Tom Quick and the Dead

“Her Honor is at steak,” the butler said tastefully.

“This is a pressing matter,” Tom pushed the butler aside and forced his way into the ritzy colonial just outside the beltway. The dining area was off the entry hall to the right, set off by carved still life images in the wainscoting that circled the room.

“Judge Scott,” Tom announced as he entered the room. The young man and blonde woman at the table looked up.

She pressed a napkin to her mouth. “Yes, and who might you be?” She peered over her glasses with disdain.

“Tom Quick, your honor,” he answered hastily, “Consulting Special Agent, Homeland Security.”

“Your reputation for impudence is apparently justified.” She gestured to a chair. “Take a seat; I won’t crane my neck to carry on while a good steak is getting cold. Woolsley,” she turned a bit further to the butler who stood sheepishly in the doorway, “bring Mr. Quick a plate and offer him some wine.”

Tom sat. “Thank you, ma’am; this is fairly simple: I need authorization for surveillance.” He removed a packet of paper from inside his grey herringbone sports coat. At this distance Her Honor looked forty, going on seventy, no doubt she had much experience under her belt.

“This is my husband, Wayne,” She nodded towards the young man, at least twenty-five, maybe thirty, sandy haired, solid build, with a rich, mid-winter tan. “Mr. Quick is one of Homeland’s most notorious, and, I suppose, successful agents.”

“Whoa, like the dude who stopped the mall bombing on his Hog?” Wayne sprayed a mist of food particles across the table.

“Yes, Love,” the Judge patted his arm, “and I’m the Judge who ruled that the skid marks he left with his Harley were not a historical landmark. You go ahead and eat while I deal with his latest fiasco.”

“Isn’t fiasco the guy that does those weird paintings?” said Wayne artlessly.

“Just eat,” the Judge cut him off. “And what is this urgent situation?” she turned back to Tom.

“People are dying,” Tom deadpanned, focusing on her to discourage further spewing from Wayne.

“People get killed, they don’t die anymore, not in the arcane sense of age or disease.” She popped a well marbled bit of rare meat into her mouth.

“That’s it. We have eight cases of natural death in DC in the last month, the insurance folks are on our backs to classify it as bio-terrorism and exempt them from liability.”

Woolsley showed up with a place setting, and glass, properly inserted these from the left, and poured the goblet half full of red wine from a dusty bottle.

“Naturally,” She said as she reached out for her own glass. “With a President whose experience runs deeper in marketing than management I can see why your office is concerned. And the coroner’s reports?”

“Heart failure, diverse demographic groups,” Tom answered. “However, the DNA tests show all have the full longevity gene set, hyper-immune system and turbo-metabolism. Like the rest of us first world citizens, they should not be subject to any cause of natural death. These are the first cases in the US since medical reformation was completed a decade ago.”

“And whom do you wish to track?” she asked as she gave him a once over.

“John Doe.”

“Hey, I heard of him,” Wayne sprayed.

“Yes, dear, I believe he was involved in the carte blanche affair last year.”

Wayne looked at her blankly, and resumed his meal.

“It seems a little early to go fishing,” she baited Tom.

“Well, we don’t have a name. But witnesses report a tall dark man being present in all eight cases. But no positive ID,” Tom took another sip of the wine; damn that was good wine.

“With two million people in the greater metro area, you expect to just happen to tap the wire on the next victim?”

“The authorization calls for monitoring of the integrated video system, our hope is to catch the perp on tape and track him.”

“Great, watch every one of two million citizens just in case. I suppose you’ll dispose of any compromising photos of current majority party congressmen?”

“We will follow current department policy for citizen privacy protection,” Tom straightened out his tie clip VidMic.

“So I see,” She extended a hand and took the set of papers, and gave them a quick glance. “Do you have a pen?” she asked pointedly.

“Here,” Tom pulled a ballpoint from a shirt pocket and passed it over.

She struck out text on the second page, wrote a note, another on the next page, and then signed the bottom. “Just one week, a month is too long a fishing license with your rather flimsy rationale. No record retention after six months if you don’t get an extension or a perp.”

“One week,” said Tom quickly, “it’s barely …”

“It’s a chance to live up to your reputation,” the Judge raised her wine glass. “To your health, Mr. Quick.”

