My eyelids are old strips of overcooked bacon, my eyes rotting tomatoes threatening to burst every time I blink. Either my coffee is too strong or there isn't enough whiskey in it; I'd use Bailey's for taste, but whiskey is what's in my flask. The eggs in this diner are always burned, and sunny side invariably comes back scrambled, but before there was a big metal hotdog of a restaurant here there was an Irish church; it keeps all but the most devout of the dead away. I ask for a refill with holy water, and since my waitress used to be a nun here, I ignore when it looks like she flips me off in the mirror.
It’s ten thirty before I leave, way past shift meeting; the graveyard captain doesn’t complain so long as I keep closing unsolved cases. And as long as I’m being stalked by the dead, that won’t be an issue. I’m mobbed before I hit the street corner. There’s a woman in a pantsuit, with her hair in a fresh bun. There isn't a mark on her, except maybe discoloration around the neck; if I couldn't see through her I might think she were alive. “You. You’re my assistant for the day." She starts to glare, and pout. “Don’t. At the end of the day, I guarantee I’ll see to your case. Everyone else has to get through you to get to me.” She perks up at that. “Start with homicides, prioritize by amount of evidence, and try to weed out people wasting my time.” I light a cigarette but there’s a man with a smoking hole in his throat who stares at me; I’ve spoken to him before, and I know it’s a bullet wound and not a trach ring, but I’m in no mood to stare down his bloodshot eyes, so I ground it out on my shoe.
I cross the street, but a few of them are stupid enough to follow. I stop in the middle of the crosswalk and yell to myself that I’ll only help those who talk to my assistant. Most of them stare at me dumbly; a few of them have forgotten how to speak and moan and click their tongues in a despondent nonlanguage. On the other corner is a pub, and I duck in to use the head. A sixty year old with bald eye sockets rises out of the murky toilet cavern, and I turn to keep from pissing in him and spatter urine on the wall. “You should have to mop this up," I tell him as I gather paper towels. He only opens his tongueless mouth in a silent scream in reply.
Even after using the bathroom I couldn’t kill my erection. It had been three months since I had the privacy to masturbate, and nearly a year since I’d been with a woman. I was being stalked by drowned triplets who blamed their mother for their death. But she was meticulous and cautious, and aside from anger they had little to contribute to the case. I’d managed to talk the library clerk back to my place when they found me. We were having sex when they started popping up and down through her breasts like a perverse game of whack a mole, but it was ludicrous enough I could laugh it off. Then the third phased up through her pelvis, raking her incorporeal teeth across me. That ended it.
My followers crossed the street and my assistant was caught up in them like a tide that broke against me. “Who’s first?” She pointed at a black woman in her late thirties, early forties, with flecks of gray sprinkled behind her ears. She started to speak, but I stopped her. “What do we know?” My assistant rattled off facts about the woman’s ex husband, why he was responsible for her death, and why he had killed her. Then she started to explain that he was beating her son, now, too, and that she was afraid he might kill him. “We start with the homicide, and while that’s still on my plate, I don’t give a damn about crimes that haven’t been committed yet.”
I tell her to lead the way, and the others follow. Most of them have wised up, and bother the assistant with the details of their life and death. The few that haven’t can wait for tomorrow. Most of them don’t smell, and I’m thankful for that, but I wish more of them remembered what they looked like before they were corpses, because it would make the world easier to look at.
The mother at the front of the pack is glowing and warm; something about being heard makes her nearly buzz. My assistant for the day is also excited, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve promised to help her or because she enjoys helping others. I think about asking her name, but I’ve been through this enough to know better than to make it personal.
Because I can’t save any of them. They’re already dead. I’m not even sure there's justice for them, but the ones I help don’t come back, and that’s something, even if two more replace every one that goes.