Sunday, May 7, 7:35AM
I concluded long ago that, despite evidence to the contrary, I must have the innocent mind of a newborn babe. I was sleeping that soundly when the most urgent jostling startled me to wakefulness, with Betty’s alarmed voice asking, “Jack dear, what’s wrong?”
How was I to know anything, freshly aroused as I was from a deep sleep? Mildly annoyed by the intrusion into my repose, I said, “Nothing, Love, now go back … ,” But with one glance at her face I was fully awake.
Instinct again took charge as I reached for my Glock. “What is it?” I whispered.
She put her hand on mine, indicating I wouldn’t be needing the gun. “I woke with a dreadful feeling … we need to ‘urry, please!”
We sprang from our bed and ran to the lift where I drew the iron gate closed while she repeatedly pressed the UP button. With a clunk and a growling sound, the lift finally began the agonizingly slow ascent. When at last it ground to a stop, we threw open the gates and Betty burst forth faster than I’d ever seen her. I was right at her heels up the spiral stairway to Karl’s inner-sanctum, where he lay fully clothed upon his bed, apparently asleep. An empty liquor bottle and tumbler occupied his night stand.
“He’s drunk himself into a stupor,” I said, disgusted with his condition. “Now he will expect us to put him to bed prop–”
“‘ello, what’s this?” Betty reached to the floor and picked up something I hadn’t noticed. She glanced at the label, tossed it onto the bed and began mercilessly shaking him. “Mister Adams, wake up! Wake UP,” she shouted. “He’s taken sleeping pills with the alcohol.” And she continued shouting and shaking him.
The odor of liquor wafted from his slack, open mouth, and I lifted one of his eyelids to see the iris respond ever so sluggishly to the light. At first I felt no pulse at his carotid artery, but persisting, I found it weak and rapid.
Before I could say anything further, Betty turned to dash into the lav. In a blink, she soaked a bath towel in cold water, and returned to slap his face with it repeatedly while screaming at him to get a little adrenalin flowing.
It seemed ages, but finally his lolling head lifted on its own and his eyelids fluttered. We rolled him over so he faced the floor, and I poked my finger right down his throat. Such a fit of gagging, coughing and regurgitation we had never witnessed, but what was left of the sleeping pills lay on the floor in a reeking pool of bile and liquor. Betty and I worked him about to a sitting position and struggled to keep him awake for hours, despite his incoherent objections.
When he at last became sufficiently conscious, I asked him why he had tried to take his own life, especially in view of our discussion of the previous night.
“I … didn’t know what else to do.” His despair was evident as he spoke in a slurred, sodden voice. “This guy, Ellasar, was here when I got home.” Karl buried his face in his hands as if about to weep, but continued haltingly. “This guy was the embodiment of evil and … and he showed me a contract, a ‘covenant’ he called it. Then I remembered signing it, in my own blood, back … in the old days … you know, before all this.” His gesture indicated all he possessed. “It said I was to requillin … reliquin … give to him my eternal soul … ,” He looked up at us, agonized, “in exchange for unlimi … did … ed success.” His head rolled down, but he forced himself to look back up at us. “What an IDIOT I was! I signed a contract with Evil … making me just as evil, and there’s nothing I, you, or even God can do about it.” Again, he buried his face in his hands. “It’s a done deal.”
Then he looked up angrily. “Why did you stop me? I’m as good as dead anyway!” Then he went silent, as if plotting to do himself in, successfully the next time. We knew we couldn’t leave him alone in his current frame of mind, so we continued sitting on the edge of his bed, one on either side of him.
Later, Betty’s concerned voice broke the silence. “I confess I don’t know exactly ‘ow you feel, due to your unique experience and all. But when God first showed me my personal evil, why, I felt filthy too. Could‘ve done meself in, but for my friend Rachel settin’ me straight. I’d like to tell you what she told me. Changed my life it did.”
“It’s no use! Can’t you see? I signed his stupid contract in my own blood! It’s iveric … a done deal.”
“I saw it myself! It’s a done deal I tell you, signed, sealed, and all but delivered.”
“Ellasar!” he wailed.
“Do you know what the word ‘devil’ means?” She grasped his face with both hands and forced him to look at her. “Deceiver! That’s what it means! This devil that calls ‘imself Ellasar is a LIAR, and he’s completely taken you in. Don’t believe ‘im, he’s lying to ya. Believe God instead. His word will NEVER lead you astray.”
“But what I’ve done–”
“Don’t look at what you’ve done! Look at what God’s done. Jack and I did some ‘orrid things, and when God showed us the truth of our actions we were broken ‘earted too. But we chose to believe ‘im, and so can you!”
“If only I could.”
I felt that I should chip in my tuppence. “Karl, have you ever heard of Saint Paul?”
Hopelessness still clouded his voice. “Of course I have, but the operative term is ‘saint.’ The guy was a pope or something. What does a saint have to do with me?”
“‘Saint’ Paul began as Saul, the legalistic pharisee who engineered the martyrdom of uncounted early Christians. Saul was certainly not a saint.”
“Just shows how mixed up and corrupt your whole religious system is.”
