Serial Novel: “Zelphur”


Copyright 2014. Torch Legacy Publications. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner, except for brief quotations included in a review of the book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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Zelphur
Zelphur

by Daniel Whyte III & Meriqua Whyte

To Be a Teen After God’s Own Heart Series

The Wilkinsons face tragedy and changes that threaten to tear the family apart.

Will Zelphur make the right decisions and stick by them no matter what? Or will he buckle under pressure from hateful siblings? Will his older brothers, Greg and Walter, stick by him as he undertakes the huge task before him due to their parents’ deaths?

Will Rheba return home and fulfill her role as an older sister? Or will the fast life hold her in its grasp never to let her go?

What will happen to Zelphur’s younger siblings, Clarissa, Trevor, and Kimba? Will they be torn from the family by a court order only to become another statistic?

Based on the biblical story of Joseph.

EPISODE #1

And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man.
Genesis 39:2

But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good.
Genesis 50:20

1

Mama always told me and my brothers and sisters whenever we were disgruntled about something, “You never know, God may have placed you here for such a time as this.” I often wondered what that meant; when would this ‘time as this’ come for me? I overheard her telling my older brothers once, “Always think of how you can make a difference. Ask yourself each day, what can I do to help? That will be your time.” Well, as a child, I often looked for my time; it never seemed to come, but it did come in a most unusual way.

My father, Jedediah (Papa) Wilkinson, was the son of immigrants from the small island of Jamaica. Grandfather Wilkinson came to America on a farming contract. Grandfather Wilkinson worked so well and honestly that his boss helped him get his permanent visa and filed for his wife and children to take up permanent residence in America. That’s how Papa ended up here on American soil. The world opened up to him then, and he took advantage of any opportunity he could. Grandfather started his own construction company—Wilkinson’s Construction Company—which, after his death, he passed on to Papa. “Of all my sons, Jedediah, you and your brother, Jeb, have proven yourselves.” (Papa had three brothers and two sisters.) “I give you full control because you’re the oldest. I only ask that whatever money you make, promise me you’ll give back to God ten percent as tithe and it wouldn’t hurt to add at least another five percent as a love gift.” Papa kept that promise until the day of his death, and because of that, God blessed the construction business. In fact, God sent more customers his way than he could sometimes handle.

Papa met Mama at a family get together. His sister was getting married and they were throwing a big celebration party for the couple. Mama was his sister’s best friend and maid-of-honor at her wedding. Papa and Mama soon tied the knot themselves, and seven children were the product of that God-blessed union: Greg, Walter, Rheba, then me—Zelphur, next Clarissa, Trevor, and Kimba. Kimba is my baby sister, who, for some reason, we all thought was going to be a boy, and certainly not the last child. But God had other plans. Mama had two miscarriages after that; sadly, she died giving birth to a stillborn.

That last pregnancy had been a difficult one, and it was as though she knew she would not make it. Her last marching orders to us children after lining us up around her bed a week before her death was: “Always ask yourself, what can I do to make a difference?” She made each of us promise we would finish college “by any means necessary,” and that we would love God with all our hearts.

When Mama died, I was thirteen years old. Papa remarried within a year’s time. I believe he felt he needed a female adult to take care of household things and us children more than he needed a companion. Although no one could replace Mama, our new mother, Ms. Betty, as we called her, became a dear friend to us. She was from a well-to-do family, kind of high class, prim and proper, and she stressed education above anything else, along with a love for God, building Godly character, integrity, and honesty—things that Mama instilled in us before her departure. Sadly, God took Ms. Betty home after loaning her to us for four years. By then, I was a freshman (18 years old) in college. Papa wanted to marry again “for the sake of the younger children: Clarissa, Trevor, and Kimba,” but we were strongly against it this time. “Papa, God will take care of us. He always has.” Then Greg who always had to add some humor to all we did, said: “Papa, she may die too.”

Wilkinson’s Construction flourished. Papa employed Walter full time, at least until he decided whether or not to go on to graduate school. Greg was already working in the business. Papa was constantly having problems with Greg and Walter.

Greg was irresponsible, immature, and seemed to pick his way through whatever task was given to him. He was unsure of himself and seemed to become even more so after Mama’s death. “Son,” Papa was always telling him, “wherever you are in life, be all there. Whatever task you are engaged in put all your mind to it. Try to be like your brother, Zelphur.”

Papa had been dealing with Greg about his work ethic since he was a teenager. Papa even limited him as far as having a steady female friend telling him, “Son, a serious female friend leads to marriage, which leads to children, which requires maturity and responsibility and so far, you are lacking in both. I want to turn this business completely over to you to run, but as of now, I can’t. God would not be pleased with me if I did.”

Walter had his issues, too. He was like a wave of the sea; one day he would work well, another day he produced sloppy work. “Walter,” Papa would often tell him, “you have to be consistent. You have to produce the same quality work all the time. Customers won’t know what to expect from you. Inconsistency will ruin the business, son. Your brother, Zelphur, produces the same quality work most of the time. He may fail every now and then because he is not perfect, but I can always depend on him. I want to be able to depend on you as well.”

I helped out in the business also, even though Papa made sure I devoted ample amount of time to my college studies as he did all of us children. Why does Papa have to always put me in the mix when he corrects my older brothers? I did not like that and neither did Greg or Walter. After a while they were getting curt with me, ignoring me, and making smart remarks towards me outside of Papa’s hearing, of course. They would say things like: “You think you’re better than us, huh, Papa’s pet?” “Don’t you get the big head, college boy.” They hated it when Papa asked me for a report of what took place on the job those hours I was there, especially about their behavior while on the job. They also hated it when he asked for my advice on any matter.

2

Our family continued like this for another three years. Papa would daily impart to us his words of wisdom emphasizing loving and being obedient to God, helping others, and looking out for each other. “I want you to practice the fruit of the Spirit always: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith in God, humility and temperance or self-control and moderation in all you do.”

Papa had a freak accident one day. It should not have happened. He was on the roof of a house instructing Greg. He, somehow, missed his step and fell to the ground. He severely injured his spinal cord which left him paralyzed from the waist down and mentally disoriented at times. This greatly disturbed the family. Under Uncle Jeb’s leading we decided to keep him home and tend to him as best we could with the help of a home nurse.

Uncle Jeb, Papa’s brother and right hand man, oversaw the business as best he could. He could only do so much because physically he had lost the use of his right side from a gunshot wound to the head. Even though the bullet was still lodged in his head, he was still very sharp mentally.

You’d think Greg and Walter would get themselves together after Papa’s tragic accident, but they got worse. On top of that, Rheba decided she wanted to go off to modeling school. “I’ll only be gone a year and then I’ll be back. This is something I’ve always wanted. Besides, there is nothing I can really do for Papa.”

“Rheba, you’re the oldest girl. We need you here,” I said to her in an attempt to get her to change her mind. “Can’t you go to modeling school closer to home and commute each day?”

“Listen, Zelphur, I know this may not be the perfect time, but if I don’t go now, I’ll never go. I’ve been saving the money Papa’s been paying me for helping to keep the books and I have enough to pay for a full year up-front. I’ll be back before you know it.” It was a sad day when she left. I believe she was tired of seeing Papa in a wheelchair most of the time or laying down and could not handle his deteriorating condition anymore. I believe she felt helpless and needed a break from it all. If this was the case, I don’t hold it against her for leaving us.

Walter, unknown to anyone, had started drinking and gambling. The stench on his breath the Saturday he came stumbling through the front door at three in the morning was overpowering.

I had been up studying for my finals before graduation. “Where have you been, Walter?” I asked. His response almost threw me off my feet.

“You’re not my daddy, boy! I’m a grown man. I do as I please, Papa’s pet! Now move your butt out of my way before you get run over.” t uh

“You’ve been drinking, Walter. You better get that smell off your breath before you face Papa in the morning and before church. He would be greatly disappointed.”

“Oh, shut up!”

I moved out of his way and as he stumbled on to his room, I picked up a bit of paper that had fallen out of his back pocket. It was tickets to the horse racing tracks in the next city. I assumed he had been gambling.

Greg’s behavior was no better. He started to disrespect Uncle Jeb by talking back, behavior that he did not display when Papa was in good health and when he was around Papa. Maybe he was blaming himself for Papa’s accident. At 23 years of age, he decided to pick up smoking and drinking. He must have been sneaking and doing it all along. All attempts by Uncle Jeb to convince him to stop, fell on deaf ears. I tried to convince him to put away the smoking and drinking, but that, too, fell on deaf ears.

“Greg, you know Papa and Mama would not want you to smoke nor touch alcohol of any kind. You never did that before, so why now? What kind of Christian are you?” I asked.

“A Christian who is tired of playing Christian. I want to be me—not what Papa and Mama want me to be,” Greg replied.

