Chapters 11 and 12
Present Day Heaven....And An
Introduction To A Truly Evil Gal
Today is sort of special, at least for those that followed chapters 1 through 10 of Poison Well. That part of the story took place in 1971, the time of our hero's death. But now it is 2012.
We see what JHAD - Heaven's murder tracking station - has morphed into over the decades....and we meet Alicia Sonnet, a demented and cunning soul who walks among us.
JHAD / SRS Complex
Christine walked from the train platform and gazed at the gloomy weather outside of the station with a sigh.
“Are you Dr. Taylor?” A young boy of twelve looked up at Christine and smiled brightly, his mom standing behind the child with a camera in her hand. A train whistle blew, signaling a departure.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Will you sign an autograph for me?”
Christine scribbled her name on the train station time-table for the boy as his mom shot photos. Oddly, she was used to the treatment now. On Earth, actors and rock musicians were hailed as the stars of society. Here in Heaven, it was the Joint Human Analysis Directorate employees and the somewhat mysterious status they portrayed as God’s watchers.
Christine caught the woman’s eye. “Are you two…?”
“Murder victims?” The woman said, chuckling. “Oh, no! Train derailment, a few months ago in Belgium. Gerald is such a big fan of JHAD that we decided to take the tour.”
Christine popped open her umbrella. “I…see. Well, enjoy yourselves.”
It wasn’t the oddest conversation Christine had experienced, although it was damn close. But the unexpected interest from tourists at JHAD did boost the economy quite a bit, so there was that.
Christine left the glass and steel train station, admiring the soaring meccano design with a distracted smile, walking the two blocks to the JHAD building in a light drizzle.
JHAD had changed dramatically in the last 42 years, gleaming in the rain like a polished pinnacle. The JHAD building Harry had designed back then still appeared fresh and innovative, especially since the rest of Heaven looked as if time had stopped around 1900 or so.
It was certainly the tallest structure in the area, although the Soul Rehabilitation Services facility across the street covered much more acreage.
Christine was rather amazed when she stopped to think about it. JHAD had started with 25 people back when she’d arrived in Heaven. Now, the JHAD/SRS complex was Heaven’s biggest employer, with 350,000 individuals on the payroll. Christine broke out into a quick smile, thinking of Soul Rehab Services.
Pilar, Father God’s faithful teenage cook and housekeeper - had basically strong-armed Him into opening the welcoming center for new arrivals in 1973. SRS had morphed into something far, far more important than a mere welcoming station over the years, however.
Pilar, with her tragic background, knew exactly what it was like to arrive in Heaven, disorientated and without friends…and had vowed to change that with the Soul Rehabilitation Services.
The program had been a resounding success.
With Pilar’s patient guidance, the upstart agency helped thousands upon thousands of hurting souls find their place in Heaven, and adoptive families for orphaned children, as well.
Christine and Pilar had grown close over the years, and still ate lunch together nearly every day. It saddened Christine sometimes, when she noticed Pilar had grown into a lovely woman – while Christine herself had been stuck precisely as she was the day of her death.
Father God, always looking for an excuse to annoy Pilar - took full credit for the SRS as His own idea…but eventually got His payback. In spades.
Pilar’s replacement at God’s house was a sweet girl named Junko that also worked part-time for Harry at JHAD. Junko was a special case, and she was a strict vegetarian, too.
And that meant no more bacon.
Christine approached the outer set of doors, struggling for a moment with her Starbucks coffee and umbrella, cursed under her breath, then pushed open the large glass door and went inside.
“Good morning, Dr. Taylor.”
“Hi, Phil.” Christine said, handing him the wet umbrella. “Any wildfires to put out yet?”
Corporal Phillip Bellows waited for her, like he did every morning, by the gift shop near the entrance. He had succumbed to cancer twenty years earlier, and was once again working for Christine as a personal assistant. And as it had been back in their CIA days, she relied on him for nearly every aspect of the crap she hated dealing with.
She appreciated his devotion, which she’d long suspected was a crush. She had to give him his due, though. An infatuation that lasted from life to the afterlife was strong, indeed.
Bellows grinned. “No wildfires as of yet. Nothin’ you can’t handle, ma’am.”
“Excellent. Let’s hope it stays that way.”
“Heading up to TAC 28?”
