by Bek D Corbin
Saint Gregory’s had seen better days. But even those better days weren’t exactly what you’d call Grand. St. Gregory’s was a rather run of the mill, working class Roman Catholic church, tucked away in a not terribly glamorous part of Manhattan. Father John Carmody was leading the Mass, and wasn’t looking forward to hearing Confession from the regulars. You can only hear about the same sins over and over for so long, before you feel the urge to say ‘For Christ’s Sake, go out and do something Interesting!’
But even nervous old ladies need their hands held. Maybe especially nervous old ladies. Father John finished the liturgy, and went into the rectory to change his vestments. But before he could make it to the rectory, a uniformed policeman stopped him. “Excuse me, Father,” the cop said in the slightly nasal accent of Hell’s Kitchen, one of New York’s Irish working class neighborhoods, “but I really need your help.”
“Well, get in line, Confession will start as soon as I can get out of these things.”
“This isn’t a Confession, Father.” That’s when Father John saw the strange look in the Cop’s eyes. “Something’s happened, and I think that we need a Priest.”
New York mostly deserved its reputation as one of the toughest cities in the world. NYPD had to be tough. You didn’t see blue-suits coming in driveling about trivialities. ‘Well, John,’ the Father thought to himself, ‘you wanted something interesting to happen.’
He quickly checked the cop’s nametag, which said ‘O’Keefe’.
“Well, my son, exactly what happened to you?”
“It didn’t happen to ME, Father. Well, not directly. Well, lem’me get ‘im in here before I say anything more.”
Officer O’Keefe bustled out the side door to the alley, and quickly came back in with someone whose head was covered by a gray blanket. “Father,” he said quietly. “I think that we oughta take this into the rect’ry.”
O’Keefe steered the person into the rectory, followed by Father John. O’Keefe sat the person- a boy, from the jeans and ski jacket that the Father could see under the blanket- on a shabby couch. “So, what’s the matter?” Father John asked, genuinely intrigued.
O’Keefe took a deep breath and scratched the back of his head. “Ah, Well, it’s like this, Father. Me an’ my partner, Nunez, was answering a Code Kent,” ‘Code Kent’ was a well known bit of NYPD slang for a call regarding superheroes and/or supervillains, “at the Times Square subway station. When we got there, some damn fool- beggin’ your pardon, Padre- had let something loose that looked for all the world like demons.”
“Officer O’Keefe,” Carmody began, “that could have been almost anything. These days there are oddballs out there …”
“That there may or may not have been demons, ain’t the matter, Padre.” O’Keefe cut in. “Let me get there, ‘cause if I don’t tell you right, you’re gonna think I’m nuts. Anyway, we had a report that this asshole was kicking up a row and had sent these things. Me an’ Nunez was sent with a bunch’a other guys to try and get the civilians out safe, an’ mebbee keep the freaks down, ‘til someone with real muscle could get there t’handle ‘em. We went in, and Mother Mary, it horrible! They’d chewed up two people already, and there was blood all over the place!
“There were people all huddled against the wall, damn near clawing away at each other trying to get away, you know how it is. But when one of the other guys got mauled by one’a the demon-things, this scrawny little Puerto Rican guy pulled away from the wall and pulled the cop away from the demon. And you know how New Yorkers are, Padre; all it takes is one. One by one they stopped huddling by the wall, and they started pulling the wounded away and tried to do first aid an’ all that.”
Father John nodded. New Yorkers were like that. They were so conditioned by raw necessity to ignore the needs of others that they could walk over a dying man to get to a cab. But, give them a reason to open up, and they would. And you could never really be sure which way they’d flip.
“Ennyway Father, they was doin’ ever’thin’ they could, but these damn- beg pardon, Padre- the demons wouldn’t let ‘em. This one ol’ lady was about to lay inta one of ‘em with her shoppin’ bag, and suddenly this kid who was up against the wall began glowin’.”
“Glowing all over? A sort of radioactive glow?”
“Nossir, it was a pure white light, and it came from his hands an’ around his head. Ennyway, he walks away from the wall, right at one’a the demon things and this … thing … just kinda came out and smacked the demon thing right in the schnozzle.”
“This … thing … you mention- what did it look like?”
O’Keefe’s eyes went wide. “Father- it was an Angel …” he whispered the word, as if afraid to say it out loud.
“An Angel.” Carmody said in a flat, disbelieving voice.
“Yeah, an Angel!”
“O’Keefe, this is NEW YORK. We have more superheroes and supervillains bopping around this town than any other city in the world. Only Manila even comes close! It could have been anything. Just because it looked-”
“Father, it wasn’t what it LOOKED like, it was what it felt like!”
“Father, before that kid opened up, it was like a fucking- beggin’ yer pardon, Padre- it was like a tomb down there in Time Square! It was cold, and miserable, and we all knew that we was gonna die! But then …”
“Okay, Officer O’Keefe, bitter cold and an intense sense of desolation and despair is one of the classic signs of a supernatural experience, along with the smell of brimstone, but that …”
“And then, Father,” O’Keefe plowed right over him, apparently needing to tell his story, “the kid lights up and, it’s like, well, we KNEW that everything was gonna be all right! We KNEW that we were gonna be safe! And that thing that zapped outta his hands- it burned that demon-dog thing like acid!”
“The demon thing melted?”
“No, it was just like the demon-dog got scaled by hot water. It left off’a tearin’ this guy’s let off and lit out’a there like it was on fire! Father, Nunez an’ me, we was pumping ten gauge shotgun rounds int’a that thing and it didn’t so much as blink! Then the kid zaps the others, and they scat, too.”
“Well, officer, so far it sounds like a very interesting, but still very natural manifestation of a paranormal ability. It’s possible that this boy is a mutant, and he was set to manifest his powers-”
“Father,” O’Keefe cut in, “when then demon-dogs was gone, the kid, he starts shovin’ rubble and stuff off’a people with these bursts of white like. Then he walks over and he has this HALO glowin’ around his head, and this white, glowin’ thing rises up out of his chest. It touches this one guy whose leg was burnin’ from the ACID those things have in their mouths, and the guy stops screamin’.”
“And the leg was completely healed?”
“Nossir. Well, it was kind’a healed, like it had been a year or so, but there was a lot of meat still gone.”
“Well, Officer O’Keefe, if the leg had been completely restored, THAT would have been miraculous. What you just described to me sounds like some paranormal, but non-divine force at work. I assume that this person here is the boy that you described.”
Carmody went over to the young man. “Son, are you all right?”
“I-- I Dunno.” The boy spoke flatly, his bland Middle American accent covering just a hint of a New Jersey whine.
“Well, let’s get a look at you, and see what’s going on.” Carmody pulled the blanket off the kid’s head. The kid looked like any of a million kids that you see every day in the Big Apple- except for the halo.
Carmody paused. “Okay. You don’t see THAT every day, I’ll admit.” Still, Carmody reminded himself, he was a man of Faith, not superstition. “Still, I think that we can rule out anything supernatural, let alone …”
Then the boy startled, as if hearing something from the nave of the church. he stood and walked to the rectory door, pulling the blanket about his head as he went. As he walked toward the door, the halo grew brighter, shining even through the coarse gray NYPD-issue blanket.
He walked into the nave, where Mrs. Vallacio was praying in a loud whisper. Mrs. Vallacio had a cancer of the bone marrow in her right thigh. she couldn’t afford any of the marrow transplant procedures, so for her, every day was a battle with the pain, and the numbing effects of drugs that couldn’t cope with that pain. Coming to church and praying for relief was literally one of her only sources of comfort.
The boy staggered towards her, as if being dragged by a greater force than himself. He stopped a few steps behind Mrs. Vallacio, and threw his head back. The halo around his head grew brighter, the glow filling the church as a ball of light emerged from his chest. It unfolded into a lambent white circle of light, with what looked like six ethereal wings outspread. It was like seeing the Gates of Heaven open. A palpable awe filled the church. The winged ring floated toward Mrs. Vallacio, and settled into her.
Mrs. Vallacio stopped praying, but there it wasn’t as if she had been interrupted. Rather, it was as if she were finally being answered. The regulars waiting for Confession were all watching, down on their knees, hands clasped before them in reverent awe. When Mrs. Vallacio gave out a loud gasp, it didn’t ring of outrage, or shock, or fear, or even carnal pleasure. No, it was a gasp of relief, of agony finally dispelled. The light about the boy’s head and hands faded, and the boy himself collapsed at Carmody’s feet.
O’Keefe took the boy in his arms, and carried him back into the rectory, as Carmody tried to deal with the situation in the nave. Mrs. Vallacio was crying, and burbling in an elated flood of Spanish, alternating laughing and crossing herself. Carmody tried to speak reason to the woman, but it was no use - she knew a miracle when one dropped into her lap. And, by the time he remembered the regulars, only three of them were still on their knees in rapt prayer.
Carmody managed to talk Mrs. Vallacio into going to the hospital, to have a doctor take a look at her thigh, just to be absolutely sure. Senora Vallacio agreed, more as a way of humoring the priest than that she was worried about her health anymore. After seeing Senora Vallacio to the church door, Carmody returned to the rectory.
O’Keefe had set the boy, who seemed exhausted by what he’d done, out on the rectory sofa. The cop looked at the priest with the eyes of a confused child, looking to a trusted authority figure to explain things. “That’s what happened at Times Square. Padre, I been a cop in this town for going on ten years. I’ve seen superheroes and supervillains. I’ve seen guys who grow ten stories tall and can throw city busses like footballs. I’ve seen a ten-foot tall pile of junk that walks and talks like a real human bein’. I’ve seen things in the sewers that they don’t even have names for. Today wasn’t even the first time that I’ve seen a demon. And Padre, I ain’t never seen anything like that. That ain’t no gimmick or spell. I dunno what it is. But I do know one thing- it ain’t no how, business as usual.”
Carmody started to correct him, to say that it was possible that there could be any of a number of paranormal, though non-miraculous ways to explain what had happened. But he couldn’t. You don’t lie about things like this, especially when the truth is so patently obvious. he sat down and rubbed his face. “I don’t know. Yes, I know what we just saw in there, but … I don’t know what all of this means. The only thing that I can think of, is that we keep the boy here, and I’ll send a message to the Archdiocese for instruction. I know someone who’s worked for the Canonical Review Board. If anyone would know how to tell the a miracle from a fluke, it would be Father Almaguer.”
NEW YORK HERALD, Nov. 9th
NEW YORK TRIBUNE, Nov. 9th
NEW YORK RECORD, Nov. 9th
NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC, Nov. 9th
THE ARCHANGEL GABRIEL SAVES NEW YORKERS FROM THE HOUNDS OF HELL!
AMERICAN CRUSADER, Nov. 9th
DOORWAY TO HELL OPENS IN TIMES SQUARE! STATUE OF FATHER DUFFY COMES TO LIFE TO SAVE UNWED MOTHER FROM MAULING!
In New York, the Annex of the Office for Esoteric Investigation is a major office, which is run by a Bishop-without-See. The Office for Esoteric Investigation was formed in the late 19th Century as a small inquiry board to investigate the phenomenon of Spiritualism, and its possible impact on the Faith. It closed after a few years, after dismissing Spiritualism as a hollow fraud. It re-opened in the 1930s to investigate the appearance of ‘Super Powers’, and the claims of all sorts of preternatural events. Currently, the New York Annex is the office that keeps tabs on the various beings operating in New York City, many of whom claim to be gods or mystical entities of one sort or another, and investigates allegedly ‘supernatural’ events. In general, it makes sure that the Cardinal is kept informed of what is going on in that part of society..
The Bishop cleared his throat and addressed the small meeting of officials in his office. “Very well, what can you tell me about the incident at the Atlantic Heritage Society yesterday?”
Bishop Spengler is a quiet, seldom spoken man, who can do more by just listening than most people can with both hands
Monsignor Fenzi opened the first of several thick dossiers on his lap. “First of all, the Atlantic Heritage Society is a legitimate philanthropic society that tries to promote cultural exchange between Europe and the United States. It arranges scholarships, tours of fine art and historical artifacts, concert tours; that sort of thing. They also do work with Landmark designation and Historical Preservation and that sort of thing.
“However, in the 1930s, when Hitler and Mussolini were doing everything in their power to drive everyone with a degree out of Europe, they started helping refugees with academic backgrounds. Many of these refugees went to great pains to take rare and valuable books with them when they left Europe, only to find themselves at the mercy of unscrupulous rare book dealers, once they were here in the States. The AHS started buying valuable books from these refugees. While they were getting a great bargain, they were also giving these outcast academics much better prices for the works than they had been getting. In the process, they acquired a very large, quite enviable collection of rare books, including a disproportionate number of esoteric works. It seems that one of the members of the AHS Board of Directors, from 1923 to 1951, was Prof. Emerson Thurwell.”
“The Vampire Hunter?” Spengler raised a single eyebrow.
“The very one. Thurwell was known as usually being up to his eyebrows in one supernatural bit of business or another. During this period, Thurwell used the Atlantic Heritage Society as a cover for groups such as the Mystic Six, Dr. DeLusignan’s Great White Hunters, the Esoteric Order of St. Michael, and other groups of mystics and monster hunters.”
“So, you think that the Atlantic Heritage Society is a front for a some sort of mystic cabal.”
“Not in so many words. These mystics don’t control the AHS, they merely use it as a meeting place, and avail themselves of the Society’s enviable collection of esoteric works. Not so much co-option, as cooperation.”
Father Montjoie took over. “We think that the Society’s collection of esoteric books was the target of yesterday’s raid, although, we’ve suspected that the Society’s Controlled Climate vaults were also being used as repositories of various items of arcane power, so the raiders might have intended on taking those, instead. Or, as well, possibly.”
“Do we have any ideas as to who the raiders were?”
“Oh, we know exactly who was behind it.” Montjoie produced an 8x11” photograph of a figure in red articulated plate armor, carrying a hoplite shield and a bastard sword. His helmet covered all of his face except for a pair of shadowed eyes. However, the pair of curved horns that swept back over the helmet left no question as to who he was.
“The Anti-Paladin.” Spengler sighed. “So, it was the Hall.”
“The Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom is the closest thing that there is to the ‘International Satanist Conspiracy’ that was so beloved by conspiracy theorists. However, while it is an international society of mystics who are generally agreed to be ‘evil’, it is in fact, neither Satanic nor a real conspiracy. It is more of a combination of neutral ground, clearinghouse for information, and a mutual assistance society for practitioners of the dark arts, which allows a motley assortment of untrustworthy individualists to cooperate with a minimum of back-stabbing. The Anti-Paladin is a sort of arcane mercenary who worked exclusively for the Hall. He is their ‘Showcase Hitter’, someone that they send when they don’t care about exposure or collateral damage. … How much did they get away with?”
“Nothing,” Montjoie said. “We’re still gathering details, but it looks like a complete rout for the Hall. Right now, it looks like someone put together your basic ‘Evil Master Plan’, and it went afoul rather spectacularly. Ideally, no one should even have been aware that there had been a raid. Instead, there were police, SWAT and superheroes. A friend of ours at the Federal Aviation Administration noted a remarkable number of small private aircraft suddenly filing flight plans leaving various airports around the greater New York City area in a five-hour period right after the dust settled in the AHS incident. 70% of these flights never arrived at their stated destinations.”
“So, the rats are leaving the ship.”
“Well, we can hope so. Even so, our sources in the Magical Vigilante community tell me that the heat is still on.”
“So, you’re telling me that they didn’t walk out with ‘Ye Darke Book of ye Disgusting Revelations’, or the Gallstone of Beelzebub, or anything potentially apocalyptic like that?” Montjoie shook his head. “Well, that makes for a nice change of pace. Any other fallout?”
“Just the incident in Times Square,” Father Fabrici said, opening another, newer dossier. “According to our best sources, the Grand Hall had summoned five of the demonic entities known popularly as ‘Hellhounds’ to assist them. When their attack broke and they ran, they left the hellhounds to keep the authorities busy, and quickly summoned up another five hellhounds, which they sent after the crowds in Times Square as another distraction.”
“Excuse me,” Bishop Spengler interrupted, “but HOW do you ‘quickly summon up’ hellhounds? They’re demons, you don’t just snap your fingers, and whistle up fiends from Hell!”
Brother Keifhauser nodded. “It’s a recent development. One of the problems with Conjury, from the point of view of an unscrupulous conjurer, is that once you summon a demon or elemental, you can’t just put them on hold until you need them. You have to give them orders right then, right there. This presents a lot of logistical problems. So, someone came up with a technique of temporarily binding a summoned creature into small temporary ‘vessels’. They call them ‘Conjure seeds’, or ‘Demon Seeds’, or ‘Dragons Teeth’. Each one of these things is about the size of a peach pit, and since the demon or elemental hasn’t been completely brought into the world yet, it will fit into the seed. There’s a specific key to activate these ‘seeds’, depending on the nature of the being that’s under wraps. For an Earth elemental, you’d plant the seed; for a Fire elemental, you’d throw it in a fire.”
“And for these hellhounds?”
“You’d bathe it in blood. And there was a lot of blood lying around.”
“Though the Anti-Paladin had a nasty little wrinkle for that,” Fabrici noted. “He grabbed a police officer, cut a slit in his stomach and inserted the demon seed. The officer was torn apart by the manifesting hellhound, from within.”
Spengler shuddered. “How many died, altogether?”
“Four civilian employees of the AHS were severely injured, two killed. Seven uniformed police officers injured, three killed. Five SWAT officers were injured, seven killed. Twenty-five civilians injured in Times Square, four killed.”
The bishop gave a long sigh. “We can’t let an atrocity like this go unanswered. What is our best intelligence as to who was the mastermind of the AHS raid?”
Fenzi checked his files. “As best we can estimate, it was probably a rare true group effort on the part of the upper echelons of the Grand Hall in New York. We suspect that the Mages known as Madam Misraim, Friar Rush, and Al-Mahgrebi were deeply involved, possibly the ringleaders. But, to be honest, in order to expend that much of Grand Hall resources on a single effort strikes me as a ‘All-or-Nothing’ effort. Everyone of them would have to be in on it, and they probably all share the burden of its failure.”
“So, is there any way that we can impress upon the Grand Hall that we aren’t going to stand for this sort of nonsense?”
Fenzi gave a gallic shrug. “We don’t really have to. The esoteric members associated with the Atlantic Heritage Society are already turning the greater New York area, turning it upside down and shaking it. We could ask certain *ahem!* ‘friends’ in the *ahem!* ‘Families’ to shake the trees in their own orchards and see what falls out of them.”
Spengler nodded. “Offer them our special brand of protection, if they come up with anything real. Let it be known that we’re not standing for this sort of thing. Anyone who protects this scum suffers our wrath; anyone who stands against them, enjoys our protection. Now, what about this new ‘superhero’ that the papers say saved those civilians in the Times Square subway?”
“Well, I’d say that ‘superhero’ is something of an overstatement.” Montjoie flipped through his file. “More like a classic case of some sort of paranormal ability manifesting under extreme duress. More than likely some manner of supernatural ability- exactly what, I couldn’t say. Definitely some sort of blaster, there are reports of flashes of bright light.”
“Didn’t I hear that he destroyed the hellhounds, almost completely?” Brother Keifhuaser asked.
“Again, something of an overstatement. From what I got when I saw the MTA security tapes, he severely damaged them and sent them packing. Now, the thing that really disturbs me is that, on the tape, there was a bright light over one of the people who’d been injured by the hellhound. I checked on him at Our Lady’s Hospital, and while a big chunk of his leg is still missing, it looks like it happened years ago.”
Spengler nodded again. “Any idea of what happened to our mysterious ‘hero’?”
Father Almaguer cleared his throat. “As a matter of fact, I know exactly where he got to. A city cop took him directly to Saint Gregory’s. That’s a church on the edge of Hell’s Kitchen. The parish priest, Father John Carmody, has taken charge of the boy, and is trying to give all due aid and guidance.”
“Yes, according to Carmody, the *ahem!* ‘hero’ is all of fifteen years old, and extremely frightened at what happened yesterday.”
The bishop gave out a low aggravated snarl. “Fifteen years old. Oh, wonderful! A perfect time frame and condition for an emergence of a powerful mutant trait. Just what we don’t need- to be stuck between a scared kid who happens to be both a mutant and a minor hero, and the MCO. What’s the boy’s name, Almaguer?”
“Carmody says that the boy is still in shock.”
“Okay, get in touch with Carmody. Tell him to offer the boy refuge, at least until we can come to some sort of intelligent decision as to what we’re going to do in the long run. Tell him to NOT ask the boy his name. We don’t have to obey a court order to divulge the name, if we don’t know it. And the MCO doesn’t have the kind of clout where they can issue a blanket warrant for anyone who might be in one of our churches. And the boy is to be kept incommunicado for now. There are just too many things still up in the air.”
“What about the boy’s parents?”
“For the moment, we don’t know who they are, and to be honest, given the way that the MCO works, it’s best for them if they can honestly say that they don’t know that their son is a mutant. Or, whatever this boy is.”
“Excuse me, Bishop? What if this boy isn’t a Catholic?”
“Well, if the reports as to this boy’s powers are right, then I’d say that that’s a grievous shortcoming that we’ll have to correct as soon as possible, no?”
Carmody nodded at his instructions. “Yes, I see. Try to keep the fact that the boy is here as quiet as possible. I’ll do what I can. Are you sure that I shouldn’t just have him call his parents, wherever they are?”
“No, our position is such that if the Mutant Commission Office asks us questions about this boy’s background, we can honestly say that we don’t know. We don’t want a repeat of that debacle with the church at Calahorra. Amnesty International still hasn’t stopped busting our chops over that one.”
“But that was in Chile! The MCO has to operate by American rules, here in the States.”
“All that means is that they’ll have to be quieter. Do you really want this boy to disappear in the night and fog, like Isabel Anaelez did?”
Father John crossed himself. “No. Well, at the very least, can I ask him his first name? I can’t just keep calling him ‘boy’, now can I?”
Carmody heard Almaguer sigh over the telephone line. “Well, I think that we can keep it to a nickname or something like that. Tell him about the MCO, and that we’re working on finding a way to keep him safe.”
“All right. And, what about this power of his?”
“Bishop Spengler has spoken with the Congregation Head Office in Rome. They should get back to us in a few days with a pro tem policy as to how to handle this.”
“Almaguer, I think that I should tell you; I’m not sure exactly what we’re dealing with here. I thought at first that it was just some oddball mutant trait showing itself, or maybe a strange supernatural thing. But I think that it’s more.”
“John, I know that miracles are our business, but it doesn’t do anyone any good if you start seeing Our Lord in a mildew stain.”
“Dammit, Ernesto, I am NOT some hysteric who needs to fabricate miracles out of nothing, to convince myself of my faith! What I’ve seen… Good Lord, what I’ve experienced!… is no parlor trick! I’m in way over my head here! I need some guidance here!”
“Well, John, if he’s as impressive as you say, then that’s all the more reason to not let him fall into the hands of the MCO, wouldn’t you say?”
Carmody put the receiver down, and let out a long cleansing breath as he rubbed his eyes. He’d wanted something interesting to come along. ‘Be careful what you ask for,’ he thought to himself, ‘you might get it.’ He willed himself to stand up and walk out of his office, into the rectory proper. He climbed the stairs up to the guestroom on the second floor, where the boy still was. He carefully knocked, and was allowed in. “Are you feeling better?” The boy nodded dully. “Feel like something to eat?” The boy shook his head with the same lack of animation.
Finally, the boy looked up with golden eyes, and asked in a ragged voice, “What happened?”
Carmody sat down in the hard chair and let out a deep breath. “That, I’m afraid, is THE question of the hour. What happened to you could have been one of several things. None of them, I’m afraid, will allow you to return to your life as if nothing has happened. You could be a mutant. You could be one of those one-in-a-million flukes that happen in situations like that. You could have somehow tapped into some supernatural force that I don’t have the slightest idea what to tell you about. Right now, the Office for Esoteric Investigation-”
“The Office for Esoteric Investigation. It’s a special office within the Roman Catholic Church, to examine strange things like super powers, demonic possession, psychic abilities, and things like that. To decide what policy to suggest to the Pope, as to what Official Church Doctrine will be, regarding these things. It’s a branch of the Congregation for the Determination of the Causes of Saints; they investigate reports of miracles and things like that, as to determine whether someone who has been nominated for Sainthood should be recognized as such by the Church.”
“Oh. I’m not Catholic.”
Carmody gave the boy a smile. “Well, no one’s perfect.”
“My name’s-,” the boy started.
“I don’t need to know that,” Carmody quickly held up a restraining hand. “Oh, don’t get me wrong, but we’re in a very touchy situation here. The ploy that’s been decided on, is that if we don’t know your name, then we can’t be asked to give out your name. And if they don’t know your name, then the Mutant Commission Office can’t serve us with a warrant to remove you, and take you into custody.” The boy visibly flinched at the mention of the MCO. “I take it that you’ve heard of the MCO?”
“Yeah,” The boy nodded as he curled up into an even tighter ball on the bed. “I’ve heard my Mom talk about them. She say that they’re the Second Coming of the Gestapo.”
Carmody winced at the comparison. “Well, that’s tarring a lot of people with a rather wide brush. Far be it from me to apologize for the MCO, but they are a group that was given a very big and quite difficult task to do. There are agents of the MCO who are doing their very best to protect us baseline humans from some very dangerous, very unpredictable, and extremely powerful people. On the other hand, certain agents of the Office have been known to be rather … overzealous in discharging their duties.” Carmody gave a wry smile. “The Church does have some experience with that sort of thing.”
“Why would the MCO be interested in me? I haven’t done anything wrong?”
“Well, while the MCO’s charter does limit themselves to investigating mutants, the rather nebulous distinction between mutants and other paranormals- and I’m afraid that no matter what specifically you are, you fit the definition of ‘paranormal’ perfectly- means that they will assume, until proven otherwise, that you are a mutant. And, I’ve heard that there are factions within the MCO that believe a proactive solution is in order, when dealing with powerful mutants.”
“A ‘proactive solution’?”
Carmody cleared his throat. “I’m afraid that ‘Proactive Solution’ is the current euphemism for ‘kill them before they become dangerous’.’
“Oh,” the boy said in a small voice. “But, couldn’t you, like, just … tell ‘em that I ran away, or somethin’?”
Carmody let out another deep breath. “My son, the Roman Catholic Church obeys the Law. There have been times when individual members haven’t obeyed, following the dictates of their conscience, but the Church as a body obeys the Law. The Law says that when a duly authorized agent of a Law Enforcement Agency, such as the MCO, asks us a direct question in the performance of his or her duty, then we have to respond as truthfully as we can. However, the fine details of the Law also protect you- you can’t be rounded up with a ‘John Doe’ warrant, unless you’re accused of a crime. Which you haven’t been, not even leaving the scene of a crime, since you were brought here by a police officer. So, unless the MCO comes here with an individual specific warrant for you BY NAME, then you’re safe here.”
“What- what if I called my folks, in Jersey?”
“Then that would place not only you, but your parents in great danger. If the MCO knew that you were here, one of the first things that they’d do would be to access the parish’s telephone records. And how am I supposed to explain ONE call to a residential address in New Jersey?”
“But… how am I supposed to get home?”
Carmody shook his head. “I don’t know. There are too many things still up in the air, right now. We’ll try to get you to your parents. But the important thing is, I will do everything in my power, to keep you safe.”
Father John forced himself to cheer up. “Well, it looks like we’re going to be spending a bit of time together. My name is Father John Carmody. You can call me ‘Father Carmody’, or ‘Father John’. And, well, I can’t ask you your name, for reasons that we’ve just thrashed out. But I have express permission to ask if you have a nickname.”
The boy’s large golden eyes blinked. “Kerry. My folks call me Kerry.”
The news van drove carefully through the street and found a parking space a block away from the church. Channel 13 field news reporter Suki Sanchez got out and looked around. She repressed a shudder. The neighborhood was straight out of a Scorsese flick, only with Shanty Irish and Latino low lives. She allowed herself a fleeting hope that she’d gotten the address wrong, that it was maybe a little closer to Broadway? Not a chance, stories like this only happened in down-at-the-heels parts of town like this.
Then she saw the little makeshift offerings of flowers and candles on the church steps, and she knew that she had the place. “This is it, guys.” Her cameraman and soundman bustled out and got their gear ready. Giving the scene a quick once-over, Suki spotted a grandmotherly Irish woman who looked like an extra from on old James Cagney gangster movie. She was arranging a small altar with a photograph of a teenage girl, a candle and some rosary beads. Well, an earthy Hispanic grandmother type would have been better, but at least she could trust that Molly Malone over there spoke English. She rushed up and pounced. The woman looked at the camera like a deer caught in headlights.
After a few on the street ‘interviews’, Suki spotted a mustached man in a cassock who was cleaning up the little altars. She hurried over. “Excuse me, but are you the priest of this church?”
“Yes, but if you’ll excuse me, I’m very busy, I have a Youth at Risk community service-”
“Father, I’m Suki Sanchez, from Channel 13 news. Would you like to comment about the miraculous healing of Elena Vallacio?”
“Miss Sanchez, you in the media may feel you have a license to throw words like 'miracle’ around, just because they might increase your ratings a dot or two. As a minor representative of the Roman Catholic Church, I don’t. Yes, I’m aware that Senora Vallacio has experienced a remission in her cancer, and I, along with everyone else in St. Gregory’s Parish, am delighted to wish her a speedy and complete recovery. And, while I would like to think that her recovery was due to her prayers, I’m sure that her doctor likes to think that he had something to do with it as well.”
“Father, would you like to comment on the reports of a miraculous vision that was seen in your church?”
“Again, Miss Sanchez, I have to warn you about blithely bandying the word ‘miracle’ about that way. The Roman Catholic Church accepts that the Lord does directly intervene, as it suits the Divine Plan. However, every hysterical report and fraudulent miracle that are tossed about for little more purpose than causing a stir, undermine the doctrine of Miracles as a basic tenet of the Faith.”
Father Carmody deftly avoided either confirming or denying anything on camera, and managed to separate himself from the news hawk. Firmly shutting the front door of the church behind him, he made his way to the rectory, and up the stairs. Kerry was in his room, flipping through a few second-to-third-hand books from the parish library to ease the boredom. “Things have just become more complicated,” Carmody told him.
“What happened? Is the MCO here?”
“No, but I’m afraid that that’s only a matter of time. A reporter showed up outside the church, asking questions. She didn’t ask any questions about what happened in Times Square, but if she heard about this, then so has every reporter in New York. And, it’ll only be a matter of time before one of them puts that and us together, just to see if it fits."
Kerry’s eyes went worried as it clicked together in his head. “And once they start asking questions in the papers, the MCO will hear about it.”
Carmody nodded. “Yes. I’d hoped that the furor would die down in a few days, maybe there’d be some other big scandal or superhero fight or something, and we could quietly move you to another location. There you could contact your parents without pulling them into the spotlight.” Carmody let out a heavy breath of exasperation. “Well, so much for doing this the easy way.”
“What’s the hard way?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t figured it out.” Carmody sat down in the hard chair. “I just wish that the Office of Esoteric Investigation would make up its ecclesiastical mind!” He rubbed his face a bit, and looked at the boy. “Kerry, how do you feel about what happened? At Times Square, and down in the nave?”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you up to discussing it?”
“Yeah, okay. What do you want to know?”
Carmody leaned forward. “Well, what was it like, when… what happened, happened?”
Kerry furrowed his brow. “Well… it’s kinda hard to say, to put into words. It was sorta like there was something all around me, that was moving through me, that wanted to get out, and I was the only way that it could get out.”
“So,” Carmody tried to see if he had the idea right, “it doesn’t come from inside you, it moves through you? You’re a conduit?”
“More like a ‘can’t do it’. It was like trying to take a dump and passing a brick!”
“So, I’m guessing that it’s some sort of force that you feel? Not like there’s someone or something inside you?”
“Inside me?” Kerry shook his head. “No, it’s more like I’m cold, and I feel heat flowing into me. But then, it sorta gets all balled up and tries to come out again.”
Carmody let out a relieved breath. “Well then, at least we can rule out some sort of possession.”
“POSSESSION?” Kerry blurted. “Possessed by WHAT?”
“Well, I don’t know. But, since it comes from outside you, possession isn’t the issue.”
“It- it looked like some sort of ... angel ...”
Carmody gave an uncomfortable grimace. “I was rather trying to avoid that.”
“But Angels don’t really exist!”
”Well, there hasn’t been a verified visitation of an Angel in centuries, but given some of the things that happen in New York, how strange would an Angel be?” Kerry looked at him dubiously. “Kerry, what sort of religious instruction have you had?”
“Well, my family’s Unitarian, and Mom makes sure that we go every Sunday. Well, almost every Sunday. Every Sunday that we can make it.”
‘Mother Mary, full of grace, Carmody thought to himself. ‘A Unitarian. The boy’s the next best thing to an Atheist!’ He leaned forward, and started asking the boy things in earnest.
When the priest left the room, Kerry curled back up into a ball. How do you tell a priest that you felt GOD working through you? Kerry didn’t even know that he believed in God! I mean, God works through Saints! And Kerry knew that he was no saint.
Why would God work through someone like him?
Being a saint meant being good all the time. Being a saint meant that you couldn’t screw up. Being a saint meant that you couldn’t get mad at people and yell at them or just haul off and bop them one, even when they have it coming.
Kerry looked up past the ceiling, and asked aloud, “God, if you really wanted to give me a gift, couldn’t it have been a portable DVD player or something?”
Nothing much happened the rest of Friday or Saturday. The locals kept bringing more flowers and candles and so on, in hopes that the ‘angel’ inside the church would notice. Another team of third-echelon newshounds who were too lazy to go out and FIND real news joined the Channel 13 news crew.
Kerry was torn between extreme boredom, a sense of being trapped, an urge to get the hell out of this freaking church, and the fear that the second that he set foot out of the church, that the MCO would taser him and ship him off to some gulag in Antarctica. Father Carmody had even suggested that he put that blanket over his head, in case someone with a digital camera in his cell phone saw him, and decided to make a quick buck.
But, as bored as he was, the really annoying thing was that … that ... ‘buzzing’, he framed it in his mind. This … something … that was like being next to a really big, really LOUD speaker at a concert, where you could feel the tremor in your bones. But there wasn’t any sound. And the ‘buzzing’ got softer, then louder, and sometimes faded to almost nothing, but it never went away.
By Sunday morning, Kerry was starting to think that the best thing all around would be for him to sneak out the side door, get to a payphone, and call home. After all, Father John wouldn’t get in any trouble if Kerry wasn’t there when the MCO came calling, right? And Father John had made a point of not knowing Kerry’s full proper name, or where in Jersey he lived, so Father John couldn’t let slip what he didn’t know, right?
Then, Kerry heard the sound of music down in the church proper. At first, he could barely hear it over the dinky little b&w TV set that they’d given him. But then, it seemed to be a wave on which the ‘buzzing’ rode in. He kept trying to ignore it, but the ‘buzzing’ developed into a kind of music that was and wasn’t part and parcel of the organ music downstairs. As much as he tried, he just couldn’t ignore it. It wanted in.
Finally, Kerry couldn’t keep it out anymore. He let it in, and immediately recognized it. It was what he’d felt on Sunday. It entered into him, just like it had down in the subway, and it started to grow. But this time, he felt it flow into the rest of his body. It was like being on fire, but it was a glorious fire, one that lit every part of his being from within. He jerked and twitched as spasms wracked him until his body got used to it. Then he rested for a moment, feeling absolutely spent.
But the music wouldn’t stop. He felt drawn. He needed, no the music needed, to get closer to its source. He tried to fight it, to ignore it, but it was worse than trying to ignore the mother of all burning itches.
Against his will, he felt himself crawl off the bed. As a sop to his reason, he grabbed the NYPD blanket and covered his head, so that no one would be able to ID him. Kerry went down the stairs feeling as if ropes were dragging him along.
Though his peripheral vision was hampered by the blanket, Kerry saw a few parishioners, who were, understandably, rather puzzled to see someone walking around a church with a blanket over his head. What he didn’t know was, that while a person walking around a church with a blanket on his head was admittedly odd, it WAS New York; they saw stranger things on the back fire escape. On the other hand, a guy walking around a church with a blanket on his head, with a bright white light shining out from it? Now THAT was something even New Yorkers didn’t see every day.
Kerry pushed past the double doors of the alcove, into the nave of the church.
Paula Feeney had lived in Hell’s Kitchen almost all her life. Her eyesight had been deteriorating for almost fifteen years. Nerve damage, the doctors said. They’d given her drugs that worked a bit, but nothing was stopping the slow fade of the light. As it was now, she could only barely make out rough shapes, if the light was really bright. Normally, she went to Our Lady of Sorrows, around the corner; St. Greg’s was an ‘overflow’ church, where you went when Our Lady was too crowded. But Paula had heard that an angel had come down to some Chicano lady who came to St. Greg’s, and healed her cancer. Just like that. If an angel could come down to some Chicano lady, why wouldn’t it come down for a real God-fearing American?
Father John noted with wry amusement that attendance was unusually heavy that morning. Usually, all the he got was either a few regulars, or some spill-over from Our Lady around the corner, or someone who had stopped in by mistake looking for the Lutheran church a block over. Also, there was a definite undercurrent, a sense of expectation from the congregation. Well, he hated to disappoint them, but he wasn’t some revival tent charlatan who produced ‘miracles’ on cue.
Carmody was reading the litany, when there was a murmur and a hush from the congregation. Carmody looked up and almost profaned the Holy Name. His wry amused evaporated as he saw a piercing white light emanating from a draped figure near the door at the back of the pews.
Kerry literally couldn’t stop himself. It was like being pulled along by a powerful riptide. It was even more intense than it had been Wednesday, in the subway station. Now, the power was all around him, filling him, gathering inside him and growing. It grew until he couldn’t keep it in anymore…
Carmody bustled down from the pulpit and ran down the center aisle, but he was too late. Kerry canted his head back under the blanket, his arms outstretched. Again the ball of light emerged from his chest and unfolded its wings. An awed hush settled on the congregation as the ‘angel’ wafted down the aisle, a soft tone filling the silence.
“What’s that?” Paula Feeney asked, “What’s going on?” Then, suddenly, something touched her and filled her. Later, she would swear with utter sincerity that it was the very Touch of God. She was dazed for a moment, and shook her head to clear her vision.
Her vision … “Dear God Above! I can see! I CAN SEE!”
As the stout Irish woman fell to her knees, laughing and crying as she crossed herself, Carmody shoved the parishioners aside and got Kerry out of the nave. The boy was clearly exhausted, and offered no resistance. Once he had the boy upstairs in and in his room, Carmody asked, “What did you think you were DOING?”
