A Peaceful Interlude
Opening Vignette for Night Musicby Derek Pearcy
The five celestials arrived at the concert early to get a good spot. They passed the time by lounging on beach towels or in folding chairs, exchanging gossip and letting the tension of the day slip away. It was a remarkably civil evening.
"So what's on the schedule tonight?" asked Lauren, the demon of Strippers.
"Mozart, I think," replied Tomas, the angel of Catchy Tunes, fanning himself with a notepad. The Texas spring had been especially brutal - it was going to be a hot summer.
"Oh man," she moped, tousling her hair while surveying the teeming crowd of humanity assembled in the park to enjoy the live orchestra. "That's not right. You can't dance to that."
The small group of people around her either furrowed their eyebrows and frowned or nodded in agreement. One of the latter, an older woman with beautifully cornrowed graying hair, piped up.
"Depends on how you're dancing," she said, not looking at anything in particular as the words rolled slowly out her mouth. "When dancing for fun, you can dance to anything. If you're whoring your dance for twenty bucks a grind, --"
"Oh look," said Tomas brightly, quickly changing the subject when he saw Lauren's eyes flash. "There's Druiel." He waved his notepad over his head, trying to draw the attention of a cute, somewhat sheepish-looking teenager stumbling around on the far side of the grassy hill. "Yo," he called out. "Drew!"
Druiel wore a black leather motorcycle jacket two sizes too large, made even more ludicrous by the muggy spring heat. A blonde girl in a white dress and black combat boots stomped up behind him, full of the energy and confidence of youth.
"Hey, everyone," said Druiel, the angel of Teenage Death. "This is Sara." Sara made a sarcastic curtsy, frowning and rolling her eyes at the strange assembly.
"So who are these people?" she asked Druiel, jerking a thumb at the weirdoes.
"They're some friends of mine," he said smoothly, blushing slightly.
"Oh," she said. "Cool, I guess."
"This is, um, Tomas, in the chair. Zara - nice hair, by the way." He gestured to a large, hulking figure, hiding in the shadow of a tree. "This is, um . . ."
The figure walked into the setting sunlight, a broadly built old man with a peaceful smile. Sara's hand disappeared in his enormous grip. He shook it gently.
"I'm the Old Guy," he smiled, twinkling his eyes. Druiel relaxed considerably.
"And also, this is Lauren. And Hugel."
"Nice to meetcha," said Hugel, a demonic Servitor of Drugs. "We're all friends around here, and a friend of Drew's is a friend of mine."
"Charmed," Sara said.
"I'm sure," said Lauren, narrowing her eyes.
"So what are you guys doing this weekend?" asked Tomas from his half-reclined position in the cheap folding chair, steering the conversation back to what he hoped would be safety.
"Oh man," said Sara, her young eyes lighting up. "We're gonna to go camping out at Enchanted Rock! Doesn't that just sound like so much fun or what?"
The assembled celestials grew quiet, their smiles faltering. The Old Guy drifted back into the shadows of the tree, and Zara busied herself folding a blade of grass.
"That's great," said Tomas after a brief pause. "I hope . . ." He let out a slight chuckle and shrugged.
"Exactly," said Sara, obliviously giving him a thumbs-up. "You know it."
"Sara," said Drew, letting the jacket fall from his back, catching it around one arm. "Hey, would you mind putting my coat back in your car? I thought it was going to be a cool night, but it's still pretty hot."
"Groovy cool. And I'll check in with my friends," she said, kissing him on the cheek before trotting off. Druiel's friends stared in different directions, at different things, but not at him.
"What?" he said.
"Just don't bring them around here," Tomas said quietly, "okay? I think I'm speaking for everyone when I say that I don't want to see their faces, much less know their names."
"Sorry," Druiel mumbled, shoving his hands in his pockets and shuffling his feet across the grass, still wet from the March rains.
"This death crap really creeps me out," said Zara, holding up one of her small fists.
"Amen, sister," said Lauren, touching fists with the angelic Servitor of Flowers.
"I do have some news," Druiel sighed.
"Lay it on us," said Hugel, closing his eyes and stretching out on a tie-dyed beach towel.
"There're some new . . . angels . . . coming to town." He let that sink in for a second. The celestials on the grass grew acutely aware of the Old Guy's presence behind them, but no one made a move.
"Let's toast our new comrades," said Hugel, keeping his eyes closed and raising his hand with what he hoped was a nonchalant air of dismissal.
"Would the Old Guy like to grab the cooler? I had to leave it in the van, it was too heavy for me."
"I'm your man," grinned the Old Guy with a simple trusting smile. He grabbed Hugel's keys off the grass and lumbered off through the crowd toward the cars beyond.
"So I guess what we're all wondering," said Hugel, still reclined, "is are these 'your' kind of angels who're passing through town, or are these 'my' kind of angels."
"Both, actually." The celestials shared a brief shudder.
"I don't even want to know who you've been talking to," said Zara, pulling in her legs and wrapping her arms around them as if she'd suddenly grown cold.
"It's your responsibility to handle the Old Guy," Lauren said, punctuating her remarks with a sharply poking finger. "If he finds out that there're demons in town . . . Hell, if he finds out there're already demons in town –"
"He took an oath!" interrupted Hugel, suddenly sitting upright, wide-eyed and manic. "He took a goddamn oath that he'd never suffer an 'evil' to live." He crossed his arms and grimaced, looking around to see if anyone heard his outburst among the bustle of humanity assembled on the grassy slope.
"I'm not lying to him," said Druiel, similarly crossing his arms.
"Yeah," snorted Hugel. "You think about that the next time you want to use my wares to knock off a prom queen."
"Hey, hey, hey," said Tomas. "These things happen from time to time, and we always get through it. Peace has been kept in Austin for more than a decade – and before that, almost three decades. I'll help out with the Old Guy. This can work. I know it can."
"Maybe," said Zara, raising her eyebrows, "it'd be more convincing if we threw the Old Guy a demon every once in a while. Not any of you, just some random Diabolical passing through town."
"No way," said Lauren, almost snarling. "No way. I'll kick all of y'all's asses before I see one of my own kind thrown to a Malakite just to protect our little mutual admiration society."
"You'd like to try," said Druiel, narrowing his eyes. "I don't think you've got the stomach for killing. I think –"
"Hey, ho," said the Old Guy, returning with the cooler. "Beer, here." A quick round of meaningful glances silenced everyone. The Old Guy played host, passing out beers, joking and smiling, patting the backs of the people he thought were his friends.
Mentally sharpening their knives for later, the mixed group of celestials took a few deep breaths, tried to relax, and settled back in the damp grass to enjoy – however briefly – the calming strains of a little night music.