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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Treasure of Eerie, Arizona -- Chapter 4, Part 2

By Christopher Leeson and Ellie Dauber 

Posted 02- 21-18 

Chapter 4, Part 2

December 16, 1871, Continued

The four riders advanced upgrade to the mouth of Secret Canyon, where the outlaws swung down from their saddles. Ike lifted Myra by the waist and set her to the ground. “Keep your hands off me!” she told him.

The bandit gave a scornful laugh. “We don't have time to waste, Gila Monster. Show us the gold.”

“Go to hell!”

Quick as a rattler, Ike backhanded her cheek, hard enough to send her staggering.

Myra glared, her eyes wet with anger. Her fists balled, ready to sock him back, but she stopped herself. That wasn't a move that could end well -- even if the O'Toole magic would have allowed her to hit a person. Ike's weakness, she knew, wasn't in his biceps, but in his ego. It was smarter to come across like a coward, to make him think that things were going his way. If that happened, maybe she could take him by surprise later on, with something more than a little slap.

“S-Sorry,” the potion girl stammered, rubbing her cheek.

“Not half so sorry as you'll be if you've been lying....” the outlaw threatened.

“Yeah, I get the idea.” She grimly started into the canyon. “This way.”

The outlaws tied their horses and followed. By now, the twilight's fade was almost complete. They caught up to the girl,who just standing there, looking around. “I – I can't see any landmarks,” she said. “We need some light.”

“Damn you,” Ike growled. He took Myra's shoulders and spun her to face him, but didn't slap her again. “Get some wood,” he told the Freelys. “We'll build us a fire.”

Getting that done took fifteen minutes.

The smoky blaze they managed to kindle upon mesquite wood didn't amount too much, but it was better than nothing. Myra pointed an outstretched arm, saying, “It's somewhere around there. The lawman set out a couple of white rocks to point to it, but I still can't make them out in this light.”

Ike grunted and picked up a firebrand. With this crude torch in his left fist, he gripped Myra's wrist with his free hand and jerked her after him. He let the flames illuminate the ground as they walked it; Myra glimpsed the quartz stones, but pretended not to notice and continued on. Ike grew impatient.

“You're stalling!”

“I'm not...but I think we've gone too far,” the potion girl protested.

He dragged her back toward the exit. “There's one of them!” Myra said reluctantly, expecting trouble if she created any more delay.

A couple minutes later, she “discovered” the other white stone.

“You know,” the bandit leader said, “if you're a smart gal, maybe you can get a cut of the gold for yourself.”

Myra reacted with a scowl. It wasn't that gold didn't arouse her enthusiasm, but that the potion girl disliked the tone that Ike had used. “What do you mean?”

“I've had my eye on you. I've never seen a cancaner with better legs. You were way too much woman for Thorn! I don't think you even miss him. It's gold that brought you this far out. Fine, I understand that. You should care about gold; you could go places if you had enough of it. Have you ever seen San Francisco? Big town. Pretty things in those ladies' shops.”

Myra didn't give a damn about ladies' shops, but he had an idea of what she'd have to do to earn a share. “No thanks,” she said. “I'm not that kind of girl.”

Ike looked askance. “Since when? You're dressed up like a nice little milk maid, right now, but you sure ain't one.” Then the Missourian's tone turned serious. "Be poor if you want to. There's plenty more where you came from. Where's the gold?”

With a sigh, Myra sighted an imaginary line through the two white rocks and pointed. “That there's the place.”

The three young men went to the spot and started pitching stones left and right. Myra stood back, hoping for some chance to dodge away when they weren't looking. The important thing was not to get herself shot by lighting out too soon.

About five minutes passed. “Dammit to hell!” shouted Jeb. “I think I touched it!”

They started clearing away the rocks at an even faster rate. Pretty soon, they had the strongbox laid bare.

“Bring the tools,” Ike barked. Horace and his brother took torches, and then shuffled away to get the implements.

They quickly came back with a long pry bar, a couple chisels, a mallet, and a railroad spike hammer. Myra supposed that these tools must had been stashed behind the rocks of the Gap before the gang had descended upon the farm.