“I … I couldn’t help it! I tried, but I couldn’t stop myself! It was like trying to swim against a riptide!”
Father John paused. “Was it anything like what happened last Sunday, in the subway station?”
“Sort of. But it was different, too. It’s like … there’s this … sound … and it’s all around me. Sometimes it’s quiet, sometimes it’s loud, like now. I can hear it, and it comes into me …”
Carmody leaned forward intently. “Kerry, when did you first hear this ‘sound’?”
“It was in the subway.”
“EXACTLY when did you first hear it?”
“It ... it was when the dog-things were attacking people. I first heard something ... else ... and then, when the dog-thing was tearing up the cop, this guy jumped the dog-thing … and then I first heard the sound. Then more people started fighting the dog-things, and the sound got louder. And the sound filled me, and it got to the point where I couldn’t keep it in anymore.”
Father John nodded intently. “And this … sound … is it the same as you heard down in the church? Sunday, and just now?”
Kerry shook his head. “No. It’s … like that, but different … like Rock music is like Jazz, but different.”
Father Carmody, who loved Jazz, let the invidious comparison slide. “Can you hear this noise now?”
“Is it ... louder than before?”
“nnnggg … It’s louder than this morning, before the service started, but not as loud as it was during the service. And it was different, during the service.”
“Well, before the service started, and right now, it’s sort of like there’s a party next door, with a bunch of people all talking to each other at the same time. But during the service, it was like … like a choir … everyone singing the same song at the same time. Not louder, but clearer, more powerful.”
Father John nodded, “Okay, I can accept that. Go ahead, get some sleep. You've had a busy day. And I have a busy day ahead of me.” As Kerry stretched out on the bed, Father John noticed the NYPD issue blanket that Kerry had been using to cover his head. Normally, those blankets are black, but Carmody remembered it as being gray. Now, it was flat white.
“Oh, My God,” Carmody heard the boy say.
“What’s the matter, Kerry?”
“I can’t see!”
He couldn’t do anything about Kerry’s sight, and completing the Mass was impossible, so Father John spent the next two hours doing as much damage control as he possibly could. He had managed to get the more hysterical worshippers under control, and he was dealing with the one TV newsperson who was stubborn enough to have hung around that long, when Mrs. Newton, the housekeeper told him that he had a phone call from the Archdiocese.
Father John tactfully disconnected himself from the news-head, got to the rectory and gently but forcefully shut the door behind him. He took a deep breath and picked up the receiver. It was Father Almaguer. “Dammit, Carmody, what do you think you’re DOING?”
“How did you hear about it?”
“Some fool had one of those digital camera things, probably in their cell phone, and they took pictures of what happened!”
“What? It’s only been two hours! How could pictures get to you in only two hours?”
“Welcome to the Information Age, Carmody. What do you think you’re doing down there?”
“Honest, Ernesto, I never saw it coming. And, to tell the truth, I don’t think that the kid had a lot of choice. It was like something was-”
“Dammit, John, don’t you have a ‘No Cell Phones’ policy?”
Carmody ran down what had happened. “Now, Almaguer, this is important. I think that there’s something more to this than just some random manifestation of some mutant power.”
“John, just because-”
“No, listen! From what I understand, the ‘sound’ isn’t constant. I comes and goes, and it got ‘louder’ as the congregation arrived for services. Now, this is important, Ernesto- the ‘sound’ became clearer and more focused as I began the service.”
“What are you implying, John?”
“Well … what if what this child is channeling … is Faith?”
“Are you shitting me, John?”
“Well, we keep saying that faith can move mountains and heal the sick- what if it’s literally true?”
“John, I would expect something like that from a Prot Holy Roller, but not from an educated ...”
“Oh, that was uncalled for!” Carmody snapped back. “Okay, YOU have all the answers? Then tell me, WHAT am I supposed to do here? Sunday, I asked you for some guidance, and you told me that you couldn’t say anything until the OEI panel had made up their minds. So, TELL me, is the panel any closer to making up its ecclesiastical mind? If you’re not going to listen to me, at least SAY something intelligent!”
The line went uncomfortably silent. “Almaguer? Ernesto? Are you still there?”
“Ah, John … I’m afraid that the panel isn’t in a position where it can make any definitive statements at this time.”
“John, Bishop Spengler got a call from the Vatican. It seems that people from the Holy Office have been asking questions at the Congregation home offices.
“The ‘Holy Office’, or more formally, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is an organ of the church that deals with issues of doctrine that affect the ‘faith and morals in the whole Catholic world’. Even less formally, it is sometimes known as ‘Inquisition 2.0’.
“The Office of Esoteric Investigation is a branch of the Congregation for the Determination of the Causes of Saints, which only has due authority to investigate candidates for Beatification or Canonization. However, in investigating possible miracles, the Congregation for the Determination of the Causes of Saints and the Office of Esoteric Investigation have often had to define things as having causes that were Natural, Paranormal, Supernatural, Demonic or Divine.
“In a world with super-powered mutants. and beings that claim to be the incarnations of pagan deities and such, such definitions often bring the Congregation into conflict with the Holy Office. And these days, since Pope Benedict XVI has formerly been the Preceptor of the Holy Office, the Holy Office usually wins.”
Father John held his breath. “Is there any chance that they might order me to just hand over the child to the Mutant Commission Office, as a matter of course?” The ‘Holy Office’ was notoriously conservative, and there were rumors of a ‘friendly understanding’ between the Holy Office and the MCO.
“After the backlash after Isabel Anaelez, I doubt it. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t try to find some excuse for flushing the boy out of there.”
This was getting nasty. Father John decided that a change of topic was in order. “By the way, I saw Senora Vallacio at Mass this afternoon. She was as light on her feet as a ballerina. Would you know whether she saw a doctor, as I asked her to?”
“Yes, now that you mention it, we do. Took a little doing, but you’d be amazed at how any mention of a ‘miracle’ lights a fire under technical types. According to the X-rays and scans- that we paid for, by the way- Elena Vallacio’s osteosarcoma is in complete remission. It’s still there, but it’s gone benign.”
“Which is unlikely and unexpected, but not impossible.”
“Sorry, John, I’m not allowed to comment on that.”
“Well… then, what am I supposed to do?”
Almaguer let out a long breath. “John, I’m sorry. You’re just going to have to do the best you can.”
NEW YORK TRIBUNE, Nov 13th
NEW YORK RECORD, Nov. 13th
Mysterious Figure Heals Local Blind Woman
NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC, Nov. 13th
Mother of Four Sobs as Angel of Mercy Lays on Hands
AMERICAN CRUSADER, Nov. 13th
Arch-Angel Gabriel Announces End of the World at New York Church
KGTH TV NEWS, Dateline Nov. 13th
“Tonight, New York, indeed, the entire Internet is abuzz over a picture that supposedly was taken by a cell phone, during a miraculous healing by a mysterious allegedly ‘Angelic’ figure. The Archdiocese refuses to-”
The ride down on the Grand Miskatonic Shuttle had been tense. The wait to change trains in Concorde had been even tenser. The two men boarded the Concorde-New York Shuttle, and managed to get a private compartment. They settled in, continuing their silence, until the taller, thinner man said, “It’s bad enough that they’re getting me off campus until the heat goes down like I’m some sort of fugitive, but do they HAVE to send a minder with me?”
Charles Lodgeman sighed and said, “Well, you DID hire a hit team to enter school grounds and try to kill students, Darren.”
“I had NOTHING to do with the attempt on Team Kimba! I contracted for the Syndicate to eliminate the Kellith.” Rev. Englund paused. “You know that I’d never do anything to hurt … her…”
“I know that, Darren,” Lodgeman nodded, “But that doesn’t cut much ice with Carson. Bringing Deathlist onto her turf isn’t something that she’s gonna forget anytime soon. And, I mean, think about it- a member of the FACULTY hiring goons to kill a student? Carson’s being very forgiving, if you ask me, pouring as much oil on the waters that you just stirred up.”
“Damnation, Charlie! The Kellith is an ABOMINATION, and must be destroyed!”
“If it means anything to you, Darren” Lodgeman replied calmly, “I agree with you. At least, I agree that she’ll have to be dealt with.”
Englund paused, not sure of what to make of this. “Then why are you siding with Carson on having that THING on Whateley grounds, contaminating the students?”
“Because, Carson’s smart enough to play a longer, more careful game. Sara Waite’s not the one that Carson’s playing against, or Gothmog; it’s M’fruzli, that slimy High Priest of theirs.”
“What do you mean?” Englund looked at his comrade of decades warily.
“Why would M’fruzli arrange for the Kellith to take up residence in Whateley? Why would he locate his demi-goddess in one of the few places where there really IS enough firepower to take her down? Remember ‘46? The Blood Madonna of Zanzuma?”
Englund remembered and shuddered. “You think that M’fruzli’s is setting her up to be ‘sacrificed’ by an outside force?”
“OR she’s the only thing keeping something even nastier from crawling out of the pit, OR killing her validates or invalidates some ancient pact, OR … OR … the list goes on and on.” Charlie Lodgeman let out a long sigh. “A lot of good men died that day, because we went in screaming ‘kill them all and let God sort them out’. Think about the powers that lie sleeping in the Dunwich area, Darren. Do you honestly think that I LIKE the idea of having the Kellith near any of that? Or … near … her …?”
“So, what IS your plan?”
“Wait. Watch. Study. Understand. If possible, we try to arrange it so that when it all does hit the fan, Sara Waite’s the one that walks away, not the Kellith.”
Englund fixed Lodgeman with a steely gaze. “But, if it comes down to it, you do agree that if all your subtlety doesn’t work, that we will have to kill her?”
Lodgeman nodded grudgingly. “IF the other alternatives don’t work, then- and only then- we kill her. AND, having studied her, we’ll be a in a position to do so by means other than throwing good men down into the pit in suicide runs.”
Englund sat back, somewhat heartened by this meeting of the minds. “And as for this ‘Tennyo’…”
Lodgeman held up a hand. “I’m sorry, Darren, but we’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one. Besides, think about it- Billie Wilson may be one of the few beings on Earth powerful enough to go one-on-one with the Kellith.”
That led to another spate of silence, but it wasn’t as tense or as long as the previous one. “Still, I don’t see why we’re sending an investigation party to check out this ‘Times Square Angel’ nonsense. We don’t go looking for mutants; that’s comic book stuff. They come to us.”
“You embarrass me, Darren,” Lodgeman said lightly as he perused his papers. “As a man of the cloth, you should know how explosive mixing religion, politics and Mutant Rights can be. The kid’s holed up in a small church in Hell’s Kitchen. The MCO will try to play up that angle for everything it’s worth, and ‘Humanity First!’ will be cheering them on. So, the best thing all around is for us to send our best man in the Ecclesiastical Community- that would be you- to make sure that it doesn’t become a Mutaphobic riot. Besides,” Lodgeman quirked a smile, “Carson knows that this will be a good way to get some of the stink off of you.”
“Carson still wants me at Whateley?”
“Oh, Carson’s pissed all right. But she knows that you do good work with the Goobers. You’re an important part of the security at Whateley. It would take more than this to get you booted from the Faculty.” Lodgeman paused and spared Englund a cold look. “Not a LOT, but more.”
Englund nodded and relaxed a bit. “So, how do we handle this?”
“Standard operating procedure. First, we work our informants, we share information, and then we decide how we’re to proceed. You work your contacts in the Archdiocese, and I make like I’m checking out the damage at the AHS. The Esoteric Chamber will be turning the town upside down, and they’ve already managed to get some information on the kid.”
“Ah. I was rather wondering how you knew that the ‘mystery hero’ in the subway station was a minor.”
“They peg the kid as male, Caucasian, light brown hair, roughly 14 to 15 years old, average build. But, they also say that the kid was wearing a bulky jacket, and there’s even a moderate chance the kid is a girl.”
“And what connects the events in the subway to the hoopla in that Hell’s Kitchen church?”
“One of the Esoteric Chamber investigation teams tracked down the police officer who mysteriously went missing, one Patrolman Larry O’Keefe. He admits getting the kid out of the subway station, and figured that something that looked that much like an angel was more Church business than Police business.”
“I take it that he’s been warned to keep quiet?”
“Darren, you’ve worked with the Esoteric Chamber before.”
”That’s why I’m asking. They’re sloppy.”
“Oh, and YOU’RE one to talk?”
”How many fingers am I holding up?” Father John asked.
“Three- you’re holding the ring and middle fingers together.”
Father John nodded. “Very good. I’m not optometrist, but I think that I can safely say that we can cancel that call to the Seeing Eye dog people.” He waved a hand in front of Kerry’s eyes. “Any idea why you faded out like that?”
“Hey, you tell me!”
Carmody made a brief face. “Well, the notion of either hysterical blindness or some sort of sympathetic reaction come to mind, but I don’t see why that sort of thing would happen this time, when it didn’t with Senora Vallacio.”
Carmody paused. “Kerry, I want you to think back to Sunday, just after you got here- the first time, down in the nave, when … whatever happened, happened. Tell me- do you remember feeling any pain, or anything odd?”
“Ah, Father, da- dang near EVERYTHING felt weird!”
“Yes, I can appreciate that. But, think hard. Did you feel anything wrong, physically?”
Kerry concentrated. “I… remember… feeling totally wiped out. I was breathin’ hard. And my right leg hurt somethin’ fierce.”
“Your right leg?” Father John asked, wishing that he’d thought to bring along a tape recorder. “Which part? Your foot, your shin, your knee?”
“No, no- it was the upper part, my thigh. It wasn’t like it was broke or nothing, it just hurt like the dickens. If I hadn’t’a been so tired, it would’a driven me nuts!”
“Does it hurt now?”
“No, it didn’t hurt when I woke up, and- well, it was all tossed in with everything else and…”
“And you had your hands full, coping with everything.” Kerry nodded. “And now?”
Carmody sat back and thought for a while. “Tell me- can you hear that ‘noise’ that you were talking about before?”
Kerry paused, as if cocking an ear. “Sorta. It’s there, but it’s sorta blending into the background, so I don’t notice it quite as much.”
Carmody nodded. “Interesting. Is it louder, or has it changed much?”
Kerry ‘cocked an ear’ again. “Sorta. It’s like … before, there were a bunch’a people all saying different stuff, but now it’s like a bunch of ‘em are trying to say the Pledge of Allegiance, or something like that.”
“Some parts are clearer, more focused.”
“Yeah, kinda like that. Still, it gets pretty annoying at times.”
Carmody smiled ruefully, and said, “I know that this is going to sound rather transparent, with me being a priest and all that, but I think that prayer might be helpful here." Carmody shushed him, “No, I’m serious! The kind of classic meditations that you see in Kung Fu movies requires some training, but simple old-fashioned prayer can do the same thing.”
“Y’mean, like ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’?”
“More in the way of what the Protestants call the Lord’s Prayer, the ‘Ave Maria’-”
“You know, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’?” Kerry gave a confused look, and Carmody ran through the prayer, first in English, and then in Latin. Father John knelt, and gestured for Kerry to do so as well. When the boy was on his knees, Carmody took his hands flat between his own in the gesture of prayer. “Just say the words. Don’t think about what they mean too much, at least not at first. Just continue repeating the words over and over. This will help you concentrate.”
Together, his hands over Kerry’s, Carmody led the boy through the prayer. The first three times, it was just another prayer; but on the fourth recitation, he felt… something between his hands. Not a warmth or a vibration, but … something. It was something like the excitement that he’d known as a boy, watching a parade for the Empire City Guard, watching the superheroes roll by in celebration of a victory. It hadn’t been just the excitement of seeing his heroes, it was the sense that his excitement was shared by everyone around him; it was a palpable phenomenon that’d had a weight and texture and smell all its own.
As they prayed together, the sensation grew between his hands and took form. And then all of a sudden, it left the place between his hands, and flooded his entire body. Suddenly he knew, he understood. All of his life, he’d heard about those who had directly experienced the touch of God, and he’d believed. Now, he knew. He knew why the Shepherds in the Field had beheld the Announcing Angel and been sore afraid, and why they had believed and trusted such a terrifying being and left their positions of trust to seek the Christ-Child.
Carmody broke the clasp, and tried to collect himself. Kerry was looking at his hands, and Mrs. Newton was crossing herself, over and over. “It was …easier … that time,” Kerry said, obviously trying to put more into his words than words can carry.
“Father?” Mrs. Newton asked, “Are you all right?”
“All right?” Carmody paused. “Why, now that you mention it, I’ve never felt better in my Life!”
Charlie Lodgeman strolled into the Monsignor’s office to find Rev. Englund seated there, going through a few papers. “So, how’s the runaround going?”
Barely looking up from his papers, Englund responded, “About as expected. I made the proper inquiries, got the proper evasions, asked the right questions, got shuttled off to the wrong people, the usual. I’m waiting on the proper nabob to feel that he’s made me wait long enough. And yourself?”
“Well, the Esoteric Order has determined that it was the Grand Hall behind the attack.” Englund gave Lodgeman a chilly glare. “Well, the Hall DOES occasionally hire out the Anti-Paladin, for a truly unworthy cause every so often. But now, they’re sure of it. It seems that all the major players in the Hall in New York have lit out for parts unknown, like the proverbial bats out of hell.”
“And the lesser lights- or whatever term fits scum like that- are hiding under whatever bushels will have them.”
“More or less.”
“What about the boy that we’re here to find?”
“Saint Gregory’s in Hell’s Kitchen. But then, everyone in New York and Jersey knows that. Apparently, the kid’s become this week’s media darling.” Englund let out a mild oath and massaged the bridge of his nose. “The Esoteric Order’s trying to convince non-aligned members of the Monster Hunting community to give St. Greg’s some space. The locals are going to twitchy about people asking questions about the place.”
Englund let out a rare chuckle. “Well, it’s not like they’re going to have to set up any kind of surveillance- all they’ll have to do is turn on News TV.”
Charlie grunted. “Precisely. Of course, that’s the UP side of exactly the situation that we’re here to defuse.”
Before they could say anymore the receptionist told them that Monsignor Fenzi would see them now. Monsignor Fenzi was a thin man in his early fifties, with a long, narrow, sharp-featured face with a wide expressive mouth and intelligent eyes. Currently his features were schooled into a mask of bland courtesy. Lodgeman’s decades of experience in dealing with such man told him that Fenzi fully expected to get ten pieces of information for every one that he doled out.
Charlie let Englund take the lead. Darren was better at dealing with ecclesiastical authorities than Charlie was. Charlie had a nasty tendency to let his childhood experiences at the orphanage creep in, even over a hundred years later. Darren opened with the usual pleasantries, and the verbal fencing commenced.
An hour later, Fenzi had agreed to let Lodgeman and Englund interview the child, and perform a few basic tests. Any further interviews would depend on the outcome of the first interviews, and further developments. It was also understood that Lodgeman would make sure that the Esoteric Order of the AHS kept a discrete distance from St. Gregory’s.
Lodgeman appreciated Darren’s using what had already been ordered, for the Order’s own reasons, as a poker chip in the game. Monsignor Fenzi wrote them out a letter of introduction to the parish priest, and said that he’d phone ahead for them.
Mrs. Newton bustled to the side door of the rectory. ‘Saints Above, I hope that it isn’t another damn fool with damn fool questions, TV camera or not.’
However, it was a rather odd couple, a tall, reed-thin man with thinning white hair, and a short, stocky man with dark olive skin, rough-hewn features, and short hair that was beginning to salt-and-pepper in place. The tall man was the very picture of a priest, in a black suit and clerical collar. The short one was wearing a slightly shabby tweed jacket over a denim work shirt, and jeans held up by a colorful beaded belt with a belt buckle the size of a soup plate. The tall man gave a courteous nod of his head, “We’re here to speak with Father Carmody.”
Mrs. Newton’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. There was something wrong about the man’s collar. She wouldn’t put it past some sneaky member of the Press to dress up like a priest to try and get inside. “You’re from the Archdiocese?”
The short man waved his hand in a so-so gesture. “Sort of. We’re not of the Archdiocese, but we are here with their express permission.” He pulled a letter from his jacket pocket. “Monsignor Fenzi said that he’d call ahead for us.”
Mrs. Newton looked at the letter uncertainly. Then she saw Sister Catherine. ‘Rescue!’ She called Sister Catherine over and had her keep an eye on the visitors while she went to find Father John.
Sister Catherine looked at the letter. “Reverend Englund?” she asked with a distrustful glare at his collar. While she only stood eye to eye with Charlie Lodgeman, Sister Catherine was the sort of nun who didn’t need height to keep order in the notoriously tough Hell’s Kitchen area. She didn’t have any patience with the newfangled blue habit with hems that reached the calf. She wore her old-fashioned street-sweeping black habit as a badge of honor, and she could pack enough righteous disdain into her hatchet face to quiet an entire room of hooligans.
“Episcopalian,” he assured her.
“Anglican,” she muttered under her breath with the mild contempt that only an Irish Catholic can muster. Then she shot a suspicious look at them. “How did you get past that mob outside without raising a ruckus?”
Lodgeman smiled disarmingly. “We have our ways.”
Father Carmody walked up in the cassock that he only wore for services, and asked what they wanted. Sister Catherine handed him the letter. “Oh, yes, Monsignor Fenzi did call. I was expecting you this morning. This is a little awkward … as you can see, we’re getting ready for the midweek Service.”
Lodgeman smiled disarmingly. “Yes, well that was rather the idea. From what we inferred from was in the papers, your *ahem!* ‘angel’ displayed some rather spectacular effects during your Sunday mass; we thought that it would be instructive to hold our examination during a lesser service.”
“Ah, yes… of course…” Carmody dissembled. “And you are?”
“Dr. Charles Lodgeman, M.D., Ph.D., LLD, and some more alphabet soup. My colleague is the Reverend Dr. Darren Englund. Besides his Divinity doctorate, he has a drawer full of other sheepskins from various institutes. He even studied for some of them.”
“Annndddd … what is your interest in our guest?”
“We’re what you might call specialists in the places where mutant phenomena intersects with the supernatural.”
Carmody paused for a second. “You think that our guest is a mutant?” he asked cautiously.
“It’s a distinct possibility,” Englund said, taking up his accustomed role as, if not the ‘bad cop’ to Lodgeman’s ‘good cop’, then ‘Dutch Uncle’ to Lodgeman’s ‘Friendly Uncle’. “In situations like this, it’s best to get as many facts verified as quickly as possible.” He did his best Jack Webb impression for a few minutes, and Carmody finally gave in and led them up the stairs.
Sister Catherine had beaten them to the room, and was waiting for them with the boy. He was standing there with a white blanket over his head. Sister Catherine gave Carmody a smug nod. “The, ah, Archdiocese has taken a ‘don’t tell, don’t ask’ stance, as regards the minor’s identity. If we don’t know his name, then we can’t give it to the MCO.”
Lodgeman nodded. “And the MCO can’t get ‘John Doe’ warrants for a mutant who hasn’t committed a felony. What about the parents?”
Carmody sighed. “Catch-22. We can’t call them without getting their phone number, which we would be obliged to divulge to the MCO.”
Lodgeman and Englund did as many of their tests as they could without asking the boy to show his face. “So, aside from the obvious, have you noticed anything unusual?”
“Well,” Carmody said, “three things: first, when he first got here, I’m sure that he had brown eyes; now, his eyes are a sort of golden color.”
Lodgeman nodded. “A change of eye color after a major exhibition of a mutant power is quite common. Not proof positive, but definitely suggestive. The other two things?”
“Well, that blanket over his head is NYPD issue- it should be black. And, his hair is brown, but there are white streaks in it now.”
Lodgeman and Englund looked at each other. “Bleaching?”
“Does that mean anything?”
“Could mean a lot of things. Could we have hair samples?”
“Brown or white?”
Then Father Carmody had to go down and begin the service, leaving Sister Catherine to keep an eye on them.
Shifting uncomfortably under the blanket, Kerry asked, “er… So, do you think that I’m a mutant?”
Lodgeman nodded non-committally. “Possible. It’s a distinct possibility. How do you feel about that?”
Kerry slumped under his blanket. “I dunno. I hear some weird stuff about ‘em in school. But my Mom says that mutants are like rich people- that it ain’t what you got, it’s what you do with it.”
Charlie brightened. “Well, it’s good to hear that! Makes a change from the wailing and gnashing of teeth that we usually hear.”
“You work with mutants a lot?”
“Almost every day. As a matter of fact-” Lodgeman reached for a business card for Whateley Academy, but Sister Catherine cleared her throat warningly. “Of course, it’s not a given that you’re a mutant.”
Then Kerry stiffened.
“What’s the matter?” Englund asked.
“The buzzing… it’s back. And it’s louder.”
“Is this the same as the sound that you said that you heard last Sunday?”
Kerry nodded. Then he fell to his feet, and began praying intently. Englund and Lodgeman quickly opened the ‘doctor’s bags’ that they’d brought with them. Englund produced a series of pendulums on a rod with a built-in level, and Lodgeman brought out an Y-shaped birch rod.
Sister Catherine gave the dowsing rod a sere look. “What were you expecting?” Charlie asked her, “A Star Trek tri-corder?”
As the boy prayed, the pendulum began to swing, the dowsing rod started to twitch, and Englund and Lodgeman started taking notes furiously. Kerry started to tremble, and then his hands flew apart. Between them was a small glowing sphere, which unfolded into a glowing ring with ‘wings’ of sorts and small dots that might have been eyes.
Lodgeman, Rev. Englund, and Sister Catherine all looked at the ‘angelette’ with mouths agape. Then the apparition sort of gently ‘exploded’ into a mist with a sigh. Sister Catherine was struck still for a solid minute before she collected herself enough to cross herself and begin to pray.
Kerry was still on his knees, praying with everything that he had. He began shaking again, and again his hands flew apart. Charlie Lodgeman, who had been burrowing around in his ‘doctor’s bag’ as the boy had been praying, pulled out what looked like a cross between a New-Ager’s ‘dream-catcher’ and a tennis racket.
As the second ‘bud’ blossomed into a small ‘angel’, Lodgeman swung at it and caught it in the ‘dream-catcher’. Holding the ‘racket’ with both hands, Lodgeman said, “Okay, it think that I got it. Darren, do you have an Essence of-”
Before Lodgeman could finish his question, the ‘racket’ in his hand began trembling, there was a high-pitched keening, and then it exploded, scattering bits of ash-wood all over the room. Englund and Sister Catherine were knocked off their feet and Lodgeman himself was thrown against the wall with considerable force.
As Englund picked himself up, he squawked, “Charlie? Are you all right?”
Lodgeman picked himself up more slowly. “Woof. Haven’t had anything like that happen in a while.”
“You’ve done something like that Before?” Sister Catherine gawped.
“Not very often,” Charlie said humbly. “We’ve had interesting lives,” he added by way of explanation.
“Well, it’s the old ‘good news, bad news’ joke,” Lodgeman informed Father Carmody after the crowd from the Afternoon Mass left the church. “The good news is that the boy seems to be gaining a measure of control over what’s happening. During your Mass, he used prayer to force premature manifestations, so I doubt that there will be anymore repeats of that episode that you described, with him feeling compelled to join the service, as it were. Also, we’re reasonably sure that what’s happening with him is not Demonic in nature. At least, that’s our educated guess.”
“And, you’re experts in matters demonic?”
“He said ‘Educated’,” Englund said firmly, “not ‘Expert’. We’re not experts in demons, merely experienced in the matter.”
“I… see…” Carmody hedged. “And what’s the bad news?”
Lodgeman sighed. “What we’re dealing with here is definitely supernatural, at least in part. What he dealt with was neither a PK construct nor a routine manifestation, as most mutant effects are.”
“Then he’s NOT a mutant?” Carmody asked, quite relieved. If these experts could state conclusively that Kerry wasn’t a mutant, then the MCO lost most, if not all of it’s jurisdiction in the matter, especially since Kerry hadn’t committed any crimes.
Englund shook his head. “I’m sorry, but we still can’t rule out his being a mutant. There are too many mutant traits that overlap with the supernatural.” He pulled out a notepad and wrote out a few addresses. “If you’re interested, these are Internet addresses to sites that have solid information on the subject for the layman.”
Father John paused, and took the offered slip of paper. “I’m sorry,” he said with an embarrassed smile, “I’m just not used to being referred to as a ‘layman’.”
Back at their hotel, Lodgeman and Englund compared notes. “Okay, this one is gonna be a tough nut to crack,” Lodgeman said as he looked over his figures.
“Yes,” Englund growled, “we’re stuck between the MCO and the Archdiocese. Getting the boy out legally may be out of the question. And I can’t condone just breaking into a church to remove him, even a Roman church, especially when it may be the safest place for the boy.”
“Yeah,” Charlie nodded, “but that’s not what I was talking about.”
“Oh? What then?”
“These figures. They just don’t balance out. Okay, first and foremost, at its basics, all magic consists of tapping into energies around you and applying it to whatever you’re trying to do.”
Englund nodded. “Yes, that’s Magic 050- what’s your point?”
“Well, from the impressions that I got from my dowsing rod, and the figures from your pendulums, there IS a correlation between the ambient emotional energy that was generated by the Mass and the ‘pressure’ that Kerry felt. But there is NO WAY that there was enough mystic energy in the emotions of that Mass, to have the kind of kick that we saw.”
Englund nodded again. “True. But what about that first ‘angel’?”
Charlie nodded back. “True. That was a lot more like what you’d expect; visually spectacular, but weak and short-lived. Why the difference?”
“Maybe the boy let the first one out before it fully matured?”
“Possible. I do get the impression that he was trying to get it out before it started making him do things. But if he did, wouldn’t the second one be more of the same?”
Rev. Englund chewed on that a bit. “Not enough real information,” he said with a gusty sigh. “Maybe it has something to do with whatever source he’s tapping into. Maybe he’s some sort of Avatar?”
Lodgeman shook his head. “First thing that I checked. No, there are … connections … all over the place, but he’s alone inside his skin.”
Englund threw down a pencil, and gave Lodgeman a look of exasperation. “This is ridiculous! We can’t make any real conclusions like this! The researchers at Whateley and ARC may be soulless materialists, but AT LEAST they deal with concrete figures! Charlie we have GOT to get that child to Whateley! For his sake, and everyone else’s! If that boy continues to ‘wing it’ with that kind of power, that church could be a hole in the ground by Thanksgiving!”
Lodgeman nodded. “Get back to Fenzi, offer to take over the kid’s custodianship from the church. That way, they won’t be stuck between the MCO and ACLU, and their ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ trick should work. Once he’s in our custody, we can ask him who his parents are, and work from there. And as Trustees at Whateley, we can hide behind our professional confidentiality.”
Englund raised an eyebrow. “The problem being getting that permission. It strikes me that the New York Archdiocese might like having a ‘tame angel’ in its precincts. And, unless I miss my guess, Father Carmody rather enjoys having packed houses at his Masses.”
Lodgeman irritably tapped his pencil on the desk. “And political stink or no political stink, we can’t stay down here in New York indefinitely. How about this? We stay here together until Sunday, and I go back up to Whateley for a week. Then we alternate, unless something more material happens, and we’re both needed. Two weeks should air you out a bit.”
Englund made a face. “It will have to do. See if you can get an option on the Champion jet for emergencies.”
Englund leaned forward.
“Yes?” Charlie asked.
“I was wondering if you could put in a good word for the Goobers, especially Sarah …”
The ‘sound’ that Kerry kept hearing was changing. It was becoming more melodic, more like music that you half-heard in the background than static. Still, it was making it hard to read or watch TV. More and more, Kerry found himself thinking about God, and Divine Plans, what you’re supposed to do when you’re a saint whether you wanna be one or not, and can saints play First Person Shooter video games?
Father John had given him a few books on things like the basics of Catholic dogma. Well, they had been thrashing these things out for, like, thousands of years. But, if it was all supposed to be about God, how come it read like one of those insurance plans that his mom was always going on about?
He missed his Mom and Dad. God, how lame was that? Oh, he hadn’t meant it like THAT! NNNrrrggg! Dammit- are saints allowed to cuss?- he even missed Ray, Madison and Corey. He never thought that he’d miss his butt-head big brother Ray. He wondered what had happened to Iceberg or E-Z, or the other kids. Dammit, WHY had he listened to that shithead E-Z? “Oh, let’s go into New York! It’s a half-day, it’s not like anybody’ll notice!”
Yeah, nobody noticed. He doubted that his parents even knew that he’d been in New York that day, let alone that they’d been at the Times Square subway station. And if he knew Iceberg and his crew, the only way that they’d ever admit that they’d gone to the Big Apple was if one of the other guys had been sent to the hospital. He wondered if he could get Father John to bring him some newspapers. If nothing else, maybe he could catch up with the funnies.
He wondered what was happening on PvP Online or Evil Inc., or one of his other favorite web-comics.
Maybe if he went online, he could get an e-mail out to his rents! Kerry got up off the bed and wrapped the white blanket around his head. Father John said that while he hadn’t noticed any photographers other than the TV crews- yet- they couldn’t take any chances.
Oh, Fuck. Suddenly, it occurred to Kerry that the times that he’d seen the church offices, that they’d had exactly TWO computers, both of which were fucking ANCIENT! Just his LUCK! He was stuck in the only place in the entire fucking WORLD without an Internet connection!
He threw himself on his bed in frustration. Then there was a knock on the door. Kerry hurriedly draped the white blanket over his head, and carefully went to the door. Father John was standing there, a weird look on his face. “May I come in?”
Kerry let him in. “Is there something wrong?”
“I was wondering,” Father John drawled, as if he was feeling around for the words for something that he wasn’t quite sure about, “if you’d be interested in an… experiment…”
“Yes. I’m afraid that it might be, well, rather unpleasant, maybe even painful, for a while. But, if it works, you might learn a little more about what’s going on with you. And, you will being doing a sick old woman a great service.”
“Yes. Right now, down in the chapel there’s a lady and her family. Mrs. Caprera has Rheumatoid Arthritis in most of the joints of her body. She can’t walk, or use her hands. Her doctor is worried about her heart, and her family is worried to death about her. They’re not rich people, and they’ve used up most of what money the do have with various medical treatments.”
Kerry felt his eyes go wide. “Father, that’s a shame, but what do you want ME to do about it?” Father John worried his lower lip.
“I was wondering… if you could come down to the chapel … and do for he r… what you did for Senora Vallacio and Mrs. Feeny.”
“The woman who regained her sight.”
“You mean … just pull one of those angel things out of a hat?”
“Well, you did tell me that the ‘sounds’ that you’ve been hearing are getting clearer, and I have an idea…” He rummaged around in his coat pockets and pulled out an index card. “This is a prayer to St. James the Greater, one of the Apostles. He’s the Patron Saint of those who suffer with Rheumatoid Arthritis.”
“There’s a patron saint of arthritis?”
“Well, to be accurate, he’s a Patron Saint to the sufferers of arthritis. And arthritis is a rather *ahem!* ‘popular’ affliction; besides James the Greater, there’s Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Colman, Killian, Servatus and Totnan who are saints covering that subject.”
“And you think that me praying to him will help her somehow?”
“I think that it will help you focus the energy on helping this lady.” He handed Kerry the index card.
Written on it in block lettering was ‘O Glorious Saint James, because of your fervor and generosity Jesus chose you to witness his glory on the Mount and his agony in the Garden. Obtain for us strength and consolation in the unending struggles of this life. Help us to follow Christ constantly and generously, to be victors over all our difficulties, and to receive the crown of glory in heaven. Amen.’
Kerry looked up at Father John. “It doesn’t say anything about arthritis.”
“That’s covered by ‘unending struggles of this life’. And, that’s not the point. You will know what it means, and Mrs. Caprera will know what it means. I want you to hold her hands and say that along with her.”
“Does she know this prayer?”
“She can recite it by heart in English, Italian, or High Latin.”
Kerry wasn’t sure about it, but Father John was. Kerry pulled on his ski jacket and arranged the white blanket around his head. ‘Oh, Gawd, I’m gonna feel like such a schmuck if this doesn’t work!’
There were several worshippers among the pews, but Kerry’s gaze was immediately drawn to a small group clustered at the front of the center aisle. There were seven of them, ranging from a five-year old girl to a grandmotherly woman in maybe her mid-sixties. They were all gathered around the grandmother, who was praying furiously. Even Kerry, who never paid that much attention to the religious thought of his own Unitarian church (such as it was) could tell that she was saying her rosary. Bead by bead, she pulled the rosary through stiff fingers that looked like bundles of gnarled sticks. It was agonizing, just to watch her.
As Kerry walked up, he heard one of them, a trim college-age girl in clothes that were a little too ‘fashionable’ for church, mutter, “Oh, gimme a break!”
Father John stood before Mrs. Caprera and said in a voice that wouldn’t carry throughout the nave, “Please, remember, this IS just an experiment. I’m doing this on my own authority, and the archdiocese hasn’t given its approval for this.”
Mrs. Caprera looked up at him with huge dark eyes and said that she understood. She knelt before Kerry, her rosary still laced among her swollen-jointed hands. Kerry felt really uncomfortable with someone kneeling in front of him like that, so he knelt along with her and took her hands between his. Father John held both their hands between his in moral support.
Kerry felt utterly ridiculous doing this and wanted to stop it. But he felt Mrs. Caprera still moving her rosary between his hands. He started to say the prayer in a hushed voice, and she joined with him.
And he felt her pain. He literally felt the pain in her hands as she moved the rosary, through her fingers. bead by torturous bead. And he felt the pain in her knees as she knelt. And the pain in her hips, and in her shoulders, and in her back, and the thundering sound of her heart beating in her chest. And he felt the ironclad conviction in her heart that helped her endure it all. Her absolute certainty that THIS time, she had come to God, and God would answer.
He was trapped, a prisoner of her faith, and he couldn’t let go, even if he tried with everything that he had. Maybe, if he really tried, he could free them both.
‘This is ridiculous’, Gina Caprera thought to herself with the absolute conviction that only a sophomore at New York City College without a chosen major can muster. She knew that the family couldn’t afford real medical treatments anymore, but to let Nana Isobel drag herself down here for this carnival sideshow? Everyone knew that St. Greg’s was a shabby dump where the Church sloughed all the crappy stuff like ‘At Risk Youth’ programs, so that the people over at Our Lady wouldn’t have to be bothered with it. This whole ‘angel’ scam was SUCH a-
And then a pure white light appeared around the shrouded figure’s head.
Gina startled, but she managed to get a good grasp of her skepticism. It was just a light show, something that would only fool the biggest rube in the world. Really it-
Then a light appeared around Nana Isobel’s hands. Nana Isobel kept saying her rosary, but the halting stiffness was leaving. Her fingers became quicker and easier; the rosary flew through her fingers. But more than that, there was a … sense, a presence that you just couldn’t ignore. It wasn’t the usual hush of a church, even at a High Mass. It was like … like when she’d seen Pope John Paul II, on his last visit to New York, only … only there was no build-up, no expectation, no hooplah. Just that overwhelming sense of the presence of something greater, something pure.
