Needing some air, Al had walked out of the London physics conference and went a ways to a fenced-off park. He sat down on a bench next to the pond and watched the ducks swim by.
It was too much, all their questioning. Three years now, and he still had no answers for any of them. Despite all the searching he could do, despite all Beth’s reassurances, there was absolutely nothing he could tell these academics about Dr. Samuel Beckett’s whereabouts, and Al hated it.
In the background, a car, driving by, blasted rock music with some familiar lyrics.
Don't you hear my call though you're many years away?
Don't you hear me calling you?
The rest of the song came back to Al’s mind:
But my love, this cannot be
For so many years are gone though I'm older but a year
Al quietly sang for the next line, “Your father’s eyes from your eyes cry to me…”
“Isn’t it mother?”
“Huh?” Al looked up. The car, now parked, was quiet. Its driver, a younger dark-haired man, wearing sunglasses despite the overcast day, was sitting next to him on the bench.
“That’s how the song goes. ‘Your mother’s eyes from your eyes’... Kind of a rubbish song anyway, since we’re never getting into space like that at the rate the human race is going.”
“No, that’s not how it goes for me.” Al sighed and looked off into the distance.
The man shifted a bit, then after a few minutes, asked, “Want to talk about it?”
“I have this friend. Very good friend. I haven’t seen him in three years.”
“I know how that goes.”
“It’s not like you’re thinking. He’s… away, like how the song says. Not off to some planet. It’s more like he’s off to some year.” In a sarcastic, off-key voice, Al sang, “ In the year of ‘95, assembled here was my Sam, in the days when time-meddling people were few, or non-existent …”
Behind the sunglasses, the man was giving him a very curious look.
“Anyway, he’s been gone that long and I don’t know what to tell people when they ask about him.”
“Say he went for a walkabout in Australia.” The man shrugged one shoulder.
Al gave him a confused look. “That’s not where he went.”
“Doesn’t matter. Kidnapped? Walkabout in Australia. Drowned? Walkabout in Australia. Taken away on a convict ship? Walkabout in Australia.”
“Well, we’re both from the United States. Is that a funny British expression-”
“Bloody hell, of course it wouldn’t work with a Yank.” The man rolled his eyes, then he perked up. “Say the Towers got him.”
“9/11?” Al nodded thoughtfully. “It’s possible. I’ve wondered if he Leaped there, that day, and helped anyone. That’s all Sam ever wanted to do.”
The man smiled. “Reminds me of my best friend. I’m supposed to cause chaos and he’s supposed to help out everyone, but we sometimes traded off on that. It’s nice, I guess, getting to help people. Oh yeah, I’m Crowley.”
“Albert Calavicci, but most people call me Al. And I‘ve done that a few times, helping out people. But I wish most of them really knew I was there.”
“Doesn’t matter that much, really, if they know. Calavicci? Why do I know that name?”
“I was once an astronaut, about twenty years ago. I initially didn’t want to go, since my girls were so little then, but my wife knew it was what I’d always wanted and kicked my butt into the stars.” Al looked up towards the sky fondly.
“So you went up into space? Did you see Alpha Centauri?” There was a touch of awe in Crowley’s voice.
“Like the volunteers in thirty-nine, I did, but only far enough to orbit the Earth a few times. This planet is really beautiful from up there… I wish Sam could’ve gotten a chance to see too.”
Crowley nodded along at the sentiment about Earth. “You said your friend Sam helped people. How?”
Al looked up at the sky, thinking, before looking back at Crowley. “How do I put it? Sam was like a modern Don Quixote. He went to all kinds of different places, met some very strange people, and put right some very wrong situations.”
“Very strange people? Can’t be stranger than the people Az and I have met while traveling…”
“One time, he met this crazy woman who claimed she was an angel,” Al huffed.
Crowley’s eyebrows shot straight up.
“She was loud, said it was because she was Puerto Rican, and also said my wardrobe was sending me to hell.” Al’s eyes narrowed in annoyance as he shook his head.
“You sure she said she was an angel?” Crowley took a good look at what Al was wearing: a dark blue shirt decorated with blue-and-white bolts of lightning under a silver jacket with dark baggy pants and a midnight-blue fedora. “And mmm… you wouldn’t look too out of place in hell, but from what Az tells me, there are plenty of people up Above that wear outfits like that too.”
Al immediately scooched over on the bench, away from this stranger who also knew about angels, and worse yet, down there . “Who are you?”
Immediately, Crowley miracled Al unconscious then put him in the Bentley. Then he grimaced. “Bollocks. I’ve gone and done it again, haven’t I?”
“You told him what? ”
“He mentioned angels! How was I supposed to know?!”
That was the snippet of conversation Al heard upon waking up. He was no longer sitting on a park bench, terrified of someone who potentially came from Hell, but instead was reclining in a warm and cozy shop, all the shelves around him crammed with books. There was a warm mug of tea steaming on a table nearby. Al sat up, and wishing it was coffee, took a sip. At least it wasn’t as bad as Navy coffee.
“I’m not sure. He said she was Puerto Rican. Maybe a human soul who ascended? Below, we just make all the human souls who descend into minions or slaves.”
