204 Seconds

                In the corner stood brawny Arturo. Arturo, the prototype heavyweight—equally thick around the waist and chest, not a curve to his figure, just a straight line from shoulder to toe. Nose arched and aching from a dozen old breaks—he wondered how he came to be a supporting player in his own life. A long arc lead him here, always the bass player in the background, always the silent scene partner. From the first moments—when he was born the quiet second twin to his bawling older brother Balto—to his marriage—where he and his equally timid wife were overshadowed by the bold proposal by the best man to the maid of (also Balto), he felt most comfortable in the shadows. And so it was still. Arturo, flinty enforcer, watched the Big Boss McGuin beat Art’s own twin brother to death.

                “Art…” The bludgeoned Balto whispered, his tone somewhere between plea and rebuke, “Art…”

                Will you really just stand here? He asked himself. Doing nothing?

                The meat-fisted McGuin, just as broad as the lunk Arturo if not nearly a head or two as high, himself had the same thought. Resting a moment from the once-over, he laughed, a wheezing, corrosive howl, and turned back to the silent Art.

                “Maybe he’ll listen to you, yeah? Don’t twins have some kind uh… psychic connection er summat?” The cudgel in his hand was pointed right at Art, business end forward. McGuin flipped it effortlessly, displaying an agility that belied his bulk and presented the handle for Arturo to wield.

“Make ‘im sing Art. Earn your Starbucks.”

After the nastiest jobs, torture—or information extraction, as McGuin termed it—or murder—corp’real removal was the affable McGuin-ism—he always took the perpetrator of his mandated crimes out for coffee. Art stared at the cudgel, blinking slowly, remembering all the times he would have grabbed it glady and bashed his brash brother Balto’s skull in. His audacious proposal at the inauguration of Art’s ill-fated marriage. All the times as kids when they wrestled and Balto always, always won.

“Those 204 seconds catch up to ya!” He’d laugh, referencing the difference in time between their births. “I can see your next move coming, before ya even think of it!” And he was right too. Two minutes and 24 seconds later, Art would close his eyes and see the fight unfold once more… from his Brother’s perspective. Every move perfectly predicted, only after the fact instead of before. Alas, if only he had been the elder twin. Maybe then he might’ve become a star.

After each fight, Balto would tousle Art’s hair affectionately and bound off on another adventure. A machine of perpetual motion, he sought the next thrill, the next surprise. Balto closed his eyes and saw the future. He closed his eyes and saw himself moving upwards towards brilliance. Up and up, until…

None of that energy remained in the battered man now. Not with both his legs, all ten fingers and ten toes, twisting in different directions. Not with his face a red mass and a dozen of his teeth on the floor. Art waited for the familial compassion to set in, waited for the instinct to refuse his task to rise. Yet his hand went to the proferred handle, and even then he expected to grasp it and bash McGuin’s face in. He could just imagine rescuing his brother, killing the crimelord, all the while screaming “Who’s the star now, eh? Who’s the star?”

But he did none of those things. Slick wooden cudgel in hand, he walked over to his brother, trussed and moaning, and for a while said nothing at all.

“Art, pl-”

THWACK! Balto’s head jolted back, eyes wide in shock for a moment, before they closed and his neck bent at a crooked angle. SMOSH! His skull grew a sudden dent, leaking fluids from a puncture made by jutting bone. Art let rise and fall the wooden weapon another half-dozen times, until the once identical siblings had very little left in common indeed. Balto’s lungs filled with air a few more times; his heart let out a few more beats; his muscles twitched, perhaps out of instinct or his natural born stubbornness, before subsiding entirely.

In the room, only Art and a stunned McGuin remained.

“Christ,” Stammered McGuin, “Did ya really? Did ya have to-Christ, Art! I mean, it was only a little bit o’money, but… well, Christ!”

Art didn’t respond, he dropped the cudgel at the feet of the lifeless mass once named Balto, retreating back to his corner. Back to the shadows. For a few moments, he didn’t say anything, then he checked his watch.

“Give me… two and a half minutes boss. I’ll tell you where the money is.”