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.
The third novel in the Prayer trilogy is here! Find out what happens next to newly-wed Aubrey and her friends.
Aubrey survived an abusive relationship and she met the man of her dreams through prayer. Now she’s joined the circle of married people along with her friends, Simone and Kelli. But what about Jennifer? Does her mysterious disappearance right after Aubrey’s wedding have anything to do with the fact that her three friends are now married, but not her? Or is there more?
As Mother Jamison has a couple close calls with death, will Aubrey’s faith falter, or will her husband’s frequent words, “I know what prayer can do,” strengthen her to be a bulwark that others can lean on?
Aubrey Cressida Rodney. It certainly has a ring to it, Aubrey thought upon awaking on the last day of her two week honeymoon. She looked across at her husband, Quintin Rodney. She listened to his gentle breathing as she observed the slight rising and falling of his chest. Climbing quietly out of bed so as not to disturb him, she pulled the curtains slightly apart to take in a final view of the dawn skyline in the city of Dammam, Saudi Arabia, from the Dammam Palace Hotel. The sun was not fully up, but the city was well lit—enough to paint an unforgettable picture.
God, You’ve been real good to me, Aubrey thought as she rested her forehead against the cool window pane. “Thank You, God, for being so good to me,” she whispered. Aubrey thought of how God delivered her from an abusive marriage that could have ended in her death. She thought of how God delivered her from a bad relationship with Roger as she was on the verge of possibly making another tragic mistake. Thank You, God, for true friends: for Simone and Kelvin—please bless them today; for Kelli and Trevor—please bless them today and heal their son, Justin, of whatever may be ailing him; for Jennifer—have things to work out between her and Brad. Lord, please protect Mother while we are away. And thank You for blessing me with a great husband. Amen.
“You are a million miles away,” her husband said slipping his arms around her waist from behind.
“When did you get up?” Aubrey said snuggling up to him.
“When I did not feel your warm body up against mine,” he said tightening his arms around her. “How has it felt to be Mrs. Aubrey Rodney these past two weeks?”
“I can’t even put it into words!” Aubrey replied. “All I can say is, God has been good to me—better than good.”
“He has; He’s blessed you with a great husband,” Quintin chuckled. He kissed her on the cheek. “Seriously though, He’s been good to me, too. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too,” Aubrey said.
“You led a very interesting and active life before we got married. There was never a dull moment around you. I can’t wait to see what married life is going to bring us,” he said.
Aubrey chuckled. “I can’t wait to see either.”
After watching the city come to life, Quintin said, “Well, we have about seven hours before our return flight home. Anywhere special you want to go?”
“Surprise me,” Aubrey said pulling the curtain shut.
“You betcha,” Quintin said.
Aubrey placed a call to her mother while her husband took a shower.
“Mother, it’s so good to hear your voice,” Aubrey said. “If nothing happens we should be home as scheduled. Anything interesting happened while we’ve been away?”
“I know everyone is eager for you to return,” Mother Jamison said. “A number of the ladies who attend the Restoration Reset Ministry are wondering whether or not you will be leaving Mt. Salem United Methodist to worship at your husband’s church.”
“You can tell them not to worry anymore. Quintin’s already decided to switch his membership to Mt. Salem. Plus, I could still head that ministry even if I was to worship at Quintin’s church,” Aubrey said. “Have you heard anything from Kiera? She’s been on my mind.”
From its beginning, Kiera Gilard was one of the first ladies to attend the Restoration Reset Ministry. The Restoration Reset Ministry, birthed out of Aubrey’s abusive marriage, which ended in the death of her first husband, was meant to be a source of encouragement to other ladies who felt trapped in similar relationships. It had grown to become a local household name and its doors were now opened to all women. “One thing I have learned from that marriage is this: a husband and wife both have to do marriage God’s way, or it is not going to be a smooth ride for either,” she often reminded the ladies.
The Restoration Reset Ministry’s first aim was to encourage wives to remain in their marriages and to try to make it work ultimately for the glory of God, and then for the sake of the children in that marriage. Philippians 4:13 was one of its main verses: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Kiera and her husband, Eric, were separated when Aubrey first met her. Aubrey and others through prayer and the Word of God encouraged her to try to work their relationship out, but things did not turn out the way they hoped they would. Now they were involved in a bitter divorce and custody battle for their two children: Yomen, five years old; Kaiser, three years old.
“Things are not going too well for her, but don’t worry about that now,” Mother Jamison said. “You enjoy your honeymoon. You’ll have plenty of time to help her once you return.”
“How are Simone, Kelli, and Jennifer doing?” Aubrey asked.
“Simone and Kelvin are doing great. Kelli and Justin can’t wait to join Trevor in Germany. Justin’s condition flared up again. Trevor’s found a doctor who could possibly diagnose his condition. I believe she said they will be flying out about a month or so after you return.”
“I’m going to miss them,” Aubrey said. “We’ve had so many good times together.”
“Good times don’t have to end because the sea separates us,” her mother said.
“You’re right. How is Jennifer doing?” Aubrey asked.
Mother Jamison hesitated. Aubrey could hear deep hurried breathing.
“Is something the matter? Mother, what’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing. Just a little discomfort in my chest—probably gas.”
“Are you sure?”
“Don’t worry about it. Like I said, it’s just gas, I think.”
“Look, Mother, you’re there by yourself … are you sure everything’s O.K.?” Aubrey asked.
“Yes, all is well. As I was getting ready to tell you, Jennifer is doing fine. I have not heard from her since the wedding, but hopefully as they say, no news is good news.”
“You would tell me if something was wrong, right?” Aubrey said.
Mother Jamison chuckled. “You’re thousands of miles away. What could you do even if things were going wrong? Enjoy your last day and you size things up once you return.”
“You’re right. Remember, being married to a lawyer I can pull some strings and get things in motion,” Aubrey said with a laugh. “Quintin just stepped out of the shower. I’ll let you talk with him. Bye, Mother. I love you.”
Aubrey stepped into the shower thinking of little Justin’s illness, Mother’s chest discomfort, and wondering what Mother meant by ‘no news is good news’ in reference to Jennifer.
After an uplifting time of prayer and asking God’s blessings upon the day, Quintin and Aubrey set out for some sightseeing of downtown Dammam. Breakfast at Abu Nawas Restaurant ended their two-week honeymoon on a never-to-be-forgotten note marking their new life together.
It was a grand reunion with family and friends as they were met with good news and not-so-good news upon their return home.
“I’m sorry things have not worked out between you and your husband,” Aubrey said to Kiera who was one of the first persons she called. “I felt a little guilty leaving you like that, but don’t worry. We’ll see you through this to the end. Quintin has contacted another lawyer friend of his and they are securing a private investigator through the permission of the judge to help you get your children back.”
“I appreciate it, Aubrey. He was supposed to let me have the children that weekend of your wedding and when I went to get them neither he nor the children could be found. I received a threatening phone call from him stating that if I go through with the divorce I would never see the children again. I am worried sick,” Kiera shared with Aubrey.
“Don’t worry. My husband will take care of it,” Aubrey assured her. “Just trust God and leave it in His hands.”
On her first Friday back, Aubrey met up with Simone and Kelli at the Cherry Blossom Cafe for a time of catching up.
“What do you mean you all have not heard from Jennifer?” Aubrey exclaimed after they settled down in their booth and placed their order.
“The last we heard from or about her was the evening of the reception. I called her numerous times, but I kept getting her voice mail. We stopped by her place, but we received no answer,” Simone said. “I spoke with her once, but she kind of rushed off the phone. I am worried about her.”
“What about Brad? Have you been able to get in touch with him?”
“I had Trevor to call him; you know they’re military buddies,” Kelli said, “and he said Brad spoke with her up to a week after your wedding, but he has not heard from her and he has been unable to get in touch with her by phone or otherwise.”
“I know all of us being married now could not be affecting her that much, if at all,” Kelli said.
“Why would it? She and Brad are engaged to get married soon,” Aubrey said thoughtfully. “All I know is, it is not like her to just take off without letting us know something.”
Despite the disturbing news about Jennifer, Aubrey rejoiced with Simone over the good news about her husband.
“Kelvin is still enjoying his honeymoon period as a new Christian. Not only has he been praying up a storm,” Simone said, “but he’s expressed an interest in doing missionary work overseas with people who have not heard the Gospel. He picked up a Samaritan’s Purse magazine at one of the Christian book stores. They do a lot of work with quite a number of countries, bringing them the Gospel as well as providing relief materials during catastrophes, disease epidemics, and a host of other things. For some reason he seems interested in working with the Nomatsiguenga people group of Peru.”
Simone stumbled over the pronunciation of the name of the people group. Chuckling, she said, “I don’t see how we can even work with them, we can hardly pronounce the name. Anyway, he called a mission’s office and got a lot of information about this group. And guess what?”
Aubrey and Kelli waited eagerly for her to continue.
“He’s interested in doing translation work for them. So the next time you hear from us, not only will we be speaking the A-ra-wa-kan language, but we will be tucked away somewhere in Peru doing missionary work.”
“Does this mean you’ll be leaving us for good?” Aubrey asked.
“No. Not for good,” Simone said. “Kelvin has signed up with the mission agency to take a six month’s trip with them to Peru to visit the Nomatsiguenga people. Then we’re supposed to go to translation school. But it will be a few months before we leave.”
“I am so happy for you,” Aubrey said. “People are so hungry for the Word. While we were away in Saudi Arabia, we visited two house churches that Quintin’s grandfather and father support. Not only do they help those churches financially, but they also help to print and distribute Bibles and other literature in their language. The people shared with us stories after stories of fellow Christians being persecuted or mistreated for their faith in Christ; individuals have been ostracized; parents have been taken away from their children never to be seen again. One interesting incident happened on our last Sunday there.”
Aubrey went on to tell her friends. “We went through this single wooden door of a church named Resurrected Believer’s Church on the outskirts of the city of Dammam. The shopkeeper, who was also the pastor, holds services in the back of his shop. We had to use a secret password before we could enter.”
“Yes, your grandfather told us to expect you,” Hassau, the doorkeeper, said as he led them through a long dark hallway into a back room where others were seated around tables with tea, fig cakes, fruit, and nuts. There was a oneness in spirit in the atmosphere. The people greeted them with genuine love as they entered the room.
“Tea and cakes are just for show,” Hassau said with a grin as he directed them to their seats. Aubrey wondered what he meant by that as she noticed no one was munching on the food. As soon as they were seated, the pastor started the services. He was about ten minutes into the services when there was a pounding on the door. Hassau hurried into the room and whispered to the pastor who ordered everyone to pass their Bibles to the front. He quickly lifted his stool out the way and lifted a latch from the floor to reveal an opening.
The pounding on the door continued. All Bibles were quickly placed in the underground hole and the door was latched in place; the pastor slid his stool back in place and sat down. Everyone started to talk and laugh as they sipped their tea and nibbled on their fig cakes and fruit and nuts. Aubrey smiled as she thought of Alice at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Aubrey watched furtively as Hassau led two stoic looking men in uniforms into the room. The one with the deep-set eyebrows peered under a few tables, patted down a couple of the male occupants, shuffled things around in a couple of the cupboards while the other exchanged words with Hassau and the pastor. They glanced at Quintin and Aubrey every now and then as they spoke. Their curiosity satisfied, the men left. After Hassau gave the signal, the worship services continued with even more vigor.
“What was that all about?” Aubrey whispered to Quintin after the services.
