Life After Death

After paying the driver, Harry Pimble stepped out of the cab and shook off the deja-vu that had just come over him. He lit a Marlboro and sighed as the feeling dissipated like the smoke from his cigarette. It was a warm morning and the sky was a light blue with barely any clouds. Above his head, sunlight sparkled off the glass-fronted skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan. Harry took off his spectacles and rubbed his temple where a headache was brewing. He put it down to the stress of the day ahead. But why stress about that? He was doing everything legally and by the book. Why should he be tense about something that was perfectly legal? He checked his watch. It was just after nine am. He looked at the modest sign above the office doorway. The words Blood, White, and Blue were written in black lettering and gave no indication as to what they represented. It looked more like the offices of an insurance company than anything else. Still Harry thought, It’s not what their offices look like but what they do that counts. Harry picked up his briefcase and stepped out of the oven of early morning Manhattan and into the air-conditioned offices of Blood, White, and Blue: The best contract killers in all of Manhattan. At least that’s what their TV commercial said.

The office was small and open plan with framed certificates on the far wall. Two middle-aged women and an old man sat in a small waiting area. As Harry walked to the reception desk he wondered who the old man had come to see about? A wayward young son perhaps? Or a nubile young mistress whose gold-digging ways had been found out? Either way, Harry was just glad there were other people suffering the same hassles he was. As Harry approached, the receptionist looked up from her desk. ‘Can I help you sir?’ She was old and wore spectacles on a chain like someone’s Grandma.

Harry walked to the desk and slapped his hand off the counter. ‘Yes you can help me,’ he said. ‘My name is Harry Pimble and I would very much like to have my wife executed please.’

The receptionist smiled and told Harry he had come to the right place. From a nearby filing cabinet she took out a pile of papers and placed them on the counter-top. ‘You’ll have to fill out some forms Mr Pimble.’

‘Forms huh?’ Harry shook his head and sighed. ‘What happened to the good old days when you could just hand over a photograph and a bag of cash?’

‘Those days are long gone thank goodness.’ She put on her spectacles and looked at the computer screen. ‘I just need to add your details to our database Mr Pimble. It won’t take a moment.’

‘No problem.’ Harry picked up one of the forms and leafed through it. At the top of the first form it said, FEDERATION OF APPROVED CONTRACT KILLERS — Form 250/A —Application for the murder of a partner/spouse.

The receptionist asked for Harry’s name and address. She typed it into the computer.

‘Age?’

‘Fifty-seven.’

‘You don’t look it Mr Pimble,’ she said. ‘Age-inhibitor or just good skin?’

Harry smiled. ‘I’d like to say it was all me but I’d hate myself. I got a twenty-year inhibitor back in the nineties. The guy added a couple more years because we were both Jets fans.’

‘He did a great job.’ She smiled and went back to her inputting.

Harry scanned through the form. It was all standard stuff: name, age, address etc… Some of the questions actually made him smile like question five which asked, How many times per day do you think about killing your partner/spouse? That’s easy, Harry thought. Twenty-four times and each time for one hour. Everything was going well until he reached question twelve where his widening smile halted and turned slowly into a frown. The reason was that question twelve asked, ‘Please give details concerning the first time you thought about having my partner/spouse killed. This must include date, location and photographic evidence to support your claim.’

Harry slammed the form down onto the counter.

‘Is there a problem Mr Pimble?’ the receptionist said.

‘Yeah there is a problem,’ Harry replied. ‘Question seven is impossible to answer.’

‘Nothing is impossible Mr Pimble. Difficult perhaps but definitely not impossible.’

‘It says I need to provide photographic evidence to support my claim.’

‘That’s right.’

‘How can I provide photographic evidence? What the hell do you want? A picture of me stood behind my wife with a knife in one hand and a dated newspaper in the other?’

The receptionist looked up. ‘I appreciate your concern Mr Pimble but ever since murder was legalised we must adhere to strict standards of practice. We can’t just go around killing people willy nilly anymore. There must be a valid reason and more importantly there must be valid evidence that supports that reason.’

‘Yeah but, —‘

The receptionist’s telephone rang, interrupting Harry. She picked it up and made uh hum sounds and then put the phone down. ‘You can go through now Mr Jacobs,’ she said to the old guy in the waiting area. ‘Room number six please.’

