Chapter 3: Dinner

When I came to, I was sitting in a restaurant booth. There were plates of Indian food in front of me, waiters in turbans walked by. B was sitting across from me.

“Hey you’re back. How you feeling?”

Without thinking I answered, “Not bad.” Wait, I felt good. I didn’t hurt. How had I gotten here? I had a fork in my hand. I had been eating before I became aware. B had taken control of my body while I was unconscious. He had magically stuck his hand up my ass and made me a sock puppet. I take offense when my body is entered without my consent. I twisted my snarl into a grin. I was powerless; I needed to wait until I wasn’t.

B smiled. “Yeah, that’s one of the advantages of working for the Man, instant healing. Look, I know we got off on the wrong foot, but can we start over again? The fact that you’re not dead and you’ve been healed should count for something. Come on—it’s not like I started the fight. I distinctly remember someone, who is not me, who is sitting at this table, starting the fight.

“Umm, I wanna apologize for the ‘mini-me’ comment. I meant it as a compliment but I can see how it could be taken the wrong way. Look, if I really wanted to piss you off I would have called you Sparky.”

The best comics can make even dumb lines funny. B had the timing and the body language of a professional comedian and he was trying hard to be friends. He needed me for something. It had to be important to make this much effort. It was easy to like him despite the fact he had just beaten me unconscious. This time my smile was real. I decided I’d be his buddy until the time was ripe to kill him. “You got a point there B. I started this shindig. Neat trick with the whole ‘hoist with my own petard’ gig, appreciate you healing me. I’m good with starting over. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”

“Ok. First things first; you know that thing you used to call ‘free will’? You don’t have so much anymore.”

He was talking about having a hand up my ass forever. My grin got forced.

B put his hands out. “Hold on, let me explain. You know how names used to describe what you did for a living, like tanner, weaver, and smith? Paladin is one of those names. You know what a paladin is, right? A knight in shining armor with God on his side—Joan of Arc with a penis.”

Despite my anger, I had to laugh. I nodded and waved for him to go on.

“I take that back; I shouldn’t joke. Joan didn’t need a penis. She was a great paladin. Too bad she had to be harvested so young.

“Well, it helps to have the right genetic traits for different jobs. Like no sense of smell if you’re a tanner or strong arms for a blacksmith. You have the genes to be a paladin. Just from your name, anyone can tell you come from a line of them.

“There are advantages to being a paladin. For example, you’re 46 but you look like you’re in your mid-twenties. I’ll bet you thought you had good genes. You never knew how good. You also think you’re incredibly lucky. Shit that should get you killed—doesn’t. I’ll explain more when we have time, but it hasn’t been luck.

“There’s a flip side to everything. If you’ve got the genes and live long enough, you become a player. Sooner or later you’ll meet a minion of darkness. If you survive, you’re drafted to fight more.”

I leaned forward, my voice intent, “What do you mean drafted?”

“Have you ever heard the term, ‘multiverse’?”

“Yeah, isn’t that part of String Theory—multiple dimensions, multiple universes?”

“Well it’s not a theory, its fact. There are multiple universes and there’s constant travel between all of them. Almost all the universes are controlled by higher powers, gods.”

“Gods?”

“Yeah, gods.” B dropped his grin and looked almost apologetic. He knew he sounded crazy. “All of them want more turf and more souls. That minion of darkness you killed was a troll. He came from a universe still ruled by the Norse gods. ‘Minion of darkness’ is the generic term for any visitor or invader from another universe. In the old days we used the term ‘demon’ but for some reason upper management doesn’t like that word anymore.”

“So, what you’re telling me is I’m now working for God?”

“You got it, dude. You’re on a mission from God. You’re now one of His holy soldiers. The US Government got rid of the draft after Vietnam. Jehovah’s old school; His draft ain’t going away.”

I don’t know what I expected when I started this conversation with B, but it wasn’t this. Getting my head around fairy tales, trolls, and magic had been hard enough—God, multiple dimensions, and demons? This was going to take time to process. To occupy my hands, I grabbed a piece of naan and took a bite. I realized I was starving. I started shoveling food in my mouth. I noticed that all the food on the table was for me. B wasn’t eating. He didn’t have a spoon or a fork.

“Oh yeah, you must be starving, getting healed makes you hungry. Just keep on eating and I’ll fill you in. You know how the bible always describes God as a shepherd and people as His flock? It’s a great analogy because every shepherd eats mutton.”

This was an interesting comment and it made sense. Deities, who cared for us because we were lovable, just didn’t figure. With a few exceptions, people aren’t lovable. A god who tended people because they were useful, fit what I knew about the Universe. No one does something for nothing. “What are you talking about exactly when you say God eats mutton?”

