I was returning home when I saw the coach. It was a sleek affair of enameled black wood inlaid with mother of pearl and gold. Deep red curtains hung in the windows, and a team of six black stallions drew her along. A single driver sat atop the coach, a Chinese man who wore the long queue of the Mandarin subject.
I turned my own horse around and followed the coach back into town, and I was not surprised to see it pull up in front of Meredith Aldrich’s studio. The driver helped the passenger out of the coach and into the building, and I entered after them a moment later.
A tall and stately man stood in the elegant robes of a courtier, smiling and chatting pleasantly with Meredith. Her face was pale and strained, dark circles beneath her eyes. The stranger saw me enter and bowed to me. I returned the gesture and listened as the man informed Meredith of his status as a reaper. He requested that his portrait be done and done quickly.
“I have,” he informed us, “little time to return to Boston for the long train ride.”
Meredith did as he asked, and neither I nor the reaper spoke as we waited for her to finish. There was something about this representative of death which did not invite conversation.
After several minutes, Meredith escorted him into the studio, and in a matter of moments, it seemed, she was done. When they returned to the small room, and Meredith took out the ledger, the reaper did something most unusual. He asked for the pencil, and when he had it, he wrote in the ledger himself.
“April 18th, 5:12 A.M., San Francisco, California.”
He bowed to us both, and without a word, he and his driver left the studio.
“I don’t want to know,” Meredith whispered, and she put the ledger away.
On April 18th we knew, whether we wanted to or not.