Death and relaxation, p.31
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       Death and Relaxation, p.31

           Devon Monk
 
“What…what kind of god?”

  “Heimdall’s power is one of protection. He is the watcher of the gods, the sentinel with his eyes on the horizon, the one who will warn the other gods of war, of the end of times, of Ragnarok.”

  “He’s the amber alert god?”

  I grinned. “He’s whatever it is you make the power become. He has a magical horn. And he was in that superhero movie.”

  “I haven’t seen it.”

  “You should. Heimdall was badass. Hot.”

  “Yeah?” His grin was back.

  I resisted rolling my eyes at him again. “You know this isn’t a movie, though. You will have responsibilities you can’t ignore. For all of your life, which might be very, very long. It’s a big commitment and one you have to step into willingly. It will change everything.”

  He shifted in his chair, fingers gripping his knees as he leaned forward. “Tell me honestly that you’re not bullshitting me, Delaney.”

  “God power is real. I think you’re strong enough to take one on. I think…I think that’s what you came back into town for. What you were really looking for. Not me. You were looking for the power that belongs to you. I am not bullshitting you. All you have to do is say yes, and the power will be yours and then you’ll know I’m telling the truth.”

  He held his breath, his eyes searching my gaze, no longer lingering on my mouth.

  I tipped my head. “Breathe, Cooper,” I said gently, reaching over toward him. “You’ve still got a little time to decide. To think this through.”

  I pressed my palm against his hand on his knees, and the shock of that connection rocked through me.

  A small moan escaped his lips, and I had to catch my breath at what that sound stirred in me. Not an emotional need—or not my emotional need. That sound, that desire I could feel rolling off Cooper stirred the power.

  And the power was hungry, singing, calling.

  For him.

  “Do you feel that, Cooper?”

  His eyes were glazed with heat. With desire.

  “That’s the power. Your power, if you’ll take it.” I kept my hand firmly over his, the contact of our hands strengthening the connection.

  All the worries, all the butterflies, all the tension in me was wiped away. Just asking that question, offering the power to someone as my family had done throughout the generations, seemed to settle something in me. It was like climbing a rope and finally reaching a knot I hadn’t ever made it to before.

  “If I say yes?”

  The power’s song shifted again. Harmony and trill.

  “If you say yes, then you’ll need to come back with me to Ordinary. I’ll give you the power, and then…” I shrugged.

  “And then?” He leaned forward, rolling his hand beneath mine to slot our fingers together.

  “And then you’re a god,” I said.

  He stared at my mouth a moment before his gaze lifted to my eyes. “Yes.”

  The song roared to a stunning single note that swelled with joy. It was so loud I didn’t know how everyone in a three-mile radius wasn’t hearing it.

  I grinned. “Good choice.”

  Chapter 32

  DESPITE RAVEN offering to just “snap” us back to Ordinary, I insisted we wait for Myra to arrive. It gave Cooper enough time to quit the band gig, and for me to change the bandage on my side.

  Myra showed up just when we’d finished.

  Of course.

  “Don’t forget the housewarming,” Ben reminded me as we walked out of the casino and stopped on the sidewalk in front of it. “Saturday.”

  “I’ll be there,” I said.

  “We’ll have beer.” Jame threw his arm over Ben, who wore what passed for vampire casual: a beanie, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirt, fingerless gloves, jeans, boots, and a lot of sunscreen. “But bring your own rhubarb.”

  I grinned and shook my head. Ben slipped his arm around Jame’s wider hips, hooking long, pale fingers into his belt loop as they turned and strolled off to Jame’s truck. They paused beside it for a quick rock-paper-scissors. I didn’t know who won, but Jame opened the passenger door and shoved the slighter man into the cab with a laugh.

  “I will be leaving, Delaney,” Hera said.

  “Who’s going to look after the bar?”

  “I arranged for my absence.” Her eyes hitched up on the horizon. All I saw there were hills thick with trees and a gray sky. I thought she must see a lot more.

