Dani Botswana enjoyed a beer on the short train trip to Don Lino’s den. The beer was warm and had long run out of gas. Dani drank half a can before giving up on it. Her stomach was already in knots. Don Lino’s negotiator sat on the banquet opposite the gunslinger. She wore her black sunglasses as if they were a shield against Dani’s potential attempts at conversation.
“Silence is golden,” said Dani with a smirk, like one placing a new log on a dying fire.
The negotiator kept her lips sealed, but she appeared nervous. Her hands, folded on top of one another, tightened. They became rigid, almost white, and she uncrossed her legs to cross them the other way, as if she wanted to turn the page on Dani’s passive provocation.
“I’ve always wondered what it really meant,” Dani pushed on. “Do you know? Any clue?” She made the ‘u’ sound last until it turned sour.
The negotiator’s lips quivered. She opened her lips then closed them in a pinch. Now, her left foot tapped the floor of the train compartment.
“You don’t like me, do you?”
The negotiator untied her hands and placed her palms on the booth as if to steady herself. Speaking now seemed to cost her everything she had. “Verbiage, I am one to think, is the fool’s standard-bearer.”
The negotiator’s quip marked the end of all efforts of communication.
The pair alighted at Merilyn Ring Station. Only a handful of passengers got off: Dani, the negotiator, a Zigmut family of five and a tall and dark figure draped in a cape and shiny red breast-armor. Dani retrieved Horus out of the train stables and led him to the station’s docks. The negotiator followed without a word, but when it came time to pay for the skyhorse’s stay, food and drink, she footed the bill. This is how business should always be conducted—with class, thought Dani. When they arrived at the Don
“You did well. It’s been a pleasure.” She ducked inside without so much as a glance at the woman’s reaction.
Inside the Don’s ante-chamber, mahogany leather sofas formed a square in the center of the room. The low lighting forced Dani to squint. She hit her legs against a sofa and almost fell forward. An old back pain came to pay the gunslinger a visit, and she sat in slow motion, holding her hips. In front of her on a coffee table, there was a spiral-shaped cocktail glass, dry, with an olive pierced by a toothpick and a smudge of blood on the rim. Unconsciously, Dani checked her gunblasters. Her grade four was at seventy-two percent battery, the other at sixty-one, enough to shoot down the entire ring station. She exhaled deeply and forgot for a brief second the pain lacerating her back.
A small man of round stature, balding, with a finely chiseled mustache, entered the room alone. It was Don Lino.
“La donna Botswana! Come vai?” The Don kissed her hand and sat opposite her. He had brought his own drink, a highball with mint leaves. He offered one to the gunslinger. “Te volgie un ristoro?”
Instead of conceding she did not speak the Don’s language, Dani feigned understanding and said, “I’m alright, thank you.”
The Don drank alone. “Good. I have little time. What brings you to me, Madame Botswana?”
“I’ve got something special to offload. I thought you might be buying.”
“Special?” Don Lino shook his head up and down, sizing the gunslinger. “Special how?”
“Special like everyone in Larragon, in space or on land, talks about it.”
“That big, eh?”
The Don spread his hands, waiting for Dani to stop her meanderings.
“Alright, here goes.” As she spoke, Dani slowly moved her hand to her satchel, ready to unveil the rare artefact. “I am in possession of the moon treasure.”
The Don’s reaction was not one Dani expected. The godfather looked both surprised and a tad angry. When he spoke, he pronounced each syllable carefully with a gravitas that put the gunslinger on the defensive.
“The moon treasure? You are saying you have unearthed Fabiliacci’s chest of diamonds? And the black box?”
“The black box?” Dani stopped her hand in time before she opened her satchel.
“Fabiliacci’s box? The black box. The moon treasure. You have it, and you’ve come to give it back to me?”
Dani flinched. “Give… back? Wh-what do you mean? You mean ‘sell?’ I’ve come to sell it to you.”
The Don pushed his back against the sofa cushion, his smirk and his calmness showed he was in perfect control of the situation. “Sell? Ma cosa? How can you sell to a man what is already his?”
