BY: RAY SUTHERLAND

Even angels sometimes have to act on faith to get the Plan back on track…

Samuel, a secret agent angel on Earth, sometimes has to improvise when things go badly wrong. Over forty years of angelic missions come to a head in a fire at a snowbound truck stop when a fire demon comes to destroy one man’s faith—or his life. The only chance for success rests with the spiritual power of the humans whom Samuel has tried to prepare for the struggle, but have they gained enough spiritual strength and awareness…or, if not, does God have a Plan B?

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Secret Agent Angel by Ray Sutherland, Sam is an angel who comes to Earth disguised as a human, undertaking missions to help those in need. The story is told in first person as Sam moves from one mission to another, often not knowing what he is really there for or how to go about carrying out his duties. Written like a diary, Sam details over forty years of missions, a different one in each chapter, culminating at a snowbound truck stop, where the real test of faith begins. But have the humans learned enough from Sam to pass the test?

A unique, clever, and intriguing story with charming characters, this is a fun, heart-warming read.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Secret Agent Angel by Ray Sutherland is the story of Sam, the angel, who comes to Earth in different disguises to help carry out God’s Plan. Sam comes “across,” as he calls it, with all the knowledge and skills needed for the particular mission he’s on. As he details each mission, one for each chapter of the book, we meet the flawed humans that Sam was sent to help. But the missions never quite turn out like Sam expects them to—proving that God either has a sense of humor, or He switches to Plan B when he wants to shake things up—often forcing Sam to improvise and test his faith that the Boss knows what He’s doing.

Secret Agent Angel is a cleverly told and heartwarming story of love, and hope—a message of faith that someone is watching over us and we are never really alone.

CHAPTER 1

AGENT ANGEL

The first thing I knew arriving on Earth was the terrible disorientation of re-entering time. It didn’t matter how often you made the transition, it was still a terrible wrench to your mind, almost violent in its effect. I spent a few seconds doing the normal head shaking and shivering to get over the jolt and to get used to being flesh and blood again. And then I got down to business. At least this time, I was undercover and didn’t have to wear a goofy robe and those wings that glow in the dark. They could be fun, but they were also cumbersome and a real pain to keep clean.

This time, I looked like a reasonably normal human male, dressed in the regulation shirt and tie like that of a junior manager at a big department store chain or insurance agency. I was in the restroom of a convenience store close to the airport, so I hit the toilet handle to make it seem as if I was in there for the normal reason and stepped out. I bought a honey bun, a chocolate bar, and the largest cup they had of orange soda because one thing I envied about humans was that they got to eat and drink. The Boss sure did a good job when He created that, and I always took advantage of it when I was here on Earth.

I come here pretty regularly. My name is Samuel. I’m an angel.

I sat down at one of the small booths in the store and looked out the window as I ate and drank and waited for my subject to show up. I had timed it right and had just finished the honey bun and half the soda when his car went by, headed home after work, with his three-year-old daughter in the car seat in the back. I dropped the wrappers in the trash and headed to the car which was waiting for me in the farthest parking place. It started right up, which is always a bit of a relief when dealing with a car I’ve never seen before. We’ve got good people doing these things, but sometimes the Boss likes to pull surprises, even on us. I remember once when I worked in the fifteenth century in Yemen, I got stuck with a donkey with no training, and that caused me to get stranded in a tiny village where I wound up staying with the local Jacobite priest who had been having a faith crisis. The next morning, he had tried to help me teach the donkey manners while his wife supervised. We were having a conversation about his crisis during a break necessitated by the donkey winning a round, and his wife had exasperatedly broken in with, “You won’t get over this unless you get hit with a sign from Heaven!”

Just then the donkey let loose with a kick which sent the priest flying, fortunately with no serious damage to anything other than his dignity. That made him laugh and say that, very much like the story of Balaam, the Boss had again spoken through a donkey. That didn’t fix his faith but it seemed to give him the boost he needed, and he went on to be a faithful leader in the Yemenite church, doubts and all.

