That's how many chunks the newslady said Colin Wilson was cut into. He was scattered across the desert like bits of burger wrapping and leftover fries. The cops found all the bits. Except the head. That's unusual, seeing as how the police don't tend to get involved with Wilson's type, no matter how many pieces they're in.
Of course, the news didn't play it like a murder. To the livebloods, it's more about litter. Lousy so-and-sos always leaving their body parts around, making the living waste their time picking up after them. The candy-blond anchor shrugged. Must've been an accident. Wilson's type are always getting into accidents. Cut to deodorant commercial. At times like this, you want to smellnice.
Accident, my ass. One or two pieces, maybe, and they would have found the head. Seeing as how there's no middle ground between accident and design, that meant something weirder; he was cut up on purpose. That's a lot of work. First, you have to get Colin Wilson into a position where he can't disagree, and then you have to do all that cutting. Human bone, too. Probably needed special tools. It's sure as hell not the kind of thing you do on a whim, or even out of anger. The reasons would have to run dark and deep.
And then there was the head.
I tried not to think about it, to focus on something else, but I didn't have a lot going on. I stared at my desktop, the stains looking like a faded Jackson Pollock. I tried to make animal shapes out of the Goodwill shirts piled on the floor, or see a tree in the cracks on the door.
By the time the news came back on, a late-afternoon light, the dying kind, had intruded from the broken window, making the TV hard to see. It didn't help. I couldn't get Colin Wilson's head out of mine; images of it were crawling around my brain like freshly hatched baby spiders. I didn't know Wilson from a punched hole in the wall, but I kept seeing his severed head in some coyote's mouth, an eye socket pinched between two strong canines, its saliva slapping the skull. Colin's good eye opens and he realizes where he is.
Cut to deodorant commercial.
It didn't make sense. What would a coyote do with a head? Not much meat on that bone. What really bugged me made less sense: What if Colin Wilson's brain really was still thinking? What if it knew what happened, understood that it was a lot shorter and less mobile than it used to be?
Weirder things are true. The official line is that decapitation ends it, but they don't know shit. Calling my memory bad is a compliment, but I do remember the strangest shit, like how I read somewhere that back when they used the guillotine, a French scientist asked a condemned murderer to blink twenty times after his execution, if he could. He did. When the scientist called his name, the head opened its eyes and looked at him. True story, true as anything.
And that's the living. Wilson wasn't of that persuasion. His functions wouldn't necessarily ever stop. So maybe he's still out there.
These days there are so many things worse than death that it's not even high on the list. Thousands of years we look for eternal life and what do we get? Fucking zombies. First I ever saw was in Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Scared the crap out of me. These days all I have to do is look in a mirror. Yeah, I'm one ofthose, too. Me, Colin Wilson, a hundred thousand or so others. Livebloods call us chakza mangled version of charqui, or, en inglés, jerkydried meat. If we're still oozing, which is pretty rare, they call us gleets or juicers. Then there are danglers, but I'll leave that definition to the imagination.
It's not like the movies. We don't eat human flesh unless we go feral, and then it's more like we'll eat anything. We are tough to destroy, which is why I was so obsessed about that head. Cut off an arm or a leg, shoot us in the chestwe'll keep coming.
Then there's burning. Now, there's another great thoughtwatching your flesh curl until the heat takes your eyes away. Brr. But that begs the question, Who bothered giving Colin Wilson such special treatment? If they wanted to make sure he was gone, why not just incinerate him?
With all the love we get, why bring us back? Mostly because some idiots figured out how. Mammalian life is based on cellular metabolism, right? Ten years ago, the boffins at ChemBet's research labs came up with an electrostatic something-or-other that keeps cellular metabolism charged permanently. They call it a radical invigoration procedure, RIP for short. Ha, ha, ha. RIP a corpse, and hallelujah, the dead have risen!
The rich and famous were falling over their adopted third-world kids in the rush to bring back their loved ones. The feds gave ChemBet some huge tax breaks so the industry could grow and make the process cheaper. Everyone wanted in. Only, once the thrill died, livebloods started noticing how parts of Mom would rot off if she wasn't kept squeaky clean, or how, if you didn't talk to Uncle Stu often enough, he'd get all morose, go feral, and plant his dentures into the dog or a neighbor's kid. People not only wanted their money back, they wanted the process reversed.