“Yes, Phil. Keep administration from bugging me, and answer all of my emails…okay?”
Phil Bellows saluted. “You got it, Dr. Taylor.”
Christine saluted back playfully, then turned and drew a breath. The first four floors of JHAD’s open atrium towered overhead, as did the bottom half of the barreled Gyrotourbillion cage that dominated the spacious central area – supporting a globe of Earth that nearly defied description.
The Gyrotourbillion was JHAD’s greatest achievement to date.
The unparalleled murder tracker, resembling a giant golf ball on a tee, consisted of several hundred tons of brass and titanium - each piece hand-made by expert machinists. Tourists shot photos of the huge gears and pinions as they turned slowly on the roped-off escapement platform, whirring away with French efficiency.
Harry had commissioned the Gyrotourbillion decades ago, awarding the design contract to Abraham-Louis Breguet – one of the few Frenchmen to make it into Heaven. The finished work was astounding to behold. The Gyrotourbillion was a twin-axis, three-dimensional model of Earth approximately 120 feet in diameter, rotating mechanically to replicate the Earth’s actual orbit.
Over three million separate mechanism gears drove the self-perpetuating planetary movement, and in a massive tribute to modern technology, the planet’s cityscapes showed real-time indicators of actual murders taking place.
The Gyrotourbillion was both terrifically beautiful and unbelievably terrifying….which probably explained the daily rush of tourists.
The realistic globe was surrounded by workstations going up 32 floors. Each floor had its own function. The upper and lower floors were technical support for floors 19 through 28 – the heart of the operation…the Threat Assessment Center.
Sadly, TAC handled the vast majority of the minute-to-minute updates of murders spiking across the Gyrotourbillion’s landmasses.
Christine preferred to oversee signal analyst activity on TAC 28, but her office was the 40th – along with the rest of administration and management. There were many days, however, when Christine never even set foot in her office…and she was fine with that. Officially, she was the deputy director of the entire organization, the second in command. Christine didn’t really care for the title, and pretty much refused to become an office drone.
Christine had built JHAD – practically from the ground up, along with Harry - and she was damn well going to make sure it stayed running smoothly.
Fortunately for her, Phil Bellows took care of the day-to-day executive duties, fully understanding Christine’s need to stay on top of the action. The situation was tenuous sometimes, but the job fit her personality perfectly. How many people were suited to spy on murderers? For decades at a time?
Christine couldn’t imagine a different career…in life or otherwise.
Alicia Sonnet was as lovely as her name, as pretty as a fine summer day.
A tall early-30s brunette in a slate blue Oscar de la Renta woven dress with matching Manolo Blahnik pumps. The clothing fit her demeanor and personality…well-coifed, stunning yet tasteful.
She knew of her affect on men, what they thought of the high cheekbones, the full lips, the curvy body…and she’d taken measures to compensate. Her makeup was kept to a minimum, her hair in a loose bun - just enough to exhibit Sonnet’s sheer beauty, but not so much as to make her seem severe.
Alicia Sonnet wore very little jewelry - a simple tennis bracelet or a string of occasional pearls. She drove an Audi A8, understated but sophisticated. A BMW 5-Series would have been too flashy - a Volvo too mundane. The Audi, choice of wealthy dentists and interior designers, fit right in the middle perfectly.
Alicia Sonnet was a special agent with Homeland Security, an expert with post-9/11 law and a marksman with a SIG-Sauer 9MM. Over the last decade she’d moved up the ladder relentlessly to the Assistant Deputy Secretary position and had never looked back. Her office was plush; her boss was respectful, face time with the president was plentiful. She enjoyed wealth, power, and beauty…and that should have been enough.
Alicia Sonnet possessed a dirty secret, though, like most…humans.
Unknown to Homeland Security - and the FBI - she had been born Belle Gunness in Norway, immigrating to the states as a baby with her family.
This in itself wasn’t a great revelation.
Many foreigners changed their name once they had established themselves in America, and Alicia Sonnet was no different.
The fact that her family had moved to America in 1863 changed the game a bit.
“What would you like, ma’am?”
Sonnet pulled out her wallet. “Double venti with a splash of skim milk, please. And don’t call me ma’am…it makes me feel old.”
The young man behind the counter smiled. “Yes, ma’am.”
