Chapter 21



© Copyright 2006 by Kendra Cornell




Paul sat across from Karen, smiling and patient, but clearly not ready to let her off the hook.

“Look, I’m uh, not really… sort of, well… could we talk about something else first?” What is the matter with me? The usually calm and collected Karen was actually stuttering.

Tilting his head slightly to one side he answered, “Okay- what would you suggest?”

Karen went low-key, “Why don’t you tell me about yourself…”

He smiled, “Well, that’s a pretty open-ended question. Do you want to get specific?”

“No.”

A bit thrown-off by her direct nature, Paul thought for a moment. “Well, I was born in Iowa. One mom, one dad, a couple of brothers. I moved out here about two years ago- this church lost their pastor to another congregation and they asked me to come. It was the right time, I guess. So here I am. What about you?”

“What about me?” she asked.

He exhaled a bit, not in any mood to play games. “Look, if you really don’t want to do this, we don’t have to. It would help me to help you if I knew something about why a stranger shows up injured in what should have been a locked church late at night.”

Karen considered his words for a moment, and felt a twinge in her conscience that signaled that she knew she was being unfair. “My name is Karen Cook. I’m a political consultant- and I suppose it’s only fair to tell you that the police were looking for me because they think I was involved in a murder.”

A look of alarm passed across Paul’s face, but he made no move.

“I don’t expect you to believe me, and right now I’m at your mercy, so if you decide to get up and call the police, there’s absolutely nothing I can do to stop you. But for what it’s worth, I’m telling you the truth when I say I had nothing to do with it.”

“What would give the police the idea that you were somehow involved with a murder?”

“I’m working, or was working, on Tom Delaney’s campaign for mayor. I should have been coordinating his appearances today. But instead, I’m here.”

At the mention of Tom Delaney’s name, Paul’s face changed. A strange look- almost of amusement- passed over his features. Karen noticed, but didn’t know what to think.

“What? What about Tom Delaney is so funny?”

“Nothing. Please, finish your story.”

Quickly and succinctly, she filled Paul in on the attack in her home several nights past.

Paul just nodded, never taking his eyes from her face.

“I slipped out my bedroom window and made it to my car- didn’t have a chance to find shoes. I drove to someone’s house. Someone I hoped I could trust, but it turns out, that was the first of several big mistakes.”

“Boyfriend?” asked Paul.

“No,” she said succinctly and Paul thought, She rather likes to say that, I think.

Continuing, she explained, “He’s a reporter. His name is Jeff Yendale- I met him during the campaign. He works at Channel 8?”

Paul shook his head, “I don’t watch a lot of television, I’m afraid.”

“Well, you’re not missing anything. I thought that, being a reporter, he would be in a good position to help me figure out what to do about this… issue. It would have been a public relations nightmare if it had gotten out. I also thought, since I have no connection to him, it would have been safe.”

“Makes sense.”

“Not really- I overheard Jeff telling someone I was there, and when I tried to leave, he hit me over the head with something and taped my hands together,” Karen said offering her chafed hands as evidence.

Gently, Paul took one of her hands in his and turned it, examining the residue and abrasion still evident there. What on earth did this woman see that would warrant that? Releasing her hand, he asked her, “Does that still hurt? I’m sure I can find something to wrap that in as well.”

Karen shook her head, “No thank you. You’ve already done too much. I don’t even know you.”

“It wouldn’t be any trouble at all.” But she shook her head again so he continued, “It’s sort of unbelievable- what you’re saying. So how did you end up at the church?”

“Well, I knocked over one of his paintings and scratched the tape off with a nail. Then it was easy to let myself out the back door and walk away. But I barely missed whoever Jeff had called.”

“Was it the same person who tried to break into your house?”

“I don’t know,” Karen said shrugging her shoulders. “Could have been. Then again, maybe not. The only thing I can think of is that the detective I spoke to told someone I was at home Friday night. I don’t know of anyone else that knew I was there.” Something tickled the back of her mind, but she dismissed it. “Maybe whoever the detective called was the one who tried to break in to my house that night.” She paused trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. “Then maybe when I was at Jeff’s he called the police thinking I was a murderer, and they came to pick me up. But I was there all night and well into the morning before he showed up, so that theory doesn’t hold a lot of water. It was there that I found out the police were looking for me in the first place.”

Something clicked in Paul’s mind, “Maybe that’s why you look so familiar to me. I thought I had seen you before, but couldn’t place you.”

“I didn’t do anything. I have no idea what all this is about. I went to the library trying to put some of the pieces together. I didn’t think I could go home and I really believed it would be safe. But the librarian called the police. I barely outran one officer, and that’s how I ended up at the church. A side door was unlocked, and I was starving. And exhausted…”

“I can imagine. What I can’t understand is how that door was open. I am pretty sure I locked them all earlier.”

Karen shrugged, having nothing to offer in the way of an explanation. “I ate something downstairs and was getting ready to leave when I found that little chapel. I just wanted to rest for a minute, and the next thing I knew, I fell asleep. That’s when you found me…”

“I remember,” he smiled ruefully. “Usually, it’s me who throws the Word at my congregation, not the other way around.” He laughed at her look of confusion and mimed throwing something. “Don’t you remember chucking Bibles and hymn books? You could’ve given me a concussion,” he laughed.

Karen had the grace to look a little embarrassed. “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t know who you were.”

“After hearing all that, it’s perfectly understandable.”

“All I have right now is a file with the few things I found at the library and some information I took from Jeff’s house when I left. I hope it has some clue as to why he was involved in all this.”