“What it shows is God’s grace, his unmerited favor, that was willing to forgive a religious bigot and a murderer. You’ve done nothing more deserving of damnation than he did. And he was the author of much of the New Testament. No, there’s nothing mixed up and corrupt about God’s love.
“God’s word says he doesn’t lie, in fact he is the author of all truth. You said yourself that Ellasar is evil, so why trust what he tells you as the truth?” Karl sat dead still, his eyes staring forward as if in a trance.
I felt it necessary to add just one more thing. “Karl, the choice is yours: Believe the God who loves you, or follow that hateful demon to perdition.”
Finally he reacted, looking quickly over to me as if slapped. “‘PERDITION!’ That’s what the sign said.”
“Yes … it’s as plain as day now. The long hallway, the sign on the door. It said, ‘PERDITION INCORPORATED’. Why couldn’t I see it before? ‘Perdition,’ that’s like, hell fire and damnation, right?”
“One could so describe it.” I didn’t see where he was going with his line of reasoning.
A less-than wholesome smile spread across his face. “Of course! Why didn’t I see it before? It’s all that religious crap! Tell you what, you leave me alone about your God-stuff and I’ll be just fine, thank you very much.”
“Mister Adams, you nearly killed yourself. Then where would you have been?”
“D – E – A – D! Like a dog splattered on the highway. Say, thanks for saving my life and all, but I don’t need your religion. Am I making myself perfectly clear?”
I saw that his heart was coated with armor. “As crystal.”
“Look, you don’t need to act so dejected. I mean, you’re not a bad salesman an’ all, but you’re not gonna get any Jesus Brownie Points off of me. So, call ya when I need ya.”
What could I do but play the deferential butler? “Yes sir. Thank you sir.” Then, remembering there was but one other thing we could do, I nodded for Betty to follow me down to our own rooms.
Once there, I placed an emergency call to our colleague. “Rachel, drop everything and pray for our mutual friend. He’s as hard as granite to the gospel, so we’ll have to leave it to the Lord.”
“My dear Jack. Regardless what he does with the gospel, it’s in the Lord’s hands. So, let’s get about it.” Though I’ve never before carried on a group prayer over the telephone, we somehow managed to spend the rest of the night committing Karl’s past, present and future to God’s more than capable hands.
Monday, May 8, 8:15AM
Vengeance is Yours
No Down Payment
Since murdering Alex Webber, Roger had lost control of his life. Karl felt free to exploit him for any dirty job he had to do, and Roger felt he had no choice but to comply. Never one to be subservient, Roger deeply resented such treatment. His only consolation was believing that he would overcome Karl by sheer hatred.
When he dialed the telephone number printed in the advert, a refined, male voice answered, “Perdition Incorporated. How may we help you?”
“I saw your ad in the paper today. Who do I talk to about it?”
“Gideon Ellasar will arrive at your residence at precisely nine PM.” And the line went dead. How the hell would he know where to come?
When he tried calling the number again a computerized voice said, “The number you dialed is not in service. Please check the number and try again.” So he did, and got the same recording. Whoever in hell this Gordon Eleazar is, he’s sure not psychic. Finally, Roger dismissed it as a dead end, and without further thought on the matter, continued his day normally.
That evening he was watching his usual “adult” cable channel on the Tele, when the antique mantle-clock began chiming nine o’clock. Half-way through the chiming, his doorbell rang, its note discordant with the clock.
He drew on a wrap and went to the door, peered through the peep hole carefully, but could see nothing clearly enough to identify his caller. Just as he was about to say something through the door, a deep, resonant voice interrupted him. “Roger Witherspoon, we have an appointment.”
“Ah, yes, who is it?”
“I am Gideon Ellasar.”
“Uh, certainly … uh … .” Finally Roger remembered calling about the mysterious ad. “Oh, yeah. But how did you know my address?”
“Perhaps I have arrived at the wrong door. I had been under the impression that Roger Witherspoon wanted to gain revenge against some person.” Though Roger couldn’t see through the door, he knew that Ellasar had turned to leave.
“Wait Mister … uh … hold on! Please, come back!”
Roger fumbled with the lock, but finally opened the door. Ellasar, taller than he and perfectly dressed, marched into his living room as a conqueror might enter a vanquished city. Turning about to face Roger, the visitor asked, “What do you want?”
Roger glanced about as if looking for a hole to hide in. Feeling only the piercing gaze that seemed to dissect him, he missed the question’s incongruity.
“Roger, you need not be nervous. I can give you whatever you want, but the advertisement you answered was rather specific.” His voice modulation and power awed even Roger, the habitual status seeker.
“What do I have to do?”
Ellasar flashed a satisfied smile, reached to his inner jacket pocket and withdrew a leather scroll. With a flick of his wrist, the ancient-looking document unrolled before Roger’s eyes. “Please read this covenant and tell me if it meets with your approval.”
Roger stared hard at the archaic calligraphy until it began making sense.
