Revised & Rewritten 29 Dec 2021
This had been the worst decision ever. And given her back catalogue of bad decisions, that was saying a lot. She didn’t exactly know how she’d got herself this deep into this much trouble so quickly but there was no escaping the reality of the situation. He was a dangerous man, scarier than she’d anticipated, and she wasn’t sure how she was going to get herself out of this hole. She’d really done it this time. This time she had run out of the tiny allocation of luck that occasionally came her way.
There had been a plan, but maybe that was her first mistake, plans required good decision making, wisdom, and a fair share of luck. All things that she lacked. Her disastrous track record should have been a clear warning. But then luck stepped in and had thrown an opportunity her way.
The document was on the large dark wood desk in front of her. When it had landed in her lap, she’d convinced herself that it was the will of fate, and trusted destiny. But this time fortune had laughed in her face.
It had seemed like an omen, however now that she was sitting in his office, she could see that this was never going to end well. She’d signed the contract in the misguided hope that it would put her demons to bed and allow her a sense of redemption. But there was no going back now. She’d cast the dye and the only way she was going to get through this was to charge through and hope for the best. It wasn’t as if she could escape.
“Emma Wilson,” the man, looking out the window in the darkened room, spoke with a gravelly voice.
She sat there, the two large men who had deposited her into the chair stood behind, seemingly to discourage her from having any hope in a bright future.
“You are Emma Wilson?” the man glanced over his shoulder at her.
“Was that a question?” she blinked in surprised, “I figured that you’d know my name given that you’d kidnapped me.”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” the man growled, then sighed, “And you’ve not been kidnapped.”
“Really,” she glanced at the burly men who stood expressionlessly between her and the door to the room, “Then you’d better inform your thugs of that fact.”
“You have been brought here,” the man, who was still standing in the shadows, voice sounded uninterested, “As the guarantor of a loan made to one Frank Rica. Mr Rica has made himself unavailable to repay the debt which makes you responsible for settlement.”
“I didn’t sign that,” she glanced at the paperwork on the desk in front of her which clearly bore her signature, “It doesn’t count if I didn’t know what I was signing.”
“There is a witness, which negates the claim he forged your signature,” the man was still gazing out the window as if there was something fascinating in the inky darkness, “And that witness can attest that Mr Rica did not mislead you. The contract is binding.”
“But I didn’t read it,” she whined.
“Are you serious?” this time the man turned, “It’s a legal contract between the Byrne Family and a known gambler. How could you not read it before signing?”
“He seemed nice,” she winced.
“Nice?” the man made a sound that might have been a scoff, “Nice enough to now owe us three hundred thousand dollars?”
“Three,” she spluttered, “Hundred? Thousand? You can’t be serious?”
“Plus interest,” he seemed unmoved by her floundering and turned back to the window.
“But that’s too much,” she shook her head, “You can’t expect me to have that much cash.”
“Legal contract,” he said the words like he was talking to a five-year-old, “Irrespective of my expectations, you are now responsible for this debt.”
She opened her mouth then closed it again with a snapping noise.
“We have looked into your assets,” he shuffled and for the first time she noticed that he was leaning on a walking stick, “And found them lacking. You have no vehicle, no property, and no investments.”
“No shit,” she mumbled, “What you didn’t find the beach house in the Bahamas? The Swiss Bank account held in an alias name? And what about the safe behind my mother’s portrait filled with bars of solid Gold? You didn’t find anything? You should get better investigators.”
“Your sarcasm is not endearing,” the man growled, “But if any of those should exist, now might be a good time to share that information with us.”
“Everything I own was in the apartment that your thugs just trashed,” she snarled back, “I own the clothes on my back, sixty-five dollars and some loose change. And before you ask, there is no family to harass and no loved ones to threaten.”
“You can’t be alone in this world?” he hobbled so that he was facing her, still cloaked in shadow, “Parents? Boyfriend?”
