Crowley cleared his throat with a loud cough.
Aziraphale looked up from his work and smiled. "Dear boy, welcome! I didn't hear you open the shop door."
"I just stepped inside," Crowley apologized. "I needed to tell you that…"
He looked down at the countertop and lost his train of thought. "Beelzebub's balls! Either my eyes are deceiving me, or you're getting rid of part of your collection! Has the apocalypse started already? Why didn't anyone tell me?"
Aziraphale set his lips in an awkward half-smile and pushed the long, thin package he was wrapping to the side of his desk. "Set your worries aside, old friend. I'm just trading pieces with a curator from the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. He has quite a lovely collection of calligraphic scrolls from the Qing Dynasty."
Crowley nodded. "Good. I'd hate to think that you actually sold a book from your bookshop."
Aziraphale shoved his tape dispenser and roll of brown wrapping paper to the side of his package. "May I help you?"
"Right," Crowley said. He cleared his throat once more, then took off his sunglasses and slipped them into the front pocket of his blazer. "So I was just driving to the barber and listening to BBC 1 when I received a message that your lost sword had been sighted. I thought you might want to know."
Aziraphale's pale face blanched even whiter. "Goodness, that's unexpected. Who has it?"
"Apparently some wacked-out bird got a hold of it," Crowley replied.
"A bird?" Aziraphale gasped. "What species? It must be quite a large bird if it's able to lift a sword!"
Crowley focused his golden, serpent-shaped eyes at his friend, then frowned. "Sorry. I don't think you caught my meaning. A deranged young woman has been seen wielding your sword on the streets of London. I don't know where she got it, but my sources have told me where she's taking it."
"I'm all ears," Aziraphale replied.
"She's heading towards St. John's Wood in Westminster. She claims to be on a mission." Crowley looked up at the shelf behind the counter and focused his gaze on the old-style Roberts Radio that was currently transmitting a Vivaldi concerto. "I say, Angel, have you ever heard of a quartet of musicians who go by the name 'The Beatles'?"
Aziraphale folded his arms in front of his chest and assumed an indignant stance. "Of course I have! Just because I prefer classical compositions to popular music doesn't mean I'm unaware of current trends. Everyone in England knows about the Beatles. In fact, the group's leader just made a rather outrageous remark about his band being bigger than Christ. I wish I could have taken him to task on the matter, but I fear he's probably correct. Christianity's hold on the general populace does seem to be waning these days."
"Well, I'm glad you understood John Lennon's quote in its proper context," Crowley replied. "But this chick with your sword feels differently. She's on her way to the Abbey Road Studio as we speak, with the intention of doing grave bodily harm to the unfortunate Mr. Lennon."
"Oh dear, I thought only the Evangelicals in America would take his words the wrong way," Aziraphale said with a sigh.
"C'mon, Angel," Crowley proposed, motioning to the door. "My Bentley's parked outside. Let's pop by the studio and see if we can't set things to right."
"And get my sword back!" Aziraphale exclaimed. He straightened his tie and started walking out of the dusty bookstore. "Oh, I do so hope the postman doesn't stop by while we're gone. I want to get my scroll in the mail today. I'm impatient to initiate the exchange."
Crowley snickered and slipped his sunglasses back over his eyes. "You've been waiting four thousand years for your sword to show back up. You can wait another day for your scroll."
"Oh, but the scroll I've requested from the Huntington's collection is particularly intriguing," Aziraphale explained as he held open the shop's door for his friend. "It recounts the prophecies of Fung Yee Pang, who, as I'm sure you know, was…"
"Fuck it all!" Crowley cursed. He ran to his Bentley and grabbed a parking ticket off its windshield. He tore the ticket down the middle and tossed the two halves onto the pavement. Then he spied a meter maid a few yards down the road, wearing an old-fashioned cap and a military-style cross-body bag. He snapped his fingers. Her little white book flew out of her hands and burst apart at the seams high over her head, scattering her record of parking violations in every direction.
Aziraphale bent down to retrieve a handful of torn papers and threw them into the car. ""Don't be such a litter bug," he chided his friend. "It's very unbecoming of you."
Crowley maneuvered his car into a tight parking spot a few yards past the zebra crossing on Abbey Road and jumped onto the sidewalk. "Come now, Angel. We should hurry!"
Aziraphale waited for a young mother pushing a pram to walk past the Bentley before he opened his door and stepped onto the sidewalk. "Manners matter," he reminded his friend. "Now, which way is the studio?"
"I imagine it's that building there, with the crowd of young girls gathered around the front door," Crowley suggested, struggling to hide the sarcasm in his voice.
