Not every job done on behalf of Coyote was full of harrowing twists and turns and dangerous creatures... unless you counted cranky celebrities and drunk coeds. I saw plenty of those. Getting contracted to do a lot of high end bodyguard and security work by people (or the children of people) with a lot more money than sense was a mixed blessing. It paid well and it gave me access to circles I might otherwise never travel in, but it also vacillated between utterly terrifying and boring as hell. I preferred the jobs that let me wear jeans and a t-shirt, with maybe a jacket to cover the shoulder rig. Tonight, however, swung the opposite direction. Security were present in thousand dollar suits, groomed within an inch of their lives, and I was no exception. At least I wore it better than most of the guards present, who looked like over-muscled gorillas even in their fancy dress.
My name’s Billy Nizhoni, alias “Buck”. The latter’s my working name, since it fits better with the image than what I normally go by. I stand several inches over six feet, and though I work out, my chest and shoulders are well muscled and proportionate to my build rather than bodybuilder overdone. I’m also an Indian. Well, half Navajo. The permanent bronze cast of my skin, straight coal-black hair gathered in a tail at the nape of my neck, and Native features give me an exotic cast I’m well aware of, and have used to my advantage on more than one occasion. Tonight, though, my looks made me stand out in a different way. With the exception of a pair of ghastly spray-tanned matrons, I was the darkest skinned person in the room. It was a dynamic I was more or less accustomed to, so I tamped down a faint twinge of unease and set about doing my best to be little more than pretty scenery.
The gallery opening at the Bellagio was supposed to be one of those boring jobs. It was a nice, sedate affair with people milling and chatting quietly, drinking champagne and eating horderves and remarking over the works of art on display. No chance of anything turning into an orgy or a drunken bash that might result in property damage or a segment on Entertainment Tonight. My job was just to stand around blending in with the walls and make sure none of the artwork or artifacts attempted to grow legs and walk off. Everything was going fine, until I got a call over my radio. It was the tone for my private channel rather than the one that reached all the guards on duty throughout the gallery.
I glanced idly at the gold inlaid sculpture of a dragon carved from jade so deep a green it was nearly blue, and touched a finger to my earpiece.
“You’re needed in the back, Bilagaana.”
I froze as the shock of hearing my birth name hit me like a bucket of ice water. Nobody knew that name except my blood family who all thought I was dead, and Coyote, who never used it. Someone was trying to tell me something. It took a long moment to unkink my brain and respond.
“On my way.”
I clenched my jaw for a moment, and then clicked over to the main channel, informing the security head I was going off shift for a few. I got an acknowledgement and headed for the behind the scenes room that had been designated for breaks. This simple babysitting job was rapidly growing more complicated than I cared for. With an effort, I kept my temper under control. I did not know who I was dealing with here, but they certainly seemed to know about me. I wondered if they knew my birth name was an unsubtle insult, saddled on me by a bitter and unhappy mother. Not that it much mattered. Coyote was not the sort to bail me out if I got in over his head. Not unless certain death threatened, anyway. I was on my own here. I opened the door and stepped inside, closing it after me.
The only person in the well lit, climate controlled storeroom was a slender woman whose dark auburn hair waved around her face and down to her bare shoulders. She didn’t look like much compared to the glittering throng outside. Her black halter-neck dress was far too plain for Las Vegas, even if it did afford me a nice view of her cleavage. It was very nice cleavage. “Mr. Nizhoni,” she said with a polite nod.
I remembered to keep my eyes on her face, not her chest, when I responded. “Ma’am.” Someone was playing games, but I was stuck until I garnered more information. “Is there a problem?” I asked, striving to keep my voice professionally neutral. I tucked my hands at the small of my back, falling into a parade rest stance.
The silk of her floor length skirt hushed against her legs, outlining them clear to the hip with every step she took in my direction. “To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know.” She tilted her head at me, not quite meeting my eyes. She wasn’t as made up as the women outside. I could see that her lashes were dark all on their own, and that her eyes were a clear shade of blue-grey, like storm clouds out in the desert. “I was hoping you might tell me.”
I arched one brow. It was a neat trick I had picked up from Coyote. If I hadn’t been on a job, and she hadn’t been tied into my employers for this contract, this lady would definitely have been on my list of interests. She still was. The professional side of me, however, knew better than to let an attractive set of tits and a lovely pair of thighs distract me. Not that I didn’t appreciate the view.
“Might help if I knew the nature of the issue.” I cocked my head and studied her a bit closer, though I avoided her eyes just as she had avoided mine. Too many things could trap you if you looked them straight in the eye, and I wasn’t sure what this one might be. Dammit, this had supposedly been a straight up gig, no weird stuff. That would teach me to take any personal assignment from Coyote at face value.
“Indeed.” The woman turned away, picking up the neat pile of papers on the edge of the workroom table. The front of her dress was plain, if luxurious, but the back was a knockout. The whole thing had been cut away all the way to her waist, with a flesh-colored mesh inset loaded with glittering stones. It drew attention to all the things I liked about the way women looked. She was definitely dressed to distract, and I couldn’t afford to lose my edge now. “Bilagaana Nizhoni, born in the Navajo Nation, served in the Special Forces...and declared dead some few years ago. That must be difficult to explain to the Air Force.”
Ah, so that was her angle. “Might be why I stayed dead,” I responded mildly, not bothering to deny it. “Certainly easier than trying to explain it. Don’t think I’d’ve done well in an institution.” The Air Force would have locked me up and tossed away the key if I had tried to go back and tell them about the Skinwalker that had attacked me and my team. Either that, or court martialed me for the murders. I had been the only survivor of the attack, and then only because of Coyote’s intervention. That continued survival depended on several conditions. I still had the scars the Skinwalker had left me with. I changed the subject.