Tom reciprocated, “and yours, your Honor.”


“Mac: Tom, Code three, DC seven” his retinal display read; it was only minutes since he had left for the day.

Tom took the next right, flipped on the Hog’s running lights and headed the few blocks to 1300 Eye Street, a.k.a. DC seven.

“Comset: call Mac,” Tom commanded the helmet communication system.

“Mac here,” a voice responded. “Tom, we just got a hit. Cloaked figure, old lady in the embassy district, video trailing him now, Raptor is up, ten minutes ETA.”

“Great, I’m on thirteenth, hang a left and I’m there.”

A retro-punk dressed, rather plump, not so young lady met him at the curb, accepted his helmet. She moved into the driver’s seat as he popped off.

“Thanks, Trish, keep her ready to roll,” Tom headed towards the revolving door.

The building guard at reception ignored him as he moved past the elevators. The mirrored wall ending the corridor slid open and closed behind him.

“Tom Quick,” Tom blurted as he placed his palm on the reader, and fixed his metallic blue eyes on the red light. The metal doors ahead opened, and he was in DC Seven. Without giving a second thought to the nitro-cyanide gas jets flanking the sealed chamber, he exited. He turned left into the situation room where a display from a night-vision street-cam centered on a tall, shrouded figure retreating at a fair pace.

“Tom, here’s the replay,” Mac gestured repeatedly towards a smaller screen. A drugstore was to the right. Elderly lady exits, and heads across the field of view. Tall, dark-cloaked, sinister figure enters view from left. She looks up. Fright. The figure appears to lift his cowl slightly. She drops to ground as he reaches her. He turns his back to camera, stoops and passes his arm over her. Then stands and moves on his way.

“Did he strike her with something?” Tom asked.

Mac reversed the video for a moment, and then started it on slow motion, controlling the video from a keypad that covered his forearm.

“There is no obvious weapon,” Mac observed, “It’s almost as if he is stroking her, or ..”


“Or, blessing her,” Mac cocked his head, reminding Tom vaguely of a dog with a leash in its mouth, but that was just the headset mike.

“Are our people there yet?”

“The district cop was first on site. EMT’s have her covered, confirmed dead. Harold and Maud will be there in minutes.”

Tom turned back to the main screen. The live feed showed an approach view with the perp continuing to walk at a good pace. Other people were on the street, they seemed to be oblivious to the dark figure. Tom recognized the scene from the camera mounted over the entrance to the National Zoo.

“Shall we take him down? We have two men just inside the Zoo entrance; they can hit him at any moment.”

“Mac, we don’t have an imminent threat situation,” Tom scowled at his ops manager. “Apprehend, treat as hostile.”

Mac keyed the codes in and transmitted to the men.

Two figures emerged, one moving down each side of the walk. The right one froze by a concrete bench, pulled an Uzi-light and stabilized. The other moved directly towards the hooded figure, clear of the field of fire, and pulled his ID with one hand, and stun-jector with the other. Tom couldn’t see his lips but knew the words by heart. “Homeland security, stop and put your hands behind your neck, we fire on Three, One..”

The hooded head turned towards the active officer. The officer dropped his badge. Pulling his arms up to shield his face, he dropped to one knee.

The code 1 alarm-buzz broke the silence in the situation room. “Rogers has initiated deadly force response, Officer Ober is down.” A voice called out from an adjacent cubical.

Rogers had hit the ground and rolled behind the bench. He would have gotten a three round burst off first. The hooded figure turned towards the bench. Ober was now down and out.

“Open command line to Rogers. Disengage. SWAT squad to Zoo, and I’m on my way.”

“Roger,” Mac hit a button on a wrist panel, “Rogers, disengage, SWAT launched.”

A robed arm extended from the figure, extending a long, boney finger at Rogers.

“Roger,” Rogers voice on the speaker, “He’s taken three dead center, no impact.” Rogers’ figure on the screen rolled further behind the bench and up to a crouch.

“He’s looking at me,” Rogers’ voice squealed, “Death …”

Rogers figure behind the bench slumped to the ground.

The perp walked, head bowed, under the Zoo camera.

