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Authors: Vijaya Schartz

Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General, #Angels, #Human-Alien Encounters

Archangel Crusader (10 page)

BOOK: Archangel Crusader
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"It's okay." Jennifer patted her mother's hand reassuringly. "Dad told me a little bit about it. I always knew I had a mother. I just didn't know where she was or what she looked like." No wonder her father had kept her away from Tori. The woman cried like a baby for no apparent reason. Good thing Jennifer had a good head on her shoulders. Right now, she felt the oldest of the two.

Tori dabbed at her eyes with a tissue then smiled. "Well, we almost look like sisters. Maybe I can help you become a model like me, if you like."

Stunned, Jennifer realized she’d never paid much attention to the compliments about her looks. And she certainly never believed them. Resembling her mother so much was a revelation.

"I'd like to make up for some of the hurt I caused in the past," Tori went on. "I was so removed from reality... I lived in a world of dreams and nightmares. That's what happens when you do drugs. I hope you never get into that hell. It's not worth it, believe me, I know..."

So, this was the mother Jennifer had longed to meet. How strange that she spoke to her like an adult. Of course Jennifer understood addiction. By watching her father, she had learned everything there was to know about it.

Her luminous eyes on Jennifer, Tori squeezed her daughter’s hand gently. "I'm so glad to have you here. Welcome to Paris! So, what do you think so far?"

"I don't know." Jennifer hesitated. "It feels so... Different."

"I know. All these buildings, eight or nine stories high, huddled against each other, with no space in between, arches, Greek temples, Egyptian obelisks, Roman churches and statues. I felt that way the first time too. But in the daylight it's beautiful. I'm sure you'll like it. There is so much to see. You may have to choose what to do first." Tori took a small paper from her purse and put on a pair of elegant glasses. “Here, I made a list for you." Her gaze went down the list. “We could start with the zoo or the Eiffel Tower. I think we'll do some shopping, too. Do you like shopping?"

"I love buying clothes," Jennifer answered truthfully.

"What about museums?"

Jennifer made a sour face. "Booooring..."

"Maybe a ballet?"

"Yes!" Jennifer exulted "I would like that. But don’t you have to work?"

Tori laughed. "Oh I don’t work very much anymore."

"Veronica worked at the hospital. She was a nurse."

"Yes, I heard... Did you like Veronica very much?"

"I guess so... She was nice to me... She was strict sometimes too, but she always gave me things. She helped with my reading and gave me books. Where do you work?"

With an amused smile, Tori looked at Jennifer, as if with new respect. "I modeled for a while for the Haute Couture... That's clothes, you know... I did a few ads for the magazines... It was fun, but very hectic, and I was away most of the time. Now I like to be with Jean-Marc, although he does travel too."

"The Frenchman you married, is he nice?"

"He's wonderful. Jean-Marc helped me when I got off drugs. I think he will like you very much too. He's in New York on a business trip now, but you'll meet him in a few days when he comes back. In the meantime, it's just you and me."

The white limo slowed down and stopped in front of an imposing building. The doors of the limousine opened automatically and they stepped out.


How did he do that?" Jennifer asked, full of wonder.

The chauffeur winked. “A button on the dashboard,” he said retrieving Jennifer’s luggage from the trunk then carried it through the plush lobby. Thick, red carpet, white columns, gold rims and crystal chandeliers reflected endlessly into mirrored walls.

"Here we are. I hope you like the Duplex." Tori looked nervous.

Once in the elevator, the driver inserted a key into a panel and pressed the top button. They rode quietly to the sound of soft classical music. The chauffeur, in navy uniform complete with cap and gloves, again winked at Jennifer who returned a timid smile. Jennifer felt better as she noticed that Tori clutched her purse compulsively. She gave her mother a candid, reassuring look.

The polished brass of the elevator doors reflected Tori and Jennifer, side by side, each wearing a bright red dress. Jennifer could now see the resemblance. Same green, lively eyes, same high cheekbones and high foreheads, same wide mouths with small dimples when they smiled, and the same chestnut hair. Except that Tori's was cropped so short, almost like a boy. Jennifer took pride in her long, shiny hair.

