Angela’s my partner. But don’t let her looks fool you. This blonde’s the toughest officer on the beat. She fills out her civvies like a teenager’s dream, but don’t get any ideas. She left her wings and halo in the squad-car. We always do. (DUM-de-dum-dum-DUM!).
The call came after our shift. We chucked our hymnals onto the pew. “Better go armed,” said Angela. She was right. Always pick a partner with good instincts.
It was a 411. Usually, they amount to nothing. This time was different. You could see it in her eyes. Maryanne was a Guardian Angel stretched past her limit. A good officer in over her head. She sobbed on my partner’s shoulder. “I tried everything in the manual! I called our Helpline and we prayed for hours! It isn’t working!” she wailed. “I’m losing him! I’m losing an…an…immortal soul!” I tried to make her explain.
“Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts,” I said. It didn’t work. The small brunette cried like a baby. Maryanne had passed her breaking point. But there was no time for the soft stuff. My partner gave her the shaking she needed.
“We can call for back-up,” Angela promised. “Seraphim at the station. Cherubim from HQ. Archangels if necessary.” My partner turned to me. “Who’s on duty tonight?” she asked. “Gabe?”
“No, the Archangel Gabriel’s off on Wednesdays. It’s Michael,” I said. Even the best support is no guarantee. But I wasn’t going to say that. Not in front of a rookie GA. Not while she was having a break-down. But my partner got through. Maryanne looked up in tears. You could see the hope in her eyes. Hope works wonders. Just like they teach at the academy. Slowly she came around.
Her assignment was Charley. A typically nice American kid majoring in Business. On the brink of proposing to his sweetheart, Julie. They even talked about having a family. A big one. Then it started going wrong. “Political books. Political websites. Political meetings. Causes for this! Movements for that!” the GA gasped helplessly.
“Right-wing or left-wing?” I asked. My partner gave me one of her “you dummy” looks. I remembered a case with Right-to-Lifers. I liked them. But I had missed the point, as Angela reminded me. A brainy partner beats even a gorgeous one—she was both.
“It’s not the causes,” Maryanne blurted. “It’s the number and intensity. He’s lost all sense of perspective. He’s on the brink of ditching Julie. And we all know what happens next!” My guts did a flip.
“Let’s look,” said my partner. “It’s standard procedure.” Angela always went by the book. Or almost always.
Freckle-faced Charley sat in his dorm room, ready for bed. It was clear in a second. Textbooks lay in a corner. Dusty. Political posters covered the walls. Tracts littered his laptop, desk and bookshelves. If there was a global problem, Charley-boy had the solution, or at least thought he did. Angela turned. “Ideology,” she whispered. I knew that already. She used the blue phone. It took twenty minutes for Carlos to arrive: an Archives worker but a safe pair of hands. He could stand in for Maryanne and monitor Charley’s dreams. Meanwhile, we needed a strategy. Fast.
We found a bar. One beer each could go on expenses. But we were too preoccupied to enjoy it. Too much was at stake. Why was this one so difficult, I wondered. Why not drugs or promiscuity? Or anger or jealousy? We had our ops manual. Saint Jerome wrote it in his first weekend upstairs. We could crack those cases. GAs did it every day. This assignment was different; it sucked. And starting in the 20th Century, they’d gone epidemic.
“We learned it in my second week in boot-camp,” Maryanne recalled. “First, good people see an unexpected solution to what they thought was an unsolvable problem. It could help others. It seems really cool. Then they find more examples. They get more excited. Then the solutions combine into one Big Vision, a made-up ideology. Looney-tunes stuff that sounds so rational, consistent and plausible!”
She took a healthy swig of beer. My partner smiled approvingly. We angels enjoy a drink now and then. And the Boss is generous. But some of the new recruits are sniffy about alcohol. Maryanne was not.
