This is the kind of job I could get used to,’ said Mal ‘Agreed payment, no haggling, we just deliver and collect our share.’ He steered the loaded mule expertly down the wide boulevard.
Jayne leaned back, his hands behind his head.
‘Lotta little booths along the road, he replied.’ we should check ‘em out on the way back. Pick up some fresh food.’
Red Sun shone down on the wide streets of the commercial warehouse district of Argo. It was a fresh late spring day . Fruit trees were in blossom along the road leading to the warehouse of Flamingo Products where they would turn over the sealed cargo they had been hauling all the way from Harvest sixteen weeks away.
“It’s been good, this New Canaan Run. No big trouble. Profitable on the whole.’
‘Outsida Kaylee and the kids getting trapped by the earthquake on New Canaan, the Triangle fire on Silverhold, buying that slave girl from Saffron, kidnappin Kelly …”
‘None of em was hurt in the quake, and we found a good new product in them pineapples. Yer ma has a young healthy companion, Kelly was happy enough with a second night with River so he’ll be a good contact, and so’s your jeweller friend. ‘
‘Still don’t know where Rosie went.’
‘If that was her name. She had a smart line of talk for a factory girl. I’m wondering if she didn’t have a mysterious past.’
‘Not likely ever to know now.’
‘Still a good chance she got out and prolly got herself re-chipped. Doc said they was a lotta that going on at the aid clinic.’
Jayne was silent, but his disposition never sunny, had blackened.
They drove on in silence.
‘We should be bout there now. See any numbers? Or company signs?’
‘There’s 4815 and 4917, we’re looking for 5293? Should be … ah, shit.’
As they turned the corner an illuminated sign number 5293 stood tall at the roadside. But the panel was papered over with a tattered ‘Going Out Of Business’ banner weather worn and months old.
‘Shit. Shit.Shit. Shit.’
‘Okay, Mal. What now?’
Zoe was her usual collected self when they returned to Serenity. ‘First question is , what’s left of the company. Second is, who owns the cargo?’
‘It was paid up front, so it belongs to Flamingo Products ,or I guess the bankruptcy trustees,’ Mal replied
‘But we ain’t got our carrier fee. That give us some ownership plus we actually are holding it. Nine tenths.’ said Jayne.
“I wouldn’t trust that was the law, sir,’ put in Zoe, ‘And I suspect Hera is big on law. This ain’t the Rim.’
‘Well we can ask around. Meantimes, we got all this cargo takin up space we could be filling with new cargo. And we got customers for the private cargoes.’
Jayne was to deliver his friend’s jewelry consignment. He and Mal would also deliver the stolen uncut stones they had received on Ugarit Moon since the two businesses were in the same district. But those cargoes, stored in secret lockboxes, did not change the stuffed cargo bay.
‘Could have been worse, captain,’ Kaylee sighed, ‘at least Simon and David sold all those bales of herbs to Azure Pharma on Highgate. And the canned food got dropped on New Canaan as planned.’
‘Yeah, but Business Solutions Unlimited expects us to pick up new cargo here and we just ain’t got the room.’
While Mal stewed, Zoe had been on the Cortex, talk to her brother back on Persephone.
‘Well, Perse has good news and bad news,’ she reported. “Flamingo is dead, gone and buried. They went so far under they may as well be at the bottom of a black hole. Most of the owners and managers are in jail.’
‘So?,’ asked Mal, kicking at one of the barrels they seemed to be stuck with.
’So Perse figures BSU got paid and they don’t want it back. They owe us our carriage fee and say this stuff is ours in lieu.’
‘Means we gotta get shut of it our own self.’ said Mal. ‘And we don’t even know what it is, never no mind who would buy it. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.’
‘We got paper on it , sir.’ added Zoe.
‘So it’s really ours? Strictly legal?’
‘Yep. Well, probably. No one around else to claim it.’
‘So we’re merchants now. What all we got to sell?’
‘Gold. Most of what we carry is spoke for and has paper, we still got two kilos of our own,’ said Jayne. “An I switched around the lots so that we got the hunnert gram bars, not the kilo bricks.’
‘Embroidered silk is spoke for but the neographene armour cloth was a nice lagniappe,’ said Zoe. ‘And three bales worth.’
