A Deadly Angels Novella
eBook and mass market paperback
Avon Impulse
October 28, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0062117557

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Santa with fangs?…

“’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the castle, not a creature was stirring, not even a bat—”

“Very funny!” Vikar Sigurdsson elbowed Karl Mortensen and almost knocked him off his kitchen stool. They sat side by side at the twenty-foot island counter in the huge castle kitchen. Karl’s halfbrained rewording of the famous yuletide story had been in response to Vikar’s telling him that Alex, Vikar’s wife, wanted them to have a traditional Christmas celebration this year, complete with holly, and decorated trees, and caroling, and feasts, and Santa Claus, and jingle bells, and gifts. All that ho-ho-ho nonsense.

—Twas enough to give a thousand-plus-year-old Viking vampire angel a headache!

Yes, Vikar lived in a lackwit, rundown castle (more like falling down, if you ask me, which no one ever does) in lackwit Transylvania, and, no, not Transylvania, Romania. No, this was lackwit Transylvania, Pennsylvania (Don’t ask!). As for bats, three years ago when he’d begun the renovation of this hundred-year-old, seventy-five room monstrosity, they’d had to first remove ten tons of guano. (That’s bat shit, to you uninformed.) And they still hadn’t eliminated all of the irksome creatures. Try sleeping at night to the sound of flapping wings in the turrets. Not that vangels (Viking vampire angels, to you uniformed, again. Jeesh!), like himself, weren’t accustomed to the sound of flapping wings, but usually it was from St. Michael the Archangel, their heavenly mentor aka Pain In The Arse, whom they rudely referred to as Mike. (When he was not around.)

Vikar sipped at his long-necked bottle of beer. He and Karl were enjoying a mid-afternoon break from battle training down in the dungeons while Alex was off somewhere, probably dreaming up more of her honey-do jobs for him. Not that I haven’t told her more than once that they are more like honey-damn-don’t chores. This is how the conversations usually went:

“Honey, we need another bathroom on the fourth floor.”

What was it with this “we” business. Women always used the “we” card when trying to convince men of one thing or another.

“We already have two bathrooms on the fourth floor.”

Vikar recalled a time when the only toilet facilities were wooden holes in an outdoor privy or a private spot in the woods. It had been cold enough betimes to turn a cock into an icicle.

“I know. That’s why we need three. Whew! It is so hot today. I think I’ll go take a bubble bath. I don’t suppose…”

Alex knew sure as Eve tempted Adam that Vikar loved taking bubble baths with her. There was something about popping bubbles that appealed to the boy in him. Or the man.

Face it, she pays no attention to my complaints. All she has to do is smile in that certain way, or hint at some sexual play, and I am Norse putty in her hands. Like this most recent, brilliant idea of hers. Holy clouds! She will be turning us all into ridiculous Santa Clauses. With fangs!

He glanced over at Karl who was sipping with distaste from a bottle of Fake-O. Vikar could have told him it was better to just chug the crap down and cleanse the palate with a bottle of beer. Fake-O was the synthetic blood vangels drank when they’d been too long from feeding during a mission.

Karl was a quiet kind of guy, the type that didn’t feel the need to talk just to fill gaps in a conversation. A man’s man, modern folks would say. He did the jobs that were handed to him with competency. No whining or complaints, like Vikar’s brother Trond was wont to do, especially if it involved anything strenuous. Trond was a sloth if there ever was one, although he was working to reform himself from his grave sin, as they all were.

There was a sadness about Karl, too, but not like Vikar’s brother Mordr who for centuries turned his sadness into a berserk madness, killing practically everything that got in his pathway. Mordr’s sin had of course been wrath.

Vikar liked Karl.

Breaking the companionable silence, Vikar continued with his tirade, “It would be a sacrilege for us to celebrate such a commercial holiday, wouldn’t it? We’re practically angels.”

“Practically?” Karl snorted. “You didn’t look very angelic when I saw you coming out of your bedroom this morning.”

Vikar grinned in remembrance. Three years he’d been wed, with more than a thousand years of experience in the bed arts under his belt, literally, and still his wife could surprise him.

