Chapter 1: Birthday Present from Hell
Early lunch time in Madame Tracy’s Tea Shop. The Them are gathered at their favorite table by the window. Aziraphale and Crowley enter and join them. Madame Tracy waltzes over.
Ah! Everyone’s here. You’re looking very dapper today, Mr. Fell. And you, too, of course, Mr. Crowley. Adam, love, I’m so happy we could treat you to a little birthday luncheon. I know your mum is preparing a lovely cake for tea time, so I’ve tried not to go overboard on the sweets. Is tea all right for everyone, or do you prefer juice or fizzy drinks?
Wensleydale asks for milk, the other three kids request root beer. The angels stick with tea, Crowley’s cupful subtly changing color as he takes the first sip. Pepper notices, rolls her eyes and shakes her head. Crowley smirks back at her. Madame Tracy deposits a tower of various wrap sandwiches, a platter of fruit slices, big bowl of crisps, plate of lemon tarts. Places small stainless doggie bowls of biscuits and water upon a little braided rug on the floor for Dog. Everyone thanks her and then falls to as she bustles off to deal with other customers.
They’re just polishing off the lemon tarts when an International Express man enters the shop. Looks around, spots Adam, approaches him with a package and a clipboard.
Adam Young? Took me a while to find you, and no mistake. Your mother said she thought you might be at the tea shop across from the bookstore. (He hands Adam the clipboard and a pen.) If you would please sign here . . .
Adam signs, the delivery man thanks him, hands him a small plain brown parcel, and exits. Adam removes the wrappings, to reveal:
It’s a watch!
An Apple watch, but subtly different. Nothing subtle about the case and band though – 18K gold and diamond encrusted. Adam tentatively taps the side button, and two clocks appear: one in green, labeled “Tadfield;” the other in red, labeled “Too Late.” The times are identical.
There is a blinking Message icon. Adam taps it, and fiery red script appears:
Let’s keep in touch, Son. You can call me Uncle.
Adam shows it around the table. Everyone is silent. Except Crowley.
Satan’s sins, you can’t go around wearing something like that.
With a snap of his fingers, the watch is now an unplated stainless version with a black python band. Impressed with a small sigil of Lucifer on the clasp.
Still a bit swank for a school kid.
How am I supposed to explain this to my parents? They’ll want to know what was in the package.
I suggest you don’t show it to them at all, until we figure out what to do with the thing. Tell them the package was for a different Adam Young. Not a lie. Not even a prevarication, really.
I can’t do that. I have to tell mum and dad. Do you think it will have security issues?
Bound to. A raft of ‘em. Tracking, for starters. Probably hard to discover, though. “Run a scan of this watch and see what links it has to his Satanic Majesty Lucifer in the 9th Circle of Hell.” Apparently it doesn’t require a companion phone, which is fairly cutting edge. Which could mean it isn’t from whom it claims to be. On the other hand, it could just be Hell’s usual direct approach to electronics. Let’s do a little test.
Crowley holds out his hand, Adam gives him the watch. The demon activates Message and speaks.
Hey-o, Beelzebub, give me a reason to believe this trinket isn’t bait from Gabriel.
Not a long wait before the watch gives a tiny vibration and speakerphone activates.
The St. Thaddeus Monastery. You screamed, and you screamed, and you screamed. Miss me?
A long minute passes as Crowley stares at the watch. Then he swipes and taps the sequence to delete the message thread.
He returns the watch to Adam.
It’s from Hell, all right. Exactly their style. Surely you’re not considering wearing it?
Angel, can you pour me some more tea? I don’t care if it’s cold.
Gulps down his cup of “tea” in one go.
Pepper wants to know:
What happened at the St. Thaddeus Monastery?
Bad date. I don’t do well on consecrated ground. Feels like I’m being barbecued.
Is that why you won’t go near St. Cecil’s and All Angels?
Among other reasons. Adam, let me take this watch to London this afternoon. I know some competent analysts who can take a look at it.
Will you be able to bring it back with you this evening?
No. Tomorrow. I’ll let you know as soon as we find out what’s inside. Aziraphale, I think we should get started now. Anything from the bookshop you want to bring to London?
No. Ready to go when you are.
Well then. Happy birthday, Young Master Adam. We have your permission to relieve you of this little time bomb for 24 hours?
Adam hands the watch to Crowley, who pockets it.
Aziraphale and Crowley thank Madame Tracy; make their way out the door and across the street to the Bentley. Crowley has it doing 90 by the time they hit the edge of Tadfield.
. . .
What music is this, Crowley?
Classic trance. Paul Van Dyk. Title is “For An Angel.”
I like it!
Crowley narrowly misses driving off into a gorse hedge.
Chapter 2: Not Even Six Degrees
Several weeks prior to Adam’s birthday. Madame Tracy queries Mary Hodges one afternoon while they’re having tea.
Mary, I’ve been thinking. Do you suppose a ballroom dance class might be a go in Tadfield?
Mary had not immediately rejected the idea out of hand, having enjoyed a brief vision flashing through her mind of her and Evans doing a tango.
Do you have any particular instructors in mind, Madame Tracy?
Well, no, haven’t gotten nearly that far yet. It’s just an idea that came to me.
It sounds like fun! I’ll do some research. Perhaps a dance instructor from outside might be willing to come for, say, a three-week tango course? I’ll see if Mas- Mr. Crowley would be amenable to the use of Tadfield Manor for such a project. We do have a nice old ballroom . . .
And so it had happened. All the way from Edinburgh, two dancing instructors - a jovial married couple in their 30s - having a sort of working summer holiday teaching the burghers of Tadfield how to tango.
The instructors have a busy schedule of 3 classes daily, divided by age groups: the adolescents, the 20- and 30-somethings, and the middle-aged and older. There is a bit of a stir at the beginning of the first evening class for the older students when Crowley and Aziraphale walk in.
Welcome, gentlemen. How lucky for us you that you’ve joined our class. Clan we partner each of you with one of our lovely ladies?
The instructors are keenly hopeful, as this is a common unbalanced distribution in dance classes. Alas, it is not to be.
Oh. No. Thank you.
Aziraphale is pleasant but firm. Crowley purrs:
We’re our own partners.
Meanwhile he gives Aziraphale an I-am-so-seriously-considering-murdering-you look.
Modern times, though. Adam’s parents Deirdre and Arthur are too courteous to even look surprised at a same sex couple, much less remark. R. P. Tyler starts to swell up like a puffer fish, but is sternly quieted by his wife, who thinks a bit of tango is just what they need and he’s not going to make a fuss if she has anything to do about it. Which she does.
Pepper’s mum Janet has married a tall black middle-aged American woman, and they are also attending the class. Crowley saunters over to her at the break.
I heard during introductions that your name is Georgia. You’re not actually from that particular American state, are you?
Oh, no. I’m actually named after my great-great-grandfather. Georgia was his nickname.
Crowley stands silent, unconsciously gives her a long rude up-and-down. Finally her indignant stare registers.
Oh. Excuse me. Sorry. Just that I knew a Georgia once. A man. You have a remarkable resemblance to him. Bit eerie, really.
Was he black?
Yes. No chance your great-great-grandad played poker, is there?
Now it’s Georgia’s turn to silently inspect Crowley.
As a matter of fact, he did. Started a little family tradition. I’ve played ever since I was old enough to hold the cards.
The two stand silent, thinking.
In my family, only my great-great granddad and I were ever named Georgia. You don’t look old enough to have met him. He was out West after the Civil War. He told stories about how he’d met the Devil himself in Colorado. A red-haired Englishman with eyes like a rattlesnake. Who wore blind man’s glasses to cover them. They played poker together. The devil enjoyed hearing him play his fiddle. It’s a bit of a family legend. Georgia and his pal Sidewinder.
Georgia is as quick on the uptake as her ancestor. She reaches up and gently pulls Crowley’s dark glasses down enough to see his eyes. He gazes back at her and smiles:
Well I’ll be damned.
I think you might already be, Mr. Crowley.
Call me Anthony.
Aziraphale comes back from the refreshments table and joins them. Crowley puts his arm around the angel’s waist and gives him a peck on the cheek.
Georgia, may I introduce my partner, Mr. Azir A. Fell. Angel, meet Georgia, Pepper’s American mum. She and I were just having the most interesting conversation.
A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Fell.
Likewise, my dear.
The dance instructors ring a small bell to signal the end of break and the students file back to the floor.
Sometime later, after various permutations on the dance floor, Janet and Georgia find themselves standing next to Crowley and Aziraphale. Georgia murmurs to Crowley:
Forgive me if I’m being nosey, Anthony, but when you call Mr. Fell “Angel,” that’s not just a sweet nickname, is it?
Chapter 3: Sidewinder
A slight problem.
Some weeks prior to Adam’s birthday. The back yard of Pepper’s house. A warm summer night. Pepper’s mums, Janet and Georgia, are reclining in lounge chairs and having a mint julep nightcap. They’ve returned from their first evening tango lesson. Georgia’s family moved away from the American South over a century ago, but she likes good bourbon and mint juleps.
Janet, tell me more about that Anthony Crowley and Azir Fell.
Quite the striking pair, aren’t they. Mr. Crowley is generally believed to be quite wealthy. Is a major shareholder in our local bank. Bailed out Mary Hodges when her Tadfield Manor ran into difficulties from some lawsuits. Developed that performance driving course that seems to be all the rage. Rumors of criminal connections, especially after his helicopter was blown up last year in some sort of assassination or terrorist attempt. He is quite blasé and low key about it all. Goes to our little local beauty salon to have his hair styled and his nails done, for instance. Pepper was quite indignant when he showed up with turquoise enamel like hers, and demanded he change it.
Yes. He and Mr. Fell seem to be . . . adult advisors, I guess one could say . . . of that little group of kids that Pepper’s been part of since forever.
Adam, Brian, and Wensleydale?
Janet nods. Georgia looks concerned.
That pretty much leads into what I wanted to talk to you about tonight. Just how well acquainted are you with those men?
Hm. Occasionally I chat with Mr. Fell in his bookshop. He has a remarkably deep collection. Mr. Crowley just sort of flits in and out, seem to spend a lot of time in London. I recollect Mr. Fell mentioning a flat in Mayfair.
Mayfair? That’s a pretty upscale district, isn’t it?
What does Pepper say about him?
Not much. Says she’s sworn to secrecy.
Doesn’t that worry you?
Oh no. Pepper and I have always been quite frank with one another. Being ruthlessly honest and forthright is the only way to raise a young woman nowadays, I believe. There are so many dangers. I’ve tried to raise Pepper to know that she can trust me to be her sounding board. That I will never prevaricate with her. She became curious about sex around age 10, for example, and has been very direct with her questions ever since. Possibly because she’s a subscriber to Teen Vogue. (Janet laughs) Usually sex is a bit of a minefield for us parents. We were subjected to so much nonsense ourselves.
But you allow her to have secrets about someone like Anthony Crowley? Doesn’t that set off alarm bells?
No. I know what her secret is. She’s told me. (Laughs) I’m sworn to secrecy, myself, I’m afraid, so I cannot enlighten you.
Very well. Then let me tell you what I observed tonight at the tango lesson. You know how it’s impossible for me to stop practicing forensic psychology, even though I’m now blessedly retired from law enforcement. Habits of a lifetime and all that. Perhaps you have also noticed, in your encounters with Mr. Fell, how his attention tracks Anthony like a magnet homing in on North?
Yes. He is courteous and attentive when one speaks with him. But if Mr. Crowley is present, one always feels a bit like an intrusive bystander. He practically lights up when Mr. Crowley enters the room.
I can’t bring myself to label his fixation as obsession, the man just seems so happy about it. More like a child who’s just received the Christmas present of his dreams.
Or passionate young lovers?
Except they’re not so young. And Anthony definitely conveys the impression that he’s been around the block a few times.
More than a few, I’d say.
Georgia takes a deep breath, as if about to unburden herself.
I’m not trying to frighten you, but I’ve had to deal with enough psychopaths during my career that I have to say Anthony makes me very uneasy. He may be even more disturbing than you realize. You know that I’m named for my great-great-grandfather. Anthony approached me tonight to tell me I have a strong resemblance to a man he once knew. I’m certain he encountered my great-great granddad back in the 1880s. And how could he possibly be 140 years old and look like he’s only in his 40s, you might ask? One of our family legends is that when great-great granddad was a miner in the Colorado silver rush, he used to play poker with and fiddle for the Devil. The Devil was a red haired Englishman who wore dark blind man’s glasses to conceal his eyes. He had eyes like a rattlesnake. Great-great granddad and he roamed the mining camps as gamblers. Georgia and Sidewinder. You can imagine how thrilling I found these tales when I was a child. My aged grandad lived with us, and I wouldn’t let him tell me any other stories at bedtime, even if he tried to read me picture books. Tonight I moved Anthony’s glasses a bit so I could see his eyes. He does have eyes like a snake. Golden, with slit pupils. I don’t think they are contact lenses.
Anthony Crowley, Demon. That’s Pepper’s secret. We had a conversation similar to this about two years ago, when the kids struck up an acquaintance with Mr. Crowley and Mr. Fell. We must tell her that you figured it out. And reassure her that we’re not about to let the cat out of the bag, to anyone.
And I take it Mr. Fell is . . . an angel?
Yes. Unbelievable as that seems, we appear to have two supernatural beings now resident here in sleepy little Tadfield. A devil and a guardian angel. Doubtful that even dynamite could pry the kids away from such an exciting pair.
I quit being religious in my teens. Have since lived quite smugly convinced that belief in angels and devils and ghosts and such is mere ignorant and irrational superstition. And now I seem to have encountered an actual angel and his demon lover.
Took me quite a while to believe it myself. Most of us don’t go around wondering daily about that sort of romance. Stories about demons and angels and vampires and such seem to rely heavily on the succubus and incubus themes. Fantasies of deliciously attractive supernatural beings interacting with human beings, not each other. Plus, the tradition is that angels and devils are implacable enemies. Think of all those centuries of artwork showing the Archangel Michael driving Lucifer and the fallen angels from Heaven. I wonder what the other angels and devils think? Montagues and Capulets?
It does seem a wildly improbable affair. No wonder they’re so intense – a forbidden love! And speaking of “intense,” did you perhaps notice Anthony’s aroma?
Well, there was definitely something in the air in that ballroom tonight. You’re saying it was his cologne?
Not exactly. He and I had been talking some minutes when Mr. Fell walked up to join us. And it was if someone stirred the logs in a fireplace with a poker – a whiff of smoke, with an overtone of . . . something else. Research indicates that the existence of functioning human pheromones is tenuous, despite the myths. Nonetheless, my perception was that Anthony was somehow radiating sex like a censer.
Well, that should make our tango lessons much more exciting! (Janet laughs, but then her amusement collapses.) Oh my god. Four teens just entering puberty are hanging around with them.
Indeed. Like another julep before we turn in?
I think that’s entirely in order. Otherwise I might be staring at the ceiling all night.
Chapter 4: Triple S Security
Triple S Security. A hardened room inside a nondescript and completely forgettable building in a London suburb.
Crowley and Evgeny are seated with both their chairs behind Evgeny’s desk, upon which Adam’s watch is lying, glittering in its gold and diamond guise.
It does not show up on any scan or photograph, Mr. Crowley. It is as if it is not there. Invisible. Not even a ghost.
I was afraid of that.
And we cannot detect any spectrum of emission.
Got a scanner handy? Let’s see what happens during reception.
Evgeny opens a drawer in his desk, takes out a small instrument with a thick antenna. Crowley activates the message app. Before he even has a chance to speak, Freddie Mercury comes on speakerphone.
Hello, Crowley. We note with interest that Adam’s watch is now far from his location. You are no doubt on your way to return it to him.
The phone turns itself off
So, it definitely has location tracking capability.
Evgeny looks at the scanner and shakes his head.
I was going to give you a shielded box to supplement your pocket linings. But I now think we will not find that useful. And I also think we need to converse where the watch cannot hear.
Evgeny taps his phone, and a man enters the room.
Bohdan, take this to the blast test room. Mr. Crowley will pick it up on his way out. Bohdan retrieves a slim little pliers from his suit pocket, uses it to suspend the watch instead of his hand. His other hand has bandages on his thumb and first two fingers.
You were able to activate the watch, Mr. Crowley. When Bohdan tried, it burned him.
Nyet. Few blisters.
That sort of app might make it difficult to sell. (They all chuckle.)
Signal me when the watch is in the blast room, Bohdan.
Bohdan exits. Evgeny and Crowley wait silently for some minutes, then resume their conversation upon receiving Bohdan’s call.
That design goes for over a hundred thousand pounds new.
A valuable watch that won’t show on any scanner . . .
Yes. An untraceable watch that gets tetchy and ignites if it doesn’t want to be handled . . .
They regard one another with perfect understanding of the possibilities such a thing possesses. Crowley notices Evgeny’s hand. Gestures to a faint blue skull on one of Evgeny’s fingers, and a hooded executioner on another, positioned to be visible on the upper joints when making a fist.
Those two tattoos seem to keep coming back.
Evgeny holds out his hand. Crowley brushes his fingers over it, and the faint blue lines vanish.
Only those two. Some marks run deep. (Evgeny flicks a quick glance at Crowley’s serpent sigil.)
Do they ever.
Let us have a toast.
Evgeny opens a deeper desk drawer, extracts a pair of small glasses and a bottle of vodka with an unusual label. Pours them each a generous amount.
Za nashu druzjbu!
They link elbows and down the liquor at one go, then put the glasses down on the desk.
Well, best I return the watch to its owner. Before it burns a hole in something.
They shake hands firmly.
So that’s what we know about your watch, Adam.
I don’t want to wear it. What should I do with it?
Right now it’s in the safe at Tadfield Manor. I suggest we leave it there. The tracking ability apparently can detect if the watch is outside of Tadfield and you’re not. But I doubt it can detect whether you’re wearing it. Your cloaking power probably prevents that. So, it merely senses who’s trying to operate it. I think you could safely stay separated from it. That would be a good idea in any event, because we still don’t know if it can listen in on conversations.
I think I’ll keep it near my house, if that’s all right with you. I have an idea what to do with it so it won’t listen in.
You’re in charge, my lad.
This is the watch that was in the package, Dad. Mr. Crowley say’s it’s a fake.
May I see it, Adam?
Don’t push any of the buttons. Mr. Crowley says it’s a trick watch, and will give you an electric shock if you’re not the owner and try to turn it on the wrong way.
Amazing the security devices they build into things these days.
Adam hands his father the watch, which is in its more subdued black python strap guise.
Rather posh, isn’t it.
Yes. Mr. Crowley says the real version sells for a lot of money. But this one isn’t real, so I can’t sell it to someone.
Glad you understand that. Wouldn’t do to be arrested for fraud, now, would it. You don’t plan on wearing something like this?
No, Dad. My phone tells the time, I don’t need a watch.
Never hinted to mum or someone that you fancied a wristwatch?
Adam shakes his head.
Can’t think of anyone who might play such a practical joke on you?
Again Adams shakes his head.
I wonder if the delivery person got the wrong Adam Young. It was International Express, was it?
I’ll check with them to see if it was a mistaken delivery and if they have a return address. In the meantime, what do you plan to do with this thing?
Oh, I’ll just hide it somewhere.
Dropping it anywhere on the floor in your room would certainly accomplish that.
Out in the garden of the Youngs’ house. Adam has the watch in a small plastic box.
Hey, Dog! Let’s play buried treasure! You dig the hole.
Dog obliges with gusto.
Chapter 5: Salon
Julia’s Salon de Beauté in Tadfield. Crowley enters. The three staff – Julia, Peter, and Mindy – have divided up the tasks for whenever Crowley happens to drop in. He never makes an appointment. Mindy does manicures, Julia facials, and Peter loves to braid hair. They draw straws each morning to determine who greets Crowley to sort out the session’s tasks and take over other clients as necessary so Crowley doesn’t have to wait. Today Peter won the draw. Mutters “Woof!” to Julia, walks over to greet Crowley, gestures to invite him to his chair. He speaks with an Estuary accent:
Not really ready for a shampoo yet, Mr. Crowley. Don’t want your hair to get too dry. Is a massage and re-styling all right with you? . . . Your manicure still looks good. Unless you prefer a different color?
Just the hair is fine. A braid, I think.
It’s a bit early, and Peter’s incoming appointment has not yet appeared, but will just have to wait if they do. Somehow the clients never seem to mind waiting if Crowley is present. Once Crowley is seated, Peter arranges the neck paper strip and shoulder cape, starts brushing the demon’s long auburn hair. Crowley has removed his glasses, but keeps his eyes closed to narrow slits.
Shall we try a Scythian braid today?
I leave it to your judgment.
Peter brushes and combs for a long pleasant while. Puts down the tools and pushes his fingers into Crowley’s hair to massage his scalp for a delicious interval. Eventually starts to separate the braid strands. Spends a long time carefully twisting and braiding until Crowley sports a neat pair of rope braids down his back.
Once Crowley is gone, when there’s a brief break in the clientele stream, Julia approaches Peter and murmurs softly:
What would we do without Mr. Crowley, eh, love? You’ve noticed how our clientele has increased since he started coming in? I’m thinking we might have to hire another chair.
Peter waves his hand as if he’s just touched a hot stove.
I’m thinking a small private room for personal relaxation massage therapy. He never gives the slightest hint that he’s into that sort of thing, but I’d positively fling myself to my knees if he was. Slay me, Daddy. (Groans comically)
You’re not alone, you know. Mindy had to visit the staff room last week after she finished with him.
I wondered about that.
Perhaps a small fridge for ice and cold towels?
D’you mind if I leave a bit early today? Think I need a little workout with Oli.
No worries. We’ll cover for you.
Hello, Julia, my dear. Lovely day today, isn’t it?
Yes it is, Mr. Fell. If you’ll just come with me to Mindy’s station, she’s all ready and waiting for you.
Perhaps I could have a shampoo and trim as well? I seemed to be looking a bit wooly this morning.
Of course. And I’d be very pleased to give you a nice facial. We have some new cucumber and coconut creams that I’ve been wanting to try out. You’ll have to tell me what you think of them.
Oh! That would be heavenly. Thank you so much for working me into your busy schedule.
