Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chapter Five

There are days that are less than ideal for commuting by bicycle.  Depending on one’s latitude, the temperature extremes of summer and winter can be uncomfortable, even dangerous with the wrong clothing.  Then there are days like the one on which Thomas Swinton was going to die.
Death held her umbrella in one hand, and her notebook and stopwatch in the other.  Making notes as things progressed would be tricky at best.  From the looks of things, it had been raining all day and probably all night before that. If she were to step off the sidewalk into the grass, her shoes would have quickly filled with water, and might even have gotten stuck a bit depending on where she stepped.
Thomas Swinton rode his bicycle to work every day.  He rode through rain, snow and gloom of night. Anything short of a force five hurricane was just a minor inconvenience, so far as he was concerned.  A rainy day like this one barely registered as bad weather.
Death watched and waited for Thomas.  Her notes said he would be along in one and a half minutes.  In one minute and thirty five seconds, he would be dead.
At the appointed time, Death saw a bicyclist, pedaling hard through the rain.  In a few moments, he would get cut off by a driver that wasn’t paying attention.  His brakes would fail due to the rain, and he would swerve in front of a cement truck. He’d be dead from brain damage before the ambulance arrived.
Death checked her stop watch, and started counting down.  In five seconds, he would get cut off.  Then she’d just have to grab his soul and she’d be out of the rain.
Except that’s not what happened.  When the bicyclist was close enough for Death to be able to see his face, she recognized him as the man who had seen her at two previous deaths.  He came to a slow, easy stop across the street from her.  Death took a glance at her notes.  This was definitely not going by the plan.
Thomas looked over at Death and gave her an enormous, cheesy smile.  He waved.  The car that was supposed to cut him off, didn’t.  The cement truck drove on without stopping.
Then Thomas vanished.
Death rarely panicked. No matter the situation, no matter how sideways things went, she was able to maintain her focus and finish her job. Staying calm in calamitous situations was critical. 
She had never had a client simply disappear before.  She panicked.
Death dropped her clipboard and umbrella and ran across the street to where Thomas had been.  If someone had seen her, they might have suspected she’d lost her mind as she looked around wildly, waving her arms through the air trying to find a hiding spot or some kind of disturbance that could explain where Thomas had gone.  She stood still and just felt for him.  Being able to feel where a client was made it possible for her to find anyone whose time had come. However, she couldn’t even feel him. After several minutes of searching, she had to admit that Thomas was well and truly missing.
Losing a soul was bad, but letting a living client get away still alive was a disaster.  It was true she had granted extensions to a few people in the past, though even that usually had messy results.  But in those situations, she could still just go and collect them whenever needed.  So if someone used their extension to make epic naughty, well, she could put a stop to that.
But this Thomas guy had somehow figured out a way to hide from her.
Death sat down on the curb to think.  She was already soaked through, so a bit more rain wasn’t going to have much of an effect on her.  Her phone beeped at her to remind her she had another client to see to.
She was going to need help if she was going to track Thomas down and keep collecting souls whose time had come.  She had no idea who might be able to help her, though.  It would have to be someone who had a lot of free time. Someone who wouldn’t mind covering a lot of ground if required.
Her phone beeped again.  She needed to get back to work too.
The death was another fight gone too far outside another dive bar.  The bar was in the Sonoran desert, in a fake ghost town that was on the brink of becoming a real ghost town due to a lack of tourism.  The cheap Old West styled buildings were falling apart. There were a lot of motorcycles and a couple of old cars parked outside the bar, otherwise the whole place was empty. 
The killer had fled the scene, even though he was well known and not well liked by the patrons of the bar.  He would be arrested later that day.
“So, what was that all about?” Death asked the soul of the recently deceased man.
“I don’t know.  He just came up to me, called me a pussy, and took a swing at me.  I was just going to rough him up a bit to teach him a lesson, but the son of a bitch had a knife.”
“That’s rough,” Death said.  She was going to continue, but one of the motorcycles caught her eye.  It was a sidecar rig, very black and absolutely perfect. 
“I think someone I know is here,” Death said to the soul. “Do you mind sticking around for another minute or two?”
“Well, I don’t have much else to do.”
“Let’s go inside.”
In the back corner of the bar sat two men.  The larger of the two was drinking beer out of a pitcher.  He was physically imposing from the waist up, though his legs were shriveled and misshapen. He was also impossibly ugly.  The smaller guy had a deep, deep tan, and was wearing a black t-shirt with white text that read “Fuck You and Your Fucking Horse, You Fucking Fuck.” It was Hephaistos and his roommate Bama-Pana (who went by Scroat).
Death smiled, and went to greet her friends.
Hephaistos saw her first.  “Death! What brings you to our neck of the woods?”
“Just work, Hep.” She pointed at the soul. “What have you guys been up to since I saw you last?”
“You’re fucking looking at it,” Scroat said.
“Are you feeling up to helping an old friend out?”
Hep and Scroat looked at each other warily.
“Well, I guess that depends what you need in the way of help,” Hep said.  “We’re not much good at reaping, in case you forgot.”
Death laughed.  The two of them had filled in for her when she’d had some... personal problems... a while back.  It hadn’t gone especially well for them.
“No, I don’t need you to sub for me.  I need you to track someone down.”
“What’s in it for us? As I recall, neither of us got so much as a blow job the last time we helped you, OW!”
Hep had kicked Scroat under the table.
“Well it’s true,” Scroat said.  “I mean, if I needed someone to stand in for me for a while, I’d at least buy him a case of beer.”
Hep rolled his eyes.  “As if we’d had anything better to do any way,” he said to Scroat.  To Death he said, “Who do you need tracked down?  How come you can’t just find whoever it is yourself?”
“The guy’s name is Thomas Swinton.  He vanished when I was trying to collect him, and he seems to have figured out a way to hide from me.”
“Why do you think we’ll be able to find him? I mean, you’re the one with the ability to just know where people are. We’re pretty much stuck with a phone book and a pair of binoculars, relatively speaking,” Hep said.
“I can tell you where he’s likely to be and where he’s likely to go.  What I don’t have is time to stake these places out until he shows up.  I need a couple people who have a lot of, shall we say, leisure time.”
Scroat laughed. “I’ve never considered being out of work leisure time before. But now that you mention it, my lifestyle is pretty leisurely.  I don’t know if I really care to interrupt my leisure with a bunch of fucking private eye bullshit.”
“Whatever Scroat.  We’ve been so bored lately we came to this bar in hopes of something interesting happening.”
“So you’ll help me out?” Death said.
“Sure, why not?” Hep said.