Read Archangel Crusader Online

Authors: Vijaya Schartz

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

Archangel Crusader (21 page)

BOOK: Archangel Crusader
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Chemitek came to Michael’s mind. "Did the Frenchman call you yesterday?"

"He certainly did. A nice man this Jean-Marc Fontaine... He was baffled when I told him you were the Crusader. Why didn't you tell him? Anyway, he was a great help. The threat from Chemitek can be circumvented now. But there are others."

"Did you get any feedback from the press?"

"The newspapers are delighted. Your disappearance adds to the mystery. As far as the public at large is concerned, you vanished without a trace, and this makes you a legend. Your recorded appearances become even more meaningful. Everything is going so fast, it’s like magic."

Michael knew that Debbie’s hard work was at the heart of that magic. His intervention wouldn’t have been possible without her. "Wonderful. What else?"

"I see a definite change in the attitude of the people who witnessed your public display. They were touched, Michael. They are on your side, and they'll help you, no matter what the cost. Even if you never came back, the Crusade would succeed. People are changing attitudes, affecting everyone and everything around them in a constructive way."

"This is perfect, Debbie. Good job. How's Walter, how are you guys coping with the situation? Is the FBI still harassing you? No more threats?"

"No, everything seems to have calmed down. I feel safe again, and Walter is here, taking care of me. I hope you're safe, too. Did you hear from Jennifer?"

Michael took his time before answering. "Yeah, she called me last night." The image of Jennifer tied on the chair haunted him. Something about it wasn’t quite believable, but he couldn’t tell what.

"Good, you were worried about her. How is she getting along with Tori?"

"Good, I think... But I made a terrible mistake... She's not safe, and it's all my fault."

"What do you mean, not safe?"

"I should have known she couldn't be safe anywhere. Krastinios found her. He has her and Tori."

"Oh no! This is terrible, Michael, I'm so sorry... Poor child... She must be terrified... What does that monster want?"

"He wants me, of course."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to give him his wish."

"Michael, this sounds dangerous. Are you sure you can handle him?"

"No, I'm not sure of anything, but what would I be if I didn't try?"

"Be careful, Michael. You're strong and powerful, but from what you told me, this guy is wicked and doesn’t play by the rules."

"I'll be careful, Debbie. I promise."

The sound of the blue pickup truck coming down the dirt road interrupted the conversation. The vehicle stopped in front of the trailer and Becky stepped out. Michael waved the receiver through the window and Becky hurried inside to pick up the phone while Michael went out to meet Dave and Clara.

The child seemed all excited about something and finally blurted it out. "We saw Grandma. We saw Grandma at church, Uncle Michael!"

Michael struggled with the thought. He knew coming back to Arkansas would create an awkward situation since he had not spoken to Maria in years. She still lived with the hated stepfather responsible for all his suffering.

When Michael did not respond, the little girl continued unabashed. "She wants you and me to go see her this afternoon."

"But I have everything ready to go fishing today." Michael felt terrible about the lame excuse.

Dave had observed the scene while unloading groceries from the back of the truck. "You can do both, go fishing now, and go see Grandma later this afternoon."

"Thanks a lot, Dave! I appreciate the fact that you are trying to get my mind off Jennifer and tonight’s phone call, but I’m not prepared for this, yet."

"You'll have to face Mom sooner or later, Mike. You might as well get it over with. You'll feel better afterwards."

"Damn you! You arranged it all behind my back, didn't you?"

"I'm just trying to make everyone happy, brother. Believe me, you'll thank me for it some day."

"Can we go fishing now and go to Grandma's later, Uncle Michael?" The child's big eyes shone with hope.

"Let's go fishing first,” Michael grunted. “After that, we'll see..."

Clara smiled, turned toward her adoptive father and winked.

Dave winked back and said, "Knock those fish dead, kid. But you want to change clothes first or your mother will have a fit."

