Sitting at the desk, his nose in a worn leatherbound ledger, Tai didn’t seem to pay any heed to the sharp scent of salt in the air, the creaking of the lines of ships either just in or just about to head out. He didn’t seem to notice the calls of the goblin longshoremen or acknowledge the bawdy songs of sailors eager to partake of some of the more earthly delights of Booty Bay.
Tai rubbed his chin, his fingers playing with his beard. He furrowed his brow – something was not adding up. Though he’d grown up on the streets, living by his wits, numbers had always made sense to Tai – and these numbers weren’t.
He leaned back in the chair, which creaked under the strain, and put his black leather boots up on the desk. Pulling out and lighting a cigar absentmindedly, Tai looked up at the ceiling, thinking the problem through, step by step. Start with the supply …
Tai exhaled, the blue smoke from the cigar floating up to the ceiling of the ramshackle office – no, that was definitely not the problem. Kennia and Khary had worked out a pretty good deal with a tailor up in Stormwind. The shirts that he made might not be the best quality but they were all the rage in Orgrimmar (Tai had learned long ago to not worry about why and instead focus on how). And one of the two of them personally overlooked each shipment, and paid the tailor for his work. Trust was a rare thing in this business, but he trusted the count either one of them gave him.
What about the receiver? No, he trusted that link in the chain too. Su’Jin took delivery of the crates, clearly labeled ‘linen cloth’ with the fine shirts concealed under false bottoms (good handiwork but not cheap, Tai thought), over in Ratchet. After she moved the crates on to Orgrimmar for eventual sale at the city’s bazaar, she would send Tai payment for the goods.
Tapping the cigar lightly to knock off the ash, Tai glanced at the ledger again. His eyes narrowed. The pattern was subtle but it was there and visible to an attentive eye. Based on the numbers from Kennia and Khary and the payments from Su’Jin, someone was helping themselves to a crate here, a crate there. Tai ground his teeth silently – it wasn’t so much the money as the principle. Someone was stealing from the Tong and that was the kind of thing you had to stop dead in its tracks … Tai stood and stubbed out his cigar with his boot. There was some work to do.
Tai walked along the pier, headed to the port authority building. Leaning against a piling, Kennia smiled at him. She was dressed in her dark leathers, two swords strapped to her belt, and she was pulling on her long black leather gloves. Tai smiled softly. Tai figured that having a bit of muscle to throw around might be a good thing, and Kennia was an eager volunteer.
No matter how much they worked with goblins, Tai found that Kennia never trusted them. No, correction, he thought to himself; no sane businessperson trusted goblins. No, it was more that she didn’t seem to care for them. That perplexed Tai; he didn’t trust the goblins but he understood them and even respected them for their drive and business acumen.
She looked at him, serious and ready for work. Tai smiled at her, and the two headed down to the long building on the wharf. Walking through the crowded marketplace, they each nodded greetings to familiar faces; the Bay was becoming more like a second home with all the business the Tong was running through there.
They got to the stairs leading up to the offices, and were stopped by two thickly built goblin guards. Kennia’s eyes narrowed but Tai just smiled, saying, “Jiang here to see Beezbok. Tell him we need to talk about handling larger shipments” The name, if not the face, was familiar – and Tai figured greed would get the attention of Beezbok. One of the guards grunted and headed upstairs. Tai tugged on one earlobe, smiling out of the corner of his mouth at Kennia while they waited.
The guard came out of the office at the top of the stairs and called down to the other to let them pass. Kennia and Tai went up the stairs, and past the guard there holding the door open. There, sitting at the large desk covered with scattered papers and old cigarette butts, was Beezbok – a burly, tattooed treetrunk of a goblin.
Beezbok stubbed out a cigarette, gesturing them to the chairs. Tai sat, while Kennia simply stood behind his chair. She was well aware of the guard now standing inside the office by the door. Beezbok grinned at Tai, saying in the squeaky goblin voice “So what’s this about larger shipments?”
