Death and relaxation, p.23
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       Death and Relaxation, p.23

           Devon Monk
 

  I wanted to slip back into sleep, or coma, or whatever soft oblivion I’d just accidentally slipped out of, but my breathing was way too loud.

  “Time to wake up, Delaney,” Myra said from next to me. “We’re here. Come back to us.”

  Fingers brushed my cheek gently, then stroked back over my hair. Myra, I thought. Maybe Jean too—petting the top of my head like I was a nervous cat she was trying to comfort.

  “Hey, Delaney.” Jean sounded like she was trying to talk a cat out from under the car or refrigerator. “Wake up, sister.”

  I pushed at my eyelids. It took a lot of effort to crack them open. I thought I might be heavily medicated. Finally got my eyes to track.

  A bright pink glob bounced somewhere near a white ceiling. Maybe a creature or ghost come to get a look at me?

  I blinked a couple of times and the cheerful pink glob came into focus. It was a big bright balloon, swaying gently on a string. I rolled my eyes down, following the string that blurred in and out of focus. Myra and Jean were saying something. Maybe to me. I couldn’t seem to follow their words. My head echoed.

  The string ended with a pale, bony hand.

  Death.

  He wasn’t smiling, but he didn’t look angry, either. He had on a T-shirt that said: WE MIGHT BE ORDINARY, BUT AT LEAST WE’RE NOT BORING.

  I snuffled a laugh. It was one of the T-shirts we printed up for tourists, much to the dismay of the little town of Boring, Oregon just southeast of Portland.

  “There now,” he said, and I wondered why I could hear his voice so well when everything else sounded like I had a metal bucket on my head. “It is about time you woke. I do have other matters to attend.”

  I was going to tell him I was so sorry to interrupt his busy schedule with my gunshot wound, but by the time I blinked, he stood next to me.

  Death lifted my pinkie, which seemed like a really weird thing to do, and then patted my hand as if he were some kind of concerned uncle instead of the last face before the grave.

  “Get well soon,” he said slowly with just a little hint of delight, as if he were reading off a cue card. I had a feeling he’d never said those words before.

  I wanted to respond, but I was tired and closed my eyes. When I opened them again, he was gone and Myra was sitting in the chair next to me. I thought maybe a little time had passed.

  “How about a drink of water?” she suggested.

  “Sure.” The word came out breathy, but it felt good to be able to think again.

  I was in a hospital room, the bed bent so I was almost sitting, a thin but warm blanket tucked around me from my chest to my feet. Both my arms were free, and there was an IV in the left one.

  I took a sip of water through the straw Myra tipped my way. The water was cool and somehow tasted rich and clean. “What happened?”

  “You got shot,” Jean said from the other side of the bed.

  I glanced over at her. She looked worried, her green and blue hair making her eyes dark and glittery. “I told you to lock your damn door.”

  Okay. Not worried. Angry. “He wasn’t at my door.”

  She sighed. “I know, Delaney. You didn’t stay inside.”

  “I didn’t think…” I tried to come up with something more to say. “I didn’t think.”

  “Damn right you didn’t.” She sat forward and caught my hand, turning it without messing up the IV line. “You were shot. When we drove up and saw you there on the ground…” Her eyes welled up and she shook her head, unable to speak. “Jesus, Delaney. Jesus.”

  “Here I thought the rhubarb would kill me.”

  “Not funny,” she said, but at least she wasn’t crying.

  “What happened to Dan?”

  “We arrested him,” Myra said. “He’s claiming he didn’t know the gun was loaded. Says he’s innocent.”

  “Horse shit,” Jean said.

  Everything in Myra’s expression agreed with that statement. “His lawyer wants the trial moved out of Ordinary. Says he’d never get a fair trial here.”

  She was probably right. Dan had made a nuisance of himself to so many people that I didn’t think we’d be able to scrape together an unbiased jury.

  “Where are they thinking of transferring him?”

  “Polk County.”

  That was east, in the valley. Far enough away from Ordinary no one could have heard of Dan, and a small enough town that he might be able to bargain down the charges.

  “You put him up on assault with a deadly weapon?”

