Having a Mortal die on Guardian watch was bad. Not like, end-of-the-world “bad,” but the kind of bad that kept Junior Angels in puberty for eternity. Every Mortal had an expiration date, some sooner than others, but we always got a notice before that happened. We were the ones that phoned in an Angel of Death of our choosing and usually were there to welcome fist bump the dead into the afterlife. Then we’d get a new Mortal. It was a simple process. Accidental death because I wasn’t on watch was one of those marks on my record that doesn’t easily get erased.
And now The Boss knew about it? Not that I should be sweating over that damning bit of knowledge, The Boss was omnipotent and kept a close eye on all Mortals and Angels alike. I don’t know how the heck He did it and kept us all straightened out, but He was the Big Man Upstairs. With that much power, I’m sure He could do whatever He wanted.
This time when I called Transportation, the line was silent for a long, long time.
“Connection code?” the angel said, barely able to snip out the words. I’m sure she was counting to infinity for patience.
“Two, two dash four six three,” I said. This was the code all angels knew by heart. Even stupid ones like me.
The Transport angel gasped. “Oh my,” she whispered pityingly. “Sending you direct. Have a blessed day.”
“Thanks. You don’t happen to know the code for hell, do you?” I muttered, half joking.
“I do, but trust me, facing The Boss is better than that place.”
“Great,” I said, unenthusiastically.
The line clicked off. There was no beam of light to walk through this time. Being sent direct meant that finding a light to travel by wasn’t necessary; it was only used for one purpose: to meet with The Boss. I wondered if I could jump off the tower first. Maybe The Boss would excuse punishment if my head was flat as a pancake. In a blinding blink of light, the bungee tower disappeared and I was standing at the foot of a hospital bead. The nurses and doctor had gone and the body was left behind for the morgue to collect.
In the room there was me, the dead guy, The Boss and an Angel of Death I didn’t recognize with a smoking, fat barreled, sawed off shotgun.
“That was easier than I expected,” the A.O.D. said as he hefted his massive weapon over his shoulder. “We good, Boss?”
“You did a neat job of it, Ansel. Thank you,” The Boss said.
“Yes Sir.” Ansel didn’t salute or anything, but he sauntered out of the room, reloading his shotgun as he went. “A.O.D. work is never done,” he said to himself as he cocked a shell in the chamber and shut the door after him off in search of another Mortal to collect.
The Boss didn’t speak. We stood there staring at my old dead dude for a long time. The Boss, this time, was not in his usual crisp suit and tie. Well, he was, but it was more relaxed than the starched stiff suit he wore to Junior Angel Corps orientation. His white shirt was open at the collar and the tie was loosened. His suit coat looked more like a sport jacket and his usually pressed pants were wrinkled. I wished I could pinpoint what he looked like, but his face shifted shape frequently, changing skin colors every few seconds. He was literally a little bit of every human being on earth.
“Boyd was a good man,” The Boss said.
“Who?” I looked away quickly, trying hard to not stare as The Boss turned into a half Scandinavian, half Eskimo. The Boss pointed to the body in the bed.
“Boyd Crawley. Did you know he fought in the Korean War and has a daughter and three grandchildren?”
“Uh…” The honest answer was ‘no’. My mouth was already open, so naturally, I started talking. The Boss did that to an angel. “I never did find out what Boyd was up to. Coma-Mortal is kind of boring, so I… pretty much checked on him when I had nothing else better to do.”
Dang! The truth was super harsh and it sounded way worse blurted out like I didn’t care at all. The Boss didn’t flinch, but He sighed heavily.
“Do you know what made him so good?”
“Um… no. He didn’t say much,” I hoped The Boss would laugh, but he turned to me and pinned me down with a gentle stare. His eyes were a swirling array of blue, hazel, brown and green in all possible shades known to mankind.
“He cared about everyone he met and dying alone in a hospital bed without his family is not the way I wanted him to go.”
“I’m sorry,” I sputtered. “Dispatch didn’t give me a name and I was trying to get to all my Mortals before anything bad happened. I tried…”
“You tried? He was declining for two weeks.”
