The other Rodians at the table groaned and pushed their cards over to Sidewa. His bulbous eyes were glazed over, his suction-cupped fingers shaky. Downing another glass of Merenzane Gold, he shuffled the cards and slurred, “Plaze yer bets, people.”
The extremely attractive female directly across from him squeaked, “I’m out. Unless you’ll take a rather…insulting personal piece.” She pulled out a shimmering box in her hand. It had an inscription on the top. The box swung open with a touch of her fingertips, revealing a cheap crystal ring. “Tann crystal,” she explained. “Not as rare as some other types, but it’ll bring a good price.” She sat back and steepled her suction-cupped fingertips. “Good enough, you drunken fool?”
Sidewa leaned forward and hiccupped. “Miztrezz Cryztal-Giver, I accept.”
She placed the box, now closed, in the middle of the table. Sidewa read the inscription silently as the others placed their bets. It was in Rodian and said, You are the only one I love. That love is boundless, rising with the suns. Sidewa suppressed a gag and passed out the cards. A hand landed on each of his shoulders and he looked up. “Hello, boys.”
The huge Rodian on his left growled, “Deal us in.”
Sidewa shook his head, his snout flapping. “Bets’ve been plazed, boys.” He hiccupped. “Wait’ll da next hand, willya?”
The two exchanged a significant look and the smaller one on his right whispered in his antenna, “Glendo the Thrice sends his greetings.”
The words cut through the haze the alcohol was casting in Sidewa’s mind and he sat up straighter in his chair. He swallowed against the lump forming in his throat and he gulped, “I’ll be withca afta’ dis hand’s ova’, okay, boys?”
The one on his left nodded and moved swiftly over to a table where he could watch both the door and his target. A holo-advertisement above the table showed a picture of the holo-star, Naftrat D’an and his newborn son, Figrin, making it one of the few tables in the bar with a source of light next to it.
Sidewa laid down a negative twenty-three and raked in his winnings, stuffing them in his jacket. Sidewa’s escort, the smaller Rodian, shoved him towards the table. Sidewa raised his glass to his lips to finish his drink, but found it ripped out of his hands by the small Rodian. It crashed into the mirror above the bartender’s hastily ducked head. The bartender was showered in shards of glass as he boomed, “Hey that’ll cost you!”
The short heavy dug in his pocket for a credit chip and flipped it to the bartender. “Here,” he rasped, “and a little something extra!” He roared, drawing his blaster. A blaster bolt ripped into the bartender’s stomach and he fell backwards, smashing a line of booze bottles.
Sidewa gasped, but found the blaster in his back very quickly. “Move it!” hissed his escort. He sat down, sandwiched between the two heavies.
The other patrons of the establishment left in a hurry. The big one was evidently itchy to use his disintegrator, but Short was apparently the one in charge.
Throughout the night they talked, the two heavies wheedling and threatening, cajoling and bullying Sidewa, offering him money, starships, personal planets, anything…if he would only marry Glendo’s daughter (and Sidewa’s lover), Prassi Glendo. When Sidewa’s tongue slipped and he called her “Prissy”, he got a quick punch in the chest from the big one, who’d been introduced to him as Guido. The captive guessed it had cracked a rib or two. The small one, called Pampli, said, “I saw you win that ring at the sabacc table. I also saw its inscription. You know, Prassi loves poetry.”
Sidewa thought derisively, As if I didn’t know! Then, Pampli’s meaning clicked in his brain. Of course! The ring! The box! He pulled out the box and squeezed its edges. It snapped open and he grabbed up the ring, frantically searching. Finally he found it, on the bottom of the box. An engraving that read, Will you marry me? He replaced the ring and closed the box. “Give this to Prassi with my undying love and regards.” He slid it over to Pampli. He looked over at Guido. “May I leave now?”
It was the worst thing he could have said. Guido cackled and grabbed him up like a sack of topatoes. The heavy launched him towards where the bartender lay dying or dead.
