He Knows the Right People

He Knows the Right People

Most men lost sleep the night before a significant business transaction. They worked themselves into a frenzy over everything that could possibly go wrong, planning for each contingency in turn in order to mitigate the impact should the worst happen. And when they’d finished planning, they sweated over how to get the most desirable results without giving more than they wanted to the other side.

Not Silkfoot Lightvolt. He lounged in a plush bar booth without so much as a tinge of nerves, sipping a pint of pale ale while he waited for his business associate to arrive. Unlike most people, he approached these transactions with the certainty he would get his way. Of course, he was at a point in his career where he could afford to walk away if conditions proved untenable. And it didn’t require half as much bluffing as it used to.

Under one arm rested a solid wooden case, spelled to unlock only with his fingerprints, one from each hand, so that it would be difficult to coerce him into opening the box unwillingly. His fingers rapped absently on its side, producing a slight echo from the interior as he glanced at the clock. Late. If it was a tactic meant to intimidate him, it would fail. Silkfoot no longer entered into business transactions in which he did not hold the upper hand.

Though he never gave away his advantage before the meeting took place. Not only would it affect his success, it would spoil his fun.

Heavy boots clomped across the crowded space and a shadow loomed over his table. Silkfoot glanced up and grinned into the glowering face of his business associate, a sour young woman who looked to be in her mid-twenties. Of course, with magical life extension treatments in such easy circulation these days, it was nearly impossible to guess anyone’s true age. And Silkfoot happened to know this woman had been a thief for more than fifty years. Her long hair had been pulled into a single bun atop her head, perhaps to make her look stern, and there was obvious tension in her knees and shoulders. Not nerves, Silkfoot guessed, but annoyance.

“Ahh Legaran, I was starting to think you’d skipped out on me,” he purred as he pulled his feet off of the seat meant for her and straightened. She was taller than him, even sitting down. She wore her weapons where he could see them, but he’d no doubt she bore some hidden blades as well. And she’d have hidden guards in the crowd, just as he had. He wasn’t foolish enough to glance in their direction and he didn’t bother scanning the crowd for whoever she planted. In the end, it wouldn’t matter.

“I’m busy, Lightvolt, as you well know,” Legaran hissed as she settled into the booth, though not before she dusted the cushion of whatever dirt his boots may have left behind. She kept her back ram-rod straight when she sat and her lips folded in an exaggerated frown. “And I’m not certain I’ve changed my mind about dealing with you after the last time.”

“That little kerfuffle?” Silkfoot snorted and waved a hand in dismissal. “That was ten years ago. Are you still thinking about it? I’m sure the world has moved on by now. Can I buy you a drink?” He arched one cream-colored eyebrow in what could only be described as a suggestive manner.

Legaran responded with a disgusted grunt that nearly made him giggle with glee. Some people were just so easy to play. “Just tell me what you want so I can get out of here.”

“Oh fine. If you have to spend every moment beneath a rain cloud… I’m looking for an amulet and I’m told it recently passed through your possession.” Recently being a somewhat relative term. “Someone smuggled it out of the ruins of Kazi’edhur shortly before the crown swept in to reseal them. It can be identified by a distinctive magical marking that denotes its purpose, for those inclined to the discipline. I’m sure you know which one I mean.”

She could have tried to deny it, but he’d already seen recognition flash in her eyes. “I know the one you mean. But what do you want with it? It can only be activated by those well-versed in a particularly ancient and obscure form of magic, and you’re no sorcerer.”

Legaran had never been particularly subtle in her negotiations. Then again, Silkfoot had been betting on it. He leaned forward, pushed his pint aside and shrugged. “It’s the key object in a trade I’ve already negotiated with someone who appreciates it as more than a purloined artifact from a forbidden dungeon.” Certain objects were worth less on the black market when their ideal demographic was niche. Legaran was likely as aware as he was that locating a sorcerer capable of using the amulet more than quadrupled its value.

With a smug smile, Legaran folded her graceful arms on the table and leaned forward. She almost looked like a cat ready to pounce. “And now that you’ve told me the dirty details, my darling Lightvolt, why should I agree to assist you without asking for an exorbitant price? Like, say, seventy-five percent of your final cut? Hmm?”

A lesser man would have been sweating bullets by now, but the conversation was going exactly as Silkfoot had anticipated. He was hardly a youngster spilling secrets better left concealed. He liked to watch his opponents tumble from ecstatic heights.

“Seventy-five percent? Are you getting soft, ‘Garan? I expected you to ask for more.”

Her smile disappeared instantly and she sat up, lifting her arms from the table. At the same moment Silkfoot flashed her a grin of his own. “And I thought you might take an interest in this.” He hefted the heavy wooden box onto the table, letting it drop the last few inches so that the whole booth shook.

Pressing his fingers to the two spelled locations on the outer surface produced a metallic click. Silkfoot pulled open the top to reveal his treasure.

Legaran’s eyes widened.

Most women coveted pearls, gold, rubies or diamonds. Anything that sparkled. Anything she could decorate her neck with. Anything she could trade for luxury and pampering. But his box held nothing like that.

Nestled in a soft cradle of velvet sat a small length of leather, intricately styled and painted by the hands of a master artist. Its surface depicted a journey from one location to another, the tiny details of each tree, bridge and river so accurate rumor had it the belt had taken nearly a century to produce. Despite its intricacy, it wasn’t worth more than a couple thousand gold on the black market. Small change compared to the objects Silkfoot usually dealt with.

Except that the value assigned to it by the woman sitting across from him was obviously priceless. He could see it in the ashen pallor of her skin, in the fine sheen of sweat that suddenly glinted on her brow and the noticeable tightening of her already tense jaw.

“Where did you get that?” she hissed, reaching for it tentatively.

Silkfoot slammed the lid of the box closed and the magical lock clicked back into place. He lifted one hand and waggled one finger at his companion. “Ah, ah, ah, you know that’s not how I work. If you want this little treasure, you have to give me that amulet. Should be a fair trade, don’t you think?”

Lagaran clenched her jaw and drew two rapid, deep breaths. It looked as though she were working herself up for a tirade. But the truth was he could have extorted her for far more than just an amulet for whom he’d found a hot buyer. The black market value of the two objects were woefully unweighted. And if his suspicions were all correct – which they usually were – she probably did not have the amulet at the moment. She could not hope to recover the resources she put into its acquisition with this leather belt as her sole reward.

He now had her pinned in the same snare she believed he’d revealed for her moments before.

She swallowed hard and called him a few choice names he hadn’t heard in awhile.

In the end, it hardly mattered. The trick to their kind of work, the one so few of his associates had figured out, was that you needed to know more than just the right people. You needed to know the right place, as well. But most importantly, you needed to know the most opportune moment.

Legaran might choke to death if she realized he’d been holding that particular object in the hold of his ship for fifteen years or more, while she tore the world asunder looking for it, all so that he could use it to this exact end.

At length, she agreed to his terms, bitterly and sullenly, but agreement was agreement. For the small price of a little gold and a lot of patience, he had saved himself the trouble of a long, arduous search and could still reap the benefits of a long-woven plan falling into place. He finished his pint slowly, savoring the knowledge that when his vast network of contacts did fail him, one of them was still bound to know the right people.

Take a look at what my writing partner did with this prompt!

If you’d like to participate, share a link to your response in the comments and I’ll feature it next week. And don’t forget there are plenty of other prompts to choose from ;)

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