Blaster fights in gold lamé tops don't happen often. For one thing, it's hard to wear body armor under them. But every now and then life imitates a HoloNet action show and you find yourself trading shots with rent-a-goons while running after your crewmate who is dressed like a Mantellian showgirl. This just happened to be one of those times.
* * *
As was our deal, the Herglic Ilo Vanden had given us a name – Michael Torval. Evidently the guy was something of a local celebrity on the sabacc circuit: handsome, mysterious and a sharp card player. Actually, sounds a lot like someone I know. But more importantly for our purposes, it appeared Torval was the latest arm candy of our target the Pirate Queen. Which meant he either knew how to get to her, or that he might be useful to us as bait. So he was a guy we needed to meet.
Vanden had given us a recording of a conversation between the Queen and one of her henchmen. And it wasn't favorable to our soon-to-be-best-friend Torval. In fact, the Queen expressed only a passing interest in the gambler and said she would cut him out of the picture as soon as she got bored. Loose lips sink pirate ships and all that.
We all agreed that if we could get Torval to listen to us, the news that his lady friend was just fine with killing him might make him willing to talk. The problem was, a Pirate Queen's playboy consort is a bit difficult to "just run into." But being resourceful folks, we weren't going to let that stop us.
Krom had been full of surprises lately. He was always was a Jedi at keeping the Valencia in top shape and I've seen him work some damage control miracles while I was spinning the ship like a drunken Gamorrean in the middle of a dogfight, but he'd been spending more and more time in the crew mess plugging away at his Versafunction88. I didn't understand half of it, but he said he was coding some new dataspikes, remote access protocols, and customized search routines "just in case."
Turns out those geek tools come in pretty handy in tracking down celebrity gamblers, because before long my Mirialan friend had Torval's recent holo, home address, ship registry and the fact that he had purchased a private box to see a fight at the Loaded Savrip tomorrow evening. From the holos we saw that he never went anywhere without at least one handler/bodyguard. But a few bodyguards was surmountable. That was enough to get to work.
We sat around the dejarik table with a cup of steaming caf to come up with the framework of a plan. Since we knew where Torval lived, Zero suggested it made sense to try and get eyes and ears in his place. And we knew where he would be tomorrow night, so I thought that gave us the best chance to convince him to have a "private chat" with us so we could make our case. So we decided to split up and get a few of the tools we would need.
Keena and I were on shopping detail. We thought our Toydarian Zann Consortium contact would be a good start, but the guy confirmed my suspicion that he wasn't a real player in the underworld scene by demanding crazy credits and all sorts of favors. I'm sure the screechy alien was just trying to cover up the fact he couldn't deliver on some pretty straightforward goods. So we walked and found an alternate seller, a silver-eyed Rodian dealer who still stunk of jungle. But he had what we needed so we made the buy and headed back to the ship.
Part one of the plan was for Krom and Zero to play havoc with the climate system in Torval's flat and then go in as a maintenance crew to fix it. Only problem was that Krom had to be onsite to slice his way into the environmental controls. Apparently it didn't go well, since they ran into the building's real maintenance team and got chased off. That's what happens when you let a flight engineer and a bounty hunter go out unsupervised. I love those guys, but there's not much subtlety there.
And then, apparently, they decided to double down. On their way back to our rented van, they saw Torval and his no-neck handler getting into a personal speeder. On a whim, they followed him to an upscale Alderaanian cafe, the kind that usually makes Trandoshans use the back door. And our guys were still wearing Enviro-Repair jumpsuits that had their (bogus) given names over the pocket. They tried to bluff their way past the maitre d', which I wish I could've seen live. I mean, Zero has all the charm of a thermal detonator and Krom couldn't lie convincingly to an astromech droid wearing a restraining bolt.
But the way Krom told it they somehow got into the main dining area. Torval was eating some overpriced food and tapping absorbedly at his datapad while his bodyguard kept a sharp eye out. So they went with the old Loud/Quiet approach and at least Zero had the sense to be Loud. He made a big show about being a fan of Torval's and certainly got the bodyguard's attention (Trandoshans can do that) while Krom tried to sidle around and drop a tracker in the gambler's pocket.
It didn't work. You don't get a reputation as a successful sabacc player without being observant, and Torval lived up to his reputation. Krom muttered something about the food looking good (which, for him, was a pretty decent lie) while the bodyguard backed his charge up and got into a combat crouch. The maitre d' also jumped in at this point, sceaming at Zero and Krom to get out while Torval and his handler made a laser line for the door. So after two periods, a complete null on the grav ball court. Time for charm and beauty to have a go (and Keena, too.)
* * *
Since we knew Torval would be at the fight later on, we figured it would be a good chance to get close to him. Keena would go in as a waitress (I think she even suggested it – go figure) with a nice legit staff ID courtesy of Krom's slicing work. I just needed to find my own way of getting close. I headed back to the Loaded Savrip to have a chat with my promoter pal Jyd Renner.
