Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Enjoy Chapter Five of Angel!

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Chapter Five

THEY LED him out of the math office. Even from here I could hear myself yelling. I was ripping into Betty for letting him through. Listening from over Calliel’s shoulder, I felt shame and embarrassment eat into me like an acid. Students stopped to watch. Some laughed; a kid snorted to his buddy, “What a fuckhead.” One young man in a pink Mohawk held up his fist and yelled, “Fuck the po-lice!” The cops ushered Calliel out the front doors and down the stairs to their car.
I was still cringing. As they pulled away from the curb, I said, “I’m so sorry I did this to you. Please forgive me. I’m really sorry.”
The woman cop sat shotgun. She was a short, stout black woman who looked like she could punch holes through solid steel. She said: “What’s your story back there?”
“Aside from being a troublemaker,” added her partner, who glanced into the rearview mirror.
Calliel said nothing. They left the campus and made their way into the Gaslamp.
“You got someone who can come collect you at the station?” she asked as the car pulled up to a stoplight.
“No, ma’am,” answered Calliel.
“So what’s your beef with the professor? Why’d you have to go and threaten him like that? We’ve got better things to do than break up arguments.”
“Amen to that,” said the driver.
“Amen to that,” said Calliel.
The driver glanced in his rearview mirror; she looked over her shoulder. It wasn’t anger that registered on their faces, but puzzlement.
I gazed out to get my bearings when a deafening POP! jerked me around. The driver’s window had caved in. The woman cop shrieked, “Ed? Ed! Holy shit! ED!”
People were screaming. And then there he was—the wild-eyed son of a bitch Calliel had given twenty dollars to! He had a gun—a big one. He stalked around to the passenger side, his visage twisted insanely.
“Left!” yelled Calliel.
The man fired just as the woman cop ducked left, screaming. I thought she’d been struck. The windshield on her side went opaque with holes: POP! POP! POP! POP!
Eerie silence filled the car. I defied it and my phantom pounding heart by bellowing, “What the hell! What the hell! What the fucking hell! What the fuck good are you, Calliel? They’re dead, you useless angel fuck! They’re DEAD! WHAT THE FUCK!
No. By some blessed miracle she was still alive. She cried: “Officer down, Third and B, Third and B! Require immediate assistance! Assailant on foot! Repeat: officer down! Officer down!”
“Chenille,” said Calliel calmly, “uncuff me.”
She came up. Her face was smeared with blood and tears, her uniform spattered with the brains of her partner. She stared at Calliel through the spattered Plexiglas, then got out and opened his door. People were crowding around the car, offering help or shrieking incoherently. She yelled for them to back up. Sirens echoed off the masonry, getting steadily louder.
She pulled Calliel out by the arm and uncuffed him, that simple, like his arrest had been a game.
“Give me your weapon,” he ordered.
She unholstered her gun with a trembling hand and handed it to him, again without question.
He grasped her shoulder. “See to him. Make him comfortable. I’ll come for him later.”
She nodded vacantly as she gaped with horror at her partner, who lay sprawled across the cop computer. It was a gruesome sight. I couldn’t look at it for more than a second.
Gun in hand, Calliel ran up the street.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I roared over his shoulder, trying to remind myself for the twentieth time that I was witnessing the past. “Shouldn’t you be back there helping that poor man? He’s still alive? Jesus God! There was a fucking angel of God in the back seat, and yet he still gets shot in the head? What the holy goddamn fuck good are you? What the fuck good is God?”
Of course he heard none of this. He flew up Third Street, .45 in hand. People saw him coming and scurried out of the way. Several yelled and pointed as he approached: “He went that way, up the alley!”
He crossed the street into the alley. Cars honked as he passed.
There was nowhere down this alley for the gunman to hide. On the immediate left rose a long graffiti-covered brick wall, on the right a tall military-grade chain-link fence guarded an empty lot.
Calliel jogged steadily, as though he knew exactly where he was going. His boots clopped on the cracked cement like the Devil’s hooves down the Hallway to Perdition. Sirens wailed forebodingly in the distance, echoing like suffering ghosts. The air had gone sinisterly still.
Out of the alley and across A Street, dodging oncoming traffic. There was a small pawn shop next to a diner in his direct path. It appeared closed and dark.
He raised the weapon in full gallop and fired. The brass handle sparked. He didn’t slow as he approached; instead he kicked and the door flew inwards.
He stood under the door jamb like Clint Eastwood, looking slowly around. He stepped in, gun held up, and closed the door.
“Floyd?” he called out. “Floyd? I know you’re in here. Let Shady go and come out. It’s over. You missed, Floyd. Your sister is still alive. Did you hear me? You missed!”
“Floyd? Floyd!”
He stalked by a glass display counter and cash register. A closed door was just beyond: EMPLOYEES ONLY.
“Damnit, Floyd, you’re pissing me off. If I have to—”
Large holes suddenly appeared in the door. Calliel backed up before the shots got him.
“I’ll kill him, I swear to God! I’ll blow his fucking head off!” came Floyd’s voice.
“And then what?” demanded Calliel. “You’re busted. You’re done. You should’ve taken my advice—”
Wood splinters exploded from the door.
“Leave now or he’s dead! Leave! LEAVE!”
“Shady’s got a few years yet. He’s not going to die today.”
He cocked the .45.
Floyd didn’t respond.
Calliel approached the bullet-ridden door. He grasped the knob, twisted it, pulled it open.
Floyd stood behind an older man whose eyes were wide with mortal terror. He had his forearm at the man’s neck, the barrel of his gun at the man’s temple. When he saw Calliel, he rasped in disbelief, “You! Who the fuck are you?”
“Let him go,” ordered Calliel.
And just like Chenille, like it was magic or something equally unlikely, Floyd did as told. He released the old man who, coughing and sputtering, hurried past Calliel and then out of the shop, shouting and yelling for help.
Against all reason, Floyd calmed. “Who … are you?” His gun was still pointed at him, but it shook visibly, unsurely.
Calliel lowered his weapon. In an ominously reassuring voice, he said: “I’m an angel of death.”
The relief that came over Floyd’s face was as terrifying as anything I’d just witnessed.
“You’ve … you’ve come for … for me?”
Calliel nodded. “I’ve come for you.”
He lifted his weapon and fired it point-blank at Floyd’s skull.
But it didn’t discharge. The hammer dropped; there was a loud click; and then something like a hard, cold breeze pushed into me from behind. Startled, I turned to see where it had come from. Seeing nothing, I wheeled back. Floyd’s eyes were wide and unfocused.
He brought his gun to his temple and fired.
I turned away too late. The side of his head closest to the wall exploded red and white against it. He slumped dead to Calliel’s feet, who studied him dispassionately.
“You—fucking—asshole!” I blasted, sickened and utterly confused. “What the fuck! WHAT-THE-FUCK! Jesus Christ, what good are you? Jesus! JESUS! JESUS!
The sight shook me, strangled my colon. I kept yelling until it became word salad, nonsensical, all curses. Calliel backed out of the office and closed the door, then marched out of the little shop. The old man was being attended to by passersby. It looked like he had collapsed. Calliel stared at him for a long moment, and then, like he was taking a Sunday stroll, turned up the sidewalk.
Cops arrived. They flew past him like he was invisible.
Catatonia overcame me like a cold, rising tide, and I stopped blabbering. It took several minutes before I noticed that the .45 he’d taken from the cop was gone.
That brought me out of my shell shock.
What happened to it? I didn’t notice him put it down anywhere!
He kept walking. He turned right at Park and marched south four blocks until he got to Broadway. The Blue Line runs down the center of Park, and I thought at first that he was going to board it, but he didn’t. When he got to the drugstore on the corner of Park and Broadway, he looked around, then went inside.
On pleasant days, when I had some extra time between classes, I’d occasionally walk here. The drugstore had one of those pleasant old-fashioned soda fountains and an ice cream bar. I’d get a scoop of vanilla mint chip and find an empty bench under some shade next to the tracks and relax. It took my mind off of my troubles, and the exercise was good. With surprise I realized it had been several years since I’d done it.
I couldn’t shake what I’d just seen. I couldn’t un-see it. It was permanently branded on the backs of my spiritual eyeballs, and it stung like hell. I wanted to vomit.
“I’m an angel of death,” Calliel had declared. But then his gun misfired … and then that hard breeze or wind or whatever it was … and then Floyd, by his own hand … his brains splatting thickly against the wall …
Where had Calliel abandoned the weapon?
And what about the police? Was Chenille all right? And her partner—good Lord! The poor man!
In a single day I’d witnessed Calliel inspire a young man to change majors; he’d talked a young woman back from suicide and directed her to a student with whom she could find, apparently, true love; he confronted me, who got him arrested; and then he just happened to be in a cop car that was assaulted by a deranged man he’d met just the day before, one he chased down, where he witnessed him (prompted him to?) kill himself.
