Death and relaxation, p.6
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       Death and Relaxation, p.6

           Devon Monk
 
“Wouldn’t that be something?” he mused.

  “For you, maybe,” I said. “For me, it would just be a ton of paperwork, and a lot of legwork to find a mortal suitable and willing to take on your power.”

  “Must they be willing?”

  “One hundred percent.”

  He nodded with what he might have intended to be sympathy but which only looked like gallows glee. “I am sure I will not need to inconvenience you with such a thing, Reed Daughter.”

  “Delaney,” I said. “If you’re coming to town you’ll need to follow human conventions in language too. I prefer to be addressed by my given name.”

  “I am aware of that. I read section twelve. But I believe those rules only apply once I have signed and am residing in your town, is that correct?”

  I stifled a sigh. He was going to be a stickler for details. Of course. But outwardly, I gave him the old Reed family smile. “That’s how it works.”

  “Shall we sign?”

  Well. That was quick.

  I fished a ballpoint pen from Joe-Boy’s mechanic shop out of my pocket and handed it to him.

  He took it, careful not to let his fingers so much as brush mine, which was good. This near, his fingers gave off a chill as if they were made of dry ice.

  He clicked the end of the pen with his thumb, stacked the pages so that the last was on top, and pressed the edges cleanly together.

  Then he signed on the line with a flourish. As soon as he lifted the pen there was a sort of shift in the air. The temperature rose ever so slightly, the lights seemed to burn brighter.

  He clicked the pen again, placed it precisely in the center of the contract, and pushed the pages across the table toward me.

  Cold black eyes watched me with the silence of all the world’s graves.

  I picked up the pen—which, surprisingly, wasn’t cold—and glanced at his signature. Amazing, scrolling piece of art. Beautiful, really.

  I set my own name—clean, no-nonsense, and easily legible—beneath his.

  The temperature rose just a bit more and I could hear the music over the shop speakers I hadn’t realized had faded. Being around Thanatos had a heck of an insulating effect on the world.

  “That’s it,” I said. “Let me be the first to welcome you to Ordinary, Oregon. I do hope you’ll enjoy your vacation stay. Remember, you’ll need to choose a name you wish people to address you by. Using one that is more common among mortals makes it easier on all of us.”

  “I should prefer Than,” he said.

  “Good,” I said. “That’ll work. I’ll drive back to town. You can come at any time you wish, but need to stop directly at the police station so I can take care of your personal effects.”

  “My power?”

  “Your power. And as a quick reminder, you will follow the three basic laws: Get a job or otherwise be a contributing member of the community. Don’t kill anyone or harm through intent or neglect. And most importantly: do not procreate.”

  The corner of his mouth twitched. Not a smile, but compared to any other sign of amusement he’d shown, it was practically a belly laugh.

  “I understand each of these requirements, Reed Daughter.”

  “Delaney. Do you have any other questions?”

  “Endless. But I do enjoy a good surprise.”

  I wasn’t sure how it was that everything he said came out so sinister and threatening. Any other mortal would probably cower from this kind of direct contact, but I had family blood to thank for my cool head and fortitude.

  I gave him a smile. “I’m sure the residents of Ordinary and the unique experience of spending a little time as a mortal will more than satisfy your need for surprises.”

  “I quite look forward to it.”

  “I like your attitude.” I stood with cup in one hand and envelope in the other.

  “Reed Daughter?”

  “Delaney,” I corrected again.

  “Now perhaps you will tell me which god will be guarding over my…personal effects while I am in town.”

  “Sure: Raven.”

  One perfectly manicured eyebrow lifted. “The trickster?”

  “The glassblower. You should stop in his shop sometime. He holds glass-float-making classes on Saturday afternoons. Calls it: ‘Blow Your Own Balls’.”

  A slight frown tucked lines between his eyebrows. “Humor?”