Dani gasped, struggling to make sense of the situation.
“I have buried Fabiliacci’s black box along with all his stolen diamonds on the foggy moon by Balthazar’s. I have picked this moon because it is so difficult to find. And I don’t want it to be found. Yet, every few years, a gunslinger barges into my office, disrupting my busy schedule, to offer me what I have put so much effort into hiding from the universe. Precedentemente, I used to get mad about it, now I am older, piu saggio. I am more pragmatic. Life is like this. Like a circle. A…come se dice?” The Don made a circular movement with his index finger.
“Esatto. Like a wheel. I hide, time passes, idiots go on treasure hunts and unearth the devil’s black box. They try to sell it to a random merchant, they cannot, and it ultimately always comes back to me. Mia donna,” he said, holding his hands in a prayer before him and shaking them up and down. “If I could destroy this box, I would. I would have done it a long time ago. Now, give it to me.”
“You give me the box now, and maybe I will let you walk out of this door with at least one of your limbs intact.”
Despite her best efforts of composure, a visible chill shook Dani. She winced and immediately covered her mouth to hide her reaction, hanging on the thin possibility the Don hadn’t registered the effects of his threats on her.
“I don’t have it. Not here. It’s… I’ve got diamonds, but the box is with somebody else.” Dani did a quick scouting of her surroundings to help her come up with a decoy. “Ulagi! His name is Ulagi. You’ve met him before. He was on the Aranei heist we pulled for you.”
“I don’t remember every gunslinger that steps through these doors, forgive me.”
“No, no. Of course. You are forgiven. I forgive you. He’s got the box. Ulagi does. I can lead him to you. I mean, lead you to him. Please, I’ve…I’ve made a mistake. I’ve heard so many stories. I ignored your relationship with that box and the treasure. All those diamonds.”
“The diamonds—you should know by now—they are only diamonds in the presence of Fabiliacci’s box. Without the box, they are just dirt. So, tell me, where do I find this Ulagi?”
“Ulagi? I…I can bring you to him, as I said. Or, better, I can go and retrieve the black box from him and…bring it back to you. No charge.” Dani’s tongue slipped, and she made a protective movement toward her knees, remembering the Don’s threat about breaking her limbs.
“So you are saying I should just let you go?”
“Yeah. I’ll come back. For sure.”
The Don pondered this option, his arms stretched out, frozen in the moment, then he said with a jovial tone, “Certamente. You go and bring me Fabiliacci’s black box. And I wait here, with-a your left arm.”
“Pardon? My left arm? Is that figurative speech or did that mean something else in Italian?”
“You’ll soon find out. Alberto! Adesso.”
Before Dani could react, a small man wearing black gloves was upon her, and she hadn’t even heard him entering the room, or perhaps he had been there all along. His force was tremendous and no matter how she shook and writhed her body, she could not break free from his hold.
The small man helped her up, then led her to another room across a narrow yet long corridor. This new room was just about the opposite of the Don’s ante-chamber. It was bright; white walls, stainless steel flooring and a butcher’s table right in the center with no other furniture to garnish the room. He threw Dani on the table as the Godfather looked on. The small man spoke quickly in Italian, and another man entered the room to hold Dani in place. He choked Dani, pressing her throat against the butcher’s tabletop, whilst extending her left arm across the chopping surface. The small man with the black gloves pulled a meat cleaver from underneath the table and raised it high above his head.
Fighting for breath, Dani squinted. The light reflected on the edge of the meat cleaver and then the blade came down and her left wrist went numb before the pain kicked in and the blood rushed out of her. She tried to scream, but the chokehold on her throat blocked all sounds coming out of her lungs, so instead she cried. Silently, shakingly, not believing that her left hand was now separated twenty centimeters from her wrist.
Dani lost consciousness as the small man and the choking goon began playing catch with her severed hand. This is just a nightmare. This is a nightmare. It’s not real. I’m sleeping. This is a nightmare.
### End of Part 4 ###
Continue to Part 5