- 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
Wendell Leiter was no stranger to the finer places in Atlantic City. In his time, he’d trolled the high roller tables and VIP lounges; made deals in glitzy ballrooms and four star restaurants, and slept in top tier suites.
Finding himself in the Veracruz private dining room of the Twoflower was like a shark finding itself in saltwater. But this time, he was drawing no comfort from it.
It was the morning after his near-death experience and first meeting with Anansi. The stiflingly charismatic man hadn’t filled them in any further, only handed each of them his card and inviting them to breakfast at the Twoflower the next morning.
Presenting the card at the front desk got him swiftly escorted into an elevator and up to the private dining room, where a buffet style breakfast was laid out before a banks of windows offering a panoramic view of the city.
But when the valet left him, Wendell found himself alone with Susan Polanski, the woman who, less than twenty-four hours earlier, had been willing to kill him for one hundred grand.
She sat at the finely set table in the middle of the room, positioned so that she was facing the door. As she was the day before, she was dressed distinctively; a red sun dress with yellow belt complemented by lace-up gloves almost to her shoulder, and high boots and stockings that concealed all but a sliver of her thighs.
Before, Wendell assumed she was just making a fashion statement, but now he knew that the stockings and gloves concealed cybernetics. He wasn’t quite certain what those cybernetics did, but Anansi hinted that they were the reason she was such a good assassin.
They exchanged silent nods and Wendell moved around the periphery of the room toward the buffet table, never taking his eyes off her. He found the table to be appropriately stocked for a private breakfast meeting; three different styles of eggs, breakfast meats, hash browns, several choices of bread or bagel, and several more of fruit, plus a station for making ones own waffles.
“You decided it was worth a closer look too.” Susan didn’t bother turning to look at him.
Wendell set about fixing himself a plate. Not only was free food always worth it, but having a full plate would give the impression that he was at his ease to the others. “At the very least, it’s just good sense to find out what he knows.”
He arranged two fried eggs, some strips of bacon, two slices of toast and a hash brown on his plate and drizzled everything in maple syrup. A sugar rush helped him think. That, and he liked maple syrup. After drawing a cup of coffee from the dispenser at the end of the table, he returned to the table and took a seat.
Nowhere within arm’s reach of his former assassin, of course, but not the seat directly across from her either. Taking the seat she had, the one that boldly faced the door, signaled that one was on their guard. Doing to opposite signaled arrogant self confidence. He chose a seat at random, giving the impression, once again, that he was at his ease.
Susan sipped at her glass of orange juice and made a sour face that had nothing to do with citrus. “He’s already shown me that he knows too much.”
“Is this about your husband?” He probed.
Her face darkened. “You never get to mention his name again. Do you understand?”
“Perfectly.” He replied. Inwardly, he smiled; he’d found a weakness. Properly leveraged, and with some research, it could be very useful. “Changing gears then. If we’re going to be working together, I want to be sure that your desire to kill me was all money. No personal vendetta against me or the like.”
“The only interest I had in you was purely professional.” She said, turning her attention to her own breakfast; a slice of honeydew melon and some bacon. Wendell was amused to see that the melon slice was liberally drizzled with syrup and let that translate into an amuse smirk on his face.
“’Interest’. So you weren’t at all charmed when I started playing you?”
“I knew you were a conman the whole time.” She reminded him.
“Still, when I’m at the top of the game, sometimes that doesn’t matter.”
“Maybe you weren’t at the top of your game.” It was her turn to smirk.
Wendell chewed some bacon and glowered at her. “So if you already think this Anansi knows too much about you, why come today? All you’re doing is giving him a chance to gleam more out of you. Trust me, I know.”
She didn’t answer and excused this by popping a piece of melon into her mouth. Wendell let himself laugh. “No. Oh come on, you don’t actually believe his story do you? ‘Let’s get together and save the world’? That’s a play is I’ve ever heard one.”
“Then why are you here?” She shot back.
Now he was making himself laugh, because he didn’t want to admit, even to himself, that he did have a tiny hope in his breast that he could do more with his skill. Still, like any good confidence man, he had back-up plans and motives in place.
