“Well why don’t you come back to Hub with me?” Abdul Hamad smiled. There was just enough low ultraviolet in the club’s lights to make his teeth glow.
The three girls giggled. “All of us?” the brunette asked.
“Sure,” Hamad said, leaning back in his chair, spreading his hands apart as though spreading good fortune. “Why not?”
“Do you have your own ship?” the blonde asked, her eyes wide.
“I bet it’s huge,” the third girl said, her hair a riot of color.
“In fact,” Abdul Hamad said “I just bought a highlighter on Io, brand new. I’m going to pick it up. You can help me celebrate. Break her in.”
“Oooh,” the girl with the loud hair coo’ed convincingly.
“When do we leave?” the blonde asked.
Hamad shrugged. “Right now. Plenty of room in first class.”
The third girl, a brunette, frowned and looked at the other two. Hamad didn’t notice it.
“We know a few other girls,” the blonde invented, and they were all smiles again. “Can they come?”
Hamad’s smile grew larger. “You girls are something else, let me tell you. Of course they can come!” He pulled out his messenger and began searching for another flight. “I’ll get a cabin on the next cruiser. Be just like our own. . .,” he stopped tapping on his glass messenger. “. . .private. . ..”
His eyes went wide. Something was pressing into the back of his skull. Hamad raised his hands above his head slowly.
“You ladies can stop stalling,” a voice said behind him. “I made it.”
“Hi Abe!” the three women said in unison.
Hamad turned his head a little only to discover it was not a gun, but a finger pressed into his head.
“Shit,” he said. “I surrendered to a fucking finger.”
“Yeah you pull a gun in a club,” Abe said, “people sorta notice.” He was tall and lanky and moved with easy grace. He was the only person in the club wearing a hat, frontier fashion, not trying to pass as a rich Hub citizen.
“Come on,” Abe said to Abdul Hamad. “You pissed off some executive somewhere, time to pay the piper.” He grabbed the smaller man by the neck of his jacket and yanked him up out of his seat.
Hamad allowed himself to be yanked out of his chair. Spinning to face Abe, he pulled. He was fast, faster than Abe expected. His eyes went wide with surprise. When Hamad didn’t fire, Abe frowned.
In a flash Abe brought his hands together, his left striking Hamad’s arm away, his right grabbed the gun out of his hand. Before Hamad knew what happened, Abe had dismantled the pulse lancer in one smooth action and scattered the parts across the floor.
“Whoah, hey, what happened to your piece of shit gun?” Abe asked. “Jesus, thing just falls apart soon as you pull it out. That’s gotta be like a metaphor or some shit.”
Hamad was shaking now and he turned to look at the girls, for what reason Abe would never know. When he turned back, he discovered Abe had pulled his modified shotgun out and was pointing it at Hamad’s head. The club was now silent.
With his other hand, he unclipped a leather pouch from his belt, and tossed it on the table in front of the three women.
“Ladies,” Abe smiled, nodding at them. The brunette opened the pouch and emptied it on the table. A hundred round chips poured out. The blonde began scanning them with her messenger, reading the secure data inside the chips. “Pleasure doing business with you."
“You too Abe,” the brunette said, wryly.
“Now you,” Abe said, turning back to Hamad. “You’re a fast streak of shit, I’ll give you that. So in the unlikely scenario where you’re ever in a position to have a gun on your person AND you get the drop on someone AND that someone is me? My advice is: pull the goddamned trigger. The fuck you thought you were gonna do? Arrest me?”
Abe reached around with his left hand to pull his handcuffs of his belt and in doing so twisted his torso, pushing his gun forward. The gaping barrels of the shotgun loomed large in Hamad’s vision.
When Abe produced his ‘cuffs, he saw Hamad was shaking so bad it looked like he was going to….
“Wait wait wait,” Abe barked, “don’t you fucking piss your pants, DON’T PISS YOUR…oh goddammit! You gotta ride back with me! Motherfucker. I’m gonna have piss all over my…you can ride in the goddamn trunk.” Abe holstered his gun and spun Hamad around, clapping the handcuffs one his wrists one at a time. “Shit I got my clothes in there,” Abe muttered to himself. He grabbed the neck of Hamad’s jacket, shouting in his ear. “I am going to STUFF you in a SPACESUIT and fucking TIE you to the outside of the SHIP.”
“That’s what you get,” a deep voice said from across the club, “for letting him get the drop on you.” The crowd parted to reveal two men standing just inside the door. One, shorter than the other, older. Of some dim Asian ancestry. Abe didn’t recognize him. The other—black and almost eight feet tall, the result of a life spent living and training in high gravity environments—he did know.
“Parnell,” Abe said, more a recognition than a greeting.
