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Chapter 20:

A New Dawn in the Valley of Shadows

 

             Despite all his years in the business, it never got easier to face these moments of truth. Most people don’t face death in their occupations, especially their own. It wasn’t lost on Teller that he might well be enjoying his last breathing moments. There were five men of the carnivorous persuasion within his immediate proximity and Teller was powerless to defend himself, or escape. His men were out there with sniper rifles but Murlay, Louis, Biltmore and Helms could only take out four of the beasts, assuming each of them hit their target. However, just one left standing was enough to turn Teller into pate, and he would be right there on the verandah with no way to avoid the inevitable.

One of the bodyguards went outside to await visual confirmation of Malabar’s arrival, poking his head back inside five minutes later to tell them the limousine was pulling into the driveway. Teller followed the other two bodyguards out onto the verandah, Kiln and Cane walking out behind him. Cane had given no indication during the night that he was aware of Teller’s true reason for being in Cutler County, but Teller also considered the possibility that Cane had in mind a bigger kill—the Boss Man, himself. Teller believed, were he in Cane’s shoes, that he would make an attempt on Malabar’s life as soon as the man showed himself. Cane knew he’d screwed the organization; Cane would wonder why he should run, when it would be so much easier to simply kill the pursuer.

If that was his plan, Cane would make his move as soon as Malabar stepped out of the limo, and Teller would be powerless to stop it from happening. It would be up to Murlay or one of the others, who, according to Keever, were all hiding in the woods on the other side of the river, each with a high-powered rifle bearing silver rounds and a scope that could practically count hairs on a flea from a mile away. Malabar would’ve also been receiving reports from Keever, thus knowing the members of the assembled group he was walking into, that Teller was unarmed, and that the closest security measure was a thousand feet or more away, somewhere hiding in the woods. Malabar, unlike the others, didn’t have to worry about jumping during or in the aftermath of a transition. This was possible in the event that a certain drug was injected prior to making such an attempt, and Teller had never been afforded the opportunity. Should things go south, he could only hope Malabar or the driver, Boris, took Cane out of the picture before the werewolf could launch itself at the closest target: yours truly, the formerly-breathing Agent Teller.

As he stepped outside, the limousine was approaching the entrance of a grove growing along either side of the driveway for a couple hundred feet, where it passed out of view. He tried to ignore his own apprehension and pay attention to the positions of Kiln, Cane, and the bodyguards without appearing to do so. The morning sky over Kiln’s valley bore a lightened shade of red from the night before, but it was enough illumination for Teller to see the surrounding area without too much trouble; this being his first opportunity to take in the surrounding area. When the limo rematerialized on this side of the grove, Teller could even see Boris behind the wheel.

There was always the possibility of something going wrong in any transition, regarding agreements between Malabar and his mythical acquisition. Some lost faith at the lost moment and succumbed to their paranoia that an agreement with the Festival might only deliver them into slavery. “After all,” as the boss liked to say, “Transition was only a nice word for describing a bloodless coup,” but Teller had been around long enough to know a coup was almost never totally bloodless. During the night, Teller believed he’d been able to gather enough behavioral evidence on Kiln to implicate greed as the driving force in his personality, but there was also the traditional, ingrained distrust which had seen his kind slaughtered by man one too many times. Maybe not recently, but Kiln was old enough to remember. There was always a chance the entity being corralled would become spooked when they met the boss. Legends were notoriously skittish when forced to deal with a man, and no man had more potential for affecting them than Malabar. A coup was a takeover, and there were always those who tried to be heroes, at the last moment making an attempt to ‘save the Republic’. Putting down a couple of dissenters was to be expected, but in this case, half a town was about to become food for a clan of werewolves. No matter how much that knowledge bothered him, the prevention of that nightmare was beyond him.

Damn you, focus!

The limousine emerged from the grove and completed its final approach, slowing in Kiln’s circular driveway with its passenger side facing Teller and company. He took final note of his proximity to the others: one of the bodyguards was standing on the far end, then Cane, then another bodyguard, then the third bodyguard, then Kiln, then him. Due to his lack of a weapon, the security team didn’t bother to get between him and their boss.

Boris got out, rounded the car’s front end, and opened the back door on the passenger side. The daylight, if you could call it that, barely dented the interior’s darkness.

When Malabar stepped out of the backseat, Teller was unsurprised to find the boss holding no visible firearm. Malabar’s shoulders were perpetually slouching, as though he carried in them the weight of his responsibility. He usually wore black during a transition, for reasons Teller knew but didn’t understand. Among the mythical, black was not a color to be trifled with, for some psychological reason beyond Teller’s knowledge.

