Rhine tossed the remote control on the nightstand and picked up his book, though he wasn’t sure he would be able to read to sleep tonight. Tomorrow was his meeting with the big boss. Tomorrow was his chance to get ahead at the agency, maybe get bumped up to detective. Three years since graduation he’d been grinding away at all the paper work, unable to ignore all the unsolved cases the agency received, all the files that had to be stored until a lead surfaced. Most of those files were shut away for months, even years, but Rhine never forgot them.
Every once in a while he was permitted to shadow a field agent or another detective. So far these precious opportunities were his only chances to really make a difference and help people.
The next morning, attired in his best pair of slacks, a crisp white collared shirt, and his favorite striped tie, he strode to the café around the corner from his old apartment. A fresh cup of coffee and maybe a toasted blueberry bagel would calm his nerves before the meeting.
A man wearing a black turtle neck and pants waited in line behind the counter. His hair stood in straight stiff spikes on top of his head, and a tiny silver hoop glinted from his left ear as he turned to face Rhine.
“So today’s the big day, huh? It’s about time.”
“Excuse me?” Rhine stepped back. The man was about his height, but he seemed to tower over Rhine.
“You’re going in to talk to Drake, right? I don’t blame you for being excited. It changed my life, for sure.”
“How did you know…?” Rhine stared at the man. He only smiled.
“Sorry, sorry. You haven’t even had the meeting yet.” With that he stepped out of line and strolled out the door.
Rhine stood frozen in place until the cashier snapped her fingers to get his attention. “Sir? What would you like?”
On the way to the agency, Rhine looked cautiously at every street corner, at every stoop, behind every store window for a glimpse of the man again. Who was he? How did he know him? When he entered the office, he walked straight past his desk, his coffee still hot in his hand, and paused in front of Drake’s door. He rapped on the old wood.
“Come on in, Rhine!” a voice called behind the door.
Rhine shut the door behind him. Drake stood in front of a file cabinet with his back to him. The man from the café stood at attention behind his desk. An amused smile still on his face. “Have a seat, Rhine. Make yourself comfortable.”
“Drake, I…” Rhine turned to the man in black. “Who are you?
“He’s your new partner,” Drake answered.
“I made detective?” Hope soaked his voice.
“Not exactly, kid. Although you have been promoted.”
“More like completed,” the man in black said.
“To what?” Rhine raised an eyebrow.
“You’re a full-fledged angel now,” Drake said, satisfactorily.
“A…a what? I didn’t realize you were such a comedian, Drake.”
“I’m being serious, kid. You’re one of the elite now. And believe me, we need you out there. It’s getting tougher.”
“Ridiculous. Seriously, you could have just told me I didn’t make detective.”
Drake motioned to the man in black. “Go ahead, Shear. Show him.”
Shear grinned and hunched over, his fists clenched, and his shirt tore as a pair of gleaming, ivory wings ballooned out from underneath. He straightened again and ran a hand through his hair. He was beautiful, in a vain sort of way. The silver tips of his wings grazed the room, wall to wall.
Rhine let go of his coffee cup, but Shear rounded the desk and caught it with lightening speed before a drop escaped. Rhine dropped into a nearby chair and hyperventilated.
“Here, partner!” A small brown bag materialized in Shear’s hand. He thrust it towards Rhine. Rhine took deep violent breaths into the bag and waited for his heart to stop pumping so hard. Was that his heart? It sounded like music.
“When you’re done overreacting, I have your first assignment,” Drake said calmly.
“Are you kidding me? My first assignment? Already?”
“Evil doesn’t take vacation days, kid.”
“You could have warned me,” Rhine said. “A damned angel?”
“Hey, don’t say that,” Shear said lightly.
“What’s your problem?” Drake continued. “You wanted to help people. This job is way above anything a regular detective could do. Besides, you’re lucky you can fulfill your calling.”
“Haven’t you ever wondered why you just can’t let those unsolved cases go?” Shear leaned against the wall with his hands crossed. His wings pressed flat. Rhine’s coffee cup had disappeared. “If you hadn’t proved yourself capable, you would have been stuck with that restlessness for the rest of your long-ass life.”
“How long?” Rhine asked, now curious.
“Let’s just say a very long time.”
“I don’t know how you expect me to do this! Why don’t I have wings?”
“Oh, you’ll get them eventually. The more good you do.”
“Great. Just great.” Rhine sighed, still not quite believing, but at least he didn’t have to deal with an alleged wingspan at the moment.
“So what’s the assignment?”