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Three: Meeting the Ex

“What the hell just happened?” said the ex-wife. It was not an uncommon first sentence upon arrival in Second World. She looked down at her gun.

“Smith & Wesson .45,” said Liz. “I bet that blew a nice big hole in you.”

“Who is this?” asked Eudoxia Gibson.

“I just told you,” said Dash. “Liz Leduc. Investigative journalist.”

Dox’s mouth moved but nothing came out at first. Finally she said, “Are you investigating whatever’s going on here?”

“You died,” said Dash.

“I’m dead? Do not tell me this is Heaven.”

“No,” said Liz, “you are not dead, you died. Now you’re alive. Welcome to Second World. Do you know how you died? I mean, obviously that’s the murder weapon. Who was holding it? For instance.”

Dox seemed about to answer, but she stopped herself. She looked at her Smith & Wesson .45. “No,” she said, “I don’t really know.”

The hell you don’t, thought Dash. But what he said was, “Do you know what happened to me?”

Again the mouth moved. Dox looked at Liz and said, “Okay. I got shot.” She looked at the gun. “You’re right. It must have blown away half my head.” She ran her right hand over her hair. “How do I look?”

“About twenty years younger,” said Dash, gesturing with his own murder weapon.

“And how did you get my gun?” asked Dox. “My father left me that weapon. It’s mine and I want it back.”

“That’s his murder weapon, you know that, right?” asked Liz. “So I would say there’s a presumption of guilt here, wouldn’t you, Dash?”

“What exactly is going on here?” asked Dox.

“You already know, don’t you?” said Dash. “One. You’re dead. Two. You were shot by that big cannon you’re holding. Three. I’m dead, as is Liz. Four. Except we’re not, because this is the Second World, where the dead people go. Five, with their murder weapons. Six, mine was this gun you supposedly got from your dad. Care to comment on how it came to be my murder weapon?”

“How do you know it’s your murder weapon? Because this woman said it was? You believe what she told you?”

“She’s more believable than you are, Eudoxia.”

“Oh, so you trust someone you just met more than me, whom you’d been married to for over fifteen years?”

“Yeah, now you mention it,” said Dash. “Why did you shoot me?”

“I didn’t shoot you,” said Dox.

“But your gun did.”

“Because you trust her more than you trust me. Which is really rich, coming from you, you lying sack of scum douchebag.”

“Oh, ouch,” said Dash. “One can always tell when one hits close to home with Eudoxia.”

Eudoxia subsided, steaming. She looked out over the lake. Dash looked there too, reflexively. Liz, who had only just met them both, prodded onward. “Whatever,” she said. “You’re not getting your gun back. I only just gave it to him, and I’m still not sure I should have.”

“But it’s mine,” said Dox. “My father—!”

“Yes, sure, you said. You’re not getting it back.”

“What the hell do you have to say about it? Dash, who the hell is this—?”

“I’m not sure you should even have that .45 you got there,” said Liz. “It looks like a drug dealer weapon to me. What, did I hit home on that one?”

“No. No you didn’t hit home. I don’t want this gun. I want my gun. Give me back my gun, and/or answer my question. Why do you get to decide who gets what gun?”

They stared at each other for a long ten seconds. Then a crashing through the brush attracted their attention. “Girls! Girls!” yelled a male voice. A man of perhaps 25, flabby but in good health even while he was wearing loose hospital patient garb, came charging toward them through a shrubbery of forsythia. He stumbled, fell flat, picked himself up and kept on charging.

“Okay, stop,” warned Liz.

“Aw, come on,” said the guy, starting his odd stagger toward them again. “Give me a—!”

When he was perhaps three meters from them, Liz coolly aimed her Beretta and put a hole in his chest that probably left little of his heart inside. He fell back and lay not moving.

Liz flipped the safety and pocketed her gun. “Okay, that’s why. Questions?”

