Campaign of the Month: January 2011

Honour Among Thieves

One Friday in Frisco Session Two

The first rule of firefights in Frisco: don't shoot the mirror in Lawrence's Saloon.

The plan was simple. The Doc would be meeting Hornsilver’s man inside the saloon. Jonah would go on ahead to case the joint and act as the Doc’s backup. Since he hadn’t been a part of any of the negotiations with the Hornsilver people, he wouldn’t be recognized. Worth would rent a room at the hotel across the street, acting as a lookout and covering the entrance of the saloon with his arsenal of weapons. YJ would prep Shenmue’s shuttle and pick the crew up after the exchange was made at the foot of Main Street. The crew set about preparing for the meet and then caught a few nervous hours of sleep before the rendezvous time approached.

Then it was zero hour, and time to get down to business.

Duffel bag in hand, Worth Evans strode into the lobby of the Hotel Southern, every inch the weary warrior. He gruffly asked for a room facing the street, and as luck would have it, one was available. Armed with the key, he mounted the steps to the second floor and walked down the hall, taking note of the communal bathroom at the far end, and the brightly painted door of the emergency exit next to it. Then he was inside his room. He moved to the window and eased it open a crack, just wide enough for the muzzle of his favourite assault rifle to poke through. Then he closed the curtains, turned around and went to work.

Jonah entered Lawrence’s Saloon and looked around the hall, taking it all in. Six rotating fans hung from the high, copper-tooled ceiling. The wood floors were oiled and clean and the brass railings that run around the walls were polished. Even the wallpaper was nice. Three Faro tables lined the south wall, but Jonah’s eyes were immediately drawn to the north wall’s impressive showpiece – the ornate and lovingly polished bar that ran the full length of the room. Behind the bar and its multicoloured tiered cityscape of bottled beverages gleamed a wide mirror with beveled edges. It was no ordinary mirror, Jonah noticed. It was a triumph of Newtech, as Jonah saw that his reflected image was a mite prettier, and his clothes a mite sharper than they were in reality. The mirror was effectively a giant set of beer goggles! “Not bad at all,” Jonah said to himself as he started scanning the crowd for familiar faces.

He soon recognized the crew’s contact, a bald man with an elaborate dragon tattoo covering his neck and the crown of his head. His reflection in the mirror made it look as though a tiny pet dragon was crouched on his shoulder, flexing its wings occasionally.

He also couldn’t help but noticing the trio of identical beautiful ladies working the crowd. The girls were top-drawer, and the Newtech mirror could barely keep up. Jonah also couldn’t help but notice that the bartender stared at him for a second longer than necessary before going back to work.

Jonah aimed for a vacant spot at the bar, figuring the mirror would give him a great view of anyone trying to sneak up on the deal as it went down.

Across the street, Worth finished packing away the hotel room’s toiletries, bed linens and towels into his duffel bag, grabbing the mints off the pillows before swiping the pillowcases. He then forced himself to turn to the task at hand. Loading his rifle, he pulled the curtains apart slightly and took aim at the entrance of Lawrence’s Saloon, then let his attention wander. The hotel’s clock radio was bolted to the nightstand – he was going to have to do something about that.

The doc walked purposefully towards the entrance of Lawrence’s Saloon, pausing only briefly to dry-swallow a pair of downers to put himself at ease during the meeting. Then he was through the doors into the middle of the party. He scanned the crowd, immediately noticing Jonah lounging at the bar. Next to Jonah stood four obvious Tong thugs dressed to the nines in natty Mao suits. They were holding drinks, but not paying the slightest bit of attention to them. The Doc took the Newtech mirror in stride, figuring it was a run of the mill hallucination brought on by the drugs, and not worth worrying about. He also noticed Matt Cullen, sitting with a couple of brutes a few tables away, trying hard not to stare in the Doc’s direction. Next to one of the Faro tables stood none other than Dennis Chow, the assayer, who was holding a small briefcase in his hand.

The gang’s all here, the Doc said to himself. He recognized his contact straight away, and headed for the table. Nonchalantly, he keyed open his multiband mic, leaving it on while he approached the contact, who stood and bowed slightly.

