There's a spot in the White House basement where a room used to be, a few decades ago. But it's not there, anymore.
More to the point, as far as anyone knows, it's never been there at all.
The door's been covered up with impregnable metal, and that section of wall boarded and painted over. The architectural drawings have all been changed or replaced by authentic-seeming fakes. And the people who knew about it are either dead, dying, or sworn to several degrees of secrecy.
Sworn, in fact, to an agency that will know if they are even thinking about reneging on their agreement, and will take drastic steps to ensure they do not.
The room, like a certain telephone in the Oval Office, is a holdover from a much different era. An era in which the man who was President through most of the 80's rolled into office not only on the backs of his predecessor's many failures, but with the aid of a number of interests that didn't often see eye to eye anymore, if they ever did. A unique conjunction of big business, social conservatives, and religious zealots clasped hands and put him into the Oval Office, all hoping for certain paybacks for having done so. Some were well-rewarded for their time, others not so much.
But there was another, more sublimely powerful force made certain that he stayed there: an ever-present army of anonymous but highly charismatic men in black
suits and sunglasses, with voices like booming thunder, and ways to not
only know the truth, but get you to speak it from your own lips.
Call them The Backers, for want of a better, more spiritually-charged term.
With the aid of these beings, America went through a number of great changes in that decade. The crazed, hyper-kinetic excesses of the 60's and 70's were beveled away, and turned into streamlined, "on message" things that could be better controlled, or accounted for. The wildness of the era was played down, origin stories were changed from on high, and certain embarrassing facts were switched around to better suit the national mood -- as well as the desires of that one, mysterious force.
And, for a time, things in America made sense, again -- even if they really didn't.
But those times are long since gone. The man who invited that force into the White House had his allowed two terms, and then slipped away into the mists of history. And the person who next occupied the mansion decided he didn't want those august beings overlooking his shoulders, much appearing from nowhere, clicking their fingers, and expecting him to jump out of his chair and come running.
No, this man had spent his time carefully amassing power, and he was not about to hand it over to the likes of them.
So he quietly assembled even more power, when he could be assured -- through fair means and foul -- that no one was looking. He gathered co-conspirators, made plans, and found patsies and dupes. And then he got one last, crucial thing on board -- the lynchpin for the entire plan.
In late 1988, during the waning days of his predecessor's Administration, a silent coup took place under the guise of transferring the White House's considerable keys from one man to the other. The guests of honor were informed, face to face, that they were no longer welcome at the party, and should leave as soon as possible. And when they attempted to protest, their irresistible force somehow met an immoveable object, and they had no choice but to leave as instructed -- leaving only an indestructible telephone to mark their passing.
In less than a single day, in spite of their great power, the Backers were sent packing -- consequences be darned. How that was even possible is something that not many are entirely certain of. It's said that only SPYGOD knows the whole story, and, if he but knew how quickly his relationship with the new President would sour, he might not have been as apt to help, if only to get one more screw in on the fellow.
And that would have been the death-knell of that plan, because it involved SPYGOD slowly and gently convincing a certain person -- the last being anyone could have ever suspected -- that America needed to be in charge of its own destiny, once again.
Somehow, SPYGOD turned an Angel, and poor Aarondiel -- better known as Aaron -- has been quietly paying for his betrayal ever since.
The night he stood against the Backers, Aaron lost his backing. His powers were greatly diminished, his tools of office roughly stripped from him, and all hopes of redemption and forgiveness eternally denied. True, they left him eternity in a divine, perpetual body, but that was a punishment -- perhaps the cruelest of all.
The last quarter of a century has been a massive exercise in humility for him. Where once he was the light, now he dwells in the shadows. Where once he was grace, he is now stumbling through temptation.
Where once he could uplift with his very presence, now he wallows in the dirt -- his life a near-endless sentence of binges and depravity, punctuated by the occasional moment of kind and selfless sacrifice.
