Saturday, November 26, 2011

Chapter Eighteen

Hep, Scroat and Ares were supremely bored.  They’d tried playing gin, had tinkered with their vehicles, and had, briefly, tried to brainstorm ways to get to this Thomas guy, who seemed to have someone watching over him.
The best they could come up with was agreeing they should figure out who was protecting him, and try to figure out why. 
This brilliant bit of detective work made the three of them supremely thirsty, and so, they’d gone to a bar and spent the previous six hours drinking.  The bar had been having an average day until they showed up.  Now they’d sold out of most of the beers they had on tap, and one of the bar employees had been sent to buy more kegs before they were out of bottled beer as well.  
“Man, what are we even doing?  We could be out on the road somewhere,” Hep said, “instead of waiting around for another errand from Death.  I think we’d have the exact same chance of catching him while on a road trip as we do trying to figure out where he might be hiding out, and where he might show up next.”
“Fucking A,” Scroat said.
“I dunno,” Ares said.  “I don’t mind helping Death out.”
Scroat gave Ares a bloodshot stare, “Are you saying you don’t have something better you could be doing with your time?”
“Well, I guess there might be other stuff I could do, but, I dunno, I like helping her.”
“Sorry, say that again?” Scroat said.  “Since when did you like helping anyone? I mean, apart from helping separate their head from their neck.  Why the sudden interest in Death?”
“Hey, I don’t have to explain myself,” Ares said.
“Uh oh,” Scroat said.
“What?” Hep said.
Scroat leaned over to Hep and stage whispered, “Ares wants to get it on with  Death!”
Hep nearly choked on his beer, and said, “What?
“Ares and Death/sitting in a tree/F-U-C-K-I-N...” 
Scroat did not manage to finish, as Ares had punched him hard enough to knock him off his chair.
OW!” Scroat said from the floor.  He kept talking as he got up.  “Man, why did you have to hit me in the ear. Fuck. You really need to work on your sense of humor.”
The bartender shouted over at them, “Hey, no roughhousing in the bar.  You want to wrassle, take it outside.”
Ares seemed unusually interested in his drink.  After a moment, he said to Scroat, “You shouldn’t talk about Death like that.”
Scroat’s eyes went wide.  “Oh, fuck, so it’s true. I was right. You want to make little war babies with Death.”
Ares didn’t say anything.
“OK,” Hep said.  “Well, that’s a little unusual for you, but, hey, there’s a special someone for everyone, right?”
“God, she’s so skinny.  You know you’re likely to get injured if you ever fuck her, right?” Scroat said.
Ares glared at Scroat, who stopped talking, but clearly had several more choice quips at the ready.  They drank in silence for a few minutes.
“You know she’s on the run, like, all the time, right?” Scroat said.  “I mean, it’ll have to be a quickie every time you two want to have sex.”
Ares stared at Scroat, and said “Am I going to have to kill you in order to get a day or two of peace?”
For a god, this was not as bad of a threat as it would be to a mortal.  If a god in corporeal form, as the three of them were right then, died, he or she would just wake up wherever his or her origin was.  In Scroat’s case, that would be the Australian bush country.  The last time he’d died, he’d only had to hike for a couple hours before he found a road and caught a ride, but prior to that, he’d occasionally had to hike through the bush for days before finding signs of civilization.  It was about twenty four hours of travel back to the United States, by plane, after he’d managed to get to the airport, so getting killed was still a bit of a hassle.
“Easy killer,” Scroat said. “There’s no need to send me back home, and there’s some people there I’d really rather avoid.  I’ve owed one guy ten bucks for about a hundred years now.  I’d hate to bump in to him with no cash on me.”
“Just watch your god damned mouth,” Ares said.
“Can’t do it, sorry.” Scroat said.
Hep saw something out of the corner of his eye, and turned to look.  He wasn’t expecting to actually see anything of interest, but in his drunkenness he wasn’t able to ignore whatever it was either.
He caught the briefest of glimpses of what looked like one of those Naughty Gnostic goons slipping out the door.  He sighed.  Now he was going to have to investigate.  He was too drunk for these shenanigans.
“Hey you two,” Hep said to Scroat and Ares, “I think we’ve got one of our Naughty Gnostic friends keeping an eye on us.  We should probably go see what he’s up to, huh?”
“Fuck!” Scroat said.  “Why does the action have to wait until we’re drunk?  Couldn’t he have spied on us when we were playing gin?  Then we wouldn’t have had to interrupt our precious drinking time.”
“Yep, it’s a real pain in the ass,” Hep said. He got up from the table, and staggered a bit.  “Let’s go.”
Scroat and Ares got up, a bit wobbly, and the three of them staggered towards the bar’s front door.
“Hey! You guys are coming back, right?” the bartender shouted at them.  As of right then, their tab was staggering, and he wasn’t about to let anyone walk away from a bill that size, even if two of them did resemble pro-wrestlers.
“Yep, just got to see to a thing outside,” Hep said.
“I don’t need to call the police, do I?” the bartender said.
“Nope.  Send another round of drinks to our table, would you?  I anticipate we’ll be thirsty when we get back,” Hep said.
The three of them went outside and looked around to see if there was any sign of the guy who was spying on them.  
Scroat saw someone in a biker vest duck around a corner. 
“There he is,” Scroat said, and pointed.
The three of them staggered as quickly as they could to the corner Scroat had pointed to.  Hep was relieved to discover the Naughty Gnostic had gone down a dead end alley.  It didn’t take much to get winded after consuming enough alcohol to paralyze the entire population of the state.  
The Naughty Gnostic had reached the end of the alley and turned to face them.  He was looking more than a little worried for himself.
“Hey buddy,” Ares said, “How’s it hanging?”
“I’m not afraid of you!” the Naughty Gnostic said.
“Well that’s good.  I’m not afraid of you either.  Between you and me though, if I was you, I might be a bit afraid of my pals Hep and Scroat here.  Hep’s got kind of a vicious temper, and Scroat, well, he’s just a crazy asshole.  Best to stay out of their way, you know what I mean?”
The Naughty Gnostic didn’t say anything.
“Anyway,” Hep said, “We’re not all that interested in roughing you up tonight.  We just want to know what you’re doing here.”
“Go fuck yourself,” the Naughty Gnostic said.
Hep smiled, and said, “I said we’re not interested in roughing you up.  Not that we won’t rough you up if we have to.”
He reached to grab the biker, and his hand passed through him.  He was a ghost.  He grabbed again, and caught hold of him.
“OK, you’re a ghost.  So maybe we can’t hurt you.  We can still make things kind of unpleasant.  So, why not just tell us why you were spying on us?”
“I wasn’t spying on you.  Not all of you.  Just him,” the Naughty Gnostic said and gestured at Ares.
“That’s interesting,” Ares said.  “Who, exactly, has you spying on me?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why not? Don’t trust me?”
“Because she threatened to kill my family if I told.”
“She?” Ares said, suddenly very interested.  “It’s a she?”
“Oh fuck,” the Naughty Gnostic said. “Look, I’ve said too much.  Whoever it is threatened to kill my family and friends if I didn’t do what she said, and she said she’d kill them extra, whatever that means, if I told you what was going on.”
“Well that’s interesting,” Ares said.
“Real interesting,” Hep said.  “Think we should believe him?”
“Are you fucking nuts?” Scroat said. “If he said the sky was blue, I’d go outside and check for myself.”
“Please, man, I don’t want to be watching you, but I’m scared for my family.  They didn’t do anything to get wrapped up in this.”
“Why don’t you tell us who’s threatening you.  Maybe we can help you out,” Hep said.
“What are you talking about?” Ares said.
“Yeah, Hep, what the fuck are you talking about?  Why should we help out some guy who’s been spying on us?” Scroat said.
“I’m guessing we’ve got an interest in whoever is bossing this idiot around,” Hep said.
The Naughty Gnostic was shaking his head, “I can’t tell you.  You can’t help me.  She’s too quick.  Sometimes I think she’s got someone else keeping an eye on me to make sure I’m doing what she told me to.  Just let me go, and I’ll try to stay out of your way.”
Hep sighed.  “That’s not going to work.  I’m sure you’ll try to stay out of our way, but let’s be honest here, whoever this is has been threatening to kill your nearest and dearest.  Something tells me if she tells you to get in our way, you’ll say ‘yes ma’am!’ and end up right here in our way again.  Damn it.  Now we’re going to have to keep an eye on you on top of everything else.”
Scroat coughed. “Hey, uh, Hep, how do you propose we keep an eye on him?”
“I guess we’ll just have to trap him in a room in our trailer until this all passes over.”
“Aw, come on.  Why do we have to keep this fucker at our place?”
“Do you know a better place?”
“How about anywhere that isn’t our home?  We could rent a storage locker and leave him there with a stack of magazines.”
“Yeah, how are we going to keep an eye on him?”
“They’ve got security cameras.”
“That’s not going to do us much good if his boss comes and springs him, now is it?”
Ares suddenly brightened a bit.  “Hey, what if we called Death?  She could bring him to the other side.”
Hep blinked, and smiled a bit.  
“Now that’s some fucking thinking right there,” Scroat said.  “Who knew you weren’t a complete idiot?”
“I have my moments,” Ares said.  “Anyone know how to get ahold of her?”
“Yeah, I’ve got her phone number,” Hep said.  He fished his phone out of his pocket with his free hand and tossed it to Ares.
Moments later, Death appeared in the alley with them.  She looked at Ares, Hep and Scroat, and then the Naughty Gnostic.
“So, I gather things haven’t exactly been going your way since you ran off, huh?” Death said to him.  “Well, I can’t say I’m surprised.  There’s a reason ghosts are rare, you know.  It’s because being a ghost sucks.”
