As they queued for immigration at Los Angeles International, Sarah recalled the Andrew Lloyd Weber song “Another Suitcase Another Hall.” Yeah, it may be another airport, another crowd, and another customs hall, but at least I still have the same old suitcase.

After 25 minutes of standing in line and being watched over by the monster flags and benign portraits, she wondered if customs and immigration could ever make people feel welcome. How could anyone—let alone this most publicly paranoid of peoples—welcome tourists at the same time as denying terrorists and criminals? But they knew the routine. Don’t complain or argue, be polite, speak only when spoken to, and never try to fight the system.

As the wait extended, Sarah’s thoughts turned to the future. Neither she nor Terry knew where they should go. She knew a disaster had happened, or was going to happen, but where? Solution: scan the local news and hope that would give them a hint. 

The pair were rewarded for sticking to their routine and their comparative lack of baggage, with a smooth exit into the arrivals hall. Here she had cause to remember another song: Albert Hammond’s claim that it never rained in Southern California. Right now, the last line of his chorus was being proven right: ‘It pours, man it pours’. That’s exactly what it was doing.

Five minutes later they were devouring the columns of a local newspaper, as well as some questionable coffee and cake. Even half the world away from the Indian Ocean, the big overseas news was still the aftermath of the tsunami. There was some mention of terrible weather in England, with three people lost in the city of Carlisle, but that was pretty small beans compared with the human cost of the tragedy around the Indian Ocean. 

The local news was all about the effects of successive days of heavy rain, but they could find no of clues of where, or indeed if, something worse had happened. Doubts began nagging. Had they travelled more than half way around the world for nothing more than a cup of bad coffee?

Then a noise behind her caused Sarah to turn. There was a commotion among the people watching a nearby TV set. She could tell people found the pictures disturbing. It’s not hard, she thought. A whole lot of people with American accents started saying “Oh, my God.”

Sarah got up and slowly walked across to see what had provoked the reaction. A local TV station was airing a story about flooding in La Conchita, a small seaside town in Ventura County, not that far from LA. As Sarah looked at the pictures, she was trying to imagine what the scene might be like seen from another angle. Then she hurried back to where Terry sat, lazing back against the wall with his legs stretched out in front of him.

She quickly slipped into the chair opposite him, and Terry allowed his chair to fall back onto its four legs, so he could lean forward. It was partly to make it easier to hear her softly spoken words and partly to limit the options for others to overhear them.

“I think that’s it,” she said excitedly, but in a low voice she hoped would not carry to anyone nearby. Terry turned to look at the TV screen as she continued, “I’m not certain, but I think that’s the place.”

Terry nodded his agreeable nod. “Great,” he said with what sounded like a large measure of cynicism mixed into his words. “Easy, wasn’t it? Anyone would think someone wanted us to find it.”

Sarah didn’t know how to answer that. Was he being sarcastic or simply stating the obvious?

Terry saw her dilemma and reverted to his normal straight forward manner. “Any sign of the angel having been there?” he asked.

She may have been talking quietly, but there was no doubting her excitement. “Nope,” she said trying, but failing, to keep her body language from betraying her enthusiasm. “At least not on that bulletin. They would have led with that if he was already here.” Her eyes flashed and her limbs were close to trembling as she carried on. “That means it’s so far, so good, Terry. If I’m right, we’re ahead of him. We could see him in action.”

As always, the Yang came out to match the Ying. Terry had no wish to burst her bubble, but occasionally he needed to curb her excesses to protect her from herself. He grabbed her hands in his, held them on the table, and locked onto her eyes with his own. It had the desired effect.

“Which means we should do what, exactly?” he asked her calmly. “Should we just drive out there and hope we see a guy walking around and, somehow, we’ll know it’s him?”

“Don’t blame me,” she said defensively, shrugging her shoulders. “I don’t have anything more. I know it’s not much to go on, but sorry, that’s all we’ve got, unless you know something I don’t.”

He shook his head to show he accepted her point.

She carried on, in a more controlled voice, “And, may I remind you, it’s probably a whole lot more than anyone else has.”

Terry nodded and released her hands. “You’re absolutely right,” he said. “But if no one else knows he’s coming, we don’t have to panic. Remember what we talked about in Singapore. Let’s not rush into something without thinking it through and covering our backs.”

She smiled an apology, even though none was required, and Terry could see the effects of the adrenaline slowly subside.

