Thu
Mar 7 2013 5:00pm

The Lost (Excerpt)

Vicki Pettersson

Take a peek at The Lost, the second book in Vicki Pettersson’s Celestial Blues series, out on March 19 from Harper Collins:

Griffin Shaw and his wife were both murdered fifty years ago. Now a minor angel, Grif’s been granted permission to solve the mystery of his own death . . . if he helps the Pure angels guide those souls who might otherwise be Lost.

Souls like Jeap Yang, a drug addict in his final moments of life. Grif knows that death is coming, but he cannot intervene. However, Grif’s mortal lover, reporter Katherine “Kit” Craig, isn’t constrained by angelic protocol. If she can stop a death, she will.

But as Kit is about to find out, there are things more traumatic and evil than murder. A strange new drug is literally eating tweakers’ flesh from their bones, and Kit’s crusade to get it off the streets is set to propel her and Grif into a battle with a vicious drug cartel. They’ll have to scramble to stay alive, stay together, and choose their own fate . . . before it’s chosen for them.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

It wasn’t a dream, of that he was sure. For one thing, the only thing Griffin Shaw dreamed of was the night he’d died, fifty years earlier. Second, the only person he dreamed of was the woman who’d died with him, and whom he’d been searching for ever since.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Grif damned well didn’t dream of hairy, oversized angels with pates that shined like eight balls, and chips on their shoulders as wide as their wings.

No, this was vision, Grif thought, as he slipped his suspenders up over his shoulders, and padded barefoot through the dark ranch house. This was the same source material of Moses and the Apostles, and it was also the message he’d been warned was coming. Now it was his job was to search out the herald. 

Dropping into the sunken living room, he gave a gentle probe with his celestial eyesight, searching for a floating shimmer of silvery plasma or some other sign of angelic presence, but no one, no thing, waited for him there. All he saw were Kit’s possessions, plentiful but not hoarded.

Despite the circumstances, he had to smile. Kit Craig - modern-day girl reporter, rockabilly chick, and the only woman on earth or in the Everlast able to convince Griffin Shaw that life was still worth living - only gathered items around her that had personal meaning, exceptional value, and spoke of an era long gone.

His era.

Grif couldn’t much see the point in preserving what was never perfect to begin with, but there was no point in telling her that. She might be a twenty-first century woman through and through, but she was, and always would be, retro-cool and rockabilly to the core.

Peering into the shocking pink kitchen, Grif spotted no sign of Pure presence there either, so headed back through the dark living room, and into the short, squat foyer. He could enter and exit any earthly property without restriction - even outside of prophetic vision – and ignored the blinking alarm to simply open the door, step through … and be promptly struck in the head by a newspaper.

A youthful cackle sounded in the street. “Little piker,” Grif muttered, bending to reach for the unlikely missile. 

Paperboys don’t deliver in the middle of the night.

Freezing at the thought, his gaze landed on the headline. Suddenly he was running in the street.

“Hey!” Grif called after the teen. “Hey!”

Vision or not, the boy clearly hadn’t thought Grif would follow. Surprise had him glancing back, then overcorrecting when his courier’s bag swung from his shoulder. Another loud cry, this one less amused, and the kid catapulted across the handlebars and did a header directly into the corner stop sign.

Sighing, Grif tucked the paper under his arm.

The tightly clipped grass was crisp and soft beneath Grif’s bare feet – the sensory acuity was another sign that this was vision and not a dream – but summer’s shadow reached up from the base of the blades, its fingers still warm. It was early June, and though some nights still went cool, the long grasses and potted plants were beginning to yellow beneath the desert sun’s unforgiving gaze. Evergreens - the matured pines and fountaining grasses studding the yard’s perimeter - would pretend not to care, but unlike mortals, Grif could hear the cries of the non-indigenous plants. To someone both angelic and human, it sounded like the weak final gasps of someone expiring from dehydration. Some life forms, he decided, were not meant for the desert.

