Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chapter XI: A Loving Embrace

"What do you mean you saw angels?" Gloria looked down on Bill. Her mouth was set and hard.

Bill threw his hands up in the air. "Angels. You know, wings and song and eternity. I saw it. The sky was really red and rained down. It was blood. It's... I know it sounds fucking ridiculous, but I saw what I saw."

Gloria nodded her head. Benny sipped a soda and sat behind Gloria at a little table in the corner of the hotel room. Bill sat on an unmade bed. Gloria paced in front of a muted television showing a twenty-four hour news station. Bill stared at the talking heads and the news highlights rolling by at the bottom of the screen without anything really registering. The daily constant stream of news seemed every bit as unreal as his visions, but he was sure those stories were no less true. There was truth everywhere, in everything, in every story.

"Angels? Crap, Bill, I thought you were going to help us catch this creep."

Bill shrugged. "I never made any promises, but I want to help if I can."

Gloria nodded. She turned back to Benny. "You tell him about the feathers?"

Benny shook his head.

She turned back to Bill and bit at her thumbnail. "Well, you saw plenty of feathers in those photos I'm sure. All the same, that's not something we've released to the press. We weren't sure if it was even relevant. But it was odd to find feathers at every single crime scene, even in that orange grove where they found you. Swans don't usually hang around in the middle of orange groves miles away from a pond or lake or any significant body of water besides the odd irrigation ditch, after all. Still, I thought maybe the feathers could have fallen down. So, you're sure the feathers are connected?"

"I'm not sure of anything Gloria." Bill put his head in his hands. Gloria's hotel room was shouting out the story of the murder that had happened there. "But I feel it strongly. Just like I feel what happened in this room. Still, it was different. It was so real, but it can't be. Can it?"

Gloria rolled her eyes. "You know I've never been one to go in for that hocus pocus opiate of the masses bull crap."

Bill nodded his head. "I saw what I saw, though. I saw angels."

Benny cleared his throat. "You know, G, it's more than hocus pocus bull crap. God's real, I think. I was raised in churches, being dragged along to all sorts of revivals and Holiness churches. My aunt and uncle prayed in tongues. One time, I came back while in college, and – I kid you not – I swear, my uncle was praying in Latin. Perfect Latin. I know because I was taking it at the time. I asked him how he knew Latin, and he just looked at me funny. You see, my uncle didn't have anything beyond a seventh grade education and a GED he got in his forties. He never really cared for books or anything like that, just cars. He knew how to sell lots of cars."

"What are you saying, Benny? You saying you think we're looking for some messed-up angel like in a bad horror movie or something?"

Benny shrugged and took a sip of his soda. "No. I'm just saying the world's a stranger place than you give it credit for. Look at Bill over there. He touches things and they tell him stories. It's real. He knew about my tiger and my past. I believe him."

Gloria sighed. "Whatever. So we're chasing angels?"

Bill looked down at his feet. He looked over to the little cellophane wrapper that contained the feather. "I don't know. I don't think so. I hope those weren't angels. It was a nightmare. An absolute nightmare." He took in a breath of air and turned his attention to the ceiling. "Maybe whoever did this is chasing the angels? Or making them?"

He told the agents about visions of blood and bone and gristle and twine and needles and feathers and steel. He discussed a workshop for the dead.

"He's making angels?" Benny asked.

"Maybe? Maybe not. All the same, our guy seems to think so. Or maybe not making angels but making them host bodies. That's what the angel asked of me."

Gloria eyed Bill. "An angel asked you to kill for it? To give it a body?"
Bill nodded his head.

"Well? What'd you tell it?"

Bill laughed. It was an uneasy sound. More of a wheeze. His lungs and throat burned with an unaccustomed discomfort from the morning's coarse tobacco smoke. "It was an offer I found incredibly easy to refuse."

Gloria nodded her head. "But our guy took it gladly, you think?"

Bill nodded his head.

"Sick. Pretty damn sick." Benny stood up, walked over to the night table and picked out the Gideon's Bible from the drawer. He thumbed it open and began reading. "God doesn't want the murder of children."

"Depends on who or what you think God is. I remember some stuff in the Old Testament about killing every woman, man, and child, even the livestock in villages being sacked by the Hebrews on God's orders." Gloria said. She bit her lower lip and sat down on the bed next to Bill. She turned to him and examined his face. "You're sure you're okay? Benny said you were frothing at the mouth and had a stroke or something."

Bill smiled. "I'm as fine as I've been since this whole mess started."
"How were you before this mess started?"

"A fucking wreck." Bill found himself looking at the phone. He thought about how easy it would be to dial a few numbers, to say hello, to check in, to apologize to his wife and his children. "I'm a fucking wreck." Bill put his face in his hands and cried.

Gloria reached her arm across his shoulders and he leaned into her. He smelled her and felt her isolation. He found some small comfort knowing that this touch was as beneficial for her as it was for him. She patted him on the back of the head, and he remembered how she did that before when they were together. When his grandmother died, she had been there. She had accompanied him to the funeral. She had helped him break away from his family, and once alone, she had allowed him to grieve openly, unashamedly, and he knew, from her touch, that she remembered that bittersweet day fondly, too. She remembered it right then. Bill felt her warmth behind the cool marble wall of her exterior lack of emotions, and it scared him. It was almost too familiar, too comforting, and Bill pulled away, thought of his wife, and was surprised by a flashing burst of shame.

Bill looked over to Benny. Benny had put down the Bible. The look Benny gave Bill was hard to read. The big man's aura grew murky. There was an odd mixture of pity, rage, regret, jealousy, and compassion. Those feelings swirled into a suspicious mess of near disaffection.

Bill stood up. "I'm thirsty. I'm going to go down to the lobby and get a cup of coffee, okay?"

Gloria stood up next to him. "I'll go with you."

Bill shook his head. "No, I'm fine. I don't need any help and could actually use a moment alone, okay?"

"You sure?" The look in Gloria's eyes was confused. The feel of the charged air surrounding her told Bill that she wanted to go with him, and that was the last thing he wanted. He just wanted to leave, to give Benny a chance to talk to Gloria. Bill knew the big guy wanted to, but part of Bill understood there was really nothing to say.

Love had slapped Bill in the face and surprised him with its tenderness. Gloria's wide eyes gave her away even more than her aura. He had not felt any love since leaving home. It was maddening and encouraging and confusing.

Bill turned his back, walked out of the hotel room, and closed the door behind him. He looked behind his shoulder once as he walked down the hall, and was somehow both glad and distraught to find the hallway remained empty.

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