Life after Death…

It was just before eleven am when Harry Pimble arrived at the offices of Blood, White, and Blue. After paying the driver he stepped from the cab into the shimmering heat of mid-morning Manhattan where sunlight sparkled off the skyscrapers that lined the Hudson. Harry lit a cigarette and watched the cab rejoin the vein of downtown traffic. He took off his spectacles and rubbed his temple where tension was brewing up another headache.

‘There’s no need to feel stressed,’ he told himself. ‘You’re doing everything by the book.’ Harry looked at the sign above the glass fronted offices. The names Blood, White, and Blue were written in simple black lettering giving no indication as to what they represented. It looked more like the offices of an insurance company than anything else. Harry smoked and thought how lucky he’d been to have inherited Uncle George’s money. Without it he could not have contemplated hiring professionals to take care of his problem. Not in a hundred lifetimes. Poor Uncle George he thought as he picked up his briefcase. But when one door closes another one opens. Smiling, Harry flicked his cigarette into the gutter and walked into the air-conditioned offices of Blood, White, and Blue: The best contract killers in all of New York. At least that’s what their TV commercial said.

The office was open-plan with bare white walls and modern furniture. A large painting of three grey-haired men wearing white suits hung on a nearby wall. Harry assumed these were Misters Blood, White, and Blue. They all wore the smiles of people who had too much money in their hands and not enough worry on their minds. As Harry walked to the reception desk he saw an old man sitting in the waiting area. Harry wondered who the old man had come to talk about. A wayward young son perhaps? Or a nubile beauty whose gold-digging ways had been found out?

‘Can I help you?’ 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 like to have my wife executed please.’

The receptionist smiled. ‘You’ll have to fill out some forms Mr Pimble.’ From a filing cabinet she took out some paperwork and handed it to Harry.

Harry sighed. He hated paperwork.

The receptionist sat down and asked Harry for his name and address which she typed into the computer. Harry scanned one of the forms while he waited. 

FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT APPROVED CONTRACT KILLERS — Form 2503/A8 —Application for the murder of a partner/spouse.

‘Age Mr Pimble?’

‘Fifty-three.’

She looked surprised. ‘Age-inhibitor or just good skin?’

Harry laughed. ‘I got a ten-year inhibitor back in the late noughties.’

She smiled and went back to her typing. Harry continued reading the form. Some of the questions 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?

Would you like us to record the execution for posterity?

The questions gave Harry hope but that hope vanished when he read question twelve.

Please give details concerning the first time you thought about having your partner/spouse killed. This must include date, location, and photographic evidence to support your claim.

Harry tutted loudly.

‘Is there a problem Mr Pimble?’

‘You bet there is,’ 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 now that murder has been legalised we must adhere to strict rules and regulations.’

The receptionist’s telephone rang. She answered it and put it down quickly. ‘You can go through now Mr Jacobs,’ she said to the old guy. ‘Room number six please.’

The old guy stood up and hobbled past Harry into room 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 time to assess if they really want to kill the person they want killed.’

‘Trust me I really want her dead,’ Harry said. ‘My Uncle George left me some money and now my wife wants to fly her father over from Thailand to live with us.’

The receptionist smiled. ‘I appreciate your concern Mr Pimble but we must operate professionally. Life after Death applies to us as well.’

Harry shuddered. ‘Whoever came up with Life after Death is one sick son of a B.’

‘Perhaps… But it has reduced illegal murder rates dramatically.’

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

‘Partly… At the end of each cycle the prisoner is made aware of their situation.’

Harry winced. ‘That’s gotta be hell.’

‘Apparently the realisation is crushing. Which is why we do everything by the book. Nobody wants their consciousness imprisoned for eternity.’

‘Yeah but six-months!’ Harry said. ‘Can’t it be done quicker?’

‘Only in special circumstance do we operate immediately.’

‘What circumstances?’

‘If you can prove the person has killed or has taken action to kill illegally you could apply for a special operation licence.’

‘How long does that take?’

