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They say that fear can drive a man to any lengths, but has anyone ever considered the supreme driving force of cowardice? A man, who is so scared at one point in time, he can accomplish previously incomprehensible feats. So what of the power of a man who is scared every day of his life?
Darwin contemplated this thought. He was a coward in the purest form of the word. There wasn’t a person in this city that didn’t put the fear of God into him.
Most of the buildings scared him, and certainly all the animals. But despite this apparent incentive, Darwin didn’t feel particularly powerful. In fact, when it came right down to it in the middle of each terrifying night, nothing could be further from the truth. He’d hide under the sheets in his run down room, quivering with the passing of every train, the echo of every voice, the beep of every car.
However, regardless of his contrary stance on the “Coward Power” theory, Darwin would soon discover that even he had hidden depths.
Every man will have a defining moment. On his deathbed he’ll look back on his life and be able to see one act that made him who he was. Something that made him who he was. It would no doubt be the single shining point in an otherwise uneventful life, but he would have his moment and he could go happy. Darwin thought he’d probably missed his moment and he was quite unready for it at this point in time.
His day began like any other. The 8.07 train screeched past on the far side of his building, jolting him from his slumber and dragging him wailing and shaking into consciousness. He scuttled down the corridor, and he did scuttle. Darwin could have out-scuttled any crab.
He scuttled to the bathroom, slid inside and bolted the door behind him. Then, as every other day, he waited next to the door for the count of a hundred.
After his jumpy and hence normal bathroom routine, he scuttled back to his room, dressed hurriedly and left the building with the utmost haste.
Once outside the front door he skulked down the staircase and briefly surveyed the street. Other than a woman walking her dog that could be easily avoided, and some old timers who weren’t too sprightly, the street was relatively devoid of danger. He rushed down the street, head down, but eyes darting around like a fly in a tin can. He rounded the corner with uncharacteristic lack of caution and by then it was too late. He spotted the Parricci Brothers sat in their car awaiting his arrival.
He executed one of his world renowned, (or at least they would be if anyone knew who he was), 180degree turns and walked quickly, but the car doors had slammed, and not even Darwin was stupid enough to run from the Parricci Brothers.
“Ah, Darwin, just the runt we were looking for.”
“Yeah, our pops wants a word with you, little man.”
Darwin was panicking. Nothing abnormal there, but this was a little more than background panic. This was Parricci induced!
“Um, hi fellas. You, er, you doing ok this fine morning?”
“Cut the cracks and get in the car.”
This was Gianni Parricci. A very tall man, with a body more resembling that of a gorilla than a human, and bearing just as much hair. He always wore a trademark pinstripe suit, with black leather shoes, and a cigar placed sharply between his lips. He was a very sinister man, with a passion involving other people’s heads, and baseball bats. None the less, Gianni was the more civil of the Brothers. Sure, he’d beat your nose flat rather than acknowledge your existence, but compared to his brother he was the little angel of the family.
“NOW, little man.” Shouted Marco impatiently.
Gianni’s younger, and somewhat less amiable brother was Marco Parricci.
Marco was a tad on the aggressive side. At least Gianni would have the decency to beat you with a bat. Marco preferred using his head. Also Gianni usually remembered to stop when the victim turned that certain shade of indigo.
Darwin tottered to the car and slid in the back seat.
Darwin’s mind was racing, or at least racing with a destination this time. Why did Pops Parricci want to see him? He hadn’t looked at any of his girls last night, and he certainly didn’t go near the Parricci’s territory. In fact Darwin had had a reasonably uneventful week so far. This worried him. This worried him a lot.
They crossed the bridge and turned off the Freeway, heading for the Parricci residence. In typical style it was a large house, far bigger than any real family could require, but Parricci did have a lot of goons that would need somewhere to sleep. It had huge aluminum gates at the front and a six-foot wall all around it. It was a veritable fortress. Darwin considered the irony that those who seek the hardest to avoid prison achieve it by building one around them. He decided that it might not be a life-extending move to point this out to any of the others in the car.
The car rolled up to the front door of the house and two men who oozed hired-goon walked to the car.
“Get him inside,” grunted Gianni. The rear door flung open and Darwin was muscled from the car.
Inside there was a definite museum quality. Every piece of furniture was in pristine condition. The house wasn’t lived in, but then you don’t live in a house like this, you reside.
He was manhandled towards a pair of white double doors, which silently opened to reveal Poppa Parricci working at his desk.
“Poppa, it is the man whose presence you requested,” slurred Gianni. Poppa didn’t respond. He just raised his head, gave Darwin a brief look filled with disdain then nodded to Gianni, who backed genteelly out of the room and closed both doors.
Darwin was shaking, but then Darwin lived his life in a state of constant readiness. His whole body was geared to taking flight at the merest scent of danger, so the constant adrenaline flow often kept his body vibrating. He scanned the room. It was a huge office. Portraits lined the walls, although Darwin somewhat suspected they were chosen to dominate the walls rather than through some ancestral pride. In fact Darwin suspected that the Parricci’s ancestors were swinging in the trees picking bugs of each other’s heads a few short generations ago.
A huge desk filled the area directly in front of Darwin. Again it looked more for show than actual use. There was no paper work; simply a copy of the local tabloid that Poppa was scouring like it was a blessed tome.
Poppa Parricci sighed deeply. He was a man of indeterminable age; having been silver crested and wracked with wrinkles for as long as anyone could recall. Under different circumstance you might say he even looked amiable. At least until he opened his mouth. He had a raspy voice he’d spent years perfecting. Everyone knows the head of a family should speak like he recently lost half a lung in a freak smoking accident. Poppa Parricci had gone for the whole lung.
“Nothing but lies and innuendo,” he wheezed.
There was a pause that Darwin couldn’t help but fill. “Sorry?” he mumbled.
“The paper these days, filled with nothing but lies. I mean do I look like a man who could do the things they print?”
Darwin hesitated. A second too long in fact.
“Your lack of confidence is disturbing, but no matter. I have a task for you, Mr. Lansdale.” Darwin was astounded, and terrified. Why did Poppa Parricci know his name? This couldn’t be good. And the choice of word, task. To Darwin that screamed danger.
“A task, sir?” he managed to force out, through the fast rising fog of urgent panic. Something told him it was going to be a very long day.
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