CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Before she went into her father's room, Jenny called the bookstore. "Dad's in bad shape, Carole," she said. I won't leave here until he's well."

       Carole, sensitive to Jenny's subdued tone, softly asked, "Is he going to be all right, Jenny?"

       "I don't know if he'll come out of this Carole. He suffered a heart attack when the earthquake struck. Frankly, his doctor isn't very encouraging."

       "Take as long as you need. Don't worry about the shop. I took your advice and hired two more people. That's how busy we are. You've had a dreadful experience with that horrible earthquake. I don't want you to even think of coming home until your dad's well. I keep the television on in the store all day and watch the news from home at night. I'm praying with all my might for both of you."

       Jenny sighed. "There are no words to explain an earthquake, Carole. It's even muddled in my own mind not to mention some other things I'll tell you about later."

       Jenny's memories of Curly's hand on her mouth, tying her to a chair and shoving her into the tiny cupola were still vivid and sent shivers through her body. How close she had come to death she didn't know. She thought of the divine intervention Alex had mentioned. She'd never ridicule miracles again.

       "So," Carole asked. "Anything you can tell me now? How about that FBI guy you mentioned?"

       "He's just part of this nightmare, that's all."

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       "Oh? I thought you sounded a little interested in him. By the way, Bruce has been calling. Wants to know when you're coming home."

       "Why don't you go to dinner with him?"

       "Bruce and me?" Carole laughed. "you must be kidding. I don't think so."

       "You could do worse, Carole."

       "So why don't you grab him?"

       Jenny half-laughed and promised to call soon. Carole's banter had lifted her spirits. She walked into her father's room, stood at his bedside and touched his arm. Her heartbeat quickened when he opened his eyes.

       "Oh, Jenny," he could scarcely be heard. "Thank God, you're safe."

       "Thank God is right, Daddy." She hesitated. "About the briefcase..."

       He shook his head. "It no longer matters." Jenny bent to hear his low murmur. "Give the money to the police."

       "Money?"

       "I was pinned under a table in terrible pain," he said. "A scene appeared before my eyes. Almost like a vision. Remember Christmas Eve when we'd go to church with Mother?"

       "Yes Dad." She desperately wanted to ask him what he meant about giving the money to the police, but obviously he had something of importance on his mind.

       "I'd wondered then what those words meant over the wooden cross on the pulpit."

       "What words, Daddy?"

       He closed his eyes. "Now I know."

       "What did it say, Daddy?"

       And suddenly Philip spoke clearly, a faint smile touching his lips, " 'And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.' At the time, I was puzzled. Couldn't figure what they meant."

       "And you know now?"

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       Philip squeezed Jenny's hand. "Don't you see, honey? It means that Mother was right. That cross draws all men to Jesus because it's at the cross where we find forgiveness for our sins...for my sins. His resurrection vindicates his death. I didn't want to believe for so long. I wanted to go my own way, run my own life. But, as you see, I made a mess of everything.

       "You've been a wonderful husband to Mother and a great father to me."

       Philip squeezed her hand. A tear was rolling down his cheek. "Finally, I understand what my darling Althea was trying to tell me. God was there for me when I needed Him. And I surrendered my life to Him... as worthless as it's been." His last words were barely a whisper. "I'm ready now." He closed his eyes.

       "Daddy?" Jenny bent low to whisper close to his ear. "What money?

       No response. She gently took his hand. Tears were blurring her eyes as she looked down at his ashen face.

       "Oh, Daddy," she released a shaky breath. "I don't know how this horror came into your life, but I know you are honorable and the best father in the world." She was weeping openly now, her voice scarcely a whisper. "I love you. Can you hear me, Daddy?"

       His head was turned away from her and his once fair hair had turned white since he'd been away. And no wonder, she thought. How lonely he must have been. He'd lost everything he held dear, his wife, his career, and now his own life. And for what? Her tears tapered to sniffles.

       And what was he saying about giving money to the police? What money? A paralyzing moment of sudden insight clouded her thoughts. Was Alex right in assuming her father had stolen funds from the mafia? She closed her mind to the incomprehensible notion.

       She dragged a chair close to his bed, sank into it and closed her eyes. An aftershock shook the hospital room and she gripped the edge of the chair with a pounding heart. How could residents of this trembling city ever become accustomed to the sudden shaking? If the earth beneath their feet couldn't be trusted, how solid could their lives be?

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       She drifted into a long ago memory of a Midwestern thunderstorm. She was eight years old, frightened of the roaring thunderstorm and flashing streaks of lightning dancing across the sky. With every rumble, every flash, she'd yanked the blanket over her head. Even Queenie, her puppy, lay under a table by her bed, her ears down, and tail tucked between her legs. She remembered how she'd called for her mother.

       Taking her hand, her mother sang to her in her lovely contralto. Then she said words that Jenny never forgot. "I know you're afraid, but each time you watch the lightning and hear the thunder, think of the awesome power of God. This is the God who loves you. And, remember Jesus said He'd never leave you. I want you to memorize this verse and never forget it. "Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in the Lord."

       How wise Mother had been, Jenny thought. She knew if I memorized that scripture, it would remain in my subconscious forever. And it has.

       God had brought her to a place where she had no one but Him. He had helped her escape from Curly and brought Nathan Klein's car across her path at just the right moment. He'd brought her father low so He could lift him up to understand the meaning of the cross. She had heard the peace in his voice, seen it in his eyes. A line from a familiar hymn floated through her mind. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

       She rested her forehead on her father's arm and silently thanked God for watching over him and for helping her escape. Leaning her head back, her thoughts turned to Alex Kendall. Her attraction for him could no longer be denied. During the chase from Lucas Darke, his presence had been her security. Or, was it part of his assignment in agency training to instill trust and confidence in your victims before you accuse them of wrong dong?

       She had resented his insinuations toward her father and didn't care for his imperious manner and the way he ordered her to stay here or go there. But what if he had been right? What if the answer to the missing money was in the sealed envelope? That misery would soon be solved and then as painful as it might be, she would know and face the truth.

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       The door opened. The U.S. Marshall assigned to guard the door stepped in holding a sandwich, and a steaming cup of coffee. "I thought you might be hungry, Ms. Lansing." He glanced at her dad before he placed the sandwich on a hospital tray.

       "How thoughtful of you." Jenny reached for the paper cup. "You read my mind. I am in need of a cup of coffee and I am hungry."

       Jenny hadn't paid much attention to the guard since she'd arrived. Her mind had been occupied with weightier matters. As he left, she wondered why she felt vague unease. Something wasn't quite right. Wasn't the guard taller, and didn't he have lighter hair?

       She took a bite of her sandwich. My imagination is playing tricks again, she thought, this paranoia has to stop.

       Finishing her sandwich and coffee, Jenny set the cup on the tray. Exhausted from the tension and anxiety, she leaned her head back and closed her eyes. A sudden, heavy weariness overtook her, releasing her conscious thoughts, forcing her into an overwhelming sleep.

       She didn't hear the door open. Nor did she awaken to see the guard return, glance at her with a satisfied smile, and quietly slink around the room.

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