Dead on Delivery
An Excerpt From
Dead on Delivery

"Do you want to explain this?” Ted dropped a folded copy of that morning’sSacramento Bee onto my kitchen counter and jabbed a ?nger at an article in the Our Region section.

I picked up the paper and looked at the article. Some dude in Elmville had died under suspicious circumstances. Crap. Another one had bitten the dust. Neil Bossard was the second person I’d made a delivery to in Elmville in the past two months who had ended up dead. Coincidence? Possibly. I wasn’t crazy about the odds, though. Elmville was tiny. It had been weird enough to make two deliveries there within such a short time period—and both of them to ’Danes, to boot. To have both of the recipients wind up dead? Not likely to be a wacky ?uke. Still, I didn’t know for sure and there was no point in upsetting Ted before I knew that there was something to get upset about.

“Why do you ask?” I avoided looking up into his corn?ower blue eyes. Not because I couldn’t look directly into them and lie, though. I could do it. Probably. The real problem was the way my heart did that weird ?ip-?op thing in my chest every time I looked directly into his baby blues. The ?ip-?op thing made it hard to lie. I needed to focus to lie and Ted was nothing if not distracting to me.

“The case is weird, which always makes me think of you.” He took a step closer and lifted my chin. A smile quirked at the corner of his lips.

Now I had no choice but to look into his eyes and there went the damn ?ip-?op. “Is that a nice way to talk to your girlfriend?” That gave me a shiver. I was someone’s girlfriend. Who’d a thunk it was possible? It never had been before.

I am twenty-six years old, nearly twenty-seven. Ted Goodnight is my ?rst boyfriend ever. There have been a few dalliances before but never a boyfriend. I still can’t decide if it’s the best good fortune that has ever befallen me or the worst mistake of my short life, and there have been some doozies, starting with the day I decided to sneak into the swimming pool behind my mother’s back and drowned. That was pretty much the mother of all mistakes. It’s the one that started me down the road to all the rest.

On that day, I was legally dead for three minutes. They resuscitated me and everyone said it was a miracle that no harm had been done. The doctors couldn’t detect any brain damage. I would be “normal.” Ha! If only they’d known. Apparently, the ability to sense supernatural creatures and see all the crazy-ass paranormal doings that go on around most people without them noticing doesn’t show up on an MRI.

No other guy has been able to get past the freaky things that happen around me or my crazy schedule or what my mother refers to as my “moods.” In fact, the only guy I can remember making it past two dates was David Bounds in eleventh grade and he was bipolar. Even he couldn’t hang in there with me, not even with medication to help him.

I’m not saying Ted hasn’t had his occasional problems with who and what I am. The ?rst time he saw me truly in action almost killed our relationship before it ever really started. Maybe it’s because he grew up in such a crazy family (seriously clinically crazy). Maybe it’s because he’s amazingly accepting. Maybe he really, really likes me. I am the Sally Field of Messengers. Could be worse.

Whatever it is, it’s working and while I am not the type to skip joyfully through ?elds of daisies, I’m feeling pretty good about the whole thing. I do try to keep most of the woo-woo things I’m up to separate from him so I don’t freak him out too much, but I’m used to compartmentalizing.

The big drawback to having Ted Goodnight as a boyfriend? He’s a cop.

I have always mistrusted cops. Cops mean trouble. It’s not that I’m into breaking the law; it’s the order part of the police department that I have issues with. Or maybe order has issues with me. My very existence is about the disorderliness of things. I don’t ? t neatly anywhere. Trust me, I wish I did. I think I’ve spent most of my life wishing that, but this beggar isn’t riding and I never quite belong anywhere. All of which makes it even more interesting that I’m now dating a cop, especially one who I’m pretty sure wanted to hear that I had nothing to do with some guy running into traf?c on Highway 120 and being turned into road pizza by a semi, which was exactly what had happened to Neil Bossard. According to the article, they didn’t know what he was doing running onto the highway. I didn’t either. I didn’t like it, though.

“Looks like a traf?c accident to me, Ted. What could I possibly have to do with it?” It did look like a traf?c accident, but one that made me a little bit itchy and uncomfortable.