The old guy got up and hobbled past Harry. His cane clicked off the polished marble floor until he disappeared through the door marked six.

‘How come he gets seen?’ Harry asked.

‘Because his forms have been processed.’

‘How long does that take?’

‘Six months.’

‘Six months?’

‘It’s our cooling off period,’ she said. ‘It allows people to assess if they really want to kill whoever it is they want killed before they kill them.’

‘Believe me I really want to go through with it,’ Harry said. ‘My wife wants to fly her father over from Thailand to come and live with us and she won’t take no for an answer.’

‘I appreciate your concern Mr Pimble but we must operate within a Government approved framework which means filling out these forms and waiting for the allocated cooling off time. Life after death applies to us as well you know.’

Harry shuddered at the words. ‘Whoever came up with that idea is one sick son of a you know what.’

‘That may be so Mr Pimble but Life after Death has proven a fantastic deterrent,’ she said. ‘It has reduced illegal murder rates to below five percent.’

‘Is it true they keep you awake?’ Harry said.

‘Partly,’ she said. ‘During each cycle the prisoner is made aware of their situation.’

Harry winced. ‘That’s got to hurt.’

‘Apparently the realisation is overwhelming.’

‘And it’s forever,’ Harry said. ‘Can you imagine that? Living out your crime over and over for the rest of time?’

She nodded. ‘Which is why we ensure that every i is dotted and every t is crossed. Nobody wants their consciousness imprisoned for eternity.’

‘I guess so,’ Harry said. ‘But six-months? Is that how long I got to wait?’

She smiled at Harry. ‘Only in special circumstance do we operate immediately.’

‘What circumstances?’

‘If you can prove that the person has attempted to or has taken action to have you or someone else killed. In that situation we would apply for an emergency licence from the State Department.’

‘How long does that take?’

‘Usually within the hour,’ she said, casually.

‘And how would I prove it?’

‘Photographs, recordings of conversations, notes, letters, emails…’

Harry sighed. He had none of those things. What he did have though was a hefty inheritance sitting in his bank account. He leant closer and smiled at the receptionist. ‘Is there nothing that can’t be done?’ he said, rubbing his fingers together in an I have cash gesture.

She glared at Harry. ‘Mr Pimble this firm has a long and distinguished history that goes right back to the earliest Dutch settlers. We do not, I repeat, do not succumb to bribery. Is that clear?’

Harry nodded, defeated.

The receptionist smiled and gestured to the door. ‘Just fill out the forms and we’ll see you soon Mr Pimble. The sooner you start the sooner we’ll be able to take care of your problem. Thank you for choosing Blood, White, and Blue.’

Reluctantly, Harry packed the forms into his briefcase then stepped outside. It was just after ten-am. Heatwaves shimmered above the ground and sunlight flickered off the mid-sized skyscrapers that overlooked the nearby Hudson river. Harry thought about his next move. There was no way he could wait six-months. His wife had already filled out Visa applications and organised the spare room. She’d even enrolled her father on an English class at the local community college. Six-months my ass he thought as he flagged down a cab. Well if the professionals can’t help me out then I guess I’ll have to arrange things myself. And Harry knew just the place where such an arrangement might be made. He flagged a cab and jumped in.

‘Where to?’ the driver said.

‘Hanks bar on fifty-seventh street. You know the way?’

‘Sure do man.’

‘Good,’ Harry said. ‘So do I.’

The cab halted outside Hank’s Bar. Harry paid the driver and stepped outside, avoiding the vets in dirty khakis that loitered and scrounged under the awning.

‘Spare some change for a Vietnam vet?’ said a guy with one arm and a scabby face.

Harry ignored him and walked through the entrance into the cool darkness of the bar. Hank’s was a dingy place with low ceilings, peeling wallpaper and a permanently blocked toilet. It was by no means the Ritz, but the beer was cheap and cold and Hank never hassled Harry to know any of his business.

Hank was a huge black ex-marine with a square head and wrists thicker than most guys’ ankles. Despite his permanent smile, Harry knew that Hank was not someone to be messed with. The word was that Sergeant Hank Roberts had taken out a whole platoon in Vietnam single handed and was still twitchy from the experience. Harry knew this because Jimmy and Bobby M told him. They said they’d heard it off a guy from Cleveland who’d served under Hank.