“I want a team north and south on Rock Creek beyond the zoo; one team at the main gate and one on Harvard St. Link the Raptor camera track into my retinal when it arrives, and have my Harley at the back airlock. Pronto,” Tom revved out his orders and headed out. Half-way down the row of cubes a video feed from the zoo imposed itself on his visual field. The figure seemed to be continuing to walk into the zoo proper, passing the memorial to Smokey the bear. Tom cleared the interlocking steel door sets to the alley.

Trish held the Hog in a cloud of pre-clean-air-06 ozone and monoxide.

“Thanks Trish, let’s ride.”

She pulled herself up behind him, jammed a helmet on his head, and pulled one over her orange-green striped hair.

“Ready to rock boss,” Trish’s voice rolled out of the helmet speaker.

The Hog leaped forward, almost a wheelie, and then leveled off. District cops already were white-gloving the bike through, holding other traffic at bay. The service so essential for the diplo-cades that raced though DC served well for the HS SWAT and other safety teams that needed to slalom though the incessant traffic, even at this late hour. A dozen of these were converging on the zoo from different directions.

The perp continued his walk in the zoo, in a wide turn towards the southeast without stopping or glancing to the side.

“I’ve heard of cloak and dagger before, but where’s this guy’s dagger?” Trish’s words slashed at Tom’s concentration.

He leaned right onto Connecticut Avenue.

“We get all kinds, I don’t think this one is an operative, more likely a loner,” Tom opined.

“That radical faction that tried to block the mandatory contraception bill could have used this guy’s garb,” Trish gabbed on.

Traffic was backed up into Dupont Circle. Tom pulled between the lanes. Little horn beeps emerged from the dash speaker as drivers vented their noise-abated frustrations.

“Keep your knees in.”.

Tight cars loomed ahead. Tom slowed. He pulled left between the stopped cars, then right, and continued down between the next columns.

“Loner, no relation to victims, no message for the press; what’s his game?” Trish parlayed.

“Gone postal, maybe, or some eco-freak figuring that immortality could lead to a population problem,” Tom posited.

They reached the circle, jammed and stopped. Tom cut right to the center and turned to follow the gutter around. No break cleared at their exit. Just beyond the turn Tom pulled though a hole, then north in the southbound stream between the jammed cars. Swerving right up twentieth, he accelerated then back on to Connecticut north.

“So do we send the teams in from all sides?” Trish brought her arms around him more closely.

“No, he seems to respond defensively to threatening actions,” Tom parried.

“That’s an understatement,” Trish said softly.

The traffic thinned and Tom picked up the speed. Emergency vehicles cordoned off the zoo ahead.

“Comset: all units,” Tom instructed. “Assume perp will attack in defense, and successfully. I will engage subject directly and get video/audio feed on face and voice. Trigger this to get a bio so we know who we are dealing with, I will play for time and see if we can get a rationale.”

“And faithful Tonto back here, what Lone Ranger want me do? Feedum Hog?” Trish queried.

“Tonto had a pony tail, you’ve got the Mohawk. Slip off your boots and get behind him. If I give the signal or go down, demonstrate what that red belt really means before he can turn your direction. How ever he is taking folks out, he can do it at a distance, but he’s always looking their way.”

The police waved the bike through to the entrance. A SWAT team was already positioned there. EMT’s were working behind the bench. Ober’s body was already gone.

The video feed showed the perp moving across a picnic area. A map showed up and the perp disappeared, the bike was a flashing point, the perp a second one at the other end of a trail that weaved down Olmsted Walk to his location.

“Comset: All Units, we are going in, standby and monitor my VidMic.”

The entrance sloped down to most other parts of the zoo. Tom killed the engine, slipped her into neutral, and let her freewheel along the ghostly path. Odeur d’Bison wafted by, accented by a touch of elephant scat. Trisha held on with one arm, pulling her boots off one at a time, lodging them against his back. A hippo spurted a spray their direction and sunk out of sight. They slipped into the lane approaching the picnic area; the darkened cat house loomed at the far side. The perp was moving directly towards that building. Tom braked to a stop some fifty feet away, and the two dismounted, Tom moving left, Trish right.

Tom took a slightly circular route, jogging with some deliberate noise to a point about ten feet to the perp’s left.

