Blood, White, and Blue…

On a warm Manhattan morning, Harry Pimble stepped out from the cab and shook off the deja-vu that had come over him. Under the shade of an awning he took out his cigarettes and lit one, inhaling deeply. Harry smoked and watched as the cab sped off and rejoined the vein of traffic. He took off his spectacles and rubbed his left temple where stress was brewing up a headache.

‘There’s no need to be stressed,’ he told himself. ‘You’re doing everything by the book.’ Harry checked his watch. It was just after nine am but already heatwaves shimmered above the ground and sunlight sparkled off the the glass fronted offices of Blood, White, and Blue. Harry looked at their modest sign above the doorway. The names were written in simple 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, he thought, It’s not what their office looks like. It’s what they do that counts.  Harry smoked some more then threw his cigarette into the gutter and picked up his briefcase. ‘Everything’s going to be just fine,’ he said, stepping into the air-conditioned offices of Blood, White, and Blue: The best contract killers in all of Manhattan. Or at least that’s what their TV commercial said.

The office was 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?

‘Can I help you sir?’ said the receptionist. She was elderly and wore spectacles on a chain like someone’s Grandma.

‘Yes you can help me,’ Harry said. ‘My name is Harry Pimble and I would very much like to have my wife executed.’

The receptionist smiled and told Harry he had come to the right place. ‘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.’ From a nearby filing cabinet she took out a bundle of forms and handed them to Harry. 

‘I just need to add your details to our database Mr Pimble. It won’t take a moment.’

‘No problem.’ Harry leafed through one of the forms. 

FEDERATION OF APPROVED CONTRACT KILLERS — Form 250/A —Application for the murder of a partner/spouse.

The receptionist asked for Harry’s full name and address. Harry gave her the information as he scanned through the form.

‘Age Mr Pimble?’

‘Fifty-seven.’

She stopped typing. ‘You don’t look it. Age-inhibitor or just good skin?’

Harry laughed. ‘I’d like to say it’s all me but I’d be lying. I got a twenty-year inhibitor back in the late noughties. 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 continued reading the form. It was all standard stuff: name, age, address etc… Some of the questions actually made him smile.

How many times per day do you think about killing your partner/spouse?

How would you like your partner/spouse to be killed?

For an extra charge would you like us to record the execution for your posterity?

As he read Harry felt a wave of optimism build up in him. If everything went to plan he would be free from his wife real soon. But Harry’s optimism crashed to a halt when he read question seven.

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 tutted and sighed.

‘Is there a problem Mr Pimble?’ 

‘Yeah there is a problem,’ Harry replied. ‘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?’

‘I appreciate your concern Mr Pimble but ever since murder was legalised we must adhere to strict standards of practice and codes of conduct. We can’t just go around killing people willy nilly anymore.’

Harry went to speak but the receptionist’s telephone rang. 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 door number 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 her dead,’ 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 professionally. Life after Death applies to us as well you know.’

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

‘That may be so Mr Pimble but Life after Death has reduced illegal murder rates to below five percent.’

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

‘Partly,’ she said. ‘At the end of each cycle the prisoner is made aware of their situation and the crime they committed.’

‘That’s some kind of awful,’ Harry said.

‘The realisation is crushing from what I understand.’ The receptionist smiled. ‘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 a long time to wait. Can’t it be done any quicker?’

‘Only in special circumstance do we operate immediately.’

‘What circumstances?’

‘If you can prove that the person has taken action to have someone killed illegally. In that situation we would apply for a special operation licence from the State Department.’

‘How long does that take?’

‘A week at most,’ she said. ‘You would need to provide valid evidence and pay

a two-hundred and fifty-thousand dollar special operation fee. You would also need to invite two independent witnesses of your choosing to attend the execution.’

‘Sounds complicated,’ Harry said, leaning closer. ‘How about I just pay you two-hundred and fifty-thousand right now?’

The receptionist glared at Harry. ‘Mr Pimble this firm has a long and distinguished history that goes right back to the earliest Dutch settlers,’ she said. ‘We do not take payoffs. Is that clear?’

‘Oh sure..I mean..I wasn’t…you know…’

‘Of course you weren’t Mr Pimble,’ she said. ‘Now just fill out the forms and bring them back. 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. He thought about his next move. There was no way he could wait six-months. His father-in-law would have arrived by then. He could not wait for the professional killers so he would have to arrange his wife’s death, and he knew just the place where such an arrangement might be made. Harry 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.’

