015 Orders From Above: ‘It’s so hard to explain, Amelia’

To read from the beginning click here: Episode 1

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“And the screen furled itself back up to the ceiling and I half expected to find myself sitting in the middle of a row of red plush chairs with empty cartons and sweet wrappers swirling round my feet.” Exhausted at relating the long and complicated story, Nigel took a deep draught from his can of beer and looked at Amelia, waiting for her reaction. For days he’d agonised over this conversation, but he hadn’t been able to put it off any longer. It wasn’t going well.

“Angels,” Amelia said now, with a measured and somewhat dangerous calm, “You expect me to believe we’ve been employed by angels?”

“Archangels, actually.”

“Gabe is Gabriel and Nick is Lucifer?”

“Yes. And Uri is Uriel, who’s here as an observer for Michael.”

“And that would be the Michael, would it, the guardian and protector with the flaming sword and all that? Oh really, Nigel! I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous. You’re having a joke, right? So stop being so silly and tell me what really happened.”

“I just told you what really happened! It’s not a joke, Amelia, it really isn’t. I wish it was.”

“Did they give you something, drugged coffee, or something in the cake, that made you hallucinate?”

Nigel sighed. “But why would they drug me? My darling, I truly don’t know what to make of it. On my honour, I’ve told you the absolute truth. Gabe sprouted wings before my very eyes! And how can you explain what they’ve done to the mill? When I left there, and looked back, what I saw was the wreck of an old building with it’s door hanging off the hinges.”

“Like I said, some kind of hallucinogenic drug.”

“I can only say that it seemed very real to me at the time, and it still does.”

Amelia looked deep into his eyes, as if hoping to read his mind and find the truth there.

“OK,” she said eventually, “I’m going to play along. Setting aside the number of times we’ve met Gabe and Nick and they’ve behaved like perfectly normal human beings, we are now to believe that they are really Gabriel and Lucifer and they have to change angelic roles because some sort of disc has been dug up?”

“The Divine Instrument for Settlement of Conflict, yes.”

“Which has been found in Ham-Under Lymfold?”

“In the churchyard by the gravedigger, yes. He gave it to the vicar.”

“But the gravedigger has been replaced by another angel?”

“Uriel, yes.”

“So why hasn’t this great coin discovery hit the news? I mean, a – what did you call it again?”

“The Divine Instr-”

“Oh, never mind. The thing is, if something like that were dug up, surely there’d be some hue and cry about it? I mean, the thing must be incredibly valuable!”

“Yes, I know.” He dropped his head into his hands and rubbed his scalp. She was not going to believe this next bit either. “Apparently, the vicar cleaned it and activated it somehow and this gargoyle thing flew out of it and-”

Amelia rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “Oh, Nigel, please!”

“I’m telling you what they told me! So, Michael sent someone in to swap the DISC for a real gold coin, something went wrong, and they had to knock out the vicar with an amnesia dust. He doesn’t remember the DISC at all and he’s now in possession of a very valuable English coin.”

There was a long silence, and Nigel could tell by the tightness of Amelia’s jaw that she was holding her temper in check.

Eventually she said, sarcasm in every word, “It just gets better and better.”

He put his hand out to stop her rising from the sofa. “OK, OK, I can understand your scepticism, but you weren’t there! I’m telling you, Gabe and Nick-”

“You mean Gabriel and Lucifer, don’t you?”

“Yes, precisely! It’s so hard to explain, Amelia, but it was real. I’ve been over and over it a hundred times, but it’s as if I understand the truth in some part of my brain that I didn’t know I had.”

“Hmm. So, you’re telling me that all this is so that Lucifer gets to sit on a fluffy little cloud in Heaven strumming a harp, and poor old Gabriel turns into a creature with horns and hooves and takes up the dark throne of evil?”

“That about sums it up, yes, but only metaphorically speaking. I don’t think clouds, harps, hooves and horns come into it.”

“But Gabe sprouted wings, you said!”

“Only momentarily.”

She ignored that. “But before any of it can happen, they have to – what did you call it – practice?”

“Yes,” said Nigel wearily. “It’s been so long, you see, Gabe needs to get acquainted with sinners so he can run Hell efficiently, and Nick has to learn to be nice so he can return to the hierarchy and behave like a good little angel. I suppose they want to get close to ordinary people and, um, study them.”

