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The Slow Bend Page

The following is a true story. The names and some situations have been altered to assure the anonymity of those it portrays. What has not been altered is the interaction of God in man’s life. We hope you enjoy the story and are uplifted by it.

By Taylor Mckenzie

Because the story is now serialized over a number of weeks we felt that an explanation of the title would be beneficial. It is the story of a young man’s conversion. While many famous conversions stories most of those are of a miraculous, instantaneous conversion, the Christian hating Saul becoming the pious Paul etc. Some conversions are not so quick, some are a process. If you were to visualize someone going in the exact opposite direction as the straight and narrow, straight to hell if you will, then Paul and others like him made a 180 degree turn. They did an about face, and turned immediately around and headed for that straight and narrow path. But others, often because of the influences of good family or friends begin to turn away from the path to damnation. They don’t right away get on the straight and narrow, but they do begin to curve to the right, and over time they will be brought all the way around to the one path, in the fashion of a slow bend in the road.

 

The three boys squinted and strained their eyes to look into the bright oncoming headlights.  In unison they all dropped the right hands to their side when Frank yelled “it’s the law, it’s the law.”  But William was bending at the waist with this hands stuck up to try and block the blindingly bright lights,  “naw, it’s just the rack on a station wagon.  It a’int the law.”  Their arms went back up with thumbs pointing skyward in that almost universal sign of foot travelers who wish to not be foot travelers. 

Ricky McFarland’s heart sank as the Merrinville patrol car pull up beside the boys.  He was worried, but not panicked.  Hitch - hiking from their small hometown of Clayton the twelve miles to the almost as small Merrinville to go to the movies, as the boys did nearly every weekend, had its risks.  This was a risk  he felt he was prepared for.  He could talk his way out of this.  Before the car came to a stop, Ricky grabbed Frank’s elbow and said quickly and quietly  into his ear,  “Just let me do the talking!  Don’t say anything!” 

There were two officers in the patrol car.  The one on the passenger side said through the open window,  “You boys need a ride?”

Ricky stepped in front of Frank and William and answered, “Yes sir.”

“Where are you young fellows going?”

“To Clayton”

“You all from Clayton then?”

“Yes Sir.”

“What are you doing in Merrinville at one in the morning;  you look a bit young to me.  How old are you guys anyway.”

“We came to the movies over here and missed our ride”.  (While that was technically correct, it was not altogether honest.  The ride Ricky referred to was some of the night-shift workers at the sawmill in Merrinville who lived in Clayton.  When they got off at midnight there was a good stream of traffic going to Clayton.  The usual procedure was to get out on the road a little before twelve and the chances were very good one of the workers would stop and pick the boys up.  On this night they had about missed the that traffic, and it was for that very reason that they had started thumbing at the edge of town rather than wait to get out of town as they normally would have done.  So now Ricky was having to talk his way out of a jam.  After circling around the truth about their ride home, Ricky was more truthful about their ages, “I’m thirteen,” and pointing to Frank, “he’s fifth-teen,” then nodding toward William, “and he’s twelve.”

The officer went into the big speech about how dangerous and illegal hitchhiking was and how the boy’s were too young to be running around town without any supervision and all that stuff Ricky had heard from his Grandpa about a million times.  Ricky put in really sincere sounding “Yes sir”s at all the right spots and made his face give that humble and respectful look which always worked so well and the authority types.  He was so confident that he was bearly listening as the officer said, “You guys get on out of here, and don’t come back to Merrinville without a ride home.”  The policeman who was driving leaned over and added, “We know you now, and you had better not show back up here running the streets; You understand.”  Ricky and William answered “Yes, sir,” as they started walking away from the car, but Frank had taken Ricky’s place at the window and Ricky could not believe what he was hearing.  Frank asked in an almost jokingly fashion, “And just what are you going to do if we do?”  As can be imagined the patrolmen were quite astounded by what they were hearing.  The driver had a vain in his forehead that was swelling up and his face was bright red,  “Why, we’ll lock you up! That’s what we’ll do!”  And to Ricky’s utter amazement and despair, Frank could not seem to keep his month shut, “Lock us up.  What for.  We a’int done nothing.”  The same officer answered through clenched teeth, “For loitering, that’s what for!”  This time Ricky was not even surprised when Frank’s month kept right on rolling,  “Loitering, what’s loitering?”  Both doors flew open, and the red faced policeman said as he made his way around the car in long fast strides, “I’ll show you what loitering is!” 

Looking through the chainlink guard at the back of the policeman’s head, Ricky was scarcely aware of the conversation around him.  William was saying something about Frank being the stupidest person on earth and one of the policemen was agreeing with him.   Ricky was lost to his own thoughts.  This is it, he thought.  You have really done it this time.

