021 Orders From Above: Episode 21 ‘satan’s whiskers, anyone?’

to read from the beginning click here: 001 Orders From Above: Episode 1 ‘discovery’

satan's whiskers

By 8 o’clock Friday evening, Nigel had had enough of going over the building plans for the mill and decided he’d earned himself a pint. With each step down the staircase from his room, the noise from the bar grew louder and louder. Bracing himself, he opened the door and walked into Cynthia’s first Theme Night.

Freddie Fordingbridge, in his debut as barman, was at the far end of the bar, rooting through a large ceramic bowl piled high with exotic fruits. Debbie, perched on a bar stool, watched his every move with rapt attention.

Skinny Freddie, whose skin still showed the signs of the acne that had plagued him since he entered his teens, had been dressed by Cynthia in a frilled red shirt, unbuttoned to show a white, hairless chest and an over-large gold medallion on a chain. The shirt was tucked into tight, shiny black trousers with a high waistband. Seeing this ensemble, Nigel couldn’t help thinking that Freddie’s legs resembled two strings of liquorice. He had to fight to control his facial muscles as Freddie greeted him.

“Hello Freddie! What’s with the fancy gear then?”

“Um, well, it’s cocktail night, Mr Nigel. What sort would you like?”

Nigel had asked everyone to call him by his first name, but young Freddie always addressed adults by putting the Mister, Missus or Miss in front of their names to be polite and respectful, as his parents had brought him up to be. Nigel really wanted that pint of real ale, so replied, “I don’t know anything about cocktails, Freddie.”

“Gosh, neither did I, Mr Nigel! It’s called mixology, you know, and Miss Cynthia gave me books about it and cocktail recipes, and I read them, and memorised them, and Miss Cynthia got loads of bottles of stuff, and now I can make anything.”

“You memorised them? But there must be hundreds of cocktails, surely?”

Debbie swivelled to face Nigel and gushed, “Oh yes there are simply hundreds of cocktails with all sorts of weird names and ingredients like vermouth and schnapps and sambuca and creme de cassis but Freddie only has to read things once and he remembers everything cos he’s got a photographic memory isn’t that right Freddie and he’s promised to invent one just for me.”

Nigel marvelled as he always did at Debbie’s ability to speak without punctuation. Freddie blushed and muttered that he was trying to think of a suitable name.

“How about ‘Debbie’s Delight’?” laughed Nigel, making Freddie’s blush flare to a painful crimson that could toast marshmallows. “I’ll have my usual pint, please, Freddie.”

“But you won’t try something a little different, just this once? Tell you what, I know you like gin, so how about a Singapore Sling? Or a Blue Lady? Much nicer names, I think than what Mr Nick over there is drinking.”

Feeling the skin on the back of neck crawl, Nigel turned and scanned the crowded room to locate the angels. He hadn’t known they’d be in the pub tonight, and didn’t have a particularly good feeling about it. “What is it?” he asked Freddie.

“Exorcist! Tequila, blue curacao, lime juice. Mr. Nick tried a Rob Roy and a Bloody Mary, but he says he says the Exorcist is the best so far.”

“I bet he does. And what is the other Mr De Angelo drinking, Freddie?”

“Um, well Mr Gabe, he’s got a Pina Colada now, but he’s had a mint julep, a Manhattan and a tequila sunrise, which he says he likes especially because they’re pretty. They’re my best customers so far, I must say. Everyone else just wants their usual, like you. Are you sure you won’t just try something?”

Debbie held up her large glass, half-full with something resembling custard. Sticking out of it was a small green and yellow paper umbrella. “I’ve got a Snowball it’s got lemonade in it and a squeeze of lime juice and it’s really nice and fizzy and sweet why don’t you try one?” She removed the umbrella to show Nigel the maraschino cherry skewered on it. “This is to stir it with but I like the way they taste and I keep eating them so Freddie has to keep giving me more.” The plump red cherry disappeared into her mouth and Nigel wondered if she realised how provocative it was. It seemed lost on Freddie, though, whose hopeful eyes were still fixed on Nigel, awaiting his order.

Nigel tapped the beer pump, making Freddie sigh in submission as he dutifully pulled a pint exactly to the marker on the tall glass and set it in front of Nigel. He took a welcome sip, then asked Freddie what time the De Angelos had come in.

“Oh, about 6 o’clock. Said they’d noticed the blackboard out front announcing our first Theme Night.”

“And they’ve had, what, four cocktails each in the space of two hours?”

Freddie scratched his head. “Well, Mr Gabe has had five, actually.”

Nigel shook his head, and observed that the locals, though chatting animatedly amongst themselves, kept throwing surreptitious glances at the brothers. “It’s certainly packed in here tonight, Cynthia must be delighted.”

“Well, yes, Mr Nigel, I suppose she is. It was quiet to start with, but when the Misters De Angelos arrived, Miss Cynthia said that everyone was always interested in what they did, so she put the word out that they were here, and, well, you know, enjoying the cocktails, and people came flocking in.” He leaned on the bar, looking for all the world like a seasoned barman, except for his youth and frilly shirt, and said, “Mr Gabe told me something interesting. Did you know that the older the whisky is, the more it will evaporate in the cask, and the evaporated stuff is called ‘the angels’ share’? Mr Gabe says it tastes wonderful, though I’m not sure how you taste evaporation.”

Agreeing with Freddie’s astute observation, Nigel paid for his drink, and walked over to join Gabe and Nick at their table. They were draining the last drops of their cocktails and discussing what to try next.

“Hey, Nigel, my man!” Slurring his words, Nick greeted Nigel with a hearty slap on the back, almost knocking him to the floor. “We’re just about to have another li’l ol’ drinkie. What’ll y’have?”

Nigel wouldn’t have believed it, but it seemed the evidence was before him: angels could get drunk! He indicated his glass of beer and declined Nick’s offer.

“Oh, tame, tame,” sneered Nick.

Gabe, his eyes bloodshot and unfocused, tapped Nick’s arm to get his attention, and slurred, “Never mind him, brother dear. He can have his borin’ old beer! What d’you wanna try next, eh?”

Nick furrowed his dark brows in concentration, ignoring the fact that all eyes in the bar were fixed upon him, and all ears attentively listening to hear what he would choose to drink next. Wow, these De Angelos could knock back the booze!

“I’ll have a, er, um, what d’yer call it, um…” Nick clumsily clicked his fingers, trying to remember.

“Oh, get on with it,” drawled Gabe, leaning into Nigel , rolling his eyes and tutting with a ‘he’s an idiot’ expression.

Nick’s face cleared and he rose a couple of inches of his seat as he yelled, “SATAN’S WHISKERS!”

Everyone jumped at the volume of Nick’s voice, then all eyes swivelled to Freddie.

“The man wants a Satan’s Whiskers, Freddie, can you do that one without cribbing from the book?” challenged Arnold Capsby.

Freddie raised his eyes to the ceiling and tapped his forefinger on his cheek in concentration. “Hmm, Satan’s Whiskers, well now… Oh yes, I’ve got it!”

He grabbed the cocktail shaker and called off the ingredients as he added them one by one: gin, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth, Grand Marnier, orange juice and… three dashes of orange bitters. He added ice cubes and the silver shaker rattled as Freddie performed a manic dance, the way he imagined a professional cocktail maker would. In one deft movement, he whipped off the top of the shaker, placed the cocktail sieve in its place, whisked a cocktail glass off the shelf, and poured the mixture from a great height, like a true showman. He selected a paper umbrella but decided against it, finishing his creation instead with a thin, twirled slice of orange peel decoratively draped over the rim of the glass. He held it up, and sang ‘tah-daah’, as if expecting everyone to burst into applause.

But his effort was met with silence as the locals stared at the orange-coloured concoction before they turned back to the brothers. Gabe lurched up from the table and staggered to the bar.

“Ooh, tha’ smells nice,” he said, “Orangey-ee. Bu’ I wan’ somethin’ diff’r’nt. Wha’ d’you suggest, young Freddie?”

“How about a Bentley, Mr Gabe, sir?”

“Hmm. Car. Big thing. Posh,” said Gabe, “Too ‘xpensive for the likes of you, young Fr, Fre, Fr’ddie, m’lad!”

“I meant a Bentley cocktail, Mr Gabe, sir.”

“Ah, cockt’l, tha’s more like it. What colour is’t?”

“Um, it’s Calvados and Dubonnet, so it’s pinkish.”

“Pink!” Gabe clapped his hands in delight, and Freddie got to work again with his shaker.

The locals and Nigel, who by now had come up to the bar because he had serious doubts that Gabe could carry the two cocktails without significant spillage, once again marvelled at Freddie’s fine performance. Nigel picked up the full glasses and returned to the table, followed by a weaving, giggling, hiccupping Gabe.

Once they’d sat down, the brothers immediately picked up and clinked their glasses, and each took a delicate sip of their cocktail, eyes closed to better savour the taste. Gabe held the brew in his mouth, pursing his lips and swishing it around as if he were at a wine tasting. Nigel half expected him to spit it out, but of course he swallowed it. He pronounced it delicious and smiled a beatific smile that reached from ear to ear.

Nick gargled his drink as if it was a mouthwash before swallowing it, and it almost choked him. But he recovered, blinked his streaming eyes in ecstasy, then with them open wide, slapped the table with his free hand, and gasped, “Oh, you beauty!” before taking another, deeper drink.

The spectators were spellbound.

