The Angel And Cecil Barrows
A Tale of the Whateley Academy Universe
The Angel And Cecil Barrows
E. E. Nalley
When I was just a baby
My Mama told me, "Son
Always be a good boy
Don't ever play with guns,"
But I shot a man in Reno
Just to watch him die...
Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash
February 10th, 1938
Superior Court District Two, Los Angeles, California
“All rise! State of California Superior Court for the Second District is now in session! All those having business with this court, step forward and you shall be heard! The honorable John Stately is presiding.”
Cecil Barrows was bored.
He had just turned eighteen and to be sitting in a courtroom so young in life and facing the charges he was facing would have sobered many. But Cecil wasn't many. He was the scion of a wealthy family, his father a Studio Executive, his mother a 'retired' silent movie starlet and his entire life he had been pampered. He had always gotten his way, his choices and been shielded from the repercussions of those choices. When he got into trouble, Daddy made it all go away.
Handling the forty five caliber pistol had been empowering in a way he couldn't rationally describe. Everything about it bespoke of death. From its Elephant Ivory grips to the masterfully engraved scene of a US Cavalryman shooting a fleeing Indian, the weapon was Death personified. Holding it had been entertaining, but shoving it into the bloated stomach of a complete stranger and watching the life drain out of their eyes from the horrific damage the round had done to their internal organs had been orgasmic. It was a scene, the look on his victim's shocked, agonized face, the horrified and mildly jealous look on the faces of his friends as he had coldly watched the stranger die, that kept a smile on his face through this farce of a trial.
It was all he could do to keep his expression neutral on his handsome, tanned face as he ran his hands through his slicked back blonde hair as he watched the pathetic little commoners who had the unmitigated gall to sit in judgment of him file into the jury box. They were properly bought and paid for by now, but no sense tempting fate with a self satisfied smirk he desperately wanted to favor them with.
Daddy would make it all go away. Daddy always did.
His lawyer was fidgeting, but that's what lawyers did best he supposed as he reached into his linen suit jacket to remove a gold cigarette holder and remove one. A matching gold lighter got it going. The Judge scowled at the young man lighting up, but there was nothing he could say about it now that he was 18. Turning to the jury, he asked, “Mr. Foreman, has the jury reached a verdict?”
The little peasant stood, wearing his 'Sunday best' and still managing to look like a hobo as far as Cecil was concerned. The 'Foreman' cast a nervous glance at Cecil where he sat at the defendant's table and the accused murderer winked at him. “We...we have, your honor.”
“The bailiff will publish the verdict,” Stately intoned.
The bulky thug with a badge scowled at Cecil as he collected the folded paper and brought it over to the judge. Johnathan Stately's professional mask slipped and he actually swore as he read what was written there and threw it back to the bailiff in disgust. He took the paper, no doubt delighted to so officious and important and read, “We the Jury in the matter of the State of California vs Cecil Francis Barrows concerning the sole count of the indictment of the Malice Murder of Henry Michael Prawn unanimously find the defendant Not Guilty.”
“Who got to you?” Stately demanded with a glare at the Jury box. He wheeled to the Assistant District Attourney. “Mr. Allen, I want every member of this jury investigated for...”
“You'll have to take that up with my boss, Your Honor,” Allen replied from packing up his tablets and law books. “I've wasted enough of the tax payer's money on this...waste of skin...”
Cecil smiled as he stood and blew smoke in the Lawyer's direction. “Who do I see about getting my gun back?” he asked with a cocksure grin.
February 11th, 1938
The Cat's Meow Tavern, Los Angeles, California
Cecil staggered out of the brothel, disguised as a hotel saloon and an adjacent home for troubled young women. The madam had the temerity to pass herself off as a nun during the day and that appealed to Cecil as he liked thumbing his nose at authority. He was drunk and sated, thanks to a charming young colored girl who was one of those 'troubled' young women the 'Mother Superior' was leading astray, but it wasn't every day you beat a murder rap and Cecil had felt some celebration was in order. And if the girl had his bastard to deal with, that was her problem.
He arrived at his gleaming silver Duesenberg boat tail speedster and dropped the keys trying to get it into the lock. He bent over to pick them up and when he stood upright again he realized someone was sitting in his car. “Who, the hell, are you?” he demanded, outraged. “What are you doing in my car?!”
The man sitting in the drivers place of his car was a mildly chubby fellow, average features, average clothes, a completely forgettable face; he was the kind of man that filled crowds everywhere, and that was to his liking. He hung his arm over the door and gave the playboy an appraising glance and it was obvious he didn't think much of what he saw. “Me?” he asked in an absolutely musical tenor. “I'm a failure, Cecil, that's what I am. A down and out bum in the celestial circles, the sum total of all of your failures.” He opened the door and turned to face the confused young man, his arms hanging over his knees and he sighed in resignation. “Of course you're drunk. That won't do, no, you being drunk won't do at all,” he observed and reached out and touched Cecil's forehead.
Before the young man could even form a complaint about the familiarity of this stranger, his warm finger touched his forehead and instantly Cecil was stone sober. He remembered being drunk, he remembered every drink and every deplorable way he had used the young whore inside to sate his lusts and it was the most disorienting feeling he had ever had to deal with. “How did you do that?” he demanded. He reached under his jacket to draw the pistol to point at the rolly polly man wearing his own cocksure grin. “Who are you?”
“I'm...well, think of me as your Guardian Angel, Cecil. That's not really how we work, but it's close enough for you to understand.” Cecil stared, amazed at the other man for a moment then shook his head and cocked the pistol to point at the Angel's fore head.
“Nobody will give me grief for rubbing out a looney toon!”
“That's the attitude that got you in this mess,” the Angel replied. “Like the girl who you were abusing tonight. When her brother burst in on you using his sister you were foolish enough to throw racial epithets at him! Well, liquid courage I suppose.”
“That didn't happen!” Cecil retorted. The Angel pointed over his shoulder at the door of the brothel being flung open and a rough looking man dragging him out and flinging him into the street. He proceeded to kick Cecil and suddenly Cecil's sides ached with bruises.
“You won't touch my sister again, you fucking cracker!” the enraged brother shouted and there were four loud reports of what Cecil realized was his own pistol. The girl spat on him and the pair of them ran off into the night. Slowly, Cecil reached down and rubbed his stomach and brought his hand up, seeing it covered in blood.
“You wanted to watch a man die, Cecil, go watch yourself,” the Angel taunted. Barrows shook his head, trying to clear it.
“No, this isn't happening! This is impossible! You're not...” He couldn't finish because the man stood from the drivers seat on the running board and the average nobody melted away into a glowing, bright figure of a man with massive wings and shining armor that was too beautiful to behold. Cecil screamed and turned his eyes away in pain at the purity of the image, burned into his cornea. “What have I done?” He shouted, staggering from blood loss and the blinding image of all that the voice in the back of his mind had warned him of his wicked ways would lead to. “Help me, God!”
“Why should He?” demanded the Angel with a voice like thunder. “How many chances have you squandered? How many depravities do you think you can commit before Judgment comes for you?!”
Barrows fell to his knees and clasped his bloody hands in prayer. “No, I can change! I swear I can! People change every day!”
“Lies!” The Angel thundered. “Desperate begging to save a wretched, wasted life!”
“Please!” screamed Cecil. “Please! I swear to God let me live and I'll never do another selfish thing again! I'll clean up! I'll clean up the world! I swear it! Please!” The Angel reached down and snatched the hapless playboy up, his white hot face inches from Cecil's.
“You? Clean the world? Is that your oath? That if I spare you now every day from now until you are again come for you will cleanse the world of evil and do the Lord's work? Is that Your Oath?”
“Yes! Yes, I swear! God, forgive me! I...I'll become a priest! I'll do whatever you say!”
The blindingly bright eyes of the Angel narrowed. “Prove it!” he shouted. The Angel's massive hand laid hold of Cecil's head and burned him down to his brain. “Slay your own demon and see the world as it is and then swear to me!” He shoved Cecil at the body lying in the road, moaning as his life’s' blood drained away. Cecil staggered, his vision blurring, his head throbbing as his feet hesitantly led him around the car, he looked down at the pistol in his hand. The grips were still ivory, as his vision began to focus and the metal still its shiny nickle coated mirror finish, but the carving in the ivory now was a pair of upright eagles wings, surrounded by a glowing halo of gold. He rounded the fender of his car to see his own body clearly now.
There were three bullet holes in his stomach, but that wasn't what drew his eye. Wrapped around his shoulders, neck and head was a red, unholy thing. Its mouth was by his left ear, chattering in victory about how it would soon feast on his soul and Cecil remembered every time he had committed wrong and felt a pang of guilt, a voice in his left ear had soothed his worry and promised that laws and justice were for little people.
He raised the pistol and the demon, for it could be nothing else, hissed at him. “Not fair! Not fair!” The pistol roared with divine judgment and suddenly he was lying in the street, looking up at the outraged face of a young dark skinned man, trying to protect his sister. And on his shoulder, wrapping its tail around his chest was another of the things stoking the fires of his hatred and rage.