When they got to the City Hall the officers pulled around back where the jail was. They got the boys out of the car and lead them into the building. Ricky was in a daze. He heard people talking and saw there was activity going on around him but he wasn’t taking it in.  They passed though a glass door and stopped in front of a high, large desk or counter. Behind it was one young woman in uniform. There was something said about putting Frank in the “bullpen”. The next thing Ricky knew an officer had him by the elbow and was guiding him down a long hallway. The floor was grey and the walls were flat white, both made of concrete. Spaced every few feet were large grey steel doors. The doors were solid except for a barred window about one foot square at eye level. When he would turn his head, he could see another officer had William behind him. The hallway made two or three turns and after what seemed a long time the officer let go of Ricky’s arm and unlocked a steel door with a very large key. The officer stepped aside and motioned for Ricky to pass through. He walked into a room about ten feet wide and fifteen feet long. On each side were two small bucks attached to the wall by a steel frame, one above the other. There was a curious combination toilet and sink. It looked to be made of stainless steel and had a small sink at the top and a toilet at the bottom. Above this a piece of stainless steel was fastened to the wall for a mirror. Opposite the door in the back of the cell was one narrow window. It was placed high and all Ricky could see from it was some sky and the tops of some defoliated pecan trees.

Before Ricky turned fully around he heard the sad, loud, resounding clang of the door being slammed shut and the clicking of the key turning in the lock. Only then had he noticed William was with him. William made a silly grin and jumped onto one of the top bunks. “Where do you think Frank is?” he asked. “They said they were going to put him in the bullpen, I think that’s where the adults are”, Ricky correctly guessed. “I think they’ve had enough of his mouth; probably trying to teach him a lesson. I hope somebody busts his head.” Ricky was still more than a little put out at being thrown in jail because of Frank’s month.

Their first few hours of confinement were not too bad. They had the novelty of being in jail to break the monotony, but after a while the boys were none too happy. The mattresses on the bunks had no sheets or covers; there were only two olive green wool blankets. Ricky didn’t really want to lie on the bare mattress; it stunk and Ricky’s imagination ran wild as to what the foul odors might be. At first he had rolled one of the blankets up for a pillow to keep his head off the nastily mattress, but he got cold and had to use it to cover himself. He didn’t know why he thought the blanket was cleaner then the mattress, but he did and so he laid on his back so that only the back of his head directly touched the mattress. He wanted to go to sleep. Because they had not been finger printed or “booked” Ricky thought they were most likely not official prisoners. In the morning, after giving the boys a good scare and well learned lesson, they would surly just let them go. But Ricky couldn’t go to sleep. For one thing, ever few minutes William would go to the door and yell he wanted to make a phone call. After yelling for some time, he would ask Ricky, “We get a phone call, don’t we? They can’t keep us form making a phone call, can they?” Ricky never answered. He felt there was no need. It looked quite apparent to him that they could do just about whatever they wanted.

William finally stopped yelling and Ricky closed his eyes and tried to go to sleep. After laying there for a long time he decided he was too cold to sleep. He got up and was going to the door to see if he could get someone to bring him some more cover. When he got up he noticed that William was still at the door. He wasn’t yelling. He was on his tiptoes with his left arm out the slot in bars of the window that was used to pass food to the confinees. “What are you doing,” Ricky asked him. “I’m trying to pick the lock.” “Pick it with what?” Ricky wanted to know. Pulling his arm back in and showing Ricky a broken matchstick he said, “With this.”  The keys they had used to unlock the door had been very large, perhaps six inches long and an inch high. Ricky could not believe what he was seeing and hearing. “How stupid can you get?” he shouted at William. “If you could pick a lock, which by the way you can’t, you can’t pick any lock with a stick! And if you could pick a lock with a stick, you couldn’t pick that big old lock with that little bitsy stick. What were you thinking! What if this place catches on fire and they can’t get the key in the lock to get us out because your blasted stick is broke off in the lock! Man!”  He was almost immediately sorry for yelling at William. It really wasn’t that big of a deal, unless the place did catch fire. But he was cold. He was tired. He worried that this might totally mess up his life. “Just go over there and lay down. Try and get some sleep,” he told William in kinder tones.

Ricky tried yelling at the door. He wanted some cover. He would yell and listen, and the yell and listen again, but he got no reply. We must be too far in the back for anyone to hear us, he thought. Resigned that he would get no cover tonight, Ricky got back on the bunk. In spite of the cold, eventually he drifted off to sleep. He would not sleep long. The cold, a strange bad dream, or some distant unrecognizable sound would awaken him, and he would lay there cold and thinking until the reprieve of sleep would again slip over him. In this uncomfortable fashion he passed the night, going from miserable wakefulness to restless sleep.