***** *****

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 always cheap and cold. Harry had been a regular there for ten years and had built up a good relationship with Hank. Hank was a huge ex-marine with a square head and wrists thicker than most guys’ ankles. But despite his permanent smile, Harry knew that Hank was not someone to be messed with. The word was that Staff-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 had told him. They said they’d heard it off a guy from Brooklyn 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.’

‘PTSD?’ Harry had enquired.

‘Yeah he goes a little crazy once in a while,’ Jimmy had said. ‘It’s like he’s there but he’s not there if you know what I mean?’

‘He hates the Vietnamese with a passion,’ Bobby had said. ‘Never ever tell him you eat Vietnamese food or you like the Vietnamese or you have anything to do with the Vietnamese whatsoever. That’s all I’m saying!’

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

‘Spare some change for a 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. The wobbly ceiling fan made a whacka whacka noise. Country rock music crackled from the beaten up speakers. Hank stood behind the long bar wiping glasses with a towel. He wore a red neck scarf and his usual white shirt and jeans. 

‘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.’ 

Harry hopped onto a bar stool and scooped a handful of peanuts from a bowl. Hank poured a beer and placed it on the bar. Harry took several gulps. The glass was empty when he put it down.

‘Well Goddamn Harry.’

‘One of those days Hank.’

‘Another?’

‘Keep em coming.’

Hank kept them coming and by the time Harry drank his fifth beer he felt relaxed enough to ask Hank what he needed to ask.

‘Is it true what they say about you Hank?’

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

‘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.’

Hank laughed. ‘Ain’t that right.’

‘So it’s true then?’

Hank nodded thoughtfully. ‘Yeah it’s true.’

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

Hank’s expression darkened. ’I ain’t no hero. The real heroes are the ones that were left behind in that damn jungle.’

‘Could you do it again Hank?’ Harry said. ‘Kill I mean.’

‘You got someone in mind Harry?’

‘Maybe.’

Hank tutted and shook his head. ’Then you need to take it to the professionals my man. You know the penalty for illegal murder. I ain’t having anyone put my mind in prison for the rest of forever!’

Harry lit a cigarette. ‘I did take it to the professionals but they said I had to wait six-months. I can’t wait six-weeks never mind six-months. I need my wife taken care of now.’

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

‘What can I say Hank? 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.’

‘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.

‘Won’t you think about it Hank?’ Harry said. ‘I could make this place into a palace. 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. I’d even throw in a new air-conditioning system.’ Harry pointed to the wobbly ceiling fan as it whacka whacked above his head. ‘I could get you an age-inhibitor as well. I heard the new ones not only stop you getting older but actually make you younger.’

‘Well that’s a real tempting offer,’ Hank said. ‘But it’s far too risky.’ Hank poured more shots for them both and then knocked his back. ‘Why you want her dead anyway?’

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

‘That’s not so bad surely?’

‘You’re not the one having to pay for it all,’ Harry said. ‘Uncle George would turn in his grave if he knew the inheritance he’d left me was being spent on foreigners.’

‘He’s foreign?’ Hank said. ‘Where’s he from?’

Harry was just about to say Thailand but stopped short. The solution to his problem had dropped into his head like an answer to a difficult crossword puzzle. ‘Vietnam,’ he said. ‘My wife and her father are Vietnamese.’

Hank stared at Harry. ‘You’re kidding me?’

Harry shook his head. ‘That’s not the worst part Hank.’

‘It isn’t?’

Harry paused a few moments, thinking of his high-school drama teacher who told his students that acting is lying and if you want someone to believe your lies then always pause before you say them. ‘The worst part of this whole thing is that her father 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.’

‘Are you lying to me Harry?’

‘What kind of person would lie about that Hank?’

Hank said nothing.

Harry continued. ‘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.’

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

Harry nodded. 

Hank folded his arms. Each bicep was bigger than Harry’s thighs. He stared blankly at the opposite wall. His eyes were a thousand yards past one thousand yards.

‘Can you see why I don’t want him to come now?’

Hank just stared.

‘Are you OK Hank?’

Sweat leaked from Hank’s forehead like moisture on a cold bottle of beer. His hands slapped off the bar top and his head and shoulders shook like he was possessed. He started speaking which sounded jumbled at first but then he shouted for someone called Tony. 