“They could do that in their own office, surely? You said you went up more than a hundred floors, so they must employ thousands of people. Nigel, surely you know how ridiculous this sounds?”

“Oh, yes. I know exactly how ridiculous it sounds. But, the thing is, Amelia, even the office must have been an illusion. You try and find an office block in London that has 108 floors. Not only that, but their building has an impossible view! Tell me how a wrecked mill that’s been abandoned for years can become a fully furnished mansion inside a week. Explain to me how that appointment got into the diary and how we were given a business card we couldn’t read until they wanted us to be able to read it. And what about-”

“All right, all right!” Amelia held up her hand for him to stop. She chewed her bottom lip. “I don’t know. But Nigel, just think for a minute. If these … these people … or whatever they are … can do all these fantastic things, why are they hiring you to renovate the mill? It seems such a …” she waved her hand in circles as she searched for the right words, such a pedestrian thing to do.”

Nigel shook his head; explaining the impossible was extremely tiring. “I didn’t ask them. Perhaps you can.”

“I’m not going there, not after what you’ve told me!”

“I know how crazy it sounds, Amelia, believe me. I saw it all, and it still sounds utterly mad. That’s why you must come to Ham-Under-Lymfold with me tomorrow, maybe see that blasted film for yourself. And you can ask your questions and then we’ll be able to talk about it properly and decide what to do.”

He waited. Amelia sat with her arms folded, her legs crossed, her whole body emanating utter confusion. Then she unfurled herself and sat up straight, and Nigel knew he’d won – at least for now.

“OK,” she said, raising her chin in a challenging manner, “I’ll go, if it’ll put a stop to this nonsense. Can we eat now? I’m hungry.” She glared at him and stood up, then sat down again. “There’s something else, isn’t there? I can tell by your face.”

Nigel hesitated before telling her, then blurted, “I’ve been chosen to be their Witness.”

Amelia gave him a long look and Nigel saw her jaw tighten again as she said, her voice withering and cold, “Witness?”

“You know, like, um, like the Gospels. I’m to inform the world that Lucifer has returned to Heaven and Gabe has-”

But he was talking to an empty room.