Be it known to all interested parties, that the undersigned, Mister Eugene Roger Witherspoon, an adult of normal faculties and majority age, has of his own free will, choice, and volition, entered into the following covenant:
I, the undersigned Eugene Roger Witherspoon, do agree with and pledge to the following terms in order to have “REVENGE” against the person of Karl Ichabod Adams. In exchange for said revenge, I, Eugene Roger Witherspoon, do pledge by my signature below in my own living blood to grant to PERDITION INCORPORATED, as directed by its Administrator, Lord Gideon Ellasar, the right to possession, at the moment of my departure from this temporal life and for all eternity, of all that is now or ever will be mine, including my body, my soul, and my spirit.
Said contract is irrevocably agreed to and finalized by the signature of the above named Eugene Roger Witherspoon in his own life’s blood below.
Roger studied the scroll carefully and a smile spread across his face. Irrational as it was, he believed this Lord Ellasar could deliver what he wanted most in the world. “Where do I sign?”
Ellasar produced a glass fountain pen. When Roger grasped it to sign the scroll, pain stabbed his fingers, and he saw his blood entering the pen barrel. He shot a glance at Ellasar’s dispassionate face, but said nothing as he looked back down and scratched his bloody signature into the ancient-looking leather. With intense satisfaction, he turned the pen over and handed it back to Ellasar.
Without further comment, the visitor methodically rolled up the scroll, returned it and the pen to their places inside his jacket, turned away, and stepped back over the threshold. Roger followed him to the door, but started as he peered outside and saw no one there.
Tuesday, May 9, 8:00AM
Roger Witherspoon faced a quandary. Since the evening before, he had formed a plan to do away with Karl. But it required some mechanical ability and he was anything but a tradesman. As hard as it was for him to face, he needed help from someone with the necessary skills. To that end he contacted Lev Markov, the local Russian Mafia boss.
“How do you get my number?” The Russian’s thick accent was hard to understand without paying strict attention.
“Suffice it to say I have my contacts. What matters is you aught to know that Adams engineered Weber’s death, and we need to talk about it.”
“I take care of my own problems. What is to talk about?”
“Let’s have coffee tonight, say, at Bob’s Big Boy, over on the West Side.”
“This better be good, Witherspoon! I don’t have time for to chase the wild ducks!”
Roger barely suppressed his amusement with the stereotypical misuse of American slang, but he managed “Ten o’clock tonight” without laughing audibly.
“Okay, I be there, with my boys!”
Vladimir Romerovich, aka Romeo Obozniev, was Lev Markov’s lieutenant and heir presumptive to the mob’s leadership. He had assumed his particular alias while working as an analyst with the KGB, intending to imply that he was successful with the ladies. His supposed conquests were legendary, at least amongst his comrades.
Markov replaced the ornate telephone handset into its cradle and stared up at Obozniev, who had just appeared in obedience to The Boss’s summons. “Romeo, my son, please sit.” The portly, balding Russian obediently settled into the low chair on the opposite side of the desk. But for lacking the forehead birth mark, he might have passed for Mikael Gorbochov.
“Do you think that I do not read the news papers?” They both spoke English out of habit, having been KGB agents during the glorious days of the Soviet Union. “You leave signature all over whore! How long you think cops cannot find you? They find you, they find me, and I don’t want to explain our business arrangements.”
“I told you these killings must stop! This is last warning. I will not tolerate disobeying me.”
Romeo’s hang-dog expression almost made Markov laugh aloud. Though he would not have seen the humor if he had known the murderous thoughts filling his lieutenant’s imagination.
“But Boss, you said, ‘No more boys.’ Woman was not boy.”
“Do you want I should tell comrades that you like the little boys? They would kill you, then I would have to kill them, and then where would I be?” Romeo looked alarmed at the suggestion of anyone other than his boss finding out his deepest secrets.
“Okay Boss! No more boys, and I be careful with women to change M.O.”
Markov rolled his eyes in frustration, then stared knives at his protégé. “You knock it all off or we go to fishing hole! You understand me?”
Romeo sighed deeply and said, “Yes, comrade.” The “fishing hole” was a deep spot in San Pablo Bay already occupied by a number of Markov’s problems.
“You know I hate talking of this. Let us discuss Witherspoon ….”
Lev Markov sauntered into Bob’s Big Boy with two shifty-eyed associates who made him seem relatively small by comparison. As the Russians approached, Roger couldn’t divert his eyes from the awful scar on the left side of Markov’s face, running from his temple to his cheek bone, narrowly missing his eye.
“What you stare at?” the hoodlum demanded as he neared Roger’s booth.
Roger slid out of the booth and stood, extending his hand to greet his visitor. “Good evening, Lev. That’s a fine scar you’re sporting. Am I to assume you were victorious in that particular battle?”
Markov glanced at Roger’s hand, then sneered up at his face. “You will call me Mister Markov.” He gestured to one of his associates to stand next to Roger, then motioned for them to be seated.
Acting fearless, Roger smirked at the bodyguard and slid back into the booth, with Markov’s goon following. The Boss remained standing for a moment, impassively studying Roger now that he held the higher ground, but Roger simply smiled up at him.
Finally, Markov sat opposite Roger, with his other associate seated next to him on the aisle. Roger noticed the Russian’s left eye drooping slightly, probably a minor paralysis from the injury that caused his scar.
