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By Robert Lynch

The floor tasted like old scotch and stale beer. It smelt like it too, so I didn’t really need to enhance my knowledge of the floor by learning this. Malone’s goon worked his knee into my back.

This meeting wasn’t going well.

“Frank, I know you been off world. I know you found her.” Malone said. “Now, since I hired you to find her it’s time to do what I’m paying you for.”

“You told me she was an abducted girlfriend, not a spice mule.” I told him. “I’ve told you before I won’t help you with that business.”

“If you don’t tell me what you know then you’d be interfering with my business.” Malone said. “Do you really want to be in that position? It would not be pleasant for you.”

“I brought back the stolen spice.” I said. “She didn’t steal anything from you. She just wants to make a better life for herself.”

“She did steal from me!” he roared. “Just because you retrieved it doesn’t make us square. I can’t have people think they can steal from me and get away with it. Its just not good business Franky boy. Someone needs to be made an example of, it’ll either be you or her.”

“Then it will be me.” I told him.


“Come on Frank. She’s played you like a fiddle. She’s going to go to one of my competitors and tell them all about my operation. That’s why it didn’t matter if she got away with the spice or not.” He said. “Look, I don’t wanna get rough. Your old man and my old man were pals, there’s no reason we can’t be. Just tell me what I want to know and things will go smoothly.”

“Tony, we have a solid business relationship. I’ve dealt with you for years, I’ve even helped you out from time to time. But things need to be on the level.” I told him. “You aren’t the only one with a reputation to protect. If I cave to you because of intimidation my word isn’t worth a thing.” The knee in my back seemed to drive even deeper. “So do what you have to do to save face, but this clown on top of me won’t get a word from me and neither will your threats.”

“Fine. Grab the bolt cutters.” Tony told the goon. For a brief reprieve, I was able to get a full breath and sit up. “I gotta take a finger. Unless you gonna tell me what you know.”

I held out my hand. This was professional ethics in the underworld. A man didn’t beg. He made his choice and stuck to his guns.

“You sure?” he asked me.

I nodded.

The jaws of the bolt cutter closed around my thumb. At least he didn’t do it slowly. A bright fire flared up my hand and screamed at me. The thumb was gone and the nub was pouring blood onto the floor.

He opened the jaws and closed them around my index finger. “Come on Frank. I gotta know.”

“How many fingers is this going to take? They take six weeks to grow, so you’ve already cost me six weeks’ wages.” I said. “You got your trophy.”

“Cocky little shit, aren’t you?” Malone said. “You aren’t getting out of here until you tell me what I want to know.”

“Yes Tony, I am.” I said. “I knew the rules coming in here, that I would have to pay a price for being stupid enough to let you deceive me. But if you don’t want to play by the rules then I don’t either. Look into my eyes, Tony.” I stood up and stared him down. “The optical HUD interface that I use to fly my ship has been recording this whole time. Either I walk out of here now or I send it to Luciano.”

“There’s a dampener around this building, you ain’t sending shit to nobody.” He dropped the bolt cutters and pulled out a knife. “But I think you can still send one kind of message.”

“Tony, I do surveillance for a living.” I said. “You don’t think I can subvert your dampening field?” he stopped and thought about it. “I’m going to be on my way now. You have the thumb to prove I paid the price for disappointing you. Let’s leave it here.”

I walked out. Confident like. No one stops you when you look confident. That’s how bluffs work. Luckily no one asked why I had to walk out of the dampening field to call my ship.

I think I might steer clear of the Malone boys for a while.


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