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Bethlehem Rescue Mission Chapter 3

Chapter Three


Clang ,clang, clang went the trolley, Ding, ding, ding went the bell


Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings as we started for Huntington

Dell


The Trolley Song was still playing. He gazed at his iPhone screen.

A green message stared back at him.


Incoming Call


Dee


What could she want? Part of him wanted desperately to answer the

phone, to hear Dee’s voice. Part of him wanted to hang up, and get on with

what he had come to do. This was definitely not supposed to happen. He

thought he had his last discussion with Dee weeks ago. He had made peace

with that. This was not how the evening was supposed to go. Ned was a man

who stuck to his guns, and his plans, no matter what.


The ring tone was nearing the end and if he didn’t answer quickly, it

would be too late.


A drop of water dribbled on his iPhone screen from his still wet

hair. Sheets of water were now pouring down outside from the storm, but it

was nothing like the storm raging within Ned. He had given up on hope. He

didn’t want there to be any hope. Life wasn’t worth living, he had already

decided that. One phone call wouldn’t change everything, he knew that.

His intellect knew that. But his emotions held out…hope. Fortunately, his

reason had not completely abandoned him. For all he knew, it could be Beth

calling from Dee’s phone.


The ring tone was almost done, the last few notes of the song

preparing to die in the hushed interior of room 7 of the Atlas Motel. He

had to choose. In a panic, he pushed the button, almost instantly

regretting the action, knowing instinctively that it was not a decision

born of his intellect or rational thought.


He heard nothing on the other end.


“What?” Ned said, far more gruffly than he had intended. It was

habit. It was how he always answered the phone, as if he was in a hurry

and someone was wasting his time. He hadn’t had time to think.


“Ned Phillips, you are such a jerk!” growled a voice on the other end

of the phone. It was Dee, there was no mistaking the tone, or the

intensity. He realized too late that answering the phone had been a

colossal mistake.


All Ned’s hopeful emotions were dashed instantly. He needed this

phone call like a hole in his head. Then again, he thought, maybe this

phone call was exactly what he needed. He had been weakening, his resolve

showing cracks.


“I can’t even believe you,” Dee sniped. “You stopped payment on my

check to the Boys and Girls Clubs. That was a charitable contribution,

Ned,” she practically screamed. “What is that all about? Are you such a

miser that you can’t afford to let a few bucks go so some inner city kids

can have a slightly better life? Was the donation cramping your payments

on your new BMW?” Dee was livid. When she got this way her mind stopped

working and she went completely emotional.


How could he rationally explain to her what had happened?


“Get ahold of yourself Dee,” he began in his professional voice. He

immediately realized that was a mistake.


“Oh I am,” Dee responded in a low dangerous voice. “I just closed

out our joint accounts, and transferred the money into a new private

account. And just so you know, I doubled the amount of the donation and

delivered it in cash!”


“Dee, stop being childish, it’s not…” began Ned.


“Oh, don’t even go there! I don’t want to hear it,” she cut him off

angrily. “The only contact we get from you is this, and on Christmas Eve,

too. How very thoughtful. You planned it pretty well, didn’t you? You

managed to get the “insufficient funds” notice to arrive today. That took

some work, even from you; just a little Christmas Eve humiliation to make

our holidays special. How very thoughtful.


“Look Ned, I know how much you hate Christmas, but I’m not helping

those kids to celebrate Christmas. They have needs all year round, and we

have far more than we need. I know you hate Christmas, and anything

religious, but for some of us—make that most of us--Christmas is an

endearing time of year. It helps us think about others for just awhile.

But you couldn’t do that, could you? Oh no, that wouldn’t make logical

sense would it? Survival of the fittest and all that. If those poor kids

can’t survive, if they haven’t got a mom or dad to help them, that’s their

problem, right?”


Ned sighed and sat down in the chair, grabbing the pistol in his

right hand so he wouldn’t accidentally shoot himself sitting down. He

didn’t have the energy to tell her that he had simply opened up another

account, one that allowed a greater interest on their assets, and had

failed to tell her. It was an oversight, nothing more.


Dee had never shown any interest in handling money, and he certainly

hadn’t welcomed any sharing of control over the purse strings. Of course,

in all honesty, he had to admit that he wouldn’t have agreed to the

donation, but he certainly wouldn’t have tried to stop it. Not anymore,

anyway. The fact she had closed down the account didn’t bother him. It

didn’t matter what she did with the money anymore.


“Dee…” he began again, trying to introduce some reason and

rationality into the discussion.


“Forget it Ned,” she cut him off. “I don’t care what you think

anymore. I’ve stewed in your hate and arrogance long enough. It cost you

your son first, then your daughter, and now it’s cost you your marriage.”

That last part stung Ned. His jaw clenched and he unconsciously tightened

his grip on the pistol.


“You know what I’m going to do tonight, Ned?” Dee said in a low

taunting tone.


