General Fiction posted September 19, 2022

This work has reached the exceptional level
A detective gains a client


by snodlander

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.

Humans get the wrong idea about Diluvian Sarcastic Priests.  We’re not sarcastic in the English sense, but it’s the nearest literal translation we’ve got.  We test things.  We assess the likelihoods of events.  We take nothing at face value.  We start every assessment from an assumption that it’s not true.  People, and by that I don’t mean just humans, lie.  They lie all the time.  They lie to priests.  They lie to their nearest and dearest.  They lie to themselves.  Some lie by default, some by accident, some from guilt, but they all lie.  We start every investigation with an attitude of, ”Yeah, right!” - Sarcastic Priests.

The nearest paraphrase is probably ‘Detective Priests’, but it’s too late to change now.  The name has stuck.

We test miracles.  We test allegations.  We test faith.  We test each other.  In the War I mostly test crimes, as if war wasn’t the biggest crime of all.  You don’t have to belong to the Faithful.  You don’t even have to belong to the Diluvian race.  You have a mystery, a complaint, a grievance, you find a Sarcastic Priest and if he takes the case, you can be sure that if there is a grain of truth anywhere, he will find it.  If he’s any good, that is.  Me, I’m very good.  I’m so good that if anyone feels guilty about the slightest thing, they go to a priest who’s not so good.

Which explains why, on that particular day, I was in my chapel, feet on the altar, hat tipped over my eyes and deeper into a bottle of Jack Daniels than I Love Jeannie ever got.  It was 10:43 in the morning, and before you judge, I hadn’t gone to bed, so technically it was a nightcap.  Thus when the fairy cleared her throat I almost fell off the chair.  I muttered something under my breath, made what I hoped looked like a religious gesture and breathed deeply.  I wanted it to look like I was coming out of meditation or prayer and not just making a distraction as I let the bottle slip to the floor behind the altar.

People get the wrong idea about fairies too.  Centuries of nursery stories have ingrained an almost racial memory into your kind.  Technically they’re as alien a species as Diluvians, they just got to this planet a few centuries before us.  It was easy enough for them to hide from humans for the most part, but then the War came and they had to take sides.

Humans romanticise Fairies.  They see them as graceful, good and above all beautiful.  They find them enchanting, charming, enthralling, entrancing and bewitching.  Notice anything about those adjectives?  Yeah, they’re all about being spellbound.  Oh look, there’s another of those words that mean you’re somehow conned into loving them.

Not Diluvians, though, and especially not Sarcastic Priests.  We’re immune to all that ‘magic’ malarky.  So when I say she made my heart race just standing there, you can take that to the bank.  She had a set of wings on her that would make a butterfly weep and a lepidopterist reach for his bottle of chloroform.  It wasn’t just her looks though.  She had presence and an act so classy royalty would bow down to the floor.  Old family, I surmised.  Probably no money, but with that attitude, who needed cash?

She walked up to the altar as though she were on a catwalk and looked around her.  Then she carefully pushed a week’s worth of coffee cups to the side and sat on the corner of the altar, crossing her legs in a way that would make a bishop forget to pass the collection plate.

“Oh, shit,” I said, jumping up and almost falling over in my haste.  “Sorry.  Here, take a seat.  I’ve only got– I mean, the other chairs are being upholstered.”

See what I meant when I said everyone lies?  Priests are no exception.

“It’s okay,” she said.  “I’m comfortable enough on a desk.”

I swallowed hard and sat back down on my chair, feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

“So, Ms…?”

She looked around again, graced me finally with a look and said, “Buttercup.”

Buttercup.  The John Smith of her race.  We both knew that was a lie.  We both knew that we both knew, but what the hell.  A client can call themselves whatever they want.

“So, Ms… Buttercup.  How can I help you?”

“It’s my brother.  He’s dead.”

I spread my hands, a particularly impressive gesture for a Diluvian.  “That’s really a matter for the police.”

She shook her head.  “They don’t want to know.  He was a warrior, Fifth Airborne Sparrows.  They say he was shot down by The Enemy.”

“We’re at war,” I said.  “I’m sorry for your loss, but soldiers die.  That’s the nature of things.”

She shook her head.  “No!  He was murdered, Father.  He was killed in cold blood and nobody wants to know.  Not the police, not his commander, no one.  They’re covering it up and I want to know why.  I want to know who it was who killed him.  And I want his head on a spike.”  She slammed a dainty fist on the altar so hard it jiggled the cups.

“I’m a man of the cloth,” I said.  “I can investigate, but I can’t punish.  That’s not for me to do.”

“Don’t you worry,” she said, her mouth a tight line.  “Investigate.  Find out.  Tell me, and I’ll do the rest.”

I looked at her expression.  You know how some women can look so cute when they’re angry?  This one scared the bejebus out of me, and I’ve faced down a twarg-beast.

“What makes you think he was murdered?” I asked.  First rule of sarcasm – the client is always wrong.

She looked down at the mess on the altar.

“Find a clean glass, give me a shot of whatever it is I can smell on your breath, and I’ll tell you,” she said.

