EVERY DEATH YOU TAKE
It was a hot morning in mid-July although that may sound a bit redundant.
Guess it depends on where you live. Mid-July might not seem so toasty in Nome, Alaska, but this was downtown Los Angeles. And it was much warmer than usual in the offices of Romero, O'Bannon, Fulci & Flanders. The air-conditioning system hadn't worked properly in the reception area in weeks.
“I'll bet the air conditioner works in Mr. O'Bannon's office”, Trinity Johnson grumbled under her breath as she applied a fresh layer of Barn Shingle Red Nail Polish to her pinky. She blew on it to aid the drying process and then picked up a copy of People Magazine to fan herself with. Her blonde hair was so coated with hair spray that the fanning of the magazine failed to nudge a single strand on her head.
Although the law firm of Romero, O'Bannon, Fulci & Flanders wasn't the most successful law firm in Los Angeles, they weren't at the bottom either. Trinity was aware of at least two other firms in worse shape.
The law office had been much more successful before Mr. Fulci had passed away. And Mr. Romero rarely made it to the office nowadays and, well, to be frank, Mr. Flanders couldn't find his asshole without the help of a basic anatomy book. (And even then it had better use pictures and no fancy terms like rectum and anus.)
Mr. O'Bannon was the only partner in the firm that came in with any regularity. And he usually spent most of his day practicing putting in his office.
She heard the creak of the office's front door, but didn't bother looking up. First things first. Her nails weren't going to paint themselves.
She applied one last coat of polish to her pinky and blew on it again.
Whoever had entered cleared their voice.
“Be right with ya, sweetie,” Trinity promised as she reached to reattach the fingernail bottle cap and applicator.
The visitor spoke.
“I have a 10:13 appointment with Mr. O'Bannon. And I'm in a bit pressed for time. Busy schedule, you know.”
Trinity fumbled with the applicator cap.
“You must be mistaken,” the receptionist said without a glance. “Mr. O'Bannon has no appointments scheduled today. Mr. Flanders has one scheduled for 11:00. However, that one is with a Mrs. Linnea Kroger. Are you Mrs. Kroger's companion?”
“I assure you, young lady, I have a 10:13 with Mr. O'Bannon.”
Trinity sighed in exasperation and finally looked up, ready to inform the visitor he certainly did not have an appointment, but her mouth fell open and not a single word escaped her lips.
Well, other than “aaaghhh” perhaps.
Not to mention she nearly peed her pants.
She opened her mouth again.
“Was that a question?” the visitor inquired.
Trinity felt something wet in her lap and thought for a moment she had peed her pants. But it was just fingernail polish. She obviously hadn’t gotten the cap back on the bottle and blood red nail polish covered the front of her white skirt.
“Okay, now that you have your vocabulary back, I really need to see Mr. O'Bannon.
Her first thought was that the figure before her must be part of some kind of gag. Had Bert or Ernie sent someone over from the costume department at Universal again? The last time it had been a knight in armor. Now that had been sort of cool since the knight had also brought her roses. This was just plain weird and Halloween was months away.
He stood over 6 feet tall, dressed in a black robe flowing down from the hood hiding his face to the well-worn carpet of the reception area. Adding to the effect was a scythe in his right hand, gleaming in the sunlight peeking through grime-covered windows.
Trinity had to admit it was a great costume.
“Ha, ha,” she grinned. “Very funny. Now go tell Bert to go jump in a lake.”
“I have no idea who this Bert character is, my dear. Now I must insist. Would you please check your appointment schedule again?”
Before she could react, he reached across her desk and tapped the enter key on the keyboard of her computer.
Trinity could have sworn, just for a moment, that she saw a skeletal finger press the key. (Nice prop, she thought.) And there must have been some static electricity present as a spark seemed to zap from the finger to the keyboard.
“Ah, there it is,” he said.
Trinity glanced at the computer screen.
Mrs. Linnea Kroger's name was still listed at 11:00 a.m., but now there was another entry above it.
Mr. O'Bannon -- 10:13 - Representative from The Brimstone Corporation.
“How'd you do that?” Trinity asked.
The dark figure shrugged.
This had gone too far.
“I think you'd better leave now,” Trinity insisted with as much bravado as her voice could command. “Or would you rather I call one of our associates.”
“That might be difficult,” the figure replied. “Mr. Romero is in Pittsburgh, Mr. Flanders hasn't arrived yet and Mr. Fulci... well, Mr. Fulci is deceased. I believe he was in Italy at the time. Yes, that's right. I remember him well...”
The specter stretched out a hand that had no flesh and, with bony fingers, pulled a pocket watch from his robe.
