New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author

The Rogue

“But why are we hunting him? That’s not really our job, is it?” I looked with concerned eyes toward the seasoned detective behind the steering wheel.

“Because it’s rogue!” he said with a touch of melodrama. Detective Manning had the patience of a pit viper, but he was well respected within the department and I was fortunate to be assigned to him. “It’s going around the world healing chimps left and right.”

“And that’s bad?”

“Are you kidding?”

He shoved the Mercedes into fourth. A completely unnecessary movement as a Mercedes will slide into fourth as easily as oil will slide through a funnel. I hid a smile and sank further into the buttery seat. Cars were cool. Humans had it made.

“You can’t just go around healing chimps for no reason,” he continued. “There’s a process, a procedure, papers to be filed and people to see.”

Chimp was a derogatory term referring to the evolution of humans on earth. People like Manning preferred to think of humans as subclass, beneath us. I think they stole the idea from a movie.

“First and foremost, there must be a request, either by an individual, a relative, a friend, or even some stranger sitting in a Lazy Boy eating chips and watching the 700 Club just waiting for some chimp to call in with a prayer request.”

Movies were cool.

“From there, a referral has to be sent out to The Agency so the case can be reviewed, and if need be, investigated.”

That was our real job, investigating referrals.

“If, and only if, it’s approved by the Board,” Detective Manning said as he jabbed the air with a rigid finger, “only then will it be taken to the Boss.” I was sure he would have been a politician had he been human. “Do you know what would happen if every angel Up-Over went around healing just because it felt like it?”

“The earth would be overrun with healthy humans?”

“Chaos! Upheaval!”

His hand flew into the air to elaborate, and I caught a quick glimpse of the gun at his side.

“Oh.”

The Agency had given me one too. A gun. I wondered why.

“Chimps can’t be healed out of the blue for no reason. They have to ask to be healed. They have to ask for a miracle. We can’t just have miracles falling from the sky like hockey pucks.”

“Hockey pucks?”

“Didn’t you learn anything in basics?”

“Well, yeah, but we mostly studied referral investigation. Hunting Down Messengers of God 101 was only offered in the summer.”

Detective Manning, apparently impervious to my keen sense of humor, sighed and shook his head as he gripped the steering wheel with both hands, determined to catch this majestic messenger gone bad.

##

CASE FILE: #13407

“There were lights, sparkling all around me.”

Mrs. Lettie Holmes. Eighty-Seven years old. Suffering from severe Alzheimer’s for the past eight years. Suddenly healed. The kind of woman human children wanted for a grandmother and human adults abandoned in the wake of their busy lives.

“And I was so warm.”

The water in her eyes made them seem brighter than they actually were.

“Yes ma’am. We got all that from the others.” Detective Manning thumbed through his memo pad with his usual impatience. “Right, here it is. Mr. Matthew Donavan. Warm, he called it, like the warmth of the sun, as if God Himself had smiled down upon him.”

“Yes! That’s it exactly!” Her exuberance was enchanting. I had never actually seen hair quite that shade of blue. “You know, I remember so little about the past several years.”

She used to make molasses cookies for her grandchildren. One of them became a doctor and is researching possible cures for Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t know yet.

“So, that’s it? You can’t tell me anymore?” Manning tapped his pen on his pad as he eyed her. “You didn’t see anything else?”

“No, sir, I’m terribly sorry.” She drew her brows together and tilted her delicate head to one side. “Where did you say you were from?”

A careful smile slid across the detective’s face. “Have a nice day ma’am.”

He turned abruptly and left the goodbyes to me. His strides, like everything else he did, were quick and impatient. I sprinted to catch up.

“So what now?”

“We’re getting close. I can feel it.” He was forced to slow his pace for two men in wheelchairs racing toward the ice-cream bar at the speed of cold caramel topping.

Manning’s energy, barely checked, seemed to crackle in the air. “Damn these rogue angels. Do they honestly think they can just stroll through the cancer ward of a hospital and heal everyone on site without consequence? Touch the brick of an apartment building to save hundreds from burning to death the next day without a hint of repercussion?” He paused and glanced at me. “Or walk through a chimp dumping ground to give these things hope without garnering the least bit of attention?” He smirked to himself. “Their arrogance is their undoing. You can’t bypass the Boss.”

The two men in wheelchairs caught my attention.

“Hey,” one of them said in a conspiratorial whisper, “let’s go over to that cart and switch the meds around.”

I stifled a chuckle and turned back to the detective. “But I thought angels didn’t feel anything.”

He spared me a quick, efficient glance. “Oh, they feel. You can look into their eyes and see the turbulence, the unrest. They’re only allowed to do a limited number of…errands. They want to do so much more. And some develop empathy.”

An opening presented itself between the two men, and I was back to sprinting.

“Human emotions are tricky,” he continued. “Some are stronger than others. Love, for example. Love is the worst. It saturates everything around it and sometimes an angel gets caught in the crossfire, becomes absorbed by it and starts to care.”

##

CASE FILE: #13416

“I saw him.”

Amy Cowen, St. Jude’s Hospital. Five-years-old. Keeps a crystal elephant in a Chinese take-out box under her bed.

Detective Manning brightened. “You saw it?”

“Sure, we all did.” She wore a pink hospital gown with elephants on it. The nurses special-ordered it.

Manning’s gaze bore into her with suspicion. “The other children said they didn’t see anything.”

“But they did see him.” Her huge eyes were filled with a resolve far beyond her years. “They just don’t remember.”

“Did it say anything to you?”

“Not with his mouth.”

That caught my attention. “He talked to you in his head?” I asked.

“No, silly. I couldn’t hear him if he did that. He talked to me in MY head.”

I couldn’t suppress a sheepish chuckle. “Of course.”

