In desperate times desperate people head here – an online journal of Apocalyptic-themed fiction and commentary.

Murder Takes Your Wings

Copyright © 2005 by Brad Lyke. All rights reserved.

Murder Takes Your Wings

     A Colt .45 handgun, fully loaded, weighs less in your hand than it does in your mind. Such a small piece of machined metal, though somehow about three pounds, weighs less than the coat you carry to work everyday, and yet is more devastating, more dangerous than any number of objects twice as heavy. It is also bigger than you think. Or maybe smaller. A gun is never the size you think it should be.

     I sat in the roach-infested hotel that looked as though a colony of rats from the New World thought this was their manifest destiny. I fingered the hammer on the gun, cocking it back and releasing it slowly, my tension ebbing and flowing. I had been in Cairo for three days now–three damp, sweltering, interminable days. When I arrived here it was 1935, but by this point it could have been somewhere in the 2000s. I was expecting to see flying cars when I looked out the window. The details of the job continued to fray my nerves one by one. I didn’t know the human body had that many nerves. The principal assignment didn’t bother me; it was a simple matter. If murder is ever really that simple.

The target was Raymond Kaplan from Manhattan, the one in New York. We anticipated his itinerary and arrived in Cairo three days in advance to prepare. The other team was waiting in Manhattan right now, waiting to burn his office to the ground a few hours after he left. The job wouldn’t have been hard for me or any of my boys. Mikey, Gabe, and Uri were used to this kind of work. They did it all the time. This job though had a hitch: no funny stuff–it had to look like a human matter. That was going to be the tough part.

Sitting in the sticky hotel room, I was nodding off again. Uri reached out his foot from the bed and stepped on a cockroach the size of a dog. I didn’t think he had a chance; it was going to carry him off to an alley somewhere for lunch. Lucky for him this one didn’t seem to have any fight left. It just gave up. Not a very successful roach if you ask me. The particulars banged in the back of my head like a young kid on a rainy day with a dented pot and spoon. I needed to put him out in the rain. I decided to drive him off with a drink. It was only eleven in the morning. I was starting late today. I yanked my coat off the back of a chair.

“I’m out to get coffee. Anyone want anything?”

Uri shook his head. He’d learned to murder time like a hyperactive serial killer. Mikey and Gabe, though, itched for something to do. I could see it in their hands: tapping, wringing, rubbing.

“I’ll go with you,” Gabriel said.

“No,” I grunted. “Either me or Uri go. You two aren’t cut out for dirtside mingling.”

Michael looked at me with sad, pitiful eyes. I wanted to spit in his face; such weak displays didn’t suit someone of his rank. I guess this place wasn’t really built for any of us though, was it?

The city of Cairo is in Egypt, which is well known among archaeologists and adventure-book readers, but for everyone else it might as well be on the moon. Almost everyone is aware, however, that Cairo is a desert. So why was it raining every time I stepped outside?

At the end of the corner stood a small all-night café serving the best coffees from around the world. At least that’s what the sign said, though it looked like something the owner scavenged off a packing crate he used to import the cheap African stuff he sold. He wouldn’t know a Columbian bean if it stabbed him with a machete. I wanted the bar next door, but the others didn’t approve of drinking outside of religious ceremonies. So I lied; shoot me.

‘The Dirty Martini’ sagged mournfully on the far side of the coffee house. Owned by a neat Englishman, run by a foul-mouthed Scotsman–I really couldn’t tell the difference between the two. Too much the same, not enough difference to care. They both had two arms and knew how to pour whiskey, which was fine enough for me. At least they were useful humans.

“Ach–” The bartender cleared his throat. “–in a little airly aren’t wee too-day, Kay?”

“I don’t know, Mac; I don’t carry a watch.”

“What’ll it be then? The usual?”

I’d only been in this city three days and I already had a usual. Maybe I was hitting the stuff a little hard.