“Those two men were looking for Bibles,” Quintin said. “They confiscate them.”
This was confirmed by Hassau. He smiled. “I told them you are here to celebrate your honeymoon and we’re having an early morning brunch for you.”
“Weren’t you scared?” Simone asked.
“More curious than scared,” Aubrey replied. “The pastor told us that so far they have been protected, but sometimes, Muslims would randomly choose a village, raid it and kill the Christians.”
“That’s sad,” Kelli said.
“It sure is,” Aubrey said. “We had the privilege of worshiping with the Resurrected Church family during one of their Sunday services and two of their Wednesday night prayer services. Talk about powerful prayer services. It brought tears to my eyes to see and experience the love for God that permeated that place.”
“Nothing will test our love for God like persecution and hardships and doing without the comforts of life,” Simone said. “I don’t know what’s ahead for Kelvin and myself, so please pray for us.”
“We’ll certainly be praying for you and Kelvin,” Aubrey said. “One bit of good news I want you to add to your prayer list,” Aubrey said, “and that is, we’re looking into adopting a little Saudi girl. Her name is Habiba al-Ahmet. She’s almost two years old. Both her parents were killed because of their faith. My heart was touched when we heard their story. Some Islamists raided their village. They begged for their lives for the sake of their little girl. A neighbor heard Habiba crying for a long time and went to check things out. That’s when she found the bodies. They had been killed during the night. I begged Quintin to let us adopt her and he agreed. Pray that the adoption process will go quickly and smoothly.”
“Praise the Lord,” her friends said simultaneously.
“God is good all the time,” Aubrey said. “I am glad we serve a prayer answering God. Now if we can just find out where Jennifer is, then our reunion will be complete. Have any of you thought of contacting her parents?”
“We did and her mother told us they had not seen her, but she did call them twice to say hello.”
“Well, things still sound suspicious to me. We have never gone a week without talking with one another.”
Around eleven o’clock that evening, Aubrey received a phone call from Jennifer.
“Jennifer, where are you? I came back from my honeymoon to find you missing. No one has heard from you—not even Brad.”
“Hi, Aubrey. How was your honeymoon?” Jennifer asked.
“Great! But we’re more concerned about you. What’s going on and where in the world are you?” Aubrey asked.
“Well, something very important came up,” Jennifer said quietly.
“What?” Aubrey asked.
“I … I … can’t say exactly what it is,” Jennifer said.
“Jennifer, we’re friends. Wait until Simone and Kelli hear about this. Your problem is our problem,” Aubrey reminded her. “I mean what’s a friend if you can’t share your problems with her? So what’s going on?”
“Jennifer, I’m still the same Aubrey I was before I got married.”
“Your being married has nothing to do with it,” Jennifer said. “It’s something next to nothing. Forget I said anything.”
“Something next to nothing does not lead a friend to disappear for two weeks.”
After some silence, Jennifer said all in one breath, “I’m glad everything went well for your honeymoon. However, it’s getting late, so I’ll let you go. I know you have the ladies’ meeting tomorrow, Bye, Aub –”
“Wait! Are you coming out tomorrow?”
“She’s acting weird,” Aubrey said to Quintin who was almost asleep. “Something’s not right. Something is just not right.”
“I’m sure she’ll let you know when the time is right. Just be happy she did call you. Let’s pray and get some sleep. You have a busy day tomorrow,” Quintin said in the middle of a yawn.
“What about you?” Aubrey said sliding under the sheets and cuddling up to her husband.
“I may touch base with Leyton Patterson about Kiera’s situation. Other than that, I’ll have a free day. Come on over closer and hold me tighter. Dream about me tonight. Okay?”
“Okay,” Aubrey giggled. “I’ll try.”
Monday evening after Aubrey and Quintin’s wedding, Brad took Jennifer out to dinner.
“How do you feel about your friends all being married?” Brad asked.
“I’m very happy for them,” Jennifer said with a smile.
“So have you decided on a date yet for us to tie the knot?”
Jennifer lowered her eyes twisting the engagement ring back and forth on her finger.
“Hell-o-o,” Brad said touching her on the arm. “Are you here or over there somewhere?”
“Yes,” Jennifer said nodding her head with a faint smile.
“I figured six months from today should give you and your friends time to get rested up,” Brad said.
“Yes,” Jennifer said nodding again.
“I can’t wait to see you coming down the aisle in your bridal dress.”
Jennifer gave a faint smile. She took a long sip from her soda.
Brad drew his eyebrows together. “Is something bothering you?” he asked.
“Oh, no, no,” Jennifer said forcing a smile. “I guess I’m just tired. Putting together a wedding does tire you out.”
“I can imagine. You’ve broken just about every dinner date I planned while you all were preparing for it. I wish you had told me you were tired. We could have gone out another night,” Brad said. “Come on. Let’s get you home so you can get some rest. I’ll give you a call tomorrow.”
Before Jennifer could settle down in her bed, her phone rang. She reached over to answer it but pulled her hand back. The answering machine picked up the message:
Jennifer, this is Diego Francia. My family and I are back in the U.S. for a permanent stay. My house number is the same as is the address. My cell number is the same and so is my wife’s. You are a month behind on your contract with us. Please let me hear from you by tomorrow evening.
The same message as before, Jennifer thought. An old fear she thought she would never have to relive took a hold of her again. Lord, what am I going to do? Why did they have to come back? It seemed like just yesterday when this nightmare all began. Don’t tell me I have to live with it for the rest of my life.
Jennifer tossed and turned in her bed all night. Unable to go to sleep, she sat up and prayed. “Dear God, I don’t know what to do. I need Your help. I have no more money to give to Mr. Francia. I can’t believe they are back. It seemed like only yesterday when it all happened—the worst tragedy of my life and a nightmare I have had to live with for the past nine months, and will probably have to live with for the rest of my life.” She reached into her bedside table drawer and pulled out the contract she had signed with Diego Francia. It read:
Diego D. Francia
Business Management Contractor
Diego D. Francia and Jennifer L. Livingston have entered into a contractual agreement whereby J. Livingston, by her signature, has agreed to pay on the 15th (and no later than the 20th) of each month, $1,500.00 to D. Francia toward medical care for D. Francia’s son, Luis Francia. Money is to be received by direct deposit or by bank money order only. No personal check. If J. Livingston changes current telephone number or relocates, she must notify D. Francia immediately. This contract is binding for the duration of the victim’s (Luis) illness and must be signed and dated by all parties involved.
Diego D. Francia Jennifer L. Livingston
Jennifer sat on her bed and read the contract for a third time. She stared at her signature, then at Mr. Francia’s signature, then at the date. Almost nine months ago. “This contract is binding for the duration of the victim’s (Luis) illness,” she read quietly. She thought about her first encounter with the Francias.
As she was wrapping up the last year in her studies to become a pediatrician, she decided to begin babysitting to help supplement her tuition and living expenses. Diego Francia and his wife, Romina Francia, had requested her services one evening.
“This is Luis, our two-year-old son,” Romina Francia said introducing her son to Jennifer. “Luis is a very quiet boy.”
Luis seemed oblivious to Jennifer’s presence as he remained in his mother’s arms with his head laying on her shoulder. His eyes flicked about intermittently. Jennifer reached out to take him from his mother.
Jennifer had never entered a Spanish home before and was very interested as Romina gave her a tour of their residence. While they waited on Mr. Francia to come pick his wife up to take her out to dinner and to take care of some personal business, Jennifer and Mrs. Francia engaged in conversation. She found out that the Francias were originally from Spain and had been living in the United States for some years. Mr. Francia was an entrepreneur. “Or so he thinks,” his wife chuckled. Romina Francia was a homemaker and had a likeable personality. She and her husband spent their time between Spain and the United States. Diego Francia tooted his car horn as he pulled up in the driveway.
“That’s my husband. You’ll meet him when we return. He’s running late as usual,” Mrs. Francia said as she hurried out the door. “And don’t forget: keep Luis in your sight at all times.”
The Francias’ home was very beautiful and had been built in the Spanish colonial revival style. The furniture was colorful, and the walls were decorated with Spanish artwork. Aubrey would love this décor, Jennifer thought with a smile as she surveyed the living room.
“Well, your mother is right,” Jennifer said to Luis as she looked down at him sitting still in her lap. “You are a very quiet little boy. I’m used to two-year-olds being extremely energetic.” Jennifer tickled him, but Luis did not even wiggle one inch. “I guess you’re not ticklish,” she said. “Well, let’s find your toys then, or some picture books.” Jennifer set him on the floor intent on taking his hands to have him walk with her to his room, but Luis just plopped himself on the ground.
Strange, she thought. “Come on. Let’s go get your toys,” she said, but Luis just sat there. Jennifer knelt on the floor next to him. She lifted his face toward hers. “So what do you want to do? Just sit here?” Luis’ eyes seemed out of focus as she waited for a response from him. She waved her hands before his eyes. “I’m right here, Luis.” Luis’ gaze was fixed, but not on her. “I am sure your mother would let me know if you had a vision problem. Are you sleepy?” Jennifer picked him up and they went to his room.
After about two hours of reading to Luis, playing with him, getting him fed, and giving him a bath, Jennifer lay him down in his bed. She gently patted him on the back to help him go off to sleep. Jennifer stood back and took note of what she eventually concluded was his bedtime ritual. Luis moaned while beating his head on his pillow. I have never seen anything like this before, she thought as she resumed patting his back. After about thirty minutes Luis fell off to sleep. Jennifer sat in the chair next to his bed so she could keep an eye on him as she read her textbooks. Every now and then he would moan, beat his head on his pillow, then fall silent.
After she was sure Luis was sound asleep, Jennifer left to get herself a glass of water. “Oh, my goodness!” Jennifer exclaimed upon returning to the room.
That evening that had started out so well marked the beginning of a year-long nightmare for Jennifer.
Aubrey continued operating her home interior design business from her mother’s home. She called it La Mistique. Business increased as word got around about the quality of her work. One late lunch hour after a busy morning of visiting two clients’ places of business to get a better picture of how to go about redecorating their offices, she returned home to have lunch with her mother who had a busy morning herself visiting some of the members of the church. While sitting around the kitchen table laughing and exchanging the morning’s events, Mother Jamison started to heave intermittently.
“Are you alright, Mother? My goodness, your lips are getting pale.” Aubrey jumped out of her chair and hurried to her mother’s side. “Mother!”
“I’m … alright. Just having difficulty breathing,” she said as her chest heaved up and down.
Aubrey placed her arms under her mother’s armpits to help her up from the chair. “Come on. You need to lie down.” She helped her mother to the couch and made her as comfortable as possible. “Let me put the cushions under your head to raise you up a little.”
“That will help. Thank you,” Mother Jamison said. The heaving gradually subsided. “It’s probably not anything serious,” she said after Aubrey suggested taking her to the emergency room.
“Probably? You’re not even sure yourself,” Aubrey said. “How many times has this happened? I know of at least one time—while I was on my honeymoon.”
Mother Jamison smiled faintly. “It will go away as at other times.”
“You mean to tell me there have been other times? I’m calling Dr. Valentino.”
“Aubrey, don’t bother her. I’m fine. I probably exerted myself too much this morning.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to stay on this couch the rest of this evening until it’s time for you to go to bed. And I’m spending the night here,” Aubrey said firmly.
“Okay, baby. If you insist.”
“Quintin, I don’t feel comfortable leaving Mother here by herself anymore,” Aubrey said to her husband over the phone later that night. “Can you try talking to her again about coming to stay with us?”