Cecil sat up and raised his hand. “Stop! In the name of God Almighty!” he shouted.
The young man staggered as if Cecil had struck him between the eyes and the demon hissed at him. Cecil scrambled to his feet and grabbed the creature, yanking it from the young man's shoulders with all his might. It fought and hissed, snapping its jaws at him and trying to coil its tail around his neck, but Cecil squeezed and squeezed with all his might until he felt the bones in the things neck snap under his hands and it faded away.
Barrows fell to his knees, panting and sweating as the girl and her brother walked over. “What...what was that?” she demanded. “What did you do? Where did it go?”
Panting after his breath, Barrows looked up at her and saw the pure, but desperate beauty that had drawn him to her. A purity he realized the thing on his shoulder had wanted to corrupt. “Back to Hell, where it belongs. Forgive me, Jasmine,” he managed. “I am no longer the cad I was.”
“What was that...snake...you pulled off me?” her brother demanded.
“I...I don't know what it was, but it was evil.” He swallowed and wiped his forehead. “I...I was evil. But I have changed...”
Cecil was interrupted by the chest of the young man exploding outward in a shower of gristle and gore. Jasmine began to scream as her brother's body fell, lifeless, a look of confusion still on his face into the dust of the road. Cecil looked up in horror to see the madam, a side by side shot gun in her hands, one barrel smoking emerging from the brothel. But it was not the shotgun that terrified the young man, for the creature in the madam's dress was not human any more. Something coiled and writhed under her skin that had eaten away all the human and just left the skin that he could see through.
“God!” Cecil shouted in disgust and horror. “What is it?”
The expression on the Madam's face contorted into an expression somewhere between rage and glee. “Jasmine, get your little negro ass inside and get to work!” But Jasmine just sat and screamed, staring at the body of her brother. The madam saw Barrows staring. “Why Cecil, you can see? Well your usefulness was coming to an end anyway...”
The shotgun came up to her shoulder as Barrows frantically clawed his pistol from the dead man's hand. It roared, slamming into the madam and setting her on fire. The demon screamed and staggered back into the brothel, where she exploded with most of the parts crashing into the bar. A raging fire began to spread as patrons and whores alike screamed and fled. Within moments the building was ablaze.
Cecil looked down at his pistol and saw the grips still changed as the Angel had done. Looking around, he did the only thing he could. He grabbed Jasmine and pulled her from her brothers corpse and to the passenger side of the coupe. “Get in my car, and let's get away from here!” he shouted. She only struggled for a moment as he ran around and scrambled in. The big super charged eight cylinder inline engine roared to life and the tires squealed as he sped away.
February 11th, 1938
Mulholland Drive, over looking the Los Angeles Basin, Los Angeles, California
The Duesenberg's tires crunched to a stop on the gravel of the scenic over look and the headlamps went dark so the magnificent view of the lights of Los Angeles was spread out below the two young people. Cecil's hands were shaking as he turned the key off and laid his head on the steering wheel to try and master himself. Remembering the terrified girl next to him he sat up and turned to her. “How are you, Jasmine?”
The girl stared off into space, listless, but at least there was no sign of any of those creatures about her. Cecil hesitantly reached out and gently grasped her shoulder. His touch seemed to breathe life into her and she sighed and looked over at him, calm, but obviously shaken. “What...what happened back there?” she demanded. “Why did you shoot Mama Marshal? Cause she killed my brother?”
“Did you not see that she was going to shoot me?” he asked, but she shook her head and became cross.
“I don't know what in the hell I saw, Cecil Barrows! You pulled something out of my brother and killed it and then it vanished, next thing I know Mama Marshal just murdered him!” She put her head in her hands and shook. “Now the house is burned down, I only got the clothes on my back, no money and probably the police looking for me! God I need a cigarette!”
That sounded good to Cecil and he fumbled in his pocket for his gold case and lighter. For the first time in his life he thought of someone else and offered to her first. She hesitantly took one and allowed him to light it. After the nicotine got his hand shakes under control he turned to her and said softly, “I...I'm sorry about your brother. I was only trying to save him.”
Her soft brown eyes were wet with glistening tears she managed to keep back. “Thanks,” she muttered as she took a drag on the cigarette and her cafe au lait complexion flushed a shade darker. Exhaling the plume of smoke she laughed with gallows humor. “At least it ends ok for you. Once you ditch me you go home to your rich family and pretend none of this happened, right? Maybe I can find another cat house that will hire a negro girl, but that's not your problem.”
“Let me take you to your home...”