  “With who?” I figured the least I could do was make sure her bar was cared for while she was gone.

  “Chris Lagon. The gill-man.”

  It was weird for her to talk to me as if I didn’t know the people in my town. But then, the god power thrumming through her must be all kinds of distracting.

  “Good travels to you,” I said, as my father had said many times before. “And when you need a little time off, Ordinary will be waiting.”

  Her eyes flicked back down to me and the chorus of song flowing around her was enough to stop my breath.

  “Thank you, Delaney. If I can, I’ll be home soon.”

  Then Hera simply wasn’t there anymore. She was gone. The space she’d been occupying felt strangely hollow and cold.

  “Need a ride?” Raven asked.

  I glanced over my shoulder. He waved at the motion-sensor camera over the casino doors. The doors refused to open.

  “I’ll catch a ride with Myra.”

  “Right, then. See you soon.” He took a few steps back from the door, lowered his shoulder, and sprinted toward the big glass doors.

  “Don’t!” I yelped.

  Half a second before he would hit those doors, he disappeared.

  His bright laughter drifted away over the ramming beat of my heart.

  “Jerk.” I didn’t know how they were going to explain that on the security tape. Hoped they’d just write it off as a glitch. Or maybe Raven had made sure he wouldn’t show up on the tape.

  “Let’s go.” Myra took my arm and guided me over to the cruiser, where Cooper was already waiting.

  I got into the front seat, Myra behind the wheel. “Is it settled?”

  Cooper nodded in the back seat. “I said yes. I don’t know what happens next, but I’m looking forward to it.”

  I glanced at him in the rearview mirror as Myra took us out to the highway. Power pushed and tumbled in my mind, a thousand songs in one, all of them belonging to Cooper. “So am I.”

  ~~~

  HEIMDALL’S GOD power wasn’t stored in the kiln with the other god powers, since it hadn’t been willingly surrendered. But the heavy concentration of god powers in one place would act as a good grounding rod.

  And so we were going to do the transfer at Crow’s shop.

  Jean’s truck was in the parking lot, and so was Mykal Rossi’s SUV. Mykal was an EMT, and I thought that was a good bit of foresight on Jean’s part in case things didn’t go as smoothly as we hoped it would.

  The neon CLOSED sign glowed in the front window, but Raven opened the door and waved us in. “Long time no see! Come on back to the fire.”

  Jean pushed past Cooper to give me a big hug. “Good job,” she whispered against my cheek as she clung to me.

  I rubbed her back. “Save it for when I get this power settled, okay?”

  I walked through the main room and back to the old kiln. Mykal stood off to one side, his hard case of medical supplies, a stretcher, and a defibrillator all resting next to his feet.

  I gave him a nod and tried not to worry that he, and all his equipment, were here.

  He smiled, showing his sharp canines.

  Raven stood next to the furnace and Cooper waited in the middle of the room, arms crossed over his chest, looking lost.

  I positioned myself in front of him, Myra and Jean standing behind me.

  My heart raced so hard I had to do some deep breathing to stay calm.

  “Okay. I need to ask you for your agreement officially. Are you ready?”

  Cooper unwound his arms and
shook his hands out, like getting ready for a wrestling match.

  I waited until he nodded.

  “Cooper Clark. Will you accept this power, ancient, magnificent, and pure?” It was a short question. I’d memorized it when I was just a kid. But standing here as the bridge for the power in front of the man who would become the vessel for the power gave the words an authority and weight that I’d never imagined.

  “Yes,” he said. “I accept the power.”

  I knew there was something else I was supposed to say, but at his agreement, the power leaped.

  Leaped out of me, slipped from my hold, and hit Cooper like a lightning bolt out of the sky.

  Voices filled the shop, thrumming, shouting, joy and passion. The song, the power, demanded entrance, demanded release. Distantly, I heard my own voice. Small, faint. A whisper among so many others.

  I was the connection, the road, the string over which the song of power was plucked. The single point in this world where power and vessel could meet. Join.

  I was, for one infinite moment, harmony.

  Then silence swallowed me, so dark and soft and deep, I wondered if I’d been wrapped in thick velvet.

  “Holy shit,” Cooper said in a trembling whisper. “Holy shit.”

  I blinked and the world returned.

  Cooper was gripping me by my upper arms, gazing down at me, his eyes filled with a light, a power, an otherness I’d never seen in him. It was alien and strange to see him as not quite the man I knew. But then his lips curved in a very Cooper smile. “Well, that is a hell of a thing.”

  “Are you okay?” I asked.

  He nodded and stepped back until his arms were at full length. He gently released his hold on me.

  “I’m good,” he said. “Really, really good. Delaney, it’s…” He shook his head, all out of words.

  Heimdall’s power surrounded him in a low, happy chord. It was where it belonged. In safe hands.

  “Good,” I said. “Maybe we can all get some rest.”

  “Not yet,” Raven said. “I still have some vacationing to do.” He stepped forward and clapped Cooper on the shoulder, then shoved the other man out of the way. “Help me stash my power in the furnace, chief?”

  “I don’t think it works that way.”

  “Maybe not with the other gods.” He grinned. “But, hello? Trickster?”

  I glanced at Myra and Jean. They both shrugged. “All right,” I said. “Let’s see if you’re right about that.”

  Turned out he was.

