|Word Count C-4 = 7,665||Montgomery|
Pierce decided that the grayish-blue room in which he was waiting was not exactly “dreary”; it was more “sedating.” He had read about how certain colors had a calming effect on even the most savage of criminals, and he wondered how many of them had sat right where he was now.
A chill brushed the back of his neck, as the picture of a bloodied Luke Steen swept across his mind. What happened tonight? Who could have done such a thing? “Was that bullet meant for me?” Pierce inadvertently muttered aloud.
He wondered if anyone were eavesdropping on him from the opposite side of a two-way mirror, which took up about half the area of one wall. He surmised that the two microphones, on either end of the long table, were linked to speakers in that other room. Keep quiet, dummy! he thought.
An edgy Pierce jerked as the metal door opened. Two police officers entered. One remained standing near the closed door, while the other introduced herself as Lieutenant Müller and took the seat across from Pierce. He marveled at how a dark uniform and gold badge could give this stunning, blonde-haired, green-eyed lady such a commanding, authoritative appearance. “Mr. Nevin,” began Lt. Müller, “could you please tell me all you know about what occurred at the Valley High School gym tonight?”
He wished that they were sitting over dinner with candlelight and that he could call her Vanessa, the first name imprinted on her badge. He noticed that she was not wearing a ring. “Well, I coach the varsity basketball team at Valley High, and tonight our team, the Warriors, played a district title game against the Scorpions. It was a close game all the way to the end, when....”
“After the game, Mr. Nevin,” Lt. Müller interrupted. “What can you tell me about the shooting episode?”
“Oh...well, uh, I was resting my head on the desk in my office, and I fell asleep. I remember that I was having this crazy dream, and then....”
“What was your dream about?” interjected Lt. Müller again.
“Uh...well...”—Pierce wondered if maybe she were testing him to see if he really had been asleep—“it was a pretty strange dream.” If I tell her my dream, will she think that I’m making it up because it was so bizarre?
“Go ahead, please.” Her emerald eyes remained affixed to his.
“OK...,” he began. “I dreamed that both Coach Young—the football coach—and myself were...well, corneas...you know, the front clear parts of your eyes?” Pierce pointed to his right eye. Lt. Müller, her velvety hands folded on the table, nodded once. He continued, “Behind him, a blue ‘iris’ appeared...I guess it was an iris because a ‘pupil’ at the center of it kept changing size.” Lt. Müller blinked once. “You see, I had an eye exam last week, and my eye doctor was describing things about my eyes to me....”
“Do you remember the name of your eye doctor?” requested Lt. Müller.
“Uh, yes...Doctor Geoff Hutton...at Valley Health Plan, over in....”
“OK, that’s fine. Now, what happened when you woke up, Mr. Nevin?”
Pierce’s instinct told him that she was as enamored with his looks as he was with hers; yet she had the best poker face of any he had seen. Unlike most females meeting him for the first time, she did not turn to jelly. In fact, she had an intimidating, yet tender, quality about her. He liked it. It made it hard for him to concentrate; yet he knew he must.
Suddenly, the grisly image of a guy he barely knew haunted him again. He felt his palms starting to sweat. He never had had an anxiety attack and wondered if this is what it felt like before somebody had one. I’ve got to maintain...I must....
“Huh?...oh, sorry...what was your question again?” Pierce entreated.
“Do you remember exactly what happened after you woke up in your office tonight?” the strikingly attractive officer reiterated.
“Uh...yeah, I do...very well.” The thought that he could have had his life taken from him tonight re-entered his mind. His thinking clarified. “As I said, I was sound asleep...dreaming...when a loud noise suddenly awakened me. I heard the sound echoing throughout the gym for several seconds. My mind was foggy. I was trying to determine if maybe a door had slammed shut, or else if maybe someone had set off an M-80 or something. I have to admit, I was completely freaked out for several seconds. During that brief interval, I heard the footsteps of someone running away, down the full length of the court. Then I heard a metal door open and close.” He recalled how he had frozen.
“Yes, go on,” she encouraged.
“So...I jumped away from my desk—my chair fell over backwards—and I ran to the doorway. I remember wishing I’d reacted more swiftly, ’cause I felt maybe there had been enough illumination from the auxiliary lighting above the tops of the bleachers to identify who was running away...or, at least, to get a clue from the clothing or something.” Pierce looked down at his lap and shook his head from side to side. “I was so stupid to freeze like that.” His lips quivered for a moment, but he quickly tensed them.
Lt. Müller seemed to be intuitive enough to grant him the next few seconds to recompose himself. “Then what?”
“Then...”—Pierce took a deep breath and looked back up—“I detected a movement on the floor. I looked in that direction,” he said, snapping his head diagonally downward, as the disturbing memory of what he had seen sadistically re-emerged from its dark hiding place. “And I saw Luke Steen lying there. His arm slid off of his chest to the floor.” Pierce paused.
