SIXTEEN

She walked to the front gates of the convent but stopped just short of passing through them. She stood looking around at the group of law enforcement officers gathered at the convent. She bowed her head for a moment and then looked up at the group again.

"It is finished," she announced. "The changeover is done. The evil is once again restrained and cannot threatened mankind."

Mother Superior Mary-Elizabeth crossed herself and knelt in front of Jessica. John noticed a change in the young girl. An air of confidence he had not seen before. She looked at him and smiled slightly.

"The Reverend Mother?" questioned Mary-Elizabeth.

"She is at peace," replied Jessica. "Her burden has been passed. She is with the Heavenly Father now."

Mary-Elizabeth crossed herself again. John moved up to Jessica and looked at her.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied. "The Reverend Mother convinced me. Now, I am the vessel. And the evil will be contained for decades to come. Thank you, Detective Greer. Your service to me has been invaluable. I could not have achieved my destiny without you. I do hope you will visit from time to time. We have a bond that few experience."

"I think I can drop by on occasion," he said, looking at Agent Combs. She just smiled and nodded once. "But maybe you should call me John. Somehow 'Detective Greer' just doesn't sound right coming from you anymore."

"John," repeated Jessica, smiling at him.

"I'll need everyone to come down to the station to make statements," said Hank. "It sounds like I'm going to have a long report to fill out. My superiors are going to want a complete accounting of what's happened here tonight."

"I'm afraid that will be quite impossible," said Jessica. "From this moment on I will never leave my new home. I must remain here ever watchful over the evil that would seek to destroy mankind."

"Now wait a minute," said Hank.

"Lieutenant," said Agent Combs, "I'm sure Detective Greer can get the girl's statement from inside the convent. He can deliver it to you when it's finished. Besides. Technically you don't have any authority inside the gates of the convent. It is the property of Vatican City and is afforded the same protections as any embassy in the United States."

"Well," said Hank, "I suppose that will be okay. But I want the statement as soon as possible. My superiors are going to want to know what happened and they won't like it if it looks like I'm stalling them."

"I wouldn't worry about that too much," said Combs. "I'll have Supervisor Todd speak to your Chief. It shouldn't be too much of a problem."

"And the Archbishop will also speak to him," said Peter. "I think you're going to find this matter is going to be settled very quickly. No matter what type of report you turn in."

"What about these two?" John asked, indicating Crater and Pamela. "If we don't have any jurisdiction inside the convent, technically they can't be held accountable for what happened in there. They haven't broken any laws on U.S. soil."

"They will be dealt with," said Combs. "They may not have broken any laws on U.S. soil but they are wanted criminals in Vatican City. They'll be held in protective custody until extradition can be made back to Italy. I can assure you. They won't be bothering anyone for a very long time to come."

"Well, if this is all over now, my officers need to get back," said Hank. "They have a city to protect."

"You're free to go with the sincere thanks of Homeland Security," said Agent Combs. "Perhaps one day we can repay the debt we've incurred here tonight."

"Yeah, maybe," said Hank.

He and all of the LAPD police officers, except John, got into their cars and drove away. The Homeland Security agents loaded Crater and Pamela into their cars and also headed back into the city.

"We need to get him to a hospital," said one of the paramedics, indicating Peter. "He's lost a lot of blood. He's going to need a doctor right away."

"Take it easy, Peter," said John. "I'll stop by and see how you're doing in a day or so."

As the paramedics loaded Peter into the ambulance, John turned back to Combs, Jessica, and Mother Superior Mary-Elizabeth.

"Well, I guess we should get to that statement," he said. "Hank isn't going to wait long for it. I'm sure he has visions of the Chief dragging him over the coals demanding to know what LAPD officers were doing out here tonight."

"That won't happen," said Combs, taking out her cell phone. "Supervisor Todd will be by to see him before you have a chance to turn in your report. You're not going to have any hassle with it."

