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Better Watched Than Gold

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“Do we really need the money that badly?”

Jack looked at Dubi across the top of his glass and raised his eyebrows. “We always need the money,” he said, putting down his glass and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Our financial situation is maybe slightly less dire at the moment than usual, but we could still use the money.”

“But we don’t need the money?” Dubi persisted. Jack gazed at him thoughtfully.

“We do need the money,” he said, “but maybe we don’t need the money from this particular job. What’s up?”

Dubi shifted his weight slightly, glancing around the badly lit interior of the bar. It was difficult to tell behind his usual professionally stoic expression, but Jack thought he looked uneasy.

“Nothing specific,” he said, finally. “Nothing I can put my finger on. I just have a bad feeling.”

“About the job or about the bar?” Jack asked. Dubi gave him a look that Jack took to mean, Could be either. Could be both. Could be nothing, which made Jack frown into his drink. Dubi’s instincts were good, and Jack was inclined to trust him, even though he hadn’t gotten any bad vibes off of this job.

 

0o0o0o0o0

 

Their contact was new - recommended by an old acquaintance of Artem’s that he’d kept up sporadic contact with since joining the crew of the Blue Jacket. He’d told Artem that he knew a guy who was looking to hire a crew and were to meet him. Artem had vouched for the guy, and Jack hadn’t been able to dig up any information that would prevent the crew from meeting with him. Nevertheless, Jack liked to handle first meetings with unknown contacts with extreme caution, and insisted that no one was allowed to go anywhere without a radio. He hadn’t forgotten what had happened to Wiz on Persephone, even if everyone else had. They all made faces at him when he reminded them about having radios at all times, and staying in groups when possible.

Artem had wanted to come along to the meeting, but Dubi had shut him down completely. Artem had tried to get Jack to override Dubi, but Jack deferred to Dubi’s judgement when it came to the safety of the crew.

“What about us?” Cammie had asked, pulling out the puppy dog eyes. Matt nodded from his seat next to her, sticking out his lower lip like a child. Jack hid a grin but shook his head firmly and said, “No, and that’s final,” and went back to making a list of the supplies that they absolutely needed to pick up before they left.

“You could come with me,” Macy had offered, grinning wickedly. “I’m going shopping.” Jack had swallowed a grin as the three junior crewmembers all blanched at that. The last time Macy had gone shopping, Cammie had gone with her and had come back staggering and exhausted under the weight of their purchases, complaining that “She made me try on everything! Twice! And she wouldn’t even let me touch the crossbow!” The time before that, Macy had gotten over enthusiastic while picking pockets and got herself and Artem arrested. Jack had given them both a lecture about being more careful when he’d gone to bail them out that Macy had laughed off but had caused Artem to slink around the ship like a kicked puppy for the next several days. Matt had come back with a greenish cast to his face and refused to talk about it.

“I want you to take Bob,” Jack said firmly. “One of you three can go as well, if you want, but I want Bob to go with you this time, Macy.” He took a look at her gleeful expression and added, “Don’t break him, lose him, or get him arrested.” At that Bob leaned forward, looking concerned, but Jack gave him a reassuring look and he sat back. Macy made a face at him but nodded, knowing better than to argue when Jack used his captain’s voice.

“You three - one of you can go with Macy, if you like. Whoever stays behind is going to be responsible for cleaning out the cargo hold, and I want someone to have the combox on them at all times.”

“What about Wiz?” Matt asked. Jack rolled his eyes.

“Wiz is going to be out refueling this baby,” the man himself piped up from his seat in the corner. “But if I make it back before Jack and Dubi are done, and the cargo hold is clean, I might have time for a quick piloting lesson.”

Cammie, Matt and Artem all lit up and Macy rolled her eyes. “So no one else wants to come with me and Bob?” she asked, giving them a mock-disappointed look. They all shook their heads, and she sighed. “Well, I suppose we’ll muddle along somehow.”

Bob looked a little concerned, but he followed Macy off the ship with a good-natured smile when they finally landed. “Stay out of trouble!” Wiz yelled after them. Macy gestured rudely at him without turning around, grabbed Bob by the arm and hauled him off into the market. Jack noticed the ghost of a frown on Dubi’s face and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Relax. She’ll take good care of him,” he said. Dubi’s face twitched a little before settling back into the professional mask he used when meeting contacts.

“I’m sure she will,” he said. “Do you have the directions to this bar?”

“Sure do,” Jack said, checking his pockets and his weapons one last time before leaving the ship to make sure he had everything. “Tiny’s. Should be about a fifteen minute walk thataway.”

 

0o0o0o0o0

 

“If our guy hasn’t shown in the next ten minutes, we can go,” Jack said to Dubi. “Something about this place feels. . . “ he trailed off, not knowing exactly how to put it. “Twitchy,” he finally decided, glancing around the room again. 

