Aphelion Issue 274, Volume 26
July 2022
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by Damian Delao

"Johnny, Johnny Allen!" the man shouted excitedly, the flab of his neck underneath his chin bouncing like jelly. "My God, son, how have you been?" The question, a formality, went unanswered. The man clenched his jaws tightly as if he were clamping down on the worlds tectonic plates to still them. His neck bulged from the tension and his eyes narrowed; he looked like a bull ready to charge.

But the man didn't charge.

The man, instead, clapped his mitt-like hands together and smiled. It was a dashing smile; handsome and charismatic. It was a dishonest smile.

"Sit, sit!" The man ordered as he pointed towards a brown leather hair just in front of his desk with both hands, palms facing upwards as if he was getting ready to catch a baby falling from the sky. Much of the man's bulky frame began to ease as he did so, but immediately tensed back up again as he watched Johnny ignore the invitation.

Johnny looked round the office. It was enormously flashy; decorated by many materialistic things that didn't interest Johnny the slightest. To his right was a mountain of a book case -- decoration only, of that Johnny was sure -- and to his left a reclining lounge chair, mahogany in color with a matching end table. A smoking chair, no doubt.

No, none it warranted any special attention from Johnny, none of it, except for one thing; the thug standing four feet directly behind him.

Six-three, maybe six-four. Two hundred sixty, maybe seventy. Judging by the bulk of his neck, it would be stupid to assume the weight was anything but muscle. He's pushed me with his right hand every time; definitely right handed.

Johnny stepped forward but he didn't sit. The man wanted desperately to flare out angrily but ignore the blatant disrespect instead, but he wouldn't ignore it much longer.

"So, what brings you --"

"Cut the shit, Joe, you know why I'm here," Johnny snapped. He hated Joe with a passion reserved only for special occasions. He would have just killed the thug that had come for him if it hadn't been for the fact that Joe had something of Johnny's. Johnny just didn't know what Joe had.

"Oh?" Joe questioned automatically, his patience meter now at seventy percent and dropping.

"Oh, or was you sending this fuck," Johnny pointed over his shoulder with a thumb towards the right handed thug, "to my house a mistake?"

Patience at fifty percent and dropping.

"Right, straight to the point as usual," Joe replied as he leaned forward in his chair, resting his forearms on his desk. "Right."

Johnny stared at the man in front of him. He wanted to kill him; to take a knife, cut open his chest and rip out Joe's still beating heart. But instead, Johnny just stood there; waiting to hear what he already knew was coming.

"Johnny, I need you to do a job for me," Joe calmly said.

"Get fucked."

Patience at forty percent and dropping.

"Now listen here, son, hear me out before you go ahead and make any rash decisions," Joe snapped a little angrier than he had intended. He suddenly realized that his hands were tightly knotted into fists. Though he tried, Joe found that he couldn't unclench them.

"Get fucked."

Thirty percent.

"God dammit, Johnny, will --"

"Get fucked."

Twenty percent.

The air in the office seemed to thicken into a heavy fog of anger. Both men stared at each other, eyes entangled in a life or death struggle to the end; neither seemed to have the upper hand.

Johnny heard the thug behind him take a step forward, closing the gap between the two. It didn't matter much, though, Johnny knew the bastard wouldn't act unless Joe ordered him to. The thug would undoubtedly be a good little puppet, strings pulled by a cunning and charming puppeteer.

Joe opened his mouth to say something more, to protest to the blatant disrespect perhaps, but all that escaped was air.

"Get fucked," Johnny cut in immediately.

Patience at ten percent, five ... zero.

Joe shot upward, his leather office chair whizzing backward from the sudden movement and slammed into the class wall behind the desk. Anger and rage painted a portrait on Joe's face, twisting his handsome features into a grotesque mask of furry. If Joe had hair, it would have surely caught on fire. Joe brought up both fists and slammed them back down again onto his desk, in one fluid, violent and crushing motion.

Any other man, woman or child would have easily backed away from the outburst, more so out of natural reflex than anything else, but not Johnny. Johnny knew Joe was harmless -- all bark and no bite, as the say. The little aging man who's belly seemed to be growing outwards and down as the years past, just looked funny now. A five-foot-nine baby throwing a tantrum.

Johnny heard movement from behind him, but a flinch was all it was. Johnny wished, though, that the man would be stupid enough to act.

"Now listen to me, you reclusive piece of shit. Things have changed around here. You're in my office now, son, my building; my fucking city. I own this piece of the world and you're a visitor here by my own good graces. Visitor or not, you're still just an ant and Damian there could be the boot that squashes you with only so much as a look!" The hate in Joe's eyes radiated fiercely, looking like two marble sized dwarf suns, as dribbles of saliva clung to his bottom lip.

