The Black Angel: A Thriller

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9780743487863: The Black Angel: A Thriller

To those who have been forsaken, hell has no geography.The Black Angel begins with the disappearance of a young prostitute from one of New York City's seamiest neighborhoods. Like so many tormented souls before her, the girl's mother is inevitably drawn to Charlie Parker's doorstep desperate for redemption and revenge. Despite the danger that his chosen profession imposes on his wife and newborn daughter, Parker knows that the woman and her troubles cannot be ignored. As always, he is driven as much by the evil that simmers in the hidden honeycomb world as he is by the ties of friendship and blood. As Parker gets closer to the girl's captors, he discovers that her disappearance is linked to a church of bones in Eastern Europe, to the slaughter at a French monastery in 1944, and to the myth of an object known as the Black Angel -- an object considered by evil men to be beyond priceless. But the Black Angel is not a legend. It is real. It lives. It dreams. And the mystery of its existence may contain the secret of Parker's own origins.

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About the Author:

John Connolly is the author of the Charlie Parker series of mystery novels, the supernatural collection Nocturnes, the Samuel Johnson Trilogy for younger readers, and (with Jennifer Ridyard) the Chronicles of the Invaders series. He lives in Dublin, Ireland. For more information, see his website at JohnConnollyBooks.com, or follow him on Twitter @JConnollyBooks.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Black Angel PROLOGUE


The rebel angels fell, garlanded with fire.

And as they descended, tumbling through the void, they were cursed as the newly blind are cursed, for just as the darkness is more terrible for those who have known the light, so the absence of grace is felt more acutely by those who once dwelt in its warmth. The angels screamed in their torment, and their burning brought brightness to the shadows for the first time. The lowest of them cowered in the depths, and there they created their own world in which to dwell.

As the last angel fell, he looked to heaven and saw all that was to be denied him for eternity, and the vision was so terrible to him that it burned itself upon his eyes. And so, as the skies closed above him, it was given to him to witness the face of God disappear among gray clouds, and the beauty and sorrow of the image was imprinted forever in his memory, and upon his sight. He was cursed to walk forever as an outcast, shunned even by his own kind, for what could be more agonizing for them than to see, each time they looked in his eyes, the ghost of God flickering in the blackness of his pupils?

And so alone was he that he tore himself in two, that he might have company in his long exile, and together these twin parts of the same being wandered the still-forming earth. In time, they were joined by a handful of the fallen who were weary of cowering in that bleak kingdom of their own creation. After all, what is hell but the eternal absence of God? To exist in a hellish state is to be denied forever the promise of hope, of redemption, of love. To those who have been forsaken, hell has no geography.

But these angels at last grew weary of roaming throughout the desolate world without an outlet for their rage and their despair. They found a deep, dark place in which to sleep, and there they secreted themselves away and waited. And after many years, mines were dug, and tunnels lit, and the deepest and greatest of these excavations was among the Bohemian silver mines at Kutná Hora, and it was called Kank.

And it was said that when the mine reached its final depth, the lights carried by the miners flickered as though troubled by a breeze where no breeze could exist, and a great sighing was heard, as of souls released from their bondage. A stench of burning arose, and tunnels collapsed, trapping and killing those beneath. A storm of filth and dirt emerged, sweeping through the mine, choking and blinding all in its path. Those who survived spoke of voices in the abyss, and the beating of wings in the midst of the clouds. The storm ascended toward the main shaft, bursting forth into the night sky, and the men who saw it glimpsed a redness at its heart, as though it were all aflame.

And the rebel angels took upon themselves the appearance of men, and set about creating a kingdom that they might rule through stealth and the corrupted will of others. They were led by the twin demons, the greatest of their number, the Black Angels. The first, called Ashmael, immersed himself in the fires of battle, and whispered empty promises of glory into the ears of ambitious rulers. The other, called Immael, waged his own war upon the church and its leaders, the representatives upon the earth of the One who had banished his brother. He gloried in fire and rape, and his shadow fell upon the sacking of monasteries and the burning of chapels. Each half of this twin being bore the mark of God as a white mote in his eye, Ashmael in his right eye and Immael in his left.

But in his arrogance and wrath, Immael allowed himself to be glimpsed for a moment in his true, blighted form. He was confronted by a Cistercian monk named Erdric from the monastery at Sedlec, and they fought above vats of molten silver in a great foundry. At last, Immael was cast down, caught in the moment of transformation from human to Other, and he fell into the hot ore. Erdric called for the metal to be slowly cooled, and Immael was trapped in silver, powerless to free himself from this purest of prisons.

