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St patricks gargoyle, p.15
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       St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.15

           Katherine Kurtz
 
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  He tossed it across the bed while he stripped off his dressing gown and exchanged black dress trousers for a pair of heavy black sweat pants, his white shirt for a black polo-necked sweater. Then he stepped into the black boiler suit and zipped it up. For shoes, he laced on thick-soled boots lined with sheepskin, also fetching the black beret that went with the undress uniform, with a Malta-Ireland insignia pinned to one side.

  This he folded and stuffed into one pocket of the boiler suit. Into another went his neck decoration as a Knight of Malta. As an afterthought, he tucked a dog-eared favorite snapshot of Maeve into an inside pocket. Then, taking up his cane and his sword in its soft leather case, he gave the room a final look and went hurrying back down the stairs.

  At the garage, Paddy sensed him coming. Snow was falling, but the old man had bundled up warmly in overcoat and scarf and sheepskin hat, with heavy boots on his feet and leather driving gloves. He was using a cane from time to time and carrying something of similar size cased in leather: his sword, Paddy realized with a faint smile. The old man's footsteps crunched on the snow as he approached the garage doors, but Paddy had made certain that no one would remark at any sound in the deserted alley, briefly passing over the nearby residents as an angel of sleep, as once he had passed as an angel of death, during his avenging days.

  "Paddy, you in there?" the old man called softly, fumbling at the padlock on the door as he sorted through his keys - though, for answer, Paddy willed the lock to fall open in the old boy's hand.

  "Guess you are," Templeton murmured, unlooping the lock from the hasp and cautiously easing the door open far enough to slip inside. To his surprise, it did not squeak on its hinges as it usually did.

  "D'you do that, too?" he asked, casting a wary glance around the dim garage.

  For answer, Paddy brought the lights to life, bright enough so the old man could see. He was waiting in the shadows at the rear of the car, watching to see how Templeton was holding up.

  "I’m not sure how you plan to get out of here at this hour without anybody noticing," Templeton said, as he pulled off his furry hat and came over to the car. "I've got nosy neighbors here. Rolls Royce cars are quiet, but so is this neighborhood, and it is nearly three in the morning."

  "You'll be amazed at how quiet it is," Paddy replied. "Just get in the car and let me worry about that."

  "Whatever you say," Templeton said.

  He opened the front passenger door and tossed his hat onto the front seat, sliding his cased sword underneath and propping his cane in the passenger foot-well, then shut the door as quietly as he could and went around to the driver's side to slide behind the wheel.

  Even as he was closing the driver's door, Paddy streaked past him and into the back seat, taking up his watch-position underneath the red tartan blanket, as he had two days before. With the door already in motion, Templeton's little gasp coincided with the muffled thunk as the driver's door closed, but then his startlement was redirected to the sight of the garage doors slowly and silently opening outward.

  "Are you planning to do a lot of this sort of thing?" Templeton whispered, with a glance in his rearview mirror at the tartan lump behind him.

  "Fraid so," Paddy replied. "We'll operate outside time for part of what we have to do tonight, but we've still got a lot to do. Ready to drive?"

  "Ready as I'll ever be," Templeton said.

  "Good. But don't start the engine until we're clear of the alley. We're running silent tonight."

  As he said it, the big car began to roll slowly toward the parting garage doors. Templeton caught his breath again, but then he applied himself to carefully navigating the Rolls through the garage doorway and out into the alley. As Templeton glanced back at the doors in his side mirror, he could see them silently closing again.

  "How do you do that?" he murmured.

  "Trade secret," Paddy said breezily. "You can start the engine when we get to the end of the alley - and turn on the headlamps. We don't want to attract undue attention."

  "Oh, and this car isn't going to attract attention?" Templeton muttered.

  "It's a little far to walk," Paddy said. "Besides, on a night like this, there aren't too many people out."

  "You've got that right," Templeton agreed.

  Letting the big car roll to a halt at the end of the alley, he switched on the ignition, set the choke, and pressed the starter button. The engine rumbled to life with nary a cough or sputter, settling into a quiet purr.