“Now, tell me about that marvelous scar.” Roger’s body language and tone of voice showed no fear of the dangerous men surrounding him.
“Sometime you’re friend is your enemy. I made mistake to trust him, but I was quick, and he is dead. If I did not win fight, one of my associates here, or out there,” he nodded out the window, “would be Vor.” Roger glanced out the window and saw three other muscular, shifty-eyed men loitering about a black limousine. Their appearance and mannerisms shouted “Hollywood Hoodlum.”
“I like that.” Roger nodded his approval. “You’re security conscious.”
“Yeah. Security conscious, and if you don’t have good story for me, my boys make you one less security risk.”
“Let’s go for a ride. You know, fewer ears in your car.”
Markov smiled. “Yes, you have nothing to hide when ride in my car.” He nodded to his associates and they stood, waiting for him and Roger to stand and leave.
With one goon on each side, Roger walked to Markov’s limousine, slid into the rear-facing seat, and there, too, was flanked by bodyguards. As the car drove away, Markov silently stared at Roger, waiting for him to yield the advantage by speaking first. But Roger wouldn’t crack, forcing Markov to break the silence.
“So … Mister Roger Witherspoon, why should I let you waste my time?”
“I said, you will call me Mister Markov!”
“Mister Markov,” Roger said with exaggerated deference, “Don’t you Russians say ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend?’ I have a score to settle with Karl Adams. And I understand you have a great deal of affection for him as well.”
“Adams? I spit on him!” And Markov spat on the shoe of one of his bodyguards, who rolled his eyes without otherwise complaining. “He is the son of a dog! I would give anything to see him in hell! But he stays in his fortress and I can not touch him. Besides, if I did, the man has friends in very high places. It could ruin my business.”
“It would seem to me that he already has.” Roger flashed a knowing grin. “You won’t risk killing him, but I will, with your indirect help.”
“How can amateur like you do what my organization cannot? You are full of hot gas! I do not have time to deal with wishful thinking.” Markov reached over to his intercom, pressed a button and began, “Max! Turn–” But Roger quickly reached over to lift his hand off the switch. Instantly, two guns with silencers pressed uncomfortably against his temples.
“Not here!” Markov said quickly to his men. Then to Roger, “You have just committed suicide. No one touches Lev Markov without his permission and lives.” Again he reached to touch the intercom button and said, “To the bay!”
Roger settled back on his seat with a complacent smile. “Pity you’ll have to go on hating Adams, ‘Mister Markov.’ My plan would have left you in the clear,” and he shrugged, “but, if I die, I die.”
“Amuse me, Witherspoon,” Markov said without smiling, “While I take you to final resting place, you may tell me of ‘wonderful’ plan.”
Roger reached up with both hands to push the silencers away from his temples, and the guards looked to Markov, who nodded. They withdrew the pistols an inch or two and he began his explanation in the tone of a Harvard professor. “Adams’ pad is well secured, you’re right, but it’s not impregnable. With one of your lock men and an electrician, I can get into his place and use that ancient elevator shaft of his to kill him. Do you want to hear more?”
“Keep going, I am not yet amused.” While Markov wasn’t amused, Roger found controlling himself difficult because of the Russian accent he considered laughable.
“Yes. As I was saying, Adams has virtual vault doors at the front and rear of his place, and they’re his only way out. First, your lock man will circumvent the back door alarm and let the electrician in. He’ll jimmy the backup generator and short out the UPS unit. Adams is so proud of his ‘high tech’ alarm system, but its only auxiliary power is that same UPS unit.
“While the electrician is doing that, your lock man will fix the lock so the door can’t be opened once it’s closed. It’ll only take a minute. Then we kill power to the building so nothing’s working.
“Finally the lock man will open the front door and fix that lock exactly like the rear. I’ll temporarily block the door open and take in a barrel of old rags soaked in diesel oil to put next to a wood wall. Of course I’ll leave its lid off to the side, so it’ll look like someone forgot to replace it.
“And I have a little modification in mind for the barrel itself. I use some hydrochloric acid to eat holes at the bottom seam. After I neutralize and wash off the acid, it’ll look just like it’s perforated with rust.
“When I light it through one of the ‘rust’ holes, the draft will slowly spread the fire upward and turn the barrel into one giant, flaming smudge pot. That will give me plenty of time to get out before it’s noticed.”
Then, with an evil leer he added, “The fire will spread to the walls and turn the place into a brick oven. Anyone for roast Adams?”
Markov sat through the lecture with a frown frozen in place. Then he burst forth with a sudden raucous laugh and reached out to slap Roger’s knee painfully. “If you are fool enough to try that, my boys will help. But they get out before fire starts. So, when we do it?”
Once again he reached for his intercom and ordered, “Home, Max!”
For the rest of that evening they planned the joyful event for the following Friday morning, and got thoroughly smashed in advance celebration.
Following our all-night prayer vigil, I was dead on my feet, having forgotten that I am no longer twenty-five years of age. Betty, however, seemed to have been empowered by the evening’s activities. She buzzed about Karl’s flat like a humming bird, while I plodded in a frightful temper.
