Another ghostor is it?
Sam freezes. The speaker had not been sitting there just a moment ago. With great effort, Sam turns his head. Next to him is the white angel from his dream. She is gloriously beautiful, and it is all Sam can do to not burst into tears. The two men in the front of the church go about their business as if no one else were present.
Stern could do nothing but stand mute and blink. Nothing else existed save for the angel. Stunned, he could not summon the intellect to form a single word.
"And so is yours, Samu-el," the angel says warmly, her voice both grand and delicate. "The time of your trial is fast approaching, Samu-el. When it comes, you must make a choice. Peace or power, Samu-el. When that time comes, and your choice must be made, we have faith that you will do what is right. Our Master does not test those He knows will fail. Do you understand, Samu-el?"
Stern's spirits buoyed at the thought that there would be an end to all this, this living nightmare. A beatific smile grew on his face. "Yes," he said, "peace. Peace at long last."
Without changing expression, a strange nagging thought intruded into his calm. He continued his warm gaze at the angel. As if someone had taken over his body, he grew panicked that he could remain outwardly unchanged, yet inwardly...suspicious. What had done it? It was the way she had warned him. Yes, he had been issued a warning.
Now he wished he hadn't declared his true feelingshis intentionsbecause he no longer knew what the right answer was.
The angel smiles warmly, sensing Sam's sudden confusion and fear. "You are a good soldier, Samu-el. When the time comes, if you doubt, remember the example our Lord set in the Garden. Now, go home and rest. The first sign will come soon. At lunch, tell your employer you are ill and must leave."
And with that, the angel is gone. No flash. No sound. In the split second Sam's eyes blinked, the angel went from being there to not.
After the funeral, Bethany checked on Stark, finding him sound asleep and medicated. After, she returned to her office/home. A short stack of messages rested conspicuously on her desk, but none were important. That is, except for the last one. She hadn't seen the name in such a long time, it didn't register at first who it was. But there, on the slip of paper: Albert Denck. Denck was the German consul in New York, and an old friend from the dark days of her marriage to Alex. Underneath his name were a phone number and this message: Call ASAP. Anytime.
Nibbling pensively at her lower lip, Beth re-reads the brief note twice, as if hoping new information will appear. She's tired, worried, annoyed with herself and the rest of the world to boot, and yet another knot of tension forms within at this message. ASAP, hmm? _This can't be good._ She sits down at her desk and leans back in the chair, staring at the ceiling for a minute before picking up the phone.
"Herr Denck." Her accent is rusty, her tone cordial but wary. "This is Bethany. Sorry to disturb you so late, but the message I received implied some urgency?"
"Bethany," Denck says, sounding very relieved. "I feared you would not call. There is some...trouble. You may be in danger. I don't know. I hope I am just an old fool, but my eyes are not playing tricks on me." He pauses, slowing himself down. "Our security camera at the front gate today recorded someone, just standing, staring into the lens, as if he wanted to be recorded, to be discovered. Bethany, the man on the recording. It's Alexander. I don't know how or why, but it is Alexander."
The name of Bethany's ex-husband is like ice water in her veins.
The ice is reflected in her voice. "That is, obviously, impossible." _The dead appear to be everywhere today...._ She hesitates. Denck is not the fool he labels himself, but what on earth could this mean?
She's afraid to know more, but the words seem to speak themselves, regardless of her will. "May I see the tape?"
"Of course," Denck replies. "That is why I called. When should I expect you?"
Beth hesitates. "If it's all right with you, I'll leave now." There's no chance she's going to sleep after this anyway.
Soon after that she is making her way through the ever-noisy streets again, her mind so overtaken by memories that it is a small miracle she avoids an accident.
Denck, who Bethany hasn't seen in a few years, is very much as she remembered him. He is a little grayer, a little thicker around the waist, but is still a handsome, charming man, a curious mixture of restrained sexuality and German efficiency. When in Denck's presence, it is not possible for a woman to forget he is a man, but at the same time Denck's masculinity is never presented. Instead, it simply is.
"How good to see you, Bethany," he says warmly, his hands folding around both of Bethany's smaller hands. "It has been too long."
Denck escorts Bethany through the public areas of the embassy to a security room. A video monitor is already on, hooked up to a bulky video machine. Denck offers Bethany a seat and then presses the "play" button. A black and white picture appears on the monitor. Passers-by walk on and off camera. Some look at the lens, but most just go about their business.
"Here," Denck says, pointing at the screen.
Bethany's breath catches involuntarily. Alexander Van Tilburg, her dead husband, steps clearly into view and stops, staring coldly into the camera. He is wearing a dark suit and trenchcoat. The seconds tick by slowly. Then, he winks, turns on his heel, and walks off camera. Denck stops the video.
"I fear for you, Bethany," Denck admits. "No good can come of this."
"No," she murmurs. "You're right about that." She gazes at the blank screen for a moment without truly seeing it, then shakes her head sharply. "No need to worry about me. Whatever's going on, I'll get to the bottom of it." She almost manages to sound convincing, despite the sick feeling that has rooted itself firmly in the pit of her stomach.
From the embassy she makes her way to Stark Industries, where she re-examines the brief section of tape, hunting for any clue that it was faked, a flaw that will reveal the man in the trench coat for the imposter he must be. Her thoughts return again and again to those last wretched months, to the day she received the news of his death. _Now look what you've done,_ her mother's expression had said.
Bethany's apprehension increases the more she examines the tape. There is no flaw in the man's appearance. His mannerisms on tape are too vague. There is nothing distinctive, yet nothing out of character. But the man must be an impostor, for the dead do not return to life.
Exhaustion takes its toll at last; when she realizes that she'd fallen asleep for some time with her head resting on the table and a screen full of static in front of her, Beth gives in and returns home for a night of restless sleep.
Patsy, reflective and somber, took the long way home, taking time for a meandering walk through the park, enjoying the relative quiet and solace. Sure, there were a few hookers and more than a few hippies turning on and dropping out, but no one bothered here. After a bit, her feet starting to ache, she headed on home. What she found there will haunt her for years. The front door to her apartment was ajar, which was enough to set her nerves on edge. The next sight nearly tore a scream from her throat. Laying on the floor, one arm obviously broken at the elbow, his clothes torn and bloodied, his broken glasses nearby, was Hank McCoy!
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