Death and relaxation, p.5
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       Death and Relaxation, p.5

           Devon Monk
 

  “Because I’m the one deciding what to do with my life, not my little sister. And that…” I pulled my coffee out of her hand before she finished it. She was such a glutton for punishment. “…is the end of the conversation.”

  Jean opened her mouth.

  Just as the old black phone rang.

  We both stared at it.

  She shook her head. “I’m clocking out in fifteen minutes. This is all you.”

  I sighed. “Where’s Myra?”

  “Responding to a call. Someone stole Mrs. Yates’ penguin and tied it up a tree.”

  Mrs. Yates’ penguin was a concrete yard ornament that someone in town couldn’t get enough pleasure harassing.

  The black phone kept ringing like a windup alarm clock. That phone only rang for one reason. There was a god on the line.

  I squared my shoulders and picked up the heavy receiver. “This is Police Chief Delaney Reed of Ordinary speaking.”

  “Reed Daughter,” the cool voice said from the other side. It was always a little disconcerting talking to a deity under full power. But I had had plenty of practice with it growing up. The Reed family were basically immune to such things.

  Yet another reason why we made such good lawmen in this town.

  “Yes,” I said. “May I ask to whom I am speaking?”

  “I am the god Thanatos. And I wish to recreate in your small mortal town.”

  Thanatos. God of death. I couldn’t remember Thanatos ever vacationing in Ordinary, Oregon. It wasn’t like every god in the universe had spent time here. Plenty of deities had given Ordinary a try and decided they didn’t like living a powerless mortal life—not even for a short vacation. Other gods just never seemed drawn to the place.

  I had a good memory. I could recite all of the deities who had ever stopped by for as long as a Reed had been in town—and a Reed had always been in town, if not this one, then in some other town in the world.

  Why would Thanatos suddenly decide he wanted to feel the sand between his bony toes?

  “Hello, Thanatos.” I caught Jean’s eye and made a hurry-up motion when she just stood there in surprise at the mention of his name.

  Jean jogged off to the locked and hidden record vault behind the false wall where we kept the family files.

  I went on in a pleasant but firm tone. “There is some paperwork you must fill out and sign with a binding oath before you can stay in the town.”

  “I understand the procedure, Reed Daughter.”

  “Good. I’ll swing by tomorrow and bring you the paperwork.”

  “I would prefer that you meet with me today. It is the terms of service upon which your family agreed.”

  Crap.

  It was in the original oath. The Reeds were bound to answer the call of the deities as quickly as we could.

  The casino, where I made a once-a-week mail run for the deities and met with out-of-town gods to go over terms before they entered Ordinary as mortal, was a half-hour drive northeast from here. I’d lose an hour on the round trip, more for the inevitable conversation with Death, and I hadn’t even filed my report on the explosion yet.

  Myra walked through the door, just in time, as she always was. She raised one dark, sculpted eyebrow in question.

  “Yes, of course, Thanatos,” I said, watching Myra’s surprised blink. “I can be there in just under an hour, if that works for you.”

  “It will suit me, Reed Daughter. Do not be late,” he intoned. Then Death hung up on me, the phone clicking once before it went silent and dead.

  “Death?” Myra asked.

  “Death.” I dropped the receiver in the cradle and scowled at the phone. “He wants a vacation.”

  “Doesn’t everyone?” Myra said. “New here, right?”

  “As far as I know.”

  “Okay, got it,” Jean said as she came around the corner. “Hi, Myra.”

  Myra nodded.

  Jean was carrying the large leather-bound book with fine vellum pages over both her palms. She had it opened to about a quarter of the way through.

  “Anything in there on him?” I asked.

  “Never taken a vacation. Hasn’t been forbidden. No warnings. No notes. Nothing. He has a clean record.”

  “So there’s nothing stopping him from being here,” I said.

  “Nothing in the book,” she agreed.

  “Myra?” I said. “I’ll need to go. Haven’t had a chance to file my report.”

