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THERE’S AN ANGEL IN FATHER JOHN’S BASEMENT

a Whateley Universe story

by Bek D Corbin

December 21st

Father John and Brother Gunther helped Kerry down to her bed after the third healing. Kerry stumbled along on legs that felt nothing. Father John helped her through her restoring prayer and put her to bed, still in her new white silk ceremonial robe. Hopefully, this one would last longer.

“So, how long should she be out?” Brother Gunther asked clinically.

“Hard to say. She’s recovering more quickly, but these healing sessions still take a lot out of her. If she weren’t doing it voluntarily, I’d have real problems with this.”

“Maybe, but on the other hand, Mr. Sallis will be able to walk again, with some physical therapy.”

“Never thought that I’d see anyone that glad to be in pain.” Father John gave a long stretch. “Well, no rest for the weary. Bishop Spengler’s come up with yet another affair that I’m expected to attend.”

“Well, you’d better be getting then, Father. We’re expecting a full team to show up, and Brother Mateo is checking the outlying neighborhood in case the opposition has already taken up positions. Are you absolutely sure about this ‘El Penitente’ character? Is it safe to let him hang around?”

“What, are you expecting some sort of trouble tonight?”

“It’s the Winter Solstice tonight, St. George’s Eve; a time of power. It would be a minor miracle if they didn’t try something. If you can, try to delay your return until after 2 in the morning. Anything that happens should be over by then.”

“Have you informed the sisters?”

“Sister Catherine has been informed of the proper procedure in case of emergency; it will be her duty to get the nuns to safety.”

Father John thought that over. “Well, this soiree isn’t really all that important, maybe I should-”

“Go, Father. You’re doing the good work. Besides, we don’t really need another warm body.”

Knowing when he’d been dismissed, Carmody mounted the stairs.


Kurtz and Korrupt came trudging in, chilled to the bone. “Well, that’s the last of them,” Kurtz said as Randall provided hot cider.

“Do you think that anyone will notice?” Korrupt asked through chattering teeth.

“Are you kidding? This is New York! Our only worry is that too many of them will be vandalized before tonight!” Kurtz took a deep drink of the cider. “I still think that we should hire a few supervillains for this. I know that Strongarm, The Crippler and Dr. Napalm are in town, maybe Dingo as well. And, there are always a few new bucks with a gimmick that are looking for a chance to make their mark. Put them in whatever costumes-”

“NO! We can’t afford to hire anybody! Besides, all the supervillains in town are leaving this ‘angel’ alone, because they know that the Hall is interested in her. If we bring in people from outside the Hall, that professional courtesy might be voided.”

At that moment, Bete Noir came sashaying in, wearing a dressing gown. “Oh, Korrey! There you are!” She held up two outfits, one in each hand. “Which one do you think that I should wear?”

“What’s this?”

“I gotta decide what I’m gonna wear when we make our big entrance. This is sorta my big debut, and I wanna make the right statement.”

“Bete, they’ve seen you already.”

“Yeah, but the first time, I was dressed as a nun, and the second time, I was dressed as a soccer mom! I don’t want them to think that I’m a frump! So, which one works better? This one? It says ‘I am a dangerous sorceress, and I reek of magical power!’ ” She held up an elaborate purple silk and red velvet gown with a lace-up belle poitrine front, high lace collar, wide lacy bell sleeves.

‘ ‘Magical Power’?’ Randall snarked to himself, ‘Is that the name of that cheap perfume you’re wearing? What that outfit really says, is, “I watched ‘Cinderella’ too many times as a little girl”.’

“Or this one? It says, ‘I’m sleek and stacked and dangerous, and you’re damn lucky that I haven’t eviscerated you yet!’ ” She held up a glossy black vinyl bondage-strapped catsuit with an obviously Xena inspired brass bustier and bracers set, and matching ‘demon’ mask.

‘The only statement it is making,’ Randall managed not to laugh, ‘is, “I accept MasterCard and Visa”.’

Korrupt just barely managed to refrain from asking what difference it made. He paused, made a production of mulling over their potentials. “Go with the catsuit.”

“Why?”

“Well, first of all, as you said, it makes a statement, and it makes it a lot more clearly than the gown. Also, the way that this is set up, we’re either going to win or we’re going to lose. Period. There’s no ‘next time’ with this one. If we win, we’re going to want to celebrate, and to be honest, I think that I’d enjoy celebrating with you in the catsuit, a lot more than the gown. And if we lose, we’ll have to do a lot of very fast running, and the gown would only slow you down.”

“Oh,” Bete  pouted, “you only wanna see how the catsuit shows off my curves.”

“Yes,” Korrupt said in the most reasonable of voices as he pulled her close to him and groped her leather miniskirt clad backside, ‘and your point IS?”

Bete  giggled and started to lean in.

“Besides, with the gown, you’d have to worry about the right earrings, necklace, bracelets and like all that. With the catsuit, all that you have to worry about is finding the right whip, and that’s going to be a lot more of an advantage in a fight.”

“WHIP!” Bete bleated, “I know that the Bell Witch has absolutely the most fabulous whip in her room!” she skittered off to violate the Bell Witch’s privacy.

“Oh Lord,” Korrupt moaned, “I’ve created a monster.”

“Worse,” Randall corrected him. “You’ve created a girlfriend.”


It was too late and way too cold to be hanging out on the street. Eleven-year old Darryl Murphy wouldn’t have been out, except that he was running an errand for his mother to the corner store. Then he spotted a snowman out on the street. It was too early for snowmen, unless they were the plastic kind. It didn’t look like plastic, but on the other hand, it was way too perfect to be a real snowman. It was three almost perfect balls with two arms of snow stuck on the sides. How you could stick those arms onto those balls, and not have it be plastic- Darren just had to know. He stepped up and closely examined it. No, it wasn’t smooth like plastic, even the press-pattered kind. It looked like snow. And, dayum, it was cold!


Father John stepped into the dining room. Bishop Spengler immediately took him in hand and started showing him around, introducing the Father to the people that he had to talk to.


From a hotel room (which was rented to a very nice couple from Dayton, who’d somehow gotten tickets to Wicked and were conveniently out) Larry Porter was watching with binoculars. “Control, the Eagle has landed. I repeat, the Eagle has landed.”

[Larry, put the snacks back in the fridge!]

“What snacks?”

[The complimentary snacks that are in the room’s studio cooler for the guests. We don’t want anyone knowing that we were ever there, so PUT THEM BACK! And keep an eye on him, you idiot!] Larry hated working for Mages.


Korrupt switched over to Pater Tempus. “Tempus, how’s that contingency diagram coming along?”

[Don’t rush me, don’t rush me!]

“I’m not rushing, you have plenty of time. I’m just asking how it’s coming along.”

[I’m starting on the glyphs of the second concentricity. I triple checked the first concentricity before starting the second.]

“Good to hear. Porter says that our bunny is in the trap. Bete Noir and the Anti-Paladin are each in place, I have a mobile surveillance unit covering the church, our second string is primed and ready, and I’m just about to send in the first string.”

[Then WHY are you annoying ME?]

“Just keeping you in the loop, Tempus.” When Pater Tempus started muttering about disrespectful punks and their damned techno-toys, Korrupt signed off and switched over to Bete Noir’s link. “So, Bete, how is it, where you are?”

[The music stinks, the décor bites, the drinks are watered-down, the prices are jacked-up, the bar snacks are stale, and so far, three accountants in knock-off Armani have tried to hit on me.]

“I MEAN, how’s your viewpoint?”

[Oh, THAT rocks. Only thing here that does. I have a clear view of Rockefeller Center, and I can see down Fifth Avenue, and into the Ice Rink. And, as advertised, there’s that party for the kiddies, down by the rink, complete with Santa. Aaawww… how kyuuute… one little darling just threw up on Santa. Between one and two hundred kids of varying social standing and their adoring parents- or au pairs at least. And there are TV crews covering the party, and radio personalities- if that’s the word- doing live broadcasts.]

“Are you wearing your Teleportation Locator? Your force field and buckler units? The First String Control unit?”

[Yes, Daddy, I’m wearing all your lovely little gifts.]

“Is your second team still with us?”

[Oh, they ain’t goin’ nowhere, until I tells ‘em to. Hey, Korrey, this plan … it’s kinda complicated, inn’t it?  I mean, why don’t we just GRAB her?]

“That’s the beauty of this Bete; the base plan IS simple. All the frills are either distractions or contingency plans, in case something goes wrong. If the base plan goes off without a hitch, well, better safe than sorry. If the base plan goes wrong, we have things to fall back on. AND, best of all, they don’t conflict with each other, so we can pick and choose the one that works best for the situation that arises.”

Korrupt could ‘hear’ Bete smirk over the link, [Man, would you just LOOK at all those rugrats, soaking it all up?]

“Well, let’s do our best to make this Christmas memorable for them, shall we? I’m going to touch base with the Anti-Paladin, and then light things off.”  When Anti-Paladin confirmed that he was ready, Korrupt hit the switch.


Darryl was poking the very snow-like material of the ‘snowman’, trying to figure out what it was for, when the snowman jerked to attention. Then Darryl screamed as the snowman wrapped its frigid arms around him and started sucking up all the warmth in Darryl’s body.


NYPD DISPATCH: “All Units, all Officers, Paranormal Alert! 911 reports multiple calls from all Boroughs about snowmen attacking pedestrians. Yes, I repeat, SNOWMEN. Not men dressed as snowmen, but Snow men. Be on the lookout for these snowmen. Stop and detain them if possible, provide assistance to hypothermia victims. DPH has been alerted, ERs are gearing up to accept the victims. SWAT, RER [Rapid Emergency Response] and PSS [the Power Suit Squad] are being activated. The Deputy Chief has given provisional okay for Officers to accept assistance from Superheroes. The Empire City Guard and the Flying Squad have been alerted, and are on their way. Jeez, we’d turn on the frickin’ Bat-Signal, if we had it!”

KMAN Eyewitness News Emergency Alert! “We interrupt our ‘Brady Bunch’ marathon to bring you this fast breaking story. There are multiple reports of Snowmen- yes, SNOWMEN- running amok throughout the city and attacking people. From eyewitness accounts, they appear to be seeking body heat from their victims. If you see one, DO NOT approach it! They are very dangerous, and they appear to be immune to small arms fire. From the report that has just been handed to me, there are reports of these snowmen popping up all over the city all day, but until about twenty minutes ago, they were simply a curiosity. As of this report, we have no idea as to where these snowmen came from, why they are attacking people, or what their greater motives are. We will keep you notified of any developments as they occur.”

KGTH News Helicopter: “Right now, we’re hovering over the Brooklyn Bridge, which is clogged with snowmen who are coming over the bridge into Manhattan. We are getting reports from the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Queensborough Bridges and Lincoln Tunnels of similar situations there, with animated snowmen blocking those venues. Traffic is at a complete standstill. SWAT is on the scene, but they are having little success keeping the snowmen out of Manhattan. I’m getting a report that the Flying Squad has arrived at the Manhattan Bridge, and is assisting DPT personnel.”

Bete Noir watched the report on the penthouse bar TV. She calmly opened her cell phone and called Korrupt. “Hey, Korrey, the First String is all over the News. You want I should push the button on the Second String?”

[Sounds about right. We don’t want the snowmen to get too close too soon. After all, we do want everyone to get the wrong idea.]

“Y’want I should make a big entrance with the boys?”

[Sure, why not? They’ll only wonder why the big evil mastermind hasn’t shown his hand if not. If nothing else, it should confuse the hell out of ‘em.]

Bete got up, secured her tall fur hat, made sure that her sweeping long coat was still concealing her catsuit, and walked out on her bar tab. She rode the elevator down to the lobby and walked out onto the street, where three school busses were parked. She touched the ‘Alpha’ in each bus with the ‘power ring’ that Korrupt had given her, making sure of her link with each band. “Okay, Boys- PARTY TIME!”


Roger Kellogg was on site, signing glossies, posing for pictures, and occasionally going on the air with his patented brand of ‘Genuine Noo Yawk Sass’. He was just making a snide remark about the traditional season’s production of The Nutcracker, when teams of men dressed as Santa Claus rushed into the plaza from three different directions. They were all carrying Uzis, which some of them used to fire warning bursts. A tall woman wearing a glossy black latex catsuit that showed off ALL of her curves, with matching bronze ‘demon’ mask, breastplates, forearm guards and disc-link belt strolled forward and struck a pose, cracking a jazzy looking whip.

Security was right on the scene, weapons drawn. The bitch with the whip took them out in less time than it takes to say it. “Okay,” the whip-mistress blared. “Listen up! I am BETE NOIR, and I am in charge of this situation! Get used to it!”

Roger didn’t even try to stifle his snicker. “Oh, gimme a break! Who are YOU supposed to be? The Elf that hated Christmas, or something?”

Bete lashed out with her whip and dragged Roger from behind his table by his neck. She grabbed him by the collar, but then saw the banner on the table. “Roger Kellogg? Wow, like, you’re my favorite DJ, y’know? So, I’ll be nice t’you.” Then her pleased expression evaporated and she snarled, “I won’t rip your heart out! So, shut the FUCK UP, and maybe you’ll live to tell people about this!”

She threw Roger to the ground and yelled to the demonically possessed Santas, “Round up all the kids! I want them all in one place! Mash anyone who tries to stop you!”


High above Manhattan in their VTV transport, ‘the War Wagon’, members of the Empire City Guard watched the TV broadcast of Bete knocking Roger Kellogg around. “So, shut the FUCK UP, and maybe you’ll live to tell people about this!”

Doctor Thunder chuckled, “Well, I’ve never heard of this ‘Bete Noir’ before, but at least she’s got style!”

“She’s a punk,” Paladin muttered.

“Aaawww… just because she got to slap Kellogg around before YOU did!”

Then Bete gave the order to round up the kids, and it wasn’t funny anymore. “Okay, the other shoe has dropped. Now, all we gotta do, is figure out WHY this ‘Bete Noir’ is pulling this, and how those snowmen figure into it. Wanda, contact the airborne members, and tell them to head for Rockefeller Plaza.


Bete’s first clue that the Guard was on its way was static on some TV screens. Bete was a savvy enough New Yorker to know that that meant that Magno-Man was on his way. Then she spotted the War Wagon circling the Rockefeller Center buildings. She waited until Junkyard did (his? her? its?) trademark dramatic leap from the hovering vehicle (with its usual damage to the concrete). She ducked in among her ‘Santas’ and hit her Teleportation Cue. As she winked out, an image of her fitted itself over first one, then another of the ‘Santas’, one at a time.

When Bete appeared next to Korrupt and the Anti-Paladin, Korrupt started, “Bete! What are you doing here?”

“What? I’m goin’ in with you guys!”

“Bete, we NEED you at the Plaza!”

“So, I go back, right after we nab the Padre- I wanna be in on the Big Entrance!”

“You’ve already HAD your big entrance!”

“Don’t bother,” Kurtz rumbled. “She’s made up her mind, it would take too much time to talk her out of it. Besides, the whole thing keys on Carmody’s mental link with the kid. If having a dominatrix there kicks up his panic factor in the slightest, we go for it. The LAST thing that we need is for the kid to be a no-show. But-” Kurtz turned to Bete, “once we’re on the roof, you go BACK to the Plaza and keep an eye on things.”

“When did YOU become one of the bosses?” Bete pouted.

“When we ran down to one LAST chance, before unmitigated failure.” Kurtz took a long deep cleansing breath. “Okay, is the Capture Web on the roof all set?”

“Yep, I checked it after Pater Tempus finished; it’s perfect, as far as I can tell.”

“The Back-Up?”

“Up and ready to go.

“ ‘Plan C’?”

“I have everything calibrated and ready.”

“ ‘Plan D’?”

“Well, I have MY end ready.” Korrupt held up three innocuous transparent triangular wafers, “But Pater Tempus was only half-way done, last I checked. I’ll check with him.”

“Don’t bother. The last third is the smallest and should be the quickest to do. Rushing him would only start him fussing, and he’d get sloppy again.” Kurtz took two of the wafers, hung one on one of the tabs of his cape, and handed Bete the other one.

Korrupt looked at his gauntlet control panel. “Okay, by my mark, the snowmen are converging on Rockefeller Center. Every White Hat in New York should be safely looking everywhere but HERE.” He hit his link. “Larry? How’s everything in the ballroom?”

[Boring.]

“Good. Now, hold onto your hat! I’m going to jump you.” Korrupt checked his readings. “Larry’s in the taxi, and warming up the engine. He should make sure that our pigeon gets here without running into any Good Samaritans.”

“I still say that this whole trap thing is too fucking complicated,” Bete fussed. “Why don’t we just shoot her with a tranq dart, or gas her, or sum’thin’?”

“Drug an already upset teenage mutant with magical powers?” Kurtz snarled,  “Why don’t we all just stick our heads in microwaves and set them on ‘char broil’?”

“Besides,” Korrupt said as the elevator door opened. “This way, we make the statement that WE are the Grand Hall’s heavy hitters, and people had better damn well get USED to it!”

“KEWL! Let’s ROCK!” Bete enthused. 


Father John had a minor epiphany. The key to success in politics wasn’t charisma, or insight, or toughness; it was endurance. Things didn’t get done quickly, so in order to get anything done at all, you just had to keep at it. Indeed, from the impression he was getting from Bishop Spengler, it took a lot of work just keeping in touch, let alone doing anything. He had the impression that Bishop Spengler was working an angle with Kerry and him; he just wished that he knew what it was.

Then the doors to the ballroom opened, and a wave of ‘ninjas’ flooded into the room. Three dramatic figures stepped in, a woman in a glossy black dominatrix outfit, a man with a technology-laden greatcoat and a kerchief mask over his face, and a man in red and black plate armor. Rather anachronistically, the man in armor was carrying a machine pistol instead of a sword or a mace.

Everyone froze, except for Bishop Spengler and Father John. Father John didn’t recognize the dominatrix or the man in the greatcoat, but he knew the Anti-Paladin by sight. Father John went for his cell phone, just as Bishop Spengler reached for something in his coat pocket.

The man in the greatcoat touched his forearm, and a series of rings emerged, binding the bishop hand and foot before he could completely bring out his crucifix.

The woman lashed out with a whip that reached improbable distances and destroyed Father John’s cell phone, even as he was searching the speed-dial for Brother Phillip’s listing. “Nah-ah-ah!” she tutted merrily.

The Anti-Paladin strode up to Father John and slammed a fist into the priest’s midsection without breaking stride. As the wind was knocked out of Carmody, he was thrown over the Anti-Paladin’s shoulder. “Yes, Father, I agree, this IS getting old. Don’t worry, I assure you this will be the very LAST time!”

Bete Noir zapped a couple of partygoers on general principles as they left. As they got into the elevator for the roof, she touched Carmody’s brow and burned negative energy right into his brain. “Juuussst to be on the safe side!”

Father John Carmody felt the greatest cold, soul-wracking fear that he’d ever known.


Kerry was on her bed, splitting her attention between a book on the lives of the Saints, and the little 6” b&w TV, following the emergency broadcasts on the chaos that was going on throughout Manhattan.

And suddenly, she knew, she just KNEW that Father John was in mortal peril.

