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A Terrible Fall of Angels, Page 2

Laurell K. Hamilton

  The light turned its “head,” and I could read the body language of that glow; most people wouldn’t have been able to. “You asked for me to drop the physical away, not for my comfort, but because you wished to see if I cast a shadow.”

  I shrugged and fought not to let my shoulders tighten. You couldn’t wrestle an angel in this form; it wasn’t “real” enough, but the body tenses, preparing for fight or flight, even though neither will help you. You can’t hit pure spirit, and you sure as Heaven can’t run from it, because spirit-level angels can just appear anywhere, in multiple places, at multiple times, and it’s all real, all them, because when they’re this pure, time doesn’t mean to them what it means to most of us. They can simultaneously be in several places at once, at the same time for us humans, but different points of time for the angel itself. Time is way more flexible than the human mind can comprehend. It was a good thing that the pure spirit didn’t commit crimes, because we would be beyond fucked trying to prove it, solve it, or catch them. When this guy was finished glowing at me, he’d go back to God, maybe even be absorbed back into that ultimate light. Witness protection had nothing on the pure spirit angelic. They could literally be reabsorbed and made pure and new again when they made their next earthly appearance.

  “I know you are one who has walked through the flame and survived, but I did not understand what it might mean.”

  I remembered standing in the middle of flames that did not burn, and cast no shadow, and surrounded me on every side. If my faith had not been pure enough, I would have been consumed by holy fire. I blinked the memory away and faced the much fainter light of the angel before me. “And what does it mean?” I asked.

  “That you do not think as others do or see as other flesh sees. You are the only Angelus Dictum to ever finish your training and then turn your back on it.”

  “I am not an Angel Speaker, I’m a cop.”

  “You are a police officer, but that does not mean you are not also an Angel Speaker; otherwise how could I be here?”

  I couldn’t argue with the angel and I very much wanted to, so I let it go. The conversation was getting too weird, and off topic. I was here to solve a crime, not dissect my past. “Maybe I was meant to be a police officer, and work with the angelic like this.”

  “Perhaps.” Again, it did that “head” turn, but this time it was listening. The fact that it had to listen to hear God’s voice meant it wasn’t pure spirit anymore, or it wasn’t going to be for long. This one was at the beginning of a path that might lead it to be as solid as the angel we were seeking. They sent down pure spirit, but every time they talked to anything of flesh, they stopped being quite so much spirit, and a little more . . . flesh. This one had come down to talk to humans before, several times before. The next time I saw “him” he’d probably be male, or closer to it. The voice is the first clue, the first move in choosing a “gender.”

  “What have you come to tell me, angel?” I asked.

  “Can you not discern my name?”

  “I probably could, but I’d rather not.”

  “Why not?”

  “You want me to name you, and you display curiosity about something that has nothing to do with the message you were sent to deliver. You haven’t been around flesh enough to be this distracted from your task, angel.”

  “What does that mean?” it asked.

  “It means that you may not be cut out for being a messenger to Earth. I think you’ll corrupt faster than normal. I think that God might want to rethink your job description. You might be better off polishing a star off somewhere away from things of flesh.”

  “You judge me, Detective Zaniel Havelock. That is not your place.”

  “You haven’t given me the message that God sent you to deliver.”

  The cold flame made a movement that rippled through its shining light. At a guess, it was a stumble, or a startle reflex, as if it hadn’t realized how distracted it had gotten. “You are right, my apologies. The message is this: The woman was not intended to die here like this. She had many years ahead of her here on Earth, before being called home.”

  “So why did she die here like this, if she was supposed to live?” I asked.

  “I don’t know.” A contraction, instead of the full words, another sign of degradation.

  I wasn’t upset that the angel didn’t know; they were given messages to tell us, but beyond the message they often had no other information. “Why was this woman important enough for the angels to leave their feathers at the crime scene?”

  “She wasn’t important,” the angel said.

  I tried again. “So, if she wasn’t important, then what was important enough for the angels to leave this many feathers behind?”

  “You must find the murderer, Detective Havelock.”

  “The regular police could have found her murderer if it’s another person,” I said.

  “If they find the murderer without you there, they will die and there will be more outrages.”

  “Do you mean rapes?”

  “I do not understand,” the angel said. I knew he meant it; any angel that was this much spirit and so little flesh didn’t understand matters of the flesh, not sex, or hunger, or bathrooms. Nothing that “real” made sense to pure spirit.

  “What do you mean by outrages?”

  “Things that are not supposed to happen.”

  I tried to think how to ask a question that might actually help us find the murderer. Then I realized I was treating the angel like I was still nineteen and an Angel Speaker, and not a cop.

  “Where is the murderer now?”

  “That is hidden from us.”

  “Hidden? How can anyone hide from the angels?”

  “You are an Angel Speaker; answer your own question.”

  “I am not an Angel Speaker. I am a detective.”

  “Then why did you keep your angelic name, Zaniel? Why did you not go back to the name you had before?”

