Read Childless: A Novel Online

Authors: James Dobson,Kurt Bruner

Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Futuristic, #Religion, #Christian Life, #Family, #Love & Marriage, #Social Issues

Childless: A Novel

BOOK: Childless: A Novel
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In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

In memory of the late Dr. Francis Schaeffer who warned us of the perilous future depicted in this book.

When I was young my father gave me a poem presumably written in the sixteenth century by a woman named Ursula Southeil, better known as Mother Shipton. It contained a series of predictions about future events that have proven remarkably accurate. One of those predictions seemed to prophesy some of the present-day trends that inspired this book.

Then love shall die and marriage cease,
And nations wane as babes decrease

Nations wane when the old and feeble outnumber the young and productive. The best demographers tell us the growth in global population will soon end and then reverse due to an unprecedented drop in fertility taking place throughout the developed world. Places like Japan and Russia are already experiencing the economic turmoil caused by too few children trying to support a growing pool of aging citizens.

In
Fatherless
we explored one of the causes: men neglecting the honor and responsibilities of paternity. In
Childless
we'll ask what happens when sex is severed from the life-giving joys of maternity. Be forewarned, such questions require depicting ugly realities that come when we disregard the beauty and sanctity of the marriage bed.

As we said in Book One, a happy home is the highest expression of God's image on Earth. Marriage and parenthood echo heaven, something hell can't abide. This series is a fictional account of where the battle against human thriving is heading in the not-too-distant future. But it is also a celebration of God's design for families, which retains a resilient beauty and redemptive power the most ardent forces of hell cannot destroy.

James C. Dobson, PhD

 

September 1, 2043

Victor

The faint
sound of doorbell chimes prompted Rebecca Santiago to click off the hair dryer. That’s when she panicked. The oven timer! Her gown somewhere out of reach, she hastily grabbed Victor’s gangly bathrobe while darting toward the kitchen in a futile effort to rescue her forgotten pumpkin scones.

Balancing the hot cookie sheet with her hand in an oven mitt, she opened the front door with the other hand. She rolled her eyes at the sound of an overnight delivery truck hastily speeding away from the driveway.

“You call that friendly service?” Rebecca shouted to the fleeing license plate before bending down to retrieve the thin package. It was small and flat like any of the countless legal documents that required her husband’s attention. She tossed it aside before hurriedly disposing of the dozen smoldering lumps no longer suitable to serve with tea. As on every other Tuesday, the bridge club gals would arrive at eleven o’clock sharp. She had less than fifteen minutes to make her graying strands wavy and refurbish a face banished from makeup-free appearances decades ago.

The envelope sat ignored until four thirty that afternoon, when it caught Rebecca’s eye. As she waved goodbye to Shelly, who, as usual, had overstayed her welcome by ninety minutes, she noticed it balanced conspicuously on the dining room table right next to a legal brief Victor had forsaken seven hours earlier.

“Gotta run,” he had mumbled through a half-eaten piece of toast wedged between his teeth on his way out the door. “Lost track of time.”

Rebecca sighed at the reminder of her husband’s chief shortcoming. She knew what few others could guess. The esteemed Victor Santiago, presiding judge in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, was a man severely allergic to multitasking. Sipping coffee and reviewing legal opinions were two simultaneous activities that had squeezed checking the time out of his morning routine. She marveled that Victor managed to survive while away from her attentive hovering, let alone that he’d earned a notable reputation. But he had, thanks in large part to their thirty-two-year arrangement. The day Victor married Rebecca his formidable mind had entrusted all nonjudicial matters to his better half, and she had gladly assumed them.

Finding a pair of scissors, Rebecca slit the seal and let the contents fall onto the kitchen counter. A smaller envelope shaped like a greeting card displayed handwritten script.

To: Mrs. Rebecca Santiago
From: A Fan of the Judge

She smiled, anticipating another note expressing admiration for her husband’s growing influence. She had a pleasant habit that had begun with her scrapbook of news clippings from Victor’s years as prosecuting attorney. She loved saving mementos from key career milestones. Her favorite was the framed picture taken at the press conference announcing his appointment to the federal bench. Victor had protested when she placed it so prominently on display in the living room. But household décor fell within her jurisdiction. No matter how brilliantly worded his opinion on the matter, hers remained the deciding vote.

Rebecca hoped that no one, especially Victor, would ever suspect her least becoming custom: she routinely sorted through the office wastepaper basket to retrieve notes her husband might have discarded after dismissing thanks or a compliment from a client or colleague. Part of her role, she told herself, was to relish the accolades her husband considered irrelevant or undeserved.

