Anne Caryl

Page forty-two

A Christmas Poem
Merry Christmas. Are you kidding me?
About Me
The Gold Train Connection
Back to Reason
Virtual Art Gallery




            Ron watched as Pete Conley came in the back door with two packages of cinnamon rolls.        

            “Day-old,” he explained as Mary frowned.

            “Yes, well these love handles I have are more than a day old. Yours are, too. We don’t really need cinnamon rolls. But, maybe if this is the last time...” She nodded toward Ron.“We have a visitor.”

            Mary Conley took the rolls from her husband and set them on the counter. “Here. Wash the lettuce. Eat enough of this and you won’t have room for pastries.”

            Pete scowled. “Lettuce gives me gas.”

            “Everything gives you gas. Wash the lettuce.”

            “OK, but if you have to sleep on the couch tonight, don’t blame me.” Pete winked at Ron, took the head of lettuce from his wife and held it under a stream of water.

            “And who says I’d be the one on the couch?”

            Pete drew the salad-spinner from the cupboard, put the dripping head into it and pulled the cord. A lump formed in Ron’s throat. Such simple, homey things. Things that were foreign to his marriage. Maybe it would be better if he left.

            “Mary, Pete, I think I made a mistake coming here. I’m just going to—”

            “To what?” Mary wiped her hands on a tea towel and stared at him. “What are you going to do?”

            Ron studied the floor. He didn’t dare meet her eyes. He’d bawl like a baby. When he didn’t reply, Mary turned back to her counter and patted the grease from three small steaks.

            “Is Paige at home?” she asked?

            Ron shook his head.

            “Then you’ll eat with us.”

            “I’m not real hungry. Do you guys have time to talk?”

            Mary took his arm and pulled him to the table. “Sit down.”

            Ron shook his head. “I had a big fight with Paige. She’s not coming home tonight. It seems they’re leaving for a week-long church retreat tomorrow and they want to get an early start, so she’s staying over.”

            “Over where?” Pete put a platter of meat on the table and took his place. He inclined his head to meet Ron’s eyes..

            “That’s just it. I don’t know. Some friend’s. I didn’t even know about the retreat until two nights ago. She said a spot opened up, so she registered. It was a last minute thing. I don’t know her any more. It scares me.”

            “Do you think it’s, well…another man?” Mary slipped the tongs into a big bowl of salad and put a glass of water at each of their places.

            “No. At least, not the way you mean it. She spends a lot of time at that church, at committee meetings. She thinks the pastor and his board members are one step removed  from Jesus.”

            “Did you check it out?” Pete asked.

            “Let’s say grace so we can eat before all this food gets cold.” Mary took Ron’s hand and Pete reached out, completing the circle.

            After the prayer, the only sound was the clinking of dishes and utensils. Ron sat, looking at the slab of steak and mound of greens sitting on his plate. Finally, he forced himself to speak.

            “Maybe I’m just jealous of the hold they seem to have on Paige. She’s seemed a lot happier lately, more content. Like they’ve been really blessing her there. But I can’t help thinking about what your pastor said the last time we went to church with you. That Satan counterfeits miracles.”

            Mary patted Ron’s hand. “When she gets back, sweetie, we’ll have the two of you over. I’ll talk to her. I’m sure it’s not as bleak as we’re all making it sound. Maybe you can come to church with us again. Maybe the pastor—”

            “It’s too late for that, Mary. Paige will never leave Hope Tabernacle. And I can’t lay it all on the church. I think there’s just a few people…Anyway, I’m just so nervous about her being gone.”

            “Then call the church and check it out. That’s no problem.” Pete wiped his hands on his napkin and stood. A moment later, he returned with the cordless phone. “Do you know the number?”

            Ron nodded, pulled out hid billfold and fished in it for the piece of envelope he’d scribbled the Church’s phone number on. He took the handset Pete offered and dialed.




            The church secretary finished her typing and twisted her wrist to read her watch. 6:30. Marge Cranwell huffed and clicked on “print.” The church paid for four hours a day; she’d never put in less then six. She patted the stack of papers on her desk until its edges were even, then picked it up to transfer it to Pastor Soudo’s office.

            Computer printouts sure made things easier. Instead of typing long lists, staring at figures until she went cross-eyed, she just called up the information on her monitor and told the printer to spit it out. Still, she did have to summarize things in a few paragraphs so people who couldn’t

read charts and graphs would know how the church had fared over the last year. And Pastor Soudo had to sign the reports. Marge hated annual business meetings. She stood and picked up the reports she’d created, then opened the door to Pastor Soudo’s office.

