Victor, just as surprised at seeing Jim in the bathroom, wasn’t quite sure what to say.
“I suppose you have a good reason for climbing in the bathroom at … what time is it?” Jim looked at his watch, “12:47? Maybe you’re the reason I was called here.”
“Called?” Victor was confused. He’d not been followed, he knew, and even if someone had followed him, no one would have called Jim to the church to meet him.
Jim laughed with a twinkle in his humored eyes. “Yeah, I was dead asleep in my nice warm comfortable bed, next to my nice warm comfortable wife, when I was awakened by a call. I was told I needed to come to the church, I assumed to pray, so I asked if I couldn’t just pray at home. The answer was no. I guess it was a divine appointment.”
“What is a divine appointment?”
“It’s when a person meets someone unexpectedly in circumstances that would be highly improbable, like a chance meeting in a church bathroom just after midnight. So, there’s a story here. Since I’m the Pastor of this church, I think I have the right to know why you’re breaking in at this hour.”
Victor said nothing at first. Pastor Jim could see the struggle. A patient man, he could wait until Victor was ready to talk although curiosity made his insides squirm. “This is so out of character,” he thought, but he checked himself. “Victor’s very guarded, not the sort to let just anyone know who he really is.”
“By the way,” Jim said, “we really don’t have any valuables here. How about something hot to drink? I could go for some hot chocolate right now. I don’t think coffee is a good idea at this time of night.”
Victor followed Jim into the kitchen. Jim pulled hot chocolate and two mugs from the cabinets. He heated it in the microwave, and led Victor to his office.
“Sit down, here.” Jim handed him the mug of chocolate, sat and waited.
It had been years since Victor had anything this tame, but it brought back troublesome memories that he didn’t realize he had. He rubbed his hand over his face and chin. “This is good. Thanks.”
“I suppose I do owe you an explanation. The fact is that I need a place to sleep. This seemed the safest place.”
“Safest? What happened at your apartment?”
Victor couldn’t think of anything to say in response, he’d not intended to give that sort of explanation. Physically and emotionally weary, Victor could not recoup the strength he usually felt. He heard that voice again, whispering to his heart. He took a deep breath, “You said someone called you to come to the church to pray. Who called you?”
“The Holy Spirit.”
“He spoke to you?”
“Yeah, but not with a voice anyone else could hear. And it isn’t like I’m hearing voices either. It’s more a feeling that I get. It’s hard to explain the unexplainable, unless you’ve experienced what I’m talking about.”
Victor replied thoughtfully after a few minutes. “I think I’m getting your meaning.” He quietly sipped the hot chocolate, staring at the floor. He was struggling again, arguing.
When he finally spoke, Jim could barely hear him, “Jazz is in trouble.” He waited, expecting an explosion of some kind, but all he got was silence. How was he going to tell this man what he was? He looked up, “I guess there could be a lot of interpretations to being in trouble. Preacher, I’m a hit man.”
“What?” Jim asked, not quite comprehending.
“You know, an assassin, a killer, whatever you want to call it. That’s what I do for a living.”
“How did Jazz get involved with you? Does she know?”
“She knows now, but she didn’t before New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately I was not able to be the one to tell her.”
“Where is Jazz now?” Jim demanded, suddenly afraid of the man coolly sitting in front of him.
As if Victor read Jim’s thoughts, he lifted his jacket. The preacher could clearly see the empty holster, “Let me explain from the beginning....”
“Maybe you better. I’d really like to know why I shouldn’t call the police right now.”
“Because if you call the police, something might happen to Jazz. Please, give me a chance.
“Last year while I was in Houston, I saw Jazz at a bank and wanted to meet her. I followed her here and got the job at the magazine so I could be near her.”
The hit man told Jim of all that had been happening up to that night. Jim’s eyebrows raised, he leaned forward intrigued by Victor’s story. When Victor was finished he said, “Jim, I couldn’t help myself. She didn’t know it, but I would find ways to touch her when I followed her in crowds. I couldn’t stay away from her.”