“Besides, Vikings back in your time celebrated the holiday season, didn’t you?”

In my time? Vikar mused. Makes me sound ancient. Which I am. Still, I like to think of myself as my thirty-three human years.

Karl was a Viking, too…all vangels were, by birth if not descent…but he was young for a vangel, having died only about forty years ago during the Vietnam War.

“Vikings celebrated the Yule season with great vigor. —Tis true. Yule logs and gift giving. Feasts. Not a religious holiday, more a commemoration of the Winter Solstice. It was nothing like the secular extremes evident today. Even though we did, of course, have reindeer in the Norselands. None with a red nose, though, that I recall.”

“It could be as secular or not, as you wish,” Karl said. “Besides, Alex is right. Kids should experience the holiday season. And this will be the first Christmas that yours are old enough to understand.”

The traitor! Vikar thought at Karl’s siding with his wife, but then he was probably right. Gunnar and Gunnora, Vikar and Alex’s “adopted” twins, were three years old. For the past four days, ever since Thanksgiving…another chaotic holiday Alex had talked him into!…Gun and Nora had been yipping and yapping about Santa this and Rudolph that and jingle belling —til Vikar’s head hurt. It had all started when they’d gone to something called “Black Friggsday” at the mall. Rather, “Black Friday.” Betimes, he still fell into the old Norse words, like Friggsday for Friday, because, after all, despite being a vampire angel, he was a Viking at heart. Which should be good enough reason to not have to be reminded to ever fall for that trap again. “Honey, would you drive us to the mall? Gun and Nora need new shoes. It will be fun.” Hah! If I never hear “Alvin and the Chipmunks” again, it will be too soon!

“Did you celebrate Christmas when you were growing up?” he asked Karl.

The young man…even though Karl had forty-two vangel years on top of his twenty-two human ones, Vikar still thought of him as young…rarely spoke of his past. His situation had been unique amongst the vampire angels since he’d left behind a young wife who lived out her human years until she died two years ago at age sixty-two. Imagine staying the same age yourself but watching a loved one grow older and older and then perish of a wasting disease!

Karl smiled. A sad smile, Vikar noticed. “Yes. I grew up on a small farm in Minnesota with a brother and two sisters. We were poor as church mice, even though my Dad worked from dawn —til dusk milking cows and growing corn and hay. Mom had a big vegetable garden and put away hundreds of Mason jars filled with different things every fall. String beans, carrots, peas, corn, limas, beets, pickles, chow chow, peaches, pears, applesauce. If it grew, she preserved it.

“We had a Christmas tree, of course, with strings of ancient lights that were probably a fire hazard. And old ornaments. Homemade ones, too. We believed in Santa Claus, early on, anyhow. We even believed the old tale that animals talk on Christmas Eve. Many a night, us kids snuck out of the house to the barn to listen. I swore I heard old Bessie say, —Moo-rry Christmas’ one time.” He laughed.

And Vikar laughed with him. It was a revelation hearing Karl talk about his background. He hardly ever talked about himself.

“Mostly our gifts were practical ones. Maybe a handknitted sweater or mittens or socks. Nuts, hard candies, and some fruit that was out-of-season for us, like nectarines, would be in our stockings, which we hung without fail over the fireplace.”

There are thirty fireplaces in this friggin’ castle, Vikar mused, and had a sudden horrifying image of stockings hanging from every one of them. Some of the younger vangels were often like children themselves and would sure as sin be wishing for gifts from the fat man in the red suit. Images of Armod, the sixteen-year-old vangel from Iceland, immediately came to mind. Armod fancied himself Michael Jackson reincarnated. (You do not want to see a Viking vampire moonwalking! Trust me!)

“Each of us only got one present,” Karl continued.

Over the holiday there could be as many as a hundred vangels in residence at the castle, especially if his brothers came with their contingents. Knowing Alex, she’d probably already issued invitations. Surely, he wouldn’t be expected to go gift shopping for all of them. Would he? Vikar shuddered with mall tremors.

