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St patricks gargoyle, p.9
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       St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.9

           Katherine Kurtz
 
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  He did a double take at the form his angelic colleague had taken today, kitted out in a fine three-piece suit, looking for all the world like a prosperous banker or solicitor. Those assigned as Death's Deputies never used their own names or forms, but Paddy knew this one from time immemorial.

  "What are you doing here?" Paddy blurted, though he had a sinking feeling that he already knew the answer.

  The other inclined a graceful countenance that resembled several matinee idols currently enjoying popularity in mortal circles.

  "I was sent for Templeton," Death said. "I would have taken him on the stairs, but then I realized that you were nearby. I prefer to be mannerly, when intruding on a colleague's territory."

  "Oh, please don't take him yet!" Paddy protested. "He's a nice old man."

  "'Old' being the operative word," Death replied. "'Nice' has nothing to do with it. Besides, you know the rules. He saw your true form."

  "That was an accident!"

  "Accident or no, he saw you."

  "He wouldn't tell."

  "Maybe not. But maybe he has already. Besides, he was already booked for Transition. His wife asked to have him Home for Christmas. He's known for quite a while that his time was growing short."

  "Well-Christmas is still nearly a week away. He was really helpful yesterday. Does he have to go right away?"

  "He certainly should," Death replied. "I have a busy schedule for the holidays. I hadn't planned on an extra trip.

  It's easier for all of us if I just take him when he goes back down the stairs."

  "But - he was supposed to have at least a bit more time," Paddy pleaded. "Please reconsider. It's my fault. It isn't fair that he should be penalized. If you don't want to make a second trip, let me handle it."

  "Are you sure you could manage it?" Death said doubtfully.

  "I've taken people before."

  "Yeah, Vikings and other bad guys. That doesn't take much finesse. I thought you liked this Templeton."

  "I do."

  "And you can be subtle?" Death asked. "I was going to be quick about it. You know he has a bad heart."

  "I can think of something," Paddy said. "I'd just like to not be responsible for cutting his time any more than it has to be. I know you have your orders - but we have flexibility as well."

  Death frowned, glancing impatiently at the stairwell beyond, and then back at Paddy.

  "How long was he with you yesterday?"

  "All day - six or seven hours, probably."

  "All right. You know that, in such cases, we usually take people within twenty-four hours, but the rules do allow us some leeway. I can give him a day for every hour he spent in your company. Will that make you happier?"

  Paddy managed a grim gargoyle smile.

  "It's the best I - or he - could hope for. I won't let you down."

  "Just be certain you don't let Him down," Death replied, glancing upward. "If everybody lived beyond their allotted span, the overcrowding on Earth would be even worse than it already is. I want him before the New Year, understand?" "I understand," Paddy agreed.

  Chapter 10

  While Paddy and Death's Deputy were discussing Templeton's fate, Templeton himself had found an opportunity to inquire obliquely about gargoyles.

  "I don't suppose there are any gargoyles on this cathedral, are there?" he asked, after one of the girl bell-ringers had given him and Marcus a quick tour of the ringing room, during a break between "touches," as the short sequences of ringing were called.

  "Not that I know of," she said, "though you'd think a Gothic cathedral would have them, wouldn't you? I wish there were. I'd draw them, if I found any."

  It emerged that the girl was studying architecture at

  University College Dublin, and liked sketching details of medieval and Georgian buildings.

  "There's a little one on the front of the Unitarian Church in Stephen's Green," she said. "I did quite a nice sketch of him. And there are some gargoyle heads on a church over in Sandymount - actually, on the chimney of the vestry. There's a dragon, too. But I think they're all technically what are called 'grotesques.' Strictly speaking, a gargoyle has to be a functional drain spout."

  Templeton nodded, thinking that Paddy had not looked at all like a drain spout of any variety, though he had certainly been functional enough when he roughed up the two thieves.

