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DEALING WITH THE DEVIL
THE THIRD BOOK OF GABRIEL
By Ernest Oglesby
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Ernest Oglesby
All rights reserved.
Gabriel looked out of his study window, onto the spacious lawn beneath, where Laura and Belle lounged on sun-beds, talking, and enjoying the hot Argentine sun. It had been mere weeks, yet the stump of Belle's hand was now fully healed over. The girl, if girl she could be called at her actual age, still didn't know what to make of it. Automatically, she still went to use it as though the hand was still there, where it had been for more than sixty years, and cursing when she realized it was not. A trick the nerve-endings played on the body.
Gabriel could still 'feel' his own wings, though in fact they had been severed from his body almost two thousand years ago. His shoulder-blades still twitched occasionally, the muscle-groupings still there and still eager to exercise, yet they would never know such exercise again.
He had given Belle's problem much thought over the last few weeks. A physiotherapist had been booked to help his daughter acclimatize herself to her lost limb, and an artificial prosthesis had been commissioned. Belle was ambidextrous, like her father, and so could still write, but reading was something she now had to do one-handed, as were most of the other things in life she had taken for granted, such as washing and dressing herself etc. Even fastening a pair of jeans one handed was awkward and a chore.
Going over to one of the paintings on the wall of his study, Gabriel pulled it on its hinges away from the wall, revealing the hidden safe behind it. Fingers twirled the combination lock this way and that, until the final click was heard, and then Gabriel pushed the tumbler inwards, releasing the final lock, before operating the handle, and drawing the heavy door open.
Inside this safe, Gabriel did not keep money or documents, but it did indeed contain treasure of a sort. He drew out the shiny segmented metal belt, scepter and amulet, which had gathered dust in there since the safe was first installed.
Gabriel had first obtained these articles over 1500 years ago, and had kept them in various secure establishments over the years, but had recently had them scientifically examined in one of the many research labs he secretly funded. The findings had been vague enough by themselves, but put together with what Gabriel knew of their origins, and a very different picture emerged.
The dull coppery-looking metal plates of the belt were some sort of solar panels, though the metal itself remained unidentified. X-rays revealed inner-circuitry. A simple switch on the side of the buckle caused the belt to vibrate. Gabriel had measured the frequency of the vibrations. Presumably whoever was wearing the belt at the time would also be made to vibrate at that same frequency, though he had yet to try the effect upon himself.
The amulet also had a switch, a small depression on its underside, hardly big enough for a fingertip, which when pressed caused a sudden burst of radiation lasting barely a millisecond. Gabriel could only guess at its function. The rest of the necklace seemed purely ornamental.
The small scepter-like wand was a complex little device, with numerous settings. Broken now, yet perhaps it could be repaired by 'someone' with the right knowledge. Certainly, human science couldn't repair it.
All these items had been stolen by Gabriel from their former owner, who had valued them quite highly, and it was Gabriel's firm hope that he valued them still. They were Gabriel's only hope of obtaining his aid in restoring Belle's hand. Gabriel had brought the severed hand back to Argentina with him, and it resided in a basement facility, maintained at a constant sub-zero temperature. It could be stored indefinitely if need be, but it was Gabriel's hope that it could be re-attached within weeks.
"I haven't seen those for a while," Manuel commented, as he brought a tray of coffee into Gabriel's study. Gabriel smiled wistfully.
"Stolen property, Manuel. I hear there is a reward for their return. I just hope the owner doesn't hold their theft against the thief," he mused, a wry grin momentarily appearing on his face.
Manuel put down the tray on the desk, and poured his master a cup of coffee. The little twinge in his back meant he was feeling his age, though still generally sprightly for a 54 year old. Gabriel added the cream himself. "You never did tell me all the details, Sir," Manuel prompted.
He regarded Gabriel, as he gave the suggestion thought. Gabriel never looked or felt his true age, and Manuel had just a tinge of jealousy. Over two thousand years old, his Master looked no older than a human in his late thirties. Olive skin, and black hair, gave him a Mediterranean appearance, which fitted in well here, in Argentina. Average height added to that appearance meant he could fit in just about anywhere, without standing out in the crowd, which was how he preferred it.
"Details escape me, Manuel. It was a long time ago. Perhaps I need to refresh my memory." He took a sip from the coffee, and ruminated for a few moments, savoring the strong caffeine.
"Regression?" Manuel asked. Hypnosis was one of Manuel's many skills, and had been employed to regress Gabriel on a few occasions, when his master wished to recall details of former events in his long-lived life. Gabriel nodded. "Do you want both Madame Laura and Belle to sit in on the session?" Gabriel frowned at the suggestion.