“Do whatever you want with whoever you want, I could care less,” Ned

lied coldly. He could get mean, too. She was fighting with the wrong guy.



There was a short pause on the other end of the phone. When Dee

spoke again, she spoke slowly and bitterly.


“Oh thank you for that, Ned. It helps to know what kind of person you

think that I am. Kicking you out after all these years can only mean one

thing; I’m a slut who’s been sleeping around.”


Ned instantly regretted his words, and wished for the first time that

he knew how to apologize, but Dee wasn’t done.


“No, Ned, it’s even worse than you imagine. I’ve slunk to the very

bottom of the barrel. What I’m going to do tonight is worse to you than

any slutty behavior I could possibly engage in.”


“I’m going to a Christmas Eve service, Ned. I don’t even know where

yet, but I’m going,” she said forcefully. She waited for a response, but

when none came, she continued on, her voice more even and controlled.


“I don’t know if I believe in God,” she said, speaking more to herself

than to Ned, “but when I was a little girl, I...” here Dee’s voice began to

choke with emotion. There was a brief pause and a few sniffs before she

began again speaking almost longingly. “I used to love the simple, sweet

story and warmth of Christmas.” Then her voice changed and grew harder,

“Until, over the years, you turned it into a…a… twisted joke. We couldn’t

even watch Christmas movies with you, Ned, even though we all knew they

were make believe. No, you had to ruin them. You were afraid our minds

would become contaminated. Finally, we couldn’t even watch them with you

anymore. We watched them alone, Jes, Beth and I. Then, when you drove Jes

off—“ Dee’s voice choked again.


“So I’m going,” he heard her whisper into the phone in between

sniffs. “I don’t know if I’m even capable of believing in God, but I want

to be around people with hope, people who believe in

something…something…worth believing in,” she said desperately. “You are so

arrogant, so proud, so sure of yourself,” she continued, her voice growing

stronger now, the emotion leaving it.


“You are your own god. Well, I can’t worship you. I can’t love

you…I can’t even like you anymore,” she said with a cool detachment that

pierced his heart. “You know what you are, Ned?” she asked, her voice

growing more strident, more vindictive. “You’re a dead man walking, just

like the movie. You can’t believe in anything except yourself, that’s your

handicap, but you don’t know it’s a weakness, so you wear it like a badge

of honor.


“You’re an atheist, and you’re proud of it. OK, fine. That’s your

business. But you’re only happy if everyone is as miserable as you are.

Unless everyone around you believes in nothing the way you do, you get

mad—no,” she corrected herself, “you get hateful.” She almost spit out the

last word.


“You’re so absolutely sure that you are intellectually superior to

everyone else. It’s almost like all the inferior beings around you task

you, and it grates on you.” Ned flinched at these words, because, frankly,

she was right. That was how he felt. He had always thought, however, that

he camouflaged his feelings better. Apparently not.


“Well, it doesn’t matter anymore, it’s over,” Dee said wearily.

“Believe what you want to believe. By the way though,” she said, her

volume suddenly increasing and her passion returning, “Just for the record,

for years you tossed around your 144 I.Q. as a proof that you were right

and everyone else was obviously wrong. You were so proud of that. Well,

guess what Ned?” she said slowly and in a mocking tone, “My I.Q. is 157. I

never told you because I didn’t want to make you feel inferior, as if that

was ever a possibility,” she said sarcastically.


“You know, I was even asked to join Mensa,” she said with a

disheartened laugh, “but I turned it down. I never thought it was that big

a deal how intelligent you were, I always thought it was more important

what kind of person you were.” Ned was stunned. He had always thought Dee

intelligent, but this caught him off guard. He thought of all the times he

had talked down to her, lectured to her condescendingly.


“Of course,” she said, “it probably wouldn’t have made any difference

to you. If a god can’t make you feel inferior, nothing can. All these

years I didn’t dare disagree with you publicly on very many things, and by

the way, I could have,” she said with force, “but when you disagreed with

people, you were mean about it. You were always meaner than I was. I

could never bring myself to be as cruel as you. You could hurt me, even if

you weren’t right. That was your advantage. But you’re not nearly as

clever as you think you are,” she said, her volume lowering again.


“So, I’m going to take my 157 I.Q. and my two bright children and we

are going to go to church tonight and hear about Christmas and Jesus and

God and wise men and a star and all those other things you’ve made fun of

for years and see if we can’t make any sense out of it all…because it never

seemed all that crazy to me to be honest. And I’m going…to…to…she said,

haltingly, “to see if I can find a little peace,” her voice softening, “a

little joy for what’s left of my life. And if there’s nothing there…” her

voice trailed off despondently. As she softened her voice, Ned felt his

heart warming. This was the Dee he had always loved, the soft Dee, the

tender Dee, the forgiving Dee. It hurt him that she had no joy. It

surprised him.


