Death sat on the bench and, with a slender hand, reached down to scratch behind the ears of the Irish Wolfhound sleeping at the old man’s feet. The grey dog opened one eye, regarded Death with indifference, and went back to sleep.
“Where’ve you been?” The man asked when Death straightened. “Took you long enough.”
Death gave a non-committal shrug. His limitless eyes watched the ducks beg for food on the lake shore. “You’re not the easiest man to find, din hysbys.”
The man’s wheezing laugh descended quickly into wracked coughs. A handkerchief pressed to his lips came away flecked with dark blood.
“Call me Huw. Well, you found me in the end,” Huw said.
Death nodded. “I find everyone in the end.”
“Suppose you do.” The dog shifted, whined and Huw patted it’s hind legs until it settled. “I’m 140 now. I was only seven when I first met you, do you remember?”
“I remember.” Death’s mouth curled up in a lipless smile. “But tell me anyway. I’ve always had a soft spot for your stories.”
“It was up on top of Lady Liberty herself, right there on the flame where the seagulls had dropped me. Did I ever tell you they’d carried me all the way across the Atlantic?”
“You may have mentioned it. You were a scrawny child, Huw. I was going to take you then and there, but you wanted to make a deal, wanted until the end of the day. I’d expected you to either starve or jump.”
The old man laughed again. “The look on your face when you came back.” He slapped his thigh, another round of syrupy coughs. “That was priceless. Those policemen had no idea what I was laughing at. Probably thought I was mad, sitting there, laughing like a pwca. Made those horrible, stale Animal Crackers the sweetest thing I’d ever eaten.”
Huw slid something from the pocket of his parka, pressed it into Death’s hand. Death regarded the folded, dog-eared card. Unfolding it carefully, he revealed the faded colours of the cracker box. He laughed with the sound of a collapsing star.
“I’ve kept it all this time,” Huw said.
The three of them sat awhile in amiable silence: Huw stroking the dog, Death turning the flattened box over and over.
“Do you remember that time I found you out on Route 66?” Death said. The dog’s ears pricked up; he knew this story too. “You had that new car and no driver’s licence?”
Huw nodded. “I had Ralph here to chauffeur.” He patted the dog. “Though he did have a time operating the gear shift with his paw.”
“You wanted to make a deal then too.”
“Are you wanting to make one now?”
Huw shook his head. “Not this time. I’m happy enough living to 200.”
“Shall we?” Death stood, held out a hand.
Huw took it, shook it. “That’s settled then.” He grinned. “I’ll see you again in sixty years.”