‘Got some good repro parts for Firefly Shipworks boats from Dyton. Serenity can’t use em all, and they’s damn good copies.’ added Kaylee. ‘And I got fuel cells that need rechargin. I could trade maybe get some coin too. But that’s gonna be for other transports, figger.’
‘And the last barrel of icewine,’ finished Mal. ‘I wanna leave Hera with nuthin that we came in with.’
‘So we got lots to sell, enough to leave us on the catbird seat for a few months. Gotta find buyers though.’
“Most of the stuff we got paper. So it’s just a question of finding a buyer. But the gold we need a private deal and not many can handle two kilos at a decent price,’ said Zoe.
‘Check market on gold bullion, Tross?’ asked Mal. ‘Reckon we could do that easiest by spreading it around. Kaylee , could you and River visit jewelry stores selling small bars?’
‘Sure. We could dress up like fine Core ladies! It’d be fun.’
Kaylee and River raided the trunk of clothing left behind by Inara. River needed some discrete padding to match the courtesan’s curves, while Kaylee was tightly laced into her gown. ‘You can tell I’ve got kids now,‘ she said ruefully. Mal whispered something in her ear and she blushed.
The women had no trouble selling a full kilo of the little bars at market price, one or two at a time. Kelly might have been a shady character, but his gold was full value.
‘You picked a good one there, Riv,’said Kaylee.
‘Who was he, anyway,’ murmured River, puzzled.
‘Short guy, dark brown, big eyes?’ We met him on Beggar’s Tin?’
‘We went to the ballet and then fucked for twenty minutes and then for sixteen.’
‘Uh yeah. I guess.’
‘And the next day he was still around and he performed cunnilingus for twelve minutes and nine seconds,’ River continue with satisfaction.’The I fellated him for ten and then I fucked him for six minutes. I remember! His penis was…”
‘Okay, mei mei,’ said Kaylee.’ Good you remember him. Maybe we’ll see him again. Beggar’s Tin ain’t far from Persephone.’
“I have that tee shirt,’ River shrugged.
River had the most success in selling the gold bars, her Core accent and demeanour making it clear that she need not, should not be queried about the source of the metal. Kaylee’s clear eyes and winning smile persuaded most of her buyers that she could not be anything but honest.
‘Well, it weren’t us that stole it, anyways,’ she told herself.
The other kilo was put aside in a hidey hole for another world or an emergency. A wave sent the proceeds to Kelly’s bank. River took a few minutes to send him a private message. ‘So he won’t complain about the other kilo,’ she explained. ‘I know what he will like to see.’
‘Sometimes I think that girl ain’t got no morals,’ Kaylee said to Mal in their bunk.
“Considering what we’re doing right now, should we say anything?’
‘Well, but we’re married.’
‘And this was something of a favourite of yours before we was married, bao bei. ‘
‘Still is. You win. Me an Riv is both sluts. An if you stop, I might cry.’
The neographene had no paper trail but Jayne took on the task of finding a buyer by visiting the weapons dealers of Argo. Most were strictly retail and by the book, but one was interested in the armour cloth.
‘But a bale? At 100 a metre, no import fees paid? I can’t really handle that.’
‘Don’t hafta. Find me a decent buyer, cash, and you get a finder’s fee.’
‘Might do, might do.’
‘One percent of the final price, do you? That’s mebbee fifteen per metre for a name.’
‘I was thinking five.’
Jayne took a minute to work out the figures on his com. ‘Too high. Hera might be the best place to sell, but it ain’t the only one.’
They settled at two five.
Zoe agreed that the fee was no problem since the fabric had been free, except for the shipping costs. “But we have three bales not one, Jayne.’
‘Five hunnert metres in a bale, right? Market for that would be hunnert fifty thou. If we get half that we’re flying for a year. An we can spread it around. Twenny five thou a bale, not ever body got that kinda coin right to hand.’
Jayne’s weapons dealer found a buyer, a manufacturer of personal defense products who was able to take all three bales of the armoured fabric. He liked the deal so much that he threw in neographene vests for everyone on the crew, including the children, from his stock.
‘It’s a frankly terrifying though that you make em that small,’ Mal told him as they exchanged the bales for boxes of untraceable Independent coin.
