Obligatory mumbo-jumbo: I don't own anything you recognize from the book El Club Dumas or the movie, The Ninth Gate, nor do I claim any rights to Neil Gaiman's excellant novel, American Gods. I seek only to entertain, I don't profit from this in any way. Please don't sue me, it would be an expensive waste of time.
If you just got here, you might want to read my stories, Ninth Gate: Corso's Choice first, followed by Fortune Foretold, then Reminiscence to have a better idea of how Corso survived the end of the movie and what's been going on with him since then. If you're unfamiliar with American Gods, I wholeheartedly recommend you read the book for maximum comprehension. It's worth it, honest!
Thanks as always for reading and reviewing, hope you enjoy it!
Strangers On a Plane
First class really was the way to go, Shadow decided. Both ends of the airplane went to the same place, true, but there was a helluva lot more leg room up here, and being a big guy, he appreciated those extra few centimeters.
Inches, he corrected himself. You've been over here too long if your head's gone metric.
He didn't quite mean it; the European interlude of the last couple years had been...interesting. Lately, though, something had been nagging at him, until the day before yesterday, when he'd booked a flight back to the U.S.. He couldn't say why he was returning--there was nothing and nobody holding him to America--but the act of making reservations had calmed whatever had been bothering him. Shadow was pretty sure that whatever fate was nudging him would make itself clear sooner or later.
Fortunately, he'd gotten to the airport early--customs had insisted on searching his lone carry-on bag. The bagful of coins he'd collected on his travels was his only souvenier; Customs had clearly been hoping the clump of metal the x-rays had revealed was something more exciting, like a grenade or at least some odd sex toy they could use to play Embarass the American Tourist.
As the other passengers boarded, Shadow amused himself with a couple coins from his hoard, changing a Norwegian ore into a British pound, vanishing the pound and producing the ore.
"Seat four-B, right here, sir," the flight attendant said, and Shadow looked up to see a man being directed to the seat beside him.
The fellow traveller sank into the seat with a wince. Shadow vanished both coins without thinking about it, and settled back into his own seat. This guy looked sick, too sick to want to be distracted by his fidgeting. He was pale and perspiring, although it was a mild spring evening, and there was a drawn look to his face, as though he'd been fighting pain for a long time, and the pain was winning.
People-watching was an old habit with Shadow. He guessed the man sitting beside him was in his fifties, judging by the thick striations of silver at his temples and the lines etched into his face. His navy overcoat was several sizes too large. His expensive suit, too, looked like he'd borrowed it from someone bigger and better filled out.
If he was aware of Shadow's scrutiny, the other man didn't seem to care. His eyes were closed, his breathing shallow. As Shadow watched, he arched against the backrest, limbs jerking.
No one else nearby seemed aware of the man's distress. Obviously, this gent was in pretty bad shape. He probably shouldn't be traveling in his condition. On the other hand, the fact that he was traveling in his condition meant it must be important; maybe it was a vital business meeting, or an experimental treatment, or maybe he was going home to die.
"Hey," said Shadow quietly. "You need anything? Should I call the stew?"
"No, but thank you," his seatmate said, through his teeth.
Throughout the lecture in emergency procedures, Shadow kept one eye on his neighbor. He wasn't going to blow the whistle on him--he respected anybody who could keep going when their body wanted to quit on them--but if anybody else noticed how bad off the guy was, they were likely to pull him off the flight for medical reasons. He found himself hoping the man would get away with it.
The plane was taxiing now, and as the wheels of the aircraft left the runway, the sick man's eyes opened wide. There was an expression of such fear on his face that made Shadow wonder if he'd called it right. The poor bastard might not even survive the flight.
"I can't believe I'm doing this," the man said out loud. He had an American accent, Shadow realized. Going home to die....
"I'm not crazy about flying, myself," Shadow confided, although it didn't bother him, either. One of the cool things about Europe that he'd discovered were the trains, which were more enjoyable than cars or planes. You didn't spend hours in traffic, or get diverted to some other place because of weather; you got on the train and you went where you were going, and along the way, you got to admire the scenery without worrying about getting creamed by some drunk driver.
"It's not the flying that bothers me." He didn't seem to want to enlarge on the comment; Shadow shrugged and pulled his coins out as the man's eyes sagged again.
A couple hours into the flight, the cabin lights were dimmed, and the older man's breathing deepened and grew more regular. He still twitched occasionally, and mumbled to himself.
"Shadow!" the man said loudly, sitting bolt upright, brown eyes blinking.
Here we go again, was Shadow's first thought. Another stranger on a plane who knows my name. Well, you wondered what was calling you back, I guess now you're going to find out.
"You want to talk about it?" Shadow asked, his tone as neutral as he could make it.
"It was just business," the man said, as much to himself as to Shadow. "It wasn't supposed to end up like this."
"This business of yours didn't involve a guy named Wednesday and three glasses of mead, did it?" He became the recipient of an "Are you out of your mind?" look from the older man that reassured him. If things were about to get weird, at least it was going to be a different kind of weird.
How different became clear when the stranger shook his head slowly and said, "No, it involves three books co-written by the devil and a look into the gates of hell."
"Oh." Shadow couldn't think of a more profound response, but he found himself believing the man's explaination. "Sounds intense."
"Are you sure you don't mean, it sounds insane?" the other man challenged him.
"I don't think so." Shadow stressed the pronoun. They eyed each other for a moment. Shadow cocked his head, noticing something for the first time. He touched his own forehead. "You know, you've got a mark--"
The sick man's lips curled in a bitter grimace. "I know."
"What is that?"
The traveller took a deep breath and released it. "I guess if you can actually see it, you might believe the whole crazy story."
"Hey, we're gonna be here for another four, five hours," Shadow shrugged. "I'll listen."
"What would you say if I told you the devil is a beautiful woman, and I fucked her?"
For Shadow, whose dead wife, Laura, had followed him cross-country for months and who had kept company with gods from several pantheons during much of that time, the question didn't phase him. "Okay." Thinking of how he'd met Laura, he asked, "Blind date gone bad?"
"Business deal gone bad. To begin with, my name is Dean Corso...."
And away we go.