‘One week,’ she said. ‘But you would need to pay a one-hundred and fifty-thousand dollar special operation fee. You would also need to invite two witnesses to attend the execution.’

Harry leant closer. ‘How about I just pay you one-hundred and fifty-grand right now?’

The receptionist glared at Harry. ‘Bribery is a very serious offence Mr Pimble.’

‘Oh sure..I mean..I wasn’t…you know…’

‘Of course you weren’t,’ she said, smiling. ‘Now go and fill out the forms. The sooner you start the sooner we can take care of your problem.’

The conversation was over. Harry packed the forms into his briefcase and left the office. If he felt anxious before his visit to Blood, White, and Blue, Harry felt a hundred times worse now.

After smoking a cigarette he flagged a cab and got inside.

‘Where to?’ the driver asked.

‘The nearest decent bar,’ Harry said. 

The driver laughed. ‘In this neighbourhood?’

‘Just take me to a place where the beer is cool and cheap.’

The driver grinned. ‘Sure man…I’ll take you to Hank’s place.’

‘Did you say Hank?’

‘Uh huh…Why man?’ The driver pulled out into slow-moving traffic. 

‘Oh…No reason.’ Harry had more pressing matters on his mind than a coincidence. 

***** *****

The cab stopped outside a rundown bar in a rundown alley. Harry paid the driver and stepped outside where several veterans loitered by the entrance.

‘Spare some change for a vet?’ said a scruffy guy with one arm.

Harry ignored him and walked inside.

The long bar was narrow and lamplit. Country music crackled from the speakers. Harry hopped onto a bar stool and scooped a handful of peanuts from a bowl. 

‘What you drinking friend?’ the bartender asked in a baritone voice. He was tall and black with thick forearms. He introduced himself as Hank Roberts. Harry ordered a beer which he drank down in four noisy gulps. 

‘Well Goddamn,’ Hank said.

‘One of those days.’

‘Another?’

‘Keep em coming.’

Harry ordered more beers and by his fifth he felt relaxed. A couple of vets joined him. Both of them stunk like sewers.

‘The name is Bobby M,’ the older one said. ‘This is my pal Jimmy.’

Jimmy nodded. ‘We’re both veterans.’

‘Well here’s to you,’ Harry said, raising his glass.

‘We got no drink to raise,’ Bobby M said. 

Begrudgingly, Harry ordered them both a beer.

Hank poured the drinks and set them down. Bobby M raised his glass. ‘Here’s to you Hank…A real hero.’

‘Knock it off,’ Hank said, walking away.

‘So what’s his deal,’ Harry said when Hank was out of earshot.

‘His deal is that he took out a whole platoon in Vietnam single-handed,’ Bobby M said.

‘Earned himself the medal of honour,’ Jimmy added. ‘And a bad case of PTSD.’

Bobby M pointed at the TV excitedly. ‘The lottery is about to start…Tonight’s the night my ex-wife gets whats coming to her!’

Hank flicked on the TV where a Government approved murder commercial was playing.

‘I hate these adverts,’ Jimmy said.

‘Shut up,’ Bobby M said. ‘I ain’t seen this one.’

Harry smoked and watched the commercial.

A kindly looking Grandfather sits in a rocking chair in a cosy looking living room. From another room a sad looking kid walks in and stands in front of Grandfather. 

‘Why so sad Tommy?’ Grandpa says.

‘I miss mom,’ Tommy says.

Grandpa pats the kid’s head. ‘I know you do sport.’

‘One day I’ll have her killer murdered,’ Tommy says.

Grandpa sighs. ‘Well I hope you follow all the correct channels Tommy. I’d hate to think of you being sentenced to Life after Death.’

‘Don’t worry Grandpa. I know what to do.’

‘You do huh?’

‘Sure I do…You call up a Government approved contract killer, fill out all the necessary forms, and if its approved the person you want killed will be killed.’

Grandpa strokes Tommy’s face. ‘You’re so smart.’

