It's nearly two in the morning when the lamp on Claire's bedside table flickers on and the very much asleep Prophet of God mumbles something about shutting off the moon. She does not, however, wake up.
The light gets stronger, brighter, causing Claire's eyelids to flutter open and a frown to appear on her normally impassive face. She turns the lamp off, smiles once more, and rolls away from it, buries her head under a mountain of blankets and pillows - just in case it decides to try it again.
The lamp, not to be out manuevered, turns itself back on and tips over onto the bed.
"Dirty billards," Claire says, pulling herself out from under the blankets and pillows. "Talk about a fire hazard." She turns the lamp off once again.
"Oh good," a feminine voice says from the doorway to the bedroom and Claire starts, falls out of bed in a heap of bare limbs and mismatched socks. God grins at her and waves. "You're up."
God at least has the decency to make Claire coffee and breakfast while She explains why She's suddenly appeared in the prophet's apartment. The unfortunate side of it, however, is that God can't, for the afterlife of Her, make a decent cup of joe. She can create planets, explode stars, make life, and even get jiggy with it, but She's an utter failure at coffee making.
Claire takes a tentative sip, grimaces when the bitter liquid hits her tongue with the same flavor reserved for batter acid. God looks at her expectantly.
"Well?" She asks.
"I think You're getting a little better at it," Claire says, setting down the cup. "This tastes more like acid and less like sludge." God frowns, setting off car alarms all down the block, and Claire sighs. "Why are You here?" she asks. She hazards a glance at the clock on the stove and wishes almost immediately that she hadn't. There are single digits...low single digits...glaring at her in green light. "Better yet, why are You here three hours before sunrise on a Saturday."
"How do you feel about Florida?"
"The same way You feel about Hell."
God's pout becomes more pronounced. "I'm having a little problem with a demon down there."
Claire sips her coffee without thinking and regrets it. "So call an exterminator," she says. "I tell people about You, convince them to play for the side of good. I do not get rid of demons in swamps."
"It's in Miami."
God stares at her for a moment and Claire stares right back. She learned a long time ago, when she first became a prophet, that the best way to keep God from bossing you around was to look Her in the eye and stand your ground.
"I'll fly you first class and spring for a suite."
There's only so much ground one can stand when faced with fluffy towels and free champagne.
Gabriel, dressed in short khakis and a Hawaiian shirt and sporting a thick, black mustache on his tanned face, meets Claire at her hotel. Sort of. He lands on her balcony, knocks on the door, and scares the shit out of her. She's expecting Michael, so the sudden appearance of God's right-hand-angel throws her for a loop.
Claire opens the sliding door. "Magnum P.I. called," she says. "He wants his shirt and mustache back."
He frowns, smooths down the mustache. "I'm sure that would be hilarious if I knew who this Magnum person was."
Claire hides a grin and shakes her head. "Nice to see you, Gabe."
"Somewhat the same, Claire." He motions over his shoulder. "Shall we get on with it? I have a bridge game with Hermes and Shiva in three Earthly hours and if I'm late, Shiva destroys my cards. He literally destroys them."(1)
"Do you know where we're going?" she asks.
"She mentioned something about a crackhouse..."
God gets confused with Earthly references. What She thought was a crackhouse was actually a house cracked in half by a recent hurricane. And the demon, who God told her was evil and terrible and would most likely suck her soul if given the chance, was actually an adorable little boy with an afro and a grin that lit up the cracked house.
"That's a small child," Gabriel says, confused.
"Your observation skills are getting better."
"What's up, Heaven Ink?" the little boy says, his grin widening even more. There's a flash of white teeth - white, pointed, very sharp teeth - and the illusion of him being simply a child is vaporized. "You the po-po?"
"Do you have a name?" Claire asks.
Recognition hits Claire with an animated background and lots of bright colors.(2) She can't help it - she laughs.
The little boy grows in size, proves he's definitely NOT a little boy, and Gabriel seems to shrink a little, hides behind Claire. (3)
"Don't laugh at the demon, Claire," he hisses.
"Yeah, lady, it ain't nice to laugh at demons!"
Claire's spent time in a vault with the Devil, has had lunch with Hades, and grew up with her mother. She doesn't scare easily, especially when faced with a lower level demon wearing a Sponge Bob Squarepants t-shirt. She rolls her eyes. "Just do your thing, Gabe. I'm hot, I'm tired, and there's a huge jacuzzi tub in my hotel suite calling my name."
"You're such a mortal," he says and pushes back the hair on his forearms like sleeves.(4)
God pops into Claire's hotel room three hours after Gabriel does his thing and disintegrates the little demon. Gabe's back in the Penthouse and She's all smiles. Meanwhile, Claire's still picking pieces of demon from her curls.
"Two things: first, that was horrible. You should have told me Razul was a little boy."
"Technically, his coporeal form is a little boy. He's actually a three foot tall green thing with scales and the disposition of a rattlesnake."
Claire pauses in her de-demoning long enough to throw an icy frown in God's direction. "Second, You could have warned me that when you blow those damned things up, they have a ridiculously huge blast radius."
God rolls Her green eyes. "Oh please, Claire. It was just a little coporeal form explosion. Think of it as blowing away the fluffy part of a dandelion."
"Dandelions do not have horns and tails and a definite dislike of being exploded!" She combs a piece of demon from her hair and flings it in God's direction, where it lands on Her pristine white linen pants with a sad squelching noise.
"These are brand new, Claire," She says, Her voice borderling whining.
"I'm not even sure why You sent me down here. Gabriel did all the work."
"He's the one who blew up Razul." She points to her hair. "I just collected the evidence of it."
"There are bad things coming, Claire. The more exposure you have to them, the better prepared you'll be."
"So the apocalypse is going to be full of exploding demon children?"
God sighs, hides Her face behind Her hands. "You have a gift for missing the point." Claire flings another piece of demon at Her. It lands in Her afro and even God has a difficult time not being disgusted. "Spot on with the demon pieces, though."
(1) Shiva the Destroyer...of all things fun. See here.
(2) Razul, as in the guard from the Disney movie "Aladdin". As in the fat guy with the satanic goatee...who also happens to be a demon in the shape of a little boy with a huge afro. Claire loves when her life takes a turn for the truly strange - it's so different from her usual state of weirdness.
(3) The only thing in the universe Gabriel could hide behind is Zeus. And Zeus makes a Buick look small.
(4) Gabriel is one hairy mofo.