“You mean you’ve been stalking her?”
“No, it’s really not like that at all. I wouldn’t intentionally do anything to hurt her. Jim, I want to marry her.”
Jim almost choked on the chocolate.
“Is that everything?”
“Yeah, everything. You’re the first person I’ve told everything to.”
“How does it feel?”
“A little frightening.”
“Victor, I don’t believe in coincidences. Now we have to decide what to do. Do you mind if I pray? This is beyond either of us alone.”
“No, I don’t mind.” But Victor really had been afraid this might happen. He prepared himself for a mini sermon in a prayer. He hoped he could stay awake.
“Father,” Jim began, “please help Victor and me know what to do next. Keep Jazz safe. In Jesus’ Name Amen.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, that’s all you are going to ask for?”
Jim smiled, “I don’t know what the answers are. I don’t know what to ask for except what I prayed. What more should I pray? God knows what we need and he’s ready to help us.”
“He hasn’t given Jazz and me much help. I don’t know why I should believe he’ll help us now. I certainly don’t deserve any help.”
“No, you don’t. None of us deserves anything he could do for us. We just have to believe he wants to help us.”
“It doesn’t really seem fair. I mean, after all I’ve done.”
“It isn’t fair, but he loves us.”
“I don’t know preacher. I have so many questions, but you Christians don’t seem to have the answers to the questions I ask.”
“You say God is all knowing, but also say that he was sad when Christ was killed. You say Christ came back to life. How sad could God have really been if God knew he was going to come back alive?”
“Victor, I can’t pretend to have the answers for you either. That’s where faith kicks in.”
“Blind faith. Yeah, I know. I can’t understand how you can sit there and say we just have to have faith. Faith discounts intellect completely. You can’t have both.”
“I have to disagree. God gave us our intellect, but he didn’t make us as intelligent as he is. Many things will always be a mystery to us. We’re not all knowing, but the intellect we do have should go hand in hand with our faith. Without intellect, faith is no longer faith but superstition. Superstition is synonymous with fear.”
Jim picked up a Bible that was lying on his desk, “Have you ever read it?”
“I can’t say that I have. I’ve never seen a need.”
“That’s what most people say. ‘What good is reading the Bible today?’”
“But through the reading and understanding of the Bible we use our intellect. God opens up windows of understanding that help us see why we believe what we do. Through God’s Word, God speaks to our hearts and brings together our faith and intellect.
“It’s like turning on the light switch. With your intellect you turn on the light. Faith tells you it will illuminate the room.
“True faith acknowledges our weakness. True faith asks God questions and asks him for the wisdom to understand the answers.”
“Now, back to your question: How could God know pain if he knew Jesus would be victorious? I’ll admit to you right now that I’ve wondered that myself. I finally came to the conclusion that I just have to accept with faith that he did experience sorrow and pain. I can also accept, with faith, that God will help me see the answer to this question in his own good time.”
“Wait and see?”
“Exactly. Some day God will give me the answer to this question. Every time I read His Word, I get a little closer to understanding the mysteries of a life of faith. I will never understand it all, but I will understand what the Lord knows I need to know. The rest is up to me to leave with him... in faith.”
“You know Preacher, this is all well and good, but it doesn’t have much to do with me and Jazz. That was hundreds of years ago…”
“Okay, thousands of years ago. It proves my point. I need to do something about Jazz now.”
“The effect of what Jesus did thousands of years ago is still being felt, giving Christians strength in every situation. Right now what you need is rest. God knows Jazz is in danger, but he also knows you need rest. When was the last time you slept?”
“I actually slept last night… or rather yesterday night. I’ve been sleeping at Jazz’s… on the couch.” Victor added after Jim eyebrows raised again, “I felt she’d be safer if I was there at night. It turns out I was wrong. I should never have left.”
