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St patricks gargoyle, p.2
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       St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.2

           Katherine Kurtz
 
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  To his delight, little Annie had seen something.

  "Yah, there was an old banger came zipping past me and then off toward the station," she said. "Ran the traffic signals and nearly hit a milk truck."

  "What color was it?" he demanded.

  "Red, maybe? Yah, I think it was red."

  With a nod of thanks, Paddy headed off in the direction of Connolly Station, threading his way through the warren of elderly buildings that once had been a very fashionable part of old Dublin. The dawn was fast approaching, the shadows fading. He would have to go home soon, or go to ground.

  He ventured down yet another alley that ended in a cul-de-sac, and was turning to head back out, when something caught his eye through a chink in the bricks of an old, dingy building with a padlocked garage door. He did a double take and leaned closer to peer through the chink.

  It was a gargoyle he had never seen before, silvery and still in the dim light that filtered through a couple of grimy windows, crouched on the radiator cap of a shiny black car of antique vintage. It had beady little ruby-glowing eyes, and tiny webbed wings swept back from its scaly shoulders, and it was holding the top of a heraldic shield. The shield was enamelled in red and white.

  Vintage cars were hardly anything new to Paddy, of course. He had witnessed the evolution of the motor car from the very first horseless carriages, and still saw cars like this one at weddings and such, coming and going at St. Patrick's. But almost all the others he'd seen with a double-R radiator badge like this one bore hood ornaments of graceful females trailing diaphanous garments behind them like wings. Not once had he seen one with a gargoyle.

  The sound of footsteps on the pavement beyond the building sent Paddy zipping through the chink like a squeeze of liquid shadow, to peer warily back through the opening as a whitehaired old gentleman in a green waxed jacket and tweed cap came tap-tapping up to the padlocked garage doors, using a furled umbrella as a walking stick. Above rosy cheeks and white moustaches, blue eyes twinkled with spry good humor from behind old-fashioned wire-rimmed spectacles. He looked a lot like the Father Christmas in the window of the Brown Thomas store in Grafton Street, only without the beard. His breath plumed in the cold air as he hooked the umbrella over one gloved wrist and fumbled in his pocket for a ring of keys, then bent to unlock the doors.

  Quickly Paddy retreated to the sheltering shadows behind a leaning stack of dusty old shutters, as one of the doors screeched open far enough for the old man to enter. He made not a sound as the man turned on lights, deposited umbrella and cap on pegs above a tidy workbench, then lit a gas heater and filled an electric kettle from a tap above an old sink. After that, the man removed a small carton of milk from one of the waxed jacket's capacious pockets, stuffed gloves and keys into another, and set about making a cup of tea.

  While the man was puttering, his back to the old car, Paddy tried to get a better look at the little gargoyle. But the man soon returned his attention to the car, humming contentedly under his breath as he walked around it and sipped at his mug of steaming tea. When he set the tea aside and began wiping down the car's brightwork with a soft yellow flannel, starting with the little gargoyle, Paddy could contain his impatience no longer.

  "Where'd you get that gargoyle?" he demanded.

  Chapter 2

  The old man whirled at the sound of the unexpected voice, looking for its source. "Who's there?"

  "You heard me," Paddy retorted. "Where'd you get the gargoyle? I need to borrow it." "What?!"

  "I need the gargoyle."

  "Who is that?" said the man, reaching for a large spanner on the workbench behind him. "Damned kids!" he muttered under his breath. "You come out now, or I'll be calling the guards!"

  "Ah, now, don't be doin' anything rash," Paddy said calmly. "I can't come out. I'm a gargoyle." "You're a what?"

  "I'm a gargoyle."

  "Right. You come out right now, where I can see you!"

  "That wouldn't be a good idea."

  "I’m warning you-"

  "You don't want to see me."

  "Why not?"

  "You wouldn't believe what you saw. You'd be terrified. We're ferocious. Did you hear about the guy who saw one of us and his hair turned white, and he died three days later?"

  The man blinked, clearly brought up short by the question.

  "No," came the cautious reply.

  "Well, that was a long time ago, but that's what happened. Believe me, you really don't want to see me."