“Not every detail made it into the paper. The local cops think that maybe somebody was chasing the guy. Or, at least, he thought he was being chased. Someone saw him running down the road, screaming that something was after him, but he was all alone. Before the witness could do anything to help, the dude had run out onto the road and gotten creamed by a big rig.” Ted smoothed my hair back behind my ear and I felt a little gooey inside. “They were canvassing the guy’s neighborhood to see if they could ?gure out who might have been chasing him and somebody mentioned seeing a car that sounds an awful lot like yours. Weird plus an old Buick tends to equal you in my book, babe.”

Fabulous. What more could I want than to be the solution to a funky equation? He wasn’t wrong, though. I weighed my options. I could lie. Chances were that this whole thing would completely blow over and he’d never know. Of course, if it didn’t and Ted found out that I’d lied to him . . . well, suf?ce it to say, I didn’t think he’d be pleased. I could tell him the truth, as far as I knew it, which really wasn’t all that far. I didn’t have to mention Kurt Rawley, the other guy I’d made a delivery to who was now six feet under.

Come to think of it, his death had been weird as well. Had it been arson? I remember it had something to do with a ? re.

“I made a delivery to him,” I blurted. “It was days ago.”

“What was it?” Ted leaned back against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest.

I shrugged. “Hell if I know.”

“You don’t look?” He looked incredulous.

I shook my head. It wasn’t a rule, as far as I knew. Nobody had ever told me I couldn’t look inside the packages that were left for me to deliver. I chose not to peek. Peeking signaled curiosity and perhaps an interest in becoming involved. I generally had neither. Or, at least, I hadn’t had.

If someone handed me something, all unwrapped, then I knew what it was. If someone had taken the trouble to put it in an envelope or wrap it up in a little box, like whoever had needed me to make a delivery to Neil Bossard had, then I didn’t know. I didn’t care. Or, at least, I didn’t want to care. With information comes responsibility and I’ve spent almost twenty-seven years avoiding as much of that as I can and now have more than I ever wanted.

My last experience in getting involved with a delivery hadn’t gone well. I’d lost someone very dear to me and damn near gotten killed myself. It didn’t make me want to change my habits now. The fact that this particular package had given off a little hum of power didn’t exactly make me more interested in opening it. It did needle at me a little bit, though.

“How did you know where to take it?” He wasn’t quite using his cop voice on me, but it was getting close. I liked that about as much as I liked it when my vampire buddy used his vampire voice on me, which was not much.

I smiled at him, even though I didn’t totally mean it, and said, “Gee, I don’t know. Maybe it was some special magical divining process. Maybe it spoke to me. Or maybe I used the address that was written on the package.”

His eyebrows went up. “I don’t think sarcasm is called for.”

Norah, my roommate, strolled into the kitchen, hair disheveled and a pillow crease across her cheek. “She always thinks sarcasm is called for.” She made straight for the coffeepot and poured herself a cup.

I attempted not to let my jaw hit the ?oor. Norah hadn’t been herself lately and poisoning her body with the evil drug caffeine was one more hint that all was not right in the sunshine and rainbow-strewn world of my yoga-loving BFF. “You want some cream or sugar for that?”

She shook her head. “Black is ?ne.”

I looked at her closely. Had she been possessed by some other being? Would I ?nd a Norah-shaped pod in the basement of our apartment building if I ever got up the guts and energy to go through it? Stranger things had happened and some of them had happened right here at our apartment. My Norah had a sweet tooth and I couldn’t imagine her drinking coffee without girlying it up at least a little.

“Hey, Ted,” she said, and gave him a weak smile.

No, my Norah was not herself at all. She likes cops less than I do, or she had until Ted saved her soy-bacon last summer when we were ?ghting off Chinese vampires as they rose out of tunnels beneath Old Sacramento.

Now? Now she not only tolerated him but often seemed happy to see him and not in an icky I’m-going-to-steal-your-boyfriend way.

“Hey, Norah.” He smiled at her but then turned directly back to me. “Who gave you the delivery?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. The box was sitting on the hood of my car when I came out of the dojo one night.” Which was pretty much exactly how the package for Kurt Rawley had come my way, come to think of it.