So much for my dazzling display of prestidigitation with the Jack D bottle.  I rummaged around and found a glass that had no residue in the bottom.  I took an almost clean handkerchief and wiped the inside and handed it to her.  She held it out as I located the bottle and poured her a shot.  She left her arm outstretched, and so I poured her a second shot.  She downed it in one as if it were cold tea.  I cleared my calendar and pencilled in the date I would marry this creature.

“He phoned me the night before he died,” she said, holding out the glass.  I gave up any hope of having a slug myself and poured the rest out for her.


This time she swirled the bourbon around the glass, looking deep into it as though it were a scrying glass, then took a sip.

“He said he was in trouble.  Said something about being haunted by a ghost.”

“Something from his past?” I asked.

She shook her head, her hair forming a halo around her in the sunlight filtering through the eastern stained-glass window.  “No, he meant an actual ghost.”

I sighed.  “Listen, um, Buttercup.  I’m a Sarcastic Priest.  We investigate all sorts of things.  Do you know how many ghosts I’ve investigated?”

“No.  How many?”

“Over… well, lots.  Damn lots, is what I mean.  Too many for me to remember.  Anyway, in every case, I found no evidence of their existence.  Neither have any of my brethren.  And I’m pretty sure that even if they existed, no ghost is going to operate anti-aircraft weaponry.”

She gave me a stare that would freeze lava.  “You don’t believe me!”

“I’m a priest.  Where would this world be if priests believed anything?  Of course I don’t believe you.  That’s my job.  Convince me.  That’s yours.”

She stared at me some more, then took a hit of the bourbon.

“Fine,” she said.  “I think he was mixed up in something.  Not crooked, not my brother.  He was as straight as they come.”

I took up my notepad and pen and made notes. 

               Mixed up in something – lie
               Not crooked – lie

I looked up at her.  She was staring at me.

“Go on,” I said.  “Don’t mind me.  Just making notes.”  That’s what we do.  We assume every alleged fact is a lie, then we try and prove it one way or the other.

“He went on a few solo missions.  He wouldn’t talk about them, not even to me, and he told me everything.”

I added a couple more lies to the list.

“At the risk of repeating myself, he was a soldier,” I said.  “This is a war.  This the War.  He couldn’t talk about them if they were secret.”

Buttecup shook her head.  “No, it was more than that.  He could have just said he couldn’t talk about them, but he actually lied.  He said they were not important.  He said they were just reconnaissance runs.”

“Everyone lies,” I said.  Seriously, everyone lies.  You shouldn’t even be believing my account of this.  Maybe I never met Buttercup.  But on with the story.

“Not my brother.  Not to me.  And then the phone call.  He was scared, and nothing ever scared my brother.  Nothing!  He commanded the Fifth Sparrows and he did that from the front.”

“Okay.  What did he say, that night?  Exactly.”

Buttercup closed her eyes and took a breath so deep her wings met over her head.

“He said that ghosts were coming for him.  Locks were no good.  They could walk through walls.  They would rise from the ground.  They weren’t from this world and they were going to take him to the next.”  She opened her eyes and looked straight through me.  “He said they were going to suck his soul from him.”

“Those were his exact words?”

She nodded.  “As exact as I can remember.”

“And what did you think?”

“How do you mean?”

I shrugged.  “I don’t know about your family, but that would be a pretty weird phone call if I had got it.  What did you think?  Was he drunk? Psychotic?  Did you believe him?”

“He wasn’t drunk,” she said.  “He wouldn’t take drugs.  Couldn’t.  They test for that when you’re a flier.  I didn’t know what to think.  I was worried, though.  You hear things, you know?  About war, what it does to people.”

I nodded.  Even priests, brought up in the warrior caste from birth, even we had been known to lose the faith in the face of horrors the Enemy could visit on the Faithful.

“You realise I might find out things you don’t want to know,” I said.

She nodded, jaw clenched tight.

“I might find he was mentally disturbed, involved in crime, or simply shot down by the Enemy.  It might be worse for you to know for sure.”

“So you’ll take the case?”

How could I have said no when her face lit up with such hope.

“It’ll cost you four hours of prayer at the temple for every week I work on this, plus hymns.”

“Oh, I’m not of your faith,” she said.

I shrugged.  “The Gods don’t care.  That’s my fee.  You might get cheaper, but they won’t be as good.  You sure as hell can find more expensive, and they probably won’t be as good either.  You want to hire a priest, you pay in faith.”

She thought for a moment, then nodded.  “When can you start?” she asked.

I made a show of looking at my diary, though not so that she could see the empty pages.

“I’ll start today,” I said.  She handed me a sheet of gossamer.  I glanced at it – names, contacts.  Enough to get started on at least.  I rose and held out my hand.  She took it delicately in a hand as frail as a dandelion clock and pulled herself onto her feet.

She looked up at me with eyes as big as my world, still holding my hand.

“Thank you, Father,” she said.  She stood on tiptoe and for a moment I thought she was going to kiss my cheek, but then she dropped back onto her heels and let go of my hand.  I watched as she made her way out of the chapel.  At the door she stopped and turned towards me.

“I am so grateful,” she said, and then she was gone.

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