The brothers dropped the hardware on the ground and then, without much in the way of a plan, sorted the pieces out and started prying at the box.

The transport chest was sturdily made, having a latch consisting of a heavy hinge secured by a thick padlock. The three tried different ways to overpower the mechanism, but hammering at the lock only made a lot of noise. They fared no better with the box's back hinges, which were mostly concealed by the mode of construction. As for the prying bar, they couldn't find any purchase for it.

Finally, Ike ordered the brothers to settle down while he rethought things. He soon came up with new plan of attack and they commenced a determined assault on the hinge of the latch with a cold chisel driven home with the railroad hammer. After twenty minutes of grunting and cursing, Myra heard something break.

“Have we got it?” asked Ike.

“W-We sure do!” wheezed a tuckered-out Freely brother.

The metal lid of the box was throw back, but they could see almost nothing of what lay within. Ike stirred up the fire with a chisel to brighten it and added more wood. Then he selected the largest brand as a torch and held this over the chest. Myra had already moved up close. The shipment was fully packed. Memories came back. In childhood, she had often fantasied about finding conquistador loot or pirate treasure. The sight of ingots and pouches made her crazy. She was standing next to a dream come true. Or as it a nightmare? She knew that she didn't have a chance in hell of benefiting from it.

The men, on the other hand, looked jubilant. “Yay, doggie!” exclaimed Horace, holding a bag of loot against this thick chest, as if it were a precious pet.

“Cut out that noise-making!” snarled Ike, holding a fistful of bills. “We've got to move fast. Fill the saddlebags. We'll take out the paper and coins for ready cash. We'll do the final counting west of here, when we find a place to hide the main haul. Once there's no more posses to worry about, we can come back and gather it in.”

Ike turned Myra's way. “As for you, missy, we'll tie you up like we did your aunt. If the coyotes don't make a meal out of you, you'll keep for the deputy in the morning."


While the desperadoes packed the horses, Myra was left sitting upon a flat stone on the opposite side of the canyon mouth, bound and and foot, feeling sorry for herself. The way she saw things, it would have been better to never have gone for the gold at all, rather than come so close only to lose it. Her thoughts were interrupted, suddenly sensing furtive motion behind her. She gasped.

“Shhhh! Someone hissed. The girl glanced over her shoulder; it was too dark to see, but a presence was crouching there. She almost shouted to the bandits for help.

“Easy, it's me, Deputy Grant,” the voice said.

“They got the gold,” she whispered.

“I'm going to cut you loose, and then you need to head out that way,” Paul said, indicating the other side of the road. “Try to move quiet.”

“All right,” Myra replied breathily. Paul grasped her hands to steady them and then applied his knife to her rawhide bonds.

In a moment, her wrists were loose. “Move it,” said Paul. He led the girl away, into knee-deep sage. “Myra, get behind these rocks and keep low,” he whispered. “I've got to stop these varmints from getting away.”


“I'm not alone.”

Not alone?

She looked around. Under the feeble first-quarter moon, it was hard to make out much.

All at once, Grant let out an Apache war-whoop and started shooting into the air. Supporting fire came from somewhere else. Whoever was backing up the deputy also bawled out his own version of an Indian whoop.

“Injuns!” one of the unseen robbers yelled and the gang started firing wild shots. Myra realized that if the young owlhoots could be tricked into believing that an Indian war party was trying to corner them, they could be spooked into doing something stupid.

Then the gunfire died down on either side.

“What's going on?” she whispered.

“Can't see! They must have run back into the ravine. Follow me; keep your head down.” He led her farther on through the sage, behind a row of standing rocks where someone else was hiding. She couldn't make out much more than an outline, except that the man looked big.

“How many shooters do you have, Deputy?” Myra asked.

“Just Tor Johannson, here,” Paul answered. “We stopped at your place and found your aunt tied up, so I sent his brother Knute back for more help.”

“A yunfight with outlaws is more ten I bargained for,” broke in a Swedish-accented voice. “You Fru Fanning's niece?”

Myra didn't like the question and didn't respond. “Yes, she is,” Grant answered for her.

“Did tey hurt you?” Tor asked.

“Not much.”

“Did tey find the gold?”

