Home > Wild Country (The World of the Others #2)(4)

Wild Country (The World of the Others #2)(4)
Author: Anne Bishop

Parlan didn’t scoff, but it took effort to keep his voice politely interested. “You’re going to give up being a gambler to become a grocer?”

Henry nodded. “I’d made the decision before all of … this … happened. I’m glad I did. I had my sister’s reply in my pocket when I bought my ticket, showing that I was returning to family and a job. Wouldn’t have been able to cross back into the Northeast without that letter. The old life is gone, Parlan. The days of being able to cross the continent on a whim aren’t coming back anytime soon, if ever.”

It rippled through him, that same feeling that told him a game was going sour and it was time to walk away from the table.

Henry Hollis was right. It would take years for Toland to recover, if it ever came back to what it had been. From the things he’d heard, Hubb NE was a quagmire of displaced people pouring into that city, looking for food and shelter. Desperate people and professional gamblers did not mix. Lakeside? Something about Lakeside and the other towns in that area had always made him uneasy. Not because of the Others. He’d always successfully avoided contact with them. But he’d had the feeling there were other kinds of hunters in Lakeside who couldn’t be discouraged or bribed—and just might twig to why the Blackstones were such successful gamblers and swindlers.

That left Shikago. And once he’d worn out his welcome there? Then what?

“Where do you get off?” Parlan asked.

“Shikago is the closest station to the town where my sister lives. From there I’ll take a boat.” Henry laughed softly. “I’m told it’s a common way to reach the towns along the lakes. You just have to get used to some of the travelers being a bit … furry.”

Parlan shuddered. He didn’t want to think about having to deal with the Others. “Well, Henry, I wish you luck.”

We need to get out of this car. When he felt this strongly that a game was going to go wrong, he didn’t ignore the feelings that came from being an Intuit.

Parlan gathered the cards and put the deck in his pocket. He nudged the hundred-dollar bill toward Henry. “You keep it.” He smiled. “We’ll be at the next station in a few minutes. You can buy me lunch.”

He saw Henry open his mouth, ready to remind Parlan that the executive car provided food as part of the cost of the ticket. Then Henry moved his eyes to look toward the four men at the other table. Parlan gave the tiniest nod.

Thugs dressed in suits were still thugs.

When the train pulled into the station, Parlan rose swiftly and headed toward the door with Henry right behind him. He didn’t look back, but he knew Judd had also moved, and whatever was said—or done—would encourage the men not to follow.

“Come with me,” Parlan said, going down the steps so fast he almost slipped. They were on the wrong side of the train to be seen by the four men or anyone at the station, but he still crouched low as he hurried to his private car. Once they were inside, he lifted the side of one of the window blinds just enough to see Judd walk off the train and go into the station.

He didn’t see the four men who had been in the executive car.

Just before the train began to pull out of the station, Parlan heard a quiet knock on the door of his private car before Judd walked in, holding a paper bag.

“The best they had,” Judd said, pulling sandwiches and bottles of beer out of the bag. He took a sandwich and a bottle of beer, then retreated to the chair farthest from the table where Parlan and Henry sat.

“I always admired how you knew when to avoid a game,” Henry said.

Parlan got up and locked the door before returning to the table and unwrapping his sandwich. “I’m just good at reading other people’s tells.”

“Your daughter was good at reading those fortune-telling cards.”

That wasn’t the bitch’s only skill, but reading those cards was an ability seen at every harvest fair and was, therefore, nothing extraordinary, nothing that would call undo attention to the family.

“Sweet girl,” Henry continued. “Is she still traveling with you?”

“No, she hasn’t traveled with us for a while now,” he replied quietly.

“Too bad. I could have asked her to read the cards and tell me my future.”

Parlan stared at Henry with cold eyes. “She lost the knack for seeing the future.”

“Sorry,” Henry said. “I didn’t realize …”

He waved away the apology. “All families have their troubles. We’ll work it out.” He asked Henry about the town where the sister and brother-in-law lived and deflected any more talk about his own family—especially any talk about his ungrateful daughter.

CHAPTER 5

Firesday, Sumor 27

Already out of sorts because Prairie Gold’s post office was still closed, Abigail Burch returned to her little shop and felt a dissonance so severe she began to shake.

Where had that come from? She had to find it before it unraveled the protections that had kept her safe for the past three years.

She approached the bison-scented jar candles on the display table. What had sounded like a good idea, using free bison fat instead of buying tallow from Floyd Tanner, had turned out to be a spectacular failure. Even the Wolves didn’t want to use the darn candles and they liked the smell of bison! And now that nothing could be wasted, she had to keep trying to unload the things on Prairie Gold citizens who took pity on her. At least there weren’t that many candles to sell.