“Was there a note?”

“No. Just the box with the address marked on it.”

“That was it. There was a box on your car, so you drove it all the way out to Elmville and . . .” He hesitated. “What did you do with it once you got there?”

“I left it on the doorstep.” Both times, I added silently.

“And then hung out long enough for someone to notice your car.” His eyes narrowed a bit.

“I hung out on the street for a little while and watched to make sure some guy who at least looked like he could be Neil Bossard picked it up. I don’t exactly ask for ID.” Again, contact with message recipients might constitute some kind of caring beyond ful?lling what was basically expected of me. Not my thing.

“Did he open the box?”

I was so done with the third degree. I threw up my hands. “How the hell should I know? And if I did know, what difference would it make? Someone needs something taken someplace, I take it there. End of story.”

“Until someone ends up dead.” Ted’s eyes narrowed.

Norah’s head shot up. “Who’s dead?”

I shot Ted a nasty look. Now he had upset Norah. Who knew how long it would take me to calm her down? “No one you know. No one I know. Some guy that I happened to deliver a box to last week got hit by a car.”

She blinked at me, her eyes big and round. “That’s it? No undead creatures ate him or anything?”

“Not according to the Bee. It was a simple case of man versus semi. The semi won. They pretty much always do.” I’d seen that a few times in the Emergency Department of Sacramento County Hospital where I work. It was never pretty.

“Well, okay then.” She went back to swirling her coffee.

“It’s a coincidence,” I said, with way more con?dence than I felt. Ted started to open his mouth, but I shook my head at him. “Not now,” I mouthed at him and tipped my head at Norah.

He pressed his lips together in a tight line and headed back toward my bedroom. As he brushed past me, he whispered, “I don’t believe in coincidence.”

I didn’t bother telling him that I didn’t either.



 

Ted left and Norah settled in on our futon couch with a bowl of Cocoa Krispies, making me increasingly convinced that an intervention was in order. I headed off to River City Karate and Judo to teach the Saturday morning Little Dragons classes. Out on the street, the Buick awaited me. It’s not an entirely good thing when the place a person feels most at ease is in their car. It used to be the dojo for me. I’d walk into River City Karate and Judo, my feet would hit that slightly scratchy gray mat and all my troubles would drain away. Or if they didn’t, they would seem more manageable. Like maybe I could roundhouse kick them into submission. I knew who I was there, what was expected of me and how to meet those expectations.

Now the dojo caused as much stress as it offered solace. In a move that had both honored and terri?ed me, my mentor Mae had left her karate studio to me in her will. I’d practically lived at the dojo before Mae’s death. Now it seemed like I really did. Small business owner was not a title I’d ever aspired to. My mother was inordinately proud and it wasn’t terrible to throw her the occasional bone, but it was a lot of freaking work.

I’d had no idea what kind of crap Mae had dealt with for all those years. It wasn’t only scheduling classes and training people and shaking hands. There were bills: ones that had to be paid and ones that had to be sent out. There were cranky parents and hyperactive second-graders and everything in between. There was insurance and business licenses and forms to ?ll out. The responsibility for making it run was all mine now. I’d always thought of myself as Mae’s apprentice, but apparently that was only true when it came to the actual martial arts part of the equation. The business-running part had escaped me completely.

I didn’t think there was ever going to be a day that I didn’t miss Mae, that the thought of something she’d said or taught me or done wouldn’t catch me unawares and startle me into missing her again. Walking into the dojo and having her not be there brought a special kind of pain, though, something both sharp and sweet.

I rubbed at the cold spot under my breastbone that formed whenever I thought of her, and pulled into the strip mall parking lot in front of the building.

I wondered if I should just close the studio, but I couldn’t bring myself to imagine that. Mae had spent so much of her talent and time building it. I felt that I would be dishonoring her memory if I didn’t keep it open.

Plus, without the dojo, what would I do with Sophie?

The question was ever present in my mind, but only more so at the moment as she opened the door to the dojo and greeted me. I’d made it her job to get to River City Karate and Judo by eight ? fteen every Saturday morning to open the studio, make a pot of coffee and sweep. I ?gured if nothing else, it meant she’d be getting home early on Friday nights and maybe it would keep her out of trouble.

