Death and relaxation, p.30
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       Death and Relaxation, p.30

           Devon Monk
 
“If I go down, someone will show up on Ordinary’s doorstep, confused, and needing some guidance for how to re-vessel a power gone rogue. I expect you all to be very helpful to him or her.”

  “Not gonna happen,” Crow said. “We might gain a new Reed—maybe even one with a sense of humor—but we’d lose our police chief. Then who would we make pity-judge the rhubarb contest?”

  I reached out and slapped him on the back of the head.

  He laughed and rubbed at his head, backing out of my reach.

  “Do we split up?” Jame asked.

  “Yes,” everyone in the room answered almost simultaneously.

  “Except for Thorne and his daddy, of course,” Jame added.

  Odin sighed.

  “Okay,” I said, trying to head off a fistfight. “Stay in contact. Use cell phones.” I nodded to the gods. “And thank you all for giving up your final day at the Rhubarb Rally to help me with this.”

  That was met by a room full of confused looks.

  “Why would we stay for the rally?” Odin grumbled. “Someone already won the sculpture contest with that ridiculous Rhu-ban the Barb-barian atrocity.”

  Jame and Ben laughed. “Yes, we did, didn’t we?” Ben’s grin was smug. “You’re getting old, god.”

  Odin glared at him, storm and fury and wrath—every inch the god he was. Then a very small smile curved the corner of his lips. “You have no idea. Are you sure there’s no killing?” he said to me.

  “No killing at all.”

  Odin shook his head, then slapped Thorne on his beefy shoulder. “Not hardly worth my time if there isn’t going to be blood. Delaney, I’ll sit this one out.”

  He gave Thorne a pointed look, which he then turned on Jame and Ben. “I’m sure you can handle this just fine without me.”

  Great. I’d already lost one god to a petty squabble.

  “All right,” I said.

  “You go on without me, son,” Odin said to Thorne.

  Thorne grinned, his eyes glinting with some kind of shared joke between them. “I’ll see you in a year, Father.”

  Odin grinned back. “Say hello to the old world for me.”