  ~~~

  BY TUESDAY, the tourists had left. The residents of Ordinary seemed to release a collective exhale. The Rhubarb Rally lights, whistles, and bells were officially packed away and recorded in the history books.

  I’d even seen Death, in his pressed slacks, shiny shoes, and bright Hawaiian shirt, standing on the edge of the glittering blue ocean, a bright yellow kite in his hand.

  If I were the kind of woman who prayed, I’d pray I’d never have to carry another god power again. It had changed me, left marks somewhere deep inside me, lingering behind my thoughts, my sanity, like scars pulled too tight. I hadn’t told my sisters about that yet. They were worrying enough about me. But the marks the power had left behind scared me if I thought about it too much. I didn’t even know what kind of damage it might have done, didn’t know if it would heal.

  I felt ten years older. I ached everywhere.

  Reeds had acted as bridges for god powers for centuries. I hoped this was just a part of the job, and the wounds left from the power would heal as quickly as my physical injuries so I could get back to my real job.

  Myra was at her desk finishing with the deck hand’s statement. He had corroborated Dan’s story. Walt had indeed been drunk when Margot approached him. She’d offered him a lot of money to take her to Heim’s boat and show her around. He was fuzzy about if she’d stayed on the boat or not. When he woke the next morning and heard Heim had been killed, he’d bolted.

  He had a couple misdemeanor priors he was hoping wouldn’t catch up to him.

  Dan was still on the hook for waving a deadly weapon at a police officer. I figured the local judge would remove all firearms and explosives from his home, give him a few months of jail time, then move him on to community service.

  I was hoping the community service might actually go some distance in changing his petulant attitude. If not that, maybe cooling his heels for a while in jail would.

  Lila had come in to see her sister before Margot had been transferred down to the Lincoln County jail. They’d cried while hugging each other.

  It didn’t matter how long I was a cop—it was still hard to see people screw up their lives. But Margot had killed Heim, and I couldn’t find any forgiveness for that, even if she’d done it out of a twisted sense of love for her sister.

  With her confession, Margot would remain in jail until her trial. After that, it would be up to a jury and judge to decide her fate. I suspected her lawyer would angle for an insanity plea.

  Cooper had left town again. But this time he’d left with a big ol’ grin on his face and a cheeky promise that he’d be back when he needed a rest.

  He’d finally found his horizon to chase. And Ordinary would always be a home when he needed one. It was still weird that Crow’s power had transferred back to the kiln. I guessed every rule had an exception.

  And Ryder…I tried not to think about Ryder.

  I thought about him constantly.

  The door to the office opened and Jean sauntered in with a gust of cool air. “Guess who got her box filled with free hot donuts this morning?”

