This is probably my favorite chapter, and I couldn’t wait to share it, so here’s an extra chapter!
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 Chapter 19 Chapter 20
“Good news,” Weed said as he came back from the house. “Finkenbine’s got the windshield. Why don’t you go grab it while I finish up the suspension.”
He tossed me the keys before anything he said could register. I just heard Finkenbine’s name and froze.
“You okay?” He asked as the keys bounced off my chest and hit the ground.
“Yeah. Sorry, I was just lost in my own thoughts.”
“Well snap out of it, and go get the windshield. We’re almost to the finish line now.”
“Yeah, definitely,” I replied, trying to come up with a reason, any reason, to not go to the junkyard as I grabbed the keys from the floor. I couldn’t come up with a thing.
“There should be a couple blankets in the back of the Weed wagon to wrap it up in,” he said, before climbing back under the car.
I would have given anything to not go to Finkenbine’s. Weed could have gone, though there wasn’t much I could have worked on without him. But even if I just could have convinced him to go with me, then I’d have an excuse not to do what I was afraid I was about to do.
The Junkyard wasn’t nearly far enough away, so I found myself pulling into the gravel drive before I was even close to being ready. Dumbass was laying on the porch but jumped off as soon as he saw me step out of the Weed Wagon.
“Hey boy,” I said, petting him a little too enthusiastically. He rolled over so I could rub his belly, so I did, using any excuse I had to put off seeing Finkenbine.
“You keep that up and he’ll expect you to come visit him every day,” Finkenbine hollered as he emerged from the wooden gate.
“There’s worse ways I could spend my time.”
“There’s also plenty of better ways.”
When he was a couple steps away from me, I finally looked up at him. There was a softness to Finkenbine’s face that I really hadn’t seen before. It was a little unsettling.
“I’ve got the windshield for you,” Finkenbine said, “but I’d like you to come back to the boat first.”
He turned and headed back towards the gate, leaving me no choice but to follow. The ominous feeling hit me again as we made our way down the tunnel of junk in silence. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what, so I just continued to follow until we got within sight of the boat.
“You finished it?” I blurted out. The hull of the sailboat looked practically brand new, with several fresh coats of paint.
“Pretty much,” he replied, not stopping, but continuing up the rope ladder.
Somehow, in just a few days, Finkenbine had done the impossible, turning a dilapidated pile of lumber into a finished boat. I was a little surprised, but even more curious.
“Wow,” was all I could say as I reached the top of the ladder and saw that the hull wasn’t the only thing he’d finished. The deck looked practically brand new, and there were even a couple chairs for us to sit on this time, with a cooler between them. Finkenbine eased himself into one of the chairs and motioned me to the other, before grabbing two beers from the cooler. A beer might ease my nerves a little but it wouldn’t necessarily make it any easier to do what I had to.
“So you like it?” Finkenbine asked.
“Yeah. I don’t know much about boats but this one looks great now. I’m kind of surprised you were able to get it done so quickly,” I said, popping the top on the can and taking a big drink.
“I kind of had to, now didn’t I?”
“I promised Buck I’d finish her, and I had to keep my promise.”
“I get that, but why now? Why so quickly?”
“Because I had to keep my promise before you do what you’ve got to do.”
Finkenbine’s eyes cut right through me as he said those words and I froze.
“Don’t make me lose respect for you by trying to lie to me.”
I had no idea what he knew, or how he knew it, but he was right. I didn’t want to lie to him.
“Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to try to stop you. I’m ready. I wasn’t so sure about it the first time we met. I thought about killing you right then to buy myself a little more time, but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m ready now.”
“I’m glad you didn’t kill me too.”
“He would have just sent another Reaper anyways, and besides, I kind of like you. I’ve killed enough people in my lifetime, I really don’t want to have to kill another that I like.”
“You mean like Buck?”
“You figured that one out, huh?”
“I could tell there was more to the story.”
It was Finkenbine’s turn to take a big drink before he continued.
“That one was a double whammy. His gambling problem got out of control so he started skimming from the club. He wasn’t very good at it and everyone found out. The club took a vote; he had to pay the price.”
“But why you?”
“That’s the game Lucifer likes to play. He pushes you to the limit, trying to find your breaking point. If you can’t hold up your end of the deal, then he owns your ass.“
“But your best friend? That’s just cruel.”
“That’s putting it nicely. Buck’s was the hardest assignment for me. After Lucifer gave it to me, I told the club I’d take care of Buck. It still took all five days before I was able to do it. But at least I was able to let him go out quickly, doing what he loved.”
I saw the sadness in his eyes and imagined that mine looked about the same. I wanted to say something comforting, but I had nothing. I was just thankful that as much of a screw up as Weed was, I knew he hadn’t done anything that would allow Lucifer to make him my last assignment.
We sat there, finishing our beers in silence, but then I realized it might be my last chance to talk to someone who actually understood exactly what I was going through.
“So how long ago did you become a Reaper?” I asked.
“Way too long,” he replied. “But I also fulfilled my debt a long time ago too. I’ve just had to live with my choices ever since.”
