It's the End of Days, and Gabe and Remian ex-con biker and a Texas cowboyhave been conscripted to join the heavenly host in a battle against Lucifer's spec ops troops: demons who inhabit characters from fiction, history, myths, legends, and folklore.
But Gabe and Remi, still learning their roles, now must deal with one particular demon wearing the body of an infamous murderer: Jack the Ripper. Young women bearing the names of the murder victims killed during the Ripper's time are turning up dead, setting Gabe and Remi on a perilous path to save whoever they can, while also battling members of Lucifer's vanguard bent on killing them.
Sinners and Saints is myth and magic, gods and goddesses, angels and agendas.
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I attempted suicide-by-stairs by heading down them faster than a stiff, bruised body could handle comfortably—I felt eighty-eight, not twenty-eight—played a hasty game of grab-and-snatch with a rough wooden bannister, and finally hit the floor upright on the soles of my boots rather than landing on head or hip. It wasn't a silent descent, but it got me there.
Dim downstairs, and quiet. Dangling string-lights draped at the back windows by the pool tables lent pale illumination. A garland of matching lights stretched along the barback mirror, glinting off glass, copper, and chrome, turned polished wood to liquid. I smelled a melange of alcohol ranging from mellow, tame beer to more robust stout; the thin astringency of wine and the deep, warm odors of Scottish whiskey and American bourbon.
"Grandaddy? You here?"
"Grandaddy?" Nothing. I gave the other possibility a try, this time asking for the African god who doubled as a bartender. "Ganji?"
No angelic being. No African Orisha.
The latter, who happened to be Lord of the Volcanoes, was probably up on the once-burned mountain-part of a dormant volcano cluster-behind the Zoo, soothing her with song, promising life after a long sleep. So long as he kept the volcano asleep for a few more centuries, time enough for me to exit the earth in a perfectly normal, boring fashion sans lava or pyroclastic explosions. But I had no idea where Grandaddy might have gone. Or why he walked out in the middle of a conversation while examining the letter purportedly from the Jack the Ripper.
I hesitated a moment because, well, while this wasn't exactly a horror movie complete with creepy music, after the discoveries of the last few days of my unexpectedly new life I figured all bets were off. Then I mentally shoved that thought aside and crossed the parquet dance floor to the front door, slid the latch and twisted the deadbolt, pulled it open, and looked beyond the porch and its steps into the darkness of an empty parking lot. Not even the big guitar-shaped neon marquee sign advertising live country music was lighted.
The occasional vehicle hummed its way down Route 66 in the darkness, thumping across cold weather expansion seams in the road, but at this time of the morning, an hour, maybe two, before false dawn, things were quiet. The air was markedly cool, unlike the warmth of the summer day earlier, and made me wish for a little something more than thin black t-shirt. I smelled pine trees, the parking lot's damp dirt, and the heavy moisture of incipient rain.
I reached out. Not physically. But with the—whatever—that made me sensitive to places. All I got back was a sense of the color green, flickering at the inner edges of my vision. The Zoo—the domicile, in some mongrel hybrid of angelic/demonic-speak—had been cleared of surrogates and no longer could any of them just come waltzing through the door and out onto the dance floor. Whoever had sent the letter and kidney had not set foot in the place.
I did not shout out into the night, after the "vandalism" of a few nights before, when Remi and I had been set upon by a slew of dead animals. As this resulted in us shooting up the place to take out two demons masquerading as ghosts, I figured it was smart not to go calling attention to myself by bellowing into the darkness. Maybe Grandaddy had an understanding with the police, but until I knew that I wanted to play it safe.
Behind me a light flickered. A second pulse caught the corner of my eye. I spun, hand going at once to the butt of the pistol sheathed in the shoulder holster under my left arm, but I lowered my arm when I realized it very well might be Remi, come hunting Grandaddy as well, or our resident African god.
No cowboy, though. Still no Orisha. Beneath more string-lights, crammed back into his corner near the front door the rearing, gape-mouthed grizzly stared blankly out of a broken black-glass eye. I'd shattered it earlier with a hurled cue ball. A trace of a chill touched the back of my neck, slid halfway down my spine. I suppressed a shiver. The grizzly was nothing more than a stuffed animal once again, but still fearsome to look upon. Especially when he—it—had done a damn fine imitation of an attack intended to slice-and-dice me.
All of the animals had been returned to their displays throughout the Zoo. Bobcat, mountain lion, even Remi's tusked hava-pig-thing. It was dim enough indoors that I couldn't tell if the bullet holes in their hides had been patched over, but it was downright spooky to see all those glossy fake-ass eyes staring back. Dead, maybe, but they'd been dead before and damn near did me in.
As I lingered on the threshold, I reached out again, stretched myself, gathering up the interior stillness necessary to lose myself in parts and pieces, in the architecture of my gift. Grandaddy had guided it, had guided me, but for years I hadn't actually intentionally summoned it the way I had upon the mountain at Grandaddy's just the other day. For one thing, I'd been in prison less than two weeks before; I saw so much bad shit on the surface of that place that I didn't care to explore the boiling hostility beneath.
But I was no longer in prison, and now I payed out my senses like kite string. I sensed flickers of green at the edges of my eyes, but also the faintest trace of red. Off/on, off/on, as if uncertain. It bled away into nothingness.
I freed the Taurus Judge from its holster, held it down at arm's length against my right thigh. I stood with my back to the front door, then thunked it closed with a behind-the-back push from spread fingers. I felt for the latch, shot it. Took several strides out into the center of the dance floor. String-lights strung throughout the bar flickered. Either trouble with the power, or something far more consequential, maybe.
