He sat on the edge of the cloud kicking his feet. It made his spurs jingle and that always cheered him up. And hell, that was just as well, because there was damn all else to be cheerful about.
He’d fought damned hard to keep his spurs, but he’d lost the battle over his gun. Wouldn’t need it – that’s what they’d told him. Trouble was they were right.
It was so damn boring here. Nothing ever happened. Except for that God-awful singing practice. That happened every damn day. It wouldn’t be so bad if they improved. They had enough practice after all. But they still made the same amount of racket that they had when he first arrived here. Leastways if he had his gun he could have shot them and put them out of their misery. Or failing that he could have practiced his draw. He could have gotten even faster – after all, he had all the time in the world now.
Time. Now that was an odd thing. The only good thing about this place was it had taken years off him. Literally. He appeared to have been restored to the age he’d been when he first arrived at the ranch on the stage. Trouble was there wasn’t much point in being a young stud again if there was nobody to work his magic on. All of his advances towards the younger angels had been repulsed. Shit, but he needed some excitement.
He edged forward on the cloud so that he was almost suspended over that long drop to God only knew where. It was so tempting to just push right off and see what happened...
“Don’t even think of it.” The deep voice came from nowhere, sort of rolling around and echoing through space. A voice that was a thousand times louder than Murdoch’s bellows. A voice that brooked no arguments.
Johnny sighed and shuffled back to a more secure part of the cloud, trying to squash out the lumps that kept popping up in it.
“I think, Mr. Lancer, the time has come for you to have a further talk with St Peter. He’s expecting you.”
Johnny peered around, as always hoping for a glimpse of the possessor of that huge voice, but, as usual, there was no one to be seen. Did anyone ever get to see God? Maybe there were a select few people who were so good that they were permitted an audience with the man himself. Not much chance of that for Johnny Lancer.
He hauled himself to his feet, pausing to grin as his spurs jingled again. Then he stamped on a particularly white fluffy part of the cloud, for the pleasure of seeing his foot-print.
“In your own time, Mr. Lancer.” The voice sounded kind of sarcastic.
He gave an exaggerated kind of a sigh. He wasn’t hurrying himself for someone who never showed his face. Instead, he selected a path which involved him balancing on the edges of every cloud that led to St Peter’s office. A grunt of irritation echoed around the sky and made all the clouds wobble alarmingly. He grinned, stretching his arms out to balance himself – this was as close to fun as he got.
When he arrived at St Peter’s office the heavy oak door swung open even before he placed his hand on it. St Peter was sitting behind his desk, peering through his rimless spectacles at a real big book.
“I’ve been waiting for you.” He gave Johnny a piercing look, like he could see right inside of him. “You took your time.” St Peter gestured to him to take a seat.
Johnny shrugged before slumping down into a white armchair. “I got distracted, sorry.”
St Peter shook his head, whether more in sorrow or anger was hard to judge. “You always get distracted, Mr. Lancer.” He ran a hand over his long white beard. “There have been...” he paused, shaking his head again. “Complaints. Numerous complaints. About you.”
Johnny ducked his head briefly before looking St Peter square in the eyes. “About me?”
St Peter nodded. “Yes, Mr. Lancer, about you. You are disruptive.”
“Disruptive? Me?” Johnny tried to sound aggrieved, and kept a straight face.
“It is no laughing matter. There have been numerous complaints. Too numerous to enumerate.”
Johnny looked at him blankly. Dios, the words that man used. “You said that already. Well, not the part about enumering but the rest of it.”
St Peter tapped the book in front of him. “This book contains all the complaints about you.”
Johnny bit back a grin. Complaints about him – nothing new there. And boy, was that a big book!
St Peter frowned, like he knew exactly what Johnny was thinking. Which he did, damn it. It always bugged him that they could read all of his thoughts. A man couldn’t have any secrets here. Hell, he missed having secrets.
St Peter’s frown deepened. “This is not a matter for levity. There was the unfortunate incident where you were found teaching the cherubs to play poker. And, believe me, that did not go down well. But leaving that to one side, some of the people who have complained about you have been quite illustrious personages.” He paused, kind of like he was trying to make a point.
