This story is by Salim R and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The three knocks echoed inside the cellar.
Jason’s heart quickened. He inched his gaze upwards, weak from the blows and from being tied to a chair for three days.
The two guards drew their guns.
Maximus stepped inside. The dangerous streak in his tall stature, broad shoulders and assured gait fascinated men and women alike. Everybody feared Matteo, the Godfather; next in line was that man.
He ambled towards Jason, his leather soles resonating in the chamber. He pulled a chair, sat cross-legged, ankle on knee, and took a drag from his cigarette. Through the smoke, he studied the prisoner.
“You’d like a chance at redemption?”
Jason squinted. “Redemption? What do you want me to do?”
“Nothing complicated. Matteo wants you to marry his daughter. In return, he will forget about the two million dollars you owe him.”
He stared at Maximus. “Anna?”
Steel-blue eyes stared back.
He let out a nervous laugh. “But why?”
“It would seem that she loves you. And there’s nothing that Matteo loves more than his daughter.”
The explanation produced a sneer. “Is this a joke?”
“I thought the same. Why would anyone want to marry you?”
Jason sniggered. “No way!” he blurted.
“Acid cleans bones pretty well. Human ones too.”
Jason hesitated. “But she’s a fat cow! I can’t marry her.”
Maximus leant back and blew a smoke ring towards the ceiling.
“But pretty enough to be kissed under an oak tree?”
“We were fourteen years old!”
“What about when you danced with her and offered her flowers in front of everybody?”
“It was a dare. Annabelle and Sandra challenged me.”
“She spent two days with you when your mother died.”
“I… I was a mess! Anybody would have been welcomed at such a time. Come on! My girlfriend, Jennifer, is a top-model… My previous girlfriend, Samantha, was an actress. I would become the laughing-stock of the country. And… she’s a whale!”
Maximus rose from his chair.
“How did she become like that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe it had something to do with you putting her down publicly.”
“Oh… come on! She stuffs herself all day long! That’s how she’s become ugly as fuck.”
“Alright. The acid drum it will be.”
Jason was sweating. There was no escape. “If I have to die… I need a favour from you.”
“No acid. Shoot me. But don’t stand in front of me… Go behind me and shoot me.”
Maximus dropped the dying cigarette and crushed it beneath his heel. His lips curved into a contemptuous smile. “From behind… Like a coward.”
He took a step towards him. “You’d rather be dead than marry her?”
“I won’t be able to live through this humiliation. This is beyond me. I can’t imagine myself fucking the Michelin-woman.”
“Your choice. But I can’t shoot you. Matteo said the drum of acid. So, the drum of acid it will be.”
Maximus signalled the two guards. They grabbed both sides of the chair and, in one movement, heaved it with its occupant onto a hook which hanged from a chain, suspended to a rail fixed on the roof.
They yanked the chains downwards and Jason shrieked as he shot three metres upwards in a clatter of metal.
One guard moved to his left and pulled on another chain. The ticking sound of the metal ball bearings accompanied Jason’s motion towards the drum.
“Stop! Stop!” he pleaded.
The thick brute chuckled and pulled some more. No amount of writhing or jerking could set him free.
Trembling and drenched in sweat, he glanced at Maximus who stood hands behind his back.
“Maximus, you cannot do this!” But he knew he could.
He peeked downwards and glimpsed the reflection of his terror-stricken face in the liquid.
The chain slackened and he slumped one foot.
The chamber reverberated with his scream.
“No… Maximus… Jesus! Jesus! Save me… help me…”
He dipped one more foot.
Shaking, he howled his lungs out as tears rolled down his cheeks.
One more foot.
“I agree… God! I agree… I will marry her… I will marry her… Save me! Save me! Please…”
Maximus raised one hand. The guard stopped, disappointed.
“Did I hear correctly?”
“Yes! Yes! Oh God! Get me out of here! Please!”
