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Chapter 2, Part 1



Crumpled Angel


      "It's called a beat. You can sing it, so you must be able to hear it. Let's stamp it out... again."
      "Again?" came a few resentful mutters from the back of the stage.
      "Again," Father Stephen Bann, S. J. said. He eyed the motley collection of teenagers with a lifted brow. "And again. Until I say you have it right." He grinned. "Didn't I tell you I was a mean bastard?"
      "We didn't think you meant it," one of the girls in the front said, though he had won a few chuckles.
      "All right. Enough. Let's get back to it. Take it away, guys," Stephen said, waving at the four-man band. As they struck up the score, the would-be dancers on the stage pounded out the beat with their feet and he grinned again. They'd get it... at some point nearer to the actual performance. They always did somehow. He let the song reach its natural end, then shouted, "Okay, let's do it right this time," before retreating to the beat-up folding chair that served him as director's chair.
      Brad Stadler made a good Judas, he mused as he watched the junior bound across the stage in a fit of righteous passion. Stephen had put on Jesus Christ Superstar once every two years since he'd gotten to Jesuit High School, and he hadn't yet seen the sputtering fervor Brad injected into his part... nor the cheerful enthusiasm with which the boy screamed the good parts. The results were well worth the resulting headaches, mostly incurred trying to rein the boy in.
      The cast gyrated in time to the guitar and Stephen supervised with only half his attention. It had been a difficult day; the trig midterm he'd administered to the juniors had most certainly failed some of them, and the freshmen and sophomores weren't going to do much better tomorrow. It was an unusually cool October and most of the boys were too interested in the games or the upcoming Homecoming Dance to have much concentration to spare for math. At least the band was coming along well... though it didn't take much for them to do better than the football team.
      Stephen chuckled to himself and checked the time. "Okay, kids. Go home. Remember, Monday at this time. Enjoy your Friday off tomorrow."
      A stream of people tumbled off-stage toward the classrooms that served as dressing rooms, the boys separating to follow the girls. Theater wasn't always an engaging subject for hormonal boys; whatever discerning Father had thought to invite the girls of the city convent's high school had been, Stephen thought, absolutely inspired.
      "Hey, Father! We weren't that bad, were we?"
      "Maybe not," Stephen said, turning to the boy. "But most of you have two left feet, all thumbs."
      Brad laughed and folded his arms before lifting his head to meet his teacher's. He had eyes as dark as his hair, but they had a defiant spark in them that amused Stephen. Somehow it was the ones that fought hardest that were the most endearing. "About tomorrow afternoon...."
      "Yes?"
      "Can we... well, I have to leave early."
      Stephen tossed a few sheets of music into his folder and said, "I'm not going to tell you what to do, Stadler. But you need the tutoring and you know it."
      "I know. Can we, well, you know. Reschedule the second half?"
      "I suppose." Stephen grinned. "Not like my weekends are full of wild partying. We'll work it out tomorrow before you leave."
      "Okay," the boy said, hoisting his backpack. "Thanks, Father."
      Stephen leaned against the table as Brad strolled to the exit. A tiny, irrepressible impulse seized him and before he could stop himself he called, "And Brad... bring me a picture of the girl responsible for your mental wandering, will you?"
      The boy stopped. Didn't turn. Then resolutely marched on. Stephen imagined his burning cheeks and grinned. He picked up his own folders and did a once-over on the auditorium, turning off the lights and locking the doors. He waved the janitor home then headed out across the darkened field. The Residence was in the opposite direction, near the chapel, but he was the latest addition to the priests that staffed Bridgeport's Jesuit school and they hadn't had room for him. They'd assigned him to the old Residence above one of the brick classrooms, built back when the school had been founded. It had few comforts, but the sense of history in every room made up for the lack of amenities. Stephen took his meals in the Residence with the other priests, but held out few hopes that he would have company in the old building. It was that kind of decade. In the meantime, the silence suited him.
      It was a good six minute walk across the fields and past the darkened glass eyes of the newer classrooms to the building he slept in. There was no moon, but the stars were bright enough. Stephen drew in a long pull of the cool air, his breath expelled in a thin plume. He glanced up at the sky, absently tracing lines to connect Pegasus.
      The dull thud sounded starkly in contrast to the silence of the October night. Startled, Stephen whirled toward the parking lot. He could barely see a light there; tucking his folders beneath his arm, he jogged down the ditch beside the building and around the corner, under the ancient, moss-draped oak and onto the black asphalt.
      "Dear God," he whispered, stunned to a halt.
      A figure lay on the ground. Beneath her body, a perpendicular painted line ran, garish yellow in the light of the street lamp. A silky gown tangled in her limbs, strewn as if she'd fallen there, and against the white of its folds long waves of red-gold hair splayed in a disarray so ornamental it seemed arranged.
      Stephen could spy no blood but she did not stir or even breathe. Shocked into action, he ran to her, dropping his folders. He skidded to his knees and touched her cold arms.
      "Miss...," he said and didn't recognize his voice. Clearing his throat, he gently shook her. "Miss, are you all right?"
      One eye opened beneath the veil of fine hair. He could barely see it, but it was enough. "Thank God... can you stand? What happened? I can get an ambula—"
      His words died in his mouth as a hill of white and gold rose above the woman's shoulder, feathers moving independently, as smoothly against each other as if machined. And the only thing he could think to whisper was, "My God, is that thing attached?"



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