“We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials.”
St. Teresa of Avila
The next day, no handkerchief was needed for Adán’s thesis’ defense. Yet, its completion and that of his Licentiate of Sacred Theology meant it was finally time for the post-seminarian to surrender himself to the presbyterium. His ordination was scheduled for what would have been the end of Mardi Gras (if WWII had not canceled it), on the following Ash Wednesday. Although Adán had wished his ordination to be a purely spiritual event, Thaddeus insisted that he allow his old friend to organize a celebration, with Adán eventually capitulating, so long as the celebration was the day before his ordination, on Shrove Tuesday.
“Very well, we shall throw a going-away party to Belteshazzar!”
“I am being ordained a priest, not an anchorite.”
“For you, Adán, I expect there will be little difference. All the same, invite whomever you wish, and I will take care of the venue, catering, and decorations.”
“Decorations?” Adán asked skeptically.
“Yes, Adán,” Thaddeus patiently replied. “Parties do tend to have them. Perhaps it’s time to reread Mark 16:15, specifically the first line of the Lord’s command to his disciples.”
“You mean ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation’?”
“Yes, namely the first half: going into the world.”
“I believe the Lord was advocating evangelism, not party attendance.”
“If you’re going to teach others about God’s grace, sometimes you have to go to places where other people actually are. Regardless, my soon-to-be Father St. Cyprien, call your friends and let them know about the party–or feast, if you would rather call it that. I hear we Catholics are fans of those.”
Chuckling, Thaddeus ended the call, leaving Adán to ponder what mortal friends he could invite.
Frankly, most of Adán’s ‘closest’ companions were long dead, and he doubted the likes of Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, Polycarp, and Aurelius Ambrosius would condescend to a Shrove Tuesday ‘party.’ Still, he eventually contacted a few of his former Notre Dame and Loyola teachers, such as Father Fontenot, as well as some star pupils at Jesuit High. He also invited Pierre Jeansonne, his brother Andre, and their families.
Notwithstanding, he delayed calling the one person he wanted the most to see, as he felt some degree of impropriety, if not in the invitation, then in his feelings behind it.
Sunday afternoon, 4 February 1944
Perhaps it was a venial temptation–but eventually, the otherwise stalwart man succumbed.
Yet, when he tried calling Ava, he was ‘greeted’ on the phone by her brother:
“Thad tells me you’re finally becoming a priest. Good for you. Although I wonder if I should call up the archbishop and tell him all about how you’re unfit to be a priest.”
“My interest in Marie is pure, Saul; I also wish to set her free as we swore to do so.”
“Oh, I’m not talking about her, Adán–but thank you very much for telling my sister all about that Mardi Gras trollop. She hasn’t stopped hounding, needling, and nagging me about it since she snuck back into the house on Epiphany’s Eve. No, Adán, I’m talking about how you’re clearly unfit to be a priest. Why, you don’t even have the decency to pretend to molest little boys. Rather, your attention seems unnaturally fixated on a young crippled woman.”
“My friendship with your sister is purely platonic,” Adán replied with a growing heat in his face.
“Oh, spare me another one of your delusions, I’ve read your ‘love letters’ that she keeps tucked under her mattress–as well as a few of her discarded drafts to you. Jesus fucking Christ, man, Adoro te devote!”
“It’s a Eucharistic hymn, Saul, that’s–”
“Don’t try shoveling your bullshit into my lap, Adán. I didn’t skip that many Latin classes–so let me spell out its translation in case you’ve forgotten, which I know you haven’t: Adoro te devote means ‘I DEVOUTLY ADORE YOU’!”
“Thomas Aquinas was writing about his love for Christ!” Adán protested, though the defense somehow rung hollow in his all-too hot ears.
“Belteshazzar, you play the cloistered zealot pretty well, but you fucking stink at playing dumb, so I’m just going to cut straight to the brass tax. Here’s the deal: you care so much about us keeping our word, right? Fine, I’ll hold my end of the bargain. I’ll help you find Marie.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Adán said, his face still burning like it had gotten slapped by an iron.
“Do you want my help or not?!”
