The administration centre was empty, apart from Death. He sat there, bored and restless. It was only a matter of seconds before the bell rung and he would be summoned to the earthly plane to administer some pour soul's last rites. He regretted taking the job. Still, it paid the rent. He resented working on Christmas Day, and had considered making a complaint, but he knew the contract stipulated 365 days a year. No holidays. No overtime. No chance of going on strike.

There was a tiny placard sellotaped to the wall. "You don't have to be dead to work here...but it helps!", it read. He hated that bloody placard. Death was no laughing matter. It was his job and he'd get hauled up to heaven if he ever started slacking.

He remembered how ambulance drivers and doctors developed a macabre sense of humour to deal with the trauma they witnessed on a daily basis. They ended up cracking jokes about rape victims and playing with internal organs at the autopsy. However, he'd be working the shift for many million years and still hadn't developed that kind of humour. He liked Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin, Little and Large - the classic slapstick stuff. He didn't like jokes about death.

He had stopped laughing at all sometime during World War I. That was when the job had gone from difficult to nigh impossible. He had pleaded with God for extra help, but the Old Man was set in his ways. If Death were in charge he'd totally change the infrastructure - from the top down. The afterlife needed a quality management consultant. He waited impatiently for Sir John Harvey Jones to die. Maybe that would help.

Death sometimes idly pondered ways to reduce his workload. One evening he had been drunk and had considered leaving the cure for cancer on a medical desk when he next was on Earth. But he knew that God was delaying the release of that project for another couple of decades. Some PR Guru had told God that releasing it so soon after the millennium would make people nervous - would lead some nuts to putting 2 and 2 together and making 5. He didn't much like PR gurus. They rarely said what they meant, and Death, for all his sins, was scrupulously honest.

Martin walked into the room. "Alright boss? Coffee?", he was relentlessly cheery. In life he had been an undertaker and he had made the transition into the afterlife with consummate ease. He made Death nervous - despite the little man's amiability, he always got the impression that Martin was after his job.

"No thanks. No point. I'll only get called away."

Martin sat at his desk and filed away the documents covering the new arrivals. He whistled, as he always did, and Death resisted the urge, as he always did, to punch him in the face.

The buzzer sounded. He was used to it, but it always filled him with dread. He wondered if he'd ever get used to it. Probably. He got used to most things, eventually.

"Oooh, this is an interesting one, boss. Assassination. Gang-related. Colombia," piped Martin, as though death were a novelty.

"Yes. I know. I'm on my way." Death put on his hat and left the room.