Plus, it had been my job at the studio for years. I really didn’t know what more to do with her than what Mae had done with me, since I’m pretty sure Sophie is my replacement.

She’d shown up at the dojo this past summer, the scars on her face and neck from the car accident she’d been in nearly healed. She wasn’t entirely sure why the odd things she’d been seeing were telling her to come to River City, but Mae and I were pretty sure we knew.

Like me, Sophie had died for a few minutes and then been brought back to life. Like me, she’d started seeing and hearing things that no one else seemed to see or hear or sense. Like me, she was a Messenger.

Unlike me, Sophie was sixteen. I’d only been three when I’d drowned in the backyard. Her learning curve was going to be different. I’d barely ? gured out my own, so trying to ? gure out hers was a bit of a problem for me, especially since the only person I’d ever gone to for advice on matters of the Arcane had died.

I stepped in the door and immediately felt a buzzing in my skin. The hairs on my arm lifted ever so slightly.

“Good morning, Sophie. How’s it going?” I glanced around. I didn’t see anything that would set off my freaky radar, but there are many more senses than sight. I’d been working on mine, honing them and developing them. Or maybe I was just paying more attention to them. It used to be as if I had only one channel and it was either on or off. Something was out there or something wasn’t. Suddenly I’d gone cable. My supernatural palate had become more sophisticated. I’d started to notice subtle differences between, say, the feeling I got when a vampire was lurking around the corner and the feeling I got when a troll was hunkered down under a bridge. Being able to differentiate was helpful. Not everything out there is out to get me, but some things de?nitely are. It was good to be able to sense the difference.

“It’s great.” Sophie gave me a big beaming smile.

See how different from me she is? A big beaming smile at eight forty-?ve in the morning? I would never in a million years have done that. I’d loved Mae with all my heart and soul and the best I could usually produce was a lack of scowling.

I did feel like I’d made some progress, though. Sophie no longer wore her hair hanging down over her scars. Right now, her hair was pulled back into a low ponytail at the back of her neck. The high pony might be cute and swingier, but it was also a potential handle hold for your opponent in a ?ght. It was unlikely that any of the Little Dragons that Sophie would help me teach this morning would grab her by her hair. It was actually unlikely that any of them would be able to reach it. The oldest Little Dragon in the beginning class was only seven and less than four feet tall. As Messengers, however, we had to be ready for a ?ght at any time. It wasn’t like we got to choose the times and places of our deliveries. We never knew where we were going or whom we were going to meet there. Speaking of which . . .

“So,” Sophie said. “There’s, uh, someone in your of?ce.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Someone? Like a parent? Or a student?” I wouldn’t say I was a disaster with the administrative side of things, but that was because I was usually very generous with myself.

“Not exactly.” The smile stayed ?xed on her face.

I stopped for a second. That must be the source of the buzzing. Whatever was in my of?ce wasn’t particularly powerful, but it had some magic to it. It felt . . . earthy. “What exactly is it?”

“I’m not positive. I think it might be a Basajaun.” She paused and scuffed one bare toe against the tile ?oor of the foyer. “At least, I think that’s what it is. I’m still getting confused between Yetis and Basajauns.”

Totally understandable. Every time I thought I’d learned most of what was out there in the universe of the Arcane, something came along and bit me on the butt. Occasionally literally. I had the scars to prove it. It could have been worse, though. I never really liked wearing thongs anyway and I did learn to never ever turn my back on a Tailypo. Never ever turn your back on something that’s demanding the return of its tail. It may well take a chomp out of yours.

“So whatever this thing is, it’s in my of?ce?” I asked.

Sophie nodded.

“And ?fteen seven-year-olds will be here in ten minutes?”

She nodded again. “Do you want some coffee?”

“De?nitely.” I walked into my of?ce and shut the door.

The Basajaun sat behind my desk, running its long hairy ?ngers up and down the shaft of a hefty looking axe.

“Hey,” I said. I’d read about Basajauns, but this was my ?rst in the incredibly hairy ?esh. He—at least I think it was a he, it’s a little hard to tell with all that reddish brown hair hanging down to its knees—was close to seven feet tall. Or would be if it stood up straight. Still, when it rose from behind my desk, shoulders hunched and shambling, it was easily a foot taller than me.

