Death and relaxation, p.16
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       Death and Relaxation, p.16

           Devon Monk
 

  “Get anything useful from the sisters?”

  Jean didn’t look over at Margot and Lila, who stood at the table, saying their goodbyes to Chris.

  “Not really. Lila’s reeling from his death. She had plans, things she wanted to do to him to make him pay for breaking up with her. She wanted a chance at making his life miserable. She didn’t want him dead. I think she’s truly sorry that he is.”

  It was a backward kind of logic, but I could understand it. The heart, even the jilted heart—maybe especially the jilted heart—wanted what it wanted.

  “You think she’s upset she didn’t get a chance at revenge?”

  “No. I think…” She popped another bite of bread in her mouth. “If he were still alive, she’d be buying rotten potatoes to hide in the walls of his house. Now that he’s gone, she’s mourning him. Thinking of all the great times they’d had together. She’s sad.”

  “She was never really over him, was she?”

  Jean tipped her head a bit. “He was a god. There’s a certain…I don’t know, tingle about them, you know? Even though they’re temporarily mortal, there’s something really attractive about them. When I was little I had the biggest crush on Shiva, remember?”

  I smiled. “I’d forgotten about that. Dad thought it was cute.”

  “Dad did. Mom didn’t. She sat me down and made me promise I wouldn’t run away to go live with him in the junkyard.”

  “You wouldn’t have run away.”

  “Oh, yes, I would. I had my suitcase packed. But she explained it was the god stuff that drew me, like a magnet to a refrigerator. And then she made Dad take me out to Gaia’s place so I could see all the god powers she was keeping that year.”

  “When did this happen?” I asked. “Where was I?”

  “Worrying about if Ryder would like your hair in braids or in a ponytail.”

  I grimaced. “Middle school?” I’d worn a braid on one side and a ponytail on the other for a week, to try and figure out which one he liked more. He was more interested in Sheila Guberman’s rainbow braces.

  I gave up and wore my hair long, tucked behind my ears.

  Jean took half the remaining bread and pushed the plate my way with one finger.

  “Did seeing the powers make a difference?” I asked.

  “I was hypnotized by it. I think I cried, out of joy or wonder, or…I don’t know. It was a lot for a nine-year-old to see all that power, that magic right there in a hollowed old log.”

  “Is that where she kept it?”

  Jean nodded. “It was absolutely wonderful. And then when I looked at Shiva, he seemed less wonderful. Still…intriguing, but I could tell that the thing about him that I’d found so amazing was the echo of his power.”

  “And then what happened?”

  “I went back to playing video games, happily ever after. Haven’t you ever felt it? That draw to the deities?”

  I shook my head. “I’m immune to it, I guess. I can tell when they’re being god-ish, even when they aren’t carrying power, but it’s not hypnotizing, doesn’t draw me in.”

  “Not even now?”

  I shook my head again. “That… Okay, I’m not going to lie. It’s weird to have a power stuck in my head. It’s loud and…thrashy. But it doesn’t make me feel any differently. Does the power in me make me look like a god?”

  Yeah, it was a weird question. But this was Ordinary, after all. Weird was our second cousin.

  “I don’t see it in you at all. If it’s in there, it’s behind a lead blanket.”

  “What did you just call me?”

  She grinned. “You look normal. Be happy about that. Any idea who you’re going to offload that crazy shit onto?”

  “No.”

  “Are you worried?”

  “Should I be?”

  She took a drink of her iced tea and tipped her head a little. “I don’t get…that feeling of imminent doom about it.”

  “The one you had yesterday?”

  “Gone as soon as I heard Heim’s body had washed ashore.”

  I studied her a second. “You think you were picking up on his death?”

  “Either that, or the fact that it wasn’t accidental. Like maybe I was picking up on someone wanting him dead?”

  Since Jean didn’t usually talk about these things, I wasn’t sure how much experimenting she’d done to see if she could control her talent.

  “I don’t suppose you picked up any clue as to who that might be?”

  “Would I be driving around with you questioning suspects if I did?”

