Richard stood from the couch with a sigh. Methodically he turned on the lights and then the TV. The same shitty news as the day before began spilling from the box and, ignoring it, Richard moved to the kitchen. He set a pot to boil water. The Earl Grey was always good for waiting.
Twenty past nine and Richard came back to his living room, teapot in one hand, a plate with two cups in the other. The TV was turned off and a man sat on the couch.
"I hope you don't mind, I have seen it all." The man said pointing toward the TV.
"You're late." Richard said ignoring the man's comment as he placed the cups on the table between them.
Death shrugged as he took the cup of steaming Earl Grey that Richard just poured him. "Urgent business. You know how it is. Sometimes I'm expected, sometimes I'm not."
Richard had known for the last ten years that he was supposed to die at 5 past 9. And for the last ten years Death had been late.
"Who was it?" Richard asked after sipping his tea.
Death was wearing a blond man, clear blue eyes, high cheek bones and square body. The man himself wore a grey suit, expensive but not exceedingly so, and it was clear it was a size too small.
"No one. Someone. You tell me." Death, as the blond man, crossed his leg, making it clear that he had no shoes or socks and his soles were painfully dirty.
"Should I know?"
"I think so."
"Well, I don't. Just like I didn't know the girl you wore yesterday."
Death smiled patiently and brought the cup back to the blond man lips "If you say so."
For the last ten years Death had been late to their appointment, every day wearing a different body. The bodies changed, but that didn't matter. What mattered was that Death was always late.
Richard waited patiently every day. He had become used to it after the first couple of months, after the first two years it had become the normal routine. He arrived at home at eight pm, had something light to eat and took out the thrash. Around nine he would shut off the gas and turn off every light, then check his digital watch for the exact time.
And, every night he left the teapot and the tea close to the stove, just in case Death was running late again.
"Isn't Death supposed to be punctual?" Richard asked once almost ten years ago.
"It depends in who is more urgent." Death said.
Richard and Death both drank their tea, the silence stopped being uncomfortable years ago. Death left his cup on the table and stood from the couch, walking slowly toward the door. He never used it, but, Richard suspected, he liked the dramatic impact of his exit.
"Well, I need to go." Death said as a matter of fact.
And Richard knew it was true. Death rarely took more than a few minutes of rest each day; the 10 minutes in Richard's apartment were surely the longest single stretch of time. The rest of Eternity spent in making plans and their execution left little time for relaxation.
As Death passed besides Richard, he felt a cold sweat cover his body. Those few moments before Death went away were always the hardest moments of the night, moments in which Richard believed anything could happen and Death might break his word. The usual phrase came to his lips almost like a ritual. "Are you taking me now?"
"No. Five past nine, that's our deal."
Richard found himself alone, as if Death had never been there. Only then did he finally breathe a sigh of relief. Every moment of his life Richard lived free of any worry, knowing that Death would only come for him at that very specific time. Yet, after all those years Richard had only grown partially used to Death itself. Death wasn't exactly an old friend, but he wasn't exactly an enemy either. Richard never knew quite what to think.
Richard picked up the teapot and the cups, throwing one in the thrash and the other in the sink. Tired but with a long night before him, Richard went to his room and opened his briefcase. He pulled out a single notebook, placed it on his desk and opened it in his last inscription, crossing it with a double line:
Above it the page was full of names, professions, places and death causes crossed in a similar fashion, it was not different from the pages before it. Below Kevin's name the list continued.
'Melissa Hammond, waitress / working at dinner'
Melissa's cause of death was still blank, but not for long. As Richard took the rest of his notes from the briefcase he began to craft the accident that would take Melissa's life just past nine to keep Death busy for another night. It has been like that since his father's death ten years ago. And it will continue for as long as Richard can stay five minutes ahead of Death.