And so here we find ourselves again, at the bittersweet end of yet another year of our lives. Sweet, with anticipation of good things and wonderful times yet to come, and bitter, for those we have lost along the way.
My heartfelt condolences to my readers who have lost those they love.
As usual here at Apropros of Nothing, we present for your consideration at this time, a list of celebrities who have passed from mortal life this year. It is by no means exhaustive or complete—simply those that produced an ache in my heart when I heard that they were gone.
We wish them well on their new adventures.
I would like to take this time to wish all the readers of my blog a very wonderful and safe New Year. May you and your families find much joy, happiness, peace, and prosperity in the comings weeks and months.
And most of all—all the Love, Luck, and Laughter that a human heart can hold.
Until next year then . . . I love you all.
We love you all, and we are gonna miss you; each and every one. Till we see you again . . . “Second Star to the Right, and Straight on ’til Morning.”
The last dumb-joke of 2015:
Next up, next year . . . return to “The Reckoning.”
Talk given in Mountlake Ward Sacrament Meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sunday, December 27, 2015. 9:00A
Good Morning, Brothers and Sisters. For those of you that don’t know me (and that’s nearly everyone) my name is Larry Caplin—and finally, after nearly twenty-one years as a member of this Church, I’ve got an “in” with the Relief Society.
That’s right, I’m the husband of Sister Nadene Caplin, that was set-apart just last Sunday as the new Ward Relief Society President.
Now my assigned topic for today is KEEPING THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST.
I suppose that one of the most important aspects of keeping Christ with us always, is knowing, in fact that he is with us always, and I have a bit of very recent testimony regarding this.
Last Sunday, after Sister Caplin was sustained, and the sacrament meeting was over, she and I joked and bantered a bit about the calling, and just how incredibly important it was. Sister Caplin was a bit nervous about what was ahead of her, and she was anxious that she would be up to the demands of the office.
Naturally, being the sweet, loving, and kind-hearted kind of guy that I am, I tried to comfort her and give her reassurance and peace.
I reminded her that as the new President, she would probably be asked to speak frequently. Trying to throw the maximum amount of fright into her, I suggested that that first call to speak could come as early as two weeks, at the Stake Conference.
Needless to say, Sister Caplin was not amused, did not think my joke was in the least bit funny, and rather “nicely” suggested that I should perhaps keep those kind of thoughts and comments to myself.
Too late of course. My words were already out there in the atmosphere. I have been warned about such things repeatedly over the years, but of course, as a guy—never paid the least attention.
Well, within about five minutes of making my pronouncement, Brother Willis appeared before me, with the request that I speak in Church this week.
And so here I am, providing proof positive not only that Christ is with us at all times, but listens as well . . . intently. And of course, the angels are always silent notes taking.
As a new member of the ward, it was my intention to spend more than just a couple of minutes talking about Sister Caplin and myself, and our backgrounds and histories.
Unfortunately, she let me know that is not exactly cricket, as she would not have the opportunity to respond to any mistakes, misrepresentations, or sins of omissions that I might make.
So I will wait for her to provide that information herself, and I’m getting to know this Bishopric well enough, I think, to predict that time will probably not be all that far off.
I will say this about Sister Caplin however. She is my literal gift from God, and she is yet another proof that Heavenly Father, Christ, and their legions of angels are never far away, care for us, and want us to be happy.
I was forty-five years old when I joined this Church. Within a matter of weeks, I was introduced to Sister Caplin by friends. That was in March of 1995, and by October of that same year we were married civilly, and went to the Mesa, Arizona Temple for our sealing in just June of the next year.
The last twenty years have rocketed by, and in many ways we have profoundly changed. Hairs have become grayer, or disappeared altogether, postures have become a bit stooped, and joints hurt a whole lot more than they used to.
We do the best we can, and try to keep on chugging along.
One of the things that hasn’t changed in the least bit though, is the fact that she is, and always will be, my best friend. Another is that Sister Caplin has the biggest heart of any human being I have ever known.
In my humble opinion, her call to the Presidency of the Relief Society was truly inspired, and that organization simply could not be better led, or better served, than by this great lady.
A little bit about me.
I was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1949. I didn’t used to think that sounded so bad, until the year 2000 came along, and I all of a sudden realized that I was born in a different Century.
That is already becoming less and less true for a lot of younger folks around now, including all of my step-grandchildren. There are eight of them, by the way. Six are located right here locally, and two more in Denver. The local ones are the biggest reason that Sister Caplin and I moved here years ago.
My careers have ranged from being a Quality Control guy for General Motors in Detroit for many years, and all the way to Health Care, Mortuary service, and retail much more recently. I was doing dementia facility work when we moved here from Arizona, and was frankly getting more than just a little burned-out on it.
We settled in Bellevue first and there I accepted a job with Fred Meyer. I intended to stay there for only a year or a year and a half, but with the poor economy of 2008, ending up putting in eight years.
Increasingly poor health in the form of a bum-neck forced me to retire from Fred Meyer back in September of this year.
Surgery has more or less repaired the neck, and although I’m afraid I’ll never be able to do a young man’s job again, I do intend to come out of retirement in the next few weeks—as I am anything but a wealthy man.
I was brought up in an Irish Presbyterian Church back in Michigan. Dad was pure English by extraction, and Mom’s side of the family harbored the darker Irish-blood.
It’s from her side I’m pretty sure, my rather weird, caustic and sarcastic sense of humor come from. She was an honest and hard-working lady that didn’t take a lot of guff (as she called it) from anybody.
Dad was a gentleman, with emphasis on the word “gentle.” Sometimes I wish I had a bit more of that in me. I try—honestly, I do—but more often than not, the Irish in me struggles to the surface.
