Death had agreed to visit Hep and Scroat at their house after she’d dropped off the soul she’d been collecting when she ran into them. She’d forgotten then those two actually rode their motorcycles, on actual roads, in order to actually get anywhere. Hep had some kind of... thing... that made traveling by thought, as she did, extremely painful. As far as she was aware, Scroat couldn’t travel by thought at all. It all worked out pretty well for them, though, since they preferred riding to other methods of transportation anyhow.
Because of this, she’d arrived at their home roughly an hour and a half ahead of them. So much for a quick meeting. She checked her calendar. Incredibly, she had two hours to herself before the next passing.
It was time to go have a bite to eat. Death was thrilled.
She had an hour and a half to herself before Hep and Scroat arrived. She could go anywhere, eat anything. The number of possibilities was staggering. With and hour and a half to herself, she could have dinner in New York and pick up a pie in San Diego.
She decided to try a place near her home that she’d never been able to get to. Despite her constant travel and work, Death did have a home of her own. It was a fairly nice apartment in an older complex in northern California. Of course, she got to spend time there about as often as she got to eat. Her landlord took advantage of that fact and used her apartment, which was furnished in a generic but nice way, as a model when showing prospective tenants around. He was, of course, wise enough to not do this when Death happened to be there.
Near her apartment, anyhow, was a taco shop she’d never remembered to try out. Right now seemed like a good time.
She arrived in front of the taco shop seconds later. Inside were a few tables and a counter to order at. She went in, and checked the menu over the counter. There were a few other people inside. Most of them looked like college students. Humboldt University wasn’t too far away.
She ordered five carne asada tacos, and took a seat. She was absolutely delighted to be there. She wasted no time before devouring the chips and salsa, which mainly served to remind her that it had been a very long time since she’d last eaten anything.
The chips ran out far too quickly, and she wasn’t able to get an employee’s attention. She considered just going into the back and getting her own damned chips when the waiter brought out her tacos. If he’d been paying closer attention to how Death was watching the tacos, he probably would have dropped the plate on the table more quickly, for fear of his hand getting eaten as well by mistake.
There was a loud argument going on at the table next to hers, but Death barely noticed. She looked down at her tacos and savored the moment. Five tacos. All hers. She had another hour before she could expect Hep and Scroat to be back at their place. Nothing to do but enjoy her tacos.
The argument got louder still, and two of the men at the next table had stood up suddenly, still arguing. Death picked up her first taco. It was almost too hot to hold.
She was about to take a bite when one of the men who had been arguing fell backwards on to her table. He’d crushed her plate of tacos, and knocked the one she’d been holding out of her hand.
It seemed to fall in slow motion as it arced towards the floor.
“No!” Death yelled, and reached, too late, to catch the airborne taco.
The two men were fighting on her table, inches away. A hideous, primal rage built in Death. She grabbed one of the men by the face and shoved him with all of her might off of her table. She then stood up and grabbed the other man by his collar, pulled him up from the table, and threw him across the room.
“You ruined my dinner, you rotten sons of bitches,” Death said in a low hiss. “Do you have any idea, any fucking idea at all how long it has been since I last ate? Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted to try this place? It’s been a long, long time.”
One of the men had started to get up.
“Get your ass back on the ground before I bury you,” Death said. He sat again. “Now, I’m going to make this as clear as I can. The only fight I’m going to allow to continue in here is me beating the ever-loving shit out of the two of you. I just want my goddamned taco. It’s not that much to fucking ask. Now, you go pay my tab and get out of here before I decide I’m interested in what you look like on the inside.”
The entire group who had been at the next table decided that right then would be an excellent time to leave. The one’s who hadn’t been fighting apologized for disturbing Death’s evening. The two who had been fighting went to the counter with their heads down, dropped several bills on the counter and scampered out the door.
Death looked at the ruins of her tacos. She really should have killed them.
The waiter came over, a bit timidly, and asked if she wanted some new tacos. Death took a look at the time, and realized she couldn’t wait.
“No, thanks. I’ll come back another time,” she said. She went outside and noticed the group who’d just left were standing nearby, talking. They all noticed her watching them, almost at the same time, and hustled away.
She arrived back at Hep and Scroat’s place just as they rolled up.
“Some timing,” Hep said as he got off his bike. “I’m glad you didn’t have to wait too long.”
“You know me,” Death said. “All action all the time.”
Hep opened the door and let Death into the trailer he and Scroat were living in.
“I don’t remember you guys living in a trailer. I thought you lived in a house,” Death said.
Hep and Scroat glanced at each other. Hep said, “We did. The house burned down. One of our neighbors loaned us this trailer until we can rebuild.”
“Your house burned down? How the hell did that happen?”
“Just don’t fucking ask,” Scroat said. “We let Inktomi stay here. Do I need to explain the rest?”
Death said, “You guys let Inktomi stay in your house? I’m impressed. I wouldn’t let him stay in my potting shed.”
Hep said, “We didn’t let him stay here. Scroat did. We got back and found the entire place burned to the ground, including my workshop.”
“Harsh,” Death said.
“Yeah, way to throw me under the bus, cockstain.” Scroat said.
“I meant, harsh that your entire place burned down,” Death said. She glanced around. “This place seems OK.”
“It’s a dump, but it’ll do for now,” Hep said. “So, who’s this guy we’re looking for?”
Death told them what she knew about Thomas Swinton. She described what he looked like, and was able to provide them with the addresses she’d expect him to be hanging around. His home, his parents’ home, his job, even a few of his friends’ addresses.
“So remind me what we’re getting out of this again,” Scroat said.
“Well, for starters, there’s the whole thing of preventing the worlds of the living and dead from tumbling in to chaos,” Death said.
Scroat looked skeptical, “From one guy getting loose? I kinda doubt it. I think you’ve just got a hard on for for this guy because he gave you the slip.”
“No, Scroat, if some guy wanted to live forever hiding from me, I really wouldn’t care all that much. But everything this guy does is going to have an impact on the future. It’s like the thing about a butterfly flapping its’ wings and causing a hurricane on the other side of the world. At some point, he’s going to have an impact on a pivotal event. Maybe he’ll kill a world leader, indirectly. Maybe he’ll set back cancer research by twenty years. And while he’s doing that, whatever afterlife awaits him is currently short one soul. He’s impacting events in the afterlife by simply not being there.”
“And that’s bad?” Scroat said.
“Yeah, that’s bad.”
“Wait a second,” Hep said. “What impact is he having on the afterlife? They’ll pretty much get along with or without him, won’t they? I mean, I know there are a few ghosts who have given you the slip and stayed around here. How is this any different?”
“Somewhere out there is a soul that’s waiting to be reborn, and it can’t leave until this Thomas character has given up his spot here on Earth. Shoot, somewhere in heaven there’s a football game or something that’s a player short. He has a place he’s supposed to be, and he’s left a gap. He’s still out there acting and having an impact on other people’s lives when he’s supposed to have moved on. Do you dig what I’m saying?” Death said.
“Yeah, I think I get it,” Hep said.
“But you’re still not going to pay us, is what I’m getting,” Scroat said.
Death rubbed at her temples. “OK, I’ll buy you each a case of beer for helping me out. Will that convince you?”
“Yep,” Scroat said. “I’m good now.”
“You don’t,” Hep started to say, but Death interrupted him.
“No, I can buy you a couple cases of beer for helping me out. I did kind of stiff you last time.”
“Whatever, I’d help you out for free,” Hep said.
“Then you can give me your fucking case of beer as well,” Scroat said. “Your payment can be watching me enjoy drinking them.”