‘Thanks Grandpa.’

The doorbell rings and Tommy opens the front door. Two young kids enter the living room.

‘Hey kids,’ Grandpa says. ‘You here to play with Tommy?’

The kids shake their heads simultaneously. 

‘So what have you come over for?’

One of the kids speaks. ‘We’ve come to watch you get killed.’ 

Grandpa half-laughs. ‘You kids are funny.’

‘It’s no joke Grandpa,’ Tommy says. ‘In about twenty-seconds a licensed contract killer is going to arrive and blow your brains out. But not before some science guys have sucked your consciousness out of your head.’

‘What the hell are you talking about Tommy?’

‘I’m talking about you killing mom for her insurance money.’ The doorbell rings. Tommy skips to the door and opens it. A smart looking young man dressed in a blue suit enters. He’s carrying a suitcase and is wearing dark sunglasses. 

’My name is Jack FitzHenry,’ the man says. ‘I am a Government approved contract killer here to carry out the execution of a Mr Stanley Appleton.’

‘That’s my Grandpa,’ Tommy says.

Mr FitzHenry looks at Grandpa. ‘By the power vested in me by the Federal Government you are sentenced to Life after Death for the illegal murder of a Miss Jenaveve Joletto.’

‘What the hell have you done Tommy?’ Grandpa shrieks.

‘Well Grandpa,’ Tommy says. ‘What I have done is paid for a special operation licence with mom’s life insurance money that you think I don’t know is hidden in the basement.’ 

Before Grandpa can reply, several people dressed in lab coats enter the house. They carry suitcases and push electronic equipment on wheels. Grandpa tries to stand but is restrained and injected in the neck. Moments later his muscles are paralysed. The lab coats attach electrodes to Grandpa’s forehead.

‘What are you doing?’ Tommy asks.

‘We are checking his memories to see if he’s guilty.’

‘He is guilty! I saw him do it.’

‘I hope so,’ says the contract killer. Because anyone found guilty of false accusation faces Life after Death themselves.’

Tommy puffs out his chest in a show of childish machismo. ‘Well I ain’t made any fake accusations. I was hiding in mom’s wardrobe and saw him strangle her on the bed.’

The lab coats work fast and soon all the electrodes get wired to a portable computer on a stand. 

‘Ready for memory transfer,’ one of the lab coats says. He presses some buttons on the control box and a number of Grandpa’s memories appear on the computer screen: Christmas trees, windmills, beaches, work colleagues, baseball games, and bowls of pasta. The lab coat scrolls back through Grandpa’s memories until he comes across an image of a young woman being strangled on a bed. The lab coat lets the the memories play until she is dead.

‘He’s guilty,’ the lab coat says. Let’s prep him for consciousness transfer.’

‘Please don’t kill me,’ Grandpa pleads.

The lab coats ignore Grandpa and place more electrodes onto his forehead and set up more portable electronic equipment. Moments later they are ready. 

‘Say goodbye to your Grandpa kid,’ a lab coat says. ‘He’s going to spend the rest of eternity reliving his crime over and over and over…’

Tommy grins and waves at Grandpa. Grandpa’s mouth gapes but no words come out. The lab coat presses some buttons on the control panel and a faint hum begins to sound. Grandpa screams out. 

‘Does it hurt?’ Tommy asks.

The lab coat nods and winks.

Tommy grins and claps his hands. Grandpa’s eyes roll backwards as his consciousness is extracted. A minute later the transfer is complete.

Tommy points at the computer. ‘Is he in there?’

‘Most of him is,’ the lab coat says. ‘We have to leave a little bit of him for legal purposes.’

The lab coats pack up their equipment and leave. 

Without words, Mr Fitzhenry cocks his gun and shoots Grandpa in the head spraying bloody brains everywhere. He checks Grandpa’s pulse. ‘Your Grandpa is dead,’ he tells Tommy. ‘A clean up team will arrive in five-minutes.’ He puts his gun back into his suitcase and leaves.

Tommy stares at his dead grandfather and grins. Moments later the screen goes black and words appear on the screen.

‘Don’t become a statistic.’

‘Murder must always be legal.’

‘Life after Death is………Forever.’

The words disappear and a smart looking young man dressed in a tuxedo appears on the TV screen. ‘Well folks,’ he says. ‘It’s time to find the next winner of the Government approved lottery. The winner will be eligible to have anyone they want murdered immediately and absolutely free of charge!’

‘Please be me,’ Bobby M said, clenching his lottery ticket.

The lottery presenter is handed an envelope. He opens it and reads out the winner’s name. ‘This week’s lottery winner is…. Mr Blake Sambara of Arlington, Kentucky. Congratulations Mr Sambara you have a Government approved contract killer en-route to you right now. All thanks to the Government approved murder lottery.’

Bobby M tore up his ticket.

Jimmy laughed. ‘Let’s get out of here,’ he said. ‘I heard Irish Marty is giving away free shots because his kid just got laid.’

The two men said their goodbyes and left. 

Hank turned the TV off and lit a cigarette. ‘Those contract killers make me laugh,’ he said. ‘I bet they’ve never shot anyone who was shooting back at them.’ He opened a bottle of whiskey and poured two shots for him and Harry.

‘What we drinking to Hank?’

‘To those who never came home.’ Hank knocked back his shot. Harry did the same. The pair fell silent for a minute or so. 

‘I heard about your medal of honour,’ Harry said.

‘Those guys been running their mouths off huh?’

‘They meant no harm.’

Hank laughed. ‘Guys like that never mean no harm but they cause plenty.’

‘You must have been through Hell,’ Harry said. 

‘Oh I’ve been through Hell alright,’ Hank said. ‘But what for? Every morning I wake up stiff with arthritis and so broke I can’t afford medical care…I’m a joke with no money and no hope.’

‘You got this place,’ Harry offered. 

‘Do I?’ From his pocket Hank pulled out a letter.  ‘I’ve got to pay three-hundred grand in two weeks otherwise the bank is foreclosing.’ 

Harry sipped his beer thoughtfully. ‘So what happens if they kick you out?’

‘I guess I’ll find a prime piece of real estate under a bridge somewhere.’

A flicker of an idea appeared in Harry’s mind. ‘What if you could get the money?’

Hank laughed. ‘Where the hell am I gonna get that kind of money?’

‘I could give it you.’

Hank eyed Harry suspiciously. ‘You’re kidding right?’

Harry shrugged. ‘Maybe…Or maybe I could solve your money problems if you did something for me.’

‘And what would that be?’

Harry leaned in closer. ‘Kill my wife.’

Hank stared at Harry. ‘You’re insane.’

‘Maybe…But I’m rich as well. I could pay your debt and turn this place into a palace.’

Hank pointed to the TV. ‘If you want someone killed you should see one of those guys.’

‘I did but they want me to wait six-months.’

Hank smoked and thought. ‘Why you want her dead anyway?’

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

‘That’s not so bad surely?’

‘You’re not the one paying for everything,’ Harry said. ‘Uncle George would turn in his grave if he knew his inheritance 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 the answer to a difficult crossword clue. ‘Vietnam,’ he said. ‘My wife and father are Vietnamese.’

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

Harry paused to organise his idea. ‘That’s not the worst part Hank.’

‘It’s not?’

Harry shook his head. ‘He was a North Vietnamese prison camp officer who did all sorts of awful things to our guys.’

Sweat trickled down Hank’s cheek. ‘And this guy’s coming to live with you?’

‘Uh huh…’

Hank said nothing and just stared.

‘Are you OK Hank?’

Silence.

More sweat appeared on Hank’s forehead like moisture on beer bottle. His head and shoulders shook and he started mumbling and shouting. 

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

Hank slapped the bar top. ‘Tony! Tony!…Medic….Medic!’

Hank’s eyes flickered open and closed and sweat poured from his face. He slapped and shook and shouted for over five-minutes until he eventually crashed to the ground. He lay still for a minute or so, breathing heavily and groaning.