‘Killed most of em with just a knife,’ Jimmy had said making throat slitting gestures.

‘Earned the medal of honour for it too,’ Bobby had added. ‘And a bad case of PTSD.’

While Harry had been surprised by this news, he had not been shocked. Hank looked like the type of guy that could kill someone with just a look. He had a way of staring and sometimes he would just stop and do nothing for minutes. Then he’d come around and go back to his business like it was no big deal. Hank made it out that way, but Harry had seen it happen one day and had asked Hank about it.

‘I’ve been back to the jungle,’ he had said. ‘I always go back there to that same moment. It’s like I’ve got my own personal time-machine…’

Harry approached the bar and hopped onto a stool. Above his head a wobbly ceiling fan made a whacka whacka noise as it spat out bursts of cool air. Country music crackled from the beaten up speakers.

‘Hey Hank.’

‘Harry my man!’

‘I see the guys are back at the door.’

‘They give you any trouble?’

‘Hey man…after everything they’ve done for this country they can give me all the trouble they want.’

Hank grinned. ‘Your’e a good man Harry.’ He poured a beer and placed it on a Stars and Stripes beer mat. Harry took several gulps. The glass was empty when he put it down.

‘Well Goddamn Harry.’

‘One of those days.’

‘Another?’

‘Keep em coming.’

Hank did what Harry said and kept them coming. By the time Harry drank his fourth beer he felt better. He looked around the bar: the scuffed wooden flooring, the broken refrigerators, the damp creeping up the back wall like some dangerous plant. The place was a wreck and if he had heard Hank talk about wanting to fix the place up once he’d heard it a hundred times. Harry looked at Hank. The guy was pushing seventy or more and with the exception of a crumby military pension and the pittance he made from the bar he was pretty much broke. Hank was stuck with no escape from his situation. If Harry played his cards right it could be win win for the both of them.

Harry ordered another beer and sipped it thoughtfully. ‘Is it true what they say about you Hank?’

Hank grinned. ‘That depends on what they say.’

Harry smiled. ‘I heard you killed a bunch of guys in Vietnam.’

Hank sighed. ‘Well I guess I know who’s been running their mouth off.’

Don’t blame those guys Hank,’ Harry said. ‘They’ll do anything for booze.’

‘I guess so.’

‘So it’s true then?’

Hank folded his arms. ‘Yeah it’s true.’

Harry raised his glass. ‘Here’s to you Hank. You’re a real hero!’

‘I ain’t no hero. The real heroes are the ones that were left behind in that damn jungle.’ Hank reached above the bar and took down a bottle of whiskey. He poured a shot each for him and Harry. He knocked back his drink and grimaced as the whiskey hit his chest. Harry did the same.

‘Could you do it again Hank?’

‘Do what?’

‘Kill someone?’

Harry smiled. ‘You got someone in mind Harry?’

‘Well as it happens Hank I do.’

‘Your serious?’

Harry nodded.

‘Then you need to take it to the professionals my man. You know the penalty for illegal murder.’

‘I did take it to the professionals. They gave me a bunch of forms to fill out and told me I had to wait six-months! I can’t wait six-weeks never mind six-months. I need my wife taken care of now.’

‘Your wife? Hell Harry I didn’t even know you were married.’

‘What can I say. I keep my cards close to my chest.’

Hank grinned. ‘I see why. Last thing you want is people calling you a cheat when you’re hitting on all those Saturday night ladies.’

Hank shrugged. ‘I’m just a guy with needs Hank.’

Hank grinned and poured two more whiskies. He raised his glass and toasted Harry. ‘Well here’s to you and your needs.’

They both knocked back their shots.

‘So why you want your wife dead?’

Harry sighed. ‘She wants her father to come and live with us.’

‘That’s not so bad surely?’

Harry shook his head

Hank’s eyes narrowed as if something had come to mind. ‘You know I read about a guy who got set up by a Government mole to carry out an illegal murder. Are you trying to set me up Harry?’

Harry shook his head. ‘I’m no mole Hank and I don’t need no Government money.’ He scanned up and down the bar. ‘My uncle George left me enough money to last a lifetime.’

‘That’s another card you kept close to your chest huh?’

