‘Me Love You Long Time, Ten Dollar’ by Helen C. Murphy

The archangel Gabriel was mightily pissed off. That in itself was not an unusual state of affairs. Gabriel was frequently melancholy, sullen and prone to explosive fits of temper. Being the angel of death, amongst other, more socially acceptable things, had an infuriating propensity to play havoc with one’s social life. He liked to think of himself as multi-skilled, but mostly everyone just saw the black leathers, the pale ivory skin and raven wings and drew their own conclusions. People also tended to give him a wide berth when he played his silver trumpet. It could get very messy, like the time He asked him to put on jam sessions at Sodom and Gomorrah. He had really blown his audience away. It had taken him centuries to get the stains out of his robes.
Unsurprisingly, Gabriel had fewer friends amongst the heavenly Hosts than he would like. He had his imitators amongst the lesser hierarchies, which he treated with a disdain that bordered on pathological hatred – none of them had the balls to do his job.

Mostly they just fluttered about wailing about the unfairness of existence, dying their hair black and writing appalling poetry, which was all well and good, but did not help him meet his productivity targets. He grunted his thanks as Uziel, one of his trusted lieutenants, slid a full glass of bourbon into his hand.

Like his boss, Uziel was dressed in sleek black from silk YSL shirt to expensive metal-decorated boots. Reflective black eyes perpetually covered by impenetrable Oakley shades, he projected an aura of sinister cool that was second only to Gabriel’s. All angels were cool. They had their own patented images to jealously protect. Where the archangels led, other angelic beings followed. The divisions were almost tribal, gaggles of cherubim, ophanim or seraphim mimicking the style of their chosen role model. Of course, their primary allegiance was to Him, and if He decided He wanted His angels to return to the old uniform of white nightdress and halo, they would obey. But it would be silk Prada nightdresses.

Languidly, Gabriel allowed his gaze to wander around the crowded strip club, taking in the slightly tacky frothy pink décor and the pert-breasted waitresses dressed as French maids or Playboy bunnies. Gender was a subjective thing for an angel. Gabriel had once tried being Gabrielle, but found his tits got in the way when he played trumpet and were less than aerodynamic. To his horror, Uriel had tried to cop a feel, asking if he wanted to see something big and hot. Uriel took his role as Regent of the Sun a little too seriously. Gabriel now confined his gender bending to the first century of every millennium, finding that no matter how hard he tried, he still loved corsets. He had taken great delight in tipping off humankind about better uses for PVC than flooring and piping.

The baby pink door swung open to admit Raphael and his afghan-clad entourage, their forms obscured by fragrant clouds of smoke that smelled suspiciously like marijuana. Handing his rose-coloured velvet coat to the doorman, a granite-faced cherub with an artful five o’clock shadow and sweeping peregrine grey wings, he staggered to a table. Contrary to popular mortal opinion, cherubim were not fat winged babies, though many liked the youthful image and affected blond curls and plump-cheeked cuteness. The doorman was not one such cherub, his appearance owing more to the sphinx of ancient Assyria than nappy-filling human offspring.

Lounging back in his chair, Raphael pushed his pink-tinted Gucci glasses up his nose and waved at Gabriel cheerfully, a lopsided grin on his goatee-bearded face. Gabriel scowled fiercely enough to melt glass, biting back a scathing put-down. It was not wise to insult the angel of science and medicine, for although he tried most of his trippy concoctions on himself, he was known for slipping them into fellow angel’s drinks. The results could be interesting, to say the least. Propping his platform shoes on the table, the cuffs of his blue denim flares trailing, Raphael snapped his fingers for absinthe and girls. One of his cronies magicked up an acoustic guitar and began strumming, nodding to his companions to sing, filling the dingy club with ethereal soaring harmonies.

Fingering the smooth-sliding valves of his trumpet, running a loving palm over its gaping bell mouth, Gabriel suppressed the urge to raise the instrument to his lips and reduce the hippy-dippy, tree-hugging idiots to a smoking collection of bones. The best part of being the angel of death was he could always resurrect anything he had slaughtered and try a new method of execution. Unfortunately, He had decreed that His archangels were not to be killed. Ever. Damn it.