“So, then, you know the victim.”
“Well, sort of...not very well. He’s an acquaintance at the health club I go to. I know his name...that’s about it.”
“What did you do then?”
Pierce could not tell if it was more Lt. Müller’s countenance or her interruptions that had distracted him before. In any case, he was glad she was letting him just state the details as he remembered them. His palms stopped sweating. “I saw that he was shot. I immediately checked his breathing and pulse. He had a weak pulse, but he wasn’t breathing. I know that, if you’re alone, it’s important to call 911 before initiating any CPR. So I ran to the phone on my desk—it’s a good thing they finally installed one last week—and pressed 911. I explained the situation to the operator. She asked if I knew CPR. I said I did, so she directed me to initiate it and assured me that the paramedics were on their way.”
“Go on.” Lt. Müller, though expressionless, seemed entranced.
“So, I rechecked his pulse when I got back to him. It was less regular but still going. I tilted back his head, pinched closed his nose, and exhaled twice into his lungs, watching his chest rise each time to make sure the air was getting down. I repeated this...I don’t know...I guess about five or six times. Suddenly he took a deep breath, followed by a few quick shallow ones. His eyes opened about halfway. I put my face in front of his, in case he was conscious, to see if he knew me. He said, ‘Pierrrccce...,’ and then his eyes closed again. He continued to breathe until the medics got there.”
“Had Mr. Steen been to your office before?”
“Uh, no...never...not that I know of.”
“Do you have any idea why he might have gone there tonight?”
“Well, I saw him in the stands at the game tonight. And he’s always seemed like a friendly guy, so maybe he dropped by to say he was sorry we lost the game. I really don’t know.”
“You handled the situation very well, Mr. Nevin. I think anybody would have panicked a bit after having been so rudely awakened. But you came through when it counted,” Lt. Müller commended. “You should feel proud of yourself for having saved a man’s life tonight.”
Only then did Pierce realize that he had had done that. He also gathered that his interrogator believed him. He felt more at ease, and he respected her for having given him the benefit of the doubt, or so it seemed that she had.
“Is there anything more you recall about the incident?” she continued.
“Well....” As Pierce spoke, he recollected the bloody envelope, with his name on it, which he had stashed in a manila folder as he was talking with the 911 operator. After he had revived Luke, he had inserted it at a random place in his file cabinet. He got a sudden knot in his stomach, wondering if the officers looking around in his office had been thorough enough to find it. He hoped not. Part of him wanted to level with her and tell her about the envelope, but most of him wanted to see what was in it first. What if it just complicates matters further? “I...can’t think of anything else. By the way, do you have any information about Luke’s...uh, Mr. Steen’s...condition?”
The enchanting lieutenant nodded and replied, “Presently, he remains in stable condition in the intensive care unit at Hoag Hospital. X-rays show a bullet lodged inside the left ventricle of his heart. A little while ago, one of our experts determined that it is a thirty-eight-caliber bullet. We’ve requested procurement of the bullet for ballistics testing, but Mr. Steen’s doctor is afraid to remove it at this time.” She smiled for the first time. “Anything else?”
Pierce closed his eyes for a few seconds and took another deep breath. “No, I guess not.”
“Fine. Now, Mr. Nevin, have you planned any out-of-town trips for the immediate future?” Lt. Müller queried.
“Uh, no. Why?”
“Well, you’re free to go, but I’d like to request that you not leave town until this case gets wrapped up. If you must leave, please inform me first.” Lt. Müller handed Pierce her card. Her glossy scarlet fingernails grazed his fingers as her hand withdrew. Regaining eye contact with her, he could not tell if this action was intentional or inadvertent. He thought, She could be holding a Royal Flush in hearts, and she wouldn’t give even the slightest clue....
Pierce was sweating. With his extended-wear contact lenses, he easily could see the time on the digital clock near his bed: 2:22 a.m. He threw off the covers and reflected on the dream he had been having moments before.
He had been driving under the speed limit on the freeway. An impatient driver, who had been tailgating him, suddenly had begun to pass him on the right. As soon as they were even, Pierce had recognized the driver as an enraged Coach Young, who had lifted up a rifle and had fired directly at Pierce. Then Pierce had awakened.
He thought about once when Luke had tried to talk to him in the parking lot at the health club. He had told Luke to leave him alone. Now Pierce regretted having said that. He tossed and turned in bed for the next couple of hours.
Pierce typically began his Saturday mornings with an early workout at the health club. Today, he had felt like sleeping in; but the phone rang at a few minutes after 7:00. It was a reporter from the Orange County Register asking if she could come over to get the scoop on the shooting incident the night before.