  “Point taken. I don’t think Chris did it. They were friends. He has Lila as an alibi. Plus, he said a couple of his crew saw him in and out of the restaurant last night. We can check with them.”

  “Lila mentioned she and Chris talked last night too.”

  “What about Margot?”

  “She said she was out at the casino.”

  “Do we have any corroboration on that?”

  “Nope, but we can look into it tomorrow. Do you know why Chris is getting all the mortals out of here?” she asked.

  I glanced around the restaurant. A few of the tables that had been full minutes ago were empty, dishes removed. The remaining people in the restaurant besides the wait staff, who Chris was even now sending out the door with a wave, were gods.

  Not all of the gods in town, but a good dozen or more filled the booths and a few of the tables. They were all, of course, drinking beer.

  “Do you know what’s going on?” I asked.

  “Nope.”

  I wished Myra was here.

  And then, of course, she walked in through the front door, Death gliding in behind her.

  Chris moved behind Myra, locked the door, and turned off the neon sign in the window.

  She frowned at him, then scanned the room and walked over to Jean and me.

  “What’s going on?” she asked.

  “Have no idea,” I said.

  Chris strolled to the center of the room, positioning himself between the bar and the restaurant. “I’ve locked the doors for the night,” he announced. All the voices in the room silenced.

  “Let this be the beginning of celebrating our fallen,” he said in that lilt that carried soft melancholy. “Let this be the beginning of recognizing the long and good life of our friend, Heimdall, who was once the mortal Ephram Dalton. May he drink deeply in the great halls of Valhalla while we drink deeply in this humble hall in his honor. First round is on me.”

  A low hum rose to a shout that ended with “Heimdall!” chanted in a cascade of voices reaching the peak at different times. It was beautiful. Moving. A kind of vocal fireworks.

  Chris strode around behind the bar and began filling glasses with beer, whiskey, and wine as if this night would never end.

  Chapter 16

  ONE CANNOT conduct a murder investigation when one is drinking with gods.

  One can be coerced into singing, judging an arm-wrestling contest, and breaking up a bar brawl before friendly back pats become less friendly fists to the face.

  Thor, who went by the name Thorne, was in the corner with a microphone and his guitar singing—sadly and badly—about the total eclipse of his heart. I was alone at a table, nursing a glass of water and wondering who Thorne had been dating to cause him the case of the mopes.

  “Delaney.” Odin pulled up a chair and sat down heavily at the table next to me.

  “Odin,” I said.

  “So.” Hera, who preferred to be called Herri, owned Mom’s Bar and Grill—and was Chris’s direct business competitor and friend. She plunked down on my other side. “We should talk.” She appeared to be in her mid-thirties, beautiful, heart-shaped face with long, dark hair streaked with candy red. Her skin was a shade darker than mine, her light brown eyes smoldered.

  The other chairs were dragged across the wooden floor and quickly taken by Crow and then Ares, who went by the name Aaron and looked like a computer programmer who wasn’t old enough to drink
. The god of war’s hair was yellow-brown over a softly angled face, green-gray eyes behind glasses in a blocky, stylish frame. He had darker skin than me, but also freckles.

  Zeus and Frigg were the next to claim seats, Zeus making it a point to sit as far as possible from Odin. Whereas Odin looked a bit as expected for the Norse wandering god, from wild gray hair to burly build and eye patch, Zeus, who went by the name Zeus, looked like he should own a fashion boutique for only the very rich and very famous.

  And he did. He was tall, thin, elegant, and impeccably dressed in deep blue slacks, business shirt, and a jacket that probably cost more than my year’s salary. His dark hair and goatee were trimmed tight, his face long and tanned. Even though he sent a sneer Odin’s way, he was handsome.

  Frigg, tall, pale, her golden hair pulled back in a ponytail, went by her name too, though she told people it was a nickname. She reached across the table and patted my hand before sitting. She wore jeans and a tank top with the logo of her towing company, Frigg’s Rigs, across the front of it. The tank was tight enough to accent her curvy figure and showed off the tattoos of a goose in flight, with a spindle in its beak across her muscular arm.