  Crow flattened his hand over his chest. “Such a touching farewell. Can we just get on with it already?”

  ~~~

  MYRA REFUSED to let me go alone anywhere, much less north toward Tillamook, and it would have been a waste of time to argue with her, since she was driving. The gods and creatures had scattered, promising to be thorough and non-deadly in their search.

  “Think Odin really only wanted to come if there was bloodshed?” Myra asked.

  I stared out through the Douglas fir, hemlock, and sword ferns that crowded the side of the road.

  “I think he and Thorne had some agreement about who gave up their vacation first. Probably some bet he won.”

  “Poker?”

  “Or that croquet game they started up a couple months ago.”

  “Croquet.” Her voice held a level of disbelief we Reeds really should be done with by now. “Thor and Odin. Wickets and tiny mallets?”

  “Tiny hammers,” I corrected with mock gravity. “They play it on the beach over at the cove. Apparently you can hear the swearing and insults for miles. A few of the other gods have joined in. I heard rumblings about starting a league. It’s serious business.”

  “As long as no one dies,” she said.

  That brought on a heavy silence.

  “If we don’t find Cooper in time…” I said as Myra kept her eyes on the twisting road that rolled through cow farms and forested hills.

  “We’ll find him.”

  “If we don’t,” I said, a little more firmly, “I don’t want you or Jean trying to pick up the power.”

  She was quiet. After another mile or so, she took in a short breath. “Do you really think Jean and I could stand on the sidelines while our home and the people we care for are being eaten by a god power that our family has vowed to guard?”

  “No,” I said quietly. “But I think you could leave. Get out of the blast zone.”

  “You aren’t paying attention, Delaney. You know we’d never walk away in a disaster.”

  “I know.” I rubbed my eyes. The headache had gotten much worse with the song of power and exhausting pressure.

  “We would never walk away from you,” she said.

  The truth of that made my chest tight.

  “Idiot. We love you. We are not going to lose you.”

  The pressure in my chest eased, and I closed my eyes against the overwhelming prickling of tears I refused to give in to. I sniffed and nodded. I was pretty sure I was the worst keeper of power in the history of the keepers of powers, but having Myra and Jean—my sisters, my family—at my back meant everything to me.

  I rubbed at my eyes again, drawing away the wetness, and leaned my head against the window, hand propped over my eyebrows to shield the bright light. “Thanks.”

  “You hurting?” she asked after another mile of silence.

  “Some. Headache.”

  “Sunglasses in the glove box.”

  I reached forward and pulled out a spare pair of Aviators. I slipped them on, sighing a little at the relief. It wasn’t a lot, but any little bit helped.

  “Take your pills?”

  “I did. I think this is more Heimdall’s power being pissy than my injury being sore.”

  “Too bad we don’t have something for that,” she said.

  “Power Vicodin?”

  She shrugged. “Or someone in the family who can ease pain.”

  “Like that’s a real thing.”

  “There have been people in the Reed line who were healers.”

  “Dad tell you that?”

  She nodded. “He left me a lot of family history books.”

  I chewed on the inside of my cheek, thinking about how that made me feel. Good, I decided. Out of the three of us girls, Myra was serious and patient enough to actually sift through old records. “I’m glad,” I finally said.

  “I know it’s usually passed down to the eldest…”

  “I’m glad,” I said again, patting her leg. “Dad had good instincts. He knew when to break the rules.”

  “Good news,” Crow said from the back seat.

  Myra swerved. I yelped and half turned, while I grabbed for a gun I didn’t have on me.

  “What the hell, Crow?”

  He sat in the back seat where he’d just appeared, a canary-eating grin on his face. “God power. You should try it sometime, Delaney. It’s just all sorts of fun.”

  Myra cussed quietly through clenched teeth. She had gotten the car back into our lane, which was good, because there were only two lanes on this part of the old highway.

  “If you ever do that again,” Myra said, “I will kill you, Crow.”

  He chuckled. “Don’t you want to hear my good news?”

  I planted my hand over my side. I was pretty sure I’d ripped a stitch or two. It was bleeding again.

  “It better be that you found Cooper and he’s waiting for us in a nice, quiet room, ready to take on the god power,” I said.

  He threw his hands up in the air. “Yes! That’s it exactly. How did you guess?”

  “Really?” I searched his face.

  Crow smiled, and some of the mischief faded under a warmth I’d seen many times since I was a kid. “Really.”

  A dizzy wash of relief rolled through me, and I grinned. “Holy shit. You’re amazing! Where is he?”

  “The casino.”

  “Which casino?” Myra asked.

  “Our casino. Just outside of town.”

  Myra immediately flicked on the blinker, pulled onto the narrow shoulder, and did a U-turn to get us heading south.