Jonah took a moment to survey the Tong and his companions at the bar. Their well-tailored suits couldn’t conceal the shortswords hidden under their jackets. Turning back to where the Doc was seated, he could see a small silver attaché case resting between the feet of their contact. He flipped a coin to the bartender as his drink was freshened, and noticed that the bartender was wearing a pistol in a shoulder rig.

This deal keeps getting better and better, he thought to himself. “We should abort,” he whispered into his mic. “There are too many elements at play here,”

“Negative,” YJ said as he prepped the shuttle. “You guys don’t leave the bar without the cash, understand?” The pilot went back to squaring away some rogue wiring on the dilapidated spacecraft.

Jonah sighed. He could play the game if he had to. “Nice night,” he said to the young thug next to him at the bar.

The Tong grunted.

Undaunted, Jonah kept up the routine. “Is this place always this busy?”

“Best party in town,” the Tong murmured distractedly.

Jonah noticed the unopened can of cola clutched in the man’s fist. “Something wrong with your drink?”

Cool as a cucumber, the Tong reached over and popped the tab of the can, which opened with a hiss.

The Doc took the seat offered to him by the Asian gentleman. “Good evening, sir,” said the contact. “I am honoured by your presence tonight. My name is Lao, and our mutual friends have advised me that you are in possession of a valuable item and wish to exchange it for something of more, shall we say, tangible value. Am I correct?”

The Doc leaned forward. “That all depends on whether you have the tender.”

“Naturally,” Lao smiled.

“So how much is this-” Jonah jerked his head towards the table where Lao and the Doc were seated – “worth to you?”

The Tong nearly spit out a mouthful of Blue Sun Cola. “What?”

“Well, word travels fast, town like this. I hear things, and wonder what the going rate for information is these days.” Jonah said nonchalantly. “I see someone standing here not drinking his drink, and well, I wonder what stake he’s got in the deal going down over there.”

The Tong thug tensed. “Perhaps we should take a walk outside,” he said through gritted teeth.

In a flash, Jonah had his revolver pressed against the Tong’s ribs. “That sounds like a capital idea.” He said with a smile.

To his credit, the Tong took another sip of his Blue Sun cola, and then set it down on the bar without a tremor. “Lead the way.”

“In situations like this, the exchange can be so delicate…” Lao was saying as the waitress returned to the table with three tall, very expensive looking drinks. “What would you suggest?”

The Doc’s reinforced nerves were buttery smooth. “We should probably assure one another that our goods are genuine,” he offered.

Lao smiled ingratiatingly, reaching into his suit jacket pocket. He pulled out a small electronic device and placed it on the table in front of him. The Doc picked it up as he pulled out the memory stick. As he was slotting the stick home, he felt something being pushed against his foot. Glancing down, he saw the slim attaché case. As he turned the small card-reader around so Lao could see the display, he popped the latch and saw through the half-open lid stacks of bills.

“Four thousand square,” Lao offered while the nearest dancing girl batted her eyelashes at the Doc. “And I see that it is worth every penny,” he continued as he consulted the card-reader. Suddenly, his smile faded. “Oh dear,” Lao said, glancing up at the Doc pointedly. “You haven’t made a copy of this memory stick, have you?”

“Why, yes we did,” the Doc said smoothly.

“What assurances do we have that this copy will be immediately destroyed?” Lao asked, frowning.

“Simple," the Doc replied. "Let me walk out of here with the money and we delete the copy. We’ll contact you to confirm it.”

The smile returned. “Well put,” Lao said.

In the hotel room, Worth tensed as his sharp eyes caught movement in not one but both alleys on either side of the Lawrence Saloon. He saw a number of shadows – eight, all told – detach from the darkness and move smoothly towards the front entrance of the saloon, four on either side. With a sharp intake of breath, he thumbed off the safety and moved the selector to full auto, aiming for the nearest group. “Back door, back door now!” he hissed into the mic as he squeezed the trigger.

The sound of automatic weapons fire tore across Main Street as Worth sprayed the Corone troopers. Tactical armor notwithstanding, Worth stopped the squad in their tracks. The point man took the worst of it, and fell back, limbs pinwheeling, into one of the fine plate glass windows overlooking the street.

