What Gods Work In


joseph_icon.gif teo2_icon.gif

Scene Title What Gods Work In
Synopsis Two missions from God collide. Well at least one is. The other is more mysterious. Joseph follows instinct to find a beaten and bloody one-faced Janus.
Date May 31, 2009

Somewhere In Chelsea

By some remarkable coincidence, a late night airport shuttle had squeaked and hissed up in front of him, like magic, a few seconds before he realized it was the galvanized iron of a bus stop post that he had been using to steeple himself upright on his not-cane side while he tried to figure out where to run next. Ghost had stepped through haze onto the bus, smiled wanly at the driver when presumed drunk, counted his change.

Twenty minutes later, he stepped off of the bus and fell onto the scarred pavement of Chelsea's broken spine. Liquid finally emerging out of his lungs on a choking hack-hack cough, notchees on his lip, one leg dragging at an incorrect angle and fingers beginning to drip despite the half a shirt spent on bandaging, and dust in his hair. The black of his clothes smeared brackish, oily paste-consistency crimson across the pavement as he rolled heavily onto his side, cane click-click ringing faintly when dragged against the dense, cold rough of asphalt, like a half-crushed crab. Guts spilling, armor half-intact. Above him, the wall graffiti says, in neon orange and wildly calligraphed capital letters—


Facedown, eyelids rimed with dirt and teeth beginning to clot when he flexes them once, a final grimacing or grinning rictus at the scathing fury that continues to scavenge neuronfire from the fast-fading corners of his operable mind. Dwindled night-time traffic passes, anemic, the road too far away to give him his shadow. Obscurely, he remembers how he used to hate the cold.

That is how Ghost gets back to Manhattan. This is where he stops.

A car rolls into the scene, dusty blue and aging, and a streetlamp spills yellow light onto the glass and metal, angling when a tire hits the curb. Joseph isn't good at breaking the law, and curfew counts, and when a siren screams somewhere in the distance, there's the direction he's looking in as if it might help. Which is the wrong direction, and he's not sure yet which is the right one. There is some minor hesitation before he pushes the door shut with a gunshot click.

Okay, God. Now what?

To call this a mission from such a deity might be an overstatement, but predictable. Mission for a god is more accurate. Not to worship false idols, but he knows something of what the Romans used to worship, and he's not sure what it means when such things are meant to be crabwalking in pain along the streets of New York but here he is, following the paths backwards in a mildly coloured trenchcoat over informal, conservative clothing, buttons not quite up to the neck but fabric tucked where it should be.

Joseph stands on the quiet street with a hand placed on the roof of his car for some time, eyes going from the street sign he recognises, up towards cloudy nighttime weather, then across at graffiti—

Swift footsteps have him departing the security of his car. He has a habit of acting on good intentions without thinking, and so its towards the crawling, black-clad figure he spies all the way over there he goes, moving down the road at a pace more human and jagged in movement than the seamless transitions of his dreaming, but just as quickly. It's nighttime in New York City, and he was mugged a few days ago. Learning should be an attribute gained before you're thirty-six, but.

But. Joseph brought a flashlight and he knows how to use it. The beam swings on over towards the crumpled figure before his pace slows.

Conventional wisdom and tactical sense would have ejected the ghost an hour ago. Or, perhaps, a few minutes before he felt the cold and fungal decay of unconsciousness creeping sluggishly in from his hands. For some reason, he hadn't. Flight of masochism, possibly. Or pity, that the raging child who has his mouth wired shut yet remains caged up screaming in his skull might then otherwise die alone.

Both. Neither. Teo is tired, first, and unavailable to even flinch at the driving sweep of the flashlight, second.

There's blue coming in at his lips by the time Joseph's feet scratch to approach. He rests on his cheek like a dozing child. Long, callused fingers form a rust-colored knot around the black-lacquered shaft of cane, cuddled close— for safety, which works on a metaphorical level and straightforwardly otherwise. He is breathing, barely, but the ruddy Mediterranean hue has been purged out of his skin by the stippled scabbing of so much abrasion and stiffening blood loss.

Despite that, Joseph knows this face. Aquiline nose, dirty blond crop, younger when still even than he is smiling, if not as much so as when Teodoro Laudani windmills haplessly in the confines of an unexpected hug.

The light hits Teo's face, and twitches away again in the next moment. Whether from the shock of recognition or out of politeness. There's a plastic clatter as the flashlight falls somewhere nearish Teo's shoulder, and the rustle of fabric and creak of joints as Joseph descends down to kneel next to him. He doubts if he rolls the man over, new eyes will be blinking up at him, but the familiarity of the moment has Joseph putting a cautious hand on the man's shoulder anyway, featherlight and undemanding.


The name is drawn out of some well of knowledge. He'd met the man once, as he meets many men and women just once, and so it's almost chance that the name tumbles down, Tee-oh, in all it's American syllables and jittery worry. Joseph isn't a doctor, by the way. He just knows the face and the man attached to it, however tenuously. "God Almighty— are you— ?"

Blue and red mottles the singular face that is tilted up towards the sky as Joseph drags him to roll on his back, cane and all, hands gripping clothing rather than limbs. No hug forthcoming. A trickle of selfish elation is known that he got something from the episode of chaos visions, and it's drowned out by a flood of anxiety instead. "You alright?" he finally stammers out.