Sidewa curled up into a little green ball to protect what wasn’t already broken. As he smashed into the wall, the last thing he saw was the bartender’s motionless face staring at him.
Sidewa groaned and coughed, a flat noise that sounded like an offkey Fizzz. He sat up, stretched and looked around at his dimly lit surroundings. His head was throbbing, but as his multifaceted eyes passed over the broken mirror and dead bartender, the events of the previous night came back to him. He found it extremely hard to breathe, which did not make his hangover any better. When he tried to stand, he felt his chest erupt in flaming pain. He grabbed the base of the bar with his fingers and hauled himself up. His knees, shaky as they were, would not hold him for long. Pain coursed through his left leg when he moved, starting at the ankle and moving upwards. Probably either sprained or broken, he thought as he limped to the exit. He stumbled out the door into a knot of loud people. Apparently, they were watching a fistfight and cheering on their favorite. Only one, another Rodian, saw him fall to his knees. Fighting back against the crowd, he carried Sidewa off to the side, away from the crowd.
The other’s smooth voice rose above the din. “Well, hello there, friend. What happened to you?”
Sidewa croaked, “Barfight.”
The other nodded sagely. “Ah.”
Sidewa squinted up at him. “You a Jedi?” he asked, gesturing at the brown robe and cream-colored tunic.
“No, this is just a disguise. I prefer not to let people know who I really am, especially this low in Coruscant.”
Sidewa sat up a little straighter as he watched the fistfight apprehensively. “Can we get out of here? I’ve got a bad feeling about this place. It’s just a hunch, but…”
The other nodded as he broke off. “I understand. Let’s go.” The other helped Sidewa up, then looped Sidewa’s left arm around his shoulders. When they had traveled but a few blocks from the bar, the other started to take them higher. “I know a good medic,” he said, “a few levels up. He can help you.”
Thirty standard minutes, four levels, and 100 credits later, Sidewa had been bandaged up and sent off. He had also overheard the doctor talking with the friendly Rodian, catching the other’s name in the process. It was Honka, a very common name on Rodia.
Sidewa pondered how he could repay Honka for his kindness while cleaning Hutt suites, a job acquired through Glendo’s “generosity”. Glendo had actually arranged for him to be fired from his previous job as an air taxi driver and put in a good word for him at his current job. He was now working for less pay and fewer hours. After a hard day of scrubbing suites, made harder by his hampering injuries, Sidewa decided to check out another diner on a higher level ¾ of Coruscant and of clientele. The diner was run by a greasy, four-armed Besalisk by the name of Dexter Jettster.
As Sidewa took a seat at the only available table, a waitress droid rolled up to him. “Ya wanna cup of jawa juice, hun? This week’s special.” Sidewa nodded absently. “Be right back, hun!”
A finger tapped Sidewa on his shoulder. He reluctantly looked up, gingerly remembering what had happened the last time he had done so. The helmeted man next to him grunted, “You mind if I sit here? Sidewa shook his head and the man slid into the seat opposite him. “You Sidewa?”
Sidewa nodded slowly. “Who are you?”
“You can call me Silver Wolf. Bounty hunter.”
Sidewa’s eyes widened slightly. “You looking for me, Wolf?”
Wolf cocked his head like a confused goor hound. “You don’t remember me? I was at that bar the other night.”
“I don’t remember much from that night.”
“You remember the ring, of course.”
“You remember how you got it?”
“From a female Rodian. A very attractive one, too.”
“You remember the inscription?”
Wolf chuckled. I gave that to her. Naturally, she wouldn’t stoop down to my level and marry a human. So, she lost the ring in a sabacc game. No doubt on purpose.” He leaned forward. “Sidewa, here’s the deal…”
The next day, Sidewa went back to Dex’s Diner. He had grown rather fond of their jawa juice and he had been told it was a good place to get information. He quickly sunk into deep thought. Being too recognizable at Glendo Manor, he had thought of hired help. Now to go about implementing his plan. When the serving droid returned with his cup of juice, he inquired, “May I talk to the owner of this establishment?”
