More than ten performances, and none of them a lie

I am not going to lie to you—particularly not about concerts I have attended and enjoyed.

If you spend any time on Facebook, you have probably seen those lists, “Ten concerts I attended (one of them is a lie.)” I don’t visit Facebook often—I got an account largely to keep track of my children’s lives, but it has helped me to reconnect with friends from high school and college. Seeing some of my friends reminisce about concerts brings back memories for me. But I then discovered that to list nine concerts I have attended (plus the obligatory lie), I would have to include symphony orchestras and municipal bands.

Not that I’ve never enjoyed a rock concert. I’ve been to a handful over the years, and I’m not sorry to have gone. But I’ve also let a lot of opportunities escape without regret. When I was in college, I could have gone to a Barry Manilow concert. Some of my friends were singing in his local back-up choir. I decided that I would rather catch up on homework than spend an evening with Barry Manilow. More recently I could have gone to a Pat Benatar concert. I enjoy her music, but it was an outdoor concert with summer heat and humidity and mosquitoes. I figured I would be happier at home, where I could listen to studio-made recordings of Pat Benatar in air-conditioned comfort. I also could have gone to a Paul McCartney concert. I’m a big Beatles fan; I have seen and heard Ringo Starr in concert. But I decided that even Sir Paul was not worth spending more than a hundred dollars for one ticket; I have other bills to pay.

Now if the Facebook meme was about live performances, and not just popular singers, I could name a lot more than ten. I’ve been to an opera; I’ve been to the ballet several times; and I’ve seen lots of live plays, including musicals. When I was in high school, I was even involved in some live performances. My high school put on a musical every spring with considerable success. For two years I was in the pit orchestra, playing the trombone. The first of those was Music Man, in which just three of us trombonists had to represent seventy-six trombones. I had the all-important part of creating the tuba blats for the children’s band at the end of the show. As a senior, I finally tried out for a part on stage and got to portray Horace Vandergelder in the classic Hello, Dolly!

I could list a great many musicals I’ve seen performed live over the years, from high school and college productions to community theater to traveling professional shows. Some I saw during the height of their popularity: Annie, and Phantom of the Opera. Others I saw as revivals—I once saw an aging Yul Brenner perform in The King and I. I saw Donnie Osmond in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

I have thought about writing a post describing my favorite musicals, but when I started listing them I passed fifty and was still thinking of more. So, no, I am not going to lie to you about a performance I’ve attended. But I definitely prefer musical theater to the standard rock concert. J.

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Sometimes you just do not know

Picture an office filled with men, each doing his own job, each living his own life. None of them really knows any of the others. (I have made all the workers men just for the ease of using the same pronoun. Any of these people could easily be a woman. The personalities and situations are not gender-specific.)

A is grouchy and surly when he comes to work. He says he is not a morning person. He does not mention his routine of three drinks every evening, with the standard hangover each day that does not disappear until lunchtime.

B is also grouchy and surly when he comes to work. He never mentions his digestive tract problems which cause pain and discomfort throughout the day but which are worse in the morning.

C is grouchy and surly but blames it on the traffic. He does not know that he has an anxiety disorder which causes him to overreact to incidents on the highway.

D is generally in a good mood when he arrives at work. He is in good health, is involved in a strong relationship, and is in decent financial shape.

E is also generally in a good mood when he arrives at work. He is in a poor financial situation and has no strong relationships, but he is either too deep or too shallow to let these things shape his mood at work.

F seems generally in a good mood at work. He is compensating for ongoing depression, coping with life by pretending to have no problems or concerns.

G arrives at work a few minutes late. He and his wife started the day with a romantic encounter, but that information is far too private to share with his coworkers.

H also arrives at work a few minutes late. He and his wife had an argument over breakfast about the family budget, but that information is far too private to share with his coworkers.

J is generally quiet at work. He is an introvert and is most comfortable working on his computer, not relating directly to other people.

K is generally quiet at work. He is developing a short story in his head and is absorbed in the characters and the plot.

L is generally quiet at work. He is planning a terrorist attack in the coming days and wants to be sure that he does not reveal his plans to anyone.

M is generally quiet at work. He hates his job and has been filling out job applications for every opening he can find.

And so it goes. None of these men really knows any of the others. They never discuss religion or politics–no one knows who in the office is a Christian, who is atheist, or who is agnostic. No one knows who voted for Hillary Clinton, who voted for Donald Trump, who voted for a third party candidate, and who did not vote. The supervisor evaluates their work without knowing which of his employees are exerting themselves in extraordinary ways to overcome problems and which are lazy and are capable of doing far more than they accomplish. When they form a team to finish a project, no one knows who is excited about the project, who is frightened by the project, and who is bored with the project.

Life is like this sometimes. We wear our masks, play our roles, and hide our identities so deeply that some of us even forget who we are. Some go home to families where they can be themselves; others must continue to play a role at home. Some have friends who accept them as they are; others perform for their friends and hide their real selves. Some can be themselves at church, while others put on an act before their brothers and sisters in the faith. Some are genuine in the face of the one true God; others try to perform even for Him.