“I refuse to waste another second of my life on you,” she said with a

hushed finality.


Ned stiffened in his chair. The statement had been delivered coldly

and with conviction. The dim tired light of hope in Ned’s heart flickered

out.


“Maybe you’re right. Maybe there is no God,” Dee continued. “Maybe

it is all a fairy tale, but my superior intellect tells me there’s an

awfully good chance you’re dead wrong.” Dee went silent on her end of the

phone, perhaps waiting for a response from him. A plethora of emotions

raged within him, anger, confusion, surprise, sadness, regret, love,

despair, swirling like a maelstrom within him. For the first time in his

adult life he didn’t know what to say. His sharp quick retorts, his

cutting comments, his dry and painful wit wouldn’t come to his aid this

time. He couldn’t muster the necessary anger, the necessary passion. His

mouth opened, but nothing came out. Something warm dripped down on his

hand from his face. Had he been more practiced, he would have recognized

it as a tear.


The silence seemed to drag on and on. Dee was obviously waiting for

his response.


“Fine” she said disgustedly. “That’s all I had to…oh, and one more

thing” she said, her volume suddenly rose to an almost maniacal

pitch…”MERRY CHRISTMAS!” she yelled into the phone.


The last stab. The final kick in the head. The ultimate insult to

Ned Phillips. Dee knew his weak points.


Then the line went dead.


Ned Phillips was numb. This wasn’t how he wanted to feel tonight. He

wanted to be in control until the very end. He remembered how only a few

minutes ago he had hoped, almost prayed for Dee to call, to hear her voice

one more time.


Prayed?


“Very funny,” he muttered to the cruel fates. If any god did exist,

he was a sadistically cruel one. He tossed his iPhone on the floor by his

feet. He wouldn’t be needing it again he told himself. He hoped it broke.


With his right hand he picked up the pistol again. He turned it towards

him so that he was looking down the barrel of the gun. It was an eerie

feeling. He thought of how he would never see the bullet that entered his

head, never hear the sound of the explosion. His fingers tightened on the

gun and he drew it nearer.


His jaw clenched. He was in a knot inside. This wasn’t supposed to

be the way it would happen. If he went out this way, it would be a

repudiation of all he stood for, of all he believed. If he was going to

commit suicide he was going to go out rationally and calmly; he refused to

go out in a bout of maudlin sentimentality. He struggled to slow the

racing of his heart, silently cursing himself for his weakness. He closed

his eyes.


From outside the window the bright red lights of the Rescue Mission

began blinking erratically, easily piercing the thin curtains of the room.

They still weren’t fixed. Taking a deep breath, Ned thought his life was a

lot like those blinking lights, it didn’t work properly and simply needed

to be turned off. Then he became angry at himself. There was nothing

wrong with him, it was the world that was the problem. He wasn’t going to

start feeling sorry for himself now.


The strong neon lights continued to blink annoyingly in his face,

illuminating the interior of the room, so bright that even with his eyes

closed he could easily sense them. The stupid Rescue Mission. His anger

against Christianity and all organized religions, but especially

Christianity was renewed as he thought of the Mission and its patronizing

care of people who couldn’t learn how to cope on their own, and needed

taking care of. The weak were who Christianity preyed upon, the weak

emotionally, intellectually, physically, socially, people like the pathetic

ones he had seen cowering in the corners of the buildings he had passed as

he drove along Central. People like…like…Dee. But she didn’t fit. She

was intelligent, more intelligent than he had originally thought,

obviously.


But she was weak. There was the missing piece of the puzzle. But

then again, recently he had learned that she could be as hard as steel when

she needed to be. The neon lights began to blink even more rapidly,

growing even more annoying than before. He would have liked to put a

bullet through those red Neon lights—that thought brought a cruel smile to

his face.


Ned Phillips was angry. He was growing angrier at the moment. Had

anyone come to the door at that moment, they would not likely have survived

the encounter. His life was a shambles, and he didn’t know who to blame.

And it was eating at him. He had to take some blame himself, and he put

some on Dee. But life and all the worlds’ problems were bigger than Ned

and Dee Phillips. He wanted desperately to blame God, or at least the idea

of God. But it was just that—an idea. Ideas could be embraced, rejected,

and even analyzed, but you couldn’t chew them out and feel better

afterwards.


Suddenly the TV, which had never apparently gone off, began to gently

buzz back to life. He heard familiar cheerful music again, like

fingernails against a chalk board. A Miracle on 34th street. Again!

Suddenly his rational resistance began to crumble before a tsunami of

emotion, as despair, anger, and futility finally overcame him. He didn’t

care about being rational anymore. He didn’t care about how it looked. He

was tired. He was done. The TV began to get louder, but he squeezed his

eyes tight, held the gun to his head, took a deep breath, and slowly

squeezed the trigger.


Several quick loud bangs exploded in room number seven in the Atlas

Motel.



young man looking pensive

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