"I'll contact the Archdiocese immediately," said Mary-Elizabeth. "The Holy Father should be made away that the changeover has occurred successfully. And I don't think Father Connors is in any shape to make any phone calls right now."

"Agent Combs," said Jessica. "I thought you might like to know that your great, great grandmother would be very proud of what you did here tonight. She served as the vessel for over eighty years, protecting mankind from this great evil. She would have been very proud that you have helped do so tonight."

"Thank you, Mother Superior. You honor me."

Mary-Elizabeth then escorted Jessica into her new home.

"How could she know that?" John asked Combs. "She wasn't even born when your great, great grandmother was alive."

"All vessels have the memories of the vessels that have come before them," said Combs. "She knows everything that's happened since the first vessel imprisoned Lilith. Frankly, I don't know how they manage all the information those memories must contain. But the vessels seem to handle it easily. I'm not sure I'd be up to it."

"I think the vessels are very special people. It's why they are chosen. What I'd really like to know is what Mother Superior said to Jessica to get her to agree to it in such a short amount of time. Peter and I both talked to her but she wouldn't budge. And Mother Superior convinced her in a matter of minutes."

"No one ever knows what the two vessels discuss. They are always left alone for the changeover and the new vessel never divulges what was said. I told you the Mother Superior could be very persuasive."

"Well, I guess we shouldn't keep Mother Superior Jessica waiting. I wouldn't want her to get upset thinking we were ignoring her."

"Oh, you'd be surprised. If she's like the last one she's very understanding. I never once saw her get angry or lose her temper."

John and Combs turned and headed into the convent. John knew that, with the possible exception of Peter, he'd be the only man to ever set foot inside the convent again.

John sat in Mark's office as the two talked. It had been a week since the changeover and outwardly it appeared that nothing at all had happened. Peter had called and said he was returning to Vatican City. He had only recently been released from the hospital and, as he put it, the Holy Father wanted a personal accounting of what had happened. As the two men sat talking, Peter came into the office.

"So, how's the arm doing?" John asked.

"Fine, fine. The doctors says I should make a full recovery. Still a bit tender and some pain but I'm managing."

"Yeah, bullet wounds will do that to you," said John smiling.

"So the Holy Father wants to speak directly with you about the Lilith incident," said Mark.

"That's what the Cardinal said. They got my reports, of course. But Cardinal Sodano said the Holy Father wanted my personal account. I have an audience in two days. He even sent the private Vatican City jet for me to return to Rome on. I'll be travelling in style, I can tell you that."

"Just don't get used to it," said John. "You know what Proverbs says about pride."

"I know, I know. I hear your lieutenant was very pleased with how things turned out."

"Oh, you should have seen him. First the Chief shows up, congratulates him on a job very well done, even gave him and the officers involved a commendation. For helping to avert an international incident and bringing two ruthless criminals to justice. He said he was proud to have men of such caliber representing the Los Angeles Police Department.

"Then Archbishop Gomez personally comes to the station to thank Hank for his invaluable assistance in a matter of great importance to the Church and the Holy Father. He said he'd even talk to the Holy Father about a special commendation for Hank for 'helping to avert one of the greatest disasters in the history of the Church', as he put it."

"Talk about pride," said Mark smiling.

"Well, Hank isn't Catholic. So he probably doesn't understand the significance of it. And even though his report was full of unanswered questions the Chief said as far as he was concerned the matter was closed. So Hank was more than happy with the way things turned out. Not only didn't he get racked over the coals as he had expected, he got a commendation."

"What did you tell him about what happened?" Peter asked.

"I just told him that some anti-Catholic fanatics were trying to shame the Catholic Church. And that I was lucky enough to stumble on it and help prevent it. I think he knows I left some things out but he seemed satisfied with my explanation. He hasn't brought it up since. Except to be making a special place in his office to hang his commendation."

"I hear you received a commendation as well," said Peter.

"Yeah. The Chief said I was 'instrumental in averting disaster and officers of my caliber and dedication deserved to be recognized'. They're planning a special ceremony and everything. And I'm expected to make a speech."

