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No longer famished, Sarah and Terry strolled leisurely along the beach towards the pier when the call came through. Terry could hear one end of the discussion only that followed, but he wasn’t worried. He knew the whole conversation was being recorded, and he’d get to hear it in due course. He did, about half an hour later, back in their suite.The recording went for about five minutes only, but it was as if he had the complete transcript written on the pages she gave him. Sure, he saw some minor differences, but the overall conversation followed exactly the same sequence and the same subjects. For the most part, Dan Williams set the course of the conversation, not Sarah. She couldn’t be accused of trying to make it happen. The end result was exactly as she had predicted. They were told to return to Singapore, pick up his camera gear, and then fly on to join up with the same carrier. The only bit she didn’t have in her transcript was her request to take Eddie Nolan with them. She brought it up in a very reasonable way, saying he had been a very helpful advisor about what had happened here. There had been a brief pause at the Wellington end. No doubt Dan had to get his riding orders. Although the answer came back as a yes, it came along with an agreement that Dan would make all the arrangements. “Incredible. You’ve certainly convinced me.” Terry meant every word. But then he noticed Sarah was now sombre and reflective. “And me,” she murmured. “I don’t know why, but I knew it would go like that. In one way, I’m glad. But in another, it’s kinda scary.” Terry agreed. “You’re not wrong. But what can I say? You were right on the button. So no turning back now, right? Decision made?” He wanted her to commit. Sarah’s nod was far from convincing. “Right.” He kept it up, trying to spur some of that earlier passion. “Good. Onwards and upwards. We’d better get packed up and ready go. Are you going to ring Eddie and let him know?” She sighed. “Sure. I’d better do that. Why don’t you go down and see Maria and ask if Ramón wants to take us through to LAX. He might as well get the fare.” “I’m gone,” said Terry, departing as instructed. Sarah rang Nolan’s number again and told him everything had been approved. She’d have flight details within the hour. He, in turn, told her he was packed and ready. Barely 15 minutes later, they had dropped off their bags at the hotel storage room and paid the bill. Maria confirmed that Ramón was very happy to take them through to LAX. Both knew Ramón’s reasons had little to do with any financial reward. He would want to know what had happened and where they were going—perhaps even what they hoped to find there. Both knew they needed some exercise if they were to be cooped up in a plane for goodness knows how long. So having left a healthy tip, they walked out into the streets of Ventura one last time. “You’re Sarah Long, aren’t you?” The obviously local voice came from among a group of mainly men lounging around on the sidewalk. The rest of the group reacted as he spoke, and suddenly she was the centre of attention. Questions came from all directions. What did she know about the angel? How did she know to come to Ventura? What was she going to do now? Did she know who he was? What a bloody circus! It’s worse than a rugby scrum. Is this what I do to people? No wonder they don’t have much respect for my profession. She tried to walk on and leave them behind, but it didn’t take long to figure out that wasn’t going to work. She shouldn’t have been surprised. Sarah knew how the system worked. “Come on, Sarah, give us a break.” “What’s happening with the angel?” “Where will he turn up next?” “What does he look like?” Her phone rang. Saved by the bell. She and Terry headed back into the hotel reception area and allowed the security staff to keep the rabble at bay outside. She opened her phone, happy for once that her boss was calling. “It’s all go, Sarah,” Dan Williams told her. We have the three of you booked on a Singapore flight leaving LAX at about 1.30 this afternoon your time. Same deal as last time, but you’ll have to slum it in Business Class this time, I’m afraid. I’ve booked you into the same hotel near Changi Airport. I’m not sure how long you’ll be there though. We’re still working on the leg through to Djakarta and beyond. Can you make that work?” “Sure, Dan. No worries. And by the way, how much of the material that I sent you did you release to the world? I seem suddenly to have become hot property here. I can’t say I’m enjoying it. We reporters are a bloody pushy lot!” “Really?” His sarcasm was very much in character. “My heart bleeds for you. Try and get some sleep on the plane because you’ll probably strike more of them at the other end.” “Gee thanks, Dan. That’s really sweet of you.” “I’ll leave a message for you at the hotel. Good luck, Long. I don’t know how you’re doing what you’re doing, but keep on doing it.” “Thanks again.” But there was no point—the recipient was gone. Sarah put the phone back in her bag and headed for the desk. “Hi