Sara - a warrior facing the battlefield where one man's life will hang in the balance. Nathan - a man of mystery who moves the chess pieces in a game of life and death. Alexandria - the beautiful pawn with a private agenda. Rick - a man who appears to "have it all", but will he risk everything he has? All these characters converge in a tale of love, deceit, faith, hope, and honor.
WINGS OF THE DAWN
by Deborah Cullins Smith
Sara stood at the window of her austere room and watched the sun rise in a blaze of orange, gold, and red. The deep hum rose from the depths of her soul and joined with the warriors housed around her, ringing in the glory of the new day. An enveloping peace flowed through the lodges in those early morning reflections. Each warrior had been given assignments for the coming battles, and they basked in these precious moments before the chaos broke upon them all.
Sara's last assignment hadn't gone well. Or rather, it had not gone as planned. The Commander reassured her that the fault had not rested in her. The subject she'd been sent in to rescue had resisted her efforts, and the situation escalated from there. It may not have been her fault, but Sara never liked to see a man die on her watch.
Sara sighed heavily. All of the warriors in her brigade had similar stories of failed missions, and an even greater number of successes. But it seemed like the failures had increased in recent days. Were the missions really growing more and more difficult, or was Sara beginning to doubt her own abilities?
No, she shook her head resolutely. Self-doubt was not an option. She reached for her thick leather boots and began working at the laces with firm, rock-steady fingers.
* * * * * *
Nathan's eyes narrowed when he reviewed his progress the night before. A malicious gloat smoldered on his dark features. He lit a cigarette and watched the smoke curl over his head.
What a plum, he thought with a smirk, ripe for the picking.
His little peach had reeled this one in with both hands tied behind her back. Nathan liked working with this female. She was good… really good. She got the money when it all hit the fan, and he got… well, his rewards weren't based on such paltry issues as money. The Boss had been hinting that it might be time to "retire" Nathan's project. But Nathan thought she had a few tricks left before the end. He hoped so anyway. Watching her perform was magic – absolute magic! Nathan pondered her destiny and sighed with a touch of regret.
But, I can always find another soft piece of flesh to take her place. He shrugged carelessly as he inhaled tobacco and blew out another stream of smoke. The joy is in the training, he mused.
* * * * * *
Marjorie slipped out of bed, careful not to awaken her snoring husband. The first rays of sunlight spilled through the heavy curtains. Daybreak – that peaceful oasis before the frantic pace of their daily lives resumed. Taking a cup of tea to the terrace, Marjorie gazed at the soft golden glow that slowly crept over her carefully manicured lawns. She sipped the milky brew and wondered for the five hundredth time what was wrong with her marriage. She could feel her husband's interest in her waning, shrinking smaller and smaller everyday.
What am I going to do? she thought. Then she paused to wonder if that constituted a prayer. Mama always said to pray about everything. I guess that includes my marriage, but where do I even start?
Footsteps on the staircase sent a shiver down her spine.
When did I grow so afraid to look him in the eye? Her grip on the hot cup grew cold and clammy in spite of the heat emanating through the ceramic. She dreaded another round of verbal fencing, lies and the growth of suspicion between them.
"'Morning." His tone reflected the cold demeanor that frightened and confused Marjorie. It was as if he had become a totally alien creature who wore Rick's clothes and his aftershave. But something in his eyes just wasn't … right. A monster lurked beneath the surface, and Marjorie wasn't sure she ever wanted to see it unleashed.
* * * * * *
"You can't do this, Rick."
John's voice hissed, his cup clenched between callused fingers. Blue eyes darted around the coffee shop, but the men remained unnoticed.
"Why not?" Rick's eyes blazed. "This means the world to me. Can't you simply wish me well?" He averted his intense blue eyes and ran a rough fingernail over the wooden tabletop. His voice continued almost too inaudibly to discern, "…why must you always play the devil's advocate?"
John snorted and shook his head, incredulity creasing his rugged features. "Funny you should phrase it quite like that, little brother."
"This is important!" Rick's glare could have sharpened knives, and John felt his resentment as palpably as an unseen entity.
