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 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32
A few weeks later things had mostly returned to normal. Matt was no longer in the picture at all and Shawna was hanging out with Weed and me again, just like old times. Occasionally we would hang out as just the two of us without it being awkward and that, alone, was priceless. She even hopped on the back of the KZ a couple times for a ride home after school, but mostly I kept the time on the bike for me, especially when I needed to clear my head.
But I needed those rides a little less often as time went on. Finkenbine’s death, out of all of them, was the only one that still haunted me a bit. It might have been because his death hadn’t been noticed by anyone in town. It didn’t even warrant a mention in the local paper. I know that shouldn’t have bothered me because I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered to him at all, but for some reason it just pissed me off.
But besides that, life was going as well as could be expected. Weed had somehow managed to smooth things over with Stephanie and Tiffany so the four of us tried another double date. That time it was Tiffany making an excuse to leave early when our impromptu makeout session ended up being more awkward than a priest in a whorehouse. I felt bad about the whole thing, but making out with a girl is really hard when you have to keep your hands from actually touching her skin. Give it a try sometime, and you’ll know what I mean, though I don’t suggest trying it with someone you’d ever like to make out with again.
Weed was a good sport about it, though, and even managed to somehow keep seeing Stephanie, but I’m not really sure how long that will last. Tiffany keeps trying to set Stephanie up with other guys, I think just to spite me. And from what Weed’s told me, Stephanie might even be a little too wild for him, which has me a little scared for whatever guy she might find next. All I know is I will never, ever, let my hands touch her. The images would probably scar me for life.
Even school was going pretty well. I’d been sleeping better at night which made it easier to stay awake in school. And while most of the students had started to forget about what I’d done in American History class, the teachers still remembered what I’d done for Ms Reader so they seemed to let small things slip a little more often. So like I said, things were going pretty good, but just when I was finally feeling like I’d put most of the Reaper stuff behind me, there was a knock at the door.
The man standing in the doorway was dressed in a suit but something about him seemed just a little off. I couldn’t quite place it until he held out a manilla envelope and his sleeve rode up his arm enough for me to catch a glimpse of the tattoo hidden underneath. From the little I saw of it, I’m pretty sure it covered his whole arm.
“I’m Steven Longfellow, the executor of Jim’s estate,” he said, but I just kept staring at him.
He shook the envelope, making it jingle a little.
“Jim Finkenbine named you in his will so I’m delivering this as part of his final wishes.”
That was when it first dawned on me that I’d never even heard Finkenbine’s first name before. Upon hearing it was from him, I eagerly grabbed the envelope but then just stared at it, not quite sure I was ready to open it.
“He really thought highly of you,” Mr. Longfellow said. “Just let me know if you ever need any help fulfilling his wishes.”
“Thanks,” I replied as I took the business card he handed me, but I still didn’t know what he meant by fulfilling Finkenbine’s wishes. I was just about to ask, when he held out his hand. My mind was racing with thoughts of Finkenbine, so I didn’t even give a second thought to reaching out and shaking his hand.
As soon as our hands touched, I realized what I’d done, and braced myself, but no images came. I looked up at Mr. Longfellow, and he looked down at our hands and smiled, then turned and walked away.
I stood there in shock for a minute as he climbed into the back of a black sedan at the curb. It was only after his car pulled away that I realized there was another car still in front of my house. Mortimer Hearseburg, meticulously polished and parade ready, was parked along the curb. It was seeing the car there, in front of me, that finally pushed me to open the envelope from Finkenbine. In it I found the keys to Mort, as well as a letter.
“Nate,” it started, “I wish I could have given you some better advice about how to handle your situation, but as you can probably tell, what worked for me might not work for everyone. All I really know is that I owe you a great debt for helping me go out the way I wanted to. That is why I have asked Steven to take care of you if you ever find yourself in need of some help or even if you just have some questions. He is in a unique position to offer insight and knowledge others can not. He is also someone you can reach out to without fear.”
I looked down at the business card Steven Longfellow had handed me, and it just listed his title as “Master Consultant”.
“I do have one last favor to ask of you,” Finkenbine’s letter continued. “Please keep up the tradition and break Mort out whenever a brother needs one last ride.”