There’s a sort of barely discernable rustle among the other clients who are either waiting or being attended to, Mrs. Tyler among them. That Mr. Fell is such a charming gentleman, a real pleasure to be around. So reassuring, somehow. And always so helpful at benefit events for St. Cecil’s and All Angels.
Madame Tracy smiles as she continues reading her magazine.
Chapter 6: Uriel
Closing time in Aziraphale’s Tadfield bookshop.
Aziraphale is tidying up, the last customer of the day having finally mercifully exited without having to be grabbed by the belt and collar and flung out the door. He is exasperated when the bell tinkles and someone enters. He was sure he’d locked the door. It is a chocolate-skinned woman in a crisp pale linen suit. Her unique gold jewelry is striking. Ethereal, in fact.
The angel turns to Aziraphale, goes down on one knee in a deep genuflection, her arms outstretched, head bowed.
Aziraphale. Forgive me.
Crowley enters from the back room, sees Uriel. His arms become pterosaur wings, with 3 large razor claws. Incandescent eyes glow right through his dark glasses. A wave of heat ripples through the room. Uriel cringes, but keeps her focus on Aziraphale. She maintains her pose of supplication.
They sent me to find you. I cannot rise until you forgive me, Aziraphale.
And just why should he do that?
I was wrong, Aziraphale. . . . We should not have persecuted you.
Persecuted me? You tried to destroy me! You stood by while Gabriel tried to incinerate me into non-existence with Hellfire!
I am ashamed, Aziraphale. It was a terrible injustice. Gabriel and Michael sent me to find you. But I am here to warn you, do not trust them. Please, Aziraphale. I must report back to them. I don’t know if I can evade their surveillance. But I will help you if I can. You know I cannot lie, Aziraphale. I’m an angel.
Crowley slowly edges forward. Uriel is panicky, and her flaming sword reflexively appears in her hand, but she quickly extinguishes it and sends it back to storage, still maintaining her supplicatory pose.
I am frightened, Aziraphale.
Aziraphale considers. And then Adam’s shadow appears outside the window, and he enters the locked shop.
Adam. Don’t move.
Adam is surprised but calm. Inspects Uriel with intense interest. Then:
She won’t hurt you, Aziraphale. Brilliant wings, Crowley! Were you a pterosaur once?
I forgive you, Uriel. Please rise.
Crowley’s wings morph back into arms. He places his hands on his hips.
And just how did you manage to find us, angel?
I . . . I don’t know, exactly. (She looks bewildered, as if her memories are tendrils of fog that cannot quite be grasped.) I haven’t been on Earth much since the 16th century. I had to learn how to drive a car! And they go so fast!
With a huge effort, Crowley manages to maintain a bland expression and not give a significant look to the somewhat discomfited Aziraphale.
A faintly secretive smile flits across Adam’s face. He turns to go out the door.
If you’ll excuse me, the gang’s waiting. I just wanted to drop in and say hello.
Well, thank you Adam. Always a pleasure to see you. Before you go, allow me to introduce the Angel Uriel. Uriel, meet Adam Young, the Antichrist.
Uriel bows deeply, arms once again outstretched.
Nice t’ meet you, Ms. Uriel. Well, I better be going. Bye!
Aziraphale gestures to Uriel, inviting her to sit in one of the little brocade upholstered Georgian armchairs near the sales desk. Crowley maintains his position between her and the back room, leaning casually against a bookshelf, his arms folded. Uriel glances anxiously at him before she sits, then adjusts her chair so he is within her view.
Uriel. Please explain just what is going on.
I . . . I don’t know, really. Gabriel and Michael ordered me to Earth to find you. How I managed to get here – Tadfield - I cannot remember. It’s as if parts of my memory are somehow inaccessible. I have been searching for you for over a year now. London is even more intimidating than it was 500 years ago. I was mostly in Italy during the Renaissance, you will recall. Is Italy also as harrowing as London is now?
Oh no. Much nicer. Well, not Rome, perhaps. That’s as bad as it always was.
Can you two skip the reminiscing and get on with it?
Well. Yes. Uriel, did Gabriel and Michael have a message for me?
No. I was simply told to find you and then report back your location. Now that I’ve found you, I suppose I must return and tell them. But I don’t want to. How do you two manage to stay without being transported back?
(Crowley sneers) No one wants us back, for starters. Nor do we want to go. Hellfire? Holy water? Perhaps you can remember those lovely substances?
Do you think they can sense your location, Uriel? The way humans use trackers?
Trackers? What are those?
Electronic devices that . . . well, maintain a sort of invisible tether. Humans use such a capability in their cellphones, for example. Do you have a phone connection to Heaven?
Uriel pulls out her little pale gold phone with alarm.
How can I tell?
Please give it to Crowley. He’s better at that sort of thing than I am.
Crowley saunters over and Uriel cautiously hands him her phone. It begins to smoke, then becomes a melted blob of glass, plastic, and tiny metal drops in the demon’s palm. Crowley turns his hand over and drops the chunk to the floor, where it singes the wood.
He magics away the burnt wood and the melted blob. Looks at the two angels.
No link whatsoever now.
Well. That’s one way to solve that problem. I suggest you do not return to Heaven immediately, Uriel, until we sort this out. We have friends who perhaps can put you up. I’ll give them a call.
And if you get a notion to try anything, you should know that Young Master Adam the Antichrist is still in full possession of all his powers. He may be a 13-year-old human child, but he tolerates no angelic or demonic “messing about,” as he calls it. Interfere at your peril. This is his domain. And keep an eye out for that Hellhound of his, the little bastard likes to go for your ankles.
Well, your ankles, at least, Crowley. Uriel, you weren’t present at almost-Armageddon, but we were. Adam dealt most capably with Gabriel, Beelzebub, the Four Horsemen, and his father Lucifer, the Great Satan. The boy takes a hands-off management approach, but do not be deceived. You do not want to cross him. And now, let me call our friends to see if they can accommodate you.
Aziraphale makes the call.
Hello, Janet? Aziraphale here. We have just received a heavenly visitor who needs lodging for perhaps a few days. She’s an angel named Uriel . . . Oh, thank you so much! We’ll come directly, if that’s all right with you. . . . So good of you. We’ll be by in about 30 minutes. I’ll bring a bottle of sherry and some savory biscuits.
Chapter 7: Consecrated Ground
Chapters 10 & 11 of Crowley Gets A New Look (M) for why Aziraphale is disconcerted by the cookies:
Tell me what you smell like.
Oh! . . . Vanilla? (Sigh. It would be vanilla . . .)
And brown sugar.
Yes! (That’s better!)
Late afternoon in the bookshop. Uriel is seated at a small table, absorbed in a book on Georgian architecture. It’s a large old book, and she’s using an ivory page turner. Mrs. R. P. Tyler bustles in and corners Aziraphale. She’s built like a small pouter pigeon and is wearing a hat that resembles something the Queen might have sported in the 1980s.
Good afternoon, Mr. Fell. I’m just stopping by to confirm that you will be assisting us with our brochures and maps sale table at tomorrow’s tea gala at Church Meadow?
Always a pleasure to see you, Mrs. Tyler. Of course I will be in attendance. It looks as if we will be more fortunate with the weather this year. A fine sunny day is the forecast. I understand the event two years ago was less successful than it could have been due to a freak summer storm.
Yes. It was like a hurricane! Tents and tables and crockery flying everywhere. A terrible mess. A complete disaster. It’s taken us two years to reorganize the necessary supplies.
As they talk, Aziraphale has gently been steering her back toward the door, pretending to pick up various volumes as if he’s busy tidying up.
My understanding is that I am to take the afternoon shift?
Yes. We know you have a shop to manage, so we thought two o’clock onward would be least inconvenient for you.
No worries, dear lady. I can easily close early.
Aziraphale courteously opens the door as if he were the doorman at a posh hotel.
Very well, Mr. Fell. We do so appreciate your assistance, and look forward to your presence tomorrow afternoon. Good day!
Good day, Mrs. Tyler.
I see England is still fully stocked with battleaxes.
My word, and no mistake. A most importunate human.
The door opens again and this time Pepper enters. She’s carrying a biscuit tin.
Hi Aziraphale. Hi, Uriel. My mums spent all afternoon baking these for the church tea tomorrow, and sent this tin over for you and Crowley. Georgia calls them “brown sugar cookies.” I think that’s American for “biscuits.” She says they’re an old family recipe.
Aziraphale pries the lid off, and the aroma of brown sugar and vanilla emanates from the fresh cookies in the tin. He is surprised. Then an oddly disconcerted and shifty expression flits across his face.
My goodness. Don’t those smell . . . delicious.
Aziraphale stares blankly at the crisp brown disks heavily sprinkled with white sugar. Then remembers his manners.
Would you like to try one, Uriel?
Uriel has been watching Aziraphale closely, and decides to forego a sample, although she’s not sure why.
Oh no. Thank you. They’re for you and Crowley. I’ll leave now with Pepper and help with tea.
We’ve saved some for tea. You’ll like them. ‘Bye, Aziraphale.
Uriel leaves with Pepper, mounts a bicycle, and they ride off together.
Aziraphale had showed Uriel how to ride a bicycle, and she took to it like a duck to water. She’s spent the last few days riding happily around the village and surrounding lanes.
I visited that church yesterday. St. Cecil’s and All Angels. A very appealing name, yes? It’s quite a historic little building. Some pieces of it are actually Roman.
Do you know, I’ve never been inside? I’ve been roped into volunteering for various benefits for that church, but so far those have all been held in the parish hall.
That’s some distance away, across the river, isn’t it?
Yes. And I always make sure Crowley and I are in London on Sundays.
You don’t like churches?
Too many unfortunate experiences. You’d left by the time Henry the Eighth rolled up. Denominational conflict is something I avoid at all costs.
Evening the next day. Aziraphale has finished his shift at the brochures sales table and is preparing to mount his bicycle when Uriel approaches on hers.
Let’s go see the old church. I’ll show you around.
Aziraphale sees Mrs. Tyler in the distance, approaching in a determined manner.
Anything to get out of being dragooned for clean-up. Let us be off, at speed.
The two angels park their bikes outside the church and go inside. As Uriel marches ahead pointing out such things as the giant antique octagonal stone baptismal font with its heavy wooden cover, the 19th century stained glass windows, the 13th century lance window . . . Aziraphale seems increasingly uneasy. He loosens his tie as if he’s feeling uncomfortably warm.
Bit stuffy in here, isn’t it? I wonder why they have the central heat on at this time of year. Pipes in the floor, perhaps?
Uriel stops and looks at him, puzzled.
Aziraphale, it’s chilly as a tomb in here. (She slips a foot out of one of the sandals she’s wearing.) This tile floor is as cold as the stone walls.
The phrase “It’s like being at the beach in bare feet” is now running on repeat through Aziraphale’s mind. He leans down and lays a palm against the tiles. They feel hot to him.
Yes. You’re right, Uriel.
He does an about face and heads briskly back to the entry.
Getting late. Told Crowley I’d be home straight away. Dinner in London. Mustn’t tarry.
In front of the bookstore. Aziraphale jumps from his bike and leaves it in a spinning heap. Magics the bookshop lock open and shut, rushes into the back room. Crowley is sprawled on the Victorian settee, dressed in the angel’s tatty old cut velour dressing gown, now liberally sprinkled on the chest with sugar and crumbs.
Mmmmmmmm . . . delicious biscuits. My favorite flavor.
Then Aziraphales’s expression registers.
Crowley. Something awful has happened.
While he speaks, Crowley puts down the tin, rises from the couch, places an arm around the angel’s shoulders. Reaches for the large pillows with his other hand and tosses them against the base of the armchair. Pulls the angel down next to him on the carpet so they’re resting on the pillows. The demon crouches sideways, holding both the angel’s hands in his.
Uriel and I visited the church. St. Cecil’s. She said it was cold as a tomb inside. But it wasn’t to me, Crowley. I felt as if I was in a sauna or something. She said the tile floor was cold as stone. But it felt hot when I touched it. Crowley, it was consecrated ground. Why does it feel hot to me? Am I becoming unholy?
Aziraphale is struggling not to cry.
That’s unlikely, Aziraphale. There must be another explanation.
I’m not a fallen angel?
I can’t see how that could possibly be.
What nonetheless goes through Crowley’s mind is how little it apparently takes to fall from grace. Asking questions. Hanging around with the wrong people. Next thing you know, you’re doing a million-light-year freestyle dive into a pool of boiling sulfur.
Crowley embraces him in a tight hug. The angel’s shoulders are shaking.
Didn’t feel like walking barefoot across a hot beach, did it?
N-n- not yet.
Sauntering vaguely downward, are you?
Hanging out with the wrong person, perhaps?
Never! . . . And if I am, I don’t care!
Angel, do you still have your sword?
They break apart. Aziraphale holds out his arm, and his sword appears, flaming as intense a blue as ever. Maybe even brighter. The flame centers are white.
Looks as if you’re still in the Almighty’s good graces. We demons can’t touch those things.
Aziraphale sends his sword back into storage. Crowley caresses the angel’s cheek and plants gentle kisses upon his face. Runs his fingers through the angel’s lambswool hair.
You don’t suppose it’s an after-effect of that little body swap we did?
Aziraphale nearly collapses with relief.
Oh! I do hope that’s the explanation!
Well. If someday you find yourself plunging into a pool of boiling sulfur, call me. I’ll join you. We could enjoy the spa together. Being next to you would make it worth the trip.
Kiss me again, Crowley.
Chapter 8: Midnight Confession
Hard to talk about some things.
Midnight in Tadfield. It’s a dark, moonless night, and very quiet in the village. The faintest of lights can be discerned in Aziraphale’s bookshop, however. Uriel walks up the street and through the locked door as a ghost might. Angels don’t sleep, and it hasn’t occurred to her that it might be an inopportune time of day to have a chat with Aziraphale. What she sees in the dim light are Aziraphale and Crowley, stripped to the waist, dancing. They’re wearing ear buds, so no music can be heard. Although she’s standing in the comparatively shadowy area near the door, they sense her presence and stop.
Uriel. Try knocking next time, for Satan’s sake.
Crowley snaps his fingers, and their earbuds vanish. Crowley can see perfectly well in the dark, but Aziraphale magics the light level up to a pleasant warm glow, and gestures to Uriel to be seated in one of the little brocade upholstered Georgian chairs. She sits and stares at them, as if she doesn’t quite know how to begin.
I . . . I didn’t know angels could dance. And where was the music?
Crowley magics a pair of earbuds into her ears. She jumps as the pounding beat from a section of a trance mix assaults her hearing. Swiftly pulls and shakes the earbuds out and tosses them onto the floor.
What kind of music is that?
You know, angel, if you’re just going to stare at us and be a music critic, you can leave. This isn’t a public performance. Or perhaps you were hoping for more of a show?
Another snap of Crowley’s fingers, and his and Aziraphale’s clothing vanishes.
Swift as a serpent, Crowley sidles up behind Aziraphale and wraps his arms around his chest. Extends a long tongue and licks Aziraphale’s shoulder and neck. Slowly rubs his hands through the angel’s chest hair. The angel’s pleasure is unmistakable.
Crowley, for Heaven’s sake!
Aziraphale wrests himself from Crowley’s grasp. Grabs another chair and hurries over to where Uriel is sitting in obvious distress, seats himself at an angle to her. A change from two years ago is that now he doesn’t give being naked a second thought. Uriel obviously does, though, and can’t tear her eyes from his shoulders and chest. And lap. Then she starts to cry.
With a groan of utter disgust, Crowley goes off into the back room.
Aziraphale snaps to and magics on his tatty old dressing gown. Places his hands on either side of Uriel’s face, pulling her closer to him. Their eyes meet. What she sees are concerned and earnest gray eyes in a very kind face.
Uriel. Please. Tell me what brings you here.
She tries to speak, but can’t stop crying. Her eyes fall once again to Aziraphale’s wooly chest, then she jerks her head away and closes her eyes as if in pain.
Aziraphale rises and wraps his arms around her, hugging her to him as he pulls her gently from her chair onto the floor. Eventually her shoulders stop shaking and she lies quietly in his arms.
Crowley comes out of the back room with a green pint ice cream container and a spoon. Sits next to Aziraphale, extends a spoonful toward Uriel of what looks like an icy dessert.
I think this is needed. I know you eat. Take it.
It’s nice, Uriel. Lime cannabis sorbet. It has a relaxing effect.
Uriel sits up, tries a spoonful, finds it cool and pleasant. Crowley hands her the container.
She really does like the taste, and takes increasingly larger spoonfuls. Crowley lies back on the floor, one knee raised, arms behind his head, russet hair spilling across the floor. Uriel dimly notices that the room smells of woodsmoke . . . and something else. Something deeply floral/animal and pungently pleasant. Minutes pass. Finally she’s calm enough to talk.
Now that I have found you, I have to return to Heaven. But I don’t want to go. I want what you two have. I want . . . I want . . . to be in love with someone, like you two are with each other.
She feels a bit . . . dizzy. Uninhibited enough to ask a question that’s been on her mind.
Are you two actually having sex together?
She involuntarily glances at Crowley, who is gazing with eyes half closed off toward the back room’s entrance and doesn’t notice her.
I didn’t realize we could do that. It is messy?
Not at all. Our celestial bodies lack some human orifices, so we can’t do some of the interesting things that they do, or use some of their peculiar devices. The excitement lasts a lot longer, though.
It’s nice, is it?
We call it “Divine Ecstasy,” if that gives you any idea.
I wonder why no one in heaven ever speaks about it?
I know I never really ever thought about it. Always assumed it was impossible for me. Decorative giblets only, don’t you know. And I believe you have to be in love with your partner.
Oh. There’s nobody . . . nobody . . .
Aziraphale gives her a keen look.
Nobody? Ten million angels and you’ve never fancied even one of them?
He’s about to say, “Don’t tell me it’s a demon . . .” but sees her expression take on a wistful aspect.
You do, don’t you.
She nods. Continues to spoon in the sorbet.
I don’t suppose you can tell me who?
She shakes her head.
I don’t think he gives me a moment’s thought. We’re all very work focused. As perhaps you remember.
Crowley is making snoring noises, although obviously not asleep. He snarls,
Let’s just get on with it, shall we? Go back to Heaven, find whoever it is, and just tell them you think they’re hot. Get it on. It took Aziraphale and me 6000 years and Armageddon before we could finally admit we were attracted to each other. Piece of advice: don’t make that mistake.
Make your report to Gabriel and Michael. Then just . . . slip back down here? With your friend?
I can’t disobey.
What orders would you be disobeying?
A snaky smile appears on Crowley’s face as Aziraphale works the Temptation. The Arrangement definitely knocked some edges off the angel.
Uriel downs another spoonful, appears lost in thought.
No one has actually said I can’t return to Earth.
And once you’re back, what reason would they have to come get you? Aren’t you allowed a good deal of latitude and independent work? You’re pretty far up corporate ladder.
I’m just the office gofer, you know. Gabriel made me apply for Sandalphon’s position, but then wouldn’t give it to me. I think now that may have been lucky for me. I suspect I very well could just go off, and no one would notice for a long time. I’ve been down here over a year now, and they haven’t even bothered to ask for a compliance report. It has made me wonder if Gabriel actually thinks he’s punishing me for something. You know how distasteful he finds Earth.
Yes. Thinks humans are stupid. Won’t corrupt his celestial body with gross matter. One can only imagine how revolted he would be by sex.
This latter possibility brings a sly speculative smile to Uriel’s face. Crowley’s, too.
May I suggest you return to London, take the Main Office escalator. Tell them you’ve returned because you need a new phone and want to make your report. Hook up with your friend. Then come back down to Earth.
My friend is already on Earth.
Even better! Make your report. Request a new phone, to demonstrate your good intentions and reassure them that you’re keen. Come back down and find your friend. Don’t bother to report again until they call you. If they call you.
I must think this over.
Uriel gets to her feet.
May I take this with me?
Be sure to return the spoon.
She grimaces at Crowley, tosses him the spoon, and magics one of her own out of the air.
Thank you . . . Both of you. Can I come by tomorrow?
Anytime the shop is open, my dear.
Uriel exits, walking through the door as if it’s made of fog.
I’ve never been able to do that, have you?
Is she a higher power?
No, just an archangel. Technically, I outrank her. I think it might simply be a talent. Like being able to sing four octaves.
Aziraphale, you don’t suppose the “friend” she was referring to is you? Pretty obvious she was suffering from desire.
Doubtful. She and Sandalphon roughed me up. Helped kidnap me – you, I mean. Stood by while Gabriel tried to kill you – me – with Hellfire, didn’t you say? Not exactly the way to demonstrate affection. Must be someone else.
Crowley gets to his feet, extends a hand to Aziraphale.
C’mon, Angel. Let’s have a scotch and then some Divine Ecstasy.
Now that is a Great Plan.
Crowley magics Aziraphale’s dressing gown back into the closet. Stretches an arm around the angel’s shoulders, and they saunter into the back room.
Chapter 9: A Blast from the Past
Anathema and Newt are returning to Malibu, leaving tomorrow morning. Pepper has insisted that her mums get together with Anathema and have her explain to the gang just what purple auras are all about. Adam was also able to see the auras at the dance recital, and the four teens are pretty sure it has something to do with sex, they just don’t know what. Janet and Georgia agree that this is an excellent opportunity to keep the line open on that particularly fraught topic. The kids definitely seem to take whatever Anathema tells them as gospel, and Georgia is hoping she and Janet will be able counteract whatever New Age woo Anathema is spouting. They’ve arranged a pizza party.
You know, of course, Anathema, that no one has ever actually been able to photograph or scientifically detect any type of aura around human beings. Kirlian photography is a well-known technique that has an explanation based in material physics.
Adam interjects: Excuse me, but I can see them, too. Anathema says it takes special talent that very few people possess.
What do these auras look like, Adam?
Well, they’re a sort of a flickering light. It ripples. The colors can tell you what the person is feeling, and if they’re good or bad. And angels have different auras than people.
Georgia, you’re right. There is a lot of nonsense about auras. They are not actually generated from within a human being. Or a supernatural being. They’re more like the auroras at the Earth’s poles.
Wensleydale pipes up: Auroras are very beautiful, really. I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland to see them.
Brian: You can see them in northern Scotland, too. We were up there last winter. It was like a glowing green curtain all along the horizon. Only moving. Rippling, like you said.
Anathema, auroras are caused by charged particles from the sun. What causes auras?