‘Still some rough places in the ‘Verse, and more coming available as the terraforming continues, but these usually go to the families of high officials.’ the factor explained. ‘Cause kidnapping and the like. You wanna lose all faith in humanity— lookit this.’ He produced a hooded infant’s onesie.
But the Flamingo Products cargo still sat in the hold, filling space. Mal stared at the manifest, trying to work out what the list of part numbers and generic names meant.
Baffled , he passed the pages to Simon and David, who had the widest educations.
“They seem to be machine parts, but there’s no indication of what sort of machine. What business was Flamingo in?’
‘They were middlemen. Actually they were middlemen for middlemen for middlemen. Only reason they existed seems to be to muddle the paper trail. The’d still be in business if the managers didn’t decide to steal all the money.’ said Zoe.
‘And they weren’t smart enough to realize they was working for someone smarter.’
‘Good point, Jayne.’
‘I got another good point. Why don’t we open the crates and see if we recognize anything. ? Mebbee find an instruction booklet?’
‘I didn’t want to do that in case it reduced the price, but looks like we’re at needs must. Well don’t get paid out till we sell this stuff.’
Jayne produced a prybar and climbed to the top crate. The tough bamboo splintered under his attack.
‘Hey, Doc, take a look at this. Seems like your kinda stuff.’
Simon swung gracefully up. The doctor looked small and slender compared to the other men, but he was as athletic as any of them.
“Oh my, we’ll do well with this,’ he called down. He leaned down, passing thin printed box to Mal.
‘What am I looking at, Doc? Some kinda medical equipment?’
‘Mostly parts for some very expensive diagnostic and imaging equipment. I can’t put a price on any of it, but it can’t be cheap.’
‘Can you think of a buyer?’
‘Here? We’d have to research. the market can’t be large, teaching hospitals come to mind, perhaps some laboratories doing genetic work…’ he paused, thinking. ‘We should keep River from this.’
Mal shrugged. ‘ She don’t bother with cargo much, How soon can you get a buyer list?’
‘For on-world, perhaps an hour. I’d suggest David and I handle the selling end for the most part.’
‘Fine, you speak the language. When we get down to dregs, me and Zoe can peddle it to liquidators. We got a plan?’
The medics used their Flying Doctor credentials to introduce themselves to the procurement divisions of Li Tieguai and St. Aesculpius hospitals in Argo. They sold about a third of the equipment there, although the buyers cherrypicked through the crates. Those buyers referred them to other hospitals on Hera and the crew had a busy week, flying around the planet to various customers.
Mal and Zoe acted as shuttle pilots for the deliveries, bringing Simon or David to customers and acting as navvies for unloading.
Kaylee and River passed the time in shopping for the crew and children.
‘Get receipts!’ warned Mal, ‘One of these days we may need them for the tax collector. Use the Alliance scrip first, and keep the Independent coin.’
Rim people were none too trustful of fiat currencies, even less happy with the federal scrip with its built-in tracking. Alliance coin was also chipped, and the old Independent coin was still preferred on the Rim because it was almost bullion quality, partly as a result of that skepticism , partly because many Rim worlds had minted their own coin from their own mines. Purity meant a Shadow platinum was worth as much as a Greenleaf platinum- and in terms of actual platinum content, more than a federal platinum coin.
It was a busy week but at the end they had only slightly more than a single crate of sealed boxes, neatly labelled and still profoundly mysterious even to the medics.
Mal counted the piles of Alliance bills .”Looks like everyone is getting paid this month, and back pay too.’
Jayne took his stack of bills and divided it neatly in half. ‘ I gotta send this to Ma. She’s got two mouths to feed again.’
He left the ship, hurrying against closing hours for banks and wave terminals.
Mal was putting supper on the table, freshly baked curried chicken buns, stirfried celery and red peppers and a dessert of Custard Surprise with a scoop of fresh berries buried in vanilla pudding. Beege was toddling around the dining area putting various dolls on the chairs, considering them and then re-arranging.
Derry and Emma were in the commons finishing up a mathematics lesson with River. The rest of the crew slowly assembled, drawn by the sweet scent of the buns.
“Where’s Jayne?’ asked Kaylee, serving the children.
‘He went to send his ma some money just after lunch,’ said Simon. “I saw him leaving the Persephone Planetary about an hour after that. At least I saw his hat. I don’t suppose there is another like it.’
