- and the -
Kingston Raine had been dead for three years now and the afterlife was finally living up to his expectations. Business was thriving, death was no longer tapping on his shoulder at every turn, and the fate of everyone he knew no longer rested in his hands. The only downside was that immortality had killed every sense of urgency. When he was alive, he could have flown to New York or Rio de Janiero at a moment’s notice while being chased by hit men who prided themselves on being the ghosts of the underworld. This now earned a smile from Kingston as the actual underworld had no ghosts of any kind within it.
He waited by his office window on Anubis Avenue until he watched his girlfriend, Joanna York, step out from an alley and follow their first client of the day down the street. The poor sap didn’t even look over his shoulder to see if anyone was tailing him. He simply strolled away with his head in the clouds and his hands stuffed in his pockets.
Kingston had deliberately delayed Gerald in the hope that it would force him to hurry out of the building and reveal whoever he met with after every appointment. So far this was his sixth time hiring Kingston. Given his awkward nature, it never appeared like it was Gerald’s idea to keep coming back.
A hundred clients in a month, and they’re all struggling to come up with cases for us to investigate, Kingston thought. He daydreamed of the moment when he could set the trap, line them up, and grab them all in one go. Then ... well, then he’d probably be broke again. Considering that he, Joanna, John, and Catalina were four of Limbo’s premier private investigators, it might be a little off putting to future clients if he set a trap for everyone who came to them with a case.
Aside from working together, the one thing that united the foursome in infamy was that they were the only people in all of reality to come from a uniquely different plane of existence: Fiction. Every other human came from Life, passed through Limbo, and were mostly sorted into Hell. Unfortunately for Kingston he was now as dead as everyone else, having been accidentally killed by Death and brought to pseudo-life despite lacking a soul. This posed quite the dilemma for Death as Kingston’s existence — being entirely fictional — broke several fundamental laws of the realms. So far, though, Kingston had managed to keep his head down and not stir up too much trouble in the afterlife ... other than thwarting a coup which would’ve topped the Grim Reaper, and helping Hell’s most dangerous prisoner escape Satan’s clutches. Aside from all that, he had stayed largely out of trouble.
As he watched Gerald slip out of sight he couldn’t shake the feeling that all of his cases were connected. Death would have no need to keep him that busy, but Satan would. There was nothing quite as exhilarating as knowing that one of the most powerful beings in all of creation had it in for him. It also required a certain finesse to screw Satan for all he was worth. Kingston dug out his trusty silver coin and flipped it into the air. So far it had landed on tails twelve days in a row. Even John couldn’t believe that level of consistency and insisted that Kingston was flipping it wrong. At last, the far-too-lucky-for-Satan coin finally landed on heads.
“Well then, today’s the day Death finds out about Satan’s spies.”
The moment Kingston opened his office door he came face to face with Mrs Akerman. She offered a courteous smile. “Good morning.”
Kingston’s mood reached the top of the scale in a split second. “Mrs Akerman! How are the students today?”
“Oh, good. Good.”
“No complaints then? No one giving you a little cheek?”
“A little ...? No, no cheek from the students.” She watched him deadbolt his office door. “Are you done for the day?”
“Ha! I wish. Just tying up some loose ends for an hour or so.”
“Ah. Must be nice having a flexible schedule like that.”
“It really is,” said Kingston. “But right now I have a case of a hungry stomach and a neglected girlfriend.”
Mrs Akerman arched her head to one side. “Oh dear.”
Kingston nodded. “It means I’m hungry and I’m about to have lunch with Joanna.”
Mrs Akerman pulled her head back upright. “I thought you had loose ends?”
“And will she ever agree with you on that one,” muttered Kingston.
“Oh. Well ... do say hello to her for me.”
“I will. Enjoy your day, Mrs Akerman.”
The middle-aged woman retreated into her classroom across from Kingston’s office. This was now forty three days in a row where Mrs Akerman greeted him in the corridor just as he was leaving. He had neighbours on either side of him and he had met them just once or twice since moving in. But Mrs Akerman? Everyday. And she would never let him leave without trying to find out where he was going.