“They got it,” Myra replied coldly. “You came for the strongbox, not me, didn't you?”

“For both you and the loot,” replied the deputy. “Your aunt would be feeling right bad if we lost you.”

“What do we do now, Paul?” asked Tor.

The deputy drew a deep breath. “Well, I figure them polecats'll fight like fiends, as long as they still think they can get away with the gold. When they figure out that we aren't really Apaches, and that we've only got a couple guns between us, they'll make a rush for the horses. It'll be hard to pick them off in this dark.”

“We can have three guns!” exclaimed Myra.

“What?” asked Grant.

“I can handle a a rifle or a six-shooter.”

The lawman stood quiet for a couple seconds and then said, “And I'm supposed to trust you with a gun?”

“What's wrong, Paul?” inquired Tor. “She is a bad one?”

“It's a long story.”

“Aunt Irene ordered me to go back to the farm as soon as I could,” the girl spoke up. “If I shot you, what would that get me?”

“Well....” Paul considered. He knew how well Jessie Hanks could handle firearms. This gal probably learned what she needed to know about guns as a farm boy. He also knew how effective those orders given to a potion girl could be.

“Do you have my Winchester, Tor?”

“Yah. It is here!”

The lawman took the weapon from his volunteer and handed it to Myra. “You can earn a lot of respect with the town, if you play this square.”

She shrugged indifferently. “One question. If we catch 'em, will those bastards get the potion?”

“I don't know,” answered Paul. “It's up to the judge.”

“I hope he'll give them a bellyful of it!”

“That business can wait. We got to move fast, 'cause those coyotes will be turning jackrabbit any minute. I need to drive off their horses. We need to keep them here till the town posse shows up.”

“What is the plan?” asked the Swede.

“I'll circle over to where the horses are tied. I aim to drive off the pack horses first, since the gold is worth more than any outlaw's hide. The mounts I'll cut loose second.”

“Just so none of the gang goes back to the farm,” Myra said.

“They won't do that,” Paul guessed. “You don't have any horses left to steal. They'll probably run up into the rocks and we'll have to hunt them down like skunk pigs. So, let's move. When you two hear my Apache yell, start shooting. The echoes ought to cover any sound I'm making.”

“All right,” agreed Tor.

“Wait a minute,” Myra said. “How much ammo do we have?”

“Not much,” said Paul. “Take measured shots; it's too dark to see a target anyway. When you're out of shells, vamoose and lie low. They'll be more interested in hightailing it than looking for you two in the dark.”

Paul took off, moving as quickly as he could over unsure ground. Tor leaned against a boulder and assumed a firing position. Myra, familiar with the '66 Winchester, found a protected spot and levered a .44 Henry rimfire cartridge into the firing chamber. She then waited. There was nothing to see, but the potion girl could hear the tethered mounts shuffling, made uneasy from the earlier gunfire.

A moment later, Grant's whoop came; Tor started shooting, and Myra did likewise. She saw muzzle flashes and tried to fire at them, but something stopped her. She cursed. It was that damn order of Molly's not to hurt people! She decided to aim to one side, away from the horses, and found herself able to pull the trigger.


Paul Grant had crept in close to the outlaws' mounts before letting out his Indian yowl. These badmen were practically kids, he knew, but that didn't make the situation any less dangerous. Hot-headed pups with guns could come on wild and reckless, exactly because they didn't know what in hell they were doing. Then, too, he didn't want to kill men so young. If there was a chance to take them alive, he'd prefer it.

At the sound of the firing, Paul dashed for the beasts. The first one he touched started to buck, alarmed by his smell, but he managed to grasp its reins. In a flash, he had sliced it free of its tether with his well-stropped Bowie knife. Then the deputy gave the critter a hard slap to start it running.

“The Injun's are after the horses!” an outlaw bellowed.

Paul groped for another saddleless horse and found one. The gang members were shooting again, but the bullets weren't twanging in close. They were trying to scare him off and didn't want to wound their own animals. He he got the second pack horse loose. “Git!” He communicated his order with a punch.

