“Name of the deceased.” The small, stout woman squinted through coaster-sized glasses at her computer screen.
“Uh, blank,” said the man.
“Mr. or Mrs. Blank’s first name,” said the woman.
“Uh, no, I’m sorry, I meant a ‘blank’ certificate. I’ll fill it in.”
Her shoulders dropped as she closed her eyes and sighed. She spoke in simple, terse words that any troublemaker could understand.
“We—don’t—issue—blank—death—certificates—sir. Why do you want a blank death certificate?”
“Well, actually, it’s for me,” he said. “I died about three months ago. I didn’t know until last week.”
* * *
Esso stepped into the pub and stopped. The smell hit him first. As a connoisseur would identify fragrances in a wine, he inhaled the bouquet of the room and picked up hints of Buffalo wings, alcohol, perfume, and human armpits. I’m back, he thought. He paused once more to savor the joy of the moment. The joy in my heart, he thought.
Somewhere to his left in the throng surrounding the bar was his friend Jerry. And at one of the tables to his right were three hot young ladies looking at their phones. Esso decided to find Jerry the easy way.
He walked toward the smoking table and positioned himself in the line of sight between it and the bar. Then he turned to face the bar.
“ESSO!” thundered through the room.
Esso spotted Jerry’s shiny hairless head floating above the fray and weaving toward him. The former high school tight end could still bust through the pile. Indignant bodies stumbled left and right.
“Esso!” he yelled again as he popped out of the crowd. They pressed chests while clubbing each other in the back, simulating a hug. “Esso, my God, look a’choo, man, you’re friggin’ Beautiful! And I’ve never said that to a guy before. ARK-ARK-ARK! But really, you look great! Last time I saw you, you were like, jeez, like I don’t even want to think about it. Almost cried, dude, no shit. But goddamn! Look a’choo, you skinny dog! How much did you lose? What are you, like ten years old?”
Familiar faces all around the bar were calling to Esso, shaking his hand and hugging him. He and Jerry had been coming here for over ten years, starting right after they got fake id’s. Everyone knew Esso as the calm, thoughtful one, where Jerry was as subtle as a moose during mating season.
Esso shook his head and smiled. “Dude, this is frigging awesome. I’m the happiest guy in the building. Yeah, I lost thirty pounds. I weighed more than this when we graduated.”
“Hey, you drinking?”
“No no. I’m doing shit nice and slow. I’m going to wait another few months before I even try.”
“OK, that’s what I thought. So I’m drinking for both of us tonight. So… so far you’ve had one Scotch, and I’ve had two Scotches. I got your back, dude. ARK-ARK-ARK!”
Ark-Arks after only three Scotches? Esso thought. He must have lost count.
They found a small table near the bar. Jerry got another Scotch and Esso got a ginger ale.
“Here you are, man,” Jerry said, shaking his head. “Here you are. I’m tellin’ you, you friggin’ scared the shit outta me. Son of a bitch, a heart transplant? All I could picture was you hooked up to machines and shit the rest of your life.”
“It’s hard for me to believe, too,” said Esso.
“Well, lemme ask ya. What if I wanted a big porn star dick? Can they transplant one on me? ARKARK-ARK!” Jerry swayed with laughter and grabbed the edge of the table to stay on the stool. “Or, you know what? I’ll do what my ex did with her hair. I’ll get ‘extensions’! ARK-ARK-ARK!”
Esso laughed, and looked around the room. He was having a drink and checking out the ladies while his knucklehead friend talked about his pecker. Maybe—just maybe—the previous year of doctors and hospitals and surgery was coming to a close. Maybe things might even be back to… ‘normal’. Don’t say it, he thought, you’ll jinx it. “Hey!” Jerry said. “Hey! I saw something today made me think of you. I’m at this seminar for lawyers and it’s boring as shit, OK? So during some presentation, for the hell of it, I’m reading the U.S. Constitution on my phone. And somewhere in there it says who it applies to, and for how long. Get this, it says it’s binding on every man until such day as, and get this, until such day as his heart no longer beats. Hear that? That’s how the U.S. Goddamn Government defines death – the day your heart stops. Get it? You’re dead! Your heart isn’t beating anymore, right? It’s in a friggin’ Mason jar someplace so med students can look at it, right?”
