The sound of chattering glass was still echoing through the room, bouncing off the well polished marble floor and cold stone walls. The crystals in the golden chandelier vibrated expectantly, as if eager to join the three glass pitchers that now lay broken in to a thousand pieces next to the overturned wooden table. The glass made a crunching noise as three large men closed in on me, completely ignoring the rubble crumbling beneath their leather boots. There was anger in their eyes. Well, anger and joy. Joy probably because they could unleash the anger now. At least I am contributing to the mental health of the back-breakers on Persephone. Suppressing those kind of feelings is very unhealthy you know, and these guys don’t get many sick-days. I blame the lack of a union, or a corruption free union at least.
I drew my two pistols and ducked behind the upturned table. I could see doubt and fear join the anger. Only one of the three was carrying a gun, an old single shot rifle. Good enough for scaring away a coyote, not of much use in a gunfight.
“I see you fine gentlemen are not exactly prepared for this fight. Might be a good idea if you three turned around and went back to where-ever it is you came from. And tell your boss I aint interested in dealing. I got better things to do.”
Although they stopped getting closer ,the smile that found it’s way to their faces didn’t really inspire confidence. I found out what they were smiling about as I heard a pistol, Colt if I’m not mistaken, cock behind me. The voice that accompanied it was just as unpleasant a sound.
“Why don’t you tell him yourself, Thorn. You have been out of this world for a spell, don’t be impolite now. All I want is a quick word about a possible favor you can do me.”
I kept one of my pistols aimed at the rifleman and turned the other barrel to the man standing behind me.
“I don’t do favors for anybody but my old grannie and you have got to much teeth left to be her. As I said, not interested.”
“And here I thought we were friends. Alright, call it a job than. One that will pay more than enough for you to fix up that old piece of goh-seh you call a ship. What was it’s name again, the lucky whore? Must be, the way you had her take it from both the alliance and the independents.”
Now why did he have to go and say that. I was almost willing to sit down and listen to him. If you want to get me angry there are two things you can do. You can insult my ship, or you can hurt my crew. Not that I have a crew at the moment, but if I had one and you would hurt them, I would get angry. So I told him that while I made him stare down my barrel as I carefully aimed and prepared to put a bullet between his eyes. I ended with a nicely veiled threat. “And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” I actually stole that from a comic book I had once seen in a museum about Earth-that-was. I don’t think Moss is in to comics, too much reading required, so it’s ok to use it against him.
Moss is your typical low-life petty crime-lord. He runs a saloon a. k. a. respectable casino near the eves-down docks on Persephone. If you want something done near the docks you either talk to Moss or Badger. A few months ago I had needed some information. Badger had been busy.
“I think you’ll find that goes both ways. You are on my land now mister Thorn, might want to think twice about getting me angry as well. All I want is a polite conversation. No iron or lead required. I’ll even ‘pologise if you think it necessary. Do you?”
The tone of his voice made it clear what he wanted me to answer. I was sure I could kill both him and the rifleman before they could take a shot at me. The two unarmed men could be a problem, the dozen or so that were probably waiting outside would not be a problem for long. I holstered my guns and put the table back right side up. I didn’t wait for Moss to sit down.
“Fine. I’ll listen to what you have to say. How did you find me so quickly anyway. I hadn’t expected you to look here. Thought myself safe from prying eyes.”
“I purchased this fine establishment from Badger a few weeks back. A businessman like myself is always looking to expand his operation. Can’t say Badger was too eager to part ways with this place though. Rumor has it he fancies one of the girls here a little too much for it to be, well… bought company.”
The grin on his face was sickening. The rivalry between Badger and Moss was well known on Persephone. If it was true that Badger’s sweetheart worked here Moss would have to be careful the next couple of days. Badger would find a way to strike back.
“It was a nice coincidence that you chose to come here mister Thorn. For the job of which I spoke involves just this matter. I would like you to find out…”
I finished his sentence for him “…who Badger’s girlfriend is and bring her to you.”
He gravely nodded his head and put a small bag on the table. The sound of coins inside was unmistakable.