Now he was all business again. “You’re right. We do need to drive out to that place and check it out. So we need a car and one other thing.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

It was Terry’s turn to be on the defensive. “I shouldn’t have left my camera gear in Singapore. Imagine if we find the Angel, and have no way of proving it? How would you feel if, after all you’ve been through, someone else got the first pictures?”

She was appalled at the suggestion, but he carried on before she could comment.

“We are going after real news, so the least I can do is pick up a decent digital video camera to get some material for the folks back home. I can’t see Dan arguing the toss about that.”

She breathed again. What a bloody roller coaster. Talk about highs and lows in really quick succession.

“Right,” she said. “You go shopping, and I’ll go talk to Mr. Hertz.” Then she stopped as she was in the middle of mentally constructing her next sentence. “Here’s a thought,” she continued. “Maybe we should look at using a cab again. I’m not at all sure of where to go. How about you?”

“That will be pretty pricey, girl. These guys aren’t exactly noted for their philanthropy.” He swapped into a passable impersonation of a New York cabbie. “You know what I mean, Lady?”

It hardly warranted a standing ovation, but she gave him an encouraging smile for trying. And having done so, she said, “Yeah, it probably will. But next to the cost of first class air tickets and new cameras, not to mention the hire car charges, that has to be small beans, right?”

“Something like that,” she agreed. “Now, have you got a decent still camera on you?”

Terry held up a small digital camera he carried in his jacket pocket. “It’s not too bad—5.1 megapixels. But it has a small memory card. I could probably save the firm a few hundred bucks by just getting a decent sized card. What do you reckon?”

“Now who’s the one suffering from philanthropy?” she asked. “You know I don’t understand the technical jargon. I just want to know if we have all we need to tell the world about this guy when we catch up with him.”

Terry wasn’t going to argue with her. And he said so. Then added, “While we’re on the subject, it might pay to get you a Dictaphone. We may need to record voiceovers, sound tracks, or interviews—that sort of thing.”

“You’re probably right, Terry. And you’re not the only one to feel a little guilty playing quite so freely with Dan’s money. But we can’t risk missing anything. He’d never forgive us for that.”

Terry grinned again at her admission. “I’ll tell him you said that, but I doubt he’ll believe me. But there’s another thing you could think about. A Dictaphone would give you something to record those dreams of yours while they’re still fresh in your mind.”

Sarah thought for a moment and then said, “Yes, it probably would. I’d like to give that a try.” Then she switched back to being the loyal employee. “All that’s adding up. We should look to get a better deal for those things than here at shark infested airport duty-free shops.”

Terry looked like a benign grandfather when he suggested she was “so cynical for one so young.”

She laughed it off. “I might be young, old man, but I ain’t stupid. I’m sure we can find a tame cab driver who will take us to a decent place that sells all that stuff at a reasonable price.”

Terry pretended that he needed to be convinced. “Just as long as his name’s not Hal or Chico,” he insisted. Sometimes, Terry wasn’t exactly noted for his subtlety.

“Come on, Big Fella. Live dangerously. Let’s give it a go.”

* * * * * * *

The rain continued unabated. Sarah looked out across the city of Ventura trying to imagine it on a good day. All she could see in front of her were low, angry, dark clouds, and the incessant rain. She knew now what must have inspired Albert Hammond when he wrote his famous song.

Having spent a useful hour shopping for necessities, the pair took up residence in the Seaward Inn in Ventura. Thank heavens for credit cards, even if they leave a trail behind them.

Their target was a small beachside community located only 11 miles up the coast near the county line, but they needed a tame local who could act as a driver. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to find one, thanks to Maria, the delightful lady at the reception desk of the hotel. Maria’s older brother Ramón was the ideal man for the task. He lived not far from La Conchita, and he’d been told to take the day off work because the weather was so bad. Best of all, Ramón drove an SUV and should have no trouble driving in the tricky conditions.

Being a local, Ramón could also drive into the area without the local law becoming suspicious of his motives. Their own motives were hardly suspect, quite the opposite in fact, but Sarah knew people might struggle to believe her, especially if she told them the real reason for their visit. And quite frankly, Sarah couldn’t be bothered dreaming up a more convincing cover story.

“We will need to be careful. I have to tell you that it’s plenty wild out there.” Ramón spoke with a gentle accent that the two Kiwis assumed was Mexican Spanish.

The three of them sat comfortably around a coffee table in the lounge area of their two-bedroom suite, looking at a map of the local area.

“But the road is open, right?” Terry pressed him.

“Sure. But the police want to keep people off the roads unless they have a good reason.”