  "No, I don't suppose there are many of those," he allowed.

  "No, I can only think of two here in Dublin - and they're modern."

  "Modern gargoyles? Really?" Marcus said.

  "Yeah, they're on a block of flats not far from here- faces of the North and South Winds, with their cheeks puffed out to blow - a nice touch of humor. The man who did them is also a former Dublin City Architect."

  "I think I might have met him once," Templeton said. "Did he design the Garden of Remembrance?"

  "That's the man." She grinned. "Did you know he's got all the bits in Ms garden from the original entrance portico to the old Abbey Theatre?"

  "You mean, that was saved?" Marcus said, incredulous. "I loved the old Abbey! I know they needed a bigger theatre, but I was really sorry to see it knocked down."

  "Well, he has every piece, all numbered," she replied. "Most of the rubble went for landfill, as so often happens, but he persuaded them to number the portico stones and dump them in his garden instead. Rescued some playbills and posters from the lobby, too. His dream is to see the portico reconstructed as part of the museum complex that's going in at the old Collins Barracks. He'd like it to be part of a display on Ireland's theatre heritage - once everybody can agree on exactly where to put it. But thank God for people like him, or most of the city would soon be torn down and replaced with modern monstrosities-'carbuncles,' as the Prince of Wales once referred to them. Look what happened at Wood Quay."

  Templeton only rolled his eyes. Excavations at Wood Quay had revealed remains of the oldest and most extensive Viking settlement yet discovered in the Dublin area, but all of it was now buried under two hideously modern office blocks between Christ Church Cathedral and the Liffey. A local priest who had led the campaign to save Wood Quay had ended up bankrupt and in jail over the affair.

  He would have liked to continue the discussion - especially the talk about gargoyles - but the ringers were beginning to organize themselves for another touch, and their informant was being summoned to one of the bells.

  "Well, thank you for taking the time to show us around," he said. "I suppose we ought to go back downstairs, and let you folk ring in peace."

  "If you can call it that, when these bells get going," the girl said with a grin, taking up position. "You're welcome to stay if you like."

  "Thanks, but we'd better be going."

  "Look to," said the man on the treble bell, starting his pull. "Treble's going... she's gone!"

  Again the bells far above began to ring in rounds, their sound becoming muffled as Marcus ducked first into the stairwell and Templeton followed after, closing the door behind him. It was easier going down, though they had to tread carefully on the worn stone steps, keeping their balance with a hand on the center newel and outer wall. When they reached the bottom, Marcus stood aside and waited for Templeton to emerge, giving him a curious look.

  "Gargoyles?' he asked, raising an eyebrow.

  "It was just a thought," Templeton replied a little testily. "A Gothic cathedral should have gargoyles."

  "And here I thought you wanted to find out about bells," Marcus said. "But you weren't interested in bells at all, were you?"

  "I told you I wanted to go up in a bell tower," Templeton said, "and I did! Now, will you let it drop?"

  "Suit yourself," Marcus replied.

  They spoke of other things as they made their way out of the cathedral, but Templeton's garda godson was not altogether happy with the exchange, and wondered what was really going on.

  Paddy, meanwhile, had sped to the bell tower stair after bidding adieu to Death's Deputy. He thought it unlikely th
at more humans would be climbing up to the belfry during ringing practice, so he hid himself just beyond the curve of the spiral stair, where it continued on past the ringing room to the bell chamber, and waited for Templeton to leave. He wondered who the younger man was who had accompanied him - and wondered what on earth had brought him to the cathedral.

  It could not be mere chance - not after their adventure of the day before. By Templeton's own admission, he had never been in the cathedral before. While it was just possible that the old man had been drawn to the cathedral by Death - for climbing the bell tower stair would have been an apt way to trigger the heart attack that was likely to cause his demise-Paddy had to wonder whether, by some quirk of fate, Templeton had been seeking Paddy himself.