‘Are you OK Hank?’

Hank mumbled something incoherent. He slowly pulled himself up and got to his feet. He looked confused like someone who wakes up in a strange place after a boozy night.

‘Hey Hank. You OK man?’

‘I’m fine,’ Hank said.

‘What happened?’

Hank wiped his brow. ‘I had me a little flashback.’

‘You were shouting for someone named Tony.’

Hank sighed. ‘Tony Mcdermott…He had his legs blown off ten feet from me.’

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

‘He was my best friend.’

Harry sat down and noticed that Hank was still shaking. ‘Are you sure you’re OK Hank?’

‘Yeah I’m Ok man,’ Hank said. ‘I’m just trying to figure something out.’

‘What?’

‘How I’m going to tell your father-in-law that I 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. Sitting at the bar Hank said he would kill Harry’s wife after her Saturday night English class and make it look like a mugging gone wrong. Sitting at the bar, Hank asked Harry for a photograph of his wife. Harry took out his his wallet and handed Hank a small passport size photograph.

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

‘Don’t be fooled Hank…She might look like a princess but she’s a real ball-breaker.’

‘You mind if I keep this?’

‘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 asked for an itinerary of Harry’s wife’s movements.

‘I need to see how she moves,’ Hank said.

‘Whatever you need,’ Harry said, sipping a beer.

‘I’m gonna need some money as well.’

‘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.’

Harry sighed. ‘How much you need?’

‘One-hundred and fifty-thousand.’

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

The next day Harry withdrew the money and took it to Hank. 

‘So when will she be dead?’ Harry asked.

Hank looked at the bag of money. ‘In one week.’

Harry grinned. ‘That soon?’

‘Trust me Harry…In seven days you’ll never see your wife again.’

Harry was beside himself. ‘Well this is cause for a celebration.’

‘Don’t get too carried away,’ Hank said. ‘You still need to arrange an alibi.’

‘What kind of an alibi?’

Hank looked at Jimmy and Bobby M who were playing pool. ‘Invite those two to your place for a poker night.’

Harry grimaced.

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

‘And what will you do when…you know?’

Hank smiled. ‘I’ll come over to yours and join the game…Make sure you get them both plenty drunk so they won’t know the time when I arrive.’

‘‘That’s your plan Hank?’ Harry said. ‘Get them drunk so they wont know the time? If this was a movie I would be shouting lazy ass writing at the screen right now…It feels too simple.’

‘Trust me Harry,’ Hank said, grinning. ‘The simpler the plan the smarter the man.’

**** ****

On the morning his wife was due to be murdered Harry woke up feeling refreshed. While his wife took a shower Harry smoked in bed and thought about Caribbean beaches, bottles of rum, and beautiful women. As he smoked he rehearsed his lines for his wife’s body identification. He repeated 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 and noted she was more chatty than her usual sullen self. She laughed and joked and for a  moment she looked like the woman Harry had married in Thailand all those years ago. When they were finished, Harry’s wife cleared up and left the apartment happy and singing. 

Harry lazed around the house all day. 

Jimmy and Bobby M arrived at five pm sharp. They both stank of booze and bonfires. They sat down at the card table Harry had set up in the living room. Jimmy shuffled the pack like a Vegas pro. The pair tucked into the whiskey, cigars, and snacks that Harry had left out. 

Jimmy dealt out the cards. Harry played a few hands but his mind was elsewhere.

What if Hank messes up?

What if he gets the wrong person?

What if his wife escapes?

Harry knocked back whisky like a troubled gunslinger. He had a strange sense of unease like those mothers who know without being told that something awful has happened to their kids. 

What if? What if? What if?

Eight o clock came and passed as did eight-thirty and nine-o-clock. At quarter past nine Hank had still not arrived. Harry imagined him locked up in a cell confessing everything to a couple of hard-ass cops. At nine-thirty Harry was about ready to pack a suitcase and head to Mexico but stopped himself when the doorbell rang. Harry opened the door and was relieved to see Hank but surprised to see his wife as well. The pair stepped into the living room. 

