Death and relaxation, p.17
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       Death and Relaxation, p.17

           Devon Monk

  Once the terms had been settled—three pieces, fifty-nine/forty-one, owl included—the two gods shook on it. And that was that.

  Aaron sighed and leaned back in his chair as if he’d just consumed an amazing meal. “Marvelous.”

  “Don’t get used to it,” Odin said. He patted my shoulder, then went off to raise a toast at the bar with Thor, Chris, and Death.

  “Thank you,” I said to Zeus.

  He plucked imaginary lint off his suit. “We all know who would have won if it had come to blows.”

  “Odin,” I said. “He could have taken you to small claims court over the chainsaw.”

  “That is beside the point,” he said.

  “What we were trying to say,” Herri said, “is that we are here and will help you if you need us, Delaney. With the power, or anything else.”

  “Thank you,” I said. “Can you tell me that you didn’t kill Heimdall? Complete truth, Herri.”

  She looked me straight in the eyes. “I did not kill him. Nor was I involved in his death. On my word, honor, and power, Delaney Reed. The complete truth.”

  I believed her. That kind of a statement, with that kind of oath, was binding.

  Words had power. Even the gods knew that.

  “That’s really good to hear,” I said.

  She stood up and patted my shoulder. “Come on over to my bar sometime when you’re off duty. We’ll talk, just us girls. It isn’t just the town fish who can pour a decent brew.”

  “I will.”

  “Good. Then I’m out. See you all at the rally.”

  She sauntered over to the bar, maybe to look for Chris, who, come to think of it, I hadn’t seen for a while. She leaned over the bar to look at the floor behind it. She shook her head then walked around the bar and bent.

  Myra walked over and helped her with whatever was back there.

  Correction: whomever. The two of them half dragged, half carried an unconscious Chris out from behind the bar and lugged him over to a pool table, where they laid him out more or less in a comfortable position.

  Herri also placed a pitcher of water on the table for him, and patted the side of his face. He made a lazy swipe at her hand, rolled over, and snored.

  “So,” Crow said, “you got what we’re saying?”

  “That you all promised my dad you’d help me?”

  “That. Keep us in mind. For anything.”

  “Anything? Want to judge the Rhubarb Rally instead of me?”

  His eyes widened in shock. “Oh, hell no. Anything but that.”


  “Maybe, but at least I won’t have to live in a town full of people angry at me for voting down their nana’s secret recipe.”

  “You know they wrote legends about how brave and clever you are,” I said. “Schoolchildren read them.”

  “All true. I am clever. And brave. Which is why I would never get roped into judging a rhubarb contest in Ordinary, Oregon. What were you thinking?”

  “To serve, protect, and keep Bertie from going to jail for hitting Dan Perkin over the head with her desk.”

  “And that,” he said as he stood and planted a quick kiss on my cheek, “is why you are the police chief. I always feel safer knowing you’re on duty.”


  He waggled his eyebrows. “Good night, Delaney. Don’t get into too much trouble.”

  He started toward the door, and so did Aaron and Frigg. Zeus got up and wandered over to talk to Thanatos, or maybe to pick another fight with Odin. It didn’t matter.

  It looked like the party was over and everyone was leaving.

  Myra walked my way. “Everything okay?” she asked.

  “I think so. Is Chris?”

  “He had several too many. He’ll be fine in the morning. You know his constitution. Jean’s waiting for us in the car.”

  We walked to the door.

  “What did the deities have to say?” she asked.

  “They don’t think Heimdall’s death was accidental either.” I pushed out into the cool, salty breeze. Took a nice deep breath. Smelled rain on the air.

  “Is that all?”

  “They made a deal with Dad that they’d help me through my first power transfer.”

  “That’s…nice?” she said.

  “And a little condescending. But yes. Mostly it’s nice.”

  Jean perched on the hood of the car, drinking a beer and staring at the sky. “Finally. I thought you two would never come out. I am not the desig-ig…desig-nated driver tonight.”

