Chapter 9: The Deal
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Chapter 9: The Deal

Wes froze.

Panic flared inside his chest at the mention of his Snagger name. No one, no one outside of Snagem knew him as Leo. So how...?

He willed himself to stay calm, to not let his shock show, but his mind was racing.

How did this man know? How did he know?

"Surprised?" Sherles asked breezily.

There was a light touch of smugness in his voice, and it was enough to pull Wes back to his senses. He folded his arms and regarded the Chief with a cool gaze. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Don't get cute with me, son. I know exactly who you are - and I know what that is, too." He jerked his head at the metal sleeve on Wes' arm.

How? How? How did he know?

"I'm sorry, but you must be mistaken. I have no idea what you're getting at." Wes maintained his icy stare.

Sherles sighed. "Very well, then." He pushed himself off of his desk and pulled an envelope from a stack of papers on its cluttered surface. He pulled a single photograph from it and handed it to Wes. "Perhaps this will convince you."

Wes stared at the picture. The metal building in the background was unmistakable; it was team Snagem's hideout, as it used to be before Wes destroyed it. And, walking in the foreground with Neo and Novo at his side, was Wes himself.

Questions, so many questions, were bursting through his mind. How did he get this picture? And who took it? And how did he know where to find the hideout in the first place? How?

Wes slowly looked back up at Sherles. "How did you-"

"I have my resources, Snagger," said Sherles smoothly as he retrieved the photo from Wes' hand and slid it back into its envelope.

Damn. Damn. Damn.

He was trapped. Utterly trapped. The only way out of this building was back through the door behind him, past the officer, past Rui. But maybe, just maybe...he had Neo and Novo...

As if they'd read his mind, his Pokémon tensed at his feet. A low growl rumbled from Novo's throat, and Neo's forehead jewel gleamed.

"I wouldn't think about running, if I were you." Sherles eyed the two Eons. "That photo is one thing, but trust me when I say I have more than enough evidence to incriminate you here and now. You walk out that door, and I'll have that rather recognizable face of yours posted everywhere from here to Gateon."

The jig was up. Wes dropped the act with a snarl. "And who's to say you'll catch me?"

"Oh, I may or may not be able to hunt you down, but if my information is correct - and I believe it is - I won't be the only organization looking for you, now, would I?"

Wes didn't answer.

Sherles smirked a little. "I thought so." He tipped his head back again. "Now, if you don't mind, I have a few questions for you. Care to tell me why you blew up the Snagem hideout?"

"That's none of your business."

"Considering you're a prime suspect in my office, I'd say it is my business, Lycas."

"Well if you're going to arrest me anyway, what's the point in telling you anything?" Wes snapped.

Sherles raised an eyebrow. "Arrest you? Who said I was going to arrest you, son?"

"That's why you have me here, isn't it?"

"No, as a matter of fact, it isn't."

Wes stared at him. "What?"

"I'm not here to arrest you," Sherles repeated. He rested back against his desk once more. "I'm here to cut you a deal."

There was a brief pause. Wes narrowed his eyes at the Chief. What was he playing at?

"For the last eighteen months, savage Pokémon attacks and sightings have been increasing around the city. I have reason to believe someone - or a gang, more likely - is responsible for this, though we have little evidence to test that theory or make any headway. That's where you come in, son."

Wes leaned against the wall behind him and glared at the man as he folded his arms. "I don't follow."

"My sources indicate that you spent quite a lot of time here in town on your Snagging missions, and are quite familiar with the locals - particularly the Trainers," Sherles said. "You're likely more integrated into that crowd than any of my officers...which is why I'd like you to go undercover for me."

Another pause.

At length, Wes said slowly, "Are you joking?"

"Do I look like I'm joking, son?"

He most certainly did not. That icy stare of his was as serious as ever. Wes snorted in disbelief. "And why would I help you?"

