Chapter Seventeen: Lion for the family
"Oh, Valerie, Nick," Jeff lamented as he sat at the foot of his bed. "If I'd only known you were there, I would have done something more to save you."
"There's nothing more you could have done," Sandy said. She was sitting beside Jeff.
Ronny sat at a desk in the corner, periodically flipping pages of the Bible he was reading. He turned to look at Jeff. "She's right, Mr. Saunderson. Nick and your wife made their choice. There's nothing you can do now."
"Call me Jeff," he said as he went over to the curtains and opened them. Down below, he could see the complex's main floor. Thousands of new Christians were excitedly milling about, talking to one another and shaking hands. Lawrence was down there too, organizing everybody into groups and assigning them to gifted leaders.
"What happens now, Jeff?" Ronny asked.
Jeff was still daydreaming as he looked down below. "Humm? Oh, I don't know. It's different every time. Lawrence just does what God tells him to. Some will stay and help us here. Others will be sent to other complexes. In all cases, individuals will find out what gifts and talents they have and be equipped to carry out their particular role. Everyone also receives a certain amount of Bible training, depending on their particular calling. Preachers get a lot more, and cooks and janitors get a lot less. But we're all important. Nobody is allowed to lord their gifts over anybody else. We all need one another."
"Where do you get the food to feed everybody?" Ronny asked. "Many are starving on the outside."
Jeff smiled. "God provides the food and the cooks prepare it. You've never tasted food until you've eaten here. But anyway, you should be down there too."
"Sorry," Ronny said and pointed at the Bible he had been reading. "Can I take it?"
"No," Jeff said. "It's got a lot of my own study notes in it. Besides, we've got thousands of Bibles. If you were down on the floor like you should be, you'd get your very own tonight."
"Wow," Ronny said. "Where do you get them?"
"God told Lawrence's dad exactly how many he would need on hand to be able to hand one out personally to every person who would ever come through this place."
Ronny shook his head in amazement.
Jeff took on a semi-smiling, semi-serious look. He didn't want to be rude, but he wanted to talk to Sandy alone. "I appreciate your telling me about my family, but it's time for you to get going." He pointed down below.
Ronny smiled and trudged out of the room. When he was gone, Jeff sat beside Sandy again. "I want to go and get them," he said.
"We're not scheduled to preach again in Star City for two weeks. Lawrence said we're supposed to go to a town in Wyoming. Then we're to go to the rural areas north and..."
"I don't care, Sandy!"
"Don't you understand. This is my family, my wife and son. I still love them, and it pains my heart to know they were so close and yet so far. God was obviously drawing on their hearts or they wouldn't have been there. If I could only get to them I'm sure I could. That's if they're even alive." Jeff lay back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. Tears started to well up in the corners of his eyes. He missed them so much. He wiped the tears from his face.
It had been so long. Many times, Jeff had felt like giving up on them, but continued to pray. Lawrence had reluctantly let Jeff make periodic visits, which were always depressing, constant rejection and the last time a threat of death. That had been the last straw. He knew Valerie wasn't kidding, and Lawrence said Jeff couldn't go anymore. Now to see his small ember of hope almost burst forth into flames was more than he could manage. He had to go to them one last time.
Sandy looked at Jeff, tears of her own forming in her eyes. "I'd like to help if I could, but..." She looked away. Jeff understood. For a long time now, he knew she had once loved him.
Sandy had made her feelings very plain after escaping the mob at the Sheriff's office, the place where the local professional protection mogul, Jarius, had set up shop. They had seen at least a dozen of Jarius' men come to Jesus, before Jarius got angry and tried to kill them. Jeff used his God-given power to get away, but Sandy had taken a bullet in the arm. Back at the complex, the doctor removed the bullet and bandaged her arm, but the brief brush with death seemed to fill Sandy with the courage to speak her mind.
She talked quickly, a flood of words pouring out almost faster than Jeff could listen, of how she'd fallen in love and wanted to marry him, of how she thought of him first thing upon waking, all day, and right before falling asleep.
Jeff, on the other hand, didn't feel the same. While he cared deeply for Sandy as a friend, he still loved his wife. As long as Valerie was alive, he would keep waiting and hoping. "But she has repeatedly committed adultery," Sandy had said. "You can get a divorce." That was true, but he still didn't want to. He was lonely for intimate female companionship, but he didn't love Sandy in that way.
Jeff was definitely physically attracted to Sandy, though, perhaps a little too much. He even asked Lawrence to transfer him to a different group, but to his surprise Lawrence said no. Apparently, God had other plans for them. It didn't seem smart to Jeff, but he didn't question God's judgment. Now, much later, he could see the good in it. Eventually, any of Sandy's romantic feelings disappeared and he developed a very deep, abiding friendship with her. He could be very honest with her about his love for Valerie and how much he missed her. Sandy accepted Jeff the way he was and never even got jealous or envious. But now, the prospect of Jeff reuniting with his wife seemed to frighten her.