I cut off that line of thought and got back to the business of following my subject. We didn’t have far to go. The store I’d picked to start from was only about a mile from his house, and I wasn’t sure he wouldn’t stop in for gas or a loaf of bread. Today, though, he went straight home, no stops and without any apparent glances in the mirror, even though a look in his mirror would have shown him a rather dark and nasty trail of smoke coming from his exhaust pipe.

As planned, the last stoplight before his final turn into their subdivision caught him. I pulled up next to him and got a good look. He looked exactly like what he was–a junior level management flunky trying to get on the fast track, with ambitions to reach high and talent to match. But today he looked more than harried and rushed at work, he looked troubled and uncertain. His mind was clearly somewhere else because he didn’t notice the light turn green until the driver behind honked. That let me get in ahead of him and slow down so he had to pass me and I got a good look at the girl, too.

Amanda was her name and she was a star pupil at Miss Emmy’s Day Care Center and–of course–spoiled rotten by both parents, all four grandparents, and two step-grandparents. She had the sweet look that all three-year-old girls have, even when they’re starving in the middle of a plague. I’ve seen that, too, and I screamed and yelled at the Boss to let me fix some things, but I got the usual answer.

Everything was just as I expected. That was no surprise, since I watched them before I came over, but it was good to confirm it because things look very different when you’re on this side and limited by time and space.

Preliminary recon done, I turned off the main road a block before they did and headed to the big department store in the mall where the wife would be finishing her shift as a cosmetics saleslady. They had about decided that she should quit that job since his last promotion, and she was thinking about going back to college, hoping to study art and either be an artist or at least to teach in a high school. But her pay, little as it was, helped quite a bit and she was nervous about trying to do without it.

I parked in the closest spot, which was not very close. I wish the Boss would fix that like He fixed the traffic light but that’s one of his inscrutable ways. It’s not like I need the exercise since I’m usually a perfect physical specimen when I come over in human form.

I went inside the mall, bought a bag of cashews from the kiosk in the center, and ate them as I wandered around like a shopper until I reached her counter. I timed it perfectly–it generally works that way for us and that more than makes up for the lack of good parking places–and she was about to start closing out her register.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” I said, catching her eye.

She looked at me and a little reluctantly came over. She was a good-looking lady with nice hair and a hair band which was distinctly retro but which looked very pretty on her. She was dressed in a cosmetics saleslady’s standard business suit and a name tag with the store name and “Audrey” on it. Like her husband, she had a bit of a harassed look, but hers was just from a long shift on her feet, not from any troubled conscience. She smiled the standard saleslady’s phony smile. “Yes, may I help you?”

“I’m looking for some Janie Arben perfume in a spray bottle. Do you have any?”

That stuff had been a big seller two Christmases ago, and they’d had trouble keeping enough of it in stock, but now it was old news and not even out on display any more. There were still two partial cases in the storeroom, though.

The phony smile got bigger and phonier. She was in a hurry to get home and those two cases of the type I’d asked for were in the back, buried under several other boxes of stuff. “I’m not sure if we still have any of that,” she said hesitantly, hoping I’d give up and go away and let her get out.

“Would you check and see, please? It’s important.”

I’m a male this trip and men don’t take hints very well. Besides, it was important, way more than she knew, but not in the way she thought I meant.

She rather obviously stifled a glance at her watch and very obviously looked around for somebody else to palm me off on but the only other lady working then was busy with another customer, a middle-aged woman who was clearly a big buyer, and user, of make-up.

The professional smile turned to one of resignation. “Certainly. I’ll have to go to the back for a minute.”

“Okay,” I said, giving her the Grade “A” Heavenly smile, that would get any of us hired to sell toothpaste.

She walked quickly out from the counter and disappeared into racks of coats.

