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Angel of Babylon

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Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd.

And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her.

When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.

Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.”

October 11, 2013

"I see you, Frank Bowers."

Frank froze in his tracks. He had just started walking away from that row of headstones on his way out. The place was clear - or had been. This speaker had popped up out of nowhere, like something out of a nightmare. The red tint of the golden rays beaming through the trees beyond suddenly felt like they were being captured in windows stained with blood.

He turned, hand near his pocket. Pompidou was watching him. Everything was brown and black and red and gold, as he spied a silhouette amidst the crosses flecked with patches of light coming through the shadow of a tree. The deer on her pendant seemed to dance with the wind.

It was that quiet creepy girl.

"What the fuck do you want?"

What she was high on, Frank had no idea. Not from anything he sold her, not directly anyway. That first call to him had been cold, dead, determined. When he first saw her in the shadows he was expecting a fight; but as she stepped into the light, it seemed like the instant her facial expression registered in his mind it changed again and she softened up. Sad, shaken, scared but still not going anywhere.

The weird part was that the change (if indeed it was a change) was instant: no flinch, no shuffling about, no look of surprise. Frank wasn't even sure if human facial muscles could move like that. Not without chemical enhancement, anyway.

Frank left his own expression at his initial scowl. Pompidou tilted his head at the creepy girl. They waited for her to speak.

"I— I don't want to hurt you." What the fuck. "We... we both knew Chloe. I know what you've"—she covered her face in her hand—"fuck, I really made this awkward for myself"—yup, high as a kite—"I can only imagine what you're going through now, losing both her and Rachel. I..."—she lowered her hand and looked at Frank again—"I just feel it's wrong to leave it just like this between the two of us."

Between... what!? Frank's hand moved a bit closer to his pocket. Pompidou still wasn't barking. Why wasn't he barking.

She took another step forward. Frank didn't even realize his knife was out before his arm raised the blade and it briefly reflected the sun back at him. "You stay right where you are, girlie. You don't know me, and you damn well don't know anything about Rachel, or Chloe, or anything that was going on between any of us. I'd appreciate it if you got your nosey entitled Blackwell ass out of my business, do you hear?"

A second of nothing happening. Frank could hear the faint rumble of the other attendees' cars somewhere in the distance. He wasn't sure Samara here even heard him.

After another second that lasted a fucktillion eternities she lowered her head - and looked ready to start bawling right there and then.

Frank sighed and put away the knife. Might as well talk - it wasn't like she was going to pull a gun on him or anything.

Max couldn't do it. It would have been so easy, just push every button on that stab dispenser, let that knife go right through, lie down and think happy thoughts about that week with Chloe as it all faded away. No need for pills, or a rope, or that godforsaken Prescott Dormitory roof. Together with Chloe and Rachel and William at last, while Frank would take the whole blame and Arcadia Bay's drug scene would see a timely and much-needed collapse. No one would miss Frank's drug-dealer ass now, would they.

The knife was touching her throat before she rewound. She wondered if it still left a mark.

She could have rewound all the way, turned around and never seen him again. But that wouldn't have been right either. Would've been the same old chickenshit not-right-in-the-head Max, the one who never went through That Week... Frank lying in a pool of his own blood, Chloe searching his pockets as she stands by like an idiot and does nothing - again... Frank squirming in the blood-stained sand, handing over the list as Chloe snatches it away before Max could think to take it... Frank calmly handing over the list, and yet again Max forgets to take—well, not that it mattered by that point...

The first time Frank pulled that knife she watched it like a blade of grass, like nothing. Just like the nothing that that entire version of events now was. So why did this second time nearly make her shit herself?

That exasperated sigh and "Alright, fine, kid, make it quick" was a choir of angels.

She waited for him to put the knife away before speaking. "Look, Frank, I'm sorry. I just—I know you and Chloe go way back. She and I do too. I just... need—hoped there might've been someone around to talk to. Someone who knew who she really was and not... you know," she gestured vaguely in the general direction of the other "entitled Blackwell asses".

Another moment of silence. The next words that came out of Frank's disgusting scabby mouth made Max wish he'd been stabbing her. "Waitaminute - you're Max, aren't you? Yeah, Chloe mentioned you a few times. You're that 'friend' that left town after her dad died, ghosted her for five years and then sat there like an idiot while that Prescott punk shot her!"

I had you shot for less, Frank Bowers. And yet he said nothing but the truth.

In her mind, Max went right back to Plan A. Called him out that it was his drugs that killed Rachel, his failure to protect her and treat her right that sent her to Jefferson, his relentless pressure on Chloe that got her killed every goddamn bit as much as Max's own inaction, all this the work of a depressed slob who wasn't man enough to own any of the damage that he did to everyone else for his cash, stash and stupid fucking mangy dog. Tore him to pieces right there before Pompidou did the same to her.

One more sleepless night, perhaps, and Max would never have known if she had only fantasized all that or if she really had done it only to rewind a second time.

