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Friday, December 22, 2017

The Treasure of Eerie, Arizona -- Chapter 3, Part 2


By Christopher Leeson and Ellie Dauber 
  

Chapter 3, Part 2
 
December 14, 1871, Continued

With a huff, Myra did as her aunt told her.  The only food on the table was some slices of canned oranges, a loaf of fresh bread, and a dish of churned butter.  For a beverage, they had coffee in an enameled pot and a small pitcher of milk.   

“There's hot food on the stove,” said her aunt.  “Load up with whatever you like,”. 

Myra went to the steaming kettles filled with boiled beef, green beans, and mashed potatoes.  Hungry, she shoveled large portions onto her plate.

“Mrs. Fanning!” called George from outside.  “I'm finished with the horse.”

“Come in, boy,” Irene shouted back.  “Have something to eat.”

“Don't mind if I do,” George replied upon entering.  His eyes darted around the shadowy interior, and came to rest on Myra, who had taken her place at the table.

The boy paused to hang his broad-brimmed hat on a nail driven into the wall boards.  “There's food on the stove,” said his hostess.  “Help yourself and then draw up one of the chairs.”  Following her advice, he filled a plate of his own and, a moment later, was seated opposite Myra.

The girl stubbornly concentrated on her eating, already impatient to leave.

“George,” said Irene, “I suppose you young people have already introduced yourselves.”

“We have.  I was pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Myra,” he said.

Irene knew that she had to speak as though Myra were new to the area.  “George's family lives about a mile from here on the other side of the ridge,” she explained.  “He helps out as much as his folks can spare him.”  When Myra said nothing, Mrs. Fanning added, “Be polite and say hello.”

“Hello,” said the girl.

Irene smiled tightly and put a question to the house guest.  “Have you heard anything about the posse, George?”

The youth responded, frowning,  “Mr. Singer dropped by with some news just before I left home.”

The farm woman sighed.  “He must have told you that Myr... Thorn was one of the robbers.  It makes me very sad.”

“They say that he was... shot,” the youth offered delicately.

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Fanning.  “At least that's what the rider told the sheriff.”

“Did the posse find … anything… up at the Gap?”

Irene winched.  Of course someone would have been sent to search the Gap if there were known to be a wounded outlaw up there.  “The men haven't returned yet,” she said.  “But a man was sent to look just as soon as the news came in.  The talk is that there was...no trace.”

“You're a very brave woman,” George remarked.  “I'm surprised that you're still able to smile, having gotten such terrible news.”

Irene glanced down.  “I – I think I'm still quite stunned,” she stammered.  “Deep down, I haven't really come to grips with the enormity of the tragedy.”

“It is very terrible.”  The boy then glanced with interest toward Myra.  “You were coming down from Stage Coach Gap.  What did you see up there?”

“Nothing but rock and mesquite,” the girl answered stiffly.  “I actually didn't go too far.  I... I don't even know where this gap of yours is.”

George grinned.  “If a person follows the road to where it becomes a rock pavement, he's in the Gap.”

Myra shifted uncomfortably when she realized that the nosy neighbor seemed to be watching her face rather closely. 

“The gap is where the rough country meets the prairie,” the boy explained while cutting off a peace of meat.  “Mrs. Fanning, is Myra going to be staying with you for a while?”

“I expect so,” affirmed Irene.  “Her mother passed away a couple months ago.  She doesn't have any other close family.”

“That's good.”  Then George caught himself.  “I mean, I'm sorry to hear about your misfortune, Miss Myra.  I only meant that it's always better to stay with kinfolk than with strangers.”  Myra's expression remained cold, so the youth addressed her aunt.  “Will you still need me for chores, ma'am, now that you have a healthy young lady to take up the slack?”

Irene considered that question thoughtfully.  Finally she said, “Myra has a few things to learn about homesteading, so, for the time being, you can keep on coming as before.  Even if she takes to farming well, there will always be occasions when we'll be needing extra help.”

“I'll be glad to keep coming over,” George said as he reached for another piece of orange.  “I love these oranges, ma'am.  Dad planted a few trees last spring.”

“We get our fruit, except for apples and plums, from Ortega's grocery in town.  I tried planting some oranges of our own a couple years back, but they all died.”

“I hope ours do better.  But about work tomorrow... ” began the boy.