Anyway, my formative years were spent in The Crossroads Presbyterian Church. It was a good one, and led by good men—every single one of them.
To this day, I remember and miss many of those wonderful members from long ago as though they were blood relatives.
By the time I was old enough to graduate from High School, I was a lot smarter than the Pastors though, so I fell away. And I did without organized religion in my life for the next twenty-eight years.
Which, as it turned out, was just long enough to get myself in all kinds of trouble and in all kinds of bad habits. If you can think of most anything—not edifying—that a young man can fall into . . . well, I probably did.
By the time I hit my forth decade though, I knew something was terribly wrong and needed to be fixed—fast.
I was extremely lucky to go to work in the early nineties for a mortuary in Tucson, Arizona—and there I met and worked with a couple of members of the LDS Church, that both friend-shipped and fellow-shipped me along in my struggle to find my way back to God.
I took the Missionary discussions in the living room of one of these members, and by the end of lesson number two was asking when I could be baptized. I had found what I was looking for, and as it turned out, even more than I knew I was looking for.
Within a month I met Sister Caplin in the very same house where I had heard the lessons. I like to tell people that I had just barely joined the Church when the blessings began to flow.
Sometimes I have used that as a laugh-line, but in point of fact, it is absolutely 100% true.
Occasionally over the years, Sister Caplin has asked me if I would ask her to marry me again in only a few months’ time, like I did back in 1995.
The fact of the matter is: No, I wouldn’t. The next time—I would do it even faster.
Which brings me to just about the point where I’m pretty sure the Bishopric would like me to begin addressing my actual topic, which is, again—Keeping the Spirit of Christ.
I’m going to add to that title a little-bit and call it “Keeping the Spirit of Christ all year long.” As in—between religious holidays and Sunday Sacrament Services.
Those times—it’s pretty easy. We’ve just come through a wonderful and lovely Christmas a few days ago and Thanksgiving before that. Filled with love and laughter, family traditions, lovely holiday music, and all the rest, it’s pretty easy to feel close to Christ—and pretty easy to feel him close to us.
Sundays in a Church pew—it’s the same—easy. Again, we are edified with beautiful music, inspiring talks, and well-prepared lessons and testimonies.
Trouble is—those sweet times are well short of all the days on the calendar.
So the question becomes: How do we keep the spirit of Christ strong in our lives constantly—365, and 24/7.
As I pondered (or ponderized, if you will) that question this week in preparation for this talk, the thing that kept coming back to me, and the thing that I think our Father-in-Heaven would have me say to you (and of course to myself as well) is to LIVE YOUR LIFE (and my life) WITH PURPOSE.
More specifically—a Christ centered purpose.
That will keep him with us—and even more importantly—keep us with him. And it won’t be dependent on holidays, traditions, Church services, sunny skies, easy-times, or any other external influences.
Once we learn to live our lives with Christ-centered purpose, we build a fire within ourselves that simply cannot be extinguished. We become with Christ, and he with us—constantly, and at all times.
This I think is one of the best definitions of “discipleship” there is.
So—how do we do this?
In a BYU devotional given by Janie Penfield, February 5, 2013, Sister Penfield stressed—Living our lives with purpose, and keeping the end insight.
In so doing, she said, is our best hope of living a Christ-centered life, keeping our discipleship strong, and thus keeping the spirit of Christ alive, each and every day, and in each and every way.
Perhaps a little easier said than done.
When the responsibilities and burdens, and real-life fears and doubts of life become overbearing, just how are we to accomplish this?
Sister Penfield offers three paths . . .
DETERMINE YOUR PURPOSE
DETERMINE YOUR COURSE
STAY ON COURSE
Sister Penfield (an associate athletic director) confesses to being an adventure seeker, and knows well the importance of determining our purpose.
“I am an adventure seeker, especially in the outdoors. I love to bike, hike, swim, and ski. Through my many adventures I have learned that each one must be planned with clear purposes and objectives—to summit a peak, to complete a course, or to enjoy the views. I have found that planning with purpose is the best way to ensure that each adventure is successful. We are here on earth in a type of adventure. We left our Heavenly Father to obtain bodies, to be tested, to make covenants, to gain knowledge and experience, and to hopefully return to live with Him. But we do not always remember these purposes. Many who do not have the gospel have forgotten these purposes because of the veil. We often get weighed down by the daily monotony of school, Church, family, and work and forget about our aspirations—aspirations that our Heavenly Father wants us to have. We often even get distracted and waylaid by “good” things.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught that we should remember that it is not enough that something is simply good. He says that sometimes we have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are even better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our testimony.
What better way to keep the spirit of Christ alive in us always?
Once we are fixed on our purpose, we must determine our course to fulfill our purpose. We have to make a plan for how we will reach our destination.
Sister Penfield continues . . . “The map to navigate life onearth has been provided to us through the restoration of the gospel. The standard works, modern-day prophets, and inspired leaders help us to navigate through the challenges of mortality. Lehi’s dream is a broad sketch of mortality. The later-day prophets fill in the challenges and specific guidance for our day, helping us keep hold of the iron rod. We must determine our course to ensure that our daily choices have a chance of leading us to eternal life—we will not arrive there by chance. In Doctrines and Covenants 132:22 we read, “For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives.” We need to be on the path when we reach the gate. Having the goal of eternal life, we know where we can look for direction to stay on the narrow way and to find the strait gate.”