But those days passed and life got back to a semblance of normalcy. We saw little of Karl over the following fortnight, since he was apparently determined to avoid us. One finds it difficult to imagine a gentleman avoiding his butler, but when the occasional encounter became inevitable, his manner was brusque at best.
He made Rachel’s work even more difficult than ours, by disregarding her security recommendations as if each was a personal affront. Once it nearly cost his life, and ours.
Karl’s secure mobile vibrated in his pocket as it was wont to do, with Rachel on the line. “Karl, I’ve uncovered some rather alarming information–”
“I’m sure you have. I suppose I’m in imminent danger of the fires of hell. Well thank you very much for the warning.” He broke the connection with some minor cursing.
Though neither Betty nor I had broached the subject since our previous confrontation, he told me, “I’m getting sick and tired of your little preaching games. Consider yourselves on notice. You’ve got a week to get out!” And he spun about to march towards his office.
Betty was in our flat when I entered and told her what had happened. “It’s all for naught. He’s given us the boot.”
My fiery love became livid. “‘All for naught,’ he says. All for naught? I’ll show you all for naught,” and she began a monologue of promises from God’s word that lasted, apparently without pausing for breath, for at least five minutes. “Where’s your faith, mister? All this means is Karl is under ‘eavy conviction from the Lord, and if we ‘ave to keep our mouths shut to ‘im, we can still pray, and ‘ard!” As usual, she was right.
Friday, May 10, 3:10AM
With our time for ministering to Karl drawing to a close, we spent the following days doing little else but work, pray, eat, sleep–but not much of that–and more work. Thursday evening of that week, after one of our late night prayer vigils, we went to bed, exhausted.
At some time in the early hours of the morning, Betty nearly pushed me out of bed with her screaming and prodding. It was completely dark, and smoke stung my eyes and throat.
I leapt from bed, shouting, “Stay here,” and dashed through our sitting room until the small toe of my left foot painfully bashed some unseen obstacle. A litany of the fowl words I had tried to forget spontaneously accompanied my brief, one-legged dance. With that out of my system, I hobbled over to open the door into the entry corridor, and released the handle instantly when it burned my hand. Then I Placed my other hand on the door itself and found it scorching hot, satisfying my curiosity to look outside.
“Blast! There’s a fire in the corridor.” I carefully retraced my steps to the side of our bed and sat to don my shoes. “Put on your shoes. Where are the torches and mobile?”
“I’ve already got mine on. Now where did I leave those things?”
“How in blazes should I know?”
“Interesting choice of words, dear. Here’s our mobile, and I remember the torches are in the security room.” Betty was infuriatingly calm in the emergency.
We felt our way through our dark flat, found the torches, and entered the rear corridor. I jumped to reach the fire escape ladder, but missed, falling on my sore foot. “Ow! Bloody hell, that hurts!” Betty kindly refrained from commenting on my bad temper. Another jump, and I reached it to pull it down.
We scrambled up to the landing and found Karl’s iron fire escape door was cool to the touch. Knowing the flames had’nt yet reached his loft, we drew the door open a few inches, but straightaway had to slam it shut because the smoke was too thick to enter without first gathering deep breaths.
Having done so, we swung the door open until we saw Karl’s writing desk just on the other side, and had to lean hard to force it out of the way. That accomplished, I stooped to clear the lintel and stepped into the dense smoke, taking Betty’s hand so we wouldn’t become separated. With my other hand I felt my way to Karl’s bed side. Fortunately he was a light man, which enabled me to easily drag him to the fire escape door without releasing Betty’s hand. She had wisely held onto the door post to prevent our getting lost in the smoke.
Once back on the fire escape landing, I swung Karl up into the fireman’s carry and slammed the door, trying to slow the smoke’s further filling the upper reaches of the tall corridor. Then we retreated down the ladder where we could breathe relatively clean air.
I tried to release the latch of the alley door but it wouldn’t budge. After carefully lowering Karl to the floor I forcibly applied my shoulder, but it didn’t yield, to the regret of my poor, aging skeletal system. While I was trying to be heroic, Betty began working to resuscitate Karl, but with minimal success.
Though we were on the floor level, smoke was beginning to reach us, so there was no time to search for a battering ram to force the door. It’s no surprise that Betty had the best plan. “The sewer cover! Find the key for the sewer cover!”
I hastily limped through the smoky security room, found the work bench, and the key hanging on a peg over it, then returned. The padlock opened easily enough, so Betty and I both grasped the attached bar and lifted to slide it off to the side.
I dragged Karl to the edge of the hole and started down first, then Betty shoved him over so I might take his weight upon my shoulders, despite the soreness of the right one. We carefully guided Karl’s head and legs through the hole and descended the ladder to the catwalk inside the sewer. The muggy air bearing the stench of human waste was a blessing in disguise, providing a distraction from my pains.
Once safely down, I carefully lowered Karl to the catwalk so I could take the mobile from Betty and enter Rachel’s number, while Betty again worked on resuscitating him. “Yesh–” Rachel’s voice began to say, nearly covered by the noise of poor reception.