"Now, I'd like to think that I've been pretty fucking patient with you up until now and for that you can thank your lucky fucking stars, but this shit ends now." Wiping the spittle from his face with a handkerchief pulled from his pocket, Joe looked over to Damian as he began to collect his bearings.

But he wouldn't have long to collect anything.

Damian, the ever so faithful puppet, mistook the look for an order to act instead of what it really was; an involuntary look from a flustered puppeteer.

Damian Sprang forward, pulling a thirteen inch blade from out of the inside of his coat and lunged towards Johnny; the blade in his right hand and aimed straight for the base of Johnny's neck.

"No!" Joe cried out, but it was too late.

With a slight smile of satisfaction, Johnny timed his movements perfectly. He stepped to his right as the knife whiffed past his head just below his left ear.

Turning quickly to face the blade, Johnny reached up with both hands and grabbed Damian's wrist with his right and twisted. The sound of bone snapping reverberated throughout the immaculately clean office.

With his left hand, Johnny caught the blade as Damian's sausage-like fingers released the handle. Again, Johnny turned slightly as he switched the knife from his left hand to his right and swung his arm backwards.

The reflection of the sunlight seeping into the room from the glass wall glimmered off of the steel weapon as it cut through the air just before slicing through the front of Damian's throat.

The big man dropped to his knees as he groped at the wound desperately, tears forming in the corners of his eyes. Johnny finished the deed by slamming the tip of the blade into the top of Damian's skull and watched as the big man collapsed face down.

That felt ... good; liberating even.

The liberation didn't last long, though. Johnny was suddenly grabbed by the throat by a hand that was so crushingly strong, Johnny could already feel the muscles in his neck beginning to bruise.

Patience at minus twenty percent.

"Why would you do that, son?"

I wish he'd stop calling me that. I'd cut my throat if I were related to him.

"Damian was a good man, a family man," Joe shouted hysterically. His eyes bulged from their sockets and the veins just above his temples seemed to be on the verge of exploding. They looked like two fire hoses covered with a wet, brown linen sheet.

"Why? I was grooming him for something special!" Joe was only an inch from Johnny's face now, screaming as though there was a sound proof pane of glass separating the two. Spittle sprayed and slapped into Johnny's face.

The spit didn't bother Johnny, though, the fact that he couldn't breathe did. How could Joe apply so much pressure with just one hand, how could he be so strong? Johnny didn't know; he didn't want to know.

What devil have you made a pact with this time, Joe?

Blood began to seep from Joe's eyes. He looked beyond angry, he looked ...


"I tried to work with you, Johnny, I really did; didn't I try?" Joe screamed as his finger nails began cutting into Johnny's flesh. "I needed you for a job, a job you would have liked no doubt, but you wouldn't hear me out; you wouldn't listen!

"I told you before, Johnny, things have changed around here. I've changed and you could have changed too." Joe's eyes seemed to look desperate now. "You could have had it all ..." Joe whispered.

Johnny tried to fight Joe off. He began pounding away at the wrist that was connected to the hand that was connected to his throat, but it was like pounding away at steel. How? The grip on Johnny's neck grew tighter and Johnny knew now, without a shadow of a doubt, that the grip was absolute.

Joe could feel the tendons and muscle in Johnny's neck begin to tear under the strain, but it was too late to stop now; far too late. Joe's patience had been stretched to its limits and then some. He really did need Johnny's help, but the bridge had been burned. There are always others, though, Joe thought.

Finally Joe let himself go. He screamed out loud, a sound that sounded like a lion courting death. With all of his strength and his patience depleted, Joe squeezed and pulled, snapping Jonny's neck in two and ripped the limp extremity from its shoulders. Blood sprayed and gushed in a shower of red warmth as Joe closed his eyes.

Patience at minus ten.

Patience at zero and climbing.

Plus ten.

Joe opened his eyes, a refreshed feeling flooding over him, soothing and comforting. He dropped the lifeless head to the ground and turned to walk towards the glass wall that over looked the city; his city.

"I'll just have to find someone else to kill me," Joe mused as his mouth creased to form a perfect smile and clasped his hands behind his back.

Dusk was coming and Joe had things to do. He smiled and turned from the window, not once looking at the two bodies lying in pools of blood just in front of his desk.

Patience at one hundred percent.

The End

© 2012 Damian Delao

Bio: Damian Delao resides in Paraparaumu Beach, New Zealand. Two of his stories have appeared in Congruent Spaces (including "Paid the Price", a slightly different, pre-Aphelion editor version of Paying The Price, in the July 2012 edition of Aphelion). Damian's most recent appearance in Aphelion was They -- It's Always They in the September 2012 edition.

E-mail: Damian Delao

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