‘Well you know what the guys are like here.’

‘I guess so.’

Harry lit a cigarette. ‘You’re always talking about turning this place around,’ he said. ‘I could make that happen for you Hank. New carpets, new chairs. No more damp, no more rot. A couple of new pool tables and a shiny pinball machine down the back there. The place could be a palace man. I’d even throw in a new air-conditioning system.’ Harry pointed to the wobbly ceiling fan as it whacka whacked above his head.

Hank shook his head. ‘It ain’t worth the risk.’

‘I could get you an age-inhibitor,’ Harry said. ‘Give you another fifty years. The new ones not only inhibit you getting older but actually make you younger. Wouldn’t that be worth the risk?’

Hank took one of Harry’s cigarettes and lit it with Harry’s lighter. ‘How much you offering?’

‘How much you want Hank?’

Hank looked above his head to the nicotine stained ceiling panels. He ran his hands off the once-varnished bar-top. ‘Well hypothetically because this is all hypothetical…I’d want a million.’

Harry almost choked.

Hank laughed.

‘A million,’ Harry said when he’d stopped coughing.

Hank nodded.

‘But the professionals are only charging half that amount.’

Hank smiled. ‘Yeah but hypothetically I would not make you fill out a bunch of forms or get you to wait six-months. It would be done within the a few weeks.’

‘So you’ll do it?’

Hank shook his head. ‘My killing days are over. I’m almost seventy-years old. Besides, the risks are just too great. There would have to be one hell of a reason for me kill someone again.’

Harry picked up his beermat and flipped it between his fingers. Hank walked away from Harry towards the far end of the bar. It was then the idea popped into his head.

‘How about this for a reason?…My wife is Vietnamese Hank.’

Hank stopped and turned around. ‘You’re kidding me?’

‘That’s not the worst part Hank.’

‘It isn’t?’

Harry paused a few moments, thinking of his high-school drama class teacher who always said, ‘If you want someone to believe your lie then always pause before you say it.’… ‘The worst part of this whole thing is that her father…The guy who wants to come and stay with us…used to be in the North Vietnamese Army.’

‘He was a soldier?’

‘An officer…He was commandant of a POW camp and did all kinds of bad things to our guys who were imprisoned there.’

Hank stared at Harry.

‘My wife said they called him the Viper because he used to place poisonous snakes down the trousers of our guys. If they got bit they died. If they didn’t get bit they got to live another day. Can you imagine living that kind of nightmare day after day?’

‘And this guy’s coming to live with you?’’

‘He is,’ Harry said. ‘If I can’t get my wife taken care of.’

Hank folded his arms. Each bicep was bigger than Harry’s thighs. Harry hoped that he had not pushed Hank into one of his episodes. Bobby M and Jimmy told Harry that Hank was prone to the occasional panic attack and the last time it had happened he had beaten up a bunch of guys on the subway.

‘You Ok Hank?’ Harry offered, getting ready to run out the door.

‘Yeah I’m Ok man,’ Hank said. ‘Just trying to get my head around a few things.’

‘I know what you mean,’ Harry said. ‘I’m trying to come to terms with it myself. I couldn’t stand the thought of having a guy like —,’

‘— Oh I’m past that stage Harry,’ Hank interrupted. ‘What I’m thinking about is how I’m going to let your father-in-law know that a United States Marine killed his daughter.’

‘So you’ll do it?’

Hank grinned. ‘With pleasure Harry. With goddamn pleasure.’

***** *****

Over the next week, Harry and Hank planned the murder of Harry’s wife. They visited several spots that overlooked the community college where Harry’s wife studied English. Harry told Hank exactly where she would enter the building and at what time. Hank settled on a firing position on the roof of a library adjacent to the college. He told Harry that it offered the best cover and escape routes.

‘I’ll take her out and then use the fire-escape to get away.’ Hank looked at his watch. ‘I’ll be back at your place within an hour.’

‘My place?’ Harry said. ‘You want to come to my place?’

Hank told Harry to organise a poker game at his place and invite a couple of the locals from the bar. ‘That way you’ll have witnesses to see you not kill your wife.’

Harry agreed and when they returned to the bar he invited Bobby M and Jimmy who agreed without hesitation what with the offer of free food and booze.