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said: “We all search for happiness, and we all try to find our own “Happily ever after.” The truth is, God know how to get us there! He has created a map for you; He knows the way . . . the map is available to us all. It gives explicit direction of what to do and where to go to everyone who is striving to come unto Christ. Nevertheless, not all will follow the map. They may look at it. They may think it is reasonable, perhaps even true. But they do not follow the divine directions. Many believe that any road will take them to a “happily ever after.”
As members of the Church, we know that not all roads or trails lead to the eternal life we seek. “Happily ever after” will only be ours if we choose to follow the Savior and be His disciples, and keep the spirit of Christ with us always.
Determining our purpose and our course, just may be the easiest things that we will have to do in this life, as disciples of Jesus Christ. What may ultimately be the hardest and most difficult however, is . . .
Staying on Course.
It’s like that with most things in life. Easier to begin than to complete. But the road to the Celestial Kingdom is indeed a marathon, and not a sprint, and as the old Chinese proverb says; “The journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.”
As usual, the words of the prophets guide us:
President Thomas S. Monson has given us exceptional counsel for how to stay on course, and how to keep the spirit of Christ in us always . . .
“Obey the laws of God. They are given to us by a loving Heavenly Father. When they are obeyed, our lives will be more fulfilling, less complicated. Our challenges and problems will be easier to bear. We will receive the Lord’s promised blessings . . .
Make every decision you make pass this test: What does it do to me? What does it do for me? And let your code of conduct emphasize not ‘What will others think?’ but rather ‘What will I think of myself?’ Be influenced by that still, small voice . . . Open your hearts, even your very souls, to the sound of that special voice which testifies of truth.”
As the hymn by Penelope Moody Allen says:
Let the Holy Spirit guide;
Let him teach us what is true,
He will testify of Christ,
Light our minds with Heaven’s view.
Let the Holy Spirit guard;
Let his whisper govern choice.
He will lead us safely home,
If we listen to his voice.
Let the Spirit heal our hearts;
Through his quiet gentle power,
May we purify our lives,
To receive him hour by hour.
. . . And, may I add, to keep his Spirit with us always.
And so here we stand this holy Sabbath day—on the cusp of a New Year. I wish you all a Happy New Year. A New Year full of hope and opportunity. May each and every individual and family in this Ward be blessed in every righteous way. May each and every one find joy and abundance, and may we all keep the Spirit of Christ in our lives—always.
I testify to you of the truthfulness of the Gospel, and the sacred nature of the work that we are engaged in. I testify to you, that all of the tools that we need to keep the Spirit of Christ with us always, and to stay faithful to the Lord we love, exist for our use, right inside the sacred Temples that dot the earth, as well as the walls of this building, and thousands of buildings just like it everywhere in the world that Brothers and Sisters practice their faith in freedom; and I do so in the sacred name of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I finally awoke, dawn had at last broken, and slate-gray light filtered through the sheer curtains. Rain drops freckled the window panes. There was barely enough illumination to find my way around the room. I finally got my pants on over the rather roomy pair of undershorts the kid had given me. White cotton, almost to the knees. Not exactly my style, but way ahead of the alternative. I finally got my shirt buttoned-up and was adjusting my tie and shoulder holster when the soft knock came to the door. My watch told me it was just past six.
I couldn’t say I was surprised. I had actually expected it a little earlier.
I opened the door wide to allow Brick to enter, as he was holding two cups of steaming hot black coffee. It looked like Brick was going to turn out to be a good partner after all. I always equated caffeine and partners that way.
“Good morning, Johnny,” he said, handing me one of the cups.
“Morning, Brick. How was your night?”
“Better than yours, I’ll bet.”
“Why do you say that? I slept like a baby,” I lied, using the Howard Carter playbook. I wanted to find out just what Brick had heard during the night. And I wanted to find out why he had made a special trip up to my room so early. There were mysteries in this old house for sure. The kid had told me himself just as we arrived the day before that we had the house to ourselves. He had lived alone for several years he explained. No wife, no girlfriends—and no little babies either.
“Have any odd dreams lately, Johnny?”
It was not the opening I was expecting. “Maybe,” I hedged.
“How about the night at the hospital?”
“How’d you know about that?”
“Lucky guess,” Brick replied.
“Who’d you see?”
“Heard, more like it.”
“Who did you hear, Johnny?”
“My mother. My father. A few others.”
“Yeah Brick,” I replied, starting to get a little irritated. “Mom was in one, and dad was in the other. I’ll let you figure out which was where. You already seem to know more about this than I do.”
Brick shook his head up and down slightly—just once. “Yeah, guess you could say I do, Johnny.”
“So why don’t you just tell me whatever the hell it is you came up here to tell me, and stop beating around the damned bush,” I spit out.
“You’re displaced, Johnny.” His face and voice was as flat as an Orc’s.
“I’m displaced?” I repeated. “Just what the hell does that mean, Brick?”
“It mean it’s good news and bad news time, Johnny—most of it bad, I’m afraid. It’s like the old joke. Which one would you like to hear first?”
“How about starting out with the truth? That seems like a really good place to begin.” I was getting even more irritated. It was looking as though Brick was going to be really good at doing that to me.
“You don’t need the watch anymore, Johnny. You’ve just graduated to the big-leagues.”
“What do you mean?”
“How do you travel with the watch?”
“Hold it and think where—and when, I want to go.”
“Where’s the watch now, Johnny?”
“In the night-stand drawer.”
“Then try it right now—without the watch. Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here for you to get back. It’ll make it a lot easier for me to explain to you what I need to.”
“Because then you’ll believe me.”
