Although what a car it was. The owner behind the wheel had chosen the carbon black metallic paint, and the twenty-inch M V-spoke jet-black wheels. It was hard to see inside to determine the trim choices, but Raul was willing to bet the man had customized as much of it as he could, which, according to the BMW website, would extend build time a good six to eight weeks.
Raul knew all this because he had spec’d one out for himself online just a couple of months ago. In his case, it was merely a dream he could tinker with, a fantasy that he could almost touch as he worked his mouse around and clicked on things that added thousands of dollars to that already stratospheric purchase price. That was not the case for the man behind this wheel. Whoever he was, he had had the cash to pay for the car, and Raul felt a stab of envy—as well as some curiosity about who had cut such a check.
Leaning forward a little, he squinted. From what he could see of the driver, Raul’s dream car was a reality for an incredibly handsome African American man of about thirty. The guy had a perfectly balanced face, with a strong chin, high cheekbones and deep-set eyes. His fade was perfect, the bottom completely shaved, the top allowed to grow out only so far as it blackened his skull. There wasn’t much to see of his clothes, but he wasn’t wearing a jacket or a coat. He had just a shirt on, one that seemed to fall as if it were silk, and a cuff link flashed in the streetlights.
He could have been an athlete, but he seemed like a businessman. Who knew his true profession, and really, did it matter? Whatever the job or wherever the money had come from, there was obviously enough of it to afford the BMW and so much more.
Too bad the man did not look happy at all.
Raul could only shake his head. Rich people. They never appreciated what they had, and that was one definition of Hell, wasn’t it: to be seated at a table stacked with food, yet starving no matter how much you ate—
Without warning, the oddest thing happened, and Raul narrowed his eyes further, taking careful note, for it was the kind of thing he was going to want to tell Ivelisse about as soon as he got home: Between one blink and the next, the interior of the car became suffused by a peridot-green glow.
At first, Raul assumed it was from a cell phone screen, something that the driver, in his frustration at having even three minutes of forward progress halted by a red light, had created by checking his email. Except no, there was no phone. No iPad. No laptop. Perhaps it was a reflection of green-means-go as the traffic light changed—no, there had been no change up there. Confused, Raul considered the possibility he was seeing things.
Which was when he noticed the figure standing directly in front of the BMW.
The lashing snow was moving around what appeared to be a man, judging by the size of the torso, the flight paths of flakes reoriented by the three dimensions of height, weight, and, at least in theory, mortality. The problem was… Raul could see through the figure to the buildings across the street. Everything was visible, from the corner of the intersection, to the lobby doors of the bank, to the clutch of pedestrians who were approaching the crosswalk.
Raul rubbed his eyes, although it did nothing to change what seemed to be before him, and that was when the tires of the BMW began to spin. As the light finally turned green, all four low-profile tires abruptly lost purchase, and not just in a fishtail, get-off-the-mark-in-a-sloppy-way fashion, but as in going-nowhere-at-all. Which made no sense because the M850i had the xDrive. All-wheel traction.
The powerful engine revved. And revved again.
Inside, behind the wheel, Raul could see the driver grip the steering wheel harder and tilt into the windshield as if, in his mind, he was willing the powerful car to propel forward.
And still the tires spun and the ghostly apparition blocked the way.
“ ’Scuse me, buddy,” someone said to him.
In a reflex born of being a city dweller all of his life, Raul stepped aside without looking, assuming he had room to spare on the shoveled sidewalk. He did not. His foot landed on the edge of a snow-slicked curb, and his body lurched off balance—
Just as a semitrailer truck that was trying to stop at the red light in its lane lost control and plowed through the intersection, scattering the pedestrians who had started to cross, barreling past the BMW that was stuck, and coming right for Raul.
As his eyes swung around, he looked directly into the oncoming grille and knew, without a shadow of doubt, that he was going to die. His body was going to be impacted at a sufficient speed to do extensive internal damage, and given the forward list of his trajectory, his skull was going to be cracked wide-open.
Even though there was no hope, he whipped his hands out of the pockets of his coat, the cross in its box coming with his hand and flying free, his efforts to save himself too little, too late.
His first thought was of Alondra. He couldn’t wait to see her.
His second was of his Ivelisse and his other two girls. They would be heartbroken. They had barely recovered from the family’s first tragedy—how would they get through his death, too, especially as it was so random, so unlucky… and on another slippery, snowy night.
