Saturday, August 17, 2013

No Greater Choice


No Greater Love series # 2
  No Greater Choice
          The phone rang four times before Tommy realized it wasn't a dream. He reached over to the night stand and picked up his blackberry, pressed the talk button and just listened. "Tommy this is Ray Stanford your old tent mate" at that, Tommy quickly sat up at the edge of the bed and tried clearing his head. He had been in the business long enough to know when someone needed help. "Hey Scooter it's good to hear your voice, but its 0330 and you sound like you're in some kind of trouble" all Tommy could hear was a low tone nervous laugh between the words coming from his old friend. "Listen Miles, I'm deep into something and now I don't know how to get out of it without winding up six feet under, and I'm not ready to meet our maker just yet" Tommy thought of the last time he had seen his old friend, Ray had just gotten married. "How is Pam these days?" Tommy figured a little distraction could probably relax his friend and get him to calmly explain the trouble he found himself in.  "I don't know and to make matters worse, that's what has me worried the most" Tommy’s Marine instincts went into high gear and with a little attitude in his voice he demanded to know the whole reason for this early morning disturbance. "Okay Marine, spill it, what's going on? You're dancing around an issue, and honestly I'm in no mood for games so out with it" Ray took a deep breath and began to recount what sounded more like a game of espionage.  When Ray was done Tommy asked him if he was in a safe place, waited for the answer then replied, "I'm booking the first flight out, meet me at 2200 over by the pier, the one where we took the Lazy Lady for her maiden voyage" Ray agreed and the line went dead.
          Tommy called in an old favor and two hours later he was on a private twin engine Cessna 340 at 20,000 feet. Traveling on short notice on a commercial flight would mean arriving unarmed and on this mission that was not an option.  He wasn't totally sure what he was about to encounter once he met his old friend, who, at times in their past came a little short in disclosing information. After landing at Suburban Airport W-18 in Laurel, Maryland, Tommy called a taxi cab and headed for a car rental. Renting a car as far away as possible from the airport would lessen the chance of being tracked if things went amiss. Tommy opted for a 2013 Dodge Charger R/T, somehow having horsepower on this trip seemed like a smart idea. He threw his MARPAT Giant Duffle Bag in the trunk after removing his Glock, a snug nose thirty eight and a pair of binoculars. He got behind the wheel, typed the address on his phone's GPS and headed for Federal Hill Park. This was a good place to blend in with a bird’s eye view in all 360. Tommy figured to be there hours before and do a little recon before his rendezvous with his old pal.
           Ray still had about five hours before catching up with his old friend and his nerves were on edge. He paced his house incessantly looking through both front and rear windows, a Beretta 9mm with FMJ rounds on hand at all times. Every little noise triggered a nerve and Ray had to constantly wipe the sweat from his forehead. Sleep had eluded him for the past three days and staying awake was a struggle. Not being able to sleep was nothing new for him these days; it had been months since he had a good night's sleep. With all the trouble surrounding him these days he had no idea when he would be able to get some much needed rest. Finding his wife on his own had turned up nothing but new enemies and old nightmares. How he wished right now that had listened to Tommy all those times he spoke about a God that watches over those who love and serve Him.
           The member’s only club he had been attending for the past year had become his biggest regret to date. Ray knew from the first time he had entered the club that there was illegal business being conducted in the mist of all the partying. Conversations he’d overheard confirmed what Ray suspected that fatal night for one of the club’s oldest member. The club was a central hub for a numbers racket and the moving of tons of crack, powder cocaine and ecstasy. Ray had a little too much to drink one night and wandered down a hallway which was normally guarded from mostly everyone. He had walked halfway down the hall when he heard loud voices and someone pleading for their life. Ray stood there and listened for just too long a moment; when the door opened, he saw a man beaten to the point that he wouldn't have recognized even if shown a picture. Ray turned to walk away before he could do so he was stopped by two men. He decided to play a bit drunker than he was because the sight of the injured man had sobered him up a little. The two men had shoved him around and when they were satisfied with what they heard they showed him to the front door and watched him until he drove away. Even through the fog of drunkenness, Ray figured they’d taken note of his tag number. The hunch was confirmed when days later the anonymous phone calls started. Twice, he had noticed a car following him and as if that wasn’t enough his wife had gone missing, and then came the call warning him not to call the authorities. Ray decided to do what he thought was the next best thing, call Tommy Gunn.   
          Tommy arrived at the park and did a quick scan of the parking lot. No one would blend into his surroundings while sitting in a car, he thought; so he pulled into an empty space cut the engine and proceeded toward the boat slip where Ray would meet him. He reached a bench about two hundred yards from the docks and sat with the binoculars in hand and acted like a bird watcher. So far Tommy was convinced that no one was there doing the same thing he was. He also knew from many years of experience that one could never be too careful, so with a two hour window he got up off the bench and began to walk the park. The sun had set and darkness was taking hold of the evening. He picked a spot on the hill by an old Civil War cannon where he could stay hidden, watch the docks, and have a 360 degree view.
          Ray was relieved when 2100 arrived and no one had shown up to take his head off. He had been one of the elite men in his platoon but all the drinking over the past ten years had weakened his senses and he's reflexes. It had been three days since his last drink and the shakes were relentless. He walked into the garage, sat behind the wheel and waited for his nerves to calm before he started the car and opened the garage door. Out the driveway, a left at the stop sign, a quick glance in the rear view mirror and a cleansing breath to thank the God of Tommy that he had no tail. The thirty minute drive seemed like an eternity as Ray reached the lot at Federal Hill Park. He reached over to the passenger seat, grabbed a hold of his phone and texted Tommy, "On spot and you??" Tommy replied "I have eyes on our AO, proceed" Ray got out of his car and headed for the docks, the thought of death remained firmly in the back of his mind.
          Tommy walked up after watching Ray for about ten minutes, unannounced and undetected. "Hello Scooter, it's been a while old friend, don't believe I've ever seen you so on edge before" Ray turned, faced his old friend and extended his hand and firmly shook Tommy's hand pulling him forward for a bear hug. "I've had better days man, even on our worst days overseas things never got this nerve racking. I have no idea how I'm still alive, but what bothers and hurts me the most is not knowing where Pam is or if she is even alive." Tommy stepped back, scanned the area then looked back at his friend and replied, "First we need to get out of here and find somewhere we can talk without having to look over our shoulders, and then we can figure this whole thing out. I promise we will find Pam and whoever is responsible for her disappearance." Tommy slapped Ray on the back gently and said, "Come you're riding with me, we'll leave your car here to throw off the dogs and, by the way, where can we get some pancakes? I’m hungry"
           The two men quickly and without another word, headed straight for the parking lot and over to Tommy’s car. Ray first walked over to his car, pulled out a backpack he had stuffed with a few necessities and jumped into the passenger’s seat of the Charger. Tommy left the park and headed down Key Hwy. and then took Light Street heading north. Tommy needed to find a place to figure out what his friend had gotten himself into, and plan what their next move would be. First stop was an Ihop for his pancakes, some coffee and clearing his head. After both men had filled their stomachs, Tommy rented two rooms in a quiet part of town and decided to take a few hours to nap and gather his thoughts. Ray had told Tommy that the club where he had overheard the info that now threatened him, closed at 0400.
          Tommy had taken a two hour power nap, he got up jumped in the shower, dressed and exited the hotel. It was 0335 when Tommy reached The Players Club and took up a position across the street to watch who the last to exit and lock the doors were. His plan was to find a way in and collect some information. He knew there would be an alarm to disable and cameras to avoid recognition. Everyone exiting from the moment he arrived had his or her face on film. Half hour after being sure that the place was empty; Tommy approached the rear of the club, stood still for a minute and took a deep breath. He knew if he were caught, one of two things could happen, if caught by the police, he would be charged with burglary, but theft it was and by the owner it would be kill or be killed. Tommy also knew that most criminals are not as smart as they give themselves credit for and they always left evidence behind. First, he needed to find exactly what it was they were into and where their weakness lay. Someone had to know where Pam was or what had happened to her, people don't normally disappear without a trace. Tommy prayed as he stood up against the wall, "Lord watch over me and please help me to find anything that tells me where Pam might be, be by her side and protect her Lord as only You can, Amen." Tommy reached into his top inner coat pocket and removed a small zippered case. He opened it up and took a hold of a few instruments. From his right sleeve he pulled out a bolt-cutter and quickly snapped the chain on the gated fence. He closed the fence behind him and positioned the chain to appear intact. He moved over to the rear door and with the instruments in his hand, he undid the locks and stepped inside. Tommy knew he had approximately forty five seconds to disarm the alarm and ten of those second would be gone by the time he reached the front door. The instant he reached the alarm pad he removed it from the wall with one swing of the bolt cutters, hammer style. Then using the cutters again he cut the wires and waited a few more seconds making sure the alarm didn't go off. Tommy walked to the back of the club to find the hallway Ray spoke about. The two offices in this section of the club were locked but not a problem for Tommy to enter. He moved through both offices as quickly as possible not caring what he rubbished to find some answers. Tommy was careful not to leave any evidence for the enemy, but a clear message that someone had invaded their space. He wanted them to react and do something out of their routine. He planted a few undetectable bugs hoping to hear what really went on inside those walls. In what he thought to be the main man’s office he planted a micro video camera to transmit pictures to his computer. On an external hard drive he backed up both computers so he could view its content when he returned to his hotel room. Tommy wanted to make it look like a robbery and not like someone looking for information. He found the safe, opened it and robbed it. After leaving the club, Tommy drove by a homeless shelter, dropped a large sack of money on the ground and knocked on the door. He watched as a man picked up the sack, looked inside, raised his head toward heaven and hurried to close the door. He then drove back to the hotel, jumped in his bed and let sleep overtake him.
          Ray woke up after almost eight hours of sleep and for the first time in about a week he felt well rested. He exited his room and headed to the dining area for the complementary breakfast. The TV was tuned to the news station and the coverage was about a robbery at a club in the greater downtown Baltimore area, immediately, Ray knew where his old war friend had been the night before. He listened with a smile on his face but frowned at the thought that Tommy had angered a giant. He had enlisted the help of his old friend and now prayed that Tommy had a good plan for this life or a possible departure from it. After he had finished his bagel with cream cheese, a plate of eggs and coffee he filled an extra cup with black coffee no sugar and went off to wake Tommy for some answers.
      Between the knocking and someone calling out "Miles" repeatedly Tommy sat up on the edge of the bed. Two hours of sleep was not going to 'cut it' he thought to himself. "Hold on" he yelled at the door as he slowly moved towards the bathroom. He turned on the faucet, washed his face and rinsed his mouth, grabbed a towel, dried up and stared into the mirror. "This is going to be a long day" he said to the reflection and headed to the door. "Man you’re not going to believe what I just saw on the news" was the first words out of Ray's mouth the instant the door opened. "Sure I would because you wouldn't lie to me" Tommy replied with half a smile on his face as he took the cup of coffee from Ray. "This is for me, yes? Now tell me what you heard" Ray was already turning on the TV trying to find a station reporting the local news and replied, "The club we spoke about apparently was robbed last night"
          Tommy sat at the desk and opened his laptop. After the computer had booted, Tommy inserted an USB cord to an open port and then attached his external hard drive. Ray stood over him as Tommy explained what he had discovered and what he had done to make it look like a robbery. Ray couldn't help but to laugh knowing that someone was making good use of mob money. Ray found it a little eerie when Tommy opened a window and the screen divided itself into four sections, he was looking at his enemy head on. Tommy then opened up the external hard drive and began looking at the files from the club’s computers. Some of what he found was encrypted but within fifteen minutes he had broken through their weak attempts at security. These guys left Tommy no doubt, and plenty of proof that they were into everything from prostitution to drugs and stealing tax money from the sale of fuel at a few local gas stations they owned.  

