Chapter 35

© Copyright 2006 by Kendra Cornell

Paul paced feverishly, looking out the window to the darkened church every few minutes. Glenda sat on the couch reading a book and appearing completely unconcerned with the goings-on.

“Paul, you need to calm down. Turn on the TV or something.”

“Mom, what if they find her?”

“If they find her, it’s in God’s hands. Regardless, it’s in God’s hands anyway. You won’t do her any good by appearing so crazy to the police, if and when they get here.”

“I can’t explain it, Mom. I just… I’m worried. That’s all.”

Glenda methodically replaced the leather mark in her book and placed it on the end table.

“Paul, sit down,” she commanded. “I can’t help but notice that the two of you seem somewhat… taken with each other.”

Paul sat staring, mortified that he was having this conversation with his mother. Stuttering a bit, he finally managed to splutter, “Mom, no. That’s not it at all. She’s not even a Christian, and you know I couldn’t…”

“I know. I know. But sometimes the heart and the head aren’t exactly in agreement.”

Paul nodded, feeling some small relief that he was finally able to say aloud what he’d been feeling the last few days.

“We both know that regardless of how I feel, there’s no way I can act on it.”

Glenda agreed wholeheartedly. Although some couples managed an interfaith arrangement, it was no life for an established pastor. It was really no life for any Christian, a fact that her husband’s family had well known.

“There’s always the chance that she could become a believer. If that was to happen, would it change things?”

Paul thought for a moment. “Well, even a new believer needs space. I would hate to jeopardize any of that growth with… added, uh, complications.”

“Oh, that’s baloney and you know it Paul. You’re scared to death of this, aren’t you?” She didn’t wait for a reply. “You’ve told me that people have been throwing you at their nieces and daughters for years, and there’s never been the slightest spark. Now you’ve got a fire going, and you’re not going to do anything about it?”

“Mom, she’s not a believer! It doesn’t matter how I feel.”

“That girl is searching like no one I’ve ever seen in my life. God has his hand all over this. Now don’t you run away from this. I’ve lived long enough to know that life doesn’t hand out chance after chance, opportunity after opportunity. God can make good out of any situation, but that doesn’t relieve us of the obligation to be appreciative when He hands you something out of the blue.”

Still uncomfortable, Paul was spared of the need to reply when a heavy hand pounded on the door. Exchanging a quick look with his mother, Paul rose to answer it. Glenda smoothly picked up her book and opened it to the marked page, but didn’t read.

A man in a brown leather jacket and jeans stood on the porch surrounded by uniformed police officers. He held up his badge and said, “My name is Detective Transom of the Denver Police Department. May we come in?”

Paul stepped aside graciously and prayed silently, “Lord, I don’t want to lie. Please give me the right opportunities. And let me accept whatever circumstances You present here.”

Several officers fanned into the house, two going up the stairs. The detective stepped inside the living room and approached Glenda.

“Ma’am, may I ask your name please?”

Glenda rose smoothly and extended her hand. “I’m Glenda Coburn, Paul’s mother.”

The detective furrowed his brows. He hadn’t been expecting this. Quickly, the officers came back.

“She’s not here.”

“Not upstairs either. There’s nowhere for her to hide.”

Detective Transom’s shoulder lowered as he exhaled.

“Paul Coburn?”

Paul nodded, but said nothing.

“We received a report that you were harboring someone wanted in connection with a murder. Do you know Karen Cook?

“I do, indeed.”

“Was she here?”

Paul nodded again, “She was.”

“But she’s no longer here, I assume?”

For the third time, Paul nodded his assent. He was beginning to feel like a marionette with his head on a string.

“Pastor, I’m sure you’re aware that Karen Cook is a wanted woman.”

“I’m not surprised. She’s quite delightful- the perfect houseguest.”

Detective Transom blew out a frustrated breath and looked at the ceiling.

“Don’t play games with me Pastor. You can still be arrested for hindering this investigation.”

“I have no intention of hindering anything, sir. I’m just trying to answer your questions.”

“How long has Cook been gone?”

Paul looked to his mother who shrugged. Looking at his watch, he said, “Oh maybe an hour or so. Two?”

“Did she say where she was going?”

Thinking for a moment, Paul answered perfectly honestly, “Not at all. I’m afraid she left in a bit of a rush.”

“On foot?”

“Yes, she left on foot.”

Detective Transom bit his cheek and nodded. “Pastor Coburn, I’m going to ask that you stay in the area. I’m sure we’re going to need to ask you some more questions, and it would be… to your advantage to stay available.”

“I’m almost always at home or at my church. You will certainly be able to find me one of those places.”

The detective turned and gestured to the officers, “Alright, she can’t have gotten far. Get everyone you can out there. We have to find her this time.”

The entourage left Paul’s house, and he exhaled and turned to his mother. Closing the door behind him, Paul crossed to an overstuffed chair across from the sofa.