“Uhh, yeah, actually I don’t know where it is. I think they just chucked it. I know they didn’t ask me if I wanted it. Limit one per customer, I guess. But you know, they don’t take it out all at once. I saw a video of how they do it. It’s really interesting. First they clamp off the arteries on one side, I forget which one, then they cut—“
“Hey, hey, Surgeon General, Dr. Pepper, did you hear me? You’re dead! Uncle Sam says you’re dead.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty funny. Too bad I didn’t have any life insurance last year. Hell, if I knew about this Constitution stuff I would have bought millions of dollars worth just before surgery.”
Esso paused as the gears started turning. “OK. So what are you saying—is my surgeon a murderer? Ummm, what else? All right, do I have to pay taxes? Does your driver’s license expire same time you expire? There’s a question nobody ever asked before – are the dead allowed to drive? Can I be sued? Hell, can I be arrested? Is someone guilty of murder if they kill me… again? What do you think, counselor?”
“Whoa, horsey! Shit, I’ve created a monster! A legal zombie! Hey, wait. You can’t be dead unless you have a death certificate, right? How would you do that? Walk into Town Hall and, what, apply for one?”
“I got a better idea,” Esso said. “Let’s live and let live. I already came close enough to dying. I like living better.”
Jerry stared at his Scotch glass. He might have been thinking hard about something, or he might have been counting how many glasses he saw.
“Wait a minute,” Jerry said.
“Oh shit. I’ve seen this look before. E equals MC what?” Esso said.
“No, listen, I’m serious. You know what? You could do this. You could be a c’lebbity. You could be the living dead guy! You could go on TV and give interviews and write books. You could be like the new ‘Twilight Tales’ guy. You’d clean up at Halloween.”
“No, really! Whadda you got to lose? You almost friggin’ died, what the hell! Get a death certificate—I’ll do the legal shit, then we’ll make up some corny reason why you did it, then you start doing TV interviews. And if people don’t buy it then you go back to work. So you lose a few more months—it might pay off big!”
Maybe I got brain damage during surgery, Esso thought. This sounds like a not-terrible idea.
“Jerry, OK, I promise I’ll think about it.”
“What’s to think about? You’re sober, for Chrissake! You got all that blood pumping in your brain from that new heart! If I can see it’s a great idea you should be all over it!”
“Look, counselor, save it for the jury.”
“Esso… what are you gonna do, say ‘no’? You know you’re in.”
Esso closed his eyes and exhaled hard. Jerry was right. He really didn’t have anything to lose.
“I swear…you bastard…you could sell condoms to the Pope.”
“YES!” Jerry slammed his fist on the table. “Man, this is gonna be awesome. So you be the dead dude and I’ll be your agent, and maybe I’ll even sue people for stuff. Like how about discrimination—against the dead. How come there’s no dead people on corporate boards? And, and, the airlines! How come dead people have to fly in cargo? Why can’t they fly up top and get peanuts and drinks? ARK-ARK-ARK!”
“Yeah, yeah, first things first. I’ll bet there’s a medical record stating the exact time they shut down my heart. Maybe that’s all I need, along with the Constitution, to get a death certificate.”
“God Damn. You’re dead. Hey, so what’s it like in the afterlife? Are you in Heaven? What about angels—are you allowed to, you know…” Jerry moved his fist forward and backward.
“Really? Sex with angels? That’s… You know, lightning’s gonna toast your dumb ass the minute you step out that door. Remind me to stay like fifty feet behind you.”
“But it wouldn’t be Heaven if you couldn’t get—“
“You gonna fry, boy.”
* * *
Esso and Jerry were at Town Hall in the office of a man who looked desperate to be somewhere else.