God knows each of us–our problems, our blessings, our thoughts, even the number of hairs on our heads. He made us, and He is constantly aware of each of us. No matter who you and I pretend to be at work, at home, or out in the world, we can never fool God, and we never should try. Each of us is a sinner who desperately needs a Savior. Each of us is rescued, forgiven, and claimed for the Kingdom of God by the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. We have different resources, different abilities, and different opportunities, just as the human body consists of eyes and ears and hands and feet and many other parts. God loves all of us and can support each of us in any difficulty. J.

Murder in the neighborhood

Mrs. Dim is at it again.

Let’s get this straight from the beginning: a weed is an unwanted plant. There’s no other way to define the word. I believe that each person who pays a mortgage and property taxes has the right to define which plants are weeds on his or her property and which plants are wanted. If I think roses are ugly, then I can call rose bushes “weeds” and remove them from my property. I have no right to harm my neighbor’s rose bushes.

One of the native wildflowers in this neck of the woods is called daisy fleabane. It’s an elegant plant with small white daisy-like flowers with yellow centers that bloom in the spring and the summer. You can see clumps of them along the highway—the highway department encourages their growth. At first I didn’t recognize them, and I mowed them down along with the rest of my lawn. Two years ago I deliberately avoided a patch and let the plants grow and bloom. I did so again last year. Mrs. Dim called city hall to complain about my weeds. A man came out from city hall, looked at them, said they were fine, told her so, and called me and told me so. End of story… or at least it should be.

Again this year I recognized the emerging daisy fleabane and mowed around the patch. A few had started to bloom, but the leaves of many more were recognizable.

A week later, the next time I mowed, the plants that had been flowering were desiccated. The leaves of those that had not produced flowers were yellow with no flower stalks.

I suspect herbicide. I believe they have been poisoned.

I wonder if Mrs. Dim would confess to the crime if I asked her. She might point proudly to the label of her broad-leaf herbicide to show me that it says “weed-killer,” as if that proves that she is right. Short of a spoken confession or some photographic evidence, I do not have enough proof to file a case against Mrs. Dim and accuse her of the attack.

I have to love a person like Mrs. Dim. Not only does the Bible require me to love my neighbor, and to love even a person who chooses to be my enemy, but resorting to hatred and revenge would only allow her side to win. She is a bitter old lady who seems to want everyone else to be as miserable as she is.

In this case, it helps that I have some daisy fleabane flourishing in a more sheltered part of the lawn. It is blooming nicely. I will encourage it to spread.

I wonder, though, about the values of a person who poisons her neighbor’s plants. If it is acceptable to kill a creature because it is noxious and detrimental to the neighborhood… well, once we start down that road, where does it end, Mrs. Dim?

If I am living in this house twelve months from now—and feel free to join me in praying that I have moved by then—I think I will invest in one of those motion-detector security cameras that are advertised online. I will hide it on my deck, aimed at my patch of daisy fleabane. If I get footage of Mrs. Dim poisoning my wildflowers, I can meet her at the police station and show the footage to the authorities. Then I can lovingly charge her with trespassing, malicious destruction of private property, and whatever else the authorities suggest. She can counter-charge me with raising plants of which she does not approve. That should cause a few police officers to smile, perhaps even chuckle. J.

daisy fleabane

Busy times

The last couple of weeks have been busy. Most of the busy-ness was unavoidable, but the net effect has felt (at times) overwhelming.

Most important, of course, were Holy Week and Easter. Special services for Good Friday and Easter are to be expected. We observed the anniversary of the Lord’s death in our place, conquering death and granting forgiveness and eternal life. Then we celebrated the anniversary of his resurrection, announcing his victory and establishing the guarantee of our resurrection to live in a new and perfect world.

On the morning of Good Friday, a member of the congregation died. He had been ailing for some time; given his faith, it even seemed appropriate for his to die on such a day. He was seventy-three years old, a lifetime member of the same congregation. One of the other members called him “a pillar of the church.” After the funeral service, one of his sons remarked to me, “Finally Dad got to fill the church.”

On top of that, a historical exhibition that I was assigned to create and assemble opened at my workplace the night of Good Friday. As soon as I realized that the opening date was a holiday, I alerted the other people involved that I would not be present for the opening. For them the date was set—the second Friday of the month is a given for such events, because of other plans involving the place where I work and its neighbors in the community. With help, I put together the elements of the exhibit on Monday afternoon, and a “soft opening” was held Wednesday night prior to the official opening. A “soft opening” is only advertised within the workplace, and there are no refreshments. Four people came into the exhibit during the hour of the “soft opening,” and two of them were casual visitors unaware that there even was a “soft opening.”

I had decided in March that my First Friday Fiction would be a story taken out of a novel which I started writing more than thirty years ago. When I made that decision, I did not realize that I would end up posting the story in six installments, bleeding into Holy Week. Nor did I anticipate that typing and updating the story would inspire me to complete it in two more parts. My draft of the six installments actually ended with discussion questions, intended to gather responses that might shape the rest of the story. Instead, I began answering the questions myself, which led to writing the final parts of the story.

