Heroic Action and Shocking News



Oxner now an Internationally Renowned Underdog Icon -- Freelance Press [newspaper headline]

His oversized persona stretches far off the shore! -- The Broad Scope [article excerpt]

He's been elevated above mere mortals! -- East Island Sentinel [article excerpt]


        That incredible yacht, The Sea Gypsy, sailed eastward on the high seas of the Atlantic.  All alone on the upper deck aft, by the guard wall, stood the ship's highly esteemed V.I.P., Mr. Ralph Oxner.  He'd been tossing bread crumbs up in the air for a cluster of low-flying seagulls to catch in their beaks.  They were occassionally successful.  It was something to do while he breathed in the fresh, ocean air and felt the sun's warm rays.  The light breeze from the south was another pleasant atmospheric sensation.  The voyage was in its fourth week.  Ralph had fallen in love with the seafaring lifestyle and he wished it would never end.  Dolphins; sharks; sea snakes; sea turtles; congers; flying fish; pelicans; coots; albatross; gannets; cormorants; and hawks were some of the magnificent creatures he'd seen during the course of the leisurely cruise.  Ralph was like the sea: full of life!  He had a new wife, a bright future, and a clear mind.  The young man had no reason not to be in high spirits!  And he was thankful in the knowledge that all of the blessings were, in part, due to the glorious existence, and perfect timing, of The Sea Gypsy.  It was the gigantic, aquatic angel wing which he rode on to freedom and respite.

        Ralph took his eyes off the seagulls to glance down at his watch.  It was 11:52 a.m.  He wondered if hs rosy-cheeked bride had awoken.  They'd stayed up into the wee hours of the night doing what newlyweds do on a honeymoon.  And Angel was a pro at that time-honored tradition... literally speaking!  Ralph left the bag of Mereda white bread on top of the guard wall, with the intention of returning to the deck momentarily.  He went to check on the sleeping beauty in his luxurious suite, which they now shared on condition of matrimony.  She was lying in bed, awake but groggy.  Ralph stood over her, looking down, marveling at her exquisite face.  It was still hard for him to believe that she was actually his wife!  How did I get so lucky? he continuously asked himself.

        "Good morning, love," he greeted.

        "Hey, honey.  What time is it," Angel slurred.

        "Almost noon," he told her, without bothering to be precise.

        "Let's go downstairs and try to catch some breakfast before they quit serving it," she proposed.

        "All right," agreed Ralph.  He'd already forgotten about feeding his feathered friends outside.

        Angel got out of bed and gave her husband a peck on the lips.  Then, feeling a little more invigorated, she proceeded to get dressed.  In the dining room they had French toast, scrambled eggs, sausage, buttered biscuits, and orange juice.  It was a very congenial meal.  After Angel's last swallow of O.J. cleared her throat, she asked, "What shall we do now?"

        "Well, it's a nice day.  Would you like to go out on the deck and throw bread to the seagulls?"

        "Sounds good to me," said Angel.



        While the honeymooners ascended in the elevator toward the pre-selected tenth floor exit, Ralph commented that he'd left a bag of bread on the guard wall.

        "You're worried about a freaking loaf of bread?!" Angel said in a playfully critical tone.

        "Well, I just don't want anyone to take it.  I was planning to use the remaining slices for sandwiches," Ralph responded defensively.

        "Sheesh, don't worry about it!" advised Angel.

        When the happy, hand holding couple came upon the deck, they witnessed a startling, and most disturbing, sight!  Ralph's smallest friend, biggest friend and Best-Man all rolled into one--five-year-old Roger Freeder--was standing atop the guard wall, dangerously close to the outer edge.  His back was turned on them and he was facing the formidable ocean.  Ralph surmised Roger's intention when he saw the bread slice in his hand, straight above his head -- it looked as if he was trying to feed the seagulls.  He felt an immediate tinge of guilt for absent mindedly leaving the bread up there on the guard wall.

        "Shhh; don't say anything to him!" Ralph whispered.  He worried that Roger might lose his balance and fall overboard if he turned around too suddenly.

        Ralph slowly, and quietly, advanced forward -- not wanting Roger to hear his approach.  But Roger must have sensed his presence because he turned around and looked at his hero.  "Hi, Ralph!" he called out cheerfully, with a wave and a smile.  "I bet you're surprised that I managed to get up here!  I can climb anything, even trees!" he boasted.

        In a serious, but soft, tone, Ralph said, "Roger, my friend, you shouldn't be up there!  You could fall off.  Come down now!"

        "Oh, I won't fall off!  I know what I'm doing!" Roger stubbornly protested, much to Ralph's frustration.

        "Roger, please do what I said, okay," pleaded Ralph.  There was a noticeably thicker level of urgency in his voice.  However, Roger was not completely swayed by the grave appeal.

         "Let me try one more time to make the hand-off.  THEN I'll come down," the determined kid defied, issuing his own compromise.

        "No, Roger!!!" bellowed Ralph, worriedly.  He was afraid that he would lose his balance and fall overboard.  His desperation was rising with each second the boy failed to obey him, and attempted to feed the seagulls.  It was an extremely hazardous situation!