“You have killed three persons, this hardly seems civilized,” Tom observed.

The figure stopped, and started to turn towards Tom. Trish moved quickly across the pavement, positioning herself behind the perp. Then she quietly moved in, staying across from Tom.

The figure faced Tom. His head rose up. Tom positioned himself for the best VidMic view of the face. A light behind Tom provided additional depth and color, which could be essential.

The shadow cleared from the face exposing a skull. Coal brands glowed where eyes should be, as the mouth opened, Tom could see the inside teeth, bones, the back of the skull. A frosty smell of decay permeated the air.

Goose bumps surfaced over Tom’s body, a icy shudder racked his six-two frame. Death was part of his work, but not personified, not staring into his soul.

“Au Contraire, I have a sacred duty,” the skull spoke with a dry, windy voice.

“You’re supposed to be death?” Tom blanched.

“So Rogers said.”

“How can you know his name?”

“I know all the names, Mr. Quick. Rogers’ aim was true, but I am even less mortal than you humans. I fear even Trisha’s stealth, admirable skills, and opportunity will not avail her intent.”

“And what is your intent?”

“It would be a pleasure to enlighten you,” Death said lightly. “Perhaps we should remove to the feline domain. I suggest Trisha retreat. While she has done me great service, a dozen or so contributions, she is not ready to face Death.”

Tom waved Trisha towards the bike. “I suspect the facilities are closed.”

“No door is bared to my entry,” Death strode to the door. It opened. They entered into a humid musk. Paws twisted on leaves as yellow and green eyes focused in their direction.

“But why this spot?”

“Nature’s huntresses here are among the best,” Death lionized.

“Man killers,” Tom echoed.

“Not nearly as effective as my favorites,” an untimely swarm of mosquitoes buzzed out from under his cloak.

“Skeeters?” Tom was itching to know why.

“Of course,” Death waved the cloud into oblivion, “Malaria, sleeping sickness, encephalitis, much of my best work.”

“But these no longer affect humans,” Tom said effectively.

“This is part of my frustration,” Death turned to face Tom. “We had a deal after the apple affair. People die. Six score years is the time allotted.”

“I’m not sure people today would acknowledge any such limitations, and in a few countries, these are no longer relevant.”

“Alas. I appealed to the highest authorities, they seem unconcerned,” Death extended his arms; palms up, as if he had palms, presenting phalanges and tendons, “so I’ve taken matters into my own hands.”

“But there are billions of people in the third world, they are dying in record numbers, doesn’t that satisfy your needs?” Tom asked divisively.

“Jurisdictions, red tape, lack of empathy,” Death’s shoulders humped up to a pair of black arches, “my brethren have those franchises and they fear their days are numbered as well.”

“Perhaps we could make some accommodations. A role in the military, or the judicial system; the current trend against the death penalty can’t last when the voting populace realizes the implications of a life sentence combined with medical rights for prisoners,” Tom said guardedly.

“No, no,” Death’s shoulders drooped, skull falling forward, “it’s lost the old pizzazz.”

“Thy sting?” Tom poked.

Death raised his head quickly, coals burning in their sockets. “Don’t toy with me, mortal.”

“Excuse me, sir,” Tom acquiesced, “There must be some role that you would find suitable.”

“Perhaps,” Death recanted, “I’m used to long term situations, I really don’t relish re-training and all that. And as you can see, idle hands… well.”

“Give me a day or two,” Tom pleaded, “The judge who authorized our search also has jurisdiction on resolution, and is well connected. Can I reach you here?”

“I can reach you … anywhere,” Death responded “I will be watching.”


“Well, I’m glad we got to the meat of that problem quickly,” Judge Scott sliced into her steak.

“Yes, your resolution was right on target,” Tom skewered a tender morsel on his fork. It was a pleasure to be invited to a real home cooked dinner, even more so since Wayne seemed to be away.

“The President seemed quite agreeable,” She smiled, “particularly after the untimely expiration of the incumbent director.”

“An appointed position, but I doubt future presidents will initiate a change,” Tom gestured with his knife.

“True and there is an inevitable poetic justice as well,” the judge recited. She lifted her glass, “To the new Director of Internal Revenue.”

Tom raised his goblet, “Memento Mori”. Damn, she served good wine.