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Authors: Debbie Macomber

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BOOK: Touched By Angels
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“Right,” the other two agreed.

“Then all we need do is convince his mother or father to do a little pre-Christmas shopping.”

Goodness made a tsk-tsk sound. “I think it’s time we taught Gabriel a lesson on just how good we are.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever been more offended,” Shirley said as the three briskly headed toward Roosevelt Island.

Peggy Houle walked down the quiet hospital corridor and sat at the nurses’ station. Her rubber soles barely made a sound on the polished tile floor.

She started to make a notation in one of her patient’s charts when she noticed a newspaper spread open across the top of the counter.

“That’s odd,” she mumbled to herself, and scooted the paper aside.

She looked around, wondering who’d left it. One thing was certain: none of the nurses were accorded the luxury of sitting down and reading. Not while on duty, at any rate. The hospital was short-staffed as it was, and breaks, even the ones allotted them in the terms of their contract, were often few and far between.

“My dogs are barking.” Ellen Freeman, another nurse, joined Peggy. She slipped off her shoe and rubbed her sore toes. “This is what I get for not breaking in these new shoes first.” She reached for the newspaper. “Who left this?”

“I don’t know. It wasn’t here five minutes ago.”

“Look,” Ellen said, pointing to the printed page. “There’s a gigantic toy sale going on for the next couple of days. I haven’t even started my Christmas shopping.”

“I was finished last week,” Peggy said, feeling almost smug. She’d hit the stores her first day off following Thanksgiving and finished it all in one fell swoop—wrapping paper, new decorations, tinsel, the whole nine yards.

There wasn’t a reason on this earth good enough for her to voluntarily step inside a store again in the whole month of December. Not when it seemed the entire city had gone crazy. At the end of her shift all Peggy wanted to do was head home.

“I’ve been thinking I’d buy the kids educational gifts this year,” Ellen murmured. “Something that will stir their minds instead of those brainless television games. I can’t tell you how sick I am of them sitting like zombies holding on to their joysticks.”

“A chess set?” Peggy said, and snapped her head back, startled.

“A chess set,” Ellen repeated, oblivious of her friend’s chagrin. “Now that I think about it, you’re right. A chess set is an excellent idea.”

“What did I just say?”

“A chess set.” Ellen looked up, surprised. “Is something wrong?”

“No . . . the funniest thing just happened.” Peggy slapped the side of her head, hoping that would help.

“What?” Ellen was curious now.

“The words a chess set echoed in my ear. Three times, and each time I swear I was hearing a different voice.”

“I still think it’s an excellent idea,” Ellen said, and replaced her shoe. “Are you sure you won’t come to the toy store with me?”

“Ah . . .” Peggy hesitated, then found herself agreeing. “Sure,” she mumbled, “why not?” For the life of her, she couldn’t imagine why she was doing such a thing. “Who knows, maybe Craig would be interested in learning how to play chess himself,” she said to justify her actions. After all, it was a good idea. Her son would enjoy learning the game.

Peggy leaned back on her chair. Abruptly she shook her head, then repeatedly slapped her hand against her ear. “It happened again,” she said incredulously.

“You heard the words a chess set?”

“No,” Peggy said, and shook her head like a dog fresh out of the water. “It was the same three voices, only this time they said . . .”

“Yes,” Ellen prodded.

“You aren’t going to believe this.” Peggy wasn’t entirely sure she believed it herself. “Piece of cake,” she mumbled, and shrugged, completely baffled.

“Oh, my,” Shirley said, pointing into the distance. “Brynn Cassidy’s in trouble.” It was just what she’d expected would happen.

“Trouble?” Mercy repeated. “What’s wrong?”

Cocky with their success, Goodness brushed the grit from her hands. “Trouble’s our middle name. Brynn doesn’t have a thing to worry about.”

“Brynn might not, but we do,” Mercy said, looking skeptical. “Gabriel isn’t going to like this one bit. Not after the warning he gave us to stay away from her.”

“Brynn’s car won’t start,” Shirley informed her friends, her voice growing more concerned. “And I don’t like the looks of those men, either.” Clad in black leather jackets, two men stood on the other side of the chain-link fence, watching Brynn.

Brynn climbed out of her car and opened the hood. She cast a wary eye toward the men.

“If ever I’ve seen anyone with evil intentions, it’s those two,” Shirley informed her friends.