        Ralph, once again, told Roger to walk toward him.  But the youngster's desire to show-off for his hero overrode his desire to adhere to his order.  "Watch this!" trumpeted Roger.  Making one final, extra-effort attempt at success, he reached up, stretched out, and leaned forward, waving the slice of bread to the uncooperative birds.  His posture on the outer boundary of the ship was ever-the-more perilous.  Ralph knew that if he lost his balance, the ocean would have him in its possession, and the sharks would likely smell fresh meat.  Recent sightings of those ocean terrorists had been mentioned by The Leader during an auditorium speech the previous day.  All Ralph could do was to wait and hope that Roger maintained his footing and eventually comply with his plea before it was too late.  Meanwhile, Angel's eyes were shut, and her head was bowed in prayer for Roger's security.  She hadn't prayed in sixteen years, but it was preferable to watching in a helpless state of angst.

        Angel's little prayer was abruptly terminated in an unsavory manner; her husband had just released a frantic "No!!!" scream.  She knew what it signified without having to open her eyes and gaze up at the barren guard wall.  But, out of natural reaction, she did both; she opened her eyes and looked up at the guard wall.  Now it seemed as if she had another pressing concern: Ralph was in the process of climbing the guard wall and going after Roger!

        "No!!!  You can't swim," she hollered.  But simply reminding Ralph of his aquatic inability was a vain vocal exertion.  For the "hero within" had been stirred to action.  Within several seconds, he was on top of the high guard wall and in the deep sea.



At that very moment, someone darted past her, yielding only a brief peripheral glimpse.  But observing him was the last thing on Angel's mind in this time of crisis!  The unidentified man scaled the guard wall and joined Roger and Ralph in the ocean, while Angel dashed inside to fetch more help.  Twenty seconds later, an ad hoc rescue squad clad in life jackets and equipped with life rafts stormed onto the deck and dove into the water.  Those brawny young men were comprised of professional lifeguards and off-duty Marines -- all commissioned by The Leader.  Their duty was to keep a vigil on the deck twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week -- in rotating alternation.  But the trio that was stationed on upper deck aft Command Post for Sunday mornings had been playing pool in the game room.  Dereliction by Sea Gypsy personnel was rare, but inexcusable.  They were destined to be punished by The Leader!!

        A sobbing Angel rushed back on the deck.  She was accompanied by a host of other Liberators who'd been aroused by the commotion.  Several of her closest girlfriends approached her and attempted to console her after she apprised them of the predicament involving her husband.  But it didn't work; she was too distraught!  She couldn't even bare to look overboard.  Eight agonizing minutes elapsed without anyone emerging up on the deck from the water below.  Angel's hope of Ralph and Roger's survival decreased along with each passing second.  But she'd stopped crying, and had already begun the acceptance process.

        Angel and her friends stood twenty-five feet away from the guard wall while most of the other nervous Liberators on the deck were ocean-gazing spectators.  The emergency was ticking in its eleventh minute, and the prospects of [live] retrieval seemed bleak to everyone.  Angel broke down and started weeping again.  Her closest friend just rubbed her shoulder, knowing that no words could soothe her psyche.  However, unbeknownst to them, a member of the rescue team was climbing up the hanging deployment rope, which was previously released from its coil to drop down the hull's side frame.  When Angel caught sight of him boarding the ship, she languidly approached him, expecting to receive tragic news.

        "Sir, excuse me.  My husband is one of the people you've been looking for down there.  Is there anything you can tell me??"

        "Ma'am, at this time, I can't tell you much.  All I can say is that we've been doing our best.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to get a bunch of aqualungs," he said impatiently.

        "What's that?" Angel inquired.  [She instantly regretted asking the question!  In immediate retrospect, it was a most unfitting time for an educational-related inquiry.]

        "An aqualung is a portable underwater breathing apparatus, he hastily defined, his impatience with her obviously growing, bordering on anger.

        "Oh," Angel sheepishly said, slightly embarrassed after she picked up on the irritated tone of his voice.  Overwhelming stress had caused her to behave inappropriately.  But all this wasn't her fault!!!  And it wasn't even Roger's -- he was just a kid and couldn't be held accountable for his actions.  One shift was definitely to blame.  As a combined unit, they're supposed to be present on each deck at ALL times!  This dawned on Angel and she became very angry!  "Negligent bums!" she muttered.

        Angel finally decided to survey the task-force occupied section of the vast sea.  Currently, there were four visible men in that particular zone.  Occasionally, a head would pop up above the water's surface, and then another head dipped under.  She could see how those aqualungs would facilitate and ameliorate the unified search effort.  However, the oncoming upgrade only slightly uplifted her spirits.  For, she was almost certain that they had all drowned by now.  Then her roaming blue eyes spotted something curious transpiring in the water down below.  All of the men were converging toward one central area -- as if they were having a group meeting or something.