"Well, for starters, there's the fact that I have everything I need to arrest you where you stand, if I need to," said Sherles idly. "For another, if you lend us your cooperation...I'll make it worth your while."

"Prove it."

"I'll reduce your sentence - and, depending on how helpful you are, I might even be willing to waive all charges. I will see to it that you have a place to stay and operate from while you are here, and I'll make sure your Pokémon are taken care of."

Wes mulled this over in his mind. He hated being backed into a corner like this, and yet it didn't actually sound...all that terrible. "What would I do?"

"Mostly gather information. Tell us everything you know about Snagem - and that lovely little accessory of yours -" Sherles nodded again at the Snag Machine, "and report any sightings of savage Pokémon to us. Try to find out where they are coming from, and why. That sort of thing."

Well. That didn't sound too difficult at all. Wes leveled a wary gaze at Sherles. "How do I know this isn't a trap of some sort?"

"You mean, more than it already is?" Sherles asked wryly. "What more do I have to gain from you? I already have you where I want you."

He was absolutely right, and Wes hated him for it.

He continued to fix the Chief with a hard stare. "How did you know I'd be here?"

"As a matter of fact, I didn't. My informant has been tracking you for some time, but lost your trail at Phenac." He actually chuckled a little. "Having you resurface on my very doorstep was the last thing I expected - although, I didn't expect you to blow up that hideout, either. You're full of surprises, son."

Wes had latched onto the first part of Sherles' statement. "Who's your informant?"

"That's classified information."

Well, he didn't expect he'd get an answer, but it had been worth a shot. He went for his next question. "Why me?"

"Now that's a good question." Sherles straightened a little, regarding the Snagger with critical eyes. "Why would I want you, of all people? I certainly didn't intend to involve you originally - but then you went and pulled that stunt in Eclo Canyon, and it had me wondering what you knew. And where your loyalties lie. If I'm not mistaken, you were no ordinary Snagem grunt. You were the best they had, a top-tier worker, were you not?"

Wes steadily looked at him and refused to answer.

That gaze was so persistent. Unflinching. Sherles continued. "Not only are you a valuable source of information for me, you're also an important link, as I believe Snagem is behind these incidents with savage Pokémon."

"They're not," Wes said curtly.

"Oh? You know this for certain?"

Well...no, he didn't know for certain. But he did know one thing with absolute surety. "Snagem doesn't redistribute Pokémon. They only take and sell for a profit."

"And do you know where all the Pokémon go?"

"...No. I don't."

"Hm." Sherles grunted. "Then I'm maintaining my theory for now. But in the meantime, you still haven't given me your answer."

Wes paused. He glanced down at his Pokémon; they were both still on high alert, but had backed down and were crouched warily at their Trainer's feet, keeping Sherles under a watchful eye.

If he got arrested, Neo and Novo would be taken away...

He had no choice. They were the entire reason he'd left Snagem in the first place, and he was not about to lose his family. Not after everything they'd gone through.

He looked back up at the Chief. "I'll do it."

Sherles smiled and gave an approving nod. "A wise decision, I think."

"But," Wes said harshly, "I have my conditions."

Sherles' eyebrows shot up an inch or two. "Do you, now?"

"Yes." Wes knew he was in no position whatsoever to bargain, but he was going for it anyway. "One: I do this job for you, and not only do you waive my charges, you provide me with a passport."

"So it seems I was correct in assuming you would make for Gateon," Sherles grunted. "You dislike Orre that much, hm?"

"This region hasn't done me any favors."

"Interesting. I'm sure it could say the exact same thing about you."

Wes ignored this comment; he was well aware of what he'd "contributed" to the world so far. He wasn't proud of it, yet he couldn't help but venomously wonder: where was the rest of Orre, when he was just a child on the streets? Where were the police and the authorities then?

Nowhere. The one time - the one time - the police were actually competent at their job, it worked against him and not for him.

Of course.