Running boots. The outlaws were rushing in. The lawman ducked away, firing a couple of shots in the robbers' direction. The three braved the danger and got in among the animals. Paul sighted what looked like a bandit's outline and leaped for it. The fight was wild. Grant's boots kept slipping in loose gravel, but the outlaw seemed to have better footing. Each was swinging his pistol like a bludgeon. A hard shove made Paul slip. The tumble made him lose hold of his shooting iron.

The incoming fire from Myra and Tor had stopped, maybe from a lack of bullets. The deputy struggled to rise and managed to find his gun. He could hear the bandits tearing loose their mounts' reigns from the the mesquite branches. Paul lurched after the escaping men and blundered into someone. The outlaw skinned his scalp with what felt like a gun barrel. The lawman sprang away, but fell down again. Someone on horseback yelled, “Gitty-yep!” In the bandits' haste to get away, their beasts almost trampled Paul, who was barely able to roll out of the way. He got to his feet once more. The bandits were hard-riding away from town. His play hadn't paid off. Any additional firing would be bullets wasted. Frustrated, he shouted, “Tor! Myra!!”

The Swede came up in the dark. “Is you hurt?” he asked urgently.

“Not badly, I think.”

Paul heard Myra's footsteps off to one side and remembered the Winchester in her hands. “Give me that rifle,” he told the girl.

“Still afraid I'll shoot you?” Miss Olcott asked with a sneer.

“Could you blame a man?”

“It's out of bullets anyway,” the girl declared, shoving the weapon at Paul.

Receiving it, he said, “No use chasing them before dawn. Let's see if their animals are still around. I drove off a couple of 'em,” he said.

None of the horses remained amid the trees. “The gang probably got clear with one of the pack horses,” the deputy conjectured. “The gold on that animal will amount to a decent haul, if those kids give us the slip.

“We need torches,” advised Tor.

They took sticks from the outlaws' fire and searched after the horses. It took a half hour, but the Swede and Grant were able to locate both laden beasts. They were the tame kind and hadn't run too far. Myra used her hands to determine which horses they were. She also confirmed that the saddlebags were full of metal. “I think they're both mine,” she said. “The gang got away with their own nag.”

“We'll lead the animals back to town,” said Paul. “Myra, you'll be dropped off at the farm. Tor, let's bring up our own mounts and head out.”  The pair vanished in the dark.

The girl grudgingly got up on her bay's back. The loot that it carried was all that she could think about. At that moment, Myra probably would have made a break for the desert, if she hadn't been bound by Irene's magical command. She realized that this moment represented the closest that she'd ever come to a life of ease.

A moment later, the men returned on horseback.

“Why don't we keep a little of this stuff for ourselves?” Myra asked out loud. “Don't we deserve it?”

“The world doesn't work that way,” Paul replied with a small laugh. “And just hope that you never get the full measure of what you deserve.”

“You got a pretty woice, Flicka,” Tor addressed Myra. “You as pretty as you sound?”

“Stuff it!” she told him.

Tor smacked his lips. “Tat gal got spice!”

“That she does,” agreed the lawman. “One of these days, some rough, tough hombre's going to get a lasso around that filly, and she'll be a real handful to tame.”

“Idiots!” the girl loudly exclaimed as she started out for home, not waiting for her unwelcome companions.

END OF Part 2; CONTINUED IN Chapter 5, Part 1

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Falling Star: Chapt. 6, Part 2

Posted 02-11-18
An Angel From Hell story

By Christopher Leeson

Chapter 6, Part 2

Holly dashed for cover, thinking that her rescuer intended to discharge pistols into the deadly gas reservoirs.

Jezebel's summoning came down with the quickness of thought. What the Father deigned to send to earth always arrived with the speed he desired. The angel, knowing that her body risked incineration, darted after the black-haired girl.

A cascade resembling fiery hail was already raining upon the fenced-off propane tanks. Only seconds later, the gas-blast came with a jarring explosion and a gush of yellow-orange flame. This detonation was immediately followed by three more in close succession. Shredded metal struck the buttress behind the girls and smashed the facing windows of the executive building. Along with the bursts came sprays of burning liquid. But there was little to ignite within their range and the spilled propane rapidly burned out, the last flickers of it dwindling away in darkness. The girls coughed and retched as a brimstone stench suffused the air.

