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Fic Prompt: Adam is taken by Nigel’s crew after being a witness to one of their crimes. Nigel takes a shine to him.

(*)

Nigel didn't expect him to be so vulnerable.

The ‘witness’, upon first glance, doesn't seem all there, as if he's walking another axis somewhere, dancing to another tune. He's been in the safe house for an hour and a half and Nigel has only just arrived to ‘see to him’. He had hoped that his delegates could've dealt with a small job without his input but if you want something doing properly then you might as well do it yourself. Nigel's trust after years in this volatile business, is fragile at best.

The first rule in this game is to leave as little witnesses as possible. His crew called in the mistake the minute it happened. All had gone well with the 'extraction' and the end game had been achieved with a silent bullet in the back of a man's skull.

But, somebody had seen.

A pair of eyes had committed the crime to memory leaving no other option but to act.

Nigel's disapproval is fiercely evident by the way he slams through the door. Any man with any sense would be cowering internally at the thought of what he is capable of in this frame of mind. His guys do. They flutter around in a septic panic trying to pull themselves together.

The captive, however, doesn't even look up.

The only evidence he's even awake is the rhythmic tap of his foot against the concrete.

(*)

"I'm sorry, Nigel. This wasn't supposed to happen."

They're always so sorry. Apologies feel empty when the same mistakes keep happening again and again and again. For Nigel, an apology is, at base level, an opportunity to learn.

"He appeared out of nowhere. We didn’t even see him.”

"No eyes on us, Ortega. No loose ends. Didn't I make that clear?"

He shouldn't have had to.

"We didn't expect anyone to be hiding in the fucking alleyway, did we? It looked clear. We made sure."

"Evidently, not sure enough."

"He was sitting on the God damned floor, Nigel. Who does that?"

Ortega, a Hispanic who Nigel picked up along the way, is his unconventional right hand man. When Nigel learned that he could not trust his compatriots, he opted for something else. New associates, handpicked, vetted until they literally bled. Ortega is chaotic and impulsive, often weak-minded and, in a lot of ways, a liability. Regardless, Nigel knows full well that the guy would never betray him like others have and that kind of faith and loyalty is so rare one has to grab it with both hands when it presents itself. He trusts the man with his life.

He just doesn't trust him with the lives of others.

"You had one job, kid. One. Job."

"And, we did it. Mario had the car, I had the man. We finished him off before he even had the chance to speak. There was just...a catch."

"A catch."

"Right."

A catch. A problem.

A living, breathing mistake that Nigel will be forced to rectify himself.

(*)

Nigel was born with a barbed tongue.

His nerve endings are static energy and he has blades for a personality. He is sharpness personified and his violent reactions are as rhythmic and reflex as a knee jerk. He can compartmentalise and justify like no one else.

This should be a formality.

He rears himself up in front of the guy - a kid, really, 25 at best and still dressed in his Sunday specials, though they are dishevelled from heavy handling. He takes a step forward looking to crowd him, to terrify him with this threatening invasion of his personal space.

It's normally enough to earn their compliance.

Their first word is usually "please."

The young man does nothing, says nothing, as if he's not reading the vivid tale that Nigel's body language is telling him. It's strange. It's infuriating.

"Look at me," Nigel demands, calm first but more forcefully when his victim does not respond. Finally, the kid looks up, soft blue eyes focusing on a spot just above Nigel's hairline and there's something profound in the expression on his face, as if this simple, loaded request is the most difficult thing in the world to him. He looks completely lost and far, far too young.

"Jesus Christ.”

This *should* be a formality...so why is the aggressor disarmed?

The ugly spectre that rises up so readily retreats with its tail between his legs the minute Nigel looks at this kid’s face.

"There's something wrong with him, I swear," Ortega says. "The minute I pointed the gun at him he started giving me it's fucking production stats. Reeling 'em off like some kind of voiceover. It was batshit, honest to God it was."

"Was it really?”

"Yeah".

As far as an alternative to begging for one's life, it's an interesting one.

(*)

Nigel watches him for a short while just out of curiosity. Sometimes he feels he owes them that, the gesture of leaving life at the hands of someone who at least acknowledged their existence. He might be wildly unstable from the outside but he's not a man that doesn't acknowledge the human need for recognition. The one thing he's always been able to give those who stood in his way was the gift of not dying alone.

He's never quite met a victim like this one before and in this line of work, deviation from the norm is both a blessing and a curse. He doesn't cry. He doesn't thrash and swear. There is no bravado to speak of and there's not a lot going on behind his eyes.