Embedded in these busy times were three landmarks for this Salvageable blog. I passed the second anniversary of the beginning of the blog on April 14. Somewhere in there I published my four hundredth post (one of the story episodes—I haven’t bothered to see which of them was #400). Around the same time, I reached one thousand different visitors who have looked at least once at Salvageable.

That mark of one thousand different visitors might not seem impressive, but I am happy about it. After all, writing anonymously, I have not promoted the blog on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media. In the past two years I have made many good friends, even though we know each other only through WordPress. I am grateful for all my readers, and I also enjoy reading your writings.

Undoubtedly, the best is yet to come! J.

There’s No Such Thing as Crazy, part eight

As he greeted them and invited them into his office, Mike introduced his partner, Jenna Smith, to Juan and Laura.  Laura barely acknowledged Jenna. Her face was pale and her hands were shaking. When the four of them sat, Laura put her feet on the seat of the chair and wrapped her arms around her legs. For a brief time, no one spoke.

Juan broke the silence. “Were you able to get Laura’s dental records? Do they match?”

Mike shook his head grimly. “I did get Laura Kinser’s dental records. They do not match the ones Doctor Welz took.”

A loud, long, anguished “No!” burst from Laura’s mouth. She began to weep—not quiet tears, as Juan had seen before, but noisy sobs, occasionally broken by a gasp for breath.

“I’m sorry, Martha,” Mike said kindly. “It was a matter of time before the truth appeared. This is just about the best way it could have happened.”

Juan sat in his chair, stunned. Jenna rose to her feet and crossed the room to give the woman Juan knew as Laura a hug. “There, there, Hon,” Jenna cooed. “Things will be fine. It’s not so bad. You’re gonna be alright.”

Laura continued to cry, and Jenna continued to try to comfort her. “Let’s switch to the other office,” Mike suggested to Juan. As if in a dream, Juan stood on his feet, followed Mike across the hall to Jenna’s office, and found a seat.

“Where should I start?” Mike asked himself after he had closed the door and settled into Laura’s desk chair. “It struck me as strange that the woman was so hesitant to see a dentist and denied having seen one any time recently. Hollywood people generally are faithful to their dental appointments. It’s a professional necessity.

“It had already occurred to me that the federal investigators working at the airport probably had requested dental records for Laura Kinser. That guess was correct. I contacted them and traded the information about Ron Lawrence for a copy of the records. They came digitally, of course, and over lunch I took them to Doctor Welz. In next to no time he found three clear differences between the two sets of images—fillings in different places, wisdom teeth present in one set and missing in the other, and, um, I’ve forgotten what the third difference was.”

Laura’s sobs still rang through the building, even through the closed door. Juan found it difficult to concentrate. He clenched his fists. His heart ached for her.

“The crash investigators called me back about an hour ago. They were able to find Mr. Lawrence, and he surrendered peacefully to them. I guess he was having a hard time with the insurance companies—or rather, they were having a hard time with him. He wanted his money quickly, and they were waiting for the results of the investigation. So Ron opened up and told them the whole story.

“That woman across the hall is named Martha Jones. She and Laura met while they were both receiving in-patient treatment in the same ward. Both of them noticed the similarities in appearance, and for a while they were both equally amused. They exchanged contact information and promised to keep in touch.”

While he spoke, Mike was toying with a bottle of water. Now he stopped and took a sip. “Martha became obsessed with Laura. She pumped her for every scrap of information about her life. When Laura stopped responding to her questions, she began reading everything she could find about Laura. Her doctors could see that she was identifying with Laura in a way that was not healthy. They tried to work with her, but they had little success.

“Ron had met her once while Laura was still in the hospital. Now he went to visit her again. That required her permission, but of course once she knew who he is, she accepted. Without any details, he asked her if she would be willing to double for Laura. She accepted quickly. Monday morning he returned and signed her out of the hospital for the day. I don’t know how he convinced the doctors to let him do that, but he managed. From there, I think you know the rest.”

Juan nodded. “I wonder what his plans for Martha were after the explosion. And I also wonder what’s happened to the real Laura Kinser.”

“The real Laura Kinser is out of the country on a long vacation. I gather that wherever she is, they aren’t paying attention to news from America. I wasn’t told the details of why Ron wanted so much money or what he was going to do when Laura returned.

“As for Martha, he said that he was planning to return her to the hospital on Wednesday when she escaped him. We’ll never know whether or not he told the truth about that.”

Juan nodded again. Martha’s weeping was becoming quieter. “What’s to be done with her?” Juan asked, gesturing in Martha’s direction.

“Just before you got here, I made arrangements with the hospital. They’ve been searching for her all week. They will find transportation to return her; I said they could pick her up here.”

Juan thought for a minute. “I can drive her to the hospital, so long as she stays calm—and if she wants me to.”

