My meeting with Bishop Roberto Montoya was not what I had expected.
He agreed to meet me for noon tea at a little bakery down the street from Father Callahan’s parish. Demons are invulnerable to most attacks; the only thing capable of completely destroying a demon is pure faith in something based on goodness. The Church had spent centuries battling demons, and the essence of their convictions seeped into the very walls of their churches. Merely walking past a church on a normal day was an uncomfortable experience for me, stepping inside one now would be crippling.
Bishop Montoya’s dark, intelligent eyes took in everything about me, lingering for several moments on my hair and neck tattoos. I waited for the inevitable grimace or even just a raised eyebrow, but he gave me nothing. His face was as serene and impassive as a statue.
I had gone in prepared to have hidden barbs and veiled insults lobbed in my direction, but the good Bishop surprised me. He was a perfect gentleman, and if his personal opinion of me was less than complimentary, he never made it known.
After reading the Agency’s dossier on him, I had expected the Bishop to be a little, wizened old man. Instead, he was tall and broad-shouldered and the faint wrinkles around his mouth and eyes suggested a man twenty years younger than the seventy-two he was reported to be.
He was also not dressed how I had pictured him in my head. A caramel-colored button-down shirt and black trousers complemented his honey-brown skin. He looked more like a New Hollywood producer than a Bishop.
“Father Callahan walked the Lord’s path every day of his life and never faltered,” Bishop Montoya stated gravely as soon as the introductions had been made. “Rarely have I met anyone with his strength of will and self-discipline. His death is a tragic loss for the Church. Especially in these troubling times.”
“Thank you for meeting with me, Bishop.” I nearly choked on the word. Being face to face with him gave his station and title more validity and meaning. He radiated heat and light like a miniature sun. Despite the coolness of the day, I was sweating and my skin felt covered in fire ants.
I ignored the discomfort. I couldn’t allow it to interfere with this meeting.
“No, I thank you, Agent Powers. We have been made aware of what has happened to Father Callahan’s soul. The Vatican wishes for us to do everything in our power to save his immortal soul from the evil that has wrongfully claimed it.” His carefully maintained hands clasped around the teacup, the Bishop gave no outward sign of his feelings, but I could sense the turmoil deep within. He shook his salt and peppered head sadly. “It is truly heartbreaking to know he has been desecrated in such a manner.”
“Bishop Montoya, there’s been a development in the case.” The expression of hope in his eyes killed me. I’ve always hated having to add bad news on top of bad news. I’m cold-hearted, but I’m not sadistic. “Unfortunately, Father Callahan’s body has been stolen from the morgue.”
Sucker-punching him and then running away might have been a kinder course of action. I swear the man aged ten years in mere seconds.
“Do you have any idea who might have stolen his body, and why?” His voice was a whisper, as if he were unable to take in enough air to make a louder noise. Clear brown eyes held both sorrow and anger. I wasn’t entirely sure the anger wasn’t directed toward me.
“I’m sorry, Bishop Montoya, but our investigation is still underway. I’m not authorized to release that information, yet. I’ll let you know what I can as soon as possible.”
He nodded as if he had expected my answer.
“What exactly can I do to assist you?” Right down to business. If I hadn’t felt like shit, I would have liked that about him.
“I need to get a feel for Father Callahan. Who he was as a person. Who might have wanted to hurt him?”
Bishop Montoya’s face was perplexed, as if he didn’t quite understand the question. Or, he understood the question, and was trying to find the underlying significance of it.
“Are you implying that Father Callahan was murdered, Agent Powers?” Definitely understood the question.
“No, but we need to keep an open mind. A healthy sixty-five year old man doesn’t just drop dead for no reason.” He winced at my crass wording and I was instantly sorry.
“I don’t know anyone who would want to hurt Father Callahan. He was the kindest, gentlest one among us. The Father’s soul was completely pure. He was a true man of God and I believe the Lord worked directly through Father Callahan.”
His words carried the weight of Divine Truth. Pain flared across my body, nearly blinding me in its intensity. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. My fingers locked onto the edge of the table as I struggled to take a breath.
Bishop Montoya murmured an apology, his eyes wide as saucers. He half-stood as if to help me. I felt my own eyes widen in fear. His touch would just make things worse.
He sat back down, his expression conflicted, his feelings roiling with confusion and uncertainty. The force of those emotions was a balm, soothing the pain and fortifying my defenses. The weight on my chest lifted and I eased my fingers away from the table, wiggling them to relieve the stiffness.
