Death and relaxation, p.25
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       Death and Relaxation, p.25

           Devon Monk
 

  “What did you see?” he finally asked, his cheek tipped against the top of my head. “Did you see lights and colors?”

  I shook my head, the scratch of his unshaved chin rubbing in my hair. “It was the music,” I whispered. “I heard all the music. All the voices. And the music was inside you and it was too loud and you weren’t you anymore.”

  Daddy’s body had gone a little stiff. He’d stopped rocking, and then started again, exhaling.

  “You hear it.” He nodded. “Okay, honey. It’s okay. Is it loud? The voices and music. Did it hurt you?”

  “No.” I thought I might be acting like a baby, so I leaned back enough to show him I was okay. I was brave. “What was it?”

  His blue eyes were sad, but when he smiled, laugh lines crinkled at the corners. “It’s a very special thing. A treasure that our family has the honor to protect. It’s power. God power.”

  “Like Mr. Odin and Mr. Crow sometimes have?”

  “Yes. And looking after it is an important duty, but sometimes it can be hard too.”

  “Like being a police officer.”

  “Yes.”

  “I’m going to be a police officer,” I said, snuggling back down against his wide chest.

  “What happened to firefighter?”

  I rolled my eyes. “I’m not a vampire, Dad.”

  “It’s not just vampires who can fight fires,” he said with a chuckle.

  I pulled back again. “I want to be a police officer.” I was very, very serious. “And I want to help you protect the god power song.”

  He swallowed and nodded, his hand on my back warm and wide. “I think you will have to, Delaney. And I think you’ll be very good at it.”

  “I will?”

  “Yes. Because you always know what is right, and what is wrong, no matter how hard or sad that can be. And when something is scary or stronger than you, you face it. You will stand strong like a tree that buries its roots under stone and mountains, and nothing will stop you from sheltering others from the storm.”

  “I want to do that,” I whispered. “I want to be the tree.”

  “You will,” he whispered back, leaning his forehead against mine.

  Fight, Delaney.

  I shoved every ounce of my energy against the power. Strained to break through that wave of sound, to find the surface, the air, the real world again.

  I stretched for solid ground. Roots into mountain. My blood, my family, stood against the powers of this world. I’d be damned if I let one god power hissy fit take me down.

  I dug deep and braced myself, spreading my arms wide, and did exactly what my father had told me to do: I faced into the storm.

  That’s it. That’s good.

  “Delaney!” Herri’s voice.

  Herri’s arms around me. Herri’s bar slammed into focus.

  I blinked, trying to figure out where I was. I scanned the room for Dad, sure that he must be there, that he must be beside me, close. Telling me to fight. Telling me I had done the right thing.

  Face the storm.

  I thought I caught a haze of light at the corner of my eye, but when I looked, all I saw was the bar, filled with people staring at me.

  “What happened?” My mouth was dry, throat hot. I thought I was going to barf.

  “You’re all right,” Herri said. “I got you. Let’s sit down over here, okay?” She kept her arm around my waist and started leading me to a table. “Watch your step.”

  I glanced down.

  Cooper lay unconscious, crumpled on his side, his nose bleeding. Sven Rossi, Herri’s vampire bouncer, crouched beside him, tapping him on the cheek.

  “What happened?” Details were spotty, but some of the fog was clearing.

  “Something beautiful,” Herri said. “And a long time coming.”

  Was she talking about Cooper on the floor or the power that was now quiet and still?

  I didn’t know how that worked, but I felt that for maybe the first time since Heim’s death, I actually had a handle on the power. I had made it shut up and sit down and think about its actions.

  Chalk one up for the Reed family.

  “My hand hurts.”

  Herri chuckled and helped me sit in the booth.

  The crowd gave up on whatever show they’d thought was going to unfold and went back to their drinks, conversations, and screens.

  “You feeling okay?” Herri’s hand was solid on my shoulder as she bent to get a better look at my face. “You are very pale.”

  “I got shot.”

