It was easy to spot the city watch. Even on the wrong streets when they chose to hide and leave their uniforms behind, they were obvious. Their collars were always pressed, the seams in their breeches always perfect straight lines to pass inspection. Elodie knew from a friend that the city only provided them with coats and boots, and they simply wore plain clothes shirts and breeches underneath. Lazy as human beings were, she doubted that they bothered to change more than they had to. Either that, or they only owned one pair of pants.
The man and the woman approached Elodie slowly and she decided not to walk away. She had a few things in her pockets that could get her in trouble, but nothing so large that it could be seen through the cloth. Standing against the wall of the old bakery, she had a good view of the rest of the street. She was enjoying the smell of the morning’s loaves cooling on the high windows somewhere over her head, and she didn’t want to give up such a sweet spot.
They continued toward her and stopped when they reached the bakery. The man hung back, leaning against the wall himself, while the woman smiled at her. It was a nice smile, but a little too calculated to erase everything behind it.
“Hey,” the woman said.
Elodie smiled back, and wondered if the woman could recognize the better form of her mask.
“Are you from around here?” the woman asked.
“Live somewhere ’round here,” Elodie told her. “Wasn’t born here.”
The woman blinked once, but her smile didn’t waver. It was too fixed, and Elodie appreciated it a little less.
“We’re looking for someone,” she murmured. “Tall, brown hair, with a scar down one cheek.”
Elodie took in a breath, like she was trying to match the description to a face. “I think I know her,” she said.
The woman paused. “Him.”
“Oh,” Elodie said. She shrugged, a little too broadly, but it was hard to resist poking at her. “Then I guess I don’t.”
The woman’s eyes narrowed, just a hair. “Really?” she asked. “My friend is pretty sure that he lives somewhere ’round here too.“
Elodie almost rolled her eyes. Instead, she just shut her mouth.
“You sure you don’t know him?”
Elodie looked away, and started counting the seconds. It was always interesting to see how long she had to ignore the guards before they gave up and moved on.
“Tall, wore a coat with five different colors, brown hair to about here.” She made a shelf of her fingers and touched her cheekbone.
Seven. Eight. Nine.
“Want to try the copper trick?” the man asked, still leaning against the wall.
The woman’s smile went a little wider while she looked at Elodie. “No,” she murmured. “She looks like a smart one. She’s not likely to fall for it. We had better try the silver trick.”
Curious, Elodie looked back at her. They didn’t usually come with tricks. Even if they were so proud of themselves as to give them names, she was a little pleased. The watch could use a good imagination.
The woman slid a silver coin up between her knuckles, as if she were only idly rubbing her fingers.
Elodie blinked. “Oh stars.” That wasn’t a trick. It was pathetic.
She shook her head, then glanced behind her to make sure no one was watching. When she pushed the woman toward the back corner of the bakery, both guards complained, but she dug in her heel and shoved until they were all hidden in the narrow space between buildings. There was a slim tree that shaded the area and the breeze playing in the leaves did a good job of distracting from anything underneath it, so long as they didn’t jump around.
“What do you want?” Elodie asked them.
They stared at her, and she didn’t care. She was beginning to think that they were pathetic. She didn’t expect them to thank her, but she intended to get them back onto safer streets as soon as possible.
The guards looked at each other. The woman shrugged a little. The man made a motion that Elodie figured was somewhere between I disagree and it’s your funeral, and the woman responded by tilting her head and glaring. The man sighed. Elodie leaned forward, just to catch their attention again and hurry this along.
“We found a dead man this morning,” the man explained to Elodie, slowly. “He was taller than me, with brown hair, and a scar that ran from here…” He touched his forehead all the way to one side, almost at the hairline. “…to here.” He touched the center of his cheekbone.
Elodie nodded, shallowly, just to say she understood and encourage him to continue.
“He had a knife strapped to his arm and another at the small of his back. His purse was gone, but he had a pair of loaded dice in his pocket. We figure he won a few too many times and someone took their money back.”
“One pair of dice?” Elodie asked.
The man nodded, looking at her uncertainly.
“Then he didn’t live somewhere ’round here,” Elodie assured him.
“How do you–”
“You can’t run a good game on one pair of loaded dice,” Elodie said. She put her hands in her pockets and carefully avoided certain things while she dug a pair of dice out of the inside seam. Holding them in her open palm, she showed them to the guards. “These roll a seven – two and a five.” She took a second pair from her other pocket, identical to the first. “These roll a seven – one and a six.” She put the first pair back and came up with a third. “Seven – three and a four.”
Elodie shoved both hands back into her pockets and shook three more pairs free from her sleeves before she pulled them out, carefully holding them between her fingers. “Five, ten, and nine.”
She put them away, then reached a hand to the back of her neck as if she needed to rub out an ache, then pulled out two more. “Six.” She turned her hand to show the other. “And snake eyes. Just in case my luck needs to run low for a moment.”
The guards stared at her. Elodie tried not to look pleased, though she really was.
“One pair won’t cut it in our games,” she told them, keeping her voice low. “You should be looking somewhere else.”
It took them a long moment to catch up, it seemed, but they nodded, thanked her, and started slowly back the way they had come. Elodie watched them for half a dozen steps, then wandered back to her place against the wall. No one had taken it, which was nice, but the baker was just inside her window now, rolling out a long layer of dough with a pin the width of Elodie’s arm.
“That was smooth,” the baker said. Her voice came out faintly, as if she couldn’t be bothered to actually face the window as she spoke.
Elodie leaned back against the wall, and tossed a proud grin over her shoulder. The woman couldn’t see it, but she didn’t really care. “Thank you.”