A chill ran through her. There had been a dozen jars on the table when she’d left. Now there were six more.

Abigail stepped away from the table. This shouldn’t be happening. Couldn’t be happening. Nothing she’d done when she’d gone through the steps to turn bison fat into candles could account for this dissonance. Except …

She hadn’t counted the number of jars. She’d thought she’d made more than a dozen, but when she came back from a lunch break and didn’t find any more, she figured she’d been mistaken. Now six more candles were on the display table and they …

Damn you, Kelley. What have you done?

It was possible that Kelley had found the other candles stashed in the workroom they shared and put them out on the table before going to his meeting with Jesse Walker. It was possible he hadn’t noticed anything wrong with them.

Kelley was pretty clueless about a lot of things, taking everything and everyone at face value. How else could she have played him so well for the past three years?

She’d needed a patsy to help her get farther away from her father and the plans he’d made for her, and she had found the perfect mark. When Kelley had found her drunk in an alleyway and had paid for a room at an inn and then stayed with her through the night, listening to her tearful story about the abusive father she had run from when she was seventeen, and how she’d been on the run for the past two years, she knew she had him. He wanted to help a damsel in distress, was ready to fall in love with a sweet, simple girl who just wanted a happy life with him.

She was many things. Simple and sweet weren’t among them, but it was a persona she had perfected for her part of the cons she had played with her uncle. At fairs or outdoor markets, they would have a booth where he would swap genuine stones and replace them with glass while doing a minor repair on a piece while she distracted the mark with her sweet patter about lucky stones and how she could choose just the right one for that person. And she could choose exactly the right stone for a person. That was her particular ability. But she could, and usually did, choose a stone that created a dissonance that would bring that person just enough bad luck when they gave in to an impulse and sat down for a game of cards with her father, whose persona was a frontier gambler.

Finding out that Kelley was a goldsmith and worked around gemstones was an unexpected and unpleasant hitch in her plans since she needed to avoid any stones that might dilute the energy of the stones she kept with her to deflect bad luck and create prosperity, but when he said he loved her and wanted to get married, she’d agreed—with some conditions.

They had moved three times in the three years they were married, finally settling in Prairie Gold last summer. She’d worried about living in an Intuit town, but everyone bought into her persona because Kelley had bought into it. Sometimes she was so bored with Kelley and this life she wanted to scream, but her father would never come to a small Intuit town in the middle of nowhere, and that meant she was safe from him—and safe from the other one. So she wore the old-fashioned dresses and read tarot cards and made candles and soaps that her neighbors bought out of kindness—and avoided getting close to the stones Kelley kept in his half of their shared workroom.

But now there were these candles, this dissonance.

The door to her little shop opened.

Abigail forced herself to smile at Rachel Wolfgard. “Good morning, Rachel.”

“Good morning.” Rachel eased into the shop, each cautious step bringing her closer to the table with the defective candles. “Jesse is having a meeting at the store. She told me to take a break and visit a store I haven’t seen yet. I have not been in your store. You sell candles and soap. The terra indigene use those things when we are in human form.” She reached for one of the jar candles.

“No!” Abigail shouted, certain everything would be ruined if those candles left the shop.

Rachel leaped away, startled. “I wasn’t going to steal. I have money—wages—to buy human things.”

As soon as Rachel moved away from the display, Abigail felt she could breathe again. She raised one hand in a placating gesture. “I knew you weren’t going to just take it. But those candles are defective. They shouldn’t have been put out for anyone to buy. I can show you other candles.”

Rachel backed toward the door. “No. I don’t need one.”

Shelley Bookman, the town’s librarian, walked in. Rachel turned and fled, dashing into the street. Shouts and the squeal of brakes.

“Gods!” Shelley said, standing in the doorway. “Phil Mailer almost hit her. Jesse should talk to her about the proper way to cross the street.”

If she’d taken one of the candles, Phil wouldn’t have stopped in time.

Shelley closed the door and walked over to the display table.

Abigail found it hard to breathe. A dissonance in someone else’s life wouldn’t have produced this effect. This only happened when a dissonance threatened to bring something dark into her life.

“You still have some of those bison candles?” Shelley said the words with the same forced enthusiasm as someone being fed marginally edible leftovers for the third night in a row.

“Don’t!” Abigail shouted when Shelley picked up one of the jars. She grabbed the jar and threw it on the floor with enough force to break the thick glass. “You can’t have that one. It’s not right for you! It’s not right!” She grabbed another candle and smashed it on the floor. “They’re not right!”

   
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