I stared at Brick for probably ten or fifteen seconds. I didn’t know what to say. I did know what to do though. A thought flashed through my mind. I couldn’t control it. I couldn’t stop it. As God is my witness—I couldn’t even slow it down. In a moment I wasn’t in the room anymore. I was in another place and in another time. Another building. At the bottom of a stairway. A staircase to Hell—only this time up instead of down. A slice out of time. A piece of my life. My own personal torment. One I had revisited a thousand times in my dreamscapes. Only this time it was real.
This time I was living in my own personal nightmare. I struggled mightily to escape. I stood at the bottom of those stairs and clenched my hands tightly and willed, with every cell of my body, and every fiber of my soul to be somewhere else. Anyplace else. Anytime else. But I wasn’t moving. Try everything though I might, I stayed exactly in the same spot. Right at the bottom of those hellish stairs of the damned.
And there was no place to go—but up.
It was true, Linh thought, as they emerged from the van about an hour later. It was a Church alright—kind of. Truth of the matter was though, that it hadn’t been used for any religious services for quite some time. Or for anything else either. It was, or at least had been, a Catholic Church—or maybe even a small Cathedral. The very dark gray marble stones and vaulted spires attested to that. The windows had long since been boarded over with plywood though. The dark stains and moss growing on the cheap wood testified to the fact that it hadn’t been done recently.
It was actually several blocks from the scene of the terrorist bombing. That entire area was still blocked off, but even at that Linh, Howard and Maggie could see the tendrils of smoke in the sky, as the ruins continued to smolder. As promised, a uniformed police officer met them and directed them to park off to the side of the Church building, when Howard produced his identification. Carter was then directed into a side entrance, again one that was cordoned off from the public.
They entered a few minutes later and were met by Sergeant Andrew McMullen of the Detroit Police Department.
“Good morning Sir,” McMullen started out. “Although sad to say, not much good in Detroit this morning.”
“Agreed, Sergeant. Pleasure to meet you anyway.” Carter held out his hand, and the big Irish cop took it.
“You too, Chief Carter. I understand you may know one of the victims?”
“Perhaps. A private detective and personal friend from Washington State. He was a registered guest at the Hilton. On the second floor.”
McMullen let out a low whistle. “Sorry to hear that Chief. We haven’t had any survivors from that floor. Name?”
“John Albert O’Brien.”
“We’ve recovered quite a few ID’s so far, although a number of them weren’t with the bodies. A few victims have already been identified by relatives, but not that many. Most were from out of town.” McMullen checked his list. “No Sir—he’s not on my list.”
“Well, that’s a good start, Sergeant. How many without IDs?”
“We’re going to have to look, Sergeant.”
“I know, Chief Carter—and I don’t envy you that. The ladies too?”
“Yes—the ladies too. They’re both deputies in my Department.”
“Okay then, Sir. They’re all in the main Chapel, just down the hallway to the right. The lights have been off here for years, but we have some floods rigged. We’re keeping it cold in there—for obvious reasons. The bodies are all inside body bags, but I’m gonna warn you right now—a lot of the bags contain nothing but pieces. Quite a few of them are pretty much unrecognizable as having ever been human beings. The smell ain’t too good in there either. I’ve been a cop for a lot of years, Chief—but even at that it turns my stomach real bad.”
“I understand Sergeant. I’ll know my friend if I see him. He has a couple of pretty distinctive scars. I was with him when he got them. We’ll be okay.”
McMullen nodded his head sadly. “Okay then. Just check in with me when you’re ready to leave. I’ll have to let you out. If you find your friend, we’ll get him moved out to the Wayne County medical examiner’s office right away for you. There’re pretty full right now, so we’re taking it slow.”
“Okay, Sergeant—I appreciate it. Thank you.”
Once inside the Chapel, Carter, Linh and Maggie quickly understood what the Sergeant had been talking about. Three rather neat and tidy rows of dark black body bags lay on the floor, where once equally straight rows of pews had stood. The sweet and sour metallic smell of blood and fecal material hung in the close air with a thickness that could almost be seen. The jerry-rigged lights cast crazy shadows on the floor and walls of the old Sanctuary, contributing to the hellish and otherworldly atmosphere. The stately old Church had truly become a house of the dead.
Linh spoke up. “How you want to do this Howard—split up?”
“Not a chance Linh. All of us together—one bag at a time—ready?
Linh and Maggie swallowed hard, and answered in unison—“Ready.”
I started up the stairs. There was nothing else to do—no use going back. No wimping out. There were exactly thirteen steps. I had counted them many times. My girlfriend Sheila and I had joked about it on many occasions. Bad luck and all. She was not terribly superstitious, although somewhat a believer in Astrology. She was a beautiful kid, and smart as hell too. I had fallen in love with her somewhere between the second and third date, and although we never formally moved in together, she spent a lot more nights at my place than her own. Our youthful appetites were, shall we say—sultry and sensual; cool, passionate and hot—all at the same time.
It was at her place that I was now. Climbing the same stairs that we had traversed, hand in hand, so many times before. And also the ones that I had taken, two at a time, as I raced to her apartment on the night of December 17th, in my senior year at Harvard. She hadn’t answered her phone all day. When darkness fell late in the afternoon, I began to realize that there was something seriously wrong. I knew that she had been depressed. I knew that she was suffering since the abortion of our baby the year before. I knew she wasn’t in a very good place. I suppose I also might have guessed that she needed professional help—too late of course.
What I didn’t quite get was the fact that she was also suicidal.
I could see the door at the top of the landing now. I knew it would be unlocked—same as it was that night—so many years ago. I could hear the Christmas music coming softly through the door, just as it had been then. My legs grew heavier and my feet slowed as I approached, unlike on that horrid night of my memory. At last I reached the door. I felt my hand, almost involuntarily slip around the knob and turn. It gave way easily as the door swung inward. The music grew louder. Perry Como softly crooned the lyrics of Hark!The Herald angels sing.