She wasted precious moments scrambling up the stairs, then down the stairs again when she realized that she was barefoot, going back up the stairs and back down again to pull on a pair of jeans, and then slipping into her silk ceremonial robe, as it was freaking COLD out there!, She wrapped the white blanket around her head as a matter of pure habit. As she stormed up the stairs, she almost immediately crashed into Sister Esperanza.

“Kerry! What’s the matter!”

“It’s Father John! They’ve got him! He’s in danger!”

“Who’s got him?”

“I don’t know! I just know that I’ve got to SAVE him!”


‘Another cold, miserable night, waiting for something weird to happen,’ Suki Sanchez sulked. as only a person who’s being paid five figures per annum to spend a lot of time sitting around can sulk.

Then the bells of St. Gregory’s began to ring. And, by some bizarre sympathetic reaction, the bells of Our Lady of Sorrows also began to ring, and Suki made out the sounds of church bells ringing all over Manhattan.

“Earl! Saddle up! Something’s gonna happen!”

Proving that Suki’s journalistic instincts were worth something after all, Earl got his camera up and running and pointed at the doors of St. Gregory’s just as they burst open. The Angel of Hell’s Kitchen, in full dazzling white glory, head wreathed in a brilliant halo, came out with a small Asian nun just behind her. The few hardy vigil holders held their breath, but Suki got her microphone up for the interview of her career- the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen, live and unmoderated!

The nun was trying to hold the Angel back, “No! You’ve got to wait!” The Angel somehow reached inside herself, and a pair of glorious lambent white wings appeared on her back. The Angel lifted off, as the nun tried to hold her back. The Sister only succeeded in pulling the white mantle off. “NO!” The Sister cried as the Angel flew away. “Can’t you see that it’s a TRAP?”


Jorge watched in sick horror as he watched the Angel fly away. He could feel the horrible wrongness, but he’d managed to stay here, as he figured that it was those assholes pulling something again. He’d stayed to protect her, but now she was flying right into their arms and …

‘And when did she learn how to fly?” Cursing loudly, El Penitente climbed up to the roof, to follow her as best he could.


Brother Phillip came charging out and asked Sister Esperanza, who was wringing the unsullied white blanket in her hands and praying, “What happened?”

Sister Esperanza pointed up at the fading point of light in the night sky. “She’s … she said that she’s going to help Father John …”

Brother Phillip hit a contact button. “It’s going down. Saddle up, get in touch with the right people.”


Larry Porter, sitting down the street in the cab, goggled at the sight as the ‘angel’ lifted off into the sky. He managed to pull it together enough to open his communications link. “Korrupt? Korrupt, she’s flying your way!”

[Well? What are you waiting for, idiot? Go offer her a ride!]

“You don’t understand! She’s FLYING your way! With wings?”

[WHAT? Wings? When did she get WINGS?]

The Anti-Paladin cut in [This is NOT a problem! So, she can fly! All that means is that she’ll get here quicker, and there’s less chance that she’ll wonder why a New York cabbie is being so helpful, getting her up to the roof. If anything, this just pushed the schedule up a little, which only works in our favor. The less time it takes, the less chance there is of some idiot poking his nose in and screwing things up. And speaking of that- Pater Tempus! Is that backup trap ready yet?]

[Yes, it IS, and I do NOT appreciate-]

[BETE! Stage Three is complete. Initiate Stage Four!]

[BAM! Time to kick it UP a notch!]


KNYT Mobile News: “As you can see, we’re hovering over Rockefeller Center, where a mysterious new supervillain calling herself ‘Bete Noir’ has taken the Rockefeller Center Christmas party for children hostage with an army of almost a hundred men who are, or at least were, dressed in Santa Claus outfits. Her reasons for doing so, remain unclear, but so far, none of the hostages has been harmed.

“Compounding this, is the fact that the living snowmen that have been rampaging through New York have converged here, and appear to be gathering together to form a colossal snowman. Yes, a gigantic snowman. And, don’t ask me where the giant carrot or top hat came from, ‘cause I just don’t know.

“The Empire City Guard and the Amazing Three have arrived, and they have engaged the Evil Santas. The Guard has had some success in getting several of the children to safety, but the Evil Santas appear to be more than just thugs with guns.”

“A further development is that a few minutes ago, the Bells of St. Mary’s and St. Patrick’s cathedrals began ringing for no discernable reason. Hold on, I’m getting some new information … It seems that just as church bells around New York started ringing, the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ emerged from St. Gregory’s church, and is now FLYING in this general direction! Exactly HOW this relates to this situation, I’m not really sure, but we will keep you updated as new developments occur …”


Mega-Girl swooped in among the gathered children, scooped two of them up into her arms and let a third drape herself around her neck. As she started to lift off, one of the ‘Evil Santas’ came roaring at her, hefting his submachine gun as a club. Marty gave him a kick in the chest that would have sent a normal man to the ER, but he just flew back, bounced back up and came back for more. But before he could get there, she and the kids were well out of his reach. Mega-Girl deposited the tykes well behind the police barricade, and went back for more. En route, Dr. Thunder flew up to her and said, “Mega-Girl! What are you DOING here?”

Marty flashed a confident superheroine smile and said, “Where else would I be, but with the Empire City Guard?”

Dr. Thunder gave a loud martyred sigh as she let off a round with her large golden ‘thunder-gun’, knocking one of the Evil Snowmen to bits. “Look, Megs, we’ve been over this a hundred times! You are still a MINOR! We can’t ethically allow you to endanger your-”

“Yeah! Yeah! And in the meantime you’re allowing this bitch to endanger little kids!”

Dr. Thunder picked off another snowman, and was about to reply, when Marty cut her off, “Y’know, you’re only making them stronger when you do that. They just pull themselves back together again, or one of the other ones packs the slush into Frostzilla over there.”

“I KNOW that! I’m just trying to keep them from completing whatever it is they’re doing before Sentinel manages to get here! Stupid crowds! Megs, if you insist on being here, why don’t you do something helpful and-”

“And knock a mega-chunk out of Old King Cold!” Marty interrupted. Without waiting for Dr. T to correct her, Mega-Girl zipped at the bottom ‘ball’ of the huge snowman. Unfortunately, she didn’t knock any of the snow out, and instead, got stuck halfway into the snowball.

Paladin flew over, grabbed her by the feet and pulled her out. “Mega-Girl? What are YOU doing here?”

“Hey, just doing my-” Marty’s retort was cut short when Paladin managed to duck the titanic arm the huge snowman was swinging about, … but she didn’t.

Marty went flying, but Captain Quantum caught her in mid-flight. “Mega-Girl? What are YOU-”

“I was on my way over to give you my new application, OKAY? Aaawww … c’mon! I even got out of school two days early!”


There is something of a convention, that says that when a person suddenly discovers that they can fly, they are immediately adept at it, flying like a bird. Kerry, however, was wobbling around like a kid learning to ride a bicycle. She stopped dead in mid-air to get some balance, but temporarily lost her sense of where Father John was in the process. As she scanned the unfamiliar New York rooftops, she regained her sense of where he was, but at the same time, Sister Esperanza’s words came back to her.

Now that she had an instant to think about it, it WAS obviously a trap. The same goons who had grabbed Father John four days ago were probably trying to get her out of the church for some reason. If the last time was anything to go by, they probably had some sort of magical trap laid, just for her.

But she had absolutely NO idea of what kind of trap it was, or how to avoid it. And she HAD to help Father John! But how to help him, without making it worse by getting caught in a trap? What would Jorge tell her to do?

‘He’d tell you to go get a cop, and let people who know how handle it,’ she realized

Looking around, she saw the bizarre shape of the humungous snowman, made ghastly in the dark by the reflected light from Rockefeller Center many blocks away. Helicopters were buzzing around it, like it was a frigid King Kong or Godzilla. Kerry smiled; better than Cops- superheroes! They handled stuff like this all the time, and best of all, those Grand Hall goons probably weren’t expecting them!

Using the sight of the snowman to guide her, Kerry jetted off in that direction, straight as an arrow this time. She circled the plaza a couple of times, trying to get a sense of what was going on.


KNYT Mobile News: “Wait a minute, there’s a new development! The Angel of Hell’s Kitchen has just arrived at Rockefeller Center! She is flying around the plaza … We’re not exactly sure of what this means … Could the Guard have called her in somehow as some kind of divine backup? So far, of the Guard, only Legionnaire, who claims to be some sort of Roman War God, has done the giant snowman any damage. Has the Guard decided to call out the Big Guns?”


Bete almost spit out her drink as she kicked back in the bar, (her doppleganger image was still playing over the Evil Santas, keeping her image fresh in the public’s eye, while she was nice and warm and safe in the bar). “What the FUCK?” She fumbled for her cell phone and speed dial. “Waddya MEAN, the carrier’s down?”


Emotion washed over Kerry like a tide. Fear. Curiosity. Maternal Concern. Courage. Wonder. It filled her, and she knew that even as she had to help Father John, she HAD to help these people. As she looked down, she could see Lioness and Heavyweight darting in and out among the Evil Santas, getting as many kids out as they could, while the other members of the Guard and the Amazing Three, kept the Evil Santas and the snowmen busy. But they could only get two or three out at a time; there were still dozens of children, and it was a miracle that the Evil Santas hadn’t opened fire on them with those guns.

Hold it- no, not a miracle; a distraction. This whole thing was a distraction to keep the cops and the superheroes busy, while those Hall scumbags kidnapped Father John! She formed her sword and swooped down, passing the blade through four Santas in one gliding swoop.


“Shit!” Bete snarled. She pulled her charm for controlling the minor negative spirits that she’d bound into the street corner and department store Santas, and activated it. “Dogpile on the bitch! Bury her!” Then Bete tried to get her comm link going again.


WMRV On-The-Spot-News: “Julia Sondergaard here at Rockefeller Center. The Angel of Hell’s Kitchen has joined the battle here, and has attacked a group of strange men dressing in Santa Claus outfits. These ‘Evil Santas’ have been shrugging off most of the blows from veteran superheroes, but a single blow from the Angel’s sword has brought down three or four of them. As you can see, there is some sort of strange darkness emerging from the fallen bodies. Exactly what this means… hold on! The Evil Santas are trying to dog-pile the Angel! She’s swinging, but the numbers are telling … The Guard is trying to get them off of her but- WHOA! She just got rid of them with a single blast of tremendous power! Now she’s swinging, taking down one after the other … Some of the Guard are running interference, and some are taking advantage of the break to get the hostages out of the line of fire…”

“Korrey!” Bete finally managed to get an answer.

[This had better be DAMN important, Bete ; we’re expecting our pigeon any time now!]

“Well then, you’re waiting for nothing, Shithead! She’s HERE, kicking my boys’ asses!”

[WHAT? Why would she be THERE? Father John is HERE!]

“I dunno, Professor Moriarty! Maybe the one thing that you and Alexander the Dickhead didn’t count on, was that she’d smell a TRAP! Wadda we do NOW?”

[Bete, Calm Down. We DID see something along these lines- maybe not something this big, but we still have aces up our sleeves. So, we shift to Plan C on our end, and Plan D on your end. Bete  … You DO remember what Plan D is … don’t you?]

“Plan D? Plan D, Plan D, Plan D, Plan D… OH! Plan D! Gotcha! Executing Plan D from Outer Space!”


Korrupt put the fine touches on his outfit and looked at Kurtz. “The only reason that she’d go to Rockefeller Center is to get some superheroes to come and rescue Father John. Any ideas to make this look good?”

“It was a foreseeable option,” Kurtz replied clinically, producing a remote, which he pointed at an array of electrical units and cables. When he keyed the remote, a set of eight large metallic boxes appeared at the corners and midpoints of the roof garden. He pressed another key on the remote, and the boxes unfolded open, revealing an assortment of SAM missile launchers, automated chain gun emplacements, energy weapons and like that. “That should slow them down a little. And, how’s our sacrificial goat?”

Korrupt made a few last adjustments. “There. Perfect.” He patted Father John Carmody’s immobile cheek. “Our lamb is ready for the slaughter. Not quite as perfect as Plan A would have been, but then, you can’t have everything.”


The Evil Santas tried to dogpile Kerry again, but this time, Dr. Thunder helped pull her up out of their reach. “Oh, JUST what we need! ANOTHER over-eager rookie trying to muscle into the spotlight!”

“HEY!” Mega-Girl snapped.

“FATHER JOHN!” Kerry outshouted him, cutting off Dr. Thunder’s rant; “They’ve GOT him! They TOOK him!”

“What?”

“All this … It’s a diversion! They want all the Cops and Superheroes busy, so they can grab him!”

“I think she means those people that tried to break into St. Gregory’s those times.” Paladin said, “They did again, and got Father John?”

“NO! They grabbed him somewhere else … he was going to some big party to lobby some bigwigs … I think they grabbed him there! He and I … I just sort of KNOW where he is, and when he’s in danger! That’s how I found him the last time!”

“This hotel,” Dr Thunder asked as she checked the heads-up display on her visor, “was it the Narragansett on Park Avenue?”

“The Narraganset! Yeah, that’s it!

“You’re sure?”

“Hey, how can you mistake a name like ‘Narragansett’?”

Dr. T nodded. “911 reports that that a party in the ballroom of the Narragansett hotel was attacked by three unidentified costumed people, including a man in red armor, that Bishop Spengler was attacked, and Father John Carmody was kidnapped. The hotel also reports some sort of disturbance on the roof garden.”

“I think that it’s all some sort of trap,” Kerry said. “They’re using this link that I have with Father John to draw me out.”

“It’s a real chance,” Lioness said, “if these are the same guys who sent out all those false alarms four days ago. And scaling up the threat really IS the sort of thing that those guys would do. Besides, it’s the only explanation for THIS cluster-fuck.”

“Yes!” Kerry yelped, “WHY else would anyone send a bunch of goons in here, with plastic copies of machine guns?”

“Thank God for cheap crooks,” Dr. Thunder muttered, “OKAY! Cap, Dynamo, Magno and I will go and get Father John away from these wiseasses; I think that our energy powers are only feeding the Statue of Frostbite over there. Angel, you seem to be doing good with these Santas, take care of them. The rest of you, keep that thing up there from hurting anyone; it should go away when we take those yutzes out.”

“RIGHT!” Mega-Girl said with bravura.

“Not you, Mega-Girl; go home!”

“WHAT? But …” But by then, the four heroes had lifted off and where heading out over the roofs of Manhattan at top speed.


KGTH News: “There’s another new development; four superheroes, Dr. Thunder, Dynamo, Magno-Man and Captain Quantum have all left the fight at top speed. But what DOES this mean?”

“Heads Up, Korrey! You got four bogies all headin’ atcha top speed! You want a roll call?”

[Thanks, but no thanks. We’re covered. What are you doing?]

“I’m hoovering up all the dark essence that that Angel-bitch let out’a my boyz; might need it later. Aaanndd ... that’s it! Now … Plan D!” Bete Noir reached into the purse that she carried when wearing her long coat to stay ‘incognito’, as the puling masses watched her dopplegangers among the Santas. She pulled out a photograph of a snowman that was uncannily like the huge monster swatting at New York’s superheroes.  She read what was written on the back of the photo, without really understanding what it meant; ‘Far av frost, slipe av hape, frosset like issen, brekke ledig av den bur, visser din avrette blankett, og utleie verden skjelving’. That done, she destroyed the picture with a burst of darkling energy

The icy behemoth shuddered, stopped, and seemed to draw in on itself. For a moment, Bete worried that she’d somehow killed the big guy. Then, the smooth, patently artificial round ‘shell’ of the leviathan cracked like three stacked eggs. The plump unthreatening arms shed their snow to reveal two long sinewy ice-blue arms that ended in long, grasping claw like hands. The top hat toppled off the spherical blandly smiling face, revealing the giant’s true visage. All in all, it was a brutal parody of an old man. It was stooped over and its head was wreathed in long hair and a beard that reached down to its knees. A nose like an icicle jutted forth from its face, and under the bristling mustache a mouth like a cavern filled with jagged stalactites yawned. The eyes under the huge bushy, rime-caked eyebrows were pits, empty of any compassion. It was beyond ancient, but there was no infirmity in it, but rather a timeless power that was steeped into its very bones. 

The crowd gasped in fear, as they had no idea was it was. WMRV reporter Julia Sondergaard gaped in fear as some nameless atavistic terror, born of some distant ancient racial memory, sparked recognition. Her long Nordic features went pale, and her ice-blue eyes went wide with fear. She whispered, “Ymir…

Ymir opened his cavern mouth even wider, and his roar was not the sound of a throat, but rather, that of the ravening blizzard. The buildings surrounding him cut the wind, but a freezing mist still filled Rockefeller Center, chilling everyone there to the bone.

It was widely known that Paladin was jockeying with Dr. Thunder for leadership of the Guard. He seized this opportunity to show his stuff. He assumed a pose, pointed at the Frost King and shouted, “Okay, everyone En Garde! Junkyard, he’s got legs now- take them out! Heavyweight, ditto! Legionnaire, you and I keep it busy. Everyone else, try and topple that thing!” With that, he and Legionnaire flew up to the thing’s ten-story tall face with their energy swords out.

The second that Paladin was high up enough for Ymir to notice him, the frost giant clapped two huge hands around him, squashing him like a fly. When the hands parted, Paladin was encased in a block of ice. The block shattered when it hit the ground, but while Paladin could breathe, he was still out cold.


Bete touched her comm link, “Pappy, Korrey’s busy. Our bunny’s out in the open, and I gotta make my move. I need a couple’a dozen Virtual Minions, like right now, and could you patch my doppleganger image over their template?” Pater Tempus fussed, and Bete had to guide him through the process as best she could, but they got it done. “Okay, double-click on my power ring icon, and the system should use the ring as a point to rez up the minions.”

Bete’s ring glowed, suggesting that it was ready to rumble. But there’s always that chance that something could go wrong- she didn’t see HOW, but she’d been on the very brink of winning before and some fluke had come out of left field- so a little insurance was called for. She strolled over to the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. This years tree was a Norwegian Spruce, as was traditional, and stood 83’, 8” tall, according to the informational plaque. Yes, that should do nicely, Bete thought. She placed the ‘Demon Seed 2.0’ unit, in which she’d stored all the negative energy from her Santa minions, on the trunk of the tree.

Bete stepped back from the tree, pulled on her demon mask and shed her long coat. Before the gaping spectators that recognized her could do anything, the area was filled with twenty to thirty ‘Bete Noirs’. En masse, all went charging over the police barrier and rushed the ‘Angel’ while she was still on the ground.


KTRB On-Location News!: “ANOTHER unexpected development in the Rockefeller Center crisis! The apparent villain of this tragedy, a black latex-clad, whip-wielding virago calling herself ‘Bete Noir’ has shown her hand! Apparently, this ‘Bete Noir’ has the ability to form dozens of copies of herself, and she is swamping the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen, who was apparently the real target of all this. Police are trying to assist the Angel, but several of the whip-wielding clones are keeping them at bay.

“New York’s superheroes have their hands full with the Frost Giant. Paladin and Heavyweight are down, Junkyard is frozen in a block of ice, and so far, only Legionnaire seems to be able to affect it in any way. At this point, Lioness and the Amazing Three have their hands full reducing damage around the giant’s feet. The NYPD Power Suit Squad has arrived, and but they are committed to helping out with the giant.