Gina fell to her knees beside her father and believed.
Father John felt the energy build and take form between his hands. Some of the energy leaked from Kerry’s hands to Mrs. Caprera’s, and her fingering of her rosary became more fluid and sure.
Then he felt the energy peak and erupt from Kerry’s hands. Once again, he felt that wonderful feeling of seeing past the drab veil of the mundane to peek at the glories of God’s Own Truth. The energy flowed into Mrs. Caprera’s hands, and via them, through her entire body. She stiffened, and then relaxed. A beatific smile wreathed her face. There was no ecstatic laughter or tears, just the sublime joy of expectation finally realized.
She flexed her hands tentatively. Then she took Kerry’s hands between hers, and kissed them, a silent tear of relief running down one cheek.
But Father John could feel Kerry jerk and stiffen. Kerry’s hands curled into claws and stiffened. Through the blanket, Father John could feel Kerry’s entire posture change. “What’s the matter?” he asked the boy in a whisper.
Father John wasn’t sure whether Kerry’s whisper was in reply of his own, or if that was as loud as the boy could speak. “I can’t move!”
Father Almaguer was on the phone within a half-hour. “Dammit. John, what are you RUNNING down there, a revival tent show? What’s next? A ‘walking on water’ race on the East River? Bottled water into wine?”
“What I was _doing_,” Father John replied firmly, “was trying to get some idea as to what I’m dealing with here! Since all the *experts* either won’t- or CAN’T give me any of the guidance that I’ve been yelling my throat hoarse for, I’m having to improvise. Mrs. Caprera’s family asked me if I would ask ‘our guest’ if he would help her with her arthritis, and ‘our guest’ agreed. I provided a simple prayer to St. James the Greater as a guide for the effort, and it seems to have helped both of them. Well, somewhat.”
“There seems to have been a repeat of the ‘sympathetic martyrdom’ effect. Currently, ‘our guest’ is showing all the symptoms of crippling rheumatoid arthritis, and he’s even complaining that he’s having trouble seeing.”
“Could it be psychosomatic?”
Despite the fact that he was on the phone, Father John shrugged. “Could be. But with the things that we’re dealing with here, what does THAT mean? Besides, he’s fifteen years old, if he’s a day- what does HE know about the signs of rheumatoid arthritis?”
“What do you know about it, John?”
“Sister Esperanza, one of the nuns assigned here, helped out in a Seniors ward for years; believe me, she KNOWS arthritis when she sees it.”
Carmody heard an irritated sigh over the line. “John, are you going to keep this up?”
“Ernesto, I have to figure out what’s happening here. By the way, have those two ‘experts’ that you sent over yesterday come up with anything?”
“They sent a preliminary report to Fenzi, real bare-bones stuff; apparently, they gotta send their stuff to the lab or something.” Almaguer let out another long sigh. “At least you didn’t let any damn cell phones into the church this time.”
NEW YORK RECORD, Nov. 16th: Is There An Angel In Hell’s Kitchen?
NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC, Nov. 16th: ‘St. Gregory’s Angel’ Saves Life Of Dying Parishioner!
AMERICAN CRUSADER, Nov. 16th: Angel Drives Demons Out Of Grieving Mother Of Slain Iraq Veteran!
Suki Sanchez was frustrated and gratified in equal parts. She was frustrated that two other TV News vans had set up shot around St. Greg’s. She was gratified, in that the Department of Parking & Traffic had given HER unit a semi-permanent place. And the fact that the local merchants were giving her a special discount on coffee and snacks helped. God knew, she didn’t trust New York street food. Regardless, the street vendors were having a field day. The steps and immediate front of St. Gregory’s were taped off, and only persons coming to worship, or who had business with the church’s services were supposed to enter, not that that stopped anyone.
The steps were littered with more candles, pictures, rosaries, flowers and other makeshift ‘altars’, all of them beseeching the ‘angel’ inside for God to change the immutable laws of the universe, just for them. It was God’s Own Boring, hanging around watching various types milling around, building their little altars, praying or doing the rosary. But, if the ‘angel’ inside had changed its schedule from Sunday and Wednesday Masses, to whenever it felt like it, then staying put was an absolute necessity for when the next cow dropped out of the sky.
Almost as if on cue, three black sedans pulled up and six men in nearly identical black suits got out. Suki checked to see if they were wearing clerical collars, on hopes that they might be some sort of official legation from the archdiocese. But, as they paused to confer on something, she saw that they weren’t wearing clerical collars, but rather uniform red ties. Red ties, black suits, six-man squads in teams of two, three cars with tinted windows to confuse anyone who might follow: the MCO had made the scene.
Suki nudged her cameraman, Earl, “Saddle up, cowboy! The Men In Black are here! Nat!” she jogged her assistant’s elbow to get her attention from the magazine that she was reading, “Call the station, have research dig up everything that they can on the Mutant Control Office-”
“Mutant Commission Office,” Natalie reflexively corrected her.
“-and their charter, and that mess that they stirred up in Argentina-”
“Chile. The Isabel Anaelez kafuffle.”
The group of six men split up into their teams, with two teams going around the back and the third plowing past the ‘Do Not Pass’ tape towards the front door. “Right, right, get ON it!” Suki urged Nat, “C’mon Earl! It’s SHOWTIME!”
Mrs. Newton hurried into Father Carmody’s office. “Father! Come quick! Sister Catherine’s trying to hold them, but they-”
Father John was out of the office like a shot. If Mrs. Newton was worried for Sister Catherine, then the other shoe had finally dropped. He found Sister Catherine holding the front door like Horatius at the bridge, arguing loudly but firmly with someone just outside. Sister Esperanza was standing at her back, but the diminutive Filipina just didn’t have the size to give Sister Catherine any real support.
A firm, level voice with a bland Middle American accent from outside was saying, “Sister, you WILL step aside. We are-”
Father John stepped up to the door. “Yes, what’s the matter?” One of the men in black- who, fortunately for Father John’s gravitas, were not wearing sunglasses- produced a MCO ID, complete with very official looking badge, and demanded to see the ‘known mutant on the premises’, to ‘answer a few questions’. “I’m sorry, but there aren’t any known mutants on the premises,” the Father responded. In his mind, he double underlined the word ‘known’. They were 99% sure that Kerry was a mutant, but they didn’t KNOW that he was. Father Kaustmeier, a Jesuit of his acquaintance, would have approved.
The MCO agents were neither amused nor convinced. They tried to push their way past the priest. Then, from behind them came a clarion voice, “Excuse me, Sirs, but are you from the Mutant Commission Office?”
The two MCO agents turned to find themselves looking down the barrel of a news camera and a microphone being shoved into their faces by Suki Sanchez, who was wearing her KGTH badge prominently.
“We are investigating a routine report of a possibly dangerous mutant-”
“Dangerous? How do you determine whether a mutant is dangerous?”
“Well, for the sake of the general welfare, we must assume that any superhumanly powerful mutant IS, in fact dangerous, to themsel-”
Cued by a hint given her by Natalie, via her earpiece, Suki cut them off. “I’m sorry, but that can’t be right- the MCO charter clearly spells out that the Office MUST carry out detentions and questionings in accordance with the Laws and Procedures of the country that they are operating in. By US Law, you MUST have Due Cause to detain that person.”
“Yes, but by the provisions of the Patriot Act-”
“which does NOT include the MCO.”
“Look, Miss, you are obstructing duly designated law enforcement officers in the performance of their duty-”
“SO, you DO have a warrant?”
The MCO thug was beginning to lose his temper. This was the problem with operating within the US, all the sidewalk lawyers. “Enough of this crap! We’re going in!” He grabbed Father John by his arm and smoothly leveraged it behind his back.
Then, a small stone rapped him on the side of the head. Looking to see where the pebble had come from, he spotted a group of four young men, ranging from maybe 19 to 25; they couldn’t have been more Irish looking if they’d been marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. The one who was standing before the others, bouncing another pebble in his hand, was maybe 22 or 23. He was already stocky, square-faced and ham-fisted, and he probably would age to be a classic barrel-shaped ‘Mick’. He was wearing a thick woolen jacket, with a chain pulled out, proudly displaying a silver cross and saint’s medal. His broad face was glowing with the prospect of a good fight in a good cause. “Nah-Ah,” was all that he said- or had to.
“Yeah,” came another voice from the other side, in a flat, nasal New York Hispanic drawl, “don’t even THINK about it.” On the other side of the door were five young men who appeared to be Hispanic, also aged from 19 to 25, dressed in knit watch caps and thick blue poplin jackets, over which, they too were proudly showing their crosses, crucifixes and saints’ medals. Their faces uniformly showed the sullen scowl of Latinos looking for a brawl.
Suki and her cameraman pulled back, taking in the tableau. Father John pulled his arm free, and the MCO agents carefully pulled back past the tape.
Eddie Moody, the big Irishman, called out, “Don’t forget your buddies! Come out back, and we’ll let you have them!” Joey Arguello, the speaker for the Hispanics walked up to him, grinning, and they gave each other the fist salute in a show of Catholic Unity. Father John straightened himself, and gave them the Stations of the Cross in a blessing.
NEW YORK RECORD, Nov. 17th: Men In Black Try To Bust St. Gregory’s Angel
NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC, Nov. 17th: Holy War At St. Gregory’s
AMERICAN CRUSADER, Nov. 17th:Is The ‘Angel Of Hell’s Kitchen’ Really The Forward Scout For An Alien Invasion?
KGTH TV NEWS: “KGTH field reporter Suki Sanchez was on the spot this afternoon, when rogue agents of the MCO, the controversial organization that has been given wide discretionary powers in dealing with dangerous mutants, attempted to seize the person known as ‘the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’. Over to you, Suki!”
The noise was steadily becoming a song. The problem was, that it was going on all the time! While his sight had come back after an hour or so, Kerry was still stiff in some of his joints. He wanted to sleep. He needed to sleep. But that stupid singing just wouldn’t shut the fuck UP! ‘Oh God,’ he thought to himself, ‘I shouldn’t be cussing; God might hear. I don’t want to be a saint. ‘Hell, I don’t even like going to Sunday School.’
But while they made sure that you got all sorts of lessons from all sorts of different religions, the Glassboro Universal Congregation hadn’t skimped on the Christian basics, either. Only two months ago, there’d been this whole big thing on the ‘real’ lesson within the story of Jonah and the Whale. Jonah hadn’t wanted to be a prophet, but The Lord said otherwise. Jonah had done everything that he could to get out of it, and The Lord had come for him. Jonah had screwed up everything, seven ways to Sunday, but The Lord just kept coming for him.
Well, Class, what lesson can we gain from all of this?
A: Don’t fuck with God, he WILL get you, no matter what.
‘Well, maybe the whole ‘saint’ thing isn’t as bad as it’s cracked up to be.’ Kerry took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He flexed his hand, feeling the stiffness slowly fading and thought about Mrs. Caprera. He’d done something good for her. And it wasn’t like all the times that he’d done things for Iceberg, or E-Z, or Ray or any of his other friends. All that was just kid stuff, fooling around shit.
This was real. It hadn’t just helped Mrs. Caprera; it had helped her whole family. They needed her.
The immensity of what he’d done overwhelmed him. ‘Okay, God,’ he thought, ‘if this is the plan, then I’ll do it.’
‘God? Y’know, this would be a lot easier, if you talked back.’
The scene outside St. Gregory’s was developing into a full-blown vigil. The NYPD had responded to pressure from the neighborhood, and assigned a couple of black & whites to the scene, in case anything got ugly. The local merchants were worried that it might get ugly. Not that that stopped them from jacking their prices up 200%.
Still, it was regarded as a pretty easy gig, so in tried and true NYPD style, they assigned rookies and veterans who only had about a year or so until they retired to the detail. Ricci was the rookie, Delaney was the veteran. Delaney leaned against a car and savored his free cup of coffee. One of the perks of this detail was that you were spared the gouging that the ‘Faithful’ was getting.
“Looks like a pretty mellow crowd,” Ricci said as he copied his mentor’s pose against the car.
“Yep,” Delaney said, punctuated with a sip of his coffee, “It ain’t the good folks here what we gotta watch out for, it’s the wiseasses that always show up.” He took another sip of his coffee. “Well, leastways, the wiseasses what ain’t a member of the local merchants’ association.”
“You got that right,” said a deep mellow voice from their right. “They ought’a be ashamed of themselves- a buck-fifty for a freakin’ apple?”
Ricci turned to see who was talking to them, and spilled his coffee going for his gun. The man- if that term really applied here- was sitting on top of a mailbox, and made it look like an ottoman. He was huge, at least seven feet tall and over four hundred pounds, none of it flab. He had the build of a man who loads bags of cement by hand all day, and his skin was the color of a radish. His face was that of a Latin devil, right down to the beard.
But his eyes weren’t those of a laughing fiend, but carried knowledge of sorrow and regret. Two rows of sharp horns ran down his skull, piercing his long greasy black hair. He wore one of those specially made denim bib overalls, the sort that they make for the incredibly obese, over a flannel shirt that looked like it had been crudely stitched together from several different shirts. Poking through the ends of the overalls, just barely dangling off the ground, were two cloven hooves. He had a blanket draped over his shoulders, and carried a duffel bag at his hip. He was sitting there with the air of a man kicking back, enjoying a concert.
Delaney stopped Ricci. “Not to worry, he’s cool. Hey, El Penitente!” he called over to the devil in blue jeans, “Wha’chew doin’ on this side’a town?”
The towering figure smiled broadly and swept a hand at the vigil, and the sounds of the Mass coming from inside. “Eyyyy… where else would I be?”
Ricci looked at Delaney in blank confusion. “Jorge here is one’a the good guys,” Delaney explained. “A few years back, he really pissed of a Broo-hah down in Spanish Harlem, and she put a couple’a curses on him.”
“Hey, I was a ponk,” El Penitente admitted, “I had it comin’.” He looked down at himself. “Well, at least, I had something coming, maybe not THIS.”
“Y’see, she whistled up this little devil or somethin’ and sicced it on ‘im,” Delaney continued. “When that didn’t work, she laid a curse on the little devil that’s inside ‘im. Now, he eats sins.”
“Nah, nah,” Jorge corrected him, “not SINS. Not quite. More like … bad vibes, y’know? Y’know, like when people are walkin’ around all pissed, and you can’t help but feel the piss in the air? Like that. I can smell it, sort’a, and when I do, I gotta go suck it up.”
“Yeah,” Delaney said, “and in order for him to get rid’a it, he’s gotta deal with it.”
“Deal with it?” Ricci said, obviously still confused, “If you feed on bad vibes, wouldn’t you just, y’know, stay there, and make things worse, so’s you could get more?”
El Penitente turned a cold eye on him. “Are you KIDDIN’? It’s like chugging battery acid!” He said the last bit with a flat nasal tenor sneer. Ricci and Delaney, who had been sipping their coffee winced. El Penitente threw his head back and took a deep breath, like he was savoring a bakery. “But THIS? This is like sweet wine!”
“So, ah,” Ricci tried to wrap his head around it, “why don’t you just go get exorcised and get rid of this devil inside you?”
“Not that simple. I really screwed up, and well, it wouldn’t come out. I gotta make it so weak that some day I can get it to come out.”
“Besides,” Delaney said, “he can’t. He got hisself excommunicated.”
“Yeah,” Jorge said with an embarrassed grin, “I didn’t exactly take this very well at first. Really pissed off the Cardinal. Besides, being possessed, I’m in a state of disgrace. Catch-twenny-two: I can’t get rid of the devil until I get exorcised. I can’t get exorcised while I’m excommunicated. I can’t get the excommunication lifted, until I get rid of the devil.” He leaned back and sighed. “So, I do the best that I can.”
Kerry found some fresh clothes in his room when he came back from the shower. He silently blessed Mrs. Newton; his old ones had been getting kind of funky. Strange, you don’t think of saints and prophets and holy men as having BO.
The vigil outside St. Greg’s was only just beginning its morning. Even the faithful go home at night. Well, most of them, anyway. Earl and Nat were waiting for Suki to stir her stumps and get there, and be bored right along with the working stiffs. Earl was silently debating taking some shots of that oddball devil-looking guy who was wrapped up in some blankets in an alley across the street from the church. There had to be some sort of story in it. But what did he know, he was just a camera jockey, not a real reporter, for what that was worth.
Then a long Caddy and a van with some broadcast gear on top, but no markings on the side, pulled up. ‘Wonderful,’ Natalie thought to herself, ‘more competition.’ A stocky, middle-aged man in an all-white suit carrying a large, black leather-bound Bible got out of the car, accompanied by a man whose severe conservative suit and haircut just screamed, ‘Lawyer!’ A man with a TV camera rig got out of the van and followed. “Heads up, Earl!” Nat said, “Looks like raw footage.”
Earl grabbed his rig. “Fast-breaking News waits for no glamour puss!”
The man in the ice cream suit marched up to the door of the church with the Bible in his left hand, and hammered on the door with his right.
Sister Esperanza hurried to the door of the church, wondering who could be so disrespectful this early in the morning. She barely had the door open, when the large, rather vulgar man in white on the other side forced the door open. “I am Brother Raymond Bauer of the Select Congregation of Pentecostal Christian Churches of God in Christ! I DEMAND to see the poor, troubled soul that you are keeping prisoner here in this Papist prison!”
Sister Esperanza saw a TV camera right behind the loudmouth, and wondered if it was permissible to karate-kick a Protestant in the stomach on TV.
Seeing no immediate reaction from the Filipina nun, ‘Brother Raymond’ bulled his way past her. The cameraman followed the ‘Brother’, but the lawyer type stayed at the door, arguing with Sister Esperanza. Brother Raymond and his camera-jockey charged into the rectory, where a very confused Father Carmody came out of the kitchen, a cup of coffee and a cheese danish in his hands. “Excuse me, but who YOU, and what are you doing here?”
Brother Raymond paused only for a moment and thrust his Bible forward. “I am HERE to Rescue the Angel of the Lord, whom you have imprisoned here, to exploit its divine grace for your own venal greed!”
“First of all, ‘venal greed’ is redundant. Second, we have never stated that what we have here IS an Angel, Mister…”
“BROTHER Raymond! Of the Select Congregation of Pentecostal Christian Church of God in Christ! And I will not ALLOW this sacrilege to go on any longer!”
“Sir!” Father John said, starting to get his dander up, “I must remind you that this is a sanctified house of worship, within the Holy Roman Catholic Church! You may be able to get away with this sort of blasphemous slander in your own churches, or on the street, but NOT HERE! I’m going to have to ask you to leave! Now!” He gestured towards the door with the handful of danish. He realized that, put the danish in his other hand, and resumed the gesture.
“Not until I have completed my Holy Mission!” Brother Raymond stormed up the staircase up to the second floor of the rectory.
In the van, the Tac-Ops man said to the Mission Leader, “Okay, so far, the layout is pretty standard for the churches built in New York at this time. The target should be in one of the bedrooms allocated for the use of the priests and nuns. Should we sent the Capture Team out?”
The Mission Leader shook his head, his eyes fixed on the video display. “Wait for it. Wait until he has the target directly in hand, maybe has it down the stairs. We don’t want any more collateral damage than is absolutely necessary.”
Kerry had just pulled on a clean Tee shirt and briefs, when he heard the noise in the hallway. He didn’t have enough time to get on the fresh chinos they’d provided, so he pulled on the terrycloth bathrobe. He didn’t know what was going on, so he covered his head with the white blanket out of reflex. Cautiously, he opened his door, and poked his head out into the hall.
A guy who looked like ‘Boss Hogg’ from the Dukes of Hazzard was pushing open doors and waving a Bible around. “You!” thundered the man in white. “I have come to rescue you!”
“Rescue me from what?”
“I have come to SAVE you from the clutches of these grasping Papists, who would exploit your healing touch to fill their coffers with gold wrung from the hands of the poor and desperate!”
Kerry immediately got a distinct impression that the man who was used to using volume and verbal onslaught to get his way instead of facts, perspective, sequence or logic. He ducked back into the room and tried to shut the door, but ‘Boss Hogg’ crashed in and grabbed him by the shoulder. Shouting all sorts of nonsense, the man in white hauled him out of the room and frog-marched him down to the stair.
Finally, Kerry lost his temper. “Get! Your! Hands! OFF! Of Me!” A halo blazing through the blanket, Kerry pushed ‘Boss Hogg’ off of him with everything that he had.
To his amazement- as well as Boss Hogg’s, his cameraman’s, Father John’s and Sister Catherine’s- Kerry threw the big man a good ten feet down the hall. ‘Boss Hogg’ bounced off the banister with such force that he shattered the wood. The cameraman paused, then stepped forward, aiming his rig at Kerry. Two barbed wires shot out from the camera, hitting Kerry squarely in the chest. Kerry jerked as several thousand volts of electricity coursed through the wires.
“Shit!” said the Mission Leader; “It has super-strength! Go! Go, go, go!”
The side door of the van slid open. Men in SWAT grade body armor swarmed out, carrying assault rifles, combat shotguns and some odd-looking exotic weaponry. Five of them immediately formed a support team outside the church, covering all of the early vigil-attendants and the two police officers. The remaining five crashed through the door. One of them paused to take out Sister Esperanza as the others charged up the stars. At the top of the stairs, the cameraman had already tasered Father Carmody, and was coping with an enraged Sister Catherine.
Earl grinned as he taped the gunmen covering the cops. ‘Oh, yeah,’ he sang to himself, ‘Emmy time!’
The Mission Leader was saying in a calm, clear carrying voice to the cops, “Listen up, we don’t want to hurt anyone. We’re just doing what has to be done. If you don’t get in our way, then nobody gets hurt.” Of course, he said that over an aimed assault rifle.
Then there was a roar of outrage, and something reddish streaked out of an alley across the street. El Penitente charged shoulder-first into the van, knocking it so that it smashed into the Mission Leader and another gunman.
The remaining gunmen automatically opened fire on El Penitente. The assault rifle’s bullets dug into his flesh, but he didn’t seem to mind. On the other hand the electric shocks from the charged water cannons really pissed him off.
Officers Jamirez and Katz, no longer being covered, immediately took cover. Jamirez drew his 9mm and radioed for backup, while Katz went for the cruiser’s shotgun.
Katz managed to take out one of the water cannon by blasting the reservoir on the gunman’s back. Jorge took out the other one by wading through the stinging spray and twisting the water cannon into origami with his bare hands.
Then the capture team came bursting out of the church. Forewarned by the sound of gunfire, they came out with the assault rifles and combat shotguns at ready. Next came two of the capture team, dragging Kerry along, his head and hands bound in some sort of high-tech yoke. Bringing up the rear was the ‘cameraman’, helping a bruised, battered, and logy ‘Brother Raymond’ out of the building.
El Penitente waded through the gunfire, and pushed the gaping gunmen aside. Grunting as the ‘cameraman’ used his taser, Jorge took the ‘yoke’ in his hands, and pulled with everything that he had. The ceramet and tool steel yoke splintered in his hands, and came away from the ‘angel’.
Kerry was finally able to clear his head- somewhat. For the first time, he called on the ‘song’ all on his own. The halo blazed like the sun, and he threw the two much-larger men from him like rag dolls. Then he looked at the man who’d saved him. The guy was HUGE. And red. And he had horns. And he had a face like the devil.
But his eyes … somehow, he knew that this refugee from a cheap horror flick wanted to help him.
Jorge finally had an up-close look at the ‘Angel of St. Gregory’s’. It was a study in contrasts. On one hand, the angel had just thrown two big burly men around like toys, and there was a light like that which shone through the doorway to Heaven about her head. On the other hand, the ‘robes’ were just a white bathrobe and a blanket. And the only thing about her that he could really SEE were these two big scared golden eyes peering out at him from under the blanket. Jeez, she must be only a KID. He smiled and offered her a large clawed hand, “Let’s get you safe, back inside.”
Then the ‘lawyer’ came out of the church door, a large caliber automatic pistol aimed right at the back of Kerry’s head. A battered looking Father Carmody appeared right behind him and jumped him, sending the gun scattering. Father John may not have been in the league as the fabled New York Irish Priests of the 19th Century, but like most priests he had studied some boxing, and he quickly put the gunman down.
The scattered assault teams were struggling to get to their feet, when they were overwhelmed by the outraged vigil-holders. As Katz and Jamirez called for backup to help save the raiders- God knows, THEY weren’t getting in the middle of all that!- Jorge got Kerry to the door and handed him off to Father John. Father John bustled Kerry inside. Then he paused, gave El Penitente a smile, and blessed him with the sign of the cross.
Earl grinned as Father John closed the door, thinking, ‘Oh yeah, oh yeah, every TV station in the fucking COUNTRY is gonna be showing this clip!’
Then a taxi pulled up. Suki Sanchez, finally showing up for work, stepped out holding a box of crullers and Starbucks™ coffee. She looked at the chaotic scene and asked, “What Happened?”
“Shots were fired this morning at Hell’s Kitchen’s most famous church, St. Gregory’s, when teams of gunmen, armed with military grade weaponry stormed into the church to seize the person known as ‘the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’. A KGTH camera crew was on the scene to capture this dramatic footage, which happen to include the first direct images of the ‘Angel’. [carefully edited footage of the incident]
“The gunmen were led by a person claiming to be ‘Brother’ Raymond Bauer of the Select Congregation of Pentecostal Christian Church of God in Christ, a Pittsburgh-based fundamentalist group with a vocally Anti-Mutant agenda. The real Reverend Bauer completely denies any connection with the gunmen. However, Bauer also decries what he calls the New York Archdiocese’s ‘reckless and irresponsible endangerment of the parishioners and neighbors of St. Gregory’s, by wantonly exposing them to the unknown effects of a possibly dangerous mutant’.
“We at KGTH note that this attack happened only days after the Mutant Commission Office unsuccessfully tried to remove the ‘Angel’ from St. Gregory’s.
“The gunmen are not being charged with the attempted kidnapping of the ‘Angel’, as that person still refuses to divulge their name. However, they are still being held and charged with Assault, Battery, Forced Entry, and Weapons-related offenses. The Manhattan District Attorney also states that if and when the ‘Angel of St. Gregory’s’ divulges his or her name, kidnapping charges will be laid.
“Witnesses identify the person who saved the ‘Angel’ as a known New York street hero known only as ‘El Penitente’. While many shots were fired, El Penitente, who appears to be quite bulletproof, was the only one hit.”
“WHAT?” Father John yelled into the phone, “You’re busting my chops because I blessed him?”
Monsignor Fenzi replied in a firm voice, “Jorge Cascardero may present himself as a penitent, Carmody, but he’s still excommunicated. You know what that means; he is completely and utterly cut off from ALL communion or forms of relief within the Church.”
“Excommunication, if I remember my seminary lessons correctly, is supposed to be a medicinal measure, not a vindictive one; the idea is to leave the possibility of reconciliation open.”
“Carmody, he has a demon inside him, and uses its power in constant and flagrant violation of the Re Sanctimonia Corpus bull.”
“From what I hear, he WANTS to get rid of the thing! He WANTS to reconcile!”
Fenzi sighed, “Look, Carmody, as long as he’s out there, a visible object lesson against that sort of thing, then there’s that much less a chance of some other poor kid thinking that he can get cool superpowers by trafficking with the Inferno.”
Father John went grim. “And the fact that he publicly refused to be exorcised six years ago, despite a direct order from the Cardinal, doesn’t help things ....”
“No, as a matter of fact, it doesn’t.”
“Monsignor, I’m not trying to be contrary here, but the man DID save Kerry’s life. And, excommunicated or not, he IS still a Catholic. I can’t very well go out there and tell him, ‘Thanks for everything, now clear out’.”
Carmody could almost hear Fenzi nod on the other side of the line. “True. That would be a bit much. Besides, having him there in the neighborhood might discourage any more attempts like this morning. If my dossier on him is correct, El Pen- er, Cascardero can’t enter a Church without being invited in, rather like a vampire. I am telling you, and you are to tell everyone under you, that no one is to invite Jorge Cascardero into that church, no matter what the circumstances are. That should send the proper message, while not seeming overly harsh.”
Father John sighed and told the Monsignor that he understood. This was the part of being a priest that he really hated, the politics. He hung up the phone, and gathered the staff- what there was of it- to tell them of the Monsignor’s order.
As Carmody informed Mrs. Newton and the nuns of the order regarding El Penitente, Kerry listened in. Kerry was wearing the chinos and plaid shirt that Mrs. Newton had laid out for him, with the blanket draped around his shoulders, almost as a reflex by now.
When Father John finished and the women went about their chores, Kerry walked up. “Excuse me Father John, but Sister Catherine told me that ‘El Penitente’ was that big red guy with the horns who got me out of that yoke-thing.”
“Yes, that’s right. His real name is Jorge Cascardero, but he’s widely known as El Penitente, ‘the Penitent’.”
“Then… why are you giving him the bum’s rush?”
Carmody gave a gusty sigh and massaged the bridge of his nose. “Kerry, it’s very complicated, and it involves ecclesiastical politics at a very high level. You see, the Archdiocese is in the position of having to condemn magic as dangerous, in a city where there are all sorts of people with superpowers- Heroes and Villains- running around. Many of those superpowers seem almost magical. Some of them ARE magical. The Magus operates out of New York, and there’s that guy who claims to be the incarnation of some minor Roman war god of some sort. And don’t even get me STARTED on some of the supervillains!
“Anyway, these people, whether they mean to or not, pose a considerable temptation to many people. Especially young people, like yourself, who just don’t seem to understand that they can be horribly injured, even DIE- or worse. Holy Father, if anything, that only seems to pique their interest.” He fixed Kerry with strong, intelligent brown eyes. “Kerry, think about it- if someone had come up to you, before all this happened, and told you that they were going to give you some wonderful super power, just like that, what would you have done?”
Kerry wrapped his arms around himself and let his golden eyes slip to the floor.
“Kerry,” Carmody took the boy by the shoulders, “there ARE people out there, who DO make such offers. And they work for the Inferno.”
“Yes, the Pit is very real, Kerry. And its agents are very devious. Some are overtly malignant- it seems that there are people who actively seek that sort of thing out, don’t ask me why. And there are those that present themselves as ‘Ancient Deities’ or ‘Ancestral Spirits’. Some occultists claim that there are spirits that are somehow ‘neutral’ in the conflict between Heaven and Hell. Kerry, the Church doesn’t recognize the existence of any ‘neutral spirits’. There are only those spirits that accept the authority of the Almighty, and those that refuse to accept that authority. Even those that don’t directly serve the Infernal, do so indirectly, as they refute the justice of God.”
“Okay, and why does all that mean that you can’t let that El Penitente guy in the door?”
“Kerry, Jorge Cascardero doesn’t just look like a demon- he HAS one, inside him. It’s what gives him his power. He is a walking example of what the Church is trying to avoid. When he was first possessed, the Archdiocese offered to exorcise him. He refused, saying that he preferred the power of the Pit to the blessings of Heaven. For that, he was excommunicated. He has since relented, as you’ve seen. But, the thing is; now he is a visible example of WHY turning to the Inferno is a bad idea. An object lesson, one that can’t easily be ignored. That’s a very valuable thing, Kerry. The people of New York see El Penitente, and they KNOW that the ‘gifts’ of the Unholy are no gifts at all.”
Father John let the ‘party line’ set in his mouth, leaving the taste of ashes, and then injected something that was more wishful thinking than doctrine. “However, excommunication is a medicinal measure, not a vindictive one. That is, it’s supposed to teach a lesson, both to the person who was excommunicated, and to others. The idea is to encourage the excommunicant to seek reconciliation with the church. When Jorge has done as much good as he can as an object lesson, then the excommunication will be lifted and he will finally be exorcised.”
Kerry looked up with those golden eyes again. “So, the idea is that his suffering will somehow help other people?”
“That is the entire idea behind most of what the Roman Catholic church does. We endure suffering, privation and hardship, so that our brothers and sisters will somehow benefit from it. We are all children of God; what good does it do us, to live in luxury and comfort, if our brothers and sisters starve and freeze?”
Kerry stood there stiffly. He looked down at the floor for a second, as if weighing something very important. Then he looked up again. “Father, has anyone else asked you about being healed at Mass this afternoon?”
“Kerry, I think the question is more who _hasn’t_ about it?”
“Pick one that you think really needs it. I don’t think that I could choose. Tell them … tell them that I’ll do what I can.”
The gunmen gained entry to the West Side church by sending in an advance team posing as an outraged Pentecostal minister and his support team, which included a ‘cameraman’ carrying what turned out to be a high-powered taser disguised as a TV camera. The ‘camera’ has been described as producing enough voltage ‘to knock out a charging elephant’. In the process of taking the ‘Angel’, the gunmen also assaulted Father John Carmody, the pastor of the church, and the two attending nuns. There are reports that one of the advance team, a man posing as a lawyer for the bogus minister, attempted to shoot the ‘Angel’ in the back of the head with a 10mm automatic, but was stopped by the timely action of Father Carmody.
Confidential sources have tentatively identified the gunmen, including the bogus ‘minister’, as members of ‘Burning Sword’ a militant anti-mutant group active in the Pittsburgh/ Central Pennsylvania area. So far, there are no explanations as to where the gunmen got their weapons, SWAT-grade body armor, or other equipment. Burning Sword is suspected of having ties to ‘Humanity First!’, but Lawrence Belko, ‘Humanity First!’s Public Relations Officer in the New York area decries what he called ‘attempts to resolve with violence, that which must be dealt with through social and political action’.
NEW YORK RECORD, Nov. 22nd: Angel in a Box?
NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC, Nov. 22nd: Bullets Fly As Muslim Extremists Try To Steal Hell’s Kitchen Angel!
AMERICAN CRUSADER, Nov. 22nd: Statue Of Virgin Mary Weeps As Angel Mowed Down By Gunfire!
Tug Watkin’s Faceoff: “I put it to you- Should the New York Archdiocese be allowed to promote the obvious fallacy of a mutant as a figure of worship?”
Pastor Bob’s Hour of Zeal: “-and Brother, Sisters, even as I speak, in New York City, there is a charlatan, a devil in sheep’s clothing, passing himself off as an Angel of the Lord! Now, I ask you, what clearer evidence could you NEED, that the End Times are here?”
NEW YORK HERALD: ‘Angel Vigil’ Grows
NEW YORK TRIBUNE: MCO Decries Hell’s Kitchen Violence, Demands That ‘Angel’ Be Turned Over To Their Custody For Safekeeping
NEW YORK RECORD: St. Greg’s Angel Cures Grandmother’s Emphysema
BEACON MAGAZINE: Miracles On Demand?
NEWYORK DAILY GRAPHIC: MIBs Want Angel On A Platter
AMERICAN CRUSADER: Devil in Hell’s Kitchen Opens Hot Dog Cart!
As was the tradition for urban churches, resident ‘angel’ or no, St. Gregory’s helped put on a large dinner for the homeless and insolvent on Thanksgiving. The main effort was still over at Our Lady of Sorrows, but St. Greg’s was having a larger than usual turnout. Fortunately, they were also having a lot more help from the laity. The Vallacios, the Feeney and the Capreras were all there, lending a hand. A few of the Martins were also there, but Mrs. Martin was still at the hospital, under observation.
A man walked up to Sister Catherine and asked to speak with Father Carmody. Sister Catherine started to give him the standard ‘the Father is very busy’ speech, but then she recognized him. “Oh, you’re that ‘expert’ that was in here, with the Anglican.”
She took him over to where Father John was trying to assure not one, but two families, that the decision to perform a healing wasn’t his to make, but he would pass their requests along. Sister Catherine helped Father John extract himself from the petitioners. “Ah yes, Dr. Lodgeman,” he opened, not sure where to go with it. “Have those tests finally come back?”
“Just ‘Mister’ Lodgeman,” Charlie assured him. “I don’t have a MD, and when I call myself ‘Doctor’, people either ask me to look at their throats, or they make ‘medicine man’ jokes. And yes, the tests have come back. They came back the next day. The problem has been making sense of them.”
Father Carmody took Lodgeman into the rectory, and up to the room where Kerry was staying. He cautiously knocked, and informed Kerry that there was a visitor. When Kerry answered the door, he had the blanket securely wrapped around his head. “Are you here about those tests? Did they show something?”
Charlie nodded and took a seat in the room’s only chair. “For what it’s worth, your tests show several ‘hits’ that jibe with known mutant traits.”
“It means that there’s a 90% chance that you’re a mutant.”
“You mean, that wasn’t a given?”
“Not really. Those combinations on a chromosome scan don’t definitively mean that you’re a mutant, or that the mutation is active. If it did, the MCO, lacking those magical ‘mutant energy detectors’ that are in the comic books, would have kludged together some sort of gene-scanner, and would make all school kids get tested with it.” Charlie paused and knocked on wood.
“So, what does the ‘90%’ mean?”
“It means, taken with the abilities that you’re displaying, that you will be legally regarded as a mutant, if it ever comes down to that.”
Both Kerry and Father John’s body language changed slightly. They had both lost options, possibilities. Now, Kerry was under the jurisdiction of the MCO. “So …” Kerry began uncertainly, “What IS what I’m doing?”
“I have no idea,” Lodgeman admitted. “The range of possibilities is mind-boggling. The one thing we of which ARE certain is that it does touch the realm of the supernatural. From there … who knows?”
“And you’ve never seen anything like this?”
“No, and that’s saying a lot.”
It was getting sticky, so Father John changed the subject. “The hair samples that you took- some of them were white; does that mean anything?”
Lodgeman nodded. “White hair is a classic sign of a powerful magicker, whether a shaman, witch, sorcerer, kabbalist or a wizard operating with the permission of the Church. While this is mostly because most powerful mages are just plain old, there are also young mages whose hair bleaches from exposure to powerful magics. Also, your hairs also showed powerful residual auras, the kind that lingers after big-time magic.”
“So, you’re saying that I’m some sort of super-sorcerer?”
“I’m saying that the word ‘magic’ covers a LOT of ground. Tell me, has much more of your hair gone white?”
“Almost all of it.”
Lodgeman took out a pad and made a few notes. “I hear that you’ve been doing ‘healings-‘”
An hour later, Sister Catherine showed Lodgeman to the door. As soon as he was out of the room, curiosity got the better of Kerry. He walked over to the dresser and pulled off the blanket to look at his hair. When he looked into the mirror, he blanched.
“What’s the matter, Kerry?” Father John hurried over to look in the mirror.
“That’s not my face,” Kerry said in a whisper.
