Momma leans over me and presses her soft, warm wrist to my hard, clammy forehead. She talks but I can’t hear what she says. She grabs a washcloth and lays it on me. It sits cold and wet across my eyes and my forehead. I already know what happens next and it’s not déjà vu.
More like watching a movie again for the first time in twenty years since the last time you watched it: as a kid who thought everything would always work out, thought staying close to your parents would always come easy, thought you’d never disappoint anyone close to you. Who never thought disappointing yourself was even possible.
I know what happens next. Can’t stop myself from saying Momma never made me less sick. She smacks me and I wake up on my back to a numb gut and a dead leg and stains in the ceiling above me. They look like barbecue sauce. This car woulda been better off with Momma owning it.
She never let me eat in her car growing up. “Food’s for restaurants and for houses. You need space to respect it and they both got space,” she said. “You can’t give due in a box rolling down concrete and tar. Just spill it. Then you got stains you never get rid of.” Never understood till I got my own car and ate every meal in it as I wore my nerves down to dust. My coupe never stopped smelling like old beef and every new stain trained me to hate its fabric even more.
Wherever Gavin and his sure shot are taking me, it ain’t close to the Oil Center. No clue what car we’re riding in but I wouldn’t be less comfortable even in the trunk of an old Beetle. Hands cuffed under me pressing into a seat with shit padding. No seat belt round my waist—thank god Gavin ain’t stopped on a dime or yanked a turn yet.
Apparently they not in a hurry, which—fine by me: I’m not sliding round, so I’m not stressing my wounds. Thigh and stomach have stopped burning. Whether that’s just me gone numb or some sort of treatment Gavin or Sure Shot administered, I don’t know. Can’t lift my head to examine my unfeeling gut, never mind the damn thigh. A dull pinprick run, settled in above my belly button and stretching halfway down my leg, throbs every few seconds.
Wait. Am I stretching my foot down like I’m trying to separate it from my leg?
My answer comes immediately: calf locks up and the muscles clamp down on themselves all updown. First sleep in death and I’m already copping anxious tics from my dying life.
Something like an electric cramp sparks all under my skin. The fix is simple: massage the calf. But that’s a whole bitch with your hands tied behind your back. So the electric creeps past my knee and shoots through my thigh and that bullet pulls on my tendons like it’s been shot all over again and I can’t stifle an agonized groan.
“Welcome to the late world,” Sure Shot dicks out her mouth.
“Welcome?” I say. “I been here.” First sleep in three weeks and I only had to get shot to earn it.
“I don’t believe in bullshit,” Gavin says, like he’s making a declaration.
“Me neither,” I say.
“Don’t fucken interrupt me,” Gavin throws up a hand. “There’s no way you been here. There’d be some record of it. Government here always finds new late folks.”
“You two the first to find me in the three weeks I been dead.”
“Three weeks.” Sure Shot shakes her head. “We did ok,” she mutters. “Considering how things been since that incident with Antonius.”
“Wasn’t gonna broadcast how the Squad’s less good, Johnson,” Gavin mutters. “But sure.”
“Oftentimes we find suiciders before the late government does,” Sure Shot explains.
“Especially someone as high profile as you, Beatrice Richard.”
“High profile? I was a video director at a local TV station.” High profile my ass. They must have good drugs in the late world. I would correct him on my name but I don’t like fuckshits calling me Bice.
“Profile doesn’t mention directing,” Sure Shot says.
“Then it’s wrong.”
“Our profiles ain’t never wrong, Ms. Richard,” Gavin says. “You killed six men—”
“Fuck you talking about?”
“You outta your goddamn mind.”
“—and killed yourself in prison to avoid a life sentence.”
“The fuck I did.”
“Sooner you admit it, sooner you’ll be—well, not free. You definitely won’t be free. But you’ll be settled in a more comfy space in jail.”
“I ain’t killed no one.” I wriggle a bit and the cuffs dig into my wrists. “Just myself. All strung up on anxiety.” Before I can groan the cuffs pass through the outside of my wrists, then slide back in place and dig into my spine again. Like they made a mistake. Like they angry I caught it. Groan escapes my mouth before I realize it’s coming.
“Stop your fucking groaning,” Sure Shot says to the windshield.
“You want me to shut the fuck up, take the cuffs off me.”
Sure Shot clicks her teeth.
The numbness stays gone. Regaining feeling, I flex my leg. Immediately behind my body a soft clack bounces off the gently sloped seat and something rolls down against my leg. I shuffle my arms, feel around. When my hands finally find it, I fight back a gasp. It’s the bullet. A second soft clack—this one next to my gut—gets followed by a pinprick thud in the carpet. The bullet from my stomach now sits on the floor.
“Holy shit,” I mutter.
Sure Shot whips around and catches the bullet on the floor with her eye. “Shit. You healed early.” Pulls out a handgun. “No worries.”
Gavin catches her gun with his eye and shouts “No guns while the car moving!” and slams the brakes. Sure Shot hits the dash and I fall off the back seat.
Soon as I hit the floor the cuffs pass all the way through my arms. I jump up and punch out the window. Pull the outside handle to open the door. Gavin throws the handbrake. Then he realizes I’m free and grabs Sure Shot’s gun. I’m out the door before he can line up a shot.
But there’s nowhere for me to run.
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.