The inside of the shed was pretty well appointed, though function had definitely won out over aesthetics. There was a bed with a grey wool blanket, a kitchen area, a closet Thomas assumed housed a toilet, and a workbench that obviously doubled as a dinner table.
The man who apparently lived here had given him a cup of coffee, and otherwise hadn’t said a word. He was tinkering with something on his workbench. Thomas didn’t recognize it, but it looked like it had a lot of levers and springs inside. He hoped it was just a clock.
“So,” Thomas said after several minutes of silence, “how do you know Eris?”
“I don’t,” the man said. “A colleague of mine told me you were coming, what you were bringing, and what you need.”
“OK,” Thomas said, and was quiet for a few more minutes. When he couldn’t take it any longer, he said, “So have you got a name?”
“Not for you,” the guy said. “But, I guess, you can call me Mr. B.”
“OK, Mr. B.” Thomas said. “Why all the secrecy?”
Mr. B. stopped what he was doing and looked Thomas in the eyes. Although he looked like he’d been living a rough life for a while, he did not look stupid. Whatever he was wrapped up in, this guy was clearly the brains of the operation.
“Too many questions, Thomas,” Mr. B. said. “I don’t want to know a damn thing about you, and I don’t want you to know about me. There aren’t many peaceable uses for a fertilizer bomb in the back of a cargo van, you know. Assuming you survive whatever it is you’re going to do, I don’t want you to have any information about me, because I assume, if you survive, you aren’t going to evade capture for long. The United States government takes large improvised explosions very seriously, you know.”
“OK,” Thomas said. “So, why are you helping me out?”
“Because I have no choice. I assume you’re in the same situation.”
Mr. B. went back to his tinkering.
“So, what are you working on there?” Thomas asked.
“My toaster,” Mr. B. said. “Hasn’t worked right since I bought it. So I’m fixing it.”
A toaster, Thomas thought. Of course. I should have known. What else would a mad bomb builder be working on in his shed?
“Can I give you a hand in any way?” Thomas asked.
“No,” Mr. B said. He looked at Thomas again. “I’ve got it under control, and I suspect you think righty is loosey.”
Thomas didn’t know what this guy was talking about, but he did know when he’d been insulted. He hoped he wasn’t going to have to wait around too long.
“So, want me to bring in the stuff I got at Radio Shack? You can get started on it, maybe?”
Mr. B kept working on his toaster.
“No. We’re not going out to the van again for a good while. You’re here, visiting, and I’m working on my toaster. It’s best to assume, you see, that we’re being watched. And bringing a windowless van to a run down shed in the middle of nowhere is kind of suspicious behavior.”
He saw Thomas take a breath to say something, and held up a finger to keep him from doing so.
“Meeting here wasn’t my idea. Some other poor bastard presumably had no choice in loaning us his cabin. If it was up to me, we would have taken over the utility room in a parking garage in the middle of a city. No one would even look twice at your van there. Stupid. I tried to argue, but no one ever takes the advice of the person they’re in the middle of ordering around.”
“So, what, you think there’s cops out there watching us?”
“Cops, Feds, NSA... someone is probably watching us. Heard any planes go by lately? If not, that’s a good sign they’re right outside.”
Thomas wasn’t sure if he’d heard any planes, helicopters or an M1 Abrams for that matter. He was fairly sure, however, that this guy was more than a little crazy. Smart, obviously, but also crazy.
He heard some rustling outside and nearly jumped out of his skin.
Mr. B. laughed out loud.
“Calm down Thomas. That’s not them.”
“How do you know?”
“Because when they’re coming to get you, you don’t hear them until they’ve got a foot planted on the back of your neck.”
“Oh. That’s reassuring.”
Death had been having an unusually slow day. It gave her plenty of time to think. She’d called Hep to see how things had gone with protecting the Naughty Gnostic’s family from Eris.
“Yeah, it was pretty crazy,” Hep said. “There was a fire, a couple of car crashes, even a tornado. That one was pretty unexpected. Some guy tried to mug us. I’d say the worst part was having to ride the bus, though. Man, I hate buses. They’re just too claustrophobic.”
“Wow,” Death said. “Sounds like a wild ride. How have things been since then?”
“Pretty quiet, actually. All the chaos just abruptly stopped. One minute we couldn’t drop our guard for a second, and the next minute everything was just normal, business as usual, you know?”
So either everything was back to normal, or what had been chaos had just become the new normal.
Since that seemed to be under control, she got off the phone and turned her mind to the issue of Eris. Eris was helping Thomas.
But why? She and Eris had never been best friends, but then, they never really got in each other’s hair before either. What could she possibly be gaining from keeping some random asshole alive? It just seemed so... petty.
A little light flickered on in Death’s mind. It seemed petty because it was petty. She’d crossed Eris somehow. But what could it have been? She hadn’t even seen Eris until she bumped into Ares that one time...
Eris was jealous.
Death suddenly wished she could just call Eris and explain that she had no interest in Ares, but had to admit that might be a little hard for her to buy. Especially since he’d given her his motorcycle.
OK, so Thomas was a pawn to aggravate her, as revenge for Ares’s interest in her. That kind of made sense, in a crazy kind of way. But how had she managed to teach Thomas how to hide from her? That kind of magic was way beyond the average random asshole, and almost never worked even for experts who had spent years studying it. The usual result was a very visible, very dead, magician with a very surprised look on his face.
It had to be something simple. Most people were simple. Hell, simplicity is what kept people from seeing her most of the time. She’d heard about a study done at some university, where volunteers were asked to watch a video and count the number of times the people in the video passed several basketballs to one another. In the middle of the action, a person in a gorilla suit strutted into the middle of the screen, waved at the camera, and strutted back off camera.
No one ever saw the person in a gorilla suit on the first viewing. Some people didn’t see it until it was specifically pointed out, even after telling them to look for the person in gorilla suit. The effect was called perceptual blindness.
It wasn’t because they were stupid. It was because they just really, really weren’t expecting to see a person in a gorilla suit. Simple things escape complicated minds.
People didn’t expect to see Death going about her business so, for the most part, they didn’t. And on those supremely rare occasions when someone did see her, they could point and scream all they wanted, and still no one else would see her. And it was simply because they weren’t expecting so see Death, incarnate, there to collect the newly dead.
Another little light turned on in Death’s mind. Sleight of hand was a lot simpler than magic. Making a quarter travel through space from one hand to another by magic was very, very difficult. Throwing it too fast to see was a piece of cake.
A third light turned on, and started flashing brightly in Death’s mind.
Thomas had used some kind of stage magic to vanish the first time, and since then had been staying precisely where she wouldn’t expect to find him.
With that, she knew exactly where Thomas was. All she had to do now was arrange a few things, and she’d have his Death all wrapped up by lunchtime tomorrow. She could practically see him, sitting in a shed in the middle of nowhere, building a...
What on Earth was he doing building a bomb? Although she couldn’t see it, she knew about the van. She new about the fertilizer and the other bomb makings. She knew about the ex-Army demolitions expert helping him turn a van and a bunch of fertilizer and fuel into a bomb.
And she knew he was going to have to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge.
“Oh, shit,” Death said. It looked like Eris needed a little extra Chaos-rush on top of all the petty revenge. She was going to have to get involved before Thomas was able to finish his mission. A freshly fed Eris would be a heck of a lot harder to put back in her place that she would be right now, subsisting on the day to day chaos of modern life.
She had to stop this right now.