Adán hesitated, but eventually swallowed his pride, “Yes, Saul. I want us to keep our vow and find Marie. She needs help.”
“Fine, I’ll help you find the prostitute. But in return, you have to swear to me that you will NEVER come see my sister, NEVER write to her, and NEVER call her EVER again.”
“Saul, that’s not–”
“Or admit that you LOVE her and tear off that slave collar around your neck! Admit that for all your sanctimonious, holier-than-thou bullshit that you’ve developed feelings for her–feelings that are FORBIDDEN by your precious church and its damned canon laws! Go on, Belteshazzar, show me how important it is to keep your word! Show me how much you care about poor, poor Mademoiselle Marie Délicieux! I mean, if she was really possessed by an unclean spirit, then surely finding her should be more important than sending letters to your ‘purely platonic’ pen pal!”
Adán’s face felt like it had been dunked in a gasoline-soaked fire barrel. In his apartment, he could only stare at his nearly blank walls. As his gaze slide off those barren walls, it fell upon the remains of Ava’s handmade king cake–and the infant porcelain figurine she had hid inside the cake. The figure reminded him of his family’s centuries-old porcelain heirloom. For the first time in his adult life, he wondered whatever had happened to the priceless saint-touched relic.
Dimly, he heard his voice finally give Saul an answer:
“Very well, Saul, if keep your word, I give you mine.”
“Not good enough, Belteshazzar. You need to swear it.”
Adán was quite for a long time before he finally spoke–perhaps more to drown out Father Fontenot’s old admonition than to appease Saul:
“If you help me find the woman we call Marie, I promise to never contact your sister again. This I swear on the Lance of Longinus that pierced the Lord’s side when he hung upon Golgotha’s holy tree.”
“Excellent,” the eldest Freneau said with the sharp satisfaction of a man biting the tip of a cigar. That tone, however, became black as midnight as Saul added, “But if you break your word, Belteshazzar, I swear to you that I will find out–and then I’ll find you and throw you in a den of lions so fucking hungry and vicious that not even your precious church and all its fake saints will be able to save you.”
Adán could almost feel Saul smash the phone’s receiver into its cradle. Hanging up his own phone, Adán was not sure which he feared more: Saul once again breaking his vow and Adán never finding Marie, or Saul keeping his word and making Adán keep his.
The fact that he was unsure made him all the more fearful.
Saturday morning, 5 February 1944
So troubled, he spent the next week in cloistered prayer and meditation. When Ava’s letters started pouring daily through his front door’s mail slot, he left his apartment and sought asylum inside his parish church. It was as if all of the tumult of the cancelled Mardi Gras was trapped inside his heart. His conflicted thoughts raged like the hurricane-beset Lake Pontchartrain that nearly killed him. This time, though, it was his spirit, not body, that was in jeopardy, as he was forced to confront not only his undeniable feelings for Ava–but also their equally undeniable prohibition by canon law.
If he had been but a seminarian, he likely would have abandoned his ecclesiastical path, but he had already been ordained as a deacon. He knew his catechisms and canon law all too well; the sacrament of the Holy Orders had conferred upon him an “indelible spiritual character”–he could never again become a layman. True, he could be released from the duties and responsibilities connected to the clerical state. He could no longer engage in ministry within his diocese, no longer celebrate Mass or confer the sacraments, no longer be called “Father” or wear clerical clothing, and no longer be supported financially by the Church. To the world, he would appear to be a layman, working at an ordinary job and living the normal life of the laity.
Yet, loss of the clerical state would not carry with it an automatic dispensation from the requirement to stay celibate, and any marriage, whether inside or outside the church, would be invalid by canon law and incur excommunication. Canon law was clear; he had to either deny his love for Ava or deny his faith. Even if Saul failed to keep his vow, Adán had to keep his.
It was a dark night of his soul, though one that lasted nearly ten days. The other clergy of the parish believed the fervency of his prayers and fast was simply a more extreme, if otherwise mundane preparation for his ordination as a priest. He was extolled for his virtue and zeal, as he ate and drank nothing save his daily sacramental wafer and wine. He was near delirious and starved when Thaddeus eventually found him praying and weeping to Mother Mary’s statute–her marble face so very much like Ava’s.