“Boys! The groom has given his consent. Take good care of him. We have a wedding to celebrate.”
The wedding was scheduled to be held in Las Vegas on Anna’s birthday, March the 14th. Jason found solace in alcohol. On the first of March, he received a call from Maximus; Anna had made reservations for dinner with him, in her favourite restaurant in London, the next day. He was to take a plane and meet her there.
Matteo was pleased at the news.
Jason smashed his bottle of whisky and burst into tears.
London was its usual grey. The plane landed at one o’clock. Maximus wanted to meet him before he went to his hotel. A car picked Jason at Heathrow and stopped thirty minutes later next to a worn-down warehouse, in an empty street.
“Where are we?” he asked the driver.
A death-stare met his question. Jason hastened outside and the car departed.
“Where the fuck am I?” he muttered.
Bodies of old cars laid scattered in the yard next to the building. A gust ruffled the tall trees behind it.
His heart skipped a beat. He turned round.
“Maximus! You startled me.” He let off a nervous chuckle.
Maximus was carrying a mallette. He handed it to him.
“What’s this for?”
“It contains a passport under a new name, some money, keys to a bank-safe and a list of contacts who could help you. There is a car waiting for you at the next intersection.”
“Why? Where’s Anna?”
“Anna’s not coming. She also asked me to give you this.”
He handed him a white envelope.
Jason tore it open and read three lines written on a piece of paper:
“I would never want to be the cause of your misery. I wish you love and happiness.
He waved the piece of paper, aware of the tightness creeping into his gut.
“What’s this? Why is she not coming?”
Maximus lit a cigarette, inhaled the fumes and exhaled slowly. “She offered to marry you only to save your life.”
Jason shot him an incredulous look. The tremor inside him was growing by the second. “Save me? That’s so stupid. Matteo will be looking for me.”
“Shut your arse! The stupid one is you.”
Maximus pulled some more on his cigarette.
“It will depend on how fast you move. But Matteo will not be able to go after you just now. She has taken care of that.”
“She has given the FBI all his account books and has testified against him.”
Jason choked on his own saliva. “She… she has betrayed her father. Is she mad? He will kill her. What did she do that for?”
“To save you.”
“She loved you.”
Blood was pounding in Jason’s head.
“Loved… what do you mean?”
“The FBI took her in a car… There was a bomb inside… Forensics could not tell the bodies apart.”
Jason was shaking. He held his head in his hands.
“But… but… why?”
“Because she loved you, you fucking idiot. Because she knew her father would not spare you. Matteo does not forgive and does not forget. He made that mistake only once. That was you. And it has cost him everything. She chose to betray her father for you. She knew she would pay the price.”
“Oh no! Poor girl.”
“Keep your pity to yourself, you self-entitled faggot!”
The venom in his voice compelled Jason to meet Maximus’s gaze.
And it struck him.
“You loved her?”
Something cracked as Maximus’s knuckles met his cheekbone. Jason went sprawling on the ground, dazed. He lay on his back and tasted the blood trickling down his nose. Maximus stood over him, ready for another swing. They stayed motionless, eyes locked.
“Kill me,” murmured Jason.
“What?” Maximus threw his cigarette on the pavement. “And Anna would have died for nothing? You piece of shit! It’s always about you, isn’t it?”
Jason yelled as Maximus swung his boot into his ribs. He barely had time to catch his breath when another hit his stomach. He rolled and writhed but the nauseating furnace inside was harder to bear than the blows. So he welcomed them. He cried and whined but did not try to stop him; it felt like redemption.
A horn blared in the distance.
The blows stopped. Maximus was panting.
“Grow up, you idiot…”
He turned on his heels, took a step but stopped to glance over his shoulder.
“And grow some heart too.”
His footsteps resonated in the empty street as he walked away.
A cold breeze wheezed along.
Curled up on the pavement, Jason sobbed and moaned, wishing for a death he now understood he could not afford.