Even by Outer Rim standards, the Sarlacc and Loaded cantina was considered the end of the line. Smoke sullied by the stench of bodily fluids and putrid food assaulted the nostrils. Except for a flickering sign above the bar, it was dark and muggy. Sand carpeted the floors and seats. Customers didn’t frequent the Sarlacc–only regulars–the same five sorry slobs who sat in the same chairs, drinking the same drinks, and mumbling the same woes day in and day out.
Under normal circumstances, a man like Seamus Kaldo wouldn’t send his servants to such an establishment, much less visit himself. But the trail had led him here and Seamus was in too deep to stop now. No one had looked up when they entered. Unless provoked, the Sarlacc’s finest were content to keep their faces nose deep in unwashed glasses.
“You’re sure this is the place?” Seamus double-checked with Vhonu, his bodyguard, as they breathed in the ripe air.
“Matches the description we received from the Hutt.” Vhonu was around the same age as Seamus, but his features were weathered, coarse, and he stood a foot taller than the Valahari noble. “Your man should be here, Master Kaldo.”
Seamus took a deep breath and stepped towards the Molavaran bartender.
“I’m looking for someone.”
“Wrong place.” The Molavaran sighed and poked at a fresh pile of sand that had settled on the bar. “All we got here are nobodies.”
Vhonu placed a few credits on the counter and slid them towards the bartender, leaving a trail in the sand. “The Snare. Where is he?”
The Molavaran examined the credits, then shrugged and pointed over his shoulder. “In the back.”
Seamus led the way as Vhonu kept a wary eye. “The back” was a small, decrepit room with a table and four chairs, one of which was broken. It was occupied by a single man who sat casually, feet on the table, brown wide-brimmed hat pulled low to cover his face. Seamus wrinkled his nose—the man smelled stronger than whatever was in the unlabeled bottle on the table. The Hutt had described a bounty hunter beyond comparison, but all he saw before him was a bum. Seamus was ready to return to the bar until he saw the man’s blasters—one hung from his belt, while the other rested next to the half-drunken bottle.
Seamus clenched his sweaty fists and tried to sound confident. “I’m looking for the Snare. Is that you?”
“Sure,” a gravelly voice answered. A gloved hand idly flipped a single credit with an audible ring. The coin’s golden glint somersaulted through the air and tugged at Seamus’ attention. Vhonu nudged his arm, encouraging him to continue.
“My name’s Seamus Kaldo. I’ve a job for you.”
“Sorry.” The Snare’s words were bored, slurred. “On vacation.”
“Chose quite the spot,” Vhonu chimed in, eyes narrowing.
“Molavar’s got its charms.” The Snare nodded towards the bottle.
Seamus pulled out one of the two remaining chairs at the table. Vhonu took the other. “I think you’ll find the credits I’m offering more than charming.”
“I’m not strapped for funds at the moment. Just a good time.”
“This isn’t an ordinary job,” Seamus pressed.
“It never is.” The Snare yawned. His thumb once again launched the coin upward.
“Have you heard the name Nico Okarr before?”
The Snare’s hand jerked upward to grab the credit mid-toss. His fist lingered for a moment, gripping the coin before he slipped the currency into his overcoat pocket. Beneath the worn rim of his hat, the hunter let a smile slip. “Once or twice. What’s he to you?”
Seamus’ brow hardened. “A thief. One I’d like apprehended. I’m told you’re the best at finding people who don’t wish to be found.”
The Snare swung his feet off the table and leaned forward to take a swig from the bottle. “People, sure, but you’re looking for a legend. When it comes to Nico Okarr–hard to decipher what’s truth or fiction.”
“What he stole from my family was real enough.” Seamus dug his index finger into the table. Vhonu’s leg bounced.
Rubbing the stubble on his chin, the Snare pursed his lips. “It’s personal then.”
“It’s a job. That’s all you need to know,” Vhonu snapped.
Seamus shot Vhonu a look. Smarmy as the Snare might be, they needed him. For months they’d chased the ghost of Nico Okarr with no luck. Vhonu was a capable bodyguard, but they needed a tracker–and someone willing to keep the job hush-hush. “Okarr would be an old-timer now, but as you said, he’s a legend. Think of what this could mean for your reputation.”
“Oh, I am.” The Snare chuckled.
“Then you’ll do it?” Dust scattered as Seamus jerked forward, palms flat on the tabletop.
“Hold on now.” The Snare held up both hands and leaned back in his chair. “Let’s discuss the particulars. Not sure what you’ve heard about me, but I’m no assassin. You want Nico dead, I’m not your man.”
Vhonu rolled his eyes. “He said, ‘apprehended.’ Your ‘morality’ is safe.”
“Just making sure. Wouldn’t want an unhappy customer.” The Snare produced a wooden toothpick from behind his ear, plopped it into his mouth, and began chewing gingerly. “How much is this guy worth to you?”
Seamus relaxed–credits was a topic he was comfortable with. “I know your standard rate. I’m willing to double it.”
“I’m willing to accept that.”
Vhonu snorted and crossed his arms. “I’m sure you are.”