“My, my. We only have a couple of minutes, Trinity. (She couldn't remember mentioning her name to him.) Can we get on with this? I have several more appointments before lunch. Well, not that I stop for lunch.”
Trinity's eyes hadn't left the figure's bony hand even as it disappeared back into the sleeve of his robe.
“You can't be serious...”
Her voice was barely a whisper.
“Oh, as serious as... well, death,” he said with an eerie laugh. “Sorry. A little inside joke.”
Trinity hadn’t taken a deep breath for quite some time and finally gasped in a mouthful of stale, hot air. It might have been her imagination, but the taste left in her mouth was reminiscent of leaves decaying in the forest. And maybe, just maybe, a hint of sulphur.
“You're really him, aren't you?” she asked with a quiet, unsteady voice.
“Yep,” he replied. “Death. The Grim Reaper. The Specter of Death. Sandman. Peter Griffin.”
Trinity blinked and, without thinking, asked the question.
“Well, not really,” the figure said. “But I loved that episode of The Family Guy. And I always thought Norm MacDonald was very underrated and unappreciated. Now will you please see if Mr. O'Bannon has a moment? And I assure you, it will only take a moment. But please hurry. Busy schedule you know. Death never takes a holiday.”
She stared at him blankly.
“Fredric March,” he said. “1934 film...”
She continued to stare.
“Oh, never mind,” he said. “People just don't enjoy the classics any more. They'd rather watch things like Beavis and Butt-Head, I guess.”
“Beavis and Butt-Head hasn't been on the air in over ten years,” Trinity informed him and found herself somewhat amazed she was able to carry on a conversation with the specter before her.
“It doesn't really matter, dear child. Now how did we get off the subject? Please inform Mr. O'Bannon I'm here. We're running out of time. I'd hate to show my angry side, Trinity. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.”
“Bill Bixby,” she said. “The Incredible Hulk.”
He looked puzzled.
'Never mind,” she said. “I'll step in and check with Mr. O'Bannon. Intercom's not working. Hasn't worked in months. And the air conditioning has been on the blitz for over a week now. Not to mention...”
Death sighed rather loudly.
“Oh, sorry,” she said. “I tend to talk a lot when I get nervous...”
The Grim Reaper glided over to the reception area's magazine rack as she backed herself towards Mr. O'Bannon's door. She figured it was never a good idea to turn your back on Death.
She watched as he picked up a magazine and flipped it open.
Trinity's knees got a little wobbly when she noticed he was checking out the current issue of Humpty Dumpty magazine. That just didn't seem right. Not when there was a new issue of Maxim right there on the coffee table. Or perhaps Guns and Ammo... but not Humpty Dumpty.
And there was a perfectly good copy of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue sitting there as well.
That somehow made her smile.
It gave new definition to the term “boner”.
She walked backward through the door and didn't turn until she had pulled it closed again. Too bad there wasn't an outside exit from O'Bannon's office. She turned, already jabbering like a loony bird.
“I'm sorry, Mr. O'Bannon. But there's a... well, you see... I never... I was just...”
Mr. O'Bannon was sitting behind his desk with his chair facing a window that revealed a billboard advertising the adult movie theater down the street. (They weren't exactly located in the best part of town.)
He didn't move.
She walked to his desk and tapped him on the shoulder.
She gasped as his head lolled off to one side.
“Omigod, Omigod, Omigod!”
She glanced at the ornate clock on his office wall.
It was 10:10.
Before she had a chance to decide her next move, the office door opened behind her and the black hood of Death's robe peeked through the opening.
“Sorry,” he informed her. “But we're almost out of time.”
Trinity stepped to the side as Death entered the room. He stopped dead in his tracks (no pun intended) as he reached the desk and got a full view of the attorney.
“What is this?” he asked.
“It's Mr. O'Bannon.”
“I know it's Mr. O'Bannon, my dear, but what's wrong with him?”
“Well,” Trinity replied. “He appears to be dead.”
Trinity took another step away from the desk as the Grim Reaper moved closer. She didn't want to accidentally touch him. She wasn't exactly sure how that worked and she wasn't about to take any chances.
Death seemed taken back for a moment.
“You must be mistaken. “
The statement offended her.
“I don't think so. I use to be a candy striper. I know whether somebody's dead or not.”
“No, that's impossible,” Death sputtered with a glance at his pocket watch. “Why it's only 10:13 just now.”
“Well, he's dead,” Trinity said with a bit of courage returning to her voice. “And I didn't do it. He was like that when I came into the room. I swear. Can I go now?”
Death pointed a commanding, bony finger in her direction and shook his head. He began pacing back and forth in front of the dead lawyer's desk. O'Bannon still sat upright in his chair. Death finally reached out with his scythe and nudged him. The attorney, precariously balanced as he was, tipped slowly to his right and finally flopped over onto the floor.
