Death and relaxation, p.15
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       Death and Relaxation, p.15

           Devon Monk
 

  “I haven’t been there in ages,” I said with longing. “It’s too far, though. Maybe the casino? The dessert bar there is decadent.”

  “You go out there a lot, don’t you?”

  Every week to pick up god mail. “Off and on.”

  “What I think you meant to say was every Friday.”

  It was true, but it was also, actually, a weird thing to say.

  “Are you stalking me, Ryder Bailey?”

  “Just paying attention. You like to gamble?”

  “I like to get out of town every once in a while.” It was the excuse I thought up when I’d become the courier for the gods. “They have good food.”

  “And a nice hotel.”

  I paused before answering that, wondering if he’d just accused me of what I thought he’d accused me of. “What does that have to do with anything?”

  “Nothing.” He ran his hand back through his hair, mussing up the dark waves. “I shouldn’t have. I didn’t mean anything by it.” The tension was back in his heavy shoulders, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think he was embarrassed.

  What could embarrass the easygoing, big-city, own-my-own-business, open-the-door-naked Ryder Bailey?

  Hotel room.

  It clicked, and I had to swallow down a burst of laughter. “You think I’m going up there to sleep with someone?”

  “I did not say that.” His eyes flashed in warning. I was not intimidated in the least. I had the upper hand here.

  “But that’s what you meant, isn’t it? You think I have a weekly booty call.” I grinned. “My, my, Mr. Bailey. How quickly your mind slips to the gutter.”

  Ryder grew more uncomfortable, hazel-gold eyes squinting like it was suddenly too bright out. “Delaney. I didn’t—”

  “I am single. I don’t see why I shouldn’t have myself a little weekly dessert on the side.”

  “Are you done? It was a stupid thing to assume. And none of my damn business.” He still looked uncomfortable, but his body language was loosening, and that shadow of a smile was back. Good. I liked a man who could laugh at himself.

  “I don’t know. Is there anything else you’ve been dying to ask me?”

  “How about what that kiss this morning with Cooper was all about.”

  He would have to bring up the one thing that would make me blush.

  “That was a miscommunication. A mistake.” Is it suddenly hot out here? “He thought there was something to salvage from our relationship. There isn’t. I’m not seeing anyone. Not in town, not out of town, and certainly not Cooper Clark. My trips to the casino are a chance to get a cup of coffee where I’m not Delaney Reed, the chief of police who couldn’t figure a way not to get roped into taste-testing rhubarb, a fruit that is an affront to all things decent.”

  “Vegetable,” he said. “It’s a vegetable.”

  “That’s what you got out of the conversation?”

  He shrugged one shoulder and the smile was back, along with the light in his eyes. “Everyone knows it’s a vegetable.”

  “New York ruled rhubarb was a fruit in 1947. Lower tariff fees.”

  He pursed his lips, hiding the smile. But not for long.

  “I did not know that,” he said.

  “So what about you?”

  “I like the coffee in town.”

  “Are you seeing anyone?”

  “I’m trying to, but she works really long hours and has no concept of the food groups.”

  Oh. That was sweet.

  “Are you going to keep trying? To see her?”

  “Dessert is a strong possibility.”

  “Good.”

  He stood there. I stood there. We stood there. One of us was going to have to do something. The ever-present wind tossed his dark hair, sunlight highlighting the stubble along his jaw. I wondered what his scruff would feel like against my lips.

  “We lost Jean.” He waved vaguely at the door, his gaze on me. He hadn’t moved. Hadn’t looked away.

  “She knows her way around.” He was wearing that nice cologne again. Just strong enough that, standing this near to him, I could catch a hint of it on the breeze.

  I wanted to kiss him, taste him. Wanted to run my fingers over the curve of his lip and bite at the soft skin near his ear. A knot of ache, of desire filled my chest. This felt right. The idea of Ryder being mine, even if it was only for a short time, felt really right.

  “Ryder, do you think—” I started, then shut up as a door slammed.

