Authors: Randy Alcorn
Tags: #Christian, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Religious, #Mystery Fiction, #African American, #Christian Fiction, #Oregon, #African American journalists
OTHER BOOKS BY RANDY ALCORN:
Edge of Eternity
Lord Foulgrin’s Letters
The Ishbane Conspiracy
(with Angela and Karina Alcorn)
The Law of Rewards
The Purity Principle
The Grace and Truth Paradox
The Treasure Principle
In Light of Eternity
Money, Possessions and Eternity
Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments
Restoring Sexual Sanity
Women Under Stress
(with Nanci Alcorn)
To Nanci, Karina, and Angela Alcorn
my Christ-centered and fun-loving wife and daughters.
Each of you has enriched my life in countless ways.
I respect you and your devotion to our Lord.
I treasure your friendship and thank God
for the privilege of being part of your family.
Wonderful as it’s been here in the Shadowlands,
I look forward to greater adventures together
in our true home, which the Carpenter is preparing.
I can hardly wait.
I pray you’ll keep investing your lives in eternity
and modeling for me the love of Christ.
I’m so proud of each of you.
Thanks for supporting me in everything,
including the long process of writing this book.
I love you.
I’m indebted to many gracious people who helped me as I researched this book. (My apologies to anyone I inadvertently left out.)
Special thanks to three men who always went out of their way to answer my never-ending questions: Tom Nelson, Portland homicide detective; Jim Seymour, Gresham police officer; Sgt. Tom Dresner, Columbia Police Department armorer and inexhaustible source of firearms information.
Thanks also to homicide detective Mike Hefley, gang enforcement detective Neil Crannell, gang expert Madeleine Kopp, and police officers Bob Davis, Jim Carl, Dennis Bunker, Scott Anderson, Pete Summers, and John Cheney.
For giving of their expertise in everything from journalism to cars to medicine to gangs to science to art: Gene Saling, Dyrk Van Zanten, Rainy Takalo, Randy Martin, Leonard Ritzman, Doreen and Mike Button, Christy and Gordon Canzler, Mike Chaney, Matt Engstrom, Jim Anderson, Rod Gradin, Richard Brown, Jay Rau, Ron Noren, and Sheila and Jimmy Davis.
My heartfelt appreciation to Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice of
in Jackson, Mississippi, Phil Reed of Voice of Calvary Church, as well as others I met in Jackson, including Ron Potter, Melvin Anderson, and Andy Abrams. Thanks also to Don Frasier and Mel Renfro of Portland’s Bridge Ministries and Jim Cottrell of Teen Challenge.
My deepest appreciation for the assistance and support of Nanci, Angela, and Karina Alcorn. Also, to Kathy and Ron Norquist and Diane and Rod Meyer for their encouragement and help.
I gained valuable insights on racial issues from Georgene Rice, Art Gay, Bruce Fong, Mike O’Brien, Jerome Joiner, Frank Peretti, Rakel Thurman, Ray Cook, Alex Marcus, Ron Washington, Dave Harvey, Barry Arnold, Bob Maddox, Steve Keels, and Stu Weber. Special thanks to my good brother John Edwards— your phone calls from across the country were always a special encouragement.
My heartfelt thanks to John Perkins, with whom I had lunch in Minnesota in 1987 and again in Mississippi eight years later. John, your example of love, forgiveness, and Christ-centeredness has touched my life deeply.
Thanks to NFL brothers, especially my friend Ken Ruettgers (you too, Sheryl), as well as Reggie White, Bill Brooks, and Guy McIntyre, men who spoke to me with honesty and great insight. Also, to former NFL player and current Antioch Bible Church pastor Ken Hutcherson, whose church is a powerful model of interracial partnership.
Thanks to those who opened their lives to me at Cornerstone Church in Chester, Pennsylvania: Arie and Marilyn Mangrum (and Arie IV), Jerome and Leigh Burton, Ray and Dawn Jones, and Fred Catoe. Special thanks also to Wendell Robinson and Lynetta Martin of Portland’s Mount Olivet Baptist Church, as well as to the church’s youth choir.