“What?” Carmody looked at Kerry’s face, and then pulled back. He closed his eyes and tried to remember what Kerry had looked like, that first day. The first thing that jumped to mind were the eyes- at first, he’d had normal brown eyes. From the eyes, he pulled together a picture of an unremarkable boy with a round face and a average nose.
Then he opened his eyes and looked at Kerry again. Good Lord! The change had somehow been so slow that he hadn’t noticed it, and yet so fast! It has only been two WEEKS! It wasn’t just that his eyes were golden now- the eyes were larger, more almond-shaped. Kerry’s face was more delicate now, with a slight heart-shape and some bone structure showing, framing a nose that seemed smaller and more pointed and more upturned. The lips had been thin- now they were fuller.
All in all, a more androgynous, more ethereal effect…
One befitting an Angel.
*click!* “-logical ramification of all the reports of ‘Angels’ that are the latest-” *click!* “-outrage at the cold-blooded manipulation of the Working Class. Once again, the White Christian Establishment is trotting out some bogus spectacle to distract the average person from the-” *click!* “lovely blown glass wings and halo, so perfect for this season of-” *click!* “-blood and gore all over the place! So, then, this alleged ‘angel’ just comes out of nowhere, right? And starts blasting the ‘ahem!’ ‘Hellhound’ things, right? Oh, come ON! How convenient is-” *click!* “-the Council of Nicea, which in 787 AD strictly forbade the worship of-” *click!* “-a Mutant! A stinking mutant, which, even now, is setting itself up as the center of-” *click!* “-continuing controversy over the latitude allowed the Mutant Commission Office to operate within the United States. Lionel Cranfield, MCO Director of Operations within the US, has states that worries that MCO agents would-” *click!* “-shake the very foundations of Heaven itself! An Angel has come to us! An Angel is a messenger of God himself! The very name comes from the Greek, Angelos, which means ‘Messenger’. But the Vatican, desperate to hold on to-” *click!*
Kerry looked down at the plate full of Thanksgiving food and wasn’t hungry. To be honest, Thanksgiving wasn’t his favorite holiday. And if he were back home, they’d probably be over at Aunt April’s place in Yaphank- or were they going over to Uncle Leon’s in Philadelphia this year? It was all so contrived, so artificial, so stressed- so, why did he miss them all so much? It had only been a couple of weeks …
From his hidden niche in the alley across the street, Jorge watched the church. The vigil would last well into the night, so he would have hours of peace and quiet. As long as he was here, he couldn’t ‘hear’ or ‘smell’ the evil out in the rest of the city, and he could rest. That was the worst part of the curse- there was always something happening. Just when he was getting some sleep or getting something to eat, *bam!* some pair of idiots would start arguing, or some mugger would try something, or some druggie would get a bad reaction from his fix, and Jorge would have to go do something about it. Later, the last of the vigil-holders would go home, and the really nasty shit- that always seemed to happen in the dead of night- would go down. And he’d have to go and try to do something about it.
But for now, as long as the vigil held, he could just kick back and relax. And maybe … just maybe … the angel would lay her hands on him …
*Oh, yeah, Chacita, lay those hands on me!*
Jorge internally sighed. He was wrong; the worst part about the curse wasn’t having to go chasing other people’s sins, or looking like a demon … It was the company. ‘Aaa … Shaddap, Diabilto, she’s just a kid.’
*Yeah, and I’ll bet that she looks real sweet under that blanket!*
‘Oh, real subtle.’
*Man, you are such a WIMP! Why did I have to get stuck with such a thumb-sucking mama’s boy like you?*
‘Oh, please, you’ve done better. You must be getting hungry.’ Jorge smiled at the thought of his personal demon slowly withering away from lack of sustenance.
Then there was a sound at the entry to the alleyway. Jorge looked up and saw a boy of maybe Eight years or so old, holding a plate covered with aluminum foil. The boy looked at him with huge dark brown eyes. “El Penitente?”
Jorge gave him a mild smile, but didn’t part his lips; the fangs might spook the kid. “Yeah?”
The kid teetered, torn between several impulses, especially a very well founded fear. “Uhm, I brought you some food … from the church …’ He gave a hesitant step forward. Jorge waited for the boy, and let him place the plate in his hand. It wasn’t the usual beggar’s handout- it was a large plate, and the aluminum covered a dome of heaped up food.
Jorge carefully peeled back the foil and took a whiff. Besides the traditional- but bland- turkey, stuffing and such, some thoughtful soul and thrown in a few selections of Latin foods that actually had some flavor. “Aaahhh …” he sighed in appreciation, “Gracias.”
The boy lingered, questions bubbling up inside him. “El Penitente?”
“What happened to you?”
Jorge paused, considering his response. “I was a badass. And I thought that being as big a badass as I could be was the answer to everything. I was wrong.”
“Oh. And now?”
“And now, I have to wait until God decides to forgive me for what I did.”
“Do … do you think that the Angel could … ask God to forgive you?”
Jorge gave the boy his kindest smile. “I think … that God will forgive me … all in his own good time.”
Rev. Englund stalked out of Bishop Spengler’s office furiously trying to read between the lines of what Spengler had told him. Spengler said that he couldn’t sign over custody of the boy at St. Gregory’s. The Holy Office had taken the matter out of the hands of the Office of Esoteric Investigation. The Holy Office dealt with matters of doctrine and policy, not the investigation of miracles and such.
Which meant that as soon as they could credibly arrange it, the Holy Office would hand the boy over to the MCO. Or, they’d simply ‘take possession’ of the boy, using the MCO as a whip to keep him in line. Englund had a good working relationship with the Roman Catholic church- or at least, segments of it. On the other hand, he was all too aware of factions of ruthlessly pragmatic men within the Church who would mercilessly exploit a ‘resource’ like the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’.
At the very best, they might exploit him as a poster child for whatever cause they were promoting. Or, they could set him up as the key piece of equipment in a ‘miracle cure’ scheme, a development of what Father Carmody was already doing. Or he might be assigned to the ‘Roses and Thorns’. Or, it could get worse, with the boy winding up as a lab rat for experiments of the sort that Englund had seen all too many times. The greater the power gained, the greater the temptation to ignore the human face of the ‘resource’ that paid the cost. Englund knew of many good, even saintly men and women in the Catholic Church- he also knew that those good people had a history of having rings run around them by the ruthless pragmatists.
The boy had to get to Whateley, it was his only hope. However, he couldn’t just drag the boy out of St. Gregory’s. But there was something that he could do. It would be an imposition, a breach of hospitality; but he’d done worse for less worthy causes.
Ezekiel ‘E-Z’ Barnes was lounging on the living room carpet, guiding his character through the video game ‘Bully’, when the doorbell rang. As per usual, his mother nagged at him to open it, until she gave up and went to the door herself. The front door all but ripped off the hinges. E-Z looked up at the sound and saw Mrs. Ellison, Kerry’s mother, barging through the door, blood in her eye. She looked around and spotted him. “YOU!”
In a burst of intuition that Madam Blavatski would have envied, E-Z knew that she’d somehow learned everything. He was on his feet and out the back door like a wet cat. But Linda Ellison wasn’t having any of that. She snagged him by the back of his pants as he was halfway over the back fence and dragged him back. She slammed him into the ground and bared her teeth into his face. “Listen up, you little weasel! At Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, Ray finally admitted that he’d heard that you and your idiot buddy Icepick …”
“Whatever! That you talked Kerry into skipping class, and nobody’s seen hide nor hair of him since! What did you DO with him?”
“We didn’t do NUTHIN’!” Normally, E-Z would have tried to tough it out, or talked some shit about due process or his rights; but he knew that Mrs. Ellison wasn’t having any of it, and she’d rip him a new one if he gave her any shit. “We just went up into New York, y’know, to look around?”
“What part of New York? What happened?”
“New York! Y’know, the city! We took the NJT [New Jersey Transit] into Manhattan.”
“Well, we decided to check out Times Square, y’know, see what all the fuss was about.”
“And we was in the subway station, and these big monster-kinda dog things came tearin’ into the station, and they started ripping people apart!”
“WHAT? And THEN what?”
“And then me an’ Iceberg and the rest lit out as fast as we could.”
“And what about Kerry?” Mrs. Ellison almost shrieked.
“He- he didn’t get out. I… I think he’s dead.”
Father Carmody helped Kerry hobble up the stairs after the healing. Once they were in Kerry’s room, Carmody settled him on the bed and waved his hand in front of Kerry’s face. “Can you see anything yet?” Kerry tried to croak something, but his throat wouldn’t let him. So he nodded and waved his hand in a so-so gesture. “Well, that’s something of an improvement. Hopefully, this means that this ‘sympathetic reaction’ that you feel every time that you heal someone fades with time. And speaking of that, how’s the rheumatism?” Kerry held up a claw-like hand.
Father John took a deep breath, let it out and laid a comforting hand on Kerry’s shoulder. “If it’s any comfort, the Kiesnerewskis are very happy that Mrs. Kiesnerewski doesn’t have to bear that laryngeal cancer anymore, and you won’t have to deal with it for very long.”
Fighting back tears from the pain, Kerry nodded.
When Father John left, Kerry immediately went to his knees and started praying intently. He thanked God, for the Song still lingered after the healing, and it only took a few moments for it to build to the level where he could release it through his body. He flexed his hands, and the stiffness was gone. His eyes came back into focus. The ache in his thigh from when he’d cured Mrs. Vallacio’s cancer was just a numb ache, and the shortness of breath from the emphysema was just raggedness now. The cancer from Mrs. Kiesnerewski was like a clenched fist in his throat, but that would pass- in time.
“Tell me- are you doing this because you think that it’s the right thing to do, or because Carmody tells you that it’s the right thing to do?”
Kerry spun around and spotted a tall, rather gaunt looking man in black clothes and a clerical collar. Kerry tried to say something, but his voice box just wasn’t up to it yet. “Ah yes- laryngeal cancer. That can’t be pleasant. Don’t worry, I’m not here to hurt you or try to trap you into anything. My name’s Reverend Englund, we met several days ago, when I was here with my colleague, Mr. Lodgeman.”
Kerry touched his temple with the tip of his finger, to show that he remembered. Then he looked around for something to write on. Rev. Englund handed him a pad and pen. Kerry scribbled, ‘Then why are you here?’
“I am here to offer you alternatives.”
“To this. To being in a cage, waiting for some miracle to come down and deliver you back to your parents in utter secrecy, all the while completely at the mercy of the Roman Catholic Church.”
‘They are good people’
“Oh, I’m not arguing that, my dear. But it’s not Father Carmody, or the nuns, or the local parishioners that you have to worry about.”
“In Rome, there is a branch of the Vatican called ‘Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or ‘The Holy Office’ for short. Its job is to investigate various trends, ideas, and so on, to decide matters of policy and dogma for the Church.”
‘What’s that got to do with me?’
“My dear, you are performing what are being touted as miracles. And miracles are very touchy things in Roman Catholic doctrine, especially when the source of said miracles isn’t a member of the clergy. You may not be aware of it, but there’s a lot of buzz in the media just now, about you setting yourself up as a center of worship.”
Kerry’s eyes widened, and he started scribbling furiously.
“Yes, yes, I know, that wasn’t the idea. However, the end result is close enough to that for the charge to stick. I’m afraid that if he’s not very careful, your Father John could some quite nasty charges of Heresy leveled at him.”
‘What would happen then?’
“There are too many possibilities for me to say with any certainty. However, there IS an option.” Englund paused, and when Kerry didn’t offer any objections, he continued. “It’s very simple. You tell me who your parents are, and I’ll deliver a message from you to them. I will expedite their way through the maze that the Archdiocese has already created for frauds and psychotics, all claiming to be your parents, and they will come for you. Past that,” he produced a card that read ‘WHATELEY ACADEMY’ and had a few contact numbers, “I am on the Faculty of this school. We help young mutants such as yourself, who need to learn to control and cope with their newfound abilities. Of course, we will need parental permission.”
Kerry looked at the card again, and worried his lower lip. Then he wrote, ‘What about this Holy Office?’
“The Holy Office only has authority over you as long as you take refuge here. Whether you go to Whateley or return to your parents, once you leave this place, the Holy Office and its opinions becomes nugatory.”
Kerry thought it over. This man seemed sincere, but there was… something ... something about him that rang a bell inside Kerry’s head. Also, he’d gotten the idea that telling anyone his real name, let alone who is parents were, was a bad idea. It would be like handing someone a gun, one that could be aimed at his whole family and him at once. ‘I’ll think about it.’
Englund looked at him, and Kerry got the idea that he was resisting an urge or something. “Excuse me, but you are something very … different … for me. Usually, I deal with men who are so lost to their own ego that they deny the very existence of God, or headstrong teenagers who think that they know everything. Fire and brimstone are more my usual tools, than the gentle love of Jesus. You don’t wonder at the existence of God, merely at his mysterious silence. You want, desperately, to do the right thing. But you’re not sure what it is. Like anyone else really knows for certain. But, I will tell you this- if you don’t decide for yourself what you’re going to do, you’re going to find that there’s no shortage of people who are all too willing to tell you what to do. And I can assure you, that they will profit from making those decisions far more than you will. They will, of course, all have impeccable logic and the loftiest of reasons, just ask them. But, in the end, YOU will be called to answer for what you do.
“In ‘Hamlet’, Shakespeare asked the immortal question: ‘Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?’ My response has always been to take arms against that sea, no matter how vast or stormy.”
Kerry looked at him like a screw had just popped out of his ear. ‘And that MEANS?’
Englund gave Kerry a look of fond exasperation. “It means, that you can’t always rely on others to do the right thing. For things to come out right, good people must chose to do the right thing and act. YOU must chose what you’re going to do, and act, no matter what others tell you. And that is also, I’m afraid, is where your friend Father Carmody is lacking.”
‘What do you mean?’
“It means, my dear, that Father Carmody is bound by his oaths to obey the dictates of his superiors. And Bishop Spengler informed me just this morning that the Holy Office has taken charge of your case. Now, if you’ll excuse me,” Englund gathered himself, “I’ll go inform Father Carmody of that decision. It should be instructive, whether he decides to inform YOU of that news.”
Englund left, leaving Kerry with a whirlwind of thoughts buzzing around his head. Then, one thing separated from the cyclone and smacked him dead in the face. Rev. Englund had called him ‘my dear’ several times. Kerry hurried to the mirror- Jesus Christ! He looked like a girl! Even his hair, which he hadn’t cut in only two weeks, was down past his jaw line. Rev. Englund thought that he was a girl! ‘Oh God, what am I turning into?’
*click!*-talking about people going into a church and worshipping-” *click!* “-the display of greed and gullibility that presents itself every day now in Hell’s Kitchen! ‘Angel’ cupcakes! ‘Angel’ pretzels! ‘Angel’ Tee shirts! Angel puppets and dolls! Why it’s only a matter of time before we-” *click!* “-accept all major credit cards. Remember, this is a limited time offer! Next we have-” *click!* “-no choice but to FORCE the Church to-” *click!* “-love and cherish each other. Even the mainstream religions are moving to embrace-” *click!*
As the congregation filed into St. Greg’s, Father John was beginning to worry about the ability of the ushers to keep order. He was becoming used to seeing more than just the regulars and the overflow crowd from Our Lady, but he was seeing faces that were clearly not from the neighborhood. If this kept up, they’d have to start establishing lists, like St. Patrick’s for the Christmas Mass.
Then two people who weren’t wearing the rapt expressions that Father John had come to expect walked through the doors. “Father John Carmody?” the woman asked.
“I’m Elaine Titchborne, this is Keith Barlow; we’re from Family Services.” As Father John registered his confusion, she produced some documents, which she shoved into his hands. “It has come to our attention that you are keeping an unnamed minor here, despite the fact that this facility isn’t registered as an orphanage in keeping with NYC civil code. We are here to take any such minor into our custody.”
The documents duly presented, Titchborne and Barlow bulled their way past the crowds into the nave. One of the ushers tried to stop them, but Titchborne presented the proper documents, to the dismay of the congregation. Then they made their way into the sacristy, where Kerry was waiting for the service to start. As Kerry clutched the blanket around his face, Titchborne gave him a bare-bones rundown. Kerry paused to wrap his head around the situation, which gave Barlow the opportunity to get him in an arm lock.
Titchborne held the door as Barlow dragged Kerry out of the sacristy. Titchborne then loudly announced to the faithful that what they were doing was completely legal, and any attempt to prevent them in the performance of their duty would result in criminal charges. Titchborne was halfway through her spiel, when Kerry realized that, while Barlow was at least four inches taller and sixty pounds heavier, he was significantly stronger than the older man was.
The halo blazed through the blanket, and Kerry reversed the hold on Barlow. He hefted the man up with one hand. Titchborne started to cite something, when Father John loudly shouted, “ENOUGH!” The entire church went silent, waiting on his next utterance. He racked his brain frantically, and came up with the first thing that occurred to him: ”I INVOKE THE RIGHT OF SANCTUARY!”
*click!* “-wanton contempt for the law-” *click!* “-the record of child abuse by Roman Catholic priests-”*click!* “-withheld critical information-”
NEW YORK RECORD: Is Angel Refugee Or Prisoner?
BEACON MAGAZINE: ‘Sanctuary! Sanctuary!’
CONTEMPO MAGAZINE: Is NYC Church Really Love Nest for Priest and Underage ‘Angel’?
NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC: Father John to Family Services: ‘Not With MY Angel, You Don’t!
AMERICAN CRUSADER: Hell’s Kitchen Angel: “I’m Carrying Father John’s Love Child!”
Despite the presence of the Church lawyer, Father John realized that he was being left to twist in the wind. The closest to support that he’d get from the Archdiocese would be a simple lack of outright condemnation. As the lawyer nattered on in whispers, Carmody silently said his rosary, letting the simple manual activity keep him from fidgeting. ‘How DARE Family Services come into HIS church that way, and just try to drag Kerry out? How DARE they? Of all the arrogant, high-handed despicable ways of handling it!’ They couldn’t have outraged him, and the entire parish, more if they’d intended to!
Intended to? Father John stopped in mid-bead.
‘Yes’, he thought much more calmly, insight easing his rage, ‘it WAS done in the most arrogant, high-handed, despicable way possible. As a matter of fact, it was SO arrogant, high-handed and despicable, that it could only be a move calculated to bring the entire Catholic community in the Greater New York area to its feet in outrage. But WHY would Titchborne and Barlow want to set off the Catholics? What would they gain? And why would they cite the Orphanage rules, when Kerry isn’t being kept as a Ward of the Church?’
‘Unless, they didn’t really want to take Kerry. They were under orders, and they figured that raising a ruckus was the only way to throw light onto orders from above.’ Then it struck Carmody that they’d gotten a hearing in Family Court over his ‘Sanctuary’ within less than 24 hours.
‘The NYC Court System doesn’t work that fast, unless you have someone with major clout pushing the wheels along. The only people who would really WANT to see Kerry out of St. Greg’s is the MCO. Once Kerry is in the municipal system, the MCO can bulldoze over any bureaucrat that even tried to say so much as ‘boo’. But it seems that Titchborne and Barlow weren’t very happy being the ones tapped to play Iscariot. So, they hatched a plan to bring all the glaring light of the media on Family Services and to exactly where and what might happen to the ‘Angel’ placed in their custody. With any luck, Kerry would have been placed in some sort of protective custody that even the MCO couldn't bully.’
‘It was a nice plan. Pity it hadn’t occurred to me before I made a fool of myself and called down Sanctuary.’
When the bailiff called the court to order, the judge called Father Carmody forward to answer as to WHY he felt that the minor in question had to be protected from New York Family Services. Carmody responded that he wasn’t protecting the child against Family Services. He pointed out that the minor in question wasn’t a Ward of the Church, merely being offered temporary asylum. Then he called on Mrs. Titchborne, and asked her if she was aware if any outside influence had been brought to bring the minor in question out of the church.
Titchborne produced a memo from her superior, stating that the MCO was eager to ‘question’ the minor. There was a fleeting moment of understanding between Titchborne and Carmody. There was no reason for her superior to put that in writing- not unless even the upper echelons of Family Services resented being used as muscle as well.
“This is a classic example of why the Right of Sanctuary came into being in the first place.” Father John said in a clear, carrying voice. “The Mutant Commission Office was created to investigate dangerous mutant criminals. The child in question has committed NO crime. The child in question has SAVED lives, and given succor to the sick and infirm. The child in question poses NO threat to anyone who is not directly threatening her. And yet, when the MCO came to St. Gregory’s they didn’t ask to TALK to her. They COULD have come in and asked their questions with a responsible adult to stand for her best interests. But NO, they insisted on taking her prisoner!”
The MCO rep objected loudly, but Father John overran him. “I will gladly turn her over, if you can answer me this ONE simple question: WHERE IS ISOBEL ANAELEZ?”
The MCO rep objected again, and Father John waved him aside. “Very well, I won’t hold you responsible for the Chilean branch of your organization’s actions.
Then answer this- WHERE is Charlie Denver? WHERE is Sandra Kwan? WHERE is Anne Clearlake? WHERE are these three children, none of them over 16 years old, who were released into the ‘safe keeping’ of the MCO?” He flourished his hands theatrically. “No one knows. The MCO denies that these children even EXIST. Gone … Gone into the Night and Fog.”
Father John turned to Judge Evans, “Your Honor, during World War II hundreds of Jews threw themselves upon the mercy of the Church, begging for Sanctuary. And, though Sanctuary was granted, those unfortunate people were turned over to the Gestapo. And we know what happened to them. This is a horrible stain upon the Honor of the Mother Church. I will NOT repeat that. I will NOT send that child, whatever she may be, into the Night and Fog. If you want her, you will have to send in police officers and TAKE her by force.”
Judge Evans looked sourly at Carmody over the tops of her glasses. God, she hated courtroom theatrics. She hated theatrics even worse when they placed her between two major players. The MCO was as vindictive as hell, everyone knew that; no one crossed them lightly. On the other hand, while New York wasn’t the ‘Catholic town’ that it used to be, the Church still held a lot of clout. Especially within the police department, where the majority of the police chaplains were Catholic.
Judge Evans rapped the gavel. “Very compelling, Father. BUT, the United States doesn’t recognize Sanctuary as a legal recourse. However, you DO make the compelling point that Family Services’ attempt to remove the minor in question was based on the fact that St. Gregory’s lacks certification to operate as an orphanage. From what I’m seeing, the Police brought the minor to St. Gregory’s as an emergency measure, and the Church is merely providing shelter until the parents can be located and notified. Given the extraordinary circumstances created by the nature of the minor, I can only see even worse problems being created by bringing him? Her?”
Father John retained a bland silence. “Anyway, bringing the minor in question into City-run care facilities. Still, the MCO does have a valid need to speak with the minor. Father Carmody, you will allow representatives from the MCO to interview the minor at St. Gregory’s, with yourself or another responsible adult sitting in. Also, you WILL take all reasonable measures to locate and verify the identity of the child’s parents. And, of course, Family Services will drop by, to sign off on the standards of care.” Judge Evan rapped her gavel with certainty, ending the matter.
Linda Ellison hated going into New York. New York was a town in serious need of getting over itself. And getting a New York bureaucrat to do anything was like trying to pull crocodile’s teeth. She was agreeably surprised when it turned out that saying that she was trying to find someone who may have been harmed in the Times Square subway incident was like a secret password.
Then she found out why. The morgue was packed with unidentified bodies in various stages of disassembly. Even with the eliminating factor of a 125-lb. boy with brown hair, she still had to look at a lot of dead meat. There were two possibles, and she left a genetic sample for comparison. She prayed, as much as she did pray, that she was paying several hundred bucks to be told that Kerry was missing.
NEW YORK HERALD: Carmody Blasts MCO At ‘Sanctuary’ Hearing
NEW YORK TRIBUNE: Family Court Judge Overrules MCO
NEW YORK RECORD: Father John Keeps Angel in Hell’s Kitchen
BEACON MAGAZINE: Priest Gives MCO Hell
NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC: Where Is The Angel Of Hell’s Kitchen?
AMERICAN CRUSADER: Crusading Catholic Priest Exposes Mutant Slavery Ring Within MCO!
Titchborne and Barlow carefully walked up to the side door of St. Gregory’s with a man carrying a medical bag. Both Titchborne and Barlow were dressed in casual clothes that were a sharp contrast to what they’d been wearing the day before. Sister Esperanza opened the door. The nun greeted them with a wide warm smile and showed them in. “Father Carmody explained what you did for us in court. We are very grateful for the risk that you took.”
Then Father John himself bustled up, dressed in his cassock and repeated Sister Esperanza’s thanks. Barlow introduced the man with the bag. “This is Dr. Costos; considering all the fuss, we thought that it would be best if we had a doctor examine the, ah, ‘minor in question’.”
“Doctor?” Father John said back, his eyes wide, “EXCELLENT!” He took the doctor by the arm, “We have wanted to have a physician look at Kerry-”
“Kerry? That’s the boy’s name?”
Father John paused and nodded. “Yes, and as a matter of fact, that’s part of what I’d like to talk to you about. Or, maybe you should hear it from Kerry.”
“Maybe we should talk to the boy after the service. To be honest, I’d like to see one of these ‘angelic manifestations’ before we start anything else,” Dr. Costos said.
“Well,” Father John said as he mounted the stair, “You see, we’ve been doing the healings after the worship, because the energies that Kerry channels for them is strongest during the services. However, given the controversy that we’re turning Kerry into an ‘object of worship’, we’ve decided to separate the services and the healings as completely as we can. Indeed, since Kerry isn’t a Catholic, he’ll be staying up in his room during the service.”
Carmody knocked on the door, and explained the situation to Kerry. When Dr. Costos entered the room, he was rather surprised; the boy looked too much like an angel to be believed. He was slight of build, and the white hair was down to his shoulders. He had large almond-shaped eyes in a delicate face. Indeed, if he hadn’t been told that this was a boy, he would have thought that this was a tall but lovely pubescent girl.
Father John introduced the doctor and the Family Services workers, and Kerry apologized for treating Mr. Barlow so roughly.
That done, Father John excused himself, and took Miss Titchborne with him, leaving the doctor and Barlow to do the examination. As the door closed, Carmody asked softly, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to be paranoid, but are you sure about that doctor?”
Titchborne nodded. “Yes, I understand. And, we got a lot of volunteers, most of who had one axe or another to grind. As a matter of fact, we chose Costos because he didn’t want to come here.”
As Kerry pulled his tee shirt back on over his head after the physical, Dr. Costos was making copious notes. “Okay, now, are you absolutely sure that those swellings on your chest weren’t there before?”
“Please, no need to be touchy. And you’re sure about the size of your genitals?”
“Yes! I think that I’d KNOW when they’re getting smaller!”
“Yes, they do seem a little … underdeveloped for a boy of your age. Are you sure it wasn’t like that before?”
The doctor gave his best medical school ‘hmmm …’ “Anything else odd happening?”
“Well, my hair and my nails are growing like you wouldn’t believe. My hair was brown before, but it got all bleached white from when I did the healings. But now, it’s coming back blonde in spots. And my face … I didn’t look like this before.”
The doctor asked a few specifics, and then asked, “Now, about these ‘healings’ that you’ve been doing- from the literature, I understand that you experience what they’re calling a ‘sympathetic martyrdom’- you take on the symptoms of the condition that you cure. Now, exactly how does that work?”
Kerry shrugged. “How would *I* know? I just DO it! He- heck, I don’t even really DO it, it just happens, and I’m kinda involved somehow. This pressure builds up, and I either let it out, or it lets itself out.”
“Hmm. Maybe. Okay, how long do these symptoms- the blindness, the arthritis, like that- how long do they last?”
“Well, it usually lasts for a few hours, or I sleep it off mostly. I can speed it up by praying and running the energy through my body.”
“Hmm. I understand that every time that you heal someone, besides taking on the symptoms of what you heal, the old symptoms come back as strong as before?”
“No. I mean, they come back, but they’re not as bad as at first. It’s like they’re fading some.”
“So, you mean, that when you heal someone, you’re blind and arthritic, AND emphysemic, AND- what was the last thing?”
“Cancer of the larynx.”
“All at the same TIME?”
“Dude, you would not believe.”
“That’s … quite a burden to carry.”
“Hey, it’s getting better. I don’t feel that pain anymore in my thigh from the first time, and the blindness isn’t as bad as it was at first.” He flexed his hands. “And I can get rid of the stiffness.”
“But, why do you do it?”
“Why? Well, these ‘angel’ things are gonna happen anyway- why not do it so someone gets some good out of it? I mean, I have the power to help these people … why wouldn’t I? I mean, God gave me this power for some reason; what else would it be?”
Dr. Costos mulled this over for a bit. Then Kerry stiffened. “What is it?”
“The service is starting.”
“How can you tell?”
“Trust me, I know.” Kerry fell to his knees and folded his hands in prayer. Dr. Costos and Mr. Barlow watched as Kerry prayed intently for a few minutes. Then the halo appeared around Kerry’s head.
Barlow had seen it before, but he hadn’t been in a position to appreciate the… ambience… the sense of wonder and awe that it produced.
After a few minutes, Dr. Costos collected himself enough to wave an electronic thermometer over the halo.
Then Kerry broke out of the prayer, and a small glowing ball appeared between his hands. He let it go like he was releasing a dove. It floated like a soap bubble for a moment, and then it wafted as if on an invisible breeze through the window. … Through the closed window.
Outside on the street, those who hadn’t managed to get in for the service were still holding their vigils. Earl the cameraman was playing cards with Natalie the assistant, and Suki was wondering how to spin some more footage out of this, without personally causing any trouble.
Then there was a stir among the faithful. Suki looked up, and her jaw almost hit the pavement. “Earl! Earl!” she snarled in a whisper, “Get this! Get it NOW!”
“What are y-” Earl started, and then his eyes popped open, and he dropped his one-card-away-from-an-inside-straight. He leaped for his camera and aimed it, trusting to do the fine-tuning after the fact. Floating down from one of the windows along the side of the rectory was a shining sphere. Earl thanked God, because just as he got it in focus, it unfurled into a glowing ring, a halo from which six shining wings stretched out, and there were six glittering orbs that might have been eyes.
The assembled witnesses all fell to their feet as the glorious messenger, even though it was less than a foot across, if Earl’s camera’s ranging scope was any judge. Earl tracked it as it flickered over the crowd, and then settled into an elderly Eastern European looking woman. She let out an elated gasp, and started burbling something in what might have been Polish or Russian. Then she fell to her knees, and went into what seemed to be a pattern of laughing, crying and crossing herself.
In the rectory room, Kerry let out a gasp, clutched his midsection and fell to the floor. Dr. Costos turned him over, and started palpating the boy’s stomach. There were … lumps … of some sort. The boy responded when those lumps, which where near the kidneys, but not the kidneys themselves.
Dr. Costos reached for his bag, but Kerry pushed him away, and resumed his posture of prayer. Sweating as he prayed through the agony, Kerry lit up again and sent the ethereal energy through his body. Finally, he got up off the floor and sat on the bed.
“What happened?” Dr. Costos asked.
“I’m not sure. It’s like there are two knives in my stomach.”
“I thought that you just cured yourself.”
Kerry shook his head. “No. It’s just not as bad as before.” He flexed his hand. “And I’m a little achy in the joints, but not as bad as when I did the healings.”
“I’m going to have to insist -”
“NO!” Kerry cut him off. “It will fade. It’s already starting to hurt a little less.”
“But, if I leave here, the MCO will take me in.”
“Now, you don’t know that.”
Kerry’s large golden eyes looked at Dr. Costos with sad pain. “Yes, I do. I sat through a four-hour ‘interview’ with them yesterday. The one that didn’t hate me, feared me; and the one that didn’t hate or fear me, wanted to fu- freaking dissect me. I could tell.”
“But how do you know that?”
“The same way that I know that you’re scared shitless, but you want to do the right thing, if only you knew what it was. I just know.”
Gina Caprera sat through her 20th Century History class. The instructor was comparing both the Communist and Nazi movements as romantic movements, motivated by irrational ideals and perverted by opportunism. “They believed absolutely that they were right, and that everything that they did was justified, because they were in the right.”
‘Maybe’, Gina thought to herself. ‘But what is reason without emotion? Maybe where the Nazis and Soviets went wrong was that they preached passion without compassion. Both Hitler and Lenin went on endlessly about how the enemy had to be ruthlessly crushed, for ”the greater good’.” But when you turn people into commodities to be exploited for your idea of the ‘greater good’, aren’t gulags and death camps almost a foregone conclusion?’
She made a note of that; maybe there was a paper in it.
when class ended, she walked out of the building into the sparse quad. Gathered around a bench were a bunch of her usual crowd. “Hey! Gina How many angels can dance on the head of a pin! Buy a ticket, and find out!” The rest of the set laughed at Leonid’s joke.
“Really,” Regina drawled, “how gullible can people get? Put on a light show, and they all start talking about miracles and building shrines! You’d think that after having superheroes around-”
“You’re missing the point!” Caesurae- just ‘Caesurae’, no last name- interrupted in the grand old tradition of New York intellectuals, “The POINT is that the military spectacle overseas in Iraq is failing, so the ruling elite pull a religious spectacle right here on the home front out of a hat! Get them yapping about irrelevancies like ‘God’s Will’ and ‘Divine Mercy’, and they won’t be counting casualties or-”
These were Gina’s friends. When she had been with them before, she’d felt smart, and cool, and with-it, and ever so worldly-wise, as only a pretentious college sophomore can feel. But now … Now, they were just pathetic, a bunch of posers recycling last weeks SNL jokes and Letterman Top Ten, hoping that they’d sucker some poor gullible fool into thinking that they were cool. They got their opinions about World Affairs by skimming through the Village Voice and other ‘hip’ publications. Suddenly, they were just a pack of sacrilegious non-entities, mocking something greater, EVERYTHING greater than they were, just to prove to themselves how urbane and sophisticated they were.
She tore into them, pointing out that ‘Caesurae’ was just Carlos Embendez from Spanish Harlem, and ‘Leonid’, was just Lenny Moskowitz from the Lower East Side, and if they didn’t have anything GOOD to say about anyone, couldn’t they at least say something ORIGINAL? “I hate to tell you guys this, but Dorothy Parker is DEAD! It doesn’t matter how witty and nasty you get, Alexander Woolcott isn’t gonna ask you to join them at the Algonquin Round Table, ‘cause they’re all DEAD!”
NEW YORK TRIBUNE, Nov. 30th: Osama Bin Laden Denounces ‘St. Gregory’s Angel’ As American Hoax
NEW YORK RECORD, Nov. 30th: Curb Service At St. Greg’s?
BEACON MAGAZINE, Nov. 30th: What Is The Measure Of An Angel?
NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC, Nov. 30th: Street Vigil Erupts In Chaos As Worshippers Attacked By Unknown Being
AMERICAN CRUSADER, Nov. 30th:UFO Aliens Reveal Themselves To Worshippers At NYC Church, Are Welcomed As Angels
*This is boring. La, la, la, oh help me, help me God. Why don't these losers just jump off a fuckin’ bridge and do everyone a fuckin’ favor?*
‘Ah, shaddap, Diablito,’ Jorge silently told his inner voice. ‘The problem with demons is that you have absolutely no appreciation of peace and quiet.’ He kicked back and enjoyed the ‘angel pastry’ that the vendor had given him for free. Okay, it was a little tacky, but to be honest, it was a very good piece of apple strudel.
Suddenly there was a discordant note in the psychic symphony. Well, it happened, people have a hard time thinking good thoughts all the time. But there it was again. Jorge finished his strudel and got up. It irritated him that his down time was being harshed this way. He’d have to go out much later and deal with things, but hey, he was just getting comfortable!
Jorge had lived on the streets of New York looking like a comic strip demon for years. He’d mastered the art of moving around without being noticed or upsetting people. He’d also mastered the art of psychically tracking the source of ‘bad vibes’. In time, he had his man, a tragically hip type in a black long coat with a rather sinister eye patch. Other than the goatee and his trendy moussed up hair, the guy was as vanilla as desert at the Osmonds. Still, he was giving off bad vibes like a cheap radio.
But he wasn’t really DOING anything. He was just milling around, giving attitude to the hoards of ailing and desperate. Obnoxious, but there wasn’t anything that he could do about that, and stay on the right side of the local merchant’s association. For all that Jorge knew, this asshole was a columnist for some snotty intellectual rag, come to check out the scene so that he could trash it in print.
Then, there was a hush and an awed gasp. Another Angel was making the scene. Jorge watched along with everyone else as the sphere unwrapped into its full majesty, and…
… and then, it disappeared. There was some sort of discharge, and the glorious angel was gone.
Jorge saw the goth-punk stash something boxy inside his coat. He tried to get close to him as the punk pushed his way through the disappointed throng, but he couldn’t do it without stirring things up worse than they were already getting. Besides, what was he gonna do? Hand the asshole over to the cops, and have him charged with Grand Theft Angel?
Pierce Randall looked over the empty lobby of the ‘New York Chapter House of the Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom’ with quiet satisfaction. No Black Magicians screaming in his face that they had priority for the Conjury laboratories. No Mad Alchemists wheedling about the delivery of some rare plants. No megalomaniacs waving hands ablaze with unholy fire about, over some triviality. No minions dragging bloody remains over the carpets. No idiots grabbing that chambermaid that Randall had finally managed to get properly trained, and dragging her off for an impromptu sacrifice. No disgruntled members burning glyphs for magical traps into the mahogany trim, to catch another member off guard. Where chaos normally reigned, there was only peace and quiet.
Best of all, they’d done it to themselves. They’d reached for glory and pulled back only a bleeding stump. Randall’s assistance in the AHS matter hadn’t been needed, asked for, or offered; they’d failed all on their own. They’d been gone for almost three glorious weeks and the rest of the holiday season looked to be just as serene and productive. There would be no messy Black Masses, or mass kidnappings, or even the semi-traditional joke plot to kidnap Santa Claus. Why, with a few judiciously placed phone calls, Randall could stretch this out for months! Not even Ithaqua comes to New York in February! Why, he might even get all the dried blood out of the fretwork!
Then the girl at the desk called for his attention. “Mister Randall?”
Randall acknowledged her with the slightest tilt of his head, and strolled languidly down the grand staircase to answer. At the shrill prompting of the small figure in his arms, the young man at the desk climbed up the stairs to meet Randall halfway.
Randall often thought that Pater Tempus had chosen young Larry Porter as a joke: the long pale face, the glasses, the crescent moon shaped scar on his forehead. Or maybe he’d done it because Porter was a natural born doormat. Porter held up the small person in his arms. Pater Tempus had the body of a yearling baby and the head of a wizened hold man. Today, he was wearing a blue footed jumper with a ‘Baby Mickey Mouse’ on it. The old man’s face scowled at him and shrieked, “The Infernium! The stars are right! Altair is in the house of Jupiter! Or was it Saturn? No, Jupiter, I’m certain! Harry, get me the Compendaem Astrae!”