Just as some weren’t meant for the Surface.

“What’s the big idea?” Grif asked, without preamble, holding the paper out in front of the unconscious teen.

The kid’s eyelids flipped open, but nothing human swirled in the wide gaze of black granite. The voice, too, rumbled. “What? It’s a great headline. And it’s what got you bounced back to the mudflat, isn’t it?”

Grif recognized Sarge’s voice, and grunted. Of course it would be him. Frank, short for Saint Francis, was of the Cherubim tribe, and the Pure in charge of all the Centurions, angels who’d once been human. Frank appeared to each Centurion in the Everlast via the form they most associated with authority. For Grif, that was a sergeant in a detective’s bullpen, a guise meant to put him at ease, though he wasn’t comforted. Grif was crummy with authority.

He flipped the paper over again, and the question that greeted him every morning, and was the last to leave him at night, blared from the top of the page: Who Killed Griffin Shaw?

But that was all he understood. The text below that was a mixture of Sanskrit and seraphian - angel-ese - which despite his Centurion status, he didn’t read. Glancing at Sarge, who still stared up at him through the teen’s sidelong smirk, Grif resisted the urge give him a little kick. It wasn’t the kid’s fault that the answer to this question wasn’t on these pages. It wasn’t even Sarge’s fault. He didn’t provide answers, only guidance.

“Little late for visiting hours,” Grif finally said, offering him a hand.

Sarge accepted the help, though when they locked grips, the teen’s flesh was grave cold. Summer or not, the kid would be frosted over when his displaced consciousness returned to his flesh. Grif would have felt bad about that except that angelic possession generally left the host body with a little something extra - something that would benefit that individual for the rest of their mortal life. The kid’s throwing arm, for instance, might suddenly turn him into the next Mickey Mantle. Or new parts of the brain, previously inaccessible, might light up like mental landing strips in his mind, making him the next Einstein. But none of that was Grif’s concern.

“What’s wrong, Shaw?” Sarge said, sensing his impatience. “I told you I’d be coming. Or am I disturbing something back in that warm, wide bed?”

Grif drew back, eyes narrowing. “That bed, and what goes on in it, is none of your business.”

One of the teen’s eyebrows quirked, and a look that was too-knowing for the young face overtook his features. “It’s no wonder you got no incentive to leave this mudflat.”

“That’s not why I’m here and you know it,” Grif said, jaw clenching. 

The knowing look remained, and silence stretched between them. “Got a smoke?”

Grif scoffed. “I can’t be seen giving the paperboy a cigar.”

“That’s why I came to you in a vision,” Sarge said, and the marble eyes swirled faster. ”Besides, I know you have one. I can smell it on you.“

Grif did. He’d gone through the motions of putting one in his pocket as he dressed. That was the trick with visions. If you went along with them, believed and acted as though they were real, they’d reveal their secrets. If you fought them, they’d turn on you like a cornered rattler.

So Grif pulled it from his pocket, watched the swirling eyes widen, and even lit the stick for Frank. The first hit of nicotine took, and bliss gradually replaced judgment. Even angels had their vices. Then he said, ”What’s with the paperboy guise?”

“It’s not a guise. I’m actually in possession of your paperboy.”

Grif was surprised. The kid looked healthy, at least in the vision. Usually only the very old, very young, or mentally incapacitated, were susceptible to Pure possession.

“He’s a sleepwalker,” Frank supplied, closing his eyes as he inhaled again. “And I needed him to make a delivery.”

Grif glanced down at the paper in his hands, and knew the real one would be waiting on his doorstep when he woke. “So what do you want?”

“Same thing God wants, Shaw,” Frank answered, and it was true. As powerful as the Pure were, they had no will outside that of God’s. “I want you to come Home.”

Grif just jerked his head. “We agreed I get to stay until I find out who killed me.“

”It’s been four months,“ Sarge said, eyes still closed.