Reverend Hartley Cordwell chose this moment to enter The Blacksmith’s Anvil for his customary half pint of bitter. He stopped in the doorway, perplexed to see so many of his flock gathered there. Capsby was the first to sidle up to Hartley and put him in the picture.

“He’s had what cocktails?” he said incredulously.

Capsby relished telling the vicar again that Nick De Angelo had been enjoying drinks by the name of Exorcist and Satan’s Whiskers.

“Good Lord,” said Hartley, gripping more tightly the pocket Bible he always carried in his jacket.

Freddie called out “Good evening, Reverend Cordwell, sir,” and placed his half pint on the bar, not holding any hope that the vicar would be so adventurous as to order an exotic drink.

Nigel wondered if he should invite the vicar to join them, as he’d spent time with him that afternoon, but couldn’t help a little shiver at the irony – not to say risk – of inviting the parish vicar to sup with Lucifer! If only Hartley knew, thought Nigel, smiling weakly as he caught the vicar’s eye, just who he was standing a mere few feet away from.

At that point Gabe suddenly had a serious attack of hiccups, and Nigel decided it was time to sort them out. “Gentlemen,” he said quietly, “is this wise? I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but you don’t seem to be used to alcohol.”

“Oh, tush,” said Gabe, “Of course we’re us’d to alco’l. Nick has the finest cellar in, in, in …”

“The cosmos!” finished Nick, sticking his chest out with pride.

“Yup, s’right, you better believe it, s’best cellar in the cosm’s.”

“And we can certainly handle these,” said Nick belligerently, “We’re angels, ain’t we?”

“Shh,” hissed Nigel, “Keep your voices down, you don’t want anyone to hear you, do you?” He indicated the other people, who fortunately were now losing interest and were conversing happily with each other over pints, half pints and only one or two strangely coloured drinks with paper umbrellas. Only the gold-flecked eyes of Stanley’s dog Digby continued to regard them with his steady, intelligent gaze.

“We don’t have to shhhhhhhh,” said Gabe, spraying spittle onto Nigel’s sleeve as he swept the expanse of the bar with his arm. “’s’no probl’m, we c’n make ’em deaf if we want to!”

“Even better,” said Nick maliciously, “We can make ’em freeze.” He snapped his fingers and the pub suddenly fell utterly silent.

Everyone but the De Angelo brothers and Nigel went still. Stock-still. Glen Perkins had a glass halfway to his lips. Freddie was in the middle of putting an olive into a martini glass. Debbie’s mouth, rimmed with pink lipstick, was open, poised to receive yet another maraschino cherry. Stanley was scratching himself where he shouldn’t and Digby resembled a poor example of taxidermy.

“What have you done?” Nigel squeaked, surveying the strange and, in some cases, embarrassing postures of all the customers.

Nick clicked his fingers again, and everyone moved as if nothing had happened. His narrowed eyes hard and graphite grey, there was no trace of a slur when he hissed, “Just to remind you, Nigel, that we are capable of doing many things if we so choose.”

Gabe hiccupped.

Nick swallowed the rest of his cocktail in one go, went white, then pink, then white again before pitching forward, striking the dimpled, copper-topped table with a hard wallop. His arms dangled to the floor, and it was plain to see that Nick, a.k.a the Devil, was out for the count.

next episode coming soon


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020 Orders From Above: Episode 20 ‘the master craftsman’

To read from the beginning click here: Episode 1

master craftsman.jpg

It was yet again time to visit Ham-Under-Lymfold and Nigel set off with his usual reluctance. Since that horrible meeting about Sins and Virtues, he particularly dreaded an encounter with Lorelei Dove in case the angels had succeeded in with their horrible plan.

But he had to keep a regular check on what was happening at the mill. When the angels had demanded the work be done to ridiculous deadlines, Nigel had retorted that if anyone in the building trade could start within days of asking it could only be because they were cowboys. This had been met with one of Nick’s insufferable grins, and sure enough, as Nigel had found telephone numbers and made calls from his secret behind-the-wall space in his London office, everybody but everybody had said they were available to start on the date he specified. And for very reasonable rates too. Nigel hadn’t missed how surprised they sounded by their own promises.

The old stone bridge had been widened and strengthened to make it suitable for vehicles as well as people on foot, and Nigel drove across and parked to the right of the mill, next to a white van. He could see on the dashboard two empty plastic cups stained with strong, orange-coloured tea, and a newspaper, carelessly folded to the sports pages.

Scaffolding surrounded the building, men in hard hats milled around, and a large skip was fast filling up. The clear, cold air rang with the sounds of hammering, sawing, drilling, whistling, occasional swearing and a commercial radio station that bellowed out appallingly bad local adverts after every third song.

Nigel put on his own hard hat and high-vis yellow jacket and looked up with approval at the reclaimed slate tiles that covered the roof and then strolled inside, trying not to remember the day he had stepped through the portal to the other, immaculate interior that Nick and Gabe inhabited.

He had a good look around and spoke to some of the builders, satisfied to find that all was going to plan and the work was being done to an extremely high standard. It was all going so well, in fact, he felt confident that he could get some more tradesmen lined up so there would be no hiatus in the mill’s progress.

Needing a quiet place to consult the plans and make some notes, he decided to leave his car and take a walk to the cafe.

Gwen Perkins carried over Nigel’s order of coffee and chocolate cake. On the plate was a generous slice of a rich, dark sponge, its top smothered with deep swirls of chocolate frosting. “A new recipe Glen came up with. He’s trying to come up with a name for it,” Gwen said, “It’s got chilli in it, would you believe, but I promise you, it’s absolutely divine.” She asked him if Amelia was well and if she’d be visiting the village again soon, and then, indicating his laptop and the papers he’d spread on the table, said she’d leave him in peace.

Nigel forked in a generous mouthful of the cake and almost swooned at how wonderful and delicious it tasted. He had an idea and called out to Mrs. Perkins: “Why don’t you have a little competition for someone to find a name for it?”

“What a wonderful idea! We could get a few leaflets printed and put a box here on the counter for customers to post their suggestions.”

“And maybe the prize could be a whole cake to take home?”

“Oh, Nigel, thank you! And I’ll ask Debbie to go and talk to Freddie about producing a poster or two to put in the window here and in the pub. He’s very good with computers.” Gwen looked over her shoulder to check no-one else was in earshot, then lowering her voice, confided with a wink:  “Between you and me, I think my Debbie is a bit sweet on him.”

As she bustled off to put the suggestion to Glen, Nigel switched on his laptop and called up the section dealing with the restaurant’s décor. Amelia had adored putting it all together, everything from the plaster finishes, the colour schemes, tables and chairs, soft furnishings, lighting, flooring, et cetera. The only thing she had not had any say in was the front decoration of the bar, for this was to be three panels of hand-carved ebony, designed by Nick.

Nick had provided Nigel with several detailed drawings, and he and Amelia had agreed that it was a fantastic design. Very intricate, very delicate, it took a lot of concentration, and not a little insider knowledge, to see that its four sections were actually a metaphorical depiction of The Fall, as it had been shown to Nigel on that extraordinary film. The far left section showed a host of winged and robed angels surrounded by sunbeams. The next section showed Gabriel and Lucifer standing side by side, clutching each other’s sleeve, staring down into a smoking pit. The third part was mostly a complicated pattern of loops and whorls, but, in its centre, there was a large disc, engraved with flowers. The far right section was of flames and writhing human figures being tormented by behorned imps with pitchforks.

It reminded him of those puzzles that have to be looked at in a cross-eyed way in order to see a black and white 3-D picture emerge from a mass of coloured dots, and Nigel knew that it would only take a couple of people to work out the carving and it would quickly become a major talking point which would, very probably, bring in more people who wanted to see it for themselves.

Only Uri was good enough to create such a thing, and Nigel was looking forward to seeing him to deliver the drawings as soon as he’d finished the wonderful cake. In fact, it was so wonderful he contemplated having a second slice, but his stomach was full and the teapot was empty, so he reluctantly got up to leave. As he paid Gwen Perkins she said, “We’d like to thank you for your idea, so next time Amelia is with you please come and have tea and cake on the house.”

It was drizzling with rain by the time he arrived at the old grey vicarage. Uri’s tiny cottage could only be reached through a side gate into the garden, but this was locked so Nigel knocked on the vicarage door. Hartley, wiping his hands on a striped tea towel, beamed a very warm welcome when he saw Nigel on his doorstep.

“You’re back with us, then? How are you?”

“I’m very well, thank you. Can you tell me how I can get to Uri’s place, please? The gate is locked.”

Hartley stepped away from the door and bid Nigel to come in out of the increasing rain. “Ah, well now, Uri, yes, actually he’s in the garden, tackling the rhododendrons which have gone rather wild, but Heaven knows why he wants to be out in this weather. Why don’t you go through to the kitchen and I’ll call him in. Would you like some tea?”

“Er, thank you, but I don’t want to put you to any trouble. I’ll just go and find Uri, if you’ll point the way?”

Hartley’s blue eyes twinkled. “Heavens, there’s no need for that! It’s time he had a break and you can talk to him here, in the warm and dry.” He lowered his voice, “I happen to know that Uri does not bother with heating, hardly comfortable for a chat. No, much better in here, beside my Aga.”

