Monday, November 14, 2011

Chapter Eleven

Nachos.  A huge cheesy platter of nachos.  Or pizza.  Pizza would do.  Hell, a cheeseburger from MacDonald’s would work.  With a chocolate shake.
Death was feeling a bit stressed out.  And a lot hungry.  If she could find a decent buffet, and had the time, it was likely they’d run out of comfort foods before she ran out of room.
An epic feast would help her focus and prioritize.  Having to worry about ghost spies, and a person who’d figured out how to hide from her, and who now knew that he needed to hide extra well, was too much to ask of someone who hadn’t eaten in such a long time.
A jar of peanut butter and a spoon would do the trick.  Maybe a blue raspberry twin pop?
Instead of acquiring something so wondrous, however, she needed to attend to another death.
Joan Winford, 43, was going to die in a car accident on the freeway on her way home from work.  It was a pretty routine death.  As routine as deaths get, anyhow.  
Death stood in the breakdown lane. Traffic roared past as she watched and waited for Joan to come along.
She was grateful for Hep & Scroat’s willingness to lend a hand in finding Thomas, but also disappointed that they hadn’t nabbed him when they’d had the chance.  She wasn’t especially interested in how he was evading her, except as a means to the end of catching him.  If she could get her hands on him, it wouldn’t matter in the least how he’d been hiding.
Although it might be interesting to know how he’d figured out a way to hide from her.  She suspected he hadn’t just figured it out on his own.  She also had no idea who would get involved in something like that.  Death would be the first to admit she wasn’t especially popular among other deities, but that was just because she didn’t have time to socialize often.  She wasn’t aware of any particular enemies who would be motivated enough to screw with her work.  The importance and value of her job was acknowledged by everyone, so far as she was aware.  
She was startled out of her daydream by a massive BOOM, followed by the continuous blaring of two car horns. She checked her notes and watch.  Joan was right on time, at least.
As traffic ground to a halt, blocked by the two cars and various car bits strewn across the roadway, Death noticed there were two souls looking around in shock.  She checked her notes again.  She was only expecting Joan Winford, no one else.
“Hey, you two, come over here,” Death called.  The two souls both followed her order, still too stunned to question her.  Joan matched the description in Death’s notes - business attire, brown hair, gaping head wound - but the other person was a mystery.  He looked to be about thirty, dressed in blue jeans and a grey t-shirt.
“OK, Joan, I was expecting you,” Death said.  She turned and looked at the other soul.  “You weren’t part of the plan, though. Who are you, fella?”
“Jim Sherman,” he said. “Part of what plan?”
“The plan for Joan’s death.  You weren’t supposed to die right now.”
“How do you know?”
“Hi, I’m Death, nice to meet you,” Death said. “So were you riding with Joan?”
“Nope.  I’ve never seen her before in my life?”
“So you were driving the other car?”
“Nope.  Hitchhiking.  Looks to me like the guy I was riding with is a little banged up, but otherwise fine.”
The extra death was a troubling development.  From the looks of his body, which was missing a few vital pieces, Death wasn’t going to be able to swing a Near Death Experience for Jim.
Just then, she had the feeling of being watched.  She looked up, and saw Thomas across the road, staring at her.  He contorted his face into an enormous, cheesy smile, and waved at her.  Then he disappeared again.
“Hey!” Death said.  She took a couple of steps to try and chase Thomas before remembering that it was unlikely she’d be able to catch someone she couldn’t see.
“I think I know that guy,” Jim said.
Death turned around quickly.  “You know him?  How?”
“He looked kind of like a guy that dated my sister for a few months,” Jim said.  “In fact, she and I were out picking up some furniture for her new apartment when we bumped into him last week.  It was kind of weird, actually.”
“Could you explain how it was weird?” Death said.  Jim felt a little uncomfortable with Death’s sudden, intense, interest in what he was saying.
“I don’t know.  It was just awkward and uncomfortable.”
“Like, bumping in to an asshole ex awkward?”
“No.  Like... Like bumping in to someone who you’d heard had died.”
Death considered this for a minute before she spoke again.
“So,” Death said. “Where are you hitchhiking to?”
“Back to Austin.”
“Where are you coming from?”
“Santa Fe. That’s where my sister’s new apartment is.  She’d promised me a ride home, but she got all weird after we bumped into that Thomas guy.  By the time we’d dropped off her furniture she was screaming mad, and I guess I said the wrong thing.  She told me to find my own way home, and here I am.  It’s been slow going.”
“Wow. What did you say to cause her to bail on giving you a ride home?”
“I think it was, ‘have you got any beer?’ It might have been, ‘Man, that was a heavy chair,’ though.”  He shrugged.
“Is she usually so sensitive?”
“No, it was really weird.  She hardly ever freaks out, in fact.  If there is ever a disaster involving naughty monkeys with pliers and a lot of mud, I’d want her to be on the scene handling things. Hey, what are you doing?”
Death was writing on her notepad, naughty monkeys with pliers. When she was done, she said, “Making a note for later.  So it’s unlikely your sister just blew up for no reason, or because she didn’t want to give you a ride.  Interesting.”
“I guess.  So are we going to stand on the side of the road here much longer?”
“No,” Death said. She held out her hands to Joan and Jim, and smiled.  “Would you take my hands?”
While waiting for the gateway to appear, Joan asked, “Was this crash the fault of that guy who appeared?”
Death thought for a moment, and said, “No, you were slated to die in a car crash right when you did.  I think he was responsible for Jim being where he was, though.  I don’t know if it was deliberate or not.”
The gateway arrived and its doors opened.