I ate a few more cashews and looked around at the store and the people in it shopping for clothes. Human senses have always been a puzzle to me and clothing has been the biggest puzzle. I know it’s real because I experience it myself when I’m in human form but why the feel of good material on skin causes such pleasure is something I just don’t understand. Or why taking on fuel makes a person want to wag like a puppy dog. What is so exciting about heated tree seeds? But I loved those cashews. Or tree bark and dried grass sap? It doesn’t make sense, but it’s quite real, because I love cinnamon sugar. As I said, the Boss did a real good job at creation, and I know that I couldn’t ever come close to doing that. Why Uncle Lucifer thought he could and pulled that stunt, I’ll never understand, but I guess I’ve always known that, which is why I stuck with the Boss, and that sure was smart.

It took her a few minutes but she came back with a bottle of the perfume–but still too quickly. “Here it is,” she said with a real smile this time.

I didn’t like what I was going to have to do next because her genuine smile was really pretty, but I had to keep her there for at least four more minutes, maybe more, even if I had to wrestle with her, which I did once on a job in Reformation Germany. That lady was a nun who was supposed to switch over and become a Lutheran pastor’s wife but needed some persuasion, which I was supposed to provide. I still get razzed over that one, and it was very embarrassing to get whipped by a nun. The problem was she had grown up a farm girl with seven brothers. She worked in the convent kitchen and laundry, was stronger than me, and outweighed me. But in spite of that little setback, I got the job done. She wound up married with eight kids and a husband who pastored a big congregation and was a stalwart of the Franconian church.

“That’s the four ounce bottle,” I said. “Do you have a six-ounce bottle?”

Her smile went from pretty to very professional and very strained. “I don’t think so.” It came out almost as a growl.

I gave her the grade B grin with less teeth but more eye sparkle. “Well, if you don’t, could I have two four-ounce bottles?”

Her smile wavered into a near snarl but then went back into place. “Certainly. I’ll go get another one.”

She was gone three minutes and came back with one large and two small bottles. “We did have one six ounce bottle left,” she said. “Do you want it?”

“Yes. That would be great,” I responded.

She flashed the real smile and went to the register where the mechanics of the purchase took another two minutes, and we were both home free. I accepted the bagged perfume and went away, while she took care of the business of closing out her shift and hurried to the employee’s parking lot.

I drove around the mall just in time to see her run a yellow light leaving the mall lot and race away down the street toward home. I followed more sensibly for a few miles, and we were stuck in a long line of rush hour traffic with me following her about two cars behind when the explosion came. I was expecting it, but flesh and blood still startles. I jumped and had to stifle the urge to shout, scream, or something. There was a fireball reaching up a hundred feet and pieces of something unidentifiable flying through the air. I could see Audrey’s car a few places ahead of mine well outside the blast zone, but before I could feel any sense of satisfaction, I was horrified to see one of the big pieces of debris come crashing down, right onto her car.

It crushed the hood and shattered the windshield then, trailing some blue gunk, flipped off into the street, landing against a plumber’s truck, denting the side panel.

I let fly with an emotional outburst–no bad words, but a scream of frustration–threw open my door, and ran to her car. But the plumber had beaten me to it and was trying to get the door open by the time I came up. It was jammed tight and even our combined efforts didn’t move it. There were times I wished we came here with super strength like the comic book angels, but all I had was normal human muscles, and they weren’t enough. The plumber disappeared but was quickly back with a huge pry bar and, with it, we got the latch smashed and the door open enough to see in. Audrey was in one piece and looked all right but was unconscious and a few trickles of blood ran down her face. More alarmingly, there was heavy smoke coming from under the dashboard. As we forced the door farther open, she opened her eyes and looked in our direction but without focus or comprehension. The plumber–Bob, it said on his shirt and truck door–dropped the pry bar and pulled the door open all the way. He leaned into the car right into her face. “Hey, lady, wake up,” he shouted. “Stay awake, we need you to help get out.”

She looked at him with a little more awareness but was still groggy. I noticed that the smoke was getting heavier, and she coughed several times, having gotten a good lungful of smoke. “I think we’d better get her out of there,” I said to the plumber.

As if on cue–and maybe it was, but not my cue–a small flame started from under the crushed hood. The plumber nodded. “You’re right, but if her back or neck is hurt…” He grunted and turned back to Audrey. “Can you move your feet?” he shouted at her.