Nigel followed the vicar across the black and white tiled floor of the gloomy, high-ceilinged entrance hall to a very large kitchen that hadn’t been updated since about 1958. There were no fitted units, just a miscellany of cupboards and drawers and a big, very scratched pine table. The only modern thing in there, looking very conspicuous, was a huge, American-style double-door fridge. The lino on the floor was cracked and worn right through in places, it’s original sky-blue only visible in one or two spots under the table. The porcelain sink had a line of rust running down from the cold tap, and an old boiler fixed to the wall spat hot water through a long, lime-covered spout. But it was homely and the Aga threw out a welcome warmth.

Hartley gestured to him to take a chair, saying, “I think you know my niece, Lorelei? And this is her fiancé, Dr. Stephen George. I’ll just go and give Uri a call, then I’ll make a fresh pot of tea.”

Startled at coming into contact with Lorelei unprepared and so soon, Nigel took a moment to recover his wits and say hello; she didn’t look any different and he dared to hope that the angels had decided to leave her alone after all.

Hartley, having yelled at the top of his lungs to Uri, who was working somewhere deep in the bushes that lined the long garden, asked Nigel, “Have you heard about the coin?”

“The one found in the graveyard? No, I haven’t heard anything.”

“Well, it’s fantastic news! Stephen here took it to a coin expert, and it turns out be rare and worth quite a lot of money.”

“More than quite a lot, Hartley,” said Stephen, “Several thousand is the estimate.”

“Really?” said Nigel, “That’s fantastic. Does the money come to you or to the diocese?”

“Oh, to the diocese I should think, but the village church will get a large chunk of it as the coin was found here. There’s an auction fee, of course, but whatever we get it will be very welcome. The coin is going be sold in London, but not for a month or so as it’s still being examined by various other experts. Stephen has kindly offered to take us to the sale rooms and watch it go under the hammer.”

Nigel noticed that Lorelei never took her eyes from her fiancé, and Stephen George clasped her hand as if their palms were super-glued together. It was delightful to see two people so very much in love.

The handyman arrived at the door and removed his damp cloth cap, before unlacing and removing his muddy boots.

“Come on in, my good fellow, sit down with Lorelei and Stephen and get yourself warm. Here’s Mr. Hellion-Rees to see you.” As he talked, Hartley put a huge blackened kettle onto the Aga and dropped teabags into a battered metal teapot.

Uri didn’t take Nigel’s proffered hand, but held both of his up to show that they were very dirty and he needed to wash them. He scrubbed them well in the kitchen sink, and dried them on a small pink towel. Nigel surreptitiously watched him, wondering what the others would think if they were ever to discover Uri’s true identity. And Gabe’s and Nick’s, of course.

There was a smaller table to the left of the Aga, with a wheelback chair on one side and a three-legged stool on the other. On the table a game of chess was in progress. Uri studied the board as he dried his hands, then moved one of the pieces.

“Oh, Uri, not the bishop, I hoped you wouldn’t spot that!” cried Hartley, bumbling around with cups and saucers. He tipped an assortment of biscuits from a large tin onto a plate, then said to Nigel, “After tea you can use my office, if you’d like to talk in private.”

“Oh no,” protested Nigel, “that’s very kind of you, but I’m only here to ask Uri if he’ll do a piece of work for the mill, a carving designed by Nick De Angelo for the bar. I’ve brought the drawings.”

“Oh, how exciting!” said the vicar, “Have you seen everything Uri’s made since he’s been here? Bird tables, fruit bowls, walking sticks, even a garden bench, and they’re all magnificent.”

Uri gave a gracious bow of his head at the compliment. “Thank you, Hartley.” He took the drawings Nigel handed him, pulling off the elastic band holding them in a tight roll.

“Shall we make space on the table?” asked Lorelei, the first time she’d spoken since Nigel’s arrival, apart from saying hello.

Nigel glanced at her. Beside her, Stephen was helping himself to the chocolate-covered biscuits, but Lorelei didn’t so much as look at them. Surely a good sign that she hadn’t been blighted with Gluttony, Nigel thought.

Uri used their mugs to keep the corners from curling up, and they all studied the drawing.

“It’s a very intricate pattern,” observed Stephen, “and, looking at the measurements, rather big! That’ll take some doing, I should think?”

Uri suddenly laughed, a deep belly laugh that resounded off the kitchen walls. “It’s not just a pattern! Can’t any of you see what it is?”

Hartley, Lorelei and Stephen all dipped their heads for a closer inspection. After a couple of minutes of deep silence, Hartley straightened up and admitted, “Um, I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Each panel tells part of one  well-known story,” answered Uri, “And right up your street, I should say, Hartley!”

Nigel, remembering how long it had taken him to see it, watched the other three and wondered which of them would be first to recognise what the design depicted. He smiled to himself as they traced the drawings with their figures and muttered amongst themselves.

Suddenly Hartley yelped with excitement and slapped his hand on the table, making the mugs jump. “Good heavens!” he exclaimed, “You don’t see it at first, but it’s the Fall of Lucifer, isn’t it! My word, this is beautiful, just beautiful.”

Now the other two could see it as well and Lorelei exclaimed, “It takes you ages to see it, but once you do it’s so clear. That’s so clever!”

Uri drained his mug and went to the Aga to have another fill of the strong tea from the pot. Nigel could sense he was deep in thought and wondered what he thought of Nick’s design. Would he want to make it?

Hartley offered Nigel the plate of biscuits and said, “So this is for the restaurant in the mill? Oh, I’m so glad the De Angelos decided to come here, they’ve sparked new life into the place. Gabe, now, he’s a really nice chap, very pleasant indeed. He wanted to know about my ministries, you know, where I was before coming here, the history of the church, things like that, and we talked about some of the Bible stories. He’s very knowledgeable about all religions, in fact. Just like you, Uri.”

Uri merely inclined his head again in acknowledgement.

Hartley carried on, “I’m not so sure about the other one, though, that Nick. I’m a Christian man, of course, and I know I shouldn’t judge, but there’s something about him…” He trailed off, his cheeks tinged pink with embarrassment, and hurriedly turned away to pour out more biscuits.

Nigel wondered what Uri’s expression was behind his blue-lensed glasses, but his face was inscrutable as he took another gingernut and dipped it in his tea. When he’d swallowed the biscuit, he indicated the drawing and said to Nigel, “I’ll need some new tools for such delicate work.”

“That’s no problem, just tell me what you need.”

“And I like to keep myself to myself when I’m working, mind. My workshop’s private.”

Hartley said, “No-one ever disturbs you over there anyway, do they Uri?”

“True, Hartley, true. Forget I said anything.” Uri took a lump of wood and a small knife from his pocket. Within minutes, the lump had been transformed to a ballerina en pointe, her pretty head tilted to one side, her hands held delicately beneath her chin, her eyes closed in the ecstasy of the dance.

“Gosh, that’s really beautiful,” Nigel said, “my youngest niece dreams of being a ballet dancer and insists on wearing her tutu absolutely everywhere.”

“Then please take it and give it to her,” said Uri.

“Oh no, really, I didn’t mean …”

“Please, I’d be glad for your niece to have it if it will give pleasure to her.”

Nigel stammered a thank you and placed the figurine on the table so he wouldn’t forget to take it when he left. “So, I can’t think of anything else at the moment, Uri. We’ll just need to get you the tools you need, and the wood. Nick suggested ebony.”

Uri nodded, “That’d be right. I know where to get quality stuff.” He rolled up the drawings and replaced the elastic band. “I’ll leave these here for now, Hartley, if you don’t mind, and collect them when I’ve finished in the garden.”

“My dear chap, it’s absolutely pouring out there now. Why don’t you call it a day?”

“Thank you, but I’ll not stop yet. A bit of rain never did me any harm. Besides, I don’t think it’ll last.”

And as he said it, the rain stopped and a glorious rainbow arced across the sky outside the kitchen window.

Once Uri had gone, the vicar offered Nigel more tea, but Nigel said he had to be on his way. He put on his jacket and picked up the ballerina.

Hartley said, “That is an amazing little carving, isn’t it? He did one for Lorelei of a dove, for her name, of course, and it’s absolutely wonderful. I’m delighted that you’ve asked him to do The Fall of Lucifer for the restaurant, he’ll do an excellent job.”

Nigel said his goodbyes, noticing for the first time the unusual ring with a purple stone on Lorelei’s left hand. Maybe because she and Stephen George had got engaged so recently, the angels had not tried to do anything to her. Maybe they’d picked on someone else. But that thought didn’t cheer him up, not really, because it meant some other very nice person was about to have their world turned upside down. If it hadn’t been turned upside down already.

On the doorstep, he pulled up his collar and prepared to dash through the rain, but Uri was waiting for him.

“Well done, Nigel,” he said, “It wouldn’t have done for the vicar to realise that we know each other so well.”

“So you’ll start on the carving soon?”

Uri grinned, “Oh yes, and with pleasure. I’m looking forward to it.”

“Then you’d better give me a list of tools – or, I suppose it would it be better for you to go and get what you need?”

Uri laughed. “I’m an angel, Nigel, I already have everything I need. I was just pretending for Hartley’s benefit.”

“Ah, yes,” said Nigel, “speaking of Hartley, do you know if anything has been done to Lorelei? I didn’t see any sign of gluttony in there, and I was rather hoping…”

Uri laid a hand on Nigel’s shoulder, “I know what you were hoping, but I’m afraid she’s still firmly in their sights. Gabe has had a go at leading her into temptation, but failed. He’s just biding his time to have another go, but Nick is getting impatient. He hasn’t had any luck with Violet, either.” He removed his glasses and fixed Nigel with his clear grey eyes. “It will be done, Nigel, because it must be done.”