He was in no mood to talk to a snoopy reporter—even if it had been about the basketball game, much less an attempted homicide. Besides, what if she misstates something I say because she wants to embellish the story? “No, sorry. I’ve spoken with the police, and I’d rather not discuss what happened with anyone else at this time.”
“But if you could just....” Pierce pressed the “OFF” button on his speaker phone. Minutes later, the phone rang again. After three rings, his answering machine intercepted the call. It was the same reporter. Leaving her name and number, she implored him to call her sometime that morning. He knew that he would not.
On his way to the front door to get the morning paper, the doorbell rang. “Who the heck could that be at this time of morning...another reporter?” a vexed Pierce asked his reflection in the mirror, which was hanging on the wall.
Peeking out the peep-hole, he could see a van in the street with a small satellite dish on top. On the side of the van was written Channel 4—or maybe it was 7; he could not quite tell which—Action News. The reporter wrenched his head and peered into the peep-hole. Pierce moved away.
Pierce remained inside all day, answering neither the phone nor the door. He worked on lesson plans for his science classes, but unsettling thoughts kept assailing his mind. Why did Luke come to my office? Maybe whatever was in the envelope would explain it. Was Luke the one with the gun? No, that made no sense. Had the person with the gun been following Luke, or else had that person been coming to get me and was intercepted by Luke? Somehow, Pierce sensed that the latter was the case. If so, might the would-be murderer try again?
The notion that someone could be stalking him troubled Pierce greatly. At times, he felt anxiety—a sensation totally foreign to him until recently—building up inside. He kept suppressing it. Of all the people he knew, not one of them would be able to relate to what he was going through. He wondered if anybody could. I don’t remember ever feeling so...isolated.
That night, with no reporters in sight, Pierce drove to the school and entered his office. Only a few things were out of place. Apparently, the police search had not been very extensive. He retrieved the bloody envelope, which contained a less-bloody letter, and returned home. As he sat in bed, he read the letter, then turned off the light.
Waking up late on Sunday morning, Pierce stared at the ceiling. Stark apprehension overtook him for a few moments, sensing that something “big” was going to happen that day. Then the feeling subsided. “God help me.”
No sooner had these words left his mouth than a still, small voice within him—speaking, he felt, more to his heart than to his mind—seemed to urge him to go to church, somewhere he never had considered going before. He wondered if it might help. After all, other people I know seem to get consolation and strength from going to church, don’t they? What the heck.
Luke once had told Pierce about a church attended by people wearing anything from three-piece suits to shorts and tank tops. It was not too far from where Pierce lived. He called and listened to a recording stating the times of the three services; the next one was at 11:15, in forty-five minutes. He showered, put on a sport shirt and slacks, downed some nonfat yogurt and coffee, and headed out—hardly believing that he actually was doing this.
During the service, Pierce sat near the back entrance. He had heard of “Palm Sunday” but knew nothing about it. The pastor spoke about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on a donkey and her colt. People had spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road before Him. Wasn’t this an old Jewish tradition whenever the Passover lamb was being brought forth to the temple?
Pierce mindfully considered every word, including the declaration by a weeping Jesus: “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.” This was how Pierce felt: unable to elude his enemies, even in his sleep.
During the service, Pierce looked in the bulletin to identify the passages he had heard being read: Matthew 21:1–11 and Luke 19:28–44. He thought he had heard of the biblical writer “Matthew” but never of “Luke.” At that moment, Pierce got another compelling urge: to go see Luke at the hospital.
After lunch at a local cafe—during which he had kept out a wary eye for anyone around him behaving the least bit strangely—Pierce drove to the hospital. At the main desk, a receptionist told him that Luke Steen still had not been moved from the ICU.
A nurse overheard the conversation and informed him that she had seen Mr. Steen about an hour earlier. He had continued to drift in and out of consciousness. Pierce began walking toward the ICU. Halfway there, though, he paused; somehow, he could go no further. What is it that prevents me from going in to converse with Luke? After all, I did save his life. He could not explain it.
Returning to the main desk, Pierce asked the same receptionist if it would be possible to speak with Luke’s doctor. She told him that Dr. Cohen probably could be found on the sixth floor, at the nurses’ station.
As the elevator moved upward, Pierce was deep in thought, painstakingly pondering the things Luke had written in his blood-stained letter. He was taken by complete surprise when he met Geoff Hutton, holding a Bible under his arm, face to face as the elevator door opened onto the sixth floor. They both hesitated.
With one hand holding open the doors as Pierce remained inside, Geoff spoke first. “Hey, Pierce...I just spoke with Luke Steen’s doctor...Doctor Cohen...and now I’m going back down to see Luke. Would you...like to join me?” Geoff stepped inside.