"I have another condition," he said. "Nobody gets to know who I am. That information stays between you and me. I don't need to make it any easier for Snagem to find me."

The Chief narrowed his eyes. "And what about that rather innocent-looking girl you have with you? What's her role in all of this?"

"Nothing. We just happened to meet. I'm helping her find her way back home."

"You? Escorting a stranger? Forgive me if I find that very hard to believe, son."

"It's the truth," Wes said testily. "You can ask her yourself."

"Does she know who you are?"

"She knows about the Snag Machine but...no. Not me. And I intend to keep it that way." The less people knew who he was, the better...for multiple reasons. "In fact, she needs to get back to Agate, and you can help with that, right?"

Sherles nodded. "I don't see why not." He scrutinized him for a moment longer, as if digesting Wes' proposed conditions. "Is that all?"

"Yes."

He paused. "Very well, then," he said at length. "I agree to your demands, Lycas."

Wes was genuinely surprised to hear this. For what it was worth, the Chief really did seem to want his full cooperation.

"However," Sherles continued, "I will need to disclose your identity to one other person who is working closely with me on this case." At these words, he pulled a P*DA from the front pocket on his uniform and began typing a message.

Wes eyed him warily. "And who might that be?"

"Oh, I'm sure you know of him," Sherles said lightly. He slipped his device back in his pocket. "In fact, why don't we meet with him now?"

Perfectly on cue, the door beside Wes creaked open. He nearly jumped at the sudden entrance, but managed to just barely hide his surprise. Novo tensed and growled as the newcomer stepped into the room, and Neo leaned against his Trainer with a soft, concerned chirp.

If the office felt small before, it was certainly crowded now. The man that slipped inside and shut the door behind him was much, much larger than the average human; he was almost big enough to make Wes wonder if he was human - but then again, he'd lived most of his life under the figurative and literal shadow of his massively oversized boss, so the man's size wasn't entirely new to him.

The visitor folded his giant, muscular arms and stepped back against the right-hand wall so as to get a good view of both Wes and Sherles. Wes didn't recognize this man immediately; he thought the auburn hair and mustache somewhat rang a bell, but his face was not overly familiar to him.

"Duking," Sherles greeted the impressively sized man with a nod. "I'd like to introduce you to our new recruit." He gestured to Wes.

The man called Duking shot a sideways glance at the Chief. "Is this him? The Snagger?" His voice was deep and impressive, like rumbling thunder.

"Yes."

Duking narrowed his eyes as he scanned Wes from head to foot. His eyes rested for a moment on the machine on Wes' arm. He then met Wes' gaze with an unimpressed expression.

"So," he said curtly, "you're a Pokémon thief."

"Former Pokémon thief," Wes growled. He matched Duking's glare with his.

"Ah, yes. Very reassuring." The reply was dripping with sarcasm. Duking turned to the Chief. "Sherles, just what are you tryin' to pull?"

"Nothing," said Sherles evenly. "He's agreed to work with us, and he's our best shot at making any progress on this case."

Duking grunted. "I know we said we'd have to get outside our comfort zones to get to the bottom of this..." He fixed his gaze back onto Wes. "...but I'm still not sure about throwing in with his lot."

Those last two words grated in Wes' ears. Anger bubbled in his chest. "Don't lump me in with the rest of them," he said quietly.

"Oh, so you're above them, are you?" Duking scoffed. "Think you're better than the rest of your peers because you were the best at the dirty work?"

Wes was about to offer a scathing retort when Sherles stepped in. "What matters, Duking, is that he's giving us his cooperation, and we need it," he said sternly. "Additionally, he needs a place to stay while here in Pyrite, and your place is a good as any."

"If you think I'm housing a criminal under the same roof as my kids, Sherles, you've got another think coming." Duking's voice was little more than a low growl.

Wes scoffed at this. "What would I have to gain by harming your family? You think I actually want to be here?"