  He watched as the younger man and then Templeton started carefully down the worn stairs, following silently, ready to duck into one of the intervening doorways if he detected sounds of someone else coming down - though that was not likely during bell-ringing practice. He had checked from above, in the space between the ceiling of the ringing room and the floor of the belfry itself, and everyone still in the room was ringing a bell. Nor could anyone else come up the stair until Templeton and his companion had reached the bottom.

  But though he listened carefully, the pair said little as they descended - and he dared not follow them back into the cathedral, though he zipped back up to the first-level gallery and watched them heading toward the exit. They were talking then, and Templeton seemed somewhat agitated about whatever they were discussing, but even Paddy's keen gargoyle hearing could not pick out then-words. He streaked back up to the parapet that was his usual outdoor guard post in time to see them getting into a little red car, not the big Rolls Royce of the day before.

  He spent the rest of the day brooding, wondering what had provoked the visit - and regretting that, by his own moment of impetuous intervention, he now was bound to be the death of the old man.

  The cathedral's day wound down. There was no sung Evensong on Saturdays - the one day off for the boy choristers from the choir school across the street - but because it was close to Christmas, even said Evensong was well attended. Thoughtful tourists, wishing to experience the cathedral at work, mingled with folk ending their day of shopping with half an hour of serenity before plunging back into the mad dash of preparations for Christmas. Many of them, Paddy knew, actually took the time to think about what Christmas really meant.

  He watched and listened, as he usually did, from one of the narrow galleries running the length of the nave. It was too risky to watch from above the choir, because the choir stalls faced inward. Sundays were all right, because only the choristers and clergy were seated in the stalls, and they were always intent on their music or their readings, or else focused on what was happening at the altar; but during the week, other worshippers seated behind the choir often turned their gaze upward, especially visiting tourists, letting their eyes feast on the beauty of the cathedral while their ears partook of the beauty of the voices raised in praise of God. On Saturdays, with no choir to hold their attention, the eyes of secular worshippers were even more inclined to wander upward; and one of the first instructions

  to any gargoyle, on taking up his post, was not to let himself be seen without good reason.

  Accordingly, Paddy lurked in the gallery on the north side of the nave, glad to see young Philip Kelly at his verger's post, taking particular comfort from the collect that the priest offered just before the final blessing.

  "O God, from whom all holy desires, all good judgments, and all just works proceed: Give to Your servants that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey Your commandments, and that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness; through Christ Jesus Your Son our Lord."

  They were words conceived by humans to acknowledge what was essentially Inconceivable, at least within the limitations of human experience, but the prayer was one of the more heartfelt of those offered daily by beings ever stretching to understand and be in harmony with their place in God's plan for the universe. As a servant of that God in Whose honor this cathedral had been built, Paddy's understanding was at once more profound and more basic than that of the humans among whom he was charged to move, for angels were of a different magnitude of Creation than mortals.

  Nonetheless, he found in the human words a measure of the peace being besought, and felt the benison of grace enfolding all present - for God always heard the prayers of His own. As Evensong ended and the clergy filed out of the choir, worshippers following in ragged groups, some lingering in the stillness, Paddy watched the ladies of the Altar Guild going about their business, preparing the altar for Sunday services the next morning. While they were working, a pair of gardaí came into the cathedral and returned the silver alms basins, which young Philip Kelly put out of sight in the aumbry cupboard to the right of the high altar, ready for use in the morning. By the time the tower clock struck eight o'clock, everyone else had left, the lights were out, and Kelly was locking up the last of the doors, up in the south choir aisle.

  Heaving a heavy gargoyle sigh, Paddy descended to the cathedral floor, checked all the doors, then went up to his usual watching post behind the tower's parapet. Snow was falling again, muffling the city in a blanket of white, so he guessed that it probably would be a quiet night.