“I think we'll hold off for a couple days.  Myra is going to need a little while to settle in.”

“She'll be needing a warm coat, too.  I noticed her wearing her uncle's jacket, instead of one of her own.”

Irene thought quickly.  “She... lost her trunk when the stage she was on went over a bump while crossing a fast stream.  A friend is going help out by picking her up some replacement things in Phoenix.”

“Why go all the way to Phoenix?” George asked.

Irene had said more than she should have.  Being unused to lying, she found it not easy to do well.  “The lady was going there anyway.  She says that prices and selection are much better in the big town.”

George smiled, “A lady from church?”

“No.  Mrs. O'Toole.”  Mrs. Fanning hadn't wanted to mention the O'Tooles and, by inference, the potion, but it was better to get that detail out now, instead of being caught in a lie later.

George blinked.  “Molly O'Toole?  How did you two happen to meet?  She doesn't go to our church.”

“We were at the same shop a couple weeks ago.  She's very nice.”

“She seems to be,” he conceded with a nod.

Irene dearly wanted to change the subject.  “So you're visiting the saloons now, George?  It seems only yesterday that you were just a little scamp.”

He grinned.  “Ma says I still am, but Pa took me to get my first beer last month when I turned eighteen.”

Mrs. Fanning shook her head.  “Men and their beer.  It would take the fiery angel of Eden to keep them apart, I'm afraid.”

“Well, men and women have their different ways.  Wouldn't you agree, Myra?” 

The girl, frowning, replied, “I reckon they do.” 


#

Myra felt relieved when Severin finally rode off.

“Myra, I've been thinking... ” Irene began.

The girl spun.  “Don't call me that name!”

Her aunt drew a deep breath, bracing for a quarrel.  “How long would it take for someone like George, or maybe neighbor Singer, to guess who you really are if they overheard me calling you Myron or Thornton?”

“Humphh!” was the only response Myra gave.  She had found that if Irene didn't frame a question like a command, she didn't have to answer it.

“If you aren't worried about people finding out, I'll be glad to call you Myron.  Otherwise, it has to be Myra -- unless you prefer Abigail.”

“That's even worse than Myra.  It sounds like some old granny's name.”

“Perhaps your cousin Abigail thinks so, too.  She signs her cards 'Gail.'  I suppose she supposes that it sounds more modern.  Anyway, I'm glad you didn't say anything to offend George.  You're almost the same age.  You can be friends.”

“Humphh!” she repeated.

“If he likes you, I bet he'll be persuaded to help with some of your heavier chores.”

“I don't need any help from the likes of him!”

“I see.  Well, it's about time we talk about more serious matters.  We can't have you riding off and never coming back.  The bad things that befall a boy out in the world can be so much worse for a girl.”  Myra looked indignant at hearing the word “girl,” but held her peace.

“I should have told you this before, but I'm telling you now.  I want you to be home – and I mean here at the farm – by sundown every day, unless you've asked for and have received permission to stay out later.  And don't try to sneak away at night, either.  If you go outside after sunset, don't go any farther than you could walk in five minutes, unless, like I've said, you've gotten permission.”

Myra's face hardened.  “So I'm just a prisoner.”

“I'm sorry that you think so.  You're walking a strange path, but robbers become convicts; that's how life works.  If you had been caught by a posse, you might have received that same potion from the judge as punishment.  Then everyone would know that it was Myron Caldwell who was cooking, cleaning, and serving drinks as the newest potion girl at the saloon.  But you were blessed.  That concoction not only saved your life, it also disguised you.  No one has to know what really happened to Myron.”

“Too many people already know!”

“Some people had to be told.  I needed advice when when the doctor found out that he couldn't help you.  They're good people and I think they will be willing to help you settle into the community without causing suspicion.  I won't tell anyone else, and I certainly hope that you don't accidentally let anyone know.”

Myra let out a frustrated sound.

“You're alive and you're home,” Irene reminded her.  “You now have a future.  This property will be yours when you turn twenty-one.  If you would just help me manage it until you're an adult, you'll have a good nest egg by the time you take over.”

Myra shook her head.  “Living like a peon isn't anything to look forward to.  I'd be better off inheriting a champion race horse instead of some dusty old homestead in the desert.  Farmers usually work all their lives and still end up with nothing.  Anyway, why should I believe that you'll turn over the land when I'm twenty-one?”