“Rachel! No time to explain. Fetch a cab and head towards our block. Stop and wait two streets … to the south. Call again in a few.” I broke off and handed the mobile back to Betty. By then Karl was coughing and trying to breathe on his own, so I hoisted him again to my shoulders, trying to put out of mind the soreness from its encounter with the steel door, and began hobbling westward through the sewer conduit.
When I requested that Rachel meet us two streets away, I was suffering under the misconception that city drainage systems were all marked for street intersections. Moving quickly along the sewer catwalk gave us absolutely no reference to our location, with complete darkness between broadly spaced work lamps, despite Betty’s trying to light our way with the torches. More than once I nearly mis-stepped, a mistake that would have left me swimming–and Karl drowning–in the city’s effluence.
We turned to the right at what we hoped was Division Street, and continued until we encountered a ladder to the surface. I lay Karl on the catwalk and climbed to the street-level cover while Betty again worked on him.
When I finally managed to lift the iron cover enough to spy down the street, I saw number 216 Division Street showing flame through the bullet-proof front windows, one of which had broken, with fire licking outward. The fire wagons were just arriving on the scene, and I thought of the lawn and fountain onto which they drove, and how I had admired them from the now burning building. Dropping back down the ladder a bit, I let the lid settle into place, looked down at Betty and simply said, “Sorry Love, further on.”
After what seemed hours of darkness, stench, and physical strain, I again climbed a ladder, forced the iron lid up enough to see out, and decided we had traveled under the streets quite far enough to avoid being observed by whatever enemy might be watching the fire. I shoved the lid aside with, what was for me, a gargantuan effort, and spied a street sign. Placing another call to Rachel, I simply said, “Third and Parker. Have the driver deposit you a block away and walk over to us. And thanks.”
As I again struggled to shoulder Karl for the ascent he began to stir, mumbling some incoherent syllables. Suddenly he began fighting me, no doubt due to the disorientation of awakening in such a foreign environment. I lowered him to the catwalk and tried to quiet him. Fortunately for me, he was still weak from nearly having been asphyxiated.
“Mister Adams, you’re quite safe now.” Then I realized he had no idea what he was safe from. “You nearly died in a fire, but we escaped through the sewer access in your utility corridor.”
Wracked with coughing, he managed to say, “What … Where am I?” He looked around, unable to comprehend his surroundings, even after my explanation.
Betty said, “Mister Adams sir, please shut up and listen. Somebody tried to kill you by setting fire to your flat. God shook us loose to reach you in the nick of time. He wants you alive, though I can’t imagine why!” I could tell by her expression that she instantly regretted having said it. “Let’s get out of this stench so we can breathe.” He seemed to concur because he made no further inquiries. I had to lift him up to Betty’s waiting hands after she climbed out to the street because he was still too weak to climb the ladder, or even to stand, alone.
I never thought damp pavement could feel so comfortable as we lay in the fresh, cool air of the early morning street. When I could finally think clearly, I arose to push the sewer cover back in place and got us off the street where we wouldn’t be so conspicuous. There we waited a lengthy twenty minutes for Rachel to find us.
As she rounded the corner, she dashed towards us, and when she realized Karl had nearly succumbed to the smoke, she knelt to minister to him. He still looked dazed, but was beginning to comprehend his situation.
Rachel looked up at us and said, “I tried to warn him. Roger has finally lost it; completely daft. Didn’t know what he would do, or when, but I knew something was afoot.”
“So why didn’t you warn one of us,” I asked.
“I’d hoped to gather more decisive information to convince Karl, but Roger acted much faster than I thought he would. I’m so sorry I didn’t persist.”
I couldn’t be angry with her, as broken as she seemed over it. “Rachel, don’t worry about it, but we do need to have you find us some transportation. My automobile was burnt up in the parking garage, as was Mister Adams’ SUV.” I tried to analyze our options, but the more I considered, the more dismal they appeared. “And if we call a taxi the driver will surely report us because of our sad state.”
“What about his friend Marty?” Rachel asked.
“I don’t know. We have no idea who is involved in the arson.”
“Rachel,” Karl struggled to say between hacking coughs, “Marty’s okay … call him!”
After he coughed out the number, Rachel opened her mobile and dialed. She waited, apparently through a recorded message, then began speaking. “Mister Halstead, this is Rachel Yeshurun. I’m with Karl, and he asked that I call to see if you could arrange transport for us. You may have heard by now about his flat burning. Please call when you hear this.” Then she gave her mobile number.
“Looks like we’ll be waiting for his return call.”
Then, in a shivering voice, between coughs, Karl managed to say, “Cold.”
Unfortunately, we had no wraps for him, so we all helped him to his feet and began walking, with his arms over Betty’s and Rachel’s shoulders since I was too tall to support him well. In a sense, that was to be the last stroll of Karl’s natural life.
Marty Halstead was preparing his shower when he heard his dressing room telephone warble. Not a wasteful man, he reached into the shower and shut it off. When he finally picked up the handset, he heard the voice of Roger Witherspoon, a fellow board member for the Division Street District Foundation. “Marty,” Roger said with apparent concern, “I need your help!”