WAIT A MINUTE! Someone is … something is charging through the crowd! It’s … it’s a devil? It’s … charging the Bete Noir swarm? Hold on, my assistant has just informed me that that heroic person is El Penitente, who has been closely associated with the Angel in the past few weeks. El Penitente is mostly known as a ‘street hero’ here in New York, not really one of the heavy hitters, but he definitely seems to be breaking into the big leagues tonight!”

Bete squirmed through the mass of manifested latex minions- something that she normally would have really enjoyed; talk to Korrupt about it sometime- trying to get at the Angel. Then, she spotted the white of the Angel’s robes against all that black. She had the Teleportation locator doohickey in her hand, ready to pin onto that nice, clean and very strong silk robe, so that Korrupt could beam the little bitch right into their hands whenever they wanted. And just as she was about to put it on, she felt a large hand grab her by the back of the neck, pull her out of the pile and throw her a good five yards back.

When she got her wits back, she saw that dork, El Penitente, pulling her clone-minions off the Angel like he was in a garden-weeding race. Well, if she did it right she could still get the locator …

‘ Locator? Where is the locator? It was right in my hands? I must have dropped it when he threw me! Where is it? Damn! It’s small, transparent, and designed to be hard to spot!’

‘SHIT! ShitshitshitSHIT! WHY does crap like this ALWAYS happen to me?’

She dived back into the pile of minions, as were all the other ‘Bete Noirs’ but there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of finding it. But, Bete didn’t trust Korrupt’s ‘Plan C’ to work worth a damn, so they NEEDED to teleport … Teleport! Bete snatched the linked ‘bracelet’ that housed her own teleport locator from her wrist. She dug in close and got next to the Angel. YES! The little bitch was wearing white jeans- ‘Oh hell, she’s wearing white jeans after Labor Day!’- under her robes. Bete slipped the bracelet into the kid’s jeans pocket. YEAH! Let’s see them call her incompetent NOW! Yeah, Bete Noir gets the job DONE!

Well, no reason to hang around now! Bete climbed to the top of the pile and used the Bell Witch’s whip to snag a flagpole and haul herself up to one of the balconies.


“We have incoming,” Dr. Thunder reported clinically. “Multiple signatures in a locking pattern. I’ll do point defense; Magno, you scramble their guidance. Cap, you neutralize any that get past me. Dynamo, you shield us all from shrapnel and anything coming our way that doesn’t have a signature.” With that, she reconfigured her thunder-gun for range and accuracy, and keyed the anti-missile sequence for her on-board computer. Targeting circles appeared on her visor in the optimum interception pattern, and she began to blow them out of the sky.

They approached the grand old Narragansett hotel from on high, inviting fire in a way that discouraged collateral damage from missed shots. From her vantage point Dr. Thunder made out what she took for a human sacrifice situation. There was a large painted circle with lots of mystical looking crap all over the place. There was a makeshift altar, with a gagged man in a cassock stretched out across it, bound hand and foot. There were two braziers framing a masked guy wearing a long coat draped with all sorts of techno-gimcrack, waving a nasty looking knife and she got the impression that he was yelling something. And most of all, there was the Anti-Paladin, holding one of his BFGs, firing at them with a will.

Magno-Man simultaneously scrambled the controls on the remote controlled anti-aircraft emplacements and ripped them off their moorings. The sacrificer began throwing some sort of energy blasts at them, as he raved about how nothing would stop him from sending Carmody’s soul to Hell. The battle was short and pitched, and involved techno-hellhounds and odd female ‘ninjas’ that wore latex outfits and used whips.

Finally, the Sacrificer was at the end of his rope. “FOOLS! You leave me no CHOICE! Now, I must use my ULTIMATE POWER!”

“Oh, ‘Ultimate Power’,” Dynamo scoffed, “like we’ve never heard THAT one before!”

“BEHOLD! The V’rlethic Vortex of ALL-CONSUMING HUNGER!”

“What?” The Anti-Paladin yelped. “We never agreed on THAT!” Kurtz took one look at the fang-studded circles of power beginning to form around the man, ran for the roof and jumped off.

“Okay, people, I think that we can assume that this idiot hasn’t just programmed his DVD recorder from his cell phone. All together, and maybe we can prevent this thing from completely materializing!” Dr. Thunder reset her thunder-gun to ‘maximum damage’ and aimed it straight into the middle of the building fury. “On THREE! One! Two!”

STOP!

On pure ingrained reflex to the voice, Dr. Thunder pulled up and looked for its source. “Dr. Lodgeman? Reverend Englund? What are YOU doing here?”

 Lodgeman and Englund stepped from the door of  the roof garden elevator, accompanied by an extremely attractive aristocratic young woman in an extremely chic and becoming outfit.

“Ah, T?” Dynamo snapped as he kept resetting his aim, “We have a something, something vortex of all-consuming something to stop here!”

“No you don’t.” Lodgeman drew a thing that looked like a cross between a rattle and an abacus and shook it over the form of the madly gesticulating sorcerer. The sorcerer’s form ran like a watercolor painting in a heavy rain, revealing the cassock wearing form of Father John Carmody, muzzled and strapped into some sort of exoskeleton. “It’s the old ‘Trojan Horse’ ploy. They wanted to get their man inside St. Gregory’s disguised as Father John. And the best way to make the switch would be for al of you to destroy the real Father Carmody, ‘rescuing’ the impostor. That ‘vortex’ display had absolutely NO protective value, whatsoever.”

The ‘Father John’ ‘strapped’ to the altar let out a loud “SHIT!”, touched a stud on his ‘shackle’, and disappeared in a black ball.

As Lodgeman examined the details of the ‘summoning circle’, Dr. Thunder asked Reverend Englund, “So, this is an Academy matter?”

“Not yet it isn’t,” Englund responded. “But we have great hopes.”

“How did you know what was going on?”

“We had an … informant ...” Englund gestured at the elegant blonde, who was wearing an outfit that was similar to, but not quite the same as the one she’d had on when they came in; Dr. T noticed things like that.

The exquisite young lady looked over Lodgeman’s shoulder. “I can’t personally say that I care for what they’ve done with the roof garden.”

“This diagram is actually a very sophisticated trap,” Lodgeman reported, “If a being heavily charged with Malkuthic energies had entered this point, she would have been contained in a snare that turned her own energies against her.”

“She? You mean this was a trap for the Angel at St. Gregory's?”

“Kerry?” Father John blurted as the muzzle with the loudspeaker over it was removed from his mouth. “Where is she? I know that she was very upset; did you manage to stop her? Is she safe?” Charlie and Englund shared a significant look, and the lovely socialite disappeared into the very fabric of the grand old hotel.

“She came to get us, Father,” Dr. Thunder reassured him. “She showed up at the Rockefel- whoa, wait a minute.” Dr. Thunder hit her com. “Paladin! We took them out! Squawk back! Paladin? Paladin? Heavyweight? Junkyard? Legionnaire? Anyone?”


Bete strolled over to where her overcoat, purse and hat were stashed near the big Christmas tree, taking in a big breath of fear, despair and misery. After scrounging around in all that miserable good will for weeks, it was good to have things back to normal again. Well, emotionally scarring little kids and terrorizing their parents was dirty work, but someone had to do it! Then her com link buzzed. [Bete ! This is Korrupt!]

“Heeeyyy … Korrey! How’s... Wait a minute, if you’re undercover-”

[Bete , ‘Plan C’ is a bust! Unexpected Third Party intervention of some sort that I still haven’t figured out. Bete , this is important- how close are you to getting the locator on the kid?]

“Ah, well, y’see-”

[Oh, JEEZ, Bete !]

“HEY, Listen UP! I LOST the locator that you gave me!”

[Oh, Hell…]

“Hey, it was due to ‘unexpected Third Party intervention’; I think you’re familiar with that! BUT I improvised! I took the locator that you gave me and slipped it into the pigeon’s pocket. She’s real busy right now, and I’m pretty sure that she doesn’t have a clue that it’s on her. So, just pull the switch, Kronk!”

[Uhm, that’s good, Bete , but-]

“But? What But? Just pull her in, all the hard part’s done!”

[Bete , that’s YOUR Teleportation locator. It’s keyed to your biometrics]

“My Bio-Rhythms? How’d you get my bio-rhythms?”

[Your Bio-METRICS. It’ll only work for YOU, for Security reasons.]

“You’re not asking me to go back out there, reach into her pocket and touch it, so’s to beam both of us back, are you?” Bete asked with equal parts asperity and dread.

[No, it’s still good, Bete we just need you back here ASAP, ‘cause I can’t call up your Kirlian pattern. You patch that in on this end, and it’ll work as planned.]

“Cool, just warp me over and we’ll-”

[BETTE, YOU’RE NOT WEARING YOUR LOCATOR, REMEMBER?]

“Damn! I got used to the damned thing, so sue me. Okay, gotta do this the hard way. Where’s the backup site?”

[We’re set up in the main lobby of the Grand Hall.]

“What? I thought that you couldn’t jaunt directly into the Grand Hall, for security reasons!”

[Hey, it’s an emergency! Besides, Randall knows all about it, and he hasn’t raised a peep.]

“And if Mister ‘By-the-book’ says that it’s okay, then it’s okay, right? Kewl! So, where’s the nearest entry point?”

[Just a second.  … Randall? Nearest entry point to Rockefeller Center? Right, thanks.  …Bete, Randall says that the nearest one to you is on 57th Street, between Fifth and Park Avenue, look for the big red door.]

“WHAT? That’s BLOCKS! How’m I suppozed t’get there before little Miss Halo Bitch starts diggin’ around for change?”

[Improvise, Run Like Lola, catch a cab, I DON’T CARE, just Get Here!]

Just then, Security finally noticed her standing there, screeching on her cell phone. “HEY! You There! Stop!”

“Oh, gimme a break!” Bete sneered. She keyed the ‘Demon Seed 2.0’ planted on the Rock Center Christmas tree. One more befouled beloved Christmas icon, coming up!

*pfffft!* The box on the tree let out a strange blue smoke.

 “Oh, Shit. Korrey, would you be a dear, and whip me up a bunch of Bete-clones?”

[Hunh?]

“Ask Pappy. Just do me up some virtual minions.”

“HEY YOU! Don’t Move! And stop talking on that phone!” The security guard now had three more guards and a couple of cops as backup. But a second later they were outnumbered by about thirty identical Bete Noirs as the latex clad furies jumped them.  the real Bete ’s used her whip to break the window on one of the stores, ran through the store, broke another window and hit the street running.


Jorge managed to get the last of the ‘Bete Noirs’ off of Kerry’s back, just after she used her sword to rip a few others into vapors.

As they started to relax and look around them, they heard another roar behind them. All of the members of the Guard and the Amazing Three were either unconscious or frozen in blocks of ice. As they watched, Mega-Girl, the last superhero standing (more or less) rose up into the air and tried to bash Ymir in the face, as tiny and insignificant as a gnat before his enormous mass. And Ymir swatted her as if she were a gnat. Marty came back three times, but in the end, she was just another unconscious figure on the ground.

Jorge looked at Kerry. “So, waddya wanna do, mi hermanita?

Kerry looked at him. “We can’t just run away. Look at it! It’ll destroy everything before the National Guard can get here!”

“Hey, it sucks being the Good Guys, hunh?”


Korrupt looked at Pater Tempus. “ ‘Bete Clones’?”

Pater Tempus grunted as he worked. “Stupid little bint actually came up with something clever. She had me import one of those decoy image templates over the virtual minions’ ‘ninja’ templates. Now, the virtual minions manifest as copies of her in that idiot rubber suit.” From there, he started meandering about power affinities.

Korrupt paused to reflect. ‘Virtual minions in Bete ’s ‘cute form’, wearing that black latex outfit? Talk about all the benefits and none of the hassles!’


Ymir hungered. And the most tempting of all morsels flew at him, to feed his hunger. But it wouldn’t stay still and it scratched at him. It hurt, but the hurt was nothing, next to the hunger.


Kerry just wasn’t good enough at flying to both hurt and evade the Frost King. Jorge was doing the best that he could, but he just wasn’t powerful enough. Kerry managed to slice off one of the Snow Lord’s arms, and the impossible bastard just grew another one! Then Ymir finally caught up with Kerry and sent her fluttering gracelessly to the ground, where she crashed into the crowd.


As much as she hated to admit it, Korrupt had been right about the gown. Bete ’s 3” stiletto heel boots were barely designed for walking in, let alone running great distances in; in a gown, it would have been even worse.  Still, running flat out like that made her greatcoat trail out behind her like a cape, showing off her latex suit. ‘Oh yeah, Bete ! REAL inconspicuous, a curvy dominatrix doing the 500yard dash on West 52nd Street. It was only a matter of time before a cop spotted her, or worse one of New York’s street ‘superheroes’. And right about now, after her star turn at Rock Center, she was the hottest hunt in the Big Apple. Even if it was just a White Hat Wannabe or someone like the Nightwolves, she simply could NOT afford to waste the time!

Then she spotted a late model sedan sort of crawling down the street just ahead of her. A woman with long curling hair  had her head out the window, gawping at her. Perfect! And she could even shut down the chances of the driver phoning this in to the Cops!

Burning what reserves of negative energy she had left, she ran alongside the car. She lashed out with the Bell Witch’s whip and shattered the windshield. As the driver came to a screeching halt, Bete yanked the door open, spilling the woman out with the door. She forced the woman completely out of the car and hopped in. Turning to the driver, she faced a round-faced, white-haired, and bearded man who could have easily played Santa Claus. As it was, that just pissed her off even more. Her hands crackling with darkling energy, she hissed, “Lissen up Grampaw, this is a carjacking! You go where I tell you to, or I RIP YOUR FUCKING FACE OFF!" 

Despite the weather, the condition of the windshield, and the traffic laws, Bete had the old man drive as fast as he could the seven or so blocks. When she saw the red door, and she mashed his foot against the brake with her spike heel. He tried to grab her by the collar, but she just pulled free. “ThisismystopthanxfortheridehaveanicelifenowgoFUCKyouself!

She hopped out and circled the car, which gave the nervy bastard the chance to get out the nearer side and chase her. She just barely got in the red door and slammed it behind her. With her back to the door, she snarled, “SHUT the fucking DOOR!


But Rabbi Benjamin Axelrod didn’t try to break down the door. Instead, he pasted a passage from the Torah that invoked a prayer for safe passage on the door. The red door should have faded away, but it didn’t, kept there by the power of the prayer.

With a satisfied chuckle, Rabbi Axelrod pulled his cell phone from his pocket and made a few phone calls to interested parties. Then, almost kicking himself, he made another call. “Karen, honey? Are you okay?”


As she stepped away from the sealed door, she muttered that people just don’t know how to be properly terrorized anymore, and blamed it on TV and movies. She looked at the tangle of electronic equipment sprawled out over the lobby floor “Okay, so wadda I gotta do?”

“Just touch this plate, it will patch the pattern of your Kirlian aura into the recognition system.”

“Gee, how climactic.” She stripped off a glove and slapped her palm against the plate. “Okay, and?”

Korrupt checked his readout. “We have the connection … SHIT! Being inside the Chapter House is weakening the connection! We need more power!”

“So, feed it a little more juice!”

“Bete , all those ‘clone-bursts’ that you love so much are very draining. My systems need &&to recharge, but you called HOW MANY multi-minion draws in the past hour? I’m gonna have to draw energy from non-essential devices-”

Like her beauty charm? Bete ’s eyes snapped open wide and her face went pale. “No…”

“Not necessary!” Pater Tempus insisted. “We have a link with the Angel-girl. From this thing here, I can tell that she’s using power. We can use the link to tap into her power usage, re-charging your little thingamabob and strengthening the connection at the same time.”

“Good idea!” Bete blurted. “AND we can have your gear fully charged, so that we can handle the little bitch when we get her here! Hey, Korrey, I dunno about you and Pappy, but I’m running on vapors here.” Bete was one of those people in whom desperation breeds inspiration. “AND if we drain her really hard, she’ll be that much weaker when she gets here!”

Korrupt nodded and helped Pater Tempus make the connection. The maze of components glowed an unearthly blue. After a few minutes, the Anti-Paladin got a call on his cell phone. “Randall? Where the hell are you? What?” He looked up and said, “Randall says that there’s a security breach in here somewhere!”

“Randall?” Bete looked around, “Where the hell IS-”

Kurtz cut her off, “Noir, what is that on your back?” He walked over and pulled a strip of paper from the back of her long coat. “It looks like Hebrew …”

Suddenly, an eerie blue light appeared on the wall where the door usually formed. It began to form a curving line, which looped around at the bottom.

“SHIT!” Korrupt hastily started assembling components into a makeshift weapon. “ANTI-PALADIN! Suit up! We have boarders!” Kurtz was into his armor in a flaming second, and armed himself with an Uzi and one of his swords.

Bete readied her whip, but quickly realized that she really was running short on negative energy. Maybe running some power into that force field thingie that Korrupt had given her ... hopefully, she could do that without fucking with her beauty charm …

The blue light continued to run its looping course down the exterior door, forming the snakes of a caduceus, without the winged staff. When they were complete, the door exploded inward, A woman, holding a long metallic caduceus with a Thoth’s Eye within a pyramid capping the staff stepped in. She was of medium height, but great presence. She was wearing a long, dark, high collared greatcoat that opened in front to reveal a system of marked discs in the pattern of a sephiroth draped across her front. Her face was half covered by a silver mask with a golden lemniscate on the brow. The caduceus in her hand glowed with power, and none of the Grand Hall members needed the introduction that followed. “I AM THE MAGUS! Wielder of the Magus Force! Surrender now, or face my wrath!”

She stepped forward slightly, and two teams came pouring in the door behind her, in proper Special Forces style. Kurtz recognized the Nightwolves, and from the St.-George’s-Cross-on-Red-Rose (the red rose was for martyrdom) logo that they were wearing, he figured that the Order of St. George had also come to play.

Korrupt’s only response was a Bete-clone burst that filled the space between them with virtual minions. Kurtz grinned, and sent his Uzi back, replacing it with his shield. “Zap the grunts, bash the mages!” he roared as he went straight for the Magus.

Bete was about to dive in as well, when she noticed something funny about the fit of her suit. Before, it had fit her like a second skin, and she’d felt deliciously naked wearing it. How it was hanging loose in places, especially in that all-important place in front of the chest. That idiot Korrupt was tapping into her beauty amulet! She looked around in a panic, but nobody had seen it. She was exhausted, powerless, if Korrupt had tapped into her force field dingus, she was defenseless, and worst of all, she looked like SHIT!

Blending in among the Bete-clones as best she could, she made for the back stairwell. She should have been able to get to one of the caches of charged gizmos that Korrupt thought she didn’t know about, and re-charge. But when she opened the door to the back stairwell and walked through it, instead of the stairwell, she found herself in a long curving corridor that she’d never seen before.

Timidly opening one of the doors, she saw the backside of a scrawny woman with grizzling gray hair wearing a glossy black latex catsuit that was a size too large for her, looking through a door at the backside of a scrawny woman with grizzling hair … well, you get the idea. “What the FUCK is going ON?”