“So Lucifer really upholds his end of the deal?”
Finkenbine laughed. “Yeah, he sticks to the deal, but that doesn’t mean you can trust him. He wants you stuck working for him. And even if you hold up your end, it won’t be over.”
“What do you mean?”
Finkenbine grabbed us two more beers from the cooler.
“Why’d you make your deal with him?” He asked.
I paused for a second, and then told him everything. It felt good to tell someone other than Weed.
“Okay,” he replied. “So what happens, a few years from now, if you’re in another accident. This time it’s not your fault, but your back is broken? You’ve made a deal with him once before, what’s another five assignments if it means you’ll be able to walk again? No medical bills, no years of rehab. Poof, you’re fixed.”
“I guess I don’t know what I’d do.”
“What if you didn’t take that deal but instead got hooked on painkillers, lost everything and ended up broke, addicted, and about to go to jail? Would you consider making a second deal, to turn your life around?”
“I don’t think that would happen to me…”
“Or what if, in rehab, you find the love of your life, only to have her get diagnosed with stage 4 cancer? One little deal could cure her sickness, end her suffering, and let you spend the rest of your years together…”
I saw the pain in his eyes intensify with each hypothetical situation, and then I realized, they weren’t hypothetical.
“All of these things happened to you?”
“And he showed up every time, offering another deal.”
“So what’d you do?”
“The only thing I could…I said no.”
“No? You said no to all of them?”
“Each, and every God-damn time.”
“How many people have you killed? Am I your first assignment?”
“No, you’re not the first,” I replied, “But I didn’t really kill them, I mean…”
“Don’t lie to yourself. You chose how they were going to die, and touched them with your hand of death.”
“Well yeah, but…”
“But nothing. You’re responsible for their deaths. That’s something you’re going to have to live with.”
He was right. I knew it, but I didn’t really want to think about it.
“What number am I?” He asked.
“You’re number 4.”
“Fourth out of five? I’m a little flattered. So only one more after me. Were the others difficult?”
“A little, but not like this.”
“DId you know them?”
“Not the first one.”
“But you knew the other two?”
“Yeah, a little.”
“And each assignment got a little harder?”
“That’s what he likes to do. The first one is random, easier to get you to do it. The next three get harder and harder, but not so hard that you quit before you reach the true test. The last one is meant to break you, to make you say no. If you say no to it, he’ll give you the chance to start over with five new assignments or to take the place of the last target. Your choice, but either way he owns your ass, which really is his goal.”
“Like he did with you? With Buck?”
“But my deal with Lucifer is only for killers, rapists and child molesters. I know Weed and he’s none of those things!”
“Everybody has secrets.”
“Weed and I don’t.”
“Did you tell him about your deal with Lucifer?”
“All of it?”
“So he knows you’re here now, and what you’ve got to do?”
“Well, not exactly…”
“As I said, everyone has secrets.”
“But I told him everything else, from the beginning. And I know he would have done the same, no matter what.”
“Even if it’s not Weed, it’ll be someone close to you. Someone you won’t want kill.”
“I don’t think so; I’m not really close to anyone. There’s Weed and Shawna and my mom, that’s about it. But none of them could have done anything that Lucifer could use against me.”
“You said your mom. What about you dad?”
“I’ve never known him. It’s always just been mom and me.”
“So you don’t know what happened to him?”
“I don’t have a clue.”
“So you also have no idea what sort of things he might have done.”
“And for all you know someone close to you could have killed him.”
“What? I..No. I know where you’re going with this, and my mom didn’t kill my dad.”
“Can you be sure?”
I opened my mouth to say yes, but I couldn’t get the word to come out. I really didn’t know what happened to my dad, and I never pushed the issue with my mom.
“All I’m saying is prepare yourself for the worst. Lucifer likes to play these games, and he’s damn good at it.”
“I’m not saying it’s possible, but on the off chance it is someone really close to me, like my mom, there’s got to be something I can do about it.”
“Lucifer likes to offer the same three options: choose their death, take their place, or start over with five new assignments. Those are always the only choices. And I guarantee that even if you start over, the last of those five assignments will be just as hard for you to finish as well.”
The words sunk in and I knew he was right, but that didn’t mean I had to like it. I felt my anger start to grow, and Finkenbine must have sensed it.
“Getting angry about it might make you feel a little better, but it won’t make it any easier. You need to think long and hard about what you’re going to do before you have to make the decision and you’ll only have five days to do so. And even then, you’ll still remain a reaper until your last assignment is dead.”
“That’s right, I’ve got five days. I don’t even have to do this yet.”
“Yes you do,” FInkenbine said. “I’m ready. But I might not be if I have any more time to think about it.”
There was a sadness in his eyes, but also a peace. As much as I didn’t want to even think about him dying, it would be wrong to put it off. He didn’t deserve to suffer just because I wasn’t ready.
“How do you want to go?”
“I know you’ve thought about it, probably a lot. You’ve had to have run through a hundred scenarios in your head. So how do you want to go?”
“Did you ask the others how they wanted to go?”
