Mike was near the dining hall doorway and Seamus guessed he had been waiting for
him to return from his meeting with Gabriel.
“You here to twist my arm?”
“You know better.” Mike’s gaze swept the room, always alert. “What do you think?”
Of all of them, Seamus liked Mike best, perhaps because, as the angel explained,
he spent so much time around people that he’d become like them. Since everyone on
board was his responsibility, Mike had little of the other angels’ distance. He mingled
with the guests all the time, unlike Gabe and Nancy, who spent their time in an office
and dealt with people one at a time. It was Mike who watched over them, who tried
to help them adjust to the biggest news of their lives—death. Mike was able to judge
which guests struggled with questions of eternity, and he was always nearby, to talk,
to listen, and to intercede when someone was unable to accept what had happened.
In the process, Mike had learned to enjoy eating food, especially anything fried.
He played a mean game of pool and could even be caught taking a nap on deck from
time to time.
Seamus watched Mike scan the crowd for signs of discontent. “I’m probably not a good
choice to be somebody’s guide,” he said. “I do things my own way.”
Mike shrugged. “Gabe knows that. But we think you’re the guy who can handle Mildred.”
“What is it about this woman?”
“She’s very...sure of herself,” Mike said. “We paired her with Drake, but the two
of them disagreed from the very first.”
“Drake and Tellson both turned her down?”
“Gabe thinks you’re the right type. And he wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
“What makes it important?”
Mike paused, and Seamus hoped their long association meant that he would be honest.
Of course, he reminded himself, a long time for a dead guy probably wasn’t that long
to an angel. Still, he thought Mike respected him and knew he could handle the truth.
“The goal here is for everyone to find peace, you know that,” Mike began. “Free will
allows that peace to come when and how a person wants it.”
Seamus glanced over Mike’s shoulder at the dining room, where the overhead lights
had been turned down and pale colors glowed from recessed panels in the walls. A
clarinetist stood and began a reedy solo. Most of these people, now dancing, chatting,
and relaxing, would soon finish The Process, accepting gratefully what the afterlife
offered. Perhaps one in ten would hang back, nervous about what they found hard to
understand. Some felt they were not worthy of reward. Others liked the creature comforts
and wanted to enjoy them for a while. Still others, like Dunbar, had unsettled questions
that caused them to cling to their earthly connections. And guys like me, Seamus
thought, miss the feeling of being real.
“What’s this woman’s reason for wanting to cross-back?”
“That’s part of it. We’re not sure. She has a good heart, but—” Mike stopped.
Unwilling to speak ill of the dead? Seamus almost chuckled at the thought. “She’s
not crazy, is she?”
“Nobody brings disease, mental or physical, when they cross over, Seamus. You know
He hadn’t really thought about it much, but he’d never seen anyone who acted crazy.
“She has the right to do this. We’ve given her all the warnings and she still wants
to go. But she’s a bit of a bulldozer who will need someone strong to keep her in
line. And,” Mike searched for the right words, “someone who can resist her. She’s
a charming bulldozer.”
What a mess, Seamus thought. All he wanted was to do the job he was good at. Now
they wanted him to babysit! Still, Mike and Gabe had been good to him, appreciative
of his talents and his willingness to bear the discomforts of crossing back.
“I guess I’d better meet this Mildred,” Seamus said with a sigh. “Then I’ll make
Mike turned toward the room, searching the dance floor. “She’s on the dance floor
right now. I can put you at her table.”
“The table next to it would be better.”
“Whatever you like.”
Mike led Seamus to a table where several chairs sat empty, vacated by dancers. Pulling
up a chair from a nearby table, he made introductions to the two people sitting there.
“This is Seamus. He wants to listen to the band for a while.”
The two women smiled politely and returned their gaze to the dance floor. Seamus
ignored their talk of clothing and instead watched the dancers and tried to guess
which one was Mildred. He counted the chairs at her table: nine, three of them occupied.
Table numbers were always between four and nine. People function best in groups of
that size, he’d heard.
As he waited, people came and went. The table’s company included three women who
were likely possibilities for Mildred. One was large enough to “hunt bear with a
switch,” as his father would have phrased it. One was young and cute in a twenty-something
way. The third was a diminutive blond of about forty with sparkling blue eyes and
a dazzling smile. One of those women who attract attention effortlessly, she was
a popular dancing partner. Seamus found himself hoping she was Mildred.
She was. Looking around, Seamus saw Mike watching him. He nodded, brows quirked in
a “see what you think” expression. Rubbing a hand along the back of his neck, Seamus
wriggled his brows and turned back to the dance floor.
For once Seamus enjoyed a half hour in the company of his fellow passengers. He watched
Mildred as she danced with different partners, moving gracefully, adapting easily
to whatever tune was played. The dress she wore had classic lines and a filmy drape
that seemed to caress her shoulders as she moved to the music. Her hair was swept
back with two combs whose tiny jewels caught the light when she turned.
The evening’s entertainment ended and he waited as she took leave of her companions.
An elderly man told one more story that involved much hand-waving and eyebrow movement.
Mildred smiled up at him as if fascinated. At the doorway, she patted his arm, said
something that seemed vaguely promising, and left him behind.
Watching her, Seamus had to admit he wouldn’t mind having those blue eyes fasten
on him, listening as he taught her what he knew about crossing back. Despite his
reluctance to have any company at all, a woman of his own age, and a pretty one at
that, wouldn’t be too bad. If Mildred was interested in becoming a detective for
the dead, he could help.