Death and relaxation, p.24
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       Death and Relaxation, p.24

           Devon Monk
 

  “I’ll be here.”

  “Go home. Get out of your duckie pants—have you been in them all day?—and check in on all the things you need to. I’m here.” I looked her straight in the eyes. “And I’ll be here when you get back. Promise.”

  Her pale blue eyes misted just a bit. “You scared the crap out of me,” she whispered hoarsely. “I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there in time. Me. Late.” Then my cool, steady sister lunged forward and draped her arms over me, laying her head on my chest.

  “Hey now.” I patted her gently with my right hand. “It’s going to be all right. I’m all right. We’re still all together. We’re still all here.”

  She held me for a long moment, and I settled into stroking her hair. She’d grown serious beyond her years when we’d lost Mom. I’d hoped that pain would pass for her and let a little light into her life, a little humor into her heart, but she kept her emotions closely guarded, even all these years later.

  “I love you, My-my,” I said softly.

  She finally sniffed, then breathed in, pulling herself together. “I love you too,” she said, straightening. “Get some sleep. And don’t sneak out on me.”

  “Promise, and promise.”

  She watched me for a moment then bent to give me a kiss on my cheek. I stroked the back of her thick, smooth hair.

  “See you in the morning,” I said.

  She nodded, wiped at one eye then straightened, and walked out of the room.

  Chapter 24

  I JERKED awake in the middle of the night. Someone was in the room with me. I thought it might be the night nurse, and tried to scrub an itch by my eye, but was too drowsy to lift my hand. They must have upped the dose on my medicines because even my tongue felt numb. I finally opened my eyes, rolled my head to one side.

  A figure sat slumped in the chair by my bed, head bent into one hand with elbow propped on knee, other hand extended and resting on the back of my hand. I knew that silhouette.

  “Ryder?” I whispered.

  He stiffened slightly, raised his head. The only light in the room slipped pale and watery from under the door, just enough to see his face.

  Had he been crying?

  “Delaney.” Spoken so softly, though there were only the two of us in the room. “I’m sorry.”

  “For what?” My heart picked up a beat.

  Was there something else that had happened? Was someone else hurt?

  “I shouldn’t have left you. I should have stayed. This is my fault. Us. This. All this.”

  He wasn’t making any sense. He looked angry.

  “I got shot. That doesn’t have anything to do with you. Part of the job. My job.”

  He shook his head once, his eyes going hard, lips pressed in a frown. He was pulling away, even though he hadn’t shifted an inch. He was leaving me. Ending us. Even as he sat right there, his hand on mine.

  “I’m sorry.” His voice was low, soft, and so very, very cold. “Last night was a mistake.”

  “No,” I breathed.

  He went on as if I hadn’t spoken, his words even, almost recited. “I left this morning because I realized you got the wrong idea. That it might be something more than one night. I was just up for a good time. Curious, after all this time of knowing you, what it would be like.”

  He shrugged, patted my hand, and pulled back. “But you wanted something more, right?” He lifted one eyebrow and gave me a smirk I wanted to smack off his face. “I’ll still help out with the rally. If you want me to work a different shift, there’s no hard feelings.”

  He sat there. As if it were nothing. As if last night were nothing. As if I were nothing.

  Jerk.

  “You are not breaking up with me in a hospital, Ryder Bailey.”

  “I am.”

  Silence stretched out around that statement, a hungry blackness growing between us.

  “We can still be friends,” he said.

  “Can we?” My heart was screaming, my stomach sick. The power song roared and raged in my head and my body hurt. But for Ryder Bailey, I smiled. “I think that’s over now too,” I said calmly. “No hard feelings.”

  He glanced away from my gaze, swallowed once, then met my eyes again. There was nothing to read in his expression. Nothing in his body language that matched the pain in me.

  Bastard.

  “All right, then.” He stood. “I’ll be going. Maybe I should check in with Myra about my hours?”

