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Bethlehem Rescue Mission Chapter 1

Chapter One

Ned Phillips suddenly realized he was gripping the steering wheel of

his car so hard his forearms were beginning to cramp. He took a deep

breath, and then exhaled slowly. Gradually his grip loosened as he

consciously forced himself to relax. The BMW X6 cruised smoothly down the

interstate, the soft lights of the dashboard casting a gentle glow on his

expressionless face.

A glance at his dashboard’s digital clock indicated it was 6:01 p.m.

Though it was December 24th (he refused to acknowledge anything special

about the date) and snow was normal this time of year, the unseasonably

warm temperatures were producing little more than a steady, dreary rain

that his windshield wipers kept at bay.

Perfect, he thought. The darkness, the dreariness, the futility of

it all could not have produced a better night for what he had in mind.

Beethoven’s Fifth was playing softly in the background. It was

appropriate music chosen for this very occasion. Ned knew that Beethoven

had known a deep sense of loneliness, the kind Ned himself felt. Beethoven

had never married, had slowly grown deaf, and was a genius. These traits

had conspired to isolate him from others. Alone in an ocean of boats,

Beethoven’s weakness had made him turn to God. Ned had a far more

practical and logical solution to the problem, though he couldn’t help

feeling a kindred spirit to the old German.

Ned kept his eyes riveted for the road signs, made more difficult

because the rain was beginning to pick up. The lights from area houses

were few in this neck of the woods. Traffic was light. Not many people

were traveling this way.

No, he thought darkly, not many people were traveling his way tonight.

Ned’s mind began to weave a tapestry of events that had brought him

to this place, each more painful than the next. His decision hadn’t been a

quick or a hasty one. There were no emotional floods that were

overwhelming him. He had been thinking about this calmly and rationally

for close to three months now. His cool intellect and rational approach to

life had simply led him to a logical and inescapable conclusion.

By any description Ned Phillips was a success. He made $315,000

before taxes last year alone selling pharmaceutical supplies for ZIMCO, a

global pharmaceutical supplier based in Holland. He was the ZIMCO wonder

boy, landing more major accounts than anyone in the company for the last

six years. True, he had stepped on a few toes, fudged a few facts, misled

a few folks here and there and played hardball when it was necessary, but

it was all calculated to achieve the goal. Bottom line—he moved product--

and that was the name of the game. No one did it better.

He lived in Oak Hills, the most exclusive neighborhood in the city.

He could afford all the finer things of life and had all the ones that

mattered to him: exclusive Club memberships, expensive cars, the latest

electronics, nothing but the best for Ned Phillips.

He adjusted the rear-view mirror, and as he did he paused to study

the face that stared back at him. It was a broad, strong, and handsome

face with a dark mustache and goatee manicured perfectly. His hair was

short, dark brown, without a single strand out of place. His eyes were

narrow, piercing green, and cold. He smiled thinly. This intimidating

face had helped him more than once get his way while his mercurial anger

often sent people scurrying for cover. His finely carved physique gave his

6’2 220-pound frame an imposing presence which he had learned to use

skillfully when necessary. He tried for a moment, just out of curiosity,

to soften his expression, but found he could not. It was just as well, he

had little motivation anyway.

