The rest of them lowered their weapons, and they could only watch several officers as they lowered the net their latest catch was tangled in, shackling his hands behind his back before proceeding to search him very thoroughly.
“You just can’t take this guy anywhere…” Shades mumbled, looking over the chaos and carnage that seemed to follow in Erix’s wake everywhere he went.
“The Queen of Night…” the constable mused, looking over at the now deserted vessel. “I always suspected she was a Cray front, but could never prove it until now…”
“Hey! What are you doing?” Roxy demanded.
“Arresting him, of course,” Naysmith answered.
“That’s my bounty!”
“This is our jurisdiction,” the constable reminded her, “and contrary to whatever you might think, we don’t need bounty hunters to deal with our troubles.”
“If it wasn’t for us,” Roxy informed him, “Cray’s whole deal would’ve gone down without you.”
“Sir!” one officer interrupted, rushing out of the warehouse. “We’ve reached the other end of Cray’s smuggling tunnel, and it leads to this place.”
“You were saying…” Constable Naysmith folded his arms. “Instead of catching Mama Cray in the act and rounding up her whole crew, you killed their boss and started a gang war. If your actions hadn’t at least saved these other folks’ lives, I’d have you arrested for all the disturbances you’ve caused lately.”
“In case you hadn’t noticed,” the bounty hunter retorted, “the Stockades got here first.”
“And let me guess,” Naysmith muttered, “you went and killed their boss, too?”
“No,” Max interjected, “Erix killed the Stockade boss.”
“They barged in to take over the place before the deal started,” Maximilian filled in, “but Cray laid an ambush for them.”
“You were going to have a gang war on your hands anyway,” Shades pointed out. “Erix just made it happen sooner.”
“Wait a minute,” the constable remarked, “are you telling me that’s the Erix?”
Grave nods all around.
“Ha! He don’t look so tough to me!” one of the arresting officers commented.
“That’s easy to say now,” Roxy admonished. “Just wait ’til he wakes up. You’ll wish soon enough you’d let me finish him off. There’s a reason no one wants him alive, Naysmith.”
“That’s Constable Naysmith, to you.”
“You don’t know what you’re dealing with,” Shades warned the lawman.
“We’re dealing with a common criminal,” Naysmith countered. “I’ve seen his kind before. He won’t be so tough after a few days in the Stockade.”
Those officers within earshot agreed rather vocally.
Roxy simply shook her head.
“Your biggest, baddest inmates will all be scared shitless of him by the day after tomorrow,” she said at last. “The ones who survive, anyway.”
“By tomorrow, the entire prison chapter of the Stockade Gang will know he killed their boss,” the constable pointed out. “He’ll have his hands full just staying alive in there.”
“The last prison that actually held him for more than three days learned their own convicts weren’t so tough after all. That was after all the top dogs ganged up on him to make an ‘example’ out of him, and they learned the hard way to just let him be. Busted furniture and blood all over the floor. Broken bones, missing teeth, at least half a dozen people stuck with their own shanks and shivs. Five dead, and their infirmary overwhelmed, and they hardly even put a scratch on him. During the final days before his escape, when he wasn’t in solitaire, he had his own table in the mess hall, not just his own corner of it.
“Just don’t come whining to me after he’s killed your men.”
Max had no trouble believing it after his own third fight with him as a reminder.
“And stories grow beards the longer they’re told.” Naysmith shrugged at her.
“I’ve got the crime scene photos,” Roxy informed him, patting the belt pouch where she kept her data pad.
“Whatever.” Constable Naysmith turned to resume presiding over the operation, muttering, “As if the city of Anchor Point could afford New Cali’s overblown bounty anyway…”
“And you never saw what Erix did to New Cali,” she muttered back. “I wonder if they’re even finished rebuilding after that mess. The bounty on him is still less than his repair bill.”
“Now that both gang leaders are dead, there’s guaranteed to be an all-out war on the streets here, and it won’t take long for the other gangs to get in on it, so you’ll pardon me if I’m not so broken up about how things are going in New Cali. The Cyexian Quarter’s going to be a battleground by tomorrow. I hope you’re satisfied.”
“No jail can hold him. I’ll be waiting.”
“Then would you mind staying out of trouble while you’re at it? I’ve got an operation to run here.”
He then turned to the others, saying, “We’ve got our hands full here, but I expect you to stick around town until we can take a statement. And I hate to do this to you, Mr Vandenberg, but your ship’s also impounded until further notice.” Naysmith turned back to Roxy, adding, “After this is all sorted out, I strongly advise you to leave Anchor Point now that you’ve worn out your welcome around here.”
“Ungrateful, pompous ass…” Roxy spat in disgust as the constable turned back to his work, and Maximilian led Galford’s crew back to the ship, saying they could stay onboard for now for their trouble until things got ironed out. “No way he’d ever bag a catch like Erix without our help…”
“You’ve fought him before, haven’t you?” Shades tried to change the subject, recalling something Erix said during his fun stay on Kon Kimbar.
“Damn straight,” she replied, “and I almost had him then, too…”
“Sounds like quite a story,” Shades quipped. “I’m surprised you didn’t tell it on our little sea cruise.”
“I’m a bounty hunter, not a storyteller,” she snorted, “and I don’t care to tell any now, either.”
With that, she turned to walk away.
“Wait up!” Justin called out.
Shades put a hand on his shoulder.