‘Tony! Tony!’

Harry slid off his bar stool and stepped back towards the exit. 

‘Tony! Tony! No!’

Hank’s convulsions grew worse. He shouted out again. This time for a medic. ‘Medic, medic, medic!’ 

Harry stepped further back. Hank was a big guy but Harry had seen him take care of three bikers one night and knew how fast he could move. When he was right by the door Harry stopped and watched as Hank’s episode reached a crescendo of shaking, slapping, and shouting before stopping as abruptly as it had started. Hank collapsed onto the bar where he remained for a minute or so. Moments later he stood up and looked around the room, unsure of where he was like someone who wakes up in a strange house after a boozy night. 

‘Hey Hank. You OK man?’ Harry called out.

‘I’m fine,’ Hank said.

‘What happened?’

Hank wiped his brow. ‘All that talk about your father-in-law took me straight back to the worst day of my life.’

‘You were shouting for someone named Tony.’

‘Tony Mcdermott,’ Hank said. ‘He was my best friend. I saw him get his legs blown off no more than ten feet from me.’ Hank poured a shot of whisky and knocked it back. 

‘Sounds rough,’ Harry said, cautiously approaching the bar. 

‘It’s a strange experience,’ Hank said. ‘It’s like I’m cut off from reality. It’s like time doesn’t exist anymore. Like I’m suspended between two worlds. I guess that makes me sound crazy huh?’

‘I don’t think you’re crazy Hank,’ Harry lied. Harry sat down and lit a cigarette. The pair were silent for a while. Harry noticed that Hank was still shaking. ‘Are you sure you’re OK Hank?’

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

‘What?’ Harry said.

‘How I’m going to tell your father-in-law 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. Harry went to the bar every day and discussed how and when Hank would take care of things. After lots of discussion and drinks Hank said he would kill Harry’s wife after her Saturday night English class. 

‘I’ll kill her in the parking lot,’ Hank said. ‘I’ll make it look like a mugging gone wrong.’

‘Sounds good to me,’ Harry said. 

‘I’ll need a photograph of her.’

‘Sure thing Hank.’ From his wallet, Harry took out his wedding day photograph and handed it over to Hank.

Hank stared at it for a while. ‘That’s your wife Harry?’

‘Don’t be fooled Hank. She might look like an Oriental princess but she’s a real ball-breaker. If she’s not complaining about the food she’s complaining about being homesick.’

‘You mind if I keep this?’ Hank said.

‘Be my guest.’

Hank stared at the photo like a jeweller studying a diamond. ‘I am going to need more photos,’ he said. ‘Lots more.’

The next day Harry brought Hank two photo albums. A few days later Hank asked for more and by the end of the week he had asked for more photos plus an itinerary of Harry’s wife’s daily movements. 

‘I want to follow her to see how she moves,’ Hank said.

‘Whatever you need Hank.’

‘I’m gonna need something else as well Harry.’

‘Anything Hank?’

‘I need a deposit.’

‘What for?’

‘Just in case.’

‘Just in case what?’

‘Just in case it goes the hell wrong and I need to bail down to Mexico.’

‘How much you need?’

‘Two-hundred and Fifty-thousand.’

‘Ouch Hank! That’s a lot of just in case!’

The next day Harry took the money from the bank and took the money to Hanks. Hank thanked Harry and placed the suitcase behind the bar.

‘So when will she be dead?’ Harry asked. ‘You gonna do it soon?’

Hank grinned. ‘This weekend.’

‘That soon?’

Hank nodded. ‘Trust me Harry,’ he said. ‘By the weekend all your problems will be gone!’

Harry was beside himself. He laughed and clapped his hands together like a child. ‘Well this is cause for a celebration,’ he said. 

‘Don’t get too carried away Harry,’ Hank said. ‘We still have more planning to do. You need to arrange an alibi.’

‘What kind of an alibi?’

‘Invite some of the guys over to your place for a poker night.’ He pointed to the far end of the bar where Jimmy and Bobby M were playing pool. 

Harry grimaced. ‘Really? I got to invite that pair to my house?’

‘Think of it as an investment Harry.’

‘Think of the smell Hank.’

Hank laughed. ‘It’s just a few hours Harry. That way you’ll have two witnesses to see you not kill your wife.’