One corner of Dubi’s mouth turned down in his closest approximation of a frown. “I don’t like it, but you’re the boss,” he said, turning so that he could see the whole room and oh-so-casually angling his body so that he was between Jack and the nearest other person. Jack made a face but didn’t say anything about it - the last time he’d tried to take Dubi to task over his ridiculous overprotective routine, Dubi had listened with a bland expression on his face and then proceeded to ignore him completely. Jack liked to think he knew a losing battle when he saw one, so he had given up and allowed Dubi to act like his bodyguard when they met new contractors.

A stranger broke off from the loud group who had just entered the bar and headed over towards where Jack and Dubi were waiting. Dubi immediately straightened up and put himself directly in between Jack and the stranger, while Jack slouched lower on his stool, trying to project an air of nonchalance as the stranger looked Dubi over with a raised brow.

“You the Blue Jacket boys?” he said, and it sounded vaguely insulting, as though he’d been expecting something different and found them wanting.

“I’m Captain Johnson of the Blue Jacket,” Jack said mildly, resting his elbows back on the bar. He still wasn’t entirely comfortable with the title but he was getting used to it. “You Avery?”

The stranger grinned, a quick flash of teeth with no real humor. “I am. Welcome to Tiny’s.”

“I hear you have a job for us,” Jack said, preferring to get straight to the point. Dubi appeared to be splitting his time between eyeing Avery threateningly and keeping an eye on the room. “Let’s hear it then, and we’ll decide if we’re interested.”

“Forthright,” Avery said, a little mockingly. “I admire that in a man. We don’t talk business in the front room, however. Follow me.”

He led them around the counter and into a back room that was much more spacious and well-lit than the dark, crowded main room. Avery waved at the table, indicating that they should take a seat. Jack sat down, but Dubi moved back to stand in the doorway. Avery flashed that humorless grin again as he crossed to a cabinet and pulled out a bottle.

“So,” said Avery as he sat down and poured himself a drink. “You’re interested in my job.”

“Maybe,” Jack said, waving Avery off when he offered Jack a drink of his own. “You haven’t told us anything about it yet.”

“True,” Avery said as he took a sip of his drink. “Very true. Alright, then - I had a shipment of finest Terran whiskey that was due to come in a week ago. Trouble is, my tax documentation was not filed properly with the Alliance, and they took exception to my shipment.” His wry delivery seemed to indicate that this was not a new problem. “They have confiscated it and are holding it in an Alliance facility on Ariel pending proper tax documentation.”

“And you want us to. . . submit your tax documentation,” Jack said slowly.

“In a manner of speaking,” Avery agreed. “Pick up the shipment at Ariel and deliver it to me. Payment will be five thousand credits, half now and half on successful delivery.”

Jack sat back in his chair. He could give Bob free rein to upgrade whatever he wanted with that, and still have enough left over to restock their supplies for the next 3 months. He could give his crew some spending money and shore leave, and they would be able to be a little pickier about which jobs they took for the next couple months. On the other hand, breaking into Alliance holdings was never easy, and Terran whiskey - if Avery was willing to pay five thousand credits just for them to retrieve it, it might even be in a secure holding facility. He glanced over at Dubi, who gave him a miniscule shrug. Could go either way, then. He looked back at Avery.

“Five thousand, half now and half on delivery,” he said slowly. “And you pick up any business related expenditures if we take this job.”

“Done,” Avery said, holding out his hand. Jack took it, feeling a little shell-shocked. That had gone over much more easily than he’d expected, and he had the sinking feeling that he’d been had. “Here’s a data chip with as much information as I have about the shipment and where it’s being held. When can I expect delivery?”

Dubi cleared his throat and Jack glanced over at him quickly. “I’ll confer with my crew and get back to you by this evening,” he temporized. Dubi was looking impatient, which mean that something was happening outside and he wanted to get out, so Jack pushed his chair back and stood up. “Pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Avery.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” Avery said, smiling like the cat who’d got the canary and making no move to get up. “I look forward to hearing from you, Captain Johnson.”

Jack nodded at him and ducked back out into the main room of the bar. A crowd had gathered between them and the exit, and Dubi muttered something that Jack couldn’t hear as they started pushing their way through. They hadn’t even gotten halfway to the door before a voice rang out over the murmurs of the crowd and ubiquitous bar music. “Maybe you should just run back to where you came from,” it said. “That’s all the Rebels ever did, isn’t it?”

Jack felt Dubi stiffen next to him at the insult. Dubi and Jack had both been too young to fight in the Unification Wars, but both of them were from small border moons that had supported the Independents. Dubi shook it off after a moment and made as if to keep moving, but Jack stopped him with a hand on his shoulder and began to push through to the center of the crowd.

“Why don’t you just go back to your drinking, and I’ll go back to mine,” came the response, in a much lower, calmer tone as Jack finally managed to force his way through to the forefront of the crowd.

A tired-looking man in a slightly shabby brown coat was sitting at the table, looking at his drink and appearing to ignore the crowd surrounding him. Just off to his right, and looking the worse for several rounds of drinks, was a small cluster of men. One of them was smirking at his victim.

“I don’t think so, Reb,” he said, grinning nastily. “We don’t much like Browncoats in here, do we boys?” His posse rumbled agreement, and the crowd surrounding the table buzzed a little in anticipation. “Why don’t you go ahead and leave?”