"Have you given any thought to the consequences?" John asked softly. "What about Marjorie?"
"She'll never know," Rick said, eyes fixed intently on a sticky coffee spatter on the table.
"Give her a little credit, Rick. Marj is an intelligent woman. She's bound to figure it out. And I think I can pretty much guarantee that she's not going to approve."
Rick's frown deepened. John pushed a little harder, hoping to drive his point home before his brother's infamous temper flared into high gear.
"Is it really worth the risk you're taking?" John swallowed hard. "I mean, you're gambling with your entire life here – everything you hold dear. This is one hand you can't possibly win."
Rick shot to his feet, his chair toppling backward with a crash. He leaned across the table, his knuckles white against the varnished wood, and his eyes blazed with fiery rage.
"I don't care what anyone thinks! It's my life – mine! This is my big chance and I'm running with it. Don't get in my way, John." Rick whirled and stalked out of the coffee shop, slamming the glass door so hard it rattled in the wooden frame.
John looked around at the other early morning patrons and smiled weakly.
"Sorry," he murmured as he scrambled to pick up Rick's overturned chair. Then he slumped back in his own seat and sighed as he sopped up spilled coffee with paper napkins.
Pressing fingertips firmly against his eyelids, John muttered, "God, what a mess. Please keep my brother from making the biggest mistake of his life."
The angel who stood at his elbow, unseen, placed a comforting hand on John's shoulder and squeezed before unfurling snowy wings and darting through the ceiling, carrying that fervent prayer straight to the Throne Room.
* * * * * *
Rick stormed from the coffee shop, rage blinding him to the pedestrians he slammed aside in his fury. An old man staggered as Rick's shoulder knocked him off-balance. He fell heavily against a bus stop bench, sinking to one knee. And indignant woman hurled angry vulgarities at him, but Rick was lost in his own world of pride and self-loathing.
"What's wrong with this deal?" His thoughts swirled like a Kansas twister. "Marjorie will never know. No one will ever be the wiser. And I deserve this. It's my turn to get something out of this life."
Rick spotted the pay phone next to the First National Bank and pushed past a short, balding man who sifted through the change in his pockets. Pennies scattered across the pavement as the gentleman uttered an indignant squawk.
He punched in his access code from memory, entered his pin number, then the office number she had given him over two months ago.
"Tonight," he said briskly when a feminine voice answered. "It'll have to be tonight."
Before I chicken out, he thought to himself.
He listened intently for a moment.
"Yes," he whispered, "I understand. There's no turning back."
* * * * * *
Alexandria Van Carallon replaced the phone on its charger as her lips curled into a wicked smile.
"We've got his cooperation," she purred.
Nathan's long, lean body lounged casually in the deep crimson velvet chair across the desk from her.
"Of course, my dear," he said with a raised eyebrow. "You are the mistress of deception."
She laughed and bowed her head in acknowledgement.
"You taught me well, my darling Nathan." She rose from her desk and came around behind him. She ran experienced fingertips lightly over his broad, black-clad shoulders and watched his thick dark hair cascade through her wine-red fingernails. Leaning close, she kissed his cheek, leaving two blood-red lip prints on his pale skin.
Nathan laughed and patted her hand, which slid suggestively down to his muscled chest.
"Don't waste your talents, darling Alexandria. Save it for your marks."
Alexandria pulled back, allowing her hands to linger momentarily on his neck before withdrawing. "You used to appreciate my affections more."
"Training purposed, love, strictly training."
Nathan rose and straightened the cuffs of his Armani suit. Shaking the red silk handkerchief from his breast pocket, he wiped the lipstick from his smooth-shaven cheek, refolded the fabric, and tucked it back in place.
"Call me when you've completed the assignment."
"Of course," she nodded.
When the door closed behind Nathan, Alexandria sank into her plush office chair and swiveled to stare out at the Chicago skyline. She shivered and crossed her arms, gripping firm biceps. She closed heavily painted eyes for a moment and breathed deeply to calm the flutter in her stomach.
