I ran as fast as I could go, which was a portly jog with Anna on my shoulder. I found Duffy in the main hallway with Min and Phil. They were standing over someone laid out on the floor in pieces and his skin was smoking.
“Stan,” Anna mumbled sleepily.
I fought the urge to punch something. I couldn’t forget that Anna sleep talked about the burly angel of death. As long as she didn’t say…
“Stan is super cute.”
Yeah, that. I plopped Anna down on a bench and let her dream on.
“What happened?” I said. “It looks like he got on the wrong side of some demons.”
Stan groaned pitifully. He had to be hurting seeing as his leg at the knee was blown off, there was a gaping hole in his gut and the entire left side of his body was sizzling with acidic demonfire.
“They jumped me,” Stan moaned. He was really putting his heart and soul into the act too. “There had to be thousands of them.”
“I bet,” I said.
Stan gasped in pain and held out his hand to plead for help. “Anna…”
Duffy snort laughed and unsuccessfully hid it behind a cough. “Sorry, bro, she’s out cold.”
Phil stepped out of the way and pointed to Anna who was draped over the bench, her head back and snoring like a lumberjack. I may or may not have put her in that position because I knew she snored louder when she slept on her back. If anyone asked, I was going to change the subject.
“Dang it. Well, it was worth a try,” Stan said. He sat up and started to reassemble himself.
“So, what really happened?” I said.
“I did get jumped by a couple hundred demons. I heard them coming and took out most of them, but they didn’t track me down for a fight. The head demon kept yelling to maim me, but keep my head intact,” Stan said as he scooped his guts back into his stomach and held them there until his skin knit closed again.
“Head demon?” Phil said.
“Yeah, some Brittish dude with a massive ego. He called himself Edward the Deliverer. There are a few things I’d like to see delivered to that guy and none of them are remotely nice. He had his minions hold me down while he fried me with demonfire,” Stan said.
That explained the smoking burns on his left side. Despite his southern charm and annoying heroic antics, I felt for the guy. I wasn’t a total brick. Demonfire stung like crazy. I helped him reattach his leg.
“Then what happened?”
“He kept it up for a few hours, until he was ready to chat.” Stan reattached chunks of flesh and the last of his wounds began to rapidly heal. I gave him a hand and pulled him to his feet. “Edward seemed to know you, Gideon. He said you and he have a deal,” Stan said.
“I don’t do deals with demons,” I said. I cringed. The fact that I knew Edward was bad enough and his lies still bothered me.
“I didn’t think so, even if it was with some demon named The Deliverer. I told him to shove off, but he said he wanted me to send you a message. They guy is annoying. He made me repeat back to him the message so I got all of it right. He dropped me off right here at the school, shot off my flare and disappeared.”
Duffy, Phil and Min looked up at me, mouths gaping. I couldn’t meet their eyes. I had a rotten feeling in the pit of my stomach that I already knew what Edward wanted.
“What was the message?” I said.
“A pile of lies,” Stan said heatedly. “I know you too well to take the demon seriously. They all lie. It’s what they do. I mean… it’s you, Gideon. Out of all the angels I know, there is no way you’d let a demon talk you into doing something stupid. Heck, you probably don’t even let them speak before blowing their heads off. It’s what all of us were trained to do…”
Stan babbled himself into silence. Nobody wanted to say anything or look in my direction.
“Rule one,” Duffy whispered.
“Shoot first,” Phil said.
And I didn’t shoot first. I let a demon speak to me. Twice.
“What was the message?” I repeated.
Stan was floored. “Gideon…”
“Just tell me what the demon said. I have to know,” I said.
“He… uh, he said you two had a deal,” Stan stuttered. “And that he is ready to collect. I thought he was lying. He has to be. Right, Gid?”
“There was no deal,” I said emphatically, but fear edged into my voice. Edward the dingbat demon just wouldn’t leave me alone. A nagging voice in the back of my head reminded me that he kept showing up because I wanted him there.
“I certainly hope not,” Stan said. “He seems to think that your Mortal is fair game, which can’t happen unless you lose hope.”
Which I hadn’t. I finally got Katelyn to smile and she had a friend now; a good one that was much better than Becca. And yet—
“Is she still on The List?” I said. “Check it. Her name is Bill Cody.”
“I thought your Mortal was a girl?” Stan said.
“Just check it!”
Stan shook his head and got out his phone. He scrolled through his list of Mortals nearing the end of their lives. His brows furrowed as he flipped through to the top of the list and rechecked it.
“Katelyn Cody is still on The List, bro,” Stan said. “Granted, she’s a ways down and got a while, but she’s still on it.”
“How long does she have?” I said.
“Placement on The List shifts around all the time,” Stan said.
“Futures change,” Duffy said. “Even a cocky A.O.D. like you should know that, Stan.”
“We have time to get her off The List so, we’re good,” I said, relieved. “That butthead demon, Evan…”
“Edward,” Stan corrected.
“Whatever his stupid name is! He lied. We’re good. I’m good.”
“That’s a relief,” Stan said. “Because he said he was coming to Muddy Gap and nothing was going to stop him because you invited him. Good thing he’s out of his mind.”
I laughed shakily. “Yeah. Good thing.”
Anna snorted loudly, mid-snore, and rolled over. She shifted for a more comfortable position on the hard bench. After a few nup nups she started mumbling in her sleep.
“Jeffery City…was just…the beginning,” she said sleepily then added dreamily. “Oh Stan, please stay.”
“Well,” I said loudly in case Anna decided to sleep talk some more. “I’m sure you’re a busy guy. You delivered your message, so—,”
I pushed Stan toward the front doors of the school.
“Is she dreaming about me?” Stan said.