Porter turned to go down the stairs. “Where the hell do you think you’re going? I still have to yell some sense into this dolt!”
Porter started to place his master on the stair, but Pater Tempus shrieked, “What are you DOING! Leaving me on the stairs to DIE, you idiot!”
Almost totally befuddled, Porter just resumed his normal stance. “WELL? Why aren’t you fetching the Compendium Astrae?”
“It really doesn’t matter, Pater Tempus,” Randall said blandly as he fiddled with his cufflinks. “You know that the Executive Committee has barred you from using the Infernium, AND the House Athanor, Elemental Conjuration Chamber, the Chronal Wheel, and the Daedalian Array, until such time as you can pass your remedial competence test again.”
Pater Tempus was a veteran black magician, and a founding member of the Grand Hall; he was also as soft between the ears as an overripe grape. Pater Tempus was a renowned master of Time Magic, but even he couldn’t keep the real Father Time from striking him senile. No one was really sure if his current condition was a failed attempt at some sort of rejuvenation, a side effect of some powerful Time-based magic gone awry, or just that there are strange otherworldly beings with really sick senses of humor.
Randall listened with one ear as Pater Tempus whined on a bit, but he wasn’t worried. There were four very good reasons at to why he’d survived so long, keeping order among a hoard of sociopathic megalomaniacs with little- if any- regard for the laws of Man or God.
First, he was very good at his job; everyone worth worrying about knew that replacing him would be hard, and the place would go to the dogs while they searched for that replacement. Second, he was strictly apolitical; it was known that he was loyal to the Grand Hall, rather than any member and he followed the dictates of the Executive Committee without regard for who was on or had been or had been rather hastily removed from that body. Third, he adhered to a strict reading of the bylaws of the Grand Hall; you could do anything, and it didn’t matter to him, as long as it was in the rules. And fourth, the only way that a ‘mutual assistance society’ of dark mages could get along at all, was under the onus of a set of very powerful and very binding oaths, which were tied to the bylaws of the Hall. One of those oaths protected the Executive Committee and its agents, of which Randall was counted as one. As long as Randall stuck to his little book of bylaws, a copy of which he kept with him at all times, no mage of the Order could lay so much as a hand on him. They could rant and rave and threaten, but they couldn’t back it up, and they all knew it.
Still, Pater Tempus was beginning to grate on his nerves. So, quite possibly for the first time, Randall was glad when an interruption in the form of one of the two other still-resident members stomped through the front door into the lobby. “Ah! Miss Bete Noir! So, how was today’s hunting?”
Bete Noir pulled her cigarette from her mouth, let out a plume of smoke and copped a pose that was perfectly suited for her punkish outfit. Still, she looked to be a tad old for the look, in her early thirties, an almost-but-not-quite over-the-hill hipster who hadn’t caught on that she’d hung around too long. She clumped up the stair with as much grace as her tatty leather miniskirt and Doc Martin boots would let her. “If you gotta know,” she said in a high-pitched nasal whine, “It SUCKED! I tried the subway- Nuthin’! I tried the bus- Bupkiss! I hadda stand in line at the DMV for TWO fuckin’ HOURS, pissin’ on everyone, just to get a rise outta anyone! What the FUCK is happenin’ to New York?”
Bete Noir was a psychic vampire, one who fed on the ‘bad vibes’ created by foul moods, dark emotions, and bad attitude. Bete Noir could build up a more powerful charge of dark energy just walking down a New York street, than many mages could directly tapping into a ley line. What kept Bete near the bottom of the heap in the Hall was that she was a flake, and everyone knew it. Almost anyone could wheedle a huge charge of dark energy out of her and repay her with the mystic equivalent of chump change.
“Yes, well, it IS the beginning of the holiday season,” Randall offered. “Maybe things will perk up for you, as people get annoyed at hearing ‘Santa Claus is comin’ to town’ for the thousandth time.”
“Nah, there’s something different goin’ down, I can feel it.”
Randall was about to try to foist Pater Tempus off on Bete Noir, to distance himself from the aggravating pair, when the front door burst open and a young man with an eye patch and a goatee, wearing a black long coat bustled in. “Randall!” he snapped, “I need to use the Daedalian Array! Now!”
“Now, Mister Korrupt, as I’ve told you before, you lack the seniority to use the Daedalian Array without specific permission. You need the express permission of at least three members of the Executive Committee to use any of the potentially catastrophic resources stored here.” Now go away, you insignificant pest.
“But the Executive Committee isn’t HERE!” Korrupt snarled.
“Wait a minute,” Bete Noir mused. “Isn’t there some procedure in the bylaws for selecting a substitute Exec Committee, in situations like this?”
“Of course there is!” Pater Tempus snapped, “I helped to WRITE the bylaws! It was back in 1932, and there weren’t any fancy- no, wait a minute, it was 1933. I remember, it was the year that-”
Bete Noir tapped Pater Tempus on the forehead, using what negative energy that she had to get the maundering old man to focus. “The By-laws? Substitute Exec Committee, remember?”
“Oh! Oh, yes. The process for electing an ad hoc Executive Committee in the absence of a quorum of elected members of the Committee is a simple matter of seniority.”
“So, the oldest members in a Chapter House operate as a pro tem Exec Committee, until the elected members get back?”
“As long as there’s enough members to form a quorum.”
“And precisely how many are needed to form a quorum?”
“Three?” Bete Noir purred, “Gee… One, Two, Three dues-paying members of the Grand Hall, raht chere, in da howze! It looks like, right now, we ARE the Executive Committee!” She blew a plume of smoke into Randall’s face.
Randall felt a sinking sensation in his stomach. He whipped out his leather bound copy of the bylaws and flipped through it. There was always a chance that the old man had misremembered, or that that clause had been amended or struck from the rules. There it was, Executive Committee, Selection, Emergency Procedures: simple seniority by amount of time as a member. Minimum number of members necessary for a quorum: Three. Randall guessed that this scenario had never come up before. The sinking feeling in his stomach congealed into a ball of lead. He tucked away his book of bylaws, straightened himself, and put the best face that he could on it. “Very well, what do you want?”
“Well,” Korrupt snarled, “First of all, open up the damn Daedalian Array!”
“Hold I!” Bete Noir interrupted, “Hold it, hold it, hold IT!” She turned to Korrupt, a snarky smile tweaking her hatchet face. “Now, WHY should MY first act as a functioning member of the Executive Committee be to allow you access to a high security area like the Daedalian Array?” As Korrupt started to bluster, she just smirked, “you need all THREE of us to agree.”
“True,” Pater Tempus giving Korrupt as cagey an eye as his rheumy orbs would allow. “What’s in it for US?”
Korrupt smoothed his scowl into a blank- if tense- face with visible effort. “I … have something … that might be very useful. … To the Hall.”
Bete Noir shared a casual look at Pater Tempus. “Okay, Korrey, you’re on,” Bete said officiously. “But Pappy and me are in on it, whatever it is. Understood?”
Making a face like he was chewing glass, Korrupt said, “Understood.” He stuck out his hand. Bete Noir laid her long, black-lacquer-nailed hand on top of it, and Pater Tempus laid his pudgy little hand on top of that.
“Okay, Percy, open ‘er up!” Bete instructed.
Randall gave a loud sigh and gave into the inevitable. He’d make phone calls to the real Executive Committee members, and hopefully, they’d put a stop to this (and amend the bylaws) before those three idiots could do anything too disastrous. He pulled from a pocket a special set of enchanted keys that would work only for him. Flipping through the ring of keys, he walked over to the vaulting twin doors of the security wing. Set into the jam beside the door was a stainless steel ‘skull’. Randall took three latchkeys from his ring, placed one in each eye socket and the nose socket, and turned them in the proper sequence. The doors opened, leading to a wide stairwell down.
The stairwell led down at least a hundred feet, into a long vaulting corridor. The five walked through the corridor to a door with a diagram made up of a circle, a triangle, a square, and a pentagon, all interlocked. Once Randall unlocked the room, Pater Tempus irritably guided his apprentice through the procedures to begin the operation of the Daedalian Array. Armatures moved hoops of various shapes, sizes and metals around, forming various configurations. “Humph!” Korrupt snorted, “Look at it! Obsolete! Switches and cranks and levers and pulleys- who designed that thing, Rube Goldberg?”
“Gee,” Bete Noir said ingenuously, “I wonder WHO could possibly lead the Grand Hall out of its wilderness of technological obsolescence?” Everyone knew that the only reason that Korrupt had been made a member of the Grand Hall was his work with Techno-magic. The real movers and shakers kept him around to bum what insights they could, but they didn’t really take Techno-magic all that seriously. They peeked and borrowed what they were comfortable with, but by and large, Mages are traditionalists.
When the Daedalian Array was finally functioning properly, Korrupt stood up to the machine. “Well, if this is what I think it is, then the one to force those old fossils- sorry, Pater Tempus- to finally upgrade to something that would finally actualize the potential of Black Magic, will be ME!” He pulled a rather boxy contraption and what looked like a cell phone from his long coat. With a few pokes at the ‘cell phone’ the boxy contraption levitated into the center of the swirling loops of the Daedalian Array. Once the box was in position, Korrupt hit a button, and the hatch on the box popped open.
A shining ball of light lifted out of the box, which then dropped out of the Array. Then the ball unfurled into the full glory of an ‘angel’, and the chamber was filled with the glory of its song.
“What. The FUCK. Is THAT?” Bete Noir said, in what passed for reverence for her.
“A Noeric matrix of Malkuthic energy, formulated upon primal sephiric patterns, given the-” Pater Tempus started clinically.
“Are you saying that we’ve captured an ANGEL?” Bete screeched incredulously.
“No, don’t be simple, you ignorant little urchin!” Tempus snapped back. “A true being of the Briahiac Realms, captured by that idiot’s toys? Ridiculous! It’s a pattern, probably short-lived, formed of the energies of Yetzirah, the plane of Formation, almost pure Celestial magic, with an unusually positive bias.”
“You’re joking …” Korrupt said, not believing what he was hearing. “Keep that thing intact!” Then he bolted out of the room. When he came back, he was struggling under the weight of at least a hundred pounds of technomantic equipment. He arranged it all in a serpent’s nest of cables and wires, which finally led up to two tridents on long wood-clad hafts. Korrupt then braced himself and jabbed the two tridents into the body of the angel.
The angel screamed, and Korrupt screamed along with it. The energy flowed through the apparatus, into the various components. Checking the readout in the bionic eye that was concealed by the eye patch, Korrupt monitored the charging of his devices. “It’s too powerful! I can’t control it! It’s going to destroy EVERYTHING!”
Bete Noir dived onto the pile of equipment, throwing her ‘negative vibes’ at the glowing power. “What are you doing?” Korrupt yelled, “Wait, I don’t CARE, just keep doing it!”
Then Bete Noir screamed in pain, and was thrown across the room.
Inside the Daedalian Array, the ‘angel’ gave a sigh, and faded into nothingness.
Jerking and spasming, Korrupt dropped the tridents and staggered over to check his equipment. Bete Noir picked herself up off the floor. “I’m fine,” she growled. “Thanks for all the concern.”
“They’re charged!” Korrupt beamed. “They’re ALL charged! They’ll work! I could never get enough raw magical energy to get these things to achieve a stable energy matrix, but now, they’ll draw energy directly from the ambient manna around us! How did you DO that?”
“DO it?” Bete hooted back, “I still don’t know what the fuck all that WAS!”
“Simpletons,” Pater Tempus growled, “I TOLD you- it was almost pure Celestial energy with an unusually positive bias; the bitch just ‘grounded’ it, and balance out the bias. Like the time that Lady Jettatura corrupted the-”
“Malkuthic energies are essentially neutral- whatever brought that thing here gave it an incredibly ‘positive’ bias- what YOU lot would call ‘good vibes’. Bete Noir feeds on and manipulates ‘bad vibes’; she corrupted the energies’ essential bias, making it neutral enough for your toys to capture.”
“Wow,” Bete Noir said, quite pleased with herself, “I corrupted an Angel!”
“That’s not the point!” Korrupt over-shouted Pater Tempus. “The point is, that we couldn’t control it before, but with Bete’s help, we CAN.”
“Yeah,” Bete purred, “I guess that makes me pretty damned indispensable, now don’t it?” Then she thought of something. “Where the HELL did you GET that thing, Korrey?”
“I captured it at Saint Gregory’s.”
“What? You mean, that bullshit freakshow in Hell’s Kitchen is for REAL?”
But Pater Tempus realized the true importance. “You mean, that ‘angel’ that the Press has been yammering about really does create those things on regular basis?”
Bete’s eyebrows shot up. “You mean, we can capture MORE of those things?”
Korrupt grinned, his pleasant, boy-next-door (under the goatee and eye patch) features finally turning sinister for real. “No, Bete. It means that we can capture the person who creates those things, and force her to turn out as many of them as we WANT!”
Charlie Lodgeman didn’t make a big thing about hating cities the way many shaman did. Cities had their own ways and spirits, and their spirits would talk to you if you asked them the right way, just like the ones out in the woods. Of course, you don’t normally have to worry about catching the eye of an undercover vice cop, out in the woods. He wasn’t that worried about the other predators in this jungle; anyone that he had to worry about didn’t go out trolling for people to mug. Still, the milieu was loud, garish and tacky- perfect for the being that he was looking for.
He was strolling by an adult ‘arcade’ with a neon sign of a pair of full sensuous lips with a lit cigarette, when the lips started moving. “Well, well, Magic Man!” they purred in a sexy velvet contralto, “Haven’t seen YOU here in a dog’s age!”
The lips came away from the window, and an entire woman followed them; the neon still lining her full mouth. She was tallish, with a figure designed to cause whiplash in bypassing men. Her hair was long, silky and platinum blonde, in stark contrast to her café au lait, not quite African skin.
Her face was a strange blend of almost every ethnic feature, exotic and alluring, yet somehow bland. It was heavily made up, and yet the paint somehow only made the signs of harsh wear more obvious, and the hungry look to her eyes more feral. Her eyes were diamonds- no, on closer look, they were rhinestones, like those that dangled from her earlobes and around her neck.
Around her chest she wore a red bustier that was really a weathered brick wall. She wore a tight and very short leather- or was it vinyl?- miniskirt, that looked like a stretch of asphalt street after it had rained; from under the miniskirt, her long powerful legs were encased in fishnet stockings- or were they chain link fence? The high heels of her shoes were syringes, the long red nails on her hands were bloody switchblades, and the handcuff dangling from one wrist wasn’t a symbol of HER bondage.
Her beauty was as patently artificial as her massive breasts, but she was all the lovelier for it. Just looking at her, you knew that she was bad for you, but that made her all the more desirable. “Well! Fancy meeting YOU here!” she went on in the voice of every whore ever born.
“Not so fancy,” Charlie said equitably, “I’ve been lookin’ for you for hours.”
“So, you finally got over y’self,” she purred, as she took the handcuff in her hand.
“Yes, you’re the best one to get the message out.”
She stopped short. “Message?”
“Yeah, I need a sit-down with the Movers and Shakers in the Big Apple. And, whether they admit it or not, they ALL do business with you at some time or another.”
She smirked, “How true. Now, do you really expect me to do this out of the goodness of my Golden Heart?” As she rapped her knuckles on her cleavage, there was an echo of solid steel.
Charlie smiled. He knew that the ‘rhinestones’ around her neck were the souls of a thousand dead junkies, hookers, hustlers and pimps. Her price was very steep indeed. But, this WAS New York. “Y’know, I could *force* you to do it for me-” For a moment he stopped being a stocky middle-aged man in denims and a suede jacket. For a moment, he was He Who Sings Power, the first shaman; he was all shamans, of all races, ethnicities and creeds. When he looked at her, she knew that she had no power to nay-say him. And then once again, he looked normal- sort of-. “BUT, I’d vastly prefer to do this, nice and friendly like. Tell them that it concerns the Angel at St. Gregory’s.”
Her face went completely blank for a moment. “Well, Why didn’t you just SAY so, Sugar? No need t’get all nasty!” With that, she sauntered off, putting extra emphasis on the sway of her backside as she turned the corner. Without even trying, Charlie knew that if he looked around the corner, that there wouldn’t be a trace of her.
*click!* “-and the Number ONE reason to get sick in New York: HMOs with Angels!” *click!* “-and I understand that Farrah Fawcett is in New York; she’s asking if she can get a professional discount. After all she WAS an Angel, too. Problem is, she can’t make up her mind as to what to have the St. Greg’s Angel save- her breast or her career.” *click!* “- IT’S A MIRACLE!” *click!* “-and then I laid my hands on the City Budget, and suddenly, it was ALL BETTER!” *click!*
Pierce Randall made sure of the two bottles and the silver goblet on the tray and knocked on the door. There was gruff permission to enter, and Randall walked in on a man stretched out on a hospital bed. The patient was a very large man, and the splints, casts, and braces on his arms, legs, chest, neck and jaw did nothing to diminish is raw physical presence. “Well, how are you today?” Randall asked with strict professional courtesy.
“Well, at least you didn’t say ‘we’,” the man growled. “What’s that?”
“The components to an Apollonian restorative elixir.”
“Get that thing away from me! It’s not like in those stupid games, where you chug a ‘healing potion’ and suddenly you’re all better! Healing that way is fucking painful! And, by definition, it takes a literal year off your life! And they’re addictive! And they taste horrible! Are you that eager to get rid of me?”
“I’m not ordering you to take it. I’m not even recommending that you take it.” Randall set the tray next to the man’s bed. “I’m merely leaving you the option.”
The man looked at the rapier thin major domo cautiously. “And why would you think that that would be a good idea?”
Randall fidgeted with his tie. “Let’s just say that I have cause to believe that your services will probably be called on sometime in the near future.”
“Why? After those debacles at the Atlantic and up in Boston, my stock can’t be very high. Besides, the reason that I decided to hole up here, was that everyone in this Chapter House scattered like rats after the Atlantic screw-up.”
“Well, everyone competent,” Randall muttered.
“When did Bishop Brimstone get back?”
“He… hasn’t. He left a forwarding address in Belize. Which makes it quite difficult to track people down,” Randall finished with a muttered snarl.
“Then Lady Jettatura is making her move to take over the Executive Committee in New York?”
“Errrr… NO. My last contact number for her put her somewhere in the Adriatic.”
“But the rest of the Executive Committee wouldn’t dare-”
“I’m afraid that an ad hoc Executive Committee has been formed.”
“Oh no. Please don’t tell me that it’s that hack Madam Misraim.”
“Well, that’s something at least. Al-Mahgrebi?”
“Not Friar RUSH!”
“Oh, were that it was only him.”
“It’s a troika, formed of Bete Noir-”
“He’s new, hungry, and not very bright. And, finally, Pater Tempus.”
“WHAT? PATER TEMPUS? Are you fucking kidding me?” Randall only responded with an icy glare. “He’s fucking NUTS! Everyone knows that! He’s lost it! How the HELL did THAT happen?”
Randall gave a martyred sigh. “It was a technicality. It occurred to them in unison that since they were the only members of the Hall present at the moment- or likely to show up in the foreseeable future- that they were the senior members. And, as such, they were entitled to form a pro-tem Executive Committee, until such time as a more senior member arrives. They have voted themselves unrestricted use of all facilities, upgraded their sleeping quarters to the Hierophantic suites, and ordered the good liquor cabinet open.”
“And you LET this happen?”
“I didn’t LET it happen- it sort of dropped out of the clear blue. But, the rules are clear- they ARE the most senior members, they HAVE a right to form an ac hoc Executive Committee, and, as servants of the Grand Hall, we both have to follow their orders.”
“Hunh. And why should they need me?”
“Korrupt has some project that he’s all excited about. He’s into techno-magic and all that. He has a target that I gather is rather well defended. They haven’t asked for you yet; but Bete Noir knows that you’re here, and it’s only a matter of time before it occurs to them that they have a military asset available. Now, as a loyal servant of the Hall, it is strictly against my code of ethics to suggest that you might take this, and quietly leave before they remember about you.”
The Anti-Paladin glanced at the bottles. “Why the heads-up?”
“A courtesy, between professionals. I’m already stuck with this, there’s no reason why you have to suffer another humiliation.”
Randall wheeled the refreshment tray into the Infernium, where he was surprised to see the Anti-Paladin standing there, watching Pater Tempus and Korrupt fiddling with one of the Summoning diagrams. On the screen of one of Korrupt’s laptops was the punching and kicking figure of a classic kung-fu movie ninja. “What are you still doing here?” he whispered to the mercenary.
“Bete Noir caught me at the front desk.”
“I appreciate the effort.” Then, in a louder voice, he asked Korrupt, “Okay, and exactly HOW is this supposed to get me some backup for your plan? It takes hours to summon up a decent Minion, and it takes days to get it in shape for anything, and it takes years to get developed to the point where they multiply!”
“Wait until Bete Noir gets back.”
About an hour later, Bete Noir came swaggering in, her large hazel eyes- possibly the only redeeming features in her hatchet face- shining. Randall showed her down to the Infernium, where Pater Tempus, Korrupt and the Anti-Paladin were bickering about details. “Oh, this is ridiculous!” the Anti-Paladin snapped, “Just let me send out a hiring notice, and I could have a force of at least thirty real, flesh-and-blood thugs. They’ll be happy to wear whatever silly costumes you want them to, and do whatever you tell them, as long as you pay them enough.”
Korrupt sneered, “Really? The Nightwolves, the Silver Blades and the Soldiers of Justice are still turning this town upside down looking for us, after that mess at the Atlantic Heritage Society. You put out so much as peep, and the only people who show up will be packing heavy ordinance. Besides, we don’t have the money to hire anyone worth hiring; we’re operating on a very tight budget here.”
“Yeah,” Bete Noir breezed as she perched as prettily as she could on a bench, “I spotted a few of ‘em at a few of my usual haunts. I hadda pull a stunt that I been savin’ for a rainy day.”
“But you got it?”
“Oh Yeah. I found a bunch of sailors from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, got ‘em drunk, and took ‘em over to the Piston.”
“The Piston?” Korrupt paused, “Wait a minute… Isn’t that a GAY bar?”
“Yeah,” Bete purred, “a gay biker bar. At last count, three broken jaws, twenty-four scattered teeth, and at least one concussion. Baby’s all charged up, and ready to Par-TAY!” She hopped off the bench and posed over a metallic pyramid which had cables leading from, it to a series of ten disks laid out in the ‘Tree of Life’ configuration.
When she grunted, jagged bolts of dark energy flowed from her into the pyramid, and from that, to the disks. The disks glowed darkly for a moment, and suddenly, ten wire-frame figures appeared on the disks. There was another rush of energy, and the wire-frames filled in, leaving ten perfectly solid figures. In Busby Berkeley-perfect synchronization, they performed a series of karate katas in perfect form.
“Okay, there’s your backup. Virtual Minions, computer programs given form and substance by magic. They’re like regular minions, only better; they’re faster, stronger, and they don’t leave greasy messes if they get trashed.
“Now, all we have to do is a little research on the layout of Saint Gregory’s-”
The Anti-Paladin asked, “Hold on- you’re going after that circus over in Hell’s Kitchen?”
“You know about it?”
“I’ve been laid up, and instead of subjecting myself to daytime television, I watched the news channels.” ( Actually, like many mercenaries, the Anti-Paladin was something of a News junkie; he subscribed to all the Web news services. ) “CNN and the local channels all have special graphics for it, and everything.”
“Cool. Then you’re probably familiar with the situation.”
“Damn STRAIGHT, I’m familiar with the situation! I am NOT going to wade through that carnival to get that kid! Those people are NUTS! I’d have little old grandmothers jumping me, hoping to martyr themselves and get a Priority Pass into Heaven! Coming back out, we’d have to wade through small armies of Latino, Irish and Italian street gangs, who for once would have the complete support and backup of the NYPD! AND, on top of all that, there’s already a superhero- well, of sorts- already on the scene! Going in there would make the Atlantic Heritage thing look like a cakewalk!”
“What superhero do you speak of?”
“El Penitente?” Bete Noir echoed.
“Yeah. You know him?”
“Know ‘im, hate ‘im. El Penitente is this street punk who got ahold of a minor devil and subjugated it. But then he’s all ‘waaa … I’m possessed!’, and now he wants to get rid of it.”
“How do you know him?”
“We both feed on ‘bad vibes’. Me, I do the smart thing, and try to play it for what it’s worth; him, he tries to break it up and shit like that.” She trailed off muttering, “Goddamn wet blanket …”
Korrupt shook his head. “Then WHY in the name of Belphegor is he hanging around St. Gregory’s? You could cut the ‘good vibes’ around that place with a knife!”
“All that it means,” the Anti-Paladin snapped, “is that we’ll just have to plan around him.”
There was something in the air tonight. Jorge could feel it, lying just outside the soothing curtain of prayer and faith. It wanted something here. The only thing here worth taking was the Angel inside. It wanted the Angel, like those ‘Burning Sword’ dorks had. But it was biding its time, waiting … But waiting for what?
Well, Duh! It, whatever it was, had heard about what happened with ‘Burning Sword’. It knew about him. And, it was waiting for the vigil to lift, and for him to go answer the call of his curse. In an obscure way, he was flattered- they thought enough of him to avoid him.
*Yeah, sounds like wussy-boy’s gonna fall down on the job again,* the devil inside Jorge gloated.
‘Shaddap,’ Jorge said forcefully, ‘ain’t noway that I’m gonna leave, just to let whoever’s out there hit a fu-freakin’ CHURCH!’
*Yeah, tough guy? And how you gonna pull that off? You’re under a fuckin’ CURSE, remember? You gotta go lookin’ for the first blast a’ bad news what you hears. You aint gotta choice!*
‘Mebbe, Diablito- but you just put your finger on my ticket out.’
‘You said it yourself- ‘the first blast of bad news’. Well, I’ve already heard the first blast of bad news. And whatever’s out there is it. And I don’t have to go and find it. All’s I gotta do is wait for it.’
Kerry furiously worked his legs with his arms, trying to get feeling into them. How was he supposed to get down on his knees and pray, if he couldn’t use his legs? ‘Oh God, please help me! God, I’m so scared! I know that this is what you want, so why can’t I believe?’
‘The healings are getting easier, but it’s becoming harder and harder to put my own fears aside. When you face your fears, you’re supposed to overcome them, isn’t that the way that it’s supposed to go? Today, I saw a man who’d been paralyzed get up and walk- only a few feet, but still! The doctors said that he’d never be able to use his legs again! So, WHY am Kerry so afraid that I’ll never walk again?’
Then painful prickles started to shoot up his right leg. Kerry relaxed, he knew that feeling would come back into his legs. Still, as he lay back, he wondered why it was always so hard to believe, when Father John wasn’t there to hold his hands.
Jorge watched as the very last of the vigil holders lit a candle in front of a photograph and left. The TV crews had packed it in for the night, and Jorge had let himself be seen leaving. Now, he was up on the roof of a four-story building across the street from St. Gregory’s. From there, he could see both the front entrances on the street, and the side entrance on the alley.
“So,” came a dry voice behind him, “Really getting into the whole ‘Dark Knight keeping a midnight vigil’ image, are we?” Jorge spun around to face a tall thin man with thinning white hair, wearing a black suit with a clerical collar, standing a few feet away from him.
“How did you get up here, without me hearing you?”
“Put it down to experience. I am Reverend Darren Englund. You are Jorge Cascardero, a.k.a. ‘El Penitente’. What is your interest in Saint Gregory’s church?”
“The same as everyone else’s. The girl who carries the touch of God in her hands.”
“And you think that you can force the Grace of God?”
Jorge grunted a laugh. “Of course not. Maybe I learned that the hard way, but I still learned.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Peace. Rest. If nothing else, it does my heart good, to see others drink from the Cup of Grace … even if I can’t. Yet.”
“And the girl?”
“She’s afraid. What she’s afraid of, I dunno.”
“She has people to protect her,” Englund pointed out.
“Maybe,” Jorge sighed, “But I still feel better, being there for her.” Turning back to look at the Church, he could make out two figures walking down the alley toward the side entrance. There was an aura about them, an aura he immediately recognized. “Something’s wrong.”
“Oh?” Englund peered down the street. “It’s a nun, being escorted by a police officer.”
“No, it’s not,” Jorge said through clenched fangs.
‘It never fails,’ Sister Catherine thought to herself. ‘Just when you get to sleep, some idiot decides that this is the perfect time to wheedle a special session, just for him. Like the poor kid isn’t being worked half to death as it is- not to mention the rest of us. You’d think that the Archdiocese would assign a few more …’ In mid-internal dialogue, she opened the side door. Waiting on the other side was a thirty-ish nun wearing the newer blue habit, and a cop who looked like he could play the front row for Notre Dame. “Yes?” Sister Catherine asked through a yawn.
“I’m sorry about the hour,” the nun said in carefully enunciated words, “but I’m here on special business for the Archdiocese.” She held up an envelope. “May we come in?”
“Oh, of course, come in,” Sister Catherine said, still not running on all cylinders. She took the envelope. Then she saw the cigarette in the nun’s hand. “But first, put that thing out.”
The nun stepped inside, took a deep drag from the cigarette, and blew the smoke into Sister Catherine’s face. The smoke became somehow thicker and stronger, and it cut into Sister Catherine’s face like razors. “No!” said the nun in a high pitched nasal whine. She stepped all the way in, and said to the cop, “Well?”
The Anti-Paladin stepped forward, but was still blocked. “It looks like simple permission isn’t enough. Apparently, the fraud negates the permission. Looks like you’ll have to desecrate the threshold.”
“Right.” Bete Noir reached under her coat and produced a bag. From the bag, she produced a small, sedated black kitten, which she disemboweled with a jackknife, scattering the blood across the doorsill.
The Anti-Paladin stepped across the doorsill. “Y’know,” Bete Noir drawled, “I could’a done the same thing with the old bat there.”
“True,” the Anti-Paladin grated, “but you can’t use a kitten as a hostage.”
From the rooftop, Jorge and Englund saw a hand reach out from the side door of the church, and beckon someone. A figure in a long coat hurried through the alley, and in the door. “No way that’s right,” Jorge growled. He stepped off the roof, and hit the ground running.
Kerry was barely awake from the sound of the door opening, when the dark figures burst into his room and pinned his arms. Kerry had just gotten the idea, and was starting to focus, when a nun walked in and hit him in the face with a blast of pepper spray. She tied a strip of cloth with characters painted in blood around his eyes, and suddenly Kerry couldn’t focus the power anymore. “Okay, I got ‘er!” she called out into the hall.
The ‘ninjas’ carried Kerry out into the hall. She heard a gruff, not-quite American male voice say, “Okay, we have the priest and both nuns. What about the housekeeper?”
“Hostages are like bullets- you can never have enough.” Another, softer male voice said. “The only limit is how much you can effectively carry. Let’s see how much room we have in the van. Okay, Larry, we have our bunny. Bring the van around.”
Kerry could feel himself being carried down the stairs. Then there was a sound of a crash, glass breaking and metal tearing. “What the HELL was that?” Kerry heard the gruff voice say.
“Damn, only so much energy available,” the other voice muttered.
Kerry felt them put him down on the stairs. There was more crashing, the sounds of fighting and cursing in various languages. Suddenly the woman screeched, "YOU again?”.
A moment later Kerry felt something touching his head through the cloth and heard Father John’s voice muttering a prayer. Then Father John, looking a little worse for the wear, pulled the cloth from Kerry’s eyes. “Are you all right?”
Kerry didn’t bother to answer. In the hallway, the big guy, the red one with the horns who’d saved him from those ‘Burning Sword’ assholes, was mixing it up with another big guy dressed as a cop, and a bunch of those ninja-guys. The red guy kicked the bogus cop, (hey, real cops don’t have fists that burn with dark fire), knocking him back into the stair post. But the ninjas were crawling all over him.
Some guy with a really bad goatee and one of those oh-so-high-tech visor things was fiddling with something on his forearm. Suddenly, a wire-frame sphere formed around the big red guy- El Penitente, yeah, that was his name. The globe-cage filled in, becoming a solid ball of steel- or what looked like steel. Almost immediately, cracks began to form in the side of the ‘steel’ ball.
The high-tech guy was fiddling with his forearm thing again. “Don’t bother,” said the ‘Cop’ in his gruff, not-quite- American voice. He got to his feet- tough bastard, (he’d splintered the post), holding his two fists in front of him, as though he were holding a sword in them. With was a flare of hellfire, a sword wreathed in flames was in his hand. The ‘Cop’ stepped up to the steel ball, bracing himself for when El Penitente broke out.
As one red clawed fist came pounding out of the ball, the ‘Cop’ raised the sword over his head, making ready to strike.
Then the ball broke open like an egg, and Kerry, who couldn’t think of anything else to do, lashed out. Drawing on what positive energy that there was around him, Kerry sent out a ball of white light, which spread out into an ‘angel’ and slammed into the bogus cop’s back, just as he was about to start the down-stroke with his sword. The ‘angel’ sent the ‘Cop’ flying.
As Kerry looked at his hands, Father John scurried down the hallway. Muttering, “Oh, Shit!” the bogus nun took a deep drag off of her cigarette and blew a spear of smoke at him. In midair, the ‘spear’ of smoke resolved into a spear of darkness.
Kerry reflexively drew on the power, and an ‘angel’ immediately grew into a shield, right in Kerry’s hand, blocking the nega-spear.
The ‘nun’ goggled, and Kerry, still operating on automatic, chucked the ‘shield’ at her. It hit her dead on, and the ‘nun’ screamed like someone had set her fire.
El Penitente was kept busy rumbling with the ninjas, and the tech-nerd was frantically messing with his controls. He raised something and aimed it at Kerry. Kerry, still on autopilot, shot an ‘angel’ at him. The gizmo that the tech-nerd was holding opened up, a cone of light appeared, and the ‘angel’ disappeared inside the box. “Ah! Now, all we have to do is …”
The ‘cop’ got up and told the tech-nerd, “Don’t bother.” He held up both hands, shouted something definitely not English, and was sheathed in hellfire. When the fire died down, instead of a NYPD blue uniform, he was covered in red-and-black segmented plate armor, with a lot of gold trim, and a long red cape that somehow managed to flow in the wind while indoors. In his left hand, he held a large squarish ‘roman legionnaire’ shield with a nasty, heavy-metal-looking ‘demonic skull’ leering from its center. “Play time is over.” Setting himself in his stance, he advanced on Kerry. “Nothing like a few gaping wounds to make naughty children behave.”
As he advanced, Kerry threw angel-burst after angel-burst at him. Each burst was blocked by shield. The shield simmered with energy and the skull screamed with each blast, but the Anti-Paladin kept coming. Then, he charged and put Kerry on the defensive. Kerry managed to get an angel-shield up in time, but the Anti-Paladin kept him on the ropes, battering away at the shield.
So far, Kerry hadn’t been touched, but he could feel the shield’s pain as the unclean flame around the sword cut into it. Just as he felt the shield beginning to give way, Father John came running back, a glass tumbler in ach hand. He threw the contents of one glasses into the Anti-Paladin’s face. The dark knight’s helmet was open in the front, though you could only make out his eyes and a vague sense of his face. The water splashed through the open slit, hitting him square in the face.
There was a sound like water on a hot griddle, and the Anti-Paladin screamed as the holy water burned his face. “God-Damned PRIEST!” he screamed. he backhanded Father John with his shield, sending the priest flying against the wall. “I’ll GUT YOU for that!”
As the Anti-Paladin raised his sword to strike, Jorge tried to leap to tackle him, but Korrupt trapped him in another virtual sphere. The unholy broadsword came down, perfectly targeted on Father John’s wide brow …
… and was sheared off at the hilt.
Extending from Kerry’s hand was a three-foot long sword of lambent white light, its guard resembling the six-winged angels that he’d been producing. Kerry looked at his hand, as shocked as anyone.
The Anti-Paladin looked at the remains of his sword, and the miraculous blade in Kerry’s hand. “So,” he said, utterly unimpressed, “you’ve got another toy. Do you know how to USE it, little girl? Do you know ANYTHING about real sword-work? Or do you think that watching a few reruns of ‘Xena, Warrior Princess’ is enough to stand against a man who’s trained with masters of the blade?” He dismissed his broken sword and produced another one. “Let me give you your first real lesson. Right before I rape you, over the priest’s dead body.”
The Anti-Paladin charged, but he didn’t use his sword. He bull-charged, using his shield to protect him from Kerry’s sword, knocking the boy stumbling out of the rectory hallway into the anteroom to the nave, the door shutting behind him. The Anti-Paladin crashed through the door, barely slowing down.
Korrupt kept adjusting his virtual sphere snare, because the big goon inside kept trying to break out. This was no good, he’d already had to sacrifice two virtual ninjas to restore the sphere. He was just getting a lead on an automatically reinforcing sequence, when he felt a tap on the shoulder. He turned just in time to take a palm thrust straight into his nose. As Korrupt reeled, he took a kick in the stomach, which keeled him over, further setting him up for a downward blow that smashed him to the floor.
Seeing that Bete Noir was still reeling herself, and the ninjas didn’t seem to be equipped to make decisions for themselves, Rev. Englund stepped up to the virtual sphere. Touching the steely orb with his cross, he recited a prayer. The cross blazed with unearthly fire. The fire spread to the virtual sphere which burned away like so much toilet paper. El Penitente pitched forward as the wall that had just been so solid simply disappeared. “What?” Jorge blurted, “But you were just up on the roof!”
“Put it down to experience. Where’s the child?”
Jorge looked around. “Damn! Where …” Both turned at the sound of more crashing, down the hall and through the door.
“Go!” Englund said brusquely, “I’ve called for backup. The Nightwolves should be here in a few minutes.”
Still laying on the floor, Korrupt’s ears pricked up when he heard ‘Nightwolves’. As soon as the big goon was out of the hallway, Korrupt hit a button on one of his forearm control panels. The Virtual Ninjas snapped out of their stupor and surprised Englund, swarming over him in a dog-pile. Korrupt struggled to his feet, muttering curses and furiously punching instructions into his vambrace panel.
Bete Noir pulled herself together, and asked, “Wha’s goin’ on, Korrey?”
“Well, first and foremost, this operation has just gone belly up. That idiot under the dog-pile called for help. The Nightwolves are on their way, and if he had the brains of wrestling fan, SWAT will be here right after them. Get your shit together, Bete, ‘cause we are OUT of here!”
As Father John charged at them, a virtual sphere formed around the two. Then it suddenly shrank and disappeared. Caught totally off-guard, Carmody looked at the place where the ball had been.
