Adam woke up the next morning in the belfry tired but determined. He had to do it. He had tossed and argued with himself all night. Now, his mind was made up! He was the only one who could, since he was the only one who had seen the boys take the carving. But, how would he accomplish it? Daylight would break soon. There would be no shadows of night he could hide in this time and the shadows of day were always near by.
When Mr. Gunderman picked him up at the police station the day after Christmas and took him back to the church, they had passed through a section of town Adam had rarely been in. That area of town was a nice, new neighborhood where good people lived in comfortable homes on friendly streets. He could find nothing wrong with the surroundings although they were much better than his. But then, anything would be better than a cold belfry.
Adam certainly couldn’t say anything to Mr. G. at the time he was driven back from the police station. But, Adam had seen them. As he and Alfred passed, he had seen Freddy trudge across the snow in his front lawn and into the yard next door where Buddy, the leader of the little band of thieves, apparently lived. Slumped down in the car seat, where he could watch without being seen, Adam saw Buddy open the garage door. The two boys stood for a moment and jabbed at each other, then Buddy poked around in the garage, under what appeared to be a work bench. Adam saw them pull out and open the same duffle he had seen them shove the carving into at the church. The bag was 12 inches square on the bottom and 33 inches tall with USN stamped on the front. Neither of the young felons looked very happy about their initiation into their new career as thieves. They took out their anger on each other as the punched and jabbed. Adam didn’t care what they did to each other. He had discovered where they lived and that’s what he needed to know.
Now what do I do? He paced around the belfry. He couldn’t just walk up to their front door and say he was there to pick up the carving of the Christ Child that had been stolen. For one thing, he didn’t know how dangerous the boys could be. He had seen them around school. They were always dressed well but seemed to have few friends. They stuck together and included no one else in their duo. They poked each other and argued every time Adam saw them, even in the church balcony on Christmas Eve.
Adam stalled around all morning as he tried to decide what to do. He was not a thief. Therefore, he could not bring himself to think like a thief. How could he take something that wasn’t his, even though it was already stolen material?
It was now nearly three in the afternoon and he wanted that Christ Child back where it belonged, in the manger, before Mrs. Gunderman brought Alfred to the church. Mr. G. had insisted that he would need to check on everything to make sure all would be ready for Sunday’s service. Adam had cleaned in the morning but he was only pushing a dust cloth around. Everything was spotless already. He only had a few hours to do something about the Christ Child carving. But what?
If they’re out of the house . . . maybe. But good ol’ Buddy Boy and Freddy wouldn’t be
doing anything productive. They never did. Adam could not imagine the pair would begin a life of virtue today. They were probably laying around doing nothing.
Shaddi, tell me what to do. As quickly as he asked, a full scene came to him but to step into that reality, he would have to go where he didn’t want to go. First, he had to walk over to Fritzy’s house, not to see her, but to talk to Coach Breman. Adam believed that he couldn’t just show up at Fritzy’s house to talk to her. But, if he happened to see Frederica while he was there talking to her father, that would be okay. He thought he was ready.
When Adam got to the Breman’s house he hesitated before stepping onto the porch. What would he say if Fritzy came to the door? He hadn’t rehearsed that because he had no idea what words would be believable.
“Adam, come in Son,” Coach smiled his usual generous greeting.
“I had better not, Sir. I have a lot of snow on my shoes. I just stopped by to check on a job I heard about. They need people to help get ready for the party Monday night.”
“Well now, Adam, I thought Fritzy and Alfred have been keeping you very busy lately.”
“Yes, Sir, she is . . . they are . . . we are . . . we were.” He studied the tips of his clodhoppers and watched the snow drip small dirty puddles on the Breman’s front porch and was glad he had not gone in.