“That’s mighty generous, under the circumstances. Are you sure you want to, though?”

Juan nodded yet again. “Yes. I want to.”

“Well, let’s check with her then.”

The men crossed the hall. Laura had stopped sobbing, but her eyes were red from crying. She looked up at Juan. “I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice catching in her throat. “I’m terribly, terribly sorry.”

Juan shrugged. “I’m not going to hold any grudges. In fact, it’s probably better this way. I don’t know if I could handle being friends with a real celebrity.”

“You actually want to be my friend… after all the lies I told you?”

“I do indeed. This week has been quite an adventure.”

Martha smiled weakly. “I had you fooled the whole time, didn’t I?” Juan nodded. Martha sighed. “For a little while, I actually got to be Laura Kinser.”

Juan didn’t stop to consider whether his next words would help her recovery or slow it. He truthfully told her, “In my heart, you will always be Laura.”

The End. J.

No Such Thing As Crazy (was Flashback 1986), part seven

Juan refused to sleep in the same bed as a married woman. He decided that instead he would sleep on the floor. This led to an argument with Laura which ended when Juan grabbed a pillow and a spare blanket and walked down to the motel lobby. The clerk at the desk eyed him curiously. “Had a fight with the Missus,” Juan said. He chose the most comfortable-looking chair, pulled off his shoes, and tried to get a few hours of sleep.

He managed to slumber fitfully until the morning staff began setting up the complementary breakfast. Juan put on his shoes and returned to the room. He quietly unlocked the door and stepped in. Laura was asleep on the bed. Juan grabbed some fresh clothes from his suitcase along with his toiletry kit and went into the bathroom to take a shower.

When he was clean and shaved and dressed, he turned and saw Laura, wrapped in a sheet, sitting on the bed and looking at him. “Breakfast is ready,” he told her. “We can dawdle over it; my friend’s office doesn’t open until nine.”

Laura yawned. “You go on ahead,” she said. “I’ll join you after I’ve had my shower.”

Juan was sipping his second cup of coffee when she made her appearance. She had managed to find an outfit much like her usual garb, complete with large earrings. Juan smiled at her, and she smiled back. She ate a light breakfast with fruit juice—no coffee—and then asked, “What else can we do to kill time until nine o’clock?”

“You could satisfy my curiosity about something.” Juan paused, uncertain how to phrase his questions. “This husband of yours—Ron—where did you meet him and why did you marry him?”

Laura laughed. “OK, fair enough. Ron is an amateur stand-up comedian—very amateur,” she emphasized. “But he has a way of getting what he wants from people. Like the police uniform you saw him wearing—that was just a costume, as phony as the search warrant.”

“So he’s not a police officer?”

“Right. Well, one of his friends managed to get him a job as an extra on the show I’m in. He was only in two episodes, but he took the opportunity to talk with me. He can be very charming, and he was with me. We had dinner together a couple of times, and then—out of the blue—he proposed to me.”

“And you accepted.” Laura nodded. “Why?”

“I know it sounds funny, but he swept me off my feet. Other men seemed to be drawn to my looks or my fame or my money. Ron made it seem as though he cared about the real me. We had a Las Vegas wedding, and soon I discovered that looks and fame and money were all that mattered to him when he was with me. Especially the money. I stayed with him three months. I should have left sooner.”

“However did he manage to involve you in that stunt at the airport?”

“A lot of fast talking, some threats—I won’t tell you what they were—and the thought that, after this, I might never hear from him again.”

Juan shook his head. “The whole thing still confuses me, but the most confusing part is this: how could any man treat you like this?”

Laura smiled weakly. “Partly it’s his disorder, and partly it’s my insecurity. I’m sure when he met me—maybe even before he met me—he could see the word ‘victim’ written all over me.”

The two chatted for the rest of the hour. Shortly before nine o’clock, they went out to Juan’s car and he drove them to the private detective agency.

Mike Johnson had been trained as a police investigator, but after a few years with the force, he decided to move to Westfield and go into business for himself. Much of the work was tedious—for example, getting details about one of the parties in an impending divorce—but every so often a case came along that made the job worth keeping. Juan expected that Laura’s predicament would be one such case.

The two friends shook hands. Gesturing toward Laura, Juan said, “And I believe you know who this is.”

“I would need to see some identification,” Mike said, always the cautious one, “but I will say that she bears a striking resemblance to the actress, Laura Kinser.”

“Not only does she resemble her,” Juan boasted. “She is her.”

“Given the news of the last few days, I definitely want to see some identification. But first, won’t you take a seat.”

“Thank you,” Laura sad as she sat. Mike settled into his chair behind his desk. Juan also found a chair and sat. “Identification is the problem. All of mine was lost with my airplane.” She described to Mike the plan Ron had invented to blow up her airplane and collect insurance money, a plan which ripened when Harvey learned of his terminal state of health. In words almost identical to those she had spoken to Juan, she explained how Ron persuaded her to accompany him to the airport. “I thought that, within hours of the explosion, he would get me out of there and I’d be off to some private resort. Instead, he left me there, locked up, for two days. When he came back for me, he had a gun. I panicked. I ran. Juan helped me to hide, and he’s been helping me ever since.” She smiled warmly at him.

