Angel Fireby Andrew M. Greeley
Someone to watch over me? Sean Seamus Desmond, newly-announced Nobel Prize winner, relished the unknowns of science, but a real-life mystery of love and passion...in the form of a beautiful woman who says she's his guardian angel? Impossible. Yet there in his New York hotel room is an enchanting creature named Gabriella Light, who inexplicably and dramatically has just saved his life.
Voluptuous and exquisitely dressed, sexy Gabriella, angel or not, is determined to keep him alive as a terrifying web of intrigue closes around him. Pursued by a very real and present danger, Sean Desmond will question his own sanity and his deepest beliefs, as he experiences what cannot be rationalized away as anything other than a powerful, radiant, and transcendent love...one that will test him as a man too long afraid of the human and divine fires within himself.
“He spins wonderous romance. . .” New York Times Book Review on Angel Fire
- Grand Central Publishing
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Read an Excerpt
By Andrew M. Greeley
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1988 Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved.
"It might be useful," said the rich womanly voice, "to model me as your guardian angel."
"I gave up guardian angels after Sister Intemerata's class in grammar school," said Professor S. S. Desmond, standing on the elegant queen-size bed of his room in the Helmsley Palace Hotel so he could search for a hidden speaker behind the expensively framed print that hung over the headboard.
"There are no speakers," the disembodied voice said casually, "though there is a microphone hidden in the television. I wouldn't worry about it. They can't hear me. ... And it was shabby for you and your friends to eat garlic at lunchtime to torment Sister Intemerata's sensitive nose."
Sean Seamus Desmond gave up on the print and bounced to a sitting position on his bed. That was pretty clever. Not many people knew of the Great Garlic Caper. He thought about examining the TV and decided against it.
"You called your guardian angel Josephine, as I remember. Josie for short."
"Goddamnit, how did you know that?" he exploded.
I must have told someone. My sister?
There was a knock at the door. "Room service," said a muffled voice.
"Don't let them in," said the invisible woman urgently.
"Go to hell," Desmond told her, "I'm hungry," and to the door, "Come in, it's open."
The two men who pushed the door open did not have a room service cart with them. Nor did they look like waiters. Rather, they seemed to be longshoremen or perhaps merchant seamen. They wore dark pea coats, collars turned up, black trousers, and black ski masks pulled down over their faces.
And they had ridiculously tiny guns in their hands with absurdly long silencers.
I am going to be "hit," Sean Desmond told himself in stunned astonishment. He noted with abstract interest that his misspent life did not race before his eyes as they pointed the guns at him.
Twenty-two's, he thought, Mafia specials. My last thought —
A burst of flame flared at the muzzle of one of the guns, something like an angry insect buzzed by Desmond's left ear.
Missed the first one, he thought ruefully. I don't even rate skilled hit men.
Colored lights twinkled, briefly, in front of him, like a high-school-science animated film, the kind he had on occasion denounced as misleading.
The forehead of one of the longshoremen seemed to explode. A large red spot appeared on the chest of the other and then spread, as blood gushed out of his pea coat and cascaded down to the soft green carpet. Both men fell to the floor, as though their legs had been knocked out from under them.
"Wonder Woman trick," said the womanly voice ruefully.
As Sean Desmond watched incredulously, the two men decomposed before his eyes: flesh, muscles, blood, bones vanished in an almost instantaneous putrefaction process. Without the smell. Then their blood disappeared from the rug as if someone had cleaned it with an incredibly powerful solvent, one that did not damage the rug fibers.
He realized that he was going to be very sick. He rushed to the sumptuous bathroom and barely made it in time. His United Airlines first class lunch was quickly ejected, as was most of his breakfast. His empty stomach, not understanding that there was nothing left to give, continued to react violently.
The one luxury trip I'm likely to have in my whole life, he thought, reveling in self-pity, and I get mixed up with ghosts and gorillas.
He was conscious of a cool reassurance touching his forehead and a sympathetic embrace consoling him, as his mother had done when he was a very sick little boy.
"It'll be all right, Jackie Jim," the voice said tenderly. "Only next time, please do what I tell you."
He had not been Jackie Jim since he was five. Thirty-eight years ago. When he graduated from college and gave up his Catholicism, he'd decided to compensate by becoming even more Irish and had changed his name from John J. Desmond to Sean S. Desmond, almost to Sean S. O'Desmond. He decided against that because there was an upper limit to how much you could twit the biological fraternity and still expect to win a Nobel Prize. As it was, his incorrigible Irish wit had delayed the prize for several years.
