Ralph was a simple guy. All he wanted was a life without stress, which is why he left a lucrative teaching position in the pressure cooker that was Stanford University to become a baker in his home town. Not even a master baker; no, Ralph punched his card as a simple apprentice breadmaker. He found the simplicity and order deeply satisfying.

But it wasn’t to last. One day, while hauling stale bread to the dumpsters in the staff parking lot behind his bakery, Ralph witnessed a violent murder. A long, low, black car drove up to an older pedestrian, dropped its windows, and blasted the latter with automatic gunfire.

Instinctively, Ralph ran in the other direction. He hadn’t gotten a good look at the man, and the assailant hadn’t been visible, but it was clear as Ralph’s car turned over that he had been spotted. Flooring the gas and scrambling to remember where the police station was, Ralph’s car fishtailed out of the baker’s back lot with the dark car in hot pursuit. It was faster, the driver was less panicked, and in short order Ralph found himself sideswiped into a sign, a mailbox, and a parked car. Worse, he’d tried to cut across a back alley; no one was watching.

The airbags deployed. Dazed, Ralph bumbled with his seatbelt and crawled from the wreckage of his car. Something hot was oozing from his thinning hairline; he figured it was blood. The other car was still running but the doors were open and it was empty. He limped toward it, hoping to escape through the alley on the other side.

There was a click behind him, the unmistakable sound of the hammer being drawn back on a firearm. Ralph’s shoulders sagged.

“You’re going to shoot me, aren’t you?”

“Well, wouldn’t you?” a very reasonable voice–a boy’s voice–replied. It was soft but strangely familiar. “Witnesses, especially witnesses that get into wrecks like that, are never a good thing.”

“I suppose, but…” Ralph’s thoughts flashed to the comfortable stress-free existence of the last few months. “Nevermind. Get it over with.”

“Dying men get last requests sometimes. What were you going to say?”

“Well, it’s just that…I’ve been living and working as a baker. It’s a life I’ve grown to love…I’d hate to lose it.”

“Oh, that’s awfully boring,” said the voice. “Pleading for your miserable life. You aren’t always that uninteresting, or I wouldn’t be here.”

“…thanks?” Ralph struggled to place the voice. Clearly it was someone he knew, or who knew him, but it just wasn’t clicking. “I could think of a more interesting last request if I knew who you were,” he said.

“You already know. You’ve always known. But you won’t be sure until your last breath is rattling in your throat.”

“Just get it over with.” Ralph’s throat was dry, but really, was this any different than the heart attack that would have felled him back at Stanford? So much for his dreams of working in a bakery. He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting for the end.

Instead, he heard the whistle of a gun butt in the air, the crack of metal against bone, and knew nothing but darkness for some time.

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