“Why shouldn't you believe?”

“Because if people think Myron's dead, there's no one to inherit anything.  And even if you hand back what should be mine already, you'll probably keep ordering me around like you're doing now.”

Irene sighed.  “Tell anyone you want that you're Myron.  It's all up to you.  But you have my word that the farm is yours when you come of age.  When that happens, I'll respect your likings.”

The girl looked at her suspiciously.  “While I'm running the farm, where will you be?”

“If you don't want me to stay and help out, I'll get along somehow.  The Lord provides.”

“I hope the Lord provides me with a buyer.  I'll be ready to sell this place on my twenty-first birthday.”

Irene grew somber.  “If you don't change your mind by then, I only hope that you will use the selling price wisely.  Your attitude worries me.  How are you going to support yourself once the money is all spent?  You can't be an outlaw anymore.  So how do you expect to be making a living a few years out?  A person who owns land always amounts to something.  You're so lucky that your father left the farm without any debt.”

Myra couldn't think of a good reply, even though she wasn't ready to accept her aunt's view of the world.

#

December 16, 1871

A couple days later, just after the midday meal, Irene heard a coach coming from the direction of Eerie.  Going to the door, she saw a small one-horse, canopied buggy kicking up dust.  Judge Humphreys was driving and, behind him, a horseman followed.  It was Paul Grant, the sheriff's deputy.  The Judge turned off  the road and passed through the open gate, the lawman following close behind.

Mrs. Fanning waited on the rock-slab step.

“Howdy, ma'am,” Paul called, dismounting.

“Has the sheriff caught the outlaws yet, Deputy?” she asked.

“Not that we know of,” her rangy visitor replied, stepping around his companion's vehicle.  “Some of the posse's straggled back, but Sheriff Talbot is still out with most of the men.”

“How is... the young lady?” Judge Humphreys asked, carefully climbing down from his rig.

Irene grimaced.  “She's doing about as well as one can expect.”

The jurist joined the other two.  “No problems?”

“She's sour and sulky.  I suppose a person can't blame her.”

Humphreys nodded.  “We need to know more about the robbery.  Paul here will ask the questions and I'll make sure that your niece tells the truth.”

The woman shook her head.  “I'm so sorry that a member of my family has to be involved in something as awful as this.”

“Boys will be... .” began the judge, but then thought better of it.

“Come in.  I'll find Myra.”

The two men followed the young woman into the main room and made themselves at home in two of the four available chairs.  Then their hostess went back outside, calling her niece's name.

A couple minutes after, the bright rectangle of the doorway was broken by Myra's silhouette, giving Paul got his first look at Eerie's newest potion girl.  When she suspiciously came closer, “pretty” was the first word that sprang into his mind.  Every time Paul saw the effects of Shamus' concoction, it amazed him all the more.   She looked Thorn's age, about seventeen, but that was where the resemblance ended.  The gal's auburn hair gave off red sparkles where sunlight touched it; her form was lithe but ripe and blooming.  Paul reckoned that Myra Olcott would soon be catching the notice of every young man with an eye for beauty.

Just then, Irene returned from outdoors.

The judge stood up and pointed to the empty chairs.  “Good day, Miss Olcott, Mrs. Fanning.  We have a few questions for your niece.”

Myra remained standing, her face like stone.  Irene had told her that the rotund man was people – rattlesnakes -- who had played a part in in her transformation.  She thought she recognized the bravo with him as a local cowboy, but now he was wearing a deputy badge.  “How much does he know?” Myra asked the justice, making a gesture toward Paul.

Humphreys shrugged.  “With the sheriff away, it was necessary to brief him fully.”

“Oh, fine!  Why don't you just tell the whole damned town while you're at it?”

“I'd like you to sit down,” the old man informed her firmly.

Myra did as told, having no other choice.  Judge Humphreys had power over her,  just like Molly O'Toole and her aunt did.

Humphreys turned toward Paul.  “Deputy Grant, the floor is yours.”

“Miss Olcott,” Paul began.

Myra refused to acknowledge the man's address.

“Miss Olcott,” the lawman repeated, “tell us about how the robbery came off.”

“Why, do you need some pointers from a professional?” mocked the auburn lass.