”Yes, and I’ve been working on it nonstop.“

The marble gaze found his again through the smoke.

Grif raised his chin. ”Fifty years is a long time. Leads dry up. The case is cold.“

”So what makes you think it can ever be solved?“

Why did he think he could solve the mystery of who’d killed him fifty years earlier? Because he wasn’t leaving this mudflat again until he did, that’s why.

”I got an appointment with a woman. Today,” he told Sarge. “I think she’ll be able to help me.“

Sarge tucked one arm beneath the other, propping it up, another gesture that was too old for the young body’s knobby limbs. ”And then what?“

”Then I follow the answers until they lead me to the killer.“ Or killers ... because in the brief flashes of memory that Sarge and Company hadn’t been able to wipe out, he’d seen that the man who’d attacked him that fateful night hadn’t been working alone. There’d been two of them, and they’d taken his life.

They’d murdered his wife.

”I mean what happens after that?“ Sarge pressed, absently scratching the boy’s bony ribcage. ”After you solve your life, and afterlife’s, greatest mystery?“

Grif clenched his teeth. He couldn’t even begin to guess. Grif hadn’t been granted wings, and the status of angelic helper, because he was special. Being a Centurion had been pressed upon him because he was broken, unable to forget his mortal years, get past the pain of being murdered, and of having allowed his dear Evie to be murdered while standing right next to him. Assisting other newly murdered souls into the Everlast was meant to help him move on as well, that’s all.

But so far Grif hadn’t moved forward … he’d moved back, and in doing so he’d become the first man ever to do so. The first to be both angelic and human.

”You should just come back now,“ Sarge said, likely reading his mind.

“Working on it,” Grif muttered, tapping out a smoke of his own.

”Maybe that’ll help,“ Sarge said, jerking his head at Grif’s paper, his expression turned sly. ”Open it.“ 

Holding his stick between his lips, Grif unfolded the paper again. This time he ignored the blaring headline of his death, the black and white photos of him and Evie splayed beneath it, and opened it to the middle. ”That’s not the Sports page.“ 

No, it was a dossier on an individual named Jeap Yang, born only nineteen years earlier and due to die five hours from now. It didn’t say how, though. Grif lowered the paperwork, and slipped the cigarette from his lips. ”Is it a Take or a case?“

Because there was a difference. If it was a Take, Grif arrived just after the mortal soul passed from the physical body - same as he had in his role as a Centurion. However a case required the escorting angel to arrival just before corporeal death. This was no problem for the Pure. They had never lived, and didn’t even possess souls. They couldn’t begin to understand the agony of having life ripped from you.

But attending death was torture to Grif … and it was meant to be. He’d overstepped his duties as a Centurion - saved a woman from being murdered instead of simply watching her die – and that was really why he was here now.

He didn’t regret it, though. It was why Kit – his girl, his new love - was still here too.

”Why?” Sarge asked now. “Got room in your bed for another case?“

Grif gave Sarge a black look, then snuffed his cigarette butt on the corner lot’s wet grass. ”There a map in here?“

”Why don’t you bring along your little tour guide?“ Sarge said, dripping sarcasm, spitting stardust.

”I can’t bring Kit on a Take and you know it.“ While his sense of direction on the mudflat was improving, and he’d memorized most of Las Vegas’ major crossroads and intersections, he still hadn’t recovered his sense of direction after his death. Kit usually guided him when they were out together.

”But she’s so accepting of you, Shaw – your job, your wings, your angelic nature. She loves you just the way you are, right? So why shouldn’t she see you doing what you do best?“

”She did.“ Grif smiled. “Back in that warm, wide bed.”

Sarge gave him a deadpan stare. “Map’s in the paper. The real paper. And …”

It wasn’t like Sarge to hesitate. “And?”

“This one is Lost.”

Grif’s breath caught in his chest, but he managed a short nod. He’d known this duty was coming. 

