Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Protector Part 5

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Proper planning prevents piss poor performance. Something I learned from the Cousins in Albion. After I hung up, I made a number of phone calls.
First the driver who had ferried us around and kept his mouth shut. Then a guy I knew who knew someone who knew the arcana of computing. A crafter who specialized in protective talismans. The bank, which confirmed that I had received payment. A few other people.
Opening my Web browser, I scoured the Bangkok news. The heat had died down. I saw a brief story in the Bangkok Post about gangsters clashing on the streets, and even then I wasn’t sure it was in the right spot. No news was good news. But all the same, couldn’t hurt to be careful. Better to take an indirect route.


I caught a red-eye flight to Langkawi Airport in Malaysia, followed by a ferry to Satun in Thailand, and a bus to Bangkok. The bus rolled into the city a day before Allondir’s scheduled flight.
I linked up with the driver, telling him what I needed. I also handed him a gift from the crafter: a talisman that would protect the vehicle from harm. He accepted it graciously, and with a handful of baht promised to drive us again.
After that, I walked the sois and thanons, peeking into shops and vendors, and war-gamed possible scenarios and planned outcomes.
No way this was going to be a simple negotiation. Kang wouldn’t want a face-to-face for that. Easier and more secure to handle business online, over encrypted mail or teleconference if necessary. Likely Kang was going to use a combination of the carrot and the stick: treat Allondir to an all-expense-paid stay in the city, and subtly remind him that at any time the comforts could go away if he reneged on the deal. The ultimate goal would be to transform Savon-Bissau into another triad front company and a source of income, using Allondir to grease the wheels and cover up triad activity. I tried telling Allondir that, but he seemed to care more about his ass than his company.
Briefly I wondered if Kang would want to exact revenge on Allondir, then discarded the thought. Men like Kang want profit. They wouldn’t throw Allondir to the wolves if they could stand to make money from him in the long term, and street muscle and whores were replaceable. At worst he would want Allondir to pay ‘compensation’, enough to gouge him but not enough to trigger an automatic refusal.
Didn’t stop me from looking for sharp objects.
Sneaking weapons into a secure area required defeating the sapient element. I thought about the orc’s patdown. Recalled the pressure of his skin on mine, the places he touched and felt. He was good. Practiced. Experienced, even. He searched all the right places in a matter of moments. He didn’t, however, pat everywhere.
Getting the right tools was a matter of imagination. A trip to a shopping district yielded a set of cheap, thin boning knives with plastic sheathes. Cord and tape were, of course, widely available, through fashioning secure rigs took a good deal of experimentation and no small amount of patience. I put them on under a long-sleeved shirt and looked in a mirror. No noticeable bulges, and when I walked around the city nobody noticed.
When Allondir arrived, I hustled him into my hotel room. It was a double room, and this time I kept a very close eye on him. He didn’t want to talk, and fortuitously, neither did I. We filled a pair of duffle bags with clothes and essentials, black for him and blue for me, in case we had to bug out quickly. When it was time to hit the sack, I created another sylph and placed her on guard duty. I told Allondir the sylph would watch for intruders, but we both knew her real purpose.
Allondir scheduled to meet Kang at the Shanghai Bund restaurant at 11 am. Perfect time for dim sum. When we arrived, though, the restaurant was closed. The sign up front said it was booked for a ‘private function’. The head orc of Kang’s security team waited by the door with a subordinate. We left the bug-out bags inside the car and walked up to them.
“You again,” the orc said, grinning.
“Nice to see you too,” I said.
He patted me down, working from head to toe: armpits, chest, beltline, pockets, ankles.
“Nothing?” he said. “Really?”
“Hey, we’re all friends here, right?” I replied.
He and his buddy laughed, and led us in.
The restaurant was empty. Dead quiet, in fact. The furniture was kept away, the kitchen was silent, and there was no sign of the staff anywhere. There were, however, more goons. The same faces who stood security the first time around. Two of them broke off to join us, boxing Allondir and I in. Apparently the orc and the three others were Kang’s inner layer of security, with the rest for backup.
The Praetorian Guard walked us upstairs, past empty tables and floors, and to the private room at the top. Once again, Kang and Zai were waiting for us at a table for four. But this time, there was only a teapot and two cups of steaming tea. The orc and his crew took up positions at all four corners. Nobody stood guard outside.
In the first meeting, they watched for an outside threat. Here, they were guarding against an inside threat. Meaning, Allondir and me. Something was off. While Kang launched into a genial, almost avuncular spiel, he very pointedly did not offer us tea, and for good reason. A man like him would know that weapons were everywhere.
“Thank you both for coming,” Zai said. “We are pleased that you are willing to accept our organization’s offer, and look forward to a lasting partnership.”