“I’ll try, but I can’t make her. She’s a little stubborn like you,” he said with a chuckle.
Aubrey smiled. “I won’t refute that. On a serious note though, the way she was heaving and turning pale, that’s more than a little problem.”
“Why don’t you go ahead and make an appointment with her doctor and take her in yourself,” her husband suggested.
“That’s exactly what I’m going to do first thing in the morning.”
When Aubrey called Dr. Valentino’s office the following morning, she was told that Dr. Valentino would be in surgery most of the day. However, after Aubrey described her mother’s symptoms, Dr. Valentino made time to examine her at the hospital that evening.
“Thank you so much, Dr. Valentino,” Aubrey said. “I believe Mother’s taking it too lightly. I just believe it’s more serious than what she’s telling me.”
Dr. Valentino did a series of tests and chest x-rays, but could find nothing specific regarding Mother Jamison’s condition.
“My best suggestion is to take it easy. Get more rest and it would be nice if you had someone to come by and help you with your housework,” Dr. Valentino said. “If the symptoms happen again, try to remember what activities you were involved in before the symptoms showed up, what position you were in—lying down or standing up, also what you were eating. It might be a reaction to something you ate. In the meantime cut back on your salt intake.”
Roger Hawthorne never forgot the kindness Aubrey, her friends, and her mother showed to him. He, Kelvin, and Alphonse developed a new bond of friendship and they often stopped by to fellowship with him or just to take him out of the house.
One day as he was reading a book on auto mechanics, a sharp knock followed by the ringing of the doorbell echoed from the front door. He rolled his wheelchair over to the window thinking it was one of his new friends. He looked through the curtain but could not make out who was at the door; neither did he recognize the car parked in the driveway.
“Who is it?” he asked.
“Tariq Wilson. I’m here to see Roger Hawthorne.”
Tariq Wilson … the name sounds familiar, Roger thought as he removed the chain before unlocking the door.
“How may I help you?” Roger asked.
“I’m Vicki Wilson’s brother.”
A cold shiver ran through Roger’s body as he remembered his wild, college-partying days in Florida. He unlocked the screen door. “Come on in and have a seat,” he said to his visitor. “May I get you something to drink?”
“No, thank you. I’m not here to socialize. I’m here on business about Vicki, my sister. You did her wrong, man, and I’m here to set things right,” Tariq said.
Roger remained silent.
“You never saw this day coming, did you? And in case you’re wondering how I got your address—I work for the Florida police and we do not play. We know how to get the information we need.”
“How’s Vicki?” Roger asked.
“She’s hurting, man—really hurting. You skipped out on her. You used her to have a daughter for you, then you skipped out on her. You left her to take care of your daughter by herself. I’ve had to foot the expenses, and I’m not complaining because I love my sister and my little niece.”
Roger swallowed hard not knowing what to say. He ran both his hands through his hair resting them at the nape of his neck. With a grim look he said, “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry cannot right what you’ve done. You have to put action behind your words. You could call and apologize to her for a start. You could pay up on all your child support for another thing. Like I said, I work for the police and I’ll have you put in jail for that—wheelchair or no wheelchair. You’re already on the records.”
Roger sighed. He closed his eyes for a few seconds.
“How do you plan on setting things right?” Tariq asked. “And what happened to you?”
“Don’t worry about me—”
“I’m not worried about you,” Tariq quickly replied. “I’m always interested in a good story; plus, I’m in no hurry. I’m on a two-week-long vacation.”
While Roger was sharing his story with Tariq, Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne returned home from work. After the introductions, both excused themselves.
“I’m gonna get me a nap. I call it my after-work nap, so if you’ll excuse me, Tariq. It was nice meeting you,” Mr. Hawthorne said.
“And if you’ll excuse me,” Mrs. Hawthorne said, “I need to start cooking in the kitchen. You’re welcome to join us for supper.”
“Thank you, but since I came unexpectedly, I don’t want to impose upon you,” Tariq said.
Roger was grateful Tariq turned down the invitation because he had not told his parents yet about his relationship with Vicki nor about his daughter. He did not want them to have to hear from Tariq. He finished telling Tariq his story.
After some silence, Tariq said, “You know I came here with the intent to have you put in jail and to get every penny out of you, but I guess you’ve suffered enough. Either way, you still have to pay child support. What if you and Vicki had gotten married? You would still have to take care of your daughter. You have to man up and get the job done.”
Roger nodded. “Believe me, I have been thinking about her and our daughter, Robertia. What I did was heartless and it has been eating away at me.”
“Vicki told me you had some kind of job with a car company—at least that’s what you told her,” Tariq said.
“I did, but they had to let me go since my injury was not job-related,” Roger said. “I used up just about all of my funds from the job paying my medical bill. I did not want my parents to foot any of the bill. But even with that, I still owe them more money. Anyway, I got something new going on.”
“I’ve kind of worked out something with my old job and a couple of auto places in town and they give me first choice in used or old parts. I use the parts to rebuild cars. I have one car that’s almost done. It’s in the back under the shed. Would you like to see it?”
“Sure,” Tariq said.
After Roger showed Tariq the car in the garage, they came back into the house through the side door. “I’m hoping this business will take off and do well,” Roger said.
“I hope so too, for your own good and my sister’s,” Tariq said. “Anyway, I’m going to take my leave. I’ll be sure to let Vicki know why she hasn’t heard from you. Here, let me give you her number. Please call her.”
“I sure will and please apologize to her for me,” Roger said.
“That’s why I gave you her number. That’s something you will have to do yourself.”
Just then, Mrs. Hawthorne walked into the living room. “Good, you’re still here,” she said. “The invitation’s still open for supper.”
“It smells good. I think I’ll take you up on your offer.”
After an enjoyable meal, Tariq said goodbye. Roger felt compelled to tell his parents about Vicki.
“What else are you hiding?” his father asked with a disappointed look on his face.
“Nothing else,” Roger said, “and I’m sorry for not letting you both know sooner. I just felt badly that you trusted me and let me go off to college; I failed you both.”
“We are disappointed, but there are just some failures in life we have to live with,” his mother said. “So what are you going to do about Vicki and Robertia?
“I’ll be calling her a little later and I’ll begin taking care of my responsibility,” Roger said.
“You make sure you do that because there’s nothing more disgusting than a man who shuns his responsibilities, and you do not want to continue being that kind of man,” Mr. Hawthorne said.
The telephone conversation between Roger and Vicki was not the most amicable one.
“I know who you are. I’ve been waiting for you to call for almost a year now,” Vicki said when Roger identified himself. “What has been the hold-up?”
“Vicki, I have no excuse whatsoever, and I am sorry for not keeping in touch.”
“Is that all you can say: ‘I’m sorry’? I had a daughter for you and you kept telling me how much you loved me and how much you were going to take care of us; but you lied to me. That’s what hurts: you lied to me.”
“Vicki, I meant it when I told you –”
“Then when you moved back home—for a short visit, you told me—you never came back and you never even called,” Vicki continued.
“I was trying to get settled in my job and–”
“My brother already told me about what happened to you so you don’t have to rehearse it,” Vicki said curtly. “I guess you got caught up with some girl, too, huh?”
“Yes and no,” Roger said. “I did show interest in one girl I knew before I came down to Florida, but she shunned me and married someone else. In fact, her husband is the one who helped me get a light sentence. He’s a lawyer. But as I shared with your brother, I’ll pay what I owe. I just don’t have it right now as I’ve put most of it toward my medical bill, plus I’m still going to physical therapy.”
“If you expect me to feel sorry for you, you can forget that. It’s not even the money that I’m upset about; it’s just how you threw me to the curb. But I will use the money issue to pay you back.”
“Vicki, I’m sorry. I really am and I’m asking you to forgive me. Please, I’ll make it up to you. I just need more time.”
“Time for what? Time to plan another escape? Bye, Roger. Next time you hear from me, it will be through my lawyer.”
Mother Jamison trudged up the short pathway from her car to her front door. She paused with her hand on the knob as she tried to steady her breathing, fighting to ease the strange tightness in her chest. “Lord, it’s been a while since I had any chest pains. I ask You to remove this pain from my chest and legs.” Gasping for breath she thought, “I’ve never had it this badly before. But whatever the problem is, I know I can handle it through prayer.”
Mother Jamison forced one foot in front of the other as she made her way up the stairs to her bedroom. She sat down on the bed and looked down at her legs as she kicked her shoes off. Both were extremely swollen.
I don’t know why I’m sweating so much; the air condition in the car was blowing full blast and it’s not even that hot outside, she thought as she closed the door to her bedroom. As quickly as she could, she replaced her sweaty clothes with a more comfortable dress. I think I’ll just rest my legs for about fifteen minutes before fixing dinner. She tucked some pillows under her legs.
Her fifteen minutes turned out to be an hour of uncomfortable sleep.
“Have a great evening, Mr. Mulligan. Be sure to tell Mrs. Mulligan I said hello,” Aubrey said to her last customer for the day. “Thank You, Lord, for opening up that door and giving me another contract—signed with eighty percent down.” She rejoiced as she locked up for the night. I haven’t heard from Mother. She must have decided to stay a while with her friend.
Aubrey picked up her phone to call her husband. “Hello, Quintin, honey. I’ve just locked up for the day,” she said. “I closed another deal. Isn’t God good?”
“Praise the Lord,” Quintin replied.
“I’ll be home in an hour to fix dinner,” Aubrey said. “I haven’t heard from Mother. She went to visit one of her church friends. I’m going to check to see if she’s made it in yet.”
“Alright. I’ll see you later,” Quintin said.
Aubrey slid open the sliding glass door which separated her office from the living quarters of her mother’s home.
“Mother,” she called as she hurried up the stairs. She heard coughing coming from the bedroom. Aubrey swung the door open to see her mother holding her neck.
“Mother!” Aubrey exclaimed. She quickly pulled her mother up to a sitting position.
Mother Jamison, gasping for air, was unable to speak. Aubrey saw panic in her eyes. Her mother’s skin seemed pale and she was sweating profusely. She gagged again and coughed up blood. Aubrey quickly dialed 9-1-1.
By the time the ambulance arrived, the coughing had subsided even though she was still taking rapid, shallow breaths, and rubbing her chest. After securing Mother Jamison on the stretcher and carefully placing her in the back of the ambulance, one of the EMTs helped Aubrey into the back.
“Change of plans,” Aubrey told her husband over the phone. After listening to his wife tell him what had taken place, Quintin calmly said, “Let’s pray.”
“I’m on my way,” he assured her. “Just pray your way through. You know what prayer can do.”
“I will. We’re at the hospital now.” Aubrey clicked her phone off and hopped out of the ambulance.The EMTs wheeled her mother through the double doors into the emergency room.
Aubrey sat in the waiting room and tried to pray, but all she could say was, “Dear God, dear God” over and over again.
“Mrs. Rodney?” a voice called.
Aubrey turned around to see the nurse from the front desk with a cup of iced water in her hand. She wore a reassuring smile.
“Yes?” Aubrey replied.
“I’m Nurse Kailee. I came by to let you know your mother’s condition has stabilized. We should be taking her to a room in about ten minutes. Here you go.” She handed Aubrey the cup of water. “You’re welcome to wait in her room.”
Aubrey’s phone rang before she could answer the nurse. It was her husband.
“I’m in the parking lot. What’s the room number?” Quintin asked.
“Room 316,” Aubrey answered after checking with Nurse Kailee.