As Kingston left the building he glanced across to the alleyways to see if anyone was lurking in the shadows. He looked over the windows above to see if someone was keeping tabs on him from behind a curtain. The street seemed clear enough, so Kingston headed to Thanatos Square to meet John, Catalina, and, when she was done following Gerald, Joanna for lunch.
John and Catalina were already seated within Café Edele. To Kingston’s surprise, Joanna was there as well. He walked over as Joanna was still fine tuning the placement of her glass and cutlery beyond café standards.
Joanna had followed Kingston into Limbo when she was twenty nine and hadn’t aged a day since then. She was tall, brunette, lithe, and found it was easier to rescue people on the back of dragons than on horses.
Catalina hailed from Catalonia and routinely danced around her apartment in a red bathrobe and fluffy koala slippers. John did his best to capture these moments in his energetic watercolour phase. This usually made a mess on the floor. John drew more attention in a crowd than anyone else as he stood seven feet tall, was broad chested, and was famous for punching four thousand of Hell’s bounty hunters who had invaded Limbo. It was a feat that he actually had nothing to do with, but that didn’t stop him from being famous for doing it.
“There he is!” boomed John.
Kingston pulled out a stool to their high table and shot Joanna a queried smile. “I take it Gerald teleported away?”
Joanna waved her hand in the air. “The moment he turned the corner. By then I was ten seconds away from this place.”
“How was he?”
“Almost as pointless as they come,” said Kingston, as he unbuttoned his jacket. “He wants to know who turned up to his funeral forty years ago.”
“Pfft,” spluttered Catalina. “Way to go living in the past. At least he had a funeral.”
“Does he want to also know how quickly everyone’s lives returned to normal?” asked John.
Kingston nodded. “I told him that would be hard to prove beyond anecdotal evidence.”
“I could prove it with a venn diagram,” said John. “‘These are all the people you know, these are all the ones who turned up, these are all the ones who went to your funeral out of some sense of obligation.’”
“Just lie to him,” said Joanna. “Tell him they mourned for months, it was overcast for weeks, and they all named their kids after him.”
“I would like to be less sarcastic than that,” said Kingston.
Catalina raised herself up as the waiter walked by with something that resembled a battered cod. He kept walking. Catalina slumped back as her stomach growled in betrayal. “How was Mrs Akerman?”
“Her usual ditzy self,” said Kingston. “In related news, something finally happened.”
John nodded as he strained to figure it out. “You did your coin flippy thing?”
“Yep,” said Kingston. “We finally have a winner.” He clapped his hands together, then he wondered if he had missed telling them something vital as no one else seemed to be as elated by this news as he was. “It came up heads.”
“It should’ve come up heads a week ago,” said John.
“And you should have told Michelle last month,” said Joanna.
Catalina watched another waiter walk by. “Oh, come on!”
John leaned in and whispered, “They were here before us.”
Kingston settled down as lunch was clearly a higher priority to everyone than busting Satan’s spying-on-them ring. He looked to Joanna. “What am I having?”
Joanna shrugged. “No idea. John ordered before I got here.”
“The Chef’s Special,” said John, with a proud nod.
Kingston looked to the front of the café and read the chalkboard menu. Apparently the Chef’s Special was grilled chicken served with feta cheese and roasted apple, along with grilled gnocchi and assorted vegetables. He bowed his head at John in approval.
A waitress arrived with a tray of drinks. “Here we go. One cappuccino, one chai latte, one guava juice, and a tankard of mocha.”
John grabbed the tankard and warmed his hands around the base. “So! How’s tomorrow looking for Cat and I?”
Kingston pulled out a sheet of paper from his jacket pocket and clicked his purple pen three times to signal that he was ready. “Full line-up starting at midday. We have seven new clients, four returns, and wrapping up six cases from last week.” Kingston ran the tip of his pen down just a hair’s breadth from the page. “John?”
“Azer Kahsta. How’s that one going?”
“Almost done,” said John, followed by a quick blow into the foam of his drink. “He insisted that he returned the book to the library but they maintain that he did not. Upon investigation I found that a friend of his, Kerrel, she works in Supplies, borrowed the book from Azer and he thought she borrowed something else. This completely slipped his mind. Criminally, Kerrel has not even started reading the book she borrowed. I sent her a note and she promises to return it to Azer tomorrow. He might be able to return the book also tomorrow.” John rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. “Kerrel’s tomorrow, because I think she gets up at 2 a.m.”