        The Leader, who had thus far been comforting Mr. and Mrs. Freeder, walked up to Angel.  He simply hugged her and said, "It'll be okay!"  But it was the WAY he said it, the WAY he looked at her when he said it!  For the first time since the nightmarish episode began, she felt a little better.  The Leader had that alleviating effect on everyone during any conceivable crisis situation, regardless of how severe.  He had the magical ability to offer instant consolation during times of trouble!  That was just another one of his amazing attributes.  Truly, there was none other like The Leader!  Angel thanked him, and returned her tear-glazed eyes out onto the sea.

        "Oh, my God!" she gasped, and placed her right hand over her beating heart.  It looked like they were lifting someone out of the water and preparing to place him on one of the life rafts.  Now Angel saw him a little more clearly.  Judging by the size of his body, it was unmistakably Roger.  Misidentifying him for Ralph, even at that distance, would be like seeing a poodle and thinking it was a Great Dane. (Angel would never make the analogy error either because, being an animal lover, she was quite familiar with poodles and Great Danes, the latter was her favorite breed due to their size.)  So, while Angel was glad that they had obtained Roger, and hoped that he was still alive, her anxious thoughts quickly switched back to her beloved husband.

        The Leader rejoined the Freeders.  They were undergoing an emotional upheaval, induced by the sight of their only begotten son being brought up.  They still didn't know whether he was dead or alive.  Little Roger was carefully hoisted over the guard wall, and gently placed on the deck.  The first thing they did was to delicately position him on his side, and then lay him flat on his chest.  That was to allow all that ocean water accumulated in his lungs to gush out of his mouth orifice.  Then they turned him over on his back.  One man pumped his chest, and then another man gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  They took turns pumping his chest and breathing through his mouth until the chest pumper triumphantly announced, "He's breathing!"

        It'll be okay; It'll be okay; It'll be okay!  Those three words The Leader spoke kept replaying in Angel's mind like a magical chant.  The lifeguards swam toward each other again.  Angel hoped that the reassembly indicated another bodily discovery.  Although she feared that it would just be a body devoid of life.  Yes!  Someone else was definitely being exhumed.  But it was difficult to ascertain whether the man in question was her husband or the fleeting stranger.  A good number of rescue men surrounded the individual, and her viewing angle was less than ideal.  What's more, the crew was farther out than the previous location where they delivered little Roger from the ocean's claim.

        As the life raft floated closer and closer toward the ship, Angel concluded that, yes, it was, indeed, Ralph!  The fifty-percent chance [of it being him or not him] had gone her way.  But, not surprisingly--taking into consideration the amount of time he'd been submerged under water-- he wasn't moving at all, and his eyes were sealed shut.  They employed a pulley/body attachment to haul him aboard.  After he was transferred onto the deck, Angel watched them perform the same CPR procedure that they had applied on Roger.  But would Ralph also turn out to be a survivor???  Angel was fervently praying for that outcome as the guys tried to revive him!

        Two recovered bodies, one salvaged life, and one M.I.S. ("Missing in Sea"); that was the rescue squad's progress report thus far.  Ralph was placed on a gurney and transported to the ship's hospital unit.  Angel trailed them along the way.  A lot of water was out of his body, but he was still not breathing.  Once in the emergency ward, he was quickly hooked up to an automated oxygen machine.



Meanwhile, an inner calm in the midst of the crisis came upon Angel.  It'll be okay; It'll be okay; It'll be okay!  She continued to hear those spellbinding words in her head, and she felt their strange power in her heart.  As she took a deep breath, the final ounce of fear dissipated.  For the very first time in her twenty-six years on Earth, she had the miraculous spirit of faith!  The Leader had planted the seed of faith in her soul.  Despite the lack of any promising indications, the woman somehow knew that her husband would make it.  Survival was simply meant to be!  It was almost as if it had already happened!  Faith!  Now Angel knew the meaning of the word!  It was, indeed, a wonderful thing!  How had I gone without it all this time, she wondered.

        The oxygen-supply system beeped every three seconds.  As for Angel's breathing, it was deep and regular.  Her heartbeat was normal.  Her body was relaxed.  Her mind was peaceful.  She was feeling the liberating effects of perfect faith!

        While Angel was looking at Ralph lying on the bed, she saw something that defied logic, and substantiated her faith.  It was a contour of glowing, white light which enveloped Ralph's body from head to feet.  It was a beautiful aura, and it shone for only a few seconds before dissolving.  Angel figured that The Leader must be well aware of the white light phenomenon because he named his organization 'The White Light Liberators!'  How amazing!

        Later on, a doctor walked up to Angel and stoically said, "Mrs. Oxner, I want to prepare you for the worst.  Your husband's brain was deprived of large amounts of oxygen for an extended period of time.  In all probability, it'll result in severe brain damage.  He might be in a vegetable state for the rest of his life."

        "No, he won't!!" Angel firmly contradicted.  "He WON'T be a vegetable," she reiterated.  The skeptical doctor, having ample medical knowledge but absolutely no spiritual comprehension of faith, construed her statement as a sign of denial.  "Well, I hope you're right," he said, and walked away.  Angel knelt over the bed and kissed Ralph's cheek.  Then she whispered, "You foolish hero!" in his ear.