Next episode: 021 Orders From Above: Episode 21 ‘satan’s whiskers, anyone?’


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019 Orders From Above: Episode 19 ‘the baker gets timely advice and a new recipe’

To read from the beginning click here: Episode 1

secret recipe.jpg

Gabe was not happy to be heading for the bakery at 4.30 in the morning, but Nick, who’d  finally stopped sulking after the failed temptations of Violet Cattermole and Lorelei Dove, was determined that they would go together.

“Come on, bro,” Nick cajoled.  “It’ll be interesting!”

“The only thing that interests me about baking is eating the result. How do you know that he starts so early anyway?”

“It’s all in Nigel’s profiles, which you would know if you bothered to read them. Perkins wakes very early without the aid of an alarm clock and leaves his warm double bed without waking his wife, who doesn’t rise until four hours later. He tiptoes downstairs in his dressing gown, and into the kitchen, where the only sound is a loudly ticking clock. Laid out for him by Gwen the night before are his work clothes, a large, clean white apron, and a mug with a spoonful of instant coffee and two spoonfuls of sugar in it. Then he gets dressed while the-”

Gabe butted in, “Are you really telling me that Nigel’s reports go into such fine detail?”

“Well, he hasn’t done a bad job, but, no, he could hardly know all the really intimate details. So I’ve checked them out for myself.”

“You mean you’ve been spying?”

Nick tutted at that but ignored the question and carried on speaking. “Where was I? Oh yes. Perkins gets dressed while the kettle boils, and carries his mug of tea through to the bakery ready to start on the dot of 5 o’clock. By the time the ovens have reached the correct temperature, the tea is drunk and the ingredients for the various batches of bread and rolls, some of which have been left to rise overnight, are spread about the worktops, as well as whatever he needs for that day’s cakes.”

“That’s all very fine, but as I’ve already said, as much as I love bread and cakes – particularly cakes – I have no wish to stand in a hot kitchen watching them get made. And what will Glen Perkins think, us just turning up unannounced and interrupting his work?”

“He won’t mind, Gabe. And if he does, it’ll be very easy to make him unmind.”

“I still can’t see why you’re so keen to do this and why you have to drag me along.”

Ignoring Gabe’s remark again, Nick chattily passed on more information about the baker, “Our man Perkins used to sell high-spec kitchen equipment all over Europe. He and Gwen had a very fine house in Richmond, where Debbie was born. He made good money because he was good at his job, but when the company hit hard times, he took voluntary redundancy and used the money and his savings to return to the place of his and Gwen’s birth and buy this little place. He’d had a dream of having his own bakery ever since his mother had shown him how to make sourdough bread when he was eight or thereabouts.”

“Really?” said Gabe, brightening up as he loved to hear nice stories about people and, anyway, he couldn’t hold a bad mood for long.

“Yes. And his wife, the magnificent Gwen, had been more than happy to move back to the village as well, thinking it would be a better place to raise their delightful young daughter. Ah, here we are.” Nick peered through the darkened window of the bakery. “There’s light at the back, let’s go round.”

They went down a narrow alley and through the wooden gate that led into the Perkins’ tiny garden. The gate creaked on its hinges and Nick cursed as a big ginger tomcat yowled as it darted between his legs. The back door opened a crack, spilling light onto the dark lawn, and Glen called out, “Is someone there?”

Nick replied, “Good morning, Mr Perkins. I hope you don’t mind me calling round, but you did say that I could watch you bake if I could ever get myself up in time. Well, this morning I awoke particularly early and I thought, aha, today is the day to take Mr. Perkins up on his word, and my brother decided to come along too!”

Gabe could see that Glen Perkins was struggling to remember promising any such thing to anyone, but he stood back to allow them both into his kitchen.

Nick stepped over the threshold ahead of Gabe, and rubbing his hands in anticipation, said, “I’m really excited about this, you know!”

Glen watched in bewildered silence as Nick walked over to where the ingredients and tins were laid out, studying them for a bit and then turning to the two large ovens, which were working themselves up to temperature. Gabe heard a strangled cry come from Glen’s throat when Nick opened the door to one of the ovens, and stuck his head right in.

“Fascinating!” echoed back at them, then Nick withdrew his head, closed the oven door and turned to Glen, his beaming face scarlet from the intense heat, and trilled, “Let’s get started then, shall we?”

Glen Perkins merely nodded, cleared his throat, and then, like a man in a trance, launched into an explanation of what he was about to do. “It gets pretty messy in here, what with the flour getting everywhere, so may I suggest you wear an apron? You certainly don’t want flour or dough on your smart clothes, do you?”

He opened a small cupboard by the door that led into the café and took out two freshly laundered aprons.

Nick, more delighted than Gabe had seen him in a long time, shrugged off his leather jacket, hung it on a hook on the door, and donned the apron; Gabe more slowly followed suit. As Glen Perkins was more than twice the size of him and his brother, the aprons should have wrapped round them twice with room still to spare, but once he and Nick had tied theirs round their waists with neat bows, they seemed to have readjusted themselves to a perfect fit.

Gabe stood beside Nick and they watched in absorbed concentration as Glen worked with the risen dough, knocking and shaping loaves and rolls before putting them into tins and onto baking sheets. Some were wholemeal, some brown, some white, but all quite plain.

Nick broke the silence. “Have you ever thought of making something a little, um, more interesting?” he asked, once all the trays and tins had been slid into the ovens.

Glen set about cleaning the work surface of flour and sticky bits of dough so he could start on the cakes. “No, Mr. De Angelo, sadly there’s no call here for exotic breads. The villagers like their loaves and rolls plain; they wouldn’t buy bread with herbs and seeds in it.”

“Are you sure about that?”

Clearly a little irritated by Nick’s questioning of his expertise, Glen banged his bowls and utensils into the sink with too heavy a hand causing one to cracked and fall apart in two pieces. Glen said a very rude word before exclaiming, “That was my favourite mixing bowl. What a nuisance.”

“Oh, I’m sure it can be fixed,” cried Gabe. “Here, give the pieces to me. I promise you I’ll bring it back good as new.”

Behind Glen’s back, Nick rolled his eyes, then went on the attack again. “Well, now, Glen, I wonder if you’re right about the villagers not wanting fancy breads? I happen to know that Mrs. Capsby buys sundried tomato and green olive ciabatta from the bakery in Monkton Combe every Saturday, and Mrs. Fordingbridge buys cinnamon rolls there because Freddie loves them. The Reverend Hartley Cordwell is very fond of their walnut bread, so, you see…..”

Glen, paying attention now, handed the pieces of his mixing bowl to Gabe, and faced Nick, who casually informed him, “I also happen to know that that very bakery is closing down soon as the owners are retiring to the coast. The new buyers are going to turn it into a gift shop – which will fill the residents of Monkton Combe and Ham-Under-Lymfold and many other villages with despair. Think about it – where will Olive get her olive ciabatta and Freddie his sweet rolls then, hmm? Must the good vicar deliver his sermons without being fortified by walnut bread? Why make them go all the way into the city when they could get want they want right here?”

“Well, I-”

It slowly dawned on Gabe that Nick had just performed a Very Good Deed for Glen Perkins of his own volition, and that’s why he’d wanted Gabe there, to be a witness to it. He beamed at Nick to show his approval, and said to Glen, “My brother is right, Mr. Perkins. If they have to go into the city, they’d most likely buy all their bread there to make the effort worthwhile. But not if you start offering such things now. It’s worth thinking about, isn’t it?”

“And let’s not forget that the new restaurant will be in need of plentiful supplies of fancy breads. ”

Glen slowly nodded his head. “Um, maybe you’re right… I’d certainly enjoy making such things.”

“Good man!” said Nick, patting Glen on the shoulder. “You mull that over then, but in the meantime let’s do some cakes. We’re particularly fond of cakes, aren’t we, Gabe! In fact, I have a rather special recipe to share with you, if you’ve got some fine dark chocolate handy.”


Back at the mill, Gabe sat at the breakfast bar, carefully gluing the bits of Glen’s mixing bowl back together. “Feels good, doesn’t it, brother?”


“You’ve just done something really kind by showing Glen Perkins the way to improve his business!”

Nick shrugged his shoulders and a sly look came into his eyes as he said with studied nonchalance, “How about we count it as an achievement for Charity, and leave Violet to her wonderful, nasty little ways?”

“Oh, Nick, is that why you did it? But there was no tempting, and Glen is already a good person so there was no change of any kind! You performed a straightforward act of beneficence and you should feel proud of yourself, but Violet is still your target.”

Nick shrugged. “Oh well, it was worth a try. And at least we’ll get some decent bread and cakes around here now.”

“Always an ulterior motive with you, isn’t there?” Gabe held up Glen’s bowl. “Good as new, with a little bit of glue and a touch of angel magic.”

Next episode: 020 Orders From Above: Episode 20 ‘the master craftsman’


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018 Orders From Above: Episode 18 ‘gluttony’

To read from the first episode and catch up click here: Episode 1

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It was time for them to leave, but Stephen really didn’t want to move. He was too absorbed by Lorelei’s face, her hair, the feel of her soft, warm body in his arms as she chatted about… well, he was too busy listening to her voice to take in the words. For all he cared she could be reciting train timetables, he’d still be as enchanted as he’d been when they first met. Tonight was their twenty-third date and they were going to celebrate with a candlelit dinner in his favourite place, a small and intimate Italian trattoria, just around the corner from his apartment.