Her head wiggled in an indeterminate way.

“Can you move your feet?” he shouted again, louder.

This time her head moved in a clear nod.

“Okay, let’s see them move,” he said, stepping to where he could see her feet.

I couldn’t see, but they must have wiggled, because Bob reached in to the car and lifted her out. I took part of the load. We carried her over to the grass on the wide median and set her down. By then she was mostly awake and was able to sit up. Bob and I were both huffing and puffing from the exertion and the adrenalin–again I wished for miraculous endurance and strength, and Bob, who looked to be about seventy, was surely wishing for the same thing–and we all took a few moments to just sit and collect ourselves.

After a moment, I turned to Audrey. “Are you hurt?” I asked.

She shook her head. “I don’t think so, not seriously,” she said, apparently going through a mental inventory of parts. “I got cut–” She touched the bloody part of her head. “–but I don’t think it’s very bad.”

Bob raised himself to one knee. “There will be some ambulances coming. You’ll need to get checked out by the medics.” He looked at her face. “Most of those cuts look superficial but there’s a pretty bad one on your forehead. That one and your being unconscious worry me. You might have a concussion. I think we’d better get one of the ambulances to get you.”

She shook her head and wiggled her hands and feet. “I expect there will be more urgent things for them to do,” she said. Suddenly she straightened, looking at her burning car. “Oh, my car! And I just got it paid off.”

Bob laughed. “Ma’am, you got off mighty lucky. It was nearly you that got totaled instead of just your car. You need to be thankful for being whole. You can get another car.”

She smiled, the real one that’s so pretty. “You’re quite right. And I also want to thank the two of you for getting me out of the car. You were both very brave and nice to do that.”

Bob smiled. “No, ma’am, I wasn’t either one. I just happened to be close is all.” He laughed and looked at his hands. “I certainly wasn’t brave. I’m still shaking.”

Further conversation was cut short by a police car coming down the wrong side of the street, trying to get to the scene of the explosion but having a hard time getting through the rush hour traffic stopped by the mess. Its siren made any useful talk impossible but the car and siren both stopped as he came past us. The policeman looked at Audrey. “Are you hurt, ma’am?”

“Not badly.”

He drove off without answering, his mind and attention apparently already on the scene ahead.

“What happened?” Audrey asked.

“I think a tanker truck got hit and blew up,” Bob responded. “But I couldn’t see very well. It looks like a big piece of a tanker pump that hit your car and my truck.”

Audrey looked at me. “You’re the man buying perfume, aren’t you?” I nodded. “I was annoyed that you kept me late,” she said, “but if you hadn’t, I might have been right in the middle of that intersection when the explosion happened.”

Then the reaction came over her and she started crying. Bob looked embarrassed. He went to his truck and returned with a small pack of tissues and a cooler of water. He handed the tissues to Audrey who blew her nose and wiped her eyes then had a spell of coughing while he wet a couple of the tissues, cleaned the blood off of her face, and looked at the cut, probing it gently with fingers that seemed to know what to do.

While they did that, I was busy trying to figure out some things and why they had gone wrong. I had done my job. I delayed her the required four minutes and even a little more. But it hadn’t worked, she still got caught in the accident. But she hadn’t gotten hurt badly, so it wasn’t a complete disaster. But my plan had been to follow her home and find some reason to approach them. Well, I had certainly found that, so I decided to make use of it, but before I could do so, Bob the plumber beat me to it.

“Miss Audrey,” he said, reading her name tag. “I’d better take you to the emergency room. I don’t think you’re hurt very bad. It looks like you got a cut from a piece of the windshield, but there could be some things wrong that I can’t see. I was an army medic, but that was forty years ago. But I don’t see any sign of bad concussion or anything.”

He grinned. “In Vietnam, I would have given you a Band-Aid and sent you right back out on patrol. But this isn’t Vietnam and you need to be checked out by a doctor.”