“He might be less skittish with someone who used to be human,” Sarge explained, then paused. “We can’t afford to lose this one, Shaw.”

“This one?”

“There were two before him. We … don’t know where they went.”

Grif blinked. The Host of angels created by and for God to do His will and protect His children … didn’t know? Sensing it best not to voice that thought, deciding that Frank already knew it anyway, Grif cleared his throat. “So how does he die?”

“Show up at sunrise and you’ll see,” Sarge said.

Because the lesson in Jeap’s death wouldn’t just be for the kid. Grif had healing to do, too. Sighing, he turned to leave.

“You know,” Sarge said, raising his voice so the treble in the teen’s throat cracked. “It’s not that you have a bad sense of direction, Shaw. True, you’re out of your place and time, and you’ll never be able to properly orient yourself on this mudflat again...”

Grif turned around slowly, and waited while Frank tapped ash onto the curb.

“But lots of folks are like that,” he said, moving to the bike and picking it back up, gaze fastened on Grif, the dust of asteroids in his eyes. “Most people are simply inattentive. They don’t see the blessings in their lives until it’s too late. But you might find you have more in common with Jeap Yang than you think.”

Grif clenched his jaw so tight his teeth ached. “You calling me Lost?”

“I’m saying some guys spend their entire lives searching for a place to settle.”

“I’ll settle when I find out who killed me.”

“Will you?” Sarge blew out the last of his smoke with a hard breath, then he flicked the cigar into the street. “Because I may not know what it is to be human, but I do know one thing. A person isn’t defined by their death. They’re defined by their life.”

Grif wanted to pretend he didn’t know what that psychobabble meant, but Sarge knew better. “We done here?” he asked.

“Just one more thing.” Sarge hopped back onto the bike, and with roiling eyes no human possessed, he shot Grif a final look over his shoulder. “Try not to fuck this one up.”

And though he turned away, and pumped his feet, he didn’t just leave Grif staring as one of God’s most powerful creations rode away on a Schwinn. Proving it was a vision, he took off with a roar, ripping through the sound barrier, spewing stardust, and leaving the detritus of dead galaxies trailing behind him.


 

CHAPTER TWO

 

He always woke soundlessly, but violently, from his dreams.

Because of this, Kit had become very conscious of when she slept, and where she was in relation to Grif when she did it. She’d researched sleep patterns online and made sure to be at his side when he entered REM, when his nightmares were most common. If he went to bed before her, which was rare, she’d read or work at the sitting area in a low-lit corner of her bedroom. If he came to bed after her ... well, that wasn’t a problem. Over the past four months Kit had become a very light sleeper.

So when Grif jolted into a sitting position next to her, Kit and he almost rose as one. Her arms were immediately about his shoulder, gripping his tensed biceps as she rose to her knees, even before his body managed to unclench for his first gasping breath. She looked over at the clock. Three on the dot, same as the last two nights … and the dreams were getting worse.

Pressing her body against his back, Kit ignoring the two strange knobs between his shoulder blades, ones no other mortal she knew possessed. He called them his ’celestial deformation’ but she didn’t care about that. Her regret was that she didn’t have wings to wrap around him, and shield him from the memories that stalked him in sleep.

“It’s okay, honey. It was just a dream. You’re here with me. You’re safe.”

She wasn’t quite sure that last part was true, but it was the first part he took issue with. “It wasn’t a dream,” he said, swinging his legs over the side of the bed like he was going to rise. He paused there, though, to cradle his head in his palms, and Kit continued to stroke his back, smoothed away the errant lock of ginger hair plastered to his forehead, and kneading at the muscles in his neck. Gradually, he relaxed, and she slid her hands over his sweat-dampened chest, down to his waist, and fell still.

“Anything this time?” Grif asked. His voice was rough with sleep, and something more. Like shadows lay in his throat.