“Whiskey neat, Mac.” Not the usual, thought I’d change it up a bit, throw out the ice cubes. A cute girl too young to remember her own phone number came over with the cigarette tray. I shook my head and pulled my felt hat down low over my eyes. It felt stupid to buy a pack of imported American Camels when I could go across the street and buy a sack of the real Turkish stuff fresh. I fished a stubby bent cigarette from a crumpled pack in my coat pocket and struck a match on the bar.

“Eh Kay, you know I dohn like tha. Keep da . . .” He let it trail off. My grey eyes must have burned a hole clean through the back of his head and made the glasses behind him dirty. He turned around to polish one instead of continuing. My head felt like wet sand, but the whiskey was drying it up by the second. I poured myself a second slug. Mac, bless his heart, left the bottle open next to me. He probably threw the cap away.

* * *

     Kaplan’s flight arrived at 5:30 that evening. Uri was waiting at the airport for him, waiting to follow him back to his hotel. I don’t know where Uri got the car; I didn’t ask. I wasn’t used to not knowing things. Back where I was from–some call it Heaven, I call it home–I never missed a thing. I knew everything about everyone everywhere. It was my job to know. Advisors are supposed to know. Waiting in the hotel, Gabe and Mikey were standing on pins and needles. Well, not literally. Mikey was standing on the desk lamp; Gabe was standing on the tip of an upturned pencil. I saw it in their eyes: the argument had been waiting at the door, knocking patiently for the past two days. It wasn’t patient any more. It kicked the door in.

     “I need to get out of this room, Kay.” Michael jumped off the desk lamp.

I had already prepared for this. “Michael, what is the longest period you’ve been on Earth?” I asked. Cabin fever was hitting them both on the head with blackjacks.

“Six hours, 51 minutes. I delivered a message to a bunch of waiting Hebrews.”

“And you, Gabriel?”

“Eight hours, 25 minutes and 19 seconds. That Passover thing here in Egypt when I had to kill those firstborns.” He was dangling one foot off the upright pencil.

“Exactly,” I snapped. A blackjack lump was throbbing on the back of my head too. “Between the two of you, you haven’t been here an entire day. And that lamp trick, Michael, is sure to go over poorly. The last time they had an angel here it was you, Gabriel, and you killed a few beloved people. I don’t think they’re likely to welcome you back with open arms and a glass of wine.”

I was yelling. I couldn’t really stay upset at them, though; the physical form was making me itch too. More so probably, because I’d never been away from God’s side, ever.

“Uriel,” I continued, “we all know has been here much longer.”

“Yeah, yeah, we know.” It was Gabriel’s turn to argue. Michael tapped him in. “He’s been here since the first sin. Where are his precious Gates to Eden now, huh?”

I had been wondering that too. God told me to use him; he was already on Earth. I couldn’t figure how he was allowed away from his duty so long though.

“What about you, Arakiel?” Gabriel pressed on. “This is your first time isn’t it?” Off to the side Michael sneered like a pit bull with a harelip.

“I don’t need the time, Messenger. I designed this body and this world. This thumb, this artery here, this eye, cockroaches, deciduous trees, all my idea, all my design.”

The time was ticking away in my head. We only needed to be here five more hours. I hoped we survived that long.

* * *

     The hotel didn’t have a phone that could receive calls. I told Uriel to phone me at the bar. I picked a good hotel. He didn’t like the idea of me hanging about in such a seedy place, but it had the closest phone. Uriel called while I was on my third scotch and soda.

     “It’s fer yew,” Mac said.

I took the phone from him.

“Kay?” Uriel whispered.

“Yeah, ‘s me,” I said, holding the phone with both hands.

“I got him. He’s over at the Alexander Hotel.”

“Room?” I asked.

“Second floor, room eight I think.”

“Think?” The scotch beat my vocabulary back to the monosyllabic. I was fighting hard to keep it from retreating further.