‘I’ll put something aside for him, but he’s probably planning to eat out.’
Jayne had only planned to have a few beers then return in time for supper. Kaylee was still making her Inter-Engine brew, but she had never mastered beer, and Hera produced some fine ales and lagers..
He found a tavern, fancier than his usual choices. The bar had a small forecourt, with table for watching the passing crowd, which was roofed with sweet smelling hops , a nod to its name, The Hopvine.
Ordering his second ale, he stretched out in the afternoon sun. His ma taken care of, money in his pocket, beer in front of him. All he needed now was some female company. He slid his hand into his pants. As if he had rubbed aladdin’s lamp, a slender young woman appeared.
‘May I sit here?’ she asked quietly.
Jayne looked around. All the other tables were empty. ’Sure,’ he grinned. ‘Looking fer company?’
The girl looked at him solemnly, her straight scarlet hair glowing in the sunshine.
‘I don’t like to be alone,’ she said.
‘Well, yer welcome to sit. Wanna drink?’
’Not at this time..
They sat together silently. Jayne finished his glass.
‘If yer a pro, you should say somethin, cause I was thinking of finding some.’
Jayne was disconcerted by her response, but aroused by the girl’s slender frame and solemn face.
‘Well, you gotta place? My boat don’t leave me much privacy.’
‘Yes.’ She rose gracefully and Jayne left a few coins on the table for the server and followed her. At the corner, he put his arm around her and sniffed her hair, noticing that she, like many local hookers, wore a wig. The girl did not react to his touch, which was disappointing. Most women, Jayne found, liked his touch or at least pretended to. This coolness was… interesting.
The girl took him from the busy shopping street to a much quieter residential area only two blocks away.
‘Here,’ she said.
Jayne saw a small house in the western style of stucco imitating adobe, with a Japanese sand garden out front hedging a very high thick hedge. Once through the solid gate, almost a door, the slight traffic noise disappeared.
It was a very private place. Jayne took advantage and ran his hands over the girl’s slender frame. Tiny breasts, barely more than a curve beneath a hard nipple and almost flat buttocks, very firm. He slipped his fingers under the hem of her blouse and into her thin cotton trousers. She was definitely ready to show him a good time.
‘You live here alone, girlie?’
‘Let’s go in then, you’re near as hot as I am.’
‘Yes. Let’s do this.’
Down the he central hall of the house to a small room with iron bed and a sink/commode like those on Serenity.
Jayne pulled the girls top off exposing her bare breasts. She pulled away then undid his belt and removed his pants. Jayne took off his shirt, his erection tenting his boxers. He grasped her at her waist and sat back on the bed.
She slid her hand down his arms then push him back. Some how his hands were about his head as he moved across his body. And somehow he was tied to the bedstead. He grinned. “Well, not what I usually go for, girlie, but do your worst. Kin I get a blowjob? Or d’you go straight to the ruttin?’
“No. Now you tell me about our sister.’
‘Your…? I never seen you before. I don’t know your sister.’
‘Our sister. Her name is River. We lost her. Early was a fool.’
Jayne struggled to loosen the bindings but only shook the bedstead. ‘River Tam? She ain’t got a sister. Just that snotty doctor brother.’
‘She’s much more like me than any blood. She left before she was finished. I want to help her complete herself.’
‘Yer as crazy as she is. Girl’s near on thirty. She’s about done as any grown woman.’
The girl looked calmly at him, then left the room.
Jayne heard a lock snick shut.
Hey,’ he yelled. ‘Hey! Come back here!’
Supper had come and gone and Kaylee was worried.
‘Ain’t like he got a curfew, mei mei,’ Mal said.’ He’ll be back with the sun, hungover and with that stupid rutted out grin.’
‘I guess. But he knew David was making corn soup and he loves that.’
‘He also loves chasin tail an he can’t get that on the boat. He had money in his pocket. He’s just found a gal who rents cheap.’
Simon sighed. ‘I don’t think he took any preventatives from the infirmary. I’d better make sure I have Plan B-XY in stock.’
‘He was just going to send his money to his Ma,’ Kaylee said.’He din’t say anything else.’
‘So he decides to spend some of his own money on some creature comforts. Mei mei, you worry too much.’
