For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18
“I wanted to be mad at you. I should be mad at you. But then you have to go and save Mrs. Reader from a fiery car crash so then I feel like a jerk for even thinking about being mad at you.”
My class was closer to the exits but Shawna had somehow made it out to my bike before I did. She was pacing as I made my way across the parking lot, and I thought about turning right around and going back into the school. But she knew where I lived, and where Weed lived, and those were really the only two places I really had to go besides the junkyard, but I couldn’t hide out there forever. One way or another Shawna would eventually catch up with me so I figured I might as well get it over with.
I knew she was going to end up yelling at me but I really didn’t expect her to yell at me for saving a teacher.
“So now how am I supposed to react?” She asked while continuing to pace between my bike and the Weed Wagon.
“She didn’t make it, if it makes you feel any better,” I replied, which finally got her to stop pacing.
“Mrs. Reader didn’t make it. My Rooney told me at lunch.”
It wasn’t a lie, but I couldn’t tell her the whole story, and I hated myself even more for that.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, rushing over and throwing her arms around me. “I’m sure it wasn’t your fault.”
“Why would you say that?” I asked, pulling away from her.
“I didn’t mean it like that; I’m just saying I’m sure you did everything you could to help her.”
The words stung a little more than they should have, given the truth of the matter, but I had to keep in mind that Shawna didn’t know exactly what I had done.
“Can we just change the subject,” I asked, “maybe get back to you yelling at me.”
“I wasn’t yelling,” she said, pulling away completely, “I was just explaining my position, and maybe venting a little, but I wasn’t yelling.”
“Well whatever it was, it was better than talking about Mrs. Reader.”
“I’m sorry. We don’t have to talk about it. I mean, I should probably let you go anyways.”
Weed had started to head our way but froze as he saw Shawna. He looked like he was about to head somewhere else when Shawna gave me another hug, then walked back towards the front of the building.
“So everything’s good?” Weed asked as he walked up to me.
“Yeah. Maybe? Probably, I think.”
“Good, then we need to get to work on Pamela.”
The thought of my car made me smile for a second but then I froze. What if Lucifer gave me another assignment while I was working on her. I really wasn’t sure I was ready for another one, not after Ms Reader. But not working on Pamela didn’t guarantee I wouldn’t hear from him either; he could just as easily come to me through my bedroom TV again. And even though I really didn’t like the idea of jumping right back into another assignment, the sooner I completed the last two jobs the sooner I’d be done for good. Then I’d never have to hear his voice again. As much as I loved the idea of getting Pamela fixed, I liked the idea of being done as a reaper even more, but there was nothing I could do to speed that up.
“Are you in?”
“Yeah. Let’s do it,” I said to Weed with a big smile on my face, almost challenging Lucifer to give me my next assignment.
Back at Weed’s garage, the work went pretty quickly but as the time passed I was actually becoming a little disappointed that I didn’t hear a peep from Lucifer. I even had a dozen excuses cooked up for Weed in case I needed to leave right away to take care of business, but I never needed them. By the time we called it a night, we’d made a lot more progress than I’d expected.
“You want to do the honors?” Weed asked, handing me the crescent wrench to tighten the battery terminals. I hesitated a second, my mind still not completely in the moment.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” he said, misinterpreting my hesitation, “she’s going to roar to life first try.”
I smiled, and grabbed the wrench, tightening both terminals a little more than necessary. It felt good to climb into the driver’s seat with the keys in my hand again.
“Okay,” Weed said, “let ‘er rip.”
I crossed my fingers, then slid the keys into the ignition and cranked it all the way, probably with a little too much enthusiasm. The engine turned over excitedly, which was a very good sign as Weed stood by the fender, staring at the motor with both thumbs up in the air. Fifteen seconds later he turned towards me, making a slicing motion across his neck as his way of telling me to knock it off.
“I’m not sure what’s going on,” he said. “The carbs will probably need a little adjusting but they should be close enough to get her to fire up. As much as I hate to do it, I think I might have to try a little starter fluid.”