“But they have not been telling you to do anything wrong, Greg—just to love God and live for Him. What’s so wrong about that?” I asked.

“I, little brother, want to experience life out there. This has been too confining, too sheltered.”

“Yes, and for our own good. What example are you setting for Clarissa, Trevor, and Kimba?” I asked.

“It’s only a matter of time, Zelphur,” Greg said, “before you start doing your thing. Right now, you be the example setter.”

“No, Greg. I aim to keep the promise we all made to Mama before she died, and live up to Papa’s expectations of us.”

EPISODE #2

3

The Lord quietly took Papa home about a year after the accident. My world was shaken.

“I lost a good friend—not just a father, but a good friend,” I told Uncle Jeb.

The rest of my siblings expressed sorrow at this great loss in their own way. We were now faced with two major decisions: How would we move forward with Wilkinson’s Construction business? What would become of us as a family?

Uncle Jeb called us to a meeting to help us sort things out. According to the state, Greg, Walter, myself, and Rheba were considered adults and capable of taking care of ourselves. Because of his physical condition, Uncle Jeb doubted if the state would grant him full custody of the younger three. Clarissa was now sixteen, Trevor was fourteen, and Kimba was ten.

“It’s not fair for us to put that burden on Uncle Jeb,” I said to Greg and Walter when I pulled them aside. “We’re old enough to take care of ourselves including Clarissa, Trevor, and Kimba. Why don’t we file for them? On top of that, we’re making enough from the construction business, so money will not be an issue. And this house is paid for. Lest you have forgotten, Papa built it; it was Mama’s dream house. Plus, Uncle Jeb could vouch for us.”

Greg didn’t care and decided it was best for the state to make the decision. As the oldest son, he felt his job was to oversee the operation of Wilkinson’s Construction, and wished Uncle Jeb would just relax and step down.

“This business is not Uncle Jeb’s. It belongs to us,” he told me soon after the funeral. “And I aim to keep it ours.”

“Greg, Uncle Jeb is Papa’s brother and he worked closely with Papa since Grandpa turned it over to him,” I said sharply. “He knows how this business runs like the back of his hand. We all love and trust him. Surely you don’t think he was just waiting around for Papa to die so he could take over?”

“No need to get testy, little bro,” Greg said. “But who’s to say he was not waiting for that to happen? When situations change, people change.”

“Oh, you’re one to talk,” I said. “You know that’s not Uncle Jeb’s character.” I turned to walk away as he snickered.

“As the oldest son, it’s my duty to take over, and that’s what I’ll do,” he said.

I stopped, but didn’t turn around. “And an irresponsible son and brother you have turned out to be. Maybe, just maybe, you were the one waiting for Papa to die.”

I felt badly after I said those words, but they were already said. I knew they hurt him. I could feel his angry gaze on my back as I hurried away.

 

I decided to try talking to Walter alone next, but he decided he would get his own place. “Things are too tight here for me. I need some breathing space. Papa would want me to move on and live my life. He’s always told us he was training us to live life on our own.”

“Yes, Walter, I know, but I think he would want you to hang around long enough to see Clarissa, Trevor, and Kimba taken care of. We have a house with more than enough space to stretch out,” I told him. “You know Papa would want us to stay together as much as we can. Can you stop thinking about yourself for once in your life!”

I could tell from the look on his face that he wasn’t listening to me.

Rheba was still away pursuing her modeling career—I supposed. We hadn’t heard from her in a while. So much for her promise to be gone for only a year.

…………

Uncle Jeb informed us that Papa had signed a will and left it in the safe in the main office, but that now he couldn’t find it. A search of the whole office, including Papa’s office at home, proved futile. Papa’s lawyer told us that Papa had signed the original and took it with him; as far as he knew, Papa hadn’t made any copies.

“Until the will is found, things will remain as is,” Uncle Jeb advised us.

Greg was upset because he wanted to take over immediately.

That same week, we found that some money was missing as had been the case since Papa’s accident. I did not think that any of my siblings took it because Papa and Mama had instilled in us at an early age the need to be honest and truthful and to ask for anything we needed. It certainly was not Uncle Jeb; he had faithfully stood with Papa over the years. None of the other workers knew the combination to the safe. Even though Uncle Jeb bought a new safe in which to keep the money before depositing it in the bank, for some strange reason, the books would never balance out at the end of each month.

“Well, what are you going to do, Zelphur?” Greg asked. “I don’t think continuing college will help you now.”

Without hesitation, I replied, “I am going to do what I promised Mama. I am going on to graduate school and will continue to pursue my dream. I am going to become the owner and manager of my own bank.”

“Ha! You? Owner of a bank? I’ll believe that when I see elephants fly,” he said glancing at Walter. “Maybe I can come by and borrow a few dollars, or will it be pennies? Anything else, dreamer?”

“I never told you this, but this is a dream I had twice: I was sitting in my bank at a large desk and people were coming to me to ask for business loans. I couldn’t recognize most of the people because they were faceless.”

Walter and Greg laughed as they shook their heads.

I continued, “Only one of the people had a face. It was you, Greg. You asked for a loan of $28,000.”

Greg stopped laughing and looked at me with surprise.

“Ah, let him keep on dreaming his crazy dreams,” Walter said.

The truth of the matter is, Walter, but especially Greg, was envious of me because I was a success at just about everything I did. Maybe Greg was afraid that one day he would have to come to me asking for money.

Walter hung around for my graduation, but left a few days later. Rheba sent a card congratulating me with a note saying that all was going well. It was good to hear from her.

…………

I landed a job at the Community Bank when I was twenty-one. God allowed me to find favor in the eyes of the bank owner and manager, Mr. Carlos Costello. That same week I filed for legal guardianship for my younger brother and sisters.

“I feel it’s my responsibility to keep the family together and to make sure they make it through college as we promised our mother. Our father would be pleased with that,” I told Judge McGee.

“Young man, you know you are taking on a huge task at such a young age. Are you sure you can handle it?” Judge McGee asked. Everyone could tell he was just going through the motions. Uncle Jeb vouched for me and promised the judge that he would keep an eye on us. I had two of my friends to testify for me. Even Greg said a few words in my favor.

What touched Judge McGee’s heart the most were the testimonies of Clarissa, Trevor, and Kimba who did not want to see the family broken up. “We know that Zelphur will take good care of us,” they told Judge McGee.

“I won’t disappoint you, your Honor,” I promised.

Judge McGee finally agreed and granted me legal guardianship of my younger siblings.

I wasted no time in setting the rules and in tackling my new role as their “parents”. Clarissa, now seventeen, was a great help. She had similar dreams and aspirations as I did. She was in her first year at college. Trevor and Kimba, knowing what Clarissa and I were trying to do and knowing what was expected of them, fell into place.

It seemed that God was blessing the family under my leadership. Uncle Jeb proved to be a great mentor and was a great help and encouragement. Greg caused more trouble than anything so we left him to himself and to his life of alcohol; he seemed to have lost touch with reality.

…………

“Zelphur,” Uncle Jeb said to me one day, “I wish you would consider becoming CEO of Wilkinson’s Construction. I really feel you have what it takes to run this place.”

“I just want to get my master’s, Uncle Jeb. We promised Mama we would finish college,” I said. “Plus, with a master’s degree in business, I would be better able to run Wilkinson’s Construction. Right now I need to focus on getting my brother and sisters through high school and on into college. And so as not to get Greg and Walter upset, I’d rather wait until we find the will.”

“All right, son. I support you,” Uncle Jeb said. “I only wish your brother, Greg, would get himself together. I am having to put out too many fires for the customers because of his negligence. I wish I could find your father’s will.”

“It will turn up, Uncle Jeb. I’m just thankful you’re hanging in there with us.”

 

4

I climbed the corporate ladder at the bank rather quickly. The manager, Mr. Costello, took me under his wing and mentored me. About six months after I was hired, I asked him a question that had been on my mind.

“Mr. Costello, what made you hire me?”

“I hired you for two reasons, Zelphur: One, when I interviewed you, I could look in your face and see that you were a man of honesty, integrity, and character. You have lots of energy and life about you and I love to see that in a young man. You were upbeat and positive. On top of that, I called Wilkinson’s Construction, and your Uncle Jeb gave me a glowing report of your work ethic and the type of son you are.”

I felt honored.

“Second,” Mr. Costello continued, “I lost my son in a fatal car accident. He was just like you in many ways. I was training him in the banking business, so I felt good in my spirit about hiring you.”

I moved up from bank teller to assistant manager. A few of my co-workers were envious of me and their attitudes toward me betrayed them. The customers liked my work, however, and that was all that mattered to me. Some of my other co-workers looked up to me, especially Deanna St. Clair, who kept giving me the eyes and finding every opportunity to bring me coffee, soda, donuts—anything to linger in my office for a chat. She often shared her personal life with me. Honestly, I didn’t want to listen every time she wanted to talk, but since she was older, I felt an obligation to show her some respect. Little did I know,  Deanna had other things in mind.