“Yeah, I didn’t get a look at the registry. The wall-eyed woman behind the desk wouldn’t let me,” Uriel answered.

“You pay her?”

“She wouldn’t take it.”

“Damn. Well, get back here. We have planning to do.” I got my second wind. I worked back into the polysyllabic. Uriel hung up the phone; I handed mine back to Mac.

“Everyting all roight, Kay?” Mac asked. He liked talking to me. I was the only one in Cairo that spoke Scottish other than the owner.

“Yeah, it’s fine.” I gulped the rest of my drink in one and handed him back the glass. “Give me a coffee, Mac, black.”

“Coffee? All right.” He put his apron on the bar and walked out the door to the café next door. I would’ve thought it funny, if I wasn’t the only one in the bar dirtying the dishes.

The phone rang again.

I somersaulted over the bar with one finger and lifted the receiver off the hook. It was Raphael over in New York. “News?” I asked.

“Mission complete, location is nothing but ashes.”

“Good. Were there any innocent deaths involved?” I hoped.

“None, we were very careful.”

Fuck, I thought, but didn’t dare say. “Good. Is your team ready to pull out?”

“They already have. I am staying until the primary objective is completed.”

“Can I get you at this number later?” I didn’t think I’d need him, but I liked having backup dirtside. It was comforting.

“Yes, I will be waiting here,” he said stiffly.

“Will you need a call when it’s done?”

“No. I will know.”

The bastard knew more than I did. I didn’t like it. It smelled wrong. I let it go though.

“All right. I’ll see you back topside then.”

“Most likely.” He hung up the phone.

Mac walked in with two coffees as I was placing the receiver back on the hook. I walked around to the little flap and opened it for him, walking out afterwards. He placed one of the cups in front of me, staring at me with a puzzled look. Thinking was giving him a headache.

“A call for me. I was expecting another.”

“Yew sure get a lot o’ calls dere,” Mac said, taking a bottle of whiskey from the well. He poured a good shot in his coffee and teetered the bottle above mine.

I waved him off. “No, no more tonight.” I said. The puzzled grimace returned to his face.

“I’m going to see a priest tonight, about a confession.” That didn’t help his expression. I slammed back the boiling hot coffee and took the empty mug with me as I went out.

“See ya topside, Mac.”

* * *

     The others sat in the hotel room as they had for the past three days. Uriel was back, lying on the bed, his hat pulled over his eyes. He sunk in so far I wondered when he was going to break through and hit the floor beneath him. He had been away from Heaven for a long time, since the beginning. It showed.

     Michael and Gabriel were sitting at the little table, their guns in pieces in front of them. They cleaned them methodically, trying to get in the mood. I didn’t understand it: they hadn’t fired them; they weren’t dirty. I guess it was just their little ritual. They had probably polished their swords the last time. I didn’t need to get in the mood; I was already there. I was floating three feet above the ground, glad to break the bonds of gravity. All of their gazes wandered my way every few minutes. They couldn’t do this. They were jealous.

“Repeat the plan back to me, Michael,” I pinged on him. He seemed the most nervous. His gun was identical to mine, a Colt .45, but across from him Gabriel was cleaning his sawed-off shotgun. It seemed too big, but he was used to a flaming sword, like Uriel. Uriel carried a .22, silenced. He was a professional.

“We enter the hotel at two minutes past midnight,” Michael began at length. “There should be no witnesses. We want it to look like Muslim extremists. All other entrances and exits should be sealed already, by Uriel.”

Uriel tipped his hat at the mention.

“We quietly move up the stairs, no elevators, and check room eight first,” Michael continued. “If he isn’t there, we check each number back on the street side first.”

“Wait,” Gabriel interrupted. “Don’t you know what room he’s in?”

“I didn’t get that information,” Uriel said quietly.

“What about you, Arakiel?” Gabriel pressed. “Don’t you know?”

