88 Departures

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but can you driver faster?” The Uber driver nods and puts more pressure on the accelerator. He didn’t introduce himself, but the Uber app says his name is Jacob. Benjamin doesn’t do well in the back seats of cars. He keeps one eye on Jacob’s driving and one on his vibrating fitness watch. It’s alerting him there’s been a spike in his heart rate and blood pressure. It suggests that he walk, meditate, and move away from his stressors as soon as possible. As if! It’s obvious Fitbit’s uploaded specs don’t include a stress allowance for an Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador. He taps the button on his Fitbit several times to find the screen that silences the stress feature.

Benjamin’s cell phone rings as Jacob races his Audi S8 around the edge of a cliff at sixty-five miles an hour. Usually, he ignores unidentified callers, but since things are a bit out of control right now, he decides to pick up. “Hello.”

“Benjamin Hume, I’m calling for President Cohen.”

Since Benjamin has a few friends who like to pull phone pranks on him, be proceeds with caution. “This is he. What is the message from POTUS?”

“Let me introduce myself. My name is Dean Waters. I’m an old friend of the President’s. I’m also the owner of Clear Water which has provided me with several private jets, so I help him from time to time when someone needs to be moved in secrecy.”

“I know your brand. Word has it you own seventy-five percent of the world’s water supply.”

“That’s true. I’d be happy to have that conversation at another time. Right now, I want to do this favor for the President. I was told to tell you Ambassador Jagger is on her way to Israel per the President’s order. Enoch asked me to fly you back to New York City on my jet.”

“That seems like a good move for the Ambassador. Why am I not accompanying her to Israel?”

“The short answer is, you have a son waiting for you in New York.”

“And the longer one would be?”

“He wants you at the United Nations to assist the Vice President with the Thirteen Mandates when she arrives next week. He’s not sure Janet will be back in time.”

“Alright, where do I meet you?”

“I’ll be at Ciampino, in Hanger 27. Call me on this number when you arrive to security. I will meet you there.”

Benjamin opens his backseat window and leans his face out slightly to take in the fresh air. He quickly pulls it back in and coughs uncontrollably for about two minutes. “Wow, that’s some seriously polluted air.”

Uber Jacob feigns pride in the observation. “Yep, worst air in Europe.”

“Seriously, I’ve not heard about air quality issues in Europe.”

“Yeah, we stay out of the Press. We watch your nation and learn what not to do. When you have the worst air in the world as we do, there are no ways around the restrictions. Some of ours include banning motorcycles from weekday driving. They can only be out on weekends. The European Environment Agency restricted all other vehicles as well. We are on an odd/even plan. We can only drive on the days when the last digit of our tag plate matches the odd/even requirement. It’s not too bad. The country has a great public transportation system. But, it’s tough for people like me who drive for a living. No exceptions are given for taxis or rideshare vehicles. We can only work every other day.”

Benjamin sits back and sighs. “Ouch, that stings. Well, I’m sure the restrictions will clean up the air. And humans are very adaptable. Plus, new solutions are always coming down the pipeline.”

“You are a positive man. I like you. So, where are you off to today on a private jet—one of the main sources of our polluted air.”

Benjamin tries to ease out of the question. He doesn’t want to validate Jacob’s comment on the pollution put out by small jets, nor does he want to be given advice on the United Nations. It happens often, and it gets tiring. “Just the routine stuff: I have a ten-year-old son and I need to get back for work.”

“You are going to be in Rome and New York City in the same week? Your job sounds intense.”

“You have no idea. Jacob, it’s been nice talking to you, but my fitness watch is alerting me I need to relax. I’m going to close my eyes and try to clear some thoughts before we arrive. We’re going to Hanger 27 instead of 12.”

“Got it!” Jacob waits until he thinks Benjamin has drifted off to sleep to take his speed up to his usual eighty-five miles per hour. Benjamin senses the change in speed, but figures if he doesn’t look, he’ll be fine.

Just as he drifts off to sleep, his brain begins to flash an alert: “You are heading to New York, but your luggage has been rerouted to Jerusalem.”

