He thought he heard someone at the door.
He remembered hearing something that sounded like a knock at the door, and he remembered going to the door. But was that just now? Or was that before just now? He couldn’t remember. He closed his eyes again and started to drop back into his trip, relaxed and confident he had solved the mystery of the door.
“Ahem,” a voice said somewhere above and around him. “Please do not go back to sleep, Mr Byron. We still have business to discuss.”
His eyes flew open and he saw two men standing in the living room of his cramped, single-bedroom apartment. Both of them swum in his vision and looked sternly at him. Part of his brain told him that since they knew his name, they couldn’t be a threat and once again he drifted back into the comfort of his sofa.
“Mr Byron,” the voice said again, raised and disciplinary.
“Drink this,” a different one said as something solid landed in his lap.
He felt the object with his eyes closed. It felt like a plastic water bottle. The plastic crinkled under his clumsy manipulations. He opened his eyes to see if it wasn’t just a hallucination and almost as a surprise there was a full water bottle in his hands. “Water,” he managed to croak.
“Yes, Mr Byron. Drink the water.”
Suddenly, he was desperately thirsty. He needed water. Right now. He undid the cap and quickly drunk half the bottle. Almost immediately his vision cleared and his hearing stopped being fuzzy and dull. His thoughts stopped being vague and colourful and his mind brought his full attention back to reality. “Not water,” he said dryly.
“No. The other half of the drug you have been taking recently. Which, incidentally, is the reason for our visit today.”
Byron tried to sit up but his body below the neck was still under the effects of the drug and wasn’t responding. He leaned his head back against the sofa and looked at the two men with him.
The smaller of the two was leaning against the front door frame. He stood about 5'6 and was stick thin. He was wearing a collared white shirt with thin blue vertical stripes and no tie under a shin-length woolen coat. His hands were buried deep in the pockets of a pair of worn jeans and his feet were crossed at the ankles. He was clean shaven and sported a crew cut. A pair of prescription glasses sat on his nose in front of a pair of eyes which were engaged, yet distant.
The larger man was a little over six foot and must have been around 200lbs. He was wearing black denim jeans with a studded belt with a tucked in black t-shirt with some sort of band logo on the front of it. His eyes were narrowed at Byron and his mouth was set as a thin, straight line. A pair of sunglasses hung off the front of the shirt.
“Who are you?”
“We,” the larger man said. “Are associates of a certain Mr Peabody.”
“And?” Byron asked, waiting for the inevitable.
“We are led to believe that Mr Peabody has provided you with some products he sells and is yet to receive payment. We are here to encourage said payment.”
“I had a month. Its been, what? A week?”
“Three weeks, six days,” the smaller man said.
“And that is why Mr Peabody sent us. He was unconvinced that you were going to pay on time,” the larger man nodded.
“And that's why you're here? To shake me down?” he asked the larger man pointedly.
“Me? No. I am here to use words and just general persuasion.” Byron looked at him skeptically.
“I'm here for the shake down,” the smaller man said with a grin that made Byron very uneasy.
“Well, tell Mr Peabody I’ll have his money on time. And that I don’t appreciate his goons turning up unannounced to threaten me.”
“I am reasonably certain he knows it is rather rude to send people to just threaten you. That is why he sent us to, you know, rough you up a bit,” the larger man said.
“It makes the whole trip worth it, you know?” the smaller man said. “Plus I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy this part a hell of a lot.”
“Your limbs must have feeling back by now. Get up.”
Byron started to get to his feet, which, while easy enough now that the bulk of the drugs effects had worn off, was still not fast for his guests and the large one pulled him up and pushed him out the door roughly.
After a short car ride during which the guests blindfolded Byron, the trio arrived at a quiet place somewhere on the outskirts of town where the smaller man could, as the larger man put it, practice his hobby without fear of prying eyes.
“So,” the larger man said. “I will come back in ten minutes or so?”
The smaller man eyed Byron up and down a few times and once again smiled that grin that Byron had learned to hate so much in the short amount of time he had known him. “Five,” he said.
The smaller man pushed Byron into an old dentist's chair which had been bolted to the concrete floor of the warehouse and strapped him in. “So,” he said. “Mr Peabody is somewhat squeamish about the line of work he employs me to do. He never really asks for details of my little meetings, so it gives me some freedom to operate outside what he would generally prefer.”
Byron said nothing on account of a leather strop being shoved into his mouth.
“Mr Peabody doesn't like running risks on addicts such as yourself, Mr Byron. The good news is, though, I'm not here to kill you today. Just rough you up a little bit.” The man took a syringe and filled it with something and injected it into Byron's arm. “This is the same drug we found you really high on earlier. This is a more diluted mixture, however. It will paralyze you but not dull your pain receptors.”
The man pulled a tray over from the shadows and took the cover off the dozen or so long, thin wooden sticks. “And these? These are an old Chinese torture method.” The man smiled his unique smile as he picked up the first stick, never breaking eye contact.