Monday, March 7, 2011

The Apprentice

Guri was pissed, in the vernacular of this backwater American town. Babysitting duty never agreed with him. To pressed into the service of his father’s foreign assassin – Guri deemed that definitely worthy of pissed.

“Our cousin is new to this land,” Tasman had said. “Father feels he could use an assistant. An escort, if you will.”

“We’re new to this land,” Guri pointed out in a doomed effort to be reasonable. “He’s a Siberian killer. What am I supposed to do?”

“Keep him out of trouble. See to his needs. Obey his orders, within reason. Above all else, observe. Father is concerned, Guri. He fears you don’t have the heart for our business. You can learn much from our cousin.”

So far all Guri had learned was he didn’t want to be in service to an assassin. Their cousin’s size and cold blue eyes intimidated him. What usefulness could he learn from the Siberian, other than how to duck his head to avoid ceiling fans? Oh, to be home in India, to be continents removed from all this senseless blood and intrigue, to be the son of anyone other than Shere Khan.

Sergei emerged from the bedroom clad in his usual black duster and the wide-brimmed slouch hat that shielded his sensitive albino’s eyes from Montana’s too-bright sky. In two weeks he had never used the bed. He slept on the floor. His legs didn’t dangle over the end of the floor. “Come,” he announced. “Is time to hunt.”

Guri scrambled off the couch. His heart fell to somewhere down around his ankles. “Hunt, sir? You’re not taking me along on – on assignment, are you?”

“We hunt,” the white tiger said, and strode to the door. Guri swallowed hard and followed.

Their hunt took them to Talbot’s Peak’s town square. On the way Sergei stopped at a grocerette and purchased a bag of vanilla cream cookies. He invited Guri to share it with him while they sat on a bench and watched the town’s residents scurry to and fro on their errands, unaware that death was seated in their midst.

Guri nibbled worriedly on a cookie. Who was the killer’s target? Would he expect Guri to help?

“There,” Sergei said abruptly. “In front of the flower shop. Don’t stare. Do you see her?”

He spotted a young woman in a tight skirt too short for the crisp morning temperature and a similarly clingy blouse that showed off her breasts to full advantage. He gulped. He found he was doing that a lot in Sergei’s presence. Surely a trim she fanning her tail didn’t warrant an assassin’s attention. “I, um, I see her, sir.”

“What breed is she?”

“Uh, sir?”

“Her breed. Her shifter-self. Tell me.”

“Um … “ Guri worked the air with his nose even though he knew it was hopeless. They were seated too far from their quarry. “I can’t tell, sir.”

“Nonsense. You have eyes. Watch how she moves, how she carries herself. What is her breed?”

Guri squinted at the girl. He watched her speak to a fellow she, studied her laugh and gestures. He was honestly at sea here. Still, Talbot’s Peak had a wolf infestation, so he took a stab at it. “Wolf?”

“Is wolf,” Sergei acknowledged. “Is alpha wolf. See how she dominates the other. There, look. The other’s showing throat. See how she’s dressed? She draws attention. Look at this butt, her outfit says. You were born to follow this butt and do what it tells you. Notice how even her beta grants her space. All wolves hold tight to their territory, personal and otherwise. Given that, cub, how does one approach the alpha wolf?”

This was a test, Guri thought. He was being schooled in how to stalk a target. Sergei was going after the king-wolf of Talbot’s Peak, and Guri would be expected to tag along. Maybe even help. He tried to swallow and discovered his supply of saliva had dried up. “Carefully?” he hazarded.

The assassin made an odd rumbling noise. To his horror, Guri realized it was laughter. “This I know already. I seek specifics. You are a young and handsome cub. Popular with the women, yes?” Guri risked a nod. “As I thought. There is your prey, that alpha she-wolf. How would you approach her?”

Good question. Guri wasn’t Ravi, to slum it with canines. However, he’d watched wolves and he had a few ideas. “Humbly,” he decided. “But assertively. Too weak and she will want to dominate you. Too strong, she’ll think you want to dominate her and she’ll fight you. Alphas are always so defensive. Do you play the guitar?” The assassin glowered down at him. Guri hastily looked away. “It helps if they think you can play the guitar. Shes go for males in a band.”

“I do not play guitar,” Sergei said. “I will have to make do. This courting of alpha she-wolves, is tightrope, yes?”

Guri shrugged. “Wolves, tigers, rabbits even, doesn’t matter. Care is always needed. They’re shes.”

Sergei nodded. “You are good hunter. This is why I ask for you.” He laid a massive paw on Guri’s arm. “When this ugliness of your father’s is done, go home. Find a lovely she. Be happy.”

Guri found he had saliva after all, and swallowed it. “Yes, sir. Absolutely, sir.”

“You are wise cub.” He stood abruptly. “Hunt is done for today. Now we go for run. Work off calories.” He crumpled the empty cookie bag and pitched it into a trash can. He strode off without bothering to check if Guri was following. Guri scrambled after him.

A notion struck him. “Sir? Have you found a wolf you like?”

Chilly blue eyes pierced him. “We run now,” the assassin snapped.

“Of course, sir.” They headed for the woods. Guri glanced back at the flower shop. The wolf-girl had moved on, with her beta trailing behind. Sergei showed no further interest. Not her, then. But a she-wolf. Guri smiled behind the assassin’s back and kept his notions private.

Tonight, if he survived what promised to be a grueling run, he would demonstrate to his new companion the finer points of the guitar.


Rebecca Murray said...

Is Guri being asked for lady advice?By Segei? Ooo, I think I like the sounds of that!

Serena Shay said...

Oooh Sergei's back!! And he's on the hunt for a she...dang the woman he settles on is going to be one happy shifter. ~shiver~

Pat C. said...

Sergei's a solitary guy and not so good at making with the social niceties. He's got his eye on a certain red wolf dancer at the Pleasure Club but needs to learn how to approach her, hence his request for a younger, more "experienced" assistant.

This isn't the story I started to write. Inspiration hit and it changed halfway through. When you think about it, the title can apply to both of them.

Rebecca Murray said...

May not be the story you meant to write, but it works! I'd say let your muse run with this one!

Savanna Kougar said...

Oh, absolutely, let the muse run... I'm loving it! Such exquisite fun ~ shivers ~

Besides, the guitar, how powerful is Sergei on the dance floor... it's all about wooing mind, body and soul...

But, if Sergei wants to keep his assassin secrets, beware! The gypsy sees and knows.

Savanna Kougar said...

Ooooh, the tigers are so regally adorable.