Audrey coughed deeply again. “Yes, I think you’re probably right, but won’t the police need me for an accident report?” she asked, getting to her feet as Bob and I both jumped to help her.

“Probably so,” Bob said, “but the police will be busy with a lot of higher priorities than your car for a while. They can find you when they need you, and you need to get off the side of the road.”

“I guess you’re right,” she said. Then she looked around. “But can we get out?”

The traffic was backed up behind us as far as we could see, and the fire trucks and ambulances were starting to arrive by coming down the wrong lanes.

“My truck will go right over the median and we can go out that way,” Bob said, taking her arm and leading her toward his truck.

I was thinking fast, now. Bob was jumping in and doing what I would have thought would have been my job in this case. So much so that it occurred to me that he might even be one of us, but I didn’t think so. He had given no signals of any sort–we’ve got them, but humans aren’t supposed to know them–and it would be highly unusual for two of us to be working the same gig without knowing about it. Although it wasn’t impossible. Sometimes, the Boss gets cute even with us. But I was pretty certain Bob was just what he seemed–a good man who was trying to help where he could.

But I couldn’t just watch some human pull one of my main projects away so I grabbed her other arm. “You need to let your family know that you’re okay and where you’re going. Do you have a cell phone?”

She stopped and turned quickly to the burning car. “My purse! I’d forgotten about it.”

I went to her car and looked in. There was a purse sitting in the passenger seat and the fire had about died so I wasn’t risking much when I reached in, picked the purse up off the seat, and quickly dropped it on the pavement. It was very hot and the vinyl was even smoldering a little, enough that I had blistered a finger getting it. I looked back in and saw a phone in its charging cradle and both were rather twisted and distorted where flames had come from under the dashboard right behind them. That phone had made its last call.

I picked the purse up by the strap, which was cool enough, and carried it over to where she sat in the truck seat. “Watch it, it’s hot,” I told her, “but your phone is now melted junk.”

Surprisingly, she giggled. “It’s my day for destroyed machinery,” she said. “I hope the hospital doesn’t fall down on me.”

I smiled back. “If you’ll tell me your address, I’ll go and tell your family.” Actually, I knew her address quite well, but I couldn’t let her know that.

“There’s no need for that. I’ll call from the hospital.”

“That could take a good while,” I replied. “Your husband will be worried and frantic if he doesn’t hear from you soon. Please. I would like to.”

She smiled at me. “Well, if you’re sure you don’t mind. It’s just a few blocks away at 337 Evergreen. A brick house with a green roof and a carport. But won’t your wife worry about you, too?”

“I’m away from home and a geographical bachelor this week,” I said. Actually, I’m unmarried this eternity since we’re not made for that, but eternity includes this week. We’re not supposed to actually tell an untruth, except under very unusual circumstances, but some misdirection can be very useful and is allowed.

I closed the truck door and Bob carefully worked his truck through the stopped cars to the median. “Wait a minute,” I said “What hospital are you going to?”

“East End General,” Bob responded. “It’s closest. Do you know where it is?”

I nodded. “Fourteenth Street.”

With that, Bob roared off in his truck and I followed more slowly, since my rented sedan had a lot less ground clearance that his 4WD pick-up. I had to go a long way around to their house because of the huge traffic jam centered on the burning truck but it still was only about ten minutes later that I pulled into their driveway.

It was one of those subdivisions that had sprouted like mushrooms in the ’60s and ’70s with rabbit warren streets and houses seemingly stamped out of cookie cutters so that there were only three of four basic patterns of house. Theirs was one of the smallest houses, but a nice, comfortable one, well-kept with trees that had been there long enough to give some real shade in the summer. I turned onto their street just in time to see a tow truck head out of their driveway pulling his car. Apparently, the exhaust smoke I’d noticed earlier was a bigger problem than I’d thought.

As I pulled into the driveway, I could see Amanda playing on a swing set under the largest tree in the back yard and could see her father though the kitchen door as he stood at the sink and turned to see who was driving up. I got out and by the time I got to the carport he was at the door.

“Hi,” I said. “Are you Mr. Steiner?”