“Please, she’s threatened to kill my family,” the Naughty Gnostic said.
“She, whoever she is, won’t kill your family for this.  It’s not your fault.”
“Between you and me,” he said, “she didn’t seem like the type who went for rational thought.  She seemed more like the killing everyone because it’s kind of fun for her sort.”
“I think you’re worried about things that won’t happen,” Death said.  She held out her hand to the Naughty Gnostic.  “Take my hand.  I suggest you come willingly.  I’ve been trying to track you and the rest of your buddies down for a while, and I’m not really in the mood to play games.  These three might not be able to do much to you, but I assure you, I can make your journey to the afterlife very, very uncomfortable.”
The Naughty Gnostic glanced at Hep, Scroat and Ares, who were all looking back at him in a less than reassuring way, and decided taking his chances with Death would be better than getting locked in a spare room for an unspecified length of time.  He took Death’s hand, and the two of them vanished.
“So,” Scroat said. “That was interesting.  Should we go back inside and see how our drinks are doing?”
“Yes, I think so,” Hep said.
“Sounds like a fine plan to me,” Ares said.
“Man, I don’t know what we would have done with a ghost taking up a spare room in our trailer,” Hep said.  “There’s barely enough room in there as it is.”
Back inside the bar, a fresh round of drinks was waiting for them.  Before long they were laughing and carrying on, and had mostly forgotten about their encounter with the ghostly biker.
A while later, Death joined them at their table.
“So,” she said by way of greeting, “did you get any information out of that guy?”
“What guy?” Scroat asked.
Death rolled her eyes, and spoke very slowly as she said, “The guy you three grabbed in the alleyway out there.  Ghost. Naughty Gnostic. Pain in the ass.  Remember?”
“We didn’t learn anything, except that whoever his boss is is apparently a woman, and that she’s threatened to kill his family if he screwed up.”
“Really?” Death said.  “That’s the second one of those guys who’s said that someone was going to kill his family if he didn’t do what he was told.”
“Seems like a crazy kind of thing to threaten a ghost with,” Ares said.  “You kill their family, everyone gets reunited.  Could be a win-win kind of deal.”
“I think you’re being too pragmatic there, Ares,” Hep said.  “Most people wouldn’t like for their families to be killed because of their actions.  That’s the kind of thing that makes people feel pretty bad, actually.”
“Well, I’ve never understood people, for the most part, anyway.  Mostly, I just like killing them.  Talk about blowing off some steam.  There’s nothing like a good bloodletting to clear the head.”
“And that’s what we like about you, Ares,” Hep said.  “But most of us aren’t so much in to the killing people, unless it’s unavoidable.”
“Are you saying I could have avoided killing the people I did?” Ares asked.  He sounded offended by the very idea.
“Well, you get a little overly enthusiastic now and then, I think,” Hep said, trying to be tactful.
“Whatever.  Some people just need killing, and I’m the man to do it,” Ares said.  He noticed his glass was empty.  “Excuse me, I’m going to get another drink.”
He got up and walked a crooked line to the bar.
Death said to Hep and Scroat, “So who would want to spy on Ares and me enough to threaten to kill the families of a bunch of ghosts?”
“You’ve got me,” Hep said.  “I’m not interested enough in what Ares does to threaten to write a sternly worded letter to someone who failed to keep me up to date.”
“Yeah, I can’t imagine worrying about Ares enough to have someone watch him.  And it’s not like he’s discrete in any way.  When Ares does something, everyone knows, whether they want to or not,” Scroat said.
“Hmm,” Death said.  Her phone beeped.  She took it out of her pocket and looked at it.  “Crap.  Gotta run.  See you guys later.”
“Later,” Hep and Scroat said.
Ares came back to their table a few minutes later, with a beer for him, and a rum and Coke for Death.
“Hey, where did she go?” Ares said.
“Duty called, told her she was needed immediately,” Hep said.
“Just think, man,” Scroat said. “If you were to have a relationship with her, this would be it right here.  You standing there looking dumb, holding a drink for someone who left because she had something more important to attend to.”
“Shut up, Scroat,” Ares said.
“Just saying,” Scroat said.
“And I’m just saying shut the Hell up, would you?” Ares said.
“OK, man, no need to get all testy.  I’m just joking around a bit.” Scroat said.  
The three of them sat in silence for a few minutes, before resuming an earlier discussion about the merits and weaknesses of superchargers as compared to turbochargers.  Seemingly minutes later, the bartender was turning on the lights and insisting they pay their immense bar tab.  He was going to have to spend the following day driving all over town with a van to restock the bar, and by God, he wasn’t going to do it without get paid.
It took longer than the bartender would have liked for the three of them to settle up, but eventually they did, and staggered their way out of the bar.  When he was done doing the math, he realized he’d gotten more money in one tip from them than he usually did in an entire week.
He hoped they’d come back soon.

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