Refusals and Rescue

He set the decanter down and offered me the glass. It was warm whiskey and the smell turned my stomach. I didn’t like whiskey; it always tasted like muggy day. I took it though. You shouldn’t refuse men like William Aalders.

“Anxious for the next job?” He asked, possibly noticing that the crystal in my hands was not the peace offering he’d hoped it would be.

I shrugged. “I’m curious.” And warm I added silently. Summers in the south were miserable, especially in the ancient non-conditioned manors this region was infuriatingly proud of. But he refused to leave his research for long, which meant meeting in the stuffy old monstrosity.

He nodded and sat, leaning back with a grace that would surprise most. Those that managed to get old in our lines of business were either lucky or very talented. The dark grey at his temples and weathered skin proved William Aalders was both. I took a seat as well, careful not to rest too near to anything set around the workspaces. You never knew what would take a finger off or unleash some untold horror.  “So what am I doing this time?”

“You act as if I saddle you with chores. Do you find this business so unpleasant?” He returned with a question.

I enjoyed my work. He knew that. It was interacting with him that had me simultaneously belligerent and constantly seeking footing. An effect I assumed he had on many. “I like what I do.” I said.

“You haven’t come to me for work in years.” He said evenly, meeting my gaze even as I maintained my staring contest with his forehead.

“I like what I do.” I said again and his mouth tightened. “And I am here now. You said this was important.” It’d been the only thing that could bring me back to the sweaty pit of a state. I was field; as much as most of us liked to work alone far from the prying eyes of scholars we depended on them to point us towards our marks. That and Aalders refusal to say anything more about it. Curiosity is not the least of my weaknesses.

“Your brother is missing.” He said.

I blinked, first at the non sequitur and then when the words sunk in. “What?”

He didn’t respond to me at first. He leaned over and flipped open the portfolio already set between us on the polished wood coffee table. Inside were a few folded maps and sketches of what looked like a short sword or a very long dagger. “Somewhere along the Osros River we think. The men he took never checked in either. A fortnight now. I thought you should be told.”

A flurry of questions beat against the inside of my skull. I went with “what?” again. Something in my head not quite working right. “Carter isn’t …“ My eyes flicked down to the blade impeccably sketched next to small neat scrawl. Aalders’ handwriting. “What did you drag him into?” I almost growled.

William Aalders regarded me coolly, drink in hand. “Nothing he didn’t agree to. I needed something acquired and I’m retired to my studies. Carter was interested.”

“Carter is a scholar. A student.” I snapped even as I breathed through my nose, trying to get my temper under control. Of course Carter had been interested, he was brainy and inquisitive. It made him the perfect academic. It did not make him the perfect treasure hunter. “And he is missing.” I fixed a look on Aalders, no longer avoiding the old man’s eyes.

“Regrettable. I imagine you’ll want to go after him.” William Aalders wasn’t the type to gloat, but he looked pretty damn pleased with himself.

“And pick up whatever the hell this is while I’m there right?” I leaned forward and flipped the portfolio closed. I would dissect it later on the plane flight. Of course I would be going after him, that wasn’t a question and the man across from me knew it. I didn’t think Aalders had purposefully sent my brother into danger, he and I would be having a very different conversation if that were the case, but Aalders sure as hell didn’t care about Carter as long as he got what he wanted.

“It would be a courtesy as I will be providing both funds and intelligence for your rescue mission.” Aalders’ gaze flicked to the portfolio and his precious research.

I shook my head. “Of course. I can’t believe you roped him into this. He’s never been on an expedition outside of the university.”

William Aalders’ eyes narrowed. “You’ve refused work from me for the past five years. I went elsewhere. Business, that’s all this was.”

I stood up, taking the leather portfolio with me. This wasn’t just business. People didn’t get away with refusing men like William Aalders. I’d made a career out of it. Now I was paying for it. “I’ll be at the airport in an hour. Thanks for the whiskey.” I told him and left the muggy library.

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