‘And who’s gonna be your witness Hank?’ Harry asked over a large Jack Daniels.

‘You are Harry and those other guys as well.’

Hank suggested that Harry wind back every clock in the house by one hour. ‘When I arrive you make sure those guys know what time it is.’

‘That’s it?’ Harry said. ‘That’s your plan?’ It seemed a little amateur to Harry. ‘I don’t know Hank,’ Harry said. ‘It doesn’t feel right. It feels a little too…simple.’

Hank smiled. ‘Trust me,’ he said. ‘The simpler the plan the smarter the man.’

Harry shrugged and hoped that Hank knew what he was talking about.

Hank asked Harry for a number of photographs to familiarise himself with his target. Harry brought in an album worth, ranging from the wedding day in Thailand to sightseeing trips around New York. Hank stared at the photos intensely like a jewellery merchant studying a diamond ring.

‘She’s pretty,’ he said, staring at the photo of Harry’s wife in her wedding dress.

Harry saw the intensity in Hank’s stare. ‘You OK killing a woman Hank?’

Hank nodded. ‘At sniper school we were taught to kill the guy who everyone likes. Be that man, woman or child. That way you cause the most damage to morale and a soldier with no morale is like a soldier with no gun. So no Harry, I don’t got no problem taking a woman out. Especially one who’s the daughter of a sadistic bastard who did all kinds of crap to our guys.’

‘So how long before…you know?’

‘Before I kill your wife Harry?’

The words made Harry shiver.

Hank laughed. ‘Give me another week.’

Harry’s eyes widened. ‘A week? She’ll be dead within a week?’

‘I promise you Harry,’ he said. ‘By the end of the week your gonna have no trouble at all with your wife.’

Harry did not go to Hank’s for the rest of the week. He figured that if Hank did get caught then he needed to keep as much distance as possible. The last thing he wanted was someone telling the police that Harry had been seen in Hank’s bar on the same day that Hank murdered his wife.

On the morning of his wife’s murder, Harry lay in bed listening to his wife singing in the shower. He looked at the bedside alarm clock and saw it was just after eight. His wife would leave the house soon and that would be that. Of course he would be called to identify her body which meant he needed to be on his best game acting wise. he lit a cigarette and said the words, ‘That’s her,’ over and over. Each time with a different tone. Harry heard the shower being turned off. A few moments later his wife entered the bedroom wearing a dressing gown with her hair wrapped in a towel. Harry noted how unusually happy she looked. She smiled and sat down at her vanity table. Harry smoked and watched his wife brush her hair. He asked her if she had her English class that evening. The last thing he wanted was to find out that she’d cancelled to go and visit one of her Thai friends over in Brooklyn.

‘Yes I do Harry,’ she said. ‘And I am very excited about it.’

‘That’s good,’ Harry said. ‘You finish at the same time?’

‘Why Harry you come pick me up,’ she said, fitting an earring.

‘I don’t think so. I was thinking of having a poker game with some friends.’

‘That’s nice Harry.’

‘You don’t mind?’

‘You have as much fun as you need ok. Everything very different tomorrow.’

Harry thanked his wife and was struck by the a feeling of deja vu. His hands started to shake and sweat appeared on his brow. He sat up in his bed and scanned the room. Anxiety filled his body like it was being pumped in like air into a tyre. His breath raced and his hands shook.

Harry’s wife span around. ’What’s the matter Harry?’

‘I don’t know…I just…I’m…’ Harry’s head throbbed and his vision blurred. His stress levels took off like a jet-fighter. He scratched and pulled at his skin. ‘What’s happening to me?’

Harry’s whole body shook. His skin felt like someone had set him on fire. His mouth dried out and he fell backwards onto the bed where he lay prone with his mouth gasping like a fish out of water. His wife stood over him and stared down.

‘Please help me,’ Harry said, between gasps of breath.

‘It’s too late for that Harry.’

Harry’s heart felt like it was being torn from his chest. His eyelids flittered up and down like a humming birds wings. He swatted his head to knock away the invisible drill that was boring into his head. The pain was beyond anything he’d ever felt. But as the pain grew he realised the pain was not coming from anything physical. It was coming from somewhere else. There was a familiarity that grew stronger and with it more pain tightened around him. Just before he slipped into unconsciousness, Harry remembered everything.

