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Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Callisto, Joxer, Ares, Hercules, Ephiny, Phantes, Horace and the Amazons are all property of Renaissance and Universal and whoever else owns the rights to them. Clarence Peabody doesn’t belong to me either. I’m only taking them out to play, and no copyright infringement is intended. The story, however, and the original characters are mine and may not be used without permission.
Summary: Callisto is given the chance to earn her angel’s wings, under the tutelage of Clarence the Angel. Her task is to reunite two soulmates who risk missing each other in this lifetime, even though they live in the same city and cross paths every day. Ares, however, is still the god of War, and he has other ideas.
She’d walked for blocks in the knee-high leather boots and fake fur coat; her feet ached and she was feeling the unfamiliar sensation of cold. Her breath smoked in the cold air. When she walked in front of a clothing store, she jumped slightly at the sight of own reflection in the shiny black window’s glass surface. High on the window, she could read the words written concisely in silver paint, “Big and tall.” She had never looked at herself so clearly in the light of day, mirrors like this one being unknown in the world she remembered.
She stopped for a moment, tracing her own reflection with fascinated surprise. Yes, the person she remembered was all there – including the flossy golden hair and the wolf-like amber eyes. Yes, Joseph, had done it all right! But there was a look in those eyes that was utterly different. Gone was the old killing instinct and the edge of homicidal rage and lack of reason. In its place, she saw steadiness and assurance – a woman far removed from the woman she had once been and a promise of the woman she could be - or a spirit that could do true good from above.
She adjusted her new clothes in the reflected image. ‘Better,’ she assured herself, tugging at the sleeves. ‘I think that’s the way that it’s supposed to look.’ She gave her long trim body a last look. It was exactly the way that she remembered it. On the other hand, she sighed inwardly, what in oh holy night use had it ever been to her? Strong and cunning she had been, but this body had never held a child’s hand or known a lover’s caress.
She walked with some care now, reading the strange names of the stores on College Street. ‘Toronto Collective Artists Housing’, she glanced up at a brass sign on an impressive brick building. Where were the artists in this collective anyway? She didn’t see any signs of paintings in front of the building at the side of the road. And the ground was so hard. She ground her heel against the grey hard matter; these roads were unkind to feet and she had to watch carefully not to get in the way of the large, self-propelled metal vehicles that left a distinctive smell in the air. True, she hadn’t come across any open sewers or manure in the fields, but at least that was natural. There was nothing natural about this place.
In her world, people would have been gathered together around an inviting open fire in an effort to keep warm. There were no open fires here. And where were all the animal skins and leathers that would help them keep warm? These people were dressed in light poufy coats. She wondered if they were packed with sheep’s fleece. Then she remembered a story about the northern peoples using feathers inside woven covers that they had gathered from the eider nests in order to keep warm. Perhaps that was the secret. Colours were bright, garish and strange to her eyes, but echoed every shade of the rainbow. Dark leathers or sheepskins seemed absent from this world.
And where were all the small wooden buildings? Maybe it was better not to have wood – wood burned, people died. Everything here was brick or stone, much like the centre of Athens where the vast marble temples were built. Yet clearly, this was just an ordinary part of town. She remembered that Clarence had talked to her about this, given her eyes to see it and made it clear to her what to expect. It had been a surprise to him, he’d explained, the differences between Bedford Falls and his beloved 17th century Boston.
It was so cold here too, colder than Greece and so far from the sea. She knew this because she couldn’t smell the salt on the wind anywhere. And where was the omnipresent odour of burning wood? Her stomach growled, and she remembered that in mortal form she would have to eat soon. Perhaps, she could find food and Clarence would find her. She had drawn strangely close to the odd man who was going to help her get her wings at last.
Emerging onto the wide intersection at Spadina, she felt the warm morning sun hit her face and she laughed suddenly with child-like exuberance. Life was unfolding everywhere around her. This life force hit her hard and her heart expanded with the unexpected pleasure of her blood surging and her heart pumping and knowing she was alive. It was a simple feeling, a feeling that she’d had while picking daisies in the distant fields near Cirra when she was a very young child, a feeling from before. Later, she’d burned life’s candle at both ends, feeling its force as she killed and forgetting her pain.
These memories saddened her. Wishing her life could’ve been better she discarded her regrets as she’d been taught by the others. Now that she knew better she wasn’t really human any more – no killing, no screaming, no running - just one breath and after another. It was a profound relief.
Reading the store signs, she made her way along the street. She found herself entranced by the smallest things: a can shaking in some kind of machine, a woman trying on leather pants and vest in a shop front, another steamy window full of unfamiliar pastries and the all-too familiar smell of baking bread. Her stomach groaned again. If she didn’t find the ‘Mars Diner’ soon, she’s return here. After all, Joseph had given her some paper that he’d told her sternly was as good as a 1000 dinars and had said to spend it wisely.
Ah, there it was, the sign she was looking for: bright blue with Mars Diner written on it and a bright yellow sun with an arrow through it. Hmm, Mars, a Roman name for Ares. That useless Caesar, he was a Roman. It was too bad she hadn’t had her head on straight at the time, she could’ve told Xena a thing or two about him. She considered Ares. He was a big eater; maybe the place had big meals. She sure hoped so because she was very hungry.
She stared in the window. In a large front booth near the window, a powerfully built man with longish, light brown hair and tall woman talked animatedly. She stared at them for a moment and paused. The man she knew well, although he wouldn’t remember their previous time of acquaintanceship. That was unfortunate in one way, but it made her breath more easily in another way. No ties, no worries.
The man balanced a long yellow thing on the edge his finger before he bit into it. The woman beside him with the long dark hair and the piercing ice blue eyes was still more than familiar to her, although the woman’s clothes - the heavy leather work boots, the bright yellow coat and blue pants with top and long straps were strange and unfamiliar. Since the man had similar clothes, she was sure all would be revealed before long.
“Xena!” she breathed the name aloud and steadied herself using the glass, “And Hercules, how appropriate!” They hadn’t warned her about this, but she was sure it was part of the test. She tilted her head slightly and sighed. She placed her hand on the glass and the cold left a misty impression of her warm palm. She stared at the heat of life left by her hand, and reconsidered. It was the last step, the final step in releasing her fettered heart from its old cage, and letting it fly free forever. It had taken her more than two millennia and the faith of a child to get her to this place, and more than anything she wanted this release. She would face down a den of lions if need be.
Glancing to the side, she noticed a small man with silvery hair out of the corner of her eye and jumped in surprise. The man with all-too familiar snub-nosed profile came and stood quietly beside her. She knew that if she looked he would have an ancient and well-loved copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer stuffed into his left hand pocket.
“Darn, Clarence!” She held her hand over her heart, “You scared me. I was just thinking of going in.”
“You’ll have to do more than just stand there and look at them to get your wings, Callisto.” Clarence said gently.
“I know.” Nervously she bit her under lip. She briefly glanced at the two individuals and back at Clarence, “They don’t know who they were, do they?” She pulled a face, “Or remember me? And what I was like?”
Clarence looked momentarily surprised by the question, and then remembered who he was dealing with. “Gracious no, they have no idea who they were before in their previous lives. That’s usually not possible.”
Clarence considered, “Sometimes, a powerful memory or a powerful bond can make people remember fragments of what happened in the past, but not as a complete memory. You’d have to ask Joseph to explain it to you.”
“They look close.” She commented watching them carefully.
“Well you know, they’re family here – brother and sister. It’s good that they’re close, especially for you. It will make your mission easier in some ways.”
“I hated Hercules,” she confessed flatly on an out breath, “Almost as much as Xena.”
“And now?” His eyes were kind, avoiding comment.
She shook her head, freeing it of the past, trying to put words to the impassivity in her soul, “It was so long ago.”
Clarence smiled softly, “You’ve never felt human love.”
“No.” She said shortly, painfully. The realization was like a stone in her chest. “Although that little bard Gabrielle kind of got to me. And Hercules,” she tipped her head to the man behind the table. “He was so good. I didn’t think he could die.”
“All our days are numbered, Callisto,” Clarence said softly, “Even for the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. What a burden it would have been to outlive all his friends, his world and the wife and children he finally had. They were strong and long-lived, but not immortal. No.”
She reflected on the time when she’d asked Hope, Gabrielle’s daughter, to kill her – the despair had been terrible. But Clarence could sense her thoughts, “No Callisto, it was never like that. He died surrounded by his friends and family near Avalon, far from home. A good man, as you say!”
He put his hand to the small of her back, and touched her consolingly. Of all the things that Joseph had asked him to do, this had been the most difficult. Callisto had been in Heaven for many hundreds of years, but had never managed to get her wings and was too proud to ask. Joseph had made him read the scrolls of the famous bard, Gabrielle of Potidea to prepare him for this mission for which Clarence was profoundly grateful.
Clarence nodded to her. “You know what you have to do. Gabrielle’s not here. Just deal with one person at a time. Stay focussed on the mission. You can do this. You go on in there and get your wings, Cally.” Callisto drew a deep breath, considering. Then she looked at another patron preparing to enter the diner. His back was toward her.
She watched the stranger with wavy black hair and the black leather coat tie his Australian sheepdog to an iron lamp post. He spun lightly on the ground and laughed to himself. “Give me five, boy!” he instructed the dog.
The dog leapt up on his hind legs, and slapped the man’s open hands. ‘Hmm,’ Callisto thought: ‘that’s a well trained pet, too bad he’s not a horse.’ The dark-haired man continued his interaction with his pet. He embraced the dog, and said quietly “Horace, stay here.” The dog sat down as though his life depended on it, his light blue eyes trained on the man. The man leant over and gave ‘Horace’ a casual pat before turning around with a lithe grace that belied his muscular appearance. As the man turned around and she saw him clearly, her heart sank.
“Ares!” she whispered in an undertone to Clarence. And so it was! It was the tanned, well built, god of War himself in a long black leather duster style coat, smart boots with the gleam of silver tips at the heels and toes, and skin tight black jeans and soft grey sweater.
“Now, don’t lose your head! Keep your eyes on the prize my girl, not the obstacle!” Clarence warned. Ares gave her a wide engaging grin and approached her. There was no doubt he remembered her very well.