“Isn’t that most people’s tomorrow?” asked Kingston.
John nodded as he tried to work out an exception to the rule.
That left Joanna to mutter to herself. “Is this really the calibre of people Satan uses to keep us busy?”
“It’s because he’s scared of us,” said Kingston, with something of a regal smile to cheer them all up.
“The Devil is amusing himself by toying with us,” said Catalina. “That’s never a good thing.”
Two waiters arrived with their meals. Catalina perked up at the best smelling cod in the realm and she did her best to eat at human speed instead of gorging herself like she wanted to do. Still, she had three mouthfuls of food in her before anyone else had even taken their first bite.
Joanna arched an eyebrow at Catalina. “You hungry there, Cat?”
“Can’t talk. Eating.”
“We went dancing last night,” said John. “We planned on being out for an hour and a half, stayed for five.” He turned and whispered to Catalina. “And remember how I suggested you have more than just juice for breakfast?”
“Well, I wasn’t hungry then,” said Catalina.
“Now I’m thinking you better order some buffer chips because your lasagne is asking for it.”
John sliced off some of his dinner and passed it over to his girlfriend. Kingston looked on in wonder as it was the first time he had ever seen John order just a single serving.
“Did you have a big breakfast or something?”
John shied away with a look of embarrassment. “Honestly? I think I went a little overboard.”
Kingston and Joanna shared an amused grin. They were familiar with the everyday version of ‘overboard’, but that was just an uneventful day for John. “Let’s hear it,” said Kingston.
“I’ve learned how to make hashbrowns,” said John.
Joanna smiled in return. “I daresay there was a side of eggs and bacon?”
“Eggs, bacon, toast, sausages, beans, mushrooms, apples, bananas, orange juice, coffee ...” He glanced over to Catalina and caught her with a fork in her mouth.
Catalina’s eyes darted across the three people looking at her. “Wha?”
“I just remembered there’s a plate of crepes in the oven.”
Catalina pulled the fork out of her mouth and swallowed a mouthful of fish. “Is the oven on?”
“No. But they were going to be a surprise for you when you got back from class.”
“Aww, my love! You made me crepes?”
“Yeah. I guess they’ll be waiting for us when we get home.”
“Dessert!” cried Catalina, before dancing a little jig on her stool.
Joanna looked over to Kingston. “I have that meeting this afternoon with the bank.”
Kingston nodded and glanced up to the ceiling. “Chances are you will be speaking with Sebastian Burrows. He will be all business and he’s not all that impressed with fame and stardom.”
“That’ll be a relief,” said Joanna. “Three years here and all people want to do is ask me about you.”
“Then it’s a good thing I’m not co-signing this loan.”
“Very good indeed, given your credit rating.”
Kingston dug into his grilled chicken and lazily looked back to the list of clients. Joanna bit down on her lower lip, having just caught Kingston stealing a look at her legs.
John glanced up from his meal, wiped his lips with a napkin, and studied the pair sitting opposite him with great care. “Kingston?”
“Old pal of mine?”
John waved his finger between Kingston and Joanna. “You two are doing that secret conversation thing again.”
John jutted his jaw forward. “Explain.”
Kingston and Joanna checked to see who would go first.
“Stop stalling,” said John.
“Ladies first,” said Kingston.
Joanna smiled across the table. “We’ve kinda just bought a building on the other side of town.”
“A small one?” asked Catalina.
“No, it’s pretty big, actually. Twelve storeys.”
“You what?” spluttered John.
“I know! And it’s all thanks to Satan swamping us with cases.”
John and Catalina both held their breaths as they were quite familiar with just how exceptionally slow Kingston and Joanna were at learning from previous business disasters. They also hesitated as this impending doom was likely going to involve them as well.
Joanna did her best to fill them in. “Last week I met with the vice president from the business commission. They’re so desperate for people to take the empty buildings off their hands that they’re starting a new price-matching campaign. Based on our workload right now and the number of clients we have coming in, we can get a fixed loan from the bank at half price, at a great rate, and with a delayed reimbursement policy. I had to double and triple check to see if it was true because it sounded a little too good to believe.”
