Malloy was riding shotgun and he hated every minute. It wasn't just an ordinary expression: he had a sawed-off twelve gauge resting in his lap. Just the sheer thought of handling such a force of destruction had Malloy on the verge of vomiting. The driver that escorted him in the compact sedan with tinted windows was a silent sandy red-haired fellow that answered to Johnston. He hardly spoke - if any at all - but seemed entirely good-natured. Johnston's expressive grey eyes concentrated on the road as he deftly handled the vehicle that sped through the darkened streets in the fog-covered early morning.
Malloy cursed himself for ending up in the situation he unknowingly landed. Desperate to keep his rent paid, he answered an ad in the local Thrifty for a part-time messenger/courier service job. Malloy ignored his blaring guts that insisted otherwise in answering the advertisement that only listed a single name and phone number.
His boss, a former plastic surgeon, referred to himself by the moniker "Nick the Knife". His main occupation was changing the faces of the underworld. Nick charged hefty fees for his services after being run out of California and Florida for shady practices. Malloy was surprised at how cheap Nick's offerings were, in catering to a clientele of gangsters that would readily fork over the needed cash in order to look like someone else by any means necessary. Malloy shuddered at the thought of those that became a part of Nick's "special collection" if they complained about the cost or were unwilling to pay. He hoped it was just a rumor Nick started to scare those considering not paying into compliance.
"All you gotta do is just threaten them," Nick told Malloy in the garage of the nondescript office building. "That's the only message I want you to send."
"What if he refuses to pay what he owes?" Malloy asked. Johnston just shook his head as Nick let out a hacking laugh.
"If he refuses, Pretty Boy Johnny here will bust his knees and if he still don't pay up, wave your piece or blow him smithereens -- whatever works!" Malloy swallowed hard, trying to mentally compute the entire gist of such heavy-handed orders.
"This isn't what the ad stated," he complained.
"I thought it was enough," protested Nick. "You ain't dumb, is ya Kid?" He blew a frustrated sigh. "Look, you just caddy the messages I send and return with the results, see?" Nick prodded Malloy in the chest with a firm hand. "You keep trying until they get it."
"What if they don't?" Nick took a cigarette he had behind his ear and dug through the front pocket of his shirt to withdraw a matchbook. Placing the cigarette to his lips, he casually struck a match with ease and lit the roll of tobacco.
"You cripple 'em," Nick replied seriously as he waved the match's flame out, "and if that don't work, waste 'em and haul 'em off somewhere... Preferably in the reservoir."
"That wasn't in the job description!" Malloy cried, horrified. Nick only laughed while Johnston shook his head, snorting. "You're kidding, right?" Nick laughed even harder.
"What a comedian!" Nick giggled and jabbed Johnston in the side with his elbow. "Catch a load of that, Johnny! The kid's a freakin' clown!"
"Alright, so Nick is certainly certifiable," mused Malloy in disdain. "He's willing to poison the city's water system over a few lousy grand owed him!" He blew a distressed sigh. "Whatever kind of work have I gotten mixed up in?" Malloy rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "This doesn't seem right at all!" He kept silent, opting to pray to any deity that would have pity on him take his petition for help in order to survive his ordeal.
"Come on," Nick ordered, taking Malloy out of his thoughts. He ground out his cigarette that had tapering smoke against the wall and motioned Malloy indoors. "Your payment for the job - if you complete it - is a cool thousand." Malloy said nothing as he followed after Nick with Johnston at his heels, bringing up the rear.
Upon entry into Nick's office, Malloy felt his breath leave his body once he laid sight on numerous human skulls strewn about Nick's desk. He came to a dead stop, forcing Johnston to bump into him from behind.
"Please be plastic, resin, ceramic, something...!" Malloy prayed silently, "The guy can't be serious!"
"You get five-hundred now," explained Nick as he opened a drawer in his desk and extracted a stack of bills that consisted of numerous one hundred-denoted notes. Thumbing out five slips, he pushed the money toward Malloy. "And five-hundred when you finish."
"Um, thanks," Malloy said weakly. Johnston pushed him forward and Malloy stumbled over his steps as he staggered for the desk. He coughed and cleared his throat of the acrid burning that welled up, and then picked up the bills in cold, clammy hands.
"If you run off, I might have to hunt you down," Nick said darkly, giving a sly grin as he waved a hand to the skulls scattered around his desk and bookcases. Malloy nodded numbly and pocketed the cash with shaking hands. "Now get going. You got a few hours before daylight." Malloy blinked slowly as he stared blankly at Nick, unable to quite register what was happening. It finally hit him when Nick waved him off. "Get outta my face, Kid."
Malloy nodded again and forced his feet to move, making his way out the door following Johnston to the garage. Johnston withdrew his keys from his pocket, humming a cheerful tune.
Arriving in front of a large two-story home with a three-car garage, Johnston cut the engine and reached over the rear seat to withdraw a stained wooden bat. He nodded to Malloy and stepped out the sedan with glacial calm as he casually walked up the stone steps that led to the front porch shrouded in darkness.
"Time to grow a pair and get this over with," Malloy thought ruefully, feeling more ill than before as he took in a deep breath and reluctantly followed after Johnston as he hoisted the shotgun over his shoulder.
Johnston knocked on the door and after several moments, the porch light came on, illuminating the steps and Johnston in a soft glowing wash of orange luminance.
