Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

It’s easy to spot strangers round here. They’re the ones who call the grass-banked sewer on my right a canal.
“And in those days of tribulation, the faithful called unto Old Peace, but his thing was endurance without fighting, so he answered not. When the Ruiner of Empires unleashed the twin demons Druntha and Thacha, the people rebelled, invoking Marilyn of the Twin Desires in the name of the Virgin Queen and the Unseen King.”
I listen to the preacher, reluctantly impressed by his hybridisation of twentieth and twenty-first century politics with pop culture to form a gutter religion that has a host of gods but only one commandment: spend as much time as possible out of your mind on whatever drugs you can find because the world has gone to shit.
Even with my possibly loftier view, I have days when I wholeheartedly agree. Today isn’t one of them.
“Shields. You owe.”
I feel the business end of something big enough to kill a lorry touch the back of my head.
“You’re too close.”
The cold muzzle slides a little as he looks up and over the sights in surprise.
Spinning on my back heel, I turn until my cheek touches his fingertips where they cradle the forward grip of the gun. His eyes widen as I punch a screwdriver through his armoured vest and into his heart. The smell of singed blood fills the air as his cheap heart shorts out through the conductive lacing inside his ribs.
Pulling my screwdriver out, I keep hold of the shiny gun as he drops. Looking it over, I give a low whistle.
“Wherever did you get a blunderbuss like this, Danor?”
“From me, chukka.”
I spoke too soon about today not going to shit. That voice belongs to Lenki – the man I’ve come to kill. I turn slowly, leading with the hand holding the gun, while the other hand turns the screwdriver to lie along my forearm.
“Put the gun down.”
I place it down carefully, leaving it with the business end pointing to one side of Lenki.
With a smile, I extend my hand as I step aside.
He steps the other way and shakes his head.
“Not falling for that. You did me with that trick once before. Drop the pointy tool.”
I smile: “Can’t fault a man for trying.”
The screwdriver drops. I see Lenki’s eyes widen as he works out what’s happening a fraction too late. The tool lands in the trigger loop as my foot braces the stock. Lenki gets his pistol partway up before the gun does what had been intended for my head to his legs. Seeing the result, I’m happy that didn’t happen.
Lenki gibbers as his explosively truncated legs and shock-numbed grip fail to keep him from sliding into the sewer-canal. He screams and gurgles until he drowns or the things that used to be rats chew through something vital.
I take a deep, satisfied breath, then gag. You don’t do deep breathing through your nose down here. I’m getting out of the habit, which probably means I’m getting somewhere. I retrieve the gun, then wipe it and the screwdriver before tucking both away.
Turning to stare at the preacher, I give him a knowing smile: “Whisky from a dead man?”
The preacher proffers a bottle of Glenfiddich; Danor always liked being flashy when organising the locals to provide diversions.
“That’ll do nicely.”
I kick Danor’s body down the bank, then open the bottle. I raise a silent toast before drinking. Sewage: never a shroud for good men.