          Frankie "Hawk-eye" O'Sullivan was the boss of this deadly Irish mob. He had gotten the nickname because he saw and noticed every facet of his operation and nothing was lost to him. He kept everyone of his men in line with his philosophy that things were to be done his way, and if anyone questioned his authority they were dead before reaching a horizontal position. He paced the floor in his office eyeing each of his men, wondering if any of them had the galls to pull off this betrayal. He had told the police that nothing was missing and that he was sure someone had done this to scare him out of the night club business. He was angry mostly because someone dared to break into his club and more than the three hundred and forty thousand were missing from the safe. He had already put out the word for anyone who had any information on the person or persons who had carried out the break-in. He had asked the police to leave and did not allow for any finger prints to be taken at his establishment. He also stated that he would not be looking to press charges if they found the perpetrator He knew he had some of the shadiest clients and protecting his future investments took priority over the missing cash.
          Tommy and Ray sat intently watching the laptop screen as the gangsters swept the office for listening devises and coming up empty handed. Tommy attached a recording device to his computer to capture all the events of the day while he was away. He gave Ray orders to stay in the room and not leave it for any reason. He left with keys and weapon in hand. A little research obtained from a private site courtesy of his employer, the U.S. Marshall’s and Pro-Sec agency yielded Mr. O'Sullivan’s address. He steered his rental Charger north for the thirty minute ride to the suburbs to do a little recon and possibly another break-in, albeit on a much smaller scale. He smiled to calm his nerves. His thoughts during his commute were on Pam, whom he had met only twice and had found her to be quiet and reserved. She stood five feet two inches tall and pushed at one hundred ten pounds, soaking wet. She had brown kind eyes and porcelain like white skin. She was soft spoken, timid and painfully shy. Tommy feared that if these men had taken her and were intending to use her as a pawn to get to Ray he needed to find her and fast. No ransom note or calls had been received and no dead woman had made the news in the past four day since Pam went missing, Tommy took that as a good sign that she was alive somewhere. He prayed silently as he drove that God would keep her safe and alive until he was able to locate her. He rounded the last corner and slowly went pass the O’Sullivan estate. At first glance he didn’t see any guards posted at the massive gate. He drove three blocks and found a public park with mothers watching their children play. He parked far away enough from the playground, as to not attract any attention to him. He removed his pants and replaced them with a pair of sweat pants and his dress shoes for running ones. He exited the car with a baseball cap, a pair of sunglasses on his face and adjusted his ear buds. He studies the park and took off at a gentle pace jog disappearing into the wooded area with a path that rounded the park. Finding another exit to the park was important to ensure that anyone who saw him get out of his car did not see him leaving the park. Before exiting the park he stopped and, while jogging in place, acted like he was changing music on his phone; pulled up his GPS and studied it for a second, then took off though the gates and into the neighborhood.  

