The next day, much to Evan's surprise, several groups of guests pour into the hotel wishing to book rooms. While it is only for a few days, he more than welcomes the business. He greets each one with a pleasant smile, carries their bags and recommends any and all attractions. He notices Landon hovering around the foyer. For a moment, Evan is sure there is a smile on Landon's face and he tips his hat to Evan before leaving the hotel.
Evan gets on with his work, answers any questions the new guests have about the hotel and surrounding town. They listen with interest, the walkers and backpackers checking their map every so often when he mentions nearby hills. They thank him for his time and wander off out of the hotel to explore. Evan sits down behind the reception desk, makes himself tea, wraps his hands around the cup. His eyes are heavy, his head droops and he shakes himself awake.
"Are you well, Mr Peters?"
Landon's voice makes him jump. "I'm well, Mr Abrams."
Landon glances down. "Your tea is cold."
Evan checks his cup with the back of his hand and sighs when it is indeed like ice to the touch. "Again? I've lost track how many times this has happened now." He stands up from the chair behind the reception desk, takes his cup, ready to make himself more tea when Landon stops him.
"Will you allow me to do it? You are old after all, and that's what people do, look after the elderly and the frail," he says, gesturing to the cup.
"I may be old Mr Abrams but I'm not so frail I cannot make myself tea."
Landon lifts the cup, despite his protests. "Indulge me then. Join me in the foyer?"
Evan nods, seeing that there is no persuading Landon otherwise. He opens the door at the side of the counter and sits down on one of the armchairs. He watches Landon prepare tea in the little kitchen area he keeps behind the desk, and what Evan assumes to be coffee. Landon returns, places the steaming cup on a table and sits down on the other armchair.
"Do you have family, Mr Peters?" he asks, then takes a sip of his coffee.
Evan shakes his head. "It was only my wife and I. My parents are long dead, I had no brothers or sisters."
Landon's brow furrows and he hides the expression with his coffee cup. "You are alone."
He nods. "For the last ten years." He holds the cup between his hands, savouring its warmth then glances to his wedding ring. He clears his throat and tears his gaze away. "What about yourself, Mr Abrams?"
Landon nods. "I have a daughter. She's in her twenties, away on business and insisted I take a break from work while she was away. Said it would give us something to talk about."
Evan raises an eyebrow. "You don't talk much to your daughter?"
Landon snorts. "Talk much? She never stops! She has this idea in her head I don't get out and meet people enough, and so I should take a holiday."
"And yet you chose here. The most out-of-the-way, isolated hotel you could possibly pick." He sees the smile slip across Landon's face, a twinkle in his eye. "You picked it on purpose." Evan begins to laugh, while Landon chuckles.
The laughter dies to a last snort and he turns his attention to his tea again. The cup has started to grow cold and he takes a sip, sets it down again while Landon does the same. His cup however is empty.
"I will let you be, Mr Peters. No doubt you have plenty to do after these new guests have booked in," he says. Landon makes a point of brushing his hand past Evan's cold tea when he gets up from the armchair. He takes his hat, tips it to Evan and leaves the hotel. Evan turns to his tea and finds steam, billowing out of the top of it. Strange, he thought he'd let it go cold.
The days pass and the guests leave once again, each one signing out and telling him how lovely the hotel is. Evan smiles, nods, his armour has already been donned. Still Landon Abrams stays, lingering in the foyer.
When the last of the guests have left, Landon approaches the desk.
"I wish to extend my stay," he says, already reaching into his coat for his wallet.
Evan takes the register book, writes the details. "Is this to annoy your daughter?"
The remark makes Landon smile, though he doesn't comment. Evan can't help but notice how much more approachable it makes him seem. "I need another week; will this be all right?"
Evan nods, turns the book to let Landon sign it. Landon pays in cash and Evan turns, puts it in the cash box in the safe. He returns to the desk, Landon still waiting there. "Is there something else you need?"
"I wished to ask you, will you join me later this evening? Down at the beach. I will bring food and other beverages. I would welcome the company."
Evan glances to the front door, for a moment, sure there is someone standing there. He looks away, back to Landon and they are gone. If they were ever there. "I'd like that. It's not often I get down there, despite it being at the front door."
