Summary: I could tell you my Angel tells me how to fight Demons and where to go do that to keep Hellgates from opening up and ending Life-on-Earth-as-We-Know-It, but what's the point? You either know about that already, or you think I'm nuts. Maybe both.
I guess it makes sense, meeting my Angel at St. Anthony's. He blends in with the rest of the godly folk. Me, I'm the one who stands out. A few of the worshippers make that pretty clear with just a glance. Oh, and the fact that I haven't shaved in three days probably doesn't help.
My knee still twinges as I kneel next to him at the ... whatever that little fence is called. His head is bowed in prayer, or something. No, I don't believe. I just do as I'm told. Most of the time.
"How heals your leg, Foster?"
As we get up, I add a little more throat to the grunt. That ought to be answer enough. "How's the arm, A?"
He gives a faint, human sigh. "You know, Angelo is a perfectly acceptable human name."
My pea coat rustles as I shrug; it seems to echo in the cavern. "Yeah, but I like pretending I'm Canadian."
He gives a blank look, a few blinks, then starts for the door. "You are not as funny as you think yourself to be."
"I'm not trying to be funny, A. I'm trying to stay sane. You see, I have this fantasy of a cabin in the Northwest Territories, away from Angels, Demons and anything else that wants to come over. Just me, a horse and -"
He turns. "Understand this, Foster. I want very much for you to have your dream. I want this realm safe, ignored, and forgotten. I want to return home, but cannot. You want your cabin, but cannot. Shall we call our sacrifices equal and move on?" The annoyance in his stare stabs me. He pushes out into the too-bright sun.
My hand to my brow, I follow him. His gun-metal grey wool coat should have retired long ago, but it makes it easier to follow him in the Manhattan madness. Huffing, I catch up and we proceed in silence, walking through the afternoon rush-hour crowd until Marty's Bar welcomes us with its quiet darkness.
As my eyes adjust, I look for our usual table. "Why couldn't we have met here instead?"
"Do you not like the cathedral?"
"Too many flashbacks of rulers." Again, I get nothing but that blank look. "Neckties?" Okay, he gets the joke. Finally. "You don't even believe in Him."
"No, but I can sense the good in a few of those in attendance. It gives me hope." He looks around at the few others getting a head start on their drinking.
Luckily, Sally shows up before he says anything more. Lex, like most bartenders, has great hearing. And, like most bartenders, he knows when to pretend to be deaf, but I don't see any point in making him listen to Angelo rip on the place.
"Wild Rider for you, and root beer for you. Nuts?" She flashes me that wink.
I try to give her that smile back. No go. "Not yet, but I'm halfway there."
She returns a cheeky smile anyhow. Bless you, Sally. My fiver disappears into her gracefully-curved jeans, and her kit shickers do a slow pivot as she heads back to the kitchen.
He lets me follow that shapely tush as she sashays away before bringing me back to Earth. "Are you that concerned about your mental health, Foster?"
My attempt at a glare doesn't do anything. His eyes stay on the door. It's hard to have a stare-down like that. "What do you think? How do you think I feel?"
He blinks. His eyes don't waver from the door, but he blinks. "I do not wish to desecrate your grief, so I will not presume upon it. However, when it happened to me, I felt very sad, and wondered for a long time if I could have prevented the events at some point so killing him was avoidable. Guilt. Yes, that is the word. I felt guilty."
That derails my mad-on. I realize my mouth is open, so I raise my beer. Doesn't work - I still feel stupid. A hard swallow later, and I have my thoughts gathered. Or less scattered, anyway. "So, what now?"
"Two items. First, I need to warn you. It has been three weeks. You will feel an ache and an absence with Madison gone. It will get worse if you use your Power - that is the cause of your discomfort. That Power changed you, and you have grown accustomed to having it near. We will need to find you a new partner - that is the only way to stop the pangs."
I nod. An ache? An absence? Hell yes, I have them. Who wouldn't? I miss Madison. And guilt? Oy. Just thinking about the word is about to overwhelm -
His hand raps the table, shattering my thoughts. "Foster. Pay attention. This is important. I need you to be very careful that your hunger does not blind you when you meet her."
Our eyes lock. His are almost entirely soulless and flat, like his voice most of the time. "Huh? Her who?"
Angelo is still human enough to roll his eyes. Either that or Angels do it, too. "Your potential partner. You need to evaluate her first."
"Make sure she's a good fit, got it."