The place was empty this early in the day, but the cleaning droid let me in once I asked for Jyd. I found him on the floor and made a big show of wanting to get a seat next to Torval. No luck – turns out the guy always sat in a private box with his bodyguard. And the security at the Savrip was evidently a bit better than I had seen from the ring – each box had a personal force field to keep out the riffraff. But at least I knew which box was likely Torval's, got a good feel for the layout of the place and the exits, and sent a few holos of the waitress uniforms back to the crew.
I headed back to the Val to go over our final plans. Everyone else had been busy as well – Zero had rented a new nondescript speeder van and a room at an even more nondescript motel we could use as a safe house. Krom had pulled on an on-site slice at the Savrip to forge me a ticket to Torval's very own box, and even managed to grab a waitress uniform for Keena. I had to suppress a grin since it was a few sizes too small – Krom's got a 14-year-old's sense of humor, sometimes.
* * *
As the evening of the fight approached, we loaded up our rental speeder with our heavy weapons and then Keena, Krom and I dug into our disguise kit to ugly up a bit. I thought we were pretty unrecognizable, but since Torval had gotten a good look at him we thought it best if Krom stayed in the employee areas. We didn't bother with Zero - he was our designated driver for the evening and as he kept telling us "Trandoshans don't wear wigs."
Zero dropped us off a few blocks from the Savrip, Keena in her waitress getup, Krom in a forgettable utility jumpsuit and me in my best "upscale boxing fan" vest over my armored clothing. Since I wasn't sure how far my forged ticket would get me, I decided I'd go straight to the box. Keena had a few doses of a potent Mickey Finn (courtesy of our shopping trip) and went through the staff entrance with her sliced ID. And Krom went off to whatever maintenance closet he found earlier.
The first two bouts were forgettable, although by the second the crowd had started filling in a bit. Keena had firmly established herself as the waitress for this box, and I was trying my best to go slow on the Green Galaxies. And then Krom came over the commlink that Torval was on the floor and it was game time.
It took him a while to make his way up to the box, and when the door opened I saw it was just him and the one minder. He motioned over to someone outside the door – probably the usher to complain about his private box being a bit crowded
and I knew it was time to go full snob. I waved my (forged) ticket in his face and told him to get out of my box - until I "suddenly" recognized him as Michael Torval. And of course, I was such a fan. The usher spent a little while looking over my ticket, and although I'm pretty sure his datapad wasn't giving him the A-OK, I kept up just enough of an indignant I-have-every-right-to-be-here air that he finally gave up. Either that or Torval didn't want to miss the main event so he just told the guy to let me stay. Regardless, I was in the room. Check.
Just on cue, Keena came in and took our drink orders, making small talk like she knew I was supposed to be there. I gave her the nod to make sure our new friend would get an extra special ingredient in his Trandoshan ale. Good to know we didn't have to worry about him tasting anything since that ale could take the paint of a speeder. Weird choice for a professional gambler. I tried chatting Torval up a bit, but the bodyguard sitting between us didn't make for a nice, private conversation. So we were back to Plan A, which was a snatch and grab.
By the third round, the challenger was on the ropes down in the ring, and Torval was talking up a storm as the Mickey Finn did its work. Despite the fact he had only finished half his ale, the gambler was swaying unsteadily like he was on his eighth. Down in the ring, the odds-on-favorite pummeled his opponent with a brutal series of right hooks, dropping him too the mat and then it was all over. Up in the box, Torval was all smiles and high-fives and talking about how I was just the best friend a guy could have. Then the minder must've realized the boss was blasted and started leading him towards the door. Showtime.
I comm'ed the crew to be ready to move quickly and followed Torval and his babysitter out of the box to the top of the stairs down to the lower level. The bodyguard had his arm around Torval's shoulder to help steady him, and I saw Keena had come up on the other side, a step or two behind him. I pulled my Imperial Army Scout blaster out of its concealment holster in the small of my back and put the barrel right to the back of the bodyguard's neck before triggering the stun bolt. He dropped like he'd been roundhoused by the guy we had just seen in the ring.
I hoped that the close proximity might have kept the crowd from noticing the stun bolt, but luck wasn't with us and a few shouts of alarm went up. Torval's was one of them as Keena deftly looped her arm around him on the right, while I did the same thing on the left, steering our prize towards the exit. He was pretty well drugged, but not out of it so much he didn't realize he was in trouble, so after the first few cries for help I put a stun bolt into his neck as well. That ended the struggling, but now the surrounding crowd was fully panicked.
We saw Krom just up ahead, gesturing us into a less-crowded side passage. I remembered from my earlier reconnaissance that it was a staff corridor that led towards the cargo dock so we maneuvered Torval's limp form through the door and comm'ed Zero to be ready to move with a sense of urgency. We were making good time when we came around a corner and ran into a squad of security monkeys. Well, you can't have a game without some opposition.