  “Maybe you should leave. Now.” I hated that my voice shook.

  He didn’t move. For a moment, his mouth tugged down at the corners. His hands, loose at his side, clenched into fists, and then let go. “Goodbye, Delaney. Get well soon.”

  I turned my head and closed my eyes. The sound of his footsteps grew quieter and quieter. I heard the door open, letting in the softer sounds from the hall, and then he was gone.

  The room was silent, but nothing inside me was. I felt the hot slip of tears down the curve of my cheek and gritted my teeth against a sob.

  I would not let that man make me cry. I would not let him break my heart. I wiped angrily at my face and breathed until I was under control. I was done with this place. With this pain. But even though I was angry, every muscle in my body was heavy, tired, and begging me to surrender to the medications flowing through my veins.

  I closed my eyes, slipping, losing my grip on wakefulness. The medicine dragged at me, tucking me breath by breath down into sleep.

  I didn’t know how much time passed, but when the nurse gently touched my arm, I woke.

  “How are you feeling, chief?” she asked.

  “Uh, good. Better. I’m ready to leave.”

  My heart lurched with the memory of Ryder, but I shoved it aside. I had more important things to deal with.

  Dan Perkin had shot me in broad daylight. He’d shouted something when he’d done it. Even through the haze of pain, he’d sounded panicked more than victorious. Almost like he hadn’t expected the bullet to actually hit.

  He might have finally come to his senses after pulling the trigger. That happened often enough with crimes of passion.

  But Myra said Dan hadn’t thought the gun was loaded. He was claiming complete innocence.

  What if he really was innocent?

  I took a deep breath, stuttered to a stop as my left side caught fire, waited out the pain, and carefully exhaled. Bad, but not bad enough to keep me in bed. I’d gotten enough sleep. What I needed now were answers.

  “I want to be released,” I told the nurse. “Can you bring me the forms?”

  “Your doctor wants to check on you before you’re released.”

  “I’m leaving.” I pushed the covers away and slipped my legs over the edge of the bed. “Take out the IV, please. And get me the forms to sign.” Then, in my best chief of police voice. “Now.”

  It took more than that to convince her, but I was determined. She finally gave in.

  Someone, probably Jean, had brought in a pair of black sweatpants and another one of Dad’s old Grateful Dead T-shirts. Good enough. I took some time getting into my clothes and zipped up the black hoodie with FIGHTING BARNACLES across the back of it.

  I was out of breath, a little woozy. But I got my shoes on and rested for a couple minutes until my head and hands stopped shaking.

  Walking wasn’t great, but not impossible if I just took it a little slower than my normal pace. I kept my arm across my ribs to keep them from jostling too much.

  The nurse shook her head at me as I passed the front counter. She handed me a bag of medicines with instructions on how many to take and when.

  I thanked her, set my sights on the front door, and, with my pink balloon bobbing above me, headed into the night.

  Chapter 25

  HERRI’S BAR, Mom’s, had three things going for it tonight: it stayed open late, served damn fine coffee, and was right around the corner from the hospital.

  I walked in and took a table in the corner where I could keep an eye on the door
, since I expected one or both of my sisters would track me down before long.

  It was just past midnight on the Friday night of the festival. The place was loud with drinkers and the clash of music against televisions, which were tuned to a live rugby match going on in some other part of the world.

  Herri worked the bar, her long hair striped with red catching fire as she moved and laughed and hassled the clients and employees alike beneath the spotlights hanging above her. She looked natural here. Comfortable.

  She had six wait staff on tonight, an even mix of men and women who all wore red T-shirts with the Mom’s logo across the chest.

  I knew she’d seen me come in, but she hadn’t made eye contact since I’d taken the table and ordered a ginger ale.

  Walking out of the hospital had seemed like a good idea at the time. I wanted to leave my pain—body and heart—behind me. The cold night air only served to remind me that I was not exactly in top form. Still, I wanted to keep my mind off things.

