In a world where the government controls everything, and every citizen is given one government-approved kill, Sid Barker is doing his best to keep his head down and not get noticed. At some point, he must have failed. Being a potato farmer doesn't generate enough income, and Sid is making moonshine on the side to keep himself fed, but one day a liquidation agent shows up at his farm, not to kill him, but to blackmail him into giving away his moonshine for free.
Thorn Hull is a liquidation agent. Every time someone hands in an application to have someone terminated, he or one of the other agents has to perform the kill. It's a well-paying job, but no money in the world can fill the void in Thorn. He regrets ever becoming an agent, but no one has ever quit the agency and lived to tell the tale.
One night in a bar, Thorn runs into Sid, who's far from the dirty little kid he'd been the last time Thorn had seen him. Sid remembers Thorn from his childhood and asks him to help him talk sense into the agent who's blackmailing him. Things soon escalate, and Sid and Thorn find themselves on the run from the liquidation agency. How will they be able to deal with the blackmailer at the same time as they're on the run from the government's trained killers?
The pebbles crunched under his boots as he carried the last bag of sugar into the barn. Rain clung to the sky, ready to drop on him at any second.
“Come on, Cognac. Let’s go inside.” Sid’s stomach grumbled, but he didn’t have anything to eat. He’d have potatoes. Again. As soon as Jeb had picked up the apple wine, he’d buy a steak. Perhaps not a steak, but he’d buy some kind of meat. He should try to catch a rabbit or two. Poaching was another offense, but Cognac needed to eat too.
He could build a trap and club the poor critter to death. He shuddered. Should be easy, right? He glanced at Cognac. The government might be right when they claimed not allowing civilians to handle firearms kept the violence down, but a man should be allowed to hunt on his land. No one was allowed to own any larger acreages of land, but still.
Sid grabbed the door handle to the hut he called home and stopped dead in his tracks as Cognac’s deep growl sounded over the small gravel yard. Turning around, Sid stood with his back against the door. Something moved in the shadows behind the barn.
“Good boy.” He spoke in a low calm voice as he neared Cognac. He placed his hand on the dog’s back and watched a man coming toward him. “Who are you?”
“That’s not important, what’s important is that I know what you’re doing.”
Sid forced his body to appear relaxed despite the fear punching him in the gut. “And what’s that?”
“You’re having yourself a little distillery here.” The man, who was in his late forties or early fifties, gave Sid a cold grin. “And I want some.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The man pulled out a bottle from inside his jacket -- an empty one. He was too far away for Sid to be able to clearly see the label, but he didn’t need to. Even in the dim light, he recognized the oak tree Jeb drew on every bottle he sold. No tree looked the same, but they were all the same style.
“West Oak Moonshine.” The man chuckled. “From a rotting barn by the North Ridge.”
Bile climbed Sid’s throat. There was something familiar about the man, he couldn’t say what, but he belonged in a past Sid had worked hard to bury. “As I said, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m not here to play games, kid.”
Sid winced, he hadn’t been called kid in a long time, and he didn’t particularly want to be called it again.
“I want one barrel a week.”
“Barrel?” Sid almost laughed. Did the man seriously think he had barrels? On one hand, it was a relief since it meant he hadn’t been inside the barn and seen all his plastic canisters—the oak in the name was a joke, he made potato vodka in plastic containers. Some of the apple wine he made in glass demijohns, but he didn’t have enough of them, and real distillery items were expensive.
On the other hand, it was worrying. How large did the man think this operation was? “I’m sorry, but I don’t produce a ... barrel a week.”
“I’m sure we can come to an understanding.” The man dropped the bottle on the ground then he removed his gloves. Cognac growled, which most likely came from the way Sid stiffened. He’d seen the same reaper tattooed on a hand before. He’d never believed when the Death Squad came, it would be to get his moonshine.
“I have contacts as I’m sure you can imagine. How long does it take?”
“Three weeks.” It only took two, give or take a couple of days.
“Good, I’ll be back in three weeks then.”
Sid gripped Cognac’s collar as the man passed by them. Three weeks.
He had three weeks to come up with a solution.