“Shit!” Death uttered. “He really is dead, isn't he?”
“That's what I tried to tell you,” Trinity said in exasperation.
The Grim Reaper paced back and forth a few more times and eventually wandered back into the receptionist's area. Trinity followed at a distance and waited patiently for an escape route.
“This doesn't make any sense,” Death mused. “You sure you didn't kill him?”
Trinity looked fittingly shocked.
“Now why the hell would I do that?” she asked.
They were interrupted when the front door to the law office opened and Ted Flanders came strolling in, battered briefcase in hand.
“It's like hell warmed over out there,” he gasped as he straightened his tie with his free hand. “Well, that is if one believes in hell which, of course, I certainly do. How about you, Trinity?”
“More and more every day, sir,” she replied.
Flanders took off his hat and was about to hang it up when he noticed the person dressed in a black robe standing in the receptionist area.
“Oh, I'm sorry. Mrs. Kroger, I presume?”
Trinity thought about it later, and, in the lawyer's defense, the visitor had been wearing what appeared to be a long, black dress.
Flanders strolled across the reception area and grabbed the Grim Reaper's hand before anyone knew what had happened. It was an automatic response for an ambulance chasing lawyer. Flanders, however, was quite surprised when the hand he grabbed was not a hand at all, but the bony fingers of a skeleton.
The surprise, however, was short lived.
Just like the lawyer...
He crumpled to the floor like a stack of old statutes, lying stone-cold dead at the feet of the Grim Reaper.
“Damn,” Death said as he stepped away from the body. “I hate it when that happens!”
And that answered Trinity's earlier question as well.
She stepped further away.
“Who is this?” Death asked with a sigh.
“T... Ted... Flanders,” she stuttered.
And as if the events of the morning hadn't already been surreal, Death reached into his robe and pulled out an iPhone. He began poking at it with a bony index finger.
“Theodore Flanders of 744 Evergreen Terrace?”
“Damn! Damn! Damn!”
He punched at the iPhone again and then held it to the side of his head. (Did he have ears, Trinity wondered?)
“Hello? Yes. I have a Code 666 here.”
He waited as the party on the other end of the conversation replied.
“I know, I'm sorry,” Death apologized. “These things happen.”
He shook his head as he listened to the reply.
“No, it wasn't a used car salesman this time,” he replied. “A lawyer...”
And then laughed.
“That's a good one,” Death grinned. “I'll have to tell the missus that one.”
He paused to listen again.
“Yes, Theodore Emerson Flanders,” he replied.
He paused again.
“Not for another eleven years, huh? Yes, I know. Fill out Forms 104Z, a 10-55 in triplicate and an Incident Report for an Unscheduled Demise. Geez, it'll take days to fill those out.”
“Ha, ha,” he replied. “I know. I have all of eternity, but still...”
“Oh, we may have another problem as well,” he said. “I was sent to collect a Stanley Eugene O'Bannon, but it seems, well, he may have expired before his scheduled departure time. Can I call you back?”
He ended the conversation and slipped the iPhone back into his robe, shifting his scythe from one hand to the other as he did.
“I really need to use the ladies’ room,” Trinity pleaded.
All she really wanted to do was get to the hallway, run like hell to the elevator and never return to this side of town again.
She wondered if Death knew where she lived? Probably. If not, there was probably an app for that somewhere on his iPhone.
“In a minute,” Death replied.
He unconsciously tapped a bony finger against the top of her desk as he thought events through. It was unnerving to say the least.
She thought about running for the front door anyway. She wondered if the Grim Reaper was fast or slow. Who knows? Maybe he was wearing Air Jordans under that robe.
She took a step, but froze as a gurgling sound issued from Mr. O'Bannon's office.
Death heard the sound as well and they turned in unison.
“Ah,” Death said with some relief. “I told you he wasn't dead.”
Mr. O'Bannon moaned again.
“Should I call an ambulance?” Trinity asked.
Death looked at his pocket watch again.
“Silly girl,” he said. “No one here will be needing an ambulance today. Maybe a hearse, but I'll let you worry about that later.”
He spun around on his heels and returned to O'Bannon's office.
Trinity might have been able to run for the front door at that moment, but the thought that Mr. O'Bannon might need her help made the decision to follow the Grim Reaper into the office an easy one.
The moaning lawyer was crawling awkwardly across the carpet toward the door.
Death glanced at his pocket watch.
“Well, better late than never.”
He made a great show of pulling his sleeve away from his right hand. He flexed a bony finger and reached out to touch the moaning lawyer's shoulder.