All this had transpired in the course of mere seconds. Surprisingly, the actual destruction left behind looked to be minimal in the limited light.

The Watcher now made her move, pulling Holly after her, making for a row of parked tractors. Once hidden behind them, they waited until the Kearney firefighters arrived with sirens blaring. The excited staff hurriedly flung open a main gate to admit the trucks.  This was Jezebel's cue to race for the exit. No one took special notice of what looked like two good-time girls escaping from a disaster.

Without attracting hostile attention, they reached Jezebel's car. But the angel was no longer well – she staggered, reeled. As either human or angel, she had never felt worse. Holly grabbed her arms and supported the blonde against the side of the vehicle. The touch of cold metal made her cry out, as if burned.

“You're freezing!” the ex-singer exclaimed. Jezebel could say nothing articulate. Holly quickly lowered her to the grass, stripped off her own winter coat, and helped her companion don it.

“You're not in any shape to drive. Do you have the keys?”

“In the b-b-bag,” the Jezebel chattered.

Under the glow of the streetlights, Holly searched the purse she had been carrying for the last several minutes. She discovered the ring near the bottom and used it to unlock the back-seat car door.

After helping Jezebel to get inside, the brunette arranged the coat to cover as much of her as possible. The former's legs were still exposed, but there was nothing to throw over them. Holly hurriedly took over the front seat and started the engine. Once having pulled away from the curb, she simply drove, not knowing where they should be going. A few minutes later, she espied a sign saying, “To Highway 10 South” and took the turn. Cold herself, the girl could no longer ignore the temperature, and so turned the heater dial up as far as it would go.

The two were soon leaving Kearney. “Are you all right back there?” the driver asked anxiously.

“I- I'd kill for a b-blanket,” Jezebel murmured.

“No stores are open. We need to get you to someplace warm.”


Suddenly the dome light went on.

“I can't check the route while I'm driving,” Holly said, holding the road map over her right shoulder. “Can you read it?”

“H-Here,” Jezebel whispered.

As her clumsy hands worked the disorder out of the map, she asked, “W-What high-w-way are we on?”

“We’re on 10, going south,” Holly said.

The Watcher tried hard to focus. Could they be under hot pursuit? Not likely. Few of those who had encountered them at Monsatana had been left alive. That meant that it might be safe to risk some nearby rest and recuperation. It had also dawned on Jezebel that drawing too heavily from her mystical resources would leave her tapped out and vulnerable. To her frustration, she lacked the stamina of a full angel. Such was not what Shekinah had led her to expect.

“W-We're heading for 34. Go east,” she told Holly. “There's a town, M-Minden, about 10 miles ahead. If there's no lodging there, s-stay on State Road 10 for about 30 miles more, to a red-letter town called H-Hastings.”

The driver nodded. “Minden first.”


Minden served as home to fewer than 3,000 people, and the escapees' brief tour espied just one pricey-looking motel. They didn't stop. Holly had no money and Jezebel’s own funds were getting very low. Once they had pushed on to Hastings, the car passed close to a tallish sign advertising the Hastings Express Inn.

In the motel's front parking area, Jezebel pushed her billfold at Holly and told her to register, feeling unfit to go out into the cold herself. The coatless brunette ran to the office and soon returned, whereupon she drove them to the parking spot in front of their door number.

The boxy little room offered only one queen-sized bed. The girl helped her shivering companion to the mattress, and then arranged her covers. They was nothing to bring in from the car, so Holly immediately locked the door.

The girl stepped out of her borrowed pants, under which she was still wearing her waitress skirt, and then slipped beneath the bedclothes, saying, “Let me warm you up.” Jezebel, who had never been against sharing a bed with a comely girl, made no objection. She also welcomed Holly's full-bodied embrace. After a few minutes, the exhausted Watcher dropped off to sleep.

Holly lay awake a while longer. She had had no supper, neither in Alliance nor Kearney, and it was telling. Doubting that any café would be open, she resolved to tough it out until the eat shops opened at about 6:00 a.m.