“They’ve got knives,” Mercy said, tugging on Goodness’s sleeve.

“We’ve got to do something,” Shirley cried, hoping to hide her panic.

“You don’t dare,” Goodness insisted, gripping Shirley by the arm and stopping her. “Mercy’s right. If Gabriel finds out, it’d be just the excuse he’s looking for to stick us with guard duty.”

“Then I’ll take matters into my own hands,” Shirley insisted.

“Talk to Gabriel,” Mercy suggested. “Goodness and I can keep those two thugs occupied while you reason this out with him.”

“Did I hear someone mention my name?” Gabriel appeared just then, startling the three angels.

“Gabriel,” Shirley said boldly, “we need to talk.”

“Indeed we do. What’s this I hear about Peggy Houle experiencing hearing problems?”

Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy clammed up so fast their teeth made clicking sounds when their jaws closed.

“I strongly suspect a bit of . . . intercession.”

“I have a question of my own.” Shirley stepped forward and bravely confronted the archangel. “Exactly whom have you assigned to work with Brynn Cassidy?”

Gabriel hesitated. “As a matter of course, I hadn’t gotten around to choosing anyone just yet.”

This was all Shirley needed to hear. “It’s exactly as I suspected,” she turned to inform her two friends with an indignant huff. “In the meantime Brynn Cassidy flounders, while heaven looks on unconcerned.”

When she dared, Shirley chanced a look in his direction. “I want in,” she informed Gabriel, her hand braced against her hip.

“What makes you think you can handle this case?” Gabriel’s intense eyes burned holes straight into her.

“I can’t,” Shirley admitted. “At least not alone, but I have two friends who can help. In addition to . . .”

“Yes,” Gabriel prodded.

“In addition to my friends, there’s you.”

“Me?”

“And a host of heavenly assistance that’s always on call.”

Gabriel sighed. “You just might need it.”

Shirley opened her mouth to further her argument, then realized what the archangel had said. “You mean to say you’re willing to give me the assignment?” The winds of indignity that had ruffled her sails fell slack. “Really?”

From the tight set of his mouth, the archangel looked as if he already regretted this. “One condition. You must agree to call for help when you need it.”

“I promise,” Shirley said solemnly, and smiled at her two friends.

“Just remember we can accomplish all things with the power of God.”

“All things,” Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy repeated.

“We’ll start right now,” Gabriel suggested. “I’ll let you take care of the problem of those two malcontents.”

“Sure thing,” Shirley said, eager to get started on the assignment now that it was officially hers. She eyed the two men watching Brynn, and almost felt sorry for them. It seemed to her they were prime candidates for a bit of intervention. Perhaps they should meet up with an old friend, one they weren’t eager to see. Like their parole officer. Angel Shirley in disguise.

“I sincerely hope you know a good mechanic.” Gabriel cast his gaze over to the disabled vehicle; then without a sound, without a clue, he disappeared.

“We do know a good mechanic, don’t we?” Shirley asked, looking to her friends.

Goodness and Mercy stared back blankly.

“No,” said Mercy to Shirley. “We thought you did.”

It was barely after four and already the sky was growing dark. Within a half hour night would settle over the city like a black velvet quilt.

Brynn Cassidy had long since given up the idea of seeing her dentist. Missing the appointment to have her teeth cleaned was a minor inconvenience compared to the hassles of dealing with car troubles.

She couldn’t leave her Ford Escort here overnight, that much she knew. In this high-crime area, she’d be fortunate to find the shell of her vehicle left by morning. Nor did she know of a good garage, especially one close by. She cast a look across the street, surprised and grateful that the two men lingering there moments earlier had disappeared.

“Are you having trouble, Miss Cassidy?” Emilio walked up to her, a basketball tucked under one arm.

Brynn was so grateful that someone had asked that it was all she could do to keep from blurting out her troubles. “It won’t start, and I haven’t got a clue what could be wrong.”

Emilio walked around her vehicle as though inspecting it. “I know a little bit about engines.”

“Do you think you might look at it?”

“Sure thing.” Emilio slid halfway inside the driver’s seat. One foot remained on the asphalt parking lot while he turned the ignition key. He pumped the gas pedal a couple of times while her car made a sick grinding sound.

“Do you know what’s wrong?” Brynn asked expectantly.

“You sure it isn’t your battery?” Emilio asked.