Rebecca assumed this note came from yet another character witness offering evidence that her lifelong lover was also the most important legal mind on the planet. She slid the contents free and noticed a slight bulge from the folded letter inserted between the elegant panels of a card that must have been purchased from an upscale stationery store. She removed the page before reading the card’s inscription.

Dear Rebecca:

I apologize for troubling you at home, and I regret any distress the enclosed may cause you. But I desperately need your assistance in what has become a most pressing, delicate matter. Thank you, in advance, for your cooperation.

Warmest regards,
A Manichean

She stared at the signature for several seconds, trying to place the name. Nothing came. Then she began unfolding the longer note to read the details of the mysterious request. Her mind raced ahead of her hands to offer possible scenarios, each seeming less plausible than the last.

A practical joke by her ornery brother? Keith hadn’t even bothered fixing himself a sandwich since losing Kay. He wouldn’t waste the little energy he had left concocting an elaborate gag. And even if he had, his hands shook too much for such graceful penmanship.

Perhaps some surprise Victor had arranged for her sixtieth? Of course her birthday remained weeks away, and Victor wasn’t the type to plan such things. Then again, he could have received prods and help from his ever-thoughtful assistant Jennifer. Possible, but not likely.

Could it be a legitimate request to get involved with a case? Victor had presided over hundreds of decisions during his years on the bench. At his insistence, none had ever invaded the sanctuary of their home. On the one occasion he’d seemed tortured over a particularly challenging case she’d asked if he wanted to talk about it. But he had slammed the door on the possibility with a grateful kiss on her forehead.

Having dismissed all three alternatives Rebecca felt a rush of vague panic as she began reading the double-creased page.

Dear Victor:

Please forgive my sending this note to your wife Rebecca. Prior attempts to correspond through your assistant have proven unfruitful. I have yet to receive a single response to any of my previous letters regarding the wrongful death appeal involving NEXT Transition Services. As you know, many lives hang in the balance in this matter. That’s why I was pleased the case fell to a man with the kind of wisdom and restraint you have demonstrated throughout your distinguished judicial career. But this case is far too important for any hint of ambiguity. That’s why I must know where you stand before the scheduled ruling deadline of September 4th. Please consider Rebecca’s future as you contemplate the following alternatives:

  • Option One:
    Assure me that you will indeed decide in favor of NEXT. 
  • Option Two:
    Bid your sweet wife farewell since you will die before issuing an opinion. 

Once again, I apologize for alarming Rebecca. But she deserves to know about the increasingly tense situation in which we find ourselves. I could not allow any of what might transpire to come as a surprise, and I trust that her intervention will motivate you to do what’s right for everyone.

As always,
A Manichean
P.S. Kindly post your response at the following private forum
address
: ANON.CHAT.4398

Rebecca felt her legs weaken as she steadied herself with a dining room chair. She had always known that important work like Victor’s came with certain risks. “So does driving a car or boarding a plane,” her husband had always said reassuringly. He’d never bothered to mention possible assassination.

She took an overdue breath as her eyes returned to the only sentence on the page that mattered.
Bid your sweet wife farewell since you will die before issuing an opinion.

The letter fell to the floor in union with Rebecca’s sinking heart. She cradled her face in shaking hands, then closed her eyes to preview the scenes of a coming-soon nightmare.

Act One. She would plead with her husband. Beg him to cooperate.

Act Two. He would say no, stubbornly refusing to fear the same menacing threat that promised to keep her on edge for several fretful days and sleepless nights.

Act Three. A faceless stranger Rebecca might never detect would kill the man she could never live without.

Part One

Three Weeks Earlier

August 15, 2043

Tyler Cain
drove through several blocks of boarded-up homes and vacant apartment buildings before reaching the familiar street. The neighborhood could have been any of a hundred half-abandoned sections of town. Denver had begun following in the footsteps of once-thriving cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston. The national population had officially tilted downward only eighteen months earlier, but some regions had already transformed into empty havens of life free from the burden of kids.

Neighborhoods don’t hide the signs of aging any better than the people who desert them. Decades earlier these homes had likely bustled with the sights and sounds of children heading off to school. They now served as rickety remnants of a bygone era. Few of the single-family dwellings appeared in use beyond the occasional crack dealer, palm reader, or senior citizen too poor or stubborn to leave an area the underfunded police no longer patrolled.

