Sneak Peek Extract:
ONE MORE KILL by Matt Hughes
For seven years, I’d thought of myself as a dead man walking.
Yes, I know it’s a cliché, but that was how I felt. Before those seven years of real-life zombiehood, I had spent more than twenty years as a US Army Ranger. The basic job of a Ranger is killing, so most of my Army years had been taken up with preparing to kill people or teaching others how to do it, interspersed with some brief periods actually devoted to taking lives.
But besides making me into a highly effective killer, the military had also made me a creature of routine. So once a month, during those dead-man-walking years, I would take the subway downtown to the VA center and wait in a big room full of plastic chairs and half-filled with people who didn’t talk to each other much, though some of them talked to themselves. I would wait until my name was called, then go into a small room where a youngish, moonfaced MD named John Oliphaunt – everybody called him Doc Ollie – took a few ccs of my blood. He slipped the vial off the needle and held it up to the light and said, “Well, you’re still a red-blooded American boy.”
Which was what he always said. And I always answered, “Then why didn’t the Army want me anymore?”
He wrote a few words and numbers on an adhesive label then stuck the paper to the little container. “We’ll call you if there’s anything . . .” and left the rest of it hanging. Right where it had been hanging for every month of those seven years.
After that, I would leave the VA Center and go on with the rest of my routine. I had been running a small travel agency in mid-town Manhattan since the Army had cut me loose on a medical discharge. So on this day like any other day, I rode the subway back, got off at the stop near the deli where I usually bought lunch, picked up four sandwiches and took them back to the office. Marj, who pretty much ran the business for me, looked a question at me when I handed her her ham-and-Emmental on pumpernickel. I shook my head and shrugged, told her, “Same old, same old.”
Another cliché, yes. But there could be nothing new in my life, so there was no reason to find new ways to say the same old things.
Shelley Cooper and Rosaline Amberson, my other two employees, were at their desks in the travel poster-decorated open area out front, both on the phones. I gave them their lunches, got smiles and nods of thanks, then went to my own little cubicle in the rear. I ate my roast beef on whole wheat and washed it down with black coffee from the carafe beside the sink. There was paperwork to do, so I did it. When I finished, I tidied my desk, got up and told Marj I was going for a walk.
“Be back before closing?” she said.
I didn’t know. “If I’m not, close up, okay?”
I went out into the fall sunshine. A few blocks east and I turned onto Eighth Avenue and went up to Columbus Circle then continued on to Central Park West. It was a toss-up whether I’d go into the park or stay on the sidewalk until I got to the Museum of Natural History. I’d had a thing about dinosaurs when I was nine or ten; it was the only part of my childhood I cared to revisit.
But today it was the park. I walked about with no particular destination in mind, turning from one path onto another at random, thinking about nothing much because I had nothing much to think about. From the day of my discharge until my present age of fifty-three, I’d been like the man in the old Ian Tyson song: just getting up every day and walking around. Sometimes I’d sit on a bench to watch the passers-by, the tourists and the New Yorkers. They were all strangers to me. I had only ever made one friend in my life and, after he’d sold me the travel agency and arranged for me to take over the lease on his apartment, he’d headed south to play golf, drink whiskey, and let himself be chased by widows.
When it started to get dark, I walked home. It had been a routine day, just like the one that came before it and just like the one after. But the one that came next changed everything, forever.