        An altruistic thought entered Angel's mind: What about the third guy that went in the ocean?  Did they fish him out, as well??  Although she didn't know who he was, she was nevertheless concerned for him.  Since Ralph didn't need her now, she took a leave of absence to go on the deck.  Once there, she approached the first person she saw.  That individual was a big, burly, bald, middle-aged black man.  A gold stud ring was in his left earlobe, and he wore a white tank top.  An area of flesh on his upper left arm was marred by the scorching heat of a metal brand.  The intentionally applied blister mark formed the shape of an oval inside of a triangle.  Angel briefly wondered what the design meant, but she was too preoccupied with present concerns to ask him.  She inquired if the other man was still in the water.

        "Lady, the rescue unit got out of the ocean about ten minutes ago by the skin of their teeth, and that's all they care about.  They couldn't care less about that dude now!"

        Angel was taken aback by his reply.  "What do you mean?" she asked, confounded.

        He motioned for her to follow him up to the guard wall.  When they got there, he pointed his index finger and said, "That's what I mean."  Angel was aghast to see long, white, projecting fins flowing over a crimson tainted surface.  "Ma'am, those are sharks!" he unnecessarily stated, thinking he was informing her of something, but it was quite obvious.  "And the red in the water tells me that the shark diners just had human for lunch in the Atlantic Ocean restaurant!"  Another needless explanation.



        Angel considered his articulation rather uncouth and unsympathetic, but she sensed that there was probably a decent guy hiding behind that macho, rough-edged exterior.

        "That's terrible!  I feel so sorry for him," good-hearted Angel exclaimed.  "Do you know his name?"

        "No, but I can try to find that out for you."

        "Thank you," said Angel.

        While he was gone, Angel thought of all the men on The Sea Gypsy that she was acquainted with, and naturally hoped that they were all alive.  A few minutes later, he returned and said, "It's a guy by the name of Jason Brown.  Angel's eyes enlarged and she repeated: "Jason Brown??!!" in consternation.  Jason hadn't even crossed her mind because he was the very LAST person she'd expect to risk his life to save someone else's life.  Jason Brown, a hero too!

        Jason Brown, she murmered to herself after the informant walked away.  Her present emotions were confused and conflicted.  A part of her was relieved that a chronic thorn was finally out of her side.  But, despite his arrogant personality and abysmal conduct, she was, nevertheless, saddened by the news.  Angel knew that she would have to evaluate Jason Brown's death... and reevaluate his life!


        On a chilly Sunday morning, beneath a red stop light, Miss Frances Queen Prescott sat idly behind the wheel of her cherished Volkswagon Passat.  She was on her merry way to Morning Dove Baptist Church for the fourth consecutive time.  Frances was looking forward to seeing her newly acquired friends and hearing the upcoming sermon.  And, as for her ulterior motive: she would definitely be on the man-prowl again, but that was no longer her primary reason for attending church.  The church experience was cool and she felt like she belonged at the place.  Furthermore, it was to the point of gratifying her need for spiritual fulfillment.  However, she realized that the vast majority of "worship" centers out there would've had the opposite effect -- namely, being spiritually draining!  What exactly is it that sets this particular church apart, she asked herself as she waited for the long light to change.  She already knew that Morning Dove Baptist Church had a wide range of special qualities.  First and foremost, the pastor ruled!  And his flock was like ancient Israel's chosen people in character and deed.  But there was something else about Morning Dove Baptist Church that she couldn't quite put her finger on!  It was almost as if she could sense the presence of angels as soon as she walked inside.  Nah, I'm just being superstitious, she told herself.

        The light finally turned green.  The pretty driver applied gradual pressure on the gas pedal, and the car smoothly accelerated along Seven Forks Road.  A few miles, and a few deep thoughts later, she was pulling into Morning Dove's gravel parking lot.  But before she opened the door, she closed her eyes and whispered her personal mantra: God and Fate!  She repeated it twelve times, which was her rigid ritual prior to every service, as well as other select times throughout the day; such as after awakening and before eating a meal.  How to Attract your Soul Mate through Psychic Intuition recommended the practice, but Frances came up with the content.  The eminent Jesuit author, Levi Manguminus, clearly explained in the text of the book why and how "power words," such as these, are an essential element to the esoteric arts of universal magnetic invitation and divinity affinity alliance, as well as simple psychological conditioning.



        Right after Frances entered the white building, her bourgeoning psychic intuition silently, but emphatically, directed her exactly where to sit, which was in the front row, on the left side of the aisle, toward the far end of the pew.  Ever since that first day of church a month ago, she'd been seated next to her buddies, Sarah and Neal, way back on the succeeding row of the one farthest from the pulpit.  Frances knew that she'd miss their company, and also hoped that they wouldn't misconstrue the relocate as an act of rejection.  She was very sensitive to others' feelings.  However, intuition called!

