Death Is Lucrative

(Originally written: July 23, 2018)

“The name’s Gruffs.” The old man had bushy eyebrows that covered his eyes and a bushy mustache that covered his lips. Considering his remarkable lack of hair anywhere else on his head, it was as if three furry, white caterpillars had decided to settle on his face. 


“Mmm.” People weren’t sure if Gruffs was named that because he had a gruff voice or if he gave himself a gruff voice to suit his name. 

“Well nice to meet you, Gruffs.” The lad sat across from him on a cardboard box. He was actually 40 but he asked me to initially call him ‘the lad’. I’m telling you this because he never said that I wasn’t allowed to tell you his true age. “My name’s Robert.”

It’s not. If Billiam was a name then his real name would rhyme with it. ‘Robert’ asked me to keep his name private and, as far as I’m concerned, I have. I like to give my readers the full details of things. As I wasn’t asked to not give subtle hints, I’ve done exactly that. It’s not my fault if my readers are supremely clever. 

“Mmm.” Gruffs’ face remained motionless. The caterpillars were asleep it seems. 

“I was told that I’d find a boy named Martin here.” ‘Robert’ tapped the tip of his umbrella at Gruffs’ feet. “Where has he gone?”

Gruffs nodded lazily down the alleyway he had made a home of. “Gave him some money to get me a pint.”

“I see.” ‘Robert’ leaned back against the brick wall. “Well you won’t mind me waiting for him with you? I’ve got some business with him.”


“Thank you.” ‘Robert’ tipped his hat. “Now Gruffs if you answer some questions for me, I’ll give you enough money to buy several more pints. Your help will save me some paperwork.”

The fur of the caterpillar covering his lips ruffled as a slow wind blew down from Gruffs’ nostrils. “Go on.”

“The boy. Martin.” ‘Robert’ took out a tablet. All his coworkers still used pen and paper. They didn’t care about being hip. Funnily enough, ‘Robert’ was not hip enough to know that ‘lads’ nowadays didn’t say hip. “He is 15 years old, yea?”

“Mmm. Birthday yesterday.”

“120 pounds?” ‘Robert’ scribbled away with his stylus. “54 kg if you prefer metric. 8.5 stones if you prefer rocks.”

Gruffs’ left caterpillar went up. “Do I look like a weight machine?”

“Eyeball it, please.”

“Sure.” Gruffs scratched vigorously at his inner thigh. “The boy is around .06 tons.”

‘Robert’ smiled. “You’re more clever than you look, Mr. Gruffs.”

“Just Gruffs.”

“Right.” ‘Robert’ said dismissively. “Other than his persistent coughing, Martin is healthy?”

“Mmm.” Gruffs nodded then added. “Can’t pee straight. So not perfectly healthy.”

“I see.” ‘Robert’ scribbled that in his notes. Despite what he just said, ‘Robert’ had never seen Martin urinate. “Would you say he’s a good lad?”


“How about the time he stole from the baker?”

“Was hungry.” Gruffs’ shrugged. “Went back later and did some work.”

“Ah the lad has a conscience.” ‘Robert’ smiled. “Good to hear. We need people like him.”

Gruffs’ assumed that ‘Robert’ meant that the whole world needed conscientious people like Martin. He assumed incorrectly. When the 40 year old had said ‘we’, he had meant a much smaller group of people. 

“If you had to trust him with your life, would you?”

Gruffs’ thought about the time Martin had given Gruffs’ his blanket. The night was extremely warm but the gesture was still welcome. “Mmm.”

“Great!” ‘Robert’ cheerfully turned his tablet off. “That’s all I’ve got for you.” He reached deep in his black trench coat’s pocket and pulled out a wallet. ‘Robert’ counted out 700 dollars and gave it to Gruffs. “Enjoy.”

“Mmm.” Gruffs stuffed the money into the crotch of his pants. That was the safest place he could put it. Even when he was young no one had ever tried to reach into his pants so Gruffs always kept important things there. Such as the thing that made him a man. 

“You’ve been a lot of help, Gruffs.” ‘Robert’ got up and stretched. A slender boy came walking down the alleyway. “Ah! You must be Martin.”

“Yes, sir.” Martin knew enough to be polite when a well-dressed man talked to you. He placed the pint of whiskey next to the now sleeping Gruffs.