He put the smirk back on his face. “Because he’s got a gift , the way he can make every word he says sound true? He’s good and the money he put on my head; renting this room? That means he’s successful. I figure he’s got a plan with maybe a billion dollar bank at the end. He’ll get us to do what he needs, then cut us loose.”
“And you’re just jumping for the chance to be cut loose.” Susan mocked.
Wendell ignored her. “No, see, you can’t con the best conman. I’m going to play along and run a counter-grift on him. That way, I get the money and he gets the shaft.” He studied her for signs of interest and found it in a slight shift in her posture. “And just to show there’s no hard feelings, I’m offering to cut you in.”
It wasn’t hard for Tommy Lowell to spot his fare as he pulled up to the entrance of the Twoflower. Anansi was standing right out front in an outfit that was the nearly a photo-negative of the one he wore the first day in Atlantic City; crisp, white suit, black silk shirt. The shoes were the same, as were the bandages on his hands and feet, but he’d added a plain, wooden cane to his wardrobe; a slightly tapered piece of wood with a slightly knobby end on top.
Tommy barely had the car in park before Anansi stepped out in front of the car, walking around to the driver’s door.
“Good morning, Mr. Lowell.” He said with all the ceremony and pomp of greeting a dignitary. “Your presence is required in the Veracruz Room.” Tommy didn’t even have a chance to register this before Anansi opened the door with a sweeping gesture.
Clearly, the other man waned him to step out, possibly straightening his shirt in a stylish manner, if Tommy had learned anything about the man’s eccentricities over the past few days. But he sat still and squinted up at him instead.
“What’s this about?” He ventured. Anansi paid too well for him to completely unload on him, no matter how weird his actions.
“Breakfast.” replied the Spider. “For all the people on my payroll thus far.”
‘All of the people’? Tommy didn’t really count himself as part of the payroll, but knew Anansi did. Besides himself, the only person he’d seen him with was the serious faced, dark skinned man he introduced as ‘Mr. King’ and who did his best to speak as little as possible during the two cab rides he shared with Anansi.
“My cab is going to get towed.” Tommy still stayed put.
“After today, you’ll have a new one. A much better one.” Anansi’s expression didn’t change from his obvious amusement at the situation.
Tommy gave him an odd look and hesitated.
“That is, if you choose to work for me full time.” Anansi added. “I do hope you will; the car was delivered this morning: a 2077 American Motor Vehicles ‘Scenic’ touring car with the solar/kinetic recharging kit, city-flight capability, and every option available from the 2077 AMV catalog.”
“Um…” Was the best Tommy could do. The Scenic was a hell of a car; the top rated full sized sedan three years running.
And then, of course, there’s the jet.” Anansi tempted him. “This one is not new, of course; it’s a used company jet from Quintillion. Still, it’s quite nice, I’m told: vertical takeoff and landing, supersonic flight capable… I would name the amenities, but they aren’t what a pilot looks for, is it?”
“That’s why you asked if I could fly.” Tommy realized. “You were offering me a job.”
“Correct… if you use the present tense. I am in the process of offering you a job.” Anansi replied.
Tommy unbuckled his seat belt, then hesitated. “I looked up your name. Anansi: an Afro-Caribbean trickster god. Not exactly a name that screams trust.”
The Spider scoffed. “My, how riddled with inaccuracies the internet is these days. My belief went very far into North America, I will have you know. A spider becomes a rabbit, but the idea is still there.” He let loose a rich jovial laugh. “And as for trickster, yes, this is true, but I am so much more. I embody cleverness, the importance of knowledge and the means of passing it down.”
He held up a finger to emphasize what he felt was the most important point. “People place emphasis on the wrong thing. It is important how I got my stories, but much more so is ‘why’. The choice: the decision to quest for knowledge. That is the real story.”
The speech made Tommy pause. It should have sounded crazy, but there was a creeping sense in his mind, an ancient tug that separated man from mere animal. He looked up at the man who smiled down at him and offered his bandaged hand.
Without thinking, he took it.