Without waiting for calls for an encore, Worth spun about and ran for the door, grabbing the Gideon bible off the nightstand before bursting out into the hallway.

YJ brought the shuttle’s engines up to full and he launched from his berth in Shenmue. Time for the cavalry to ride in, he thought.

The gunfire outside did little to dampen the spirits of the crowd inside Lawrence’s but the much more immediate sound of windowpane breaking caught the attention of a few revelers. The sight of a heavily-armed corporate soldier sprawling into the saloon was met with a scream from one of the dancing girls. The Newtech mirror made the unfortunate Corone goon look like he was wearing a sharp black tuxedo before he fell out of sight onto the polished floor. The nearest Faro game didn’t skip a beat.

Jonah and the Tong kept moving through the crowd as the first wave of confusion moved through it like a virus. “There are lots of ears in town and they hear a lot of things,” Jonah said. “Based on my contact info that door’s getting kicked in about three seconds from now. So you see that I have a choice. I can recruit you, or dispatch you.” Jonah whispered into the Tong’s ear.

As he drew near the table where the Doc was seated, Jonah considered making a play for the attaché case, but he was distracted by the Tong’s sudden attempt to disarm him. Impressive, he thought to himself, but you don’t play a player.

“Mr. Lao, I’m sorry to tell you that you’ve got a traitor in your midst,” the Doc said as he snapped the attaché case closed. Lao looked like he was about to respond when suddenly all hell broke loose.

A small object skittered across the floor of the saloon from outside. The flash-bang grenade did its job admirably, knocking down the nearest dozen or so saloon patrons and sending the first Faro table flying, cards and coins spinning like confetti. Then four armored goons burst through the doors on the heels of the stun grenade. “Nobody move!” the first one shouted.

The Tong gaped at the intruders as Jonah finished putting him in a headlock. “Are they with you?” the Shenzhou colonist asked in an even tone. “N-no, of course not!” the dumbfounded Tong replied. Jonah then shoved the confused gangster towards the incoming Corone cops. “Then deal with them for me, will you?”

Battle cries from somewhere behind him told Jonah that the other three Tongs had taken the hint. Katanas unsheathed, the trio launched themselves full-force over card tables and screaming partygoers towards the Corone soldiers. “Way to bring a knife to a gunfight, boys,” Jonah said, shaking his head. Then he spun about and headed for the back door.

The Doc caught a glimpse of Matt Cullen standing up so fast that his chair fell over before he grabbed the attaché case and made for the back exit. Lao took the hint, running towards the other exit behind the bar.

“I said nobody move!” shouted the lead Corone agent before unloading a burst on the approaching Tong gangsters that took down a number of unarmed saloon-goers as well as the lead Tong. Another one spied the retreating Lao and Doc, and shouted, “there they are – get ‘em!” As the screaming and mayhem continued, the two thugs flanking Cullen pulled their own heaters and started firing back at the armored goons. The Newtech mirror did its best to keep up, turning guns into bouquets of flower and sprays of blood into fancy red bubbles.

The Doc ducked and turned to avoid a hail of Corone fire that slagged his table including the three pricy drinks. He yanked his pistol out of its holster and with surgical precision shot out the nearest ceiling fan, which collapsed into the path of the approaching mine cops. The he turned on his heel, only to see the rapidly receding backside of Jonah Rothsay as he made himself scarce. Frowning, the Doc started after him.

Worth hit the hallway to hear the sounds of booted feet on the stairs. He took off for the fire exit at the end of the hall, and then hit the floor as someone from outside raked the second storey of the Hotel Southern with an automatic, shattering windows and shredding sheetrock. Bullets flew overhead, sending splinters and other assorted grit into the air. Then, the firing stopped, and Worth heaved himself to his feet, ignoring the voice behind him that said, “Hey you, stop right there!” He shouldered his way out the door, popping it off its hinges, and rattled down the fire escape, which threatened to detach itself from the saloon’s outer wall with every step. Then he was off into the darkness in the direction of the pickup zone. Behind him, shouts were met with more shouts and the occasional gunshot.

