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Quark looked up at the baritone cry that indicated that someone had just won at Hetik's dabo table. Again.
What was I thinking when I let Treir talk me into hiring him? The honest answer, of course, was that he wasn't thinking, at least not with his brain, but rather the appendages on either side of it. It was difficult to be reasonable or to think things through when you were talking with a two-meter-tall Orion woman bred for sex appeal and wearing one of the skimpy outfits that Quark himself insisted his dabo girls wear.
Not to be confused with the sleeveless V-neck tunic and tight shorts that his dabo boy was clad in as he handed over a considerable pile of winnings to a Boslic woman. It was, in fact, the third time the woman had won, and if she kept up at this rate, Quark would be bankrupt.
With a brief hand signal to Frool to keep an eye on the bar, Quark navigated among the tables, which were fairly crowded. Three Starfleet ships were in dock at Deep Space 9 -- one about to head into the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant, one on its way to deliver supplies to the ongoing Cardassian relief effort, and one simply stopping over for shore leave after a patrol of the sector -- so the bar was full to bursting with gray-and-black-uniformed personnel, along with the usual collection of traders, cargo carriers, and travelers of all kinds that paraded through DS9 every day. Plus, of course, the regulars.
If Quark had his way, there'd be fewer Starfleet; they weren't the biggest spenders in the galaxy, and they didn't imbibe nearly enough to suit him. There wasn't a lot he missed about the days when the Cardassians ran the station, but one was that you could always count on members of the Cardassian military to be heavy drinkers.
Still, it was a decent day for business. So I'm not about to let that Bajoran simian ruin it by giving all my latinum to that Boslic!
As he drew closer, he noticed that the Boslic woman wasn't looking at the winnings that were piling up next to her arms, which were folded neatly at the edge of the dabo table. She wasn't looking at the other players -- a Lurian freighter captain, a human Starfleet officer, and a Tellarite civilian -- who were looking at her winnings, and rather dolefully at that.
She was looking at Hetik. More to the point, she was staring at Hetik.
Quark knew that stare very well. It was one that was all too often etched on his own face whenever Ro Laren was in the room. Or Kira Nerys. Or Natima Lang. Or Treir. Or Ezri Dax. Or pretty much any other beautiful woman.
In a gentle voice that sounded like honey over hasperat, Hetik told the Boslic woman to put all her winnings on double down.
Without even hesitating, she did so, barely looking at the latinum strips she moved across the table.
Quark, who knew his dabo table, relaxed and stopped in his tracks.
The human and the Lurian both bet triple under, and the Tellarite, spitting and cursing to a degree that irritated Quark -- not so much the cursing as the spitting on the table, which he made a mental note to tell Broik to polish later -- put what little money he had remaining on double down as well.
To Quark's lack of surprise, triple under won, and both the Tellarite and the Boslic were cleaned out. The Tellarite immediately got up and stormed out, which suited Quark fine, as he had bought only one drink, finished it hours ago, and refused every offer of a fresh one.
However, the Boslic woman simply stood up, ran a hand over Hetik's cheek, said, "Thank you for a divine evening," and slowly exited, making sure to give Hetik several backward glances as she departed.
Okay, so maybe a dabo boy wasn't such a bad idea.
Quark worked his way back to the bar. On the way, he was intercepted by Treir. The Orion woman towered over him and favored him with a seductive smile. "You didn't trust Hetik, did you?"
"I just wanted to keep an ear on things." Quark spoke defensively, which caused him to wonder why he felt so defensive. "Rule of Acquisition Number One-Ninety: 'Hear all, trust nothing.'"
As they got to the bar, Quark took his place behind it. Treir draped herself over the bar so that she was at eye level with the much shorter Quark, and also gave him a very good look at her very generous cleavage, most of which was visible in her very skimpy outfit. Quark knew she did it on purpose, since she was as aware of the Fifty-Third Rule as he was -- "Never trust anybody taller than you" -- and also knew the deleterious effect her cleavage had on his higher brain functions.
