Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chapter Fifteen

[Note from the author: Hi there.  I'm trying to get caught up and was burning the midnight oil a bit this evening.  I started falling asleep while still typing, so if anything near the end of this chapter is too bizarre to make sense, well, I hope it's amusing at the least.  It's all part of the excitement of high-speed, unedited fiction creation, right?  Going to sleep now.  Nighty night.]

[Follow up note: Looks like it was mostly OK, except for getting a character name confused.  Fixed it, so you if didn't trip over it earlier, you won't now.]
After several fruitless attempts, Death had managed to carve out fifteen minutes to herself where she could go back to her apartment and try to get her notes sorted out.  The first thing to take care of would be to get her notes out of her desk and somewhere very secure.  Maybe a safety deposit box at a major bank.  Or, maybe somewhere more secure than that.  It probably depended on who was trying to get at her notes.  If it was Thomas, a bank vault would probably be more than sufficient.  If it was someone else, someone divine, a bank vault probably wouldn’t even slow him or her down.
Death decided it would be better to be safe than sorry.  Luckily, there was a place she knew on the other side that no one could find.  Not many could get to the other side without her assistance or permission anyhow.  
Death had her drawer open, and she was pulling out files and binders and ancient, bound tomes when she had a thought.  If whoever had tried to break in came back and succeeded in breaking in to her desk, they’d think it was pretty odd if they found nothing but an empty drawer and a few paperclips scattered about.  It might give her a strategic advantage to leave a bit of information, information she could keep track of, out and available to any would-be thieves.
She had a pretty good idea of where any information that was stolen would go: Thomas.  He was the only person, or being, she was aware of that had any reason to even be slightly interested in her work.  So if she fed him a bit of information, maybe she’d be able to catch him out.  He couldn’t be alert all the time.  Eventually he was going to goof, and then she’d be able to nab him.
She cleared out her desk of any information that had actual relevance, as well as any items that had any significant sentimental value.  She didn’t care to give Thomas any souvenirs. Death carefully packed away the older books.  Without her work, she was nothing.
It occurred to Death that Hep and Scroat might still be able to help out with the Thomas situation.  Since he’d been showing up at deaths here and there, perhaps it would be beneficial to have some muscle at a few deaths.  Just in case he showed up to watch.  She could give Hep and Scroat a few deaths to attend in their stomping grounds, and if Thomas showed up, they could grab him while he was watching all the action, or flirting with her, or whatever the hell it was he got out of watching her do her job.
Death decided she would leave a folder with notes on a few upcoming deaths in Hep and Scroat’s vicinity on her desktop.  She also left a few folders worth of notes about deaths past - though nothing old enough to be cherished - in her desk drawer.  Then who ever broke in would feel  like they got something of value and, assuming they were following along, would show up at some of the upcoming deaths.  Then Hep and Scroat would just have to grab whoever it was, she assumed it was Thomas, and wait for Death to appear and deliver whatever justice was coming to him or her.
Thomas was feeling bored and a bit agitated, and nowadays, when he was feeling bored and agitated, he flipped through the binder of Death’s secrets.  It was pretty much the only distraction he had in his car, his mobile office since the incident at his house, apart from the radio.  He wasn’t usually looking for anything in particular.  Something would usually pop out at him, and he’d stay distracted thinking about whatever it was for a while. Sometimes it was a detail about a death, or perhaps a location.  Whatever it was, usually, it kept him occupied just long enough to forget he was bored and agitated.
What he found while flipping through the binder this time would keep him from being bored for quite a while.
He wasn’t sure how he’d missed it for so long, but in the back of the binder was a note card.  It read, If you need something, call me.  Eris.
The handwriting was rather sloppy, but distinctly female.  There didn’t seem to be a phone number or anything useful like that.  Kind of a tease, this Eris.
“How the hell do I call her?” Thomas said to himself.  He flipped the note card over a few times, just in case he had somehow missed a vital bit of information on the other side of the card.  He hadn’t.  He held it up to the light, in case there was a watermark.  He thought about holding it over his lighter to see if invisible ink would become visible.  Thomas had heard you could do something like that with lemon juice.  Then he suspected that holding a note card over an open flame might not be the best way to preserve the integrity of the paper.
“OK, Eris, how the fuck am I supposed to call you?” Thomas said, and tossed the note card on to the dashboard of his car.
A voice from the seat next to him said, “Like that, though you should mind your manners.  I am a god, you know.”
Had the window on his side of the car been open, it is likely that Thomas would have leapt clean through it and hit the ground already running.  The window was closed, however, so instead Thomas smacked his head against it and landed right back in his seat, with a sore head.
“Ow,” is what he said in reply to Eris.
“Not the brightest, are you dear?” Eris said.