In the anteroom to the nave, the Anti-Paladin was showing Kerry exactly what he’d been talking about. Kerry had power. The Anti-Paladin had power and skill. Kerry could call up ‘angels’, and use them as blasts, shields or swords. But he could only use them one way at a time. The Anti-Paladin had both his sword and that shield, which seemed to be sucking up Kerry’s energy. Kerry was doing the best that he could, but the Anti-Paladin was chalking up hit after hit. No one of the hits was all that devastating, but they were adding up.
‘Maybe if I can get him out of the church,” Kerry thought desperately. He ducked under one of the big ‘black knight’s’ swings and put the bastard between him and the front door. Then Kerry put everything he had into a shield and forced him back toward the doors. It became a contest of strength, Kerry’s versus the Anti-Paladin’s. Kerry surprised himself; he’d never been particularly tough, but he was holding his own against this big bull of a man!
His halo shining like the sun, Kerry started to push the Anti-Paladin back towards the door. Grinning, Kerry looked into the big man’s eyes over their shields. Surprisingly, the Anti-Paladin was grinning back at him. “Amateur,” he sneered.
Then, the hell-knight did … something … and Kerry was thrown back by the power of his own shield. He crashed through the wooden double doors of the Sanctum, into the nave of the church. “Gotcha now, Bitch.” The Anti-Paladin surged forward … and stopped short, smoldering as if he’d walked face-first into an invisible wall of fire. He lashed out at it and hit nothing, but all that did was burn his hand. “Idiot Bans!”
He stopped for a second, and then dismissed his sword. “Oh, you think that you’re safe in there, do you, Bitch?” He held up his hand, which erupted in hellfire for a second. Then his hand was filled with a very large caliber revolver. “Guess again. The problem with most mystic types is that they get all caught up in the ‘ancient ways’ and all that crap.” He lowered the pistol and aimed straight at Kerry’s midsection. “Let’s see you hocus-pocus THIS!”
The unholy champion was about to squeeze off a round when El Penitente came roaring through the broken door. His flying tackle, sent the gun flying. As he smashed the Anti-Paladin against the wall, Jorge grabbed the squarish shield and ripped it from its master’s grasp. The Anti-Paladin came back off the wall, trying to conjure up a replacement weapon on the fly. Jorge stepped in and clocked him, breaking his concentration before he could bring forth a weapon. The two big men wrestled back and forth, totally trashing the furniture of the anteroom. A bright glow came from the nave, accompanied by the sound of an angelic choir in tune. “El Penitente!”
El Penitente and the Anti-Paladin turned to face the light, seeing Kerry standing in the Sanctum proper of the church, halo blazing like the sun, an Angel formed and ready in his hand. As the Anti-Paladin blanched, Jorge took advantage of this opponent’s lapse to slip behind him and get the blackguard in a Full Nelson hold.
“NOOOOOO!” the Anti-Paladin screamed, seeing an extra-large, extra-potent ‘Angel’ come flying straight at him. He struggled, but Jorge held him even tighter.
The ‘angel’ hit the Anti-Paladin dead center, shattering his armor and knocking both of them through the front doors of the church and out onto the front steps, scattering a few of the candles and ‘altars’.
The force of the blast managed to separate them. The Anti-Paladin managed to struggle to his feet first, but then, in the shadows, there was as sound of feet running, and the Anti-Paladin found himself surrounded by figures in dark body armor with a stylized gray wolf’s head on a crescent moon logo. The Nightwolves had arrived.
There were six of them. Three of them pointed assault rifles at him. One had a large silver crucifix out and began muttering something loudly. Another had a katana out. And the last one had a wolf’s head and was growling. One of the men with an assault rifle shouted, “FREEZE!” in the approved SWAT style.
The Anti-Paladin paused, making note of the situation and instantly toted up his chances, none of which he had any opportunity to take, as another ‘angel’ came blasting out of the church, taking him square in the back by surprise. The Anti-Paladin went flying again, past El Penitente, landing like a sack of wet oatmeal.
The Nightwolves hastily re-configured themselves around the two. Jorge looked around cautiously, and tried to not give them any reasons. Now, he remembered about the Nightwolves; they were some sort of team of magical vigilantes who went hunting monsters and shit like that. More importantly, he’d heard that they packed blessed silver-jacketed rounds, with special alchemical propellants.
“NO!” A lovely clear voice, with a strange choral ‘hum’ in the background came from the church as Kerry stepped through the wreckage of the doors, halo still bright around his head. Even in bleached-out pajamas, he somehow gave an impression of being dressed in heavenly robes. “He helped save me.” Hand outstretched, he walked over to El Penitente, a hand up. “Are you all right?”
“Hey, de nada,” Jorge breezed. Once on his hooves, he gave his most dramatic bow, “I am El Penitente, at your service, and all that jazz.”
“You’re hurt,” Kerry reached for a gash on Jorge’s biceps.
“Hey, it’s just a scra-“ Jorge started to dissemble. But Kerry touched him, and the holy-seeming energy flared. A splash of red appeared on the upper sleeve of Kerry’s pajamas, and they both gave a gasp. Reverently, Jorge touched his arm, where there was only a scar. He looked into Kerry’s large golden eyes. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Yes, I did.”
Then, from out of nowhere, a metallic sphere formed around the Anti-Paladin. It shrank and disappeared, taking the fallen blackguard with it Just as Father Carmody and Reverend Englund walked through the shattered doors. Father Carmody looked at the armed figures. “Who are these people?”
“Warriors of God,” Englund said, his matter of fact tone not masking the proprietary pride. He gave them the Stations of the Cross in blessing and, except for the woman with the silver crucifix, they melted back into the night.
As they all walked back into the church, Englund asked the remaining Nightwolf, “Is there something?”
The woman, her eyes alight with wonder and hope, held up her crucifix. “I was wondering … could she … bless this?”
As the police came and taped off the scene, Reverend Englund and Father Carmody gave their versions of the incident. Kerry, his head now draped over with the white blanket, stepped into the Sanctum and turned to Jorge. “I don’t understand. Why couldn’t he get at me in here?”
Jorge looked at Kerry from just outside the nave. “Because, he’s accursed, like me. He has a demon inside him. Only he welcomes the Beast. And, he could get at you- he had a gun, remember?”
“Why haven’t you come into the church before? I know that you’ve been out there. I saw you on the news.”
“Because, I couldn’t. I can’t enter a church, not without permission.”
“You mean, you won’t or you CAN’T?”
“Can’t. Like the Tin Can Man couldn’t. It’s like there’s this invisible wall there. Like there is here …” Jorge pressed a hand against the space where the Sanctum door should have been, and it was like touching a hot griddle. He pulled his hand back, smarting.
“Then how could he get inside?”
“I guess … they did something that desecrated the rest of the church, but not the Sanctum.”
Father John and Reverend Englund walked up. “Yes,” Englund agreed, “while the definition that previously protected the entire building have fallen, your worship area is both uncompromised, and quite potent.”
Carmody turned to Englund. “Those people … they had magic …”
“Yes, very potent black magic.”
“And… they wanted… Our Guest?” Englund nodded. “Why?” The frosty glint in Englund’s eye confirmed Carmody’s worst fears. “Will they be back?”
“Oh, almost definitely. The Grand Hall doesn’t take kindly to failure.”
“Then… what can we do?”
Englund stepped into the nave. “As much as I hate to admit it, at the moment, the child is precisely where she should be. Right here. Within this area, which is still sacred. No magical attack or being can reach her here. And any mundane threat that the Hall might send for her, she can draw on the power there to deal with while here.”
“But I can’t sleep in the church!” Kerry protested.
Carmody nodded, and took Englund by the elbow. “Come. There’s something that I want you to check out.” Father John took Reverend Englund down a stairs into a cellar under the main body of the church. “Does that special protection that you were talking about reach down here?”
Reverend Englund paced around the storage area, as if getting the scent of the place. He stopped and let out a heavy sigh. “Yes. The protection of the Nave extends all the way down into the ground. It probably reaches up onto the roof as well.”
“Well, at least we don’t have to worry about winged demons trying to crash through the roof.”
“You only THINK that that’s a joke.”
“We’ll try to make this place as comfortable as we can. I just hope that I can explain this to Family Services.”
The white blanket draped around his head, Kerry looked around at his new sleeping quarters. ‘I’m sleeping in someone’s basement,’ Kerry thought to himself. ‘God, I know that you’re supposed to work in mysterious ways and all that. But in the last month, you’ve given me super powers, stashed me away in this church with no way of calling my folks, had me heal people, and made me crippled and blind. You’re turning me into a girl, the MCO and some freaking supervillain team that belongs on Saturday morning TV both want my ass, and now I’m sleeping in the basement. God, you know I don’t like to whine, but SHERLOCK HOLMES would be turning to the last pages on this one! If you want me to DO something, TELL me!’ Kerry looked pettishly up at the rafters. ‘You talked to Joan of Arc.’
Jorge huddled in his alleyway, smiling to himself. ‘Eeeyyy… Diablito! You there?’ he jeered at his inner demon. There was no response. Ever since Angel had touched him and healed his arm, he couldn’t hear the little devil. It wasn’t gone; he could still feel it. Maybe she just knocked the little fuckhead for a loop. He chuckled. It would probably come back. But, for the first time in six years, he was alone in his own head. And, he got to talk to her. Who says that virtue is its own reward?
NEW YORK HERALD, Dec 3rd: St. GREGORY’S ATTACKED!
NEW YORK TRIBUNE, Dec 3rd: Unknown Raiders Try To Kidnap ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’
NEW YORK RECORD, Dec 3rd: Demon-‘Hero’ Suspected In Angel Kidnap Attempt
BEACON MAGAZINE, Is ‘Angel’ Safe In NYC Church?
NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC: Insane Angel Chained In Basement of St. Gregory’s!
AMERICAN CRUSADER: Satanists Attempt to Sacrifice ‘Angel’ on St. Gregory’s Altar!
Father John picked through the piles of repair materials. Three construction firms had been climbing all over each other offering to do the repairs. They’d gotten most of the wreckage out of the way, and they’d already brought in some materials. But, it was Sunday morning, and the faithful were coming to worship. Carmody was wryly reminded of the last scene in ‘Mrs. Miniver’, where, despite having been bombed the night before, the villagers came to worship in the hastily- repaired wreckage of their beloved church.
The sight of two priests interrupted his Hollywood musings, one of who looked like he was barely holding onto his temper. The other Carmody recognized as Monsignor Fenzi. “Monsignor! Please excuse the mess.”
“It’s all right, Carmody,” Fenzi assured him. “We came down here to personally inspect the damage. This is Bishop Spengler.”
“Oh! Your Excellency! I didn’t-”
“Our Church. The godless bastards had the unmitigated BRASS to attack one of OUR Churches!” Spengler fumed.
“I’m sorry, your Excellency, we should have …”
“Oh, I’m not angry at YOU, Carmody!” Spengler cut him off. “Oh, Heaven forbid, no. You did everything that could be expected of you, and more! No, I’m angry that those people dared to attack one of our churches!”
“You know who those people were?”
“Yes. They’re called the ‘Grand Hall of Sinister Wisdom’. And there’s nothing Grand nor Wise about them. They’re a loose confederation of Black Mages, who’ve somehow worked out how to work together, all the better to plague the rest of us. They were the party responsible for that attack last month, the one that ended with those monster-dog things down in the Times Square subway.”
“Yes, Reverend Englund told me something about them, last night. Tell me, what is the Church doing about them?”
Bishop Spengler twitched his face irritably. “I’m going to meet with the Cardinal, to discuss certain measures. I already went to the limit of my authority, after the Atlantic Heritage Society mess. I’m going to suggest that we start sharing information and resources with the AHS’ ‘Esoteric Chamber’, and that we open discussions with the other churches in the area. I’m also going to suggest that we bring in some members of certain, *ahem!* ‘special orders’, to help with security.”
“Is there any chance of maybe getting another priest, some more nuns, maybe a few lay members assigned here?”
Spengler poked at one of the replacement doors leaning against a wall. “Hmm. And I have to talk myself blue in the face, to get a new heater. I’m sorry, that’s not my department. And, I’ve heard that your, ah, ‘neighbor’, Father Kemper over at Our Lady of Sorrows, is complaining about all the fuss.”
“He would.” Father Ed Kemper, the rector of Our Lady of Sorrows, was used to being the big noise in the neighborhood. And from what Carmody heard, he wasn’t taking being left out of the limelight well. Carmody made a moue and then brightened. “Well! Sir, would you like to meet Kerry?”
“Kerry? Is that the child’s name?”
Spengler sighed, “No. I’d like to, but I need to maintain an objective intellectual distance on this. Given the nature of this boy’s powers, I think that that requires a measure of physical distance.”
Carmody thought fast. “Well then, will you at least stay for the Mass?”
Spengler smiled. “I can think of a thousand good reasons to do so, and not a single one not to.”
Carmody smiled, and made his first political move.
“You’re Kidding!” Kerry said aghast.
“No, it’s part of the Dogma.” Father John responded. “I’m surprised that you’ve never heard of it before.”
“Oh, I’ve heard about the wine and wafer bit- but the body and the blood of GOD? That’s disgusting!”
“It’s a symbolic partaking of the divine essence.”
“Cannibalism is symbolic?”
“Do you know a better way to facilitate the taking of something into yourself?”
Kerry paused. “Okay, you guys have been doing this for centuries, it’s not like I’m gonna talk you out of it. But why do you want ME to help you perform the Mass?”
“It’s shaping up to be Standing Room Only. If we’re going to get through the Eucharist in anything like time, I’m going to need an assistant. Sister Catherine isn’t up yet, Sister Esperanza has her hands full, and all the lay members that I could use have their hands full acting as greeters.”
“Greeters, or bouncers?”
“Six of one, half a dozen of the other.” Father John laid a comforting hand on Kerry’s shoulder. “All that you have to do is stand beside me and hand me the things when I point at them.”
“But I’m not even Catholic!”
“No one’s perfect. No, you don’t have to be Catholic to assist me with this. And, it’s not much, but with crowds this large, those few seconds per celebrant can really add up.”
Bishop Spengler and Monsignor Fenzi tried to blend into the crowd by standing along the wall with several others. Even so, they drew more than their fair share of second looks. From what the Bishop was hearing, the Greeters were having problems making the ‘visitors’ from Boston, Philadelphia and New Jersey respect the ‘No Cell Phones or Cameras’ policy. ‘Lord Almighty’, Spengler thought to himself, ‘they’re getting Pilgrims.’ However, almost everyone forgot about Spengler and Fenzi as Father John walked up to the pulpit- followed by an ‘altar boy’ whose head was draped in a white blanket-like shawl.
‘Oh, Carmody, what ARE you playing at?’ Spengler wondered. ‘If you’re trying to play politics, you’re going to have to do better than that.’ Still, Spengler had to admit, the boy did a wonderful job, for a Unitarian. He followed Carmody’s cues perfectly, as if he’d grown up watching the rites. Usually, first time altar servers stumbled over this or that, but this went as smooth as silk. And yet, for all of that, even under the blanket, you could sense a tension in the child.
Then, it happened during the Preparation of the Chalice. Carmody was holding the chalice and reciting the prayer. The boy jerked and stiffened. A light shone around the altar server’s head, as unto a halo. And the unspoken hopes of the congregation were fulfilled; from the boy’s chest emerged a glowing ball of light, and there was a subdued hum, something between a low musical note and a sigh.
Carmody stopped, and looked at the light like a deer caught in a car’s headlights. The ball opened like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon, into a glorious angelic figure. Despite himself and all of his years of experience with preternatural events, Bishop Spengler crossed himself. The ‘angel’ wrapped itself around the chalice and Father John, collecting himself, continued the prayer.
The Ushers made themselves known, keeping the line for the Eucharist peaceful without disturbing the fragile peace of the church. Spengler humbly waited in line, and received the Eucharist.
It was like drinking in God.
Bishop Spengler was a man who’d thought that he’d had faith. But he suddenly realized that all that he’d really done was intellectually accept the probability of God's existence. Now, he believed. He had seen the mystery and danger of the Otherworldly, but not its might or glory. He finally understood the use of ‘Passion’ in the Passion Plays. He understood why the most holy of the angels are the Seraphim, ‘the Burning’. He understood why the men and women who had taken the sacrament before him were crying and crossing themselves.
From Fenzi’s expression, his experience was much the same.
When the service was over, Spengler took Father Carmody aside. “That was clumsy, Carmody. You’re playing with forces far beyond what you comprehend.”
“What are you talking about? What happened with the chalice? I had NO IDEA that that would happen! I was as surprised as anyone!”
Spengler gave Carmody a measuring look. “What have you done to try and bring this child into the fold?”
Carmody shrugged. “Well, Kerry has, naturally, been very interested in matters of Dogma and the basics of the Credo-”
“Have you baptized her?”
“No, but then, that MUST be purely voluntary, and-”
“You may consider this a direct order- you WILL find a way to bring that child into the Roman Catholic Church. It is of VITAL importance. Do what you have to.”
NEW YORK HERALD: Worshippers Describe Blessed Mass
NEW YORK TRIBUNE: Angel Blesses Mass At St. Gregory’s
NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC: New Lourdes in New York?
AMERICAN CRUSADER: Angel Blesses Britney Spears’ Breasts!
El Penitente was enjoying the feel of his new shirt. Senora Salazar had made it just for him, in thanks for saving the ‘Angel’. It was a very nice shirt, hand-sewn and embroidered. But the really nice thing was that it was the first thing that he’d worn in years that really fit. And it didn’t hurt that it was clean, either.
Then his ears pricked up, as he sensed something wrong. There was something very wrong out there, something that wasn’t fighting the good vibes that the vigil was creating, but was rather being forced even more wrong by them. ‘Have to keep this nice and quiet,’ Jorge thought to himself. He rose to his feet and leapt to the roof of the building.
Hal Lebrun took a deep breath. He was almost there. He’d been studying the layout of St. Gregory’s for weeks. He’d finally found the blind spot where you could sneak in and out of the cellar without being seen. It was a sign from God, that the Angel had been moved into the church’s basement. God wanted the Angel to answer Hal’s prayers. It was why God had sent the Angel to this church, so that Hal could get in and talk to the Angel. Why else would they shut an Angel in the basement? He had prayed so long and so hard, and now the Angel was going to lay her hands on him, and make everything all right. His thoughts rambled onto ever more jumbled tangents, but they kept looping back to the enticing, beckoning purity of the Angel inside. Hal conveniently managed to ignore what had happened to all the other ‘pure’ things that he’d sought out.
In the lowering darkness, Hal edged closer and closer, only moving when he was sure that no one was looking. They never understood. Finally, he managed to sneak into the well, of the window. He pulled out the linoleum knife, and paused. That knife had so many powerful memories. He used it to pry the window open. It was an old, neglected window, and the grime was more of a problem than any lock. It took some effort, but he managed to get the window open. He raised the grimy pane, and peered in. Yes, there she was! He could see her by the light of her own halo (actually, it was a 75 watt bulb, but he didn’t know that), kneeling beside a cot, praying. Quietly, quietly, not to startle the angel- although, to a rational reader, it might strike them as illogical, that if Hal were destined to find the Angel, that he wouldn’t have to sneak, but since when did logic ever matter to a psycho?- Hal started to squeeze through the window.
Then a massive hand reached down into the window-well and dragged Hall out by the scruff of his neck. A face straight from the Inferno shoved itself into Hal’s face and scowled, “’Ey, Pirado… You off your meds or somethin’?”
Hal gave a strangled shriek. Inside, Kerry heard the shriek, and broke from his prayers. Hobbling toward the sound of the scream (he’d healed an old Russian man with crippling arthritis of the knees), Kerry found the window. Looking up, he saw that El Penitente guy, holding this one rather off-seeming man up off the ground. The other guy was flailing at him with a linoleum knife and giving off some very weird vibes.
As the nutcase flailed at him with the linoleum knife, Jorge sighed. He wasn’t afraid of getting cut, but there was no way that he was letting this bozo ruin Senora Salazar’s beautiful shirt! “Calm down, calm down! I’m just gonna take you over to the nice policemen, and see what Bellevue says.”
Then there was a red-and-gold streak. Jorge went flying against one of the alley walls, and Hal went scrambling. He was on his feet in a trice and pelted down the alley.
Jorge pulled himself up and looked. Standing in the alleyway was a figure in a golden breastplate and Roman legionnaire’s helmet with matching shin and forearm guards, a red undersuit and matching cape. “Ah, Man, Legionnaire, why’d you go and DO that?” Jorge groaned.
“I knew that if I waited, you’d show your true colors,” Legionnaire, a veteran New York superhero, grated through his helmet.
“True colors? What the fock you talkin’ about?”
“ENOUGH!” Legionnaire flourished, and a long rectangular shield and gladius appeared in his hands. “Time for you to be sent back to HELL, Demon!”
“HEY! Can’t we TALK about this?”
In the poor light of the alleyway, Legionnaire’s red and gold looked more red and black, with some gold trim. Kerry had never really paid that much attention to the real life superheroes in New York, so while he’d heard about Legionnaire, he didn’t recognize him. Instead, he saw a big guy in antique-y red and black armor with a squarish shield, who was talking about killing El Penitente. The Anti-Paladin!
Without thinking about it, Kerry was up through the window, a sword forming in his hand. He gave the ‘Anti-Paladin’ a wide arcing chop against the back, which sent the big man flying into the wall. The Anti-Paladin immediately spun around, his sword and shield ready. But he paused, as he saw who was coming for him. ‘Hah! Not so tough THIS time, ARE you, asshole?’
Kerry battered away at him, destroying first the shield and then the sword. The ‘Anti-Paladin’ tried to grab him by both hands, but Kerry summoned another ‘angel’ straight from his chest. The ‘angel’ caught the ‘Anti-Paladin’ square in the face, and knocked him out cold on the alley floor.
“Awwww, MAAANNN…” Jorge moaned.
“What’s the matter?” Kerry asked, “It’s the Anti-Paladin! He was gonna-”
“That’s NOT the Anti-Paladin. His name’s Legionnaire. He’s one of the good guys.”
Kerry’s golden eyes popped open wide. “Legionnaire? But he’s- but he was gonna-” Suddenly, there was some noise from the end of the alley.
Jorge pulled Kerry and Legionnaire’s unconscious form behind the stacks of crates that shielded the window from observation from the street. When the news photographer walked away, Jorge stepped away from the wall and slung Legionnaire over his shoulder.
“What happened?” Kerry asked, “He was gonna gut you with that sword!”
Jorge gave a wide shrug. “He saw me roughing up the asshole who was trying to break in and got the wrong idea, sort of like you got the wrong idea. Beside, we got some history, me an’ him. He may be one of the good guys, but he’s not a particularly nice guy. Or very smart, for that matter. Look, this is kinda embarrassin’, for everybody. I don’t wanna admit that I hadda get rescued or nuthin’; you don’t wanna admit that you beat the crap out of a superhero, and Buckethead here won’t wanna cop that he got his ass kicked by a kid. SO, what say we keep this between us?”
“I thought that this sort of thing only happened in comics!”
Jorge spread his arms out wide. “Hey. It happens.”
“So, what now?”
“So, now, I take ‘Quo Vadis’ here and let him come to on some nice rooftop somewhere, and talk some sense into him. He’s just the sort of asshole to come back here and try to kick your ass. But don’t you worry about it, Dulcita; I know how to get in touch with the Guard, and they’ll talk him out of it.”
Kerry shifted his posture and swayed hesitantly. “uhm… El Penitente?”
“Call me Jorge.”
“Okay – Jorge- could, um, we, y’know, talk?”
“Sure! What about?”
“Oh, just … stuff … I’m getting’ bored outta my mind, trying to talk to God.”
“Why? What does God say?”
“Nuthin’. That’s why I’m so bored. Have you ever tried to hold up your end of a one-sided conversation?”
“Hey, it could be worse- you could be stuck trying to talk to my Tia Conseula- she never shuts UP!”
Sharisha ‘Tempest’ Kincaid threw a soda can at the television screen (which was protected by a four-inch protective plate of Questonite© transparent plastic). “Wouldn’t you know it! WHY is it, whenever there’s some ‘Angel’-type mutant, that they’re always blonde, blue-eyed bitches? Howcum you never see a SISTAH with a halo, hunh?”
Charlie Lodgeman loved Grand Central Station. The old pile and he had a lot of history together. Its grandeur was diminished, but at least they hadn’t wrecked it in the renovation. The one thing that he didn’t like about it was the hassle for taxis, which had been a pain in the ass back in the 1920s and hadn’t changed a bit. But as he stepped to the curb, a funky old vintage 1950s hack screeched up in front of him, and a feminine voice snapped, “Get In!”
Charlie hadn’t gotten to be as old as he was by reflexively obeying strange voices. He looked inside the cab, and spotted only a pair of rhinestone eyes framed in a fall of patently artificial pale blonde hair. Then he noticed that there was no one driving the ‘cab’. “Hey, Shecky!” he asked the cab as he climbed in, “How’s it hangin’?”
The spirit answered by ‘tuning’ its radio to Three Dog Night’s ‘Bad Moon Rising’.
“That bad, hunh?”
The Streetwalker fully manifested herself in the back seat. “Well, you wanted a meet, you got it.”
“Oh? Who am I going to meet with?”
The Players. If Charlie understood the current street patois correctly, Street Life meant that he was going to meet with the major powers of New York, all at once. Crap. He hated mass meets. Spirits tend to pull together and set the shaman as the outsider in situations like that. But then, the greater spirits of New York were nothing if not fractious. Still, with spirits that powerful and self-satisfied, a lack of unity usually meant infighting, and Charlie hated it when he got caught in the middle of a spiritual feud. He worked with squabbling preternaturally powerful children up at Whateley, and at least they looked up to him as an elder. Spirits had a hard time viewing anything with a skin, as anything other than a vending machine.
The cab drove along the secret byways of New York, through passages that shouldn’t have let a bulky old clunker in. It drove through the reflections in mirrors and windows and chrome, passing through space that wasn’t physical. When the cab finally stopped, it was in a large open space ringed with seats. “Madison Square Gardens?”
Street Life stuck one long slinky leg out of the taxi, going for the image. “Well, we needed a place that was sort of like neutral territory. And the Sports Nut is sort of on speaking terms with everyone. Sort of.” She jerked a thumb at one manic figure wearing a Nets jersey, a Yankees cap and Rangers jacket, waving a foam rubber finger. “Not that he ever has anything really t’ SAY.”
“They’re Heee-rrre!” An androgynous figure in a sequined long-tailed tux, top hat, and something that could be tights (or just very tight trousers) danced in front of them. And I DO mean danced. As in choreographed. It spun around in a flurry of fancy footwork, tap-dancing its way into your hearts; or at least, it would have, if this were a Busby Berkeley musical.
Street Life shoved the dancer aside sighing, “Well that’s Show Biz.”
She sashayed her way over to a hulking figure that was sprawled in one of the front row seats, taking up five seats by stretching his arms out across the back of the seats. It was wearing an expensive Armani suit with a silk tie, handmade shoes, Rolex watch and several rings; but the man within the finery was the worst sort of Neanderthal. He had the build of a gorilla, and the hamhock hands at the ends of the long powerful arms were dripping with blood. There was an obvious bulge under his armpit, and the ‘rings’ on his fingers were actually diamond-studded knuckle-dusters. His wide-brimmed fedora was pulled low so that it shadowed his features, except for the steely eyes that glared unblinking out from just under the brim. “Hey, Baby,” Street Life said, “I brought him, just like I said.”
The Thug just grunted, casually grabbed her by her long hair and pulled her up close to his face. When he finally saw fear in the Street Life’s eyes, he pulled her down under his arm, in a mockery of an affectionate embrace. The Thug glared at Charlie again. “So. You wanted a meet?” it grated.
“Is this meeting just with you four?” Charlie asked.
“It SHOULD be just wit me,” The Thug sneered.
“But it’s not,” said a calm voice from out of the shadows. An old Indian woman, dressed in stone and bark and leaves walked out the darkness. She gave a slow nod toward Lodgeman. “Well met, Singer With Dreams.”
As she sat on one of the chairs, a large mottled cat sat on the chair beside her. It wasn’t her pet. It was the King of Cats. And, by extension, the rats, and stray dogs, and pigeons and other wildlife that make their way in the concrete canyons of New York. “Others are here as well.”
“Can we get ON with this?” rapped a strident voice that somehow echoed of the ring of cash registers. A man hurriedly clipped out of the darkness and sat on another chair, placing his briefcase on his knees. “Time is MONEY!” The man was made of money. Literally. His silvery ‘skin’ was made out of stacks of quarters, nickels and dimes. His brown ‘hair’ was rows of pennies. His eyes were gold dollars that somehow blinked. His green suit was an origami construct of dollar bills of varying denominations, while his red tie was Pounds Sterling, and his shirt and pocket handkerchief were made of stock certificates.
“Yeahthatrightwedidntcomeherejusttopalaver,” rattled off another voice in lightning quick patter. A figure that was just a silhouette of a man sprinted out of the darkness. “Heytherehowareyanicesuit. Wejustwannageteverylittlethingoutintheclearand-”
With a single swipe of his hand, The Thug reached out and silenced the chatter . “So. Waddya want, Mister Mojo?”
Charlie looked around into the darkness, and could just make out various shapes and forms, most only half formed, spotting one, that was far larger than any of the rest and far more powerful, but much less defined. Centering himself, he took a deep breath and began. “I am here about the magical child that’s taking refuge in St. Gregory’s church on the West Side. I don’t know the boy’s name, but I’m sure that you’re all too aware of whom I’m talking about. What’s happening-”
“Boy?” came a precise voice from the darkness. A figure walked out of the darkness. It looked like a man, a very particular type of man. He was of middling height but slender, with stooped shoulders in a long tatty overcoat over a shabby tweed jacket over a faded denim work shirt and frayed blue jeans. His face was long and narrow with a beaky nose and large soulful eyes. He wore a beret over shaggy curly hair. His overcoat was festooned with buttons saying ‘witty barb’, ‘snide remark’ and ‘trendy cause’, and he was carrying too many books under one arm for anyone of his frame to lift. He looked too much like a New York Intellectual to be anything except a poser, an actor- or a spirit. “But the semiotics of the subtextual implications of the reports indicate-”
“Aaaahhhh- SHADDAP!” Yelled the Thug. “Kwitcher yappin!”
Charlie cleared his throat. “I am involved in the situation at St. Gregory’s. I would know where you all stand on the subject.”
“Why, I think that she’s absolutely delightful!” gushed another voice from the darkness. She made an entrance from the shadows that was complete with a spotlight and the flashing of newspaper cameras. She was every debutante from Town & Country and supermodel from Vogue, all wrapped up into one WASPy package. Her outfit was exquisite; its cut and drape and color were absolutely perfect for her. And yet, the hemline, shoulders, sleeves, seams, drape, pattern and color were in constant flux. “She is simply Too Cute!” She perched herself on a chair, discretely keeping the Moneyman between her and the Thug. The Thug looked at her with unconcealed lust and greed, and Street Life gave her a look that was the sort that competitive sisters gave each other. “Please, please let her stay around! She’s such a breath of fresh air in this stuffy old burg!”
“She’s bad for bizniz,” grated the Thug.
“I disagree,” clinked the Moneyman. “We’re heading into the Christmas season, and studies verify that a secular phenomenon such as this result in a sharp upward turn in regard both retail preparation and consumer confidence-”
“Besides,” Show Biz cut in, on ‘his’ knees in the middle of a harsh spotlight, dressed as Sir Thomas Moore in A Man For All Seasons, “she reminds us all of the passion of Christ and the TRUE MEANING of-”
“Skuh-REW You All!” Street Life said in voice that was pure Fort Apache the Bronx, “There is NO WAY that *I* am traipsing around all Winter wearin’ an Angel dress! It’s cold ENUF out thair!”
The Thug lashed out, silencing both the Fast Talker and Street Life. Show Biz inched his way out of the spotlight, still on his knees. “I SAID, she’s BAD for BIZNIZ! Do you know how hard it is, for a yardape to shake down an ol’ lady, wit all dis fukin’ ‘good will’ shit funkin’ up the air? I got rollers whoze thinkin’ about spendin’ the Holidaze wit dere FAMILIES, instead’a boozing, druggin’, gamblin’ and whorin’, like that they SHOULD be! I say, get RID ‘a th’ bitch!”
“But the quarterly profits forecasts say-”
“She stays.” The voice was calm and clear and decisive. It cut through the bickering. In the sudden silence, footsteps sounded, and from the shadows walked a fireman. He was wearing his fire-fighting rig, and he was covered in soot and grayish dust, and there was something about his eyes that drew you to them. He seemed to be utterly mundane, and strangely out of place among these fabulous figures. But he not only held his own, he overshadowed them somehow, made them insignificant. Striding forward, the Firefighter said, “Hello, Charlie. Good to see you again.”
Lodgeman started. The Firefighter spoke in the voice of every man he had ever known who’d bravely given his life for a cause that he believed in. And Lodgeman had known many in the course of his life, and seen them charge into the face of sure death. Charlie knew that this was no mere city spirit before him. This was the fabled spirit that lies within New Yorkers, so completely hidden until something touches them. When this spirit rose up, taxi drivers became warriors. Salesgirls became raging she-wolves protecting their cubs. Common street punks became Holy Paladins. Everyday people shed their fears and preconceptions and fought as heroes. The form he wore was that of every firefighter who’d gone into the flames at the World Trade Center and died.
“She stays,” the Firefighter said once again as a simple matter of fact. “She calls to the best in people. She reminds them of who they can be.”
“Yeah, and that’s the fucking PROBLEM!” Street Life screeched, “Kid or no kid, she’s cutting into MY- er, OUR action! You heard my man here! I even got junkies throwing away their needles and lightin’ candles, hoping to catch one of those fuckin’ angel things!”
“But her effect on projected sales-” The Moneyman started.
“HEY! Waddya you gonna do,” Street Life cut him off, “if people start thinkin’ that Christmas is about something Holy, instead of buying the minimum amount of tinsel and crap that you sell? What if they stay at home with their families, instead of emptying out their bank accounts every year, hanh?”
The Moneyman lapsed into a reverie, surrounded by the sounds of adding machines ratcheting as it re-evaluated its position.
Charlie clapped his hands for attention. “Okay, I think I get where you’re coming from.” He looked at the ancient nature spirit and her animal companion. “At least, most of you.” Mother Manhattan maintained a discrete silence. “At least, can anyone tell me the ‘angel’s’ real name, so that I can contact his parents?”
“Well, Sugah,” Street Life drawled, “I’d love to help you there, but the mackerel snappers are playing this hella close to their vestments. They don’t ask, and she don’t tell, y’know?”
Lodgeman nodded. “Okay, can you tell me something about why the Hall of Sinister Wisdom is after her?”
“Heyareyoukiddin’? Itsasplainasthenoseonyourface! Theywanna-”
“Shaddap,” the Thug silenced the Chatterbox again. “Nah-ah. The Hall pays for pr’teckshun, and I provides dat pr’teckshun.” It mimed zipping its lip. “Omerta.”
“Besides!” Show Biz trumpeted, dressed as Don Quixote from Man of La Mancha, "how is the Angel to prove her heroic mettle without a worthy adversary?”
At this point, Street Life tried to shush Show Biz again, which led to an all-out screaming match between the spirits.
Their nattering reached a crescendo, only to be silenced by an intense soul-rattling shriek. “There is another party to be heard from,” Mother Manhattan said calmly.
The darkness moved. Not a shadow, but the entire darkness. Paradoxically, in the manner of spirits, it reared up over them, even as Lodgeman knew that they were riding on it colossal back. It coalesced into a mélange of brick, tar, steel, wiring, pipes, concrete, glass, wood, filth and trash. It opened a huge jagged maw, and gave another rattling shriek. Pulling his point of view back, Charlie realized that this was the true spirit of New York in its entirety. If there were a god of New York, then it was a huge vicious rat.
Out of the murk between the Rat’s legs stumbled a frantic wild-eyed emaciated figure. It twitched furiously and gibbered, “HATE! Hate, hatehatehate! How DARE she? SWEET! Sweetsweetsweet! Tastes like GOD! Neverleave, neverleave, neverleave. CAN’T Leave! Won’t Let Go! KEEP! Keepkeepkeep. Inside. EAT! Eateateat!”
The other spirits started to argue, but the Rat silenced them with another scream. Only the Firefighter stood his ground.
Mother Manhattan sighed. “Well, Charlie, my bastard child has spoken. in its own fashion. Be careful of how you step, Singer of Power. Songs, no matter how beautiful or powerful, are often lost in the brick canyons.”
Shecky opened one of its doors, and Lodgeman got in. He had the answers that he wanted. Or, at least, all the answers he was likely to get.
Father John sat at his desk, gazing appalled at the stack of requests by various persons who wanted to be healed. At first, he’d simply handled them personally, each by their own merits. But now he was forced to resort to paperwork. Healing, which rightfully flows from the gratuitous grace of God, now had to prioritized. Mrs. Gagliardi, a local lay member, had been so nice as to weed out the hysterics, the cranks, the sensation seekers, the would-be debunkers and the cheap.
Even so, there must have been a hundred requests from persons who had come from as far away as Chicago, all begging for the healing touch of what they saw as an Angel. This was the part that he hated, deciding who was ‘worthy’ of the healing, and who would have to wait. But there was no way that he could ask Kerry to just keep healing, not with the physical and emotional cost to the boy.
Well, the requests weren’t going to get read just by looking at the stack. Carmody was reaching forth a hand, silently thanking God when the phone rang.
“Carmody? Darren Englund here,” said the voice on the other end. “I just called to let you know my sources at the Vatican inform me that while they’re still forming the actual panel, they’ve formed the initial Inquiry Committee. The ramrod of the Inquiry Committee is one Monsignor Mazzarino. Mazzarino is known for his, ah, vigorous investigation into the Theory of Higher Intervention in Mutant Abilities.”
“And where does this Mazzarino stand, in regards the MCO?” Carmody asked as he furiously twirled a pencil in his fingers.
“They say that he has the numbers of several regional directors of the MCO on his speed-dial.”
“Right. Does Mazzarino have the clout to have Kerry removed into MCO custody?”
There was a pause at the other end of the line. “Not in and of himself, but I’m sure that he could make the sort of phone calls that would convince the Cardinal to overrule Spengler- and you- on the matter of offering the child refuge.”
“I see. Thank you for the warning, Reverend.” Carmody put the phone down and started thinking furiously. The Theory of Higher Intervention in Mutant Ability was a controversial postulation, one that Carmody placed squarely next to the Theory of Intelligent Design. It stated that so-called ‘mutant’ abilities were not, in fact, normal biological processes, but rather supernatural abilities. The proponents of this pointed to the inconsistencies between mutant ‘super powers’ and the abilities of animals. If humans can develop the ability to warp gravity, why don’t fish? If humans can develop telepathy, why not cats? The answer, they argued, is that mutant powers aren’t biological processes, but rather the mutant was exploiting some supernatural ability.
