That’s okay. I don’t need her. I don’t need anybody. Fritzy had turned her back and walked on.
Once back inside the church, Adam yanked the sweeper across the church’s hall floor. The heavy vacuum cleaner banged into the wall and he winced. Great, that’s all I need. Scuff marks on the walls.
As he pulled and pushed his way around the church, the smell of the carpet reminded him to be thankful for the hard work that morning. It felt good to scrub and dust and sweep Mr. G’s house. Maybe he could let go of his confused feelings about Fritzy. After spending the night in jail, maybe he was scouring some of the dirt of the clink off him. With every elbow bending rub of the cloth on pews and tables, Adam was getting out more anger and frustration.
“I’m going downstairs and get you another sweeper bag. Looks like you’ll need one.” Alfred’s speech was slow and labored.
“I’ll go down,” Adam offered. “Just tell me where they are. You don’t look like you’re feeling too good Mr. G.”
“”No, I’m fine. Just feeling tired today.”
“Please, I’ll get the bag,” Adam dropped the sweeper and started after the old gentleman.
“I need for you to fold up all those extra tables and chairs. Just stack them neatly in the storeroom. They’re too heavy for me today.”
“Now, never you mind, Adam,” Alfred waved him off as he started down the stairs.
Adam waited until he heard Mr. G. get to the bottom. There were fourteen steps and he listened, thirteen . . . fourteen.
Why didn’t I stop him? He shouldn’t have walked down those stairs. What will happen when he tries to come back up? I didn’t stop Mr. G. any more than I stopped those boys. What’s wrong with me?
Adam hurried into the Honeywell Lounge and grabbed the first table. There were only four extra tables on that floor. They had been put up for those who couldn’t get down stairs after the Christmas Eve service. No one would want to miss Holiday cookies and punch. A dozen or so extra chairs dotted the room. Adam had them down and folded in no time and hurried back into the foyer.
“You okay Mr. G?” Adam hollered down the stairs.
“Of course. Did ya think I would explode from too many Christmas sweets?”
“No Sir. Just thought I could help.” Adam started down the stairs.
“Now Adam, quit your fussin'. I need you to put up that large candle stand, with the big green candle on top, to the right of the altar. Pastor says green represents new plant life and we have a whole new year ahead of us. Says the symbolism is his thing, but I like it.”
“Sure, Mr. G. Where are the stand and candle?”
“In that tall narrow closet next to the crank for the roll-up door.”
Adam hated to leave the stairwell. He was afraid Mr. Gunderman would need him and he might not hear him from the Lounge. But, Mr. G. was his boss and he would follow through as told. He quickly took the candle and stand from the closet and placed them exactly where he was told. He stepped back and looked at the arrangement.
“Sure would look better placed a little farther forward than this,” Adam mumbled out loud. “But, I do as I am told.” He took another glance. “I still think―” He stopped when he heard the door open to the narthex.
“Morning Adam. Where’s Alfred? He’ll want to hear this.” Pastor Silverman came in excited, waving a scrap of paper.
“Hi Pastor.” Adam tried to be friendly but he didn’t feel very amiable.
“That Smeltzer family makes a mess don’t they,” he noticed the paper and crumbs Adam was sweeping up.
“I guess they’re a big family. If you have a hundred cousins and kinfolks, all unwrapping presents, you’re going to leave some paper around.”
“Well, I’m not complaining. We’re always pleased when the church is in use. What better place to celebrate family at Christmas time, than in the church?” Silverman turned as footsteps approached on the hard wood floor. “There you are Alfred.”
“Pastor,” Gunderman acknowledged. “Here’s the sweeper bag, Adam.” Alfred’s hand shook as he handed the bag to Adam.
“Mr. G?” Adam was worried about the man. Gunderman was out of breath, his hands shook, and he looked pale.
Pastor Silverman was too excited to notice. “We have good news and bad news about the carving of the Christ Child.”
“What?” Alfred was excited before he even heard the reading of the note. He had caught Pastor’s enthusiasm and leaned one hand on Adam’s shoulder as if including him in the good news.
Adam could feel a different message from the man. He could feel Mr. G’s hand shake through his flannel shirt.