After hanging up the phone, Aubrey said to the nurse, “I’ll wait until my husband gets here then we’ll wait in her room. That was him on the phone.”
Nurse Kailee smiled. “Let me know if you need anything,” she said before returning to the nurses’ desk.
Quintin and Aubrey prayed as they waited for Mother Jamison. Before long, three nurses wheeled her into the room.
Dr. Krisna spoke with them. “She’s very weak. We’re going to keep her in for the night and possibly all day tomorrow for observation. I’ll just need to go over her medical history with you starting with the name of her doctor.”
“Her doctor is Catalina Valentino,” Aubrey said. “She’s never had any major health issues as far back as I can recall.”
After gathering the information he needed, Dr. Krisna admitted, “I don’t know exactly what brought about her illness. We checked her stomach and intestinal areas since she had coughed up some blood thinking she may have a severe ulcer in her digestive system, but that turned up negative. Her blood pressure was extremely high. Thank God we were able to bring it under control and thus bring her breathing back to normal. We’re still waiting for the report from the lab for her blood work.”
“She’s not one to complain, but I caught her gasping for breath a few times. She told me her chest was hurting every now and then but we didn’t think it was anything serious,” Aubrey said.
“I know Dr. Valentino. I believe she’s on vacation and should be back some time next week. I’ll speak with her then,” Dr. Krisna said. “In the mean time, we’ll send her office a copy of our examination. The nurses will be monitoring her closely throughout the night. If you have no further questions, I’ll take my leave. As I said, if all goes well, she should be able to go home in three to four days.”
Quintin and Aubrey prayed for Mother Jamison throughout the night. By morning she was fully conscious and able to speak with them.
“You will not be going out by yourself anymore,” Aubrey told her. “And no objections this time. Consider yourself on house arrest.”
“Alright,” Mother Jamison said smiling weakly.
Jennifer sat in front of her laptop staring at her bank account statement, especially at the amounts transferred into Mr. Francia’s account. The money she was paying Mr. Francia was leaving her almost broke.
“Dear God, I don’t know what else to do,” she prayed. “I’m going to have to drop out of med school and get a full-time job somewhere if I don’t get some big money soon. It’ll probably take a while to get on staff at a hospital. But, whatever happens, I can’t afford to get sued.”
Jennifer brainstormed about where she could get the money from without going into further debt. I can’t ask my friends because then I’d have to tell them everything and it’s my problem, not theirs. Working at the daycare center and doing baby-sitting on the side is not paying as much to keep my account balance in the positive.
Jennifer transferred another $1000 into Mr. Francia’s account leaving her with a balance of $952.43. She slammed her laptop shut, pulled on her shoes and hurried to her car. She drove across town to Cereta’s Loan and Finance Company.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Livingston, but we won’t be able to loan you the money this time around. You’re already behind on the last loan we gave you,” said Jo-Lynn Ratchett at Cereta’s. “I really should not have given you that second loan considering you were late a number of times in paying off your first one, so I won’t be able to do it again. When do you think you’ll be able to pay us something on the second loan?”
“I … I can’t say exactly when,” Jennifer said looking down. “I may be late on some of my payments, but I will definitely pay you back all of it.”
“I’m sorry,” Jo-Lynn said again.
Jennifer sighed as she walked out the loan office. She felt hopeless. Driving two blocks up the street, she stopped in the parking lot of Loans and More, but decided against going in. Before heading home, she stopped by a convenience store where she purchased another lottery ticket.
Scanning the newspaper once she returned home, Jennifer came across the section reporting the results of the last horse race. She had been scanning that section of the paper lately. The times of the upcoming races and the names of the horses that would be racing this weekend were listed. The horse racetracks were located in the next city about an hour’s drive away. I know gambling is wrong, but I have to do something, she thought. And it’s not like I’m using someone else’s money to bet.
The thought of ‘trying it just this once’ plagued her all evening. Even though she was able to shun the thought for a few days, she became obsessed with it as the date to make another payment to Mr. Francia drew closer.
A few days before the payment was due, Jennifer called his home.
“Mrs. Francia, this is Jennifer. I’m calling because I was wondering, would you please ask Mr. Francia if I could have an extra week because, as of today, I do not have the money for my next payment, and I don’t see how I can get it to you on time?”
Mrs. Francia spoke after a few seconds of silence.
“Don’t worry, Jennifer. I’ll be sure to tell my husband. You can only do so much.”
Mr. Francia was not too pleased when his wife gave him the message. “How dare you tell her it’s okay? No, no, no. Contract! She signed the contract.”
“But, Diego, she’s paid faithfully for almost a year now; surely you can loosen up this one time,” his wife insisted.
“No, no, no. You don’t understand business. If you loosen up once — just one time — ” he raised an index finger for emphasis, “ — she’ll expect you to loosen up again and again. If she misses payment by one day, I will sue — ”
“It would be stupid of you to sue her when she does not have any money. Putting her in jail still will not give you the money. Please, Diego, give her a break this time around. She’s such a sweet girl. You are blackmailing her. Poor girl. Luis is not her responsibility.”
Mrs. Francia shuddered.
“You will call her and tell her I will not accept late payments.”
“No, Diego, I will do no such thing. You take care of your own dirty work. Poor girl,” Mrs. Francia said walking away. “Poor girl.”
Jennifer took her last few dollars and headed for the race tracks. This was her third Saturday visiting there. She had started keeping up with the results of horse racing and seeing which horses placed first, second, or third consistently. I’ll just bet a small amount starting out, she thought. As she passed the city limits, she thought back to the meeting she and her friends had had at the Cherry Blossom Cafe some months ago.
Simone had prayed for a promotion at the bank where she worked and also for her and her fiance to have a long life together.
Well, God answered her prayers, Jennifer thought. Simone was promoted to CEO of the bank, and her and Kelvin got married.
Kelli had prayed to marry Trevor and to be able to provide a happy, loving, and prayerful home for their son, Justin.
Well, God answered her prayers. Trevor came home on a short leave from the military in Afghanistan and they got married. Now, Kelli is getting ready to join him in Germany where they will be together as a family. Jennifer flipped her right blinkers on to change lanes.
Aubrey’s request was to get over the disappointment of a failed marriage, to get a handle on her prayer life, and to start her own home interior design company. Jennifer smiled as she remembered Simone’s addition to Aubrey’s request. “Is that all? How about asking God for a praying man to replace Jamaal? We’ll pray one in for you.”
God certainly answered her prayers, Jennifer thought as she exited the highway. He definitely gave her a praying man in Quintin Rodney. And the Restoration Reset Ministry and her business is going well.
I cannot ask for a better man than Brad. I should tell him about this thing with the Francia family, but it’s not his problem. I have to take care of this myself. “Lord, I prayed for a peaceful life, but this situation with the Francia family is stealing my peace more and more each day. How much longer will this have to go on?”
Jennifer quietly placed her bet at the office. As she anxiously watched the race, she glanced around every now and then to make sure no one who knew her was there. On this trip, it seemed the tide had turned. The horse she had bet on, Black Shadow, placed sixth. “Thank you,” she said to the man giving out the money. Three hundred dollars, Jennifer sighed as she hurried to her car. I should be grateful considering I lost money on my previous bets.
On returning home, she received a call from Mr. Francia. “We’ll be going on a trip to Spain. I don’t know when we will be back; just deposit the money directly into my account as you have been doing. No late payments, especially while I’m away.”
“Diego,” Mr. Francia’s wife said after he hung up the phone, “when are you going to learn? You have no business acumen whatsoever. Every business endeavor you’ve put your hands to has failed. Why can’t you swallow your pride and accept Papa’s offer to work on his farm?”
“I’m above ground work,” Diego said.
“You cannot keep fooling yourself. Mama always says to stay in our calling. She is too nice a person to tell you you have no business skills; but I’m not,” Romina said. Despite her small frame, she stood tall and looked directly into her husband’s eyes. “You have to stop running away from reality. You are a poor business man at best, Diego. I’m tired of moving from one place to another. I’m tired of running with you. It’s not good for Luis nor for us as a family.”
“I’ll decide what’s good for the family and especially for my son. And don’t you ever forget that.”
Raising her voice, Romina said, “You need to stop using people to shoulder your responsibilities. Luis is our responsibility—not Dr. Cruz’s, or Sullivan’s, and now you’re casting it off on Jennifer. The poor girl is trying to make it through medical school to help children like Luis. You’ve got to stop running away from life.”
“Shut up!” Diego said.
“No, I will not be quiet,” Romina said. “It’s time for me to say something because I don’t want to be a part of your manipulating people anymore. I can’t sit by and watch you do it any longer. I have a conscience even if you don’t.”
Diego eyed his wife. “Like I said, this is about my son.”
“Your son? What about our son?” Romina said. “You know, it’s not about our son—never has been. It’s about more money in your pocket with as little sweat as possible out of your own body. I want you to stop for Luis’ sake.”
“You say one thing about this to anyone and I’ll have you thrown in jail for negligence toward our son,” Diego said. “Lest you have forgotten, I still have the signed paperwork.”
“Negligence? How can you say that? How can you be so evil? You knew how deathly ill I was when I was pregnant with him. We took a chance carrying him to full term. I had to take the medication or one or both of us would have died. You gave your consent even after Dr. Cruz explained the risk to us.” Romina glared at her husband as he walked off.
“Just be prepared to fly out on Tuesday by noon,” he said.
Eric Gilard, Kiera’s husband, gave her a call. Their conversation left her disturbed. “If you want to see the children again, drop the divorce proceedings,” were his last words before hanging up the phone.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she exclaimed to Aubrey. “I’d do anything to get my children back. He was supposed to have brought them back home by now.”
“Why don’t we drive over there and see what’s going on,” Aubrey suggested after speaking with her husband about it.
After picking Kiera up, she, Aubrey, and Quintin drove over to Eric’s apartment. His vehicle was not in its usual parking space and no one responded when they knocked on the door.
Kiera voiced her worst fear. “I believe he left and took the kids with them.”
Mr. Ramadin from upstairs was standing on his balcony. He shouted down to them as they walked away. “If you’re looking for Eric, he left last night with his little boy and little girl and a Mexican lady. They had suitcases with them.”
Eric had had a meeting with his friend, Tony, some months back.
“I know how you can make some big money,” Tony said, “But everything must be kept confidential. It has to do with these illegal aliens—Mexicans, Latinos—you know what I’m talking about.”
Eric grinned. “Count me in,” he said picking up immediately where Tony was headed.
“I’m helping them get their paperwork for legal status here in the U.S. They pay me big money because they do not want to go back to their poverty-ridden countries. I have this lady, Mariadas Carmen; I just need you to provide her with a place to stay while I finalize her paperwork. Keep her as your maid. She speaks very little English so she won’t cause you any problems. I’ll pay you, say, $250.00 each week, then when all the paperwork is finalized, you’ll get a lump sum—at least a thousand dollars.”
Eric was pleased with the plan.
“If the government gets involved, you’ll have to vouch for her. Tell them that you are filing for her and that she’s here legally. If you keep quiet about it, no one will know anything. She’s already been instructed not to discuss her status with anyone besides us.”
From talking with Tony, Eric found out how big the illegal trafficking of aliens was. “It’s almost like the Underground Railroad,” Eric said with a chuckle. “See, I learned something in school.”
Mariadas Carmen came to live with Eric and she helped him take care of the children—Yomen and Kaiser—whenever it was his turn to have them.