There is very little but at the same time there's so very much that Nigel cannot understand.

The young man is perfectly silent, but for the tapping of his foot against the floor and the equal, measured breathing that he seems to be keeping focus upon. Since the moment Nigel arrived, he has not looked him in the eye.

Nigel gets the impression it has nothing to do with fear or respect, as is customary in his line of work.

He leans closer to the man to test the water. Nothing happens, until he moves as if to touch him.

The guy seems to fold in on himself at that.

"Don't say much, do you?"

The captive's eyes dart to Ortega then back to Nigel. He looks desperately uncomfortable, as if caught between a rock and a hard place. He bites his lip hard then blinks harder. His body jerks a little with the pressure of what's inside of him. The small sound that comes from his throat sounds a lot like frustration. It's desperate and uncomfortable. The tapping becomes so frantic it's a wonder he hasn't burrowed through the floor.

Perhaps that's what he wants. For the ground to open up, to take him away.

"According to my friend, here, you've got a lot to say. What happened? Did a cat run away with your tongue? It's okay. You can tell me."

When he finally speaks it's a rush of words, like water finally breaking through the confines of a dam.

"They warned me not to say another word unless they said I could, so I didn't.”

He eyes Nigel’s guys accusingly.

"I didn't want anything on my mouth."

Nigel looks to his associate for clarification, though he knows where it's going.

"I taped him up but he started hyperventilating. I thought he was going to pass out. He wouldn't shut the fuck up, boss. He was going to get us made so I had to get the message across to him."

"He had a gun to my head. It was a Colt M1911. It's the oldest serving handgun in the US. And it was touching my left temple."

"You see?" Ortega says, exasperated.

It's no wonder the guy had been frightened to open his mouth. Not only has he been wrenched from the street, he's also been threatened. For a common citizen that can be a terrifying thing. Even a man like Nigel knows that.

"He told me if I didn't say a word he wouldn't shoot me. I didn't want to be shot. Survival would be highly unlikely at point blank range. The trajectory of the bullet would've meant instant death."

That he took Ortega's words so very literally might amuse Nigel on some occasions.

It just makes him feel uneasy tonight.

"You have my explicit permission to talk freely now, friend, no need for silence. In fact, you can disregard everything my associate said. I'm the one in charge here and he'll do nothing unless I order him to."

"Oh. O-okay. You're wearing a suit. That makes sense."

"I am indeed. And, yes, it does. Now, shall we get better acquainted?"

In a gesture intended to pacify, Nigel puts a hand on his captive's shoulder. He flinches so hard he almost dislocates it, yelps in unmistakable fear.

As pitiful as it is, at least it's familiar territory for Nigel. Fear. It's something he can work with.

"It's okay. Relax. Alright? Get yourself comfortable. I'm not going to hurt you right now."

The man nods his head, breathing hard, before reaching up to touch his clothing. It seems like a move beyond his control, like he's cataloguing himself without thinking. He scrambles for purchase on the fabric and pulls at it. At first, Nigel thinks he's got the wrong impression, that he's going to offer something stupid like his body for his life but it seems that he's fixing his clothing, not removing it.

He seems satisfied by what he finds because, when he reaches the top of his shirt, he nods his head as if he's proven himself right.

"I lost a button. It's in here somewhere. I know my shirt was fastened when I got here. The button was definitely there."

"I'm sure we can find it later. Don't worry about it."

"I can sew it back on later if it's not torn. This is my favourite shirt."

"It is?"

He nods his head vigorously.

"Yes."

The way he struggles to do up his unfastened shirt reminds Nigel of a little boy being hurried out of the front door in time for school. His fingers are shaking so hard he can barely grasp the fabric and his dexterity seems remedial at best.

Nigel almost feels sorry him.

Almost.

When he's done, he puts his hands back into his lap and rests them there. Still. Quiet.

"That better?"

"Yes. Thank you."

"Good. That's good."

(*)

Nigel hates it when his crew put him in this situation, that of having to take an innocent life. He's a firm believer in an eye for an eye and there are six dead 'associates' this year alone, all of them having crossed him or cost him something.

If a hapless victim dies then, in order to balance the scales, so does the idiot who made the mistake.

Nigel doesn't want to have to kill Ortega, he’s a good kid - but, equally, there's something holding him back over the idea of taking a gun to this young man's head. The only options open to him are extortion, intimidation or murder and, while he’s not averse to killing and never has been he's become a little more choosy as he matured. He’d rather there be a valid reason for it.

