I don’t know what I clicked on my Google Docs last night, but I unearthed a short story I wrote back in 2015. I think I submitted it for a FIXI (that’s a local indie publisher here in Malaysia) anthology. Needless to say, it wasn’t selected 😛 I’m still pretty happy with it though, so rather than let it languish in storage, I’ve decided to share it with you guys here. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
PS: I wish I could still write like this. I don’t think my creative writing skills have improved over the years (rather, they’ve deteriorated because uninspired. lol)
by Eris Choo
Khoo felt relief wash over him (or maybe it was just the rush of cold air) when he finally stepped into the cool, air-conditioned interior of the fast food restaurant. Parking in SS2 was a nightmare – he had been driving around for half an hour, and the only available spot was still a ten minute walk away. Now his shirt was stuck to his back with sweat. He wiped some off his brow, adjusted the heavy backpack over his shoulder and took a moment to catch his breath.
It was close to lunch hour, and the place was filling up with customers. Khoo fell into line behind a little boy and his mother. The boy was having a minor meltdown as he pointed at three yellow and blue figurines displayed on a nearby glass shelf.
“Nak Minion! Nak Minion!” he pleaded, stomping his tiny feet and tugging hard on his mother’s sleeve. She shushed him. Spurned, the boy flopped onto the floor like a starfish, wailing his lungs out. “Minionnnnn! Nak Minionnnn!” he screamed, as if his very life depended on it. The poor, harried mother, who already had her hands full with shopping bags, tried to pull him to his feet. People were starting to stare. Some shook their heads, others looked annoyed.
“Ok, mak beli, mak beli set Minion. Diam boleh tak?” she hissed, defeated. The boy immediately subsided, watching quietly as his mother ordered a child’s set meal and one for herself. He unwrapped the Minion toy and hugged it to his chest, happy that his wish was fulfilled, while the mother clucked and told him to find a seat.
Khoo smiled. He remembered a time when Mandy was younger; she had been quite the handful herself. He recalled how she had climbed onto the roof to get the badminton shuttlecock – nearly gave him a heart attack when he came home from work and saw his daughter clambering up the pipes on the side of the house like some monkey, her long ponytail swinging behind her. He had screamed at her to get down before she broke her neck, but his little girl had climbed right up to the top, then sat on the roof and waved at him. The cheek! But that was Mandy alright – she always did what she wanted to, even when her father told her otherwise.
“Hi, sir. Makan sini ke bungkus?” the petite Malay girl behind the counter asked, snapping Khoo out of his reverie.
He ordered a medium coke for dine-in. Drink in hand, he climbed up the stairs.
Am I really going through with this? he thought. His feet felt heavy. With each step, his heartbeat seemed to get louder and louder, until it roared in his ears and blocked out all other noise, just as he reached the restaurant’s second floor.
He’ll be in the corner, with a book. KL Noir: Red, if he’s open for business.
Sure enough, there he was.
Khoo was taken aback by the man’s appearance. He was expecting someone big and burly, with gorilla-like arms covered in tattoos…or maybe a tough-looking thug in shades and a black coat, like in those gangster movies.
Instead, sitting with his back to the glass window overlooking the street was a thin but athletic youth. He couldn’t be older than 25. Dressed in a grey turtleneck and black-rimmed glasses, he might as well have been auditioning for a part as Steve Jobs in a biopic. Mandy would have called him ‘one of those hipster dudes’.
The thought of his daughter hardened his resolution. He clenched his fists, walked over and sat down at the table.
The guy didn’t look up or make any indication that he noticed his new table mate. After a few minutes, Khoo cleared his throat.
“Are you Zee?”
“Depends on who’s asking,” the man replied, still not looking up. He had a deep but soothing voice, the kind reminiscent of Patrick Teoh-esque radio announcers back in the 60’s. Khoo was starting to wonder if he had gotten the right person.
“I heard you provide… solutions. To problems,” Khoo began.
Zee flipped a page. “For a price, yes.”
“I have a problem that needs solving.”
Silence. Then: “If you know how to look for me, you know my fee, yes?”
Khoo nodded. He knew as much.
“Cash. Half upfront, and half after I deal with your… problem,” Zee said quietly. Right on cue, Khoo unshouldered his backpack and placed it onto the table.