  But he found his thoughts returning to Templeton as his gaze roved the slated rooftops and chimneys, watching the city wind down for the night. He had promised Death's Deputy that he would bring Templeton Home before the new year. Aside from having to decide how best to do it- for he was determined not to cause the old man undue distress - he didn't even know where Templeton lived, though he knew he could find out.

  It couldn't be very far from the garage where Templeton kept the big black car, for he knew that the old man walked to get there. One of the Watchers in the area would probably know. And Paddy's secondment for duties outside his usual job description, as a deputy to Death's Deputy, meant that he was permitted to leave his post outside the normal times when gargoyles came together in conclave. He just had to make certain that he wasn't seen, especially in his true form. He didn't want anyone else being called Home prematurely, because they had seen what they oughtn't.

  He was contemplating the various things Templeton had told him, about the things and people he had loved in his life and the things he enjoyed, when he sensed a benign intruder coming up the stair. Curious, he whooshed down to the door that led back into the bell chamber, and was surprised to see the wizened form of one of the monkeys from the old Kildare Street Club ascending the spiral stair. The monkeys served as messengers for the gargoyles, and had unrestricted mobility whenever it was needed for the performance of their duties.

  "C.C. asks you meet him in crypt at Christ Church," the monkey said succinctly. "I watch here while you go."

  Paddy furrowed his gargoyle brow. The monkeys were very junior in the gargoyle hierarchy, but a summons from the Christ Church gargoyle must be taken seriously.

  "Do you know what he wants?" Paddy asked.

  "He not say," the monkey replied. Monkeys did not waste their words. "City sleep. I watch."

  Nodding agreement, Paddy went back up on the parapet, the monkey following, and scanned all around the cathedral. The city, indeed, was asleep, with few cars on the streets and virtually no pedestrians out in the snow. From their perch more than a hundred feet above the ground, Paddy could see the somewhat stubbier tower and steeple of Christ Church Cathedral a little over a quarter mile to the north, with the similar but smaller tower of St. Audoen's a little to the left. (All three churches had the stepped battlements peculiar to Irish architecture, and all three had notable peals of bells, though Paddy's were the finest.)

  "I'll be back as soon as I can," Paddy said, comfortable enough to leave the monkey in charge. Monkeys couldn't actually do much if there was trouble, but they could certainly raise the alarm.

  With
that, his essence already outside the stone shell from which he usually watched, Paddy threw himself over the parapet, plunging earthward in a rush of velvet shadow, wings spreading just in time to make a gentle landing.

  He had come down on the north side of the tower, so it was an easy matter to slip through the wroughtiron railings that divided churchyard from adjacent park and gain the shelter of St. Patrick's Well, where he landed lightly amid the rubble and trash at the bottom and squeezed through a drain, quickly gaining access to the ancient passageway connecting St. Patrick's to Christ Church. He needed no light to see, but the tips of his wings again struck sparks from the low ceiling as he raced along the passage.

  In due course, he emerged in the southernmost part of the vast crypt beneath Christ Church Cathedral, where C.C. was waiting with the gargoyle of St. Audoen's, known as Audie. These two together with Paddy constituted the three senior-most gargoyles of the Dublin Watch.

  "This looks serious," Paddy said, nodding to his two colleagues. "What's up?"

  "Maybe trouble," C.C. said sourly. "You remember the news we heard about the breakin at St. Michan's, night before last?"

  "Yes, of course."

  "Well, we've had a query from Headquarters. They want to know if any heads were stolen."

  "Heads?" Paddy said.

  "Yeah, heads."

  Paddy looked at the St. Audoen's gargoyle, but Audie just shrugged his heavy gargoyle shoulders.

  "Well - do we know?" Paddy asked, turning back to the Christ Church gargoyle.

  "No, we don't. But we'd jolly well better find out by tomorrow night, because Headquarters is sending someone Very Senior to hear all about it. An Extraordinary Conclave has been called. If we mess up, we could end up guarding - well, you don't wanta know."

 
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