‘And who’s gonna be your witness Hank?’ Harry asked.

‘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?’

Hank nodded.

‘I don’t know Hank. If this was a movie plot I would be shouting at the TV right now. It feels a little lazy…a little bit too simple.’

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

**** ****

On the morning of his wife’s murder, Harry lay in bed listening to her 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 to cover all emotional bases. Harry ate breakfast with his wife. He noted she was more chatty than her usual sullen self. She laughed a few times as well and for a fleeting moment he saw the woman he had married on that Thai beach all those years ago. When they were finished, Harry’s wife cleared up and kissed him on the cheek. 

‘I see you later Harry,’ she said, cheerfully.

‘You got your English class?’

‘Sure do,’ she said. ‘Tonight we reading The Long Goodbye.

‘What’s that about?”

She smiled. ‘Murder, betrayal, money, and sex!’

‘Sounds depressing,’ Harry said, sipping his coffee. 

Harry’s wife smiled and patted his cheek. She left the living room and Harry listened to her singing until she opened the front door and left the house. 

Later that afternoon Harry set all the clocks back in his house by one hour. He still felt it was a terrible way to create an alibi for Hank but Hank was the expert in these matters so he did what he was told. Harry drove to Hank’s bar and picked up Jimmy and Bobby M. They both stank of booze and lighter fuel and garbage cans. Harry drove back home with the window fully down. When they arrived at the house Harry took them into the dining room where he had set up a small round table. Jimmy and Bobby M sat down and tucked into the whiskey that Harry had put out. It wasn’t his best whisky. 

‘Where’s the cigars Harry?’ Jimmy said.

‘Yeah and don’t forget the nibbles huh,’ Bobby added. 

Harry grimaced and fetched cigars and a selection of cheese and crackers. The dining room clock said it was just after eight pm which meant it was just after seven. In one hours time Hank would take care of his wife and Harry would be a free man again. 

‘You gonna play Harry?’ Jimmy asked.

‘Sure,’ Harry said.

Bobby shuffled the cards and dealt. Harry played a few hands but his mind was not on the game. The closer it got to fake eight o clock the more nervous he became.

What if Hank messes up?

What if he gets the wrong person?

What if Bobby and Jimmy see through the turn the clocks back plan?

What if? What if? What if?

Harry knocked back whiskies and chain smoked his way to fake nine o clock. Hank should have taken care of his wife by now. Harry knocked back another whisky to celebrate but the feeling of joy he had expected was not there. He had a strange sense of uncertainty and unease. Like those mothers who know without knowing that something bad has happened to their kids. He could not put his finger on it but Harry felt sure that something was wrong.

What if? What if? What if?

At quarter past fake nine o clock Hank had still not arrived. Harry imagined him locked up in a cell confessing everything to a couple of hard-ass cops. As the clock ticked on Harry thought about packing a suitcase and heading to Mexico. He was just about to do it when at fake half past nine the doorbell rang.

‘That’ll be Hank,’ Harry said. He went to the front door and flew it open. He was relieved to see Hank stood on the doorstep but surprised and confused to see his wife stood next to him.

‘Hey Harry,’ Hank said.

‘Hey Hank,’ Harry said, confused. 

‘Can we come in?’

Harry stepped back to let them both in. 

‘So what’s happening Hank?’ Harry said, gesturing to his wife. ‘Didn’t you have something to do tonight?’

Harry put his arm around Harry’s wife. ‘I know what you wanted me to do Harry,’ he said. ‘But from the moment I saw the first photograph of Mae Li I knew I was in love with her.’

‘In love!’ Harry said. ‘I paid you to kill her not fall in love with her.’

From behind him Harry heard Jimmy and Bobby M sniggering.  ‘Cut it out,’ he said. ‘I didn’t invite you two over to laugh at me. Show me some support would you?’

Bobby laughed. ‘We are not here for you Harry.’

Harry looked at Jimmy and Bobby M. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Hank asked us to come here before you did,’ Jimmy said. 

Harry looked at Hank. ‘Would you tell me what the hell is going on?’

The doorbell rang before Hank could answer.

‘Right on time,’ Hank said. 

‘What’s right on time?’ Harry said. ‘What the hell is going on?’

