“So Gader’el, the task is a simple one.”

Lucifer was seated behind a large mahogany topped desk, resting his aquiline chin against steepled forefingers. He was dressed in a conservative, immaculately tailored grey suit. He contemplated Gader’el through horn-rimmed spectacles with alert, grey-green eyes. Gader’el suspected that nothing escaped their scrutiny.

“Uh huh.” Gader’el nodded, swallowing nervously. He was acutely aware of the creases and grease marks that sullied the lines of his grey Premark special (50% off in the January sales).

“I have it on good authority,” Lucifer continued, “that our eternal friend is making a play for market share.”

He spread his hands across the desk, unraveling a crisp white chart. The desk itself was bare, apart from a nondescript silver name-plate which displayed a small white star in lieu of an actual name.

“Based on our current projections we’re forecasting some astonishing growth rates.” He said, pointing at a line graph on the chart.

“The R&D department have produced an interesting study on current population growth projections. It appears we’re at a tipping point where population moves from  linear growth into an exponential curve.”

“Um, ok?” Gader’el was not a man for business talk or numbers, unless it was the number on his pay check or the number of a call girl helping him through a lonely night.

Lucifer regarded him coolly. He leaned over to his right and pulled a file out of the top drawer. He casually flipped through the pages of the folder, pausing now and then to read certain details that interested him. Gader’el watched the performance impassively.

“You have an unusually checkered history within our organisation.” Lucifer said as he continued leafing through the file.

“Ok, look, the thing is…” Gader’el interjected, gesticulating wildly, “…that whole situation with the baby camel and the girl in HR was a miss-understanding.”

Lucifer held up an immaculately manicured hand. The gesture was more than symbolic. Gader’el’s mouth continued opening and closing in a facsimile of speech but no sound escaped his lips. Realising he looked and sounded remarkably like a fish out of water, Gader’el stopped trying to explain the miss-understanding.

“I am familiar with the ‘whole situation’ Gader’el.” Lucifer continued. “I did not summon you here to give me excuses for your past proclivities. I was merely stating a fact.”

Gader’el nodded his understanding. Lucifer lowered his hand.

“Your methods are certainly unorthodox. You seem to create more problems than you solve, but you do have an impeccable track record.”

He closed the file and pushed it to the end of the desk closest to Gader’el.

“I have need of your services.” Lucifer sat back in his chair. He flicked at a non-existent spec of dust on the shoulder of his suit. “In this instance you will waive your usual fee. I am not entirely unreasonable, so I will be offering you a clean slate in exchange.”

Gader’el swallowed. “Um, I think I’d rather get paid if it’s all the same to you?”

“The job is fairly straight forward.” Lucifer continued, ignoring Gader’el’s response. “I need you to find a girl.”

Gader’el perked up immediately.

“Well, that is my specialty.” he quipped.

“Yes, I know.” Lucifer replied, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “Let’s just say there are a number of reasons why you may have some difficulty finding this one. The girl in question is pregnant. She will have only just conceived and may not even know she is pregnant.”

“Ok, no problem, it’s just…well, let’s revisit this pro-bono thing.” Gader’el was nothing if not dogged.

“It’s not up for negotiation. Everything has been prepared in anticipation of your transcendence.”

“Right, right…” Gader’el licked his lips nervously, “Thing is, I have some particularly large debts that can’t exactly wai…”

Lucifer waved his hand. This time the gesture was subtle, a slight curl of the wrist ending with an outward push. There was a soft popping sound and Gader’el was gone. Lucifer smiled to himself. Despite the belligerent lack of respect for authority he quite liked Gader’el.

“Chip off the old block.”

.

“…t for me to…Oh for fucks sake!”

“There’s no need to be rude.”

Gader’el shook his head to clear the fuzziness. The room he was in was significantly gloomier than Lucifer’s office and it took a while for his eyes to adjust. He was standing at the counter of what appeared to be a rather busy inn. The inn-keeper was giving him the universally recognised look reserved for people who had initially appeared to be perfectly sane but had suddenly revealed their stark raving lunacy.

“Where am I?” Gader’el asked, not helping the inn-keepers nerves in the slightest.

“Listen pilgrim, you’re in my inn. You want the room or not?”

“Er, you have a room for me?”

The inn-keeper sighed.

“There’s always room, this ain’t Bethlehem you know. It’s busier than normal today but all of these folks are local and most will be going home to their wives and daughters this evening. Anyway, your man booked the room over a week ago.”

“My man?”

“Yep. Scrawny fella. Said I’d know you when I saw you.”

“Right. Did he say anything else?” Gader’el was starting to feel a little more comfortable. The corporeal form he had been given seemed to be fit and healthy.

“He did actually.” The inn-keeper said, his eyes narrowing shiftily. “Said you’d be in town for a while. Said you were some kind of investigator?”

The inn-keeper looked Gader’el up and down.

“You don’t look like a roman. You working for them?”

“No, I’m freelance.” Gader’el mentally slotted himself into character, “You don’t mind if I use your inn as a base of operations do you? At least until I can get a client base established?”

“Well I don’t know about that.” The inn-keeper replied, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, “I run a respectable establishment here. I can’t have just any old riff-raff off the street sullying up my reputation.”

Gader’el  put on a faux expression of exaggerated affront.