“Who knows,” I said, praying he’d just pack up and leave already. “Half the stuff she says in her sleep doesn’t make sense anyway.”
“Dreamy Stan,” Anna mumbled with a girlish giggle.
“Don’t you have somebody to knock off?” I shouted to drown her out. “I’m sure there’s got to be a retirement home you could have some fun in. Shoot a few old guys in wheelchairs…”
“She is definitely dreaming about me,” Stan said as I pushed him farther down the hall. “Does she do that a lot?”
“She’s narcoleptic, man,” Duffy said. “Sleeping is what she does all the time.”
“Bye, Steve,” I said glumly as Stan strutted out the door.
“Stan, bro. Seriously, it’s not that hard to remember. It’s one syllable,” Stan said. He stopped short and turned back. “By the way, once I report Katelyn to the A.O.D. Department, you have less than twenty-four hours to get your Mortal off The List. Folks around here don’t mess around when they decide to kick the bucket. It’s tempting to stick around.”
“Thanks, but I’m sure you’d get bored,” I said.
“I dunno. That Miracle is pretty fine,” Stan said glancing back at Anna over my shoulder.
“Bye, Stan,” I said pointedly as I shut the door in his face. First I leaned against the door for a moment, but that didn’t seem sufficient. I began knocking my head against the metal. I finally was making headway with Katelyn, but she was still on the stinking List! What did that mean? Of course, knowing Stan, who knew? He was notorious for having the itchiest trigger finger out there. My heart went cold. What if he shot Katelyn early?
I pushed away from the door. My head hurt now, which really didn’t help matters. I headed back to Duffy and the others who, surprisingly enough, all had their weapons out and were ready for action. Even Phil managed to keep his massive bazooka hitched over his shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Gideon,” Phil said, commiserating. “Anna will fall for you in the end.”
“Sure she will,” Duffy said. “Stan isn’t all that great. He’s only a totally ruggedly handsome A.O.D., a nomadic bad boy and looks like he could level a city full of demons with all the heat he’s packing. So, yeah. No worries, Gideon.”
“I hate the charming ones,” Phil said.
Min rolled his eyes at us. He impatiently tapped his foot, ready to get back into action as he spat a terse ‘choppy’ under his breath a dozen times.
“I’m not worried about Anna,” I said.
“Sure you’re not,” Duffy said with a fake grin. “It’s good to think positive.”
“Exactly! Just like my Dispatch Babe is always telling me…”
“Here we go again,” Duffy muttered.
“…you’ve got to have confidence and just go for it,” Phil said.
“I think that was a hint for you to stop calling her,” Duffy said.
“Guys!” I shouted because in about a half second, my glitchy brain was going to over-load. “I’m being serious. I’m not worried about it. I’ve got bigger things to deal with right now.”
“Yeah, like tracking down your girl,” Duffy said.
“Easy,” I said pulling out my phone. “I’ll just call it in.”
I stared at my phone’s number pad with one horrible realization. When The Boss gave me this assignment, he didn’t give me Katelyn’s Mortal I.D. code.
“Make sure you get the number right. I was one number off last time and ended up hanging off a pine tree in the middle of nowhere,” Phil said. His phone started to buzz and he checked the caller ID. He smiled lopsidedly and got that far off, dreamy look in his eyes like Anna does right before she passes out. He flipped open his phone.
The embarrassing part was that he deepened his voice to make himself sound manly. He walked off a ways for a more private conversation.
“You know, I’m going to never let him live it down if I find out that the girl from Dispatch is actually a squeaky voiced kid with buck teeth and a leer,” Duffy said.
“We’re all stuck in puberty, dude,” I said. Which explained a lot about ninety percent of Junior Angel Corps. We were all gawky and awkward.
I gripped my phone tighter. I could be cool. I didn’t have Katelyn’s code, but I could figure out a way around it. “Where do most kids hang out around here anyway? It’s not like there is tons to do.”
“Depends. There are a few places in town, but the best one to check is about fifteen miles out in the prairie. You can do just about anything from a bonfire to shooting cans and nobody cares,” Duffy said. “Though, as soon as it snows, snowmobiling is all the rage.”
“I’ll check there first,” I said. I slipped the phone back into my pocket. See, I worked out a way around my forgetfulness… sort of. I’d celebrate if it worked.
“You might want to wait on that,” Phil said as he flipped his phone shut. “My girlfriend says she picked up some demon activity here at the school.”
“It has to be a mistake,” Duffy said. “It’s not even dark out. Demons hate light.”
“She said they just popped up on her radar,” Phil said. “On the second floor.”
We all stopped and looked up. Above us, there wasn’t much in the way of noise. The school was ancient and it groaned and popped under the weight of decades of students and teachers. All sounded completely normal. I had a Mortal to track down and I was getting impatient to leave. The more I stalled, the more likely Katelyn would stay on The List.
Outside, the temperature must have dropped another ten degrees because the sky had clouded over and big fat flakes began to fall, further muting sound.
“Call it, Min,” Duffy said. “Dispatch Babe is a fake.”
“And that, folks, is proof that Phil’s girlfriend doesn’t exist,” Duffy said. He stuffed his glock back down the back of his basketball shorts and made to turn away. Phil was red in the face. The ruddy color made his pimples almost glow radioactively. That’s when we all heard it.
There was a loud thump followed by the signature hushed hiss of demons flowing into the school. To a Mortal, it’s like hearing a gas leak in the pipes, but for an angel, it was the sound that made our blood run cold.
“Oh Gideon,” a thickly accented British voice called tantalizingly from above. “Come out and play.”
Edward the stinking Deliverer and his scummy minions had arrived.