“I have just as much right to enjoy my drink here as you do, gentlemen,” the tired-looking man said as he drained his glass. “In fact, I find myself in need of another. So if you’ll excuse me-”

He got up from his stool and began to move towards the counter, but someone grabbed his arm. Jack saw the man sigh before he began to turn - and duck the punch the ringleader threw at his head as he was turning, using the man’s momentum to send him stumbling into the crowd.

The man’s friends took exception to that, and jumped the man in the brown coat. He was a good fighter, Jack noticed, getting his attackers to interfere with each other more than they came at him, but he was still outnumbered, and it was clearly an unfair fight. Jack considered unfair fights to be one of life’s greatest sins, so he stepped in to lend a hand, ignoring Dubi’s dark mutter of “Macy’s never going to let me hear the end of this.”

The problem with fighting in a crowded space like Tiny’s, Jack found, was that there wasn’t really that much room to maneuver. He ducked a flailing hit from one of their assailants, and came up underneath with an uppercut that snapped the man’s head back - right into where the man in the brown coat was winding up to deliver a blow to his own assailant, knocking him forward into the man instead. Jack could see Dubi off to his left, fending off a flurry of blows from the original antagonist, who’d managed to get it together enough to join the fight. Jack worked his way around a member of the crowd and pried the man in the brown coat out from where he’d been tangled with a pair of brawlers who were bright enough to try attacking him from both sides.

“What do you say we move this outside?” Jack shouted into his ear as he hauled him in the general direction of the door. The man in the brown coat looked at him oddly but nodded. Jack dragged him through the crowd back over to Dubi, who was fending off another pair of attackers who clearly weren’t used to fighting as a team. Some of the crowd had jumped in to join the brawl, although they didn’t seem clear as to whose side they were on. Or they just liked fighting people, Jack thought as he saw one huge man wade into a knot of scufflers and start punching indiscriminately.The rest of the crowd had gone back to their drinks, although they were perfectly willing to heckle from the sidelines.

As he shoved his way through the chaos, Jack noticed that both he and the man with the brown coat were being targeted by the men who’d started the whole fight. It became particularly obvious when one of them actually swung away from the man he was scuffling with to try and engage him. The man he’d been scuffling with took the opportunity to deck him from behind, and Jack stepped over him as he went down and then ducked a wild punch from another brawler. He tried to look over and see if Dubi was having the same issues, but another man came crashing into him, swinging one of the bar’s pool table cues, and he got distracted dealing with that.

“Outside!” Jack yelled at Dubi, when he finally got back to him. Dubi glared at him, and Jack could already hear the lecture that Dubi was going to give him about jumping into random bar fights and going off on his own in random bar fights, especially when he was the one who insisted that everyone needed to be careful and have backup all the time. At the moment, though, he nodded and began shoving people out of the way as Jack and the man with the brown coat fell in behind him.

Once they’d managed to get themselves outside, Jack and Dubi stood side by side in front of the man in the brown coat and drew their guns. The group of men who had been targeting them spilled out of the bar a half-second later and looked as though they were thinking of continuing the fight regardless, but then the fact that they were unarmed (except for a chair that one of them had picked up somewhere, Jack wasn’t really clear on when that had happened) seemed to sink through their alcohol and adrenaline-fueled haze and they slunk off, except for the ringleader, who sneered at them first.

“Can’t even fight your own battles, Reb,” he snarled. Dubi sighed and cocked his gun, pointing it directly at the man.

“Get,” he said, motioning with the tip of his gun. The man sneered for a second longer, just enough time for Dubi to narrow his eyes and tighten his grip on the gun, before turning and following his friends off into the city.

“My thanks,” said the man in the brown coat. “But they’ll be back, you know, with more people and weapons this time.”

“Our pleasure,” Jack said automatically. “Wait, what do you mean they’ll be back?”

He looked resigned. “Gleesom and his cronies are bullies. You made them look bad - they will want revenge.”

Dubi cleared his throat meaningfully at Jack, who turned and scowled at him. “Shut up.”

“I didn’t say anything, Captain,” Dubi said blandly.

“You were thinking it very loudly,” Jack muttered. “Let’s head back to the ship, then, and call everyone back so we can head off before it becomes a problem. Do you want a ride?” This last was directed at the man in the brown coat, who was looking at them with an amused expression.

“Pardon me?” His expression switched from amused to quizzical.

“I figure it’s probably our fault that your buddies got their noses so out of joint,” Jack said, feeling Dubi’s disapproving glare on the side of his head. “The least we can do is offer you a ride to somewhere else - unless of course you’d rather stay here?”

The man got a faraway look on his face, then shook his head. “No, there’s nothing keeping me here. I accept.” He held out his hand to shake. “Marian Gaborik.”

Jack holstered his gun and took his hand. “Jack Johnson, captain of the Blue Jacket. That’s Brandon Dubinsky, he’s my second in command."

“A pleasure,” Dubi said sarcastically. “Can we get out of here and back to the ship please?”