Toby skidded around the corner, ducking down another alley. The bruisers didn’t look like runners, but he couldn’t take the chance of being wrong. Speed was of the essence and reaching the street would be safe. Toby did everything they demanded, turning over the money required. Why was he being pursued again?
Barreling into another alley, the street was visible ahead. Safety in sight, that was when everything went wrong. The impact knocked the air from his lungs and he was silenced. Strong arms quickly dragged him out of sight. The first punch struck him in the kidney, causing his back to arch and was followed by a knee to the gut. The men were professionals, keeping the injuries in places easily hidden by clothes. Strikes to the face would have been too obvious.
Several excruciatingly painful minutes before anyone spoke. Toby dropped to the ground, coughing blood. One man crouched before him and gave a genuine look of regret.
“If you hadn’t run, this wouldn’t have been as bad for you. Why did you do that?”
Toby was gasping for breath, but was able to choke out the words.
“I panicked. Didn’t want to get beaten again.”
“Well, that didn’t work out for you, did it?”
Toby shook his head. Men slipped their arms around him and gently eased him into a reclined position against a wall.
“Look, pal, this can be more civil. This is business, you know? It doesn’t have to be so tense.”
Feeling there was no reason to be evasive, Toby spoke through the blood.
“I can’t keep this up. I haven’t got enough money to keep up with what you want.”
The faces he could see nodded in understanding. The spokesman sighed and gently patted Toby’s cheek.
“You should have told us before. We would have eased back on the agreement. We aren’t complete monsters.” The man reached inside Toby’s coat and drew out the envelope, removing half the money before replacing the envelope where he found it.
“Don’t run next time. We thought you were trying to renege. This doesn’t need to happen again, got it?”
Toby nodded, receiving nods in return.
“There will be a cab pulling up over there,” he said, pointing to the other end of the alley.” “He works with us and knows where to take you.” He patted the man’s shoulder and walked away, the rest of the men falling in behind him. It was several minutes before Toby could pick himself up, keeping a hand on the wall for balance. He jumped when the voice rang through the silence.
“I can help, you know.”
Toby spun around so quickly that he tumbled to the ground. The voice belonjged to a pre-teen girl. She wore an ankle-length black dress and a pink t-shirt with the glittery word Princess angled across it. Her face was serious, but with a mischievous grin on her little face.
She noted the skepticism on his face.
“No, seriously,” she continued, “I can take care of this, for the right price.”