“Hail! The heaven born Prince of Peace,
Hail! The Son of Righteousness!
Light and Life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings,”
He sang in the dark—a voice on the radio. The only light came from a narrow slit in the bathroom door. Sheila’s studio apartment was small, but I knew it just as I knew her—by heart. A sleeper sofa just to the left. The bed was open, unmade. The covers scattered. Just beyond the bed was a tiny kitchenette. To the right was the bathroom. White on white on white—almost blinding in the light of the glaring overhead florescent light fixture. White tub—old-fashioned claw feet. The ancient building had stood since the beginning of time. White painted walls. White tile floors. Small tiles with broken grout—darkening with age.
The bathroom door was partly closed. An inch or two remaining open. I remembered how we always had to push it closed that last bit to make it click shut. This night, Sheila hadn’t bothered. This night, she was in a hurry. My eyes traveled, as they had that night long before, to the floor. Where the tiny white tiles met the light-brown carpeting of the living-room. I could already see the stain forming, even from several feet away. The blood had worked its way along the grout-line, and was now beginning to pool just outside the door. I knew where it was coming from. This was not my first visit to this tiny room in Hell.
I pushed the door open.
She was staring directly at me. Her lifeless and sightless eyes met mine. Imploringly. Accusingly. The tub was filled with water—bright red. Impossibly red. Almost luminous—in stark contrast to the darker burgundy of her lifeblood on those tiny white tiles. One arm, dripping, dangling from the side of the tub. A blood-splattered kitchen knife lay on the floor. It was, I knew, a sharp one. I had bought it for her—a gift to end the problem of slicing her beloved pineapples. Now, it had ended all her other problems as well. I wondered for an instant, just as I had before, if the use of that knife was a personal message from her to me.
Perry sang on . . .
“Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of Earth,
Born to give them second birth.”
I looked at my feet. Planted on those tiny white tiles, just exactly as they were then. Not just close—but precisely where they had been. My hand remained on the doorknob, just as it had then. Everything—just the same. Except for one. I looked in the mirror. No longer did a youth look back. Now I was face to face with an older me. Instead of a college kid, now stood a middle-aged and somewhat broken-down man in an expensive and tailored suit. Lines on his face that hadn’t been there before. A deeper widow’s-peak. Gray on the edges. A slight stoop. In that moment, I knew this wasn’t a dream. It was the most real moment of my life. My past—right in front of me—in the here and now.
And I had a choice.
I looked at the corpse of the woman I had loved. Lived with. Argued with. Laughed with. Made love to. Conceived a child with. Cried with. A first love. A starter romance. A test-run for later on in life. Mistakes. Blown opportunities. Missed chances. Regrets. Pain—lots of it. The pain of days. The pain of death. The emptiness of nevermore.
And I could change it.
As I stood in that blood-splattered bathroom, I knew, with one-hundred percent clarity and complete and absolute empathy, exactly what it was to be Matt McCabe. I at last, completely understood his pain, his doubt, his humanity, his fear, his uncertainty, and yes—his insanity.
And . . . the choice, that he was being forced to make.
And I forgave him.
I wept, my chest heaving. But I didn’t weep for McCabe. And I didn’t weep for Sheila either. I wept for me. Because for the first time, in a long life of study of the infinite, I understood the power that was God’s.
And more importantly, I understood the power that wasn’t.
With a simple flick of my mind—a flash of thought—I could take it all away. With just a moment out of time, I could make this woman live again. I could put the blood back in her body, the air back into her lungs, return the light to her eyes. I could even put my dead son back into her womb.
And I could put them both back into my arms.
I stood, weeping, for the space of several minutes. I wanted, with every single fiber of my being, to walk into the kitchen and retrieve the bottle of Gin that I knew was there. And I wanted to drain it. To numb the pain. To forget for a night. To go away. To check out. To run away again. To desert those I claimed to love—again. To prove to myself once more, that I was everything I always wanted not to be.
A coward. And a no-class one at that.
In the end, I simply walked away—gently closing the door behind me, both to the bathroom and to the apartment. Darkness once more enveloped the scene of death.
As the apartment door clicked shut, Perry finished his carol:
“Hark! The Herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King . . .”
Once out on the sidewalk, I walked to the corner phone-booth and made a quick phone-call, telling the police just where to find Sheila’s body. Fat flakes of white fell from the sky. For just a moment, I once again watched them in wonder and awe—freezing the moment forever into my memory.
Then, carefully looking both ways on the nearly deserted side-street for prying eyes and finding none, I disappeared quietly into the dark and snowy night.
Thanks so much for reading. We’ll be back in a few days with another installment of THE RECKONING . . .
Avery K. Tingle is a noted author of Epic Fantasy and Romance, along with being a Christian Minister, and all-round gentleman. Many thanks to him for allowing me to repost this most poignant, personal, and beautifully written blog. It is a light in this ever-increasingly darkening world. Thanks Avery!
Along with his excellent novels, Mr. Tingle also writes an opinion blog called THE ROAD HOME, and teaches the art and craft of writing. Please contact him on his professional Facebook page, as Author Avery K. Tingle. He may also be found on amazon.com and Smashwords.
In light of today’s political climate, I posted on Facebook that, as a Christian, I had no issue with the Nation of Islam. A friend of mine pointed out that I may not have known what I was talking about. Admittedly, he was right.