Pierce consented to this. “Yeah, OK...sure.” He allowed the doors to close without intervening. “So...do you think Luke’s gonna make it?”
“Doctor Cohen said that he’s still in critical but stable condition. If you’ve never seen anyone attached to a bunch of breathing tubes and IV lines, get prepared. It’s not a pleasant sight.” Geoff grimaced.
“Did Luke talk to you at all?” queried a hopeful Pierce.
“Well, he...,” began Geoff, but he abruptly ceased as a strange vibration seized the elevator. For a few seconds, the two men looked anxiously at each other. As the quivering suddenly changed to violent shaking, the lights flickered off and on. Then they turned off and remained that way.
After what seemed to be an eternity to them, although it was only a few more seconds, the elevator stopped. “Wow!...either someone didn’t bother to make a repair report on this elevator, or else we’ve just had a whopper of an earthquake!” stated Geoff, nervously.
“I vote for the latter!” exclaimed Pierce. Distinct uneasiness was detectable in his voice. Both men had dropped to the floor. Geoff was sitting down, while Pierce was on his knees, his hand holding a railing nearby to maintain his balance. “I never realized until now how much a big quake feels like strong turbulence on an airplane. And that was a big one all right!”
“I’d guess it wasn’t as big as a 6.0, though. It lasted only, what, ten or eleven seconds?” returned Geoff.
“I don’t think it was that short...,” countered Pierce, “maybe even fifteen or sixteen.” After a brief pause, he continued, “I hope there’s a phone in this elevator. We need to get outta here before we get rocked again by an aftershock.”
Geoff entreated quietly, “Dear God, please get us out of here safely.”
After a few seconds, Pierce added, “I second that...!” The lights abruptly flickered and then remained on. Next, an electric hum resumed as the elevator cable mechanism engaged. After an initial jerk, the elevator smoothly continued its downward descent. “Whoa, that was more of a rip-roaring experience than a bronco ride at a rodeo!”
“No kidding!” agreed Geoff. As the doors opened on the bottom floor, Geoff thanked God for delivering them safely out of danger. No damage immediately was apparent. However, as the two walked to the main desk, they passed by waiting rooms where pictures, charts, and other objects had fallen to the floor, small cracks could be seen in some of the walls, and crying patients were consoled by various hospital personnel.
A food service employee was observed to be picking up food trays and broken dishes, which had been hurled out of his multi-layered meal cart. Various urgent announcements—“Attention: Code Blue in the ICU,” “Doctor Traylor, please come to the pediatric ward immediately,” and the like—flooded the public address system.
There was significant commotion at the main desk; everyone was too busy to speak with Pierce and Geoff. Pierce suggested going directly to the ICU to check on Luke’s status. They arrived at the large automatic doors, which opened as a nurse hurried through. They saw Dr. Cohen running down the hall toward them. As the nurse exited the ICU, Dr. Cohen slipped in through the closing doors. Geoff began, “Hey, can we see Luke...?” The doors shut.
The agitated nurse, seeming to recognize Geoff from his earlier visit, retorted, “I’m sorry, no one can see Mr. Steen right now.”
“Well, is he OK?” inquired Pierce.
Rapidly retreating backwards, the nurse responded, “I’m afraid not. The quake jolted him halfway out of his bed, and his pulmonary artery line—which measures his pulmonary wedge pressure—was yanked out. Extensive bleeding has resulted in hypovolemic shock. We’ve begun a transfusion.”
Geoff clearly was shocked. “I can’t believe it...I just saw him! I read some Psalms to him. He even said my name once.”
Pierce, stunned as well, laid his hand on Geoff’s shoulder in consolation. “I didn’t realize you two were such good friends. I’m sorry.”
Eyes cast downward, Geoff nodded.
Pierce suggested, “Geoff...maybe we could go sit for awhile in my car in the parking lot. That should be a safe place in the event of another quake.”
Geoff agreed to this idea. On their way out, he asked a visibly upset receptionist if she knew how much damage had been done to the hospital.
“I think it’s pretty extensive.” Her voice quavered. “I hear the power is out in most of Newport Beach. Fortunately, our auxiliary generators seem to be managing our load,” she added, knocking on a wooden doorframe.
Pierce and Geoff proceeded to the front door. Returning Pierce’s offer of support, Geoff noted, “Hey, Coach...I’ve been wanting to tell you that you did an outstanding job Friday night with your team.”
“You know that we did lose the game, don’t you?” Pierce replied, with a look of incredulity. “Now I wonder if they’ll even have me back next year.”
“Come on now, Pierce,” encouraged Geoff. “Your guys lost by only one point, and you gave the school its best season ever. You’re too valuable of an asset for them to let go.” Pierce smiled, casting a grateful glance at his new friend, who had stopped walking. “So Pierce...you wanna tell me what happened Friday night?...you know, after the game.”