        People were piling in, chatting with each other, and sitting down.  But, as of yet, absolutely no one had joined her on the long, wooden bench.  She had it all to herself.  Frances glanced over and saw that the adjacent pew was amply occupied, in contrast to the one on which she sat.  Scant space was available for an additional adult body.  Frances gazed behind her shoulder to survey the array of the rows of pews on each side of the aisle.  She spotted no sparse spots in the entire congregational area of the church.  Therefore, her particular pew was a peculiar anomaly; especially considering the fact that it was up front where a lot of people preferred to situate themselves in order to get a close-up view of their venerated pastor.  Apparently,she was being shunned.  Perhaps everyone was somehow wise to her original intention of using church as a medium to meet a man, she surmised.  Now, she was the one who felt rejected!  However, she maintained absolute trust in her subconscious mind's guidance.  The Mickey Mouse watch she wore on her left wrist read 9:48.  Pastor Halloway was scheduled to take the podium in twelve minutes.  In the meantime, she would read her Bible, she resolved.  She indiscriminately opened up the thick Old Testament and it landed on pages 732 and 733.  Then she proceeded to read Daniel 4:13 on page 733: I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven.  Frances remembered Gayle saying that her ancestors came from the sky.  Could they have been these "watchers," she wondered.

        Within a couple of minutes, Fran's scriptural perusal was interrupted by vocal chords.  "Excuse me" were the words they formed.  She looked up from her Bible.  Instantly, she knew that the tall, handsome gentleman with a charming smile was her long-awaited soul mate.  For this was "love at first sight" in all its meaning!!!

        Reading Gayle's book and following the psychic exercises printed therein obviously paid off... BIG TIME!

        "May I sit beside you," he courteously asked.

        Fran's heart pounded.  "Be my guest!" she enthusiastically consented.  Her spellbound green eyes were locked on his light blue pair.  By focusing intently on them, she was able to discern that they reflected the free spirit of an eagle and the sacred soul of a saint.

        As he took a seat on the strip of glossy, brown, veneer hardwood, she raised her right arm and placed her hand on her chest -- over her accelerated heart.  Her sitting-companion glimpsed the feminine gesticulation, and felt both surprised and flattered that he had such a powerful effect on the lady's psyche.  And the first impression was mutual!  Aside from her radiant eyes, soft skin, and delicate features, there was a certain sparkle and an effervescent air that distinguished this woman from all the other beautiful fish in the sea!  It was like a corresponding aura of attraction.

        "Hi.  My name is Richard Briggs," he introduced himself.

        Mine is Frances Prescott."  She extended her hand, and literally felt goose bumps arise on her back when he clasped it.

        "I'm pleased to meet you, Ms. Prescott."

        "Likewise!" she flirtatiously returned in the way that women can with a single word.



        "So, how long have you been going to this church," inquired Richard.

        "Actually, not long at all.  This is only my fourth time here at Morning Dove.  But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is the right church for me!  I love everything about it, and I believe that God and fate arranged my destination!  I haven't seen YOU before today.  Is this your first visit?"

        "It sure is, ma'am.  I've been 'church hopping' since I moved to North Carolina to attend the seminary.  I'm searching for a church to call 'home,' but the ones I've checked out so far have been pretty sorry."

        With a raised eyebrow, Fran said, "So... you're a seminary student, huh?!" (Last month's sermon had entered her mind when he said that, prompting her to wonder about the man a tad, but not greatly because she knew that not all of them are the same.)

        "Yeah, I'm studying to be a pastor.  One day I'll be standing up on the pulpit instead of sitting in the pew.  All eyes and ears will be on me.  It's gonna be great!"

        "Well, just a word of advice: don't tell anyone here that you are..."  Fran's sentence was interrupted by Pastor Halloway's microphone-enhanced voice.

        "Good morning, my precious flock.  I hope you all had a joyful week, filled with good works.  As for Patti and I, we've been ministering to a lot of people in distress lately and some of them have expressed an interest in attending this church.  So, hopefully pretty soon we'll have a few additional members!  By the way... on the first row... I think I see a fresh face.  And I mean that literally as well as figuratively."  Frances knew that Pastor Halloway was referring to his boyish visage.  Richard, knowing too, looked over at her and smiled; he enjoyed hearing himself being introduced to the congregation.  "Welcome to Morning Dove Baptist Church, sir."

        "Now, Patti and I will be taking the van to the homeless shelter next Sunday, so if any of you would like to come along with us, we'd love to have you.  We'll be leaving after the service ends, so be sure to..."  Pastor Halloway noticed that the newcomer was standing with his arm raised.  "Yes, sir?" he said from the pulpit.

        "I just want to thank you for welcoming me to your church, Pastor."  Richard's voice was strong, loud and clear.  After saying that appreciative remark, he sat back down beside Frances.

        This time, Pastor Halloway didn't take his focus off of him.  Instead, he personally invited him to team up with them at the homeless shelter the following week.  Richard stood up again, and graciously accepted the invitation.

        Then, Pastor Halloway said, "Sir, you don't seem to be the timid type.  This is your first day here and you're sitting up front and being very outspoken.  I think I could use you for many of our outreach programs.  How about you come up here and tell everyone a little about yourself, young man."