"You know," she said in her sultriest voice, "you never gave me proper compensation."
"Hiring Hetik. You didn't think hiring a dabo boy would be a good idea, but he's drawn in a huge number of customers. I think I deserve some kind of reward for that."
Two Bajorans departed; Quark grabbed their empty glasses and put them on the shelf to be cleaned. "It's true, he has added bodies to the dabo table."
"And yet, you haven't -- "
" -- given you compensation? No, I haven't." Quark leaned forward on the bar, his large nose close to Treir's small green one. "You had that idea while in my employ to service my bar. 'You pay for it, it's your idea' -- Rule of Acquisition Number Twenty-Five. Since I paid for it, it's my brilliant idea, and I don't owe you anything."
Treir stood up straight and looked down that small nose at Quark. This put her torso at eye level, which didn't bother Quark all that much. Treir had a magnificent torso, and the outfit she wore today left it entirely exposed, from the bottom of her breasts to the middle of her pelvis. She folded her arms over her chest. "You know, Quark, when you sold me on this job, it was as an improvement over being a slave."
Quark spread his arms. "Isn't it? You don't have to have sex on demand with whomever your Orion master says you have to. You're free to come and go as you please, and you actually earn a wage. Now, if that state of affairs is no longer to your liking, you can walk out that door and that will be that -- aside from the breach-of-employment fine, of course."
Treir smiled sweetly. "Of course." The smile fell. "You do realize that if I leave, the dabo tables will empty out in an instant."
"Nonsense. I'll still have Hetik and M'Pella."
"Oh, don't be so sure of that."
Quark felt a tingle in his lobes. He couldn't help it; he loved it when Treir pretended she had some kind of authority over the bar. She didn't, of course, but that didn't even slow her down. And, it was true, she had made several good suggestions for improving business.
She's so invigorating.
Brushing a hand across his lobe, he started to speak, when a customer in a Starfleet uniform called out for two synthales.
As he went over to the replicator, he said, "Anyhow, I can't afford to trust Hetik or you or anyone else. These are dangerous times." To the computer he said, "Two synthales."
Treir scrunched her face up in confusion. "What're you talking about? Profits are up, and have been since Bajor joined the Federation."
He handed the synthales to the officer and his companion, also in uniform. They raised their glasses in salute and drank. Quark turned back to Treir. "No, revenues are up. Profits are barely holding steady."
"That doesn't make any sense. You've got people pouring in here, you gave us all a pay cut, and the dabo tables and holosuites are packed."
"Which reminds me, shouldn't you be at your table?"
"I'm on a break."
Quark sighed. Instituting breaks was the biggest mistake he'd ever made.
Treir continued. "Look at those two." She pointed at the officers to whom he'd just given the synthales. "They can get those same two synthales for free in the replimat or in their quarters, but they're willing to come here to pay for it because they like the atmosphere. Let's face it -- Quark's is the hot spot of the Bajoran sector, and everyone knows it."
Bowing his head, Quark said, "Thank you for that lovely demonstration of the Thirty-Third Rule, but -- "
"I'm not sucking up, Quark. I gave that up when you and Ro took me off Malic's ship. I'm telling the truth."
That brought Quark up short. Telling the truth went counter to every instinct he had. "You see, you've just perfectly demonstrated the source of my problems."
"I don't understand."
"Of course not, you're a female. And -- "
Treir pointed at Quark, which was disappointing on two fronts. For one thing, it was a fairly menacing gesture from a two-meter-tall Orion; and it meant she unfolded her arms, thus reducing the drool value of her cleavage. "So help me, Quark, if you quote the Ninety-Fourth Rule at me, I'll rip your ears off."
