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February 26, 2024

After Life 20

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Twenty: Helping

Max sat immobile, waiting for the waiter to bring the check. Roj was tired of looking at him, tired of enduring his stink. Temper tantrum though it may have been, Roj's arson had given Max, Garrison, the woman with the gun, and Hennessey some major headaches. Some sort of contraband goods were being taken out of town, Garrison was fingered as a suspiciously-behaving cop, the woman was in custody, and Hennessey once again had had to rush to the restaurant's restroom to accommodate the shits the tension was causing him.

I'd be happy with that, but that's not what I'm supposed to be accomplishing. I can hear, sort of, see it, sort of, but there's something else.

She returned to Matt's apartment again, to watch him as he slumbered, still in his alcoholic daze. With rage, she saw that there was again a box of shells on his bedside table, beside his gun, which, once again, had been loaded. Did he find the other ones in the mixing bowl on top of the cupboard? Checking, she found he had not -- they were still there. Once again, she emptied the weapon and stowed all the ammunition in the mixing bowl. It's that dirty whore Hammer. She's reloading him, hoping he'll kill himself.

He was killing himself by inches with the booze as it was. Roj examined his wrist where it poked out of his sweatshirt sleeve; the veins were more pronounced, the fingers of his hand bonier. She gave him a shove and rolled him over onto his back. Yes, that was a thinner face. With some mighty shoves, she propped him up a little so that if he did start to puke, he wouldn't choke himself. Seeing him so sick with despair hurt her, but while he was stinking drunk, Max and Hennessey could not say that it was Matt who was causing them the trouble.

Her choices for action seemed limited. She could sit here and watch Matt sleep, or she could go back and watch Max sit on his ass in his expensive suit pants. Or she could follow Hennessey back to his desk and watch him make uninformative phone calls. A clicking at the door to Matt's apartment alerted her to something more interesting.

Hammer eased the door open, slipping a key into her purse. "Hey, Trap, how're you doing?" At his lack of answer, she entered the apartment more confidently, noting his position on the bed. "Oh, no, Handsome. You need to be flat on your back. Makes it easier on the coroner." She pulled the pillows out from under his shoulders and left them on the sides of his bed. Turning to the bedside table, she swore. "What the fuck happened to the shells? Dammit, Trap, you were sound asleep when I came in here before, what did you do with them?" She opened the drawer of the little stand and found no shells, kicked dirty clothes around the floor and found nothing. "God damn it." She opened the gun and found it empty. "Now what the hell is this? I loaded this bastard at three, I know I did. Who the fuck was in here?"

Roj wanted to begin pitching dishes and garbage and furniture at her, but refrained. There was a shelf over the door to the apartment that had some knickknacks on it, including an MVP trophy from some high school playoff game which was doing nothing more for Matt's life than gathering his dust. It had a date with Roj, and destiny.

After scouting through Matt's rooms, Hammer stumped on her high heels towards the door, opening her phone and thumbing some number. As she strode to the threshold, Roj knocked the MVP trophy off the shelf and onto her head, with a little extra gravity thrown in for good measure.

Hammer went down like a pig at the butcher's, and Roj pounced on her purse without removing it from her shoulder. She confiscated the key to Matt's apartment, her wallet, her birth control pills, Why does she carry those with her? and the keys to her car. The cell phone joined the jumble.

In moments, Hammer rallied and looking around for an assailant, found the trophy. "Fuck me," she said, rubbing the knot on her head, looking up at the shelf, and went out the door. Not finding Matt's key in her purse, she came back in the apartment and searched around. Finding nothing, she went back out the door, and this time, Roj followed her, taking care to stay behind her, so that the floating wallet and keys would not be seen. Roj stashed them behind the trash can by the stairs, then returned to the confused and battered Hammer.

Hammer went in the apartment again, looked around the floor again, and then went out. This time, Roj locked the door behind her, walked through the wall, and cheerfully looked at Hammer's angry grimaces as she tried the door again. And again.

I should have taken her gun, too. I'm as stupid as Gerry said I am. She thought that Hammer would shoot the lock off the door, but with creases of anger marring her face, Hammer stomped down the stairs. After re-propping Matt up on his side on pillows, Roj went down to the street, dropped the wallet, the phone, the keys and pills down the nearest storm drain, and followed Hammer around the end of the block, watching the woman rummage through her purse, unable to find her car keys.

No taxis ran through this part of town; Hammer would have to call for one, only she didn't have her phone. And could she pay for one, with her wallet gone? No. Would she check for her wallet before she tried to figure out how to hail one? Yes. Roj watched her rage anew. It was a long walk back to the precinct, so undoubtedly she would have to go to a local business to call one of her fellow officers to pick her up. I really should have stolen her gun. I'm such an amateur. "That was stupid."

"Yes, you're pretty stupid. That's why I call you Stupid Girl."

Gerry's voice was an unexpected and strangely joyous surprise. "Gerry! I just dumped that corrupt policewoman's stuff in the sewer. She was trying to get Matt to kill himself."

"See, that's where your stupidity has taken him. He shouldn't do that, and you should have taught him not to do that."

