The bullet from a small caliber but high velocity cartridge splintered the door sill beside my head, and I ducked back outside for cover, my back against the wall. I had my piece, but I’ll be damned if I wanted to use it on a sixty something year old lady; even if she did shoot first.
Another shot rang out and the resulting bullet exploded through the wall near my head. Instinctively, I flinched to avoid the splinters and shards.
“Ma’am!” I yelled out. “I’m not going to hurt you!”
“I know!” She yelled back. “Because I’ll blow your damned fool head off! Pardon my French.”
The apartment building was in the lower West side of Memphis, so gunshots weren’t something uncommon to the area. Neighbors knew better than to get involved, and usually just locked their doors and stayed in place.
“Ya know, I used to live in this neighborhood!” I yelled back. “In fact, I lived in this same building. It hasn’t changed much in 5 years!”
“You should have stayed left!” Her finger was getting itchy. “Now, get on, before I take a few more shots and call the police!”
“I can’t do that!” I crouched down and pulled a lighter from my pocket. “You have something I aim to collect!”
I held the reflective lighter in my left hand, slightly out past the door frame, allowing me to see the interior of the apartment. In the tiny reflection, I could see her tiny body perfectly framed by the doorway that led to the back of the apartment.
The woman, Marjorie Hammond, was no one important by anyone’s standards, but to those of her husband. She had worked for thirty-five years as a legal secretary for Jameson and Jameson, retiring five years past, due to health problems. Her husband of forty years, Floyd, had taken up the slack, working double shifts at the FedEx Spaceport, loading and offloading transports from the mining colonies. Their only child, a daughter by the name of Elizabeth, died in a shuttle accident at the age of twenty-six.
As humans approach their twilight years, it becomes more apparent to them that the body is, in fact, a prison. Genetic flaws become more evident, disease sets in, death comes nearer, and they seek an escape. Luckily, Just about anyone in America, or the world for that matter, can buy a new body… for a price.
Unfortunately, Marjorie Hammond couldn’t afford to buy a new body; she rented out a loaner, and that rental was in default.
“I’m here to collect either monies due, or the body you’re wearing,” I yelled as calmly as I could.
“You’ll kill me!” She yelled.
“The choice is yours!” I watched her through the reflection. She was pacing back and forth in the hall. I’d have to move soon.
“Floyd will have the money!”
“Your husband will have two days to acquire another body!”
She kept pacing.
“Or he can place your ego in the archives!” I was lying now. Anything to get this lady to come out peacefully. “They say you can’t even tell the difference!”
I felt his footfall first, in the seismic sensors located in the pad of my right foot. Then, I felt the air pressure decrease as he swung the length of pipe. I dropped my head down as it whistled past and struck the wall, leaving a good sized hole and a cloud of plaster and paint, where the pipe was still lodged.
I looked up at the older man, well into his sixties, and stared into his eyes. My right hand had snatched the piece of pipe and I was slowly sliding up the wall to my full height, almost a head and a half over his.
Being a former middleweight contender, I didn’t want to hurt the old man, but I still had adrenaline pumping, and he had just swung a hefty length of pipe at my head. So, my right hand shot out and caught the poor bastard on the nose.
Floyd’s head snapped back and he dropped his arm, the pipe clattering to the floor at our feet. His eyes still looked in my direction but were no longer focused on me, rather some spot in the space-time currently unknown to me. His nose quickly became a bloody mess and I could see his knees begin to falter.
I grabbed a handful of the man’s jacket and held him upright. “Don’t try that again.” I said coldly.
There wasn’t much of a response, but I did see recognition.
I turned back to Marjorie’s reflection. “Marjorie, I have Floyd here!”
I looked back at Floyd who was still staring into a parallel universe. “Answer her, Floyd.”
“Yes, dear.” I could feel him come to life. “I’m here.”
“He’s going to kill me, Floyd!” She was starting to sound frantic. “That crazy man’s gonna kill me!”
I looked at Floyd. He was starting to look unstable himself. “That body isn’t hers, Floyd,” I tried to explain. “We can do this sensibly.”
“You’re going to kill her,” he said. “Aren’t you?”
“No,” I lied. “You can still save her.”
He brought up an arm and wiped his bloodied nose onto a sleeve. “Promise me.”