“My good sir, of course you will be adequately reimbursed! Shall we say ten percent of my fees?”

“I have a very good reputation.” The inn-keeper replied flatly.

For a moment Gader’el considered reaching into the innkeeper’s mind and randomly stirring synapses about like spaghetti in a bowl.

“Ok, let’s call it an even twenty-five, but you give me access to your ‘under counter’ refreshment too?”

The inn-keeper ruminated on this for a moment.

“You expecting much business?”

“Nope.”

“Hmmm, call it an even fifty then.”

Gader’el put on another faux expression of exaggerated affront.

“Why not take my first-born child too? Thirty is my final offer. Take it or leave it.”

The inn-keeper shrugged.

“Thirty percent of nothing isn’t much better than fifty I suppose. Done.” He spat into his palm and they sealed the deal with a handshake.

.

As it turned out the room was only big enough to fit a Roman style cot bed. The mattress looked as bad as it smelled and there was no window. The only light came from the candle Gader’el held as he stood in the doorway, wrinkling his nose at the foul odour emanating from the cot. His other hand, held a tall, skinny amphora which the inn-keeper had begrudgingly given him.

“Crap.” he said, un-ironically.

He lifted the amphora to his lips and took a big draft. He winced at the harsh taste of the liquid, it had been a long time since his last drink.

“Ah, goats piss.” He smacked his lips appreciatively, “A fine vintage.”

The room was not going to be suitable for anything other than sleeping and even that was up for debate. He resolved to stake out an area in the inn’s main hall. At least there he could get his hands on a refill without too much palava. He spent the rest of the day buying drinks for the locals, regaling them with stories from his investigative past and generally raising his profile. By the end of the night the homesteads of Nazareth were abuzz with the news that a private investigator had set up shop in the inn.

.

“Ok wait. Let me get this straight.”

Gader’el could not believe his luck. He had been in town for just one day and he had already found his mark. She was his second solicitor of the morning. The first had been an earnest elderly gentile who had offered himself as an assistant. Gader’el thanked him and kindly rejected the offer. The gentile had then attempted to sell Gader’el one of his daughters.

“Listen, I’ll let her go cheap. To be honest she costs more to feed and clothe than she’s worth to me.”

Gader’el had thanked him again and kindly rejected that offer too.

He had been bracing himself for a mind numbing sob story about a lost goat from the girl seated demurely at his table so her first words to him had been somewhat surprising.

“I’m pregnant and I want you to find the father.”

Gader’el very nearly sprayed his drink in surprise.

“You? You’re pregnant?”

“Yes.”

“How old are you?”

“I am twelve years old.” She said, chin raised in defiance.

Gader’el checked himself before following this line of questioning any further. This was ancient Palestine after all. She was the right age.

“Ok.” He said in response, “What’s your name?”

“My name is Mary.”

“Ok Mary, what’s your husband’s name?”

She hesitated for a moment before answering. Gader’el was left with the impression that she was assessing his trustworthiness.

“I’m not married yet, but I am betrothed.”

“Uh huh.” Gader’el replied, nodding his understanding. “A case of cold feet I presume?”

“What do you mean?” She said, confused.

“I mean he’s run off. Scared of committing and you want me to find him.”

“Oh no, nothing like that.” Mary said, appalled by the implication. “Joseph loves me and I him, he would never do such a thing.”

“Right, so he’s just gone missing then?”

“No, I don’t think I’ve made myself clear. We’re betrothed but, well, the thing is…” She paused, blushing profusely.

Understanding dawned on Gader’el.

“He’s not the father?” He whispered softly, leaning forward so she could hear.

She nodded fiercely fighting back the tears that were threatening to spill.

“Oh my.” He said still whispering, “That is a little awkward. So who is the father?”

“I don’t know.” She replied, shaking her head as the tears began to flow. “That’s what I want you to find out.”

“You don’t know?” He said loudly, forgetting to keep his voice down.

The girl was startled by his outburst and looked around nervously to make sure no-one was listening.

“Please keep your voice down.” She hissed, “I know it sounds strange but I tell you I don’t know.”

Gader’el sat back in his chair and thought about this for a moment before responding.

“Fine.” he said, “Tell me what you do know then.”

Mary took a deep breath to calm herself down. She was not entirely sure why she was doing this. The man across from her seemed genuine enough. He exuded an aura of self-confidence that she found reassuring. The experience she was about to recount to him was not something that a chaste woman would usually ever share with another soul. Yet here she was about to reveal intimate details of her life to a complete stranger.

“Two months ago I was woken from my sleep by the rustling sound of feathers. There was a man standing at the foot of my bed. He stood before me, naked and yet clothed in light.”

Gader’el arched an eyebrow at this but let her continue. He knew exactly where this was going.

“I could not make out the features of his face but there was something about his presence that filled me with an impression of beauty that I cannot describe.”

Gader’el noticed that her eyes had glazed over and she had started breathing quickly and shallowly. There was only one angel he was aware of who had this kind of effect on the ladies.

“Gabriel.” he muttered to himself.

“Excuse me?” Mary asked, snapping out of her reverie.

“Oh it’s nothing.” Gader’el said dismissively. He leaned forward and placed his right hand on her forehead. He looked around quickly to make sure no-one was watching and descended.

.

 

Advertisements