This is the second part (you can find the first part here but not here) of a story called "The Mystery of the Lost Child" involving two close friends and amateur detectives named Edward Door and Jacob Edwards living in a tiny seaside village.
Seven o’clock sharp! The little church doors open and six people file in for the open house soon to take place. Let us observe them as they pass the holy threshold. The first to go by is a man with a precious few hairs on his head. A great rubbing of that shiny and barren land just above his face gives evidence to his consciousness of this shortage. Seeing the new pastor at the door greeting him with a friendly word and a full head of hair, this man immediately dislikes him as one given to putting on heirs, due to his vain and prideful habit of having a low hairline. Then again, the strong wrinkled jealousy betraying itself on this bald man’s face could have a deeper source. The pastor’s kind greeting is met with a “humph!” and two or three head-rubs. Next, two people enter, a short, aged woman and a lanky man of thirty five, looking much like a long train that is constantly jerking to a stop and then starting again with another jerk. The man’s demeanor also gives the impression that he has not yet flown his mother’s coop. But it is hard for the young pastor to even notice the presence of the man, for the aura of the tiny ancient matriarch dwarfs her awkwardly moving companion. Her face shows the clear understanding that very soon a ship will be named after her, and a grand ship it will be. She glides into the room in a whirl, giving the pastor a withering glance, and before he has a chance to greet her says to him with a royal flourish,
“You are very welcome, young man. Patronage makes great art! Let us go, Arthur! Move!”
“Y-Yes mother.” the son blurts out and jolts forward, closely followed by the grand woman, floating rather than walking down the isle, lapping every pew with her wake.
Now two men come in, but what is this? Jacob Edwards and Edward Door step across the threshold! Their chins are up defiantly; their eyes are forward, and their foreheads are only slightly wrinkled, betraying an embarrassment, apparently at being in a church. They initially planned a boycott of the town’s new place of worship, but after long discussion they both decided that, in the name of tolerance, they would give the new pastor and his wife the privilege of their presence, for fifteen minutes. They respond to the pastor’s warm welcome with a breathy, “Mmm Hmm.”
Finally, right behind our two detectives, a man sweeps in whom no one in the church recognizes. He is clean cut, with a well-trimmed beard, crow-black hair greased and combed back in waves. We could almost call him handsome, almost. Certainly, if hygiene is the basis of good appearance, he passes the test, but each person has an aura, and his is particularly hard to pinpoint. Nothing in his expression signifies activity behind it, and only one quirk stands out to the young greeting pastor: his lips. They are pursed to the point of pale whiteness, and seem to be trying to hide themselves and possibly something else. But in the spirit of Christian charity, the clergyman puts out his hand and says cheerfully,
“Welcome. I’m glad you’ve come.”
“Hm” is the only answer, and the hygienic enigma sweeps down the isle and turns into the second row on the right, right next to Jacob and Edward.
“And now that we are all seated” began the young pastor after the company was seated and situated, “I’d like to formally welcome you—on behalf of my lovely wife Carol, and our eight boys (I won’t name them all, don’t worry)—to Saint Stephen’s Church.” At this, he pointed to the front row where his smiling wife and eight happy little boys sat in a line, largest to smallest, with the very smallest—a rosy-cheeked infant—in a little wooden cradle next to the pastor’s wife at the end of the row. At being pointed out, the boys twisted their faces into embarrassed half smiles and, needing to release the awkward tension, began hitting each other on the arm. “My name is William, and . . .”
“Are you quite finished!” came a roaring voice from the third row. The grand lady cruiser had stood up, squared her shoulders and with gusto blasted out this inquiry.
“M-Mother, please, let the nice man talk.” Her son jolted out, much louder than he expected to.
“Talk talk talk, my dear boy! This government does nothing but talk. Words words words! Give me action. Suffrage!” Her last word came out like the blowing of a great foghorn of the vessel she envisioned her name painted upon.
“Oh dear . . . ouch.” Said the son, as his foot involuntarily kicked the pew in front of him.
“Get him!” These words seemed to be directed at her son, but her finger was aiming straight at the young pastor standing in front of them. “Charge! Blast the bad man for his bald-faced calumny!” She began moving toward the pastor, like an angry ship’s figurehead with a finger thrust at the clergyman’s heart.
“S-s-stop her, please” the young man choked out.
“I say,” said Edward, looking concerned.
“Baffling behavior,” said Jacob with exactly the same expression.
“Throw him out of the nearest window! Whoop!” the grand lady proclaimed.