However, that did not preclude the dismemberment of lesser angelic beings. Brightening, Gabriel licked the sticky bourbon film from his lips and lifted his trumpet, only to have two silently roaring presences materialise at his shoulder. Muttering a curse, he returned it to his lap, exchanging exasperated glances with Uziel, who turned and insolently gave the newcomers the middle finger. Raguel and Sariel, respectively charged with watching over the good behaviour of angels and meting out punishment to miscreants, were unimpressed. Clicking his tongue against his teeth reprovingly, Sariel tapped his exquisitely engraved silver fountain pen against his leather-bound clipboard while Raguel ticked a box. Identical in severe, unflattering suits of clerical grey, steely clipped hair and slate-coloured wings, they epitomised the bureaucracy of heaven. And they always showed up to spoil Gabriel’s fun. He longed for the day when the irritatingly smug pair would be caught out and he could play them a private coda. Everybody had the odd skeleton or nephilim love child rattling in their closet, the most recent of whom answered to the name Elvis and lived somewhere called Graceland. After all, only God was perfect, although certain ex-members of the Host would disagree. Lingering until satisfied the angel of death would not let out a sly parp, they quirked an eyebrow in unison and vanished in an implosion of navy blue light. Looking around to make sure the bothersome pair had indeed gone, Gabriel swivelled in his cane-backed chair to surreptitiously point a long white finger at Raphael and his tuned-in, spaced-out sidekicks.

His trumpet was not a necessity in the game of piss-off-the-archangel. The guitar-playing seraph gave a loud indignant shriek as the wooden instrument spectacularly burst into flames, toppling over to lie kicking on his back as his friends swatted at his burning clothes. Unlike earthly fire, the blaze did not wane, the tangerine flames growing hotter until all that was left was a smeary ash-angel on the floor. The stench of burnt feathers was abominable.

Gabriel and his lieutenant chuckled throatily as the inebriated smile on Raphael’s face faded, wheels of chartreuse green lightning sparking in his blue eyes as he handed his glass of absinthe to a scantily clad seraph stripper. Hand jumping to the polished willow hilt of his sword, which due to his archangel status was larger than that of more junior divine beings, he locked gazes with Gabriel. Uziel looked expectantly from one luminous face to the other, glancing at his diamond-set platinum Rolex. He gave it precisely thirty seconds before his governor barbecued Raphael’s remaining entourage like chicken wings. Licks of blue green energy spiralled along the cold steel length of Raphael’s sword as he imbued it with his angelic power, a glowing nimbus of white light flaring around his chestnut brown hair. Gabriel merely looked exceptionally bored and yawned loudly, brushing a speck of something only he could see from the burnished flank of his trumpet. For all his cooler-than-thou posturing, Raphael would be at a distinct disadvantage if it came to a serious fight. Power of life and death over all His beings did whop the arse of any fancy-pants light show. Despite the fact he was technically not allowed to kill another archangel, Him Downstairs included, you never could tell with Gabriel.

Other angels often secretly speculated on just how close he was to an exclusive private room with padded walls in a quiet corner of purgatory. Several millennia of slaying firstborns and laying waste to cities appeared to have left him several virtues short of a second choir. Raphael decided he did not want to risk pushing the angel of death over the edge and backed down, sheathing his sword with a metallic sibilance and a beatific smile. Smirking triumphantly, Gabriel crooked a finger at a passing waitress for a refill, slapping the nastily grinning Uziel on the shoulder. He knew what was whispered about him, and he played on it. If he was feeling charitable, he might reanimate the unfortunate seraph at a later date.

Regarding the pathetic charcoal smudge on the floor with distaste, noting the apparent expression of deepest surprise singed into the  carpet at the approximate region of the head, Raphael frowned and belched softly.