I’ve benefited from the writings of some I’ve already mentioned, as well as those of Tony Evans, Carl Ellis, Alan Keyes, William Pannell, Raleigh Washington, Glen Kehrein, Thomas Tarrants, Glenn Usry, Craig S. Keener, Rod Cooper, Dolphus Weary, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr., Marvin Olasky Samuel Freedman, Ralph Ellison, Wellington Boone, Ron Washington, Alex Haley, Studs Terkel, Henry Louis Gates, Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, and Cornell West. On the subject of heaven, I’m indebted to C. S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, and Joni Eareckson Tada.
My thanks to Bill McCartney and Promise Keepers, who have been raised up by God as a catalyst to racial dialogue, repentance, reconciliation, and partnership.
Thanks to the over six hundred readers of
who have written kind and heartfelt letters to me. Your encouragement to write a sequel played an important role in
Thanks to Rod Morris, my editor and friend, for believing in this book and bringing his wisdom and skills to it. Thanks to my brothers and sisters at Multnomah Publishers for being patient with me. After making my deadline on seven straight books, I was nearly four months late on this one. (I write a book called
, and suddenly I can’t meet one!)
I’m indebted to a faithful group of women at Good Shepherd Community Church, who diligently prayed for me during some challenging periods in writing this book. You know who you are, dear sisters—God will reward you for any impact this book makes for his kingdom. Thank you.
My deepest gratitude goes to El Elyon, God Most High. Thanks for leading me and sustaining me through the rigorous and enriching research and writing of this book. Please accept this, Audience of One, as an offering to you, for your glory. May the story cause readers to laugh, cry, and think—and in the process may you use it to change lives for eternity.
“Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father
after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.”
“He was given authority, glory and sovereign power;
all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away,
and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
The young man sat holding the .357 Smith and Wesson revolver, polishing its stainless steel with his mama’s scarf until he could see in it his distorted reflection. He turned up the four-inch barrel and spun the cylinder, emptying all six shells on his bed. Staring blankly, he carefully reinserted one round.
He took out a bag of crack cocaine already packaged for the next day’s delivery. He picked up one of the crusty rocks, smelled it, touched it with his tongue, debated whether to smoke it. Maybe it could make him forget what he could never tell his homeboys.
“They played me. Fools got it all wrong. Ain’t their hood. Ain’t their set. Can’t tell my little homie, that’s sure. What’m I gonna do now?”
He pointed the gun toward the pictures on the wall, setting his sights on people in the newspaper clippings, on one in particular. He slowly rotated his wrist, brushing the muzzle against the bridge of his nose, then pulling it back three inches. He peered deep into the seductive barrel, holding it so the light shone just far enough into the darkness to make him wonder what lay beyond. His trembling index finger fondled the trigger.
The barrel-chested man moved through the Gresham Fred Meyer supermarket aisle with surprising agility. He negotiated the aisles purposefully, pushing his shopping cart in and around the late Friday afternoon amblers, who seemed to have all the time in the world and nothing to accomplish.
His black tailored Givenchy suit and Cole-Haan dress shoes suggested he might be a CEO or corporate attorney. In fact, he was a columnist for the
, where most of his colleagues dressed informally. But Clarence Abernathy calculated his dress for image.
Geneva had called him on his car phone and asked him to pick up a few things on the way home. He headed to the produce section to get the Granny Smith apples. “Granny Smiths are the green ones,” she’d reminded him. As if he didn’t know.
He headed toward the checkstand, bobbing and weaving just far enough down an aisle to snag a large box of Cheerios, when a loud angry voice invaded his private world.
“Shuddup! You hear me? I said shuddup! Keep your hands off!” The words spewed as if from a geyser.
A wiry man in his forties, about Clarence’s age, stood fifty feet away at the far end of the aisle. He wore a tattered red-and-white Budweiser T-shirt. Clarence watched the man grab hold of the ear of a boy who couldn’t be more than six years old. The boy’s legs momentarily left the ground, his eyes dancing wildly.
