By my reckoning, I had a good seven weeks here at Disneyland before sunrise “tomorrow” in DC. Since Eloi had indicated that the Angels wanted to see how things played out in Washington before we took our show on the road to other world capitals, that meant I could settle into something like a routine for the first time since this whole rigmarole began.
Donna and I neither kept secret nor made a big deal about our relationship. She was not the clingy type; in fact, she made it clear from the get-go that she wasn’t interested in “moving in” to my little abode and that she had established a life of her own that she intended to continue. (Fortunately, she avoided the expression “me time.”)
I continued my policy of walking the park, making myself visible and accessible as much as possible. I took Donna’s advice and took every seventh day or so “off”—there were no real days of the week inside the pyramid, but it was easier than I’d have thought to get used to keeping track by Mickey Time. I made sure she took her own advice, and often those were very nice days together.
Mr. Disney Management eventually introduced himself to me; his name was Carl McAllister. He was some kind of marketing guy who had been showing a new hire around the park when the Trumps sounded. The new guy had dropped dead. He didn’t know anybody else, and couldn’t understand why nobody respected his “authority.” He was one of dozens of people who told me “I wasn’t even supposed to be here that day.” He wasn’t a bad guy, really, but he still didn’t get it. He just couldn’t make the paradigm shift, and now was basically a giant raw nerve.
Abdiel and Zagzagel started walking around with me from time to time; I could understand them, of course (not that they were exactly chatty), and through my little silver earpiece I could even communicate back, albeit incompletely and indirectly. Only Eloi and I could communicate freely. The first few times the Angels walked with me we created a bit of a sensation, but people got used to it quickly enough. Occasionally other Angels replaced Abdiel and Zagzagel; Jeremiel and Uriel, the latter rarely, and then others, some with familiar names like Ariel and Raphael, others more exotic, like Camael and Nuriel. Weeks would go by without seeing one, and then three or four would pop up at once. They all seemed to enjoy making exits, and whenever they decided they’d had enough, they would fly into the air and vanish with a theatrical flash of light. More than once this got applause from delighted pyramidians. (Pyramidites? Pyramidders? I give up.)
Eloi never participated in these walks, but he was an occasional visitor at the Diamond Horseshoe. I think he felt a little bond with Danielle; at any rate he showed some interest in monitoring her recovery.
The Angels didn’t need me to accompany them, of course, and every so often a little group would stroll around on their own. But that meant they had no means of communication with the mere mortals they encountered. Since most of the citizenry was thoroughly intimidated by these giant figures out of primal legend, this was not ordinarily a problem.
Until it was. Gabriel himself condescended to visit Disneyland one day, accompanied by Abdiel and Zagzagel, who knew their way around. I was at the Horseshoe when one of the kids dashed in to tell me that three Angels had just strolled by. I thought it might be best if I kept an eye on them, and caught up with them just too late. One of the Strays, the one everybody called Big Zac, was confronting the Angels, screaming at Gabriel that he had the right to go home. I sprinted toward them, shouting Zac’s name, but the whole terrible moment was already in motion: Abdiel blocked Zac’s way; then Zac laid hands on the Angel, grabbing his tunic. Zagzagel waved his hand and Zac was gone.
As I ran up, all three Angels vanished without their customary flight or flash. There were only a few witnesses to all of this, and I waved them off as I knelt and gathered up Zac’s clothes.
As I walked back to the Horseshoe I forced my anger down. Big Zac had accosted an Angel; of course he had been struck down. Except he wasn’t struck down, really—he was swept away, just as Leslie and the little hairy bald guy and the pretty little Lord’s Prayer girl had been.
I veered away from the Horseshoe and headed to the apartment instead; I couldn’t face the kids right now. When I stepped inside, Eloi was waiting for me. I dropped Zac’s clothes on the floor and said, “I want to talk to Gabriel.” He raised that eyebrow. “Please. I won’t say or do anything stupid, I promise.”
“Very well,” he said, and we were in the Gray. “Wait here,” he said and vanished. Where would I go? Once again, a measureless time passed. Then some shadows shifted and I turned to find Gabriel and Eloi approaching.
I bowed my head, then looked up at the big Archangel. With the faintest dip of his eyelids he indicated that I might speak. “I saw what happened with the boy earlier,” I said. “His actions were inexcusable.” I paused so that Eloi could clarify my words to Gabriel, whom I had long suspected understood more than he let on. “Nevertheless, I am here to beg for mercy for the boy.” Eloi hesitated, then sang a phrase to Gabriel; my simple words transformed into their amazing musical language.
I was being as contrite and humble as my nature would allow; I was hoping that that would make an impression on Gabriel. Perhaps it did; after a long, quiet moment, I heard the basso tones of James Earl Jones once again in my head: “We have no mercy to offer; the boy is gone. Done is done.”
I risked the question: “Gone where?”
I expected to be ignored, as Eloi had ignored me a dozen times before. Instead, a compound reply overlapped in my head: “Oblivion/Elsewhere/Unknown.” My translation programming couldn’t be any more precise with the Angel’s answer. “There is no return.” Lingering unsaid at the end of that was the phantom phrase “that we know of.” It was almost as if my programming read that ambiguity in Gabriel’s pitch or timbre.
It was time to leave well enough alone. “Very well. Thank you for hearing me.”
Gabriel nodded and was gone.
I had asked him a direct question about his own powers, and his answer had been I don’t know.
