When Martin walked into The Thirsty Mermaid, the bar was damn near empty. The bartender, a young, chiseled Hispanic man, gave him a nod while two old drunkards at opposite ends of the bar stared into the bottom of their glasses.
Martin glanced over the rest of the bar, his face soured from the stench of skunked beer and stale peanuts. A well-dressed man at a booth in the very back waved to him. Making his way over to the man, the nautical bar somehow became darker and drabber, like traveling through the guts of a sad pirate ship.
“Long time no see,” said the well-dressed man as Martin slid into the booth across from him.
“How have you been, Caesar?”
“What’s with meeting here?” Martin asked, looking around with a grimace.
“It’s my place.”
“Seems a little dreary for a man of your style,” Martin said, looking over Caesar in his light gray, almost shiny suit with a black dress shirt and a bright white tie.
“I have my fingers in a lot of different pies,” Caesar replied, taking a swig of brown from his glass. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Oh, that’s right, you’re living the clean life.”
“I am,” Martin said with pride.
“How long now?”
“How things change. You know, I remember when you used to work for my father. He said you were a good thief. You could steal anything. Especially if it had an engine and wheels.”
“Yeah,” Martin said, sinking into his seat and glancing over his shoulders. “That was a long time ago.”
“So, what are you doing now?”
Martin shrugged. “Whatever I can.”
“Last I heard you were fixing cars over at Joe’s.”
“I guess when you’re not chasing a fix you don’t need much money?”
Martin was insulted, but he didn’t let it show. The man he used to be would have knocked Caesar’s pretty pearly whites into his colon, but that man was long gone.
“I guess not,” Martin replied, inhaling then exhaling.
“Let’s cut the shit, shall we?” Caesar said, leaning across the table. “Christian calls me. He tells me that you want to meet with me about using you…”
“What do you think I can do with you? You’re a broken old man.”
“I’ve been clean for a bit. I think I have my worth.”
“Are you doing this for her?”
“What do you care?” Martin asked.
“Because I’m taking a risk. Something could happen, and then I’ll have to clean it up.”
“And if I am?”
“You think she’s worth all this?”
“I think you know the answer to that.”
“Do you know who’s looking for her?”
“Luther’s a strung-out psycho with a bloodlust. He’ll kill her even if you pay him.”
“We’re going to work it out.”
“We? Sounds like it’s all on you. She stiffs Luther, and you come to her rescue like a sap. What about the next scumbag she rips off? Are you ready to pay that tab?”
Martin didn’t have to explain himself to someone like Caesar who made most of his coin selling drugs to children. He didn’t care what Caesar’s thoughts were, Martin just wanted some of his money.
“I thought you needed bodies. Why are you trying to talk me out of this?” Martin questioned.
“I promised Christian I’d talk some sense into you. I don’t give a fuck if you live or die, but Christian cares about you, and he’s a friend.”
“Christian’s a good man.”
“He’s too good. He doesn’t want to see what you really are. Just like you don’t want to see Holly for what she really is. For my friend, I am going to give you a moment to think on it…”
Caesar stood up and tipped back his glass, draining the final bit of brown around the dwindling ice. “I’m getting another round.”
Caesar walked to the bar, and Martin shook his head. Neither Christian nor Caesar knew what he had with Holly. They didn’t understand. Before Holly, there was a void in Martin that he stuffed with poison. Then she came along and gave him purpose. Holly pulled him from the darkness, and he owed her his life for it. Now that she was in trouble, was he just supposed to sit by while she was dumped in the swamp like a sack of trash by some two-bit pimp?
There was nothing for Martin to ponder. His mind was made up before he walked into that bar. He’d get the money from Caesar, pay Luther off, and they’d skip town. They’d disappear together somewhere far away, pressing the restart button. Christian accused him of living in fantasy land, saying he was too old to pretend things would play out like a movie. Martin didn’t think their scheme was out of reach. Besides, are you ever too old to dream?
Caesar returned with his freshened drink. The scent of bourbon wafted at Martin, briefly replacing the stink of moldy stagnation.
“So, what’ll it be?” Caesar asked.
“Let’s do it.”
Caesar slid a folded piece of paper to Martin.
“Be at that address at 10 am…”
Martin put the paper in his pocket.
“You get paid when it’s over. Ten Gs in cash.”
“Sounds good,” Martin said.
“Sounds like you’re taking one hell of a gamble to me,” Caesar remarked.
“Every day above ground is a roll of the dice,” Martin replied, playing it cool.
“That junkie isn’t worth a rib, let alone one of your kidneys. And what if you die on the table while they’re yanking that thing out of you, then what?”
“Then I lost, but I died trying. She’s worth that much to me.”
Paul Allih lives in Florida with his wife and son. He is a member of the Horror Writer’s Association. His work has been published by Infective Ink and Red Room Press. His story “The Willingness of Prey” is included in Burnt Fur: Twisted Tails of Horror from Blood Bound Books.