Watching Gabriel drink a toast with his lieutenant, he stroked the pearlescent wooden hilt of his sword and plotted a suitable revenge. Vengeance was supposed to be divine, and Raphael certainly counted as such. If only Gabriel was caught doing something naughty, he would be sin-binned long enough for Raphael to enjoy an extended gloat and perhaps spike the drinks of a few of his lieutenants. They would be so high that the Almighty himself would have trouble bringing them down, not to mention the skull-shattering hangover. Where the angel of medicine was concerned, all the hyperbole about the undesirable after-effects of drugs could be taken quite literally. When Raphael threw a wild all-century party, it was not unusual to find globs of grey brain matter floating in the punch bowel. Rubbing his hands craftily, he called for a dancer. Disinterestedly watching a leggy blonde seraph with breasts like overripe melons peel off her sugar-pink bra, which was little more than two triangles of marabou-trimmed material held together with string, Gabriel leaned his chin in his hand and frowned. JC was supposed to meet him for a few beers and was late. Like any child, the Son of God was going through his rebellious stage and liked nothing better than carousing with the big, bad, black-clad angel of death. He had even taken to roaring about heaven on a silver Harley Davidson wearing a leather jacket emblazoned with the legend ‘Lived fastidiously, died young’. This amused Gabriel no end. All he had to do was persuade him to get a tattoo, and his work would be done. Michael thought Gabriel was a bad influence and often sniffily told him so while adjusting his gold cufflinks and drinking endless Martinis. What He thought remained a mystery. The archangels supposed He had things of cosmic importance to worry about that outweighed a tendency to drink too many Slow Comfortable Screws and make lewd comments about Mary Magdalene.

An obscenely high, toothpick-thin stiletto heel stamped down onto the tabletop, narrowly missing Gabriel’s left pinkie. Uziel looked up, eyebrows escalating, and he whistled appreciatively. Slowly removing his Oakleys, revealing impenetrable eyes of mirrored jet, Gabriel allowed his gaze to wander over the tall wedge sole and up the tightly  laced black patent leather boot to a fishnetted thigh. Waist cinched organ-crushingly tight by a buckled corset that matched her  micro skirt and opera-length gloves, all of which were gleaming black PVC, the stripper nudged aside his empty glass with her foot. A single eyebrow quirking at her audacity, Gabriel produced a crisp green bill, tucked it into the top of her thigh boots and asked what her name was. Tossing back her shiny black bob, dark almond eyes heavy, lips whore crimson, she huskily breathed that it was Salome. Gabriel grinned toothily and allowed himself a gruff chuckle as she began to gyrate to the music, pulling at the fingertips of her gloves with perfect teeth. They were all called Salome, Delilah, Jezebel or  Lilith. There were less Liliths around than one might imagine. Imitators who dared steal her name tended to pale before the sheer feral female magnificence of the original. That and the fact she had a habit of punishing impersonators by forcibly turning them male before castrating them with blunt spoons. Gabriel had dated Lilith for a few millennia until she unceremoniously dumped him, declaring she was bored and wanted more to do at weekends than jazz concerts and Earth fetish clubs. Currently, she was running an exclusive dungeon in purgatory, flagellating male angels for their venial sins and the odd minor demonic being who did it just for recreation. Secretly, Gabriel had been quite glad when she gave him his marching orders. Though he was loath to admit it, he simply could not keep up with her.

Iridescent magpie wings spread behind her, effortlessly defying the laws of gravity, Salome inched off her glove and threw it into Gabriel’s lap. Daring to run her tiny fingers over his jaw, she began to remove the second, oblivious to Uziel’s eager gaze. Enviously watching as his boss fingered the discarded glove, something approaching interest sparking in his black eyes, Uziel pulled a note from his Channel calfskin wallet and leaned forward to slip it down her cantilevered cleavage. Finding his wrist caught by a powerful white hand, the delicate bones grinding, he bit back a cry as Gabriel glared daggers at him. Meekly sitting down, he pulled out several sharp blades and winced at the damage to his jacket. Working for the angel of death meant hefty bills at the tailors and dry-cleaners, not to mention the life insurance premiums.

The second knee-tremblingly glossy PVC glove hit Uziel in the face, wrapping around his head. He snatched it off and cradled his prize in sweaty palms, transfixed by the lazy, come-hither sway of her hips. Head tipped to one side, looking just as predatory and dangerous as he was, Gabriel watched as she began to unbuckle her corset, cooing endearments. Such an eye-wateringly restrictive garment would almost certainly have fractured the ribs of a human, and listening to the tortured creak of metal boning, he was not convinced Salome was entirely comfortable.