“Once they discover the supposedly perfect system, then Ego takes over,” she continued. “They think they can reform Human Nature. Make perfection on earth with their faultless logic and pure commitment. It’s the Sin of Pride. They get arrogant. Easy prey for dumb ideas. Even very bad ideas! They fall vulnerable to…to…” She blanched and hesitated.
“We all know who,” interrupted Angela. She touched Maryanne’s arm. “You must have been a good student at the academy.”
“Valedictorian,’ the youngster admitted. “But the Holy Spirit gets the credit.”
“We’ve lost cases before,” Angela warned. “Caring people, lured into the shadowlands of ideology, who get distracted from real-life, everyday problems that otherwise keep them sane. They start cutting corners for their secular “Sacred Cause.” Then it gets really ugly.” Maryanne nodded sombrely.
Suddenly I saw him in the bar, right beside us. Maybe he walked in. Maybe he just materialised. This one I’d seen before, a predator on the prowl. He was clean-cut, so as not to seem threatening. But he looked hip enough to fool his young victims.
“Having fun at the loser’s table?” he sneered. “All Charley’s virtuous thoughts diverted to my Father’s agenda? Think you can win? How noble. How charming. How utterly delusional!” He snickered like a running sinus. I covered my mouth and nose. Fifteen centuries on the force but you never get over the stench of brimstone. My partner leaped to her feet before I could even think. She smiled like. . .well, she smiled like an angel.
“Join us for a drink?” she chirped. But Angela reached for her shoulder-holster. Then her eyes went cold. “How about a nice cocktail?” she hissed. “Maybe a whiskey and. . .Holy Water!” She didn’t need to draw. The daemon nearly tripped over his feet as he bolted for the door. My partner sat down. “Any thoughts?” asked Angela. She didn’t mention our intruder. It went with the job. Maryanne’s eyes were as big as a Vatican monstrance on Easter Sunday. In Basic you never see the bastards up close.
“Give Charley what he wants,” I said. “Talk to his girlfriend’s GA. Help Julie push Charley-boy harder and harder. More causes, more movements, more committees. If he wants to save the world, wasting time is socially irresponsible!” “Then launch the second front,” I continued. “Use psychology: how the Holy Sacrament of Marriage doesn’t matter if two people love one another enough. How it’s the wrong time to start a family. Saving the world is more important than a boring house and a job. Better than children. No commitments apart from saving the world, and ideology, of course.”
Maryanne looked shocked, like somebody mooned the archbishop. “That’s the Other Team’s playbook!” she complained. But my partner smiled and patted my hand; Angela knew.
Two weeks later a seraphic intern threw a folder onto my desk. There was no note but it came from Maryanne. All election posters and brochures and email print-outs. Texts and Tweets. Charley-boy was running for every office and committee-post open. He was saving the world. The next four days would keep him busy, campaigning day and night. I tossed the papers across to Angela. “He’s taken the bait,” she said. Maryanne was playing this like a Mozart Mass. Then our Data Management team sent a report, like they were supposed to do but rarely did. It was an unexpected stroke of luck. You might say God works in mysterious ways. Even for us.
Charley was an orphan. His favourite great-aunt had died at age 87. She’d raised him like her own son. She was a good old girl. Our Reservations Department met her at the VIP gate and issued her Fast-Track Card, even before check-in at Purgatory Central. She’d be in Paradise faster than you could fry fish on Friday. But the funeral was in five days—not even time for a novena—so we had to act fast. We couldn’t take any chances. If the scumballs were going to get Charley, the next few days were critical. I called Maryanne while my partner rang our Special Ops Unit.
“Really?” screeched Angela. Squeals of delight filled the squad-room. “Plain-clothes officers? Cool! And Gabe’s promised back-up. He’s such a stud! And thanks again! You guys are saints!” But then she paused. “No, I…I know you’re angels. I’m one too. It’s just a figure of speech.” My partner turned to me. “Ready to rock-n-roll?” she grinned and I nodded. “Time for church?” I nodded again. Angela always followed procedure. Or almost always.
