On Common Ground

On Common Ground cover

Grace leaned back against the door to the coffee shop and smiled up into the sunshine, sipping her hot vanilla cream mocha. A day off after a long week pulling extra duty alone. Her partner was on vacation with his pregnant wife. He’d gotten married the year before. She smiled, remembering the ceremony. It had been a nice one, and he and his new wife had gotten more toasters and towels than they’d ever need. The best joke of the wedding presents was that her partner didn’t even eat toast. She paused on the corner, debating how to spend her pleasant and well-deserved morning off.

The sound of hurried footsteps caught her attention and she turned to watch a boy run headlong across the traffic toward her, seemingly heedless of the danger he was throwing himself into. He couldn’t be more than twelve, and looked something between frightened and determined. She heard a whisper in her ear and looked to her left. A sedan was pulling out into the street from the side road. The driver, too busy talking on his cellphone to pay attention to his driving, hadn’t seen the boy. With no time to think, she stepped off the curb and threw her coffee cup at the windshield of the oncoming car. The Styrofoam cup burst on contact and splashed the brown steamy liquid across the glass, catching the immediate and brake-squealing attention of the driver, who stared in shock through the vanilla mocha residue as Grace grabbed the startled boy by the lapels of his jacket and jerked him back to safety on the street corner.

She looked into his face, holding him firmly by his jacket. He had brown eyes and a mass of curly hair. His cheeks were smudged with dirt and there was a scrape against one jaw.

“What’s wrong with you? Why were you running across the street like that?”

“There’s a lady! She’s in danger! They’re gonna kill her!”

Grace stared into his face and hesitated only long enough to mentally check whether she had brought her sidearm and badge with her when she left the house this morning. She had. “Show me where.”

The boy nodded and turned back across the street, glancing back every few steps to make sure she was still following him. They sprinted down the street and took a right at Hawthorne, stopping halfway down the block at an alleyway. “Down there?” The boy nodded and pointed to the back of the alley, where it turned at the end of the building and continued on into the between places, the area behind the stores that held the trashcans for collection, among other things. “Go call 911.”

Grace pulled her revolver and headed down the alley, slowing where it turned and the air grew darker, danker. The garbage that inhabited this back alley gave the air in it a permanent stain of mildew and rot. She stepped slowly down the alley, checking behind the large dumpsters as she reached them. She began to wish she had asked the boy how far down the alley she needed to go. Ahead she saw the break in the walls that signaled another entrance corridor like the one she had used to get back here.

She halted her footsteps as four men wearing blue and black stepped out of that corridor, their eyes locked directly on her. She stole a quick glance back and confirmed her sudden suspicion. There were more men now standing behind her. She had walked right into a trap. She could already see a shotgun as well as a couple of handguns and assorted chains and baseball bats. Grace knew she was in trouble. She lunged for the closest back door, praying it would be unlocked, that she could get through and have a chance at making it to the open street where there would be other people. The gang wouldn’t attack like this out there. With one foot extended to her right, hand outstretched for the doorway, other hand clutching her revolver for dear life, she froze. The short, dark skinned man swinging the chain also froze, including the chain. The baseball bat stopped in midair, an inch before slapping into a palm. The leader’s Palm Colors halted, pointing to his right, parallel to the ground, pulled behind his hands as he swung the shotgun to cover Grace’s movement. His finger was already pulling the trigger, but it didn’t move.

One thing in the alley did move. A head of wavy, shoulder-length blond hair lifted up and looked around, confused. The stormy blue eyes took in the scene and then looked past it at the auburn-haired man walking toward him. The blond stepped away from the door he had just unlocked and spoke.

“Micheal, what are you doing?” Micheal shook his wings and smiled gently at the tall golden-skinned blond.

“It’s her Time, Gabe. Relock the door.” Gabe didn’t move. “You’ve done a good job with her. But it’s her Time. Time for you to take another charge. For her to go on to her reward.” Gabe stared at Micheal, still not moving toward the door.

“She’s a good woman, Micheal. It can’t be her Time yet. There is so much more good she can do.” But Gabe knew this was not some cruel joke. The angel meant what he had said. It was Grace’s time to die. The work she had been destined to do had been done. It was over. But it couldn’t be over for him. He couldn’t accept it this time. He had never argued a Time before.He had never hesitated to let other charges accept their fate and move on to their destiny. But he couldn’t let Grace go. He wouldn’t.

“Gabe, look at me.” Gabe turned his stormy eyes to the ground. They were even stormier than usual. “We know that she is special to you. We have overlooked your indiscretions. We haven’t reassigned you because you were doing a good job. You didn’t let temptation get to you. You didn’t shirk your duties. You kept a watchful eye and- Gabe look at me!” Gabe looked up solemnly. Micheal stepped closer to him. “You kept a watchful eye and this is good. You did a good job and we haven’t faulted you for what happened. But now it is time for it to end. It is her time to die and you must let it happen. “ Micheal reached past Gabe and locked the door. “It is no sin to love, Gabe. Indeed, we angels must all love for it is love that gives us our power. But we have a responsibility to the order of life. We have a job to do. We guard our charges until their Time arrives and then we lead them into their eternity and accept a new charge. That’s the way it is, the way it has been, the way it must be. You know this! You’re an excellent angel, Gabe. One of our best, if truth be known. But you can’t lose your heart like this. There is no future as an angel in this. Let the woman go.” Micheal reached back and pushed the revolver from Grace’s unmoving hand.

As the deadly weapon clattered on the pavement, Gabe looked up, his pale blue eyes taking on a steel tint. His jaw was hard and his fists clenched. “I won’t let her go, Micheal. She will do much good. And I do love her.”