  “He thinks it is.” I grinned. It was going to be fun to see how this very serious, very dark god managed life once he was more or less just another ordinary human like the rest of us.

  “See you around, Than.”

  “Farewell, Reed Daughter.”

  I raised one hand over my shoulder and waved with two fingers.

  Just because god power didn’t affect me like other mortals didn’t mean that I liked to be in the company of it for long. And not for the reason most people thought. God power didn’t repel me, it made me yearn a bit. Made me itch.

  My father had said it was a sort of a tuning fork reaction. When I got around god power, it resonated through me like a perfect pitch. There was a reason for that.

  There was only one Reed family member at a time who could act as the bridge for god power. Only one Reed who could transfer it into safekeeping, whether that meant in storage when the gods vacationed in town, or giving it to a mortal when an original god somehow got themselves killed.

  That second reason—death of a god—was something I hoped I’d never have to deal with.

  I headed toward the cashier counter to check for mail.

  It was something Great-Great-Grandma had set into place before telephones were invented. The family story was that it all happened during a time when Mercury—messenger to the gods—wanted to stay in Ordinary. Unlike some other gods, Mercury’s power didn’t really have an autopilot and didn’t operate if he wasn’t wielding it.

  The gods were more than a little upset when they’d found out their messenger boy was going to take a few years off. Typical of powerful deities, they started a war over it.

  Great-Great-Grandma came up with a solution that allowed the war to be resolved peacefully.

  A message drop was established outside Ordinary so that the deities outside town could send notes to the deities inside town. That drop was now here in the casino.

  I drove up once a week and gathered the notes, then delivered them to the vacationing deities. I’d been here last Friday and didn’t really expect anything new to be waiting now, since it was only Monday.

  I handed the cashier a key that would open the contents in a safe they kept in the back.

  She glanced at it and pressed a button under the counter. A young man strolled through the door behind the cashier, took the key, and slipped back through the door again.

  I stepped to one side and waited. The casino traffic was starting to pick up.

  The young man came back and handed me a single white business envelope.

  “Thanks,” I said.

  He nodded and I turned to leave.

  I checked the name on the envelope and nearly stopped cold. One name was typed across the front of it: DELANEY.

  There was no one else in town named Delaney. This had to be for me.

  This was highly unusual. Gods didn’t send me notes. They called, I answered, they signed contracts—or didn’t—and that was that.

  Why would someone send me a note here?

  I thought about opening it, but didn’t want to mess with something godly near mortals who were just out to play a game of bingo or two.

  Better to put some distance between me and those who could be harmed or affected by it.

  I walked out of the building like nothing was bothering me. Kept an eye out for trouble. Didn’t see anything but mortals walking into the place, flat gray sky above, and cars rolling past on the highway.

  As soon as I got in the Jeep, I took a closer look at the envelope. White, unremarkable. It was the kind that business letters were mailed in. The seal at the back was pointed and not self-moi
stening.

  There was no stamp, not that I would expect one, and no other indentation or mark on it. I tipped it up to the light, shined my flashlight behind it.

  It was security lined, but I could tell that it held a piece of folded paper. My name wasn’t computer printed. Each letter left a small indent in the envelope.

  So an actual typewriter had been used to address it. That might narrow down who the sender was a bit, but not by much.

  I flipped open my pocket Leatherman, sliced the side edge, and drew out the paper. It was folded in thirds.

  In the center of the sheet of paper was one line:

  Tonight. One will fall.

  “What the actual hell,” I breathed. Dread and fear clenched my stomach and my heartbeat picked up the pace. Was this a warning? A threat? Was this the bad feeling Jean had been sensing?

  What did it even mean? One what would fall tonight?

  I searched the parking lot again to see if anyone was watching me, but it was empty of people, creatures, and deities.

  There was no date on the envelope or the paper, but someone inside would know when the mail had been delivered, and how. If this had come to the casino via some unusual way, I wanted to know the details.