I had dreaded this question for a while. “No, Gabriel, I don’t.” They all stopped. Michael dropped the slide to his gun.

You don’t know?” Uriel asked. He was sitting up now, hat pushed to the back of his head.

“Aren’t you supposed to be omniscient?” Gabriel asked.

“Well, not here!” I snapped. I fell like a piano, buckling and hitting the ground. “Get back to work!” I yelled as I stood up again.

The others turned quickly back to cleaning their guns. Michael dropped the slide twice. Uriel quickly lay back down, scurrying under his hat. I reached into my jacket and fished out a cigarette. The others didn’t even blink in my direction. I threw the cigarette in my face and lit it with a thought. I needed this one. I sighed.

“Continue, Michael,” I said.

“Uh, um,” he stammered. “Check the street side. Find the priest Kaplan. Shoot him a few times. Leave the note we forged.” He raced through the instructions like a rat hunting for cheese.

“Good,” I said, smoke pouring from my mouth like weightless silk sneaking towards the ceiling.

“Arakiel,” Uriel said, drawing my ebbing wrath from the other two. “Don’t you think it’s an interesting coincidence the hit is here in Cairo?”

“Why is that a coincidence?” I asked, anger simmering in my itchy human veins.

“Well–” He sat up again. “–since the Gates to Eden are here right now. They’re buried about a mile west of here, under the Nile riverbed. They move again in about three days, 24 hours after Kaplan’s return flight leaves.”

I looked at him, astonished. I walked over to the mirror and checked my face. I didn’t know what astonishment looked like on me. I didn’t like it.

“What did you say?”

“They’re here, in Cairo. That’s why I’m here.”

I heard the last word as I was running to the stairs for the first floor. I hurried to the bar as fast as humanly possible, my trench coat billowing behind me like a gaudy Victorian cape. I slammed into the door with my shoulder and broke it. Mac was behind the bar serving a couple of neatly dressed sailors. Three women were staring at them and giggling from a booth in the back corner. The men with them were about as happy as I was.

“HEY!” Mac yelled as the door sagged and snapped off its top hinge.

“I’ll pay for it, kilty,” I snapped, running behind the bar.

He moved out of my way. I caught a glimpse of my eyes in the mirror behind the bar. The sneer desperately grappling the cigarette perfectly complemented the bonfires in my pupils, which were all but gone. The grey irises were snuffing them out. I wouldn’t have stood in my way.

I snapped the phone off the wall, almost breaking the hook. I felt the sailors stand up, ready to help Mac if he needed it. I swung out the gun in my hip holster, pointing squarely at one of their foreheads without looking.

“Sit down, sea dog,” I said.

They sat down.

I put the gun away and dialed the operator, giving her the number for Manhattan. Mac wasn’t happy about the charge, but he was still looking at where the gun had been.

“Ralph?” I asked.

“Arakiel,” he said.

“My other name. There are people here.”

“Kay, then. I apologize.”

“Did you look through the office before you torched it?” I asked.

The girls were scuttling out of the bar with their men and the sailors like Egyptian roaches. They didn’t want to hear this. I like the Egyptians. They’ve got sense.

“Yes, we ransacked it in case it didn’t catch properly.”

“Was there anything in there about the Gates of Eden?”

“Not that I saw,” he said.

“Anything unusual, Ralph?”

“Uh,” he stammered too. “There was a giant corkboard with notes and such about future scheduled trips. We found a few maps with marked locations and dates next to them. There were other notes too, and in the bottom of his desk a kind of math equation in angelic script.”

“Angelic?” I hadn’t really heard the rest.

“Yeah, but we didn’t know what it was. It didn’t seem to say anything really.”

“Hmm . . .” I had calmed down, but my brain was digging its way out of my skull with pickaxe and dynamite. I hung up the phone in Raphael’s face. I strolled out of the bar thinking, pushing past Mac, who was collecting his bottom jaw off the floor.