Pierce also halted. “Sure, man...I’ll tell you what I told the police.” His thoughts immediately centered on his uniformed examiner. “By the way, the officer who questioned me, Lieutenant Vanessa Müller, was downright gorgeous. Her blend of strength and sensitivity sorta threw me for a loop.”
Geoff smiled. “Sounds like you may have checked her finger for a ring.”
“Yep,” chuckled Pierce, “and she didn’t have one.” He proceeded to tell Geoff everything that had happened that night—including the encounter with Raquel Lacey—and recounted his dream in even greater detail than he had related it to Lt. Müller. “There’s no way I spontaneously could’ve made up a freaky dream like that! Anyway, I got the impression she believed me.”
“I believe you too, man.” Pierce appreciated these words tremendously.
As they walked past a perfectly manicured flower garden, down a short flight of stairs, and onto the main parking lot, the role of questioner was reversed. “So, tell me, Doc, how do you know Luke?” inquired Pierce.
“We met at the health club about ten years ago,” Geoff began. “I overheard him telling someone how he had written a lengthy manuscript which, basically, was an overview of the Bible. We started discussing our common Christian views and have developed a very close friendship over the years since then. In fact, a couple of years ago, Luke named me his durable power of attorney agent for health care. He’s been divorced for some time and thinks he has only two family members left. He isn’t even sure where they are.” Reaching the car, Pierce unlocked and opened his door, then reached across and unlocked Geoff’s.
No sooner had they sat down and rolled down the windows than they felt the car vibrating. Neither man moved for several seconds. Pierce’s sunglasses, hanging on a strap from his rearview mirror, began to sway. Pierce turned on the radio as the announcer reported, “...but, fortunately, no children in that preschool yard were injured by the falling crane. Again, Cal Tech seismologist Doctor Kate Hutton has assigned the main shock, at 2:22 p.m., a preliminary magnitude of 5.4. She says the best guess now for the location of the epicenter is in the ocean, just southwest of Newport Beach. For updates on today’s strong Southern California quake, keep tuned to....” Pierce clicked it off.
“Well, that’s enough of that for now. I think my heart is fully back in my chest where it belongs,” Pierce quipped. “Yours?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Geoff placed his hand on his chest, as if to make sure. “So how are you holding up otherwise?” Geoff seemed genuinely concerned.
In all the commotion and activity of the previous 20 minutes or so, Pierce realized he had not told Geoff that he had gone to church only a few hours before. “Well, hold onto your seat...this morning I went to church for the first time ever, at the place where Luke goes and once told me about....”
“Oh, yeah...I go there too, but not this morning, since I’ve been here at the hospital much of the day. Was it a good service?”
“Actually, I enjoyed the service. I’ve been pretty stressed-out all weekend. When I woke up this morning, something inside of me seemed to tell me to go to church.. Coincidentally, there was a phrase read from the Bible—I guess it’s in the New Testament—that I could relate to. It was something about your enemies coming at you from all directions and entrapping you.” Knowing it had been a Palm Sunday service, Geoff began searching in his Bible for Luke 19:43.
“Anyway, that’s sorta how I feel, I guess. For all I know, that Lacey girl is gonna spread rumors about Coach Young’s wife and me—even though there’s nothin’ goin’ on—which may threaten my chances of being hired next year. It also would give Steven that much more of a reason to hate me...not to mention that whoever shot Luke may have it in for me. But I can’t just...just go somewhere and hide!” Pierce was not raising his voice, though he was troubled—in fact, the most disquieted he had been since he could remember. “Why am I getting blamed for things that I didn’t do and which aren’t my fault?” He turned to Geoff, anticipating a supportive response.
“You know, Jesus was murdered for all the bad things in the world that He didn’t do and which weren’t His fault.” That was not exactly the answer Pierce was anticipating. Geoff looked at his Bible and read, “‘The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side’—Luke 19:43.” He looked back at Pierce and asked, “Is that the phrase you heard in church?” Geoff’s sincere smile soothed Pierce’s spirit.
“Yeah, that’s it. You don’t think my hearing that today, at the same time all this is happening to me, is more than just...a coincidence, do you?”
Geoff emphasized, “I don’t think that there are any coincidences, with God directing things. I’m sure there is a reason for the entire sequence of events that have transpired in your life since Friday—even since the day you and I met, especially if you consider that some of the things I described to you during your visual examination appeared mysteriously in your dream.” He paused as Pierce pondered his statement, then continued. “Even the earthquake today...what are the chances that it would occur just as the two of us, having met only recently, were taking what is normally less than a one minute elevator ride together? Now, here we are talking about it.”
