Meetings were over, and Dan had a day in San Francisco before his flight home to England. He strolled across the lawns of the Presidio and, glancing back at the Golden Gate Bridge, accidentally collided with a fellow walker.
‘I’m terribly sorry,’ apologised Dan, turning to face a small man in his early fifties. ‘Uncle Alex!’ he said in surprise.
‘I think you’re mistaking me for someone else,’ the man replied.
‘Of course I am,’ Dan realised, composing himself. ‘It’s just that you’re the spitting image of my Uncle. You can’t be him - he died three year ago.’ Dan moved to walk on. ‘Sorry to have bothered you.’
‘No problem Danboy,’ the man said - then froze.
There was a long silence before Dan spoke again: ‘Alex was the only person who ever called me Danboy… What’s going on?… Alex?’
Alex pondered, then gestured towards a nearby bench.
‘So, you’re not dead?’ said Dan as they sat down.
‘I am dead. Your Uncle Eric murdered me after I had that affair with his wife. You were at my funeral - and his trial. Ten years was bloody letting him off, I say – with remission, he’ll be out in another two! They ought to consult the sodding victims!’
Alex addressed Dan’s bewildered silence: ‘When we die, we don’t go to Heaven or Hell,’ he explained. ‘We move to other locations on Earth, far enough away from friends and relatives that encounters like this shouldn’t occur. The problem with modern travel is that it’s hard to find a place where you can guarantee that no one you know will turn up. San Francisco was risky, but I always had a hankering to live in California.’
‘Can you go where you like, then?’
‘More or less. It has to be somewhere we can blend in unobtrusively. California attracts a lot of famous deceased because everyone assumes they are just weirdo lookalikes. Did you see that guy doing Elvis impressions at Fisherman’s Wharf?’
‘Yes. He was good.’
‘He’s better than good – he is Elvis. Lives in the flat next to mine with Princess Di – Marilyn Monroe was pissed off about that, I can tell you.’
Dan was astounded. ‘Do you mean that many people I see every day are actually dead?’
‘Increasing numbers, I’m afraid.’ Alex sighed. ‘In some fashionable places, like Brighton on England’s South Coast, nearly all the population have passed over. It’s getting difficult to keep it a secret.’
‘What happens when the living find out?’
‘Nothing, if they keep their mouths shut. If they start to exhibit deadist behaviour then we have to bring them over.’
‘Bring them over?’
‘Most serial killers are dead,’ Alex continued. ‘They target the more radical members of the Anti Deceased Movement.’ He stood up. ‘I’ve said too much already. It’ll all be explained in your freshers' week when you join us. Come and see me after that.’
Dan, still stunned, managed a wave as Alex disappeared into the mist, rolling off the Bay.