  "Who is that, really?" the old man ventured. "Séamus, if you're after winding me up again, it isn't funny."

  "It isn't Séamus, and I wouldn't wind you up about a thing like this. I need your help. I only want to borrow your gargoyle."

  "What for?"

  "I told you, I’m a gargoyle," Paddy said patiently. "We guard buildings - churches, mostly. It isn't easy, especially these days. Did you hear about what happened at St. Michan's a couple of nights ago?"

  "I seem to remember seeing something about it on RTÉ," the old man allowed, slowly lowering his spanner. "Didn't vandals break into the vaults underneath the church?"

  Paddy snorted. "Lager louts! They busted up some coffins, roughed up one of the mummies, set some fires- left the place a mess! Cider bottles and cigarette butts everywhere. You a Templar?"

  "A what?"

  "A Templar, a Templar," Paddy said impatiently. "The shield on the gargoyle - isn't that a Templar cross?"

  "No, Knights of Malta," the old man said, lifting his chin proudly. "I’m a Knight of Malta. And that's a gryphon, not a gargoyle," he added, pointing. "But my name is Templeton," he conceded.

  "Knights of Malta, Knights Templar, Knights of Saint John, Knights of Saint Lazarus - they were all crusaders, weren't they? Who can keep track? That mummy who got roughed up at St. Michan's was a crusader."

  "Was he, now?" Templeton sounded skeptical, but also faintly amused. "That'll be a pretty good trick, seeing as how the present church only dates from about the seventeenth century."

  "Hey, don't be so hard on the old guy," Paddy replied. "Maybe he went on a later crusade. Besides, tourists like the crusader story. Without them, the whole church might be crumbling around his ears - or what's left of his ears. Not that his rowdy visitors much cared...

  "But, that's not my department," he went on. "I've got my own problem. You say you're a knight. How'd you like to put your knighthood to the test right now? Your own private crusade: help me right a wrong."

  "What kind of a wrong?" Templeton asked, a wary edge to his voice.

  "Well, not a very big wrong, in the grand scheme of things," Paddy admitted, "but if you let bad guys get away with little things, soon they're trying really nasty stuff. There was a break-in where I work, over at St. Patrick's. Sure, that's a Protestant cathedral, and you're R.C., if you're a Knight of Malta, but I’m not particular where I get help. Thieves stole a couple of big silver alms basins - nice Georgian stuff. But what really has me steamed is that they roughed up a friend of mine. He says they got away in an old red banger. An informant tells me they headed in this direction."

  "An old red banger, you say?" Templeton echoed.

  "Yeah, you see many of those in this area?"

  "Well, it's a common enough color...."

  "I know that," Paddy said flatly, exasperation tingeing his voice. "Maybe you can help me find it, then. Make it your ecumenical gesture for the week. I'll put in a good word with the gargoyle over at the Pro-Cathedral. Heck, he can probably put a bug in the Papal Nuncio's ear, get the good cardinal to sing your praises to the Holy Father, next time he's in Rome."

  "Are you mocking the Church?" Templeton asked, drawing himself up stiffly.

  "Mocking the Church? Of course not! Where would I be without the Church? Out of a job - that's where! Mind you, it isn't like it was in the old days."

  "You've got that right," the old man agreed with a snort, warming to the subject. "Too many changes, if you ask me. I don't miss the Friday fish, or hats on the wo
men, or even the Latin - but when it comes to longhaired priests wearing hippie beads, and guitars instead of organs, and young people dancing barefoot in the church-

  "And your Protestants have got married priests!" he added, flapping his yellow duster in the direction of his visitor's hiding place. "And women priests! What do you think of that?"

  "Well, gargoyles don't eat, so I wouldn't know about the fish, but I kind of liked the Latin, and the hats," Paddy allowed. "I still see some nice hats at St. Patrick's, especially at weddings. Funerals aren't what they once were, though."

  "What about the women priests?" Templeton persisted, challenge in his voice. "I didn't see Our Lord ordain any women."