“Roger, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know how to say this, but a couple days ago Karl called me … Maybe I shouldn’t say anything.”
That approach concerned Marty even more. “Is it something I need to know?”
“Well … You’re his best friend that I know of. Maybe you know what it’s all about.”
“Roger! Tell me what’s going on and I’ll decide if its something to be concerned about.”
“Okay. Karl asked me if I knew anything about removing structures by burning. Said he had some property that needed to be cleared off, and burning it would be the fastest, cheapest way to do it.”
“Well … I’m not aware of anything that needs clearing, and I know his properties fairly well.”
“Marty … there’s something else I have to tell you … I mean … he’s our friend and all … and I’d hate to believe it of him … but–”
“Roger, spit it out!”
“All right! Karl’s place burned last night–”
“NO! Was anyone hurt?”
“Karl is nowhere to be found, and we don’t know about his staff. No bodies were recovered, and he seems to have dropped out of sight.
“I understand,” he added in passing, “the place was insured to the hilt.”
Roger’s implied accusation left Marty mute, so Roger said, “Well, you know my number. Call if you hear anything.”
Marty’s trembling hand fumbled the telephone handset as he replaced it. He had hoped to influence Karl positively through his friendship, but in view of Roger’s news, he didn’t see how he could remain loyal to the man. As was his habit, he lifted the handset again to check his voice mail, and the pulsating dialing tone told him a message awaited his attention. He entered the access number, then his personal code, and heard Rachel’s stress-filled message.
Already suffering from information overload, Marty simply didn’t know how to respond to the appeal for help. Marty knew of some shady deals in which Karl had participated, and if he were capable of that, what else could he do?
Needing a second opinion, he again picked up the handset and dialed. “Roger,” he said when the other man answered, “I just found a message from Rachel Yeshurun, saying she and Karl need a ride.”
As if thinking aloud, Roger said, “So he has an accomplice … where are they? I need to reach them and convince Karl to go to the authorities.”
“I don’t know. She didn’t give any location. Just said to call them back as soon as I got the message.”
“You don’t want to be anywhere near those two. They could easily implicate you in the arson. Tell you what. Let me get in touch with an investigator I know. He’s ex-KGB, and really good at what he does. Wait for my call.”
Marty was completely torn between his duty to honor a friendship, and his duty to obey the law. After agonizing over his quandary, waiting seemed his best option.
When we had all perched on the curb, Betty studied Karl for a long moment. “Have you ever known anybody to love you?” Her Cockney inflection softened ‘til she sounded conciliatory.
“What …,” His voice, hoarse from smoke inhalation, broke off his answer.
“Not sexually, but with the kind of love that would send ‘em into a burning building for you.”
Karl didn’t answer, but plastered the usual resentful expression on his face.
“Look at ‘im, sit’n there stubborn as can be. Now why do you suppose that is?”
“I …” He cleared his throat. “I really think it’s none–”
“‘None of our business,’ he says! After we’ve just risked our lives to save his scurvy skin he says it’s none of our business. Seems to me, mister uppity, that it’s every bit our business.”
“Now Jack! This arrogant bloke is making sport of us, and the Lord! It’s time he began looking at the world through something other than mister rich Karl Adams colored glasses. I put it to you again, Mister Adams, ‘as anybody ever loved you enough to give his life for ya?”
Still, no response.
“Imagine for a moment that your father–”
“Leave my father out of this!” His hoarse voice interrupted with a colorful string of obscenities.
“So, you’ve never known a father’s love. Well we ‘ave, and it’s because of ‘is love we risked our lives to save yours! If it was up to me, I’d as soon ‘ave let you roast like the weenie you are. But God loves you, and though we were once just as hateful towards him as you are, he saved us through ‘is son Jesus freely giving ‘is life on the cross. So what could we do, but love you with the love he gave us … even if I don’t much like you. I imagine God didn’t much like me while Jesus was ‘anging in agony on the cross for my sins. But he didn’t stop it, did ‘e?”
Still, the frozen countenance.
Although I vividly remembered the last time I chipped in while ministering to him, I finally spoke up, “Karl, why won’t you believe us?”
Were there tears in his eyes as he looked up at me? “I can’t!”
“Why can’t you?”
“Because I’m afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“I don’t know!” The pain of frustration clouded his face. “I can’t trust anyone! I’ve been betrayed by everybody I ever trusted.”
“Think how Yeshua felt when all those people who celebrated his entry into Jerusalem turned right about and cursed him while he was hanging on the cross.”
Betty added, “One of his closest friends even turned ‘im in to the authorities. Jesus, the one Jack calls Yeshua, knew all about betrayal, but did it stop ‘im from dying for ‘em, and for you and me? Not at all!”
Then I added, “I suppose I was afraid to trust too, before I gave in from desperation, and trusted God for my forgiveness and salvation. But the moment I let go, so did my fear. He replaced it with a fearless new life … eternal life. If you have new life in Yeshua Hamashia, you’ll never have reason to fear again.”
“He’s telling the truth ‘e is. It was the same for all of us, and for each of the millions who have let go of their fear and ‘atred to trust God.”