Tuesday afternoon, 22 February 1944
Father Malveaux was shocked at his friend’s emaciated state. He immediately decided to call off the ‘party’, and he tried to convince Adán to break his fast and eat. Adán stubbornly refused, until Thaddeus told him that their old friend, ‘Mishach’, or Michel “Michael” Montobon had returned home from the war. That alone convinced Adán to leave Immaculate Conception—“at least for a little while.”
Thaddeus took Adán to a local restaurant and ordered three meals and drinks, with Adán assuming the third was for the soon-to-be-arriving Michael. Thaddeus then convinced the near starving man to break his fast and eat, though he himself seemed too somber to initially eat himself. Eventually, Thaddeus spoke:
“I had planned to tell you about Michael after your ordination.”
“I can see why, but I am glad you told me now. Where is he by the way?” said Adán, looking up each time the restaurant’s door opened.
Father Malveaux closed his eyes. “I told you the truth, Adán. Michael did return home today, but… but not in the way we hoped. I received a call today from his mother. The 141st Infantry–Michael’s army unit–as well as the rest of the 36th Infantry Division has been fighting in Italy. They tried to break through the German defenses on the 20th, yet after crossing the Gari River, Michael and his men were cut off from reinforcements and took heavy fire from German Panzergrenadiers. They… suffered heavy losses. After two days of hard fighting, they had to retreat. Michael and more than a thousand of our boys never made it back…”
Adán’s heart and head reeled. He had been the closest to ‘Mishach’ out of all of his Loyola friends, in part because the typically gentle young man had treated Adán as his personal confessor. Indeed, shortly before their graduation in 1939, Michael had painfully confessed to Adán that he struggled with “homoerotic temptations” and thus doubted not only the appropriateness of him becoming a seminarian, but also the eternal welfare of his soul. Michael had taken comfort in Adán’s reply, namely that a man’s soul was defined not by his temptations, but by how he responded to them–a message which he had borrowed from Saints Teresa of Ávila and Francis de Sales:
“Let the enemy rage at the gate; let him knock, pound, scream, howl; let him do his worst. We know for certain that he cannot enter our soul except by the door of our consent.”
“We always find that those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials.”
With that news of Michael’s death, that old sermon resurfaced keenly inside Adán’s soul. In that moment, he felt he finally had his answer. He might undeniably love Ava, but it was how he resisted the temptation of that love and heeded his vows which would define his discipleship. Yet, even as that theological epiphany pierced his heart, his mind detected an anomaly in Thad’s story.
“But, Shadrach, you said Michel returned home? Even… even if he died in the first day of fighting, today is only the 22nd… they couldn’t have shipped his body back… not so soon.”
Father Malveaux grimly nodded. “Yes… his mother, she claims she saw Michael’s spirit appear to her in a dream. She thought it only a nightmare, the worries of a mother with three sons fighting on the front lines. But then… then she received the notice from the Army today of Michael’s death. She called me to let me know, but also to minister to her. She was beset with grief, but also horrified and worried about her son’s immortal soul. In her dream, or vision as she became convinced, Michael was in terrible pain–not just of body, but of spirit. He said things to her… not all of which she chose to repeat. But there was something she shared. She claimed that Michael had made her promise to let you know that he had ‘tried to resist the enemy at the gate, but he did not expect him to howl so sweetly…’ I did not understand the reference. His division never made it to the city gates of Cassino. Do you know what that might signify?”
Adán did, but he felt the privacy of Michael’s admission–even if not under the confessional seal–should be honored. Instead, he posed his own question:
“Was there anything else she shared?”
Thaddeus nodded. “Yes, there was, although she was not sure she understood it either. He allegedly told her that he would ‘try to make things right’, that he was going to go after ‘the one who got away’ and ‘free the woman from the other cursed fornicator.’”
“Alcide,” Adán immediately declared. “He’s going after Alcide, in hopes of achieving penance.”