Kit settled back on her haunches. She didn’t want to say, but his sharp glance at her silence meant he already knew. “You said her name.”

His shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry.”

Kit leaned forward and kissed the back of his neck, and then, because she couldn’t help it – because there were other ways to help – nipped at it lightly. He shuddered, pleasantly this time, and she did it again, pleased that she could do it at all. It was a reminder that she was the one who gave him comfort in this life. It was a gift that he loved her well and accepted her love in return. His late wife’s passing might still haunt him in ways Kit would never understand, but it was also a miracle that Grif was with her now, and that was enough.

Right?

“It’s okay.” Kit pushed the question away and shifted so she could see his face. His eyes were underscored with bruises and his brow furrowed with an emotion she couldn’t pinpoint. Worry, guilt, regret ... all of the above? Grif had a tendency to take every damned thing on himself. Angel-complex, she thought, then gave him a closed-mouthed smile. “I understand.”

And, objectively, she did. In the raw light of day – the time that she got to live and breathe and walk around at twenty-nine, an age Evelyn Shaw had never lived to see – she told herself that a new love couldn’t be expected to replace an old one. That wasn’t what new love was for. A new relationship, she told anyone and everyone who would listen, had to exist for and of itself.

Besides, Kit knew it wasn’t possible to forget a love deeply felt, even if the person was long gone. Most remembered that sort of passion for the whole of their lives, but Grif had carried his love for Evelyn Shaw beyond life … and, in a way, that was a miracle too.

“Want to talk about it?” she prodded.

“No.”

“Okay,” she said, planting a soft kiss on his side. The light dusting of hair there tickled her lips, and she inhaled deeply, and kissed him again. “Then just start from the beginning.”

He pushed some hair into her face. “You never listen.”

“Yes, I do.” She blew the hair away, and looked up at him. “That’s what makes me such a good listener.”

“Should I wait for you to get out your pen and paper? Take some notes. Turn my visions into a feature story.” The errant lock of hair had slipped over his forehead again, making him appear younger than thirty-three, the age at which he’d originally died.

“Don’t be silly. I report for the Las Vegas Tribune, not the National Inquirer. Mine might be a city known for its excesses, but we’re quite practical when it comes to our spiritual beliefs.”

“You mean you’re all heathens.”

“I prefer the word cynics.”

“I prefer the word go to sleep.”

“That’s three words ... all of which I heard,” she said, as he rose. “Where are you going?”

“Stay here,” said her grumpy angel.

So, of course, Kit followed.

Grif had to know she would. These days, they anticipated most of each other’s actions and reactions. They no longer questioned which side of the bed they would sleep on. They’d stopped checking on each other during the night as their days as a couple began piling up, no longer afraid the other wouldn’t be there, or awed that they were. Their passion was now set to a low burn, yet it could still ignite with one sidelong smoky look.

It was those burning moments that Kit loved most. She could see Grif – both his angelic and human sides - when they were joined in flesh. His wings flashed and flared, which had startled at first, but it was also amazing and awesome and somehow holy. Besides, Kit was as grateful for his Centurion state as his mortal one. It was, after all, the only reason she was alive and breathing at all.

And that, Kit thought, was the strangest, most wonderful beginning to a love story ever.

Perplexed, she watched from the living room as Grif deactivated the house alarm, opened the front door, and retrieving something from atop the doormat.

“Is that yesterday’s paper?” she asked, stepping forward. This day’s hadn’t even gone to press yet, and Kit would know. Her family owned the struggling paper.

“Special edition,” Grif mumbled, and she tilted her head as he passed, following him to the kitchen. He stopped in front of her automatic coffee machine. “Coffee?”

“Decaf,” she said, nudging him aside, and elbowed him again when he almost growled. “It’s three in the morning. I want you to be able to sleep.”

