The Last 24 Hours

John looked up just in time to cringe as a meaty fist slammed into his face. Lights out baby.

Twenty four hours ago John woke up next to his flavour of the week. She was a stunning bombshell of a brunette. Breasts as natural as a computer but bodywork like the finest of import cars. She could certainly keep up. John guessed he’d get bored of her in another week. For now he would ride her out. Nothing says ‘take me now’ better than legs that go from the ground to heaven as they’re wrapped around a man’s face.

John swung his legs off the side of the bed, stretching as he stood up. The kind of stretch that a cat is jealous of. He started his morning routine: walk past his cars and start a pot of home-brewed Starbucks, shower, hot then icy cold, turn on some techno, and finally work on a car. His best friend, Darean had procured a new model for him. It was one of Honda’s off-the-line-into-the-showroom masterpieces. In just a week he had modified it and repainted it. Now it was a work of art.

He had airbrushed the car to look like an oil-slick in the fog, it shimmered. Tonight was the night he would showcase it. There were now more than enough sold models on the road that John wouldn’t be noticed. At least, not as much as anyone would be in a tricked out toy like this. He had a taste for simplicity. Everything fit, had its place. Every nut, every bolt, had a purpose. This car was his new baby. He hoped it would last longer than the girl. What was her name, again?

“You can let yourself out, or stay if you want,” he called to the girl as he started the car. He hoped it would be a day as fine as her, as fine as his car. John left her behind in his shop.

Sixteen hours ago Juliette finished showering, dressing, and eating. She looked about the shop. It was nice, as far as live-in auto-body shops went. John, she recalled, was his name. As well built as his car. “Correction,” she muttered, “Yamakura Sensei’s car. What kind of fool accepts stolen showcase property.” Juliette sent a text from her phone on the way out of the shop. Go.

This time it wasn’t a bad job. At least this one was attractive. The last guy she had to fuck to keep close to was a real sleazeball. A greasy-haired low life dealer that had shot his best friend in the face: over a ten dollar watch. Last time she saw him he was having quick-drying cement being poured around his feet. Good riddance. At least he was fastidious about protection.

She supposed that one day she might have a conscience about this sort of work. However, the pay was just too good. Why care about some loser’s life when a couple days paid more than five years at a regular job. What was the loss of some fuck like that going to effect? Not anyone worth caring for that was for damned sure.

By the time Juliette reached the corner store a few blocks away a thundering explosion rattled the cans on the shelves inside. Casually she walked in and bought some cigarettes. She shrugged when the clerk asked if she knew what it was. She heard sirens start up in the distance. She saw an ill flavoured colour above the auto-body shop. What was left of it.

Lighting a cigarette, Juliette turned and walked to the subway. She checked her bank balance from her cell. A five digit number brought hearts to her eyes. For her tonight would be a good night. For John it would be a miserable night indeed. Too bad. She kind of liked this one. Oh well. It’s all part of the job.

Ten hours ago John had walked into a small dive-bar. He had blood running down his face from a head wound. He was covered in grime, oil, and soot. No one asked questions in a place like this. He was ignored as he walked to the bathroom and splashed his face. He cleaned up. He returned to the bar and sat at a stool. Catching the bartender’s eye he ordered a double of rye. He hated the stuff.

He made a face. He shucked air through his teeth with a grimace. He slammed down the glass. He handed the bartender a ten. “Keep the change.” John thanked the numbness the rye brought to his cracked ribs. Poor car. He had been run off the road. It had been a black Hummer. It was no accident. It was his ability to drive that had saved him from dying. It was the Hummer driver’s inability to do the same that had killed them.

At speed a meridian does amazing things to the strongest of vehicles. The Hummer had peeled nearly in half as it erupted into a giant ball of fire. NOS explosions are spectacular. Someone wanted him dead. John had a feeling it had something to do with his car. He found a payphone in the bar. He called Darean. No answer. Huh. Something was wrong. Darean always answered that line. Even if he was fucking his girlfriend he would answer.

John walked back to the bar. Put down another ten and ordered another double. “Keep it,” he said as the bartender went for change. John took a breath and slammed the double. How the fuck do people drink this shit every day? John sat and thought for a few minutes. He let the alcohol relax his mind and muscles. What now?

He sighed heavily. Darean. Something must be there. Nodding a thanks to the bartender, John left. It was a long walk. Best time as any to clear my head.

Five hours ago Darean lay at the feet of a large tough broken and dead. He looked down at the scene. He was aware he was dead. It was unusual. Of course he told them everything he knew. Then they killed him. Tell them or suffer. I don’t suffer for no one.

A year ago Darean saw a movie about a cop that learned to read lips. He wished he had learned like he wanted. Not that it would be useful right now. Being dead and all. His corporeal form shrugged. The room faded slowly. It’s not white. Just some shitty, drab grey. Well fuck isn’t this just the most colourful afterlife.

At that very moment John ducked a punch then levelled one of several assailants. Out of no where a chair crashed down on the back of his head. Splinters flew. Sparks shot through his vision. He shook off the stars. He brought his knee into the nose of the man he’d just pounded. There was a sickening crunch as the man’s face caved in. This one was definitely dead.

