Weeks went by, and Guyton settled into his new life. He cruised bars local and not, checked out clubs, and took out soulburns when he could. Not every hunt was successful, but enough to satisfy Birch—and, he hoped, the higher-ups.
One evening, as he was getting ready to go out and do his job, his cellphone rang. "Yeah," he grumbled. Only two people ever called him. "Guyton here."
"Good evening, Guyton. This is Birch. Got a question for you."
"You up for a special assignment?"
"Special assignment?" Guyton repeated.
"That's what I said. Dude's been on our radar for a while, but the signs are pointing to a good moment. You want it?"
"I'm your man."
"Course you are." Birch chuckled. "I'm emailing the particulars now. Look it over, then let me know if you want to give it a shot. Fair enough?"
"Good man. Do this one, and even Astin might come around."
Guyton sighed. "Hoo. That tough, huh?"
"To be honest, we don't know how hard it'll be. But the higher-ups really want this one taken out, and they seem to think you're the one to do it. That's a good thing, by the way. They usually aren't wrong."
"Okay, I'll have a look. I'll text you if I have questions."
Rev. Marcus Della Verne was the self-styled High Priest of Great Redeemer Northeast Church, a megachurch in Outer Suburbia. And, according to the dossier Birch sent down, a soulburn who had corrupted thousands of souls in the name of God. "No wonder they want him taken out," Guyton thought. His own life was patterned much the same way—wrongdoing in the name of law and order. Maybe that was why the higher-ups (whoever they were) thought he might be the right... whatever he was, for the job.
Then again, wasn't everyone on this beat like him—diverted on their way to Hell, assigned to take out those who had been turned loose?
Birch—or more likely, the higher-ups—had sent a deluxe info package this time. It included a capsule of Della Verne's life: childhood bully, petty criminal, drug dealer. Quick to take advantage of others' generosity, while thinking them stupid for wanting to help. Never contributing anything positive in life, the afterlife had given him an opportunity to continue taking.
Guyton watched two of the shorter videos in the package, then looked at the TACTICS file. If you enter the church at one minute to the hour, you are often overlooked, it began. The greeters go inside at five to the hour, and the ushers are seating the last members. A short window, but if you hit it just right, they'll miss you. Take a seat in the back. There was more, but it was only Tuesday. In life, Guyton had always begun an investigation with a high-level view, then drilled as deep as he could. From the number of files in the package, this one might keep him busy all week.
"All week?" he laughed at the computer. "It might be a month before I'm ready for this one."
It was the overview file that gave Guyton his first breakthrough. Della Verne preaches the heresy commonly known as the 'prosperity gospel,' it said. The majority of members never have the opportunity to directly interact with their pastor. Indeed, there are secret membership levels unavailable to a common member. For wealthier members, the Silver, Gold, and Platinum levels buy both access and networking opportunities. To eliminate Della Verne, our DSP agent must successfully pose as a prospective Gold or Platinum member. The target will not deal directly with Silver prospects, at least at first.
In life, Guyton was a skilled investigator. His talent had kept him from getting fired more than once. He remembered a frustrated chief telling him, "You really need to clean up your act, Guyton. You've got a lot of talent you're just pissing away, otherwise. You could even be sitting at this desk in ten years, if you'd get the hell over your Dirty Harry fantasies."
"Maybe this is why I got diverted," he said, taking notes and putting them in order. Questions for Birch went on another list, growing as he went. The laptop and other desk adornments he pushed toward the edges as he went, and finally laid everything but the laptop on the floor. That he sat in his chair, as standing let him reach the corners of the desk.
Finally, he surveyed the entire layout. He took a picture with his phone in case something messed it up, then called Birch.
"Good afternoon, Guyton," Birch greeted him. "You're either up early, or pulling an all-nighter. Or an all-dayer, in your case."
"Huh?" Guyton looked at the time on his phone: 1:30 p.m. "I got in the zone, I guess. Maybe I should open these blackout curtains once in a while."
"Well? You come up with anything?"
"Sure. I think I can eliminate Della Verne, if that's what you're asking. But I'm gonna need some stuff I don't have. I'm either gonna need an Armani suit, or fake changing my appearance better than I've been doing."
"Yeah, it takes practice," said Birch. "Soulburns have the advantage that the appearance they assume stays until they will it to change. You, you'll have to hold it. It'll help if you have an identity to go with the look. Let's work on that tomorrow. We can alter databases to the point where your alter-ego is more real than your current one."
"Okay. It's like going undercover."
"Thing is," Guyton continued, "I'll have to pledge fifty grand a year to get Gold membership. You got that kind of dough laying around?"
"That'll be a little tough. That takes an impressive income level, and deception doesn't come easy to the higher-ups. At least they have us to handle the deception part."
"And I guess I'll have to act the part. He's gonna verify me every which way before I'll have a chance to even get close to him."
"Yup," said Birch. "Della Verne has successfully dodged two elimination attempts in the last few years. It's a tightrope act—he can't isolate himself from the people who have the money he needs to continue his mission, and he knows that's his vulnerability. Go ahead and get some sleep, Guyton. I'll get in touch with a few other people in the department; they'll get your identity set up."
"Have 'em make me old money. Those guys mostly fly under the radar, y'know."
"Huh. Good thought. I'll pass it on. Night."
YOU ARE READING
There's a special place in Hell for those who abuse their authority, and Ronald Guyton abused his with gusto. But on his way to his final reward, he finds himself diverted. Damned souls return to the world of the living, looking to pull a few more o...