Sarah said, “I imagine they have enough problems with the flooding. They won’t want a flock of sticky beaks getting in the way, stirring up waves and causing more problems.”

“Sí, Señorita.” When Ramón smiled, he looked like a commercial for tourism in Mexico. Sitting there in his jeans and casual shirt, he had the looks and an attitude she found attractive. 

For his part, Ramón seemed oblivious to the effect he was having on her. He was busy paying attention to the conversation. He added a small shrug and an offhand gesture to the smile as he replied. “Sí, eso es correcto. You obviously know how it is.”

There is something neat about the language, or is it just the way he uses it? She glanced across to see Terry giving her a quizzical look. Oops. If he can see it, I’d better get back on the job. Sarah gave herself a mental kick in the pants and got back on the job.

“I sure do. We have floods down our way too, Ramón,” she replied. “Sometimes the voyeurs cause as much damage as mother nature.”

“But people still want to see for themselves, no?” 

It was Sarah’s turn to smile—but not too much. “Well, about that, Ramón, she said, “We expect someone to arrive there sometime soon, but we’re not sure when he’ll arrive. Do you know anyone who would recognise someone new in the area?”

Care was needed here. Sarah didn’t want to show all their cards up front. She knew what sort of a reaction they might trigger. But she had to give some sort of reason for their slightly odd behaviour, and the questions they were asking. She knew that some Americans were paranoid about strangers and the possibility of terrorism. She knew every word they said could be relayed to the authorities.

But Ramón didn’t seem concerned or suspicious. “Sí. All of us, we know the local people. Some of them would certainly notice anyone new.”

“What are the chances of us going out and having a look at the general area?” Terry leaned over the map and pointed out his area of interest. “I’d like to get some pictures to send back home.”

Ramón nodded as he followed Terry’s finger across the map, and he then looked up. He seemed genuinely surprised. “Why would anyone back in your country be interested in us?” He’d heard of New Zealand, but he had a vague idea where it was.

Terry tried one of his grins. “It’s simple enough, mate.” he said. “Parts of our country look a lot like this. Like Sarah said, we get a lot of flooding at certain times of the year. I live in a city where we had some huge mudslides only a few months ago. No one was killed, but it still made one hell of a mess. It’s like the tsunami. It didn’t affect us, but I want to think we care about what’s happened there—and here. Our world is getting smaller, and we feel a kind of bond with any people who are going through the same sort of problems that we do.”

Sarah watched for Ramón’s reaction. He looked like he had accepted Terry’s explanation without question. But then, why shouldn’t he? For the most part, it was true.

“I hadn’t thought about it like that,” Ramón said, and his features reverted to a relaxed smile. “No hay ningún problema.” Is he doing that deliberately? I love the way his words roll off his tongue. “We can go at least as far as my place. And then if we can’t get any farther, I can call around and see what is happening. There is no reason you can’t take all the pictures you want.”

Terry sat back, folded up the map, and left it in the middle of the table. The deal was done. He leaned back and stretched out his legs again as if still recovering from the long flight and the taxi ride to Ventura.

“Sounds great. Thanks, Ramón.” The two Kiwis were relieved, but tried not to show it too much.

“I’ll get my coat,” said Sarah as she stood up and disappeared into her room. “Not that it will be much use out there. A decent umbrella might be more useful.” She wanted to keep the momentum going.

Terry guessed what she was up to. “What do you think, Ramón? You’re the local expert.” 

“Ahh, you know the rain, don’t you, Señor? If you are not cold, it is sometimes best to go without the coat. Sometimes it just keeps the water in.”

“Oh, yeah,” Terry said. “You should try one of our Wellington Southerlies, mate. No point in having an umbrella either unless you like them inside out and collecting the water for you.”  Then, seeing Sarah return with a coat, he added, “Give me a minute to grab my stuff.”

With that, Terry loped off into the other bedroom and grabbed his newly acquired camera bag and windbreaker. He didn’t expect to use the latter, but you never know. Then they trouped off together towards Ramón’s sporty wagon.

* * * * * * *

Terry appreciated not having to drive in those conditions. It needed a lot of concentration, so they kept quiet and let Ramón drive. About half an hour later, they pulled off the highway and into a small community of houses. It wasn’t a village, as they understood the term, but perhaps it was the local equivalent.

Ramón stopped outside a two-storied wooden house in a street of similar buildings, surrounded by tree studded sections. In good weather this place would be a paradise, only a short distance from the beach. Back home a place like this would be highly prized and well beyond what either Sarah or Terry could afford.