“Let me start over.” Adam cleared his throat and looked Coach Breman in the eye. “I heard that they need a couple of people to set up tables and chairs over at the gym and prepare the room before the New Years Eve Party on Monday night.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Well, I know two guys who I don’t think are going to the party. I hadn’t heard them
talk about it. They might be interested in setting things up, especially if they could earn a few dollars. I don’t have their phone numbers but the one is Buddy Phillips and the other is his neighbor, Freddy something.”
“Yes, Freddy Alexander lives next door to Buddy. You think they might be interested? Are you a friend of theirs?”
“No Sir. I can’t vouch for them but I happen to see them in church on Christmas Eve and I thought you might know them or their families. Do you think you could call them? I would be happy to wait right here on the porch while you call. That way, if they can’t or don’t want to, I might be able to think of a couple other guys. I know there’s not much time and everyone has been great about getting the party all put together.”
“Well that sounds fine but you must step in. If you stand on the entry mat, the floor will be just fine.” Coach Breman stepped back so Adam could come in, then he went to the phone on the front hall table near the stairs. He took a phone book from the drawer in the phone table and read aloud.
“Here it is. Phillips on Maplecrest Avenue. Here’s the number, Walnut 3321.” He dialed the number, WA3321. “Hello Buddy, this is Coach Breman.” He paused, “Yes.”
Adam began to add up the dangers involved if the two thieves were to find out who had recommended them. He didn’t think the two culprits knew that he was alive, much less that he knew what they had done. But, he didn’t want to take any chances. He gestured to himself with a negative hand signal which indicated he did not want his name used.
“Someone has recommended you and your neighbor, Freddy, for the job of set-up people before the New Years Eve party. I don’t know if you’re interested but we could sure use you. It is a little after three now. You would need to be at the school by four. That’s when they’re going to work. You’ll be paid. What do you think?”
Shaddi, he evoked.
“I am here,” Shaddi whispered low.
Adam watched Coach’s expressions and recognized that Buddy had given his answer.
“You would? Very good. You’ll have to ask your friend. I don’t have his number. If you could call me right back‒” he paused again. “Really? He lets you speak for him does he?”
Adam nodded in the affirmative with exaggerated head movements.
“Well, fine. Now, be sure to call back if your parents say― What?”
Adam rolled his eyes. I’ll bet his parents don’t tell him anything.
“Good, I’ll call Principal Jackson and tell him I have hired you two and you will both be there in less that an hour― Well, thank you.”
“Thanks Coach. I don’t know the guys but they both seem to need money lately,” Adam smiled and stuck out his hand.
“Thank you Adam. That solves a big problem for me. I was going to have to go over to the school myself. Fritzy wanted me to see her new party dress and her mother hasn’t finished making it.” He smiled and the two chuckled as Adam edged out the door.
He looked back at the house and saw Fritzy waving from an upstairs window. Well, at least she’s smiling. He smiled and waved back. His stomach felt giddy and he remembered he hadn’t eaten much that morning. How could he have forgotten the peanut butter sandwiches Mrs. G. had given him?
Adam walked along the sidewalk for several blocks then realized he was probably on
the path the two thieves would take if they walked to school to help set-up for the party. The snow had fallen all night and Adam wondered if it would ever stop again. The concrete had been freshly shoved by each homeowner in front of their own property so walking was more safe than in recent days.
The Middletown Public Library was just ahead, in the next block, on the left. He hurried across the street and dashed into the building. Once inside, he turned and watched through the window in the door. Freddy and Buddy lived just two blocks down on the other side of the street.
“Are you going out Young Man?” A blue haired lady with a purple flowered head scarf tapped one goulashes-covered foot in Adam’s direction.
“No Ma’am. Let me get the door for you though.” He smiled broadly and held the door open for the woman. He could see the boys a few houses down as they walked along the sidewalk. Adam stepped behind the lady as he waited for her to pass.
“Thank you. It is nice to see polite young people again. I thought perhaps the war had wiped gallantry off the list of manly attributes.”