  “Is someone there with him? Someone who can make sure he won’t run?” I asked.

  “Hera, Jame, and Ben all stayed.”

  “Good. Have you told Jean?”

  “Thor said he’d mention it to her.”

  I glanced at the
clock in the console. “So we’re, what? About an hour away?”

  “Or a second,” Crow said.

  I glanced at him again. He had his arms crossed over his chest, looking entirely too pleased with himself.

  “You’d do that for us?”

  He nodded. “It’s been a while since I’ve stretched my wings and used power, you know.” He somehow made it sound dirty. “It feels real good. Makes me want to do all sorts of things to you innocent mortals.”

  He winked at me, and the light that flickered in his eyes was not the warmth and humor I usually saw from my friend. The man in the back seat of the cruiser wasn’t Crow. Or at least he wasn’t just Crow. This was Raven, the trickster, the god.

  And if there was one thing I knew, it was that gods in the wild were dangerous, temperamental creatures.

  “Do I need to draw up a contract with you first?” I asked. “To make sure that you will only do the things that I actually want you to do?”

  He rolled his eyes toward the ceiling of the car and sighed. When his gaze ticked back down to me, the odd god power light was a little dimmer and the eyes of my friend were brighter.

  “While it’s very, very tempting to say yes and spend some time bargaining you into a contract, I think you should just trust me on this one.”

  “Like a stupid, innocent mortal?”

  He leaned forward, fighting back a smirk. “Or a brave one. Trust me, Delaney. You know you want to.”

  I glanced at Myra. She studied Raven in the rearview mirror, then looked away to catch my gaze. “Go.”

  “Okay. Take me to Cooper.”

  “My pleasure.” He winked.

  We were standing in a carpeted hallway of the casino, the sound of piped music and games rattling in the background.

  I’d never been manhandled by god power before. It wasn’t settling well.

  “Delaney?” Raven tipped his head to make eye contact.

  I leaned against the wall, one palm flat against it to keep me standing, the other cupped around my ribs. “Don’t come any closer. I might yark on you.”

  He sucked in a breath. “Right. The Reed family immunity. I forgot. Probably shouldn’t let a god power do anything drastic with you for the next few hours.”

  I straightened and took better stock of my surroundings. No one else was in the hall, and there was a closed door right next to me. “No problem. It’s going to take me that long to talk Cooper into this.”

  I reached for the door just as it swung inward.

  Jame Wolfe stood in front of me, his head tipped to the side like a puppy that had heard a strange noise. His warm eyes flicked over to Raven, and he tipped his head the other way.

  “Hey, Jame,” I said. “Gonna let me in there?”

  “Sure.” He stood aside, his eyes following Raven, his shoulder hunched up like he was ready to fight. I thought this might be the first time he’d ever seen Crow carrying power.

  The conference room had a bank of windows with the blinds closed, a dark wood table down the center of it, and a vampire, a goddess, and my ex-boyfriend seated in the comfortable swivel chairs around it.

  The power in me rang out with a shout, a chorus, reaching.

  Hera nodded as I walked in. She looked different carrying her power too. A sort of regal air clung to her, even though she was still wearing her jeans and leather jacket. Ben stared at Raven and licked his bottom lip, a quick flash of fang pressing there, his eyes flickering with a hungry glow before he looked away.

  Okay, we were all a little tense. A little off our normal footing.

  Especially Cooper, who not only had a hell of a black eye, but was also glowering at me.

  “What the hell is this all about, Delaney?” he demanded. “You send out your…your hitmen to kidnap me? This is taking crazy ex-girlfriend to the next level, don’t you think?”

  “Kidnap? Where did Crow find you?”

  “We found him,” Ben corrected. “Here, at the casino, rehearsing for the show.”

  “Escorting you down to a conference room isn’t kidnapping,” Jame rumbled.

  “Keeping me here is,” Cooper said. “There’s a band. For me to be in that band, I have to rehearse with it, not sit in a conference room with people who won’t answer my questions.”

  “Give me a minute with him alone, please,” I said.

  Hera’s voice was smooth and alluring. “I would rather we stay with you.”

  I held open the door, not falling for the bedazzlement she was oozing. The Reed family immunity was good for that. “I’ll call you all back after we talk, and he has a chance to make his decision.”

  They all filed out past me. I pointed at Raven. “No eavesdropping.”

  He pressed his fingertips to his chest and made an offended sound.

  I shut the door in his face and heard his muffled cackle.

  The song of power was louder, a chorus of voices clashing and shattering into breathtaking harmonies.

