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Soul Collectors

Nick was a cop till he was shot; now he's got a job collecting souls. He's after one in particular.


Christmas seemed a horrible time to kill someone. I never used to like working at that time of year when I was alive, and I still don't. As a cop I tended to deal in misery; the Bad, the Mad and the Sad were my clientèle, and at Christmas the suffering seemed even more poignant. Now, of course, Christmas Day is nothing special although we are allowed to celebrate whatever festivals we want from the earlier time. It wasn't actually the principle of working at Christmas that bothered me, it was the job itself. Especially when the job involved seeing a decent family torn apart. Not that the recipients of our efforts were ever likely to be particularly enthusiastic, not at first, but they would understand eventually, even accept the necessity of what I was doing. It was for their own good, after all.

Danny, my regular shift partner, was looking through the kitchen window of the target's house. He gave me the thumbs-up. “He's put the kettle on now and is going to the fridge. What do you reckon? Electrocution or heart failure?”

“ His file says he's survived four heart attacks so far, and he's still smoking, drinking and knocking back the pies. He's taking the piss.”

“ Yeah, I expect he thinks that he's untouchable. The third one should have done for him, but they had a defibrillator on hand at the shopping centre and some enthusiastic member of staff who'd paid attention to their training brought him round. The fourth time he was even luckier as he was in A&E at the time having cut himself while making some chips. There isn't a doctor in the house by any stretch of the imagination is there?” Danny's sense of humour matched mine, which helped in this job. Gallows humour had helped us cope back there, when we were cops, and dealing out death as opposed to dealing with it gave us no reason to change.

“ No, just his missus, who is asleep on the settee. They must have enjoyed their Christmas lunch. Probably as well for all concerned that she's out of it; she'll sober up pretty damn quick when she goes to the kitchen.” I checked one more time through the window, the target now helping himself to another can of beer and some mince pies. “Well fat boy, you can run but you can't hide. Let's go, mate.”

I went into the kitchen, Danny ambling along behind me, hands in his pockets. I wished he wouldn't do that, it looked slovenly and unprofessional, but when I'd mentioned it before, Danny told me that in his old job you had to blend in. That's the difference between uniform and undercover work, I suppose. Anyway it didn't really make any difference as the target wouldn't see us till it was too late.

The target was in his forties, to be specific he was forty-eight years old, weighing eighteen stone. Not hugely obese, by today's standards at least, but sixty cigarettes a day and every evening spent in the pub hadn't helped. I was surprised he'd lasted this long, but it was a testament to his good fortune and reluctance to accept that his time here was up.

I walked past the target and leant against the kitchen door, to deter him from going through. He couldn't see me, of course, but my negative vibes would make him strangely reluctant to leave the kitchen till Danny had done the hit. My colleague took his hand out of his pocket, holding his taser. Very similar to the devices we used to have when we were back here, this was designed to interrupt the body's natural electrical impulses and stop the heart. Simple and effective, it caused an immediate, massive and irremediable heart attack. Fat boy wouldn't be getting out of this one. The target turned from the work surface and Danny was waiting for him. A swift jab to the centre of the chest with the taser and the target looked stunned. He dropped the plate of mince pies and beer as his hands went to where Danny had zapped him. Eyes wide, he collapsed and lay motionless on the kitchen floor. For such a big bloke, he didn't make much noise at all once the plate and can had bounced off the laminate flooring. His wife slumbered on, oblivious to her instant onset of widowhood. All we had to do now was meet and greet the target in his new dimension, and take him with us.

Chapter One

How did I get here? Putting it mildly, it all came as a bit of surprise. It was shortly before nine o'clock one autumn evening: cold, wet and windy. I was on traffic patrol with my mate Mike and we were on our way back to the station to hand the Volvo over to the night crew. Mike was new to the Roads Policing Unit and highly enthusiastic. He was also very diligent and had been paying attention when observations were requested for a blue VW Golf GTi which had been seen earlier doing something it shouldn't. In this case, it shouldn't have been following a cash-in-transit van collecting the takings from some of our town centre supermarkets; that is always bound to look a bit odd.

I might or might not have seen the Golf when it pulled out of a side road behind us and headed the other way, but Mike thought it was worth checking out. So we span round and went for a look. Cheers Mike, that's the one. The Golf driver saw us and it was game on, as we used to say. So we had to get him, as you do. The Golf headed out of town up towards the moors. Mike drove well, I'll give him that, and I was busy with the commentary and asking for back up. The Golf came back on PNC to a keeper somewhere else in the North of England. It was probably irrelevant; blaggers aren't generally in the habit of using their own legally-registered motors as they go about their work so it would have been nicked. Probably a two-in-one burglary: see the car on the drive, it was probably spotted a while back; kick in the door, grab the keys and the next time anyone sees the car it's been torched after some job. That meant that we had absolutely no idea who was driving, or who else was likely to be in the car, but it gave us a reason to pull it and start asking searching questions of whoever we found in it.