“I figured a man in your position would be able to help Laura prove her identity,” Juan interrupted. “There must be something that will work—fingerprints, maybe, or dental records; a DNA sample, or a voice print….”

“All excellent thoughts,” Mike said, “but if you want to do this quickly, we can rule out DNA and voice prints. Fingerprints would be great if we already had an authenticated set of Laura’s prints. Trying to obtain such a set would be difficult after several days, though.” He peered over his glasses at Laura with some amusement. “I don’t suppose you’ve ever been arrested, have you?” She shook her head no. “Too bad,” he said in a cheerful voice with a twinkle in his eye. “That would have been convenient.

“Dental records are our best bet, then,” Mike continued. “Laura, tell me who your dentist is, and I’ll arrange to have your last X-rays delivered to my computer. Meanwhile, there’s a dentist here in town who can take a set of X-rays this morning or this afternoon. He and I will compare both sets and see if we have an answer.”

Laura’s face was increasingly pale as Mike said these things. “I’m sorry,” she said softly, so softly both men had to lean toward her to hear her. “I haven’t been to the dentist in more than two years.”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” Mike assured her. Even if they’re five years old, or older than that, we can still use them.”

“But I don’t even remember who the dentist was, or where his office was.”

“Now, that is a problem, but not too big for me to handle. Tell you what: I’ll track down your last dental records. All you have to do is visit Doctor Welz for X-rays. I’ll make an appointment for you right now.” Mike picked up the phone.

“No, wait!” Tears welled in Laura’s eyes as she said, “I can’t do this. I’m very much afraid of dentists.”

“Laura,” Juan said gently. “This isn’t a full dentist appointment. This is just X-rays. They take hardly any time at all.” He smiled at her. “He isn’t going to clean your teeth or examine them.”

She shook her head. The tears began to flow down her cheeks. “Isn’t there some other way?” she demanded. “I’m scared of dentists.”

Mike set down the phone. “Laura,” he said. “I want to help you. But you have to do this my way. The dental records will prove who you are. If you refuse to do this, I won’t help you, and neither would any other investigator.”

Still crying, she pleaded, “Wouldn’t be easier to start over with a new name, a new identity?”

Mike laughed, but his laughter was kind. “Not in this century!” he exclaimed. “I might be justified in putting you into a Witness Protection Program, but even they would need to have firm evidence of who you were before they changed you into someone new. Now let me call the dentist and get this started.”

Juan added, “Laura, you have to do this!”

She smiled at him through her tears. “If you say I have to,” she said, “I have to.”

Mike placed the call and set an appointment for 10:30 that morning. “Come back at three,” he said. “I may have something for you by then.”

They began to stand, prepared to leave, when Mike said, “Oh, one more thing. I probably should track down this Ron Lawrence. Can you tell me where to find him?”

Laura dropped back into the chair. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. In a monotone, unlike her usual voice, she slowly recited an address. Mike thanked her and dismissed them again.

Heavy clouds were moving in as Juan and Laura returned to the car. They decided to drive around town until Laura’s 10:30 appointment. “How did you get to know Mike Johnson?” she asked as they traveled.

“We were neighbors when I was growing up,” Juan answered. “He was a police officer then—he hadn’t become a private investigator. He’s the reason I decided to take a job as security guard. I was thinking I might join the police force someday, just like him.”

At 10:15 they stopped at Dr. Welz’s office. His receptionist welcomed them and assured them that Mike Johnson would pay for the X-rays. A hygienist led them to the examination room. Laura began to cry again, so Juan took her hand. “Stay with me,” she begged him. Juan knew that the X-rays posed a small health risk, but he was willing to take bigger risks than that for Laura. She squeezed his hand tightly as the four images were taken.

“Mr. Johnson will be by later to look at these with Doctor Welz,” the hygienist said. “That’s all we need; you’re free to go.”

A shower had left drops on the sidewalk and on the car during those few minutes, but it was not raining as Juan and Laura returned to the motel. Almost immediately she turned on the television and absorbed herself in the program. The two of them had a light and leisurely lunch from the food Laura had packed in Juan’s kitchen. Occasional rain splattered on the room’s windows while they waited. Eventually, the time came for Juan and Laura to return to Mike Johnson’s office. There they would discover what the investigator had found.

The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done

The strife is o’er, the battle done;

Now is the victor’s triumph won;

Now be the song of praise begun. Alleluia!

 

The pow’rs of death have done their worst;

But Christ their legions hath dispersed.

Let shouts of holy joy outburst. Alleluia!

 

The three sad days have quickly sped,

He rises glorious from the dead.

All glory to our risen Head. Alleluia!

 

He broke the age-bound chains of hell;

The bars from heav’ns high portals fell.

Let hymns of praise his triumph tell. Alleluia!