“OK, gentlemen, let’s get this over with, please. I am Thomas Gill, Administrator for the town of Carter, Massachusetts. For the record please state your name.”
“Steven Luck, but I go by the nickname ‘Esso’.”
“And I’m Jerry Platt, Attorney at Law, representing Mr. Luck.”
“And your age, Mr. Luck?”
“I was thirty-one at the time of my demise.”
Gill slammed his pen on the desk. “OK, Esso, can we cut the bullshit? What are you trying to pull with this cute little stunt? If you want to die there are plenty of ways to do it without making a mockery of the law. What do you want, a settlement? Forget it, over MY dead body. You want to go to trial? I got a dozen ways to blast this idiot case of yours apart.” He shook his finger at Esso. “You’ve already scared the shit out of Edna at the front desk, asking to fill out your own death certificate. Is this your plan, to walk around like frigging Frankenstein scaring people? Well, this town and this office will NOT BE A PARTY TO IT!!”
Gill’s hands were shaking, he was hyperventilating, and his head was the color of a ten pound plum. Jerry calmly leaned next to Esso’s ear and whispered, “I got this.”
“Mr. Gill,” Jerry said, “you’re upset. I can tell.”
Gill’s eyes bulged again as he took a deep breath, loading wind for another outburst.
“But wait!” Jerry said. “Please! There’s a very simple solution to this issue. You know about the definition in the Constitution. We have with us a document from the hospital stating the exact time Mr. Luck’s heart—his heart, the one he was born with and, thereby, the one that defines his participation among the living—stopped beating. The Constitution plus the document make it a done deal for you. You issue the death certificate, you’re legally covered, and we’re on our way.”
“Bring it to court, you fraud, and I’ll bury you!” Gill said.
“Maybe if you told us about these counter-arguments now we might drop the issue. After all, you’ll need to reveal them to us before court anyway.”
Gill pressed a button on his desk phone. “DOTTIE! BRING IN THAT LIST!” He released the button. “All my department heads sent me their ideas. This is a non-issue. You’re just wasting time.”
A frightened looking woman stepped into the office, put a sheet on the desk and dashed back out, closing the door.
“See? HERE it is! All the legal precedents. You’re screwed, Blatt.”
“Platt. Please read them to us?”
“OK. Adoption law. Ownership, or custody, of human flesh can be legally transferred between people. And they stay alive! Hah! Gotcha!”
“I think we can defend against that pretty easily. Is that your best?”
“HELL no, I got PLENTY more! Let’s see. Federal laws written for the witness relocation program! The Feds fake deaths all the time, but the people keep living! Choke on that one, you bastard!”
“Once again, I don’t think—“
“I got ‘transfer of property’! Deeds! Title law! You own that new heart, asshole! You’re STILL ALIVE!”
“I’ve had a lot of experience with title law and this case isn’t—“
“Resuscitation after heart attacks! People go for HOURS with no heart beat and then they come back!”
“I’d have to see the evidence about going ‘hours’—“
“Separation of conjoined twins! Tree grafting! Regeneration of cut-in-half earthworms! What the…” He hit the button again. “GODDAMN IT WHO CAME UP WITH THIS SHIT?!”
Gill fell silent. He took a moment to catch his breath.
“OK, Luck, what do you want? A parade? A monument on the common? A handicapped license plate? There you go! Front row parking spots! No more walking across the lots! Think about Christmas shopping—front row parking!”
Esso and Jerry sat quietly.
“All right, but you gotta promise you’ll never repeat this. I can get you—hell, I’ll get both of you— thirty-three plates.”
“Thirty-three license plates? Why would we want—“
“No, a plate with double threes in the number. If a plate number has two threes in it you’ll never get a ticket. It’s a code for the cops—local and State—they never pull over or give parking tickets to a thirty-three plate. Look at my car when you leave. Speeding, drunk driving, parking in front of hydrants, whatever, no problem. What do you say?”
