The Loss of Good
They were in Boston. Their hotel afforded a splendid view of the city. The Charles River wound to the bay; they could see the Boston University and Harvard bridges, MIT, the old Boston Browns stadium, the domes and skyscrapers of downtown all glittering in the snow of a sunny winter day. They would be staying here a week, performing three concerts at venues in the surrounding area. Sossity came closer to Collin. She noticed he was crying. She took his arm.
"For Christ's sake, Collin, what is it?"
"For Christ's sake--if it were that I'd be okay. Sossity, do you remember what I was into in the early days of my career?"
She did not catch what he meant but then recollection dawned.
"You mean the Satanism thing?"
He nodded, crying harder.
"But you got out of that a long time ago. I mean, it was a fad. A lot of people were doing it back then--Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osborne--"
"Collin Fielding," he put in.
"So what's the problem?"
"Back then," he said, licking the tears at the corners of his mouth, "I went with some of my band members to the house of a guy who claimed to be a priest of Satan."
He stopped. She expected him to continue but he did not say more.
"And?" she prompted.
"We," he said, clenching his teeth and making a giant effort to control himself, "sold our souls to the Devil."
She did not answer right away. A paroxysm of weeping shook him. When he calmed down she spoke.
"Well, so what? I mean there's nothing to that."
"You think so?"
"Yes, I do."
"Do you believe in the Devil, Sossity?"
"I believe there is a malevolent force in the universe. But the guy with a red tights and a pitchfork seems a myth to me."
"That is a myth. But the reality it represents isn't. I thought the same thing as you. I thought it was just a silly little thing I did, something of no consequence. But now it's come back on me."
"The Devil," he said, "has come to collect his due."
She waited. He said nothing more.
He looked at her.
"Meaning he wants my soul."
"Well, don't give it to him. Tell him to fuck off."
He tried to smile but it came out a crooked grimace.
"I wish it were that simple. I wish it was something you could dismiss with a joke like you're trying to do. But it's not, Sossity, and you can't brush it off. I only have a week left."
"A week? You mean to live?"
"You think someone will try to kill you?"
"No. That's the kick of it. I have to kill myself."
By now she had come around so she could see his face. The expression of desolation she saw silenced her. Tears flowed from his eyes but at the same time he looked grim, resolution showing through the unfathomable grief she saw.
"Collin, this is absolutely insane."
"I knew you would say that. You don't understand, Sossity, and I guess you can't. I did what I did. It entailed certain obligations. Now my loan has been called in and I have to pay the price."
"You need help."
"I don't need help. I know just what you're going to say. I'm depressed, I'm delusional, I need to check into a mental hospital. Am I acting any different from how you know I usually act?"
She did not answer. He sniffed contemptuously.
"You don't want to admit that I'm not any different. No, Sossity. I'm perfectly sane. But I have to kill myself and I'm going to."
"How do you know you have to kill yourself?"
"She told me."
"My watcher. Abadonna. She told me last week. I'm going to drown myself. I figure that will be easiest. I'll jump off one of these bridges into the Charles. I figure it will only hurt a couple of minutes and I'll go numb and that will be it. I'll do it on the last day we're here. Should be big news. Then--"
"I think you know."
She almost made a joke about how he would warm right up after jumping into the frigid river, but his dead-serious tone, the gravity of his voice, and the complete humorlessness of his speech prevented her.
"Collin, this is not right. You don't have to kill yourself."
"No point in talking about it," he said, and he hurried out of her room. When she knocked on the door to his suite a few minutes later, his bodyguard said he did not want to be disturbed.
Sossity went back to her room.
She lay down but could not sleep. Sossity Chandler knew very little about the murky world of satanic worship, but she did know something. She recalled the days when she lived in London with Heather Alabaster.
That was the lean year, Sossity remembered. She had experienced some initial success as a musician opening for Geri Muir, and hoped this might lead to a recording contract, but Geri dropped out of the musical scene because of drug use and Sossity soon found herself playing in pubs, folk clubs, churches, and trying to scrape together enough cash to survive in the second most expensive city in the world. She met a girl her age, Heather Alabaster, who worked as a nurse and was planning someday to enter an Anglican convent. The two of them shared a house for a year.
Heather worked as a counselor at a local parish mission that ministered to the poor. In spring, Sossity remembered, she began counseling a group of girls who had gotten involved in some kind of cultic worship. When she urged them to leave the group--which was some sort of satanist group--she began receiving threatening phone calls and letters. She called the police and continued to work with the girls. All of them left the cult and began to attend church at the mission.