“Well, in you go,” Death said to both of them.  “Good bye.”
Jim and Joan walked through the gateway and vanished.
The scary thing about that whole mess, Death thought, is wondering if Thomas set Jim up, or if that was just coincidence.  And how does he know where I am? No one should know that unless I happen to tell them.  It might be time to visit Hep and Scroat and see if they’ve found anything.
Hep and Scroat had been having a hell of a time tracking Thomas down.  After the debacle of his mother walking in when they were searching his house, Thomas hadn’t been back home.  At least, not any time they’d been by.  They’d rolled by, incognito in a borrowed car, to see if he was around.  If so, they’d planned to discretely break down the front door and grab him before he could run.
Unfortunately, he had yet to be home.  He was also not to be found at his mother’s house.  His mother, incidentally, was still staying at home.  Hep was worried she’d noticed them rolling by her house, but if she had, she didn’t give any indication.
Death had been able to give them the names of a few of Thomas’s friends, and Hep and Scroat found themselves reduced to knocking on doors asking about him.  It hadn’t gone well so far.
They hadn’t been able to find one of the friends.  The last address they’d been able to find for him was an apartment in a pretty big complex.  Hep and Scroat had managed to catch a door and sneak in behind another resident, three times, only to finally bump into one of the guy’s neighbors and find out he’d moved out several months prior.
Another one of his friends had opened the door, looked at them both, and said “Not interested,” and shut the door before either Hep or Scroat could speak.  They knocked again several times, but he didn’t open the door again.
“That’s just fucking rude, man,” Scroat grumbled as they walked away.
“Yeah.  I mean, I wouldn’t mistake the two of us for Mormons or salesmen. Would you?”
“Definitely not.  Well, not me.  You’ve got the squeaky clean aura of a man with painfully repressed sexual urges and a strong desire to make the world a better place by distributing high quality vacuums to those most in need of cleanliness.”
“Go fuck yourself,” Hep said.
“I already have, twice today and I’m about due for a third performance.”
They tried visiting that friend several times, with no luck.
It seemed they were going to have better luck when they visited the third friend on the list.  He opened his front door and said, “Hello,” to the two of them.
“Hi, we were wondering if we could talk to you about Thomas Swinton?” Hep said.
“Whoa, there’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.  Yeah, what do you want to know?”
“Well, I guess, when was the last time you saw him?” Hep said.
The guy leaned against the door frame and looked like he was thinking hard.
“Sorry, this is weird, but, what did you just ask me?”
Hep and Scroat glanced at each other.  Hep wondered if this fellow might be a little high.  He didn’t look like he was screwing with them.
“When was the last time you saw Thomas Swinton?”
“Isn’t he dead?” 
“Not that I’m aware of,” Hep said.  “Last I heard, he’s still well and kicking.”
“Oh. That’s good.  I thought I’d heard he was dead.  Maybe it was someone else.”
“Could be,” Hep said.  He suspected this guy didn’t know anything.  “So you guys weren’t especially good friends?”
“What? Hell, man, we were best buds.”
“So do you know where we might find him?”
The guy stared blankly at Hep.  “Dude. I... I can’t remember what you just asked me?”
Hep raised an eyebrow.  “Where can we find him?”
“Find who?” The guy looked entirely befuddled.  
“Thomas Swinton.”
“Isn’t he dead?”
Hep took a deep breath, and reached to shake the guy’s hand. 
“Hey, we sure appreciate your time.  I’m hope we didn’t bother you too much.  Have a great day,” Hep said.
The guy seemed to come out of his daze.  He shook Hep’s hand and smiled.
“Hey, yeah, you too.  See you around.”  The guy went inside and shut the door.
Hep and Scroat walked back down the street and stood by their bikes talking.
“What the fuck was that all about?” Scroat asked.  “Did he catch retarded somehow?”
“I don’t know.  That was just weird.  I’d expect a best bud to know whether his friend was alive or not.  Maybe he was high.”
“Maybe he was brain damaged,” Scroat said.  
“Or that.  Let’s go home,” Hep said.
Hep and Scroat were relaxing in their trailer when Death appeared in the middle of the room.
“What the fuck? Don’t you know how to use a god-damned telephone? It’s rude to just barge in to someone’s home unannounced.”
“Shut up, Scroat,” Death said.
Hep set down his book on rotary engine maintenance and looked up at Death.
“Have a seat. What brings you to our humble home, Death?” He asked.
Death sat on the couch, and said, “I was wondering if you’d found anything about Thomas.”
“If we had, we would have fucking called you.  That’s what people who want to get in touch with each other do nowadays,” Scroat said.
Hep rolled his eyes, and said “Don’t mind him.  He’s just cranky because the liquor store was out of PBR.”
“Hey, that’s just inexcusable and you know it.”
“You could have gotten High Life instead.  It’s just as good.”
“It is not.”
“Anyway,” Hep said, “no, we weren’t able to track him down or get any useful information about him.  The one guy we managed to talk to seemed really out of it, so we left.”
“Yeah, I’m not surprised,” Death said.
“What now?” Hep said.
“That the guy was out of it.  On a subconscious level, people know that Thomas is supposed to be dead.  Except somehow he isn’t.  It causes a cognitive dissonance.  So people who seem him or hear about him with usually either ignore it, or get kind of confused and space out rather than try to figure out what’s happening.”
“So this guy wssn’t high?”
“Well, he might have been.  But I suspect that was the least of his problems, when it comes to this topic.”
“So how are we going to find this guy, if no one can bear to even think about him?” Hep asked.
“We’ll have to figure out what it is he wants, and be there waiting for him when he goest to try and get it.”

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