Whether Watson fainted when I shot him in his chest or his neck or his foot, I don’t really give a shit. I got no clue if he knows he can’t die and I don’t need him figuring it out before I can interrogate him. Gotta wake him up quick, before his wounds start healing. No furniture up here to secure him to so I prop him up against the back wall, cuff his hands behind his back. Let go and his head drops. I let him be and survey the space.
Maybe a couple rooms up here. Big windows stare at the back yard like the purpose of the landing is to show off all that empty Saint Augustine out back. Why the fuck would anyone want to show that off? Any schmuck willing to spend too much on water could keep that shit up.
Thought that gnome was further back from the house. Then again they’re creepy fuckers who don’t subscribe to the laws of physics and I don’t stare too long at them. Then again I’m not wearing my glasses anyway. Haven’t in weeks, since Murph clocked me with that goddamn typewriter case.
There’s that birdsong again. Swear to god if Devon or fucking Dave is pranking me I will literally piss in their corn flakes every morning. Since we gotta eat all our cereal with water, that might improve the flavor. Not that I eat cereal. Not that we need to eat anything in the late world. But Dave eats cereal and so does Devon and they’re both annoying as shit.
I saunter back to Moneybags. Old boy’s chest expands and shrinks slow. The air leaking out his neck sounds all blood and gurgle. Even if Mr. Track Star can talk fine, that sound’s gonna grate on me. I squat down, rest my arms on my knees like I’m about to dress down a kid for stealing. Old boy is definitely out. Wouldn’t be right to punch him.
So I settle for a slap. Two, three. He doesn’t stir. I shout his name, flick his eye, his temple, his nose. Fingers land like fifty-pound bags of sand. He starts to antsy.
Might not be the most intimidating thing to do, but it fucking works. Once when I couldn’t get some shitbag to confess to framing young boys in a small town—we know what people did and died to in their dying lives, but we gotta get them on record in the late world so we can send peace to victims and families—I got the idea I could break him by flicking his face constantly. Figured it’d work like a water drip, but more painful.
I made the mistake of telling Murph. He said it was undignified. I told him when you’re the one with the upper hand, you decide what is and what ain’t dignified. He still wouldn’t let me do it. So I told him get JT in, cause I’d be fucked if I was gonna waste my time. JT failed three days straight before I went back and flicked shitbag’s nose so hard I about broke it. He went on record immediately. Murph never talks about that one.
Old boy here flinches every time now. Just gotta keep it up for—his eyes flutter. “Jermaine!” Flick! two, three. Nothing. Shout, flick, two three. No answer. I ain’t letting this asshole make me wait any longer. My foot’s all swollen pain now. I don’t have time to coddle him back awake. So I take a pair of leather gloves out my coat, dress my hands, breathe. Ain’t gonna like this. Can’t show it.
“Jermaine Fucking Watson!” I stick a thumb in the hole in his throat. “Wake—the—fuck—up!” Each word I pull on the wound. I practically shriek to cover the sound of blood and gurgle.
Old boy’s eyes shoot wide open faster than I can blink and he lurches forward. My thumb in his throat stops him short. He shouts and flings his head back against the wall and groans.
“Welcome to the late world, dipshit. Hope you feeling rested. I’m Antonius and I’ll be your tour guide.”
Watson starts fiddling his hands behind his back.
“You’re not going anywhere, Jermaine.”
He knocks his head around a bit.
“You’ll get to fill out a customer survey afterward.”
Watson locks eyes with me.
“I know you know where you are, so don’t play any shit.”
He jiggers the cuffs again, sinks back. “Is this heav—”
“Mother. Fucker.” I jam my thumb into his neck and grimace. Play it off as a scowl. “Wha’d I just say! I know you know where you are! Don’t give me that ‘Is this heaven or hell’ Hollywood bullshit.”
“I know you know. You looked for me when you showed up.”
Watson looks past me down the stairs.
“No. We’re done with those. When we finish here, I’m jumping out the window with you. Maybe even use you as my landing pad.”
Watson looks back at me. “I don’t suppose I could—”
“Change my mind? No.”
He coughs and stares at my arm clutching his throat. “Could you maybe—?”
“Maybe,” I stand up. With my thumb I drag him across the room. He’s somewhere between a yelp and a whimper when I stop. “Sure thing.” Pull my thumb out, but keep my hand over the hole. “Not sure you’re done paying for my toes yet. Stay jumpy.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? I’m—”
“In the shit if you don’t stop giving it to me!” I jam my middle finger into his chest wound. He did not expect that—gives up the highest scream I ever heard. Amazing what people can bear when they expect it. And what they can’t when they don’t.
“There’s no Jesus here.”
“But this is the—afterlife, right?”
I nod. Can’t stop a grin forming.
“What the fuck, man? I’m bleeding out here! Do you even have a first-aid kit?”
I laugh. Whoever snitched ain’t snitched about starfishing. “You’ll be all right.” Pull my finger out his chest. “Long as you don’t pull any shit on me, you’ll be all right.”
Watson bobs his head like a buoy in choppy water.
“How’d you know I was coming when you got here? Or anyone?”
“You wouldn’t believe—”
“This is the place that creates every ‘you wouldn’t believe’ in the dying world. I’ll tell you what I believe.”
“So this guy appears out of nowhere in my office one day. Tells me he knows what I’m doing with my secretary—and her sister. He tells me he knows what waits for me on the other side, that I won’t have anything.”
“Well he was right about that.”
Old boy glares at me like I insulted his mother. Or maybe his secretary’s mother.
“How’d you recognize me?”
“He told me what you looked like.”
Did this fucker just say someone described dead old Antonius to him?
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. (Auto Squad 1,3 is an exception to this, due to Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2017 falling on Monday 16 January.)