A couple of the men jokingly told me to “beware of the strange woman,” referring to Deanna. I found out later what they meant by that, and in a most unusual way. But for right now, I was not interested in any serious relationship with the opposite sex and definitely not with an older woman at work. With college, working at the bank, and taking care of my younger siblings, I had a lot on my plate, and by God’s grace, I intended to handle it all successfully.

…………

One evening, as I drove home from the bank, I swung by Wilkinson’s as I often did. I had not planned on stopping, but when I saw what was going on, I had no choice. There were three police cars and an ambulance in the parking lot. Some of the workers were standing outside as were a few customers. I entered the building to see what the problem was. Walter had turned up and started a fight with Greg. According to Uncle Jeb’s account, Walter came in strung out on drugs, claiming he wanted his share of the family money.

“He just lost his mind,” Uncle Jeb said. “Greg tried to calm him down, but he charged at Greg like a mad bull. A fist fight broke out and Walter pulled out a gun. That was enough to scare Greg into self-defense mode. Thank God the gun was not loaded. A couple of the workers broke it up. I called the police. They are still calming him down.”

“Do you think it will help if I talk to him?” I asked.

Uncle Jeb shook his head. “Not right now, Zelphur. A person high on drugs is incapable of really comprehending what’s going on; plus, you know how Walter’s been acting since your father died.”

“How’s Greg?”

“He’s pretty beat up, but he’ll be all right. The paramedics are taking care of him.”

“What will happen to Walter?”

“We decided not to press charges. The police are going to take him down to the station overnight to sleep it off, then they will let him go,” Uncle Jeb said.

“This is a mess,” I said thinking of what Papa would say if he were here to see his two oldest children fighting each other like gang members.

“We can only pray for him, Zelphur,” Uncle Jeb said. “He’s a grown man. Even though he had it made, he decided to move out. You can only walk so far with a person.”

I went home with a heavy heart preparing myself to try to explain this to Clarissa, Trevor, and Kimba.

“I wish he would come stay with us,” Trevor said.

“I wish he would, too,” I replied. “But he can’t stay here unless he stops doing drugs, stops drinking, and stops gambling. I don’t want him to be a bad influence on you all. Just remember what we all promised Mama before she died.”

That night we prayed especially for Walter, and for Rheba who we had not heard from for a while. “The year is up. Rheba should have been back already,” Kimba said. “Do you think she will come back anytime soon?”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’m sure she will,” I assured him. “And if we don’t stop all this talking, it will be too late to enjoy Clarissa’s pound cake and Breyer’s old fashioned vanilla ice cream.”

5

I tried to keep the family running much the same as it did when our parents were alive. I cut back on after-school activities for Trevor and Kimba, including visiting friends’ houses. All visiting had to take place at our house; at least I would know for sure where my younger siblings were. Neither of them took kindly to it, though.

Trevor said, “But Zelphur, my friends have Xboxes and other things that I don’t have. They don’t want to come over here cause we can’t play video games.”

“Don’t worry about it; you’re not losing out on anything. I’m sure we can purchase whatever they have,” I said.

“But part of the fun is going over to their house to play,” Trevor insisted.

“I’m still going to my friend’s house after school,” Kimba said without blinking an eye. And she stayed true to her word. I had to make a few phone calls after coming home a couple evenings and not finding her home.

Clarissa gave Kimba a firm reprimand. “What are you trying to do? Why can’t you just do what Zelphur told you? Do you know how worried we were? What if someone had run off with you? And you did not even think of calling us? You’re just selfish.”

“That’s enough, Clarissa,” I said after Kimba burst into tears.

“Kimba, don’t go anywhere after school without my permission again,” I said firmly.

 

Clarissa, now seventeen, had her own issues too: boys, weekend partying, and excessive shopping with her girlfriends were at the top of her list.

“Zelphur, I’m not a child. I’ll be eighteen in a few months. Why can’t I go out with my friends? All we do is go shopping and hang out at each other’s houses. What can a bunch of girls do wrong? Smear too much lipstick on?” Clarissa said.

I chuckled. “Clarissa, nothing is wrong with you going out with your girlfriends. I just don’t feel right in my spirit letting you go out with people I don’t know …”

“You can get to know them if you let me hang out with them long enough for you to meet them,” she said rolling her eyes. “I can bring them here, but I don’t want to hang out here all the time. I mean, what is it with you? Do you think I’m going to do something with some boy? Cause if that’s it, I’m surprised you would even think that. You know I am not that kind of girl!”

“Look, Clarissa. I know I can trust you, but things happen, and I would never forgive myself if anything were to happen to you under my watch. I overheard Mama and Papa talking to you when Dirk kept calling here. He even had the audacity to turn up on our doorstep with a do-rag on his head…”

“I don’t appreciate you making fun of him,” said Clarissa.

“On top of that, he had an old beat-up car. Where was he going to take you in that thing? It would probably have broken down before he pulled out of the driveway. Whatever happened to him anyway?”

“He’s history,” Clarissa said dismissively. “But, Zelphur, it’s not all about what Mama and Papa thought anymore. You’re supposed to be in charge now. You have to admit some of their ways were kind of old-fashioned.”

“But those old-fashioned ways worked and kept us out of trouble,” I quickly replied. “And, you’re right, Clarissa—they are gone, but their teachings are timeless, and I want you to remember what they always said whenever we were faced with a decision — ”

“Yeah, yeah,” Clarissa said rolling her eyes. “If there is a check in your spirit then don’t do it; that’s God warning you.”

Although Clarissa had an attitude, I knew I had to do what I felt was right. It would break my heart if I let her go somewhere and something bad happened to her. “Clarissa, I really need your help in raising Trevor and Kimba,” I said.

“Okay,” Clarissa said with a sigh and a forced smile. “It’s just so hard with Papa and Mama not being here. I miss them so much.” She wiped away the tears that were starting to fall. I hugged her.

“I miss them, too.  But we can make it if we stick together and if we pray and let God guide us,” I said.

 

6

My older brother, Greg, grew bitter toward me and Uncle Jeb. I tried talking with him about it.

“Greg, I don’t care if you don’t like me, but you cannot disrespect Uncle Jeb the way you have been doing lately. He has done nothing but try to help us. He would give us his right arm if he could. Do you know he could have walked out after Papa died and left us alone?”

“Oh, so you’re trying to be his pet too. I see the game you’re playing: first Mama’s pet, then Papa’s pet, now Jeb’s pet. You’re just a regular little Fido, ain’t you? That’s why you aren’t fit to run Wilkinson’s: you’re acting like a baby. You can’t run with the big boys—leave that to me, Jeb’s pet,” Greg said. “Just go on and sit at your little desk at the bank like the little boy that you are and make your dream come true. Oka-a-a-y?”

“It’s Uncle Jeb,” I said. I wanted to punch him.

Wilkinson’s started losing customers because of Greg’s poor management. He was curt with the customers at times. Ignoring the company policy to have a second person review any work before it was signed off on, he began to release work with just his signature—even work which I am sure he knew in his heart was not done in a quality manner.

“I’m going to take my business elsewhere,” one dissatisfied customer said. “This is the third time you have produced sloppy work.”

“Well, just do that,” Greg muttered, “and see if I care. We won’t miss you.”

“I thought y’all were a Christian company. I expect better treatment,” another irate customer complained to Uncle Jeb. “I don’t like Greg’s attitude at all. It stinks to high heaven.”

“Bear with us, ma’am. The owner died some time back and we are still searching for the right man to fill his place. I’ll be sure to talk with him,” Uncle Jeb said apologetically.

“Well, y’all need to do something soon or else y’all will be closing shop soon.”

Overhearing Uncle Jeb’s words, Greg confronted him. “You don’t need to talk with me about nothing, Uncle Jeb. I am the right man. It’s only natural for me as the oldest son to take over—with or without a will, and you all know that.”

“We are in danger of losing more customers if you don’t take this job seriously and treat each customer as though your very life depended on that customer,” Uncle Jeb said to Greg after one customer demanded his money back. “The customer is always right.”

“I beg to differ. The customer is not always right … and we can get new customers at the drop of a hat. Our reputation is still that good. We don’t need those who constantly complain and think they can just push us around.”

Uncle Jeb shook his head. “You’re in the wrong business, Greg. You don’t need to be dealing with customers.”

“You don’t believe in me either, do you? You don’t think I’ll amount to anything, do you?” Greg said.

“I did not say that, Greg.”

“But that’s what you’re trying to say. You think I’m irresponsible, too, don’t you? You want me to be like Zelphur, don’t you? Well, I am Greg Wilkinson and not Zelphur Wilkinson.”