It nodded and held out the axe, handle ?rst. Lovely, a Basque Lord of the Woods who believed in Safety First. I took the axe. “Thanks.”

It nodded and headed toward the door. “Whoa, big fella! Where am I taking this?” It was one thing not to look a gift Basajaun in the mouth; it was another to take its axe without knowing what I was supposed to do with it.

“Ginnar.” It turned back toward the door.

“Help me out, big guy. Is that a place or a person?”

“Dwarf.” So, a supernatural creature of few words. I was down with that.

“You want a return receipt?”

It stared at me. At least, I think it did. It was hard to tell with the hair. It shook its head slowly and opened the door to my of?ce.

I heard a high-pitched scream from the other side of the door and ran.

I was too late.

The Basajaun was backed into a corner, hands thrown up in front of its face. Advancing on it was all three foot two inches of a very determined Parvinder Gundar. I’d be frightened, too, if she was going after me. That is one resolute seven-year-old.

I jumped in front of her. “It’s okay, Parvinder. He’s with me.”

“What is he?” She scowled up at me.

“Yes. What is that thing?” Parvinder’s mother demanded from on top of the chair that she’d apparently jumped on.

Think fast, Melina. Think fast. “He’s, uh, a character I’ve been thinking of hiring. You know, for birthday parties. Too scary?” I mustered up my brightest smile, which didn’t hold a candle to Sophie’s, but you had to go with what you had, right?

“He smells funny.” Parvinder stopped advancing.

I sniffed. She was right. He smelled like the slightly rotten layer of pine needles that lay on most forest ?oors. “Good point.” I turned to the Basajaun and pointed toward the back door. “Go out that way. Next time you come for a job interview, take a shower ?rst.”

It shambled away across the mat. I took a deep breath and tried to relax.

Mrs. Gundar stepped down off the chair and smiled at me. “You’re going to do birthday parties? We were just wondering what to do for Parvinder’s party next month. What do you charge?”

Please, someone, kill me now.



 

A little over two hours later, Sophie and I had ushered out both the Beginning and Advanced Little Dragons. We had about two hours for lunch and then the sparring classes for teenagers and adults would start. Saying good-bye to the parents and kids, I felt yet another jab. I used to stand where Sophie stood now, a step back from Mae. Now I had to stand in Mae’s place.

That’s what it still felt like to me. I was standing in Mae’s place, trying to be her and falling so incredibly short of the mark. In all the years I had been coming to River City, I had never once witnessed a meeting between a Mundane being—or ’Dane, as we cool kids called them—and a ’Cane—the down-low way to refer to an Arcane, or supernatural being. I’d managed to screw that one up damn fast.

“That was pretty quick thinking with Mrs. Gundar and the Basajaun,” Sophie said as she straightened out the chairs.

“You think so?”

“Sure.”

“Great. You can ?gure out what to do about Parvinder’s birthday party, then.” I stalked toward the of?ce.

“Sorry,” she said. Damn. Was that hurt I heard in her voice?

I turned back around. Her face was ? shed.

“I guess I should have put him in the back or maybe out by the Dumpsters.”

“Ya think?” Could I not stop my own sarcastic mouth?

The ?ush spread farther up Sophie’s face and a knot formed in my stomach. I don’t mind being a pain in the ass, but I don’t like being mean and that’s exactly what I’d just been. Mae had never been mean. Occasionally disappointed. Often exasperated. Never mean.

“No, Sophie. I’m sorry. I never thought about making some kind of protocol for handling the creatures that might come here. I’ll think of something so we don’t have another incident like this one.” I gave myself a little kick in the pants. Just because I was feeling defensive about being incompetent didn’t mean I needed to take it out on Sophie. She hadn’t asked for this life any more than I had and was generally a lot more gracious about it.

She smiled. “Thanks. By the way, I do have some ideas about birthday parties. I think they could be fun.”