Tyler pulled his unwashed ’28 Ford Mustang behind what he guessed to be an abandoned ’22 Lexus. Two unrepaired flat rear tires suggested the vehicle had been pronounced dead after the prolonged torture of owner neglect. Tyler’s car fit right in, providing the perfect camouflage for yet another mind-numbing stakeout.

With the flip of a tiny switch on the left rim of his sunglasses he looked toward the residence in question. He could have parked closer. But four hundred yards gave him a reason to use the vision-magnification feature that, he had convinced himself, would be well worth the extra expense. Tapping the lens twice, he zoomed in enough to confirm drawn draperies and a solitary car in the driveway.

Absolutely nothing was happening, as during most of his billable hours.

Tyler glanced at the clock while reaching for a slightly crumpled bag containing today’s indulgence: two bacon cheeseburgers with extra pickles. Renee would not have approved, but he needed sustenance beyond the bird food she called a sensible diet. His girlfriend had always been a health nut. It was one of the things that had attracted him to her when they first met. Her fit forty-one-year-old figure remained the best part of an otherwise exasperating relationship. Daily jogs and calorie counting looked great on her, but they cramped his style. Besides, he was in better shape than most guys pushing fifty.

He looked in the visor mirror to inspect a face she had once called boyishly cute. No man wants to be either, so he had grown a slight goatee that now contained more gray than he had allowed his thinning hair to display.

Renee disapproved of facial hair almost as much as bacon burgers. “It itches me when we kiss,” she had teased. “Itchy kissing can spoil the mood.”

Fortunately she never followed through on the veiled threat. So he continued ignoring her appeals to restore the aging baby face she had fallen in love with three years earlier.

While downing a final beefy bite with a sip of strawberry shake Tyler noticed a vehicle approaching from behind. He watched it grow in the driver’s-side mirror as it slowed to a wary crawl. As the car crept past he recognized the woman’s face from the photograph his client had provided. Her car continued rolling forward as she strained to find a legible address before pausing in front of the house Tyler had positioned himself to observe.

She remained seated inside for several minutes, apparently adding finishing touches to her makeup. When she finally opened the door Tyler tapped his lens for a closer look. Nearly attractive, she appeared old enough to be helping grown kids pack for college or spoiling her grandkids rather than getting dolled up in such a pleasantly inappropriate outfit.

Why do they care how they look
? he wondered. The man waiting inside, Tyler assumed, would act out this week’s sexual fantasy regardless. To guys with made-up names that change daily, the risk of getting caught was a bigger turn-on than high heels.

Tyler quickly grabbed his camera to snap five pictures of the woman, the first as she walked from the car and the fifth as she looked back from an opening front door to confirm secrecy. That’s when he caught a glimpse of the man’s face. He appeared a bit younger than the woman, his tentative eyes darting to and fro as if checking for a stalking lover who might catch him in the act. Five seconds later the door closed as the pair secured themselves within a renovated slum house far less attractive and sanitary than it had appeared in the online ad for this particular House of Delights.

So began Tyler’s Monday-through-Friday afternoon routine of sitting outside this or some other den of iniquity to glean the scraps of a booming arranged hookups industry. It was all part of a predictable sequence for securing clients and earning a steadily mediocre income.

  • Step One: Follow home whatever man or woman left one of the sordid establishments 
  • Step Two: Trace his or her address to identify a potential partner 
  • Step Three: Leave an anonymous note to plant a seed of suspicion and recommend a “trustworthy investigator” named Tyler Cain 
  • Step Four: Wait for the phone to ring 

The process had kept Tyler so busy he no longer bothered asking his former supervising detective for legitimate investigation leads.

Business is great
, he would boast when asked.
More work than I can handle paying me more than I deserve
.

In truth he felt like a crawdad bottom-feeding on the city’s sludge to barely earn enough to match his former salary. He wondered how much longer he could muster the self-assured grin that masked the greatest regret of his life. Tyler should have never abandoned the force. He should have swallowed his pride when passed over for a promotion, rather than leave a job he loved.

Tyler swiped through the images he had captured to make sure the woman’s face could be clearly identified and that the time marker didn’t obstruct any important details. Satisfied, he smiled in anticipation of invoicing another heartbroken client. Receiving payment was the only part of the business Tyler still enjoyed. Years earlier he had imagined himself catching murderers and foiling international conspiracies like the handsome secret agents on television. But then he’d stumbled into a lucrative niche in the private detective business. A steady stream of insecure partners gladly paid his hourly rate to determine whether the loves of their lives were cheating.