There was another unique difference that separated Alicia Sonnet from the rest of humanity besides her birth date. Unlike other foreigners, Belle Gunness was an unrepentant serial killer, although at the time of her heinous crimes that term had not been coined yet.
Nonetheless, by 1889 she had murdered and eaten 34 innocent people across America’s Midwest, covering her crimes by burning the buildings her terrible deeds had occurred in. Not many local people at the time, however, noticed the attractive young woman as anything other than an eccentric, shy teen with fantastic cooking skills.
This turned out to be unfortunate for them.
Gunness, nineteen years old and very pretty, was a unique individual that enjoyed sharing her culinary achievements, distributing her human stews, cookies and cakes with her unknowing neighbors. The dishes, surprisingly, were quite tasty – with leftover fatty tissues producing an expensive soap marketed as ‘youth-enhancing’ in several boutique shops. And in a cunning bit of foresight, Gunness also collected 250,000 dollars in fire insurance.
Not too shabby, at least until she was caught.
The official court report - which Sonnet had always found extremely amusing - delivered the ironic quote: ‘The well-behaved, docile teenager Belle Gunness is believed to have killed before’.
This strongly suggested, perhaps, that the prosecutors were very unclear on the meaning of the word ‘docile’ – and definitely didn’t understand the term, ‘well-behaved’.
Belle Gunness was hanged for her crimes in La Porta, Indiana, June 12th, 1891. Her soul was sent to Hell, reemerging as Alicia Sonnet several years later.
So, no….not your typical immigrant by any definition.
Sonnet didn’t really care for Hell much, and had bought her way out. This was a rare occurrence, as most escapees were promptly caught and sent back by God’s Recon angels.
Sonnet was very good at flying under the radar, though.
It was her gift.
Most demons made the mistake of wreaking as much havoc as possible while on Earth, Sonnet knew this and did the opposite. She quickly realized that the cannibalism would have to go. Sonnet worked, bought a home and became a productive, well-disguised member of society.
She’d learned to fit in well, and although Sonnet was indeed a full-fledged demon, she was one who followed her own set of rules.
And everything had been going well until the day she fell in love.
“Today is the beginning, sweetness.” James Hallstatt said in his distinct Letterkenny County accent. “It all starts now.”
Sonnet glanced around. The Starbucks was crowded with slackers pecking away on their laptops, and bad art adorning the walls. She sighed and stirred her coffee.
Sonnet was a beautiful woman with a slightly scruffy Irishman, and the mismatch would have been noticed anywhere else in Georgetown, but this location was convenient and anonymous, and nobody gave them a second glance.
Sonnet sat across from James Hallstatt, her Irish lover. James was a human member of a large family that spanned Earth and Hell. She admired his complete lack of conscience – as well as his total disregard for innocent lives, although he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer by a long shot.
Regardless, Sonnet had always liked a man with no moral compass whatsoever.
It made her all flutterly inside.
Sonnet watched him knock back a shot from his hip flask, chasing it with Starbucks coffee. She knew he was nervous, even if he would never admit it.
“James, all you sure this is the right way to handle it?” Sonnet said. “There will be a lot of media attention.”
“Honey,” Hallstatt smiled, “there is no other way. You know this far better than I, considering your background. Think about it. Ulf and Brian are my only blood relatives, and if they say this must be done to accomplish our goals in the long run, then I’m damn well going to fulfill my mission.”
Sonnet winced at the mention of the elder Hallstatt brothers, but kept her misgivings to herself. Blood or not, she knew they were merely using him.
James was loyal, yes…but stable?
Not so much.
He had already been turned away from one terrorist group, back when he lived in Ireland. Unknown to James, she had accessed secret IRA files. The South Armagh Brigade had booted him due to a ‘disillusioned, overcommitted and psychologically unstable personality’.
But, then again, that was to be expected, considering his bloodlines. James was descended from crazy.
She sighed again. “I guess you’re right. I’m going to miss you so much, though.”
“I’m going to miss you, too. This only goes down one way…and that means we have to be apart for a while…but not forever.”
“Not forever.” Sonnet agreed, then paused coyly. “What was I wearing on our first date?”
Hallstatt grinned broadly. “You mean the black tactical gear? Yeah, that was hot.”