  Her eyes narrowed and she lifted her head, looking around the bar. “When?”

  “This morning, early.”

  “Who?”

  I shook my head. “I’m not so sure.”

  “You didn’t see them?”

  “No, I did. I’m just not sure that he did it.”

  She released my shoulder and sat across the table from me.

  “Why aren’t you in the hospital?”

  I lifted my eyes and studied her heart-shaped face. She was pretty in the way all deities were, her power shining in her like a quiet, single chord of sound humming. Dad had once told me she was the colors of peacock feathers, all blues and greens and indigo. I wondered if her power would sound like the blues too, or something soft and lilting.

  “I’m the chief of police and I know my rights. I have the right to leave the hospital if I want.”

  She raised an eyebrow, disapproving. “All right. Tell me who might not have shot you.”

  “Dan Perkin.”

  She didn’t look surprised. “Why do you think he didn’t?”

  “It just doesn’t line up. He’s angry, but he’s not violent. If Dan Perkin shot someone every time he was mad about something, there wouldn’t be anyone left alive in Ordinary.”

  “Granted,” she agreed. “So who in town wants you dead, Delaney? Who else could have held a gun and squeezed the trigger? And do they want Dan to take the fall for it?”

  I chewed on my bottom lip and thought it over. Those were good questions. I wish I had good answers. “Could be someone who doesn’t want me to rehouse Heim’s power. Maybe the same person who killed him?”

  “Which would be deities and creatures, since they are the only ones who know about god power.”

  “Have you heard of anyone who might want to settle their problem with me via bullet?”

  “Other than maybe the guy you just decked—nice hit, by the way—no.”

  “Do you think it could have been Cooper?”

  She held my gaze. “Do you?”

  He had come back into town right when this entire mess had begun. Was probably even in town when Dan’s rhubarb patch had blown sky high. I pushed aside my personal feelings and focused on Cooper’s personality, his actions in the past, his behavior.

  “No,” I finally admitted. “Cooper’s more of the get-drunk-and-yell-at-your-ex-girlfriend kind of guy.”

  “Well, I don’t know what to tell you, Delaney,” she said. “Someone killed Heim. Someone shot at you, possibly intending to kill you. Maybe what you have on your hands is a mortal serial killer.”

  “Terrific. That’s so much better.”

  Cooper groaned, and then cussed while Sven asked how many fingers he was waving around much too quickly for the mortal eye to track. “Sorry about that.”

  She patted my hand gently. “Don’t you let it bother you. Any time you feel like laying someone out, you come on down. Beer’s on me.”

  “I’ll remember that.”

  “Good. Now do you need a ride home?”

  I felt eyes on me and turned to look at the door.

  Myra was striding my way, her hair a little mussed and her sweat jacket pulled over what was clearly a pajama top. She did not look happy.

  “No need. I think the cavalry just arrived.”

  “What the hell are you doing out of the hospital?” Myra demanded when she was close enough.

  “Getting a drink?” I said.

  She narr
owed her eyes. “I’m taking you back.”

  “I already checked out.”

  “You can’t check out of a hospital to go to a bar. What were you thinking?”

  “I was thinking I needed to figure some things out.”

  “In a bar?”

  “Why not in a bar?”

  She snapped her mouth shut and glared. “We’re leaving. Now.”

  I was surprised she wasn’t yelling. “Thanks, Herri.”

  “Like I said, anytime, Delaney.” She slid out from behind the table and started back through the crowd.

  “Sit down,” I said.

  Myra glared.

  “Please. I need to say this while it’s all fresh in my head. It’s about the cases.”

  She gave in. Sat. “You have ten minutes.”

  “What if the two crimes are connected? Heim’s murder and Dan maybe shooting me?”

  “Definitely shooting you.”

  I ignored that. “What connects those two crimes?”

  “The Rhubarb Rally is the only thing Heim and Dan had in common,” Myra said.

  “And if the exploding rhubarb really was someone trying to kill Dan, like he said?”