  “It can wait. I’ll hold down the fort.”

  “We so need another officer,” I muttered.

  “Or a strapping volunteer,” Jean said.

  “Anything new on the rhubarb attack?” I asked.

  “Got the pictures.” Myra shrugged out of her jacket and placed it on the back of the chair behind her desk, which was across from Jean’s. “I’ll look through them while you’re gone.”

  I glanced at the clock. It was almost seven. Roy should be in soon to help out with emergency dispatch.

  “Did you have any luck with Dan’s neighbors?” I asked.

  “Nothing about the blast. No one saw or heard anyone come or go, and Tibs was out walking his cat. Said the only one he saw out there was Dan. Thought I’d do a rundown of where the explosive might have come from.”

  “Dynamite?” I asked.

  “Thinking it might be.”

  “Check in with the quarry?”

  “Planning on it.”

  “Good.” I snagged a buttermilk donut on my way to the door. “I’ll check in when I get a chance.”

  Myra was already on the computer and waved one hand in acknowledgment. Jean walked with me out of the station.

  “The contract.” She handed me a yellow envelope.

  “Thanks. Get some sleep. No staying up all day gaming.”

  “I am not twelve.”

  “You weren’t into MMORPGs when you were twelve.”

  “Worse, I was into boys.”

  “Yeah, but now you’re into massively multi-player online role playing games and boys.”

  She rolled her eyes. “Fine. I won’t stay up all day. Laney?”

  “Yes?” I opened the Jeep and tossed my coat and the envelope inside.

  She didn’t say anything, so I looked over at her. Jean had that look on her face. The one she’d worn when Mom had died. The one she’d worn when Dad had died. The one that I always wanted to hug away.

  “Remember that bad feeling I mentioned this morning?” Her gaze searched my face for understanding. “It’s gotten worse.”

  Jean didn’t like talking about her bad feelings, so I knew how much it must be bothering her to bring it up.

  “Do you have any clue as to what it might be? Who it might involve?”

  She shook her head, purple, blue, and red glowing in the bright of the morning. “It involves you. Or you’re involved with it. Death, maybe?”

  “Death certainly,” I said. “Thanatos is my lunch date.”

  “I mean dying death, not the god of death.” She looked away and crossed her arms over her chest. “Shit, I don’t know.”

  “That’s okay.” I pressed my hand on her arm. “Thanks for the warning. I’ll be cautious and careful.”

  “Drive safe, too. And don’t gamble with Death. There’s that whole challenge Death to a game thing in the myths.”

  “I promise I won’t play with death. I’m not twelve either.” And because that barely got a smile out of her, I leaned in and gave her a hug. “I’ll be fine. Stay safe yourself, okay, and let me know if that feeling changes at all.”

  “I will,” she whispered.

  “Good woman. See you in a few hours.” I swung up into the Jeep and started the engine.

  Instead of walking to her truck, Jean just stood there, inches away from the Jeep as I backed away, staring at me like it might be the last time she saw me.

  With a quick wave and a smile I did not feel, I headed to the highway and a date with Death.

  Chapter 5

  THE CASINO was
impossible to miss. Nestled in a valley and built over what used to be a roadside fruit stand with a wheat field behind it, the local native tribe had installed an inviting collection of buildings. The casino was nicely faced, with deep orange and white brickwork, and each of the connecting buildings spread like a small city just east of twisty Highway 18, which was the main road between the capital city of Oregon and the coast.

  Used to be tourists only came in from the Willamette Valley to get to the beach and ocean. Now more people stopped here at the casino than made it over to the coastal towns.

  Dad had grouched about it, and didn’t much like it when the casino became the meeting place for the gods. But I liked it. I liked the noise and lights, the excitement of people making those big and little wins.

  Everyone deserved a few lucky breaks in their life. Why not here?

  The fact that it had also attracted the attention of the gods was fine with me. It was nicer to deal with beings of universal power here, than in the old gas station and bait shop we used to meet up in.