  If Cooper wasn’t the right person to take Heim’s power, he sure did have a way of stirring it up. I could barely hear myself think through it.

  “What is going on, Delaney?” Cooper asked again.

  I sat in the chair next to him, swiveling it to face him.

  “Okay, I need you to hear me out on this, Coop.”

  He shut his mouth and blinked hard a couple times. It had been a long time since I’d called him by his nickname.

  “There are things about Ordinary that you don’t know. You might have suspected them when you were little, or in those odd moments when there wasn’t an easy logical explanation for weird things that you saw or heard.”

  This was the speech my Dad had given more than once. But my nerves were wired so tight, I thought maybe Cooper could hear the blood rushing through my head, the song leaking out my ears. I’d never had to explain this to other people.

  I’d never had the lives of all the people in town hanging on if I was able to convince someone of the impossible.

  “Ordinary was founded many hundreds of years ago. Before America was called by that name. This little stretch of beach was chosen as a vacation place for people, for beings, who carry power. Those people set aside their powers while they vacationed here. Their idea of a vacation was to be mortal and live a normal, ordinary life.

  “Some of those people have come back every year, or just stayed on in Ordinary and lived a long…very long time. You know them. You grew up with them. Crow, Herri, Odin, Frigg. They carry great power, except for when they’re inside Ordinary’s boundaries. Outside of Ordinary, they are gods.”

  I swallowed and wiped my hands on my jeans, waiting to see how he would react to that.

  “That’s…impossible,” he said quietly.

  “Almost impossible.” I patted the air in front of me, begging for his patience. “These people—these gods—are vulnerable when they vacation in Ordinary. They not only live a mortal life, they are also actually mortal. Which means they can catch colds, break legs, fall in love. And they can be killed.

  “But their power cannot be killed. When a god dies, that power must be picked up by a new person. A mortal person. Someone with the strength, endurance, and dedication to carry that power and all the burdens and joys that come with it.”

  His lips were pressed together in a tight line. He was scowling, his eyes intense. “It can’t be true.”

  “It is.”

  Time ticked out between us.

  “Remember junior year?” I said. “Spring? The Barnacles were playing the Smelts and weather was supposed to be a downpour?”

  He nodded. He played second base for the Barnacles. I knew he’d remember.

  “We got three inches of rain that day. The entire town flooded. But not the baseball field. It hardly sprinkled there.”

  “Wha—”

  “Thor. He had a bet riding on the outcome, picked up his power, and influenced the weather.”

  “That was just a freak storm.”

  “That was a god. Th
e bus crash?” I said before he could argue. “Elementary school kids going on a field trip to the zoo. That eighteen-wheeler smashed head-on into the bus at sixty miles an hour. Should have killed them all. Everyone walked away without a scratch, including both drivers.”

  “Who?” he asked.

  “Bast. She was driving to a hair appointment and saw it coming. Drew on her power. Saved those children.”

  “But… Jesus.”

  “Hasn’t come by as far as I know. The mudslide that should have wiped out half the town, but somehow missed every house, did no damage to the roads, and instead left behind a rather nice waterfall and hiking trail? Nilus wanted a new park. The lighthouse—”

  “Okay. There’s been some weird stuff.”

  I nodded.

  “But gods? In Ordinary? In this crummy town?”

  “In this crummy town.”

  “Crow and Herri?” he asked.

  “And others. Aaron, Kim. Um…Zeus and Odin, obviously.” I rolled my eyes. “Heim,” I added, a little more softly.

  “But Heim’s dead.”

  “I know. His power isn’t. That’s why I’m here. It’s my job to make sure his power is picked up by a mortal worthy of it. A mortal who will become a god.”

  “That comes with the badge?” he asked.

  “Nope. That comes with being a Reed. I think you came back to this crummy town for this. For power.”

  “I came back because I thought I left something behind.”

  “I think you’re right.”

  He rocked back in his chair and rubbed his hands over his face. When he dropped his palms, his smile was still confused. “I’d be crazy to believe you.”

  My stomach dropped and all the butterflies turned into razor blades. There wasn’t much time left. What could I say to make him believe me? I opened my mouth, not ready to give up. He spoke before I could.

  “But I’ve always been a little crazy, right?” He grinned.

  I exhaled a shaky breath. “Yeah, you have, Coop. It’s one of the things I like about you.” My hand trembled as I dragged it back through my hair. “So what do you think about becoming a god?”

  I could practically see the gears in his head working through hope, fear, lust, doubt, and a chaos of other emotions.

  “Me?” he finally said.

  “You.”

 
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