There's no valid reason to kill this man and it would be a shame if his hand was forced.

The kid glances down at his shirtsleeves and he looks distraught.

"There's blood on my shirt."

"Don't worry about that."

"I think it's from my nose. I don't have any cornstarch or bleach at home. Blood is made of water and plasma. It really stains."

Ortega's brother Mario has roughed the guy up a little, that much is clear. He’s older, not exactly wiser. He’s a hot-head who can't control his temper. The reason is organic. Medical. He hit his head in a motorcycle accident nine months ago and, ever since then, he’s struggled to keep his rage in check. Nigel has wondered on more than one occasion if it’s time to cut him loose but he’s nothing if not sentimental when it comes to his long-termers.

Looking at this guy, meek and quiet, it’s hard to see how he warranted rough handling but there's a cut in his eyebrow and a red mark on his cheekbone that will darken as time progresses. It just seems wrong. What did he do to provoke Mario? Ortega can usually hold his brother off, though he often comes under the crossfire himself.

It’s only when Nigel starts conversing with him that his employee's lack of patience starts to make sense to him.

“So, may I ask what your name is?”

This is the point when Nigel's hapless crew sigh aloud because they know. They know that their jobs just became that much more difficult.

Nigel won't get rid of any man if he’s personalised him.

“My name is Adam. A-Adam William Charles Raki.”

The kid doesn’t even lie. Normally they hesitate and try to spin a web. Adam doesn’t do that.

Something in the way that he answers makes Nigel wonder if it even crossed his mind to.

“Alright, Adam William Charles Raki, Do you know why you’re here?”

“No.”

This is where they usually beg for their lives and claim there to be some kind of mistake. This is where they promise that they’ll say nothing, not to anyone. The men who love their wives will swear on her life and the ones who don’t will swear on their mother’s.

Adam’s got bright-white sneakers and jeans pressed in such tight lines and creases that Nigel guesses he’s going to be a mama's boy because there’s no ring on his finger and no wife irons her husband’s clothes like that.

He waits.

Adam doesn’t beg.

“I don’t know why I’m here but I know I’m not supposed to be here.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

Because he's an important man? Because he's destined for greater things? Because the whole world and it's aunt will be looking for him and if he doesn't turn up, all Hell will break loose?

“I'm not supposed to be here because it’s Thursday and on Thursdays I’m supposed to be at the planetarium by 6pm. We have a group of fifty children in tonight from St Mary’s Middle School. I was putting on a light show. Judy will be expecting me.”

“And, Judy is…?”

“My employer.”

Spoken as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

The way that Adam speaks to Nigel is patronising, as if he’s addressing someone of minimal intelligence. Ordinarily, it would prick up Nigel’s sense of pride and tap into his need to prove himself but there’s something oddly innocent in the way that Adam portrays himself, without malice and without contempt.

It’s intriguing, rather than infuriating.

“What happens if you don’t show?”

“If I don’t show I’ll get fired. If I’m late, I’ll get a tardy notice on my employment record."

"And, that would be the worst thing in the world, would it?"

"Yes. I’m always precisely fifteen minutes early, traffic permitting, so that I can familiarise myself with the space before people start arriving. I’ve never been late. Not once.”

“Not even once?”

“No.”

This seems important to the young man. Such a life must be so simple. So easy.

So much better than this, Nigel thinks.

(*)

They talk, which is novel since Nigel would've been in and out by now and his boys would’ve been busying themselves with lye baths and shallow graves.

It doesn't seem right on this occasion.

Nigel gets to know a young man whose mind is a fascinating place and whose initial oddities prove themselves to be part of a brilliant mind that sees things in bright, vivid technicolor. Nigel, by nature, is not easily enchanted but something about the simple manner in which Adam conducts himself piques his interest and, rather than want to silence him as his guys had, he finds himself waning more of him.

He learns that Adam is good with machinery and programming; that he was a toy maker once until he lost his job for making too little and too much all at once. The reason he could name the gun and quote it's entire history is because he'd been working on an add-on for a computer game and he wanted it to be the most realistic it could possibly be.

"I don't like weapons," he said, "but my employer told me I had to understand marketability. I find it difficult to think outside of the box. I find that term very misleading because thoughts aren’t in boxes, they’re in heads. You can’t put a thought in a box unless you write it down."

“That’s very true.”

He's a man who is proud of how work and proud of his achievements.