Mike stuck with the task and a couple of miles on the Golf gave up the struggle and pulled into a lay-by. 'That was bloody easy', I remember thinking as I opened the passenger door and went forward to speak to the driver. I had just shut my door when the rear door of the Golf on my side opened and a guy got out. He was taller than me, about six foot or so, dressed in a camouflaged army jacket and jeans. The pleasant image was topped off with a balaclava, the type favoured by blaggers and the IRA, you know, eyes and a mouth and that's it. What scared me shitless was the sawn-off shotgun he swung round and pointed at me. Not just in my general direction, I mean, I was looking down both sodding barrels. I'd run through this sort of scenario in my mind countless times before. You're a cop, it could be you, it had been enough times before. I'd imagined that any number of calm, rational thoughts would go through my mind. They didn't. I went cold and my spine chilled. I thought for a split second that he just wanted to frighten me, and it worked. But he didn't just want to frighten me. All I heard was “Fuck off copper” then there was a bright flash. The explosion of the shotgun and the feeling of a truck hitting me full in the chest happened at the same time. That was it, then. Finito. No pain, just confusion. No final words or thoughts. No lying on the ground, my life slipping away. No final words, imploring Mike to tell my wife that I would always love her. No out-of-body experience, the bright light, my long-deceased relatives coming to greet me. Just the world spinning around me and nothing registering.

“ What the fuck happened?” My first words when it all settled down, uttered to no one in particular. I was standing in some sort of waiting room I thought. The walls were a sort of marble-effect in grey-blue. Clean, cold, clinical. The floor was polished in dark grey. It was quite light, skylights but no windows. I couldn't see out. No one else was in the room with me. No sense of time though; suddenly a door opened and a woman walked in. About five foot four, reasonably slim but with a nice figure, full breasts, nicely rounded, moving into a slender waist then out again to her hips. A nice looker too; I couldn't see what her legs were like as she was wearing a green tunic with loose-fitting trousers. Her hair was a mid-blonde, shoulder length, the tips curling inwards. Blue eyes held my gaze. Her age was slightly less than mine, putting her about forty I suppose. When she spoke, it was in a soft Scottish accent.

“ Hello, Nick, are you alright?”

She knows my name, how is that then?

“ I'm a bit confused. I don't remember coming here. For that matter I don't know where I am either.”

“ Sit down, Nick.” Gently delivered but in a way that suggested that I would need to do so. “Nick, I'm afraid I've got some important news for you. You need to know that you're dead. There's no easy way for me to tell you that.”

Like delivering a death message then, something I had had to do countless times. They see you walk up to the front door, in uniform, wearing your hat. Your face is expressionless. They open the door, you look them in the eye and ask to come in. Do so firmly but softly. They start to pick up the vibes from your body language and your tone. You don't faff around with flowery language, that gets in the way of the message you have to give them. They need to understand with absolute clarity. Dead. Not 'fatally injured', not 'passed away', not 'didn't make it'; tell them straight. Just as this lady was telling me. But this wasn't about my wife, my child, a member of my family taken from me. It was about me, taken from them.

We've all got to go some time. We tell ourselves that every day of our earthly lives. It's comforting in a way, saves us from lying awake at night, tearing ourselves apart at the thought of one day shuffling of that mortal coil, the one I'd not just shuffled off but been blown away from.

Not what I'd expected though. No heavenly harps, no kindly bearded St. Peter deciding whether or not to take my ticket and allow me through the pearly turnstile. As opposed, I'd always imagined, to saying 'Sorry mate, the lift to the fiery basement is over there. You won't be needing your coat'.

She must be used to this, because she didn't look at all phased by the look on my face. I don't know exactly what my expression was, but I sure as hell wasn't smiling. I just had that feeling you get when someone has told you something that knocks the stuffing out of you, and you know your face looks all confused. In my case, I've been told I look gormless at times like that, but that was by parents and teachers. More recently, friends and colleagues described it as a blank look, like my I'd nipped out and left my body behind. Whatever, it took a few seconds while I went over the events of the past, how long? Minutes? Hours? Did time have any meaning now I was supposedly staring eternity in the face? Then the penny dropped.


This was real.

I wasn't going home tonight. Or ever.

I wasn't going to my son's birthday party next month.

It suddenly didn't matter whether my team got promoted at the end of the season, because whatever they did, they'd be doing without me.

“ Who are you then?” I was still too stunned to come up with some smart comment.

“ I'm Chris, or Christine, whichever you prefer.”

“ Chris is about what I can manage right now. Are you my welcoming committee?”

“ Yes, we knew you were on your way and thought we'd grab you before anyone else found a use for you.” I hadn't got the faintest idea what she was on about right then, of course, but it all became clear later. However, her matter-of-fact demeanour helped me get my head together, and begin to assess what on earth (or perhaps not) was going on.

“ So no St. Peter then? No elderly relatives queueing up at the end of the tunnel of light to greet me?”