Esso said, “Mr. Gill, I think we have a deal—“
“NO, thank you, Mr. Gill,” said Jerry, “we aren’t here to cut a deal. We’ll come back at one o’clock Monday to pick up the death certificate.”
“Tell you what: drop dead and I’ll give it to you right now.”
“Thank you again, good bye now.”
When they were outside Esso turned and said “C’mon—forget the dead guy thing and let’s get those plates! Did you hear? Hydrants…speeding…unbelievable! Let’s go!”
“Dude, no,” Jerry said, “That’s just a taste of what’s coming. We do this thing and we’ll be getting offers for stuff all day long. Stay focused. Think big.”
* * *
Monday afternoon at Town Hall Esso looked out the window and saw the cluster of media people waiting on the front steps. Every TV station from Boston had sent a crew after seeing Jerry’s press release telling Esso’s story. Jerry was waiting in his car in the middle of the satellite trucks.
Inside the Town Hall lobby, Gill was finalizing the death certificate. “Rest in peace, Mr. Luck,” he said to Esso as he stamped the town seal onto the document. Then his gaze went out of focus and drifted away from Esso’s face. He left the certificate on the front counter and went outside. Esso picked it up and read it. But when he looked up he found Gill and the other town employees had gone outside, leaving him alone in the lobby. He hurried out the door.
Outside, Gill walked down a few steps into a mass of microphones.
“My name is Thomas Gill and I’m Carter’s Town Administrator. About two minutes ago I applied the town seal giving final authorization to a death certificate issued in the name of one Steven Otis luck. This certificate was issued in accordance with the dictates of the Constitution of the United States. Mr. Luck appeared before me last week with evidence that his heart no longer functioned, and he insisted that we take appropriate measures. I was reluctant to perform this action, and I extend sympathies to Mr. Luck’s family and friends, but it is my obligation as a town executive and also an American citizen to uphold the Constitution. Does anyone have any questions?”
While Gill fielded a few questions from the reporters, Esso waited a few steps behind. He was ready. The night before, he and Jerry had rehearsed what he was going to say to the reporters. If Gill could be that cool with cameras up his nose then so could he. Gill thanked everyone and walked down to the street.
As Esso started down the steps the reporters and cameramen began heading back to their trucks. He stopped on the same step where Gill had spoken, but all the microphones were gone.
“Hey, I’m Luck!” he called to the people walking down the stairs. “I’m Steven Luck… I’m the guy… I’m Luck!”
A reporter stopped and said, “You’re who?”
“Luck! I’m Steven Luck!”
“Yeah, right. Luck’s the dead guy, funny man. Didn’t you hear?”
“But that was me! I asked for the death certificate! Ask Gill, he’ll tell you!”
“Tell you what. We’ll film you while I ask some questions. Maybe the station will run it later. That OK with you?”
“Yes! Yes! Please!”
“OK,” said the reporter to his cameraman, “Eddie, point it right at him—you don’t need me in the shot. Go ahead, start.”
The cameraman began shooting and the reporter spoke.
“After the press conference we were approached by this man claiming to be Steven Luck, the deceased named in the death certificate. Mr. Luck, what arrangements have you made for your funeral? Are you planning a burial or a cremation?”
“What?” said Esso. “Look, look at me. I’m not dead. I applied for a death certificate in order to, uh, promote awareness of the dangers of literal interpretation of the Constitution. I had a heart trans—“.
“Mr. Luck, are you aware that Massachusetts state law requires the disposition of a deceased’s remains within five days of issuance of the death certificate?”
“Wait, just relax, I’m not ‘disposing my remains’. I’m here, right? And doesn’t that prove the Constitution is wrong? A person can exist after their heart no longer beats, see?” Esso patted himself on the chest.
“Mr. Luck, or whatever your name is, did you say the Constitution is wrong? Are you questioning the wisdom of the Founding Fathers?” “I’m saying Thomas Jefferson didn’t know a whole lot about heart transplants, so the Constitution has to adapt to technology in order to—“.
“Eddie, kill it. They’re not going to run this crap.” The cameraman stopped filming. He and the reporter walked down the steps.