"No, Foster. Make sure she is still Pure. You must do that objectively, ignoring your own desire for Power."
"Huh? Isn't that your job?"
He shakes his head, blond hair shining brighter than the dimmed lamps ought to allow it. "There are not that many of us sufficient to track all candidates. All we can do is note down potential trainees as we encounter them." He thumbs his phone a bit. "Brynn was recorded ... five years ago. I suspect she was particularly Pure - she was only five at the time. We do not usually bother recording them that young; most humans are Pure at that point in time."
I wasn't, but I'm not going to tell him that. Do I look stupid?
"So you don't know how powerful she is, either."
He shakes his head. "Most of the time, Purity is proportionate to potential Power. She was entered into our notes, and there are no updates after that. So, yes, for all we know, she may have been extremely Pure at her young age, but maybe her Power did not grow to its potential. Unlikely, though."
Then it strikes me. She's only ten. "Wait. Wait. There's no way this is going to work. It's screwed on so many different levels. What about her parents? Or school? Or the police? You know, they don't like kidnapping. About as much as I don't like being in jail."
He thumbs his phone some more. "Brynn is the closest one. The next closest candidate is in Poughkeepsie. He was noticed ... three years ago. File updated last year."
"How old is he now?"
"Fifteen. By your laws, that would still be kidnapping, if that is what you fear." Is that sarcasm on his voice I hear? There might be hope for him, after all.
"Do you have any that aren't kidnapping?"
It must be a tough question. He starts working his phone with his remaining thumb. "This may take some time."
We wait while he twiddles with his cell phone. I finish my beer and watch the few remaining bubbles pop. "Did you break the high score yet, A?"
"I know, not as funny, yadda, yadda. Any partners who are adults?"
He doesn't look up. "Do you know how rare it is to find a Pure eighteen-year-old?"
Why, yes, actually. But again, I'm not going to tell him that part of my past, either. I just shrug. And wait.
With the faintest hint of a triumph he says, "Oklahoma. Dale Winslow is in Pottawatomie county. Near the city of Tecumseh."
My turn for the blank stare. "I guess I had better gas up." And get a GPS.
"Very well. May I ask that you stop at Scranton on the way?"
"You want some cheesesteak - oh, never mind. Why Scranton?"
He takes a slow sip of his root beer. "If you could give a brief assessment on Brynn, it would be good to update her file. Five years is a long time."
"What about ... what's his name in Poughkeepsie?"
"Douglas Hurd. Are you offering to drive to Poughkeepsie, as well?"
"Then his file will not be updated. A year is not a long time."
Guess not. "How old is Dale?"
Not jailbait. Good. I'm starting to like this. "When was his file last updated?"
"Her file was last updated ... eight months ago. And sixteen days, if that matters to you."
Who says Angels don't have a sense of humor? Bitchy humor, but what did I expect? And she's a 'her'. I'm starting to like this more and more. "What if I can't convince her to fight for truth, justice and the Angelic way?"
"I have some more. Only a few, and further away. Do your utmost to try to sway her."
No duh, I want to say. Instead, what comes out sounds more like, "Do my best. Is that it?"
"Yes, unless you have something. Is your cell phone ready?"
The master level of Tetris must be easier than getting Bluetooth file transfers to work, but we manage. Dale and Brynn's files cross over in some funny animation. I wonder if that's what it's like for Angelo, crossing over. Doubt it.
I open Dale's file. The photo is from her driver's license, so everyone looks like an axe murderer. She's no exception, but, she's as pretty a one as I have seen. I'm starting to like this a lot. I spend some time skimming it.
As we stand to leave, he finishes his soda. "Foster. One more thing. About Brynn. If she has lost her Purity completely, that much power cannot be left in the Demons' control."
I glare at him. Once was enough. He holds his own, and I find myself blinking. Tears, too. I yield. "Yeah, I know how bad it can go, Angelo." My knee knows, too.
He stands, puts on his coat, and slowly, deliberately, tucks the empty sleeve into his jacket pocket. "We both do, Foster."
I don't like this anymore.
- Revised with more dialogue tags 2010 Jan 04.
- Revised with a cleaner transition between St. Anthony's and Marty's Bar 2010 Jan 08.
- Minor tweaks. Not worth enumerating. 2010 Jan 14.
- Gaaaaah! Typo city! All over the place. Fixed. 2010 Jan 16.
- Thanks to Complex Variable for the thorough read!