"Who is it?" a gruff voice barked from within. Johnston knocked with more force and the front door opened, revealing a fair bald middle-aged man in blue flannel pajamas and black t-shirt. Johnston smiled and waved; the man gave one look at Johnston, and then glanced at Malloy. "What...?" His voice trailed and before he could finish his question, he gasped once he connected what was going on, with eyes widening in fear. Johnston quickly advanced, forcing his way through the door before shut and gave a swift whack to the homeowner's leg, felling him. Malloy walked in as the man screamed in agony and held his knee in pain, sputtering curses from his place on the floor.
"Um, Sir," Malloy said timidly as he stood above the man doubled over on the floor. "You owe Mister Nick some money and we're here to collect it."
"Damn it!" the homeowner roared, "I already paid!" Johnston scoffed and went through his rear pockets, producing a sheet of folded paper. Handing it to Malloy, Malloy took it and waved it open, then read aloud its contents.
"You still owe ten thousand altogether," stated Malloy. "That's for the fingerprint removal, work on the nose, ears, and chin reconstruction work." Malloy crumpled the paper and stuffed the note into his pocket.
"Tell him I'll get it tomorrow!" Malloy clenched his teeth and pointed the shotgun's head down at the man's face. The client broke out in cold sweat as he stared down the rifle's barrel.
"Today," Malloy said flatly, "like right now, Sir." Johnston nodded in agreement as he tapped the bat against his palm.
"Alright, alright!" the man conceded. "Let me up!" Malloy and Johnston backed away as the client slowly stood to his feet and limped toward a painting across the room. Removing it from the wall, he revealed a wall safe on the other side and turned the lock's combination. Once the safe's door popped open, the man pulled out several pieces of jewelry. He beckoned to Johnston. "Is this enough?" he asked. Johnston shook his head in response and rubbed his fingers together.
"Preferably cash, Sir," Malloy interjected. Johnston grunted as his features darkened and he stalked across the floor over to the client, promptly striking him over the head that sent him down. Giving another firm blow to silence him, Malloy watched in mute terror as Johnston picked up the fallen jewelry and cleared the remains of the safe. He left down the corridor that led to the rear bedrooms, only to return moments later with a watch on his thin wrist, several rings on his bony fingers, and held a stuffed wallet in his free hand. Johnston nodded to Malloy and Malloy took off running for the car. He threw in the shotgun underneath the seat and drew up his knees, heaving for breath as he rocked.
Moments later, Johnston returned to the sedan. He tossed in the wallet on the dashboard and dropped the bat in the seat behind them, then smiled warmly at Malloy. He pat him gently on the head before calmly driving away in such serene coolness that frightened Malloy.
Back at Nick's place of business, Malloy let out a deep sigh of relief when Nick praised Johnston and he received another set of five one-hundred notes. Malloy scooped up the money and quickly pocketed the bills.
"Thanks a lot!" Malloy said nervously. "See you later!" He hurriedly made his way for the door.
"Not so fast, Kid," said Nick as he rose from his seat once Johnston blocked Malloy's path. "I got another message for ya to send." Johnston waved a finger sternly in Malloy's face and Malloy grunted once pushed back by the chest, sending him reeling against Nick's desk. Nick opened another drawer to withdraw a small case.
"Err, come again?" Malloy said faintly as he whirled around. He held out his hands. "Look, I'm done. I can turn my lights back on now and stuff."
"No one leaves, understand?" Nick said calmly, leaning closer. Malloy let out a weak gasp as Nick grasped his collar firmly in hand and yanked him forward, glaring deeply at Malloy with narrow violet eyes. "I don't want to put out your lights for good, see?" Malloy pulled back in shock once he felt surgical steel against his cheek. "'Cause if you left, you'll make Pretty Boy sad; ain't that right Johnny?" Johnston nodded. "See? He likes you, Kid."
"I'm sorry," Malloy murmured, "But I can't stay!"
"Then you might talk and I can't have that. I'll be out of a job and without a job; I can't employ desperate kids like you."
"I promise," cried Malloy, "I won't say a word!"
"Jobs are hard to get these days, see? People need me to give them work and people need my services to help them disappear and without me, they'll go to some hack in Mexico or Argentina or India someplace, and nobody's happy with the results..." Nick bared his teeth. "And I'm about results, Kid."
"But--!" Malloy winced when Nick pressed the blade of the scalpel into his skin that sent his knees quaking.
"Seriously consider your fate, Kid." Malloy looked to Johnston that stood offside and he vigorously nodded in return. "See, Johnny wants you to live! Spare the poor guy's feelings, will ya?"
"Okay!" Malloy sucked in a shallow breath once let go. He wiped at his cheek with the back of his hand, frowning at the slight line of blood on his skin. "Um, Mister Nick..."
"Yeah, Kid?" Nick answered as he returned to his seat behind his desk. He nonchalantly withdrew a metal cigarette case from a side drawer and flipped its lid open with his thumb.
"What are the consequences if I leave?" Nick idly waved at Johnston before placing the scalpel inside the case, trading it for a cigarette and a match.
"You wouldn't wanna know, Kid." Nick said seriously, striking the match on the side of the desk and lit his cigarette. Fragrant puffs of smoke wafted over his head. "It'll scar ya for life!"
Malloy stood there at a loss, unsure what to do as Nick reclined in his chair, smoking with a shrewd smile on his face. Johnston clasped a hand on Malloy's shoulder and turned him about-face. He opened his mouth and pointed within. Malloy curiously leaned over and gasped at what he saw. Suddenly the world escaped Malloy's grasp and Nick's hacking laughter grated his ears once realized the punishment for defecting.