Most people were intimidated by him, including co-workers, which is

why his employers allowed him to spend so much more time on the road and

out of the office than anyone else. That suited him fine. He wanted to be

alone. He was a human pit bull and had no desire or interest in playing

nice with the other children. He truly respected everything he was and had

become. That thought comforted him, especially now. He wasn’t some

emotional cripple who couldn’t handle life. He had conquered life and

proven he was a better man than many, make that most. More intelligent,

more productive, stronger…

His thoughts were momentarily interrupted by the sight of an enormous

floating Christmas tree balloon hovering over a car dealership near the

freeway. It had to be over 100 feet tall with lights adorning it. As he

passed by it, the rain on the passenger window blurred the colors and the

lights, disfiguring the tree so that it looked like a watercolor painting

that had suddenly been drenched, all the colors blurred and blended

together distorting the image. Yes, he thought soberly, the whole picture

is distorted. Through the steady rain he watched the balloon disappear in

the rear view mirror and was reminded of how much he hated this time of


Everywhere holiday lights and decorations were in full Christmas

season bloom. It was nothing short of nauseating. It was as if one month

a year everyone suddenly forgot what a red light meant and drove through

one intellectual intersection after another, trusting that all was well and

there couldn’t possibly be any collisions. He wearied of being around

organized stupidity, tired of people too ignorant to understand what life

was really all about, tired of people who were so needy, so emotionally and

intellectually crippled that something as ridiculous as Christmas would set

them off in a quasi-religious fervor that could only be sated with colored

lights, canned music, holiday deforestation, over-eating and obsessive

compulsive gift buying.

Ned shook his head slowly. The masses were precisely what Alexander

Hamilton said they were. That was the problem. He had managed to navigate

his 54 years successfully because he had been able to swim upstream in a

downstream world. He still had the strength to do it, he told himself, but

no longer the motivation. Not after…

He briefly closed his eyes against the pain, and forced himself to

concentrate on the strains of Beethoven. He was briefly tempted not to

open them again. At 75 miles per hour he would probably not survive

whatever collision he had. But slowly, reluctantly, he opened his eyes

again, correcting slightly in his lane. No, there would be no accidents.

What he was going to do must never be seen as an accident. He would be in

control up until the final moment. The world would remember Ned Phillips

as a man who faced life and death on his own terms, coolly, calmly,

rationally, fearlessly. At least those that cared would.

Suddenly, his dashboard read 6:11. His pulse quickened.

It was as if he had suddenly been kicked in the gut. The soft green

numbers on the analog screen seemed to paralyze him. An agonizing pain

shot through him and he steeled himself against its force. His breathing

came shallower and he felt his throat constrict and his eyes water. The

muscles in his face twitched as he clenched and unclenched his jaw trying

to control his emotions. 6:11. June eleventh.

His anniversary.

This was the first year he had not celebrated his anniversary with

DeeAnne. She had filed for divorce and told him to leave on May 8th.

Funny how he could remember May 8th so well when he normally had such a

problem with dates. He’d only spoken with Dee several times since the

breakup, although talk was a mild word for their brief heated discussions.

He flinched inwardly as he recalled his anger and the cruel harsh

words he had unleashed on Dee, the same anger and words that had always

been able to make Dee cower in fear and submission. Except this time. For

some reason, on May 8th it had stopped working. Forever. As angry as he

had gotten, as much as he had tried to bully her, Dee had remained

strangely calm, cool, and aloof. That should have tipped him off. No

matter what he said, Dee had not gotten emotional. For once she had been

as cold as he was. And as harsh and ruthless. She definitely wasn’t the

same sweet naïve co-ed he had fallen in love with in college.

He didn’t see why he had been forced to leave his house. They hadn’t

had much of a relationship the last ten years anyway, and he worked 70-80

hour weeks, so it wasn’t like he was underfoot a lot. He could have stayed

at home without love. He vividly remembered her response when he

suggested this.

“That’s not an option” she had said icily, thrusting his suitcase

into his midsection and pointing him to his side of the closet with a phone

in her hand, her finger on the speed dial for 911. And so he had left.

Seven months ago. He hadn’t even rented an apartment, he had just lived on

the road, staying a day or two longer in hotels than he normally would have

and billing ZIMCO.

Love was overrated he told himself. He felt his throat constrict

again and got angry with himself. His thoughts turned to their two

children, Jes, 22 years old, and Beth, only 17 last month. Jes had left

home five years earlier after a blowup with Ned, but Beth still lived at

home. Dee had made sure Beth was gone when she gave Ned his walking papers

because Beth loved her dad and Dee knew it. Beth would probably have made

a scene he could have used to manipulate Dee’s emotions. At least he liked

to think she would have. But no luck—Dee had been too clever for that. It

was clear this had not been a spontaneous decision. She had planned it out

like a campaigner and he had been badly outflanked.