Harry’s wife sauntered up to him, smiling. ‘Tut, tut, bad boy Harry,’ she said. ‘You tell Hank that I am from Vietnam just so you could have me killed. You very bad boy Harry.’

The doorbell rang again.

‘I’ll get it,’ Hank said. He opened the door and invited whoever had rung the doorbell in. 

The man was small and middle-aged. He wore a smart blue suit and carried a briefcase. He looked to be in his fifties. His hair was grey and styled and he had a neatly combed moustache like a sheriff in some frontier town. 

‘My name is Earl Duponte,’ he said. ‘I represent Blood, White, and Blue. I am here to carry out execution number 28777-A.’ He dropped his briefcase on the floor and said, ‘May I ask who is Hank Roberts?’

‘That’s me,’ Hank said.

‘Do you have the completed paperwork.’

‘Yes sir,’ from his back pocket Hank produced some papers. He handed them to Earl Duponte who read through them slowly.

‘That’s all in order,’ he said. He looked at Harry’s wife. ’From the paperwork I presume that you are Mae Li Bunnag.’

Harry’s wife nodded.

‘And this must mean that you two are the witnesses, Bobby Morgan and James Vosket?’

‘All present and correct sir,’ Jimmy said. 

‘And that must make you Harold Pimble?’ Earl Duponte said.

‘What the hell is happening?’ Harry said.

No one said anything. Earl Duponte put the paperwork in his briefcase. And then he took out a gun. 

‘Mr Pimble I am a licensed contract killer and am here today as 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 which is a violation of articles five-B, five-C, and six-A of paragraph seventeen of the eleventh amendment. We have evidence that clearly shows that you, Harold Pimble tried to employ the services of Hank Roberts to have your wife Mae Li Bunnag killed unlawfully. Do you have anything to say?’

‘That’s not true,’ Harry said.

From his briefcase, Earl Duponte took out a small recording device and held it out in his hand for Harry to look at. He pressed the play button and Harry heard the sound of his own voice.

I want her dead as soon as possible Hank.

‘That’s not me,’ Harry said. 

From his pocket Earl Duponte took out another device. ‘This is a voice analyser,’ he said. ‘If this light goes green then we have a definite match. Would you please say the words, “I want her dead as soon as possible.” 

‘No I wont say that,’ Harry said.

‘Well that’s Ok,’ Earl Duponte said. ‘Your refusal will act as an admission of guilt.’ He put the analyser into the briefcase and took out a small gun. 

Harry tried to talk but no words came out. Earl Duponte continued talking but Harry only heard sounds. Everything became quiet and Harry was overwhelmed with a strong feeling of deja-vu. He looked around him and everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. Everything looked distorted like reflections in a hall of mirrors. 

Earl Duponte was saying something but Harry did not understand it. He focused all his attention on the man’s words and eventually realised he was saying, ‘Do you have any final words?’

Harry had no words.  

Earl Duponte raised his gun and the last thing that Harry saw was Hank and his wife smiling at each other. 

The last thing he heard was Jimmy and Bobby M laughing. 

Then he saw a flash and nothing else.

***** *****

When Harry came-to he was surrounded by black. There was no way to gauge distances. He could have been locked inside a cupboard or have been floating in space. He felt disconnected from himself and separated from time as if he were dreaming. Harry was unable to comprehend his situation. Where had he been before this? What was this? What was he? Who was he? What is a who? Who is a what?

‘Hello?’ he said, tentatively.

‘Is anyone there?’

His words echoed like a stone being dropped into a well.

‘Please let me out of here!’

Nothing.

‘Please…someone help me…’

Silence. 

Eventually Harry became aware of sounds coming from somewhere. The sounds became familiar as they increased in volume. Eventually Harry realised the sound was a voice and the voice belonged to his wife. 

‘Hello Harry.’

‘What the hell is going on?’

‘Don’t you know Harry?’

Harry had no idea. His memories were too slow in coming back to him.

‘What happened to me?’

‘How about I show you?’ the voice said. 