The elevator door opened, unveiling luxuriant vegetation. At first Jennifer thought they had stepped outside on the roof, then she noticed the glass panels framing the stars and the sky. What a beautiful night, she almost said aloud. She could see many small trees potted in barrels, flowerbeds, white garden furniture... The penthouse had an indoor garden, glass walls, a big terrace, and a wonderful view of the city.

"This is the orangery," said Tori, as a perfect hostess. "Jean-Marc likes to have breakfast among his citrus trees."

Jennifer had never seen a penthouse, except maybe on TV. The driver disappeared discreetly with her suitcase. Tori kicked off her shoes, inviting Jennifer to do the same. The posh, white carpet felt like grass between Jennifer's wriggling toes.

"Dad says that nothing feels better than stepping barefoot in fresh, warm cow dung. Isn't it gross? I think this carpet feels better between my toes." Jennifer dropped onto the purple sofa.

Tori laughed with good humor and asked, "Are you hungry? Thirsty? Would you care for a pastry, some ice cream, or some milk?"

"Ice cream?" echoed Jennifer.

"The best in the country, with all the fat and all the cholesterol... A real dream... Vanilla, coffee, or chocolate?"

"Chocolate," Jennifer's blurted out.

"I'll have some with you," Tori declared, on her way to the refrigerator.

The kitchen looked clean and smooth, in white and natural wood colors, with thick, white rugs on the hard wood floor. When Tori pushed a button, the refrigerator door hidden in the wood paneling opened with a soft whirring sound. She lavishly scooped ice cream into crystal bowls then produced silver spoons from a drawer concealed in the wall.

They enjoyed dessert in the living room, making light conversation, sitting cross-legged on the great triangular couch of purple silk. Jennifer had never seen so many strange paintings hanging from the ceiling, modern ones, set slightly away from the mauve drapes that covered the glass walls. She stared, fascinated. Each canvas had individual lighting and a dull, gray metal frame.

"The frames are made of pewter," Tori volunteered. "But you must be tired. Personally, I'm bushed. I'll show you to your room. I hope you like it. I decorated it myself."

They walked up a circular, open stairwell to the second level of the penthouse and entered a dream fantasy room of pink ribbons and white lace. Delicate, fluffy pillows and silky ruffles adorned an elegant brass daybed, complete with Barbie Doll and Ken reclining on the comforter.

"Oh my gosh!" The cry of delight escaped Jennifer as her heart leapt. Opposite the bed stood a small table, on which a pink-and-white marble chess set seemed to wait. Each hand-carved piece sat on its proper square, ready for a game. On both sides stood a white leather stool where Jennifer sat for a second in amazement, looking around her. “Unbelievable!”

Her clothes hung in the walk-in closet. A door stood ajar revealing an adjoining bathroom, with lots of lights and mirrors. Beside a white lacquer drawer chest sat a giant TV and home entertainment center and a full-size Nintendo game screen, under shelves of cassettes. Next to it on a white desk, a computer and a lime green telephone. The huge room opened on an outside deck.

At a loss for words, Jennifer threw herself in Tori's welcoming embrace. No one had ever spoiled her before and this was just too much. The little girl cried and laughed at the same time, enjoying every bit of her incredible luck. "This is the most beautiful room I've ever seen."

"Thank you." Tori held her tight, choking on the words. “I hoped you'd like it."

"I love it. Thanks... By the way, what should I call you?" Jennifer disengaged herself when her mother finally let go.

"Whatever you like." Tori smiled as she wiped a tear. "I'm not used to being called Mom, but I don't mind at all. And if you want to call me Tori, that's fine, too."

"Maybe I can call you Tori for now. It's a nice name. I like it."

"Well, good night, big girl. My room is across the hall if you need anything. Sweet dreams... I'll see you in the morning." She gave Jennifer a last kiss on the forehead before disappearing behind the closing door.

Jennifer's excitement kept her awake a while longer. She paced the room, touching each and every thing as she undressed and got ready for bed, wondering if she were dreaming. In her excitement she jump-sat on the mattress, rolled on the fluffy comforter, checked the dress of the Barbie doll, then lay down on the soft pillows.