“Hmm...I guess I never considered that God would be concerned about the details of my life,” Pierce deliberated aloud.
“He sent His only Son to die for our sins, Pierce. He’s greatly concerned about the life of every single person who’s ever lived.” Pierce stared at him, not fully comprehending the monumental significance of what Geoff had just stated. Geoff meditated upon a silent prayer: Father God, in Jesus’ Name, please open Pierce’s mind to grasping the truth about You. He then added aloud, “I’m convinced there’s a reason for everything that happens in the world, and in our lives, Pierce. And God is in control of it all, whether we like it or not.”
Pierce recollected something. “What time did she say the earthquake occurred?...you know, that radio announcer.”
Geoff looked out over the ocean for several seconds. “I think 2:22.”
“I think you’re right. You know what? That’s kinda weird. At 2:22 Saturday morning, I woke up from a nightmare in which I was being shot. What do you think: happenstance or not?” Pierce’s expression invited an answer.
The cool breeze changed its mind, and the sublime fragrance of some nearby jasmines wafted through the car. “That’s my favorite scent,” Geoff remarked. “I hope there are jasmines in heaven.” Pierce’s eyebrows still were raised questioningly. “I don’t know, Pierce; my first guess is...not happenstance. But I will tell you what I do know. I’m sure you know about the slaughtering of the Passover lambs in ancient Israel, each year, for the sins of the people.”
“Yeah, of course. Moses began this tradition just before the Israelites left Egypt. Each family selected a male lamb without a single defect, kept it for a few days—I think to give everyone the chance to examine it, to make sure it was unblemished—and then sacrificed it.” Geoff found the account in Exodus 12 as Pierce continued. “The blood of a slain lamb was placed on the sides and top of the doorframe in each home. That night, the death angel passed over and did not harm anyone in a home with blood in the doorway.”
“Very good...I’m impressed! You shoulda been a rabbi!” commended Geoff. “Now...considering what you just said, would you be willing to acknowledge the possibility that at least a drop or two of the blood, being brushed with a hyssop branch onto the top of a doorframe, would drip straight down and onto the floor below?”
Pierce shrugged. “Uh, yeah...so what?”
“Well...connecting the top and bottom spots of blood with a line, and the right and left spots of blood, what figure does this make?”
“Mmm...”—Pierce suddenly envisioned it—“I guess, a cross.”
“Right.” Geoff grinned. “You coulda been a geometry teacher, too!”
Pierce smiled. “So...are you saying...you think that God had ‘Jesus’ and ‘the cross’ in mind when he decreed the first Passover to Moses?”
“Yes, absolutely; but that’s only a tiny tip of a vast iceberg, Pierce. There are countless events, prophecies, and Messianic depictions in the Old Testament that were fulfilled by no one else but Jesus.” Geoff paused to let Pierce absorb this.
Pierce recalled thinking, during the church service that morning, how similar the Jews’ reception for Jesus on Palm Sunday was to the traditional welcoming of the Passover lamb. The people laid the same things in the street and sang the same praises. “I guess I’d be more persuaded if the crucifixion had taken place on Passover...something Jesus couldn’t plan....”
“Jesus did die on Passover.” Pierce’s eyes remained affixed to Geoff’s. He was skeptical. “It is clear in the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—that this is the case. Moreover...”—Geoff flipped through the pages of his Bible again to show 1 Corinthians 5:7 to Pierce—“the Jewish apostle Paul wrote, ‘Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.’ You see, God incarnate...that is, Jesus...was the only perfect, unblemished, sinless sacrifice available in the entire universe to remove the infinite multitude of humanity’s sins throughout history. Jesus is the only one through Whom anyone can be reconciled to God and have eternal Life with Him.”
Pierce searched his mind for a rebuttal but, offhand, could not find one.
“Furthermore, look here at Leviticus 23—in the Pentateuch—at all the appointed feasts God told Moses to proclaim to the Jews. The Feast of Unleavened Bread begins at sunset after Passover. As a kid, you ‘hid’ or ‘buried’ an afikomen matso during each Passover Seder. In like manner, Jesus—Who professed to be the ‘bread of life’—laid in a tomb for three nights, following Passover.”
Pierce concealed from Geoff his increasing sense of intrigue.
“The next appointed feast, the Feast of Firstfruits, occurs on the first day after the regular Sabbath of Passover week. On that day each year, the Israelites were to celebrate the first grain harvest. And on this same day virtually every year, Christians ‘just so happen’”—Geoff drew an imaginary set of quotation marks in the air—“to celebrate Easter...which I prefer to call ‘Resurrection Day.’” Turning to 1 Corinthians 15:20, he read, “‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’...that is, the first Who would rise from the dead and never die again.” Geoff paused again, waiting for all of this information to funnel in.