“Yes,” he said, looking concerned, puzzled, and curious all at once. “I’m Roger Steiner.”

“I’ve just come from up the road where the big explosion was.” He managed to look puzzled, concerned, and horrified all at the same time.

“Was…”

“Your wife was outside the explosion but a piece of the truck flew out and landed on her car. She was cut a little and got a pretty good knock on the head and was unconscious, but she seems to be all right now.”

“Where is she?”

“She’s on her way to East End General. Another man who helped get her out of the car is taking her.”

He deflated like somebody who has been hit with too many big problems at once, which was exactly what had happened. Well, I could sympathize and I could help. In fact, that’s what I was there for. “I noticed your car being towed. I’d be glad to take you to the hospital. I’m going there anyway.”

He perked up a little but was rather uncertain. “No, I’ll get a taxi and…”

“Really,” I said with the top-of-the line good friend smile, the really trustworthy one. “I’m going there to check on her myself so it’s no trouble. And if you called a taxi, the driver would still be a stranger, too, right? I’d like to be of help. It would make me feel like I’m doing something for Miss Audrey.”

He gave a little shrug and looked a little relieved. “I guess you’re right,” he said. “Let me get my daughter inside and we’ll go.”

“Great,” I said. “I’ll be in the car whenever you’re ready.”

It didn’t take long for him to get the little girl inside and a bag of something put together, then they were in the car and we were off.

“Hi there, young lady,” I said to the girl. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Amanda,” she said. “What’s yours?”

I smiled at her in the mirror. “I’m Sam Mollock.”

“And this is Andrea,” she said, pulling a doll out of the backpack at her side.

“Well, hello. I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Andrea. And you too, Amanda.”

“And I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Mollow.”

“Mollock. K-k-k,” I corrected her.

I filled Roger in on as much as I knew about the accident and Bob’s Army medic diagnosis.

“So she seemed to be basically all right?” he said, sounding hopeful.

“She was walking on her own and seemed to be completely aware of everything, which Bob thought was a good sign. But he was concerned about her having been dazed so badly, even unconscious. But I’m not a doctor or even a medic, so I don’t trust my opinion.”

“Daddy, is Mama going to be all right? Will she come home with us tonight?” She was just three, but the worry was clear in her tone as well as the words. Roger turned around and looked at her. “We don’t know, honey. We’ll have to find out from the doctors when we get there.”

The getting there didn’t take much longer, and I pulled into the parking lot of the hospital just a few minutes afterward. I went as close as the rules allowed private cars to get to the Emergency Room door, let them out, and then parked the car–again none of the close in parking places were empty.

I entered the waiting room just in time to see Roger go through the automatic doors into the treatment area. Puzzled, I looked around for Amanda and saw her sitting in a chair in one of the triage stations talking to the triage nurse. I also saw Bob the plumber sitting in one of the waiting room chairs. I waved at him as I went to the station where Amanda was sitting and stood in the door. “Hi, Amanda,” I said.

“Hi, Mr. Mollock-k-k. This is Mrs. McDonnell, my Sunday School teacher last year.”

Just then, Bob stuck his head in the door. “Hi, Irene,” he said. “I didn’t know you were here now. I couldn’t see you from my seat.”

“Hi, Bob,” she responded with a worried look. “Is Bonnie here?”

“No, no, I was close to the explosion out by the airport and I brought in a lady who was hurt by that.”

“And this is her daughter Amanda,” I said to Bob. “And Andrea is in the bag.”

“Hi, Amanda, I’m Bob Dunn,” Bob said as she reached into the bag and brought out the doll to complete the introductions.

I noticed a very slightly distressed expression on Mrs. McDonnell and saw that she was looking at an elderly couple waiting to come in and talk with her.

“If Bob and I sit right there where you can watch us, would you let us keep Amanda while you keep working?” I asked. She looked uncertain, so I said, “If it would help, I’ll tell the security guard to keep a close watch on us, too.” Then I gave her a meaningful look with a little bit of humorous undertone.

