Immediately, at least. No one ever runs as soon as they hit wireframe ground in the late world. But then along came this fucker, up and running like he was born to get away from me.
Someone snitched. I don’t know how, but someone snitched. We got the worst PR in the dying world and that’s exactly how we want it. How we supposed to do our jobs if every shitbird and asswipe know about us? People believing in Saint Pete and the Pearly Gates or nothing or anything in between means we almost never gotta pull our guns.
That’s a big part of why I like this job. In my dying life I shot off my cousin’s pinky in the woods with a gun we found hugged by the smoke of a recent campfire outside an abandoned tent. In my later years I shot down caskets dropped off ships like depth charges being tested. I don’t like guns, but I know how to use ’em.
Why don’t we use stun guns here? Electronics too complicated. Late energy and dying energy fight a lot and late energy always loses. So that’s why I’m pulling the same Security Six I’ve carried forty-two years as I lean against the corner of the ranger’s garage and aim for Moneybags’s knees. I don’t miss. I never do. Sure aim and good mechanics make sure my shot gets where I want it, every time.
Moneybags scurries into the neighbor’s open garage before I can line up the knee shot. I start across the gap between the houses when he smashes a garage window and blasts two shells at me. I drop to the ground. Bite through my tongue. What the hell kind of squat is this? Motherfuckers are never armed. If all financial district jobs were like this I woulda volunteered for carting off the money changers years ago.
Moneybags across the way reloads and fires two more shells at me. There’s no way he lucked into someone’s ammo cabinet that fast. He knew it was there. Had to. My luck is not that bad that late energy conspires against me. Doesn’t mean anything good, though. Double-check my chambers. I haven’t checked in weeks. Maybe months. All six loaded. Another six hanging on their clip and waiting.
Who the hell would be leaking anything? Moneybags reloads again. First question I should ask is How. Fires two more shots and I leap to my feet and bolt for the garage. Jeffrey Crust I hope these shots get off. Been carrying these cartridges since the early ’90s. Didn’t have to shoot once the business types laid off their Reagan coke. I stop hard against the corner of the neighbor’s garage. Knock my skull against the brick. Stop myself from tripping forward into twelve gauges of agony. Strain my ears. No click, no cocking, no—
Holy fuck! Blood leaks out where my pinky toe and its neighbor once lived. Now I know how my cousin felt. Foot must’ve slid past the corner. Sure I been shot. But I never lost a digit. Then again, my toes’ll be back.
Footsteps run fast into the house. Door slams behind them. I know I can still hobble faster than he can sprint. If the Squad’s profile is accurate—and all our profiles are—my legs are longer than his. But god damn, I am not gonna like it.
“Jermaine Watson! I am here from the Auto Squad, and I am gonna fuck you up! Wherever you run, I will find your ass and I will tear it a new one. Might as well stay calm and wait, dipshit, cause the longer it takes me to find you, the more I’ll make you wish you were alive again when I do.”
Alive again. As if I know how to phase back into the dying world. Fuck me if he knows. And I sure as hell wouldn’t teach him if I knew. Not that anyone knows how. You gotta get a permit to teach it, and the government doesn’t issue them. Only way anyone learns how to phase back into the dying world is by lucking into it. Twist the right way when you fall and you might find yourself burning under the midday sun again.
The clever ones phase back. But there aren’t many clever ones. I stamp my foot and stomp across the garage. Whoever owns it been stocking up on shotguns and shells. Definitely not for hunting. Nothing here to kill. The unclever accidental shifters find the first gun they can and shoot themselves. Surest way to go. I reach the door leading inside, check behind me, brace. No one wants to stay in the dying world if they end up back there. Start over with no money? Yeah, sign me up.
I kick the door in. Laundry’s empty. Door to the kitchen’s already open. I walk in. The house is dead quiet. No windows open. No doors ajar. No one out back. Looks like there’s a yard gnome out there, though. Never liked those creepy fuckers. Of course that’s when I think I hear birds. Creeps always ruin what you like.
Chunk of handrail’s gone from the stairs outside the kitchen. Watson must’ve scrambled upstairs. I hope I scared him into hiding. Don’t wanna deal with someone coming out fighting. My body starts starfishing, my foot’s gonna go numb. Bad news ain’t something I want more of right now. Two footnotes is good enough.
I look up the top of the stairs. Open. Empty. Time to practice my catwalk. Thank god these steps are carpeted. They’re still gonna—Watson pops up from the floor of the landing and before he can hesitate I land a bullet in his chest and another in his throat. God damn it. It’s gonna be a hell of a time trying to understand a single fucking word he wheezes out.
Watson’s shoe peeks out over the stairs. I debate lodging a bullet under his big toe. Decide against it. The one thing Murph likes about me is how little I spend on ammo. Already wasted one shot. I sit down, lean up against the wall. Catch my breath. Watson ain’t going anywhere.
First fucking thing he did when he got here: He looked around for a Squatter, found me, and ran. Now how the hell did he recognize me? It’s not like we have a uniform. Not like I have my job fucking tattooed on my forehead. Saw me, ran, shot, made me bite through my tongue—nope, that’s still all there, must’ve just bit through a small corner—
Fuck it. He recognized me and I have too many questions.
I drag myself to the top of the stairs and grab his foot. It’s gonna look better with that hole through it.
The newest project from Matador the First, 13 Tales from the Auto Squad is an anthology series about a government agency in the afterlife that handles the other side of suicide cases. Each story will be told over the course of four installments, approximately 1000 words each, posted every Monday.