“What the hell?” the guy on the floor says, appropriately freaking out.
“I’m Thane,” the shorter man with the lighter, closely cropped hair says. He points to the guy standing next to him. “This is my brother Mort. Our last name is Grym. It’s funny, you won’t get it right away, but you will in a minute.”
“And you’re dead,” Mort points to the man on the floor impatiently.
Thane shakes his head. “Geez, Mort.”
Mort’s the younger of the two. He stands about two inches taller. He keeps his dark hair long and unruly, slicked back with oil and grease. He’s dressed in a pair of ratty jeans and a stained t-shirt. The brown overcoat that looks like it had been to Hell and back originally belonged to their father, with whom he shares the same dark brown eyes.
“What?” He holds up his wrist to show Thane the watch. “Do you see what time it is?”
Thane looks at the face of the watch and then at Mort. “Yeah. It’s a quarter past three.”
Mort’s face scrunches up. He checks the watch himself, tapping the faceplate with his other hand. He looks out the window as though to confirm it. It’s dark out and the moon is starting to rise.
“That’s not right,” he says.
“I know,” Thane replies. He stands straight, compared to his brother’s slouched posture. His clothes are clean and his jacket is stain free. He’s got his mother’s light blue eyes. “That watch hasn’t been able to tell the correct time ever since you got it.”
“It was Dad’s watch,” he says, like that was supposed to kill the argument.
“Which explains why he was always late.”
“Whatever,” he runs a hand through his dirty hair. “There’s a fight on in an hour. I don’t know want to miss it.”
“Of course,” Thane mutters.
“What?” Mort asks.
“Nothing,” Thane says aloud.
“Excuse me, but what the hell?” the guy on the floor asks again.
The brothers give the man on the floor their attention.
“You’re dead,” Mort repeats. “D-E-A-D,” and he tears off a bite from his foot long sandwich he had insisted on bringing up with him.
“Are you threatening me?” the guy on the floor asks.
“We’re not threatening you,” Thane says, trying to calm him down. “Do you have to eat that right now,” he asks Mort, pulling out the crumpled paperwork from his jacket pocket. “It doesn’t lend itself to a professional image.”
“Yes, Thane, I have to eat it right now,” he says between bites. “You never want to stop for dinner.”
“We eat when we’re not working,” Thane crouches down next to the guy on the floor. “Hi,” he says to him.
“Easy for you to say,” Mort says. “You weren’t blessed with Mom’s low blood sugar. Do you know when my last meal was?”
“Neither do I,” Mort says. “That’s how much I had to drink last night. So forgive me for trying not to die of starvation.”
Thane rolls his eyes and checks the name on the paperwork. “Paulie?” he says to the man on the floor. “That’s your name, right? Paulie?”
The man’s eyes twitch back and forth between the two brothers. He’s confused and probably more than a little freaked out. His face glistens with sweat.
Mort sneezes and Paulie jumps a little.
Thane gently smacks Paulie’s cheek. “Hey, Paulie, I need you to focus.”
He looks back at Thane but his eyes are still glazed over.
“Your name’s Paulie, right?” Thane tries one more time. He likes to be sure.
He blinks, shaking his head. “Yeah. Yeah, I think,” he trails off. “What happened? I’m dead?”
“Yeah. You got yourself shot at point blank range with a double barrel shotgun,” Mort chimes in helpfully.
“Boom. Instant death,” he pretends his sandwich is a gun and mimes shooting with it
“For crying out loud,” Thane mutters again. “Do you mind?”
“Yes, I mind,” Mort says. “There’s a fight on in an hour. I don’t want to miss it. I promise to coddle the next one.”
“You’ll be lucky if I bring you along on the next one,” he says under his breath.
“Just stand there,” Thane says aloud. “Just stand there and eat your stupid sandwich.”
The older brother shakes his head and turns back to Paulie “Do you remember what happened?”
Paulie’s face scrunches up. He’s clearly thinking real hard, but it’s not something he’s used to. His face almost looks like it’s mimicking someone else.
“I, uh,” he stutters and trails off.
“It’s okay,” Thane says. “Most people who suffer this kind of trauma tend to have temporary amnesia.”