It felt good to cruise on the purring Harley with a child's arms holding him tight. Clara felt so much like Jennifer. Even though there was nothing Michael could do for her at this point but wait, he thought about her constantly. Krastinios wouldn't hurt her, not yet. Despite the picture of the torture chamber, Michael knew she was still unharmed, but for how long? He hoped fishing would help him calm down and think.

They headed north toward a bend in the Arkansas river, where Michael had gone fishing many times as a child, a secret place safe from his stepfather, a refuge of precious freedom and even a few pleasures. The motorcycle managed the narrow trail, splitting the tall grass along the river's edge, where kids' bicycles had trampled the wild vegetation for many years. Except for a little more activity on the water (pleasure boats had been fewer in his childhood), Michael found the place much as he remembered it.

Parking the bike in the shade of a willow tree, Michael took the fishing paraphernalia out of the saddlebags. The river did not look quite as wide and imposing as it did when he was a boy. Michael remembered dreams of flowing with the river away from his mother and stepfather, all the way to the mighty Mississippi. Unfortunately, he discovered later that there was no escape from one's unhappy childhood. Michael had to face the ugly scars on his heart and deal with them in the end.

"This is a nice spot. I like it," Clara announced solemnly, hands on her hips, looking around as if she were about to buy the place. "Do you take Jennifer here too sometimes?"

"I never have, but I'm going to make sure we both bring her here soon." Michael silently prayed this would come true.

"She'll like it," Clara declared with confidence.

"I think so." Memories of fishing with Jennifer in Pennypack Creek, her disgust at touching the worms, a clear laugh in the dappled clearing with the sun playing on the water, Jennifer picking wild strawberries, Jennifer... Michael took a deep breath of cool, moist fishy air and released it slowly in an attempt to relax.

Man and child sat on a log, ate the sandwiches, and drank soda while making up fishing stories. Michael discovered with surprise that, unlike Jennifer, Clara was not afraid of worms. She loved to touch them and laughed when they slipped between her fingers.

"How do you make the fish come close? You said you would teach me." Clara looked skeptical.

"That's easy. Just concentrate." Michael probed her thoughts and directed her young mind into the correct brain wave pattern. "That's it. Now call them and watch."

The child did as told, and the young face lit with pleasure as she pointed to a school of long gray silvery eels heading their way just below the surface of the greenish water. As the fish swam closer, Clara knelt at the edge of the river. Soon, the eels gently milled around while she fed them straight from the worm can with obvious delight.

A couple of young boys in a small rowboat waved from a distance. Clara and Michael waved back. It reminded Michael of Dave and himself, many years ago... The boys were heading straight for the deep hole, just down river, Michael wondered if they knew of the treacherous undertow that could and had on occasions pulled down a small boat and everyone in it... Obviously, they didn't. Michael yelled and waved for them to come back, but to no avail. They just waved and yelled back, unaware of the danger.

Michael concentrated in an effort to warn them telepathically. He saw when understanding dawned on the two boys, but rather than changing course, they panicked, rocking the boat in their desperate maneuvers, while the churning current pushed them faster toward dangerous waters. The boat tilted perilously as both boys tried to stand up. It dipped, thrashing into the muddy torrent. The two youngsters disappeared underwater. One head surfaced, then the other. The boys swam, but the rapids pulled them mercilessly toward the undertow.

The great body of water between him and the two boys dampened Michael's paranormal abilities somewhat. He had to get closer if he wanted to help. Mind searching ahead, Michael started the Harley and rode down the river trail. Still too much water between them... Michael drove the roaring machine straight toward the middle of the river. Levitating the heavy motorbike was the least of his worries. In a heartbeat Michael reached the scene, emerging through the spray, as if materializing out of a white cloud. Stretching down as he had done many times when practicing to pick up beer cans, Michael fished one boy out of the water. The child relaxed a little at the sight of this savior out of nowhere but seemed stunned to find himself on the back of a Harley. Shivering with shock, cold and fear, the boy hung on to Michael’s waist.