 

When Harry came-to he was surrounded by black. It felt like he was floating on water. There was nothing else but black. He could not see anything including his own body. He tried to reach out with his arms but he had no arms. He had fingers or hands or even a face. He had only his thoughts but even they felt different; like they were coming from outside of his head, if he even had a head.

‘Hello?’ he said, tentatively.

His words echoed around him.

‘Is anyone there?’

Echo.

Silence.

Space.

Coldness.

‘Please let me out of here!’

Nothing.

Horror flooded through Harry’s mind. he knew where he was but refused to believe it. He tried to calm himself by pushing the thoughts from his mind but it was useless; every pushed away thought returned several more and each of them was as menacing as a rabid dog.

‘Please…someone help me…’

Then a voice said, ‘Hello Harry.’

‘Who is that?’

‘Can’t you guess?’

‘Quit playing with me and tell me.’

Silence.

‘How about if I talk like good little wife who do everything Harry tell her.’

Harry took a moment to let the realisation sink in.

‘That’s right Harry baby,’ the voice said. ‘I am your wife.’

Silence.

‘How long have I been in here?’ Harry screamed.

‘One-hundred and seventy-two years,’ the voice said matter of fact, changing from the mix of broken English and Thai to the articulate almost automatic voice that had greeted Harry.

The shock felt like electricity being pumped through Harry’s whole being. But he had no being. Confusion followed shortly along with a crushing sadness that was heavier than anything Harry had ever experienced.

‘Where am I?’ Harry said, knowing full well where he was.

‘You are imprisoned in the life after death programme you were sentenced to in the year 2021,’ the voice said.

‘What the hell happened to me?’

‘Don’t you know Harry?’

Harry did know but he could not bring himself to say the words.

The voice laughed. ‘How about I show you instead?’

A screen appeared from nowhere. Harry could not gauge its size. It could have been a TV two feet away or a cinema screen fifty feet away. There was just blackness and cold. On the screen, Harry watched himself shaving in his bathroom mirror. He was smiling and whistling and looked to be the happiest guy in the world. Then he was in his car driving across the Brooklyn Bridge. Harry watched himself arrive at Hank’s bar and meet up with two guys who he remembered as Jimmy and Bobby M.

‘Does all this seem familiar?’ the voice said?

The electric feeling increased and Harry screamed out. The image changed and Harry saw himself with the guys sitting in Harry’s living room at a card table in a haze of blue cigar smoke. Jimmy and Bobby M laughed and threw insults at each other. Harry looked nervous and twitchy. He kept looking at his watch and made several loud announcements of the time.

‘This is the card game you arranged,’ the voice said. ‘You wound your clocks forward by one hour in order to provide Hank with an alibi.’

‘It was an awful plan,’ Harry said.

‘I agree with you,’ the voice replied.

‘What happened to Hank?’ Harry said. ‘He clearly didn’t kill you.’

Silence.

‘Don’t you remember what happened?’

‘I can’t remember a thing.’

Silence.

‘How about now?’

He started to remember. Slowly at first. Then images came like a developing photograph.

Then he remembered everything.

He remembered the doorbell ringing.

He remembered opening the door.

He remembered Hank stood there with his wife.

He remembered them coming inside and his wife taking off Hank’s coat.

He remembered asking what the hell was going on?

He remembered Hank taking out the photograph Harry had given him.

He remembered Hank saying, ‘I fell in love the moment I saw that photograph.’

He remembered saying, ‘You were supposed to kill her not fall in love with her!’

He remembered Bobby M and Jimmy giggling like school kids.

He remembered Hank saying, ‘You told me your wife was Vietnamese…What kind of man gets another man to kill for him based on a lie?’

Harry remembered his wife looking smug as she held onto Hank’s bicep.

He remembered her laughing.

He remembered asking why she was laughing.

Then he remembered the doorbell ringing.

And he remembered the knowing look between Hank and his wife.

He remembered the small man with a moustache entering the apartment.

He remembered the man showing his identification.

He remembered the man saying, ‘Mr Pimble I am a representative of Blood, White, and Blue. By order of the United States Government I am hereby charged with bringing about your execution due to your attempt to carry out an illegal murder, violating articles 5B, 5C, and 6A of paragraph seventeen of the eleventh amendment. Do you have anything to say?’

