This story is by Sean Richardson and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
He couldn’t make out their faces in the gathering gloom. Their body outlines cut a contour through the receding evening light. He spied a bulge peaking from under their jackets. The taller one taking two steps closer stared directly into Daniel’s eyes. The fitted blue jeans followed the muscular outline of his legs ending at the black motorcycle boots. Legs splayed apart and hands in his jacket, he commanded the space between them. Daniel held his ground, returning the glare to combat the threat.
The shorter one, a black bomber jacket wrapped around his thickset frame, his small belly resting on the dark chino, sized up Daniel. His teeth flickered white in the shadows as Daniel watched him work the gum in his mouth. Over and over his cheeks rolled up and down, his two-day growth moved in waves across his face, the dark bristles sprinkled with glitters of light.
The shorter one returned the greeting, agreeing it was a good evening but then questioned “Who are you?”
Daniel stood off. “I’m here searching for a message in a bottle.” The instructions were clear, if he was to be granted the keys to his new life.
“Well my friend you may be lucky. I have a bottle with me. Perhaps we can have a drink inside.” The taller one grabbed the door with one large hand, his two hard tugs forced the doors open. The rusty hinges reluctant to open, creaked and groaned under the force. The click of a switch squeezed light from a globe beyond the door.
Daniel looked at the two, paused. Alone, the last step between them marked the Rubicon, he swallowed and took a stride towards the dull light assuring the shorter man “I could use a drink right now.”
Waved through the door Daniel eyed the dull insides; dusty concrete floor, old ropes and various pieces of boats hung around the walls. His guts were knotted and tangled, the stale smells filled his nose with a pungent odour of old wharves, fishing boats, wet rope and damp timber soaked in the aged air. His eyes adjusted to the dim light, the clunk of glasses and a bottle on the wooden table filled the silence. Daniel watched the taller man pour shots of vodka. The tattooed hand stretched into the circle of light over the table. The large hand manoeuvred the bottle and slid a single vodka shot towards Daniel. The symbol on the back of the hand caught Daniel’s attention.
The slim rectangular box was slipped from Daniel’s pocket and skated across the table in return. A black Maltese cross set in its lid caught the light.
The shorter man, a glass in one hand, intercepted the box.
Daniel glanced at the short one, concentrated his stare to penetrate the darkness of the taller man’s face. Daniel licked his bottom lip, his payoff only moments away.
Their heads flipped back to open their throats to welcome the shot of vodka.
The thump in the middle of his back thrust Daniel towards the brown table. The bottle on the table top accelerated towards him. A desperate throw of his hands on the table to cushion the impact against the wooden top, instead a searing heat of his head colliding into the table imprinted a sting from eye socket to cheek.
The pointy bone of a shoulder crushed into Daniel’s spine compressing his body against the table. He squirmed to relieve the pressure.
“Stop, stop.” The short man yelled into Daniel’s ear. Drops of perspiration collided with the table. Against the weight of the larger body, he forced rancid air into his lungs. This is it, there would be no new life, he would die alone. At the thought Daniel surged to break the hold.
The bristled face appeared in his sight. “Stop struggling you idiot.”
Daniel’s outstretched hands gripped tighter on the table edge. The knuckles of the short man crunched into his ribs; wind escaped from his lungs. His struggle subdued; eyes wide open, the cracked veins of the wooden table top filled his sight. He sucked hard for a little breath. The shorter man leant in close, clamping Daniel’s hands to the table. The cocktail of sweat, alcohol and marine diesel triggered a gag in his throat.
“Listen, we are here to deliver your money – if you have done your job.”
His right arm levered midway up his back, the pain shot from his shoulder joint down his chest. Daniel struggled to relieve the pain. Sweat mixed with drops of blood on the table.
“This is your money.” The shorter one waved a white bag across Daniel’s sight. “And the box?” The ornate lid was flicked open.
The raspy voice filled his ear. Daniel caught another whiff of stale alcohol.
“The box was to be full. Our friends would be very upset, if I told them.”
Sandwiched between two immovable objects, saliva leaked from his mouth between the short gasps for air, his chest pinned to the table.
“I’m giving you a taste of your money. A deposit to finish the job.”
““What about the rest?” Daniel squeezed out amongst the short shallow breathes. “Argh…We – we have a deal.”
“You’re a clever guy. Make a down payment on your debts, a payment on your life.”
The heat from the short man’s breath radiated to Daniel’s cheek. The box slammed alongside Daniel’s nose, retrieved by a large hand from behind his head.
“I think you need to finish the job, yes?” The short man broke into a small chuckle.
“My friends take disappointments very personally. They told me to use my discretion.” Daniel’s arm wrenched a millimetre higher up his back, blood pulsed through his hearing, his groan drowned by the low bass chuckle “I like pain to get the result.”
“I did my job, the… the box – 6 gold Caravaggio coins is all there was. I want my money. Tell your friends they had it wrong.” Daniel twisted, locked his eyes on the short man’s glare.” If I don’t get my fucking money…” His spittle sprayed the short man.
Jerked from the table, his thighs flexed and tried valiantly to straighten his body.
“You understand, Daniel?”
The large hand grabbed his throat, the madman’s eyes bore into Daniel’s brain. Daniel locked and then shifted his glare to resist the eyes – this was the moment. Liquid trickled from the top of his eye socket; a red blur slid past his view. He forced a yell that only squeaked out, to be heard by no-one who cared. Allowed to sink to his knees Daniel searched for breath.
“Here’s your money. Get out. Don’t forget – finish your job.”
Daniel’s mouth exploded open for his next breath, holding his belly with one arm, he reached over and pulled the bundle of notes to his chest. The tall man grabbed Daniel’s collar. Thrust headlong through the open door and into fresh air, his eyes adjusted to the darkening shadows that were taking hold. He stumbled into the open, towards the water, survival instinct busy sucking oxygen deep into his chest.
The salty fresh air of the harbour wrapping itself around his aching body, the wad of notes clutched to his stomach. He lent against a low wall. Hunched over hugging his pain, Daniel watched them stride to the grey outline of a small runabout.
The expanse of dark harbour water had become home to a swarm of small yellow water taxis darting between ports, churning the surface into white wash.
He fixed on the remnants of sunshine that leaked over the Valletta walls steadily pushing a dark shadow line across the harbour towards the stone buildings of the old city. The low wash of the taxis clashed with the curling waves of the fishing boats that powered their way towards the harbour entrance, spreading out to avoid the large cruise liner churning through ocean waters into the harbour. Hundreds of tonnes of metal cutting through the wash, tossed the small runabout from side to side straining at its rope.
The shorter man standing at the throttle rocked about, waving the white bag at Daniel, his smile bright in the gloom. Over the revving two-stroke engine, eager to beat the path of the cruise liner, he screamed at the taller man to hurry.
Long muscular legs straddled the gap from boat to wharf, the straining dirty white rope released from its tie down point was flipped in an arc. Looped around the short one’s neck, the large hands snapped the white rope tight.
The boat’s accelerator was locked down, its engine revved harder. The large stride from the runabout brought the taller man to the shore. His tattooed hand flung the white money bag to Daniel’s feet. “Brother, I’ll keep the gold coins.”
The runabout’s harsh engine buzz receded into the darkness. They watched the shorter man alone in the bottom of a boat carried headlong into the Liner’s path.