Quark refused to be intimidated or aroused, though it was a close call. "Well, it's true! Females and finances don't mix, no matter what my mother or my brother says." He shook his head. "Yes, we've got more customers and we've got more revenues. But the only reason we're able to stay in business on this Federation station with their" -- he shuddered at the very thought -- "moneyless economy is because dear old Grand Nagus Rom decided to make my bar the Ferengi embassy to Bajor."
The sweet smile came back. So did the folded arms, which made up for it. "I know all this, Quark. The bar's Ferengi soil, so you can -- "
Treir frowned. "Huh?"
"My brother has continued the 'reforms' that Grand Nagus Zek put forward before he retired." He walked over to the back of the bar and pulled down a bottle of Aldebaran whiskey. "That includes income tax," he said as he poured the green liquid into a glass. "I didn't lower your wages. I have to take a certain amount out for taxes, which I didn't have to do before this bar became part of Ferenginar."
Rolling her eyes, Treir said, "So now you have to actually pay taxes to support your government."
Quark rolled his eyes right back. "I don't support my government. My government is run by an idiot -- I should know, I was raised with him. He's driving Ferenginar to ruin, and what's worse is that I have to help pay for it!" He took a sip of whiskey, the emerald beverage burning his throat as it went down. "And the only way I'm going to be able to pay for it is for you to stop wasting my money by standing at this bar and distracting me and getting back to your dabo table. Break's over."
She leaned over again. Quark's eyes involuntarily went to the cleavage. Her voice now sounding like a waterfall on Bajor, she said, "What makes you think I haven't been working all this time, Quark?" Ever so gently, she traced a finger along the edge of his right lobe.
Then she sashayed her way back to her dabo table.
Seven men and one woman followed her as if she'd hit them with a tractor beam, and within seconds, all eight were putting money down on the table.
For several minutes, he just stared at her. As good as Hetik had been with that Boslic woman, Treir was several orders of magnitude better with all her customers. She was like a Terran chameleon, always changing to suit the needs of whoever she was speaking with. She could be seductress, best friend, confidant, opponent, herald -- whatever was necessary to get people to play her game.
Let's face it, Quark, he admitted to himself as he slugged down the rest of his whiskey, without her, the profits wouldn't be holding steady, they'd be in the waste extractor. Rom managed to save my bar and destroy it at the same time.
He sighed. The truth was, Rom did save the bar. If he hadn't made Quark's into the Ferengi embassy, there would be no Quark's at all. He wasn't some Federation stooge who could somehow survive without profit. A Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all, and I'm nothing if I'm not a Ferengi.
"What was that, Quark?"
Quark looked up to see Elias Vaughn. He hadn't realized he'd been speaking out loud. This is what happens when you drink on the job. "Just quoting the Eighteenth Rule, Commander. What can I get you?"
The old human squinted at the bottle Quark held in his left hand. "What's that you've got there?"
"Aldebaran whiskey." He put the bottle down on the table in front of the commander so he could examine it.
"Don't think I've ever had it."
Before Quark could extol the drink's virtues, he saw a very small Ferengi with very large lobes enter the bar, holding a package under his right arm.
It's about time. He'd been waiting for this for weeks.
Without even looking at Vaughn, he said, "Have the bottle on the house, Commander."
It was rare that Vaughn looked surprised, though the expression barely registered with Quark. "That's unusually generous."
Still not looking at Vaughn, busy as he was observing the new arrival's perambulations through the bar to a back table under one of the staircases, Quark said, "It's an unusual day. Excuse me."
Signaling Frool to once again take over the bar, Quark worked his way to that same back table. Before he arrived, he made sure to inhale deeply several times, so he could hold his breath as long as possible.
Gash was the best forger in the Ferengi Alliance, but he had never been well acquainted with the concept of bathing.
Or, Quark noticed as he approached, dressing. The green shirt he wore was out of style ten years before it was first replicated. Not that he could see it all that clearly, since Gash's body odor was making Quark's eyes water. The two Sulamids at the next table over skittered away within thirty seconds of Gash's arrival.
