Thursday, June 30, 2016
Safe ... ?
Dizzy and blinded by banana cream, Ghan tensed for the death blow. Seconds ticked by. Nothing. Then a bleated yelp, and a crash within his indoor jungle.
Sensing reprieve, Ghan shifted to human. Fingers wiped the cream away more expertly than paws. He blinked his eyes against the sugary sting.
Half the plants by the window had been knocked askew. A lanky form struggled among them, trying to right itself. Then a huge shadow loomed between Ghan and the window, blocking his view.
He recognized the coat before the scent penetrated his reeling awareness. The coat, and the immense height. Sergei.
The Siberian was already moving, toward the remains of the mini-jungle. He plucked the assassin from the ruins of several dwarf bamboo and held him aloft by his shirt collar, like Frankenstein’s monster lifting a kitten by the scruff of the neck. The man kicked futilely at Sergei’s legs. He might as well have been attacking steel girders.
Sergei regarded him with mild curiosity. “I don’t know you,” he said, “but you are one of Seven, yes?”
Flat, grass-chomping teeth flashed in the weak streams of moonlight. “Bite me.”
“In time. First we talk.”
“No. We talk.” Ghan struggled up onto his elbows. “He’s mine.”
The sheep-man looked from one to the other. Unexpectedly, he bleated a maniacal laugh. “Oh, no. No you don’t. Not the two of you at once. Maybe another time, after I’ve had a chance to set up the playground. Until then, arrivederci, gents.”
On that note, he shifted. The shirt collar tore loose in Sergei’s hand as the sheep dropped to the floor. Before either tiger could stop him, he gathered his hooves beneath him and bounded clear over Zhere Ghan, out the open door to Ghan’s office and into the hallway beyond.
“Stop him!” Ghan bellowed at Sergei. “What are you just standing there for? Go after him! Bring him back!”
Sergei gazed blandly after the escaped assassin, then down at Zhere Ghan on the floor—naked, bloody, panting for breath, with smears of banana cream on his cheeks. Helpless. Then he bent and picked up the pointed stick the assassin had abandoned.
One stride set him looming over Ghan. His eyes flashed like the ice of deepest Siberian winter. An even deeper chill flashed through Zhere Ghan’s blood.
He dropped the stick to the floor. It bounced on the carpet next to Ghan’s hand.
“Life for life,” Sergei said. “My debt is paid in full.” He tipped his black slouch hat to Ghan and strolled out of the office.
Ghan lay on the floor, shuddering. He couldn’t stop himself. When the lights abruptly snapped back on, he yelped.
So his guards found him shortly afterward, still on the floor of his office. Fortunately the shudders had stopped by then. The guards spread out to cover the office. Two knelt beside him with their knives out. Another inspected the wrecked mini-jungle for possible hidden danger. “Are you unharmed, my lord?” asked the guard by the door.
Ghan shoved the two beside him away and climbed to his feet. His knees shook. Pride and years of discipline helped him still them before the underlings noticed. “I am,” he snarled. “No thanks to my expensive security system. The assassin may still be in the vicinity. Gather a team and search the grounds. You’re looking for a sheep.”
“A sheep, lord?” the guard said, incredulous. Ghan pierced him with a glare that would melt titanium. The guard bowed low. “Yes, lord.”
The other continued to poke at the plants. His nose wrinkled against the reek of ovine urine. “What happened in here?” he muttered.
I nearly died, Ghan thought. I. Zhere Ghan, lord of tigers. He recalled the look in Sergei’s eyes. Twice.
The shudders returned. He was able to hold them in check until the guards filed out and left him alone again.
# # #
“Well, that was a wash,” Cloyd muttered as he scrambled over the fence. He loped through the forest, putting distance between himself and the compound before he circled back toward Talbot’s Peak.
Sergei. Son of a freakin’ gun. The Big Bad himself. That was one feather any killer for hire would love to add to his cap. Stefanya had declared him off-limits, but …
“Accidents happen,” Cloyd whispered, and tittered. He picked up his pace and added a few twists and turns, in case of any pursuit.