"I'm not very good at 'sharing', am I, Manuel?" he criticized himself. "That character-flaw was partly responsible for the two of them getting in too deep with Borgia. Perhaps this time it might be best if they learnt a thing or two about my past," he reached a decision.
"I still remember some of the things you told me. You're not seriously thinking of going back over there? I still don't understand how you did it the first time, or how you got back in one piece. If Malevar is still alive, he's not one of your biggest fans. He tried to kill you, remember?"
"I remember. But if he's the only one who can help Belle, I have to go to him. Whatever his price, I'll pay it."
* * *
Out on the lawn, the two women in Gabriel's life were sunbathing by the pool. Laura had her blonde hair down, after a swim, and it was still matted as it dried out in the hot sun. Belle's jet black hair was a gift from her father, naturally sleek and shiny. The water had matted the curled perm, though it was slowly drying out as she lay there.
Gabriel's daughter looked in her late twenties, and Laura only slightly older, though each was much older. Laura didn't like being reminded of her true age. There was still a hint of vanity there, though she was happy enough with her appearance, which showed no sign of the passing years. Belle was in fact born in the Second World War, and Laura had seen that war at first hand.
Belle was trying to read a magazine, and getting frustrated every time she wanted to turn over a page, which necessitated putting it down on her lap, physically turning the page over, and then picking it up again. It was the simple things she had taken for granted which were causing her fits of temper, cursing at her own stupidity, and cursing the thing called Angelica that had done this to her.
Beside her, Laura could only watch her daughter in silence, and she tried to do it discreetly. Belle didn't want sympathy from anyone. She just wanted to get on with her life. Gabriel had promised if there was a way to restore her hand, then he would do whatever was required to make it happen.
The vampire they had fought had nearly killed both of them. Only luck and the sudden intervention of Gabriel and Falcone had saved them. Laura put a hand to her freshly scarred throat. By now ordinary scars would have healed. These were fading, but slower by far than she had become used to, with her new regenerated blood accelerating her metabolism.
Gabriel had killed Borgia, but what about Angelica? What had happened to her? Belle was reminded of Angelica every time she tried to use the hand that was no longer there. She carried Jessica's ghost along with her, and now a physical reminder of the woman's hatred as well. Some day. Some day, she promised herself.
She remembered waking up in the clinic, horrified at the bandaged stump where her hand used to be. Until she actually saw it for herself, she had hoped against hope it was all a bad dream. Angelica had taken Jessica from her, and now a hand.
The reunion with her father, when it came, had been emotional to say the least. She saw the hurt look in Gabriel's eyes, and she tried to reassure him that none of this was his fault, but ended up sobbing in his arms as he held her against him, letting her emotions express themselves in tears as they ran freely down her face.
She used the stump to push back her sunglasses on the bridge of her nose. At least she could do some things with it. The artificial prosthesis, she was definitely not keen on, though it might help her balance and depth-perception.
"Will you stay here with us? Have you decided yet?" Laura asked her daughter. Belle looked across at her.
"You think this truce with Solomon will hold?" she asked.
"Maybe. Ratti has the respect of the rest of the Council. I trust him much more than any of the others. He's promised to leave us alone as long as Gabriel sends him a pint of blood each year, and he has already done this. It seemed a good enough compromise. Otherwise they leave us alone, and we leave them alone."
"If that is the case, there is no need to remain in hiding," Belle mused. "It's nice here, but whether I would make it my permanent home is too early to say. Maybe I'll go back to my modeling," she suggested, laughing briefly. "Do you know there is one model who has metal springs instead of feet? I wonder what they'll make of me with this?" she held up her stump.
"Don't ..." Laura urged. "It's not something to joke about."
"I'm trying to look on the bright side, 'Mother'. There, I called you it. Is that a positive sign?" she forced a strained smile. The anger was still there, simmering under the surface.
"Belle, your father and I love you so much. We want you here with us, but only if you want us as your parents. We have so much lost time to make up for. We've grown up apart, and are still strangers. We need time together. Don't give up on us too soon," she urged.
"This isn't your fault," she said, holding up the stump of her wrist, "and it's not his fault either. Don't go off on a guilt-trip on my account. If it's anyone's, it's my own stupid fault! I allowed myself to become complacent, allowed myself to get angry. Emotions are your worst enemy in a fight like that. I just couldn't stop that red-mist coming down. I beat myself," she admitted.
Laura put out a hand to rest on her daughter's shoulder. "If Borgia hadn't drugged you, you'd have beaten her. I know you would," she tried to reassure her.