  I parked on the far side of the lot and left my jacket and badge in the Jeep. I didn’t like bringing attention to my profession when I was meeting with deities.

  Since I’d rolled straight out of bed and hit the ground running, I hadn’t had time to pull together my casual professional look.

  What was I wearing anyway?

  I glanced down: jeans, boots, and Dad’s Grateful Dead T-shirt.

  Great. Of all the T-shirts to be wearing when meeting Death for the first time, it had to be this one.

  “Hopefully Death has a sense of humor,” I muttered. “Or an appreciation for classic rock.”

  I dragged the rubber band out of my hair and combed fingers through it, trying to smooth a few tangles.

  “You got this, Delaney,” I said as I slicked back my hair and tucked the rubber band in my front pocket. “Reed family hasn’t met a deity we can’t handle.” Although we’d never, apparently, met Death.

  The casino was cool and well lit, little pockets of shadow strategically placed to let the lights from the machines shine out invitingly like stars twinkling in a dusky sky.

  I made my way past the main game room, a gift shop, and to the coffee shop at the far end of the building.

  Since it was still early, there were only three people in the café. A gray-haired woman in a bright pink sweater and a younger woman wearing a yellow pantsuit chatted at a table in the front.

  There, at the back of the place, sat a man in black.

  Death, I presumed.

  He stared out the window at the forested hills that drew off into ever-rising blues of the distance, his face in profile to me.

  If I didn’t know what he was, if I couldn’t sense the power he carried, I would immediately know he wasn’t from around here.

  He was very thin, very pale, and sat very stiffly. Only the fingertips of his long hands rested on the edge of the table, like a piano player paused mid-song. His hair was black and meticulously trimmed. There wasn’t a wrinkle on a face that seemed to be so much older than it appeared.

  When he turned his eyes to me, they were gravestone black and devoid of humanity.

  It was like staring into an empty gallon bucket of ice cream: both sad and disconcerting.

  His gaze lowered to my shirt, and one eyebrow twitched ever so slightly.

  I crossed the room toward him.

  “Reed Daughter.” He spoke in a cultured accent. I swore the temperature in the room dipped by five degrees. “Join me.”

  I did so, settling down into the chair opposite him. Most gods didn’t like idle chitchat, so I got right down to brass tacks. “Thanatos. I am here because you have requested to vacation in Ordinary, Oregon.”

  It was formality, but words were a binding thing among deities, so words needed to be said.

  “That is correct.”

  “You understand that my family is the law in the town, and our word is the final justice.”

  “I understand.”

  I placed the envelope on the table. “You will fill out the paperwork with all true intent and honesty. If you agree to all that is written and required of you, you and I will both sign on the final page.”

  I slid it across to him.

  Only one finger moved. He stretched it out to press against the envelope and better position it. His eyes, those cold, cold eyes, remained on mine for an uncomfortably long time.

  “Do you enjoy telling the powerful what to do?” he asked coolly.

  His beautiful accent did that god-echo in my brain. Power was a noisy thing for me. My Dad had said it was too bright, like a fire burning. But to me, power was loud.

  “I am honored to uphold my family’s agreement with all those of power,” I replied. I smiled extra brightly, because we both knew I hadn’t really answered him. “Coffee sure smells good. Would you like me to get you a cup?”

  “I do not require it.”

  “That’s all right,” I said. “My treat. It will give you time to read.”

  I slid out of the booth and strolled over to the barista, who was restocking the refrigerator with quarts of heavy cream.

  The girl turned and gave me a quick smile. “What can I get for you?”

  “I’ll take your dark roast, sixteen-ounce hot.” I glanced over at Thanatos, thinking about what kind of coffee I should bring him. “And how about a twenty-four-ounce double-double mocha caramel raspberry blended.”

  “You want whip on that?”

  Thanatos had slipped the papers out of the envelope and held them pinched between just his forefinger and thumb as if they were made of dirt and shame. He was so not a frou-frou drink kind of guy.

