Monday, September 22, 2014

Flash Fiction: Angels in the IHOP

  The message Raqiel had sent was at once simple and incredibly complicated: “I need you.”
We hadn’t spoken since the Argument, when he’d tried to stop Bazkiel and I from following Dad’s orders on the Sodom and Gomorrah job.  It was ugly in the way only fights between brothers can get.  He’d held nothing back.  Bazkiel had fled, weeping, and only found surcease in burning Gomorrah and its sin-ridden people to white cinders: a classic case of angelic sublimation.  For my part, I had just let Raqiel beat me with the truncheon of his words until he’d gotten tired of it.  I still bear the scars, but I no longer bear a grudge.
To prove it, I put on mortal flesh and descended to Earth at his invitation.  The venue was an International House of Pancakes in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
The bleeding hearts always like to wallow in the muck to show you how much they care.  It’s stupid.  It’s showy.  We could’ve met at the top of Mount Everest or the bottom of the Mariana Trench or even the Four Seasons in Manhattan.  But instead, we had to get down and dirty with the “real people.”  The folks.
I walked past the surly, didn’t-want-to-be-there hostess in her blue vest and polyester slacks to Raqiel’s booth, the one by the bathrooms.  He’d taken on the form of a Korean woman in late middle age for reasons known only to him, and was cradling a cup of coffee in both hands despite the damp, oppressive heat of the restaurant.  I’ll refer to him as a she from now on.
“Good to see you, Usiel,” she said, smiling.  Her eyes were red, swollen, and wet.  Several crumpled napkins littered the table.
“Raqiel,” I greeted her, and sat opposite.  “What’s up?”
“Thank you for coming to see me.”  She dabbed at the corner of her eye.
She’d decided to be coy.  I could’ve played the game: asked her how she was, what she’s been doing all this time.  Fenced a little until she was ready to talk.  But as I sat there, smelling nitrite-laced bacon and fake maple syrup, I discovered bruises that I’d thought were healed over millennia ago.  It made me angry.  Very angry.
“I don’t have time for this,” I grated.  The waitress, who had been coming over with a plastic smile on her mouth, turned and fled.  “Get to it.  I’m busy.”
I guess I still bore a grudge after all.
The look of pity in her expression had me on my feet in less than a second, but she lifted both hands and said, “I’m sorry.  I’m…I’m just sorry.  For everything.  The fight…everything.  I need your help.  Your…advice.”
I hate apologies like that.  She just wanted to mollify me so she could get what she wanted.  Still, I sat back down and said, “While we’re young, then.”
“I have to…to kill someone.  A human being.”  Her lower lip vibrated.  “Dad said it’s time for me to go out and do some real work, as if helping people isn’t work.”  She put down the cup.  “Azrael’s busy, so it’s fallen to me.”
Biting back, And this is my problem how, I waited an appropriate amount of time before asking, “Who is it?”
She pulled a thin paper napkin from the dispenser on the table and bunched it in her fist.  “Raymond Vasilakis.  He’s…”  Face crumpling, she whispered, “He’s got…children.”  And then the waterworks started again: deep, wracking, loud sobs.
Checking to see if anyone was looking, I hissed, “You’re making a scene!”  I yanked a bunch more napkins out of the holder and thrust them at her.
It took her several tiresome minutes to get hold of herself.  In the meantime, I consulted the Book of Life to see who this Raymond Vasilakis was.  For a casual perusal, all I could get were the basics: astrophysicist, three daughters, one wife, didn’t go to church, hated broccoli.  Nothing special except in the brains department, but he wasn’t a great mover or shaker.  A bench scientist.  Why did Dad want—
“Sorry,” Raqiel sobbed, seemed about to say something, and dissolved into tears again.
“Just stop it, will you?” I begged.  “They’re going to throw us out of here.  Drink some coffee or something.”
She nodded, sipped audibly, and wiped her puffy face with a sodden napkin.  “I’m not crying for me, but his children.  They love him so—“
“Save it,” I said, before I could stop myself.  Not that I wanted to.  If bleeding hearts were invisible, nobody would have one.  “Why does Dad want him off the Earth?”
Waving a hand, she said, “He’s going to be the Project Director of Hubble II in seventeen years, four months, and sixteen days.  They’re…the humans, you know…they’re going to be able to see extrasolar planets with it.  Close up.”
My jaw dropped.  That would be an unmitigated disaster.  “No,” I breathed.
With a negligent bounce of her shoulders, she said, “It doesn’t matter.  I don’t care about that.”  She wiped her nose.  “I’ve never done this before.  I mean, I know how.  But…I wanted to ask you…”  Her voice trailed off, and she looked down at the pile of snotty tissues on the table.
So soon!  No wonder Dad didn’t just want someone to deflect an event or influence an outcome: He needed this guy out.  They weren’t ready.
I shook my head to clear it.  “What?  What is it?”  That He’d entrust this task to such a weepy, self-righteous paragon of pseudo-virtue rankled me further.
“You…you always did what Dad said.  You’ve ended more lives than typhus.”  Voice hardening, she asked, “How do you live with yourself?  After?”
I drew back as if she’d presented a plate of fecal matter for my delectation.  “Is that what all this is about?  All this disgusting…crying?”
“I’m sorry if it’s not as easy for me to just kill someone—“
Banging a fist on the table, I said, “I’m not having this fight with you again,” and pointed a finger in her face.  “All you ever do is make things difficult.  You pule and whine and moan about not just your job, but everyone else’s job, and I’m sick of—“
A flicker of anger tightened her face.  “Don’t point at me.”
Grinning now, I jabbed my finger even closer.  “And I’m not the only one.  We’re all sick of not living up to a Throne’s ethical standards, as if Seraphim—“
“Stop pointing at me!” she shouted, causing people nearby to glance our way.
Nothing to see here, folks, just a little family drama.
I leaned back, unable to keep the grin off my face.  “Or what?”
“Never mind,” she said, picking up her purse.  “I knew this was a mistake.”  She started to do that awkward butt-shuffle people do when they’re easing out of a restaurant booth.
Any desire for reconciliation was eclipsed by the pleasure of seeing her walk away angry.  “I’ll get the check,” I said.
She didn’t grace me with a response on her way out, which suited me just fine.
The waitress tentatively approached again.  Favoring her with a bright, sunny smile, I ordered the Split Decision Breakfast, eggs over hard, and a large tomato juice.  Her name was Tamika, and barring significant celestial (or infernal) intrusion, would live an inconsequential, unsatisfying life until an acute ischemic stroke caused her death on May 14, 2036.  The Book of Life was pretty clear on that.  If she provided good customer service, I’d tip well.  And dissolve some of the plaque building up in her left aortic arch.  Give her some more time on Earth.
Raqiel on Hubble II.  It was ludicrous.  Not that she’d mess it up, but still.  Of all angels.
You think it's easy to just make a planet?  Dad’s not even finished the plant life on Gliese 667 Cc yet.

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