“This is Massachusetts, goddamn it!” Esso yelled. “You’re supposed to be liberals!”
He walked down the steps alone. When he got to Jerry’s car he opened the door and lowered himself into the seat.
“YAAAAH!” Jerry yelled.
“What’s wrong with you?” said Esso. “And what the hell’s wrong with all of them? They all ignored me! Nobody wanted to interview me!”
Jerry started the car and drove in silence. His jaw trembled as he stared straight ahead.
“Did you hear me? You know what that guy was saying? ‘Disposition of remains’! He wants me to get cremated! Are they all goddamn insane?”
Jerry turned to look at Esso, then he turned to face forward.
“What?!! Why are you looking at me like that? What happened to our plan? We practiced the questions last night and then nobody said anything. What?!”
Jerry looked straight ahead and whispered, “It’s like that kid in the movie that sees dead people.”
“Wha…OK, you got me. Ha friggin’ ha. Now let’s cut the shit because I am seriously not in the mood.”
“Esso!” Jerry yelled, looking up. “If you can hear me, look, I’m sorry, but you died. It’s true. You’re stuck in limbo in this world. If you let go then you’ll be free to, uh, go beyond or whatever!”
“Stuck? STUCK? You bet I’m stuck. I’m stuck in this frigging car with a moron!” Esso smacked Jerry in the head with his open palm.
“Oh, Esso! Your presence in this world is very strong! Accept your fate and let it go!” Tears rolled down Jerry’s face.
“Jerry,” Esso said, slowly, “remember when we were at the bar? The PLAN? I was going to write books and be on TV as the dead guy? It was your idea! Remember?”
“Forget the plans of this world, Esso! Leave it all behind and go to your reward in the next world!” Jerry sobbed.
“Let me out!” Esso fumbled for the door handle. “Right here—pull over. You’re just as crazy as the reporters. Stop. Right here.”
Jerry stopped the car and Esso opened the door. As he stepped out he heard Jerry cry, “You were my best friend! I loved—“ and he slammed the door.
He stood on the sidewalk watching Jerry drive away. Son of a bitch, he thought. It was about a 45 minute walk to his condo. If he didn’t come up with a new plan, the only other option was to dispose of his remains.
Two little old ladies walked toward him with their heads bowed, staring at the sidewalk, muttering and crossing themselves. A young boy, shoved forward by his friends, was reaching out when Esso said, “Boo!” and sent them all running away crying. A woman with a stroller stopped, spun the stroller around and ran, screaming bloody murder.
Two blocks from his unit he sat on a bench and checked his phone. There were four emails advertising funeral homes, a message saying his job wasn’t being held for him anymore, and legal notices saying: his car was repossessed, his condo was locked out by the mortgage holder, his health insurance had been dropped, and his bank accounts were frozen pending probate. Then the internet connection dropped. He tossed the phone into a storm drain next to the bench.
His only remaining possessions were the clothes he wore and the death certificate he held in his hand. He read his name. He read the date of death—the date he received his transplant. What an amazing day that had been. He had been given new health and new life and a ticket back to the real world. Now it was all gone. He’d thrown it all away.
He slumped on the bench and closed his eyes. He was very tired. A faint breeze plucked the death certificate out of his hand and carried it into the storm drain.
* * *
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”
The trio of tiny voices hit Esso like defibrillator paddles. His eyes snapped open to see three children piling out of a minivan and racing toward him. He stood up and they grabbed his legs and hollered and cried. A very pregnant woman waddled around the front of the van and into Esso’s surprised arms, shaking and crying.
Esso said, “Uh, hello?”
“Oh, Bill,” she sobbed, “I missed you so much.”
Esso pondered his next move. He wasn’t altogether sure this was better than dying on the bench. He said, “But my name isn’t—“.
“Oh Bill,” she sputtered, “Hon, I saw you on TV at Town Hall. You were standing behind Mr. Gill. I came as fast as I could. You know about the Constitution thing, right?”
