Friday, 10 May, 3:10 AM
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 lept 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 past it.
“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 hadn’t 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 bedside. 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 felt for Karl’s pulse, and as she began working to resuscitate Karl, I knew he was still alive.
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 from a peg over it, then returned. The padlock opened easily enough, so Betty and I both grasped the attached bar and lifted to slide the cover 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 my 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 … uh … 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 misstepped, 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 already broken, with fire licking outward. The fire tenders were just arriving at 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 enough to see out, and decided we had travelled 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 spy us out.
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 car 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,” more coughing, “call him!”
After he coughed out the number, Rachel opened her mobile and dialled. 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.
“It appears 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’s 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 he 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 dialling 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. He 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 dialled. “Roger,” he said when the other man answered, “I just found a message from Rachel Yeshurun, saying that 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 honour a friendship, and his duty to obey the law. After agonizing over his quandary, waiting seemed his best option.
A few blocks of walking seemed to warm Karl enough to stop his shivering, but he soon needed to rest for a time.
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 him, sit’n there stubborn as can be. Now why do you suppose that is?”
“I …” He coughed and 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 Betty, …”
“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-coloured glasses. I put it to you again, Mister Adams, has 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 colourful string of obscenities.
“So, you’ve never known a father’s love. Well we have, and it’s because of his love we risked our lives to save yours! If it was up to me, I’d as soon have 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 his son Jesus freely giving his 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 hanging in agony on the cross for my sins. But he didn’t stop it, did he?”
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 him in to the authorities. Jesus, the one Jack calls Yeshua, knew all about betrayal, but did it stop him from dying for them, 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 Yeshua to make it all right. 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 he is. It was the same for all of us, and for each of the millions who have let go of their fear and hatred 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, he comes up with a valid question! That’s easy, when you know the Lord and his 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 hatred and greed? Then he goes on to say, ‘A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his ‘hart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart ‘is mouth speaketh.’ Makes sense, doesn’t it? After that he said, ‘And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will show 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 heareth, 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 house was great.’ 1
“The house of your life is a heap 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 his heart? Did you listen to the hatred 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, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have 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 succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 3
His face shown an earnestness borne 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 labour 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 have to do is talk to him. You can’t con God, so if you’re ready to come clean with him, he’s ready to listen.”
Karl glanced about self-consciously, with tears of misery leaving tracks in the soot on his face. Looking for the world like a little child, he struggled to his knees on the pavement in his sooty pyjamas, 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 heart, 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, and 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