Nathan was an enigma. She doubted she would ever know anything of his origins, and she didn't think she wanted to know. Some things were best left alone, wrapped forever in mystery.
* * * * * *
Something had gone terribly wrong with the large black-rimmed wall clocks throughout Rick's twelve-story office building. The sweeping "seconds" hands traced their way around their circular paths, but the minutes and hours didn't move.
Time stood still.
Rick fidgeted at his desk, snapped at everyone from co-workers to the freckle-faced kid from the mailroom. He filled his coffee cup in the break room then let it sit on his desk until it grew stone cold. Striding back to the break room, he dumped the offensive brew down the sink and refilled his cup again, downing it in one gulp. The murky liquid scalded his tongue and Rick's language would have sent sailors running from the room. At the sound of startled gasps, Rick whirled to see two secretaries staring, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, in the doorway.
He gritted his teeth, poured another cup of coffee, and slammed the carafe back on its hot plate.
"'scuse me, ladies," he muttered.
They scrambled out of his way, staring at his back as he stalked down the hallway. Only when he had disappeared around the corner did they risk a giggle.
"Never have heard Mr. Daniels use language like that before," short, thick-set Annie snickered.
"Did you see the look on his face?" Skinny little Caroline shuddered. "I've seen panthers in the zoo who looked more friendly than him."
"What do you think's the matter with him?" asked Annie.
"Dunno," Caroline paused a moment. "Male menopause?"
Annie burst into hysterical laughter, and Caroline joined her.
"Girls! Girls! You have work to do." Miss Cartwright was in charge of the secretarial pool, and she ran her office much like a drill sergeant. "And if you don't have work to do, believe me, I can find you some." Her ominous tone was more effective than a bucket of cold water.
"Yes, Miss Cartwright."
"Yes, Miss Cartwright."
* * * * * *
Nathan stood in the dark paneled elevator and watched the floors click further and further down. He mused the irony of this warped situation. Most corporate big shots took the top floor of their office buildings, as if the stature of their position could be measured by how far from the ground they could elevate themselves. His Boss felt that the lower one had to descend to reach his office, the more ominous the trip became. Many of his subordinates tripped through his door so soaked in sweat, they practically squished!
Nathan sighed as the elevator continued its downward path. He was not like those other subordinates. The Boss had always been pleased with his work, and Nathan had grown a little over-confident – even cocky – about his position in the "corporation".
"Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit goes before a fall." The words rose, unbidden, to Nathan's memory and he shuddered.
"Scriptures?!" he thought. "What on earth am I doing? Thinking in Scriptures? Blasphemy!"
The elevator pinged and the doors slid open to a darkened, smoke-filled hallway. Nathan squared his shoulders and strode down the corridor, exuding more confidence than he felt.
Nathan felt sure his plan for tonight was flawless, but he hoped the Boss wouldn't broach the subject of Alexandria's "retirement" again.
* * * * * *
Alexandria leaned her forehead against the cold glass window and stared at the magnificent view. She still felt a ripple of awe when she realized how far she'd come. Then she bit her lip.
Something in Nathan's manner today had sent an alarm clanging in her chest. Was she becoming expendable? Already?
"Too soon," she moaned, watching her breath leave a thin layer of fog on her window.
She felt memories tug, pulling her back to her youth, her home, family… and poverty. She rarely allowed such thoughts to linger, but today she seemed unable to stop them.
Mary Lou Gritch was a dirt poor, skinny kid from the wrong side of the tracks, deep in the Bible Belt of Georgia. She was the oldest of seven kids, living in a two-bedroom trailer that stank of whiskey and cigarette smoke. Daddy was a drunk and a gambler who spent more money on his booze than he did on groceries. Momma was old before her time, one hand constantly pressed to the stabbing pain in the small of her back. Mary Lou watched Momma cry bitter tears every time the local preacher came to call. His message was always the same – submit to your husband and trust God. Well, Momma submitted to Daddy, and continued to bear child after child, endure beating after drunken beating, until she finally died, leaving Mary Lou to care for her siblings.