He’s also a man who is aware of his limitations, and isn’t that something Nigel could learn from?

Isn’t it something everyone could?

"I have this thing. It's called Asperger's Syndrome. It makes things difficult for me sometimes. My mind blindness means that I often just assume people think like I do. If I like coffee, I don’t understand that someone else might not. I just assume and my dad used to tell me that to assume was to make an ass of you and me. My condition makes it difficult to be objective."

Nigel has no such condition but he finds objectivity difficult also.

Nigel learns that Adam’s disorder that renders him out of his depth in normal social situations, makes him literal and blunt without meaning to be.

"I find it difficult to understand what people want from me."

It’s why he’d been so strange, why his actions and reactions had not followed the pattern any of them would expect for a man in his situation.

“My dad said that people might take advantage of that.”

Those words alone strike something deep inside of Nigel because he understands it to be true even if Adam does not.

How many bad, bad men and women would see him as an opportunity?

Adam shifts. Though his tapping (“it’s called stimming”) had stopped, it’s starting back up again with a vengeance, as though his anxiety has caught up with him and remembered its place.

"Can you take me back now, please? If we leave now I might just get there on time. I really don’t want to be late."

If only it were that simple.

(*)

A ‘normal’ human being (“NT”, as Adam calls them) would’ve realised by now that something was amiss. They would’ve read between the lines and figured out that Nigel had no intention of letting them go and that their being in the wrong place at the wrong time might mean more than just a mark on their employment record.

Adam doesn’t realise. With each and every passing minute, he frets about the fact he isn't where he is supposed to be. Mario whispers in Nigel's ear that it’s time to stop playing with the guy and finish him off.

"C'mon, man, why are you dragging this out? It's cruel."

Nigel tells him to know his place.

"No witnesses, boss. Your words. We can make it quick, Nigel, he’s a nice kid - but he needs to go."

"Let me handle this."

It earns a laugh, low and sardonic.

"You going soft in your old age?"

Nigel proves he's still 'got it' when he silences Mario with a look, a look that holds such a promise of violence that he doesn't even need to follow it up with words. If Adam sees the look, if he hears the words, his face doesn't betray it.

It’s more the fact he couldn’t read it at all.

(*)

“You said you wouldn’t hurt me.”

His arms are folded across his chest and he’s fighting hard to control his breathing. The look on his face is one of absolute anguish. It tickles Nigel’s senses a little but it doesn’t ease his conflict.

The truth is, he simply does not know what to do.

“Are you in pain, Adam? Have I laid a finger on you?”

“You’re hurting me emotionally by keeping me here. I can’t lose another job.”

“You won’t.”

“How do you know? You’re a bad person. I don’t listen to bad people. They hurt my ears.”

It comes to something when being called a ‘bad person’ by a kid like Adam would strike more self-doubt into Nigel than being told the very same thing by a man in a position of power. What power does Adam have over him? What power is it at all?

"You know, Adam, we're not what you think."

They are. They're all that and more but, for some unspeakable, unthinkable and unimaginable reason, it seems important to Nigel to play it down.

“They kidnapped a man,” Adam says, as though Nigel is not aware of this fact. “I think they killed him.”

“Did you see them kill him?”

“No.”

“Then, how do you know they didn’t just put him away somewhere?”

The question throws Adam a little. His eyes shift and his thoughts shift and, when he frowns, he looks like a small boy contemplating the existence of something he once thought was real.

“I-I don’t know. But, they took me, too. That’s a federal crime that can lead to a sentence of life imprisonment. They took me and now you won’t let me go. That’s false imprisonment. That’s crime too.”

“It wasn’t how it looked, Adam.”

"He pointed a *gun* at me."

"But, he didn't shoot. That’s the most important thing, isn’t it?"

Adam thinks in black and white.

Nigel tries to key him into the areas of grey.

“Those who commit crimes are criminals by default. Isn't that fact?"

“Sometimes it’s not that simple, kid.”

Adam's friend Harlan once told him that it's not always as simple as it looks, that no matter what his father told him, the police are not automatically good and that criminals are not automatically bad.

He told Adam that he needed to look at the facts and the mitigating circumstances before judging a person's actions because, on paper, Harlan is a criminal too.

"I broke the law," Harlan said, "but that doesn't make me a bad person. Sometimes, people do things because they have to, no matter what the cost."

Nigel tells Adam it was a misunderstanding and that they were merely seeing that justice was served when they took that man. He wasn’t a good man either, a real bad man who was causing trouble for innocent people around the town.