Ramón led the way as they ran through the rain to take shelter in the covered porch while he opened the front door. “Welcome to my home,” he said with a gallant flourish and bow. All the time his smile never diminished. “Please come in and make yourselves comfortable.”

They murmured their thanks as Ramón ushered them into what the Kiwis would have called a sitting room. It was obviously a man’s room, with a sense of utilitarian, masculine order to its furnishing. He obviously likes leather. It’s certainly clean and tidy, if a little austere. What it really needs is a woman’s touch. Sarah mentally kicked herself again.

“Have you eaten since you arrived?” Ramón asked as they settled themselves into the rather grand Chesterfield armchairs. Family heirlooms, perhaps? Ramón remained standing, ready to provide whatever they may require.

“No, not really,” she said. “We’ve been on the move for… how long now, Terry?”

“It feels like at least a week,” he answered. “They had plenty of food on the plane, but I guess I just wasn’t hungry then.”

Sarah spotted the lie instantly, but said nothing. Terry was always hungry, not that it showed. He must have worms or something. He was trying to help Ramón relax. It seemed to work because their host’s smile broadened and said, “So why don’t I make us something to eat. And while it’s getting ready, I can call some friends to find out what is happening out there.”

“That is very good of you Ramón,” she said. He looks like he really wants to cook for us. I wouldn’t want to disappoint him. So, without much conviction, she added, “We certainly didn’t expect you to feed us.”

She read it right, even if Terry had obviously picked up on it before her. 

Ramón beamed. “It will be my pleasure, Señorita,” he said, making another one of his courtly bows. “We do not get to see many visitors up here and certainly not from the other side of the world. It must be a very grand life that you lead, following your stories all around the world. We need to look after you properly.”

“Well, it’s not all beer and skittles, Ramón. But it does have some compensations.”

“Beer I know,” Ramón laughed, “but what are skittles?”

“Oh, it’s just an old saying we use back home,” she said, gazing around the room. “It means it’s not all good fun. Skittles is a bit like an early version of 10 pin bowling they used to play in England. I guess beer and skittles was something they did to have fun.”

Ramón appeared at the kitchen door and said, “Talking of beer, can I get you something to drink first? Then, I hope you will tell me something about your travels while we wait for your friend to arrive.”

“Just some water, please,” she said. He nodded and returned to the kitchen.

Ramón was a real find—a gentle man, humble and generous of spirit. We could have found someone a lot worse.

“Do you like Mexican food?” Ramón called from the kitchen.

“Is the Pope Catholic?” Terry called back.

“Yes, of course, Terry. Oh, I see what you mean. You do like it. I’m sorry. I am not used to the way you—what do you call yourselves, Kiwis—the way you speak our language.”

Sarah laughed. “Well, come on Ramón. It’s our language too, you know.”

“Of course, forgive me.” Ramón stuck his head around the door again and asked, “But what is this Kiwi you speak of?”

“It’s one of our native birds,” she replied. “We name ourselves after it. It would be like Americans calling themselves Eagles.”

“You know, Sarah, we have eagles in Mexico too. So what did you say before; it is our bird too, you know.” He mimicked her way of saying it quite well and all three of them burst out laughing. Sarah was delighted. Not everyone picks up on the casual Kiwi sense of humour so quickly, she thought. It was another positive sign.

“That smells great, Ramón. What is it?”

“Oh,” he said coyly, “I cannot tell you, Señorita. It is a secret recipe of my mother’s. We use it on special occasions only.”

Sarah studied his smiling face and wasn’t sure how serious he was. She decided on diplomacy and added, “If it tastes as good as it smells, your mother is a very wise woman for keeping it a secret.” A huge smile opened out across his face, which he took with him back into the kitchen. 

Following an extended barrage of Spanish into the phone, Ramón reappeared in the doorway carrying two glasses of chilled water. As he handed one to each of them, he said, “I was talking to my friend José. He says there are a few people from the news channels and the newspapers in the area, but he does not know of anyone else. If he hears of anyone, he will call me. He will keep his ear on the ground.”

Sarah smiled, still not sure if he was taking the Mickey just a little. “That’s great, Ramón. Thank you very much.” Then she decided to take a risk and added, “Muchas gracias.”

“De nada. You’re very welcome, Señorita.” Clearly, Ramón appreciated her effort. “José also said it’s okay for you to go with me to see the area of the mudslide, but not until after we have eaten. Okay?”

