- Reading time: five minutes
- Word count: 1000
- Published:20 jan 2014
- Author: Matador the First
- Copyright: Matador the First, 2014
Just once I’d like to deliver good news. At my job bad news can get you killed.
Let’s say your only physical memory of your dead brother—a car you’d shared before your late brother went off and died in battle—has been sold off. Tell me that’s not bad news.
“You go back there and tell David Eccleston I want my brother’s car back.”
“Whatever problem you have,” I reach into my bag and feel for my baseball bat, “it’s between you and the mechanic.”
“I’m just the messer.” Years ago a law was passed saying basically, you can shoot the messenger.
“Just?” The man feels his pocket. Probably a dagger.
Shoot the messenger, or stab them, or beat them. “I know what you want to do.” Any physical attack except rape. I whip out my aluminum bat. “But I’ll win.” You can’t attack messers unless you’re getting bad news. “So don’t.” This man definitely got some.
The man charges with a long-blade dagger. I slide off to my right and as he rushes past me I clock my bat’s fat end against the base of his neck. He collapses onto the gravel.
I drop a packet on his back. “Your receipt, and your copy of the message.”
He doesn’t move. Won’t for hours.
♣ ♦ ♥ ♠
After walking the messeree’s mile-long driveway and then standing next to his mailbox for a half hour, finally I hitch a ride. The woman who picks me up isn’t happy I’m a messer, but because I’m a woman she doesn’t kick me out.
In four years not one of my messerees hasn’t tried to kill me. Almost like my disper Vito’s trying to get me knocked off. People who’ve been at the Mick twenty years haven’t seen anyone get as many death drops as me. And today Vito has my drivers park me twice as far from the drop as normal—and tells them not to pick me up afterward. I didn’t find out till they parked me.
The woman driving tells me I’m talking too loud.
“Can I make a phone call?”
“I need to make a completion call.”
“You’re going to do it any—”
“No. I wouldn’t. But thanks for saying yes.”
“Messer Co. Dispatch, Fourth and Alaméda, Ms. Vinny speaking.”
“This is Staley.”
“Staley! You’re working? Haven’t seen you today.”
“Early morning. Didn’t know why, but then Vito has Cowl and some new guy park me five miles out.”
“Had to steal a bike to make the drop.”
“The bike you put in my car is stolen?”
“And hitch a ride back. He had Cowl head out for another drop.”
“But there should be—”
“But company policy dic—”
“Any disper can override company policy if he wants to, and Vito wanted to, so the son of a bitch did!”
“Is this a com call?”
“Yeah. Then I’m patching back. Got paper?”
“Drop A3FB698. Messeree: one Mr. Chris Johnson. Messeree received message from Dave’s Fix-Up; understood message. Messeree signed for message, got copy of it and receipt. Messeree attacked messer; messer took care of messeree. Add violence to his file.”
“You took care of him. Oh boy.”
“See you at the patch.”
“Vito’s gonna love this.”
“Vito can shove it.”
♣ ♦ ♥ ♠
Messering isn’t a job you quit. When the Mick takes you on you sign for say five years, and basically you can’t leave unless your disper fires you. In that way it’s like the army, but no one knows what happens if you quit before your years are up.
The job might be dangerous, but the benefits are good enough. Decades back some Mick higher-up got the government to give a Mick message the same legal standing as Certified Mail. That’s why it’s technically illegal to kill a messer. It’s not normally enforced unless it affects a legal case, but regardless, when a messer is killed or maimed or has their memories screwed with—what we mean when we say wronged—the Mick will sue the wronger into oblivion. If you’re alive, you see most of that money; if you’re not, your family gets what you would’ve.
Not that I’d consider quitting. I’ve wanted this job since I saw my friend’s older sister doing it when I was twelve. But if Vito has it out for me, I might be boned. I can’t transfer. I’ve tried. I’ve talked to Vito. Says I’m imagining it.
♣ ♦ ♥ ♠
“You took care of him.”
Vito’s office has a window looking into the common area below, where assisters sit behind their desks taking calls and scheduling drop times and messers get the skinnies on their drops from the assisters and the drivers stand around waiting to walk messers into the loading area outside. It’s like a taxi dispatch, except there are no cars inside.
“He came at me with a knife, Vito.”
“I told you not to retaliate. There was a note in the file.” He stops pacing next to a sign bearing the first Messr. Co. logo, commissioned in the 1980s when the American Messenger Company officially changed its name to Messr. Co.
“I didn’t kill him.” No employee calls it the Messr. Co. “I didn’t shoot him, I didn’t stab him.”
“You were supposed to run if you had any trouble.”
“Weren’t any drivers nearby. Thanks for that.” For a while people called it the M.C. but they eventually shortened that to the Mick.
“You’ll have them on your next drop. Don’t deal with the messeree. You have a problem, you leave.”
♣ ♦ ♥ ♠
You can complain to headquarters, but they rarely respond unless you show up in person. To show up in person, your disper has to approve time off for the trip. If you’re going to complain about your disper, you don’t tell your disper why you’re leaving. But if your disper knows what you’re doing, they won’t give you time off.
You can just go. Which they’ll see as quitting.
Just reach headquarters first.
“Shoot the Messenger” is a flash-fiction condensation of a story and concept I’ve been working on, off and on, for about a year. The plan was to write a novel, or something like it, comprising four or five novellas, each with a different protagonist but with Staley (and the Mick) being the thread connecting them all.
I’d left the concept alone for a while until Unstuck announced their 1000-word flash-fiction contest in October 2013. “Shoot the Messenger” popped immediately into my mind, and I decided I could shrink the first StM story I’d outlisted down to 1000 words. Unstuck declined it, so y’all get to read it on fprg!
I might lengthen this story to a few or several thousand words, but I think the project’s concept and scope is shifting to shorter stories featuring more protagonists at different Micks in more different regions and cities. It might be more suited to TV. We'll see how developing the concept goes.
For now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this bit of flash fiction.