“Good grief, I wouldn’t know.”

The teenager seemed to find her answer amusing. “You know all them fancy words, Teach, but you aren’t so smart when it comes to cars, are you?”

Brynn was more than willing to admit it. “Is it serious?” she asked.

Emilio shrugged. “I haven’t got a clue.”

“I thought you said you knew something about cars.”

“I do, but I ain’t no Mr. Goodwrench.”

“Thanks anyway, Emilio. I appreciate your help.” He’d done a lot more than her fellow teachers. Most had walked right past her.

Brynn closed the hood and locked up the car. She didn’t want to leave it, but she didn’t have any choice. Its hood shut with a bang that echoed through the darkening afternoon. She swung the strap of her purse over her shoulder, and with her back stiff, not knowing where to turn, she started out of the parking lot.

“Where you going?” Emilio asked, bouncing the basketball and weaving it in and out of his legs as he walked alongside her.

“I’d better get a tow truck.”

“My brother can do that.”

Brynn paused. “Your brother?”

“Roberto. He’s owns a mechanic shop. If you want, I’ll take you there. He’ll know what to do.”

Frankly, Brynn wished Emilio had said something about his brother sooner. “That would be great.”

“Yeah, well, remember how much I helped you the next time you’re tempted to have me suspended.”

The three-block walk took only a matter of minutes. Brynn spied Roberto’s shop when they turned the corner. It looked as if the garage had once been a neighborhood gas station. The corners of the cement building were chipped and the entire structure was badly in need of a fresh coat of paint.

Emilio opened the glass front door and walked inside. “Roberto!” he shouted.

His brother’s reply was muffled.

“He’s in the garage,” Emilio said, gesturing to the narrow doorway that led to a large open area that served as the repair shop. Brynn followed her student inside.

“I drummed up some business for you,” Emilio announced proudly, and motioned toward Brynn.

Roberto Alcantara slowly unfolded from a quarter panel of the blue Metro and reached for the pink rag tucked inside his coveralls pocket.

“Hello, Mr. Alcantara.”

“Call him Roberto,” Emilio insisted. “This is Miss Cassidy,” he continued, looking well pleased with himself. “She’s the teacher I was telling you about.”

“Hello.”

Roberto nodded and wiped his hands. His face remained emotionless.

“Ms. Cassidy’s having car troubles.”

“My car won’t start,” she elaborated. “I doubt that it’s the battery. It ran perfectly fine this morning . . . at least I thought it did.”

“She doesn’t know anything about cars,” Emilio inserted. “Her specialty is dangling particles.”

“Participles,” Brynn corrected.

Emilio chuckled. “See what I mean?”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Cassidy,” Roberto said coolly, and tossed the rag onto his tool bench.

“I left my car in the school parking lot.” She twisted her arm around and pointed in the direction of the school, which was completely unnecessary. Roberto Alcantara knew very well where the high school was.

Roberto said something to Emilio in Spanish. Emilio nodded quickly, then turned abruptly and hurried out of the garage. Within a matter of a minute she heard the youth talking on the phone, again in Spanish. Before he left, he collected her car keys.

“I’ve had Emilio call for a tow truck,” Roberto informed her. “He’ll meet the driver over at the school.”

“Thank you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help.”

Roberto said nothing.

Without being obvious, Brynn studied Emilio’s brother. Roberto was tall and lean. His skin was the color of warm honey, his eyes and hair as dark a shade of brown as she’d ever seen. She guessed him to be around her own age, perhaps a year or two older. He wasn’t openly hostile, but he did nothing to put her at ease. Every attempt at conversation was dead-ended.

As the minutes passed, the silence became more and more strained. Brynn wondered what she could have done to earn his disapproval, then realized it must be the incident with Emilio in the hall the first day she was at the school.

“I imagine you’re upset with me because I was the one responsible for Emilio’s suspension,” she tried again. She wouldn’t apologize, but she was prepared to state her side of the case. If he was willing to listen, that was.

“I’m not the least bit upset,” he surprised her by answering. “Emilio knows the rules. He deserved what he got.” He returned to working on the Metro and ignored her.

The next time he straightened, Brynn asked, “You don’t like me, do you?” Normally she wouldn’t be so confrontational, but it had been one of those days. If she’d done something to offend him, she wanted to know about it.

BOOK: Touched By Angels
2.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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