Do I ever, Esso thought. “Yeah, but—“.
“Well, everyone thought you died in that car accident.”
“I died?” Esso said.
“Yeah, but you didn’t, because of the Constitution.”
“See, when you died, you donated your heart to… to you. The Constitution says you’re still you, know what I mean?”
“This,” she said as she poked Esso’s chest, her voice rising in frustration, “is Bill’s heart, so if Bill’s heart is still beating then the Constitution says Bill is still alive…right, Bill?”
If four strangers hadn’t been hugging him Esso would have fallen over.
The woman gently patted him on the back and said, “It’s OK, baby. Your name is Bill Tynell and I’m Karen and these are our children.” She kissed him on the cheek and said, “I love you, remember?”
Esso didn’t remember.
“Just be patient,” she said. “It’ll all come back and we’ll be one big,” she patted her enormous stomach, “huge, ha ha, family again. Just like you always wanted.”
* * *
Esso moved into the house with Karen and the kids. He drove the kids to soccer games and dance lessons; he fixed the toilet and helped with the laundry; and he even got Bill’s old job selling appliances at the mall. Because the house was only one story high, he figured he’d need to jump out the window at least a dozen times before he managed to kill himself.
But help was on the way from an unexpected ally—the life insurance industry. A Federal Court had ruled that life insurance policies held by heart transplant recipients had to be paid, because, of course, their hearts no longer beat. Payments were to go back seven years. Estimates put the onetime cash payment due from insurance companies in excess of eighty billion dollars. Insurance industry lobbyists set up a tent city on the Capitol Lawn after all the D.C. hotel rooms filled.
The Supreme Court convened in an emergency session to consider overruling the ‘heart no longer beats’ definition of death, but they ended in a four-four tie. The death of Chief Justice Rebello in a bicycle accident three weeks earlier meant the Town of Carter’s Constitutional ruling would remain unchanged.
Esso couldn’t accept the news of the tie vote. As soon as he got home from work that night he got onto the internet desperately searching for ideas. Then at two in the morning the last piece of a plan fell into place. He got dressed and drove the minivan to Jerry’s condo.
Jerry’s spare key was strategically hidden under the blue fake rock next to the doormat. Esso went inside and sat in the corner of Jerry’s bedroom. He played a recording of a waterfall from his cell phone. Jerry got up to pee after three minutes.
When Jerry came back into the bedroom the cell phone was illuminating Esso’s face.
“Hello, Jerry,” said Esso.
“ESSO? What the… Jesus Christ, you trying to kill me?”
“Hell, no. I barely know who’s dead now.”
“What are you doing here? You’re dead, right?”
“Of course I’m dead. The Supreme Court’s tied four-four.”
“So you’re a… ghost?”
“Yeah, whatever. Except when I’m alive. Then I’m this guy named Bill with a knocked-up wife and three kids and a mortgage and a job selling washing machines. He was my heart donor, so since I got his heart, I’m him. Thanks to you and your dead-guy plan.”
“That was a good idea, man. We could have made a lot of money if you hadn’t died.”
“Don’t start. Anyway, I know how to break this Supreme Court tie. And you’re going to help. Tomorrow night I’ll pick—no, Bill will pick you up here at seven. You’ll know who he is. He’s about my height, about my weight, same hairdo, same fingerprints: it’s uncanny.”
“What are we going to do?”
“You don’t want to know. Just remember I’d still be alive if it wasn’t for you. So work with Bill or I’ll come back every night to haunt you.”
“Even when I’ve brought someone back and we’re…”
“Especially when you’ve brought someone back and you’re… So be ready tomorrow.”
* * *
Esso rang Jerry’s doorbell the next night. Jerry did a double take at the door.
“Bill,” said Esso. “Get with the program, dude. Call me ‘Esso’ and you’re violating the Constitution.”
As they walked to the minivan Esso said, “This is the plan. We—“
“Hey, ‘Bill’,” Jerry said, “Don’t tell me. The less I know, the fewer charges they’ll hit me with later.”