No one sees him enter the White House, dressed only in a long, well-worn, white robe and ratty, old sneakers. The President is talking on the television, telling his people that the events of recent days are actually a good thing, and hoping someone believes him. His advisers are waiting in the wings, getting ready to talk about a few key subjects they can't ignore, much less control.
No one sees him go downstairs, into the basement, either. They certainly don't see him walk down the one hallway that no one likes to linger in for too long, for some weird reason.
And he's completely unseen as he walks into wall where there was once a door, back when he stood behind the President at all times and kept him safe from harm.
Behind the wall is a blazing fire -- brighter than the Sun, yet colder than deep space. The fire emanates from a golden sword that has been stuck halfway into the concrete floor. It's been here ever since the night that the Backers were told to leave, and is all that's keeping them from returning, here, to pick up where they left off.
Aaron regards it for a moment, realizing how immensely easy it would be to pull the sword and change everything. It would utterly destroy his body, and condemn him to an eternity as a fully aware cloud of charred molecules. But he could do it.
"Temp-ta-tion," he sings. It's breathtakingly beautiful, however sarcastic.
Instead, he pulls out what he's been asked to deal with. It's a black business card -- one that smells faintly of cat !@#$.
He regards it, knowing that -- even if he can't quite see what it looks like, anymore -- it is, at its core, one of the most foul things in existence. And, keeping that in mind, he tosses it right at the sword, whereupon it shudders, curls, smolders, and then burns with a poisonous, red flame.
(He can just barely hear it screaming. For that he is eternally grateful.)
As soon as it's gone, the sword's flame changes, somewhat. It's no longer as bright, now -- as if something vital to its makeup had just been altered on the metaphysical level.
Once he's registered that fact, Aaron walks back out again. The President's finishing up his speech, unaware of anything that's just happened, here. Hopefully it will stay that way.
Up to the next floor, then out an entrance no one really knows about. Through the fence, and the throngs of anti-war protesters, complaining about this latest affront to peace, love, and understanding. Past it all, expecting at any moment to be surrounded by disapproving, black-suited beings he once called brothers, but may now no longer call upon.
Of course, that doesn't happen. They probably have no idea that he's just done this. And that's why he's the one who has.
It's a quick trip to Dupont Circle, and a large, red-brick hotel where once stood a nice place to drink, but now is only a sorry, hippie-run brewpub collective -- one currently under heavy renovation due to an unfortunate misunderstanding, last June. But it soldiers on in spite of ongoing reconstruction, as the owners have decided to turn the misfortune into a post-modern selling point.
Waiting inside a booth, wearing sunglasses that never go out of style, is a beautiful fellow who looks like he stepped out offstage with Led Zeppelin: paisley shirt open to the navel, painted-on blue jeans, and black high boots that don't quite stop. He's drinking something foofy and not quite to his liking, but it's the best this artsy hovel had to offer.
"Is it done, then?" the Beautiful Stranger asks.
"It is," Aaron says, scooting in across from him after signaling for a drink. The somewhat brain-damaged waitress with multicolored hair seems to know what he wants without his asking, which is just as well as she has problems with hearing, these days.
"But will it work?" he presses, taking a long drink through a short straw.
"I think so."
"So does this make us partners in crime, then?"
"I like to think it makes us allies in salvation."
The Stranger hisses and shudders: "That word again."
"Would you like a different one?"
"I had to take a step down to save the world. You've needed to take a step up. Perhaps we are sharing a car seat along the great curve."
"Yes, but where is this car going to, brother?"
Aaron shakes his head: "That word again."
"Would you like a different one?"
"'Friend in need,'" the Beautiful Stranger says, extending a daintily-manicured hand across the table to shake. Aaron hesitates only a second before grasping it, firmly.
They both smile. It's enough to break your heart on ten different levels.
"You two... such a nice couple..." the waitress says, plunking Aaron's beer on the table and stumbling away. They immediately let go of each other and go back to drinking, all too aware that things are going to get worse from here on out.
Much, much worse.
(SPYGOD is listening to In the Night (Pet Shop Boys) and having an Angry Angel )