“No, Greg, I do not want you to be like Zelphur. I want you to be who God made you to be. You cannot continue treating the customers as you have been doing. We’re a Christian company and we have to treat them with care,” Uncle Jeb sharply responded. “You’re going to get us sued.”

Greg walked away. He still held on as manager of Wilkinson’s but refused to change his attitude.

I stopped by the job one evening to find Uncle Jeb and Greg in a heated conversation.

“I don’t see why we have to do all that tithing. That money could be put into our pockets. I mean, God does not need our money,” Greg said. “And if you think I am the one stealing the money, you’re dead wrong!”

“You’re right. God does not need our money,” Uncle Jeb said. “But might I remind you that it is tithing to Him that has made this business successful. Whether the books balance out each week or not, we are going to give as your father and I promised your grandfather we would whether you like it or not. As for the missing money, God knows who’s been taking it, and it will come to light.”

“Well, how can you give accurately if the books won’t balance out each week?” Greg asked. “Isn’t God an exact God?”

“We’ll give something,” Uncle Jeb said. “And this is one time I dare you to stop me!”

“We can’t even locate the will to find out who Dad wanted to run this place anyway. You have no right to take over,” Greg continued. “I’m the oldest son, so I’m in charge.”

I stuck my head inside the door to see Greg clenching and unclenching his right fist. His eyes were narrow slits as he glared at Uncle Jeb.  As I cleared my throat, he looked in my direction and then pushed past me out the door.

 

7

Trevor helped whenever and wherever he could by taking on some of the household work, helping Kimba with her homework, and being a good big brother to her.

Kimba’s attitude, however, got sour. She was very young when Mama died and she took her death especially hard. She became extremely quiet most of the time except for outbursts whenever she could not have her way. To make matters worse, she was just beginning to open up to Ms. Betty when we lost her too. Kimba clung more to Papa after his accident and it took her a while to recover after he died. Clarissa and I were constantly having to talk with her teachers about her bad attitude. Trevor labeled her “Kimba the Defenda” as she felt her point had to be heard. We let her have the last word, but we did not always let her have her way.

“I know it’s easier to just give in to her,” I explained to Clarissa after she had an argument with Kimba one afternoon, “but we can’t afford to do that. I just need for you to be a big sister to her.”

“I am her big sister,” Clarissa said flopping down on the couch. “I am getting tired of her demanding ways. She acts like we owe her the world. When will she grow up? We’re all hurting from our parent’s death, but we’re not taking it out on each other.”

“Clarissa, she’s the youngest. We just have to be more patient with her.”

“Okay, I’ll do my best,” Clarissa sighed.

*****************

We kept on going to church each Sunday—at least me and my younger siblings.

“You can go every Sunday if you want to, but I have things to do on Sundays,” Greg said. “That’s my only day off from Wilkinson’s.” He turned up every now and then—whenever he was sober enough. “I don’t need all that church stuff anymore.”

“We all need that ‘church stuff’ and you’re no different,” I replied.

“To show you I have some of that church stuff, I feel like punching you right now, but I am going to do unto others as I would like them to do to me and just walk away,” he retorted.

Walter did not bother to show up for church services once he left home.

I knew I could not succeed in caring for my younger sisters and brother in my own strength. I learned to call more on God in prayer and to meditate upon His Word. The book of Psalms became dear to me as did Joshua 1:8: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”

*****************

Somehow Deanna St. Clair heard that Mr. Costello would be out of the office for about a week and that he had left me in charge. He asked me to finalize some paperwork that needed to be taken care of that week; Reynaldo and Michael were to assist me if I needed any help.

“I believe we can handle it ourselves,” I told Deanna after she offered to help as well.

“I don’t have any family responsibilities after work, so it’s no problem for me to stay late,” she reminded me more than once.

To her chagrin, I declined her offers.

Wanting to complete the work before Mr. Costello returned, I worked overtime on the Friday before he was scheduled to be back. Uncle Jeb volunteered to watch my siblings at home. I asked Reynaldo and Michael for their assistance. Deanna stopped by my office and once again offered to help. She reluctantly said goodbye when I again declined her offer. Reynaldo and Michael locked the doors after our last customer left and joined me in my office to tackle the work. By our estimation, it would take us until about twelve midnight to get everything completed. At nine-thirty, both offered to take a break and pick us up something to eat. I decided to continue working. After locking the door behind them, I called home to check on my siblings. While talking with Clarissa, I decided to stretch my legs and get a drink of water from the fountain. She asked if I wanted her to save some of the pizza they had for dinner.

“Thanks for the offer, Clarissa,” I said to her over the phone. “The two guys I’m working with went out to get us something to eat, so I’m alright. I should be home by midnight.”

While I was on the phone, I thought I heard someone cough close by in the office but paid no attention to it. Now I wished I had paid more attention to that cough as it almost shattered my integrity.

EPISODE #4

8

After saying goodnight to Clarissa, and having my fill of water from the water fountain, I returned to my office. Settling down in my swivel chair I swung around to face the computer. The door was still slightly open. I focused in on the data entries on the screen. I wonder what’s taking Reynaldo and Michael so long to get back, I thought as I rubbed my eyes. I blinked hard to overcome the sleepiness, but … I felt her hands softly on my shoulders—gently massaging them. “That’s it. Just relax, Zelphur. It’s been a long night, but I can end it well for you.”

Whose soothing voice was that?

In my semiconscious state, I was not fully aware as to what was taking place. I felt my shoulders and neck muscles begin to relax. This relaxation extended down to my arms and chest area. It felt good.

“For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil.”

The massage felt good—something I could have used a long time ago.

“But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold of hell.”

“Just relax, Zelphur. I feel your tension going away already,” she said softly blowing her warm breath into my ears and on my neck.

“Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves.”

She ran her hands over my chest as she whispered, “I’ve been waiting for this time, too. The doors are locked, so we have some time to ourselves. We can get this over in no time. No one will ever know.”

“Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”

With her left hand she had unzipped her skirt causing it to fall to the ground. She proceeded to unbutton her blouse while simultaneously attempting to loosen my tie.

“What!” I said suddenly awaking out of what I thought was a dream only to see Deanna St. Clair standing before me. “How? What? Where did you come from?”

“Like what you see?”

“With her much fair speech she [tried to] cause him to yield.”

“I can show you more,” she said pulling on the second to last button of her blouse.

“With the flattering of her lips she [almost] forced him.”

“What is going on here?” I cried out leaning as far back in my seat as I could.

“You and I are going on. Come on, no one will ever know,” Deanna said reaching out to me.

“With an impudent face she [tried to] kiss him.”

“Shall a man be brought to a piece of bread by means of a whorish woman? Lust not after her beauty, neither let her take thee with her eyelids.”

“Whoa!” I said, raising my right arm to block her. “Back off, lady.” I swiftly slid out of my chair. I struggled to break loose of the hold she had on my arm. As I broke free of  her grasp my shirt sleeve tore.

“Why should thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger?”

I backed away from her and out the door. Shall I give in to this woman and sin against God who has watched over me and protected me?

“Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house: lest thou give thine honour unto others, and thy years unto the cruel: Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labours be in the house of a stranger.”

“Oh, no!” I said out loud in answer to my own question. With rapid strides, I headed on out the door slamming it behind me and jumped into my car, and headed for home. It was not until I was safely in my bedroom that I realized I had left my jacket at the bank building. Oh, man! I thought.

 

9

I called Mr. Costello as early as I could on Sunday morning. Mrs. Costello informed me that her husband was still away and would not return until that Tuesday. I left a message with her to let him know I had left the banking office before all the figures were tallied up and for Mr. Costello to return my call for an explanation as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Deanna St. Clair was busy covering her tracks beginning that Saturday night.

When Michael and Raynaldo returned with the food they were surprised to find two police officers inside the building talking with Deanna.

“What is going on?” they both asked looking from the police officers to Deanna. “And what are you doing here? What happened to you?” they asked Deanna. Deanna’s hair was disheveled and buttons were missing from her torn blouse. Her stockings were also torn. Her shoes were not on her feet. “Where is Zelphur?”

“Zelphur did it! He planned it. He called me as soon as you both left and told me he needed help with something and for me to come right away. I knew he could not be trusted,” she told them hysterically.

“What? Zelphur?” Michael and Raynaldo said with disbelief. “I mean, exactly what happened?” Michael asked setting the Chinese food down on the table.

Deanna started to cry.

“Ms. St. Clair called 9-1-1 about five minutes ago saying she had been assaulted by one of her co-workers,” the tall portly police officer, Officer Dominguez, said. “She told us you two had gone to the store to pick up something and Zelphur, your manager, asked her to come by to help him finish some work and he assaulted her.”

Raynaldo and Michael looked at each other.