"I'm sorry I'm going to miss it. But when the Holy Father requests your presence you can't very well say no. But I'll be there for the next award."

"Well, that may not be for a while," said John. "I doubt I'll have a chance to save the world again anytime soon."

"Oh, it might be sooner than you think," said Peter. John noticed Mark smiling. A smile that meant he knew something that John didn't know.

"What are you talking about?" John asked.

"May I?" Mark asked.

"By all means," said Peter. "You are his best friend."

"It seems that you've been nominated for knighthood," said Mark to John. "Because of what you did for Jessica and the convent it seems the Holy Father has decided you need to be recognized for your devotion to the Church."

"And I have it on good authority that he'll be awarding you the Knight of the Grand Cross of the First Class," said Peter. "The highest knighthood that the Holy Father can bestow. Rumor also has it that the College of Cardinals is planning a special commendation for you. Once all the arrangements have been made you'll be flown to Rome for the presentation ceremony."

"Great," said John. "I can just hear the comments down at the station now. 'Sir Greer this and Sir Greer that'. I'll never be able to live it down."

"Well I can't say it's undeserved," said Peter. "You did perform a vital service not only to the Catholic Church but to all mankind. Without you Lilith would be free and there's no telling how many millions could be suffering because of it."

"I just did what any good cop would have done," insisted John.

"Really?" questioned Peter. "How many other cops could have recited an exorcism ritual from memory?"

"I don't know of many priests who can," said Mark. "Including the Holy Father."

"You know, John," said Peter. "If you wanted to, I know your application to return to the priesthood would be received very favorably by almost all of the College of Cardinals. And by His Holiness himself. You wouldn't even have to go back to seminary. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if you were offered any assignment of your choosing. Including an appointment to the Holy See itself. It's something to consider. You'd make a very good priest."

"Maybe," said John. "But I've been a cop too long. I'll admit it's tempting. But I do a lot of good as a cop. More than I think I would as a priest. I appreciate the offer. But as you and Mark have both pointed out, God has plans for each of us. I think his plan for me is to be a cop."

"Well the offer is open any time," said Peter. "What you did can never truly be repaid. You deserve to be rewarded for your actions."

"I didn't do all that much. Just made sure that Jessica got to the convent. She's the one that should be rewarded."

"And she is," said Peter. "She will never want for anything. Every nun in the convent is waiting on her for whatever she asks. And the LA Archdiocese is waiting to fulfill any request she might have. She'll be treated as a virtual queen. Speaking of Jessica, how is she doing? I haven't had a chance to see her since I was released from the hospital."

"She's doing fine," said John. "As you said, being waited on hand and foot. She actually feels a bit self-conscious about it. But she says she'll get used to it."

"Yes, she will," said Peter. "She's extended a standing invitation for me to visit at any time. And now that we know I'm descended from Lilith, I don't pose a danger to the convent. Plus, Cardinal Sodano says the Holy Father is going to want me to visit regularly. To keep him apprised of how she's doing and if there's anything she needs."

"So it looks like we'll be seeing quite a bit of you in the future," said Mark.

"Regular visits. And I'm sure I can squeeze in dinner with a couple of old friends. All on the Holy Father, of course. I'm sure he won't mind a bit."

"You know, Peter, I've been thinking," said John. "Agent Combs told me that the Holy Father had specifically requested her to head up the security detail at the convent."

"That's right. Her great, great grandmother was a vessel. As her direct descendent we knew she would be a descendent of Lilith. So we knew she would be in no danger of being possessed by her."

"That's what she told me. That implies that not all of the vessels were as young as Jessica is."

"Well, that's certainly true. Some have even been middle aged. We just never know who will be called as a vessel. Sometimes they already have grown children of their old. And as I've already pointed out, not all of them have been Catholic. Let's see. The oldest one was, I believe, 41 when the changeover occurred. The youngest was 16. Why do you mention it?"