Not only was O'Bannon not affected by the touch, he actually tried to take a bite out of the Grim Reaper's arm.
The lawyer's teeth caught the fabric of Death's sleeve and ripped a long tear that revealed the Grim Reaper's skeletal arm.
“Damn!” Death sputtered. “And my other robe is at the cleaners!”
He reached out and touched O'Bannon again.
The lawyer continued to crawl along the floor.
“What the...?” Death muttered and reached down to touch him again and again. O'Bannon twitched and then, like some macabre marionette, clamored awkwardly to his feet.
He moaned something and reached for Trinity.
“Bra...a...ains,” O'Bannon said with slurred speech.
“What did he say?” Death sputtered.
“Bra...a...ains,” O'Bannon repeated as if he had actually heard the question.
There was a sudden look of understanding on Trinity's face.
She glanced around quickly until she spotted the lawyer's golf bag in the corner. She grabbed a three iron from the bag (although at the time she didn't know what type of club it was) and swung it in a wide arc through the air. It bounced off the side of Mr. O'Bannon's head and he fell to his knees.
Death seemed confused.
“He's a zombie,” Trinity replied and surprised herself with how calm she was.
“He's a fucking zombie!” Trinity reiterated, her patience growing short. “I've seen enough friggin' zombie movies to know when I'm seeing a zombie, for Christ's sake. Didn't you hear him?”
Death seemed bewildered.
This had definitely not been covered in his indoctrination. Of course, that had been several centuries earlier, but still, he couldn’t recall anyone mentioning anything about zombies.
O'Bannon, only momentarily stunned by the blow from the golf club, was trying to get to his feet again.
“There,” Trinity spat out. “Did you fucking hear it that time?”
She no longer cared whether or not she offended the man in black.
Death, however, had certainly heard it that time and figured enough was enough.
He raised the razor-edged scythe above his head and the blade sang through the stale air of the office as it whished out and neatly lopped O'Bannon's head from his body. The head bounced twice and rolled to a stop against an antique bookshelf in the corner.
Trinity was amazed she didn't scream as blood splashed the front of her blouse.
“There we go,” Death stated emphatically as he lowered the scythe to his side.
“Bra...a...ains,” O'Bannon's head moaned from where it lay near the lawyer's indoor putting green.
“Shit!” Death muttered.
Trinity was tired of the whole ordeal as well.
“You haven't seen many zombie movies, have you?” she asked.
Death lowered his blood covered scythe.
“Movies aren't near as good as they used to be,” he replied. “Besides, I have better things to do with my time.”
“Like watching episodes of The Family Guy?”
The Grim Reaper sighed.
“Do you have a point?”
Trinity pointed to Mr. O'Bannon's head.
The man's lips were still moving.
“There's only one way to kill a zombie,” Trinity informed him.
She walked over to Mr. O'Bannon's head, raised the 3 iron and proceeded to bash in the lawyer's skull until gray matter oozed out onto the putting green.
“You have to destroy the brain,” she said. “I guess a golf club works pretty good, but I suspect the best thing would have been to blast his head into a bloody blob with a shotgun.”
Death was suitably impressed.
“Well, I guess I'd better call this in,” he sighed with a glance around.
As they turned towards the door, however, their exit was blocked by the figure of Ted Flanders staggering into the office. He didn't seem to be living up to his role as a dead guy very well either.
“Br-a-a-ains,” he groaned.
One solid whack to the side of the zombie's head was all it took this time. Trinity’s skills were already improving.
“Hey, hole in one that time,” she bragged.
This time, however, she had a difficult time unlodging the golf club from the lawyers' shattered temple. It made a grisly sound as it popped free.
“You know, if we have a zombie epidemic on our hands, I could probably use some help,” he said. “Would you be interested in a new profession?”
Trinity brushed a lock of blonde hair away from her face and smiled.
'Why not? Looks like Romero, O'Bannon, Fulci and Flanders doesn't really need a receptionist any longer, do they? Guess we can talk money and benefits later.”
As they stepped over Mr. Flanders' body and into the reception area, the front door to the law office opened again.
Trinity swirled, and just as if she had been doing it for years, placed a perfect shot to the temple of the little old lady who shuffled into the reception area.
The old woman dropped like a sack of potatoes.
“Ah... Trinity?” Death said with some hesitation in his voice.
“What now?” Trinity asked as she tossed the 3 iron back and forth between her hands in preparation for the next possible onslaught.
“I think that was Mr. O'Bannon's 11:00 appointment. And I don't think she was a zombie...”
“I don't have to fill out an Incident Report for an Unscheduled Demise, do I?” she asked. “I hate paperwork!”