Tevin and I stand up, gathering up our cards, and head towards the corner table.
Phase one: Admit our ineptitude at Magic the Gathering.
Phase two: Ingratiate ourselves to the suspect as willing students.
Phase three: Determine innocence and thank her for her time; determine guilt and collect evidence of her crime; or determine demonhood and send her back to hell.
It’s phase one I’m having the most trouble with—I don’t like admitting ineptitude in anything.
“Hey,” Tevin says with a bright smile. “Mind if we sit down?”
I’m not sure about that tack. He’s using our barroom chat-up methods, his dark brown eyes sparkling with suggestion while his grin says “just the class clown.” He’s handsome in a lanky way, with medium brown skin and close-cropped black hair, and it’s usually tactically preferable to be good-looking and flirtatious in our business, but I’m not sure that’s the right approach just now.
That being said, I’m not sure what a perfect approach would consist of. I haven’t had many gamers in my life, and I haven’t kept up with the evolution of the stereotype, never mind the actual subculture. I guess barroom tactics might do as well as anything I can come up with.
“Be my guest,” Tabitha says, and something snaps to attention inside of me. Her voice is deep for a girl’s, languid, and it brushes against my consciousness like a sea creature bumping the bottom of a boat: slight, but deeply dangerous, and setting the whole to trembling. Or maybe that was just the rasping quality of her voice, and I’m jumping for nothing.
“I’m Tevin, this is my friend Ashley,” Tevin introduces us as we sit down. I smile and twiddle my fingers in a wave.
“I’m Tabby,” she says, and again, there’s that feeling. I pinpoint it, this time: it’s relaxing, attempting to put me at my ease. It’s compelling, but whether naturally or demonically, it’s too early to tell.
“A friend invited us here to play Magic the Gathering,” Tevin says, placing his deck on the table. “Said he’d teach us how, but he totally flaked out on us. We thought maybe we could hobble along on our own, but… well…”
I make a face. “I know enough to tell Tevin his play is appalling, and to guess that my own is, too. Would you be able to help us out?”
“Oh.” She gives a little laugh. “I’m not a Magic girl, myself. Sorry.”
“Oh.” Tevin and I glance at one another. We’d picked MtG because it was the only gamer-game either of us was familiar with. A miscalculation, but not irrecoverable.
“Well,” I begin, but Tabby is already pulling out a karaff full of multicolored dice.
“Ever play D&D?” she asks.
We shake our heads. “My parents made me promise not to,” Tevin says with a teasing grin. “The devil’s game, and all that.”
I refrain from shooting the man a quelling look. Playing that a little close to home, aren’t you, Tev?
Tabby smiles a sleepy little smile, and adjusts her glasses. Light glints on tiny rhinestones around the rim, catching my eye. The light plays across my mind, catching and dragging at my thoughts in a familiar fashion. A fascination. I jerk my mind away before I become suggestible. More subtle than usual, that sparkle, but I’m sure of it. We’re either dealing with a demon or a witch. Has Tevin noticed? I refrain from glancing at my partner.
Blinking away the blearing afterimage, I focus on the rulebook Tabby is pulling out, the figurines, the character sheets. Tevin shows appropriate fascination, and I join him. It’s not hard to fake—it sounds like a fun piece of make-believe.
When Tabby steps over to the snack machine, I lean over to whisper as much to Tevin. “I think I’ll enjoy this. It might be nice to act a part for our own entertainment, for a change, rather than to scope out our mark.”
“But it is to scope out our mark.” His lips barely move, his dark eyes stay fixed on the paper in front of him. “Don’t get lost in it. I’m really feeling Neutral Good—I like my morality with some freedom to maneuver. What do you think?”
I want to scowl—does he think I’m a rookie?—but he’s right. The sinkind are a dangerous business, and it seems like they find new ways to get under our guards and inside our heads at every turn. When it comes to humans vs. demons, we might as well all be rookies.
“I won’t get lost. Lawful Good, for me.” My lips quirk as I think of the badge tucked away in my wallet. “Or is that too obvious?”
Tevin glances over his shoulder, and his eyes brighten. “Three bags of Cheetos! What a wonderful person…” His words trail off into an unspoken if she’s not a denizen of hell or a mass murderer. He bites his lip, and I’ve worked with him long enough to see earnest hopefulness in that quirk of his eyebrows. He always wants them to be innocent. Especially the attractive women.
I frown, sorry for him. I’m almost certain we’ve got a bad egg, here, and I hate that woeful look he gets on his face when he’s severing and burning the head of someone he really liked.
“Cheetos,” Tabby says in a sleepy tone, dropping the bags on the table.
Tevin grins and snatches a bag. “Thanks, Tabbs! Plus five to charisma, at least, for that.”
Tabby’s smile flickers faintly, and she adjusts her glasses again. Reaching for my own bag with a murmur of thanks, I blink away the wave of softness that presses against my mind like telepathic chloroform. Tevin has to have noticed that one.
I open the bag, trying not to squint, trying to resettle my mind into the duality of casual gamer and guarded demon hunter.
Enjoy the snack, I tell myself. Enjoy the game. And don’t forget who you’re dicing with.