Manning cleared his throat and glared at me before turning back to the little sprite sitting cross-legged among a pile of five-year-old drawings. She had been making one for each family member so they wouldn’t forget her. “So what exactly did it say?”

She covered her mouth with a tiny hand as her giggles, sparkling and dancing around us, illuminated the room. “I can’t tell you that. It’s a secret.”

“Look, kid,” Manning said, moving in closer, “we’re friends of his and he told us to ask you where he would be. He did tell you where he would be, didn’t he?”

I wondered if lying was an integral part of the job.

“He said that?”

Detective Manning shoved a hand through his hair. “Yes, he said that.”

“Does your head hurt?”

“Look, honey, we’re in a bit of a hurry here.”

“You know,” she said as she pointed a miniature finger in warning, “that could be a malignant brain tumor.”

As Detective Manning replied with a silent glare, I struggled to suppress a grin. The reality that this seasoned investigator had probably just met his match proved difficult to contain.

“Yep, I give you six weeks at the most.”

This time I hid my chuckle behind a cough. Heaven would have been a much grander place with this little munchkin in it.

She shrugged her shoulders, giving up on warning the brusque detective of his impending doom. “But why are you in such a hurry?”

“Because we need to catch it…catch up with him. I have some very important information for him.”

She hesitated as if trying to decide whether the big bully in front of her was telling her the truth or not. But he was an adult, and Amy had been tutored to trust adults, even when they stabbed her tender skin and bruised her slender arms with their needles and metallic instruments. “You don’t need to hurry,” she said, conceding. “He’s here.”

“Here.” Manning hesitated, disbelieving his ears. “You mean in this building?”

“Yes. He’s waiting for Timothy.”

As I stood marveling at this pint-sized human’s bravado, Manning hurried through page after page of hospital patient information charts. “I don’t see a Timothy anywhere.”

Amy rolled her eyes. “If he was already here, then he wouldn’t have to wait for him.”

Manning’s face lit up once again. “Right, right. So Timothy is coming here?”

“No.”

Detective Manning’s arms flew up in exasperation and papers went flying about the room. Amy laughed and tried to catch one as it fluttered past. I smiled. Kids were cool.

“Look, Amy, you just said¾”

“He’s here now. He just got here.” The room sparkled around us again. “Won’t the doctors be surprised when he wakes up!”

Detective Manning ran out before Amy had finished her sentence, and I was sprinting yet again. As we ran for the emergency ward looking for a human boy named Timothy, I saw Amy dart across a wide hall and out a metal door with a bright exit sign above it.

Just then, we heard helicopter blades whipping the air into a roaring frenzy above us. Manning glanced at me with a knowing grin. He turned and took the nearest stairs three at a time to the second floor. We emerged from the stairwell just as the helicopter, having completed its mission, lifted off again. And through the glass doors I finally caught my first glimpse of an angel, a celestial spirit, a supernatural being…a messenger of God. I had expected long flowing robes, undulating and as white as innocence, as bright as the holiest of lights.

As the doors slid open, what I got was a white tee-shirt tucked into loose fitting blue jeans and cowboy boots. He turned to us, and blue jeans or not, he was magnificent. Tall, broad-shouldered with an ancient sword still clasped at his side. He had been a warrior. A perfect being with more power in his little finger than I in my whole body. And he had been waiting.

Amy smiled when she saw us and he set her down, bending and unfolding his arms to let her stand beside him. She took his hand into her own as if to present him to us, his friends, before turning and gazing up into the being’s silvery eyes.

Even when the bullets ripped through his chest, he held her gaze steady, refusing her access to the crimson spreading across his torso with impossible speed, staining for an eternity. He fell to his knees and winked at her before another bullet hit its mark. His head jerked back and he collapsed onto the grass surrounding the helicopter pad. Amy held his hand still as her loving gaze swept back to us, oblivious of the violence dropped at her feet.

“Jesus Christ!”

I suddenly remembered my new partner and turned to him. For the first time in my existence I tasted bile burning the back of my throat. “What?”

“He passed his powers to the girl,” Manning said as he removed the clip from his gun.

“Is that bad?” I asked as he slid another clip into its sheath.

“Kids are too open, too honest.” The clip locked into place. “When powers are passed to an adult, nine times out of ten the chimp’ll fight them, refuse to acknowledge them, pretend they aren’t there.” He pulled the slide back to chamber a round. “It’s a stigma”— the slide thrust into place —“a label, and because of it an adult will suddenly find himself ostracized by the rest of the clan.” An eerie, humorless chuckle escaped him as he shook his head in wonder. “Chimps,” he said as he aimed his gun between Amy’s radiant eyes, “gotta love ‘em.”

A rogue angel, an entity that had been alive since before time had made a choice and accepted the consequences of his actions. But Amy didn’t make a choice.

The sound of my gun startled me. My mentor, my partner, froze as if caught between two worlds. He turned to me as he fell, his face a twisted picture of incredulity. In mid-flight he lowered his gun to my chest and I glanced at the child, her skin shimmering and her eyes twinkling with appreciation. All I could see, hear, smell, feel, and taste was her smile. The ripping of flesh and cracking of bone as the bullet passed through my earthly vessel could not overcome the brilliance of that smile, the ethereal warmth it gave me, as if God Himself had smiled down upon me.

As I lay there, death lifting me to another plane, I watched as Amy giggled and raced across a field. She ran into a park to touch a baby who will now live well past the age of twelve because the leukemia had just been washed away. As the dimension fades, all I can see is the trail of sparkling dust she leaves in her wake as she lights up the world with her laughter.

No doubt about it, I thought to myself, that little munchkin is going to wreak all kinds of havoc on this world.

I had to chuckle. My first day on the job didn’t go so bad after all.