91 - Rome
PRESENT DAY “And how are we going to find them?” I asked. Did Michael have some sort of angelic tracking powers?
He didn’t immediately answer, instead actually picking up his pace slightly. As I lengthened my stride to catch up with him, I realized that he was looking at something cradled in one hand.
“Is that…” But I didn’t have to finish. It was one of the last things that I would have expected an angel to be carrying around, but by this point it really didn’t surprise me any more. It was a smart phone, although not a model that I recognized. With an app running that was quite obviously a GPS mapping app. “You have a cell phone?”
He just nodded, obviously distracted.
“Are you lost?” It was the first thought that came to mind, but as soon as I said it, I realized how silly it must have sounded.
“No,” he said. “But your friends are about to be.”
He tiled the screen so that I could see it. It was an overhead view of a city, all tightly packed roads curving about each other in a much less geometric manner than I was used to. Ah, the old growth cities of Europe.
In the center of the screen, two dots glowed, one green and the other blue. A tiny label was affixed to each, so small that I could barely make them out. I leaned in closer, almost managing to collide with a fire hydrant. he wasn’t slowing down for anything, least of all my curiosity.
I blinked at the labels, sure that they couldn’t be right.
Fr. Thomas Whitlock
“Ar?” I asked. But he just shook his head and pointed at another cluster of points, right at the top of the screen. there were four more dots there, two pairs of two. Two of the dots were blue and moving north. The other two were red and a strange purple shade, almost looking like they were stalking the first two dots.
Looking closer, I noted that the first two dots, the blue ones, were labeled with Father Antonio’s and Amira’s names.
The other two were labeled Lazarus and Cerberus.
And they were catching up.
“We have to move.” Even though I wasn’t actually running, for the first time, I was actually starting to pull ahead of Michael.
“We are,” he said, his voice coming from well behind me. “Although I think stopping would actually be the better plan at this point in time.”
“What, no. We have to help them.” But something in his voice made me slow enough to look behind me. I looked back to where Michael had stopped, perhaps a few dozen feet ago–when I caught site of him, I stopped myself.
Michael was standing there right at the driver’s side of what was unmistakably an American made Jeep, complete without top, open to the air. Thinking back, I could vaguely picture myself having passed it, but I’d been to absorbed in Michael’s GPS to really give it any mind.
As I watched, still standing there stunned, he reached up and pulled himself in through the window, completely ignoring the door handle in front of him. He moved smoothly, almost like a gymnast, and I thought I caught the faintest hint of a smile on his face. I think he enjoys messing with me.
He was in the seat and had a seat belt on almost before I could blink and another moment later he had it started. I still hadn’t moved from my spot when he pulled up right beside him, staring the entire way.
He reached across and swung open the passenger door for me. “Well, come on then. Let’s go save your friends.”
92 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO The next several hours were a blur. I stood there, pole-axed, while my entire world seemed to shift around me. Two men came up and escorted me–politely yet firmly–to a sort of holding room. One with a lock on the outside. They left me there alone for what felt the better part of an hour, only throwing in a spare jacket after me. There was enough heat left in the air that it wasn’t strictly necessary, but the gesture was at least appreciated.
All the while, my mind was racing. Two weeks? How could I have been gone for two weeks. It had felt like two hours at most, from the time when I’d woken up to escaping from the museum to finding my way back here. I knew that there had been some time lost since it had turned from day to night, but two weeks? That was a bit extensive.
I found myself reaching up to my head, feeling for any cuts or scrapes. Although if I had been hit hard enough to knock me unconscious for two weeks, I wouldn’t have woken up. Or at least if I had, I wouldn’t likely have been all there any more.
But there was nothing there.
I searched the rest of myself, really looking over my own body for the first time in a while. It was just as I hard remembered it. Perhaps a bit more fit for my time in the military, but nothing out of the ordinary. I had thought that perhaps I would find some sort of spot or something where I’d been drugged, but all I could find was the faintest of marks where the line taking my blood for the transfusion. It had healed surprisingly well, but I didn’t really know how well that was supposed to have healed. It could have been a few hours. It needn’t have been two weeks.
Finally, the Sergent came in. He had a hard look on his face, which didn’t bode well, but at least it meant that maybe I was finally going to get some answers.
He had two other men with him, each marked as an MP. That wasn’t a particularly good sign. Did they think that I was dangerous?
He cut right to the chase. “So, what do you have to say for yourself?”
“You were gone for two weeks. Then you come walking back here half-naked, with seemingly not a care in the world. How do you explain that?”
I shook my head. How could I explain that? “Sir, I really don’t know. I have no memory… I can’t remember the last two weeks at all.”
“That’s a convenient story.”
“You bring your Iraqi girl here and we patch her up for you. Then you go off on some mission for her–”
You sent us on that mission. I thought it, but I didn’t dare say it. Not yet at least. This was feeling more and more like a trial and less like a debriefing.
“–and you don’t come back. How was I to know that you hadn’t just gone native on us.”
“Sir?” This time I couldn’t keep the surprise out of my voice. Gone native? I was as true blooded American as any of them, born and raised. But wasn’t it our job to help these people? To get to know them? I’d already heard this point of view from the Private I’d talked to yesterday–no, I guess it had been two weeks ago–but it was a little disconcerting to hear it from an officer.
Just how far up the chain did it go?
And he wasn’t backing off. “And if you don’t remember the last two weeks, then how did you show up here, now? How did you wake up at all?”
I didn’t have an answer for that one. At least not one that I was ready to tell the Sergent.
How do you tell someone that you escaped with the help of a dead man?
The Grace of God I might have been able to swing, I was a chaplain after all, that was expected of me. And I had to believe that He had some part in this at the very least, but the more direct answer?
Maybe at least I could do a little to put my mind to rest.
“Sir, may I ask a question?”
“What’s happened to Private Jackson’s body?”
He blinked at me. Most likely he’d been expecting something a little more pertinent to my current predicament. If only he knew.
After a long pause, he finally answered me. “Private Jackson’s remains were sent out on the last flight out of the city last night. Maybe an hour or two before you got back.”
I thought back, trying to piece together the time-line. It wasn’t particularly easy, given that I hadn’t had a watch, but I think I had a good handle on it.
Private Jackson was still dead. That much was obvious. If he’d really come back, then the Sergent would have said something.
And the body had left the country right just after the last time that I’d seen him.