The club pulsated, jolting violently like it was on its 12th cup of coffee. Seizure inducing strobe lights, blaring, repetitive techno music, and a dance floor packed tighter than a world cup soccer stadium made the club feel alive. Alive, and pumped full of adrenaline. A misty cloud of sweat loomed above the vigorously dancing and drugged out moonlighters.
Still, despite the commotion, the whole club stopped to look at an even greater one entering its steamy walls. A commotion surrounding the man known as Todd Hansen.
He was short and bulky, like a backpack stuffed with baseballs. His skin held tightly to his bulging and unnatural muscles. His rope sized veins on his neck and arms seemed only seconds away from popping. The only thing tighter than his aging, leathery skin was the three-buttoned short sleeve polo he wore with a tiny breast pocket on one side. It was tucked into his khaki pants that he used to cover up his scrawny legs which made him look like a human popsicle.
Surrounding him were 4 fair skinned, well toned, and youthful girls. Less than half his age, their IQ’s ranged from blonde to very blonde. They each had similar clothes with similarly high midriffs and skirts that left little to the imagination. With his inhumanly bulging arms around the two girls closest to him, Todd and his less than elegant entourage sat at the first available booth.
“Let's get wild tonight!” Said the blonde under Todd's right arm in a slurred voice.
The three other girls acknowledged her proposal with high pitched squeals, raising their arms and shaking their hands like giddy children on a rollercoaster.
By this time, one of the club employees had come by asking for drink orders.
“Rum and Coke. Five of ‘em. And what’ll you girls have?” Said Todd with a smug smirk on his face, speaking in a dry sarcastic tone.
Awkwardly darting his eyes around the table, Todd searched for even one laugh. The group of girls paused a moment, each looking at the other with blank stares. Todd coughed out a sheepish chuckle.
“Ha, just kidding.” He said.
The girls began to laugh at the joke which flew over their heads like a 727, a joke that was even older than Todd. The club worker rolled his eyes and took leave with the order in hand on a small notepad.
As the laughter died down, the blonde on Todd's left leaned into him, her head on his shoulder, rubbing and stroking his massive chest with her soft and silky fingers. As she did so, she ran her hand across the breast pocket of Todd’s polo. A pocket sized planner protruded out even further from the tight shirt than Todd’s aging nipples.
“Whatcha got planned inside there, Mr. Hansen?” She said in flirtatious baby talk.
She tugged at the small black book while she licked her upper teeth. Todd’s tan, leathery skin turned deathly pale as he looked down at the object she was caressing. He carefully slipped it from his pocket. His eyes were wide and bloodshot as a man assessing the damage of his monthly power bill. He let out a breathless gasp, agonizing to make it sound like a lighthearted laugh.
“Huh? I thought I’d thrown that thing out this morning?” He said, grasping the book tightly in his bear-like paws.
Looking up at the 19 year olds, he put on a poker face of smug indifference and scoffed.
“Guess my wife must have slipped it there without me noticing. Must’ve thought I needed it or something?” Todd said with a nervous tickle in his throat.
“Maybe she wrote you something stupid and cheesy.” Said the girl on Todd’s right, laughing as she playfully reached to open the pages of the book.
Suddenly, Todd slammed his entire hand down, closing the book atop the table before she could open it entirely. She pulled her hand away as quickly as a child caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Passing by at the moment was a worker with a tray of wide mouth glasses filled with dark brown whiskey, headed to another table. Todd, in a flash, lobbed the book like a small basketball and plopped it in one of the glasses. The zombified club worker carried on his way, blissfully unaware of Todds strange free throw.
The girls, taken aback, looked at Todd like he had just thrown a child into traffic. Todd sloppily let out another nervous laugh. He shrugged his shoulders.
“My wifes the last thing I want to be thinking about tonight.” He said, stretching his massive arms above him, then onto the shoulders of the two girls closest to him.
“Tonight, I’m with you fine ladies.”
Todd leaned in close to the girl on his left, stroking her chin and smiling as seductively as he possibly could. The rest of the girls sat back and smiled, seemingly content with Todd’s explanation for his erratic outburst.
As Todd reached up to lightly stroke one the young girl's cheeks with his hairy caveman hand, a clear and cool wind blew through the entire club. The breeze cut through the hot mist accumulated by the dancing maniacs of the night and dispelled its musty stench. Everyone in the club drew in a collective breath like they had each taken the first step out of a boiling sauna.
“Evening, Todd Hansen.” Said a smooth, rich, but altogether piercing voice.