Two or three hours after the first rays of sunlight broke through the window Ricky heard footsteps growing closer to their cell. When he sat up he saw someone through the window in the door, but could not see enough to make out who it was. Ricky got up and walked over to the door and he could then see, Mark, William’s father through the door. He could also tell that the policeman was having trouble getting the door unlocked. “Ye’ll aint put somethin’ in this door, have you?” he asked. “Yes, I think he broke a piece of matchstick off in it,” I told. “What!” the officer exclaimed. “Now how are we goin’ get that outa there? What were you boys thinkin’; I mean what if there was a fire!” Ricky didn’t say anything, but he thought ya, what if there was a fire.

About two hours later the keysmith had the door opened and they let William out. Mark looked past William as he exited the cell and said to Ricky, “We told your Grandpa. Maybe he’ll be along to get you soon.” Ricky threw up a hand and said “Ya. Thanks. I’m sure he will be along soon.”  But he didn’t think he would. His Grandpa loved him, but he didn’t think he would get him out of jail if he truly was guilty of the offence that put him there.

As he sat alone in the cell Ricky had no concept of the passage of time save the waning light form the window. When he was sure it was getting dark he wondered why no one had brought him anything to eat. After, what he was sure was two or three hours, after dark he was alone, cold and hungry. He had not seen anyone sense they had let William out that morning, probably 10AM he figured. He had been locked up for almost twenty-four hours without any food. Had they forgotten him? He was not really afraid of dieing, had already drank water form the sink, and so he could stay alive for several days until he was discovered, if they had forgotten him. If they had forgotten him, why had they not fed him?

After lying on the unclean mattress for a few more hours Ricky felt he had to do something. He wanted to pray, but it had been a long time sense he had went to church or did any of the other things that the church-going people told him he should. He felt guilty. He never thought to pray when good things happened to him. But now when he could think of no place else to turn, that is what he felt he should do. His grandpa’s words came into his remembrance, “Some folks think God is a spare tire, or at least they want to use Him like one. Never think about Him atall, ‘til they need somethin’, then they want to cry Oh God, and have Him fix all their ails.” Grandpa believed hypocrites were little better than murderers. Be all that as it may, Ricky was determined to pray. You can’t apologize to someone if you don’t talk to them he reasoned. He prayed. He apologized. After he apologized, he asked God to help him. He was hungry and he thought they had forgotten him. Would He let someone know he was there? And could someone bring him some food. As he started praying he had been lying his back and was just thinking the words, but as he prayed felt he should kneel. Without opening his eyes he rolled from the bunk and knelt on the floor. Then his thoughts became audible words. Although he had said grace at meals and prayed with his Grandpa at night, he had never prayed out loud when he was alone. God had never seemed so real to him. He had never felt near his Heavenly Father. He almost felt that if he opened his eyes and looked up He would be standing before him. He prayed for much longer than he had thought he would. When he had finished praying he got on the bunk and pulled the blankets over him. He felt much warmer. He was calm. He was assured everything would somehow be alright. He had no way of knowing it, but he had said his prayer just after midnight.

At that same time Richard Patterson was setting at his table with his wife eating a late night snack. They had went to the movies after Richard got off his shift at the police department. His wife was started when in mid-bite Richard dropped his food and looked right through her. “What’s the matter?” she asked. When she spoke the spell was broken and he regained his composure. “Oh, nothing, I don’t guess. I just got this terrible thought that nobody had told anyone about this kid we had in isolation at the jail. I mean  I’m sure it was taken care of; it didn’t really have anything to do with me. It just that I know there were two of them in there and one of them was picked up by a parent and nobody came after the other boy. And I just had this bad feeling all of a sudden that if no one said anything at shift change no one would know because they were just kids and were not booked in. But I’m sure its alright.” Richard’s wife could look at him and tell it wasn’t alright. “No. You had better call in, just to be sure. You know if you don’t you will not be able to sleep all night.”

He got up from the table and walked over to the phone. “I’m sure its okay,” He said to his wife, “but I’ll just check in.” The young officer at the jail let his chin drop just before he let out an involuntary “Oh crap!”  As Richard was talking to him he was talking too, “you mean we have had a juvenile locked up back there since last night with nothing to eat! Oh crap! – Oh crap! What are we going to do?” Richard told him to just radio a patrol car to go by and pick up a hamburger and run it to the jail for him. “It’ll be okay”, he told the young officer. “Yes, I know it wasn‘t your fault. Yes I know no one told you. Yes, yes, I know he wasn’t listed on the board. It will be alright. Just get him some food, and look in on him and make sure he is okay.”