          Ray sat staring at the computer with a pair of headphones firmly in place watched and listened to every move and word spoken by the O’Sullivan clan. Ray took notes of some of the conversation taking place hoping that one of the thugs would hint at where his wife was being held. Tommy had been gone for over two hours and Ray’s nerves were on edge having no alcohol running through his system was continuing to wreck havoc. Tommy had warned him not to leave the hotel, let alone, the room. On his way out he had taken the three small bottles of rum and vodka and returning them to the front desk and gave instructions to the clerk that under no circumstances were they to deliver any alcohol to his or Ray’s room. Ray was trying real hard to remain sober and as the day went on he found himself once again adjusting to sobriety. He had ordered room service but now that the food had arrived he couldn’t even stomach the smell of the cheese steak sandwich and fries. He tipped the delivery man and set the food aside hoping his appetite would return before the food turned cold or spoiled. Back at the computer nothing worth noting was going on, just a pack of wolves planning how to further line their pockets and the death of the person who had dared to rob them. After nearly three hours Ray started to worry about Tommy and decided against his better judgment to call him. He hit speed dial and waited.
         Tommy had entered the premises and disarmed the security system. He had watched the house and its entire property for more than an hour prior to making his move. Other than a well dressed woman who had left driven by a chauffeur and another, whom he could see pass frequently by the windows carrying laundry and cleaning supplies, the place seemed deserted. After entering the house he reset the alarm in case its occupants reappeared. From his first observation of this massive three level floor plan house, Tommy estimated that the floor space was over seven thousand square feet combined. His main strategy was to find an office or a safe where Frankie kept any important papers or documents for any other properties he may also own. Finding anything that might lead to Pam and her whereabouts was his top priority while maybe finding some incriminating evidence would serve as the icing. Avoiding the maid became a cat and mouse game which was becoming increasingly irritating as well as time consuming. The thought of putting her to sleep appealed to him but without any sedatives that was a waste of good thinking. A green light went off as he watched her through the second floor railing. The woman liked to take small sips of what appeared to be gin or maybe vodka on the rocks. Tommy knew that a dope dealer like Frankie had to have some form of drugs in the house. He set out to find the medicine cabinet, hoping to find some kind of sedative in it. It wasn’t hard to find, soon he hit the mother load. A cabinet filled with all kinds of narcotics in the master bathroom. Tommy took hold of a bottle of eszopiclone and immediately recalled that one of these little pills could put a man his size to sleep in less than thirty minutes for a few hours. He dropped two into the palm of his hand, pulled out his Ka-Bar 1218 USMC fighting knife and used the top of the handle as a grinding tool. After the pills where powdered into a fine dust he found himself heading to the kitchen where the maid kept making frequent stops for the enticing swigs from her drink. The maid was on her way up the stairs so Tommy hid in the hall AC air handler closet hoping she had no reason for entering it. Following the distinct sound of her footsteps enter the room at the end of the hallway he quickly and quietly headed for the first floor. Taking a whiff of the drink and determining that indeed it was gin he moved over to the bar with drink in hand dropped the fine powder into the glass, poured a splash more of the pure gin, stirred it with his finger and returned it to its proper place. About five minutes later the maid returned down the stairs and just as he had hoped she took a swig and headed back to the laundry room. Tommy waited for her to disappear and come out from behind the bar and bolt silently for the second floor. Watching again from the corner of the railing and better than he had planned the maid sat at the kitchen counter to enjoy the last of his potion. He sat leaning against the wall waiting for the meds to do their magic. Twenty minutes later he glanced down after not hearing movement and smiled at the maid, pleasantly and profoundly asleep, who would be fired if the family she was supposed to be taking care of were to arrive. Tommy came down the stairs after waiting another ten minutes and approached the sleeping maid. He put two fingers to her jugular vein and felt for a pulse. Her heart rate was very slow but he knew she was not in any danger. Not wanting her to fall off the stool, he eyed the couch about twenty five feet away, then at the five foot seven inch woman who clearly weighted about one hundred and seventy pounds, he took a deep breath and hoisted the woman on both arms like a man carrying his bride over the threshold. He laid her down gently and went to work.
          Pam had never been so scared in her life. The prison she found herself in was the product of her husband’s doing. She would have divorced him long ago if it wasn’t for her beliefs that a wife is not to leave her husband except for infidelity. And as far as she knew, Ray had never been unfaithful, a drunk yes, a loud mouth and at times an angry man, absolutely, but deep down she knew it was always the alcohol talking. When he was sober he was the man she had fallen in love with eight plus years ago. He had never threatened her and she had never been afraid that he would be violent towards her. But in the last year he had been neglectful and absent minded when it came to her and her feelings. At the moment all she could think of was the man she had married, strong, confident, caring and loving. But lately he had lost all of that and became distant and reclusive; never wanting to talk about what was bothering him, he preferred to leave it at the bottom of a bottle. She knew he was a war hero and many of the men who had attended their wedding respected him. "What would they think of him today Lord” she said looking up toward the heavens. "And, why have you forsaken me Lord" She stared to the ceiling though she wasn't really able to see much. The only light in this damp and dark warehouse came in the early morning when the sun shinned through the few pieces of glass at the top of the tall overhead doors. By mid afternoon it would be dark enough that you could only see a few feet in front of you. Her legs were cramped and she thought she would never be able to straighten them again. The place was eerily quiet except for the awful scratching she heard on the concrete floor and on the rafters. She knew, since the first night that the only company she had were rats and they were big. She couldn't stop the chills that coursed through her body and she feared that in another day or two she would be their main dinner course. Two nights ago she had dozed off and something had bit her on the ankle, the swelling, pain, warmth and horrid smell pointed at an infection that was taking a hold and spreading fast. Praying and reciting bible verses were the only comfort she had. "Lord please help Ray in his time of need; give him the strength to find or live without me, for I am dying"
          Tommy knew he had scored big time when he discovered the hidden door in Frankie’s master closet. The room was small but well organized and everything was neatly in its own little corner. It wasn’t hard to find the safe he was sure existed. It wasn’t your small run of the mill just keep your money kind of safe. No, it was a tall Liberty Lincoln LL24, 24-Gun Safe. Tommy smiled when he looked at the massive mechanical tumbler. His grandfather had been a locksmith and one of the worlds’ most sought after safe-cracker. Most government agencies turned to him whenever they encountered a criminal’s safe they couldn’t get access to from its owner. On days like today, he’d crack a smile; looked heaven bound and thanked his grandpa for all the knowledge in the art of cracking a safe. Five minutes later he found what he had been looking for. With his phone he took photos of all the documents and thought twice about taking what looked like a few thousand bucks, which another charity could surely use. He knew that in this case, leaving no trace or hint of ever being here, would serve as an element of surprise. He put everything back as he had found it, checked on the maid, disarmed the alarm and, like a ghost, vanished.
          Ray let the phone ring till it went to voice mail all four times he had tried to call Tommy. Two minutes after his last call he heard the handle on the door twist and he turned around 9mm pointing dead mass at Tommy’s chest. The big man stood with both hands in the air and a big smile on his face and said, “Chill old buddy it’s just me, I come in peace” Ray lowered the weapon and apologized. “Sorry, I’m just really jumpy. What did you find out? Must be good because you’ve been gone like forever” Tommy pulled out his phone, clicked on his photo app and handed Ray the phone to look at. “Those are all the properties our boy Frankie O’Sullivan owns, warehouses, tenement buildings, gas stations and empty lots. I believe if he has Pam we will find her in one of these locations. I need to make a phone call and find out more information as to what kind of business he runs out each one of these places. That will help us decide which ones we are going to hit first.” Ray remained silent as Tommy concluded his summation. “Then I will email all his criminal activities to one of my friends at the Marshal’s office and I’m sure it will be on the FBI’s desk before sundown”
          Pam didn’t know if she would live through one more night. She thought it would be a miracle if she were able to stay awake all night and keep the rats from gnawing at her body. Being able to watch all four sides was nearly impossible with the limited space she had to move in. Her neck was sore and she was having problems breathing as a result of the awkward position her body was in. The circulation on her legs felt negligible and they felt cold to the touch. The tears had not stopped for the last hour, and her eyes burned as if acid had been used for drops. Prayer started to feel like a waste of time, she asked God, “What have I done to be here in this hell. Why Lord have you forgotten about me? Please let me die before these nasty filthy creatures eat me alive. Forgive me if I have sinned against you Lord; take my soul before they take my flesh.”
           Tommy had narrowed it down to two locations and his gut told him they were running short on time. Splitting up was not an option even though the two locations were over an hour from one another. The first location was a fish distribution center and sounded like a good place to hide a body. The second location was an unmarked warehouse that appeared to have no specific use. Ray said, “I think we should try that second location first, it’s far out of the way, in an area where there is no residential neighborhood nearby. Personally, if I were looking for a good place to hide somebody, that would be the smartest choice.” Tommy paced the room giving Ray’s word some thought, he stopped by the window, did a military about face, stood with his hands behind his back like he was in parade rest, looked at Ray and said, “Lock and load Marine, let’s go kick a six or two and we’ll ask for their names later. I have a good feeling about this warehouse. If it’s a bust we’ll go to plan B and check out the other location on the rebound, let us pray” Ray stared at Tommy but didn’t voice his thoughts, after a few second of staring at one another Ray bowed his head.
          Frankie and his two goons entered the warehouse, laughing and cursing like if no one was present. The last one in slammed the steel door shut behind him. The three walked over and stood with grins on their faces staring at their prisoner. “We haven’t found that husband of yours just yet, and he must have left town because he hasn’t been home for the past two days. What kind of a man doesn’t look for his wife?” The words came out with a heavy Irish accent with an extra dose of venomous venom.  Pam just peered through narrow slits from her eyes, not wanting to look up at the three evil men who held her life in the palm of their hands. She held her tongue and silently prayed. The three men turned and walked away leaving Pam alone but not before one kicked the gate hard and scared her into further injuring her neck. “I think it’s time we call that husband of yours and start this party off with a bang” Frankie yelled over his shoulder as they headed towards the loft office at the far end of the large warehouse. Every step the three men took was echoed and magnified in Pam’s ears, sounding like an army of demons walking away to plot her demise. 