I stared at her. She was serious. Fun? She thought birthday parties for seven-year-olds could be fun? I knew she was naïve, but this was beyond the pale. Still, I’d already been a bitch once this morning. Perhaps I could learn to have a B.Q. (Bitchy Quotient) of only one per day. That would be livable for everyone, wouldn’t it?

“I’d love to hear about it,” I said. “But right now, I need to do a little research about some deliveries I made.”

She frowned. “What about the axe, then? Will you leave it here? Or do you want me to take it somewhere?”

I thought about that for a minute. I’d let Sophie make a few simple deliveries on her own. Nothing big. She’d taken an envelope to some elves and dropped a package off in the Delta for a water spirit. All close by. All easy. She’d done a great job. This one would be a little trickier. Was she ready for it? “That’s not a bad idea, Soph. The axe is supposed to go to Ginnar the Dwarf.”

“Where does he live?”

“Not sure.” I had a few ideas but nothing de?nite.

“How am I supposed to ?nd him then?” Her eyebrows drew down.

I gestured for her to follow me into the of?ce. I sat down behind Mae’s desk and then twisted a bit. Mae had been a small woman and while I’m not an Amazon, I am close to ?ve foot eight. Her chair didn’t ?t me and I was constantly trying to adjust it. Nothing seemed to work. I was going to have to bite the bullet and buy my own. That would be about number nine hundred and twenty-seven on my priority list, though.

The axe, on the other hand, had made it to about ?ve or six. I moved the gi that I’d quickly thrown over it when Mrs. Gundar had started screaming.

“Wow,” Sophie said.

It was a wow-worthy axe. The metal hasp gleamed. Carved runes and dwarven ?gures intertwined their way down the wooden handle. “It’s going to tell you how to ?nd Ginnar.”

She looked up at me, eyes wide. “It talks?”

Fabulous. She’d believe almost anything these days. I couldn’t really blame her. To suddenly ?nd out that so many things you thought were the product of feverish imaginations and ?ctional geniuses were actually roaming the earth and possibly next to you on the bus made a person wonder what to believe and not to believe. Sophie had clearly taken the route of acceptance.

“No. It doesn’t talk. At least, not with words.”

She nodded and waited while I tried to ?nd words for what had become innate for me. I’d become a Messenger when I was practically still a toddler. Explaining how to ?gure out where to make a delivery was like trying to tell someone how to breathe.

“Put your hand on the axe,” I said.

She looked at me, her eyes wide. “Are we going to swear some kind of blood oath?”

I shot her a look. “No. We’re not going to do each other’s nails or give each other facials either. Just put your hand on it.”

She set her hand on the hasp and pulled it away as if the thing were hot.

“I take it you felt something?” I sat back in the chair.

Sophie nodded. “What is that?”

Objects of magic contain power. I realize that sounds simplistic, but it’s true. Rarely do they have power of their own, however. They’re like containers. They become imbued with power. Sometimes only one being places the power in the object. Sometimes it’s layered on over generations or heaped on by groups that believe in it. Either way, the farther the objects are from those that imbue them, the less powerful their magic becomes.

The magic in the axe wasn’t strong enough, at this point, to feel across the room, but place your hand right on it and you’d feel the buzz. Well, you would if you were sensitive to such things. I’m pretty sure my brother could have hauled this thing around for weeks and not received a single spark from it. Sophie had certainly felt it, though.

Until now, most of her deliveries had been safely ensconced in packages and envelopes. I hadn’t let her handle too many objects of power mano a mano, as it were. It was wise to be careful about handling these things. They can take power as fast as they give it. “It’s the axe talking to you.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not sure I speak its language.”

“You do. Maybe not ?uently yet, but you do.” I saw the stubborn set of her chin and felt a little bad. I did know how she felt. Once you become a Messenger—and it’s not like you apply for the job—you discover abilities and information inside yourself that you might not really like or want. I suppose I could have offered some words of understanding or comfort, but they would be meaningless. The reality of the situation was that the universe pretty much said tough cookies to what you wanted. You are what you are, and if you’re a Messenger, you speak ?uent Dwarf Axe whether you want to or not.

“Now, scoot. I need to ?gure some stuff out.” I held the axe out to her to take.

She took it, holding it away from her as if it had cooties or something. “Can I help?”