The droid nodded and yelled in the general direction of the kitchen, “Someone to see ya, Dex!”
The burly Besalisk strolled over to Sidewa’s table and slid in across from him. “Mr. Jet¾”
“Call me Dex.”
“Alright, Dex. I need some information. Do you know of a Rodian named Honka? His whereabouts?”
Dex drummed one set of fingers on the tabletop. “That depends. What’s in it for a poor restaurant owner?”
Sidewa slid a five-credit chip across the table.
Dex rumbled, after a bit of thinking and lot of stroking his thick black mustache, “I’ve heard of him. Comes here, on occasion. In fact, I think that’s him now!”
Sidewa spun around in his chair, half expecting a “Made you look!” from Dex. But no, there was Honka, standing in the doorway. Sidewa gestured to Honka to join him. “Thanks, Dex.” Dex pocketed the chip and sauntered back behind the counter. Honka sat down in the seat the Besalisk had just vacated.
“Hello, Sidewa.” Apparently Honka had been doing his own research. “How’re the upper levels treating you?”
“Decidedly better than the lower ones, Honka.” With a touch of pride at Honka’s hastily hidden surprise, Sidewa leaned forward. “Listen, Honka. I know you don’t owe me any favors, but there’s 2000 credits in this for you. It’s just a little…retrieval mission.”
Sidewa took the next workweek off so that he could take a trip to Yasooka, the largest inner moon of Rodia.
When he arrived on the moon, he immediately went to a public computer terminal. By comparing what he gleaned from his memory and what he found on the computer, he was able to compile a complete set of blueprints of Glendo Manor, the sleeping patterns of one wing of the manor, and the locations of various pieces of furniture in Prassi Glendo’s bedroom and bathroom and download it onto his datapad. He also went to the bank and got 4000 credits out of his account. This information and money gathering took most of the day, but he managed to get a full night’s sleep for once.
Within two days he was back on Coruscant. He and Honka met again at Dex’s Diner, and they transferred files from Sidewa’s datapad to Honka’s.
Honka left the next day for Yasooka.
Meanwhile, Sidewa went back to scrubbing Hutt suites. After another particularly hard day at work, he was visited at Dex’s by Silver Wolf. Wolf seemed to have a knack for picking out days on which he was completely exhausted to speak with him.
“Do you have the ring, Sidewa?” Wolf asked hungrily.
“No, Wolf, not quite yet. I have all the information I need, however. Just one more piece in this game of wit and intellect has yet to be played. You need to be patient, Mr. Wolf. Patience is ever a virtue, Mr. Wolf, and you’ll realize that soon enough.”
Within five days of his departure from Coruscant, Honka was back. When Sidewa greeted him, he was a complete mess, with his clothes tattered and torn, stained black by the many different forms of terrain he had traversed. Many parts of the exposed flesh on his body were also scratched open and raw. Saying he’d meet up with Sidewa later, Honka went home to clean up and put on a fresh change of clothes.
Sidewa went to Dex’s to wait and to talk to Silver Wolf. “It is being transported now, Wolf. It will be here soon. You will need to wait outside, however.”
Sidewa ordered a cup of jawa juice. “I’ll have the same, and a large pastry,” said Honka and sat back in his seat. He rubbed at a particularly annoying patch of raw flesh on his left cheek. A few minutes of small talk led into a discussion about Honka’s mission. “You know how hard it was to get this thing? I nearly got disassembled by a giant with a disintegrator.”
Sidewa winced and replied, “He’s one of the two who beat me up at the bar the other night. Calls himself Guido.”
Honka nodded and chewed away at his pastry.
Sidewa cocked his head. “Where’s your blaster?”
Honka snuffled. “I lost it climbing in a bathroom window. It fell out of the holster and landed on the grass. I had no time to pick it up.” He sighed and absentmindedly tapped the box on the tabletop. “I’ll have to find another one somewhere.”