Eventually, Daddy took after Mary Lou. She fought against his rough hands and whiskey-soaked breath, but brute force left her bereft of her innocence, cursing all of Heaven for her fate. At the tender age of fourteen, she knew the harsh realities of life, and none of its pleasures. Her brothers and sisters cowered in the second bedroom, barely daring to breathe lest their father remember their existence. All seven children were well acquainted with the thwup-thwup-thwup of his thick leather belt as it cleared the denim loops of his jeans, and bore scars on their backs as well as their souls.
Daddy finally passed out cold one night and choked on his own vomit. The children breathed their first collective sighs of relief when the welfare lady took charge of them and dispersed them to foster care.
At sixteen, Mary Lou ran away. The streets of Chicago were brutal, but nothing compared to the places she had called 'home' all her life. She begged, stole, whored, picked pockets --- anything to stay alive. And she swore that someday she would have everything she desired in this world. She'd take it any way she could, and no man would stand in her way.
Then Nathan found her.
In Nathan's bed, Mary Lou found the first hint of pleasure she had ever known. And he found an apt pupil. The first thing he did was change her name. Alexandria Van Carallon sounded far more exotic, and held more promise than Mary Lou Gritch. But a new name was only the beginning.
In those first few years, Nathan taught her how to use her youth to ensnare lonely businessmen, taught her how to shake them down for thousands of dollars to keep their infidelities secret, taught her how to release that information to the right sources when they were less agreeable, and kept her safe from predators.
Gradually, she moved up to the world of the rich and famous, rubbing shoulders with the elegant nightlife. Somehow Nathan always seemed to know where she should be and how she should dress, but no one really knew who he was. She became the predator under his guidance. She wore the highest fashions, attended the biggest parties, mingled with the socially elite, and learned to use them all to her own benefit. It didn't take long for her to realize that she was just the next in a long line of "pupils" that Nathan had acquired. That didn't matter though. She was the best. Under Nathan's tutelage, she acquired a fabulously furnished condo, clothes, money, a luxurious lifestyle, and the shrewd, hard-headed business sense to prosper at every venture she set her mind to. Mary Lou hadn't been smart enough, or quick enough, to fend for herself, but Alexandria was a force few even tried to contend with! No one bullied her, no one used or abused her, and no one told her what to do – including God.
"I will not follow in my mother's footsteps," she vowed softly to the Chicago skyline. "My life – my destiny – is my own. With or without Nathan."
But the reflection staring back at Alexandria in the window glass held a shadow of fear for the first time since she left Mary Lou behind.
* * * * * *
Marjorie and Rick had had their share of disagreements. The situation was ripe for the picking.
"I'm working late, Marjorie. You'll just have to deal with Annie's concert by yourself."
"But she's your daughter, too, Rick. And you promised her."
"I've also got to pay a $2000 orthodontist bill plus her piano lessons. That means working!"
Then it moved up to:
"What do you mean, you aren't free tonight, Marjorie? I need you. It's a dinner at Mr. Constantine's house, and he just happens to be the CEO. Remember? The man signs my bloody paychecks!"
"But, Rick, it's a church night, and I have the youth group. I committed to this ministry. So did you!"
"I can't be there tonight. I have to attend this dinner. Bowing out is NOT an option."
"Well, we can't both ditch the youth group."
"Does the term 'mandatory fun' mean anything to you?"
"Not when it interferes with our commitments to God."
A brusque "whatever" and a click had ended that conversation.
After a counseling session with the pastor, Marjorie tried to rearrange her schedule, and even gave up the position as a youth group leader. But every time Rick called with a last minute dinner, fundraiser, or cocktail party, the kids were sick, or had a school function, or there was a parent-teacher conference she would just have to attend alone. The first cracks in their relationship widened into huge gaps.
Alexandra Van Carallon met Rick at the fundraiser for the first time. It was clear she had specifically aimed her sights on him. She bore Nathan's signature like a neon sign across her forehead – for those with the eyes to see it. Nathan used women, and he used them well, but Rick was blind to everything but the deep pools of green in her eyes. The situation was ripe for a woman of Alexandria's talents. She was a hard-headed businesswoman with a magnificent body and a sense of style. She swept him off his feet. Heaven wept as Rick's passions kindled. Their "meetings to discuss financial investments" quickly became trysts. But that was only the first stage of her plan. He was always 'Richard' to her, a man of powerful ambition; never 'Rick', like his clingy, grasping wife.