Pastor Silverman unfolded the piece of paper with excited hands. “This note was put between the door and the storm door over at the parsonage. The door bell rang and we heard the sound of boots as they ran off the porch. We were in the kitchen but heard the bell and the steps.” He smoothed the paper with his fingers.
“Dear Pastor Silverman, I know the church likes the statue of Jesus. I will return the carving if $25.00 is placed in an envelope and left at the foot of the slide in Jefferson Park. No one had better be around when I pick up the ransom. If the money’s there and no one’s around, I’ll put the statue in a brown paper bag and leave the sack on the front steps of the church.”
“A ransom note?” Adam was shocked. “Who would do such a thing?” Yet, he already knew. He just could not believe those boys would try to ransom the carving and plan to sell it too.
“Wait a minute. Did you say twenty-five dollars?” Alfred turned to Adam. “That’s the amount you said you needed.” His face grew white and drained. Suddenly, Mr. Gunderman grabbed his chest and fell over onto Adam.
“No, Mr. G. No! It wasn’t me—I didn’t—” But Gunderman couldn’t hear him. He had collapsed on the floor at Adam’s feet.
Shaddi, save him. Touch his heart and make him well, Adam begged. But all he heard was the sound of labored breathing.
Adam bent down and tried to gather the old man in his arms. How could he make him hear?
“Touch him my Son. I will send him back.” Shaddi whispered in his ear.
I can’t save him, Shaddi, Adam cried.
“I didn’t say you would heal him, Son. I said, touch him and I will send him back.”
Adam knew no one else heard his Shaddi’s words but he knew he had to obeyed. The boy frantically touched Alfred’s chest and immediately felt the static shock he had felt when he touched Buddy. What could touch possibly do?
Pastor Silverman ran into his office, grabbed the phone and quickly dialed the hospital. “Yes, good,” Adam could hear Pastor’s side of the conversation. “You have an ambulance at Russell Franklin’s home? How would you have room? Oh, okay. The church on Cranberry Street.”
“Sounds like they’re close,” Adam tried to reassure Mr. G. although the old man had not regained consciousness.
“They’re close, yes Adam. Russell Franklin fell and his wife called the hospital. When the ambulance got there, just minutes ago, Russell refused to ride in the thing. He said, ‘I am not going anywhere laying down. An ambulance is too much like the last ride I’ll take in a hearse. If I decide to go to the hospital, and mind you, I have not decided that, my Louise can take me. She can drive ya know.’”
Adam smiled faintly as he held Alfred’s head in his lap. Not the curse again—with every blessing comes a curse.
“Snow’s coming down,” Pastor spoke mechanically as he watched out the front door windows for the ambulance to come. Then he walked over and knelt down beside the two, the stricken in body and the stricken in heart.
Adam looked up and watched the snow float down in giant clumps. Like a shimmering white curtain, the icy snow shrouded the reality that he feared and became the backdrop for a nicer scene. In his mind he stepped out into the deepening snow but it felt warm. Everywhere he walked, the snow melted and green blades pushed up from the damp ground. Clover leaves opened all around him, but not just any three-leaf variety. Everyone of them had four-leaves on the stems and he smiled. He didn’t speak the name, but he knew—the magic was from Mr. O’Shaughnessy.
“Alfred, I am going to assume you can hear me. I know God can.” Pastor prayed for Alfred’s health, his strength, and his peace. He prayed that God would work his wonders in Alfred’s life as he went to the hospital to heal.
Adam’s hand rested on Mr. G’s chest. The boy could feel a warmth increase beneath his hand. Adam’s fingers floated just a hair’s width above the gruff spoken, dear old man.
The ambulance slid to a stop out front. The driver and his attendant rushed in with a stretcher, lifted Alfred onto the canvas and carried him away. The whole scene was like a dream to Adam.
“Adam, here are my keys.” Silverman tossed him a large key ring loaded with keys of various shapes and metals. “Please go back to my office and call Mrs. Gunderman. Tell her what happened. Then call my wife and let her know that I’m going to ride with Alfred in the ambulance. Ask her to please bring the car to the hospital to pick me up. Then, just lock up when you’re done.” Pastor Silverman barked orders as he ran after the stretcher that carried his friend.
“Okay,” Adam answered mechanically. His mind was rattled and the impact hit him hard. He looked down at the keys, then his eyes followed the rescuers all the way out the door.