After he came back to the table Richard’s wife asked, “Nobody knew about that poor boy?” “Ya, but, we’re getting him something to eat now, and maybe his folks will come get him tomorrow,” Richard answered as he thought how glad he was that he had called and checked on the boy.

Ricky had closed his eyes to sleep but then he opened them and noticed something in the small window in the door to his cell. He got up and moved over to the door.  Before he got there he could see it was a loge hamburger in a Styrofoam box. It was wedged between the bars in the window. He pulled it out and looked out the small windows as best he could, but could see no one. He opened the box and begin to eat the burger before he got back over to the bunk. As he was chomping on the bread, meat and vegetables of the big burger, a thought just jumped into his mind. Where had the thing came from. It was form the local fast-food restaurant, he could tell, but how did it gout here? He was sure the jail didn’t feed this kind of stuff to its prisoners, and if they did they didn’t at this hour.

It was then that his prayer came to his mind. “Had God made it appear?”, he wondered. He remembered how he had felt so reassured after he had prayed. He as sure his prayer had been answered; he didn’t know how, but he knew it had. He swallowed what was in his month and closed the Styrofoam box. He then knelt and thanked God for his food and the knowledge he had received that he was not alone.

The next morning was Sunday. Ricky had not seen anyone since the morning before that when William had left. At around ten o’clock he heard foot steps coming down the hall. He jumped up, hoping that he was being released, but an officer just place a foil covered paper plate in the opening in the window, and said ,”come and get it.”

Ricky pulled back the foil and saw the he had a heaping plate of rice smoothed in gravy. He was hungry and he dug in. There was one wedge of cornbread and that was it. The rice and gravely was good but he wished it had some meat in it. He was glad there was plenty of gravy because they had not given him anything to drink. In short order he had most of the rice gone. Toward the end of his meal he would scrape the plastic fork across the bottom of the paper plate and he thought he was getting a little meat. He figured out that was not the case when he scraped across the plate and felt the fork on his hand under the plate. He had eaten a hole through the plate!

As the light once again began to fade from his cell, Ricky wondered if anyone was going to get him out. He again felt very alone. Had his Grandpa decided to let him stay in jail? Had some of the authorities found out Grandpa wasn’t his real father or grandfather and were they going to take him away. His worries and depression made him physically ill. His chest ached. He knelt beside the dirty jail bunk and asked God to help him get out of this mess. If Grandpa was being tough, because he thought it was the right thing to, would his Father in Heaven soften his Grandpa’s heart? Let him know how much he loved him and how sorry he was for being disobedient. Ricky knew the Lord had helped him get food; he knew He would help him get out.

Grandpa sat in his chair on the porch and looked out at the pines growing around him. His eyes were focused on the trees but he was not aware of them. He was lost in thought. He was worried about the boy. Should he have gotten him out of jail? They had called him late Friday night; or was it early Saturday morning? All he had to do was go and pick him up. Maybe that was what he should have done. But the boy was out of control. He had gotten himself in jail all by himself; maybe that’s where he needed to be. His habit of staying out and running with the wrong crowd was getting him in trouble.

He had almost convinced himself that he had done right, as much as it hurt, when as the last rays of the sun winked out behind the pines, a voice came in his mind. It was not his voice, but it was a comforting voice. “If it is a lessen he needed, he has surly learned it,” the voice said. Grandpa didn’t look around for he knew the voice was from inside himself, not outside. He got up and walked next door to his niece’s house. “I need to use your phone,” he said. It was a question, although he didn’t phrase it as one. “Sure,” she said and pointed to the phone.

Ricky had heard no footsteps when he heard the unmistakable sound of a key being turned in his cell door. The door opened and he saw an officer he didn’t know who said nothing but motioned for him to come out. He was lead to the same large, high desk he had seen the night of his confinement. Frank’s brothers Marley and R.L with sanding there grinning at him. “What are you doing her,” Ricky wanted to know. “Mama said for us to come get you. I think your Grandpa called over here and got it setup, and then called Mama and asked her to have us come get you. And here we are,” Marley, the younger brother answered.

Not more than a year after the Marrinville jail episode Grandpa and Ricky moved to Immokalee Florida. Grandpa had when there for work. They lived in the Immokalee Hotel. Ricky had never seen anything like Immokalee. There were men sleeping on the streets and others setting around in circles passing a bottle of wine. It was there he saw a “flop house” for the first time. They are nothing more than a large room filled with old filthy beds which down trodden and destitute men rent by the night.