        Richard thought: Wow, when I told Frances that in the future I'd be standing on the pulpit... I didn't imagine it would be THIS soon in the future!  The aspiring preacher was delighted that he was being given the uncommon privilege of standing on high before a receptive crowd to get a taste of his chosen profession.

        Before Frances knew it, Richard was looking down at her [from the pulpit] with a smirk on his face and a confident beam in his eyes.  He winked one at her, and she reactively smiled.  This is amazing, she thought.

        He began his ad lib address: "First off, I'd like to thank Pastor Halloway for granting me this golden opportunity to bond with the ladies, gentlemen, and children assembled under the roof of Morning Dove Baptist Church."  Everyone marveled at the articulation of his opening statement.  And Frances could already forsee that he would be an outstanding preacher!  "What can I say about myself?  Well, I guess I'll start with the basics: My name is Richard Briggs.  That's pretty basic, isn't it?!"  Laughs resounded.



"I'm from Fort Lauderdale, Florida... and, contrary to the stereotype associated with it, I'm not a party animal, nor any other type of animal, for that matter."  Laughs returned.  "Also, my deep southern accent is not typical of most South Floridians.  So, I guess I was sort of an oddity down there.  I credit my Alabama roots for my accent, by the way, which I am very proud of; both the accent and my home state.  I'm 22-years-old and I'm a Virgo.  Get this, ya'll... I'm an ex-cop!  That's right!  I know I don't look much like a policeman.  But it wasn't long ago that I was spoiling peoples' days by handing them tickets for petty stuff like not wearing seat belts and failure to come to a complete stop at a stop sign.  I also combated ruthless thugs every now and then -- just to let you know that my job wasn't all about annoying the public; I protected it, as well!

        "The reason I quit the force is a very sensitive subject for me and, in due time, I'll share it with all of you.  But the irony is that it took a tragic event to lead me to a closer relationship with God.  I think that everyone can learn a lot from my experiences.  The career path I'm headed down now is the polar opposite of what I used to do for a living.  I'm going to be delivering sermons every Sunday morning, just like Pastor Halloway.  I can already hear people calling me 'Pastor Briggs.'  I liked the sound of 'Officer Briggs,' but I'm pretty sure that I'll like 'Pastor Briggs' even more!  So, now I guess you could say that I'm closer in overall alignment with my inherent makeup; my face matches my field; my accent coincides a little better with my vicinity; and my conservative lifestyle is more in-keeping with a small town.  By the way, I live in Lake Forest.  And I almost forgot to mention that I'm enrolled at Southeastern Institute of Theology.  Pastor Halloway just mentioned an upcoming mission to a homeless shelter.  I think that's great!  I love being of service to those in need!  I'm sure I'll enjoy lending a helping hand to homeless people.  I'd also like to do a lot with kids."  Frances blurted, "Oh, shit!!" in a half whisper, under her breath, though rather audibly.  Then she immediately put her hand over her mouth.  Taking into consideration the shameful history of the seminary--crimes against minors--she knew the impact the part about "kids" would have on the congregation!  "Well, I enjoyed sharing myself with you people, and I appreciate Pastor Halloway's hospitality in allowing me to do so.  Thank you very much."  Richard left the microphone and began to step down from the pulpit.

        The assembly was murmuring amongst themselves about the nature of Richard's closing comments.  Meanwhile, Frances dropped her face in her hands as Richard walked over to rejoin her on the pew.  He noticed her obviously distressed body language and said, "What's wrong??  Didn't you like my speech??"

        "Yes and no," she responded.

        "What do you mean?" he asked, with confusion etched on his countenance.

        "I'll explain it to you after the service is over," she whispered.

        Pastor Halloway was taking center stage again.  He knew that Richard had just gone from being the star of the church to a man under suspicion of pedophilia.  Although the good Reverend wasn't one to rush to judgement, he wasn't about to take any chances when children were at stake.  He lowered his head and spoke into the microphone: "Umm... Okay, Mr. Briggs.  You stated that you'd like to do a lot with kids, but the problem is that--at this church--that sort of thing is disallowed.  I'm sure the seminary would take a much more lenient stance, but, as for me, I'm sorry, but I can't cater to your 'special interest.'  Access denied!  Maybe this isn't the right church for you after all!"

        Pastor Halloway wasn't thinking about salvaging Richard's tarnished reputation.  His only concern at the time-being was safeguarding children from--what he considered to be--clear and present danger.  They were, as always, his top priority!  Therefore, highly suggestive follow-up comments added fuel to the fire.  The prevailing sentiment of the kind hearted, but pedophile hating, church folk was that the seminary student in their presence was a disgusting, low-life, scumbag, piece of trash.



Most of the men, especially fathers of young boys, felt like ripping Richard to shreds!  A few tough guys stood up, about to toss him out the door on his face, but their wives insisted that they sit back down.  "Pastor Halloway will take care of it," one said, while tugging on her husband's sleeve.

        Frances, his only advocate, sensed the tension in the air.  So, while Pastor Halloway was getting on with the regularly scheduled sermon, she tapped Richard on the shoulder, stood up, and motioned for him to trail her.  As they nervously walked down the aisle, a lot of men and women sitting in the pews looked up at the passer-by with murderous expressions on their faces.  That normally mellow crowd was beyond belligerent!  They wanted to kill the dude!  And Richard wanted to kill Pastor Halloway!