One morning Sossity walked home from playing a private party. She had earned 150£ playing music, which would help with the budget immensely. The sun was coming up. It looked like it would be a rare sunny day. When she neared the apartment she saw a crowd of people in front of the house the two of them rented. Toting her guitar, she pushed her way through the crowd, vaguely afraid something had happened to Heather.
When she got to the front she saw what looked like a table of flimsy boards at the top of their walkway. The crowd stood in a crescent around it. She recognized several of the girls Heather had counseled standing with adults who had to be their parents. The table had three items arranged on its top: a glass of water, a thick piece of bread, and what appeared to be an animal's heart, dripping blood.
She stared, a mixture of horror and fascination in her heart. She reached out to touch the altar.
"No, Miss!" one of the men shouted in a heavy Jamaican accent.
She drew her hand back.
"You must not touch," the man said. "This altar is dedicated to the Devil. The things on it are his food and the animal was a sacrifice to him. Do you live here?"
He pointed at the house.
"I do," she said, rattled by what she saw, and filled with fear. She glanced at the house, wondering if Heather were all right. As if in answer to her thoughts, the door opened and Heather emerged.
Though a devout Christian, her roommate did not fit the stereotype in dress, attitude, or behavior. This morning she wore a denim miniskirt, boots, and a loose-fitting long-sleeved velour blouse. She walked forward and stopped in front of the altar, gazed as if she recognized and understood what was going on, and turned to Sossity.
"Will you go inside and get me some paper towels?"
Sossity obeyed, carrying her guitar inside, coming back out with several paper towels from the kitchen. Heather took them, reached out, and wrapped the bloody heart in paper towels. The crowd gasped and stepped back. She picked up the bundle, carried it to a nearby dust bin, and unceremoniously tossed it in. Then she returned to the altar, paused again and, face set hard, ate the bread, drank the water, and then gave the altar a hard kick.
Heather played a constant round of sports and was strong. The structure of tacked-together packing boards flew to pieces. As the sun grew higher, complete silence fell. She turned to Sossity.
"Help me throw this away," she said.
Sossity obeyed, picking up an armload of boards and depositing them in the dustbin. She was afraid something would happen, but Heather behaved as if the whole episode was only an annoying disturbance in her morning routine. After they had thrown the wreckage of the altar away, she addressed the crowd.
"Everyone, I think we can go home now. Show's over," she said.
Once inside, Sossity asked her, "What do you think will happen?"
She looked into Heather's blue eyes.
"You're not afraid?"
"Is it all nonsense--this satanism thing?"
"No, Sossity. It isn't nonsense. It's very real."
"You don't seem afraid."
"I'm not. Whatever power evil may have, it is shabby and feeble. In the end it has no real power because it derives from good."
"It derives from good? How?"
"Evil is only the twisting of good. Like C. S. Lewis once wrote: If you took everything away from the Devil that is good, there would be nothing left of him."
"What's good about the Devil?"
"He exists. He has a will, a mind; obviously he has emotions. He wants things. He has perverted all of this and turned against God, but the things in themselves are good things. If there was nothing good about him, he would not exist."
For the next few days Sossity waited in dread for dark consequences to follow as diabolical retribution for what Heather had done: she would have a heart attack, be hit by a car, not mind the gap on the subway and be swept under the wheels of a train, or murdered in a horrific way by some maniac who was one of Satan's soldiers. A week passed, then two. One afternoon after they had finished running and were doing a walk-down, Sossity told her friend her fears and expressed how happy she was that none of the awful things she had envisioned had happened. Heather laughed.
"You've been watching too many shows on the telly. The idea that the Devil is all-powerful and can kill you, or send someone to kill you, is a movie-myth. Don't be afraid of this kind of thing, ever."
Sossity had thought of this years later, when she and her ex-husband David saw The Devil's Advocate with Al Pacino--the scene where the Devil/Pacino causes a man to die of a heart attack in a church. She said to her then-husband afterward, "The Devil can't do stuff like that."
What could the Devil do? she wondered, as she lay there, half-asleep.
She finally dozed off. When she got up, the front desk brought her an envelope the size of a thank-you card they said someone had left for her. Inscribed on it were the words FROM ABADONNA. It contained a blue slip of paper with a phone number written down.
She picked up her cell, and dialed the number.
"Yes?" a voice on the other end intoned. Sossity had blocked caller ID on her outgoing calls.
"This is Sossity Chandler. Am I speaking with Abadonna?"
"This is Abadonna. Thank you for calling."
"You're welcome. What can I do for you?"
"I need to talk to you, Miss Chandler."
"We are talking now, I believe."