They rode in silence 45 minutes to a rural town near the New Hampshire line. Esso parked in front of a small house with a big front lawn.
“Be ready and do whatever I tell you,” he said.
A middle-aged woman answered the door.
“Ms. Chase? Hello, my name is Bill Tynell and this is my friend Jerry Platt. We’re volunteers with the Massachusetts Heart Support Group. I was told your daughter Kiki recently got a heart transplant. Would it be OK if we visited with her for just a little while?”
“Well, sure, I guess. We were just watching TV. Kiki! There’s some people here to see you!”
The woman brought Esso and Jerry into the living room and pointed them to a couch. A twenty year old, heavily tattooed, heavily pierced girl sat across from them glued to the TV.
“Kiki, these men have come to see you. Can you turn that off, please?”
“Maaah! I’m watchin’ this, ha-kay? It’s almost o-vah. Can’t ya just, like, wait?”
“That’s fine, Ms. Chase,” said Esso. He and Jerry watched Kiki’s reality show with her. When it was o-vah Kiki turned off the TV and greeted the men with a sneer.
“Hi, Kiki, my name’s Bill, and I got a heart transplant about four months ago. I want to talk with you about the change of law regarding transplants.”
“What law? You gonna arrest me or somethin’?”
“No, nothing like that. But you’ll probably be surprised by what I tell you.” He explained the Constitutional interpretation. “So legally you aren’t Kiki Chase anymore.”
“Whaaaat? Whadda ya mean? I’m not Kiki? OK, smarty-law-man, who am I?”
“You’re actually Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Rebello.”
“Aaaaah!” said Kiki, her mother, and Jerry, in harmony.
“I saw it!” said Kiki’s mother. “He died! I saw it on the TV in the waiting room when she was in surgery.”
“He was her donor,” said Esso.
“I’m sorry, baby, I mean your honor, but I’m not your mother anymore.”
“Maaaah! Maaaah!” Kiki beat her chair with her fists and cried.
“Look what you’ve done. Look how upset he is. He’s still recovering from surgery, you know. Maybe you’d better leave us alone!”
“But I haven’t told you,” said Esso. “We can fix this. The Court had a tie vote yesterday because he wasn’t there. But the law says a tie vote isn’t official until two days after the vote. That was established when a Justice in the early 1800’s got caught in a blizzard in Virginia—“
“Uh, Bill,” said Jerry. “Skip ahead.”
“Right. If Justice Rebello appears at a Federal courthouse within two days of the tied vote then he can vote to break the tie. And there’s a Federal courthouse five minutes from here.”
“Dude,” said Jerry. “It’s night. There’s nobody there.”
“The law doesn’t say you have to be inside the courthouse. We can do it in the parking lot. Let’s go. Justice Rebello—you can vote to make yourself Kiki Chase again, and we can be back here in fifteen minutes.”
“You’re not taking him anywhere,” said Ms. Chase. “I don’t care who he is, he’s not leaving this house in his condition. You two get out of here before I call the police!”
Esso looked at the woman’s expression and decided she wasn’t going to budge. It was time for muscle.
“Jerry,” said Esso, “grab Mom, put her in that bedroom and don’t let her out. Now!”
Jerry wrapped his arms around Ms. Chase and walked her, kicking and screaming, into the back room, slammed the door and leaned against it.
“Now, Kiki,” said Esso as he put his hand around her upper arm, “we aren’t going to hurt you, and we’ll be back here before you know it. Please don’t struggle. Remember how the doctors told you that your rib cage won’t fully heal for another month. Come with me, gently, out to the car and we’re going to take a ride. You’ll answer one simple question, then I’ll bring you back here. Don’t struggle. Let’s go.”
They heard the mother yelling in the back room. “Yes, it’s a kidnapping! Yes, right now! Two men, and they’re kidnapping a Supreme Court Justice! Yes! Justice Rebello! No he isn’t dead, he was a heart donor! He lives here with me now! 48 Clover Street! They’re taking him away in their car right now! Hurry!”