  "Okay," Templeton said, switching on the big Marschal headlamps. "Where to?"

  "Dublin Castle."

  "You're joking. That's where you meet?"

  "Well, not in the castle. Under it. They'll be getting anxious. And then we'll need to make another stop before we head out to Clontarf."

  "The gargoyles meet under the castle," Templeton repeated, grinning with unexpected delight. "Boy, if the government only knew. Talk about breaches of security..."

  "Just drive," Paddy said with a smile. "We haven't got all night."

  Ghostlike, the big Rolls Royce glided through the silent streets of Dublin, threading its way down O'Connell Street, across the Liffey, and along the quays. Ahead and to their right, behind a veil of gently falling snow, they could see the domed lantern of the Four Courts, aglow in golden floodlights, with snow mounded along its front stairs, that faced the river. When they turned left up Parliament Street, City Hall loomed against the starry sky, obscuring the castle beyond.

  "Go right and head around the back," Paddy said, as they approached the junction. "You can cut through Castle Street."

  The old man said nothing as he maneuvered the turns, taking care where slush had turned to ice, passing the ceremonial entrance to the castle to skirt along its length before turning left again into Werburgh Street. The big car was nearly silent on the snow-muffled cobblestones, its tires only hissing softly on the wet. As they cruised slowly past the boarded-up bulk of the ancient church for which the street had been named, Templeton glanced at the tartan lump in his rearview mirror.

  "St. Werburgh's is pretty old," he said. "So is Christ Church Cathedral. I suppose they've both got gargoyles. I know you aren't supposed to tell," he added, "but what difference does it make, if I’m going to die, anyway?"

  "None, I suppose, since you're apt to meet them in a few minutes," Paddy replied, to Templeton's astonishment. "The one from Christ Church is our spokesman, when we need one - first among equals, you might say; goes by the name of C.C. Go left here at Ship Street, and continue on past the entrance to the castle. I can get you past the guards, but it's easier if we leave the car out here."

  "Will it be safe?" Templeton asked. "This doesn't look like the best neighborhood for parking a nice car."

  "No one will bother it," Paddy said confidently. "Trust me."

  "Oh, I do," Templeton said in an undertone. "It's the street gurriers I don't trust. But I suppose they're mostly tucked up in their beds, on a night like this."

  "You can depend on it," Paddy replied, knowing that other gargoyles had done as he had done in the vicinity of the garage, making sure that the neighborhood slept.

  Quietly the old car glided past the back entrance to the castle, which was open twenty-four hours a day because of the garda station just inside the castle precincts. Templeton parked beside a warehouse and switched off the ignition and headlamps.

  "We're really going into the castle?" he said.

  "Well, into the castle grounds," Paddy replied.

  "And no one is going to see us?"

  "They won't see me," Paddy said. "And they won't pay any attention to you"

  "That's a pretty good trick," Templeton said, easing the driver's door open.

  "Yeah, it's one of my better ones," Paddy agreed. He was out of the car in a streak of shadow, molding his gargoyle form along the curve of the big car's swooping front-fender, so he could cup his taloned claws around the little gargoyle perched atop the radiator cap.

  "You should at least let me take
that off," Templeton said worriedly, also getting out of the car. "Mascots are usually the first thing to be nicked."

  Between Paddy's claws, the little gargoyle was stretching stubby dragon wings, its ruby eyes aglow as it turned its head this way and that to survey its surroundings.

  "Don't worry," Paddy said as he stepped back. "Junior will guard the car. Now, just walk right in as if you owned the place, and don't stop. I'll take care of the rest."

  Clearly dubious, Templeton retrieved his cane and his fur hat from the passenger seat, jammed the latter on his head - and locked up the car before heading back toward the rear entrance to the castle. Paddy scuttled on ahead, keeping to the shadows, and had dealt with the guards by the time Templeton trudged the fifty snowy yards from car to arched entry way.