  Well, lucky me. Half a dozen gods, all in a row.

  “Is this an intervention? Because it feels like an intervention.” I leaned back in my chair and thumbed off my phone.

  “It’s not an intervention,” Herri said.

  “Do you want an intervention?” Crow interrupted.

  “It’s just,” Herri said before I could answer, “we want to talk about that power you’re holding.”

  Oh. Well, that made sense. Of course they’d be worried. My dad had been an old pro at this, but this was my first time dealing out a power.

  “You let a new god into town today,” Crow said.

  “Crow,” Zeus said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Shut up.”

  “Thanatos?” I looked them each in the eye. “He signed the contract. As long as he follows the rules of Ordinary, he’s just as welcome here as any of you.”

  “We’re not worried that he’s here,” Aaron said. “We just think it’s interesting that hours before he arrived, one of ours falls.”

  A chill rolled over my skin. That quote was almost exactly what the anonymous note had said. “What?”

  “Hours before Thanatos shows up,” Aaron repeated slowly, as if I needed time to hear each word, “Heimdall dies. Anyone else find that suspicious?”

  Crow shot his hand up.

  Great. The god of war and the trickster god thought something fishy was going on. Or, more likely, the god of war and the trickster god were trying to stir up trouble.

  “I don’t see how they’re connected,” I said.

  “Thanatos is death,” Aaron said.

  “Exactly!” Crow said.

  “Don’t humor them, Delaney,” Zeus said. “Children, find another pot to stir.”

  “He’s death,” I said to Aaron, “and you’re war. No one’s blaming you for the Kressler/Wallery garbage can feud.”

  He rolled his eyes. “Amateurs! If I were running that feud, one of them would be dead by trash compactor by now.”

  He might look like a mild-mannered gardener, but Aaron had always been a cheerleader for blood and mayhem.

  “I don’t see why we should blame Thanatos for Heimdall’s death,” I said. “Just because he is Death doesn’t mean people randomly die around him.”

  Crow chuckled and even Odin smiled. Okay, it was a dumb thing to say, but it wasn’t wrong.

  Odin leaned forward, resting two beefy arms on the table. He had several scars and nicks on his arms and the backs of his hands. Being a chainsaw artist hadn’t come naturally to him, but he was too pigheaded to give up his preferred mortal occupation.

  Just like most of the gods.

  “Don’t you find the timing convenient?” he said. “That death was no accident. Someone was behind it. Likely a trickster.” He leaned back as if that were that, and the case was closed.

  Crow grinned at Odin. “Screw you, old man. I didn’t kill Heimdall.”

  “You think you’re the only trickster?” Odin asked, unperturbed.

  He was right. Between the creatures, deities, and heck, even the mortals in town, we had plenty of people who were jokers.

  “Do any of you know who wanted him dead?” I asked. “Who he might have been fighting with?” I glanced at Herri expectantly.

  This is a safe place. You’re with people who care about you, Herri. Tell us you killed him.

  Huh. Maybe it did feel like an intervention.

  She pulled her hair back from her temples with her thumbs and let it fall. “He and I argued. But I have never disliked Heimdall. As a mortal, he was companionable. Even-tempered. Despite screwing me out of a few choice catches, he was fair to me.”

  “As a mortal, you got along with him,” I said. “What about as a god?”

  “We leave that outside this town, outside these lives,” she said.

  “Do you?” I asked.

  “Yes,” Zeus said in his cultured accent. “We all do.”

  Herri rolled her eyes at him, and Aaron adjusted his glasses and snorted.

  “You have an opinion, Ares?” Zeus asked.

  “I’ll believe gods leave petty squabbles behind the day you and Odin kiss and make up.”

  “Ass saddle,” Odin muttered.

  “What’s that?” Aaron cupped his hand to his ear. “What did you call me?”

  “Boys,” Herri warned.

  Crow shook his head. “And you thought the tricksters cause trouble.”

  “I thought,” Odin said, his deep voice loud enough to silence both of them, “that we were telling Delaney that we’re worried about her.”

  “Wait,” I said. “We’re what now?”