"Not on the phone. I need to talk to you in person."
Sossity felt a tiny twinge of fear cross her heart.
"Why is that, may I ask?"
"I don't want to say what I need to say to you over the phone."
Her heart began to beat faster.
"Can we talk in person, Miss Chandler? I promise I will not take more than fifteen minutes or your time. What I have to say is vital to you and concerns what is happening with Collin Fielding."
Her mind raced through the considerations. The girl might be dangerous. But she had given her phone number. She could have Jason close by. And she could meet her in a public place. She licked her lips.
"All right, Abadonna. I think we can arrange something for tonight. I have to be honest, though. I don't know much about you but what I do know gives me a little bit of hesitation about meeting you in private. So I'll insist we meet in a public place."
"I will agree to that."
"And that my bodyguard be present. I am a celebrity and I deal with unusual people at times. Since I don't know you, you will understand why I am being cautious."
"I understand. Your request is reasonable."
"Can you meet me at 8:00 in the bar of--" she gave the name of her hotel. "Jason, my bodyguard, may want to search you but he will be discreet."
A small pause followed.
"Very well. I will be there at eight and I will agree to your conditions."
"Good. I'll see you then."
Sossity clicked off.
She stood in the center of her hotel room for a moment then stepped to the window. The skyline of Boston shone in the winter dark. A full moon, stark and bright, an ice ring around it, cast white light to the landscape eight stories below. The Charles River was frozen from bank to bank except for a rapid current of black water ten feet wide flowing between the two sheets of ice. If Collin jumped, he would be swept under the ice and would die in probably a minute or so, she thought. She turned, resisting the impulse to have more alcohol, sat down, and picked up her guitar.
In times past, this was what she did when overwhelmed: play guitar. Sometimes resolution came, sometimes it did not. In the worst days, before she made it big, she played when she had no food so she would not think about being hungry; when a disappointment in her career came; when a relationship or friendship broke up. She played. After a while, a thought occurred to her. She put down her guitar and called Amy Fosenburg, her go-fer and guitar technician, who always accompanied her on tours.
"Have the KGB check on this number," she instructed. "I want them to get me all the information they can on the person it belongs to."
She gave her Abadonna's cell number. The KGB was Keegen/Glavil Security, the company they relied on for background checks on employees and to track down the death threats and other bizarre communications Sossity got through the mail and on her web-site. They were well-connected and had contact with every information-gathering agency in the world.
It was getting close to eight. Sossity went downstairs and talked to the bartender. He agreed to keep people away from her table. She greeted the handful of people who were drinking, and who immediately recognized her. She chatted with them while Jason watched for Abadonna.
When the girl appeared at the entrance to the bar, Jason walked her out to the lobby. He had told Sossity he would not pat her down but use a metal detector on her. Sossity saw her spread her arms and stand there in a position that looked absurdly like a crucifixion as Jason ran the metal detector up and down her body. He lowered it and nodded. The girl dropped her arms and followed him in. Sossity walked over to meet her. The girl looked as if she could be in her late twenties. She was not tall and not exactly slender, but she was attractive, with an oval face and well-formed features, Sossity thought her dark eyes and bow-like mouth pretty. Graceful and poised, she looked good in the short black dress she wore. She had painted her fingernails black and wore heavy mascara. Her movements were quick and energetic. Sossity put out her hand.
"I presume you are Abadonna."
She smiled, flashing white teeth, and shook hands. Her grip felt normal.
"Correct. I know you from the concert tour."
"You've seen us play?"
"I go everywhere Collin goes. It's my task. I manage the master's property."
Sossity did not know how to respond. She gestured.
"Shall we sit?"
They sat down across from each other at a table for two. Jason sat down at the bar, a couple of feet away, ordered a drink, but watched them over his shoulder.
That this girl was a devotee of the Devil unnerved her. She gave no credence to the idea that the Devil existed, but she did know that people who labored under the illusion that he did often resorted to bizarre, cultic behavior that had, at various times, included murder and mutilation. People who got involved in weird religion were weird and could not be completely trusted. "Would you like a drink?"
"I don't drink alcohol."
"Well, I wasn't expecting that." She smiled. "You know: demon rum." The girl sat mirthlessly, though Sossity smiled to herself. It seemed, she thought, if one gave oneself to the Devil one ought to get at least a little pleasure in return. She focused on the girl's eyes. At first she had been afraid to look at her, but something about this young woman suddenly struck her as not sinister but rather vastly pretentious and ridiculous.
