Pre-Writers’ Conference…

Chapter 1: Incidents and Accidents

Trifienne’s market was a sea awash in faces. Through them, Verone Nevinander steered a meticulous course, unwilling to permit the unpleasantness of a random, unwelcome contact to distract her. She was, for a change, in high spirits, savoring the flawlessness of her designs as she prepared, at long last, to tip the domino that would finally set everything in motion.

The little outdoor café she’d chosen for this meeting was every bit as crowded as the market itself, but no matter. Fortunately, she’d had the foresight to schedule a time that was half an hour earlier than she’d actually planned to arrive. After all, she’d never really had much patience for such quaint plebian pastimes as waiting in queues. Although it was to his credit that Professor Dominick Everson had already arrived and laid claim to a table, his propensity to make a spectacle of himself by waving excitedly to gain her attention made her cringe. She had to remind herself that his “refined sensibilities” were part of what made him so well-suited to the role he had unwittingly volunteered to play for her—well, that, and his clandestine affiliation with a parvenu band of heretics up at the University, of course. After all, any complex scheme can benefit from a good, solid fallback position, and if it should come to that, who better to take the fall for heresy than an actual, honest-to-goodness heretic?

“Dommy, darling,” Verone said, as he pulled out her chair for her. “It’s so kind of you to meet with me like this on such short notice.”

“Oh, it’s my pleasure,” Everson said. His voice suddenly dropped to a conspiratorial whisper and he leaned in close. “I’ve been just dying to tell someone that I finally got that new spell you’ve been trying to teach me to work, and well, if you think about it, you’re the only one I really can tell.”

“Of course it worked, hon,” she said, adjusting the bustle of her steel-gray gown to make the best of the outdoor seating, which would have been less-than-comfortable for anyone, but was particularly so for a woman of size. “When brilliant teacher meets exemplary student, success is sure to follow.”

“I’m so glad I managed to find you,” he said. “I would never have come so far so fast working with my University group,” he said. “I’m sure they’re worried about exposure, and who could blame them? I warned them that including undergraduate students, regardless of how carefully vetted, would incur undue risk, but as usual, they ignored my advice, and the entire enterprise suffers as a result.”

“I’m so glad you’re making such progress,” Verone said. “Now that you’ve passed such a significant milestone, perhaps now would be a good time to discuss a little quid pro quo.”

“Of course,” Everson said. “Though, I should remind you that you did say we could explore payment options involving services rather than money—you’ll recall I’m a bit cash-strapped at the moment.”

“I haven’t forgotten,” Verone said. “You’ll be relieved to know that I’ve come up with a way for you to bring your account current simply by making one tiny little delivery.”

“It’s not out of town, is it?” Everson said. “I’m currently teaching, you know. I can’t get away for an extended period until next summer at the earliest. You weren’t expecting me to cancel any classes, were you?”

“Of course not,” Verone said. “Such a worrywort you are! I wouldn’t dream of inconveniencing my sweetling like that. As a matter of fact, it’s a delivery to someone at your very own University.”

“That’s it?” Everson asked.

“In the middle of the night,” Verone added.

What?

“In absolute secrecy,” she finished, slipping a large package out of her expensive leather attaché. “No one must ever know you were there.”

Everson dropped his voice once more. “What’s this all about,” he asked. “This isn’t going to be dangerous, is it?”

“You’re really going to have to try to stop being such a little stress-bucket,” Verone said, patting his cheek. “You’re going to spoil your digestion.”

“Answer the question, please,” Everson said. “Is this going to be dangerous or isn’t it?”

“You’ll just be delivering this tiny little package to an empty building on your own campus in the middle of the night,” she said. “I know it’s a little unusual, but really, how dangerous could it possibly be? Haven’t you ever been on campus at night before?”

“Well, I guess if you put it that way,” Everson said. “Still, you can’t blame me for asking.”

“So you’ll do it?” Verone asked, proffering him the package.

“And that will cover everything you’ve taugh

t me up to today?”

“Every last little thing,” she said.

“All right,” he said. “I’ll do it.”

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