Harry remembered feeling angry.

He remembered wondering when Hank had set him up.

He remembered Hank cradling his wife.

He remembered Jimmy and Bobby M laughing.

Harry remembered the man taking out a gun.

He remembered the man aiming at him.

He remembered his wife laughing.

Then he remembered the gun being fired.

And then he remembered nothing.

The screen disappeared and Harry was left in cold empty blackness. Silence fell on him as did the crushing pain of his reality.

‘Please let me out of here,’ he said.

Silence.

‘There’s no escape Harry,’ a voice said. It was Hank’s voice.

‘Hank?’

‘In the flesh,’ Hank said. ‘Well not really in the flesh. The voices you’re hearing are computer generated based on all our memories.’

‘Are you both dead?’

‘Uh huh,’ Hank’s voice said. ‘But we had our consciousness’s sucked out of our heads when we died. Much the same as what happened to you Harry but not as hellish. We are now residents on a computer programme called life after life. We spend our days in blissful locations doing anything and everything we can imagine. It was expensive but thanks to you we made enough money in life to cover it.’

‘Thanks to me?’

‘Uh huh..After you died we used your inheritance money to turn Hank’s bar into Hank’s Thai. We flew Mae Li’s father over from Thailand and he became our chef. Within a year we’d made enough money to start another Hank’s Thai over in Brooklyn. A year after that we’d done the same in Philadelphia. A year after that we had places in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the time of our deaths there were over fifty-five Hank’s Thai dotted all over the country. And by the way, I did get myself an age-inhibitor which gave me a further seventy glorious years with Mae-Li.’

Anger crushed Harry.

‘I have to go now Harry,’ Hank’s voice said. ‘But I want to thank you before I go. without you I never would have met Mae Li, and I never would have had the life I had. I would have died poor and alone in my bedroom above the bar.’

‘Screw you Hank!’

But Hank was gone.

‘Please…’ Harry cried. ‘Someone let me out of here.’

‘There is no escape,’ A mechanical sounding voice said. ‘You have been sentenced to life after death and will now enter cycle three-hundred and fifty-six thousand, two-hundred and seventy seven.’

Harry screamed out.

A dot of light no bigger than a full stop appeared somewhere in the distance. Harry felt himself being pulled towards it. He pleaded and shouted for it to stop. The dot grew bigger as did the feeling of familiarity in Harry. Soon the dot was was the size of a railway tunnel. As he entered the light Harry forgot about life after death and for several seconds remembered nothing at all about anything. It was as if he was caught between non-existence and life.

When he came to, Harry realised he was in a cab. Had he blacked out? The cab was parked by a row of office buildings and the driver was half-turned in his seat, staring at Harry with a confused angry expression. He had large blue eyes and a craggy lined cheeks.

‘That’ll be fifty-seven bucks,’ the driver said.

Harry did not reply.

‘Hey man are you on drugs or something?’

Harry realised the driver was talking to him. ‘No I’m not on drugs. Just feeling a little deja-vu. You ever get that?’

The driver smiled. ‘Didn’t you just ask me that?’

Harry laughed. ‘That’s a good one.’ He took out his wallet and stuffed three twenties into the driver’s hand. He kept his arm outstretched until he had received his change.

‘So who brings you to these guys?’ the driver asked.

‘My wife.’

‘Yeah I bet a lot of guys end up here because of their wives.’ The driver smiled. ‘Well buddy from what I’ve heard you’ve come to the right place. When these guys say they’ll take someone out they’ll damn well do it.’

‘I hope so.’

‘I guarantee it.’

Harry thanked the driver and stepped outside into the already warm Manhattan morning. The driver sped off leaving a trail of blue smoke in the car’s wake. Harry stood on the sidewalk outside the offices of Blood, White, and Blue as his feeling of deja-vu reached its crescendo. It felt like he had something important to remember. The more he tried to think of it the more it eluded him. His head throbbed and he felt a wave of confusion wash over him. Harry lit a cigarette and smoked as the last of the deja-vu drifted away. It was a warm morning and the sky was a light blue with barely any clouds. Above his head, sunlight sparkled off the glass-fronted skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan. Harry smoked and thought how familiar it all felt.

So very familiar.

The End.

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