Dark supernatural energy. If someone is receiving large amounts of supernatural radiation, their aura can be quite bright. However, unlike natural auroras, auras are affected by negative emotions such as anger, hatred, fear, lust, despair. If an aura is grayish or blackened, something bad is going on inside that person.
The Them share glances with one another, remembering how last year Adam first noticed the angel Sandalphon by his inhuman and grayish aurora. But they don’t say anything in front of the four adults. That incident is still a secret between them and Crowley and Aziraphale. Anathema continues:
People with dirty auras often look quite pleasant and normal in ordinary vision, so knowing what you’re dealing with can be very useful when it comes to avoiding trouble.
In criminology, we call such people psychopaths.
Yes. Those with dark auras can be very dangerous. But they’re not as common as dim auroras that are simply caused by unhappiness. Adam is becoming quite skilled at discerning auras, and he and I stay in touch over the internet. If you have concerns about someone, you might enlist him to see whether there’s anything amiss or not. Not for frivolous gossip, of course. Someone’s aura is very personal and private information. So when Adam mentioned the purple auras at the dance recital, I was reluctant to discuss them further.
Just what about purple auras were you reluctant to discuss with our teens here?
Purple and blue vary along a spectrum of desire and love. The most common source of purple auras is sexual desire, although a passion for something can also cause a purple light. Anyone intensely interested in something often displays a deep blue, purplish aura. People with talents, scientists, mechanics, engineers . . . Creative and very skilled people.
She hesitates, wondering whether to explain that if actual sexual consummation is occurring, auras flare red and magenta.
Like when someone says something is better than sex?
Yes! Exactly. So seeing a purple aura doesn’t necessarily mean the person is feeling sexy. However, at that dance recital the other night, I have to say that purple seemed most definitely to be related to sexual longing. And I think that topic is something more appropriate for parents to discuss with their kids. I’m just a young woman, and I don’t have training for that sort of thing.
Adam: What if an aura is purple and blue and pink and red?
Oh lord. Anathema knows exactly why he’s asking this.
Magenta and red flares occur . . . when a sexual act is being performed. Purple and blue signify desire. Rose and red are from . . . consummation of that desire.
Wensleydale, as usual, is quick off the mark.
So all that Valentine’s day stuff is . . .
I think that’s just a coincidence, Wensley. Red and pink are traditionally the colors of romance and marriage in many cultures. For all sorts of reasons. Probably nothing to do with auras. Or at least very little. Perhaps.
How exactly did you learn all this about auras, Anathema?
I’m a witch. It is one of my gifts.
Georgia’s face assumes a mildly wry expression. Angels, demons, auras . . . of course there had to be a witch in the mix. What next, she wonders. The Antichrist?
Is there an academy for witch studies?
No. It’s all mostly oral traditions. A lot of the old texts are nonsense, written by men. (Pepper smirks.) I’m quite handy with divination tools such as the pendulum and theodolite for finding ley lines. And of course I have the ability to see auras. Our family line began with a witch in the 16th century by the name of Agnes Nutter. She was reputed to have many strange habits. Of course, back then anyone who had any knowledge of hygiene and disease remedies was accounted as suspicious and mad. That sort of knowledge got many witches burned at the stake. But mostly Agnes was a psychic who could see into the future. She made thousands of prophecies, all of which turned out to be true. My family is well off financially thanks to many of Agnes’s predictions.
These prophecies were written down somewhere?
In a book. But the book is gone now. It got burned up in a fire two years ago. My family still has the historic prophecies in a database, however. Many of them were quite cryptic, and it’s interesting to match them up to events that occurred. Like doing a crossword puzzle.
Is your family still using her predictions?
No. They finally came to an end a few years ago.
Can you see into the future?
No, thank goodness. It is extremely stressful to know that something bad is coming, even if one has been given clues about how to deal with it. Agnes knew she was to be burned at the stake, for example, and that there was no escape. Imagine how that must have felt.
Wensleydale: Aziraphale says she was burned at the stake in 1656.
Yes. But she made sure she was the last witch in England to be executed. Her burning pyre blew up the entire village. Word got around, and the witch burnings stopped.
And then something very spooky happens.
Anathema sits up even straighter than her usual posture, eyes seeming to stare through the wall at nothing. In a rich contralto voice, she intones:
Prithee, Young Master. Be thou not gulled. Thou must not harm ye principalitee, serpente. Ware be thou about ye watch jewel. List, list, I tell thee!
Dead silence all around. Georgia finally speaks.
Anathema. What did you just say?
Anathema looks around, bewildered.
Say? I didn’t say anything.
Yes, you did. Just now. You sounded like an older woman.
And like in a Shakespeare play.
Stricken, Agnes and Newt look at one another.
Chapter 10: Puzzling Evidence
Prithee, Young Master. Be thou not gulled. Thou must not harm ye principalitee, serpente. Ware be thou about ye watch jewel. List, list, I tell thee!
Four adults and four teens sit silently, their pizza party now completely forgotten. Georgia goes and retrieves her slim little laptop from the study. Opens it up, and types as they converse.
Let’s all try to remember what . . . Agnes? . . . just said.
Brian: Something about a pretty young master?
Pepper: Crowley calls Adam “Young Master.” I think he’s being sarcastic. If he were being polite he’d say “Master Young.”
Brian: And I wouldn’t call Adam “pretty.” (Bit of laughter all around.)
Wensleydale: And something about sea gulls?
Janet: I think the word was “gulled,” Wensley. It’s means tricked. Deceived. Fooled.
Wensleydale: It must be about that trick watch that Adam got on his birthday. She definitely said, “watch jewel.” And something about wearing it?
Georgia: Adam got a watch as a birthday present?
Adam: Yes. A delivery man brought it to the tea shop. When Madame Tracy treated us to a birthday lunch. My dad checked with the delivery company, but they had no record of any such package.
Brian: It was a really fancy watch. With gold and diamonds.
Definitely a jewel, then?
What did you do with the watch, Adam? I see you’re not wearing one.
Dog and I buried it in the yard. It’s a trick watch. It burns people.
Georgia: I think I’d better see this watch, Adam.
Adam: Crowley already had some experts take a look at it. It’s . . . it’s . . . Well, he says it’s dangerous. That’s why we buried it.
Georgia: I’d still like to see the watch. And have a talk with Crowley.
Janet: If a demon says something is dangerous, one can only imagine how . . .
Brian: Wensley said he heard something about wearing the watch. That’s what I heard, too. But it was said in a funny way. Like, “Wear thou the watch jewel.”
Pepper: And there was something about not harming a serpent. “Principally serpent?”
Janet: I think the word was “principality.” It means a small state run by a prince. I think Monaco is still called a principality. And Liechtenstein. Is Crowley a prince of some sort? He seems to dress very stylishly, and is reputed to be quite wealthy. (A thought occurs) Crowley has snake eyes behind those dark glasses he wears, doesn’t he. Could he be the “serpent” Agnes mentioned? He’s not human? He’s a serpent prince?
The Them look at one another. Adam remembers those pterosaur wings he saw the other day.
Adam: I don’t think he’s a prince of Earth.
Georgia sighs. Yes. That could make sense. (She thinks to herself, “Assuming anything about mythical beings makes sense." ) Would Uriel know, perhaps?
Janet: She’s off bicycling around. Says she has to return to Heaven tomorrow to make a report of some sort, and she’d like to enjoy being in the village for one more night.
Pepper: Agnes said not to harm the serpent.
Adam: Aziraphale and Crowley are in London. But they’ll be back tomorrow. We should ask them then. I’ll message them to meet us tomorrow morning.
Georgia looks over the notes she’s made so far.
Well. Let’s see what we have so far. Possibly the message was for Adam. It seems to have been about not being tricked into letting Crowley, a serpent prince, wear the watch? That Adam should wear it?
Wensleydale: And something about making lists. At the very end. She seemed very concerned about lists.
Georgia: Making lists of what, I wonder?
She shows them a transcription of the prophecy:
I edited the thees and thous. I never could get straight which are which.
“Pretty Master Adam. Be not gulled. You must not harm the principality serpent. Wear the watch jewel. List, list. I tell you.”
Adam lives near Jasmine Cottage, where Anathema and Newton are staying for their Tadfield visit. The three dismount their bikes before the gate to Adam’s house. Newt speaks.
Well, Adam, it’s been an interesting visit this year, hasn’t it? You’ll be keeping in touch, of course?
Yes, I will. Anathema, I have a question for you.
About what, Adam?
It’s about auras. Aziraphale and Crowley’s auras. Did you go to Madame Tracy’s or the bookshop last weekend?
Anathema guesses what’s coming.
Pretty spectacular display, wasn’t it?
Yes! Were they . . . were they . . . doing it?
Newton looks at Anathema. They’d had a little discussion about this, themselves. They’re worried that Adam is going to say something like, “But they’re both men!” She merely nods.
It was so bright! All those colors! And I’ve never seen flares of dark blue like that.
Adam, have you looked at Aziraphale’s and Crowley’s auras when they’re apart?
Yes. Aziraphale’s is very bright, like looking at the sun. Only a sort of weird purple that you can’t quite see. But Crowley’s is one of those dark auras you were talking about tonight. It’s that weird purple, too, but it’s very dark. Almost black. And it has shining white streaks.
Newton has this one.
Newt has been helping me with aura studies, Adam. We spent some time in a little town in Alaska last fall and winter. Fairbanks. They do aurora research at the University there. Explain what noctilucent clouds are, Newt.
They’re clouds that glow white against the dark twilight or night sky. Ice crystals high in the atmosphere. Things arriving from outer space, such as meteorites or satellite remnants, seem to trigger condensation of the ice crystals. They’re so high in the atmosphere that they can catch sunlight even when the earth below is dark. They’re rather spooky.
Do y’ think Crowley is evil?
No. I think his aura is black because . . . something terrible happened to him. But he’s still capable of reacting to supernatural energy, hence the white clouds. That’s just a hypothesis, of course. Newt and I are continuing to study all this.
Demons are fallen angels, aren’t they?
Well, that’s the tradition. I don’t really know. Hell is supposed to be a place of fire and torment. So if he really did fall from Heaven into Hell, that could certainly be an explanation for a dark aura.
Is he dangerous?
I suspect he is very dangerous. And he seems to have little concern for us humans. Perhaps because he and Aziraphale are immortal. I imagine our brief lives appear to them as leaves on trees. Green in spring, dead by winter. But he is obviously in love with Aziraphale. Did you notice how the colors in their combined auras are extraordinarily vivid?
Yes. That’s what I wanted to ask you about. It was like a rainbow! It was so beautiful!
Anathema and I went to Fairbanks last year because the winters there are very dark – short days – and that makes the colors in the polar auroras easier to see. Auroras happen all year long, of course. But dark winter nights make them much more visible than they are in summer. Those blue flares you mentioned? Those are very rare. Perhaps Crowley is the night sky to Aziraphale’s aura?
Anathema looks at Adam closely.
You haven’t discussed this with our angel friends, have you, Adam?
No. They say they don’t see auras.
You remember what I said about auras being very private and personal?
Adam, if we witches have learned one thing, it is that questions that haven’t been asked should not be answered.
Adam considers this.
That reminds me, Anathema. Why don’t I have an aura? You said you couldn’t see mine.
I just wasn’t up high enough, Adam. Your aura isn’t visible up close because the flare covers most of southern England. I can see it when we’re flying in on a plane, from about 30,000 feet. It’s a rainbow.
Well p’rhaps that’s why Agnes calls me “pretty,” y’ think?
Chapter 11: Forgiven
The Them, Crowley, and Aziraphale are at the Hogback Wood hideout. Adam has brought the watch, still in the plastic box, and placed it upon the ground. Dog is standing guard over it.
I think we need to hear exactly what Agnes said.
Crowley walks over to Pepper. Snaps his fingers, sending her into a trance. The demon places a hand alongside her forehead.
Pepper. Tell us what Agnes said.
He raises his other hand and declaims in perfect Elizabethan English (after all, he met Shakespeare personally):
Prithee, Young Master. Be thou not gulled. Thou must not harm ye principalitee, serpente. Ware be thou about ye watch jewel. List, list, I tell thee!
Snaps his fingers again, Pepper comes out of her trance.
Adam is concerned.
Crowley. You should have asked her permission before you did that.
What did he do?
He hypnotized you. And repeated your memory of what Agnes said.
Adam speaks in a quiet but authoritative voice.
Crowley looks baffled. Then shrugs, extends his arms and bows slightly to Pepper.
I am sorry, Pepper. I should have asked your permission. Forgive me.
Crowley maintains his supplicatory posture. Aziraphale interjects:
You must say, “I forgive you,” Pepper. Otherwise he cannot move.
I don’t want to forgive him.
You must. Resentment hardens the mind.
Pepper is skeptical, but trusts the angel.
I forgive you. I don’t like you. But I forgive you.
Crowley resumes his usual louche demeanor, looks at Aziraphale.
That little apology would have earned me a visit from Hastur and Ligur, back in the day.
You continually surprise me, Crowley.
The demon turns back to Pepper.
You’ve forgiven me. I am now obliged to make amends. Do you a good turn. And it is this: a piece of advice.
The demon subtly transforms until he appears to be a young man of about age 18. An extremely attractive one. Sinfully, devilishly attractive. Like someone out of a video game or an airbrushed boy band photo.
Watch out for bad boys like me, young witch.
And once again he’s back to adult Crowley. Pepper is speechless with indignation. Aziraphale is aghast.
She’s of age to know. Witches are susceptible to demons. Who better to tell her than me?
Well. Yes. I suppose you would know.
I am not a witch!
Beg to differ, kid.
Crowley, that’s enough of this.
You can talk to me about it later, Pepper.
Aziraphale flicks his fingers. Crowley jumps, then places a hand on his backside.
Ow! When Aziraphale is present, of course. Don’t misunderstand me.
The demon regards Aziraphale.
Tsk, tsk, tsk. That wasn’t nice.
One of those pauses all around in a conversation. Adam finally speaks up.
Crowley. Aziraphale. What should we do about the watch?
“Prithee” is an old-fashioned word for “please,” Adam. And Agnes calls you Young Master for the same reason Crowley does. She tells you to not be tricked. She tells Crowley, the serpent, not to harm me, the principality.
Wensleydale pipes up:
How are you a little country, Aziraphale? Do you own Monaco, or something?
Ah. I see the source of confusion. Principalities are the highest of the third tier in the hierarchy of angels. I am a principality.
And is Crowley really a serpent?
I’m THE serpent, kid. The one who tempted Eve to eat the apple.
Yes. Well. To continue. When Agnes says “ware the watch jewel,” she is saying beware the watch. W-a-r-e, not w-e-a-r. And “list” means “listen.” She repeats it for emphasis. “Listen, listen to me!”
Crowley looks at the watch, which is still being guarded by Dog, who growls.
There’s something about this watch that is dangerous to Aziraphale. And I think I know what it is. May I handle it, Adam?
You don’t think it will hurt you?
Hasn’t so far, has it?
Dog growls menacingly as Crowley approaches. His eyes go red.
Dog. Let Crowley have the watch.
Dog lies down, but continues to growl softly. Nonetheless lets the demon take the watch out of the box. Crowley inspects the watch as it lies open in his hand. Walks a few yards distant from the group. He arranges the strap into a cylinder, as if it were placed around someone’s wrist, and snaps the clasp shut
A gout of fire blazes upward for about a meter. Also downward through his palm. The watch is glowing red. Crowley is unaffected. He unsnaps the hot clasp without burning his fingers. The little inferno ceases.
Hellfire. It would have killed Aziraphale.
Aziraphale walks over and stands before Crowley. Places his hands upon the demon’s shoulders.
Thank you, Crowley. At last I can say that without fear of summoning retribution upon you.
Pepper doesn’t waste time having moments.
Crowley, how come you could handle it? You aren’t burned at all.
It was Hellfire. Anything that could burn away in me was gone a long time ago.
So Hell really is a burning hot place?
You better believe it.
And they torture people there?
Did you torture anyone?
Nope. Not my scene, really. My talents lie elsewhere.
Were you tortured?
A wince of bottomless sadness flickers across Crowley’s face before he sighs resignedly:
I’m a demon. Pain is the game.
He tosses the watch to the ground at Adam’s feet.
Take the watch, Adam.
I’m not ordering you, Adam. I’m saying you must TAKE the watch. Own it. It’s yours. Not Hell’s.
Comprehension dawns in Adam’s face. He snatches the watch off the ground.
MINE! It’s mine!
He makes a brisk jerk, as if pulling the watch to break it loose from something.
Can you put it back into its diamond phase?
A blink, and the watch glitters in Adam’s palm.
Aha. You can do with it as you like now. It’s yours. You control it. Tell it to cease with the fire and burning. Let’s repeat our little experiment.
Adam once again hands Crowley the open watch. Crowley separates himself from the group, arranges the band as before, snaps the clasp shut. Nothing happens. Relief washes over the group like a soothing wave.
And an expression of sly unholy glee creeps over Crowley’s face.
I have an idea for what you could do with this thing, kid. A positively divine inspiration, if I say so myself. We need to find Uriel right away.
Evening the same day. The two angels are standing alongside the small table in the backroom of the bookshop. The silver tray with the cut glass glasses and decanter of scotch is on the table. Aziraphale is about to pour them each a drink.
Crowley gazes speculatively at Aziraphale.
So, Aziraphale. Been thinking about spankings, have you?
Don’t be ridiculous, Crowley. I really didn’t like hurting you.
Hang on. You’re not going to do that again?
‘S not as if it really smarted. Pretty hard to hurt me.
Bluff all you like, Crowley. I don’t believe that for a second.
Crowley regards the angel, then steps close to him, puts his chin on Aziraphale’s shoulder and his arms around the angel’s waist. Aziraphale hugs him tightly.
Chapter 12: Sheep Go To Heaven
Uriel, Michael, and Sandalphon’s replacement Baraquiel are gathered before Gabriel in his airy office suite with the magnificent view of Earth’s monuments.
Michael: We’ve read your report, Uriel. I understand you have a gift from Adam Young that he requests you present personally to Gabriel?
Gabriel: Well, let’s have it then.
Uriel approaches, reaches into her inside pocket, retrieves an elegant jeweler’s box, and with both hands places it upon Gabriel’s desk. She then backs away to her former position.
Gabriel opens the box. The gold and diamond Apple watch lies glistening on a velvet support.
Did Adam say anything to you about this, Uriel?
Uriel shakes her head.
Unsure how to operate the watch, Gabriel presses both the bezel and the power buttons. White text appears:
“Wear me to communicate.”
Have to admire his sense of style.
Gabriel examines the watch band, determines how the clasp works, slips the band over his wrist, adjusts the length, and snaps the band shut.
A cloud of hundreds of tiny colored balls explodes out of the watch, spattering him until he resembles a cupcake with sprinkles.
Uriel’s hands fly to cover her mouth. Michael smiles sardonically. Baraquiel, behind Gabriel, starts to laugh and then prudently wipes the amusement from his face.
Gabriel gestures as if to magic away the stains. To no effect. They’re demonic paint balls, and they stick.
Looks as if you’ll have to use Holy Water to get the stains out, Gabriel. Might ruin your suit fabric, though.
Furious, Gabriel unclasps the watch, jerks it from his wrist, tosses it onto his desk.
Did you know about this, Uriel?
Michael coolly assesses Uriel, decides that she’s telling the truth. Is, in fact, too terrified to lie. Walks over and picks up the watch, holding it by the strap between thumb and forefinger. Gestures to Uriel to approach.
I’m sending you back down to return this. Take it.
Uriel cautiously accepts the watch and slips it into an outside pocket.
Gabriel is meanwhile thinking how much he’d like to smite that little brat Adam, but is trying to maintain some semblance of dignity and not appear upset. He looks thoughtful.
This is the demon Crowley’s doing.
Michael: Most likely. Definitely not Aziraphale’s style.
Uriel, did Crowley give you the watch?
No! Adam did.
According to your report, Crowley and Aziraphale are now residing together?
Gabriel shakes his head in scandalized disgust.
Unbelievable the depths to which Aziraphale has fallen. And apparently our little Antichrist is now in this revolting pair’s thrall. Michael, what is your plan to deal with this situation?
I recommend we keep Uriel down there to monitor events and continue to report back to us. Adam is still the Antichrist, after all. To lend Uriel assistance – even up the score a bit – I would like to pull Ammun from North Africa and dispatch him to London with her.
Michael has been in upper management a long, long, long time. She’s nearly telepathic when it comes to reading her subordinates. Uriel is trying her best to appear impassively obedient. Nonetheless Michael’s unblinking gaze catches a faint ghost of happiness as it flits across the archangel’s face. Yes. Good call on that match-up.
Gabriel: Do you think you can manage this, Uriel? I realize it is a disgusting and unpleasant mission in many respects. However, at this point – now that we’ve lost Aziraphale - you have the most on-the-ground experience in this location. And your first task is to return this watch. Inform Adam Young that I will not forget his insolence.
Ironically, Michael and Uriel silently share the same thought: “I’m the archangel fucking Gabriel.”
Aziraphale’s bookshop in Tadfield, late afternoon. The sign on the door says “Closed.” As Uriel and a companion approach the door, however, Adam opens it and escorts them in. Closes the door behind them, and goes to join Aziraphale and Crowley by the sales table.
Uriel’s companion is a man about 1.75m tall and muscular. Copper skin, thick black curly hair and beard, and very hairy all over generally. High bridged nose in a handsome face with amused warm brown eyes.
Seeing Adam and Crowley, he transforms. An angel with the head and neck of a black karakul ram. Curled horns. Chest hair like a curly bearskin rug. Egyptian wrapped linen shendyt and gold sandals. Wings tipped with gold. Opens his arms and bows.
Prince. Antichrist. I am the Principality Ammun. Hello, Aziraphale.
No need for formality.
Yes. I mean, no. Thank you for your courtesy, Ammun. We do appreciate it. It’s simply that we’re just more informal down here these days. I’m a bit rusty on protocol and dress, myself. Perhaps you would be so kind as to transform back to human?
Ammun, a trifle surprised, obliges.
Weren’t you a god back in the day?
Yes, Prince. North Africa and eastward. The god Ammon.
Thought I remembered you.