“Young lady,” interjected the judge, “respond to Deputy Grant's question.  Tell us about how the robbery occurred, and tell the truth.”

Something was forcing her to answer accurately.  “We w-waited for…for the stage up in th-the Gap.  We'd barri…caded the road.  When...When they st-stopped, we made – uh! -- made them thr-throw down their g-g-guns and the guard… umm, he gave us the st-strong… b-box.  We hadn't br-brought any t-tools, so Ike…Ike tried to shoot the…l-lock off.  The bounce hit…hit me in the g-gut.”

She had paused.  “And then?” coaxed Paul.

Myra felt like a damned fool, the way she was stuttering and stammering.  'Maybe,” she thought, 'I shouldn't fight against answering so hard, just to protect the bastards that shot me and left me for dead?'  She decided to tweak her answers in a way that would nail the gang down good, but would not hurt her so much.

“Reply to the question, Miss,” Humphreys interjected sternly.

Myra sucked in a breath.  “It hurt like h-hell.  Ike just… just left me in the dirt.  He told everyone to get out of the coach and c-clear away the barricade.  When they did, he ordered them to head on out, a-away from Eerie.”  It was easier to deal with the interrogation by letting go of those items of truth that she didn't mind telling!

“Who is this Ike?” Paul inquired.

“Ike Bartram!  He said he and his folks came to Arizona T-Territory after the w-war.  His pa had to hightail it out of Missouri, 'cause he'd been working with guerrillas and the army was looking for people like  him.”

“The other robbers?”

“Jeb and Horace Freely.  They're from California, where they'd ended up w-wanted for rustling.”

“Where did you meet them?”

“Antelope Spring – at Whipple's Saloon.”

“Antelope Spring?”

“A new town –  up near that Grand Canyon.”

“When was that?”

“Late October.  From there we went toward Yuma.  All that the three of them could ever talk about was getting an easy take.  I told them about the Prescott-Tucson Stage here at Eerie.”

“All right,” the deputy said.  “You were hurt and on the ground.  Then what happened?”

“Jeb and Horace lugged the chest back into that arroyo up there.  Ike came my way and said that if I wasn't fit to ride, they couldn't afford to leave me for the law.  He was afraid I'd spill my guts.”

Paul chuckled. “It looks like he was right about that.”

Myra glared.  “If I wasn't full of that potion crap, you'd see how much I'd be telling you!”

“Yeah, sure, I bet you're just as brave as Bill Hickok in the dime novels.  What did Ike do then?” 

“He said that if I was still alive after they finished with the gold, they'd have to do something about it.”

In the background, Irene gasped.

“Where did they hide it?” asked the lawman.

Here Myra snatched a sly thought out of thin air to conceal the fact that she knew exactly where the gold was buried.  She said, “I couldn't see where they went once they got inside the canyon.  All I was thinking about was dodging away.  I guess I wasn't as far gone as Ike supposed.  The hurting was bad, but I was able to reach my horse and make it as far as the farm.  Once I got to the yard, I don't remember anything, not until I woke up like... this.”

Paul frowned.  “So, as far as you know, the gold might still be in the arroyo?”

Myra didn't want to admit to that, but didn't think that she could come up with a lie good enough to put them off the track.  If the judge ordered her to tell the whole truth, any hope of getting that box for herself would be done for.  “Yeah, sure.  Is there a reward for finding it?”

The deputy grinned with incredulity.  “Not for you.  How well do you know that little canyon?”

“I went into it hundreds of times, back when I was a kid.”

Paul regarded the judge.  “Why don't I go up there with Miss Olcott and see what we can find?”

Humphreys nodded.  “That makes sense.  I'll head back to town.  If you find the strongbox, you'll be needing a wagon and a couple men to help bring it back.  I'll get things ready.”

Grant nodded.  “Right, Your Honor.”  Then, rising, he extended a hand to assist Myra to her feet.  She sneered and got up under her own power.

“Young lady,” said Humphreys, “when you're out with Mr. Grant, you'll do what he tells you to, just like I was speaking to you myself.”  The justice paused, sensing a nagging deep inside, telling him to go easy, as if Myra were an ordinary girl.  He ignored the impulse.  “It looks like everything you went through to get your hands on that gold was for nothing.  Some people can only learn the hard way that crime doesn't pay.  I hope you're capable of learning at least that much.”