"You said you wanted to talk to me. I imagine you have customs in your circle and I have mine. I won't talk to anyone who doesn't have a drink with me. If you have something to say to me, you can either break your abstinence now or you can leave."
All of this was a lie. She knew lots of people who abstained from alcohol and would have never insisted a person drink in order to talk to her. But something told her this whole session would be like a chess game, and she wanted to open with a move that would control the board. The girl looked at her, face expressionless, but then flinched just slightly.
"Very well. It is no matter to me."
"What will you have?"
"I'll let you order."
By that time a waiter had appeared. Sossity ordered two doubles of Bowmore 16 Year-Old. They waited. The girl did not speak. Sossity drummed her fingers on the tabletop. She grew irritated at her guest's silence.
"Where are you from, Abadonna?" she asked.
"Does that matter?"
"It does to me."
"I grew up in Michigan--not far. What city are you from?"
"Crown Point." A tiny tremor ran through her face when she said this.
Sossity smiled. "I've played there a few times. Nice little town. They have a pretty courthouse, I remember, and there are some nice venues out at Cedar Lake." She mentioned the name a bar where she had performed in her years as a struggling beginner and asked Abadonna if she knew them.
"I don't go to bars," she answered flatly.
"I guess if you don't drink alcohol you wouldn't, would you?"
Their drinks arrived. Sossity wondered if this woman would drink, but she did. She lifted her glass and took a good sip. She remembered the scene in The Devil and Daniel Webster when the Devil picks up a drink and it begins to boil. Nothing like that happened when Abadonna sipped from her glass, though Sossity noticed she shuddered--obviously not used to drinking straight whisky. Sossity took a sip from her glass and smacked lips.
"Good stuff. Now. You said you wanted to talk with me."
The woman leaned forward just slightly.
"Actually, ma'am, I've come to warn you."
"Don't call me ma'am. I don't like to be called that."
"All right, Miss Chandler. I came here to warn you: don't interfere in what is going on with Collin. You may put yourself in danger if you do."
Sossity leaned back in her chair.
"Are you threatening me?"
"No, I am not. I am just warning you that if you try to stop him from fulfilling his destiny, you will come up against forces that are not benevolent."
"No. I have a different role--that of a watcher and sometimes a conduit. But remember you are going up against a power that is greater than any other, and if you try to interfere you may harmed. I'm not threatening you, Miss Chandler. I want to make that clear. I am, in fact, doing this for your benefit and welfare."
"But," she went on, and Sossity was surprised that her sarcasm had apparently ruffled the girl, "do consider yourself warned and beware if you try to stop him. He must be obedient and fulfill his obligation."
"And he will fulfill this obligation, as you call it, by jumping in the Charles River and freezing himself to death?"
She did not reply.
"I asked you a question; will you please answer?"
"I don't know what he has been ordered to do."
"You do now."
"Yes, I suppose so, though really it's not my concern."
"What is your concern?"
Their eyes met. Now, Sossity saw, the girl had the advantage.
"I don't want you hurt," she continued, "nor does the one I serve. You really have nothing to do with this matter and you need to stay out of it."
"When a friend of mine is so deluded he thinks he has an obligation to take his own life, I will not stand back and let such a piece of insanity occur."
"It's not his life," she said, her voice cold. "I believe he made that clear to you. He told you what he agreed to. His success as a musician came as an obligation in the contract. Now he must fulfill his obligation. And he isn't deluded."
"Isn't he?" Anger had started to fill Sossity's heart. "I think he's deluded and I think you are too."
"Believe whatever you want to, Miss Chandler. But don't interfere or you may regret the consequences."
Sossity opened her mouth to speak, then a smile twisted her face and she laughed.
"Something is funny?" the girl queried, trying to sound as though she were not annoyed but not quite succeeding.
"Yes. I was going to tell you to go to hell, but I guess that curse would be kind of lost on you. Collin is deluded and needs help."
"Does Collin seem deluded or depressed? Does he seem not in his right mind?"
Sossity hesitated but decided not to hedge the matter.
"No, he does not seem deluded in the least. But the urge to take one's own life is pathology. It is a symptom of mental illness whether the person seems mentally ill or not."
"You agree that he is not deluded. He knows what he is going to do and why."
"I still hope to intervene. He won't answer my calls but I'm going to tell his wife."
"His wife knows."
"How do you know that?"
"He told me. She accepts. She knows him intimately and can tell that his destiny is already settled. She loves him enough not to interfere. If you really love him, as you seem to indicate you do, you will not interfere either."
"You talked to his wife?"
"No, but he did and he told me."
"He might already be dead," she said, as much to herself as to Abadonna.