  Myra looked at me.

  “I’m good. One beer two hours ago.”

  She nodded and tugged on Jean’s leg, sliding her down the hood a bit.

  “Yo-ho-ho,” Jean sang, “where’s my bottle of rum?”

  “We’re leaving,” I said.

  “Shotgun,” Myra said.

  “Shotgun,” Jean said too late. Then: “Crap. Fine. I’ll sit in the back seat. Who’s covering my shift tonight?”

  “You,” I said. “Roy’s already over his hours for the day. Ryder should be gone.” I started the engine. “Finish the beer. I’ll stay at the station, do some paperwork until you sober up, then it’s all yours.”

  “Killjoy,” she said.

  I glanced in the rearview. She stuck out her tongue at me.

  “Want me to drop you at your place?” I asked Myra.

  “No. I’ll go to the station too.”

  “It’s not your shift.” I turned onto the main street. “You should get some sleep.”

  “I can nap on the cot.”

  “Are you that worried?”

  “I just think we should all stick together tonight.”

  And since it was such a nice thought, I didn’t argue.

  Chapter 17

  “CANNON LUBE?” I suggested, looking over the situation with a critical eye.

  The groundskeeper’s daughter, Treana, who was sixteen now, snickered.

  The groundskeeper was a woman named Stella with #6.5R Nice-n-Easy auburn hair pulled back in a tight bun and a badge and uniform that looked more official than mine. She speared me with a hard glare.

  “If I kept that much lube on hand, I would have used it, wouldn’t I?” she asked.

  That got another snicker out of her daughter, and I huffed a laugh.

  Just because Stella was made of the same stuff as the cannon—hardened iron—didn’t mean she didn’t have a sense of humor. As a matter of fact, as the one and only keeper of the historic significance of Ordinary, I thought she had to have a roaring sense of humor to remain serious about her work.

  Ordinary lived up to its name as far as mortal history was concerned, although this one ridge was once a bunker put in place during the Civil War. Unluckily for Stella, the only attack to reach this side of America’s coast was a lone submarine that lobbed a few shells at Fort Stevens up north of us a bit. It knocked out a telephone line then turned and went home.

  And while our mortal history wasn’t exactly teeming with excitement, Stella was the caretaker of it, and she took that job seriously.

  Which was why the concrete penguin with the little red Superman cape jammed into the barrel of the cannon was no laughing matter.

  Well, no laughing matter to her.

  “How long has this been going on?” Stella asked.

  “What? Mrs. Yates’ penguin harassment?”

  She nodded.

  “I don’t know. I guess a year or so.”

  “And you still haven’t found the person doing it?”


  “Seems to me a year is an awfully long time to let something like this go on.”

  I nodded as I crouched at the front of the stuffed cannon barrel, unconcerned that she’d accused me of not doing my job.

  “Well, we figure it started with a kid. Maybe a graduating senior at the high school. We figure he or she moved on, but the tradition was passed on to someone else in the school.”

  I sent a look to Treana, who shi
fted her eyes and suddenly found her shoes more interesting to look at.

  “What I’d like,” I said, “is for whoever is behind this to knock it off. It’s eating up my time, and Mrs. Yates no longer thinks it’s funny.”

  Treana still wasn’t looking at me.

  “What I’d also like is for the class to give me a heads-up on what they’d like to do for senior trick day. I’m fine with non-damaging mischief, but the penguin escapades are bordering on harassment. Harassment comes with a large fine and can land a person in jail. And if I knew someone who knew about this, I’d kindly ask them to inform the lawbreakers to knock it off with the penguin before I decide this is something serious enough for me to shake down the entire school.”

  Treana lifted her head, guilt clearly written across her face.

  “What about Mrs. Yates?” Treana asked. “If she doesn’t like it, why doesn’t she just put the penguin inside her house?”

  I shifted on the balls of my feet and looked up at her and the heavy gray clouds behind her. We’d get rain within the hour, I was sure of it. “She said penguins can only thrive in the wild. And I’m hoping to make Ordinary a safe habitat. Understand?”