  "Strictly speaking," Paddy said mildly, "I didn't see Him ordain anybody, man or woman. Still, maybe women priests aren't a bad idea. After all, women know about setting tables, and serving a nice meal. They helped with that Last Supper, you know. And they're into vestments. I like vestments."

  "Well, they can sew the vestments, or iron 'em," Templeton muttered. "Just keep 'em off the altar."

  "But they're really good at making celebrations," Paddy pointed out. "Especially weddings. How many weddings've you been to?"

  "Oh, thirty or forty, I suppose."

  "Well, I've seen thousands. Believe me, if it were up to men, there wouldn't even be weddings. They'd be out gathering the nuts and berries, or whatever it is they do these days, while the women keep things ticking over at home.

  "But the women want celebrations. They want the big dress, and the flowers, and the music, and the bells and smells, and everybody dressed up in their Sunday-best, including the priest. So, all in all, women priests ought to have a better handle on stuff like that, right?"

  "Well..."

  "They should let the priests get married, too. How're they supposed to help married people sort out their problems if they don't know what they're talking about? They can't, that's how. Get the women into the act!"

  "I suppose you could have a point," Templeton allowed. "But the Church's teaching-"

  "Hey, I don't have time for theological debates; I get those from the Trinity gargoyles all the time. Can you take that little guy off the car?"

  "Well, yes, but-"

  "Would you please just do it, then? It's getting late."

  "Late for what?"

  "I need to get this wrapped up by midnight, and I can't go out in the daytime."

  "Why, are you a vampire or something?"

  "Of course not. I told you, I’m a gargoyle. I'd scare people."

  "So, why have you only got until midnight, and why-"

  Paddy's snort of exasperation caused the shutters sheltering him to rattle alarmingly.

  "Will you quit with the questions? You sound like those kids in the choir, always asking Why! I told you, I need to find the punks who broke into my church and mugged my friend - and the longer it takes, the less chance there is of getting back my silver."

  "But-"

  "You're impeding a gargoyle in the performance of his duties," Paddy said stiffly. "Now, would you please give it to me?"

  He thrust a taloned forearm into the light in unmistakable demand, its iridescent scales shimmering flame - dark within matte-black shadow, fire glinting from talons as long as a man's hand. The old man gasped and backed up hard against the side of the car, crossing himself.

  But when the talons only clicked together several times in obvious impatience - though that, in itself, was frightening enough-Templeton groped his way warily to the front of the Rolls Royce, eyes never leaving the arm, and carefully unscrewed the car's mascot. As he nervously polished its red and white shield with his yellow duster, a second taloned arm emerged beside the first, both upturned to receive the little gargoyle. Templeton flinched and started to hold it out, but then he snatched back his hand and bravely stood his ground.

  "I want to see you first," he said boldly.

  "No, you don't."

  "Yes, I do. You come out where I can see you, or I’m not handing it over."

  Paddy heaved a forbearing sigh. "What's your Christian name?" he demanded.

  Templeton gulped, then stammered, "F-Francis."

  "Francis," Paddy said. "Saint and confessor. Well, Francis, you're beginning to piss me off, and that isn't a good idea. Your middle name wouldn't be Thomas, by any chance?"

  "Thomas?" Templeton repeated blankly.

  "For Saint Thomas, 'doubting' Thomas. Francis, do you really, truly think I’m not a gargoyle, with these?'

  He flexed his talons again, more deliberately menacing. Templeton grimaced, flinching back a little, but he also lifted his chin even more defiantly.

  "Those could be - well, arms from a rubber monster suit!" he blurted.

  "You are the brave one, aren't you?" Paddy murmured. "I really don't want to scare you."

  "So, I'll be scared. I've been scared before."

  "I do wish you'd reconsider."

  "You heard me." Templeton hefted the little gargoyle. "These things are expensive. You might not give it back. I want to see who I’m giving it to."

  With a resigned flash of his ruby-glowing eyes, Paddy moved fully into the light. The old man gasped and half turned away, shielding his eyes with the hand holding the gargoyle mascot while he crossed himself again with the other, his rosy cheeks draining of their color.

  "See? You think I’m frightening," Paddy said.

  "Well, of course! I've never seen a gargoyle before."