"We'll always be friends," he told her as he sat up and put his arms around her. "You don't have to worry about losing me." When she looked him in the eyes, Jeff knew he'd guessed correctly.
"Are you sure? We won't be able to spend as much time together."
"Yes we will. To me, you've become a part of my family. Like a sister. And I know Valerie, at least the real Valerie, not the thing she's become. She won't mind us being together. Trust me."
"OK. If you say so."
"I actually think this is just the kind of situation that calls for Stephanie's unique abilities."
"But don't you think we should ask Lawrence first?"
"Yes, let's do that." They exited the room and made their way to Lawrence's office. The door was open, as Lawrence liked to demonstrate an open atmosphere with his people as much as possible. He smiled as Jeff and Sandy approached and asked them to come in and sit down.
"It's nice to see you two," Lawrence said. "The Lord has already told me about your situation."
"So can we go get them and bring them back here for Stephanie to work on?" Jeff asked.
Stephanie had developed into quite the little spiritual warrior over the years. God had given her the ability to enter into a person's mind and battle demons personally, a skill needed in those rare cases where demons could not be cast out of a person in the field. Some demons were so strongly entrenched in a person's mind that God would sometimes have the preaching groups bring people back to the complex, where Stephanie would enter the person's mind and expel the demon or demons.
She used to travel with the preaching groups personally, but was now confined to a wheelchair since one particularly difficult encounter with Daimagon, Satan's second in command and only marginally lower in strength than Satan himself. Over the years, Stephanie's skills had grown so fast and so strong that she had become a bit overconfident. Daimagon was finally expelled from one man after days of mental battle, but as the demon was leaving the body, Stephanie dropped her guard for just a moment, thinking the battle was over. Daimagon struck one last defiant blow when she wasn't expecting it and then fled the man's mind. Stephanie may have had the ultimate victory, but she was left paralyzed from the neck down in her physical body after this fight. No matter. She gladly continued to battle with any demon possessed people that could be brought to her. Her body might be frail now, but when she entered one's mind, her spirit was indomitable.
"I'm afraid the Lord's answer is no, Jeff."
"But why? This is a perfect case for her. She's never failed yet and--"
"The answer is no, Jeff," Lawrence said a little more forcefully. "Valerie and Nick didn't respond when they heard the message. They had their chance to repent. Their fate is in the Lord's hands now. All He will say to me is patience."
"Does that mean they will get another chance later?"
"I don't know. But the best thing we can do for them is obey God and pray for them. We all must learn to wait on the Lord's timing."
"That's difficult for me to do when it comes to my family."
Lawrence smiled. "God's doing a work in all of us, Jeff. Learn faith and patience. All who are meant to be in God's family will be eventually."
Jeff gritted his teeth and nodded slowly. He and Sandy left Lawrence's office and started to make their way back to Jeff's room, but Jeff passed his room and continued down the hallway.
"Where are we going?" Sandy asked.
"I think we should talk to Stephanie," Jeff said.
"What would be the point. You're not thinking of doing something stupid are you?"
"I just need to talk to her." Sandy shook her head and sighed but followed him to Stephanie's room. Jeff knocked on the door and heard Stephanie say, "Come in, dad."
He opened the door and entered the room, marveling at her senses as he closed the door and sat down across from her. "I'll never be able to surprise you, will I?"
"Not within about a 100 foot perimeter," Stephanie said. "But my senses don't reach much beyond that."
Jeff could feel his daughter's presence now too.
He had a special connection with his daughter in this way, but only within about 10 feet for himself. Even though Stephanie was not in his mind fighting demons, he could sense her spirit filling the room as though it were a thick smog that only he could see. Others usually didn't feel a thing but only saw what appeared to be a physically frail young woman in a wheelchair, arms and legs atrophied from immobility.
Jeff told her the whole situation and asked her what she thought.
"I don't care what Lawrence says. We're talking about mom and Nick! I say go get'em, dad. Bring them to me and they're as good as free."
"This is what I was afraid of," Sandy said. "You two running off like lone rangers or something. We need to trust the Lord here."
Jeff sighed. "I just know I have to do this."
"You might be endangering us all."
Jeff silently got up and walked to the window, staring at the activity below. "I don't see how that's possible. I'm going tomorrow morning. By myself if I have to. I'll be the only one in danger. I'd like you to come but I understand if you don't want to."
Sandy got up, walked over to the window, and stood beside Jeff. "Count me in," she said.
Jeff squirmed inside what used to be his and Valerie's closet. It was filled with boxes full of junk, a baseball bat, drugs, and moldy clothes. He supposed the cost of cleaning must be high, judging from the smell.
He touched the pair of handcuffs tucked inside his belt. Sandy had her own pair. The plan was for Jeff to grab Valerie and handcuff her before she could react. Sandy would find Nick and do the same.
"Don't think of it as kidnapping," Jeff said. "Think of it as de-programming. I know Stephanie can help them back at the complex. Once they're free of the demons' influence, I'm sure I can lead them to Christ."