"He has an appointed day. His death must take place on that day, not before."
"How do I know you're telling the truth?"
"I never lie, nor does my master."
She remembered hearing this before about the Devil and his followers, but then, from the depths of her subconscious, a bible verse she had learned either in catechism class, from her mother, or from helping Heather with memorization of scripture, floated up into her mind.
"I learned a bible verse once: He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it."
She expected the girl to laugh or mock as satanists in movies did when people quoted the bible, but the recitation seemed to put her off-balance. Wanting to keep the advantage, Sossity spoke.
"I memorized that verse for my mother. She was very religious and forced me to do things like that. Your claim to being truthful doesn't hold much water with me, considering that your Master is the father of all lies. So excuse me if I'm skeptical."
She kept waiting for a scornful, sarcastic comeback. The girl only stared, as if trying to fight her way out of confusion. Finally she set her face hard, reached over, picked up her glass, and gulped down the substantial remainder her drink. She gagged on the strong whisky, coughed, and spewed it all over the table. Jason rushed over with napkins. The girl's face reddened. Tears came to her eyes.
"You okay?" Sossity asked, taking her arm.
The girl hacked and gagged. It took her a moment to regain her composure. When her coughing fit had passed, Sossity smiled and let go of her arm.
"That scotch costs forty-five bucks a shot. You shouldn't gulp it like that."
By now the girl's eyes were angry.
"I think I need to go. Remember what I said, Miss Chandler."
And she turned and walked out of the bar.
Sossity stood there with Jason. Everyone in the bar had watched the spectacle. She turned and spread her hands.
"Not a happy fan, I guess."
The patrons laughed and applauded. Someone offered to buy her a drink. She drank with the customers. Someone brought in a guitar and she sang two songs for them. At 10:30 she took the elevator back up to her suite. Amy called and told her the Keegan/Glavil had faxed the information they had requested.
"Bring it up here. I want to see it."
Amy sat down across from her in the atrium and held out the report.
"Read it to me. I'm too drunk to concentrate."
Amy read: "The number belongs to Abigail Rachel Wachovia, age 26, from Crown Point, Indiana, AKA Abadonna. Daughter of Jerome and Ruth Wachovia, no siblings. Attended Crown Point High, graduated, entered Alma College, Alma, Michigan, dropped out of college after two years. Apparently became involved in occult worship while in college. Is active in a cell of occultists who identify themselves as Satanists. She was once arrested for indecent exposure and public indecency."
"Indecent exposure? Any details on that one?"
Amy leafed through the papers. "Oh, here." She laughed. "Looks like she got arrested because she was buck naked in the living room of a house and they forgot to close the curtains. Apparently she was going down for everyone there as part of the worship service. The neighbors called the cops and they busted them."
"I imagine their lawyers got her off?"
She scanned the paper.
"No. She was convicted and did nine months in the Cook County Jail."
"That would not be a fun place to be."
Amy looked down at something that caught her attention.
"Something else here. She was committed for three months to a mental hospital"--she gave the name and location--"after an attempted suicide nine months ago--apparently after she had an abortion."
"They included a copy of the medical report."
"I thought those things were private."
"Nothing is private to the KGB--and everyone like them. They can get their hands on whatever they want. You ought to know that."
She handed over the medical report.
"I wonder what they know about me," Sossity mused.
"It's more a question of what don't they know," Amy grinned.
Sossity laughed and dismissed her. She showered and changed into a nightgown, then lay in her bed and looked over the security report. She decided it might be a good idea to get Heather's advice.
When she called, though, she got a recording of Heather saying, in her charming English accent, that she was away at a month-long silent retreat at a convent. She could only receive emergency phone calls and they would have to be from her parents. Sossity swore, contemplated the situation a few moments, and then called Heather's parents. It took an hour to make arrangements but they finally got permission for Sossity to talk with their daughter. The abbess said they would have to follow regulations: she was only allowed ten minutes on the phone. The calls automatically cut off at that time.
She did get through, however. She hurriedly explained in detail what had happened with Collin. Heather listened (she had always been a good listener). When she finished her story, Sossity felt drained and shaken. She hoped she would not cry.
"He is such a good man," she said. "I know that's odd to say. He has the reputation of being an evil rock guy, and in his early years he was pretty rough, I guess. But now all of that's changed. He loves his wife, he has four kids, he's generous, thoughtful--I can't understand why he thinks he has to do this."
"He's being influence by someone. Does he have a watcher?"
"He does," she answered. "How did you know about that?"