“Kay?” he probed.

“Sleep,” I said.

He crumpled to the floor like a drunk marionette. He wouldn’t remember anything when he woke up. A useful trick. I stared at the floor, shuffling out the broken door and into the alley between the bar and the coffee shop. I lit another broken cigarette. It tasted like barbecued brimstone. I threw it on the ground. I leaned against the wall and stared at it. I picked it up, tried again. It didn’t taste any better, but I pushed on.

* * *

     I remember, God had been quite clear. The order was to kill a New York priest named Raymond Kaplan. God only said Kaplan had found a way to prove his existence, to prove him fallible. He didn’t explain how. I was chosen because it was my mess to clean up.

     I had told God in the beginning, when humans were on the drawing board, that he needed to appear omnipotent, perfect. If he shouldn’t, humans wouldn’t love him; they would fear, hate, and revile him. I didn’t like helping him create an entire world of surrogate lovers. It hurt, but he wanted free love. I didn’t know how to tell him then I had free will. My love was given by choice. My devotion was true and unforced. He probably wouldn’t have believed me.

He had to look perfect; he had to appear all-powerful. That was my idea, just as the Book was. I didn’t like painting Lucifer as the adversary. He wasn’t a bad guy really. He just had a bad sense of timing when exercising his free will. I knew he would take it personally.

I made God look perfect, and now that it might fall apart, I had to clean it up. God didn’t want to lie. He thought love and faith given to a lie were just as useless as the forced love he got from the angels. I convinced him otherwise, and now I had to fix it. He hadn’t told me anything about the Gates to Eden. I couldn’t figure out why. Though I was his advisor, he always knew more than me. He should. He was God; he just wasn’t omnipotent, omniscient or omni-anything. Nobody is really.

* * *

     The sweltering rain turned into a lighting storm as quick as the bolt that struck the ground two hundred feet away. Everyone within a ten-mile radius melted into homes, businesses, anywhere indoors before the thunder even rolled in. As a good a cover as Gabe ever made. They had found me behind the bar. It was time to go. We stood in the back alley behind ‘The Dirty Martini’ waiting for the next flash.

     “Two seconds,” Gabe sounded off.

I stamped out another cigarette. Suddenly, in a brilliant parade of electricity arching from the sky, we were standing in the alley behind Kaplan’s hotel four miles across town. Nobody was outside. No one saw the lighting flash strike the trashcan when the four of us appeared. We edged around the corner of the building, walking as if we had used the alley for cover or a shortcut from the rain. It didn’t matter. Not a living being around was dumb enough to stand outside. I like the Egyptians almost as much as I like the Hebrews or Scots.

The dilapidated wooden door at the entrance hung from only the top hinge. Most likely all the priest could afford in lodgings. I walked in first, wiping everything down with my eyes. The woman behind the check-in counter stared at us with one eye; the other was on the day’s receipts. The bellboy didn’t look up from his yellowed nails. The .45 slug tore through his upper left chest. He looked up. After a shot like that I was surprised he even had time to raise his chin. The woman’s body slumped to the floor just a moment behind him. Two bodies, one shot, pretty good for the first time.

“What the hell did you do that for?” Uri wanted to scream. His voice stayed low, though, even below the orchestra of thunder outside. No doubt Gabe was turning up the light show to cover the shot.

“No witnesses,” I said. I moved up toward the stairs at the back of the lobby. We couldn’t waste time with the elevators. Uri’s scowl tried to bruise the back of my head; I felt Gabe and Mikey both shrug. All three drew their guns. It was pointless, though. I knew I would have to do all the shooting.

The wood of the stairs was more threadbare than the rug on top of it. Each creak played pinball in my ears. I brushed the sounds away; I was listening for something else. Suddenly a man came tearing down the stairs after the shots. The .38 in his hand did him no good; he didn’t even hear my gun go off under the booming outside. All four of us stepped aside to let his body crumple down to the lobby.