‘What if he got mugged for his cash?’
’They ain’t many would take on a specimen like Jayne. Most’d be afraid he’d turn em upside daisy and shake em free of their ill-gottens.’
Kaylee shook her head and told the children to get ready for bed.
At breakfast, Jayne still had not appeared. Kaylee was still worried and Zoe volunteered to retrace his steps.
He was remember by the teller at the wave termini. ‘He needed a little help with the codes for Muir. He was sending money to Prospect Ridge there. Quite a large amount of scrip and coin,’ he grinned. ‘There was a little competition over who got to help him.’
‘He say where he was going?’
‘No, he did ask where he could get a good beer. I sent him to the Hopvine,’ he smiled again.’That’s my local.’
Zoe thanked him and headed out to the Hopvine. One of the waiters had served Jayne but had not noticed him leave.
‘There was a girl at his table last time I saw him.’
‘Figures. Did you know her?’
‘This is a respectable…’ he quailed at Zoe’s look. ‘Okay we really don’t encourage the pros here. But she wasn’t anyone I recognized.’
‘Can you describe her?’
‘Not really. Youngish, under thirty anyway. Very thin. Fake hair, I think.’
‘Did you hear them talking?’
‘No. Yer man paid for his beer when I served. Like he was just havin one and then going on his merry, y’know?’
’So whatever he had in his pocket, it’s not like he was mugged for his Ma’s money,’ said Mal.
‘Have we pinged his com?’ asked Emma.
‘Mouths of babes. No we ain’t,’ said Mal, doing just that.
Jayne, still tied to the bed, was extremely uncomfortable. No one had returned to freed him and his bladder was desperate. He was also hungry and his arm, held above his head for hours, were painful.
Then his comm pinged. He was sure only Serenity would be calling him. He sung his legs of the edge of the bed and haul himself upright, pulling the bedstead and mattress upright with him. His comm was in his pants pocket, just beyond his reach. He came the bed over and reached for his pants with his foot. The pinging stopped. Jayne swore. he manage with his foot to get the comm out of the pocket. He pressed the GPS button hoping the building was not location proofed.
The crash of the bed falling over drew attention. The door swung open and two men looked in. They were dressed as salarymen but wore blue gloves.
‘You can’t get free, ‘ the dark one said. ‘Tell us where River Tam is..’
‘Don’t know any River Tam,’ Jayne said.
The dark man stared at him. You do . You know her and you know her brother. You sold them once.’
‘Oh yeah, them. That was long time ago. Don’t know where they are now.’
‘You told Ms. Abrams that you knew them.’
‘The girl? Hey buddy, I was just trying to get laid. You know, say anything to get em nekkid.’
‘Ms. Abrams is not happy that you won’t tell her what you know.’
‘Gimme a break, buddy. Was chasin some tail and end up tied to her bed. If it is hers. I gotta piss, I’m hungry and I am righteous pissed off.’
The Blue Hands exchanged looks. The smaller man reach in his pocket and withdrew a small rod, but the dark one put out his hand and the rod went back.
‘Think about River Tam,’ he said and they left the room.
Hey! I still gotta piss!” Jayne yelled after them.
He considered his options. His hands were tied to the bedstead and both bed and mattress half covered him. He couldn’t reach his comm with his hands , could barely reach it with his toes. And his bladder was like to burst.
Fuck it,’ he said. He wriggled to get into the best position with his piss-proud cock slightly out of his boxers and urinated on the floor. The stream ran away from him and from his pile of clothes across the slight angle of the floor and under the door. Jayne gave a sigh of relief. ‘Serves em right,’ he grunted.
River spotted the GPS ping on the bridge where she was plotting routes, imaginary ones, to pass the time. The clamour of the dockyard was difficult to ignore, but it was a little quieter here. She had rarely been off the bridge since she and Kaylee had completed their selling trip around the city’s jewellers, making her own meals and allowing Simon’s meds to help her sleep away the stopover.
‘Captain,’ she called over the PA.’Jayne is signalling , but no message.’
‘What are you getting, Tross?’
‘Just a GPS loc.’
‘Good. Is it the jail?’
‘No, the map street view shows a house.’
‘Rose covered cottage, Captain Daddy.’
Thanks , Riv. Keep watching that loc.’