That finally caught Zee’s attention. He put down his book and leaned forward, an expression of polite interest on his young face. Khoo shrunk back a little in spite of himself. It was like a switch being turned on. He saw a cold, hard glint in the man’s eyes that wasn’t there before, and wondered why he had even doubted if it was the ‘right person’. He shuddered. He had been dealing with a snake – one that was hiding or pretending to be asleep, but had suddenly woken up and was ready to strike at any moment.
“Tell me more about this problem of yours.” Zee said.
Khoo told him.
The man leaned back, closed his eyes and nodded. “Good. I’ll look into it. Meet me back here at the same time next week with the rest of the payment.”
“I have a request.”
The man smiled, more to himself than to Khoo. It was a ‘I’ve heard it all’ smile.
“I…don’t want it to be quick. Do you understand?” Khoo asked, his voice trembling slightly. Not from shame or fear, but from anger. Mandy’s face loomed in front, like someone had plastered his daughter’s image over his eyes. “Make sure he knows what we’ve been through.”
“That’ll cost you extra. Include that in your final payment.” the man said curtly. He got up to leave, picking Khoo’s bag and tossing it over his shoulder.
“Wait.” Without thinking, Khoo grabbed the guy’s arms to stop him from leaving… then recoiled at the sudden thought of what those arms and hands must have done. Khoo felt a wave of shame and disgust: both at himself and the man standing before him. But he had asked for this. He had sought out Zee’s services. He was in no place to judge.
“If there are any problems… there’s no way it can get back to me, right?”
“Don’t worry, Mr Khoo.” The smile Zee gave him was cold. “Everything we discussed today is confidential.”
The blaring club music was giving him a headache. Techno! Of all the terrible music genres to ever exist, this was the one they had to pick for the night. Zee, he preferred classical music. Nothing like listening to some Vivaldi after a long day at work.
He leaned against the railing on the raised platform which overlooked the dance floor, sipping on a cold beer. The alcohol kept his insides warm, helped him to focus on the task at hand. If the night dragged out any longer, he’d have to order a soda. Mixing business with pleasure was a bad idea. When he was at work, he was focused. He had to be.
He glanced at his watch, which said 2am. It had been a long night, tailing his quarry around. Said quarry and his bunch of friends had gotten steadily drunk as they hit almost every single alcoholic establishment in the area. Zee couldn’t even keep track of the name of the club they were in now.
He continued watching his target, who was attempting to grind against a bunch of scantily-clad girls in the middle of the dance floor. After what felt like an eternity, the window Zee had been looking for finally opened – the guy was stumbling toward the restrooms at the back. Zee finished off his drink in a hurry, tossed the can onto a nearby table and started down the spiral staircase.
There was a Caution: Wet Floor sign just next to the toilet door. Perfect. He propped it up, slipped in and closed the door behind him.
His oblivious victim was pissing into a urinal, his back to the door. The place was empty. Things couldn’t have gone any better.
Time for some action.
“Rodney, my man,” he said, clapping a hand onto the poor chap’s back.
“What the fuck, dude ? Can’t a guy take a leak? What do you – ”
Zee caught his victim in half-turn, slamming the latter’s head against the wall in one swift motion. There was a loud thunk as Rod’s skull hit the concrete wall and he slumped, dick out and all. Zee casually stuffed it back into Rod’s pants, shifted the guy’s bulk over his own shoulders and carried him outside.
It was a good thing Rod wasn’t a big man, but even if he was, Zee wouldn’t sweat it. He’s dealt with larger people before. It’s not the size, it’s how you use it. Zee managed a chuckle, which was drowned out by the DJ dropping the beat on the deck.
Nobody batted an eyelid as Zee half dragged, half carried Rod to the exit. It wasn’t uncommon to see shit-pissed-drunk guys being carried out of the club by their friends. Speaking of friends, Zee was careful to avoid the centre of the dance floor, where he knew all of Rod’s ‘friends’ were. Probably too busy getting their hands up some skirt, judging by his observation of the group earlier.
They slipped out of the back door into the alley, where Zee’s car was parked. It was getting late; some partygoers were still straggling about but the crowd had thinned considerably. A girl was puking onto the sidewalk while her friend patted her on the back.