“Indeed. 4000 credits. All up front. And all expenses paid during your stay in my fine house of pleasures. All expenses.”
Gorram it. 4000 credits. I had visited a mechanic not an hour before and he had told me the parts I needed for getting Lady back up and running would cost about 3800. The extra 200 would pay for their transport to Hera. Moss knew. He knew how much I needed and offered not a cent more. And the paid expenses, well they were nice off course, but generally I don’t pay for my company.
The grin on Moss’ face told me he knew he had me right where he wanted too. But was angering Badger worth 4000 credits?
When I had first arrived on Persephone, when I had started asking around for information, they had told me that everyone had to choose to either be on Badger’s side, Moss’ side or on neither side. Being on neither side meant that they both wanted you dead. So now it seemed I would have to choose sides.
I grabbed the bag off the table.
“Fine. I’ll do it. I’ll talk to the girls and find out which one is Badger’s sweetheart. What do you want me to do once I’ve found her. I won’t hurt her. You’ll have to find someone else if you want an assassin.”
“Mister Thorn, you insult me. I would never hurt a woman. Delicate flowers is what they are. Handle with care and such. If you find her just bring her to my office. You remember where that is, don’t you? I simply want to have some words with her.”
Moss got up and signaled his three goons to come closer. He leaned in closer to me and started to whisper. I could feel that he places a small metal object, probably a key, in the pocket of my coat.
“Well then, you have the run of the place. I’ll help you get started, if you don’t mind. We don’t want the girls to suspect that you and I are the good friends that we are, so…”
“Nothing personal mister Thorn, just business as I am sure you will understand.”
As air finally returned to my lungs I could see Moss and his three gorillas leave the brothel. Using the bar as support I stumbled to my feet. By this time tomorrow my face would be all sorts of blue and purple and I would be pissing blood all week. Oh yeah, this trip was turning out just the way I had planned it. Get the parts, get a crew, get a job and sail the black. This was all turning out to be a real Tze sah ju yi.
“Nee Tzao Se Mah mister?”
I shook my head to get the last of the fog out and turned to the woman standing on the other side of the bar. Apparently she mistook this as my answer, I wasn’t sure if it was the correct one.
“Then you shouldn’t pick a fight with boss Moss. He owns this place you know. He can do whatever he wants in here. You should be more careful.”
I nodded and jerked my shoulders as I sat down on a stool at the bar. Behind me a eunuch started to clean the broken glass. She wiped some of my blood off the counter and looked me in the eyes. I could see a little amusement there. At least my life was amusing someone.
“Now are you going to order something or do I need to have you thrown out. I would ask if you want me to call some of the girls, but I doubt you can have your money’s worth in this condition. Better stick to the booze.”
Now she was just being mean.
“Now listen here, I am perfectly capable of …”
She pressed the glass in her hands against my ribs and I gasped for air as pain flared through my body. I swear she was almost smiling as I held my hand against my painful ribs. I didn’t think they were broken, but they still hurt Jien Ta Duh Guay.
“Fine, some whiskey than”.
“Good choice mister. My girls can be soft, but they aint much use if you can’t even stand a gentle touch. What brings you here anyway? Even before Moss showed up you didn’t partake in the pleasures this house has to offer. Seems a mite strange to come to a brothel if you aint looking for company.”
I decided to tell the truth. If Moss wanted me to play the part of his enemy… well that wouldn’t require a lot of acting on my part.
“I thought this place still belonged to Badger. I hoped to be safe from Moss here while I wait.”
She gave me a glass of whiskey. She poured it from a bottle she took out from beneath the register, not from the regular bottles standing against the wall. Apparently I was already making progress.
“It’s a sad thing that Badger was forced to sell to Moss. He was a good owner. Let me run the business as I saw fit, provided enough security and found very talented girls.”
I grinned as I put the glass to my lips. “Talented indeed”.
She slapped me in the face with the piece of cloth she used to clean the bar. She didn’t use much strength but my jaw couldn’t take much more. I yelped and dropped the glass from my hands. She caught it with her other hand and placed it in front of me on the bar. She gave me a refill and looked at me with regret.