She punched him. “No! Not when I arrested you. Our first date.”
“Charcoal-colored top with silver trim, designer jeans….high heels with lots of straps….your hair pinned up, higher than it is today. Gold earrings that looked like hoops within hoops…they made me laugh a little…an oversized dive watch….you danced like there was no one else in the room, and I knew – knew – I was the luckiest bloke in the world.”
Sonnet smiled inside, her heart skipping a beat. Outwardly, she was a stone. “Good memory, James. Must be all the years of being an Irish conman.”
She’d fallen for James after busting him on an overextended visa and an unregistered weapon a few years ago.
It had been a rocky ride at first, as James was married to his high school sweetheart from the old country. Rebecca was a strung-out user, though, and had overdosed back in 2008. They had a child - Siobhan, now five years old, neglected and unwanted….at least by some.
It didn’t really matter. Sonnet would have to give up her career at Homeland Security to become officially involved with James, and she was way too selfish to ever consider such a move.
No, it was the danger of the situation that excited her. And that was okay, she was a demon that had murdered and cooked dozens of people at one time. She wasn’t exactly your normal girl.
So, Sonnet cut herself some slack when it came to her choice in men.
Sonnet sipped her coffee and watched as James looked around. “Quit being paranoid. Nobody has any idea that we’re here.”
“Did you bring it?”
Sonnet carefully removed the enchanted, leather-wrapped Kris from her bag and set it on the table. James licked his lips and touched the knife gingerly.
“How did you get it?”
“Black market dealer in Istanbul.” Sonnet said. “Didn’t know what he had, that’s for certain.”
James put the ancient blade under his coat. “King Brian will be pleased when I deliver this.”
Sonnet nodded gravely. “I’m sure he will.”
During the time of her affair with James, Sonnet had become deeply involved with the Dal Clann Hallstatt, a terrorist organization unlike any other on the planet.
The Dal Clann Halstatt was run by two of the most ruthless brothers to ever walk the Earth – until death had liberated them to become truly demented.
In plain, easy-to-understand terms, the elder Hallstatt brothers were nutters.
Whereas other terrorist groups relied on fear and intimidation, the Dal Clann Hallstatt was more discreet, burrowing into the financial and political institutions from New York to Georgia. And their marching orders came straight from the dark side….from King Brian the Hated, and his brother - Ulf the Quarrelsome.
Both resided in – and ruled – the fabled Oubliette.
The Oubliette was God’s black-hole prison in Hell, the wellspring of death and sadness, where the worst of Earth’s offenders were sent…the killers of children.
The formidable prison had been custom-built by the Archangel Michael in a remote desolate wasteland - set smack dab in the middle of an even larger remote desolate wasteland. The walls were a hundred feet high and sixteen feet thick, the gates scratched by the teeth and nails of men and women driven mad by isolation.
The Oubliette was very serious business.
There was no love, mercy or kindness behind those walls, just as there was no chance of redemption, and there was absolutely no hope. What did it take for an individual to earn a place in Hell’s darkest corner?
It was quite simple, really.
Harm a child.
God had no room in His heart for those who did.
Child murderers, molesters and rapists could expect the Oubliette to be a permanent vacation getaway after their human life was finished. God’s judgment was final on that matter.
And there was no return ticket.
Sonnet, under deep cover, had become a recruiter of sorts for the Dal Clann Hallstatt, and today was the beginning of a new era for the organization.
The DCH was comprised entirely of members with family connections to the Oubliette. The Dal Clann Halstatt had clean-cut, model citizens working as moles in every bank, government office and law enforcement community on the Eastern Seaboard.
Yes, they were mercenaries for hire with no real place in society, but these men were also extremely well-disguised and educated. Each clan member had a master’s degree, a closet full of nicely-tailored suits, and a German luxury sedan. They lived in gated communities. They belonged to country clubs, played rugby on the weekends and were married to beautiful women.
Their unassuming cover made them even more dangerous, because nobody was looking in their direction. Now the Dal Clann Hallstatt were poised to start recruitment from the other side…bringing a nasty long-term plan together at last.
Phase One of that plan would start this morning with a sacrifice by Sonnet’s boyfriend, James Hallstatt.
And considering the benefits he would reap, her lover was more than happy to comply.
Plus, James was a bit of a retard.