  Ryder.

  The way I saw it, I had three important things to deal with: Heim’s murder, Dan shooting me, and finding someone to take on the god power. First things first. I nursed the soda while scanning through files on my phone—notes about Heim’s murder I had pulled together what felt like weeks ago, but was only days ago. I scrolled through the list of suspects.

  It was still a small list: Dan Perkin, Chris, Margot Lapointe, and Lila Carson. Herri, Walt the deck hand.

  Jean and I had already talked to everyone on that list except for Heim’s missing deck hand, Walt. I didn’t know if Myra had gotten any hits on his location and I wasn’t going to go into the station to check up on that now.

  I read through Myra’s report. She had searched the boat, talked to the harbor master. There was nothing there to indicate if anyone unusual had been aboard. No murder weapon, not even a drop of blood to mark the crime.

  Coroner was convinced someone had hit Heim on the back of the head. Pushed him overboard. He could narrow the time of death down by a variety of factors, including the state of the corpse and the turn of the tides. Heim had been murdered Sunday evening and everyone we’d spoken with had an alibi.

  Someone was lying.

  “Where’s your boyfriend, Delaney?”

  I glanced up. Cooper looked like he’d had plenty to drink. He stood with his feet wide, a beer in one hand. He had on a tight white T-shirt that was thin and snug across his lean muscles and showed just how trim he was at the waist and hips, faded jeans, and boots. His brown eyes were storm-dark as he stared at my lips then snapped up to my eyes.

  My stomach flipped and blood rushed hard across my chest and face, and the song, the noise, the clamoring of the power in my head rose like someone had just cranked the volume to one hundred.

  Cooper looked like sex. Even shot and bruised and tired and on meds, I could remember what sex with him had been like.

  Ryder didn’t want me. Cooper did. But did I want Cooper?

  No. I knew the answer to that a year ago. Cooper and I were done.

  I shook my head at myself and tried to lean back in my chair in a way that didn’t make half my body throb.

  “You’re drunk, Cooper.”

  “I’m in a bar, Del,” he said a little too loudly, drawing the attention of the people nearest us. “Why the hell else would I be here?”

  I stared at him, trying to decide how to defuse this situation. “You done yelling? Or do I have to sit through the whole show?”

  “You think you’re fooling me? Acting calm. Acting…” He waved his beer at me like it was a brush he could paint me with.

  “All right. Get it out.”

  “Don’t tell me what to do. You think you can just tell everyone what to do in this town? I know you, Delaney. Standing in your daddy’s shoes and acting like you know something. You’re just a scared little girl who wants someone to hold her hand, and when someone comes back to offer you that, you slap it away. You got a badge, you got a reputation, but you don’t have anything under control.”

  “Done?” I asked, low, calm.

  He scowled. Pretty much everyone in the place was watching. These sorts of shows were big news on the gossip circuit in a small town.

  I didn’t care. I’d known Cooper for a long time. I knew he struck out at other people when he was in pain, even if they had nothing to do with his pain. He was hurting and drunk and I was a handy target.

  “You want to know why I came back to this piss hole, Delaney?” he shouted. “I came back for you!”

  And there it was, right on cue: our unfinished business.

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Herri walking our way.

  “Did you hear me?” he cried. “I stopped everything and came back here. To this…to this place! For you. I need you, Delaney. I need you to need me too.”

  About half the bar was silent, staring our way. The other half was too drunk to care. Someone shouted at him to shut up.

  I kept my expression calm. I’d seen Cooper like this before. He was feeling lost and flailing for something to hold on to. He’d been lost for most of his life, eyes on a horizon that never led to home. He had told me he had come back to town looking for something. Hoping to find something here.

  The easiest thing to think he was looking for was the one thing he knew he couldn’t have. Me.

  He’d been the one to push us away, to push me away. And in our time apart I’d done a lot of honest and painful looking around in my own heart.