Sidewa snuffled with laughter. “That I can’t help you with. Sorry.” He slurped at his jawa juice, finishing it off. He heard Dex greeting a brown-robed female senator who had just walked in. He greeted her personally, coming out from behind the counter to do so.
Sidewa pushed the glass away, wiping his snout on the sleeve of his jacket. His hand shot out and, with barely restrained excitement, he said, “Can I have it, Honka?”
Honka’s eyes narrowed. “Where’s the chip first?”
Sidewa had forgotten all about the money. He slapped his head with his sucker-topped hand. “Of course! How could I forget?”
Honka snorted derisively as Sidewa dug in his pocket. His fingers brushed the credit chip and he slid it over to Honka. The other inserted it in his wrist reader. Apparently it was the correct amount, for the other stated, “This seems to be in order. Now we’re even.”
Sidewa snatched up the box and opened it. The ring glinted at him. “Consider it so.” He leaned back up against the wall. “Good work, my friend.”
“Here’s a suggestion,” Honka proffered as Sidewa sealed up the ring and pocketed it. “Next time you want to propose to an heiress, be ready to get your hands dirty.”
Sidewa laughed and held his hands out like a professional Ommni Box player. “These are the hands of an artiste, not a Hutt scrubber.” He chuckled as a thought came to him. “Thanks for breakfast, by the way.” He heard Honka’s exclamation of surprise as he walked out the door. Slipping to one side of the door, he hissed to Silver Wolf, “He’s coming. No blasters…yet.”
Honka ambled out the door, but Wolf was already upon him, his helmeted head next to Honka’s antenna. Wolf growled, “Back in the diner, bub. Now!”
Honka’s face was a mixture of horror and disappointment. He shot Sidewa a questioning look, but the other only shrugged. With a shake of his green head, Honka turned around and walked back into the diner.
Not thirty standard seconds after they had all seated themselves, another brown-robed human entered, this time a male. Judging from the lightsaber hanging from his belt, he was a Jedi. He was, in short order, given a huge hug from Dex and they sat down in the seat behind Silver Wolf.
Grinning mischievously, Wolf said in Rodian, “You are Honka?”
“I’m dreadfully afraid I’m going to have to kill you.”
Honka’s flesh tone paled slightly, and he looked over at Sidewa.
Sidewa grimaced and nodded slowly.
Honka snuffled in indignation. “Many have tried, for one reason or another,” he spat. “All have failed.”
Sidewa said gruffly, “I’m sorry, Honka. Really, I am. I needed to get the ring back. Otherwise, he would have killed me. You see, the woman he proposed to…she was the one I got the ring from. He wanted the ring back, I subcontracted it out to you.”
Honka glared at him. “Thanks for the setup. But why kill me?”
Silver Wolf grinned. “No one except Sidewa here was supposed to know about this little operation. I trust him, but not you. Sorry, Honka. Out we go, now.” The three walked out the door, a few minutes behind the Jedi. Silver Wolf spun Honka around and pushed him backwards. Honka stumbled. Silver Wolf pulled his blaster and fired twice. One hit Honka in the stomach, doubling him over. The other caught him full in the face, knocking him backwards, off the ledge, sending him plummeting to his death.
Sidewa forced down the bile that shot into his throat as he saw his friend gunned down. He pulled out another 2000 credit chip and the box and tossed them to Silver Wolf. The bounty hunter pocketed it. He grabbed Sidewa’s shirt front and snarled, “You were supposed to keep it between us, you green goon! You agreed not to subcontract!”
Sidewa whimpered, “I altered the deal! You’ll find due compensation on that chip!”
Silver Wolf fired once into Sidewa’s belly. The Rodian fell to his knees, clutching his stomach. Wolf’s knee came up, smashing into Sidewa’s face. Blood flowed freely from it. Sidewa rolled over on the ground. “I held you to that deal, alien. You lied to me!” Wolf holstered his blaster and walked away.
As black fog started eating away at the corners of his vision, Sidewa wished Honka was there to take him to a good medic.
©July 2007, Benny Heather