Deanna regained her composure long enough to add to what Officer Dominguez told Michael and Raynaldo. “No sooner had I gotten here and was in his office, he locked the front door to the building and his office door as well … he started to approach me saying he had been wanting to get to know me better and he was glad for this time alone. I told him not to try anything, but … but … he said … no one will ever know … and … and … he took advantage of me … he forced himself on me.” Deanna broke down in tears again. “I screamed and tried my best to fight him off … but … He left so fast … he forgot to take his jacket,” she said pointing to the jacket. Her hand was trembling.

“We’ll have to take the jacket down to the station as evidence,” the other officer who identified himself as Officer McCloud said. “Ms. St. Clair says she is thinking about filing charges.”

Michael and Raynaldo exchanged glances.

“We advised her if she is going to file charges to go down to the hospital immediately and have a semen sample taken along with a written doctor’s report to take to court with her,” Officer McCloud continued. “That will be her strongest and only compelling evidence in court, especially since there were no witnesses to what took place here.”

“Well, you are my witnesses … you see how I look,” Deanna said quietly.

“Do you want us to accompany you to the hospital?” Michael asked Deanna.

“Thanks, but no … I’ll call my sister and have her meet me down there,” Deanna said dabbing at her mascara-blotched eyes.

“Well, if there is nothing else we can do for you,” Officer Dominguez said, as he scribbled on his notepad, “we’ll go ahead and file a report. Based on the information you’ve given to us, they will pick him up, but they will not hold him if you do not supply strong enough evidence to keep him in jail, because it will be a ‘he says she says’ argument. We’ll take the jacket with us. Let me go outside and get a bag from the patrol car to place it in.”

Deanna nodded as she rested her head in the palm of her hands.

While Officer Dominguez went to get the evidence bag, Officer McCloud repeated what Deanna had shared with them. “So, Ms. St.Clair, Zelphur Wilkinson works here as assistant manager at the Community Bank where Mr. Ivan Costello is manager. You say he lives in the St. Eves Neighborhood Community off Benedict’s Drive?”

Deanna nodded. “Yes, that’s in the affluent part of town.” she said with a sniffle and a sob.

Raynaldo and Michael wondered how Deanna knew so much about Zelphur.

After the officers left, Deanna excused herself to go to the restroom. “Let me wash my face and try to look decent before I go to the hospital. Do you think I need to change my clothes?” she asked looking down at her torn blouse.

Raynaldo and Michael shrugged their shoulders.

While escorting Deanna to her car, Raynaldo asked, “Are you sure you do not want us to come with you to the hospital?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I’m going to call my sister to meet me down there. I’ll feel more comfortable with her around.”

 

“What do you think?” Raynaldo asked Michael after safely seeing Deanna off.

“I think she’s lying,” Michael replied. “She made that up. I don’t know exactly what happened, but something does not sound right. We should have called in our food order before we left, then we would not have taken so long.”

“Yeah. So much for wanting Chinese food ten o’clock at night,” Raynaldo said.

“Oh, don’t blame yourself. We had no idea this would happen,” Michael replied, “Whatever the case, I don’t believe we’ve heard the end of it. I don’t believe Zelphur called her at all.”

…………………

Deanna drove out the bank’s parking lot with a smug smile on her face. She prided herself in how well she played the victim. She was convinced she had Raynaldo and Michael on her side, and after seeing her appearance, the two officers had no choice but to believe her.

“I have something for you, Zelphur Wilkinson,” she said to herself as she let herself into her apartment. She smiled as she picked up her phone. She made two calls before turning in for the night.

 

10

Mr. Costello returned my phone call 8:30 Monday morning. I related to him all that took place over the weekend. “I figured I’d let you know up front, sir, before word gets around.”

“Thanks for letting me know, Zelphur. I’ll look into it as soon as I return,” Mr. Costello assured. “If nothing happens, I should be back in the office tomorrow before lunch.”

Throughout the work day some of my co-workers kept throwing glances in my direction and whispers ceased whenever I walked out my office into the lobby area. Deanna avoided me like the plague. She should have been doing that all along.

After Deanna went on her lunch break, Michael and Raynaldo came into my office to find out what took place Saturday night. I told them exactly what took place. They, in turn, related to me what had ensued after I had left.

“So you mean to tell us she was hiding in here all along? But where?” Michael said raising his eyebrows.

Raynaldo grimaced. “She’s treacherous. I’m sure she had a plan up her sleeve to get rid of me and Michael.”

“As I think about it more,” Zelphur continued, “when I was talking with my sister over the phone, I stopped by the water fountain for a drink, I thought I heard coughing—even though it seemed kind of loud, it sounded kind of muffled. I did not think anything of it as I thought it may have come from my uncle or one of my other siblings in the background.”

“She must have been hiding in the ladies room … a likely place,” Raynaldo said.

 

I had not said anything to the family about the incident, yet. That evening, I told Uncle Jeb. “I don’t know if she’ll file charges, but I just want you to be aware of what took place. Do you think I should tell the others?”

“Mmm. Not yet. Let’s just wait and see what happens,” Uncle Jeb said.

 

On Tuesday around 1:00 after returning from my lunch break, two men from the sheriff’s office were waiting for me. One had an envelope. It contained a warrant for my arrest: I was charged with rape. The officers allowed me to make a phone call to Uncle Jeb.

“Could you please make sure that the children get in safely from school? And I hate to put this on you, but could you please explain to them what happened?”

“Think nothing of it, Zelphur. I’ll take care of it,” Uncle Jeb said. “And I’ll just move on in here until this blows over. Don’t lose hope, son. Remember, God is seeing all this.”

“Thank you, Uncle Jeb. If you need any extra help, don’t hesitate to ask Mister Bixley from next door,” I said.

Mr. Costello was making his way through the lobby to his office as the officers were accompanying me out my office. He asked to have a word with us after telling them who he was.

“This man is innocent,” Mr. Costello said to the officers after they stated their reason for picking me up, and after hearing my side of the story.

“Whether he’s innocent or not is not for us to decide,” one of the officers said. “We’re just doing our job.”

“What will take place now?” Mr. Costello asked.

“Can’t say exactly. But they’ll probably hold him in jail until the day of his trial. It’s hard to say as court cases are backed-up,” the other officer said.

“If this goes to trial, just make sure he has a good lawyer. Of course, it’s his word against the victim’s word. If he’s telling the truth, he can only hope to come out on top,” the first officer said to Mr. Costello.

“Can’t you take him in without the handcuffs? He won’t cause any problems. It’s a bit embarrassing being treated as a common criminal,” Mr. Costello said.

“He’s cooperated with us fully; but we have to follow procedures,” the first officer said. “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry, Zelphur; we’ll get you out,” Mr. Costello assured him.

I gave my car keys, watch, and other belongings to Mr. Costello before the officers escorted me out. “My Uncle will be coming by to pick them up. I already spoke with him.”

As I walked out with the officers I kept my eyes looking straight ahead. Deanna St. Clair had conveniently positioned herself by the table close to the entrance, pretending to refill the slots with the deposit and withdrawal slips, and brochures about the bank. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw her lips curl into a devilish smirk as she tilted her head to the left. I did not acknowledge her.

Mr. Costello had a meeting with Michael and Raynaldo to hear their version of what had happened that weekend. He encouraged them not to discuss the incident with anyone.

“It might be too late. Deanna has already told some of the workers. She has been carrying on a whispering spree since yesterday. I don’t think they believe her anyway,” Michael said. “She’s also tried to talk with me more about it, but I told her it was none of my business.”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Mr. Costello,” Raynaldo said, “but ever since Zelphur started working here, Deanna has been flirting with him, throwing personal statements at him, and trying to get into his personal life. If what Deanna is saying is true, she brought it on herself. And that’s a big if.”

Mr. Costello also met with Deanna who, while putting on another of her dramatic acting scenes, repeated the same story she had told Michael and Raynaldo. “Mr. Costello, he left so fast after what he had done, fearing Michael and Raynaldo’s return, that he left his jacket.”

“Where is his jacket now?” Mr. Costello asked.

“I turned it over to the police. They took it as evidence. And I went to the hospital to get examined so I have the paperwork also. I have filed charges.”

Mr. Costello raised his eyebrows. He shared with her what Michael and Raynaldo shared with him (keeping their names anonymous), about her flirting with Zelphur which she vehemently denied. “I just try to be friendly to everyone here; he took it the wrong way.”

Even though Mr. Costello did not believe any of Deanna’s words, he gave her the benefit of the doubt. “Well, the court will decide especially with your producing a report from the doctor. You can take the rest of the week off. I’m sure this has been a stressful time for you.”

 

EPISODE #5

11

Uncle Jeb told Clarissa, Trevor, and Kimba about my arrest. They were shocked and told Uncle Jeb that Deanna was telling a lie and that I would never do anything like that.

 

When Uncle Jeb told Greg of the misfortune that had fallen upon me and how it would be a great help having an older brother testify to his younger brother’s integrity should the need arise, Greg snickered. “Oh, the perfect little man is in trouble, is he? How do I know this woman is not lying? After all, no one was there but the two of them.”