 

Lord, by the stripes which wounded Thee

From death’s dread sting thy servants free

That we may live and sing to thee. Alleluia!

 

Symphnia Sirenum Selectarum, 1695

Upon the Cross Extended

Upon the cross extended

See, world, your Lord suspended.

Your Savior yields his breath.

The Prince of Life from heaven

Himself has freely given

To shame and blows and bitter death.

 

Come, see these things and ponder,

Your soul will fill with wonder

As blood streams from each pore.

Through grief beyond all knowing

From his great heart came flowing

Sighs welling from its deepest core.

 

Who is it, Lord, that bruised you?

Who has so sore abused you

And caused you all your woe?

We all must make confession

Of sin and dire transgression

While you no ways of evil know.

 

I caused your grief and sighing

By evils multiplying

As countless as the sands.

I caused the woes unnumbered

With which your soul is cumbered

Your sorrows raised by wicked hands.

 

Your soul in griefs unbounded,

Your head with thorns surrounded,

You died to ransom me.

The cross for me enduring,

The crown for me securing,

You healed my wounds and set me free.

 

Your cords of love, my Savior,

Bind me to you forever,

I am no longer mine.

To you I gladly tender

All that my life can render

And all I have to you resign.

 

Your cross I place before me;

Its saving power restore me,

Sustain me in the test.

It will, when life is ending,

Be guiding and attending

My way to your eternal rest.

 

Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)

Flashback 1986, part six

When they went out for dinner, Juan had left his phone behind in the room. Returning, he saw that he had missed two calls from the same number, a number he did not recognize. Laura switched on the TV, so Juan walked down to the motel lobby. He made sure that his phone was programmed not to reveal his location, and then he returned the call.

“Hello,” a gruff, half-familiar voice answered.

“Yes, hello,” Juan responded. “You phoned me earlier this evening.”

“Is this Juan Rivera? The airport security guard?”

“It is indeed.”

“Juan, my name is Ron Lawrence.” When Juan gave no indication of recognizing the name, the voice continued, “I’m Laura Kinser’s husband.”

“I… I didn’t think she was married.”

“She is. We are. You can look it up on the internet.”

“Assuming for the moment that you’re telling the truth, why did you call me?”

“I had a long conversation with your boss this morning. I found out who you are, and he told me that you suddenly claimed a vacation. Tell me this, is Laura with you?”

“I don’t think I have to answer that question.”

“Don’t bother. I’m sure she is. If this was just about her, I wouldn’t care. But I called to warn you. You are in extreme danger right now. Not from me—from her.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying.”

“Listen. Laura is a very sick woman. Not physically ill; just sick in the head. She does crazy things. People get hurt because of the things she does. If she is with you, you are not safe.”

A light dawned in Juan’s mind. “You’re the man who was chasing her at the airport the day she escaped.”

“Yes, that was me. Now we know each other.”

“And are you the one who claimed that the woman at the airport wasn’t Laura, that she only thought she was Laura.”

Ron sighed. “I should have told the whole truth. I needed people to believe that she is crazy and dangerous, and saying she wasn’t really Laura seemed like the best way to get cooperation.”

“And then you came to my apartment dressed as a policeman.”

“I am a policeman, Juan. I know I screwed up with the phony warrant, but I was in a hurry. Believe me, I’m trying to protect you.”

Juan thought quickly. “Laura hasn’t done anything crazy since she’s been with me.”

Ron laughed. “That whole thing at the airport—that was her idea. I don’t know how she talked me and Harvey into helping with her scheme. It started when Harvey told us that his doctor said he would die soon. Laura started talking about going out with a blaze of glory. Soon she had us playing along with her plan to have Harvey switch clothes with her at the airport and blow up her airplane. I should’ve known better, but it all made sense at the time.”

“But why would she want to do that?”

“Kid, when you’re crazy, you don’t need a reason. She’s been like this as long as I’ve known her. Even the two of us getting married was an impulse on her part.”

Juan made a decision. “Ron, I have your number. If anything bad starts happening, I know how to get ahold of you. Meanwhile, I’m going to do my best to help her get her life back.”

“You’re making a big mistake,” Ron told him. “She’s a dangerous woman. She’ll destroy you.”

“Thanks for the warning, “Juan said, and then he pressed “end.”

Before he went back to the room, Juan Googled Laura Kinser and found her on-line biography. She was indeed married to a man named Ron Lawrence.

When he returned to the motel room, Laura was still watching TV, although she had changed clothes and was wearing a bath robe she had bought that afternoon. Juan suspected she was wearing little, if anything, under the robe, and he tried not to stare.

“I just had an interesting phone conversation,” Juan started. Laura muted the TV and looked at him quizzically. “He said his name was Ron Lawrence. He said he was your husband.” She did not respond, so Juan added, “Laura, I didn’t know you were married.”

“’Was’ and ‘were’ being the key words,” she responded, bitterness in her voice. “How did he find us here?”

“He only has my cell number. He doesn’t know where we are. Laura, you being married changes a lot about what we’re doing here.”