She looked at him cockeyed as though he had just offered to take her to the moon. “Are you that stupid, white boy?” she demanded. “You think I got a home to go to? What, that I just commute back and forth to the whore house each day like its a god damned sex factory?”
Cecil stammered an apology and looked at the floor board. “Is there anyone...?”
“There was Leroy,” she said around another drag. “Not no more, though. Why do you care? I was just your celebration, right?”
“I've changed,” he whispered, still looking at the floorboard. “I...” He took a pull on the Lucky Strike and angrily blew it out the window. “Hell, you wouldn't believe me! I'm not even sure I believe me!”
For a moment, the soft, innocent nature that had drawn him to her returned and she said, “Try me.”
“Ok,” he said. “Tonight, when we...finished...I came out to go home and I found an angel sitting in my car. He shows me your brother haul me out and shoot me with my own pistol and I beg, beg for a second chance. I swore I'd clean up my act, clean up the whole world. Then he told me to see it and then swear to him. And I saw one of those snake things on me. And I realized I had been pushed and prodded down this road of evil my entire life. So I killed it and then it was like a splice in a movie. I was looking up at your brother about to shoot me and he had one too, making him angry.”
Jasmine exhaled another cloud of blueish smoke. “Leroy always did have a mean temper. I think he hated our daddy because he was white and never married our momma. Not that he could with the law and all. And when he died, all the help he gave momma died with him. Momma had consumption and without his help she couldn't buy her medicine. She went a little while after him.”
“I'm sorry,” Cecil said, and for the first time in his life he meant it. As he looked at her, a golden glow seemed to rise up in her stomach and he started. “Did you see that?” he demanded.
Jasmine looked down. “What?”
“Your stomach! It...it glowed!”
Jasmine threw her head back against the expensive leather seat and squeezed her eyes shut. “Why, God?” she whispered. “God damn it! Why?!”
“You got The Sight,” she said cryptically. “Mamma said those touched by God can see things other folks can't. Like you saw that...thing...on Leroy or just now...” She sighed and hung her head. “It's my time of the month. I knew I should have told Mamma Marshall I was sick, but she can be so mean...” She turned and looked him in the eye. “I think you saw me get knocked up. You gonna be a daddy, Cecil Barrows, whether you admit to it or not.”
Cecil was stunned and tried to stammer out an apology before he flinched and sat up straighter. “No, I have said I changed and I meant it. Jasmine, uh...Jasmine, will you marry me?”
She smiled and shook her head as she took the last drag and flicked the butt out the window. “I can't marry you, white boy! It's against the law!”
Cecil started the car after disposing of his own cigarette butt. “To hell with the law!” he declared.
The Duesenberg's engine roared back to life and sped off in the direction of Los Angeles.
March 9th, 1938
Barrows Estate, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California
Stevens held the door to the study open silently for Cecil as the young man entered, then closed it after him. Cecil's father's study was something out of the old world, dark book cases lined with tomes on law and copyright, a few tastefully framed movie posters, great hits all that his father had helmed and rigid chairs upholstered in dark red leather.
A small bar, built into a free standing globe in one corner was open.
His father stood at the window, drink in hand, looking out over the tennis court on that side of the house, still wearing his silk suit from work. He took a sip causing the ice to tinkle against the crystal glass and sighed. “You wanted to see me, father?” Cecil asked cautiously.
“I received a letter from Judge Hooper today,” his father stated flatly with a vague gesture at his desk. Cecil looked and saw the open correspondence with its official looking envelope laying there. “Can you guess what it concerns?”
“I...I imagine he had something to say about my marriage license...”
“He did indeed,” the Barrows patriarch declared tightly. “He quoted the California statue that plainly states no white person can marry a mulatto, Chinese, or negro. Imagine my surprise when I find out that my son, who I just got out of trouble has knocked up some little nigger whore...”
“That is the mother of your grandchildren you are referring to, father!”
Mr. Barrows spun from the window, his eyes on fire with tightly checked rage. Cecil actually wished there was some demon choking him because that would be easier to face than the fact that his father's bigotry was his own. He strode across the room like the coming of a summer storm and set his glass on his desk before he towered over his wayward son. “The only grandchildren I will have from my often wayward son will be birthed from a white woman or I will not have a son,” he thundered. “You will pay off this little whore and make her go away or I will disown you! Is this in anyway unclear?”
“Jasmine is...” Cecil started but he couldn't continue because his father had slapped hard enough to stagger him into the chair he was standing next to.
“Don't dignify that whore with a name,” Mr. Barrows hissed. “Make it go away, or get out of my house!” Cecil stood slowly and straightened his suit.