The young pastor had a confused and slightly bemused expression on his face; the nearly bald man was rubbing his head furiously and looking uncomfortably at the pastor’s wife, and the eight boys, enjoying the uproar, joined in with their own shouts, laughter and foot-stomping. But the clean-cut man with good hygiene sat quietly, not moving, only watching, pursing his lips.
The lady cruiser now began to chug toward the pastor with her great gun-of-a-mouth blazing in his direction. Her son now seemed paralyzed, and only sat in his seat, twitching and saying over and over, “Oh d-dear, stop m-mother . . .” Edward and Jacob jumped up and tried to hold the indomitable woman back.
Then, without warning, the nearly-bald man leapt from his seat and rushed to the pastor’s young wife, got down on one knee and in a desperate and pleading voice blurted out, “Oh, Carol, Carol! As I have sat in my pew, my heart and my brain have battled inside me. What fiery arrows have passed between them, leaving me helplessly wounded by their swift action? What shall I say? My hearts’ arrows were the straighter and hotter. They burn for you, oh but with such maddening warmth and fury. Marry me, Carol, Marry me! I watched you every day on the campus of King’s College ten years ago and loved you. Oh how I loved you! But still I held my peace. A curse on my heart for its cowardice! But now I break those bonds. Today I snap those fetters! Marry me, governess of my heart, my desire and my destiny, ma—rry—me!” Carol stood stunned, mouth slightly open, and without a word, she retreated behind her husband.
“Dear?” the young pastor said in a voice of forced calm.
“I don’t know,” was all she could force out. By now, the noise in small room was incredible. The grand lady was still yelling, “Throw him out the window! Whoop!” Her son now seemed completely deprived of control outside of twitching and blurting unintelligible words. The bald headed man’s protestations of love continued to flow unchecked; the seven non-infant boys were enjoying the clamor so much, they felt compelled to join in; and every now and then the post modern detectives could be heard saying, “Gracious!” and “What behavior!” and something about writing the pope a letter.
Then, above the mad din rose a curious sound: that of a small bell being rung. Instantly the grand lady stopped struggling and whooping; her son ceased twitching and the nearly bald man stood up, quiet as a windless sea. The only noise now was the seven boys still laughing and whistling, but they soon caught the new mood and stifled their merriment. The young pastor looked confusedly around for the source of the miraculous calming ring. Then he saw it. The black-haired, hygienic man had stood up and was smiling—rather wickedly he thought—ringing a tiny golden bell with two fingers of his right hand. When he saw that all was silent, he stopped ringing and set the bell on the pew next to him gingerly. He stood up, finally un-pursed his lips and smiled. At once it became evident why his mouth had been so tightly shut. His teeth were brown, twisted and rotting like ancient, broken termite-infested slats of a fence no longer blocking the view to a now abandoned and overgrown yard. Instantly, his questionable aura was explained and his hygienic façade stripped away.
“Bravo, bravo, wonderful stuff. Well done everyone; you can go,” he said.
“Excuse me?” the young pastor almost yelled in confusion. Without heeding him the black-haired man directed the Lady, her son, and the bald-haired man toward him, handed them each a white envelope and sent them out the back door.
“Ahem, now” the dark-haired stranger began again, turning to the baffled group near the front of the church, “You’re probably wondering who I am. Well, if you must know, I’m a criminal, and my name is Dr. Bennie Champion.” A gasp came from the two detectives.
“You clean up very well, sir. You are unrecognizable,” said Edward.
“Truly amazing what a shower and a shave will do,” put in Jacob.
“Though, those teeth could us a good brushing!” said Edward.
“I couldn’t have said it better myself, Edward. I’d advise him to brush them,” said Jacob.
“Shut up!” Dr. Champion yelled, “You two are pathetic. Now,” he began again, addressing the whole company. Everyone, even the seven little boys were facing him now, listening incredulously to this madman. “You’re also probably wondering what in the world just happened. I believe every crime should have a surreal feeling, a mystic aura. In making the whole thing fantastic it distracts the victims from their moral judgments on the situation, puts them in a walking dream, if you will.”
“I’d rather not,” Jacob muttered under his breath; Edward chuckled under his. Dr. Champion did not hear this and continued his monologue.