And from there, they usually started yammering about magical power following bloodlines and started presenting theory and anecdote as if they were established fact. The Theory of Higher Intervention offended Carmody; the Theory of Evolution, as posited by Charles Darwin didn’t. In fact, in his books, Evolution was squarely covered by the Doctrine of Processes, that God prefers to work through Processes rather than Acts, saving direct intervention for Miracles and such.
For Father Carmody, the Faith was an anchor, a foundation from which one dealt with the World on its terms. Others it seemed, preferred to use the Faith as a shelter from the World.
Father John clenched his fist until his fingers started to tingle from the lack of blood. They were going to take Kerry away. This smug, superstitious bastard Mazzarino would hand Kerry over the MCO wrapped in Christmas paper with a big bow. And then Kerry would disappear into the Night and Fog.
Carmody knew that he couldn’t sit still and let that happen. Yet if he didn’t, he’d wind up discredited and maybe even Excommunicated, like poor Jorge Cascadero out there. Father John hated politics. He treasured simple four-square dealing between people, without all the elaborate nuance. But for Kerry’s sake, he would have to dive into politics with a vengeance.
Riffling through the stack of petitions, Carmody found one that he’d only left in the stack at all out of consideration for the family involved. ‘Yes, this will be perfect.’
‘God,’ when does it get easier?’ Kerry asked silently. The aftereffects of the healing were really backing up on him with this one. He clutched the oxygen breather to his mouth and concentrated intently on getting air into his lungs. The only good thing about it was that it distracted him from all the other aches and pains and wrongness that were wracking his body. ‘Is this part of some test, God? After all, it’s easy to heal someone, if all you’re doing is laying hands on them and ‘Hit Points’ come back, like in D&D. But like this, it all just stacks up and gets worse and worse. Like this, you gotta have faith.’
‘So, why don’t I have faith? I mean, I KNOW that you exist, otherwise, how could all of this be happening? So, why is it so hard? Why am I so afraid? I don’t want to heal anyone tomorrow! A day off, is that so much God? A day off, so that I can at least breathe when I heal the next one! I know, I know- these people are suffering, and their pain doesn’t take a day off. Please God, I’ll do what you want. … Just give me strength? Give me the strength to do what you need done…’
The door at the top of the stair opened, and Father John came down. “Kerry? What’s the matter? I can tell that you’re upset …”
“Why … can’t I … believe?” Kerry took a deep hit from the respirator, partly to cover a sob. "I ... know ... that God is there … So WHY am I so afraid?”
“Afraid of what?” Father John sat down by Kerry on the cot.
“I’m afraid … of the pain …”
“Well, that’s understandable. After all, what sort of show of faith would it be, if it were easy?”
“I KNOW that!” Kerry fought to keep tears from leaking from his eyes. “AND I’m Praying! So WHY won’t God give the strength to DO what I KNOW has to be done?”
“Well …” Father John fished about for something that the child would accept. “That’s part of why Priests are there. To help people who have faith find their way to a better understanding of why things are the way they are. And, to provide some companionship in the long hard journey. Come, let’s pray together.” Carmody helped Kerry to his knees, and held the angel-boy’s hands flat between his as they prayed. This time, Kerry found the strength in Father John’s faith that he needed. The fear was still there, the stress was still there, but now, he had Father John to help him carry his load, and the burden didn’t seem that bad anymore.
And Father John was enveloped again in the glory that was God.
Bishop Spengler got Carmody on the line just before the priest went up to bed. “So, Carmody, I understand that you took in Jerome K. Kavanaugh from Chicago to visit your ‘special guest’.”
Carmody cleared his throat. “Ah, well, yes sir. And why not? A cancerous lump the size of an apple in his lungs, among other complaints…”
“And the fact that he’s a Grand Commander in the Knights of the Red Branch, a major wheel in the Teamsters, and that he’s supposed to be on speaking terms with Cardinal George of Chicago, among other Church bigwigs?”
“Well Sir, am I supposed to alienate such a man?”
“No, it’s just good to hear that you’re getting better at playing Politics. And, on that note, Father- would you be free Thursday night to attend an informal gathering with the Laity?”
*click!* “-are NOT deceived! We of the Tri-borough Covenant with God in Christ TURN our backs on the glittering promises of the false angel that squats so appropriately in HELL’S Kitchen, and-” *click!* “- kiss my ass! WHY would God care? WHY would God change the rules-” *click!* “ and Regulations regarding proper Care Giving are being flagrantly ignored.” *click!*
“I’m not here about a miracle or anything,” Linda Ellison told Sister Catherine, “I’m here about my son.”
“And what would we have to do with your son?” Sister Catherine shot back with an asperity that bounced right off of Mrs. Ellison’s thick hide.
“Look, my boy Kieran went missing in New York the day that your ‘Angel’ first showed up in Times Square. All that I want, is for someone who’s actually SEEN your Angel’s face to look at this snapshot-”
Sister Catherine knew when she’d met her match. “Let me go get Father John.”
When Carmody got there, he started. “Ma’am, if you think that our guest is your son, I suggest that you go to the Archdiocese Office-”
Mrs. Ellison just held up a snapshot of a wide-faced, dark-hared, dark-eyed boy. “Just look at this, and tell me if this is or isn’t the kid that you’re harboring.”
Carmody took a look at the picture, and at first he didn’t recognize the picture. Then, he remembered back to that first day, how different Kerry had looked back then. Yes, this was Kerry. That oft-mentioned, but little anticipated miracle had happened, and Kerry’s mother had come looking for him. No, if that determined set of jaw was anything to judge by, it had hardly been a miracle, but merely a matter of time. It was finally over. There would be some difficulty in arranging Kerry’s departure … He’d probably go to the school that Englund and Lodgeman were pushing … but the church would finally be out of the crossfire.
And Kerry would go away …
No! He was under direct orders from Bishop Spengler to convert Kerry and bring him into the fold! It was of Vital Importance, Spengler’s own words! He had to have Kerry here in order to do that. “I’m sorry, Ma’am,” Carmody said with his best look of concerned regret, “but there’s no one at St. Gregory’s who looks anything like this.”
Father John handed the snapshot back and excused himself. As she watched his retreating back, Linda Ellison said to herself, “Bullshit.”
She wasn’t the terror of the Glassboro PTA for nothing; she knew when a petty official was talking out of his ass.
In real life, hookers don’t hang out in front of Grand Central Station. The Port Authority Bus Terminal is another thing, but not Grand Central. So, Charlie Lodgeman was more than a little surprised when, on his way out of the train station, he heard, “Psst! Hey, Buddy!” Looking over to the source of the whisper, Lodgeman saw Street Life, leaning against the wall of the station in the classic hooker’s lounge.
“So, come here often?” Charlie asked around a mouth that was working hard not to grin.
“Very funny,” Street Life let out a long plume of smoke. “I asked around, and I found out somethin’ that you might like t’hear.”
“Oh? In regards?”
“Really? I thought that the Big Fuzzy had made itself clear on that topic, in its own inimitable fashion.”
Street Life glared at Charlie with her rhinestone eyes. “I won’t go up agin’ the Rat, leastways not directly. Only the Boy Scout’s got the cojones for that. But there’s nuthin’ what says I can’t drop a hint now an’ agin’, now is there?”
“And the price for this little hint is?” Street Life just glared at him again, in a way that said that the price was the ‘angel’s’ removal from New York. “Okay, let me have it.”
Street Life let out another long plume of cigarette smoke. “You find two boys from Jersey- Glassboro, t’be exact- Freshman Hy Skool, an’ all that. Handles’ ‘E-Z’ an’ ‘Iceberg’. You ask ‘em where they was when the shit hit the fan at the ASH, an’ who they was with.”
Charlie started to ask another question, but Street Life just sashayed around the corner and was gone, as is her way.
Stricken with guilt, Father John came down into the basement, and heard Kerry crying. Had Kerry somehow found out? “Kerry? What the matter?”
“Why?” Kerry sobbed, “Why can’t I believe? I KNOW that healing people is what God wants me to do- why else would he give me this power? So, WHY am I afraid? Every time that I walk up there, I have to FORCE myself to do it! I’m just so AFRAID! I don’t want it! I don’t want to have to use this stupid respirator to breathe! I don’t want to feel their cancers and whatever they’ve got! It’s not my pain! So why do I have to feel it? Why do I have to feel all of it at once? Why won’t God give me the strength to do it?”
“Well, you can make it better, can’t you?”
“But it all comes back again!” Kerry said in a gush.
“Maybe,” Father John said, suddenly knowing that it was the right thing to do, “what you really need to do is make a commitment …”
The normal Catholic conversion process is a long, tedious and involved one, involving attending classes, confirmation and other stages to test the postulant’s dedication and resolve. However, in a crunch, a simple baptism as a Catholic is sufficient to bring a convert into the fold. And, as he sprinkled the water from the holy font on Kerry’s brow and recited the procedure, Father John remembered that the policy was that once accepted into the fold, you were always a Catholic, no matter what.
December 8th- 15th: The next week was sort of a blur to most of the people involved. Kerry managed to pull it together enough to start doing a healing a day. Father John found himself the darling of both the party circuit and the visual media. Angels began appearing everywhere in the greater New York area, crowding out Santas, elves, snowmen and the other usual indicia of the shopping season. Of course, angels were nothing new in holiday décor; what was new was that now the Angels all sported white shawls and had golden eyes. Somehow, the notion had gotten out that angels had golden eyes.
Glassboro, at least the older parts of it, has a rather ‘Leave It To Beaver’ vibe. Driving down the street, Charlie Lodgeman couldn’t help but hum the theme music to the old sitcom. When they pulled up in front of the old Pre-War house, Englund noted the ‘Soccer Mom’ van parked outside. Some people put their political opinions on their bumper- Linda Ellison apparently felt that the bumper was too limited a canvas, and had the entire rear hatch plastered with stickers advocating everything from the Right to Choose to solidarity with migrant farm workers.
As she opened the front door, Linda Ellison’s expression went from mildly curious to frosty. “So, are you from the Archdiocese? Look, I’m not gonna stop bugging you people until I start getting some real answers!”
Charlie held up a calming hand. “We’re not from the Archdiocese, Mrs. Ellison. My name is Charlie Lodgeman, and this is Rev. Englund. We’re here about your son, Kieran, who went missing last November 8th.”
Linda was suddenly rapt with attention. “What? You know where Kerry IS? I’ve been going NUTS! Where IS he?”
“Mrs. Ellison, I’m afraid that it’s not that simple. We have reason to believe that there’s some connection between your son and the person that the press is ‘the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’.”
“WHAT?” Linda dragged them into the house. “I knew it! I knew that that sleazy priest was trying to sandbag me about something!”
“Excuse me- ‘sleazy priest’?”
“Oh, HIM!” Linda picked up a newsmagazine, which had Father Carmody’s picture on the cover. “Mister Holy Joe here. I went to his parish last week, and showed him Kerry’s picture. He said that he’d never seen him. But I KNOW that I saw a look of recognition on his face! He’s got Kerry in his stupid church, and he’s working him for everything that he can get!”
Englund leaned forward, “You’ve spoken with Father Carmody?”
“YEAH! AND all everyone on that bozo crank-filtering apparat that the Archdiocese is running.” She narrowed her eyes at them. “But who ARE you guys, if you’re not with the Archdiocese?”
Charlie cleared his throat. “We’re authorities in the field of emerging mutant traits in adolescents. We got involved in this trying to track down the antecedents of this 'Angel’.”
Linda’s eyes went steely. “Are you with the MCO?”
Lodgeman and Englund looked at each other and shared a laugh. “Most decidedly not.”
“Then, how did you link Kerry and this ‘Angel’?”
“To be honest, piecemeal. It’s a matter of record that Patrolman O’Keefe brought the ‘Angel’ to St. Gregory’s from the Time’s Square Subway station. Last week, an informant told us that there was a connection between the ‘Angel’ and two boys from Glassboro called ‘Iceberg’ and ‘E-Z’.”
Linda let out a low growl at the two boy’s names. “We managed to track down Lester ‘Iceberg’ Eisenstein, and he told us that of the four other boys that were with him at Times Square, only your son, Kerry, didn’t make it back home.”
Linda grinned victoriously. “Then you’ve got PROOF that Kerry is this ‘Angel’!”
Charlie shook his head sadly. “It’s not that simple. We only have the word of my informant that there is a link between your son and the Angel. The boys we spoke with do put Kerry at the subway station at the right time, but there were a LOT of people there at the time.”
“But this informant of yours …”
“And that’s precisely the problem. My ‘informant’ is notoriously unreliable. AND she could have an ulterior motive that I can’t even begin to speculate on. And even if I were completely sure about her, she’s not the sort of informant that I can cite to either the Archdiocese or the NYC authorities, let alone have her called as a witness. And without the link she provides, all that we have is a good possibility.”
Linda sank into a chair, deflated, “Well then … What are you doing here?”
Charlie took a seat as well. “Well, ma’am, first of all, we wanted to touch base with you, to let you know that we do think that we are taking this connection seriously. Yes, I DO think that your son Kerry is this ‘Angel’; I just wouldn’t try to pitch it to the authorities just yet. Also, IF your son IS the Angel, and it IS possible that he’s not, then you do realize that he’s a mutant.”
All expression fell off of Linda’s face. “Oh Christ. I was so busy worrying about him, it never occurred to me: they say that that Angel’s been healing people, and doing all sort of miraculous stuff!” She paused, “That is so NOT like Kerry.”
“Are you saying that your son isn’t the sort to help people like that?”
“Oh no, Kerry’s as helpful as all get out! Just ask him, and he’ll do almost anything for you, even if he knows better. It’s just … Well, Kerry was never really all that interested in Religion.”
Charlie waved that aside. “My point, Mrs. Ellison, is that your son is a mutant. And a very powerful mutant with a very rare ability that many people will be very interested in. Powerful and dangerous people have already tried to take Kerry from St. Gregory’s by force.”
Linda let out a long sigh. “This is not good. Kerry’s … well … weak … a follower. He just goes along with whatever everyone else is doing. If he’s got the kind of power that they’re talking about on the TV … well, practically anyone could get him to do almost anything.”
She let out a snarl. “God knows, I’ve TRIED! I’ve tried to get him to stand up for himself, and think for himself, but he just says ‘Yes, Mom’, and keeps going along with the first fool thing that anyone says!”
Rev. Englund wryly thought to himself that Mrs. Ellison was the sort of slightly overbearing mother who made sure that her children never stood up to her, and then wondered why they weren’t stronger. “You are far from the first parent to find themselves in just such a situation, Mrs. Ellison.” Reaching inside his coat pocket, he pulled out a few brochures for Whateley Academy. “Indeed, that is the very reason why we’ve come here today.”
Two men in very nice suits came out of the apartment just as Gina Caprera was walking up the stairs. As she stepped into the apartment, she saw her mother looking teary-eyed. “Mama, what’s the matter?”
Mama looked up from her handkerchief. “Your Gramma Isobel! She’s selling her rosary!”
“The one that the Angel blessed?”
“Now, now, Julia,” Isobel Caprera’s voice gently chided. Gina turned to see her standing there serenely. “It’s all for the best”
“But Nana!” Gina blurted, “Your rosary! The Angel, she blessed it, right there in your hands! You can’t sell that! Not for MONEY!”
“I’m not selling it for money, Gina,” Nana answered, “I’m selling it for love. What, you think that I’m going to use the money to go to Florida? What would I do in Boca? No, Gina, think. WHY would God stretch forth his hand, just so that an old woman wouldn’t have stiff hands before she died?” She held up a hand and moved it with fluid grace. "No. Think, Gina. Remember. At Saint Gregory’s, the Angel came down with all the grace of youth, and took up the burden of my reumatisma, as Christ takes up the burden of our sins, and walked away hobbling like an old woman. For Love. As your parents spent all that money on doctors for me. For Love. As you and Alberto gave up your hopes of a decent college education, for me. For Love.
So, I sell my rosary, which has the Angel’s own blessing on it, to a rich woman who thinks that she can buy Faith. I do this for love. So that you and Alberto can go to real colleges, instead of that city college, which is a step up from a mail-order college. Because, I know that Alberto will get his degree and do the right thing by the family. He will look after little Leo and Elisa, and do the right thing by them. He’ll see to it that they get good educations and good jobs. For Love.”
Nana Isobel laid a gentle hand on Gina’s. “And what about you, Gina? For Love, the Angel took up the pain of an old lady that she never saw before. For Love, your papa works extra shifts, even though he is very tired and misses his family. For Love, I sell my rosary, which I do not really need, because I have my Faith. What will YOU give up, for love? Gina, will you give up those silly classes where people mix up everything with common sense and turn them on their heads? Will you give up those fancy friends of yours, who think that they are being clever by insulting everything? Will you take classes that mean something, and go out and make a life for yourself and your family?”
Gina bowed her head, then looked into Nana Isobel’s large warm dark eyes. “I don’t hang out with them anymore, anyway. They have no respect for God. They think that what some know-it-all writes in a paper is more true than what I saw with my own eyes.”
Isobel Caprera nodded and kissed her once wayward grandchild’s cheek.
Pierce Randall found the Anti-Paladin in the armory, fiddling with the contraption that he used to teleport his armor and weaponry to him in the field. The Anti-Paladin was making sure that the sword was properly balanced in its launch cradle. “You know,” Randall said snippishly, “that’s the fifth time that you’ve re-calibrated that entire rig. What are you going to do next? Go down to the gymnasium, and chop a few hundred more logs into kindling with your sword? What’s really eating at you-” Randall paused, “Dammit all, what IS your name, anyway? I can’t very well call you ‘Anti-Paladin’.”
The Anti-Paladin glowered at him. “Kurtz. Call me Kurtz. And why would YOU care?”
Randall raised a supercilious eyebrow. “Well, Kurtz, if you must know, it’s because I respect you.”
“Respect me?” Kurtz grunted a laugh, “Why would you respect me? You’re all about making things nice and tidy, and I wreck things for a living.”
“True, but you’re a Professional, as am I. Kurtz, we live in an age of cheap, bare-bones operations, with almost everyone putting in the least imaginable effort. But we, you and I, Kurtz, are Professionals. For us, it’s not about the pay, or even what we do, it’s all about how we do it. Yes, you kill, maim and destroy, but you do it intelligently, with discipline and planning. Look at this place!” He waved an elegant hand over the armory. “Everything here is not only in working order, but it’s clean, it’s scrupulously maintained, and it’s arranged to a specific plan. I admit, I don’t know what that plan is, but I do detect a definite pattern.” He ran a finger across a weapons rack, and found neither dirt nor dust. “I approve.”
“We are of a rare breed, you and I, in any age. For us, it’s not enough to just do the job; we have to do it right. You, Kurtz, are a true professional in your field, as I am in mine. So, it ill becomes you to be moping around here like this. I ask you again: what’s eating you?”
Kurtz sat on a stool and gave the trim waspish man standing before him a measuring look. Then he let a long breath out. “I screwed up. I let a little girl, one I could hold up with one hand, get the better of me. I had to let that ratbag Korrupt save me.”
Randall absorbed that for a while. “I see. And what are you doing about it?”
“Kurtz, the measure of a professional is that he is constantly improving himself. When you run into something like this, you greet it as an opportunity to discover flaws within your procedure and amend them. This girl got the better of you. Was it simon-pure luck, which no one is really safe from, or were you wanting in some way?”
Kurtz scowled, “I let the little bint get to me.”
“I blew it. I let it get personal. It’s just that …” Kurtz grunted. “I think that the Beast is getting the better of me.”
“My powers. They come from a demon that was bound within me. A cacodemon, a destroyer. Normally, I can control it, and use its powers as my own. But there was something about that girl … She set the Beast off, something fierce. I got mad, and instead of trying to put her down, as per orders, I wanted to hurt her.”
“And that got in the way of your mission.” Kurtz nodded. Randall pulled himself up straight and shot his cuffs. “Well? Are you going to stay down here moping about it, or are you going to pull yourself together and figure a way around it, like a Professional?”
Kurtz started, stung, and started to say something. Then he stopped, paused and reflected, finally nodding with a grim smile. “Thank you, Randall; I needed that.”
“Not a bother. I know what it’s like when your demons, infernal or internal, get the better of you. The only thing that you can do, is pull yourself together and do better the next time.”
There was an awkward silence. Then Kurtz asked, “So, what have the Ghastly Trio been up to, while I was... busy?”
Randall sniffed, “Thankfully, they’ve been staying out of my hair for the most part. Korrupt and Pater Tempus have been busy with the Daedalian Array and Korrupt’s techno-toys. Bete Noir has been dredging the greater metropolitan area for all the ‘bad vibes’ that she can scrounge up. However, I feel that I should warn you- they’re warming up for another go at that Church.”
Kurtz growled a bit. “Have you been able to get a-hold of any of the real Exec Committee members?”
“Yes. Unfortunately, Bishop Brimstone is still recovering from his efforts in the Atlantic Heritage imbroglio, and Lady Jettatura has decided to stay in the Adriatic for the Winter. I was able to get a hold of Al-Mahgrebi, but he says that New York’s too hot for him to come back any time soon. And the Charter states that the Executive Committee has to be formed of people on site, no orders from abroad. And, well, anyone else that I could get a hold of would only make things worse.”
Kurtz pulled himself up straight. “Well, these are the times where we find out what we’re really made of, so, we soldier on.” With that, the two men set their shoulders and walked off together to face whatever idiocies the Ghastly Trio had dreamed up this time.
For a wonder, the three idiots were actually basing their plan on a tactical verity. “Trying to grab this ‘angel’ out of the church is stupid,” Korrupt pontificated. “What we need to do, is get her out her place of power, out of that church, out of Hell’s Kitchen entirely, if we can.”
“Okay,” Kurtz said blandly over crossed arms, “so far, so good. And exactly HOW do we get her out of that church? The MCO’s been trying for a month!”
Korrupt grinned , holding up a magazine. “Well, the reason we can’t get that angel out, is basically, she’s too fucking powerful, right? And, hey, we wouldn’t even bother if she weren’t powerful, right? BUT this guy-” Korrupt pointed a finger at the picture of the smiling face of Father Carmody on the cover, “-has only ONE real power. Namely, the power to make that angel-bitch do whatever he wants. Hey, she’s a little girl, right? All alone, except for this ONE father figure.”
“And El Penitente outside.”
“So, we take care of the big red watchdog. So what?”
“So, that’s a lot more easily said than done. And, there’s no way to do it without setting off the entire neighborhood, who will call the police. And there are news crews there, covering everything on the off chance that we pull something exactly like this again, and they’ll bring every superhero and superhero-wannabe in New York running! And, of course, the Esoteric Chapter of the AHS is still out there, looking for US! AND, I hear that the Magus is back in town! Do you honestly think that he …”
“She. The Magus is a she these days,” Bete Noir pointed out from where she was perched.
“The Magus …” Pater Tempus drooled. Literally. “Oh, to get our hands on the Magus Force! I remember when …”
“One thing at a time, Pappy!” Bete snapped. “Okay, Auntie- P, the plan’s a little weak at this point. That’s what we got you for, right?”
“Finally,” Kurtz muttered, “a touch of sanity. Okay, so far, the plan hinges on getting the Angel out of the church, preferably out of Hell’s Kitchen. Grabbing the Priest is good. BUT, she’s not gonna come running if we grab the Priest while he’s making a house call or something. We got to get her upset, so that she’s reacting, not thinking. Taking the Priest right in front of her and dragging him out of the church would do that. BUT, there are all those problems that I pointed out.” He waved those aside. “SO, we deal with them. But first- how do we get into the church, to grab the Priest?”
“Simple!” Bete Noir chirped, “Same as before- Korrey and I go in, and invite you and the rest in.”
Kurtz gave Bete a ‘you idiot!’ glower. “Oh. Right. Like they’re not going to scream for the Cops the second that they recognize you. And they will recognize you.”
“Oh?” Bete purred, “Really?” She twisted an elaborate pendant that she was wearing, that really didn’t go with her punk outfit. She blurred, and it was Bete Noir, but it wasn’t Bete Noir. She was a Playboy version of herself, the cute sexy Goth babe that Bete had probably envisioned herself being, back in the day, but never really was. Her face was angular and gamine, rather than harsh and hatchet-featured as it had been before, with everything matching her large hazel eyes, instead of them looking like they’d been pasted on. Instead of being scrawny, she was sleek and graceful, with the right bulges and curves in the right places. “Think that they’ll recognize me now?”
She grinned and held up the pendant. “While you were down in the basement, sucking your thumb, we was taking that ‘angel’ that Korrey nabbed apart, bit by bit. This is just the least of what we been able to cobble together out’a that.”
Despite himself, Kurtz had to admire Korrupt’s move. With one cheap gizmo, he’d got Bete Noir by her vanity so that she’d keep siding with him, enhancing her general effectiveness, and if Kurtz was any judge of Bete’s personality, gotten himself a choice piece of nookie. As Kurtz saw it, one of Korrupt’s problems had been keeping Bete from flaking out on him; now he had her where she lived. Now, his problems were keeping Pater Tempus on track and justifying their expenses to the real Executive Committee when they finally got back. And capturing that little magical dynamo over at St. Gregory’s would go a long way in justifying those expenses. As always, Victory covered a lot of bleeding asses.
“And, as delightful as that is,” Korrupt blithered, a true tech-geek showing off his toys, “check THIS out!” He hit a key, and a bubble of existential darkness formed within the Infernium circle. He touched the keys on a keyboard that formed in mid-air, and a CAD wirecage imposed itself on the blob, until it created an image. The new form was a high-tech cyborg version of a hellhound, with gleaming steel horns, claws and spines, serrated-knife fangs, armor-plating, cable-reinforced muscles, and a pair of chain-guns protruding from the back. “Behold! The Mecha-Hellhound! AND, that’s not all!” He pointed something that looked suspiciously like an MP3 player at the Mecha-Hellhound. A cone shot out of the ‘MP3 player’, and the cyborg hellhound was sucked into it. “The ‘Demon Seed 2.0!”
Kurtz just gave him a sour ‘God, you are SUCH a geek” look.
Hours later, Korrupt was glowering into the mirror of his bathing room. Bete Noir, still wearing the ‘cute’ form that her pendant gave her (and if Korrupt was any judge of human character, the only way to get her to take it off would be to rip it from her cold dead fingers), draped herself over his shoulder. “C’mon, Korrey, you know that you gotta do it.”
“I HATE how I look without my beard.”
“Oh, it can’t be that bad!”
“I look like Matthew Broderick!”
“Awww … but he’s kyuuute!”
“I HATE CUTE!”
Bete leaned over and gave him a deep kiss on the mouth. “And I hate kissing men with beards. It’s like rubbing steel wool over your lips.”
Korrupt knew that Bete Noir was yanking his chain. Or, at least, that she’d be willing to. He knew what lay under that pretty illusion, and to be perfectly honest, he didn’t care. He’d gotten into Black Magic for Power, Respect, Money and Babes. It was about damn time that at least one of them came his way. He shaved.
An hour later, Bete was lounging naked on the bed, enjoying her post-coital bliss, as Korrupt was getting dressed. Seeing a need for a topic that wasn’t emotionally sticky, or didn’t spell out the crass underpinning of what they’d just done, Korrupt asked, “So, do you think that we can trust the Anti-Paladin?”
Bete lit up a cigarette. “Sure. After gettin’ his butt whupped up in Bahst’n, and what happened the last time, he needs a big win, just as much as we do. Think about it- what happens to the Big Bad Wolf, when he loses his teeth?”
Korrupt nodded. Bete looked at him blankly for a moment. “Korrey, we gotta talk about something.”
Oh Christ, here it comes already. Korrupt gritted his teeth.
“Korrey, you’re on your way up. This is your big chance. You pull this off, and people are gonna start taking you seriously. Korrey, that’s not always a good thing, especially in the Grand Hall. When people start taking you seriously, they start making plans in corners. You’re gonna need someone who’ll watch your back.”
“And you’re nominating yourself?”
Bete sat up, cigarette dangling from her lips. “Hey, I gotta get outta the basement somehow. I been with the Hall for a long time. I admit it- I ain’t got the chops to haul my ass outta Loserville on my own. But you? You got the chops. But you need someone watchin’ yer back. Now, yer askin’ yerself, ‘why should I trust this bitch?’ Simple. I know that you’re goin’ places that I wanna go. If I ditch you, then I’m way out on a limb without a ladder. So, I help you get there, and you take me along. I need a way out, you need backup. How’s that for straight-up?”
Korrupt sat down on the corner of the bed. “That’s reasonable.” His eyes narrowed. “Suspiciously reasonable. What do YOU want out of it?”
Bete nodded. “First of all, this,” she held up the pendant. “Hey, I like bein’ a looker; so sue me. AND a few more toys and trinkets wouldn’t hurt none, either. BUT, what I really want is this: no insults, no put-downs, no disses, and most important- no hitting. I been a guy’s punchin’ bag before, and I ain’t goin’ there again. And, if you decide that you want a cutie on the side, she STAYS on the side, unnerstand? I don’t wanna know about it, capise? And, I been around the block a couple’a times- if I got somethin’ t’say, would it kill you to listen?”
Korrupt nodded. Bete Noir leaned forward and sealed the bargain with a deep kiss. “So, wadda we do about Pater Tempus?”
Korrupt shrugged. “Well, I guess if it really came down to it, I could rig something together to help him concentrate or-“
“Are you NUTS? He’s Pater Tempus!” Bete screeched, “That may not mean a lot these days, but when I first started with this crew, he was THE MAN! He’s a master of Time Magic! Time Magic! Think about that for a while! He’s powerful as Hell, but he can’t focus enuf to bring any of it to bear! But believe me, back when he was on his A-Game, he could wipe up half of the big power players around today before breakfast! Even now, don’t let the drool and the diapers fool you, he’s as dangerous as both of us put together! If you give him some way of being what he used to be, we’ll be lucky if we survive to scramble for the crumbs!”
“He’s that dangerous?”
“He’s one of the Founding Members. He was able to stay on top of this crew of sociopaths for over seventy years. Oh, HELL, yeah, he’s dangerous. Even now, people are worried that he’s just pulling some sort of really twisted scam.” Bete took a long drag off of her cigarette. “Hey, maybe we could do like Max Headroom and download him onto one of your computers.”
“ ‘Max Headroom’?” Korrupt asked, flummoxed.
“Sure! Y’know, the TV series? Back in the 80s?” Bete flinched as she realized how badly she’d just dated herself. “Y’know, you make a computer map of his brain and you download that onto a computer, so you got like a copy of Pater Tempus, but without all the drool?”
“You mean, like a ‘hologram’ off of Red Dwarf?” Korrupt sneered. “Sorry, Bete, but even with Technomagic, that’s impossible. Computers, even trinary computers like mine, operate in an ‘on/neutral/off’ paradigm. Human thought is vastly more complex. And, even if I did manage to pull it off, we’d have a virtual copy of Pater Tempus as an AI. Fucker’d go viral on us. Besides, can you see Porter sitting still for it?”
“Porter’s a doormat,” Bete spat. “The one that we have to worry about is Percy.”
“Randall? The Concierge?” Korrupt snickered, “What’s he gonna do? Short sheet my bed? Water the liquor?”
“Percy’s been the manager of this place for nine years. The only person that’s lasted even half that long was the manager of the London Chapter House. And he was a fukkin’ vampire! You ever been to the Chicago or Savanna chapter houses? They’re fuckin’ pits! He keeps this joint lookin’ nice and makes sure that there’s mints on the pillows, so the Big Noises like ‘im. Nope, Percy’s got some serious political chops, and if we ain’t careful, he’s gonna chop us up into bits.”
“ ‘Political chops’? But I thought that Randall was strictly apolitical.”
“So? You know how hard it is, to stay apolitical, in a place like the Grand Hall?”
“And why would he mess with us?”
“We blind-sided him, Korrey. We got the better of ‘im. Even if we come outta this smellin’ like roses, he ain’t gonna like us getting’ the jump on him.”
“So? What do we do? He has the keys to this place, and they’re enchanted so that only he can use them. Not to mention, that charm that he’s got on him.”
Bete let out a long sigh. “Only thing we can do, is keep him busy somehow, so’s he don’t screw with us. Or maybe we get on his good side somehows.” A speculative leer crossed Bete’s prettified face. “And, now that I think about it, I think that I know just the way to turn him up sweet.”
White Christmases are rare in New York. Most years, the real snow doesn’t come until after New Years. And, just a week before Christmas Eve, it was coming down in a particularly miserable drizzle, even over the resilient holders of the vigil at St. Gregory’s. And, given the drizzle and the lack of opportunistic vendors to make the vigil more bearable, there were far fewer vigil holders shivering over their candles than usual.
Officers Scudder and Tanner huddled in their cruiser, grateful for the heater. Then there was a rapping at their window. Scudder opened it a crack, to see a large fellow officer in a uniform slicker standing there with a thoroughly enraged wino, kicking and screaming in his cuffs. “Hey, guys!” The new officer greeted them, “Can I use the back of your unit to stow this sicko, until someone comes to pick him up?”
“So, it’s still going on?”
“What, you don’t have your radio turned on?”
“Are you kiddin’?” Tanner returned, “It makes me sick, that we’re stuck here, babysitting a bunch of idiots what don’t have the good sense to come in outta the rain, while all that action’s goin’ down. Hey, any word on if any of it’s legit?”
“Yep, just went down. Some clown in a grim reaper outfit has been jamming our frequencies with bogus alerts, to keep the Blues and Capes busy, while he busted into the Museum of History with a crew of refugees from the Late Nite Monster Movie show.”
“Is it bad?”
“SWAT is on its way, and they’ve asked for the City Guard to come in, and there’s some talk that the Sentinels will come in from Brooklyn to help out.”
Scudder groaned, “Awww … Maannn … and we’re stuck here!”
“Hey, at least you’re dry.”
“Y’got me there. So, what did he do?”
“I DIDN’T DO NUTHIN’!” the wino yelped furiously.
“Yeah, that’s what they all say,” Tanner grunted. “Yeah, put ‘im in the back.”
“Thanks guys.” The big cop shoved the wino in the back of the unit. Then he reached into his slicker, pulled out a flask, and took a swig from it. Noting Scudder and Tanner’s reaction, he passed over the flask. “By way’a thanks.”
Scudder and Tanner took deep drinks of what turned out to be pretty good whiskey. Scudder handed the flask back. “Hey, that’s good stuff! What is it?”
Kurtz smiled nastily. “Poison.” Then he said the word that keyed the activation of the mystic toxin within the liquor for anyone that hadn’t taken the antidote. Scudder and Tanner stiffened immediately, locked in place.
The wino rasped and wheezed a spiteful laugh at the Cop’s predicament, that us, until Kurtz opened the back door and draped an amulet made from a chicken’s claw grasping a dull bronze disk with various runes on it over his neck. “Hey! What the fuck you doin’, asshole?”
“Y’know, Pal, that was just the right word.” Kurtz shoved him down on the seat, flipped him over, placed one of Korrupt’s dinguses on the wino’s back, and then pulled down his filthy pants.
“HEY! What ARE you, some kinda sick FAG?”
It can be viewed as a measure of Bete Noir’s commitment to the project that she’d given up this wino. He’d been a resource of hers for many years. Even among winos, a nasty, spiteful, hateful lot by nature, this one was a bottomless well of malice and venom. He’d tided Bete through many a dry spell. But, as much as she hated to admit it, she could see all the signs. He was starting the last steps on the Wino Waltz. He was getting old, his liver wasn’t what it was, and he wasn’t taking the basic precautions anymore. Bete would have been surprised if he’d lived to see February. So, better to expend him now, than linger over the last bitter dregs from this tun. The Anti-Paladin roughly shoved a length of pipe up the wino’s ass. As the wino gave out one last shriek of indignity and rage, Kurtz gave a powerful push, sending the pipe through the rectum and soft tissue of the digestive tract, past the diaphragm, and into the heart.
To Jorge, the surge of ‘bad vibes’ was like breaking glass in the middle of a soft minuet. He shot to his feet and followed the discord to the parked squad car.
As the pipe pierced the wino’s heart, the medallion around his neck focused the crescendo of his fury into a jagged knife that pierced the walls between the world. As Kurtz stepped back, the infernal energies enveloped the police car and the two inert police officers in the front seat. While they may not have seen themselves in that light, Scudder and Tanner were heroes, of a lesser order. This summoning called for the sacrifice of two heroes, so Scudder and Tanner were taken, and the pact was complete. The Axanarthengar, the Brood of the Unspeakable Slayer, are not cheap, but they can be had. Guided by Korrupt’s technomagic matrix, the infernal energies took the mass of the three bodies and merged them with the various materials of the squad car.
As Jorge started to ask the big cop something, the cop car suddenly shrieked with a cry of tortured metal. The black and white unit shuddered, collapsed in on itself, and then sprouted long metallic legs and mandibles. Its headlights became incandescent eyes of pure malice. It was a thing made of flesh unnaturally merged with metal and plastic. It turned its blazing headlight eyes on those few screaming worshippers and pounced.
El Penitente was on it as it sent a small clutch of desperate petitioners flying.
“Are you ready, Bete?” Korrupt asked.
“I look like a Soccer Mom!” she hissed back.
“Wait a minute, I got something for you.” Korrupt reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box. Inside was a ring.
“Ah, Korrey, this is NOT-”
Korrupt took her right hand and jammed the ring onto Bete’s index finger. “I know how much you love your smokes, but we can’t afford the time that it would take you to light one up. This ring will focus and refine your negative energy blasts. That’s all right now, but in time you should be able to learn to do other things with it.”
Bete looked at the large pseudo-gem on the ring and quirked a smile. “In the brightest day, in the darkest nigh t… Kewl!”
Rather morbidly, Kerry couldn’t help but look at her naked crotch. The doctor had come in that afternoon, for yet another physical exam, and it was official. She was now a fully functioning female. The doctor had even given her a pelvic examination. Good GOD, was that embarrassing! How do women put up with shit like that? The doctor even said that her hymen was intact. Lovely, she was still a virgin, and she’d never even had the chance of losing it as a guy. Kerry wondered if angels masturbated. She wondered if girls masturbated. She wondered if angels had periods, and if they were half as nasty as women made them out to be … Once again, Kerry looked heavenward- or as heavenward as the basement ceiling would let her look. ‘God, if I’ve pissed you off somehow, would you at least tell me what I did wrong? This second-guessing you is driving me NUTS!’