“I'm sorry you feel that way, father,” he said archly. “I'll just be a moment collecting my things. Stevens can see me out.”
“This isn't a game, Cecil!” his father shouted. “If you walk out that door, do not ever come back!”
Cecil paused by the door to the study he had opened and sighed. “I won't. Good bye, father!”
March 24th, 1938
Grand Avenue Mission, 1253 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, California
In the tiny office that also served as the bedroom he shared with what he considered his common law wife above the Mission downstairs, Cecil Barrow held his head in his hands and sighed. The morning paper was lurid in the story of the past month, how the baddest of LA's bad boy playboys had beaten a murder rap, only come to Jesus and open a Mission down town. Not only that, but this fallen scion of the Barrow clan was actually living with a mulatto prostitute in the mission and that caused his rich family to disown him. It had been one of the hardest months in Cecil's life. Jasmine rubbed his shoulders and kissed his neck in encouragement. “Don't let them get to you baby. We're doing the Lords work.”
“Are we?” he moaned into his hands. “How much good can I do with this hanging over my head?”
Her strong hands dug deeper into his shoulders. “They'll get bored and find new gossip to print soon enough...”
“Enjoying the publicity?”
Jasmine started and Cecil looked up to find the forgettable Angel in the chair opposite his desk. “I didn't ask for it,” he replied quietly. “Am I doing it wrong? I only scavenged what I could of my Trust fund to pay for this! We still have to eat...”
“Baby, who is...?” Jasmine started, but Cecil just chuckled and made an introductory gesture between the two.
“Jasmine Barrows, met my Guardian Angel.” He swallowed tried to rally his courage. “Have I messed it up? Have you come for me...?”
The Angel raised a hand to quell the fearful tirade. “You're doing fine, Cecil. Better than I expected considering the distances I had to go to get your attention. Do you like seeing the world for how it really is?”
Barrows shuddered. Ever since the night he had nearly died he saw them everywhere, angels, devils, worse, wondering unseen by everyone but him. He saw the corrupting the innocent and the virtuous and angels unheeded desperately trying to save souls and keep them on the path of righteousness. “Is the whole world as lost as Los Angeles?” he asked softly.
The Angel chuckled. “Oh, things aren't so lively in Fargo or Little Rock,” he admitted. “But then Fargo or Little Rock can't affect the nation and the world like Los Angeles or New York can. You're going to need a lot of training. We've arranged for you to attend Seminary, but the kind of attention the name of Cecil Barrows is counter productive to what we need you to be doing. So, you're going to have a new name.”
Cecil looked up, concerned. “My wife...! How will I...?”
“The Lord will provide, Cecil.” The Angel assured him. “And we're not in the business of breaking up marriages so don't worry about that. So go look in the mirror.”
Barrows looked at him oddly, then rose and when Jasmine gasped, he hurriedly crossed the room to his little bath and looked into the mirror that was the door of the medicine cabinet. Gone were the lush, handsome, youthful good looks that he had uses mercilessly against the girls he had conquered. He was tall, gaunt and yet still appeared strong and formidable. Now his face was narrow, drawn and heavy with the weight of the world with a hawkish patricians nose and high forehead, it was a stern countenance, burning like all those touched by the hand of Most High. “Who... What am I?”
“You are Darren Englund, Reverend, and you have a great deal of the Lord's work to do.”
“But, my wife!” The Angel smiled.
“Reverend Englund was born in the United Kingdom. And while he is now a naturalized United States citizen, he and his wife,” and the angel tipped his hat to Jasmine, “were legally married in Oxford-shire. And as a pastor in the Church of England, you are here to see to matters ecclesiastical and otherwise. After a bit of brush up on American Episcopalianism, of course.”
November 25th, 1938
Maternity Ward, California Hospital, 1414 S Hope St, Los Angeles, California
Jasmine cried as the horrible pain she was in reached a crescendo and a new cry joined hers. With a gasp, the pain was finally gone and there was terrible void within her suddenly. The cry of her baby brought a smile to her face as the wrapped bundle was placed in her arms. “It's a girl,” the nurse told her, smiling behind the cotton mask. “What's her name?”
Jasmine looked down on the little bundle, scrunching to get closer to her. Her skin was even lighter than Jasmine's own cafe au lait complexion and her chestnut hair was curly but, not as tightly curly as it could have been, and then her eyes opened and Jasmine saw the stark blue eyes of her father looking back at her. “Celia,” she said instantly. “Celia Abigail.”
The nurse smiled. “Alright, sweet heart.”
* Finis *