“You’re saying I’m dead?” he asks again.
“Buddy,” Mort cuts in again, “you’ve got your legs violently separated from the rest of your body. I can see parts of your entrails on the fireplace. It is not possible for you to get anydeader.”
Paulie’s eyes go wide and suddenly he seems to be aware of his surroundings.
It’s a middle-class suburban home, about six blocks from the A-Line. They’re in the living room and it’s in shambles. There was a fight with a clear winner and loser. And, sure enough, Paulie’s upper half is separated from his lower half.
And his entrails were definitely on the fireplace.
“What the-” Paulie broke down into a stream of obscenities as he twisted his neck around, trying to take it all in at once.
Thane lets him go on for a few seconds before clamping his hand down over Paulie’s mouth. He immediately regrets it. It’s like touching a thousand tiny ants all moving around together at the same time. He hates touching dead people.
Thane looks back at his brother. “Thank you.”
He tosses Thane the cuffs. “No problem. Can we please get going now?”
Thane catches the cuffs with his other hand. Paulie eyes them and they’re not making him any calmer.
Thane keeps his hand securely over his mouth. The tiny invisible ants squirm around, like they’re trying to burrow themselves into Thane’s hand.
“Okay, this isn’t what it looks like,” Thane tries one more time. “We aren’t who you think we are. And these,” he shakes the cuffs, “aren’t normal handcuffs,” he twists them around so Paulie could see his name, PAULIE, etched into the metal. “I would like to explain everything to you in a calm manner, but I can’t do that if you’re going to freak out and swear like a some diseased ridden prostitute that just got gypped out of her share by her pimp. So, do you promise to calm down?”
Paulie hesitates a moment but nods his head.
“Good, I’m going to remove my hand now,” Thane pulls his hand back and immediately feels better. He fights the urge to wipe it against his pants. Paulie keeps silent. “So, here’s what happened, Paulie. This place belongs to Steven Waldo. Mr. Waldo walked in on you trying to steal his priceless collection of porcelain Indian clowns. He subsequently shot you in self-defense.”
Paulie’s brow furrows. “I was stealing from this guy?” he asks.
He thinks about it. “I don’t carry a gun? I don’t carry a gun,” he repeats it more definitively.
Thane checks the paperwork again. “No, you didn’t have any weapons on you.”
“Then how the hell does that count as self-defense?” he snaps.
“Dude,” Mort says, “totally raw deal. But you did try to steal from the guy.”
“He blew off my damn legs with a double barrel shotgun!” Paulie shrieks.
“I think it’s coming back to him,” Mort looks at his brother.
“Look, Paulie,” Thane starts, but Paulie has other ideas.
He starts shrieking and flopping around on the floor like a half eaten merman. One of his hands smacks Thane’s face.
Thane looks at Mort. He shrugs. “Not my fault. You’re the one that wanted to talk to him.”
Mort steps forward and sets a foot on Paulie’s chest, holding him in place. That stops him from bucking around, but he’s still shrieking. Thane clamps his hand back down over his mouth.
“Look, Paulie, we’re not unsympathetic to your plight,” Thane starts.
“I am,” Mort interrupts. “I have a fight I don’t want to miss.”
“As I was saying,” Thane resumes, “Your death was particularly traumatic and incapacitating. Even though you have no real physical body to speak of, subconsciously you’ve amended your soul body to match your physical body. Which means you have no legs to carry you to the afterlife. And that’s why we’re here,” Thane pulls out the dull brass badge from his pocket. “We’re dead soul collectors. Grim reapers for souls who can’t or won’t find their way to the afterlife. We’re here to escort you to the afterlife, but before we do that, I just want to give you the opportunity to share with us any good-byes you wanted to make or see if there are any unresolved issues that we could help you with before we send you on your way.”
“He keeps saying ‘we’,” Mort says with a full mouth, “But it’s all him. I have a fight to catch.”
Paulie seems to have calmed down again so Thane removes his hand.
“Unresolved issues?” he says. “I’ll give you unresolved issues. I’m dead over some stupid Indian clowns!” he shouts and his face turns bright red.
“Okay then,” Thane says. “Right to the afterlife.”
And then he slaps the cuffs on him.
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