“We need to go, Lorelei,” he said with reluctance. “The table’s booked for 7.30.”

Lorelei leaned into him, but after allowing himself the pleasure of just a brief kiss, Stephen sighed and pulled himself away. “If we don’t move right now, we’ll never get out of here. We’re going to be late as it is. Come on, let’s go and eat and then we’ll come back here and …” He waggled his eyebrows and did a lewd little jiggle with his hips, making Lorelei giggle.

“Do you think we’ll get to eat dessert this time? Maybe we should share one.”

It was a private joke between them that they’d never managed to stay for a pudding. From the moment they sat down, the heat between them would start to build, rising by the minute until it simply get too hot for them to eat anything else. Stephen, in a strangled voice, would ask for the bill, and they’d be out of the restaurant and entwined in each other’s arms like lovesick teenagers. The last time this had happened, a passer-by had muttered, “Get a room, why don’t you!”

Stephen held out her soft woollen wrap and kissed the tip of her freckled nose once it was settled around her shoulders. They made the short walk as if joined together from shoulder to hip.

They arrived twenty minutes after the time he had booked for, but it didn’t matter, they were greeted warmly and led to a table in the corner.

The waiter handed them a menu each, took their drinks orders, and with a flourish lit the stubby candle in the wax-covered Chianti bottle. Lorelei looked so beautiful, Stephen began to wonder if they’d manage to get beyond the starter, let alone make it to a shared dessert. He fingered the box in his pocket and wondered when would be the best time to-

His thoughts were interrupted by a chocolate-brown voice drawling, “Good evening, Miss Dove.”

Stephen blinked at the tall figure staring down at Lorelei as if he’d like to devour her. Slightly alarmed, he racked his memory … yes, it was one of the De Angelo brothers; he’d seen them once in The Blacksmith’s Anvil and Lorelei had told him who they were. At first he thought the man was alone, but then saw that behind him was the other one, the brother, looking as if he was trying to hide.

Stephen blinked some more, and then, remembering his manners, raised his bottom a couple of inches off his chair and held out his hand. “Hello, I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced? You obviously know Lorelei, and I’m Stephen George.”

“Nick De Angelo,” replied the man, giving Stephen’s hand a brief but bone-crunching shake. “And this is my brother, Gabe.”

The one called Gabe stepped forward with a shy smile and gave Stephen the merest nod of his head. He then took Lorelei’s hand, raising it and grazing her knuckles with his lips and gazing deep into her eyes. When he let go, Lorelei seemed momentarily startled, and Stephen saw such a sorrowful expression on Gabe’s face that he wondered if he’d recently had some very bad news.

There was an awkward silence as Stephen waited for the two interlopers to go to their own table and leave them alone before the romantic mood was completely broken. And he wanted tonight to be very romantic, more than any other night they’d spent together.

But Nick, directing a slightly malicious grin in his direction, rubbed his hands together, and said, “Well, isn’t this nice. Hey! Why don’t we all sit together?”

Before anyone could object – and everyone except Nick looked as if they really wanted to – he had ordered that two tables be joined up so the four of them could sit together.

Stephen was too stunned and too polite to do anything other than pretend it was what he’d wanted all along. Perhaps Lorelei was better acquainted with the De Angelos than he’d thought and she was happy for them to share their table? But as Gabe took the seat next to her, his cheeks flushed and his eyes downcast, he could see that Lorelei was as taken aback by this turn of events as he was. Of the four of them, then, only Nick De Angelo seemed totally relaxed, and Stephen felt a resentful dislike for the man start to build.

The evening that followed were utterly surreal as far as Stephen was concerned. The velvet ring box could not possibly be brought from his inside pocket and presented to Lorelei under these circumstances, even if the De Angelo brothers were to leave them alone after the meal. Maybe it was a sign, for Stephen believed in such things, that it was too soon to be thinking of marriage? They hadn’t been together other all that long, after all – but no… he had known she was the one for him since their first date in The White Lion. And Lorelei constantly declared her love for him. She’d even told him that he had a wonderful aura, and had been surprised and delighted that he’d known exactly what she’d meant.

“You’ll love my sister,” Stephen had responded, “She’s a family counsellor, but she does astrology for a hobby. She loves angel cards and psychic fairs, all that kind of thing.”

“And you don’t think it’s silly?” Her green eyes had looked worriedly into his brown ones.

“No, Lorelei, I don’t think it’s silly. My sister is one of the smartest and most sensible people I know, and her astrological readings have sometimes been of great help to me. She’s longing to meet you.”

Now he wanted to marry Lorelei as soon as possible. He’d told Stella, who had become very fond of Lorelei, that he planned to have the ring secretly placed in a glass of champagne and presented to his beloved, but she had replied, “That’s very romantic, Stephen, but fraught with danger, bearing in mind you both go all to pieces when you’re together. You’d have to hope she didn’t knock her glass over or just gulp it down and choke on it! But, really dear, Lorelei strikes me as a woman who would prefer you go down on one knee and present the ring in the traditional manner.”

So that’s what he’d planned to do, right here in this restaurant, but now he could only sit, fuming in silent frustration, as Nick De Angelo dominated the conversation. The subjects ranged from the narrow confines of village life to the political situation in Brazil and back again. Nick ate heartily, sometimes talking with his mouth full, but Stephen, Lorelei and Gabe merely picked at their food. He hoped they could make their escape after the main course, but when he tried to say that they had had enough to eat, Nick called for the dessert menu.

A waiter brought over a blackboard with the desserts neatly chalked on it and left it on the table so they could take their time. Gabe, who’d hardly spoken a word, didn’t even glance at it, muttering that he didn’t want anything.

“Would you please excuse us for a moment?” said Nick, “I just need a quick word with my brother.”

They left the table and Stephen watched in amazement as they walked out of the restaurant. Were they leaving him with the bill? But no, he could see them through the window, and they seemed to be arguing. Well, Nick was talking urgently and waving his hands about, a look of fury on his face, but Gabe was standing with his head down and his hands shoved in his pockets, looking like a schoolboy being admonished by the head master. Stephen looked ruefully at Lorelei , “I’m so sorry about this. I should have insisted at the start that we wanted to be alone.”

Lorelei smiled at him, “No need to apologise. You were being polite and I rather think Nick wouldn’t have taken no for an answer.”

“They’re a bit strange, though, aren’t they? Nick doesn’t stop talking!”

“Mm, and Gabe doesn’t say much at all. Oh, shh, they’re coming back. Let’s say we’re finished and need to leave.”

The brothers sat down, Nick grinning as he laid his napkin once more across his lap, Gabe looking for all the world as if he was holding back tears as he did the same.

“Lorelei,” he said, his shoulders still slightly slumped as he reached for the blackboard, “I do hope you are going to join me in having a dessert?”

“Er, no, thank you.” She patted her stomach, “I’m far too full.”

“Oh you can’t be,” said Gabe, his cheeks flaming for some unfathomable, “You hardly ate a thing! Now, how about chocolate mousse?”

Lorelei held up her hand, “No, really. I don’t want anything.”

“Raspberry roulade? Profiteroles? Crème Caramel? ”

Gabe sounded a bit desperate and Stephen wondered why he trying to force a Lorelei into choosing a dessert. He decided to take charge, and tried to attract the attention of a waiter, saying, “I’m sorry, but we really do have to leave now. I’ll get the bill.”

Gabe implored, “How about ice cream? Gosh, says here they have eight flavours.”

Lorelei shook her head, and reached behind her to take her wrap from the back of her chair.

Nick, looking highly amused, said, “So… no desserts, then.”

Gabe dropped his head, whether with frustration or relief Stephen couldn’t tell, until he caught a smile that Gabe was trying to hide. What on earth was going on here?

What happened next was so astounding Stephen would later believe he’d hallucinated the scene. As Nick leaned forward and made to touch Lorelei’s arm, Gabe gave a strangled cry and, to Stephen’s mind, deliberately knocked over his nearly-full glass of wine. The liquid appeared to leave the glass in a solid burgundy ball which skimmed across the surface of the crisp white tablecloth before hurling itself at Nick, spattering the front of his pale blue shirt, his red silk tie, and the lapels of his jacket. Not a speck of wine landed anywhere else.

There was a stunned silence and nobody moved until two waiters converged on their table with napkins and started to dab at Nick’s clothes. His face a picture of controlled fury, Nick pushed them away and told them not to trouble, then he calmly asked for the bill.

He insisted on paying. “After all, it was my idea that we all dine together.” He ordered Stephen to put his wallet away when Stephen tried to contribute.

The bill was settled with a large pile of new twenty-pound notes and the brothers said their goodbyes. Stephen caught Gabe, who’d spoken not a word since knocking over his wine, cast a very strange look at Lorelei as he rose from his chair, one of profound sadness, and wondered what it meant. They really were a pair of odd fellows.

But that was forgotten as with much relief, Stephen gently escorted Lorelei away from the trattoria in case the dreadful Nick De Angelo, despite his wine-stained suit, reappeared and insisted on dragging them to a nightclub or something.

Finally alone back at his apartment, they discussed what had happened. Stephen asked if she’d noticed anything odd about the wine-spilling incident, but she said her eyes had been on him so she hadn’t seen anything.

“I can’t explain why,” she mused, “but I really didn’t like Nick, there’s something about him…”

He held up his hand to stop her speaking further. “Shh! No more talk of them or anyone else!” He slid down onto one knee in front her, took her left hand in both of his. “Lorelei, my darling, sweet Lorelei, will you marry me?”