Then there was a scream from outside, and the tenor of the ‘song’ that Kerry was feeling almost 24/7 changed. Kerry immediately hitched up her pants, and pulled the embroidered white silk ceremonial robe over the sweater that she was wearing, as she was sort of embarrassed at the way that it showed off her bumps. She draped the white blanket over her head out of pure reflex.
As she charged out of the cellar door, Eddie Moody, Joey Arguello and a few of the self-appointed ‘proctors’ that helped to keep the peace in the vigil were helping a young couple through the door. The man, whose sleeve was in bloody tatters, was holding a blood-soaked rag to his left eye. His wife was sobbing hysterically and clutching their infant baby to her. “Please!” She screamed over her baby’s screaming, “You’ve got to HELP him! Please, we came here to have the baby blessed but then …”
There were more screams from outside. Kerry could barely make out the sign of people scrambling around in the drizzling rain, trying to get out of the way of El Penitente and this huge thing. It looked like a Transformer toy, something that changed from a car to a spider somehow. Only it was the size of a real car and trying to rip Jorge apart for real.
Kerry steeled herself. She’d already done two healings that afternoon, and she wasn’t really up to a third. And this looked like a fresh injury. Kerry wasn’t very good with injuries; they really hurt, big time. But there was no time; the man could lose an eye if she didn’t do something. She came forward to lay her healing hands on his head. But at the last second, he pulled the gory rag away from his face revealing a bionic implant in his eye socket. Pepper spray caught Kerry squarely in the face, blinding her.
As Kerry shrieked in pain and surprise, the ‘wife’ tossed the ‘infant’ at Sister Catherine, pointed her ring at Eddie Moody in her best ‘Green Lantern’ style, and knocked him off his pins with a blast.
Sister Catherine caught the ‘baby’ out of sheer reflex, and was ‘rewarded’ for her kindness by being tasered. As all this was going on, Korrupt pulled back his untattered sleeve, revealing his gauntlet keyboard, and hit a button. Immediately, five virtual minion ‘ninjas’ rezzed into existence and launched themselves at Father John and the proctors.
Once the virtual minions were in play, Korrupt was able to play his real card in this part of the plan. He reached into his overcoat and produced one of his ‘Demon Seed 2.0’ units. He lay it on the ground and squeezed the blood-soaked rag over it, drenching it in the blood that it needed to activate.
Kerry managed to get the stinging pepper extract out of her eyes with the sleeve of her gown, just in time for something that looked like it escaped from an ‘Aliens’ movie to jump her. Father John tried to grapple Bete Noir, but his conditioning against harming women got the better of him. He tried to just restrain her, while she had no such compunctions. And, to be honest, Bete was a better down-and-dirty street fighter than the Father was. As Carmody clutched his groin, Bete went to the front door and yelled, “HEY! Auntie P! Getcher ass IN here, STAT!” Apparently, summoning a hellhound on church grounds does count as ‘desecrating’ it.
Kurtz weaved through the panicked vigil-holders, carefully avoiding El Penitente as he struggled to get the demon-spider- cop car under control. He didn’t even go in the door, he just reached in, grabbed Father John and slung the Priest over his shoulder.
“Okay,” Korrupt snapped, “we got what we came for! Head out!”
The three of them ran out of the church, with Bete firing blasts behind her. The virtual minions all faded out. But the proctors were far too busy trying to get the cyberized hellhound off of Kerry to follow. Kerry amazed herself- this thing should have been knocking her around like a beach ball, but she was managing to hold it back, just barely. Yet she wasn’t strong enough to beat it, and it wasn’t giving her enough breathing room to set up her energy shield to blast the damned thing. It kept pressing her, clawing away at her shield.
But then, her Boy Scout self-defense training kicked in. She didn’t need to be strong enough. She had its own hellish strength and nature to use. She pushed the hellhound away, and made as if she were about to reconfigure her shield into a blast. The hellhound immediately charged. Kerry used the force of the hellhound’s charge to throw it over her and through the doors into the Sanctum proper. The hellhound sprawled for the barest of seconds, and then broke out in flames. It screamed in primal agony as the Holy energies of the Sanctum burned at it. It tried to escape, but Kerry kept it in the Sanctum with her shield until it had been reduced to a nasty tarry ash on the church carpeting.
“Are you guys okay?” she asked, more by way of catching her breath than anything.
“Eddie ...” Joey Arguello said over the fallen Irishman, “He took one’a them blasts, right in the chest.” There was a dark stain on the big man’s chest, and he was writhing in pain. Kerry steeled herself yet again, called up the power, and lay her hands on his chest. Surprisingly, there was no backlash this time.
Eddie relaxed, and then sat up. “Father John! Where’s Father John?” Suddenly realizing that the intruders had snatched Father Carmody, Kerry and the proctors all boiled out of the door and into the rain.
Sparing a look after them and out at the chaos still on the street, Sister Esperanza crossed herself and helped Mrs. Newton get Sister Catherine upstairs. When the women were all the way upstairs, a small figure crawled out of its hiding place. “I thought that they’d never leave,” Pater Tempus muttered. He crawled into the nave as quickly as his chubby little arms and legs would carry him. Then he closed the door and set the interior locks. ‘Locks on a church. Why, I can remember a time when churches were open all day and all night, and they would leave out golden chalices on the altar, even in the worst neighborhoods and …’
Pater Tempus willed himself to focus on the task at hand. They all thought that he was senile! But, actually, he just had too much to remember. If only he could talk that simpering idiot Korrupt into fixing up some techno-magical gimcrack to help him keep track of things … As he maundered, Pater Tempus swept up some of the nasty remains of the hellhound and poured it into his ‘baby bottle’. Baby bottle … the latest in a long line of humiliations … They’ll pay, they’ll all pay … Bete Noir had certain grown a nice pair with Korrupt’s dingus. And he really liked the way that she squirmed when he groped her with his pudgy little hands, but couldn’t say anything … With a dangling crystal pendulum, he found the very center of power within the nave, just before the altar. Making sure with the compass glued to the bottom of the bottle, Pater Tempus pulled the brush connected to the bottle’s nipple out, and dipped it in the grisly mixture. Then carefully, oh so carefully, he started with precisely the right character in precisely the right sequence in precisely the right placement, and started to paint…
“Jorge!” El Penitente heard Kerry’s voice as she and the proctors ran out of St. Greg’s. Unfortunately, he still had his hands full with the demon-spider-car thing. “They’ve got Father John!”
“What?” But they didn’t stop to explain, they just ran as quickly as they could, following Kerry’s lead. “Hey! Don’t! awww … fuck!” Stupid Spider Thing! He changed his tactic, and tried to rip off one of the legs. It worked, …. Sort of. He managed to pull the leg free of the thing’s body, but that didn’t seem to slow it down much. Hell, all it really did was set off that really annoying car alarm. Maybe if he punched out the thing’s headlights, he’d blind it. Or at least get it to stop flashing the damned things in his eyes…
Then there was a sharp report from the rooftops, and the back of the spider thing erupted in five separate but simultaneous explosions. The spider thing reeled, and there were spates of rapid-shot gunfire from the roofs, covering several figures as they rappelled down to the street. Jorge recognized some of them as the Nightwolves, from their uniforms and crescent moon logos. The others had different but still very professional looking uniforms and MilSpec gear, with gray broadsword and gold Libra logos. From each team, a member came forth bearing some sort of talisman, like the Nightwolves’ member who was brandishing her large silver crucifix. They surrounded the spider-thing and began chanting. The spider-thing reacted more to their chanting than it did to the almost constant gunfire.
One of the guys with the Libra logo came over and barked, “Overwatch says that they’re heading south, towards Harlem! Go, cover them! Nightwolf Leader! Take your team and back him up!”
Jorge’s first reaction was, ‘who died and made YOU boss?’ but he knew a good idea when it was yelled at him. He headed south, guided by the Nightwolves, who were apparently getting tactical information from the roofs.
Then, as a unit, the Nightwolves stopped cold. “Uh-oh. Problem.”
Jorge stopped and looked around.
Then he heard it. From three separate directions at once, he heard Father John Carmody’s voice yelling for help. And for the life of him, he had absolute NO idea as to which one, if any, was the real voice of Father John.
[Dammit, Tempus, will you get ON with it?] Korrupt snapped at Pater Tempus through the link built into the device that had disguised him completely as a baby. [We CAN’T keep going so slow, or they’ll catch on!]
“Less haste, more speed,” Pater Tempus said snippishly.
[Can you at least let us know how far you’ve gotten, so that we know what we can pull?]
“I have surrounded the locus point with a Hermetic Circle, reinforced by a Charm of Restraint.” Pater Tempus said in a pedantic tone, “Within that, I’ve placed an Aggrippan Pentagon, reinforced by an Iremian Sequence, which I am finishing, even as we natter. Once that is properly finished, I will construct a Jesodothan Square, from which I will discern the desired information.”
[Oh CHRIST! They’re here! How the fuck did they get here so quickly? The Restraining charm! Is it up and running?]
[The Iremic Sequence?]
“Hold your horses. Patience is a virtue.” There was a sound of much crashing, screaming and cursing over the link. “There. Finished. Now, I start on the Square.” ‘Stupid, know-it-all punk! Who does he think he is, yelling at me like that?’
“Are you SURE this is the right way?” Nightwolf Leader asked Jorge as they pelted down the alleyways.
“Yeah. There’s a familiar stink down this way.”
They had them cornered in an alley. The distractions had been confusing, but somehow, Kerry had known, had just known exactly where Father John was, even as he was being hauled around like a sack of potatoes.
Kerry had led the proctors right to them. Kerry had her sword out and leaped at the bitch with the freaky ring. But, for some bizarre reason, every time that she was about to strike, it all started over again from the point at which she jumped. She jumped, she brought down her sword, she was just about to hit, and then she was back to the point where she was jumping again. It was like she was on a closed loop or something, and she couldn’t get off.
El Penitente led the Nightwolves down the alley. There, they found a truly bizarre sight. The proctors were mixing it up with the Anti-Paladin and Korrupt’s virtual minions, and they were definitely getting the worst of it. And the centerpiece of all that weirdness was Kerry. Kerry was glowing, and she had her sword out. But she was moving slowly through a staggered series of still-shots on a repeating loop like a Mobius strip, the point of her strike somehow tied to the point of her leap.
Bete Noir saw them as they came racing through the alley. “Dammit, Korrey, that distraction thing ‘a yours ain’t worth SHIT!” She let off a blast, from which El Penitente shielded the Nightwolves. It didn’t hurt him. Indeed, if anything, it just seemed to piss him off.
Chapman, the team werewolf, jumped at the Anti-Paladin and knocked Carmody free. Kurtz summoned up one of his swords, Korrupt called up more virtual minions, and from there, it degenerated into the fog of war.
And through it all, Kerry blindly repeated her dance of futility, over and over.
[Tempus! We’re up to our ASSES here! Where are you?]
“Oh, stop your whining! This is precision work here; it can’t be rushed. I am finishing the very last glyphs, even as we speak. And … finished…” Pater Tempus put his brush down. There. Done. Perfect. Three masterwork power diagrams, done on the fly and under pressure! Let them call him incompetent NOW! Pater Tempus sat down heavily and relaxed.
Unfortunately, he relaxed too much.
Feeling a wet warmth, Pater Tempus looked down. His playsuit was soaked at the bottom and it was leaking out. By sheer perverse luck, he had sat down on a spot where the Circle, the Pentagon and the Square all intersected. His leaking was mixing with the ‘ink’ and smudging the diagram, and before his very eyes, it was disfiguring one of the most crucial runes. “Oops.”
[OOPS? Tempus, you do NOT say ‘oops’ in the middle of a vital part of an operation like that, and not explain it! What do you MEAN, ‘oops’?]
“I made a poopie.”
Suddenly, it was as if a clog had finally cleared, and Kerry was able to draw on her power again. Simultaneously, she snapped out of the loop she’d been in. Everyone except for the virtual minions paused in their combat. Bete Noir, frozen in the middle of her blasting posture, summed it up for her side with, “Oh. Shit.”
Pierce Randall was at the front desk, checking the invoices to see if he could pull anything out of his bag of tricks to lower the Chapter House’s overhead for this season. God knows, with all of this idiocy going down, he’d need every brownie point that he could muster. Then the cell phone in his vest pocket emitted its shrill emergency tone. He flipped the phone open. “Randall.”
[Randal!] Kurtz’ strident tones came over the unit, [It’s gone balls up! We need a quick exit, NOW!]
Randall strolled over to the brass door of the Master Control unit. “Is this a family affair, or will you be bringing dinner guests?”
[The target is lost, and we have multiple hostiles, including rooftop overwatch!]
“I see …” Randall pulled out his PDA as he opened the Master Control door. As he scrolled through the menu’s options, he pulled out the magic latchkeys and began inserting them and turning them in the proper sequence. “Quality of pursuit?”
“Three paranormals, a bunch of very pissed off amateurs, and at least two, possibly three coordinated armed and armored teams of SWAT, maybe Special Forces grade baseline operatives with magical backup. I recognize the Nightwolves and the Soldiers of Justice, dunno the rest.”
“It never rains, but it pours,” Randall sighed. “Well, I wouldn’t expect you to call for help in anything except a screaming emergency. Exactly where are you, Kurtz?” Kurtz ran off the address. “Very well, we have a tertiary entry point, two blocks north, half a block west, in the alley. Look for the double doors. I should have it ready for you by the time you get there.” Randall shut the phone and started furiously working the keys and locks.
Suddenly, the alleyway was bursting to the seams with virtual minions. The Anti-Paladin pulled Bete Noir out of the alleyway, firing a Mac-11 behind him. Korrupt used the breather to summon up another Cyber-hellhound, and then followed as quickly as he could. The mages were getting the better of the virtual minions, and Kerry and Jorge cooperated in dispatching the hellhound before it could get its mini-guns operating. The Soldiers of Justice took advantage of this to light out in pursuit.
Pelting down the street, Korrupt rezzed up a few more virtual minions to slow down their pursuers, but the SoJ breezed right through them. The Anti-Paladin hung a severe left, then cut into an alley. The Soldiers of Justice barely managed to see Korrupt duck through a set of ornate wooden double doors that were really out of place in the dingy alley. Atkins threw a knife into the door jam, keeping the doors open until they got there.
Inside the Chapter House, Randall managed to get Kurtz on his communications link. “Kurtz, you have unauthorized people in the anteroom with you.”
[Yes, I’d rather noticed that! *rat-a-tat-tat!*]
“I have the anteroom set for five people. Remove all the other people, or I can't open the inner doors!”
[Reset for three. Pater Tempus and Porter aren’t with us]
Kurtz reset his Mac-11 for single shot and started picking his shots. “Randall can’t let us in, until we get rid of the unwanted guests.”
“Why didn’t you say so?” Korrupt hit his gauntlet button again, and suddenly the barren room was full of virtual minions again. So full, that they overflowed the room, pushing the Soldiers of Justice out with their sheer numbers. The second that the SoJ were out of the room, the doors swung shut, the virtual minions disappeared, and the inner doors opened.
Pierce Randall strolled through and asked, “And how many will you be for dinner?”
Out in the alley, the SoJ was making ready to shoot the doors in, when the doors faded from sight.
Kerry was busy tending to the wounded when the SoJ got back to the alley. Her tattered white silk robe was bloody in places where she’d hadn’t been hit. “Dulcita, you shouldn’t be doing this,” El Penitente complained.
“I have to do this,” she responded, “these men got hurt trying to help me.”
“Actually,” Father Carmody said with heavy humility, “these men got hurt trying to help ME.”
“Can you lay on hands?”
“Actually, Honey,” Whitcroft, the Nightwolves’ mage cut in, “healing them like that might not be the best thing. We’re talking combat trauma here; besides tissue damage, there could be nerve trauma and broken bone. You could do more damage to them, by making them heal the wrong way.”
Ricky Costos moved his arm and flexed his hand, which had been hit by one of the Anti-Paladin’s rounds. “Feels okay t’me.”
“Still,” said the Silver Blade Leader, “I want you all to be examined by a doctor, as soon as possible.”
“And don’t worry about it,” Father John reassured them, “the Church will pick up the tab.”
Kerry stepped away, feeling a little light-headed. But Jorge didn’t notice that. “What were you THINKING, running out into the night like that?” he yelled, his anger amplifying his accent, making it hard to follow, “You could’a been KILLED!”
Kerry bristled, “I thought that I was trying to save Father John!”
“What? You couldn’t SEE that it was a trap? The only way that it could’a been more obvious, would’a been if they put a big neon sign saying ‘Trap’!”
Kerry stood up to him , scowling up into his face far above hers, (unwittingly making herself look like an angry little girl in the process) and snapped, “What was I supposed to do? Let them go after him, and maybe face another hellhound while you were wrestling with that spider-thing?”
“Hey, THEY are guys!” In his defense, there was no way that he could have known how that would irritate Kerry. Or, at least, not that way.
“Excuse me,” Father John cut in before it could get really nasty. “May I suggest that we discuss this somewhere else?”
Kerry agreed to this and turned to leave, but Jorge swept her up into his arms and carried her like an infant. “Hey! Put me down!”
“Hokay, your dress is a mess.”
“Stop treating me like a little girl!”
“Look, you’re weak from healing the guys. And that was good, but you gotta rest.”
“If you don’t put me down, I’ll show YOU how weak I am!”
But El Penitente just kept carrying her down the street. The supernatural vigilantes gave each other martyred looks and melted back into the shadows.
Jorge and Kerry had bickered at each other for about a block, when a voice said, “You heard the lady, Freak. Put her down.” Standing in front of them, blocking their way were two very fit looking men in the near-uniform of the MCO: black suits, white shirts, red ties. And they were wearing red-tinted sunglasses, despite the gloom.
“Yeah? And who are YOU, pendejo? The Tommy Lee Jones Fan Club?”
The one on the right pulled out a wallet and flashed his ID. “MCO. We’re taking that girl in, for her own safety.”
“EXCUSE me?” Father John surged to the fore, righteous indignation in his eyes and voice, “For her own SAFETY?”
“Tonight’s events have proven that that young girl, whether she intends to or not, poses a clear and present danger to the civilians of this neighborhood,” the MCO man reeled off with a signature note of righteous officiousness and weary disdain. “For her own safety, and the safety of your parishioners, she will be taken into protective custody and removed to an undisclosed place of sanctuary.”
“And this ‘place of sanctuary’ IS?” Father John demanded.
“I am sorry,” the MCO agent replied in a tone that implied he didn’t really give a shit what Father John thought, “but that must remain undisclosed, for the minor’s own protection.”
The proctors moved up, battered but still game. “Yeah? Look, Jack, we didn’t give the Padre up to those Satanist goons, what makes you think we’re gonna give up an Angel to you Naziods?”
The agent didn’t bother to snap his fingers. More black-suited MCO goons melted out of the shadows, covering them all with taser pistols, assault rifles, net guns and conventional 9mms. Two power suits, black, not the powder blue that the MCO used for its more above-board missions seemed to appear as if from nowhere as their camouflage holograms went down. One brought a 4-shot SAM missile rack up to bear from its back.
The other unit kneeled, and another black-suit wearing ear protection brought a large caliber rifle up on its back and aimed the laser targeting spot right between El Penitente’s eyes. “That’s a Barrett light .50 Anti-Tank Sniper Rifle, Freak; it’s the sure cure for all your ills.”
The Catholics froze for a moment.
Then the lead MCO agent lost his temper a bit. “LOOK, people, I KNOW that you think that you’re doing the right thing! What, you think that she’s a real Angel or something? Listen up! She’s a MUTANT! No matter what you think, she’s just a MUTANT! God has nothing to do with her! She’s dragging all those freaks into your neighborhood, tearing up the place, killing people, and you’re protecting her! Why? You think that she cares about you? No matter what you think, she’s just using those ‘miracles’ to get you more and more in her power! Every ‘good’ that you think she does has a price. A price that you can’t afford to pay.”
The Catholics’ only response was a stony silence.
“Fine! Look, we don’t care about you guys. We don’t want to hurt you, but if we have to, we will. AND, we won’t get the slight bit of shit for it.” He paused for compliance and got none. “Okay, one last time: You! The freak with the horns! Put the girl down, or we’ll blow your brains out!” The agent manning the Barrett chambered a round menacingly.
Kerry whispered just loudly enough for Jorge to hear, “He’s lying. No matter what happens, they’re going to kill you. He’s planning to goad you into attacking, so that they have cause to kill you. They think if you die, the others will fold.”
“How do you know that?” Jorge whispered back.
“I dunno. I just know. Look, you make like you’re gonna put me down. But you throw me at the guy with the big gun. I’ll take him down and run. You run too. No reason for you to get killed for me. If we confuse them, we should be able to get away, and the guys will be able to get to safety.”
Jorge was about lodge some very strong complaints, when a semi-bestial figure dropped from the rooftops and pulled the triggerman away from the Barrett. Another of the Nightwolves dropped on top of the other Power Armor unit and quickly cut the triggering cable, rendering the SAM unit useless. The Nightwolf’s next move was to plant a large plastic block on the power armor’s faceplate, which the pilot immediately recognized as a demolition packet. Chapman did the same to the other unit. As the blacksuits reacted to the new players, there was a manifold sound of guns being chambered, and they each found themselves covered by at least one gun.
The Silver Blades Leader came out of cover, pointing an assault rifle at the lead MCO agent’s head. “So, ah, you got a warrant, Jack?”
In a tense but very controlled voice, the lead agent said, "You are interfering with official MCO-”
“Oh, enough of this!” Father John snapped, “It’s late, I’m tired, and we’ve all had a hard night! Just take their weapons and their IDs- oh, and the batteries for those stupid power suit things too, and let them go.”
“But,” one of the MCO agents objected, “if you take the batteries, the guys in the power suits won’t be able to move!”
“Well then, you’ll just have to carry them, now won’t you?” Father John snapped irritably, “Maybe it’ll keep you out of trouble. Idle hands, and all that. Anyway, we’ll leave your IDs and weapons with the District Attorney’s office, and you can make your excuses to them, Agent-” Carmody looked at the IDs. “Agent SMITH? Agent JONES? Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!”
NEW YORK HERALD: Heroic NYPD Officers killed in second raid on St. Gregory’s
NEW YORK TRIBUNE: More Hell in Hell’s Kitchen
NEW YORK RECORD: Spider Monster Attacks Worshippers at St. Greg’s
BEACON MAGAZINE: Strange attacks upon ‘Angel’ Church prompt questions about possible Satanic Conspiracy
CONTEMPO MAGAZINE: New Angel Fashions!
NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC: Heroic Parishoners Hold Off Hellhound Invasion!
AMERICAN CRUSADER: UFO Aliens Come To Take ‘St. Gregory’s Angel’ Home! Repulsed by worshipping Spider Mutants
Charlie Lodgeman and Rev. Englund inconspicuously made their way through the crowds and police scene tape and NYPD. When they were inside, Englund lifted the ‘shroud’, and Sister Catherine spotted them. “How did you get past all of that outside?”
“Put it down to experience,” Rev. Englund demurred.
“There are… a lot more people around here than there used to be,” Lodgeman noted. Indeed, whereas before there had been only the Pastor, the two nuns and the housekeeper, now there were several nuns hurrying about, whom neither Englund or Lodgeman recognized. There was another collared priest, and a suspiciously fit looking friar passed through the hall and down into the famous basement.
“Yes,” Sister Catherine sniffed, “closing the barn door, and that sort of thing. You heard about what happened last night? Well, four of the Proctors were injured, poor souls. Kerry tried to heal them, but the Archdiocese insists that they be examined in a hospital, in case something went wrong. Anyway, the Police have beefed up the security, as you can see, but Bishop Spengler decided that we needed more help around here. Like we haven’t needed that for years. So, they brought in four more sisters from the Convent and an assistant for Father John. And Bishop Spengler brought in those three friars …”
That’s when Bishop Spengler strolled up, with Father Carmody in tow. “So, you’ve come to view the new set of wreckage? Well, this time, most of the damage was out in the street. I understand that the forensics people at the NYPD think that there are still bits and pieces of those two officers, still stuck the in the wreckage of that spider-thing. Poor souls. Still, there is something that you might be interested in.”
Spengler led them through the doors into the Sanctuary, where he showed them the disgusting mess that was all that was left of the hellhound, and the mysterious diagrams in front of the altar. Between them, they agreed that the outermost part was a Circle of Restraint, and the innermost part was a Divining Square. The part in the middle, on the other hand, was confusing and would take some research.
“Well,” Spengler sighed, “if there’s an upside to this, it’s that the Cardinal has finally decided to take this seriously, Investigation Panel or no Investigation Panel. Let me introduce you to the new head of St. Gregory’s security detail.” The Bishop waved over one of the friars, introducing him as Brother Phillip of the Order of St. George. Brother Phillip was a bland-seeming, but very fit looking man in his mid thirties with short-trimmed hair and hard eyes.
Brother Phillip shook hands with them and remarked, “This is going to be a tough site to work. This place wasn’t designed for security, even when they built it back in the 1930s. And having Our Guest stay down in the basement is only making things harder.”
“Yes, well, challenges are what make a professional, No?” Englund said. far more mildly than was usual for him.
“And speaking of ‘your guest’,” Charlie rummaged around in his jacket pocket, “I was wondering if Kerry would look at a photograph…”
“May I see it?” Carmody asked. Lodgeman handed over the snapshot. Carmody’s blood ran cold when she saw a picture of Linda Ellison standing smiling besides a man that he took for her husband.
This was it. It was over. He’d never see Kerry again. He’d … “Excuse me? Cell phone.” Father John pulled himself away and spoke into his cell phone for a moment. As he put it away, he sighed, “One of these days, they’re going to have to figure out a way to make cell phones that don’t turn you into a complete and utter boor. Still, I don’t see any reason why Kerry shouldn’t see this. I take it, that you think that this may have something to do with Kerry’s family?”
“Yes, that family’s middle child disappeared in New York the same day that Kerry was at the Times Square subways station, and we have informants who place the child in question there at about the same time.”
“Yes, I see! Definite possibilities there! Well, Kerry’s down in the basement, still recovering from last night’s exertions. Still, this shouldn’t be too great an exertion.” Holding onto the picture, Father John showed them down into the basement.
The basement had been cleared out and cleaned up a bit, but a basement is a basement is a basement. Kerry was stretched out on her roller bed, reading a booklet on church doctrine regarding mutants, with the air of someone trying to make sense of a set of stereo instructions.
After it was explained, Kerry took the photo from Father John, looked at it for a second, shook her head and gave it back. “Nope. Never saw them before.”
Father John made sad noises, gave Lodgeman his picture, and showed them to the door. Once the door was closed, he said quietly to Brother Phillip. “I don’t want those two talking to our guest again. Don’t shut them out completely, just make sure that they are never alone with her.”
As they walked away, Englund said to Lodgeman, “You saw him palm and switch the photograph?”
“Yep. It looks like Mrs. Ellison was right about the Padre freezing her out.”
“Well, at least we’re reasonably sure that ‘Kerry’ really IS Kieran Ellison.”
“Yep. Now, our big problem is getting Kerry OUT of there.”
“Which will be significantly more easily said than done. The Order of St. George is one of the Vatican’s ‘special operations’ organs. The chaps who get special dispensations along with their assault rifles.” Englund smiled primly. “No, the solution isn’t getting Kerry out of there, it’s getting the right person IN there. I wonder how the agnostic Ellisons would feel about attending Sunday Mass?”
After the shock and stress of the previous night- not to mention the stresses of the morning- Father John found the evening getogether relaxing. The gathering was significantly better heeled than he was used to, but he found that the basic socializing principles that he used with his parishioners worked just as well here. And while the language was more elevated, and the clothes were definitely of another strata, they mostly wanted to know about the same things that he’d been answering questions about for weeks. They wanted to know about the ‘Angel’, the theological implications of what Kerry was doing, and of course, there were discrete inquiries as to how the list for the healings was decided.
Father John informed them that Senora Vallacio, the woman who had been the first to be healed (not counting the chap who’d lost a chunk of his leg at the Times Square subway station) was stable and as healthy as could be expected.
Then Bishop Spengler walked up with a well-dressed man who could have played ‘Kris Kringle’ in a production of ‘a Miracle on 34th Street’. He was round of face and figure, with white hair and beard, and there was a smile on his face that didn’t quite match the shrewd glint in his eye. “Ah, Carmody! Allow me to introduce Rabbi Benjamin Axelrod, of Temple Beth-Aven.” The Rabbi gave Carmody a good strong handshake. “The Rabbi here is a noted expert on the writings of the Zohar.”
Carmody stiffened. While he was no expert on matters metaphysical, he was well read enough to know that the Zohar was the preeminent body of lore in the field of Jewish mysticism generally known as ‘Q’abbalism’. And while Q’abbalsim was enjoying a vogue among certain celebrities, it was still one of the most respected systems of mystical knowledge exeunt. In fact, most of the Western Occult Tradition was an offshoot of its principles. Given Spengler’s field of authority, If Rabbi Axelrod was a q’abbalist, then he must be a very learned- and potent- wizard. And if Bishop Spengler was courting the Rabbi, and introducing them, then the Rabbi must have something that involved Kerry …
There were pleasantries, and small talk, and brief discussions of mutual acquaintances. I will spare you a detailed account of the verbal fencing and provide the meat and bones. Rabbi Axelrod asked about the miraculous ‘healings’ that were all over the News. Bishop Spengler replied that the ‘healings’ were not a service of the Church, but rather a service provided by the ‘Angel’, as a private individual. When the Rabbi asked how the youngster decided who to heal, Father John admitted that he was vetting the petitions. After a good deal of hedging, Rabbi Axelrod offered to use his contacts within the mystic and Jewish communities to help find the Grand Hall before they could try anything else. Of course, he wanted some quid pro quo for this. He wanted Carmody to place at the head of the list the name of one balebatisheh yiden (Translation: ‘Pillar of the Jewish Community’) who was suffering from emphysema.
Father John was suddenly faced with precisely the sort of politicking that he hated. The Rabbi had something that he needed, to wit, a greater chance of not having those Grand Hall scum raiding his church. But the Rabbi wanted him to give preference on the healing list to a man who was probably a wealthy member of the Rabbi’s congregation. Once again, a rich and influential person would be shown to the head of the line, over poorer but just as deserving Catholics.
But then, Kerry had dealt with emphysema before, and the effects weren’t anywhere as hard on her the second or third time. Also, if the Rabbi’s ‘balebatisheh yiden’ weren’t a man who was a true asset to the community, would a scholar who was as keenly aware of the value of his own soul as the Rabbi, bring this offer? Indeed, given the long history of shabby treatment- nay, open persecution! - of the Jews by the Mother Church, wouldn’t it be a reconciliatory gesture, a sincere apology in a way that really meant something, to offer this suffering man solace? And, when he thought about it, he HAD given unconscious preference to Catholics when he was choosing the priorities.
In other words, he said ‘Yes’.
“I’m telling you it was Pot- er, Porter’s fault!” Pater Tempus screamed as loudly as his yearling’s lungs would allow (think about it- toddler, screaming <shudder>), “He bought the cheap brand of diapers!”
Kurtz waved the finger-pointing session to a halt. “Enough of this! The point here is not to choose a designated scapegoat, it’s to figure out where we went wrong, so that the NEXT time, it won’t bite us in the ass!” He turned to Pater Tempus, “Okay, WHY did that disgusting debacle in the church happen?”
“I was RUSHED!” Pater Tempus snapped, “You can’t expect decent work on that level when you RUSH someone!”
Even Korrupt had to give him that point. “He’s gotcha there, Korrey,” Bete Noir pointed out. “You were ridin’ him pretty hard over the radio there.”
“Well, what do you expect? There we were, and that Penitent putz was bearing down on us, and then those idiots with the guns …”
“Korrey,” Bete said severely, “those idiots with the guns wouldn’t’a FOUND us, if your diversions had been worth a damn! And if they hadn’t’a found us, then you wouldn’t’a leaned on Pappy, and-”
“Hold it!” Kurtz cut in before it got really nasty. “Korrupt’s diversions were working. The Soldiers of Justice and the other team only found us because they heard us mixing it up with El Penitente and the Nightwolves. But what really forced our schedule, was the Angel and her backup singers showing up so quickly. So, the real question here, is WHY did the Angel find us so quickly? Could she tell somehow that the distractions were just recordings? And how could she zero in on us, when we had such a lead? The plan was to run them around so that her protectors would wear themselves out, and THEN lead her to us. Pater Tempus’ trap should have been completed by then, in a timely fashion. It was a good plan; she shouldn’t have been able to find us so quickly.”
“So,” Korrupt summed up, “the real question is: how did she find us so quickly?”
Bete Noir made a rude noise. “Oh, please! Like this is some big mystery? Father John helps her out with all her healings, holding her hands- literally!- while she does them! There must be some sort of mystic link between them … so she knows where he is … what he’s feeling … If he’s in pain …” Bete trailed off as she realized why Kurtz, Pater Tempus, and Korrupt were sharing such shrewd looks.
“So, the plan was solid,” Korrupt mused. “It’s just that we didn’t know that we did not need to snatch the good father right in front of her. Indeed, we could grab him anywhere in a reasonable distance, and she’d know it immediately…”
“She’d even know WHERE…”
“And she’s young. She panics easily, goes off without thinking …”
“We just need something to keep El Penitente and the other super-powered goons busy …”
December 19th – 20th
BEACON MAGAZINE: Angels latest Big Thing in Big Apple
CONTEMPO MAGAZINE: Retailers Amp Up ‘Angel’ Imagery in Shopping Season
NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC: Elderly Jewish Man Converts When Healed By ‘Hell’s Kitchen Angel’!
AMERICAN CRUSADER: Angel Sez: ‘I’m Carrying The Next Messiah!’
In the wake of the second attack, Father John was everywhere in the media. Covers of periodicals everywhere showed his serene face, and people were clamoring for interviews. He was THE party guest, a role that he exploited to quietly undermine the MCO and dredge up support for mutants as a viable part of the church.
Kerry knew that Father John’s nights out were all part of a PR campaign that would help her in the long run. But still, she missed him. Especially on nights like this. Five people had been healed, and she was exhausted. Her lungs felt like someone had poured battery acid in them, and she was on that stupid respirator again. There was a knot in her side that felt the size of a bowling ball, her joints ached and the rest sort of all melded into a party mix of discomfort.
If Father John were here, they’d pray together, and his faith would carry her through. And worst of all, there would be more healing sessions tomorrow. ‘Please, God, is there no end to this?’
“Are you sure that we want to summon up THAT?” Korrupt asked as he scrolled through the download of the scanned ancient grimoire.
“We need a threat that will bring every superhero, magical vigilante and police officer in New York running!” Pater Tempus bawled. “We need something that screams ‘End of the World!’ And it’s hard to get more apocalyptic than THAT. At least, on our budget. And the Rule of Three says that we only have three chances of using magic to gather this prize. It’s all or nothing with this try, so why not break open the piggy bank?”
“Maybe so,” Kurtz rumbled, “But there’ll be a problem keeping the Mayor from calling out the National Guard.”
“AND keeping the damn thing under control, at least until we need it to go berserk. I mean, HOW do you keep something that powerful under control? Hell, how are we going to control it long enough even to get it all the way into this world?”
“Well,” Pater Tempus searched his memory as well as his wandering mind would allow him to, “diminishing its power would be self-defeating. Concentrating its power would be suicidal. Separating its power into some sort of receptacle is out of the question with a being of that magnitude. Dividing it up into several constituent beings would work, but then we’d have more than one to control, so-”
“Hold it. You can split that thing up into parts, and it’ll still be viable?”
“Well, remember it IS a spiritual entity, and as such, not subject to the paltry laws of Biology.”
“Would it react to matrixization as, say, the virtual minions and the Cyber-hellhounds did?”
Pater Tempus shrugged. “Not over any length of time, but-”
“Why didn’t you SAY so?” Korrupt started typing away, and he promptly went online. “In THAT case, we begin the summoning, ‘funnel’ our boy through and ‘squeeze’ his essence into a series of identical matrix-bodies.” He downloaded a CAD schematic and filled in the containment formulae. “Each one won’t be able to hold that much, so each individual one will be pretty easy to control, at least until they merge and re-form. Best of all, we don’t have to clutter up the place storing them while we summon up the rest; we can store them in plain sight, all over New York.”
Kurtz’s eyes popped open at the sight of the sprite on the monitor. He guffawed, “Perfect! There may just be hope for you, after all!”
“We’ll need a place for the final assembly, a place that’s sure to grab the attention every TV and radio hack possible. And if we can get lots of people to be dramatically endangered, all the better.”
“Not to worry,” Kurtz murmured, “I know just the place.”
Then the doors to the Infernium burst open, and Bete Noir bugled, “I’m BACK!” She was standing there, posing in a jazzy, not-quite-but-almost-sexy ‘Christmas Elf’ costume in green and red, complete with the ‘peter pan’ hat and pointy ears.
“What’s this? You’ve gone over to the perky side of the Force?”
Bete grinned over her cigarette, absolutely brimming with energy and good humor. “Y’know, sometimes, I even amaze myself. I was out, tryin’ t’scrouge up some ill will in this sickeningly sweet time o’year, and I asked myself, ‘Self?’ –‘cause that’s what I call myself when I’m talkin’ to myself- ‘Self? If *you* were as sick t’deeth of all this holiday good cheer crap as I was, where would *you* go?’ And then, the answer came t’me.” Smirking, she beckoned them out of the Infernium with a crooked finger.
Minxishly, she coaxed them up to the lobby. Pierce Randall was standing there, giving what filled the cold fish eye. Bete waved a hand and said, “And, get this- with a single online employment ad, I can have at least ten times that many, by this time tomorrow.”
Kurtz, Pater Tempus, and Korrupt all almost dropped their jaws on the floor. “Bete … that’s just SICK!”
Bete exhaled a long plume of smoke. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
The NYPD Gang Intelligence Task Force, among its many other duties, keeps tabs on the ‘tags’ or gang-related graffiti that’s sprayed around town, on the theory that the placement (and defacement) of various tags offers an insight as to the shifting of tides of fortune for the various street gangs. However, about this time observers noted a new design on the walls of New York, one that no one seemed to want to mar or obscure. The design wasn’t a name or an obscene picture. Rather it was a simple circle of silver spray paint, with three pairs of wings in gold paint and six ‘eyes’ that were dots of red. There was no real significance to these pictures. But still, they did stand out in some strange way, offering a silent promise.
A new fashion quietly came into being among the women of Catholic neighborhoods. They began wearing white shawls, ranging from simple white things to elaborate lacy numbers, depending on their station in life. Oddly, while Protestant women didn’t follow the fashion, some Jewish women did. Islamic women were mildly amused, and Islamic scholars were oddly off-put by it, but couldn’t find a scriptural basis for objecting to it.