God only knew what point he was making. What the hell were illustrious personages anyhow?
“Well known people, Mr. Lancer. Great people. Some of God’s more successful experiments. Your own countryman, a great President of your country, Mr. Abraham Lincoln complained about you. He was discussing the future of civilisation with George Washington and apparently you landed on their cloud. He tells me that you were balancing again. Although on that occasion maybe over-balancing would be a more accurate description of your activities.”
Johnny shrugged. “It was an accident. I’ll apologise if it will make you feel better.”
St Peter rested his head on his hand and sighed softly. “It’s not a question of making me feel better; the question is what are we going to do about you? I get the impression that you are not happy with us.”
Johnny swallowed hard. Shit. Were they going to send him to the other place? He’d always suspected that he was in the wrong place. That they’d made a mistake.
“I don’t make mistakes, Mr. Lancer.” St Peter sounded kind of gentle. “We had hoped that you would settle, but I confess that hope is fading now.”
“It’s so damn boring here.” The words came out like bullets from a gun, before he could stop them. “I mean, what do people do all day? I mean, I know Murdoch spends all his time reading Greek books and talking to some fellow called Aristotle. But shit, reading books? Is that what I’m meant to do?”
“Most people,” St Peter sounded like he was struggling to be patient. “Most people like to make use of their time here to seek self improvement. They wish to learn and expand their horizons.”
“Expand their horizons?” Johnny waved his arm toward the view through the door. “That’s all we’ve got. Damned endless horizons. As far as we can see.”
St Peter peered out through the door. “I find it a very soothing view. And it was very peaceful until you arrived.” He paused. “Well, except for the junior cherubs’ choir.” He lowered his voice. “Just between you and me, I fear they have made no improvement whatsoever.”
Johnny grinned. “They could crack the big old window behind Murdoch’s desk back at the ranch with their bum notes.”
St Peter covered his mouth, almost like he was smothering a smile. “Hmm. Yes, well, the question remains, what are we to do with you? I confess that your reaction was predicted. The elders have already had a meeting about you.”
Johnny raised an eyebrow. Shit, the elders? They sounded kind of important. Maybe the kind of people who’d figure that St Peter really had made a mistake all along and would send Johnny Lancer packing to the depths of Hell.
“Please pay attention.” St Peter glared at him. “They have proposed that you become an angel.”
Johnny opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He tried again. “An angel? Me? Shit, no. They have to supervise choir practice and...”
St Peter held a hand up, kind of like to silence him. “I didn’t make myself clear. Not an ordinary angel, a guardian angel.”
Johnny narrowed his eyes, what the hell was a guardian angel? He sure hadn’t met any of those around the place. Just all the really boring ones.
“A guardian angel, Mr. Lancer, returns to earth and is tasked to help people in need of protection.”
He couldn’t stop the grin breaking out. “Returns to earth? Protection?” Now that sounded more like it.
St Peter narrowed his eyes. “Many of our souls consider returning to earth almost as a punishment. They find solace in this peaceful environment.”
“Except for the God-awful singing,” Johnny muttered, still unable to stop grinning at the prospect of earth and women and tequila and horses.
St Peter inclined his head. “Except for the G... hmmm, singing.” He coughed. “Anyway, the elders thought that you might be a very suitable candidate for a guardian angel. If you accept the position you will be granted certain super powers.”
Johnny’s grin broadened. “Super powers?” He didn’t know what the hell those were but it sure sounded good.
St Peter seemed to be having trouble keeping a straight face. “Yes, super powers. For example, you will be able to materialise among people without any apparent method of having arrived there.”
Johnny jerked forward. “Like Absolom Weir!” Shit, surely that fellow hadn’t been an angel?
“Certainly not!” St Peter looked offended. “Absolom Weir was a slick conman. He is not in this place.” He patted at his forehead with a big white handkerchief, kind of like the mention of Weir had been all too much for him. “No, you will have proper powers. If you accept the role, it will all be explained to you. Perhaps you would like time to consider the proposal.”
“Hell, no. I accept. I just got one question.”
St Peter paled. “I thought you would have.”
“Can I have a gun?”