I sucked in a breath. Then another. When the pain disappeared, I pressed on.
“I’m not sure I completely understand what you’re saying.” If the Bishop meant what I thought he did, I was one step closer to figuring out why Father Callahan had been murdered.
Very few people were completely faithful to their chosen belief system. It isn’t a bad thing, it just is. However, those people who upheld the tenets of their religion fully and without reservation were rumored to be given special consideration by the Higher Powers they served. Small children are pure by default, but an adult who has faced temptation and won is a powerful being indeed.
Power of such magnitude was a heady wine to those seeking to acquire more than their fair share.
Bishop Montoya still looked uncertain and concerned, but was apparently willing to take my lead and continue on.
“He heard the Divine Voice in his thoughts, and what Father Callahan prayed for came to pass.” That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear. My day was starting to brighten, and I mentally knocked on wood that this wasn’t a snipe hunt.
“To your knowledge, had Father Callahan been acting unusual? Did he meet with anybody out of the ordinary within the past couple of weeks?”
“No to both questions, Agent Powers. To the best of my knowledge, Father Callahan’s last couple of weeks were as ordinary as any other.”
“Do you know if he received any threatening mail or phone calls?”
Another shake of his head.
“No, nothing that I know of. I can double-check with his secretary, but I’m sure she would have mentioned something when I questioned her the first time.”
After returning to the Agency last night, I’d talked to Father Callahan’s secretary. She was very kind and did her best to be as helpful as possible, but she’d told me pretty much the exact same thing – nothing weird had happened at the church and he hadn’t met with anybody strange as far as she knew. That didn’t rule out a chance meeting or one that hadn’t been scheduled through the secretary.
“Bishop Montoya, as you may be aware, I am unable to stand upon holy ground or enter into places of worship because of my heritage.” He nodded, his face questioning. “I would like your permission to contact Father Callahan’s parishioners to speak with them. Maybe one of them knows something that his secretary does not.”
I could get a warrant for their names and contact information, but it would be better for the tentative truce that existed between our organizations if I asked permission before barreling forward with legal paperwork. Bishop Montoya did not answer right away, he sat for many long minutes, thinking over my request. Finally, he looked me in the eye, and I knew with a sinking heart what his answer was going to be.
“I’m sorry, Agent Powers, but I cannot allow you to question his entire congregation.” He raised a hand to halt my protest.
“Many of Father Callahan’s flock are elderly, and the death of their long-time priest has hit them hard. As well as the fact that many would not be at all pleased to speak to a Vamyraset Agent. We are trying to keep the particulars of the case as quiet as possible, and letting them know that we have involved the Vamyraset could disillusion them and turn them against the Church. I am merely watching out for their peace of mind, as is my duty.”
I was forced to agree with his decision. I didn’t like it, but I understood why he had made it. His caring and concern for people that he probably had never even met made me like him that much more.
“However, I can talk to his secretary and get the names of the more liberal minded among his flock. I will discreetly question them, and if any have information that might help your investigation, I will, with their permission of course, pass their names along to you. Is that satisfactory?”
“Yes, thank you, Bishop.” He had been more than considerate and I was grateful for it.
“Why are you so willing to help me?” My curiosity got the better of me, and the words flung themselves out of my mouth before I could silence them. “You do know I’m a half-demon, right? Isn’t the Church supposed to be my sworn enemy or something?”
Bishop Montoya’s laugh was as genuine and carefree as the rest of him.
“What are you laughing at?” I demanded, a little offended by his amusement at what was, in my mind, a serious question. “I’m part demon and according to the Church, demons are evil. Isn’t the Church supposed to fight evil in all its forms?”
“My apologies.” I swear he surreptitiously wiped tears from his eyes. “I so rarely come across anyone who is still so full of innocence. Rarer still for that person to be in such a dangerous branch of law enforcement.”
Innocent? Me? Who was he kidding? I wasn’t too self-conscious to let him see the disbelief writ on my face.
“Good and evil are not predetermined based upon genetics. They are not inherited traits like hair or eye color,” he explained. “Every sentient being is given a choice of two paths to walk. Those who choose to walk the path of darkness, no mater how hard it is to walk the path of light, do so knowing full well what the consequences are.”