Darkness had given way to a bleak morning light by the time that Jezebel awakened. The motel hadn't provided a clock, so she checked her wristwatch.  It was almost 10. She, now, was feeling famished. How depressing, the girl thought, to be subject to so many human weaknesses. Angels could eat for pleasure, or go without eating at all. Nature, apparently, kept human beings thinking about food for most of each day. Hunger was very unpleasant. It came on as a craving, a gnawing sensation that was just as oppressive as ordinary pain.

Holly, she saw, was already up and wearing Jill Arendel’s pants again. Jezebel dislilked the idea of going outside again so under-dressed and thought that she ought to take her jeans back. But the fugitive star had shown what a complainer she was when she was feeling cold, and the Watcher preferred not to have to silence her with a beating.

“How do you feel, Jill?” the waitress asked. “I'm starving, but I didn't want to wake you.”

Jezebel accepted the name of Jill without blenching; she had so many other problems on her plate. “I'm better. I need some warmer clothing. Is there any of my money left?”

“A bit. Not much. I took a room with only one bed to save a little.”

“I can get more money, somewhere, but not until I'm stronger. I should have emptied the wallets of those goons back at Monsatana.”

“Yeah, I never thought of doing that either,” admitted her companion. “But at least we have a television. I wonder if they'll have news about the explosion at the factory. Or the dead guys we left behind.”

“Those miscreants were Cabal. The Cabal covers up everything. They don't want anyone looking their way.”

“What are these Cabal guys all about anyway?” the waitress asked. “Are they like organized crime?”

Jezebel sighed. “Too long a story. They're the people who own almost everything, and they want to own absolutely everything. What makes sets them apart from regular businessmen, lawyers, educators, and politicians is the fact that they worship Satan. They usually call him Lucifer.”

“I thought it was just show-people who were into Lucifer.”

“No, it's mainly a banker thing, but that's a long story, too.”

Holly switched on the TV set. As she went through the channels, almost every station featured reporters jabbering outside the White House about the presidential inauguration. They were saying that it was going to start at noon, Eastern time. “Do you think Donald Champion will make a good president?” she asked.

“He couldn't do worse than the joker you've put up with for eight years.”

“Don't say that to my Hollywood friends,” Holly replied with a smile. “They all went crazy after Hillary Skragg lost the election, even talking about blowing up the White House or assassination. One of them actually went out to march wearing a hideous pink hat.”

“I'd dare to say whatever I damned well pleased to your nutty friends. If they didn't like to hear an honest opinion, maybe they'd like traction better. But are you so sure you really have friends in Hollywood?”

Holly lost her grin. “I thought I did, but, no. The people there weren't like the friends I hung with in high school. Even the better sort seemed too afraid of something to want to help another person.”

“Wherever the Cabal is, people are always afraid. And you should be afraid, too.”

“I've been afraid for a long time. I want it to stop. I wish you'd tell me more about what's going on.”

“I don't have to educate you. I only need to keep you safe, until someone takes you off my hands.”

“Who's that?”

“I don't have a clue.” But, actually, Jezebel was thinking about that message left in the motel Bible. It had surely been put there to pass on a date and a place for rendezvous. If she was wrong about that, she'd be stuck with hiding the fugitive in her own apartment until real instructions came, which was not an attractive proposition. 

Providing for two people long-term was out of the question. Everything that humans did to earn money – except crime, possibly -- seemed boring and degrading. That meant one should do as little work as possible. Holly had actually become a waitress. That sort of labor had been performed by slaves during ancient days. It seemed hard to sink much lower. Of course, Jill Arendel had managed to do exactly that.

“You know, if angels like to put messages into Bibles,” her companion put in, as if reading her mind, “maybe there'll be one here, too.”

“Yeah, sure, kid.”

Holly walked to the bed stand and slid out the drawer. There was a Gideon Bible inside, just as she had hoped. When flipping through the leaves, she caught a glance of something. Paging back, she discovered a hundred-dollar bill.

“Look at this! Who'd use a hundred dollar bill for a book mark? It's not like many rich people stay in a budget motel. Something doesn’t seem right. Do you think we should turn it in to the front desk?”

Jezebel raised her chin. “Not on your life. I can use it, if you can't. We need to eat, keep the tank filled, and I have to get some decent clothes.”