“How you doing, Abe?” Parnell said. He and the other man approached the bar. Abe grabbed his prisoner and instinctively maneuvered him around so Hamad was standing between him and Parnell’s unknown friend.
Abe looked around the club, then back at Parnell. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
“Back to chasing bounties, huh?” Parnell said.
The crowd inside the club was slowly going back to business as usual. The show appeared to be over. Only the three women Abe paid off were still watching.
“What else am I gonna do?” Abe said without rancor. “You and Johnnie Walker were having some kind of existential crisis on Matchstick Station. I can’t go back to Hub, so it’s this,” he said, jerking Hamad around by way of illustration.
“Why can’t you go back to Hub, Mr. Presley?” the older man with Parnell asked.
Eyes still on Parnell, Abe jerked his head in the direction of the stranger. “The fuck is this?”
“Abe, William Cabot,” Parnell said. “Cabot, this is my best friend Abraham Presley.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Presley. Why can’t you go back to Hub?”
Abe looked at the man, his face blank, and said nothing. Then turned back to Parnell.
“You come find me and bring a cop with you?” Abe asked, confused.
“He didn’t find you,” Cabot said. “I did. He had no idea where you were. My ship and I have certain resources.”
“Cop resources,” Abe said, throwing the man a glance.
Parnell smiled wide. “My man Abe.” He turned to Cabot. “Takes one look at you and knows you’re a cop.”
“I was never a cop, Mr. Presley,” Cabot explained. “I was a Hub Marshall, but that was twenty years ago and you’ll be happy to know they fired me.”
“Abe,” Abe said. “Just Abe.” He looked Cabot up and down. “They fired you, huh? How come?”
“I was insufficiently ingratiating,” Cabot said.
“Fuck does that mean?”
“Means he was a pain in everyone’s ass,” Parnell said.
“Why can’t you go back to Hub, Abe?” Cabot asked again.
Abe ignored him. “Jim why am I talking to this guy?”
“Hey listen can I change my pants, I gotta…,” Hamad asked, struggling against Abe’s grip.
“Shut up,” Abe said absently, pulling his shotgun out of his holster and to rapping Hamad sharply on the back of the head with the butt of the gun.
“Ah Hub don’t matter,” Parnell said, and took another step forward. “Cabot here’s putting together a team of planet tamers for a job.”
“Planet tamers?” Abe said with some disbelief. “What planet?”
“That’s way the hell out by the rim. That’s like a six month dive. How long’s the job?”
Parnell looked to Cabot.
“Couple of months,” Cabot said with a shrug. “Nordita already paid us half in advance. It’s a lot of money.”
Abe looked back at Parnell, looking for more explanation.
“Cabot here read about what happened in The Sword,” Parnell said. “So he comes and finds me and says maybe it’s time to get back on the horse.”
“The Sword wasn’t your fault,” Abe said, not for the first time.
“Yeah,” Parnell said, his voice darker, “I dunno.”
“This isn’t about what happened around Sirius A, Abe,” Cabot said. “This is about the…,”
“Wait wait,” Abe interrupted him. “Are you in?” he asked, pointing to Parnell.
“Yeah,” Parnell said.
“Jesus why didn’t you say so?” Abe asked. He pulled the keys out of his pocket and unlocked Hamad’s cuffs.
“What?” Hamad asked.
Abe kicked his legs out from under him pushing him forward at the same time. The thin man sprawled across the floor.
Abe threw the cuffs and the keys on the floor next to him. The three women who’d been watching this whole time looked, as one, from Hamad, to Abe, and back to Hamad moaning on the floor.
The three girls piled on Hamad, one of them grabbing his head by the hair while the other two wrestled the handcuffs back on.
“Enterprising young ladies,” Abe said. “Good career ahead of them. Amala!” he called out.
The brunette dropped her grip on Hamad’s hair, allowing their captive’s head to hit the ground, and stood up.
“Yeah Abe?” she asked, straightening out her hair.
He tossed her his keys. She caught them deftly. Looked at them. “Are you serious?” she asked.
Abe shrugged. “It’s a piece of shit,” he said. “I’ll win another one if I have to.”
Amala took hold of the keys as her friends pulled their bounty up onto his feet.
“Were those the keys to your ship?” Cabot asked, frowning.
“Well you got a ship, right?” Abe said, pointing to Cabot.
“Ah, yeah but….”
“You got room for more than two?”
“Yeah,” Cabot said, looking a bit lost. “A lot more. What about….”
“Well then what the fuck are we standing around here for,” Abe said with real disgust. “Come on.”
Abe walked out of the bar.
Parnell looked down at Cabot. “Told you,” he said.
The two men followed the bounty hunter.