“We do have ascended human souls who act as guardian angels, yes.”
Al took more sips of his tea, still surveying where he was. Where was he? How far was he from the conference?
Crowley sauntered back into the room where Al was. “Oh good, you’re up. Az wants to talk to you.”
“We want to talk to you,” corrected the fair-haired, portly man in a cream-colored coat. “Crowley, I thought you were taking care of this for me?”
“No, no, Az, I’ll get to that soon enough. I want to know how else humans run into angels, and I want you talking to him, because he got scared of me.”
Al asked, eyebrows furrowed, “Where am I? What’s going on?”
“You’re in my bookshop. Don’t worry. My name’s Mr. Fell. Albert-”
“Al, we’re here to help you. We’re a little like your friend Sam, helping out various people, except sometimes Crowley makes things worse for them.”
“Yeah, he told me that.” Al squinted one eye at him. “So you’re more like Sam and Alia.”
“It’s a long story.” Al waved a hand impatiently. “And Crowley is helping me out… why?”
“The powers that be saw that you were having some trouble because of your friend-”
“Bullshit,” Al muttered. “There are no powers that be. There’s only Time or Fate, or whatever.”
“We’re here, so there’s Something out there,” Crowley said, tapping a snakey foot impatiently. “Az, get to the point.”
“And they wanted to help you out.”
“Help me? How? Sam is out there and I don’t know where he is. It’s like in the song- someday he’ll come back, after so many years, and he won’t be that much older, and by then the Earth will be old and gray.”
The man that Crowley had called Az said, “Crowley, did you get around to telling him?”
“Telling him what?” Crowley looked at him innocently.
“The information that he needed for today!”
“Oh! That!” Crowley rummaged around in his pockets.
Al clutched his mug of tea and gave Az a questioning look.
Crowley dutifully recited, “Your friend Samuel Beckett, yes. He’s present on the coast, in a young man named Matthew Clarke, whatever that means. He’s out at midnight.” One side of Crowley’s mouth turned up. “Well, I suppose he’ll be quite busy in bed with this Matthew…”
Az shot him a look. “Don’t be like that! You dragged poor Albert here. The least you could do is take him down to the coast.”
Crowley sighed. “All right then. I’ll take you in my Bentley. I hope you like fast cars.”
Al’s face lit up. “Fast? Let me tell you about what I drove as an ensign…”
In the car, as London traffic flowed around the Bentley, Crowley asked, “How much does this Sam mean to you?”
“He’s my best friend. Was. Is. I don’t know. But he means the world to me.”
Crowley nodded slowly. “That’s Az to me too. I get it. So is he usually in the business of sleeping with other men?”
“No? He’s straight as an arrow and I’m married.”
Crowley took a few minutes to process this. “Right, you two haven’t figured it out. But it did say he was in that other fellow.”
“What? No, no, no, not like that at all! Look, this is confidential information, all right?”
“All right.” Crowley continued driving the car towards Brighton.
Al‘s voice turned military serious and he sat up straighter. “Sam’s a Leaper. For this top secret project we worked on, he went into this device that took his body and threw it into the stream of Time. When he comes out, he’s in other people’s bodies- that’s how he fixes different situations.” Al sighed. “Is your source positive Sam’s in that body today?”
“Oh yeah,” Crowley said. “I trust Az with that information.”
“So what, he’s an angel? That’s how he knows this?”
Al looked out his window. “It was the same with Angelita.”
“Angelita?” Crowley started snickering. “An angel named Angelita?”
“It was her real name. She was some singer back when she was alive or something. Anyway, she said she got all this information before she went to wherever and fixed the situation, kind of like Sam. But Sam only had me and Ziggy before, and now…” Al shrugged.
“I’m sure he’s fine, wherever he is.”
“That’s what my wife keeps telling me. So if he’s an angel, what are you?”
Crowley pulled down his sunglasses and looked at Al in the mirror with bright yellow eyes. “A demon. I only went down there because I asked too many questions in heaven, and happened to saunter vaguely downwards.”
“How do an angel and a demon become friends?”
“Eh, we kept running into each other over millennia, and after only so long of doing that, we decided we were on our own side, together.”
Al nodded. If he could accept Angelita, having still remembered her, he could accept a demon’s existence. “So. Hell. What’s that like?”
Crowley grimaced. “Dark. Unpleasant. I don’t like to think about it too much.”
“So. I’ve been there already. At least we can agree on not liking it.”
The Bentley arrived near a public beach. Crowley and Al got out, the latter slowly scanning the beach. It took Crowley only a minute to see Matthew Clarke. “Look. There’s your man.” He touched Al on the shoulder and gently steered him in the right direction.
Crowley watched as Al walked up to the young man and touched him on the arm. The two of them spoke briefly before the young man grabbed Al in a tight hug. Then they walked off down the beach, still talking.
Satisfied, Crowley got back behind the wheel. He’d drive back to the bookshop and tell Aziraphale the job was done.
As he drove back, by now miles away, a brief thought came to mind. What if Al needed a ride back and Sam/Matthew couldn’t give him one?
Oh well. It was an inconvenience, and humans put up with those all the time.