Thaddeus shook his head. “But… that’s… that’s not…”
Adán merely quoted Paul’s words to the Corinthians about death:
“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep…”
The almost priest then stood up, only to have his enervated legs try to give way. Steadying himself upon the restaurant table, he bade for Thaddeus to help him, saying they needed to speak with Saul immediately. The priest initially hesitated, thinking that Adán was in no condition to do anything save rest, or else he would be ordained tomorrow in a hospital. Eventually though, he relented, paying their bill and assisting Adán outside. There, the streets were fortunately clear of what otherwise would have been throngs of Fat Tuesday celebrants. The hailed a taxi, and rode to the Freneau estate.
Tuesday afternoon, 22 February 1944
During that drive, Adán tried to push away thoughts about whether he would see Ava or what he might say to her. Yet, when they arrived, Saul was ready for them, or specifically for Adán. With no sight of Ava, ‘Shadrach and Belteshazzar’ were swiftly escorted to Saul’s parlor, though only the latter was permitted entry. Much to Thaddeus’ displeasure, Saul made the priest wait outside the room so he could “talk of private matters and promises” with Adán.
Inside, Saul waved an envelope with the smug gusto of a man who has just won a one-way ticket to Heaven, or at least one out of Hell. He told Adán that after their call, he had hired a private detective, one Enrique Salvador, to track down the prostitute. Much to Saul’s surprise, it had taken Enrique less than two weeks to find the woman and tail her for a few days, locating her residence, all with photos as proof.
Saul waved the envelope in Adán’s direction. “I called several times, even sent one of my men to your two-dollar apartment. But here you are finally. I must admit, I was beginning to worry that old Belteshazzar was going to break his word…”
“I keep my vows,” Adán replied, with a bruised but unbroken conviction.
“How very nice for you–and for me,” Saul said, tossing the dossier into the near-priest’s lap.
As Adán looked over its content, he confirmed Saul’s claims. He also was shocked by the PI’s level of detail and scope of discoveries–discoveries that had eluded Adán for years. As Adán read over those details, Saul provided his own smug summary:
“Her real name’s evidently Madeleine Dorleans, though she always spells it differently–Madelin, Madelynn, Mattilyn, Madilynne, and so forth–as if she hasn’t made up how her own name is spelt. Amongst the low-caliber class she associates with, she’s more commonly known as Mad Ellen, Elynn, Helen, or the like. She’s definitely a few eggs short of a dozen–so I’m sure you two will get along fine. She constantly talks to herself–with some ‘conversations’ reportedly turning quite violent. She’s a leader of a prostitution ring, cult, or secret society, called the Order of the Garter. Which it is depends on who you ask, or whatever Madeleine’s current mood is. Its members signify themselves by carrying the old Storyville blue-books, as well the Latin pass-phrase that used to emblazon them:_ Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense,_ ‘Shame on Him Who Thinks Evil of It.’ Word on the street is that she knows you’ve been looking for you. It sounds like she used to fear you. Used to.”
Saul sat down behind his desk, a more serious and almost compassionate look crossing his face as he added:
“After the PI dropped off the dossier, I asked some of my business partners about her–the ones who gave me a ‘loan.’ I’ve been forced to launder a lot of their money, but the deal seems to benefit both of us, most of the times. When I asked my contact about Madeleine, he warned me to be careful and not to underestimate her. Seeing my disbelief, he shared that the Black Hand hasn’t taken kindly to her muscling in on their prostitution business. When they sent a few of their ‘blackjack negotiators’ to convince her to fold or join them, she allegedly beat them to a bloody pulp with all the skill and ferocity of a Golden Gloves’ champion. So… for what it’s worth, Belteshazzar, good luck and be careful.”
“You’re not coming?” Adán asked with open surprise. “But don’t you care if–”
“No, Belteshazzar, I don’t care. I promised to help you find the whore–and that’s it. That was the deal. She’s holed up at 235 Basin Street, in Lulu White’s old Mahogany Hall that some charity group converted into a poor house. Oh, how the mighty have fallen…”
“Indeed,” Adán agreed, though as he looked at Saul, he was contemplating not a place but a person that had fallen from grace.
Adán’s exit from the Freneau estate was more sorrowful than the last. True, he had gained Marie’s, or Madeleine’s, long-sought location. Yet, as he glanced back at the Freneau estate, he saw Ava staring at him mournfully from her second-story window. In that moment, he felt a far greater loss.
