afternoon,” he added, by way of explanation.

Noman quirked an eyebrow, then sent the beers sailing back to the fridge, swapping them out for a Mountain Dew and a Diet Coke.

“Perfect.” Elisha nudged his checker forward, reached for the proffered beverage. “Thanks.”

Caliban had already carried out his role in the gambit. Wednesday, he’d dropped off a message for Amelia with Mama Zoya: Arcanus moving on your intel any day now. You need protection. Let Mama Z know meeting time and place. Of course, it was now Friday, and his quarry hadn’t yet taken the bait. And with each passing day, it seemed less and less likely “Amelia” ever planned to show her veiled face at the Shells and Bones again. But, given that Caliban had also assembled a small army of top trackers and bounty hunters, she was bound to turn up eventually.

And when she did, there would be hell to pay.

“It’s more than just the Duncan thing. Isn’t it?” said Noman, with his be-damned gentle smile.

Ugh. Never can hide anything from you, you uncanny bastard. “You’re right,” Elisha admitted with a rueful grin. 

“Just so you know, Elisha, I’m always here to listen.” Noman observed him with concern in his tranquil dark eyes. “I know you’re always bound and determined to carry your burdens alone, but you know I can’t help but remind you now and then that it doesn’t have to be that way.”

“Itching for the chance to shrink my head like always, Nome ol’ buddy?”

“What can I say?” Noman’s lips curved in his trademark placid grin. “I like a challenge.”

Elisha chuckled, drew a deep breath. “I … actually kinda wish I could talk about my shit to you for once.” He dropped his gaze, a bit guiltily, to the checkerboard. “But I can’t. It … has to do with something someone told me in confidence.”

“Say no more.” Noman displayed his palms. “You know I’d never ask you to break a confidence.”

Elisha realized Noman had made his move at some point while he hadn’t been paying attention, and sighed inwardly as he scooted his checker further along the board. Man, I’ll be glad when this shit is over and done with. He barely noticed as Noman jumped him and sent his checker floating off to the side. Getting pretty damn tired of lying to the people I care about.

NEXT CHAPTER: CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
PREVIOUS CHAPTER: CHAPTER FIFTEEN

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