"There is a fantastic power play in motion, Richard." Alexandria ran her fingertips down his bare chest, as they lay tangled in satin sheets. "But I need fast capital. Only for a few days."
"A few days?" Rick's frown deepened. "How much?"
"Two million? Alexandria, I don't have that kind of cash lying around!"
"No," Alexandria's voice was low and persuasive, "but you do have access to it."
Rick sat up abruptly and swung away from her. "You're talking about embezzlement."
"A loan," she said. "There are ways to cover your tracks. This deal is fool-proof. Within five days, I can triple that investment. You put back the initial two mil and I'll split the profit with you 50/50. That's at least 2 million dollars for you. You can open your own business with that kind of money. Or better yet, form a partnership with me."
He frowned at her, taking in the tousled dark hair and sparkling green eyes. Surrounded by the opulence of her penthouse condo, he conjured up images of their little three-bedroom home in the suburbs. It was nice, and Marjorie had always kept it tidy and tastefully decorated within the confines of their budget. But this was luxury – and Richard wanted it. Not Rick, the loving husband and father; Richard, the businessman, the entrepreneur, the wealthy captain of industry! Alexandria obviously had great business connections. Every scheme she'd ever ventured into had been supremely successful. She had regaled him with tales of her many escapades over the past couple of months. She had mentioned a mysterious benefactor once, but the reference had been fleeting and never repeated.
"Just think, Richard," she nuzzled against his back, kneading his shoulders with strong, experienced hands. "You could be financially set for life. Be your own boss. Rule your own domain."
Richard gazed into those mesmerizing eyes. The prospects suddenly seemed within the realm of possibility. Slowly, persuasively, she reeled him in with her plausible, well-calculated plans.
* * * * * *
Sara strapped on armor. Reports filtering in indicated the battle would be fierce. Her objective: to save a man from the fires of hell. Her enemy: the Devil and all his minions, with one particularly clever adversary leading the vanguard. And she would have to battle her way through him to reach the man's heart, to remind him of all he held dear, of the value of his very soul to Almighty God. If she could break through the cloud of anger and bitterness, she might be able to save him from the destructive course he'd set himself upon several months ago.
"I have an urgent assignment for you, Sara."
Sara knelt before her Commander in Chief, head bowed to receive her instructions.
"Richard Daniels is in trouble. He is falling further and further into temptation." God sighed. "It's Alexandria again, Nathan's protégé."
Fire blazed in Sara's eyes as her head jerked up to meet His gaze. Nathan and Sara were once the closest of friends. When he followed Lucifer, Sara felt the betrayal deeply. Since the Fall, Sara had gone to battle for the souls of men more times than she could count, only to face Nathan and his devious schemes. She experienced a quick wave of nausea at the thought of the traitorous Benedict Arnold, with Nathan whispering treachery in his ear and using his lovely wife, Peggy, to push him further into bitterness and betrayal. Not one of Sara's victories.
"We can't allow him to corrupt the man, Sara," God said gently. "I have great plans for his life. He's a little side-tracked right now, carrying burdens I never meant for him to bear. But this scheme of Nathan's could destroy Richard's reputation, his marriage, his ministry and most of all, his heart."
"I understand, my Lord," Sara whispered.
"Keep him from finalizing that money transfer tonight, Sara." God's orders brought Sara to her feet, spine stiff with resolve, wings unfurled, armor glinting in reflection of His glory.
* * * * * *
The last of the clerks had cleared their desks, shut down computer terminals, and called it a night. It was past nine o'clock, and Rick felt his hands tremble. He picked up the phone and punched in his own home number.
"Hi…" he mumbled. "I'm … uh… working late again."
A pause. "I assumed as much."
Rick felt frost seep through the phone lines. Had Marjorie finally given up on him?
"S-sorry I didn't call sooner, Marj. It's been crazy around here today."