The priest was on the second floor of the hotel, the only other floor. I rounded the corner to find a sawed-off shotgun stuck in my gut, the man holding it drenched with sweat even in his underwear and shirt. I suppose he noticed the gun buried in his stomach, but he didn’t show it. He carried himself with training. Military. I stood stock-still; at this range the buckshot would kill me before I even had the chance to flash home, and that only took the blink of an eye. I liked him already.

Our little standoff was shaping up to be a long night of hard stares, sore jaws, and tired trigger fingers. I didn’t have time to wait; cops would be coming after that shot. I didn’t have to shoot this one, though; Michael gave him a third eye with his heater just as I was wheeling out of the way of the twin hellblaster’s barrels. Glad I was wrong about the others. An eternity of following orders isn’t an easy pattern to break.

“Nice,” I said to Michael behind me. He didn’t look shaken. I’d underestimated him.

“Let’s move,” Uriel whispered.

We crept up the stairs, checking around corners now. We reached the second floor hallway. Nobody was around. If they were, they weren’t going anywhere. Uriel’s eyes were glazed. He was keeping the place sealed.

“Room eight window,” he said suddenly. His voice sounded as if he was standing next to Raphael in Manhattan. “Someone’s trying a chair.”

We bolted down the hall, Uriel trailing behind, distracted. I kicked the door in and shouted a curse in Farsi, loosing off two shots into the ceiling. Kaplan was nowhere to be found. The window was open. A chair lay broken on the floor below the sill. He had tried to throw it through. No luck.

“Kaplan?” I said in English. Everyone else but the priest would hear me in Farsi. Another useful trick. I heard a breath catch in a throat in the bathroom. I moved two steps in the door. Michael and Gabriel walked in the room, sitting on tables and chairs like regular humans. Michael was playing with a pencil, though, making it stand still on its tip. Uriel stepped in behind me and closed the door.

“You can come out of the bathroom now,” I said, putting my gun away. “That is, if you’re done.”

“What, God, what do you want?” He stumbled out of the bathroom shaking.

“We’ll get to that,” I said. Uriel sat on the bed and pulled his hat over his eyes. They all knew; we were going to talk first. They got humanly comfortable.

“Sit,” I said.

Kaplan picked up the broken-backed chair and sat down, unable to dissent. He looked startled.

“Now tell me,” I continued. “What are you doing here in Cairo?” That piqued Uriel’s interest. He didn’t know either.

“I’m here to give a talk to some other biblical historians,” he lied.

“We’ve torched your office. We know what was in it.”

“Uh,” he stammered.

“The equation. What was it for?”

Michael and Gabriel both bore into him with their eyes, peeking out from under their hats.

“It was the timing equation for when and where the Gates of Eden would be, and where they would move next,” he said.

Uriel sat up now. “I’m the only one that’s supposed to know that,” he said breathlessly.

“Let me talk, Uriel,” I said.

“Uriel?” Kaplan’s eyes widened.

“The one and only.” Uriel tipped his hat.

“Who are you three, though?” he asked.

“This one’s Michael,” Gabriel cut in, “and I’m Gabriel. The tall, light, and sinister one is Arakiel.”

Kaplan’s eyes became dinner plates. “Angels,” he said breathlessly.

“Yeah, we’re angels okey,” I brought it back.

Kaplan’s shoulders squared like a ruler, and he relaxed a bit in the chair. A smirk crossed his face that I wanted to slap to the floor.

“How can I help you all?” Kaplan asked.

“You’re trying to prove God’s existence, aren’t you?”

“I guess, yeah.” He screwed up his face in confusion. He looked cross.

“Why? You’re a priest; you should know better. Faith, man, faith is how you go to God.”

“But, but . . .,” he stammered again. “I was trying to help people.”

“How?” I asked.

“God’s lie is a rift between us and him-”

“His what?” I interrupted.