"How can you be sure? They can come back if the person lets them."
"God's Spirit drew them to the meeting. That's how. They wouldn't have been there otherwise. If Jesus fills them with Himself, they won't go back to Satan."
"I hope you're right. They stayed behind to shoot at us, so they're still under the influence of the fallen spirit world in a mighty way. And I still don't feel totally comfortable doing this when Lawrence specifically said we shouldn't."
Jeff pushed back any doubt. He wasn't entirely certain, but was driven beyond rational thought. Apparently, God needed a little help where his family was concerned. No. Rather, Jeff decided, this must have been God's plan all along. He was here, and would stay until they came home.
Perhaps they were dead. No! He refused to entertain such thoughts. Besides, they had gone back to last night's farmhouse, and hadn't seen Valerie or Nick among the dead bodies.
Jeff and Sandy stayed in the closet all afternoon, determined to wait it out. Eventually, Sandy opened the door only a crack to get some air; it squeaked badly, and Jeff didn't want to be heard closing it again if Valerie and Nick were to come home.
It wasn't until later in the evening that Jeff heard the front door unlocking. He closed the closet door as quietly as he could.
"Did you hear something?" Valerie said from down the hall.
"No," Nick said. The dogs started growling and barking, apparently sensing his and Sandy's presence. Jeff had forgotten about the two Doberman pinschers which usually guarded the house.
Sandy whispered her concern, but all Jeff could do was shrug his shoulders. Whatever happened, there was no turning back now. As they had often done in the past, they would have to continue as planned and trust God to work out overlooked details.
Nick ordered the dogs to be quiet, and Valerie must have shrugged it off too because she didn't say anything more, but came into the bedroom. Jeff peeked through a crack in the door, and saw Valerie carrying armloads of clothing and other personal items. Jeff recognized a dress as being similar to one the neighbor's wife used to wear. They had probably been raiding the neighborhood with that gang of thugs Nick hung around with lately.
Jeff hesitated, wondering what would happen in the next few minutes. Then he took a deep breath and whispered to Sandy he was going to make his move. He quickly opened the closet door, and grabbed Valerie. Both fell on the bed.
Sandy grabbed the bat in the closet, and ran down the hall to get Nick.
Valerie screamed and struggled, but Jeff was stronger and forced the cuffs on her.
"You idiot," Valerie spat. "You're not going to get away with this. Nick! Kill these fools!"
Sandy came diving back into the room headfirst, as bullets shattered the door frame, one of the dogs chasing behind. She turned in time to see the dog leaping for her throat. But she still held the bat in her right hand and swung it hard, connecting with the dog's head, making a loud cracking noise as if scoring a home run. The dog fell to the ground and didn't move again.
Sandy said she was a little shaken up, but not hurt.
Jeff reached for Valerie's gun, which had fallen on the bed. He poked around the corner and let off a few rounds into the air as a warning.
"I'm sorry," Nick yelled. "It's you, isn't it, dad? I just remembered your little blonde friend from the other night."
"Yeah. It's me. I want to help you."
"I've missed you. Come out into the open where I can see you better."
Sandy gave Jeff a look which said, "Yeah right."
Jeff wasn't fooled either. If his wife was any indication, he could tell this wasn't going to be easy. He poked his head around the corner and brought it back just in time to prevent his brains from being splattered, as bullets riddled the door frame again.
"Kill them, Nick!" Valerie shouted. "Walk right in here and kill them. They haven't the guts to shoot you."
"Gag her mouth," Jeff said.
Sandy found a sock and shoved it in Valerie's mouth. Jeff heard what sounded like running footsteps down the hall. Within seconds, the other dog entered the room and leapt for his throat. He shot it in midair and it fell to his feet. Valerie screamed through her gag, obviously upset her pets had been killed.
"You wouldn't hurt me, would you, dad?" Nick yelled from down the hall. "I'm coming up. We can talk. Like old times."
Jeff started to panic. He could hear his son walking up the stairs, footsteps sounding methodical, as if he were stalking a wounded animal. Soon, Nick would be in the room, and Jeff was sure he wasn't going to talk about old times.
He couldn't shoot his own son.
Jeff mouthed a quick prayer to God, but sensed no answer.
He got up, prayed again quickly, and stomped on the floor as hard as he could. God would shake the house and throw Nick off balance.
"I'm almost there," Nick said. "My gun's at the foot of the stairs. Don't shoot."
Yeah right, Jeff thought to himself. He looked at Sandy and mouthed the words, "What do I do?" With panic written on her face, she shrugged her shoulders. They were out of options.
"Forgive me, Lord," Jeff said as he blindly aimed his gun around the corner, but he pointed more to the floor than full body height. Jeff pulled the trigger and heard Nick moan and fall with a loud thud.
He poked his head around the corner. His son was clutching bleeding knees and grunting with pain, gun lying beside him.
Jeff ran down the hall, and Nick grabbed for his gun again, but Jeff kicked it away. "You're coming with me, son," he said as he slapped on the cuffs.