“Uh huh,” said John.
“But it is! Last night I signed a deposit for a place on Luvien Way. The business commission approved it this morning so I’m taking their authorisation to the bank today. With one quick signature, the building will officially be ours.”
“Wait a sec ...” John turned to Kingston. “You’re about to tell Death about Satan’s spy ring and break it up?”
John moved back to Joanna. “And you’re about to start a business venture that requires all the money that’s coming from Satan.”
“I know how it sounds.”
“Gooooood. So what am I missing?”
“Nothing,” said Kingston. “The rent there is cheap, we can move out of our dinky little office on Anubis, and hire out the rest of the building to whomever we like.”
“Is the building currently empty for a reason?”
“’Cause it might be a little cursed.”
John and Catalina shared a nervous smile.
“I’m kidding! Jeez.”
Kingston winced as Joanna had been closer to the truth the first statement.
Catalina sprung from her stool and threw her arms around Joanna. “Congratulations!”
John reached across the table and shook Kingston’s hand. “Well done.”
“Thank you,” said Kingston. “We’ve run the numbers. We can do it even without Satan’s money. It’s a fantastic space. You could fit four two bedroom apartments in there.”
John ran a finger over the table as he tried to map that out. “Four two bedrooms ...” Then John and Catalina both read between the lines and caught the resigned look on their friends’ faces. All at once the joy around the table fell into the start of a long goodbye.
“You’re moving in there as well, aren’t you?” asked Catalina.
Joanna gave the pair a pained nod, as this was the moment when she had to win them over with rather delicate news. “We pretty much have to. We can’t afford it otherwise.”
“You’re going to live in your office?” asked John.
“Next to it,” said Kingston.
Catalina looked away for a moment as a ball of tension built in her chest. “We’re not going to be neighbours anymore?”
“You can move in as well!” said Joanna. She looked over to Kingston for encouragement.
“Of course,” said Kingston. “Joanna and I talked it over last week when this idea first became possible. There is plenty of space right now. Well, not right now, there’s no bathroom. A toilet, yes, but no actual bath or shower.” He noted that John and Catalina did not instantly scream ‘yes’.
“There is a kitchen,” said Joanna.
“And you’ll save a lot of money if you move in with us.”
“Get you out of that small apartment and into something bigger,” said Joanna.
“But, either way, yes, we — the two of us — are moving.”
“You can obviously have a think about the offer,” said Joanna.
“Well, that’s a relief,” said John. Even he started to slump over at the prospect of a painful farewell. “When does this all happen?”
“We still have to book the renovators,” said Joanna. “But I picked up the keys to the new place this morning, so it’s unofficially ours already.”
John sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and forced a smile to the surface. “Well then; congratulations! It sounds like you two are moving up in the world.”
“Thank you,” said Kingston, with a slight bow. Inside, though, his heart was beating faster than usual as he realised that his daydream of still being a united team had just been hit by one hell of a blow. He only hoped that John and Catalina would be won over when they saw the new office, like how it happened last week with Kingston and Joanna.
“So how’s that debt with the bank treating you?” asked John.
“It used to be crushing, but it has improved a lot thanks to Satan largely funding our business,” said Kingston. Catalina shuddered at the sound of the name.
John drew in a deep breath and winced. “So, what with all of this good fortune coming your ... our way, do you still think it’s a good idea to tell Michelle that Satan is spying on us?”
Kingston nodded. “It’s something she should know about.”
“And if the detective business dries up as a result?”
“We won’t be screwed, but ...”
“But you will have pissed off Satan,” said John.
“Again,” added Catalina. “And he does like to meddle in Limbo.”
“Which does not bode well for a business on the move,” said John.
Joanna took over. “The sooner we get out from under his shadow, the sooner we can actually walk down the street without being paranoid that the next case we get will lead us straight to Hell.”
Kingston nodded. “And that’s the main focus here; avoiding anything that sends us to Hell.”
“And you have to tell Michelle today?” asked John.
“The coin has spoketh,” said Kingston.
“I think I know what to get you for Christmas,” said John. “A coin that says, ‘Don’t piss off Satan’ on both sides.”
Catalina shuddered again. She was quickly met with an empty plate and wondered how her food managed to disappear. “Buffer chips. Now.”