“ No, Nick. That's all rubbish I'm afraid. It's all made up by people with a hidden agenda, whether that might be to con grieving relatives out of a few quid, sell some books or subjugate entire populations by threatening them with hell-fire and damnation unless the do what they're told.”

“ So religion is a total load of cack then?”

“ Of course it is. How could any of them know the truth from their perspective back there? They all made it up, every one of them. They're all in for a shock though most people will probably be quite happy when they get here.”

“ So now I get to find out the truth then? What it's all about, and all that?”

“ Well there's no rush, is there? You're going to be here quite a while and there's plenty to take in. And this is just another level of consciousness, and there will doubtless be more beyond this one. We know more here than where we've all just come from, but nothing like the whole truth. If you think I can tell you what it's all about, why we are here, or there, or wherever, I can't I'm afraid. But the main thing is this time round that at least I know that I don't know. So I won't be fobbing you off with any old rubbish.”

“ So all those times I went to a sudden death, and I'd look at the body and think, 'at least they know what the reality is now', I was wrong because they didn't?”

“ Well they know a lot more now than they did before. The biggest difference is that we know there are at least two levels, because we are fully aware of what went before. If you think about it, you spent your last life wondering where you came from and where you'd be going, didn't you.”

“ Yeah, I did. Every bloody day, in some way I suppose. After I'd shaken off all the religious dogma I got thrust down my throat, I figured that reincarnation was probably the most likely. You die and then immediately get reborn as someone else. I'm not sure I bought into the 'coming back as a cockroach' thing if you were bad, but I sort of presumed that there'd be some cosmic payback going on. I'd had a string of lousy relationships, several marriages, till I finally found the woman I really loved and wanted to be with all my life, and that came to an abrupt end about ten minutes ago or whenever. I just presumed I'd been really bad to some poor lass in a previous life so it was karma.”

“ No, you have to sort out issues from your last life this time round, not by just going round the circuit again back there. As far as the love of your life was concerned, you got your wish though, didn't you? There were no guarantees, Nick, as to how long you got.”

“ Yeah, I suppose you could say that. So what happens when she dies? Does she come back to me, or what if she meets someone else and falls in love with him?”

“ Don't worry about that for now, Nick. You'll only torment yourself. It depends on her soul and yours. We relate to certain souls rather than physical bodies. You've heard the term 'soul mate', I assume?”

“ Yes, I thought that was just something for romantics.”

“ It's actually one of the few things that they got right. It's the soul that counts, not the body. So actually all those people who married for looks, lust, sex or whatever, were wasting their time, though I'm sure they enjoyed it while it lasted. But people who found a compatible soul wound up a lot happier, and quite often once one came over here the other would follow soon after, and they tend to stick together here too. There's nice, anyway.”

“ So, Chris, you said you'd wanted to grab me before anyone else did. What on earth...what did you mean exactly? Have you saved me from a fate worse than death or something?”

“ You're the sort of person we're always looking for. You were a police officer, you did the job for the right reasons, to deal with difficult things, try and sort right from wrong, you weren't just in it for the kudos, or the money...”

“ I always used to say I joined the job because I liked uniforms and was bullied at school,” I joked. God, my sense of humour had gone beyond the grave. And for once I didn't feel I was blaspheming either.

“ Well, you knew deep down that was just your sense of humour, Nick, wasn't it?”

“ Yeah, you're right. I can't hide anything from you can I?”

“ No you can't, so don't even try!” A lovely, even radiant, smile. Even angels have a sense of humour then. If that's what Chris was. No sign of the wings, the halo or the harp though.

“ So, Chris, what is it you want to rope me into? If I'm going to be around here for a bit, I might as well do something useful.”

“ We are soul collectors. Our bosses prefer the term Spiritual Transference Officer as it is more clinical. The job has had many titles down through the ages and they change it whenever the mood takes one of the Bosses. At the moment we are styled the Souls Unit, the title having previously been The Office of the Angel of Death, till some bright spark decided that we don't actually do death. We're not allowed to call ourselves angels either, as that might offend the sensibilities of those who didn't subscribe to a belief in the afterlife while they were alive, and would have trouble coming to terms with having got it badly wrong. 'Life begins at death' was how one of my colleagues jovially summed it up when I started here.”

“ Where do I fit in then?”

“ We thought you might like to join us, now you're here. We'll explain everything, and you get training. Having been a cop, you'll be used to that. You'll be a collector, which basically means going back there and giving a helping hand to those whose time has come but are too stubborn to let it happen. If you've got the average cop's sense of humour, you'll have the time of your life, if you excuse the rather insensitive expression.”

This was, I thought, totally bizarre. About fifteen minutes since that scumbag had blown me away and now I'd got a job acting as some sort of celestial assassin. Talk about swept along, I hadn't even had time to grieve for myself, but maybe that's why they hit you so fast with something to take your mind off being dead.

“ I'll give it a go, Chris. There's not much alternative, really, is there?”

“ There are plenty, but I know what late police officers are like and you'd only start complaining. Right, let's get you checked in this side of the Great Divide, and you can meet the boss.”

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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