Malloy entered his darkened apartment and threw his keys on the nearby table he had situated near the door. Closing the front door shut, Malloy leaned against it, blowing a heavy sigh.
"I can't do this work anymore," he moaned, fighting the urge to cry. "Why? Why me? Why isn't anyone going to save me?" Malloy yawned and rubbed at his eyes as he entered his apartment's interior. He pulled out of his coat, shucking it aside on a chair once he went toward the windows in the front room and drew the shades from the early morning light that filtered in. Making his way for his bedroom, he paused at the door when he smelled a faint scent of rose perfume and he noticed a body in his bed.
"Hey," he called, "aren't you in the wrong bed?"
"Hm?" a soft voice murmured. Malloy stood frozen at the doorway, unable to enter.
"Are you here to kill me or something?" Malloy asked timidly. "Look, I don't have anything, okay? Take what you want!" He stiffened as the mysterious person moved and the lamp switched on. A woman with long disheveled brown hair that had the sheets wrapped around her waist lay in Malloy's bed. Malloy noticed a trail of clothes that led from the bedroom door to the bed and her purse rest on the floor next to the nightstand.
"What are you talking about, Honey?" the woman murmured and placed her arm under her head as she turned away, blowing a heavy sigh.
"Get out of my bed!" Malloy cried. "You shouldn't be here!"
"Oh, stop joking!" she grumbled. "You can't keep me away, even if you did have the locks changed!"
"No wonder the door was unlocked," Malloy thought, stunned. "I thought I just forgot again…"
"Come to bed, Honey," the woman said. "I've waited all night for you."
"Um, okay," said Malloy nervously as he unbuttoned the collar of his shirt. "Dear…" Kicking aside the clothes, Malloy approached the bed and leaned over as the woman turned onto her back, looking up with pale violet eyes.
"You smell different," she murmured. Malloy pulled away. "Please don't turn away," she pleaded. "Come closer; I've been waiting for you."
"I…" She reached up and paused when she saw Malloy up close.
"You're not Paul!" she cried. Malloy grinned sheepishly.
"I tried to tell you…" The woman screamed and shoved Malloy back, sending him hurtling to the floor. She quickly sat up and drew the covers to her bare chest, stunned.
"What are you doing here?" she cried, horrified.
"Lady, look, you're in the wrong apartment!" Malloy scrambled to his feet. The mysterious woman reached over on the nightstand and withdrew a pair of eyeglasses to put on her face.
"But…!" she wailed. "How…?"
"I don't know, but you really need to get out of here," Malloy said. "Seriously, Lady, you don't want to get mixed up with me! I work for some really crazy bad guys." He quickly clamped a hand over his mouth and backed away once his phone began ringing.
"Shit!" the woman hissed and she quickly jumped out of bed. "Shit, shit, shit!" Malloy hurried out the room and cringed when he heard a knock outside his door.
"Marta!" a voice called from out in the hall. "Marta, come on!" Malloy glanced back to see the woman stumbling out of his room wearing a form-fitting gray dress, hurrying into a red flat-heeled shoe. Banging resonated on Malloy's door. "Marta, you said to come here to pick you up!" the voice continued. "Get it together, girl!" The woman paused as Malloy turned to face her.
"Marta?" Malloy mouthed, pointing to her. She nodded and waved him away.
"Keep him busy!" she mouthed back. Malloy froze.
"Him?" Marta nodded and Malloy grunted. "Why?" he groaned under his breath and quickly put the chain on the door before opening it ajar, revealing a burly young man that stood out in the corridor, wearing a black overcoat, sunglasses, and steel-toed boots. He had his black hair cut in a flattop and wore leather fingerless gloves on his hands.
"Marta?" he inquired.
"Yeah, uh," Malloy replied. "So, what is it you want?"
"Did you pay her already?" the young man replied. "She's got more work later today."
"Pay her…?" Malloy parroted. The young man nodded.
"Yes, pay her."
"You mean…?" Malloy's mouth continued to move but no words came out. The young man nodded again, grinning. "She's a…?"
"Yes," the young man said seriously. "Kids like you always call her so they won't be forty and still, well…" He chuckled.