However, Quark could forgive the lost business. If the package -- which Gash had placed on the table -- was what Quark thought it was, the loss of the drinks tab of two Sulamids was a drop in the proverbial bucket.
"I hope that's what I think it is."
"Well, whatcha think it is, eh, Quark? Heh heh." Gash sniffled, then ran an ugly green sleeve across his bulbous nose. "Course it's whatcha think. Toldja I'd get it, didn't I? When've I ever letcha down, eh? Heh heh."
Quark could, in fact, think of half a dozen times when Gash had let him down, but didn't think it would be politic to bring them up now. Besides, those complaints were always related to timeliness, not quality.
Gash touched one filthy finger to a section of the package he carried. The outer casing folded outward and then contracted under the items inside the package: three pieces of yellow parchment of a type found only in the Grisellan system.
Quark reached for the parchments, but Gash stopped him by slapping his hand away. "Now now, don't be touchin' them with your bare flesh. You know what Grisellan parchment's like now, don'tcha? Turns all crumbly if fleshy oils get in 'em. S'how y'know they're genuine."
"Of course," Quark said. "I was just eager to -- "
"Eager t'getcher profit, s'what you are, Quark. You kids today, you don't know nothin' 'bout patience. Rushin' around all over the place, y'don't 'preciate the work it takes."
Smiling, Quark said, "Oh, believe me, I appreciate the work you did forging these provenances. And they'll fool those Yridians bidding for the totem icons?"
Gash snorted, which sent a drip of snot flying toward the table the Sulamids had abandoned. "Oh, they'll fool those Yridians. Heh heh. Fool the Grisellas, too, you betcha."
Leaning over the table, Quark looked at the work Gash had done. The script was in the old Grisellan style, of a type not used in thousands of years. The first letter of each sentence had an extra curl in it, an affectation particular to the Hrabotnik period in Grisellan history. Quark also noticed an odd scratch across the bottom of the parchment. He'd seen reproductions of Grisellan provenances, and none of them had that scratch. He'd better not have ruined these. "What's that?"
"Heh heh. Was hopin' you'd notice that. See, them icons you showed me's from the early Hrabotnik period."
Shrugging, Quark said, "So?"
"Durin' the early Hrabotnik period -- but only the early period, not the middle or late, nor never the times before or after -- all the icons' provenances had this scratch. Had to do with the monks who were makin' the parchment, y'see. The plants used for those ten years all came from the same grove, an' they had impurities in 'em. If your Yridians know their Hrabotnik-period icons, that scratch'll be the first thing they look for."
Quark found himself reminded not of a Rule of Acquisition but of an old human saying he'd heard Vic Fontaine use: "Sometimes it's worth paying the extra nickel for the good stuff." Gash embodied that saying. He cost considerably more than any other forger Quark knew -- and Quark knew all the good ones, as well as several bad ones -- but he was worth it. This was precisely the sort of detail that most forgers wouldn't bother with, and it was forgetting that sort of detail that led to far too many forgers getting caught.
Reaching into his vest pocket, Quark pulled out his personal padd. He tapped in the security code -- necessary to activate the padd if it lay inactive for more than thirty seconds -- which Quark changed every day, and which would work only if typed with Quark's fingers. He had originally put a DNA scanner in, but that proved less useful than he might have hoped, as it meant that Rom, and possibly some other family members, could also get at the padd's contents if they ever learned the code. So he added a fingerprint scanner, which was fairly cheap, and which guaranteed that Rom could never get at his private accounts.
Not that it matters. Before, Rom would never do such a thing, and now Rom's Grand Nagus and can get at my accounts anytime he wants, fingerprints notwithstanding. But it's the principle of the thing.
After entering the code to activate the padd, he then accessed his account. "All right, I'm giving you half the money now."
Gash's beady eyes went wide. "Half?" he cried, spittle flying out of his mouth. "We agreed t'seventy-five percent on delivery, an' twenty-five when you sold th'icons! You double-crossin' me, boy?"