After Quintin, Aubrey, and Kiera got back in the car at Eric’s apartment, Kiera said, “I remember Yomen telling me about a lady cooking for them and helping them take their baths and playing with them. He told me he could not understand anything she said to them.”
“Let me call Leyton Patterson and let him know what’s taken place,” Quintin said as they drove away from Eric’s place. He punched in the number on his cell phone.
“Yes, Patterson, Rodney here. Sorry to disturb you after hours, but something came up. Remember that case I turned over to you—Kiera Gilard seeking a divorce and custody of her children. Well, it looks like the husband has skipped town with the children … I guess we’re talking not only breaking the visitation rules, but kidnapping as well? … I see … Why don’t you get in touch with Tucker Gravlin and get him on it right away? … I’ll talk to you later.”
Glancing at Kiera through his rear view mirror, Quintin said, “We’re having our private investigator, Tucker Gravlin, begin searching for him and the children. In the meantime, if you could get us the latest pictures of your two children and of your husband that would help us a lot.”
“I’ll contact all the ladies tonight and get them praying for the safe return of your children,” Aubrey said.
“Please do,” Kiera said.
Quintin passed on the pictures from Kiera to Tucker Gravlin the next day. “This is important, Gravlin. He’s been using the children to try to stop her from going ahead with the divorce proceedings.”
“I’ll get on it right away,” Gravlin assured him.
Gravlin started his search in the apartment complex, showing the picture of the children and of their father to those playing in the playground. “I’ve seen them here with a lady who spoke Spanish,” one little boy said. Gravlin’s last stop was at Mr. Ramadin’s apartment.
“My little boy, Shane, used to play with them whenever they came to visit with their father. The past couple months he’s seemed aloof and always in a hurry.”
“What about this lady who’s been helping to take care of the children?” Gravlin asked.
“She’s doing more than just taking care of the children; she lives with Eric. She’s Mexican. He left suddenly. No goodbye. Nothing.”
Gravlin left his cell phone number with Mr. Ramadin.
“What do you think is going on?” Mrs. Ramadin asked her husband.
“Beats me. It’s hard to believe he ran off with his own children. No telling where they are,” her husband said.
“I know where they are,” Shane, their six-year-old son, said. He had been playing with his trucks on the floor while his parents talked with Gravlin. “They’re with their grandmother. Yomen told me his father said he was taking them to visit with their grandmother. He said they may stay there for a long time.”
“Why didn’t you tell us when Mr. Gravlin was here?” his father said reaching for his cell phone from off the side table.
“No one asked me. Plus, you said when grown folks are talking to be quiet,” Shane said matter-of-factly.
His parents rolled their eyes and smiled.
Gravlin made phone calls to Leyton Patterson and Quintin to share with them his latest findings.
“We’ll get a court order for his arrest,” Patterson said. “Notification of the kidnapping has already been sent out state-wide. We’ll extend that nation-wide to cover all our bases. In the meantime, you, Gravlin, will be taking a trip to visit ‘Grandma’.”
After getting the grandmother’s address and phone number from Kiera, Gravlin advised her not to get in touch with the grandmother lest she was in on the kidnapping. “We do not want to arouse any suspicion.”
Eric took a leisurely drive to Richmond, Virginia, to his mother, Clara’s, house. “This is a surprise. You normally call before you come,” she said embracing her grandchildren. Looking over their shoulders for Kiera, she said, “And who is this young lady?”
“This is Mariadas Carmen. She’s been helping us with the children. Things are still touch and go between me and Kiera,” Eric told his mother.
“You two really need to work things out at least for these children,” his mother said.
“We’re working at it. We decided the children needed a break from the stress we’ve been under so if you don’t mind, I’d like for them to stay here for a while where it’s more stable until we get past this. I brought Mariadas along to help with the children.”
“Sure. They are welcomed to stay as long as necessary,” his mother said. “And, Mariadas, you make this your home.”
“Mama, she hardly speaks English, but she’s great with the children,” Eric said.
“Well, we’ll have fun teaching her then.”
Once they were settled in, Eric informed his mother that he had some business to take care of back home and was unsure when he would be back. He left early the next morning before the children or Mariadas were awake, only saying good bye to his mother. “You don’t have to call Kiera. I’ll call and let her know we got in safely.”
Wondering why Kiera had not driven up with her husband to drop the children off, Clara defied her son’s request and called Kiera anyway.
“Hello, Kiera. How are you? Eric and the children made it in safely. I am so glad to be of help. The children can stay here for as long as you need for me to keep them while you two iron things out. I sure would have loved to see you as it’s been so long since I last saw you,” Clara said. “By the way, Eric told me not to call you as he would call and let you know they arrived safely, so if you don’t mind, do not tell him that I called. I just wanted to hear your voice and make sure everything was alright.”
“Okay,” Kiera said wondering how strange her mother-in-law’s words were. Unless Eric did not tell her he ran off with the children.
“By the way, what’s been going on between you two?” her mother-in-law asked.
Kiera hesitated to say anything unsure of exactly what Eric had told her, but then decided to tell her. “Grandma C, things have gotten worse. I know I have told you the last few times we spoke that everything was going well. I just did not want you to worry. Anyway, I filed for divorce because there’s been problems going on since the beginning of this marriage. I’ve tried to work it out, but even with the divorce pending, he’s still not budging in his behavior. I do thank you for keeping the children for us,” Kiera said deciding to play along with the apparent lie Eric told his mother.
“How come you didn’t ride with him?”
“I did not want any arguing in front of the children and the lady,” Kiera said.
“You don’t know her name?”
“Eric hired her without me knowing. I keep forgetting her name.”
“It’s Mariana Carmen, or Carmen Marianas, or something like that. I’ll ask Eric again when he calls me next,” Clara said with a chuckle. “The children seem to have taken a liking to her. Except for the language barrier, she’s good with them.”
“Will she be staying there with you and the children?”
“What about Eric? Where is he?”
“Oh, he left not too long ago saying he had business to take care of back home and he doesn’t know how long it would take him. But like I said, do not tell him you and I talked. I thought it strange he did not want me to talk with you at all so I had to find out for myself what’s going on, especially when he turned up with another lady.”
“I’m glad you called and you have my word: I won’t say anything to him about you calling me.” Kiera’s mind went on fast-forward. Seems he has not mentioned to her that he ran off with the children. I wonder what business he has to tend to and where exactly he is headed? Lying to his own mother to carry out his evil deed. How low can a person get?
“Are you still there?” her mother-in-law asked breaking into her thoughts.
“Yes, I’m still here.”
“Well, I’m going to let you go in case Eric tries to call you. And please keep in touch.”
As soon as they got off the phone, Kiera called Aubrey and Leyton Patterson.
Grandma Clara called her son immediately after saying goodbye to her daughter-in-law.
“Eric, you messed up big time. I just spoke with Kiera and she told me that you ran off with the children.”
“Mama, I told you not to talk with her because all she’s going to do is lie to you and put stuff in your head. Why would I run off with my own children? I have equal time with them as she does.”
“Well, you did run off with them. Kiera told me you both have been separated for some months now and that you were supposed to have brought them back to her Sunday evening after having them for the weekend and you never showed up, and neither did you call her,” Clara said. “She also told me she stopped by your place and you did not answer the door because you were not there. Of course you couldn’t be there because you were on your way up here with the children. Exactly, what’s going on?”
“Look, Mama, I brought the children here to stay with you until things got straightened out between Kiera and me. Things are very unstable—”
“I have no problem keeping my grandchildren while you two do what you need to do, but I do have a problem with how you’re going about doing it. Son, that is kidnapping.”
“They’re my children!” Eric said.
“No. They’re both your children. I just hope she didn’t call the police—yet.”
“Did she mention anything about calling them?” Eric asked.
“No, she didn’t.”
Eric sighed a sigh of relief. “Mama, I really need for you to keep them for me.”
“Where are you anyway?” his mother asked.
“I’m headed back home to take care of a few things.”
“For how long? And then what?”
“I’m not sure how long.”
“Okay,” his mother said. “One other thing: Kiera told me she’s going through with the divorce but you are using the children to force her to stay in the marriage. I’m disappointed in you, son.”
“I’m not using the children to keep her. Any good father would want to spend time with his children no matter how rough things may be between him and his wife.”
“I rest my case,” his mother said. “But I will tell you this: You try to control a person in a forceful way, you’ll never get their heart nor their affection.”
Leyton Patterson passed on the newly acquired information to Tucker Gravlin.
“I’m almost at the hotel. It’s not too far from the grandmother’s house. I’ll shower, grab a bite to eat, touch base with the police chief here in Virginia, then swing by Grandma’s. Did Kiera try calling her husband to try to get him to tell her where he and the children are—you know, just to get him to say it with his own mouth?”
“No. We told her not to call him. We’ll work with what we have and see how successful that turns out,” Patterson said. “Do you still have the house address?”
“It’s right here in my briefcase.”
“I’ll go ahead and call the police chief to let him know you’ll be there soon and give him an update. Keep me posted.”
“You betcha,” Gravlin said.
After about three hours, Gravlin and Officer Goodlee from the Richmond, Virginia, south police precinct were knocking on Clara’s front door. She was surprised to see them there so soon, even though she expected them to show up any day. Mariadas and the children were playing in the backyard.
“Yes, come on inside, officers,” she said after they stated their purpose for stopping by. “I was kind of expecting you. The children are here, as well as the lady who’s been helping to take care of them. I had no idea what was going on. My son stopped by without letting me know he was coming with the children, which he normally does not do; they’ve always called ahead whenever they visit to make sure I am home. I knew they were having marital problems, but I did not know it had escalated this much. Things did not seem right when he spoke with me and when I asked him about his wife he seemed kind of evasive so I called Kiera and she told me everything. I told my son the police are going to come searching for him because he actually kidnapped his children.”
“Where’s your son now?” Gravlin asked.
“He told me he was headed back home to take care of a few things,” Clara said. “What will happen to my grand-babies now?”
“We’ll have to take them into our care and return them to their mother,” Officer Goodlee said.
“Can they please stay here with me until you get in touch with their mother? I haven’t seen them in a while, and this is their first day here. You have my word: I won’t hide them. I learned early in life to respect the law. In fact, I’ll go call their mother right now.”
“That’s fine with us, but let me make some phone calls first. And I’ll speak with their mother first,” Gravlin said.
Gravlin placed a call to Leyton Patterson and to the chief of police in Richmond before he called Kiera.
When Eric Gilard got to his apartment the police were waiting for him. They were parked a few car lengths up and across the street from his designated parking space in front of his apartment. He looked around nervously before climbing out of his vehicle. He hurried into his apartment using the hallway entrance. Eric glanced furtively through the bedroom curtains, but saw no movement outside. He decided to catch a quick nap before taking a shower and touching base with Tony. He was awakened by rapid knocking on the door.
“Yeah, who is it?” he said stumbling to the door.
“Open up. Police.”
“We’re here to speak with Eric Gilard.”
Eric threw on his shirt and shoes. Picking up his keys he went into the living room where he quietly unlatched the glass sliding door, and slid the door open just enough for him to slip through. As he was pulling the door shut a pair of hands grabbed him by the shoulders.
“Going somewhere, Mr. Gilard?”
Eric swung around and pushed the police officer aside. Unaware that there was a second officer, he attempted to make a dash to his car. The second officer stuck out one of his legs causing Eric to trip and pitch forward. They quickly pinned him to the ground and snapped a pair of handcuffs around his wrists.
“You’re under arrest for the kidnapping of two children.”