“That’s great, Ramón. This is a real blessing for us.”

“What can I say? De nada. You are most welcome, Señorita, Señor!”

* * * * * * *


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Sarah and Terry enjoyed the superb lunch. Whatever else Ramón could do, he could certainly do justice to his mother’s secret dish. And although they talked about their recent adventures, the subject of the angel never came up. All three of them seemed to carefully avoid mentioning him. I wonder why.

But all too soon they were back in the SUV and heading towards the area where the mud-slide had buried several houses. The weather may have cleared, temporarily, but the forecast was for a lot more rain, and no one wanted to take any chances.

Ramón pulled up next to a building with several other cars parked outside, including a police car. It looked like the local gathering point or disaster centre. A short Latino looking man came towards their car.

“Hey, Ramón. It’s good to see you, man.” The man had a wide smile under a wide cowboy hat. And he had an even wider girth. But he was also a man under pressure. His smile had a definite tinge of sadness around its edges. No one here could escape from the raw emotions that come with so many people losing their homes.

“You too, José,” Ramón responded from inside the car. “Can you talk or are you really busy right now?”

“Sure, my friend. For you I can spare a minute.”

Ramón opened the door and signalled Sarah and Terry to join him. “José,” he said, “these are the people all the way from New Zealand that I spoke to you about earlier. Sarah and Terry.”

The short, wide man gave Sarah a beaming smile and, if only for a moment, the sadness left him. “A pleasure, Señorita. I just wish it had been under more pleasant conditions.” He bowed slightly and shook her hand. Then he met Terry’s craggy gaze. And with a smile that was almost as warm, he extended his hand again. “Señor,” he said, “welcome to our little corner of the world.”

Sarah responded first. “Thank you, José. So far your hospitality has been great, especially when you are so busy right now.”

José took off his hat to wipe the sweat and grime from a wide brow that transitioned into his almost non-existent hairline. “Ramón told me you are from a television channel in your country?” he asked.

“Yes. It’s a long story, José. We’ve come here to find a man we have been looking for. But while we’re here, would you mind if we took some pictures?”

José smiled again, although it lacked some of the lumens of his earlier effort. The harsh reality of the situation had dulled the natural lustre of his deep brown eyes.

“Señorita, you are most welcome. We have become something of a magnet for media people because of this tragedy. But you are also here as friends, no? Thank you for your courtesy in asking. It may be a small thing for you, but such things do not often happen in this country.”

Terry took the hint and flicked the on switch of his new camera. It was a lot less imposing than his normal equipment, but it would do the job, and it doubled as a voice recorder. With a bit of luck, people would forget about it being there, making the situation more natural.

“Please, come this way,” José urged them. They walked to the end of the short street and José pointed towards the hills. “You can see for yourself what has happened,” he said. “We had a big slide here earlier this morning. It closed the freeway along the coast, but no one was hurt. That is not unusual when the weather is really bad, so no one was too worried. But then this…” His voice faded as he pointed towards a mountain of earth covering what she suspected were several houses. 

Sarah glanced over her shoulder. Terry was recording. Good. Dan will get something for his money. Terry quietly moved so José was in the foreground of the shot, explaining to Sarah what was being done.

“There are emergency workers trying to find if anyone is trapped in those houses.” He pointed. “We still don’t know how many people might be there. And, of course, there is always the danger of more slides.”

“What about the ones who have already been rescued?” she asked.

José continued. “We are evacuating the whole area now. We’ve already sent about 20 people through to Ventura. If we find any others, they will be moved through to Ventura too. But if it is safe, they can stay with people they know locally.”

They heard the sound of rotor blades. They all looked up to see a news channel helicopter, presumably out of Los Angeles, circling the area. Not a good day for filming with the doors open today, Terry thought. Another unmarked helicopter appeared some distance behind the first one.

José’s expression said it all. “It looks like more crews have arrived,” he said. “Things will become quite congested soon. I’d better get back.” He cast a look across to where Ramón stood staring at the devastation. “I’m sure Ramón will look after you.” With a slight bow, he said, “Senor, Señorita.” 

As they walked back to the SUV, Sarah said, “Thank you, José. You’ve been extremely helpful. But if I could ask just one more thing? Have you heard of any strangers in the area, apart from us, I mean?”

“No, Señorita, I haven’t heard of anyone. But if I do, I will talk to Ramón.”

Not wanting to distract him further from his work, she thanked him again and watched him walk briskly back to the disaster centre.