Esso walked Kiki to the door and turned to Jerry. “OK, come here. Take her to the minivan and sit in the back with her.” They got in and Esso drove toward the courthouse.
He handed Jerry a document and a flashlight. “Read this to her, I mean him. It’s all crap but he has to hear it before he can vote.”
“Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, the Supreme Court of the United States of America will now convene for purposes of hearing…” Jerry read while Esso drove. They pulled into the Federal court parking lot as Jerry finished.
“So,” Esso said, twisting around to face Kiki, “It’s simple. You can vote yes or no. ‘Yes’ means you agree with the recent ruling, and you will stay Justice Rebello, and Kiki Chase is dead. But if you vote ‘no’ then you are agreeing that doctors will use their knowledge and skills to define death, like it used to be, and you become Kiki Chase again. Yes—Justice Rebello. No—Kiki Chase. What do you say?”
“I don’t wanna be no old man judge! No! Hell, no! Shit, no!”
“Counselor, the vote is ‘hell no, shit no’. Kiki, welcome back. May the Justice rest in peace. And, may Bill Tynell rest in peace. too. Dude, I’m back.”
“What?” said Jerry. “That’s it? How can that be it? What makes it official?”
“You do. You’re a notary, dude.”
“Now let’s get her back before the cops find us.”
They drove back to the house, got Kiki inside, and were just about to leave when they saw a blue light shining out in the street.
* * *
Jerry stood at a window looking at the spectacle. “Esso, come look. There’s probably fifty SWAT guys; a dozen cruisers; there’s snipers in windows; everyone’s got big friggin’ guns; and look at those things! They look like tanks! Wow! This is like Butch Cassidy!”
“Dude—get away from the window. They might decide to pick you off.”
“Don’t worry. They can’t see me. But they did set up a lot of spotlights—“
Then, as if the sun itself slammed into the front lawn, all of outside and everything inside glowed with blinding white light. Esso and Jerry dived flat onto the floor.
“Shit, I can’t see a thing,” said Jerry. “Well, Esso my man, let’s see if you can stay dead this time.”
Then, just as suddenly, the spotlights shut off. Esso and Jerry lay on the floor waiting for their eyes to readjust.
“What, they blow a fuse?” said Jerry.
They moved slowly, wary of any activity outside. Esso crawled to a window and peered out. The SWAT tanks and police vehicles were driving away.
“Everyone’s leaving. They’re all leaving. What the—“.
“They’re what?” Jerry said.
Esso stood at the window. “See for yourself.” All the police had disappeared and all the vehicles were rumbling down the street away from the house.
They went outside and wandered around the front yard. A chipmunk ran along the sidewalk.
“Why—“ said Esso.
“Dude, come here,” said Jerry, standing in the driveway. “Look at this.”
He pointed at the license plate on the back of the minivan. It read “108-233”.
* * *
Esso was sipping a ginger ale while watching baseball at the pub. He had a feeling that Jerry, sitting at the next stool, was talking to him, but he didn’t care enough to find out.
“Esso! Listen to this!”
Now he had to look. Jerry would start punching his arm if he didn’t.
“I was reading something the other day. You know about crimes of passion, like when a guy kills someone that’s in bed with his wife? The state calls that, get this, ‘crimes of the heart’. So I thought what if you, with a transplanted heart, killed someone? You could say yeah, you did it and it was a crime of the heart, but the heart isn’t yours! It’s a transplant, so your donor is guilty, not you!”
Esso stared at Jerry in silence. Then he said, “Absolutely, sign me up. That’s your best idea ever. You can be my agent. We’ll hire me out to kill people.”
“I don’t know,” said Jerry. “It’s just Massachusetts. Maybe if the federal law was the same.”
Esso turned back to the TV. He said, “Dude, you’re like the plague. Whenever you read stuff people start dying. I got some advice for you. When you get real clients, like at your job? Make them pay in advance. Or make them put you in their will.”