We kept Charley under tight surveillance around the clock. Finally, the funeral day arrived. If Hell was going to try anything, it had to be now. While he was still vulnerable and before he went to church.
Just outside of St. Ursula’s, Maryanne was having a last-minute smoke. Taking a final drag, the Guardian Angel pointed wordlessly. Thanks to our training we could see them all. Spotters were up the steeple in full camouflage with the 167-G “Holy Ghost” optics that pick up evil at 5,000 metres, five days backwards and forwards through Time. Snipers were in place on every rooftop with their new goggles and scopes, the so-called Sin-Sights. Behind carefully-concealed sand bags, light artillery deployed ammo belts of 50mm grace-rounds. They could pierce Lucifer’s crapper like a grilled cheese sandwich. Plus there were new mortars and prayer-gas grenades, fresh out of the Loyola Armoury and still smelling of cosmoline. Behind the apartment block, four Templar tanks revved their engines. Believe me. These people weren’t screwing around.
A Seraph army major approached me. He looked like trouble and I know the type. Often holier than thou. “All non-uniformed personnel fall back by the church,” he ordered. “If Johnny Daemon tries any smart stuff, my troops need a clear line of fire.” I complimented their professionalism.
“That ain’t half of it,” he replied. “Upstairs the whole Corps of Nuns pray so fast their beads are smokin’. Field-marshal St. Pete’s got the Baptist choirs up practicing before dawn and the Presbyterians on bayonet-drill. Booth’s even back in uniform beating the Sally Army Band into shape. Wesley’s got the Methodists on full-pack manoeuvres, St. Augustine agreed to head strat-coms again and Luther’s his ADC. Meanwhile, I’ve never seen so many rabbis in my life, and just watching the Tibetan prayer wheels spin makes the Sufi whirling-dervishes dizzy. Every ten minutes, on a direct hotline to GHQ my CO reports to JC,” then he crossed himself. “Believe me, Mister, botch this assignment and we’ll never hear the end of it!”
“All for Charley,” I said half to myself. I thought the major was going to hit me with his swagger-stick. “You know the doctrine, Sergeant!” he barked. “Zero Tolerance. Limitless Mercy. No Soul Left Behind. Now clear the deck!” I returned to the church door.
Cherub medics manned the first-aid tent, stocked with holy water and field-dressings, ex ossibus relics, emergency indulgences and everything needed for Last Rites. Fifty plainclothes personnel milled about, invisible to people. A hundred more officers were inside, along with a dozen visible others disguised as mourners. This operation could run security for The Second Coming, I thought. But I didn’t say it. Not in front of a rookie GA. Now it all came down to one young man’s Free Will.
Maryanne startled us. “They’re already here! Charley and Julie came two hours ago,” she explained. Angela asked why, the Guardian Angel whispered in her ear and my partner let out a whoop that echoed into the Firmament. She’d tell me later. Mass was starting and all of us dropped to our knees. For blocks around, you could be dead drunk and still feel the prayer.
When the service ended, mourners left the church and Maryanne lit another cigarette. Charley lost four elections. Intimidation, bribery and ballot-stuffing ensured his defeat. Then he dropped out of three more. “It’s like you said,” his GA explained. “People join those causes to save the world, but they stay for personal power. Charley got the full corruption, right in the kisser.” The Guardian Angel chucked her half-finished smoke, grinding it out with her foot. “He’s through,” she said.
“You sure? Ideological addiction is hard to give up,” my partner observed. The GA grinned from ear to ear.
“Call it a miracle,” Maryanne shrugged. “But he loved his great-aunt. He had to organize the funeral. It swamped him in detail. Death certificate. Coffin, grave, and headstone. Booking the church. Mourners and obits. Flowers and holy-cards. Choosing hymns and Scripture. Booze for the wake. He forgot about saving the world, at least for a while. That’s how Love works. Meanwhile Julie called. He needed her support.”