Next episode: deadly sins, heavenly virtues

~~~~~

what i do

 

 

014 Orders From Above: Episode 14 ‘coup de foudre’

To read from the beginning of the story click here: Episode 1

coup de foudre

After making himself wait an agonizing three days it took an even more agonizing three attempts to dial the right number. After apologising twice to a gravel-voiced man who clearly did not like being telephoned by stuttering strangers, he punched the numbers out slowly and extra carefully then paced up and down while he waited for this vital call to be answered.

A woman, sounding rather breathless and distracted, said, “Yeff?”

His heart sank. He knew he’d dialled correctly this time… had she deliberately given him the wrong number? Had he read the signs wrong? It wouldn’t be the first time. “Er, sorry, I’m not sure I have the right number. Is Lorelei Dove there, please?”

“Yeff, thiff iff fshe,”

He didn’t remember her having a lisp.

There was a light clatter, then she spoke again, the lovely voice he remembered, “Yes, it’s me. I’m so sorry, I had a paintbrush in my mouth.”

Stephen, heartbeat accelerating, punched the air with joy and danced a little jig in his narrow hallway. It was her, it was really her!

“Are you there?”

“Yes, sorry. Hello! It’s Stephen George here. I hope I haven’t called at a bad time, are you doing a landscape painting or are you decorating?”

“It’s an animal portrait, actually, a sideline of mine to supplement the rather meagre teaching salary. I’m doing a gorgeous African rock python that’s eighteen feet long.”

“Must be a large canvas, then.”

Her warm laugh trickled into his ear. “She’s called Betty and I’m painting her all coiled up with her forked tongue coming straight out of the picture at you. It’s a retirement gift for one of the keepers at the zoo. So, Dr. George, any luck with my uncle’s coin?”

Stephen leaned against the wall because her voice was doing strange things to his insides. “Do call me Stephen. I’ve spoken to a coin expert about it, and he’s very excited. I… um… I hoped to be able to discuss things with you over dinner. I mean, are you free for dinner? Tonight?”

“Oh good golly yes!” laughed Lorelei, making Stephen go weak at the knees because she sounded so very keen to see him. Or maybe she was just excited about the coin?

“Great,” he said, “Will your uncle want to join us, do you think?” He hoped she could hear the reluctance in his voice at this proposal.

“Oh, I shouldn’t think so. I can report back to him.”

“Terrific! Do you know The White Lion in Monkton Ridge, opposite the monument?”

“Yes I know it, but I’ve never been inside.”

“It’s very nice, and they do excellent food. Shall I pick you up at 8?”

“Oh, are you sure? I’d be happy to meet you there.”

“I wouldn’t hear of it. Just tell me where to find you.”

She objected a little more, saying she didn’t want to take him out of his way, but his persistence won the argument. He scribbled down the directions she gave him.

“See you at 8, then, Stephen. Goodbye.”

Stephen put the phone down. She had sighed, definitely sighed, and he was sure it was with pleasure. Now, how could he occupy himself for the four hours in between now and the time he would, once again, be gazing at the heavenly Lorelei Dove?

He rushed upstairs, impatiently pulling off shirt, trousers and underwear as he went. He left them in a straggly line on the stairs and the landing, and dashed, naked, into the bathroom. A hot shower and a shave should use up some time.

Ten minutes later, still damp from the shower and dressed only in socks and tartan-patterned boxer shorts, Stephen started pulling clothes out of his wardrobe and flinging them on the bed. When he had an unsatisfactory heap of shirts and trousers, he started on his shoes, scattering them on the floor.

“I need help,” he said out loud.

He ran downstairs and keyed in a number on the phone. It was answered almost immediately, and he didn’t give the person at the other end a chance to even say hello.

“Stella! Stella, it’s me. Stephen. Help!”

Stella’s husband laughed, “An emergency, eh? Just a minute, I’ll call Stella.”

Stephen tapped his foot impatiently.

“Yes, Stephen dear, what can I do for you?” Stella said, amusement very evident in her voice.

“Stella, listen. I’ve got a date with Lorelei Dove. You remember? She came to the Centre with that coin? Of course you remember, you remember everything. You probably already know that I’m crazy about her! Did you notice her hair? Her eyes? The freckles across her perfect nose?” He ran out of breath and stopped.

“And?”

“And what?”

“Is that what you called to ask me? If I remember all her many attributes?”

“Uh? Oh, sorry, I’m all over the place. Stella, listen …”

“Stephen, dear, I am listening, and you are babbling. I’m delighted that you have a date with that lovely young woman. I suppose you don’t know what to wear, is that it?”

“Stella, you are amazing.”

“I know, dear, I know. Where are you going?”

“The White Lion.” He felt panic rising, “Gosh, Stella, is that a good place to take her? Should I be taking her to a swanky restaurant in Bath instead?”

“No, dear, I think the White Lion is a very good choice for a first date, it’s cosy and informal; the state you’re in you wouldn’t be able to handle all the cutlery in a posh place. Now then, is that pale blue striped shirt you bought last month clean and pressed? Good. Now how about the dark grey flannel trousers I picked out for you at Mason’s? Good. Wear those. Your black brogues, polished of course. Leather jacket. Don’t overdo the aftershave. OK? Well, have a wonderful time, and I look forward to hearing all about it tomorrow.”