“So do I,” Allondir said coolly. If he were rattled, he wasn’t showing it. It was the first smart thing he did. “I understand your organization has come up with new terms.”
“I also understand that you have narrowed down your search for prospective locations to Bangkok.”
Allondir swallowed. “Yes. I have recommended Bangkok to my superiors. In the coming weeks, we’ll be sending in site assessment teams.”
“We are very pleased to hear that.” Zai turned to me with a smile. “We are also pleased to see that you can join us today, Mr Cyr.”
“A job’s a job,” I said neutrally. “Regardless of my employer’s...indiscretions.”
The elf blanched. The elfess laughed.
“Indeed,” Zai said. “Interesting word choice, Mr Cyr. You are aware of what he did?”
“Only what he told me. I haven’t actually seen the video.”
“I’m disappointed. You didn’t take steps to confirm his words?”
“Actually, that’s one of the reasons I’m here,” I said. “I need to protect my employer’s interests, and part of my job is to receive independent proof.”
“I do believe we sent Mr Allondir the video.”
“Which, alas, is illegal to possess in my home country, and my government is very keen on enforcing that law. I trust that you would have a copy of the raw video at the moment?”
Zai smiled. “But of course.” She elegantly unfastened her scroll from her wrist, placing it against the table. She swiped through the screen, then turned the device around. Its cameras tracked my eyes and projected a holographic window only I could see.
It was...what the sylph had seen, from a different angle. It began from the moment he entered the dingy room. It went on and on and on. The boy cried, shrieking. Allondir didn’t care, shouting guttural phrases in his native tongue. Eventually a pair of toughs jumped in and pulled Allondir off the boy. They yelled at him, and as he put his pants on they grabbed him and carried him out.
Allondir gripped the edges of the table, his face whiter than bone. “He was...only a boy.”
“Only a seld d’firen, you mean.” A male child of humans.
He recoiled. Gritted his teeth. Glared at me. Said nothing. Kang simply sat back and smiled, content with sipping his tea. He was letting the elfess handle this aspect of negotiations for him.
“Merchandise is increasingly expensive to procure and maintain,” Zai said. “We would prefer our clients not damage our goods.” She smirked. “At least, not without our express permission.”
“I apologize.”
“Yes. Thanks to the damage, we have lost a week’s worth of income from our employee. If we are to proceed forward, we do require compensation. Nothing much, merely enough to cover medical fees and lost earnings.”
“How much?” he asked.
“Ten thousand. Dollars, American,” she said smiling.
He shook his head. “Five thousand. I know the dollar is much stronger than the baht.”
She laughed. “My! A feisty one! You actually believe you have room to negotiate?”
“You had plenty of boys in there, and the boy in question wasn’t particularly popular. It doesn’t justify ten thousand dollars.”
“Your man also hurt our men. We need to cover their medical fees, and support their families for as long as they can’t work.” She leaned in. “Admit it. You’re in a position of weakness.”
Allondir snarled. “Fine. Ten thousand dollars. But I can’t move all that money at once. Not without attracting undue attention. You know how strict anti-money laundering laws are like in America.”
“Of course. You have a week. No, let me be generous. Two weeks, starting from next Monday. That gives you two extra days.”
“Thanks,” he said. “How do you want to do this?”
She retrieved her scroll, setting it to display another window. “You will transfer your funds to this account. Rest assured, the moment we receive the money, we will know. We will move the money immediately and close the account. Do not think you can cheat us.”
“I won’t.”
“Excellent.”
They moved on to other business. Namely, how, exactly, the triad would control Savon-Bissau’s Bangkok branch. Now Kang stepped in, talking at length. In essence, Savon-Bissau would hire locals at all levels: security and front-line staff, researchers and middle managers, executives and C-suiters. Kang’s cronies will sit on the board of directors and own a majority of the shares, and Savon-Bissau will only bring in the absolute minimum of foreign staff needed to run things. All the while Allondir nodded, his eyes downcast.
“I don’t have to tell you the penalty for noncompliance,” Kang said.
“I can’t guarantee that I’ll be given control over Savon-Bissau’s business in Bangkok, even after it is established.”
“No, but you are a senior executive with much influence over the company’s decisions. And most of your extended family runs Savon-Bissau too. We don’t expect you to do all this immediately, of course. We are merely outlining our vision for you. We do, however, expect you to report your efforts regularly with us and to do everything you can to make this vision a reality.”
Allondir hung his head and sighed. “Fine.”
The rest was trivialities and details relating to Thai business law. The meat of the conversation was over. Zai drained her tea and smiled.
“It looks like we’re done, Mr Allondir. It was a pleasure doing business with you.”
“Thank you.”
“And now, Mr Cyr, your turn.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
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