By Andrew Galbreath
I gazed up from the desk in my office, looking away from the freshly empty bottle of bourbon and the still-smoking crystal ashtray. In my doorway stood a silhouette, a shape I would recognize anywhere"a priest.
"I'm looking for a mister Adrian Rose."
"You've found him." I said, trying to sound cheerful despite the roughness of my voice, deep and raspy from a recent lack of use. I don't think it worked. The Venetian blinds had a yellowish tint from airborne cigarette tar, and they let in equally yellow moonlight that mixed with flickering illumination from the carefully placed crimson candles in my office.
The elderly man entered, clutching the large cross that hung from his neck. His clerical collar glowed white next to the empty blackness of his robe. I didn't know what to make of him. As soon as he closed the door, he started babbling a mile a minute.
"I'm Father Jeremiah Thorn. I know you must be busy, so I don't want to impose on you, but I hear you are a detective"one of the special kind. One that might be able to help me with a problem. You help to solve cases of a supernatural nature, correct? I-I-I have one on my hands, quite unique. It's like a possession, but not really. But she may be in danger. We haven't much time!"
"Slow down, please."
"You must listen to what I say. A young woman"a patient of mine. She's having visions that she claims are being given to her directly from God."
"How original." I said, opening a new bottle. I offered some to him, which he politely declined with an upheld palm.
"These visions of hers," he continued, "are quite convincing, and quite frightening. She keeps seeing visions of fire and screaming, of the planet being consumed by an unholy power. When she wakes up from these visions she's sweating and terrified."
That got me interested, if only to try and prove Father Thorn wrong, to prove that the girl was simply insane. I still appeared casual. My eyes narrowed suspiciously over the rim of my glass. "Isn't this your area of expertise?"
Thorn threw his hands up helplessly. "I've tried everything! Everything I know! She thinks someone is out to kill her."
"What is it exactly you want me to do?"
"What you do best"make her feel safe. Stop any trouble. You have certain special abilities, do you not? A sort of..."
"Special power of perception?" I finished his sentence. "Yes, I do"but it comes and goes. I am not sure I will be able to help her. I will try. Whether it's a demon or a mental disorder, I'll do what I can."
"It's not a demon's work...that's why I can't place it...not a normal possession..."
"I will try, Father. Where does she live? Let's go there, immediately if possible."
I paused in front of the door, pulled out an ornate lighter and lit a cigarette. After a quick puff, Thorn and I headed outside into the streets of Rome. The grand old city's streets highlighted the exterior of the Vatican tower, my view pointing up from its base toward the upper stories. The building stood brooding and silent under the darkened, cloudy sky as we walked silently.
Her apartment building was right down the street from my office. We entered through the front door. I quietly stepped inside, my trench coat hanging like the folded wings of a raven. I paused for a beat, took a long drag, then killed the cigarette.
"Now, where's the girl?" I asked.
Thorn pointed upstairs. "This way"I'll show you."
"Why don't you leave us alone at first? Let us get acquainted in our own way."
"Are you sure?" Thorn asked, growing pale. "You don't know what it's like..."
"I'll take care of it." I said flatly.
Seeing my self-assurance, the old priest nodded. "Upstairs, down the hall to the right, last door. I'm going to leaf through some church documents. Perhaps I will find something that will help us. Call me if you need anything."
"Yes, of course."
"If you'll excuse me now." He bowed and ghosted outside.
I started up the stairs with stony confidence, although I inexplicably paused as I reached the landing, and once more when my hand, independent of me, reached for her bedroom door and opened it. Despite the darkness, I heard breathing. Two eyes opened, reflected moonlight.
She was smaller than I expected, thin and insubstantial. She was twenty or thereabouts, sat on her bed, gazing out of the window. She slowly turned as she heard the door opening. I entered quietly, closing the door behind me and locking it. Even in her emotional turmoil she was patrician, elegant. Tall, curvy in the right places. Kissable lips. Naughty eyes. Long dark hair, fair skinned. Her gaze shifted to me and her expression transformed, as though she was gazing upon something of incomparable mystery.
"I'm Adrian Rose." I said, extending my hand.
"Angelina Frost." She shook it, vaguely frightened.
There passed an uneasy silence between us in which we stared dumbly at each other. Finally, I spoke. "Thorn tells me you're having visions?"
"How do you feel?"
Feverish sweat started to form on her face. She suddenly reached out and grasped my hand in hers for comfort. My heart lurched.
"The son of the Morning Star is coming!" She breathed. "The way he gets here is through a human being!"
I blinked. "The son of the devil, huh?"
My secondary vision came alight. I scanned her. Her aura was blue with a yellowish tint. She was not hurt, but was rather panicked. "He's coming to earth?" I asked. "Why do you say that? What do you see in these visions of yours?"
