“This is Susan…”
Gabe and I are sitting a our favorite coffee place. A little out-of-the way cafe close to a small park. Great espresso—local legend tells that Starbucks tried to buy the recipe, but the owner wouldn't sell—decent (and secure) WiFi, good couches. Everything an assassin and his handler need to chat about the first assignment.
“Okay Connor, I know this is your first assignment, so let's go over the ground rules again.” Gabe is very serious about the rules. I guess when your boss is God, you kinda have to be don't you?
“You must complete your assignment between the proscribed times, no sooner, no later. You have to make sure that there is no question that it could be taken as a suicide. Yes, God and Lucifer will know regardless, but perception is key here. The person's friends and family must remember the person as someone who led a life of great love and service and died tragically.”
“Got it,” I nod, “and Mike…”
“Michael, he hates Mike…”
“Right, Michael, will be able to get me tools of the trade?”
“Yes, but try to be creative. You, know tragic accidents like downed wires, collapsing scaffolds, that sort of thing. Those work great and add a little more depth to the grief.”
I sigh, look back at Gabe, and put my head into my hands.
Gabe reaches out and puts a hand on my shoulder. Ever had an archangel put his hand on your shoulder? It's a pretty amazing feeling, like everything isn't just okay now, but it has always been okay and always be okay.
“Connor, look, I know this is tough. You're not my first charge. I know you're thinking you're committing murder—you're not. Your assignment is going to die soon regardless. Not to mention if you don't intervene, your target will kill themselves. There is a plan and you are a part of it. This is helping people, not hurting. It's better to remember someone who has done such wonderful things in life as dying in a tragic end than friends and family wondering if they missed something that drove the person to kill themselves.”
“Right. Okay, I'll wrestle with this later, what's the assignment?”
“Susan Dockstead, 36, spent most of her adult life helping street youth. She's helped hundreds of kids detox from drugs, escape prostitution, put more than her share of bad people into prison for the rest of their lives.”
"Susan, worked her way through school getting a degree in something like art history or something. One day just after she graduated she ran into a girl, Jill, who was 19 at the time. Jill was strung out, on the run from her pimp, homeless (because of the being on the run from her pimp), and starving. Something in Susan clicked and she bought Jill a meal at a little diner close by. Later Susan would help Jill find a place to live, a place to get clean, and helped her find the strength to change her life. Of course, this changed Susan's life as well.
Susan, started volunteering at a youth shelter, then working there, then she went back to school and got a degree in counseling to better help ‘her kids' as she called them."
“What about a boyfriend, husband, or someone?” I ask.
“Oddly enough,” Gabe double-checks his notes on his iPad, “No one like that. A few people in her life, but really a lot of close friends and her kids. This is a woman who's work has literally touched thousands of lives over a very short (relatively) period of time.”
“Right, but she's on my list as a first assignment, so something has gone off the rails.”
“Yes.” Gabe becomes solemn. A solemn archangel is pretty solemn. Something that makes your heart break even if you just catch him in the edge of your vision. I'm looking straight at him and hoping he'll put his hand back on my shoulder before I start sympathetically crying. Thankfully, knowing what the sight of a solemn archangel does to humans, Gabe straightens up and puts it hand on mine for a moment.
"Yes, it comes back to Jill. It's been about 15 years since Jill and Susan crossed paths. Susan kept in touch with Jill, but recently Jill went silent. So Susan started looking. I wish she hadn't.
Susan found Jill a week ago. In the morgue. Jill had fallen back into drugs, the street, everything. Then when Jill remembered Susan, we know this both from our insight into everyone and letters left behind, she tried to get straight, break free, and help another girl as well. Her pimp didn't like that at all. Marco, yes stereotypical pimp name, took out his displeasure on both girls. The police report made my skin crawl and I've seen everything."
Gabe slides a copy of the report over to me. I don't ask how he gets these things, but I figure one of the various angels or saints wandering around helped out.
I start giving the report a skim. Torture. Rape. Sodomy. More torture. More rape, more sodomy—with objects this time—and finally the girls bodies just gave out and they were both found wrapped in a tarp in a dumpster. I'm beginning to wonder if I could freelance and take out Marco too. We all know where he's going to go when he dies, and I certainly don't think the world will miss him much.
"After the visit to the morgue, and seeing both girls, she paid to have them both buried properly and then…well she hasn't been the same since.
We know what's going on inside her head and we know her time is up."
“Hold on a second.” I interrupt. “Here's the part I still don't get. Why not just help the person get better? What about the whole ‘Touched By An Angel' routine from TV? Why end her life when she's done so much good thus far? And why aren't a taking Marco out as well. Come on, he's the kind of guy who is truly the problem!”
“Those are fair questions, and ones I don't have great answers for. God decides when peoples' times are up and Susan's is now. As for Marco, well, you bring up an interesting point. It's come up before and we've had Death Wardens do these jobs too. Most of the time the people we choose as Death Wardens don't have your particular…skills…we have to do a lot of ‘on the job training' with them. You, however, are different.”
Gabe, turns away for a moment, thinking.
“Okay Connor, you're terms of service have been amended…”
I guess when you have a direct line to God, you can do those things.
“…you will now also be used as a tool to take care of ‘other' problems here on Earth. After you help Susan, Marco will be your next assignment.”
“Good.” I did very bad things in life and if I can use those “skills” in death to make up for them, that sits just fine with me.
“Now, there will be wrinkles in these secondary assignments. First, they will always be secondary to your other assignments. You will still be helping people who are in great emotional, and sometimes physical, pain end their lives, without actually them ending their lives. These other assignments, will be handled out now and then, when there are people who either caused the problem—like Marco—or just have to be dealt with. Remember Lucifer has His own minions of evil and they have their purpose as well.”
“I think I can handle that.”
“Good, now here is Susan's file for you to study. You have a five day window starting tomorrow to finish this assignment. In the meantime, I'll get Marco's file and you can take care of that after. Email Michael today to get him the list of things you'll need for this job.”
Gabe stands, shakes my hand, and then it's like he wasn't there. I don't even think the other people in the cafe noticed he came or went. I order another Americano, sit back down, open the file, and start making notes.