In time Ricky learned that these men, wineos, as they were called, were actually a very diverse group. At first he thought they must all be lazy, uneducated and stupid. But he was later to learn that they had their share of lazy and industrious as well as educated and unlearned. About the only thing they all shared was a curse of alcohol dependence.

As the rest of town went, the Immokalee Hotel was very nice. But in that town relatively nice could be very bad indeed. The hotel was old and all of its room were by then rented on a weekly or monthly basis. The tenants were mostly older, single men just in town for work. They normally shared a room with a stranger but Grandpa and Ricky had their own room. The hotel faced the main road in town, a broad four lane boulevard with a concert median about eight feet wide in the middle. Next door was a vacant lot that the residents used for a parking lot. The vacant lot was on the corner and on the corner adjacent to it was a gas station. Next door to the station was Ron daBrom’s Ice-cream Parlor.

Ron, or Polarbear as he was called, operated a nice clean place for kids to go. Here again, we are speaking about relatively nice. He let the kids smoke and do many things their parents might not agree with, but there was no alcohol or drugs and Ron looked out for the kids. Not long after getting to town, Ricky became a regular at the Ice cream Parlor. He would shot pool and play pinball. When he had the money he would eat ice cream and some of the ready-made sandwiches Ron sold.

One night Ricky was shooting pool and a rough looking guy came and put a quarter on the table. Ricky was playing pool with Debbie, a girl four or five years older than his fourteen years, but a girl who like Ricky a good bit none the less. He really didn’t want to shot pool with this nasty looking stranger, but it was kind of poolroom protocol that a challenger could play the winner of a match. The quarter on the table was the challenge. Besides, Ricky did some smalltime gambling and he thought he could get some money out of this guy.

When Ricky and Debbie’s game was over the stranger put his quarter in the slot and released the balls. As he racked, Ricky looked him over. Just looking at him it was a miracle he had the quarter, but Ricky had learned that you can not always tell how much money a person has by how they look. He had shoulder length, straight, oily, brown hair. His beard was long but patchy, and the skin on his face looked as if it had a rash. He wore two or there flannel shirts and a light brown jacket. He looked generally dirty all over, and as he walked close to Ricky he could tell he smelled dirty too. Ricky was only fourteen but he was already almost six foot, the dirty guy was a couple of inches shorter than him, but thicker and heavier. He couldn’t tell if he was in his thirties of forties but Ricky was sure he was somewhere in there.

They played a few games, just “for the game”, and Ricky had sandbagged him a bit and let him win one or two, and was about to ask him if he wanted to play for a dollar, but before he got the chance, the dirty stranger made an offer of his own. He offered Ricky twenty dollars for some homosexual favors. Ricky told him that he wasn’t like that and left in the middle of the game. He went over to counter and ordered a coke. Debbie came and sat down beside him, “what’s wrong,” she wanted to know. “Nothin’,” was his untruthful answer.

Ricky had been a lot of places he should have not, and had seen things he should not have seen, so he didn’t know why this guy was creeping him out so, but he was. It must have been so apparent that Ron could see it. “What’s up,” he asked as he came up. Ricky gave him the same answer he had given Debbie, but Ron would have none of it. Ron looked and Debbie and with just a look and a slight motion of his head, he dismissed her.

After Debbie left, Ron said to waitress, “fix a banana split for Ricky,” and then guided Ricky over to a table. Ricky knew there would be no getting out of telling Ron what was going own. Ron was a fatherly type that could put the kids at ease. Ricky told him what had happened. Ron was visibly upset. Perhaps the occurrences of the last few days had something to do with it. Less that a week before that night a boy about Ricky’s age had found decapitated in a car just out of town.

Following a short conversation with Ron, the dirty stranger left the ice cream parlor without incident. As the night rolled on Ricky played his normal games, talked and fleeted with Debbie and after everyone else was gone, talked to Ron as he closed up. He was back in his normal routine and had thought nothing more about the dirty stranger. It had been two or three hours sense Ron had had him leave, and until Ron was locking the front door behind Ricky, he had forgotten him. As was their customary practice, Ricky was the last customer to leave and Ron would lock the front door when he left and then go out the back himself. Ricky felt very uneasy as he looked back through the plate-glass windows and door at Ron fading into the darkness at the back of the parlor.