“Yes, my love,” said John.
For the first time in recent memory, Death was lying on his sofa, enjoying a book while sipping on a margarita. He was trialling a new initiative within Death Inc. where employees were chosen at random to take part in a think tank. They were instructed to go over every unresolved issue within the company and were rewarded with paid time off for every problem that remained fixed by the end of the following year. The think tank was twelve hours old and Death had dumped them with everything that had been sitting on his desk.
Michelle knocked on his door.
“Don’t tell me the ending!” cried Death.
Michelle turned the handle and peered inside. At first she looked over to her boss’ desk and was puzzled that he wasn’t there. “Sir?”
“I’m halfway through Ragtime Tuesday. Do not tell me anything about the book!”
Michelle looked over to the sofa. “Sir, I ...”
“Shhh! Not a word about the ending. I’m trying to figure out who the murderer is.”
Michelle stared back at her boss. “Grim?”
Death stiffened when he heard Michelle’s tone. He promptly lowered the open book to his chest. “Yes?”
“Harriet is here with a recently departed gentleman.”
Death shifted his focus and peered through his wall. Standing by Michelle’s desk was a short woman looking guilty and a gaunt man with a loose sense of balance who tried to take in all of his surroundings at once. “His name?”
Death shook his head. “I am not familiar with him.”
“He’s not famous,” said Michelle. “Harriet tells me it’s how he died and who killed him that deserves some attention.”
He recognised a great deal of concern in Michelle’s eyes. But it was a second-hand concern, as though Harriet was the one who was deeply troubled and Michelle was simply empathic enough to relay the urgency to her boss. Death stood up, placed a bookmark at page 297, rebuttoned the top of his shirt and fixed his tie.
He stepped out to meet Harriet, who was a frumpy middle aged woman with brown hair who happened to be wearing a cheerfully colourful top. Next to her was a sickly thin man of forty, with greasy hair and a stubble beard which was several days old. He wore jeans and a cheap jacket. Harriet and Filmore were as mismatched as a hippy’s wardrobe. Now that the Grim Reaper had joined them, they all appeared downright ridiculous since Death looked like he could bench press a rhino without breaking a sweat. He came forward and greeted his visitors while Michelle listened in from beside her desk.
“Harriet, it’s good to see you again.”
“Yes, sir,” said Harriet. She held onto Filmore’s file with such force that it buckled beneath her fingers. “Sir, this is Filmore Jameson, one of the recently departed—”
“So I’ve heard.”
“It’s the manner in—”
“In which he died, yes.”
“How he ... which he died that has me concerned. You see—”
Death held up his hand, smiled gratefully at Harriet and turned to Filmore. “Filmore, how did you die?”
Michelle looked over and was perplexed by the man standing by her desk. She had worked in Limbo for eight hundred years and never before had she seen anyone as forewarned as Filmore. Almost all of the recently departeds threw themselves head-first into hysterics when they realised their end had finally come. The ones who weren’t at all surprised to see the afterlife were usually still too drunk to figure out what had just happened to them. The troubling thing was, Filmore was drunk, yet he looked as though he knew exactly where he was and who he was talking to.
“I died in a bar,” grumbled Filmore. “I have a message.”
“Let’s hear it,” said Death.
“‘Tell Lucifer he has a son. Meet me in Times Square at noon on the tenth of November.’” Filmore held back a burp.
Michelle glanced over to Death. He seemed unconcerned with the news for the time being. Michelle, on the other hand, now had to find a way to keep herself from falling into an uncontrolled eruption of panic.
Death looked back to Harriet. “May I see his file, please?”
Harriet handed it across. Death opened it up and read through every sheet in under a second. He promptly handed it back. “Thank you. Filmore, you are not a religious man.”
“No,” said Filmore.
“You have no history of mental illness.”
“No,” said Filmore.
“You were not hallucinating.”
“You were sober for twenty years until a few days ago.”
Filmore looked to the floor as a world of guilt started to swallow him whole. “Yes.”
“And yet you died in a bar.”
Death nodded to himself as the mysteries started to line themselves up one by one. “I am now interested in everything you have to say.”
