Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chapter Two

Death kind of wished she had some popcorn to munch on while overseeing the next passing.  Partly because she was hungry, but mostly because she’d put a lot of effort into planning this death, and it promised to be a hell of a show.
Bunny Krantz, 78, multiple gunshot wounds, was the heading on her checklist.
It was just before seven o’clock, and getting close to sunset, as Death rode up to the address in her notes.  The parking lot was full of cars, and a number of elderly people were going in and out of the building.  Some stood in groups outside, socializing, while others were clearly there on a mission.
Evergreen Bingo was the hot place to be for those in the white haired crowd.  None of the people outside noticed Death as she rolled past the parked cars and came to a stop just to the left of the bingo hall’s entrance. There was small group of people (cancer, blood clot, aneurysm, surgical complications, and old age) standing not ten feet away, smoking and chatting, entirely oblivious to the pale, skeletal rider in their midst.  Death walked past them and in to the bingo hall.
Inside were long rows of tables, with a crowd of mostly old folks lined up in chairs along each table.  Most of them were smoking, and a great many of them had their lucky items on display around their bingo cards.  There were troll dolls, little stuffed animals, lighters, photos of children, silver dollars, and more on display.  Not many of them looked like they were having a good time, but they were very focused on what they were doing.
Bunny Krantz sat near the middle of the hall.  She had an impressive collection of troll dolls arranged around her bingo cards.  She also had a reserve supply of five daubers, apparently in case several of them failed mid-game.  Her eyes rapidly scanned the thirty cards in front of her for each number as it was called.  She stamped the matches with machine-like efficiency.  Her mouth was set in a grimace that only changed when she took a drag from her cigarette.
Death noticed there was a snack bar in one corner of the room.  There were various mechanical contraptions displaying hot dogs and pretzels, going around and around.  They had nachos, smothered with fake, bright yellow cheese.  There were pizza pockets and corndogs in a hot case.  
She checked her notes and the time. The action wouldn’t really start for another five minutes.  She could probably grab something. What would it hurt? Part of the job was grabbing a bite whenever possible, because people who were soon to be deceased weren’t likely to just hang around waiting for her to finish her lunch break before she got there to finish the job.  People in their homes rarely offered food, so she had to take advantage of every opportunity to eat.
There were two people in line ahead of her (car crash, choking).  Death checked her watch.  Four minutes until she had to pay attention, no sweat.  Car Crash got his two hot dogs with mustard, relish and lots of onions and went back to his table.  Choking, however, had issues.  She asked if there were unsalted pretzels (There were not).  She asked if nachos were made with real cheese (Only genuine cheese food product). What flavor were the pizza pockets (Pepperoni).  Any sausage? (No).
Death checked her watch.  Two minutes.
Choking decided she’d like a hot dog, plain, and a large Diet Coke.  When the snack bar employee gave her the soda, Choking got upset. Too much ice. Death rolled her eyes.  Then the hot dog looked old, was there a fresher one?  One minute to go.
Death sighed, and went back over to keep an eye on Bunny. She had her stopwatch and pen at the ready.  
A woman with blue-rinsed hair (Pneumonia) came through the front door of the Bingo hall.  Death started her stopwatch. Pneumonia was wearing a dark blue housedress and carrying an enormous purse. She made her way through the hall to where Bunny sat.
She stood next to Bunny and cleared her throat.
“Yeah? What do you want?”
“You’re in my seat,” Pneumonia said.
“This is my seat, Marge,” Bunny said. “I always sit here.”
Marge adjusted her enormous purse and said, “That is my seat.  Maybe you sit there on Tuesdays, but I’ve sat here every Thursday for five years.”
“Is that so?  I think you’ve made a mistake.  This is my seat,” Bunny said.  She didn’t miss a beat stamping the numbers she had, despite the interruption.
Marge crossed her arms and stood her ground. “I’m going to go get my cards for the next game and let you finish this game.  Then you need to move.”
“Whatever you say, Marge.” Bunny had yet to look up from her cards.  Marge walked away stiffly.
“Crazy broad,” Bunny muttered to herself.
Death checked off an item on her list. She really could have gone for some nachos.  Maybe a hot dog, even if it looked a little old.  There was nothing wrong with food that’s a little old.
Marge was buying cards, and shooting dirty looks over at Bunny.  Bunny was, apparently, oblivious to Marge.  When the game ended, Marge walked over to Bunny again.
“OK, you finished your game, Bunny.  Now move to another seat please.”
“This is my seat, Marge.  Go find your own place to sit.” She had yet to look up at Marge.  She fiddled with one of her trolls a little bit.