“I don’t have them,” Eric said as the officers dragged him to his feet amidst his squirming.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law,” one of the officers said as they led him to the police car.
Mr. Ramadin observed from his upstairs balcony.
“Great news!” Kiera said to Aubrey after she answered the phone. “My children are safe. They are in Virginia with my mother-in-law.”
“Praise the Lord!” Aubrey exclaimed. “God answers prayer. Like my mother always says, ‘I know what prayer can do’.”
“I’ve decided to drive up to get them. She says she will keep them until I get there. We just have one little problem: Mariadas Carmen, the lady who’s been taking care of them, she’s Mexican. My mother-in-law says the police used an interpreter to talk with her and she has no family. She had no idea what was going on so they let her go. She can ride back with us. I just don’t know where to go from there.”
“I’ll talk with Quintin about that. I’m sure we can help her,” Aubrey said.
Kiera received the news of her husband’s arrest with relief. “I feel sorry the marriage had to end this way.”
“When are you going to pick your children up?” Aubrey asked
“I’ll be leaving at noon on Friday, spend the weekend with my mother-in-law and return on Monday.”
Quintin delivered more good news to Aubrey later that evening as they prepared for bed. “Here you go,” he said handing her a letter. “This came into my office today.”
Recognizing the Saudi postal stamp and return address, Aubrey tore the envelope open and quickly removed its contents. She eagerly read it. “Things are looking up for the adoption of Habiba al-Ahmet. Soon I’ll have us a little girl until you begin to really perform,” she said.
“Wait a minute now. We just got married. Don’t I get time to have you to myself for a while before we are blessed with a little one?”
Aubrey giggled. “We’re not getting any younger, so time is of the essence. Anyway, you wait right here cause I’ll definitely be back. Let me go tell Mother the good news.”
Mother Jamison was now living with Aubrey and her husband after being discharged from the hospital. They had put her fully furnished house up for rent to college students.
As Aubrey snuggled up in the bed next to her husband she said, “Quintin, can we please ride up to Virginia with Kiera? I just don’t think it’s safe for her to drive up there by herself. Anything could happen to her and –“
“Who’s ‘we’?” Quintin asked with a yawn.
“… and you. Please, please, please. We’d leave on Friday, go to church with her mother-in-law, and return on Monday. We could rent a van, and it won’t interfere with our schedule at all. Plus, like you’ve said, when you have your own business you can take off whenever you need to. This would be an encouragement to her; she’s been through so much,” Aubrey said .
Quintin chuckled. “I see you have this all planned out.”
“Is that a ‘yes’? We can see this as a mini-vacation, which we all need. Quintin? Quintin?”
Aubrey smiled as she kissed her husband good night.
Kiera and her children were happily reunited. Eric was charged with kidnapping; this only expedited and finalized their divorce. Mariadas Carmen was found innocent. There was a debate as to whether or not to turn her over to immigration for possible deportation.
“Please vouch for her,” Aubrey pleaded with her husband. “You’re a lawyer; you know the right words to use. She came into the country legally; she just extended her visit. By her own testimony she just wanted to settle down in America, get a job, work, earn enough money and send for her three siblings. She only wants to help her family out of poverty. Please, Quintin.”
“Where would she stay? She hardly knows any English. How would she get around?” her husband asked.
“We can talk with Pastor Ashton about letting her stay in the church’s home for women.”
“Alright, we can do that.”
“Thank you so much,” Aubrey said hugging his neck.
Even though Roger was glad everything about him and Vicki was now out in the open, he was disturbed by Vicki’s last words: The next time you hear from me it will be through my lawyer.
I know I should be praying about this, but I feel funny praying to God whom I’ve played around with and ignored for so long,” he thought. But He’s the only One I see who can help me through this. Taking his father’s advice, he gave Quintin a call and explained to him his dilemma.
“Let’s make it a matter of prayer,” Quintin said. “And we can kick-start it tomorrow at Alphonse’s place where we still meet once a month for prayer. You’re still invited to join us. We’ll be by at ten to pick you up and no more excuses.”
Quintin and Kelvin picked Roger up and amidst protest and good-natured bantering got him and his wheelchair in Quintin’s car.
“Don’t you ride the hospital van to the hospital three times a week for physical therapy?” Kelvin said.
“That’s different, bro. Their vehicle is specially made for people confined to a wheelchair,” Roger replied.
“The only difference is we’re taking you to ST—spiritual therapy,” Kelvin said.
Once they got to Alphonse’s place the men had an uplifting time of prayer and fellowship around the Word of God. Roger sensed the oneness of spirit and coveted that for himself as they shared prayer requests and prayed for each other. Kelvin asked for prayer for his upcoming mission trip to Peru. “If all goes well, we’ll be leaving in the next three to four months.”
“I believe I’m ready to settle down in marriage, so please pray that I choose the right young lady,”Alphonse said.
“Pray that the adoption of Habiba will go smoothly and quickly. We don’t foresee any obstacles in the way,” Quintin said. “My wife has her heart set on bringing her into the family by Christmas.”
All four piled into Quintin’s car and despite Roger’s protests to take him home, they headed for the basketball court.
Once they got to the basketball court, his friends set him in his wheelchair on the ground. “Man, how am I supposed to do this? I can’t do this,” Roger said.
“I forgot to tell you, but all who come to our Bible study must also play basketball,” Kelvin said tossing the basketball in Roger’s lap. “You’re on my team so don’t fail me now.”
By the end of their two hour game, Roger had mastered the art of moving around in his wheelchair using one arm to maneuver himself while dribbling the ball with the other.
“A day well spent,” he said when they took him home.
“I’ve been thinking,” Kelvin said before saying goodbye, “since you’re into rebuilding cars, why don’t you work on a car where the person confined to the wheelchair can roll up a built-in ramp or some kind of electrical lift that will place the wheelchair behind the steering wheel and lock it in place. The wheelchair would replace the driver’s seat.”
Roger immediately envisioned the car. “But how will I press the pedals? My legs are numb,” Roger said.
“Easy,” Kelvin said. “Place the pedals up on the front dashboard; you can even make them into power buttons for a more fancy look. A green button to replace the gas pedal and a red button to replace the brake pedal. They lock in place until pressed again. I don’t know; you figure it out. You’re the engineer. I’m sure there’s a market out there.”
While the men were having their time of prayer, Aubrey and the ladies of the Restoration Reset Ministry were having their prayer time as well. Word had gotten around about their powerful ministry that helped in restoring and strengthening marriages and families. ‘I know what prayer can do’ became their motto.
“Don’t forget, ladies,” Aubrey reminded them, “we’ll be meeting with the ladies at Grace and Truth Fellowship. Pastor Ashton says we can use a couple of the church vans to take us there if we needed to. I wish for all of you to go. My mother will be our guest speaker so come on out and support her.”
Mariadas Carmen, who was a guest that evening at Aubrey’s house, prepared a delicious Mexican meal consisting of spicy Mexican corn chowder, broiled salmon tacos, with chocoflan for dessert.
“I may not know how to speak Spanish, but I know a good meal when I taste it. Gracias, Mariadas. Muchas gracias,” Quintin said helping himself to a second serving of the chocoflan.
“Si,” Mother Jamison said. “Mariadas, el chocoflan es delicioso.”
“Si,” Aubrey said. “Deliciosa.”
“I thank God for Mariadas,” Aubrey told her husband as they settled in their bed for the night. “I’m going to ask her about enrolling in an ESL class at the college. And I’m enrolling myself in a Spanish class.”
Kissing her husband good night, Aubrey cut the bedside lamp off. She was just falling off to sleep when the phone rang. “Hello, Kelli. Is everything alright?” she said after checking the caller ID.
“Yes and no,” Kelli replied. “Sorry to call so late, but I just returned from my father’s about an hour ago and checked my mail and there was a letter from family and children’s services saying they will be stopping by on Monday at nine o’clock. I don’t know what’s going on, but they’d called me on Thursday stating something about child neglect. I told them they had the wrong number and did not think any more about the call. But when I received this notice in the mail, my antenna went up. Pray with me that nothing will come out of this.”
“I will,” Aubrey said. “In fact, let’s pray right now.”
Roger took Quintin’s suggestion to heart. He shared the idea with his former boss, Mr. Drew, at the Chrysler plant.
“That’s a workable idea. I know there’s a market for it,” Mr. Drew said. “Tell you what. Write me a proposal detailing your plan for this new vehicle, include any drawings as best you can; once I receive that package I’ll have a meeting with our manager and owner, then I’ll get back with you.”
Roger felt a new surge of energy flowing through his body; he now had something to live for; he had something worthwhile to do. He was working in the shed behind his house when he heard a car horn blowing. Wheeling himself around the side of the house towards the front he noticed a familiar car parked in the driveway. He heard rapid knocking on the door.
“Is that you, Tariq? I’m in the back,” he said as he rounded the corner to see Tariq stepping off the front porch.
“Hey, Roger. I was getting ready to drive off. How are you doing?” he said shaking Roger’s hand. “I have two people I brought with me to visit you.”
Roger looked toward the car as Tariq signaled for its occupants to join him. A young lady with a baby in her arms emerged from the car. Roger threw a quick glance at Tariq as a smile spread across his face.
“Hello, Vicki. It’s good to see you again,” Roger said. “I take it this is Robertia.”
“Who else would it be?” Vicki said curtly.
“Let’s go inside where it’s cooler. You guys want something to drink?” Roger asked.
“That sounds good to me,” Tariq said. Vicki did not answer. She stared at Roger as he turned the wheelchair around and led them to the back and into the kitchen. She stared as he washed his hands in the kitchen sink before pouring three glasses of lemonade. “I got it,” he said each time Tariq offered to help.
The three of them went into the living room. Roger and Tariq did most of the talking. He shared with them his new idea.
“That’s a winner right there,” Tariq said. “What do you think, Vicki?”
Vicki had been silent up until this point. “It sounds like it will be a success,” she said.
“Do you mind if I hold her?” Roger asked. “I can’t believe how big she’s gotten.”
“She’s almost two years old now.”
“I have someone I want to say a quick hello to,” Tariq said, “plus, you two need to talk. I feel like I’m in the way. I’ll be back to pick you up,” he said to his sister as he drank down his lemonade. “I don’t know when, but I’ll be back.”
Vicki started to protest, but her brother walked out the kitchen door. Roger and Vicki stared at each other for a few seconds. Robertia sat contentedly in her father’s lap.
“Vicki, I’m very sorry for skipping out on you. There’s no excuse for what I did. Please forgive me. I’d like to make it up to you, but I really don’t know how,” Roger said.
“You can start by not apologizing anymore; you’ve already apologized enough. Second, you can keep in touch; my number is still the same. I started to contact my lawyer to tell him where you were, but Tariq insisted that I visit you first. I now see why. You can’t do too much financially; but you sure can handle yourself in the kitchen.” They both laughed. “Anyway, as soon as this new car idea of yours takes off, I’ll be on you for the child support money.”
“You make sure you do that,” Roger said as they both laughed again.
Conversation flowed freer between them.
Tariq returned around seven. By then Vicki had met Roger’s parents and had had supper with them. Mr. Hawthorne was bouncing Robertia on his knees when Tariq walked into the living room. They chatted for a while before parting ways.
Roger eagerly called Quintin, Kelvin, and Alphonse to share with them the good news. “Now I know what prayer can do,” Roger said.
“I stopped by Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne to check on Roger, and–” Aubrey said.
“You what?” Quintin said.
“I stopped by Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne to check on Roger.”