Calmly, Quark called up the contract on his padd, highlighted the terms of payment, and held the display up to Gash's face.
"Oh," Gash said after he squinted at the glowing letters. "Guess I misremembered."
Quark nodded. "Guess you did." He stood up. Breathing through his mouth for so long was going to have him hyperventilating soon, and breathing through one's nose around Gash was tempting fate. "I'll take this."
"All righty, then." One strip jutted out from under the three provenances. Gash touched it, and the packaging sprung out from under the parchments and wrapped itself around them once again.
With a polite nod to Gash, Quark picked up the package and moved toward the bar again. Now I just have to let the Yridians know that the Grisellan totem icons they've been asking about have arrived. Of course, they arrived three weeks ago, and they're as Grisellan as I am, but the Yridians don't know that, and with these provenances, they'll never guess. The market value of the three icons was ten times what Quark paid Gash and the person from whom he'd bought the fakes. With two Yridians bidding against each other, whoever walked away with the icons was likely to pay considerably higher than market value.
Within minutes, he'd secured the provenances along with the fake icons in the floor vault, and gone to his comm unit to let the Yridians know that they could come anytime to inspect the merchandise.
Before he could make the call, however, a message came over the comm system. It was addressed to Ambassador Quark at Quark's Bar, Grill, Embassy, Gaming House, and Holosuite Arcade, a wholly owned subsidiary of Quark Enterprises, Inc., in cooperation with the government of the Ferengi Alliance. Well, nice to see they got the whole title right.
The message was from a Ferengi named Chek, who requested an immediate return reply. Quark racked his brain -- the name was very familiar -- and then he placed it. Chek Pharmaceuticals was one of the leading providers of medicinal drugs to the Ferengi Alliance.
What would the chairman of one of the leading pharmaceutical companies want with me? Of course, Quark realized, it could very well have been some diplomatic matter. In general, he liked the title of ambassador, as it gave him a certain clout that the title of "bartender" just didn't convey. It was also the same title that Worf carried, and having equal rank to that prune-juice-swilling oaf gave Quark a perverse satisfaction.
Either way, Quark heard profit in the wind. Putting the Yridians in the back of his mind, he returned the message, which got him a bored-looking functionary at Chek Pharmaceuticals.
"This is Ambassador Quark, returning Chek's call."
"I'm afraid Chek is very busy right now," the functionary droned. "You will have to try back at another time."
Normally at this point, Quark would forward a modest bribe to the functionary, but not this time. Let's take this diplomatic post out for a test ride. Besides, he called me. "If Chek is too busy, then obviously his need to speak to me was of no import. Tell him not to waste the embassy's time again."
That, as expected, got the functionary's attention. "Wait! Uh, hold on, I think he's coming out of a meeting right now. Please, don't cut the connection!" The screen then switched to the Chek Pharmaceuticals logo, along with their most recent jingle.
Quickly, Quark said, "Computer, mute!" but it was too late. The jingle was now running through his head. It'll be hours before I get this blasted tune out of my brain.
Still, that was a small price to pay for not having a small price to pay. Using his ambassadorship to get out of paying standard bribes was a very nice perk.
Chek himself came on a moment later. A Ferengi of medium-sized lobes, he had wide eyes, a thin nose, and particularly sharp teeth. He spoke for several seconds but no words issued forth from the speaker.
"Computer, sound," Quark said quickly. "I'm sorry, Chek, I'm having some trouble on this end, could you repeat what you said?"
Looking nonplussed for a moment -- Quark suspected that the man was not used to being interrupted -- Chek then recovered and said, "I was simply saying, Ambassador Quark, that it is a privilege to speak to you."
"Not at all. My comm lines are always open."
"That's very good to hear. I understand that the embassy is available for private functions -- for a small fee, of course."