“You’re in my place to sit.  I let you finish your game there, now let me have my seat!”
“Go fuck yourself, Marge.”
Marge turned red. “Why, you, I asked you politely to move.  You are going to move now one way or the other.” 
Death checked her stopwatch and checked off an item on her list.
She started to gather up Bunny’s trolls and other possessions.  Bunny stood up, quaking with anger, and said, “Don’t you touch my things!”
Marge continued picking up Bunny’s lucky items.
“This is my spot, you need to go find your own spot,” Marge said.
“I said not to touch my things,” Bunny said.  She slapped the troll dolls out of Marge’s arm, and started stabbing at her with her dauber. “You go sit someplace else and leave me alone.”
Bunny managed to leave a smear of ink across Marge’s forehead, and her housedress was polka-dotted with ink as well.  Marge put her arms up and backed away from Bunny, who walked along with her for a few steps, still poking her with the dauber.
A few of the people in their immediate vicinity were paying attention, but everyone else in the hall was minding their own business.
“You’re crazy, Bunny,” Marge said.  “I’ll get my seat back eventually.”
“It’s my seat, Marge,” Bunny said.  She went back and sat down again. She started rearranging her troll dolls as though nothing had happened.  Marge went and found a seat far away from Bunny.
The next game started, and Death watched quietly as Bunny focused on her cards, marking each number in the same machine-like manner as before.  Marge was watching her cards, but paused now and then to stare over at Bunny.  Bunny didn’t notice, or if she did, she didn’t let on.
Bunny’s cards were filling quickly, and it looked as though she had several cards where she was only one number away from getting a bingo.  She lit a cigarette with her free hand, never looking away from the cards.
“G 17” the announcer (heart attack) read.
Bunny shouted, “Bingo!” and held her card up in the air.  An attendant (medication side-effect) rushed over and checked Bunny’s card.  Marge stared and chewed her lip.  The attendant verified that her bingo was valid, and another employee (car crash) brought over her prize – a counter-top pizza oven.  Bunny looked triumphant, and thanked the employee.  Then she thanked her troll dolls for a job well done.
Marge got up from her seat and made her way back to where Bunny was sitting.  Death checked off an item on her list, and waited.
“You got my bingo!” Marge said. “You stole my seat and you stole my bingo!”
“It’s my seat, Marge. I didn’t steal your bingo,” Bunny said.  She sounded very bored with the conversation.  Bunny took a drag off her cigarette, and flicked the ash into a tin ashtray that was nearly overflowing.
“You did!” Marge said. “Give me that oven, it should be mine!”
Bunny turned to face Marge. “I’m keeping the oven, Marge.  I won it, you didn’t.  Go play some more and win your own prize.”
Marge started shaking.  “You stole my spot!”
“Yeah, what are you going to do about it?”
“This,” Marge said.  She reached into her purse and pulled out a pearl-handled .38 Special.  Bunny’s eyes went wide just before Marge opened fire.
She shot Bunny twice in the chest.  The front of Bunny’s shirt quickly turned red, as blood poured from her wounds. Bunny slumped to the floor, and Marge shot her twice more.  Blood puddled, and spread out from Bunny’s body.
“You were sitting in my lucky spot, you bitch!”
Most of the people in the hall had hurried toward the exit when the shooting started.  The few who stayed were staring at Marge now.  She didn’t notice them.  Marge slipped a little bit in the blood as she stepped forward and swept Bunny’s cards and trolls off the table. She then sat down in the chair recently occupied by Bunny.
Death noticed that one of the people who hadn’t run was the same man who had been standing outside the kitchen window in that house near Chicago and looking in at her. He was looking right at her.  When he saw she was looking back, he looked her up and down, and gave her a lascivious wink. Then he walked away.
“That was uncalled for,” Bunny said. She was staring at Marge and her body lying on the floor. 
“I’ll say,” Death said, assuming Bunny was talking about the wink. “How crude.”
“What?” She wasn’t.
“Oh, uh, sorry, I thought you were talking about something else.  That was totally uncalled for,” Death said. “Were you, by the way, sitting in her spot?”
“Certainly not! I’ve been sitting there for years. Marge has always liked stirring up trouble.  She thinks she can push everyone around. Well, not me.  I’ll stand my ground.”
Death wasn’t sure standing one’s ground over a favorite place to sit in a bingo hall was the best use of time and energy, but then, it wasn’t worth shooting someone over either.
“Look at what she did to my troll dolls! She has no class at all.  What a piece of work.”
The police had arrived, and were approaching Marge with their guns drawn.  There were only a few people left in the hall, everyone else had left. Many of them were in the parking lot, waiting to see what would happen next.