His third was that this was so unfair. He had led a just life. He had loved his wife and honored her. He had cherished his children. He had worked hard and been honest and done his level best to do unto others as he would have them do unto him. How could this happen—
It was the best way to describe the indescribable.
Everything just halted where it was: The speeding semi, his fall, the pedestrians racing to get out of the way, the spinning tires of the BMW. Everything just… stopped.
Except for the snow.
The snow still fell, landing with weightless grace on what was now a tableau of chaos. And the figure in front of the BMW, the transparent, there-but-not-there figure turned its head and looked at Raul. The man’s face was so beautiful that tears sprang to Raul’s eyes, joining the snow, falling, falling, onto the ground he would never meet because he was going to be swept away by the truck’s grille.
And that was when Raul saw the whole truth.
The man was no man, and he was no ghost, either. He was an angel, with long blond and black hair that licked up around him as if it were playing in the snow, and wings, great gossamer, shimmering, rainbow-colored wings that rose up from behind his shoulders. And he had the aura, too. The glow about him, the heavenly light emanating from his form, was just as the images had always portrayed, and that glorious illumination was evidence that the afterlife was real and whoever was in charge of the universe was a beneficent God indeed, one who sent servants unto the earth that had been created, to caretake the fragile mortals that were no mistake of the cosmos, no accident of electrons and neutrons and protons colliding in a vast, cold void, but rather a conscious choice made with love.
Thus, Raul was saved from death.
He wept openly as the angel extended a hand to him, a kind and gentle hand, to right his fall, to correct his path, to rescue his life. The contact was both made and unmade, for though there was distance between them, Raul felt the touch, and it was warm, it was both mother and father, it was that of a superior being making sure that a child was not hurt by its silly absence of attention.
As he felt his body righted and moved far back on to the sidewalk, he was flooded with relief and gratitude. This unlikely moment of deliverance now confirmed the faith that had carried him through the deaths of so many, and especially of his Alondra. Yes, he thought with joy, his beloved daughter, taken too soon, was in a safe and happy eternity, and he would see her again, and the reunion would be of such exultation that any suffering on the earth below would be as the falling snow, passing quickly and of little consequence.
The angel smiled at him.
In Raul’s head, he heard a voice, deep and full of authority: Worry not, my friend. There are good years ahead for you, and when you are called home, you will be welcomed by those you miss most.
And then the angel disappeared and the world resumed its spin.
The truck whizzed by, horn blaring, waves of snow splashed out of its way as it careened through the intersection. The pedestrians cursed and yelled, shaking their fists, stamping their feet. The BMW’s wheels gained traction, and it crossed into what would have been a path of death and destruction.
Raul slammed into something behind him. A building. A granite building. Another bank, he supposed with a dim thought.
“Hey, you okay, my man?” somebody asked. “Jesus Christ, you nearly bought the farm.”
Raul said something back. Or at least he thought he did. All he could be sure of was that there was a sheet of ice on his cheeks, his tears crystallizing from the cold, the wind, the winter. He went to brush them off—
His little leather box, the one with the cross his lovely wife was going to yell at him for bringing home, was against his palm. Even though he had seen it fly from his hold in the second before he almost died.
A miracle, he thought as he looked at it.
He had received a Christmas miracle. Just in a nick of time.
Holy fuck,” Trez yelled as a semitrailer truck the size of a building went blasting past the front bumper of his brand-new BMW.
Like right past. Like… nearly peeling off the hood of the damned car.
As his four-wheel drive, heavily treaded snow tires abruptly grabbed at that which they had been spinning on, and a pedestrian who’d slipped suddenly righted himself out of the way of the truck, Trez decided that the definition of in-the-nick-of-time was exactly what just happened. If he’d been able to go when the light had turned, if that pedestrian hadn’t caught himself just when he had, they would both have been filing their termination papers tonight.
Which was kind of ironic.
Because about a split second prior to the almost-catastrophe going down, Trez had been debating whether or not to just drive on. And not merely through the intersection.
Having spent two decades in Caldwell, watching with his Shadow eyes the way a couple generations of humans built up the city, he knew exactly where this particular street in this particular section of town ended up.
At the Hudson River.
So if he hit the gas and kept on a direct, nonwavering course until the street ended, he could take a Fast & Furious jump off the concrete embankment under one of Caldie’s two bridges. The BMW would not last long in the free fall, the sleek car having been built to fly over asphalt, not literally fly, and soon enough, both he and all this expensive steel, leather, and plastic would be sinking beneath the cold, sluggish waters of the Hudson.