Every thief must have a buyer, someone not too picky about certificates of ownership. For those who pirate their way across space, a fence was an indispensible necessity; a connection to buyers with cash to spend. But the bigger the prize, the bigger the risk, with everything on the line.
GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS
The Claddagh Pub, Brimstone
“Is not possible.”
Yakov wasn’t in the habit of saying nyet to Vane; an act which, in the wrong circumstance, could end with a sharp bit of steel shoved through your voicebox. Everyone in Brimstone knew the story that ended with a head on a post wearing a scrawled sign that read ‘I angered Charles Vane.’
Vane barely seemed to notice the rebuff, his one good eye fixed on the shotglass in his hand. Dark mahogany swirled, catching what few lights burned in the dark bar before the pirate threw it back and slapped the empty glass on the table. He fixed his gaze on the burly Yakov and said “Find a way.”
Yakov stroked his beard, an unkempt bush that added to the whole Russian Bear mystique. The problem was a minefield, a shitstorm waiting to happen.
Then again, this was Vane.
Though he would never say it aloud, Yakov was one of the few men in Brimstone that knew Vane’s real name. Nom de Guerres, pirate names, were common, especially among those who aspired to greatness or a long career. Advertising your real identity gave cops and enemies alike numerous free angles of attack.
Assumed names ran from the clever to the cryptic, from quirky alpha-numeric gamer handles to names drawn from antiquity. These days there must be thirty or forty Blackbeards, Calico Jacks, Anne Bonnys or Ching Shihs running around space, half of them trying to elbow their way into the limelight with the other half happy to get lost in the crowd.
But there was only one Charles Vane. After you butcher the first five or six imitations, people start choosing safer pseudonyms. Vane wanted there to be no confusion on who he was, or what he would do if challenged, and fuck any cop, Marine or merc who thought to put his resolve to the test. He’d been in pitched battles, suffered horrific injuries, but at the end of the day, Vane endured.
But this… Yakov wrestled with the idea; this was likely to be the death of everyone involved.
“Cargo is too hot, too identifiable. Is not possible to sell it back to Banu, and no way you deal with fucking Tortugas.” Yakov spat the last word. Three years rotting in a Xi’An prison can make a guy bitter.
Yakov watched Vane lean back in his chair, tapping a finger slowly on the tabletop. Even in his calm moments Vane exuded the air of a caged panther. The Russian had a keen eye for fighters, a lifetime obsession that had won him, and cost him, several small fortunes with bookies across the ‘verse. The pirate was a dichotomy; Vane stood under two meters tall, just on the high side of eighty kilos. Not massive, not a remarkable reach, but every ounce of living flesh was as iron-hard as Vane’s refusal to die. There was something about Vane’s eye, the human one anyway, that suggested he saw you not as a man, but as a collection of vital organs laced together by major arteries.
“Humor me.” Vane’s tone was soft, he even smiled, but somewhere between the lines was an air of menace.
Yakov scratched his head, putting aside a million things that could go wrong to focus on figuring out one way it might go right. His brows furrowed, then flared open. “Maybe is one way. Slim maybe.”
Vane’s eye locked on Yakov with a laser-like focus that wordlessly said “Go on.”
“I know a guy,” then he grimaced, hand waving side to side. “Eeeehhh, no, not so much, I know OF a guy. Rich guy. Call him… Smith; is good name, no? So, some guys collect cars, boats; Smith collects history. Has sort of private museum, the kind you keep locked in basement.
Vane nodded thoughtfully. He knew the type; spend millions on rare art just to know they own it. What they can’t buy, they pay somebody to steal. “So how do we get to this Smith?”
Yakov grunted, then pursed his lip. “Not easy, is private guy. Wary. I don’t think so much he will talk to riff-raff pirate. Getting his attention will likely require a… demonstration.”
Vane sat quietly for a moment as Megan, the bartender’s daughter, stepped up and slid a fresh shot across the thick wooden table, collecting the seven or eight fallen soldiers that lay strewn across the oak battlefield. The pirate watched her walk away, lifted the glass, considered it for a moment, then drank it down, eye closing as he swallowed. When the orb re-opened, it revealed the panther within. Vane set the glass on the table and said with a fanged smile “Then we have to make a compelling statement.”
