Frank Bonner was a shrewd man. He knew the smell of money, and he didn't need to have Sentinel senses to feel a good deal when one was in the making. And as he studied the tall man beside him, he knew that this was going to be a profitable venture. Business was booming, and he could ask for top dollar, what with the risk and all. And he did ask premium prices, especially for the stock he had today.
"Well, Sentinel Ellison, I think you'll be pleased with the selection we have today. We have some newly acquired stock and they are of extremely high quality," he said, not quite grovelling but more than aware of the status this man should be given. Bonner signalled one of his workers to bring out the merchandise. "I am sure we'll have something in your tastes."
The Sentinel didn't say a word, simply stood with his arms crossed over his chest, a disinterested look on his face. But Bonner could sense the underlying tension of an unbonded Sentinel who was looking for a bondmate. The man's icy blue eyes had nervous wrinkles in the corners, and his shoulders were stiffly squared. This was a man who was on the knife edge and needed someone, in particular a Guide, to keep him sane.
All Sentinels needed one. The modern world was just too much to handle for those with fully developed senses. The recognition that there were those who were psychologically and physiologically perfect for the job of guiding Sentinels through their sensory over-loaded lives had been a discovery that rocked the world. Richard Burton had gotten a Nobel Peace Prize for his work and breakthrough in Sentinel Studies. Ever since, Sentinels and their Guides had taken their place in society as protectors and guardians, saving and rescuing lives.
And where willing Guides couldn't be found, Sentinels turned to Bonner, just like this unlucky son-of-a-bitch. Bonner wasn't envious of Sentinels. He'd seen to many of them driven to the point of madness without the stabilizing presence of a Guide. But for some reason, the government wasn't ready to make the bonds mandatory, and Guides frequently rejected their calling. Bonner was more forward looking. He saw the great contribution Sentinels made in the world. It was his patriotic duty to provide help to the Sentinels who sought him out. And the hundreds of thousands they were prepared to pay didn't make his job any more difficult.
He smiled to himself. This was going to be one of the more profitable deals yet.
His second in command, Marcus, along with three other workers ushered in the goods; seven unbonded Guides. They nervously huddled in a group, dressed in plain blue overalls, woolen socks and wrist manacles that allowed them some, albeit limited, motion. They varied in range, although all were fairly young. The oldest was thirty five and Bonner knew he was probably going to go unsold, which was unfortunate, for the Guide and for Bonner.
Bonner watched as the Sentinel scanned them, the intent look on his face indicating he was inspecting them more closely than Bonner had. And Bonner had been very, very thorough.
"Any one in particular strike your fancy?" he asked. He gave Marcus a nod, and the burly man shoved the group apart, forcing them in to a fairly straight line with cuffs to the back of the head and jabs in the small of the back.
"That one." The growl was low and needy.
"Ah, a fine choice," Bonner said with a smile, as if he were helping the other man select a bottle of wine. "He's not too young, but he's unbroken. He'll require some work, and for that we can give you a bit of a discount. Healthy though, only a few marks for some discipline problems. Markus! Bring Blair over here."
Markus complied, singling out one of the shorter men standing in the line. He grabbed him by the elbow and steered him roughly towards the duo. The young Guide came to about Bonner's chin, and the Sentinel's shoulders. He had long hair, just past his shoulders, and Bonner had been tempted to cut it all off for ease of marketing. Ultimately he decided it gave the Guide a more exotic look so the curls stayed. Anything to raise the price.
Intelligent blue eyes completed the rather nice package, and they currently were filled with a simmering rage that the strongest conditioning wasn't able to break. Mind you, he had only had the young man for two weeks. Given more time, he might have been able to mould the Guide into the proper semblance of a submissive bondmate, but he had to move the merchandise quickly. Speed was of the essence, and Cascade was becoming a hot place to do business. Bonner was eager to move on to more safe locales away from the peering eyes of the authorities.
"What's his full name?" the Sentinel growled.
"Blair Sandburg. He was an anthropology graduate student before we picked him up. Smart as a tack and very fit," Bonner replied, grasping the nape of the Guide's neck and pulling him closer. Ellison's eyes narrowed at the slight bruising visible at the collar of the overalls.
"Just what sort of discipline have you been using?"
"Nothing too serious. Marcus had to teach him a little lesson when our regular methods were failing to have the desired results."
"Perhaps a demonstration is in order. It will be useful if you decide to take this one, as he's not quite as submissive as the others." Bonner pulled up the arm of the coverall to reveal a thin metal bracelet tight around the Guide's wrist. "My cousin developed this. Quite ingenious really. You take this--" He pulled a small remote device from his pocket. "--and when they refuse to obey, just press this button." The Guide let a gasp escape from tightly pressed lips, his eyes tightening with pain. His hands clenched into fists and his breath came in short pants until Bonner finally let go of the button.
"Electro-shock?" Ellison asked, his eyes keenly taking in the small remote.
"The smallest of it's kind. And no one has to know he has it on. He can't take it off without the key, which we'll provide of course." Bonner handed the remote to the Sentinel. This sale was practically in the bag. "He'll be taking orders in no time."
"I'll take him."
"Excellent! If you'll just step into my office we can conclude the transaction. I'm afraid I only accept cash. It doesn't leave a paper trail, you understand."
Bonner wasn't sure what happened next. One minute they were turning towards his office, the next, the Sentinel had a gun in his hand, pressing it against the back of his neck. The main door of the warehouse burst open under the weight of a police-ram and flak-jacketed officers spilled into the room.
"I wouldn't move if I were you. I've been having a really bad two weeks and my finger's just a little bit jumpy," the Sentinel purred in his ear. Bonner tried to breathe very slowly, his heart thumping in his chest. The Sentinel spoke again. "Where are the keys to the cuffs and that damn bracelet?"
"In my pocket," Bonner replied, his suddenly dry and hoarse. The Sentinel fished around and drew out the key ring. He pulled Bonner around and handed him over to one of the officers milling about, taking Bonner's men into custody. As his hands were being tightly cuffed, Bonner watched as the Sentinel walked over to the Guide and gently undid the bracelet and cuffs.
"You okay, Chief?" He asked the younger man, cupping the back of his head.
"Yeah, man. But you know what? Next time one of us has to go undercover, you get to wear the electric jewellery, okay?" Sandburg grinned and rubbed his wrists. "And these overalls are just so passe."
The Sentinel's face transformed as he laughed, moving from solid stone to friendly warmth. "It's a deal, Chief. It's a deal."
A flicker of something ran over the younger man's face. "I'm glad it's over," he said quietly.
The Sentinel didn't even hesitate, wrapping his arms around his Guide and hugging him tightly. He murmured something too soft for Bonner to discern, but whatever it was worked, as the Guide followed suit, embracing his Sentinel just as strongly. They were oblivious to the outside world as the other Guides were released and ushered out into the daylight.
As Bonner was led outside, he cursed his foul luck. Almost a million in sales down the drain.
Damn bond pairs.