Aziraphale took in the scene and nodded. "And you suspect one of those young ladies has my sword?"
Crowley briefly slipped off his sunglasses so he could examine the gathering more closely. "I think not. I was told the bird with your blade was rather barmy."
"Indeed," Aziraphale noted. He started walking towards the studio. "Have you devised a plan to get us into the building yet?"
"Hell no, I was driving," Crowley replied. "I thought you were devising a plan."
Aziraphale rolled his eyes. "Sometimes I think you expect me to do everything!" He reached into the inside pocket of his white jacket and pulled out a tiny trumpet. "Here," he said, handing the instrument to Crowley. "Hold this while I approach the guard."
Aziraphale spread his arms out wide in a dramatic gesture. The crowd of fans gathered at the foot of the studio's stairs parted immediately. Aziraphale led Crowley through the girls and up the steps, then shook hands with the guard. "We're musicians, here to assist with this afternoon's recording session." He nudged Crowley in the ribs.
Crowley winced, then guessed his friend's meaning and held up his instrument. "Yes. I'm here to play this little horn thingee for the Beatles."
The guard scowled at him. "The Beatles are a rock and roll band. What use would they have for a piccolo trumpet?"
Crowley scowled back at him.
The guard turned towards Aziraphale with a mocking look in his eyes. "And just what instrument are you supposed to play for the world's biggest rock and roll band?"
Aziraphale squared his shoulders. "Why, a harp, of course."
The guard laughed. "And do you have a teensy weensy little harp on your person, like your friend here with his baby-sized trumpet?"
"Of course not!" Aziraphale replied indignantly. "I play a concert-grand pedal harp. It's inside the studio already."
"You expect me to believe there's a six-foot-tall harp standing behind this door, just waiting for you to play?" challenged the guard.
"Why don't you open the door and see for yourself?" Crowley replied.
The guard curled his lips into a derisive smile. "Fine. I'll do that."
He opened the door a few inches and banged it into enormous golden harp.
Aziraphale raised his nose in the air and looked down at the guard with a haughty expression. "Surely, sir, you could find better things to do than to break my harp in two."
"The London Philharmonic won't be very pleased to discover you damaged the instrument they sent over this morning," Crowley added in a snarky tone. He reached around the guard and opened the second door to the building so that he and his friend could pass through. "They might have to dock your pay to cover the repairs."
"Well, I…but…" the guard stammered.
Crowley and Aziraphale stepped into the studio and shut the door firmly behind them.
"Good job conjuring that harp!" Aziraphale exclaimed. "Now please help me push it to the side of the hallway so it won't become a fire hazard. You should always leave exit pathways clear, you know."
"Fire doesn't scare me," Crowley stated calmly. He slipped his tiny trumpet inside the pocket of his jacket and threw his weight against the harp. "Damn, this thing must weigh five stone!"
"Ironic, isn't it, that such a heavy instrument produces such light and delicate music?" Aziraphale replied.
Once the two friends had repositioned the harp against the wall, they started walking down the hallway. They stopped by each of the studio's doors and listened for music.
"I think The Beatles are in here," Crowley announced.
Aziraphale placed his ear against the door and smiled. "What a delightful little ditty! It sounds more like a ballad than a rock and roll record."
Crowley waved his hand against the door. A sweet tenor voice drifted through the wood and into the hallway:
"Here – Making each day of the year.
Changing my life with a wave of her hand,
Nobody can deny that there's something there…
There – Running my hands through her hair,
Both of us thinking how good it can be,
Someone is speaking, but she doesn't know he's there…"
A dreamy look washed over Aziraphale's face. "That song is lovely," he gushed. "Who would have thought a rock and roll band could record a pretty little tune like that?"
Crowley slipped his glasses off his nose and gazed at his friend for a long moment. "Those lyrics do capture the sentiment of love quite well, don't they?"
Aziraphale smiled back at him briefly. But then a dark-haired girl dressed in a school blazer and plaid, pleated skirt came running down the hallway, wielding a large silver sword.
"Where is he?" she shouted. "Where's the Antichrist?"
"Actually, love, the Antichrist hasn't been born yet," Aziraphale started to explain. "If he had been, the two of us would have been the first to know."
The guard from the front door came barreling down the hallway after her. He raised is truncheon over his head and aimed it at the girl. "Stand back, gentlemen!" he warned Aziraphale and Crowley. "You there, miss, drop your sword!"
Crowley removed his glasses once more and rolled his golden eyes in derision. "Thank you, sir, but the two of us would prefer to take care of this situation ourselves." He snapped his fingers. The guard collapsed onto the floor in a heap.
Crowley turned towards the young lady. "I think you have something that belongs to my friend."
