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Satan's Angel

Angela Baxter is an archaeologist with a history of failure.  In order to keep her grant funding, she plants an ancient tooth in her site in the Mojave Desert and has her partner proclaim the find.  The resulting publicity leads to the revelation that she was adopted under mysterious circumstances.  As she races to solve the mystery of her origin, she must face the consequences of her ethical transgression and evade a threat to her life.

Each scene is written in the first person, with a different character speaking in each scene.  In the following scene we learn how Angela came to live with her grandfather in Yermo, California. 




Robert Baxter

     Angela's an archaeologist because I pointed her that way.  I'd claim credit for her guts except she got none of her genes from me.

     She calls me Grand-dad.

     I never told her my son adopted her.

     Neither did her parents.

     So what does this have to do with anything?  Not much except she's all I have left of my son and daughter-in-law and after her the line stops.

     What if she finds her real parents and leaves me?

     So I pretend she's my blood and she avoids giving me a great-grandson while she obsesses about digging up old bones.

     It's been so long now I can't bring myself to tell her the truth and why bother.  It will never come out anyway.

     David and Sally wanted to tell her when she turned fifteen, advice they heard from some Los Angeles radio shrink I don't get in Yermo.  The damned drunk who ran him and Sally into a telephone pole twenty-two years ago turned that responsibility over to me and I flunked.

     I believed so strongly that I'd tell her that I insisted on raising her to make sure she heard it from me.  My wife served up all the excuses she could against my plan and I batted them away.  Too old?  House too small?  Can't discipline a teenager?


     I dragged David out of his room when he was too yellow to pick up his first date.  I drove him to football practice and cuffed his ears when he caught the pass that won the league championship.  I stood up with him when he married Sally.

     Is a girl so different?

     Damned if her fifteenth birthday came and went and I never told her.  Why?  Hell, I don't know.  The right time never arrived.  How could I disrupt her life again?

     Like I said, David and Sally adopted her with so much privacy I figured she could never find out.

     I'll always remember the day David and Sally and I braved the Los Angeles jungle to collect Angela at the adoption agency.  We found a tiny kid, barely a year old.  When I picked her up, she grabbed my collar with both fists and refused to let go.  I held a bottle of milk to her lips.  She sucked eagerly, both hands gripping the bottle.

     David and Sally settled into a two-story house hovering over the beach in Santa Monica and brought Angela to visit me in Yermo one weekend a month.

     Her obsession with archaeology started during those visits.  She sat at my feet in the living room for hours, her legs crossed, listening to tales of my dad and his silver mining days in Calico.  One day when I showed her the slab of cement on the barren plateau where he lived, she poked into it while she asked me to describe his house.

     The week before the accident began with me catching the flu, forcing cancellation of our cruise to Acapulco, and ended when my wife broke her hip and landed in the hospital.

     So when the police called, they found me relaxing in my Morris chair with a box of nose tissue at my side.

     At least Angie heard the bad news from me.

     I splintered the speed limit and got to David's house in Santa Monica ten minutes before Angela showed up after school.

     She bounced through the door, her arm extended to hug her mother.  She hugged me instead.

     The image stuck in my head for good: excited eyes, sharp nose and chin, blonde hair rubbing the collar of her green and gold freshman cheerleader uniform, her books clutched to her heart.

     "Hey, what a surprise," she said.  "Where's mom?"

     She dumped her books on the coffee table.  I didn't answer.

     "I made cheerleader."  She spun to show off her costume.  "We start learning yells tomorrow."

     I'll sell the house, I thought.  Where were the words I needed?

     Her grin faded.

     "Aren't you happy for me?" she asked.

     I bought society's ideal that men must be tough.  Still, I've seen Marines cry after they tell a woman she's a widow.

     "I came as soon . . . My words sounded hollow.

     "Cheerleader is big."

     I avoided her eyes.  "Your mom and dad . . . "

     "Did mom go shopping?"  She picked up her history text and thumbed through the pages.  "Isn't my uniform cool?"


     She put the book back on the coffee table.  "Mom didn't mention you'd be here," she said.

     "Please, listen."

     "It's not my birthday."

     She must think I'm a fool.  "A drunk driver . . . "

     She crossed her arms.  "Where are mom and dad?"

     "Oh, honey," I said.  She stood like a statue beside the coffee table.  "They're gone."

     "I know they're gone.  When are they coming home?  Why are you here?"

     What could I say?

     She stood still.  Her mouth dropped open.  A tear dripped from one eye.

     We went home to Yermo.

     The next Monday, she enrolled in the local high school to keep her occupied while I arranged for the funeral.  She munched raisin bran for breakfast, caught the school bus at the corner, and worked on her homework at my desk after dinner.

     The first night I asked how she liked her new teacher.

     She frowned.

     Tuesday I hired a funeral home to hold a memorial service in Santa Monica and bought a plot near Yermo.

     That night she nodded.

     Wednesday night I plied her with stories from her father's childhood.

     She listened without the usual sparkle in her eyes.

     Thursday, the day of the funeral, we occupied the front pew of the chapel with Sally's mom and dad.  The two white caskets rested on metal stands in front of the altar rail, close enough to touch.  A forest of wreaths cast off a sweet aroma.

     When the minister asked me to rise to give the eulogy, I said, "I'm not much on speeches so this will come from the heart, not a piece of paper.  David and Sally were my only children.  I loved them.  They came into this world with nothing, they found each other and united in love. They leave with what they brought into the world."  I motioned to Angela.  "Angie, please come up here."  Angela glanced up at me, her lips slightly apart.  She rose slowly and joined me.  I placed my arm around her.  "David and Sally left Angela to the world, a gift more precious than they could imagine.  Honey," I said to Angie, "your mother and father loved you."  Tears sprang from my eyes.  "Thank you all for coming," I said.  With my arm around Angela, I stepped from the platform and guided her to our seats.

     The next morning, I dozed in my Morris chair with the Barstow daily draped across my lap.  The back door banged shut.  Slippered feet scuffed across the kitchen linoleum.

     The scent of roses arrived with her.

     Angie carried a covered shoebox.  "Please take me to the cemetery," she said.

     I folded my paper.

     Angie clutched her box while I opened the cemetery gates.  We drove down the lane to the green hill of newly laid sod where my son and his wife rested under a temporary marker that reflected silver sunlight through a rainbow of flowers.

     Angie tucked her box under one arm, stepped out of the car and closed the door.

     She didn't invite me to join her.

     She climbed the hill and kneeled in front of the stone.  Her back hid the box.

     I waited.

     For five minutes she sat, a little Buddha.


     A small hand waved for me to join her.  The dew wetted my shoes as I climbed the hill on grass that smelled meadow fresh.

     Angie resumed her vigil.

     I kneeled.  Her eyes glistened.  The box lay open beside her with the lid underneath.  She clutched four red roses.

     "I couldn't let my friends see me cry," she said.

     I nodded.  I wanted to say that women can cry in public.  I knew she didn't care.

     "I cried yesterday," I said.

     Her lips twitched with a hint of a smile.

     "Two for dad, two for mom," she said.  She lay the roses in front of the marker.  "I . . . "

     With my hand on her shoulder, I said, "I didn't raise my son to die.  Life made other plans.  Goodbye, David.  Goodbye, Sally."

     Angela said, "Goodbye, . . . Dad."  She shifted her knees.  "Goodbye Mom."

     She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her cheeks.


     She grasped my hand.  "Yes?"  We stood.

     "Can I stay with you?"

     I smiled and hugged her.



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