  The red-and-white striped barrier was raised, a white garda car parked just inside the entrance, but the guards inside the security shack barely looked up as Templeton approached, only nodding vaguely in his direction before returning to their newspapers. Following instructions, Templeton just kept walking, resisting the impulse to glance over his shoulder.

  Passing the towers of the castle's south range and then the garda station, he kept his head down and rounded the dark bulk of the Chapel Royal, which looked onto the upper castle yard. There, faced with the empty expanse of car park that served a long, modern office complex - annoyingly incongruous in the historical setting, Templeton had always thought - he paused in the chapel's shadow and glanced around.

  "Uh, Paddy?" he called softly.

  Instantly Paddy was right beside and behind him, a darker shadows-hape than that cast by the stone buttress.

  "Go across the yard to the Powder Tower," Paddy said. "There are steps going down. The door will be open by the time you get there."

  Even as Templeton nodded agreement, Paddy was streaking across the yard, between one blink and the next. As Templeton followed at a more sedate pace, he noticed that the gargoyle's passage had left no evidence on the virgin snow - though his own footprints and an occasional coin-sized pockmark from his cane stretched back behind him, shadowed and glittering in the yellowy illumination cast by the occasional security light. He shook his head as he wondered yet again how Paddy did that.

  There was no snow on the steps at the foot of the old Powder Tower, which were sheltered by the bulk of the tower itself, but the steps were wet and slippery. Templeton clung to the iron handrail and felt his way with his cane as he carefully descended. The door at the bottom was cracked open, just far enough for him to enter, and swung silently closed as soon as Templeton had slipped inside. Paddy was waiting beneath a green-glowing emergency exit sign that made him look even more eerie than he usually did.

  "You did that very well," he said. "Believe me, no one will remember seeing you."

  "Easy for you to say," Templeton muttered. "What next?"

  "Follow me," Paddy said.

  Turning, he led the way down a series of steel steps and metal-grilled ramps descending to the original level of the river, where parts of the medieval castle's outer wall had been uncovered during archaeological surveys. Templeton groped his way after, feeling for his footing with cane and booted toe, straining at the darkness, for the only dim illumination now was the occasional red-gleaming eye of a security light. He had been here once before, on a tour of the castle, but that had been years before, and there had been proper lighting. Noticing his difficulty, Paddy caused a soft bluish glow to radiate from all the iron - a feat which elicited a soft gasp of wonder on Templeton's part.

  "An easy party trick," Paddy said, making light of the act, for the old man did not need reminding that he was dealing with something beyond his ken - and humans were sometimes wont to mistake mere angelic intervention for the Hand of the Divine. "Can't have you tripping and breaking your neck."

  He oozed over a guardrail to the ground level several feet below and indicated a gap where Templeton could wriggle through to join him.

  "This used to be a water gate for the castle," he said, as Templeton eyed the gap uncertainly. "I usually come a different way, but it isn't exactly accessible to humans. Mind your step."

  Saying nothing, though a little apprehension was starting to show on his face, Templeton maneuvered himself through the indicated gap and eased down onto the stony floor of the excavation beyond, wondering how he was going to get back up. But Paddy was already heading off down a low passageway leading back under the castle wall.

  Following somewhat less confidently, for the walls were glowing now instead of the ironwork, Templeton concentrated on his footing and tried not to think too much. But when the passageway turned a corner, then narrowed and simply ended, after a dozen yards or so, he drew up in confusion. The gargoyle nearly rilled the end of the passageway, even hunkered down, and the old man could see nowhere to go.

  "What now?" he asked, looking bewildered.

  "Now you make your next demonstration of faith," Paddy replied. "As you've undoubtedly noticed, this doesn't seem to lead anywhere. Not very far on the other side of this wall, however, is another series of tunnels that very much lead somewhere. To get to them, however, I'll have to take you through solid rock. Fortunately, that isn't a problem."

  Templeton looked at the wall, mouth agape, then looked back at Paddy.

  "You're going to take me through solid rock," he said. The statement was also a dubious question. Paddy only nodded his great gargoyle head.