“You left Alliance without your things. Thanks, that means a lot to me.”

“I didn't feel like wasting time.”

“That's what I mean.” She handed the money to Jezebel.

The Watcher stared at her wonderingly. “You're broke, you've got no resources. Why don't you keep it?”

“I'm not sure it's meant for me. Anyway, I want to pay you back for everything you've had to spend, and everything you've gone through.”

Jezebel tossed her head. A million dollars wouldn't have properly repaid any person for what she had gone through, and was still going through. With a sigh, she replied, “Well, I just hope that every Bible I find from now on has hundred bucks in it. Better, still, a ten thousand dollar bill.”

Holly, saying nothing, remained standing in place, looking at her.

“What are you thinking about?” the angel asked.

“I’ve been wondering how you blew up those tanks. I didn't hear any gunshots.”

“Oh, that. I had a book of matches.”

The brunette blinked. “That's all it took? Those things must be pretty unsafe.”

“It's an unsafe world.”

“I'm finding that out,” Holly agreed with a nod. “I wish I could fight the way you can. How did you learn?”

“I was in the army.”

“The US army?”

“No. It was...foreign.”

“You're just full of surprises. I'd like to get to know you better.”

“No you wouldn't.”


Jezebel sank back into the pillow. “I'd end up hurting you,” she finally said.


After that, they ate a brunch at Big Dallys Deli. Jezebel was still wearing Jill's little red dress under Holly's coat, which caused her legs to attract a bit of attention. The sin-energy was stirred up by roving eyes hardly felt unpleasant. It warmed her like the brandy that the trucker had shared at the Brady truck stop.

“Oh, look,” Holly said, “there's the president being sworn in.”

A TV, temporarily installed on the counter, had been playing behind Jezebel. It showed a well-dressed crowd watching the changing of the old order. Most of the expensively dressed dignitaries on screen didn't look too happy about it.

The question crossed Jezebel's mind: Why had she been sent to earth at just this moment, at the time of the changing of the presidents? Did this new head of state have anything to do with the Father's postponement of the tribulation? Was he the Anti-Christ?  

Something told the angel, no.  On the other hand, Jetrel would have given odds that the last president had been the designated Anti-Christ, or that Hillary Skragg was. It was hard not to think of Champion as a man in a lions' den. If he managed to escape assassination for as much as a year, it could only be chalked up to divine protection.

A meal of sausage and hotcakes had made Jezebel feel worlds better. After eating, the girls checked out a Goodwill Store. It was “green-tag”discount day and the Watcher picked out a parka-style winter coat marked down to $10.00. Then, selecting “green” as much as possible, she acquired a full outfit that was suitable for the weather. Holly needed a few things, too, and added them into the tally.

By now, Jezebel had recovered enough to want to drive. On impulse, she pulled into an Econofoods parking lot, there to buy enough for a couple meals  once they reached Omaha. Jill Arendel's apartment didn't feel like home to Jezebel, but it was the only place on earth that she could consider her own. She needed a quiet place to think and figure out what kind of life she was expected to live.

Back on the road, Jezebel chose to take Highway 6 east, until Dorchester. When 6 turned north, she switched to 33 and continued east. She was warily avoiding Highway 80 with its state troopers. In the movies, at least, police were devilishly effective about getting their man. Nearing Lincoln, she skirted the city on 77 north. That brought her to the main drag, 80, but she was banking on the anonymity afforded by heavy traffic. From this juncture, Omaha was only an hour away.

Holly turned on the radio. The inauguration news was still all over the airwaves, but most stations were handling it with sober tones, like some sort of crisis. Reporters were giving short shrift to cheerful voters, but seemed to linger sympathetically with people expressing fear or anger about their new president. Jezebel switched channels several times, but the music of the modern age always irritated her.

As Jetrel, she had listened to, and even participated in, angel choirs. It hurt to think back to that time.  Those had been his days of glory, before life had turned into something strange and terrible. As far as the Watcher was concerned, Earth music had nothing to compare to the music of the spheres, though Baroque quartets and vintage Broadway songs were usually tolerable. She at last settled for listening to a station reporting non-political news.

One story riveted the attention of them both.