Every gear head seemed to have different takes on using starter fluid. Most tried to avoid having to ever use it, but sometimes it was necessary. I wasn’t quite as averse to it as Weed so I nodded, giving him the go ahead.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered to Pamela as he sprayed a gentle dose directly into the carburetor.
As soon as he pulled his head out of the engine compartment I tried the ignition once again, and once again Pamela turned over right away, but this time she started to come alive for a second, before using up the little bit of starter fluid she had.
“Again,” I said, and Weed nodded, this time spraying a generous helping of starter fluid.
Pamela turned over and even began to fire up, but once again died as soon as she’d burned up all the starter fluid.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Weed said, leaning into the driver side window. She wants to run, and has plenty of air and spark but it’s like she’s starving for gas. I double checked the fuel pump and fuel filter. All the lines are clean so there shouldn’t be anything keeping the gas from reaching the carbs. Maybe I just need to pour some straight down the carbs to get everything fully primed.”
As soon as he grabbed the gas can I had another thought.
“What?” He asked, propping the five gallon can on the front fender.
“Is that a full can?” I asked.
“Yeah, just filled it up yesterday so we’d have plenty to get her running.”
“That’s great, and all, but don’t you think it might do us a little more good if the gas was in her gas tank.”
Weed looked at me, then at the gas can, and back to me before bursting out laughing. He continued laughing way too hard to even lift the can off the fender, so I grabbed it. It took a couple minutes to empty most of the can into Pamela’s tank which gave Weed plenty of time to get himself under control.
“One more time,” he said, spraying a little more fluid into the carburetor. This time, when I cranked the ignition, Pamela fired right up, purring like a kitten.
Weed was practically dancing in the poorly adjusted headlights, and you couldn’t have smacked the smile off my face with a 2×4, but unfortunately my baby wasn’t quite ready for me to drive her home. She still needed the new windshield, new suspension and new tires put on the new rims, but she was running better than ever and I could see the finish line, both with the car and with my assignments. Unfortunately the five gallons of gas wouldn’t last long if I kept running and revving the engine unnecessarily, so reluctantly I killed the ignition just before Weed could attempt what looked to be a backflip. He continued to stare at me while throwing his hands in the air, trying to tempt me to keep her running just a little longer.
“She sounds great, man, but we should save some celebrating for when she’s actually roadworthy again.”
Weed gave me a look that said he understood, but still didn’t like it.
“And it’s getting late,” I continued, probably more to keep myself from giving in then to convince him I was right. “We can start right back here tomorrow, and I’ll even bring more gas.”
“And what are you going to do?” Weed asked, grabbing the empty gas can from me, “bungee cord the gas can to the back of the bike?”
“It could work.”
“It could also be a disaster; I’ll get the gas, and you just show up here tomorrow as soon as school lets out. But you know I won’t sleep tonight knowing she’s this close.”
“You’ll pack a bowl with some “sleep-well” herb and you’ll be out like a baby in no time.”
“Okay, maybe you’re right.”
“You know I’m right. But I’ve got to get going.”
“Remember, straight here after school!”
“Yes, mom!” I replied. I’m pretty sure he had some smartass response but I couldn’t hear it over the sweet sound of the bike firing up.
I didn’t realize how tired I was until we stopped working and I sat down on that bike. It would have been a great night for a little night-riding, but I didn’t have the energy for that. Instead I went straight home and parked the bike in its usual spot before heading inside to get thoroughly cleaned up. Mom had left a plate in the microwave but I didn’t even feel like eating. I just wanted a shower and some sleep, but as I reached the top of the stairs I realized that once again someone had other ideas.
The television was glowing so I figured it was Lucifer but it wasn’t his face like last time. The image on the screen was the old indian head test pattern, but instead of the indian head, it was Lucifer’s sitting above the number 3.
“Three down,” his voice boomed from the speakers as his head turned towards me, “only two to go.”
As he said those words, the number 3 changed to the number 2.
“I thought you’d be happy…”
“Don’t get me wrong,” I said, “I can’t wait to be done with this, but tonight is really not the night.”
“You really don’t listen, do you. You can do it whenever and however you want.”