  I tucked Thanatos’s contract into the glove compartment and locked it, then walked back into the casino, my nerves tight, even though I didn’t let it show.

  Myra had the gift of always being where she needed to be at the right time. Jean could tell when something bad was going to happen and usually had an idea as to what it was.

  My family gift was a little different.

  What I hadn’t told Thanatos, because it wasn’t his concern, was that the only way a god power could be given to a mortal was through me. I was the bridge between mortality and the immortal, a wire through which power could travel and connect to its new host.

  That was a family thing too, handed down through the generations. It didn’t always show up in the firstborn—there was a great-great grand uncle Otis, who was the sixth-born, and he had been one of the best bridges for power transfer.

  Dad had been the most recent bridge. He’d made me stand with him one time when I was fourteen to watch him endure that pain. Endure that power.

  I’d had nightmares of it for years afterward.

  So far, I hadn’t had to bridge a god power. Not a single god had died while on vacation in the last year. Not even Poseidon, who was a chronic idiot when it came to staying alive as a mortal.

  If I had any say in it, no god ever would.

  I strode back into the casino to do my due diligence. I’d check in with the cashier and anyone else who had seen the envelope delivered. Find out who had dropped it off. Then I’d head back to town before Death got there.

  Chapter 6

  I PULLED into the station. Six cars filled the parking lot—one was Myra’s squad car. One was Roy’s sleek convertible. Two had tow tags on them, and one was Jean’s truck. The other was a sedan—Washington plates. Out-of-towner.

  I dragged my hair back into the rubber band and swung into my official jacket, the white envelope in my pocket. I dug Thanatos’s contract out of the glove box and strolled in.

  Roy sat behind the counter and switchboard. He was a big, amiable man in his seventies. His wide, dark face supported a thick white mustache and a shock of white hair trimmed tight to his skull, making his bright brown eyes stand out. He worked LAPD dispatch back in the day, retired up here to Ordinary, and was one of the few mortals who knew the town’s secrets.

  “Afternoon, chief,” he said.

  “Afternoon, Roy. How’s the day?”

  “Smooth sailing.”

  He always said it was smooth sailing. If a sinkhole swallowed up the station and dropped us all into a volcano, he’d say it was smooth sailing until the last sizzle.

  Myra stood at her desk talking to the out-of-towner—a businessman who was waving a parking ticket in her face. She glanced up at me over his shoulder, her light blue eyes narrowing a moment. I gave her a later nod, and she went back to not changing her mind for the guy.

  I strolled to the record room, which was just a little storage space with shelves for cleaning supplies on one wall and files on the others. I stashed Thanatos’s contract in the hidden safe we used for temporary keeping until it could be stored back home in our family vault.

  I didn’t lock up the white envelope. I wanted to show it to Myra.

  By the time I walked back out, the parking ticket guy was out the door.

  “So did you give him the small-town rent-a-cop break?” I asked Myra, using the insult he’d last thrown at her.

  “I gave him the small-town hospitality of not throwing him in jail for being an ass.”

  Roy chuckled. He was working on his newest Rubik’s Cube, which looked tiny in his hands. He had a collection of them. I had no idea why.

  “How’d it go?” she asked.

  “He signed. So I expect him to swing by for his welcome packet in the next day or so.” I dropped my jacket across my chair and sat.

  “What does he look like?”

  “Thin. Meticulous. Pale. Black suit and eyes. Elegant undertaker sort. I think he’d be hard to miss.” I dug the envelope out and handed it to her.

  She scanned the name. “Typewriter?”

  “Yep.”

  “Did he give this to you?”

  “No. It was left at the drop. Delivered by normal means. The cashier said it arrived like all the others: in a sealed, prepaid postal box.”

  “Weren’t you just out there Friday?”

  “This showed up today. Same route driver.”

  Myra pinched it so that the envelope yawned open. She tugged out the paper and read it.

