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Christmas Present

Part Three ( Faith)

by Darklady

Disclaimer: So technically this ones a Hanukkah story. Picky, Picky! That makes SEVEN TIMES I don't own the characters.

Rated: P for Parents

PS: The Ragman in this story is taken from the 70's series by that name - as recalled by my fading memory. I have no idea what happened to the character in Zero -hour. So if he's now a three-toed sloth - too bad. And I don't own him either.

My mistake. There should have been a party on my calendar. The Inter-faith Tolerance Council Dinner. Which makes me wonder who checks their calendars. Shondra felt terrible about mis-listing it. For the check I sent, they can tolerate my absence.

Instead, I'll be lurking the alleys in the rust-belt town of Dresher. Hunting muggers, pick-pockets, and the occasional Santa-snacher. Nasty work, but it beats the hell out of eating rubber chicken.

Drove in by six to brief with Ragman. Early for me, but he wants to be off by sunset. Meeting him at, amazingly, his home address. But maybe agents of divine justice don't worry about security.

Standard downtown apartment building. Brick thirties construction. Decent maintenance but not flashy. Which in our business means nothing. Except perhaps that he doesn't want a long commute. Although, now that I think of it, I could list enough dark souls at Riverfront Towers to keep him busy well into the new year.

There is street parking nearby. Good. I'm traveling as 'Matches' Malone to avoid notice. I ease the Buick into an empty space and remember to check the meter. Twelve hour parking. I should be back before then, but I top out the meter just in case. I grab the cases with my gear and head on in.

I recheck the address Kal gave me. Apartment 4-B. The top floor. Logical.

There's an elevator, but I prefer the stairs.

Only two apartment on this floor. A and B. The doors are closed. Nothing for it but to knock. The door swings open before I can.

A tall black woman. Thirty something and handsome. Very nice dress.

"You must be my husbands friend. Mr. B?"

'If he is.."

"Yes, yes. Come on in." She steps back from the door. " He's just with the boys for a minute. It's so hard to convince them to wear ties."

I follow her, bemused. Not the hero-crisis I had expected. Although Alfred has had the same problem.

"When Kal told us you were coming... well, I was delighted. It's so hard for my husband to take a night off. The curse, you know.....

"Ah, Mr. B" A blond man. Tall. Smiling. Well built if not exactly bulked up. Not quite the movie image of divine retribution. "Can I offer you something? Not wine, of course, but we have milk? soda?"

"Water perhaps."

I look around. It really is an apartment. Rather nice. Good furniture. Good art. Very good rugs. Someone had taste. But a bit too natural to be supernatural.

"Micah. Get our guest a glass of water. And then finish getting dressed. It's almost sundown."

He gestures generally at his family.

"Kids. So much energy. Now if they'd only use it."

The boy addressed as Micah zooms towards the kitchen, barely missing the sister who is setting dishes on the table.

"I want you to know how much I appreciate this. It gets hard now days. Between television and what the children hear in school, they think Hanukkah is buying a purple tree. It's a struggle sometimes to keep our traditions."

He doesn't sound like the voice of doom either. Then, this is his civilian side.

"I would have thought it was..inevitable. At least for you."

"You'd be surprised. Between the evening news and MTV, not even magic can breach the cynicism. Even my father, with all he saw. He raised me to be 'modern'. A serious mistake, as it turned out."

"That's why I work so hard to keep their faith."

The boy returns with the glass. Ice and everything. I take it, and his father gives him a shove to his room. "Dress" And then "David, come here."

"Things are good now, but someday....they may not be."

He pauses a moment to adjust his sons tie. "Now, go help your mother."

He lifts one of my bags. He may not look overly athletic, but he doesn't seem to notice the weight.

"Honey, I'm going next door. Be right back." He turns to me. "That's where I keep my lair. I don't want to bring the work home. The kids are a bit to young to understand. Except for Josh. He's in yeshiva now."

Apartment A. This is more what I had expected. Candles, alter, mystic insignia. I go first. As he steps through behind me, my host morphs into the more familiar form of shifting shapes.

"The power is useful, but, when Josh or one of the others has to take up the fight, I want them to have more than this to keep them strong."

It's a well designed workspace, and I begin to lay out my gear. Spandex,nomex, kevlar, weaponry, utility belt. A question returns to me.

"Tell me. Does it bother you?"

"Ripping peoples souls out? Of course. Do you think I'm a monster?"

"No, I mean the exploitation, the glizty ...commercialization of the Holidays."

"Eh. Sometimes." He pauses in consideration. "But then I think about what those people could be doing. Compared to that.... It's a mitzvah."

Still not the End

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