Ignoring the jab, the Snare transferred the toothpick to the other side of his mouth. “So. I deliver Nico into your custody. Alive and well. Then–”
“It’s a simple deal.” Vhonu cut in. “You bring us Nico Okarr, get paid, and leave.”
The Snare spit the mangled toothpick to the ground, where it was swallowed up by the sand. “You have the credits on you?”
Seamus hesitated and cast a quick glance at Vhonu. “You’ll be compensated the moment we have your bounty.”
“Clear on that point.” The bounty hunter waved a dismissive hand. “I’m asking if you need time to gather my payment or if it’s ready now.”
Seamus tried to keep the offense out of his voice. He was Valahari nobility–money wasn’t an issue. “I don’t need to ‘gather’ funds, but no one’s seen or heard from Okarr since the start of the Great Galactic War. Might take you some time to find him.”
“Won’t take any time at all.”
“How’s that?” Vhonu barked.
The Snare pushed back his hat to reveal tan, smooth skin and a goatee threatened by a layer of stubble and grime. Two brown eyes, ringed by crow’s feet, sparkled as a grin settled across his features. “He’s sitting at this table.”
A large crease marred Seamus’ otherwise soft forehead. His mind simultaneously recognized the infamous smuggler’s face, but rejected his explanation. “That’s impossible. You’re too young.”
Nico Okarr sighed and spun the now empty bottle on the table. “Know what gets old? People always judging me by my looks.”
“He’s nothing but a common swindler.” Vhonu pushed back from the table and tugged on Seamus’ sleeve. “Come on, Master Kaldo.”
Nico rubbed his eyes. “Kaldo… Kaldo… name’s familiar, but do enough jobs and they all tend to run together. Well, except the big ones. Don’t think I’ll ever forget saving Grand Master Satele Shan.”
Vhonu pulled harder on Seamus’ arm, but the noble stood still, eyes scanning the hunter’s face. “Can you prove you’re him?”
Nico’s grin widened and he held out the bottle. “Should be enough of me on there for a sample. Guessing you brought a scanner. Hope you wouldn’t just take any old man based on a hunter’s word.”
Seamus nodded to Vhonu to scan the bottle. The bodyguard jutted his jaw forward in protest, but eventually relented, and pulled out a small, metallic DNA reader. He swiped the bottle from Nico’s outstretched hand and got to work.
“Let me ask you something,” Nico continued. “Otherwise, it’ll bug me all day. That thing—guessing it’s a thing—I stole from your family. Heirloom? Mom’s jewels? Pet maybe?”
“If you’re Nico, you should know,” Seamus said, struggling to keep his voice steady.
Nico shrugged. “You’d think that, but…”
His hands fidgeted without the bottle or the credit coin to keep them busy. After a pause, the right one slammed down on the table’s surface. “Engine schematics! Right? One of your competitors paid handsomely for them–and I got to upgrade the Redshifter in the process. Good run.”
Seamus’ nostrils flared. “Those schematics were my father’s life’s work. We had buyers lined up from the Republic and the Empire. My family was set to make billions. Instead, we were humiliated.”
“Look like you’re still doing alright for yourself.”
Seamus opened his mouth to respond when the reader emitted a soft ding.
“Well?” Seamus asked, whirling around in his chair.
Vhonu shook the scanner. “It must be a trick.”
Nico slapped his palms together and rubbed them back and forth, oozing with self-congratulation. “So about my reward?”
“You’ll get no reward!” Vhonu barked, replacing the scanner with a blaster.
“Now, now…” Nico pointed at the bodyguard. “The deal was I bring you Nico Okarr, get paid, and leave. As I see it, I’ve fulfilled my end of the bargain.”
“That was when we thought you were the Snare!” Seamus yelled, jumping to his feet.
“The Snare’s my professional name. Looks like I’ll have to find another.” Nico remained sitting, calm.
Vhonu aimed the pistol at the Nico’s heart. “Don’t waste your breath on this son of a Hutt, Master Kaldo.”
“Set your blaster to stun. I promised Father to bring him back alive,” Seamus ordered.
Nico sucked in a mouthful of dusty air and clicked his tongue against the back of his teeth. “A man who goes back on his word. That’s something I can’t abide by.”
“Abide by this!” Vhonu yelled as he pulled the trigger.
Nico moved quicker than a heartbeat. His knee kicked up the table to block Vhonu’s shot, while his left hand caught the blaster previously resting on the surface. He unholstered his other pistol with a spin, set it to stun, then fired exactly two shots over his makeshift barricade.
The shots were met with two thuds and a scurry of footsteps from the Sarlacc’s main bar. Nico counted to three before standing to assess the damage.
Seamus and Vhonu lay motionless in the sand. Nico searched the nobleman’s body. He found the Snare’s reward, just as the bartender reached the room in a huff.
“You promised–not again!” His long face shook with anger.
“Just a little business,” Nico responded, flipping a few credits the bartender’s way.
The Molavaran was not appeased. Nico was already halfway out the door as he heard the bartender yell, “Take your business elsewhere!”
No one else in the Sarlacc and Loaded gave him a second look. Standing in Molavar’s heat, Nico chuckled. “Guess vacation’s over. Again.”