        When they got outside, Richard fumed, "Did you hear what the pastor said after my speech?!  That made me look like I'm out to prey on children!  YOU KNOW what he was trying to insinuate!  'I can't cater to your special interest.'  Can you believe his word-choice?!  He knew what he was doing!  That was sleazy!  It was downright reprehensible, I tell you!  It's defamation of character, is what it is!  And that makes it criminal!  I know what's going on: he's thinking that I stole his spotlight and that they like me more than him.  So he figures he has to win the popularity contest by crucifying the competition."

        Frances cut in, "Richard, I don't think that's the case.  Pastor Halloway isn't jealous of you.  He's just really suspicious of men that attend the seminary."

        "What could he possibly have against us seminary students??" he asked, befuddled.

        "Richard, didn't you hear about the scandal??"

        "Scandal?  What scandal??"

        "That's right, you haven't been here long enough to have read about it in the local papers, or see it on the news.  Well, to bring you up to date: what happened is that... not one, but TWO, seminary students were arrested for sexually assaulting boys," informed Frances.

        "That's disgusting!!!" roared Richard.

        "One is already in jail, and the other is awaiting trial," she detailed.  "So when you indicated that you wanted to do stuff with kids, I guess everyone, including the pastor, just took it the wrong way and jumped to a really negative conclusion," she explained.

        "Damn!  I didn't even know that there were people like that at the seminary!  I thought they were all loving Christians with pure hearts.  I guess I'm just naive."

        "You're young, Richard.  You'll learn more about people as you mature.  They're not always as they seem."

        "This totally sucks!  I can't believe that all those people in there actually think that I'm a freaking child molester.  I'd rather for them to think that I'm a serial killer if I had to choose between the two."

        "Well, Richard, I think the damage has been done.  We'd better just find another church."

        "No!!!" declared Richard.  "I'm going to confront this situation head-on!" he emphatically stated.

        Frances admired his fortitude, but she feared that his rash decision was unwise.  "There's nothing you can say that will change their minds!  They'll think what they want to think!" she protested.

        "Maybe so, but I still need to speak up for myself and defend my honor instead of retreating like a coward!"

        Acting on pride and determination, he turned his back on Frances and headed straight for the door with long, fast, angry strides.

        "Richard, no!!  You're only going to make things worse!" she hollered.



        Paying no attention to her, he violently swung the door open and was quickly out of sight.  Now he was in the interior realm of the building.  Frances chose to remain outside and pray.  He was in hostile territory and she didn't care to witness the scene.  But then it occurred to her that if there was a mob attack on her brave, new friend, her presence would be necessary to call 911.

        Upon entering, she saw Richard, once again, standing on Pastor Halloway's perch atop the pulpit.  The latter had moved--had been forcibly moved--to the side, and a frown had formed on his face.  Also, his arms were crossed in a fold between his stomach and chest.  He was clearly perturbed!

        "The jerk's disrupting your sermon!" one man shouted.  Another one said, "Yeah!  He's just taking over!  He practically pushed you off your own pulpit!  Who the hell does he think he is?!"  An old woman angrily cried out, "Get down from there, you filthy pedophile!"

        "Please, listen to what I have to say!  I hate to barge in on the sermon like this, but I desperately need to clear up a gross misunderstanding.  Something I said was construed incorrectly.  See, when I mentioned my desire to be around kids a few minutes ago, my mentality was innocent instead of insidious.  It has just come to my attention that a couple of S.I.T. students have committed sex offenses against minors.  Hearing that news made my blood boil!  In my mind, there's nothing more repugnant than the violation of a child!!  That being said, I don't think it's fair for me to be found guilty by association!  I invite the pastor to do a criminal background check on me and publicize his findings.  I'll even pay for it!  You all will hear that I have a spotless record.  I would love to be a part of this church, if you'll have me.  But I don't want to be a member if I will never be trusted.  That's all I have to say.  Thank you for listening to me again!"

        Richard descended the steps and headed down the aisle for the door.  That's where Frances stood, waiting for him.  They hugged each other for a prolonged amount of time as everyone stared at them.  Someone could've heard a pin drop, it was so quiet in the place.  Richard was about to open the door when he heard Halloway call out, "Mr. Briggs, hold up!"  He turned around to face the front of the church, where the ring leader was standing on his pulpit.

        "Sir, I owe you an apology!  It was wrong for me to assume the worst, and suggest that you don't belong here at Morning Dove.  I simply overreacted to what you said.  I know now that you didn't mean anything by it... at least not what I suspected.  But in this day and age, with all these perverts running around, it's easy to get a little paranoid at times.  However, you shouldn't have to pay for the sins of your peers!  I see it this way: if you were a pedophile, you wouldn't have brazenly stormed the stage to defend yourself.  You would've felt caught, and your immediate thoughts would've been on finding another church to search for children.  In other words, you would've had no need for this church after I made you feel like you're on the radar.  That's my rationale for exonerating you of predatory aims.  No background check will be necessary.  I trust you, son.  You're more than welcome at this church, right now, as you are!  But if you want to hang with us, you'll have to promise me that you'll keep an eye on those seminary punks, and use your law enforcement experience to gather evidence on them if you have reason to believe that they're up to no good!"