He grumbled again, but couldn’t do anything about it. No matter how many times she showed him, he couldn’t manage to work the “newfangled” device, but she didn’t mind measuring the water, popping in the pods. Fifty years had brought a lot of change to the Surface — some welcome, some not — but he’d claimed the coffee was both recognizable and improved. He took a seat at her vintage café table and sipped it black when she handed it to him, letting its warmth and bitterness chase away the dregs of the dream.

”Well?“ Kit finally said, dropping down across the table from him while she waited for her own single cup to brew. She glanced at the folded paper in his hands.

Because he already thought she knew too much of his world – Centurions, the Everlast, Takes – Grif just blinked.

She gave him a deadpan stare. ”Don’t make me interrogate you, Grif. You know I’ll win.“

”I’ve got a new assignment,“ he said, clearly hoping she’d leave it at that.

”A Take?“ she asked.

He inclined his head, and though she knew it was his duty – that the newly dead needed Centurions to assist them into the afterlife - she had to fight back a shudder. Someone would soon die horribly. Someone who was alive right now. ”When?“

”Dawn.“

”Man? Woman?“

”Man.“

Her lips thinned in an alarming way, but her voice remained steady. ”How?“

Grif’s gaze automatically slid to the paper, but he just shrugged.

And that infuriated her.

”Don’t you care?“ Her voice, no longer steady, held accusation and disbelief. Because one thing about Kit, she always cared.

Grif leaned back, like that could keep the situation from escalating. ”Look, when you’ve logged as many hours as I have ferrying souls into the Everlast, you get immune to the cause of death. My job is to help this guy cross into the Everlast, once deceased. That’s all.“

”But he’s not deceased yet.“

”Kit.“

Kit shoved back from the kitchen table and crossed to the coffee machine. She slammed the mug unnecessarily hard upon the Formica, then sloshed it over the rim as she lifted it.

Grif waited.

Cleaning the counter gave her an excuse to rattle around some more, but when she’d finished stirring in sugar, she turned and leaned against the counter, glaring and sulking.

”Done?“ Grif asked.

Kit bared her teeth, then sipped.

He sighed. “I know what you’re thinking, but I can’t stop it.”

“So don’t even ask, right?” She tilted her head. “Don’t even try to save another person’s life? I don’t know if you noticed, Shaw, but it’s my nature to at least try.”

Grif shoved his own chair back, and took his mug to the sink. She edged over slightly and when he’d set the mug down - none too gently either - he turned to her for a long stare-off. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he said, “I need you to trust that I know what I’m doing. This is the job, and yeah, it rubs that some kid’s head got so jammed up that he’s not going to know what he’s lost until it’s too late. But that’s the human condition, and this death is preordained. Don’t fight me on this.”

Kit’s shoulders slumped, but she placed her coffee on the counter and squared on him, too. “I don’t want to fight at all, Grif. But this man is in pain right now, and we’re just sitting here talking ... drinking, like, like it has nothing to do with us.”

“It doesn’t.”

“It does,” she implored, leaning forward, forcing his gaze. “It did the minute we learned about it. If you know someone is in pain and you don’t try to help, then you’re culpable. You’re complicit!”

“No.” He must have realized how cold it sounded, because he shook his head. “Look, you gotta think of it like the Pures do. Sarge always says, ‘Death isn’t a barrier to be knocked down. It’s just a threshold everyone needs to cross.’”

“Tell that to the guy whose throat is about to get slit.”

I will,“ he said. ”Right after it happens.“ And because that also came out harsher than he intended, he added, ”And it’s not a murder this time. It’s a drug overdose.“

”So it’s preventable!“ Kit said.

”You ever try saving a man from himself? It’d be easier to force a river to move in the opposite direction.“ Striding back to the table, Grif jammed a finger at the paper. ”I wouldn’t be carrying around this file if it were preventable.“

”I was once in a file,“ she pointed out.