Glancing across at Uziel, whose wet pink tongue had unfurled almost to his knees, he pulled out his cellphone and surreptitiously made a call. Snapping shut his phone, Gabriel gave a wire thin, chilling smile and slid it into the inside pocket of his silk-lined black leather trenchcoat. Casually, he asked who she worked for, as she was not like the usual line-up of blonde, milk-skinned seraphim with raspberry-glossed lips and tiny pastel bikinis. When she replied she was one of Lilith’s Girls, with a capital ‘L’ and ‘G’, the angel of death merely nodded sagely and sat back to enjoy the show. Seeing Uziel’s tongue was trailing on the floor, he rolled his eyes with an air of long-suffering patience as Salome burst free of her corset with a sound like two popped springs. Sliding her hands enticingly along the glistening length of her thigh boots, laughing at the gradually increasing puddle of drool at Uziel’s feet, she flicked a disdainfully dismissive glance at a waitress who dared flutter past to collect empty glasses.

Several seraph strippers stomped away in disgust as their marks began to pay less attention to their pink-pantied rears and more to the razor- cheeked Salome. Provocatively, she dropped her corset into Gabriel’s lap, much to his lieutenant’s disgruntlement. It settled with a faint squeaking creak of PVC over his trumpet, metal boning concertinaing the material. Plucking another note from his wallet, he proffered it between his index and middle fingers. Bending over backwards with the inhuman flexibility of a reticulated python, she closed her teeth on the bill, the small silver rings in her nipples glinting in the light from the slowly revolving mirror ball. By this time, Uziel looked about ready to explode like an angel-sized thermonuclear device, wisps of steam emerging from beneath his collar.

Deciding there were things he needed doing that very instant, Gabriel snapped his fingers imperiously beneath his nose. Much as he trusted his number one lieutenant to do his job, Uziel had an annoying disposition towards rampant lechery. When one wore all black, questionable stains were extremely hard to conceal or explain away. Excluding blood, of course. Jackdaw wings unfurling indignantly, Uziel almost took umbrage at the interruption, then remembered his place. The last seraph in Gabriel’s employment who had put a metal-heeled biker boot over the line was currently serving as a wine rack in his cellars, bottles of vintage Bollinger wedged into his exposed ribcage. Many an unsuspecting guest was shocked to find the wine rack breathing and uttering the occasional low moan of despair, eternally caught between life and death. Catching his boss’s glittering reptilian eyes, receiving silent orders, Uziel readjusted his Oakleys, snapped a brisk salute and disappeared in a muted implosion of vermilion light.

Wrinkling his nose at the lingering odour of sulphur, Gabriel made a mental note to talk to his underling. Being mean, moody and wearing hideously expensive designer clothing was one thing, but it did not go down well with the establishment if angels were caught imitating the Big Bad’s calling card. Besides which, no angel in his outfit should go around smelling like a catalytic converter. No matter how popular it became, Armani would never produce cologne that smelled awfully like bad eggs.

A sly, self-satisfied smile bowed Salome’s crimson-slicked lips and she descended from the table with a minimal flick of her wings. She landed faultlessly, an Oriental fetish Barbie with all the right accessories. Slithering into Gabriel’s lap, daring to move aside his trumpet, she slipped her arms around his neck and whispered something smutty into his ear.

The proposal was quite indecent and required parting with a considerable amount of cash.

Idly sliding a hand up her thigh, the angel of death began to smile. It was not a pleasant sight. It was the kind of smile that made mothers with nubile teenage daughters nervous and pretty, smooth-cheeked boys even more so.

Casually, he retrieved his wallet and checked how much money he had, making sure the crisp wads of ten, twenty and one hundred-dollar bills printed with His face were clearly visible. The exchange rate was good at the moment, although there was talk of introducing a single currency that could be used in heaven as well as purgatory. This had caused a furore in the angelic and demonic business communities alike, prompting dark mutterings about devaluation and the destruction of economic autonomy. The uproar, backbiting and general ill feeling had kept Raguel and Sariel buzzing about like two anally retentive grey bees for centuries.

Apparently satisfied with the ludicrous amount of cash in his wallet, Gabriel nodded, allowing her to take his hand and lead him away. Across the floor, Raphael watched as Salome shimmied her way to a cotton candy pink door marked ‘private’, and all but hauled the angel of death through. The door slammed shut, leaving a single floating raven feather and a discarded PVC microskirt. There was a loud crash followed by tinkling glass as a waitress tripped over it, ending up sprawled with legs at ten and two on the floor. Cackling wildly, so much so he dislodged his Gucci shades from their already precarious position on the bridge of his nose, he rubbed his hands with glee.