          The phone in Ray’s pocket rang with the tune "My Girl" by The Temptations. Ray looked at Tommy with a nervous expression and a tremble in his voice stated, “That’s Pam’s personal ringer” As he retrieved the phone from his pocket Tommy singled and said, “Don’t answer it, give me a minute to have the call traced, if it’s Pam she’ll call back and if it an abductor they’ll try again in a minute or so” Ray was about to protest , Tommy took note and quickly said, “Trust me” with that Ray just stared at the phone hoping it would yell out some sort of answer. Tommy hit speed dial eight on his Blackberry, waited for the voice to answer and without uttering a greeting stated, “I need a favor, no questions asked I will fill you in later. Put a trace on the number I’m about to give you and tell me where it’s at” he looked over at Ray and said “What’s Pam’s number?” and then repeated it to the person on the other end of the line. Within a minute the voice gave him the location, “it’s coming from a warehouse on the grounds of a, get this, old Army base, Holabird Industrial Park. It’s a bunch of very old warehouses that dating back to the mid to late 1800’s. Lots of places to hide, I’m looking at real time satellite images and it’s a good place to get ambushed” The voice sounded concerned. “Look my friend, judging from the signal of your phone. You’re about sixty Klicks with traffic. I would venture to say an hour and twenty minutes for a normal drive.” Tommy looked over at Ray who was listening in on speaker and replied to the voice. “There’s going to be nothing normal about this drive I’ll holler at ya when I’m within the last Klick and I’ll politely ask for you to be my eyes” Tommy hit end terminating the call and two minutes later they were traveling way pass the legal limits.
          Frankie was starting to lose his patience with Ray, he had called numerous times and the phone would ring until voice mail picked up. “I should just put a bullet in her forehead and feed her to the rats. It’s a good thing she isn’t whining or I would have done her in already. I’m going to give him a little while longer and if he doesn’t call her phone, I’m going to march down these stairs and shoot her and drop her back off at his place. Maybe then he’ll know that I’m not one to play games. After that we’ll find him and send him to join the Mrs.” Twice more the phone had ringed playing “My Girl” and both times Tommy had asked Ray not to answer. “Element of surprise, if you answer that phone we will be playing ball their way. If and when you do answer that phone it will be as the distraction we need to take these lowlifes down, deal?” Ray looked to his left at the man now traveling over a hundred and ten miles an hour and most of it on the shoulders of I95. Tommy had removed from his duffel bag a police scanner and a state of the art Fuss buster; at the sound of a three beep warning, he came down to the speed limit for about two minutes and then it was floor board and no breaks. One of Frankie’s goons was sent to keep an eye by the entrance to the massive warehouse. He stood like a sentry smoking a cigar. When Tommy was within a few Klicks he hit speed dial eight and listened carefully knowing the voice would speak quick and decisively. “There are four thermo images, two on the north end of the warehouse and they are armed to the T, one is outside on the southeast corner and another is crouched down in a fetal position and the body heat is very low I almost missed it. You’re on your own from here on out Miles. If I keep this man made star in this location for a minute longer I’m going to have to explain why. Later my friend” and the line went dead.
                    Tommy had parked the car about half a Klick from the warehouse. He and Ray now stood by the fence, using bolt cutters; he made a small opening in the fence. The two men made their way across the mega yard and took up a position just north of the warehouse. Darkness had started to close in and the timing could not be better. Both men had dressed in black and knew that so far they had the element of surprise. Ray had put his phone on silent with only the vibrating mode on, not wanting for it to ring at an inappropriate time. Tommy had decided not to call the local authorities until after they had secured the location and Pam was safe in their custody. As much as he hated to think in terms of law enforcement not being on the up and up, he knew that a lot of gangsters have their local police in their hip pocket and that was a gamble he wasn’t willing take. In the car, Tommy had giving Ray an ear piece, a comp; this would be their only means of communication when they split up. Tommy was now thirty yards from the lookout thug and closing in “hold your position Scooter till I give the all clear, I have eyes on our first bogie, let me send him for a nap” the comp. went silent for about forty-five seconds. Tommy pulled out his Ka-Bar 1218 USMC knife and knew he had two ways he was going to use the knife. He held it in his fist with the blade facing down and backwards and then he tapped the thug on the shoulder with his free hand. The man spun around with a surprised look on his face, shocked to see someone standing there. Tommy had his forearm at the man's throat with the knife nested in-between which caused the thug to freeze. Tommy yanked the man by his arm-sleeve and spun him around to face the wall. With one swift motion Tommy rotated the knife one hundred and eighty degrees and had it around the man’s neck pressed against his Adam's apple. He then pinned the man with his left knee on the buttocks long enough to have a needle plunged into the side of his neck. He watched the man slowly slide down the wall; roll his eyes to the back of his head, then moved no more. 
         Tommy spoke in a low voice. “Bring up the rear all clear, waiting on you Marine.” In less than thirty seconds Ray was at his six. “Glad to see you still have some hop in your step” Ray was the fastest on two feet and two wheels of all the men in their battalion earning him the code name “Scooter”, the two smiled and Tommy whispered "are you ready? because there is no turning back”  Ray nodded and replied, “If I haven’t thanked you already I’m doing it now just in case I don’t come out alive, also tell Pam I’m sorry and I love” Tommy raised a fist, the symbol to stop and replied. “Pull it together Marine we go in together and we come out the same way. And you can give her the message yourself. We go in as planned, first we neutralize the enemy and then we see to Pam, roger?” Ray tipped his head and they entered the building.  
          Pam knew she was starting to lose consciousness the minute the giant room started fading in and out. Her breathing was labored and she knew that the cracked lips and delirious thinking confirmed that she was severely dehydrated along with what felt like a collapsed lung. The pain on the left side of her back and the position of her neck made it hard to take a deep breath. “Lord I’m ready when you are, please make the pain go away and take me with you. Also Lord…heal Ray’s heart…so that I may…one day see him again” The last few words trailed off and Pam only saw a flash with her last deep breath as a welcome darkness overtook her.
          The stun grenade came through the open door and before Frankie and his second Henchmen could react the flash had blinded them. Frankie had ducked behind the big oak desk the second he heard the thing hit the wooden floor inside the office space. He heard steps coming up the stairs and headed in the direction to cut the intruder down. Slightly disoriented he rounded the door frame and stepped on the landing, pointed his weapon and forgetting to lower it, fired into mid air. Ray was at the bottom of the stairs bringing up the rear, he jumped over the banister and before landing on the floor fired a three round burst hitting Frankie first in the abdomen, second round went through the heart and the third right under his right eye. The impact of the FMJ rounds sent the overweight mobster over the railing and he was dead before he hit the concrete floor. “Hold your fire I’m coming out” came the voice from inside the office. Tommy entered in a squat stance, disarmed the man, placed a set of plastic cuffs on him and dragged him down the stairs. He put two fingers on Frankie’s neck and looking at Ray he shook his head. A light groan brought the two back to the present, Ray turned on his Mag-Lite and pointed it in the direction of the faint sound. With Tommy on his heels the two raced across the warehouse floor dodging crates and old dead machinery. The two marines came to an abrupt stop and Tommy almost knocked Ray over. Ray looked at the scene before him and fell down hard on his knees. Tommy had never heard a man wail as loud and deep as the sound coming from Ray’s throat. Tommy went past him as Ray stayed kneeling and yelling “I swear , if it’s the last thing I do, I will kill them all” Tommy walked up to the giant dog cage and put his finger on Pam’s wrist and found a faint pulse. “She’s alive Ray” he was saying as he looked over and Ray was gone. Tommy sprung to the other end of the warehouse knowing Ray was on his way to execute the first of the two thugs that were still alive. He stood five yards from Ray who already had the man by the collar of his jacket and yelling at him saying, “Look at me, I want you to see the bullet when it enters your evil brain and the last thing you see before you meet up with your boss and the devil himself” Tommy knew that Ray was a string away from snapping so he approached real slowly but spoke like a commanding officer and with authority, “back down Marine and look at me Scooter, the last kill was necessary and couldn’t be avoided but this is plain murder” still holding the man by the collar and his 9mm pointed at his head Ray turned and facing Tommy he said, “They killed her Miles, and left her to die like a dog, he deserves to die and go straight to hell” Tommy knew he was walking a fine line and with Ray’s finger firmly on the trigger, it was touch and go. He looked his friend in the eye and said, “she’s alive Scooter, and I don’t think this is what she would want you to do” Ray turned his attention back to the thug , spat directly into his face as he spoke, “my partner is right, she wouldn’t want me to kill you, she would forgive you but I won’t” Tommy closed his eyes not wanting to watch his friend kill a man in cold blood and prayed in a soft yet audible voice “God forgive him, he knows not what he’s doing” then he heard the loud crack of head meets gun butt and a body hitting the ground like dead weight. Ray walked pass Tommy and said “I guess prayer really does work” the two men took off at a sprint and were at Pam’s side in a heartbeat.
          Pam woke up and the dim light made her jump and groan in pain. A gentle hand touched her and the familiar voice brought new tears to her eyes. She looked to her right and saw Ray sat there smiling at her. She sensed they weren’t alone and to her surprise; saw Tommy, the best man at her wedding also smiling to her left. She looked back at Ray and saw tears streaming down his face this time, but the smile was still very much there. She stared at him and said, “I thought I had died in that place after a bright light flashed” Ray wiped the tears on his cheeks and replied, “No my love it was Tommy playing with his toys, and God answering your prayer" The two men stood and walked to the foot of the bed, shook hands, bear hugged and in unison they said in a low deep voice, “Oorah” and with that, Tommy walked out the hospital room.
      A year had gone by and Ray along with his wife Pam boarded a flight to California to attend Thomas and Ellen's wedding. Ray was to be the best man and Pam was one of the bridesmaids. They took their seats on row 13 after putting their carry-on bags in the overhead bins. They snapped on their seat belts and listened to the flight attendant’s instructions. As the plane was heading down the runway, Pam reach for Ray's hand and with a smile boarding on tears she said, "Scooter I'm so proud of you" he looked at her curiously and replied, "funny, you've never called me that before" she pated his hand with her loose hand and said, "I know but I thought it would totally get your attention" staring at her with a curious look of his own he asked, "And what have I done to make such a beautiful woman so proud of me" the tear finally escaped the corner of her eye and she replied, "Do you realize that it's been thirteen months and seventeen days since you last had a drink. Which was four days before you found me and today is also exactly one year since you gave your heart to The Lord. And you have not been the same since. In a good way I might add" She sat staring at the man she had fallen in love with twice and then laid her head on his strong shoulder. Ray leaned over and kissed the top of her head and replied, "I've said it before and I don't mind saying it again, God's in the business of answering prayers"