"Listen, kid, I don't need another reason to have a target on my back. I've got enough on my plate tryin' to run this city and get to the bottom of these Pokémon attacks, and I don't need to be sheltering the likes of you."

A realization dawned on Wes at that last statement. "You're the mayor." He snorted and tipped his head back, folding his arms again. "I should have known."

The Pyrite man snarled at him. "And what's that supposed to mean?"

"I mean it's obvious. Hiring other people to do all the dirty work for you while treating them as less-than? Sounds like every other authority figure to me."

"Don't get snarky with me, kid. I've been serving Pyrite since before you were born, and I don't need my name associated with criminals."

"Spoken like a true politician."

Duking's eyes flashed; he stepped forward menacingly, his massive form filling the room as he did so. Neo and Novo sprang in front of their Trainer, their snarls filling the small space -

"Enough!" Sherles barked. He stepped in between Wes and Duking, warding the mayor off with one arm and glaring at them in turn. "Both of you - sit back and shut the hell up. None of us are getting anywhere until you can figure out how to be civil and work on this case together. Duking, you will house this young man and I will personally see to it that he behaves while he is here. And you -" he shot daggers at Wes - "watch that smart mouth of yours. This man has done more for this town than you've done for anything in your entire life, and he deserves your respect."

Respect. Wes hated that word. It was the word of authoritarians and tyrants and men drunk with power. It was the word that was shoved down his throat daily in Snagem, one that forced him to keep his head down and eyes low if he didn't want an unprovoked beating. It was one that nearly took his Pokémon, his family, his everything, away from him.

Respect. It was a dirty word , one that left a bitter taste in his mouth whenever he heard it.

Still, he said nothing and only gave a curt nod to the Chief in response, though he kept his eyes focused on Duking. The large man glared back at him for a minute longer, then backed down, grumbling under his breath. Sherles narrowed his eyes at Wes' growling Pokémon. "And while we're at it, return them both. We don't need things getting ugly in here."

Wes clenched his teeth in frustration, but he did as told. Neo and Novo vanished into their Pokeballs.

Sherles relaxed a little and adjusted his uniform with a small cough. "Right then," he said. "Before we continue, Mr. Lycas has a few conditions upon agreeing to work with us." He listed off Wes' demands to Duking, who listened with an increasingly sour expression.

You mean work for you. As if he'd ever willingly volunteer for such a ridiculous project himself.

Still, if this deal really was as good as Sherles made it out to be - though he didn't give much weight to the man's word just yet - then it would mean a much easier time of getting out of Orre. A slower method, but a cleaner one...a safer one.

"Very well," Duking's rumbling voice pulled Wes from his thoughts. "I don't like this setup, Chief...but I'll put my faith in you."

"Thank you, Duking," said Sherles. "I do think we can count on him." He nodded towards Wes as he spoke.

Duking turned his attention back to the Snagger. "I'm warning you now, kid," he said darkly, "you make even one indication that you plan to harm my family, and I will personally see to it that you are locked away for the rest of your life."

Wes glowered up at him. He disliked this man more and more with every word that came out of his mouth.

"Don't call me 'kid'," he said softly.

"I'll call you whatever the hell I want."

A snarl rose in Wes' throat, but before he could say anything more, Sherles interrupted once again. "Let's get to business, shall we?" he said briskly. "Lycas, I believe you said you had some dangerous Pokémon to turn in. We'll take a look at these Pokémon tomorrow, but first, let's get your...ah, friend on her way home."

She's not my friend, Wes said silently. He decided not to bother with semantics, however.

"Hold on, are you talking about that girl out there?" Duking asked Sherles with a frown. "She's with him?"

"Yes," Wes spoke up sharply before Sherles could say anything, "I'm just helping her get home. Nothing more."

The Pyrite mayor's gaze burned into him. "How do we know you're not taking advantage of her somehow?"