The bloodcurdling scream pierced the store like a fire alarm. As the boy’s tears flowed, the man pulled harder on his ear, then slapped his head.
“Shuddup, I said!” He cocked back his hand again, like a tennis racquet poised to serve. The arm came down powerfully but stopped just inches above the child’s clinched eyes, stopped as if hitting a concrete wall.
The man in the Budweiser shirt looked at the big hand clutching his arm like a vise grip. The intruder had strewn five cereal boxes behind him in the moments it took to run the fifty feet.
“What the heck do you…?” The wiry man whirled to stare down the meddler, but he stared not into eyes but at an Adam’s apple. The intruder was tall and thick, built like a redwood stump. He was the kind of man you’d grab hold of in a windstorm and run from in a dark alley.
“You’re hurting the boy,” he said, in a calm measured voice, deep and resonant.
The wiry man glanced to the side, suddenly aware of the gaping supermarket audience.
“Who do you think you are, you…” he sputtered, as if unsure what to say next.
“Doesn’t matter who I am. Just matters you stop hurting the boy.” He smiled broadly at the little man. But he didn’t release his arm. “This your son?”
“Then treat him like a daddy ought to treat his boy.”
“It’s none of your business.”
“It’s everybody’s business. Now, tell me you won’t hurt the boy again.”
“I don’t have to tell you nothin’, you—”
“That’s not the right answer,” Clarence whispered, clamping his fingers harder, twisting the wedge on the vise grip. The man’s arm throbbed, his eyes watered.
“Try again.” The smile appeared nonchalant and unthreatening. The grip suggested otherwise.
“Okay,” the man gasped.
“I won’t hurt the boy.”
Clarence loosened his grip, removing his hand without the slightest twitch of uneasiness. He put the same big hand down on the little boy’s head, covering it like a wool cap.
“Take care of yourself, son.” The boy nodded, eyes big. Clarence turned to the father. “Have a nice day,” he said, as if they’d just had a discussion about whether the economy size Cheerios was really the better deal.
As he walked back to his shopping cart, Clarence smiled reassuringly to the onlookers, some of whom nodded their approval, some of whom weren’t so sure.
Clarence reached unconsciously to the two-inch scar just beneath his right ear. It was a thirty-two-year-old scar, compliments of some teenage boys in Mississippi who’d pummeled ten-year-old Clarence and his six-year-old sister with a dozen beer bottles, most of them broken before being thrown. One of the jagged missiles cut the gaping wound that became the scar he now fingered.
He headed for the checkstand, still smiling pleasantly, the outward calm masking a raging storm within. Everyone gave him a wide berth.
The next morning was the second day of September, a sunny Oregon Saturday, the air fresh and exhilarating, suggesting an early fall. It was the kind of day people who live elsewhere think Oregon never has, just as Oregonians want them to think.
Clarence Abernathy rose early, grateful for the weekend. After reading a few chapters of
Biblical Keys to Health and Prosperity
, he put in two hours work on the yard, mowing and trimming and edging, getting it all just right. He always managed to have the best looking lawn on the block.
“Give Daddy a hug,” he said to eight-year-old Keisha, proudly wearing her tights. She wrapped herself around him unreservedly. “Have a nice ballet lesson, okay?”
Clarence playfully punched eleven-year-old Jonah in the stomach. “And you have a good soccer practice. Use those Abernathy genes and fake ’em out of their socks!”
“Okay, Dad. Later.”
Clarence grabbed a worn children’s book from the shelf and put his tools in the car. Geneva came out by the car and hugged him. “Love you, baby,” she said.
“You too. Have fun being the kids’ taxi.”
“What time you comin’ home tonight?”
“Well, Jake and I won’t be done tearing out Dani’s carpet till late in the afternoon. Then playin’ with the kids and dinner and hangin’ awhile. Maybe ten or so?”
“Just make sure you’re home by eleven, okay? I know how you and Dani get to talkin’.” Geneva smiled. “I’ll be waiting for you, but you know I can’t stay up much past eleven.”