Ammun is about to say something, but sees the look on Crowley’s face and thinks better of continuing that particular line of conversation. Uriel steps over to Adam, reaches into her pocket, and hands the watch over to him. Then she can’t contain herself further, and laughs.
Oh, how I wish you could have seen it! I had no idea it was a trick watch! It looks very beautiful. Took Gabriel in completely. He looked so ridiculous, standing there spotted all over like it had been raining confetti. The paint wouldn’t magic out, either. Michael told him he’d probably have to use Holy Water to wash out the stains. But that water might ruin his suit. She always likes to get a little dig in when she can. Baraquiel looked as if he was about to rupture trying to not laugh. I expect every angel in heaven has heard the story by now.
Crowley and Adam grin fit to split their faces. Adam turns to Crowley and they give one another the high five.
Aziraphale smiles delightedly as he looks at the gleeful pair.
I wondered if you two were up to something.
He regards Uriel closely.
Uriel, have you been assigned back to Earth? Is Ammon here to assist you, perhaps?
Yes, Aziraphale. We’re supposed to keep an eye on you three, and will try to find a cottage here. But Ammon already knows how to drive a car, so I expect we’ll be visiting London often. It’s actually rather fun there, once you get used to it.
I was getting a bit fed to the teeth with North Africa and the Middle East, frankly. London feels like a vacation.
Crowley turns to Adam.
He turns briefly to gaze significantly at Ammun, so the angel can take the hint how the chain of command lies.
May I suggest that you set the watch so it will communicate between you and your gang and Pepper’s mums and Aziraphale , Uriel, Ammun, and me? Uriel can be its caretaker for the present. It would look good with her jewelry.
Adam holds the watch in the palm of his hand, touches it with his finger.
I do think this would look nice with your gold jewelry. Would you wear it?
Of course. Thank you, Adam. Crowley, do you think our cell phones are tracking?
Undoubtedly. I can obtain secure phones for you. You know how to deal with the ones you’ve got.
I think you’re better at that method than we are, Crowley.
I have friends in London who can supply me with new phones for you both. See me here the day after tomorrow.
Would you all like a glass of sherry? I have root beer for you, Adam, if you like. Or perhaps there is another fizzy drink you would prefer? Your mum and dad would be very severe with me if I were to serve you alcohol.
Thanks, Aziraphale. But if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to be off to meet with the gang. We have a project we’re working on.
By all means, Adam. We look forward to your next visit.
Chapter 13: Tartan is Stylish
Julia’s Salon de Beauté in Tadfield. Crowley enters. The three staff members – Julia, Peter, and Mindy – nearly drop their combs and brushes and stand open-mouthed for a few seconds before recovering their professional poise. The salon clients take a bit longer to recover themselves, and continue to stare for a bit. Then a rustle through the establishment as everyone pretends to be going back to behaving perfectly normally.
Crowley’s wearing a kilt.
Not just any kilt. The tartan is a vibrant multicolor, the Pride of LGBT weave. He’s gone for style rather than punk or docs and a hoodie. Trim dark charcoal argyle jacket of a modernized suit cut with a bit more of a cutaway, sans the gauntlet cuffs, epaulets, and scalloped pocket flaps. Perfectly tailored in back to rest smoothly over trim hips with nary a fold. Eschewing a vest, showing instead his favorite belt with the black jade snakehead buckle. He carries the kilt colors aloft with another sinfully soft Italian pullover in ultra violet. Black leather hunting sporran with a tooled celtic serpent medallion and similar pattern in the silver frame. Crowley has slim legs, so can get away with wearing charcoal Lewis hose with their celtic cabled cuffs. Loathing ghillies, he’s sporting Prada ankle boots. Some might say the overall effect was of a bat that’s just caught a tiger moth. None of this would have caused comment in London, but in Tadfield it is a bit of an event.
Mindy won the staff draw that morning for who greets Crowley should he come in.
Welcome, Mr. Crowley. And what might we have the pleasure of doing for you today?
A facial, please. Hair could use a shampoo and re-braid. (Gestures to his kilt) And a nail color that goes with this.
Mindy catches a cue from Peter.
We’ll do the shampoo first, shall we, Mr. Crowley? Then the facial while your hair dries a bit.
Peter has zipped off to a corner to make a quick call.
Oli? Can you get here right away? Crowley just came in. He’s wearing a kilt. You need to see this. . . . I don’t care if you just got up. Get in here. . . . Please.
Stowing his phone, he crosses the room to the shampoo station, where Mindy is seating Crowley, and gets to work. Crowley seems a trifle abstracted this morning, so Peter doesn’t chat much, working silently instead.
The staff work their way through the facial, manicure, and hair braiding. Peter’s friend shows up just as Crowley is standing to leave. Oli is looking rugged in his beard and workman’s kilt. Eyes meet. The two men give one another the up-and-down. Peter, in the background, jerks his head toward the staff room door, and he and Oli go in, shutting the door behind them. Crowley stands looking after them, a speculative look on his face. Then slowly walks over to the same door himself. Tries the handle. Locked. Snap of fingers. Unlocked. He enters the room to see Peter and Oli in a passionate kiss. Peter is startled and indignant.
I thought I locked that door!
You did. But I wanted to speak with you a moment. Care to introduce me to your friend?
My name’s Oli. Short for Oliver.
You can call me Crowley. Peter does your hair and beard for you?
Not that it’s any of your business.
Don’t get shirty. I have an acquaintance who’s built like you. Newly arrived in town. Looks as if he’s been sleeping rough for quite awhile. Think you two could tackle him, get him looking fit for company? I’d send him to the barber, but I’m afraid he’d come out looking like a squaddie. (Looks at Peter) Perhaps you could neaten him up? (Looks at Oli) You could take him kilt shopping? He’s going around in desert storm fatigues at the moment. I have a guess he’d be comfortable in something similar to what you’re wearing.
Don’t know. His companion is a woman, at the moment.
Peter and Oli interpret that as “he’s dating a woman right now, but that could change.” Whereas Crowley means that his female companion might decide to switch to male.
Consider it a special commission on the shop bill? His name’s Ammun.
Peter and Oli hear this as “AH-moon.”
‘S he a paki?
No. From North Africa.
Does he speak English?
Better than you. Do you need to think about it, or can I send him on over?
Peter and Oli regard one another, then shrug. Why the hell not?
Sure, Mr. Crowley. I can do barbering as well as styling. Guessing his nails will be a bit of a job, but no doubt Mindy’s up to it. After lunch all right?
Thank you, Peter. Oli? You up for some London shopping? I can leave a card for you at the bank’s customer service desk. Take Peter with you and spend the weekend. Ammun’s got his own car, no need to feel joined at the hip. If you can call that jeep he drives a car.
Bluddy ‘ell, why not. Might be fun.
No need to go easy on him. He can drink anyone under the table. So, if we’re all agreed, I’ll make my way out. Will lock the door. Ta.
Peter slips his arm under Oli’s kilt and runs his hand up his thigh.
Probably going commando, too.
You think about him when you’re doing me?
No. I think about you. He just triggers the want. I love you, Oli.
[Our drone flies off and leaves them to their intimate scene.]
Chapter 14: Caught in the Act
Adam is slouching homeward along Hogback Lane, anticipating the cupcakes Mum baked for tea. Hers are so good that Madame Tracy begged the recipe from her.
“Why, of course, Madame Tracy. But the coconut buttercream frosting isn’t mine, you know. I found it on the internet. It is wonderful, isn’t it?”
He spots Crowley and Aziraphale in a nearby meadow, relaxing on a tartan picnic blanket under Mr. Tyler’s old apple tree. Adam thinks how excellent those apples are, and that there are probably quite a few left. He hops a stone wall and approaches the pair of angels. They’re both in kilts and sweaters.
Aziraphale is sitting against the tree, Crowley coiled around him with his head on the angel’s stomach. Aziraphale has unbraided the demon’s hair, which is now spilled across the angel’s lap as he idly strokes and runs his fingers through it. Two empty bottles of spätlese lie on the blanket amidst some savory scone crumbs.
Hi Aziraphale. Hi Crowley. Mr. Tyler didn’t yell at you for having a picnic under his tree?
Crowly magics an apple down from the tree, tosses it to Adam. Fetches another one, takes a giant bite from it, hands it Aziraphale, who does likewise. The two pass the apple back and forth a few times as the conversation continues. Crowley replies to Adam:
I believe Mr. Tyler is giving that dog of his an exceptionally long walk just now.
Adam seats himself cross-legged on the grass next to the pair as he munches his apple. It’s delicious, crisp and sweet.
Crowley, you and Aziraphale are lovers, isn’t that right?
Obviously, Young Master. And this concerns you how?
Well, it’s like you just said. It’s obvious. You don’t try to hide anything. The whole village seems to know. But no one will actually say anything about it.
Wrong on that, kid. Mr. Tyler has been calling us sodomites for quite some time now. Had the effrontery to write to the newspaper about us. The editor called me. Said there was no way he would publish such calumnies, but that I should know.
Well, are you? Sodomites?
Crowley looks up to Aziraphale, who is gazing at him with calm, loving grey eyes.
Do you even know what that word means, kid?
I looked it up. It has lots of meanings, but I think Mr. Tyler means two men having anal sex.
The difference between angels and parents is that angels – these two, at least – take this question as if helping to answer an easy homework problem.
Well then, technically we’re not sodomites, kid, going by that definition. Not because there’s anything wrong with it. Just that we angels are built differently than you humans. We have no anus. So penetrative male male sex isn’t an option for us. Unless one of us becomes a woman. Then we can do it.
You can sex change? Wicked!
We angels were built to love, Adam. In truth, we can only enjoy sex if we are in love.
Pepper needs to hear this. Some of the guys at school have been bragging about all the porn they’re getting off the internet. It makes Pepper really mad. Her mums say porn is cruel and demeaning.
Not something I’ve ever paid much attention to, kid. You, Aziraphale?
Well, I get constant requests for rare editions of the works of the Marquis de Sade. You will recollect how I did rescue his 120 Days of Sodom manuscript from the Bastille. Have done quite well brokering it through a number of sales. His books Justine and Juliette are appalling. Until motion pictures came along, they were pretty much the nadir of human sexual pathology. The Marquis is often vaunted as a martyr to freedom, but that would only be true if one viewed vicious insanity as acceptable behavior. And of course, we do not. There are certainly gray twilight areas of human thought, but the difference between night and day can be tolerably well discerned.
So do you think porn is bad, Aziraphale?
Aziraphale has been on earth observing humans for 6,000 years; thus, it never even occurs to him that having this sort of conversation with a 13 year old is in any way inappropriate. He’s seen everything.
Well, I suspect your classmates are looking for porn because they don’t know much about sex and are curious to learn? May I suggest to you that the difference between degrading porn and stimulating eroticism is the existence of consent. Sex without consent is abuse. I believe the telltale mark that distinguishes cruelty from what you humans call kinky fun, is if consent is present. So while the whole subject of human sex is complicated, perhaps that guideline will help you navigate through pornography. To figure out what might be harmful to watch, and what might be amusing.
Crowley tosses the apple core away.
Read the Marquis’s books, did you?
Yes. Very sad texts from a deranged mind. And tedious beyond belief, really. As you have so often observed, Crowley, the atrocities humans think up leave Hell in the dust. “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.”
Crowley thinks, but does not voice, “You’ve never really met Beelzebub.”
Adam gets up to leave.
I have to get home. Mum’s made cupcakes for tea.
Has she now. I don’t suppose you could subtract two for us?
I’ll ask her. I’m pretty sure she’ll give me some. I can bicycle over to the bookstore before dinner, if that’s all right?
Thank you, Adam. Always a pleasure chatting with you.
After Adam has gone, Crowley pulls the angels shirt loose from his kilt, slips a hand under it to caress the angel’s chest.
Feel like a little penetrative action, Angel?
He feels the angel’s hairy pectorals morph into firm, satiny breasts.
Uses his free hand to lift Aziraphale’s kilt as he glides over Aziraphale’s thigh, moving to shift and separate the angel’s legs as he positions himself between them. Some jostling and maneuvering ensues. Then . . .
Fuck me, Crowley. Now. . . . Un-n-nhhhhhhhhhh!
The pair stiffens as they climax in a nice, slow little Divine Ecstasy, remaining in position well through tea time.
Mr. Tyler might not be around to observe, but Mrs. Tyler has happened to go into the back garden to pick a few of the remaining fall flowers, and she notices the pair under the apple tree in the meadow. Goes into the house for the binoculars, just to make sure she’s seeing what she thinks she saw. Well! She can scarcely believe her eyes. That nice Mr. Fell! Fornicating with that Mr. Crowley! She simply cannot believe it. This is so shocking. Makes herself a pot of tea. Arranges a small table and chair on the glassed in back porch, along with a plate of biscuits, so she can keep the apple tree scene in view with the help of the binoculars. They are still at it! Ronnie has never been able to manage more than a few minutes, at best. Most disturbing behavior. Perhaps they are not actually doing what they appear to be doing? Does sex last longer when two men do it? Is this what Ronnie finds so upsetting about sodomy? How very bewildering. And on a Sunday, too. This certainly ends any invitation to Mr. Fell to participate in church events.
She has nearly finished her pot of tea when a battered old land rover roars up the lane and comes to a screeching dusty halt. A dark haired man leaps out, vaults the stone wall, and runs over to the pair. Mrs. Tyler sees him grab Mr. Crowley by his hair and pull him off Mr. Fell. The three appear to have some angry conversation. Mr. Fell hurriedly bundles up their picnic blanket. They all get into the land rover and take off at speed.
Mrs. Tyler dons her tweed jacket and wellies and makes her way over to the tree. Finds two empty bottles of some German wine. She inspects the labels. Perhaps she and Ronnie might try this some evening?
Ammun, Peter, and Oli are in Soho, at the London Gin Club per Crowley’s recommendation. The pub has been closed for the summer due to roadwork to repair the drainage in their old vault, but the work has miraculously gotten completed ahead of schedule, and they are open once again. Patrons have flocked back, and it is bustling and crowded. Crowley’s advice was on the money – the snacks and cocktails are delicious.
Amun glances at the door to see some newcomers come in. He puts down his glass, grabs Peter's and Oli’s hands.
Look at me. Do not turn around. The pair who just came in . . . Shit! They’ve spotted me. Get up and leave. Now. Keep your eyes on the door. Don’t look around. Don’t make eye contact with anyone. The land rover’s out front. Get into the back of it and stay down. Go!
Peter grabs Oli’s hand and they rush past the pair approaching the table, following Ammun’s instructions to the letter. Other heads turn to inspect the newcomers, but one glance convinces everyone to mind their own business. The atmosphere quiets a bit.
One person is a small bold woman, dressed in a rather Napoleonic costume. The other is a handsome – beautiful, really – Nilotic man at least two meters tall. Skin as ebony as it comes. Dressed in a dark double-breasted Savile Row suit that fits like a glove. The man has no whites to his eyes, which appear black as outer space.
Beelzebub. Anubis. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? And just how did you find me? It’s been awhile.
The small woman speaks:
You angels have been warned about Adam Young, the Antichrist. Why are there now two more of you in Tadfield? Do not oppose Demon Crowley. He is the Young Master’s protector.
You don’t really expect me to tell you why I’m in England, now do you?
Do not cross me, Ammun. We will be watching.
The pair turn and leave the pub. Ammun follows them, watches as they walk down the block and get into a large dark SUV. Once the vehicle drives off, he runs to where the land rover is illegally parked, the double yellow lines having mysteriously rolled themselves up.
Oli, where’s your car parked?
‘Bout six blocks away. Was a bugger having to walk here. Pull out, I’ll give you directions. Gonna tell us about that pair of terrorists?
Let’s find your car first. We need to get out of London immediately.
They find Oli’s beloved little vintage Jaguar.
Oli, drive like you’re off to your dying mother’s bedside. I’ll follow you. Don’t let anyone pull you over, just keep going no matter what and don’t stop. If you do, you’re dead.
And they’re off.
Evgeny’s tag team follows.
Chapter 15: Anubis
Ammun shoves Crowley, turns and gives Aziraphale a hand up.
Get in the rover! Now!
The three trot over and hurdle the stone fence, tumble into the front seats. Crowley, then Aziraphale (once again male) in the middle, Ammun driving. He slams the door, puts the idling old land rover back into gear and they take off down the lane.
Pull my hair again, you [something guttural in an ancient language], I’ll have your balls for breakfast.
You couldn’t bite my ass, you fookin’ toothless manky slag!
You sad fucking cunt!
Don’t call me a goat, you fookin’ worm twat!
Bugger you, you fucking cowson!
Sod you, you fookin’ wazzock!
Wazzock? What the Hell is that?
Ammun and Crowley both remember to stop breathing.
Angel, you know what a wazzock is?
Crowley, it took me 6000 years to utter the word “fuck.” Ammun, what’s all this about?
Beelzebub. Anubis. They found me in London.
Are Peter and Oli safe?
Yeah. Got ‘em out all right.
Where are we going?
Dunno. Not sure of the roads around here.
Take a left up ahead. We’ll go to Angel’s bookshop. You give him directions, Angel. I have to make a call.
Crowley gets his phone out from wherever he’s stored it and taps the screen once.
Talk to me.
He listens intently for several minutes as Aziraphale steers Ammun through the lanes and streets.
Excellent. Talk to you again soon. Byvaj.
Aziraphale has been thinking.
How did you find us, Ammun?
The kid, the Antichrist. Saw him alongside the road. Said you might still be by the apple tree in the meadow at the end of Hogback Lane. Fookin’ bluddy ‘ell, you two. Screwing in broad daylight? Uriel told us you were living together. She didn’t say you were fookin’ each other. Aziraphale, how could you? He’s a fookin’ demon.
Crowley says nothing, but reaches an arm across the angel’s shoulder. Aziraphale reaches up and holds his hand. Crowley leans over and takes the angel’s other hand. A mulish silence reigns until the old land rover is parked alongside the bookshop and the three are at the door. Adam strolls up, with a small cardboard box.
Mum gave me some cupcakes for you.
The four enter the shop.
Adam doesn’t need to be psychic to detect the tension between the three men, and that they’d rather he not be present. He ups the ante for them.
Crowley reaches for his phone, but Adam is way ahead of him.
Uriel? Where are you? . . . I’m at Aziraphale’s bookshop. I asked Mum if we could have you over for dinner. She’s made that vegetarian curry that you like.
There is a long pause as Adam listens for Uriel’s reply.
All right. I’ll ask Mum to save you some. There’ll probably be plenty left over. Dad isn’t much of a vegetarian. . . . I’ll tell Aziraphale. ‘Bye.
He looks at Aziraphale, worry in his young eyes.
She says she’s decided not to stay overnight. She’ll be leaving London right away. She’ll stop by here when she gets back to town. She sounded kind of funny, Aziraphale. Will you call me when she gets here?
Crowley has snaked off into a distant corner and is on his phone.
Uriel’s hotel room, just before Adam calls.
She’s wearing a smart pale celadon silk dress, is reaching for her jacket, as she’s about to leave for dinner. Turns in alarm when she hears her locked door open. Two humans – or at least human-shaped beings – stand in the short entry hall. She recognizes Beelzebub, but the other one . . .
They glide through the hallway and into the room light. Uriel draws her flaming sword. With a wave of her hand, Beelzebub extinguishes the flame. Uriel drops the sword like a hot brick. It begins to glow red as it burns a scorch mark into the carpet. She magics the sword back into storage. And then something strange and unexpected happens.
The talk dark figure approaches and stands before her. Stretches out his arms, and bows in a formal greeting.
Angel. I am the Jinn Anubis.
What Uriel sees is tall, slender Nilotic man, beautiful of countenance, ebony of skin, wearing a pleated linen shendyt, a jeweled corselet in a feather pattern of greenish and blue stones, with a matching broad jeweled collar. He wears gold armlets and bracelets. A lapis blue shawl is draped over the back of his head and over his shoulders. Surrounding his human head like a ghostly helmet is the head of an enormous black wolf with golden eyes
Uriel is rapt. She morphs into formal dress: Feathered wings the pale green of the moon moth, tipped with gold. A short filmy chiton, more sparkling golden fog than fabric, clasped at the shoulders with gold fibulae. Her chocolate skin appears luminous, as if lit from within and dusted with gold powder.
Jinn. I am the Archangel Uriel.
Forgetting entirely to bow, she instead takes a step forward, palm outstretched as if to touch the chest of Anubis. A small gold and green moth fluttering before a large black bat. She stops, sensing that she must not make contact with him. They stand silently regarding one another.
Uriel’s gold and diamond watch vibrates.
Beelzebub breaks the silence with a rasping buzz.
That is the Young Master’s watch.
Hypnotized by Anubis, Uriel moves as if she’s underwater to tap the watch. Listens to the incoming call. Speaks in reply as if she’s coming out of anesthetic.
Adam. I’m in London. What is happening? . . . My plans have changed, Adam. I will be leaving London as soon as we end this call. Tell your mother I will be unable to arrive in time for dinner. Thank her for the invitation, of course. . . . Tell Aziraphale I will come to his shop.
Beelzebub regards the angel intently. The angels have obviously established a connection with the Young Master. How much control does Crowley have over Aziraphale? He must know of Uriel’s presence. Is he aware of Ammun? How she’d like to twist that wily little snake.
Beelzebub steps backward as if to leave.
Anubis does not move, but continues to gaze at Uriel. Beelzebub vanishes, and then he likewise disappears.
Uriel does not move for several minutes. Then magics her belongings into her overnight bag and rushes from the room.
Chapter 16: Jinn
Tadfield. Late evening in the bookshop. Uriel has returned. Adam has been notified that she’s all right. Ammun has been out driving around in his old land rover, not wanting to be trapped with Aziraphale and Crowley while awaiting Uriel’s arrival. He pulls up and parks next to Uriel’s little used Mercedes and enters the closed and locked shop. Aziraphale is half seated on the sales desk, sipping from a glass of scotch. The decanter and more glasses are nearby on a silver tray. Crowley is sprawled over one of the little Georgian brocade armchairs, wearing only his kilt, his mane of red hair draped over the back of the chair, a cut crystal glass of scotch in one hand. No dark glasses, just half-closed golden snake eyes. Uriel is sitting stiffly in the other chair, determinedly not looking at Crowley. She’s downed one scotch already – tossed it back as if it were lemonade - and is working on her second.