The girl leaned her ear against the door and curled her lips into a wicked grin. "They're in there!" she shouted. She started banging against the door with her shoulder.
"The knob might work better," Aziraphale suggested.
Crowley glowered at him. "Do you want this bint to get into the studio?"
"I was just trying to be polite!" Aziraphale protested. He reached for the knob to stop the girl from opening the door, but she beat him to the punch and burst into the room.
"Who thinks he's bigger than my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?" she screamed. She raised the sword high over her head. The edge of its blade reflected the overhead light and shone like a laser beam at Paul McCartney's face.
"Fuck!" screamed Paul. He ran away from his microphone and hid behind the grand piano. George and John exchanged frantic glances from their positions behind a shared mic, then took off in opposite directions, taking shelter behind a large amplifier and Ringo's bass drum, respectively.
George Martin stood up from his chair in the glass-enclosed sound booth and shouted into his mic. "I'm calling security! Put down your weapon, miss!"
Ringo stepped into the studio from the breakroom, holding half a cheese sandwich in his hand, and noticed John crouching behind his drum kit. "What are you doing there?" he asked with a laugh.
John pulled his knees closer to his chest and pointed to the girl with a sword.
"Christ!" Ringo exclaimed. He tossed his food in the air and ran to John's side, knocking one of his cymbals to the ground with a loud clang as he crashed into his stool.
"Don't take the name of the Lord in vain!" the girl admonished Ringo.
Ringo grabbed the white napkin that was tucked into his belt, lifted it over his floor tom, and waved it in surrender. "Sorry!" he called out. "I won't do it again! I promise!"
"Miss, I said drop your weapon!" George Martin repeated.
The girl proceeded to the middle of the room, swung her sword over her head, and started turning in a slow circle. "Which one of you is John Lennon?" she shouted.
"He's not here," Paul replied in an anxious, high-pitched voice. "He's um…in the loo."
"Right!" George concurred. "We don't expect him back anytime soon. He said he was feeling a bit…peaky."
The girl sauntered towards the drum kit. "You're wearing glasses," she said to John. "John Lennon wears glasses."
"So do I!" shouted Crowley from the entrance to the room. "So aim your sword at me!"
"Ooh, you're so brave!" Aziraphale gushed. He stepped through the door behind his friend. "You're quite the hero today, aren't you, dear boy?"
The girl turned around and started approaching the two men. "Who are you?" she asked warily.
Crowley threw a quick glance at Aziraphale, then turned back to face her. "We're from security. That gentleman in the booth just called for us."
George Martin eyed them suspiciously from his spot behind the glass. "You're not the guards."
"That's right," Aziraphale said, taking a cautious step towards the girl. "My name is Aziraphale, and I am the owner of that sword. I've come to take it back. So if you would be so good as to hand it over, my dear child, I would very much appreciate it."
"You're not Aziraphale," the girl said, glowering at him. "Aziraphale is a cherub. Heaven's agent on Earth. Aziraphale is the guardian of the Eastern Gate of Eden."
"Um, yes," Aziraphale agreed. "That's how people in the know like to describe me now, don't they?"
Crowley spread out his hands, shielding Aziraphale's chest from a possible blow from the sword. "That's enough nonsense from you for the day, young lady," he chided the girl. "Now give your dad back his sword, and we'll return you to school, and maybe, just maybe, we can forget this little incident ever happened."
The girl pointed her sword at Crowley. "That man is not my father," she stated slowly.
Crowley turned towards George Martin, shrugged his shoulders and laughed. "My friend's daughter here is a little barmy over the Beatles. She's always wanted to meet them. And then this morning, when her dad scolded her for skiving off school and loitering by your studio door, she threw a tantrum. She stole her grandfather's sword from its place of honor over the family mantelpiece and rushed right over here. We've come to collect her."
George Martin nodded slowly. "Fine. So take her then, please."
The girl turned towards the recording booth and pointed her sword at George Martin. "He's lying. That man in white is not my father. And he most certainly is not the angel Aziraphale. I've read the Infamous Bibles, including the 'Buggre Alle This' Bible, which tells the story of Azriphale's sword. And I will not tolerate this man's lies, or the blasphemy of that godless sinner John Lennon, who claims to be bigger than Christ. I will…"
"Yes, dear," Aziraphale interrupted, taking another cautious step towards her. "We all know how much reading the Bible means to you. But this is neither the time nor the place..."
