GRIM REAPERS ARE TO DIE FOR.
—T-SHIRT OFTEN SEEN ON CHARLOTTE JEAN DAVIDSON, GRIM REAPER EXTRAORDINAIRE
“Charley, hurry, wake up.”
Fingers with pointy nails bit into my shoulders, doing their darnedest to vanquish the fog of sleep I’d been marinating in. They shook me hard enough to cause a small earthquake in Oklahoma. Since I lived in New Mexico, this was a problem.
Judging by the quality and pitch of the intruder’s voice, I was fairly certain the person accosting me was my best friend, Cookie. I let an annoyed sigh slip through my lips, resigning myself to the fact that my life was a series of interruptions and demands. Mostly demands. Probably because I was the only grim reaper this side of Mars, the only portal to the other side the departed could cross through. At least, those who hadn’t crossed right after they died and were stuck on Earth. Which was a freaking lot. Having been born the grim reaper, I couldn’t remember a time when dead people weren’t knocking on my door—metaphorically, as dead people rarely knocked—asking for my assistance with some unfinished business. It amazed me how many of the dearly departed forgot to turn off the stove.
For the most part, those who cross through me simply feel they’ve been on Earth long enough. Enter the reaper. Aka, moi. The departed can see me from anywhere in the world and can cross to the other side through me. I’ve been told I’m like a beacon as bright as a thousand suns, which would suck for a departed with a martini hangover.
I’m Charlotte Davidson: private investigator, police consultant, all-around badass. Or I could’ve been a badass, had I stuck with those lessons in mixed martial arts. I was only in that class to learn how to kill people with paper. And—oh, yes—let us not forget grim reaper. Admittedly, being the reaper wasn’t all bad. I had a handful of friends I’d kill for—some alive, some not so much—a family of which I was quite grateful some were alive, some not so much, and an in with one of the most powerful beings in the universe, Reyes Alexander Farrow, the part-human, part-supermodel son of Satan.
Thus, as the grim reaper, I understood dead people. Their sense of timing pretty much sucked. Not a problem. But this being woken up in the middle of the night by a living, breathing being who had her nails sharpened regularly at World of Knives was just wrong.
I slapped at the hands like a boy in a girl fight, then continued to slap air when my intruder rushed away to invade my closet. Apparently, in high school, Cookie had been voted Person Most Likely to Die Any Second Now. Despite an overwhelming desire to scowl at her, I couldn’t quite muster the courage to pry open my eyes. Harsh light filtered through my lids anyway. I had such a serious wattage issue.
Then again, maybe I’d died. Maybe I’d bit it and was floating haplessly toward the light like in the movies.
“… I’m not kidding.…”
I didn’t feel particularly floaty, but experience had taught me never to underestimate the inconvenience of death’s timing.
“… for real, get up.”
I ground my teeth together and used all my energy to anchor myself to Earth. Mustn’t … go into … the light.
“Are you even listening to me?”
Cookie’s voice was muffled now as she rummaged through my personal effects. She was so lucky my killer instincts hadn’t kicked in and pummeled her ass to the ground. Left her a bruised and broken woman. Groaning in agony. Twitching occasionally.
“Charley, for heaven’s sake!”
Darkness suddenly enveloped me as an article of clothing smacked me in the face. Which was completely uncalled for. “For heaven’s sake back,” I said in a groggy voice, wrestling the growing pile of clothes off my head. “What are you doing?”
“Getting you dressed.”
“I’m already as dressed as I want to be at—” I glanced at the digits glowing atop my nightstand. “—two o’clock in the freaking morning. Seriously?”
“Seriously.” She threw something else. Her aim being what it was, the lamp on my nightstand went flying. The lampshade landed at my feet. “Put that on.”
But she was gone. It was weird. She rushed out the door, leaving an eerie silence in her wake. The kind that makes one’s lids grow heavy, one’s breathing rhythmic, deep, and steady.
I jumped out of my skin at the sound of Cookie’s screeching and, having flailed, almost fell out of bed. Man, she had a set of lungs. She’d yelled from her apartment across the hall.
“You’re going to wake the dead!” I yelled back. I didn’t deal well with the dead at two in the morning. Who did?
“I’m going to do more than that if you don’t get your ass out of bed.”
For a best-friend-slash-neighbor-slash-dirt-cheap-receptionist, Cookie was getting pushy. We’d both moved into our respective apartments across the hall from each other three years ago. I was fresh out of the Peace Corps, and she was fresh out of divorce court with one kid in tow. We were like those people who meet and just seem to know each other. When I opened my PI business, she offered to answer the phone until I could find someone more permanent, and the rest is history. She’s been my slave ever since.
I examined the articles of clothing strewn across my bedroom and lifted a couple in doubt. “Bunny slippers and a leather miniskirt?” I called out to her. “Together? Like an ensemble?”