(My rules: Post an on-the-spot piece of fiction based on the daily prompt. It has to be written quickly, in one sitting, with no major rewriting, just minor edits for spelling and typos. Minimum of 250 words. Ready, set, go!)
“You’re late,” Jack said. One long, steel-tipped finger wound around a chain at his waist and tugged. A pocket watch slithered from the folds of his coat, spun in the air, and somehow ended up in his palm. He peered at it. “You were due at half-past eleven. Don’t tell me you were dawdling. Not tonight, of all nights.”
“I was held up,” Charlie said. He struggled to keep his voice even and unafraid. Jack’s burning scrutiny could make the strongest man quiver, and no one would ever mistake Charlie for a strong man.
The woman leaning against the wall didn’t seem to be in any difficulty. Her gaze was contemptuous. Her eyes flicked down, then up, and then she looked away. “Held up, right,” she muttered.
“Where is he?” Charlie heard himself ask. He winced, then reminded himself not to show fear, and then gave up and took a sweating step back. “He’s, uh, overdue, isn’t he? I mean…”
“He’s delayed, not that it’s any business of yours,” Jack sneered.
The woman made a faint clicking sound with her tongue. “It is when we’re the ones waiting on him,” she said.
“Your appointment is in… seven minutes,” Jack said, consulting his watch again. “You were told to arrive at half past the hour for your own sake, not his. You’d do well to remember that.” He turned on Charlie. “You do remember the penalty for procrastinating, don’t you?”
Charlie flinched. “I’m here, aren’t I?” He was whining now, and he hated himself for it.
Jack grinned at him. Charlie shuddered and looked away. The woman sighed loudly.
As the minutes crawled by, the tables began to turn. Jack checked and rechecked his watch, pacing and muttering. The woman was still leaning against the wall, the picture of casual unconcern.
“It’s 12:01,” the woman said.
Jack sniffed and looked at his watch. “Actually, it’s still only…”
“Can it,” she snapped. She opened one hand.
“You have the same watch,” Charlie said.
“Yeah, good job, Sherlock,” the woman said. She held her hand out to Jack. “Don’t fuck with me.”
Jack glared at her. The woman’s gaze remained steady. Jack reached inside his jacket, snarling, and handed her an envelope.
“What’s going on?” Charlie asked. He felt very stupid, but he had no idea why.
The woman rolled her eyes at him. “Didn’t you read the damn contract? We had to be here at midnight, or we’d pay a penalty on top of what we already owed. But if he doesn’t show up to collect, then we’re done.” Charlie blinked at her. She took a step forward, fist clenched. “What is wrong with you? He’s fucking late, dude, he’s tardy, he’s lost his chance to collect! You keep whatever you got out of the deal, and you get to walk away free and clear! Got it?” Without waiting for his answer, she shook her head, turned and stalked away.
Charlie looked at Jack. A strange grinding-rubbing-clicking noise was coming from Jack’s face, behind his face, and Charlie shrank away from him. “Is that true?”
Jack hissed and tossed an envelope at him. “Here. Congrats. Fucking hooray for you.”
Charlie stared down at it in wonder. “So I get to keep my soul?”
“Yes!” Jack exploded. “Fucking idiot! Now beat it, scram, fuck off, get the hell out of my face, already!”
Charlie stared down at the envelope. “Has he ever been late before?”
Smoke curled out of Jack’s nostrils. “None-of-your-fucking-business-now-fuck-the-hell-off-before-I-rip-your-fucking-head-off. Understand?”
Charlie looked up. “But…”
“What?” Jack’s eyes were flaming caverns, and for a moment, Charlie thought he could hear screaming.
“Well, if this contract is no good… can I get a new one?” Charlie rubbed his head. “I mean, I sure could use some more money, but I was kinda thinking I’d like to be famous, too.”
Jack stared at him for a long moment, and then an oily smile spread along the strange contours of his jaw. Charlie smiled back at him, and thought that he’d never seen such clear blue eyes before.