“Go to hell!” the farm girl snarled.


TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 4, PART 1

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Falling Star: Chapter 5, Part 2



Posted 12-07-17
 

An Angel From Hell story

Chapter 5, Part 2

By Christopher Leeson


Could it have been sheer luck or was it unasked-for help from heaven?  Whatever it was, Jezebel's fast driving wasn't interrupted by the falcons of the law between Brady and Kearney.  The Watcher was glancing to the dashboard clock every five minutes.  Time was short; she couldn't know for how long her most recent lust-recharge would last.  The second one had persisted longer than the first, but to play it safe, she needed to extract Holly from Monsatana's clutches in under two hours.

Jezebel had lost hours of travel around Brady, but, even at that, the time was barely past two in the morning.  Would the Satanists at Monsatana wait until sunup before moving Petosia Wittke to a company air strip?  She couldn't count on that, and so needed to assume the worst.  Already, in the back of her mind, she contemplated a possible trip out to Los Angeles.  The fallen angel couldn't accept failure; the price she might have to pay would be damnation.

The young woman made the turn-off at Exit 272 for Kearney, briefly stopping to top off her tank and to find a local map.  The filling station offered the latter at $3.95 and she bought one.  It showed the Monsatana Food Company situated off by itself, in an east-side industrial area.  Checking a city directory at the station desk, she found no listings of any other Monsatana properties nearby.  That narrowed down her known area of search. If the Cabalists didn't expect a rescue, they might opt to hold their captive inside the factory complex itself.  Still, the installation looked huge and searching on the blind would be neither quick nor easy.

Jezebel returned to her Toyota and turned to the heart of town. The city had only about 31,000 in population, and so reaching the canning factory was a matter of mere minutes.

The Monsatana complex looked like it had been laid out with prison architecture in mind.  The management didn't seem to want people either getting in or getting out unmonitored.  The Watcher parked her car along the adjacent service road, where it would be screened from view by a stand of catalpas.  With her stilettos stuffed into her bag to facilitate walking, the girl advanced toward the factory, using the available shadows for concealment.

The factory had guard towers and a fenced perimeter, and the latter displayed signs saying High Voltage.  That seemed excessive.  Only a well paid-off local government would not have become suspicious at seeing such security overkill at a commonplace cannery.  Be that as it may, the thought of going up against thousands of volts made Jezebel dubious.  Could her borrowed body shake off a heavy electrical shock, its current demonic power-charge notwithstanding?

As an child of Heaven, Jetrel had often turned invisible.  Jezebel tried to invoke that power of old beside her vehicle, but nothing happened.  How frustrating!  If the Father cared so much about protecting Pelosia Wittke, why had he denied her so many of the familiar abilities that would have made her a more effective rescuer?

A new thought made the angel brighten.  She stooped, concentrated, and touched the pavement.

Finally, a break!

Just at that moment, the Watcher heard a low roar, along with the distinctive hiss of heavy-duty brakes.  A truck was entering the parking area.  She took cover inside the black shadow cast by some electric transformer equipment.

As the slowing tractor-trailer passed her, Jezebel sprang after it.  She leaped upon its towing accessory and clung to the box's door latch.  The girl then pressed forward and, like a ghost, phased through the steel doors, falling into the interior the cargo compartment.  Reflexively, she restored her solidity in time to prevent herself from dropping through the floor.

Jezebel didn't need the dim light filtering in through the ventilation grates to observe her surroundings.  There was not much to see, except for an uninteresting cargo.  The vehicle came to a halt just then, and the angel heard voices up front.

A few short phrases were exchanged, presumably between the driver and the gatekeepers.  A couple minutes later, the truck revved its engine and rolled on.  Now that she had penetrated the security fence, the Watcher had no exact plan, except to get inside and look around.  Her idea was to grab some night-shift employee and question him about seeing a dark-haired girl, a real looker, arriving in a silver car near to midnight, accompanied by two Middle-Eastern sorts.

The truck slowed and stopped.  Jezebel heard metal doors sliding along tracks.  When they quieted, the forward roll resumed and, a minute later, the cab and its load stopped with a hiss of its hydraulic brakes.  The angel phased the upper part of her body through the metal wall and peered outside.  What she saw was certainly underwhelming -- a spacious warehouse filled with stacked pallets, forklifts, and other small industrial vehicles.