Ricky turned around. It was well after midnight, but the street lights had the wide deserted road well lit. On the corner, beside the ice cream parlor, the station was small and had a large parking area al around it. The wall of the parlor ended at the back of the station parking area. Ricky had excellent peripheral vision, and as he walked across the sidewalk, just as he stepped down into the street, he saw a figure out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head just slightly and could see the dirty stranger coming out of the shadows in the station parking area. On most nights he would have walked right past where he was, going to the corner to cross, but for some reason he had on this night went straight out of the parlor door; had he not, the drifty stranger could have easily got him, if he wanted him.

Ricky walked fast across the wide street, pretending he had not noticed the dirty stranger. He walked at right angle to the road even though the hotel was to his right, but the dirty stranger was to his right too. Walking briskly, Ricky heard the footsteps behind him. They sounded like they were getting closer. He broke into a causal jog. The footsteps were faster, faster and closer. He could hear the dirty stranger beginning to breathe hard. He ran faster. He now easily heard the loud, fast, footsteps behind him. He ran faster. He could hear the sound of the fabric of the dirty stranger’s coat as it rubbed as he pumped his arms. He ran faster. The sounds were almost on him now. He was running as fast as he could. When he turned his head he saw the dirty stranger only a half of a step behind him. The hotel was just up ahead. Its concrete steps lead up to the glass door off to his left. Cars were parked along the street to his right. If he could make it to the steps he would fake to the right and then run up the steps. If he could make it to the steps.

Within a step or two of the point he was to make his cut, a voice said, “Go right!” It was not a load voice, but it was very clear, and the urgency in it was unmistakable. In the micro-second between the time Ricky heard the voice and the time he decided to follow its instruction he did not look around to see where the voice came from. It was not necessary. As much as he knew that he had heard the voice, he knew as well that it had came from within him, not from any outside source. He didn’t know or understand how he knew, he just knew.

At the concrete steps Ricky made a fake to his left toward the entrance to the hotel, but then planted his left foot hard and darted to his right between two parked cars. At the very instant that he planted that left foot to change direction the dirty stranger lunged at him. Or at where he would have been if he had continued to his left. As it were he saw the dirty stranger fly by out of the corner of his eye as he ran between the parked cars and out into the street.

In his lunge at Ricky the dirty stranger had fallen down which gave Ricky a lead of a few feet. But quickly the stranger was up and coming after him again. Ricky ran on into the broad deserted street. In the panic he never thought where he was running to, and now he had ran out of the light of the street lights into the darkness. He was very frighten and at the same time embarrassed at his fear. He was only fourteen, but he was big and strong for his age. He was taller than the man who was chasseing him, tough not quite as heavy. This is silly, he thought. The dirty stranger did not appear to have a weapon or at least he had not seen one. Why was he running? I should just stop and face him he thought. As soon as that thought entered his mind, the voice he had heard before said, “Don’t stop! Keep running! Run as fast as you can!” Ricky ran as fast as he could. He didn’t know how he knew for sure, but he knew he was running for his life. His young legs were not tired, but he was not accustomed to running long distances and his side hurt and the air burnt his throat and lungs as he sucked for breath.

When Ricky found he had ran into the darkness he began to run in a large sweeping curve and now he was again headed back to the street lights. But was it too late? Again the dirty stranger was only a step behind him. He had heard and felt him grab at him several times. At first he only felt the air as he swiped at his back, but then a fingertip scraped across his back. The last time the dirty stranger had grabbed his right shoulder but Ricky had pulled away. The dirty stranger was catching him! He felt hopeless. He didn’t know what to do. Then the voice came to him again. “Yell! Yell for help! Scream as loud as you can!” The realization that if he did not escape this man he would die a horrible death had erased all embarrassment from his thoughts. “Help! Help! Help!” he yell as loudly as he could. The dirty stranger still pursued, but now he began to call out to Ricky, “Ah come on, I’m not going to hurt you. Be quite. Just wait a minute.” Ricky kept on yelling for help, “Help! Help!” When he was back in the light of the streetlights, Ricky glanced back and did not see the dirty stranger. He looked completely around in both directions and saw nothing of him. He didn’t stop running. He was headed back toward the hotel. Running as fast as he could, he ran to the hotel, up the steps, across the lobby and to his room. At the door to his room he stopped but quickly opened it and when in.

It was dark in the hotel room. Ricky stood a few minutes as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Soon he could see his Grandpa in the bed and everything looked normal. He undressed and slipped into bed. Lying in the bed, Ricky said a silent prayer of thankfulness. He knew he had been saved.

Over the next several months, a number of young boys between ten and fifteen were abducted, tortured and murdered in south Florida. Because of an anonymous tip, an Ice-cream Parlor owner and employee were interviewed, and they provided a description of a suspicious suspect, but no arrests were ever made.