Placing the camera aside, he settled in to await the woman’s departure. He guessed it would be at least thirty minutes before he could snap the all-important exit photos, ample time to listen to a few weepy client recordings. They always phoned after receiving his invoice, because he included a personalized invitation to call if they needed a listening ear. Clingy lovers always trap and smother the next partner, so Tyler’s business could thrive for many years on repeat business alone. In the early days he had scheduled face-to-face closure meetings, a touch of humanity that had earned him several word-of-mouth referrals. But he quickly ran out of time and patience for that routine. So he began offering to talk on a phone he rarely answered, resulting in a steady stream of extended messages. Ten minutes of listening to whiny, emotional bleating followed by quickly typing a message of condolence had proven nearly as productive with far less effort.

“Hi, Mr. Cain, this is Naomi Wilkerson.” The voice broke, and there was a long, sniffling pause. Tyler rolled his eyes in recognition of a weakness he had come to despise in the people who paid him so well.

“I can’t stop looking at the photographs you sent,” she finally continued.

He recalled three sets of pictures taken over a span of six days.

“I showed them to Davey like you suggested. But when I asked him to explain he just ignored me and went back to sipping his beer and watching the game.

“I started kissing his hand and asked him if he still loved me, then I said I don’t feel like he wants me the way he did when he first moved in. I tried to be strong because he gets mad when I cry. So I took a deep breath before asking him if he had slept with other women.

“He didn’t get mad. He didn’t react at all. He just turned slowly toward me and said, ‘It’s none of your business who I sleep with. And no, I don’t want you like I did before.’

“I felt like a knife went into my heart. I ran to the bedroom and cried myself to sleep.

“Well, you can imagine my surprise when he woke me a few hours later to say he wanted to make love. I was so happy. When we finished he began to fall asleep. I cuddled in close and whispered in his ear that I will always love him, no matter what.”

Same song, hundredth verse
, Tyler thought,
a needy woman grasping for an apathetic man like a drunk caressing an empty bottle
. Tyler saw what Naomi refused to accept. Davey didn’t love his partner the way she hoped for or deserved. He merely enjoyed their living arrangement and the on-demand sex afforded by a girl sleeping twelve inches away. But Naomi had invested too much of herself in the relationship to let him go. Better to keep a small part of Davey than lose all of herself.

“Anyway,” the message continued, “I paid your invoice and I thank you for your hard work. I suppose it’s possible that Davey made a mistake, possibly even slept with someone once. But I still think we have something special and I’m choosing to hope for the best. I don’t know what I’d do without him. You’re a very nice man, Mr. Cain. Your girlfriend is a lucky gal.”

The comment reminded Tyler that he hadn’t yet made dinner plans to celebrate his girlfriend’s good fortune. She insisted they do something special every August seventeenth, the day they had met, in lieu of a nonexistent wedding anniversary.

Three years with one woman
, he marveled.

Two more than I intended
, he thought with a sigh.

This relationship, like his prior three, should have ended after a sensible nine or ten months, when infatuation wanes and daily habits annoy. Both happened with Renee after fifteen months, about the same time he found himself short on capital and scrambling for clients.

“I’ll cosign,” she had offered supportively when Tyler confessed his inadequate credit. Renee would have done anything for her man. Still would. So the relationship expanded from that of while-love-lasts lovers into that of until-the-loan-gets-paid business partners.

What made him most nervous was Renee’s recent comment about her biological clock. As if afraid of a ticking bomb, the thought made him want to get away. Despite cutting corners and pinching pennies, however, he had only managed to pay down the outstanding balance on their joint loan by a few thousand dollars. It would be two more bottom-feeding years before he could retire the loan, before he’d feel right easing out of the relationship.

After tapping the
DELETE MESSAGE
icon Tyler typed and sent a brief note.

Hi Naomi:

I just got your message and wanted to wish you well. Thanks for sending payment. While I hope it won’t be necessary, I am available if you or any of your friends find yourself in need of investigative services in future days.

Warm regards,
Tyler Cain, PI
P.S. Davey is lucky to have you.

Tyler felt a sudden urge to stretch his legs. He hesitated, concerned the distraction could cause him to miss the woman’s exit. Checking the time, he noticed twenty minutes had passed. He had always called arranged hookups the illicit counterpart of drive-through fast food. Transaction and consumption occur quickly. But he figured the two would spend time getting acquainted before going through the motions of awkward foreplay, hesitant passion, and the rest. Perhaps another fifteen or twenty minutes. Tyler decided to take a chance. He exited the car to cool in the shade of a nearby tree.

That’s when he received a call from Greg Smith, the one man able to rescue Tyler from self-imposed exile.

BOOK: Childless: A Novel
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