Jezebel, seeing no one, sprang through, striking the concrete floor with materialized feet, to scurry toward a lofty ridge of boxes.  This she phased through as a phantom, and came out abutting a cinder-block wall.

At the sound of conversation, the Watcher peered through a gap between the stacks.  She espied the parked truck with two security men beside it. The driver emerged and a few words more were spoken.  The trucker was then escorted away by one of the uniformed men.  The other guard, having been left with the keys, started to check out the vehicle, starting with the cab.  It did seem to the intruder that the management wanted no surprises coming in and were distrustful of even routine deliveries.

Jezebel waited until the guard had finished with the cab and had gone to the back of the truck, where he unlocked the doors and climbed up inside.

A moment later, hearing a sound, the security man turned abruptly.  He looked askance, seeing a young woman dressed just the way that he liked young women to dress.  He demanded, “Who the hell are you?”

Thank heavens someone finally came in!”  Jezebel exclaimed.  “I've been locked in this warehouse for more than a half hour.  It's not all that warm, you know.”

How did you get shut in?” the man asked uncertainly.  “Who let you through the gate?”

He said his name was John.”  She smiled.  “It seems like half the guys I meet are named John.  You probably know him.  He's about your height and wears a fancy suit.”  She touched her head. “He has thinning hair.  He took me to an expensive club and bought me a lunch.”

So, why are you here?”

The guy, John, invited me back to his office.  He told me to wait in here while he checked is emails, but when he left he locked the doors.  Who'd do something like that?  Is this place run by a gang of sex fiends, like the Senate is?”

The security man frowned, not so much at the girl, but against the unfairness of life.  Money, luxury, women, the suits had all it all.  It was hard living surrounded by profligate prosperity without being able to touch it.  “I've got to take you to my supervisor.  He'll be able to hook you up with your boyfriend.”

Jezebel braced her fists against her hips.  “Some boyfriend!  I don't think I trust him.  I'm calling this off.  I want to go home.”

The guard shook his head.  “Nobody leaves Monsatana property until they're checked out.”  He walked past the girl and, from a sitting position, dropped to the warehouse floor.  Then he held out a hand.  “Come on, Miss, I'll help you down.”

Do the Monsatana big shots bring a lot of girls into this place?” Jezebel asked.

Never mind that.  Come here.”

The blonde came to the end of the box and sat down.  She let the man take her left arm, but when he put himself off guard, she swung a hard right-cross to his jaw.

The guard crashed to the concrete.  Jezebel sprang on top of him, subduing his struggles with another punch.  Then she dragged her victim behind one of the box stacks.

By dealing the man plentiful face slaps, the angel brought him around.  When he lay blinking at her feet, she affected a Russian accent and said, “I am here on orders from the FSB, which used to be KGB.”  The guard looked appropriately shocked, as she expected he would.  In the United States, the news was nothing but sensationalist lies.  For decades, the mainstream media had been controlled by the intelligence services.  

The Fake News meisters did their job well, making the people believe in a reality that existed only in the minds of Cabalist plotters.  Lately, to explain why their candidate lost the election, they blamed it on Russian manipulation and tried to arouse the populace against the new president with the idea that he had been imposed on them by spies and traitors.  It was no wonder that the guard looked alarmed.  But the Cabal had miscalculated; it was a frightened enemy who most easily gave up the best information.

She said, “The free people of the motherland know that Monsatana has been smuggling banned GMO shipments into Russia.  The rubbish they call food is made with the DNA of vermin and laden with nanites that makes the human body fat and sick.  If you deny the truth, it can only be because you support the conspirators.  Speak! I know you are not mute.”

I—I never heard of that!”

She tossed her head and scornfully.  “Of course you have not; such scheming would hardly have been published in the employee bulletin!  But you have suspected such things, have you not?”

He blinked.  “Sometimes we hear things. T-They're poisoning Africa – that's for sure.  But I didn't hear about Russia.”

Such is not important.  An FSB agent has infiltrated Monsatana and she knows everything.  This comrade is a superb honey trap.  Very lovely, very seductive.  But she failed to make her call-in.  Because the operative is traceable through an injected GPS, we have confirmed that she is inside this labyrinth, somewhere.  What do you know of such a captive?  She would have been brought through the gate tonight.”