  She frowned. “So if this is about Dan, then someone has blown up his garden, and is now framing him for shooting you—which he did—and now you think someone is framing him for killing Heim? But he has an alibi for Heim’s time of death.”

  I rubbed at my bruising knuckles. Cooper had a hard head. “People lie. Someone is lying. We need to double-check the alibis. Any word on the deck hand?”

  “No. The rally is taking up everyone’s time. The APB is out, but nothing yet. What happened there?” She tipped her chin toward Sven, who was dragging Cooper up onto his feet and marching him off to the door.

  “I hit him.”

  “You what?”

  “He was pushing me around. Drunk,” I added. “Thinks I owe him something since I’m his ex-girlfriend.”

  “Jackass,” she muttered.

  “Huh. Ex-girlfriend.”

  Her eyebrows drew down. “What about it?”

  “Dan doesn’t have any.”

  “For obvious reasons. And?”

  “And Heim did.”

  “Lila.”

  I nodded. Something was tickling at me. A memory just beyond my reach. It felt important. And it had something to do with Lila.

  “How long has Lila been back in town?”

  “Just this week.”

  “So why did she come back?” I asked.

  “I think she and Margot were tying down loose ends with their property here.”

  “During the week the town shuts down for the Rhubarb Rally? During the week Dan’s garden blows up, and Lila’s ex-boyfriend drowns? Coincidence?”

  “I hate that word.”

  I braced my hand on the table to help me push to my feet. “Me too. We need to talk to them again.”

  “I’ll talk to them in the morning. You need to sleep.” She moved to wrap her arm around my back. I was afraid she might squeeze me too hard, but she was careful to support me without jostling my sore places. Walking sucked. I should have taken my pills.

  “Do you know what I heard on the way over here?” she asked as we headed to the door.

  “No.” I had a pretty good idea, actually. Ham radios were still a thing here in Ordinary, keeping a running commentary on the weather, our high school baseball team the Barnacles, and, on slow nights, bar fights.

  “Someone said you punched Cooper in the face and knocked him out. I asked myself, would my sister check herself out of a hospital hours after being shot, and get in a bar brawl with her ex-boyfriend?”

  “No?” I said.

  We were at the cruiser now. The night was starless and so dark that even the bar’s neon sign couldn’t seem to pierce it.

  At least it wasn’t raining.

  She opened the door and helped me into the front seat. I was not looking forward to the seatbelt, but she pulled it out before I could even start to twist toward it, and buckled me in, making sure the shoulder strap wasn’t too tight.

  I closed my eyes and worked on breathing through the pain from that short walk.

  Myra got in the car, started the engine, and headed down the street. It was late enough—or really, early enough—that there was no other traffic on the road.

  “Are you taking me home?”

  “You can’t walk up that many stairs.”

  “Please don’t take me back to the hospital.” I couldn’t help it—I sounded pitiful.

  She hesitated, then pressed her lips together. “I should.”

  “I’ll just make them release me again.”

  “What do you have against hospitals, Delaney?” she asked, exasperated.

  The image of Mom hooked up to machines that had done her no good flashed behind my eyes. Myra had been too young to remember. Not me.

  I wiped my hand over my eyes, and it was shaking. “Nothing.”

  She exhaled. “Fine. You can stay with me tonight.”

  “Really?”

  “Really.”

  She flicked on the blinker and I closed my eyes. I opened them when the car stopped. We were parked in her garage. She helped me out of the car, through the utility room and kitchen, then into the spare bedroom.

  I really needed those pain pills.

  I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to help take off my boots, but she pushed my hands out of the way and took care of my shoes and my jeans. Ryder had just been doing the same thing a day ago.

  Don’t think about Ryder. Ryder’s gone.

  Melancholy swept through me and I was too tired to fight it.

  “You okay?” Myra asked as she unzipped my hoodie and eased it off my arms, then pulled a soft cotton nightgown over my head. It smelled like her perfume—something on the sweet side of gardenia.