Her eyes widened and she gasped, “Stephen, I-”

“I know it’s early days for us, but I don’t care! I love you, Lorelei, I know you are the one for me, and I want you to be my wife.” He pulled out the velvet box and lifted the lid, revealing a delicate ring set with a round purple stone, two small diamonds sparkling either side. “Please say yes.”

“Oh, Stephen!” she gasped,  “It’s beautiful! Is that amethyst?”

He nodded. “I had it specially made. I couldn’t think you’d want any other stone.” He removed it from its snug velvet bed and held it up to her. “It’ll fit you, my love. I borrowed a ring-sizer from the jeweller and measured that silver ring you sometimes wear. But, Lorelei, you haven’t answered my question.”

She threw herself at him, knocking him flat on his back, crying, “Oh Stephen, the answer’s yes! Yes please! Yes, yes, YES!”


“So what the hell was that about? If you wanted to stop me touching Lorelei and resetting the scene you shouldn’t have done it that way! I’m sure Stephen George noticed the trajectory of that wine!” Nick waved his hands in front of himself in a downward motion, chin to hips. The red wine stains disappeared.

“Of course he didn’t! Humans see magic all the time but they brush it away. I didn’t want you resetting the scene, Nick. I just couldn’t do it, not tonight.” Gabe narrowed his eyes at his brother, “You do know what Stephen was intending to do, don’t you?”

“No I do not know and I don’t care! Unlike you, I was concentrating on the job in hand, not using telepathy to go prying into his mind.”

“He was going to propose, Nick! I just couldn’t do it to them, not tonight.”

Nick’s grey eyes narrowed and darkened to obsidian and he spoke through gritted teeth: “As you’ve so recently pointed out, it is only in your interest that neither Lorelei nor Violet succumb to temptation.” He stabbed his finger into Gabe’s chest, and continued to jab with each word while Gabe tried to back away, “So you can be sure, brother, that I shall be watching you very carefully from now on.”

Nick stalked off, leaving Gabe gazing miserably into his empty coffee cup.

Nick was right, of course. He, Gabe, didn’t want the changeover to happen, not now, not ever. But a promise was a promise, especially when it was with a capital P and made by archangels, so he had no choice.

He resolved to try harder next time, and maybe it would be easier because, surely, the engagement would have taken place. But then there’d be the wedding! Bottom lip wobbling, he dropped his head into his hands.

What an evening! And he hadn’t even had the chance to sample just one of those eight ice cream flavours!

Next episode: 019 Orders From Above: Episode 19 ‘the baker gets timely advice and a new recipe’


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017 Orders From Above: Episode 17 ‘sweet charity’

To read from the first episode click here: Episode 1

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Gabe was in a very good mood, because today Nick was going to begin the process of tempting Violet Cattermole from being a rich, mean old lady into becoming a rich, generous old lady. He’d hummed all the way through breakfast, causing Nick to growl at him at a couple of times, and he’d taken great satisfaction in reminding Nick that he had to learn how to appreciate the Seven Virtues, not denigrate them. “You seem to forget, brother, that you must put the old Lucifer behind you and remember that you are returning to the hierarchy as a reformed archangel.”

“Fsst!” or something like it had been the sour reply as Nick had stalked away.

There had been a light rain shower during the night, but the day had dawned dry and bright. They spotted Violet sitting on the bench on the green, the flowerpot hat on her head and a large bag of toffees at her side. She was chewing furiously while she monitored the goings-on in the neighbourhood.

“Now, Nick,” whispered Gabe as they approached, “All you need to do is to entice her in the nicest and politest possible way to give you one of her sweets. I’ll show you how it’s done, okay?”

They sat down on the bench, one either side of Violet. With a ‘tut’ of irritation she snatched up her toffees before Nick could squash them. She eyeballed them both with her most haughty expression, but Gabe responded with a hearty, “Good morning, Miss Cattermole. Lovely day!”

“What do you want?” she snapped, false teeth clacking.

Gabe pointed to the colourful bag she clutched on her lap and said in the politest of tones, “I love toffees, may I have one?”

“No, you may not.”

“Well that’s rather mean,” Nick grinned, and before she had time to slap his hand away, had grabbed a few toffees from the packet.  “Mint, nope. Butter, nope. Ah, treacle, that’s more like it!” He removed the red wrapper, popped the sweet into his mouth, and started chomping noisily. “Mmm, delicious.” That was followed by a liquorice and then a rum & raisin, the wrappings carelessly dropped to the grass at his feet.

“Nick!” hissed Gabe, “Pick up your litter! And that’s not temptation, that’s force!”

Nick, making no move to pick up the wrappings, just laughed, “Yeah, but I’ve got a toffee and you haven’t.” He waved a green-wrapped sweet in the air, “Want this mint one?” Gabe huffily refused, so Nick nudged Violet and said, “See it all from here, do you?”

The old lady pursed her lips like a drawstring bag and a malicious gleam came into her black, piggy eyes. “That I do. Lived here all my life, and I’ve watched people arrive, born in the village or come from elsewhere, and I’ve seen them go, either to pastures new or to the graveyard in a coffin. Way back I saw young Jack Heavysides sneak out of his father’s pub to pay a visit to Carmen Watson, as she was then, who was obviously not as pious as she made herself out to be. Always said she wanted to be a nun but she became Mrs. Heavysides quick enough, because there was a baby on the way. Said it was premature when it arrived a month early!”

“Naughty Carmen,” drawled Nick. “Who else did you spy on?”

“I watched Gwen Brown set her cap at Glen Perkins, brazen as you please and she had him marching him up the aisle within a year. And now there’s that Debbie Perkins, nothing but a wayward teenager whose legs are obscenely long and skirts far too short.”

“Ooh,” said Nick, “Spiteful little cat, aren’t you! What about Lorelei Dove over there, what do you think of her?”

“Nick,” hissed Gabe, “Stop it.”

“Oh, I’m sure Violet is more than happy to talk.” He nudged her again, “Right, Violet?”

“The hussy has a new boyfriend.” Violet pointed to Lorelei’s tiny cottage opposite. “Stays overnight he does, and I know full well there’s only one bedroom over there. And sometimes she doesn’t come home at night, and there’s no need to guess where she goes. Puts a little case in her car, and off she goes with a silly grin on her freckled face.” She was glassy eyed now, as if in a trance.

“That’s enough, Nick! Let’s start again, and do it properly this time.” Gabe touched Violet’s arm. “Good morning, Miss Cattermole. Lovely day!”

“What do you want?” she snapped.

“A toffee would be nice,” said Nick.

“Then go and buy your own, young man. I’m a pensioner, you know!” She clutched her bag of toffees to her chest and tried to shrink away from the brothers.

But for the next hour they kept her there, held tight between them, while they chattered about everything from the narrow confines of village life to the political situation in Brazil. Nick kept asking for a toffee, and Violet kept refusing, not daring to open the bag to take any for herself in case it was taken as an invitation.

Gabe could see that what Nick really wanted to do was wrestle the bag from the old lady and scoff the lot. He wasn’t even trying to come up with another way in to tempt Violet to niceness.

Nick eventually came up with, “See much of your sister?”

Gabe shook his head with a warning, thinking that this was not a good opening gambit.

Violet sucked in her breath and fixed Nick with furious eyes, “What’s me and Hilda got to do with you?”

Nick shrugged. “I just wondered. I mean, you’ve got your nice house and all this money, thanks to us, and she doesn’t, so it stands to reason that you might like to help her out.”

“I’ll have you know, you cheeky devil, that my sister’s house is far larger than mine!”

“Oh sure,” Nick drawled, highly amused at being called a cheeky devil, “But I bet yours doesn’t have a leaking roof, rotting floorboards and heating so ancient it gave up the ghost years ago.”

This was met with a furious intake of breath and Gabe watched in alarm as Violet’s face turned a mottled purple with indignation.

“Excuse me,” he muttered, “I just need a word with my brother.” He scooped up the discarded wrappings, grabbed Nick’s arm and pulled him away.

“Nick, you’re going about this all wrong! You’re not tempting her to do a good deed, you’re just annoying her.”

“I know, isn’t it fun! She’s such a splendid woman!” He looked back over his shoulder at her and sighed. “I like her just the way she is.”

“Of course you do, but I must remind you, brother, of your mission. It’s Charity, Nick, and only Charity. And all you have do is get a toffee given to you willingly. Now let’s try again.”

Nick’s lip curled as he went back to the bench and sat down, lightly touching Violet’s arm before saying with a false joviality, “Good morning, Miss Cattermole. Lovely day!”

“What do you want?” Violet snapped.

“A toffee would be nice,” he replied.

“Then go to the shop and buy some. I’m not a charity, you know!”

Gabe frowned at the irony of her choice of words. This was obviously going to take a lot longer than they’d thought. “Let’s go, Nick.”

They traipsed back to the mill and sat at the breakfast bar in the kitchen, coffee and cake in front of them.

“All you had to do was get Violet to give you a single toffee. But no, you had to steal a handful and then get her all worked up about her sister. Now we’ve got to think of something else.”

“Bad habits are hard to break, bro.”

“It doesn’t bother me, Nick.” He gave a careless shrug, trying not to show any sign that he was actually delighted at Nick’s mess up. But Gabe was an angel and angels did not renege on their promises. And this particular Promise, one with a capital P, simply could not be avoided for long. He knew he had a duty to remind Nick of what was at stake, but he couldn’t bring himself to look his brother in the eye as he muttered, “After all, it just means I get to stay in Heaven longer.”

