Constantine leaned back, sipping his coffee. The acrid taste didn't mix well with the nicotine gum. Mike Kaczynski, the big guy with the squashed nose, had an espresso, the tiny cup disappearing in his huge fist. Angela wasn't having anything. She looked wired enough that caffeine would probably snap her in two. He wasn't going to start this conversation, let her do it.
After a moment Angela said, "So," glancing uncertainly at Kaczynski, "We were wondering if you'd found anything on the Peters case. Anything about this girl. Was it a ritual killing?"
He muttered something along the lines of 'no shit.' Kaczynski smiled. "What we mean is, was this a ritual taken from some occult source, or just something the killer came up with out of his own head?"
Looking at Angela, Constantine shrugged. "Haven't had much time to look. It's not something you'd find at the local library, I'll give you that."
Angela wasn't returning his look. "Did—did Midnite have anything to add?"
"No." Kaczynski snorted and Constantine glared at him. "That funny?" Idiot cops. It wasn't so bad when they kept out of his way.
Kaczynski took a breath. "Well, from what Dodson tells me, this guy's a voodoo priest? Sorry, just gets my goat, that kind of crap." He chuckled a little. "We all know," he waved his hand to indicate their booth, "ain't no spirits swooping around, waiting to be summoned. Playing with dolls." The pause that followed wasn't friendly. Angela stared at the table and Constantine stared at Kaczynski. "Anyway," Kaczynski shrugged and looked at Angela, trying to pass the conversation off to his partner.
"That reminds me, Rafael says hi." Angela frowned at Constantine, obviously trying to remember if she knew someone with that name. Damn. She needed to get rid of this jerk, so he could have a real conversation with her. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Look, Midnite gave me another name, woman with a big library, lot of rare books. I'm going to go see her, see if we can find out anything about blood rituals. Which is what this was."
Angela nodded, and there was another awkward pause. "Mike, would you mind getting me a coffee? I've changed my mind." Kaczynski's eyebrows went up, but he wormed his way out of the booth with his apparently endless good humor and sauntered over to the diner's counter. Angela leaned over the table and demanded, "Well?"
Constantine leaned back. "It was blood from a half breed. No idea how that works, but I found what was left of her and she was bleeding."
"That's not pos—"
"Spare me, OK? Otherwise, no joy. You got anything?"
Angela shot a quick glance at her partner, standing at the counter out of earshot. "I got a feeling, no—it was a vision. A couple of them. The guy who did it is a Dr. Michael Sanderson, theology professor at Living Waters University. It's definitely him. But I've got no idea why or how. Who's the woman with the library?"
"Madame Zora. No kidding. Inherited from her daddy, who was—" he cut himself off as Kaczynski reached the table and handed Angela her coffee, but he wasn't fast enough.
"Madame Zora? This the woman you're going to see about blood rituals?" Kaczynski's low voice sounded thoughtful. "Maybe we should tag along."
Constantine made an effort not to swear. "You've got nothing better to do?"
"Actually, I think it's a good idea," Angela piped in. What the hell. She went on brightly, "Mike, you can take that next round of interviews tomorrow, and I can go with John here to see his friend, search through books. It'll get everything done a lot faster."
Now both men were looking at her with bemused expressions. Constantine answered before Kaczynski could butt in. "Sure, why not. See you tomorrow." He slid out of the booth and straightened up. Throwing a five dollar bill on the table, he made for the door without another word. As he hit the sidewalk he looked back at the two of them, squeezed together on one side of the booth, talking fast. He hoped Angela talked faster, and showed up tomorrow alone. He hated cops.
With one exception, of course.
"…and the situation in Columbia continues to worsen, causing U.S. officials concern that breakdown of infrastructure, already affecting nine South American countries, will cause famine and rioting in Central America as well."
"China continues to plead with European factions for aid. Following is a video of a brutal massacre in Beijing…"
"Conflict and war across the Middle East continue to drive oil prices, which reached a record $208 per barrel this week. In other news, rioters have barricaded themselves in a military compound in Ohio, declaring succession from the United States. Federal troops…"
Angie groaned and rolled over, shoving her arm under the pillow and trying to find a comfortable position for her legs. She needed to stop listening to the news at night, it made it even harder to sleep. So much fear, everywhere. And every time she closed her eyes, she felt it, felt something move inside her, pushing at her skin, and then she would wake up, wet with sweat, clutching her stomach. Every bloody video, every story of destruction and death, which the news anchors related in professionally calm and knowledgeable voices, rolled through her dreams. Through and behind them, she knew that Hell was laughing. It made her remember her childhood, with her sister Isabel. Isabel's eyes, wounded and confused. 'Why don't you tell them, Angie? Why don't you tell them you see it too?' She hadn't. She'd let Isabel go to Hell, afraid to follow her, afraid to help her until it was too late. It was Constantine who had saved her in the end.
