The Retrievalist

Writing Prompt: If you hear a human ask, “What could go wrong?” Do NOT involve yourself. If you hear one ask for their beer to be held, leave immediately. If you encounter a man named “Murphy” that no humans seem to see, RUN.


The garbage seems worse in these narrow alleys after dark.

These blue dumpsters and their Chinese and Italian restaurant stink. The old shoes on withered legs that extend back to their drunken owners in the shadow. These stray black cats. The fluorescence over backdoors and broken windows and the chainsmoking waiters and kitchen-hands bitching about chefs as they lean suave against the brick.

What a shithole.

I finally reach the door. A double-tap and a firm triple-knock is the code. The slot slides open. “Here again, are we?” says the face.

Red light is a fuzz down the corridor to the bar. These humans and their darkness. The barman nods recognition, motions to the lounge where Jimmy and his men are sitting.

“Derrick,” Jimmy says. “Good to see you back so soon.”

I don’t say anything. One of his muscle stands and spreads my legs as he frisks me — a ceremony come a routine source of irony.

“Take a seat.”

He leans down and snorts a white line and then tells me the plan, and soon his face goes a blur as I lose interest.

Tonight’s assignment is more straightforward than usual. A jewelry store down Kings Cross that’s a cover for counterfeits and stolen goods. Disarm the alarm, break-in through the back, bust the downstairs safe, grab the client’s bracelet.

“What could go wrong?” he says.

I could break that junkie body of yours in less than a second, Jimmy. That’s what. And bare a few more to level the entire bar.

His simple question is too incongruent to dismiss. I can tell that he’s being clever. And clever is a useful gauge of some other intention, especially when it’s someone like Jimmy.

A hard thing to resist, apparently. Something foreshadowed, and his infected mind is struggling to hold back the smile. Have fun with that, I tell him, walking past. A confused look on his face. He never knows who he’s hearing. I’m still figuring out the listening part, but one-way telepathy holds a fair appeal of its own.

Kings Cross is all red lights this time of night. The prostitutes sway from alcohol and cocaine and the bouncers are all half asleep. The store is a block from Main and there’s no light outside. Strange spot for an operation, let alone a jeweller. Something isn’t right.

Working for Jimmy has been enough to get by, so far. The money’s good, and my skillset means I get paid better than most. I can tell they’re afraid of me. How it’s been since at least the third retrieval, the one I managed solo after my two accomplices were shot dead when the owners showed up.

I should’ve known it’d come to this. Man’s fear masquerades in his ego more than anywhere else.

I step out of the car and light a cigarette. The footpath is busy with stumbling clubbers on their way home, and the homeless. A fine contrast.

One figure stands at the far corner under streetlight and belongs to neither. It is facing my way and not moving. A silhouette in the exposure of the light. Bingo. I should’ve known it would be Murphy. Who else with a chance?

I drag the last and flick the smoke to the curb. He’s suddenly closer, flashed a hundred paces forward when I wasn’t looking. Sneaky fucker he is.

I tense and feel the charge beginning to well. About time I had a chance to flex properly. The current starts to course and I have to conceal my hands. Glowing skin tends to draw unwanted attention in moments like this.

A blink is all he needs. These damn human bodies and their need for moisture. Can’t help the impulse any more than the next. I blink, and the spectre is another hundred paces closer. Now in the crowd. A black shadow at the centre, walked through, unseen. I better clear the area.

I raise my right hand to the road and build the charge, this body now conduit and Ah yes, now up and through the arm and the fingers, the current. The Volvo I’m aiming for crumples inwards and lifts in the air and curtails with a violent smash against the white vans the other side. Screams and rapid steps scatter every direction, and a minute later it’s the two of us.

Blink. His katana at my back, already in swing; an aim for the neck. I deflect with my arm and the blade cuts to the bone and I turn. But he is vanished. With my other hand I cover the wound, and charge, my flesh heals quickly, and I cast lightning to the shadow. Murphy, never good at hiding, were you?

I have him. His body ragdolls left to right in a shroud of light and begins to smoke and I bring him hard a crunch against the brick wall. I relent the attack and pull back, and the body collapses. By the blood, more than enough.

I walk closer for a better look. Shit. The next moment now a lifetime away and so in this one, I’ll keep. The body, the wrong body, a char from the waste up, from withered legs, old broken shoes. A homeless man caught in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Sorry old man, whoever you were.

I look up just in time to see the faceless take his swing. Down the shining blade, gone the night… these streets that I briefly knew.

Although…time can slow, of course. And it’s slowing now…sounds in disparate separation to clicks and slow drops, drawn out sirens, the blade almost to a still.

My clothes cannot hold back the bright of the blue glow. This galvanising of a flow, the whole alley awash in illumination. I can move. Stand up. Brighten his black as I lean in near. Too near to jump from. An exhalation, and time runs an acceleration back. And in his undead eyes comes a terrified recognition.

“Hello, Murphy,” I say. “Fancy seeing you here.”



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