Filmore stole a glance at Harriet. She nodded for him to proceed. “Like I was telling Harriet, I was doing okay. I mean, I’ve been out of work for two years, but I was doing okay. Then, last month, my wife and daughter died in a car crash. Even then, I was doing okay. Not had a drink in twenty years. Last week, I’m eating toast and reading through the latest rejection emails about jobs I don’t qualify for, and my wife is standing in the middle of the apartment.”
Michelle arched an eyebrow at that.
Death remained impassive. “Go on.”
“This ghost of her tells me three things. First, and most importantly: ‘Tell Lucifer he has a son. Meet me in Times Square at noon on the tenth of November.’ Second: the word ‘Ina.’”
At the sound of that, Michelle gasped.
“Keep it together Michelle,” said Death.
Harriet looked on in confusion while Michelle tried to find something on her desk that would hold her attention.
Filmore continued. “And third: ‘Drink up my sweet. Drink everything you can and we can be together again.’”
Death nodded and turned to Michelle. “I need to see the reaper Marcus, immediately.”
Death turned to Harriet. “Have you mentioned this to anyone else?”
Harriet quickly shook her head. “No, sir. I just told Gloria that I had to see you.”
“Okay. Michelle? We need to see Gloria as well.”
“And I told the statues outside,” mumbled Harriet.
“Bring the statues inside, got it.”
Filmore saw a burst of panic in Michelle, but he still couldn’t fully grasp what was going on. “I want to say that wasn’t Clara.”
“Oh, I know,” said Death, with a calming nod.
“That wasn’t her voice.”
“I believe you.”
“She never called me ‘my sweet.’”
“I still believe you.”
“And she would never have told me to drink up.”
Death did his best to smile at Filmore in the hope that it would quieten him down but with, Michelle scrambling at her desk it was quite obvious that any sense of calm was a distant fantasy. “I don’t blame you.”
Filmore’s eyes started to swell up with tears as the effects of one and a half bottles of whiskey continued to hammer into him. Then the realisation of breaking every promise he made to himself to stay away from bars and booze forced a crack in his voice. “Please don’t tell my wife.”
“I won’t,” said Death.
Filmore wondered if he was supposed to leave at that moment. Death simply studied him while Michelle frantically called everyone upstairs. It took a moment to add together some of the clues. Soon, Filmore’s heart dropped into his churning stomach. “You’re not Lucifer, are you?”
Death shook his head. “No, I am not.”
Filmore’s jaw hung open at his epic screw up. “We passed some grim reapers ...”
“I am the Grim Reaper. You can call me Death if you like.”
“Oh,” said Filmore. He looked away to avoid everyone’s eye contact. “Maybe I shouldn’t have told you how I died.”
Death went wide-eyed with relief. “Believe me, the universe is grateful you did.”
The two statue grim reapers lumbered in, slowly.
“Gentlemen, thank you. Everything is under control.”
The two statues nodded, closed their eyes, and lowered their heads. That caused Michelle to gasp again.
Filmore glanced over his shoulder. “What just happened?”
Death smiled at Filmore and Harriet. “Right now I need a cone of silence while Michelle works, okay? I’m just going to get my scythe.” Death slipped back into his office.
Filmore spluttered as a tornado of crisis was building with him caught in the middle of it. “It wasn’t my wife!”
Michelle snapped her fingers. “Seriously, Filmore. Not a sound.”
Filmore looked to Harriet. She drew in one shallow breath after the next and sneered at Filmore as she willed him to maintain the silence.
Death returned, now with his long ivory scythe slung over his shoulder. “Michelle, how are Gloria and Marcus doing?”
“Excellent. When they arrive could you ask them all to wait here for me?”
Stiffly, Michelle nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Harriet was doing everything she could to hold back a shriek of sheer terror.
Death, meanwhile, nodded to Filmore. “Come with me.”
Filmore was met with the sneaky suspicion that he was now being kidnapped. He was also having a problem putting one foot in front of the other as he trundled forward. “Where are we going?”
“To my library,” said Death. He waved Filmore forward. “This way, please.”
Filmore took one final look at Harriet and wished he had kept his big mouth shut. He slumped forward, surrounded by the trauma of never seeing his wife and daughter ever again. Death led him around the corner to his personal apartment on the side of Building One of Death Inc. The apartment was eighteen storeys high and snaked its way through the floors. Most of the workers none the wiser that Death lived just one wall away from them.