As the Anti-Paladin was keeping the Magus busy with hand to hand, Korrupt charged up his jury-rigged Essence Cannon and took a shot at the lycanthropic Nightwolf. Chapman let out a pained yelp and went down for the count. “Oh Yeah!” He let off a few more shots, taking out the Nightwolf gunners and one of the St. Georges. “So, Pappy, how’s soon can we jaunt our pigeon here, and REALLY lay into these assholes?”

“Well, we WOULD have been able to just now, but you keep wasting energy with that stupid zap-toy of yours. Besides, bringing her here with THOSE idiots here would be a disaster!”

“Good point … wait a minnit! Got the solution riiigghht here …” Korrupt conjoined an improvised Essence Tap with the Mage Restraint Collar that they’d had for the ‘Angel’, juryrigged it to a caster, and aimed the mess at the Magus.

“Anti-Paladin!”

Kurtz pulled back in response just as the restraint collar flew past him, catching the Magus in the neck. The Magus dropped her caduceus and pulled ineffectually at the collar, as the Essence Tap drained away her power. ‘Hah!’ Korrupt exulted, ‘I got the Magus! I could have the Magus Force! Quite possibly the most power of the ‘Forces’, since the original ‘Champion Force’! Hah! I captured the Magus, in the face of both the Nightwolves AND the dreaded Order of St. George!’ Let’s see those Grand Hall hacks call me incompetent NOW!’

Then there was a cackle behind him that sent a chill up his spine. Pater Tempus shrieked, “Y'AI'NG'NGAH YOG-SOTHOTH H'EE-L'GEB F'AI TRHODOG UAAAAH!” His tiny infantile body rose up surrounded by something that the mortal eye refused to see, only a congeries of iridescent globes, yet stupendous in its malign suggestiveness. As he rose,giggling maniacally, Pater Tempus shouted, “Thank You, Korrupt! Without you, I’d never have finally breached the seals!” And then he rose up into the bubbles, to disappear.

“You BASTARD!” Korrupt ranted, foaming at the mouth, “You USED me!” One of the St. George-men had used Korrupt’s distraction to cut the cable draining the Magus’ power using a bolo. The Magus immediately seized her caduceus and blocked the Anti-Paladin’s sword, charging it with enough magical power to send him reeling. Korrupt checked the power indicator on his array … Enough to pull off something … anything … He used what power as he had left to rez up another Bete-swarm, and cut his own hand to summon up a couple of Mecha-Hellhounds.  If the Anti-Paladin and the Bete-clones could hold them off while he jury-rigged another Tap-Collar-Caster …

But there was NOT time. There was a loud blaring sound at the door. Standing in the doorway, Rabbi Axelrod was lustily blowing a shofar, the ritual ram’s horn that is a part of many synagogue rituals. The sound of the horn battered at the Anti-Paladin’s ears, and Kurtz staggered off. The Bete-minions stood stock still in their places and the Mecha-hellhounds bayed with pain. The Magus took advantage of the respite to blast Korrupt’s arrangement of equipment with a barrage of witchbolts.

The entire building shuddered. “ooohhhhshiiit…” Korrupt whispered, “You fucking maniac! What did you DO?”

As Rabbi Axelrod paused, thinking, “I wonder if the lesson of the Walls of Jericho is apropos here?” the entire lobby began to shrink, and the wood paneling warped, cracked and popped out of its mountings?

“PULL OUT!” Brother Phillip shouted, “We have a classic Non-Euclidean Meltdown going down here! The place is unstable within this dimension! Grab that idiot and get him out of here! Where’s the Anti-Paladin and that slut in the black rubber?”

“Leave them!” The Nightwolf Leader shouted back, “It’s too risky to search for them! Good riddance, anyway!”

Brother Phillip had a hard time refuting that, and the invaders managed to extract Korrupt and themselves from the imploding chapter house just before the door exhaled a shower of splinters onto the street.


Bete was stumbling around, trying to make some sense of the Escher nightmare that the chapter house had suddenly become. Then besides being completely impossible in architectural terms, the corridors began contracting in on her, trying to crush her…


Kurtz was trying to make his way to one of the emergency exits when he heard Randall shout, “KURTZ!” Looking for the sound of the voice, he spotted Randall standing in a doorway that was oddly stable in the middle of all the chaos. For some reason, running towards the door took a lot longer than it should have, and only Randall’s extending his hand to pull Kurtz through the doorway kept the Anti-Paladin from being swallowed up in the collapsing house.

Randall pulled Kurtz in and quickly shut the door. Kurtz looked up from his knees, and found that he was back in the lobby of the Chapter House, which looked just like it always had, right down to the maids and concessionaires calmly going about their business. “What?” the Anti-Paladin peeped.

“May I take that as sign that my ploy was entirely successful?”

“How?”

“My dear Kurtz, have you ever wondered how the Grand Hall can afford to maintain a Chapter House of this scale and quality in NEW YORK CITY? The ‘house’ is actually 36 large separate and distinct spaces, and over a hundred smaller spaces, spread out through the five boroughs, Long Island, and Hoboken, They are connected in what the Trekkies might call ‘hyperspace’. This allows me to shuffle the interior of the Chapter House around to suit the various needs of the membership, and to maintain security for places like the Infernium and such, as well as allowing me to change the entry points for the house to prevent absent-minded members such as Bete Noir from revealing this place’s location. And, it helps to confuse any magical attempts to divine our location, as we are, in effect, in every direction at once.”

“You mean … you have a spare lobby and everything?”

“Uhm, Yes and No. While we DO have spares of all the major rooms, that wasn’t what happened just now.” He twirled the latchkeys on his chain, enjoying himself immensely. “You see, in my seven years working here, I’ve learned to do things with this structure that even the original designers never dreamed of. When Korrupt and Pater Tempus decided to arrange their teleportation array INSIDE THE CHAPTER HOUSE PROPER, they violated the security prohibition against teleportation within and without the chapter house, which your arming system is specifically exempted from, as it is warded against being traced. When they broke this rule, it became my DUTY to protect this outpost from being compromised!”

“Ah, yeah, but doesn’t protocol demand that you TELL them about that?”

“I did. I specifically told Pater Tempus personally, AND I informed both Mr. Korrupt and Miss Noir IN WRITING. I have their initials on the memos.”

Kurtz quirked a smile. “Let me guess- the old J. Edgar Hoover trick of bombarding them with memos, so they start signing off without reading them?”

Randall sniffed. “Well, expenses DO have to be signed off on, and the Executive Committee does usually handle that. At any rate, compromising Chapter House Security IS as serious offense, and there is nothing in the bylaws exempting the Executive Committee from this. However, it does specifically state, -quote-” he pulled his book of bylaws and flipped through it expertly, “ ‘the Executive Committee, or in their absence, the Chapter House Manager, may regard those members guilty of compromising Chapter House Security as EXPENDABLE in efforts to resist invasion or re-securing the Chapter House’ –unquote-.”

Kurtz began to see the light. “So, you created an unstable bubble in hyperspace, slipped the spare lobby into it, and had Korrupt and Tempus set up their gear in there? But, how could you be sure Korrupt would fatally compromise security?”

“Well, between Pater Tempus, Korrupt and Bete Noir, it WAS rather a sure thing. And apparently, Miss Noir never got around to reading my memo, informing them that the Esoteric Chapter was planting ‘tracking’ mandalas around Manhattan, disguised as those ‘angel’ graffitis that are everywhere.”

“So, you think that the reason that they got here so quickly, was that these ‘tracking manadalas’ spotted Bete running here?”

Randall grinned ferally. “Well, opening the ‘door’ right across from one of them DID rather help.”

Kurtz let out a loud guffaw of equal parts appreciation and relief. “So, now the Esoteric Order and the Catholics think that the Chapter House has been destroyed, the Ghastly Trio is out of our hair, and we can get some rest!” Then he sighed heavily. “But I still have another whopping failure on my sheet.”

“Why?” Randall asked lightly. “It was Korrupt’s plot, really; you were just following orders. Indeed, you performed magnificently, given what you had to work with.”

Kurtz stood a little taller. “So, what now?”

“NOW, you go up, get cleaned and dressed for dinner. The chef is preparing a wonderful roast quail with mushrooms dinner, and I have a lovely bottle of Bridayne that I’ve been saving for a special occasion. We will share this wonderful repast in the company of Courtney and Ashley, a charming and complaisant pair of young ladies of Bete Noir’s acquaintance, whom she thought might endear her to me. But take your time, it will be an hour before dinner is ready, and I have work to do.”

He walked behind the front counter, opened the Master Control panel, and began inserting keys. “I have to clear the hyperspatial system of the trash caught inside during the implosion: wood, fabric, hell hounds, Bete Noir …”

“Why not just leave her in there?”

“And have her scuttling through the wainscoting like a cockroach for years? Hardly.”

“And what about tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow, we start writing reports in which *I* will describe in vivid detail how the Ghastly Trio almost brought this Chapter House to ruin, and how you soldiered on in spite of it all, and defended the House valiantly. And you, I presume will describe in equally glowing terms my inspired ploy in ejecting the invaders.

“You’re a good man, Randall.”

“Please! ‘Good’ has nothing to do with it, Kurtz! I’m a Professional!


Out on the street, Korrupt was surrounded by guns, and the subject of hostile impromptu interrogation. “I’m telling you, I DON’T KNOW! Bete just disappeared, I don’t know what happened to the Anti-Paladin, and Pater Tempus is a master of Time Magic! TIME MAGIC! He totally sandbagged me! I had no IDEA that he was gonna do that! He could be doing ANYTHING! He could be in the future, getting his hands on technology like we could never even dream of! He could be in the past, re-writing History, or writing all of us OUT of History! Or he-”

A curtain of luminescent bubbles suddenly appeared, and Pater Tempus dropped out of nowhere. “Ha-HAH! I escaped the idiots AGAIN!”

“OR,” Korrupt continued in a weary disgusted voice, “the addle-pated ASS could open a rift in Time and Space, then forget what he was doing, and squander all that power, going five minutes into the future.”


Kerry shook her head and looked up. Improbably, there was a fireman standing right over her. There was something oddly familiar about him, despite the fact that he was caked in dust and ashes. He stretched out his hand, helped her up and said two simple words: “Let’s Roll.”

And suddenly, Kerry wasn’t afraid. And neither was anyone else. She could feel them all- the mothers defending their children, the husbands defending their wives, children defending their mothers, the young defending the old, the old willing to give away what time as they had for the young, cops rising to their duty, security guards harkening to the call of their uniformed idols, lusty young bloods eager to be warriors, hardened veterans who knew the cost, old lions roaring to die in battle, married men with families, bachelors with nothing to lose. All of them were hearing the eternal call to the Common Good, and rising as one. While Ymir loomed huge and implacable before them, hungering for the warmth in their bones, they did not fear him.

Courage, passion, defiance, mother-love and warrior-pride all ran through Kerry and filled her. Her halo glowed bright and gave focus to their will. It grew as if magnified somehow, and one of those angel-rings formed in front of Kerry. It shone and reflected in all of their eyes, shining with wonder and renewed confidence. They fed on each other, Kerry’s angel shining upon the crowd, giving them hope, and that hope adding fuel to the fire of their passion, which filled Kerry even more. The angel grew in size and magnificence, filling the crowd with awe. Its splendor filled the center with a wondrous light that cut through the mist and the murk. Ymir squinted and shied from the brilliance. Yes, it hungered for light and warmth, but this was too much for it.

The subtle murmur of the crowd joined with the song of the angel, merging to become a joyous hymn. Finally, Kerry couldn’t hold the glory in any longer. She formed it into a spear no bigger than a child’s finger and let it fly at the cold hard dark heart of ice in Ymir’s breast.  The spear hit Ymir dead center in the chest, and for a moment, he was lit from within. He shuddered and …

… and suddenly, it was snowing!

Ymir was gone, and in his place, a light dusting of snow filled the air. It wasn’t the brutal nasty snow that would come later, but a light delicate snow, the sort seemingly designed by a benign deity to elicit wonder in children’s hearts.

The wonderful sight of delicate snowflakes filling the air added to the profound relief, creating an upsurge of joy. As it had with the courage, the joy flowed through Kerry. But this time, instead of forming another ‘angel’, it just flowed back out again, washing over everything, touching it with magic. Everything was newer, clearer, brighter and somehow magical. It washed over the battered and unconscious heroes, stirring them to life. It spread across the crowd, making their hearts light. It climbed the Christmas trees, making their lights somehow brighter, and more pure.

Only El Penitente was lightly burned, and even then the little demon inside him had taken the worst of it. As Jorge struggled to his feet, he saw Kerry, spinning a foot off the ground. Light-headed with the joy of others, she spun lazily skyward. She noticed that the wave hadn’t reached the very top of the main Christmas tree, so she stopped briefly, and playfully lit it with a touch of her hand, making it shine brighter than any of the others. That done, she looked up, and it struck her as patently obvious that angels don’t belong in basements …

Angels belong in Heaven!With that giddy insight, she soared heavenward on wings of pure joy.


After a timeless time, the Chapter House spat Bete Noir out onto a nameless street in a bad part of the Bronx. As she pulled herself together, Bete was immediately aware of just how screwed she was. Korrupt was either captured, … or dead, … or worse. Pater Tempus was- well, she didn’t really GIVE a crap about Pater Tempus. She was tired, battered and powerless. She was on the street without money, ID or a place to stay. And right now, she was probably the most wanted person in New York; any of her ‘friends’ would turn her in, just for 15 minutes of fame.

And worst of all, not only had her beauty charm been destroyed, but the backwash from everything had undone the work of decades. Now, not only wasn’t she a juicy little 20-something hottie with a killer bod; she wasn’t even a barely holding it together 30-something skank! No, she was what she really was: a 50-something woman who had smoked too much, drunk too much, done too many drugs and stayed out too often. Decades of excess, bitterness, spite and failure were all spelled out on her hatchet face. She was a 60-something old witch flopping around in a black latex suit meant for a young cutie.

And what was really the worst of it, was that she knew that she’d blown it again. Again! She’d had youth, beauty, sex and a young guy who didn’t hit her. She’d had a taste of the good life, but only a taste.

When she spat out the despair, it burned a hole in the concrete. ‘Screw this! I had it before, I can get it again! I know where Korrupt keeps a few of his caches of charged gear outside the Hall. Get that, and I’m on my way.

But first … she spotted a bag lady peering fearfully at her from a doorway. “Perfect …”


Kerry flew above the clouds. It was cold even on the ground, and it should have been even colder up there, but she didn’t feel it. Up there, the lights of New York didn’t crowd out the stars. she could see the stars, but there was no moon, and Kerry especially couldn’t see, any stairway to Heaven.

She hung up there for a while, watching the stars and the clouds. Then it occurred to her: ‘I’m was FLYING!’ As the giddiness of all those people’s unbridled happiness washed out of her brain, she became aware that she was dangling thousands of feet up in the air without any support of any kind. She wasn’t in a plane, or dangling from a thread, or being shot out of a cannon... ‘I’m just ... flying!’

She giggled, and zoomed around a bit, enjoying one of mankind’s oldest and greatest dreams. Then, she looked down and saw the lights of New York, and moving lights on the river, and the Jersey shore … ‘New Jersey … Glassboro … Home … I can go home! I don’t NEED anyone to get word to my parents, or take me home or anything! All that I have to do is figure out where Glassboro is from here, and just FLY there!’

‘I can go home, and see Mom and Dad and … and … tell them … what?’

‘Honest, Mom and Dad, I didn’t run away, … I’ve just spent the last month and a half in a church cellar, ‘cause I’m some kind of mutant ANGEL.’

Hell, would they even recognize me? I’m a girl now! I’m not sure why, but I’m a girl! They’ll never believe me … They’ll probably go nuts and call the Cops. Who would call the MCO, who’d throw a net over me.’

Her joy turned to ashes in her mouth. She had nowhere to go. Only … suddenly, she felt a tugging at her from below. It was Father John. It was El Penitente. And Sister Catherine. And Sister Esperanza. And all the parishioners who loved her. And all the vigil-holders who needed the touch of an angel. She felt all of their hands pulling her in, guiding her to Hell’s Kitchen, and to St. Gregory’s. With unerring accuracy she came in to land at the church front doors, which opened, and Sister Esperanza wrapped her white blanket around her and took her in.


December 22nd

NEW YORK HERALD:

Angel vs Frost Giant!
Elaborate Kidnap Plot Culminates in Dramatic Showdown at Rockefeller Center

 

NEW YORK TRIBUNE:

Bad Santa! No Milk and Cookies!

 

NEW YORK RECORD:

Angel Rocks Rock Center!



CONTEMPO MAGAZINE:

New York’s Newest Hot Bad Girl- Bete Noir!

 

NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC: The NY Daily Graphic just ran with a single dramatic full-page shot of Kerry zapping Ymir, without a headline. It still sold out within hours of hitting the street, and became a collector’s item.

 

AMERICAN CRUSADER: Militant Angel Stops Invasion of Ice Aliens

KGTH TV NEWS:

LC: “This is Lorenzo Casablanca, speaking with Empire City Guard head, Dr. Thunder, at Rockefeller Center. Tell me, Dr. T, what are your feelings about the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ after tonight?” 

Dr. Thunder: “Well, I for one, am very impressed. Not so much at the display of power that she showed, though that was very impressive. What really impresses me was the clear thinking and resolve she showed in a crisis, and her commitment to helping others. She saved a lot of people last night, including several teammates of mine. By way of thanks, even though she’s a minor, we’re making her an honorary member of the Empire City Guard.

Mega-Girl: WHAT? Are you kidding me? I’ve been busting my hump-”

LC: “And back to you, Chelsea.”



Roger Kellogg’s Straight Up!: “I’m sorry, folks, but I’m afraid that today’s program ain’t gonna be exactly up to my usual standard. I know, … you tune into me to hear something that hasn’t been market-analyzed, focus-grouped and spin-doctored halfway to death. You wanna hear the hard truth that's under all the hype and hoopla.

“But today … I can’t. … Last night, one of my favorite punching bags, the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ saved my bacon.

“You’ve seen the papers, and you’re either laughing at the thought of ‘Evil Santas’ or ‘Killer Snowmen’, or you’re thinking, ‘Big deal, another big nasty thing’.

“And if I hadn’t’a been there, that’s what I’d probably be saying right now. But that’s the whole thing- I WAS there. I SAW it. And it wasn’t some big movie monster like Godzilla- IT WAS REAL!!!!!. … And it was old. … And it was evil. … And it wanted to freaking eat every single freaking thing on Earth. …And, and  I knew that I was gonna die.

“All that was between all of us and this huge … thing! … Was … was this one little girl in an angel outfit.

“The Guard, they were down for the count. The Amazing Three, out cold. Even El Penitente got his red ass slapped down like a punk.

“And all there was left, was this one little girl that I could pick up with one hand and not even strain. And she was afraid, and she didn’t wanna be there. But she wouldn’t fly away.

“And she could have. … She could have just flapped those wings and gotten the HELL out of there and no one would’a blamed her. …

“But she didn’t. …

“And what she did, … IT WAS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING THAT I’VE SEEN,  … since I held my baby daughter in my hands for the first time.

“HOW … am … I … supposed … to … diss …THAT? That’s my job, I diss things and people … but how am I supposed to diss THAT?”