“I know you have your issues with us, but can you forget about yourself for a while and think about your brother?” Uncle Jeb said to him.

“Well, since he is so smart he should have figured out how not to let this type of thing happen,” Greg answered smartly.

“Well, would you be willing to support your brother by testifying on his behalf?” Uncle Jeb asked Greg again.

“I don’t know. I mean we really don’t know what took place; it’s her word against his,” Greg replied smiling to himself.

“Will you at least stay home more to be an encouragement to your younger siblings at least until Zelphur has his day in court?” Uncle Jeb pleaded. “The younger ones need you to be there for them,” Uncle Jeb continued.

“I guess I can,” he said. “But don’t hold me to that.”

 

Our neighbors, Mister Bixley and his wife, Dorothy, came over to check on the children. They assured Uncle Jeb they would help him watch over them until things cleared up.

 

I was placed in a holding cell with five other inmates who were being held for petty crimes.

On my first evening in prison, a heavy set man, Cole Franklin, and a rather austere looking man who said his name was Brogan Crocker, struck up a conversation with me as we sat down to eat our evening meal.

“Are you sure you’re supposed to be here?” Brogan asked in a deep hoarse voice. “You look out of place. You’re nothing but a kid. What did you do wrong? Steal your sister’s Twinkies?”

He chuckled and I could not help but laugh.

“Leave the kid alone,” Cole said. “Give him time to adjust before you pick on him.”

“Seriously, what are you in here for?” Brogan asked.

I pushed my tray aside. My mind was on my younger siblings and how they were faring. “False charge of rape,” I replied.

“You don’t say,” Brogan said leaning back as far as he could on the backless bench. “You don’t look like you could hurt a fly much less a woman. What happened?”

He kept eying my plate as I talked. After hearing my story, Cole said, “Don’t worry. Things will work out. Are you going to eat?”

“No. I’m not hungry. You can have it.”

“Wanna share this with me, Brogan?” Cole asked as he reached for my dinner roll. Turning back to me, he said, “I hope the system treats you better than it has treated me. I’ve been in here for a few weeks. I don’t have a lawyer. I miss my wife and children. I lost my job and things got tight and I needed to feed my family. I stole some food from the corner store. I’ve been waiting for my day in court.”

“Oh, really!” I said fearing the worst for myself.

“Petty thievery? At least you have a chance of getting out,” Brogan said to Cole. “Me. I’m in here for killing someone. It was self-defense, I swear. It was after twelve midnight and I was waiting for the bus so I could go home. There wasn’t but one other shady-looking person waiting at the bus stop. Well, I was attacked by two boys and I wrestled the gun from one of them and I fired; it was either me or them. All I know is I was not going down without a fight. By the time the police got there, I had shot one of them. I was still holding the gun in my hand. The police had to go by what they saw. Seeing the gun in my hand they automatically thought I had committed murder. My only witness—the other person who was waiting at the bus stop—disappeared. I’ve been in here about the same time Cole has. I have no lawyer and I have no hopes of getting out.” He seemed to take his anger out on his piece of chicken as he devoured it.

“Don’t worry; things have a way of working themselves out.” I said this more to comfort myself.

“Are you sure you don’t want your food? This chicken’s mighty good even if it’s prison food,” Cole said.

I shook my head. He divided the rest of the food between him and Brogan. Cole ate slowly glancing at me every now and then. “You don’t seem too worried about being  here. Why not?”

“I wouldn’t say worried; but I am anxious to  know what will take place. I didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “Plus my faith is in God.”

“Yeah, right,” Brogan said. “I have been asking God to get me out of here ever since I’ve been here, because like I just told you I did not do anything wrong. I just happened to be in the right place at the wrong time. You figure that one out.”

 

12

I had not heard from Uncle Jeb by the time the lights were turned out. As I laid on my cot, I tried not to question God, but could not understand why He would let this happen to me as I had tried to do the right thing each day. I thought about Psalm 70 until I fell off to sleep:

 

Make haste, O God, to deliver me; make haste to help me, O Lord.

Let them be ashamed and confounded that seek after my soul:

let them be turned backward, and put to confusion, that desire my hurt.

Let them be turned back for a reward of their shame that say, Aha, aha…

…make haste unto me, O God: thou art my help and my deliverer;

O Lord, make no tarrying.

 

Cole stayed close to me throughout the next day. “What kind of family are you from?” Cole asked.

I told them a little about myself and the family.

Cole seemed to think over all I shared with him. “Do you really believe God will get you out of here? I don’t know if God will get me out of here, because I’m not innocent like you say you are.”

“Why don’t we begin praying for God to help you get out of here soon so you can return to your wife and children? Sometimes, God just wants to see how long we will trust Him before He answers our prayers.”

“If you think God will hear you, pray for me too, I guess,” Brogan said.

We prayed at least two other times together that evening. I was just as much of an encouragement to Cole as he was to me. Brogan only listened when we spoke about God and to God.

I heard from Uncle Jeb in the afternoon. He had spoken with someone at the prison and Deanna was still pressing charges; that’s why I was still in jail. I spent the rest of the day encouraging my fellow inmates, especially Cole. “Just have faith in God,” I repeated to him throughout the day; but I think I was mostly trying to keep my own spirits up.

On my third day in prison, I didn’t see Cole when I awoke or for half the day. I got worried. “He’s having a hearing with the judge and a court lawyer,” Brogan told me when I asked about him.

When Cole returned he had the biggest grin on his face that I had ever seen. “Great news,” he said. “For some reason the judge was looking over my case and they are talking about letting me go within two more days. That’s where I’ve been this morning—talking with one of the court lawyers and the judge. I don’t know what’s going on. Things are happening so fast.”

I smiled as Cole gave me a firm handshake. “That is a miracle. Thanks for renewing my hope in God again, Zelphur. You’re a good man.”

“God still answers prayer,” I said as I remembered my mother’s words: “God may have you here for such a time as this.”

I was informed a couple hours later that my court date was set for ten in the morning the following Monday.

Brogan listened quietly as I shared the news with him and Cole over dinner.

“I’ll be praying that God will grant you the same favor He’s granted me,” Cole said. “… and to you too, Brogan.”

“Just promise me this: that you will not forget the God we prayed to for your release,” I said.

“After what He just did for me! No, son, I will never forget God. I’ll be in church somewhere my first Sunday out of this place and I’m going to bring my family with me,” Cole said.

I watched as my friend left the prison for good two days later. “You and your wife will be in my prayers each day,” I assured him.

Things were not going well for Brogan. The judge looked over his case also, but he did not receive good news like Cole did. Brogan was going to prison.

 

I spoke with Uncle Jeb the night before I was scheduled to go to court.

He shared with me how he and Trevor stumbled into Walter one day when they had gone to the store. “He was a mess. He looked like a homeless person. He had a couple packs of beer in his hands. Alcohol has taken over  his life. I begged him to come home,” Uncle Jeb said. “I told him how much we loved him and missed him, but he would not listen. He only pointed a finger at me and said, ‘I blame you. You could have overridden Greg and given Wilkinson’s over to me.’ With that he turned his back on us and walked off. I did not even bother to tell him that you were in prison.”

“Oh, don’t worry about him, Uncle Jeb. He’ll come around.”

 

Rheba should have returned home months ago, but according to a letter she sent that week, “Doors are opening up in modeling big time.”

“What do you think will happen?” I asked Uncle Jeb.

“Oh, don’t worry about it. ‘God sees and knows the truth but He always waits.’ I have been working on some things behind the scenes,” he said with a chuckle.

“Thanks, Uncle Jeb. Did you secure a lawyer?”

“No need for a lawyer,” Uncle Jeb said.  “Our lawyer is Jesus Christ. Me and the children have been doing a whole lot of praying; I hope you have been praying as well.”

“That’s all I can do behind bars,” I chuckled.

13

The rest of the family spent much time in prayer about this false charge. On the court date, Uncle Jeb, my siblings, and two workers from Wilkinson’s arrived early at the courthouse. Deanna, two of her friends, and a man were sitting in the second row off to the left. She glanced up at me when I walked into the courtroom between two officers. A smug look crossed her face as she followed me with her eyes as I took my seat between the two officers.

A tap on the shoulder caused me to turn around. Deanna turned around also. Her eyes almost popped out of her head when she saw Mr. Costello, Raynaldo, and Michael taking their seats behind me. There were others in the room also, some with issues of their own to be resolved; others were just spectators as the hearing was opened to the public.

When our case, St. Clair vs. Wilkinson, was called, Deanna was the first to take the stand. She gave her version of what had taken place on that night. She gave a very moving but somewhat disjointed story. She even pulled the clothes, now torn, that she had been wearing on the night of the altercation out of the bag she had with her as evidence to support her claim. “He left so quickly after the assault that he left his jacket,” she said wiping tears from her eyes. “The police should have it.”