"When I was in the middle of that thing when we lived together in London, I did some research on these groups. Most people who pledge themselves to the Devil are followed around by a facilitator. A person's soul does not belong to them, Sossity. Your soul--life, spirit--belongs to God. You can't sell it or give it away. People who sell their souls put themselves under the influence of demonic powers. Their focus becomes the pact they made, and they become convinced they are irreparably damned. But if they are away from the influence for a while, they will start to see that truth. So usually someone follows them around, someone who is devoted to the cult, someone who acts as a conduit to influence the person so they won't think straight about the situation and won't see their way out of it."
"Abadonna," Sossity said. And she explained what she knew about the girl. Again, Heather listened carefully. When Sossity had finished, she pondered.
"If he's this far in--if he even has his wife convinced he has to do this--the only thing that can possibly work is to get him away from her somehow."
"Obviously she is sticking close to him. She may even be staying in his hotel room."
"Then I'm not sure what to tell you, Sossity. I can tell you this, though. If he doesn't get away from her, probably the worst will happen. My dear friend, I only have twenty seconds. Just remember; you don't fight the Devil playing by his rules. I'll pray, Sossity. I don't know how much clout I have up there, but I will sincerely pray for Collin. I love his music."
"You listen to Collin Fielding?" Sossity smiled.
"Well, I used to. Good-bye."
The phone went dead.
Nothing occurred to her until the next day when she was thinking about the incident with Heather knocking over the satanic altar. A couple of weeks after the altar incident they were having tea.
"Nothing has happened to you," Sossity observed.
"I told you that."
"I found something in one of your books," she said. "It sounds like what you were saying when we talked about something bad happening to you after you kicked down the altar."
"I'm eager to hear, Sossity, but I've got to go change my jam," Heather said and hurried to the bathroom. Sossity smiled, knowing this was a shortened version of jam rag, British slang for sanitary napkin. While waiting, she got the book out and opened it to the passage she wanted Heather to explain:
Evill no Nature hath; the losse of good Is that which gives to sin a livelihood.
As she wondered at the odd spelling and the enigmatic message, Heather came back in.
"That's fine. This is the book. You left it open when you went to work."
The title was The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick.
"I'm reading the religious part of it for my devotions."
"Herrick. He's the poet from Dead Poet's Society--let's see: gather ye rosebuds while ye may . . ."
"That's his most famous poem, 'To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time.' More pertinent for me, I guess. He wrote a little volume of religious poetry as well, and that's what I'm reading for devotions."
"What does this poem mean?" She read it over again, noticing this time the title, with its archaic spelling, "Evill."
"It's about the nature of evil. He echoes something Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine said about evil. It does not exist in and of itself; it's merely the twisting of good to make something good into something bad."
Remembering this, Sossity realized she had the answer.
After breakfast, Sossity got out her phone.
"Abadonna, this is Sossity Chandler. I need to see you."
"I think we've said all we need to say, Miss Chandler. And it's important that I stay here with Collin in these last days."
"Yes, about Collin. I'm concerned about him--so much that I think I might be willing to give something if it would extend his life."
"Give something? What?"
"I think you probably know."
A silence followed. She fancied Abadonna smiled.
"Well, yes. In that case I can meet with you."
"Same place as before. My bodyguard won't be there this time. I've got some press interviews to do today and a TV appearance tonight. Can you meet me in the bar at eleven?"
"I'll be there. I'm looking forward to our talk, Miss Chandler."
"Believe me, so am I."
At eleven o'clock Sossity found a booth at the back of the hotel bar and ordered a Brown Jug. The scotch and Kahlua tasted good and she smacked her lips. The bar was empty of customers. The waiter (a Bosnian or Kosovar, she guessed) had not recognized her. She saw Abadonna walk though the front entrance.
She wore a flouncy black silk dress, long and full, and a black onyx necklace. She had pulled her hair back. Designs were painted on her fingernails. She smiled at Sossity. Were her teeth filed slightly or were her canines just sharp like Derek Jeter's?
"Hello, Miss Chandler."
"Hello. Wow, you look pretty. Nice dress."
Abadonna blushed. She seemed flustered as if she had not been expecting a compliment.
"Thank you," she said.
Sossity gestured. "Please sit. The waiter will bring you a drink. Is there an occasion for your dressing up?"
She hesitated then said, "Yes. We're having worship tonight at midnight."
"Are you leading it?"
"No," she said, and for a moment she looked away. Then she looked back at Sossity, "But I'm an important participant so I dressed up."
"You're a very pretty girl, Abadonna. You really looked good in that little minidress you had on the other day."
"Thank you, Miss Chandler. But really--"
"No, I'm serious. You are quite an attractive woman. Do you have a boyfriend?"