Consequential it was. As I watched, the illuminated glass globes of the string-lights detached themselves and floated up to perch upon hand-hewn crossbeams like birds upon a wire, ten feet up from the dance floor. Except they weren't string-lights at all.
"Huh," I said, eyebrows rising. "Orbs?" I tipped my head back to follow the dance.
Little by little, more of them detached from walls, from the barback, floated out into the air. Like variegated soap bubbles blown from a wand, some bobbed while others drifted upward in loose ranks toward the roof planks. The glass-like balls sitting on the crossbeams strobed brightly, and I saw some of them were fissured with spider-web cracks.
Yup, orbs. And I knew my orbs. Well, so to speak. As much as you can know when you read up on them in folklore and paranormal texts. Major debates continued, with more scientific types claiming them nothing more than phenomena caused by insects, dust particles, photographic highlights, and so on. But those steeped in the paranormal were convinced orbs were very real, considered them harbingers, spirits, and guides, and certain colors represented specific aspects. I had no opinion other than the ones now gathering in the middle of the Zoo sure as hell looked like more than dust particles or photographic reflections.
And they winked at me. I heard the barest suggestion of vibrating chimes, of a subtle singing, like a wet finger rounding the rim of fine crystal.
I gazed up at the rows and clusters, watched the strobe effects go faster, brighter; heard the chimes climbing a nearly silent scale that resonated inside my ears like an annoying case of tinnitus. The orbs quivered and shimmied so markedly that I sensed any second they might spring into the air in joyous abandon like some Disneyfied little creatures.
I pointed a minatory finger at them. "Don't you dare start singing 'It's A Small World.'"
A step sounded at the bottom stair, and Remi, still hatless, arrived with his drawl. "Little early for Christmas lights, ain't it?"
"Orbs," I answered, still watching the pulsing lights. "Also rather appropriately known as the Circle of Confusion."
"Well, I'm confused." Cowboy boots thumped as he crossed from staircase to parquet. His brows were drawn together as he gazed up at the array of orbs. "Are those suckers alive?"
"There is some argument to that effect," I noted, "between those into the whole Orb Zone Theory thing, and those who believe they may well be some form of paranormal life-extensions of energy, that kind of thing. But never the twain shall meet."
Remi stopped next to me, head tipped back. The orbs along the crossbeams quivered. "They seem a mite excitable."
"You seeing the colors?"
"Yup. Green. Peach. Little gold."
"I see white," he agreed.
I nodded, mentally counting off the ranks of glass, digging answers from my memory of the texts I had read. "Those are all good colors, they say. And I see colors, feel colors, when I reach out." I shrugged; it still sounded weird even to me, trying to explain how and what I felt. "I don't get a sense of sentience, but peach is comfort. White means protection . . . it's holy light, holy power. Gold is . . ." I grinned, holstered the revolver. "Gold is angelic. It's unconditional love."
Remi looked perplexed. "So, what-they've come along to hang out with us brand spanking new little half-angels?"
I watched the light display above our heads. "I'm seeing silver, now, too. See? Silver means a messenger."
"Messenger orbs?" He sounded highly skeptical.
"Hey, I didn't write the books. I just read 'em."
We heard a rattle at the front door. I assumed Grandaddy and Ganji had keys, but neither appeared, so this was someone deliberately trying the latch without legal entrance. Possibly even with lockpicks. Rather than bellowing that we were closed, I headed toward the door to throw the deadbolt. And then the latch slid back seemingly on its own, and before I could even reach the door to shove the bolt back into its hasp, the heavy metal-strapped door swung open.
Young, blond, white guy, trim build, maybe late twenties, like Remi and me. He wore pressed dark dress slacks, starched white button-down dress shirt with collar points freed of button containment, top button undone to bare his throat. No tie, sleeves rolled back. Gold Rolex with its characteristic band glinted on his left wrist. He was Hollywood-handsome with clean, striking facial lines, blue eyes, long pale-blond hair pulled up and doubled into a slick-backed high man-bun. And shining white teeth.
"Hi," he said, with a bright go-getter-young-executive kind of smile. "Can a guy get a drink around here?"
"Sorry 'bout that, but we're closed," Remi replied, even as I added it was way beyond last call.
The guy shrugged, hands thrust into his pockets casually. The shoes, I noticed, were black dress and glossy. Probably a thousand dollars' worth of fine leather. "I know it's late, but I'd really like a drink. It's been a hellaciously long trip."
"We're closed," I repeated. "We'll reopen tomorrow at . . ." I had no idea, since I didn't run the place, so I just threw it out there, " . . . eleven."
"Live country music," Remi put in, as if he were running the place. "Though the band don't start 'til round about seven."
Our man-bunned visitor showed his handsome teeth in that fine toothpaste commercial dental arcade. "I'd really like to grab a drink before I hit the road."
I wasn't exactly blocking the door, but he did have to step to the side as if to slide around me. I saw a quick, rippling frown cross Remi's face as he looked at the guy-and the cowboy was the one sensitive to demons-so I reached out, caught the stranger's upper arm.
Fire like an electrical shock kindled into a conflagration, then shunted through my fingers, up my left arm, and set my shoulder socket ablaze.
I fell back a step, clutched my arm against me-the pain and a thumping heart felt like a heart attack-and through gritted teeth called the guy every colorful name I could think of, none of them particularly nice.
"All true," he agreed with unoffended cheerfulness as I ran out of words and massaged my aching arm. Even as Remi took a step, hand going to the Bowie at his belt, the stranger glanced up at the glowing glass bubbles quivering on the crossbeams. He smiled, waited-and every orb in the place strobed yellow, brown, then red, then black. "There you go," he said with vast satisfaction. "Better than all those goody two-shoes, pansy-assed pastels." He looked at Remi, at me, and his smile fell away. "I said I'd like to have a drink."