  “I’d been Zaniel longer than I’d been any other name by the time I left. It was how I thought of myself.” I realized I was trying to justify myself to the angel, which I didn’t need to do. “I completed my training; the name was mine to keep or not, as I chose, so I kept it, simple as that.”

  “Is it simple, Zaniel?”

  “Don’t call me by my first name.”

  “Should I call you by your other name, the one that all the humans use? Should I call you Havoc?”

  “No,” I said; somehow having a fiery angel say the word Havoc was unnerving, as if it were part of the message and there would be havoc on Earth. It was my nickname from the army, that was all.

  The angel looked at me, and its face was less flame and slightly more human, not in the pretense of humanity it had shown at first, but like it was deciding on a real face for when it became more solid. This one was in real danger of losing some of its pure spirituality. If I had truly been an Angel Speaker, I would have reported it to those who were supposed to have the ear of God. Now all I could do was warn the angel itself, which I’d done. They didn’t have free will, but the more time they spent on the mortal plane the closer they got to it.

  “Very well, Detective Zaniel Havelock, have you answered your own question yet?”

  It took me a second to remember it. I was getting too distracted by the angel. It had been so long since I’d been near one in this raw a form. I could admit to myself that it felt good to be near the power, like I’d been cold for years and suddenly I could warm my hands.

  “The adversary can sometimes hide its minions from the angels.”

  “Yes,” the angel said.

  “If a demon did this, the entire apartment would feel evil, and it does not.”

  “It does not, but it should.”

  “So, the murderer is a demon,” I said.

  “No, but it should be.”

  “I don’t understand,” I said.

  “Neither do we.”

  I stared at the angel, wishing there was a face so
I could read its expression, and the wish was enough that the face began to shape into cheeks and fiery hair, and . . . I forced myself to stop thinking about the angel’s form. I stopped my imagination in its tracks because flesh could influence spirit. My training as an Angel Speaker didn’t make it easier for me to force the angel into a shape of my choosing; the training enabled me to stop before it happened. It was partly a safety measure so that when angels appeared to humans, they didn’t drive us insane, but it was more complicated than that. I took a breath and let go of my need to see human features on the fire shape in front of me, and it settled back into something even less human. Good.

  “Are you saying that you, the angels, do not understand what the murderer is?”

  There was a sensation of it moving again, and I could feel it listening again. I had a second of thinking that if I listened hard enough, I could hear the music of spheres, the shining language of creation that kept reality running. I fought off the urge because I knew how dangerous it would be for me and for . . . others.

  “The murderer is something that should not be.”

  “What does that mean?” I asked.

  “The thing that should not be has changed the fate of the woman. If this is allowed to continue, more fates will be changed and God’s plan could be disrupted.”

  I blinked at the glowing angel and swallowed past a sudden lump in my throat as my pulse sped up. “Only free will can interfere with someone’s fate, and nothing can interfere with God’s plan,” I said.

  “Some humans have fates so tightly written that free will is not completely possible.” It completely ignored the part about God’s plan, but I stuck to what it was willing to talk about, because if an angel decides it won’t talk about something, it won’t. Human imagination can change their appearance, but it can’t give us any insight into their thoughts.

  I shook my head. “I know you have to believe that, but I don’t.”

  “And that is your free will, Detective Havelock,” said the angel.

  “It is,” I said, “but are you saying that this woman, Megan Borowski, was one of those people whose fate is so tightly written that free will shouldn’t have been able to change it?”

  “I am.”

  “So how did she end up being beaten to death and ruining her fate?”

  “That, Detective Havelock, is an excellent question.”

  “Do you know the answer to my question?”

  “I have been told that you must be elsewhere to find your answer.”

  “Where is elsewhere?” I asked.

  “I will help you find your way to where you need to go.”

  “How?” I asked.

  There was a gasp behind me, and then fellow detective George Gimble said, “Holy motherfucking God, it’s a flame angel! Holy shit!”

  The angel looked past me at Gimble, and then it just vanished. Maybe it had given all of its message, or . . . I turned around to see Gimble standing gaping at the space where the angel had been. His skin was so pale every freckle stood out on his face. His green-brown eyes were too wide, set off by short auburn hair that was almost red. He was barely five foot four and looked baby-faced, so he was always being carded; no one ever believed he was over twenty-five, let alone that thirty was his next birthday. He was the youngest detective in our division, and one of the reasons they’d bumped him up was that he could see spiritual beings. He could see them, but he didn’t have my background with angels; no one else did who held a badge. The angel had said it: No one with my training with the angelic had ever left the College of Angels and not stayed to be an Angel Speaker, which was really a glorified secretary in some cases. You took messages, conveyed information to those who came to the College, read temple, and asked questions of the Angels on behalf of the petitioners, or sometimes a message from above was so hot you hunted down your recipient like Jonah; you couldn’t escape your fate, not if God wanted you bad enough. Of course, Megan Borowski had escaped her fate, or someone else had stolen it from her, along with her life.

