I’m not quite sure whether this will wind up as a single chapter or not, but at the moment it fits, so I’ll go with it. As always, comments are welcome.
I was a little distracted when I met Massimo for the first time. Carly and I had only spoken a few times since my episode with Brad, and I didn’t have any solid sense of where things were. She was obviously upset, and it had to do with me telling every single person I met that we were together. How could I help it? Wasn’t she flattered that she was the best thing that ever happened to me? Had I really screwed things up by being too happy? Anyway, that’s what I was thinking about when Massimo and I met.
Massimo was big. Not just tall, but big in the steroid-using and slightly over-eating senses of the word too. I was just about to lock my apartment when he reached out a huge hand and stopped me from turning the key. He gave me a big, mean smile, then opened the door and pushed me back through it. Another, slightly smaller, guy followed us inside.
My brain was pretty much consumed by thoughts about Carly and I didn’t put up any resistance. In fact, I didn’t say a single word until Massimo had pushed me down the hall almost into my office. Even then, “What’s going on?” was the best I could manage (what with the short notice and all).
“You been pissing people off is what I hear.” Massimo grabbed the front of my shirt and pushed me against the door jam. His partner walked past us into the living room.
“What a shithole.” Massimo’s friend kicked over a stack of empty pizza boxes that cascaded into an empty bottle of Wiser’s with a crash. “Nice TV though.” He pointed to my 40″ flatscreen.
“It’s all yours, guys,” I pleaded. “And here’s my wallet. Take whatever you want.”
The second guy reached out and took the wallet, but Massimo cuffed him with his free hand. “We ain’t here for cash, fucktard.” He was looking at me when he said it, but I think he might have been talking to the other guy.
“There’s nothin’ in here anyway,” said the smaller man, tossing my wallet aside with a laugh.
About that time the shock started fading into fear. I had never been mugged before, but at least I would have had a label for that. I had no idea what was going on here. Were these guys here to kill me? What could I possibly have done that would make someone want to kill me?
Massimo looked over my shoulder into my office. “You gonna offer us some of your computer shit too?”
“Whatever you want,” I said. I looked down at his sausage-sized fingers and tried desperately to control my bladder. “How about I’ll leave, and you guys can do whatever you want.”
With no visible effort, Massimo slid me up the door jam until my head bumped the top of the frame and my feet were dangling. He waved his partner into the office with a head gesture and pointed to my triple-monitor setup. “This computer shit is getting you into trouble, man.” On cue, his partner pushed over one of the flat-screens.
My heart lurched. “Guys, please. Whatever I’m doing that you don’t like, I promise I’ll stop.”
I flinched as the guy pushed over the centre monitor.
Massimo chuckled. “I know that. But we still gotta do our job.”
“Your job? I don’t understand. I really want to help you guys but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Massimo leaned in a little and his weight started pushing the air out of my lungs. “You fuck around with computer stuff too much and it’s pissing off the wrong people. If you don’t wanna see me again you better lay off that shit.”
The other guy picked up my third monitor and threw it against the wall, taking the entire contents of my desktop with it. I twisted in Massimo’s grip and his fist slid up from my chest to my neck. The sudden choking pain distracted me enough to forget all about bladder control. My morning cup of coffee started pooling under my feet.
Massimo burst out laughing and dropped me in my puddle of urine and self-loathing. I desperately wanted to lash out, to hurt them. But I was helpless and that fact smothered me like a thousand-pound blanket.
Massimo reached over and turned my head to face him. “Repeat after me: From now on I will do what I’m told and mind my own business.”
He let go of my head and patted me on the cheek with his open palm – just hard enough to hurt. “Good boy. You just remember out little chat here and we won’t ever have to see each other again.”
They paused at the door and Massimo called back to me. “Don’t even think about the cops. You wouldn’t live long enough to testify.”
I nodded and looked down to hide the tears gathering in my eyes.
I did make it in to work that day. I had popped a couple of Ativans before I left the apartment again and they smoothed things out enough that I could at least get by. The last thing I wanted was to start some new shit with Brad before I figured out what the hell those guys wanted. I took the long route to my office to avoid Carly and I shut Scott up with a single nasty glance before he could come over to bug me about being late.
I brought up my current project as soon as my butt hit the office chair (my current work project that is – no way was I going to touch the fishmouths stuff after what Massimo said). I figured if I actually put in a few hours of real work I could hand it in and maybe keep Brad off my back for a while. With that goal in mind I blocked out the meat world and wired in, hard. Despite the Ativan (or maybe because of it) the code was flowing and I put in a solid hour of productivity before I was interrupted by a knock.
Brad poked his head in. “Mikhail, do you have a minute?” He walked in and closed the door behind him without waiting for a response. So much for avoiding him.
He pulled up a chair and sat across from me. “You understand that you left me no choice, don’t you?” He paused. “I hated doing it, but you need to realize how serious this is.”
Blank looks are one of my specialties, but this one was epic, even for me. “I’m not sure what you mean,” I said, when I saw that he was waiting for a response.
Brad inhaled dramatically. “They obviously didn’t hurt you, but you can’t possibly be unclear about the reason for your visitors this morning.”
To steal a bit from Fight Club, “we just lost cabin pressure.” The implications of his statement drove the air from my lungs faster than a gut-punch from Massimo. I don’t remember what I wanted to say in the moment, but the words came out as a choked gurgle anyway. How the fuck did a guy like Brad have connections to a guy like Massimo? It was impossible. And yet not, apparently. Brad waited patiently as I struggled. Eventually, I came up with, “They broke my computer.”
Brad looked at me like I was brain damaged, then threw up his hands. “They were just supposed to talk to you. They were told not to break anything.” He stood up and started pacing. “I just needed you to understand how dangerous these people are.”
“I get it.”
“Ok, well, good. I’m hoping we can just move on without any more difficulties. There’s no need to create any more complications. Are we in agreement?”
“You don’t want me to call the cops.”
“Mikhail, if you involve the police, these men will kill you; immediately; and there is nothing I could do about it.”
“I believe you.”
The son of a bitch actually had the nerve to smile. “I’m glad to hear that, Mikhail. There is no reason for this to be any more complicated or for it to affect our working relationship.”
I remember thinking that he must be from another fucking planet. Working relationship? Seriously? I just nodded.
He nodded back, straightened his suit jacket, gave me one of his positive-reinforcement smiles, and left.
It took me about 40 minutes to mod a few routines that would delete and overwrite everything I had worked on in the last year. As soon as they were running, I grabbed a small box from the closet and threw in the half dozen items I had any personal connection to. And then I walked out.
I ran into Carly on my way to the elevator. She looked questioningly at the box. “What’s wrong?”
“I think I don’t work here any more.”
That certainly caught her by surprise. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s nothing to do with you. Don’t worry about it.”
“Mikhail, I’m the human resources director. Of course it has something to do with me.”
If Brad’s revelation was like a hard punch in the stomach, Carly’s response was a kick in the nuts with a running start. “Human resources? That’s your response? Fuck you.” I stormed past her and smashed the elevator button.
“Mikhail, that’s not what I meant. I’m sorry.”
I kicked an elevator door, then headed for the stairs. “Don’t even fucking think about following me. I don’t know you.”
She took a single step, then her look of concern shifted to anger, and she stopped. “Fine.”
She might have said something else. I hope she did. Either way, I didn’t hear it through the slamming fire door.