by Anne K. Edwards
There are some days it don’t pay to get out of bed. Wednesday was one of them. I should have gone to the ball game with my buddy, Hal Reaster, but no, not me. I have a work ethic. And I like to eat regularly.
So there I was, at my desk, finishing up a report on Tacky Mundt’s wife and her newest lover when the door opened. The hair on the back of my neck rose and gooseflesh crawled up my arms. My stomach turned over and my heart began to thunder like a runaway horse.
I didn’t want to look up. I recognized that awful feeling. I knew who it was. Maybe, I thought, I could pretend he wasn’t there and he’d go away. I kept my eyes glued on the form on my desk and hoped.
After a couple of minutes, I realized it wasn’t working. He was still there, floating a few inches above the floor, just like the last time. For some reason, that bothered me. Why couldn’t he wear a pair of brogans? I took a deep breath and gave up.
I looked at him. And wished I’d stayed in bed.
Death still gave me the creeps.
His black hood covered his skull. At least I didn’t have to see his bony head.
“Come in and close the door.” I croaked. I didn’t want no one to see him. I mean, how would it look? Me--doing business with the likes of him?
He floated toward my beat-up old desk as the door closed.
“Just passing through, I hope,” I said.
“No,” he said. He still sounded like a bunch of rocks rolling around in a rusty tin can. It bothered me how I heard him in my head. I wondered if other people did too.
He came straight to the point. “I need your help once more,” he said.
“Why don’t you give your business to someone else?” I asked without any real hope he would.
“You do satisfactory work. I see no reason to change,” he pointed at a stain on his sleeve with his bony finger. “This is why I need your services. Give me the contract to sign.”
I wished his voice wasn’t so hard on the brain. Mine felt like it had rocks of its own.
“I think you ought to see Sammy Clarren, down the street. Clarren’s Cleaners. They take out stains.” I didn’t think Sammy would thank me for sending him to their establishment. “I don’t take stains out of robes.”
Death made some sort of low noise that sounded like a groan of frustration.
“The stain isn’t important,” he told me. “I need you to find the mortal responsible. Give me the contract.”
“I told you the last time, I won’t be responsible for you taking someone’s life.” He didn’t get it. On a previous occasion when I’d helped him, he took some old geezer who’d thought he’d figured out a way to live forever.
“I don’t want to take him. He took something from me.” Death aimed his head at the computer that slept in its shadowy corner. “I want you to find him on that.” He pointed at the machine.
“What? You want me to find a crook? You think I can just type in ‘crooks’ and his name will pop up on a list?”
Death raised his head so that he faced me. Guy had absolutely no sense of humor. But what did he expect coming in here with such a stupid request?
“My implement must be returned to me,” he sounded more gravelly than ever.
My turn to not understand. “What implement?”
He gave a loud moan. Just like you’d expect to hear on Halloween at midnight in a haunted house.
I stared at him. My brain had turned to mush. I had no idea what he meant. The only implement Death carried was a scythe...
I roared. I couldn’t help it. I got it. He must’ve been mugged.
I swiped at the tears that flowed down my cheeks. “You were robbed?” I wondered how he’d explain that to his bookkeeping bosses. The thought was enough to nearly send me into another laughing fit, but I managed to control myself.
“I was sent to take someone who sleeps in that alley.”
I hopped in. “You got mugged in an alley? On the job?” I roared again. This was rich. Some idiot dared jump Death. Hadda be drunk or high. Or just plain stupid.
“Don’t you know better than to go in alleys after dark?” I asked without thinking.
He made that rattling moan again.
I’d swear he was embarrassed if he could’ve displayed any emotion. Tsk-tsking him, I asked, “Why do you need the scythe anyhow? It’s just a symbol, isn’t it?”
He shook his head, his whole robe swinging back and forth. “My implement helps me separate the soul from the body. It must be returned!” The rock-and-rusty-can sound was louder than ever.
I shook my head to clear it of what felt like an echo and changed the subject. “That’s why they call you The Grim Reaper?” I didn’t add that ‘grim’ came from being so humorless.
“Yes.” He turned toward me so I could see under his hood.
I still didn’t like the view.
“This is how I appear to some of those I visit. You see me as your media has presented me over the years--like this. This image is fixed in your mind. I may appear as an angel to others or as a relative. I am a guide, a messenger or a conductor.”
He took his job seriously. I half expected him to launch into a speech about the film and books written about him, but he didn’t. Lucky me.
He pointed at the computer again. “If that won’t help, how will you find the thief?”
I pushed a contract form across the desk to him and rolled my chair back from the desk.
“Yes, I see. You must have a contract and your fee.” He grew still as he stared at the form.
His name appeared on the contract. Death. My fee appeared beside it.
Pretending to relax, I crossed my legs, then picked up a pen and the steno pad I used to take notes. “Okay. Tell me what happened--from the beginning.”
He gave a sort of shudder like I do at the sight of him and said, “I was sent to take one Daniel Klavier Setter. He’s spent his life in that alley. Drinking has destroyed his liver and now he is in terrible pain. I was entering the alley to take him when a mortal jumped on my back. I was caught by surprise and thrown against a building.”
Gad! His voice could scrape the paint off a wall.
I let the pen fall in my lap and scratched my chin. It was a good pose. “Couldn’t you have simply thrown him aside?” Death could overcome all obstacles I’d been told.
Death lowered his head and moved to the window. “No. I dare not touch those who are not ready.”
Umff. I got it. “Mess up the bookkeeping, would it?” I said.