Dumb quesssstion, pastor. When he's turned over, a breath sloughs out of Teo's mouth with a wad of stringy spit and blood, more of an accidental coincidence of gravity and lung compression than intention or even automatic cerebellar programming. He blinks, sort of. His eyelids skin back once, unsteadily, reveal swollen pupils and pink rims and a saccadic twitch, click, swerve back of eyeballs in their sockets.

The Janus face was certainly a lot cleaner and prettier than the one that the ghost presents the priest now, but it's been observed before, and warrants observation again: even when half-dead and steeping in the sopping cold of his own fluids, Teodoro Laudani is a memorable good-looking corpus. "Nnnno," he says, a dragging rasp of something morbidly like laughter. As answers go, this one is succinct, and its syllables are distinct: it seems very much to the point, but he hadn't actually heard the question.

You're crippled and half-dead in an alleyway. Somebody blinds you with a light and flips you over for inspection. 'No' seems like the thing to say. So did tugging a Glock out from under his armpit and tucking the cold muzzle in underneath the jaw, in haphazard guesstimation against the wobbling origin of Joseph's voice. It's been far, far too long since he's heard Joseph's voice.

But then— then there's a cry spiking through his head like an elbow to the ear, unforseen, unimaginable, revelatory, thumping him over a sharp roll of nausea into belated recognition, and groaning a different word the instant afterward, however counterintuitive it might be to the weaving nose of the firearm. Gamely, he tries it on anyway.


The stupidity of the question is sinking in bit by bit, and Joseph wishes it wasn't. Such an answer to a question shouldn't be obvious, as a rule, unless the answer is 'yes'. The glistening of blood and dirt and bruises is a very definite 'no'. One face had already been dead, one had been bleeding but very much alive, and Joseph can't tell which one was nearer to the truth.

The gun is new, and suddenly Joseph is walking free of the vision. It had ended here and he can't quite remember what was supposed to come after, rendered mute when the barrel of the Glock threatens to tear a bullet through the softer underside of his jaw and out the back of his skull. And so Joseph's hand is moving before he can really comprehend it himself, a strong calloused grip snagging around Teo's hand and gun metal, both too cold, steering the aim away as the last wet sound letter of the singular word is ground out through bloodied teeth and ragged breathing.

"Yes— I will, don't move— "

His voice is fretful but at least his hands aren't shaking. Joseph will wonder, later, why he's fishing out his cellphone to call for help with one hand and making sure he doesn't get shot with the other, some strange paradox enacted without thought. "An ambulance'll be here any minute," is the reassurance he's unaware isn't a reassurance at all.

Joseph's thumb misses the 9 the first time, the glow of the cellphone far gentler than the piercing lance of the flashlight currently staring useless across the road, a signal for no one.

In the course of two, four seconds, Teodoro finds himself more or less deprived of his weapon. His expression buckles weakly into a look of disoriented consternation. His head falls back onto the pavement with a feathered thud of bristly hair and round skull; he watches stars rocket in and out of the ambiguous halogen glow of the phone in the good pastor's hand.

He was a grand and terrifying monster, once, in another life.

Karma wheel comes crushing down on the man bound to its spokes and impaled on its hub. "Please," he manages instead. His breathing grates over-loud in his ears, recognizable, a final pointless, adrenal push, the staticky din that comes before the paling of silence. On the upside, it drowns out the cracking gnaw of other miseries better left unmentioned. "No hosp'tal. 'R cops." And he isn't lying, not exactly, when he adds: "I w's framed."

It's possible, if improbable, and potentially pointless, that Ghost might even have planned to include an addendum, in the end, some form of clarification, but he has no time. He's pushed enough to make it hurt. The cold black composite of the 9 goes heavy in Joseph's hand, the fulcrum of its weight slackening out of Teo's grasp and into the priest's, magnanimously surrendered with the rest of his worldly person.

He sleeps in somebody else's dream.

The pastor's dark-eyed gaze shifts from his cellphone towards Teo's face, concern in the angles of eyebrows and them a strange sort of solmenness in the set of Joseph's jaw and the line his mouth has become. The light of the cellphone offers gentle ambience in contrast of the harsher angles of shadow, illuminating before the screen with the numbers 91 blinks out from idle-use, waking Joseph up around the same time the weight of the Glock settles in his hand.


He supposes if it was gonna be easy, it didn't have to be him. Maybe it didn't have to be him at all, it just is, and if it wasn't for the presence of his wife leading the way, Joseph would be half-tempted to think that the vision was meant for someone else.

No one's around, and it doesn't matter. Only now does a slight tremble enter his hands as he puts the pistol into the pocket of his coat, the heaviness weighing down fabric and refusing the pastor the option of forgetting about it. The call is cancelled and the cellphone disappeared as well. Joseph's line of belief is limited and doesn't extend past human nature and the Christian doctrine— or rather, some of it— but there is reverence in the way he lays his hands back down on Teo. There's nothing godlike in the man's unconscious slump and Joseph doesn't think so either.

But the symbol remains. He picks up and turns off the flashlight. "Okay," he tells Teo, who's stopped acknowledging the waking world. "Let's— let's get you— " He hasn't completed a sentence all evening. But eventually, Teo's frame, as tall as Joseph is, is hauled into a car.

Eventually, an epilogue sound of a car door slam is accompanied by another. Not quite as magical as the inexplicable bus, but God does work in mysterious ways.

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