“Now what made you do that?” Quintin said.
“I just felt a strong urge to go and see how he’s doing. He’s still confined to that wheelchair and the doctors do not know how long he’ll be in the wheelchair.”
“I don’t care if he’s confined to a wheelchair or not. You both had a relationship and…”
“Wasn’t much of a relationship, if you ask me,” Aubrey said.
“There may not have been anything on your part, but I don’t doubt that he had some feelings for you, plus from what you’ve shared with me he added some zest to your boring life. Is your life getting boring again?”
Aubrey smiled. “Nope. And who told you my life was boring before.”
“You told me so much. And that would not have been hard to figure out. See, after I delivered you from the clasp of your former husband, you led what you believed to be a boring life and were out there trying to find yourself. You weren’t sure which way to go. Then in rides Roger, your fake knight in shining armour, or was it on a shining motorcycle…?”
“…and he brought some thrill, some excitement to your unstable life; he led you into doing some off the wall things; he made you laugh; but when it was all over, you kept asking yourself: Is this it? Is this all life has to offer me? You had nothing of substance to hang on to after being with him. You weren’t attracted to Roger in a romantic sense, but you were attracted to him because he brought temporary excitement to your life. Then in comes your real knight in shining armour who God used to stabilize and give meaning to your life and give you some security about yourself.”
“You’re right,” she said. “I’ve been praying for Roger so I just thought I’d stop by and see how he’s doing.”
“That’s alright, I’m glad to see you’re still concerned about Roger because he does need prayer. I trust you Aubrey, but just to be on the safe side, I’d feel better if you told me before you went over there.”
“He loves and cares for you,” Simone said after Aubrey shared with her friends the conversation she and her husband had. “That’s what you need: a husband who loves you enough to get jealous.”
Even Mother Jamison was in full agreement with her son-in-law’s response. “It’s good that he’s concerned about where you are and who you’re with. And your response prevented it from being a negative situation.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you had responded negatively, by defending what you did, by insisting on visiting Roger whenever you pleased saying that you have nothing evil in your heart, and with a bad attitude, and even accusing Quintin of not trusting you, then that conversation would not have ended as sweetly as it did. You respond to him positively and with a humble teachable attitude and you’ll win over him all the time. I’ll say to any wife, if you’re not wise, at least be smart: just do what your husband wants you to do with a good attitude and spirit and you’ll come out on the winning side.”
“Thanks for reminding me, Mother,” Aubrey said. “I needed it. Why don’t you remind our ladies of that during our meeting at Grace and Truth Fellowship Church?”
The special ladies meeting at Grace and Truth Fellowship Church became the talk of both churches the Sunday after the meeting. God did a work in the ladies’ hearts and it marked the beginning of a restoration work in the marriages and families of those who attended the meeting.
Mother Jamison, the main speaker, started out her speech strong; however, she began to feel weak towards the end of her speech. She spoke until her breath left her. The last she recalled was giving the invitation for salvation to the ladies before she passed out. Aubrey and another lady caught her just before she hit the floor.
“Please continue on,” Aubrey instructed Mrs. Millins, the first lady of Grace and Truth Fellowship. “Take care of the new converts. We can’t leave them now.”
“Okay. I’ll meet you at the hospital once we are done here,” Mrs. Millins said. She then turned her attention to the attendees. “You’ve heard the dynamic message Mother Jamison delivered. Is there anyone who wants to accept God’s gift of salvation? Anyone willing to turn your marriage over to Jesus? Yes, God sees those hands. Come to the altar and pour out your heart to God.”
Aubrey, with the help of Simone and a few other ladies, got Mother Jamison to the room behind the auditorium where they awaited the arrival of the ambulance. Dear God, please keep Mother safe, Aubrey prayed silently.
“Let’s be in prayer for the restoration of Mother Jamison. God used her to bring deliverance to many tonight. The devil was using many of us to cause conflict in our marriages, but God used Mother Jamison this evening to bring deliverance to us,” Mrs. Millins said.
The ambulance arrived and sped off to the hospital with Mother Jamison and Aubrey. Simone and two other ladies from Grace and Truth Fellowship followed behind.
Aubrey placed a call to her husband as the ambulance careened down the main road. “Quintin, the ambulance is taking Mother to the hospital. Please pray for her.”
“I’m working right now, but I’ll be praying and I’ll join you as soon as I can,” Quintin said.
“I’m in the ambulance with her. I’ll call you again once we get to the hospital. I love you. Please pray. I’ll fill you in on the details.”
“I will,” Quintin said. “Let me pray with you before you go. Dear God, please strengthen my wife right now. Give her wisdom and help her to make the right decision and just to trust you. And please bring about healing to my mother-in-law. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
“Thanks, honey. We’re pulling up before the emergency room entrance. Bye. I’ll talk to you later,” Aubrey said as she jumped out the back of the ambulance.
Aubrey rushed to the hall by the elevators in time to see the EMTs place Mother Jamison in the hands of the doctors and nurses who had been awaiting her arrival. They immediately rushed her through the double doors leading to the operating rooms. Simone and the two ladies from Grace and Truth Fellowship joined her in the waiting area. Mrs. Millins, Kelli, and some of the other ladies joined them about forty minutes later.
“Don’t worry about a thing,” Mrs. Millins told Aubrey as they joined her in prayer. “The ladies from Mt. Salem are on their way home. They wanted to hang around until they heard from you, but I told them the best thing they can do is to head on home to their families and to pray for you and Mother Jamison as they drive home and to continue praying once they get home.”
“I contacted Pastor Ashton and informed him as to what took place,” Mrs. Ashton said. “He said he’ll make sure all the ladies arrive home safely and to let you know that he will be starting the prayer chain for Mother Jamison’s healing because we’re not ready for her to leave us yet—even though she will be in a far better place. If I know him, he’ll be joining us here.”
The ladies spent their waiting time alternating in prayer for Mother Jamison.
One of the nurses, Nurse Kingley, gave them an update. “The doctors noticed a lot of fluid in her lungs. Apparently, the fluid had been filling her lungs over a period of time.”
“Did the doctors say what may be causing it?” Aubrey asked.
“Not yet,” Nurse Kingley said with an understanding smile. “Dr. Browning will be able to say for sure once they drain all the fluid out and run more tests. He’ll be talking with you after the operation. All we can do is hope for the best.”
Mrs. Ashton gave Aubrey a hug and then she called her husband. Aubrey gave her husband a call also. Both related to their husbands what the nurse told them. The waiting party received many phone calls from the conference attendees inquiring about Mother Jamison’s condition.
Aubrey held a steady stare onto the floor as they waited, and even though her eyes were open and no audible sounds could be heard, the moving of her lips indicated that she was in prayer. Simone nudged her once, then nudged her again; she pointed in the direction of the elevators. Quintin had just stepped out of one of them. Aubrey rushed into his arms. He held her shaking body close to his as tears tumbled down her cheeks.
After about an hour spent waiting and praying, Nurse Kingley stopped by the waiting area. “Great news, Aubrey. The doctors have found the problem and your mother is on the road to recovery.”
“Thank you so much,” Aubrey said. “This is my husband, Quintin. What exactly is the problem?”
After acknowledging Quintin, Nurse Kingley continued speaking. “It’s what we call pulmonary edema. There are various kinds. Your mother has noncardiogenic pulmonary edema, meaning it did not come about because of a heart condition, although it did begin to affect her heart by causing pressure to increase within the heart. Dr. Browning will be speaking with you more about it once he comes out of the operating room.”
While they were talking, Pastor Ashton joined them. He rejoiced with them at the great news. Nurse Kingley excused herself as Dr. Browning joined them. With introductions behind them, Dr. Browning gave them a more detailed explanation of Mother Jamison’s condition.
“Yes, Dr. Browning, I did notice shortness of breath; she seemed to have difficulty lying on her back and her legs started swelling. At first I thought she was just exerting herself too much and she did slow down, but the symptoms returned. She said she was feeling some discomfort in her chest area every now and then.”
“Dr. Browning, she’s one of those people who will be in a whole lot of pain and not say anything; if she did say something, she would make it seem less than what it is. She hates to bother people,” Quintin added.
“Fluid had accumulated in the air sacs in her lungs because the capillaries, the very small blood vessels, became leaky. Her kidneys both seem strong. We did see a tiny clot in her lungs so we’re attributing her symptoms to that,” Dr. Browning said. “She should be all cleaned up and in her room by now.”
“I guess we all cannot march in there,” Quintin said waving one hand in the direction of the ladies waiting for news about Mother Jamison.
“Sorry,” Dr. Browning said. “I’ll allow you and your wife and the pastor and his wife to go in her room; but do not try to get her to talk. She needs rest now more than anything. If there are no more questions, I’ll let you folks visit for a short while. Nurse Kingley will take you to her room. All the best.”
Pastor Ashton led in prayer once they entered the room. He and his wife then led the other ladies on their trip back home. Arrangement was made for Mariadas to travel back with Simone and Kelli who rode with Pastor Ashton and his wife. Mariadas would spend the rest of the weekend with Simone.
Being that there was not much they could do, Aubrey and Quintin, after picking up a few necessary toiletries checked into a hotel close to the hospital.
“We’ll just worship at Grace and Truth Fellowship tomorrow,” Quintin said.
Simone gave Aubrey a call after services on Sunday.
“Mother should be home on Wednesday,” Aubrey informed her. “I tell you, it was a close call.”
“We’ve been praying for extra strength for you and your husband as well. How have you both been holding out?” Simone asked.
“Quite well,” Aubrey said. “How are things coming along with the online Bible studies?”
“Just great! Kelvin and myself are almost done with a year’s studies. He’s so excited, he’s pushing forward at a speed I can hardly keep up with,” Simone said with a laugh. “Each year the college offers students a chance to do missionary work overseas. This year they’re going to visit the Nomatsiguenga people group in Peru. Kelvin has already signed up to go with them. I tell you, he’s like a completely different person since he got saved.”
“That just goes to show you what prayer can do. God is able to do amazing things if we would only pray,” Aubrey said. “Who would have thought God would use a tragic situation to get Kelvin’s attention?”
“You said it right. I’m even more amazed at how fast he’s learning the Arawakan language. And,” Simone added, “he’s learning Spanish on the side, so he and Mariadas are having a time conversing with each other.”
Aubrey laughed. “I can just imagine. Things are looking great as far as getting her paperwork squared away. We went down to the immigration office and filled out all the paperwork, so if all goes well, she should have her legal papers soon. I signed as her legal guardian. Once her paperwork is finalized, we’ll help her file for her family. So God’s answering our prayers about that.”
“Well, praise the Lord!” Simone exclaimed.
“Do you know how long you and Kelvin will be gone to Peru?” Aubrey asked.
“Our first trip will last six months and if he wants to return he’ll sign up for a year’s stay . We’ll be working through the Translation Outreach Network. He’s looking for full-time work with them,” Simone said. “And, yes, I’ll be traveling with him.”
“I’m certainly going to miss you both,” Aubrey said. “And to think Kelli will be leaving us too—at least for four years.”
“You all have been great friends,” Simone said.
“I guess our little group is disbanding little by little,” Aubrey told her husband later that night.
“God’s just doing a greater work through each of you for His glory and for the saving of souls,” her husband assured her.
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m going to give Jennifer a call. I still don’t know what’s going on with her,” Aubrey told her husband.
“Well, hold up a minute. Can you give me a call first?” Quintin said with a laugh. “Come on, spend some time with me first.”