“What I mean is that souls are valuable. Jehovah, as far as gods go, doesn’t eat many souls. Compared to the Aztec gods or even the Norse, he doesn’t go for blood sacrifices. God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his first born. Abraham made the right decision and went with the flow. Lucky for his kid, God was just messing with Abe’s head. There were times before Abe when the Big Guy took the sacrifice.

“I know this sounds kind of biased because I’m working for the Man, but as far as gods go, Jehovah isn’t bad. There’s a lot worse.” He smirked at an inside joke. “If you knew my history, you’d know this is about as objective of an opinion as you could get.

“Jehovah typically doesn’t eat souls; He generally turns souls into angels. He uses angels to defend and get more turf.”

“Uh, does that mean…”

“Yup, I’m an angel. Archangel B at your service. I know this sounds kind of swishy but I’m your guardian angel. Ever since that God damned movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, I’ve been embarrassed to say this.”

B pursed his lips, clasped his hands and in a falsetto voice said, “’Oh if you truly believe and clap, another guardian angel will appear’…Uh, or am I getting it mixed up with ‘Peter Pan’? Whatever, Tinker Bell or Clarence, it is sad and demeaning to anyone who’s a guardian spirit.

“And before you ask, I’m not able to tell you what the B stands for. Now that we’re friends, I have to warn you, you’ve got to stop with the puns—mini-me, bigamy, bigger me, or bugger me. I can handle insults as long as they’re said with a smile. Puns are intolerable. If I didn’t have the self-control of an archangel, you’d be dead.”

I looked into B’s eyes. He looked serious. He really hated puns. I smiled and pushed the cleared plates in front of me off to the side. “So does that mean you’ll help protect me?”

“Kind of—I think you’re asking about your tush, not your soul. Most human’s don’t get guardian angels and it’s really, really rare for an archangel to be assigned as one. I hate to inflate your ego but you’re special. Most human souls are barely good enough to make angelic cannon fodder. As it stands right now, if you died, you’d make a pretty powerful angel.

“Souls don’t shine until they’re tested—no risk, no challenge, no growth. You’re in the Great Game because you could be an archangel. I’m here to help you reach your potential or to make sure our side harvests your soul if you don’t make it. I’m not here to protect your life on Earth.

“No one likes getting drafted but Vic, if you go AWOL, odds are all you’d be is a tasty snack for some other god. At least with us you have a chance of surviving into eternity. You see, metaphysically you smell delicious. If a minion catches your scent, he’ll come running.

“If I know for sure I’m going to be an angel, what’s to prevent me from committing suicide right now? Will suicide send me to hell like the Catholics believe?”

“No, suicide doesn’t send you to hell. But, dude, you’d hate being an angel. If I were you, I’d delay it for as long as possible. With your paladin genetics, you could live for a couple hundred years.”

His comment about my expected lifespan didn’t surprise me as much as it should. I didn’t just look half my years; I had the same speed, metabolism, and the ability to recover as I did in my early twenties. It had been obvious to me for over a decade, there was something strange about how I aged. Right now, I wanted to know more about the afterlife. “Because then I’d become an archangel?”

“No, not really. When I said you remind me of me. I meant it. Here’s the scoop. Being an archangel is a lot better than being anything else for any other god. But it sure as hell isn’t as good as being a human; it’s not as good as having free will. If you think you’re limited as a paladin, you should see how it is as an angel. The longer you wait, the happier you’ll be. Trust me I know, it sucks to be an angel. Give you an example, no sex—can’t even spank the monkey. It is not cool…

“You look puzzled. You know; choke the chicken, slam the ham, ride your
own pony—masturbation? We don’t have the equipment. Take our clothes off, we look like Ken dolls. Dude, you do not want to get rid of your junk!”

I laughed, “B, stop. I wasn’t puzzled; I just got an image in my head of you naked trying to whack without a pud and it’s disturbing. Can we change the topic? So what’s in it for you? You don’t come across as an angel that does anything out of altruism.”

B snickered along with me and then shrugged, “Yeah, you got that right; I’m no Goody Two-Shoes. You know how during WWII none of the Nazis wanted to be on the Eastern Front? It’s the same thing for me. Hanging out, making sure no one else snags your soul is a sweet deal. You die and I get sent back to the angelic version of the Eastern Front, fighting fucking Lovecraft-sucking Elder Gods. They come from a universe that is so different than ours that just looking at them drives most humans insane. Those weird sons of bitches give me the worst migraine headaches.

“The bureaucrats messed up when you were orphaned. They lost track of you when your parents died. You’re a fricking product of 24 generations of Paladins and they sent you to a charity orphanage. You should have been sent to a ninja academy in Tibet. You were supposed to be a holy warrior monk, wandering the Earth and doing good deeds.”