Standing next to the table was a young man with sharp, cat-like eyes that were fixed on Todd like a parent scolding a child. He wore a beautiful black suit, shirt, and tie that glistened and shimmered as though they were fashioned from black dragon scales. His hair, a white, blonde color was soft and flowing like apple blossoms blowing in the springtime air.
Seating himself at the far end of the booth directly facing Todd, the man was calm, quiet, and dignified. A manner no one else in that club could be even at their soberest.
“I would have thought you’d take better care of the things someone has entrusted to you?” Said the man as he reached into his suit jacket.
From out of his jacket pocket came the little black book Todd had lobbed into the whiskey glass. The man placed it down on the table and slid it toward Todd tenderly until it was directly beneath him. It was pristine, devoid of any scuffs or scratches, but most chilling of all, it was dry. No warping damage, no soggy pages, just a pristine black book as though Todd had never pulled it from his polo. Todd pushed against the table, trembling at the sight of the book, and sinking himself into the cushioning at his back.
“For $20,000 a day all you had to do was take care of that book.” The man in black said.
“You said I had to read it, not hold on to it,” Todd replied, rather shakily. “Besides, I read it. Ain’t nothing but blank pages in there.”
“Blank, or wasted?” Said the man in black with a searing glare.
Todd gritted his teeth and stared at the man with violent rage. His whole body shook and the veins on his forehead quivered. His face turned a shade of red like a stove ring set on high as the man in black spoke again.
“I know you didn’t read it, Todd Hansen. Not all of it. There's a page you purposefully left out.”
“What's he talking about Mr. Hansen?” Asked one of the girls.
“Do you owe this guy money?” Another asked.
“How could a man who has guaranteed money the rest of his life owe someone like me any of it?” The man asked. “No, just a simple favor is owed. To read the book.” He said with a little more force.
“I don’t know who you are buddy, or what you want but as far as I can tell our business is done!” Todd said, letting saliva fly from his uncontrollable lips.
In a fit of rage, Todd pivoted to the bar a few feet away, picking up one of the unoccupied barstools. Like a wild ape, he hurled the chair at the man in black. The veins in his forehead squirmed violently like a worm being stuck to a fishing hook. He heaved and huffed as hard as a bull facing a matador.
As the stool flew towards him, the man in black sat still, calm as he had been from the start. When it reached him, the stool passed through his entire body as though he were a hologram, a ghost, a mere projection to the eyes. He tightened his lips, closed his eyes and let out a small sigh through his nose before standing to his feet. The club was as still as a tombstone.
Todd, clutching to the bar like a liferaft in the middle of a raging sea storm, cowered before the man in black. Every person in the club herded away from the altercation as though Todd were a leper in ancient Israel.
“Sit down, Todd Hansen.” The man in black said with a voice as swift as a hummingbird's wing.
Todd sat himself down next to the girls who were holding each other closely, each petrified like Greek statues. The music came back on, but was significantly more quiet, as though the DJ knew the conversation at this table was important. The man in black, in his well mannered way sat looking across the table at Todd once again.
“Who--what the hell are you?” Todd asked, quivering like a boy half his size.
“You know who I am.” Said the man in black.
Todd looked down at the little black book beneath him. He made a sound like a wounded animal as he choked on a lump in his throat, his eyes growing wider every second.
“But what I am, that's a choice you make yourself.” Said the man, “It's up to you. Friend or enemy? Help, or hindrance? Your greatest fear, or your greatest motivation?”
The man paused a moment and looked around the table with a stern gaze. He drew in a soft beath, then turned back to Todd as he continued to speak.
“It's your choice what you do with what you're given, but we had a deal. You get the money, you spend it how you want, but you will read the book.”
Todd's fingers shook as he attempted to open the pages of the little black book. The lump in his throat grew to the size of a grapefruit. He looked down at the open book, then flipped to the final page. He shivered as he drew small, sharp breaths in through his nose.
The man in black then stood and turned to leave. Before his exit, he spoke from over his shoulder one last time, as clear as day.
“Just remember the blank pages.” He said.
He then disappeared as swiftly as he came. The music picked up its hypnotic and repetitive tune, deafeningly loud as it was before. It was as though all had forgotten the exchange between these two men. All was returned to its blaring and blinding normalcy throughout the club.
Todd's eyes glazed over in horror as he sat, silent as a ghost, stiff as a board. The girls all attempted to shake him from his trance as the club worker from before arrived with a platter full of drinks. He gently placed each glass on the table one at a time. Placing the last one in front of Todd, the worker looked at him with sharp, cat-like eyes and said in a cutting tone.