 16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.

John 15:16




Wednesday, July 03, 2013

A Pearl Too Proud

                                    A Pearl Too Proud


          Toby J. Covington sat staring out the large pain glass window in his corner office at the slow moving town. In-between the sun and clouds trading places he caught glimpses of his reflection and thought of how his face presages his loneliness. He is the Vice President of First Commerce Bank of Waterfall, Kentucky - population 1,597. The bank is owned and operated by his aunt, Pearl Covington, and also the woman who has raised him. At home she preferred for Toby to call her mom, but at work she was Ms. Pearl to him and every employee, which by the way was just five people including himself. At twenty-seven he wishes to be married, but to Pearl there wasn't a girl in town who had ever been good enough for him to marry. Pearl’s main excuse was that they would just want to get in on the family fortune or that after she died his wife would divorce him and take everything she had worked all her life to build. She always found fault in the women he had brought by the house for her to meet and they always sensed her disapproval.
          Allison was five years younger than Toby and had a crush on him since she was in junior high and working at the Woolworth five and dime store. She had left town for the past four years while studying at the University of Kentucky three hours from home. Holidays were the only time she would visit with her folks and was seen around the town. All done with college life, she now returned, but as far as she was concern it wasn't going to be for long. She had just started to apply to various agencies nationwide that might be looking for someone with a degree in psychology to employ as a social worker. She enjoyed working with children who needed special attention or who were deemed misfits. While attending college she had volunteered at several nursing homes and facilities for handicap children.
          Allison was asked to run a few errands for her father who owns the town's hardware store. After a stop at the local office supply store Allison headed to the bank to exchange dollar bills for coins. She walked in and headed for the open teller line but seeing Toby at his desk behind an open door caught her attention. She decided to first say hello, it had been close to a year since she last saw him. She approached his door and stood there leaning against the door jamb with a smile as big as the Grand Canyon. Toby looked up and did a double take before staring back and saying, “hello Allison it’s been a while”, and then felt stupid for not saying more. “Yes it has, and how is life treating you here in our little town?” she asked. Toby didn’t have time to answer because his aunt did it for him.
“His life is good young lady and right now he is working so if you have other business here at my bank I suggest you get on with it.” Allison turned around to face Pearl who stood there ridged and with her usual stone like features that demanded control of every situation. “I’m sorry I wasn’t trying to take up his time, I was just being polite. It’s been quite some time since I’ve been back in town.” Allison replied in a soft voice as to not attract attention from the other employees. “Well then since you said what you came to say, I suggest you move on then”, Pearl said while staring without blinking her eyes. “How long has my father been a customer here at your bank ma’am?” Allison asked as she raised her voice a little this time. “I don’t see what that has anything to do with the matter at hand young lady”, Pearl replied, clearly getting a little bothered before making her next statement. “And my name is Ms. Covington it is not ma’am.” Allison’s head did a step back with her neck while her body stood still in its place, with her eyes wide open and a look of I don’t believe this woman just went there with me. Allison replied “Well then Ms. Coviiiington” stretching out the vowel for emphases, “The point is Ms. Covington, that my father could just as well go down the street to a more reputable establishment like Bank of America and I’m sure that they would let me speak to any if not all their employees without causing me this type of embarrassment.” With that said she walked past Pearl and headed to the teller line but not before turning around for one last statement. “And by the way my name is Allison and not young lady”, she exchanged her currency and exited the bank.
          As was his custom every Sunday Toby sat next to his aunt since he was a child in the fourth pew on the left side of their church. Today he could not keep his focus on the person who directed the service or the pastor who brought the sermon. Allison was sitting on the third pew to the right and he couldn’t help glancing her way every few minutes. More than once his aunt who rarely missed anything going on around her, nudged him to redirect his attention and also gave him a warning look that said, ‘That girl is not welcome in our lives.’
          At the end of the service he broke away from Pearl and walked over to speak with Allison who stood next to her mother. “Hello Allison, can I have a word with you outside”, he said after greeting her mother May Beth. “Sure but your mother is looking this way and she doesn’t look too happy after what happen the other day”, she replied with a grin. “First off, she is my aunt and she’ll get over it or be mad at me for the rest of the day, until she needs something from me and then its love all over again”, he said with a grin of his own. The two walked outside and Allison couldn’t help the thumping of her heart and swore that Toby could hear it as loud and hard as it felt in her chest. Once outside he said, “I just wanted to apologize for my aunt’s behavior the other day.” Allison held up both hands to stop him from continuing.  “You have no need to do that, you did nothing wrong and she needs to learn how to treat people with a little more dignity. I have heard talk that she thinks that no one is good enough for her and I hope that someday she doesn’t need the help of those she pushes away. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go, my parents and I are going to brunch unless you would like to join us”, she said, hoping he would say yes and looked shocked when he accepted. “What are your parents going to say when I crash their brunch?” he asked with a hint of playful sarcasm. “They’ll just ask if you’re picking up the tab”, she replied, with the same playfulness. Then she walked off to find her parents after asking him to wait right where he stood, with a smile of cause. Standing there he couldn’t help thinking how beautiful Allison looked with her dark brunette hair and chocolate eyes to match her olive skin. She stood five foot seven inches without her heels about five inches shorter than him and he thought to describe her in one word, perfect.
          His thoughts were interrupted by his aunt when she said, “So are you ready to head on home?”, while at the same time putting her hand on the inside of his elbow. “No you can go on without me, I’ll be along later.  I’ve been invited out to eat with some folks so I’ll be a while.” She released his arm and turn to look at him.  “And whom may I asked invited you”, she asked with some suspicion. “Allison Longhorn and her parents if you must know”, he replied as he studied his aunt’s reaction. “You mean the young lady who was rude to me at the bank and the one you couldn’t keep your eyes off of throughout the entire service?” she asked with a bitter tone. “Well mother first of all this is no place for this and second of all she wasn’t rude to you, in fact you were a little harsh on her when all she was doing was saying hello. They’re customers and we should be as polite as possible and a little more appreciative and sensitive. Now you run along and I’ll see you back at the house”, he replied and gently prodded her forward to get her to leave before causing a scene. Pearl was never one to leave on anyone’s terms but her own and always wanted the last word. She looked at him and said with a stern tone, “I don’t approve of that young girl”. Before she could continue Toby cut her off and replied, “I’m not asking for your approval and I would appreciate if from now on you let me make my own choices on this matter. You have stepped in my way every time you think that some young woman wants to get too close and at this rate I’m going to grow old alone. You know that I love you and respect you but it’s time that I’m allowed to do as I choose and not how you would like and with whom you would choose because there would never be any one that you will approve of.” He saw Allison and her parents coming out the doors and he leaned over kissed his aunt and headed in their direction leaving his aunt standing alone.
