"If we'd had to draw down on each other, your holster is a few seconds faster than this inner jacket shit that I'm wearing."
"Then why wear it?" I asked.
"I didn't want to make you nervous by coming in here armed, but I don't go anywhere unarmed, so I thought I'd be slick, and you wouldn't notice."
"I almost didn't."
"Thanks for that, but we both know better."
I wasn't sure about that, but I let it go; no need to argue when I seemed to be winning.
"What do you really want, Mr. Harlan, if that is your real name?"
He smiled at that. "As I've said, I really do want my ancestor raised from the dead. I didn't lie about that." He seemed to think for a second. "Strange, but I haven't lied about anything." He looked puzzled. "It's been a long time since that was true."
"My condolences," I said.
He frowned at me. "What?"
"It must be difficult never being able to tell the truth. I know I'd find it exhausting."
He smiled, and again it was that slight flexing of lips that seemed to be his genuine smile. "I haven't thought about it in a long time." He shrugged. "I guess you get used to it."
It was my turn to shrug. "Maybe. What ancestor do you want raised, and why?"
"Why do you want to raise this particular ancestor?"
"Does it matter?" he asked.
"Because I don't believe the dead should be disturbed without a good reason."
That small smile flexed again. "You've got animators in this town that raise zombies every night for entertainment."
I nodded. "Then by all means go to one of them. They'll do anything you want, pretty much, if the price is right."
"Can they raise a corpse that's almost two hundred years old?"
I shook my head. "Out of their league."
"I heard an animator could raise almost anything, if they were willing to do a human sacrifice." His voice was quiet.
I shook my head, again. "Don't believe everything you hear, Mr. Harlan. Someanimators could raise a few hundred years worth of corpse with the help of a human sacrifice. Of course, that would be murder and thus illegal."
"Rumor has it that you've done it."
"Rumor can say anything it damn well pleases, I don't do human sacrifice."
"So you can't raise my ancestor." He made it a flat statement.
"I didn't say that."
His eyes widened, the closest to surprise that he'd shown. "You can raise a nearly two-hundred-year-old corpse without a human sacrifice?" I nodded. "Rumor said that, too, but I didn't believe it."
"So you believed that I did human sacrifice, but not that I could raise a few hundred years worth of dead people on my own."
He shrugged. "I'm used to people killing other people, I've never seen anyone raised from the dead."
He smiled, and his eyes thawed just a little. "So you'll raise my ancestor?"
"If you tell me a good enough reason for doing it."
"You don't get distracted much, do you, Ms. Blake."
"Tenacious, that's me," I said, and smiled. Maybe I'd spent too much time around really bad people, but now that I knew that Leo Harlan wasn't here to kill me, or anyone else in town, I had no problem with him. Why did I believe him? For the same reason I hadn't believed him the first time. Instinct.
"I've followed the records of my family in this country back as far as I can, but my original ancestor is on no official documents. I believe he gave a false name from the beginning. Until I get his true name, I can't track my family through Europe. I very much wish to do that."
"Raise him, ask his real name, his real reason for coming to this country, and put him back?" I made it a question.
Harlan nodded. "Exactly."
"It sounds reasonable enough."
"So you'll do it," he said.
"Yes, but it ain't cheap. I'm probably the only animator in this country that can raise someone this old without using a human sacrifice. It's sort of a seller's market, if you catch my drift."
"In my own way, Ms. Blake, I am as good at my job as you are at yours." He tried to look humble and failed. He looked pleased with himself, all the way to those ordinary, and frightening, brown eyes. "I can pay, Ms. Blake, never fear."
I mentioned an outrageous figure. He never flinched. He started to reach into the inside of his jacket. I said, "Don't."
"My credit card, Ms. Blake, nothing more." He took his hands out of his jacket and held them, fingers spread, so I could see them clearly.
"You can finish the paperwork and pay in the outer office. I've got other appointments."
He almost smiled. "Of course." He stood. I stood. Neither of us offered to shake hands. He hesitated at the door; I stopped a ways back, not following as closely as I normally do. Room to maneuver, you know.
"When can you do the job?"
"I'm booked solid this week. I might be able to squeeze you in next Wednesday. Maybe next Thursday."
"What happened to next Monday and Tuesday?" he asked.
I shrugged. "Booked up."
"You said, and I quote, 'I'm booked solid this week.' Then you mentioned next Wednesday."
I shrugged again. There was a time when I wasn't good at lying, even now I'm not great at it, but not for the same reasons. I felt my eyes going flat and empty, as I said, "I meant to say I was booked up for most of the next two weeks."
He stared at me, hard enough to make me want to squirm. I fought off the urge and just gave him blank, vaguely friendly eyes.
"Next Tuesday is the night of the full moon," he said in a quiet voice.
I blinked at him, fighting to keep the surprise off my face, and I think I succeeded, but I failed on my body language. My shoulders tensed, my hands flexed. Most people noticed your face, not the rest of you, but Harlan was a man who would notice. Damn it.
"So it's the full moon, yippee-skippy, what of it?" My voice was as matter-of-fact as I could make it.
He gave that small smile of his. "You're not very good at being coy, Ms. Blake."
"No, I'm not, but since I'm not being coy, that's not a problem."
"Ms. Blake," he said, voice almost cajoling, "please, do not insult my intelligence."
I thought about saying, but it's so easy,but didn't. First, it wasn't easy at all; second, I was a little nervous about where this line of questioning was going. But I was not going to help him by volunteering information. Say less, it irritates people.
"I haven't insulted your intelligence."
He made a frown that I think was as true as that small smile. The real Harlan peeking through. "Rumor says that you haven't worked on the night of the full moon for a few months now." He seemed very serious all of a sudden, not in a menacing way, almost as if I'd been impolite, forgotten my table manners, or something, and he was correcting me.
"Maybe I'm Wiccan. The full moon is a holy day for them you know. Or rather night."
"Are you Wiccan, Ms. Blake?"
It never took me long to grow tired of word games. "No, Mr. Harlan, I am not."
"Then why don't you work on the night of the full moon?" He was studying my face, searching it, as if for some reason the answer were more important than it should have been.
I knew what he wanted me to say. He wanted me to confess to being a shape-shifter of some kind. Trouble was I couldn't confess, because it wasn't true. I was the first human Nimir-Ra, leopard queen, of a wereleopard pard in their history. I'd inherited the leopards when I was forced to kill their old leader, to keep him from killing me. I was also Bolverk of the local werewolf pack. Bolverk was more than a bodyguard, less than an executioner. It was basically someone who did the things that the Ulfric either couldn't, or wouldn't do. Richard Zeeman was the local Ulfric. He'd been my off-again, on-again honey-bun for a couple of years. Right now, it was off, very off. His parting shot to me had been, "I don't want to love someone who is more at home with the monsters than I am." What do you say to that? What can you say? Damned if I know. They say love conquers everything. They lie.
As Nimir-Ra and Bolverk, I had people depending on me. I took the full moon off, so I'd be available. It was simple really, and nothing I was willing to share with Leo Harlan.