My life’s path has been a strange one. I didn’t know anything about Muslims before 9/11 and after that, I thought they were all terrorists. I wound up being taken in off the street by a Muslim who was more outraged at 9/11 than anyone I knew. He never tried to convert me to his faith. If anything, he was indifferent. He was quick to rebuke me–physically, at times–when I spoke ignorantly of his religion.
Over time I would encounter the Ku Klux Klan in what would become some of the hardest fights of my life. I’d never encountered anyone so consumed by hatred. The more I hit them, the madder they became, that this man of color was getting the better of them. They knew nothing of me, and they didn’t care to. I was black, and for that reason alone I needed to be killed in the most violent way possible.
I hated them, all of them, for that. I would later encounter Klan members who were, surprisingly, weary of the organization or hadn’t known how extreme they were when they joined. I actually befriended more than one person who bore that damned swastika somewhere on their bodies, and on more than one occasion wound up fighting their own people right alongside of them. Can’t tell you how surreal that was.
My friend’s direction led me to learn that the Nation of Islam is a hate group, and stands against virtually every last thing I believe in. I had not known this when I posted on Facebook. I abhor their ideologies. I abhor any ideology that promotes hatred of anything based on color, gender, or almost anything.
I’m familiar with the Klan, but not the nation. I imagine they’d really hate me, with my California upbringing and willingness to date (pre-marriage) outside of my race. My kids are biracial. Sure they’d love that.
If I were to encounter a member of either group, I would be wary. I would be ready to defend myself. I would be even more so if my family were with me. But what I will not do is hate every last one of them. Because if I do that, they win. It’s probably a safe assumption that the vast majority of both groups are hate mongering assholes who’d just as soon shoot me than speak to me. But I speak from personal experience when I say they are not all like that.
I despise the nation’s ideology. I despise what they stand for. I will be vigilant against them. But I will not hate them. To do so is to surrender control of myself, lose my ability to think clearly and perhaps make a fatal error in judgment if ever confronted by them.
Detest the ideology. Stand ready against those who probably seek to enforce it. But take each situation one at a time and you may save lives. Your own, to start with.
So, my name is Avery K Tingle. I am a Christian, and I have no animosity towards the RELIGION of Islam.
And as a final note here at APROPOS OF NOTHING, I would like to add that we have no problem with the peaceful Islamic religion either, and we wish them well, as they, along with the rest of us, struggle to find our way through this very strange thing called life.
Thanks for reading today. And may God bless you and keep you in the palm of his hand.
The woman’s voice was soft and gentle. Almost otherworldly. It floated on the night. It came from a distance, making the words hard to understand. But Johnny knew them all by heart. His own mother had sang them to him herself in his infancy.
Johnny strained to tell where the sound that had awoken him came from. It seemed to have no direction.
It seemed to be everywhere—and nowhere—all at once.
The bed was large, and well covered. But even at that, Johnny shivered a bit in the cold. Detroit, on this 15th day of April, in the year of the Lord, nineteen hundred and forty, was wet, foggy, and near freezing. The dampness seemed to settle in the bones—indeed, even into the very cells of the body. The old Victorian house on Virginia Park Street was large. One could even say rambling. Much too much space, for way too little coal-furnace.
Johnny pulled the covers up higher, and buried his head in the old-fashioned feather-pillow, trying to settle in again and return to sleep. He could just see the faintly illuminated hands of his wrist-watch on the night-stand.
Three-thirty in the morning.
In a few moments, the song began again. A bit softer—a little farther off.
And if that billy-goat won’t pull,
Mama’s gonna buy you a cart and bull . . .
And if that cart and bull turn over,
Mama’s gonna buy you a dog named Rover . . .
Hesitation, as though the baby were finally drifting off to sleep. Then, a few moments later—the conclusion.
And if that dog named Rover won’t bark,
Mama’s gonna buy you a horse and cart . . .
And if that horse and cart fall down,
You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town . . .
Hush, little baby, don’t you cry,
Your Daddy loves you and so do I . . .
Johnny listened intently, as it faded away to silence at the close.
In the end, there was nothing but the creaking of the old house, a gentle April breeze softly rattling the window shutters, and Johnny’s shallow breathing, to be heard.
With a slight involuntary shutter—he returned to a fitful sleep.
* * *
At Detroit Metro airport, Howard Carter, Linh Zhou, and Maggie Moran made their way into the mostly deserted main airport concourse, as the pilot turned the small jet around and taxied once more out onto the runway, for the return trip home. He was not anxious to remain for long in the city of blood, as Detroit was being called on the news.
The terminal was cavernous, dark and cold. There were of course, no waiting curb-side taxis, as the terror-stricken city remained on full lock-down.
Howard went off to try to find a rental-car, while Maggie and Linh settled into a pair of hard, cold and unwelcoming waiting-room chairs.
“How you doing, pregnant girl?” Maggie asked with a thin smile.
“Had better days, to tell you the truth, Maggie. How ‘bout you?”
“Had better days too, Linh. Had better days too.”
Linh shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“How is little Matthew doing?”
“Quiet. Just moving around enough to let me know he’s all right.”
“What’s on your mind, Maggie?”
“Just wondering what it would take to talk you into sitting this one out.”
“Not a chance.”
“You’re pregnant, Linh.”
“Yeah—I know. And the child I have inside me is part of this. Just as surely as you, or me, or Howard.”
“I don’t want you to be angry with me Linh, but do you have the right to risk his life?”
“I’m not angry with you Maggie, and I’m not about to be either. Everything you say to me is said out of love and concern. But the answer is yes. I do think I have the right to risk his life—and I have every intention of doing it.”
“I know you have strong feelings for Johnny, Linh—but he isn’t your husband.”