Despite the insanity of it all, a smile crept across Yakov’s face as he tapped into his Mobi Glas. This was his game. In simple terms yeah, he was a fence, a mover of stolen goods, a purveyor of unclaimed cargo in polite society. But any idiot could do that, haggle low and sell high, eeking out an existence on the margin.
A good fence — no, a great fence — was so much more. A great fence had a network, sometimes contracting sales in advance of acquisition. He would take orders from customers seeking every sort of commodity, from stolen goods to industrial secrets; commodities that drew breath… or ones from whom that capacity should be taken away. Yakov was a finder, a fixer, a contractor who made it his business to know the business of others; their needs, their wants… and their vulnerabilities.
Yakov paused, a news article Mobi-floating in his vision. “Hm, our friend has vrag, ah… political enemy.” The Russian snorted “Pah! Zillionaire idiots poking each other in sandbox. Only this, what is name… ah, Zul-Ren. He is making very public this fight. Social media, televid. For men like Smith, public is cancer.”
“Carving out a tumor sounds like a pretty good door-opener.”
“Da,” Yakov replied, “Must be clean, how you say… squeaky.” The Russian suddenly took a dour turn. “But solution still leaves problem. Even if we can move goods to Smith invisibly, authorities will never stop looking. Somewhere, someday that search leads to you. One day you get knock on door and is not girly-cookies they are selling.”
Vane smiled quietly as he leaned forward, resting muscled forearms on the table. “As amusing as that sounds, I see your point. We gotta make the feds, the mercs, all believe that —”
The sound of breaking glass stopped Vane in mid-sentence. Both men turned to look across the dark bar where a table now lay on its side. Some scrawny dock rat, a Krokodil-junkie by the looks of him, was backed into the corner, raised arms lined with track marks.
“Jake, you gotta believe me, I’d never sell you out.”
Jake, at least the guy to whom the cornered wretch was speaking, was flanked by two figures on either side. Roughnecks, Vane surmised, all armed but short of that armed-to-the-teeth look of professional killers. Jake was solid, bigger than Vane, and carried the scars of somebody who’d been dragged around the block a few times. Still, Jake was a dwarf compared to the guy on the far right, a damn mountain of muscle.
But it was the girl who moved first, stepping forward with a straight right that whiplashed the addict’s skull off the wall. The wet crunch of bone made tough guys around the bar wince. Eyes glazed, the junkie’s face lolled with a nose crushed to one side, blood streaming across his teeth. The girl stepped back, flexing her fist, anxious to throw another.
Vane looked at Yakov and grinned. “I like her style.”
Jake spoke to the mountain, who lifted the bloody, mewling addict by the throat. As a group they turned and made for the exit, hauling their prize like a bag of groceries. Jake paused and spoke to Fitz the barkeep. A wad of folded bills passing in the handshake. Then Jake took a last look around the room and left.
Vane looked at Yakov, still amused. “What was that?”
The Russian grinned. “Jake Brogan, captain of Goliath, big ship with arm…”
Yakov nodded, pointing a finger at Vane. “Da. They run salvage; sometimes run… other things.” Yakov narrowed his eyes at Vane. “Ah, the fiery one; she is Jesse. You two see eye-to-eye I think.”
Then the Russian’s face turned sour, “The maggot is Welker, little piece of der’mo. He owes Jake money, well, owes lots of people money. Over last couple days he brags that he is smart guy, sends Jake and crew to their death, clears his chit. Only now it appears…”
“Jake didn’t die.”
The Russian chuckled. “Da. Jake is like you that way, he has umeniye, a knack, for survival. Like you too, he has bad temper. Welker’s survival chances now, I think, not so good.”
“This Jake, is he reliable?”
Yakov snorted. “What, you are in scrap business now?” Then he waved the joke away. “Da, they are solid crew, very loyal. Maaaybe die for each other, certainly kill for each other. But very under the radar, how you say, look very legit. As for reliable, da. If Jake tells you will be done, is done.”
“Interesting,” said Vane as he motioned Fitz for another round. “So back to this Smith of yours and his enemies…”