Quark smiled. "I wouldn't call the fee all that small."
"I don't doubt it. After all, you offer a unique service: a piece of Ferenginar that isn't actually on Ferenginar. As it happens, that's precisely what I need. I've arranged for a group of ten businessmen to meet one week from tonight, and the embassy is the ideal site."
"The standard price for such a -- "
Chek interrupted before Quark could quote a figure that was in fact forty percent over his standard price. "I will pay you two bricks for the exclusive use of the embassy for all ten of us for the entire evening, including your games and holosuites."
Quark managed to control his reaction. Two bricks of gold-pressed latinum was a hundred and fifty percent higher than his standard price. "And what do you expect the extra latinum to buy you?"
Giving Quark the most insincere smile he'd seen since the last time he looked in the mirror, Chek said, "All I ask is that you join us for our meeting."
Having expected the answer to be something like free use of his dabo girls or unlimited food and drink, Quark was taken aback by the condition that was applied. "Me?"
"Yes, Ambassador. I believe you will have much to contribute to our discussion."
"And that discussion would be what, exactly?"
"Ferenginar. I assume you have a standard contract agreement for such a use of the embassy?"
Quark had to admit, he liked the way Chek made sure to refer to "the embassy," rather than "your bar" in the dismissive and condescending way most people referred to it. Pulling out his padd, he entered the code, then called up the very contract to which Chek was referring. "I'm preparing to send it right now," he said as he filled in Chek's name, the date, and the price. "Food and drink will be extra, you have to provide your own gambling stakes, and certain holosuite programs are off limits unless the user pays an extra fee." Before Chek could object, he said, "Rights issues, you understand."
"I understand when I'm being gouged, Ambassador. Food and drink will be supplied at no extra cost, and all holosuite programs and all holosuites will be available."
"All but one, yes. We have one holosuite that is permanently given over to a particular program. It's an open program, and you're welcome to use it, but it's set to stay on continuously."
"What is it?" Chek asked, sounding curious.
"A human program. I doubt you'd care for it."
Chek's face contracted. "Humans. Scourge of the galaxy."
Having adjusted the food-and-drink clause, Quark transmitted the contract.
"Thank you, Ambassador. I'll have my legal people look this over and get back to you within the day."
That surprised Quark. What self-respecting Ferengi would trust someone else to look over a contract? Especially a lawyer. The lowest profession on Ferenginar that didn't actually involve physical labor was that of lawyer, as lawyers were the worst kind of vermin: earning profit solely through the means of other people. One could argue -- indeed, most lawyers did argue -- that they were no different from investors, but few Ferengi bought so self-serving an argument. That he used such a creature brought Chek down several notches in Quark's estimation.
"I look forward to the signed agreement," Quark said.
"I look forward to signing it. See you in a week, Ambassador."
With that, Chek signed off.
An interesting conversation, Quark thought. Of particular interest was Chek's use of the word "businessmen." No "businesswomen," apparently, despite the new reforms.
It had been a couple of years since Grand Nagus Zek instituted his sweeping reforms, many of them inspired by his relationship with Quark's mother, Ishka. That madwoman had put several insane ideas into Zek's head, including the notion that females should be allowed to wear clothes, do business, talk to people outside their family, travel freely, and commit other obscene acts. Zek had named Rom as his successor in part because he expected Rom to continue those reforms. Now, a year after Rom's appointment, females were all over the Ferengi business world. It was enough to make one's lobes shrivel.
Chek says he and his businessmen want to talk about Ferenginar, and they want me there: the brother of the Grand Nagus. Quark wondered if Chek was familiar with Quark's diatribe after Rom's appointment, declaring his bar the last outpost of true Ferengi values.
By making this place an embassy, Rom has made a mockery of those words.
Now, he shoved those thoughts into the back of his head. There'd be time enough to curse his brother for being the biggest idiot in four quadrants later. Right now, he had a couple of Yridians to fleece.
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