Tuesday afternoon, 22 February 1944
Still, Adán pressed onward, his spirit aflame with zeal even as his body was sorely depleted by his recent fast. Thaddeus pleaded with Adán to wait and recover his strength, or better yet, allow the police to intervene, given that Madeleine was involved in an illegal prostitution ring. Indeed, when Adán rejected that proposal to seek out Father Fontenot, Thaddeus left him to contact his families’ NOPD allies.
Tuesday evening, 22 February 1944
Meanwhile, Adán petitioned the now-aged Father Fontenot for the Society of Leopold’s aid. Father Fontenot, however, advised a more temperate response. Namely, he suggested that Adán–having shared the information on Madeleine’s location and activities–had already performed his duties as a member of the Order of St. Ambrose, and should allow the local Brotherhood to carry out the more “exoteric” aspects of the Society’s work. Adán, however, was unwilling to leave Madeleine’s fate to the Brotherhood:
“Father Fontenot, if I had let the Brotherhood ‘handle things’ back at the Boston Club, many more would have died, and St. Columba’s relic would have remained in nefarious hands.”
“Perhaps,” the elderly priest conceded, before adding, “but beware, my favored pupil, let you suffer the same fate of Uzzah of Gibeah as he tried to steady the Ark of the Covenant.”
“Uzzah was of the lineage of Abinadab, not of Kohath. Only the latter had the ecclesiastical authority to transport the ark. You yourself ordained me an exorcist–and charged me to impose hands on energumens. Now I have discovered one in my parish, and I ask for your blessing.”
Father Fontenot sighed. “Ultimately, it is not my blessing you need. Remember your Greek: what does hamartia signify?”
“It is the word for sin.”
“Yes, but what is its etymology?”
Adán pondered the question for a moment, then answered, “It is an archery term, which means to ‘miss the mark.’”
“Correct again, Adán, so be careful, lest in your will to do God’s, you do only the former.”
Tuesday night, 22 February 1944, PM
Thus twice-warned, but reluctantly blessed, Adán left Loyola to fulfill his vow. As he traveled from Riverbend to Storyville’s remnants, the streets of New Orleans were eerily empty for a Shrove Tuesday night. When he reached Mahogany Hall, he halted before the four-story marble edifice and its entrance’s stained glass fan window. There, he closed his eyes and invoked Mother Mary’s protection:
“Sub tuum praesidium
Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias
in necessitatibus nostris,
sed a periculis cunctis
libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.”
(“We fly to Thy protection,
O Holy Mother of God;
Do not despise our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us always
from all dangers,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin. Amen.”)
With that besought aegis, Adán openly entered the lion’s den.
Tuesday night, 22 February 1944, PM
Inside, the lions were waiting for him–and hungry. No sooner had Adán crossed the Hall’s threshold, then he was seized by several cultist thugs, gagged, and hauled to the ex-brothel’s fourth-floor parlor. There, he was cuffed and strung from the room’s giant chandelier, his toes barely scrapping the floor.
Madeleine Dorleans then entered. She laughed, caressing her hand over his face and collar. She ‘welcomed’ him to her establishment and home of the reborn Order of the Garter. Her voice had the cultured, archaic dialect of a 19th century gigolo that Adán suspected was Alcide’s.
Yet, to Adán’s surprise, Madeleine’s entire mien soon changed, her posture becoming more masculine, even muscular, with a dockside, gladiatorial saunter. His shock then turned to bright agony as Madeleine hit him with a brutal jab and then cross that shattered his nose. Adán barely had time to register the pain before he took a vicious rear uppercut to his gut, followed by a lead hook to his head. The savage, expertly thrown blows nearly killed Adán, leaving him concussed, half-conscious, and bleeding, both internally and externally.
Yet, even as Adán struggled to stay awake, his broken body if not addled mind recognized the specific boxing moves. It was Gator Johnson’s trademark ‘death roll’ combo.
