The hard holder arrived first, long dark coat stark against the grey of the day. Calistoga nodded to him, and Allison nodded back. Utah, the news, arrived last, unhurried, her long dark hair bound back under a lavender scarf. Her eyes met Allison’s and one could hear the social blades unsheath and stand at the ready. But Calistoga had not called them here for a duel.
“You’re here to settle things, not start them again,” Calistoga said. He leaned back on his heels and eyed the two personalities in front of him. “You both know things cannot continue as they are,” he paused. Neither of them nodded. Utah lifted her chin, not in acknowledgement but in stubbornness, and Allison’s glance could cut stone. Calistoga let out a slow quiet breath and shook out his shaggy hair. “So what are you going to do about it.”
Allison spoke first, he’d barely moved at all since Utah arrived and he did not do so now. “Keel is dead and she’s harboring known enemies of my holding.” His voice flattened as he continued. “I’ll forget this happened once she cuts all ties with the man known as Rhyme.”
Utah’s eyes flashed. “You’ll forget this happened? You didn’t win this, Allison. You don’t get to dictate terms to me.”
“My holding, my terms,” Allison replied, leaning forward ever so slightly.
“I’m not in your holding-” Utah started.
“You certainly act like you are,” Allison interrupted. “And you’ve been undercutting me as long as-”
“You can’t stop people from coming to the market, Allison-”
Calistoga sighed. “This, this right here; this is why no one likes you.” The escalating accusations cut off and Calistoga continued. “Either of you.” Utah and Allison both looked at Calistoga. “You’re both powerful, you’re both important to Sure Wood, and you both spit like cats in mating season whenever you think your pride’s been dinged.” And like cats, Calistoga could almost feel the growls and the claws waiting to rend him. “And this whole fiasco never would have happened if someone hadn’t taken advantage of that.”
Finally, he had their attention, their stances had shifted, angled toward him, and their eyes weren’t constantly cutting to each other. “Utah, if you had actually been in town, you would have known there was some kind of con running, that’s what you do. And Allison, you would have seen her, known her people weren’t mobilizing, and maybe, just maybe gone to actually talk.” He held up his hands. “I know, fat chance anyone telling either of you what you would do. But can we at least agree that the two of you having constant fights is bad for Sure Wood? Each of you tell me one grievance, just one, that you have and want the other to address.”
Allison and Utah looked at each other.
“Options for fuck ups other than at the end of the gun. In Sure Wood, it’s Allison’s way or facing down the barrel.” Utah crossed her arms, daring him to contradict her.
“Stop tearing me down,” Allison said, half in reply and half as his request. “If I don’t have a hold on Sure Wood, it tears itself apart, and every time you speak you make people question me and test the limits. Of course I lead with a gun.”
The silence drew out for just a moment before Calistoga spoke up. “You both want what’s best for Sure Wood.”
The pair settled stubbornly in their stances. Damn straight they did.
“Then you’re both going to have to compromise.” He didn’t trust them to say anything without snapping, and he had an idea anyway so Calistoga continued. “Allison, you don’t trust Utah, so you don’t talk to her. But that means you aren’t getting heard on the air. Go on for a space of air. Talk.”
Utah had a sharp short victory smile. Allison’s face was still clouded.
“And Utah, you need to move into Sure Wood proper. You deliberately set yourself outside yet you want the protection and the access of being part of the holding. You want Allison to change, be in a position where it matters.”
Allison and Utah took each other’s measure and seemed reassured that neither of them liked this plan. But neither could they walk away from it. As for Calistoga, he was tired, and cold, and needed to put a damn shirt on.
I am a thief. I stole the line, “This, this right here; this is why no one likes you.” from a cute critter. Keep an eye out for the original and any other thief who made off with the loot….