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St. Croix Noir Writing Challenge: End of Days by Kurt Mueller

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Cap Daggerman slipped into chamber sixteen at the Portalis Refuge just as two goons in red jumpsuits were bagging the bodies of J457.901 and M458.902—formerly Jasper and Mara Jacobs of Salt Lake City.

The goons had beat this dance so often they could sleepwalk through it. Cap had the footwork down pat, too, but he kept himself awake by looking for variations too subtle to be noticed by a more casual observer. His official role was more suited to a coroner than an investigator, but old habits linger like the stink of an old shoe. He’d seen these two Portalis jokers many times and never bothered to learn their names. To him they were just Thing One and Thing Two.

Cap broke the spell of the tango. “This Jacobs pair were lousy with age.”

Thing One answered. “Yeah. About six decs each, I’d say. Some people’s just stubborn.”

Thing Two chimed in. “I wonder whose palm they greased for the extra time.”

“What program did they choose?” Cap usually liked to play guessing games during the cleanup, to bust up the monotony. Today he wasn’t in the mood. He figured he’d let the goons jabber a bit, take a few notes, then spin a comforting tale later, inside a tumbler of cloudy bootleg gin.

“Chart says Asteroid verisim. Looks like they had a Plague supplement,” Thing One said. “Gloom-and-doomers. I’m surprised they didn’t choose Armageddon. Probably religious junkies.”

Cap speculated, “Masochrists?”

Thing One nodded. “Bet so. Those types just can’t give up on the idea of some sort of Judgment Day. They like shaking the dust from their feet as they shove off. Gives them a wank to imagine the leave-behinds will suffer a worse fate.”

“What still gets me is that they know it’s all a put-on,” Thing Two said as he unzipped a cocoon.

Thing One answered, “Of course they do. They all do. Legal makes sure of it before. Haven’t you ever spent time in the Sexultimator down the carnarcade? That’s a verisim.”

“Sure, but I know it’s not so not-so.”

“But while you’re engaged you’re jazzing with it, aren’t you? You don’t remember it’s a verisim until it’s over. If I could afford it, I’d choose something more upbeat, something really zenith. Have you read the prospectus for Porto Fino? Or Roman Holiday?”

“Their chart says they’d already appealed their expiration date twice.”

“What’d that buy ‘em? A coupla weeks?”

“At the most. They were really trying to hang on. Some of these old-timers are really attached to their lives. Like they’re special.”

“Hey. Gents.” Cap interrupted. “Do you happen to know if they opted for tablets? I don’t see any syringes or vials.”

“It was tablets, alright,” Thing One said, “…and wine.” He held up an empty bottle. “Too bad. I wouldn’ta minded a little swig.” He tossed an old blanket at his twin. “They also brung along an unapproved textile.”

Thing Two nabbed the blanket and stuffed it into the cocoon at his feet.

“I’ll bet they did have an inside hookup. Someone in the Tower musta vouched for them. Then they were in here for over three hours. Why so long?”

Thing Two nodded. “Yeah. Why drag out a verisim like Asteroid? I mean, it coulda been, ‘Uh-oh – here comes – bye-bye – over-and-out. Zonk! Done in five.’”

Daggerman’s reports for the leave-behinds usually made it sound like he took his sweet time verifying that their dearies had kicked off nice and easy. At least he showed up at the scene, which is more than he could say for his competitors. But this time was going to be anything but the usual, because Cap got a sudden big itch to dig into a curious notion: No way were these stiffs Jasper and Mara Jacobs.

The goon duo continued sealing the incinerator cocoons as Cap made a beeline for the door.

“It’s a gas that they really will be going out in a rain of fire,” Thing Two said.

“So, what are you doing after your shift is over, Dipwad?” Thing One asked.

“Dunno.” Thing Two grunted as he dragged his bundle toward a gurney.

“I thought maybe we could crash the carnarcade. That’s always a nastybad way to end the day.”

End of Days by Kurt Mueller was a submission of the St. Croix Noir Writing Challenge, part of NEA Big Read in the St. Croix Valley. NEA Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. All submissions for St. Croix Noir Writing Challenge were judged by a committee of St. Croix Valley writers and readers.