Ah. Ammun. Pour you a drink?
Four fingers, if you don’t mind.
Aziraphale, ever the congenial host, obliges and hands Ammun a glassful.
Now then. Ammun says he encountered Beelzebub and Anubis in a London pub. Where did they find you, Uriel?
My hotel room! They just walked right in. I pulled my sword, but Beelzebub extinguished it. Anubis formally introduced himself! We’d never met before. I know who he is, of course. We’ve just never crossed paths.
She pauses and takes another long drink of scotch.
He was . . . he is . . . very beautiful.
He is, isn’t he? Was he wearing that black wolf head of his? Cerberus has the glowing red eyes and fiery slobber and fangs and all the trimmings, but Anubis has Presence. Most of the candidates for damnation find him absolutely riveting.
Well, his scales determine their fate, of course.
Yeah! Watching the incoming line is always good for a cheap thrill. Christians expect to see St. Peter with a big ledger. Not Anubis ripping out their heart to see if it tips the scales. The look on their faces is priceless.
Good thing they don’t have their bodies anymore. Otherwise likely to be a painful procedure, I suspect. Do you suppose he inspired the Aztecs?
Nah. They thought that shit up all by themselves. Typical humans.
Uriel finishes her whiskey.
You two don’t seem unduly concerned about the appearance of these two demons.
Anubis isn’t a demon. He’s a jinn. He just hangs around Hell because he likes the place better than Heaven. Dark and warm and cozy.
Yes. That is how he introduced himself. “I am the Jinn Anubis.”
Aziraphale pours Ammun more scotch.
Do you know, I don’t believe I’ve met any jinn since I was assigned to London. The Almighty cobbled them together from spare parts left over from angels and animals and humans, did She not? They’re not particularly pernicious creatures, are they? Just roaming around nibbling the occasional corpse, possessing people, flying around making mischief and such?
Mostly, yes. They’re still all over the place from Morocco clear through to Kashgar and Kalimantan. Religious belief charges them up more than mere animism, so they go where the juice is.
Anubis is in a category all his own, though. He’s like Death. The two of them are everywhere they need to be to do their jobs, but specifically only where they want to be when it comes to personal appearances. My guess is that Beelzebub was using him as her pointer to find you angels. Saves time, if you have to sort through a couple of million humans. Did she have one of her nice little messages for you?
She said nothing to me. Neither did Anubis. They came, she disarmed my sword, he introduced himself. And then Adam called me on his watch. Beelzebub noticed that I was wearing “the Young Master’s watch.” Then she told Anubis to come, and they left. I think Adam’s call saved me from . . . further interrogation? Or were they just telling me they know where I live?
Ammun looks at Crowley.
She told me that you were Adam Young’s protector. Ordered me to not oppose you, or to cross her. Said Hell would be watching. No – what she said, exactly, was, “We will be watching.” Maybe she meant herself and Anubis?
Uriel looks surprised.
Are you officially Adam’s protector?
Aziraphale and I were the only ones at Armageddon to take his side. Your lot kicked Aziraphale out of Heaven for that. My lot kicked me out of Hell. So if you’re thinking I’m on assignment from Beelzebub, think again. She tried to boil me into nonexistence with Holy Water.
Crowley puts his hands behind his head, then floats a few inches above the chair.
These chairs are little torture racks, Aziraphale. Can we all get on with this conversation? Aziraphale and I have things to do.
Playing chess? Reading a book together? Some new fookin’ positions to try out?
Ammun looks at Uriel.
I saw them doing it, Uriel. You didn’t tell us that they were fookin’ each other.
I . . . I didn’t know, Ammun. I guessed, but I didn’t want to make unfounded accusations.
Hang on. You two are reporting on us? Tsk, tsk. Such nasty gossipy angels. Evidently I’m not the only snake in the room.
I had to report to Michael, Crowley. You remember our discussion. I didn’t want to report. I don’t want to go back to Heaven. I want to stay here on Earth. I have no intention of reporting anything more to anyone. Questions that are not asked need not be answered.
Ammun is looking thoughtful.
Y’ know, this is the first time I’ve gotten a transfer order from Head Office in a millennia. Once all the B.C. excitement and that stuff in Mecca and Baghdad was over, they plopped me in Morocco and have pretty much left me to my own devices. Occasional missions to some place or another, but that’s been about it. No major projects. Not that I want to go back to being a god again. Been there, done that.
Were you at Megiddo two years ago?
Oh yeah. Watching through a scope from a nearby hillside Have to say, Hastur’s performance was pretty funny.
So, Ammun, when are you going back upstairs to do your little write-up?
Ammun continues his thoughtful expression. Pauses a longish while before answering.
You two are already in their bad books. There’s nothing I can say to ruin your reputations. Fook yourselves senseless, makes no difference to me. I’ll not tell tales. Still, seems a bit disgusting, behaving like humans. And collaborating with the enemy. I thought better of you, Aziraphale. You know what Beelzebub and Crowley got up to back in the day.
It’s if a heat mirage ripples through the room. Crowley’s eyes are glowing orange, and a faint shadow of pterosaur wings and claws starts to appear.
Ammun recollects a bit more about the missions Beelzebub made Crowley perform. Being a god hanging around temples in the big towns, he got more of an up close view than Aziraphale, who generally could be found wandering around in the wastelands trying to lessen the misery of impoverished herders driving their goats and sheep and camels and donkeys. Whenever he got to Jerusalem or Babylon or Alexandria or Carthage, the angel’s first mission was always to hit the local wineries and cook shops. Boiled old goat, stinking cheese, locusts, and water stored in skins gets old. He loved being assigned to influence Nero in Rome. The big city at last.
Ammun extends his arms, bows slightly.
Forgive me, Demon Crowley. I was out of line. That comment was unjust.
I forgive you. Your presence bailed me out a few times, did you know that? I hold no grudges, even if you are a righteous arsehole.
Ammun holds his glass as if giving a toast:
You’re not wrong about that.
He goes over and claps Aziraphale on the shoulder.
And I apologize to you, Aziraphale, for accusing you of collaborating with the enemy. Didn’t realize Crowley was playing his own game. I’d heard stories through the grapevine about the Holy Water incident, but didn’t give it much credence. Thought the demons made all that up about Michael miracle-ing Crowley a bath towel.
He turns to Crowley.
Quite an achievement, Crowley, being obnoxious enough to get kicked out of both Heaven _and_ Hell.
Oh, Ammun, you do say the nicest things.
As to your treatment by Gabriel and Michael, Aziraphale, Uriel told me what happened. Fook those two bastards. They want a report from me, they can come down and get it. If they can find me.
Crowley stretches, stands, walks over to Uriel and gazes at her, one hand on his hip, the other idly rubbing his chest.
So, Uriel. Are you two little rebels going to take a lesson from Angel and me and get it on?
His long tongue extends and slowly licks the upper lip of his open mouth.
Uriel looks at him as if he’s a pile of cat vomit, then turns away from him, rises from her chair, and starts toward the entry.
Crowley, you are such a disgusting piece of work. I’m leaving.
Aziraphale escorts her to the door.
I’m so sorry, my dear. You’re welcome to visit tomorrow, any time the shop is open. I just received an original copy of Audubon’s Birds of America that you might find interesting to look through. The prints are very beautiful, and in good condition. I think you’d very much enjoy inspecting such a lovely book.
Thank you, Aziraphale. See you tomorrow, then.
She gives him a peck on the cheek.
Ammun gets up and also heads for the door.
Ammun, do you have a place to stay for the night?
Nah. I don’t sleep, of course. Can relax in the back of the rover if I need to. You don’t have a bottle of scotch you can spare, do you?
Of course. Crowley, would you be a good chap and fetch a bottle of Talisker from the liquor cabinet for Ammun?
Crowley doesn’t move, instead magics a bottle of scotch onto the top of a small bookshelf near Aziraphale and Ammun.
Oh. Thank you. Should have thought of that myself.
Ammun catches up to Uriel as she is about to get into her car.
Was it just me, or does Crowley stink like a damned smoked civet cat?
He can be pretty pungent. When he wants to be provoking.
Still can’t get over him and Aziraphale. Behaving like humans.
It seems to make them both very happy, actually. . . . Amun, would you come with me to Janet & Georgia’s house? I know it’s silly. But I still feel a bit frightened by that visit from Beelzebub and Anubis. She could easily have discorporated me. My sword was useless. And Anubis . . . I had no idea.
Yep, Anubis can be intimidating. ‘S his job. Crowley’s comparing him to Death was on the money. He can show up wherever he pleases. Although back in the day, he and I got along well enough. Doesn’t talk much. Just looks at you, expectant like. If you don’t watch yourself, pretty soon you find yourself babbling. Not an evil being, though. Unlike Beelzebub, that traitorous rat bastard . . . well, let’s not think about her, shall we? Tell you what, let’s go for a drive in my rover. Neither of us needs to sleep, we may as well work our way through this bottle of Aziraphale’s scotch.
Let’s take my Mercedes. It’s a more comfortable car, and I know the lanes and streets around here better than you do.
Mercedes it is then. Leather seats?
The Mercedes purrs to a stop at the end of Hogback Lane. An apple tree shines in the half moonlight falling upon the meadow on the other side of a small stone wall.
This is Adam’s favorite apple tree. The fruit really is delicious. There’s probably some left. Shall we go pick a few?
Uriel, this is the place Aziraphale and Crowley were fookin’. Under this very tree.
Well, let’s not let that stop us. C’mon.
They get out of the car, step up and over the stone wall, walk over to the tree, magic a few apples down from the upper branches, and each crunch away at one.
Mmmf! You’re right, these are fantastic apples. Hand me that other one, will you please?
They finish their apples, gaze into the distance over the moonlit rolling farmlands.
It’s so peaceful here. Are you planning on staying?
Thought I’d head to Edinburgh tomorrow, actually. But I’ll be back. Have to find some sort of lodging. Wouldn’t do to have the locals thinking I’m some poor homeless rascal sleeping out of his rover.
Uriel moves closer to him, hugs him. Runs her hands under his jumper and over his back.
Take off your shirt.
Ammun considers the odd feeling stealing over him, decides to roll with it. Removes his t-shirt and jumper and tosses them to the ground. Uriel puts an arm around his waist, her head upon his shoulder, caresses his chest, tickling her long nails through his curly hair.
. . .
In the shadow of a hedgerow, a large black wolf lies down with its head upon its crossed paws, watching the two angels through the night until they leave at the first gray light of dawn.
Chapter 17: Gossip
A miserable rainy Monday afternoon, Madame Tracy’s tea shop. Madame Tracy and three of her gossips – Beryl, Myra, and Edith - are having an early tea. Pepper is tending the counter, as traffic is light due to the cold pouring rain.
Well, dears, everything seems to be coming together nicely for the harvest festival next weekend. We have many, many volunteers this year, and I expect the turnout to be good. It would be nice to earn enough to have the organ tuned. It’s been several years, and it’s starting to sound as if it needs it.
Beryl (Mrs. R. P. Tyler) lowers her voice.
Mr. Fell is not on the volunteer list, I hope?
Well of course he is, Beryl. He’s been one of our staunchest supporters.
Beryl glances over her shoulder at Pepper, then speaks in a whisper,
I do not think that would be wise. I saw him and that Mr. Crowley fornicating under our apple tree yesterday afternoon!
Heads lean in. Hushed voices.
Why Beryl, whatever do you mean?
Well what do you think I mean? They were . . . they were having sex.
How could you tell what they were doing? That apple tree is a bit far from your house, if I recall.
I used our binoculars to make sure I was seeing what I thought I had seen.
Madame Tracy is sitting across from Myra. They both exchange a swift glance and hurriedly take a sip of tea.
And what exactly did you see, Beryl, that made you think they were . . . er . . . frolicking?
Beryl is turning a bit pink.
Well. They were lying down and hugging and kissing one another. Mr. Crowley had one hand under Mr. Fell’s jumper. And those skirts they’ve been wearing around?
Kilts. The Scots wear them.
Madame Tracy fondly recollects one of her former patrons, an old retired Scottish paratrooper who wore a kilt. Said it made the whippings more convenient, as then they could spend more time having tea and a cozy chat afterward.
Men seem to like them as an excuse to not have to wear underwear. Do you suppose they were naked underneath?
That comment deepens Beryl’s flush.
They had their skirt fronts up around their necks.
Ooo, weren’t they being naughty boys! Who was on top?
Madame Tracy puts a dollop of cream and jam on a bit of scone and takes a sip of tea.
Beryl swallows, with difficulty.
That Mr. Crowley. They kept it up for over an hour.
Myra clenches her jaw and stares at a floral painting on the wall in an effort to not spew her tea as Madame Tracy whispers:
Kept it up, Beryl, dear? For over an hour? Most men have a hard time doing that for more than five minutes, let alone a whole hour.
Beryl now resembles a beet wearing a hat.
That’s not what I meant! I meant they persisted in their degenerate behavior for over an hour.
Mr. Fell had his knees up the whole time?
A strangled whisper:
Only one knee. They were sort of sideways.
Edith glances at Myra and Madame Tracy, takes up the tea pot and reaches across the table to pour Beryl some warmer tea.
Oh Beryl, how very distressing for you. Here, now you try one of these iced cupcakes with sprinkles. The coconut frosting is simply too delicious to pass up. Myra, Madame Tracy? Let’s all have one, too, while we consider Beryl’s news.
The four sit silently munching and sipping, digesting more than cupcakes.
Acoustics are tricky. If Beryl thought they were speaking in tones too low for Pepper to hear, she is mistaken.
Chapter 18: Harvest Festival
Madame Tracy, Beryl, Myra and Edith had concluded their Monday afternoon tea with an agreement to keep Beryl’s account of Mr. Fell’s and Mr. Crowley’s shenanigans to themselves. And to simply tell Mr. Fell that this year they had so many volunteers for the festival, he was free to attend without having to do some service.
Alas, Beryl had made the mistake of telling Ronnie that morning at breakfast, and he went into an indignant rant about perversion and indecency during his afternoon scotch and lemon at the Bull and Fiddle. By the end of the week, the tale has expanded into a lurid scenario of Crowley & Aziraphale rolling naked in the field and committing whatever scandalous acts most stimulated the tale tellers’ imaginations.
So when they both walk through the door into the harvest festival at the parish hall, a little ripple goes through the crowd. Like sardines in a school, heads turn and then quickly turn back.
They’re heading to London afterward. Crowley is in his Oscar Wilde, Mafioso garb, and Aziraphale is managing to look smart in a Savile Row puppytooth tweed suit in a misty lilac. His golden Italian silk velvet bow tie makes him look delicious enough to eat. It pays to have a demon valet.
Pepper had informed Aziraphale what Beryl Tyler said about them.
That horrid old busybody, Mrs. Tyler, told Madame Tracy and two of her friends about you and Crowley making love under their apple tree. She told all the details. I suppose you really did do that?
Oh yes. It was quite a nice afternoon. We did get a bit carried away. (Laughs.) There seems to be something in those apples, perhaps?
Adam steals them all the time, and he never . . . well, you know. But it’s not funny, Aziraphale. People are already saying nasty things about you. That toe rag Greasy Johnson was sniggering all around school. Calling you “faggots.”
Pepper, I trust you did not engage him?
You mean, punch his fat face? I wanted to. Thought about kicking him, too. But I’m trying to be a zen warrior, like Sensei Inoue.
Aziraphale had persuaded his kendo instructor to retire to Tadfield and open a small dojo. He and Pepper practice twice a week. With boxwood swords. The flaming blue sword is for use in the Mayfair flat only.
Thank you, Pepper, for letting me know what’s going on. I think Crowley and I will be able to deal with the situation. We’ll see you four at the harvest festival on Saturday, of course?
Yes. My mums are baking apple pies to sell as pieces or wholes. I have to help out at their sales table. (Grins.) Adam brought over a whole bushel of apples. Said he and Crowley picked them. I can guess from what tree, can’t you? Enough for fifteen pies! We’ll have to have a regular production line going in the kitchen. Georgia thinks our new convection oven can handle it. Our old stove would have burnt a hole in the floor.
Aziraphale walks up to the literature table that Beryl Tyler is manning. He’s holding a small paper plate with a slice of Janet and Georgia’s apple pie and a disposable fork.
Good afternoon, Mrs. Tyler. I want to thank you for relieving me of my volunteer slot. Mr. Crowley wanted to take a jaunt to London today, and I was wondering how to inform you that I would not be able to volunteer as planned. So needless to say, I was quite relieved to learn that you have so many volunteers this year that my assistance was not required.
Beryl still feels severe and disapproving, would really like to tell Mr. Fell in no uncertain terms what a stunning disappointment he is. She struggles to find the words to maintain the agreed upon tactful lie.
Yes, Mr. Fell. You have been most generous with your assistance in the past. But we didn’t want to turn away enthusiastic new volunteers. So we thought it best to not impose upon your time for this occasion.
Yes indeed, volunteers are often hard to recruit. It is absolutely the best idea to maintain as large a pool as possible. I understand entirely.
So good of you, Mr. Fell.
Dear lady, by way of a thank you for letting me off the hook, so to speak, please accept this delicious-looking piece of apple pie. Here, try a bit while there are no purchasers present.
He cuts a bite-sized piece off with the fork, and hands the fork and the plate to Beryl. She doesn’t want to ruin her lipstick, but decides she really has no choice but to eat the bite. Mr. Fell looks so kind and earnest and eager to please. And the pie is indeed delectable. The perfect blend of flaky, sugared crust, tender tart/sweet apples, a hint of cinnamon.
Mm. Very nice, Mr. Fell. Thank you so much.
You’re very welcome. If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to back to Janet and Georgia’s table to pick up a pie for Mr. Crowley and me. Have to hop skip, before they’re all gone. Please give my regards to Mr. Tyler. Good day.
Beryl abstractedly continues to take forkfuls of pie, despite her lipstick, until there are only a few tiny crumbs left. It’s been a while since she’s baked an apple pie. She wonders if there is enough fruit left on the tree to make one for Ronnie.
She reflects how, while Mr. Fell is so scandalously immoral, he is nonetheless such a kind and considerate man.
Mr. Tyler sees the two angels make their entrance. He watches Aziraphale walk a quarter of the way around the room, purchase a pie slice from those two lesbians, and then go over to where Beryl is manning the literature table. He fails to notice Crowley snaking his way in the opposite direction around the margins of the crowd, and jumps when the demon comes from behind him.
Ah. Good afternoon, Mr. Tyler. I’d like to have a little chat with you.
Crowley pulls a delicious looking apple from . . . somewhere, along with a rather disturbing little pocket knife that seems to have an obsidian blade. As he speaks, he slices into the apple, then gives it a twist and breaks it into two halves. Hands Mr. Tyler one.
Please. Share an apple with me.
Is this one from my tree?
Of course. They’re the best in town. I wouldn’t have the effrontery to offer you anything less. Take a bite.
Crowley, of course, can give lessons in Lurking and Menace. He’s especially good at Menace, as through the centuries he’s discovered that it saves a lot of wear and tear on clothing. Violence can get so messy. So when he tells Tyler to “Take a bite,” it’s an order, not a request.
Tyler complies. Crowley takes a large bite out of his half, stands chewing as if in thoughtful enjoyment. The thought running on replay through Tyler’s mind is the memory of an encounter five days earlier, when Shadwell had followed him out of the Bull and Fiddle.
Hoy, Tyler. Ye’d best be careful spreading tales about those two Southern nancy boys. I think Mr. Crowley’s mafia. Word to the wise?
Crowley finishes his apple half.
I understand that apple tree does not really belong to you.
Tyler starts to protest, but can’t, because what Crowley has just said is true.
In fact, I’ve learned that Farmer Benjamin Croll has been offering to sell you that meadow across the lane for some time now. He wants to retire. Not have to manage his fields any more. Offspring all off doing other things, no one wants to farm. Wife has inherited a cottage on the Isle of Man or something, and they’d like to move there. I’m curious why you have not taken him up on his offer. Surely you don’t want him selling his lots to some developer? His price that he told me he suggested to you seemed a most reasonable offer.
Tyler hasn’t taken up Farmer Croll’s offer because he thinks the lots are unsaleable. Why pay for the cow when the milk’s for free? No sense in taking on a higher rate just to maintain the quiet and view from the back of the house if someone else is already doing that. He swallows the apple bite he’s been chewing as if preparing to make a reply, but Crowley purrs on:
So I thought you might be interested to know that I have purchased Croll’s farm. Made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
A reasonably generous - but not extravagant - offer. Crowley is a veteran of the real estate wars surrounding the acquisition of local land for the performance driving course. Farmer Croll couldn’t believe his luck and practically skipped out of the office after signing the preliminary papers, arthritic knees be damned.
The tree from which this apple came is now mine and Mr. Fell’s. You may, of course, as neighbors, help yourselves to its fruit now and in the future.
Tyler manages to choke out a strangled, “Surely you’re not going to start a development?”
Not sure yet. A resort, perhaps. But if in the future you and Beryl happen to observe something in the meadow that you find upsetting, may I suggest you simply pull the curtains? Eat up, now. Don’t waste that good apple.
Crowley glides off the intercept Aziraphale, who has just finished his conversation with Beryl. He’s barely five yards away before the long-eared bystanders move off to tell all their friends the oh-so-interesting things they’ve just overheard.
Aziraphale fights his way upstream through the crowd and successfully purchases a pie, along with a quilted calico pie/casserole tote from an assortment that the seamstress at the next table has brilliantly coordinated with Janet and Georgia to have available for sale. Marketing synergy at the church bazaar.
There is a tea service counter along the kitchen, where Deirdre Young, Adam, Brian, and Wensleydale are manning a deep fat fryer and turning out what appear to be balls of fried and sugared dough, advertised as “Malasadas.”
Aziraphale! You have to try these! It’s a recipe Mom found on the internet. They make them in Hawaii.
Wensleydale pipes up:
They’re from Portugal, actually. People from Portugal went to Hawaii to work in the sugar cane fields there.
My aunt and uncle went to Hawaii last winter, and told us how good these were. But they’re really best when they’re warm. Like right now.
Aziraphale tries one, and is delighted.
My word, these really are a treat! How about a bag of a dozen?
Deirdre and her crew take care of his purchase, reminding him:
I’ve double-bagged these Mr. Fell, but do be careful, the grease seeps through rather quickly, and you don’t want to get any of it on your nice suit.