“I’d like to take a look at it later if that’s okay.”

Nodding in acquiescence, Karen looked at Paul. “I told you before, I’m at your mercy here. I have nowhere to go right now. And I’m really in no shape to get there anyway. So if you’re planning on calling the police, I’d appreciate it if you’d just do it now. I’m not good at postponing the inevitable. But I do want you to know that I will fully compensate you for what I took last night. I was just… desperate I guess. I know it was stealing, but I’m not a criminal.”

He dismissed her explanation easily. “I’m not worried in the least about that.

“Karen, I don’t honestly know what to do right now. But because I believe that God has a hand in all this, I’m going to wait until I do know. I need to check on some things you’ve said. In the meantime, I think it’s a good idea for you to stay where you are.”

“You mean, stay here?”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” his brow furrowed. “It presents a bit of a problem to have a woman here.” He stopped awkwardly at her look of ill comprehension. “You see, as a pastor, I need to set an example for people and it looks a bit, uh… unusual to have someone of the opposite um… gender here under the same roof when it’s common knowledge that I’m not married.”

“Why? I don’t mean to insult your beliefs but it’s not exactly unusual for people to do that these days. No one really cares- not that I have any illusion that that’s what this is. But that’s more to the point even… You’re a pastor and being kind to a stranger. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?”

Paul recognized she was challenging him, and set out to explain what he meant in a non-threatening way.

“Well, the Bible says to avoid even the appearance of wrong-doing. And I don’t believe that it’s right for a man and a woman to spend time that way.”

“Again, no offense, but isn’t that all a bit outdated? I mean, the Bible was written what? About two thousand years ago?”

“Well, parts of it are much older than that. But I believe that it’s still as pertinent today as it was then.”

Karen, having no energy for this kind of debate right now, dodged the conversation.

“Paul, I appreciate what you did more than I can say. No one has ever done something like that for me before. And if it’s going to cause you problems, then I will leave here and now. I don’t really want to drag anyone else into this anyway.” And so saying, Karen hauled herself to her feet and made to hobble toward the front door.

Paul rose and stepped in front of her. “Karen, you are in no way putting me out. I only want to be honest about the issues I’m facing right now. And I never believe in complaining or bringing up issues just for the sake of doing so. I think it’s best to have some kind of solution ready… I just don’t exactly know what that is yet. So please, sit down.” He glanced down at her feet and gestured. “Besides, you’re still not ready.”

Karen appraised his face. This man seemed genuine, but what did she know? Striving for discernment, she answered him slowly.

“I want to trust you. I really do. But I don’t know you from Adam.”

“Well, then, what do you want to know?” Paul helped Karen back to the table, feeling more relieved than he thought possible.

“I’d love to know why you flinched when I mentioned Tom Delaney’s name,” she said directly.

This woman really has a way of cutting through the extraneous details…

“Karen, I’m afraid I can’t talk about that yet. It wouldn’t be responsible on my part,” but then he smiled ambiguously. “However, I have a strange feeling that you are here for a reason, and you may be finding out sooner than even I think.”

They were interrupted by a knock on the open front door, and someone entered without waiting for Paul. A large woman in a hideous magenta colored dress splayed with large mustard colored flowers came down the hall.

“Yoohoo! Pastor? I just thought I’d bring over this tuna-noodle casserole for your…” her words were cut short when she spotted Karen sitting very comfortably in a pair of ill-fitting sweats and a t-shirt that obviously didn’t belong to her. A sharp gaze surveying the scene, the woman also noticed a cereal bowl sitting empty on the table.

“Oh my! Pastor, how could you? Why, when Larry hears about this, he’s just going to… Oh my!”

“Trudy, wait!” Paul shot Karen a quick look, and got up pursuing the rotund woman. But she had already exited the door, her outbursts still evident as she waddled down the walk. Knowing it was fruitless, Paul turned and walked back down the hall.

“Well, that could make things interesting around here.”

“Did she know me? Do I need to get out of here?”

“No, Karen. Trudy thinks the news is run by liberals in Washington who are intent on locking up people’s guns and turning this country into a socialist playground. No… I’m afraid that dear lady is now on her way to tell her husband that she has personally witnessed a rather blatant indiscretion.”

“You mean… She thinks that you and I?” Karen’s voice trailed off, the implications clear.

Paul nodded, smiling grimly. “I’m afraid so. But it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good. I hate tuna casserole.”

Karen didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Paul looked at her with compassion, knowing she was probably mortified about what had just occurred.

“If I had last night to do over again, I wouldn’t do anything differently. If it had been anyone else but Trudy… well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now,” he tried to reassure her.

Paul looked more annoyed than worried to Karen.

“Paul, do you want me to leave?”

Eyeing her feet, her scratched wrists and the aching way she held herself, he answered honestly.

“You can’t leave. That’s clear enough. I just… I need to go for a little bit. Why don’t you get some rest and I’ll be back in a few hours?”

Karen nodded. Though she’d rather die than admit it, fatigue was still a constant companion and a few more hours of sleep sounded heavenly to her.

“Do you need some help up the stairs?” he asked.

“No thank you. I’ll manage. Go do what you need to do and we can finish this conversation later.”

Sighing, Paul gathered up his keys and left the house again, leaving the front door open.

Karen sat for a moment, just thinking. I could leave if I wanted. Jeff locked me in, but this guy… Well, maybe I can trust him after all. With a puzzled look on her face, she rose and backed up the stairs on her hind end, sparing her feet any more strain for the moment.




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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