A screen appeared. It could have been a TV two feet away or a cinema sized screen somewhere in the distance. On the screen, Harry watched the events that had led up to his murder. He saw himself walking into Blood, White, and Blue. He saw himself making plans with Hank to have his wife killed. He saw himself picking Jimmy and Bobby M up from the bar. He watched himself play cards. He saw Hank and his wife arrive and then he saw the man who he recognised instantly as his own killer. Harry watched the man take out a gun from a briefcase and shoot. He watched himself fall to the ground and lay on the floor as Hank and his wife hugged and kissed. He watched Jimmy and Bobby M laughing and drinking. He watched as several men in white coats entered the house and placed electrodes on Harry’s head. And right then he knew exactly what had happened to him. His consciousness had been collected and imprisoned. He had been sentenced to life after death. He was in life after death.

‘Please let me out of here,’ he screamed.

‘There’s no escape Harry,’ a new 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 our memories.’

‘Are you both dead?’

‘Uh huh,’ Hank’s voice said. ‘We had our consciousness’s sucked out of our heads when we died. We are now residents in a computer programme called life begins at death. 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. Why not take a look for yourself?’

The screen showed images of Hank and Harry’s wife doing all kinds of things such as windsurfing, diving, eating dinner, sailing, and walking hand in hand on a tropical beach. 

Harry was overcome with sadness and anger. He felt like he was being crushed in an industrial press. 

‘I just want to thank you Harry,’ Hank’s voice said.

‘Thank me for what?’

‘After we had you killed 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 Boston, 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.’

‘You screwed me Hank.’

‘You lied to me,’ Hank said. ‘You would have had me kill Mae Li based on nothing but a big fat lie.’

‘Screw you Hank!’

Hank’s voice laughed. ‘So long Harry. See you after the next cycle.’

‘I hate you Hank!’ 

Hank was gone.

The sadness that Harry felt was beyond anything he’d experienced in life. It felt like electricity was stabbing at him from all angles. He cried and pleaded but it did not stop. ‘Please…’ Harry cried. ‘Someone let me out of here.’

A mechanical sounding voice said. ‘You have been sentenced to life after death. Preparing cycle one million, four hundred and seventy-two thousand, five hundred and sixty-two.’ 

‘Please let me out of here!’ Harry screamed.

A dot of light appeared in the distance. Harry felt himself being pulled towards it. It grew bigger until it was the size of a railway tunnel. As he passed through it Harry felt the sharpest of pain and then it passed away and became unfamiliar. Seconds later he had forgotten about Life after Death and for the briefest of time he was suspended between two realities like a baby about to be born.

When he came to, Harry found himself in a cab. 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 expression.

‘Hey man are you OK?’

‘W..w…what?’

‘I thought you were having a seizure or something!’

‘What the hell happened to me?’

‘You tell me?’ The driver said. ‘You were yelling all kinds of crazy stuff. I wouldn’t like to be this Hank guy that’s for sure.’

‘Hank…?’ Harry became more aware of his surroundings. ‘This all feels familiar.’ 

‘Are you on drugs man?’

Harry shook his head. ‘No..I’m just having some deja-vu.’

‘Didn’t you just tell me that?’ The driver laughed.

‘Very funny,’ Harry said. ‘How much do I owe you?’

‘Hundred and fifty-seven bucks.’

Harry took the money from his wallet and stuffed it into the driver’s hand.

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

‘My wife.’

The driver smiled. ‘Well 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.’ He handed Harry his change and smiled. ‘You have a great day now. It could be your last after all!’

‘You eat a fortune cookie for breakfast?’ Harry said, opening the door. 

The driver laughed and waved goodbye.

On a warm Manhattan morning, Harry Pimble stepped out from the cab and shook off the deja-vu that had come over him. Under the shade of an awning he took out his cigarettes and lit one, inhaling deeply. Harry smoked and watched as the cab sped off and rejoined the vein of traffic. He took off his spectacles and rubbed his left temple where stress was brewing up a headache.

‘There’s no need to be stressed,’ he told himself. ‘You’re doing everything by the book.’ Harry checked his watch. It was just after nine am but it was already hot. Heatwaves shimmered off the ground and sunlight sparkled off the the glass fronted offices of Blood, White, and Blue. Harry looked at their modest sign above the doorway. The names were written in simple 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, he thought, It’s not what their office looks like. It’s what they do that counts.  He smoked some more. ‘Everything’s going to be just fine,’ he told himself. Harry smoked the last of his cigarette and threw his cigarette into the gutter. He picked up his briefcase and stepped into the air-conditioned offices of Blood, White, and Blue: The best contract killers in all of Manhattan. Or at least that’s what their TV commercial said.

The End.

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