“Is someone going to start calling numbers, or what?” Marge said.  
One of the police officers was telling Marge to slowly put her hands on her head.
Death held out her arm to Bunny and smiled, “Would you walk with me?”
After leaving Bunny to whatever afterlife awaited her, Death returned to her bike and checked when the next Death was due.  In ten minutes, a man in Denmark was due to die from a fall.  That meant she had five minutes to find something to eat.
There were several people still lingering outside the bingo hall, so she walked over to a small group talking nearby.
“Say, is there a place nearby where I could get something quick to eat?”
The group stopped talking and turned to look at her. They seemed to barely notice her, except for one woman (influenza).
“Oh, sweetie, you look like you’re dying for something to eat.  There’s a bakery about two blocks that way, I think.  Of course, I don’t know if they’ll still be open at this hour.”
Death smiled and said, “Thanks, I’ll check it out.”
“Good luck!” 
Death got on her bike and got it pointed the right way.  Behind her, the folks she had just talked to had a moment or two of awkward silence before one of the women, not the one who had told Death about the bakery, spoke up.
“You know, I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I can’t recall what she asked us.”
The one who had talked to Death paused, and said “I think she wanted to know the way to the freeway.”
Death could see the sign for the bakery when she was a block away.  It looked as though the lights were on inside.  She was about half a block away when the windows of the bakery exploded out onto the street, and flames roared out of the openings. Within seconds the entire building was engulfed in flames.
It wasn’t fair.  
She saw a figure running away from the building, further down the road. She came to a stop, and realized there was another person standing on the sidewalk nearby.  He had long, dark hair, and was dressed head to toe in black leather. He was also grinning ear to ear.
“Ares?” Death said.  The man turned, and smiled all the wider.
“Death! Wow, what great timing! Did you come to help out?”
Death wasn’t exactly sure what Ares was talking about, but then, he was a god of war, so it was safe to assume someone was going to be very dead very soon.
“No, I just happened to be in the neighborhood, looking for a bakery.”
Ares got a bit agitated, and said, “Well, you didn’t miss a darn thing here.  You sure you don’t want to help me out?”
“Sorry, I’ve got to run in a minute.  What, exactly, are you up to?”
“Well, I’m burning down this bakery, obviously.  Then I’m going to kill the baker and anyone else who pisses me off along the way.” 
He seemed very enthusiastic about the possibility of getting pissed off along the way.
“But why are you burning down the bakery and killing the baker?”
“Well, I ordered a birthday cake and when I got here to pick it up I discovered he got it all wrong. How hard is it to make a darn white birthday cake with ‘Happy Birthday Hades’ on it?”
Death was momentarily stunned by the sheer overkill of Ares’ reaction, then remembered who she was talking to.  
Ares said, “But anyway, it’s great to see you.  How’s that bike treating you?”
Ares had given her the bike a couple of years ago.  It had actually been built by Hephaistos for Ares.  It had been a very generous gift.
Death smiled and said, “Very well, thank you.  It’s good to have a proper steed again.”
She looked at her watch.  “I’ve got to run.  Another death to attend, you know.”
“Sure,” Ares said. “Don’t be such a stranger, give me a call sometime.  We can rain down ruin on some unsuspecting armies!”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Death said.
She arrived in Denmark just in time to get started.  The client, Per Erik Knuttson, was setting up a tall ladder next to his house. Per Erik looked like a pleasant guy.  The little hair he had was white blonde, and he had pale blue eyes with deep smile lines. He gathered his tools and climbed up to clean the leaves out of the rain gutters.
The house was adorable.  It looked like a gingerbread house, with a cobblestone driveway and sidewalk. 
Per Erik had been pulling clumps of leaves and other detritus from the gutters for several minutes when the ladder began to slip.  He grabbed on to the ladder and tried to stay very still, to keep the ladder from sliding any further.  He screamed a little when it slipped a bit more and stopped again.  
He had just enough time to calm down slightly and open his eyes again before the end of the ladder slipped off the roof, and set him tumbling to the ground.  Unfortunately for Per Erik, he landed head first.  There was a sickening crunch as his neck broke, and he collapsed in a heap.
“You know, I thought I’d set that ladder to be pretty steady,” his soul said to Death, looking up at the roof and then down at the ladder and his body.
“Cobblestones can be treacherous,” Death said.
“Do you think it will be long before someone finds me?”
“Not long at all.  I expect someone will have looked out their window to see what all the racket was.  There’s probably an ambulance on the way already.”
This seemed to relieve Per Erik. He took Death’s arm and the two of them stepped out of this world.

No comments:

Post a Comment