  "And you still haven't. That takes a black mirror. We were avenging angels, in the Old Testament. Then the New Testament came along, and we got reassigned. These days, we mostly guard churches. But with congregations getting smaller, our job is getting harder. People don't pray enough anymore."

  The old man dared a glance back at his visitor, still cringing, but he was starting to recover a little of his color.

  'That's what they're always telling us at Mass. The Holy Father says we should pray more. I guess maybe you and I agree on that, at least."

  "Yeah, the old boy gets it right most of the time." Paddy flexed his talons toward the little gargoyle again. "Can I please have it now?"

  Templeton came just close enough to hand it over, jerking his hand back nervously as the talons closed lightly around the silvery form. But as he skittered back to a safer distance, closer to the car, he did a double take.

  Reflected briefly in the car's polished black door, just as his visitor ducked back into the sheltering shadow of the shutters, was not a darkly menacing shadowshape laced with fire, but the stern, majestic figure of an armored warrior, with a diadem of stars bound across its noble brow and dark pinions sweeping from powerful shoulders to trail rainbows behind. And what its strong hands were cradling against its armored breast was not a radiator mascot but a tiny winged cherub.

  "Oh," Paddy said apologetically, as Templeton gave a wondering little gasp, slack-jawed with awe. "I guess your car door's a black mirror. You weren't supposed to see that. That's the only way mortals can see us in our true form - unless, of course, they've really pissed us off. Then, you don't wanta know. Like I said, we used to be avenging angels.

  "Not anymore, though. We don't get to kick ass like we did in the old days. The Boss has mellowed a lot, since the days when He was an Old Testament God. I think it started when His Son joined the Firm. The Son was human for a while, you know, so He's inclined to be a little softer on sinners."

  Paddy had edged farther into the shadows as he spoke, so that the goggle-eyed Templeton could only see the little gargoyle in his talons. The old man's expression lay somewhere between mortal fear, awed fascination, and muttering affront at his visitor's apparently flip and casual remarks on a subject he clearly regarded with pious reverence.

  "Hey, lighten up, Francis," Paddy said, seeing Templeton's consternation. "There's a time for everything, and if you get all sanctimonious on me, we aren't going to accomplish very much. Remember that angels were among the first of God's creation, before you humans. We've k
nown Him a really long time."

  Templeton cleared his throat awkwardly, then gave a tentative nod.

  "You-uh-really are a gargoyle, aren't you?" he said, though the question was actually a statement of acceptance.

  "Yeah." Paddy turned the little gargoyle in his claws and lifted it a little. "You know, this is even better than I expected. It's likewhat it must be like to hold your own child for the first time. I never thought I'd be a father."

  "A father?" Templeton said blankly.

  "Well, sort of," Paddy said. "Just wait. And watch."

  Concentrating, he cupped his talons tenderly around the little gargoyle, willing into it enough of his own essence to serve his purpose. After a few seconds, he gently opened his claws. The little gargoyle was glowing a dull red, and slowly blinked one tiny ruby eye.

  "Better put your gloves back on before I give this back," Paddy said, at the old man's awestruck expression.

  "Why? Is it alive?"

  "No, it's hot. To make it alive, I'd need help from Upstairs. You know-'through Him, with Him, in Him.' Now, put on your gloves. We're wasting time. It'll burn your fingers until it cools down."

  "Right, sure, whatever you say," the old man murmured, though he did as he was told. "Uh, would it be presumptuous to ask if you have a name? Doesn't seem right to call you 'Hey, gargoyle.'"

  "Then call me Paddy. And don't drop Junior! Now, put him back on the car."

  Chapter 3

  A few minutes later, with the little gargoyle now reaffixed to the radiator, Templeton had the old Rolls Royce idling quietly before the garage doors. As he pushed them open, stepping outside to secure them so he could pull out, Paddy moved - faster than the blink of an eye - in through the open driver's door, up and over the front seats, and into the back, to hunker down on the floor and cover himself with a red tartan blanket that he pulled down from the shelf under the rear window, for it was now full daylight outside.

  As the old man came back in from the alley and saw no sign of his strange companion, he glanced around the garage uncertainly.

 
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