“Then...logic would seem to dictate that Shavuot, the fourth Spring Jewish feast, should have some major significance as well,” Pierce deduced.
“And you’re right again, pal. Another name for Shavuot is the ‘Feast of Weeks.’ God decreed that, numbering the day of the Feast of Firstfruits as ‘day one,’ exactly fifty days—that is, seven weeks following this day—were to be counted. On the fiftieth day, a sacred assembly of all Jewish men was to take place in Jerusalem, celebrating the second grain harvest of the year.”
Pierce continued to give Geoff his complete, yet judicious, attention.
Geoff quizzed, “Do you remember what extraordinary event traditionally is accepted to have occurred on Shavuot?”
“Uh, yeah...the giving of the Torah or ‘Law’ to Moses on Mount Sinai.”
“You’re batting a thousand, Coach!” Pierce lauded. “All of Mount Sinai trembled violently as God descended upon it in fire. A spiritually similar event, again involving God, occurred on the fiftieth day of Jesus’ resurrection from death, which was ten days after He physically ascended into heaven in front of witnesses. Christians call it Pentecost, which means ‘fiftieth’ in Greek.”
Pierce’s fascination escalated as he awaited Geoff’s entire explanation.
“You see, while Jesus was here, He promised His disciples that the Father would send the Holy Spirit after Jesus departed. Allow me to read this account from Acts 2: ‘When the day of Pentecost came, they’—that is, Jewish representatives from every nation—‘were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind’”—Geoff paused for a handful of seconds—“‘came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’”
Geoff had paused briefly, because another small aftershock had begun; it lasted until he completed the passage. This small “rocker” was somewhat stronger than the preceding “roller.” Pierce confessed, “That was sorta uncanny...you know, the way that tremor happened while you read that.” He clicked on the radio again.
They heard the same announcer as before: “...and doubt that this 5.6 quake was a dual-epicenter event, as was suspected by many seismologists of the quake on the Northridge Fault back on January 17 of 1994. The sizable Newport-Inglewood Fault runs through western Orange and Los Angeles Counties. In March of 1933, the fault ruptured with a magnitude 6.3 in the ocean off of Huntington Beach, near the intersection of Brookhurst and Pacific Coast Highway. This quake devastated much of Long Beach, sections of which are extremely prone to the phenomenon known as liquefaction. Potentially, the largest quake that could occur on this fault....” Pierce again turned the radio knob.
“I don’t wanna know!” admitted Pierce. “I’m jittery enough as it is.”
“Looks like they upgraded that big quake’s magnitude to 5.6. With a shaker that big,” Geoff reasoned, “I’d think significant aftershocks could occur for months.”
“Yeah, well, let’s hope not,” exclaimed a skittish Pierce, shaking his head and crossing his fingers. “Hey, I recall somethin’ else I wanted to ask you. Today, in church, the pastor said that Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and her colt. Do you know if this is prophesied anywhere?”
“Believe it or not, it is,” affirmed Geoff. “Here, in Zechariah 9:9”—Geoff turned to it—“the ancient Jewish prophet wrote, ‘Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ Luke likes this prophecy a lot, because it depicts the utter humility of the Messiah at His first coming. Incidentally, the three Jewish Fall Festivals signify events at Jesus’ second coming, yet to occur.”
Momentarily, the gory scene of Luke, lying on the floor, streaked through Pierce’s mind. He wondered if these flashbacks ever would stop. “No kidding? I find that to be very curious. By the way, speaking of Luke...you remember the day that you and I met at the gym—just over a week ago?”
Geoff visualized the image of the slanting light fixture, in the gym locker room, as viewed through Pierce’s glasses. “Sure, but Luke wasn’t there.”
“No, but that particular day, I found an envelope, containing a cassette tape, resting on my windshield in the parking lot. I played the tape on my way home.” Pierce reached over in front of Geoff and retrieved the tape from the glove compartment.
Geoff angled his head curiously. “You mean, it was from Luke?”
“Yes. Would you like to hear it?”
“If you don’t mind, yes I would,” confessed Luke’s good friend.
“OK,” Pierce agreed, inserting the tape partway into his tape deck, “but let me briefly explain to you Luke’s and my relationship. We communicated fine for awhile after we met at the gym—the health club, that is—over five years ago. Then he began relating his Christian views to me. That really turned me off. He made it clear to me that he believed God had special missions or purposes in mind for me. That turned me off even more.”
Geoff immediately recalled Pierce’s hand knocking over his water glass at the Vietnamese restaurant, they day they had met.