“No, just you. But it’s as much a favor to me as it is to you. You know what it’s like to be in my shoes. If I can give you the ending you want it’ll make it a little easier for me.”
He sat there for a minute, and then a smile crossed his lips.
“If I could choose any way, I’d want to go out on my bike. Not the trike; my ‘54 harley. But this leg won’t let that be an option.”
“Why not? If I picture it, that’s the way it happens, right?”
“Well yeah, but I’m not sure…”
“So if I picture you getting on it and riding off before meeting your end, it has to happen, right?”
“I mean, I guess…”
Before he had a chance to change his mind, I grabbed his arm. I was instantly flooded with visions of everything he’d done in his life, some of which almost made me pull away. I saw the things he did as a member of a biker gang; things I couldn’t have imagined him doing. I also saw the deaths he was responsible for because of his deal with lucifer. But then I saw the change in him. I got to see him break away from the gang he had considered his family. And I got to see him turn down Lucifer’s continued offers. The man condemned to die because of his actions was already dead, and the man who remained was ready to finally have some peace.
That definitely made it a little easier to do what I had to. I started by picturing exactly what he wanted. I saw him riding his Harley. I saw the smile on his face, and even felt the peace and happiness he felt being back on two wheels. It was clear as could be in my head, and I didn’t want it to end but I knew it had to. But it also had to be quick. I saw him twist the throttle, leaning the bike hard as he took the corner just a little too fast. He barely saw the semi before he crossed the center line and slammed into it. The image went black as I felt the same chilling energy pass through my hand that I had with all the others.
“It’s done?” He asked.
“Yeah,” I replied, trying to hide the catch in my throat.
And then something happened that I didn’t expect. He gave a little sigh, and smiled. The look of pure peace, and contentment on his face was something I hoped I could feel when my time was up.
“I should probably be going,” I said.
“I need just a few more minutes of your time,” Finkenbine said as he rose from his chair.
There was no way I could say no, so I did as he asked and followed him back down the rope ladder. And as he led me towards the garage beside his trailer, I noticed his limp was gone and he was moving a lot quicker than normal.
“Be careful with this,” Finkenbine said as he handed me a large, flat package. “Weed would be suspicious if you didn’t come back with the windshield.”
“Right,” I said, “I’d completely forgotten about that.”
“Just make sure you don’t break this one,” he replied, “There isn’t another one within 3 states from here.”
“I really can’t thank you enough…you know, for everything…”
“I’m the one who should be thanking you,” Finkenbine said. “I knew this day would come eventually. I just lucked out that you were assigned to send me on.”
The sadness flashed in his eyes, but was quickly replaced with a smile.
“Now you need to get back to Weed’s, he said as he pulled the cover off his ‘54 Harley. “Not that anyone would question an old man wrecking his bike, but I don’t want any suspicion directed towards you.”
“I appreciate that.”
There was a heaviness inside me as I walked back to the Weed Wagon. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad, or just angry at the position I’d been put in; the position I put myself in. I could try to blame Lucifer all I wanted, but even though he orchestrated each of my assignments, I was the one truly responsible for everything that led up to them.
The ride back to Weed’s was both the shortest and longest I could remember. I fought with myself the entire way, but in the end, I knew what I had to do.
“That took you long enough,” Weed said, as he slid out from under Pamela.
I set the windshield on the workbench and tried to gather what strength I could.
“There’s a good reason that it took so long,” I said, not quite ready to make eye contact with him.
“Did you get another assignment?”
Weed just looked at me, and this time I knew I couldn’t look away. I had to own up to what I had done. He, and Finkenbine deserved that much.
“I actually already had the assignment.”
“Well why didn’t you say so? We could have waited to start on Pamela until you took care of it.”
“Because I didn’t know how, or even if, I was going to do it.”
Weed just stared at me for a minute, waiting for me to continue. Then he looked at the windshield, and then at me.
“No,” he said, shaking his head as if that would make it go away.
I didn’t know what to say.
He looked at the windshield again, then at me before dropping down into the driver side seat of my car as the tears started to slide down his face.
I’d known Weed for quite a long time, but that was the first time I saw him cry.
I really didn’t know what to do, or what to say, so I just stood there like an idiot until he spoke again.
“How could you?” He asked, wiping the tears from his cheeks.
“I know it won’t help,” I said, “but he was ready. He got to ride his ‘54 Harley one last time.”
Weed just stared at me like I was an alien, or worse yet, an enemy.
“You killed him and destroyed his Harley?”
The tears were rolling down my cheeks by then, but I didn’t care.
“It was how he wanted to go.”
Weed looked at me, then the look of anger turned to one of sadness.
“So you let him choose?”
“It was the least I could do,” I said, now trying to wipe the tears from my cheeks.
I then proceeded to tell Weed the whole story. I told him the truth about Finkenbine, about what he’d told me, and about everything he’d done. It was both harder, and more therapeutic than I could have imagined. By the time I was done, we were both out of tears and out of energy, so instead of getting any more work done on Pamela, we decided to head upstairs and light one up for Finkenbine.