  “Delaney,” she said softly, this time drawing her fingers across my forehead and then pressing the back of her hand there, checking for fever.

  I wanted to tell her that I’d slept with Ryder, even though Old Rossi had warned me he was trouble. Old Rossi was right. Ryder had walked out on me.

  I wanted to tell her about almost drowning in the power song, and how Dad had been there to help me.

  But the pain in my side had stretched out and locked into my muscles. My stomach hurt and my head ached.

  “Somebody shot me,” I mumbled.

  Myra’s hand returned to feel my forehead. “I know,” she said. “Have you taken any medicine?”

  “Not since the hospital. Dan doesn’t hate me that much.”

  “Did they send you away with pills? Delaney? Look at me.”

  I raised my eyes. Or opened them. I wasn’t sure which.

  “Where are your pills?”

  “Coat.” Then she was gone, which was too bad, because I was hoping she’d stay and help me crawl under the mattress so I could suffocate my pain away.

  I worked on pushing myself back a bit. Whimpered as I lifted my legs up onto the bed, but didn’t barf. I was calling that a win.

  I was trying to get under the covers when Myra appeared again. She pushed the covers clear, baring sheets that were light blue with tiny pink flowers on them. Myra might come across as stern or unemotional to most people, but I was pretty sure she was the softest heart out of all of us Reeds.

  Especially in private. I wouldn’t be surprised if the nightgown I was wearing was frilly with lace and bows.

  “Delaney? Are you listening? Come on, honey. If you don’t take these pills, I’m going to drive you back to the hospital.”

  “No,” I said. “No hospital. I can take the pills.”

  She handed me a cup of water. “Open your mouth.”

  I did, not even complaining that she was treating me like a child.

  She dropped two pills in my mouth and I drank enough water to wash them down and then drank a little more, hoping that it would settle my stomach.

  “Just lean back. Easy.” Sh
e guided me down to the cool sheets and soft pillow, and the relief of being horizontal was immense. I shut my eyes, listening to her move around the small room.

  “My?” I asked.

  She hummed from the far corner of the room. There wasn’t a bathroom attached to this room, so I wasn’t sure what she was doing there.

  “I think Dan was angry.”

  She sniffed. “Yeah?”

  “I’ve seen him that angry before. Red face. Shaky hands. Yelling.”

  The bed dipped as she sat down beside me. “Yeah. So have I.” Her hand was at my forehead again, even though I was pretty sure I didn’t have a fever.

  “He’s never shot anyone when he was that angry. Not once.”

  “I know.”

  “Why did he do it this time?”

  “I don’t know, Delaney. You said he was mad about the contest.” Her fingers stroked my head, smoothed my hair.

  The pain meds crept out over my muscles, easing. The soft sheets, soft bed, and soft blankets worked their own unique magic on me.

  “Sleep.” She sounded a hundred miles away. “And no sneaking out this time.”

  I finally figured out the noise she had been making. She was booby-trapping the room so she’d hear me if I got up. The window was over in that corner. She was probably setting it up so I’d have to push a wind chime out of the way if I tried to open it.

  “Paranoid,” I mumbled.

  “Druggy. Sneaky. Prone to bar fights.”

  “I don’t think Dan shot me.”

  “It looked like Dan shot you.”

  I thought that over for a while, my brain slowing and slowing.

  “Yeah, but this is Ordinary.”

  When I didn’t continue, she said, “And?”

  “And nothing in Ordinary is ever how it really looks.”

  Chapter 26

  I REMEMBERED Myra waking me up for more pills. I told her to leave me alone, but most of my words got stuck in the pillow I’d dragged over half of my face.

  When I finally woke enough to push the pillow away, it was hours later, and I decided a trip to the bathroom was a really good idea. A wide strip of bubble wrap was stapled outside the bedroom door, long enough I couldn’t just hop over it.

  “Really?” I stepped on it, and half a dozen air chambers popped. I smiled at Myra’s alarm system. Took another step and set off another round of popping.

 
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