          There were only two places in Waterfall to eat, your own kitchen or Doc’s Diner so they chose the latter. Doc was a real doctor who also owned the only eatery in town and since retiring he could be found in the kitchen cooking up some of his favorite foods. People in town always said that he should have been a chef because he was a better cook then he was a doctor. Toby, Allison and her parents took their seats in one of the booths and looked over the menu. Allison sat next to Toby and when they both open their menus at the same time their hand brushed one another. The two looked at each other and stared, catching her father’s attention. Mike was a kind and gentle man who loved his wife and only daughter. He always kept their best interest at heart. He looked at Toby and asked, “So why is it that as handsome as you are, you’re not married yet?” Allison gasped and held her breath while staring at her father with a questioning look. After releasing the air from her lungs she could only come out with, “Dad! What kind of a question is that?” Toby reached over and touching her hand stopped her from saying another word. “It’s okay Allison” Toby responded before her father could answer. “The truth is, I haven’t found someone that I want to spend the rest of my life with and my aunt has never approved of anyone that I’ve dated, not that there’s been many. The few that I thought could stand the test of aunt Pearl, have hit the door running.” He finished, then laughed and shortly everyone at the table joined in. Allison’s mother May Beth looked across the table and still laughing said, “Well I think you two make a lovely couple if you ask me.” Again Allison gasped and after releasing her lungs and speaking at the same time she only managed to say the word “Mother” before Toby spoke up again. “Well then if you both don’t mind and if it’s okay with Allison, I like to date your daughter. First, because I like her and second, because she’s the first woman I know who dared to stand up to my aunt Pearl.” 
          Pearl considered herself above most, and seldom greeted anyone she crossed paths with. Every Wednesday at ten in the morning she would enter Waterfall Hair and Nails before any of May’s clients arrived. Pearl chose this time so she wouldn’t have to make even small talk with other clients. May Beth was always polite and the two women would never say much to one another. Pearl would have her usual touch up trim, wash and blow dry and she was good to go. Three weeks after her nephew started dating Allison, Pearl had more than her share of words and by the time she was done, May, had lost her best paying customer. Pearl was one to give of her riches to her church and to a few needy charities but both God and Pearl knew that she didn’t give with a willing heart but for show. At sixty she was for the most part a healthy woman, not heavy but also not very slim. She always dressed elegantly, and just about everyone in town thought she over dressed for a small town like Waterfall. She drove a full size Cadillac that in the winter snow was totally useless and Toby would have to transport her back and forth for months. Her house maid was sure to be at Pearl’s by nine in the morning and out before she got home from the bank. Pearl had never married and the only family she had was Toby. She had raised him since birth after her sister died giving birth. In her own way she loved Toby but having no one else in her life she had always been possessive of him. Her nephew had tried to move out several times but his aunt always made him feel guilty by telling him that he was abandoning her, he always stayed.   
    Allison wasn't sure if dating Toby was such a great idea knowing that she had cost her mother a good client. She was happy and Toby was a dream come true, but she knew that at his house she was not welcome. She loves all the attention he pays her whenever they are together, her parents seem to be happy for her and she was starting to fall in love with him. But when it came to Pearl, Allison would make sure to know where the woman was at all times, whether at her bank or at church and stayed clear of her. Brunch after Sunday service at Doc's became a routine with Toby and her parents but no matter how many times Toby invited Pearl, she bluntly declined.
          Toby was taking a lot of heat for his choice of company and even at his age Pearl let it be known that his late hours were not acceptable. He tried his best to convince his aunt that Allison was kind and polite but after her run in with the younger woman she would not be swayed. Pearl had told him that under no circumstance or condition was Allison allowed in her home and that during working hours, unless it was business, she was not to stop by her bank. Only one other time had Toby been in a serious relationship that ended in a disaster because Pearl would not allow the girl into her life. Pearl had given Toby an ultimatum, your job and home or the girl. Toby had a feeling that Pearl was about to reach her climactic moment where she would say, “Okay Toby you had your little fling now it’s time to drop the bimbo and get back to your life.” Toby had grown up over the past few years and he now realized that when his aunt said that, it was her life that she was concerned with and not his. He was all she had and she was going to do everything in her power to keep him, even if it meant his happiness.

          Toby and Allison were starting to get serious enough in their four month relationship that Allison was considering not taking a job that would force her to move far from Waterfall. Knowing she would lose Toby to a long distance relationship she took a lower paying job at the small local hospital fifteen miles outside their town. Seeing as the hospital didn't have enough work for a full time social worker or even a psychologist, she also did the work of an orderly. Between her three duties she kept busy and also was doing what she loved to do, tend to those in need. Her hours were always fluctuating depending on staff shortness or too many patients. 
          One Tuesday afternoon she was stunned to see Toby in the hall by the emergency room and she quickly rushed over thinking something may have happened to him. Touching his face gently with her finger while holding his hand with her free hand she asked, “Are your okay honey?” He shook his head, “I'm not the reason I'm here, it's my aunt she fainted at the bank”, he replied with much concern on his face. “What have the doctors said caused it?” she asked while holding both his hands. “They’re not sure but she has a very high fever and is also having a bad case of cold sweat”.  Allison told him that her shift would be over in a few hours and that she would return as soon as possible.
          After completing her shift and punching out Allison returned to the emergency room and not finding Toby in the hall where she had left him she asked for Pearl's bed number. The emergency room was divided solely by curtains so she walked up to the one where Pearl was being tended, drew back the curtain and walked in. Toby was seated to her right looking away from her and staring at the nurse who was applying a damp cloth on Pearl's forehead. He turned and upon seeing her walked over and explained that his aunt was burning with a very high fever. The nurse introduced herself after noticing Allison’s hospital badge and said she would return after looking in on her other patients. Allison asked if there was anything she could do to help, the nursed asked her job description and being short on staff and with a busy ER she gave Allison instructions to simply keep the compress towels cool and then left. For the next four hours Allison did as the nurse advised. Not showing signs of her fever breaking Pearl was admitted and transferred up to a private room. Allison stayed with Toby throughout the entire night and helped the staff keep a close watch on Pearl. The following morning Allison went to the employee lounge, bathed, and changed her clothes. Being that it was her day off she returned to Pearls’ room and sent Toby home to bathe, change and check in on his own employees. The rest of the day went just as the night had trying to keep Pearl comfortable and doing everything to stabilize her temperature.