  “Gimble, what did I tell you about cursing in front of Celestial beings? Especially using blasphemies that involve Heaven, God, God’s Mom, or any other saint, Deity, or other spiritual being?”

  He closed his mouth enough to look embarrassed. “Cursing using Heaven, God, God’s Mother, saints, Dieties, et cetera . . . can cause beings of high spiritual content to dissolve, or otherwise flee a crime scene, not because they are guilty, but because your language causes them discomfort.”

  “Exactly,” I said.

  “Jesus . . . Jeez, Havoc, I’m sorry. I just never saw anything like it. You know, they don’t even show up on film in that form, so it’s just been drawings and stories until now.”

  I sighed, and then I had to smile. “It is a Heaven of a thing the first time.”

  “How old were you the first time you saw something like that?”

  “Thirteen,” I said.

  “Jesus, I mean, jeez, weren’t you scared shitless?”

  I nodded. “Yeah, yeah I was.”

  “What did you do when you saw it the first time? The angel in its pure form, I mean.” What little color was left in his face drained away. I was already moving forward when his eyes fluttered back into his head and he started to fall. I caught him around the waist, but the height difference made it easier to just pick him up.

  “I fainted,” I said.


  Gimble didn’t wake up in the ambulance. I knew that because I rode in the back with him. He could come to like normal, just his usual cheery self, or there were other options. The kind that had made me insist on staying by Gimble’s side even though the paramedics had assured me that I could follow in my car to the hospital. I’d stayed with Gimble no matter how many medical professionals tried to get me to step outside the little curtained area in the hospital, too. I had let hospital security take me back so I could put Gimble’s weapons in a locker, which both I and the security person signed off on. When the security person suggested I could put my own stuff in a locker, I told him that what attacked Gimble might be coming back for him, which absolutely was a lie, but there was no way I was giving up my gun or anything else unless I had to, and I didn’t think I had to.

  Gimble and I were finally upstairs on the very top floor, which housed the Metaphysical Injury Unit. He was still unconscious in the bed, and I was trying to answer the doctor’s questions. Dr. Paulson was a couple of inches taller than me, at least six foot five, positively willowy in his nice white coat. I felt like a muscular bull in the proverbial china shop standing next to him. “Are you seriously telling me that an angel did this to him?”

  I took a deep breath and let it out slow. I’d told the story to the paramedics, several nurses, and at least one intern who had hunted up the doctor on call. Apparently, the intern had felt that an angel-induced coma was above his learning curve.

  “Detective Gimble seeing an angel in its pure form caused him to pass out, but the angel didn’t do it on purpose.”

  “I thought angels didn’t do anything by accident,” Dr. Paulson said.

  “Short of God, no one’s perfect,” I said.

  “Angels are,” he said, as if it was true.

  I smiled and tried to think of how to explain how very wrong he was, without pissing him off or oversharing with him. He was the doctor in charge of this area, so if he disliked me enough he could make me leave Gimble’s side, and that wasn’t happening.

  “Maybe the angel thought that Detective Gimble could handle it,” I said, though I knew that wasn’t true. The angel hadn’t been thinking about Gimble at all; it had thought about its message and getting it to me. Angels with a mission are very narrow of focus.

  “You’re both with the Heaven and Hell Unit; shouldn’t he have been able to handle it?”

  “The Metaphysical Coordination Unit handles things besides Heavenly and Hellish incidents, so not everyone in the unit is equally good with angels.”

  “But yo
u’re fine,” the doctor said.

  “I’m good with angels.”

  “Are you sure it was an angel and not something just masquerading as one? That would explain why your colleague has been harmed.”

  I took in a deep breath and let it out slow. The doctor didn’t know my background, so he didn’t know he’d insulted me. Heavens, there were people in my unit who didn’t know all my background, so I really couldn’t get upset with the doc, so why was I?

  “I know the difference between an angel and the things that pretend to be angels.”

  “I’ve had patients in the ER that talked of winged demons, Detective Havelock.”

  “There are more things above and below with wings than just angels, Doctor, and most of them have little or nothing to do with any of the Abrahamic faiths.”

  “Abrahamic faiths? Oh, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim,” he said.

  “Yes,” I said.

  “I haven’t heard them referred to like that since med school when I took the required metaphysical medicine courses.”

  “I take it you aren’t a religious man, Dr. Paulson.”

  “My sister and I joked that we were raised Jewish light.” He smiled as he said it.

  “And nothing you’ve seen in your medical career has made you more religious?”

  He shook his head. “I’ve seen miracles and curses and they both worked. I’ve seen spells from white witches and black, and everything in between. I’ve seen too much to want to follow any of them.”

  I wanted to ask him what he did when he dealt with illness that only faith would cure, or dangers that only belief would protect him from, but I didn’t. He’d made his choice; if the Big Guy couldn’t persuade him to join the fold, then nothing I said was going to change that. I know I’m supposed to want to convert everyone I meet to the one true way; trouble was I wasn’t sure it was the only way into Paradise. I hadn’t been sure since I was about nineteen.