Better to see dead than be dead.
—CHARLOTTE JEAN DAVIDSON, GRIM REAPER
I’d been having the same dream for the past month—the one where a dark stranger materialized out of smoke and shadows to play doctor with me. I was starting to wonder if repetitive exposure to nightly hallucinations resulting in earth-shattering cl**axes could have any long-term side effects. Death via extreme pleasure was a serious concern. The prospect led to the following dilemma: Do I seek help or buy drinks all around?
This night was no exception. I was having a killer dream that featured a set of capable hands, a hot mouth, and a creative employment of lederhosen when two external forces tried to lure me out of it. I did my darnedest to resist, but they were fairly persistent external forces. First, a frosty chill crept up my ankle, the icy caress jolting me out of my red-hot dream. I shivered and kicked out, unwilling to acknowledge the summons, then tucked my leg into the thick folds of my Bugs Bunny comforter.
Second, a soft but persistent melody played in the periphery of my consciousness like a familiar song I couldn’t quite place. After a moment, I realized it was the cricketlike chime of my new phone.
With a heavy sigh, I pried open my eyes just enough to focus on the numbers glowing atop my nightstand. It was 4:34 A.M. What kind of sadist called another human being at 4:34 in the morning?
A throat cleared at the foot of my bed. I turned my attention to the dead guy standing there, then lowered my lids and asked in a gravelly voice, “Can you get that?”
He hesitated. “Um, the phone?”
“Well, I’m kind of—”
“Never mind.” I reached for the phone and grimaced as a jolt of pain ripped through me, reminding me I’d been beaten senseless the night before.
Dead Guy cleared his throat again.
“Hello,” I croaked.
It was my uncle Bob. He bombarded me with words, of all things, apparently clueless to the fact that predawn hours rendered me incapable of coherent thought. I concentrated super duper hard on concentrating and made out three salient phrases: busy night, two homicides, ass down here. I even managed a reply, something resembling, “What twirly nugget are you from?”
He sighed, clearly annoyed, then hung up.
I hung up back, pressing a button on my new phone that either disconnected the call or speed-dialed the Chinese takeout around the corner. Then I tried to sit up. Similar to the coherent-thought problem, this was easier said than done. While I normally weighed around 125 … ish, for some unexplainable reason, between the hours of partially awake and fully awake, I weighed a solid 470.
After a brief, beached whale–like struggle, I gave up. The quart of Chunky Monkey I ate after getting my ass kicked had probably been a bad idea.
In too much pain to stretch, I let a lengthy yawn overtake me instead, winced at the soreness shooting through my jaw, then looked back at Dead Guy. He was blurry. Not because he was dead, but because it was 4:34 A.M. And I’d recently had my ass kicked.
“Hi,” he said nervously. He had a wrinkled suit, round-rimmed glasses, and mussed hair that made him look part young-wizard-we-all-know-and-love and part mad scientist. He also had two bullet holes on the side of his head with blood streaking down his right temple and cheek. None of these details were a problem. The problem resided in the fact that he was in my bedroom. In the wee hours of dawn. Standing over me like a dead Peeping Tom.
I eyed him with my infamous death stare, second only to my infamous fluster stare, and got a response immediately.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said, stumbling over his words, “didn’t mean to frighten you.”
Did I look frightened? Clearly my death stare needed work.
Ignoring him, I inched out of bed. I had on a Scorpions hockey jersey I’d snatched off a goalie and a pair of plaid boxers—same team, different position. Chihuahuas, tequila, and strip poker. A night that is forever etched at the top of my Things I’ll Never Do Again list.
With teeth clenched in agony, I dragged all 470 throbbing pounds toward the kitchen and, more important, the coffeepot. Caffeine would chisel the pounds off, and I’d be back to my normal weight in no time.
Because my apartment was roughly the size of a Cheez-It, it didn’t take me long to feel my way to the kitchen in the dark. Dead Guy followed me. They always follow me. I could only pray this one would keep his mouth shut long enough for the caffeine to kick in, but alas, no such luck.
I’d barely pressed the ON button when he started in.
“Um, yeah,” he said from the doorway, “it’s just that I was murdered yesterday, and I was told you were the one to see.”
“You were told that, huh?” Maybe if I hovered over the pot, it would develop an inferiority complex and brew faster just to prove it could.
“This kid told me you solve crimes.”
“He did, huh?”
“You’re Charley Davidson, right?”
“Are you a cop?”
“A sheriff’s deputy?”
“A meter maid?”
“Look,” I said, turning to him at last, “no offense, but you could have died thirty years ago, for all I know. Dead people have no sense of time. Zero. Zip. Nada.”
“Yesterday, October eighteenth, five thirty-two P.M., double gunshot wound to the head, resulting in traumatic brain injury and death.”