Oh crud. Yeah. I was in hot water now. Not to mention that I’d gotten a notice from the Angel of Death Department a while back and I didn’t bother to listen to the message. If I had truly cared about my Mortal’s condition, I would have slipped a note to the nurse to call the next of kin, heck, I could have made the call myself. Mortals can hear angel voices when they can explain it with logic and a call from a nurse at a hospital about your dying father was totally logical. Of course, there was no way I could go back and fix it now. The last time I’d checked in on Boyd was a month ago when he was still stable. I flinched.
“I messed up big time,” I said. It was truth, pure and simple.
“I’ll be kicked out of Junior Angel Corps, right?” I said miserably. “I totally understand. I wouldn’t want someone like me for a guardian angel. I suck pretty bad at this.”
“And yet you toppled off a tower, wakened a cop and put a child’s mind at ease,” The Boss said.
“So?” I was confused. Wasn’t I supposed to be punished? “It’s not like I did anything great.”
“Not so. Even at four years old, Sammy relies on you to keep her imagination from running wild. She scares herself and tonight, she will sleep at peace because you checked in on her. Jeb was awake enough to assist in a drugs bust and Jake was kept safe because you added just enough weight in his jump to avoid hitting the metal tower. If you had kept your eyes open, you would have seen your friend Stan standing by. He would have shot Jake if you hadn’t been holding on to him.”
Stan the trigger happy A.O.D.? Holy moly! Talk about close call. “I’ll keep my eyes open next time,” I said fervently.
“There won’t be a next time. Not with Jake, at least. The man has much to do with his life and I am assigning him a First Class Guardian. Nope… you are done with your Mortals.”
My stomach dropped into the laces of my sneakers. Cue panic.
“I’m fired?” I exclaimed. “I can do this job, Boss. I swear I can. I am the best demon fighter out there. I’ve fought thousands! It’s my job to keep Mortals safe and I… I… I know I am really bad at remembering their names and everything they need, but I’m going to a shrink. Ginger is helping me. I’m getting better, I promise!”
“You mean Tabitha?” The Boss smiled, a weird feat considering that his lips were distorted between a full bottom lip and a thin stern upper.
“Whatever! I can do this. I passed all my exams. I want to help Mortals. Please!” I begged. “Give me a second chance.”
The Boss seemed to consider my plea. “Boyd died alone on your watch.”
I grimaced. There was no getting around that one. “I know. That was bad and I can’t avoid it, but you know me. I want out of Junior Angel Corps. I want to earn my first class wings.”
“Is that all you want?”
I faltered for a moment. The Boss studied me carefully as I gaped like a fish out of water. Lies were for demons. I thought about it good and hard for a solid minute.
“I want my wings more than anything,” I said. “I want out of J.A.C. and I admit, I’ve done a bang up job of it. But I am made of the right stuff. I love what I do and the Mortals I protect. I know I mess up sometimes, but I want to help. I can do a good job. I want to try.”
The Boss stared at me for what felt like eternity. His face changed through Ethiopian, Slovakian, Canadian and Italian along with about fifty different shades of eye color (it was pretty psychedelic). Despite the groovy eye changing mixture, I felt like he was x-raying my soul. He morphed into a cross between Australian and Mexican before he finally answered.
“I believe you, Gideon,” He nodded slowly. “You do have the right stuff. I will give you a second chance.”
“Woohoo!” I leapt in the air, hardly believing my ears. Despite the fact that we were still standing in a somber hospital room at the foot of a dead body in a bed, I was ecstatic. “Where? Who? How many? I’ve got this! I am totally going to rock their Mortal world. Not kidding.”
“Before you rock anyone’s world, mortal or not, there is a lot riding on this assignment. Also there is only one Mortal in your charge,” The Boss chuckled.
I shouldn’t have been disappointed. One Mortal is what they gave you fresh out of the Junior Angel Academy for the first five years to practice on. Regardless, it was better than getting janitor duty, picking up after fresh faced pre-teen angels at the Academy. Some angels just couldn’t hack Guardian work and were given just as useful jobs out of the field, but that wasn’t for me. I’d missed my fate mopping up for eternity by a hair. I’d take one Mortal over that any day.