  “Oh, I definitely think I do need whip. All it can hold.”

  I paid and lingered while she fulfilled the order. Then I strolled back over to the booth with both coffees.

  “Here you go.” I plunked the frosty cup of sugar-high whipped-cream overkill in front of him. The barista had really outdone herself and added shaved chocolate curls, a ruby-red cherry, and a bright pink straw.

  Thanatos paused. His gaze flicked to the caffeinated monstrosity, flicked to my humble cup of plain black coffee, then up to my face.

  “This is a beverage?”

  “I am assured it is.” I sat down again and took a sip of my coffee.

  He seemed to consider the situation and make a decision.

  Thanatos drew the straw to his lips with one finger, and, still staring me in the eye as if this were a game of Drink-the-Poison, took a sip.

  Okay. I had to admit it was all kinds of satisfying to watch Death suck on a whipped cream and coffee milkshake through a pink straw. Totally ruined that dangerous vibe he’d been throwing.

  He straightened and went back to reading through the contract without comment.

  “Well?” I asked after a second or two.

  He raised one dark eyebrow. “Yes?”

  “Do you like it? The coffee?”

  He still wasn’t looking at me. “Not at all.”

  Still, at least he had tried it. It was a good sign that he might actually want to give the whole vacation thing—the actually being a mortal thing—a try.

  Because vacationing for a god wasn’t quite the same as vacationing for a mortal or creature. For one thing, the god had to give up his or her power for the entire time they were in Ordinary. For another thing, while any god was vacationing and powerless, he or she would be mostly human, and therefore could be injured, and even worse: killed.

  “Where will my…personal effects be stored?” he asked archly.

  “Personal effects?”

  “Power, Reed Daughter. Where will the power of Death be stored?” He looked over at me as if he were peering down over glasses, even though he wasn’t wearing any.

  “That changes each year. One god in town has the right to keep the powers under lock for one year, then that responsibility changes to a different god.”

  “And who currently is responsible f
or storing powers?”

  I shook my head. “You either agree or disagree to the terms. I will tell you more when we’ve both signed the contract.”

  I took another sip of coffee, which was throwing off a lot more steam than it should. Thanatos’s personal space was a cold one. But I refused to rub my hands over my arms even though I had goose bumps. He could give me the stink eye for as long as he wanted. I wasn’t intimidated by him or his power.

  Much.

  Even though a power was locked away while a deity vacationed, it didn’t mean the power wasn’t still in operation.

  I’d gone fishing with Chronos when I was about eleven and asked him why the clocks didn’t stop while he stayed in Ordinary. He’d chuckled, offered up some philosophical doublespeak about time not being a linear concept, and threw in some mathematical equations that had soared right over my head.

  And then, when he realized I wasn’t following his line of reason, he told me the powers of the gods continued to exist, even when the god wasn’t actively wielding the power. There wasn’t a way to turn it off. Instead, power ran on a sort of autopilot while the gods vacationed.

  Sometimes that autopilot was easy and everything went as it should. Sometimes, a power left alone without god supervision caused disasters, floods, earthquakes, war, and worse.

  I hoped Death had a really good autopilot set on his power.

  That way, even though Thanatos might stay in Ordinary for a while, it didn’t mean the world would be death-free, or suddenly suffer from massive deaths.

  “This clause,” Thanatos said, breaking my reverie. “I don’t believe it will apply to me.”

  “Which clause?” I knew which clause. It was the same one every god thought didn’t apply to them.

  “Section six, subsection six, paragraph six.”

  He didn’t read it out loud. He didn’t have to. I had it memorized.

  “Yes,” I said. “In the unlikely event that you die while vacationing in Ordinary, your power will be transferred, within seven days, to one mortal who will go on to become the god of death.”

  “Me, dead.” His mouth almost lifted toward a smile.

  For the first time, I glimpsed a spark of something that might actually be humor kindling in his eyes.

 
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