But Grif shook his head. ”I’m just doing my job. And I can’t screw this one up.“

Kit set her jaw. Beyond him, she saw her reflection in the sliding glass door; her pin curls gone loose, flowing over her shoulders like black ribbons. The silk kimono she used for a robe flared as she strode back to the table, matching the color rising in her cheeks. Setting down her mug, she glanced at the photo on the front page, and though it made her heart bump to see his image splayed there along with another woman’s, Evelyn Shaw’s, what Kit was looking for was inside.

She opened to the center pages, and felt horror roll across her face like a shallow wave. Jeap Yang. Only nineteen. His stats were all there, including the place, date, and time of his death. Whirling, she held the paper up. ”He’s just a kid!”

Grif paced back to the sink.

“That is someone’s child! Someone loved him enough to birth him and raise him and release him into the world!“

Grif shifted. ”Yeah, and he threw all that good work into the world’s dumpster, then shoved that into a needle in his veins.“

”I agree that it’s a bad choice! But so is just letting him die!“ And before she knew she’d moved, Kit’s mug shattered against the sink’s backsplash, sending coffee splattering. Grif just looked down at his previously white undershirt and sighed.

”I need to wash up,“ he said, and headed toward the living room.

”Make sure you straighten that halo,“ Kit snapped back, throwing the paper back on the table, then immediately held up her hand when he turned to stare. ”I’m sorry.“ She sighed. ”I am. You don’t deserve that.“

Grif hesitated a moment, then returned to her side. ”Let me ask you something. What happened to your left knee?“

Frowning, she wrapped her vintage kimono more tightly across her chest.

”Your left knee,“ he said again, then reached down and uncovered the skin in questions. She tried, futilely, to slap his hand away. ”There’s a mark to the left of the kneecap that’s smoother and shinier than the rest of the skin.“

”I fell when I was six,“ she said, finally edging away from him. ”My dad was teaching me to ride my bike, but I hit a pothole and had to get twelve stitches.“

”And why’s it raised like that?“

”Because it’s a scar, Grif,“ she said, impatience brimming in her voice.

”Because that’s what happens when you injury your body,“ he added, gaining a nod. ”Want to know what happens when you scar your soul? You can’t feel anything outside your own pain, not for what it really is. The internal anguish is so great that it cripples you. And that scar tissue dulls your senses to the point where you find yourself wondering if you’ll ever be able to feel anything again.”

Kit wondered for a moment if he was talking about himself. But then he picked up Jeap Yang’s photo, and this time he showed it to her. “This man -”

“Boy,” she corrected.

Soul,” Grif retorted sharply, “This Jeap Yang is already that injured. Something big and crippling scarred him in his past and each breath he takes adds new injury to the old. By now, he likely feels nothing at all, and that’s no way to live.”

Kit studied the photo for a long moment, but finally shook her head. “I lived. You saved me.”

“You were different. You were slated to die because I put you in harm’s way, not because you were scarred.”

And because that was true, because their meeting had been accidental and not predestined, she finally looked away.

“I don’t know why things like this happen,” Grif finally said softly. “I wish it was different, but you can’t make decisions for other people. They have to choose good things for themselves.”

“You have scar tissue too you know.” She wasn’t angry anymore, just making an observation as she looked back up at him. He couldn’t argue. He wouldn’t be on the Surface, with her, if he didn’t.

“Maybe I need it to do this job.”

Kit nodded. Then she tilted her head. “So will it hurt?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never died of a drug overdose.” When she winced, he quickly added, “But my guess is that his greatest pain is already behind him.”

Kit bit her lower lip. “I suppose that’s true.”

“I can promise you this much, though,” Grif told her, and waited until her gaze arrowed up. “Once his soul has been freed from that tired, drug-addled body, he’s going to be fine. I’ll take care of him.”

She studied him for a long time, and gradually the fight slipped from her shoulders. “Just ... hold on.”

Edging past him, she disappeared into the living room, returning seconds later with a hatbox in her hands. It was vintage, of course, which meant it was from his lifetime, though she’d had it artfully restored with black silk and a matching ribbed bow.