“I know, I know; it’s just that I really want some sleep and thinking about killing someone kind of interferes with that.”
“If it makes it any easier we can do this in the morning, but you don’t want to waste too much time; tomorrow might be the perfect opportunity to complete your next assignment.”
I opened my mouth, ready to tell him we’d do it in the morning, then I realized that knowing I had an assignment and not knowing who it was would probably be worse than knowing. I’d toss and turn all night long, trying to figure out who it could possibly be. It was definitely a catch 22, but I think that was exactly what he wanted.
“Fine,” I said, stripping off my filthy shirt, getting ready for a nice hot shower. Knowing him, I was going to need it.
“I’m not so sure I like your attitude,” he said.
“There was nothing in our deal about my attitude.”
“Good point. But you might want to at least stop prancing around the room and sit down for this one. I have a feeling it won’t be quite as easy as the others.”
Instantly I stopped. I didn’t mean to stop, and had I thought about it, I would have just kept walking to keep from giving him the pleasure, but my mind froze and my body followed suit.
“As easy as the others?” I yelled at the television “There was nothing easy about the others.”
“I didn’t mean to belittle your work so far,” he said. “I’m actually quite proud of what you’ve managed to do. A lot of others haven’t had the stomach for the assignments like you’ve completed. I just want you to be prepared in case this one is a little more difficult.”
I could feel my face getting red as my frustration and anger grew. I took a deep breath and tried to control my tongue.
“Just tell me who it is,” I said through clenched teeth.
“It might be best just to show you.”
The indian head test pattern with Lucifer’s head disappeared and was replaced with a face I recognized all too well.
“You can’t be serious.”
“What? You didn’t think he was completely innocent, did you?”
“Innocent? No. But I didn’t really think that Finkenbine had done anything that fit into our agreement.”
“Why? Because he gave you a good price on some car parts? Or maybe it was that heartfelt conversation the two of you had over a couple beers? There’s really a lot that you don’t know about him.”
“Fine, I get that, but now he’s just an old man running a junk yard. It’s not like he’s out there harming anyone.”
“It’s not always about what they’re doing now, or even what they might do in the future. Ms. Reader was proof of that, and you finished that assignment fine.”
The words stung more than they should have, probably because everything he said was true.
“Our deal was that I select 5 killers, rapists or child molesters and you decide when and how they will pass on to face the consequences of their actions.”
I sat down on the edge of my bed, contemplating my options.
“Can’t you just assign another reaper to him?”
“I’m afraid not. We can’t have the reapers picking and choosing what assignments they want to complete. Either you do this or our deal is off.”
So that was his game; torture me by giving me exceptionally harder assignments, hoping to get me to break our deal.
“I’m going to need a little time.”
“I’m a man of my word. You’ve got 5 days to seal his fate; otherwise the deal is off.”
The television went black, even as those words continued to hang in the air. For a time, I forgot about everything else, even the hot shower I’d looked forward to. I just continued to sit on the edge of the bed, in an attempt to figure out what I was going to do. I wanted to talk to someone, but that really wasn’t an option. The only one who knew anything about what was going on was Weed, but what would I say to him? Sorry, I’ve got to kill your friend? Weed would never forgive me. Or worse, he would blame himself for taking me out to Finkenbine’s in the first place. I couldn’t live with myself if he had to deal with the consequences of my actions.
My mind was pretty much made up to tell Lucifer to shove it but then my thoughts went to Shawna. Even if things weren’t going the best between us, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her. And my mom? If I broke the deal and had to accept my fate, it would crush her. I didn’t even want to begin to imagine what it would do to her.
Round and round my mind went, bouncing from one choice to the other without the slightest chance of making a decision. I knew there was no way I was going to get any sleep so I headed down stairs. The keys to the bike were still in my pocket, and a night time ride would help take my mind off the decision I had to make, but it would only delay the inevitable. Instead of running from my decision I had to face it I decided to take a walk to give myself plenty of time to think. So instead of heading towards the garage at the back of the house, I went to the front door, but I was not prepared for what I saw as I opened it.