Silence simmered in waves.
"Don't wait up. I've got some stuff to do – probably be here all night."
"Right." Rick heard the welling of tears just before the line went dead.
* * * * * *
Nathan stood at his shoulder and whispered, "So what? She knows? That makes it all easier. Just call it quits on this foolish marriage and push through Alexandria's deal. You'll be better off with a woman like Alexandria. She can take you to places you've only dreamed of."
Rick held his head in his hands as the thoughts slithered into his mind.
"NO!" The word rang like a bell. "She'll destroy you. This deal will destroy you, your reputation, your very soul. Don't do it!"
Nathan turned to face the fierce expression on Sara's face, her sword close enough to his eye to put it out if he moved a muscle. Holding the sword firmly in her right hand, she placed her left hand on Rick's shoulder and sent her thoughts into his soul.
"Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived!"
Nathan smirked, using one hand to fend off Sara's sword – which didn't budge an inch – and his eyes narrowed as he leaned toward Rick's other shoulder.
"What lust? You love Alexandria. She's everything that mousey little wife is not. So you made a mistake in life. It's time to move on, Richard. Cut your losses and get out while you can."
Sara's eyes blazed, and her words rang out against the office
"Submit to God! Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinner! And purify your heart, you double-minded man!"
Nathan growled and leathery wings ripped his fancy Armani suit to shreds. As he turned into that which truly reflected his rebellious nature, he threw himself straight up through the ceiling. Sara darted after him, sword pointed upward.
* * * * * *
Rick's head sank to his desk, as despair washed over his soul. Memories flashed across the movie screen in his mind: his wedding day, a blissful Marjorie, radiant in her ivory gown and veil, their ridiculous smiles when he dabbed cake icing on the tip of her nose.
Fast forward: the birth of his first daughter Annie, ten little fingers, ten tiny toes, and a glob of bright red hair that grew into ringlets those first few years.
Fast forward: the birth of his son Artie, again the tiny digits that amazed Rick with their fragility, the way his chin crinkled and quivered when he cried, first words, first steps, first tricycles, then bicycles. First day of school, Marjorie's face when they stood together in church to pray.
"How can I just walk away?"
* * * * * *
Marjorie paced the floor long after the children were asleep. She chewed a ragged cuticle on her thumb until it bled, wrapped a Kleenex around it, and paced some more. Something was wrong!
"Maybe I shouldn't have hung up on him," she groaned. "If only I had been more patient, more understanding. Maybe he is working late. Why do I seem to expect the worst out of him?"
Unknown to Marjorie, the same words whispered to Rick in his cold office reverberated in her own heart, only they carried no condemnation. They covered her in a garment of peace.
"Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."
Marjorie fell to her knees by the couch and prayed fervently for her husband's soul.
* * * * * *
Nathan had never retreated this quickly before. Sara darted after him, but something in her heart felt … wrong! Nathan was leading her away from the man she'd been sent to protect! Sara whirled in mid-air and zoomed back to the cubicle where a broken man listened to sickly sweet lies.
* * * * * *
The connection between Nathan and Alexandria had telegraphed an urgent message the minute Sara had appeared at Rick's side. Alexandria was on her way to the office before the first Scriptures left Sara's lips. She found him with his head on his desk, a picture of his family clutched in his fingers.
"What is it, Richard?"
"What am I doing, Alexandria?" he cried in anguish. "I love my wife! I love my family. This could destroy them!"
"No, no, my love," she crooned. "You can give a large chunk of your profits from this deal to your family. They'll be set for life, and you'll be free to move on. We can even leave Chicago if you want to. Maybe move to New York."
Alexandria almost believed the lies even as she uttered them. Maybe I should leave Nathan and go to New York. Lose myself in the crowds. He'll ditch me sooner or later anyway. It's coming, I feel it.
Sara burst back into the room. Alexandria shrank back from Rick's side, not quite seeing Sara, but sensing her presence at the core of her dark soul.
"Rick, do not love the world, nor the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever."
"God help me!" Rick shrieked. "I don't know what to do!"
