Book Excerpt: A Fate Worse Than Death – Jonathan Gould

B-Lines and Felines: A Fate Worse Than Death

I stood and was about to grab my hat and coat when there was a knock on the door. I opened it and a woman stepped in. Suddenly, my dimly-lit office was bathed in a surreal glow. A glow that, of course, emanated directly from my newly-arrived visitor. It was the third angel, Jessie.

She had medium-length, reddish-brown hair that descended in waves over a pale, slightly freckled face. Her eyes were soft brown, but her mouth was pulled into a tight frown. The robe she wore was long, its bottom swishing against her feet. Unlike at least one of her fellow angels, she clearly subscribed to the virtues of modesty, though as far as I could tell from the outline through the robe, she had nothing to be modest about. All in all, she cut a highly appealing figure. Not stop-you-in-your-tracks, knock-you-down-in-the-street, and rip-your-eyes-out-of-their-sockets attractive like Sally, but highly appealing nonetheless.

I showed her to a seat and went back to my desk. As she sat arranging her robe about herself, I quickly adjusted the Venetian blinds I’d just hung over the windows, attempting to restore the office to its previous state of gloom. Presently, she spoke.

“I just wanted to say how sorry I am, Mr Clarenden.” Her voice was soft. I had to strain my ears to catch it.

I said, “I can’t accept your apology.”

“Why ever not?”

“Because, to my knowledge, you haven’t done anything you need to apologise for.”

She looked down for a moment.

“Or are you apologising in advance, for something you’re about to do?” I continued.

She looked up again. Then she smiled. Just a small smile, for a fraction of a second, but it made a difference.

“I’m not apologising for anything I did,” she said. “I’m apologising for the way Sally treated you yesterday. It wasn’t right or fair.”

“You don’t have to worry about that—it was all my fault. I didn’t realise I’m supposed to be nice to her.”

“You’re a kidder,” she said. “But you don’t understand what you’re saying. You don’t really know Sally.”

“Are you going to tell me more about her?”

“I’m going to tell you to be very careful of her.”

“I’ve already learnt to be careful of her. She could skin a man alive with that tongue of hers, and as for those legs—”

“You think it’s a joke.” Jessie was staring at me with her head held high, but underneath the bravado, I could see how tightly her hands were clenched, and the slight tremble in her shoulders. There was no doubt this was an angel who was terrified of something. Or of someone.

“I don’t think anything is a joke,” I said. “When anyone warns me about someone, I listen. But I also wonder about the real purpose of the warning. Is there any reason I should be as frightened of her as you seem to be?”

Jessie looked away. Her eyes scanned the room, eventually alighting on the large picture frame I’d placed in the middle of the desk, from which the face of a young woman gazed out wistfully.

“Who is she?” she asked.

The change of subject took me by surprise. “She was my wife.”

“She’s very pretty. She must be missing you.”

“I doubt that very much. She left me for a smooth-talking shoe salesman many years ago.”

“A shoe salesman?”

“That’s right. She said she could never love a man with fallen arches.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to open up old wounds.”

“There are no wounds to open. A man in my business has to take the bad with the bad. But you didn’t come here to chat about my personal tragedies. And I don’t think you came here just to warn me about Sally. So what’s the real story? What do you want from me?”

She tore her eyes from the photo. “I don’t really know how to say this.”

“Words usually work for me.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Fending off that question from pretty much everyone I meet.”

“And how long do you plan to keep fending it off?”

“Until you people stop asking and finally leave me in peace.”

“Do you take us for fools, Mr Clarenden?”

“Call me Jimmy, and I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about.”

“You really think you can tell us that you’ve just died and gone to Heaven. Come off it, Jimmy. Anyone who looks at you can see you’re not Heaven material. You’re here for some other reason.”

I shrugged. “So maybe I am.”

Her eyes widened. “So you admit you are?”

“I admit nothing. I’d just like to know why it’s such a concern of yours.”

“It’s no concern. I just thought I might be able to help you, that’s all.”

I laughed. “You really want to help me? You’re a saint.”

“Actually, I’m an angel.”

“Okay, Angel, if you really want to help me . . . ” She angled her head towards me. “ . . . Tell me where in this God-forsaken place I can have some fun.”

Back went the head. “What do you mean, fun?”

“You see, that’s the problem. Nobody here seems to have any conception of how to have fun.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“I know what I’m saying all right. Heaven is a morgue. I could have more fun in an old person’s home. I haven’t even been here a day and I’m already sick of it.”

“Don’t talk like that.” Jessie was on her feet, crying out with surprising violence. Her eyes were filled with tears and her lower lip was quivering.

“Angel, take it easy.”

“You’ve barely been in Heaven a day and you think you know what it’s all about. Well you’re wrong. Heaven is a place where people are happy. It’s a beautiful place, a blessed place. If you can’t see that, then you definitely shouldn’t be here.”

“I’m sorry,” I said quickly. “I’m sure you know far more about these things than I do.”

“Don’t play with me.”

“I’m not playing. This whole business is deadly serious, as far as I’m concerned.”

She looked at me. I looked at her. Nothing moved in my tiny office, save for the slow rotation of the ceiling fan I’d recently installed. Finally, she sat down.

“I’m sorry if that seemed a bit overdramatic,” she said as she went through the whole robe arranging thing again. “It’s just that I care a lot about this place. Maybe in time you will too. Anyway, as I said before, if there’s anything I can do to assist . . . ” As she finished with the robe, she leant forward, listening intently. Too intently.

I said, “You want to help me and I’m a three-legged ostrich.”

She rocked back. “Excuse me—”

“No, you excuse me. I think I’ve figured out what’s going on here. You want something from me, but it’s not something you can just come out and ask for. So instead, you come here with these apologies and warnings and offers to help, hoping that what you want will slip out of my mouth without me knowing it. You’re waiting for me to give you a sign. What sort of sign, Angel? What do you need me to tell you?”

“I think I’d better go.” She stood up again and began walking towards the door. I called after her.

“Is it something to do with Sally? Can you at least tell me that much?”

She stopped and turned back to me.

“Remember, my offer to help still stands. Anything you want, just ask.”

There was something she could do for me all right. “Angel, if you can scare me up a bottle of whisky, I’ll be your friend for life.”

But she’d already walked out of the office, leaving the door open behind her. I peeked through the Venetians and watched her exit the building and disappear down the street.

About A Fate Worse Than Death
A Fate Worse Than DeathJimmy Clarenden’s last case didn’t end well. Cut down in a hail of bullets, he’s now found himself at the Pearly Gates. Jimmy is no saint, so he’s stunned to learn he’s been summoned by God to take on a highly sensitive job. God’s son (the other one) has gone missing and it’s up to Jimmy to crack the case.

His investigations lead him to an unlikely cast of suspects — femme fatale angels, jaundiced journalists, even the heavenly gatekeeper, St Peter. But what Jimmy uncovers is enough to shake the foundation of Heaven and Hell.

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Jonathan Gould
Jonathan GouldJonathan Gould has lived in Melbourne, Australia all his life, except when he hasn’t. He never deliberately set out to be funny. For a while, he actually tried to be serious, but that only made people laugh more. So he decided he might as well go with the flow.

He has written numerous comedy sketches, as well as a couple of attempts at the great Australian sitcom, and his short stories and novellas have been nominated in several writing competitions, including the Goodreads Choice Awards.

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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