by Darynda Jones
UTC’s Favorite t-shirts and bumper stickers
I’m a virgin. But this is an old shirt.
Life is short. Buy the shoes.
~ Inspirational poster
To save time, lets assume I know everything.
I’m not 100 percent certain, but I think my cup of coffee just said, “You’re my bitch”.
~ Status update
T-shirt worn often by Reyes Farrow.
FIFTH GRAVE PAST THE LIGHT EXCERPT
Ask me about life after death.
—T-shirt often seen on Charley Davidson,
a grim reaper with questionable morals
The dead guy at the end of the bar kept trying to buy me a drink.
Which figured. No one else was even taking a second look and I’d
dressed to the nines. Or, at the very least, the eight- and- a-halves.
But the truly disturbing part of my evening was the fact that my
mark, one Mr. Marvin Tidwell, blond real estate broker and suspected
adulterer, actually turned down the drink I’d tried to buy
Turned it down!
I felt violated.
I sat at the bar, sipping a margarita, lamenting the sad turn my life
had taken. Especially tonight. This case was not going as planned.
Maybe I wasn’t Marv’s type. It happened. But I was oozing interest.
And I wore makeup. And I had cleavage. Even with all that going for
me, this investigation was firmly wedged between the cracks of no and
where. At least I could tell my client, aka Mrs. Marvin Tidwell, that it
would seem her husband was not cheating on her. Not randomly,
anyway. The fact that he could’ve been meeting someone in particular
kept me glued to my barstool.
“C-come here often?”
I looked over at the dead guy. He’d finally worked up the courage
to approach and I got a better view of him. I figured him for the runt
of the litter. He wore round- rimmed glasses and a tattered baseball
cap that sat backwards on top of muddy brown hair. Add to that a
faded blue T-shirt and loosely ripped jeans and he could’ve been a
skater, a computer geek, or a backwoods moonshiner.
His cause of death was not immediately apparent. No stab wounds
or gaping holes. No missing limbs or tire tracks across his face. He
didn’t even look like a drug addict, so I couldn’t tell why he’d died at
such a young age. Taking into account the fact that his baby- faced
features would make him look younger than he probably was, I estimated
him to be somewhere around my age when he’d passed.
He stood waiting for an answer. I thought “Come here often?”
was rhetorical, but okay. Not wanting to be perceived as talking to
myself in a room full of people, I responded by lifting one shoulder
in a halfhearted shrug.
Sadly, I did. Come here often. This was my dad’s bar, and while I
never set up stings here for fear of someone I knew blowing my
cover, this just happened to be the very same bar Mr. Tidwell frequented.
At least if it came to a knockdown drag- out, I might have
some backup. I knew most of the regulars and all of the employees.
Dead Guy glanced toward the kitchen, seeming nervous before he
refocused on me. I glanced that way as well. Saw a door.
“Y-you’re very shiny,” he said, drawing my attention back to him.
He had a stutter. Few things were more adorable than a grown
man with boyish features and a stutter. I stirred my margarita and
pasted on a fake smile. I couldn’t talk to him in a room full of living,
breathing patrons. Especially when one was named Jessica Guinn, to
my utter mortification. I hadn’t seen her fiery red hair since high
school but there she sat, a few seats down from me, surrounded by a
group of chattering socialites who looked almost as fake as her boobs.
But that could be my bitterness rearing its ugly head.
Unfortunately, my forced smile only encouraged Dead Guy.
“Y-you are. You’re like the s-sun reflecting off the chrome bumper of
a f-fifty- seven Chevy.”
He splayed his fingers in the air to demonstrate, and my heart was
gone. Damn it. He was like all those lost puppies I tried to save as a
child to no avail because I had an evil stepmother who believed all
stray dogs were rabid and would try to rip out her jugular. A fact that
had nothing to do with my desire to bring them into the house.
“Yeah,” I said under my breath, doing my best ventriloquist impersonation,
“I’m D-Duff ,” he said.
“I’m Charley.” I kept my hands wrapped around my drink lest he
decide we needed to shake. Not many things looked stranger to the
living world than a grown woman shaking air. You know those kids
with invisible friends? Well, I was one of those. Only I wasn’t a kid,
and my friends weren’t invisible. Not to me, anyway. And I could see
them because I’d been born the grim reaper, which was not as bad as
it sounded. I was basically a portal to heaven, and whenever someone
was stuck on Earth, having chosen not to cross over immediately after
death, they could cross to the other side through me. I was like a giant
bug light, only what I lured was already dead.
I pulled at my extra- tight sweater. “Is it just me, or is it really
warm in here?”
His baby blues shot toward the kitchen again. “Hot is m-more
like it. S-so, I— I couldn’t help but notice you t-tried to buy that guy
over there a drink.”
I let my fake smile go. Freed it like a captured bird. If it came back
to me, it would be mine. If not, it never was. “And?”
“You’re b-barking up the wrong tree with that one.”
Surprised, I put my drink down— the one I bought myself— and
leaned in a little closer. “He’s gay?”
Duff snorted. “N-no. But he’s been in here a lot lately. He l-likes
his women a little . . . l-looser.”
“Dude, how much sluttier can I get?” I indicated my attire with a
sweep of my hand.
“N-no, I mean, well, you’re a l-little—” He let his gaze travel the
length of me. “—t-tight.”
I gasped. “I look anal?”
He drew in a deep breath and tried again. “H-he only hits on
women who are more s-substantial than you.”
Oh, that wasn’t offensive at all. “I have depth. I’ve read Proust.
No, wait, that was Pooh. Winnie- the- Pooh. My bad.”
He shifted his non ex is tent weight, cleared his throat, and tried
again. “More v-voluptuous.”
“I have curves,” I said through a clenched jaw. “Have you seen
“Heavier!” he blurted out.
“I weigh— Oh, you mean he likes bigger women.”
“E-exactly, while I on the other hand—”
Duff ’s words faded into the background like elevator music. So
Marv liked big women. A new plan formed in the darkest, most corrupt
corners of Barbara. My brain.
Cookie, otherwise known as my receptionist during regular business
hours and my best friend 24/7, was perfect. She was large and in
charge. Or well, large and kind of bossy. I picked up my cell phone
and called her.
“This better be good,” she said.
“It is. I need your assistance.”
“I’m watching the first season of Prison Break.”
“Cookie, you’re my assistant. I need assistance. With a case. You
know those things we take on to make money?”
“Prison. Break. It’s about these brothers who—”
“I know what Prison Break is.”
“Then have you ever actually seen these boys? If you had, you
would not expect me to abandon them in their time of need. I think
there’s a shower scene coming up.”
“Do these brothers sign your paycheck?”
“No, but technically neither do you.”
Damn. She was right. It was much easier to just have her forge my
“I need you to come flirt with my mark.”
“Oh, okay. I can do that.”
Nice. The F-word always worked with her. I filled her in and told
her the deal with Tidwell, then ordered her to hurry over.
“And dress sexy,” I said right before hanging up. But I regretted
the sexy part instantly. The last time I told Cookie to dress sexy for a
much- needed girls’ night out on the town, she wore a lace- up corset,
fishnet stockings, and a feather boa. She looked like a dominatrix. I’d
never been the same.