He sipped his water slowly before continuing, and I could see him choose his words with care. “Most people, including those within the Church, forget that, before he ruled over Hell, Lucifer was an Angel of Light. He did many good deeds and was one of the good guys at one point in time. He then chose to defy God and do evil.” He looked me straight in the eyes again, his gaze carrying the full weight of his words. “Lucifer can choose to repent and ask forgiveness for his transgressions. God would welcome him back to Heaven, just as he welcomes back all who sincerely repent their sins.”
His next words knocked all ability to form coherent thoughts from my brain. “Don’t let what you are define who you are.”
I must have sat there like an idiot with my mouth open. He ignored me and continued on as if I weren’t staring gape-eyed like a fish.
“As for why I am helping you, three nights ago, I received a phone call from the Vatican. The Pope had received a vision from God. What he saw was one of the Brethren brutally murdered by a demon. He kept hearing your name repeated throughout the entire course of this vision.” He paused, staring down into the depths of his cup. “When word came that Father Callahan had died mysteriously, he immediately placed a call to the head of the Agency, Mr. Jäger Eichelberger, who confirmed you were one of their Agents.”
Shock didn’t begin to describe what I was feeling. The Pope had had a vision and heard my name in it? The fact that Bishop Montoya was publicly admitting that the Pope was a Seer was shocking enough. To find out that the head of the most powerful Christian sect had Seen me in one of his visions was like getting tumbled head over heels by the backwash after you’ve been run over by a truck.
“I…” What could I say to this new bit of information? “Was there anything more to the vision? Any clues that might help me find the person who did this?”
Bishop Montoya closed his eyes and recited, “’Shining soul made of light. Holy and profane entwined as one. The blood of she shall tip the scales.’ Other than your name, that’s all the vision was.”
Not only was the Pope a Seer, but he was also a poet. And a crappy one at that.
“Many of the high-ranking Brethren feel that the Pope’s vision implicates you in Father Callahan’s death.”
Just fucking great. As if I didn’t have enough problems on my plate, if I couldn’t solve this case, I’d have a horde of pissed off priests bearing pitchforks and torches come to burn me at the stake. Or worse, the Brothers of the Sword would come knocking.
“So what do you think the Pope’s vision meant?” Considering my recent run-in with Death and his insistence that I be the one to solve the case because of some unspecified debt, I was pretty sure that I knew what it meant, I just wanted to know the opinion of the man who would most likely be my ally in all of this. If he believed I was involved in Father Callahan’s death, I was in deep shit.
He smiled at me indulgently.
“Upon reviewing your personnel file and speaking with your superior officer, Mr. Knoxx, I have come to the conclusion that you are not the type of person capable of committing such an act.”
Well, that made one of us at least. I knew what I was capable of, and murder wasn’t outside the realm of possibility. Despite the Bishop’s placating words, I was a demon after all.
“The Pope’s ability is not widely known outside the Vatican.” The Bishop’s calm voice cut through my thoughts. “The only reason I know about it is because of Father Callahan’s death.” His tone grew stern and very serious. “As I have been sworn to keep this secret, so I am asking you to swear. Please do not discuss the details of this case with anybody except for your boss and, if you have one, your partner. This information is too sensitive to be talked about blithely.”
Steely brown eyes caught and held my gaze. The full force of his calling slammed into me, leaving me momentarily stunned. It was a calculated move on his part. He knew my weakness and the look was meant to let me know he was the stronger of the two of us.
I thought about his request for a minute. I’m not “Chatty Cathy”, but I hate having restraints put on me, metaphorically or literally. Especially when I was flying blind and not sure where to head next. This information had the potential to buy me other, more important information later on down the road.
“All right,” I said after a very long and heavy silence. “I’ll swear to keep this information to myself.” My next words wiped the too-hasty smile from his face. “However, I reserve the right to break this oath if my life or the lives of others are in danger and I can use the information to buy our safety.”
It was amazing how many nasty creatures out there would refrain from hurting you if you gave them a juicy story or piece of wisdom. Just like the damned Paparazzi.
It was his turn to think long and hard. Seconds and then minutes ticked by, and he was still deep in thought. At long last his head inclined in a slight nod.
“I guess I’m going to have to be satisfied with that,” he sighed. “I can’t exactly blame you for adding that caveat. If my job were as dangerous as yours, I would probably keep my options open, as well.”
“Why all the secrecy? Why not simply tell people the Pope is a Seer?” It was a reasonable enough question. Or so I thought.
The Bishop had a different idea. The look he gave me would have scorched the pants off even Ryuu. It was the look a teacher would give to a particularly dense student after asking a stupidly easy question and getting the wrong answer.