"But it's not like that!" Malloy squawked. "It was never like that!" The young man laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
"Yeah, buddy, whatever you say!" Malloy let out a cry in surprise when he felt cold steel at the middle of his back. The young man looked over Malloy's shoulder.
"Marta, are you ready to go?" he asked. "We've got more work to do."
"I can't go," she said. "I'm sick."
"We can go to The Clinic to get you cleaned up and whatever." The young man held up his wrist and tapped at his titanium watch. "Look, our next appointment is in an hour! We need to hustle, babe."
"What made you change your mind?"
"Yeah?" Malloy asked, glancing back at Marta. "What made you change your mind?"
"Damn it!" the young man growled. He kicked at the door and Malloy jumped back. He seized up when he felt the hard metal jam into his spine.
"Don't do that," Marta declared. "I'll kill him if you bust your way in here!"
"She's not kidding!" Malloy cried. "Please, don't kick it down! I have to pay for the damage!"
"Marta, now's not the time to play around!" the young man yelled. "Get your shit straight and let's go!"
"I'm not going with you!" Marta screeched. "I've sobered up enough to know that if I go back with you, it'll be the same all over again! Paul helped me to see that!"
"Lady, I'm not…!" Malloy cried out when she jammed the gun into his back with more force. "Yeah, that's right," he said quickly. "You guys need to stop treating her like trash; I'm taking her away!"
"Fine, do whatever you want," the young man grumbled. "Is this why you called me last night, Marta; to tell me that you're not coming back?"
"I was drunk when I called you," Marta snapped. "I don't remember ever calling."
"You're a dead man, Paul," the young man growled, shaking his fist at Malloy. "You're dead!" He stomped off down the hall and Malloy slipped to his knees when sudden weakness overtook his body.
"Why are you doing this to me?" Malloy cried. "Why?"
"I'm sorry," Marta murmured. She came around to shut the door.
"Not you," Malloy mewed and ran his hands through his hair. "Them!"
"The goddesses, the gods, my higher self, whoever… Pick one!" Malloy fell over onto his side, gasping for breath. "My life is over," he moaned. "It's completely over!" Marta knelt by his side and Malloy's eyes focused on the snub-nosed revolver she held in hand. He quickly scrambled to his feet and held out his hands in surrender. "Hey, hey, put that away!" he cried.
"Oh!" Marta flushed and lifted up her dress to tuck the revolver into her modified garter she had strapped around her thigh. "Sorry…"
"Lady, why are you ruining my life?" Malloy wailed.
"I didn't mean to!"
"Please, get out of here!" Marta frowned as she stood to her feet.
"I'm sorry," she said and turned away to undo the chain. She slung open the door and ran away. Malloy stomped to his door and slammed it shut. He leaned his forehead against the worn wood as tears ran down his face full force.
Malloy sat in the dark of his parlor, unable to move when his phone rang again. It continued to ring repeatedly; then would stop for several minutes, only to ring again. He did not get up when he heard someone outside his door trying the handle. Malloy made no effort to move when the stranger picked at his lock and opened the door. He said nothing when he heard the person cut the security chain and enter the apartment.
Footsteps entered the room and soon Malloy faced the silhouette of a man standing quietly before him in the shadows. When Malloy said nothing, he felt a cool hand gently touch his face. Leaving his side, the overhead lights later switched on and Johnston came into view, smiling sadly.
"Oh, it's you," Malloy grumbled. "Come to get rid of me because I didn't show up for work?" Johnston shook his head. "Then what is it?" Johnston reached inside his jacket to withdraw a pistol and beckoned to Malloy. "Oh, why do I even bother?" Malloy grumbled as Johnston left the room. Blowing a heavy sigh, Malloy rose out of his chair and followed him.
Exiting out into the corridor, Johnston motioned Malloy to stay silent and Malloy nodded. They hurried down the hall and entered the stairway. Johnston seemed tense as he walked quickly down the steps and Malloy clenched his teeth as he kept close behind. After they exited outdoors, Malloy blew a sigh of relief when he spotted Johnston's sedan parked across the street. Before he could break away to cross the road, a sudden shot rang out and Johnston pushed Malloy down to return fire.