Thomas stopped rubbing the sore spot on his head and turned to see who, exactly, had shown up in his car.  The woman in the seat next to him was disheveled. Her clothes didn’t quite match, and didn’t quite fit.  Her hair was dark and looked as thought she’d just gotten out of bed and hadn’t had time to comb it.  For the last two hundred years.  Frankly, he would have expected a bit more from a god.
Her eyes, however, her eyes were clever.  Thomas was certain that he would come out the loser in a battle of wits with this woman, despite her inability to dress.
“Are you Eris?” Thomas asked.
She rolled her eyes, and looked out the window on her side of the car for a moment.
“You called me, remember?” Eris said.  “Do a lot of goddesses you weren’t expecting regularly appear in your car?  If so, you’re either very lucky, or in a world of hurt.”
“Uh, no.  No other goddesses have visited me lately. Ever, really.”
Eris took out a pack of Lucky Strikes, unfiltered, and shook one out.  “Have you got a light?,” she asked.
“Sure,” Thomas said.  He pulled a lighter out of his pocket and held it out to her.  Eris looked at it, then at Thomas as though he’d lost his mind.
“Light my cigarette for me, then,” she said.  She put the cigarette between her lips, and stared at Thomas expectantly.
“Oh.  Of course,” Thomas said.  He fumbled with the lighter slightly, and finally managed to spark a light.  He held it up to Eris’s cigarette and she took a long drag, then exhaled, blowing the smoke up, where it met with the headliner of Thomas’s car.  She rolled down her window, then turned to Thomas and held out her pack of cigarettes.
“Want one?” Eris said.  “It might calm your nerves a bit.”
“Uh, sure,” Thomas said.  He’d never smoked before, but now was as good a time as any to start.  He fumbled a cigarette out of the pack, stuck it between his lips, put the lighter to it and took a huge drag.  He immediately did his best impression of a person attempting to cough their way to freedom from gout.  Eris laughed, delighted.
Once Thomas had, more or less, gotten his composure back, he asked Eris, “So you’re the one who left this notebook for me?”
Eris smiled a crooked smile, and said, “Obviously.”
“Why?” Thomas asked. “I mean, why give this info out.  Why give it to me, of all people?  So far as I can tell, I’m just some random asshole.”
“Random assholes do big things, now and then,” Eris said. “Why not you?  You were alive, and about to not be alive.  I could have found someone else.  Would you have preferred it if I’d found someone else?  Because, believe me, I can arrange for you to be dead lickety split.  I know a guy who would literally kill you sooner than look at you.  Well, assuming he’d pick up the phone.”
Thomas wasn’t exactly sure what to make of that last part of what Eris had said, but he was completely clear on the part where she’d threatened to make him dead.  Still, he couldn’t help asking for a bit of clarification.
“No, No, I’m enjoying not being dead, thanks.  Feel free to keep me from dying any time.  I guess what I’m really wondering about is, why give me this information at all?”
Eris took another drag from her cigarette, and exhaled slowly.  “You don’t know who I am, do you?”
“Well, uh, you’re named Eris.  You’re a goddess.  What else do I need to know?”
“Oh, there’s a lot more to know, when you’re dealing with gods, Thomas.  For example, what am I a goddess of?  That’s kind of an important thing to know, you know, if you’re going to be calling on gods.  Believe me, there are some gods out there that you really don’t want to meet, unless you really need to meet them.  And if you’ve reached that point, you’re fucked either way.”
Thomas had absolutely no idea what kind of goddess Eris was.  He suddenly hoped she was a goddess of puppies and kisses, though judging from her appearance, it was likely that she wasn’t.  He could hope for a goddess of cat-ladies, though.  That would probably be reasonably safe.
“You know,” Thomas said, “It didn’t even occur to me that you might be a goddess until you mentioned it just now.  So, uh, if I can ask... what kind of goddess are you?”
Eris smiled in a way that was neither comforting, nor kind.  Thomas suddenly wished two things.  One, that he hadn’t asked that question, and two, that she would stop smiling that way.  Her smile was the smile of utter madness.
“Oh, Thomas,” Eris said. ”Thomas you may need to be more careful when you pick up strange binders and use the information in them without thinking about it.”
She took another drag off her cigarette.  “I am a goddess of chaos, Thomas.  And as of the moment when you slipped away from Death, you owe me a favor.”
It had been a long time since Thomas had set foot in a church, and an even longer time since he’d attended any kind of bible study, but he was fairly certain that owing favors to pagan goddesses of chaos was one of those behaviors that put a fella on the Naughty list.
“OK, so what do you want me to do?” Thomas asked.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer to that question.
Eris sighed, and took a drag from her cigarette.  “I’m not sure yet,” she said.  “I’m trying to make things difficult for Death, you know.  And so far you’re doing a lovely job of that on your own.  But when it’s time for you to repay the favor, I’ll let you know.”
I’m fucked, Thomas thought.
“So,” Eris said, “You called me here.  What do you want?”
Thomas wasn’t sure he should actually ask for something.  After all, then he’d owe her several favors.  On the other hand, he was a bit bored.