“I don’t think now is a good time to discuss anything,” he said, turning to his friend. “But I do kinda wonder about something. Do you have any idea what Erix meant when he called you the ‘infamous outlaw’ Justin Black? He sounded as if he’d heard of you somewhere… I never knew you were so famous.”
“How the hell should I know?”
“Justin… Black?” Roxy stopped in mid stride, turning to face them again, and none of them liked the look in her eyes as they narrowed. Scrutinizing Justin as if seeing him for the first time. And not in a good way.
For his part, Shades tried not facepalm, surprised that she could still hear him so clearly from so far away with all of the work going on around them. Certain he had spoken too soon.
“So you’re Justin Black…” she commented as she strode up to them, recalling Erix saying something about that during the final moments of their battle.
“Yeah, what of it?” Justin tried to sound cavalier about it, but couldn’t quite pull it off against the certainty that he was about to find out.
“Today might be my lucky day after all…”
Despite both of them seeing it coming, Roxy still got the jump on Max and Shades, slipping past them and shoving Justin up against the warehouse wall behind him.
“You are a bold one,” she conceded, “hiding right under my nose like that…”
Max stood there, slack-jawed, trying to figure out what just happened here. Maximilian, as well as Galford & Company, were already gone, headed back to the ship, so it was just the three of them facing her out here.
“This is about Pullman, isn’t it?” Justin blurted. “Those Authority assholes put a price on my head, didn’t they?”
Roxy cocked her head.
“This isn’t personal, is it?” Justin thought hastily. “I mean, I’d remember if I lifted anything offa somebody like you…”
“You?” she snorted. “I’d break your hand before you got anything out of my pocket. Still, you’re quite the master of disguise, I would’ve expected you to be a little taller. Then again, they do say you’re a little shrimp…”
“Hey!” Justin snarled, drawing himself up to his full, if diminutive, height. “What the fuck are you talking about, you crazy bitch!?”
“You can stop pretending. You’re busted,” she told him. “What I’m talking about is an easy thirty thousand credits—”
But Justin slinked back down, then slid between her legs, leaving her clutching an empty black duster.
She wheeled around, whipping out her laser staff—
Only for Max to block it with his own energy blade. Once again grateful for Ma’Quiver’s training on moving his whole body as one.
“Not so easy,” Shades warned her, “against all three of us.”
“Do you even know what he’s done?”
“I don’t know if I’m any match for you…” Max told her, somehow managing to look even sterner than he was facing Erix, “but it doesn’t matter.”
“He’s our bro.” Shades stepped up, as well. “If you pick a fight with him, you’ve picked a fight with all three of us.”
For once, Justin found himself at a loss for words.
“Did you really think we were just going to stand there and let you walk away with him?” Max demanded.
“Not really, but I’m surprised you would defend a wanted outlaw so readily. Though not as dangerous as Erix or Striker, Justin Black caused plenty of trouble in New Cali, too, among other places he’s wanted.”
“Dammit, I’ve never even been to New Cali…” Justin protested. Was sure he’d remember that, even in the murkiest depths of his childhood memories traveling aboard the Skerry.
“Just who is he to you?”
“He’s our friend,” Max replied, “so if he says he’s not an outlaw, I believe him.”
“Guys…” Justin looked back and forth between them, seeing both were prepared to fight alongside of him.
“Even if he was an outlaw, I don’t think I could sell him out so casually,” Shades added. “Through all these battles, through the fire and through the storm… Come hell and high water, the only thing we’ve had for sure all this time is each other.”
“What he said.” Justin nodded, whipping out his double-barrel power pistols.
“The world will never run out of ways to test those words,” Roxy cautioned him, “but I respect your loyalty.”
“Did it occur to you there might be more than one Justin Black in this world?” Shades brought up, trying to defuse this situation. “I know you’re having a bad day, but you’re not alone. Stop and think about this for a minute. If he really was some infamous outlaw, do you really think he’d go around blurting his name everywhere like he had some kind of death wish?”
“Are you really defending him?”
“Yes,” Max declared. “We don’t want to fight you, but we will if we have to. We’ve fought side-by-side through all of this, doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“I warned you about sentiment,” she reminded him, but she was already lowering her weapon. “All the same, this is… awkward. Perhaps mistaken identity…”
“You’re the one who went on about the importance of research and good intel,” Shades pointed out. “We know you’re pissed about missing Erix, but this is just sloppy. Too sloppy for someone of your caliber.”
“You’re right…” Roxy relented. Turning to Justin, she had one question: “Tell me, did you really want to be a bounty hunter, or were you just after trade secrets?”
“I never wanted to be streetrat,” Justin replied, “but I’m not ashamed of anything I had to do to survive. I don’t ever want to go back to that again, and as long as I have these two for friends, I’ll never have to.”
But the bounty hunter had already turned and started walking away from them.
“Where are you going?” Max inquired.
“Away,” was her vague reply. “I think it’s safer for your friends if I don’t return to the ship anymore. But that man Naysmith is a fool. There’s a reason nobody wants Erix alive anymore, as he’ll learn soon enough. He’s busted out of higher-security prisons than this Stockade, and when he does, I’ll be waiting for him. This time, there’ll be nobody to get under my feet.”
“I suppose it’s safe to say our partnership is terminated?” Shades intoned.
“Well, if you want it stated formally, then yes, I suppose it is…”
After fetching his gear from it, Justin tossed that black duster aside without even a backward glance.
“Let’s blow this joint.”