Ricky and his Grandpa soon moved back to Clayton. A couple of months before his seventeenth birthday Ricky awoke one morning and found the lifeless body of Grandpa knelling on the floor beside the sofa. For the next few years he was on his own and alone. While yet a teenage he was married and had a daughter.

While a young husband and father he had worked for a company that crushed junk cars. He had started as an unskilled common laborer and had advanced through the ranks and became the operations manager.  It was a small company and family own, so even though he had risen to the top of the non-family hierarchy, there was no where above him to go and he was not making a lot of money. A friend of a friend told him of this great opportunity in south Florida. Depressed and disgusted, Ricky quite his job and moved his family to south Florida. Things were not as he had been told and within two weeks he was almost broke and had not hope of things getting better in Florida.

Back to Clayton they came, ashamed, dishearten and broker than ever. He did get his old job back and rented an apartment close to work. They required a deposit to turn his utilities on and he gave them a check. The check wasn’t any good. He spent the last of his money on food. It was enough to last a week. He would not be paid for two weeks.

Monday morning he went back to work at his old job. They were crushing a small yard close to Clayton. All day long his mind was on the mess he was in. The food was going to run out before he could get more. The check for the utilities he wrote was going to bounce and they would turn the utilities off. His baby daughter needed clothes. His despair was almost complete.

A car crushing operation makes a mess. There is chrome trim, brake drums and other car parts scatted about to say nothing for debris from inside the car. It is not unusual for books including bibles to fall out of these cars. Neither is it unusual for these books to have been torn apart with pages blown all about by the wind. On this particular day, with Ricky feeling at his worst, as they finished up crushing the yard, the crew was picking up the parts and debris and he walked across the yard. As I have said, it was not at all unusual for bibles and parts of bibles to be strewn about. Walking across the yard, Ricky was not praying, but he was thinking to himself, “what am I going to do? Where will I get the money to buy food and pay the bills?” And he was asking not just himself these questions; he was asking that unseen power that had before aided him. While thus pondering his own plight, he bent down, without thinking, and picked up a piece of paper form the ground. The paper was a few pages from a small New Testament. He had seen these many times before and never picked them or read them, but this time he let his eyes fall onto the small page. Almost involuntarily began to read. “There I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; not for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat, and the body the raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yea your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

The pages were from the Gospel of Mathew and the words were those of Jesus as he preached the famous sermon on the mount. 

Ricky was able to buy food for his family and the utility check didn’t bounce. Though he was far from perfect, he never forgot the day he found the pages form the bible, and how he felt at that time.

A few years later Ricky and his family had moved to another state. The circumstances of the move are complex and have no bearing on the events which followed so they will be left out. When Ricky first arrived in the new town he had set out right away to find a job. The first morning he was waiting at the state employee office when it opened. As he was waiting another man came up and waited with him.  One or the other started up a conversation. During the conversation Ricky asked if the man was looking for a job. His answer had the effect of sucking most of the hope and optimism form Ricky’s soul. “No not really. I mean I’d like to find a job, but I’ve been out of work for over three years, ever sense the paper mill closed. There just ain’t any jobs in this town. Heck, I was watching the news the other night and they said we had passed Michigan as the highest unemployment in the nation. I’m here to try and keep my unemployment benefits going.”

When Rick got inside the office the outlook was not much better. There were no jobs, at least none that he was qualified for. Upon leaving the employment office, Ricky began a systematic canvassing of the town. He filled out a ton of applications, but there were no real prospects. The next day he did the same thing.

Around lunch of the first day Ricky had stopped by an excavating company, Barn’s Excavating. The owner, Bill Barns, had been very nice and friendly. He had told Ricky of several companies which might be hiring. He himself, had recently had to layoff a number of long time employees, and might soon have to layoff some more. On the second day, Ricky was in that same neighborhood around seven o’clock. He noticed that Bill was in the office and none of the other businesses were open so he went in.

Bill greeted Ricky as an old friend. He asked how the job hunt was going and showed real empathy upon hearing that it was not going well. He offered Ricky a cup of coffee and gave him some more suggestions as to job possibilities. This time he also told Ricky to use him as a reference. “I know I have only known you a day or two, but I feel good about you and you tell ‘em to give me a call and I’ll do what I can for you,” he said.

After another seemingly fruitless day Ricky was dejected and depressed. That night he prayed not for a job, as he had the nights before, but instead, he prayed to know what he was to do. He asked to know where he should go and to whom he should talk.

Ricky was out early the next morning. At about six he was passing Barn’s Excavating. The light was not on in the office, but he could see people in the shop. He had decided not to stop by and see Bill that morning, but he than felt he should. Not knowing why, but feeling he defiantly should, he pulled up in front of the shop.