“His lie, his fallibility.” As he said it realization crept across his face like a ten-pound tarantula.

I continued. “So, how does proving his fallibility help people?”

“Well, it was, it was, m-more to help God really. People have faith in a, in a lie. I wanted to give them the p-proven truth, and let them go t-t-to him truthfully.”

I had heard this same argument from God himself long ago. It didn’t sound any better this time. “And proving Eden’s existence proved God’s. You crafty bastard.”

“My God-”

“He’s not here right now,” I interrupted. “Stop calling him. You’ll see him soon enough.” That snapped Kaplan back.

“What, what do you mean?”

“You think all that shooting was for show?” I said. “No, you’re too dangerous. You’ll be catching a different flight home.”

I leveled the gun at his chest. Gabriel drew his shotgun and Michael put the pencil down.

“I’d like to say I’m sorry, Raymond Kaplan,” I quipped coolly, “but I’m not really.”

The bullet almost knocked him out the window. As soon as he hit the ground, Gabriel put two in his body from point blank range, mangling the corpse beyond recognition. Michael loosed a few into his legs and stomach. He was already dead. He didn’t feel it. They’d have to I.D. him by the hotel registry and the collar on his neck.

Uriel stood up, tacking the note to his body with Michael’s pencil. He looked disappointed.

Until the door flew open and two shots caught him in the stomach.

The force of the shots carried him through the window.

Uriel was out the other window less than a second behind. The job was done for him. I saw the flash as they returned home; their bodies would disintegrate upon impact. No human would have been able to see it. I wheeled around with my gun in time to see two cops shooting Gabriel. They were fast. Faster than me. Well trained. I heard both shots hit the wood behind Gabriel. His gut was bleeding. I charged the two football players, bowling one over and shooting the other as I ran for the stairs. I moved slowly, drawing them away from Gabriel. He needed to be alone to go home, and if I didn’t hurry he wouldn’t get to. I hit the stairs, jumping down to the first landing, and both cops were behind me.

I heard the whoosh of air as Gabriel escaped, which meant I was the last one left. A pair of bullets caught me in the right chest. I hit the first landing and moved the gun to my left hand. My right arm was numb; I couldn’t move it. I could barely breathe; my right lung collapsed. It hurt. I ran for the entrance and heard them hit the landing as I hit the door. Another shot took my hat off, so I decided to leave it behind.

I couldn’t run very fast with the bullet in my left leg. I didn’t remember the shot, but it didn’t matter. I ran for the alley, but as I turned the corner the wood splintered from another slug, I caught a shard in my right eye. I was in bad shape. I wished I could say I’d had worse days. Fighting Lucifer was easier than this. At least then I had my full power. The alley was a hundred miles long. I ran for the end, hoping to make it to the next street, but I’d lost a lot of blood. I heard their running steps behind me, a cop whistle tweet a vain order to cease and desist. I turned. I stopped caring anymore.

I dove backwards through the air, my wings unfurling from under my jacket. I pulled the gun up and loosed four shots at the left cop.

He dodged.

More to the point, it went straight through him without touching him.

I crashed to the ground. My wings snapped and crumpled underneath me. My left lung burned now, and I broke my left shoulder in the landing. Bruised and black I felt life ebbing from my physical form. The hot rain steamed on my white hair, washing the blood onto the asphalt and leaving me in a puddle deeper than the Dead Sea. I stared at the two intangible cops, the water passing through them. I decided then that they probably weren’t human. I thought to stay around long enough to find out who they were. At least that’s what I told myself.

“Stand up, Arakiel,” the right one said as they strolled up carelessly. My gun was ten feet away. He stepped through it.

“Who are you?” I spit blood. My vision was circling shut like a camera lens.

“You can stand up, friend,” the left one said. “Don’t you recognize old comrades?”

I closed my right eye. The lid caught on the wood splinter. I squinted with my left. “I don’t remember serving on the Cairo police force.”

