The Offer

"This 'ad better be good," Lucatz growled as he pulled me from the makeshift cell. He fastened a short length of ragged rope about my wrists and sat me down on a rusty chair in the patio. The eyes of the half dozen other men in the courtyard followed me.

"So what's the deal?" said Lucatz, sitting down across the table from me. His silver teeth glittered and clacked together as he spoke.

"The Kamarov File," I said. "I still have it."

"Yer lying," Lucatz said. "The fuzz must've confis — confus — taken it from ye when ye were captured."

"I made a copy," I said quietly.

Lucatz squinted dubiously at me. I stared him straight in the eye.

"Then where is it?" Lucatz asked.

I smiled elusively. "All in good time," I said. "But I definitely have it. Now let's talk price. The Kamarov File is an incredibly valuable government secret. Why, I couldn't tell you — I've never seen its contents myself. But it is valuable. More valuable than that handsome price on my head, even. I'm a wanted criminal. The File's no use to me because I can't sell it and I wouldn't know how to. But I know you, Lu. I know you could squeeze every last drop of profit available out of it. And you could get away with it, too."  I settled back in my chair. "You could be a very rich man."

The line had been cast and the lure was out there. I could see Lucatz was interested.

"So what do ye want in return? A cut o' the loot?"

"I want you to let Kris and me go, no questions asked, no squawking to the police. I want five hundred feds up front, and I want you to make false IDs for both of us."

"Ye know I can't do that, Gavin," protested Lucatz. "If the lot of us 'ere 'ad more 'n twelve feds ter rub together, we'd consider ourselves rich. An' even supposing we did 'ave five 'undred feds — which again, we don't — I couldn't make ye a passable ID that'd 'old up ter more 'n a glance from a cantina bouncer. Ye strike an 'ard bargain, Gavin. Too 'ard."

I kept my face as impassive as I could.

"You know what the Raven told me before the Kamarov job?" I asked. "He said the file was worth more than a million feds in the right hands. I don't give a damn how many favors you have to call in to do it, Lu, but you're going to get me the five hundred and the IDs. Otherwise, you just let more than a million feds slip through your fingers."

I waited and stared at Lucatz with steely eyes. His face flickered with greed and indecision.

"I need some proof," he said at last. "I ain't gonna go through all this jus' ter find ye never 'ad the file. I need ter see it, Gavin."

"I'm your brother, Lu. I wouldn't trick you like that."

Lucatz said nothing, but his eyes dilated unnaturally. His right hand twitched — no more than an inch — toward his belt where his gun was holstered. He saw me pick up the gesture and smiled.

"Let's not forget that yer the prisoner 'ere. Yer the one 'oo's bleeding 'ands are tied."

My mind churned through the possibilities quickly. If I told Lucatz where the file was, there was nothing to stop him from just taking it. But I had to give him some sort of proof.

I lifted my bound hands and laid them across the grimy tabletop.

"If you want the truth, the file's in my hand," I said.

Lucatz peered at my empty palms and confusion clouded his face.

"Left palm," I said. "See the scar? It's small because the file is small. I had it implanted in my hand."

Lucatz eyed the small, dark square that was just barely visible beneath my skin.

"But listen here," I continued. "I had the file encrypted and locked with a code known only to me. If anyone tries to remove it without scanning in the code, it's programmed to destroy itself."

This was a blatant lie, but could Lucatz really afford to call my bluff? I hoped not.

"That's an awful lot o' trouble to go through, seeing as ye got busted anyway," Lucatz said.

"I wasn't captured then," I replied coolly, surprising myself with my composure. "I knew how much the file was worth. I wasn't going to risk the Raven's men or the police snatching it from me for free. I was going to bide my time, wait for the right moment, then go for the big reveal. Of course, things didn't quite work out that way, now did they?"

Lucatz studied me carefully. At one time, I never would have been able to conceal anything from him. But I was a different man since being held in the Arena. And Lucatz was a much different man from the skinny youth who had helped me survive on the dark Underurb streets all those years ago.

Finally Lucatz stood up.

"I'll think about yer offer," he said while I rose to my feet. "I'll talk it over with some o' me men and I'll let ye know what I think of it tonight. In the mean time, ye can relax in yer room."

I nodded, and without complaint let him shove me back to the strong room and lock me in. Only after the door was closed and all light was extinguished did I allow myself a brief smile. I had him for sure. The only question now was whether he would hold up his end of the bargain.

The End

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