Unbeknownst to Adán, the Giovannini had found Gator Johnson’s shade, as it was trying to get vengeance against their Mafia allies. Recognizing they had a common enemy in the still at large Bruno, they had bound the dead boxer’s ghost to aid their search for Bruno and St. Columba’s relic. Yet, before he could find the man, Gator Johnson had ran afoul of the Alcide-possessed Madeleine, who enticed the wraith to become an energumenic ménages à trois.
Back at Mahogany Hall, Adán tried to focus his blurry, double vision on his attacker. Whether by virtue of that double vision or Leopoldite-taught benediction, he saw Gator Johnson’s ghost–the huge black man’s drowned frame superimposed over Madeleine. Seeing ‘he’ was recognized, Madeleine cruelly smiled. Spectral gulf water oozed from the boxer’s mirrored smile.
The smile–or smiles–soon faded, however, as Madeleine seemed to once again ‘transform.’ This time it was a thick, feminine voice–that of the Vodou witch from the asylum. That voice soon began to spit and curse–though not at Adán, not at first:
“Agwé-damned imbecile! Ya almost done killed ‘im–we be wantin’ to savor our revenge, nice ‘n slow as one of Damballa’s seed swallowin’ his supper…”
As Adán slipped in and out of consciousness, so too did Madeleine’s ‘identities’ war against one another for control of their host. As they bickered amongst ‘themselves’, Adán recognized not only Alcide, Gator Johnson, and the witch–who had evidently committed suicide after Adán had exorcised her demonic lover–but the demon itself. Whether by Alcide’s invitation or his former lover’s master, El Taumaturgo had buried deep in Madeleine’s soul like a tick, growing fat by feeding upon the other spirits’ dark desires.
One of those other spirits was Ahab Argabrite, the maternal grandson of the 19th century Alderman Sidney Story, who had spearheaded Storyville’s past regelation, if not legalization, of prostitution. Ahab had died in the Boston Club, poisoned by the Black Hand and then inadvertently trampled by the Brotherhood–though not before losing a wager against Percy J. Parker–or more accurately the wraith of Earl Beardie. Prior to the tournament, Ahab had all but bankrupted his family due to his speculative investing, gambling with his club peers, and penchant for expensive whores. Ahab had hoped the tournament would allow him to recoup some of his losses.
Yet, he had lost his table’s game against Earl Beardie when the devil-cursed ghost goaded Ahab into betting the “peace of the grave”, as the Ahad had otherwise lacked any other ante. When Ahab had ‘awoken’ as a wraith, he eventually followed his penniless family as they became tenants of the ex-brothel poor house. There, he had fallen under the sway of El Taumaturgo, who promised the man a way to restore Storyville’s once-lucrative Order of the Garter.
Shortly thereafter, the demon had enticed another wraith to join the ghostly orgy inside Madeleine’s body: Phineas Constantin. Prior to the events of Boston Club ‘riot’, Brother Constantin had been a devout, if brutally zealous, Catholic. Yet, being ghouled by Rhett Carver had broken his spirit and faith, especially as the blood bond had compelled him to spy on and sabotage the Shadow Congregation. When the Brotherhood detected his duplicity and inhuman corruption, they had hunted him down like a rabid dog fit only for destruction. In doing so, they had finally broke what little remained of the ghoul’s ruptured faith, and his last words had been ones of blasphemy and hate.
When he arose as a wraith, he had been easily tempted by El Taumaturgo, as the demon convinced him that the Order of the Garter would not only fulfill his thirst for vengeance but also create a ‘communal order’ where all things, even flesh, were shared fully and without limits amongst its members. As a consequence, the Order of the Garter had become not only a prostitution ring, but an anarchist-communist cult, where every member shared their resources and bodies in a “carnal communion” that mirrored the legion of spirits sharing Madeleine’s body.
Those spirits also shared enmity for Adán, and as part of that collective malice, they had been all too happy to corrupt the guilt-tortured wraith of Michel Montobon. The war-slain Michel had hoped to confront Alcide and free Madeleine, and thus redeem himself in God’s eyes for his ‘sins of the flesh.’ However, the nascent wraith had been utterly unprepared for the combined might of the other shades, as well as the demon’s devious seduction.