  Myra’s cool blue eyes held mine. “I put him up on everything I could think of.”

  I inhaled then stopped because it pulled somewhere deep in me, and I thought it might hurt a lot more if I weren’t on meds.

  “How long until I bribe my way out of here?”

  “Uh, that would be never,” Jean said.

  “So a few hours?”

  “You can’t bribe your way out of here,” Myra said.

  “Why not? I did when I had to have my tonsils out. Everyone has a stack of parking tickets in their closet.”

  “No,” Myra said. “I already told Alister I’d take care of his tickets and his library overdue fines if he promised me he wouldn’t let you bribe your way out.”

  “Traitor,” I grumbled.

  She patted my upper arm, her clear eyes seeking out mine. “You were shot, Delaney. Shot. Through and through. Broke ribs. You were shot.”

  A weird chill ran down my spine at hearing those words. I was still pretty firmly in denial of the reality of the whole thing.

  Dan Perkin had shot me.

  Over rhubarb.

  I giggled. Who got shot over a vegetable?

  “Oh, great,” Myra said. “Now you’re going crazy.”

  I tried not to laugh, but laughter pushed up my chest and into my throat as if it were filled with helium. I snorted. It had to be the drugs. Getting shot wasn’t funny, was it?

  “No.” I raised my hands to reason with her. A pink blob bobbed with that movement, making a little tink-tink sound. I looked up to see the balloon swaying gently on the string tied to my pinkie.

  Death had brought me a pink balloon. I couldn’t stop myself. I snickered then giggled again.

  “Really?” Jean sounded exasperated.

  “I’m fine,” I insisted, trying to keep the laughter in. “It’s the drugs. Just the drugs.”

  When I tried to think through what Dan had done, the whole thing just seemed so out of character. I mean, Dan was a blowhard and a pain in the butt, but he had never before shot anyone. Especially not a police officer in broad daylight in front of a witness. Even he wasn’t that bold and stupid.

  “Are we sure it was Dan?” I asked.

  Jean swore softly and Myra patted my arm again. “He was standing there, the gun in his hand, and you hadn’t even been on the ground long enough for the pool of blood to spread.”

  “Thanatos?” I asked.

  “He was there too.”

  “No. I mean what did he see?”

  “What did you see, Delaney?”

  I didn’t want to think about that. I’d never been shot before and I was finding the more I thought about it, the more the reality of it sank in, the less smoothly I was handling it. As it was, I was already feeling like maybe whimpering like a baby might be about my speed.

  “I, uh…saw Dan. He was angry.”

  “What did he say?” Myra used her cop voice. The one that calmly guided and soothed witnesses through remembering details of an event.

  “He said his root beer should have won. That he should have won. I told him I’d fix it. That I could fix it for him.”

  “Did he say anything else?”

  “Yeah. He said he could fix it too. Then he shot me.”

  Myra waited, and even Jean was silent.

  “Do you remember anything else?” Myra asked, even more gently. It suddenly reminded me of Mom, whom I’d only known until I was twelve. Myra had that same soft comfort in her voice that Mom used
when I had a fever or chicken pox.

  I shook my head. “Thanatos was disappointed that I’d been shot. Other than that…” I searched my memories. “Wait. I thought I heard another gunshot. Did one of you shoot at Dan?”

  “No,” Myra said. “When we got there, Thanatos was standing behind Dan, his hand on his shoulder, keeping Dan from bolting. I thought you put Death’s power away, Delaney.”

  I rolled my eyes. Okay, now she sounded like Dad. Doubting that I had carried out his orders and the job correctly, even though he had taught me, pretty much all my life, how to deal with all this.

  Not that I was dealing with it well. He hadn’t really covered the gunshot wounds over rhubarb ribbons in the job description.

  “I did put it away. He doesn’t have his power—except, you know, the little bit that lingers. All the gods have that.”

  “They do?” Myra asked.

  I smiled. “Yes. It’s what makes them so damn pretty.”

  Jean snorted. “What do they have you on? I might need to get some for when I want you to sign off on my vacation weeks.”