"I'm not finished yet!" she shouted. She spun back around and pointed the blade at Aziraphale's chest. "I still have a lot to say about pop stars who think Christianity will vanish and shrink. Christ's disciples are not thick and ordinary! We are brave and smart, and we will defend our faith against heathens who mock us! We are…"
Crowley pulled the piccolo trumpet out of his pocket and blew into it loudly, silencing the girl. Then he turned to face George Martin and played a short but showy fanfare, showing off the unusually high range of the small horn.
The girl looked up at Crowley, her eyes wide with awe. "Is that Gabriel's trumpet?" she asked.
Crowley threw back his head in laughter.
Aziraphale chuckled. "My dear, I assure you, it most certainly is not. Nor does the man playing it bear any relationship to Gabriel. Now hand me my sword, please."
The girl stepped away from him and started swinging the sword back and forth, pointing it at each man in turn. "I'll run you both through!" she threatened. "This is the Sword of Truth. And it will strike down all liars!"
"And where did you get it, love?" asked a voice that made the girl's ears prick up with excitement.
She looked over her shoulder and saw John Lennon walking towards her. She spun around on her heels and pointed her sword at his throat.
"I used to be fascinated with stories from the Old Testament too, just like you are," John stated in a calm, clear tone. "I studied the Bible quite a lot when I was a lad. I went to Sunday School, and even sang in a boys' choir at High Masses. I've parted ways with the Church of England since then, though, largely because I find its clergy incompetent and hypocritical. And I'm not alone in having done this. I think the Church of England, as an institution, has lost much of its importance in the modern world. Teenagers today would much rather go to concerts than attend Sunday services. And they'd rather listen to rock and roll records and search for meanings in the lyrics than read their Bibles."
"He's right, you know," added George Harrison. He stepped away from his hiding spot behind the amp and approached the girl. "John and I each had strict religious upbringings when we were young. John was brought up C of E, and I was raised Catholic. But both churches have lost their pull over the faithful. You're the exception, love. Most kids today hate going to church. And their parents don't much care for religious services either. Something needs to be done to bring people back to God. I don't know what, and neither does John. But the powers that be need to make the true message of Christ relevant again. Because if they don't, Christianity will vanish and shrink."
"I'm not anti-Christ or anti-religion or anti-God," John reiterated. "I'm not saying the Beatles are better or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person, or God as a thing, or whatever it is. I just said what I said and…"
"You just said The Beatles were bigger than Christ, not better then him," the girl interrupted, a look of revelation washing over her face. "You were just making a comment about how society is becoming more secular."
"That's right, love," John agreed. The beads of sweat dripping from his forehead belied the calmness of his voice. "Now why don't you give your dad back his sword? And let him and his friend take you back to school?"
Her face flushed again. She turned back towards Aziraphale. "You are not my father. You're nothing but a liar!"
"Come now, child!" shouted Crowley. "He never said he was your dad. I did. My dear friend would never lie. It's against his nature."
She pointed her sword at Crowley. "He claimed to be the angel Aziraphale. The owner of this sword!"
"And I am, dear child," Aziraphale said. "Hand it to me, and I'll prove it to you. I, and I alone, know how to wield its power."
She eyed him warily for a long moment, then slowly and very reluctantly handed over the sword.
Aziraphale stepped away from the crowd, clutched both of his hands around the hilt, and raised the sword towards the ceiling. The blade grew red, then white-hot, then burst into flames.
The girl stared at the spectacle in dumbfounded disbelief, then collapsed on the floor in a faint.
Aziraphale lowered the sword, loosened his grip on the hilt, and handed it to Crowley. "Perhaps you ought to hold this, dear boy."
John and George stared at Aziraphale in wide-eyed shock.
Crowley's face broke into a sly smile. "Parlor trick," he laughed. "You ought to come see my friend's magic show and watch him saw a lady in half with this sword. It's quite the spectacle."
"Right," John replied, feigning a smile.
George nodded slowly, then inched away from the two men and the unconscious girl.
"Well, I suppose we'd best be going then," Aziraphale said. He scooped up the girl and flung her over his shoulder in a fireman's hold. "So sorry to interrupt your recording session."
"Yes," Crowley agreed. He spied Paul peering over the top of the piano and walked a little closer to him. "Lovely song you were singing just now, before we burst in on you. I really enjoyed it." He held out his piccolo trumpet. "Why don't you take this as a token of our appreciation?"
Paul stood up and slowly approached Crowley. "Um, thanks," he murmured as he took the instrument. "My dad knows the trumpet. I can ask him to play this for me."
Crowley and Aziraphale waved goodbye to the band members, then exited the recording studio, closing the door tightly behind them. They stepped over the unconscious guard and snuck past the large harp, then left the building and walked down the street towards Crowley's Bentley.