“Nothing,” she said then looked around at the three large figures standing around her, “Unless you are planning on killing me, then there’s heaps of people who will miss me. Countless friends and acquaintances who know that I’m here tonight. There will be plenty of missing person reports and pesky investigations into my disappearance.”
“Really?” he sounded unconvinced, “You seem to have the wrong impression of me.”
“Loan shark? Kidnapper? Thug owner? Dark corner lurker?” she listed with her fingers.
“I’m not stupid, nor am I an amateur,” he ignored her petty insults, “If I kill you the debt remains unpaid and if I was to forgive the debt in this way, I would not have linked you to me in this way. You would already be dead and none of my men would have been within a block of the poor excuse for a rented room that they dragged you out of. As the saying goes, this is not my first rodeo.”
“I can see that,” she glanced at his legs, “I hope the bull faired better than you did.”
“The bull,” he spoke through his clench teeth, “Was not as lucky as I was.”
“Does that make him beef steaks?” she asked with wide eyes, “Or does it mean he’s strapped to a skateboard rather than leaning on a walking stick?”
She heard one of the men behind her take a sharp intake of breath. Glancing behind her it was clear that they had stiffened as if expecting a beating. She bit her lip, maybe she’d said too much. It didn’t seem that they were worried about their own safety.
“Do you have no sense of self-preservation?” the man had both hands together on the walking stick and was leaning all his weight on that long, straight pole.
“It’s one of my more charming characteristics,” she shrugged, “The inability to know when to shut up.”
“Bruno, Joe,” as the names were spoken the men behind her stepped closer, “Leave us now.”
“But Mr Bryne,” one of the men spoke, “She’s a fighter this one.”
“I’m aware of that,” he signed, “I hope you’re not questioning me, Joe? I asked you to leave. I shouldn’t have to ask twice.”
“Of course not,” Joe and Bruno backed away and the door closed behind them.
She relaxed a little and looked around the room.
“You owe me a considerable amount,” the man had not moved, “How do you suggest that we solve this problem? Do you have any saleable skills?”
“I can pour a beer,” she shrugged her shoulders, “Darn a sock, heat a can of beans, and I make a pretty awesome instant coffee. I can’t drive, operate heavy machinery, or do repetitive tasks, they drive me crazy. And I was lying about the sock thing, I have no idea how to darn.”
“I said saleable skills,” he said slowly, “Skills that would generate a profit. Can you sing, dance or entertain?”
“Nope, and I don’t think anyone would pay three hundred thousand for any of my body parts either,” she wiggled her fingers as she frowned, “And my organs are very second-hand, not prime condition. I doubt you’d get five dollars for my liver.”
“I’m not an organ harvester,” he didn’t look at her when he spoke, “It’s just that girls with skills do better in my brothels.”
As he spoke, he changed his stance, and she made her move. She’d already shifted her weight in anticipation, waiting for the opportunity. Then as he shuffled his clearly injured body so that only one hand gripped the walking stick, she charged aiming to knock him sideways.
She vaulted around the desk, sending the paperwork to the floor, and aimed her weight at his vulnerable side. Her feet hit the carpet, her shoulder low, as she charged forward. He wasn’t there. A sharp pain caught her in her midriff, causing all the air in her lungs to rush out and forcing her to bend forward, pushing her headfirst forward. She stumbled. A new searing pain caught her behind the knees. She fell face first, curled up, and gasping for breath.
“Did you expect that to work?” he sounded surprised, “I will again remind you; I am not stupid. I might be a cripple, but do not assume that because my body is damaged that I am mentally impaired. I am Felix Bryne, I’ve survived attacks from trained assassins, and you’re a small desperate girl, what did you think was going to happen?”
“Rather that,” she wheezed as she fought for air, “Than brothel.”
“You’d rather attack me and risk my wraith,” he shuffled to sit on the edge of the desk, “Than sell your body?”
She gasped, not just because the walking stick had winded her. Now that she was in the dark on the floor her eyes had adjusted to the low light that he was still standing in. She could see his features.
