Chapter 6: Negotiations

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One nasty side effect of going places with Isla Faulkner was that it always made me hyperaware of all objects in the area that could be used to murder me.

Isla told Harris to stay put while we discussed 'whatever bullshit Jack imagines to be important', as she so eloquently phrased it, and the boy would follow that order if he knew what was good for him. I didn't believe the thought of not obeying would cross his mind: Isla hadn't survived the army and climbed the ranks of the local crime syndicate by being nice and forgiving. An air of authority and menace hung around her at all times. Commands she gave were meant to be heeded, and if Harris couldn't sense that, I'd unprofessionally diagnose him with a severe case of emotional tone-deafness.

Either way, we left the kid behind us and migrated towards the water the murdered bunyip had come out of, from where Harris wouldn't hear us. Nerves combined with the strong reek of algae, fish, rot and blood made my stomach flip. The bunyip's corpse lay near us, water nipping at one of its webbed feet; its mouth hung open, its glassy stare was raised to the sky and mosquitoes already scrambled to get to the blood spilling from its throat, which had been sliced open by that damned machete.

I scanned the area.

Machete? Deadly for obvious reasons. Bunyip tusks?Also deadly, could be used to stab me with. Water? Posed a risk, for I could be drowned in it. Weird brown mushrooms in the grass to my right? The most treacherous of all: Isla could shove them down my throat and I could either slowly die of being poisoned or choke to death.

"Jack." Isla brought me back to reality using nothing but my name spoken like a warning.

"Wha-what?" I stammered, as alert as a guy who'd been lost in thought about fungi getting lodged in his oesophagus could possibly be.

Isla crossed her arms and stared me down. "You said we needed to talk. Talking starts now."

"Right." I cleared my throat. "Isla… what do you think we should do about Harris?"

Testing the waters was crucial in this stage of my quest for my boss' compliance. If I was going to get her to do what I wanted, I had to play my cards right. Putting my own idea out in the open and confronting her with it head-on would only irk her more than anything; instead, I had to hear her out and slowly, with caution, adjust and fine-tune whatever plan she herself had until it suited both of us.

Isla threw a glance in the boy's direction, an unreadable glint in her eyes. Her expression as a whole was one of indifference. "Well, you helped him," she began, "and it seems only fair he repays you, whether he wants to or not. The sword is valuable. He's indebted to you, and I reckon the weapon will be enough to pay that debt off."

But if the sword goes to me, it goes to you, I thought to myself with a skeptical smile, because I have my own debts to deal with. Clever. As much as it pained me to do so, I had to give my boss credit for being a shrewd brute instead of a senseless one.

"When we have the sword," Isla continued, "we continue on to find that necklace, and he goes his own merry way. Unarmed, but if that sword's all he has, he didn't come with a weapon in the first place, so he shouldn't miss it much. He can find his girlfriend or die trying. Either way, we're not responsible for what happens to him. He's here by choice."

She had a point, and I couldn't deny it. The rational, practical part of my brain understood it all made perfect sense. Harris would've been dead and gone if my stick and I hadn't been there; by all means, I deserved eternal gratitude and a proper reward as a cherry on top. The boy was also indeed here by choice, his own choice full of youthful hubris, and it wasn't like Isla and I were his parents. Looking out for a teenager wasn't even close to in our job descriptions.

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