Death pushed the main doors open and led Filmore past the marble reception room, down the vaulted corridor, and into the grand library.
“Excuse the mess,” said Death. Filmore found several tables with books and notes stacked haphazardly on top of each other. Boxes and chests had been pushed under each table as though Death would one day get around to sorting through his junk. Three of the walls were filled with books crammed in at odd angles, while the fourth wall was a large sandstone engraving, three metres high by twelve metres long, featuring hundreds of stylised angelic creatures.
Filmore’s jaw fell open at the grandeur before him. He was particularly impressed with the three jade chandeliers hanging overhead. Death, meanwhile, breathed in his guest’s entire aura to get a sense of who Filmore had met, but nothing lingered. Too much time and booze had got the better of the poor New Yorker.
“Am I in trouble?” Filmore asked.
“Yes, but not with me,” said Death. “I will keep you safe.”
Filmore shivered at being uniquely out of place in such a library, let alone a library of this size within an apartment. His eyes darted back to the scythe slung over Death’s shoulder, leaving him to wonder if it had ever been used to disembowel someone. “How long will I be here for?”
“The tenth is three days away. Hopefully I can figure this mess out by then,” said Death.
“Can you figure this mess out by then?”
“Of course,” said Death. His smile did not seem entirely convincing. “Make yourself at home. I have an excellent collection of books and movies. I’d ask that you keep away from the weaponry: they are all real, everything is very sharp, and blood is not that easy to get out of the floorboards.”
Filmore thought back to the woman standing in his apartment. Her words telling him to drink up spiralled through his mind on an endless loop. “I’m dead, right?”
“Yes, you died from choking. So sorry. There are three bathrooms on this floor. They shouldn’t be hard to find. If you come across food, help yourself. In fact, the herb garden is ... one floor down. Nevermind. Just stay on this floor, please.”
Three minutes later, Death led Harriet, Gloria, and Marcus to his private teleportation room where he promptly took them all to the outskirts of Limbo ... and left them there.
Harriet, Gloria, and Marcus took one look at the well-lit and cosy underground sitting room with absolutely no exit. There were no windows, no external doors, and no method of communication could pass in or out of the sitting room.
Marcus, the young grim reaper, groaned as he leaned against the wall. “I’ve heard of this place. The room few return from.”
“Shh!” snapped Gloria.
“And when they do return it’s never soon.”
Harriet glanced over to Marcus and Gloria. Their being here was mostly her fault and soon enough they would blame her for it. “Where are we?”
Marcus ran his hands across his face. “Right on the edge of Limbo is the wilderness. In one little spot on the border are the catacombs. If you follow one of the tunnels far enough you end up here ... which is technically underground, in the wilderness, where no one can teleport in or out without Death’s scythe, and no one can see or hear us by any means possible.”
Gloria shook her head. “The catacombs are not a real place.”
“Oh yeah?” asked Marcus. “Whenever a trouble maker in Limbo gets out of hand, this is where they’re banished to. So, make the most of it because this is the place where they forget about us for a loooooong time.”
Death returned to his office, drew in a deep breath to settle his nerves, and noticed that Michelle was having something of a moment. “Please remain calm.”
“Everything will be normal for the next three days, okay?”
“Keep it together, Michelle.”
“I need you more together than that.”
“He has a son!”
“Michelle? We have three days until the tenth. Three days of calm. Of Zen. We know that nothing will happen in that time. I will go and meet with whoever appeared as Mrs Jameson and see what they have to say.”
Michelle nodded without properly hearing the words, then she stared back at Death. “How do you know what she will look like?”
“I will do the most sensible thing I can; go to Life, find Filmore’s apartment, and hunt down some photos of his wife.”
“Oh. I’ll ... do something with your meetings.”
“Thank you. As far as the realm is concerned, I’m still here.” He noticed that Michelle sat unusually stiffly at her desk. He was met with an unnerving sense that she was about to do something ridiculously stupid. “It’s only three days.”
Death narrowed in on his secretary. “And under no circumstance are you to mention any of this to Kingston Raine.”