The shuttle made short work of the distance between their ship and the saloon. YJ brought it in at treetop level right up Main Street, sending horses and buggies scattering. The pilot noticed that the Corone ground vehicle had reappeared, effectively blocking the south end of Main Street near the town jail. A roadblock, however, was not a problem. The pilot smiled at the chaos and angled for the landing zone at the end of the street. His sharp eyes noticed a second before his shuttle’s radar did that the landing zone was already occupied. Uh oh, he thought.

Uh oh, Worth thought as he crouched behind the Mercantile. Across the street, right where YJ was supposed to set the shuttle down was the meanest-looking armored skiff he’d seen since his days running contraband out of the Beylix junkyards. “YJ, someone’s in your parking spot!”

“I know!” YJ said, gritting his teeth as he jinked to one side, aiming for an unoccupied spot of land behind the saloon. The shuttle made a rough landing, and YJ quickly unbuckled himself and popped open the hatch, pistol in hand. He was suddenly bathed in high-powered headlights as the skiff came to life, its engine revving.

Jonah and the Doc ran through the kitchen, past a pair of surprised cooks, before nearly knocking down the fire exit. They saw their shuttle, illuminated in a bright white light. YJ was beckoning to them furiously, and they suddenly heard the sound of an approaching engine. The two men sprinted towards the open hatch as an armored skiff started eating up the distance between it and the shuttle while it accelerated to ramming speed. They were barely onboard when YJ hit the thrusters, stood the shuttle on its tail, and shot it into the air. The skiff missed the shuttle by a hair, wheeling about and nailing the wall of the building adjacent to the saloon.

Worth took off from his hiding space towards the edge of town as the skiff peeled out and shot towards the saloon. “Just don’t forget to pick me up!” He shouted into his multiband. Suddenly from behind him he heard shouts. “Hey you there, stop!” First one, then two flashlight beams locked onto him. Worth heard the rattle of battle armour from the approaching silhouettes and smiled. “Payback time, eh boys?” He raised his rifle.

YJ aimed the shuttle at the narrow alleys behind Main Street, shooting down at breakneck speed. When he was sure the skiff wasn’t following, he brought the shuttle up in a high arc, searching for Worth on the radar.

“Freeze!” the Corone cops shouted at Worth, who turned and faced down his pursuers.

“Okay, which one of you wants to dance first?” Worth shouted.

Just as the Corone thugs were about to let their guns do the talking, the shuttle screamed down for another hard landing, scattering them like autumn leaves to the wind. Worth wasted no time in jumping aboard. “Thanks for the pickup!” he grinned as they leapt skyward again and made a beeline for their docked transport. “Don’t mention it,” YJ shot back from the cockpit.

They were well into the air before the Corone skiff and outrunner converged on their location. “Careful, she’s tempermental!” Worth shouted as YJ laid on the throttle.

YJ ignored the burly engineer. “Better call Hornsilver then, see if they got out okay.” Jonah dialed the mine office but got no answer.

“Try Cullen’s private number,” Worth suggested. Cullen came in loud and clear, with the sound of riot and mayhem providing a background. “You boys sure left a mess in your wake!”

“Did Lao give you the memory stick?” YJ asked.

“That he did. From what he tells me, you’re gonna delete your backup copy?”

“Roger that,” The Doc said, typing commands into the nearest console.

From his seat in the co-pilot’s chair, Jonah’s fingers worked the keyboard frantically. I ain’t through with Corone yet, not when there’s money to be made, he thought to himself as he downloaded the data onto his own memory tab.

“The files have been deleted,” The Doc said, not noticing Jonah’s private smile.

“Watch your back, Cullen. You’ve still got a mole at work in town.” YJ said.

“That we do. Thanks to you boys, we’ll ferret him out soon enough,” said Cullen, who then signed off.

“Four thousand square,” whistled YJ as he entered coordinates into the nav computer.

“Where we off to now?” Worth inquired.

“Beaumonde,” the pilot replied. “Time to make a payment on this ship, and maybe find some less dangerous work.”

He got no argument from the rest of the crew.

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