“That cough been bothering you a lot?”

The cough in question answered by having Martin double over in a fresh fit of them. 

“Sounds awful.” ‘Robert’ frowned sympathetically. He himself had had pneumonia before George had come and recruited him. “I’m actually here to offer you a deal, Martin.” 

Martin stared blankly. 

“I get rid of your cough. The one that will kill you in a week. And in exchange you come work for me.” ‘Robert’ paused. “Well actually you’ll be working for the Corps but that’s just being pedantic.”

“It’s pronounced core not corpse.” Martin had done very well in school until his parent’s had run away, forcing him to drop out and be homeless. He wasn’t surprised to hear that the cough would kill him in a week. It did feel deathly. What did surprise him was how readily believed the stranger.

“Yea you would think so.” ‘Robert’ grinned. “Not when it comes to us.”


“The Corps.”

“Who are they?”

“Good to see that you’re far more talkative than a few seconds ago.” ‘Robert’ smiled. “Means you’re cured.”

“I…” Martin took a deep breath and was amazed to find that he could do it without being wracked with coughs. “How?”

“Perks of the job.” ‘Robert’ said distractedly as he frowned at his tablet. His next assignment had come in. This one was a Harvest, the main duty of Corps members. “You can do my assignment. Get you started quickly.”

“I didn’t even say yes. Why did you cure me?”

“Because we only come to recruit people we know will say yes. There really was no point in me pretending like you’d think about the offer.”

“What have I said yes to?” Martin frowned. “I’m so confused.”

“Probably because I’ve been annoyingly vague.” 

“Could you stop?”

“Sure!” ‘Robert’ held his umbrella out to Martin. “You’ve just agreed to be a Grim Reaper. You can borrow my scythe until you get your own.”

“I… what?” 

“Can’t get less vague than that, Martin.”

“That’s ridiculous. The Grim Reaper isn’t real.”

“Well yea there’s no singular Grim Reaper. Could you imagine? One guy Harvesting souls?” ‘Robert’ grimaced. “Imagine the paperwork.”

“So you’re telling me you’re a Grim Reaper.”

“Yes. And you are too.” ‘Robert’ nodded. Then gestured towards Gruffs. “Go on then.”

Martin took a step back. “I’m not killing him.”

“Oh he’s already dead.” ‘Robert’ held up his tablet. “Just got the notification. You’re lucky. Sometimes we have to deliver the final blow. You just have to use the scythe to cut the soul out.”

Inexplicably, as if an extremely rushed writer was giving him strength, Martin took the umbrella being offered him. He pushed the button that would normally cause an umbrella to unfold. This one instead extended out into a scythe that was a blinding white from staff to blade. “I thought it’d be black.”

“We can customize them. My wife has one that’s lime green. You can make yours black if you’d like.”

Martin licked his lips nervously as he looked down at Grubbs. The old man was quiet and a bit odd. But he had been very kind to Martin. It hurt to see him dead. “Will it hurt him?”

“Not at all.” ‘Robert’ said. “Just make one strong swing into his body. It’ll pass right through and tear the soul right out.”

“Where does it go?”

“Dunno. We aren’t told that.”

“So you just blindly follow orders?”

“The pay is very good.” 

“Oh.” Martin licked his lips again, gripping the scythe tightly. “Promise it won’t hurt?”

“Dead people don’t feel pain.”

“Right.” Martin nodded. That made him feel better so he shut his eyes tight and swung before he could change his mind. The inside of his eyelids burned bright for a brief second before going back to normal. He opened them hesitantly. “Did… Did I do it?” 

“Yep.” ‘Robert’ jerked the scythe back and it turned back into an umbrella. “Come on then. I’ll take you to the local branch. They’ll get you sorted there. You’ll be living in a dormitory until you’re 18.”

“What about Gruffs?”

“He’ll be taken care of. Someone will find him.” ‘Robert’ said confidently. “Come on then.”

Martin took one last look at Grubbs then followed ‘Robert’. Grubbs was undiscovered for a few days before the smell alerted the other occupants of the alleyway. He was given a quick burial and a tombstone that didn’t look any different from the one next to it. 

Unfortunately the 700 dollars was buried with him since people still weren’t interested in sticking their hand down his pants.