The three of them stood there beside Ramón’s dark green SUV, not knowing what to do next. Each of them was waiting for one of the others to suggest it. Then Ramón spotted a woman and a young boy walking slowly down the road. “Rosita,” he called out.

The woman barely seemed to notice him. He called again, “Rosita! Rosita, it’s me, Ramón. Are you alright?”

The Latino woman was a tall and in her late 20’s. Sarah looked quickly across to Terry. Sure enough, he was recording, although not in an obvious way. Good man. He never misses a trick.

The distraught woman suddenly recognised Ramón and broke into rapid Spanish, punctuated with wild gestures from face and hands. Ramón responded to her, also in Spanish. He pointed across to where Sarah and Terry were and then he draped one arm comfortingly around her shoulder and walked her towards them. The boy with her seemed happy to tag along.

“Rosita, meet Sarah and Terry,” he said. “Sarah, Terry—my cousin Rosita and Douglas.”

“Hi, Rosita.” Sarah could see the woman was feeling the strain of what had happened and needed a shoulder to cry on. Sarah silently offered one and Rosita accepted. Neither woman knew how long it would be needed for and neither really cared. Ramón was happy to leave his cousin in Sarah’s charge and turned to see Terry walking across towards a lost and lonely looking Douglas.

“Gidday, Douglas; I’m Terry.” Terry held out his hand. “How are ya, mate?”

Douglas looked about nine or ten and clearly not Latino. Not at all sure about the tall, strange looking man, Douglas looked across to where Rosita was crying quietly on Sarah’s shoulder. Then Ramón began to walk towards him, making Douglas more comfortable.

“I’m alright,” Douglas answered carefully.

“Have you been down to look at the mud slide?” Terry asked. 

“No, we were under it. It came down on our house.”

“Is everyone out safely now?” Terry asked.

“Yeah. Rosita and me. My mom and dad left for Chicago yesterday. Rosita is looking after me until they get back. I’m glad he came, or we’d still be stuck in there with the mud coming in.”

“Who was that, Douglas? One of the firemen?” Terry wasn’t looking for anything specific. He just wanted to get the boy to respond.

“Yeah,” the lad responded slowly as if he was reminding himself of what had happened. “But they came later and dug us out. It was the other guy who helped most.”

“So who was this other guy, mate?”

“You’re not from around here, are you? You talk funny.”

“You’re right, Douglas. I come from a long way away.” Terry pointed out towards the sea. “Go straight out there, swim for about seven or eight thousand miles, then turn right, and you would arrive at my home. If you did that, you’d meet my boy, Steve. He’s about your age.” 

“How old is he?” Douglas asked.

“He’ll be nine in about three weeks.”

“I’m older than he is,” Douglas said with some sense of pride. “I’m nearly ten.” Terry and Ramón both smiled at that. Seeing that Douglas had relaxed around Terry, Ramón wandered back to check on Rosita.

“Well good for you!” Terry liked the kid. He seemed quite normal, a lot like Steve really. He took a moment to wonder how long it would be before he’d see Steve again.

Douglas looked at Terry for a moment. “You go away and leave him too?” he asked with some considerable feeling.

“Yes, I’m afraid so, Douglas. It’s my job, you see. Sometimes, that means I have to go away for a while. But I miss him heaps and can’t wait to see him when I get back home.”

“My mom and dad won’t be back for another two days. I wish they were here now.” The boy stopped and turned back to look down the street to where his house was buried under tons of mud. “They’ll be pretty unhappy when they do get back.”

After allowing the boy some time to reflect on the scene, Terry led him across the street to join the others. 

Ramón took charge of the situation. “How about I tell José that you and Douglas are coming to my house,” he said. “We can call Douglas’ parents. They must be worried sick. And then you can decide what to do next.”

Rosita looked tearfully up from where she was resting her head on Sarah’s shoulder. “That would be good,” she said. “Thank you, Ramón. And thank you, Señorita.”

Sarah led Rosita gently towards the rear door of the SUV and helped her to climb into the back seat. Terry took Douglas around to the other side and popped him in beside her, allowing Sarah to fill the remaining seat. As he climbed into the front seat, Ramón emerged from the disaster centre and said, “José says that will be fine.” Terry got the impression José may have said more than that, but Ramón made no mention of it. Instead, he turned the key, the engine started, and they drove quietly away.

Half an hour and a police checkpoint later, they arrived back at Ramón’s house. Rosita looked more relaxed, and Douglas became a normal 10-year-old. Terry had adopted the role of stand-in father, and the two of them were getting along like a house on fire. Terry had decided it would be a good time to ring young Steve.