The windshield wipers were barely keeping up with the rain, so he

increased the frequency and turned up the music. He needed to drown out

the pain with noise.

He was nearing his exit. His heart began to beat faster. A slight

turn of his steering wheel was going to change his life. The word exit

suddenly had a poignancy it hadn’t before.

The Central Avenue turn-off quickly appeared and he turned off the

freeway. He noticed that the off ramp looked different in the dark as he

slowed up at the stop sign. He had scouted this location for several

weeks. Like everything else in his life; he had planned this night

meticulously. Given the nature of what he intended to do, he wanted to do

it in a place that best reflected his feelings about his life in general.

He wanted a place that would make a statement that would be unambiguous.

He had found it in Marysville, or the decaying husk of a town that had once

been Marysville. He turned left onto Central.

When the state highway had been put in over 50 yeas ago, people began

bypassing the area and Central Avenue. The main thoroughfare for the once

robust farming community slowed to a trickle, as did all the businesses fed

by it. As the traveler’s business the town had counted on had died off, so

had the town. Most of the town had gone south quickly as home prices

bottomed out. Then, the town itself died. Well, almost. Marysville still

existed as a town, at least in name. A series of run down neighborhoods

were all that were left. Central Avenue was still the main artery for the

town, but it was now a carotid artery for a town in its death throes.

As he drove slowly down Central he felt his heart beat faster again

and forced himself to be coldly analytical, which was harder now than he

had thought it would be. Every road had an end. Every day had a night, he

assured himself.

Life was an accident, an evolutionary quirk of nature, a sometimes

cruel joke upon the creatures with the more highly developed brain cells.

Emotions, feelings, were nothing more than impulses born of years of

evolution. Life was as sacred and meaningful as the puddles he was driving

through. And just as transient. Man was nothing more than matter in

motion, the soul a fantasy, life after death nothing but a twisted form of

hope fulfillment. The idea that there was some great cosmic purpose in

life was nothing more than propaganda.

No one survived this crazy world anyway. Better now, on his own

terms, than thirty years from now in some expensive hospital bed hooked up

to ZIMCO products and at the mercy of doctors late for dinner at the Club.

Besides, either way, he would be alone. It was a sobering thought, but

inevitable, and it braced him to do what he had come to do.

Cruising slowly down Central he passed Mother Murphy’s Café on the

right, a dilapidated greasy spoon that he couldn’t help thinking had once

been new and full of hope. The restaurant was open, though only two

patrons were visible through the dirty windows and dim lighting. Next door

was a pawn shop with heavy barred windows that was closed, and a defunct

tattoo parlor next to that. A few vagrants crouched under the eaves and in

corners to escape the rain and cold, huddling with blankets and pieces of

soggy cardboard.

Across the street a massive abandoned Feed and Grain building took up

almost an entire block. Graffiti and broken windows were its primary

decoration. About 30 yards from the abandoned Feed and Grain was Tony’s

Liquor, the only really thriving business on Central. Its front door stood

open emitting a cold light while an anemic string of multi-colored

Christmas lights dangled apathetically above the small door, weakly

competing for attention with the brightly colored neon signs advertising


Finally, he spied what he had come for. Slowing at the intersection

of Central and…he couldn’t make out the street as the street sign had been

bent backwards so far he couldn’t read it. Turning left he spied what he

had come for, a string of half a dozen cheap motels standing side by side,

bleak reminders of a happier time when hope reigned and tourists came to

Marysville on purpose, and not because they had gotten lost.

As he turned left he glanced again at the street sign, but it was

bent too far backwards and down. No matter. He wasn’t planning to pass

this way again. He slowed down as he drove by the motels. There was the

Sleepy Hollow, the Farm House Motel, and then he caught sight of it. The

Grand destination.

The Atlas Motel.