The Royal Swedish Academy did not have much of a sense of humor. Well, his research on evolutionary "punctuation" finally forced the damn Swedes to give him the prize regardless.
And he'd get even with them in his acceptance speech.
At first he was too sick to challenge the womanly presence that had enveloped him. Then, as his stomach decided that it could go along — on an ad hoc basis — with her ministrations, he began to feel better.
He staggered out of the bathroom and collapsed into a chair. Across the street the massive gray transept of St. Patrick's testified that he was still in the real world.
"I need a drink," he said shakily.
"Give it a few minutes," she spoke again.
"Who the hell are you?" His hand rested on the phone to summon room service, but he was not quite ready to ignore her suggestions.
"'We exist in a cosmos of unfathomable enigmas and mysteries,'" she replied, a touch of amusement in her sensual voice, "'but it does seem likely that humankind is at a crossroads, at an ontological turning point. We may well have come to another "punctuation" in the human evolutionary process. There is no reason to think that such times of great leaps forward are limited to the drosophila, the notorious fruit flies on which I have done my research. It may be a matter of hundreds of thousands or even millions of years, a relatively short time in the evolutionary dynamics that began with the big bang....'"
"That's my acceptance speech," he said, beginning to feel a little frightened, "which no one else has read. ... How could you. ...?"
She chose to ignore his question. "A little pompous, but it will certainly stir them up. They'll think a long time before they give the prize to another Irishman. And, yes, you're the only one to have read it, but you talked to too many people about it. That's why your late friends wanted to kill you."
"Why would anyone want to kill me because I engage in outlandish speculations about the direction of evolution?"
"That," she said, "is what we want to know."
He was talking, quite casually now, with a woman who lacked a body but seemed to be able to save his life. An uncanny feeling crept through his body, as if he was in a haunted house.
He often told his students that he rather doubted there was a God but was quite sure there was a devil. Good spirits were problematic. Evil spirits were a given.
"And who are you?"
"We are the kind of being about whom you rather pugnaciously imagine in your Nobel acceptance speech: the products of a different evolutionary process, which happens to be in a more mature state of development."
"You're not!" he insisted flatly, slipping back into his mother's brogue.
"We are." She laughed lightly. "Your satirical dreams turn out to be true."
She really wasn't an angel, was she?
Angels didn't exist. Except in Sister Intemerata's classroom in fifth grade.
And in his acceptance speech. But in theory.
"It's only a theory," he pleaded irritably.
"A theory," she murmured, "that could get you killed.
"Trying to make up your mind whether I'm real, Professor Desmond?" she asked lightly. "Or merely the result of the second vodka martini you had before lunch?"
Her accent was mostly middle western urban like his own, but not perfect. Occasionally there were intonations mat were a little bit off key, as though she'd learned his accent quickly.
"I won't talk any further unless you let me see you," he said stubbornly.
Next to one of the thick green satin drapes a neat hole had been drilled into the wall. Exactly 22 millimeters, Sean supposed. That hole was real. Not the voice, but the hole.
One must cling to the evidence.
"Your own arguments say that the energy patterns of our organisms might be so simple and yet so complex as to be imperceptible to minds still limited by the primitive energy patterns of the early stages of the human evolutionary process."
Biologist with Leprechaun Eyes and Angels on the Mind
Sean S. Desmond
Chicago. The secret of the Nobel laureate in biology, according to one of his colleagues, can be found in his eyes. "Only a man with Sean's playfulness and wit could imagine such an original contribution as the prediction of major leaps in the evolution of drosophila. But don't let him fool you. Sean Desmond is considerably more than an Irish stand-up comic."
Man in the News
A slender man with pale green eyes that twinkle with a hint of comedy and the sandy hair and freckled face of a stage Irishman, Professor Sean Seamus Desmond seems to enjoy the controversy that has followed his career. With mock surprise, he shrugs. "They say I was lucky that my theoretical predictions were accurate. The poor old fruit flies in my colony just happened to grow smarter and live longer when I said they would. But I didn't make the prediction, my computer did. Lucky computer. Maybe we should send it to Stockholm."