again, Maria. Thanks for keeping the hounds at bay out there. Could you tell Ramón we’re ready when he is?” Maria smiled at the compliment and picked up her phone to call her brother. Sarah couldn’t follow the rapid Spanish, but she got the general idea that Ramón was to get himself there, post haste! Clearly, Maria had no problems being blunt and direct with her brother, at least when these two were concerned. “He is just filling up the car with gasoline. He will be here in about five minutes. Is that still alright?” There was a gentle pleading in her lovely brown eyes. “That’s fine, Maria. He needn’t rush. We’re okay for time,” she said with a smile that matched her words. “I’m very grateful for all you and Ramón have done for us. I just hope that rabble outside will leave you alone when we leave. I’m sure you can manage much better without them.” Sarah looked at the clock—9.20. “Is the dining room still open? I could use one last cup of your excellent coffee before we hit the road.” “Sí, Sarah. I’ll tell them you’re coming. It’s on the house.” Soon after they had thanked the receptionist, Terry and Sarah were shown to the best seats in the dining room. So much the better to enjoy their brew before having to push through the crowd again. And then the long drive back to the airport, but at least the driver was friendly. Sarah pulled out her phone again and dialled Nolan’s number. He was obviously waiting for the call. She told him the little that was new and arranged to meet with him at the Singapore Airlines check in. As she hung up her call with Nolan, Sarah again felt that strange sense of peace about Eddie coming with them. A week ago it would have made no sense at all, but now… Terry glimpsed the familiar features of Ramón at the dining room door. He had a worried frown, and it didn’t suit him. Terry waved for Ramón to join them, which he did if somewhat tentatively. He obviously didn’t feel comfortable in this place. “We have a few minutes to spare, Ramón. Why not join us for a cup of coffee or something else if you prefer.” Terry made the invitation loud enough for the staff to hear. Ramón was his guest, not a waiting driver. It helped raise the shadow from Ramón’s handsome features, but he still wasn’t at ease. “Good morning, Sarah, Terry. It is good to see you again.” Would they revert into some other sort of character, not like the open and searching people he’d seen the day before. What if they had taken offence at his suggestion about the Padre? What if…But no, nothing had changed. He relaxed a little more and sat a little awkwardly in the chair Terry had pulled out from the table for him. “How is Rosita this morning?” Terry asked. “She is a lot better, thank you. She and Douglas stayed at my house last night and are expecting Douglas’ parents later today. They’ve had problems getting out of Chicago; the weather has been very bad there also.” “I’m glad she’s improving. It must have been a big shock for her.” “I doubt it will be the last one,” Ramón said with a grin. “Life seems to have ways of making sure we all get them once in a while, does it not? For the most part, we seem to get over them. Is it the same in your country too?” They chatted amicably, but not getting into anything too deep. There were too many other people sitting nearby, and it was obvious they were the subject of a great deal of curiosity. Any real talk would wait until they were in Ramón’s SUV, well clear of unwanted Klingons. Ramón had parked his SUV around the back, by a service entrance, to make it easier for them to leave without having to run the gauntlet of the waiting media. He was conscious that he didn’t want to abuse the privilege and block that entrance for too long, so once the coffee was in, they were out. * * * * * * * Had she ever left? The same quarters with the same grey walls and the same people in the same places. How long had she been away? Hard to tell, given how much time she’d spent in aeroplanes crossing an unimaginable number of time zones. But it was also different. Not as many media people aboard meant they stood out more. Elsewhere the impact of the disaster had passed from the minds of many. The world wanted new news. But for those in uniform and the thousands upon thousands of men and women who volunteered their time and energy to help, the job was a long way from done. She supposed they were used to it. Once public interest has faded, along with the circus it generated, they could get on with the job—the plain hard work, day after day, receiving little to no recognition. They probably prefer it that way. Most of them aren’t here for the recognition. They get their rewards in other ways. People looked at her, at them, differently. Sarah was the angel lady, the one who just missed him in California. And Nolan provided an additional curiosity. All three knew their every move was being watched—not necessarily in a threatening way, but more because they were now celebrities. Meanwhile, the angel carried on doing his thing, although no one knew if the world’s media had reported everything he’d done. The media can only