“I wonder if you can give me some more of Death’s notes,” Thomas said.  “I’ve already called everyone I had a note for, and now I don’t have anyone else to warn.”
“You called them?” Eris said.  “Like on the phone?  Pointless.  It’s pointless trying to warn most people about anything, but it’s extra pointless warning them by phone.  You’ve got to get in their face.  But, if you’re out of things to do, maybe we can find something to keep you occupied for the time being.”
Despite his best efforts to maintain a poker face, Thomas winced.  Keeping him occupied sounded strangely like coercing him in to doing things he didn’t want to do.  Eris noticed his wince.
“Come on, this will be fun.  We’re going to break in to Death’s apartment and see if we can’t steal some more of her notes.  It will be fun!”
On the one hand, Thomas wasn’t sure that breaking in to Death’s apartment and stealing her papers was the best way to stay low profile and unnoticed by Death.  On the other hand, he was reasonably certain that making a goddess of chaos angry would result in something far worse than getting noticed and  caught by Death.  Also, he had to admit to himself, he was rather curious about where Death lived.  There was just something fascinating about her, about watching her work.
“OK, I’m in,” Thomas said.
“Let’s go then,” Eris said.  She snapped her fingers, and the two of them vanished from Thomas’s car.
Seconds later, Thomas was stunned to find himself, and Eris, standing in a rather plain apartment.  The furniture was bland, the walls were all a sensible and easy to maintain white.  Apart from the dust that indicated whoever lived there didn’t actually spend much time in the apartment, it might have been anyone’s residence.
“Let’s break in to her desk and see what we can find,” Eris said to Thomas.  “This way.”
Thomas followed Eris down a short hallway to a bedroom.  In one corner stood a modestly-sized desk with a computer on it and a couple of drawers.  On of them looked like it locked, and as though someone had already tried to break in to it.
“Whoa, I hope we’re not too late,” he said.
“Nah.  That was me,” Eris said, gesturing towards the scratches.  “I didn’t have any tools with me, and thought I’d be able to just pull it open.  This time I brought a crowbar.”
Eris pulled the crowbar seemingly out of nowhere, and went over to the desk.  She jammed the tip of the crowbar in between the drawer and the desk, and pried with all her might.  The cheap lock that had come with the desk couldn’t resist that much strain, and broke easily.
Eris laughed, and pulled the drawer the rest of the way open.
She rifled through the contents of the drawer for a minute or two, cursing under her breath. Finally she stood up straight, and turned to face Thomas.
She said, “Death must have known we were coming.  There isn’t anything of value in that drawer.
Thomas pointed then, and said, “What about that folder on her desktop?  Let’s check that out.”
Eris looked at the folder, and laughed to herself.  She couldn’t believe that Miss A place for everything and everything thing in its place could have been so lazy as to leave her notes just sitting out.  It was all too easy.
She tossed the notes to Thomas, and said “Here.  I’ll catch you around.” 
She vanished.
Thomas stood holding the folder Death had left, not exactly sure of what he should do next.
Just then, there was a knock on the door of the apartment.  Thomas could hear keys jingling, then the rattle of the lock opening, and the squeak of under-used hinges.
“Now, this is one of our most basic apartments.  I think you’ll find, however, that it’s a very nice space.  Very adaptable,” a voice said from the front door.
Thomas wondered if there was a place he could hide.  All there was in the room he was in, however, was a desk and a closet.  It was safe enough to assume that a prospective renter would want to see the interior of the closets.  He decided to go on the offensive.
Thomas steeled himself, and went out to where the voices were coming from.
“As you know, we’re quite close to an excellent Elementary School.  The local ladies also play cards regularly, if you like that sort of thing,” the voice said.
James stepped in to the room where the landlord and prospective tenants stood, gawking at the apartment.
“Hi there,” He said.
The landlord jumped, and said, “Who the hell are you, pal?” 
Thomas hesitated for the tiniest fraction of a second, and said “A guest of my friend who lives here.  She said I could stay as long as I liked, as long as I kept the place presentable.”
“Hmm,” the landlord said.  “She didn’t mention any guests.  Usually she does.  Well, do you mind if I show these prospective tenants around?”
“No, I guess that doesn’t bother me too much.  I’ll stay out of your way,” Thomas said.  As soon as they went in to one of the other rooms, Thomas decided, he was going to quickly and quietly split.
“I appreciate it,” the landlord said.  He led the new prospects through the front door, and down the hall to the master bedroom.
Thomas heard him say, “I think you’ll find that these apartments have all the space you need to decorate however you’d like.  There’s lots of room for entertaining.”
Thomas slipped as quietly as he could out the front door.  By the time the landlord was done showing the new tenants around, Thomas had already discovered that the nearby bus stop served several busses that didn’t go even remotely close to where he wanted to be.  Oh well, at least he’d escaped unscathed with a few more of Death’s notes.

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