 

Truthisouthere.com/23/12/2006: There is a curious silence from our usual informed sources, regarding the Rockefeller Center incident. We regard this as highly suspicious.

Jorge watched his breath waft up in the chilly morning air. The vigil was back, and bigger than ever. He guessed that practically saving the city hadn’t hurt Kerry’s TVQ any. And being there in the spotlight helping her, hadn’t hurt him any. Even Legionnaire had pulled the stick out of his ass enough to admit that he’d been wrong about Jorge.

Out of sheer habit, he checked the doors of St. Gregory’s from where he was. By now, he practically had to pay property taxes on this piece of alleyway, but it afforded him just the proper perspective to keep an eye on things.

The door opened, and one of the sisters came out carrying a foil-covered dish. He didn’t recognize her as either Sister Catherine or Sister Esperanza. She must have been one of the new nuns, copying Sister Catherine’s old-fashioned habit.

She made her way through the vigil, and then into the alley. ‘Odd, the Sisters are under strict orders not to feed me, as I’m excommunicated (Thanksgiving being an exception).

Then he saw that the ‘nun’ had golden eyes.

Jorge accepted the plate with a nod. “What are you doing out here?”

Kerry settled down in the alleyway, but kept the scarf over her face. “I missed you. I miss talking with you.”

“Yeah? Well, what can I say? Those St. George guys are good, they found our little blind spot.” Jorge lifted the foil and was rewarded with the delicious scent of jabenero. He blessed it, telling her that he found most handout food disgustingly bland. “Also, I don’t think that they really like me.”

“If it means anything to you, I don’t think that they like ME that much, either.”

“You? What’s not to like about you?”

“I dunno. I just get this feeling like … like they think that I’m not worthy, or something. That … oh, I dunno …”

Kerry let out a sigh. Then she looked at him. “Jorge? Howcum you don’t, y’know, convert to ... say … Greek or Russian Orthodox? That’s still Catholic, and you aren’t excommunicated there.”

Jorge chewed on her question over his carne asada. “Thought about it a couple of times. But, when it came down to the brass tacks, I just didn’t believe all that, and I do believe in the Roman Catholic Church. Simple as that. It … just wouldn’t be right to go sneaking around. I screwed up, I gotta take my shots. It’ll come out right, eventually.”

Kerry let out a gusty sigh. “I wish that I knew what ‘I’ believed. I keep reading all the doctrine stuff, and, to be honest, it’s all Greek to me.”

Jorge’s smile threatened to crack his face, “Well, … ‘some’ of it ‘is’.”

“You know what I mean!”

Mi Pulgarcita, I think that your problem is that you don’t really know what you believe.”

“That’s what I just said!”

“No, I mean, I think that you’re waiting for someone else to tell you what to think and believe. But you already think and believe something, you just dunno what it is. When you figure out what YOU believe, not what Father John believes, not what Brother Nicholas believes, not what Sister Catherine believes, not what, not even what ‘I’ believe, but what YOU believe, then you’ll know what to think.”

Jorge shoved a fork full of food into his mouth. “And, if you have any sense at all, you’ll be a Catholic.”


December 23rd:

Kerry was flying. She was flying free and easy, her wings lifting her up past fluffy white clouds illuminated by a warm giving sun up above. As she rose through the clouds, she could see the Pearly Gates, waiting just for her, with the saints and angels calling out to her to come home.

Home. 

‘But Home is in Glassboro, NJ!’

When she looked down, she could see Hell’s Kitchen, where they were cramming Jorge into a stewpot. On pure reflex, she flew down to save him.

But the pot grew huge, and HANDS reached out of the bubbling stew. HANDS stiff and gnarled with arthritis, HANDS liver-spotted with age, HANDS mangled, blighted and diseased grabbed her and dragged her down into the stew. HANDS grabbed at her, tearing off bits and pieces and people rammed the pieces into their mouths.

Suddenly, she was stretched out on a table, wearing an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ blue dress and white apron. Father John was standing over her, wearing a ‘Mad Hatter’ suit. He started cutting into her body as if she was a sheet cake, and passed out the pieces, along with tea, to the assembled citizens of Wonderland. “Just ONE MORE piece,” he kept saying, over, and over, and over, and he just kept cutting out piece after piece of her. She screamed for him to stop, but he just said that it was all for the best, after all, it was HER party, loaves and fishes, and she couldn’t let her guests go hungry, now could she?

Finally, he cut into the very last of her and passed it out. And as the final insult, she heard a high nasal voice complain, “What? No More? What a GYP!


Kerry sat bolt up straight in her bed, drenched in sweat. Normally, her dreams were these wispy nonsensical things. But this one? You didn’t have to be a classically trained Freudian analyst to figure this one out. Even after taking out that frost thing two nights ago, she’d still had to do three healings yesterday! It was supposed to be HER choice! But lately, it had been sort of taken for granted that she’d do it. Father John was helping her with the recovery prayers, but it still didn’t make the fear go away.

’it’s time to stop kidding myself and everyone else. I’m not an angel I’m not a saint. I’m not even a very good person. I’m just a wimp that people can push into doing anything, if they try hard enough, … and hard enough isn’t even very hard …’

. I just can’t do enough. It’ll never be enough, and I know it. It’s time to ‘fess up to it.’

‘Awww … Who’m I kidding? I’ll never be able to just quit! Father John will keep at my, and I’ll give in, just like I’ve always done. Well, maybe … maybe I can take a break. A day off, every so often. Maybe I can go on strike or something, to get Father John to go back to only one healing a day, like it was at first. Give me a chance to recuperate a little. Yeah, YEAH! THAT would work!’


At breakfast, Father John yelled, “WHAT?”

Kerry answered as calmly and reasonably as she could. “I said, I can’t do any healings today.  I haven’t recovered completely from all the healings. It does add up on you, y’know. Or at least, it adds up on me, anyway.”

“But … think about …” Father John struggled furiously to remember the names of the people scheduled to be cured.

Kerry stood up for herself as she’d never done before. She was standing up for her own rights, and it was intoxicating. “Father, these people have had these conditions for years. Waiting a day or so won’t hurt them. Heck, even ER doctors and nurses get days off! And, while we’re on the subject, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about these multiple healings that you’ve been laying on me.”

“But these people are in desperate need!”

“I’m not arguing that! I’m just saying that it’s getting harder and harder to concentrate and do it right, if I’m fighting to hold down my lunch!” Kerry paused. “I really shouldn’t have said that … it just reminded me of that stomach cancer that I haven’t been able to get rid of …”

Father John stood, outraged. “Kerry, you CAN’T just opt out of this! These people have …”

“Those people have WHAT, Father?” Suddenly, the link that Kerry had with Father John kicked in. “You’ve scheduled me? To ‘Important People’? The ‘Right’ People?”

Kerry stood up as well, fury twisting up her face, “This isn’t about helping people anymore, is it FATHER? It’s a BUSINESS now, and you’ve got a fucking QUOTA to meet!”

“Kerry!” Sister Catherine snapped.

“Guess WHAT, Father? As of now, you’re Out Of Business! No more talk shows! No more interviews! No more miracles! I am OUTTA HERE!”

“OH? And how are you going to do THAT?” Father John retorted, stung and more than a little panicked, realizing,  it’s one thing to have a tame angel in a cage; it’s another thing when it wants out. “The MCO is still hanging around, just waiting for another crack at you!”

“So what? I can FLY! Angels fly, remember? I’ll just fly home! What are they gonna do, call out the Air Force?

And when my Mom …”That mention triggered an unfortunate reflexive association in Father John’s mind.

“MY MOM! She’s BEEN HERE! You LIED to her! You’ve been keeping me here all this time with a filthy LIE!” Kerry was screaming at the top of her lungs by this time. Her halo was shining brightly and Father John had the terrified impression that he was about to know what it felt like to be struck down by the angel’s sword.

Brother Nicholas grabbed a pot of boiling eggs off the stove and threw it in Kerry’s face. As she reeled from it, not scalded but still in pain, Brother Nicholas crammed the huge pot over her face.

“Brothers! Saint Peter’s Cross!”

There are three crucial elements for dealing with a super-strong opponent: Confusion, Speed and Leverage. As Brother Nicholas kept the pot firmly on Kerry’s face, Brother Gunther and Brother Mateo seized her ankles and pulled her upside down off the ground. “Sister Catherine! My bag in the rectory hall closet!”

Sister Catherine obediently scampered off as Father John asked sickly, “What’s going on?”

“An expected development. Don’t worry, we planned for it. So, Father, you knowingly kept her mother away from her?”

“Yes,” Carmody answered with a sick croak.

“Good Man. I didn’t know you had it in you.”

Sister Catherine brought a medic’s bag into the kitchen. Brother Nicholas took a surgeon’s scalpel out of it and opened the inseam of Kerry’s jeans with a single expert stroke. Then he pressed a power injector, the sort that they use to pierce the skins of elephants and rhinoceroses for injections, against her femoral artery and fired. The thick needle went in, and he force-injected a powerful sedative into Kerry. Kerry kept struggling for a few moments, but then her struggles grew weak and she went limp in the Brothers’ arms. “There. That should hold her, until we arrange an arterial sedative drip.”

“You PLANNED for this?”

“Of course. I had her pegged as a recidivist from the moment that I met her. She was reacting to too powerful an experience, one that she had no context for. She had too much power, which she neither understood nor deserved. You had a good long run, Father, but it was inevitable that she’d turn.”

“What do you mean?”

“Father, this girl’s work here is far too important, on multiple levels, to be left to the judgment of a volatile teenager. Her behavior of two days ago shows that her judgment can’t be trusted. Instead of coming to us, she went off by herself, and then to a bunch of infidels. It turned out well in the end, but that was pure luck. We can’t trust pure luck like that anymore.”

Father John felt control of the situation slipping away from him like a tide. “So, what now?”

“Now, it goes on as before, but with more control. We arrange a constant soporific drip that will be hidden by her robes, which will keep her tractable. You’ll use that mental link to guide her through the healings and rituals. We’ll keep her down in the basement and out of sight. Past that, it is a policy matter. She’s Church property now, Father.

“However, there is one more matter to be considered. This Jorge Cascardero-”

“El Penitente? What about him?”

“He poses a danger to the security of this situation. He’ll have to be removed from the equation.”

“How? He’s all but set up housekeeping in the alley across the street!”

“True. But that can be useful, if done properly.”

Brother Mateo picked Kerry up and carried her down to the basement. Father John numbly followed them down to the basement. His mind was blank for a while. He watched as the Friars of the Order of St. George hooked a small drug reservoir to her thigh, that connected to the IV feed in her leg.

‘They are so professional about it, so competent. They obviously know what they are doing; maybe they understand the situation better than I do. It would be worse than Pride to claim that I understand all the nuances of things like this, it would be Hubris. From what I understand, the Order handles supernatural threats and things like super-powerful mutants run amok all the time. Maybe Kerry’s outburst was some manifestation of some mutant quirk in her brain? Groups like ‘Humanity First!’ are always going on about how mutants go berserk for no good reason. The Brothers may have saved my life! Indeed, they may have saved Kerry’s soul as well, sparing her from the damnation of murdering him. And, this way, she can do the good work that God obviously had meant for her, without the constant fear that has plagued her. Indeed, this may be the most merciful way; sedated as she is, she’ll never have to endure the pain that her healing causes her.’

‘God does indeed work in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.’


“Wow, it’s even worse than the last time that I was here,” Linda Ellison said as she, her husband Chris, Charlie Lodgeman, and Rev. Englund walked through the neighborhood. The vigil was in full uproar. “Are you sure that you can get us in? I’ve heard that they’re selling tickets to a St. Gregory’s Mass!”

“That’s an exaggeration, Mrs. Ellison, but not by much,” Lodgeman told her. “The demand to get in for a Mass is so great that they’ve limited the seating to neighborhood residents, but the locals are allowed to bring ‘guests’.”

“And the locals are making a killing scalping ‘guest spots’?”

“Either that, or the locals are suddenly making a LOT of very good friends with a lot of high rollers.”

“So, how did you get seats for four to this?”

“FRONT ROW seats,” Lodgeman assured her. “And I do have some connections. Besides, the real draw is the Christmas Mass on Friday, so this wasn’t as hard as all that. And if we’re right, and Father John is shutting you out, then drastic measures like Kerry seeing you two in the front row may be the only way to get her out of there.”

“Are you SURE about this?” Chris Ellison asked. “I mean, even after all of Carmody’s blither about whether the Angel’s a boy or a girl, it was pretty clear on the News that the Angel is a girl. A BLONDE girl at that! We don’t have any blondes in my family. How about yours, Linda?”

“Mr. Ellison, when an adolescent manifests their mutant nature, it’s not all that uncommon for them to radically change their appearance,” Rev. Englund pointed out. “Even complete changes of gender aren’t unknown. And, while we didn’t see his face at the time- that blasted blanket- when we first met Kerry, we were sure that he was a boy. And, his hair was originally brown, which went white and then turned blonde for some reason.”

“If there’s a blanket involved, then it’s definitely Kerry,” Linda muttered. “We had the hardest time getting that stupid wubbie away from him.”

Chris nodded. “Okay, it’s definitely worth a shot- I mean, how many kids named ‘Kerry’ are gonna disappear in New York on a specific day? But how are we gonna get Kerry to see us?”

“My sources tell me that ‘the Angel’ has been attending services regularly,” Englund assured them, “so, no matter where she is during services, she’ll see you in the front row. Remember, Charlie and I go in and save your places. We’ll come for you after they’ve seated Kerry. They can’t drag her out of services once she’s been seated, or they will practically be admitting that they’re keeping you away from her.”

“And be ready for things to get ugly,” Lodgeman warned them.


Father John spotted the Ellisons standing in the lobby, and on a hunch checked the pews. Lodgeman and Englund were there, holding open two seats. He managed to catch Sister Esperanza and tell her, “Find Father Logue and tell him that I won’t be needing him to assist me with the Mass today. Then get Kerry ready to assist.”


Chris and Linda looked around the church but couldn’t find any sign of the ‘Angel’. “Maybe they saw us coming?”

Charlie nodded. “Carmody’s pulling something, I can smell it.”

Then the choir filed in, and the Mass began. The eyebrows of the foursome almost shot off their brows as the ‘Angel’ followed Father into the nave. Kerry looked at all four of them without the slightest hint of recognition. She aided the Father flawlessly, and the faithful were spectacularly rewarded when the ‘Angel’ re-consecrated the Communion chalice before their very eyes.

As the line for Communion formed, Lodgeman, Englund and the Ellisons quietly left.

What they did not see, was a very fit, but otherwise inconspicuous man, who was pointedly not wearing gray friar’s robes, leave by the rectory side door.

“She didn’t even recognize us,” Linda said mournfully.

“Honey, it may just mean that it’s all been a huge misunderstanding, and that girl has nothing to do with our son,” Chris pointed out, even as he wrapped a reassuring arm around her shoulder. “I admit that it’s a really long shot that two brown-haired boys named Kerry went missing in New York on the same day, but weird stuff like that DOES happen! I mean, she didn’t even blink an eye when she looked at us! Not a glimmer of recognition.”

“Yes, Mr. Ellison,” Charlie agreed. “Not a glimmer of anything at any time during the ceremony. Not even when she saw Rev. Englund or myself. And she would have recognized us.”

“Well, that slimy Father Carmody recognized me,” Linda snarled. “He was gloating! I could tell it!”

“As much as I hate to criticize a colleague in the Clergy, I have to agree,” Rev. Englund admitted. “Carmody wasn’t exactly smug, but he was definitely all too aware of us.

“We need more information. And I see someone who makes everything that goes on around here, especially if it pertains to St. Gregory’s, his business.” Englund led them across the street and into an alley. “Hola, El Penitente! Yo me preguntaba si usted podría ayudarnos con algo.”

“Speak English,” Jorge responded drolly, “You’re losing the tourists.”

“Allow me to introduce my colleague, Mr. Lodgeman and the Ellisons, who we think may be the real parents of the ‘Angel’?”

Jorge raised an eyebrow. “You’re Kerry’s parents?”

“Kerry?” Linda asked avidly, “H- she told you her first name?”

Jorge gave a wide expressive shrug with both hands. “Don’t wanna brag or nuthin’, but we got pretty close over the past month or so.” He saw the flicker of parental disapproval, and amended it saying, “Nuthin’ romantic or like that, just, y’know, pals. I used to hang out by her window in the cellar when I could, and we’d talk about sh- er, stuff. She kinda reminds me of my little sisters. Back when my parents let me SEE my little sisters. Been six years, dunno what they’s like now …”

Charlie looked down the alleyway. “Maybe we should take this somewhere else. Do you know some place to eat around here?”

“You buyin’?”

“Sure!”

Jorge nimbly leapt to his hooves, and briefly savored the Ellisons’ reaction to someone who was over seven feet tall with a professional wrestler’s build. “I happen to know a very good place, good food, not too hard on the wallet, and best of all, it’s six blocks away from here.”

Jorge lead them to a brightly painted restaurant that proudly announced that it served El Salvadoran cuisine, and loudly ordered his usual. A waiter lugged over a large tray crowded with bowls and plates heaped high with foods that made Chris’s eyes water from clear across the table. “So, what are ‘you’ gonna order?”

Jorge nodded as Lodgeman filled him in. Jorge responded that the tenor of the place had definitely changed. The Sisters went out in pairs now, instead of alone as they had. Eddie Moody, Joey Arguello and the other Proctors had been relegated to keeping order in the crowd outside; that is, those that had even been permitted to remain. ‘There’s a distinct sense that the Gray Brothers have taken over, and are running things their way.”

“The Gray Brothers?” Chris asked.

“The ‘Gray Brothers’ are the Order of St. George,” Englund explained. “During the Middle Ages, Inquisitors, besides finding heretics and political dissidents, would actually find an actual witch or vampire or other what we would now call ‘paranormals’. So, a militant order of monks was formed to assist the Inquisitors and fight those beings that had supernatural abilities. At first, the Order was arranged along the lines of the Knights Templar or Hospitlar, but after the Templars were dissolved in 1307, the Order was scaled down.

“Currently, the Order is one of a handful of ‘Special Forces’ model organs that the Church uses to deal with various threats. They have a reputation for being very devout, very disciplined and utterly ruthless. The Order sent in one of the teams that went in and dealt with those idiot black mages that were causing Kerry so much grief. We’ve been informed that they’ve been assigned to run Security for St. Gregory’s.”

“Yeah,” Jorge agreed. “But it looks like the big dogs have taken over the house.”

“Possibly,” Englund agreed. “Or, they may be operating on orders from Bishop Spengler, or even higher up in the hierarchy. Kerry may have turned out to be too valuable to the Church to leave the matter up to the free will of a teenager.”

“So, what do we do now?” Linda asked. “I mean, now that I’ve seen her, I can’t even be absolutely sure that that IS my Kerry! Still, something should be done for her … I mean, look at her. You can tell that she misses her mother …”


Brother Gunther took note of the meeting, and continued to watch from a place of hiding.


December 24th

Inside St. Gregory’s, the kid gloves were off. Kerry was a flat-out prisoner, and was kept medicated and pliable. It was understood that Kerry was to be regarded as an asset of the Church, and that her current condition was to be considered a penance for her selfishness in refusing to aid the sick and infirm. It was pointedly never asked whether she would ever be allowed to lapse from her medicated trance.