"Well, if the vessel already had children when the changeover occurred, that would mean the children would also be descendents of Lilith. As would any descendents they had. I would think it should be an easy matter to track down many of these descendents and find out where they're living today. With computer technology – and all the genealogical websites on the Internet – identifying the descendents of past vessels should be relatively simple."

"To what end? I've already told you we have no idea who the next vessel is going to be. The only one who knows who the next vessel will be is the Reverend Mother and she doesn't know until the time of the changeover approaches. And as far as I know none of the previous vessels have been related to each other."

"I know. But think about it. Each of those descendents is a known descendent of Lilith. Even the siblings of previous vessels are descendents of Lilith as long as they had the same parents. Over the decades there has to be hundreds or thousands of them out there. Each a descendent of Lilith and each immune to her power or to being possessed.

"I'm sure quite of few of them must be Catholic. Some might even be nuns or priests or both. And some are bound to be in law enforcement of some type. With the Vatican's resources they'd be able to track down these descendents. Imagine the convent staffed with nothing but descendents of Lilith. Each one immune to her power – or the power of the Holy Order of the First Mother – or immune to being possessed.

"Crater was nearly successful because the convent was virtually deserted. There was no one there to stop him. We were just lucky we got there in time. Future vessels could be better protected especially since the staff and protectors would have the added protection of their immunities."

"Now that's not a bad idea," said Mark. "It would also make it easier for the convent to get the things they need. They wouldn't have to send a message and wait for someone to deliver it for them. They could go get it themselves."

"There would still have to be the restriction of no men entering the convent," said Peter. "Other than the Costus, men have never been allowed in the convent for obvious reasons. That hasn't changed. As long as Lilith is kept prisoner by the vessel women aren't in danger of being possessed. But she can still affect men even if she's in her prison."

"I know that some things wouldn't change," said John. "But it would give you a bit more flexibility. Not to mention it would be easier to locate the next vessel once she's been identified. If you already know who the descendents are – or at least most of them – you'll know where they are when Mother Superior calls for her. It should make protecting her a lot easier since you'll have not only the Custos but other men who are immune to the Order's powers."

"I have to admit I think that's an excellent idea," said Peter. "I'm sure the Holy Father will, too. I'll bring it up with him when I see him in two days. With any luck we can start identifying the descendents very soon. If you have any more ideas like that let me know. I know Cardinal Sodano will be interested in hearing them. And I'm sure the Holy Father will also be interested. Protecting the vessel is one of the Church's highest priorities."

"I will," said John. "Say, do you need a ride to the airport? As it just so happens I'm free for a while. I'd be glad to take you there."

"I'd appreciate it," said Peter. "The Archdiocese has loaned me a car to get to the airport but I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you did."

"Of course not," said John smiling. "I'm the hero, remember? Allowing me to give someone a ride is the least they can do."

"Remember what we were saying about prided earlier, Mr. Hero?" Peter asked, smiling at John. "I hear that fall is a long way down. And it hurts when you hit bottom."

"Yeah, I know," said John, laughing at the joke. "Seriously, though, I'd be glad to give you a ride to the airport."

"Accepted," said Peter. "Just let me go tell the driver he can go back to the Archdiocese and get my bags out of the car. I'll meet you out front."

"Be there in a sec," said John.

"You two seem to have hit it off," said Mark.

"I guess what they say about combat is true. You form a bond with your fellow soldiers. Peter and I went through a lot together. And we both nearly died. I guess that gives us a certain perspective on things."

"A perspective I don't have," said Mark.

"Hey, you're still my best friend. Nothing is ever going to change that."

"Relax," said Mark smiling. "I'm not jealous or feeling threatened. I'm glad you have other friends besides me. And another priest no less. So how's that crisis of faith doing?"

"Getting better. I still don't know why my parents had to die. Why there couldn't have been some other way to get me to where I am. But I'm beginning to see that you are right."

"About what?" Mark asked.

"All things, my old things."

Mark just smiled as John headed out to the parking lot to help Peter with his bags.

The End