“Oh,” said Eudoxia, “my, god. Did you see what she just did? Did she just shoot that guy? You just shot that guy!”

“I think I did a damn fine job of it,” said Liz.

“But who was he?”

“He probably died at the hospital,” said Dash. “He woke up and walked what, how far are we from Hamilton Memorial? Five miles? So, ten miles. In that gown.”

“It would make me act weird,” said Liz. “Especially if I was twenty or whatever again, after I’d been oh, I’m guessing he died at age 93 or so? In the ICU? I mean, his mind might have been half gone. Well, it’s all gone now.”
“He’s in the Third World,” said Dash. “If there is one.”

“The Third World?” repeated Dox. “How is he in the Third World? You mean like Honduras or something? No, Dashel, he’s right there. Dead.”

“The Third World,” explained Dash, “is where you presumably go if you get killed in the Second World. Which is here. Are you up to date on that yet?”

“Yes, yes I’m up to date on that. I’m also up to date on the fact that she just shot a guy dead. Through the heart. And you have my gun and she won’t let you give it to me. Who is this woman anyway?”

“Liz Leduc,” said Dash. “Investigative Reporter. And I’m sorry about the gun.” He took it out and looked at it. “I mean, you’re right. I’d give it to you if I could, but I’m not allowed to. Sorry.” He smiled most annoyingly.

“Give it to me!” Dox made a grab. Dash held it out of her reach. Dox looked at Liz, then at Dash, then back at Liz. She started to raise the gun she did have, as if to threaten them with it.

“Ah, ah,” warned Liz. “I’ll plug you. You know I will. But I’ll tell you what I will do. That’s a what, Smith & Wesson .45? Yeah, drug dealer gun if ever there was one. But I’ll trade it for my Beretta, which is a .40 caliber and a fine make, really. We’d have to trade back when we get to Boogie Carter and it’s time for me to kill him with it, but you can keep it after that. But you can’t have the .32.”

“I don’t want the Beretta! I only want the .32! Why won’t you let me have my gun? My dad’s gun?”

“Because,” said Liz, “it’s Dash’s murder weapon.”

“Suppose it is! What of it!”

“I have prima facie evidence that you shot your ex-husband,” said Liz. “You are not allowed to have that gun until you’ve successfully beat the rap for that in my mind.”

“I didn’t kill him,” said Dox half-heartedly. “Even though he’s given me plenty of chances and he’s very irritating as you probably already know.”

“Well, isn’t anyone going to ask what I want?” Dash put in, plaintively.

“No,” said Dox and Liz.

“I mean, I don’t really want this that much. What if I give this to Dox and she gives hers to you, Liz, and that way you have two, you see, and she has the, um, pea shooter—?”

“And you could get attacked by outpatients?” said Dox. “You’d be unarmed and have to depend on women to protect you?”

“No,” said Liz. “I have a strict policy against people having guns in Second World that they might well have killed someone with in First World.”

“I didn’t kill anyone in First World. I keep telling you.”

“And I keep not believing you.”

“Well,” said Dash, “at least give me some pointers on how to use it.”

“Okay,” said Liz, taking his right wrist and lifting his hand with the gun in it. “See that? That’s the manual safety. Leave that on at all times.” She dropped his wrist and gave Dox an exasperated look. “Do not pretend you’re going to shoot me.”

“What?” said Dox, aiming her .45 at Liz again. “I’m not pretending. I want my pea shooter.”

“No,” said Liz. “You guys ready to go?”

“No,” said Dox. “You are giving me back my gun or I am shooting you.”

“Ah, bleep this,” said Liz. “Let’s just go.” She started to turn to walk away and Dox stiffened her hold on her .45 behind them. Liz stopped, swung around and clouted the gun out of Dox’s hand. It flew a short distance and hit a rock. “Pick it up, stupid,” said Liz. “It’s not even loaded.”

“Damn it,” said Dox to herself. She picked up the gun. “God damn it. That bleep actually emptied the cartridge on me.”