  Jean jogged over to us. “Hey, Ryder,” she singsonged. “Hey, Delaney. How’s it going?”

  Better before you butted in. “Swell,” I said.

  Ryder exhaled, then rubbed his palm over his hair to smooth it. He looked off to the horizon for a moment, and I thought his breathing was a little faster than it should be. I thought mine was too.

  “Did I interrupt something?” Jean asked. “I sure hope I didn’t interrupt anything.”

  “Were you going to ask me something, chief?” Ryder met my gaze again.

  I nodded. “Do you think it’s stupid to work with your siblings, or do you think it’s super stupid?”

  “No comment,” he deadpanned.

  “Good answer.” I walked toward Jean’s truck. “Ryder, head on back to the station and see if Roy or Myra need a hand with anything. Jean and I will be back in a bit.”

  “Roger that.” He strode over to his truck and swung up inside.

  I got into Jean’s truck and slid on the seatbelt. She hopped up into the driver’s seat, but immediately turned to me. “You two were standing in the middle of the sidewalk mooning over each other.”

  “We weren’t mooning.”

  “You were mooning.” She glanced at the rearview mirror, watching Ryder as he pulled out of the parking lot. “Tell me you kissed him.”

  “I did not kiss him.”

  She groaned. “Why won’t you just do something? Can’t you see that you two were meant to be together? Seriously, Delaney, glaciers move faster than you.”

  “We have a date.”

  She whooped. “About time!” She held up her palm. “High five, sister! C’mon. Don’t leave me hanging.”

  I shook my head. “It’s just a date. You and I still have work to do.”

  She grabbed my wrist and smacked my palm into hers. “You can’t have fun for two seconds in a row.”

  “You can’t stay serious for one.”

  “That’s because my two older sisters are serious enough for the entire town. Did Dan pan out?”

  “I don’t know yet. I think we need to go find us a gill-man.”

  Chapter 14

  THE VAMPIRE was waiting for us outside the bar. Ben Rossi wore a canvas jacket, dark red beanie, tight jeans, and boots. He looked more like a dockworker just out of college than a hundred-year-old firefighter. The shadow from the roof overhang kept him out of the spotty sunlight as he leaned against the warehouse and tipped two fingers to his forehead in greeting.

  “Good day, officers.”

  “Ben,” I said. “What’s down?”

  He pushed off the wall, hands still in his pockets. “Old Rossi heard you hired Ryder Bailey on to the force. That right?”

  Was there anyone in town who hadn’t heard that news? And why was everyone making such a big deal out of it?

  “That’s right.”

  Ben bit at his bottom lip and raised his eyebrows. “You might want to rethink that.”

  “I don’t think I do.”

  “All right. Old Rossi would like you to rethink that.”

  “Why?”

  Ben shrugged. “He was cleansing his chakras or fluffing his aura or some such bull. Didn’t go into details. Just told me to tell you: fire Ryder.”

  “I don’t allow vampires to dictate my human resource decisions.”

  Ben flashed a bit of fang in his smile. “I figured you’d say that. You know I’m just the messenger.”

  “I know. Do me a favor? Tell Old Rossi that if he has a problem with
Ryder, he can come talk to me himself.”

  “I’ll let him know, chief. Say…come on by our place next Saturday. Jame and I are having a housewarming party.”

  “Do you want me there as a friend or in an official capacity?”

  “Yes. I figure we’re gonna have a lot of family stop in.” He grinned again, then pushed off the wall. “See you around, chief. Jean.”

  “Bye, Ben,” Jean said. “Think we should be worried?”

  I didn’t know if she meant about Old Rossi’s warning, the housewarming invite, or us hiring Ryder.

  “Probably,” I said, just to cover the bases.

  We found Chris right where I expected him to be: upstairs at the bar.

  We found him in a state I didn’t expect him to be: drunk.

  Even more interestingly, we found him in the company of both Lila Carson and her sister Margot Lapointe.

  They sat in the corner booth, mostly out of sight of the rest of the diners, though I noted the bartender, Nick, a mortal, was keeping a close eye on them.