“It’s still quite early in the morning back home. Steve might still be in bed.”

“What’s the time there?” Douglas asked.

“Well, it’s nearly what, four o’clock here. That means it will be 10 in the morning back home.”

“What’s he doing in bed still at 10 in the morning?”

“He’s on holiday. It’s summer back at our place.”

“He’s lucky. We haven’t had summer here for ages.”

“Let’s see if he’s home.” Terry took out his cell phone and dialled his home. Within a couple of minutes, he’d said all he had to say and let Douglas have a talk to someone who not only had summer at a strange time, but was already in tomorrow!

Meanwhile, Ramón and Sarah had calmed Rosita down, and they had decided to ring Douglas’ parents. Sarah smiled at the contrast between the two calls. One was all gloom and doom—the destruction of a family home and the fortunate rescue of a son and his babysitter. The other was two boys, half the world apart, comparing notes on the relative merits of X Box versus Play Station 2. It said much about the resilience of the young.

“Douglas,” Rosita called, “your mother and father want to speak to you.”

“Sure, coming. Later, Steve. Good time, man.” He handed the phone to Terry and without a word, switched into the dutiful son reassuring his anxious parents.

Another contrast. Terry spoke to his wife, Linda, for a few minutes and then hung up and listened as Douglas described what had happened.

“It was amazing, Mom. No, I don’t know where he came from; he was just there. He pushed up the wall and gave us room to move around. We didn’t know what to do, but he just talked to us and we felt okay. No, Ma. I don’t know how long. No, I don’t know where he went. He said something about a way out, but we should stay put. When we saw the daylight, we climbed out. Yes, a fireman helped us out. No, Mom. I’m fine. I was just talking to Steve. He’s in tomorrow, and he’s on holiday. See you, Mom. Love you.” He handed the phone back to Ramón who then walked into the kitchen to carry on the conversation with a little more privacy.

Sarah smiled a knowing smile. All sorts of alarm bells sounded inside her head. She knew who had rescued Rosita and the boy. On its own, the boy’s side of the conversation didn’t make much sense. But she knew the angel had saved them. And she and Terry had just missed him. Now she needed to calm down and take this one step at a time.

“Can you tell us about the man in your house, Douglas?” she asked.

“Like I told Mom, he was just there. That’s all.”

“I tell you what. Why not get a Coke and we can all sit down, and you can tell us all about your adventure?” she suggested.

Ramón must have heard her because he appeared at the door with a can of Coke in one hand. “Someone here order a Coke?” he asked.

“Me,” Dougals said with joy in his voice. Then he saw Rosita’s warning look. “I mean yes, please,” he continued in a more restrained fashion. 

With bribery safely delivered, Sarah asked, “Perhaps you could start from the beginning and tell us what happened?”

“Like I told Mom, we were at home. They closed our school because of the storm. I’d just had lunch and was watching TV. Rosita was reading a book. Then I heard this awesome noise. Rosita told me to get under the doorway, like for an earthquake. Next thing, we started to move, and the whole house started to tip over. I was really scared.”

“But you’re okay now, right?” Sarah asked. The boy nodded, but he wasn’t exactly convincing in his response. “What happened then, Douglas?”

“Everything went black. We were moving, but I couldn’t see where we were going.”

Sarah nodded her encouragement for him to carry on. The boy took another drink before doing so.

“It went on for ages. I could hear parts of the house breaking. Then this guy arrived. He had a big light in one hand.”

“Do you know who he was, Douglas?”

“No. I’ve never seen him before. I thought he had to be someone coming to rescue us.”

“Do you remember anything about him at all? What did he look like?”

“It was pretty dark in there, you know. Kinda hard to see.”

“Was he tall? Say as tall as Terry is?” Sarah had switched into professional mode.

The boy thought for a moment or two. “No, shorter than Terry, but taller than you. About half way between you and Terry.” The boy paused again. “And he talked funny, a bit like you do.”

“What did he say?”

“He just told us everything was okay, and we would be out soon.”

Rosita, who sat quietly listening to Douglas, joined in. “He just sat and talked to us. He had some candy and he gave it to you, didn’t he? He had a lovely gentle voice. I knew there was nothing to be afraid of. He was just like an angel. I really felt at peace.” Rosita crossed herself as she said that.

“Do you remember anything about him at all, Rosita?” Sarah asked.