"We weren't going to hurt him, Adam. We just needed him to listen to what we had to say."

"Why didn't you just say it?"

"Because he didn't want to hear it, even though it was important he did."

“And, why did you take me?”

“Because we thought you wouldn’t understand.”

Though Nigel is not known for his patience, something about this guy disarms him. It could be his honesty. It could be his oblivion to the nuances he is presented with.

It could just be his face, beautiful in a way that Nigel has never seen before.

He doesn’t want to hurt him, nor does he want to frighten him.

He wants for Adam to comprehend.

“They stole from us, those people. The people who work for him, they hurt one of my friends very badly.”

They say Theo will never walk again.

Adam sighs.

“Two wrongs doing make a right.”

It’s such a simplistic view of the way things work.

“Do you believe in justice, Adam?”

“Yes.”

“Well, the man you saw in the back of the car, he was a bad man. A very bad man. He’s been threatening a lot of people and has a lot of influential men in his pocket.”

Adam frowns at this turn of phrase and mouths the word “metaphor” but allows Nigel to continue.

“If we’d tried to go through legal channels, we never would’ve got back what was ours and we never would’ve made amends for Theo. We needed the money he stole from us for some very important things. Do you understand that?”

“Yes.”

"Do you understand that we had to be careful because you happened to see us?"

"You thought I might get the wrong idea."

"Yes, and what you have to know is that, if the police found out that we'd had words with this gentleman, we'd be the ones who got in trouble, and that's something we can't let happen."
For some reason, Adam’s mood shifts from comprehension to offense. His arms fold across his chest and, for the first time in the whole encounter, he looks Nigel straight in the eye.

"I'm not an idiot. You don't want me to say anything."

"That's right."

"Then, I won't. All you had to do is explain. Harlan told me that mitigating circumstances can be a deciding factor when it comes to what's right and wrong and sometimes, the law isn’t the book we should go by. If this is one of those times then all you had to do is tell me. I would’ve listened."
And, just like that, Nigel reaches his decision. That Adam does not need to die. That the world would be a damn site worse off if he were not in it.

"I really don't want to hurt you, Adam."

"Then, don't."

"How can I trust you?"

"Because I don't know how to lie, and if I tell you I won’t say anything you have to believe me."

(*)

“What were you doing in an alleyway anyway?”

Nigel thinks that Adam’s ridiculous tangents are a thing of beauty, would rather listen to them than his crew talking about the next gun run or the odds of the next betting syndicate they were looking to get into.

Adam looks up at the sky, his head resting against the glass. The window is barred and grated but he can just about make out the moon.

“It’s where I go.”

“Why?”

“I can see my apartment from down there if I tilt my head to the left, a little. I like the way my telescope looks from a distance and I check to see it’s still there. The alleyway’s my best vantage point.”

Nigel had a telescope when he was eleven. It was the last thing his father ever gave him before he died.

He’s never told anyone that before but he gets the impression he’d tell Adam.

“You like stars?”

“Of course. Who doesn’t?”

“People with no imagination, I suppose. People who don’t want to fly to the fucking moon before reaching the stars.”

It was one of Nigel’s childhood fascinations. When things were bad at home he’d look up into the night sky and hope to Christ that there was a planet out there that didn’t have to deal with the shit they dealt with on this Godforsaken cesspit. He dreamed of getting out of this place, of taking up wings and just going somewhere he’d never float back from.

It was escapism at its grandest.

“I love the stars,” Adam tells him. “I know as much about the solar system as most people know about Kim Kardashian. She’s a different kind of star. That’s what Harlan says, anyway. He says that my stars are better. More solid.”

He smiles.

“Less butt.”

“He sounds like a smart man.”

“He is. He graduated High School with a good GPA but he hit hard times when he was in his twenties. People don’t realise how smart he actually is.”

“I believe it.”

“If you like astronomy, you should come to the planetarium some time. I can teach you all there is to know. Or, all there is to know within reason. The universe is ever expanding. Nobody will ever know all there is to know about the Universe, but I can teach you a lot of things.”

It's moving, the way Adam trusts that Nigel will keep his word not to harm him. That he sees his future as such a definite.

“That’s if I don’t get fired first.”

"You won't be fired."

"How do you know?"

"Because this wasn't your fault."

"I haven’t even called.”

"You can tell her you were caught up. That you couldn't get near to your phone. You said you can’t lie. That wouldn’t be a lie, would it?”

That’s true, so very, very true.

TBC