Constantine had been the one to open her eyes, in more ways than one. But as her gift became more and more of a burden, she grew to hate it all over again. If her Sight came from God, why did she only see demons and murderers? Why, in all her nightmares, was there no reassurance?
She snaked a hand out from under the covers and grabbed her nightstand clock, peering at the glowing red numbers. Four-ten. Shit. Giving up on getting any more sleep, she rolled out of bed and headed for the kitchen, ready for coffee and another look through Sarah Peters' file. If she could just find something, some legitimate path of inquiry that would nail Sanderson with this crime, she would be able to sleep tonight. If not, there was always Constantine. She wasn't sure how she felt about that, either.
Beeman's funeral, six months ago, had been cheap and small. He'd had no family, and what Constantine could afford wasn't much. She'd been the only other mourner, and the priest had rushed through the ritual, offering them commiserating looks as fake as the plastic turf covering the piled dirt in the cemetery. Constantine had been depressed, his dark eyes baffled and angry. Standing by his car after the sordid little ceremony, she'd found nothing to say. In the end, she'd leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. An innocent gesture. At least, it had started out innocent. But the warmth, the closeness of him had made her breath hitch, tempted her to lean in, turn her head. Just slightly. For six months now she'd swung between knowing that he'd returned the kiss and total, angry embarrassment when she was sure he hadn't. Either way, it didn't matter. She'd thought he felt something for her, that he'd been, in his own weird way, flirting even during the worst of their ordeal. But in the cemetery he'd been cutting, sarcastic, slicing her away from him as certainly as if he'd used a scalpel instead of words. It was more than plain to her that he wanted nothing from her but her friendship—if that. She pressed the palms of her hands over her eyes, hard enough to see red, and groaned. Coffee wasn't helping, and she hadn't read a word of the Peters' file. Giving up on that as well, she slouched into the bathroom to take a shower.
"How far away does this gal live?" Angie asked, glaring at Constantine. His eyes were on the road, moodily focused on the distant line where the pavement faded into the dusty blue desert sky. They'd been driving more than an hour on back roads out of LA, a trip she hadn't counted on.
"Riverside," Constantine grunted.
She groaned and threw her head back. "You could've mentioned it." He shrugged.
With a tired sigh, she decided to meet things head on. "Look, you can talk. We're working this case together, right? The silent treatment is getting old."
He threw her an enigmatic glance, his jaw working on his ever-present gum. "No treatment. How long have you had the new partner?"
"Couple of days. He seems all right." A pause. "He's senior to me, got assigned to make sure I'm…okay."
That actually got him to look at her. "What do you mean?"
"Hey, you warned me, right?" She laughed, hoping it didn't sound too bitter. "I'm seeing things now, all the time. Last month I watched an old lady walking down the road, and I knew she was poisoning her son. What can I do, arrest her?"
Constantine sounded almost amused. "If you've got a babysitter, sounds like you tried."
"You can laugh." She set an elbow against the window, leaned her head on her hand. The desert outside the window had given way to suburbs. "Kaczynski's already wondering if I'm as big a freak as—" She broke off, blushing.
"As me? Hardly." He turned the steering wheel, a tiny smile on his face. "You've got a real gift with people."
"I didn't mean to offend—"
"I don't mean that." He was serious, thoughtful. "I mean, you pick up on criminals, you know what people are doing. I don't do that so much. With me it's more the other dimensions. Demons, spirits, angels. Not people."
She gaped. "Really?" She thought of him as the expert. It was odd to have him admit there was something she could do that he couldn't. He threaded through a spacious housing development. Angie classified it as comfortable, but not too pricey; a quiet, solid neighborhood with older houses and larger yards. Constantine peered at street signs and addresses, and rolled to a stop alongside the curb in front of a two-story pueblo-style house that had seen better days. "This is it?"
He didn't answer, getting out and slamming the door behind him. She scrambled to catch up as he reached the front step and rang the bell.
"Coming!" trilled a voice inside, and a few seconds later a middle-aged, faded woman opened the door. She had long, graying hair in two braids and wore a knit cap with a butterfly on it. Her style was what Angie thought of as 'granola-hippie': a long, drab skirt and a white blouse with a patchwork vest, strings of beads and braided friendship bracelets wrapped around her wrists, a thin, eager face that seemed anxious to wish them love, peace, and harmony with the universe. There was a strong smell of children and incense hanging around her.
"Yes? Oh! You are John Constantine? That wonderful, spiritual man, he calls himself Papa Midnite? You know him? Yes, he called and said you were coming. Come in, come in, and you are—oh, sorry, the kids leave their toys all over—did you want something to drink? I sensed this morning that there would be opportunities, opportunities to expand, to grow, and here you are. Spiritual, emotional growth. It's my card, you know, the Queen of Cups—because I am sensitive. Too sensitive, really. Right now, I can sense such strong auras about you both! I think, John—I'm sure you don't mind if I call you John?—that you must seek spiritual guidance, seek out your mystical side. It's so rare that I see someone who has such resonance! You are a sensitive, I'm sure of it."
Angie wondered how the woman managed to get any oxygen into her bloodstream, since she seemed to use it all talking. She didn't dare look to see how Constantine was taking the advice to get in touch with his mystical side. They were seated in the living room, she and Constantine perched on one sofa while their host sat in a large armchair opposite. She hadn't given them her name, although it seemed obvious she was the one they'd come to see. "Madam Zora?"
"Oh, call me Nadine. Zora's for work, it inspires people to be more receptive to the energies. Are you sure you won't have something to drink?"
"No," Constantine said. "Did Midnite mention why we were coming?"
Nadine the fortune teller blinked at him. "You are very businesslike, very focused. But don't allow that to override your creativity. Mr. Midnite said you wished to do some research on the occult. Of course, I have all of my dear father's books. It's a very celebrated collection, you know, just fascinating. Not that true wisdom is found in printed pages. It's from the spirit that—"
"Time is an issue here."
Feeling that Constantine had been too curt, Angie rushed to explain, "You see, I'm a police officer," she showed her badge automatically, "and we have a crime which seems to be occult in nature—or committed by someone based on occult practices. Your library may help us to find out what this person thinks he's doing, and possibly give us a line on who he is."
Angie talked on, and shortly Nadine was leading them to the back of the house. Through a high arch edged in tiles they could see a large room lined with bookcases, some of them glass-fronted and locked, others packed with oversized books covered in peeling leather. Constantine's eyebrows went up and he nudged Angie, pointing at the squiggly, Arabic-looking designs on the tiles. She had no idea what their significance was, but she remembered the signs carved along the jamb of Constantine's apartment door and wondered. Nadine, displaying unexpected competence, explained the organization of the library and even pulled up a computer file with a cross-referenced index of titles and subjects. Constantine was taken aback.
"Papa was so proud of his library, you know, he wanted to be able to find anything at a moment's notice," Nadine said, enjoying his surprise. "He loved all kinds of technology, too."
"Who doesn't?" Constantine answered with a straight face, and Angie and Nadine rolled their eyes behind his back. Within a short while, they'd found a subject file named 'Blood Rituals' and in it a reference to 'blood rituals-demonic' and a list of titles. Unfortunately, that was where the easy part ended. Three-quarters of the volumes named were in Latin or German, and the rest were handwritten or printed using a funny, archaic script where 's' looked like 'f' and the sentences were so convoluted and difficult Angie thought the Latin must be easier to decipher. Constantine could read Latin, and looked smug about it. She asked him if he could manage the German, too, and got a level stare that might have meant anything from 'naturally' to 'fuck you.' Sighing, she joined Nadine at a long table in the middle of the room and they began sifting through the books they could read.
Two hours later, Constantine hissed. "This is it." Nadine, bleary but still cheerful, blinked at him. Angie jumped up to peer over his shoulder, forgetting that it wouldn't tell her anything.
"Nadine, would it be possible for me to borrow this book?"
"Oh no," she said immediately. "No, I don't think so. Papa always insisted that none of his books should leave this room. He left this house to me when he died, you know, and there were some things that he didn't want changed. I've always tried to respect his wishes—"
"Please," Angie said, "It's a murder investigation, and we need time to get this translated and figure out what it means."
The fortune teller nodded, anxious to help. "Oh, I see that, I really do, and you're a Taurus, aren't you dear? Always ready to charge in, and protecting of the less fortunate. But won't a copy be just as good?" She waved at the printer-copier next to the computer. "And I will keep looking for information for you, in these volumes, if you'll give me your email."
Constantine opened his mouth, closed it, and stalked over to the copier as if it had insulted him personally. Nadine stacked her books neatly in the center of the table and picked one up off the floor, frowning at it. Constantine, waiting for the printer to finish spitting ink on paper, smiled thinly and opened his mouth—and closed it, looking confused. Almost afraid. Angie looked from him to Nadine and wondered what he was seeing. As soon as they were back in the car, she asked.
"Come on, you looked—well, like someone else would look if they'd seen a ghost." Angie was getting tired of having to pull information out of him.
"I mean it. I wanted to read the title off the book, make some comment, spook her a little." She made a face at his childishness and he shrugged it off. "And nothing. I couldn't see it. I couldn't pick up anything."
"Why not? Is this that people thing you were talking about earlier?"
"No. I'm not as good with people, but I'm not fucking blind." Constantine pulled on the steering wheel, pushed on the gas and sent the car skidding into the road to Los Angeles. "I've been…" he trailed off, clearly uncomfortable. "It's like I've been having trouble seeing, a couple of times lately. Like my Sight is…I don't know, forget it."
His tone of voice told her to drop the subject. "What about Nadine? Didn't Midnite tell you she might need help, that half-breeds might try to get at her because of her collection?"
She saw his shoulders relax, tension seeping back out of him. "Looks like her dad thought of it first. It's not just the library that's under protective spells—you saw them, on the tiles? There's more, all over the house, worked into the building itself. As long as she's there, she's OK."
"Sounds risky. What about when she goes out?" She shifted, trying to work the kinks out of her shoulders, and wished they didn't have such a long drive ahead of them.
"Life's a risk. And attacking her wouldn't get anyone with hellfire inside them access to that library." He popped another piece of gum in his mouth. "Anyway, we've got other problems. According to this," he tapped the pages shoved into a file on the seat between them, "a virgin killed in a ring of holy salt and what it calls 'waters of Hell' lets you do some unpleasant things with the eyes of a drowned man."
"There was a severed hand found with Sarah Peters' body—that doesn't really fit. And what are 'waters of Hell'? You said water is like," she tried to remember, "an interdimensional conductor, right?"
"There is no water in Hell."
"I'm trying to explain here, OK?" He glared at her and then back at the road. "It has instructions on how to get blood from a demon, or a half-breed. That blood is called the waters of Hell."
"That is unfortunately correct, John."
The prim, quiet voice coming from the backseat made Constantine swerve and curse. "Shit, Raphael, what the hell are you doing here?"
Angie, her heart going so hard she could feel the pulse in her neck beat, turned slowly to see what was in the backseat. In spite of too much experience with the supernatural over the last year, finding a being suddenly present in a moving car—a sweet-faced, slender person with huge gray wings awkwardly curled in the limited space—was disturbing. It was like the first time she'd felt a California earthquake, not so frightening in itself but taking away what had always been the certain solidity of ground. Something that she'd always taken for granted as secure had been violated. She wondered if she'd spend the next few months spooking at every little noise in a car, thinking there was someone behind her.
"Would you please keep your eyes on the road?" Raphael asked Constantine plaintively. "Safety first, when driving."
"Son of a—" Constantine sighed. "On second thoughts, I don't think I'll finish that phrase. Angela, this is Raphael."
"The archangel," she said. Her voice was flat and hard, not from disbelief but because she couldn't process the information. All the years in Catechism, nuns and priests talking about the hosts of heaven, glorious stained glass windows and carved, gilded statues ran through her mind. And here was Raphael, uncomfortably squeezed into the back of a Chevy sedan.
"Hello Angela, it is a pleasure to meet you," Raphael said, spreading his robes neatly over his knees and tucking his straight brown hair out of his eyes. "It is so nice that John is making new friends."
Angie smothered a laugh, wondering if Raphael was about to offer them milk and cookies. "Um, it's nice to meet you too." The archangel beamed at her.
Constantine said, "Did you have something to say, or are you just being a pain in the butt? Because we're busy."
"John—" Angie said.
"Yes of course," Raphael interrupted her. "I wanted to tell you that the ritual you have found, the Sacrifices to Hell, are in fact what you were looking for. I suggest—"
"Sacrifices? You mean more than one?" Angie asked, appalled.
"Yes, there are four total," Raphael said. "I suggest that you look into the book of Revelation, Chapter Ten, for further clarification. It's all there."
Constantine smirked into the rearview mirror. "Which one?"
"Ours, naturally." Raphael seemed nettled, but Angie didn't know why. "Try to keep hold of your faith, John. Like I said, it's very good to see Angela accompany you on this." Angie felt like mentioning that it was her case, not John's, but was too shy to contradict him. "The long, dark night of the soul is so much longer and darker when you're on your own."
And then Raphael was fading away, wings springing out beyond the frame of the car, rising into insubstantiality with a final, gentle, "I'm sorry, but I must be going…"
"Well." Constantine kept driving and Angie turned back around, settling her seatbelt into place. "That was…sudden."
"That was illegal," Constantine corrected. She looked at him, surprised, to see that his face was drawn and grayish, as though he'd had a bad shock. "Angels can suggest, hint, encourage—but they don't come down and give information. Raphael is breaking the rules, ignoring the balance. He's not supposed to help." He grinned at her, looking like he might be sick. "They're definitely not supposed to give you chapter and verse. Something is really wrong."
"When isn't it?" Angie said, and got no answer.