  She nodded.

  “So.” I stood. “I’ll get my rope and my Jeep and see if we can pry Super Penguin here free. Can you swivel the cannon?”

  “Or fire it,” Treana suggested. I was sure that had been the hope of all the kids involved in stuffing the poor thing in the cannon.

  Stella raised one eyebrow, but a smile played across her lips. “We do not use historical artifacts to shoot penguins.”

  Treana shrugged, but over her mother’s shoulder, her eyes glittered with hope.

  I dusted my hands. “Well, it won’t be the first thing we try.”

  Treana burst into a grin, and I turned toward my Jeep to get out from under her mother’s stern gaze.


  IT HADN’T taken much to pull Super Penguin to safety. Mrs. Yates had accepted the little caped waterfowl with a disapproving humpt and placed him firmly back in the flowerbed below her window. I noted she left the cape on him.

  It was early still, and I yawned hugely as I got back in my Jeep and headed at a leisurely pace through the quiet neighborhood.

  Once Jean had sobered up, she had sent me home with a firm order to get some damn sleep. I had not gotten any sleep, damned or otherwise.

  Ever since Heim had died, his power had been railing and shouting in my head. At first, I could ignore it, but it seemed to be growing louder with each passing day. After two glasses of warm milk and a white-noise machine cranked up loud enough to overpower a jet engine, I’d been hit with a new, slightly terrifying realization.

  If I didn’t give the power over to someone really soon, by midnight Monday, as a matter of fact, I might not have the strength left to do it at all. It wasn’t a comforting thought. So for comfort, I decided I needed copious amounts of coffee and several donuts.

  The Puffin Muffin was more crowded than I’d expected, but it was Thursday, and the festival would officially begin tomorrow morning. Tourists were already in town, filling up the hotels and apparently indulging in their love of baked goods.

  I walked into the bakery and only made it three steps toward the counter. It was so crowded in here, even the fruit flies looked claustrophobic.

  The line was twelve people deep, the two out-of-towner women ahead of me wearing coats that were too heavy for the weather and perfume that was too strong for the heat of the bakery. I scanned the people seated at the six small tables that took up all the space beyond the counter. No faces I recognized. Maybe I’d just grab my order and eat it in the Jeep. I rubbed at my temple and the power song thrummed louder.

  Not helping.

  “Grande mocha and a bear claw,” a familiar low voice said in my ear, close enough I could feel his breath on my cheek. “I’ll hold down that table for us.”

  My pulse raced for two reasons. One, I wasn’t used to someone coming up behind me without me knowing it, and two, it was Cooper.


  I twisted to look over my shoulder, but he was already moving, his hand briefly on my arm as he slid past me and wove between the tables to the little booth in the corner where a mother and teen daughter stood, preparing to leave.

  He gave them a smile they both fell for, and they gave him the booth.

  He could certainly charm a person when he wanted to.

  I’d followed the line closer to the counter and tried to breathe through my mouth to filter out the overwhelming stink of perfume. The line moved along faster than I expected, but by the time I reached the counter, the roaring song in my ears had turned into a full-blown headache. I rubbed at both temples and scowled at the pastries behind glass.

  “…help you, chief?”

  Hogan stood behind the counter, a smile on his wide, expressive lips. The light blue Velvet Underground T-shirt clung to his muscular chest and thick shoulders and complemented his dark skin and surprisingly blue eyes.

  “Long night?” he asked.


  “Isn’t Jean supposed to be pulling the night shift?”

  I nodded. “It’s been busy with the rally coming up. All-hands-on-deck kind of thing. Can I have a double-shot café breve, and a mocha, both grande. And I’ll take a bear claw and one of your strawberry cream crullers.”

  “You got it.” He rang up my total. I paid in cash while he wrote on a couple cups and passed them to Billy, who was pulling coffee for the rush. Billy was ninety if she was a day, with thick glasses and short, curly hair dyed traffic-cone orange. An unlit cigarette hung out of the corner of her mouth. “Anything else?”