  “Worried about you,” Odin said, still glaring at Aaron and Crow in turn. “Isn’t that right, boys?”

  Crow slid me a small smile. “I think that was actually the point.”

  “Worried? That I can’t do my job?” Okay, maybe I said that a little louder than I’d intended.

  I could feel all the gazes in the room turn to me.

  Terrific. Now all the gods were interested in the subject of my inexperience.

  “It’s just that your father…” Zeus began.

  “My father what?” I demanded. “He taught me how to do his job. I’ve known for years that I would take it on. Just because he and I don’t sense power in the same manner doesn’t mean I’m not living up to the Reed blood and word. I will not fail this town nor the gods, creatures, or mortals within it.”

  “…asked us to look out for you,” Zeus finished quietly.

  Oh.

  Well, I’d just been getting all worked up over the wrong thing.

  “I can take care of myself.”

  Frigg reached over and patted my arm. “We know. You’re a Reed. We know you’re strong. Your family always has been. But you’re new to this, Delaney.”

  “And”—Zeus held up one finger to keep me quiet—“you not only have a new god in town, but you also need to rehouse your first power. It is a lot to take on at once.”

  “Not to mention the murder,” Aaron said.

  “And the murder,” Zeus agreed.

  I hadn’t told any of them I thought Heimdall was murdered. “Who told you he was murdered?”

  “He fell off his boat and drowned,” Odin said. “We’re on vacation, we’re not idiots.”

  Thor stood up on a table and wobbled like a surfer trying to catch a wave. “Let’s swim the sea naked! In Heimdall’s honor! Who’s with me?”

  Death, who was sitting primly in a corner booth sipping a fruity drink with umbrellas in it, glanced around the room, keenly interested in the answers.

  “Well, some of us aren’t idiots,” Zeus said. “Some of us just raise them.”

  Odin stood. “At least some of us aren’t cheap.”

  “Cheap?”

  “You broke my chainsaw.”

/>   “It was dull.”

  “Not before you used it on concrete.”

  “I paid you to replace the blade.”

  “You gave me store coupons. To your store!”

  “Of which you should make immediate use. Your decor is hideous.”

  “I make all my decor!”

  Zeus gave him one slow blink. “I know. Destroying that chainsaw was a service.”

  “Screw you and your damn service.” Odin curled his massive, scarred fists. “I’ll take my payment out of your face.”

  “Finally!” Aaron cheered.

  “No.” I stood, grabbed Odin’s arm. “You touch him and I’m dragging you to jail.”

  “Worth it,” he growled.

  Zeus was slouching a bit in his chair, relaxed, like he had no care in the world. “Let him go, Delaney. He couldn’t hit me if I carved a target on my forehead with a dull chainsaw.”

  “I’ll carve you a target, right up your—”

  “Bargain.” I pointed a finger at Odin and turned it on Zeus. They watched me. All the gods watched me. Nothing interested a god more than a juicy bargain. “In exchange for the excessive wear and tear on Odin’s chainsaw…”

  Zeus made a short, offended sound.

  “…which I am sure was unintended,” I amended. Odin growled. “Zeus will carry five pieces of Odin’s art in his shop on a sixty/forty commission until they sell.”

  “Ten,” Odin said, his single gray eye lit almost silver. “Ninety/ten. And the owl statue is one of them.”

  “Owl? That hacksawed lump of pine on your porch? That, dear sir, is not art,” Zeus insisted, offended.

  I gave him the look. The one that said I could throw the book at him if I wanted to.

  “One piece.” He sniffed. “Eighty/twenty. No owl.”

  “Eight,” Odin said. “Eighty/twenty. Owl stays.”

  I let go of Odin’s arm like a parent letting go of a child’s first ride without training wheels. Quibbling over numbers should keep these two on the up-and-up, but I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance.

  “Too much like your father,” Crow said quietly. I glanced his way and thought I saw pride. “Peacekeeper.”

  I shrugged and took stock of the gods around the table. Aaron stared raptly at the argument, like a starving man watching bacon sizzle. Frigg and Herri seemed uninterested in the argument.

 
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