The plane hits down hard onto the runway. The bump wakes Janet from some much-needed sleep. She doesn’t remember a thing about the flight, which means she fell asleep before the plane even lifted into the air. Three-and-a-half hours of uninterrupted sleep is rare these days. She feels refreshed. Raising her arms overhead, she stretches as best she can while strapped down by a seat belt.

Knowing she’s walking off the plane right into cameras and dignitaries, she takes a few minutes to get herself camera ready. She runs fingers through her wavy hair and tames it with some hairspray. She reaches for her makeup bag and quickly puts on foundation, cheek color, and light red lipstick. She puts the bag away. Through her window, she can see a bit of a welcoming party. She has about fifteen minutes for the plane to clear through security.

Janet has learned to use every minute in a productive way—which means slipping in makeup applications and surfing the web news. She taps her news app to see what is happening with her story. As it turns out, Janet isn’t at the top. The story in front of her brings tears to her eyes: “Pope Kellan Resigns!”

Such a shame, she thinks. The Catholic Church is just clearing the sex scandal crisis. This sudden change in leadership could pull them under.

Her pilot, Aiden, announces she’s free to exit the plane. “Just give them a few minutes to pull up the stairs. Is there anything else I can do for you, Ambassador? I’ll be staying here for your entire visit. The White House is picking up the tab. The co-pilot is getting off here, but I have someone else on standby for the next flight. I’ll be sightseeing and resting, but call me if you need to depart in a hurry. Here’s my card. I’ll come running.”

Janet smiles. “Sometimes, I forget how many great people are in my life. Thank you, Aiden! Enjoy your stay.” She pats him on the back and steps out of the plane. The one hundred or more guests greet her with enthusiastic applause. At the bottom step, Prime Minister Adam Marcus shakes her hand and pulls her in for a hug. Though it seems out of place, Janet could use a hug today, so she goes with it.

After Prime Minister Marcus greets her, he walks with her down the red carpet, lined with dignitaries and security. She returns smiles and shakes as many hands as possible. After the warning from the President, she was worried about the airport crowd. Much to her surprise, they’re the most welcoming people she can remember. She guesses the Prime Minister stacked the audience in her favor. Once they reach the end of the line of greeters, the Prime Minister leans close to her ear. “We will make a joint statement in the morning. Right now, you’ll ride in my car and tonight, you’ll be staying with me and my wife at our residence. My security team will get your suitcases.”

Once Janet is inside the Prime Minister’s limo, she asks him about the resignation of the Pope. “Yes, it is shocking. I really liked Kellan. No reason has been given for his departure. He’s young and his spotless health report was released just a month ago. It’s interesting for sure. On a more pressing topic for Israel, what do you think happened with the Ark of the Covenant?”

“The Ark of the Covenant? I haven’t heard anything. What’s going on?”

“It was mysteriously located yesterday in the tunnels and returned to the Holy of the Holies in the new Temple. The High Priest was in the Synagogue last night and found a group of seven people smuggling the Ark back in. They didn’t identify themselves, or reveal how they came to have possession of the Ark. After they set it in its cradle, they disappeared into the city. Just unbelievable! This is the most exciting thing that has happened to Israel since the nation was reborn in 1945. Our history tells us the army who has the Ark of the Covenant in their possession cannot be defeated. We have believed for decades the Muslims have been expanding their power against us because the Ark was buried under the Dome of the Rock. Our soldiers were forbidden to dig in that area.

“Yet overnight, this mysterious team got in, located the Ark, and moved it through the tunnels to a secret passageway that opens in the hallway outside the Synagogue. Can you imagine the escapade? The high priest, Judah Levin, was awakened by a dream and decided to check the Synagogue one last time before the Dedication Ceremony today. He walked into the building and discovered seven dirty tunnel navigators standing there holding the Ark of the Covenant!

“Janet, I know you feel badly about what happened at the Religion Roundtable, but our faith is strong here in Israel. We’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff. We believe everything happens as Almighty allows it. Even as an American Jew, you must see the God of Abraham is on the move!”

“Yes, I do.”