And Ashmael felt his pain, and sought to free him, but the monks hid Immael well, and kept him from those who would release him from his bonds. Yet Ashmael never stopped seeking his brother, and in time he was joined in his search by those who shared his nature, and by men corrupted by his promises. They marked themselves so that they might be known to one another, and their mark was a grapnel, a forked hook, for in the old lore this was the first weapon of the fallen angels.

And they called themselves “Believers.”|The Black Angel CHAPTER

I


The woman stepped carefully from the Greyhound bus, her right hand holding firmly on to the bar as she eased herself down. A relieved sigh escaped from her lips once both feet were on level ground, the relief that she always felt when a simple task was negotiated without incident. She was not old—she was barely into her fifties—but she looked, and felt, much older. She had endured a great deal, and accumulated sorrows had intensified the predations of the years. Her hair was silver-gray, and she had long since ceased making the monthly trek to the salon to have its color altered. There were horizontal lines stretching from the corner of each eye, like healed wounds, paralleled by similar lines on her forehead. She knew how she had come by them, for occasionally she caught herself wincing as if in pain while she looked in the mirror or saw herself reflected in the window of a store, and the depth of those lines increased with the transformation in her expression. It was always the same thoughts, the same memories, that caused the change, and always the same faces that she recalled: the boy, now a man; her daughter, as she once was and as she now might be; and the one who had made her little girl upon her, his face sometimes contorted, as it was at the moment of her daughter’s conception, and at other times tattered and destroyed, as it was before they closed the coffin lid upon him, erasing at last his physical presence from the world.

Nothing, she had come to realize, will age a woman faster than a troubled child. In recent years, she had become prone to the kind of accidents that bedeviled the lives of women two or three decades older than she, and took longer to recover from them than once she had. It was the little things that she had to look out for: unanticipated curbs, neglected cracks in the sidewalk, the unexpected jolting of a bus as she rose from her seat, the forgotten water spilled upon the kitchen floor. She feared these things more than she feared the young men who congregated in the parking lot of the strip mall near her home, watching for the vulnerable, for those whom they considered easy prey. She knew that she would never be one of their victims, as they were more afraid of her than they were of the police, or of their more vicious peers, for they knew of the man who waited in the shadows of her life. A small part of her hated the fact that they feared her, even as she enjoyed the protection that it brought. Her protection was hard bought, purchased, she believed, with the loss of a soul.

She prayed for him, sometimes. While the others wailed “Hallelujah” to the preacher, beating their breasts and shaking their heads, she remained silent, her chin to her chest, and pleaded softly. In the past, a long time ago, she would ask the Lord that her nephew might turn again to His radiant light and embrace the salvation that lay only in relinquishing violent ways. Now she no longer wished for miracles. Instead, as she thought about him, she begged God that, when this lost sheep at last stood before Him for the final judgment, He would be merciful and forgive him his trespasses; that He would look closely at the life he had lived and find within it those little acts of decency that might enable Him to offer succor to this sinner.

But perhaps there were some lives that could never be redeemed, and some sins so terrible that they were beyond forgiveness. The preacher said that the Lord forgives all, but only if the sinner truly acknowledges his fault and seeks another path. If this was true, then she feared that her prayers would count for nothing, and he was damned to eternity.

She showed her ticket to the man unloading the baggage from the bus. He was gruff and unfriendly to her, but he appeared to be that way to everyone. Young men and women hovered watchfully at the periphery of the light from the bus’s windows, like wild animals fearful of the fire yet hungry for those who lay within the circle of its warmth. Her handbag gripped to her chest, she took her case by its handle and wheeled it toward the escalator. She watched those around her, heedful of the warnings of her neighbors back home.

Don’t accept no offers of help. Don’t be talking to nobody seems like he just offerin’ to assist a lady with her bag, don’t matter how well he dressed or how sweetly he sings. . . .

But there were no offers of help, and she ascended without incident to the busy streets of this alien city, as foreign to her as Cairo or Rome might have been, dirty and crowded and unforgiving. She had scribbled an address on a piece of paper, along with the directions she had painstakingly transcribed over the phone from the man at the hotel, hearing the impatience in his voice as he was forced to repeat the address, the name of the hotel near incomprehensible to her when spoken in his thick immigrant accent.

She walked the streets, pulling her bag behind her. She carefully noted the numbers at the intersections, trying to take as few turns as possible, until she came to the big police building. There she waited for another hour, until at last a policeman came to talk to her. He had a thin file in front of him, but she could add nothing to what she had told him over the phone, and he could tell her only that they were doing what they could. Still, she filled out more papers, in the hope that some small detail she provided might lead them to her daughter, then left and hailed a cab on the street. She passed the piece of paper with the address of her hotel through a small hole in the Plexiglas screen. She asked the driver how much it would cost to go there, and he shrugged. He was an Asian man, and he did not look pleased to see the scribbled destination.