  “What in the hell does that mean?”

  “I have no idea. Thoughts?”

  “Thanatos?”

  I shook my head. “He doesn’t strike me as the type who would go through the mystery of whatever this is. I think he’s the kind who would enjoy telling bad news to someone face to face.”

  She scanned the back of the envelope and held it up to the light. “Could it have something to do with the explosion?”

  “I don’t know. Did you find anything?”

  She replaced the letter in the envelope and handed it back to me. I dropped it into my In box.

  “It was dynamite. About a half a stick.”

  I nodded. That wasn’t going to do us a lot of good for narrowing down who the suspect might be. Plenty of people in this area had dynamite. Especially anyone with land that needed clearing.

  “I’ve gone through the photos. Can’t see any evidence of who might have snuck into his backyard to blow up the garden patch, but it was a direct hit. Only his rhubarb was destroyed.”

  “And his burn pile,” I added.

  She nodded. “That was a favor, if you ask me.”

  “So who in town doesn’t like Dan Perkin?”

  “I think the shorter list is who in town doesn’t hate Dan Perkin.”

  I nodded and scrubbed at my forehead. The lack of sleep was starting to catch up with me. “Pearl likes Dan.”

  “Pearl has a soft heart for everyone,” Roy said, finally joining the conversation.

  I walked over so I could see him better. Also to make coffee, because I hadn’t had nearly enough pots of it yet today. “You have insight on this one, Roy?”

  “Not really, no. But I think if someone had been out to kill Dan, or to do him any real harm, they wouldn’t have blown up his burn pile. Just as easy to stick dynamite under his house. Or his car.”

  I agreed with him. This was sounding more like a case of criminal mischief with the intent to harass. Certainly damage of property too, but not something intended for a lethal outcome.

  “Did you check the hardware and feed store?” I asked Myra.

  “Yes. They’re going through their books and will be sending me a list of people they’ve sold dynamite to in the last few months.”

  I scooped coffee
into the filter and added a second helping.

  “Hitting the hard stuff a little heavy today, aren’t you, chief?” Roy set the cube down. All the same colored squares were lined up on their respective sides, except for the corner square of each, which had the colors out of place.

  “Not hard enough,” I said.

  Myra gave me that look that said maybe I should knock off the coffee and take a nap instead.

  “Maybe you should knock off the coffee and take a nap.”

  Mind reader.

  “Too much to do. Haven’t even started the report from this morning. Still need to hire someone to help out around here. Did either of you know Chris Lagon was seeing Margot from out of town?”

  “Cowboy hat, feather-hair Margot?” Roy asked.

  I nodded. The grumble of coffee filling the carafe soothed my nerves with the sweet promise of un-soothing them.

  “They’ve been off and on for the last week or two.” Myra plunked a tea bag in her mug, then poured hot water out of the electric kettle into it.

  Roy made a “hm” sound. He didn’t miss the things going on in town, but he wasn’t a gossip.

  “Do you want to let us in on that?” I asked.

  “She’s Lila Carson’s sister, you know.”

  “I did not know.” I poured coffee into my mug even though the pot wasn’t done brewing. “Thought her name was Lapointe?”

  “Divorced. Maiden name.”

  “Has Lila been in town with her too?”

  Myra swished the tea bag, then looped it around the handle of her mug. “I saw Lila and Margot at their old place last week.”

  “The antique shop?”

  Their parents had opened a curiosity and antique shop that could not be missed, since they’d painted it cotton-candy pink with turquoise trim. It had drawn tourists and turned a good profit under their care for years. But when they’d retired to Arizona, Lila had inherited it.

  She’d reluctantly returned from Paris, cleaned out the place, and changed the old candy-colored antique shop into a fussy importer of Parisian art and decor.

  It hadn’t turned a profit since.

  “I thought she was done with this town,” I said.

  “She didn’t leave because the business was failing,” Myra said quietly.

 
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