“Hey, long time, no see. I heard you were playing for the angels now, Callisto. Have you come to ruin my fun?” He put his around his mouth and said in a stage whisper, “Why don’t you ditch the old fossil and come back to my digs, we can get reacquainted – wouldn’t that be a hoot - the would-be angel and the god of War?”
She looked at Clarence, who shrugged and looked back at her. Yeah, Ares was just like she remembered him – arrogant, strong, empty-headed except for one basic idea and so terribly male. She coughed, “You know Ares baby, it’s cold outside so I’m going inside to warm up. And as I recall you were never terribly interested in me. But oh,” she considered putting her fingers up to her face in a reflective gesture, “Or is it that Xee-na still isn’t interested in you? She’s sitting in there with that do-gooder half-brother of yours, Hercules, having a great time.”
He grabbed her shoulder and shoved it against the glass. “Maybe she hasn’t had encouragement from the right sources to see what I have to offer! She doesn’t even remember me!”
“It’s sad, holding onto a crush on a reborn mortal for what, something over two thousand years?” She said levelly meeting his eyes.
He gave her a smoky glance, “Oh yeah, Heaven must have done something to you, there was time when you had more fire, Callisto.”
“Well, I’ve learned to deal with my problems and move on.” She levered her shoulder out of his grasp, “And Xena isn’t among them.”
He laughed harshly, “Well, time was when Xena was your biggest problem, Callisto. And my baby brother in there, the do-gooder,” he chortled, “He doesn’t even know who he is and what he’s doing here. It’s like terminal amnesia. Different lives, different possibilities and he still keeps living the same crazy way. But you were smarter than that Callisto.”
“I’ve learned to be different Ares.” Her brown eyes were sad for him. She heard the church bells across the road strike. She reflected calmly on their message and said softly, “Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells all seemed to say throw all cares away.”
“Yeah I know,” he sneered, “Christmas time is here. But what makes you any different Callisto than before? All those years in Heaven, get to you?”
“I’ve learned to throw my cares away, Ares. What about you?”
“Well, I’ve learned to do it better,” he laughed slightly hysterically.
“That’s a matter of opinion,” Callisto said drily.
The door to the restaurant opened and silver bells tinkled. Ares held up his finger, “Ah ha, an angel gets their wings. Isn’t that nice? But it’snot going to be you, Callisto,” he warned.
She looked at the two people engaged in conversation in the window. Whatever they were doing, it appeared very like Xena was on the same path to redemption. She couldn’t forget that she’d found her way into Heaven because of Xena. “It doesn’t look like Xena’s playing for your team, Ares,” she commented quietly.
The comment seemed to enrage the god. He pressed her shoulder back against the window again, and pushed hard so that she couldn’t free herself without divine intervention. She knew that would’ve been a bad idea, and would attract a lot of attention. So, she just pushed back with a will of her own. However, attention was being paid from the front window of the diner, people were standing up. Ares whispered in her ear, “First chance you get, you go and find yourself a television set - CNN, CBC, BBC... whatever. This is my time, Callisto! Outside of this little island of peace, there’s war and carnage everywhere. They even have weapons of mass destruction that I marvel at. I’ve spent time with the greatest minds of the last century: Stalin, Idi Amin, Goebbels and my fave...Hitler. This century’s looking pretty good too. Yeah, mankind’s taken the road to hell and destruction to a whole new level. And I’m rockin’ on the ride with them.” He winked at her, “Gotta check it out, Callisto. This Christmas crap, doesn’t mean squat. I despise all this God bless you merry gentlemen crap - and you used to be just like me. Remember!”
She wrenched her shoulder free with a great effort, “It doesn’t matter what you say Ares, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. You know, Come all ye faithful. Look at the faces around you.” She cast her hand up to point to the decorations around them and take in the cold reddened faces of people hurrying to and fro with their Christmas shopping.
“You get ‘em toots,” Clarence encouraged her.
“You stay out of it, Clarence,” Ares warned, lifting his finger.
“Pooh, you can’t touch me. I’m an angel, first class. Away with you, my man,” Clarence hooted.
“One of these days,” Ares promised. Then he snorted in disgust, “You angels are all the same, you think that a couple of soldiers exchanging a couple of presents in no man’s land during a nasty war means hope for mankind. It slays me! Remember, Callisto, stay out of the way of my Christmas plans.”
“Or what will you do, Ares?” She asked in a ringing voice, the same ringing voice that had once called her soldiers to battle. “Hurt me?” She laughed and for a second he could see the old Callisto, and he remembered that, unlike with Xena, he’d been unable to entice her with his wiles. Callisto as an angel could be a dangerous enemy. He growled to himself.
Inside, the man who had once been Hercules could no longer stand watching the commotion outside and he came out. He glared at Ares unwelcomingly, “Nikos,” he asked “what’s going on? Are you bothering this lady and her friend?”
Ares, or Nikos as he seemed to be called in this world, rubbed his face and snickered, “What’s the matter Tony, can’t I hustle a pretty lady when I want?
Tony Karpasian shook his head, “Nikos, it doesn’t look like this pretty lady or her friend are interested in what you’re selling. Why don’t you move along?”
Ares, who seemed to be known as Nikos in this universe, made an expansive gesture, “It’s bad enough that you cut me out with your sister, Tony. Now, you have to interfere every time I talk to a woman outside of the Mars Diner? Come on.”
The dark haired Marty Karpasian stood beside her brother, her commanding presence a memory of the woman who had once conquered most of Greece.
“Tony doesn’t have to interfere for me to I know I’m not interested in you, Nikos. You’re not my type! So why don’t you move along!”
“Marty, go inside, this doesn’t concern you!” Tony addressed his sister calmly but firmly.
“Go inside Marty, this doesn’t concern you,” Nikos/Ares mimicked nastily hoping Marty would take the bait.
Marty took an angry step forward. Callisto almost expected to see the familiar chakram hanging at her side, “Everything that concerns Tony, concerns me, Nikos.”
Nikos walked up to her and whispered in her ear, “That’s not what you said after your cousin Flory’s wedding. You were hot to trot then.”
For a second, Callisto thought that Marty was going to hit Nikos, but she laughed. Waving her hand like she was waving away flies, Marty’s tone was dismissive. “That was fifteen years ago Nikos, we were just kids. I was seventeen at the time. Time to move on. And nothing happened.”
Nikos laughed, “Again, enter big brother.”
“I recall you seemed old and sophisticated at one time,” she tossed back her long dark hair, “Now, you just seem old.”
“Ouch,” Ares/Nikos pretended to stumble, feigning a hit to the heart.
“The problem with you, Nikos,” Marty added, “is that the best thing about you, is your dog.”
It was strange, Callisto reflected, to see the familiar clean cut profiles of Hercules and Xena and know that they had no recollection of the unhappy role that she had once played in their former lives. Even stranger, was the look of concern for her in the light blue eyes of her once and former nemesis. And she did feel winded; Ares/Nikos was still a God no matter what the others knew about him.
“Fine,” Ares threw up his hands, “I’m off to do business down the street.” Callisto gave him a sharp look, thinking about how he might obstruct the other part of her mission, but he was busy untying his dog and leaving before she could give it much thought.
Suddenly, Clarence began to cough severely.
“Are you all right, sir?” Tony bent over Clarence using a solicitous tone. “Marty, take his other arm.”
For a moment Callisto was unsure what to do, then in the back of her mind she heard the cranky voice of Joseph in Heaven instructing her, “What’s wrong with you, help the man!”
“Oh, Uncle Clarence,” she sang out following behind the group.
Soon, she found herself installed at the front table in the small restaurant. Clarence was still puffing, “Thank you, my kind man. Oh, this is nice! Is this a drinking establishment?” He inquired in a flutey tone. The cash register tinkled again. “Oh another angel has made it Cally!”
Callisto gave Tony a nervous smile, “My uncle loves angels - especially at Christmas time.”
Tony grinned, “Of course, it would be a blue Christmas without angels. I haven’t introduced you to my sister, Marty Karpasian.”
She met the sharp blue eyes of his female companion, “Marty, glad to meet you. I’m Callisto Cirra and this is my uncle,” she hesitated, “ Uncle Clarence Peabody.”
“Angel First Class,” Clarence Peabody extended his hand and a piece of his linen under shirt peeped through. He looked around, “Do you suppose we could get some mulled wine at this establishment?”
Without even a thought, Tony extended his powerful arm. He met stranger men than Clarence everyday while breaking down doors and rescuing people from their kitchens and bedrooms in a variety of compromising positions. If Clarence Peabody said he was an angel that was all right with him. “Pleased to meet you, Angel Peabody.”
“Oh just call me Clarence please, I’m travelling incognito, as it were. Now, what about that mulled wine?”
“Well,” Tony winked at Callisto, “I’m not sure this establishment has the ingredients for mulled wine, but I could stand you both to a couple of cups of coffee, burgers and fries.”
Clarence eyed Tony observantly, “I was wondering why you were wearing similar clothes.”
Callisto nudged him, “Uncle Clarence!”
Clarence hooted with laughter, “If you don’t ask any questions, you won’t get any answers.”
Marty smiled sweetly, “That’s true Angel Clarence.”
He gave her a kind look, “Hush now, not so formal just call me Clarence. You say that like you don’t believe in angels.” Marty tilted her head, a momentary image of clashing swords, golden wings, fire and a small blonde woman whirling around in a green top crossed her mind. “No,” she said softly, “I’m an Armenian, I do believe in angels. I just don’t expect to find one at College and Bathurst.”
“Oh well,” Clarence gestured with his arm, “you can expect to find angels just about anywhere.”
Tony smiled indulgently and gave Callisto another compassionate look, “Well, we’ve seen some strange things as fire fighters.”
Marty volunteered. “We work at the house just around the corner.”
“The house?” Callisto inquired.
“The firehall just south of College,” Tony volunteered. “Marty drives the pumper, and I’m usually with the chief in his car. I’m the second in command.” He gave Callisto a dazzling smile of admiration, “Callisto Cirra, that’s a beautiful and unusual name.” He touched her hand lightly, and Marty rolled her eyes; she was used to her brother’s impressionable heart.
‘Oh dear,’ Callisto thought to herself sadly, ‘if you only knewwhat a child is this. You don’t know him at all.’ She smiled at his clear, guileless blue eyes and broad shoulders and wondered what he’d think if he knew who she really was. She looked out the window at the streetcars clanging by and then stared at the gold lanterns on the scarlet wallpaper.
“Oh, Christmas tree,” she sighed in exasperation. The last person she ever expected to like here was Hercules, and the hard part was that after so many years in Heaven she wasn’t totally immune to what he stood for – honour, justice and truth. She also sensed a change in this Xena who had been reincarnated as Marty. Yes, this woman was on the path of redemption, and the darker side of her nature was gone. The woman who had burned down her village, Cirra, wasn’t with them anymore. She had been reborn as another person, strong and courageous that was true, but no longer a killer.
“What did you say?” Tony reached out and touched the white, cold hand on the table lightly. She withdrew her fingers quietly and looked for her gloves. Clarence noticed Tony’s interest in her and her automatic reaction.
“Oh,” Callisto improvised, “Pretty paper.”
“You think so?” Marty asked dubiously looking at the golden lantern wallpaper. Marty shook her head.
“Yes,” Callisto chirped brightly, “Very unusual.” ‘Geez,’ Callisto thought, ‘I sound like an idiot as well. Joseph, help me.’ She sent up a silent entreaty to Clarence’s superior. Unlike Clarence, Joseph never seemed to have much faith in her ability to get her wings, but Eli had spoken up for her.
‘Keep with it kid,’ Joseph said sagely, ‘You’re on the right road, you know what to do.’ She looked across at Tony again, concerned.
“Do you think I could see you again?” Tony said directly. She saw Marty shake her head in disbelief. She froze.
Then Clarence kicked her foot, “You mean today? Like a date?” She asked anxiously.
He laughed nervously, “Well, not necessarily a date. We could,” his smile seemed so broad, “call it a tour or something. You don’t seem familiar with the city. I could show you the sights, maybe take you out for dinner. I know a little Greek place at Broadview and Danforth called The Trojan Horse, my uncle Stavros owns it. Nothing special, but they have tablecloths and a pretty fair house wine. Say six o’clock? I’ll reserve a table.”
“I love wine,” Clarence observed. “I thought I’d catch a choir this afternoon. But I’ll leave you young people alone for dinner.” He gave Callisto a meaningful glance. All she had to do now was get Gabrielle to that dinner. Another task.
“Are you in a choir?” Marty inquired with a touch of asperity.
“Of course, I’m in a choir, young lady,” he clasped Marty’s arm lightly. “A heavenly choir.”
“I’m sorry, I forgot,” Marty shook her head with patience and a roll of her eyes, “A heavenly choir, naturally.” She pushed her hair back with a free hand, and had a sudden vision of fluttering golden wings, pulsating clouds and swords clanging. She looked across at Callisto with a piercing ice blue glance, “Cirra is that a village?” She asked suddenly.
Callisto tried to keep her voice level, “Yes, it’s near the sea in Greece.”
“The sea,” Marty muttered dreamily.
Staring into Marty’s eyes, Callisto imagined that she could see the screams of the helpless women and children that Xena the Warrior Princess had once trapped in Cirra two thousand years ago, somewhere deep in the mind of Marty Karpasian the fire fighter. But it wasn’t her job to make Marty remember her past life, it wasn’t even her job to make Marty redeem herself. She had done that many times over in many past lifetimes. No, Callisto’s job was to help Xena connect with her soulmate in order to earn her wings.
“Tonight at six o’clock at Danforth and Broadview.” They finished their food in the relaxed company of Tony and his sister, who seemed only too happy to explain what happened in a firehall and what it was they did during a fire. She let them talk. Clarence was good at asking questions, intrigued by the degree of complexity with their jobs although he almost made a mistake by starting to tell them about the great fire of London and what had happened.
Finally, Callisto and Clarence stood outside the restaurant for a moment looking inside at Tony and Marty who were continuing with their animated discussion. She would’ve bet that one of the topics on the agenda was her, because Marty was worried about her brother’s interest in the blonde stranger, but right now that didn’t matter. She had a mission to complete, and with Clarence’s help she was going to do it.
“We’re just a couple of misfits,” she sighed to Clarence as they headed eastward toward Spadina on the north side of College.
“What are you going to do about that date?” Clarence asked.
“Well,” she thought carefully, “Right now, I’m going. It fits in with our plans. And you never know.”
“It’s not a good idea for mortals to fall in love with angels,” Clarence informed her, “Joseph won’t like it.”
“Tony said he was just going to show me the city.”
“Well, Joseph won’t like it.” Clarence repeated, “But I have faith in you.”
“I appreciate that, Clarence.” She nodded. Clarence, Archangel Michael, Eli and the Supreme Being had helped Callisto to become the person that she could’ve been before her village Cirra had been burned to the ground by the Warrior Princess.
He patted her shoulder understandingly; he’d had tostretch a number of rules to get his wings, so he understood. The two angels didn’t talk much because they’d talked about what needed to be done so many times already. In a strange way, the woman had found a companionable silence with Clarence that she’d never found with another person.
Part 2: Silver Bells
They walked on for a quarter of an hour. Finally, they stopped opposite a six storey grey stone building that housed a bookstore on the second floor. From the street, Callisto could see a stained glass sign hanging in the window. It clearly read ‘Silver Sea Books’ in large letters with a beautiful scene of a wide blue-green expanse of ocean and floating sea lilies.
“Where the waves grow sweet,” Callisto quoted, “It makes sense.” Clarence inclined his head quizzically. “The Silver Sea is from a children’s book, and this is a children’s bookstore.”
A bell chimed from a large building housing the large Toronto public library a few blocks away, Clarence smiled at Callisto, “Do you hear what I hear? There are so many wings for angels at Christmas, Callisto. And you too! It’s amazing how close this bookstore is to the diner, and how these two souls have never met. You can do this.” Encouraged by his words, she nodded back at him.
They crossed the street and climbed the steps. From the street, they could hear the sound of several voices raised in loud conversation. A buzzer sounded as they opened the door and Clarence winced – no wings for angels here.
“Like I said Saskia, it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” said a short, dapper man with a round face, “My dear, I’m sure that most of your profits are made in the holiday season.”
“Sal, I wish you wouldn’t say that in front of the customers.” The voice belonged to Gabrielle.
Callisto had once called Gabrielle “that irritating blonde”, a statement she had had many hundreds of years to reconsider when she realized the pivotal role that Gabrielle had played in Xena’s life. Perhaps, if she had known the power of this kind of love her life would have been different as well.
The woman who also looked like Gabrielle came out from behind a counter. The green eyes of the woman who had once been Xena’s companion bore no hint of recognition when she greeted Callisto. Her soft reddish blond hair was long but fashionably straightened and cut. It swung with the vivacity Callisto remembered of old, and she had the very same compact form Callisto had hung by her roped hands over a crevice. She was wearing a scarlet silk embroidered jacket with long sleeves and brightly coloured embroidery. She wore a form fitting black top interlaced with silver threads and a keyhole neckline underneath the jacket and comfortable tailored bash coloured chinos. The jacket reminded Callisto of something from the distant land of Chin that she’d seen in a merchant’s stall during her many raids throughout Greece.
She approached Callisto and Clarence, “Is there anything I can help you with?”
A tall thin man with light brown hair and blue eyes with a worried face turned around to and said, “Sasky, if we would only talk about loaning me that money. Please, I’m desperate!!!”
Saskia smiled in embarrassment, “This is my business advisor, Sal Mendelbaum and my brother Joxer. I’m Saskia Montgomery.” She turned sideways and gestured to her friends, “Sometimes, they don’t realize that I have a business to run here. Maybe, my assistant Yakut could get you some warm cider while you browse.”
Clarence’s face lit up, “That would be wonderful, thank you. Do you have any first editions of Mark Twain?”
“Nothing, so rare I’m afraid, but I do have a number of editions of his works in paperback as well as some very rare editions of Canadian and early American children’s writers, L.M. Montgomery, Gene Stratton-Porter, Charles Roberts and some early adventure sets in the basement – Tom Swift, The Outdoor Girls, Enid Blyton, some old Nancy Drews and Hardy boys and some others.”
“Oh,” Clarence said quietly offered the proffered cup of tea from Yakut, “Thank you.”
“I hope you’re not allergic to ginseng,” Yakut handed a cup to her, “I always include it with my tisanes. I find it healing.”
“Thank you.” Callisto took the cup in her hand. “Yakut, is that a family name?”
“It’s an old Greek name on my mother’s side of the family.” Yakut run her fingers through her short brushy top hair and down to the tail at the bottom.
“Yakut has a small practice on the third floor as an herbalist,” Saskia explained. “It does an extensive mail order business. It’s just across the hall from the Amazon Collective.”
“Gracious, the Amazons, what do they do?” Clarence was curious.
“They publish works of early feminist and lesbian writers, maintain an archive of early Canadian lesbian and feminist visual and written materials and have a public reading room for researchers. In cooperation with the School of Women’s Studies at King’s University, they also co-produce a bi-monthly journal on Lesbian Studies. It’s very highly regarded throughout North America.”
“Ooh, I’m not sure what all that means but it sounds complicated.”
Shaking her head indulgently, Saskia Montgomery laughed, “They pay the bills, which is all that matters to me. A magician, Otto Toliver, occupies the whole of the fifth and sixth floor and his business is very lucrative.”
“But noisy,” Sal Mendelbaum was sarcastic. He clearly was not fond of Saskia’s top floor tenant. “All that sawing women in half is very messy and Otto is always fighting with the Amazon collective. And the water bill for the escape tank, don’t even get me started on the weight of that water tank on the floor. I just make sure the insurance premiums are properly paid up on this place, otherwise, kaput!” He shrugged his shoulders into an expensive gray wool coat. “Listen, my dear, I must go,” he kissed Saskia on the cheek.
“Give my best to Susan and Sophie. I’ll invite you all over for the holidays,” Saskia gave him a hug.
“Oy, Sophie will be sure to bring her ballet outfit and do some plies and dances for you. But you know my wife Susan, a ballet Mum never rests and neither does Sophie! Well, we’ll talk about finances in the New Year. And eat something, you’re looking too skinny. Actually, we’ll have you to our house and make sure to fatten you up.”
“Thanks, Sal,” she laid her hand on his cheek, “you’re the best.”
“That’s what you pay me for, my dear.” He cast a backward glance at Saskia’s tall brother who returned a hostile glance right back at him. “And don’t,” Sal concluded in a not-too-quiet voice, “lend any more money to Joxer. Let him get out of his own mess this time.”
“Gee thanks, Sal!” Joxer said testily.
“All part of the service,” Sal pointed a finger at Joxer, “And you, don’t cause your sister any more aggro or I really will come back here with Susan and give you trouble.”
Callisto’s eyes roamed around the bookstore, surveying the neat and well-maintained space that held comfortable reading chairs and a warm, cheerful atmosphere, “You seem to know everything about all the tenants in this building,” she observed.
“Well, I should, I own this building,” Saskia said briskly.
“For which you don’t get nearly enough money,” Joxer cut in.
“That’s enough, Joxer!” His sister said sharply. “How I run my apartments is my own business.”
The downstairs door banged open, and heavy feet stamped up the inner tiled staircase. A shortish woman with dark hair tied back in a ponytail was carrying a black helmet as she came bouncing into the room, “Hey, babe,” she yelled at Yakut, “Come see what I got outside.”
“The Harley came in, Pony?” Yakut grinned cheerfully.
“Finally, after two years! Right on, eh! She’s that gorgeous yellow and black monster out there.” Eponi boasted, “See Sasky, it’s right outside the window. She’s really sleek.”
Eponi walked Yakut and Saskia over to the window to show off her new prize. Callisto also moved casually over to the window to see what was at the source of the excitement. It was another one of those loud machines she’d seen on the street earlier.
Eponi noticed the attractive stranger looking over her new machine. “So what do you think, eh?” She asked proudly.
“It’s very nice.” Callisto said quietly.
“Nice,” Eponi huffed, “What’s nicer than a Harley, sister?”
“I’m not saying it’s not nice.” Callisto said politely, “It’s just not, well it’s not a horse.”
Eponi looked at the tall blonde to see if she was serious, and then laughed loudly at the comparison. “Yeah, I guess if you like that kind of thing. Used to ride horses myself when I was younger, but give me a bike for speed every time. Do you mind if I take Yakut away for a little while, Saskia?”
“Not a problem,” the bookstore owner said absent-mindedly, “We’re not too busy. Just be back in hour.”
“Come on, babe,” Eponi rubbed her hands together, “Dress warmly cause baby, it’s cold outside.”
The two women left together. Clarence sat quietly in the chair, absorbed in a copy of Huck Finn and Joxer continued the discussion with his sister.
“Sasky, I really need the money.” Callisto’s ears were sharp and she could hear a mouse moving in the back room.
“I don’t have anything like the amount you want Joxer. I can only give you a thousand.”
“That guy Nikos is going to break my legs, Sasky. I borrowed fifteen large from him.”
“Look, Joxer I’ll give you five thousand and we’ll figure out something else after Christmas.”
Joxer pushed his hair back, “Come on, Sasky. You could mortgage this place.”
“And put all these people and their homes and businesses at risk, come on Joxer! My tenants support a bunch of community things; they can’t afford high rents. That’s how they keep this city a human place to live, not just some heartless megacity!”
“So, I guess I’ll have to sell my already mortgaged house and deal with Meg and the kids instead,” he whimpered unattractively. No one would have guessed, Callisto realized, that her brother was a leech who’d been bleeding her dry for years and that Saskia would have to stand up to him before he could stand up for himself. Of course, Joseph had given her a unique view of Saskia’s problems before coming here. And she knew what part she had to play to help her out. Marty and Tony would do the rest, God willing.
But right now Saskia sounded determined, “You should have thought of that before you got taken in by this guy and his get-rich-quick schemes. We’ll go to a lawyer and the bank after Christmas. We’ll figure something out. Take it easy.”
“That’s easy to say when you’re sitting pretty,” Joxer said bitterly. “No,” he held up his hands, “ I don’t want your paltry five thousand when I should’ve been a multi-millionaire by now. We could have both been millionaires if only you’d turned this place into condos like Nikos suggested last year.”
“I don’t want to turn my building into condos, thank you Joxer. I like things just like this. I’m doing a community service.”
“Me on the outside and you in the driver’s seat,” Joxer pushed her aside. “I don’t want to do a community service.
“Joxer please -,” Saskia began. But the door tinkled once as it slammed behind Joxer and Clarence lifted his head and glanced at Saskia with sad understanding. He drew his eyes back to the edition of Tom Swift that had previously engrossed him.
Saskia made a shaky sigh and went behind the cash register to busy herself. Callisto noticed a small tear was quickly dabbed on her red silk jacket.
Callisto went over and looked at the display behind the counter and nodded at Clarence’s book.
Saskia glanced up, “Oh, it’s fifty-five dollars. But I could give you a Christmas discount, joy to the world and all that!”
“No, that’s fine.” Callisto said. “He’ll get the newest later.”
“Newest, you mean new editions. I hadn’t heard.” Saskia tipped her head.
“No,” Clarence piped up, “You know the latest books, the ones in Heaven.”
Callisto closed her eyes slightly at Saskia and shook her head meaningfully, “Uncle Clarence, Saskia doesn’t know about your manuscripts.”
“Oh well, the Stratemeyer’s didn’t have all the manuscripts,” Clarence hooted.
Saskia looked puzzled again, “I’ll have to look into that after Christmas. In Heaven, eh?” she murmured, making a notation in book that was under the till. She straightened up, “I’m sorry you and your uncle had to see that. You look like you should be at home with chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Well, Merry Christmas to angels from the realms of glory.”
Callisto ignored the allusion to Callisto’s angelic uncle. “Family troubles?” She asked, changing the subject.
Saskia considered before speaking, but what was the point in keeping Joxer’s financial lunacy a secret when everyone in the community knew about his involvement in get-rich-quick schemes that had tarnished their family name. “Oh, ever since my parents died and left us money, Joxer’s gotten in trouble with every stupid scheme to make money you can imagine. Junk stocks in a nickel mine that went bust in Alberta. Phoney real estate deals. He used to own a nice apartment building, and then he decided he needed to sell it to a developer. The problem was the developer brought some nasty bikers in to move things along. With all the lawsuits and the publicity, Joxer never saw a dime and he gained a lot of notoriety in the newspapers. I guess you’re not from around here or you’d know about it. I keep bailing him out, but he just gets in deeper. And now, he’s gotten in with this Nikos and I can’t help him, I really can’t.” Her troubled green eyes met Callisto’s blue ones, “I don’t even know you, and I’m complaining about my life. I don’t even know your name.”
“I’m Callisto Cirra.”
“Glad to meet you Callisto Cirra, and who’s your friend?”
“My uncle Clarence Peabody.”
Saskia looked steadily into her eyes, “You know, Callisto Cirra, I’ve got the strangest feeling we’ve met before. You’re not connected to the Amazon Collective, are you?”
Before Callisto could respond, she could hear the drumming of several pairs of feet on the stairs above them, and five women barged through the door and marched up to the desk.
“Girls, what’s going on? What’s wrong?” Saskia looked bewildered.
“He’s got to be stopped,” dark-haired Melosa drummed on the desk.
“What are you talking about?”
“That magician on the fourth floor, Otto Toliver!” Velaska spat, “We’ve been banging on his door for a half an hour. Water is leaking into the Amazon Collective. Saskia, we’ve had to move the computers and equipment to another corner, but there’s a steady leak from above. I think we should call the Fire Department.”
“I think that sounds like a good idea,” Callisto added.
“Who the hell are you, anyway?”
“She’s just a client, Velaska,” Saskia said calmly.
“Calm down, Melosa,” Cyane added. “I think he’s in there, but you know what he’s like when he’s got a woman with him. He just ignores any possible problems.”
“You don’t know there’s a woman with him, Cyane,” another woman added, “I’m Marga, by the way glad to meet you.” She glared at Velaska.
“Gods,” Saskia muttered, “And if it’s a plumbing problem, getting a plumber on the day before Christmas Eve. Good luck!”
The door opened again, and a tall man with long brown hair with a shock of white and a woman with long, curly reddish hair stood beside him, “Saskia, there’s water leaking down the pipe into the basement,” the woman commented, “And we have electric tools down there, for when Phantes does sculptures.”
“Well, if it isn’t Ephiny, my favourite person,” Velaska gave Ephiny a hostile glance, “How’s the art world working out with Phantes, my favourite macho man and lesbian converter?”
“Come on Velaska, Ephiny did art for the Amazon collective but she never said she was a lesbian,” Melosa contradicted her fellow collective member.
“I can’t believe that you’d defend her Melosa, after what she did to you,” Cyane commented.
“Hey,” Melosa said sharply, “She did nothing. We were lovers for a while, and that was it. It was never a forever deal. If she prefers Phantes,” Melosa shrugged her shoulders expressively.
“Never mind that,” Ephiny said abruptly.
“We have to do something about the water, ladies,” Phantes added.
“Ooo, we’re ladies now!” Marga laughed, “Watch out, who knows which one of us will be next. The water’s coming from Toliver’s place!”
“We’ll have to break the door down,” Cyane said impatiently, “Get in there and stop it.”
Saskia was aghast, “You can’t just break Otto’s door down.”
“So you have a key?” Ephiny asked.
“I do, but he just replaced his locks,” Saskia had a slightly guilty look, “You know how paranoid he is about the competition getting in on his secret tricks. Come to think of it, he’s never had a problem like this. I wonder if he’s in trouble.”
“We’ll break the door down,” Cyane said calmly, “Call the Fire Department.” As Saskia lifted the phone to call the Fire Department, the women headed up the stairs with Callisto at their heels.
They arrived at the fourth floor, and were faced with a dark steel door. The combined force of Velaska, Marga, Cyane, Solari and Melosa couldn’t budge the door. Tall, six foot Phantes and Ephiny arrived.
“No luck,” he barked.
“It won’t move,” Marga shook her head.
“Stand away,” he kicked at the heavy door, the frame shook and sagged but it didn’t move.
“Let me try,” Callisto said.
All of the woman and Phantes stared at her. “What do you think you’re going to do?” Velaska asked incredulously.
“Move back,” Callisto advised. She moved in; she twisted and leapt high into the air and heaved her body at the door then hit with her foot. Finally, it began to move. Hasty footsteps came up the stairs, she turned around. It was her new friends, Marty and Tony.
Marty looked at Callisto with a new respect, “You did that? You must be stronger than I thought. Okay, ladies and gentlemen move back.”
“Marty, use the axe,” her brother advised.
“I don’t need an axe,” she said in a warning voice. Marty moved with the assurance of a conquering hero. With a terpsicordian motion and a loud battle cry of old, she twisted and then flung herself at the door and kicked it with the force of thunder. Instantly, the door fell in, and then silence fell over the small party. A huge water tank in the doorway cast an ominous green glow. Water lay in puddles all over the floor and water leaked out of the tank. Inside, a man in chains wearing what looked like a wetsuit floated motionless. The crowd gasped. Was he dead?
“Stay back everybody,” warned Marty, but she was too late; the women had all crowded into the room to have a good look at the magician in his dive chamber.
“I’ve seen him on television in that thing,” Cyane commented, “I never thought I’d see him die in there.”
Suddenly, Marty turned around and saw Saskia standing in the doorway. Callisto could see that for Marty, the whole world suddenly seemed to stop. She could sense, as only an angel can, the beating of Marty’s heart reaching out to her soulmate. Callisto knew Marty would remember this moment for the rest of her life. Now, she was floundering in a sea of questions about Saskia’s sudden appearance in her life. Who was this woman? Why did she feel such an instant sense of connection to her? Callisto knew well, too well, from Joseph’s tutoring and Clarence’s spiritual wisdom that she would need to break through Marty’s reserved and cautious exterior to get her to take a chance this Christmas, to make a Christmas miracle of love and to get Marty to reach out to Saskia.
Tony instructed other fire fighters, who had just arrived to work getting extension hoses into the water tank and draining the water in the street and the available drains in the apartment. As he worked, the floating man opened a pleading brown eye.
“Good Gods, he’s alive, Tony,” Marty gasped.
A loud gasp sounded from Saskia in the doorway who then promptly fainted. It was clear to the fire fighters that there were entirely too many people in the room. He got most of the women out of the room, but Callisto sat down in a chair and watched the proceedings. Tony knew that she was there, but he wasn’t going to and ask her to leave.
Tony levered Otto out of the tank, and he proceeded to lay him on the floor. It was clear that, for this trick, Otto Toliver had a supplementary air supply connected by a very fine tube to a cylinder underneath his tank suit. Once he disconnected Otto’s air supply from his mouth, the magician coughed up a quantity of water.
“Oh Holy night,” he gasped, “I guess I got all I want for Christmas.”
“I guess you did buddy,” Tony agreed, “You’re alive. Congratulations. No small thanks to the ladies who called about a leak in your tank.”
“Couldn’t get free,” Otto coughed, “I think that tank is cooked. Happy to meet you. I’m Otto Toliver, the King of Thebes. Good thing I have a spare tank!”
“King of Thebes,” Otto coughed again and pointed at the sign with the motto ‘The King of Thebes’ written on it in large gold letters. “It’s the title of my act.”
“Glad to meet you Otto, I’m Tony Karpasian, King of the Fire Fighters and death traps. And this is my sister, Marty the Warrior Princess of Fire Hall 11.”
By this time, Marty had moved Saskia Montgomery to what looked like a well-used red velvet couch under the window. Otto’s apartment served mainly as a workspace. There were several large chests, a wardrobe, mirrors, saws and copious items of clothing decorated with spangles, gold material or lamé. She waved some smelling salts from her supplies under Saskia’s nose just in time for Saskia to hear Tony’s final comment. The large green eyes opened up and Saskia said in a confused voice, “Don’t let the bells end.”
“I won’t. Take it easy,” Marty advised.
“Is Otto alright?”
“So, he’s kind of special to you?” Callisto heard Marty say in a sad tone. “Is he your boyfriend or something?”
“What are you talking about?” Saskia got to her feet in bewilderment, “No – he’s my tenant. And a friend, I guess. It’s just, he was floating in that creepy green tank, and then he woke up and I guess he scared the heck out of me. And the next thing I knew, you were here putting those smelling salts under my nose.” Her green eyes focussed on Marty, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” Her soft voice was suffused with meaning, a deep sexual meaning that was clear to Callisto. She could feel, with the strange gift given to her by the angels, exactly how both Saskia and Marty felt for each other – that automatic click of attraction and the familiarity they both felt for each other. It was her job, in spite of the obstacles between them – Joxer’s problems and Marty’s difficulties with Nikos – to keep their relationship together long enough to allow the attraction to bind them together and provide an ongoing heritage of strength and courage in the local lesbian community.
Marty gestured at her brother, “Yeah, that big lug who hauled your tenant out of that tank thing?” Callisto sensed that Marty felt strangely vulnerable to this blonde woman she’d never met before and was going to cover it up by saying the wrong thing. Her sense was correct.
“Well,” said Marty in a slightly superior tone, “I certainly hope you have insurance to cover all this damage, and all these contraptions. This stuff isn’t covered in the usual insurance, and you landlords are always trying to cut down on the coverage. And then people get hurt.”
“Ow!” Saskia looked annoyed and sat up, “Just because I own this building, doesn’t mean I’m a scum sucking rich bitch landlord.”
Dribbling water generously on his carpet, Otto stood up. “Listen Warrior Princess Fire person,” He interrupted, “Saskia only lets me stay here out of the generosity of her heart. I may be the King of Thebes, but it’s hard to find a landlord to let me use their space even with a good insurance policy. And the Amazon Collective on the third floor makes big rent money for Sasky. And the part-time herbalist and the two artists in the basement. Yeah, she’s really raking it in – especially from the children’s bookstore on the second floor. You might have caught sight of it as you walked past it with your big fire fighter boots on the way upstairs!”
Marty looked down at the other woman, and felt a welter of confusing emotions, “Ah ha, so you’re Saskia Montgomery, the one who owns the Silver Sea. The one they wrote up in the paper who turned down like a zillion dollars to rip down a couple of buildings and build a monster condo project for the rich.”
“Yeah,” Saskia gave Otto an admonishing glance that suggested she could take care of herself and then stuck out her jaw, “That’s me.”
Callisto shook her head. How was she ever to get two such stubborn women to set aside their inner prejudices and get to know each other, never mind to become close?
She watched Marty narrow her eyes and assess Saskia’s reaction to her words carefully, “I didn’t mean to offend you.”
“None taken,” Saskia gave her a brilliant smile.
“I’ve always wanted to go into your bookstore since I was a little girl, but I just never came in.” Marty told her.
“Well, it is a children’s bookstore.” Saskia said assertively. “Maybe, you don’t know any children to give books to?”
Concerned that she’s offended her, Marty shrugged, “I don’t know. It seems like a specialist place to me. Antiquarian books are an acquired taste.”
“You’re never too old to visit the fairy kingdoms,” Saskia said enthusiastically.
“I guess,” Marty said shyly, “I always liked the name and the sign, Prince Caspian was one of my favourite books. I wondered if it meant that you were really, you know, super religious.”
Saskia sat up leaning back on her extended arms, “No,” she said quietly, “I’m just on the side of the rebel Jesus.”
“The side of the rebel Jesus?” Marty considered, “You mean that Christmas isn’t about money?”
“You should know that, you’re a fire fighter,” Saskia pointed out, “You believe in making the world a better place. That’s what books are for, if we can imagine it, we can make it happen.”
“I love reading!” Marty said thoughtfully, “I like true adventure stories, you know like Jon Kraukauer, The White Spider, that kind of thing. And some, you know, women’s stories.”
“Like women’s romance?” Saskia responded teasingly, “Girl on girl stuff? Or just the heroic stuff about women adventurers like Mary Kingsley or Amy Johnson?”
“No, I like it all.” Marty husked, “I like the woman on woman, you know...” She turned pink with embarrassment, “Darn, I talk to you and I must sound like an idiot.”
“Hey, I was just kidding you. I like adventures too. I like to climb a bit, nothing too dangerous. I went to Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro.”
“You’ve been to Kili?” Marty looked impressed. “I’ve always wanted to go to Kili.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t make it all the way. I have asthma, and I had to back before the end. But it was still worth it, the animal life, the whole atmosphere of the place. You know the feeling that the gods are in the trees, the winds – the feeling of the whole place. I just felt, you know, somehow I was meant to do it some other time, you know. Maybe, with someone else – I guess that sounds crazy.” The green eyes took in the blue ones that shone with excitement.
Marty smiled widely, “Do you need my help, Tony?” She asked her brother.
As he worked efficiently, Tony grinned, “Now that the water is drained from the tank of the King of Thebes, we’re well on our way to restoring things to what counts as normal around here. And hey, Mr. King of Thebes – no more water tank tricks until after Christmas. And bring in your assistant to make sure everything goes okay.”
“All right, all right,” Toliver held up his hand, “I wanted to ask the lovely Suzette to help me in the New Year anyway.” He lay back, depleted from his near death experience.
Saskia continued, “I went to Kili when I taught for a few months in East Africa, several years ago. Thank the gods, I wasn’t gone long or the bookstore would’ve been a shambles. My brother isn’t a businessman, and Yakut is more interested in herbal remedies than selling first editions. By the time I got home, I found several of my best editions had just disappeared.”
“I’m sure Nikos had a hand in that one,” Marty’s eyes met Saskia’s in a look of comprehension and the two heads got closer. Soon Callisto just heard the buzz of suppressed laughter and conversation from their corner. She was content for the moment.
The gift of love, the perfect Christmas gift, had evaded both women until now. In spite of the fact that they lived barely a half mile apart, their worlds rarely intersected. Saskia was too preoccupied by her family problems to see Marty. Although Marty had seen Saskia from a distance, the notoriety from Joxer’s money problems had made the firefighter reluctant to speak to a woman who she believed lived in a world of money and privilege.
Marty shrugged, “I’ve seen you on the TV, talking about the community.” The impossibly ice blue eyes with thick lashes looked at Saskia with guarded appreciation. “Of course, your brother isn’t exactly the giving type, so I wondered...” the voice died out when she looked at the red blonde hair. “Um, so who lives here exactly? Otto Tolliver, the Amazons printing press, that woman over there with the light brown hair,” she gestured at Ephiny and her husband, “they don’t look like big money makers. I thought this building was slated to become some fancy condo; Nikos told me that he was in business with you and our brother. And knowing Nikos, I thought that you were just like. Well, you were like him.”
“That won’t be happening on my watch,” Saskia said quickly. “I was going to ask the fire service from fire hall eleven to do a reading on a new children’s book, but Joxer told me that Nikos told him that the fire fighters in hall eleven didn’t like kid’s books.”
“Woo,” Tony said passing by, “Nikos is a real snake. We’d have loved that, wouldn’t we Marty? Any opportunity to let the community know about what we do?”
“Ah yeah, that’s true,” Marty seemed hypnotized by Saskia’s hair, “I um, think that we’d have liked that. I’ve heard that you support a lot of things in the women’s community,” she underlined the word women casually, almost as an afterthought.
“Never too late,” Saskia put a hand up to her hair and straightened it self-consciously. Her green eyes flashed fire that softened the ice in the other women’s eyes. “I want to keep this community for the community. I live just down the road, on Baldwin Street. Of course, lesbians have been around here since the old Imperial bar used to be on Spadina. Haven’t we met somewhere before?” An edge of weariness was in Saskia’s demeanor, and she sagged slightly.
Marty put her hand out to support the smaller woman and Callisto could almost sense the sparks flying between the two. “Hey, take care, you look tired.” A hand was placed on the scarlet shoulder.
“Well, as you pointed out, my brother has been an issue.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” Marty shook her head. “I’m not very tactful...I guess. Some of my ex’s lambaste me about that.”
Saskia smiled, “I think you’re refreshingly direct.”
Tony came up to the two women to hear the end of the conversation, “Well, Miss Refreshingly Direct, maybe you and the building owner Ms. Montgomery can check out the other apartments for leaks.”
“There was one in the basement,” Ephiny the artist volunteered.
“Got that,” Tony reminded her, “I just thought that you and Ms. Montgomery could go over the building because she obviously knows all the nooks and crannies.”
“Sure,” both women said quickly then laughed together before going off on their errand.
Tony came over and squatted beside Callisto, “I guess you’ve seen the interesting development. Do you think that’s long enough to get them to come out to supper with us?”
She put her arm on his wrist, “Just what I was thinking. What do you think?”
He nodded, “You seem worried. You’re not afraid to go out alone with me, are you, Callisto Cirra?”
“No,” his gentleness warmed her. She wasn’t afraid of anything he proposed.
“No, I could bring Clarence if that was worrying me.”
“You could, although I’d prefer to have you to myself.”
“I think I can arrange something.”
“Good, you’re like a good luck charm. It’s been years since I’ve seen Marty reach out to someone like that the first time they meet.”
“It doesn’t bother you that it’s a woman?” She asked him tilting her head.
He shook his head, “Heck no, Marty’s always had her preferences. What are your preferences, Callisto Cirra? You like boys?”
She smiled, thinking that the mortal life was more tempting than she’d remembered. “I don’t know,” she said gently. “Maybe, if you’d met me before you wouldn’t have liked me.”
“I can’t think of a time when I wouldn’t have found you intriguing and different.” His honest eyes shone.
Intriguing, that was certainly one word for the Callisto who stole the hind’s blood dagger. That was her, intriguing, heartless and cruel.
She could tell she confused him. Whenever he was around her, an effusion of strong feeling was in the air and he didn’t understand its source. He was a nice man, a good man, but she was an angel and there were rules about these sorts of things. Joseph had made that very clear to her before she’d polished her boots and headed for the Pearly Gates. He could be very gruff, but the feelings of Eli, the Prophet were not so clear. ‘Go with your feelings’, he told her and she intended to, even if it meant bending a few rules.
Tony touched his hair and smoothed it. She almost sighed; his display of male vanity should have been lost on her, but she’d never experienced any kind of human love, except for the distant memory of her mother and father. Heaven had changed that. So, now, she was different too. In spite of herself, she liked Tony more than an angel was allowed. His boyish grin tugged at her heart. “Well sure, as long as we’re not going there past three o’clock or something, the kitchen closes at ten.”
Momentarily, he looked distractedly at his new recruit, Rudolph Weiss. He placed his hand on Callisto’s shoulder briefly. Impatiently he rose to his feet, “Just a sec, I better help Weiss. I can see that he’s reeling that line in all wrong. He bawled down the steps out, “Hey run, Rudolph run with that line.”
Callisto heard the steps hesitate, and a voice call up to Tony, “You mean like this, boss?”
Tony watched for a minute. “Yeah like that! Don’t let the Chief see you rolling in the lines like that, they’ll take forever to untangle, get hung up and dry back at the house.” Tony turned back to Callisto, “I’ll get back to you,” and ran off to finish his job.
She sat down in the windowsill, the warm sun lighting up her features. An old voice chuckled, “My goodness, I think I’ve found an angel.”
She looked up at Clarence’s soft face, a tear traced down her cheek. “Oh Clarence, I’m confused.”
A hand raised her chin, “What’s the price of a heart, Callisto?”
“I have no heart,” she whispered.
He smoothed the tear away, “There, there. There are things we need to do that might hurt.”
“Joseph warned me against feeling things for mortals.” She said with a trace of tears in her voice.
He smiled, “He warned you against having an affair with a mortal, that’s not really the same thing.”
“But love,” she bit her lip to keep the tears in cheque, “Love, Clarence. I’ve never felt any emotions before except maybe hate and excitement when I did some of the bad things I did. Never tenderness, kindness, gentleness – these things are foreign to me.”
“And a poor angel you’d make without them.”
“I don’t understand.” Her gray blue eyes were wide with incomprehension.
“You think you’re the first angel to love a mortal, pooh! The angel who visited Blake let the artist draw him naked; the angel who visited Dante was his beloved. It’s all in how you look at it. Joseph makes it sound easy, but it’s complicated.”
“And if I go further?”
“Callisto, let me ask you one thing. Do you want to live again? Because that’s what it will take – that simple and that hard. Once you’re an angel, there’s no going ‘round again. You stay an angel with all its beauty and pleasure. Would you give it up for this?”
“No,” she said fiercely. “I live close to the fire, in the warmth of utter forgiveness for who and what I’ve done, what else can there be for me? But I’m going to hurt someone if go this way.”
“What if the gifts you give him make him a better man? A better father? A better human being? Won’t that be worth it?”
She laughed through tears, “Then why does my heart feel like it’s breaking?”
“Because it’s about becoming who you’ll be.”
“Good.” Clarence put his hand on hers. “Keep your faith simple. Go and do what you need to do to fix things tonight.”
“Yes,” she stood up and went toward the bookstore. Saskia and Marty were inside. The small woman was tucked inside the arms of the taller one. Clearly, they were finished inspecting the building. Marty kissed Saskia tenderly at first, then deeply, passion flickering between them like sparks from a telegraph wire. The heat of the mortal heart. She watched them drawn in, then cleared her throat to announce her presence. The two women drew apart.
“I was leaving.” She said with overdone carelessness, “Um, we’re meeting at The Trojan Horse at 6:30, you know appetizers and wine before dinner. It’s just past Danforth and Broadview on the north side of the street.”
Saskia nodded absent mindedly, “I thought that place was closed on Christmas Eve. And impossible to get a table in.”
Marty smiled, “Not when your Uncle Stavros owns the place. And the appetizers won’t be the usual, trust me. Not when Tony asks.”
She turned, “Callisto,” Saskia called softly; she turned back. “Don’t bring Uncle Clarence on the date.”
“I thought…,” she began, “Okay, he’s going to a carol service anyway.”
“Oh, Jerry Garcia and Frank Zappa.”
“Aren’t they dead? Saskia inquired.
“Gratefully so,” Marty said solemnly.
“They’re doing something special for my Uncle tonight; he’ll be a little busy.” Callisto considered explaining, but clearly they had their own interpretation of old stoner Uncle Clarence.
She went to Tony to explain. He was standing beside a cutout advertisement on the road. “I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus.” She read. The Mommy in question was wearing fishnet stockings and a red satin corset trimmed with black lace. “Hmm, pretty, well pretty something.”
“I had to get it out of the way,” he explained, “it belongs to the underwear store next door and was in the way of the firehose when I reeled it out. I have to put it back, eventually. They’re probably closed, it being Christmas Eve and everything. I don’t know why I’m complaining, at least I’m clean.”
She smiled. He looked more than fine towering over the tacky cutout with his tired face. “I have to go.”
“It seems you’ve done a lot already. I will see you tonight – maybe without your uncle. I mean, he’s nice and everything, but on a date he’s not exactly my idea of fun.”
“Yes,” she said softly. “He’s going to catch a choir with Jerry Garcia and Frank Zappa.”
“Hmm,” he beckoned her closer, “everyone’s entitled to watch their heroes play Christmas music. Although Frank, that really is a surprise. And of course, there’s this.” He pulled her closer. He was taller, but she figured she could take him if she wanted to and she wanted to right now. His lips were soft and mobile, and she suddenly discovered they gave a whole new meaning to the word Hallelujah. She wanted to scream it when he stopped suddenly, and she pulled him tighter to her to give him a whole new impression of angel passion. When they stopped, he was blinking in surprise. “Um, is there more of that?”
She grinned, “More of that, yeah, absolutely. More of me, we just met and I’m not that kind of girl...at least not today. Actually, not ever.”
“Really?” He blinked against and licked his lips nervously. “What kind of girl are you?”
“A guardian angel looking for her wings,” she said honestly.
He laughed and shook his head, “Darn it all, I thought you’d say that.”
“Did you really?”
“Oh yes, I - get out of here . I’ll see you at 6:30 and don’t let Uncle Clarence smoke any more of that weed for his glaucoma. Where is he, anyway?” He looked around carefully.
“He’s gone on ahead.”
A trace of a frown crossed his face, “I could’ve sworn I kept the exits blocked and he didn’t come out here.”
“You must’ve missed him.”
“Well, right, until later, Callisto Cirra.”
She turned heel and headed down the block and turned a corner. A few blocks down was Saskia’s house on Baldwin and predictably there was Joxer, trying to get in the door. He used a key and went to use the key pad. He’d found it on his sister’s Palm pilot in the usual place and now he was going to help himself to some family antiques – furniture, pictures and any loose jewelry.
“Clarence,” she called out asking for assistance from above.
Startled out of his heavenly reverie above, Clarence panicked momentarily. “Oh dear, what shall I do? Oh my, an alarm? The police? What now?”
“Now, Clarence watch me,” Joseph’s cranky voice broke in. Suddenly, the alarm rang, surprising Joxer. Callisto became aware that Saskia and Marty were going in the direction of the apartment although the police were already on their way. Joxer was now caught trying to explain his presence in his sister’s hallway.
“That’s better,” Callisto sighed with relief.
“Humph, comes of being prepared. Clarence, put away that Tom Swift novel! That man and his books.” Heavenly voices tinkled with laughter at Joseph’s annoyance, but the Big Kahuna was reading along with Clarence, enjoying the plot of the novel and Clarence’s child-like enjoyment. Joseph could take care of the shop and make sure all was well.
Callisto literally evaporated into thin air as Saskia and Marty turned into the street and began running toward the alarm at Saskia’s house and the police car in front of the house. Before they could stay together, Joxer would need to be dealt with.
Part 3: The Sounds of Heaven
Her heels clunked on the white marble like floors of the Heavenly Tabernacle. Clarence sat in the front row while a black & white cat conducted the ensemble in Oh Holy Night. Jerry Garcia, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix played guitars while Roy Orbison, Elvis and Sam Cooke sang the main melody and Carl and Dennis Wilson made breathtaking harmonies. Billy Holiday and Judy Garland looked on impatiently from the other side of the aisle where Felix Mendelssohn was explaining a crucial part of In Dulce Jubilo and demonstrating how he expected them to use their instruments with the horn and clarinet accompaniment. And John Lennon and George Harrison were arguing about their interpretation of Ave Maria with Maria Callas, Paul Robeson and Luciano Pavarotti in a back corner. It was all in this day’s work. Callisto had seen it dozens of times before.
“So, how’s it going?” she asked impatiently.
“It’s been better since Strauss transformed himself into a cat. Less fighting now. Of course, this all started when Beethovan became an OES after a fight with Jimi, Frank and Elvis.”
“And is Caruso still bitching about his solo?”
“Of course, and St. Peter will give in because you know that Bach is on his side. What can I say, it’s the same story every Christmas. Will Hark the Herald Angels be sung in Latin, German or English? I say Latin wins again. Besides, Jerry will keep the peace. And now that Stauss is a cat, well it’s going to be a fine Christmas.”
“I might miss the big moment.”
“Never mind, the Big Kahuna has made it all in holo-instant replay You can watch it just like the real thing, it’s like being there minus the tension. Joseph wasn’t pleased. You know he hates innovation, but the big Big Kahuna wouldn’t be dissuaded.”
“I got kissed.”
John Lennon approached Clarence, “Sorry Clarence man, you’ve gotta’ take it outside if you want to talk. Maria is as nervous as a fox and George has been working with her all day so she can be the best she can be after the big opening.”
“Sorry John,” Callisto apologized.
“Hey,” he grinned, “I don’t mean to be such a hard case, but you know the boss, he gets obsessed around this time of the year...”
The click of paws could be heard as a dog who could have doubled as Horace’s twin brother approached. He barked at John, sat and whined.
“Very good, Immertrauhund.” A man in a black T-shirt that read ‘Still gratefully dead’ gave John a look that had frozen Princes, musicians and courtiers in it’s wake. He coughed, “Tell me, John. With, as they say, zero hour approaching Immertrauhund found you, getting, as we say, a spanner in the works.” He laughed slightly, “We must work, yah, work to make the hour of Christmas the best of the year for all. If you were a dog or dog lover, you would understand. It is through our music, we elevate ourselves. John, be strong for Christmas.”
John pulled out his cigarettes and began smoking, “It’s devilish man, he’s worse than 5 Pauls and 10 Yokos. Look how he makes me come over all weepy. Yes, Maestor Wolfie, I work. See, I’m working.”
“I thought you’d quit.” Callisto observed.
“I quit every Christmas.” John said stoically, “It’s Jerry and the Maestro. Christmas gets to me.”
“John,” Wolfgang Mozart observed, “has a Christmas problem. It will be better in forty-years, give or take a day. And he needs an Immertrauhund to imagine for him. Of course, he’s been better since Linda came and talked to him. Much better. But he still has issues. Well,” said Wolfie graciously, “Come in when you’re ready.”
John butted his cigarette out on the heavenly firmament where it disappeared. “I swear man, how can you have fun with ciggies that disappear. Oh well, it’s a long, long winding road. So Callisto,” John doubled up his fist, “be brave and do it for us. Joy to the world and all that! Go get those wings!”
“Thanks John for the pep talk.” She grinned companionably up at one man who was fighting so hard to understand Heaven and live there, and then she brushed the his hair out of his eyes. “I will. Be good yourself. Remember Christmas comes but once a year.”
Squaring his shoulders, John looked inside the heavenly choir, “Thank God for that! So, off to fight the dragon again, Callisto? Be back here for the grand entrance for me, eh? Don’t miss it. How many Christmases now? Twenty-nine?”
“There are instant replays this year.” She said briskly, trying not to show she cared.
He looked hurt. “Nah, be right here. For me and all of us, for Christmas.” This man had become oddly attached to the woman who had once headed her own private army. She would’ve once ridden past, uncaring, a heart made of ice fire, but she had changed. She was someone she had never expected to be, and it was her job to make sure that Saskia and Marty would change as part of her plan as well.
“She has to earn her wings first my friend,” Clarence Peabody reminded John Lennon. And then he heard the crisp voice of Joseph, telling them both to get moving, “No more time off, Callisto, got to move.”
John gave her an admiring look, “She’ll win them, my friend. She’ll win them right on time and it will all come together.”
Part 4: Final Flutter
As she approached the large emporium style restaurant The Trojan Horse at seven, she saw Saskia and Marty arguing about something. The larger woman was making sweeping gestures and the smaller woman was tense, folded in on herself. Tony was pacing outside on the sidewalk beside them. All was not going well. ‘Oh, Joy to the World’, thought Callisto.
“He was trying to break into your house, Saskia. How many times does he have to do these things to you before you buy a clue? He’s bad news and he was going to steal from you.”
“Whoa, Marty. This is Saskia’s brother we’re talking about.” Tony held up his hands.
“Yeah Tony, a brother who has been mixed up with Nikos and drugs for a lot of years.” Marty countered, pushing her argument in a way that Tony knew that she could push an argument – to the point of red hot protest.
“Really Marty, I don’t think this is any of our business.” Tony shook his head at his sister’s bull headedness, even while he agreed with her.
“I would agree,” said Saskia in a voice that cut Marty to the quick.
“Well, if you feel that way...” Marty countered.
“Oh crap,” Tony tossed his hands in the air, “this is going to a bad place.”
“I can see that,” Saskia pushed her blonde hair back, “I should really be going.”
“Clarence,” Callisto said to herself, “What do I do? Get me to the subway stop.”
“Follow your heart and I’ll get you there,” came the response. Moving quickly, Saskia quivered with outrage as she ran angrily toward the Broadview subway stop. As she turned the corner, Clarence moved Callisto to the subway entrance. A sleepy Toronto transit employee sat up and noticed a woman appear in front of his eyes. He shook his head and flipped his turnstile sign from ‘on’ to ‘off’, and disappeared in the direction of the employee’s restroom. If he was going to keep seeing things like this, maybe it really was time for a job change or a long holiday.
Saskia looked up and noticed the blonde in front of her. She bit her underlip. “Don’t say that she was just trying to help.” She pronounced to Callisto.
“I wouldn’t think of it,” Callisto said calmly.
“She doesn’t know how hard it was for Joxer and me, losing Mom and Dad when we were just sixteen, and the responsibility of all that money.”
“Of course not.”
“And all the times I’ve hauled his ass out of the fire and how bad it’s looked on me. Does she think I did that because I hate my brother or that I don’t know all the things he’s capable of?”
“Maybe she cares, like Saul,” Callisto offered.
“Yeah, well if you think I’m going to forgive Joxer, I mean Marty after he - I mean she,” she shook her head. She stopped, “Why am I angry with Marty, anyway?”
Callisto smiled, “Maybe, it’s that red headed temper. Unless you meant what you said.
“Not really, it’s habit. I just defended my brother to the police again.” Saskia added, “and he was caught trying to break in to my house this time. Probably looking for the last of my jewellery, the things he didn’t pilfer last time. They were well hidden, Marty doesn’t know that.”
“Aren’t you sick of lying for him? What does it change?”
“I try and make up for Mom and Dad not being there. For his bad luck. For his poor judgement and save the rest of my family from disappearing in a jail.”
“Hmm, maybe Saul is right, it’s time to let him go. Or are you going to break every rule trying to save him? Maybe, you could care for his children better if you stopped trying to save him at every turn.” Callisto suggested.
“I was going to...but what would happen if I let it slide?” For one moment, Callisto let her savour the vision of a life of herself with Marty – children, a home and family – without lying for Joxer. Saskia looked at Callisto with surprise, “Is that what could happen? You see it, don’t you. I don’t know who you are or what you are, but you see it. My life without Joxer. Oh Christmas Tree, you are you an angel, like your uncle said you were. So, what do you want?”
“For you to turn around, go back and have dinner with Marty, give the relationship a chance and have a half decent life,” Callisto countered quickly.
Saskia laughed merrily and clasped her on the shoulder, “My Gosh, you are the kind of strange Christmas angel I’d get. Okay, I’ll play. Let’s do dinner. Let’s see what happens next.”
“But what’s in it for you?” Saskia asked, with a curious puzzled expression. “The firefighter guy or what?”
Callisto gulped, “Just my wings.”
“Your wings. Well, angel Callisto I’m amazed that I’m your Christmas project; I must be pretty special.”
“You are,” Callisto said with a gulp.
Saskia just stared at her momentarily, judging her words first then finding them utterly serious. “I’m touched,” Saskia laughed, casting away the thought that her welfare could affect The Big Kahuna in any way whatsoever, although a gleam remained in her eye. “So, as my angel, your advice is, I should turn around and go back to The Trojan Horse this cold Christmas Eve.”
Callisto shrugged her shoulders expressively and lifted her hands in a helpless gesture, “That’s my advice and if you can’t trust your angel then who can....”
“I trust.” Saskia shot her a shrewd, horsetrader’s glance and finished the phrase. “Well, my temper may have gotten the better of me. Joxer always leads me there, but I’m going to follow your advice this time.”
As the two women came back around the corner, Marty came up to Saskia and hugged her, “I should learn to keep my big mouth shut. It’s your family and none of my business.”
Saskia blushed, “Maybe, you were just trying to help. You aren’t the first one to try and help me with Joxer; he’s an ongoing family problem. I just feel that if Nikos hadn’t twisted him, he’d have been okay.”
Tony had stopped pacing and had been joined on the sidewalk by a middle-aged man with carved nostrils, tanned skins, beautiful expressive blue eyes and a gleaning smile. “Uncle Stavros was telling me he was keeping the place open just so we could finish our meal. It’s time to eat, ladies and,” he gave an appreciative look to Callisto, “angels. The dinner is ready, follow me. I hope no one is a vegetarian.”
“On some days,” Saskia began to say.
“Please,” Stavros announced, “today is very special day. We eat lamb today, is not even real meat – very tender, special for my dead son-in-law Tony’s oldest son, Antonio Junior. But first stuffed dolmatas and bread with aubergine dip, my own recipe. Then just a small salad with a little bit of cheese and then lamb dinner. Finally, my special Greek coffee with pastries. Just a little of everything for everyone.”
They had the best table in a part of the restaurant which was normally not open on Christmas Eve. The little bits of food magnified into a multi – tiered feast until everyone was stuffed with wine, food and good will. The two women’s heads here shaking in laughter as Marty kept everyone entertained with stories of her own high jinks in the house between fire fighting, tales of her latest motorcycle tour and family sagas. Saskia looked at her date in admiration. Callisto could sense that Saskia had never been so instantly attracted a woman. Saskia’s glances at Marty became more sober and admiring as the night went on.
Like many Armenian families, there was a lot of family closeness between Tony, Saskia and their uncle, although the Karpasian’s had lived in Canada since 1921. Stavros Krinos had married Jesse Karpasian who he met after working with Tony’s father at the big fire hall downtown; they were a third generation of Toronto firefighters and Tony’s grandfather Jacob had fought the big fire on the SS Noronic in Toronto Harbour in 1949 as had Stavros’ father, Jimmy. Both had won places in the Toronto Firehall of Fame that night for saving several porters and ship’s crew at their own risk. Luckily, both men had also survived the night although some of the crew had not been so fortunate.
The night ended with carols when Stavros brought the accordion player in from the main body of the restaurant. As the last strains of “Carol of the Bells” and “Jingle Bells” faded out, they piled into a taxi cab to go back to Saskia’s for night coffee and a proffered fire place chat.
There they climbed out of the cab and waited for Tony to pay the cabby and turn back to the house before going in. As they did so, they found themselves confronted by Nikos with his familiar Australian sheepdog Horace.
Broad shouldered and strong, Nikos made an ominous greeting, emerging from the shadows as the cab disappeared around the end of the street, “I guess you won out with the ladies tonight, but I could tell you some stories about your lady Callisto there that would make your skin crawl, Tony.”
“Wherever, she’s been Nikos, she’s here now,” Tony said clearly, “I know I only attract women on the path to redemption.”
“Well,” Nikos shook his head, “she sure needs redemption, my friend.”
“This is nothing to you Nikos,” Tony said with clear certainty.
“Really?” Nikos gave a high-pitched mad laugh that Tony hadn’t ever heard before. “Well, everyone is going back to their rightful places tonight.” He snapped his fingers but Marty didn’t move to his side. “Come here!” he bellowed. “Okay, you want Blondie, look at her dissipated brother first, my lovely. Joxer,” he snapped his fingers again and a white fish-like Joxer appeared from the shadows, his eyes hollow and dark with the poison of his drug of choice and high with a delusionary power.
“Oh God, Joxer!” Saskia cried.
“Don’t you wonder,” Nikos said contemptuously, “how she could care for that?” He kicked Joxer, who lay stunned on the ground in stoned self-contemplation.
“What have you done to him?” Saskia cried out and went to her brother, who pushed her away.
“Don’t want you,” he slurred getting to his feet, “Jus’ your money.” He pulled out an old Saturday night special. It wasn’t a great gun, heck it wasn’t even a good gun, but it would do the job. “With you dead, I get all your money. Fix everything with Carol, the kids, fix my whole world.”
“What are you saying, Joxer?”
“He’s saying he wants it all, Saskia,” Marty said, “But unfortunately, he’ll have to go through me.”
“Uh uh,” Nikos shook his head and snapped his fingers again. Marty appeared at his side and Nikos blocked her way to Saskia, “I win this time.”
“No, you lose,” Tony said stepping in front of Saskia.
With a quick move, Callisto hauled Saskia to her feet and somersaulted in front of Joxer, “Forget him, shoot me, Joxer.”
“Get out of my way,” Joxer said shortly. “I need my sister in my sights.”
“Wanting and getting are two different things.” Callisto said shortly.
“Let me go.” Marty tried to escape from Nikos’s grip, “Who the hell are you anyway?”
“I think hell may be apropos,” Tony commented, “But if he’s hell, I guess that makes her...”
“Callisto Cirra, Angel Second Class at your service,” Callisto stood in front of the man with the gun.
Nikos laughed maniacally, “Okay, shoot her first, then him and then Blondie.” He laughed, “Who cares? And I’ll take the brunette.”
“Over my dead body,” ‘the brunette’ said, before kneeing Nikos hard in the groin. With a loud yell, she somersaulted in front of Nikos. She rolled her neck, which cracked loudly, “God, I never knew I had that in me. Sorry, Nikos or whatever you are – I’ll have to be your unwilling bride. I’m afraid your party is over, for me anyway.”
“Okay,” Nikos said harshly, “We’ll have to shoot everyone. Too bad, what a waste! Maybe, I’ll get it in the next lifetime. But shoot her last,” he pointed at Marty.
“That’s it, shoot everyone,” Joxer pronounced trying to get his gun in line. Suddenly, a streak of black and white flew through the air and wide jaws snapped. The gun in Joxer’s hand dropped as a trail of blood dribbled on the ground. “That dog bit me. Nikos your dog bit me.”
Tony grabbed for the gun which evaporated into thin air. “Okay, I give up,” he grunted from the ground.
“Immertrauhund,” a whistle broke the silence. A man of medium height came up the street and the dog ran toward him. “Come here. Good boy. Stopped the bandits, yah. Won the fair maidens, yah. Excellent dog. And here,” the man had Horace pulling on his lead and barking. “Is your hund, although he did enjoy the heavenly choir today, Herr Ares.”
“Ares!” cried Tony.
“Well, who did you think?” Leather clad Nikos, now known by his true name as Ares, turned in a circle with his arms outstretched. He turned his attention to his dog. “Poor Horace, listening to that awful racket. It seems, Wolfie, that I should be wise to the Immertrauhund double blind trick by now, but you get me every hundred years or so. He’s another man who failed to grasp his true essence and wasted his time, get this, writing,” he made marks in the air, “symphonies and horn concertos.”
“Time to go, Ares,” pink cheeked Clarence said appearing from behind a building, “Angels, four. Ares nothing.”
“This,” Ares pronounced pointing at Callisto, “is so not over. Get you next time.” In a poof he was gone.
“Time for us to go as well, toots.” Clarence added.
“Give me a moment.”
“See you on the stroke.” He disappeared with Mozart.
“People keep leaving.” Saskia said to Marty, “You are staying, aren’t you?”
Callisto went over and dragged Saskia to Marty’s side, “I need to say something. Once upon a lifetime ago, I did some bad things to both of you. I’ve made it up to you in some small way. Unfortunately, you were missing each other in this lifetime. That gave me a way in to help you and earn my wings. So what this angel puts together, let no one put asunder. You are my best project, and I will keep you both in my mind for the rest of your time on this earth. Use that time well. And remember me with kindness.”
“I will,” Marty said with feeling
“Me too,” Saskia added, “But what about my useless brother?”
A door opened, a doorbell tinkled and Callisto’s edges began to shimmer. “To jail jiggety jig, Joxer.” The drug-addled man had gotten to his feet and was trying to edge away. He disappeared “I’m afraid he’ll wake up in jail with drug charges and the choice to attend rehab. I’m sorry, Saskia.”
“No,” Saskia confessed, “it’s all for the best.”
“So, you’re going?” Tony looked sad.
“Love comes down at Christmas Tony, but not for us this year.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek and he felt the shimmer of angel wings pass him. Christmas bells rang out further away and she was gone.
Far away, the heavenly choir was opening the door to the shining tabernacle. From the heavenly host led by John Lennon, Roll over Beethovan burst out, followed by Imagine and My Sweet Lord. John looked up over the choir at the two Wilson brothers singing harmony and Billie Holiday and Maria Callas’s voice soaring high. There, at the back of the huge cathedral-like structure filled with sun and bright glass, a copy of Tom Sawyer rested on the knees of one angel and a new angel filled the air with her rainbow magnificence. She smiled brightly at him, her pearl teeth gleaming. Some day it would be him, but not yet – tonight was going to be a perfect Christmas.
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