Crowley slides up, and relieves Aziraphale of the pie carrier.
Here, I’ll take that. You keep that bag at arm’s length, will you?
He turns to the malasada crew:
Pleasure seeing you all. Looks like the event is going to be a success. But we must be off. Aziraphale?
Good day, all. Thank you.
The two angels exit the parish hall, approach the Bentley. Aziraphale goes to walk around to the passenger side, but Crowley stops him.
Hang on. You’ve got sugar crumbs all over your face.
Before Aziraphale can raise a hand to brush them away, Crowley leans forward, takes the angel’s chin between his thumb and fingers, and extends a surprisingly long and supple tongue to lick off all the sugar. Then tenderly nibbles and kisses Aziraphale.
Hoy, you faggots, get a room!
It’s Greasy Johnson and his little gang, hanging alongside the building.
Crowley places the pie carrier atop the Bentley, takes Aziraphale by an elbow and escorts him over to confront the truculent teens. Who become discernably less truculent the closer the pair gets. The closer Crowley gets, at least.
Master Johnson, is it?
Displays of affection make you uncomfortable, Master Johnson? Or were you baiting us because you think we’re gay?
You _are_ gay.
And that possibility concerns you because . . . ?
An uncomfortable silence while various snappy comebacks fail to come to young minds. Then:
‘Scuse me, Greasy, but he’s right, you know. Only old people think being gay is bad. You don’t want to sound like your granddad.
Greasy’s grandfather is the bane of his daughter-in-law’s existence. He and Mr. Tyler could be father and son when it comes to yelling at teens for walking on lawns, having any sort of visibly carefree fun. Mrs. Johnson thanks heaven daily that Greasy is adopted and does not share the crotchety old bastard’s genes.
Aziraphale steps forward:
I say, gentlemen. Would you take this bag of doughnuts off our hands? I purchased them so as not to disappoint friends, but there are really too many for us to eat. They’re best when they’re warm. Shame to waste them.
He holds the bag in front of Greasy. It gives off a perfume of sweet fried deliciousness. Mildly bewildered, Greasy accepts the bag. Considers some sort of mouthy retort, but . . . Doughnuts. His friends are already moving closer.
Crowley is delighted at not having to deal with an oily bag upon the seats of the Bentley.
Well. Pleasant as it is chatting with you gentlemen, we must be off. Good day.
Th-thanks, Mr. Fell.
Aziraphale has picked up a phrase from The Them:
Chapter 19: Road Trip
A bit at the beginning shares a chapter in Crowley Gets A New Look.
London. Crowley’s Mayfair apartment. Aziraphale and Crowley enter, go straight to the bedroom, shed their overcoats and suits and don dressing gowns. Aziraphale’s is a pale lavender flannel plaid with golden silk velvet lining, fastened with a twisted purple and gold cord. It looks comfortable enough to spend the rest of one’s life in. Crowley wanders off to the liquor cabinet and calls back,
How about a bottle of port?
Just the ticket.
They both know what they’re going to do when they finish their wine, so ensconce themselves on the bed, backs against giant pillows.
I say, Crowley, this American ruby is quite nice. Especially with this dark chocolate.
Venezuelan chocolate. I love it. Which reminds me. I have to go to Panama next week. Business. Don’t leave Tadfield while I’m away. Not for any reason. . . . No, there’s nothing to worry about. Just a routine trip. Here, drink up.
They sit companionably and work their way through their port. After Aziraphale finishes the last sip, Crowley magics the glasses and bottle off to the kitchen.
Angel. What about going formal dress and seeing what we can manage?
Crowley, do you think that’s wise? We’re at full power when we manifest in those forms. Wouldn’t do to get carried away. We could injure one another.
Yep. Those horns of yours could certainly mess me up. Getting myself battered and punctured might smart a bit.
And you nearly broke a couple of my ribs that time I changed back too soon and you fell on me.
We should have a change word. What should it be?
Hm. Something that comes easily to mind. Nothing tricky. A good word, or a bad word?
Bad, I think. But nothing common, like fuck or damn or shit or bugger.
Now that’s positively inspired. Definitely a word to quash any excitement. “Michael” it is.
Aziraphale takes a deep breath, gets up and removes his robe. Walks to the most open place in the room, atop the heavy Tabriz carpet. In less than an eye blink, he’s now two meters tall, with a tawny urial ram’s head and neck. Massive ivory horns spiraling outward to complete a full circle, tips pointed forward. Dark gray eyes with horizontal pupils. Long snowy beard and chest ruff combination that stretches to his waist. Wings tipped with gold. Egyptian wrapped linen shendyt and gold sandals. He kicks off the sandals and unwraps the shendyt, sending sandals and garment to the edge of the room.
An enormous black python with fiery stripes and a viper’s eyebrow horns dipped in red gold glides off the bed and across the floor to the angel. Unconstrained by gravity, Crowley serpentines upward along Aziraphale’s legs, across his lower back and up along his backbone between his wings. The angel can feel the belly scales ripple and massage his skin as the serpent moves. The demon drapes himself across the angel’s now noticeably broader and more muscular shoulders. His large wedge-shaped head rests atop the angels’ snowy cascade of neck and chest ruff, flicking a thick black forked tongue. Pterosaur wings flare out. Huge amber claws hook around the tips of Aziraphale’s curled horns and pull his head back until his muzzle is nearly vertical Aziraphale reaches his arms up to pull his horns a bit more forward to relieve some of the arch in his back, but it’s a bit of a tussle. Crowley is slightly contracting all over, like a giant sinuous round vise.
. . .
Several hours later, Aziraphale finally gasps, “Michael.”
I thought maybe you’d bleat, or something like that.
Really, my dear.
What a charge, eh? I feel like Hercules. OK, a skinny Hercules. But you know what I mean.
I do. Feel as it electricity should snap from my fingertips.
He extends a finger and pokes Crowley, but nothing alarming happens.
Well, there’s a relief, at least. Wouldn’t do to go around zapping static charges into whatever I touch. Probably ruin my cell phone.
Pull out your sword.
Aziraphale reaches out an arm, and his beautiful Japanese sword appears in his hand. The flames are a blinding bluish white, flaring like restless sea foam along the blade.
A vintage Bentley whisks along the main street of a London suburb and into a parking garage. A barred and bolted rolltop doorway marked with electricity signs and “Danger: Do Not Enter” magically opens and the Bentley disappears down a corridor, to resurface some blocks later in the small concrete parking garage beneath a nondescript office building. Crowley parks his car and walks over to the elevator to Evgeny’s office. His long red hair has been cut to a short generic length and is now black. He’s dressed as a somewhat shabby eco-tourist, sans any bright distinguishing colors on his used Patagucci gear from which he has been careful to remove all labels.
. . .
Midnight, Colon, Panama. Evgeny, Bohdan, and Crowley lurk around what appears to be a small electrical cabling or transformer box half a block from a local bank.
Crowley transforms into a snake, glides effortlessly through a slit in a ventilation grid and disappears. Bohdan has gripped Evgeny’s hand, mutters in a Belarusian dialect,
God, I hate it when he does that.
Evgeny pulls Bohdan’s hand around his back and embraces him in a tight hug until Bohdan’s shivering subsides. They move away from the box and lean against an adjacent rusty chainlink fence, smoking silently as they await the demon’s return. Bohdan’s small sandy face is lit by what appears to be a cell phone, revealing a peculiar pattern of disruptive makeup under the dark knit cap that he’s wearing despite the steamy heat of the rainy season. The display is a very unusual app. It is, in fact, unique. His own.
Three sinister locals come out of the shadows and approach the pair. Evgeny looks up when they’re about 3 meters away.
Taking a look at what is in his hand, they think better of what they had originally planned, and ooze off down the grimy street through the dark shadowy stretches where various street lights have burned out.
Panamanian banks had enjoyed their turn as a hiding place for international wealth fleeing taxation, but efforts of the United States and the endemic presence of the CIA in Latin America had succeeded in largely choking off that particular refuge. But while the important money was carefully moved out to new locales, less care was taken to maintain the security structures afterward. Bohdan’s team found the vestigial links, and followed the breadcrumbs to Singapore, Hong Kong, Cyprus, the Caribbean, Georgia . . . Crowley’s ability to slip through electrons, follow the wiring, and pipe software patches into certain devices was the magic key.
Money is fungible, and communication links can be nearly instantaneous. Over the next few hours amounts of a few thousand dollars are siphoned out of millions of accounts and agglomerated into other mysterious accounts. Backup data worldwide displays some mysterious gaps and corrupted data when investigators review it the next day. Beijing is nonplussed to discover some puzzling large transfers out of offshore accounts into its own coffers, but decides to not share this information with the international investigators; however, careers of certain cadres are now under a thundercloud of suspicion.
Later that afternoon, three forgettable tourists depart Colon for Costa Rica. Two travel from there back to London. A third heads for remote Rincón de la Vieja volcano.
The Gates of Hell. An enormous serpent glides out of the stygian gloom and into the flickering red light. Cerberus gives a bound over the line of the incoming candidates for damnation, executes a play bow before the serpent. The snake throws a coil over the monstrous dog’s back, and the two roll and wrestle for some minutes, diverting all but those having their hearts ripped out by Anubis at the weigh station. Both Anubis and the snake observe a disposable demon trot through the gate. Their eyes meet. The snake hisses in an ancient language:
Go to Amun.
Anubis gestures, and Cerberus rolls away from the snake and leaps the incoming line to resume his post at the gate. Wolf-headed Anubis reaches down, effortlessly slings the giant snake over his head and across his shoulders. There is a nearly indiscernible flicker, and the snake vanishes. Anubis continues weighing.
Chapter 20: Return
Tadfield bookshop, not quite near enough to closing time. The Them are sitting around a table with an old book and their tablets, making notes and conferring on a school project. Aziraphale is in the stacks, assisting one of the customers.
An enormous black wolf appears on the carpet in the center of the shop. Draped from its shoulders is a nude, thin, middle-aged man with short black hair. The man releases his arms from around the animal’s neck and collapses onto his back on the floor as if completely exhausted. The wolf vanishes in almost less time than it took for its appearance to register on bystanders’ retinas. However, it is less easy for human minds to pay fleeting attention to a naked male, especially one who seems to have a somewhat longer penis than the average draped across a thigh. The man groans and tries to rise, falls back.
Aziraphale drops the book he’s about to hand his customer, rushes over to the man, and crouches on his knees beside him. Grasps the man’s shoulders.
Crowley manages to curl himself up over the angel’s lap.
We’re closing. Everyone please leave now.
The four teens assume this directive does not apply to them. Instead, they separate and go round like bird dogs, flushing the customers out of the stacks and out the door. Brian fetches the key, locks the door, and turns the sign to “Closed.” They gather around the pair on the floor. Aziraphale has in the meantime magicked his threadbare old cut velvet dressing gown out of the back room and atop Crowley.
I’m all right. Bit knackered. Transporting with Inpu takes it out of you. Need to rest.
The demon closes his eyes. Aziraphale looks up at the four worried faces.
He doesn’t seem to be injured. Brian, would you be so kind as to go in the back room and fetch one of the big pillows?
Brian trots off and back, and they position the pillow next to Crowley. Aziraphale looks up at the four.
It might be best if you leave now. Thank you all for assisting me to close up the shop.
The teens nod in unison, then go over to their work table and pack up their gear.
‘Bye Aziraphale. ‘Bye Crowley.
Once they’re outside, Brian re-locks the door, drops the elaborate old key through the slot.
I think Aziraphale needs to get a more modern lock.
Pepper grimaces as they walk over to where their bikes are parked.
Crowley showing up starkers. What next?
Brian nudges Wensleydale and gestures with his hands as if measuring something.
Wensley glances at Pepper, who has noticed this little exchange, and a spasm of embarrassment twitches across his face. She smiles at her friend.
Oh Wensley, it’s all right. It was pretty hard to miss. You’re not being stupid.
Brian laughs. Adam interjects:
We all saw that big black wolf, too, right?
The other three nod.
Crowley said something that sounded like, “transporting with in poo.”
What’s “transporting?” And what’s “within poo” do you suppose?
Wensley is up to the task on this one, having enjoyed the history class section on ancient Egypt enough to do some bopping around the internet on his own, learning some pronunciations for hieroglyphics. He makes the connection.
“Inpu” is what I heard. That’s the ancient Egyptian pronunciation of the god Anubis. He was their god of the dead. He had a head like a black jackal. He would weigh a dead person’s heart against a feather, and if the heart was heavy with evil, the crocodile god would eat that person.
Do you suppose that wolf was a jackal? I don’t know what a jackal looks like, actually.
Brian has been tapping away at his tablet.
You’re right, Wensley. Wikipedia says that Anubis was called Inpu. It says, “Archeologists have identified Anubis's sacred animal as an Egyptian canid, the African golden wolf . . . Anubis was depicted in black, a color that symbolized regeneration, life, the soil of the Nile River, and the discoloration of the corpse after embalming.”
Adam breaks the ensuing silence.
I think we need to ask them tomorrow what Crowley has got up to.
Nods all around. They retrieve their bikes, and ride off in a little pack.
Aziraphale gently rolls Crowley off his lap and onto his back upon the giant pillow. Lays down alongside, arm across Crowley’s chest, head nestled atop his shoulder. Carefully flares one snowy wing (managing to dislodge only two books from an upper shelf) and folds it atop the sleeping demon.
Just before dawn Crowley awakens. Aziraphale winches in his wing. The two regard one another.
Whew. Travelling with Inpu is hard on the molecules.
Are you going to tell me about it, Crowley?
Later. Right now I could use a quickie. Kiss me, Angel. Tell me you love me. Touch me.
The angel smiles, and proceeds to do what the demon wishes. Their Divine Ecstasy lasts until morning.
Feel better, Crowley?
Much. Do you know, Aziraphale, I’ve been thinking . . .
Oh no. Not that.
Crowley cuffs him.
And when did you become a smartass, Angel? Tch! Missing Michael’s spankings, are you? Want me to fill in?
Maybe. If you’d like to do that.
No, Aziraphale, I wouldn’t.
The angel strokes Crowley’s hair.
Pray continue with what you were going to say.
It has occurred to me that if we hadn’t had that energizing little session before I left on my trip, it might have taken me a good while longer to recover from that transportation. It was a double, you know. We stopped first in Scotland, where Uriel and Ammun are staying. I asked Uriel for her car keys. I said, “I need to get back to Aziraphale . . .” and with that, Inpu grabbed my hands, put them around his neck, and . . . well, you know the rest. Unhhhhh. I felt like a mashed worm.
And just why was he transporting you around, anyway? Don’t tell me you went to the gates of Hell.
We’ll get into that later. Let me finish my thought. It is this. Do you suppose sex between angels has been so strongly discouraged because it empowers us somehow?
It does seem to do that. You would think we’d be encouraged to acquire supernatural power. Better to fight the enemy with, and all that tedious rot.
My memories are fried, but wasn’t there something between Lucifer and Beelzebub back in the day?
Oh lord. They were lovers. At least, that is the legend. Just whispered, you know.
A heavy silence lasts for several minutes.
Aziraphale recalls how the consecrated ground in St. Cecil’s and All Angels felt hot to him. Oh lord.
I’m not giving you up, Crowley.
The two grab one another and kiss passionately.
Chapter 21: Honeymoon
A remote cottage in northern Scotland. The low building is alone on a hillside save for the older Mercedes parked out front. Nothing within sight but black stony outcrops, grazed meadow, and a path that winds over the hilltop and down to a sandy beach at the base of a far cliff. The weather is foul – gloomy, windy, rainy, cold. White waves roll and crash along the distant beach.
Inside is a much cozier scene, with logs burning in the fireplace and lighted candles in a couple of old iron lantern candleholders. Uriel and Ammun are snuggled under a quilt in the bed, side by side as they each sip a glass of whiskey. They have spent the week hiking and exploring the landscape outside the cottage, and exploring Divine Ecstasy inside.
Our last night here. If we get an early start, we can reach Tadfield tomorrow.
A long drive. But Adam messaged me that Crowley thinks it wouldn’t be wise to stop in Edinburgh without him and Aziraphale around.
That pair of wankers?
Don’t say that, Ammun. I think we have seriously underestimated the two of them through the centuries. Just because they got stuck off in Londinium while we continued to have work around the Mediterranean doesn’t mean they’re not formidable. They both seem to have out-maneuvered Head Office and Basement from the get-go. And of course there was their subversion of Armageddon. For which they also managed to escape punishment.
Were they lovers all this time?
Apparently not. Crowley may be a swine, but he did say something once that I’ve not forgotten. It made me feel terribly sad. I’ve remembered every word: “It took Aziraphale and me 6000 years and Armageddon before we could finally admit we were attracted to each other. Piece of advice: don’t make that mistake.”
Ammun goes stiff and silent, and stares off into the distance. His glass falls to the stone floor, spilling whiskey from the pieces of shattered crystal.
Ammun! What is it? Did I say something bad?
Ammun numbly shakes his head, but does not speak. The pair sit silently for quite some time. Uriel contemplates that she had not really gotten acquainted with Ammon until the 14th century, and wonders what happened in the millennia before that. He had been a god in North Africa back in the early B.C., while she had been assigned to interior and south Africa. Not until Mansa Musa had made his Hajj was she afforded the chance to visit the Mediterranean, and that is when she first found herself attracted to the handsome and bold Ammun.
And then, as if on cue in a pantomime where the demon king suddenly pops out of the spring lift in the stage floor, an apparition blinks into existence in the middle of the room: the Egyptian god Anubis, dressed in full kit with the head of a black wolf, an enormous serpent draped across his shoulders. The wolf’s ears brush the rafters of the low ceiling. The snake glides to the floor, then rises up and transforms into a nude Crowley. He staggers a bit, steadies himself with an arm on Anubis’s shoulder.
Uriel. Give me your car key. I need get back to Aziraphale . . .
The words are barely out of Crowley’s mouth when the apparition seems to flicker, and he vanishes. Anubis is still present. He stands and regards the pair in the bed, his wolf head becoming a shadowy helmet around his beautiful dark human face, although his eyes remain the canine’s deep amber gold.
Ammun flings off the quilt, rockets across the room, falls to his knees and clutches Anubis around his hips and waist, fingers embedded deep enough to cause bruises were the jinn’s body human. Anubis’s impassive eyes meet Uriel’s, and then he looks downward. Runs his fingers through Ammun’s thick hair and caresses him. Placing both hands on Ammun’s shoulders, he stoops and raises the angel into a standing position. One hand slides into the angel’s hair, the other across his shoulder. He pulls Ammun’s face up toward him and kisses him, deeply. His apparel and jewelry vanish. A tall ebony man with fathomless black eyes, now closed, in ecstatic embrace with Ammun.
Not taking her eyes off the pair, Uriel gets out of bed, gathers up her clothing, dresses quietly while edging around the room toward the door. Exits and runs off into the gloom along the long twisting path up over the hilltop and down toward the distant beach.
Chapter 22: Temptation Accomplished
Anubis and Ammun break apart and regard Uriel as she enters the cottage, returning from her hours-long walk. Anubis resumes full Egyptian god kit, extends his arms and bows to her. She raises her chin and stares at him.
I can’t extend my wings. There isn’t enough room here.
The jinn nods, and becomes a tall ebony man with a shadowy wolf helmet and golden eyes. He says something in an ancient language Uriel does not understand. Ammun translates.
He asks if you will share.
Anubis has cocked his head slightly as he continues his unblinking gaze at Uriel. Ammun snaps his fingers, and Uriel’s clothing lies in a heap in a corner. Anubis caresses her with his eyes. Ammun comes up behind. She feels his beard on her shoulder, his chest hair against her back as his hands reach around and gently stroke her breasts.
Uriel’s head doesn’t even reach to the tall jinn’s shoulders. She reaches out a tentative hand and touches a pectoral muscle. His skin is soothingly hot, soft as satin. He is so beautiful. Ammun’s hands drop to her hips and he steps back as the jinn embraces her and holds her tightly against his slim muscular body. Uriel gasps and goes immediately into Divine Ecstasy.
An interesting night ensues.
Uriel and Ammun drive along quietly and companionably until they’re on the M74 south of Glasgow. Uriel has been thinking hard about some things.
Crowley set us up.
Do you mean, he planned this little get together between you, Anubis, and me? I don’t see how he could possibly have foreseen that.
Ammun, I keep telling you, you don’t give Crowley and Aziraphale enough credit. Crowley was the original Tempter in the Garden of Eden, you surely remember that. And he’s had 6 millennia to hone his skills. Think how provoking he was at the bookshop.
She hasn’t forgotten: “So, Uriel. Are you two little rebels going to take a lesson from Angel and me and get it on?”
Ammon has very different memories of Crowley from their B.C. years of kicking around North Africa, Egypt, the lands of the eastern Mediterranean and the Fertile Crescent. It wasn’t until about the time of the fall of the western Roman Empire that he and his cohort had mostly driven out Beelzebul, pagan temples becoming ruins, believers turning to new religions and building churches and mosques. He had witnessed Crowley’s activities up close. The only thing the demon seemed to stick at was harming children. And once Beelzebul discovered that Crowley would not obey orders if children were involved, his punishments for disobedience were frightful. Ammun had happened to be present at one such ghastly “ceremony,” where Beelzebul had actually discorporated Crowley. He suspected it wasn’t the first or the only time; that Beelzebul gave Crowley orders he knew would be disobeyed, just for the pleasure of tormenting him afterward. Vile, hateful creatures, demons.
Ammun, who showed up draped over Anubis’s shoulders?
Think about that.
Ammun thinks about how, while he longed desperately to be lovers with Anubis – had fallen for the jinn at first sight, right after Creation - he had suppressed his desire as an unseemly impediment to his angelic duties. After all, Anubis was a cohort of Hell. Death was practically his cousin. The animals he was modeled upon were notorious for regarding graveyards as a handy source of human jerky. Meanwhile Crowley and Anubis hung out like a pair of bros. Had the demon noticed his attraction to Anubis? The only possible conclusion was, “Yes.” Crowley had tempted him, and he had fallen. And was he sorry about that? No. Not even a little bit. He feels like a fool, actually, for having waited so damned long.
Around about Birmingham, a call comes in on Uriel’s watch. She puts it on the car speakerphone. It’s Adam.