As Anansi helped him out of the car, he had to ask. “You’re telling me that you aren’t just using the name. You really think that…”
“That I am Anansi.” The Spider finished for him. “And that you think I am either faking, or insane. You want proof.”
Tommy closed the door behind him and fell into step beside his employer. “That would be nice.”
“Perhaps. But making it clear… removing the ambiguity. I do not think it would make a very good story. Better to let the world wonder: am I a god? Am I a descendant who is powerful, but mad? Or maybe I am something else, something new.”
He looked at the wariness on Tommy’s face and the slowing of his step, then stopped walking.
“I will tell you one fact, Mr. Lowell: the truth is not important to this story. It is about the journey and our aim. And like it or not, you are part of it. The choice is now yours. You can walk away now, keep the money I gave you, and never know what part you could have played. Or you can come with me, and find out how the story plays out.”
By the time they arrived at the Veracruz Room, Terrell King was there as well, taking part in the most awkwardly silent the room had ever played host to. Not only did Wendell and Susan have the knowledge of what their relationship would have been, had Anansi not called off the hit, but neither knew who Terrell was, or why he was working with Anansi.
The tension had been building in silence for a good ten minutes when the doors were grandly pushed open to reveal Anansi and a stranger (to two of the three at least.
“Good morning, my friends.” Anansi said at his most bombastic.”I hope you’re enjoying breakfast. I’m sure it will be the first of many feasts we’ll be having together before all is said and done.”
The trio at the table exchanged glances. They hoped not.
Anansi paid them no attention as he closed the doors again and returned to put a stabilizing hand on Tommy’s shoulder. “Introductions are in order, I think. “Tommy Lowell; these are a thief, a swindler and a hit-woman. And Terrell King, Wendell Leiter, and Susan Polanski, this is a victim of military politics and law without compassion. I’m sure you’re get along famously.”
As the four lapsed into a stunned silence at the frank introduction, Anansi swanned over to the buffet to grab a plate.
“How did you…” Tommy started.
Anansi started heaping eggs on his plate. “You all probably want to know how I know so much about both your pasts and your present.” He paused to smile at them. “And you are not willing to accept ‘knowledge god’ as an answer.”
He set the plate aside and crossed over to a side table. From its single drawer, he drew out a stack of colored folders.
“Many people believe that being a god of wisdom and knowledge means knowing all. But this is impossible, not to mention the fact that it does not make sense. What use is a god of knowledge who gets that knowledge for free when man must toil and study for it?
“No, what I do have is the knowledge of where to look, and a perfect memory.” He grinned. “And also a friend with access to the unfiltered Quintillion database.”
Terrell narrowed his eyes. He’d actually started to expect a supernatural explanation. “A damn internet search? That’s how you knew so much about us?”
“If that’s what you choose the believe.” replied Anansi calmly.
Tommy and Susan both just looked confused; there were things Anansi had said to them that struck them as impossible for him to glean from the internet.
Wendell, however, sensed a con. “Wait. Why tell us this?”
“Why not?” asked Anansi. “We are now all in this together; there’s no reason to lie. And what is more, it would be unfair to hide from you exactly how much I know.” He waved the folders. “So:” He passed a blue folder to Terrell, “The Repentant Thief.”
A green folder went to Susan. “The Enforcer.”
Red landed in front of Tommy. “The Wheelman.”
And purple slid along the table to stop at Wendell. “And the Face.”
There were still three folders in his hand: orange, yellow and black.
“These contain all I know of you that is factual.” He told them. “From the police interview given by the woman you saved, Mr. King, to the coroner’s report on your husband and later, his killer and the man who ordered it, Mrs. Polanski, to your numerous State’s Evidence affidavits, Mr. Leiter, and the transcripts of internet conversations that would have exonerated you at your court martial if they had not been found inadmissible, Mr. Lowell.”
He anticipated their collective question and fanned out the other three folders. “There are three more I wish to add to our group, but they are not in this city. To gather them, we will have to travel: the Oregon, to Texas, and to Arizona. But before this happens, I believe it is time to answer some questions and put your minds at ease.”
He set the folders down in front of him, then walked toward the buffet. “Time to explain to you what you have been hired for.”
To Be Continued…