  “Week. Vacation week. I’m not that stoned.”

  “Was there anything else you noticed?” Myra said, back in cop mode. “Any sounds, any smells? Anyone else who could have been there?”

  I bit down on a smart-mouth answer and instead took a few moments to breathe deeply and clear my mind.

  I was a cop. Even drugged, I should be able to piece together what I’d seen firsthand less than twenty-four hours ago.

  At least I thought it was still the same day.

  “What day is it?” I asked with a jolt of panic that was quickly soothed away by all the happy chemicals floating through my veins.

  “Friday evening,” Myra said.

  “Evening?”

  Jean sighed. “Getting shot means surgery, Delaney. Surgery means recovery time. Recovery time means sleep. And sleep means it’s Friday evening.”

  “How evening?” I had lost an entire day.

  “Four thirty,” Myra said. “You’re awake in time for dinner. Think you can eat something?”

  “Sandwich and coffee?”

  She finally cracked a smile, though it looked like it was fueled by relief. “I’ll see what I can do.”

  She stood and started toward the door. That was when I noticed she wasn’t wearing her uniform. As a matter of fact, I was pretty sure those were jammie pants.

  “Duckies?” I asked.

  She turned. Gave me a tolerant look. “It has been a long day. Too long. And I like duckies. You have something to say about that?”

  “I like duckies too. We should make it a part of the official uniform. Very intimidating.”

  She shook her head, but at least this time her smile was more than just relief. “I’m going to tell them to dial down your meds.”

  I scowled, but couldn’t hold it for long. “Don’t be a spoilsport. My boyfriend walked out on me and I got shot. I deserve a night up in the clouds.”

  “Walked out on you?” Jean perked up and slid her phone back into her pocket. “Is this Ryder we’re talking about?”

  “You mean that he left you at the judging?” Myra asked.

  It took me an extended moment to try to think of what to say, which only made me sound guilty as hell.

  “Oh-ho.” Jean leaned her elbows on the bed’s side bar thingy. “She does not mean the judging. Talk, drunkie. Tell all.”

  “There’s nothing to tell.”

  “I’ll be back,” Myra said. “Don’t hassle her, Jean.”

  Myra walked out. As soon as the door closed, Jean tapped my arm with a fingertip and wiggled her eyebrows. “Out with it. What happened with Ryder?”

  “Nothing.” I held her gaze. Must have done a pretty good job at it too, because she leaned back.

  “Do I need to hunt him down and break a few fingers?”

  “Wow. Way to go Mafia on me. What games have you and Hogan been playing?”

  “The good ones.” She narrowed her eyes. “Seriously, Del. What did he do?”

  “It’s…fine. He was— We were… It’s all fine. I don’t know why I even brought it up. Drugs.”

  And paranoid hippy vampires.

  I lifted my arm again to show her the tubes, and the pink balloon made that plinking sound.

  “He tied a balloon to my pinkie.” I grinned up at it for a while.

  Jean patted my arm. “He didn’t hurt you?”

  “Death?”

  “Ryder.”

  “Oh.” I frowned, thought about that, sort of prodding my heart to see if most of the pieces were still together. “He didn’t hurt me. We’re good. This is all just new. It’s going to go how it goes.”

  “Yeah, totally new. You haven’t been crazy in love with him for half your life.”

  “I think I’ve been in love with the idea of him.”

  “Oh, bull.” She laughed. “You know him. You’ve seen him, been a part of his life. You are seriously in deep Xs and Os with the man. Not with the idea of who he is.”

  “Okay.” I wasn’t feeling up to an argument. “But being in love with him, or thinking I might be, doesn’t mean I know how or what we’re doing, you know?”

  “It’s called ‘dating.’ Part of the adventure is sort of figuring it out as you go.”

  Something else was on my mind. Rossi’s warning. “Old Rossi—”

  Her phone rang, and she pulled it out of her pocket and glanced at the screen. Whatever was there made her smile. She tapped the screen and quickly typed.

  “Hogan?” I asked.

  She glanced over at me. “No.”

  “Liar.”

  She grinned. “Maybe.”