He signed it with a scribble that I couldn’t make out, but it didn’t matter. I knew it was from him.
I put the letter and Mr. Longfellow’s business card back into the envelope but kept the keys in my hand, feeling their weight. It was a heavy request, but there was no way I could say no. I just wasn’t sure how I was going to tell my mom that we needed some more room to store another car.
I was still staring at the keys when I heard the distinct sound of a harley v-twin engine getting near. Even though I heard it coming, I wasn’t prepared to see Finkenbine’s trike pull up behind Mort, or to see Weed climb off it.
“No way!” We both said simultaneously.
Weed wasn’t wearing a helmet so I could see the grin on his face from the porch. I’m sure it matched the one on my face.
“So he left you Mort?”
“And he left you his trike?”
Weed pulled a folded letter from his back pocket and handed it to me. I handed him my envelope and we both took a second to read.
“Weed,” his letter started. “This is a little thanks for helping me finish my bike. And I figured you’re going to need one of your own to keep riding beside Nate.”
It was signed with the same chicken-scratch signature as mine.
“So what’s with this Longfellow guy?” Weed asked.
“I’m not quite sure,” I said, before grabbing his arm.
The image that came this time wasn’t a dream but it was slightly distorted and almost claustrophobic. It took me a second to realize that I was seeing things through Weed’s eyes, as he stared through a pair of binoculars into the window of his neighbor across the street. She turned towards the window wearing an almost see-through nightgown, smiled right at him and started to take it off.
“Dude,” I said, yanking my hand from his arm. “She’s got to be going on fifty.”
“Who? Ms. Schneller?” He asked with a smile. “She might be going on fifty, but there’s no way that body of hers is.”
“You realize Lust is one of the seven deadly sins, don’t you.”
“Yeah, but what a way to go.”
“Just please keep those thoughts to yourself.”
“You’re the one who grabbed my arm. You knew the chance you were taking.”
“I just had to find out if I would still see things.”
“Because of that Longfellow guy.”
Weed stared at me with more confusion on his face than normal.
“After he delivered the envelope, and just before he left, I ended up shaking his hand, but…”
“But I didn’t see anything.”
“So, like he’d never done anything wrong?”
“I don’t think that was it,” I said. “I think it was a test.”
“Like he was testing me, to find out if he saw anything when he touched me.”
“So you think he might be a…”
“I think so,” I replied.
“But you didn’t see anything from him, and you don’t think he saw anything from you? Like the whole Reaper vision thing doesn’t work on other Reapers?”
“Wow,” was all he said.
“So what now?” I asked.
He paused for a minute, with a serious look of concentration on his face.
“How about you find some place to store Mort and then grab the KZ so we can go for a ride, exactly as Finkenbine would want.”
It sounded like a great idea, so I slid into the driver side seat of the hearse and took a moment to appreciate the gravity of the gift before starting it up. It ran even smoother than I could have expected, but that shouldn’t have surprised me. I knew how much the car meant to Finkenbine, and how well he would have kept it up, so I silently vowed to do the same before I pulled the car around the house to swap it out with the KZ.
I was looking forward to the ride with Weed as a way of symbolizing the closing of that screwed up chapter of my life, but as soon as I pulled the car into the garage and put it into park, the glove compartment fell open. When I reached over to close it, I saw there was one small piece of paper in it. Unlike the letter from Finkenbine, this sheet was thick and textured, almost like a fancy wedding invitation. On it were four words, written in blood red calligraphic script: Welcome to the team.
That was all there was. No signature, no other writing on either side. The car might have been Finkenbine’s, but I knew the note wasn’t from him. I was also pretty sure I knew exactly who the note was from. The anger rushed through me at the thought of him, and I almost crumbled the note up and threw it away, but then I caught myself and realized I had a choice. I was no longer bound by any agreement so I could choose what I was going to do, and I decided that I was not going to give him the opportunity to ruin my day, or my life, any more.
That thought made me smile more than anything had in a long, long time. So with that smile on my face, I grabbed my helmet and keys and hopped on the bike. By the time I pulled around the house, Weed was already back on the trike impatiently waiting on me. Together we headed straight out of town to find the most winding open roads we could. Neither of us knew where we were heading, but we knew we were going to enjoy the ride.