"But he did drug me, damn it!" She shook her head in frustration. "Caught me with one of my own tricks, and I fell for it. All I wanted to do was kill that bitch, and I couldn't see he was setting me up for her." Belle was getting angry again. "One day, Laura," she promised. "One day I'll find her, and I'll take my time with her, just like she did with Jessica!" she vowed.
"We found you. Maybe we can find Angelica, too," Laura suggested. "But don't devote your life to revenge. It's in the past, now. Why not leave it there?"
"I was raised an Italian. Vendetta is in the blood, if not literally in my own case. I thought she was dead." Belle laughed ruefully. "Did a good job of keeping out of my way in all of my years with the Sword of Solomon organization. She's good," she admitted. "Finding her won't be easy. You found me because I remained in plain sight to draw Gabriel out. She'll have gone to ground now Borgia's dead," Belle cautioned.
"Perhaps Ratti can be persuaded to help? She was Borgia's protégé," Laura suggested.
"So was I, if you remember. I doubt that Ratti would want to help me," she glowered. No, revenge was a dish best served cold. She would wait and bide her time, she decided inwardly. The two women hated each other with a vengeance, and they both had a lot of time on their hands, sorry, 'hand'. She smiled wryly at her inner joke.
"Well, there are other ways to find people. I never did tell you how we found you, did I?" Laura mused. Belle turned to regard her mother. "Let's go for a drive. The mountain air might do you some good," she smiled, quizzically, and got up from the lounger.
She reached for her robe, and Belle did the same. Laura put her robe on, deliberately turning her back so she wouldn't have to see Belle's struggles to perform so mundane a task. She didn't offer help because she knew Belle would refuse, and be insulted at the offer itself. She had to get used to her disability, in her own time, and in her own sweet way.
The two women walked back across the lawn towards the house. The terrace window was still open, and they used it to go inside out of the hot Argentine sun. The slight breeze from the ceiling fan felt refreshing after the heat. It was always cooler indoors with the marble floors, which took a lot of time to warm up during the day, but gave the heat out again at night to maintain a nicely average temperature. Here in Buenos Aires, they never really had to worry about inclement weather in the moderate climate all year round.
They went up the ornate staircase to the upper floor where they each had bedrooms. Although Laura shared the master bedroom with Gabriel, she also had a separate bedroom, albeit with adjoining door, as she needed extra wardrobe space for her clothes. Gabriel was trying to organize a builder to come and fix things up, but builders were notorious the world over.
Laura changed into a light tee-shirt and shorts, and then waited patiently, listening to the mild curses through the next wall. She managed to refrain from asking her daughter 'do you want a hand?' which under the circumstances, would probably not be appreciated.
Five minutes later, Belle appeared in a white silk shirt and tan slacks. "Ready when you are," she announced, finally, and the two women went back downstairs, meeting Manuel, who informed them of Gabriel's wish to see them in the lounge.
* * *
The two women followed Manuel along the corridor, to where Gabriel was waiting for them. "Darling, can this wait? We were about to go for a spin up in the mountains," Laura announced.
Gabriel looked to Manuel, and then back at the two women, shrugging his shoulders. The change of scenery would do Belle good, he thought, for she had cloistered herself in the villa since arriving in Buenos Aires.
"It's waited nearly fifteen hundred years, so I don't see why not. We'll discuss it after dinner tonight, assuming you're going to be back by then," he smiled.
"I'm taking Belle to see Juliana," Laura announced.
"Oh," Gabriel was slightly nonplussed for a moment, but then smiled once more. "Well, give her my love when you see her, and watch out for that stick of hers," he warned. "The old bat uses it far too frequently," he joked.
Laura giggled, though Belle felt left out of the conversation. "Don't worry, she'll like you," Laura reassured her daughter. "It was Juliana who helped us find you. We'll be back for dinner, don't worry," and with that she linked arms with her daughter, and the two women went off, leaving Gabriel and Manuel to make the most of the afternoon by themselves.
Laura drove the 4x4 with the top down, enjoying the feel of the wind through her hair. The road through the foothills was narrowing as it approached the tree-studded slopes in the distance, but Laura maintained her speed. She liked to drive fast.
"You say she's a witch?" Belle asked her mother.
"Sure seemed like it to me at the time," said Laura. "Don't worry. Juliana took a liking to me, and I'm sure she'll do the same with you. Gabriel met her about forty years ago," she explained. "He and Lucifer rescued her from some nastiness with the previous military junta. Her husband was executed, I believe. Since then she prefers to live a life of seclusion up there in the mountains. Just an old shack by a stream, with no electricity or modern conveniences. That's how she likes it, I guess."
Excerpted from DEALING WITH THE DEVIL by Ernest Oglesby. Copyright © 2013 Ernest Oglesby. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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