  I liked Cooper. Could even love him as a friend who had once been more than a friend when he wasn’t being an ass.

  But I knew with all my heart that we weren’t the horizon the other was searching for. We’d been a safe port for a time, but even if Cooper had stayed in town, even if he’d wanted to stay with me, it never would have lasted.

  He deserved something real. He deserved what he was looking for, not some ghost of the past he was willing to settle on having.

  “We should talk about this later,” I said gently. “When you’re sober.”

  He made a sound low in his throat and lunged forward. Maybe it was the medicine, or the fact that I was still in pain, but I didn’t think fast enough to move away. He grabbed my arm and jerked, forcing me onto my feet.

  I gasped in pain as everything in my body caught on fire, and then I punched him in the face with everything I had.

  The screaming of the song in my head went to white noise, and for a moment, I was lost, floating on pain and an unhoused god power that seemed intent on getting free of me.

  No, no, no! I couldn’t lose grip on it now.

  A part of me knew I was standing in a bar. But the rest of me was somewhere else, somewhere in my mind, fighting against a power that would not be denied.

  The wave of power and song dragged me under, and the bar faded from my sight. All around me was song and thrum and a need to possess, to control.

  I had to contain the power. Had to shovel it back into me, somehow, hold it in the imperfect vessel of my body. A vessel it would no longer tolerate.

  And if I lost? This power, Heim’s power, would devour my body and pour free like a wave over jetty walls, roaring into Ordinary to tear it apart.

  How was I supposed to fight it?

  Delaney. My father’s voice, near, urgent. Was I dying? Fight.

  That was the plan. I just didn’t know how. I pushed upward with imaginary fists, pushed out with imaginary arms, scrabbling and kicking to find purchase against the song that swallowed me whole and sent me spinning. Power slammed me around, churned until I couldn’t find the way up. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think.

  A memory flashed:

  The kitchen light shone in my eyes through the crack of my bedroom door. I couldn’t sleep, even though Mom had tucked me in hours ago. It wasn’t Myra’s soft snores from the other side of the room that kept me awake.

  It was the music.

  A shadow crossed the light, throwing me into darkness, then light shone on me
again. Dad was pacing in the kitchen. He did that sometimes.

  I tucked my stuffed crab, Polly, under my arm. I was probably too old for a stuffed toy—I was almost nine, after all—but tonight I clutched her close.

  Dad leaned both hands on the edge of the kitchen table, arms locked, back toward me, his head hanging down. He was still except for muscles in his forearms that flexed and flexed, bunching and lengthening as he squeezed the table’s edge like he was trying to hang on to something for dear life.

  A bunch of papers were scattered across the table and the floor. Dad had been furiously drawing again. Drawing a lot. He did that sometimes too.

  One paper by my foot held an image of a woman’s face I’d never seen before, but it was scribbled out with big, looping lines, like the pencil had traced her face so many times it had completely lost the details it was trying to define. As if he were looking for that person and had no way to find her.

  These pictures scared me, even though I didn’t know why.

  “Daddy?”

  He turned. It was not my father standing there. It was his body, his Grateful Dead T-shirt, his sweatpants. But everything inside him wasn’t him. It was the song in my head. Too loud. Consuming me. Consuming my dad.

  I cried out and pressed my hands over my ears, smashing Polly against one side of my face.

  And then something broke and washed away. The song was gone.

  It was just my daddy standing there. Just my daddy, who blinked hard, as if struggling to see me in the bright light of the kitchen lamp.

  “Delaney?” he said. “Baby?”

  I nodded, crying, scared of what had just happened, even though the song was gone now.

  “Oh, baby,” he breathed. He was across the room in two strides, gathering me up into his strong arms and holding me tight as he carried me out of the room. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” I had one arm wrapped around his neck, Polly still smooshed on my other ear.

  Pretty soon we were sitting in the living room in his big chair that rocked.

  His arms around me felt safe. We rocked for a long time. Long enough I stopped crying.

 
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