“The Church has had to re-work many of its teachings these last sixteen years. Magic, something we had long relegated to the province of Satan, has shown up in some of our most devout parishioners. Even those among our own order have shown aptitude in the magical arts.”
His countenance relaxed a bit as he sipped some more of his tea.
“It’s not easy for an organization as large and powerful as the Catholic Church to admit to being wrong. Millions of lives and, more importantly, millions of souls have been entrusted into our care. Any hint of uncertainty sends the masses into a panic of insecurity.”
“That makes sense,” I murmured, “but it’s still not right.”
Lying to millions of people about the state of their souls, even by omission, was a grave sin in my book. Give the people the information and let them come to a conclusion on their own.
Not the best course of action if you wanted to stay in power, but it was the one to choose if you wanted to do the right thing.
“I understand that you do not condone such dishonesty, but it is necessary to prevent chaos.”
Sure, that’s what people in power always say to explain their misdeeds. “It’s for the greater good” is right up there behind “Think of the children” as one of the worst knee-jerk reaction causing phrases.
The irony of a Catholic priest trying to justify a lie to a demon was not lost on me. The Church wasn’t all sweetness and light and lollipops by any stretch of the imagination, their catalog of misdeeds stretched back to the very beginnings of the Church, but they were rarely inclined to admit to those misdeeds.
“Agent Powers, even though you may not understand why we do it, or even like that we do, we do not keep this from our congregations for malicious reasons.”
I couldn’t hide my snort of disbelief.
“Believe me or not, but it is a slow and tedious process to integrate this new way of thinking into our teachings. Five hundred years ago all we would have had to say was that God had decreed it to be so, but now…” Another shake of his head and his eyes went a little out of focus, as if he were watching something far away. “Now, people are too well educated to believe something like that. Faith is no longer about mindlessly following the clergy. Or blindly mouthing incomprehensible Latin phrases.” He laid his hand on the table and clenched it into a fist.
“That’s not a bad thing. It means that people can think for themselves.” I let my displeasure get the best of me and immediately felt bad. I was having a difficult time keeping myself in check, and the constant discomfort because of the Bishop wasn’t helping. “I apologize, that was rude of me.”
He gracefully accepted my apology with a regal nod of his head.
“Be that as it may, today’s faith needs to be backed by facts and science or people don’t take it seriously. We live in a world of people who think that if they can’t touch it, see it, or interact with it in some verifiable way then it doesn’t exist.”
I could certainly relate to that. When confronted with beings able to wield powers most thought were the sole province of Deity, it became harder for religions to prove the divinity of their gods.
And then there was the Cult of Neil incident where a pop icon was transformed into a demi-god by the sheer power of the love and adoration he received from his fans. Nobody had yet been able to duplicate the results, but it was the dream of religious shysters everywhere to one day become the god they claimed to be.
The Church was right to be concerned about losing membership over something like this; people had become jaded about magic and miracles.
“If we change our ideology without sufficient explanations and proof to back us up, it makes us appear weak and ineffective. Nobody and nothing except Our Lord is perfect, not even the Catholic Church, but we still need to do our best to live up to His example.”
Again he looked me in the eye with all seriousness.
“And going along in that vein of thought, I would ask that you impress upon your superiors the importance of refraining from letting the press get wind of the particulars of this case.” He gave me a meaningful look, and I nearly laughed into my chai latte. So he was worried that the Director would leak the story out of spite or maliciousness. I’d be concerned about that too. The Director may have been in charge of the New England Agency, but he was a self-serving bastard who would do a lot of things for the simple joy of watching others get hurt. “I would hate for some radical group to find out about this and cause all of us no end of trouble.”
“You’re talking about the Crusaders.” The Holy Order of Saint Michael was the anti-Fey version of the KKK. Made up of mostly religious fanatics of every stripe and some ex-military personnel, it was their actions that had sparked the Human/Fey conflict. They saw the falling of the Veil as a deliberate attempt by the Fey to take over the human world, and they were more than willing to die for their cause. Their cause had gone from simply sending the Fey back across the Veil to exterminating every Fey both on this side and in Faery.
If they found out that a Catholic priest had been murdered and had both his soul and body stolen by a Fey or magic-using human, it would be the start of another war. A war that humans were ill-equipped to win.
“I am. I know exactly what would happen if the Crusaders had something as substantial as this to rally behind. I have lived through too many calamitous wars to want to experience another one.”
At least we could agree on one thing.