Prime Minister Marcus pats her hand and stares out of the car window with a smile of contentment on his face. Janet feels suddenly guilty for abandoning the teachings of her childhood, and for not having any type of spiritual bearing. It seems everyone around her is confident with what is about to happen. How can it be no one is worried? She can’t think of anything more frightening than to be in the middle of something big, and not know why you’re there and what your role may be. They don’t seem to see they’re watching the unveiling of a future that has already been written.

“Zeke is not back. She’s in a very hot place for all eternity for failing her mission. That won’t be a problem this time. You’re looking at Lucie’s A Team, her Lead Demons. I am Abaddon, Demon of War. I am the highest-ranking demon in Hades, and I am the one who will be leading the destruction of mankind in World War III.”

As Abaddon rambles on about her credentials, I communicate back to Tova through her telepathy power. I will get us out of this. I promise. Don’t be afraid.

She sends back, Don’t take any chances. You have to get the keys to Seneca.

I look around at the six beautiful female demons who are all at least six feet tall and wearing different colored bodysuits. They’re wearing boots with six-inch spiked heels with blades. Each one is carrying a nine-foot-long pitchfork armed with three arrowhead blades at the end of each tine. It’s hard to imagine how anyone can get close enough to them to go to hand-to-hand combat.

Abaddon is smug. She seems to enjoy toying with us. “Let me introduce you to the demons interrupting your mission. This is Lilith, Demon of Relationships. This is Jezebeth, Demon of Wealth. This is Amy, Demon of Disease. This is Azazel, Demon of Bugs and Parasites. This is Valentina, Demon of Water. There is one more, the Head Demon, Kali. She’s with Lucie in Jerusalem.”

I answer to give myself time to think of how we might escape. “We know who you are. We’ve seen your images. I believe Sterling referred to you as ‘nasty.”

Abaddon looks directly at Sterling. This confirms my fear they know us by name. They probably know everything about us—except maybe our superpowers.

“Why are you here?” I ask. “The party’s over. It’s a pity you missed it.”

“Yes, it is a pity we missed the recovery of the Ark of the Covenant. We were looking forward to destroying it. However, we did make it in time for the main event.”

“Which is?”

“Taking the keys from you.”

“I am not going to engage in trivial babble with you, Bad.”

“It’s Abaddon.”

“Like it matters.”

Abaddon positions her pitchfork right at my heart. “Hand me the keys, or we search for them on your dead bodies.”

“Well, that’s just wrong. You’re on Earth now. They have laws against tampering with a corpse. Besides, we can’t be killed. And anywhere we go, our spiritual bodies go as well. It’s one of the perks of being on Team Almighty.”

“Your time is up. Hand over the keys.”

I teleport to the backside of Abaddon and shove her forward. She falls on her face and drops her pitchfork. I pick it up and teleport in front of her and hold it to her throat. “That must have been embarrassing for you, huh? Your girlfriends look unimpressed by your fall on your face. Three of them are laughing at you. You know, ‘Bad,’ as a fellow leader, I’ve found it’s vital you surround yourself with people willing to die for you—not ones who laugh when you fall.”

Abaddon stands up and brushes the dirt off her bodysuit. “Prepare to die.”

“Been there, done that.”

Abaddon’s eyes turn bright yellow. My team is unarmed, and we don’t have tools this time. All we have is one pitchfork and I am holding it.

“Tony, heads up!” I toss the pitchfork to Tony and teleport behind Jezebeth. I pull back her arms and wrestle her to the ground to free Tova. “Tova, run!” Once I have her pinned and Tova is a safe distance away, the real fight begins. Jezebeth pulls one hand free and scratches me across the face. I push her hands back and she tries to bite my face with her fanged teeth. She is stronger than I imagined. I pull my knee up fast and hard and land a blow to her groin. As she pulls back in pain, I roll her over me and drop her over the edge of a rock ledge. I get up fast to help the others. I worry about the ones whose superpower don’t directly relate to hand-to-hand combat.

Much to my surprise, I see Sterling using his mind-reading to anticipate Amy’s moves. Ditto with Tova. She sends confusing messages into Lilith’s head, who’s looking around as if she is hearing voices. In the confusion, she takes Lilith to the ground with her martial arts. Kimmy is doing all kinds of crazy moves, teasing Amy with her fast-thinking strategy. Tony uses shapeshifting to blend into the rocks and dark background. Valentina is completely confused by his disappearances. Seiko is literally giggling as she kicks Azazel in the head as she levitates just out of her reach.