“Nobody calls me Bilagaana, by the way. Not even my family did.” I let a faint smile touch my mouth. “It’s Diné for White Man. My mother’s last insult.”
“Having an insulting mother might explain why you wish to be dead, but not why the government believes it to be the truth,” she answered, a wry smile touching her lips. “You came to us highly recommended, but outside our usual sources. I was a bit perplexed until I looked at your hiring records.” She tapped the sheaf of papers. “We brought you on at the last moment, as I’m certain you’re aware. It seems one of our regular guards was involved in a terrible accident last night when he swerved his car into an oncoming vehicle to avoid hitting an animal in the road.” She paused, glancing toward my eyes again without meeting them. “A rather large coyote.”
Yep. I’d been set up all right. Damn the old Trickster. I drew in one deep breath and let it slowly out through his nose. “Really now?” Laughing yellow eyes danced in my head. There were times I definitely regretted taking the cagey bastard’s deal. “Sorry to hear that, Ma’am. I wasn’t informed of the reason I got tapped for this contract. Like you mentioned, I got the call at the last minute.”
“Hmm.” She shook her head. “You’ve certainly lived long enough as a dead man to be aware of the rules. Otherwise, someone would have taken that pretty head of yours right off at the shoulders.” She made it sound matter-of-fact, not threatening. I’d seen plenty of monsters pretending to be pretty women in my days, but there weren’t too many pretty women who pretended to be monsters, not dressed like that anyway. “Surely even a practical joker of your friend’s nature would know better than to impinge upon the things that allow our sort of society to remain civilized.”
I chuckled. That was the politest I had ever heard anyone describe Coyote. There was little point in beating around the bush anymore. There was another Power at work here, and clearly concerned that someone belonging to Coyote had come sniffing around its territory. I had enough experience to tell me that much. I did not know how they had tagged me, but clearly, I had been noticed. “Ma’am, if the joke’s on anyone tonight, I’ve a feeling it’s on me. Yes, I know the rules. I really did come on a last minute contract call. The old bastard sent me in blind, and he’s likely laughing his ass off at me right now.” I paused, realizing I’d slipped into language that wasn’t exactly polite. “If you’ll pardon my French.”
The corners of her mouth tipped upwards. “Mais bien sûr. And it’s Elisabeth.”
She was lovely when she smiled. I nodded, a rogue’s grin tugging at my own mouth. “Ms. Elisabeth. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Call me Billy.” I shrugged. “Or Buck. That’s the name I go by when I’m on duty. Sounds more native-y, makes the clients happy.”
“Was there anything else you needed from me, Ms. Elisabeth?” I asked. “I think it goes without saying I’d prefer to stay a dead man. Keeps things simpler that way.”
“We should get back to work,” she murmured, turning away with her stack of papers. “I’m afraid I’m only being paid to mingle with the guests, not with the rest of the staff.”
“Yes, ma’am.” She had a nice ass too. A really nice ass. I shouldn’t think about it like that. She was technically tied to my employer, at least for tonight. It did give me a thought, though. A crazy, stupid thought worthy of my asshole boss. “Mind if I ask you something before we head back into the fray?” I said, keeping my tone light.
Elisabeth fed the stack of papers into the industrial shredder behind her, the sort that reduced everything to tiny scraps that most wouldn’t bother with. I was willing to bet she had the stuff torched, too, if she was a Power or working with one. Personally, I suspected the latter. She was a cool customer, but I didn’t get the scary vibe off her that most of the old ones seemed to have. “Go ahead.”
I could have asked how they had puzzled out my real name. I could have asked who she worked for, or how they’d discovered my connection to Coyote. But if I had learned anything since signing on with the Trickster, it was that there were Things out there that had sources of knowledge and information far beyond the scope of mere mortals like myself. In the long run, it did not matter a great deal how they figured things out.
“Would you consider meeting me for coffee later? If not tonight when this event is through, maybe some other day when we’re both free? I don’t get the opportunity to socialize as much as I’d like outside of work.” The worst she could say was no. The opening was a one time contract job, and even if they never rehired me, there was plenty of work in Vegas for a man of my skills and reputation. Plenty of other women too, but this one intrigued me. I hadn’t met many others who worked for the various supernatural powers that controlled the lion’s share of lucrative interests in the city.
Her brows lifted, but I didn’t miss the little flash of interest in her eyes. “Coffee?” she murmured slowly. “It’s been awhile since I’ve gone out and socialized outside of...” Elisabeth trailed off. “Yes. I’d like that.”
The caveman side of my ego made triumphant noises at me. It sounded an awful lot like Coyote. I mentally stomped it back under control. I did not, however, stop the smile that spread across my face. “I’ve got a fair amount of flexibility in my schedule,” I told her. “Let me know what works best for you, and I’ll be there. You oughta have my number in your files.”
“All right,” she agreed with a funny little smile. “I’ll do that.”
I sketched a slight bow and mimed tipping an invisible hat. “Ma’am.” I held the door for her when we left the storage room and headed back toward the gallery proper. Damn, but the woman had a set of legs on her. She didn’t seem to mind preceding me. In a dress like that, she had to know she was giving me one hell of a parting view. She had called me pretty earlier, and accepted my offer to meet again. Maybe it meant something, and maybe it didn’t, but it was a far better outcome than the one I had anticipated when I had gotten the call by my birth name.
I watched Elisabeth glide out to mingle with the opening’s patrons as I resumed my post near the jade dragon sculpture, tapping my earpiece and reporting my return to duty. Coyote could go hump a cactus. I had myself a date with a pretty lady.