She smiled. “He watches everybody so I guess it would be all right. I think Roger would approve.”

“I promise I’ll be a perfect angel,” I replied with a big grin. Sometimes I crack myself up.

We sat in the row of seats right outside of her cubicle where she could see us and settled in for a wait. Bob very quickly began a conversation with Amanda about Andrea the doll which shifted to the books and crayons in her bag and then to daycare.

I looked around and located my quarry then interrupted their conversation. “Would either of you like a drink or a snack?”

Bob shook his head but Amanda piped up with, “Yes, I’d like an orange drink, please.”

“A lady of good taste,” I replied.

Fortunately, the machine was well stocked, and I got us each an orange soda and a bag of peanuts. When I got back, Bob and Amanda were deep into a discussion of methods of coloring with crayons, with Amanda demonstrating a particular stroke by coloring Sleeping Beauty’s face a bright blue, a work which she interrupted in order to take the can of soda.

“Thank you, Mr. Mollock-k-k,” she said. “I was getting really thirsty.”

“You’re welcome. My name is Mollock. Just one ‘kuh’ sound.”

She considered the merits of the suggestion for a moment. “Okay, Mr. Mollock. Did I do it right that time?”

“Perfectly.”

She continued her artistic demonstration, and Bob offered the occasional suggestion and so did I, interspersed with some conversation between ourselves. Bob and I each accepted Amanda’s invitation to color a page in her book.

It wasn’t too boring and, after about an hour, Roger came out of the back.

“Daddy!” Amanda squealed and jumped up to run to him.

Bob and I followed a little more slowly as we both grabbed at books and bag which had gone flying.

“Is Mama coming home now?” Amanda asked after a big hug was administered.

“No, not yet,” Roger responded. He put her back down and looked at me. “They’ve admitted her for at least overnight, for observation and tests. They’re taking her to a room now.”

I nodded at Bob. “This is Bob Dunn, who got Audrey out of her car and brought her here.”

Roger shook Bob’s hand enthusiastically. “Thank you very much for that. I’m really grateful to you both for all you did. You’ve been a huge help with both of my ladies today.”

“I’m just glad I was there to help,” said Bob. “How is Audrey doing?”

“They took X-rays of her head and neck and didn’t see any damage. She definitely has a little bit of a concussion, but it seems to be pretty slight. Her staying here is more caution than real medical necessity. She told me you wanted to give her a Band-Aid and send her back out, and it looks like you were right.”

“Well, I’m very relieved to have been right. My skills as a medic are pretty rusty so I wasn’t sure.”

After a little more such conversation consisting largely of Roger thanking us profusely and our expressing relief at the good report, Bob stood up. “Well. It looks like things are okay here and I need to get home to my wife. Roger, you take good care of your two ladies.”

“I certainly will do my best,” Roger said as Bob headed out for home.

“Are you ready to head home, too?” I asked Roger. “I can take you anytime.”

“Thank you. Yes, I guess we need to get Amanda home for some late supper.”

As we gathered up Amanda’s books and art supplies, Roger hesitated. “I forgot to find out where Bob lives. I must do something for him after his being such a help today. Do you know him?”

“No, but the sign on his truck door said ‘Bob’s Plumbing’ with a local telephone number so you can probably find him pretty easily.”

“Good. I’m going to try”

“Daddy, I’m hungry.”

“I know you are, sweetheart, and we’ll get something to eat as soon as we can after we get home.”

I saw an opportunity and took it. “It’s pretty late to start cooking,” I said. “Why don’t we stop for a hamburger on the way home?”

Roger made a perfunctory objection, but Amanda squealed in delight. “Ooh! Can we go to Barney’s? I want some french fries.” She accompanied the request with a pleading look at Roger that would have done credit to the best that one of us could do.

“Now how can you say no to that sweet face?” I said to Roger.

He smiled back in surrender. “It’s hard, but to be a parent you have to learn how. But not tonight. Barney’s Burger Barn for supper.”