Abaddon has the tip of her spear pushed against Tony’s back. “Go ahead. You can stab me, but like you, I’ll return in minutes.” He makes a sudden turn and uses the pitchfork I tossed him to push Abaddon’s weapon away from him and pulls in close to her body. With a swift elbow to the abdomen, he throws Abaddon over his shoulder. She lands hard and finds the spearheads of Tony’s pitchfork against her neck.

In less than three minutes, we have brought the demons under our control. Jezebeth pulls herself up from her fall over the ledge. Abaddon tells the demons to stand down. “I see surrender here. We are going to be on our way now. Do not follow us.” I say this with my authoritative tone. As I turn around to lead us on our way, I find myself facing the end of a handgun carried by an Israeli police officer. He’s backed by four other officers. They are also armed, but haven’t pulled their guns yet—which means we have time to talk.

“Good evening, officers. We apologize for the disturbance. We got into a scuffle with these girls over a religious disagreement. As you can see, we have decided to end it and we are going our separate ways.”

“You were in a scuffle with girls? Where are these girls?”

I turn around. The demons are gone. “Actually, they were very strong women trained in martial arts. No one was really hurt. We just tamed them so we could be on our way.”

“You tamed them?”

“That came out wrong. I was trying to convey that we beat them.”

“You beat them?”

“Beat is another bad word choice. I’m just saying that we settled the dispute and want to leave the city now.”

“Just stop with the explanations. We’re not here about a scuffle. We are here because you fit the description of a group of people who were in the tunnels earlier tonight under the Dome of the Rock. A religious artifact was disturbed, taken to the Holy of Holies, opened, and relieved of two golden keys. The security cameras at the exit of the Temple gave us images that look an awful lot like you. I cannot search you here, but before we take you in, I am going to give you one chance to better your situation. Do you have the keys on you or know where they are?”

“I won’t answer the question.”

“Take them in.” His backup officers handcuff the seven of us, lead us down the embankment, and put us into the police van. As the door slams shut, I coach the team. “We can’t lie, and we can’t resist a search or an arrest. This situation falls under the ‘render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s’ ruling.”

“We’ve been falsely accused.”

“Not true, Liam—we’ve been properly accused. We did the things they say. In a court of law, no one will care about the intent of the theft, nor who sent us to steal. I don’t like adding stress on this arrest, but we’re running out of time. Seneca needs the keys before midnight. We only have two hours, and the van is moving away from where we need to take them.”

Fifteen minutes later, the police van comes to a stop. We are led through the holding cell entrance. “Bummer, we’re being treated as common criminals,” Tony laments.

“Put them in cellblock number three. We’re slammed right now with a new round of street protestors and the guarding of the U.S. Ambassador. We’ll book them in an hour or two.”

After the iron door slams into place, Sterling speaks up. “This isn’t legal in Jerusalem. They can’t hold us in a cell without charging us. This doesn’t feel right. We left Heaven to sit in a prison cell? I wonder if Ambassador Jagger can get us out of here.”

“I have an in with her if we need her services.” Tova surprises the group with her information.

Grayson is intrigued. “How do you know Janet Jagger?”

“She’s my mother.”

The entire group stares at Tova. I take great interest in this new information. “Seriously? I knew your mother worked with the U.S. government, but I didn’t know she’s Janet Jagger. You have a different last name.”

“I never met my father. My mother didn’t share any information about him. To keep me from looking for him, she gave me her mother’s last name on the birth certificate. Don’t think bad things about her. She was just a teenager when she had me. She was a great, larger-than-life mother. She’s very noble and she provided for me very well.”

“Yes, of course. We all know of her work with the Peace Corps. She’s amazing. She never told anyone about you either? I find that surprising.”

“Well, she didn’t have a high-profile job while I was growing up. The times we had together were in Israel, never in the States. She had two different worlds and she kept them separate. I’m sure she would have included me more once I turned eighteen. As you guys know, I committed suicide at seventeen. End of story on Earth. And she’s not a believer. She’s not even a practicing Jew. I may not be sharing eternity with her either.”