“Again, Maggie—and with all due respect. I’m sitting in a dark, empty and cold airport terminal well over a thousand miles from home, in the middle of a Michigan winter night. I’ve got two of my three best friends with me and the third one needs our help. The child I’m carrying has his name as well as Matt’s. As a fine point, and as a matter-of-fact, Johnny actually means a lot more to me right now than Matt does. In case you haven’t noticed it Maggie—I don’t have a husband right now. And I’m not real sure I’m going to ever have one again, either.”
“Johnny is almost certainly dead.” Maggie said softly, her eyes cast on the tile floor.
“I’m sorry Maggie, but you don’t know Johnny O’Brien like I do. You haven’t seen the hell on earth that man can wade through. I have. I’ve waded through some of it with him. I’ll believe he’s dead when I look into his cold, sightless eyes, and not one micro-second before. And Albert and I are going to go look for him—if it kills us both. End of story.”
“It’s what he would do for you—isn’t it?”
“Yeah, Maggie—it’s what he’d do for me. Or you. Or Howard. Or even Matt, although I believe he’s not proving himself to be really worthy of that kind of loyalty, sad to say.”
“I’m sorry, Linh.”
“Don’t be, Maggie. We all sleep in the beds we make. I’m just sleeping in mine now, that’s all. I knew I wasn’t his first love. I knew every bit of it because he told me every bit—every single word—himself. This blame I take on me—no one else.”
Carter appeared in a few minutes, carrying a set of keys, and what appeared to be a rolled-up jacket.
“We’re in luck. Not a rental to be had in Detroit, but the head of airport security is an ex-cop, and he’s loaning us his own personal car. He says there is a makeshift city morgue set-up in a Church just across the street from the Hilton. He knows the Sergeant on duty and is calling ahead for us. We can be there in an hour or less. There’s about forty or so dead in there, and if Johnny’s not among them, we’ll go over to the Harper Hospital on Woodward, just up the street from the Hilton. Most all of the wounded are there, and quite a few minor injuries have already been released. Even if he’s one of those, they’ll still have his name on file. Then we’ll go from there.”
Linh started to arise. “Let’s get going then, and get this part over with.”
“Linh,” Howard began.
“Forget it Howard. You’re not my boss tonight. You’re my friend. And I’m going along.”
Howard smiled his patented crooked smile. “Never doubted it for a second, Officer McCabe, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Just wanted you to take a minute and put this one. Let’s give little Matthew Albert every chance we can—all right?” Howard unfolded the smallish Kevlar vest he had been carrying and tossed it to Linh. “One of the security ladies on duty here tonight volunteered it. Said she had a spare in her locker.”
It was Linh’s turn to smile. “Good old Howard Carter. Have I told you lately just how much you mean to me?”
“Knock it off, Sergeant. You’re going to have me crying.”
“Will do, Sir. Horses tied-up out front?”
“Close. Light green Ford mini-van—just out the back door.”
They walked out the terminal then, the three of them, Linh putting on the vest as they went, and pulling her winter jacket over it—enshrouding in protective fiber the unborn infant in her body, and doing her best to keep him safe from harm.
* * *
The muffled shriek rose in pitch and intensity—sending goosebumps down the arms and legs of the woman as she sat in a chair watching the unholy inferno slowly unfolding before her eyes. The two men had been busy with their knives and scalpels for a while. There was little life left inside their victim. Still he tried to cry out, hoping somehow for mercy where there was none to be had. Strapped solidly to the embalming table, the naked man made little attempt to move. He was far beyond that now. Most of his intestines were outside his body, and laying off slightly to the side. Among them were his two eyes, tongue, ears, nose, penis and testicles.
The bleeding was largely staunched with a small butane torch, and consciousness maintained with a large supply of ammonia soaked cloths. The blood that could not be stopped ran from the grooves in the sides of the table and into a floor drain. Outside of splatter, there was surprisingly little mess. The two men, fastidious about their appearance, wore plastic aprons.
The Ice Queen was surprised that he hadn’t died by now. He was turning out to be a lot tougher than she would have thought. A shame. He wasn’t a bad guy really. Mostly just a stupid little bullshit indoctrinated bastard. He was paying for that stupidity now, with his life—and a long, slow, and hideously ugly death.
The men were moving on to the fingers now. She heard the dry-branch snapping sound as the left thumb detached. Again the bound man shrieked as the pruning shears were placed on his next digit, and it was severed as well.
The woman’s stomach heaved slightly.
Just then the door to the embalming room opened and Saal Moradi entered. The two men stopped what they were doing as Moradi surveyed their work. His flat eyes seemed well pleased and he nodded his approval. The two men began to pack away their tools. They hung their aprons on a pegboard.
“Do you want us to finish him?”
“No,” Moradi replied. “Let him die slow.”
With that, the two men were gone, and Moradi and the Ice Queen remained together in the room.
“What do you think of my little set-up here?” he asked.
“Where is this?”
“An abandoned funeral home on Woodward and John R. There are many such placed in this city. Very convenient for me. I can get any information I want from a person in this room.”
The near corpse on the table moaned loudly.
“He didn’t have any information,” the Queen said.
“He failed me.”
“So did I.”
“So you did. What, I ask you, Sandra Buckles—should I do about that?”
“You know my name.”
“I know everything about you, Sandra Buckles of Chicago, Illinois. From your childhood to now. I know about your father too. Not a very nice man—was he Sandy dear? No—not a very nice man at all. Made you what you are today, didn’t he? A man-hater. That’s your thing, isn’t it? Oh, you like the money all right. You made yourself a promise that you would never be poor again, didn’t you? No—no more tenement apartments for little Sandy. And no more dark of night visits from daddy dearest either. He was the only person you ever actually killed yourself—wasn’t he, Sandra?”