Aziraphale laid the girl's limp body in the back seat of the car, then threw his friend a quizzical look. "So what should we do with her now?"
Crowley rested the sword on the floor of the car, then leaned over the back seat and inspected the insignia embroidered on the girl's blazer. "She goes to the convent school run by the Chattering Order of St. Beryl. I'm familiar with the place. I'll drop you off at your shop, then take her home."
Aziraphale breathed a sigh of relief. "Good," he said as he slipped into the passenger seat of the Bentley. Then he flinched. "Wait! The Chatterers of St. Beryl are a Satanic Order!"
Crowley turned his key in the ignition. "So?"
"So, the child was in a dither over John Lennon's remarks about Christianity," Aziraphale reminded his friend.
Crowley shrugged. "Christian, Satanist, what does it matter? Who can even tell the difference anymore?" He checked his rear view mirror and waited for a Volkswagen Beetle to drive by.
Aziraphale reached his hand to the side of his car, then sighed dramatically. "I do wish you would install seat belts in this vehicle, dear boy. I never feel quite safe driving without them."
Crowley rested his hand on Aziraphale's knee briefly, then pulled into the street. "Don't you worry, Angel. I'll never do you no harm."
Crowley opened the door to Aziraphale's bookshop and called out a loud, sing-songy greeting. "Hey-la! Hey-ah-heh-lo-ah!"
"Don't be so silly," Aziraphale called back to him. "A simple hello will suffice."
"I thought you would be happy to know that I opened your door and stepped through it properly this time," Crowley replied. He walked over to the back corner of the shop, where his friend was standing on a ladder propped against a tall bookcase.
"You returned the child to her school?" Aziraphale asked as he grabbed a handful of books.
"I'm always true to my word," Crowley replied. "What are you doing?"
"I'm making some room for my sword between my metallurgy and Warcraft shelves," he replied. "I wrapped it up carefully in flame-retardant paper, so it shouldn't burn anything."
"Good idea," Crowley said. "Here, hand me those books. I'll stack them in a pile on the floor for you."
"You're a dear," Aziraphale said.
"I've brought you your mail, Mr. Fell!" called a jolly voice from the front door of the bookshop.
"Thanks!" Aziraphale called back to the mail carrier. "There's a package on my counter for you to collect. I've stamped and addressed it already."
"Will do!" the postman called back. He left Aziraphale's mail on the counter, slipped the stamped, long bundle into his sack, and left the shop.
Aziraphale handed Crowley a few more stacks of books, then pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and carefully dusted the back corners of the shelf.
"I wonder how that poor, confused child got hold of my sword," he said as he climbed down the ladder.
Crowley crossed his arms in front of his chest and shrugged. "Oh, I suspect the Satanic Sisters took possession of it sometime in the past four thousand years and somehow forgot to mention it to anyone. These things happen, you know."
Aziraphale smirked. "I had the best of intentions when I gave it to Adam."
"I never doubted that you did," Crowley replied.
Aziraphale smiled at him gratefully, then turned his face towards the glass-enclosed bookcase which held his collection of Infamous Bibles. "I'm also very curious to learn how that young woman found a copy of the 'Buggre Alle This' Bible. I wasn't aware that any other editions existed besides my own."
"The Chattering Sisters must have purloined a copy of it before the publishers burnt the rest of the print run," Crowley speculated.
A dreamy look washed over Aziraphale's face. "You don't suppose they might sell it to me, do you?"
Crowley shook his head. "I wouldn't count on it."
"No, you're probably right," Aziraphale agreed reluctantly. He clapped the dust off his hands, then walked across his shop floor and reached for his wrapped-up sword. "Oh my…oh my…Oh my my!" he stammered.
Crowley raced to his friend's side. "What's wrong?"
Aziraphale lifted the light-weight package that was resting on his countertop and frowned. "This isn't my sword! It's the scroll that I meant to send to that librarian in California! I must have addressed and stamped the wrong package! I've lost my sword again!"
Crowley offered him a sympathetic smile. "Well, I suppose if you had to lose it somewhere, a library would be the best place. The curator is sure to catalogue your sword and store it in a temperature-controlled storage room."
Aziraphale lowered his head and made a series of sad, whimpering sounds.
Crowley put his hand to his friend's chin and lifted his face. He slipped off his sunglasses and looked directly into Aziraphale's eyes.
Aziraphale held his friend's gaze for a long moment, then looked away. "I've grown used to those snake eyes of yours, dear boy, though it's still a bit unnerving how opaque they are. I'm watching your eyes, but I see nothing in them."
"You're always there, Angel," Crowley replied. "You're here, there and everywhere."
Inspired by the novel "Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch", by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (1990).