Slowly sinking into it, he blew out a nervous breath and closed his eyes.

“See Paul? Everything went fine. Give them a few minutes, and then you can go to the church and see if she’s alright. I’m sure she’s just down there waiting for you.”

“I hope so, Mom… but the sooner I see that for myself, the better off I’ll be.”

Thirty minutes later, the neighborhood was quiet again. Paul slipped out the front door and across the street to the church. He didn’t see anything out of the ordinary- no squad cars were parked nearby, no one lurked about that he could discern in the darkness. Of course, if someone was there, he could say he forgot something in his office if anyone asked. There was nothing odd about that.

Arriving at the door, Paul reached to insert his key into the lock when his feet crunched in glass. Paul’s eyes strained in the darkness and he realized that the door had been broken out. A shot of adrenaline punched his gut, instantly heightening his senses. It can’t be the police- they’d have asked for a key. So… Who?

Quietly, Paul entered the church and crept silently down to the basement. He came around the corner and entered the fellowship room. Reaching, Paul encountered the light switch exactly where he knew it would be, and flipped it on.

The next several moments passed in a blur of motion. Paul didn’t know who was more surprised- him or the man in black who sat immediately outside the door to the supply closet. The figure shot to his feet and lunged around the tables towards Paul. Paul backpedaled and raised his arms in defense when the man swung a vicious shot to Paul’s midsection. Paul managed a backhand to the man’s head, snapping it back. Both men circled around in defense.

Paul knew with certainty that this was the man who had been after Karen. Backing slowly into the kitchen, Paul tried to think of some way to defend himself, when he thought of Karen. She was still hiding in the closet!

“Karen!” Paul yelled. “Get out of there! Run! He’s here!”

Several moments later, a filthy and disheveled Karen opened the closet door just a crack and peeked around the edge. The attacker stood silently, his hooded eyes shifting from Karen to Paul. He had pulled a knife stealthily from a sheath on his hip and held it expertly in his right hand. Karen stood frozen for a moment, torn between helping Paul and running in defense from this man who had already instilled terror. Her mouth was dry and her entire body shook in hear-panic, but she managed to hold her ground.

Suddenly, the man lunged slashing at Karen and catching her underneath her rib cage. She screamed in pain and fell against the wall, instinctively pinning the wound under her hands. At the same instant, Paul bounded out of the kitchen and threw himself through the air tackling the man in mid-flight and both Paul and the man crashed into the wall.

Breathlessly, Paul half-yelled, “Run, Karen! Get out of here!”

She needed no more prompting. She made her way to a staircase at the opposite end of the room and with every breath causing pain stumbled up the stairs.

The man scrambled to his feet and turned back to Paul and for the first time, growled, “I don’t know who you are… but this ends now.”

Paul also made it to his feet. This man held a knife and waved it threateningly in Paul’s direction. Breathing heavily, Paul thought I’m not going to make it out of this church alive tonight, but at least I can give her a chance to get out of here.

Both men stood motionless as agonizing seconds passed. Paul had no idea if Karen had made it out of the church, but every moment he managed to keep this man here was a moment that helped Karen escape. Would she run back to his house? Would this man follow and not only inflict more pain on Karen, but attack his mother as well? Paul had no clue, but through his fear, knew he had to act. Advancing on each other, the two men grappled for a few moments. Paul thought he had gained dominance when the other man suddenly grabbed a metal chair with one hand. The chair connected with Paul’s head, and he silently crumpled to the ground.

Finally… the man thought as he turned to pursue his prey.

Karen stumbled up the stairs. The light shone from the basement, illuminating the way. She made it to the large room outside the chapel and floundered to the door. Outside, she saw a patrol car wending its way slowly in front of the church. She backed away instinctively, but realized quickly that there was no way that anyone could see inside the church with its darkened windows.

Turning away, she found the door to the chapel and slipped inside its familiar surroundings. She hadn’t been in here since the night Paul had found her. Her life had been turned completely upside down in the days since then. She had lost so much. And curiously and to her amazement, realized how much she had found along the way. Karen’s hands still clamped down on the wound. The stinging was enough to draw tears to her eyes, but she didn’t want to give in to it.

There was nowhere in here to hide- nowhere to go. She heard feet clomping up the stairs outside the chapel and panicking dove down between the seats part way back. The door to the chapel opened slowly, creaking on its hinges.

She knelt between the pews, trying not to breathe- trying not to make any noise. Sweat dripped off of her forehead and onto the polished wooden floor. The gash in her side bled under her hands as she tried desperately to apply pressure in her cramped position.

Steps sounded slowly up the aisle behind her- the same gait that had trailed her twice before. She was trapped- there was nowhere else to run. And she was in no shape to try anymore.

This man- whoever he was- had finally tracked her down. Now she would finally see his face. She would finally know her aggressor…

Because there was no way out this time…

HEY! and don't forget to e-mail Kendra Cornell if you have a comment! She would really like to hear from you.

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