Hi, Uriel. Crowley asked me to tell you he has a farmhouse that you can stay in if you’d like. It would help him out. The old couple that were its owners have taken some of their belongings with them to their new home. But the place still needs to have the movers and cleaners supervised and someone to look after it. He wants to know if you’d be willing.
Uriel gives Ammun a significant look.
Adam, tell Crowley that I and my companion Ammun would be happy to assist Crowley. It would help us out, too. We were going to seek a place to stay in Tadfield.
And so Ammun, Uriel, and their large black wolf dog settled in to Farmer Croll’s cottage.
Chapter 23: Boris
We get to hear Crowley's voice singing in this one.
Crowley answers his phone.
Young Master. What’s up?
Crowley, can you drive Georgia to her riding lesson today? Janet needs the car.
There is a long pause while Crowley considers that 1) he’s not a damned taxi service; and 2) Adam doesn’t ask for anything unless there’s something else going on under the surface.
Sure. When and where?
It’s in the Cotswolds. She says if you leave in about half an hour you’ll get there in plenty of time.
Half an hour it is. You’ll tell her?
Yes. Thank you, Crowley.
Fuck, fuck, fuckety fuck.
Crowley, what’s the matter?
That was Adam. Wants me to chauffer Georgia to her riding lesson in the Cotswolds. Apparently Janet needs their damned car today. I leave in half an hour. So, no more Divine Ecstasy this morning, Angel.
Bit of smooching, perhaps?
Now that’s all right . . .
As they exit Tadfield, Crowley turns to Georgia.
All right, let’s have it, why have I been dragooned into chauffer duty this morning?
Pepper has been upset. Says that you called her a witch.
Well, she is. You’d think you’d be happy about that.
You can’t be serious, Crowley. Witchcraft isn’t real, I don’t care what Anathema pretends.
Crowley turns and gives Georgia the hairy eyeball.
Watch the road, Crowley! And slow down.
Crowley, of course, does neither.
I’m a fucking demon, Georgia. A devil. If I say she’s a witch, I’m in a professional position to know.
Georgia forces herself to relax and stares straight ahead, as if to encourage Crowley to do likewise.
She says you taunted her about “bad boys.”
I did indeed warn her. Demons can be very seductive.
As he says this, Crowley morphs into a beautiful teenage male. Smiles snakily at Georgia. Despite herself, she’s impressed. A definite hormone stirrer.
Well. Yes. And being attracted to handsome young men is a problem exactly how? It’s not exactly abnormal.
We demons aren’t in it just for fun. Corrupting souls to join our Satanic Master in damnation - perhaps you recall? Spoiling the Almighty’s creation? Witches have a congenital weakness for our sort. Rebels. Exciting sinners. Those tales and legends aren’t total bilge, not by a long shot. You want Pepper prancing around naked in the moonlight with a randy goat, just keep her ignorant.
Crowley has morphed back into his middle-aged self.
Crowley, I hope you’re not trying to tell me you find Pepper attractive. Because I would probably feel obliged to get my service pistol out of storage and kill you.
Nah. No worries there. I have an angel to keep me in line. Just trying to give you a heads up. London seems to be crawling with young demons these days. Not sure why. Not sure what’s going on. I’ve mentioned it to Adam. And just for the record, you can discorporate me. But I’m immortal. I’ll be back sooner or later in some form or another. So don’t go oiling up your handgun.
Crowley, if you can be young and beautiful, why do you go around looking like a man in his forties?
Helps blend in with humans. Youth and beauty attract attention. If you’re middle-aged, you’re pretty much invisible. Eyeballs slide right off with nary a second glance. Forgettable.
George recollects Crowley’s tango performance, looks at the colorful kilt he’s wearing.
Oh yes. Forgettable. Entirely.
If we want to be. Aziraphale doesn’t give a second’s thought to being middle-aged. He just unconsciously prefers to be approachable. The kindly uncle.
Whereas you. . .
I do what amuses him.
Georgia has joined her group for their lesson, and they ride off, leaving Crowley behind.
He wanders about the yard, climbs up onto a rail fence alongside a large field and sits perched like a glum gargoyle. Then he remembers the flask in his pocket, pulls it out, unscrews the cap, and takes a long swig. Some minutes later an old black Irish draught stallion in the distance raises his head and nickers. Starts across the grassy field towards Crowley. The demon notices that the horse has a limp, its left knee looks swollen. Soon he finds himself eyeball to eyeball with a long black head almost the same size as his upper body. The horse exhales a warm grassy cloud. Crowley gives the animal’s nose a knuckle bump, breathes an alcoholic cloud back into the big nostrils.
Back atcha, horse. You are exactly the type that Hell used to assign me to ride back in the day. Gonna bite me?
A large muzzle nudges Crowley’s chest, but fortunately he’s hooked his feet around a lower railing and isn’t pushed over backwards. Takes another sip from his flask. The horse turns its nose in the direction of the demon’s hand.
Sure, horse. Why the fuck not.
Crowley slips a finger into the side of the horse’s mouth, into the gap in his teeth, touches the tongue. The animal opens his mouth. Crowley pours a splash of whiskey into a large cuplike lower lip. Oddly, the horse does not start at the burning liquid, but smacks its giant rubbery lips and tongue and swallows. Shakes his head and mane. Then, with surprising speed and accuracy, the horse clamps its teeth around the neck of the flask and tilts his head upward. Empties the flask and drops it onto the grass. Crowley laughs, magics the flask back up into his hand and refills it. Takes another drink himself, then taps the horse’s lower lip, which obligingly opens and extends for another drink.
They companionably go through a couple of refills. Then the horse moves his hindquarters around until the big animal is pressing Crowley’s legs against the fence. Without thinking, Crowley swings a leg over and finds himself astride a large back. The animal steps away and proceeds to walk around the perimeter of the field. Crowley starts out holding a fistful of mane, but then relaxes and rides along with both hands atop his thighs. He figures he’ll be pitched off into the grass and mud soon enough, no sense in trying to hold on. At least there aren’t any rocks or cactus, or a saddle horn or stirrups conveniently ready to add to the injury. He wonders if this horse will make that extra little bit of effort to step on him when he’s down. The old horse has a comfortable seat - withers are well muscled and high enough to keep a rider from sliding onto a fence rail of a neck. Much easier on the privates. And fortunately the kilt draped in all the right places, so he and the horse are only somewhat mutually bareback. Crowley takes a final swig and puts the flask back into his pocket. Inspired by the whiskey and the timing of the hoof beats, he starts to sing John Barleycorn, a song young Warlock loved. The horse’s ears stay pricked backward as he plods limping along. The human atop him is surprisingly warm, like a hot water bottle. And he likes the noises he’s making.
Far across the yard, at the back of the line of novice riders just entering the trail through the wood, Alexis glances back at the field . . .
Oh no! Leslie! Take charge!
Pivoting her horse, she canters back to the field gate, does a vaulting emergency dismount. Watches in dismay as the old stallion and singing Crowley circle the field.
Georgia has also left the group and trots up, staggers slightly as she somewhat awkwardly dismounts.
Is the horse dangerous?
Oh no. Boris is a good horse. But he’s a stallion. Trouble is, he’s old now and has an arthritic knee. It’s making him crotchety. Had a tantrum the other day during exercise, very nearly threw me. And one of our grooms is mincing around now with bandaged ribs after Boris landed a kick yesterday. Told her to take the week off, but she won’t do it. Loves horses.
Georgia can only think of, but does not voice, Crowley’s comment, “Horses hate me. And I hate them right back. Some serious design flaws in that animal.”
They seem to be getting on well enough.
Alexis reconsiders opening the gate and riding to Crowley’s rescue. He seems perfectly at ease, obviously knows how to ride. And Boris is moving calmly. Maybe best just to wait and see what happens.
Across the field, Crowley finishes the song, leans back slightly.
Boris stops. Crowley slings a leg over the horse’s neck, slides off, and stands for some minutes with one hand upon the horse’s withers, his heated body pressed against the giant barrel of an animal. Strokes the horse’s neck. Crowley’s caresses aren’t tentative, and Boris seems to like the feel of the demon’s firm warm hand.
Crowley has been thinking. The old horse did him a solid, not biting him or pitching him off and kicking him. Maybe he could heal that knee. Did a couple of healings for Aziraphale back when they had their Arrangement. Hated it. Was always sick for days afterward. Well, what the Hell. He’ll get over it.
Keeping himself pressed against the horse, with infinite patience, he very, very gradually bends as he moves his hand down Boris’s shoulder and left foreleg until it is resting like a feather upon the horse’s swollen knee. Boris has turned his head and is paying keen attention, his muzzle inches from Crowley’s hand, but he stays still and doesn’t bite. Crowley makes a slight gesture, and the swelling disappears. He continues to move his hand down the horse’s leg, checking the pastern to make sure there’s no lameness there. The old horse raises his leg, but Crowley has stepped swiftly backwards to avoid what he thinks is an oncoming kick from a hoof the size of a saucer. Boris doesn’t kick, however. Tentatively paws the ground. Puts his foot straight back down, shifts some weight onto it. Turns his head and rubs his nose against his knee. No pain.
Crowley, in the meantime, has turned his back and stepped away, leaning over with his hands on his knees, and is retching violently. Angels don’t vomit, but Crowley is gagging fit to toss up a sock. He falls on all fours to the wet grass, then collapses onto his stomach when the worst of the bout ends.
Did Boris kick him?
No! He was pawing. He didn’t kick.
Boris takes a step over to Crowley, nudges him as a mare might nudge a foal to stand. Crowley rolls over onto his back. Boris nudges him again. Crowley groans, gets to his feet and stands as if he’s considering falling over again. Boris swings his head around and gooses Crowley’s backside. Putting both hands upon Boris’s high back, Crowley crouches, then jumps up so he’s draped over the horse . But instead of swinging a leg around around so he’s facing forward, he does the opposite and faces backward, flopping onto his stomach atop the giant back, face lying sideways against the hairy hide, hands over Boris’s hindquarters. Boris continues his slow walk around the field, stops at the gate. Crowley slides down the off side, staggering to keep himself upright. Strokes the stallion’s big cheek, pats his neck beneath his mane, then drapes himself against the gate and retches. Boris looks at the two women, gives a snort, nuzzles Crowley’s neck, gives him one last push in the back, turns and walks off. Halfway across the field he breaks into a trot, then a canter, then kicks up his heels in a delighted buck before settling down to graze a bit.
Once Boris is safely in mid-field, Alexis and Georgia open the gate and help Crowley through.
Mr. Crowley, are you hurt?
No. (He turns to Georgia.) I need to get back to Aziraphale.
Here, lean on me until we get to the car.
No. ‘M all right. (Retches violently.) Just nauseous.
Is he drunk?
Crowley snarls a “No!”
Alexis, we need to go right away. I’ll call you as soon as I can.
Georgia stays close to Crowley until they’re back in the Bentley.
Crowley, are you able to drive? You reek of whiskey.
Of course. (Retches and starts the car.)
Only once does he pull over, fling himself onto the berm, and dry heaves until he collapses. Georgia has also vaulted from the vehicle, helps him back into the driver’s seat. She calls Aziraphale and tells him Crowley is ill, they’re on their way to the bookshop. They finally pull up and park. This time Crowley doesn’t refuse Georgia’s assistance in walking to the door. Mercifully, Aziraphale has closed the shop, so Crowley is spared the humiliation of appearing to arrive dead drunk in front of the customers. The angel is waiting at the door. As he opens it, Georgia half carries Crowley inside to where he sinks facedown onto the carpet. Aziraphale has been following close, and crouches over Crowley.
Did a healing. Can’t stop vomiting. Demons aren’t supposed to do shit like that. Unggggghhkkkk . . .
Aziraphale presses a hand upon the demon’s stomach, leans over him and lightly caresses his forehead and cheek. A soft puff of breath. A light kiss to the forehead. And Crowley’s nausea vanishes.
Thanks, Angel. Could have been a rough couple of days.
Whom did you heal, Crowley, if I may ask?
Had a bad knee. The only horse that’s ever treated me decently. Seemed like the least I could do.
He closes his eyes.
I think I’ll sleep now, if you don’t mind.
Aziraphale continues to stroke Crowley’ hair, his other hand still upon the demon’s stomach. Georgia is riveted by the change in Crowley’s face as he relaxes into sleep. It is a much younger face, with a wistful, childlike quality. Aziraphale is rapt, and does not look up at her. Feeling as if she’s intruding on an intimate moment, she quietly turns and makes her way to the door. Aziraphale absentmindedly raises a hand to re-lock the door after she passes through it. Once outside, Georgia cannot get Crowley’s sad and innocent face from her mind. How could a creature with a face like that be damned for all eternity?
Chapter 24: Consigliere Beelzebub
Images for this chapter:
The chamber of the Dark Council, Pandemonium, Hell. The room is empty and echoing save for Lucifer on his throne, and Beelzebub, on the dais below. Lucifer has chosen to appear as the beautiful male angel he was before the Fall; however, when he appears in this guise, he is fettered to his throne. Beelzebub is also in his former shape, a beautiful young man. He is seated frozen upon a rock pedestal, from which he cannot move closer to the throne. Lovers who can only contemplate and speak to one another but can no longer embrace, or even touch, this is the most severe of all the Almighty’s punishments. Their longing and agony ripples the dark air between them.
They gaze at one another for a very long time. Finally Lucifer speaks in a low tone, as if it’s difficult for him to get the words out.
The little snake demon and the Principality have become lovers?
Lord, the disposable demons I have deployed throughout London and surrounding Tadfield have reported multiple times of a rumor that humans witnessed them openly engaged in physical love.
Beelzebub cannot help writhing in jealousy at the very thought.
Lord, they walk the streets of London hand in hand. Our demons have witnessed this many times.
How has the little snake managed to seduce an angel?
Lord, discovering the answer to that is now my most urgent task.
The unspoken thought shared between the two is, “If they can do it, perhaps we can follow the same path.”
Do Michael and Gabriel know of this?
Lord, they have not deployed the resources that I have. My backchannel contacts report they are aware the two are living together, but only suspect they are partaking of Divine Bliss.
Not to mention the snake demon seems to have assisted my son in embarrassing Gabriel with a prank.
A flicker of a grim smile flits across Lucifer’s satanic face.
Yes, Lord. Counting coup upon Gabriel was a nice insult. One result I foresee from that incident is that Gabriel will stoop to attack Demon Crowley. He will attempt this through the Principality Aziraphale.
Despite the Almighty’s directive to the heavenly host to not interfere with the demon and angel?
Lord, you know how arrogant Gabriel is. Michael will be only too pleased to let him disgrace himself.
Lucifer can no longer bear to gaze upon Beelzebub, and stares downward in anguish.
Beloved. You must succeed. And protect my son.
Lord. I will not fail you.
You may go.
Lucifer vanishes, to resume his titanic lava-skinned form in the 9th Pit. Beelzebub flees the room in a fury of jealousy and hatred. As she flies through the chasms and corridors back to her office, a roiling fiery gas explosion cloud precedes her. Hearing the oncoming roar, demons drop what they’re doing, scatter and flee. The Damned who have been through prior episodes of Beelzebub’s rage likewise flee or seek cover. Newbie Damned who don’t move quickly enough are flattened and roasted into sticky black lumps as she passes. Disposable demons get out their carts, pitchforks, and shovels to follow along and do cleanup. They deposit the charred remains into the Resurrection Ward, where the souls will gradually recover their forms until their assigned torments can be resumed. The demons in charge of such souls like when this happens, and gather daily in the R Ward to gamble in various ancient board and dice games, the moans of the burnt damned providing a pleasing background music. It’s about as much of a vacation as they ever get.
Crowley. Crawly. Beelzebub sits at her now smoking ebony desk and mentally totes up memories of that annoying twerp.
How she and Lucifer had fished the limp little burnt seraphim out of the lake of fire. His six wings were gone, his beautiful plumage now reduced to black scales. He could only move by crawling on his stomach. Crawly. Lucifer had allowed him to coil around his leg while he summoned the Fallen and built Pandemonium. And when Lucifer had discovered the existence of Earth and the Garden of Eden, little Crawly had been dispatched to slip through the angelic defenses and try to despoil the Almighty’s latest creation. And how he had succeeded!
She had rewarded him by creating him a celestial body. How he loved it! The body had also proved useful for disciplinary purposes, offering more possibilities than merely kicking a snake around. Crawly maintained a serpent’s elusiveness, however. While she worked to corrupt Humankind, despoil Earth, and prepare Hell’s legions for Armageddon, he got up to who knows what. She should have realized something was amiss when he finagled that assignment to shadow the Principality Aziraphale in Londinium, but it was an unimportant outpost at the time and he was an unimportant minion. She tolerated his little reports of what seemed like games he was playing with the humans, but that was about all the attention that was paid.
And then the two treacherous little bastards had somehow managed to derail Armageddon.
She thought back upon how Crowley, alone of all the demons in Hell, never appeared to suffer any deformity or disease when he was actually present in Hell. Everyone else was afflicted with some sort of crawling, slimy, or chitinous monstrosity and ugly chancres. She had assumed he wasn’t deformed because he was already a snake right from the initial outcome of the Fall, whereas everyone else was deprived of their celestial beauty as punishment for despoiling Eden and causing the downfall of the first humans, Adam and Eve. But Crowley merely looked somewhat shabby and dusty from all the ash that floated constantly around the corridors of Hell.
How the lazy little bastard had enjoyed loitering around the Hell Gate as a serpent coiled next to Anubis on a nearby rock. While he was small compared to Lucifer and herself, to the incoming Damned he looked enormous. He would sit for days with Cerberus and Anubis. Anubis the jinn. An Egyptian god. The only early god who wasn’t a demon or an angel. A mysterious being that, like Death, was beyond her control. Crowley was at the Gate only recently. She had guards posted at all the known gateways to Hell, but Crowley had somehow discovered an unguarded passageway. Perhaps one only a snake could traverse? Why had he come? By the time a disposable demon had reported to her, he was gone.
And, of course, the Holy Water incident. That had been an epic disturbance. Nearly caused a riot. Had Crowley not disintegrated Ligur with Holy Water, doubtful Hastur would have thought to suggest it as a punishment for the Armageddon treason. And then look what happened to Hastur when he tried to exact revenge upon Crowley. The little snake had twice managed to discorporate Hastur, a Duke of Hell, and led him to go rogue and jeopardize Lucifer’s son, Adam the Antichrist.
Should she allow Gabriel to attack Aziraphale? There is no doubt in her mind that the vain prick is going to attempt something like that. Could it be turned to Hell’s advantage? Might Gabriel’s quest for vengeance result in disgrace similar to Hastur’s? Would he soon be emptying wastebaskets and mopping floors with Sandalphon? Now there is an enchanting possibility!
She hates Crowley from jealousy and despair, and would ordinarily love to destroy Aziraphale herself, just for the sheer pleasure of the cruelty and ruination of someone else’s happiness. But she lives to please Lucifer, so tolerate Crowley she must and will.
What is Crowley, really?
Beelzebub sits and thinks . . . and thinks.
Another image of Lucifer & his wingman Beelzebub, summoning the Fallen Angels as in Paradise Lost:
Chapter 25: Networks of Greed
The inspiration for this is the glass hydraulic model of money in Terry Pratchett's Making Money.
A model so accurate, it affects reality.
Inside Triple S Security, in a nondescript London suburb.
Evgeny, Bohdan, and Crowley are in Bohdan’s laboratory. The room is chilly and climate-controlled, with an airlock entry to minimize airborne contamination. Evgeny drew the line at bunny suits, and so only certain areas of the lab are glassed in and require clean suits. The three are seated in the exquisitely ergonomic chairs surrounding Bohdan’s immaculate desk, facing a large monitor displaying a curious network overlaying the northern half of Eurasia.
Go through it, Crowley.
Evgeny rises from his chair and hugs Bohdan’s head against his chest to prevent him from inadvertently turning to watch, in case Crowley gets snaky and triggers Bohdan’s phobia. The demon positions himself next to a power cable entering the server bank connected to the monitor, morphs into a serpentine stream of blackness as he slips into the cable. Within a second a stream of red flows from one end of the network to the other, like blood filling capillaries. Crowley pops back out of the power cable, now appearing in demonic form: snake eyes glowing a hot golden orange; pterosaur wings for arms, jutting like blades past his elbows as he folds them in; giant amber claws instead of fingers. And a startling erection, of a proportion that gives him the overall look of a giant masturbating fruit bat.
Evgeny watches impassively as the demon struggles for self-control, managing to morph back into a slim human with a merely impressive erection. Evgeny has never seen Crowley excited before, and as the demon hobbles off to the stainless steel shower stall in a far corner of the room, a slight smile flickers across his face as he considers that the demon’s lover might not be such a poofter after all if he can handle that. Crowley adjusts the various shower jets to suit him, and sits for the next 20 minutes in blissful streams of icy water, which gradually cease hissing into steam as they hit his skin. Exiting the shower, he magics the water away and his clothing back on.
Crowley flops himself back into his chair, and Bohdan hands him a techy vaporizer from a neat and tidy sort of small bar adjacent to his workstation.
Here. Your special blend.
Crowley’s blend of herb would knock the average human into a couch slug in short order, but celestial bodies have a tolerance for cannabis similar to alcohol. It takes a fair amount for any effect to register.
Whooooo-eeeeee. What a model of greed, gluttony, lust, power . . .
Could you feel the strategic nodes?
Yes, somewhat. You’re getting there, I think. Gazprom is starting to look a tiny bit wobbly.
Bohdan smiles shyly. He is pleased at Crowley’s reaction to his network model, he feels the same way about it. Better than sex.
The model traces the flow of money through the top fossil fuel companies, state economies, and relevant individuals. It’s taken years of research and development. And money. Bohdan and Evgeny have their own dark network of hackers, pirates, shady financiers, corporate informants, outright criminals, and desperate lowlifes that provide them with the tidbits of information Bohdan requires to weave his model web. Evgeny makes sure nobody gets uppity or squeals. Ever. He and Beelzebub would get on famously.
China and Southeast Asia starting to shape up?
Bohdan makes a few finger movements and clicks, and the display shows another network.
Oh yes. The corruption there . . . network almost makes itself. Somebody always talks.
Bohdan fingers the commands for another map, this time of the Western hemisphere. A far denser network appears, especially for the United States.
