He looked at his hands which were gently shaking, they never normally shook. What was wrong with him? The body on the floor had stopped twitching an hour ago and the smell of smoke had almost left the room.
The man at his feet had been just one amongst the countless targets he had been charged with removing. He didn’t know what their crime was, except perhaps the crime of choosing the wrong man to fuck over. David Fines didn’t like being fucked over.
The barrel of the gun was still warm as he placed it back into its shoulder holster. He took one last look at the poor bastard who lay sprawled on the floor and took a mental picture. He always did this as a sign of respect for his victims. All snapshots were logged in the ‘Tony Stanton Book of Unfortunate Arsholes’ for prosperity and no doubt, eventually for penance.
Before leaving the apartment he went through the usual routine of cleaning surfaces and removing any incriminated evidence. It was at these times that Tony’s thoughts became melancholy and morbid, thoughts of suicide and escape plagued his vulnerable consciousness.
“Why the fuck not?” He asked the empty room.“Why shouldn’t I just get it over and done with?” The room’s muted response made Tony angry. He needed guidance. He needed a friend.
His only friend in the last twenty years had been Alf, his first and only partner in this ridiculous racket. Alf had been his mentor and Mr Fines right hand man. Being childhood friends Alf and David AKA Mr Fines had started small, just dealing with small scams such as ‘You may have already won £5000! Just ring this premium rate phone number to claim’, which although morally suspect was at least legal. When technology progressed in the form of the Internet and people started making faceless transactions online, David saw an opportunity.
The first couple of ‘trawling’ emails where sent out simply asking each individual to confirm their bank account details for ‘security’ purposes. By all appearances the emails looked genuine with the bank logo and passable email address. People were a lot easier to fool when the internet was in its infancy, as they trusted a lot more than in today’s cynical market. Perhaps that’s why he’s here now and not on some luxury yacht somewhere. Eventually when internet security improved and people’s mentality changed, the stream of personal data rapidly diminished along with David’s profit. It wasn’t long until David had a serious number of talented hackers on his books whose sole purpose was to find gaps in bank firewalls or ways to obtain access to sizable customer databases. David realised that in today’s society information, good information was as valuable as gold and could be traded for such.
Things seem to look good for a couple of years as the hackers made good on their bravado and technical prowess, with a couple of good finds such as a Customer Financial database from a major high street retailer and a bust online bank being sloppy with their discontinued accounts.
A couple of years down the line a small sect of contacts and two of David’s hacker cells decided they didn’t need him and went their own way. They didn’t think about the consequences, just the increased personal return. David went ballistic and Alf was charged with ‘cleanup’ and Alf in turn rang Tony to see if he wanted a job. Tony did need a job badly as was not unaccustomed to ‘heavy’ work due to a stint as a small time loan shark in Newcastle, which ended in a slightly bigger stint in Low Newton Prison. The rest, as they say, is history and here he was cleaning up traitorous bastards on his own. Continuing Alf’s work from where he left it, dying on the street along with his tangled body. Tony remembered looking up to Alf’s twenty first floor flat and wondering how the hell he got himself over the god damn railings, which were at least three meters high and surrounded all the building’s balconies. These were installed after the buildings unusually high suicide rate. Alf would have appreciated the irony.
Since that day Tony had been going through the motions, like some kind of emotionally stunted automaton. Getting marks from Mr Fines and reporting the kills. This was his life and he’d had enough.
He sat down in a chair by the rooms’ only window and looked out onto street below. It was raining and the medley of demented denizens roamed the streets, pursuing their fruitless little lives. They would never amount to anything except an overpriced headstone; at least people might remember him, although not for anything good, just for the shit he caused.
He pulled out his trusty Colt .45 pistol and placed the still warm muzzle in his mouth. Then remembering he turned the safety off, pulled the hammer back and without hesitation pulled the trigger.
There was no ‘outer body experience’, tunnel, light or any of the other shit people say they see. No, everything was just black to start with, inconceivably black and then a flash, then another and another until they were happening in rapid succession. It looked to Tony similar to an old cinema reel that ran out of film and eventually burned up, except this ended with him standing in a completely featureless space, opposite a man who looked like a very pissed off librarian.
“Name?” Asked the Librarian
“What? Where the hell am I!?”
“What is your name sir?” The Librarian was now looking at him intensely over his horn rimmed glasses.
“Tony, why, who the fuck are you!?”
“There is no need for that, Sir; I simply asked your name for administrative purposes. Now what’s your surname?”
“What fucking admin purposes! Where am I?” He tried to move closer to the infuriating man but found he couldn’t move at all. His body would not respond.
“What is you surname sir?
“Tony Fuck-a-doodle-do! What’s yours?”
“Sir, if you continue to postpone your registration it will only harm your defence” The Librarian made a scribble of a clipboard that seemed to appear from nowhere.