Her face was so open and so earnest, but she knew nothing. No. The person who generally helped me was gone and I needed to ?gure out how to handle stuff on my own. “I wish you could, kiddo.”

It would have been nice to have Mae here to talk to right now. What was I supposed to do about this situation with Bossard? I didn’t like that someone had remembered my car, but I’m pretty sure if they’d had the plates, Ted would have done more than make me look at a newspaper article. There might have been discussions with local authorities and other things that didn’t sound like any fun at all to me.

Who was this guy, anyway? Maybe if I knew who Bossard was, I’d be able to ?gure out who was sending him neatly wrapped little packages with careful block printing on the front. Maybe I’d ?nd that the package had nothing to do with him being spread like peanut butter on toast down Highway 120.

I turned on the computer on Mae’s desk and waited for it to come to life.

It really could be a coincidence. There might be no connection with me or with Kurt Rawley. Come to think of it, I’d better look into him, too. His death looked as accidental as Bossard’s. I think the paper said something about a house ?re. If somebody was orchestrating these deaths, they were damn clever.

I typed Neil Bossard’s name and Elmville, California, into the search engine. The usual bazillion results came in the standard nanosecond. The ?rst entry was an account of Bossard’s death in the local newspaper. It didn’t tell me much more than had been in the Bee, except it gave the time and place of his memorial service. Tomorrow at three p.m. at the Svoboda Family Mortuary. I jotted the address down. The Bee article was listed. Then came Bossard’s MySpace pro?le and Facebook page.

I logged onto Facebook, but couldn’t access the page without friending Bossard. Since I doubted he would be accepting new friend requests in the near future, I switched over to his MySpace page.

Bingo! His pro?le was hanging out there for everybody to see, including me.

I enlarged the picture. Yep. I was reasonably certain that was the dude who’d scooped the package off the porch and walked into the house in Elmville. At least I’d gotten the right guy.

He was a Libra and he liked Sublime and Bad Religion. That didn’t help much. I scrolled through some of the messages. They were all recent, all posted within the last six weeks. Jbone had posted, “Welcome home, bra! Good times ahead.” Cshelty08 had posted, “Good to see you back, homey. When we gonna hoist some brews?” The other messages ran along the same lines. I checked through his list of friends, but couldn’t ?nd Kurt Rawley.

I typed Rawley’s name and Elmville into the MySpace search. He popped up, too. Did these children have no concept of protecting their own privacy? I’d made his delivery long enough ago that I didn’t have as clear of a mental picture of who had picked up the package. It de?nitely looked like the right guy, though I couldn’t swear to it. He was just your standard white boy.

Rawley’s page had several “welcome home” messages and a few “good to see you on MySpace” messages, too. I looked at the message dates; they were all from this summer. I’d made Rawley’s delivery a couple of months later and he was dead within a few weeks. He liked some of the same bands as Bossard and he was a Cancer.

I drummed my ?ngers trying to ?gure out the connection. I looked at the messages again. There were a couple of “happy birthdays” mixed in with the “welcome homes.” Kurt Rawley had turned twenty-one on July 18. I ?ipped back to Neil Bossard’s page. He’d turned twenty-one in October.

Okay. They were the same age and lived in the same town. They must have known each other; Elmville wasn’t that big. If nothing else, they would have gone to the same high school. Elmville only had one.

I scrolled through the messages on Rawley’s page again. Hot damn. Jbone and Cshelty08 had left messages on both boys’ pages. I clicked to their pages. Both Jbone and Cshelty08 had graduated from Elmville High and had gone on to Modesto Junior College. I’m not sure their mamas would have been too happy to see exactly how they’d celebrated their accomplishments. At least, my mother would have been horri?ed to see me with a beer bong, but she was a tad on the old-fashioned side.

I clicked back to Bossard’s page. Nope. No graduation photos and nothing about where he’d been going to school. Come to think of it, there was nothing about where he was being welcomed back from. How far away could a kid his age go?

I clicked back to Rawley. It was the same deal. No graduation information and no word on where he was returning from either.

Crap. There was going to be a connection between these two and whatever it was, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it.

Dead on Delivery

Dead on Delivery