          Pearl’s fever broke on the third day and she woke to find Allison standing over her bed and wiping her forehead. She looked around the room and not seeing her nephew she asked, “Where is Toby?” Allison smiled and replied “He went home to change and then by the bank to look in on things” keeping her tone as gentle and as nonchalant as possible. “And why are you here?” Pearl asked but not in her normal demanding tone that most considered rude. “Because you needed me” Allison replied with a tender smile. “And how long have I needed you?” Pearl asked, still staring Allison straight in her eyes. “Two and half days, you passed out at your bank and you been here ever since.” Pearl eyes were still locked in on Allison and they watered up when she asked, “And why would you take care of an old mean woman like me when I've always been too proud to admit when I'm wrong and too eager to prove when I'm right. I've ignored when it’s my mistake and I have boasted when I'm correct. I have wasted my years walking with the lofty instead of helping pick up those on the ground.” Allison, still with that gentle smile replied, “Because every time I find an oyster, I believe God only sees a Pearl” 

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls,

Matthew  13:45

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kiel’s Secret


                                           Kiel’s Secret

          Things rarely went as planned for Kiel Barkley these days, his construction company was behind on its two biggest projects and his wife wanted a divorce. The bank was calling in one of his loans and in thirty days the loan on his second project would meet the same fate. All his subs were owed payments and his business account was in the red. Ten years building a good name and a reputation to see it crumble in less than six months. Twenty-three years of marriage and money was going to be the destroyer.
          Losing his company he knew would be hard on him but his wife had been his whole world, losing her he considered fatal. Freda had been supportive over the years while the money was coming in and spending it wasn’t a problem. Friday night dinners and a club for some dancing always seemed to make her happy. Girls night out with the office crowd and Saturday at the mall for new outfits, shoes for a closet that was about to burst, is what she called a good life. 
          Now here he was on the verge of ruins and she wanted out because according to her, she had nothing.  Kiel had promised her a big house and now he may not be able to deliver and that new car she wanted was also out of the equation.  On any given day Kiel came home to find his wife on the phone complaining to a co-worker or one of her friends about how miserable her life had become.  Flowers on Fridays were no longer accepted with kindness, a hug and a sweet kiss. Instead Freda made a frown combined with the slump of the right shoulder, left hand on a hip, a stare that could kill, ending by the rolling of both eyes and finally a silent kiss my back side as she walked away.
          At night their king size bed might as well be an ocean Kiel thought, as he laid there staring at the ceiling. Where once his wife slept so close he could taste her breath, now she was so far he couldn’t smell her perfume even if she doused in the bottle. Freda slept so close to the opposite edge he thought she might fall off one day. With her back to him there was no longer any pillow talk. Kiel’s thoughts would echo his father’s words, make it work son because God hates divorce.
          Kiel knew he was tired of trying. The more he did for his wife the worst the situation at home became. With both his son and daughter in college, to Kiel going home had become dreadful. Freda had once been his greatest adviser and motivator but these days she had become his accuser and discourager. Kiel felt trapped and with his back against the wall, with nowhere to turn and no one to confide in. On this one Monday morning he decided to take his Forman’s advice and go see Al.
          Albin Stravinsky was known for being helpful and also ruthless. He had come to the States without a penny to his name and quickly gained the respect of his Russian countrymen. He had started out as a look out for a small crimes gang. The gang mostly did break-ins on local businesses that wouldn’t pay for protection from the local Russian mob.
          One day while on look out a store owner returned at night to find Albin’s partners trashing his place of business and threatened to call the authorities. Albin followed the man into the store and without warning ended the man’s call and also his life. The following day Albin was called to the home of the leader for the local syndicate. Albin was not a man who feared anyone or anything but on that day he thought for sure that he would die for his action the night before. Albin was not a small man by any means at five foot eleven inches tall and one hundred and ninety pounds. But as he walked next to the two escorts he felt like a dwarf.
          He was asked to sit in a half empty room with only a desk and a few chairs. Albin looked around and with its dim lighting it looked like a death chamber to him. The minutes turned to a half hour before a man in a motorized wheel chair came into the room. The man introduced himself simply as Dieda and five minutes later he promoted Albin to collector and enforcer. Dieda gave him a new Lincoln town car and asked him to choose two of his former gang members, one as partner in crime and one as a driver. Dieda also handed him a large sum of money and politely asked him to buy himself and his two accomplice’s new wardrobes.
          For the next four years Albin became Dieda’s number one money earner and his right hand man. Seven years after that meeting Albin learned everything about the organization from money laundering, drug involvement, racketeering and loan sharking to its control of the prostitution in the city. Less than ten years from arriving in the states Albin personally assassinated Dieda and became the head of the organization in the city.
          Kiel entered into the four star restaurant that Albin owned and used to conduct most of his business. At the bar he asked to speak with Albin and was first met by two men who asked him to follow them to a private room in the back of the restaurant. After searching him for weapons and a wiretap he was asked the nature of his visit and who had given him Albin’s name.
          Five minutes later Albin entered the room and introduced himself and took a seat across from Kiel. The two spoke like they had been old friends and Kiel explained his predicament and the hole he find himself in. The two men talked and after an hour Albin laid out the terms of the loan and what he wanted in return for his help. Kiel found it a little risky and the vigorish a bit too high, but at the moment his choices were limited.  Albin ended the meeting by agreeing to meet at one in the afternoon on the following day at Kiel’s construction sites to finalize the deal.
          Three days later Albin and two of his associates, as he called them, arrived at one of the sites where Kiel was erecting an office building. The two went over the contract Albin’s lawyer had composed which stated that Albin and one of his companies would own forty percent of the project upon completion. Kiel knew he stood to make very little money at the end of the construction but under the circumstances, he had no other option.
          Two weeks after Kiel closed the deal with Albin he arrived home to find his wife’s closet and her dresser drawers empty and his wife gone without even a note saying good bye. The house seemed lonely and yet peaceful at the same time. That night without any warning or reason Kiel cried and missed his wife more then he thought he ever would. This became a daily emotional occurrence that Kiel had little control over. During the day he would have to get away from his office and co-workers, find a lonely and quiet place to grieve.
          At times he had no idea how long he would last before he would have no more strength or ambition to continue on with his current life. On weekends Freda would stop by and spend time with him more out of guilt then her want or pleasure of being there. They would sit by the pool and converse, laugh and play and before the sun went down Freda’s mood would change and she would have an excuse to leave. Kiel would walk her to the door where Freda would just say good bye without any physical contact and disappear into the evening till the following weekend. Three month later the visits became bi-weekly with the excuse that she had to do laundry for the coming work week. Other weekends her excuse was that she had been invited to a baby shower or a birthday party for women only. Kiel didn’t want to accept the fact that the woman he was in love with no longer loved him and may never come home again.  
          Freda had moved five miles away to a furnished apartment and was now questioning her decision. Six months before moving her friends had talked her into leaving her husband. “If you’re not happy than just get your own place”, they would say on their girl’s night out. “I left my husband”, one would say, “and I’m a lot better off without him” Another would bob her head saying, “I’ve been divorced twice.” While yet another one who always said, “and I’m happier now then when I was married”, but never said it with a smile but with a sad look on her face.
          Freda knew that all her friends had abusive men in their lives but this was not her case. Kiel was a good and decent man and had always treated her well and with lots of respect. She sat on the couch and thought of all she had left behind to live in a place that God only knew who had slept in the bed she now lays her head on every night. She didn’t want to admit it to herself but she missed the man she had tried so hard to push away for the last nine months. She also realized that she had let material things become the essential for living. She had become envious of others and of their possessions and had forgotten the vows she took over twenty years ago. For richer or for poorer, the thought just popped into her head and the tears just started to flow.
