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The sound of the alarm clock reverberated in Nick’s mind. He groaned as he reached over and tapped the snooze. His eyes slowly opened and he found himself looking at the numbers on the clock. “Four in the morning,” he said while letting out a yawn. Why in heavens name did he have to get up this early? Then he remembered he had an early appointment and struggled to pull himself from his bed. He walked, stumbled mostly to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror. He splashed his face with water and looked at himself.
His silver blue eyes cast a hard gaze at his patrician facial features. His sandy blonde hair was messed up from tossing and turning all night in his pitiful attempt at sleep. He yawned once more and got in to the shower. The cold water attacked his skin like tiny icicles, but achieved the desired effect; he was wide awake now.
Minutes later he was in his kitchen sipping on his coffee while checking his appointment book on his laptop. He looked up at the clock and groaned. He grabbed his car keys, ready to start his day. Pushing the alarm button on his car, he had almost reached for the door when his cell phone rang. He frowned when he heard Mozart’s ‘Death Requiem’, the ringtone he had for the office.
He nodded to himself when he heard the raspy voice from the other line. At times he wondered if it would be possible to receive all his instructions through text just to avoid listening to his boss. “No chance,” he thought, “It had taken a near miracle for the old man to upgrade to computers and cell phones.”
“Timothy Evans,” He read from my palm pilot, “getting the information now.”
“I am on my way.” Nick said before realizing the connection had been cut.
Getting into his Ford Focus he got comfortable in his seat and was on his way.
Turning from MacArthur Drive he looked at the deserted city streets in the predawn hours. At least, he mused, this street has sidewalks. Orange was a great many things, he thought, a bustling metropolis, was not one of them. Three sets of lights later he was at his destination. He got out and gazed at McDonald’s. He merely shook his head. “Why does it always seem to be at McDonald’s?”
He looked up at the gray sky as if to look for guidance and walked in.
Once inside, Nick shuddered at the hospital like look of the restaurant. The grays and bright white gave it a waiting room look. Nick chuckled at the irony of a McDonald’s looking like a doctor’s waiting room. He glanced at the scoreboard looking menu above the front counter.
A disinterested teen looked made her way to the front register and gave nick a half smile. “Can I help you?”
Nick gave a lopsided smile and gave a quick glance at her name badge. “May I, Ladonna, May I.”
She frowned and said rudely, “You want something?”
Nick glanced at his cell phone and realized he did not have much time.
“You want regular or the McCafe?” Ladonna said starring at her fingernails.
“A dollar, eight.” Ladonna said, reaching for the Styrofoam cup. He handed her the money and she placed the cup in front to him. He stared at her back as she turned to walk back to wherever she had come from.
“Have a nice day.” He said sarcastically. She turned around, gave him a rude look and mouthed, “Whatever.”
He made his way over to get his coffee when he saw his appointment walk in. Tim Evans, dressed in a business suit looked the part of the arrogant lawyer. Tim looked to be in his later forties, slightly balding with graying hair. His midsection had expanded, Nick surmised, by one too many visits to places like this and not enough visits to the gym. Still, Tim walked as if he were a god on earth. Nick slowly poured his coffee and waited.
Nick looked on with amusement as Tim went through the same quality service he did. Soon Tim made his way over to the coffee pot. Nick looked at the tray he was carrying, four sausage biscuits and two hash browns, not to mention the pile of jelly and butter. Nick just shook his head in wonder.
Tim beamed at Nick, “Morning Nick.” He reached for the coffee pot, “I don’t usually see you here.”
Nick shrugged, “I’m meeting someone.”
Tim took a big gulp of his coffee and refilled it before turning to walk to sit down, Nick walked with him. In a far corner of the lobby, the two settled into opposite sides of a booth. Tim quickly unwrapped one of the biscuits and applied large doses of jelly and butter to it. He took a bite and made a happy groan.
“This is the breakfast of champions.” He said with a full mouth. He looked at nick, “You should get one.”
Nick made a face, “Coffee’s good. You seem to be in a good mood.”
Tim swallowed and reached for the coffee. “it is a very good day.”
“It’s the first day of my new life.” Tim said proudly. Nick smiled as Tim went on, “Divorce becomes final today. And today I make partner in the law firm.”
Nick nodded in approval. “Nice.”
Tim smiled bigger as he reached for another sausage biscuit. “And I have a date with the cute new secretary of mine. Dinner,” he gave a lecherous smile as he took a bite, “and possibly breakfast too.”
Nick could think of nothing to say as he watched Tim devour his meal and talk, he heard his cell phone chime. Looking down, he noted that it was time. Tim looked over questioningly at Nick, “A call?”
Nick pushed a button and shook his head, “alarm.”
Tim reached for another biscuit, “Oh.”
Nick just shook his head, “I really wouldn’t if I were you.”
Tim shrugged and smiled, “need my energy.”
He took a huge bite and began to chew. His eyes bulged momentarily as he felt an intense pain in his chest. He looked over to Nick, concerned. Nick was just calmly looking back. Tim felt his eyes water as the pain intensified and then was gone as quickly as it came. He reached for his coffee, but it was gone. Surprised he looked down and noticed that the tray was gone as well. He looked up surprised and noticed that although Nick was still sitting across from him, they were in a booth on the other side of the lobby.
“What-“ he started to say before he noticed the commotion on the other side of the lobby. Where he could swear they were sitting just seconds ago. He looked hard at Nick with a questioning gaze. Nick merely shrugged, “I told you that you should have not had that last one.”