“All right.” Clarence said. “Maybe this time I’ll bring you home some Granny Smiths.”
“That’s okay. The Golden Delicious are good eating. We didn’t need a pie anyway.”
Clarence took off in his bright red metallic 1997 Bonneville SSE, settling back in the plush champagne leather. He drove through the tidy suburbs toward the city, listening to oldies and dreaming about moving farther out to the country, which they planned to do in just another three weeks.
He pulled into a visitor’s space outside the apartment of his friend and fellow
columnist, Jake Woods, who walked out the door as soon as Clarence came to a stop.
“Jake! How’s my man?”
“Hey, Clabern.” Jake called Clarence by his computer ID at the
, a short form of Clarence Abernathy. “Beautiful Saturday morning, huh?”
The men talked shop as they drove toward Dani’s, everything from the
changing editorial policy to the latest exploits of the multiculturalism committee to ideas for upcoming columns.
“Looking forward to finally meeting your sister,” Jake said. “Tell me more about her.”
“Dani’s four years younger than I am. Thirty-eight now.”
“Not married, right?”
“Not any more. Husband left her five years ago. He took to drinking and doing drugs, freebasin’, did some selling. Dani didn’t tell me for the longest time. Finally she came to me when Roy was snortin’ coke in front of the kids.”
“So what’d you do?”
“I came over and flushed the crud down the toilet.”
“Yeah.” Clarence didn’t mention Roy’s head had spent some time in the toilet too. “Next day he took off. Never heard a word from him since. Finally she admitted he’d hit her. We’re close, really close, but she didn’t tell me while it was going on. Said, ‘If you go to the joint for killin’ somebody, Antsy, make it for somebody more than Roy.’”
“Just a nickname.”
Jake raised his eyebrows.
Clarence sighed. “When I was a kid, Mama would call us in from playin’ ball. Of course, we never came after the first call. About the third time she’d yell, ‘Clar
Dani was only three or four when she started thinking that was my name. She just turned it into Antsy.”
“Thanks for sharing that with me, Antsy.”
“Only Dani calls me that. And don’t go telling anybody. I’d never hear the end of it.”
“Your secret’s safe with me, Antsy.”
Clarence turned north off the Banfield Freeway toward Dani’s house. After a few miles he saw a car with four flats, tires slit, windows broken, and insides stripped. He saw small businesses that had invested months of profit in steel bars so their merchandise would be there in the morning. They passed Sojourner Truth Middle School, with its heavy wrought iron fence surrounding the schoolyard. They had a metal detector there now to screen out weapons. He saw two teenage boys wearing T-shirts, both of which he’d seen in the suburbs. One said, “No Fear”; the other, “Life is short. And then you die.”
“More gangbangers all the time,” he said to Jake, looking at a young Crip strutting like a peacock and flashing his handsign, daring a Blood set to take on him and his homeboys. He watched obvious drug deals happening on two street corners. “Where are the cops when you need them?”
Clarence looked at the kids with baseball caps worn backwards, some tipped to one side, some to another, some with colorful bandannas. He knew it all had meaning, but he was a suburb dweller and tried not to think much about that sort of thing.
He saw boys dressed in gray oversized Dickeys and khaki beige work pants, sagging low. He noticed several black stretch belts with chrome or silver gang initials forming the belt buckle. White tennis shoes with black laces and black tennis shoes with white laces. Gold chains and black woven crosses around the neck.
Clarence looked at Jake out of the corner of his eye. His friend seemed to be studying the surroundings as a man would study the far side of the moon.
Clarence inhaled the smell of North Portland, the musty scent of aged buildings freshly baked in the last few weeks of summer sun. It wasn’t the clean urban showpiece of Portland’s renovated downtown, a stretch and tuck job done on the face of an aging movie star. This lacked even the appearance of a facelift. It had its highlights, its nice storefronts and well-preserved homes, but as a whole it seemed to Clarence a forsaken boneyard.