That made Nick sit up. “Blast it, you’re right! I hadn’t considered that!” He hopped off the stool and paced the floor. “All right, Gabe, while I work out my next move you can take your turn. All you have to do is tempt Lorelei Dove into having something loaded with calories. She was a greedy girl once who ate half a dozen cakes a day, so it should be easy. One mouthful of chocolate cake or whatever should trigger Gluttony, and then I’ll make sure I sort out our delicious Violet Cattermole. Such a shame to have to meddle with such a glorious sourpuss, but it has to be done!”

Gabe sighed. Why oh why did he have to be so honest all the time? Why couldn’t he have kept silent and let Nick just bumble along, getting it wrong? Now, he was sure, his brother would not make the same mistake again, and the time was creeping ever nearer when he, sweet and gentle Gabriel, would have to accept the horrid, evil mantle of Hell.


Next episode: ‘gluttony’

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016 Orders From Above: Episode 16 ‘deadly sins, heavenly virtues’

To read from the beginning click here: Episode 1

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Nigel pulled into the Turnaround and switched off the engine.

“There it is,” he announced, “Angel Falls Mill. And that name can’t be a coincidence!”

“And you’re asking me to believe,” said Amelia. “that inside that wreck is a luxury house and the De Angelo brothers are living in it?”

“Yep, and you’re about to see for yourself. Come on, I can’t wait to see your face when you step inside.”

Before they were half way across the little stone bridge Gabe came rushing out of the door of the mill, which was still hanging off its hinges. He grabbed Amelia, kissed her heartily on both cheeks and then gathered her into a hug, crying, “I’m so delighted you could come!”

“Thank you, I’m pleased to be here. Nigel has told me all about it, but nothing beats seeing the real thing.”

Nigel thought her tone was a tad sarcastic, but Gabe didn’t seem to pick up on it. With a happy grin he said, “Nick’s inside, won’t you come in?”

Gabe led the way. Nigel entered the mill behind Amelia so he couldn’t see her expression, but he certainly heard her gasp and had to move smartly to one side to avoid her foot coming hard down on his as she staggered backwards in shock.

“Good morning! Lovely to see you again, Amelia, and positively blooming, if I may say so.” Nick had taken her hand and was leading her across the vast space to the white sofa. “Nigel,” he muttered over his shoulder, a casual hello if ever he’d heard one.

“I wouldn’t worry,” whispered Gabe, “Nick seems to be very attractive to women, and he plays up to it, but your Amelia only has eyes for you. Besides, we may look like men to you, but we’re angels, and angels are asexual beings.”

Nigel started to laugh, but realised that Gabe was serious. “Is Uri coming?”

Gabe shook his head. “I’m afraid not, he’s busy playing the handyman at the vicarage.”

Amelia, sitting down now, was staring around her in wonder. “Nigel told me about this, but I didn’t believe it.”

Nick, who had sat himself close beside her, his arm across the back of her cushion, said coolly, “And he told you about us being angels, but you don’t believe that either, do you?”

“Would you like to watch the film?” Gabe was like an eager puppy. “It might make things easier. And we’ve got excellent popcorn.”

Amelia slowly shook her head. “No, it’s all right. Really. Nigel told me every little detail.”

Nick turned to face her, a gleam in his grey eyes. “But you still can’t accept it, can you?”

“What I really don’t understand,” she declared, “is why you’re going to the trouble of hiring Nigel to do up this mill? I mean, look at the place, it’s fabulous! Why don’t you just leave it as it is?”

“Amelia, Amelia,” tutted Nick, sliding his arm down the cushion so that it rested on her shoulders, “This isn’t the mill!”

This was news to Nigel, and he swung round to face Gabe. “How can it not be the mill?”

Gabe smiled at them both, “I will explain. We’re using the mill as a portal, you see. When you step through the door you step out of your reality and into ours. Well, our reality in that we’ve made it acceptable to you, if you see what I mean. No-one else would see this, only you two.”

“Is your office the same? A portal, I mean,” asked Nigel.

“Yes. We create something that you can understand, that’s all.”

Nigel struggled to process this. Their place in London was a business building, for goodness sake. He’d seen the reception, the elevator with the little uniformed operator, the long carpeted corridor to Gabe’s fantastic suite of offices with the superb views. OK, those views were strange and he’d been prevented from going outside, but that had been because the limousine was urgently needed. Wasn’t it?

Nick stood up and paced across the room. “The office is both Heaven and Hell, but what you see is an office as you couldn’t possibly comprehend the reality. It’s a representation, like the film we showed you.”

“But you asked about the mill, Amelia,” said Gabe, “Doing it up and making it into a going concern is our gift to the village for their unwitting involvement in The Plan. You and Nigel get the pleasure of doing the things you both love, the workmen will be well paid and also get enormous job satisfaction, and once it’s up and running, it will bring employment and visitors willing to spend money into the village. So there you have it. Everyone wins.”

White-lipped, Amelia whispered, “I don’t believe it; I don’t believe any of it.”

Nick sneered, “Perhaps you’d like a little more proof? Are you sure you don’t want to see the film? Then perhaps I should summon my mascot!”

“Nick-” there was both a warning and a plea in Gabe’s voice as the air rapidly chilled and their ears were assaulted by a horrid, grating buzz.

Nigel quickly crossed to the sofa and sat beside Amelia, pulling her into his arms as a huge and monstrous shape shimmered in front of the window. The sight of it made his skin crawl, and his nostrils twitched as an unpleasant smell pervaded the room. Amelia’s hand flew to her throat. With an ear-splitting screech, the thing fully formed and stretched its bat-like wings with a noise like a rug being heartily thwacked with carpet-beaters. It’s great head was horned, its beak hooked with razored edges, its powerful body covered in leathery scales. It was truly a dreadful, terrifying thing that surely belonged in the Prehistoric Age.

“On second thoughts,” drawled Nick, his eyes like flint, “I really don’t think this is a good idea: he looks hungry.”

The creature flickered and flared briefly before fading away to nothing, and the smell of raw sewage instantly went with it.

“How about my mascot then?” chirped Gabriel, desperately trying to lighten the mood.

Another bird, much smaller, appeared in the same place by the window, but this one had brightly-coloured plumage and was breathtakingly lovely. It flew on sapphire blue wings tipped with white, it’s long tail feathers fluttering like golden ribbons, and landed on Gabe’s outstretched hand.

“My bird of paradise,” he said softly, stroking its scarlet breast.

Amelia sighed, “Oh! Its gorgeous.”

The bird immediately flew to her and sang a song of such haunting beauty that her eyes filled with tears.

“Enough of this,” barked Nick, “let’s get to business.”

The bird disappeared in an instant, leaving in its trail the scent of vanilla and mint which Nigel and Amelia thankfully inhaled.

Nick disappeared for a while, then came back pressing buttons on the remote control that was now familiar to Nigel. The screen came down from the ceiling. Under his arm, Nigel could see that Nick carried the buff folder that he and Amelia had prepared, the folder that contained brief profiles of everyone he’d met or heard about in the village. Their jobs, skills, hobbies, their likes and dislikes.

“Are we going to watch another film?” asked Nigel, hoping the answer would be no.

“Nope. This also serves as a whiteboard. We can write on it and rub it off.” He waggled a packet of coloured pens, selected the black one and drew two vertical lines so the screen was divided into three columns. They were perfectly straight and perfectly spaced.

Gabe was quiet, but his body language was shouting that he didn’t want to participate in whatever was coming.

“Right,” Nick, now cheerful, had a red felt pen in his hand. “Who can name the Seven Sins?”

Nobody answered.

“Come on, come on! How about you, Nigel? Just one or two to get us started?”

Having not the faintest idea where this was leading, Nigel blew out his cheeks and came up with Pride and Envy.

“Good, good, I like those.” Nick wrote them up. “I well remember how you envied my sartorial elegance the first time we met. How about you, Amelia?”

Nigel thought she wouldn’t join in, but she seemed to have decided to rise to the challenge.

“Gluttony and Lust, I think. Wrath is another one. And is Greed the same as Gluttony, or a different sin?”

“Oh well done!” Nick pranced around like a game show host, clearly enjoying himself. “Gluttony and Greed are, I grant you, closely related, but they are different sins – gluttony is all about wanton self-indulgence, whereas greed is about selfish and uncharitable acquisition. So, that’s six. And I’ll add the seventh, because we don’t want to be here all day.” He wrote the word ‘Sloth’ on the whiteboard then read through the list, eyes aglow, pronouncing each sin with relish.

He stepped back and they all regarded the seven words written in the column on the left hand side. Nick took the blue pen from the pack and handed it to Gabe. “The Seven Heavenly Virtues, brother.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” smiled Amelia, “Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Justice, Hope-”

“Duh-uh!” said Nick. “You said Hope twice. Shall we play charades to give you a clue?”

“OK, OK, Nick! Let her think.” Gabe was sharp with his brother, but his eyes were soft on Amelia.

She said, “I can’t think of the others, sorry.”

Gabe wrote the remaining two on the board. “Temperance and Prudence. Such wonderful words, aren’t they?”

Now there were two lists on the screen, in identical, neat calligraphy. The centre column was still blank.

“Right, Nigel, who’s the most unpopular person in the village?”

Something in Nick’s tone made Nigel highly suspicious, but though his mind raced he still couldn’t guess what they were up to and couldn’t find his voice to ask. But Amelia, with narrowed eyes, posed the question he hadn’t been able to form in his mind, “Why do you want to know?”