Stephen heaved a sigh of relief and rushed upstairs to dress as instructed. He was buttoning his shirt when the phone rang again.

“Hello?” he said, out of breath from the dash back down the stairs.

“Stephen, dear, I forgot two things. First, your hair. Don’t forget to comb your hair, it can be rather wild.”

“Hair. OK, right. And the second thing?”

“Grey socks, Stephen. Not your cartoon ones. Lorelei needs to get to know you better before you start wearing those.”

“Gosh, Stella, you’re a witch and I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

In his room, he hopped on one leg as he tore off first one sock decorated with images of Tweety Pie and then the other, before frantically searching in his sock drawer for a clean pair of grey ones.

*

He found Lorelei’s delightful little cottage easily and she came outside as soon as his car drew up beneath the lamppost. He couldn’t remember what they talked about on the short drive, but it seemed like no time at all before they were settled at a table in front of the inglenook fireplace. Stephen, having consulted Lorelei for her preference, asked for a bottle of red wine to be brought over immediately so they could have a drink while they perused the menu. Now that they were seated opposite each other instead of side by side in his car, conversation seemed awkward. Stephen felt ridiculously tongue-tied, and it appeared that Lorelei felt the same.

“So,” said Lorelei, eventually, when the smalltalk had been exhausted, “what did your colleague, the coin expert say? I’ve been dying to know if it’s something special.”

Stephen gave her a rueful grin and held up his hands. “Confession time, I’m afraid, as I’ve brought you here under false pretences. Ambrose Alt, the expert I want to look at it, can’t come to the Centre so I’ve arranged to take the coin up to him next week. But I’m pretty sure you have got something special and I’ve emailed him a set of photographs and some detailed notes.” He swallowed a mouthful of wine for courage. “So, I can’t enlighten you at the moment, I’m afraid, but I did so want to see you again. I hope you’re not cross at the subterfuge?”

“Cross? Oh no,” breathed Lorelei, her gorgeous green eyes softening in a way that made him feel like he was melting inside, “I’m not at all cross.”

“Good, good.”

They gazed at each other.

Stephen was the first to blink, and he squeaked, “Have you decided what you’d like to eat?” He cleared his throat and said it again, melting even more at Lorelei’s warm laughter.

She chose a vegetable lasagne and rocket salad, and refused the bread when a basket of rolls was brought to the table.

“I’m sorry, I should have asked, are you a vegetarian? Will my eating steak be a problem for you?”

She laughed. “I don’t mind what you eat,” she said, “but yes, I am a vegetarian. I’d be vegan, only I like cheese and eggs too much. And, of course,” she held up her glass of wine, “some food and wines you might think are vegetarian actually aren’t and I’m too lazy to check the labels, so I guess I’m not a committed veggie at all.”

When their food arrived, Stephen immediately tucked in, and was worried when Lorelei took just a few bites then pushed her lasagne round the plate.

“Isn’t it any good?”

“It’s delicious. It’s just that I don’t have much of an appetite. My mother says I eat like a bird, and Uncle Hartley says that at least I’m a cheap date.” She blushed at that and apologised.

“I think you’re a wonderful date, Lorelei, and I’d buy you the most expensive item on the menu, should you want it. Except I think that might be lobster, and you wouldn’t want that.”

“I certainly wouldn’t!” She shuddered, “Boiling the poor thing alive.” She placed her knife and fork on her plate and took a sip of wine.

“Ah. Well, I shall remember never to order lobster.”

“Thank you,” Lorelei laughed, “Does that mean we’ll be having more dinners together?”

Stephen grinned happily and clinked his glass to hers, “Oh, I do hope so!”

By the time Stephen had driven Lorelei home, he was deeply, irrevocably in love, and the signals he had received from Lorelei gave him cause to think that she felt something for him too. When he escorted her to her door, she had reached up on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek. He’d so badly wanted to crush her to his chest and kiss her lips, but had forced himself to settle for a promise that she would have dinner with him again very soon.

An hour later, in his own bed, he replayed every minute of the evening. She was perfect in every way. Her name. Her voice. Her figure. The colour of her hair. The scent she wore. He loved her company, the way their conversation moved easily from subject to subject. He wondered if he could wait another three days to call her.

No. He definitely couldn’t wait that long.

“Hello?” her voice was husky.

“It’s me.”

“Hello me.”

“I couldn’t wait to hear your voice again.”

“It’s lovely to hear your voice again.”

“Lorelei?”

“Mmm?”

“Do you believe in love at first sight?”

She laughed, a sound that tricked down the phone wires and into his ear like warm honey. “Coup de foudre? As a matter of fact, I do.”

“Lorelei, can I see you again?”

“Oh yes. Yes, please!”

“I’ll call you. Very soon. Good night, Lorelei. Sweet dreams.”

With the buzzing phone clutched to his chest, Stephen fell back against the pillows, heart racing. He didn’t recognise himself. He’d never, ever felt like this before, and he’d never, ever done anything like this before. But then, he’d never met anyone like Lorelei before.

As he drifted off to sleep he wondered if calling before breakfast tomorrow would be too soon.

Next episode: ‘It’s so hard to explain, Amelia’

~~~~~

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