Soliciting a whore was definitely a sin. His scheme was working with heavenly perfection, which was to be expected. After all, he was one of His archangels – the closest living beings to God. Well, apart from Jesus. Pupils dilated to black hole proportions, he joked how it was about bloody time Gabriel got to duet after centuries of playing solo.

His entourage sniggered obediently, having reached the stage of intoxication that allowed them to laugh at anything and everything. A prerequisite of joining Raphael’s clique was the ability to drop tabs of industrial-strength acid and any other psychotropic substance like Smarties. Several were spreading out the powdery ash remains of the incinerated angel and doodling in it with their fingers, cooing over the pretty patterns. A mop-topped seraph in a collarless suit began to wheeze with helpless giggles as he realised he had got some of his erstwhile drinking buddy on his carefully shined Chelsea boots. The angel of science and medicine rolled his eyes, realising he would have to foot the bill for the carpet cleaning. Retrieving his solid silver Viner’s absinthe spoon from the centre of the table, he lovingly filled it with sugar and poured on a little of the fey green, noxious-looking liquor. Snapping his fingers, he produced a clear blue flame from the tip of his thumb and proceeded to light the absinthe-soaked sugar. Watching greedily as it dripped through the spoon’s perforated bowl into his half full glass, he expertly added water, snuffing the flames. Cheerfully quoting Mary Poppins to his cronies as he lifted the glass for a swallow, he blew out his lit thumb. Everyone laughed, including the strippers, who were very pleased the client-snatching Salome was off the scene.

Beaming like a stoned Cheshire cat, Raphael fluttered his psychedelic wings and leisurely contemplated dropping a line to Raguel and Sariel’s secretary. Just as dour and uninteresting as her bosses, her efficiency was legendary, as was her suspect enthusiasm for her job. Prim in grey pinstripe and Jackie O horn-rims, a boot-faced, Bond-less Miss Moneypenny with wings, it was rumoured she had suggested beginning criminal proceedings against Lilith for lowering the tone in purgatory. Raphael, the mighty archangel who sat at the right hand of God, shuddered slightly. Nobody screwed with Her and lived. Except perhaps Gabriel and Him Downstairs. She evidently had a soft spot for the angel of death, meaning she did not kill and dismember him on sight like she had other ex-squeezes. As for Lucifer, they had had an on-off fling for millennia.

Careful not to think the name too loud in case he accidentally invoked the Ultimate Evil, Raphael pouted jealously. The Son of Morning, the fairest of the Host, always managed to get the girl, even after his unfortunate tumble from grace and subsequent make-over involving horns, cloven hooves and a forked tail. Sending a folded green hundred-dollar bill in the general direction of the nearest bee-stung-lipped stripper with a flick of his index finger, he began compiling a mental list of misdemeanors. Solicitation, bringing a respectable business into disrepute, threatening behaviour, oh, and a criminal dress sense. The untimely and downright impolite cremation of his seraph guitar player was somewhere below Gabriel’s taste in fashion on Raphael’s list. The angel of death would have the book thrown at him. Not The Book, just the one with all the rules and regulations compiled by countless millennia of the celestial civil service. Raphael pondered that such a book would undoubtedly crush Gabriel flat like an unnaturally shiny black creepy-crawly. Squish.

Briefly wondering what the inside of an archangel looked like, he settled back to enjoy his drink while a small herd of bored-looking strippers lined up to prepare for the grand finale of the evening. An exceedingly professional bum wiggle began at one end of the line, progressing through the assembled ranks like a titillating Mexican wave. Arse wiggle, tit thrust, pout and stretch.

The club door abruptly banged open, jolting the cherub bouncer from his pleasant doze. Disgruntled, he rose to his full impressive height and grumbled like an approaching juggernaut with the brake cables cut. Uziel sauntered through, politely stepping aside to usher in a female figure cloaked in black velvet. With two beats of his sleek black wings, he rose to level with the doorman’s slightly pointed ear and whispered, gesticulating eloquently. A sharp-eyed observer might have spotted a wad of money transfer from the lieutenant’s pale hand to the cherub’s breast pocket.

