AS SOMEONE WHO'D LIVED on the streets for most of his life, Tomas had some talents that most people didn't have. For example, he could slip things right out of someone's pocket without them noticing, see the subtle hints of anger and lies in another's expression, and hide his own feelings behind a mask of whatever he wished to show.
Tomas prided himself in the abilities he'd managed to pick up over the years, for they were useful for more than just his survival on the streets.
They were also useful for pissing people off.
"Excuse me?" Tomas asked, looking back at Li. Though he outwardly looked puzzled, on the inside, Tomas wanted to laugh. Li had always been Tomas's least favourite contact--she was vain, looked down upon him, constantly called him "kid", refused to meet up in the private places he preferred making trades in, and, worst of all, was hard for him to read.
Unimpressed with his act, Li narrowed her eyes on Tomas and pushed herself off of the wall she'd leaned her leg and hip against. If Tomas had the time or the care to pay attention to such things, he would've found Li attractive--she had pale skin; slanted, almond-shaped eyes that he hadn't seen on many other people; pronounced hips; eyes as black as the night; and hair to match them. Or, in short, she didn't look like anyone else--she was unique. The kind of person Tomas liked drawing.
"Don't you think I'm a fool like everyone else here. I know your type's tricks. Why'd you take the money back?" she snapped back. Her dark eyes were narrowed as she spoke, but she looked more suspicious than angry.
Despite himself, a bitter smile came to Tomas's lips as he twisted on his heel and turned to face her again. Ah, so she noticed that I grabbed them as I passed? She's more observant than she looks, Tomas thought, taking a mental note to be more careful around Li as he rubbed the coins he'd taken together.
"You promised to tell me something new. I already knew about Tomos and Kenda's deals, so I took your payment back," Tomas said, the words falling from his lips smoothly even as he chose them carefully.
There was a reason that Tomas hated meeting up in the public places that Li so preferred, but it was probably different than what she would've thought. Rather than hating the safety and assurance that no obvious drama could happen between the two, he hated how he had to watch what he said and shift his words around. He much preferred straight-up saying what he meant, not having to find a way to say it so only those in the know would understand. Tomas had to resist the urge to look into the streets for eavesdroppers.
Seeming to find something amusing in how Tomas stole back the money he paid her, Li smirked crookedly and leaned her hip back against the wall, showing exactly why she was hard for Tomas to read. The moment he thought he figured her out, she did something that completely contradicted it. "Fine, you knew about them. But I hear you've been looking for Yasmine Mikhail--?"
Before the woman could even finish, Tomas shifted the coins in his hand until they rested on his thumb, the smaller bronze one, an aes, resting on top of the larger silver one, a denarius, and flicked the coins toward her. Li's smirk grew into a grin as she snatched the two coins out of the air, but he could see hints of something he didn't like in her grin--she was up to something, he knew, and her next words proved it.
"This isn't enough, boy," she said simply, pocketing the two coins.
Keeping his expression neutral despite the anger that flared up in him both at her calling him "boy" and need for more money, Tomas felt in his pocket for three of the smallest coins--the bronze aes--and flicked them at her, too. Li seemed dissatisfied as she caught them, but she clearly realized that he wouldn't pay any more, because she continued.
"She left town, something about getting a new job. Someone claiming to be related to her came around a few days ago, saying she'd sent him to collect and pay for whatever she'd wanted. He's lingered the past few days near Niaga, at noon. So, since it's about, what, noon already, you might be able to meet up with him, ey?" she asked, a sly smile on her face.
For the first time in a long while, Tomas's composed and controlled expression fell from his command, falling into shock as his eyes widened, his lips parted, and the blood drained from his face. As most of the colour drained from his face, his caramel tones would've looked close enough to her pale, nearly-white tones, to look humourous. Quickly, Tomas remembered himself and collected himself, forcing his expression back into a neutral one, but it was too late. Li was looking at him in a mixture of interest and deviousness.
Like someone who was watching a play where someone was about to be stabbed in the back and didn't care about the outcome.
Shaking off the thought, Tomas gave Li a curt nod, pretending as though his mask hadn't slipped. "You're right. Thank you," Tomas said, letting the "thank you" slip before he could think better of it. Cursing himself on the inside even while he kept his expression neutral, Tomas turned around without another word, searched through the people hustling and bustling all around, and took off into the snow-covered streets.
Faces of people, snowflakes, and everything blurred in his sight as he hurried away. Instead of seeing those, the look that had been on Li's face lingered in his mind. I'll be a lot more careful around her, indeed, Tomas thought anxiously. Shaking off the thoughts of Li and how she was perhaps a lot more dangerous than any of his other contacts, Tomas held his head high and marched forward, his strides quick with purpose.
Noon. I've better hurry, he thought.
When he finally got there and spent three hours looking for the relation of Yasmine without avail, Tomas felt cheated and angry enough to kick a wall. He quickly regretted it.