“And all those real-life problems pulled him back up to earth!” smiled Angela. “Straight from Below!”
“Bingo!” said Maryanne. “And all that bitching about marriage and kids sparked a double negative reaction; normalcy looked better all the time. Especially with Julie there.” The GA patted my cheek affectionately. “And you knew all along,” she added. I hate it when I blush. It’s unprofessional.
“It’s like martial arts training at the academy,” I explained. “Sometimes we can use the massive force of Evil to knock itself on its ass. Then we buy time for reality to squeeze back in.”
“Real-life breeds mutual help and Love,” added Angela. “Funerals and weddings and children at the dinner-table and families in church. Problems at school or work. Washing the dishes. Even arguments. All that draws us together. They’re Divine gifts enabling Love. The Enemy has only selfishness and hate.”
Julie and Charley came down the steps, unaware of the angelic host around them. Her GA stood behind, invisible. Carlos wore the biggest grin I ever saw. Soon I found out why. They came right up and introduced themselves. We gave our cover-names and said we knew the deceased. We should have let it go at that. That’s what the manual says.
“You two came early,” said Angela, making conversation. She took chances with cover-stories. Risky stuff. This time I’m glad she did.
The pretty black girl looked up at Charley and smiled. “Confession,” Julie answered, holding his hand. “So we could receive the Holy Sacrament at Mass. Charley’s great-aunt would have liked that. Besides, it kind of all goes together.” Her redheaded young man blushed. She flashed her engagement ring. It had the tiniest diamond I ever saw, but as bright as the purest human heart.
We hiked past the security cordon, toward the squad-car. Parking is a problem in this town, even for angels. GA’s were on incentive pay, so Angela asked Maryanne how she planned to use her bonus. Most she would give to the missions, spending just a little on herself. On what, we asked. The Guardian Angel looked embarrassed. On a tattoo, she admitted, and even Angela raised an eyebrow.
“Right here on my arm,” Maryanne explained. “Um, all the kids in my pay-grade have them by now. Really they do! I’m getting The Sacred Heart.” We older angels chuckled and shook our heads. Then he came at us. Fast. I hadn’t paid attention. He looked like a staggering wino. But he wasn’t drunk. He was incandescent with rage. His eyes swivelled in his head. His face contorted in the hate that gives them life. If you call that life.
“You filthy cops! Goddam pigs!” he shouted, trembling and spraying saliva. “You think you’ve won! But we’ll show you!” It was the creature from the bar, waving his arms like a maniac. Maryanne walked straight up to him. She wouldn’t have dared before.
“Where were you guys today?” she taunted. “Was church a little too good for you!?” The daemon shuddered but ignored her. It was me he wanted.
“We’ll turn him! My Father has ways! Booze and free sex! Internet porn!” he shrieked. “New causes to change the world! Divorce! Drugs! Freudian analysis! Money problems! Or riches!” He shook his fist inches from my face. “We’ll get Charley distracted from his sick normal life! Just give us time! Damn you, we’ll get him in the end! He’ll come to hate Goodness! Then he’ll burn! Like all the rest!”
I motioned for my colleagues to ignore him. Just walk past. That’s what the manual says. But Angela told us to look away. Maryanne did but I didn’t. My partner needed only one punch and he was out cold. “Sorry,” she muttered. “Temporary breach of procedure.”
Doing right but still adding insult to injury, the Guardian Angel leaned over the unconscious daemon. “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen!” she said, making the Sign of the Cross. I like that girl. She has style. Now that infernal pest could expect at least a painful week in Retox.
I wanted to count the teeth on the sidewalk. Hell’s dentists were headed for a higher tax bracket. But Maryanne had a better idea. “Drinks for angels?” she suggested. “Maybe a few bottles of Blue Nun?”
“And Benedictine shooters!” cried Angela. It sounded good to me.
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