“I’m not sure about that, Tova. Almighty weaves together some interesting storylines. I don’t think it’s a coincidence you’re both in the same city right now. We will come back to this once we get out of prison. I don’t want to go the Ambassador-release route. It would just thrust us into the limelight. We are all recorded as being deceased. Can you imagine the calamity once our fingerprints are run?”

Sterling is back with his concerns. “We need a plan now, Grayson. These guards are going to search us soon and find the keys. Those little trinkets will be packed away in the evidence storage room right after they implicate us in a crime.”

While the team is going through scenarios of hiding the keys, a woman in a Red Cross uniform approaches the guard outside the holding cells. “Kind sir, I was visiting with our sick prisoners this evening and I overhead there’s a group that came in and can’t be booked for a few hours. I heard they were in a fight right before they were arrested. To protect the prison from a negligence lawsuit, I’d like to examine them to see if there are any injuries or medical needs.”

“I can’t let you in the cell, but you can check them through the bars. Do you need my help?”

“No, I’ll be fine. It won’t take long.”

“You can go on back.”

“Thank you.”

The woman walks to the bars of the holding cell and begins to whisper to us. “My name is Kali. I am here to help. St. Paul told me to do good when it is in my hands to do so—and I can help you. I know about your mission, and I know the keys you have must be taken to Seneca by midnight so he can return them to the Saints.”

“You know St. Paul and Seneca?” Sterling checks her story before trusting her with the keys.

“I spoke to Paul in spirit earlier this week. I know about Seneca from sources I cannot reveal. I have a basket of snacks and beverages here. Take what you need and slip the keys under the food. I will get them to Seneca in the desert by midnight.”

Kimmy walks to where I am standing. “Wait, Grayson. Isn’t Kali the name of the seventh demon? How can we be sure that this isn’t one of Lucie’s tricks?”

I look back at Kali. “She makes a good point.”

Kali pulls back the sleeve of her blouse and reveals the Phylactery she is wearing. “I did serve Lucie. I was one of her Lead Demons. I no longer serve her. Lucie’s crystalline body is carried within this Golden Apple. She currently possesses Anna Cohen in order to set up her kingdom on Earth. I cannot remove this apparatus. The liquid you see in the tiny tube is snake venom. Unbuckling the straps will break the seal and allow the venom to pass directly into my arterial vein. I’ll die within a few minutes. I accept my fate of spending eternity in Hades. I’m here because Paul spoke of redemption and the need for me to do good things with my remaining time. Please allow me to help. The keys must be back in Heaven by midnight or man will be sentenced to live under Lucie’s torturous ways for one thousand years. This is something that needs to be done. You must trust me.”

I look around at the group. They’re going to allow me to make the decision. I decide to trust her. I unbutton my shirt and yank on the strap of the satchel until it breaks. I wrap the strap around the pouch and place it under the food in the basket. As Kali reaches in to move the food around to cover the strap, I hold her hand and look her directly in the eyes. “Please don’t let us down. These keys are the last hope for the people on this planet.”

Kali squeezes my hand and makes a promise. “I understand, and I won’t let you down.”

Kali smiles slightly to the seven and turns to leave. The guard waves goodbye. She makes her way through the security checkpoints and is buzzed through the exit door.

“Stop!” A guard at the exit calls out to her. “What’s in the basket? I have to check all packages leaving the prison.”

Kali breathes deeply. “It’s medical supplies and a few food items—it’s the same stuff I bring on every visit.”

“I’ll have to take a look.” The guard sorts through the contents and pulls out the wrapped keys. “What is this?”

“It’s a just good luck trinket I carry. I may be a practitioner of medicine, but I still believe in the power of magic.” Kali leans close to the man and smiles. “You won’t tell on me, will you? My instructor would have my head if she knew I was carrying a good luck charm. I have one last warm pastry with your name on it.” Kali winks at the guard, and he is charmed. He takes the pastry and allows her to pass.


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Triple Digit TOC by K.M. Sheridan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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