The place called itself a pub, but it wasn’t really. It was a sports bar that sold beef stew along with the traditional deep-fried things every bar serves. It had vaguely British decorations around the walls. The waitresses wore teeny-tiny little skirts that kind of resembled kilts, only slutty, and Union Jack halter tops. All the same, it was a place with food, and Death had a whole hour to herself.
The hostess (robbery gone wrong) seemed surprised to see Death walk in alone. Women didn’t usually go there by themselves.
“Hi, welcome to O’Hanrahan’s. How many will be in your party?” the hostess said with a little too much enthusiasm and a toothy grin.
Death raised an eyebrow, and said, “Just me.”
The hostess blinked several times, then looked down at the seating chart. She marked an X on one of the tables, and said, “Right this way.”
Oddly, none of the men, or other women, in the place seemed to notice her. Ordinarily, a woman dressed head to toe in motorcycle leathers would have been the center of attention when she walked in to the room. Death didn’t mind being inconspicuous, however. She was there to eat, not make new friends.
When her waitress (undetected heart murmur) came to her table, Death ordered a beer, potato skins, cheese sticks and a bacon cheeseburger.
Sitting back in her chair, Death thought about how long it had actually been since she last ate. That half sandwich might have been a year ago, now that she thought about it. Maybe she should have asked to get her entire order deep-fried, including the beer.
Speaking of beer, the waitress appeared just then with a frosty cold mug.
“Your food will be out in just a few minutes,” she said.
Death started tapping her foot impatiently. She had just picked up her glass of beer when her phone rang. There was a new text message. She wondered if she’d forgotten about an appointment. It was rare, but it happened. She read the text message, which was simply an address and a time. The time was 90 seconds from right then. The address was in Los Angeles.
The lack of notice meant it was either a suicide, which always pissed her off, or a person had been Struck Down by some other god. Otherwise there would be more time to get ready. She might have even been able to get her food to go. Instead, she just got a text message warning her that a death was going to happen, soon, and that she’d better get there.
Far fewer people were Struck Down than committed suicide. So, it was safe to assume a suicide had interrupted her lunch. Whoever it was that killed him or her self, they were going to have a nice long discussion about not jumping the gun. Particularly when doing so has an impact on Death’s lunch break.
Death vanished from the bar. No one noticed. A few minutes later, the waitress came by with food, then had to stop and think about who, exactly, had ordered it. She just couldn’t recall. She did know, however, that someone had been at that table, and had ordered a lot of food she was going to have to pay for now. Irritated, she went back to the kitchen and threw it all away.
Death arrived at the address in Los Angeles, and discovered she was in a dive bar full of bikers. Most of the people in attendance were wearing leather vests with patches on the back. It seemed the Naughty Gnostics MC were in attendance.
She’d never heard of them before.
Everyone was facing away from her, watching something happening in the far corner of the bar. It looked like a fight was brewing. There was a low murmuring of conversation, but otherwise the bar was silent.
She heard a familiar voice say, “Oh is that so? Well, why don’t you take that attitude and suck on this?”
There was the thump of a fist being driven into someone’s gut, and then chaos erupted. Like many motorcycle gangs, the Naughty Gnostics MC had a “One in, All in” policy. Most of the time, it kept the members in line, because if they started a fight, it meant they started a fight for the whole gang.
It also meant that if an outsider punched a member, he was going to get pummeled by an entire gang instead of one guy. Every person wearing a patch in the bar rushed to the corner where the action had apparently started. Where there had been silence, there was now a great deal of indecipherable shouting.
A gang fight shouldn’t have summoned her at a moment’s notice, though. Death had heard of “blue suicide,” pointing a gun at a cop in order to be shot, but never “biker suicide”.
In the dim light of the bar, she was just able to see something flying through the air towards her. It landed just short and rolled to her feet. She looked down, and realized she was looking at a man’s head.
Right about then, there started to be a great deal more screaming coming from the far corner of the bar. There was a sudden rush of leather clad men running past Death to the exit. She could hear motorcycles starting outside, and roaring away into the distance.
In the corner of the bar, there were several bodies, and what looked like a man dressed in black leather jumping up and down on one of them. He was taunting the bodies as well. Death recognized the man as Ares. It wasn’t a suicide after all, they’d been Struck Down.
“Yeah! What have you got? Nothing! HA HA HA!” Ares said. He appeared to be enjoying himself quite a bit.
Nearby, the souls of the bikers watched this with dismay, as well as a fair amount of embarrassment. Then they noticed Death watching them, and tried to look stoic and tough.
