Billy was the runt of the litter. There was no denying it. He was the kid they shoved around. The guy they picked a fight with. He longed to be popular. He just didn’t have the face for it. He knew that. But it never stopped him from dreaming. Somewhere deep, a voice told him everything was possible.
Tonight was his time to shine.
The warmest feeling, as if everything was about to change.
Even Degsy greeted him with a smile. His eyes shining as he slapped little Billy on the back.
“You always remind me of when we were kids,” Degsy said. “That gang we used to have, drinking all night, watching the sunrise every morning.”
Even back then, Billy didn’t fit in. Always fucking up. Always running out of chances. But Degsy had been sweet on Billy’s sister. So he always cut Billy some slack.
Degsy took hold of Billy’s arm, sighing as he gazed out of the window. “Who would have thought it,” he said. “That we’d come this far, running the eastside of the bay.”
But Billy preferred the old days. Selling uppers and downers, eighths of weed, whiz when they could get their hands on it. He’d felt safer back then. He was one of the boys, striding behind Degsy’s shadow.
“Don’t look so worried,” Degsy said. “Relax for Christ’s sake.”
Billy sat down, slumping into the chair.
Degsy smiled. “Skinny Billy Briers,” he said. “You always were the sensitive type, ever since we were kids. Do you remember that bird we found? Half dead, it was. Twitchin’ like a runt in the sand.”
Billy’s eyes widened. “I’ll never forget it,” he said. “The boys were going to toss it like a rag.”
“That’s right, Billy. Until you picked it up, nursing it back to life, cradling it like a baby in your arms. That’s why this job needs your touch. Someone quiet. Someone who won’t react to Falon’s mouth.”
Billy’s heart thumped. He couldn’t stop smiling. “So we’re actually gonna pay the bastard?”
Degsy stared into his hands. “I don’t see how we have any choice. We took down one of his boys. A mistake, I know. But the Boss says we need to put it right.”
“I understand,” Billy said.
Degsy picked up the package from his desk, and threw it into Billy’s lap.
Billy stood up. “I won’t let you down, Degsy. Not this time.”
Degsy looked away. “I know that,” he said, his voice softening. “And believe me, there’ll be better jobs. We’ve just gotta take the darkness with the light.”
As he hurried along the promenade, Billy kept those words in his head, whispering them over and over.
“Hey it’s Billy Runt,” the young kids shouted.
But Billy kept walking, smiling as he turned his collar to the cold.
Billy rarely ventured into town. He hated the noise. Loathed the narrow confines of its streets. A siren blared. A myriad of lights flickered like stars in the distance. But Billy kept walking. Checking his pockets every five seconds, making sure nothing was lost.
He could smell the crack house from the far side of the road, tainting the air like a poison. Music boomed through the windows, a reverberating bass, pumping like a giant heart.
When he got to the end of the path, Billy found the door open. He stepped inside, the music deafening. To his surprise, Falon was already waiting, his hair slicked back, grinning from the foot of the stairs.
“So he decided to send you after all,” Falon said. “You’ve gotta hand it to Degsy. He always lets his head rule his heart.”
Billy had no idea what Falon was talking about, so he chucked the package on the floor.
Falon kicked it open, laughing to himself, as Billy gawped at the blank sheets of paper.
Then Falon pulled out his gun, the barrel’s cold steel pressing into Billy’s mouth.
“It’s nothing personal,” Falon said. “It’s just what me and Degsy agreed – one of his for one of mine. If it makes things any better, Degsy felt bad about it. But shit happens, Billy. You’ve just gotta to take the darkness with the light.”