His hood moved in what I thought was a ‘yes’. If the writers and movie makers only knew about that. It would kill the interest in all those books and films.
“The mortal said he wanted my money. I told him I didn’t have any. So he grabbed my implement from where I’d dropped it and ran away.”
“Didn’t you try to catch him?” I picked up the pen again and started a tic-tac-toe game on the pad and wound up drawing a hanged stick man holding a scythe.
He gave out another of those horrible groans. His robe moved like he was crying. Nah, couldn’t be.
“I didn’t dare.” He raised his head so that his empty sockets looked down at me.
I could see he had a probem. “So that’s why you need me?”
His hood bobbled again.
I quit messing and got ready to take some real notes. “Where were you?”
“I told you.”
“I mean the street address.”
He was quiet for several seconds as if rummaging around in his memory. “Daniel Klavier Setter is in the alley between Fifth and Sixth Streets.”
“He lives behind Pootle’s Bar and Grill?” I knew the place well. My sometime gal friend, Kitty, worked there. Not much to look at on the outside, but real homey inside.
“What did the guy look like that jumped you?” I’d have to start leggin’ it door-to-door to find this one.
“He is shorter than you with a thick body. His hair is red and long.”
“How come he didn’t die when he jumped you if you can’t touch him?” I had to ask that one. My curiosity about these things gets to itchin’.
“I didn’t touch him with my hands or implement,” he sounded like an exasperated truck with a bad muffler. “Touching my robe won’t take him.”
The fool had a brush with Death and might never know. “Could he kill with it?”
Death nodded. “If he used it like a weapon, but just touching them with it--no.”
I wasn’t sure I understood.
He seemed to know. “I need my implement to complete the picture of myself. It makes the person to be taken understand who I am and why I have come. I touch them with the scythe to release their soul. This is what they expect. I do not cause pain.”
“You mean, the picture has to be complete before we’ll go with you? No matter how we think you should look?”
He nodded. “You mortals seem to require it.”
I wasn’t sure of what he’d just told me. Did he just tell me he was a figment of our imagination? I shook my head. Nah, couldn’t be. I did not spend my time thinking about him.
I got back to the problem. “Did you at least follow him?”
“Where did he go?”
“A mortal in a blue suit caught him as he was running down the street. He put him in a white car with a light on top. My implement was sticking out the window when they left.”
I couldn’t help it. I began to chuckle and it became a belly laugh. That was a picture I could see.
“Must of been Murphy that grabbed your boy,” I said after I quit gasping.
I reached for the phone. It was the old-fashioned kind with a cord. I dialed the station house over on Maple Street.
Nate Thomas answered. My lucky day.
“Yeh? Whatcha want?” He was pleasant as always. I could hear a radio in the background playing hard rock.
“Hey, Nate. Murph around?”
“He’s finishing up paperwork on some idiot he picked up,” he laughed. “High as a kite and carrying a big sickle.”
Then I heard him holler at Murphy. “Hey, Murph. Yer big-deal detective friend is on the line.”
No, we don’t have nine-one-one yet. Town’s too small and the old system works just fine.
Murph came on the line. “Hey, Joe. What’s up?”
“Hi, Murph.” I paused while I fought down a case of idiot giggles. Detectives don’t giggle. We guffaw or we laugh. We never giggle.
“Gotta make it fast, Joe. I gotta get back on patrol.”
“That’s sorta why I’m calling. You picked up a guy carrying a scythe.”
Murph laughed. “Damnedest thing I ever saw. High as a kite an’ draggin’ this huge scythe down the street behind him.”
“That scythe belongs to a friend of mine and he’ll be needing it soon. You know how it is with some guys and their tools.”.
“Ah! Okay. It takes up too much room in the evidence locker anyhow. Don’t need it for my case. I arrested Tall Paul Smith because he was so doped up and causin’ a ruckus. He said the scythe wasn’t his.”
“Did he tell you how he got it?”
Murph laughed again. “Yeh. He says he took it from some dude wearin’ a black dress with a black hat. Jumped him in an alley. Think he’d be interested in pressin’ charges?”
“Nah. He just wants his scythe back.”
“Tell him, he can pick it up...” Murph started to say.
I cut him off. It wasn’t likely he’d want my friend to pick it up. “I’ll stop by to get it in a few minutes. He lives out of town.”
Murph agreed and hung up.
I turned to Death. “Where is my scythe?” he demanded rolling those rocks in that tin can.
“At the station house. The thief was picked up for causin’ trouble. It’s located on the corner of Elm at Main Streets. I’ll go get it.” I got to my feet and looked up..
Death had vanished.
It took a minute to sink in.
The phone rang. I grabbed it.
Murph spluttered, “Hey, Joe. You know that scythe you wanted to pick up?”
“Yeh.” I had a hunch of what was comin’.
“It’s gone! Can’t find it nowhere. I was gonna get it ready for you to pick up, but it ain’t in the locker.”
I closed my eyes against a sudden headache. No way was I tellin’ the truth.
“Well, I guess I’ll have to tell my friend his scythe is gone. He’ll have to get a new one.”
Murph grunted. I could feel his relief over the phone. The police would never live down having evidence taken from under their noses. Not something that big.
He hung up.
I tried to figure it out. Death must have retrieved the scythe the same way he left my office.
I pocketed the five-hundred-dollar fee. I wasn’t reporting that as income. My ex-wife didn’t need to know about it. Then I tore up the contract Death had signed. I wasn’t going to try explaining that to anyone either.
Who’d believe me?