The Unbalanced Scales
The man abruptly pulled a chair away from his dining room table, scraping the floor loudly. Unorganized creased papers littered the surface; possibly bills from the amount of ragged envelopes on and under the table. He whirled the chair around and flopped onto it. “What do you want?” he spit tightly, resting on one of his elbows.
Vinny wasted no time, “There was a fire.”
He tried to control his voice and failed, yelling, “Are you a god damn reporter?” His posture straightened, suddenly alert and vigilant.
Vinny shook his head in time with his hands, as if physically brushing the idea away. “No, no. My name is Vengeance.”
“That’s a…stupid name,” said the man as his hair fell back over his face as he frowned, aimlessly playing his fingertips across some papers, shuffling and rolling them in the process.
Vinny shrugged; it wasn’t a dumb name. “There was a fire. Three dead. I’ve come to make things a bit better for you, easier to handle.”
“I told you, fucker. I don’t do drugs!” The man’s face flushed with the anger, and the stinging Vengeance slapped at Vinny’s face. He began to draw from the man’s pain; he began to doubt he were the cause of all this; the thought pleased him. Before he could focus, the energy danced away.
The man choked and left Vinny confused; it took him a moment to recognize the sound of the man weeping. His head fell into his hands, his back bowed with each shudder. Continuously wiping his tears from his eyes, he didn’t catch all of them. They dripped down his chin onto the linoleum. Vinny guessed the man had been crying before answering the door.
A small movement from the corner of his eye; Vinny turned to a plain-faced Jud in his black jeans and almost-white pink t-shirt. He carried his shoulders back with the strut of coming from a high-brow Francescan bar. His sneakers remained silent as he approached.
Jud’s voice rumbled into the space sharply, like rocks falling, like thunder. With his arms crossed, he came alongside Vinny, “Your brother killed two people. It was justice.”
Vinny snorted, “For fuck’s sake,” He barely rolled his eyes before the man’s head rose, his bloodshot eyes wide. He erupted upwards; the chair fell back. One stomp forward, two; there was so much anger. Eclipsed by the revulsion of losing his brother to the sentence, the callousness of Judgment’s words shocked him.
The air billowed hot energy into something Vinny could use.
The contract’s tears glued his hair to his cheeks and neck while he threw a wild punch across Jud’s jaw. Vinny drank deep. Vinny shoveled the focused energy into the beating. He pictured a car locking their brakes; Vengeance folded the force around Jud’s mind, filling him with confusion, expanding the pain, inserting uncertainty. As familiar as payments were to Jud, Vinny knew he didn’t have long before being resisted entirely.
But the contract’s punches distracted Jud; blood poured from his nose; sweat pooled in the corners of his eyes, before spilling onto the floor. His lips split. His hair matted from the abrasions on his forehead.
Did he want Jud dead? The thought startled Vengeance. But as soon as he had it, the thought terrified him. It would be nothing to let the contract kill Judgment. An emptiness filled him, like dropping off a building, like the fear of the first time the man appeared, haughty and a bit arrogant, but guiding after a time.
Blood pooled around Vinny’s toes, and he stared.
He didn’t need to kill. He just wanted to survive. The payment severed him from his power; Jud screamed. Vinny felt a small respite as he felt the ghost of Judgment seep away. Jud lost consciousness.
The sweaty man unrelentingly tightened his knuckles and drove them into Jud. It squelched; wrong and full and sick. Vengeance lost another moment before he moved forward, bare feet slipping in the wetness to pull the contract off, almost losing his grip. He wrapped his arms around the contract, locking his hands together and pulled. The man collapsed against Vinny, tears still flowing.
Vinny studied Jud’s face; moved his eyes down to the knees bent, one arm at his side, another extended, as if pointing to the door. Vinny took note of the shallow grunting, the steadiness of it. Somehow it was the perfect example of the beaten.
Perching the contract on the floor, leaning against the overturned chair, Vinny moved to Jud’s side, his jeans’ knees moistening with the effluence. Putting his fingers to Jud’s neck, the heartbeat remained strong. Relief flooded Vinny, cooling like a mist.
Leaving Jud for a moment, Vinny wiped the contract’s knuckles and face off, and helped him into his bed, exhausted and curled with his pillow. After that, Vinny shoved a piece of junk mail from the table into his pocket. He planned to check on him later.
Was Jud even “Jud” anymore? Vinny never knew the man’s real name; he’d never asked. The years stretched on and on; he could barely remember his own. It wasn’t a part of him anymore, and he knew Jud felt the same way, probably more strongly.
Jud became a challenge to haul out of the apartment. The man’s long stature made it difficult to move him; his heels dragging on the carpet didn’t help. They came across one person in the hallway; Vinny told them Jud was drunk, though that didn’t explain the bloody face.
Vinny huffed a breath of relief when he pressed the elevator button and heard the whirring as it chugged up to them. Once inside, Vinny leaned against the wall as it shuddered downward. The weight almost pinned them both to the wall. Uselessly he tried to wipe Jud’s face off.
Double metal doors gave way to fresh air; he slumped onto a stair of the wide concrete stoop, letting Jud’s limp form lean against him. While unconscious, his leg twitched every once in a while as if dreaming. They stayed there for the morning past the sunrise, until the sky was yellow-blue.
Slowly Jud groaned himself awake, rubbing his temples with one hand and his chin with the other. Blood crumbled away from his forehead. “You’re the worst,” he mumbled, unsuccessfully trying to sit upright.
Vinny nodded, “I am.”
“I am,” he agreed, and moments passed. Citizens began to maneuver around each other, up and down the sidewalk. Most never even glanced at the two men. Vinny assumed they appeared homeless. He didn’t realize Jud was deep in thought.
“What am I going to do now? Now that you’ve stripped me? Vengeance, what am I going to do?” he lamented quietly, staring at the grainy steps.
He raised his shoulders, and dropped them, drained. “What feels like justice?”
“Oh shut it, god damn. Feels like a truck hit me.” Jud blinked, opening his eyes, and glanced at Vinny. “Oh,” he murmured, “you look different.” On Vinny’s vocal shrug, Jud continued, “Maybe it’s because I don’t see the Scales anymore.”
“I don’t know, Judgment.”
“I wonder… my name?”
Vinny ignored him, “Let’s get you home.”
“I don’t have one.”
Undeterred, he told him, “Then let’s go to mine.” Bracing his hands on his knees, he lifted himself, and turned to help Jud up, a slow process. “It’s the least I can do.”