156 - al-Eizariya
PRESENT DAY Why did he want the three of us?
For some reason he had gotten it in his head that we would be the perfect bait to lure Lazarus to him.
Personally, I thought he was insane. There was no way that Lazarus would care about the three of us–he’d shown well enough that all he wanted was the last piece of his Cup so he could finally die.
Then again, I wouldn’t have expected him to approach me as he did in Rome. I wondered what that had been all about.
We finally knew where we were at least. He had taken the three of us in a smaller car across the dry landscape up to the slope of a nearby mountain. I didn’t recognize it, but Amira did. She’d been here before after all.
The Southeast slope of the Mount of Olives.
The city of al-Eizariya–once known, hundreds of years ago, as Bethany.
He hadn’t been kidding when he said that we were coming home, to the beginning of it all.
It wasn’t really the home of my faith, but Jesus had certainly spent some time here, so I guess that was something at least.
We needed up at a street that looked much like any other, stopping by a whole in the wall that led down into the darkness. Two modern signs hung over the opening, one blue and the other orange.
First in Hebrew, then in Arabic, and finally in English.
Why did he even need us for bait then? It seemed like just being here, in this place, would have been enough to draw Lazarus in. I just hoped that Mr. Average–he’d never given us another name–would realize that and let us go before he did.
“We have powerful friends, you know,” I said, once we’d been sitting there in silence for long enough. He hadn’t actually threatened us in any way and I was sure we could just have run. But judging from what little experience I’d had with his sort in the past, he had abilities well beyond a human norm.
Perhaps the sole reason he hadn’t threatened us was that he knew he didn’t need to.
He just looked at me though, his head cocked slightly to the side. “The angels?”
*How did he know that?* I said nothing.
“I wouldn’t worry about them,” he said. “To all appearances, you’ve been kidnapped, it’s true. But unless I’m sorely mistaken, they think you’ve been taken to Baghdad.”
I just stared at him. This guy thought that he could pull one over on a pair of angels? Archangels no less?
Then again, I wasn’t really aware of either party’s capabilities. Perhaps he could pull it off.
I wondered if that modified GPS app that Michael had could be used to locate people. Although surely Mr. Average would have thought of that.
“So really, you’re on your own.”
“That would be my cue.” And with that, one of the many anonymous figures that had been walking along the street turned to us, straightening from a crouch that had been hiding his height.
157 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO I don’t think I’d ever shot so accurately in my life.
One shot and that was all it took.
It wasn’t a high enough caliber gun to actually knock him back, but it did counter some of his forward momentum. He fell to the ground, only inches from my legs and didn’t move again.
A large part of me expected him to get right back up, to come at me again. If that would have happened, I don’t know what I would have done. The gun had been my last resort.
But he didn’t. Just lay there.
I couldn’t bring myself to look directly at him. Even after all that he had done, I felt terrible.
It was in self defense. He wasn’t even human.
I still felt terrible.
I got to my feet. I didn’t know how it was possible, not after how hard I had been thrown against that table. I shouldn’t have been able to walk again, let alone so quickly.
I actually felt remarkable energized. It was like waking from a good night’s sleep with the light of dawn, knowing all of the wide possibilities of the world that lay ahead.
I walked over to Mrs. Claire. The fog was gone and she was sitting there, staring with unfocused eyes over where the Smiths’ bodies lay, moving slowly from one to the other.
For a moment, I was afraid for Amanda’s life. Surely that wasn’t why Mrs. Claire was staring… Surely Amanda had survived at least…
I got to her, knelt at her side, put and put two fingers to her neck.
She still had a pulse.
Put the back of my hand in front of her face.
She was still breathing.
So at least she wasn’t any worse off.
“Are you okay?” I asked Mrs. Claire.
She shook her head, slowly. “I… No, I’m not okay. How could I be okay. How is anything ever going to be okay again?”
I felt years as a seminarian taking hold. “It’s going to be all right.” I looked over at the two men, lying on the floor. Alex’s form had lost a lot of the red color. Both were terribly still. “Sometimes God…”
She cut me off. “Don’t you dare say it.” There was fire in her voice, fire in her eyes. “Don’t you dare say God has a plan for us all.”