‘What’s happening Hank?’ 

Harry put his arm around Harry’s wife. ‘We’re in love Harry.’

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

‘I couldn’t help it,’ Hank said. ‘She’s an incredible woman.’

Harry was speechless. Behind him, Jimmy and Bobby M sniggered and laughed.

Harry looked at the pair. ‘Hey show some support here would you?’

Bobby M laughed. ‘We are not here to support you Harry.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘We’re here for Hank,’ Jimmy said.

Harry looked at Hank. ‘What the hell is going on?’

The doorbell rang before Hank could answer.

‘Right on time,’ Hank said. He opened the door and a man walked inside. He was middle-aged with slick grey hair and a neat moustache. He wore a smart blue suit and carried a briefcase.

‘My name is Earl Duponte,’ he said. ‘I represent the Government approved contract killers known as Blood, White, and Blue. I am here to carry out execution number 2877-A037.’ He dropped his briefcase on the floor and said, ‘May I ask who is Harold Pimble?’

Everyone pointed at Harry.

‘What the hell is happening?’ Harry said.

‘Mr Pimble I am here to bring 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, panicked.

‘Let’s find out Mr Pimble.’

As if scripted the doorbell rang again. Hank opened up and a number of men wearing lab coats entered. One of the men held Harry while another injected him. The men guided Harry onto the couch and lay him down. In seconds he had lost use of his muscles. The men attached electrodes to Harry’s forehead and wired them to a portable computer.

‘Let’s see what he’s hiding,’ one of the lab coats said. 

Harry stared at the screen and watched his memories scroll back and forth. Eventually he saw images of himself walking into Hank’s bar. Anxiety filled Harry as he watched himself say, ‘I’ll give you all the money and some if you kill my wife.’

‘He’s guilty,’ the lab coat said. ‘Lets get him prepped.’

The lab coats attached more electrodes and wired them to a portable computer. 

‘We’re ready,’ the chief lab coat said. 

‘Does anyone want to say anything to him first?’ Earl Duponte said.

‘So long Harry,’ Hank said. 

‘Thanks for the cigars,’ Jimmy said. 

Bobby M saluted.

Harry’s wife waved and smiled. 

Harry screamed and yelled but no one listened. 

One of the lab coats operated the portable computer. Moments later Harry a humming sound appeared as his consciousness was sucked from his skull. He screamed out in pain. An agonising minute later and only an insect-like awareness of his existence remained of what was Harry Pimble.

‘Transfer complete,’ the lab coat said. ‘He’s all yours Mr Duponte.’

The lab coats packed up their equipment and left. 

Earl Duponte cocked his gun.

Earl Duponte raised his gun.

Earl Duponte shot Harry in the head.

Harry Pimble was dead.

***** *****

When Harry came to he felt enveloped in spongy blackness. He had no awareness of where he was. Where had he been before this? What was this? What was he? Who was he? What is a who? Who is a what? It felt like he was separated from his body and reality itself. Eventually his senses returned and he realised he could speak. 

‘Hello?…Is anyone there?’ 

His words echoed like a stone being dropped into a deep well. Harry became aware of sounds that grew louder and more coherent until he realised the sounds were words and the words belonged to someone familiar. 

‘Hank?’

‘In the flesh,’ Hank replied. ‘Well not really in the flesh. What you are hearing is a computer generated message I had uploaded to your programme many years ago.’

‘What the hell happened to me Hank?’

‘How about I show you.’

A screen appeared somewhere in the distance. It could have been a TV two feet away or a cinema sized screen further away. On the screen, Harry watched himself walking into Blood, White, and Blue. He saw himself walking into Hank’s bar. He watched himself watching the lottery and then planning his wife’s murder with Hank. He saw himself playing cards with Jimmy and Bobby M. He saw Hank and his wife arrive and watched a man with a suitcase enter his house. Harry watched a number of men in lab coats arrive and place electrodes onto his head and then watched the killer aim his gun and shoot. He watched himself fall to the ground and lay on the floor as Hank and his wife hugged and kissed. Right then Harry knew what had happened to him. His consciousness had been imprisoned and he had been sentenced to Life after Death. 