  “Please tell me that’s not a euphemism,” Myra drawled.

  Jean snorted and placed a pastry box down on the coffee station. “Maybe.”

  “Why are you here?” I asked.

  “I switched shifts with Roy for the week. Why are you here? Aren’t you still shot?”

  “I’m healing. Might as well be sitting here doing paperwork instead of sitting at home being bored.”

  She worked the lid off the box, her eyes dancing at the contents. “You’re setting a ridiculous standard that I hope you know I refuse to follow. If I get shot, I’m gone for a month, at least. Huckleberry twist?”

  “Yes, please.”

  She brought me the donut and took a bite out of a maple bar.

  I took the knot of glazed huckleberry pastry. It was still warm. “You aren’t kidding. These are fresh.”

  She grinned with her mouth full and held up one finger. She picked up my coffee cup and took a gulp, washing the donut down.

  “Hey,” I said. “Sick person. Germs.”

  “I’m not going to catch a bullet wound. I’ve been thinking about Ryder.”

  My stomach flipped but I took a big bite so I couldn’t talk.

  “About how he broke up with you in the hospital,” she added.

  I had too much donut in my mouth to say anything, so I just glared at her.

  Myra was still frowning, a piece of paper in one hand, her pen rocking between the fingers of her other hand.

  “Did he say why?” Jean asked.

  I stole back my coffee cup and drank. The donut had gone dry in my mouth and my appetite was gone. I didn’t want to talk about this with my sisters. I didn’t want to think about Ryder ever again.

  Liar.

  “Except that my sisters are suspicious and nosey?”

  “He’s different,” Myra said.

  “What?”

  “Ever since he came back to town a year ago. It didn’t really hit me for a couple months, but there’s something different about him.”

  “He’s eight years older?” I suggested.

  Why are we talking about Ryder?

  She shook her head. “Have you ever asked him about his college training?”

  “Some. He got a degree in business and architecture. Why?”

  Can we stop talking about Ryder?

  “It’s hard to put my finger on it, but if you hadn’t told
me what he majored in, I’d guess he’d gone into the military.”

  I just sat there staring at her as the chill clenched my chest and stomach. She had just nailed the thing that had been niggling the back of my mind. How he’d come into the station when Margot was holding me at gunpoint. How he’d been calm, demanding, in control.

  That wasn’t a small-town boy who had spent his autumns elk hunting. That was a man who knew how to handle firearms and people in life-threatening situations.

  Jean hung up the phone. I hadn’t even heard it ring. “Mrs. Yates’ penguin is strapped to a surfboard tied to the jetty. And the tide is rolling in.”

  I pressed my finger to my nose.

  Jean did too, and Myra, who was seconds too late, swore. “Fine. I’ll go rescue the penguin while you two stay inside where it’s warm and eat donuts.”

  “You told me to get some rest,” I said.

  She stood and swung her coat on. “I told you to go home.”

  “Well, maybe I will.”

  I didn’t want to stay here and talk about Ryder any more, and I was pretty sure that was all Jean would want to do.

  “What about me?” Jean asked.

  “You get to stay and cover Roy’s shift just like you wanted to,” I said.

  “Fine. But the donuts stay.”

  Chapter 33

  MY HOUSE was north of the station. I drove that way through the neighborhoods instead of the main street, weaving between yards peppered with tiny bungalows, rough-hewn cabins, and shiny new condominiums.

  It would be easy to go home. It would be easy to rest, to take a few days off.

  I had certainly earned it.

  But I soon found myself driving out of town, north, just north, the road twisting against hills and fields, the ocean rolling deep and endless to my left. Towns even smaller than Ordinary huddled along the edges of the road, frequent and then fewer as more and more road stretched between them.

  I found solace in the road, in the drive, the sound of the engine, the light and shadow of sunlight through trees soothing all my raw edges, inside and out. I tried not to think of Ryder.

  All I thought about was Ryder.

  Soon buildings were replaced by signs that pointed to rivers, trailheads, and campgrounds.

 
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