Telling Tales 152
Secrets, Bluffs, and Not Having All the Cards
Dmitri had a secret. Some nights, not all, he would get up while he slept. He would walk and he would talk and, to all appearances, he was awake as anyone else in this world. But he was sleeping and he would not remember. As long as nothing untoward happened, he could keep anyone from knowing what was actually going on. “Untoward” had meant snoring mid-conversation in a bar. It had meant chopping wood by the light of the moon. It had meant saying things he never would have uttered aloud.
In most cases, he had been able to dismiss the events as harmless jokes or the result of too much carousing or as a challenge or as a test of the other person’s character. He wasn’t always successful, however, and there were two or three towns to which Dmitri hesitated to return. At least one person had called him a witch and at least one person had said he was cursed. He knew the first wasn’t true. He couldn’t say the same about the second. This inn wasn’t a regular stopover for him and he wouldn’t necessarily miss not being able to stop here in the future, but the fact of the matter was there was too much snow outside for him to get his cart out and away. He’d never make a normal day’s travel, which meant he’d never make the next inn on the road, which meant he’d be stuck outside in the night.
All of which was survivable, but with many fewer guarantees than those that came with a night in a bed under a roof near a fire.
All of these thoughts sped through Dmitri’s mind in the span of time it took the bartender to ask him, “What exactly do you think you didn’t do? Seems to me like you’ve got a fairly decent idea after all.”
He needed to find out what he’d done without giving himself away. Witch or cursed, either way, he wouldn’t be able to stay here. In the first case he was as likely to be killed. Baba Yaga may have been the end-all and be-all of witches, but most people would panic and try to tie him up in short order. And since he himself was no witch at all, he didn’t even have magic to fall back on. Curses, people took those as contagious, as though his mere presence would inflict them with the same suffering. He’d never understood that, not even after his parents had thrown him out of the house when they discovered the problem.
Dmitri burst out with a guffaw, a practiced laugh he saved for these rare occasions when he might be threatened. It was a laugh that said not only had his behavior last night been a put-on, his behavior this moment had been as well. “Had you going there, didn’t I!” His normal aggression was back in his voice, the best defense he’d discovered against his weakness.
The bartender paused and for a moment he thought it was going to be that easy, except that he already knew she was smart and it seemed unlikely that she would be that simple to persuade. “Not sure what you think the joke is,” she said with a slight frown.
“That I did anything wrong,” he bluffed with a grin.
“Who said anything about ‘wrong’? Maybe you’d like to see the results of your handiwork?” She gestured toward the kitchen door.
Mind spinning with stories yet to fabricate, all Dmitri could think was that no, he would not like to see the results.