"Get him!" a voice shouted in the distance. Johnston pulled up Malloy and pushed him back. He needed no orders to get away and took off running in the opposite direction.
Making a break in a nearby alley, Malloy heard tires screeching and glanced over his shoulder to spot a pair of headlights at the end of the alleyway. The engine roared and Malloy let out a cry of terror. He whipped forward and scrambled to get out of the path of the incoming car. The vehicle sped forward and Malloy jumped for a refuse bin. He clamored inside, diving head first into piles of trash. The car came to a stop and the door popped open.
"Get in!" a familiar voice called. Malloy peered out over the lid of the canister to spot Marta with the driver's side open of her compact car. "Hurry!" she snapped. Malloy scampered out of the bin and jumped on the hood to slide across and he fell over, striking the ground. Marta quickly shut the door and leaned over to open the passenger side, letting in Malloy. Once he stepped in, she gunned the engine and threw the gears, speeding off with purpose. Malloy let out a cry in sheer terror as she took off the door before he had a chance to close it.
Bursting out onto the main street, Marta raced through the strip with one hand clasping tightly to the clutch while the other gripped the steering wheel tightly, forcing her knuckles white. Malloy gripped the edges of his seat, too frightened to move when she darted in and out of traffic. He screamed when she made wild turns that threatened to eject him from his seat.
"I'm so sorry, Paul," Marta said as she continued driving. "I'm so sorry for getting you involved!"
"I'm not Paul!" Malloy protested.
"I'll make it up to you, I swear, okay?"
"But what did you get me into?" Malloy cried. "Look, Lady, I'm in something a lot more serious than you could ever get me with!"
"Don't worry," Marta said seriously. "I know somebody that can clear up all our problems!"
"No, I don't want to know!" Malloy wailed. "I really, really don't want to know!"
"Don't you worry, Paul," Marta said calmly. "Don't you worry about a thing…"
"Somebody, please save me," Malloy prayed. "Somebody, anybody… Hell, even the Devil King can take pity on me!" He shut his eyes, secretly hoping to die.
Pulling up in front of a dark office building with a screech, Marta threw the gears into park and Malloy quickly bailed.
"Wait, where are you going?" Marta cried as Malloy staggered forward.
"I'm gonna be sick!" he moaned and held his hands on his knees, retching painfully several feet away.
"Come on," Marta complained. "I'll get you something once we get inside!" Malloy moaned and spat on the ground, then followed the young woman as she made her way up the walk that led to the office building. Marta punched in a set of numbers on the keypad and a buzzer sounded as the doors opened.
Upon entering the building, Malloy came to a pause when the lights came on as Marta walked ahead of him. He felt ill at ease when he saw various swords hanging on the wall.
"What kind of place is this?" Malloy asked.
"Hurry up," Marta ordered. Malloy grunted and increased his stride to catch up to her. They entered the rear office and Malloy held back at the door when Marta stepped in, approaching the large executive chair behind the desk. Speaking in hushed tones, later the chair turned around, revealing a middle-aged woman with silver hair pinned up into a bun. She wore a dark double-breasted suit and had gray-painted nails. Marta stood with her back against the wall and looked down at the floor.
"So, you're the one that protected Miss Marta," the mysterious woman said. "I wish to thank you."
"Uh, yeah," Malloy answered nervously. "Kinda, but not exactly…"
"How much do I owe you?"
"Huh, what?" Malloy squawked, surprised. "You, er, want to pay me?"
"I've been trying to get her away from those awful men for months."
"I told you Paul would save me!" Marta suddenly piped.
"But--!" The mysterious woman put up her hand.
"Hush, Marta," the woman snapped. She gestured to Malloy. "Please enter. I don't bite, young man."
"I really need to get going," Malloy protested. "Ma'am, I really don't have a lot of time. I've got work to do."
"Where is it that you work? I can reimburse you for time you've taken away to help my dear Marta."
"I really can't say." The mysterious woman blew a disconcerted sigh and reached into her desk. She withdrew a cashbox, put it atop the desk's surface to open it, and withdrew a stack of bills.
"Would ten thousand be enough?" she asked, pushing the money toward Malloy. His jaw dropped, completely floored.
"Why would protecting that girl be worth so much?" he cried.