“I wanted to lead my own life. I didn’t think I needed God to help me through it...although, now, I think I’m beginning to see things differently. Anyway, I nicely rejected Luke’s overtures of friendship. Every few months or so, he’d try to communicate me again; but I never responded positively toward him. Then I just started ignoring him altogether. Eventually, he began treating me like I treated him...coldly.” Pierce paused to take a deep breath; Geoff suspected it was to regain control of his faltering voice. “After I heard this tape, I should have accepted his extended hand of friendship. But my stiff-necked pride wouldn’t allow it.”
A Channel 7 Eyewitness News van rolled along the corridor behind Pierce’s car. He glimpsed it in the rearview mirror and then turned to confirm it. He thought the driver had made eye contact with him. Pierce told Geoff he’d be back, adding, “If a reporter comes looking for me, just say you don’t know where I am.” He started the tape, stepped out of his car, and trotted toward the hospital. The van continued on.
Geoff listened to Luke’s taped message to Pierce:
Hi, Pierce. Due to our inability to become more than mere acquaintances over the past few years, I am reluctant to speak personally with you. But, since I am moving away soon and want to communicate a few things to you, I’ve decided to record this tape. I hope you will take a few minutes to listen to it.
I recollect how, when we first met at the gym about five years ago, we got along pretty well. However, I ardently believed...and still maintain...that, with your charismatic qualities, you could be used by God to reach many people, for Him. As a result, I did things I shouldn’t have done.
I feel like I exploded into your life similar to the way...well, a “flaming meteorite” crashes to earth. I regret thrusting my unsolicited Christian views upon you, partly because it interfered with a potential friendship we could have had between us, but mostly because my...I guess it was “impatience”...to get you to serve God, the way I felt you could, may have resulted in your being completely turned off to God.
At this time, I want to express my most profound apology to you for not mastering my own...well, stupid pride...the many times I acted coldly and unfriendly toward you. In doing so, I feel that I was a very poor example of Jesus. He never would have...well, made eye contact with you without saying “hi,” nor completely ignored you as He walked by you, nor sat two feet away from you on a locker room bench without speaking to you...all of which I did, numerous times. I often felt that you should have overcome your pride and accepted my friendship. Yet, it was inexcusable for me to have wavered from being friendly and cordial to you...regardless of how you ignored me...and I very much regret doing so.
I am not worthy of your friendship, nor am I worthy of your forgiveness. As such, I ask for neither. I request only one thing of you: that you not discredit my name to anyone after I move away, though I would deserve it if you did. If you ever feel the compulsion to speak negatively about me, I ask that you sleep one night on it. If, overnight, your conscience does not entreat you to keep silent, then go ahead and speak.
I always will think of you with the highest regard, and my hand of friendship always will remain extended to you, should you ever deem it worthy to accept. Good luck with your Warriors. Whether they win or lose, I know you’re the best thing that ever happened to them. Take care, Tank.
Geoff listened a few more seconds for anything else which might have been added, but he heard nothing more. He ejected the tape. Tank? Geoff thought. Why would Luke call Pierce ‘Tank’? Geoff wondered if Luke had meant to do so or if it merely had been a slip of the tongue.
Scanning the parking lot for Pierce, Geoff discovered a tall palm tree. Its trunk looked half-dead, and it was leaning at a precarious angle toward the pavement. It appeared as though some of the tattered tree’s gnarled roots were protruding out of the ground on the opposite side, like contorted tentacles on an octopus. Geoff supposed that, perhaps, it had been uprooted by the first big quake almost an hour before. Good thing there aren’t any vehicles beneath it, he thought.
Geoff detected Pierce’s sunglasses swaying again. A couple of seconds later, the car lurched what seemed to be an inch or two off the ground and then back down again. A sonorous rumbling accompanied the waves of pure energy rolling by. Pierce was right; it does feel like riding in an airplane that’s experiencing moderate to severe turbulence!
Geoff turned his head toward the source of a crackling noise—just in time to see the aged palm tree crashing to the ground. Large palm branches were strewn all over the pavement around the tree. He imagined a donkey, carrying the King of the Universe, walking over them. The strongest shaking lasted about eight or nine seconds. Geoff estimated its magnitude: Maybe a 4.6 or 4.7.
Geoff exited and stood by the car, continuing to look around for Pierce. After a few minutes, he heard a siren, then another. He noticed smoke rising one or two miles to the southeast. He thought that, perhaps, a gas line on Lido Isle or Balboa Peninsula had ruptured during this most recent, significant aftershock. Geoff rolled up the windows and locked and shut the doors of Pierce’s car, remembering first to remove the keys from the ignition.
As he walked toward the hospital, he recognized Pierce coming out of the front door. They met at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the flower garden. Pierce looked somber. “They’ve got a TV crew in there recording some of the damage—I kept a low profile—and they caught that last aftershock on tape. I was at the ICU. Doctor Cohen said Luke took a turn for the worse about half an hour ago. He added that his chances of pulling through don’t seem very good now.”