“Now, now, Amelia, this is all part of what we’re paying you for. Nigel has been here getting to know the villagers for a reason. You’re about to find out what that reason is. ”

Gabe jumped in. “There’s nothing to worry about, I promise you. This is the good part.”

“Okaaaay,” said Nigel, trusting Gabe in a way he would never trust Gabe’s brother. “Well, then, I’d have to say Violet Cattermole.”

Gabe wrote her name up in the middle column. “Yes, that’s what we thought.”

“Is there anyone else?” demanded Nick. “What about Freddie Fordingbridge?”

Nigel was very surprised. “Freddie? No, he’s very nice and polite and extremely popular with everyone.”

“Ah, but according to your report he spends hours playing violent war games on his Xbox, the bloodier the better-”

“But that doesn’t make him bad,” Amelia said, “Lots of young lads are like that.”

“Well how about Stanley Hubertus Invincible Trout, then, he’s-” and, to everyone’s amazement, Nick collapsed into a fit of giggles.

They looked at him with raised eyebrows. “I heard something about our Stanley Trout,” he gasped, wiping his eyes, “Apparently, some youngsters used to play a version of hopscotch out in the street. One would throw a pebble into a chalked grid and as they hopped to the pebble, the chant would be: Stanley-Hubert-us-Invin-cible-Trout, take his ini-tials-and-shout-the-word-out. Then they’d all scream SHI-”

“OK, OK, we get the drift,” said Gabe.

Nigel chuckled, too, but then said, “Everyone likes Stanley actually, except Violet who doesn’t like anyone, he’s a nice chap, knowledgeable and great fun to talk to. You just need to be able to hold your breath for a long time. No, I think I would have to say it’s Violet. Everyone here is so pleasant, that one sour old lady really stands out like a sore thumb. She’s bad tempered and rude, and very mean to her poor sister, Hilda, something to do with Hilda taking Violet’s boyfriend way back when. They haven’t spoken since Hilda married him.”

Gabe circled Violet’s name on the screen. “Well, you said it when we saw her in the pub. She has money, her sister doesn’t, and Violet has no intention of helping because she’s still harbouring a grudge. So, I think it would be fitting to tempt her with Charity. Nick? Do you agree?”

Nick nodded, but didn’t sound very enthusiastic when he replied, “It’s as good as any, I suppose.”

“Well, that’s agreed then. Let’s have a coffee break shall we? Amelia, let me show you around the kitchen.”

Nigel watched Amelia as she wandered around the amazing kitchen in open-mouthed wonder. Anyone would admire such sleek, clean lines and all those gadgets, especially someone like Amelia who loved cooking but only had the most basic kitchen in their tiny flat. Gabe, getting more and more excited, showed her how everything worked, in between making and pouring copious amounts of their special-blend coffee. Nigel suspected the angels were addicted to it.

Every time Nick suggested going back to the screen and getting on with things, Gabe would pour everyone another cup and hand round slices of one of Glen Perkins’s Victoria sponge cake. Nigel, beginning to shake after so much caffeine, had the distinct impression that Gabe was delaying going back to that screen and those lists. When they could drink no more coffee and the cake was gone, and everything in the kitchen had been admired twice over by Amelia, Nick actually grabbed Gabe by the arm and dragged him into the living room. Nigel couldn’t help but notice how Gabe’s shoulders drooped when Nick let him go.

Nick picked up the red pen. “Now then, Nigel. Who would you say is the most popular person in the village?”

A sound issued from Gabe’s throat that was like a sob. He sank down on the sofa next to Amelia and grasped her hand. His other hand went to his mouth, and he started chewing at a fingernail. Amelia’s expression was one of dawning realisation.

“Nigel?” Nick stood by the screen, his grey eyes, very dark now, fixed on Nigel.

“Um, it’s hard to answer that one,” Nigel hedged, “as I said before, there are so many nice people here.”

“Indeed. But one or two must stand out, I would think?”

Nigel stared at the words on the screen. On the right were the Seven Virtues. There was Violet Cattermole’s name with an arrow pointing to Charity. On the left were the Seven Sins. He had a horrible, nauseating feeling he knew where this was going.

He squared his shoulders and held his hand out for Amelia. “We don’t want to play this game.”

“Game?” The word exploded into the room from Nick, and he seemed to grow a foot taller as he blocked their exit. “You think this is a game? We told you what this was about! We told you we needed to practice before we could change over.”

“Yes, you did, but I didn’t know that meant you would start meddling with lives like this!”

Gabe put his hands up and said, “We didn’t make the rules, Nigel, but we have to abide by them. We’ve been in our roles for an awfully long time and I don’t know how it feels to tempt someone into sin, and Nick doesn’t know how it feels not to do it. So you see, the Boss demands that we experience a reversal of our current roles in order for us to prepare for our new ones.”

“Well we won’t help you choose who gets the bad deal, that’s too much to ask,” exclaimed Amelia,

“You’ve already done it,” said Nick carelessly, pointing to the file. “I was just hoping to inject a little fun into the proceedings.”

The blood drained from Nigel’s face as he looked wildly from Nick to Gabe and back again.

Gabe pulled a large handkerchief from his pocket and swiped at the tears filling his eyes. “It wouldn’t matter who you said, Nigel. You’re right in calling this a game, because he’s already decided.”

“Who? Who has he decided on?”

Gabe’s voice was a mere whisper. “Lorelei Dove.”

Amelia stalked over to Nick, fury on her face. “Do you mean to tell me,” she said, her voice very low and dangerous, “that some poor, unsuspecting person is going to wake up one morning and find themselves afflicted with … with … wrath or lust or something else equally nasty?”

“And what’s wrong with lust?” he leered at her, “You can have a great deal of fun with lust. But I notice you say nothing about the mean Miss Cattermole waking up to find herself feeling charitable towards her fellow men.”

“Please, Amelia, please,” cried Gabe, “it’s not as bad as you think. We have the power to make people do whatever we want, but really we are only allowed to tempt them – it’s up to them whether or not to give in.”

“But that’s still not fair! They don’t know what you’re going to do!”

Nick threw his hands up in exasperation. “Well, it wouldn’t be temptation if we told them, would it? You don’t seem to understand what that word means; it means lure, coax, beguile…”

“What if I told them, warned them what you’re going to do?” she hissed.

“Well, you could, of course, but what, exactly, would you tell them? Do you think for a moment they would believe you? You don’t even believe you!”

“Well, I’m getting there…”

“Yes, dear, because we have allowed it.”

“Don’t you patronise me!”

“You shouldn’t let yourself get so upset in your condition, you know.”

“How dare you!”

Amelia and Nick were now almost nose to nose. Amelia, breathing heavily, her fists clenched and eyes narrowed with fury, glared up at Nick, but Nick didn’t glare back. He had tilted his head and was studying Amelia as if she were a rare butterfly caught in a specimen jar.

Nigel could see Nick’s admiration. He wasn’t surprised; his wife was magnificent anyway, but even more so when she was angry. Gabe, on the other hand, was still slumped on the sofa, a picture of utter dejection.

“OK, OK, that’s enough. Break it up you two,” said Nigel, stepping forward and gently pulling Amelia away.

After holding Nick’s amused gaze for another few seconds, and clearly having to fight the urge to slap his face really hard, Amelia finally relented and sagged into Nigel’s arms. “And to think,” she said, looking sadly at Gabe and then at Nigel, “that we’re involved in this.”

Nigel didn’t reply. It was true. He, especially, was involved. He’d used his private eye skills to find out what he could about the good citizens of Ham-Under-Lymfold and typed up the profiles before he’d handed the information to the angels. All he’d done was provide basic information, but he still felt horribly guilty.

“Amelia,” said Gabe gently, patting her arm, “it won’t do any good to interfere, you know. We have to do this, you see, and, we’re hoping to tempt one person from being bad to good, don’t forget, so things may turn out all right in the end. Let me explain once more. The bottom line is, Nick has to learn how it feels to be responsible for a person changing for the good, so he can remember how it is to be an angel rather than a devil-”

The Devil,” if you please, interrupted Nick.

“Oh shut up Nick, I’m trying to explain things here. What was I saying? Ah yes – and I, well, I have to experience it the other way round. You know, lead someone into Temptation and all that.”

“But doesn’t a person get to choose whether they’re good or bad?” said Nigel.

“Yes, Nigel, they do. I keep telling you, we can only tempt them. They can choose not to be tempted. But one way or the other we have to achieve a result or the change can’t happen, so if not Violet and Lorelei, it will be someone else and someone else again until it happens.”

Nick snorted. “Yeah, but it won’t come to that. Humans are weak. Easily led. It’ll be a piece of cake – which, as it happens, is a good metaphor, since I’ve chosen the sin of Gluttony for the luscious Lorelei Dove – and you, Nigel, will be explaining to the world that I am the good guy loved by all and Gabe is the one in the dark mantle.”

Amelia walked up to Gabe and peered into his eyes. Softly, she said, “And you don’t want it to happen, do you?” She returned to Nigel’s side and pronounced, “As far as I can see, the biggest problem you’re going to have in all of this is each other. Gabe, you’re a lovely man … angel … whatever. It simply shines from you. Do you think you can really be another Lucifer?”

“And what about me?” snarled Nick, “Don’t you think I can be a good angel?”

Her withering look said it all.


Next episode: ‘sweet charity’

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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


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