  I shook my head. “Just make sure that coffee’s strong.”

  He smiled, and it did amazing things to his eyes, making the cut of his high cheekbones even more pronounced. I could see why Jean stared at him. “Extra shot for the chief, Billy.”

  I took the receipt he handed me, dropped enough to cover the extra shot and more in the tip jar, and moved down to wait while Billy made our drinks.

  Cooper was watching me. I didn’t look over at him, but I could feel his gaze on me like a hand between my shoulder blades. Something in me jumped knowing he was here back in town. I was happy about it, though I didn’t know why.

  Maybe it was just that it was so very clear that I had moved on. Gotten over him. Cooper had broken my heart, but I had healed. I was stronger without him.

  There was something satisfying in knowing he knew that.

  Billy set the coffees and the white bag of pastries down for me.

  “Thanks,” I said.

  She flashed me a quick smile and a wink, already turning for the heavy cream to use on her next order.

  I made my way over to Cooper.

  He lounged in the booth, both arms out across the back of the bench seat, watching me, his eyes on my mouth.

  The song in my head kicked up a notch and my headache tightened. I hooked my boot around the leg of the chair and pulled it out, scraping it noisily across the tile floor. I tossed the bag on the table.

  “You owe me seven bucks,” I said.

  “Sorry about making you get the food.” His eyes were on my eyes. “I had to jump on the table while we had a chance.”

  I placed the mocha in front of him and gulped three throat-scorching swallows of my coffee, ignoring him, my headache, the power song, and everything else in the building.

  Sweet, sweet caffeine.


  “Shhhh.” I held up a finger and swallowed fortitude.


  He claimed the bear claw. I spun the bag and lifted out my cruller. There was a maple bar in the bag. Had Hogan screwed up our order?

  I shot a questioning look over my shoulder at Hogan and held up the bag so he could see. He grinned and gave me a thumbs-up, then smoothly went back to the next order.

  I couldn’t help but smile. Maple bar was Jean’s favorite. He knew I’d see
her at her shift change and give it to her.

  I wondered just how serious it was between Hogan and my youngest sister. Serious enough that he was making me a de facto pastry cupid. He worked early mornings and she worked night shift. I guessed love, and the people in it, always found a way.

  “Problem?” Cooper asked around a mouthful of bear claw.

  “Not at all.”

  “What about us, Delaney?” His voice was softer than I expected, as if he’d already given up hope, but didn’t know it yet. “We were good together. Think we can give it a go?”

  “We already gave it a go, Cooper. This is our stop. We’re done.”

  He nodded, his eyes flicking away as he drank coffee.

  I rubbed at my temple again, wishing the headache would let up. But it only got worse the longer I sat here with him.“So what did you do when you left town?”

  He winced. “I, uh, joined a band.”

  “Of course you did. Why didn’t you stay with the band?”

  His gaze slid to the window, where he stared out at the cloudy day. “I don’t know. I thought… It sounds weird, but I thought maybe I left something here. Maybe I took off when I should have just stayed. So I came home to see if I’d lost…if I’d left something behind.”

  “Did you?”

  He took a drink of coffee, thinking that over. “Maybe not.” He put his coffee down. “I don’t know. When I’m around you…it feels…right.”


  “You kissed me,” he said.

  “You kissed me,” I corrected. “That was a mistake.”

  “It didn’t feel like a mistake.” His eyes were on my lips again, soft and needful.


  “Mind if I join you two lovebirds?”

  I jerked.

  Ryder stood next to the table, a buttermilk twist in one hand, coffee in the other. He wasn’t looking at Cooper, his gaze riveted to mine. And he was smiling.

  The look in his eyes was inscrutable. Humor? Curiosity? Mockery? I couldn’t tell. Ryder Bailey knew how to keep his true feelings tucked behind his glowing eyes when he wanted to.

  I waved at the booth next to Cooper. “Have a seat.”

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