“Why did you?”
Victor glanced quickly into the other man’s eyes, but all he saw was curiosity.
“Ray was watching her. I figured she’d be safe with the police watching. I was looking for an opportunity to complete my task with Monroe.”
“Why him instead of Johnson?”
“Because Johnson contacted me first. Besides, I had a good reason for going after Monroe first.”
“Did you get him?”
“No, he wasn’t at his house. When I saw that no one was there, I came back. It was late. Jazz was gone. Ray got himself shot.”
Jim was silent a moment, wondering what Victor’s other reason was to go after Monroe first. Then he rose, “I think the Lord kept you from killing again. He’s calling you to himself Victor. You need to think about letting Jesus take control of your life. He’s the only one who can help in this impossible situation.”
“Actually Preacher, I asked Jesus to help me while I was sitting with Duncan. It probably really happened a couple of days before that. I was at Jazz’s apartment and saw a note she’d written about some words she learned in Vacation Bible School. ” Victor scowled a moment in thought. He wanted to get the words right, “’Trust in the Lord with all your heart...” he faltered.
“...’and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.’” Jim finished for him.
“Yeah, that’s it. I think that was what helped me decide to let Jesus take care of this, but Preacher, I feel like I’m a little lost.”
“No, Victor, you’ve been found. The first thing we need to get you is some rest. I want you to come to my house. This won’t be a good place to sleep.”
Jim rose from his chair. Victor was tired, and wanted a safe place. He wasn’t in the mood to argue. The two men walked out a back door to Victor’s car, and got in. Victor drove Jim to his car in the front of the church.
“Nice car preacher.”
“You should see it in the daylight. It looks like a glittering sunset. The people in my church laugh at me, but I can’t help loving this Mustang. “
“It sure doesn’t fit the preacher image,” Victor said wryly.
“There are lots of ways I don’t fit the preacher image.”
“So I’ve already noticed.”
Jim got in his car and led Victor to his house. When they walked in, Andrea greeted them at the door. She was dressed in a terrycloth red robe.
“What are you doing up?” Jim asked as he kissed her.
“You weren’t in bed or in the house. I was worried.”
“Do you remember Victor?”
“Yeah, he needs a place to stay.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Andrea extended her hand, which Victor took, “You can sleep in Mark’s room.”
“That’s what I was thinking,”
“I wouldn’t want to take anyone’s bed.” Victor protested.
“Don’t worry about it. Mark isn’t using it anymore.”
Something told Victor that it was better not to ask any questions. He followed them to a room decorated in sport blue and yellow. Scattered on the walls and dresser were photographs of a tow headed boy at different ages, but none older than fifteen.
“Good night. And don’t worry. We’ll figure out what to do next. After we get up, I’m going to go to the hospital and see Duncan. Do you want to come with me?”
“I don’t know Preacher. Going to visit a cop in the hospital isn’t my idea of a very wise move, especially if that cop was looking for me in the first place.”
“You’d be surprised about what is wisdom.”
Victor paused a moment, not sure what to make of that statement. “You talk about the cop as if you know him.”
“I do know him. He’s an old friend and his family used to come to our church. Unless I’m mistaken, he knows Jazz’s folks too, but we’ll talk about it later. See you tomorrow. Visiting hours start at 9:00. I’d like to be there as soon as I can.”
Jim smiled as he shut the door, then crawled into bed next to Andrea. He pulled his wife close to himself, “Andrea, I love you. Victor became a Christian tonight.”
“You led him to the Lord?”
“Nope. The Holy Spirit took care of that before I saw him tonight. It’s really strange. One minute Victor was arguing with me about blind faith, the next he was telling me he asked Jesus to help him. I’ll tell you about it, but not now. I’ve got to get some sleep.”
They snuggled deep in the blankets, glad of the warmth the covers brought, glad of the warmth each brought to the other. Soon they were asleep.