  Templeton drew a deep breath and let it out with a whoosh.

  "Right. Okay, what do I have to do?"

  "For a start, I'd suggest closing your eyes," Paddy replied, moving around behind Templeton. "Actually, I don't think you're going to mind this at all."

  As he said it, he enfolded the old man in his gargoyle embrace, at the same time moving forward. Templeton momentarily sagged against his chest, suspended in contentment - and heaved a little sigh as Paddy gently released him on the other side of the wall, both astonished and quite blase regarding what had just been done to him. He blinked a few times as he opened his eyes, reorienting himself to his new surroundings, but a part of him simply put aside the wonder, aware that this was but another taste of wonders yet to come.

  "You don't need light, do you?" he asked, glancing at Paddy.

  "No."

  "So, this is for me?" Templeton said, indicating the glowing walls.

  Paddy gestured toward the corridor before them.

  "People tend to put a great deal of faith into what they can see," he replied. "I have to warn you that you're apt to see a great deal that's hard to believe, but at least if you can see the things that seem - well, normal - that should make it easier to deal with some of the other stuff."

  "Thank you-I think," Templeton said. "So, where are we going now?"

  "To meet some of my colleagues," Paddy replied. "Just follow me."

  Chapter 17

  They went at a pace to accommodate Templeton's human form. Paddy kept his wings carefully furled, lest their tips strike sparks from the low ceiling, for the old man would be finding it disconcerting enough that the walls to either side of them were glowing with a soft blue light - and he was going to see enough incredible things in the next few hours without straining his credulity prematurely.

  Light they must have, nonetheless, to accommodate human vision, and there was none in these tunnels save what Paddy summoned up. Indeed, though gargoyles could function well enough without it, even they preferred at least some trace of light, for light was of God, Who had pronounced it Good.

  Ahead, as they rounded the final bend, the line of brighter light around the distant door confirmed to Paddy that the others had reassembled, and had sensed their approach. As they came nearer the door, however, Templeton hung back just a little, clearly apprehensive.

  "Paddy," he said softly.

  "Yeah?"

  "I really am going to die, aren't I?" he said. "I mean, I’m not supposed to see any of thisyou said so yourself."

  "You aren'
t going to die yet, I promise you," Paddy replied. "I've already interceded for you, and you've been given the time you'll need, so that you can help us out on this. Otherwise, you would have croaked when you were climbing those steps in my bell tower."

  "You knew I was there?" Templeton asked.

  "Of course. I know everything that happens in my cathedral - though I confess, I didn't sense you coming. I would have expected you to bring the big car."

  "I came with my godson," Templeton responded, almost without thinking. "You say I would have died then, but you interceded?"

  "Yep."

  "But - why did you do that? You didn't know about this, did you?"

  "No, not then. But I knew it wasn't right for you to die in any ordinary way, just because I'd gotten careless and you'd seen me."

  Templeton glanced warily at the door. "And now I’m going to see more of you," he said apprehensively.

  "Yep. But that doesn't affect the clock that's ticking. Within limits, I've been given permission for you to decide when's the right time. I think that... when you've done what needs to be done tonight... you'll be ready to go. It seems your wife would like to have you Home for Christmas."

  "Maeve..." Templeton whispered, his whole face suffused with a look of poignant yearning. "You've talked to Maeve?"

  "No, but she apparently put in a word Upstairs. She must be quite a woman."

  "She was," Templeton responded, almost automatically. And then: "No, she is! Dear Lord, she is! Paddy, do you realize what you've just told me? That there really is something afterward!"

  "Well, of course," Paddy replied. "You didn't ever really doubt it, did you?"

  "No-yes-how should / know?" Templeton shook his head, briefly closing his eyes. "Sometimes, maybe. But-"

  He shook his head again and looked back at Paddy, a faint smile stirring in his white moustache, new confidence in his gaze.

  "All right," he whispered. "We'd better do this, if we're going to do it. Will I be scared?"

 
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