“No Ma’am. The list is still intact.” Adam pulled the door closed as soon as she cleared the threshold. He stepped to the side of the door and peered around the wooden frame window pane.
Look at them, still hitting and poking at each other. They have a home and food and heat and lights and they are the most unhappy pair I’ve ever seen. Never noticed them much before and will try to ignore them when school starts again. You guys don’t know it, but today I will become your very best friend.
After the boys passed the library, Adam stepped back out into the cold. What would he
do? Then, he knew. The power of knowing had come over him before and he thought everyone had the same experience. He was learning that wasn’t so.
Mrs. Phillips is probably in the kitchen fixing dinner. That feels right. The time is just a little past four o’clock. Mr. Phillips might be home from work, might not. If he is, he could be in the livingroom reading the newspaper or listening to the radio. Edward R Murrow isn’t on yet, so maybe there would be no radio distraction. I’ve got to take the risk. It doesn’t feel like Mr. Phillips is home from work yet. I have to believe that what I am doing is right and that I won’t get caught. Shaddi, cloak me in invisibility.
Adam opened the main entrance to the library and gasped. Everything outside beyond the library looked like an animated cartoon drawing with vivid colors, oversized flowers, and exaggerated details on everything. He had stepped into Mr. O’Shaughnessy’s world. Adam knew it. He looked beneath the snow-covered bushes on the other side of the street. He was sure he would get a glimpse of the wee one himself. He saw nothing unusual but sensed there was a treasure hidden someplace and that convinced him even more that the Christ Child carving was near by.
Adam crossed the street a few houses up from the Phillips’ home. The sun was bright. He knew he couldn’t hide in the center of a spotlight and he couldn’t just stand out in the street to look the situation over. He didn’t try to understand any of it but he felt safe inside the fantasy bubble world.
Not too fast and not too slow, he warned himself as he walked past the Phillip’s garage and studied the layout carefully.
The garage had a side entrance. Adam could casually walk up to the garage door. If
anyone were to pass by, he wouldn’t draw attention to himself if he was relaxed and looked like he belonged there. He knew he was the only one who actually lived in Mr. O’Shaughnessy dream world. Anyone else would be out of place. He alone belonged there so he would not be sneaky, nervous, guarded, or afraid as he retrieved the carving.
Shaddi cautioned quietly, Move slowly and deliberately.
Adam would do his best to follow those orders. “Shaddi, give me x-ray vision,” he whispered into the afternoon sun.
He was thankful the garage had a side entrance so he wouldn’t have to open the larger, louder one. He knew Shaddi would follow through so he focused his x-ray vision on the inside of the garage. Next to the side door was a long workbench. Adam knew he had remembered correctly.
He walked up to the door just like he lived there. He didn’t check over his shoulder or fumble with the knob. He simply opened the door and walked in.
The bag is under the work bench, the Power of Knowing told him. That’s where I saw. He looked again. The duffle isn’t there. Adam couldn’t believe it.
Stay calm My Son, Shaddi whispered.
Adam bent low and looked far back under the bench to where the sides met the wall. There, in the corner, pushed behind some paint cans, was the USN sea bag.
Adam moved the cans carefully and smiled. In one of those worst scenario visions a guy can have, he could see himself kick over a bucket of paint and leave red footprints all the way back to the foot of the bell tower ladder at the church.
That is not going to happen, he determined confidently. He was no longer a scared kid with no home, no family, and no backbone, hiding in the shadows and moving around only in the dark. He would not stay silent any longer. Not that he would make any noise, but everybody was going to hear from him.
He grabbed hold of the top of the duffle and carefully removed the bag. He thought of
the infant’s hands and tiny fingers. I will not return the carving with so much as a small scratch on the wood.
After he withdrew the bag, each paint can was carefully replaced exactly as he had found them. He lifted the duffle into his arms like a new daddy would lift his son, opened the side door to the garage, and stepped out. He was not in the clear yet but he was no longer in the safety of a fantasy. He was still in the Phillips’ yard. He had to be able to walk away from the house, with the bag, without being seen.