Landon smiles once more, a genuine smile and he nods. "Good, I will meet you here." With that, he turns and heads up the staircase, leaving Evan alone once more.
The day passes slowly, Evan more than once falling asleep at the desk. He watches the clock, tries to read a book but finds neither hold his attention. He wanders the hotel like a ghost, checking everything is off in the kitchen, the dining room is tidy. Each time he returns to the reception desk, he watches the front door like a sniper, waiting for his target. His target appears in the form of Landon with a carrier bag in one hand and a flask in the other.
"Are you ready?" he asks.
Evan takes his coat and scarf from hooks at the door and joins Landon at the entrance. He shuts the doors then follows Landon down to the beach. The journey is slow, arduous, his knees protest the entire way and it is a welcome relief when they stop on a grassy bank overlooking the sea. It is another dull, grey day, with the sea water looking more brown than blue. The wind sweeps through the dried grass, pulling it toward the water. On the beach is miles upon miles of sand, reaching into the distance and disappearing into the fog. It is cold and Evan is glad he brought his scarf as well as his jacket.
Landon helps him to sit down and hands him sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil. He pours hot water from the flask, drops a teabag into a cup and adds milk. Landon hands this over to Evan before he sees to coffee and food.
They sit in silence, watching the waves crash onto the beach, hitting the rocks and leaving driftwood littering the shore. The wind blows, stinging his cheeks and Evan pulls the collar of his coat up to protect himself against it. Landon notices and adjusts the way he's sitting to take most of the sting of the wind and act as a shield. Evan is grateful.
"Are you a good man, Mr Peters?" Landon asks, then takes a mouthful of sandwich.
Evan shake his head. "No, I am not."
Evan sips his tea, holds it in his hands, staring at the sea. "Because I've killed people, Mr Abrams. One of the ultimate sins, isn't it? I didn't intend to, but when you're at war, you don't have a choice."
Landon is silent, chewing on his sandwich. He says nothing and waits for Evan to continue.
"I went to war because I was called up, that's what happened in those days. Conscript has long since been abolished, else there'd be a lot more young men out fighting wars." He sighs. "I thought I could save people. I don't think I saved anyone at all."
"Do you really?" Landon crumples up the tinfoil, puts it back in the bag. "What then, do you think you did during the war?"
"I fought, as I was ordered to. I killed men because of their nationality. Does a good man do that?" Evan shakes his head. "He does not." He looks into the distance. "I saw the concentration camps; I was there when we freed what few that we could."
"You saved lives."
"How many did I take in return, Mr Abrams? For those I may have saved, I returned the favour tenfold. I am not a good man. No man is truly good, anyone who claims to be is lying."
They eat the rest of the sandwiches in silence, drink their teas and coffees. The only sound is the waves against the beach, in and out. Evan's tea, much to his surprise, has not gone cold, despite the wind's bite. He is glad of the warmth.
Landon finishes his last sandwich and packs away everything into his bag. He helps Evan to his feet. Evan looks at him, studies him properly, for the first time in the weeks Landon has been staying there. The conclusion stares him in the face.
"You are Death. That's why you were asking about my life, to decide where I am to go."
Landon opens his mouth to speak and no sound comes out. Instead, he only nods.
"It's my time?"
Again, Landon nods.
Evan nods too. "Good." He takes a deep breath. "Good. I am old, I've been here too long."
Landon swallows hard, the bag gripped tightly. He shuts his eyes, his grip on the bag growing tighter when he clenches his fist. He opens his eyes, looks at him. "You are alone."
"And I do not mind if Death is my only companion in my final moments." Evan smiles at him. "Will I see my wife?"
"Then I have no regrets when passing on." He looks back at the sea. "I have only one request. I want to pass on in my hotel. My wife loved it, I want her to meet me there."
Landon gives a nod and offers his arm. "As you wish."
They walk back to the hotel, slowly, carefully. They reach the hotel, Landon depositing Evan behind the reception desk. Landon disappears, long enough to dispose of the bag. Evan stands in front of Landon when he returns.
"Are you ready to go?" Landon asks, one hand offered to him.
Evan takes it and closes his eyes. "I'm ready."