"I don't care to discuss my personal life."
"Just thought I'd ask. If you don't have a boyfriend, you ought to have one. You would be the delight of some young man's soul. I can remember all the guys who were in love with me. It's so wonderful to be loved by a man and to know a man cherishes you and is thinking of you."
The waiter came with another Brown Jug.
"This is scotch and Kahlua, a sweet chocolate liqueur. Sip it slowly and you won't gag on it." She lifted her own glass. "To good times."
Abadonna acted as if she did not want to drink or toast, but she seemed to remember that Sossity would not talk with people who would not drink with her. She touched glasses and took a sip.
"It's very good," she answered, her voice flat.
"I like sweet drinks. Ever try a Stinger?"
She opened her mouth. Her face looked cross, but she controlled herself.
"No, I haven't."
"It's a drink from the thirties that's making a comeback. Brandy and white crème de menthe. Very sweet but very good."
"You said you had something you wanted to discuss with me."
"Don't you enjoy talking?"
"To be quite frank, I don't. It's a waste of time."
"Too bad you think that way. You're a very intelligent woman. I spend time with a lot of real dumb-asses in the music world--guys who only know how to grunt and say one sentence, which is 'Let's fuck'; the women aren't much better. I hang around with stupid-ass agents and shit-head roadies. It's nice to meet a genuinely intelligent person, and I can tell that about you. Did you do well in school?"
She fingered her drink, pondering if she would answer.
"I did well in school," she said. She paused then added, "I was an honor student and salutatorian when I graduated."
"I can believe that easily enough. What did you major in when you went to Alma? Did you have a scholarship?"
"Miss Chandler, if you brought me down here just so you could get me away from Collin . . ."
"Is there some reason you have to stay close to him?"
She had pushed a pawn into this girl's territory. She waited to see if she would take it.
"I need to be near him."
Sossity sipped her drink. "Then I'll stop the chitchat and get to what I really wanted to talk to you about. You're all dressed up for a worship service. Is it going to be like the one you were arrested for--what was the charge? Public indecency and indecent exposure? The time you spent nine months in the Cook County jail?"
The girl turned pale. Her hand gripped her drink glass.
"How did you know about that?" she breathed.
"I have people who do research for me. It's public record. I also know about your abortion and attempted suicide."
Sossity met her eyes. The girl looked both enraged and afraid.
"That is not public information. I demand to know how you know about it."
"I know all about you, Abigail. When you have as much money as I have, you can get anything you want--including information. You've just got to know the right people."
She stood up.
"I'm leaving," she said.
Sossity appraised her. "All dressed up," Sossity continued. "I probably know what that means. You're going to go down for every person at the worship service tonight--men and women. I hope they remember to close the curtains this time."
Abadonna stood rooted to the spot--as if she wanted to leave but could not. Sossity stood up and walked in close to her. She took her hand. It felt like ice.
"It's a real shame--a pretty, intelligent girl like you with so much to give has decided to lose everything good about herself for a group of people who are just going to suck you dry like an orange and then spit you out like the peel."
She walked in closer, not giving Abadonna a chanced to respond. Their faces were only inches apart. "Think of what you've lost, Abigail. Think of all the good things you've twisted and perverted to make yourself into what you are today. You are a young woman with so much going for you. And Collin Fielding is one of the finest men I've ever met. Both of you made a mistake. You're getting the worst end of it: the loss of good--the loss of everything you have that makes you even able to do evil."
She expected her to leave, but the girl still stood there. Sossity played her advantage.
"A girl like you should be loved by a man--and should not think she is obligated to let herself be gang raped and to facilitate a murder."
Abadonna turned and ran.
Sossity watched her. She meant to stay in the bar, but some impulse made her follow. She hurried into the lobby in time to see the front doors to the hotel close. Abadonna had run out into the freezing cold without a coat.
A surge of horror gripped her as she realized what was happening.
Sossity broke into a run through the almost empty hotel lobby and bounded out the door. The frigid chill took her breath away. The street and sidewalks were empty of people; under a clear sky, snow glittered in the lamps. She saw Abadonna running through the snow up Commerce Street. Her long dress encumbered her as did the new layer of snow that had fallen during the day and had not been cleared from the sidewalks. Sossity set out after her. She caught Abadonna near the street that led to the bridge.
"Stop!" She seized her arm. The two of them slipped and fell.
Sossity held Abadonna down. She kicked and struggled, face flushed, hair full of dirty snow.
"Let me go," she hissed.
"I won't. I can't let you. You have so much to live for."