Laura snorted. “Ron and I are separated,” she said, “and we are not getting back together. Especially not after this week.”

“Ron says you planned the whole scene at the airport.”

I planned it? That’s preposterous. Why would I plan something like that?”

“I asked him that. He said you didn’t need a reason. He said that you’re crazy.”

Laura shook her head. “Let’s get a couple things clear,” she said. “First, there’s no such thing as crazy. The diagnosis is borderline personality disorder. Second, I’m not the one with the disorder. He is.”

“He is,” Juan repeated. “But why the scene at the airport?”

“Insurance fraud,” Laura answered. “Both life insurance and the insurance on the plane. Ron needed a lot of money fast, so he staged the whole thing. Harvey was about to die anyhow, so he was easy to convince. I had a lot of objections, but he basically forced me to do it. He said that I would be kept hidden until he could repay the life insurance, and then I could make a dramatic reappearance and be the top news item everywhere. But when he ‘hid’ me by locking me into a room at the airport, I began to realize that my life wasn’t so important to him after all.”

“That’s when you escaped.”

Laura smiled. “That’s when you saved my life.”

AUTHOR DISCUSSION: That is as far as the story got in the novel. The private investigator Juan knows in Westfield was away, working on another case which was also part of the plot. I added a few things (like the cell phone, of course), but to this point, this fairly represents what I wrote more than thirty years ago.  On the other hand, I have had time to think of an ending for the story and to start writing it. That ending will appear next week. J.

Flashback 1986, part five

You can read part one here

You can read part two here

You can read part three here

You can read part four here

Juan stopped at a motel next to the highway on the edge of town. “I wonder if they’ll take cash for a room,” he said. “I really don’t want to use a credit card.”

“Let me put my feminine charm to work,” Laura suggested. “It might also require a little tip, but I think I can manage this.”

Ten minutes later, she was back in the car. “Did it work?” Juan asked. In answer, she showed him the cardkey. “What did you tell them?” he asked.

“Mostly, I told the truth,” she said, smiling. “I said I had been in an accident and my purse was lost with all my credit cards, my driver’s license, and other identification. The only lie I spoke was my name—I told them that I’m Martha Jones.” Juan smiled, and he moved the car closer to their room.

After unloading the car, the two drove down the road to a Walmart. Laura took some of Juan’s money and went shopping for clothes, while he wandered from department to department: outdoor furnishings and supplies, paint and home repair, automotive, toys, electronics—anything but clothing. When that bored him, Juan went to the front of the store and sat on a bench. Soon he saw Laura getting into a line for a cashier. He waved at her, and she smiled and waved back. Juan stayed on the bench until she had paid for her clothing, then stood up to join her.

As they walked through the doorway to the parking lot, they heard a firm voice behind them say, “Please stop, folks—I need to talk with you.”

Both were tempted to break into a run, but they controlled their fear and turned. The man who had spoken to them was wearing a dark suit and a tie. “I’d like to check your bags and your receipt, please,” he said in a gruff voice that clearly offered them no choice.

“Could we see some identification first?” Juan asked. The man shook his head. “I’m store security,” he said. “That’s all you need to know.” Juan wondered if he and Laura should just walk away, but it seemed safer not to cause a scene.

Wordlessly, Laura handed him her bags of clothing. With care he matched each item to the receipt. Then he reloaded the bags and handed them to her. “Now, sir, I’d like to check your pockets.”

“What’s all this about?” Juan asked.

“You were acting suspiciously in the store,” the man told him. “Just let me search you, and if I don’t find anything wrong, you’re free to go.”

Juan took his wallet and keys out of his pocket and handed them to Laura. So long as the man from Walmart didn’t demand to see identification, Juan thought, they would be fine. The man patted Juan’s pockets and also checked to see if Juan had anything between his shirt and his body. His touch was professional, and in less than a minute he was satisfied that Juan had stolen nothing. “I apologize for the inconvenience,” the man said, no trace of apology in his tone of voice. “Catching thieves saves you money, you know.” Without waiting for any acknowledgement, he turned and went back into the store.

Juan sighed loudly. Laura laughed and gave him his wallet and keys. They returned to the car and went back to the motel.

Laura went into the bathroom to change clothes. She left the door ajar, but Juan averted his eyes. He saw the television and decided to turn it on.

“Do you want to eat some of the food we brought, or should we go out for dinner?” Laura asked as the came out of the bathroom, but Juan hushed her. She didn’t like being ignored, but she understood when he pointed at the TV. She saw her own face looking back at her. A voice proclaimed, “Investigators today released their first findings regarding the explosion, evidence that the airplane had been sabotaged.  No motive for the sabotage has been determined. Although personal items belonging to the actress were recovered, her body has not been found. The partially-burned body that was recovered from the scene was identified as a male in his thirties. The coroner indicated that the man suffered from a terminal case of lung cancer. His name has not been released.”

Laura dropped to the bed next to Juan. “It sounds like the investigation has gone well so far,” she told him. Her face had disappeared from the screen as the newscaster went on to a different story.