True to the fiend’s prediction, Mishach’s ‘revelation’ hurt Adán far worse than Gator Johnson’s blows:
“I’m free now, Adán,” the former seminarian-turned-soldier said with Madeleine’s lips and the expression of a morphine-delirious addict. “I am no longer trapped in a man’s body. I no longer hear the devil howling at my door. Rather, in this woman’s body, I am finally free of my unnatural temptations, for I am no longer a man. I can finally ‘know’ the man I love–you, Adán, it’s always been you! I can be your Eve. I can bear the fruit of your womb. It is finally as God wills!”
Adán could barely speak above his tears, half-dislodged gag, and dislocated jaw:
“Michel… the devil no longer howls… because you have let him in… you have given him the keys… to your soul’s door. You must… resist!”
“No more resisting!” Michel’s wraith angrily, lustfully proclaimed. With the demon, witch, and Alcide all goading Michel, their mortal puppet violently striped the deacon bare and began to consummate the wraiths’ death-warped desire. Emaciated, strung up, concussed, and bleeding, Adán was physically spent like the water in Hagar’s bottle in Beersheba’s desert.
Wednesday night, 23 February 1944, AM
Yet, just as with Hagar, Adán’s tears and prayers were answered. Unlike Hagar, Adán was saved not by an angel, but by Enrique Salvador.
After investigating Madeleine and the Order of the Garter, the detective had been staking out Mahogany Hall. He had watched as the deacon walked into that den of iniquity, only to be swiftly bound. Yet, the deacon’s entrance and captivity provided Enrique the perfect opportunity to sneak into the manor.
Stealthily subduing several distracted guards, Enrique was able to find Lulu White’s hidden safe in which the recently deceased woman had kept ledgers with secrets about her rivals, including Marguerite Defallier and her Invictus allies. These were Enrique’s true prize, but the detective’s conscience got the better of him when he overheard Adán’s cries of pain and torment.
Thus, Enrique rushed up the stairs, blackjacking several more of Madeleine’s goons. He broke into the bedroom and drew his revolver, intent on putting a bullet in Madeleine’s skull. His aim, however, was spoiled, not only by a pack of released hounds that attempted to savage him, but also by the tortured deacon’s cry for clemency–for Madeleine.
The errant bullet fired high, piercing Adán’s palm. As the blood ran down the deacon’s cuffed hand and wrist, Adán found a hidden reservoir of power. He slipped his blood-slick hand free, his broken body barely registering the fresh pain. He yanked hard with his other wrist, causing the already damaged chandelier to break off from its ceiling rose. The latter crashed directly upon the unsuspecting Madeleine, knocking her to the ground and momentarily unconscious.
While Enrique fended off the cultists’ attack dogs, Adán staggered to Madeleine’s prone body. Reaching forward with his injured hand, he used his stigmata-welled blood to paint the medieval Catholic formula for exorcism, reciting the accompanying benediction of the Vade Retro Satana:
“Crux Sacra sit mihi lux,
Non Draco sit mihi dux.
Vade retro Satana!
Nunquam suade mihi vana.
Sunt mala quae libas,
Ipse venena bibas.”
(“May the Holy Cross be my light,
May the Dragon never be my guide.
Never tempt me with your vanities.
What you offer me is evil,
Drink the poison yourself.”)
So rebuked, the seven unclean spirits screamed as one. It took all of Adán’s spiritual puissance and faith to tear the incorporeal parasites from their host, and with a potent prayer to God, he shunted their spirits into the seven dogs savaging the detective. So disoriented and afflicted, the beasts turned and fled, crashing through the parlor’s Tiffany glass windows. The canines plummeted four stories to their mortal deaths.
Only then did Madeleine regain her own voice. She stared at Adán as if was Christ himself, naked and baptized with blood, suffering, power, and mercy. So awed, she exclaimed:
“I am free! Sweet Jesus, I never believed I would be free!”
In answer, Adán humbly repeated Christ’s words to the father of the demon-possessed child, as related by the Gospels:
“All things are possible to those that believe.”
Whether recognizing the scriptural passage or simply being moved by that father’s same desperate faith, she knelt before him and pled:
“I believe, I believe–help my unbelief!”
“As God wills it,” Adán proclaimed, then promptly passed out from his injuries.