"They're hellish, like the Book of Revelations. They paint a picture of Armageddon, they say that the world will not be destroyed by the hand of God but be taken by the embrace of the Devil."
"Is there really a difference?"
"I guess it depends on whose side you're on."
Another uneasy silence was heard before she pleaded, "I need to be at my father's holy home!"
I wasn't exactly keen on the idea, but anything to comfort her. "Let's go, then."
Through the murkiness of the humid air I caught sight of our destination"a church, stone and gloomy, its massive spire piercing the clouds. What better place to seek sanctuary? My eyes slowly widened as vague fear overtook me. Angelina noticed my apprehension.
"What's wrong?" She asked, my eyes fearfully riveting into hers. "It's a church, that's all."
I began to pant. My face turned white as I glanced, inexplicably petrified, from Angelina to Father Thorn. "I'm just not religious, is all." I said.
We reached the church gate. It was a huge Gothic structure, the ancient origins apparent in the giant gargoyles and architecture. The roof was high in there, the shadows long. Over the fireplace was an enormous stained-glass window depicting Lucifer, god's most beautiful angel, being cast out of heaven and into hell. An elaborate iron cross hung above the window.
Inside the entrance vestibule, a few bishops talked quietly. A cardinal studied scriptures. Definitely not the place for atheists like yours truly. I stopped near the entrance, casually sticking my hand in the pastor's bowl of holy water. Thorn and Angelina slipped on through, head for the massive doors of the vaulted chamber room to the main chapel, empty and echoing at this hour of the night.
Angelina sat in a chair by the immense fireplace, watching the fire with unblinking eyes. Father Thorn took station beside her. The atmosphere of the place was tense. I stood back, not knowing what to say. Father Thorn placed his hands on the girl's shoulders.
"You must accept Christ as your savior, my dear."
"Is that your solution to everything, Father?" I rasped, chuckling. He seemed not to hear me.
"You must take communion," he continued, "drink of his blood and eat of his flesh, for only if he is within you can we defeat the son of the devil!"
My eyes found their way into Angelina's. Suddenly everything stopped. I couldn't move. My eyes were transfixed on her breathtakingly perfect bone structure, her soft, pouty lips. She was such a beautiful creature. Out of the corner of my eye, against the backdrop of flame, I saw the ghostly, nebulous shape of wings on her back. The image was visible for only a heartbeat.
"What are you?" I whispered to her.
A sound behind me...Thorn!
He had moved stealthily to my back, holding something slim and metallic in his hand"a stiletto, the handle a crucifix, the knife itself pointed and sharp. I could feel Angelina collecting her powers. I could see it, her body tensing, her hands rising, her fingers curled into claws.
"Don't look at me," I pleaded. But her eyes widened, mine locked into them. I was absolutely paralyzed. "Please...please...don't look at me."
Angelina's body was now covered by an armor of light. If she had been beautiful before, now she was pure and bright as heaven. She drew a sword made of gleaming light from a scabbard at her hip, and I knew it was meant for me. My blood ran cold with fear.
Outside, a sudden wind began to howl around the building. The knife moved upward in Thorn's grip. He raised his hand high, the knife poised in the air, ready to strike downwards into my heart.
With inhuman speed I dodged his swing, easily stepping aside. He stood, stunned and disbelieving for a moment as an aura of flame exploded around me. The room was consumed with fire.
I lunged closer, grabbing for the entity I knew as Angelina. Her fiery sword struck at me with convincing force, but it was dodged with almost no effort. My hands outstretched, and once again they were somehow aflame with unearthly white fires. My fingers touched her flesh. Her skin seemed to break and fall off. She shrieked, and her beautiful wings ignited in flame.
Angelina and Thorn were now beating at the flames that covered them"my flames. The clouds outside were now blackish-red.
The heat ate away at Angelina's features. For a moment, she was an angel, an instant of exquisite perfection amidst the flames. I stood immobilized, wrecked with emotion. Her body plummeted downwards to the floor, silent and dead. Jagged cartilage stumps protruded from her back. A pattern of sinew and bone was burned into the floor behind her, all that remained of her once majestic wings. I approached, blood dripping from the former angel.
Thorn, dying, pointed at me and declared, "You, it was for you, it was all for you"demon child!"
I was frozen there, blinking, disbelieving, as realization slowly crept upon me as if from the shadows, like something had followed me for years and finally had me cornered. Connections snapped into place in my mind. So, I was the target all along. I realized what this meant, and got a kick out of it. It was clear to me why I could never rule my world in heavenly quarters"because it was my destiny to rule in hell. Hell"the source of all passion, power, wealth, sensuality. A smile graced the lips of Adrian Rose, the heir to the underworld.