They were only a foot away now, standing over my broken body. The left one leaned down, his face inches from mine.

“Take a closer look,” he said. He smelled like rain.

“Belial?”

“Here I’m Benny,” he said. The other crouched too.

“Nathanael?”

“Yep. Here I’m called Nathanael.”

“You never did follow protocol,” I laughed, coughing up a gallon of blood on my shirt.

“Now stand up, Arakiel.”

“I’m a little beat up,” I said.

“You can heal yourself,” Nathanael reminded me. “You know that.”

Suddenly I felt much better. I had been stuck in this physical body only three days, but I had already forgot important things. My leg healed, the bullets disappearing. I tucked my wings under my coat and pulled a hat out from under my jacket. I stood up, groaning for effect.

“You ham. You ain’t hurt and you know it,” Belial said. He slapped me on the back with a grin a mile wide. I felt solid again. I took out a cigarette and tucked it between my lips. I offered them, but they turned them down with scowls.

“A ham you say,” I lit my cigarette with a flaming dagger. The sword was too long for the narrow alley. “So, what are you too doing down here?”

“We have a message for you, from topside,” Belial said.

“Spill it then,” I said.

“You’re to stay down here for a while,” Nathanael said. “You’re too sadistic, too cold to the humans.”

I let the smoke pour from my mouth as if I were about to breath fire. I thought about it.

“The drinking and the smoking too,” Belial added, “is too much. You need to learn a little sympathy for the mortals down here.”

“What?” I asked coolly. A million thoughts were playing rugby in my brain, and I couldn’t figure out which ones were winning.

“You’re to stay here and wander, Kay,” they both said. They turned around and walked back towards the street. I drew my gun and again plugged their incorporeal forms with four shots each. It did no good. I was still miffed.

* * *

     I sat on the stool farthest from the door in ‘The Dirty Martini.’ Mac was washing out a few glasses and I had four upturned shot glasses sitting next to me. I poured another one and sucked down the burning fluid. Firewater indeed. The smoke from my cigarette was curling towards the ceiling, trying desperately to get away from me. Mac was at the other end of the bar. It seemed no one wanted to be near me. I put the glass down and picked up the bottle. No need for manners anymore. It was two hours after sunrise; no one was coming in I didn’t want to offend.

     I didn’t understand it. I loved God more; he had to know that by now. I gave him everything he wanted from me, kept his image pure and clean, and now he forsakes me. For what, a shot of liquor and a cigarette? Those can’t be sins. Those couldn’t be the reasons. I knew better. I had written the rules, put the commandments on the tablets for Moses. I knew what was sin and what wasn’t. And these definitely weren’t.

The phone rang. I picked it up before it finished the first ring. I put the receiver to my ear, nodded, and put it back on the hook.

It was God.

That was it; that was the answer. I wasn’t allowed to go home. I was too callous, too sadistic. I hated humans, so I was banished to Earth until I learned to be more sympathetic towards them and their trials. I knew that. But, more than that, he had been talking to Raymond Kaplan. He wanted some time alone, to think. I felt like a third and a fifth wheel. I belonged here, or so he said. He knew about my free love and my willing devotion. Those weren’t mysteries to him.

As he said, though, he didn’t ask for those from me, just faithful service. Nothing more. Humans were for free love, and I was meant as an advisor. So I was stuck here for a few eons while he thought.

That meant I needed a job, something to kill the time. I needed to learn to understand the human condition. That meant I needed to find a place to live, work, and eat. Well, I had the bar, and the hotel. Now I needed the job.

Maybe I could be a Private Detective in Cairo. Solve personal mysteries, maim criminals. Maybe I’ll take the case of the murdered priest the cops are having such a hard time solving.

My name’s Kay Valencia–nearly omniscient, angelic private dick. Nice to fuckin’ meet ya.

I need another drink.

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