Some of his colleagues are inclined to agree. Others say that it required not a computer but an extremely gifted biologist to apply the work on the genetic changes in maize done by Barbara McClintock to the evolution of fruit flies. They add that more than mere talent was needed to make predictions about when "punctuations" — sudden evolutionary leaps — in the fruit fly would occur.
"Computer?" says Dr. Joshua Hechter of Northwestern, a friend of Dr. Desmond. "It was only a tool to test Seano's theories. The real secret of his success is brilliance of insight matched by spectacular flair."
Dr. McClintock demonstrated that the genetic lines are constantly rearranging themselves in new patterns, which she called transpositions. These mutations do not seem to be the random variations described by an earlier laureate, French biologist Jacques Monod. Rather the changes appear purposive and perhaps under the direction of the organism itself. Dr. Desmond has argued for several years that if one attends carefully to the patterns of transpositions, one can predict both major and minor mutations in species as their evolutionary development continues and their environment changes. Fruit flies are ideal for testing such hypotheses because there is a new generation every ten days. A thousand human generations would require 25,000 years. The same number of drosophila generations would require only a quarter century.
Working with computer models, Dr. Desmond predicted "mediumsize" leaps every 1,000 generations, plus or minus 100, and "major leaps" every 15,000 generations, plus or minus 1,000.
"It's almost as though the organism is experimenting with different transpositions," Dr. Hechter observes, "and then when it finds a novel environment or ecological niche that fits its purpose, it jumps, just as humankind did from Homo habilis to Homo erectus. Only a genius like Seano could have devised a schedule to predict such leaps."
Dr. Desmond himself is at first reluctant to compare the "punctuation" he predicted and men observed in fruit flies to phases in the evolution of humans. Then his pale green leprechaun eyes glitter. "Well, it might be something like the change when our bunch replaced that Neanderthal fellow. My super-flies are stronger and smarter. They're harder to catch, better able to avoid traps and the normal predators, and so they live longer, only twenty percent longer, but that's enough for them to occupy the whole colony in a few generations. Put a business suit on the earlier fly and you'd hardly recognize him on the subway."
Such facetious comments about serious debates among biologists are part of the reason why some of his colleagues disapprove of Dr. Desmond. "Calling that mutated drosophila a superfly was a ploy to gain media attention," a distinguished colleague complained tartly, "and it proves that Sean really isn't serious."
A Chicago newspaper announced the decision of the Royal Swedish Academy with the headline, "Superfly Prof Wins Nobel."
Dr. Desmond dismisses such complaints with a wink. "What's the point in being Irish and a quarter leprechaun on your mother's side unless you can laugh at yourself?"
But he becomes serious when he is asked about his use of the word "intelligent" to describe the evolutionary dynamics he has observed. What else do you call it, he demands, when you observe direction and purpose, however mysterious the origins may be?
"Every organism is 'intelligent,'" he says briskly, "so long as you put the word in quotes and define it to mean 'processes external information and makes decisions, as between alternative courses of behavior, that serve to direct its own evolutionary mechanisms.' I'm not being a metaphysician. I don't know whether there is intelligence outside the organism. I don't know whether there is Intelligence — with a capital I — beyond the cosmos. I only know that the organism knows damn well what it is doing. Our task is to figure out how it does it. I'll leave the 'why' question to the Jesuits who teach my daughters."
Dr. Desmond was born on the South Side of Chicago — in the Irish ghetto as he calls it — in 1944. He attended parochial grammar schools and St. Ignatius High School, the same school that his daughters now attend. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame, he studied for his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in Urbana and was appointed an assistant professor at the Chicago campus of the university. In 1975 he became a professor at the University of Cook County. "They really had to bend a few rules," he says with a grin, "to let a South Side Irishman in, even if I had stopped going to church."
While at Illinois, he met and married his wife, Mona Kelly, also from the South Side of Chicago. Dr. Desmond and his wife are now separated. Their two children live with Dr. Desmond in an apartment overlooking Jackson Park. "I amuse them," he says. "At least I think I do."
Dr. Desmond swims every day and hikes in the Lake Michigan dunes in the summer. He also runs in the Chicago Marathon — "toward the very end." He reads mysteries and science fiction and enjoys Woody Allen films. "I kind of identify with him," he remarks. "Like him, I sometimes think that my only wish is that I was born someone else."
Will he speculate on the next phase of the fruit fly evolution?
"It will be a long time before they're ready to study us."
And for humans?