"Your barnacles are gone, Gerry."

"Barnacles! Don't worry about my barnacles, I've seen enough. I didn't know about them ... but now I do, and my guardian angel has told me I should talk to you some more. Why is that, when you're so stupid?"

Roj sat on a townhouse stoop, nearly boiling with annoyance. "Maybe it's because you see me as stupid, and you're supposed to tell me about my stupidity."

"Okay, we'll do that, maybe tomorrow. Right now, we have to go and see a man about a horse."


"Stupid Girl, that was a joke. We have to go see a man about a meth lab, right here in Modesto."

"Lead on!" Roj was willing to follow her because she had no other leads at this point, and because she wasn't really up for being told why she was stupid, not tonight.

Gerry's ghost led her across streets and fences of houses, all the way to the southeast end of town. A one-car garage showed light under the edge of its door, and when they walked through the closed door, the evidence was unmistakable. There were jars and cans and portable propane burners; the components of the meth were stacked at the far side of the garage. The place reeked of chemicals.

Roj sniffed both the men who were sitting on an old, beat-up sofa. They were not ingesting the meth themselves -- their choice of recreational drug was simply beer, though they had drunk down a lot of it. "They're drunk," she said to Gerry's ghost.

"You noticed that? Here, you need to notice this, too." Gerry flitted to the back of the garage where stood a baby stroller, a set of shelves that held potatoes, apples, and breads, as well as some toys and stacked towels. "These fools are contaminating their food and their kids' stuff with the smoke off this filthy meth. They're so damned foolish they don't even know it."

Recoiling in disgust, Roj pressed Gerry for explanation, knowing Gerry would vex her, but having few other options. "Am I stupid in the same way they are?"

Gerry turned to her impatiently. "No, Stupid Girl. They're stupid because they think cooking meth is gainful employment. You're stupid because you don't know who God is."

"I do so know who God is."

"No, you don't, but can't you keep your wits on the subject? We have a meth lab here."

"I know that much, but what should we do about it? Burn it down? It's awfully close to the house, and if they have baby stuff, won't there be children inside? I can't endanger them!"

"They're already in danger because of these morons, but what else can you do? They supply that filthy Duchamps -- yes, I've stopped calling him that name -- and isn't that what you said you wanted to do? To stop the meth train?"

"Yes. It has to be stopped, but I'm thinking that these guys are just small operators, don't you agree? The amount of money that Garrison was accepting argues for a much wider operation." Roj fidgeted in front of the gas burner under the drug concoction.

"I don't know about that, you haven't told me, and how did you know, anyway? All I know is that this is happening, and it's wrong, and I can help stop it if you want to. Maybe then I can get out of here."

"Get out of here ... why don't you just fly off to the stars?"

"The what?" Gerry peered at her face, looking for clarification.

"Never mind. How do we stop this meth cooker?"

"You said you dumped that woman's wallet. You can move things?" She chuckled, rubbing spectral hands. "You lucky Stupid Girl. See, over there, they have on that shelf a couple boxes of baking soda, to put out fires, for emergencies. Dump that in their pot and turn off the fire, and this batch for them is just garbage."

Gerry clapped her ghost-hands together in applause as Roj did so. "Gerry, you can't move things?"

"No, and I wonder why you can. How can someone so stupid have such a gift?"

The men had risen to their feet, speaking rapidly and with concern for the flame having gone out from their makeshift stove. Roj could understand a few food words in Spanish, but she couldn't make out what they were saying. She saw alarm and anger radiating from them, with drunken threatening motions thrown in as they looked around the garage for an intruder. One grabbed a wrecking iron from the wall behind a workbench. The other one made the Sign of the Cross over himself, his eyes getting wide.

"They know they didn't do it, let's put some fear of God into them," Gerry said.

"You understand them?" Roj asked.

"Mostly. Spanish isn't that different from Portuguese, and I grew up with that. There's a spray can. Get it and write on the wall: 'Alto!'" She cackled as Roj sprayed and the men were transfixed by the sight of the floating paint can. "Now write: 'Dios sabe.'"

The men gaped at the words for a long moment and then ran out of the garage, shouting.

"Okay, Jerry, what did I just write?"

"Alto means 'Stop.' And Dios sabe means 'God knows.' Dirty little gang-bangers! You know what's funny? No one will ever believe them because they were drunk and breathing meth fumes!"

"How do they come to this? Can't they see the harm they do?" Roj and Gerry walked out to watch the two men chattering loudly with another three men, standing in the middle of the street.

"They do this because they lost sight of the Truth," Gerry said sadly. "Like you did."

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2018-03-12
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
Ralph Bland
05:11:27 PM
I haven't quite got the spirit world figured out yet--don't know who can do what or why certain ones appear to Roj. I do think Roj is growing in her afterlife much more mentally and spiritually than she ever was in her physical self. I am waiting to see what the significance is of her being able to physically move things while others in the afterlife cannot, and I am sensing she is growing weary of playing pranks on her adversaries and wishing to settle the score and bring the chapter to a conclusion with Matt safe and her own death to be for something essential. Perhaps once she knows herself completely she will also know who God truly is.
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