Judge Maynard asked for the jacket as evidence.

Her sister testified on her behalf. “Your Honor, Deanna’s a good person, very kind, always thinking of others, and I know she would not lie about something so serious. I do not know her to be a person to put herself in these types of situations. As far as I know, she always carries herself in a ladylike manner. Now I do not know this man and therefore I can not accuse him of anything, but if he did indeed harm my sister in any way, I want to see him brought to justice.” A close friend of hers, a former co-worker, also testified in her favor.

The police officers who filed the report were called to the stand. They told what they saw and identified the jacket presented as the one Deanna gave them.

“Do you have a doctor’s report, Ms. St. Clair?” Judge Maynard asked.

Deanna’s eyes flew wide open. “I … I … was given one when I went down to the hospital the same night,” she said while fishing around in her pocketbook for the doctor’s report.

My heart started to beat faster. What kind of a report is she going to show to the judge.

Deanna confidently handed a sealed envelope to Judge Maynard. He opened it up and read its contents. I tried to read the expression on his face, but he held a blank look. Deanna looked straight ahead.

“Ms. St. Clair, I’m having difficulty reading your doctor’s signature. Can you make that out?” Judge Maynard said handing the letter to the bailiff to give back to Deanna.

Deanna, without looking at the report, answered, “Abimbola Okafor. Dr. Abimbola Okafor. He was the one to examine me.”

“And what hospital was that?” Judge Maynard asked.

“The Medical Center. It should be on the letterhead.”

“Are you sure this is the official letterhead of the Medical Center? This just looks typed on,” Judge Maynard asked as he peered at Deanna.

There was a ripple of whispers in the room as others cleared their throats.

Deanna kept looking straight ahead.

“Do you mind if I call Dr. Abimbola Okafor to verify this report?” Without waiting for a reply, Judge Maynard handed the report to the bailiff to make the call. He used the phone on the wall.

Deanna shifted her eyes quickly back and forth and then looked straight back at the judge and said emphatically, “The report’s right there. There is no need to disturb Dr. Okafor. He’s probably in the operating room. He’s a really busy doctor. It was just a miracle he was on call that night.” I noticed her voice trembling as she spoke. She blinked hard and rapidly as if trying to hold back tears. She reached up and wiped her eyes and sniffled a few times. “Why have victims go through the embarrassment of getting a doctor’s report and then not believe them when they turn the report in.”

“Ms. St. Clair, please only speak when given permission to speak in my courtroom,” Judge Maynard said.

I heard more whispers behind me.

When the bailiff got off the phone, he exchanged a few words with Judge Maynard before returning to his original position.

“Ms. St. Clair,” Judge Maynard said, “we just called down to the hospital and there is no Dr. … How do you say his name? … Dr. Abimbola Okafor on staff there. He probably does not even exist. In fact, the hospital has no record of you getting examined or even coming there. We will have to toss this out of court until you can produce a valid report. I must remind you that you are under oath. You may leave the witness stand now.”

Next, I was called to the stand. I stated what really happened that night.

“Yes, Your Honor, that is my jacket.”

“Yes, sir, I was alone in the building while my co-workers went out to get all of us something to eat.”

“No, sir, I did not touch Ms. St. Clair. In fact, I did not know she was in the building.  She did stop by my office at closing time to let me know she was leaving, and she did offer to stay behind and help, but I told her that her help was not needed, and that I already had some help from others. My two co-workers who were with me that night are sitting over there in the first row.

“I have no idea how she got back in the building. She must not have left when she said good bye; she probably hid somewhere. While my co-workers were gone, I did hear a cough when I stopped by the water fountain to get some water. I did not think about it then because I was talking on the phone with my sister and thought someone from the house coughed in the background.”

I saw Deanna lean forward in her seat with an angry expression on her face. I paid her no attention. She looked like she would spring out of her seat any moment.

“No, sir, I did not touch Ms. St. Clair and I definitely did not rip her buttons off her blouse.”

“Yes, sir, I left so fast I did not think to take my jacket.”

“Your Honor, others on the job have told me to stay away from Ms. St. Clair, which I have politely tried to do…. They have told me that she is a fast woman.”

“That is not true! He’s lying,” Deanna said springing out her seat. “He took advantage of me. He asked me to come by and help,” she said hysterically. “But obviously his idea of help is different from my idea of help!”

“Ms. St. Clair, I will not have you disrupt the proceedings of this court. You are out of order! Another outburst like that and I will have you arrested for contempt of court. You have had your say. If you wish to say more, you will have your lawyer speak for you. Now have a seat before I just dismiss the whole case right now.”

Deanna reluctantly sat down glaring angrily at me.

EPISODE #6

14

I was relieved that the judge seemed to see through the falsehood in Deanna St. Clair’s claims that I had tried to rape her. However, the trial continued, and those who were testifying on my behalf were called to the witness stand one by one.

Mr. Costello, my boss at the banks said, “Your honor, Zelphur Wilkinson has been an exemplary worker. I wish all my employees were like him. He is trustworthy, a hard worker, honest, and a young man of integrity. I cannot perceive him doing something like this. It is just not his character.”

Michael and Raynaldo dittoed each other: “Your honor, frankly, I do not believe Zelphur forced himself on Ms. St. Clair. I was not there, but that is not the Zelphur I know. However, I do know that ever since Zelphur started working at Community Bank, Ms. St. Clair has been trying to get his attention. I do not know how she got back into the building because she did say goodbye to me, and I saw her leave myself.”

Another worker from Wilkinson’s Construction said, “We have known Zelphur from since he was a little boy, and that is just not him. He has been well trained by his parents, and he will do right even if it makes him look bad.”

When my younger siblings were called up, my sister, Clarissa, said, “If it were not for our brother we would be in a foster home right now or probably living on the streets.” She told the story of how I had taken over after our parents died, sacrificing what I wanted to do so we could stay together. “Our brother would never hurt anyone,” Kimba added.

Uncle Jeb was called up next. “I was there when this boy was born, your honor,” he said. “I have seen his parents coach him and his siblings into being people of integrity, and who will stand for what is right. This nephew of mine fears God and will not sin against Him. I say confidently that Zelphur Wilkinson did not violate Ms. St. Clair.”

I was sure that everyone present could see that Ms. St. Clair did not have a case to stand on — especially without a valid doctor’s report. Just as Judge Maynard was about to render his verdict, my brother, Greg, burst into the courtroom. “Your honor, forgive me for being late and for causing a disturbance,” he blurted, “but if you don’t mind, I would like to testify on behalf of my brother.” Uncle Jeb and I looked at each other surprised. Judge Maynard gave him permission to speak.

“Zelphur,” Greg said looking directly at me, “I apologize to you for the hatred and envy I’ve had for you these past few months. There is no excuse for the way I have been treating you and others in the family. I know this is not the place for this, but will you forgive me, little brother?”

Tears formed in my eyes. Yes, I had already forgiven my brother. I had no bitterness in my heart toward Greg—never had; I just wanted what was best for him and the rest of the family. I nodded with a smile.

Greg went on to share with the others in the courtroom the story of our mother’s death, followed by our father’s death, and how I did what he, as the eldest child, should have done, and that is, take on the responsibility of keeping the family together. In spite of his lack of support, I always had a good attitude toward him.

There were whispers in the courtroom as some dabbed at their eyes. Hugs were exchanged as Greg took his place beside the rest of the family. No sooner had things died down, and Judge Maynard opened his mouth to speak again, Cole — one of the men I had met while in jail — walked into the courtroom. He spoke with one of the officers sitting next to me.

“Is everything alright?” Judge Maynard asked.

As the officer walked up to the judge, Cole reached over to shake my hand. Judge Maynard called him to the witness stand.

“Your honor, thank you for allowing me to speak on behalf of Zelphur Wilkinson. I was in jail for nearly one year for stealing when I met Zelphur. He told me he had been falsely accused of violating one of his co-workers. I detect nothing but honesty and purity in this young man. I had given up hope of ever getting out of jail. After sharing with him why I was in jail, he did not put me down, but he renewed hope within me telling me to begin trusting God again even as he was trusting God to deliver him out of his situation. He led me to begin praying again.”

Cole shared some other things with the people in the courtroom and ended with, “I believe God heard and honored this young man’s prayer for me and touched the judge’s heart to release me. I was set free within two days. I kept calling the jail almost every day to find out his status. When they informed me that he would stand trial today, I just had to come by and speak on his behalf, if for no other reason than as payment to him for what he did for me.” Turning to me, Cole said, “Zelphur, thank you for renewing my faith in God. I told you I was going to be in church my first Sunday home; well, I was in church yesterday with my wife and children. Thank you, your honor, for allowing me to speak.”

