- The Spider’s Seven #1 – The Trickster God
- The Spider’s Seven #2 – The Penitent Thief
- The Spider’s Seven #3 – The Enforcer and the Faceman
- The Spider’s Seven #4 – The Wheelman
- The Spider’s Seven #5 – The Plan
- The Spider’s Seven #6 – The Base
- The Spider’s Seven #7 – The Myth
- The Spider’s Seven #8 – The Genius (Part 1)
- The Spider’s Seven #9 – The Genius (Part 2)
- The Spider’s Seven #10 – The Genius (Part 3)
- The Spider’s Seven #11 – The Monster (Part 1)
- The Spider’s Seven #12 – The Monster (Part 2)
- The Spider’s Seven Annual #1 – The Team
Two hours later and his waitress was staring.
Anansi looked up from his food laden table and smiled at her. She tried desperately to look as if she hadn’t been staring. He just took a sip of his ice water and tried to decide what to eat next.
It had taken ten trips, twelve plates, five soup bowls and an additional bowl made from a tortilla, but a proper sampling of all the food on the Twoflower hotel’s All You Can Eat Buffet lay in a spread before him.
All in all, it was a mixed bag. The salad limited the actual greens to lettuce that wasn’t nearly crisp enough, the white beans were in desperate need of salt, and the barbecue pork was unfortunately bland. On the other hand, the mashed potatoes were fluffy and buttery, the macaroni and cheese (three kinds!) were delicious, the sliced beef was juicy, and the chicken nuggets were a new and exciting take on poultry that he wished to investigate in depth.
For his fourth plate, he scooped some roasted potatoes on top of cooked spinach alongside an ear of corn, and a turkey leg. He also pulled the tortilla bowl, filled with seasoned ground beef and what the station at the end of one of the buffet tables declared ‘Taco Fixings’ (but which appeared to merely be cheese, lettuce, salsa and sour cream) over to eat as well.
Most people would have been full two or three plates ago. Most people didn’t eat for exploration’s sake.
He had just finished salting, peppering, and buttering his corn and wondering if it was acceptable to dip a bit of sour cream onto it like the baked potato station suggested with a similar staple food, when a brusk, unhappy voice came from beside him.
“Just who the hell are you?” It was, of course, the blackjack dealer, now dressed in a short sleeved shirt and black cargo pants.
Anansi took a bit of corn and chewed thoughtfully before motioning for him to sit.
“Oh no.” The dealer said. “I’m not here to stay. I just want to know what it is you think you were doing back there.”
“Getting your attention. And it worked.” Anansi said happily.
“So it’s blackmail.”
“Not as such. Please, have a seat, help yourself, it’s all I can eat and I can eat quite a bit, so there’s enough to share.”
“I’m not sitting down.” The dealer said harshly.
Anansi didn’t seem to hear him. “Try the chicken nuggets. They’re remarkable. I think they’re why Americans have to be constantly worried about getting fat: there’s no bones to slow you down, not tendons to chew: they’ve removed every bit nature included to encourage moderation (plus, also allow chickens to live and move) and then breaded and fried it in delicious fat!”
“If I sit down, will you stop that and tell me what I want to know?”
“And try a chicken nugget.” Anansi waggled a finger at him.
The dealer’s eyes narrowed. “And try a damn nugget.”
“I’ll stop, but only because I’ll be talking about something else instead. Once I’m done…”
“Fine.” The dealer sat down at the table opposite him. Anansi had appropriated the large table in the center of the dining room, the one usually reserved for large parties. It was necessary to hold all his food.
Anansi stared at him pointedly. It took him almost a full minute to realize he had promised to try a nugget. It wasn’t half bad.
The Spider smiled contentedly and twirled some spinach onto his fork like pasta, stabbing a potato onto it for good measure. “Wonderful. Now, John Elliston, I have something very important to talk to you about.” He ate the forkful, then added thoughtfully, “Actually, the man I really want to talk to is Terrell King.”
A chill seemed to settle over the table. The dealer stared at Anansi carefully. “I don’t know him.”
Anansi laughed. “I love a good lie, Mr. Elliston, but that was a bad one. But for the bad lie, I’ll give you a good story:
“2065, a young man ends up in a half-way house when he gets too old for juvenile hall. He’s a thief. A good thief, but not half as clever as he thought, not yet. Not a month later, he’s in jail for stealing tagged goods. It comes down to receiving stolen property because no one can prove how he got into the room to steal them though.
“That happens again and again. No one notices how every store and house that’s robbed has wooden door frames. He stops getting caught too, because most tags are impregnated in paper stickers. The problem is, the thefts make him rich. Rich enough the gamble. He plays poker and never loses when it’s his deal.
“But bigger games have bigger buy-ins and now, and you don’t make money fast only winning when the deck’s in you hands. He needed bigger scores. Luckily, there’s plenty of rich homes. Not so lucky: they use steel doors or better. This is where he becomes clever.
“It doesn’t take long for him to learn how to force a deadbolt with a playing card and pick a lock with a cigarette butt. Stealing from them is as easy as walking through the door. Problem is, easy impairs clever. He stopped doing the legwork and gaining knowledge about who he hit. Until he hit the home of the upper crust of the Staveletti crime family.”
Anansi gauged the reaction the other man was trying to hide and took a sip of water.
“Once he found out what he’d done, it was goodbye to Chicago. And because the mob is clever, goodbye Terrell King. That’s when John Elliston came to Atlantic City. And that where I’ve got a question. You only got busted once here for theft. After that, you took a straight job and you’ve been clean for five years.”