            It gave her the creeps, being in his private office when he wasn’t in. Like she was invading his privacy. As she entered, flicking on the light, her gaze went to the wall over the pastor’s huge gleaming desk. That’s the way he planned it. He’d hung his license, framed in gold, centered over

the desk. On either side of that, pictures of Soudo with prominent people smiled down at her. It wasn’t hard to have a picture taken with Governor Owens, she thought, but how in the world had he managed to get James Brown, the Father of Soul to stand next to him like that, grinning as if

Pastor Soudo was his best friend?

            As she laid the papers on the desk, her hand brushed the framed picture of Leonard Soudo’s grandmother. She looked like such a sweet lady, not pretentious at all. How could she be—

            The jangling of the phone interrupted her thoughts.

            “Good evening. Hope Tabernacle.”

            The soft voice at the other end of the line shook. “Excuse me, but…do you have a women’s retreat going on this weekend?”

            “A women’s retreat?”

            “Yes. My wife…that is, I was under the impression that Hope tabernacle was sponsoring a retreat for some of the women this weekend.”

            “Well…are you sure you have the right church? As far as I know, there’s nothing like that going on. I mean, sometimes the Sunday School classes have parties, things like that, so I suppose…But, no. I’d think they’d say something to the pastor or leave a number where they could be reached or something…”

            The caller thanked her and hung up. That was strange. A retreat? They hadn’t had one of those in years. The last one had been at Estes Park. YMCA of the Rockies. In November, as she remembered, when it was cold and they lit the fireplace in the lodge they’d rented for the occasion.

            Marge picked up a huge silver cube engraved LMS and placed it over the stack of forms she’d laid on the desk, uncovering a bright envelope with UNITED AIRLINES printed on it.

She glanced over her shoulder before easing the flap back and peering inside. The plane ticket was made out to Leonard Soudo, one way to—

            “Sister Cranwell.”

            Marge dropped her hand to her side, hiding the envelope in the folds of her skirt.

            “Brother Wilson?”

            “I just saw the light. Thought Pastor was in here.”

            “No. I uh, that is, I was putting some papers on his desk when the phone rang and…”

            “Anything important?”

            “Just the end-of-year reports. I finished….” At the look on Deacon Wilson’s face, Marge

changed tack. “Oh, you mean the call. Strange. Some man wanted to know if there was a women’s retreat going on this weekend.”

            Marge thought she saw a smile flicker on Wilson’s face, but it vanished.

            “I’ll leave you to your work, then.”

            The deacon stood back to allow Marge to leave the office ahead of him. She smiled and walked through the door keeping her arm down, the envelope hidden. She’d have to replace it later.

            The police had been at Hope Tabernacle on Tuesday. They hadn’t spent much time with her, but they went into Brother Soudo’s office and shut the door. After about thirty minutes they came out, Brother Soudo smiling and nodding.

            They’d come once before, after that terrible fire in that clinic in Thornton, and that time they’d talked to her a lot. ATF had come, too. She didn’t know anything, though, and neither did Brother Soudo. At least, that’s what he’d told her.

            She wished the church would find out who was responsible for that embarrassing website and make them close it. That’s what she’d said to the police. But Brother Soudo said they told him they found nothing to connect the website, as repulsive as it was, or the church to the fire. Only the protests, and they were legal.

            “If they find out who’s all behind that web site, though, you can bet there’ll be the devil to pay, Sister Cranwell. There’s a hit list on that site. Police wanted to tie it to the church. I told them we didn’t hold with killing. Hope Tabernacle is all about love. And now abideth faith and hope. And hope worketh to love. Yessir. Love and hope abideth forever.”

            Marge didn’t think that was the way the scriptures went, but she didn’t correct him. He said it with such authority, she thought maybe she was wrong.

            Anyway, it made her jumpy. In all her years of being secretary at Hope Tabernacle, Marge Cranwell never had to deal with the police. Unless, of course, you counted that time ten years ago when they’d walked two blocks on a Sunday morning to hold a baptism in the fountain outside Mayfair Apartments. They couldn’t fill their tank, because the plumbing had backed up at the church. No, they hadn’t had trouble like this. Two visits from the police in two months. And ATF. She couldn’t forget that.

            Brother Soudo seemed nervous, too. He’d spent an hour on the phone earlier, asking not to be disturbed. Then there was that strange call about a women’s retreat. The other thing was the plane ticket. Brother Soudo hadn’t mentioned taking a trip.

            Margie shut down the computer and scooped up her purse. She was as pro-life as the next person. But she couldn’t understand the church “winking” at that awful website. She’d gone there once, seen the blood running down the screen and closed it out. Once was enough.









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Anne Caryl
504 East Furry St.
Holyoke, Co. 80734