The last place on earth anyone would want to be on purpose; the

perfect stage for his final statement on the futility of life. It was the

worst of a string of cheap, decrepit motels.

Directly across the street from the Atlas Motel was the dilapidated

Bethlehem Rescue Mission, which had once been the proud and elegant

Fairview Hotel. The Missions vertical digital message board was flashing

red, but the letters were jumbled up. The messages of Jesus and Salvation

were coming out all wrong. For the first time all night, Ned Phillips

allowed himself some emotion. He laughed out loud. How appropriate. A

picture is worth a thousands words he mused.

Several drenched men in overalls were looking up at the sign while

another man in an old suit, an umbrella, and a raincoat was talking to

them. Ned sniffed derisively and turned into the driveway of the Atlas


The sight that greeted him was dismal. In the middle of the decayed

and crumbling asphalt parking lot stood a tall pole with a cheesy looking

turquoise globe the size of a Smart Car at the top. The continents on the

decaying globe had been made from some dark brown substance that had begun

to decompose and fall off over the years. The Central and South American

continents had disappeared completely, leaving only a turquoise outline

behind, while North America had gaps that eliminated much of the mid-west,

making it appear as if the Great Lakes had quadrupled in size and somehow

migrated to the middle of the United States.

The long ranch style building was the original turquoise and white

color scheme, with tired paint chipping and peeling from its wooden sides.

Several wires dangled from walls, windows, and occasionally the roof. Some

were loosely connected, others hanging limply with no seeming purpose. An

ancient TV antenna sat crookedly on the long narrow roof. Pieces of an old

window screen haphazardly thrown there years ago lay diagonally across the

roof. All the doors to the rooms were painted a dingy brown that didn’t

match the color scheme, but had probably been on sale somewhere.

Ned parked his exquisite BMW X6 between a Black 79 Pacer and what

looked like a 20 year old faded blue Dodge Plymouth, sporting a front left

fender that was bright red. He put the car in park and slowly turned off

the ignition. He sighed as he surveyed the scene.

Home sweet home.

As he sat there composing himself, he was suddenly alerted to

blinking red lights from the rear view mirror.

Great, he thought, a police car.

That’s the last thing he needed, especially with what he had hidden in

his front seat. And his BMW didn’t exactly blend into the background at

the Atlas Motel. He silently cursed himself for not realizing how his car

would call attention to him in this neighborhood.

However, a second glance allowed him to relax. It was just the

stupid neon sign at the Rescue Mission. Apparently they’d got it working

and it was flashing its messages. He sat and watched the five messages

slowly scroll down.








































































Well, Ned thought wryly, I guess that’s all anyone really needs to

know to be a success in life. Frankly, he’d rather have had to deal with a

policeman than this tripe. But then the sign suddenly went haywire again

and the repeating messages began to miss letters. GOD LOVES YOU suddenly














Apparently the “Good News” was having a hard time remaining coherent.

Normally, he would have taken great delight in that thought, but he was

beyond that now.

He got slowly out of his car, grabbing a small bundle rolled up in

his jacket. He didn’t bother covering his head from the rain that was now

coming down hard. He prepared to remotely lock his car, but then stopped

as a rueful grin emerged on his face. No need. He wouldn’t be leaving in

that car anyway.

As he stood and let the rain pour down upon him in the dismal

darkness of the parking lot of the Atlas Motel, his emotions, normally so

much under control, began to weaken. He felt an unfamiliar warmth around

his eyes, and knew that not all the drops rolling off his face were rain

drops. And strangely, that brought him a measure of peace. His life was

not worth continuing, it was obvious. The surroundings of the Atlas Motel

perfectly mirrored his internal condition. But his steely resolve came to

his rescue and he quickly recovered.

Surveying the long darkened outdoor walkway he finally spied a small

weathered sign hung crookedly from an overhang that protected the walkway

from the weather to his left. It read Office.