Abadonna jerked her head to the left and sank her teeth into Sossity's wrist. Sossity screamed and let go. Abadonna shoved her away, got up, regained her balance, and began to run once more.
Sossity got up and pursued her. As she ran along, she dug her cell phone out and dialed for Jason. He did not answer. She called 911 and told the dispatcher what was happening. Abadonna rounded the corner of Essex and Commerce, heading for the bridge. Sossity sprinted. She saw her quarry halfway to the bridge, quickened her pace, slipped and fell, got up and found a cleared spot on the pavement. She caught Abadonna just as she pulled herself up over the railing of the bridge. Sossity seized her clothes and pulled her back.
"Let me go," she screamed, hitting and clawing.
"I won't, I can't. Don't do this."
"I have to. It's either him or me."
"No." Sossity had seized her wrists. "No, you're both deluded. Neither of you has to do anything. You're deceived. Abigail, listen to me. You've got everything to gain and nothing to lose."
The girl kicked her in the shins.
"Let go," she said through her teeth. She was not strong enough to break Sossity's grip.
A police cruiser skidded to a stop near them, lights flashing blue, red, and strobe. Abadonna drove her knee in Sossity's crotch. A surge of pain tore through her. She cried out and fell. By now the police officers were out of their vehicle and running toward them. Abadonna stumbled toward the rail, climbed to the top, and jumped just as one of the officers lunged at her. He caught her foot, but her boot came off and she fell. Sossity got to her feet in time to see Abadonna tumble down, end over end, and hit the ice. She leaned over the railing, hoping desperately that the girl had survived the fall. Abadonna lay flat on her back, arms at an angle like someone resting in savasana--corpse pose--in yoga. After a moment, a dark red circle appeared around her head. Sossity stared down, the snow glittering under street lights, the cold wind shaking the trees along the riverbank. One of the cops asked her if she were all right. The other ran to the steps by the bridge that led down to the water. She saw the widening red halo against the ice around Abadonna's still form.
Sossity Chandler sank to her knees, gripping the diamond-shaped grid of the rail. She vomited and then began to sob.
Jason and Amy rushed up to her bed at the emergency room. Amy threw her arms around her.
"My God, Sossity, please say you're all right."
"I won't say that. Have you ever had a bruised cunt?"
"Can't say that I have."
"It hurts, believe me."
She told them what had happened. The doctors wanted to check the culture sample they had taken from the bite. When the test results came in, they gave her a clean bill of health, antibiotics, and instructions on how to care for the wound and her bruises. Before she left, the police questioned her. She told them everything that had happened.
"The girl is dead, I assume?"
"Yes, ma'am. We wondered what you know about her. We don't have any information on this woman at all and she carried no identification."
"I had my security agency run a check on her," Sossity said. "We do that on anyone who seems to be stalking me. I can give you the report."
They agreed to this and, apologetically, told her she could not leave town until the investigation was finished--probably no more than two days. After they left, she signed out of the hospital and went back to the hotel. She slept a few hours, and then went up to see Collin Fielding. He was in his hotel room with his wife and parents and band members as well as a cousin who pastored an evangelical church. Collin had been to church that morning, he said. In the past he could not enter a church. Formerly he would grow ill and fall into seizures if he even tried to enter a church. That he had worshipped this morning was proof, he said, that he had been freed from the Devil's bargain.
As they ate breakfast (catered in by room service), Collins and his friends and family in a celebratory mood, Sossity looked out the window at the Charles River and recalled the violent scene of a few hours ago. She remembered reading Dante's Inferno in college, where the center of hell was cold, not hot, and the worst sin of all was betrayal of a friend.
The sun was red in the sky. She could see the Boston University Bridge from her vantage point fourteen stories up.
She and Collin finished their tour. Sossity met up with her band in New York and continued a long, exhausting concert series that took her through Europe and some locations in Asia. After a concert in Koto she learned that Collin had fallen under the influence of the relative who was an evangelical minister and that he had converted and begun a new career singing contemporary Christian music.
After the tour, she took a vacation to England with her children and her boyfriend, Digory Marks. She spent a few days with Heather. One afternoon when the two of them went for a walk in the country around the village where Heather lived and worked, Sossity mentioned Abadonna.
"Right before she jumped she said 'It's either him or me.' The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced she was trying to tell me she intended to leave this life doing something good. She didn't kill herself because she thought she'd failed with Collin. She decided she would die in his place."
Heather did not reply. They walked on. The March day was cold but Sossity could feel warmth in the wind. Even though a thin crust of snow covered the ground, she could sense the unmistakable approach of spring.
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