  I gave Nick a nod as Jean and I walked over to Chris and company.

  “Delaney Reed,” Chris said, drawing out my name with more Louisiana than I’d heard out of him in a while. “Have yourself a seat. Have yourself a drink.”

  Chris wore a black shirt with a black band tied around his upper arm. A petrified shark’s tooth centered his chest, hanging from a chain I knew was very old, and pure gold. It was an ancient talisman. I knew he wore it whenever a god died.

  He’d once told me it was a symbol for life and death, a reminder that there was always something out there bigger than you that could, and likely would, kill you and eat you.

  “I need to talk to you, Chris. Business.”

  “Do you need us to go?” Margot asked.

  Margot and Lila looked like sisters if you compared their pointed chins, petite noses, and the shape of their eyes. But while Margot was blonde with loopy curls held that way by lots of product, Lila’s hair was brunette and worn straight. They must have had a girls’ day out and both gotten multicolored feather extensions scattered in their hair.

  Chris’s arm was draped over the back of the booth seat behind Margot, his hand absently stroking her curls and feathers. Lila sat just out of his reach, head down.

  Lila was the elder sister, I decided. Any makeup she might have been wearing had been scrubbed off hard enough to leave her eyes and cheeks spotty and pink. When she looked up from the nearly disintegrated wadded napkin in her hands, her eyes were bloodshot and red-lined, her nose pink. She hadn’t scrubbed off her makeup. She’d cried it off.

  “I’m so sorry about Heim, Lila,” I began, gently.

  Her eyes filled with a wrenching mix of emotions, as if her heart strained for a shred of hope, even though her mind knew he was dead.

  “There’s nothing to be sorry about,” Margot snapped. She looked…angry. Annoyed. Probably mad that her sister’s ex-boyfriend had made Lila cry again. “Heim was a selfish, cheating bastard. He deserved what he got.”

  “No,” Lila said quietly, her voice softened by tears. “He didn’t deserve that. He didn’t. He was…he was so young.”

  Several hundred years old, but I couldn’t tell her that. She’d loved the man he’d been when they dated for two years. I knew that man was most often kind and good, even if he did love the ocean and his ship more than he loved Lila Carson.

  Gods and mortals never lasted.

  Margot was still scowling at us, but she wrapped her arm over her sister’s shoulders and pulled her tight. “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. Is there something you wanted?” she asked.

  “Just some basic information about the last time you saw Heim,” Jean said evenly. “Would you ladies mind if I sat with you for a bit?” Apparently, she was going to take the sisters, which meant I was on gill-man duty.

  “Chris?” I said. “Can we talk in private?”

  “Sure.” He lifted his arm and slid out of the booth.

  Margot looked a little startled that he was leaving her. “It will be fine.” He leaned down and placed a kiss on her temple. “I’ll be right back. You’re in good hands with Jean.”

  Margot nodded and Lila wiped the tattered napkin over her nose as Jean sat next to her.

  “This way, then.” Chris walked with a little less of his distinctive grace. Not that he was unsteady on his feet, but he had been drinking, and it showed in his almost overly loose joint movements. I was pretty sure he had a skeleton of bone, but right now he appeared to be held together by sinew and cartilage.

  I followed him to the other side of the room, and up a flight of stairs to a door that opened on his office.

  The two large windows ate up the back wall behind the desk and looked out over the ships, the bay, and the opposite shore, with lights from houses twinkling in the low haze that covered the hill. The office was smothered in label designs, awards, and certificates of excellence, along with a few signed photos of Chris posing with celebrities, musicians, and a smattering of other famous people.

  He walked straight to a dented mini-fridge that looked like it might have once been painted red, and pulled out two beers. He popped them open, offered me one.

  “Can’t. This really is business.”

  “I know.” Chris took a drink of his beer, and still held the other bottle out at arm’s length for me. “It’s about Heim. He was Asgardian. He would have wanted you to at least take one drink in his memory.”