Amanda cheered and we gathered her stuff–again! After Roger thanked Mrs. McDonnell, we headed out the door to the car.

“You’ll have to give me directions,” I said as I backed out. “I’ve never been to Barney’s before.”

“They have the best french fries!” Amanda exclaimed.

“Well, I’m looking forward to trying them. If you will point me toward it.”

“It’s right next to Wally Mart,” said Amanda.

Roger and I both laughed.

“Wally Mart I can find,” I said and headed toward the big store by the mall.

Much of the rest of the ride was spent discussing french fries and burgers at the various fast food places in town and, while Amanda was obviously familiar with and approving of all of them, she was adamant that Barney’s had the best fries. But I noticed that Roger seemed preoccupied and had little to add to our scintillating gustatory discussion of the merits of fatty foods.

I found the restaurant that had the sign with the big purple lizard with just enough individuality to avoid any copyright suits and, for once, got the parking place closest to the door, which made me worry that I was about to have a nasty surprise. We ordered. Amanda got the Merry Meal that came in a purple plastic lizard, and I got the biggest, greasiest double decker on the menu board and a “Super Colossal French Fries” to go with a large strawberry milk shake and apple pie.

When we sat down, Roger looked skeptically at my tray full of food. “How can you eat like that and not be grossly fat?”

I grinned. “I very seldom get to eat like this and I like to take advantage of the opportunities when I get them.”

“Meaning your wife keeps watch over your eating like mine does for me.”

“Something like that.”

He took a bite of his chicken sandwich and Amanda looked disapproving. “Daddy, we haven’t said the blessing yet.”

We all folded our hands and she recited the “God is great” blessing as she’d learned it at Miss Emmy’s Daycare and we all dug in. Amanda ate half of her burger quickly and then started showing us some creative ways to eat french fries, with and without ketchup, mostly involving wiggling them as she put them into her mouth.

I quickly agreed with her that Barney’s Burger Barn had some very good food. Amanda and I had a good time comparing the merits of the various food items which we were eating. Roger didn’t add much to the conversation, seemed to have his mind elsewhere, and missed out on the fun.

After finishing all the food, we cleaned up and left, briefly delayed by Amanda’s inability to find Andrea the doll whom she had set in the window behind her seat. So finally, all present, we headed to their house. Amanda had been through a rough day and promptly went to sleep, and I spent the ride convincing Roger to let me take them to the hospital and to work the next day.

“I know your cars are both out of commission and I’m going by to see Audrey myself so we can just all ride together.”

“But don’t you have a job to do?” he asked me.

“Yes, but as of right now I don’t know how my work will be scheduled.” There was no way I could know what my schedule was until I got it set with him, but I couldn’t tell him that or that his family was my job. “If there is a crisis I have to tend to, I’ll let you know.” Of course, his crisis was what I had to tend to, but I still didn’t know what I was supposed to do or how to go about doing it. I just had to keep going along with events and watch for opportunities.

He agreed to let me take them in the morning, with some relief, and we carried Amanda, bag, car seat, and Andrea inside the house. After another round of thanks, I headed off. I stopped by a grocery store and bought a bag of chocolate covered peanuts, some little cakes called Strawberry Twirls, and a big bottle of Raspberry Red soda.

Then I went to the motel where there was already a room reserved for me, checked in, got some ice, and settled in for an evening of eating junk food and watching cable television, followed by a long hot shower and a few hours of sleep. I certainly try to make the most of my earthly senses while I’m here. I haven’t always had it so nice. Once, in Africa, I spent three weeks in a cold rain sleeping under trees and sharing everything, including my blood, with hordes of insects, leeches, and other unidentified protein seekers. It was well worth it, though. We got a five-year-old girl away from a slave camp and back to her village, where she grew up to be the first convert to the faith, wife of an Abyssinian missionary, and the mother of the founder of the church in that tribe.

But this trip, I had a nice warm, soft bed, and I got to guzzle sweet soda, eat candy and cake, and watch classic cartoon movies about princesses. I enjoyed every minute of it.

© 2016 by Ray Sutherland