“They are still searching for your body at the airport,” Juan said. “They don’t realize that you’re alive.”

She reached out and stroked Juan’s hair. “Suddenly, that doesn’t seem so important,” she cooed.

Juan stood and said, “And they probably don’t know anything about the other man who kidnapped you.”

Laura sat up straight. “That other man…” she began angrily. Then she lay back on the bed and said more calmly. “That other man will be found soon enough.”

Juan didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded. Then he said, “Were you talking about dinner a little bit ago?”

They looked at a phone book and discussed their options. Westfield had several restaurants. Neither of them was in the mood for hamburgers or pizza, and Juan didn’t want to spend his money too quickly. They chose a Chinese food buffet, drove there, and ate their fill. Leaving the restaurant half an hour before sunset, they noticed a park with grass and trees and flowerbeds across the street. “Let’s go for a stroll,” Laura suggested.

As they walked through the park, Laura reached out and took his hand. He wanted to let go, but his hand felt good and also natural in hers. Neither of them spoke as they wandered from one flowerbed to another. The western sky became pink, then rosy, and then purple. Soon the evening star was glowing above the horizon.

“This is a perfect evening,” Laura said. “Every day should end this way.”

Juan saw some flying creatures—he did not know whether they were birds or bats. “I think the car is in this direction,” he said, turning away from the sunset and walking east, Laura’s hand still in his. Their closeness made Juan bold enough to inquire of her, “How did you get into acting? And do you enjoy it?”

Laura began telling the story she had told so many times before. She described a little girl growing up in a poor but happy family. When she was in high school, she suddenly decided to turn away from poverty and happiness in pursuit of fame, money, and loneliness. Skipping quickly over three years of waitressing, snatching food from plates the busboys had cleared from the tables so she could save her tips to buy make-up and clothes. She related how, without great expectations, she took part in an audition her agent recommended. The character made no sense to her, and the entire show seemed nonsensical, but the directors and the writer insisted that she was perfect for the part.

The show bombed. It never even appeared on a television screen outside the network offices. The director did not forget Laura. He kept in contact with her agent, invited her to three more auditions over the next two months, and also told his friends about her. One of his friends decided to take a chance on her. His show became a sensational hit. Now, four years later, Laura Kinser was riding the crest of public favor and adulation. That brought them to the present, to the sudden unexplained kidnapping and the staged plane crash and her escape.

“You know the rest,” she told Juan as they reached the car. “That’s all there is to tell. Anything else about my life,” she lied outrageously, “would be too boring to tell.”

As Juan drove back to the motel, Laura yawned. “It’s funny,” she said. “Half the world thinks I’m dead, and the other half probably thinks I staged the whole incident to take a long vacation. They’re probably imagining me on a beach in Tahiti or southern France, some place exotic like that.” She reached over and squeezed his shoulder. “Can’t say that I’m disappointed that they’re wrong.”

As they pulled into the motel parking lot, Juan said, “Tomorrow we can visit with an investigator I know here in town. He will be able to prove that you are who you say you are, and he can get the authorities started on track to find your kidnapper. That should just about wrap things up for me.” He put the car into park, and then he said, “What do you plan to do after that?”

Laura smiled. “I don’t know. Do you have any suggestions?”

Juan said, “You’ve told me several times how lonely you are. Now that we’ve spent all this time together—and now that we’re about to spend the night together in a motel room—well, would you be interested in having a boyfriend?”

In the dark car, Juan couldn’t see Laura’s face, but he could hear her low-pitched chuckle. “Maybe we should see how the night goes before I answer that question.”

“Listen,” Juan said quickly, “Nothing is going to happen between us tonight, not even if you say you want me as your boyfriend. I don’t move that fast.”

“Oh, please don’t be so old-fashioned,” Laura retorted. “Until now, I’ve wondered if you even liked me. You’ve been so distant, so cold, so… so gentlemanly it almost frightens me.”

“Not even like you?” Juan spluttered. “Laura, I’m crazy about you. I’d do almost anything for you. Why else would I set aside my job to protect you, to bring you out here where you’re safe, where you’ll have a chance to prove who you really are?”

“Oh, I appreciate that,” she said airily. “And I’m grateful, I truly am. But before you offer to be my boyfriend again, let’s try to do a few more romantic things together, OK?”

“OK,” Juan agreed. They left the car and went into their motel room.

When they went out for dinner, Juan had left his phone behind in the room. Returning, he saw that he had missed two calls from the same number, a number he did not recognize. Laura switched on the TV, so Juan walked down to the motel lobby. He made sure that his phone was programmed not to reveal his location, and then he returned the call.

“Hello,” a gruff, half-familiar voice answered.

“Yes, hello,” Juan responded. “You phoned me earlier this evening.”

“Is this Juan Rivera? The airport security guard?”

“It is indeed.”

“Juan, my name is Ron Lawrence.” When Juan gave no indication of recognizing the name, the voice continued, “I’m Laura Kinser’s husband.”

To be continued… J.