His headache felt as if it were growing. Maybe he was developing a brain tumor. Good idea. That might be sufficient excuse for Alex to get the Christmas bug out of her…um, head.

“One gift only, but, man, it was always something special. I remember the year I got a BB gun.”

“And your parents didn’t worry that you would shoot your eye out?” Vikar asked, referring to the famous line from “The Christmas Story,” a movie some of his vangels loved.

“Nah! Growing up on a farm, we were used to hunting and stuff. I got to be a pretty good shot, too. That’s why I was recruited to be a sniper in the Army, and—” Karl’s words trailed off. He never spoke of his time in Vietnam, the time of his great sin. “Anyhow, there’s nothing for a kid like those weeks leading up to Christmas. The smells of evergreens in the house and the baking. Ma made a dozen different kind of cookies, and pies, even homemade fruit cake. And the Christmas dinner was a regular feast with turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, rutabaga and corn, string bean casserole, cranberry sauce, fresh fruit salad, and rolls warm from the oven dripping with butter.”

At the mention of all that baking and food preparation, their cook’s head shot up. Lizzie Borden had had been sitting at the far end of the counter skimming through a recipe book. He hadn’t realized they’d been speaking so loud. And, yes, it was that Lizzie Borden, who wielded her axe these days chopping vegetables and beef carcasses. Lizzie was the most sour-dispositioned woman Vikar had ever met. She exchanged a look with him that said loud and clear, “Don’t even think about it!”

Karl hadn’t noticed Lizzie’s expression. Instead, he was still lost in childhood memories. “The excitement, that’s what I remember most. The anticipation of Christmas was almost as special as Christmas itself.” He shrugged as if helpless to explain it all.

Actually, he’d done a pretty good job, not of convincing Vikar that he should go all out with Christmas madness as Alex’s plan would surely be, but showing a more simple view of the holiday. “Is the farm still there?”

Karl nodded. “I’ve not been permitted to make myself visible to any of my family, especially while Sally was still alive.” He bit his bottom lip for a long moment before going on. “Mom died a long time ago, but my Dad is still alive. Finally retired at eighty-nine. My little brother Erik works the land now. Quite a prosperous operation these days.” He laughed. “I say little, but Erik is fifty-eight now, and has not just grandchildren, but one great-granddaughter.”

Just then, Vikar heard the loud bang, bang, bang of little feet stomping down the uncarpeted back stairs. Laughing (Was there anything sweeter than the sound of a child laughing?), excited chatter (Do children know how to talk below a shout?), shrieking “I’m first, I’m first.”

Gunnora rushed through the doorway of the servant’s staircase, shoving her brother aside with a swing of her tiny hip. Her blonde braids were half undone and she had a dirt smudge on her freckled nose. “Papa, look what I found in the attic.” She was carrying a wooden soldier nutcracker almost a tall as she was. “Gimme a nut, Lizzie,” she ordered.

“I’ll give you a nut, you little tyrant,” Lizzie muttered and went back to reading her recipe book.

Close behind Nora was her twin Gunnar who carefully held a wooden stable inside of which Vikar could see what appeared to be painted wood Nativity figures. Gun put it on the floor and began to arrange the little statues of the Holy Family and animals. “I need some straw,” he said to himself. “Betcha that Amish man at the farmers’ market has some.”

And then there was Alex, his wife, who could still make his heart leap (and other body parts), despite their being married three years now. “Honey, wait —til you see what I found for you,” she said, placing a dust-covered box on the counter in front of him.

Uh-oh. There is that “honey” again. Best I raise my shield and prepare for battle.

Gun and Nora were jumping up and down with excitement. Open it, Papa. Open it.” And the gleam in Alex’s eyes was much like that of a Norseman just home from a long trip a-Viking, offering some treasure or other to a loved one. Maybe she was not asking another favor of him, but granting one. He would be open minded.

“Thank you, love,” he said graciously.

But then he saw what was inside and thought, Screw open-minded.

He said, “Holy shit!” before he could catch himself. Alex did not like him to use foul language in front of the children. But this required a “Holy shit!” if anything ever did. Inside the box, was a moth-holed, old-fashioned Santa suit, with a black leather belt, big boots, and a ridiculous peaked cap.

Just then, Nora let out a little squeal and set aside the nutcracker. Running over to the window facing the back courtyard, she said, “It’s snowing! It’s snowing!”

And Gun said, “Maybe we can make a snowman, just like Frosty.”

And Alex, who was tone deaf or close to it, burst out into song, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

And Karl said, “I’m outta here.”

“Can I come with you?” Vikar asked.

“Hell, no, Mister Scrooge!”

Once Karl was gone and the children had gone off with a grumbling Lizzie to find some coal and carrots and a cap for Frosty, he and Alex were alone. He glanced pointedly at the open box and said, “Surely, you don’t expect me to…come on, Alex, sweetling…Santa with fangs? Ha, ha, ha.”

She didn’t laugh. Instead, she gave him that little secret Mona Lisa smile…and, yes, he had met the model for the Mona Lisa painting one time and knew exactly why she had been smiling. “Honey,” Alex purred.

Beware of women who purr. “No, no, no!” he said. And he continued to insist, “No, no, no,” until Alex yawned and mentioned taking a little nap. He did so enjoy afternoon “naps” with his wife.

Still, he protested, “A Viking Santa?”

Somehow Alex managed to hop up onto his lap, straddling his hips. With arms looped around his neck, she said, “Please?”

“I will be the laughingstock of Vikings throughout this world and the other,” he said on a groan of surrender.

Oddly, he found that he no longer cared.



Vangel to the rescue…

Karl had to get away from the castle.

That was nothing unusual. There were always so many people around the vangel homeplace, it was hard to find a private spot to be alone. And Karl was a loner at heart.

At the present time, there were thirty-five or so vangels in residence. Sometimes, there could be up to two hundred, although not so much anymore since Michael had commissioned Ivak to establish another headquarters in Louisiana and plans were supposedly afoot for more satellite operations. When not out on a mission, vangels here usually helped Vikar with whatever latest restoration job was in progress. Painting, plastering, plumbing, whatever, it was neverending. Or they hung out in one of the twenty-five bedrooms, or the family television room, or the library, or the dormitory, lounge, and weight rooms in the dungeon basement. It was like having dozens of annoying brothers and sisters. And they all loved nothing better than to stick their noses in each other’s business. Viking busybodies!

And now Christmas! The castle will be even more chaotic than usual. I’ll be damned if I dress up like jolly ol’ Nick because sure as sin Alex won’t be satisfied with just one Santa. And I’ll be damned if I sing Christmas carols. I could make anatomically correct Gingerbread Men and Women, though, like the ones Eric and I made when we were kids before Ma whipped our butts.

The memory brought a smile to his face before he hopped in his ten-year-old pick-up truck. Before turning on the ignition, he rubbed his hands over his bristly head in frustration. He’d kept his hair military short ever since —Nam. Maybe it was time for a change.

But not today.

He often got in his pickup truck and just went out for a drive, or stopped at a greasy spoon restaurant for a cup of coffee, or on rare occasions parked on a hill overlooking one of the Amish farms outside of town and sat in his vehicle watching the everyday activities of farm life. Pathetic, really.

But today was different. What was it with that diarrhea of the mouth he’d suddenly developed? Talking nostalgically about his childhood home and family like they’d been the friggin’ Waltons or something? Pfff! Next he would be blabbing about his tour in —Nam, at which point he would have to slit his own throat.

Yeah, maybe it was time for a new hairstyle. Time to rid himself of that last visible reminder of that horrible episode in his life, when he’d committed his great sin. Hah! He could wear a ponytail down to his ass and that wouldn’t change anything. The reminders were embedded forever in his brain.

He drove slowly down the long driveway that led through the hundred-acre property and nodded as Svein waved him through the electronic gate that had been erected last year. Security was extremely important, not just to keep out the tourists that flooded the whack-job town of Transylvania, but it was important that location of the vangel command center be kept a secret from Jasper, king of all the Lucipires, their most hated enemy.

Lucipires were demon vampires, one of Satan’s many tools, whose sole purpose was to kill evil people, or those about to commit some great sin, before their time, before they had a chance to repent. Those taken were not sent to Hell but to Horror, where Jasper and his minions tortured them until they turned into Lucies themselves.

Lucipires were the reason why vangels had been created to begin with. And humans, who had been guilty of some grave sin during their human life, like himself, were more than grateful for this second chance at redemption. It was either that or go south to that other place. Really south. Where it was hotter than Hades. Wait a minute. It was Hades.

Karl shook his head at the idiocy of making jokes with himself. Next he would be talking to himself. And babbling like a moron. Here’s a news flash, Mortensen, you already did that.

He passed the “Welcome to Transylvania” billboard and then St. Vladamir’s Church where the outdoor sign read, “God Loves All His Creations…Even You.” He had to give the town credit. It had been a depressed, dying burg here in the boondocks until about seven years ago when some enterprising fellow came up with the idea of jumping on the vampire bandwagon. Back then, the book Twilight had been published with great acclaim and that True Blood series was just taking off.

They changed the name of the town to Transylvania, and every business developed a vampire slant, one dorkier than the other. The naysayers had predicted the vampire craze would die out, but thus far that hadn’t happened. Tourists swamped the town year-round, except for the coldest months, but even now the town council was planning some big Christmas bash that would draw vampire aficionados, despite the weather.

The good thing was that vangels, who’d taken over the long-abandoned, rundown castle up on the hill, built by a lumber baron a century ago, didn’t stand out in the crowds here. Not even when they were wearing long cloaks to hide their weapons. The town folks thought the castle was being renovated into a hotel.

Snow was coming down harder now. Big, fat flakes. Karl turned the windshield wipers on and amped up the heat as he passed slowly through town. He was wearing only an unlined denim jacket, and the temperature was dropping by the minute.

Here and there Karl waved to people he knew. Well, not really “knew.” Acquaintances. Vangels tried not to get too close to humans for fear of revealing their true selves.

Maury Bernstein, owner of “Good Bites,” who stood in the open doorway of his restaurant watching the snow come down, was probably wondering if it would affect his dinner crowd. There were at least twenty restaurants and bars serving food and drinks in the area. Everything from “The Bloody Burger Joint” to “Drac’s Dungeon” to “The Dark Side.” A signature drink at most of the bars was called a “Bloody Fang.”

Stella Cantrell was hanging a wreath on the door of “Stinking Roses,” a tiny shop that specialized in everything involving garlic. Stinking rose was another name for garlic, Karl had learned on moving here. Apparently garlic was supposed to repel vampires, though the town’s purpose was to attract them, of course. Personally, he liked garlic, in moderation. Anyhow, Stella’s wreath had garlic bulbs adorning it as well as holly berries.

Other stores sold capes, fake fangs, crosses on heavy gold chains, even stakes, which could double for tomato plant supports, and posters. Several t-shirt shops did a flourishing business with logos like “Fangbangers,” “Got Blood,” “Sookie Got Screwed,” “Bitten,” and so on. The adult video store had been forced to move last year to the outskirts of town by conservatives outraged at the vulgar titles in the window. They were probably right since tourists often brought kids with them, but the titles of some of them had been funny. Like “Ejacula,” “Intercourse With a Vampire,” “Fang Me, Bang Me,” or “Vlad Had a Really Big Impaler.”

Leaving the town proper, Karl headed west toward Penn State University, though it was a good distance away. Two miles out of town, he passed the Bed & Blood Bed and Breakfast, run by an Amish couple, who were being shunned by their community. The husband made hand-carved specialty caskets that he sold on the Internet, probably the reason they were ostracized by their order. Alex was friends with them and bought lots of fresh produce there.

Karl had been feeling jumpy all day. The skin-crawling sensation he often got before a mission. Which was odd because there was no particular mission on the agenda as far as he knew. He’d quit smoking last month. That was probably what was affecting him so. Or maybe he needed a cup of coffee. Caffeine had the opposite effect on him as some folks. It tended to calm him down.

He pulled into the almost empty parking lot of Drac’s Diner off Route 322. There was something…rather, someone…he needed to check on here.

The bell on the door tinkled when he entered. The only other customers were a couple in a back booth and a truck driver sitting at the far end of the counter having an early dinner. Other than the name of the diner, this place didn’t do much to push the vampire theme, except during the high season, when the staff might don fake fangs. Their menu hadn’t changed in years.

“Hey, stranger,” the manager and co-owner, Jeanette Morgan, called out. “Coffee and a piece of apple pie?”

“Just coffee today, thanks.”

He sat down at the counter, near the register, and straddled the stool. “Where’s Faith today?”

Faith was a young waitress that worked here. A tiny bird of a woman who always looked frightened. She reminded him a little of his deceased wife Sally, except Faith was way thinner, and her blonde hair was always lank, and her blue eyes dull.

Jeanette rolled her eyes and leaned over the counter toward him. “She called in sick again today. I’m worried about her.”

That prickly sensation on his skin turned pricklier. “Why?”

“She’s being abused by that no-good bastard she lives with. Leroy Brown, named after that junkyard dog song, no doubt. Can’t hold a job or his temper. Never has two pennies to rub together but plenty for that souped up Harley of his and for the booze. Meanwhile, she drives a twenty-year-old, rusted out Volkswagon with bald tires. The jerk lives off Faith’s piddly tips when he’s unemployed, which is most of the time. Fashions himself some kind of heavy metal musician in local dives. Pfff! Heavy metal jackass, if you ask me!”

The fine hairs on the back of Karl’s neck stood out with alarm. “What do you mean by abuse? Yelling, verbal insults, that kind of thing?”

“I wish! Not that making her feel like crap isn’t his M.O., but he hits her, too. Last year, he broke her wrist. One time when he was really plastered, he carved his initials on her thigh.”

Karl saw red, literally, for a moment. “Why does she stay with him if…nevermind. I know about the abused wife syndrome. Every TV shrink in the world talks about it.”

“She’s not his wife, thank God. But same as, I guess. Problem is that business slows down for us here during the winter, and her tips have been smaller. I suspect that Leroy the Loser thinks she’s holding out on him. He usually hides any marks he put on her, but last week I noticed finger marks on her neck. He’s escalating. Poor Faith! She doesn’t deserve this.”

That was it! Karl stood abruptly, causing his coffee to splash over into the saucer. “Where does she live? I’ll go check on her.”

“Would you?” Jeanette asked hopefully. “I thought about calling the police, but a trooper who was in here yesterday told me they have to have cause for even knocking on a door, not just suspicions. And she has never filed a complaint, I don’t think. These days, the law protects the perps as much as the victims. The trooper’s words, not mine.”

“What’s the address?”

“I’m not sure. She lives in a small trailer park off the road between Reedsville and Belleville. Called Floral Heaven, or Floral Oaks, or some such thing.”

Somehow, Karl would find her. “What’s her last name?” he asked, finding it hard to believe he was off to rescue someone whose name he didn’t even know.

“Larson. Faith Larson.”

He reached for his wallet, about to pay for his coffee when Jeanette waved his hand aside. “On the house, buddy. And, hey, would you please let me know what you find out, either way?”

“Sure,” he said.

It was a fifteen-minute drive along Route 322 under normal circumstances, but today the snow continued to fall heavily and the going was slow. Especially, when he made the turn-off onto the two-lane Route 655 at Reedsville and kept getting caught behind one Amish buggy after another. They were picturesque as anything here in Big Valley, but when you were in a hurry, nothing but a nuisance. He took a deep breath and deliberately tamped down his anxious nerves, taking in the sights. One antique shop after another. Peachey’s Meat Market where Lizzie often bought whole carcasses of beef or pork or lamp, or fresh vegetables at the farmers’ market in the summer months. The Rustic Log Furniture Barn. Brookmere Winery. A woodcarver and several fabric and quilt shops. Alex purchased many Amish quilts for the beds back at the castle. They were pretty and very expensive.

Finally, unable thus far to find any trailer park at all he had to give up and ask for directions. He stopped and went into Dayze Gone Bye Carriage Rides, which offered tours of the Amish farms in better weather. There were no customers today, of course.

“Goot day!” said the Amish fellow, who wore the traditional plain clothes of his order, black pants and jacket, blue shirt, long beard and hair that looked liked it had been cut with a bowl over the head. “Kin I help ya?”

Karl went up to the counter and asked the young man, “Can you tell me where to find Floral Oaks Trailer Park, or maybe it’s Floral Heaven?”

“Can’t say I ever heard of…oh, ya mean Rose Haven. Ya gotta turn back t’ward the highway —bout a mile or so. Turn right at Yoder’s Orchard, then drive —bout a quarter mile up the road.”

“Thanks,” he said, giving a little salute. Another thing he needed to stop doing.

He soon found the place, and what a pitiful excuse for a trailer park it was, too. About a dozen rusty old trailers with propane tanks outside for heat sat about in a cluster. Even covered with snow, their sorry condition couldn’t be hidden. An old VW bug was parked in front of one of them, and luckily no motorcyle in sight.

He knocked on the door, and, although he heard some music playing lightly in the background…a Country music song by the sounds of it…no one answered the door. He knocked some more, “Open up, Faith. It’s me, Karl Mortensen. Jeanette asked me to come check on you.”

Finally, the door opened a crack.

And he was not prepared for what he saw. He, who’d seen more horrific sights in his short life than any man should, both in —Nam and as a vangel fighting demon vampires, was shocked.

Faith’s left eye was swollen shut. There was a black-and-blue hand print across her cheek. And her bottom lip looked as if it had been botoxed all to hell, without the benefit of the pricey shots; a crack in the middle still oozed blood. Who knew how bad the rest of her was, the part hidden by the door?

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” he muttered and shoved the door wider.

“Hey, you can’t just come in here and—”

“Try and stop me, sweetheart.” Then, “Oh, honey, you need go to the emergency room or to a doctor.”

She was wearing a PSU sweatshirt and loose jeans. Her feet were bare. She was a skinny little thing, which made the bruises on her arms more startling, and she kept one hand over her stomach where Leroy had probably kicked her. He tried not to imagine initials carved on her thigh.

“NO!” she shouted with alarm. Then, more softly. “I can’t go to a doctor or an emergency room. They’re too expensive and they’ll want me to file a complaint.” She stared at him for a moment. “You’re the guy from the diner who always orders coffee and apple pie.”

As if that mattered! “Why wouldn’t you want the bastard arrested?”

“Because he would come after me when he got out, and it would be worse.”

“Where is the junkyard dog now? Off beating on another helpless woman?”

“He went to the store. For beer.”

That was all the asshole needed. More alcohol to fuel his rage, which translated to more beating up on the closest victim he could find. In other words, Faith.

“Let’s get out of here then. Go pack a bag.”

She shook her head. “I can’t. He’ll find me. He always does.”

“Surely, there’s a woman’s shelter that—”

“No! I’ve tried that before. He always, always finds me.”

“Listen, this ends today. Unless you love the bastard and want to stay with him until he finally kills you.”

“I don’t love him,” she spat out. “I haven’t for a long time, but I have no choice. People like you, all high and mighty, think it’s so easy to just walk out, but it isn’t. It isn’t!” she sobbed.

“It is now. I’ve got your back, and no one, NO ONE, is going to hurt you again.”

She peered hopefully up at him through her one open, tear-misted eye. Tears also seeped from the closed eye, which probably burned like a bitch. “Where can I go?”

“With me?”


Oh, Lord! Was he really going to do this? “Back to my place. You’ll be safe there.” I won’t be, once Mike finds out, though. Ah, hell! What else can I do?

