Writer’s Note: One Last Job: Part One was published originally in Jump Point 3.9.
The bar stank of sour beer and ship fuel. It was a favorite dockside watering hole, though Jonah couldn’t figure out why. His feet squelched on the sticky floor and a crusted piece of God only knew what crunched beneath the toe of his boot. The lighting was poor and the bartender gave him a dirty look as he wiped a greasy towel on a dirty glass.
Jonah took a seat in a wobbly plastic chair made up to look like wood. The table had a large scratch down the center of it, likely made by a knife or broken bottle.
The bartender’s eyes jerked to the entrance and his nostrils flared as the door slid open.
Jonah only came here when he had to meet someone, and there was only one person who ever wanted to meet him here. And at this moment, he owed that person money. A lot of money. In fact, he was behind on payments. Jonah sank into the chair as an uneasy feeling settled over him. The man he was about to meet took late payments personally.
This was going to hurt.
“Ain’t you a sight,” said Mickey “Gills” Black. He slapped Jonah on the back. Mickey’s right eye bulged and his skin was splotchy and purple. The story was, Mickey survived being sucked into space without a suit. Granted, it was only for maybe a second at the longest, but it was enough to permanently disfigure his face.
Jonah wished Mickey had stayed in the vacuum. It would have made his life so much easier.
“Mickey,” said Jonah. He tried to sound cheerful, but his voice still came out sour. They had a long-standing arrangement, but Jonah’s opinion of Mickey Black had not improved with time.
Mickey snapped to the bartender who gave him just as dirty a look as he had given Jonah and stalked off.
“No respect,” said Mickey. “His bar wouldn’t even be open if it weren’t for me. Gonna have to remind him, but not till I’ve had a nice chat with my dear old friend Jonah.”
Jonah swallowed. “Dear” and “friend” were not the words he would use, but he bit his tongue.
“How ya been, Jonah? Business good?”
“As good as can be expected,” said Jonah, trying to keep his voice even.
“Fair ’nough, fair ’nough,” said Mickey. “S’pose it could be better though, yeah?”
Mickey leaned in closer, careful to turn his half-ruined eye to Jonah. Jonah backed away and Mickey only grinned and fell back into his chair with a laugh.
Jonah gave him a small smile. “It can always be better.” He chose his words carefully. He didn’t want to give too much of an opening. This was a dance he was used to, one he and Mickey had played out dozens of times in their dealings over the last decade.
The surly bartender plodded over and thumped two beers on the table. Jonah tried to tell him he didn’t want any, but the man had already walked away, shoulders hunched and muttering to himself.
Mickey took a big swig and slammed the mug down. “If that ain’t the biggest glass o’ sewage water I ever swilled.” He spat on the floor and the bartender looked daggers at him. Jonah squirmed uncomfortably. The man either had a short memory or a death wish. Anyone else would have hidden under the bar or scurried to wipe up the mess. Jonah began to fear for the man, but Mickey just laughed.
Jonah shivered and sipped at his beer. He grimaced. It was sour with a moldy aftertaste.
“I assume you have work for me?” said Jonah. He really hoped it was work and not a collection.
Mickey took another swig of beer, sloshing it down his front, and sidled his chair around the table to lean on Jonah’s shoulder.
“As it so happens, I do,” he said.
Jonah felt his shoulders sag with relief. A knot at the base of his skull unwound. Maybe this wouldn’t be so painful.
“Very, very simple,” said Mickey. “Just run some light cargo, supplies and such. You’ll take it out on your next run, divert your course, meet with the client, drop it off, then go about your merry way. We’ll take, what, five thousand off what you owe me?”
Jonah’s stomach squirmed. Five thousand was very generous for simple work. But usually when Mickey said simple, it was anything but.
“What’s the catch?” said Jonah.
“No catch,” said Mickey. “Just a drop off.”
Jonah’s thinned his lips. “Who’s the client?”
“It really is just a simple drop off,” said Mickey. “I swear on the life of me mother.”
“For all I know, you killed your mother,” said Jonah. “Who’s the client?”
“An old friend of yours,” said Mickey. “Pietro.”
A cold sweat broke out on Jonah’s skin. Pietro was an old acquaintance, but certainly not someone Jonah would call a friend. If anything, they were colleagues in Mickey’s network of spies and couriers, Pietro being a spy.
Pietro Marquez was a disgraced Advocacy Agent. His old partner found out he was working for Mickey and things got messy. Most recently, Pietro had left a path of destruction escaping the Advocacy, and he was currently on the top of their most wanted list. His image was everywhere.
“No,” said Jonah, “I won’t do it. He’s too hot right now.” Jonah started to get up and Mickey grabbed his arm.
“Thought you might feel that way,” said Mickey. “Way I see it, you owe me and you’re behind on payment.”
The knot in his shoulders was back and tighter than before. Jonah almost would have preferred the pain of a collection over the mess that was Pietro Marquez.
“I’ll have it for you in a few days. Really,” Jonah assured. “I would have had it sooner, but my oldest girl, she got sick. Had to spring for a medbay visit. You’ll get it end of the week, tops.”
“Such a good father. It’d be a shame for those girls to grow up without you,” said Mickey.
Jonah sank back into his chair, his eyes fixated on the hand that gripped his arm. He couldn’t really back away from a job, and he’d never tried to, but this was too much.
“Pietro knows you,” said Mickey. “He trusts you. And I trust you. We both know you’ll get him what he needs. He requested you. By name. He thinks very highly of you.”
Jonah doubted that. Pietro called him a spineless lapdog the last time they worked together. And considering what Jonah was about to agree to, Pietro was probably right.
“Do this for me,” said Mickey, “and consider your debt settled. You’ll be free and clear and never have to do another job for me.”
Jonah raised his eyes to look Mickey in the face, bulging eye and all.
“You have my word,” said Mickey. “And you know me. I never go back on my word, do I?”
“You don’t,” said Jonah, dejected. Everything inside him screamed that this job was a mistake, but he couldn’t afford to miss the chance to get away from Mickey once and for all.
“Okay,” said Jonah. “I’ll do it.”
A grin spread across Mickey’s face. “Fantastic. Shake on it?”
Jonah nodded and took Mickey’s proffered hand.
“I appreciate this, lad,” said Mickey. “Really.”
He squeezed Jonah’s hand harder.
“Conversely, if you don’t do this, or decide you’re better off running, I will collect on my debt. Do you understand?”
Jonah swallowed and nodded.
“I didn’t hear you,” said Mickey.
“I understand,” said Jonah.
“Good,” said Mickey. He released Jonah’s hand and slapped him on the shoulder. “I’ll send all the details and the cargo to your ship.” He finished his beer and pushed away from the table.
Jonah watched as he walked up to the bar, hopped over it and proceeded to pummel the bartender into a bloody pulp. Several of the other customers pretended nothing was going on, but Jonah watched. He watched every brutal moment of it.
Satisfied that he’d made his point, Mickey stood, washed his hands in the ice bucket, climbed back over the bar without a word to anyone. He sauntered out the door, whistling as he went.
His mouth suddenly dry, Jonah took another sip of putrid beer and pushed away from the table. Slowly, he made his way to the bar. His stomach tied itself in a knot. He peered over.
The bartender lay in a puddle of beer and other fluids. His face was a bloody mess and he’d probably need reconstructive surgery. He groaned and rolled over into a fetal position. The man would live, but he would never forget that you don’t piss off Mickey “Gills” Black.