Nodding assent, the doorman waved a shovel-sized paw in a fair imitation of a policeman directing a tanker filled with explosive trichloroethane. Uziel grinned, Oakleys flashing in the strobe lighting, and shepherded his guest towards the back of the club and the private rooms. Attention caught by the bank vault clang of the door, Raphael watched the pair like they were wired up to a not inconsiderable amount of dynamite. With Gabriel’s lieutenants, it paid to be cautious and have a fire extinguisher handy. You never knew if one of them would turn kamikaze and napalm themselves, secure in the knowledge their boss would resurrect them. The smell, whether in the morning or heart of darkness, was never pleasant, though self- sacrifice did seem to appeal to Gabriel’s sense of aesthetics.

When Uziel opened the door to the room occupied by the angel of death and the athletic Salome, Raphael could hardly believe his luck. He could kill two crow-winged angels with a single stone. The archangel’s sin compounded by a copycat transgression on the part of his subordinate. Too utterly delicious for words. Looking furtively around, Uziel directed a small bow towards the cloaked figure and closed the door behind her.

The angel of medicine hugged himself and kicked up his Jimmy Choo platform shoes, laughing so much he spluttered watery absinthe spit all over his sycophants. He clapped and whistled loudly as the strippers jiggled in formation, wings pumping furiously as they formed concentric aerial tiers that began to shed pieces of clothing at an alarming rate. Raising his fingers to his lips to let out a trilling wolf-whistle, Raphael suddenly realised that the velvet-cloaked, exceptionally female being who had arrived with Uziel did not have any wings. The ramifications had just begun to filter through his stupefied divine brain when there was an eardrum-bursting, strangely asexual screech from the private room.

Thrown out of synch, the graceful carousel of long-limbed blonde seraphim ground to a muttering, swearing halt. Staring around like so many Manga-eyed clones, they flinched in unison as the scream abruptly ended in a gurgling sound not dissimilar to ‘ack!’. All eyes flew towards the cherub doorman, whose job it was to break up fights and turf out inebriates whose halos were in distinct danger of strangling them. He grunted noncommittally, scratched at his sandpapery stubble and chose that exact moment to lumber away for a well-earned cigarette break. A questioning babble broke out, melodious angelic voices rising well into the ultrasonic range. A few glasses shattered here and there, dousing a number of laps and sleeves. Come Monday morning, the dry cleaners in purgatory would make a killing.

Just as Raphael was considering sending an expendable flunky to investigate, the floor shook like a tube station platform in the wake of the nine a.m express. Heralded by a vicious clap of thunder, Gabriel materialised at the centre of the dance floor, sending the strippers scurrying for cover like so many pink bunnies. Glistening jet wings spread behind him, coat and hair whipping in a seething maelstrom of wind and hissing lightning, he raised his dazzling silver trumpet.

Raphael sniffed disparagingly as the mad scramble for the exit began. In his opinion, the grand entrance smacked of unnecessary theatrics that were so ninth century B.C. He half expected a burning bush to appear at any moment.

Gabriel liked to remind the Host that he was Guardian of thunder and lightning as well as Death Incarnate. Wondering what had got his silk Armani boxers in a twist, Raphael waited expectantly for the inevitable rampage of mass destruction. Sometimes, all one needed to do to find Gabriel was follow the trail of mutilated cadavers. Overkill was an apt description.

Suddenly, to everyone’s utmost surprise and bewilderment, the angel of death lowered his trumpet. An audible sigh of relief rippled around the club, a sigh that trailed away into eerie silence as Gabriel began to grin, revealing far too many teeth. Finding his hand had jumped to the willow sword hilt at his belt, Raphael got an uneasy twinge in his gut. When Gabriel smiled like that, it was usually time to get the hell out of Dodge. Still grinning, the angel of death stalked across the empty dance floor and stopped in front of his table. Raphael’s entourage shifted nervously, a combination of loyalty and good old-fashioned mortal terror keeping bums on seats.

Obsidian eyes tracking slowly around, lingering over the anxious pastel huddle of dancers crowded in the far corner near the DJ booth, Gabriel blinked twice, mamba-like. Uziel and the anonymous female being appeared at his side in a flash of crimson light, their entrance markedly less showy. Upstaging was not advisable. The nearest group of ophanim gagged and coughed a little, waving their hands before their noses at the sulphurous fumes. Uziel shot a barbed glare, killing two and maiming another.