Sara's hand on his shoulder radiated warmth and strength.
"No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide a way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
"No…" Alexandria whispered, shrinking from the weeping man. A soft glow emanated from the window behind him, almost an outline.
Rick jumped up from his desk and hurled his body past an open-mouthed Alexandria. He shot through the door and down the hall in a frenzied panic. If this was his way of escape, he was blooming well going to make use of it.
* * * * * *
Alexandria slumped into a leather chair across from Richard's desk. I failed.
Suddenly she saw a black shadow coalescing into a draped figure in the corner.
"Yesssssssssssss," it hissed. "You did fail. And I think it's time you paid for your sins."
In the depths of her soul, Alexandria knew she had gambled on the losing team. Game over. Slowly she stood to her feet, horror etched on her painted face. In blind panic, she ran for the door, but she wasn't quick enough. The shadow engulfed her until her muffled "nooooooooo" was merely an echo in the huge building.
Nathan hurled himself back into the room just in time to hear her voice recede. Lucifer took her. He shook his head. Pity. She was good. The best he'd ever trained. Now he'd have to find a new trainee. There was always someone out there with enough bitterness to fall for his scheme…. He vanished into the night.
* * * * * *
Rick barreled down the hallway and slammed into a man's body as the elevator opened. The two men fell to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs.
Rick scrabbled backward until he recognized his brother, John.
"What are you doing here?" he stammered.
"What happened to you?" John's question was simultaneous, their words jumbling together.
"I just had a feeling you were in trouble," John said, swallowing hard. He expected Rick to deck him for showing up, but hadn't anticipated this violent a reaction! "Well, I already knew you were in trouble, but I guess I hoped… I mean, I thought I'd give it one last shot…."
The rest of his words were cut off as Rick yanked him off the floor and engulfed him in a bear hug. Stunned, John recovered his wits enough to pat his brother gingerly on the back.
"You're my way out. You're my way out." Rick repeated the phrase over and over, his words mixed with tears.
Truth dawned on John in an instant.
"You didn't go through with it! Oh, praise God, you didn't go through with it!" His relief broke and he clung to his younger brother.
"No," Rick gulped. "I just kept thinking about Marjorie and our wedding day and the vows we wrote specially and the births of the kids… Then Alexandria showed up, and I felt the darkness coming from her. I ran, I just… ran from the room. Wait! How did you get in here?"
"The door was open downstairs, and I just walked right in."
"But it should have been locked…."
They stared at one another. A miracle?
"Wait a minute! You left her in your office?" John asked, alarm shining in his clear blue eyes.
Apprehensively, the men turned in unison and trotted back to Rick's office door. They entered warily… but the room was empty! A stench, like a dead animal in the woodwork, permeated the room. John gagged, and ran to open a window. Rick scanned the room slowly, but there were no hiding places in the small room. Where did she go?
They looked at one another, mystified. She would have had to pass them in the hallway to reach the elevators. Unless she took the stairwells. But they would have heard her footsteps, wouldn't they?
Rick checked his computer. The cursor still blinked at his password. Slowly, carefully, he shut it down, closing each browser window.
John stood still looking out the window as the first blush of sunlight appeared between the skyscrapers.
"Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lay hold of me."
"Is that from the Psalms, John?" Rick turned to watch the sunrise, his face calm for the first time in months.
"Yes," he said softly. "Psalm 139. One of Mom's favorites. I memorized it after she died, sort of as a tribute to her."
Rick nodded. "I remember."
"She would have been proud of you, you know." John's gaze didn't waver from the magnificent sunrise as it showered the world in light reflected from neighboring windows.
"Would she?" A lump rose in Rick's throat. "I cheated on my wife, almost stole from my own company…"
"And you stopped! You ran from it all." John looked his brother full in the face. "Let's go home."
* * * * * *
Sara smiled and unfurled her enormous wings. Yes, it was time to go home again!
Scriptures used in the text are taken from the New American Standard Version.
James 1:13-16 I Corinthians 10:12-13
James 4:7-8 Romans 12:21
I John 2:15-17 Psalm 139:7-10