“And we all know our consciences and our moral sensibilities are much weaker in dreams. For in dreams we sleep with that woman we wouldn’t dare touch in our waking moments. Without a qualm we kill that neighbor who keeps us up at night with their music. We jump off of skyscrapers without a thought about the evils of suicide. In short, I wanted this memory to have blurred edges, so I hired those wonderful actors, and didn’t they do a great job? Huh?! Worth every penny, oh, let’s clap once for them, come on, join me.” Dr. Champion gave a loud round of applause. No one joined in. “Well you’re all no fun. Anyway, on to the crime! I’ve decided to kill one of your children,” he said, looking directly at the pastor and his wife. She blanched and rushed to the little boys sitting in the front row, gathering them to her. The young pastor stepped between his family and Dr. Champion.
“Over my dead . . .”
“You’ve forgotten one,” the black-haired villain almost whispered.
“William! the baby,” the pastor’s wife said frantically, rushing to the cradle at the front of the church.
“No need to look; he’s gone.” Dr. Champion said matter-of-factly, “Oh, don’t cry like that, Carol. At least wait until I leave. It’ll just make me want to kill you too, which would ruin my plans for this evening. That’s better. Now, as to why I am committing this act (you would call it a crime or a sin, such arbitrary words) I can only say this: if God is dead, and I think he is or always has been, no one can tell me that any act is right or wrong, so I’m killing your child, that is, unless you can find him. You have . . .” Here he looked at his bare wrist like there was a watch there, “Eleven minutes to find him and save him from a terrible death.” Here he paused, soaking up the fear in the room, “Aaaaand go,” he laughed a terrible piercing laugh, spit, turned and walked out of the church.
“Oh God, help us!” Said the pastor, going over to his wife, letting her burry her head in his shoulder. The seven little boys turned around and looked at the empty cradle, and then at their parents, still confused.
“There they go again, Edward.”
“I heard it too, Jacob.”
“We’re sitting right here, two detectives with a history of finding lost—or in our case tossed—children, and they ask God for help,” said Jacob.
“Shocking” said Edward. The Pastor’s wife, hearing this, lifted her head out of her husband’s comforting shoulder and with wide eyes looked at the two detectives.
“Oh! Thank the LORD! Will you help us? Oh please, I beg you.”
“But of course we will, good lady!” Edward said.
“Hurry please!” said the young pastor.
“With all speed!” Said Jacob.
“All speed!” said Edward, “We just need you to answer a quick question.”
“Anything, anything!” said the pastor’s wife.
“How old is the child?” said Edward.
“One year old yesterday, why?”
“Oh, that is unfortunate,” replied Edward.
“Quite,” said Jacob. “I would feel much more fulfilled saving a child with more worth to society. If only he were more developed! Even if he were two, he would have a two hundred-word vocabulary and sundry motor-skills that would make him a little less dependent and more worth saving for his own sake.”
“Well said, Jacob!” said Edward, but seeing shocked and angry expressions on the faces of stolen infant’s parents he said quickly, “Of course we can’t believe in the intrinsic value of human life. That would mean having to defend it at every stage of development, even in the womb! Worst of all, it would force us to believe in a value giver—a higher power, if you will.”
“I’d rather not,” replied Jacob, and they both laughed—it was more like a giggle.
The look of righteous anger on the face of the young pastor toward the two post-modern detectives was withering. He moved his wife aside slowly and began walking toward the two men, his eyes wide and his face blazing red.
“You uncourteous, inconsiderate fools! Don’t you see? Your pathetic worldview is putting a child’s life in danger right now. My child’s life! I’m no utilitarian, but right now you have a choice: save a child, or save your own weak theory of human value. If you choose the latter over the former, it will confirm in my mind that I am standing in front of two of the most morally dead individuals I’ve ever encountered. So what’s it going to be? My child, or your theory?”
The room fell silent. All that could be heard were the muffled sobs of the pastor’s wife and fidgeting from the seven little boys who were in shock at seeing their father so angry. The detectives’ faces were two churning seas of conflict at the dilemma placed before them. Finally, Jacob spoke.
“Well said, pastor. Wasn’t it well said, Edward?”
“It was! Splendid. And I believe our theories can be put on hold for the good of these lovely people, wouldn’t you say Jacob? I’ll take that nod as a “yes.” Shall we put on our metaphorical detective hats again and catch ourselves a knavish killer, even though we must reject our post-modern mindset to do so, Jacob?”
“Indeed, indeed!” Edward said, nodding furiously.
“Then there’s naught to do but solve this mystery, and quickly!” said Jacob.
. . . continued in, "The Mystery of the Lost Child, Part 3"
On Appewood Lane Newton, Kansas
January 30, 2012