  I sighed. “I know.” I took the beer, glanced at the label. It was a dark porter Twin Rocks, one of the ones that had made Chris, and Jump Off Jack’s, so famous. I lifted it a little, and Chris lifted his.

  “To Heimdall,” Chris said. “Long may he live.”

  “To Heimdall.” I took a gulp, holding a memory of Heim in my mind. A time when he and I and Chris took the chairs out on the dock to cast lines for rockfish. Heim and Chris sang a song I thought had been incredibly raunchy. I’d been twelve, and by the end of the afternoon, I’d learned every word and been sworn never to tell my father where I’d heard it.

  Good times.

  The rich, deep flavor filled my mouth and ran a cool heat down to the bottom of my belly. “You know what I’m going to ask you, Chris.”

  He sat on the edge of his desk, stretching his long legs out in front of him, one ankle crossed over the other. He was wearing slippers. “If I know who killed him?”

  “Yes. But first, I need to know if you killed him.”

  He took another drink of beer, watching me as he did so. “Let me get this right. You’re here, in my office, asking me if I killed one of my closest friends?”

  “It’s what a police officer does. Asks all the hard questions. Of everyone.”

  “All right, I’ll say it here, and I’ll say it anywhere else you need me to. I didn’t kill Heim. I loved him, as a friend. He was a good man. He understood the sea, understood life and the pace of it in a way I could only share with a few others. He was my friend, Delaney. If I knew who wanted him dead, you’d have to throw me behind bars, because I would find them and beat the life out of them.”

  His eyes, usually a smoky brown, glinted with red for a moment.

  He was angry. Very angry.

  “I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I liked Heim too. I’m going to miss him.” I sat down in the chair next to the mini-fridge and took another drink of beer, then pressed the bottle against my forehead. “We don’t think his death was an accident.”

  “I gathered that when you accused me of killing him.”

  “Do you know who was angry at him?”

  He tipped the beer up and then set the empty bottle on his desk. “There’s always someone upset about something.”

  “Names, Chris. Any you can think of. I want to know who did this. I’m not going to let them get away with it.”

  He shook his head and folded arms over his chest. “No one stands out. Hera was upset that he slipped us a few prime catches over the last month or so, bu
t you know her. Liked to make us think she was angry about it, when she had Pete supplying her plenty of prime catch on the side. She wouldn’t stoop so low as to kill Heim and risk being thrown out of Ordinary over fish.”

  I nodded. “I know.”

  “He had his arguments with a few other people, a few other gods and creatures. Odin once or twice, but Odin yells at everyone. Bertie, over judging the contest. Tried to withdraw when he found out I had entered. But I can’t…I just can’t see why any of them would kill him.”

  “Not even for the Rhubarb Rally?”

  Chris stared at me for a long moment. “Is that a serious question?”

  “Dan Perkin seems to think it would be enough motivation for murder.”

  “Dan Perkin is an ass. I’m looking forward to the day he’s the one we’re burying.”

  “That’s what he says about you.”

  “At least something about this week is normal.” He reached into the fridge for another beer and flipped the cap off with his thumb.

  “This is Ordinary,” I said, lifting my nearly full beer. “Nothing about it has ever been normal.”

  Chapter 15

  CHRIS HAD an alibi for the time period wherein Heim had been harmed. He had been spending that time with Lila. Mostly, he admitted to me, trying to talk Lila out of enacting petty revenge against Heim. He assured me her plans involved egging his house, or putting sugar in his gas tank, or welding his crab traps shut, not clubbing him over the head and kicking him into the sea.

  She had certainly looked torn up about his death. I just hoped she wasn’t faking it.

  “She’s not faking it,” Jean said as she and I took a seat at a table close to the front door of Jump Off Jack’s. Jean had ordered us iced tea and cheese bread.

  “Late lunch or early dinner?” I asked.

  “Both. You’re too thin. We’re on our break.” She tore off a piece of bread and took a big bite.

  I pulled a piece of bread my way and dug in. It was delicious, the cheese from local farms in Hebo, the bread fresh, with just a bite of heat in it. Jalapeno, I thought.

 
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