“Hide in my shadows,” the shadows offered. “I will make your deception complete. No one will see you. You will do wonders within my darkness. No one will know you.”
“Walk boldly, My Son,” Shaddi directed. “Do not listen to them. I am the way.”
With his head held high, Adam gently pulled the door behind him and strolled down the concrete drive just like he lived there.
He had rounded the snowy edge of the drive and was back onto the sidewalk when he heard a car coming in the distance. The sound carries so far on the icy air, he thought and was thankful for the blessing. He fixed his eyes like flint on the prize that was ahead. He was going to return the Christ Child carving to its home.
Adam crossed the street and walked up the steps of the library just like any other patron in search of a good book for the weekend. As before, once inside, he turned, watched from the windows, and waited a few minutes. He was suddenly aware that his breathing was heavy. He had felt no fear when he rescued the carving. Now, after the danger had passed, his body seemed to say, What just happened? What did I do?
No cars had passed on Maplecrest since he left the Phillips’ garage, walked the block or
so to the library, and went in. He couldn’t see how anyone could make an association between him and the house at 1220. He started to open the library door, then noticed a car pull into the Phillips’ driveway so Adam waited. A man got out, closed the car door, and walked right into the house without knocking. I guess Mr. Phillips is home now. Thank you Shaddi.
Adam stepped out of the library as if he were one of their most benevolent patrons, a friend of the library he would be called. With confidence and courage, he walked down the steps and back to Cranberry Street. He carried the Baby Jesus in his arms. Pops carried him the same way when he was very little. Adam wondered why he remembered that.
When he got to the church parsonage, he studied the scene before he approached. The days were short and evening shadows had started to gather that enveloped the house and tucked the day under the bushes. Inside, the kitchen light was already on. As Adam watched, someone turned off one of the living room lights. Through the window to the left of the door, he could see Pastor Silverman move from the couch to the dining room table. Adam walked down the sidewalk on the other side of the street where the buildings cast even longer shadows. He walked five yards beyond the Silverman’s house, crossed the street, then doubled back so he could approach the porch past the living room window, not the dining room.
Shaddi, let me give this Christ Child back to the church anonymously. Take away my fear.
Quietly, cautiously, but with smooth confidence, he stepped up the two steps and then onto the porch. Thank you, Shaddi, for cement. Concrete doesn’t creak. He set the sea bag beside the front door. Now, how do I get away? I wish I had a horse—a flying horse like Pegasus.
In a whirl of blinding snow and wishful thinking a white winged horse appeared with a
mane of silver silk. Adam rang the doorbell, swung his leg over the horse, mounted his back, and swiftly bounded over the side porch railing. With Pegasus’s help, he waited in the shelter of the high limbs of the near by oak tree.
“What is this?’ Pastor Silverman questioned as he opened the door.
“What is it, Dear?” Mrs. Silverman stepped onto the porch beside him.
“I don’t know,” he said then stooped to untie the sea bag. “Connie, will you just look.” He carefully pulled the top of the duffle down while the rich glow of the Lebanon Cedar arms reached up and out.
“Honey,” Connie Silverman’s eyes filled with tears, “it’s home. The Christ Child is home. It’s a miracle.”
The boy didn’t breathe a word. He saw all the joy he could ever imagine from the top of the oak tree. He was filled with amazement for a moment, then he remembered the price to be paid when you live on wishes.
Adam saw the return of the carving and the joy it brought, but he saw it from afar. He wasn’t really a part of the “miracle.” While he saw the happiness, he was not part of the rejoicing. Once the excitement passed, he was ready for another thrill charge
Sequel, Escape from the Shadows, is available on amazon.com and b&n.com. If you remember snail-mail, for a better price, check out offer at www.dorisgainesrapp.com..