        Richard started walking toward the platform, leaving Frances alone at the door.  All eyes were upon him as he traversed the full length of the aisle from back to front.  The atmosphere was dead-silent again.  Everyone was anxious to hear the young man's pronouncement.  No one was more apprehensive than Frances.  Her man ascended the steps, and stood on the podium, behind the microphone, for the third time.  Then, his deep southern voice spoke into it: "Pastor Halloway, it's a deal!  Consider me a member of Morning Dove, and a spy!"  As the two shook hands and embraced, the congregation exploded in applause.  In a matter of minutes, Richard had gone from being a star to a villain to what he was now: a hero.  And his biggest admirer was his soul mate!




        Directly following the roller-coaster service, Frances was on her way to Magical Universe Supply Thrift Haven.  She had some fantastic news to share with her friend, and spiritual advisor, Gayle Rosedale.  She also thought back to the Daniel 4:13 verse, and planned to ask Gayle if it referred to her Gypsy race.  The incredible events of the day were almost too wild to recount, she thought.  And it wasn't even noon yet!  If any more surprises come my way today, I'll probably need to meditate for a long time to calm my mind! she said to herself while driving.

        It dawned on Frances that the invaluable book she borrowed could be returned because, now that it had served its purpose, she no longer needed it.  She was in the habit of carrying it with her wherever she went, and this morning was no exception.

        The elated lady enetered the thrift store's parking lot, parked, and looked on the back seat.  How to Attract your Soul Mate through Psychic Intuition was missing!  She clearly remembered laying it on the back seat, along with her Bible, a few hours ago.  Maybe it had slid off the seat when she had come to a stop, she thought.  But when she got out and looked on the floor base behind the front seats, and under them as well, she found out that it was not down there either.  That's strange, she said to herself.  I could've sworn that I left the book on the back seat this morning!  She doubted that anyone had broken into the car and stole it in a church parking lot.  Who would break into a car just to steal a book? she thought.  Besides, she always locked her doors, and her car was equipped with an alarm system.  What's more, she'd left her pocketbook up front on the passenger's seat and it was undisturbed.  It would take one exceptional thief, of the rare "book worm" variety, to snatch a book and leave a pocketbook alone!!  She simply couldn't figure out what happened to the sizeable text, so she just shrugged it off as a mystery.  Maybe it'll show up somewhere sometime in the future, she murmured.  But it was so strange how it seemed to disappear!  She supposed that Gayle wouldn't be too upset about its loss because that happily married woman wouldn't need the book for her own interests, and she probably wouldn't be handing it over to anyone else any time soon.  Although, she'd surely be delighted that it came in handy and led her to her beloved soul mate -- just like the title indicated.  Frances had so much to say about Richard and how she felt about him.  She couldn't wait to let it all out of her system!  She reminded herself to inquire about Daniel 4:13.

        Frances opened the stoor door, but she didn't hear the familiar bell which jingled each time someone came inside.  Gayle must have taken it down for some reason, she supposed.  She crossed the threshold and looked around for the wise Gypsy.  It was immediately apparent that Gayle was downsizing the stock drastically; there was less of everything, and, consequently, far more empty space.  Furthermore, the substance of the items on display was of a different variety.  For example, there were a lot more electronic supplies--like TV's and computers--while there were no clothes, nor books, in view.  The structure of the interior was totally altered!  It showed no signs of renovation last week when she visited for coffee and a chat.  But now it was like a new place altogether!  Frances wondered how Gayle had time to do all this remodeling within such a short amount of time.



        A woman whom she'd never seen before came strolling toward her from the other end of the store.  She was middle-aged, of medium height, with a slight build, and a weathered face.  "Can I help you?" she asked, in a phlegmatic tone, as she approached.

        "I came here to see Gayle," Frances replied.

        "Gayle???" she repeated, clueless.  The woman's brow furrowed, and her blue eyes rolled up in thought.  She looked like she was intently trying to place the name with a face.

        Frances was very surprised that the woman seemed not to know whom she was talking about.  "Gayle Rosedale... YOU KNOW... the owner!" Frances specified.

        "Oh!!!" she excitably exclaimed, now remembering.  You're talking about that old Gypsy woman?!?"  Frances nodded.  "She died about eight years ago.  That's when I took over the store.  She was a real crank, but a good person!  Sorry.  Is there anything else I can help you with?"

        An expression of absolute shock came upon Fran's face.  She realized that, all this time, she'd been consorting with a ghost.

        "Are you all right?" the woman asked, in reaction to her dazed look.

        Frances was too emotionally jolted to offer a one-word reply, or even take-in the hackneyed question, for that matter.  Indeed, it would take quite a long time, if ever, for her to be able to mentally digest the unimaginable news she'd just received!