The Scales’ Dull Hallway
“I’ve got some bad news,” Vinny began, and by the end of the retelling Jud’s news, the spines of Vengeance stung so fiercely he leaned against the wall to keep from sinking to the floor. The sensation suffocated, driving the panic straight to his gut. He knew what Jud meant by the contract sealing before even knowing why. The promise of payment already existed.
“This is because of you,” Robby evenly said as if he’d already decided. His answer was devoid of emotion made it more nerve-wracking than anything. Vinny had to worry about it, Jud would be back after payment was recorded. Vinny needed to make some things right, “Jud’ll be back so I need to fix some things.”
Robby thumped his fists against the bed, “Like you fixed them before?” The conversation eased the stinging swirls rippling from Robby.
He didn’t answer. Vinny agonized on Jud’s efficiently and his depth of rending, it could be caustic, if the cause called for it. Death was possible. Before now, Vinny never thought the man would hold back. After receiving the warning, he wasn’t sure. He pushed himself off the wall and moved towards the door.
The contracts of Vengeance often came suddenly; it was always a good idea to be dressed at all times, because. That’s how he found himself barefoot in a hallway, in jeans and a t-shirt. Not expecting this shift, dizziness batted away some of his panicky nausea.
Numbered doors lined the hallway like in a motel or apartment complex; motels smelled more of disinfectant and clean sheets. The musty smell coated his tongue. The floor stuck slightly to his toes in a way reminiscent of a movie theater floor.
The domes sagging from the ceiling burned dully yellow, lacking the vivacity of the newer incandescent bulbs. That technology was created later than this building; this yellow came from seashell coverings. “Ugly things,” he whispered to himself, drawing his eyes to the sandy wooden doors and splotchy door frames.
Vengeance carried him here, but the reason remained theoretical. Some contracts acted like word searches: they hid in a mixture of unrelated background noise. Similar to Robby yesterday though hunting stole time. The panic threatened to overtake him again as he realized contracts owed him no time and were impassionate about his concerns.
His eyes darted to the bottom of each apartment, resting for a moment on the gap between floor and door, to snag the hint of emotion. He advanced when feeling nothing, trying to feel the faint, familiar vindictiveness.
The floorboards squeaked underfoot. Reaching to run his fingers against the wallpaper, the coarseness comforted him. Moments ticked by; he flexed his fingers while searching not only with his eyes but with his mind. Finally, he caught the bitter trail of angry grief; tension released his shoulders and the breath in his lungs. He drifted closer without meaning to when he realized the placard numbers grew.
The smell of spices came from one door; several doors down, bass rattled the door and lights, fading as he continued along the trail of Vengeance. Then he found the door.
For once, he wished he could ignore it. Time bowled over him, which added to the hopelessness. How could he even begin to counter Justice when he didn’t know where to begin? Why did Vengeance give him contracts when he was already overwhelmed? The weight of his future settled more firmly in his chest. He ground his teeth together and shook his head to scatter the burden. It didn’t go anywhere.
Angrily he pounded on the door to distract himself. He ground the ball of his foot into the floor, waiting. “Holy shit, hurry up.” He held each of his wrists, digging his nails into his skin. No one came to the door. He curled his fingers into a fist, banging against the door. It rattled on the hinges; he stepped back to wait.
Was that someone? Seconds passed. Almost pressing himself into the door, he angrily hammered on the door. In the silence following, he called, “Hey open up, it’s Vinny!” as if they would know him.
The door opened even as the man responded, “What the fuck?” The contract. With a presence that matched his voice, he held the door handle against his hip, blocking the threshold of the ajar door frame with his slender body.
His voice lacked the precision that came from wakefulness and long hair stuck to his sweaty shoulders. A red block-lettered tattoo covered the lower-right ribs displaying the long-faded and sloppy word ‘pretentious’ quite literally. Besides his basketball shorts, he wore a lone black sock on his left leg up to his knee making his skin appear pale.
The contract’s voice rumbled, “I don’t give a shit what your name is,” he spat, the wrinkles on his face contorting into a maelstrom of age. “What do you want?”
“I can help you.”
“I don’t do drugs anymore.” The man backed into his apartment, closing the door. Vinny slapped his hand against the door, holding it open with his weight. The contract’s anger flared only to dissolve, leaving an absolute vacuum of emotion. Vinny could breathe; clean, light air flooded his body. “Fine, hey!” he surrendered.
“I’m here to give you some peace,” Vinny told him hastily, more brashly than he should have. Suddenly he felt very conspicuous in the hallway; neighbors likely watched them through their peep-holes. They’d drawn enough attention.
“Fuck whatever preaching you’re gonna do,” the voice receded into his unlit apartment.
After entering, Vinny hesitated a breath. The door slammed behind him, startling him. The walls shook and settled. He followed the shuffling feet on the hard, worn carpet. He held his hands out, hoping to avoid knocking into a wall. The light clicked on; the kitchen appeared.
He didn’t cover his eyes. He blinked away the pain. Worse things awaited, he knew.