“I am sorry mister, but I will not tolerate that slander about my girls. They are talented indeed. Only the companion guild has better whores than my house. Providing for a client is an art indeed. I dare say no man or woman has ever left my roof unsatisfied. If you were in better condition I would prove it to you.”
“I meant no disrespect. It is just hard to believe that a common whore-house on Persephone boasts talent second only to registered companions. And it is easy to talk about proof when you have no intent of presenting it.”
Her eyes opened wide and I prepared for a second slap. Her mouth pouted a little as she stormed out from behind the bar and hurried up the stairs. For sure she would return with her most talented employee. I knew Badger, he considered himself a man of standing. He wanted only the best. Or at least the best he could get. If he had indeed fallen for a girl here, it would be the best whore this place has to offer.She returned a moment later with a young girl. Barely 18, if event that. She was indeed stunning. Her white skin provided perfect contrast against the black lace corset she was wearing. her ample breasts heaved up and down, her mistress had made her run down the stairs. She wore stockings that ended half-way up her thighs and as I took in the sight of this girl I made sure I wasn’t drooling on the bar. Without a doubt she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Certainly worth the pain in my ribs the next morning.
The mistress was looking at me with amusement once more. She knew all too well the effect her girls had on the patrons.
“Shall we talk price? I will charge you less because of your injuries. I don’t steal from clients. But even then I doubt you will be able to afford a night with Seline. I have half a mind to give you a night on the house, to provide the proof you need.”
“I’ll pay. Name your price.”
“I knew you would say that. In the year that she has worked here Seline has driven quite a few men to bankruptcy. May she add one more to the list?”
I threw the sack of 4000 credits at her which she caught with ease. Moss had said he would repay all expenses so I had no problem paying. I quite liked the mistress, I hoped I wouldn’t hurt her too much when I was forced to take Badger’s girl to Moss.
“Take what I owe you, return the rest tomorrow.”
She didn’t open the sack but placed it in a safe beneath the floorboards behind the bar. She handed me a key and motioned to the stairs.
“Room 7, mister. Have a good night”.
I wanted to turn around to Seline but the girl was already at my side. She walked beside me to the stairs, carelessly caressing my arm, now and again looking at me in a shy and timid manner. She was good. She had the innocent young virgin act down to perfection. It even almost fooled me, almost. When we reached the stairs I needed some help to get upstairs. My ribs made the trip a true agony but Seline offered the necessary support . We reached my room. I opened it. Seline helped me inside and placed me on the bed. before I knew what was going on she had removed my shirt and was washing my wounded ribs with warm scented water. Half of my chest was turning blue and the warm water numbed some of the pain. I couldn’t help but close my eyes and relax. When she had finished I felt her apply an ointment of a sort. A strange warmth penetrated my skin and removed the pain completely. I opened my eyes in surprise. Seline was sitting next to me and was carefully rubbing in the medicine. She had loosened some of the laces of her corset which now gave me a clear view of her breasts.
I sat upright and she immediately put herself down on my good side. She put her head on my chest and started to caress my leg.
“Moss gave you these wounds didn’t he? Mistress told me you and he had a falling out?”
Her voice fitted her perfectly. I guessed that she could make a good life as a singer on one of the core world. She would become a sensation overnight. Yet here she was, a whore in a brothel on Persephone. Again I was reminded that life is far from fair.
“We had a falling out of a sort yes. Nothing you need to worry about. You know Moss well?”
I felt her shudder ever so slightly as she answered. Although she was good at hiding her true self, the fear she felt for Moss was too great.
“I know of him. Mistress has kept me hidden from him for now. She fears he will claim me for himself. Before I came here he was looking for me, he had heard about me. Uncle hid me here.”
I felt her clinch as she realized she had said too much. I had heard enough. My job had been easier than I could have imagined.
“Badger is this uncle isn’t he. This rumor about Badger’s girl isn’t true, not exactly. You’re Badger’s family.”
She got off the bed and across the room in a second.