How did he know to be present at all these encounters? Was he little more than a robot, ordered here and there by God? Was his course predetermined? Did God give him an itinerary before he came back to Earth? “Day two: 8:46 a.m.: young man outside Lory Hall needs an angelic kick in the ass towards the History Department. 9:03: give a sweet young woman her hope back. 9:33: confront that jerkoff mathematics professor; he’ll have you arrested at 9:40, where you’ll be escorted by two cops, one of whom will have his head blown off by the man you met on day one. Chase that one down and see to it that he dies….”
“I’m an angel of death.” For some reason that shook me as much as watching Floyd’s head explode against the wall. Did Floyd see Calliel as I see him—as a simple man dressed in a white shirt and jeans and cowboy boots—or as a lightless spectre, cloaked and hooded and lugging around a sickle?
I stared at him as he stared at a woman near the back corner of the drugstore. I could see dandruff in his hair and a tuft of small blond hairs in his ear. He hadn’t cleaned out all the sleep in his eyes, at least not the right one. He had a small mole under that ear, and the remnants of what looked like a zit near the back of his neck, just over his collar.
He looked entirely, imperfectly human. Flawed. Finite. Simple. Not an angel.
In the coming months I would come to view Calliel as a true friend. The nature of his person—was he an angel? Was he human?—did not matter anywhere near the same degree to me as his character, which I eventually and very grudgingly judged as unassailable. Was I watching this vision of the past in order to confirm his nature as a true agent of God, a cherub, one of the Almighty’s soldiers against evil?
He went to the woman. She was holding a small box, what looked like a pregnancy test. She glanced up at him. Her eyes were red and puffy. Without preamble she sniffled and said, “I know it’ll be blue again. I just know it.”
He watched her without comment.
Her eyes spilled over. “I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed for a baby. Am I being punished? Does God hate me?”
“Of course not,” answered Calliel softly. “And you aren’t being punished.”
Customers walked by like they didn’t see her or him. Their flat indifference pissed me off. But had I walked by, I would’ve treated her the same way—like she didn’t exist, like I didn’t notice that she was weeping by herself in a back corner while clutching a pregnancy test.
He reached and wiped a tear from her cheek. “Want a cone? My treat. C’mon.”
She stared at the pregnancy kit.
“Put it back,” he said.
She clutched it tighter. It was obvious this was a big decision for her.
“Put it back, Jess. Come have a cone with me.”
With great reluctance she put the box back. As she followed him to the ice cream bar, she stopped several times to look back at it. She caught up to him.
“Two single cones, please,” he said to the woman waiting to serve him, “vanilla and …” he glanced at Jess.
“Vanilla mint chip,” she said, wiping her eyes.
(Was that significant somehow?)
The server gave a friendly nod and produced the cones a minute later. “On the house,” she said with a sympathetic smile.
“Thank you kindly, ma’am,” said Calliel.
“Thank you,” sniffled Jess, who followed him out the door.
At the very bench I typically chose, they sat.
(Was that significant?)
They enjoyed the cones in silence as though they’d known each other for years and were completely comfortable in each other’s presence. He gazed at her. “Feel better?”
She nodded.
“They’re everywhere,” he said.
She nodded as though she understood what he was saying. I, on the other hand, wondered with irritation what was everywhere.
“Abandoned,” he went on. “Abandoned by women who take their plumbing for granted. Abandoned and forgotten.” He stared at her. “Abandoned, Jess. Do you understand?”
Tears poured silently down her cheek. She closed her eyes and wept.
“So you can’t have children. Is that really the end of the world? Is it really?”
She didn’t answer him. Grief had stolen her voice away.
“But you can love one of them, one of the abandoned.”
She’d forgotten about her ice cream cone. It dripped onto her wrist and lap.
“Wh—wh—what d-d-do you w-want me to d-do?” she got out, struggling for air.
He took her clean hand.
Like the young woman who had been thinking of suicide, she went blank for a long moment. And then the tears came back, harder than ever.
He let go and stood.
“You know what to do,” he said. “Go and get him. He’s waiting for you.”
She wept silently. I wasn’t sure she heard him.
“You are loved, Jessica,” he said. “Love him the same way, even though he didn’t come from your body. Love him with all that you are. You’ll know which agency to contact. They’ve been trying to place him for three years now. His name is Floyd. Get going. You’ve got a lot of hard work to do.”
(Floyd! Was that significant?)
She stood and gave him a sudden incredulous stare through overflowing eyes, then hurried up the block and out of sight.
The northbound Blue Line was pulling up. He jogged across the tracks, got on it, sat.
He had told the officers that he wasn’t done with me “by a damn sight.”
He wasn’t.

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