“That is pretty bad,” Liz agreed. “You’d have made quite the mess.”

“What bleep?” asked Dash. “I really want to know. Where did you die and who killed you and all that? I mean, if you got shot in Waterville and you walked all the way here it seems quite the coincidence—!”

“No, she got killed right here in Whateverville,” said Liz. “She was still in the confusion of the newly arrived. Although I have to say she unconfused pretty fast.”

“Uh, thanks,” said Dox, managing to get the cartridge out of the handle. She shook it.

‘So, Eudoxia, that’s your name? Eudoxia?”

“Dox for short,” said Dash. “She hates her name.”

“Really?”

“Just never mind,” said Dox.

“Parents had a sense of humor? Or way too many children? How far down the list did they have to go?”

“My mom was Greek, okay?” Dox explained. “If I can’t have my gun back, can I at least get cartridges for this piece of crap?”

“Hey, that’s a great weapon,” said Liz. “Have some respect. Obviously it works.”

“I have the feeling,” said Dash, “that we’re skipping over the important part here. Back to my question. That bleep, you said. What bleep? Who killed you, o ex wife of mine?”

“Aren’t we going somewhere?” said Dox. “Like, to get me ammo?”

“We’re going to Marshall Maine,” said Liz. “To get everyone ammo. Now answer the nice man’s question.”

“No. I don’t feel like talking about it.”

“Just ‘no’?”

“Just no.” Dox turned and had another good look at the lake.

Liz just turned her look to Dash. “Does this make you uncomfortable at all?”

“Well,” said Dash, “now you mention it. Let’s see. She had a key to my house. Of course she did; she stayed in the guest room half the week, when she wasn’t on the road on business, because that’s where our daughter Liane was. She wasn’t there last night—yeah, I guess I can use the term last night, right? I mean, it’s still the twenty-eighth of July, twenty thirteen, right?”

“Yes, it’s the same stream of time or whatever,” said Liz.

“Now we parted on fairly amicable terms, in some ways, because we both agreed that Liane was the most important thing. But it’s not to deny that we had some issues.”

“He cheated on me with my best friend,” Dox noted.

“Not your best friend, just your friend,” said Dash. “I mean, best friend? And besides, you cheated too. You cheated first. With that jerk Manolo.”

“I didn’t cheat with Manolo. Not really. And besides, even when I cheated, I was just reacting to your cheating. You cheated more.”

“I fell in love. Once. I got over it. You took that as license—!”

“Oh, just stop. You’re such an idiot, Dash. I—!”

“Okay, fine,” said Liz. “I get the feeling that these gripes would not get either of you drawing your weapons. What else do you have?”

“Well,” said Dash, “someone was stalking you, right, Dox? Didn’t you talk to a lawyer about a protection order?”

“Of course I did,” said Dox, crossly, looking around as if for another hospital-clothed young old man so she could try her .45. It didn’t have any ammo anyway. “It scared him off.”

“So,” said Dash, “were you at the house this morning? Just tell me that.”

“I don’t know. Let me think about it and see if I remember. You know, some jerk blew half my head off. More than half, actually, if he emptied the cartridge. I bet it pulverized my brain into a bloody mush for the birds to pick at. It has an effect on your memory, that does.”

“Then we’d all be forgetting,” said Liz, “because we all had holes put through our cerebra. But believe me, I don’t forget the look on that bleephole’s face as he pumped three bullets into my head. So you’re being peculiarly evasive, I would say.”

“He hasn’t told you everything about himself either,” said Dox.

“No, I haven’t,” said Dash. “It’s hard to know what to tell someone I just met, someone who is of the opposite gender and is well-armed, if you see what I mean. So, yeah, maybe we should get walking.”

“And maybe that will get someone talking,” said Liz. The other two opened their mouths. “And saying something,” Liz added, “that might actually inform this reporter of something she didn’t already know.”

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