Which was the only answer I could give the kids when they wanted to know what had happened to Big Zac: “I don’t know.” They rallied around each other, especially Little Zack, who had been his almost constant companion. The poor kid had a bad case of Survivor’s Guilt, since he had not been with him at the time. He could have stopped him, he would have pulled him away in time; he should have been there; a classic case of the “Coulda-Shoulda-Wouldas.” Cami and Brianna organized a little “Remember Big Zac” party—pointedly not a Memorial service—and after that the Strays started to bounce back.
This happened only a day or so before I was finally due back in DC. Donna stayed over the night before, aware that I might be gone for a few days. It had a sweet, almost domestic quality to it, the sexy send-off to remind me what I’d be missing while I was off on my business trip.
Once again, I spent the day leading up to it with Eloi, and we settled on our logistics for my reappearance. I asked that theatrics be kept to a minimum, please. We had already determined that no Angels would participate this time, and I talked Eloi into a smaller force of Ishim, just a squad there for my protection. He agreed, and only seven Ishim Guard soldiers were sent ahead. We reviewed my short list of Carrots, and I hoped they already understood the Sticks.
Precisely as the sun broke above the horizon, I appeared. I was at the top of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking out over the Mall. The obelisk of the Washington Monument was a dark silhouette in the sunrise. The crowd on the Mall was even larger than yesterday’s; I suspect a good percentage had simply stayed the night. They were being held at a distance behind barricades manned by uniformed soldiers. My Ishim Guards were in a circle around me, their weapons down.
A twangy voice behind me said, “You’re a punctual SOB, I’ll give you that,” a bit more loudly than was really necessary. I turned around. The President stood at Lincoln’s feet, flanked by four Secret Service agents, two on either side, a pace behind, their weapons—Uzis if I’m not mistaken—at the ready. The golden sunlight glared from their mirrored sunglasses. The President was wearing a revolver in a western-style holster on his right hip. He was famous for his cowboy boots and hats, but this was an extreme look, even for him. “Looks like you got us outnumbered,” he said, taking in the Ishim.
Of course, there were dozens of troops out by the barricades, and no doubt half a dozen snipers I couldn’t see, but I decided to use the opportunity to make a point. “I’m just one unarmed man, sir. I can’t outnumber anybody. But in a way you’re right, sir, more than you know. These seven troopers could level the city, all by themselves.” As far as I knew at the time, I was wildly exaggerating, but I thought maybe he could use a reminder of the Stick after all.
“Is that so?”
“It is, sir.”
“So you speak for them,” he said, making no effort to conceal his contempt. He was still very loud; I realized he was nervous, and pretty worked up. “Lemme ask you something. How come they don’t speak for themselves? Do they think it’s beneath them?”
There was no point in mincing words. “Yes sir. That’s part of it.”
He started walking in an arc out onto the porch with me, like a gunfighter getting a better angle, which was fair enough, since he had been looking into the rising sun. “And how is it you got tapped for this honor?” I was aware that his words were being amplified by the mysterious Angel tech out to the crowd. He didn’t seem to notice.
“It’s no honor, sir. I was chosen at random.” I had decided on this little white lie mostly because the truth was too hard to explain. Also, of course, I thought it was in my better interests to portray myself as just some schmoe given no choice in a no-win situation, not some special elite emissary favored by the new Masters. “They taught me to understand their language. They sent me here today.”
We were now at a right angle to our previous positions, standing maybe twenty feet apart at the top of the Lincoln steps. “So you’re the Chosen one. And what are these?” he said, indicating the Ishim. “Some kinda robots?”
It was a reasonable assumption from his point-of-view, I guess. They were wearing their helmets with the visors down, and their discipline was such that they did move more like machines than humans. “No, sir. They are members of the Angels’ Army.”
“The occupyin’ forces, so to speak.”
He had a better grasp of things than I had expected, given his reputation. “Yes, sir. So to speak.”
“Well, Mr. Chosen, I reckon you want a chance to speak your piece now, to all these folks.”
“Yes sir, I—”
“Not so fast. I got a piece I wanna speak myself. You know what happened in the White House on Day One, Mr. Chosen? My wife dropped dead. My. Wife. Dropped. Dead.” He took a breath. I was genuinely sorry to hear this; I’d always liked the First Lady. But I knew better than to express any sympathy right now. “Since then I been hearin’ stories like that everywhere I turn. Are you tellin’ me—are you tellin’ us”—he gestured to take in the entire Mall—“that your so-called Angels are responsible for that?”
“Yes, sir. They are responsible for the entire—” He had suddenly drawn his gun, as fast as any TV gunslinger. The Ishim weapons were all just as suddenly aimed at him. The Secret Service had apparently been instructed to leave this to him; their weapons remained at the ready, but not aimed at me or the Ishim. “Mr. President,” I said, much more calmly than I felt, “You don’t want to do that.”
“WHO ARE YOU TO TELL ME WHAT I WANT TO DO?” It was the purest rage I have ever seen, ever hope to see. He took a long moment to calm down, control his trembling. “I’m not finished sayin’ my piece, Mr. Chosen. An’ I’ve decided you’re not gonna get a chance to speak yours either.” He took another deep breath. His face twisted into a scowl I recognized as the one he wore when delivering a memorized speech. “You are a traitor, the most infamous traitor since Judas Iscariot. By the authority granted to me by the people of these United States, I declare you an enemy of all mankind.” Uh-oh. “And for that your life is forfeit.”
Whereupon he shot me.