The crew mustered in the galley. ‘If someone took Jayne they must have a power of muscle. Best we bring our own.’
Kaylee was spelled off to watch the kids and keep Serenity secure. If necessary, Emma could take the ship into orbit.
In her black catsuit, carrying a sword almost as long as she was, River looked glamorous and dangerous. He brother was armed only with a shotgun, but carried his red first responder bag. Everyone else was strapped. And wearing their new neographene vests.
“Is there a plan, sir?’
‘Get Jayne out. Preferably alive and without any wounded.’
Zoe consulted her comm. ‘Ain’t too much to be seen on the street view. The property seems to go back to the next street. There’s a building there – a storage shed or garage or workshop?’
“Okay. Simon and David, you go to the back. Zo, you and me we take the front. River, stay on the street and watch that no one comes out from a side entrance we can’t see.’
‘We bustin in? Or knocking politely?’
‘Don’t seem likely a polite enquiry would work. Sides I’m right out of my calling cards for the butler.’
‘Bustin in it is , then.’
The crew parked the hover mule a block from the cottage. River, Kaylee’s old striped parasol over her shoulder hiding her scabbard down her back, was sent to reconnoiter, circling the block.
Mal and Zoe checked her captures. ‘Looks like the back building is a garage, boys. Can you slip around to it?’
David studied River’s pictures.
‘There’s a space between the building and the fence. Narrow, might be hard to leave in a a hurry. Passable though.’
‘Go on round and slip into the yard. Let us know if you see any security.’
The men walked briskly away. Mal gave them time to reach the back of the property, then he and Zoe strolled up to the front door, followed by River.
Zoe’s mares leg blew the lock out of the front door.
‘Huh, you’d think it would be steel not bamboo,’ remarked Mal , dashing inside.
‘Jayne!’ he yelled and shot out a light fixture in the centre hall. ‘There was an answering yell from the back of the house.
Zoe followed more cautiously, checking doors as she went. The house was very neat and clean, but there was a stink of urine that was out of place.
Mal had reached the back door and opened it for Simon and David, who signalled all clear. He motioned them to stay put and turned back into the house.
Zoe was opening a door, grimacing at the nasty smell. ‘Hey, Jayne,’ she said. ‘Got any clothes?’
The reply was unintelligible but Zoe grinned. She signalled River, stationed at the demolished door and at Mal to hold and stepped into the room gingerly, knife at the ready. Deftly she cut Jayne’s bonds. ‘Wouldn’t’a thought this was your thing, Jayne,’ she remarked.
There was more cursing as Jayne pulled his arms back to his sides. He gasped as he tried to shake some feeling into them. He was more successful in staggering to his feet.. ‘Cain’t do nuthin with my hands yet,’ he explained. Zoe bundled up his clothes, shoes, and weapons into his shirt and hung them from his arms with the sleeves as a handle.There were voices in the hallway.
‘River, sister,’ cooed a young woman, slipping from a room Zoe was sure she had checked.
River looked flatly at her.
‘You’ve come home to us.’ the woman said.
River looked confused, nervous.
At the back of the house, Mal started forward, pistol in hand. The woman’s hand was suddenly pointed at him, gun cocked. Mal paused. From the kitchen just behind him, two men stepped forward. Each placed a blue hand on Mal’s shoulders.
River gasped. ‘Two by two.’ she muttered.
‘Hands of blue,’ agreed the woman. ‘They will take us home. You can be completed there, sister.’
River stepped forward and with swift decision, pulled her sword and decapitated the woman.
Mal lunged forward, freeing himself momentarily from the Blue Hands. As they reached for the small weapons in their pockets, he fired, hitting one man in the shoulder. The other had his weapon out, when Zoe’s bullet hit him between his eyes.
Mal stepped over them can called out the back door. ‘Mule, boys!’ He turned back to Zoe. ‘Jayne able to walk?’ Zoe nodded.
The four, Jayne stumbling a little, tore out of the cottage and piled into the mule. As they reached the corner and picked up Simon and David, the sound of sirens could be heard.
‘Neighbours called in the law,’ said Jayne. ‘Wish they’d done it earlier.’
‘We made a lot of noise,’ aid Zoe. ‘Probably broke a few bylaws about quiet enjoyment.’