Their fingers touched as she handed over the box. “I was going to wait to give this to you for your birthday, but-”

Grif frowned. “How do you know when my birthday is?”

“I read it in your obituary,” she said. Maybe she should find that more disturbing than she did, but she shrugged. “Open it.”

But he only stared. “I can’t remember the last time anyone gave me a gift,” he said at last, then busied himself – and his pleasure, Kit thought, smiling – by pulling loose the onyx ribbon and lifting the lid. Then he parted the layers of crackling tissue paper ... and stared again.

“It’s a hat,” Kit finally said.

Grif looked up. “I have a hat.”

Not only that, no matter where he was in relation to that hat, come four-ten every morning, the exact time of his death, the thing would reappear atop his head. It was true for everything he’d died in — the loose-fitting suit, the crooked skinny tie. A watch. A loaded gun at his ankle strap, along with four bullets he’d never gotten a chance to use.

The photo of Evie tucked deep inside his wallet.

It was disconcerting, to say the least, to wake next to a fully dressed man after bedding down with a naked one for the night. All that was missing was his wedding ring and driver’s license… and he’d sworn to Kit on his second life that he’d had both on him when he died.

“I know, but this one’s special.” She touched a button along the brim’s edge and a red light appeared, along with a high-pitched chirp. “They normally fashion them in baseball caps and cowboy hats, but I had this one custom ordered in a stingy brim. You like?”

Grif frowned. “Why is it beeping?”

Now a full smile bloomed. “Because it has a built-in compass. You program your desired co-ordinates, and the closer you get, the louder and more quickly it beeps.”

Grif stared at her. “You want me to wear a hat that beeps?”

Kit folded her arms. “Is this a guy thing? Like asking for directions when you’re driving?”

“It’s a Hat. That. Beeps.”

Sighing, Kit reached out and took the fedora from his hands, then plunked it atop his head. “Just wear it. It’ll give you peace of mind.”

“That I’ll find my way easily to my Takes?”

“No.” Her hand lowered to caress the stubble of his cheek, and she tilted her head up. “That you’ll find your way back to me when you’re done.”

And Grif slipped his arms around her, kissed her forehead, and inhaled deeply as he buried his face in her hair. That’s how she knew their argument was over. “I love your passion, Kitty-Cat. I love how you can feel so much for a total stranger. It makes you a good reporter and a damned fine woman. And it makes me better at what I do too.”

She looked up at him.

Grif shrugged self-consciously. “It does. It helps me remember what it was to be alive and dying. Do this job long enough and you can get numb to the emotion of both. But you don’t allow me to do that. Not anymore anyway.”

“I love your passion, too,” she said, lifting to her toes.

“It revolves around you,” he said, returning her kiss. When it began deepening, he pulled away and rolled his eyes upwards. “So. Is this thing waterproof?”

Kit frowned, surprised. “I don’t think so. Why?”

He lifted his hand, their fingers intertwining. “’I still gotta find my way to that shower.”

A smile began to creep across Kit’s face. “I think I can help with that.”

“Can ya?” Grif asked, and drew close, and whispered, “Beep.”

“Beep, beep,” Kit replied, and – fully smiling now – finally led the way back into the bedroom.

 

The Lost © Vicki Pettersson 2013

3 comments
Mark Mercer
1. Mark Mercer
Pretty good read, intrigued by the setup and might check out her first book. A bit too reminiscent of both Dead Like Me and The Spectre, but clearly a different take on it. Definitely going on my "maybe" list, maybe going on my "definitely" list.
Katharine Duckett
2. Katharine
@Mark Mercer We're giving away a few copies next week, so check back in and you may end up with a free one for your "definitely" list!
Mark Mercer
3. Kathleen Reynolds
I like the preview for the second book in the series. Would like to win free copy. This is an interesting time.

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