“Forget it guys. Looking tough doesn’t work when you’re already dead,” Death said.
The souls looked at each other, then slumped a bit.
“So, uh, what happens now?” one of the dead bikers asked Death.
“I’m not exactly sure. What do Gnostics think happens to the naughty ones?”
The souls whispered urgently to each other for a moment.
“Uh, to be honest, we don’t really know what the Gnostics believe happens after death. Um. We just thought it was a cool sounding name.”
“Brilliant,” Death said. “It seems to me I read that Gnostics believe in reincarnation. Maybe you’ll luck out.”
Ares looked up from what he was doing then and saw Death. A huge smile spread across his face.
“Hey! Death! Hi! You should have gotten here a little earlier, we could have decimated this lot and then grabbed a beer when we were done. You missed all the fun!”
Ares kicked one of the corpses to punctuate his last point. One of the souls winced.
“Killing for sport isn’t really my thing, Ares,” Death said.
Ares looked affronted by the very idea. “This wasn’t sport! This was an act of war. One of these Noobie Knotheads keyed my car. Retribution was due. You let someone get away with that kind of thing, they’ll just walk all over you. If the rest of them didn’t want a war, they shouldn’t have all jumped me. Now I’ve got to track down the ones who got away and kill them too. And their families. And then raze their homes and salt the earth.”
The souls all glanced at each other. Maybe the “One In, All In” rule wasn’t so bright after all.
Death looked down and started to rub her temples. She’d missed out on a bacon cheeseburger, the first one in over a year, over an act of petty vandalism.
“OK, could you do me a favor and just let the other ones go? Just this time? I guarantee they’ve learned their lesson, and I don’t really care to interrupt what I’m doing to collect them every time you find one.”
Ares looked hard at Death, and thought for a moment.
“Well,” he said and paused a moment longer. “I guess the rest of them witnessed what happens when someone crosses me. Maybe I can stand down for now.”
“Thanks, that’s all I ask,” Death said.
“Of course, if any of them so much as look at me funny, I’ll rip out their guts and force-feed them to the others.”
“As well you should,” Death said. She was about to take her leave, when another woman appeared in the bar. Death recognized her as Eris, the goddess of chaos. She looked disheveled, and her eyes twinkled in a mischievous way.
“Ares, did I miss the fun?” Eris said. She noticed Death then and said, rather coldly, “Oh, hello Death.”
“Hello Eris. Forgive me for leaving already, but I’ve got to get these souls to the other side.”
Death wasn’t the biggest fan of Eris. Things tended to get extremely complicated the second she arrived. It was best to just politely leave as soon as possible.
“Come on, you guys,” Death said to the deceased Naughty Gnostics. She looked away and then back at them. “Hey, weren’t there more of you a minute ago?”
“Yeah, they split,” one of the three remaining souls said. ”They said something about needing to warn the other guys.”
Death sighed. “I don’t have time for this. You three, come with me. I’ll round the others up when I have time to spare.”
As the four of them waited for the gateway to arrive, one of the souls asked, “So, uh, what happens if you don’t find the other guys?”
“They’ll get to enjoy a solitary eternity on Earth watching everything they ever love die, be replaced, and then watch the replacements die and be replaced. If they’re lucky, they’ll go entirely mad after a few hundred years. Madness makes eternity a little easier to contend with.”
“Oh,” the soul said.
“But, hey, I’ll probably find most of them eventually. You guys don’t seem bright enough to stay out of the way for long.”
The gateway appeared, and Death said, “Good luck on finding out what happens to Gnostics in the afterlife! Maybe I’ll catch you again sometime.”
When she got back to the bar where she’d left her bike, she was disappointed to discover that her table had been cleared away. Her waitress walked right past her without noticing. The waitress seemed a little crankier than she had been before. Death supposed she’d stiffed the waitress. She slipped a twenty into the waitress’s apron pocket, and left the bar.
Her bike was now surrounded by several other motorcycles of various makes. She checked her calendar to see when her next appointment was. In eight minutes, Janice Bowden, 36, was going to be attacked by an alligator in the Everglades. Time to roll.
Death swung a leg over her bike and fired it up. The sound of the engine running did a lot to block out the thoughts of what a screwed up day it had been so far. She hoped the rest of the day would be free of divine interventions. She also hoped she’d be able to find something to eat soon. Maybe she’d be able to pop by a cuban sandwich shop while she was in Florida. A sandwich was a happy thought. Death twisted the throttle and roared out of the parking lot, vanishing just before she would have to merge in to traffic.
She arrived in the Everglades and was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer humidity of the place. She’d have to see to it that Janice passed quickly.