El Penitente could sense a sea change in the attitude of the local merchants and street vendors. Before, Jorge could expect to be plied with the odd free bit of food or some such. Now, they were warily avoiding him. He was becoming hungry, but when you are as big as he was and look like a devil, there’s a very fine line between panhandling and a shakedown.

Well, it looked like it was back to dumpster diving for a while. Then he noticed three men in gray monk’s habits walking down the alley in a carefully measured tread. “Good Morning, Brothers! What can I do you for?” he greeted them cheerily.

“You are Jorge Cascardero?”

aaahhh… Yeah.”

“Your presence is no longer welcome in these precincts.”

“Say what?

“Your constant and unwelcome attentions to the young girl known as the ‘Angel of St. Gregory’s’ constitutes behavior that falls under the laws against Stalking.”

“STALKING?”

“And as such, the Church has taken out a Restraining Order against you, ordering you to remain at least 1000 feet away from the borders of St. Gregory’s at all times.” He handed Jorge an official looking document. “In gratitude for your assistance against the Grand Hall, no charges will be pressed at this time, and you will be allowed to leave unmolested. But, only so long as you leave immediately, and without resistance.”

According to the preacher, under those robes, those guys were Special Ops types. Jorge knew enough about teams like that to know that they wouldn’t go into a tight situation without some heavy-duty personal armor under the robes. Probably, from the way they were standing, they were packing some serious heat as well, and not off-the-rack stuff, either. And he knew teams like that usually operated in 5-man units; there were only three of them. They’d probably have fire overwatch as well. Well, that gave Jorge a pretty good idea as to where the other two were- up on the roof, with a high-powered rifle, drawing a bead between his horns.

Jorge slowly got to his hooves, accepted the restraining order and bowed. “I regret that my vigilance has been misunderstood, Hermano.” With that, he wrapped as much dignity around himself as he could- along with his blankets and stuff- and carefully walked down the alley away from St. Gregory’s. ‘But this ain’t over, pendejo. Not by a long shot.


Bete Noir hated looking like a bag lady. But, ironically, it was both her best disguise and a perfect way of searching for the charged techno-magic gear that Korrupt had hidden from Pater Tempus and her; or at least that he’d thought that he had. Bete Noir was finally famous. Shots of her in her black latex outfit had become an overnight fetish-fad. Shots of her bootilicious bod were all over the punk and kink scenes. Not that she could enjoy any of that, of course. Even if she could have recharged her beauty gizmo, there was a $250,000 reward out for her as the only one would could be positively linked with the Rock Center fiasco. ‘Fucking Typical!’ she snarled to herself as she dug through a dumpster looking for the entrance to Korrupt’s stash.

“It ain’t in there, Babe,” a voice in a growled whisper, like a wolf trying to be charming, despite its nature.

Bete spun about in a cold sweat. There, lounging against the alley wall was a huge brute of a man, barely cramming a gorilla’s build into an Armani suit, cleaning his blood-soaked hands with a switchblade the size of a katana. His snap-brim fedora shadowed his features in a way that was impossible in that light. “Your buddy Korrupt knew that youze was tailin’ ‘im, and he set that up t’throw you off the trail.”

Bete wasn’t an expert with spirits, but she knew that this ‘man’ in front of her was neither a man nor a lightweight. “But I kin tell ya exactly where t’find exactly wha’cha need.”

“Why are you telling me this?” She knew just enough about creatures like this to know that they always wanted something for their services.

“The Grand Hall pays me for pr’tekshun,” The Thug answered with atypical reasonability, never raising its voice from the menacing whisper. “They pays good, and they pays reg’lar. But some folks on my side of the street poked their noses in’ta Hall bizniz, even tho they knew that the Hall pays me pr’tekshun. That’s bad for my bizniz, y’know? So, I gots t’make it up t’you, y’know? You go here, and you should find wha’cha need.” He threw her a scrap of paper with a few addresses and a few entry codes on it.

“Oh, one more li’l thing. Saint Greg’s, Christmas Mass: be there, or be square.” With that, he sank into the ground, leaving only a puddle of blood where he’d been standing.

Bete snatched the piece of paper from where it had fallen, grinning viciously. Oh Yeah! Bete Noir was back in the game!


As Charlie Lodgeman walked up to the Chessman hotel where he was staying, a large mottled tomcat with ragged ears ran up in front of him. It stood there, glaring at him with mismatched eyes for a moment, then ran over to an old oak in a nearby sliver of park. Knowing a Royal Invitation from the King of Cats when he saw it, Charlie walked over to the tree.

The weathered face of an old Indian woman peered out from the bark of the tree. “I greet you, Singer With Dreams.”

“And I am glad to be greeted, Mother Manhattan.”

Mother Manhattan chatted for a while, meandering a bit- nature spirits, even nature spirits that co-exist with major cities, aren’t exactly famous for their ability to get quickly to the point. “The children are getting restless, Charlie.”

“Oh? Which ones?”

“Oh, two or three, but one more than others. He’s such a sulky child; I think that he knows that he was the product of rape, and resents it. Also, I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I was just biding my time, until he passes.” She paused and looked around. “There is a certain charm to ruins.”

“Be that as it may, what might these naughty tykes be up to?”

“I think that they’re going to pull a prank during a birthday party.” And with that, the oak was just an oak.

December 25th

It was Christmas in New York, all the presents were open and the festivities were in full swing. Those that had arranged a pew at St. Gregory’s were putting on their best Sunday-going-to-Mass clothes, and the vigil around the church was ten times larger than usual.

Bete Noir had shed her ‘bag lady’ disguise, and was dressed as a respectable elderly matron, complete with tweedy outfit and a stylishly coifed white wig. Which reminded her, she had to move Mrs. Fitzroyce’s body, before it got too ripe in the apartment. Under the bulky heavy overcoat, she had every bit of techno-crack that she was able to carry without lurching. Heck, she even knew how to use some of it.

She’d gotten there just before Noon, and the place had already been packed. Now, it was like being in an open-air subway car at rush hour, which wouldn’t have been so bad, if everyone had only been in the foul mood that that sort of crowding usually inspired. Instead, she was damn near choking on all the fucking ‘Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Men’ that was stanking up the place. Still, there were a couple of ambulances parked nearby and there was a small army of cops hanging around, so maybe there was a chance of a nice riot to perk things up.


Up on the roof, three blocks over, El Penitente watched the proceedings with a worried eye. This was the wrong day and the wrong place for such an ill wind to be blowing. He was so busy watching, that he never heard them come up on his blind side. “I thought that you were going to go quietly.”

“Hey, Brother Nicholas, isn’t it? Wha’choo doin’ up here? Ain’t you s’pozed t’be down there, keepin’ things in order?”

“You’re in contempt of court. You’re defying a Restraining Order.” The three ‘Gray Brothers’ had non-standard Mil-Spec weapons trained on him.

Jorge held up a restraining finger. “FIRST- I am NOT in defiance of said order, as it specifically states that I am to stay 1000 feet  from the borders of St. Gregory’s property line. That standpipe over there,” He pointed to a pipe about ten feet away, “just happens to mark the point that is exactly 1000 feet from that point. SECOND- that ‘restraining order’ that you gave me wasn’t signed by Judge Puida; it was signed by her clerk. And all that means, is that it’s in the Judge’s in-box. All that piece of paper really means, is that I been given notice. THIRD- well, I’ll assume that you guys got licenses to carry, but there ain’t no way in hell that that hardware you’re packing is legal in Noo Yawk State.”

Brother Nicholas gave a signal, and they set to fire. … and …

… and then they were hauled up off the roof by an extremely fine mesh net that pulled them well into the air.

“And, LASTLY, I wasn’t fool enuf t’come here alone.”

The St. Georges almost immediately spilled out of the net, as Brother Mateo sliced it open with his knife. As Brother Nicholas landed, a hockey puck came winging out of nowhere, and knocked him off his feet. A whip came out of a corner and caught Brother Gunther’s wrist, keeping him from aiming. And El Penitente came roaring up, ready to pound some sense into them.

And then it became a cluster-fuck.

The Electric Spider dropped his camouflage webbing and shot a net-burst at the Gray Brothers. Unfortunately, he forgot that his ‘webbing’ was oddly affected by the presence of spirits, and as such, it seemed to be magnetically drawn to El Penitente.

In other words, just as he was about to mash Brother Mateo, Jorge got tangled up in it. As Street Ranger came skating in to deliver a coup de grace with his goalie stick, Ratz sent her rat-swarm in, fouling his line.

Brother Mateo helped Brother Gunther pull Brava off her feet and into the Electric Spider. And from there, well, it just sort of devolved into a confused melee.

Suffice it to say, that while they may be very capable, even heroic individuals, most ‘street heroes’ don’t play very well with others. On the other hand, while the three St. Georges may have been out-numbered and out-powered, they still managed to lay down a whupping on the locals. In the end, there were a LOT of dead and trapped rats, Street Ranger had broken an arm (again) and his favorite stick, Jorge was battered up even worse than he’d been after facing Ymir, and Brava was laid out cold on top of the Electric Spider. Given that Brava was a very *ahem!* ‘healthy’ young woman with an outfit that showed off a lot of cleavage, the Electric Spider didn’t mind that much.

On the other hand, the St. Georges were unconscious and bound up in the Electric Spider’s webbing.

Street Ranger got up and despite his broken arm, (he was used to it) did a victory dance. “ooohhhYEAH! That was AWESOME!”

“What’s awesome, idiot?” Ratz snapped as she viewed the damage. LOTS of dead rats. That always annoyed her. There were always more rats in the New York sewers, but these had been under her command, and it still bugged her. “That was a complete MESS!”

“Yeah, but we WON!”

“Excuse me?” the Electric Spider asked, “Would someone please get her off of me, before she comes to, and KILLS me?”

Jorge limped over and pulled Brava off of him. “That was too easy.”

“What do you MEAN, ‘too easy’?” the Electric Spider yelped. “Those fuckers almost killed us!”

“They’re Order of St. George,” Jorge explained. “They’re supposed to be some of the best. AND, they usually operate in SAS-style five man teams. Ratz, are you sure that there isn’t a Mage or Sniper anywhere around here?”

The little woman in the gray rat costume concentrated for a while. “Nope. Nada. All clear, big guy.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Brava said as she pulled herself together. She was a tall strapping example of Latina womanhood, all wrapped up in a tight black ‘Zorro’ outfit which had caused her more than a few problems in the past few nights by confusing her with Bete Noir. “Why would these guys come after you without either magical backup or fire overwatch?”

“Yeah, it is …” Jorge mused, “Almost as stupid as leaving the Church unguarded, except for the mage and one other guy …” Jorge stopped short. “Ah, Nombre de Dios… we’ve been set up! Both of us! What time is it?”

“Almost 3 PM sharp.”

“The Mass! It’s about to start!”


The keen expectation was beginning to get to wear on Bete Noir’s nerves. Then she noticed the most bizarre-looking streetwalker that she'd ever seen, with big blonde hair, weird eyes and an outfit that was completely out of season in more ways than one, lounging against a street lamp. When Street Life was sure that Bete had seen her, she sashayed unseen by mundane eyes over to the rectory side door. Bete watched as she knocked on the door, unsure as to exactly how she was supposed to fit into this scenario. She got the impression that she was playing someone else’s game again, and that bugged the hell out of her.

‘Still, better playing someone else’s game, than out of the game completely.’ By the sort of ‘coincidence’ that only spirits can arrange, Brother Linus, the team mage came to the door and got a face full of white powder for his troubles. As he choked, Street Life extended her small finger, which had become a syringe, and injected something into his neck. As he slumped to the ground, dazed and intoxicated, Street Life sauntered off, blending impossibly into the crowd. To any non-mystically awakened eye, Brother Linus merely fell by himself, probably drunk.

‘Interesting …’ Bete thought, ‘but where is this going?’


Down in the cellar, Sister Catherine was helping Kerry sleepwalk through getting dressed, and wondered where it had all gone so wrong.

As for Kerry, all that mattered was the singing. She heard the singing day and night now, and it filled her world. She heard the song of passion, of faith and of need. She was needed so badly. She had to answer the song. 

Brother Philip came down and told Sister Catherine, “Brother Linus is down, and the other Brothers are still dealing with Cascardero. I have to assume that someone got past Brother Linus and is in the building.”

“Should we delay the service?”

Brother Philip paused and said the wrong thing. “No. We keep to the schedule. This is THE major service of the year, we can’t let anything delay it. There’s no sign of anyone in the Sanctum, I’ll check the rectory. You get her up to Father John in the vestry.”

That didn’t seem quite right to Sister Catherine, but Brother Philip was the big hotshot security professional, so she just nodded. She made sure of the last little details of Kerry’s vestment and steered her toward the stairwell.


Kerry could tell that she was climbing a stairway… A stairway to heaven? Unbidden, the words to an old rock song came to her.

There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure/ And you know sometimes words have two meanings/ In the tree by the brook there's a songbird who sings/ Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven. And it makes me wonder’.

 

When Sister Catherine gave her a push, Kerry started climbing again. When they came to the head of the stairway, more lyrics came to her.

There's a feeling I get when I look to the west/ And my spirit is crying for leaving/ In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees/ And the voices of those who stand looking. And it really makes me wonder’.

In accordance with the song, Kerry looked to the west, and she could hear the song of the needy that were waiting outside the church.

She kept walking towards the west, and Sister Catherine tried to stop her. “Kerry! No! This way! The Vestry is THIS way!” She would have had an easier time stopping a cross-town bus. Kerry walked through the door into the lobby, where several SRO visitors were more than a trifle surprised to see the famous angel calmly walking through their midst, halo blazing like the sun.

And it's whispered that soon, if we all call the tune/Then the piper will lead us to reason/And a new day will dawn for those who stand long/ And the forest will echo with laughter.’

Kerry made her way through the forest whose trees were wearing Armani and Yves St. Laurent (wow, some forest!)

And it makes me wonder.’

She stepped through the front doors, and the amassed vigil holders gasped in wonder.

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow
Don't be alarmed now
It's just a spring clean for the May Queen
.‘

Sister Catherine squeezed past the visitors and frantically grabbed Kerry’s robe.

Yes there are two paths you can go by
but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on. And it makes me wonder.’

As she did, Kerry was hit by a tidal wave of wonder that made everything that she’d experienced before seem trivial. Even if she had been in her right mind, it would have totally tripped her out.

Your head is humming and it won't go because you don't know
The piper's calling you to join him
Dear lady can't you hear the wind blow and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind.’

She looked up into the clear winter sky and actually SAW the sky in the first time since that time that she’d tried to climb that stairway to Heaven and failed. She’d come back, and you know how that turned out. Maybe God was waiting for the right moment.

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our souls
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll
Woe oh oh oh
And she's buying a stairway to heaven
.‘

Kerry felt their faith and their joy and their wonder lift her up. She felt lightened, and an upsurge of elation carried her up even higher, carrying her closer to God. The more she gave, the more they rejoiced, and the more they gave back to her and the higher she climbed. Yes, yes, this is it! … Heaven is not merely higher. … More and more she gave, and more and more they gave to her, and higher and higher she climbed on the stairway to Heaven. Brighter, ever brighter shone the light and louder and clearer grew the song. Finally, a gate opened up in her soul, and she could see past the mere sky. She saw wheels within wheels of fire and corridors of aching purity and wonders that her mind couldn’t accept. And there was a presence that made all those wonders tawdry and insignificant…

God? Is that You?

Her wings were larger that her soul, and there was a joyous multitude of angel within her, caroling to be set free. Finally, she couldn’t deny them anymore and she opened the gates of her heart. Grace unending and overflowing rushed from her like a river.


Fathers John and Logue stood by Sister Catherine in open-mouthed helplessness as Kerry suddenly erupted in a rapturous shower of glowing balls that rained down as a symphony of angels.


Bete Noir saw her cue, and she scrambled to get the ‘Demon Seed 2.0’ cages ready as glory came tumbling down around her.


Ah, mi querido Dios …” Jorge moaned. ‘You don’t need a siren to know that a disaster is gonna go down.’


Gina Caprera let out a girlish cry of pure glee. She held up a rosary and tried to catch an angel in it. Maybe she could give Nana Isobel another blessed rosary…


And deep in the bowels of Manhattan’s maze of sewer pipes, steam tunnels and access ways, something stirred … “sweet, sweet, sweet! Eateateat! Tastes like GOD!”


Hal Lebrun grabbed at every delicious piece of innocence he could lay his hands on and gobbled it up.


Kerry fed the multitudes with everything that she had.

But, as always … they wanted more.

Kerry felt the hands of their faith and their need latch onto her soul. Even as her eyes were on Heaven, they dragged her down. The more they dragged her down, the further she fell from that excruciating grace, and the more they clamped onto her very essence. And suddenly, she felt every disease and ailment they had rip through her. Every cut, every bruise, every burn, every cyst, every tumor, every imbalance of humor made itself real in her body.


There is a tradition that the Roman Emperors used to throw coins to the crowds. These days, when someone wishes to make a similar gesture, they hand out coins This is because, while it may have been different in Ancient Rome, these days, throwing coins around is an invitation to a riot.


Kerry let out a scream and fell to the ground. And deep within the bowels of the city, the Rat screamed in hunger. Kerry felt hands tearing at her gown and her hair and at her very flesh … Images of wafers and wine flickered through her mind, and a panicked notion flashed into her mind, ‘Oh, My God! They’re going to EAT me!’


Bete Noir heard the Angel scream, and she knew exactly WHY the dark spirit had invited her here. In a situation like this, all it took was ONE person to do the wrong thing; and she knew JUST what that wrong thing was. She started grabbing angels from the grasp of everyone she could reach. And that was all it took.


Father John and Sister Catherine pushed as many people within the church doors as they could, and then they closed the doors as the storm hit.


Jorge heard Kerry scream, and before his very eyes, the scene turned from a blessing into a feeding frenzy. The symphony of grace was shattered and a cacophonous din of bestial rage filled the void. Jorge paused, as anyone would. But he collected himself, and he leapt from the rooftop into the chaos. It was his penance.


Brava, Ratz, Street Ranger and the Electric Spider all looked after El Penitente as he dove in. “You goin’ in there?”

“Oh, HELL NO!”

“Hey, there’s heroic, and then there’s stupid.”

“Er, Maybe we could go down the other way and help the Cops put a lid on this thing?”

“Sounds good!”

“Jus’ remember- if wunna those cops gets greedy, tell them that I am NOT Bete Noir!”


Bete Noir laughed as she flowed through the havoc untouched. She drank in the rancor and bestial spite like a fine vintage after a long dry spell. Giddy on the negativity, she looked at the readout on the ‘Demon Seeds’. Twelve! She’d managed to bag twelve ‘angels’! She strolled through the riot, battering aside those stupid enough to cross her. God, what she could do with TWELVE of those angel things! Well, maybe not her personally … But with the charge of negativity flowing through her, making her all but a GOD, well, if she couldn’t use that to spring Korrupt from the jug, well then she wasn’t Bete Noir! Hell, maybe she’d even spring Pater Tempus too, just to confuse things!