“Why, am I being charged with something?” He went into his age-honed groove of dealing with Police ‘Enquiries’.
“Of course you are. We all have to do this you know. Now, I believe I have only one ‘Tony’ designated to me today, so you must be Mr Stanton. Please follow me” the Librarian turned, made a ‘follow me’ gesture with his pen and walked towards a door that had just materialised at the far end of the room.
“Not until you tell me what this is all about!”
Turning, the Librarian gave Tony an exasperated look “This is about your judgement Mr Stanton, that’s all”
Tony found himself speechless and following the infuriating man through the door.
The room on the other side of the door had the same stark interior, but had a bank of seats adorning the left wall and a huge digital display that dominated the back wall.
“Please take a seat Mr Stanton and wait for you name to be called out”
“What then? What did you mean by ‘Judgement’ anyway?”
The Librarian looked at him as if he was dealing with someone of sub-intelligence.
“I mean, you will be given a Divine Sentence”
“By who!?” Tony felt like he was sinking in an impossible situation
“Why, by God of course!”
“Come on man, you’re fucking with me. I don’t even believe in God!”
“So?” By the mocking expression Tony could tell the Librarian enjoyed his work.
“So… how can I be judged by someone I don’t believe in?”
“Simple because he does exist”
“What about if I was born Buddhist or Muslim?”
“Then you would be judged by Buddha and Allah”
“What!? You’re talking shit! How can they all exist?”
“Look, I don’t have time to talk advanced Meta Physics with you, Mr Stanton. Just take a seat” He once again gestured to the empty seats and turned to leave. Tony grabbed him by the shoulder.
“Wait a fucking second, where do you think you’re going?”
“My Stanton, I do have other clients I have to see.”
“Okay just tell me one thing” He could hear the desperation in his own voice.
“Will I get a fair trial?”
“Of course, it’s God isn’t it? He’s not going to cheat, or be bribed or be prejudiced”
“Right… of course” Tony felt light headed. He needed to sit down so he stumbled towards the seats.
There was no way this was happening, it was just some fucked up cerebral shit. He must be in some hospital bed somewhere nursing a lovely coma. But why did everything felt so real? Everything has such a great clarity and focus. It was like having bad eye sight all your life and then getting a set of million pound bi focals!
Beep! The sound scared the crap out of him. The digital display boldly announced ‘Mr Stanton, enter through door 5’. What is this some kind of fucked up game show? Come on through for you may have already won £5000!
“Please can Mr Stanton enter through door 5 please?” The female voice coming from the rooms PA system sounded as pissed off as the librarian’s, but there was no way he was going through that door.
“Mr Stanton, if you don’t proceed, you invalidate your right to a trial and are therefore exempt from entry to heaven” The bodiless voice was dripping with contempt.
“What happens then!” He shouted at the empty room.
There was a pause and then the crackle of the microphone being passed to someone else. “Then you give me an almighty headache and will go to Hell, Mr Stanton” Came the voice of the increasingly pissed off Librarian.
“If you take my advice as your representative GO THROUGH DOOR 5!”
Tony begrudgingly got off his seat and went through door 5.
The far wall of the room was actually one big digital screen, which reminded him of the one at the science museum, which told of upcoming attractions.
A waist height vertical pillar stood before it but otherwise the room was completely bare. The screen started to flicker until a disembodied head of an old bearded man looked down at Tony with an expression of both love and hate, although later Tony would wonder how that was possible.
“Please move to the pillar, Tony, and we shall begin” He did as he was asked as this man was impossible to refuse.
Tony could now see that there where two buttons atop the pillar, one green with a ‘Yes’ written below and another red with ‘No’.
“What am I here for… Sir?” Tony felt completely vulnerable, naked under the man’s gaze.
“Tony, you know the answer to that, so please let us get on with it” The man coughed as if to prepare for a speech.
“You, Tony Harold Stanton…” He winced at his middle name, which he detested since the days of playground mockery “… are to be judged of your worthiness to enter Heaven or to be condemned to Hell. This shall be decided by a group of your peers and people who knew you best. At times you shall be asked a series of questions which will require you to answer Yes or No which you can reply by pressing the associated green or red buttons on the pillar before you. The outcome of this trial shall be judged by me, God, and I shall take all evidence into consideration. Is all this clear, Tony?”
The magnitude of the situation hit him all at once. This was not a crazy dream or some kind of morphine induced fantasy world. This was real. ‘Shit’ he thought. “Double Scoop ‘shit’ with a big dollop of ‘Dear-God-Please-Help-Me’ placed neatly on top. But then God coughed polity waiting for Tony’s response.
“Yes Sir” This came out as a petrified squeak.
“Good, then we shall begin. First witness shall be your Mother”
The huge screen then split in two and his mother, who’d been dead for two years, appeared in the right hand section.
“Hello dear” Said his mum
“Hello mum” He answered with a whimper of disbelief.