sustain the sensational for so long. Let’s face it … the paying public can stand only so much good news before they get bored with it. Fortunately, the angel is like the clean-up community. He doesn’t stop when the publicity machine has moved on. The talk shows had a field day. Experts of all opinions and persuasions were wheeled into the public’s gaze to comment on everything from the angel’s motives to where he might appear next. Of course, there was no agreement among them; that wasn’t meant to be. It wasn’t about the angel; it was about ratings. If only I could get the angel in front of a camera, our ratings would go through the roof. And then what? Joe and Josie Public would tire of that in time. They always do. And the predictable wannabes had surfaced on talk-back radio and the odd TV show, claiming to be or to have seen the real thing. As usual, it didn’t take long for them to prove themselves wrong. But a part of Sarah hoped they were happy with their moment in the limelight, even if for some it was the darkness and anonymity of talk-back radio. Sarah wanted so much more than that. She wanted to know the real story, the whole story. She still believed the angel would turn up back here, and she would meet him. Her dream had revealed that. The first part had come true. That allowed her to believe that the second part would too. Terry remained his reliable and hard-working self. Nothing seemed to faze him. And Eddie was there too. She could hardly imagine what it would have been like without him. Eddie had insights that, for all his other strengths, Terry couldn’t match. She felt a little guilty that she had left Terry high and dry, but it didn’t seem to worry him. Terry could make friends anywhere, with almost anyone. She envied him in that. They’d been back at sea for three days. Three days of helicopter rides, loading and unloading cartons and bags, and shifting people. It was hot, sticky and tiring, and she was only watching. Sure, there were stories to be filed, but somehow it all floated anaemically below the surface of her incredible sense that she was sitting on the side of the unknown, about to see it revealed. But now it was another day, another opportunity. And as luck would have it, they were with the same crew they had been with on that fateful day when she was given the necklace. She had to make sure she always carried that necklace—just in case. But would today be special? * * * * * * * They landed in a town similar to a thousand others—perhaps tens of thousands of others. How many had she seen? The remains of broken shanties, the dust, the flies—and worse still—the pain and the hunger in hundreds of eyes. No, countless hundreds of eyes. Those eyes also showed gratitude, but it was guarded. These people still had the tattered remnants of their pride, and the arrival of people often seen as their enemy disturbed many of them. Such things challenge our deepest prejudices. No one gives those up without a fight. She could sense something different in the air without knowing what it was. Eddie saw the light in her eyes. She knows something, he thought. It was still a miracle for him when he saw such things happen. It helped to restore his oft ailing faith. Faith is such a hard thing to hang onto in a world that seems to despise it so much. “What do you see, Sarah?” he asked quietly, not wanting to attract too much attention to her. That wasn’t easy because the others were watching. Perhaps they too were hoping, even expecting, something would happen. But Nolan knew they were only interested spectators. Sarah was involved, engaged. She knows something. It’s written all over her, but they can’t see it. None of them can. Nolan was sure of that. He could tell by their body language, their faces, their eyes. No, they hadn’t seen it. “I’m not sure, Eddie. There’s something different about this place. It could be him, but I can’t tell at this stage.” But her all-knowing Mona Lisa smile said something else. The rotors stilled and a sort of silence descended once again. The expectant crowd waited. The chopper meant food, water, medicine, and construction materials—the necessities of life in concrete form. But they also provided hope when so much more than the land and buildings had taken a battering. Terry and Eddie went through their now familiar rituals. Camera on, notebook out. Terry captured the initial rush. Eddie was writing his thoughts as he witnessed this mechanical mercy mission. He looked at the faces—nothing unusual there. It all seems much the same as everywhere else. What can she see? Eddie glanced across towards Sarah, who was now in the middle of the now jostling crowd. She must have sensed his gaze because she turned and flashed a knowing smile back towards him. The priest waved and returned to his writing. Part of him was annoyed that she obviously knew something, even if she didn’t yet know what she knew. A voice inside niggled at him that she had been chosen, and he had not. But he checked it immediately. I don’t make the Almighty’s decisions for Him; I’m just grateful to be here to watch it unfold.