Gina Caprera huddled against the asphalt, curled around her precious rosary, which had just been blessed by the Angel. ‘Please God. Please, I’m so scared! Please, just let me give this to Nana…’


Kerry felt something tearing at her flesh and screamed again, for God, for her mother, and they were the same thing.


El Penitente roared through the chaos, a demon striding through the agonies of the damned. His eyes were furnaces and his mouth was an inferno, and the demon within him cackled in delight. He swung about, cutting a swath in the bodies of those cramming themselves into the crush around the Angel, sending them flying. He pulled their bodies from her.

And he saw Hal Lebrun crouching there, with blood on his lips. In his state, Jorge didn’t recognize Hal, but he knew what he was. He took Hal by the scruff of the neck and threw him, not caring where he landed.

Kerry was lying there aglow with power. Chunks of her body had been ripped off, but they were already regrowing themselves. But Kerry didn’t look like an angel anymore. She didn’t even look human. Rather, she was a mass composite of all human suffering and misery, given physical form.

He reached down and touched her. She burned him. He picked her up and held her to his chest, and she scaled him. Looking around, he saw the jackals gathering around him, eager for another taste of God. He roared, “BACK OFF!” But he knew that it was no human hunger that surrounded him. He breathed fire about him, as he only could when the Devil was sated and strong within him. But they didn’t care. They were a pack of rats, crowding in for the kill.


On the rooftop, Brava, Street Ranger and the Electric Spider did what they could for Ratz. The little woman in gray seemed to be having some sort of fit.


Jorge stepped back from himself, and saw something huge, inhuman and hungry in the insane maelstrom of the riot. It was an immense hideous rat and it was chittering in mindless hunger for divine light. Jorge knew that even with the power of the little devil at its height raging within him, he couldn’t stand against that. And he held the Angel close to his chest, even though she burned him as he steeled himself for that last battle.

Then a hand landed on his shoulder. “This is not your fight, Son.” Jorge looked, and it was Senor Lodgeman, only it wasn’t Senor Lodgeman- he was tall, in his prime and he walked in power and wisdom. He was dressed in the sacred vestments of The People- not the Cherokee people, or the Algonquin people, or the Iroquois people or the Creek people, just The People.

In one hand, he held the spear that kills nightmares and in the other he held the shield that withstands horrors.  On his breast were the bones that armor the soul. Jorge looked and recognized in his blood that this was the First Shaman, the one who first sang the songs of power and fought the first demons and taught The People the ways of power. He had only been playing at being a man.

At the First Shaman’s side was the preacher man Reverend Englund. But the Reverend had hellfire in his eyes, and brimstone on his breath, and the cross in his hand was ablaze with a fire that could have burned the sin out of the devil himself. Together they marched into the mass that was the Great Rat and they disappeared …

… and the Rat screamed!


The Rat screamed. On the sidelines, the Thug looked at Street Life, and she looked back at him. She shrugged. “Hey, WE did OUR part.”


Clutching Kerry to his chest, Jorge battered his way through the rioting crowd, who were at least human again. He finally managed to make his way to one of the ambulances. The attendants had shut the doors for their own safety, but Jorge forced them open. He lay Kerry out on the gurney and told the paramedic, “Get her to a hospital!”

“Are you KIDDING?”

“GET HER TO A HOSPITAL!”

LOOK at her! What are we …”

“I SAID, GET HER TO A HOSPITAL, SHITHEAD!” Jorge punctuated his yell with a gout of flame.

The Paramedic strapped her in, and the ambulance began moving as best it could. Jorge cleared a path through the chaos for it, until it could get up to speed. Jorge watched it pull out, and then went to help the police in quelling the riot.

December 26th

The day after Christmas is a strange time. The big party is over, but there’s still New Years to go, so the Holiday Season isn’t quite over. You feel like that wonderful holiday anticipation should still be with you, but to be honest, you just hope that people will wait until January First to start putting their trees on the curb. And after that, you’re looking down the barrel of two months of no-foolin’-around winter.

And yet, you’re slightly relieved as well; after a solid month of it, Christmas carols are annoying, Santa Claus is a vaguely suspicious fat guy, and angels are trite and boring. The News people were absolutely delighted with the St. Gregory’s Riot; it was the perfect Christmas present for a Media grown tired of saints, miracles and cloying goodness. Columnists waxed viciously eloquent on the hypocrisy of beating the crap out of someone for a fleeting touch of God. Commentators sneered at the exploitation of faith. Anti-Mutant agitators decried the affects of a ‘dangerous mutant’, conveniently ignoring the fact that it was a bunch of baseline humans who had been rioting. SNL rather obviously changed their ‘Angel’ skit in a hurry. Leno, Letterman, Dennis Miller and their ilk ran with it for all they could, and a good time was had by all.

That is, unless you were one of the 12 hurt, three of them seriously injured in the riot.

But no one enjoyed themselves quite like Jorge’s little devil. Not only had the tidal wave of vile emotions at the riot waked up the demon, but it had also sated its hunger and brought it to full strength. On top of that, the Cops needed to bring in someone for the riot and El Penitente was the obvious scapegoat.

Jorge hated being in jail. It was like swimming in acid, all that hate and frustration and anger floating around. He’d done two months at Riker’s Island, and he never wanted to go back. But right at the moment, jail was the safest place for him, in case the no-longer little devil got out.

*Awww… You shouldn’t have! JUST what I wanted for Christmas! Just in time for winter, my own personal version of Club Med!*

Jorge said nothing, but knelt on the concrete floor, praying intently, “Pater noster, qui es in caelis, Sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, Sicut in caelo et in terra. Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie. Et dimitte nobis debita nostra,  Sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in tentationem: Sed libera nos a malo. Amen.”

*It ain’t gonna do you no good, shithead. God never loved you, never did, and even if you ever did have a shot, you blew it big time! You had an ANGEL in your arms, and you just threw her away!*

 

And it went on and on, the demon ranting away at Jorge, as he ignored it for the meager comforts of the Lord’s Prayer.

*Ahhh … give it up, pendejo! As of now, I OWN your beet-red ass!*

 

Jorge was about to shift over to the Ave Maria, when he heard the sounds of the locks being pulled on his cell. He heard the guard say, “Are you sure about this? This ain’t exactly standard procedure.”

Then he heard a familiar voice say. “I assure you, Officer, I’ve cleared everything with the Officer of the Watch.”

“Maybe, but I wouldn’t go in there. All he’s been doin’ since he went in, was be on his knees, prayin’.”

“Good. That shows that he has good sense, and will be in the proper frame of mind to receive me.” The door slid open, and Reverend Englund walked in, a bible and a silver flask in his hands. “Good afternoon, Jorge.”

Buenos Tardes, Reverendo,” Jorge replied. “Any news about Kerry?”

Rev. Englund smiled. “She’s in guarded condition, but she’s improving by the hour, and the people at Mount Sinai are in absolute raptures over her test results. That is, except for the ones that are pulling the testing equipment apart, looking for glitches. If it means anything to you, you may have saved her life pulling her out of there. Even if they hadn’t ripped her apart beyond her ability to regenerate, her reaction to healing that many people at once would have killed her.”

Jorge relaxed a little. Englund handed him the flask. “Here, have a drink.”

*No! No, idiota! It’s poison! The Church doesn’t want you to embarrass them with everything you know! Don’t drink it, don’t drink it!*

 

That ‘warning’ was all the prompting that Jorge needed. He slugged back the contents of the flask. From the taste of it, it was water; from the burning sensation, it was Holy Water. He emptied the flask, and relished the sound of the demon’s silent screams. He finished and handed the flask back, visibly exhaling steam. Then Rev. Englund produced a cross and said a blessing over Jorge, which hampered the demon even more.

Muchos Gracias, Reverendo,” Jorge sighed. “I needed that.”

“And you’ll be even more gratified to hear that you’re free to go.”

“Free? After that debacle with the riot?”

“Well, you see, the thing is, there weren’t that many people who could say with any accuracy that YOU specifically attacked them and even then, you could argue that you did so to defend a helpless young girl who was being mauled. And while there were no shortage of absolutely terrifying pictures of you showing your demonic side, there weren’t that many of you actually DOING anything illegal. Well, there were a few, but they mysteriously got eaten by rats.”

“Then … I can go?”

“Yes, isn’t that what I just said.”

“Ah, Reverendo, if it’s not asking too much … could I bum a ride off’a you, … to the hospital?”

December 27th 

Intensive Care wards are usually places of quiet desperation, not loud debate. If there is a debate, then the doctor on the case usually has the last say. But this time, the doctor was faced with being overruled by two forces.

Mrs. Linda Ellison was in fully cry and taking no prisoners. “That is MY CHILD in there, and you are NOT keeping me out!”

“Oh? I suppose that you can prove that?” Dr. Cuneo sneered.

“As a matter of face, we can,” Charlie Lodgeman said smoothly. “I have here, a copy of the fingerprints taken when the child was admitted, a copy of fingerprints taken at this woman’s child’s Junior High School two years ago as a routine aid to identification, and a notarized comparison report of those prints. The report states that there is a 92.7% similarity, more than high enough to accept that the person admitted IS indeed this woman’s child.”

“If that’s so,” The MCO representative stated with steely cold authority, “then we’ll take those fingerprints, and all medical records pertaining to this child. We’ll also require all school records-”

“The MCO asked all of its questions when she was at St. Gregory’s.

“The MCO has NOT signed off on this case. In light of the incident two days ago, we are convinced that this child is a clear and present danger.”

“Oh? HOW does she pose a danger?” Linda asked with asperity.

“What? Fifteen hurt, three seriously injured doesn’t PROVE that she’s dangerous?”

“It was a RIOT, caused by baseline humans,” Charlie told him with complete composure. “And, we just happen to have a copy of the incident report right here, waiting for you to sign off on it, indicating that the MCO has no further interest in this child or her family.” He handed the MCO rep the document on a clipboard, complete with pen.

The MCO rep glowered at him. “Oh, like it’s gonna be that easy. Listen up, Tonto-”

“ENOUGH!” Dr. Cuneo shouted. “Not in my ward! And, until I see some sort of corroborating evidence, I’m not going to allow anyone to-”

WHAT?” Linda screeched, “Listen up, you over-rated pill-pushing QUACK-”

The ward nurse was about to call for Security, when a voice wafted out of the IC room, “Mom?

Linda all but stuck her tongue out at Dr. Cuneo as she and Chris bustled into the room. They hurried over to the bedside and looked down at the girl who looked back at them with huge pained golden eyes. “Mom? Dad?”

“Kerry?” Linda quavered, her usual lioness courage deserting her, “Is that YOU, honey?” Kerry looked completely different, with long golden blonde hair, a heart-shaped face with delicate features and a rosebud mouth. Neither Linda nor Chris would have pegged this lovely girl as a relative, let alone their son. She was pale, and there was an odd mottled effect in places, as if chunks of her body had been bitten off and re-grown.

“Yeah …” Kerry choked, “it’s me.”

“Kerry, what happened to you?”

“I ... I skipped school, and I went to New York, and ,,, and then it got weird, and then it got weirder … And I tried to do the right thing, but it just kept getting weirder and weirder …” Kerry faded away into sleep.

Linda clutched Kerry’s hand, and Chris checked the monitors. When he was reasonably sure that Kerry was just sleeping, he led Linda out of the room by the shoulders, back onto the ward.

Mr. Lodgeman was still arguing with the MCO rep. The MCO agent was saying that he didn’t give a damn about any ‘Academy Confidentiality’, he was going to get ALL the test results, AND take the child in question into custody for the safety of everyone concerned!

Linda immediately snapped out of her grief, now on familiar ground. “Listen up, you Gestapo retread! If you think that you are going ANYWHERE with my kid, ANY of my kids, then you must have just gotten out of a Lobotomy! You may think that you’re hot shit, but you haven’t seen JACK yet! I am going to rip open your oh-so-confidential files and examine them with a microscope!

“I am going to find each and every ONE of those poor souls that you’ve ‘disappeared’ over the past few years and bring them home, even if it means dropping a skeleton in their parents’ laps! You have just screwed a very mangy pooch, Pal! I know ALL the bullshit bureaucratic tricks and I know just how to get around them! If you and your Cheka thugs have broken so much as a TRAFFIC REGULATION, I will crucify you for it! And I’m not talking about dragging your ass into court, I’m talking about taking you out into the wood and nailing you to a TREE!”

A gentle voice behind them chuckled and said, “I believe that that would be my cue.” Linda turned around to the gently smiling visage of His Eminence, the Cardinal of the Archdiocese of New York. But all that registered with Linda was the red cassock. She swung, there was a sickening crack, and His Eminence was unconscious before he hit the linoleum.

Linda turned back on the MCO man, grabbed the clipboard from Charlie Lodgeman, and snarled, “SIGN!

The MCO rep was a trained professional. He’d dealt with lawyers, psychics, scientists and raging psychotics in the course of his duties. He had seen both hand to hand and firearm combat, and faced fearsome inhuman creatures. He knew just what to do. …

He signed.

December 28th

NEW YORK HERALD:Parents of ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ Finally Found

NEW YORK TRIBUNE: Mother of ‘Hell’s Kitchen Angel’ Attacks Cardinal

NEW YORK RECORD: Soccer Mom Socks Cardinal!

NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC: Angel’s Mother Accuses Father John of Abuse!

AMERICAN CRUSADER: UFO Aliens Rescue ‘Angel’ from Hospital!

Truthisouthere.com/28/12/2006: Informed Sources claim that there are already plans to remove the ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ from Mount Sinai to a remote ‘training school’ for paranormal operatives run by the CIA. Precisely to what end the ‘angel’ will be trained is still unclear.


The first thing that Kerry noticed when she woke up, was that she couldn’t hear the singing anymore. It had been with her constantly for weeks. But now, there was just  sort of diffuse hum, occasionally broken by starts and fits of this passion or another. It was late, and while hospitals never sleep, this was definitely sleeptime for most. It was odd, not hearing the song after all the time; it was sort of like when a really annoying car alarm finally shuts off after bugging the hell out of you. You’re glad that it’s over, but you sort of miss it at the same time. Kerry settled in and enjoyed the silence.


Mount Sinai was well off of Jorge’s usual beat, but he finally found a spot where he could settle in and watch the emergency entrance. Kerry was out of one trap, but in another. Father John may have been exploiting her, but at least he could protect her as well. But there in the hospital, she was vulnerable to any of the people who were interested in gaining control of her. While Korrupt and Pater Tempus were under lock and key, Bete Noir was still on the loose.

Burning Sword, or some other pack of anti-militant nutcases wouldn’t hesitate at shooting up a hospital to get at her. The MCO could try and smuggle her out, no matter what anyone said. And those were only the ones that he knew about. Jorge had promised God that he’d protect the Angel. You don’t renege on God, just because you’re cold. Jorge wrapped his filthy blankets around him and tried to get used to the rooftop. He missed the comforting silence that the faith of the vigil holders had laid over Hell’s Kitchen.


Gina Caprera stirred to consciousness. She became aware that she was in a hospital bed. She drowsed for a while, and then a nurse came in. The nurse checked her vital signs, and then showed the rest of the Capreras in. When she saw Nana Isobel, Gina cried, “I’m sorry Nana! I lost your rosary! I … I caught an angel! I caught it in a rosary! I wanted to give it to you! But I lost it …”

“You mean this?” Isobel held up the rosewood rosary. “They found it in your hands when they had you in the ambulance. They had to use a vise to pry your hands open.”

Isobel looked at her granddaughter with dark eyes full of fond exasperation. “Gina, if you need miracles so much, know this. The medics tell us that you shouldn’t be alive. You’d been trampled, but for some reason, you just have a few cracked ribs and some bruising inside.”

“The rosary! The rosary protected me! That proves …”

“All that ‘that’ proves, is that you love your gramma, and God loves those who love others. Here,” she placed the rosary in Gina’s hands and closed the fingers around it, “if you need miracles so much. What do *I* need with miracles? I have my family!”


Father John went into the Sanctum, crossed himself and settled in to pray. Being a Catholic, he should have been used to guilt, but he felt the weight of everything crushing down on him like lead. ‘Dear God, why am I so weak? I had a nice, safe, comfortable existence here, and I was bored. I wanted something interesting, and you dropped an Angel into my lap. And I screwed it up, seven ways to Sunday. I wanted to own an angel, to be able to contact you any time that I wanted. She looked to me for answers, and I only told her those lies that suited me. You gave me every opportunity to help her, and I squandered them for my own vanity. Oh God, even now, though I don’t deserve her, I miss her! Will I ever see Kerry Ellison again? Oh, God, HELP ME!


 Kerry awoke to the sound of her name. She looked around, and didn’t recognize her basement. ‘Whoa, when did it become my basement? Where am I?' My memory is so foggy ...’ She finally managed to sort out that she was in a hospital room. It was obvious, once it occurred to her; the antiseptic smell was a dead giveaway.

‘Why am ‘I’ in a hospital room? Why aren’t I at St. Gregory’s? my memory is so muddled and confused …’

 She had to go back through so many confused images … She remembered … being eaten alive? No, that was a dream … But that reminded her of what she’d thought when she’d waked up from that dream. Then she remembered telling Father John and he …

‘He’d LIED to me! He’d USED me! Now I remember!’ Then she remembered that snotty Brother Nicholas throwing hot water in her face, and the monks holding her upside down, and a pain inside her leg …

‘They DRUGGED me! The unbelievable hypocrite bastards DRUGGED me and used me in their fucking healing scam!’

The rest was a really bizarre muddle, but what she really remembered was that Father John had LIED to her and USED her! And she could hear him, in her head! He was calling her name and telling her to come back to him! The unbelievable scumbag!

Snarling in a way that was all too reminiscent of her mother, Kerry got up out of the bed and tore the IVs out of her arm. Her halo was blazing like the noonday sun, and the IV punctures healed in seconds. Not even bothering to put on a robe, she marched out of the room into the ward. The OD nurse bustled up to intercept her, but Kerry shoved her aside as she might a kitten.

Charlie Lodgeman was relieving Rev. Englund for his shift on their own protective vigil when the alarm went off. They barely got to the hallway, when they made out Kerry, sliding a window open, by the light of her glaring halo.

CARMODY!!!” she screamed out the window. Then she manifested a pair of wings and flew out the window. Together they rushed to the window and leaned out, trying to get an idea of where she was going. But from the light of her flight path, it looked like she was jinking around a lot.

Then they heard a voice from below, “HEY, PENDEJOS!”       They looked down and saw El Penitente standing on a roof of building across the street, “Where do you THINK she’s goin’? She’s headin’ to Saint Greg’s! And I don’t think that she’s goin’ there t’ THANK the Padre for all his help!” With that, he started across the roof, and made a vaulting leap across the street to the next rooftop.

Waiting for the elevator was out of the question, even at night. Lodgeman and Englund raced each other down the stairwell and out entrance. “Wouldn’t you know it?” Englund snarled, “There’s never a taxi or a cop car around when you really NEED one!"

“Not necessarily!” Charlie placed his fingers in his mouth and gave a classic New York taxi-hailing whistle. Like a dog answering its master’s call, a shabby 1950s taxi came screeching around the corner and stopped on a dime in front of them.

“There’s no one driving this car,” Englund pointed out numbly.