Beezbok leaned across the desk, his eyes gleaming and his teeth showing in a wide, greedy grin. Tai smiled back. He had planned on a business meeting to be sure; of course, some conducted business quite a bit differently from others …
Tai leaned back in the chair, bringing his left leg up and resting his left ankle on his right knee. Kennia stood by his side, shifting her weight onto her right leg, idly fiddling with the buttons on her vest. Tai knew she was ready if need be; Kennia had simply found that it was sometimes worth appearing a little less than ready.
Certainly, Beezbok wasn’t paying her any attention at all. No, the goblin’s gaze was locked on Tai. Tai smiled inwardly. The goblin could not hide his pleasure at the prospect of skimming off even more from the Tong. Still, Tai liked to be sure. Tai cleared his throat and said diffidently, “Yeah, Beez, we’ve done well. Turns out that orcs have taken a fancy to these shirts. I just got word that my contact there wants to triple the volume.” The goblin’s eyes went wide for a moment.
Beezbok laughed, shaking his head … and pushed his luck. “Well Jiang, we can do that but to move that kind of volume, we’re going to need to give the ship captains a bigger cut. So we’ll have to up your per unit cost.” He glanced over at Tai, gauging how he reacted. Tai kept his face flat, but ran his tongue over his lips.
He leaned forward. Kennia stopped fiddling with her buttons and rested her hands on her belt, still seemingly disinterested. Tai smiled, nodding, “Sure Beez, I understand.” Tai continued, his eyes locked on Beezbok’s, “Thing is, I think you owe me a bit of money for all the crates you’ve skimmed, so …” Tai paused unsmiling, the words hanging there in the air for a minute.
The next movements were a blur. The guard at the door went for his blade. Beezbok reached for the button hidden under his desktop, the button that would bring help. But Kennia and Tai had caught them off guard. Kennia whirled, flinging a dagger from her belt towards the guard. The blade buried itself into the goblin’s shoulder. As the goblin clutched at his wounded shoulder, Kennia moved towards him, jabbing a left into his belly and bring an uppercut to his chin. The guard slumped to the floor, out cold.
Tai wasted no time either. Pushing off against the floor, Tai shoved the entire desk forward. Beezbok’s finger missed the button and was knocked backwards by the force of the desk, crashing to the floor, his chair splintering under him. Tai swung his legs over the desk and pounced on the disoriented goblin. Clenching the goblin’s shirt in his left hand, Tai brought his right hand, a knife suddenly in it, to Beezbok’s throat. The goblin swallowed – hard – and Tai smiled down at him.
Kennia disarmed the guard, jamming the door with his sword. Resting a boot on the unconscious goblin, she again began fiddling with her vest buttons, muttering about a loose thread. Eyes narrowed, Tai continued, “As I was saying, by my calculations you’ve done quite well so far. The way I see it, we’ll go ahead and increase our volume but you’re going to drop your price per unit by 10%.” Beezbok’s eyes again went wide.
Kennia pouted a bit by the door, “Only ten percent?” The guard stirred a bit, and Kennia ground her boot heel into his chest without even looking down. Tai smiled, knowing that was a nice touch. They still had to do business with Beezbok. Tai continued, “Ah Kennia, I want to be fair to old Beez here.” Beezbok carefully nodded, agreeing to the terms. Before he removed the knife, Tai added in a voice so calm and steady, it sent chills through Beezbok, “And let’s be clear; if we have to renegotiate, we won’t be as reasonable.”
Tai stood, helping Beezbok up. Putting away his dagger, he brushed some lint off his own vest. He smiled at Beezbok and reached over. Beezbok flinched but Tai simply brushed some dirt off the goblin’s shoulder. Tai turned to go, smiling at Kennia. With her foot holding the guard down, she leaned down and pulled her dagger from his shoulder, wiping it on the guard’s chest as he yelped in pain. Tai took the sword from the door, tossing it aside and letting it clatter to the floor.
Kennia shot a glare at Beezbok, silently warning him to not make this worse by causing them any trouble as they left. Beezbok stood still among the wreckage of his office, while the guard groaned on the floor. Tai and Kennia opened the door and headed down the stairs, nodding to the guard as they left. The salt air of the open docks was a relief – the other Tigers were scattered around Azeroth and honestly Beezbok’s guards could have made life hard for them. But that was the name of the game – calculated risks.