“Traffic. Who knows?”

He waved a hand at the slow-moving streams of cars and trucks and buses. Horns honked loudly, and drivers shouted angrily at one another. All was impatience and frustration, overshadowed by buildings that were too high, out of scale with those who were expected to live and work inside and outside them. She could not understand how anyone would choose to remain in such a place.

“Twenty, maybe,” said the cabdriver.

She hoped it would be less than twenty. Twenty dollars was a lot, and she did not know how long she would have to stay here. She had booked the hotel room for three days, and had sufficient funds to cover another three days after that, as long as she ate cheaply and could master the intricacies of the subway. She had read about it, but had never seen it in reality and had no concept of its operations. She knew only that she did not like the thought of descending beneath the earth, into the darkness, but she could not afford to take cabs all the time. Buses might be better. At least they stayed aboveground, slowly though they seemed to move in this city.

He might offer her money, of course, once she found him, but she would refuse any such offer, just as she had always refused it, carefully returning the checks that he sent to the only contact address that she had for him. His money was tainted, just as he was tainted, but she needed his help now: not his money, but his knowledge. Something terrible had happened to her daughter, of that she was certain, even if she could not explain how she knew.

Alice, oh Alice, why did you have to come to this place?

Her own mother had been blessed, or cursed, with the gift. She knew when someone was suffering, and could sense when harm had come to anyone who was dear to her. The dead talked to her. They told her things. Her life was filled with whispers. The gift had not been passed on, and for that the woman was grateful, but she wondered sometimes if a faint trace of it had not found its way into her, a mere spark of the great power that had dwelt in her mother. Or perhaps all mothers were cursed with the ability to sense their children’s deepest sufferings, even when they were far, far from them. All that she could say for sure was that she had not known a moment’s peace in recent days, and that she heard her daughter’s voice calling to her when sleep fleetingly came.

She would tell that to him when she met him, in the hope that he would understand. Even if he did not, she knew that he would help, for the girl was blood to him.

And if there is one thing that he understood, it was blood.

I PARKED IN AN alleyway about fifty feet from the house, then covered the rest of the distance on foot. I could see Jackie Garner hunched behind the wall bordering the property. He wore a black wool hat, a black jacket, and black jeans. His hands were uncovered, and his breath formed phantoms in the air. Beneath his jacket I made out the word SYLVIA written on his T-shirt.

“New girlfriend?” I said.

Jackie pulled open his jacket so I could see the T-shirt more clearly. It read, TIM ‘THE MAINE-IAC’ SYLVIA, a reference to one of our local-boys-made-good, and featured a poor caricature of the great man himself. In September 2002, Tim Sylvia, all six-eight and 260 pounds of him, became the first Mainer to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, eventually going on to take the Heavyweight Championship title in Las Vegas in 2003, knocking down the undefeated champion, Ricco Rodriguez, with a right cross in the first round. “I hit him hahd,” Sylvia told a postmatch interviewer, making every Down-Easter with flattened vowel sounds feel instantly proud. Unfortunately, Sylvia tested positive for anabolic steroids after his first defense, against the six-eleven Gan “The Giant” McGee, and voluntarily surrendered his belt and title. I remembered Jackie telling me once that he’d attended the fight. Some of McGee’s blood had landed on his jeans, and he now saved them for special wear.

“Nice,” I said.

“I got a friend who makes them. I can let you have some cheap.”

“I wouldn’t take them any other way. In fact, I wouldn’t take them at all.”

Jackie was offended. For a guy who might have passed for Tim Sylvia’s out-of-condition older brother, he was pretty sensitive.

“How many are there in the house?” I asked, but his attention had already wandered on to another subject.

“Hey, we’re dressed the same,” he said.

“What?”

“We’re dressed the same. Look: you got the hat, the same jacket, the jeans. Except you got gloves and I got this T-shirt, we could be twins.”

Jackie Garner was a good guy, but I thought that he might be a little crazy. Someone once told me that a shell accidentally went off close to him when he was serving with the U.S. Army in Berlin just before the Wall came down. He was unconscious for a week, and for six months after he awoke he couldn’t remember anything that happened later than 1983. Even though he was mostly recovered, there were still gaps in his memory, and he occasionally confused the guys at Bull Moose Music by asking for “new” CDs that were actually fifteen years old. The army pensioned him off, and since th...

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