This is the final instalment of Deadman’s The Man in the Black Suit. You can find the rest of the story here.
“You Get A Lifetime”
Jon comforted his bruised and aching face as the taxi door closed behind him, trying hard to ignore the radiating pain in his cheek. He sighed heavily and knew that he was in for a long drive, settling into the leather bench chair, letting the smell of the cab and cheap disinfectant wash into his nose, tuning out the world outside the window to a dull hum, content to watch it go by in gray and black streaks. He let the words of the creature he’d just encountered play in the background of his head, letting the meanings and implications settle into a cozy area of deduction. Humans. As much as he loved them he really thought they needed to be more cautious about the world about them. Real estate, slave demons, conspiracies and the like, all turning slowly in his head as the cab bumped and rocked over the streets and potholes beneath them. His phone had chimed a few times since he’d gotten into the car, but he ignored it, trying to comfort his hurt pride and injured face.
Slowly the destination came around, near two hours later. The sun was low in the sky and his energy was waning, the rush of being in a fight and nearly losing had taken it out of him. He handed the driver the fare and a generous tip and got out with a ‘God bless.’ And he meant it. If he failed in any way, shape, or form, the heavy guns would be brought in and there’d be no peace for anyone, human or otherwise. The tall, faceless, nameless building stood before Jon like a monolith of modern architecture that stared down at the world and passed judgment. He rubbed his sore cheek and sighed heavily, hoping the elevators were still functional as this place seemed a bit on the drab side of things.
The door clicked open and closed behind him with no effort, the only piece of the lobby that didn’t seem old or made in the late 70’s. Yellowed paint that cracked and peeled decorated the walls inside, the smell of stale cigarettes and spilled malt liquor hung heavy in the air, unintelligible conversations wafted down the hallway. The stairway to his left held the same, faded decor, as well as the elevators. Of the four metal doors only one was lacking an ‘Out of order’ sign and Jon hoped that it wasn’t lying. He pressed the button and the light came on, illuminating the ancient plastic a deep yellow and gears began to turn and churn. After dings that played through a blown out speaker counted off the floors, the door opened with a screech that begged for a good shot of lubricant and the immortal stepped in. The inside of the elevator was no cleaner or better lit than the lobby it now sat in. Another button was pushed and he was away.
More counted ‘dings’ came and went and Jon finally reached his destination: the 13th floor. As much as he hated being here, the unfinished floor of a building in a dilapidated part of town, he knew the coming days would require him to collect what was sitting behind the steel door at the end of the hall. As he stood in the hallway with flickering fluorescent lights, he ran his tongue alongside the punched cheek, hoping not to taste that metallic sign that he was probably bleeding. He didn’t and thanked God for that little bit of luck. This floor was different from the rest. The air was thick with dust that stank of cement and sawed wood; the floor, itself, was unfinished and bare concrete. There were no other doors on this floor, save for the one: His destination. Jon took a deep breath of that air and let it out with a deep sigh before turning and starting his walk to become something he didn’t want to become.
The only light that properly worked was right above the polished steel door, steady and humming. There was no handle. There was no window. But he was being observed by the occupants on the other side. Jon gave a crooked smile, his injury not allowing him a full one, and spoke, “Evening to you, folks. I’m Father Jon. I’ve come to be readied.” He waited. Minutes passed and he stood still as stone. He tried to remember what he’d forgotten. Was it a pass phrase or a word or passage? Confusion crept across his face as he ran down the list of things he could’ve forgotten. Latin? Spanish? Old English? Lochke? It came to him and he rolled his gray eyes right before he spoke, “Amen.” Several locks gave way, some so heavy it knocked new dust into the air off the walls, then the door began to creep open.
Slowly and painfully the door moved on its massive hinges, steel grating the floor that already had deep grooves in it from previous activity. Clean, cool air conditioned air began to seep from around the seams of the entrance. Then finally it opened completely. Inside were three men, all identical. Around five and a half feet tall, curly blonde hair to their shoulders, with green eyes. All were dressed in jeans and black shirts that were at various stages of buttoning, one all the way to the top, the other half way, and the last with only a couple undone. The room they sat in was as plain as a walk in closet and almost as small, with one sink decorating one barren concrete wall, and a small table set in the middle of the room. The three men sitting at the table smiled as Jon greeted each of them, “Evening, Abinon, Manist, Bob.” Each returned the greeting and the giant door began to slide back to its original position.
“How are my three favorite Seraphim?” The curly haired men each answered in different accents, stating their well-being, then one asked in an Irish brogue, “And what is it we can be doing for ye, Father?” Jon’s eyes swept the plain room, the inhabitants and hated the words that were about to come out, “I need to be readied. I can’t be a father anymore….” Jon lowered his gaze to the floor, “I need to be a Paladin.” The three men before him exchanged sidelong glances, considering the immortal’s words. Then another one of them spoke, with accent at all, “You know that you can’t go back to being just a Father, right? You become a paladin and that’s it. Think about this, Jon.” Doubt crept into the man in the black suit. The men were Seraphim, a choir of angels, these particular three had come to Earth to help in the best way they knew how: arming and teaching combat against the unholy. Since Jon was well-versed in the latter he now needed to be armed and in doing so would be named the next evolution of a man of the cloth combating evil. He’d become a Paladin. It was a title almost no holy man wanted. But he needed it. So with a deep breath Jon looked up at the men and nodded.
The Irish brogue rejoined the conversation. “Well alright, then. We’ll get ya set up. But first. What’s up with yer cheek, man? Ya look like ya got in a fight with a wall and lost.” Jon nodded and had almost forgotten about it, “That’s sort of what happened.” The Irish one stood, “We can’t have ya coming into the armory looking all beaten up and what-not, now can we? Oi. Bob. Fix him up.” Jon began to hold up his hands in protest, but the one that had not spoken yet stood and closed the tiny gap between the two. With gentle hands, Bob inspected the pulsing, hot bruise that Jon wore, checking out the extent of the damage. Then the blonde man reached into a pocket and took out a small bottle filled with pearlescent filling. He unscrewed the top and poured some of the thick liquid into his open right hand, then replaced the top and stuck it back in his pocket. “Hold still.” Bob had a British accent. With deft speed and precision Bob’s thin hand with the liquid in it slapped Jon across the face, right on the injured cheek. The pain flared up and almost instantly died, but Jon still felt it and exclaimed his displeasure, “YOWZA!” The pain and the bruise was gone. If Jon understood the true nature or use of the cream he’d make an observation, but he kept his mouth shut. Bob gave a small smile and gestured with his head toward the back of the room, “Shall we?”
Jon eyed the three in the room, all six eyes waiting for his response. He nodded. The back of the room began to open, the wall giving way to a door that was hidden, the three men along with the immortal waiting in stillness as the concrete reached its final destination. Behind the door was a large, pitch black, warehouse of a room. Abinon entered the room first and lights on a sensor clicked on. The room was not concrete like the outside; this one was solid steel lined, shelves and counters along the walls that were topped with weapons upon weapons. The shiny walls, themselves, had hooks and small shelves, each with a weapon of some sort hanging off it. Ammo cluttered the counter spaces where there wasn’t a weapon laying. The floor was even covered in steel that seemed to be cleaned regularly. The selection of armaments ranged from flintlock pistols all the way up to the ultra-modern design of things that had not even been released to the military or public yet. But among all the impressive things there was one that didn’t belong: The glass cabinet at the back of the room.
Inside the cabinet stood three items: A glass container of holy water, a copy of the Bible, and lastly, the red smock given to all Paladins. Jons eyes locked onto the six-foot-long piece of red cloth. Becoming a Paladin meant becoming something different; it meant becoming not a man of God, but a weapon. Jon’s self-appointed ‘arbiter’ title was going to be obsolete, now, he’d be the judge, jury, and executioner. Avoiding taking the oath was his way of doing no harm to the humans around him, for God’s judgment did not just pertain to the unholy, it was cast down upon all.
The room was huge, twelve-foot-tall ceilings, and the size of a basketball court, with a slender table running through the middle that held nothing. It was there to act as a shopping cart for those who came to see the three angels come to Earth. The four men made a beeline to the wooden cabinet. Manist opened it and began the ritual, handing Abinon the Bible and Bob the holy water, the red cloth stayed with him. Jon’s silver eyes locked with the green ones of the man holding the final part of the ritual. Manist spoke to begin the whole thing, “Father Jonathan Ross. Speak thy oath and become the instrument of God.”
Jon took a deep breath and began, at the same time Bob also began to sprinkle holy water on him, and Abinon brought the Bible forward and Jon put his hand on it. The ritual was short, but the words were intense and the commitment they elicited all took a toll on a man reciting them. Soon it was over and ‘Amen’ marked the final words and stopped the gentle spray of holy water. The Bible fell away and Jon lowered his head as the red frock was laid upon his shoulders. “Paladin Jonathan Ross.” The weight of those words and the frock was crushing. Jon’s head finally raised and looked the angel in the eye again, “Let’s put some iron in my pocket.” The remaining two items were locked back in the cabinet and a whole new ritual began.
The three men spoke in turn, bringing weapons and their traits to the center table as Jon watched and listened. The weapons were beautiful in their own right, each possessing its own unique quality as well as caliber and size, from handguns to full-on rifles. The immortal couldn’t decide. So he had a giant, black duffel bag stuffed to the brim with all sorts of weapons and the ammo to fuel them. As he walked out of the steel room and back into the concrete one, Bob pulled on the immortal’s sleeve and asked in a hushed tone, “Why do angels and demons and such give up their immortality to become human? I never understood what you get out of it. Do you know, Jon?” Jon smiled as gently as he could and patted the man on the shoulder, “It’s about free will and having the ability to choose, and to have a life outside of all of this. But. In the end. You get what everyone else gets.” Jon turned to walk away and made it to the giant door that was already opening to let him out into the world when Bob spoke again, “And what’s that?” The man in the black suit walked through the fully opened vault door, before turning back to the curious angel and thought for a moment to find the right words. As the door started closing, Jon smiled and answered, “You get a lifetime.”
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