“I didn’t take that carving Pastor,” he called after them as they neared the door. Adam was deeply worried for Mr. Gunderman and afraid for himself. Then he felt guilt for his self pity.
“Of course not,” Pastor Silverman turned back to Adam and smiled broadly. “You think I would give you the keys to my office if I thought you had stolen the carving?”
Again Adam stared at the ring of keys in his hand. One looked like the key to the pastor’s car. One was probably the key to the front door of the parsonage. The brass key he recognized as the one that unlocked the church door. That left the skeleton key. That has to be the one to the study.
Adam walked around the corner, unlocked the door, and stepped into a world of books and leather and spiritual touches that aroused a strange feeling within him. The room was warm and elegant at the same time. He felt strangely at home. Will I ever belong in an office like this?
He took the receiver from the phone’s cradle and hesitated. Then he put the receiver to his ear and listened.
“Well, I don’t know Maud,” he heard through the receiver. “You were there when I reminded Harold that I wanted a blue housecoat for Christmas. He deliberately bought me a new coffee pot so he could enjoy my gift too.” Party-line patron number one complained to someone named Maud about her husband’s choice of Christmas present.
“Oh Shirley, you don’t think he―”
“Ladies,” Adam butted in, “I hate to interrupt you but―”
“Well then don’t, young man,” Shirley ordered. “Hang up and go away. Say, who are you? You aren’t on our party-line”
What should he do? He couldn’t convince anyone of anything. Shaddi, give me the gift of persuasion. Let me be a convincer.
“Please . . . Shirley . . . Ma’am, I have to use the phone for an emergency,” Adam stammered.
“Mrs. Bartoni to you.” Then her tone lightened to interest. “What emergency?”
“Yes, Mrs. Bartoni. I’m sorry. I have to place a phone call.”
“Well of course, if you have to make an emergency call, it would be a phone call.”
“Mrs. Bartoni, you sound like a very nice lady.” Adam lied again. She had actually been very snippy with him. Adam began to think he would die from choking on a lie some day. “I have to call Mrs. Gunderman to tell her that her husband was just taken to the hospital.”
“Alfred?” The Shirley-line-mate questioned.
“Get off the phone Maud so this boy can make an important call. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Thank you ladies.” When he heard the two lines click and the dial tone hummed in his ear, he made the hardest call of his life.
“Mrs. Gunderman, this is Adam.”
“Well hello, Dear.”
“Mrs. Gunderman, Mr. G. collapsed here at the church a few minutes ago and was taken to the hospital.”
“What? The hospital? Is he alright?”
“I don’t know how he is Ma’am. They just took him away and the sign on the side of the ambulance said Middletown Community Hospital. Pastor Silverman was here and rode along
with him in the ambulance.”
“Oh thank the Lord. And, thank you, Adam. I will go right over. You’ll say a prayer for Al, won’t you?”
“Of course,” was his answer but inside his thoughts were different. As he dialed the Silverman home, he thought, Prayer? I don’t know how to pray. God, just help Mr. G. please. Amen.
“Young man, you said you were just calling Arletta Gunderman,” Shirley Bartoni scolded as Adam dialed again.
“Mrs. Bartoni? Where you listening in?”
“Indeed I was not? I just picked up the phone and heard you dial again.”
“How did you know that wasn’t my first call?”
“Never mind that,” she protested.
“Hello?” Mrs. Silverman answered.
“This is Adam Shoemaker . . . and Mrs. Bartoni is just hanging up,” Adam announced more boldly.
“Well, I never!” Shirley Bartoni announced with disgust and embarrassment.
I doubt you never. Adam was wise enough to think it but not say it out loud. “Pastor Silverman asked me to call you. Mr. Gunderman collapsed and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Pastor went along to stay with him until his wife gets there. Pastor would like for you to pick him up there at the Middletown Hospital.”
“Yes, Adam, of course. Thank you so much. What would we do without you?”
What would you do without me? I haven’t heard that kind of talk in a long time. “I still
have Pastor’s keys. Do you want me to bring them over before you leave?”
“No, that’s all right. He can get them tomorrow. I know they are safe with you,” Mrs. Silverman answered, then hung up.
I know I can trust you, Adam rehearsed as he tried to bury the thought in his heart where the shadows couldn’t add doubt again. What would we do without you, Adam? I can trust you.