Chapter 12
The Foxhound

Feiguang (Guadalucia), Jinshan County, Shanzhong Province

Some guilds liked to draw attention to themselves with ostentatious buildings, garish costumes and other forms of conspicuous consumption. The bounty hunting guilds, however, were less likely to be in this camp and it was especially true for the Almorad Bounty Hunting Guild. They operated out of a seemingly ordinary inn on the outskirts of Guadalucia. It was a ways to travel if you were coming in by train, but there were certain advantages to a location with lighter foot traffic. Hunters bringing in bounties would go around back to get to the holding cells in the basement. The front entrance was for other business.
It was such other business that brought this particular bounty hunter. Most of the men and women of his profession were easy to spot, especially when they first roll into town. They were most often dressed for ranging out in the wilds. Longcoats, goggles and bandannas were practically their uniform. About the only other people who dressed that way were scavengers. This bounty hunter was different, though. He looked more like a banker or some other well-to-do businessman with his starched and pressed three-piece suit and polished wingtip shoes.
"Welcome back, Mr. Salas," the clerk at the front desk said.
The well-dressed bounty hunter nodded to the clerk and tipped his pork pie hat before doffing it and tucking it under his his arm. He headed straight for the bar, where the bartender promptly greeted him as well.
"Hello, Mr. Salas. The usual?"
The bounty hunter nodded and the bartender went to work mixing his cocktail of choice. Another bounty hunter a couple seats down took notice of him and raised his all but empty mug of beer.
"Hey, Nestor, how's it goin'?"
"Hello, Ding," the well-dressed bounty hunter replied, not actually answering the question.
Ding the other bounty hunter didn't need much input to keep the conversation going, however. He reached over the bar to a corkboard filled with bounty listings. Picking out one in particular, he scooted over to the seat next to Nestor and showed it to him.
"Ya been out on the trail a while, Nestor," he said. "I thought ya might wanna see this."
Nestor glanced at the listing while sipping his cocktail. For most people, a spit take would be the natural response, but that would be a waste of good liquor. Besides, Nestor never gave himself to big displays of emotion, no matter the circumstance. Still, even he couldn't entirely suppress his surprise, though it took an astute observer of human nature to catch what slipped through.
"A hundred dan? It's not every day you see a price on a man's head this big."
"You're tellin' me," Ding replied.
"Why are you showing this to me?" Nestor asked. "It was issued in Bantian. A little outside our territory, don't you think?"
"Yeah, well, they ain't caught this guy yet. He's movin' east. They say he took out the Lopez Sisters in this lil' podunk in Jitian."
The Lopez Sisters were hardly the best of their profession, but they were very good at what they did and had built up a reputation that couldn't easily be dismissed. However, it was odd that just the two of them would be dead. It wasn't typically their style to hunt alone.
"Where's the rest of Grazzio's gang then?"
Ding shrugged.
"Don't know, man. Maybe the sisters thought they could take this guy on their own. Ya get a lot more splittin' it two ways instead a' twelve."
"You don't get any if you're dead," Nestor replied.
Ding shrugged again, saying, "Yeah, well, they learned that the hard way."
It was a final sort of lesson, the sort experienced bounty hunters shouldn't have needed to learn.
Nestor didn't say anything for a while, then simply ordered another cocktail when his glass was empty. It was his habit to drink quietly while he gathered his thoughts.
When he did speak, it sounded like little more than an offhand comment.
"So you think he's going to reach the border."
"If it was me, it'd be worth goin' ta Tres Pasos, I think," Ding said.
"Then why aren't you already there?" Nestor asked.
Ding scoffed at this.
"Shit, man, much as I could use that hunnerd dan, I like ta think a' myself as a realist. Anyone who can take out the Lopez Sisters on his own ain't one I wanna be tanglin' with."
Nestor grinned at this.
"A bounty hunter not blinded by his greed? The profession won't be the same."
"Yeah, yeah, ya can can that Charter School wit. It don't impress no one here."
"Pity that," Nestor said drily. "Some of you knuckleheads might learn something."
"Ya in or ya out?"
Nestor set his now empty glass on the bar and got up from his seat.
"I'm in," he said, "but I'm not going to Tres Pasos."
"Why not?"
"There's a rather slim chance of ever catching him there. He'll be too wary. If you want any chance, you have to strike where he's vulnerable."
"An' where's that?"
"That's what I intend to find out," Nestor said as he donned his hat.
"Headin' out already?" Ding asked.
"I need to speak with a friend in Records. I'd like to know more about this Juan Batista Rodrigues."
Ding raised his mug once more, saying, "Happy huntin', man."
Nestor tipped his hat in reply.
"Thank you, thank you. And good luck finding a bounty that agrees with your liver."
Not having that 'Chart School wit', Ding was entirely oblivious to the insult. Just as well. Though he may not have been the most daring hunter in the guild, he could be a proper terror when riled up after a few drinks.
Whatever business brought Nestor back to headquarters, it had been replaced with the far more compelling new assignment. Though it was an overstatement to say that he always got his man, there were few bounties that escaped Nestor's grasp whenever he set his sights on them. And now his target was a mercenary deserter who was somehow worth two years of a gentleman's income. This could well prove to be his most interesting case in some time.