I realized my mouth was hanging open. Yes. That was exactly what I had been about to say. I considered, and said. “Yes. He does.”
“How?” She still wouldn’t meet my gaze. “How could he possibly have planned for this?”
“God knows everything. Everything that’s ever happened. Everything that ever will.”
“Then how could he let something like this happen? *Knowing* it was going to happen, why wouldn’t he stop it?”
I paused. I knew the answer that I was supposed to give, but somehow it just felt off this evening. Somehow, being in the center of such a maelstrom of violence had brought it home in a way that not even being at war had managed to. “Free will. Without free will, we would be little more than God’s puppets, but at least nothing terrible would ever happen. But with it, we can be monsters…”
I looked at Alex’s still form, lying there on the floor. The red tone and strange texture had faded completely from his skin now. The paramedics were going to have a heck of an interesting time trying to explain that one.
Mrs. Claire finally glanced up, finally meeting my gaze. “It sucks.”
I had to smile. There was really no other response. “Yeah. Sometimes it does. But sometimes… it’s wonderful.”
I heard the sound of sirens in the distance. They were coming for Amanda; they were coming for all of us.
I didn’t doubt that the police would have questions for all three of us. Most likely, it would be ruled a breaking and entering gone wrong. Or perhaps a family feud between the two brothers. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing supernatural.
The world didn’t want to believe any more.
158 - al-Eizariya
PRESENT DAY I had no idea how I could have missed him. With that impeccable western styled suit, Lazarus stuck out like a sore thumb from the mixed crowds of locals and tourists. Yet a moment before, my eyes had skittered right over him.
I looked over at Mr. Average, at least somewhat satisfied to see that he too had been surprised. He was quick to hide it, but by the widening of his eyes, it appeared that he hadn’t been expecting Lazarus to show quite *this* soon.
“Lazarus, friend,” he said.
Lazarus shook his head. “We were never friends.”
“You hurt me,” Mr. Average said. “After all of these years, one would think we’d at least have something to show for it.”
“Oh, we have something,” Lazarus said, his tone razer sharp. “It’s just not friendship.”
The other man put on a hurt expression, but it was a mask, obvious to everyone. “That hurts, Lazarus, that really hurts.” But even as he said the words, he dropped the mask, his face smooth in an instant. “But no matter. All that matters is you’re here now.” He reached out a hand. “The Cup, if you please.”
I just looked at him like he was nuts. I glanced at Amira and Father Antonio, seeing similar reactions. Did he really think that was going to work? That Lazarus was just going to hand over the cup?
To all of our surprise though, that’s exactly what he did. With a single smooth motion, he reached in under his coat and pulled it out. It looked much as I remembered, a simple cup made in pottery with a single all too familiar shaped piece missing along the side. I still wasn’t sure how he managed to fit that in his jacket pocket without so much as a bump in the fabric to show for it.
He held it out, seemingly without hesitation.
Even more to my surprise, the other man didn’t immediately take it. Instead, he reached over to a sort of shelf in the wall and produced the missing piece. I blinked. I could have sworn that it hadn’t been there a moment before. That was one thing that I wouldn’t miss when this was all over–and I knew that it would be over soon, one way or the other. I wouldn’t miss all these beings with their supernatural abilities just pulling things out of thin air.
But there it was. For the first time in centuries most likely. The Cup and the lost piece, together at least.
Moving almost in slow motion, Mr. Average held out the piece and Lazarus the Cup. The moved together, pushing them in slow motion.
I expected fireworks, sparks, the very trumpets of Heaven.
But what we got was…
Nothing happened. The missing piece just slotted into the Cup as if they had never been apart. One moment, there were two pieces, the next only one.
I was a bit surprised to see that there was no seam. Even though I knew for a fact that there had been fragments broken off of the Cup–I’d had one stuck in my finger, hadn’t I? Or had that been from another piece?–but I couldn’t have said where they were, not now.
I was still trying to digest what i had just seen–Mr. Average and Lazarus apparently working together–when I realized that the two of them still each had a hand on the Cup. But it wasn’t just a matter of having a hand on it, each had a hold on it, each with a hand wrapped around.
I glanced from one to the other, seeing the tendons standing out in the wrists of both men, taught as steel cables.
It seemed as if there was going to be a fight after all.