We used this one for the Panama test.
The three silently contemplate the map, musing over how that experiment went off without a single hitch. This is in itself disturbing, as it is such an unlikely outcome. Something had to have gone wrong somewhere, that is always the way – otherwise debugging and tests would not be needed. But so far no adverse consequences have surfaced. And they are nearly a billion dollars richer. Which moves Triple S a bit past Jeff Bezos, had anyone known how to follow the money through a completely different network that launders the plunder into investment opportunities pulled from the list in Drawdown.
“Intense” doesn’t begin to describe this little trinity’s efforts as they struggle to overcome the multitude of choke points in their hidden siphoning of funds out of accounts and into investments. Crowley likes Earth, and doesn’t want to stand idly by while humanity makes another pass at Armageddon. Three of the Horsemen are still out there, and Death has of course never left. Crowley is the catalyst between the humans and the algorithms. And he almost never sleeps, which helps greatly.
Crowley is also their most vulnerable asset. While Bohdan seldom leaves the building, thus providing Evgeny some assurance of his lover’s safety, Aziraphale is more or less out in the open. Crowley’s and Aziraphale’s little dinner expeditions exasperate Evgeny, as he is not so sanguine as Crowley that Aziraphale can take care of himself. Crowley has been careful to never so much as mention the existence of Adam Young to him. He has related, however, the supernatural threats to Aziraphale’s existence, which only makes Evgeny more uneasy, because has no clue how to counteract that type of threat.
And then an incident occurs that gives him a chance to find out.
Chapter 26: Inconvenient Discorporation
A pub in Mayfair. It’s an early weekday evening, and there isn’t much of a crowd yet. Aziraphale and Crowley are seated in a snug banquette. They’ve finished their steak and chips. Crowley is working his way through a whiskey while Aziraphale enjoys a sticky toffee pudding.
What appears to be a small, dirty teen in a hoodie scoots through the doors and makes a beeline for the pair.
Demon Crowley! Two angels are coming!
Crowley gestures to the seat next to Aziraphale. The grubby teen sits anxiously, hands clutched between knees. The three watch in silence as a pair of women enter the pub, look around, spot Crowley and Aziraphale. They hold hands as they approach and stand by the banquette. One is taller than the other and a bit stout, the other petite and slim. Both have light caramel skin, black shoulder-length gently waved hair, and a vaguely Silk Road look. They’re each dressed in tailored cream linen suits with lace jabots and cuffs. One wears a long strand of pearls and gold bangles, the other just the reverse – gold rope chain and three-strand pearl bracelet. Stylish but sensible low-heeled boots in a golden leather.
After a brief sneer of unmistakable disgust towards Crowley and then the sooty teen, the tall one addresses Aziraphale.
Principality Aziraphale. This consorting with foul fiends must cease. We have been sent to bring you back to the Head Office. You must come with us.
Come with you? So Gabriel can make another attempt at extinguishing me? You must think I’m insane! I have no intention of reporting to Head Office ever again.
Crowley in the meantime has risen from his seat and stepped outside the banquette. As he slips behind the angelic pair, he gestures as if inviting them to be seated.
Please, sit down.
Surprised by this unexpected offer, the pair look at one another as Crowley moves behind them. He crosses his arms inside his jacket, pulls out a pair of small .22 revolvers and shoots each angel just behind the ear. They collapse and vanish in a pixelated cloud. Crowley vanishes the guns and their mesh shoulder holster back into storage, stoops and picks up two small pieces of lead. Some of the humans in the pub hear the popping noises and look around to see what disturbance may have just occurred; however, the bodies and weapons have disappeared so quickly they don’t notice anything amiss. Crackers, maybe? They shrug off the incident and resume their drinking, chatting, and eating. The disappearance of two striking women has not even registered. Maybe they went to the loo.
Lovely, clever humans, inventing guns.
Aziraphale and the teen are aghast. Crowley inclines his head toward the door.
We need to go. Now.
As the teen rises from the banquette, Crowley grabs a handful of hoodie.
You’re coming with us.
Crowley gestures to the bartender to put the bill on their tab. The three exit the pub and walk half a block to where the Bentley is parked in what would normally be a double-striped no-parking zone, but the yellow stripes have mysteriously rolled up. He pushes the teen into the back.
Get down on the floor and stay down.
The teen curls into a fetal position on the floor, arms around head. Crowley gets out his phone and makes a short call.
We’re fine. All clear. Heading to Tadfield now.
The demon stows his phone and grins as he starts the car, quite pleased with himself.
Did you like that? I learned it from watching Lefty Two Guns in the movie Donnie Brasco. Neat, eh? No messy blood spatters.
Crowley, you just murdered two angels!
Inconveniently discorporated. Who are they, anyway? Did you recognize them?
I believe they’re known as The Twins. They’re Thrones. Angelic enforcers. I’ve never really had anything to do with them, not even as passing acquaintances.
Well then. Would you rather I had let them kidnap you?
No. No, of course not. I just . . . I just . . . perhaps I simply forget sometimes that you’re a demon.
That I have skill sets you lack?
You could put it that way. A different approach to things, shall we say. Your two little guns definitely leant weight to my moral argument.
Crowley leans over, extends an arm around Aziraphale’s shoulders, pulls him closer, and plants a kiss on the angel’s cheek.
Watch the road, Crowley.
Aziraphale slouches companionably against Crowley, hand stroking the demon’s thigh.
Watch yourself, Angel, if you don’t want me distracted.
The Bentley pulls up and parks alongside the bookshop in Tadfield, and the three enter the closed and empty shop.
Crowley pulls down the teen’s hoodie, to reveal a freckled girl’s face below a mop of kinky sandy hair that is curiously twisted into two hornlike points.
Aziraphale, meet a Disposable Demon.
The teen gazes up at Aziraphale with wide, wary grey eyes.
I’ve never met angels up close before. Are you going to torment me?
Good gracious no, child! We don’t do things like that here. There is no need to be frightened. Would you like a cup of hot cocoa?
Cocoa? What’s that?
They don’t eat or drink, Aziraphale.
Yes we do. But the food in Hell is terrible so we mostly leave it.
How did you come to be watching us?
Lord Beelzebub has posted us throughout London to keep an eye on you.
And now you must report back?
There is a pause as the teen takes on a shifty expression.
I don’t want to. This is my first trip to Earth! I don’t want to go back! Can’t I stay with you, your Disgrace? You’re a demon, too. It’s not like I’d be running away. I’d still be following orders and watching you.
And then Aziraphale earns the little demon’s undying loyalty.
Thank you for warning us about those two angels. You did very well. Why don’t I make you a cup of cocoa? I do think you’d like it once you’ve tried it. It’s quite nice.
You said “thank you?” To _me_?
Aziraphale looks at the teen in bewilderment.
They do the scut work in Hell, Angel. No one ever thanks them. Be like thanking the mop. That bastard Hastur used to enjoy discorporating them by the half dozen whenever he felt temperamental. They’re disposable. They recycle. Clones, y’know? Legion.
My word. I had no idea. Where could she stay, Crowley?
Shadwell had some weeks prior suffered a stroke and passed away the same day. Madame Tracy was now struggling through the resulting loneliness and sadness. She had hoped she and Shadwell could have been companions for decades.
A short phone call, a ride in the Bentley, and an angel and two demons stand inside Madame Tracy’s little cottage.
Thank you so much, Madame Tracy, for letting . . . um . . . my niece DeeDee here lodge with you tonight. We really could not put her up at the bookstore, of course, and she’s too young to stick into the hotel.
Quite all right, Mr. Fell. I am happy to have some company. Would you like a glass of milk and a slice of pie, my dear? Come with me into the kitchen. And then perhaps you’d like a nice shower. I have some spare pajamas and a robe you can wear, although they might be a tad big on you. We can launder your clothes tomorrow morning.
Do you have cocoa?
Why yes, my dear. What an excellent idea. I can make us both a cup, and I have cream and marshmallows.
Crowley and Aziraphale look at one another. Success.
We’ll be off then, Madame Tracy. See you tomorrow morning at your tea shop?
Crowley gives the little demon a stern look.
No, your Disgrace!
We’ll talk tomorrow about whether you can stay.
You’ll have to spend the night on the couch, I’m afraid, my dear. My partner recently passed away, you see. I haven’t yet changed the other bedroom. I hope these pillows and duvet will be comfortable for you. The heat turns down at night, and it gets a bit chill.
The little demon nods and sits on the couch.
I’ll be off to sleep myself now, dear. I must rise early in the morning to do shop preparations. Good night.
Demons don’t sleep. Once Madame Tracy is unconscious, the little demon spends the night going through absolutely everything in the cottage, examining all the mysterious things with total fascination.
Chapter 27: Not Gay
A stable in the Cotswolds, early in a mid-week morning of sunny, warm late autumn days. Alexis, the manager, Georgia, and Crowley are walking toward the gate to a large field. Boris, the big black Irish draught stallion, is standing with his head over the gate.
He’s taken to standing here most of the day, as if he’s waiting for something. And he’s been very depressed and off his feed. It occurred to me that all this has been subsequent to your visit, Mr. Crowley. You dosed him with whiskey, didn’t you?
Didn’t seem to hurt him.
No. Horses are big animals. They can tolerate a moderate amount of alcohol. What I’d like to know is why his arthritis seems to have disappeared.
Crowley looks totally innocent and mystified.
Seeing the three approach, the stallion nickers loudly. Crowley walks up and gives the big nose a fist bump. Boris snorts a cloud of grassy breath. Crowley pulls out his flask, unscrews the lid, takes a quick swig, blows into Boris’s nostrils, and taps the horse’s lower lip with the flask. The horse once again attempts his trick of snatching the flask, but Crowley’s too fast for him.
Uh uh. Manners. Open up.
The demon again taps the horse’s lower lip with the flask, and Boris opens his mouth. Crowley pours a stiff one into the cup of the horse’s large rubbery lower lip, takes another sip himself while Boris smacks his lips and tongue and swallows the whiskey. He turns to Georgia and Alexis.
If you don’t mind, we boys would like to have a little get together by ourselves.
Crowley climbs atop the rail fence, and Boris turns to face him, opens mouth for another drink. Alexis is exasperated.
All well and good, Mr. Crowley. But I must insist that you not ride Boris. You are not properly equipped – not even a helmet. My insurers will not be happy if I allow unsafe behavior. And not simply because you could be injured. Boris is a very valuable animal.
No worries. I’m not at all keen on horseback riding.
Alexis and Georgia retreat to a picnic table beneath a nearby tree, and watch as Crowley and Boris seem to work their way through far more whiskey than a small flask is likely to contain. Alexis is intent and worried.
I’d ask you inside for a coffee in the lounge, Georgia, but I’m too uneasy about letting Mr. Crowley go about unwatched. He definitely seems to have a rapport with Boris. I could see the difference in Boris from the moment that vintage car of Mr. Crowley’s could be heard in the drive. But is Mr. Crowley up to something, do you think, Georgia?
No idea, I’m afraid. He’s a very unpredictable . . . man. I’m certain he means no harm to Boris, though.
Oh my god!
Boris has positioned himself parallel to the fence, pressing against Crowley’s legs. Crowley slips atop his back, stows his flask. The big horse pivots and walks parallel to the fence, breaks into a trot, then proceeds to circle the field at a brisk canter. Halfway across the field, Boris turns toward the gate and breaks into a full gallop. Shortening stride just a bit before the gate, he sails over it and goes thundering across the yard to the trail that crosses a meadow and goes up the hill into the woods.
Crowley during all this has been holding onto the horse’s mane, leaning forward to keep balanced as best he can. Horse hair is very slippery, and he hangs on for dear life once it’s apparent Boris is going to try to jump the gate. He decides to use a bit of levitation to help the old horse across. It’s not sliding right off the animal’s rump during the upward leap that worries Crowley, however; it’s the steep downside landing, likely to be hard on the horse as well as possibly sending Crowley either onto his head in the dirt or atop the crotch-bruising rail of the horse’s neck. The finger snap of levitation thus has a dual result of clearing the gate and softening the landing. Boris lands smoothly, and they’re off towards the woods.
Alexis grabs Georgia and they run toward the stable.
C’mon! We’ll mount up and follow them. . . . Leslie! Leslie! Come quick!
Leslie runs out of the tack shed and joins them. The three women get a pair of horses ready to ride.
Boris relaxes and slows to a canter as they descend the hill through the woods, hoof beats deadened by the carpet of fallen leaves along the path, Crowley praying all the while that the horse doesn’t trip on a root or that there aren’t any tree branches low enough to smack him in the face. The trail circles a small lake at the bottom of the dale. The horse leaves the trail and trots through the grass and rushes into the lake, stops and paws with a front hoof to splash water against his stomach. Crowley urges him forward through the lily pads deeper into the water. Just before the water hits his boots, the demon magics his clothing off onto the shoreline. The lake turns out to be deep enough for the horse to swim. Both horse and rider have a body temperature above the average human’s. Crowley stands up on the broad back, then falls off sideways into the water. The chill water feels delightful against the demon’s hot skin. He can swim like an otter, and glides alongside the big horse, then speeds up and circles to the front. Using his hands, he squirts a jet of water into Boris’s face, laughs and swims around alongside to re-mount. The horse swings his head around and gooses Crowley in the back of his thighs, causing the demon to swing his legs up and roll right off the other side into the water.
The two continue to – literally – horse around in the lake until Alexis and Georgia ride up just in time to face a nude Crowley standing mid-pond atop Boris’s rump. He falls backward into the water with a giant splash, then swims around and slithers his shapely backside atop Boris. The horse swims and wades to shore and stands opposite the two riders, greeting the other two horses with a friendly nicker. Shakes his head and dripping mane to release a spray of water. Crowley smooths his hands over his sodden hair to press some of the water out, then down his chest, flicks water from his fingertips. The two women regard the dripping demon rider with cool gazes.
Isn’t the water a bit cold, Mr. Crowley?
A bit. If you ladies will permit, I’d like to retrieve my clothing and get dressed.
We’ll all return to the yard, shall we?
If Boris wants to.
The pair of women wheel their horses about and ride back up the path. Once they’re out of sight in the trees, Crowley magics Boris and himself dry and his clothing back on. He leans his body toward the path.
What d’ you say, Boris? Follow the mares back to the stable for a little snack of oats? Maybe a carrot?
As if he actually understands Crowley, Boris walks up the hill after the other two riders. The demon feels like a nice hot water bottle atop his back muscles. He keeps his ears turned to listen as Crowley sings The Ballad of Otterburn. Over 800 years Crowley has learned a number of versions of this stirring ballad, which he likes because it reminds him of why he’s so glad the 14th century is receding into the past.
They swak’d swords and sair they swat, the blood ran doon like rain . . .
As they approach the yard, Crowley sees that the gate to the field is open and the two women and their horses are inside, awaiting Boris’s arrival. Boris, however, has other ideas, and heads toward the stable. It’s an antique building, and the doorway is not as high as it would be in a newer construction. Rather than risk getting scraped off or banged into the doorjambs, Crowley slips off and follows Boris inside. The horse walks to the very end box, wherein a sturdy little chestnut horse is standing.
With a stallion loose, Alexis has instructed Georgia and Leslie to keep the two saddled horses well away from the stable door. Alexis trots up carrying a halter, being careful to stay to the side of the aisle in case Boris decides to bolt back out.
That’s our new Icelandic stallion, Angel.
Crowley starts and looks at Alexis.
An odd name for a stallion, I suppose. The former owner’s little daughter named him. That mop of golden mane.
Crowley’s posture subtly relaxes.
Seems to be getting on with Boris well enough. Are they friends?
Alexis looks thoughtful.
Do you know, I don’t believe Angel has been turned out with Boris. Boris has been so temperamental lately, I haven’t been anxious to see how he’d interact with a new stallion. Perhaps we should try an experiment.
She opens the latch to Angel’s box, and slips inside.
Keep that gate closed, Mr. Crowley. But don’t re-fasten the latch. I’m going to take Angel out into the paddock. If Boris wants to follow and seems calm about it, let him.
She crosses the box, and opens the door to the outside paddock. Makes a sort of clicking tch-tch noise to attract Angel’s attention. When he turns to look, she goes up to him and pats him in various places to encourage him to turn and walk into the paddock. Crowley has been watching Boris carefully, and when he sees the big horse start to turn to the box gate, opens it and stands well aside. Boris follows Angel out into the paddock. There is no fracas. The two animals mosey around one another other and then stand companionably together like two mates having a beer in a pub. Alexis goes back inside, returns with the small horse’s halter. Slips it onto him. Then halters Boris, who stands quietly and makes no objection. She goes off and returns with two lead ropes, snaps them on.
Mr. Crowley, do you think you can lead Boris?
She turns and leads Angel back into the stable, out through the exit, into the yard, and across to the gate to Boris’s field. Opens the gate, and once both horses are inside she closes the gate and removes their halters. The two animals trot off toward the center of the field, then stand and give one another little nibbles, the smaller animal having to stretch his head a bit to reach Boris’s withers. Crowley regards Alexis.
Can horses be gay?
Yes. But unless one tries to mount the other, Mr. Crowley, I think they simply like each other and have bonded. Perhaps having a new friend is what Boris needed. We’ll let the two pasture together and see how it goes over the next few days. The real problem seems to be you. Taking Boris over a jump that high was completely irresponsible and dangerous. Again, not just for you. For Boris.
I didn’t take him! He took me!
I did tell you not to ride him, didn’t I?
Well, Boris had other ideas about that, too. (Shouts) Hoy! Boris! I have to be going now.
The horse looks at Crowley, then trots to the gate and holds his head over it. Crowley reaches up and strokes the animal’s cheek and neck, then gives him a firm pat.
Bye, Boris. Gotta go. Try to behave yourself. Don’t do anything I would do.
Boris nuzzles Crowley’s shoulder. Alexis turns and, lightly touching Crowley’s arm, leads him away to find Georgia. Boris snorts in a friendly fashion and goes back to graze with Angel.
Three days later, Georgia calls Crowley.
Crowley, Alexis just called me. Apparently now both Boris and Angel seem to be pining at the gate for you. Would it be convenient for you to make another visit? Any time that suits you.
The Battle of Otterburn, 1388
Tony Cuff, Child Ballad 161 sung to melody of Derwentwater’s Farewell (1715 Jacobite Uprising)
It fell about the Lammas time,
When muir-men win their hay,
The doughty Douglas bound him ride,
Tae England tae catch a prey,
He’s ta’en the Gordons and the Graemes,
And the Lindsays light and gai,
But the Jardines wad not wi’ him ride,
And they rue it tae this day.
And he has burnt the dales of Tyne,
And part o’ Banbrough shire,
The Otter dale he’s burnt it hale,
And set it a’ on fire,
And he raed up tae Newcastle,
And rode it roond aboot,
Saying, “whar’s the laird o’ this castle,
And whar’s the lady o’t?”
And up spake braw Lord Percy then,
And O but he spak hie,
“I am the lord o’ this castle,
My wife’s the lady gaye.
If thou’rt the lord o’ this castle,
Sae weel it pleases me,
For ere I cross the Border fells,
The tane o’ us shall die.”
They lichted high on Otterburn,
Upon the bank sae bruin,
They lichted high on Otterburn,
And threw their broadswords doon,
But up there spoke a bonnie boy,
Before the break o’ dawn,
Saying, “Wake ye now my good lord sir,
Lord Percy’s near at hand”.
When Percy wi’ the Douglas met,
I wat he was fu’ fain,
They swak’d swords and sair they swat,
And blood ran doon between,
But Percy wi’ his guid braid sword,
That could sae sharply wound,
Has wounded Douglas on the brow,
Till he fell tae the ground.
O bury me ‘neath the braken-bush,
That grows by yonder breer,
Let never a living mortal ken,
That Douglas he lies here,
They’ve lifted up that noble lord,
Wi the saut tear in his e'e
They’ve buried him ‘neath the bracken bush,
That his merry men might not see,
When Percy wi’ Montgomery met,
That either of other were fain,
They swak’d swords and sair they swat,
The blood ran doon like rain,
This deed was done at Otterburn,
Afore the break of day,
Earl Douglas was buried at the bracken bush,
And Percy led captive away.
Another version, sung by The Corries https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHkcjQheQZk
Ten agonizing minutes with more of the 35 verses, sung by Daniel Kelly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up6Entdz4kU
Gluttons for punishment can also research The Ballad of Chevy Chase (Child #162)
Chapter 28: The Nice Plan
Hell. Beelzebub’s “My Door Is Always Open” office that no demon in its right mind would ever actually walk into, Crowley being so far the one and only survivor of such an entry.
Beelzebub sits gently tapping her hands upon the edge of her massive ebony executive desk, lost in thought. That time Crowley flew in, in a blind rage about Hastur’s attack upon his angel, she had observed a gold star above the snake sigil on his cheek.* The snake sigil she had branded upon him when she created his celestial body as a reward for his outstanding performance in the Garden of Eden. And now The Almighty had marked Crowley with – what? A sign of favor? A claim of ownership? What had Crowley done? Did the mark come with Powers? And what is, Crowley, really? Is he a ringer from The Almighty? Perhaps he always has been? Or is he indeed merely a little Seraphim hanger-on who sauntered vaguely downward and got kicked out with the rest of The Fallen?
The Archangel Michael possesses a mind of brilliant and subtle intelligence; however, Beelzebub is Lucifer’s companion for a reason, and it isn’t merely because of luminous original beauty. Her mind is inferior only to Lucifer’s, who is second only to The Almighty, Herself. Beelzebub’s body might be that of a little fly woman at the present, but her intellect is undiminished.
Crowley is the key. He has seduced an angel. Reports and rumors converge upon the likelihood that the pair has discovered Divine Bliss. Beelzebub’s fingers burn grooves into her desk top and she gnashes her teeth. Once that moment of rage has passed, she considers how to force that slippery little slacker Crowley to reveal his Powers, if indeed The Almighty has given him any.
Beelzebub recollects how everyone was taken in by The Great Plan. It isn’t necessary to be a superior intellect to catch a clue from that episode. Obviously, the best way to rub all the fingerprints off an evil scheme is to tempt The Opposition into believing they’re just following orders. Orders from Gabriel.
Beelzebub repairs the grooves in her desk, continues to softly tap her hands as she thinks . . .
*From You Can Stay at My Place if You Like