He helped himself to a pork chop off yet another plate and some applesauce from another. “So why is that Terrell… heh, I mean John.”
Terrell’s eyes darted to the dining room around him. There was no one around to hear, but that didn’t rule out listening devices. Still, if the odd man questioning him knew all of this already, he didn’t need them.
“Where did you hear all that?”
“Would you believe that I’m a god of knowledge brought into flesh by a rising tide of returning magic? No? Then I can’t help you.” Anansi cut his pork chop into thin slices and dipped one into the applesauce on the end of a fork. “But I still want an answer. What happened?”
Terrell balled his hands into fists and stared quietly at the table.
“There was an old woman.” Anansi filled in for him. “The owner of another house you just walked into. Only this time, you found her on the floor. She’d fallen. Not far. Maybe the third step from the bottom, but far enough for a ninety year old. Who knows what could have happened if you hadn’t broken in, how long she would have been there, or even if she would have survived.
“A lot of thieves wouldn’t have taken her to the hospital instead of robbing her blind. But you aren’t a lot of thieves.”
“She didn’t press charges or anything.” Terrell said quietly. “Said she wouldn’t as long as I promised not to do it again.”
Anansi nodded, swallowing a bite. “And even though you loved the thrill and needed the money. And despite you were just so damn good at it; you never did, did you?”
Terrell shook his head.
“That is a good story.” Anansi said. “So good a story that it brought you to my attention. Mr. King, that story is why I want to offer you a job.”
“You just got done explaining exactly why I’m not stealing for anyone anymore.” Terrell started to stand.
“I did.” Anansi said. “But I was wondering what she actually said.”
Terrell paused, halfway up. “Sounded like you knew everything.”
“Perhaps I heard it wrong.”
“Fine.” Terrell sighed and stood up beside the table. “She said she wouldn’t press charges as long as I promised never to do to her what I planned to do to her. That is, robbing her.”
“Taking things for personal gain.” Anansi said. “That’s what she meant.”
“And the truth is, you can break into a place, take things – everything that was a thrill, everything you were good at – for something more than personal gain. And I think that honors that woman far more than burying your talents.”
Terrell didn’t speak, but he didn’t leave either.
“Aren’t you going to ask what I have in mind?” Anansi asked. “That’s what you would do if this were a movie.”
“I’m just assuming that if I stare at you long enough, you’ll tell me like you did with me before.” Terrell said bitterly.
Anansi chuckled. “Touche.” He produced a business card like the one he gave to Tommy, the cab driver. “It all depends on if you look at the small, direct picture, or the big, complex picture. Small and direct: we’re going to save thirty-four lives.”
“And the big picture?”
The Spider’s smile grew. “Now you’re falling into the role. The big picture is: we are going to save the world. But no one will ever know.”
King was silent for a time and Anansi took the opportunity to try a roll with honey butter.
“How do I know you’re being straight with me?” King asked after some deep thought. “Because I’m not going back to the way I used to be. And this ‘no one will know’ secrecy bullshit? That makes me think there’s something not right about this.”
Anansi calmly wiped his mouth and considered him for a moment. “I honestly can’t blame you for that. Some secrets are worth it. Some secrets are necessary. But rest assured, everything will be revealed to you before I ask you to use an ounce of your skill.”
“Then what would I be agreeing to for now?”
“I think they call it a ‘trial membership’.” Anansi stroked his chin and contemplated the next item on his lengthy menu. “Just take the day off tomorrow and come with me; you aren’t the only one who has talents that I’ve an interest in. There are two more in Atlantic City who I wish to pay a visit.”
“And then you’ll tell me what’s going on?”
“In good time.” said Anansi. “There are some stories that even I don’t enjoy retelling over-much.”
An hour and a half later and Anansi’s marathon meal came to an end. He left a two hundred dollar tip for the waitress for putting serious effort into her attempts to pretend not to stare. He also wrapped a handful of chicken nuggets in a napkin and nipped out of the restaurant with them.
In his hotel suite, he turned the TV on a random channel and sprawled on the sofa, munching on the nuggets.
The day had been eventful, even if only time would tell how successful it was.
Being who he was though, Anansi have an eye for failure. If King turned him down, he didn’t have another thief in mind. Because King was perfect. They were all perfect, to a given value of the word, and yet, by design, not perfect in the literal sense.
Most, but not all of them were too broken, too flawed, or simply too uncaring of others to become heroes that the public could love or draw inspiration from. And yet, it had been heavily impressed upon him that none of those heroes could accomplish what those he would choose could.
Not and survive at any rate.
And so The Spider had chosen. Now it was up to them to answer the call. Or not. Of course, he wouldn’t be The Spider if he didn’t put his thumb on the scales of fate from time to time.
The next two recruits were the ones he had tob e most careful with. Selfishness in two different disguises defined them; Vengeance for one, raw Self-gratification for the other.
Trying to harness either of those was a historically bad idea. Combining ‘what is right’ and ‘what is best for me’ too many times tended to convince people that those two things were the same. And before long, people were dying for the pleasure and profit of another.
But the great thing about humans was that even the most single minded and driven among them still had other needs and desires to play off of, even if they don’t notice or accept it.
It made him smile thinking about the scheme he had laid out… provided one didn’t kill the other. Which, given the circumstances was a distinct possibility.
He wouldn’t let it get that far though. Spiders were good with webs and The Spider was especially good with webs of lies.
To Be Continued…