People miss dogs the most. Or cats. Never cared for either myself. They couldn’t sing for shit. I miss birds the most. They might be terrible pets, but the free ones, the ones sleeping in oak trees in city parks, those were the ones I liked. Woke up to birdsong most days in Atlanta. Now there are never birds near me.
When my mouth gets me, I’m hunting jumpers in New York, or searching carbon monoxide clouds in gated garages for disoriented late people. But fuck everyone else, I’m the best the Auto Squad ever hired. I don’t give a shit who I insult, I’m too valuable to squander on obvious shit like the financial district. We know three quarters of ’em are gonna off themselves in the next five years, or ten, at the rate they’re automating work in the dying world.
I told Murph that’s where we should train the newbs and retrain the incomps, in the financial districts, and Murph cackled and said if I had more experience I’d know why my idea was shit. Literally called it “shit” to my face. So I told him the ratio of years to inches has to be 1:1, because I could see the stick up his ass running another seven feet past his head. He threw a musty typewriter case at me and said I’d be hopping financial districts the next two months, agency efficiency be damned.
Forty-two years experience ain’t enough for any kind of seniority. Least not for me. No one takes you serious till you hit eighty. Or that’s what I been told. Unless your super likes you. And Murph doesn’t. So instead of training new folks I’m sitting here in the last nice Chevelle in late America, watching a middle-aged white man shake hands with himself in half the rooms in his house in the dying world, waiting for him to grab his car keys and close his garage, start the car, breathe deep, and join us.
The money man’s house is occupied here in the late world. Now if in the dying world you knew someone was gonna off themselves and you couldn’t stop it, you’d maybe try to get anyone else living with them out the house, right, try to prevent even more trauma. But here in the late world, we’re all born by dying. So the Auto Squad never evacs unless psych profiles recommend it. Not that people can die here—but imagine five straight weeks of razor blade to wrist and tell me that wouldn’t fuck you up. We’re all starfish here but regeneration and healing don’t mean the pain stops. Sure someone could sit and slit for ten thousand years and be physically fine, but that’s not a scenario we want to trigger.
It’s a former ranger lives in that house. She threatened me when I knocked, told me to keep my ass outside till the white money man appeared in a cloud of exhaust, so I’m sitting here in my Chevelle, staring at the garage, Mr. Moneyed & Unfaithful flickering in and out of my sight. Just get it over with, god damn it.
I guess now’s as good a moment as any to tell you my name. I guess I should’ve started with that, but I swear to God I heard birdsong and that got me first.
I didn’t hear birdsong, of course. There aren’t any birds in the late world. No dogs or cats either. No animals. You sentient but don’t have a soul? You don’t make it to the late world. Plants? Sure. Cars, typewriters, books, houses, rocks? Yup. But no Fido. And no birds.
You come here as you were in the dying world. The government makes it easy to change your name and gender—hell, at your intake when you first arrive, they ask if you want to change either—but we’re none of us miracle workers here. How your body was there is how your body is here, forever. That’s why I had such a hard time relearning how to walk here. In the dying world I never moved for anyone. Got into several fights that way—cause why the fuck should a black man be anything other than deferring, right?—but here, phased into the late world, I had to learn how to walk around the energy of every person in the dying world.
The name’s Antonius. Not Antonio, not Anthony, and sure as fuck not Tony. In my dying life I let wrong names slide with a gentle correction—but since I gotta walk around every slow dipshit from the dying world, I insist folks get my name right now. Some assholes think they’re clever, swap out the “us” for an “o,” and I remind them they can’t die in this life. Bust their lip open, break a couple fingers. Watch ’em writhe till they go numb and their body starts starfishing. It’s always people who look like that money man. They never get my name wrong again. Don’t you get it wrong either.
Moneybags is steady in my vision now. Translucent, but steady. Means he’s not backing down. Means he’s gonna go through with it. It’s just a matter of when. That’s what makes me the most valuable member of the Auto Squad. I can see people in the dying world before they kill themselves. Some Squatters have good intuition, most the older ones run on experience, but fuck ’em. My eyes make me the best asshole in this agency. I’m the only person ever able to do it. It’s why the guy before Murph hired me without anything. It’s why Murph’s never liked me.
It’s why I’m sitting here, tracing the seams in the front seat of my car, waiting for the 400th or 4000th ripoff finance man to breathe his last—this one to avoid suffering the consequences of fucking his secretary and her sister while his wife at home took care of their four daughters.
Motherfuckers never stop, so the Auto Squad will always be in business. Us Squatters will always be ready for the next convicted cop to shoot himself in his five-bedroom McMansion, waiting for the moment to tackle his ass and cart him off to jail. We also help people escaping persecution, famine, war zones, impossible situations, bad brains—but we don’t advertise it. And you didn’t hear it from me.
Moneybags is full solid now, fallen on his back in a pale mist in the ranger’s garage. I slide out my car. Walk quiet and sure across the street. Moneybags doesn’t seem disoriented like most people and—he’s turning around. He saw me. Now he’s… running?
But they never run.
Today we begin Matador the First’s newest project: 13 Tales from the Auto Squad, an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday.