Authors: Frank Peretti
“You, GIT!” Cecilia shouted, waving her strong arms. “Get out of those flowers!”
The doe backed off just a little, but then lowered her head, giving Cecilia a good look at her horns.
“Oooh, you’re really scary!” said Cecilia. She ran right up, clamped an angry fist around the doe’s collar, and lifted the doe’s front legs off the ground in turning her around.
“You’re going back where you came from, and right now, and don’t you think you can scare me!”
“And you lower those horns right now!”
The doe went with Cecilia, mostly on four legs, but on two if she
even dared to hesitate, and got more than two earfuls of sermonizing on the way.
“I don’t know how you got out, but if you think you’re going to run rampant around here, you’ve got another think coming! Sally’s going to hear about this! She knows better! I’m really surprised . . .”
She crossed the field between the two houses and then saw the goat pen, its gate wide open.
“Sally!” she called.
There was no answer. Hmm. The truck was gone. Maybe Sally wasn’t home yet. Well, she was late then. She always came home from work before this. But how did that gate get open?
She dragged the doe alongside her and through the gate.
“Back where you belong, old girl. No more of this free and easy stuff—”
Well . . . who was that in the shed?
The doe, suddenly free, walked out through the still-open gate. Cecilia didn’t follow it.
She was looking at the body of a woman, thrown down in the straw like a discarded doll, limp and white.
She was dead.
NATHAN, ARMOTH, AND
the other warriors made a low, slow pass over the farmhouse and saw a distraught Cecilia running from the goat pen. Nathan gave the others a signal, and with an explosive surge of their wings they shot forward, etching the evening sky with streaks of light.
The fields below them passed by with the swiftness of a thought, and then the green canopy of the forest swallowed them up, the leaves and branches whipping by, over, around, and through them. They rushed through shadows and shafts of fading light, through tall trunks and thick, entangling limbs, and finally reached the clearing where the captain was waiting.
With wings snapping full like opening parachutes, they came to a halt and settled to the forest floor with the silence of snowflakes. The moment their feet touched down, the lightning glimmer of their tunics
faded to a dull white, their fiery swords cooled to copper, and their wings folded and vanished.
Tal, the mighty, golden-haired Captain of the Host, was waiting, his fiery eyes burning with expectation, his face tight with the tension of the moment. Beside him stood Guilo, the Strength of Many, a dark, bearded, massive spirit with thick, powerful arms and a heart yearning for a fight. They were dressed in dull white as well, and wore formidable swords at their sides.
Nathan called his report even as Tal and Guilo were stepping forward to greet them. “All the demons were routed except for Despair.”
“Good enough,” said Tal. “Let him carry word back to his comrades and then continue his work. Any other spirits from Broken Birch involved in this?”
“Several. Formidable, but defeated for now. We didn’t see Destroyer anywhere. He sent his lackeys and stayed out of it himself.”
“Of course. Now what of Sally?”
“Sally Roe is fleeing. Her truck is several miles down the road, heading south toward Claytonville. We sent Chimon and Scion to follow her.”
“The assassin?” asked Tal.
“Slain, by our hand. We had no choice. Sally was close to death.”
Guilo rumbled his approval of the action.
“How is Sally now?” Tal asked.
Armoth reported, “A minor throat injury, a welt on her neck, a shallow knife wound in the shoulder. No immediate physical danger.”
Tal sighed just a little. “No, not immediate anyway. What about the near-collision with Irene Bledsoe?”
Nathan and Armoth looked toward Signa, and the lithe Oriental smiled. “Successful, but by a hair. Ruth Harris suffered a small injury on her forehead, but Sally was clearly seen by everyone in the car, and she saw them just as clearly.”
Armoth picked up from there. “And now Mrs. Potter has found the assassin, and she is calling the police.”
Tal had to take a moment just to shake his head at the immensity of it all. “Just that is news enough.”
Guilo expressed his anxiety with a gravelly chuckle. “Captain, we have never before hoped for so many things to go right . . . that can go
Tal looked toward Heaven and smiled a cautious smile. “We can hope for them all to go right as long as the saints are praying, and they are.”
There was a mutter of agreement from all of them. They could feel it.
“So,” Tal continued, “if all goes well, this time
set the enemy back . . .
purchase just one more season of restraint.”
“One more season,” they all echoed.
“Sally should arrive in Claytonville safely enough with Chimon and Scion as escorts. The demon Terga has much to answer for now; I expect he’ll send some spirits after her to tear her down. Even so, Chimon and Scion have orders not to intervene unless absolutely necessary.”
destruction?” Guilo blurted in anger. “One would think these wretched spirits can never inflict enough suffering!”
Tal looked into those dark eyes, so full of the fire of battle, and yet so tender toward God’s elect. “Good friend, we all hurt for her. But her suffering will bring about God’s purpose, and you will see it.”
“May it come soon,” Guilo said, gripping the handle of his sword. He looked at Nathan and prompted sarcastically, “I’m sure you have more joyful news?”
“Yes,” said Nathan. “Of Tom Harris. He is at the police station now, trying to do something to get his children back, trying to reason with Sergeant Mulligan.”
At the mention of Mulligan’s name, Guilo laughed a roaring, spiteful laugh, and the others made a distasteful face. Nathan only nodded with resignation. They were right.
“So now comes the testing of Tom’s faith, a real trying of his commitment,” said Tal.
be watching the saints,” said Guilo. “I’ll see how they handle this one.”
Tal touched Guilo’s shoulder. “This will be one of those things we hope will go right.”
“Oh, may it go right, may it go right.”
“For Tom’s sake,” said Nathan.
sake,” said Armoth.
“Which brings us to Ben Cole,” Tal prompted.
Nathan responded, “He’s about to walk into it right now.”
OFFICER BEN COLE
pulled the squad car into the lot behind the precinct and sat behind the wheel for a moment after the engine was still. It had been a long day, and he was tired. Bacon’s Corner didn’t have that much heavy action, but today was a little more trying. The trucker he’d stopped for speeding was twice his size and didn’t like being one-upped by such a young officer, much less one who was black; Bill Schultz still hadn’t contained that dog of his, and now someone else had been bitten; he’d caught the Krantz boy with some pot again, and his parents still wouldn’t believe it.
That was the rub with police work—you always had to see the bad side of people, when they were angry, defensive, self-righteous, drunk, drugged . . .
Oh, let it go, Ben. The day’s over. There are some good people in the world, really. You just need to get home, have some supper, see Bev. Yeah, that’ll make it all right.
He got out of the car; he was going to write up some quick reports and get home so . . .
Now whose cars are these?
Two strange cars were sitting in the reserved parking spaces, and wasn’t that Tom Harris’s little station wagon? The office was closed by now; it was too late for visitors. He’d better check it out once he got inside.
He went in the back door and started down the long hallway that connected the rear offices and cell block to the front office area.
Oh brother, now who’s Mulligan hollering at?
He could hear Sergeant Mulligan’s voice from clear down the hall, booming through the open door of his office. “So all right, you don’t have to tell me anything! Go ahead and lie! You guys always lie, and I’ll be happy to listen to that so I can use it against you!”
“Sir, I’m not lying . . .”
Ben stopped in the hall to listen. That other voice sounded familiar.
“So let’s have the truth, huh?” said Mulligan. “You’ve been having yourself a real party with those little kids, haven’t you?”
, there is nothing going on at the school, or at my home, or anywhere! This whole thing is a terrible mistake!”
Tom Harris’s car out there, and this was Tom getting outtalked by the sergeant.
Ben had to look. This conversation was sounding worse all the time.
Lord, please don’t let it be what it sounds like. I was just feeling better thinking about the good people in the world.
He went down the bare hallway to Mulligan’s door, and stuck his head in.
“I’m back, Harold.”
No big deal, I’m just reporting in, nice and businesslike, just finding out what’s going on.
Ben stood there frozen, looking at the shaken, upset man sitting across the dented, green, metal desk from big Sergeant Mulligan.
Mulligan was in his overweight, ugly glory, and really enjoying this. He always got his kicks from all the wrong things. “Hey, Cole, look what I caught today! Another Christian! I’ll bet you two know each other!”
Ben looked confused. “Hey, Tom. What gives?”
“Child abuse!” interrupted Mulligan, proud of the fact, proud of his catch. “Got a real case brewing here.”
“Then you know far more about this than
do!” Tom said. He looked up at Ben with tear-reddened eyes. “The sergeant here just . . . just
there while some welfare lady came and took away Ruth and Josiah, just dragged them from the house, and . . .” Tom’s voice rose in fear and anger. “I want to know where they are.”
Mulligan remained as hard as nails and sneered at Ben. “Wait’ll you hear what this creep’s been doing with some kids at the Christian school.”
Tom rose from his seat. “I haven’t been doing
! Can’t you
get that straight?”
“You sit down, buddy!” Mulligan easily outweighed Tom and made every effort to show it.
Ben’s heart twisted in his chest. The Christian school? Bacon’s Corner only had one—the Good Shepherd Academy, a little first-through-sixth-grade ministry run by—
“I’d say your church is in big trouble!” Mulligan told Ben.
Ben looked down at Tom Harris, one of the gentlest, most godly men he’d ever met. Tom was in his thirties, with dark curly hair and a young face. Ben knew the guy was more than just honest—he was downright vulnerable.
No way, man. Tom Harris didn’t do anything.
“Tom,” Ben said gently, “are you aware of your rights?”
“He’s not under arrest!” Mulligan snapped. “He came here himself!”
“And I’m not leaving until I get some cooperation!” said Tom.
“Hey, don’t come after me,” said Mulligan. “The state people have to check this all out.”
“So let’s call them!” said Ben.
“You get out of this, Cole! You two are friends and everybody knows it. You’re not coming anywhere near this case!”
Tom demanded in slow, enunciated words, “I want to see my children!”
“You’re talking to the wrong man.”
Tom pointed his finger. “You were right there! You abused your authority and let this . . . this Bledsoe woman march right into my house like some kind of . . . gestapo raid! She terrorized my children and invaded my privacy right under your nose!”
Mulligan remained straight and tall in his chair and said firmly and simply, “You watch it, Harris. Ms. Bledsoe had a bona fide court order to pick up your kids in response to a complaint filed against you!”
Tom was flabbergasted. “
“I don’t know. Ask Bledsoe. That’s her department.”
“Then you must know how to contact her.”
“I’ll find out,” said Ben.
“Isn’t your shift over?” Mulligan roared.
“Then get out of here!”
Ben had to obey. He told Tom, “Give me a call,” and turned to leave.