Returning his attention to the angel of medicine and his abruptly stone cold sober cronies, he began to grin exactly like his boss. Gabriel’s smile thinned and he studied the quaking seraphim as if contemplating which head to rip off and play football with first, while studiously ignoring Raphael. At his gesture, the cloaked female stepped forward and dramatically threw back her hood, precipitating startled gasps of ’succubus’ and ‘Lilith’s Girl’. Mob mentality took hold, reducing His representatives to the level of pitchfork-wielding peasants. If peasants carried limited edition Fendi handbags, which was debatable. They stared at the succubus. She stared back. Uziel made a rude noise.

Jet-haired and chalk-skinned, with bruise purple lips and enormous dark eyes, the succubus glared imperiously at the angelic beings. Shrugging off her cloak to reveal a spray-on leather catsuit and impossibly high stiletto boots, she snapped her fingers and magicked up a large silver serving platter with a domed lid. Gliding forward like a dominatrix ballerina on wheels, no mean feat in vertigo-inducing heels, she contemptuously swept away everything on Raphael’s table and slammed the platter down. Raphael looked at it, then at her, then at Gabriel, who merely grinned. The succubus snatched off the lid and threw it away. Pearlescent features tinged faintly green, Raphael realised the game was up. A severed head lay on the platter, artfully arranged on a bed of fresh asparagus. It was Oriental and obviously male, despite the smeared scarlet lipstick, earrings and formerly sleek bob haircut. The overall effect was kabuki-meets-porno-flick.

did not take a genius to work out that Salome had received Lilith’s patented punishment for infringement of copyright, and then some. She usually ordered a simple castration. A neatly written note was stuffed between the teeth of the whore-turned-rent boy. Jaw tightening, Raphael plucked it out and read the single word – John. With an involuntary yelp, the archangel recoiled as the disembodied head began to soundlessly mouth like a badly dubbed kung-fu movie. Unfurling a scroll handed to her by Uziel, who was torn between hopeless, jelly-kneed lust and fits of laughter, the succubus began to list violations of copyright, trademarks and licensing laws. Smugly, she handed the angel of medicine a Heavenly Court Summons brought by one Lilith, Lilitu, Lilia, Kali, Hecate, Morrigan, Nebt- het, Ix-chel (ex Mrs Adam I). Incensed, Raphael leapt to his feet, sword roaring into full zinging, lightsabre-esque life. When Gabriel began to laugh like an emptying drain instead of tooting on his trumpet and levelling everything for a four-block radius, Raphael got that sinking feeling. Stopping short, sword dangling from his hand like a naughty schoolboy’s catapult, he turned around to see Raguel and Sariel. The divine civil servants tutted reprovingly in unison and shook their Bryl-creamed heads. Raguel took the top off his fountain pen. Sariel ticked four boxes on his form.

Turning an unfetching shade of aubergine with outrage, Raphael began to splutter and protest like a boiled kettle, realising his scheme had backfired. They knew he was responsible for hiring Salome, taking Her name in vain and attempting to engineer the discovery of a fellow archangel in a compromising situation. One look at Gabriel’s smug little smirk told him he had known all along and cleverly turned the tables. Raguel huffed and Sariel ticked two more boxes. Speechless, the dope-fiend angel looked in real danger of having a seizure. With a dull pop, two cherub heavies appeared, a pair of cauliflower-eared bookends with dragging knuckles. They took hold of an arm each and towed the apoplectic Raphael away. Waving after him from the wrist like a child, Gabriel beamed, black eyes dancing like spiders. He would like to be a fly on the wall when Raphael had to explain this little incident to Him. It was not good for PR when the archangels were caught with their pants down. Raphael would be suspended with no pay for a few centuries and might even have his wings clipped. Score one for the angel of death. Nobody got one over on Gabriel. Clapping Uziel chummily on the shoulder, he planted a triumphant kiss on the succubus’s porcelain cheek and signalled to the DJ to put on something with a catchy tune. Turning to Raphael’s entourage, who were trying to sneak out unnoticed, he waved an admonishing finger. They froze like hedgehogs caught before a speeding Robin Reliant. Quickly, everyone else within striking range edged away. Several sets of terrified eyes watched as the angel of death raised his silver trumpet to his lips and blew.

(c) Helen C. Murphy, All Rights Reserved

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