"She's very dear to me, young man."
"If you say so." Malloy stepped forward and took the cash. He broke out in cold sweat and clenched his teeth when Marta pointed the revolver at his head.
"Are you going to leave me, just like that?" Marta wailed. "How could you, Paul? I thought you loved me!"
"How many times I've got to tell you?" Malloy yelled. "Lady, I'm not Paul!" He held up his hands and dropped the money on the floor. "Look, ma'am, if taking your money's going to get me killed then thanks, but no thanks."
"Marta, stop," the woman snapped. "I'm just paying him for keeping you safe."
"But that's what Paul always does!" Marta sniffed. "That's his job!"
"Take the money," the woman ordered. Malloy kept his sights on Marta that trained the gun on him as he scooped up the fallen bills and stuffed it into his pockets.
"Why is she insistent on calling me Paul?" Malloy complained.
"Some people have a thing that they don't know how to handle," the woman said cryptically.
"May I leave now?" Malloy asked. The woman nodded. Malloy turned on his heel and cringed when he heard Marta sob. He shook his head as he walked out. "That isn't my problem," he mused as he made his way down the corridor, Malloy slowed his stride when he spotted the young man that was at his house earlier, stomping down the hall with a hand clutched to his side that bled profusely. The young man pushed past him and entered the rear offices.
"Miss Anya," the young man said and the door closed behind him. Malloy pressed himself against the wall, listening. "I couldn't find that sneaky son of a bitch. He had some folks protect him and they got me good."
"It's all right now," Anya said. "A nice boy brought back Miss Marta."
"He doesn't know, does he?"
"He looked quite clueless to me. With all that money I gave for her return, he would be an idiot to ask questions." Malloy clenched his teeth.
"Are they using that girl somehow?" he thought. "I just can't leave her there with those freaks!"
"Will you need me for anything else, Miss Anya?" the young man asked.
"Just go to the Infirmary." Malloy quickly ran down the hall and found an open room to duck into. He watched the young man pass him in the corridor and stiffened when he heard a sharp slap and Marta cry out. "Foolish girl!" Anya shouted. "How many times I keep telling you not to run away like that?"
"I'm sorry!" Marta wailed. "I didn't mean to!"
"You know what that means don't you?"
"First your pay is getting docked and secondly, your medicines are getting increased."
"No, don't do that!" Malloy clenched his teeth.
"Are they controlling her with drugs?" he thought, stunned. Malloy left the room and ran out into the main area that had the many blades adorning the walls. Finding a set of swords that came with a dagger, short sword and long sword, Malloy took the dagger and short sword and ran back to Anya's office. He cringed outside the door, hearing Anya repeatedly strike Marta for her infraction. "If she thinks I'm this savior Paul of hers," Malloy mused, "might as well play the part!" Malloy rapped at the door with the butt of the sword he held.
"Oh!" Anya cried.
"Stop beating her!" Malloy yelled from the other side of the door.
"What is it?" Malloy shouldered in the door and barged in. "You--!" He threw the dagger at Anya, forcing her to duck behind her desk. Marta, with a bruised and bleeding face, cowered in the corner, cringing.
"Come on!" Malloy yelled as he held the short sword at ready. "We're getting out of here!"
"You're not taking her away from me!" Anya shouted from behind her desk. She rose to her feet, holding Marta's pistol in hand and pointed it at the young woman. Malloy stiffened as Anya reached into the underside of her desk and depressed a button. A buzzer suddenly resonated in the corridor. "You made a fatal mistake!"
"Marta!" Malloy screamed. "Let's go!" Marta seemed perplexed and shook her head.
"Take one step," Anya growled as she trained the gun at Malloy. "You get a bullet between the eyes!"
"Marta," Malloy pleaded, "you wanted me to save you, remember?" Marta glanced to Anya, then to Malloy. He held the short sword at his side and held out his free hand to her. "So help me help you!"
"Take a step, Marta and down goes your hero!" Anya declared. Marta suddenly snapped to attention when Anya pulled back the safety.