That, ChemBet didn't know how to do. Neither did the government. They say decapitation is surefire, D-cap, but, like I said, I'm not so sure. It sounds too much like something a PR flak cut and pasted from a movie script.
Point being, people stopped ripping for love, but they couldn't just D-cap Grandma, not unless she went feral first. Those early revivals account for about half the chak population. The rest are another story.
Me, I was still obsessing about Wilson's head when I finally got my distraction. Misty, my assistant, walked in wearing a tight blue number with fishnet stockings. She's a liveblood. Nowadays you can see it by the flush to her face. When we met six months back she was a crack addict, picking through garbage to survive and turning tricks when things got really bad. So bad she tried working my neck of the woods, the Bones.
She was such a little, half-starved thing, I felt bad for her, which is saying something. Usually chakz don't feel much, even physical sensations. Oh, sometimes a sock in the jaw still feels like a sock in the jaw, or a nightmare can rock your world, but everything tends to be at arm's distance. Maybe it was her hazel puppy-dog eyes or the cracked teeth, but feeling for her gives me something to pay attention to. I also figured there were places a liveblood could get to that a dead guy couldn't, so after I got some food in her, we made a deal: She'd try to keep clean; I'd try to keep from going feral.
Our fingers remain crossed.
She strutted toward me, modeling her dress. It was something new from the thrift store, cleaned so carefully you could see only the outlines of the stains. Aside from the fact that she could stand to lose the stockings, she should've known flirting with me was a waste. When I said she moved me, I didn't mean she moved my groin. Hell, I'm afraid to look down there since they brought me back. Officially, chakz don't have a sex drive.
She meant well, wanted to keep me engaged with my environment so I didn't get too morose over, oh, I don't know, my entire fucking existence. I appreciated the effort, and she was sort of fun to look at.
Trying to play my part, I attempted a wolf whistle. It came out more like a spastic steam kettle. Chakz are bone-dry. I should've taken a drink first, but the effect doesn't last long, and the liquids slosh around inside so much you can never be sure when or where they'll come out.
Misty got the idea, though. She winked. Then she flashed a business card.
I leaned forward for a closer look. Nice paper, maybe even linen. William Turgeon, Esq. No address, just the name and a cell phone number, like he was a place all by himself.
"You find that in the street?"
She blew a raspberry. "No, stupid, he's outside. Wants to see you."
"Me? Really? He's not lost?"
"Nope. Asked for you by name. Says, 'Is Hessius Mann here'?"
That's my name. The hand-painted sign on the door says I'm a detective. I don't particularly agree with the title, but I keep that to myself. And I do get clients, sometimes among the living. Unfortunately, your average liveblood is about as knowledgeable about chakz as they are about how evolution works, so when one shows up, they usually want me to kill and eat someone they don't like. Then they get all incensed when I say no. Most likely, this was more of the same.
On the other hand, it could be a blackmail case, especially with that fancy card. Those're good, but few and far between. See, it's best to tell your hired dick what you're being blackmailed for. Livebloods don't like chakz, but they don't seem to mind telling us everything. Not only are we dead, our memories are so wonky our testimony's not admissible in court. A plus for someone with a secret, a minus for me.
When I was alive, my recall was photographic. It was half the reason I had my job. These days, I remember the weirdest crap. The Beatles' last album? Abbey Road. They recorded it after Let It Be. My middle name? Your guess is as good as mine. Oh, I can still have a decent conversation. It's the transition from short- to long-term memory that's AWOL.
Misty adjusted my jacket and straightened my tie. I felt like a rotting, life-size Ken doll.
"So, should I send him in?" she asked.
I held up a gray finger. "Keep him busy a minute. Say I'm on the phone. There's something I want to do first."
Soon as she left, I forgot what it was. The television? I clicked it off. No, something else.
Talking head? No. Oh, yeah. The head.
After I was ripped, one of the first things I realized I had to ...