"Buck Simpson! Come! Chilada has need for you!"
Pariah addressed me at my door in the rather imperious manner that is usual with her and offers no particular offense to me.
"Won't you come in and rest a while, Pariah?
You've only just arrived!"
"We have little time for pleasantries, Buck Simpson!
Chilada has requested that I bring you to her as soon as possible!"
When we descended to the basement of Aunt Chilada's Amazon Cantina,
I had more than a fair idea of what we'd find when we got there ...
"My, God! She's magnificent!
But she's dead! How awful!"
That is true of most of we Amazons!
Is it not, Buck Simpson?"
Pariah observed, preening herself a bit in the process.
"Just let me close her eyes!"
"There! That's much better!"
"Kind of got to you having her seem to stare at you the way she was, didn't it, Buck Simpson?"
"Now it would almost seem that she were only sleeping!"
Pariah peered at me significantly then shrugged indifferrently.
"It would seem so were it not for the gaping hole in her navel!
Well, at least Chilada was thoughtful enough to have the body washed for you!"
"Washed? I don't understand!"
"Oh, come now, Buck Simpson!
Let us not pretend to be amy more naive than is strictly necessary!
Are you going to perform the Last Rites?"
"Last Rites? Hardly!
After all, I'm not a priest, Pariah!"
"Ah! But many of the Amazons believe that you are, Buck Simpson!
And is not belief the most important element?"
"She's been stabbed to death, Pariah!
Did you do this?"
"Did I? Oh, now, Buck Simpson!
Would it matter to you so very much if I had?
But then you may rest assured that a gutting is hardly in my way of doing things!"
"And besides ...
Few of my victims have been known to lie still long enough so that I could thrust them through the navel!
And in case you hadn't noticed ..."
"There is no outward indication of any struggle ...
No, Buck Simpson! This woman may not have been overly eager to die ..."
"But to my way of thinking at least she did so willingly!
"As a matter of fact, the longer I look ..."
"I should come to suppose that she is one of those that we refer to as the Angels!"
"An Angel, did you say, Pariah?"
"They are called the Guardians in some clans, Buck Simpson."
"A Guardian Angel! They are real then, Pariah?"
"Her body appears to be real enough to you, does it not, Buck Simpson?
Many people living on this side of the Amazon Gate have a Guardian at their side, Buck!"
"But only rarely is anyone aware of their being there and few believe that they actually exist!"
"And yet we have proof of their existence, Pariah!"
"Proof? Proof of what, Buck Simpson?
All that we have here is the corpse of yet another Amazon who has suffered the indignity to have been stabbed through her navel!"
"There is nothing particularly unusual in that, Buck Simpson!
Death is never to be cheated, you see!"
"Whenever you hear of an individual who has avoided a close encounter with calamity ...
You may rest assured that another Amazon Angel has stood her ground ..."
"To take a shaft, blade or bullet in the chest or gut - as the case may be!"
"Do you mean to tell me that these women die voluntarily?"
"Seems almost incredible to you, doesn't it, Buck Simpson?
"But the Amazons chosen to join the ranks of the Angels see it as being both an honor and a priviledge!"
"Do you mean to say that anyone who escapes a brush with death of any sort ...
An automobile accident - or anything of that nature - has one or another of thess Angels to thank for it, Pariah?"
"More than likely, Buck! Unless there's some other type of Guardian that I know nothing about ... "
"All I know of are these Amazon Angels ... And they keep me busy enough - believe me!"
"What happens when an angel is lost - as this one has been, Pariah?"
"Lost? Oh! You mean killed as this one has been!"
"Do you know, Buck?
I never really considered that!
I'm not a present when the assignments are made!
I suppose another Angel volunteers ...
My job is only to see to it that she gets back to the other side - which means through the Amazon Gate!"
"And you've seen first hand what a task that can be! Haven't you, Buck Simpson?"
"That I do, Pariah! Is that what you and the others do on this side of the Gate, Pariah?"
"There's only me who draws this assignment for the most part, Buck Simpson!
It is not a particularly happy task, as you may well imagine ..."
"But then - such is the lot of the Gleaner! And someone has to do it!"
"But if the Guardians are anxious to have one of their fallen Angels returned to them ...
Doesn't that mean that she will survive or at least revive in some way, Pariah?"
"I would not wish to be the one to dash your hopes, Buck Simpson!
But does a family who receives the body of a fallen son or daughter have any real hope of resuscitation?"
Buck made no reply to Pariah's latest retort for it appeared obvious that there was no other turn
that their conversation could take at the moment and so they both fell silent.
Buck continued in his ministrations to the corpse while Pariah continued to entertain thoughts of her own.
Pariah was not entirely certain just how much of what she had heard about the so-called Guardians, nick-named the Angels, herself.
It was part of her nature to treat both what she considered to be legend or myth rather lightly;
writing most of it off in her own mind as a collection of superstitions.
It was readily apparent to the Gleaner that her companion would prefer to hope for the best ...
But then - old Buck was the type who would prefer to believe anything positive about the female warriors ...
Perhaps that was why the women sought his company as much as anything ...
In her own experience with the warriors that she had encountered,
the Gleaner had often found it necessary to thrust her knife home five, six, or even seven times before the woman went down ...
So she couldn't help but entertain a healthly skepticism about the likelihood
of any woman consenting to having herself gutted - and simply stand there calmly as it was done!
No, to her way of thinking, the so-called Guardians -
or Amazon Angels as they were called here in the Outer World -
were simply further examples of the myth, legend or superstition
that had developed concerning any and all of the Amazon Clans ...
Rather than having died in the place of another,
this woman lying here in the temporary mortuary had more likely been knifed
in one or another of the altercations that always seemed to develop among the patrons of Queen Chilada's Amazon Cafe ...
Either that or Queen Chilada had found it necessary to mete out a bit of discipline?
Could it have been that this little lady had been caught with her hand in the proverbial cookie jar?
Were that the case, it would not be outside the realm of possibility that Queen Chilada
had seen fit to slide a knife of her own into this lady's belly ...
It was known to have happened before on more than one occasion!
The more she thought about it, the more certain she was that such was the case ...
Else why would the Queen have gone to all the trouble to establish this system to rid herself of the carcasses of these women?
Pariah shook her head.
It was all too much for her!
All she knew for sure was that she herself was well satisfied with the compensation
she received for ferrying these dead bodies back through the Amazon Gate!
So who was she to complain?
No ... Pariah knew better than to muck up a good thing by asking too many questions!
Buck certainly appeared to be enjoying himself toying with this corpse!
Not that the Gleaner could honestly say that she blamed him any!
This Amazon Angel was something worth toying with be she dead or alive! That was for sure!
But now that the small ceremony appeared to be over,
the Gleaner wondered if perhaps she could not interest Buck Simpson
in fondling a bit of living flesh before she undertook the long trek back to Amazon Territory!