I shook my head. “I can’t promise you anything, Floyd.” I let go of his jacket. “The choices are all yours, but I’ll do what I can.”
His eyes dropped low and I could hear the defeat in his wavering voice. “It’s okay, Marjorie,” He lied. “He’s not going to hurt you.”
I heard her steps but knew they weren’t coming for me. She had dropped the pistol after hearing Floyd’s voice the first time.
Marjorie came running through the door, ignoring me entirely, enveloping Floyd in her arms. Her body, just into its twenties, was well maintained to say the least. In the flimsy clothing she was wearing it was clearly evident why Floyd would take a pipe to me; beyond their obviously deep love and devotion for one another, of course.
She was drop dead gorgeous, and I hate to admit that I was just a little bit jealous.
“I love you, baby.” Floyd said through blood and tears.
“I love you!” She cried back. “Are you sure that…”
Her stolen twenty-something year old body began to convulse the moment my stun gun made contact, and continued to do so, until I released the trigger. She dropped to the floor, unconscious but alive, at her husband’s feet.
He stood in shock as well, though not unconscious, eyes dazed and fixed back on that pocket dimension just behind me.
I hit him with another fifty million volts, turning him into a drooling, blood frothing mess at my feet.
I looked at the two bodies lumped on the floor as I pocketed the stun gun. If only all marriages could be as caring and loyal. I frowned, hoping that Floyd would recover from this and find some peace.
Then, I bent over and picked up Marjorie’s body, throwing her over my shoulder, and began making my way back to the office.
That was the way it worked in collections. Some days you go after truly vile people and they fold up like kittens, all nice and easy, while other days you go after what should be an easy mark – an easy two hundred dollars – and you leave a bleeding sixty something year old husband on the floor. You just never know who is going to decide they have nothing else to live for.
I exited the building with the woman draped over my shoulder. It was dark, lit only by intermittent green haze of a mercury vapor street lamps. The street was unusually empty, which is always unsettling in this part of town, but I made my way to my Buick, carefully arranged the woman in the passenger seat, and then settled myself into the driver’s seat, closing the hatch behind me.
The drive back to the office covered familiar streets, those I was raised on by my single mother. I drove past the old airport, now a terminal in service to the geosynchronous platform some miles above Memphis. Shuttles operated day and night, transporting migrants to their places of work, mining lithium on the moon, Venusian diamonds and gold on Venus or building the new fleet of ships in the Zero-G shipyards.
Every time I looked up into the night sky, crowded by passenger shuttles, holographic advertisements, personal transport craft, and the occasional zeppelin, I couldn’t help but wonder what life would have been like if mankind hadn’t stumbled upon a virtual flood of technology decades ago. What it would have looked like had we not begun the second coming of the Cold War with the quest for space? Within a twenty year period, we mastered the brain-machine interface, faster than light travel, human cloning, embryonic menus and selective breeding, holographic technologies and medical procedures that actually extended life.
And every time, I shake it off. We still fight senseless wars, kill each other in the streets, drink ourselves into stupors, and seek to outdo the Jones’s next door. It’s a never ending loop, much like the attainment of wealth. No matter how far we get, no matter how much power and wealth we attain, we always want more.
The rest of the drive was spent in mild traffic on backstreets meant to avoid the highly congested interstate that surrounded Memphis proper.
I pulled into a spot near the rear loading dock of a large warehouse that served as the drop off point for Kuznet Imports, a sort of shell company for Ambrosia Trust, the biomedical-based company that provided various procedures to lengthen one’s life, including the controversial procedure of a complete transferal of one’s ego to a completely another host body.
I had called ahead to ensure a timely delivery, to a young pimply kid named Matthew, dressed in scrubs, who met me with a gurney in tow.
“This is Marjorie Hammond,” I said, as he assisted me in removing her from my vehicle and strapping her to the gurney.
“For the time being, she is, right?” By his smirk I could tell that he was amused with himself. That same smirk quickly faded when he glanced my direction and sensed my displeasure with him.
“Her husband, Floyd, is lying unconscious on a hallway floor, and is going to wake up in a few hours without a wife for the first time in forty years.” I stared the little bastard down. “You don’t have to take such pleasure in that.”
“Sorry,” he said, and seemed to work just a little more slowly. “I just meant that the body was actually a rental and would go back to the original owner.”
“Don’t apologize to me.” I walked past him, and continued on into the building.