The rental cops weren't quiet sure what to make of us yet, so I wanted to give them the right idea and yelled at them to get over and help us get our friend to an ambulance. It was just our tough luck that one of them thought he was Hetwica Turnblast, M.D. and ran over to do CPR on our kidnap victim, while his partner pulled out his commlink. The other two, obviously being smarter, kept a distance away and a hand on their blaster pistols. But at least the odds were better.
I gave Krom my most bloodthirsty grin and he dropped the commlink guard with a rabbit punch to the back of the skull while I skinned my holdout blaster. The skeptical guards might have had a higher IQ than their colleagues, but the filed sight and hair-trigger Krom had installed let me get the drop on them just the same. A couple quick shots and one was down and the other was trying his best to shake off a glancing stun bolt. Keena went over and gave him a solid punch to the stomach, knocking him back but not taking him out of the fight.
The wannabe medical tech decided that discretion was the better part of valor and grabbed the commlink from the ground before making a dash for some storage containers, screaming into the mic for backup. Krom took my spot carrying Torval's still unconscious form while I stunned the guard who was still next to us and tossed his blaster pistol to Keena. Off we went towards the loading dock and (hopefully) our getaway driver.
I heard Zero over the 'link saying that he could hear sirens and that he was starting to attract attention. We were almost at the loading doors, and Krom told him to get as close to us as possible. Zero apparently took him literally. As we got through the last doorway to the dock, a few more guards were waiting for us. One had the bright idea to close the garage door, while the others took some poorly-aimed shots at us. And then, BANG, as Zero revved the speeder van through the door and pulled a nifty little bootleg turn that sent two of the cops flying. I mashed the door stop button while Krom manhandled Torval into the back before he and Keena slid into the passenger compartment.
I barely managed to jump into the copilot's seat before Zero mashed the accelerator full forward. The sirens weren't just for show, because within a few seconds we had a police speeder right on our six, green and yellow lights flashing. Keena and Krom had recovered their blasters and leaned out the side windows to "deter pursuit" while Zero spun the wheel like a maniac. My crewmates were handling fire control, so I concentrated on trying to navigate the speeder van through alleys it wasn't designed to traverse on the theory that the cops would have an even rougher time.
For as old and big as he is, Zero is a decent driver, and I was thankful the g-belts seemed to be holding as he whipped the speeder back and forth. The others were blasting anything on the street that might slow down the cops, and managed to sever a light pole with a great shot, dropping it right across the road. I had a brief glimpse of the police driver trying to avoid the durasteel beam and then heard the crunch of impact. A few seconds later and the sirens died down.
* * *
Zero got us to the safe house after a few more twists and turns and then drove off to ditch the rental. We carried Torval's unconscious body upstairs and made him comfortable in one of the threadbare chairs, binders on his hands and feet and some shipboard tape over his mouth. A few minutes later, Zero came in and we got to business - a couple of slaps to the face to wake our guest up.
I'll give the guy credit. He looked scared, but not overly so, considering he was bound hand and foot and had four armed kidnappers staring at him – one of which was a Dug-ugly Trandoshan. We went at him hard, but gave him the real story. Namely that his pirate girlfriend didn't seem to care much if met an unfortunate end in the near future, and that she had another friend who was urging her to make it even nearer. We played the recording for him to reinforce our point. He didn't react much until we asked him who the other voice was – the one Keena told us was some lobotomized Twi'lek she had a dream about. Turns out her name was Real, and she was unsurprisingly a big deal in the Sorority. And very, very bad news, according to Torval. The guy literally paled when he heard her voice, which we hadn't been able to do with a few smacks and a lot of intimidating looks.
The hard route wasn't getting much other than making Zero and I angry, so he and Krom and I regrouped in the other room (actually the fresher – this was a crappy dive hotel) to let Keena play good cop for a while. There seemed to be some sort of spark between her and the gambler early on so we figured we could take advantage of it. They talked for a little while before the rest of us came back in, and I could see that he was a bit more talkative.
He claimed that all he wanted to do was get offplanet and far away. He gave us a few details we didn't know about the Pirate Queen – namely that she had some sort of hideout here on Ord Mantell and that she was calling the shots in their relationship. We got the rundown on the hideout – underground, with an entrance in an industrial park and another one near the shipyards, the possibility of Savrip bodyguard, and the guarantee of a bunch of piratical types – but not much else despite some stern looks from Zero.
I thought it would be cleaner for us if Mr. Torval "met with an accident" but I could tell that Krom and Keena weren't with me on that line. So instead I told the high-roller we'd cut him loose if he beat me in a hand of sabacc. I wanted to see how good he was, and he didn't have much else to gamble with since I'd already cleaned out his wallet.
Turns out he's pretty good. I mean, he beat me. And that doesn't happen much.
We thought our safehouse was pretty off the radar, but no need to tempt fate. So we grabbed a taxi back to the Valencia to consider our next move against the Queen.