I didn't see anything!”

Then you are useless and must die.”

But –“ the prisoner quickly interjected, “but one of the gate guards said something.”

What did he tell you, Americanski?”

Two men came through.  They had a girl in the back.  They were treating her like a prisoner.”

Did they appear to be Chinese, and was the car was red?” she demanded, testing him.

No.  These were Arab types.  The car was silver.”

Jezebel frowned.  “What did the girl look like?”

Pretty.  Black hair.”

No one at the gate became suspicious?”

We're paid not to be suspicious – not of anything that the bosses do.  We have to let women through all the time.  Most are whores, but sometimes....”  He suddenly clammed up.

What are you not saying?”

He reluctantly went on.  “Cult stuff. The top management does crazy things.  Mostly they want to do it with women and children.”

What do they do?”

He grimaced.  “Things like in horror movies.”

And you guards keep secret such vile activity?”

T-There's no one to tell.  Their friends run the city.  The state and feds are even worse.  I never realized the FBI was so dirty.  If you say you don't like something, you're fired.  Anyone who makes too much fuss disappears, or is at least framed and put away.”

The Watcher said nothing.  All the angels, both the fallen and the holy, knew how the power brokers in America protected the Cabal at every level.

Where do they take their prisoners?”

To the executive office building.  Nobody ever sees them again.”

Where is this building?”

When she had the information, Jezebel asked, “Do you have access?”

He shook his head.

Who does?”

The special security section.  They're separate from us.  A bunch of oddball creeps, if you ask me.  They look ex-military.  The big shots won't let anyone else guard them.  They're the boys that handle all the ritual stuff.”

If I saw one, how would I know that he is special security?”

A different uniform, darker.  They all wear a star, but not a military star.”

How many points?”

Five”

It was probably a pentagram, a symbol of Satan so ubiquitous that the jaded eyes of modern man, surrounded on every side by a culture that was almost entirely Satanic, seldom even noticed it.  Jezebel now peered into the guard's eyes, instructing him, “You are passing into a deep sleep.  You will not remember meeting me and you won't remember this conversation.”  His eyes drooped shut and his breathing became deep and regular.

The angel continued speaking.  “Tomorrow, you will quit this job; from now on you'll get fed up very quickly whenever you find that any of your employers are breaking a law that shouldn't be broken.  You will wish to work only for people who seem to be honest.”

Jezebel was being easy on the wretch.  It was taking a lot of self-control to spare his life.  He actually had a purple aura, but it was faint.  It was the sort of aura that betokened a dupe or a low-level underling who was frequently around Satanists.  Such a one might not even knew who or what he was working for.  But that was not why she had decided to spare him.  If someone found his dead body too soon, it might wake up the whole Monsatana factory while she and Holly were still in it.  As it was, he would simply appear lazy, drunk, or sick.

But Jezebel had another reason.  She had scores to settle.  It gnawed at her on a personal level and she didn't want the pleasure of an unnecessary homicide to take the edge off her vengeance.

#

Jezebel stood regarding herself in the truck's rear-view mirror.  She had just fixed her hair and tidied her makeup.  Presentable, the girl thought.  Despite her best efforts, she came off looking like a rumpled hooker, but the guard's information had led her to conclude that rumpled hookers would not look out of place in such a cesspool of vice.

The Watcher sighed.  What was she doing?  This was dangerous work and her life would be so much simpler if she joined the Cabal.  They were grasping for things that she could at least understand.  What was she fighting for?  But the question was in vain; she already knew.  Jezebel was playing a longer game than the enemy was, refusing to climb on board what she saw as a sinking ship.

Even so, serving the Father had always been a hard row to hoe.  She didn't care for following rules -- especially rules that often seemed so vague.  Here she was, in the thick of things, and was still not clear on whether she was expected to kill every man or woman she came across who had even a slightly purple aura.  Should she slay them on sight?  Should she wait for their bad behavior?  Was she supposed to execute every Nephilim she encountered?  Then there was the matter of human beings. 

In the old days, Jetrel had slain mortals casually.  But since this new phase of her existence had begun, an inner instinct seemed to be putting her on warning.  The Father loved these creatures, it told her.  Satan had corrupted mankind in a deliberate manipulation to make their Creator reject them.  When the Enemy found out that the Father's love could not be killed so easily, he revolted in concert with others and tried a violent coup to achieve personal power, with the intention of committing genocide on Earth.