"Yeah. I was." Max looked at her shoes and considered letting Frank respond, then continued when she thought the better of it. "We—" she looked out onto the still-golden sunset, out onto the orange-black pines and the relentless columns of their approaching shadows—"we met up for a little while before she died. We caught up on a lot. About us, about all the fucked up shit going on in this town, about Blackwell, about... Rachel." From the corner of her eye she could see Frank shift his weight, hand in pocket making a clacking sound. Might as well go all in. "She was her angel, Frank. Saved her life when I couldn't. When none of us could. And now she's gone."

And now she's gone.

Max tried to sit down on the grass to face the sunset. It was not working in that dress with her bag. She got back up and brushed the grass off; better to just stand anyway. Sitting in the corner, unable to do anything as the scene unfolded just a few feet away... "Fuck, why am I even talking to you? We've never even met. Never—no, that's not right, I—"

She sat back down and buried her face in her hands. No one spoke for a long time.

Now Frank was really confused. The girl was obviously hiding something. Everything she's said Chloe could've told her, so that checked out. Did she think he was going to try to shake her down for the money Chloe owed him? Was she somehow involved in Prescott's shit, and that's why she couldn't do anything in the bathroom?

Shit, was she a cop?

He sighed. "Hey, kid, while you're enjoying the sunset me and Pompidou are gonna head out. I don't expect to ever see your face again, so" - he paused and made a frown that Max couldn't see - "I might as well say I don't blame you for freezing. Nobody should be forced to be ready for that crap, not anyone who isn't in this kind of business." There were two possibilities: this girl is a cop, and the whole bathroom thing was made up from the start to try to trap Frank in something, in which case he was not going to take that fucking bait; the other, the girl really was just another spoiled little Blackwell shit, but even so she did have the balls to touch base with the armed drug dealer her dead friend owed money to, so she deserved at least that respect.

After a few seconds Frank started hearing sobs and began to walk away, then suddenly stopped and turned back as Max started speaking. Her mascara was a wreck. "Thank you, Frank. I... I guess I just wanted someone here who could understand better just who it was we were mourning today. And..." She turned her gaze back to the sunset. "We have met before, but the way we did you wouldn't have remembered. God, that feels like a lifetime ago now..."

Frank squinted at Max's shoes: plain dark-coloured flats, not at all stompy. His eyes scanned her dress, her bag, her pendant, looking for any sign of a gun or badge or body cam. He could not articulate a single thing he was seeing about this girl that suggested she was a cop pretending to be Chloe's long-lost friend. And Pompidou didn't bark or even look nervous: he'd taught him a while back to smell cops and this was not the reaction he'd be giving. No way the pigs could come up with anything so elaborate anyway. "Alright, fine, Riddler. How did we meet then, since you so obviously badly want me to ask?"

Max ran her hands over her face, but this time in frustration. "Actually I didn't want you to ask. You wouldn't believe me if I told you. But since we're on the topic of what each of us knows"—she looked up and made sure she was looking him in the eye—"you know why Chloe borrowed that three thousand, right?"

Frank's finger was touching the knife, ready to flick it out in a tenth of a second. Pompidou barked once. Max stayed seated and looking up at Frank, and his rational thought eventually overcame his three years' worth of ill-begotten habits when it came to discussions about who owed whom money. He leaned back, crossed his arms and scowled at her. "No."

Max got up, fishing around her bag for something. She found it and handed it to Frank. It was an instant photo of a mechanic's invoice. "Rachel was always talking about her dream of skipping town and making it big in Los Angeles. Chloe died trying to repay you, Frank."

He almost wanted to laugh, at himself, at Chloe, at Max, at how fucking stupid and pointless it all was. They could have taken a cab to the airport, flown to L.A. and gotten a hotel room on the money he'd lent her, but damn that girl loved that truck. Like she loved... so many things.

He let his scowl soften - slightly. "Yeah, I suspected it was about Rachel. I was jealous of what they had between them, and now that I think about it I guess that was part of why I was so willing to lend her the money at all, just so Rachel would know it was me and I was still there for her, whatever place she might end up in - and why I was so hard on Chloe about paying it back, when nothing happened after and Rachel was still gone." Frank looked out at the sunset and sat down on the grass where he had stood. "Fuck... she had the balls to blackmail the Prescotts like that... gotta be the stupidest and craziest thing that's happened in this town all week... but all that time she was man enough to actually do something while I... aw, fuck, Rachel..."

They sat there and said nothing for a while. Pompidou went over to Max inquisitively and she gave him a nice long scritch-scratch behind the ears.

Max's phone went off. It was Warren. He, Kate and Justin were waiting for her by his car. "I guess that's my cue. See you in another reality, Frank. And you too, P— Frank's dog."

"Yeah. You take care of yourself. Try not to get roped into stupid shit like Chloe did." Max didn't stop walking away, and Frank couldn't tell if her "Too late for that" was actually meant for him to hear.

After a few steps she looked back at him over her shoulder. "Francis Bowers, you take good care of that bracelet. For Rachel. For all of us."

Frank opened his mouth to ask her how the fuck she knew about that, but all he saw when he stood up was headstones, trees and grass - shadows ever reaching east to return to the growing sea of blue.