Micheal sighed and shook his head. He held his hand out and set it against Gabe’s chest. Gabe stiffened and his wide eyes stared in horror and anger at Micheal. Gabe’s muscles tensed, but could not move. “You don’t have any choice, Gabe. She will die. And yes, you do love her.” Micheal looked at Gabe sadly as he stretched his other hand slowly toward the group of mortals behind him. “I’m very sorry, old friend. But you have been removed from the guardianship of Grace Rayne. You are no longer allowed to give her aid.” Micheal turned his eyes away and mumbled under his breath, “And she can never be allowed to have your heart.” Micheal stretched out his fingers and waved his hand to the right, freeing the action of the mortals.

The shotgun exploded as momentum returned to the alley. Grace lunged for the door and screamed as her leg burned and gave way underneath her. Her jeans were soaked in blood almost instantly. The shotgun issued a lazy trail of smoke in the hands of the grinning Highway. “Get her, boys. Teach her not to mess with us.” Grace screamed again as a chain whipped across her back, tearing the fabric of her shirt as well as her skin. Highway knelt beside her and smiled, brushing her hair away from her face so she could look at him. “Remember that kid you sent to jail when he was robbing the convenience store? All he wanted was a lousy fifty bucks and you try to send him up the creek for murder. That is my little brother.” He slapped her across the face and drew blood. “You see these Palm Colors on my hands? You know what they mean, don’t you?” Grace nodded slowly, aware that these were likely the last moments of her life. Well, someone here wants a set and hasn’t gotten them yet. Lucky you, you get to be the one to give them to him.” Highway stepped back and crossed his arms as someone else stepped up. Grace looked up and saw brown eyes and a mass of curly hair. His cheeks were smudged with dirt and there was a scrape against one jaw. It was the boy that had dodged through traffic to get to her. The boy that had led her into this trap. The boy whose life she had saved less than an hour before. “This is my other brother. Normally, I’d say he’s too young to go for full membership by robbing a store like Gregg was trying to do when you shot him. But, I figure rules are made to be broken, just like bones.” He grinned at the youth holding the baseball bat and the bat came whistling down on top of Grace’s shoulder and the side of her head. The audience laughed.

His voice took on the sound of an official at a ceremony. “Mike, as you know, when you earn membership into the Bruthahood, you choose your new name. What name shall you choose as you step into manhood by wasting this snotty bitch?” The others laughed and grinned, but there was silence as Mike knelt down beside Officer Grace Rayne. His hands closed around her pistol and her badge and he stood up. Mike looked at the badge and then at Grace. “Call me Rayne.” He pointed the gun at her chest and pulled the trigger.

“NNOOO!!” Gabe’s eyes were wide in horror and shock. Grace’s head dropped back to the pavement with a sickening crack. Her breath was short and ragged. Her life was being counted in minutes, maybe seconds, now. Gabe’s muscles tensed and he strained against the geis that held him. Highway pulled two small strips of red cloth from his pocket and dipped them in Grace’s blood, wrapping them around Rayne’s palms and tying them off. Micheal’s eyes widened slightly as he watched Gabe’s eyes build from stormy blue to bright gold.

“Gabe, no. It is forbidden.”

Grace heard a bellow that started in her head and grew louder. At first she thought it was just the sound of her blood pumping out of her body, but the gang members stopped their laughing and their smiles faded as they looked around for the source of this inhuman cry. A light flashed in her eyes and she looked up at the steps to the door she had been lunged for. A tall, handsome man with long wavy blond hair and golden eyes was fading into sight, his muscles straining as though fighting against a great weight or strong bonds. He was the source of this heart-wrenching bellow. Finally, he thrust his arms forward. Something seemed to rush through the air above her and a stack of wooden crates on the other side of the alley collapsed in on itself explosively. Grace looked back at the powerful man and noticed a feather falling in the air behind him. He turned his attention to the gang members circling them and leaped forward, snatching weapons from their stunned hands before they even realized that they were under attack. One by one, they were struck down as this angelic creature brought down vengeance upon them. As each man fell, a feather fell with him, the blond warrior moving to the next target. Finally, he took hold of Highway and the newly christened Rayne, lifting them bodily against the brick wall beside the door. He said not a word but tightened his grip around each of their throats. Grace realized that the anger in the man’s face and the blood rushing to theirs could mean but one thing. His vengeance was about to take their lives in his bare hands.

“Please, stranger. Don’t.” Grace gasped out, shock at these events giving her new, though short-lasting strength. Gabe looked toward her in shock and hope, tinted with hesitation.

“They tried to kill you!”

“Maybe they have. But don’t let that make a killer of you as well. I saved the little one’s life today. Don’t let my actions be for nothing.” The blond warrior nodded slowly, his face relaxing as his vengeance passed, as the anger faded.

“As you wish. The little one goes free. But this one must yet pay for his deeds. Worry not, my Grace. He isn’t dying today. And neither are you.” Gabe dropped the boy and laid one hand on Highway’s heart, closing his eyes a brief moment. Highway’s eyes rolled back in his head and he slumped down to the ground. He was breathing, but his eyes had a vacant, haunted look.

Gabe knelt beside Grace and picked her up in his arms. His hands had the touch of a miracle and she felt warmth course through her body.

“Is it my Time? Am I dying?”

“It was your Time. But you are not dying. I love you, Grace.” She looked into his eyes, startled, but said nothing as orbs of light rained down around them fading from sight along with their bodies, transported elsewhere.

Micheal stood up and shook a piece of wooden crate from his shoulders, picking up a wind-tossed feather.

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