His mother had always been a simple soul, content with her life of servitude to his father with only the occasional game of bingo to split the monotony of her life.
“Doreen Stanton, I shall ask you one question about your son and you shall answer as swiftly and concisely as possible. Do you understand?”
“Yes, God, I do” She had what passed as her ‘Serious’ expression, which she adopted when dealing with persistent salesman or Jehovah Witnesses.
“Is Tony in your opinion a good man?”
She seemed to think about the question as if she was trying to tackle a tricky crossword question.
“Mum come on the answer is ‘YES’!” He couldn’t help himself.
“Dear I have to answer truthfully. It’s GOD you know”
“Yes, I know” He had crumpled to his feet and was clutching the pillar for support.
“Doreen, please can you answer the question?”
“Well… no he’s not a good boy. He always fell in with the wrong crowd and hurt a lot of people, but he’s not all bad, he did look after me well and helped me when his father died. Sorry dear but…”
“Okay Doreen thank you for your response, you can go now”
“…But mum how could you say…” the emotion was too much for him. He sat on the floor, closing his eyes tight, wishing to wake up from this nightmare.
“Tony, please stand up and answer my next question”
He did as God bid and without hesitation he was at the pillar staring at the two buttons.
“Do you, Tony Stanton, think that you have contributed to mankind more than you have taken?”
He went straight for the ‘Yes’ button but was unable to actually touch it. It was as if he could not will himself to press it.
“But I cannot press the button, something is stopping me”
“Yes, that often happens” Replied God
“The question was to be answered truthfully, and if you know you are deliberately trying to deceive the court, it will not allow it”
“But I’m not, it’s the truth!”
“Well your consciousness says otherwise and so it has made the decision for you”
“What do you mean?”
The red button lit flashing neon ‘No’.
“What! That’s not fair! I didn’t press anything”
“I already told you, Tony, your consciousness did. Next witness”
The grizzled features of Alf appeared on the screen.
“Alfred Fredrick Talbot, please answer this question truthfully and to the best of your knowledge”
“Right you are, God” He gave Tony a cursory nod “How do Tony, you alright mate?”
“Of course I’m not fucking alright, Alf, just please give the best answer!” He was pleading with his hands clasped.
“He will answer truthfully as all who enter this court” God had turned a baleful eye towards him and Tony decided to keep quiet.
“Has Tony ever demonstrated an act of selflessness?”
Oh God no. Why is this happening, who would have thought all this religious shit was real! Alf’s gruff tone snapped his attention back to the screen.
“Yes, he has”
Tony felt elated. He could always trust Alf. Alf was his best friend after all.
“Can you please describe to the court this act?”
“Sure, it was last May. Me and Tony had been sent to clean up these two smart-arse hackers who had gone rogue from the main group. This was a typical situation and was happening more often as David’s empire crumbled around him. Anyway my missus went into labour an hour before the hit and knowing if I welched on this hit David would likely kill me and leave my unborn child a bastard, Tony said he would go solo. I don’t know why he offered to be honest, it wasn’t his usual nature to be generous or at all thoughtful. All I know is that the hit was completed and I was able to hold my baby boy and share those brief moments of happiness with my Cathy before my life then went to shit. I’ve always thanked Tony for that although I never said anything.”
Tony remembered Alf’s contorted features when he had told him of the car accident. Cathy and baby Deacon were heading back from the Tesco in town, car full of shopping, Deacon screaming in the back. That’s all it took, one lapse in concentration and the pressing of the accelerator. The truck’s driver’s words on the six o’clock news still rang in his ears. “She just came out of nowhere and I was going at least fifty. There was no way to avoid her! It was carnage.”
“Very well Mr Talbot, you may go” The screen flickered and Alf’s face disappeared.
“Now Tony please answer this question truthfully as it’s in your best interest”
“Yes Sir” He knew it was useless to try and cheat.
“Do you feel as though you deserve to go to Hell for your actions and decisions you have made in life?”
Bollocks, he thought and pressed the green ‘Yes’ button.
The screen went black as if God had flicked the ‘off’ switch. Then the wall to his left went black, then the ceiling. It was as if all the light was being sucked out of the world and Tony grabbed hold of the pillar just to feel something substantial. The last light was extinguished and he was in total darkness. He felt his bladder go and had enough time to wonder about the ‘meta physics’ of this before God’s booming voice echoed around the room.
“In life and in death you are your own judge, your own punishment and your own happiness. The route you take in life is your own. Choose it wisely”
God flicked the ‘On’ switch one last time and a door appeared in the ebbing darkness. Before he could comprehend his actions, Tony’s hand was on the door handle. He gently opened the door and walked through.
The warmth was rudely taken away and the light pained his eyes. Voices were so loud and giant-like silhouettes loomed over him. He screamed at this unwelcome interruption, an infantile sound to be sure but for Tony it heralded a second chance. A chance for redemption.