Before closing her eyes, she remembered her father and called him in her mind. Dad, I'm here... It's wonderful... I'm very happy. My mother is so nice and I have a beautiful room. I hope you're okay. I love you.

She half expected to feel the tender communication they usually had when she thought about him, but her wandering mind only encountered silence and void. Of course, they were so far apart... Must have been the distance. Jennifer felt a little sad. She would have liked to share her happiness with her father, but she wouldn’t let that spoil her pleasure and went to sleep full of gratitude.

 

*****

 

"Goddamn... Leave me alone," Michael protested, eyes still closed, to the bothersome hand that shook him roughly. As he rolled over, his head hit something hard that sent jolts of pain through his skull. "What the hell?"

"Hey man, you shouldn't stay here, it's not safe. The cops will be patrolling soon." The hoarse voice emanated from a foul-smelling mouth.

At the word "cops," Michael opened one eye to see a grubby-looking fellow and a Shopright cart stacked with black garbage bags full of dubious contents. His head hurt worse than it ever had. A timid dawn paled the chilly sky. He almost envied the homeless man his pitiful coat. "What the hell am I doing here?" He sat up, instantly wide awake, regretting the sudden move.

"Eh, man, you shouldn't stay here!" the wretched being insisted.

"Get your hands off me, you filthy bum."

"Asshole,” the vagrant mumbled. “That'll teach me to help a stupid drunk..." He walked away, slowly pushing his creaking cart. Michael wondered how the man stole it since they were so efficiently guarded behind steel rails at the supermarket.

While sitting in the gutter, aching from every bone, cold and sick to his stomach, a wave of self-loathing washed over Michael. How could he do this to those who counted on him? His training had not saved him after all. He still had to work at it.

Looking around, Michael realized the depth of his predicament. He couldn't manage on his own. Veronica could have helped. She was the only strong enough to care about him. How he hated her for abandoning him to an impossible task.

Veronica... Never to see her again... Never to feel her soft skin, never to kiss her smile, never to see the trust in her eyes again. Silent tears ran down his cheeks. Michael was mad at the world, mad at Veronica, mad at himself. Once again, he had betrayed his promise. But above all he felt dejected and alone. And here, he was supposed to be this knight in shining armor who should save the world from evil and abuse. What a frigging joke. Michael couldn't even escape self-destruction.

At the sound of an engine in the distance, he collected himself enough to hide behind a concrete trash enclosure. The police car drove by at an even, slow pace as dawn intensified in the east. Traffic would resume soon.

Michael checked himself out for physical damage. Although he couldn't remember, he must have been in a fight because he felt beat up. His wallet was missing... Fortunately he had stashed most of his money inside his belt and still wore it. Michael smelled booze as he rubbed the heavy stubble on his chin. Dammit, he had to stop screwing up. He’d worked too hard to lose everything now. This is the very last time I fall, he promised himself.

Remembering his training Michael cleared his head to assess the minor injuries. He couldn't. His brain hurt. The alcohol had muddied his mind. He tried again, wincing at the pain in his head as he willed his neural pathways to open. Finally, after a painful struggle, something popped in his brain, allowing him to relax and empty his mind. Only then could he concentrate enough to mentally heal his injuries.

Michael then set out to retrieve the motorcycle and found it in the parking lot. As the morning sun cast peach rays on the nearby roofs, he resolved to pick up the pieces of his life where he had left them the day before and go on to Washington.

While he left the outskirts of Philadelphia behind him, old memories surfaced. His half brothers, all six of them, most of them in jail or not much better off. Only Dave had succeeded in leading a normal life, maybe because Michael had taken him away in time.

His stepfather had taught the boys to fight and forced them to learn fast. As a child, Michael, not as big or as strong as his half brothers, had to fend for himself, sometimes just to get his share of supper. The tyrant would organize games for them, tournaments where they fought each other in single combat. He demanded perfect technique, each blow applied full force. First blood was only the beginning. No whimpering. No giving up. If the boys didn't fight well enough, punishment would follow. Many cold, moonless nights Michael had spent in the chicken shed as a child... Many hungry days he cried secretly. Many pails of coal he heaved from the pit before dawn...

BOOK: Archangel Crusader
8.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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