Our eyes met as Cole left the witness stand. I felt a brotherly bond as he reached over to give me a hug before taking his seat in the crowd.

15

Clearing his throat and rapping on the bench with his gavel, Judge Maynard continued. “Thank you. Ms. Deanna St. Clair and Mr. Zelphur Wilkinson, please stand. Having heard from both parties as well as from those who testified on behalf of the plaintiff, Ms. Deanna St. Clair, and from those who testified on behalf of the defendant, Mr. Zelphur Wilkinson, I will now render my verdict. I, Judge Maynard, declare … ”

Before he could continue, he was interrupted by a commotion at the entrance to the courtroom. Someone had entered, rather noisily interrupting the proceedings. The person hurried to the front. I gasped. Walter was the last person I expected to see there.

“I presume this is another brother,” Judge Maynard said. “Or is it another friend you met while behind bars?”

“He is another brother, your honor,” Uncle Jeb answered.

“Well, young man, you may take the stand and continue this touching family story,” Judge Maynard said.

Street life had obviously not been favorable to Walter. Little did he know, his siblings and uncle had been praying for him every day, and I was sure God had been working on his heart. I knew he had lost money betting on sports, dealing drugs, consuming alcohol, and trying to buy friends. I just hoped he missed his family and had decided to come home.

____________

Walter knocked on the front door furiously, but no one answered. He knocked on the back door and the side door but received no response. Just as he was returning to his car, Mister Bixley shouted at him. “Walt, is that you?”

“Yeah, Mister Bixley. It’s me.” Why did I have to see you now? Walt braced himself for a tongue lashing from Mister Bixley who was more than just a godfather; he was like a second father.

“You won’t find anybody at home. They’ve all gone down to the courthouse. What happened to you?” Mister Bixley asked as he crossed the lawn. “You look like you’ve been beaten up.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ve already figured it out,” Walter said with embarrassment. “Why are they down at the courthouse?”

“Oh,” smiled Mister Bixley. “The prodigal is returning home, eh? The world has beaten you up and has finally knocked some sense into you, eh? Or, could it be that God has finally gotten your attention? We’ve been praying for you, boy. Anyway, they are down there testifying for Zelphur because some woman accused him of rape.”

“Say what! No, not Zelphur!” Walter blurted out. I may have had differences with my brother, but I have to go see what I can do. “How long has this been going on?”

“Oh, he was in jail for about a week and a half. It’s only by the mercy of God and through our prayers that his trial came so early. Do you know that there are men in jail even as I speak who have been there for years awaiting trial over a misdemeanor?”

“I can imagine. Anyway, thanks, Mister Bixley,” Walter said jumping into his car.

“Where are you headed to?” Mister Bixley shouted after Walter as he made a U-turn in the driveway.

“To the courthouse.” The tires screeched as Walter hurried onto the main road. As unkempt as he looked, he too, would testify for his brother. “Lord, help me to make it on time,” he kept repeating to himself, “and help the judge to hear me out.”

____________

By the time Walter finished his testimony there was not a dry eye in the room. I believe even Deanna St. Clair was touched.

Judge Maynard rendered his verdict without further interruption: Deanna St. Clair was charged with obstruction of justice and was sentenced to spend a short amount of time in prison. Clearing his throat, Judge Maynard said loudly, “The defendant, Zelphur Wilkinson, is not guilty. Case dismissed.”

 

16

“This calls for a celebration,” Uncle Jeb said as we joyfully headed to our vehicles. Pizza, spaghetti with Italian meatballs, and salad was our celebration meal followed by Dutch apple pie topped with Breyer’s natural vanilla ice cream. Uncle Jeb, Greg, Walter, and myself talked far into the night.

“Uncle Jeb, I owe you an apology,” Greg said humbly. “You lovingly tried to warn me, but I would not listen. And because of that I caused the company to lose customers and money. I felt I could do it without anyone’s help, but it was just pride. I could not accept failure … and I especially did not want to accept failure at the hands of my little brother.”

“The important thing is that you faced up to your faults, that you humbled yourself, and that you are willing to change,” Uncle Jeb said.

“I have something else to confess to all of you,” Greg shifted his eyes to the floor. “I know where the will is,” he said. “Papa left it in his drawer. I found it and hid it. I was afraid of who he may have left the business to—meaning Zelphur. I would have been embarrassed not to be the one to inherit my father’s business being the oldest boy. Quite frankly, Zelphur, I was jealous of you, and I always wanted to be like you.”

I was stunned. I did not know what to say, so I just listened to Greg as he continued talking. “I am responsible for the missing funds. I stole money every now and then and put it in my savings account. I didn’t really need it. I am getting paid enough.”

Greg’s shoulders trembled as he spoke. “You know, every day I blamed myself for Papa’s death. If I had been responsible he would not have had to come up on the roof to examine my work and miss…” Greg choked on his words and let the tears flow freely. I could sense the anger, the bitterness, the envy, the self-blame all roll out with the falling tears. But, oh, the relief it brought, and with it, I felt the strengthening of the family.

Walter, taking a cue from Greg, did some apologizing himself. He confessed the hatred he had harbored in his heart toward me for being who he called ‘Papa’s pet.’ “Zelphur, deep down in my heart, I knew that was not the case. I was only convicted each time you performed well and Papa used you as an example pointing out your success against my failure. I knew Papa said what he said to encourage me to do better. Brother, will you please forgive me?”

“Yes, I forgive both of you. But, there is really no need to ask for my forgiveness,” I told my brothers. I had no bitterness in my heart towards either of my brothers—only love spurred on by my love for God and my desire to do right.

“You know,” Walter continued, “I questioned my Christianity almost every day I was out on the streets. A voice kept pounding in my heart, ‘you need to get saved.’ I remember asking Jesus to save me when I was nine years old, but I think I did it to please Papa. I don’t think my heart was in it.” Turning to Uncle Jeb, Walter asked, “Uncle Jeb, how do you get saved?”

Uncle Jeb, with much delight, showed Walter from the Bible Romans 10: 9 and 13:

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved … For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

“Just believe, Walter. Just believe,” Uncle Jeb said. “Believe that you are a sinner, and that Jesus Christ died for your sins, that he was buried, and that He rose from the dead giving us victory over our sins.”

Following Uncle Jeb’s leading, Walter prayed and “called upon the name of the Lord” asking Jesus to forgive him of his sins, to save him, and to deliver him from his sins, and to come and live in his heart granting him eternal life.

We had a rejoicing time in our house that evening and into the early morning. My adrenaline was flowing so heavily sleep did not come easily to me that night.

The celebration week ended with a visit from Rheba. Her dream to become a model had been fulfilled. “I have a new modeling contract and I’ll be moving to New York. So, don’t be surprised if you see my face in magazines soon,” she told us. “However, I decided to come back and see my family, because there’s no place like home.” We were all extremely happy for her.

Later, Mr. Costello offered me the a senior management position at the bank, and he also fired Deanna St. Clair. Michael and Raynaldo were given a pay raise as a reward for standing behind me. In the presence of our family lawyer, Jedediah Wilkinson’s last will and testament was read two weeks after the court case:

Wilkinson’s Construction Company is to be left to the management of Zelphur Wilkinson; His brothers, Greg, Walter, and Trevor are next in line under him, if they are led to accept that position; His sisters, Rheba and Clarissa and eventually Kimba, are to be the book-keepers, if they are led to accept that position; Uncle Jeb is to stay on as advisor.

 

I wonder at the graciousness of God: What others meant for evil, God meant for good. Now I understood Mama’s words: You never know, God may have placed you here for such a time as this.

 

The End.

Like Zelphur, you too, can live a life of integrity and honesty and find favor in the eyes of others. That life, if it is to be sustaining, must begin with having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Here’s how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ:

  1. Accept the fact that you are a sinner. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says: “For there is not a just man upon earth that sinneth not.” Romans 3:23 says: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
  2. Accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”
  3. Accept the fact that you are on the road to hell because of your sins. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
  4. Accept the fact that you cannot do anything to save yourself from this place called hell. The Bible states in Ephesians 2: 8 and 9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
  5. Accept the fact that God loves you more than you love yourself, and that He wants to save you from hell. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
  6. God wants you to repent of your sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and pray and ask Him to forgive you of your sins and to come into your heart and save you this very moment. Romans 10: 9 and 13 says: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
  7. I invite you to trust Jesus Christ as your Saviour now by praying the following prayer: Heavenly Father, I realize that I am a sinner and that I have sinned against You. For Jesus Christ’s sake, please forgive me of my sins. I now believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ died for my sins, was buried, and rose so that I could have the victory over my sins and thus inherit eternal life. Please come live within my heart and save my soul from sin and from the punishment of sin. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and change my life. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray, and for His sake. Amen.

 


Copyright 2014. Torch Legacy Publications. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner, except for brief quotations included in a review of the book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

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