A heartbeat later meaty fists were slammed into John’s spine. Right at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades. His vision sparked black and fire blue. He gasped for air. He fought unconsciousness. He dropped like a tonne of bricks. Bliss stole over his reeling mind.

“Jesus this guy put up a good fight. Killed Yasu too. The boss will not be happy. He liked him.” The two remaining men hoisted the two bodies. One was alive but unconscious and the other was dead. It was good that they’d stayed behind. On a hunch the men had waited at the apartment. Their partners had taken the man who lived here. The tough with John over his shoulder shook his head. Darean. What a girly name. Pussy probably ratted his friend here out in seconds. The men left. They didn’t bother to close the door.

Two hours ago Juliette walked inside a classy bar. Pulsing techno muted all conversation that wasn’t shouted. Bodies writhed on the floor. The bar was owned by Yamakura sensei. The bar was one of many in the city. Yamakura sensei owned a little bit of everything. Including people. Just like he owned Juliette. The tattoo at the base of her spine showed as much.

Everyone in this bar was owned by her boss. He was someone you never crossed, never questioned. Well, at least not if you don’t want to die. There was something to be said for proficiency. Nothing was done without her boss’ consent. If it was done it was meant to be done. He controlled everything right down to the inventory. He knew about every cent. He knew about every movement. Like a competitive chess player he knew what to do five moves in advance.

Movement from the back of the bar caught her eye. The VIP entrance opened. Two men walked in. Siad and Jeremy. Each was carrying a body. Subtle guys. Real subtle. She recognized one of the bodies. John. Damn. She was hoping that they’d leave it at blowing up his life. Oh well. She was sure that as nice a guy as he was, no one would miss him.

As Siad turned to enter the side door after Jeremy she recognized the other body. It was Yasu. He was maimed and certainly dead. The blood running down Siad’s back proved that. What the hell? Juliette shook her head. It was none of her business. She wasn’t paid to care. If a tough was dead then it wasn’t her problem.

Juliette walked to the bar and ordered a Grasshopper. Her minty favourite. Creme de menthe. Creme de cocoa. Heavy cream. Ice. Blended. Dangerous because you couldn’t taste three ounces of alcohol in a drink that was like a mint milkshake. Damn. Sex in a glass.

An hour ago John was tied to a chair. They, the toughs, threw a bucket of water in his face. Sputtering, John came to. “What the fuck?”

“Urasai,” commanded a steely Japanese voice. “You listen. Your friend is dead. My employee killed him. That is how I knew about you. You owe me a car.” There was no give in that voice. Focusing, John saw a face with eyes as cold and hard as the voice. This must be the man that his friend stole the car from. Darean, you fucking idiot.

“Yeah. You owe me a friend.” SLAM. A fist connected with John’s temple. Shadows played between the bright sparks in his vision. John spat out a blood drenched tooth. Right. Shut the fuck up. He was jerked back into a sitting position. The steel man waited. A calculated breath was taken and released. As much of a prisoner to the command of the steel man as John was, he wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of being broken.

“I make deal. Live through this. Then build cars for me.” This was no offer it was a command. John knew if he lived and didn’t build cars for this man he wouldn’t see another day. John simply nodded, wincing. “You must first learn your place. Don’t worry. I have the best surgeons. They repair face.” The steel man patted John’s cheek. “See that he learns.” The steel man left.

“It seems Yamakura sensei likes you. You’re lucky.” Siad drove his fist into John’s knee just above the kneecap. “It seems he hopes you’ll live.” Jeremy accentuated Siad’s comment with a closed-fist backhand to John’s temple. “It seems, however, that we are allowed to hurt you.”

Jeremy and Siad both brought their knees up hard into John’s ribs. There was a sickening crack as several broke. I’m going to kill you fuckers. First chance I get.

A moment ago a meaty fist slammed into John’s face. He fell unconscious. Nothing to worry about now. No more pain. I wonder if they’ll wake me up or beat me while I’m under. A blissful blackness held John aloft. He floated in a sea of nothing. John felt no pain. He supposed that this was what death felt like.

After what felt like eternity had passed. He felt a cold cloth gently dabbing his face. He moaned. Opening his eyes he saw hazel eyed concern. Juliette. He finally remembered her name. “They really worked you over. You’re lucky, though. You killed Yamakura sensei’s favourite employee. He was not happy.” John winced in agony. His ribs crunched as he breathed.

“Not much you can do but heal. Yamakura sensei said I can keep you. That means I’m responsible for you. He’ll hurt me in ways you don’t want to know about if you cross him. They’d have killed you if I didn’t ask him to stop them. You owe me your life.”

What the fuck? “I guess there’s,” a wave of nausea, “worse people to be owned by.” John retched blood. I must look like shit. Juliette nodded to someone behind John. Siad and Jeremy brought a stretcher over. They carefully laid John on it.

“Sorry, man. A job’s a job. You’ll see. And hey, you get the girl in the end. Yamakura sensei must really like you. Juliette is his niece. Doesn’t mean I won’t kill you if you cross her or him. Doesn’t mean I like you but we work together now. So pretend if you have to.”

Oh, I’ll pretend all right. Then I’ll kill each of you fuckers with my bare hands. Slowly, so you go to hell. You and your sadistic fuck of a boss. John let himself fall back into blackness. Ah. I like it here.

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