Bill was in the shop working on a loader with another man Ricky did not recognize. Again Ricky was greeted as an old friend. Bill introduced him to the other man. He was an independent mechanic that Bill had hired to rebuild the final drive in the loader. For the next few minutes, they all three talked and worked. The mechanic was doing most of the work, but Bill and Ricky would lend a hand when then could.

Ricky knew he needed to get going and look for a job, but something in him made him feel he should stay. His feelings struggled against his thoughts. He felt conflicted, but he stayed. After perhaps a half hour, Bill’s radio in his truck barked out. He walked out to the truck and answered the person calling him. Ricky could hear the voice coming through the radio, but not Bill’s responses. It was apparent from the one side of the conversation he could hear that the person needed Bill’s presents.

“I’m going to have to go,” Bill said when he returned to the shop, “can you get it by yourself?” he wanted to know from the mechanic. “Will, I can do as much as I can, but there is a lot I’m going to need some help with,” was the answer. “Okay, do what you can,” Bill said, and then almost as an after thought, “and Ricky will be here to help you. Won’t you, Ricky?” Ricky answered quickly, “Yes. Yes, I’ll be here.”

For the rest of the day Ricky helped the mechanic. He got grease on his dress clothes and hoped that he had a job to buy more cloths. Had Bill hired him for the day? Did he now have a regular job? Was he just helping out and would not even be paid? These questions and others floated in and out of Ricky’s mind all day.

He worked hard. When the mechanic took a break and Ricky did not know what to do, he found a broom and swipe the shop floor. At lunch, when the mechanic opened a lunch and offered to share with Ricky, Ricky said he wasn’t hungry. That really wasn’t true, he was very hungry, but he had no money and was afraid to leave for fear that when he returned he would not be needed.

That evening Bill returned and he and the mechanic discussed what was left to do on the loader and when he thought it would be done. Bill told the mechanic that Ricky would be available to help him the rest of the week, and only after that asked Ricky if he would be available.

Driving home that evening, Ricky thought he had a job for the week, but after that he would not be needed. After all, Bill had explained to him how slow things were, and nothing had really changed.

It was a Wednesday the first day he had worked. He worked the rest of the week, never setting or taking a break. Friday evening they were almost finished with the loader. The mechanic said they could finish up the next morning. “Can you work in the morning Ricky?” Bill asked. With his, “yes sir,” Ricky felt sure he had agreed to work his last day for Barn’s Excavating.

The other employees, about a dozen total, were gathered around the shop and when Bill started handing out paychecks Ricky understood why. “I’m sorry; I don’t have a check for you Ricky. I need to get some information from you. I can bring your check in the morning, is that alright?” Bill said. He told him that would be fine. After giving out the checks, Bill asked Ricky for his social security number and the number of dependants he wanted to claim.

The day they were done with the loader by 10:00 AM. Bill had been there to help them. The mechanic and Bill talked together for a while and then the mechanic left. Bill asked Ricky to follow him out back to the garage. The garage was a lean-to built along the long side of a large, old, warehouse. In the old days, Bill’s family had owned a cotton gin and the warehouse and the its twin, just behind it, were where the cotton bails were stored. Under the lean-to garage, facing out, were nine blue Ford dump trucks.

Eight of the trucks were not very old and had a fresh wash job. The ninth truck was old and had a thick layer of dust on it. “Like I told you before Ricky, I really don’t need anybody, and I think there have been some murmurings in the crew because they think I have hired you. It’s understandable, just last month I laid off some of their friends; heck, they were my friends too. These were men that had been with me for years. Now I don’t want you to feel bad about any of this, its not your fault, and I’ll take care of the crew. I just want you to know what the situation is. There will be some resentment, but I will find something to keep you busy, and I think you can win the boys over. They aren’t made with you anyway; they are made with me.”

As they talked they had walked toward the trucks and now stood in front of the dusty, old truck. Bill wiped the dust from the left finder just in front of the door, revealing a white #12. “This is old number twelve. It was the first number twelve I had. All those others are the third or forth trucks to have their number, but this is the one and only number twelve. I drove it myself back when I was getting started. It’s old and doesn’t have air conditioning or a radio, but its sound and has good power. I am going to have you drive it at times. At other times you will doing loader work with the old 977, and maybe you can service the equipment and do some mechanical work, and maybe you can do some accounting work for me. Heck, I don’t know what to do.”

The frustration was visible on Bill’s face. “Look, I don’t know why I hired you, but I do know it was the right thing to do. I’ll see you Monday.”

 

 

 

 

 


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