As he passed three doorways with piles of empty liquor bottles and

fast food containers in what must once have been planters, Ned couldn’t

help thinking that this place was a cemetery for the living dead if there

ever was one. The only thing he regretted was that no one would probably

catch the symbolism he intended—but he hadn’t been understood when he was

alive so…

He opened the door and a tiny bell jingled. The musty smelling

office was the size of a large closet. There were no chairs, no

decorations, just a wooden counter with a peeling Formica surface. The

walls were covered in peeling and stained wallpaper. He heard a movement

in a small room behind the counter and a man appeared.

He looked Hispanic, maybe Arabic, about six feet tall with a small

paunch. His head was bald on top, revealing his dark skin and salt and

pepper gray hair framed his ears. He was medium build. At the sight of

Ned he suddenly threw his arms out and a large smile lit up his face. It

was a warm smile.

“Merry Christmas” he said with only the slightest hint of an accent,

though Ned couldn’t immediately place what the accent was. “I’ve been

waiting for you!” the man exclaimed playfully.

“I’m Angel, but everyone just calls me Gabe,” he said amiably as he

took in the well-heeled customer. The only startling thing about Gabe,

besides his obnoxious attempt at friendliness and clever repartee, were his

eyes. They were large, brown, and deep, and even when he was smiling, they

seemed somehow sad.

“I’m sorry,” said Ned coolly, “there’s been some mistake.”

Gabe’s eyebrows shot up questioningly.

“You’re under the impression that I celebrate pagan Roman holidays,

and that for some reason I care what your name is. You’re wrong on both


Gabe waited only a moment before he realized a punch line wasn’t

coming. His smile slowly faded.

“I want a room for one night, just one night. Think you can handle

that Sport?” Ned gazed coolly at the clerk.

“Yes sir,” Gabe said quietly, pulling out a registration form from

under the counter and sliding it towards Ned.

“You know,” said Gabe quietly, keeping his eyes on the form that Ned

was writing on, “many people celebrate Christmas who…”

“Stow it,” Ned said shortly. His fierce gaze bored into the brown

skinned top of Gabe’s head.

“If there’s anything you need tonight…” Gabe began quietly, not

daring to look up.

“I won’t,” Ned interrupted, slamming the pen down so hard that the

hapless clerk quickly looked up. Good, he’d gotten the man’s full


“Listen. I’ll say this slowly and I’ll use small words here so even

you can’t possibly misunderstand me,” Ned said icily, gripping the Formica

top with both hands and leaning towards the clerk, “ I don’t want anything

tonight. At all. Period. Got that? You don’t even think about coming to

my room.” Gabe nodded, a barely perceptible smile creasing his face, his

eyes fixed sadly on Ned.

“I’ve come here to be left alone. Why else would anyone come to this

roadside flea infested hovel of a building you call a business? I

sincerely pity the person who bothers me tonight,” Ned warned ominously,

his eyes blazing.

Gabe’s eyebrows furrowed as he looked down at the registration slip.

He quickly checked it over, then filed it under the counter and pulled out

a key and slid it over to Ned.

Ned opened his wallet, pulled out a $100 bill and flung it on the

counter at Gabe without looking at him. Then he turned and without another

word or glance strode out of the door, letting it slam loudly behind him.

Mission accomplished, thought Ned. He wouldn’t be disturbed tonight.

Gabe lowered his head and walked slowly back to the small room he had

come from, then paused, turned, and ran outside, spying Ned walking down

the puddle filled walkway.

“Sir!” he called out, one hand still gripping the door.

Ned stopped. His entire body tensed, but he didn’t turn around.

“I should warn you,” Gabe said apologetically, “the TV in your room

is well…a little…well sometimes we get complaints about it,” the clerk

shrugged apologetically. “The repairman hasn’t been out to fix it.” Ned

didn’t speak for a few seconds.

“Wow, who’d have guessed?” Ned said slowly, “and in such a fine

establishment, too.” As he said it, he reached out and fingered a dangling

wire coming from a nearby window. Then, without a backward glance, he

walked away.

Gabe watched him go, slowly shaking his head, before turning solemnly

into the office.


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