  The phone rang again. She scanned the message and texted back. “Old Rossi? I heard he was baked at the judging.”

  Was he? I seemed to recall feeling like I’d gotten a contact high off him. Maybe all his warnings and doom were fueled by drugs. Jean was still texting, still smiling.

  “Why don’t to take some time off from hovering over me?”

  “You sure?” she asked.

  “Yeah. Myra’s going to be back with my sandwich soon, and then I’ll probably fall asleep.”

  She studied my face for a minute, then bent and kissed me on my forehead. “I’m so glad you’re okay.” Her face was still against my forehead.

  “Me too,” I whispered.

  “Don’t ever do that again.”

  “Promise.”

  She petted my head as she tipped her eyes down to give me a strong look. “I’m going to hold you to that.”

  “No problem. I’m good for it.”

  “Okay.” She planted a quick kiss on the tip of my nose. “I’m going to step out for a minute. Get some coffee. I’ll be right back.”

  “Say hi to Hogan for me.”

  “I will.”

  She left the room, and I closed my eyes in the silence that filled it. I really was a little hungry. But there was no way I was going to stay in this room overnight. I had a festival to take care of, a killer on the loose. And I wanted to have a little chat with Dan Perkin.

  I was hovering on the edge of sleep when I heard the door click open. I jerked, my hand sliding to my hip where my gun should be and hitting the bar of the bed. I stared at the door, waiting for another gun pointed at me.

  “Just me.” Myra had a tray in her hands. “And food.”

  My heart pounded hard and fast, but I tried to wave at her. “Hey.” The pink balloon bobbed and swayed. “Just caught me almost asleep.”

  She raised her eyebrows until they brushed her dark, straight bangs. “Sorry about that. How about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”

  I smiled. “That’s what they’re calling dinner in this joint? No wonder nobody stays.”

  “That’s what I asked them to make for you. Because it’s what you always ask for when you’re feeling bad.”

  “With strawberry jam?”

  “With strawberry jam.” She set the tray do
wn on the rolling cart near the bed then set that up so the sandwich was easy for me to reach.

  “Chocolate milk out of the carton?” I was still smiling. “I’m not six, you know.”

  “Look.” She held up a straw. “It bends! Ooooh. Bendy.” She bent it, then plunked it into the little square carton of chocolate milk.

  I chuckled. “Thanks.”

  She pushed the tray around until it was over my lap. I took a bite of the soft white bread. Peanut butter and jam with chocolate milk was a pretty nice turn of events, considering.

  “You’re staying overnight, right?” Myra asked.

  “Absolutely,” I lied while I chewed.

  She stood, watching me. “You know you still have enough time to find the right person.”

  “Which right person?”

  “The one you need to give the power to in three days. Heim’s power.”

  I picked up the chocolate milk and chased the straw for a moment before I got it in my mouth. Extra cold, just how Dad used to make it. It made me think of him, made me wish he were here. “That’s not a lot of time, Myra.”

  “It’s enough. And it means you can spend one night here in bed, resting from a bullet that clipped you across the ribs and the surgery to patch you up, right?”

  “I already said yes.”

  “You were lying.”

  “Well, yes, but I understand how concerned you are now.” I shrugged, and muscles pulled hot and stiff down my wrapped ribs. Ouch. Sudden movements were going to be a little out of my league.

  “How bad is it?” I asked. I’d been ignoring that question, and my sisters had both waited until I was ready to know the answer.

  “You’re very lucky. It went all the way through, but broke a rib.”

  “Do I get to mummy up in one of those stretchy wraps?”

  “They don’t do that anymore.”

  “So I get shot and other than a broken rib and a bandage, I’m good to go?”

  “I said you were lucky.”

  “Well, there’s that at least.” I shifted again and winced. I wanted the stretchy bandage, darn it. Even though the medication was keeping the pain at bay, it felt like my bones were rubbing together.

  “Need more meds?”

  “I think I need sleep.” I gently pushed the tray away, and she reached over to drag it all the way to the side. “You don’t have to stay here while I sleep, Myra. I have the cool little button thing.” I lifted the call buttons in my right hand.

 
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