Every orphan wonders about his parents. The rest of what B said turned into white noise. I had been placed in a Catholic orphanage when I was a couple weeks old. The nuns at Sisters of Mercy hadn’t been able to tell me anything about my parents. As a kid, I’d wondered if my mom and dad were alive. If they were dead, they might have loved me. If they were alive, I knew they didn’t. I grew up wanting them dead. I’m no longer a child but you never heal from these kinds of wounds. I was tempted to ask B if he knew who my parents were or what happened to them; I didn’t. I would give or do anything to know more about my family. I wasn’t about to let anyone know this, especially B.

“…As it is, on your own, you’ve grown up to be a right bastard. If you didn’t have so much potential, you would have been harvested as soon as you came up on the radar. A new archangel is a big deal. It’s a long story, but anyhoo I’m on the big guy’s shit list. Normally there’d be no way I’d be assigned an easy gig like this, but I’ve done well with souls like yours in the past. I get along with ‘bad’ boys. So here I am.”

B was telling me there was an afterlife. There was a possibility I could meet my parents even if they were dead. I forced myself to stop thinking about my family. Until I knew more, this line of thought would lead me nowhere. I had to focus on me and the immediate here and now. I was being promised a place in heaven. My self-proclaimed guardian angel was describing a paradise where my balls would be cut off and if I didn’t play nice, I’d be assigned suicide missions. It wasn’t my first choice of where I would spend eternity.

B was too powerful and knew too much not to have magical powers. Did I buy he was an archangel? I didn’t have enough info to make a decision. For now it made sense to act like he was telling the truth.

I’ve always liked to read and as a kid in the orphanage I got extra goodies from the nuns if I quoted scripture from memory. Even back then, I thought the bad guys were interesting. I still remember the line from Jude 1:6, “And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under the darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” Angels had rebelled in the past. There was a chance I could do the same.

I needed to find an independent source of information about God and heaven. It was best to stick with the safe questions for B. “So why am I stuck in Salt Lake City?”

“Good question Vic, but we’re running out of time. It’s 7:30 now and in about an hour-and-a-half it will be sunset. If you aren’t in a home that has a threshold by sundown the troll’s friends will find you and rip you to shreds. I’ll be there to collect your soul but that’d be a sad end to what could be a beautiful friendship.”

“What’s a threshold?”

“Human emotions have power. You know that expression ‘home is where the heart is’? Well, it’s true. Homes that hold people’s hearts are protected. The strongest protections are in homes that have been passed from one generation to another. Demons can’t enter them. They can’t find people who are in them. A hotel room or an apartment doesn’t cut the yellow condiment. It’s got to be a real home. Real homes have thresholds.

“Here’s the deal, just like countries, gods have their own versions of hot and cold wars’. Jehovah is in a cold war with the Norse gods. The current treaty says only low level operatives are allowed to duke it out. Guys at my level can only observe, otherwise it turns into a hot war. Neither Jehovah nor Odin wants that to happen. The Norse took out the Salt Lake City paladin about a year ago. When you drove into town, the job passed on to you. That’s why you can’t leave Salt Lake City. You have to take care of the Norse threat before you can leave for any reason. Even then, you won’t be able to leave town for long and, if there are any problems, you’ll have to come back fast.

B motioned for the waiter. “I know you have more questions but you’re running out of time. Start looking on KSL.com for rooms to rent in homes. It has a better selection than Craig’s List in Salt Lake City. This restaurant is right at the mouth of Parley’s Canyon so the Sugar House area is probably the best place to search. Your truck is parked outside.

“Now that you’re a paladin, you have powers. With great power comes great pain in the ass regulations. We’re running out of time. Listen up, not knowing your powers won’t kill you, not knowing these four limitations could. First, you gotta tell the truth. The lies you told earlier today, at 24 Hour Fitness when you denied being Victor Paladin, will be the last ones you’ll ever tell. For a couple more days you’ll be able to tell white lies but after that, nada. Second, even though officially you’re still human, you have no choice but to act like Mr. Uptight Hero. Third, you can kiss a girl but only if you love her. Fourth, no sex, with or without a partner, outside of marriage. It’s a bummer dude; the sin of Onan is against regulations. In the near future you’ll have to stop flogging the Pharisee.

“You gotta prioritize. First make sure you’re going to survive the night and then, if I were you, I’d hole up in a private room with a box of Kleenex and some good lotion—take the time to make a proper farewell.” The asshole was laughing so hard he could barely talk. “Get out of here. I’ll take care of the check.”

Chapter 4