"No!" Marta cried. She tackled Anya and they both struck the floor, wrestling for control of the pistol. Malloy stormed across the room as Marta finally wrenched the gun free and slammed the pistol in Anya's face, knocking her out. Malloy grabbed her by the arm to pull her close and he grunted when he felt the cold metal into his side.
"That thing is still live," he said weakly.
"Why?" Marta demanded.
"I don't know," Malloy moaned. "Maybe I have some kind of death wish!" He pulled her along as he made his way out into the hall and they both took off for a run to the door. Suddenly footsteps banged in from offside and Malloy turned, slashing out at the first thing that moved out of the corner of his eye. He heard a yell as the sword slashed into an armed guardsman that held a gun in hand and Marta quickly disengaged the pistol, blasting into the guard before he had a chance to fire at Malloy.
Malloy hustled for the front door and threw it open. They ran out onto the sidewalk and before Malloy could figure which way to go, a dark sedan suddenly pulled up in front of the curb. Malloy turned as more guardsmen rushed for the door and he grabbed Marta to wrap an arm around her shoulders and placed the edge of the blade under her chin.
"Back off!" Malloy screamed once the guards exited and filtered out onto the front of the building. "One wrong move and her head comes right off!"
"Bullshit!" one guard snapped. A sudden blast of gunfire came from behind and Malloy threw Marta down to the ground. He quickly dropped beside her as the guards quickly scattered, with some returning fire.
"Watch the girl!" one of the guards yelled. "Miss Anya will kill us if she's shot!" After several guards were blasted into, the others retreated, unable to find a clear target in the darkness. Suddenly glass shattered and the interior of the office went up in flames, forcing the other guards to scatter.
"Is it safe?" Marta asked as Malloy stood unsteadily. He held out a hand and she took it to get pulled up. Marta suddenly tensed and pointed her gun in the distance. "Back away!" she cried. Malloy turned in her direction to see a slender young man illuminated by the flames. He held up his hands in surrender, with one hand holding a sawed-off shotgun.
"Johnston, is that you?" Malloy asked. Johnston nodded. "Hey, Marta, cool it, okay?" Malloy said gently. "He's a friend." Marta blew a sigh and lowered her weapon, then placed the gun back into her garter holster. Johnston waved at Malloy to follow and he entered the car. Malloy opened the rear passenger for Marta and after she got in, he shut the door and went around the side passenger to slip into the seat. Slamming shut the door, he rest the short sword on the dashboard, then dropped the seat back as Johnston pulled away from the burning building, speeding down the streets that had little traffic as the night grew longer.
Standing in front of Nick's desk at his office, Malloy felt ill at ease as Nick spoke to Marta and Johnston stood offside, waiting patiently. Later Johnston escorted Marta away and Malloy stiffened when Nick requested him to stay behind.
"That was something, Kid," Nick said as he withdrew a cigarette from his case and struck a match to light. "If it wasn't for Pretty Boy, I'd prolly never believe it!" He puffed smoke over his head as
"Believe it, Mister Nick," Malloy answered timidly.
"And you got a good piece too!" He chuckled. "That's a lot for one night… You got some cash, a cute girl, a fancy knife. Guts… that's something I don't see much these days."
"Do you want the money, Mister Nick?"
"Naw, keep it Kid. It's yours."
"What about the sword? I don't need it."
"What about the girl?"
"We'll figure out what to do with her in the morning." Nick blew smoke through his nose.
"She seems to be stuck on me, Mister Nick."
"Yeah," Nick said thoughtfully.
"What's the matter?" Nick said nothing and turned around in his chair, ignoring Malloy completely. Malloy blew a heavy sigh and made his way for the door.
"I'll forgive you just this once," Nick called over his shoulder. Malloy froze at the entranceway. "But if you don't answer your phone and ditch another job, Johnny will bust your knees."
"I understand, Mister Nick," Malloy said nervously.
"Get out of here!" Malloy left the office and met up with Johnston that waited for him out in the hall.
"Why did you change your mind?" Malloy asked. Johnston smiled and pet Malloy on the head. "I got lucky this time, didn't I?" Johnston turned away and withdrew his keys from his pocket, humming a light tune. Malloy felt fear hit him hard and fast as he followed him down the corridor when he realized that Johnston had the power to make or break him on a whim outside Nick's influence.