Since the first chapter of my new book went down pretty well I thought I'd post the second. I'm still looking for Beta Readers for the entire book so if anyone fancies reading the whole thing email me firstname.lastname@example.org - otherwise keep watching for more updates....
The Running Game
Charlie jolted awake in his chair, his face sodden with sweat. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve. Pain coursed up his back, reminding him of his nightmare. The reoccurring dream of the day it all went wrong. He fumbled through his pockets until he found his pills. The placebo was instantaneous, the pain relief followed shortly after. He rubbed his eyes and returned to the camera positioned towards the apartment in the opposite tower block.
The lights were on, curtains open. Someone had come home and he’d missed it. His one job and he’d screwed it up. He kicked out at the crutch resting against his chair and watched as it skidded across the floor out of his reach.
He lifted himself from his chair too quickly and his right leg buckled, knocking over the camera – only the most expensive bit of kit they owned. The lens cracked.
“Shit, shit, shit.” He shouted from the floor. The shockwaves of pain started to subside. Anger and shame fighting their usual battle, while the voice inside his head urged him to just quit already. And as usual a persistent nagging from his bladder brought everything into perspective. He carried a lot of indignity on his shoulders, the last thing he needed was to be found sitting in a pool of his own piss.
Slowly, because nowadays everything had to be done slowly, he edged himself over to his crutch and, with it in hand, he managed to make it to the bathroom. It was a small victory, but it was nearly enough to cheer him up. That was until he caught sight of himself in the broken mirror fixed above the sink. He used to have charisma. He used to be able to smile his way out of trouble. Now he was lucky if people didn’t cross the street to avoid him. Greying hair, dull red eyes, pallid skin. He was thirty-three; he looked fifty; he felt like a pensioner. Things had changed so radically in just a year. One year, two months and eight days.
The lock in the front door turned. Charlie straightened his clothes. Everything was normal, everything was fine. He could cope, of course he could cope. He checked his smile in the mirror and stepped out of the bathroom as his brother kicked open the door and then kicked it closed again, to make his point.
“Everything okay?” Charlie asked.
His younger brother was wearing a scowl so deep it could have been chiselled into his skull. Everything was clearly not okay. But with John it was impossible to tell how far up the disaster scale the situation was. Charlie had seen that same scowl when a job went sour and he’d seen it when someone spilt coffee on John’s suit.
John glanced away. He was annoyed with himself – never a good sign. Charlie braved a crutch supported step towards him. There was a four year age gap between the two of them and it had never been more apparent.
Charlie gestured for them to sit down at the fold-up table in the dining space. Most of the time John had everything under control. It was rare for him to make mistakes, or miscalculations and when he did he would beat himself up over it for days. He would need Charlie, a professional in screwing things up, to put everything into perspective.
“She saw me,” John confessed.
“She saw you!” Charlie said in disbelief. “You’re like a creature of the night, how the hell could see you? Jesus, most of the time I don’t even see you and I know you’re coming.”
John’s fists clenched and unclenched. He stood up to work off the tension and started to pace; short, quick steps, squeaking his leather shoes against the linoleum floor.
“There was an explosion. Some bastard left a lure bomb right on her route. I had to pull her away before the goddamn building fell on her.”
Charlie pinched the bridge of his nose. Even when his brother messed up he still managed to do something right. “What you mean is you saved her?”
John glared at him. “You’re missing the point.”
Charlie rolled his eyes. Only John would get himself so worked up over saving the life of their mark. “Listen, do you think he’d pay us if he found out we let her die?” Charlie assured him.
“You don’t know that. We have no idea what he wants her for!”
It was true, they didn’t and the fact was starting to chafe. The infamous Smith brothers always knew the cards on the table before the deck was even dealt. Charlie planned jobs like he was writing a script. Nobody ever missed a cue. At least that was how it used to be a year ago. A year, two months and eight days. Since then the jobs had dried up. They were lucky to get the Rachel Aaron case and that was only because Charlie’s old mentor put in a good word for them. But luck and even the backing of an old priest didn’t make the unknown any less troubling. They were out of their depth and they were still only in the shallows.
“Maybe he wants her dead,” John stated.
“If he wanted her dead he would have asked us to kill her,” Charlie replied. “And if he wanted her dead he wouldn’t be approaching a priest to see if he knew any contract killers. He wants her found John, that’s all.”
“I don’t like it,” John snapped. “This whole job feels off.”
“I know.” Charlie took a deep breath, his next sentence shouldn’t have made him nervous but it did. “Which is why I’m going to do a little field work myself.”
John never looked surprised, or happy, or anything other than mildly impatient, but when something pleased him his right eyebrow would lift ever so slightly. As it rose Charlie felt a pang of guilt that he hadn’t said it sooner.
“I thought you were a liability,” John jibed.
“It’s surveillance in a hospital John, who’s going to blend in better, me or you?”
The eyebrow perched higher on John’s forehead. He’d been patient with Charlie, more patient than Charlie felt he’d deserved, waiting for his brother to get back in the game instead of going out on his own. John hadn’t lost his edge. He didn’t have a problem with stairs. He could drink what he wanted. Sleep when he needed. Charlie was holding them both back, but John still clung to the hope that one day his brother would recover and things would go back to normal. And Charlie needed him too much to tell him that was never going to happen.
“You sure about this?” John asked.
“We need the money.”
“What if he does want to kill her, or worse?”
Despite what Charlie had said it was always a possibility. They weren’t working for the good guys on this one and the girl had been hard to find, even with Charlie’s skills. It was not going to end well for her and maybe that was why Charlie hadn’t asked enough questions.
“We need the money,” Charlie assured him. “That has to be our priority.” That wasn’t him talking. Sure he’d done questionable things, bad things even, but he had morality and right now it was screaming inside his head that this was all wrong.
John nodded, sharing his brother’s sentiments. “Fine, but if it has to be done I’ll do it.”
“No, you don’t need this on your conscience. I’ll do it.”
John gave him a look. “Are we seriously going to argue about who gets to kill her?”
“Has to,” Charlie corrected. “When you say ‘gets to kill her’ you kind of make it sound like a bonus prize. And no, we’re not going to argue because I’ll do it.” He didn’t have to say because it was his fault all of this had happened – that was a given.
John folded his arms. “Okay, but I get to dispose of the body.”
Charlie scowled. “Did you mean to say ‘get to’?”
His brother smirked. He had an unique sense of humour.
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