“I don’t care. I’ll take it. Who is it?”
“Fifteen year old Katelyn Cody who lives in Muddy Gap, Wyoming.”
I think my brain shorted out or my ears malfunctioned. Whatever it was, He couldn’t be serious.
“You’re sending me to a girl?” I said slowly. Wyoming wasn’t exactly populated. “Who lives in the middle of nowhere?”
“There is the town of Muddy Gap in Wyoming, so it’s not nowhere. And there are Mortals there, so it is important to me,” The Boss said.
“Yeah, of course,” I said quickly to hide my lack of excitement. “If it’s important to you, it’s important to me. Who is this chick anyway? Future world leader or something?”
“Just a girl with potential,” The Boss said vaguely. “And I want you to keep her alive.”
“So, nothing different from any other Mortal.”
“If you don’t think you can handle it, I can always send you to kitchen detail at J.A.C. Headquarters for a few decades.”
“Hey! I’ve got it handled. Teen girl? Keep her alive? Piece of cake.” I had to handle it. There was no way I was scrubbing crud off dishes for eternity. “But you’re sure that’s all you want me to do? Keeping a Mortal alive isn’t exactly… hard.”
The Boss hid a smile, but his golden brown, blue and green eyes twinkled. “You’d be surprised. You keep this girl alive and I will grant you full wings, first class and big assignments, Gideon. This is not a job for the faint hearted. I am counting on you to turn things around at Muddy Gap High School, starting with yourself. You have a lot to learn.”
My neck was hot and my face red with embarrassment. This screw up with Boyd was going to haunt me. I glanced down at Boyd, all pasty white and going cold. This time was going to be different. Heck, I’d go to extra sessions with the shrink if it meant not being kicked out of Junior Angel Corps and I was going to memorize this girl’s name even if it killed me. Which it might because I’d already forgotten it.
Crud-o. That couldn’t be good.
I turned back to The Boss, but He’d already gone. He didn’t have to make calls to Transportation to get around. He was Transportation. And I was left alone with a corpse.
This new school and Mortal couldn’t be all that bad, right? The Boss mentioned I had to turn around the entire High School. That sounded more like something I could sink my teeth into. Big job. Right. I got this.
I spun around as the nurses brought in a gurney to collect Boyd. Skirting around them, I slipped out of the room and into the hall. A.O.D., Guardians and Miracle workers were everywhere, swarming around in a fury of activity amid demons and Mortals. No one paid me any attention.
Running along the wall to avoid collision, I flipped open my phone and dialed. I didn’t expect to get the same angel, but I think she was watching for my call. She picked up mid-ring.
“Are you canned?” she said.
“Nope. Shocker, eh?”
I heard her sigh with relief over the line. “Thank The Boss! Where are you reassigned?”
“The middle of nowhere, Wyoming.”
“Can you be more specific? You basically described the entire state.”
“Putty? No… Muddy. Ah crud. I should have had Him write it down for me,” I grumbled.
“Not Muddy Gap, Wyoming,” she said incredulously.
“HA! That’s it! Muddy Gap. Yeah, send me there would you?”
I heard a stifled snerk laugh through the receiver. “Oh dear. The Boss certainly has a sense of humor,” she giggled. “Good luck, Gideon.”
“Why would I need luck?” I said.
“No reason. Step into the second elevator on your left. I’m sending you a power surge. You’ll need it.”
“Whoa, wait a second… Hello?” The line went dead. Suddenly I wasn’t feeling so great about my assignment to Muddy Gap. The elevator doors opened and a tired looking doctor stumbled out. The lights were dull as I stepped in and the doors dinged shut. Looking up at the fluorescent lighting, I waited for the bright flash before the Transportation angel would break the bulbs. Power surges were an act of kindness, getting angels wherever they needed to go in one piece quicker than normal and without a code. It was pity travel.
Whatever was so wrong with Muddy Gap High School, I didn’t care. This time I wasn’t going to screw up.