JUDD'S ERRAND: CHAPTER ONE
Judd kicked the body with a boot that looked like it had seen at least five wars and lost three of them, the force of the impact causing dust and sand to drop hastily back onto the desert floor. There was no need to be gentle; the man was already dead – just how Judd wanted him to be. He didn’t like killing people, but sometimes he had no choice. The man had tried to steal his precious box and had ignored all requests to go on his way unharmed, demanding – at gunpoint – that Judd hand over the graphene-coated container. That was never going to happen. Judd wasn’t overly protective of the box because of its inherent value, even though it was almost indestructible and actually worth a lot of money in itself, but he would rather die than give up its contents.
He’d built up quite a reputation as a courier. He was driven and didn’t allow himself to be distracted from his task by anybody or anything. If you wanted a package delivered, Judd was your man. He had a 95% success rate which was quite a feat when most of his competitors could only muster 52% – those that were still alive, that is. Of those 5% failures, only one could have been avoided; he had trusted someone who didn’t deserve his trust – he wouldn’t make that mistake again.
He could tell by the tattoo on the man’s forearm – two suns overlapping like a celestial Venn diagram – that he was a follower of the twin sun gods Suncé and Sunon. He didn’t believe in the gods himself, but many did and, even though this man had tried to kill him and steal his property, he would respect the man’s burial traditions.
He gathered a few rocks together and covered the man’s face with them. It was important to followers of the Sunsu religion that their life spirit should find its own way to the Resting Place, and they needed eyes in order to be able to do that.
Stopping momentarily, before crouching down and positioning the last two stones over the corpse’s eyes, he took a pair of mirror sunglasses out of the breast pocket of his jacket, placed them on his nose, and glanced up at the suns which beat down mercilessly on anything that wasn’t in shade. If he was taking the trouble to protect a dead man’s eyes, it didn’t make sense to leave his own eyes unprotected.
He reached over his right shoulder and drew his razor-sharp machete from its sheath. Raising the blade above his own head he swung it down on the dead man’s neck with such force and accuracy that just the one downward sweep sliced the head clean apart from the torso. Laying a few more stones to cover the vulnerable stump of the still visible neck, he had a final message for the dead man.
“I warned you but you wouldn’t listen. I only did what I had to do. But I bear you no ill-will on your journey to the Resting Place. I’ve adhered to your customs – even though, personally, I’m a non- believer – so your life force should pass on without problems. May your gods go with you.”
Those closing words spoken, he walked the ten metres to where his buggy was parked and returned immediately to the decapitated corpse with a length of strong rope wrapped around his right shoulder. He slid his arm underneath the headless body just enough to allow him to thread the rope under its back and leave enough cord free to fasten a knot, securing the corpse tightly in its loop. He attached the other end, to the tow bar of the buggy. Settling back in the driver’s seat he pressed his thumb onto the card-key and the engine purred silently into life.
The car edged forwards as his right foot applied pressure to the accelerator. He didn’t push the gas pedal down hard yet as he didn’t want to disturb the sand too much when he left the scene – that would have been counterproductive. Once he’d travelled about three hundred metres distance from the buried head he stopped.
“Well, Ruby? Ready for a drive?”
The vehicle didn’t answer him; it never did.
He opened up the throttle and Ruby lurched forwards, her tyres fleetingly clawing for grip. Once found, the car rocketed onward, kicking up a large dust trail behind it; the decapitated body tumbled and somersaulted as it was dragged behind in Ruby’s wake. After another kilometre, Judd stopped the buggy, climbed out of it, and released the now battered and bruised corpse from its bonds. He returned the rope to its place inside the buggy’s meagre trunk, tucking it beneath a dark brown trench coat.
Returning to the driver’s seat, he slid his hand underneath the passenger seat to confirm that the box was still there; of course, there was no way it wouldn’t be there but he felt better for feeling its familiar touch. Ruby accelerated away and what was left of the body faded into the distance. Judd patted the buggy’s dashboard.
“I know, girl. It’s messy but dragging the guy’s body behind us has given the sand-jackals something else to find and fight over. They’ll leave his head alone for a while and his life force will have time to make its journey. We did a good thing.”