There it was, the silver Proton – right at the end of the row. Unlocking the car with a push of a button, he carefully placed Rod onto the back seat in a sitting position. Checked the man’s eyes. Still out cold. Good. Zee grabbed a piece of rope from under the front passenger seat and secured Rod’s hands and feet. Although it was only a 15 minute drive to Zee’s workshop, he didn’t want the guy waking up in the middle of the drive and pulling some stunt, like jumping out of the moving car. That almost happened with the last guy.
Turning out onto the LDP, he drove well under the speed limit. The last thing he wanted was for cops to pull him over for reckless driving. Now that’d be funny, wouldn’t it?
It was a good hour before Rod finally came to. Zee had been reading. It was harder in the dim light of the basement, but he managed.
“Rod, my man,” Zee greeted him cheerfully, putting down his book and walking over to where Rod was tied onto a chair in the middle of the room. “You awake? You were out cold for nearly two hours. Sorry, must have hit you harder than I thought.”
“H..H..Who are you? What’s happening?” Ron’s voice was sick and groggy with fear, his eyes taking on the wide-eyed look of a trapped animal. A purplish bruise swelled on his head like an ugly, protruding crown. “Wh..why am I tied up? Help ! Helppp!!!” Ron screamed.
The sound of cicadas and crickets from the surrounding jungle sang in return, filtering in through a small window at the top of the basement.
“Quiet, Rod. I don’t want to gag you,” Zee warned, brandishing a rag. The nearest neighbour was a resort-cum-cooking academy at the foot of the hill, a good few kilometres away, but Zee didn’t want to take any chances. Rod subsided almost immediately into snivelling sobs.
“What do you want from me? If it’s money, you can have it,” Rod said, his eyes pleading.
Zee smiled and opened his briefcase. Relished the look on Rod’s face as the light from the ceiling bulb reflected off his shiny, just-polished instruments. All part of the show, of course. Scare them good and proper. After years in the field, Zee found that psychological trauma was always…useful. His targets were usually so scared by the end of his little display that they hardly put up any resistance during the actual business.
True enough, Rod was already pissing himself. Zee saw the guy’s crotch darken, as a strong stench of urine filled the air. He shook his head disapprovingly.
“Rodney Tan. Uploaded naked photos of your ex-girlfriend after she broke up with you. Threatened to put them up on the Internet if she wouldn’t have sex with you, recorded that, then put everything up anyway.” Zee made a tsk-tsking sound, holding up a chunky pair of pliers in front of Rod’s face. “What a bad boy you’ve been.”
“I swear, I don’t know what you’re talking about – ” Rod stammered. But Zee had seen the quick flicker of understanding and panic in Rod’s eyes. He grinned. This was going to be fun. It was times like these that he really enjoyed his work. Of course, he was no saint. He had taken care of (sometimes) innocent people. But it was always the special requests which were really fun. He liked to think of himself as a sort of Judge Dredd, meting out twisted justice in a world where the corrupt and the rich and the powerful always, always got away with things.
Here, he was jury, judge and executioner for his clients. Some clients simply wanted a quick and clean solution. Those were easy – sometimes he’d stage them as a hit and run, at other times a break-in or a robbery.
But sometimes some clients, like Mr Khoo, had special requests. That was when Zee would bring them back to his workshop in Penchala Hills (just 10 minutes from 1 Utama Shopping Centre! How’s that for convenience?). It’s remote location on the top of the hill made it easier for him to work without being disturbed.
Rod was babbling. “I don’t know any Mandy Khoo… you’ve got the wrong guy, I tell you. She was always making up stories about things – “
“Come on, Rod. I didn’t mention who it was, why are you admitting it? Are you really doing this to me? To quote President Snow from The Hunger Games: I thought we had an agreement not to lie to each other.”
“Did she put you up to it?” Rod asked hysterically. ”She..she’s lying! She was sleeping around…anyone could have put up those pictures. The lying bitch -”
“The lying bitch is dead,” Zee said softly. Watched as comprehension dawned on Rod’s face. “She died a month ago. Took her own life. Probably while you were out partying it up somewhere, taking photos of the next girl innocent enough to be sweet talked by your lies.”
“It…it wasn’t my fault! Please! I’ll give you anything you want! We’ll keep this between us! I – “
“Hush. I’m just doing my job.” Zee placed a finger to his lips. “Now tell me, which one do you prefer, this, “ – he held up a plier in one hand – “or this?” – a sharp hunting knife in the other.