The other boy remained out of sight. Mentally scanning for signs of human life, Michael took the motorcycle above the muddy current. He sensed the younger child, deep under but alive still. Michael hovered at the same speed, gauging the depths, and by sheer mental strength pulled up the struggling kid from the deep cold hole toward the light of the shining sun. The boy was propelled out of the water like a big, jumping fish. Michael caught him in mid-air and held the coughing boy in front of him as he made for the shore with the precious cargo.

To avoid the onlookers, Michael headed upriver, landing in the secluded spot where Clara waited, in awe. For once, the little girl had nothing to say.

The boys were fine and glad to be alive. Michael mentally altered their memory of the event. As far as they knew now, they had been rescued by a stranger on a Jet Ski.

After that, fishing seemed out of the question. Mentally exhausted, Michael sat against a tree to meditate, hoping to recuperate while Clara took a nap in the shade. When she woke up, the little girl insisted on going to Grandma's.

Michael felt uncomfortable about facing Maria after all these years. Although there was no danger now, the hatred for his stepfather was still very much alive. Nevertheless, it was impossible to refuse Clara and, as Dave had said, Michael would have to face his mother sooner or later. He had known this all along. Deep down inside, he desperately wanted to make peace with Maria, but could he?

Michael and Clara picked up their gear and left the riverside. Riding first in the direction of town, they turned south on a little county road Michael remembered well. He slowed down, unconsciously trying to delay the dreaded confrontation. At the sight of the old chicken farm through a clearing in the cluster of birch trees around the bend in the road, memories rushed back. The place had not changed much. It looked old and decrepit, the hen house abandoned. The fence was new though, and pink and purple hydrangea grew in the shade in front of the old house. The front door stood wide open, a dirty screen door obscuring the dark interior.

Michael stopped the Harley and helped Clara off the warm machine. The girl immediately ran to the screen door and opened it, yelling, "Grandma, Grandma, Uncle Michael is here!"

The figure that appeared then in the black frame of the open doorway hesitated then froze. Maria Tanner had aged a little, the jet-black hair now short and streaked with gray. She looked plumper and shorter than Michael remembered, but still beautiful with copper skin and liquid brown eyes. Fine lines only added to the depth of Maria's smile. She seemed overwhelmed, wiping away tears with a small handkerchief, but Michael had learned long ago not to trust Maria's theatrical displays.

"Mikie? I have been praying for this moment for the past eighteen years... I missed you so much... You always were my favorite, you know... My God, you've become such a handsome man." Maria hovered in the doorway, as if hoping for a kiss that didn't come.

"Hi, Mom... How've you been?" No, she hadn't changed a bit.

"Come in, come in, don't stand outside like that." She led the way inside.

As his eyes adjusted to the cool darkness inside, Michael noticed that even the furniture stood exactly where it had when he left. The same musky perfume permeated the air. Michael almost felt nauseated but checked himself. He had to go through with this.

"Sit, sit down there on the couch... Here you go... I'll get you some nice cold tea. Don't pay attention to him." Maria motioned toward a corner of the room. "He can't understand anything anymore."

When Maria disappeared in the kitchen, Michael suddenly saw what she was referring to. In the far and darkest corner of the living room, in the same old armchair, slouched the silent shadow of a man, so frail and weak that Michael did not recognize him at first.

Michael stood up to get a closer look. The drooling mouth gave the white face a blank expression, and the eyes did not see anything, lost in some internal nothingness. Michael trembled with rage. Not only the bastard was here, but he’d robbed Michael of his revenge. How many times had he imagined the day when he’d send his fist into the hated face.

"Clara, would you like anything?" he heard Maria call outside. She reappeared with a tray and two tall plastic goblets of amber iced tea. "She's playing with the goat. I don't know why she likes that goat... You kids didn't like the animals on the farm very much, except maybe for that black mutt. He was run over by a car shortly after you left... Anyway, how's Jennifer. I heard so much about her. I hoped to see her, but Dave told me she's in Europe."

BOOK: Archangel Crusader
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