Tim shot up and walked over to the commotion. He saw that there were several EMTs huddled around someone. Funny, he thought he did not remember an ambulance pulling in; but, sure enough he looked up to see one with its lights on sitting in the parking lot. He edged closer.
He saw himself lying on the floor. He heard as the EMTs conversed to each other.
Tim looked over and saw Nick still calmly sitting, sipping on his coffee.
He rushed over and looked at him, ‘Nick, what in god’s name is going on?”
Nick looked over at Tim, the corpse, then at the spirit.
Tim sank back into the chair in front of him, “But…”
Nick sat the cup down, “You just had a massive heart attack.”
Tim looked hard at him, “How come I can talk to you. How come you can see me?” Tim stopped and looked at Nick, “Who or what are you?”
“Nikolai Stewart.” He replied, “we’ve know each other for years.”
Tim made an angry face, “I know that. What are you?”
Nick nodded, “Spiritual Collections.”
Tim looked at him, “what?”
Nick sighed, “This was getting old,” he thought, “I can’t wait till the next team meeting. The new titles could use some work.”
He looked over at the EMTs as they hoisted Tim’s body onto a stretcher. He looked at Tim, “I am here to take your soul on to the afterlife.”
Nick shrugged, “I guess you could call me death.”
Tim made a shocked face and gave a nervous laugh. “You’re the Grim Reaper?”
Nick looked at his cell phone and glanced at the time. “Not ‘the’ Grim Reaper, but yes, we used to have the titles of reaper.”
Nick stood up, “I’ll explain in the car, we must be going.”
Tim looked at him, “So I’m going to hell?”
“Not my department,” Nick shot back, “but you aren’t going anywhere if we don’t hurry.”
“I’m staying,” Tim said, “I’m not ready to die.”
“Too late.” Nick said in a huff, “Look, if you don’t come with me, you’ll be trapped here haunting kid’s happy meals for eternity.”
Nick shot a look over to Ladonna who was talking on her cell phone, “Not that some people here couldn’t use a bit of a haunting.”
He looked back at Tim, “Let’s go.”
With a defeated look, Tim followed.
Tim looked at Nick’s Focus, “Boy not what I expected.”
“And that is?”
Time shrugged, “A team of screaming horses with a headless driver?” He looked over the roof of the small black Focus, “I don’t know; something a little more dramatic.”
Nick smiled, “It serves its purpose. Plenty of head room and space for multiple collections.” Nick opened the door, “Besides, you ever try parking a horse drawn carriage? It does tend to stand out these days.”
Tim got in and looked over in amazement as Nick fastened his seat belt. He stifled a laugh as the car started up and they left unnoticed.
As they darted into traffic, Tim asked, “Collections?”
Nick rolled his eyes, “It all happened a few years ago.”
“The bossman thought that the Death image was getting a bad rap with all the vampire and demon movies and stories coming.” He remarked, “That and at times it was embarrassing to have spirits run and hide because of the black robes and the reaper.”
Nick sighed thinking back, “So it was decided to take on a more corporate style. A sort of restructuring if you will.”
“So Death talked to the several powers that be.”
“Powers that be?” Tim asked, “you mean God and Satan, right?”
“In part,” Nick said, “There is also Allah, and Zeus and Odin just to name a few; and of course Hades.”
Tim looked confused, Nick answered, “Not everyone has the same afterlife.”
Nick continued, “Anyway, there was a sort of merger of certain duties; downsizing and restructuring.”
Nick let out a painful groan, “And of course all of the ‘Team’ building meetings and seminars. I think Satan and Hades went nuts with the number of lawyers and corporate people they loaned Death for the task.”
The car came to a red light, “Anyway that is how it worked.” The car accelerated when the light turned green. “And with new duties came new titles. Reapers become Collection Specialists. Saint Peter outsourced and we then had Transit Associates to look over your records and make sure you went to the right afterlife.”
He turned down Green Avenue and headed to an older part of downtown. “And that is where we are headed.”
Tim shook his head, “But how come I know you?’
Nick smiled, “There is no way Death could collect all the spirits at once. Too big a job. So there are regions. I am responsible for the Greater Orange Area. If you were supposed to die, say north of Interstate Ten, then Bob would have collected you.”
“You know, Bob Slidell.” Nick answered, “You golf with him on weekends at the country club.”
“How come we can see you?”
“Along time ago it was decided that a friendly face helped our job.” Nick shrugged as the car stopped; he turned on his turn signal, waiting for a chance to turn. “By being neighbors and friends, you aren’t as reluctant or scared to pass over. Think of us as insurance adjustors after a hurricane.”
He said with a sarcastic smile, “You’re in good hands.”
The car turned down a vacated street and stopped in front of an old brick building. Tim looked out at it. “But this is a vacant lot.” He looked back at Nick, “At least it was yesterday.”
Nick looked over at him, “It is vacant if you are alive.”
The passenger door opened. Nick motioned for Tim to get out. “Here’s your stop. Through those doors and they’ll get you taken care of. You may recognize the Transit associate; she’s your old secretary. Sally.”
Tim gasped, “Sally was murdered years ago.”
Nick smiled, “I know her jealous husband killed her because she was having an affair. Then he shot himself. I understand that even in death he swears he will get the bastard who she was sleeping with”
Tim paled and looked back at Nick. Nick gave an annoyed look, “Oh yeah, I almost forgot. “
Nick made a bored face and in monotone voice remarked, “We know that you have many choices for your soul collection. We thank you for choosing Death Incorporated.”
With that the door closed and Nick drove off. He picked up his cell.
“Sally, you have a drop off. You’ll love this one”
“Okay, I am on my way for my next appointment.”
He sighed, “It’s gonna be a long day.”
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