The Queen obeyed. Grabbing her hard by the back of the neck Moradi walked her to the table. He forced her head down, and her nose nearly into the gut-pile oozing out over the edge of the table. Thick bile began to gather and rise in her throat.
“DO NOT VOMIT, my dear. Do not. If you do, you will join him.”
Somehow, she did not.
Moradi released her. “Sit back down, Sandra.”
“Why do you think I do what I do, Sandra?”
“Money?—or power.” she replied.
“Money mean nothing to me, Sandra. And power I already have—power over life and death. Nor does the foolish religions of men, or their empty, meaningless and pathetic politics. I couldn’t care less. I have my virgins right here on this earth—anytime I want. I give life when I choose to—and I deal death when I feel like it—and no one stops me.”
“Why? Why, you ask? The game my dear. The game. The game of life and death. The eternal struggle between so-called good and so-called evil. The stuff of devils—and of gods. The stuff of myths—and legends.”
The near-corpse moaned again—weaker this time.
“Do you believe in god, Sandra?”
“Me either. That’s because I’ve never seen god. I believe in Satan though. Him—him I’ve seen. Do you know where I’ve seen him Sandra Buckles?”
“When I look in the mirror.”
The near-corpse began to thrash weakly on the table.
“Still pretty energetic for a dead man, wouldn’t you say, Sandra?”
The Queen said nothing.
“Tonight I have dealt death. I shall deal more, and more slowly yet, when I place Mr. O’Brien on this very same table. He has escaped me twice, and Mr. Wahl one time too. I am tired of them both. Wahl I will simply kill. Mr. O’Brien—I will annihilate, eradicate, and obliterate—simply because I can—and because I feel like it. I went to a great deal of trouble to bring them both together, here, in my lair—and now they belong to me. O’Brien thinks I care about his precious Christian children, or his watch. They can bury him with that watch for all I care.”
“So he is. And that’s a part of the game as well. But I shall best him easily, Sandra Buckles. I will best him because I know what he will do.”
“Because I have studied him. I know him inside and out. Every strength, and every weakness. I know him because I have read every single word of his Jack McGuire. That is one of his weakness my dear. He likes to brag. Oh, not about himself. He is much more modest than that. He brags through his Mr. McGuire. I guarantee you, Sandra Buckles—that bragging will be the death of him. A death that will make the one you just witnessed, look like that of a man who passed peacefully in his sleep. Mr. O’Brien is a white-knight—tilting at windmills. That is his weakness.”
“What about the partner in his agency?”
“Yes. The very absent Mr. McCabe. The time-traveler. Well, Mr. McCabe is lost in time right now my dear. Lost in the fifties, tonight—his attention focused entirely and solely on the brightly-colored baubles and trinkets I have placed before his eyes. He is being dealt with even as we speak. Do you think that I would have forgotten such a detail as that?”
“No, I don’t suppose you would have.”
“After I finish with all of them, I will move on to the bigger game—the true game. A very, very foolish man, Sandra, has made a deal with the devil. A man that believes he has power. He has made a deal with Satan himself—foolish man. He thinks he is powerful. He thinks he is clever. He thinks he cannot be touched. He thinks he is immortal. Satan knows better. Satan intends to break that deal, and commit a crime that will live on forever in myth and legend. The crime of the century. Maybe of all the centuries.”
“Men before me have become such legends—but they paid with their own lives. Not me, Sandra. Not Satan. Satan shall walk away—unscathed—simply to show mere mortals that he can.”
“I am becometh death, sayeth the worm. But tonight, Sandra dear, I give life. Unto thee I give life. It’s a lot like the idiotic American game of baseball. Only one difference. Here, you get only one strike. Strike number two—and you’re out—way out. Do you understand what I am saying to you, Sandra dear?”
“Yes. I believe you do. Do not fail me again.”
The near-corpse moaned.
“I will send you four men tomorrow, Sandra. They are killers of the highest quality. Experts every one. The best assassins on the planet. You will be in command of them. I will be in command of you. You will hunt down Wahl and O’Brien. Wahl you will kill. O’Brien you will bring to me.”
“What about the old man? Who is he anyway?”
“I don’t know. He is the only part of this puzzle that I don’t quite understand. Kill him on sight if he interferes again. Do not fail me again, Sandra. Do not.”
“Just one more thing then before we part company for the night.”
Moradi walked to the other side of the old embalming room. He retrieved a smallish electric chain-saw from a corner cabinet. Plugging it in and flipping the switch, it sprang to life, and hummed contentedly. Pointing to the near-corpse on the table, he said simply, “Show me your bona-fides, Ice Queen. Show me your stuff. Show me just what you did to your dear old daddy—all those long years ago.” Nodding toward the near-corpse, he said, “Bring me his head. Bring it to me in your hands.”
* * *
At that very moment, in a city far away, a dark limousine made a slow turn into a long drive of a large building and pulled up beside a nearly concealed doorway. It was the servant’s entrance, marked simply—RECEIVING. This night however, there were no servants, nor deliveries. This night there was only the limo, with but one person inside.
The rear door of the car opened slowly, as a woman in black stepped out, and then quickly entered the building—slowly and deliberately closing the door behind her, making sure it was locked. The limo driver pulled carefully and soundlessly away—disappearing into the cold black night.
Thanks so much for reading . . . back in a day or two with another chapter of THE RECKONING.
Dumb joke of the day:
The Rants, Views, Books and Classic Entertainment of Lee Capp