On Teller’s left, Kiln’s enthusiasm seemed to have rendered him temporarily catatonic. As he glanced at the mayor, Teller realized that Cane was looking back at him. In poker, this is the moment when one decides whether their opponent is bluffing or not and these two had been playing this hand for days. During the night, Keever’s assurance that Murlay was assigned Cane as his primary target now served to reassure him.

Malabar, standing beside his open car door, said, “Mr. Kiln, thank you for welcoming us to your county.”

Kiln left Teller’s side and hobbled to the head of the steps, where he reached forward to shake hands with Malabar, who had arrived at their foot. The old man stated with warm gentility, “If it’s a werewolf you’ve come to acquire, Sir Malabar, you’ve certainly come to the right place.”

Teller could feel the apprehension in the mayor’s bodyguards tangibly skyrocket, but it wasn’t because Kiln’s choice of words implied the selling out of his own county—they had just been cued. Two of the bodyguards seized Cane, as Kiln swept his arm backward casually, looking at Cane even though he was speaking to Malabar. “I present to you—as promised—the one and only Lazarus Cane!”

As promised?

Never before had the moment of truth revealed a lie of such magnitude that Teller was literally frozen by the ramifications. Malabar had an existing agreement with Kiln? That meant he’d had prior knowledge that Kiln was worth contacting, and the only one who could’ve given him this prior knowledge was Cane: the very target they’d been tracking for the better part of the past week. First, Teller kicked himself for not seeing it before now. The only time Malabar could’ve made contact with Cane was immediately upon learning of Cane’s whereabouts in New York City, informed where Cane could be located by no less than one of the Festival’s own senior agents. Cane had given Malabar Cutler County. Malabar, at that point, would’ve sought corroboration from a secondary source, and achieved this by making inquiries in the county, itself. How long had it taken him to find out Kiln was the one in charge? An hour; less?

We were nothing more than insurance.

Cane was beginning to change. To compensate for Cane’s quickly increasing strength, Kiln’s bodyguards began to do the same. As hair began to appear and his snout began to extend, Cane screamed at Malabar, “You had a deal with him all along? I delivered this place to you! You said we were square after this!”

            Like a great combination pool-shot, Malabar had the target secured and the county at his disposal. Through his rage and confusion, Teller couldn’t help being impressed, but it didn’t stop him from starting to back away from everyone.

            Malabar stepped up onto the verandah and stood before Cane. “You took me for a fool. We made an agreement, and you thought you could reap the benefits without honoring your end of the bargain. You thought I wouldn’t be able to enforce the terms of our agreement. I find myself devoid of obligation to behave ethically with those who don’t even acknowledge the relevance of the word. Let us now discuss the part of our contract which explains the consequences of dishonoring your obligation. Section 1: Item 53-A: ‘In the event that said terms are not honored to the letter, the result is death to the undersigned.’ Mr. Cane, the undersigned is you.”

            Teller’s angle afforded no view of Kiln’s disposition. Boris was the only one standing close enough to monitor Kiln’s disposition. Now, in the actual moment, Malabar was going to execute the target, and it appeared as though Kiln had no intention of interfering. Even so, would his bodyguards suddenly decide they weren’t comfortable betraying one of their kind; in favor of a mere human being, no less?

“You knew he was coming here for me all along,” Cane said to Kiln. “How could you turn against one of your own in favor of a human?”

            The verandah had three places along the front of the house offering a short flight of steps. Teller had backed up to the steps near the corner closest to him, and was on his way down when a glint of light caught his eye to the right, past the limousine. He assumed it was a reflection from the scope of one of his team’s rifles, and wondered which of them had managed to get a spot so close to the house. It wasn’t until several minutes later—when he would be leaving this valley in a hurry—that Teller would realize who it was. For now, distance made identification impossible, and his attention was drawn to more pressing concerns.

Teller was still several feet from the limousine when Malabar turned to Boris and asked for his sidearm, presumably to execute Cane right there on the verandah. When the chauffeur reached into his jacket, Teller assumed he was about to see justice served within seconds, the official conclusion to their mission in Cutler County.

No one expected a distraction from across the river.

 

 II.

 

The sun was coming up as Carver watched a man step out onto Kiln’s verandah. He’d observed a limo enter the mouth of the driveway, heading toward a short grove of trees that formed a tunnel over part of the approach to the house. Once it entered the grove, the man on the verandah stuck his head back inside the house, presumably alerting others. Two other men joined the first on the verandah—based on the way they carried themselves, Carver guessed they were bodyguards. Then came Teller. Then Kiln. Then Cane.

            He remembered Teller’s words to him, earlier: “You can have the girl. All we want is the werewolf.”

            Now here were Cane and Teller, standing together with the mayor at the mayor’s own house.

            Carver knew who would climb out of that limousine well before laying eyes on Malabar for the third time.

            He, Tom, and Lee had concealed themselves under brush as best as each could self-apply in an extremely short amount of time, and with no benefit of light to assist. Only with daylight did Carver see that each of them had done a pretty good job, though he was particularly proud of his own camouflage, since it had to adequately conceal his duffel bag too. The grenades were already out, resting beside him on the ground beneath three conifer branches. The gun borrowed from Finch was in his right hand. All things considered, he felt reasonably safe. He was out here in random nothingness; it seemed a better bet than lying low in any one particular building back in town, where certain citizens were sure to be looking for two legged snacks.

If he was to have any chance of securing the proper ammunition, he had to be in close proximity to those known to carry it. So far, he hadn’t seen any of the men; in darkness, seeing anything but the lights inside Kiln’s house was next to impossible. Instead, he’d used the last hour or so before dawn to catch something loosely called sleep. Now, with Tom’s binoculars, Carver watched the players on the stage of Kiln’s verandah await the arrival of the limousine. Carver had followed his hunch that Malabar’s agents were in these woods, watching the mayor for whatever reason. According to Malabar, himself, they were here to subjugate the entire county. From what Carver understood of the way a coup was engineered, close proximity to the members of the current ruling body was unavoidable.

When Mr. Big emerged from the backseat of the limo, he approached the verandah, shaking hands with the old man who leaned on a cane; apparently, the mayor. This introduction seemed to end when Kiln turned to address Cane as though presenting one esteemed guest to another. Carver’s eyes narrowed as he watched Cane begin to flip out, which incited the man on either side of Cane to restrain him, with Cane yelling unintelligibly. Carver watched the two bodyguards (if that’s what they were) begin to shimmer, it seemed, their physiology transforming quickly to keep pace with Cane’s transformation-in-progress. During all of this, Malabar’s chauffeur was standing between the car and the verandah. From Carver’s angle, he could tell Malabar was facing Cane specifically now. For several seconds, the two exchanged words before Malabar turned and said something to the chauffeur, who, in turn, reached into his jacket. Teller, meanwhile, had backed away from those assembled on the verandah, and was stepping down to ground-level. He was currently near the limo; his movements barely noticed by anyone else. Only by coincidence was Carver watching Teller as the senior agent’s own eyes were distracted by something in the near distance, in the proximity of the grove covering a portion of the driveway. Teller’s attention was only briefly distracted before returning to the drama playing out on the verandah, but Carver was able to spend a few more seconds looking for whatever Teller had seen. Soon enough he saw someone moving over there by the grove, crouching, successfully concealed from those on Teller’s side of the river—not necessarily from Carver’s.

            Intent on watching all of this, Carver never heard or saw the beast that stepped into the river about a hundred feet away from his own position. Only when it began to cry “Lies, lies!” in a kind of demonic, booming rasp to the people on Kiln’s verandah did Carver begin kicking himself for successfully keeping track of everything but his own immediate area.

            Kiln and his bodyguards, two of them now restraining Cane, looked up to where their comrade on Carver’s side of the river stood holding up the severed head of one of their own. The head was a man’s, and Carver remembered the fate of their potential attacker from last night.

            It cried, again, “Lies, lies! Someone took Estes’ head clean off! They’re spies, Father!”

            Carver watched one of the bodyguards respond, but couldn’t make it out. All the same, he was able to assume what he could not hear: Find the perpetrators. Dead or alive is finder’s choice.

            After that, Carver paid very little attention to what went on across the river on Kiln’s verandah. He waited while the beast on his side of the river proceeded to search for his scent, never taking his eyes off its progress. Minutes passed before Carver realized his strategy of dousing himself with Tom’s scent-killer spray was working. Kiln’s sentry couldn’t pinpoint a scent to lead it, so it kind of wandered around confused, not really leaving the area but not drawn in Carver’s direction either.

            The sound of shattering glass across the river was barely distinguishable, but Carver’s glance spotted someone, or something, running away from the house toward the distant treeline on the opposite side of Kiln’s valley. The beast in Carver’s vicinity looked, but it wasn’t about to abandon its current efforts. The rifle shot that took its attention didn’t come from Tom’s position. With a glance across the river, Carver saw the bodyguard left to watch Teller fall to the verandah, its head absent for the final descent.

            When his eyes returned to the beast on his own side of the river, Carver saw the thing looking directly back at him. Its features, already hellish, pulled back into an expression of rage Carver’s worst nightmares could never imagine. As it charged him, he raised Mr. Finch’s .45 with its single silver round. 

 

 III.

 

At first, the urgent cries from across the river were too distant for Teller’s ears to make sense of the words. He thought the beast was hollering pies, pies over and over, but there could be no misunderstanding visually. The wolf which emerged from the tree line, apparently one of Kiln’s sentries, was holding up someone’s liberated head by the hair. From here, Teller believed it had once belonged to either Helms or Murlay. The superior hearing abilities of their hosts allowed no such misrepresentation; the sentry’s words provoked an immediate cold regard toward Malabar and his men. After the initial disbelieving stare, Kiln seemed reluctant to regard the sentry’s discovery, as though unwilling to acknowledge the implications of what it meant.

Eventually, it dawned on Teller. The sentry was yelling “Lies, Lies,” not “pies.”

He breathed a sigh of relief when one of Kiln’s bodyguards from the verandah called out for the beast across the river to search for any sign of who had killed “Estes.”

Praise Zeus, the head belonged to one of the enemy.

            Teller was nearly to the limo when Kiln turned to face Malabar. The Mayor’s expression reflected disappointment, suspicion, and anger. Characteristically, Malabar appeared unconcerned. He accepted the sidearm which Boris held out to him butt first.

            “Malabar, what is the meaning of this? That head belongs on the body of one of my sentries!”

            “Mayor, I propose we conclude one item of business before embarking on another. Let’s not jump to conclusions.”

            “The conclusions I’m arriving at bear jumping to, Sir Malabar. I would like to understand why YOUR agents consider it part of their PROCEDURE to behead MY people!”

“It is standard procedure to disburse our agents in any environment undergoing transition, but my men have no orders to murder yours.”

            Two of Kiln’s bodyguards were preoccupied with keeping Cane immobilized; the third was left to the task of protecting the Mayor. Teller was struck by the surreal absurdity of this situation. Kiln stood there, not beside other human beings, but four slavering beasts almost too large for the limited space on the verandah. Kiln, still in his human form, appeared to be an old man standing beside his monstrous pets. The mayor’s primary bodyguard regarded Malabar uncertainly. Everyone knew to leave the one called Malabar alone, but now the tone of its master implied that matters had changed. Malabar appeared unconcerned; if anything, he looked impatient.

The Mayor took a deep breath before he spoke again. “This seems … irregular. I understand watching me, but your men are out there with the purpose of weakening my defenses. I fail to see the necessity of this in any so-called amicable situation.”

            Teller was also confused, but for different reasons. He watched Malabar lean in to whisper something to Kiln, who listened without abandoning one iota of his skepticism. Teller couldn’t make out Malabar’s words, and found it slightly odd when Malabar and Kiln entered the house, followed by an unwilling Cane propelled by Kiln’s two bodyguards, still restraining him. Before the door closed, Malabar looked back at Teller with an expression that was devoid of inference, however subtle.

The third bodyguard stayed outside and alternated glances between Teller, Boris, and the area across the river, where one comrade was presumably searching for the killer—or killers—of another. Just like that, Teller and Boris found the number of lethal creatures in their immediate presence diminished from five to one. Whatever potentially explosive situation now brewing was doing so inside the house. For Teller the effect was anticlimactic and disorienting, but Boris was visibly relieved, even though neither of them was holding anything to use for self-defense should the bodyguard left behind on the verandah decide to make lunch out of them.

Boris backed away from the steps without taking his eyes off Kiln’s bodyguard, as though the beast might decide to strike like a rattler unwittingly disturbed. Teller, fortunately, knew better that instincts of the beast were more sensitive to smell than movement, but he was losing the struggle against his own fear; an emotion detectable by smell when it came to the abilities of such a creature. Werewolves could smell it in even the smallest measure.

He turned to the limousine, opened the front passenger door, and took a seat, as though he were simply taking a load off while he waited for the boss to conclude his mysterious business. Casually, he left the door open, one leg hanging out, but his left hand slid down the side of the seat for the back-up sidearm always kept there in a holster. The gun was there, a Walther PPK, and Teller released it from the holster, pushing the weapon up into the sleeve of his jacket as well as he could, holding it there with his fingers. With equal nonchalance, Teller’s eyes rose to the rearview mirror in an effort to further identify the source of the light reflection he’d seen before.

Whatever had been out there, the area appeared abandoned now.

The bodyguard on the verandah was staring into the woods across the river. Boris produced a pack of cigarettes and proceeded to light one, exhaling smoke with an agitated sigh. Teller remembered when he would have killed for the very same thing in a situation like this, but he’d quit years ago.

They all heard glass break within the house.

Teller assumed Cane was making an attempt to escape. The next noises he heard were the reports of a rifle, followed by the sick smacking of the beast’s head exploding on impact like a ripe watermelon shot point blank. The bodyguard had just turned to the door and opened it, heading in to investigate the breaking glass, ready to protect its master. The mess showered Boris with gore and forced him back a few steps, rubbing his eyes. Teller let the Walther fall into his hand and jumped out of the limo, heading for the house at a run. Another rifle crack met his ears as he was passing Boris and mounting the stairs.

He took no time to assess the situation inside the house; what he saw at a glance was a shattered window facing the backyard and river, a flurry of movement in the room, and Malabar’s back directly in front of him. He was aware of something else, but the full significance didn’t dawn on him immediately. He grabbed his boss by the jacket and pulled him backward, off-balance, toward the door.

Malabar had different intentions. With fierce resistance he yanked himself free of Teller’s grasp and turned to face him.

At first, Teller assumed the boss didn’t realize it was one of his own men grabbing him, but from the look in Malabar’s eyes, Teller saw he was wrong. Only then did he realize what had seemed odd about the room when he entered: Kiln and his bodyguards were absent. As he became aware of this, Kiln, in mid-change, was standing up behind the couch.

“Boss, what is this?”

Teller heard a scream behind him and knew it was Boris. When he turned around, the chauffeur was on the ground, jerking with the last spasms of a failing nervous system. Blood was shooting from his neck as though he’d been attacked by a rabid dog. When Teller looked back to Malabar, he found the boss holding the sidearm borrowed from Boris aimed squarely at his head.

He heard a second rifle shot from outside, and then the loud smack of a bullet hitting the wall across the room, near Kiln. It had been fired through the open space once full of window glass, perhaps originating somewhere across the river. The old man vaulted the couch with agility that men three decades younger might not have managed. With the boss distracted by this, Teller turned and bolted for the open doorway.

On the verandah, he hit the splatter left in the wake of the third bodyguard’s exploding head, and slid most of the way down the stairs on his back. The shooter was Murlay, he knew, and so Teller made no effort to scramble under the stairs in hopes of avoiding the next bullet, even though no other bullet was forthcoming. Besides, the danger close at hand wouldn’t involved getting shot. Blindly, he fired into the oily fur of the beast snacking on Boris’ corpse, not ten feet away. Missing with his first shot, he focused for the second try, and his second thudded into its side of the beast, pitching it over sideways. It was dead before it hit the ground, but Teller was hardly surprised to find bullets from this gun were made of the proper mineral.

            In the distance, he saw his own rental car enter the mouth of Kiln’s driveway, throwing up a shower of gravel and dust in its wake. A thin grove of trees lined both sides of the driveway, fifty feet or so past it, and the car disappeared from view. Before it did, he believed he saw Murlay behind the wheel.

            If that were so, then who was out there firing shots? Biltmore, Louis, or Helms.

            Another rifle shot made him duck his shoulders instinctively. As the echo of it faded in his ears, Teller was able to hear Kiln’s voice, from inside the house, yelling something Teller only heard the end of.

            Assuming these events were all being overheard by his agent stationed in Winterlong, Teller yelled to Keever that it was time to abort.

            When Keever didn’t respond, Teller immediately feared the worst, but pulling Keever out of hot water wouldn’t happen if he couldn’t pull himself out of it first.

            His rental car would be coming out of the end of that natural tunnel of trees within another second or two, headed toward the house, and Teller stood up, running out to meet it. Glancing to the river, he saw the sentry who’d been searching for its comrade’s murderer standing in the water, looking directly at him. As Murlay’s car approached the verandah, it skidded sideways in the gravel, and Teller could see both front and rear passenger windows were rolled down, in case a speedy entry to the vehicle allowed no time to open a door.

            A gunshot rang out from inside the house, and Teller heard the bullet whistle over his head before hitting the passenger door of the rental. He saw Murlay cringe behind the wheel, as though visibility was a requirement to being hit by bullets which could easily pierce the doors of the vehicle. As Murlay raised his own sidearm to return cover fire, Teller dove into the backseat, scrambling unsuccessfully to reach back and pull the door closed. Thankfully, forward motion did the job for him.

“Boss, we got problems.”

Teller sat up and turned to look out the back window. He saw nothing outside the house but the bodies of Boris and the wolf that had killed him, but he was just in time to see someone throw a dark-colored softball or rock from across the river, directly at Kiln’s house. They hit the grove and Teller missed seeing by mere seconds the explosion. He almost asked Murlay which of the men had brought grenades without telling him, but suddenly realized the answer to his own question when his mind conjured an image of a duffel bag found yesterday morning hidden in the ceiling tiles of a motel room.

I found a duffel bag above the ceiling tiles in his room. I’d bet on automatic weapons of some kind. At least two handguns.

… Maybe grenades.

“Carver’s here.”

Murlay brought them out the other end of the grove, and the view opened up once again. Here the driveway was maybe a hundred feet higher in altitude than the valley, with nothing to obstruct the sight of Kiln’s house burning on the edge of the river. Teller could see no survivors running from the house.

“Did you know he was over there?”

“I never saw him,” said Murlay, “but we have bigger fish cooking. Keever’s not responding.”

“I know. Let’s get over there.”

“And I can’t reach Louis.”

            As Murlay spoke, Teller spotted the man with dark hair crouching in the wild foliage growing between the grove and the mouth of the driveway. He thought of telling Murlay to stop, but the guy was up and running as soon as he realized Teller had seen him. As they departed Kiln’s valley, Teller saw him heading for a boat launch of some kind. It was the poor soul charged with driving Kiln’s car the night before. Teller didn’t have time to ponder why the guy was still there, watching Kiln’s house, after being lucky enough to escape in the first place.

They cleared the mouth of Kiln’s driveway, skidding sideways on the paved county road as Murlay fought the wheel in a valiant effort to avoid taking the Gravity Express out into the abyss beyond the shoulder. The drop-off had been well hidden in the darkness on the way in, but now Teller’s stomach plummeted through the bottom of the backseat as he saw the valley’s depths tinged in red daylight so far below them. He was reminded, oddly, of that early Walt Disney cartoon: the one where Goofy is recklessly navigating a runaway camper-trailer down a mountain road not unlike this, barely avoiding an off-road excursion at every turn as the camper he’s pulling behind perpetually swings out over open space. Murlay’s borderline-reckless navigation of the road’s various switchbacks did little to dispel this memory, but Teller never told him to slow down. As he began to piece together the elements of the current situation, trust in his cohort’s abilities would provide the breathing room to ponder how all of this had gone so horribly wrong.

“Kiln’s known Cane was our target all along. Malabar has some arrangement with Kiln he never bothered to tell us about—which means he must have known what we were walking into from the beginning. If that’s not bad enough, he also had a deal with Cane, who we were sent here to punish! Can you believe that? The boss has been playing us all since New York! I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming. I’m the one who told him Cane was in New York in the first place—I even gave him Cane’s address! Of course he paid Cane a visit in person—”

“And Cane gave up the whereabouts of the clan in order to save his own hide.”

“That has to be what happened. Malabar let us continue with the surveillance only because he didn’t dare let that shifty whisker-brain out of his sight again.”

Murlay didn’t, or couldn’t, say anything in response.

“And once we confirmed where Cane would end up, all the boss had to do was find out who called the shots in Cutler County. That probably didn’t take two seconds, and Kiln wasn’t hard to make a deal with.”

“So what happens now?”

“I don’t know. I could kill him, but I know I won’t. What do you think?”

“Malabar didn’t do anything I wouldn’t have done myself, except for the part about not telling his own men.”

“We wouldn’t have proceeded in the way we did. First thing I would have done is kidnap the Mayor and then trade him back to the clan for Cane. Let the rest of the clan do the work for us.”

Murlay said, “His way had less chance of failure.”

“Not only that. I don’t think he actually sold us out until just now. If you guys didn’t kill that sentry, that means Carver did, but Kiln thinks it was us. I think Malabar just traded us as a sacrifice to ensure Kiln’s continued cooperation.”

 

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