Serious for a moment, he replies, "I hope there is enough 'intelligence' in the human organism to make a small leap toward more cooperation between peoples and nations. Otherwise we won't be around for the next really big leap."
And what will that be?
"Maybe," he winks again, "toward something like angels."
— The New York Times
She was enjoying herself enormously.
"I still want to see you."
Lights flickered and blinked in front of him, like an enormous and graceful multicolored CRT screen. Intense, highly focused, and extremely elaborate energy patterns, mostly shades of red — all the way from crimson to pale pink — with a mixture of greens and blues and an occasional dash of maroon.
Patterns which, for all their attractiveness, were like nothing that Sean Desmond had ever seen before or ever imagined.
"Dazzling and lovely," he said, with an edge to his voice, "but I can't talk to a terminal screen."
The patterns changed colors, whirled feverishly, and then seemed to condense into the shape of a woman, sitting calmly on the green and gilt chair at the other side of the window. Her smile was as amused as her voice.
St. Paddy's was still across the street.
Sean Desmond reached out to touch her arm. It felt quite solid, and the beige cashmere sweater she was wearing was smooth and soft.
"You didn't think I would transmit electromagnetic waves, as you would call them, for your eyes without also transmitting for your sense of touch, did you? I can even produce parts of the spectrum you can't see or touch. How about some heat?"
Her arm became as hot as a blazing fireplace. He pulled his hand back quickly.
"I wasn't planning on being fresh," he said, his humor returning.
"But you like my appearance?" She smiled, with just a touch of what in his species would be considered vanity. "The appearance of my analog to be precise?"
Hell yes. She was just the kind of woman that Sean Desmond admired the most. Silver hair, smooth girlish face, full voluptuous classical figure, neatly encased in sweater and skirt, smooth skin, flawless facial bones, elegant and slender legs, soft brown eyes with long lashes, somewhere between thirty-five and forty-five: youth and maturity combined in a perfect blend.
Too perfect, like a manikin.
And, on closer examination, the skirt and sweater were not only simple. They were very expensive.
Why the hell not? If you're an angel, probably you can afford it.
Was she wearing a ring? Dumb question.
But he somehow couldn't quite focus his eyes on her ring finger.
"You'll do," he said.
"I'm glad." She relaxed on the chair, still greatly amused. "If I must travel with you to Stockholm and back to protect you, I would not want to be an eyesore."
"Travel with me?"
Excerpted from Angel Fire by Andrew M. Greeley. Copyright © 1988 Andrew M. Greeley Enterprises, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Priest, sociologist, author and journalist, Father Andrew M. Greeley built an international assemblage of devout fans over a career spanning five decades. His books include the Bishop Blackie Ryan novels, including The Archbishop in Andalusia, the Nuala Anne McGrail novels, including Irish Tweed, and The Cardinal Virtues. He was the author of over 50 best-selling novels and more than 100 works of non-fiction, and his writing has been translated into 12 languages.
Father Greeley was a Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona and a Research Associate with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. In addition to scholarly studies and popular fiction, for many years he penned a weekly column appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times and other newspapers. He was also a frequent contributor to The New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter, America and Commonweal, and was interviewed regularly on national radio and television. He authored hundreds of articles on sociological topics, ranging from school desegregation to elder sex to politics and the environment.
Throughout his priesthood, Father Greeley unflinchingly urged his beloved Church to become more responsive to evolving concerns of Catholics everywhere. His clear writing style, consistent themes and celebrity stature made him a leading spokesperson for generations of Catholics. He chronicled his service to the Church in two autobiographies, Confessions of a Parish Priest and Furthermore!
In 1986, Father Greeley established a $1 million Catholic Inner-City School Fund, providing scholarships and financial support to schools in the Chicago Archdiocese with a minority student body of more than 50 percent. In 1984, he contributed a $1 million endowment to establish a chair in Roman Catholic Studies at the University of Chicago. He also funded an annual lecture series, "The Church in Society," at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, Mundelein, Illinois, from which he received his S.T.L. in 1954.
Father Greeley received many honors and awards, including honorary degrees from the National University of Ireland at Galway, the University of Arizona and Bard College. A Chicago native, he earned his M.A. in 1961 and his Ph.D. in 1962 from the University of Chicago.
Father Greeley was a penetrating student of popular culture, deeply engaged with the world around him, and a lifelong Chicago sports fan, cheering for the Bulls, Bears and the Cubs. Born in 1928, he died in May 2013 at the age of 85.
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