“JUST GET IN!” Lodgeman grabbed Englund by the shoulder and dragged him into the cab. “Shecky, Saint Greg’s, and don’t spare the horses!”

The driver-less cab gave a chipper beep of its horn and roared off.


Jorge managed to take advantage of mass transit in ways that ‘Vincent’, of the old ‘Beauty and the Beast’ TV show would have approved, and the MTA most decidedly would NOT, but he was still raling and wheezing when he got to the side door of St. Gregory’s rectory.  He battered on the door, cursing the delay.

Finally, the door opened, and Father Logue poked his head out. “Mr. Cascardero! What are you…?”

“Father John! Where is he?” Jorge managed to gasp.

“Father Carmody? What?”

“WHERE. IS. HE?” 

“I- I think that he’s in the nave!”

“Let me in! There’s no time!”

“I can’t …”

“It’s Kerry! She’s coming here!”

“She IS? She’s out of the hospital already? I’d …”

“She’s not coming here for a reunion, idiote!” Jorge yelled, “She’s FLYING here, and the only reason that it’s taken her this long, is that she’s too fokking MAD to fly straight! When she gets here, it’s gonna be a bloodbath!

Then there was a light in the sky that grew larger and brighter. “Ah, mi querido Dios…” Jorge moaned.

“Come IN!” Father Logue yelped.


‘Please God, if only I could see Kerry one last time …’ Father John prayed over and over. He paused as a brilliant light filtered through the stained glass window, turning it into a gorgeous vision of glory, and his heart lifted at the prospect of a miracle.

Then the window shattered, and Kerry flew in, the very picture of the Wrath of God. Father John froze, and for a split second he reflected that God’s Justice was both terrible and beautiful.

She swooped down, screaming, “CARMODY! You lying BASTARD!” Snarling, she sent him flying with a bodyblow.

As Father John groaned, Kerry stopped and called on the glory. She formed a sword large enough to decapitate an elephant and came for him. Carmody gazed up at her. He couldn’t move, and he couldn’t be sure whether it was out of fear, or his acceptance of the judgement of God.”

She took him by the collar and pulled him off the ground. She raised the sword to strike, her face twisted in rage, her halo filling the Sanctum with illumination.

Then the doors flung open wide. “KERRY! NO!” Jorge shouted.

“Don’t stop me, Jorge! He’s GOT to DIE! HE USED ME! He turned me into a fucking angel, and then he used me!”

Dulcita! DON’T! You’re not a killer!” Jorge thought quickly; but if a Catholic upbringing is good for anything, it’s considering every possible angle of an argument. “Don’t you see? He’s still using you! He’s using you to punish his own sick guilt! He KNOWS that he used you! He WANTS you to punish him! Why else would he send the Gray Brothers away, if not to let YOU do the dirty work? Yeah, you’re pissed, and I don’t blame you! But you got that mental connection with him, right? Like when you tracked him down after those scumbags kidnapped him, right? You’re feeding off of HIS guilt! He WANTS you to kill him!”

Kerry froze, but she was too wrapped up in her anger, and maybe the Padre’s guilt to completely stay her hand. She was frozen, trapped by the passions around her. Jorge knew that there was nothing for it. He steeled himself. “Mi hermanita…” He passed through the sacred threshold of the Sanctum and began to burn.

*What the fuck do you think you’re DOING, you MORON?* the nameless devil screamed in Jorge’s minds’ ear.

Jorge folded his hands before him and took another step.“Ave Maria, gratia plena Dominus tecum; Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.” With each step, Jorge praised the Virgin Mary again and burned even hotter.

“JORGE! NO!” Kerry screamed. She dropped Carmody and stepped forward. “You don’t have to DO this! Not for ME!” But Jorge only praised Mary again and took another step.

She thought furiously. “I invite you in! You are welcome in this house!” The flames died down, and Jorge fell to his knees, his hands still clasped in front of him.

Kerry fell about Jorge’s shoulders, crying. “Why? You know what he did to me! How could you protect him? You know what he put me through!”

Jorge just opened his eyes, his all-too human eyes, which looked at her through the burn-crackled skin and said silently, ‘And what could YOU tell ME about suffering?’

Kerry turned to Father Logue and yelled, “Don’t just stand there, call an ambulance!” She picked him up and started to carry him like a baby. He was easily three times her mass, but he was only awkward in her arms. She began to move to the door.

“No doctor can heal him of that,” a voice said. From the lobby, Rev. Englund walked in. “Those burns aren’t from flames of Earthly origin. If you would see him healed, you must accept the burden of another’s pain one more time.”

Kerry looked at Jorge in her arms, and she knew that he was in agony. She’d never healed burns before. She was deathly afraid of being burned and disfigured.

But this was for Jorge.

‘He walked through God’s fire for me; how can I do any less?’ She put him down and put her hands around his, which were still folded in prayer. Together, they repeated the ‘Ave Maria’ over and over. One more time, the glory flowed through them, and one more time, Kerry accepted the pain.

When she woke up, Jorge was carrying her in his arms. “Jorge?” she croaked, “Are you okay?”

“I was gonna ask you the same thing, dulcita.” His face was peeling, as if he’d had a real bad sunburn that was beginning to heal, but other than that, he seemed fine.

Kerry held up her hand, which was also peeling, but otherwise seemed fine. “How?”

“It appears that supernatural damage affects the body differently that natural damage does,” Mr. Lodgeman told her. They were on the street in front of St. Gregory’s and he was holding open the door to a cab. “As when you healed Mr. Moody, while you were rescuing Father Carmody that time. The ‘martyrdom effect’ isn’t anywhere near as bad. Of course, you didn’t know that. And that’s all for tonight, young lady. It’s time that you were back in the hospital.”

December 29th – January 5th 

NEW YORK HERALD: Angel in Chains! Hospital reveals that drugs were used in ‘handling’ minor ‘angel’

NEW YORK TRIBUNE: Killer Angel! ‘Angel of Hell’s Kitchen’ Attacks Father John!

NEW YORK RECORD: BAM! Angel’s Mother Knocks Cardinal Out Of The Ballpark!

 

BEACON MAGAZINE:

MCO Claims That ‘Angel’ Incident Underlines Need For More Leeway In Handling Mutant Matters

CONTEMPO MAGAZINE: Mysterious ‘Gray Brothers’ Disappear, Rather Than Answer Questions In ‘Angel’ Controversy

NEW YORK DAILY GRAPHIC: Is the Angel a Junkie?

AMERICAN CRUSADER: Statue of Virgin Mary Stays Avenging Angel’s Hand!

New York Tribune: Hell’s Kitchen Locals Stand By Father John

January 6th: Father Carmody was all too aware of the tense silence surrounding him as he waited in Bishop Spengler’s front office. He forced himself to sit there absolutely still, and neither fidget nor relax. Finally, he was shown in. Bishop Spengler looked at him over the tops of his glasses. “Well, you really ARE the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead aren’t you?”

Carmody swallowed heavily. “What are you saying?”

“Oh, relax! We’re not going to throw you to the wolves. If we stood by that scumbag Geoghan in Boston, we certainly won’t abandon you.” Spengler paused and speared Carmody with a gorgon glare. “Just for the record, there wasn’t any of THAT involved here, was there?”

“Certainly NOT!” Carmody shot back, offended to the quick.

“Good to hear it. One less thing to worry about. No, Carmody, the simple fact of the matter is that we left you twisting in the wind on this one. You asked for instruction and guidance, and you got none. And, as with the girl in the rhyme, when you were good, you were very, very good. Even with the flack that we’ve been catching since the Christmas Mess, you’ve generated more positive public attention for the Church than we’ve gotten since the late Pope died. Conversions and returns to the church are higher than we’ve ever seen before, and even with recidivism, I think that we are looking at a banner year here. Donations? <pfew!> Through the roof! And as I’ve no doubt you’re aware, while the Media is having a field day with this- always remember, Carmody; the only thing that the Media loves more than hailing a new hero, is tearing an old one down. Your parishioners in Hell’s Kitchen are squarely behind you. And as for the charges against you … well, between Kerry attacking you and breaking the stained glass window, and her mother punching out the Cardinal, that won’t be an issue.”

“Sir? About Kerry … What can you tell me about her? How is she?”

“Well, all that I can tell you, is that she’s doing wonderfully, and they’ve moved her up to that school of Rev. Englund’s. The Mutant Research people they have up there are having a right jolly old time trying to figure out how she does what she does. Past that, the Ellisons appear to have gone into some sort of ‘Witness Relocation Program’ the school runs for the families of mutants that have been dramatically ‘outed’ as the Ellisons were, when that photographer caught her popping the Cardinal one.”

“I see. Sir, Father Kemper was saying something about shutting Saint Gregory’s down to disassociate the Church from the scandal, and moving Ker- er, ‘the Angel’s Chalice’ over to Our Lady of Sorrows. What’s going to happen to St. Gregory’s?”

Bishop Spengler grimaced. “Father Kemper is a Prima Donna. Worse, he’s a Prima Donna who can’t sing. All the bother, and none of the talent. He’s been making a pest of himself, when it’s obvious that would only profit HIM. Forget Kemper. Not only aren’t we shutting Saint Gregory’s down, we’re going to expand it.”

“Expand it?”

“Yes, we’re going to buy the buildings on either side of it, enlarge the Rectory, and build a hospital that will use St. Gregory’s as its chapel.”

“I’m missing something here,” Carmody said warily.

Bishop Spengler sighed. “This … will take some foundation. The current theory as to what Kerry does, is that she’s what’s called an ‘Omnipath’, that is, she’s a sort of Empath who gathers power from the energy implicit in various sorts of emotions. Miss Ellison seems to focus primarily on ‘positive’ emotions; very sensible for someone of her age. Mr. Lodgeman thinks that there’s some sort of ‘Manifestation’ power involved and those ‘angels’, are formed basically of those ‘positive emotions’.

“Now, here is where it get interesting. Either as a secondary trait, or as a ramification of that ability, Kerry seems to be able to use the power of those emotions to pierce the ‘walls’ between this level of reality and what are called the ‘Higher Realms’, what Q’abbalism calls ‘Malkuth’. This divides into various levels that correspond to Elemental spirits, lesser spirits, lesser angels and demons, and then the Arch-Angels and Greater Demons, until you get to, theoretically, the very presence of God himself.

“But, Kerry doesn’t seem to go quite THAT high. At any rate, this appears to be a refinement of a natural human ability, which is the basis for most High Rite level ceremonial magic. Kerry pierces the walls at whatever level she reaches and ‘heterodynes’, to use a radio engineering term, the rest of the energy to form those real whopper angels of hers.”

“GOOD LORD! Such power, in the hands of child!”

“M’yes. That’s just it. Y’see, normally, Kerry wouldn’t have been able to achieve those levels of power, oh for YEARS. HOWEVER, if you were to isolate such a child, and place her so that she was almost constantly bombarded with positive emotions, say, Faith for instance, for, let’s say … almost two months, just for example. Have her use that unusual circumstance to repeatedly breach the walls between the realms, almost on a daily basis, say, then have her make several inordinately powerful draws, say to protect those near and dear to her. And then, for the capper, on a mystically important day at an important time, lower her self-control using drugs- just for example- and expose her to a truly unprecedented level of emotional power, why that poor unfortunate child would form a link with even higher planes, and be able to channel minute amounts of magical energy and empower it to impressive levels. WITHOUT needed large amounts of highly focused emotional power.”

“So … you’re saying …”

“I’m saying that now she can grow those wings and form that sword of hers practically any time that she wants. Not at the incredible level of power that she showed, say, fighting Ymir, but say at the level she showed when she was whaling the tar out of you.”

That’s when Father Carmody got it. “Then, since she did most of that at Saint Gregory’s, then the ‘walls’ would be significantly thinner there, and …”

“Indeed. As of this moment, Saint Gregory’s is one of the most blessed places on the North American continent. The Church would have to maintain a presence there, just to keep necromantic idiots from trying to use it.”

“And, it wouldn’t do the patients at that hospital that you were talking about any harm, either.”

“We’re not expecting miracles such as you were trotting out, but definitely, an auspicious place for healing.”

Father Carmody sat back, both heartened at his prospects, and slightly saddened at the lack of real penance. “Well! It sounds like things will be very interesting at Saint Gregory’s for quite a while!”

“Yes, it’s a pity that you won’t see most of it, while you’re in Nairobi.”

“Nairobi? Kenya? Why am I to be sent to Kenya?”

“Oh, you’re not being punished, Carmody.”

“Then why?”

“For your protection. It’s the furthest place that we could find that has both a large Catholic population and speaks English.”

“Why?”

Bishop Spengler sighed. “More explanations. Carmody, do you know what a ‘Body Image Template’ is?” Father John shook his head. “Well, in some mutant types, there are traits that control how the body shapes itself. The ‘Body Image Template’ or ‘BIT’ is how researchers think mutants do this. It’s sort of a blueprint that mutants have in their heads, that tells their bodies how to build them. The thing is, a BIT can be changed for various reasons. Now, for quite a while, there’s been something that really nagged at me: WHY did Kerry Ellison change into a girl? Kerry doesn’t appear to be a Transsexual. If it had been ‘hard wired’ into her, why did it take so long?

But, a discussion with the fire-eating Mrs. Ellison revealed that Kerry was a very obliging, very complaisant child, very suggestible. Her experience with you appears to have knocked some of that out of her. But, if someone were to form an intense empathic bond with such a child, they might be able to impose a new body image over the child’s BIT.”

Bishop Spengler smiled and leaned forward over his desk. “Now, Carmody, tell me. Can YOU think of anyone who had a close bond with Kerry, who might unwittingly think of Angels as cute blonde girls?”

Father Carmody squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.

“Yes,” Bishop Spengler resumed. “Now, here’s the kicker. At this school they’re sending Kerry to, they teach the students the basics of Mutant Power Theory, on the principle that they have a need to know. Kerry isn’t a stupid child, Carmody. Indeed, her old school records show that she was a B to B+ average student. Since her mutation has manifested, it’s likely that that average will only climb. It’s only a matter of time before she puts Two and Two together.”

From the look on his face, Carmody had just made that calculation himself. “Oh, My God …”

“Precisely.”

“So … Kenya …?”

“I understand that the cathedral in Nairobi is beautiful.”

“Sir, before I go …”

“Oh, you have a few months grace time. If nothing else, you’ll have to train Father Logue.”

“That’s not what I meant. About El Penitente … I mean, Jorge Cascardero. Sir, I know that I don’t have a lot of credit with the Archdiocese right about now, but sir! He literally walked through FIRE to save me! Sir, he’s EARNED a reconciliation! He wants, he DESERVES a chance to reconcile! Please, I beg you- intercede with the Cardinal, to lift the excommunication. Let him atone, help him get rid of that curse that he’s lived with for so long.”

Bishop Spengler nodded and grinned. “You know, that sucker punch that Mrs. Ellison laid on his chin did Himself a world of good. He went looking for a Photo Op, and he GOT one, by God! It took him down a peg. Mind you, I never said that, and I’ll denounce you as a liar if you ever repeat it. But anyway, His Excellency signed the order lifting the Excommunication yesterday.” The Bishop lifted an envelope from his desk. “Of course, I need someone to deliver it …”

Carmody reached forward. “I know that I don’t deserve it, but …”

Spengler pulled the envelope back. “Just so that you know, your refuge in Kenya and Cascardero’s reconciliation DO have price tags.”

Carmody paused. He discovered that, despite his experiences, he still hated politics. “Which are?”

“Kerry Ellison. Even though she’s not the powerhouse that she was at Rockefeller Center- at least not on a daily basis- her potential is still enormous. It’s a minor miracle that the only members of the Grand Hall in residence when this all went down were rank incompetents. If someone like Lady Jettatura, or the Chaldean or the Necromancer or Syndarian had been around, it would have been vastly different.

“As it was, you barely survived. If one of the real big leaguers had been running the show, we wouldn’t have even known anything was wrong until the very gates of Hell had opened under our feet. Carmody, you did ONE THING that truly redeemed you in my eyes. You followed my orders, and baptized Kerry Ellison as a Roman Catholic. No matter what the fearsome Mrs. Ellison or even Kerry say, she’s a Catholic now, and she always will be. Mind you, she’s displaying a pronounced aversion to Catholicism at the moment, which Reverend Englund is playing for all he’s worth.

“But, she belongs in the Church. It’s the only place that will truly be safe for her- or the rest of the world. And THAT is where you and El Penitente come in. You both have holds on her that will … in the fullness of time … be useful in leading her back into the fold.”

Spengler handed the envelope out again.  Carmody thought for a long moment, and took the envelope.

January 7th

Bernardo, the small boy who had brought El Penitente the Thanksgiving dinner, all but dragged the huge man down the street. The bells of St. Gregory’s were ringing, and for once, they didn’t hurt Jorge’s ears.

Father John was standing on the stairs wearing his vestments, welcoming the faithful, who were still coming despite the churches fall from popularity. Bernardo hauled Jorge up to the priest. “Here he is, Padrone! I found him, just like I said I would!”

“Good boy!” Father John tousled his hair. “Now, go find Sister Esperanza, and get ready.” The boy ran inside.

“What’s this, Padrone?” Jorge asked, “Has the Restraining Order been lifted?”

Father John shook his head. “That restraining order was never signed. No, I think that you’ll like this even better.” He reached under the white blanket and produced the envelope.

Jorge took the order and read it. It took him a while to sort out some of the finer print, but when he got the gist of it, he began to tremble. When he put down the sheet of paper, the eyes in his devil’s face were wet with tears. “Gracias, Padrone. Muy Gracias.”

 

Father John shook his head. “Don’t thank me. I had to beg on my hands and knees to be the one to get to give you the good news. Everyone knows that you’ve earned this.”

“And …?” Jorge swept a massive hand at the files of worshippers entering the church.

“I would be mortally offended if you didn’t attend. And, I have one more thing, before we start.” He took the white blanket from his arm and presented it to Jorge.

“Is that …?”

“Yes, it is. It’s the blanket that Kerry was wearing when Officer O’Keefe first brought her here, two months ago. Lord, that seems so long ago now.” He shook his head as if to shake out all the bad memories,  “Anyway, I’ve received a lot of offers of truly ridiculous amounts of money for it. It seems that people are still desperate for miracles. Technically, it’s the property of the New York Police. But they routinely hand these out to those who need- or deserve them. And, to be honest, of all the people involved in this mess, there’s only ONE that I can think of, who acted solely without any regard for his own welfare or any agenda.” With that, he draped the dazzling white blanket around El Penitente’s neck. “May it keep you warm in the months to come.”

Jorge nodded. As they walked up the stairs, Jorge said, “Okay, but I gotta warn you- you should take me last, for Confession. It might take a while. And you might wanna have one of the Sisters bring you a sandwich or sum’thin’.”

 ###

El Penitente proudly wore that dazzling white blanket around his neck for the duration of his stay on the street of New York. And among those people who are inclined to believe such things, it is said that despite the fact that he was forced to live in less than sanitary conditions, he never had to have it cleaned. A minor, but telling miracle. El Penitente’s shawl was always as pure and unsullied as the heart of an angel.

FINI

‘Stairway to Heaven’ is by Led Zepplin, copyrighted to Paige and Palmer