Death comes to those who wait.
And to those who don’t. So either way …
—CHARLOTTE JEAN DAVIDSON, GRIM REAPER
There was a dead clown sitting in my living room. Since I wasn’t particularly fond of clowns, and it was way too early for anything coherent to come out of my mouth, I pretended not to notice him. Instead, I let a loud yawn overtake me as I headed toward my kitchen. That was when a jolt of panic rushed through me. I glanced down to make sure my girl parts hadn’t been compromised and sighed in relief. I had on a white tank and pair of plaid bottoms. My girls, also known as Danger and Will Robinson, were safe.
Mentally making the sign of the cross, I padded through my humble abode. Trying not to draw attention. Wondering if the dead clown, with his gaze following my every move, had noticed me. My apartment was a comfy cross between a storage room full of pillows and a broom closet, so it wasn’t a long journey. Nor an especially enlightening one. Though I did come to a rather morbid conclusion in those few fleeting seconds: Better a dead clown in my apartment than a live one.
My name is Charlotte Davidson. Charley to some, Charlotte the Harlot to others, but that was mostly in middle school. I came with a decent set of curves, a healthy respect for the male anatomy, and a slightly disturbing addiction to brown edibles. Other than that—and the fact that I’d also been born the grim reaper—I was about as normal as a surly girl with a private investigator’s license could be.
I strode toward Mr. Coffee with lust in my eyes. We’d had a thing for quite some time now, Mr. Coffee and I, and there was just enough of him left for one more cup. No need to make a fresh pot, to get him all hot and bothered. I popped the cup into the microwave, set it to nuke anything unfortunate enough to be caught within its grasp for thirty seconds, then raided my fridge for sustenance. Eating would keep me awake for at least another five minutes, and my one goal in life for the past couple of weeks was to stay awake at all costs. The alternative was exhausting.
After an epic search, I finally found something neither green nor fuzzy. It was a hot sausage link. I named it Peter, mostly because I liked naming things and partly because it seemed like the right thing to do. As soon as my java was piping hot I popped him into the microwave. Hopefully the radioactive environment would sterilize Peter. No need to have little Peters running around, wreaking havoc.
As I stood contemplating world peace, the exorbitant price of designer underwear, and what life would be like without guacamole, Peter beeped. I wrapped him in stale bread and ate him whilst loading my coffee up with enough imitation product to make it a health hazard. After a long draw, I plodded to my overstuffed sofa, sank into it, and looked at the dead clown. He was sitting in the club chair that catty-cornered my sofa, waiting patiently for me to acknowledge him.
“You know, I’m not really fond of clowns,” I said after taking another sip.
Seeing a dead person in my living room was hardly a surprise. Apparently, I was super-duper bright, like the glowing lens of a lighthouse in a storm. The departed who didn’t cross when they died could see me from anywhere on Earth and, if they so chose, could cross through me to get to the other side. That was pretty much the grim reaper gig in a nutshell. No scythes. No collecting souls. No ferrying the departed across a lake day in and day out, which would probably get old.
“I get that a lot,” the clown said. He seemed younger than I’d originally suspected, perhaps twenty-five, but his voice was rough from too many cigarettes and late nights. The image conflicted with the bright mural on his face and curly red hair on his head. His saving grace was the lack of a big red nose. I seriously hated those, especially the squeaky kind. The rest I could handle.
“So, you got a story?”
“Not really.” He shrugged. “Just wanted to cross.”
I blinked in surprise, absorbed his statement, then asked, “You just want to cross?”
“If that’s okay.”
“That’s more than okay,” I said with a snort. No messages to loved ones left behind. No solving his murder. No hunting down some memento he’d left for his children in a place where no one in his right mind would ever think to look. These situations had all the creamy goodness of piece of cake without the added calories.
He started toward me then. I didn’t get up, didn’t think I could manage it—the coffee had yet to kick in—but he didn’t seem to mind. I noticed as he stepped forward that he wore a ragged pair of jeans and his sneakers had been painted with Magic Marker.
“Wait,” he said, pausing midstride.
He scratched his head, a completely unconscious act from his previous life. “Can you get messages to people?”
Damn. The bane of my existence. “Um, no. Sorry. Have you tried Western Union?”
“Seriously?” he asked, not buying it for a minute. And it was on sale, even.
I sighed and tossed an arm over my forehead to show how much I didn’t want to be his messenger, then peeked out from under my lashes. He stood there, waiting, unimpressed.
“Fine,” I said, giving in. “I’ll type a note or something.”
“You don’t have to do that. Just go to Super Dog right down the street and talk to a girl named Jenny. Tell her Ronald said to bite me.”
I scanned his clown getup, the reds and yellows of his hoodie. “Your name is Ronald?”
With a grin, he said, “The irony is not lost on me, I promise.” He stepped through before I could question him on the bite me part of his comment.