“He wasn’t a young man,” Rosita replied. “I remember thinking that. I didn’t see much of him either. I just thought he sounded like an older man.”

“Older than Terry?”

“Yes. Forgive me, Terry. I don’t know how old you are. This man would have been older than you by, I don’t know, perhaps ten years, maybe more. And Douglas is right; he had an accent. A bit like yours.”

“And he did talk like you,” Douglas interrupted. “He called me ‘mate’, like you did, Terry.”

“And then what happened?” Sarah probed a little deeper.

Rosita remained silent, trying to recall what had happened. Then she said, “He sat with us, and we just talked,” she said. “It seemed like a long time, but it also seemed to be only a short time. I was happy to sit there with him and Douglas.”

“Yes,” the boy added. “He asked me about school, and my friends, and what we did for Christmas, and what I want to be when I grow up.”

Rosita continued. “And then he stood up as if he had heard something. He said something about them coming now to get us out. He left his light with us when he stood up and went out of the room we were in. A few minutes later, we saw the light from outside. He called down and said it was okay to come up now. We climbed out this long tunnel and came out on top of the mud. A fireman saw us and came up to help us down.”

“And where was the stranger?”

Rosita looked Sarah directly in the eye and said quietly, “I don’t know, Señorita. He had gone. Disappeared. Perhaps he’d gone to help people in another house? I wish I knew. I wanted to say thank you to him. He was an angel for Douglas and me. When I saw how much mud there was on the house, I knew it was a miracle we were alive.” She turned away and raised her eyes heavenwards and crossed herself again, whispering a silent prayer.

“We climbed down with the fireman, and then Douglas and I walked down the road. We met you and Ramón and now we’re here.” Silence descended on the room as they all took time to think about what had been said.

Ramón looked squarely at Sarah and said. “This is the man you are looking for, isn’t it?”

Sarah was taken aback by the directness and bluntness of his question. What can I say? Then she nodded and answered him, just as directly. “It’s the sort of thing he does. But I can’t be sure.”

Ramón also nodded. “The one who helped the people in Asia—the big waves?”

“Yes, I think so. But again, I cannot be sure,” Sarah admitted.

The room went very quiet as Ramón spoke. “Can I ask you this? How did you know he would come here? Did you know what would happen?” He had a real edge to his voice now. It pulsated through the absolute silence that had surrounded and imprisoned the rest of them.

They were not unreasonable questions. They, perhaps more than anyone, were entitled to ask them. She swallowed hard. “No, Ramón. We didn’t know what would happen here. But yes, I did believe he would come here. So we came too, hoping to find him.

“Forgive my rudeness, Señorita, but you still haven’t told me how you knew to come here today.”

“I didn’t know for sure. When we flew to Thailand, I had a very powerful dream about the flooding here. I felt the dream was telling me he would come here. I knew that if I wanted to meet him, I had to come here too—even though we didn’t know where to go or what to look for. I couldn’t tell anyone, except Terry. They would think I was crazy. But we did find you, Ramón, and we did end up here. That’s how it works. All we can do is take one step at a time into the unknown.” 

Rosita stared intensely at Sarah. “Madre de Dios,” she called out. “Señorita, can’t you see? God has chosen you for some special purpose. You would not receive such a dream if it were not true.” She crossed herself again as if trying to protect herself from whatever Sarah might be carrying.

Sarah didn’t know how to respond. “Honestly,” she said, grasping for words, “Rosita, Ramón, I’m nobody special. I’m just a reporter doing her job. Then I started getting these dreams and visions that I can’t explain. I wish I could. I came here to find out if one of my dreams was real. It was. But I’m still no closer to the man we want to meet. And I have to say I have no idea what to do next.”

“I know a man,” said Ramón quietly. “He may be able to help with such things. He is a priest who works at the university. Would you be willing to speak with him?”

What’s he trying to do? Is he testing me in some way, daring me to tell my story to someone who might be better able to explain it?

Sarah could feel herself bordering on tears. So much for the hard-bitten professional journalist. She thought a long time before answering.

Finally, she concluded that she had nothing to lose and the possibility of something to gain. She said, “Yes, Ramón. I would like to speak to anyone who can explain what is happening.”

Ramón looked satisfied with her answer. “Then why don’t I take you back to your hotel. You will probably want to rest after everything that has happened. I will talk to the Father, and he may be able to visit with you there. Would that be satisfactory for you?”

“Yes, it would. Thank you, Ramón,” she replied. Then she surprised herself by adding, “Who knows, it may be our next step into the unknown.” 


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