Jezebel wondered.  Every grief that both mortals and angels had been undergoing for thousands of years had, directly or indirectly, descended from the consequences of the War in Heaven.  Why had there even been a war?  Could the Father have actually failed to anticipate Satan's treachery?  That didn't seem possible.  He always knew in advance when every event would occur.  Time was one of his own creations and he had studied its entire fabric.

Had the Creator allowed Satan's treason to go forward because he wished to separate the sheep from the goats?  Had he wanted to seal the fate of those angels who were nursing the potential to betray him?  He knew everyone's weaknesses, but it seemed to be against his own law to strike down his creations preemptively.  In thousands of years of observing life, it dawned on Jetrel that there was not just one outcome to future history; there were many. 

Billions of inferior creatures, each exercising its own free will, were determining what the world would become from day to day.  And this, amazingly, went on without ever thwarting or altering the Father's master plan.  It was like all possible roads ultimately led to an ending that conformed to the Creator's will.  It seemed to the fallen angel that the only real choice that a created being could ever make was to either save or destroy himself.

Jezebel knew that if a mortal committed many sins, he could harden into a reprobate, one who could no longer tell right from wrong.  But an angel might gain a reprobate heart after only a single sin.  Was this why the Father preferred men to angels?  The Watcher didn't like to think about angels being inferior to the human race in any way.

Jezebel's thought-streaming paused when it came up against a strange notion:  What did the Father know about her own heart?  Did he see a quality that had caused him to bring her, and no other Watcher, to this place, this time, these circumstances?

What quality?

Jezebel shook her head.  Time was wasting, and time, at least in the earthly realm, was finite.  To save herself, she had to save Pelosia Wittke.  She was guessing that the special security detail would know where the girl was locked up.  Their members, apparently, would be found especially thick in and around the Monsatana executive office building.

Though the powers available in her present state were few, there was nothing wrong with her sense of direction.  She unerringly walked through a series of walls toward her goal.

Once outside, Jezebel kept to the shadows, making her way inconspicuously toward the executive offices.  When a mutter of voices rose up, she ducked behind a concrete display that read: Monsatana: Food, Health, Hope.

The Watcher peered around one end of it, to see who was coming.  Pay dirt – sort of.  Two men were approaching, and they were both glowing a vibrant purple.  She considered stepping out to meet them, but instinct warned her not to take on two at the same time.  Immortal angels customarily dare almost anything, but in this body she could die.  Then she would leave this realm, a place where there was a least a little pleasure and joy possible, and be imprisoned in a worse one.  She still hadn't done diddly squat to escape the Lake of Fire, so she needed to be careful.  Jezebel let the pair saunter by and then continued on her way.

Not too far from an entrance, the angel paused.  She needed to get inside the multi-storied structure, but considered that its security system might be very sophisticated.  Angel bodies were elusive, but how elusive was she in a limited human shell?  Guessing that the main detectors would be thickest near the entry, she walked ten yards farther along and phased through the brick-and-mortar wall, coming out inside of what looked like an ordinary business office.

The room was lit by night lights, but Jezebel didn't waste time exploring it.  To save energy, she unlocked the exit by hand and stepped out into a carpeted hall.

It was a couple minutes passing before she detected footsteps.

Hidden in a deep doorway, the angel waited while a security man came down the corridor.  She let him advance while she made sure that he wasn't accompanied.  At the right moment she emerged into plain sight.  “Psst! Sir! Get me out of here!” she exclaimed.  “These people are crazy! They're going to murder me.”

The guard jumped back and pulled his revolver.  “Who the hell are you?”

I'm Tracy.  A couple guys pushed me into a room and locked it.  But it had another exit that wasn't locked.  I have to get out!”

He grabbed her by the arm, digging his fingers in so hard that it would have been painful, except that Jezebel's sin-energy was making her flesh difficult to damage.  “I'm going to take you to the squad commander,” he said.

She pulled back.  “That's not a good idea!  This is a bad place.”

I know it.  And now you know it,” he declared, as he started tugging her along.

Jezebel tried not to smile.  So far, so good.


TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 6, Part 1