Karl looked up at Betty with pleading eyes. “How can I believe all this, when much of the hatred and violence in the world is done in God’s name?”
Betty pounced on that. “Finally, ‘e comes up with a valid question! That’s easy, when you know the Lord and ‘is word. Jesus said, ‘For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.’ What kind of fruit are ‘atred and greed? Then he goes on to say, ‘A good man out of the good treasure of his ‘eart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his ‘eart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the ‘eart ‘is mouth speaketh.’ Makes sense, doesn’t it? After that ‘e said, ‘And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and ‘eareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you whom he is like: he is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that ‘eareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that ‘ouse was great.’1
“The ‘ouse of your life is an ‘eap of rubble, because your beliefs, your assumptions are false, ‘built upon the earth, rather than the bedrock’ like the Bible says. Remember how Jesus said the good man brings forth what is good, but the evil man brings forth what is evil because his mouth speaks from the evil in ‘is ‘eart? Did you listen to the ‘atred that spewed from your lips a while ago?
“As for the corrupt religion of the world, Jesus covered that too. He said there are many who act religious, saying ‘Lord, Lord,’ but don’t do what he says. In another place, Jesus said, ‘Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, ‘ave we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name ‘ave cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’2 Don’t be surprised, Mister Adams, that much evil is done in the name of religion. That just proves what Jesus said is true!”
Betty had always been better than I at storing up God’s word in her heart. So all the time she was talking, Rachel and I were quietly praying that Karl’s hard heart would break.
“I don’t know … I … can’t–”
“You’re still lyin’ to me, and to God! You know you can decide right now where you want your loyalties to lie: Either with God, or with yourself. You can decide, and you will. To not decide is to decide against God, and you know it!”
“I need … time–”
“You’ve ‘ad time!”
I prayed that Betty was led by God’s Spirit in making such demands.
“For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”3
His face shown an earnestness born of desperation as he again spoke to Betty in his rasping voice. “It can’t be that easy. We’re talking about a new life here. There’s always labor pains with birth, so I have to do something first … a pilgrimage to some mountaintop holy place or something. No … it can’t be as easy as you say!”
“Karl,” I said, “Yeshua … Jesus, did all the work for you. He took your pilgrimage when he carried your sins to the cross of calvary. There’s one Bible verse that says, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.’4”
“What … ,” he began, then paused, looking at the pavement as if the answer lay there. “I need help. I don’t know what to do … or say.”
Betty replied, tenderly. “Why do you think God brought us into your life? All you ‘ave to do is talk to ‘im. If you’re ready to come clean with ‘im, he’s ready to listen.”
Karl glanced about self-consciously with tears of misery in his face. Looking for the world like a little child, he struggled to his knees on the pavement in his sooty pajamas, with is hands together and eyes closed, a curious sight if we had not known what he was about. “God … Aw, I don’t know what to say!”
Betty knelt in front of him and placed her hands on his shoulders. “Just say what’s in your ‘eart, Mister Adams.”
His face took on the sternness of resolution and he tried again. “God, all my life … I’ve tried to blame the cra … excuse me … the crud that happened to me on you, by refusing to admit you exist. I guess I knew all along I was full of sh … I’m sorry … full of … anyway, looks like I was wrong. God, if it’s not too late … , could you forgive me for my stubborn and selfish life … , and see your way to open my eyes to your way of seeing things? I’ve never loved anything or anybody, but if you love me, I guess I’ll have to love you back. Not that it would be easy, either to love me, or for me to love you … I don’t know, I’m all mixed up! All I know is I want you in my life, and that devil, Ellasar, out of it!”
With that, Karl broke down, weeping in a heap on the pavement. Then he stiffened and began quaking violently, grunting and groaning incoherently. As he again struggled to his knees a guttural voice came from his throat uttering unrecognizable sounds, and suddenly he screamed, a high-pitched, ear shattering, inhuman sound, and fell back heavily to the pavement. I was afraid he was dead, so I reached out to feel his pulse and found it fast, but strong and regular.
“Have I killed ‘im?” Betty asked.
“No, but I think a certain demon is very unhappy about now. I believe our friend belongs to God.” As I said that, Rachel sat quietly on the sidewalk, tears streaming from her eyes.
My gaze wandered upward to the early morning overcast, typical of the Bay Area. My mouth opened for a long, deep yawn–truly one of life’s simple pleasures. After having nearly lost my life, peace washed over my soul, as if I were simply out for my morning walk. But it was more than that; the supernatural peace overwhelmed my fatigue, my numerous pains, my natural anxiety after having lost nearly everything to the conspiracy of sinister forces.
A slight break in the overcast distracted me from my reverie. The sky I could see through that hole was just changing from light azure to an even lighter turquoise. Then, as if a divine hand were pushing it into view, the morning star moved into the small field of sky, glittering its joy over the spiritually newborn babe.
Though Karl, Betty and I had lost most of our earthly possessions, the night had been most productive. And we had no way of knowing where Karl’s new life would take us.
1. Luke 6:44-49 KJV
2. Matthew 7:22-23 KJV
3. 2 Corinthians 6:2 KJV
4. Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV