Wade drummed her painted fingernails on the steering wheel of the car. She hated this; a darkened car park, waiting for a mysterious informant, grinding her teeth because this was the week she quit smoking. She could feel her life descending into cliche. She felt flattened out, two dimensional, as if she was nothing more than one of the grainy telescopic lens photographs that her newspaper would have printed, and not a real person at all.
“Stop it,” she admonished herself. “Get a grip.”
Wade wasn’t given to flights of fancy normally, but her life had recently taken a turn into the bizarre and somehow, some way, likening herself to a photograph, wondering if she could be living on the printed page and not in the real world at all … well, she’d seen and heard stranger things in the last few months.
It was that damn inquiry, and all the new laws that had followed, that had changed everything. Now the censors were everywhere and investigative journalists like Wade were a dying breed, literally.
Still, the money was good.
Half an hour late, a car pulled into the car park and flashed its headlights. Wade got out of her car slowly. She kept her handbag slung over her shoulder, her hand inside gripping the butt of her pistol tightly.
She crossed the car park, her high heels clicking on the tarmac. The other car kept its high beams on, deliberately dazzling her, so that the person who got out to meet her was nothing more than a silhouette until he was right in front of her.
“Miss Wade?” the man asked. He was a small man, portly, and he had a curious smell about him. He was wearing overalls and heavy coat, a combination which was making him sweat heavily, further adding to his smell.
“Ms.” replied Wade. “And you’re late. Have you got it?”
The man smiling solicitously. “Yes, I have it. If you have my fee, that is …”
Wade reached into her handbag with her off-hand, never releasing her grip on her pistol. She pulled out a light brown envelope, stuffed with money. The portly man’s eyes bulged greedily, as if he could spend the money simply by looking at it hard enough.
“Goods first, then payment,” said Wade, sternly.
“Of course,” replied the portly man. He waddled off the boot of his car and returned a few moments later with a large shoe box. There were air holes punched in the top, and something scrabbled around inside.
“What the hell’s that?” asked Wade. “If you’re trying to screw me then I’ll …”
“Ms. Wade, Ms. Wade,” cooed the portly man, “Let me explain.”
He opened the lid of the box, and Wade peered inside. A scrawny, ragged looking animal looked back at her, and hissed its obvious displeasure. The portly man jammed the lid of the box shut before the creature could escape.
“I’ll say it again,” Wade growled, “What … the hell … is that?”
“It’s a shrew,” replied the portly man. “It’s a type of …”
“I know what a shrew is,” interrupted Wade. “What I want to know is why you’ve brought me that, when I clearly asked you to bring me a soul.”
“Ah well,” the portly man began to explain, “The problem was, the soul that you wanted, well … it had already been reincarnated. I did try to warn you when you asked me to track him down, he’d been dead for quite a while and you did say that he’d turned to Buddhism towards the end of his life. I think they get some kind of express pass, or something. Buddhists that is, not shrews.”
Wade peered at the box suspiciously.
“So, that’s him, in there. He’s a shrew now.”
“You’re sure?” Wade almost couldn’t believe she was asking the question. Whatever grasp she thought she had had on the world was quickly crumbling.
“Of course I’m sure. Trust me, when you get a good look at him, you can see it in his eyes.”
Wade chewed her lip, mulling the situation over. “So, what do I do with him?” she asked.
“Well, it’s a bit more complex than what we’ve been doing so far,” replied the portly man. “Recently deceased souls, drifting around, they’re only too happy to jump back into a body for a bit. This fellow on the other hand, well … he seems to quite like being a shrew. I’m afraid you’re going to have to do something a little drastic.”
Wade waited. If there was one thing that was true no matter what side of the line of sanity you were on, it was that some people liked to talk. The portly man was one of them, and Wade knew how to listen.
“You’re going to have to commit … shrewicide,” he said finally, and waited for Wade to laugh.
“I kill it?” she asked, her voice deadpan.
The portly man looked crest fallen. “Yes, basically. Kill the shrew, drink the blood, and wait. He won’t be able to help himself, Buddhist or not, he’ll get sucked straight into you.”
“And the memories, everything he knows?”
“Same as always, yours for the taking until he shakes himself loose.”
Wade tossed the envelope of money onto the bonnet of the car.
“This had better work,” she said, taking the shoe box from the portly man. “If I end up with a dead shrew and no story …”
“Have I ever let you down?” the portly man said, hastily counting his money before shoving the envelope in his pocket.
“Fair enough,” replied Wade. “Until next time.”
In his box, the shrew who was once a man skittered around.
“And you, my friend,” whispered Wade as she walked back to her car. “Get ready to give up all your little secrets. Tomorrow, you’re going to be back on the front page.”