Death"You got a bag?""A bag?" Ellerbee said."A bag, a paper bag, a doggy bag for the boodle.""Behind the counter," Ellerbee said hopelessly.The partner put the cash and the bottle of Chivas into one bag and handed it to Ron, and the wine, checks, and credit charges into a second bag which he held on to himself. They turned to go. They looked exactly like two satisfied customers. They were almost at the door when Ron's partner nudged Ron. "Oh, yeah," Ron said, and turned back to look at them. "My friend. Jay Ladlehaus, is right," he said, "you know too much."Ellerbee heard two distinct shots before he fell.
When he came to, the third man was bending over him. "You're not hurt," Ellerbee said.
The pain was terrific, diffuse, but fiercer than anything he had ever felt. He saw himself covered with blood. "Where's Kroll? The other man, my manager?"
"Kroll's all right."
"There, right beside you."
He tried to look. They must have blasted Ellerbee's throat away, half his spinal column. It was impossible for him to move his head. "I can't see him," he moaned.
"Kroll's fine." The man cradled Ellerbee's shoulders and neck and shifted him slightly. "There. See?" Kroll's eyes were shut. Oddly, both were blackened. He had fallen in such a way that he seemed to lie on both his arms, retracted behind him into the small of his back like a yogi. His mouth was open and his tongue floated in blood like meat in soup. A slight man, he seemed strangely bloated, and one shin, exposed to Ellerbee's vision where the trouser leg was hiked up above his sock, was discolored as thundercloud.
The man gently set Ellerbee down again. "Call an ambulance," Ellerbee wheezed through his broken throat.
"No, no. Kroll's fine."
"He's not conscious." It was as if his words were being mashed through the tines of a fork.
"He'll be all right. Kroll's fine."
"Then for me. Call one for me."
"It's too late for you," the man said.
"For Christ's sake, will you!" Ellerbee gasped. "I can't move. You could have grabbed that hoodlum's gun when he set it down. All right, you were scared, but some of this is your fault. You didn't lift a finger. At least call an ambulance."
"But you're dead," he said gently. "Kroll will recover. You passed away when you said 'move.' "
"Are you crazy? What are you talking about?"
"Do you feel pain?"
"Pain. You don't feel any, do you?" Ellerbee stared at him. "Do you?"
He didn't. His pain was gone. "Who are you?" Ellerbee said.
"I'm an angel of death," the angel of death said.
"You're --- "
"An angel of death."
Somehow he had left his body. He could see it lying next to Kroll's. "I'm dead? But if I'm dead --- you mean there's really an afterlife?"
"Oh boy," the angel of death said.--- From The Living End
©2004 Dalkey Archive Press