She went into the tiny bedroom to pack, and he paced around the small space that was a kitchen, dining room, and living room combined. It was shabby as all get out but spotlessly clean. The most pathetic little Charlie Brown style tree sat on a windowsill. There was a small TV in the corner, but an electric guitar beside it that probably cost at least a thousand dollars. A man’s high-end leather jacket hung from a wall peg, next to a threadbare, pink, puffy jacket that probably came from Goodwill. The temperature inside was decidedly cool. They were probably out of fuel.

“Hurry up in there, Faith. The snow’s coming down pretty hard, and we have a long drive back to the cas—back home.” He went over to the kitchen counter and turned off the old Bakelite radio where Miranda Lambert was belting off something about not being able to go home. Wanna bet? he thought.

“I’m ready,” she said, standing in the doorway with a battered, old-fashioned, hard surface Samsonite overnight suitcase. She’d put on a pair of white sneakers, which would get wet just walking outside, but he wasn’t about to ask her to change. He took the luggage out of her hand while she donned the pink jacket and topped it off with a fuzzy pink hat with a matching scarf, both having seen better days. She looked like a Pepto Pez.

Just then, they heard the sound of a motorcycle riding up the road, stopping outside, revving its motor in a display of pure masculine idiocy, and then a male voice exclaiming, “What the hell?”

“Leroy, I presume?”

She nodded and made a small mewling sound like a whipped kitten. Her body began to tremble.

“Don’t, Faith. He can’t hurt you anymore.”

“Yes, he can. He’ll hurt you, too.”

Karl made a snorting sound of disagreement. “I’d like to see him try.”

“Oh, you should have never come. This is bad. Really bad.”

The door flew open and banged against an interior wall causing a framed print of the Last Supper to fall to the floor, its glass shattering.

A sign if he ever saw one.

“I knew it. You bitch!” You’ve been fucking around on me all this time.” Leroy was six feet of body builder muscle, close to two hundred pounds, wearing a studded motorcycle jacket over a “Bang a Biker” t-shirt. Black jeans were tucked into heavy motorcycle boots.

“Not, Leroy. It’s not what you think. This is just a…a friend from the diner.”

“Bullshit! You’ve been screwing a fuckin’ jarhead, all the time tryin’ to pretend you’re Little Miss Innocent. You’re a slut, that’s what you are.”

“You got it all wrong, man,” Karl started to say.

“You! You!” Leroy sputtered, pointing a forefinger at Karl, spit flying. “Nobody fucks with my woman and walks away. You are dead meat!”

“Your woman? I didn’t realize that you were married,” Karl said, edging away from Faith to get a better position for when Leroy struck, which he surely would.

“Same as!” Leroy contended. “Tell him, Faith. Tell him you’re mine.”

Faith just whimpered, unable to speak.

Which infuriated Leroy even more. He fisted his hands.

It was obvious to Karl that Leroy was debating in that thick testosterone-fueled brain of his whom to hit first, him or Faith.

Karl had other plans.

Leroy took up way too much space in this small trailer. Karl hated the image of a brute of this size and strength beating on a woman like Faith, who couldn’t be more than five-foot-three and a hundred and ten pounds soaking wet. He could handle Leroy, even though the ape had a good twenty pounds on him. Wake up, Loser. You don’t want to tick off a vangel.

But wait. The smell of lemons filled the air, a sure signal to vangels and Lucies alike that this was an evil man, or one about to commit some evil. In Leroy’s case, probably both. It was Karl’s job as a vampire angel to try to redeem sinners like Leroy. To offer them a chance to change their bad ways. He’d like to sic a Lucie on Leroy instead and send him to the Horror he deserved.

Still, Karl said, “You don’t want to do this, Leroy. Why not take a stand today? Turn a new leaf? I can help you.”

“Suck my dick!”

Okaaay! Karl just smiled, he couldn’t help himself.

Faith looked at Karl like he was crazy. She had to be thinking that her knight in shining armor riding in on a snow white horse was actually a wuss in a Levi jacket driving an old pickup truck.

He had news for her. Not that he was any kind of a hero, but damn, some days it was good to be a vangel.


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