“Don’t, don’t, don’t….please….” Rod’s eyes swam with tears as he made one last pitch for mercy.
“I think we’ll go with this first,” Zee said happily, picking the plier. As he carefully positioned it over one of Rod’s securely tied hands, Rod started screaming. Zee sighed. The plier hadn’t even touched the skin. Always so noisy, especially the men. He picked the rag up from the floor and stuffed it into Rod’s mouth.
“You and me, we’ll have a long night,” Zee muttered, casually clamping a nail between the pliers’ jaws. Pulled. The nail ripped clean off, a spray of hot blood hitting him in the face, splattering across his glasses. Rodney’s eyes bulged in their sockets as muffled screams filled the room.
“Ah.. I’m sorry. That was messy,” Zee apologised, wiping his glasses on his shirt. “I’ll do better next time.”
Another. And another. The room was punctuated with screams and shrieks each time the pliers jerked and pulled.
Once he was through, Zee picked up the hunting knife. Tested it out on skin; nodded in a satisfied way as the blade sliced open flesh to reveal the pink muscles underneath. Then he started cutting. He was slow. He was deliberate. When his quarry passed out, he slapped him to consciousness again. He hummed a tune as blood flowed freely onto the cement floor, forming a large pool of deep crimson.
After the last of Rod’s fingers had been removed, Zee finally stood up for a breather. He had been at it for at least two hours.
“There. Not that bad lah, right ?” he cooed, placing Rod’s severed thumb into a neat box where the man’s ears and nose now sat. From the chair, the thing that once looked human made a weak, gurgling sound.
Zee glanced at his watch. 6am. The sun would be up soon.
“Oh, my. Look at the time. I have an appointment to catch later, and I still have to clean up. We’ll just finish this off now, okay?”
Zee took out his final piece of equipment : a 5” gut hook. As he buried the blade into Rodney’s warm, slippery insides, he tilted his victim’s head up. Zee liked to look them in the eyes and watch as life went out of them. He wanted his face to be the last thing that they saw, the face of their punisher and their saviour, come to put them out of their wretched, miserable lives.
“Nothing personal, Rod,” he whispered, his hand warm and slick with blood up to his elbow as he felt the man’s guts spilling out onto the floor. “It’s just business.”
It was Monday again. Khoo walked up to the familiar red and yellow building at the corner of the street, and walked in. The smell of french fries and chicken nuggets fresh from the fryer greeted him, and he breathed in deeply. He was ravenous, for some reason. Khoo ordered a large chicken burger, fries and a coke. To top it off, a chocolate sundae. He held the tray carefully as he carried it up to the second floor.
Zee was sitting at his usual spot, reading. This time, it was KL Noir: Yellow. Mr Khoo sat down. Same thing – the guy hardly batted an eyelid.
“Is everything – ?”
“Yes. It’s done. ” Zee pushed an envelope across the table. Inside was a plain silver ring. Rod’s. Khoo picked it up absently, then dropped it in a hurry when he remembered what happened to its owner. Zee slipped it back into the envelope when he was satisfied that his client had seen evidence of a job well done.
“What did you do to him?” Khoo whispered. He was both fascinated and disgusted at his morbid interest in the death of a man he had hired someone to kill. Not that the scumbag didn’t deserve it, a small voice in the back of his mind chimed in. It sounded awfully like his daughter’s.
“I don’t think you’d like to know the exact details. Not over lunch.” Zee’s lips curled into an amused grin. “Rest assured, you’ll probably hear about his disappearance on the news.”
Mr Khoo passed him a black bag, similar to the one used last week. Inside was RM50,000. 100 crisp pieces of RM100 notes in each bundle. Mr Khoo counted them out again this morning, in front of Mandy’s picture on the family altar, while his wife sobbed in the back room. She never did anything other than cry these days.
Zee took it, running long, slender fingers over the bag’s fat curves, and smiled again.
“It was nice doing business with you, Mr Khoo. If you have anymore… problems, you know where to find me.”
“The pleasure is mine,” Khoo said quietly. He looked down at his unwrapped burger, at the ring poking out of the envelope, at the young killer’s smiling face, then back at his food.
“Mind if I… sit here and finish this?”
“By all means.”