Fury seethed inside him. Sure, men like Gonzap and Wakin were not above taking advantage of women at any given opportunity, but Wes was not Gonzap, he was not Wakin, and how dare this man accuse him of such a thing, how dare he -

"I'm confident he's telling the truth," said Sherles. "But we can always confirm with the young lady herself and make sure the stories line up." He nodded to Wes. "I believe we're done here, for now. Let's get things situated."

He crossed the room and opened the door, gesturing Wes to leave first. Wes exchanged one more scathing look with Duking before stepping back out into the lobby.

The officer outside, he noted, was no longer trying to balance a pencil on his lip; seeing the mayor step in likely had a hand in that. Sherles did, however, quickly dismiss him from the lobby as he emerged.

Rui, still seated in her chair near the front door, perked up at the sight of Wes emerging from the office. "Wes! That...um, took a while..." her smile faltered at the sight of Duking and Sherles behind him, her face a mask of confusion. She shot him a sideways glance. "I, uh, saw the mayor step in...what's going on?"

Before Wes could answer, Sherles clapped a hand on his shoulder, and the sudden touch nearly made him jump out of his skin. Arceus. Why were people so touchy all the time? Between all the contact with strangers, and Rui clinging to him over the last few days, he'd had more than enough of it and was at his limit.

"Miss Everlin." Sherles beamed at her kindly. "Your friend is a volunteer helping us with our investigation here in Pyrite, so he'll be in town for a while. But don't you worry, we'll arrange transportation for you to get back home."

A whirlwind of expressions flickered across Rui's face all at once like a photo reel: joy, shock, confusion, and then...doubt. Her eyes flicked between Wes and the Chief. "...Really?"

Sherles didn't answer this immediately, so Wes assumed that was his cue to speak up. "Um. Yes. We talked about the case, and the Pokémon we...we got..." Damn. He was usually better prepared for these things, but at the moment he felt so put on the spot. He consciously resisted the urge to rub the back of his head in a nervous fidget.

"No need to be modest, son," Sherles said cheerfully. "Why, this case is why you're here in the first place! I respect your desire to keep things confidential, but I'm sure this young lady is trustworthy with some of the details."

Rui looked more confused than ever. "What?"

Wes was even more bewildered than she was, though he made sure not to show it. What was Sherles getting at?

The Chief threw Wes an incredulous look. "Does she not know why you have the Snag Machine?"

Wes met his expression. Just play along. "Well...not the whole reason, no."

Sherles barked out a laugh. "Look at you, being so modest!" He turned to Rui with a grin. "This young man has been with us for some time, Miss Everlin - not too long, mind you, but he's worked with us to expose the Snagem hideout and steal the Snag Machine to help us in our investigation. Truly, we'd be at quite a loss without him."

Rui's eyes widened in shock. She stared at Wes, utterly dumbfounded. "Is...is this true?"

He merely gave a curt nod.

She jumped to her feet and grabbed him by the shoulders, her face far too close to his. Mew have mercy, his bubble was being violated so many times today. "Wes! That's amazing! I didn't - I had no idea - I understand now! Why you have that machine, why you caught those Pokémon...this all makes sense!"

It does? he thought numbly. His mind was still spinning with the turn of events. What was happening? How did he end up here - in Pyrite, in the middle of a police investigation, when all he'd meant to do was flee to Gateon?

Rui paused for a moment. "Hold on, is that even your real name? Should I call you Wes?"

He gingerly pried her off of him and pushed her back until she was at an acceptable distance. "Yes, that's my name. You can keep calling me that."

She grinned at him; she was taking this all remarkably well, he thought. "I can't believe - I was spouting off to you about helping those Pokémon, but you've been on top of it all along! You're incredible!"

Oh, no. No.

Wes was fine with lying; he'd done it often enough, had developed the skill for it, but this was a whole new level. He was not comfortable with pretending to be some...undercover hero. He was the furthest thing from that.