          The phone rang and at first she thought of just letting it go to voice mail but before she was finish with the thought she had answered the call. “Hello” she said while wiping the tears from her eyes. “Hey Freda this is Sandy, I’m calling to see if you want to go out with the girls tonight?” Freda thought for a minute before she answered. “No thanks, I’m not feeling well I think I’ll just stay in tonight.”  Sandy was not one to give up easily so she pressed on. “Why not and what’s wrong?” Freda inhaled than replied, “Nothing I just want to be alone that’s all.” Then she just hit end and returned the phone to her purse. Freda woke up the following morning on the couch after crying herself to sleep and the tears started all over again.
          Kiel was at the end of his rope with his marriage on the brinks of disaster and his business in the hands of a mad man, he had problems even closing his eyes to sleep. Sunday he woke up and for the first time in almost twenty years, he dressed and headed to his father’s church. Kiel arrived about ten minutes after the service had started and not wanting his father to see him and preach a message directed at him, he sat in the rear of the church.
          During the worship part of the service Kiel remained seated still fearing that his father from the pulpit might see him. When the worship was finished his father stood, prayed and gave the announcements for the week. Just when Kiel thought his father would start preaching, he introduced the speaker of the day.
          Ray Stallman was in his early sixties with a full head of white hair and a voice that needed no amplification to be heard. He started by introducing his wife who stood and face the crowd and waved with a pleasant smile. Ray then prayed and said that today the title to his message was simply, “Trust”. Ray’s first few sentences got Kiel’s full attention that lasted until the end of his message. Kiel thought that Ray was speaking solely to him and that no one else needed to hear this but him.
          Twenty five years ago Ray had been a plumbing contractor who had lost his business and came close to losing his wife. They had separated for almost three years and it wasn’t till his wife came to the Lord that she returned to her husband and through her testimony and devotion Ray also became a Christian. Trust God was all Kiel heard through the next hour everything else was blank. At the end of his message Ray made an altar call but no one responded. Ray stood there explaining the need for redemption and the grace of salvation. For five minutes no one stood as Kiel had wished for, because he neither wanted to be first or the only one standing alone at the front. Another minute or two went by, seeing that no one moved and with an urgency to step forward, Kiel got out of his seat, walked the center aisle, knelt at the altar and cried. 
          Albin was starting to lose his patience with Kiel who was already two weeks past due on his second project. He had received payment for the first project along with his forty percent but the second project was starting to cost them fifteen hundred a day on late fees. Every day that went by was a seven hundred and fifty dollar penalty to Albin as he was now a fifty percent partner on this project after bailing Kiel out for a second time months ago when the bank called in the second loan for a third time. He had his men pushing Kiel to finish the project but the weather had not been favorable the past few months and they had lost many days to bad weather.
          Albin picked up the phone and threatened Kiel that unless he got his money Freda’s health could be in jeopardy. Kiel hung up the phone, sat at his desk in the construction trailer on the site, bowed his head and prayed. He was interrupted by a knock on the door, that then swung open and two men stepped in. The second man shut the door behind him and both of them stepped over to where Kiel sat. The two men reached into their jackets and pulled out badges, Treasury Department they said simultaneously. Kiel sat there and the only thought that came to mind was, ‘what now Lord.’
          Agent Carl Homes explained to Kiel that over the past eighteen months the Treasury Department and the FBI had combined their efforts and resources to bring Albin and his organization to justice. The two agencies needed all of Kiel’s records and his contract with Albin as proof that Albin was laundering money through Kiel’s construction company.  Kiel was promised total amnesty for his cooperation in their investigation. He agreed to help under the condition that his wife be placed on protected detail. After an hour the two agents left with copies of the contracts and deposits Kiel had made with Albin’s money. Kiel sat glued to his seat for another hour afraid that if Albin found out what he had just done, his life wouldn't be worth a nickel.
          Freda sat in her living room thinking how small she felt and about everything she had done to bring her to this point in her life. Six months before walking out on her marriage she had let her friends talk her into meeting Marcel. One thing led to another and here she was today in an affair that felt more like guilt then love.
          It was close to one year since she had walked out on Kiel and the burden and shame just got thicker by the day. Marcel had started out being a gentleman that gave her lots of attention and affection but lately he wouldn’t even answer his phone when she called. She had filed for a divorce four months ago and the papers still sat on her dresser without a response to her lawyer.
          Freda had never been a Christian; her parents raised her in a catholic home and only went to Easter and Christmas mass. She had heard from her husband about his parents beliefs and about their church but had never attended. She had found out through a friend that Kiel had been going to church for the past nine months. The thought of showing up was never far from her mind but guilt and shame had a hold on her that she couldn’t escape.
          Her friends had resolved to not inviting her much these days since she said no most of the time. Freda didn't feel much like the party girl anymore acknowledging that it had ruined her marriage and her relationship with her children. Loneliness had become her main companion, and crying her avenue of releasing her hopelessness and despair.
          The agents had advised Kiel to pay Albin every last dollar he owed him on the final contract including the twenty two thousand in late fees. Three weeks after the project was completed the FBI arrested Albin and most of his organization. The two agencies had enough evidence to not only convict Albin of multiple crimes but to also deport most of his organization back to their mother land. Kiel was happy to have been kept out of the loop and not asked to be a witness for the prosecution who had more then they needed to convict Albin of organized crime.
          Kiel closed his construction company and decided to take a job offer as a project manager for a competing firm. Kiel considered it a blessing, the pay was great, the benefits outweighed the stress and evenings and weekends he was a free man.
          Kiel knew that his wife had been unfaithful but still he prayed for her daily, that God would somehow touch her heart. One Sunday he was surprised to see her sitting in the rear of the sanctuary, but when the service finished she had left without saying a word.
          It was three weeks later that during the opening song the people sitting to his right stepped to the aisle to let a woman enter his row. The woman stood next to him and put her purse on the seat and touched his forearm, looked up at him and smiled, then bowed her head. Kiel reached over and wrapped his arm around her shoulder and squeezed her to himself and kissed the top of her head. The two sat through the entire service without uttering a word and at the end she simply said good bye and vanished. Kiel made no attempt to stop her or persuade her to stay, he just watched her as she made her way through the crowd and out the doors.
          Five days had gone by and Kiel had not seen or heard from Freda until the door bell rang that Friday evening. He got up from the dining room chair, wiped his mouth and headed for the front door. He opened the door to find a fragile looking Freda on his door step not daring to look up at him. “Hey babe” he said with a smile on his face. She looked at him and asked, “What’s the smile was for?” The two stood staring at one another until Kiel broke the silence, “well because you have always put a smile on my face at the sight of seeing you”, Kiel replied with the grin still plastered across his lips and then invited her in. Freda stepped in and stood like a statue by the door and still bowing her head afraid to look at him. Kiel reached out and lifted her chin, looked in her eyes and said, “You have to stop feeling ashamed and start forgiving yourself just as I have forgiven you.” Now with many tears streaming down her face she replied, “If you knew all that I have done, you wouldn't be so inclined to forgive me.” Still holding on to her chin and looking her straight in the eyes Kiel replied, “I know everything and still I choose to forgive you.” With his smile now turning to tears he heard her simply ask, “Why?” through a thick sob. He brought her close to his chest and hugging her he whispered in her ear, “Because God forgave me for the same sin, that more than once, I had committed against you.” 

05.13.13

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21

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