He was in Life after Death.

Depression crushed Harry. He screamed and begged to be released.

‘There’s no escape Harry.’

‘You screwed me,’ Harry said. 

‘You lied to me,’ Hank said. ‘You lied to have me kill your wife.’

Anger filled Harry. ‘Keep my wife! I hope you both die soon.’

Hank laughed. ‘We are dead Harry…We died a very long time ago but not before we had our consciousnesses uploaded into a programme called Life begins at Death. We spend our days now doing anything we can imagine. It was expensive but thanks to you we made enough money to cover it. Why not take a look for yourself?’

The screen played images of Hank and Harry’s wife windsurfing, diving, eating dinner, sailing, and walking hand in hand on a tropical beach.

Hate flooded Harry. 

Hank’s voice said, ‘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 in Brooklyn. A year after that we opened up in Philadelphia. A year later we had places in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle. We both got age-inhibitors which gave us fifty more glorious years together. At the time of our deaths there were over fifty-five Hank’s Thai dotted all over the country. And it’s all thanks to you Harry.’

Harry screamed. ‘I hate you Hank!’

Hank laughed. ‘See you after the next cycle Harry.’

‘I hate you Hank…I hate you…’

But Hank was gone. There was only cold empty silence and sadness. It was sadness beyond anything Harry had experienced in life. It crushed him for what could have been minutes or years. Eventually or instantly, a mechanical sounding voice said, ‘Harold Pimble you have been sentenced to Life after Death. You will now enter cycle one million, three hundred and fifty-three thousand.’

A dot of light appeared in the distance and moved towards Harry until it was the size of a railway tunnel. As he passed through it Harry screamed out for Hank until he forgot who Hank was. And for an unknown period of time, Harry was caught between two realities like a baby travelling from the womb towards birth. 

***** *****

When he came to, Harry found himself in a cab, confused and unsure of his surroundings. The driver was half-turned in his seat, staring at Harry with a confused expression. ‘Are you OK?’ he asked.

‘What the hell happened?’ Harry said.

‘You were having a seizure or something!’ The driver said. ‘You were shouting about some guy called Hank.’

Harry shrugged. ‘I don’t know anyone called Hank.’

‘Maybe I’m mistaken,’ the driver said. 

‘You must be,’ Harry said, regaining his senses. ‘How much do I owe you?’

‘Two-hundred and fifty-seven bucks.’

Harry took out his wallet and paid the driver. 

‘So who brings you here?’ the driver asked.

‘My wife.’

‘Well from what I hear these guys are the best,’ the driver said. 

‘I hope so.’

The driver winked. ‘I guarantee it!’

Harry opened the door and stepped from the cab into the shimmering heat of mid-morning Manhattan where sunlight sparkled off the skyscrapers that lined the Hudson. He lit a cigarette and watched the cab rejoin the vein of downtown traffic. He took off his spectacles and rubbed his temple where tension was brewing up another headache.

‘There’s no need to feel stressed,’ he told himself. ‘You’re doing everything by the book.’ Harry looked at the sign above the glass fronted offices. The names Blood, White, and Blue were written in simple black lettering giving no indication as to what they represented. It looked more like the offices of an insurance company than anything else. Harry smoked and thought how lucky he’d been to have inherited Uncle George’s money. Without it he could not have contemplated hiring professionals to take care of his problem. Not in a hundred lifetimes. Poor Uncle George he thought as he picked up his briefcase. But one door closes and another door opens. Smiling, Harry flicked his cigarette into the gutter and walked into the air-conditioned offices of Blood, White, and Blue: The best contract killers in all of New York. At least that’s what their TV commercial said…

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