Still, he had to roll with it, at least for now. He didn't have much of a choice.

"Well, we should get you home," he said. "I'm sure your family is worried about you-"

"Wait!" Rui's face lit up. "I - I want to join the investigation!"

Oh, for the love of Arceus -

Sherles looked taken aback. Duking spoke up from behind Wes. "I'm sorry, I don't believe I got your name, Miss...?"

"Rui Everlin, sir," she said with her usual slight bow. Her eyes were vibrant with excitement. "And I think - no, I know I'd be a really valuable addition to the case, and I'd really like to volunteer if you'll have me!"

"And...what makes you say that, Miss Everlin?" Duking asked politely.

Rui shot Wes a look. "You didn't tell them?"

"...No."

She frowned at him before turning to Sherles. "You see, Chief, I can see the auras of Pokémon...and I can detect which ones are dangerous by their aura."

Sherles cocked an eyebrow and threw Wes a sideways glance.

"It's true," he muttered. "That's how we got the Pokémon in Phenac."

"Well..." Sherles trailed off with a contemplative expression. "That does sound useful, Miss Everlin. But...are you certain about this? This is a dangerous mission, and you must be eager to get home, not to mention your family-"

"That's alright!" Wes had never seen Rui so excited - which was saying something, he noted. "I can explain everything to them, they'll understand - if you'll have me, that is..."

"Hm. What do you think, Lycas?" Sherles looked at him; neither of them had been prepared for Rui's enthusiastic offer. Wes could say no...but the blazing passion in Rui's eyes would not be easily dissuaded, and he was sure she would fight fiercely for her cause.

"That's...fine, I suppose," he said tersely.

Rui beamed, and before Wes could react, she threw herself at him in a tight embrace. "Thank you, Wes! Thank you!"

Sweet merciful Arceus above get off me.

"It's - it's fine, really," he said stiffly. He moved to pry her off of him a second time, but to his immense relief, she pulled away of her own accord.

He was so glad to be free of her grip he almost didn't notice the frown on her face. "Why didn't you tell them I can see aura?"

"I...didn't want you to get involved." It was technically the truth, but in the current context, it sounded...so much nobler than it actually was.

He hated it.

Rui's face softened and her smile returned. "You worry too much."

Apparently not enough, if he'd gotten himself into this mess.

Sherles turned to Duking. "Well, this is a bit of a last minute adjustment...Duking, I don't suppose you'd have room for her as well...?"

Wes saw him wave his hand nonchalantly in his peripheral vision. "Not to worry. We have plenty of space."

"Oh-" Rui looked at him with concern. "I didn't think about - I'm sorry - I won't be a bother, will I?"

Duking chuckled - a warm and genuine one, from what Wes could tell. "No need to fret, miss. We'll be happy to have you. In fact, my daughter will be thrilled to have another lady in the house. I think she feels a bit outnumbered these days."

Rui grinned at him. "Thank you so much, Mr. Mayor."

"Please. Call me Duking."

Wes resisted the urge to give a derisive snort. Such a different response from what he'd been given...although, Rui had no criminal activity to her name, and her very existence screamed "wholesome and trustworthy" so loudly she might as well have plastered it on her forehead.

He supposed he didn't have any of that going for him.

"Well, then, that settles it," Sherles said brightly. "I have more work to attend to in my office, but Duking will help you get settled in and we can get started in the morning." His eyes rested briefly on Wes as he spoke, and though his face was cheerful, there was a warning glint in his gaze: don't you dare try anything.

Wes briefly glanced at Duking; he wouldn't be able to try anything no matter how much he wanted to. He knew that much.

Duking ushered them out the door and led the way to his home as Rui struck up a conversation with him. Wes could only follow in a daze as the early evening sun warmed them from behind with golden light, with one thought running through his mind in a constant loop:

How, how, how did his simple plan to get to Gateon go so absurdly wrong?

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