“So what if I am. If you think you can get on Moss’ good side by turning me in, think again.”
I noticed she was holding something in her hand. A panic-button. I grabbed my guns and jumped off the bed. The door flew open and a man with a shotgun came barging in. I recognized him from the docks, one of Badger’s men. He looked around and tried to bring his gun to bare against me. I quickly opened fire and hit the man’s left hand. He shrieked in pain and dropped the weapon.
“Excuse me, this room is occupied. So if you don’t mind, I would like you to get your ruttin’ ass back downstairs.”
He stumbled back out of the room, holding his bleeding hand in the other. The moment he entered the hallway a shot was fired and the man went down. Someone had shot him in the head. A voice called out to me from down the hall.
“Whoever you are, let the girl go. I have no quarrel with you sir, all I want is the girl, safe and sound.”
That didn’t sound like any of Moss’ men. I looked at Seline.
“Who else is after you?”
I think the mystery man had heard me because he answered himself.
“My name is T.J. Burrows. I am a private contractor. I have been hired by the guild to safely escort miss Seline to the nearest guild temple. Let her come out unharmed and I will be on my way”.
Da Shiong La Se La Ch’wohn Tian. Now a guild mercenary was shooting at me. I already knew life wasn’t fair but I hadn’t thought the Big Man had it out for me personally. Now I was beginning to doubt. I was about to answer Burrows when the window of my room exploded. A second later a grappling hook flew through the now open window and another, more familiar voice called out from below. Moss.
“Good job, Thorn. I didn’t think you would flush her out so soon. We have the exit of the house covered. Have the girl climb down the rope. The merc will probably follow us. You’ll. be safe.”
He was right. All I had to do was send her down and I would be in the clear. I looked at her. She was sitting in the corner, crying. Gos Seh, me and my gorram sense of honor. I looked out the window. Moss was standing in the street with his three goons. Two more men were guarding the door to the brothel. The action was attracting quite the attention. It wouldn’t be long before either Badger or the feds showed up. Time to pick sides I told myself. I leaned out the window and pretended to yell something. My ruse worked. Moss came closer to hear what I had to say. My first shot went through his left shoulder, the second one through his eye. Moss hit the dirt like a sack of flower. I could hear his goons curse. Now if only they would give up and run.
“He killed the boss. Storm the house, get him.”
Everything is against me sometimes. Or not. As Moss’ gorilla’s charge towards the door I can hear gunshots. I look back through the window, risking a bullet through my head. More armed men are running through the streets. Moss’ guys are retreating. Thank God.
A moment later three people enter the room. The house mistress enters first. All she cares about is Seline, she doesn’t even look my way. Of the two men that follow I only know one. Badger. I am guessing the other one is Burrows, his armor is way to fancy for a thug.
“Well now captain Thorn, it seems I owe you some gratitude. You have killed one of my many rivals. Off course you also endangered my niece. And from what I understand you tried to pay for her services with false coin.”
I curse. That ruttin’ lying son of a…I should have checked the bag, Moss could not be trusted. I get back up and walk over to badger. It helps that I am several feet taller than the man. hard to be intimidated by a smaller man.
“All true. And I ask nothing in reward for my services. Nothing except my freedom and my life. I don’t want any more trouble. Today has proven more than interesting enough.”
“I bet it has. yet I will not be owing to no-man. Here is 4000 credits. The same sum Moss was paying you I think.”
I nod and accept the bag of credits he gives me. This time I check to see they are real; They are.
“Thanks. Then we’re even.”
I start to walk out and glance over at Seline. She is standing next to the mistress. her tears have dried yet she still looks afraid. Even like this she is more attractive than any other woman I know.
“What will happen to her?”
It’s Burrows that answers.
“I will take her to the temple. Badger and I have an agreement. She will become a companion.”
“None of my concern I am sure. Badger, I hope we will still be able to deal in the future. Burrows, have a nice life. Seline,… maybe I will see you again.”
I am glad as I walk out the front door. As I pass the dead body of Moss I can’t help but kick him in the side.
“You should have listened when I said I wasn’t interested.”