“Pelosia Wittke is finally back with her fans. She phoned Charlie Gage, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times late last night, announcing her return from Europe. As the entire music industry knows, Pelosia has been away for many months at a Scandinavian rehab clinic. When told how much her  millions of fans had missed their pop star heroine, Miss Wittke replied that she wants her friends and well-wishers to know that she'll soon be singing up a storm again, even better than before.”

“They’re making me sound like a doper!” the real Pelosia Wittke exclaimed. “What is this all about? What do they mean Pelosia Wittke is back?”

Jezebel grimaced. “They seem to work fast, I'll give them that. The Cabal must have had a clone all ready to go. As soon as those – kidnappers – called in to say that you were captured, the bosses must have put the impostor on the job. They'd need to have someone in the public eye while you were being held locked up somewhere and subjected to mind-control. The plan was probably to get you brainwashed, and then plug you back into your old life.”

“You called her a clone? Do you mean like in Orphan Black?”

Jezebel nodded gravely. “Yes. Clones are real. When somebody dies, and the Cable still wants access to his position or money, it puts in a clone. If they murder somebody and want to conceal it, they put in a clone. If somebody goes into hiding from the law, they put in a clone to serve the time.”

“Are your saying that there real, actual clones?”

“Sure. But what they gave you is probably a professional impersonator. Your replacement has probably been training to take over your life ever since you disappeared.

"This isn't unusual.  It was an open scandal that Hillary Skragg couldn't take the strain of a presidential race, and was using clones to hid the fact that she was in a sickbed most of the time.

"If you want to understand the world, understand this:  Everything that seems real is a lie.  Life is like reading a novel and thinking that it's a history book. Did you notice how the ex-Nazi billionaire, George Zoros, used to look like death warmed over. Then, one day, he suddenly came out as spry as a colt – and looking about twenty years younger.”

“I've heard that name before. He's important. But why go through so much trouble just for me? What am I to them?”

The Watcher shrugged.

“How long will they keep that impersonator living my life, if I don't let them find me, I mean?”

“Hard to say. These people are not ordinary criminals. They have an agenda straight from Hell. They'll probably never be willing to leave you alone.”

“My God! This is horrible. Somebody has to warn my mother!”

“That could be awkward,” replied Jezebel with a shake of her head.

“Mom will be able to see that she's not me. If she lets them know what she knows, will they kill her? I've got to get to a phone.”

“You see, Holly?  You're not seeing how things really are. Everything that you say to her is going to be overheard by people monitoring the connection. Look what happened the last time you called home.”

The ex-singer remembered, and it made her even more excited. She seemed ready to jump out of her skin.

“What might happen this time,” the Watcher continued, “is that a voice will cut in on the line while you two are speaking. It will threaten the murder of your mother if you don't turn yourself in immediately. You'd be stuck then.”

The girl looked ashen.

“Don't worry,” Jezebel said. “If you stay out of contact, they'll probably stage some public quarrel between the clone and your mom. Then your double will simply keep clear of her. As long as Cabal agents can't motivate you with their threats, they'll have no good reason to take reprisals against your loved ones.”

“But I don't want my mother to think that I don't love her. What should I do?”

The angel shook her head. “There's not much you can do. This is an evil world, and you're a tiny minnow in it. The only thing a minnow can do is to try to survive. You won't like to hear this, but if you plan to keep out of their clutches, you don't have any choice except to become a completely new person."

"That's not fair!"

"Yeah, well, that's how it has to be. Things are never going to get back to normal again, at least not for you. You'll only be torturing yourself unnecessarily as long as you keep wishing you could back to your old identity. You need to live a totally different life, one totally outside the public view.  Right off, you need to change your name again; use any handle you'd like, as long as it isn't Pelosia Wittke or Susan Wevers. And you can't be Holly...whatever...either, since the Cabal knows it now.  

"And, and for Pete's sake, be careful what you put on the internet, since the whole world can see it.  Especially, don't post any pictures of yourself, and be careful that your future friends don't either.  The bad people have face recognition software that can search millions of web pages at a speed that you wouldn't believe.”

Holly sat back in her seat, dumbfounded.

To Be Continued in Chapter 7, Part 1