He was younger than she’d thought, late twenties to early thirties, and his body was lean. His shoulders were broad, and his waist was narrow. He was clearly muscular but not in an obvious way. The white dress shirt he was wearing was cut to cling to his chest and was tucked into the dark pants that hung off his hips. If she’d had any breath left in her body, he would have taken it.
“You’re hot,” the words escaped her faster than her brain could react to stop them.
“As I said previously,” he seemed unmoved, “Sarcasm is not endearing.”
“Not being sarcastic,” she lifted herself up on one elbow, “You’re not bad looking Felix.”
“Is that right?” his voice was flat, “You find me attractive?”
He must have flicked a switch somewhere because the lighting changed. She blinked as the lights above brightened, causing spots in her vision. She was looking straight at him when her vision cleared.
He wasn’t looking at her. His face was downturned but that didn’t hide the scars. His eyes were unscathed but that was the only facial feature which were normal. His skin showed the effects of severe burns. His left cheek was scar tissue and the ear and dark short hair was missing on that side of his head. From there the damage snaked down his neck. The liquid that had caused the damaged must have splashed as there was splotches of discolored plastic like skin across his face. He wasn’t hot, he was melted.
“Felix,” she breathed his name.
“I didn’t give you the right to you use my name, Miss Wilson,” he growled as the lights dimmed again.
“No,” she was still looking at him, “Turn them on again. If we are going to negotiate then I want to see you.”
“Why?” he huffed his annoyance, “Because I’m a monster?”
“The reverse, actually,” she pushed herself up to sit on the floor, “If anything the scars make you more human. I need to see that you are not a monster.”
“Are you being sarcastic again?” he said with less certainty in his voice, “Most people can’t stomach my face.”
“I’m not most people,” she pushed herself up and moved around the desk to retake her original seat, “Come on Felix, my stomach might be bruised but I’m not going to puke all over you.”
The lights came up again. He hoped off the desk and swung himself into the chair. His eyes leveled with hers and they regarded each other silently.
“You’re not that scary, Felix,” she laughed as if answering an unspoken question, “You have a few scars, so what? I’ve had an ingrown toenail that makes your face look like an oil painting.”
“Nice,” he tightened his jaw muscles, “You do realize that your familiarity and causal attitude to my deformity will not excuse you from the debt?”
“Dang,” she smiled, “Does it help that I’ve just used my feet to rip up the contract?”
“Copy,” he signed, “As I’ve said before, not stupid.”
“Well, Felix,” she smiled, “We’ve already established that I have no money, assets or ability to pay you, so where does that leave us?”
“You’re not entirely correct,” his blue eyes looked straight at her, “You wouldn’t be here if you had no ability to pay.”
“I thought you understood that I’m no prostitute,” she narrowed her eyes but didn’t drop her eyes from his, “If you put me in a brothel, I’ll bite the penises off your clients and that wouldn’t be good for business.”
“That is true,” the unburnt portion of his lips curled into a half smile, “And yes, the brothel wasn’t what I was referring to. As you are not in a position to negotiate, I was considering a less public arrangement. I might consider taking you on to my staff.”
“Felix,” she breathed his name out, “Don’t you think you already face enough challenges without having half a penis?”
“Unless you have teeth in your pussy,” his eyes didn’t sway, “My cock will be safe.”
“Ha, Ha,” she laughed nervously, “Come on Felix, I’m not attractive nor am I that good at sex for you to invest three hundred thousand for one night of pleasure.”
“You’re probably right,” he smiled again but his eyes stayed serious, “That was why the contract is for one year, not one night.”
“One year?” she spluttered, “That’s almost one thousand per night, you can get a quality prostitute for that.”
“Yes, I can,” he said without humor, “And I have, but that’s not what I’m paying for.”
“I think you’re seriously overrating my skills,” she tried to laugh, “What can I offer that a prostitute can’t give you?”
“A baby,” he said simply, “You will pay off your debt by carrying my child.”