The Monday after the tremendous meeting at Grace and Truth, Kelli was placing the last of the breakfast dishes in the dish-drainer when she heard the doorbell ring followed by firm knocking on the door. After picking Justin up out of his high chair, she hurried to the door wondering who it could be as she peered through the peephole.
“Yes?” Kelli said after not recognizing the people standing outside her front door.
“It’s Mrs. Kimberley from Family and Children Services. We sent you a letter and also left a message on your answering machine. Could we please come in?”
Kelli’s heart fell. I forgot they were supposed to be coming this morning, she thought to herself as she unlocked the door to see Mrs. Kimberley and two other men standing on her front porch.
“May we please come in?” Mrs. Kimberley asked. “I’ll get straight to the business at hand,” she said once they were seated. “You should have received a letter stating that we would be coming over this morning.”
“Yes, I did receive your letter, but I thought it was mistaken identity. I forgot all about your coming over,” Kelli said.
“Okay. Well, anyway, someone from the hospital emergency room had reported they suspect child abuse coming from this residence and –”
“Child abuse? Now who told you that?” Kelli asked. “As you can see, my son is quite well and he’s not showing any signs of abuse.”
“The person told us he was brought in two, no three times, with his lower legs fractured and or swollen. We have the doctor’s report right here of all his visits.” Mrs. Kimberley handed Kelli copies of all three visits. “I’m afraid that until you can prove these fractures to be of another cause other than abuse, we’ll have to take your son into the care of the state.”
“You can’t just come in here and take my son away from me like that,” Kelli said holding Justin in a tight embrace. “I have never abused my son. I would never even think of doing a thing like that. You can speak to his doctor. He does not know exactly what is causing his legs to fracture like that. He’s looking into the possible cause. Please, you can’t take my child away from me. No, I won’t let you!”
“Does anyone else live here with you?” Mr. Dickinson asked.
“No. It’s just me and my son. My husband’s away in Germany on military duty. We will be joining him within a month’s time,” Kelli replied placing a kiss on Justin’s head.
Mrs. Kimberley and Mr. Dickinson exchanged a quick glance.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Morgan, but we have signed paperwork from the court giving us permission to take Justin with us until this is cleared up.”
“No, no, no!” Kelli said hugging Justin tighter while shaking her head vigorously. “No, no, you can’t just take my child. Whoever told you that is lying.”
“Can you explain his fractured legs, ma’am?”
“No, I can’t. It first happened while my mother was watching him. The other two times, he was under my care. He just started walking and his legs gave way, and he hollered out in pain; his legs would swell up from time to time. You have to believe me!” Kelli looked frantically from one set of eyes to the other.
Mr. Dickinson pursed his lips. Mrs. Kimberley blinked a few times and looked away. Officer Marks took a deep breath but kept looking at the floor.
“Mrs. Morgan, you seem to be a loving mother; but we are looking out for your son’s welfare. We have to go by the evidence presented to us, and … well, it’s not a pleasant job, but I promise you we will try to get you an early court date, especially since you mention leaving to be with your husband within the month –”
“Court date! Look! What am I going to tell my husband? He’s all the way in Germany. There’s no telling when he’ll be able to come home,” Kelli pleaded.
“Mrs. Morgan, please hand your son over so we won’t have to take him by force,” Mrs. Kimberley said reaching out to take Justin.
After what seemed like an eternity of unbearable silence, Kelli reluctantly handed over Justin to Mrs. Kimberley. She wiped away the tears that were beginning to fall.
“Wait. Let me pack his bag,” Kelli said.
“We’ll get him back to you as soon as the allegations are proven false,” Mrs. Kimberley said to Kelli.
Kelli reluctantly handed Justin’s bag to Mr. Dickinson and placed Justin’s favorite toy in his hand. She knelt down in front of Justin trying not to cry. “Justin, I want you to go with Mrs. Kimberley for a short visit. Mommy will be back to get you soon.” She gave Justin a hug as she choked back the tears. “Please, may I come by and visit him?”
“We’ll make arrangements for that,” Mrs. Kimberley said handing her a card. “Here’s my number and my place of employment if you have any questions.”
Mr. Dickinson reached down to pick Justin up. “Mommy! Mommy!” Justin said squirming to get out of Mr. Dickinson’s arms while reaching for his mother.
Mr. Dickinson, Officer Marks, and Mrs. Kimberley hurried out the door to their cars. Kelli sank to the ground and cried.
When she stopped crying, Kelli called Aubrey.
“Aubrey, they came and took Justin. Family Services came and took him. They said someone from the hospital reported child abuse from when I took him in for his fractured legs. How can people be so cruel!” Kelli broke out crying again.
Aubrey said a quick prayer, closed up her office for the day, and gave her husband a call. “Quintin, we need your help again,” she said then proceeded to inform him of the phone conversation she just had with Kelli.
“I’ll get on it right away,” Quintin said.
“Thanks. Mother and myself are headed over to her place. I’ll see if Mariadas wants to drive with us over there as well. I’ll call up the ladies and get them praying for this situation. Love ya.”
Aubrey and her mother spent most of the day with Kelli.
After a few tries, Kelli was able to get in touch with her husband.
“Stay put. Let me talk to my superior and see if they can give me an emergency leave and place me on a flight to come home as soon as I can,” Trevor told her after praying with her.
Simone and Kelvin stopped by later that evening as did Pastor and Mrs. Ashton. Kelli’s mother came by as well. She decided to stay with her daughter until things cleared up.
Kelli called Mrs. Kimberley the next day and each day until her husband arrived home a few days later. “According to the law I am not allowed unsupervised visits with Justin until after the court date,” Kelli told her husband.
Trevor was upset. His commander wrote a letter on his behalf to give to Quintin to pass on to the judge asking him to expedite the court date. Trevor also had a letter from Dr. Bourgeois, the pediatrician in Germany whom he had secured as Justin’s doctor. Dr. Bourgeois and Dr. Willis had been communicating about Justin’s condition.
A private meeting was held with Quintin, Dr. Willis, Judge Hunnicutt, Mrs. Kimberley, Kelli, Trevor, Kelli’s mother, and Aubrey.
“One of the nurses in the emergency room reported she suspected child abuse after Justin’s third visit to the hospital,” Judge Hunnicutt said. “She wishes to remain anonymous. There seems to be no other explanation, especially since Dr. Willis and a couple other doctors weren’t able to diagnose the problem. I hope you see our position.”
Trevor and Kelli both nodded. “Judge Hunnicutt, my wife would never abuse our son. That is not even in her. I have located a doctor in Germany in the city of Bonn who will be examining my son. In fact, both my wife and son are scheduled to fly out in less than a month to join me in Germany where we’ll live together as a family until my unit is deported back to the United States.”
“How has Justin done since he’s been under state care?” Judge Hunnicutt asked Mrs. Kimberley.
“The house mother reported that he hardly wants to walk and it seems he has a limp every now and then when he does walk. She had a doctor to come in and examine him after she noticed that one of his feet around his ankle was swollen. The doctor concluded that he somehow twisted his ankle. It’s all in his portfolio,” she said handing Justin’s portfolio to Judge Hunnicutt.
Judge Hunnicutt carefully examined the contents of the portfolio. He studied the x-rays and other reports from Dr. Willis and the other doctor who had examined Justin on one of his visits to the emergency room.
“Could there be a possibility that he never fully healed from his last fracture?” Judge Hunnicutt asked Dr. Willis.
“That’s most unlikely as the swelling would have never gone down. And from what his mother has shared with us, she had not had any problems with him standing or walking for some weeks before now,” Dr. Willis said.
Quintin, who was representing Trevor and Kelli, looked over the contents of Justin’s portfolio as Judge Hunnicutt, Dr. Willis, and himself discussed the best action to take.
“Tell you what we are going to do,” Judge Hunnicutt said. “We’re going to release Justin back into his parents’ care. Obviously more tests need to be done. I only ask that both parents stay in touch with the court and with Mrs. Kimberley every two weeks, keeping us abreast of his condition. Dr. Willis says Justin is scheduled for an operation to put a rod in his leg to keep his leg properly aligned, and to help provide firmer support before the family leaves for Germany. Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, I wish you all the best.”
Aubrey was extremely happy for her friend. She and Kelli talked deep into the night. “God is able,” Aubrey said. “We’ll continue praying for God to give the doctors wisdom and insight as they run further tests.”
Aubrey invited Simone and Kelvin, Trevor and Kelli, and Kelli’s mother over for dinner—a kind of send-off gift for the Morgans.
“I sure wish Jennifer was here. I hate to think I’ll be gone without saying goodbye,” Kelli said.
“I spoke with her father on yesterday. He’s already filed a missing person’s report with the police,” Aubrey said.
Kelli, Trevor, and Justin made it safely to Germany. As soon as they settled in, Kelli took Justin for his first visit with Dr. Vilseck who had a knack for making people feel comfortable around him—especially children. Justin sat on the bench next to him in the examination room as Dr. Vilseck examined his legs.
“I feel a few knots. They’re too small to protrude above the skin. And they are so small if you’re not trained to spot them, you’ll miss them. We’ll get some x-rays taken, check the blood pressure down in his legs, among other things.” He applied increasing pressure on Justin’s leg. Justin would pull away depending on the degree of the pressure. “That hurts a little, doesn’t it?” he said to Justin.
Dr. Vilseck placed Justin on the floor. “Come on and walk over to me. You can have this stuffed bear and this lollipop,” he said to Justin. Justin, with a slight limp, hurried over to Dr. Vilseck as fast as he could.
After making a few notations on his chart, Dr. Vilseck said, “What we’ll do is we’ll replace the rod that’s in his leg. In the meantime, I’ll get in touch with Dr. Anandra Petras. He is from India and he works in the orthopedic department of a major hospital there. Right now, he’s in America doing work at Emory University in Atlanta for a year. If my guess is correct, little Justin has what is called CPT—congenital pseudarthrosis of the tibia. It affects one in every 100,000 infants. I know of only one other case and Dr. Petras performed the operation over in India. It’s a simple operation and I had the honor of sitting in on the surgery. Let me go over a few things with Dr. Petras and get a confirmation from him and maybe give him the honor of performing the operation if he’s able to break away.”
Trevor and Kelli breathed a sigh of relief. “It doesn’t sound very serious,” Trevor said to Kelli as they left the doctor’s office. “I told you to pray about it and not to worry.”
“I couldn’t help it,” Kelli said. “I’m a mother; I’m supposed to worry.”
Kelli joyfully typed up a cover letter to send with the signed letter from Dr. Vilseck along with other pertinent information to Mrs. Kimberley as well as to Judge Hunnicutt.
“When they came to take Justin away, I was very angry,” Kelli shared with her husband. “But the more I think about it, the more I appreciate them doing their job, even if they make a mistake every now and then.”
Kelli also sent letters to Aubrey and Simone both of which she followed up with a phone call. Aubrey was happy as she listened to Kelli explain the diagnosis.
“CPT causes the bones in an infant’s leg to bow and unexpectedly fracture as the baby grows or begins to walk,” Kelli reported. “I was afraid at one point that he would have to have both legs amputated from his knee down.”
“God knows how to set our fears at ease,” Aubrey said.
“From what Dr. Vilseck explained to us, they’ll insert a rod in his lower legs and secure it with screws.”
“Won’t he outgrow the rod?” Aubrey asked.
“Oh, yes. The doctors will replace it periodically until he stops growing at about age twenty. Dr. Vilseck says they’ll use what they call intramedullary nailing where they’ll use a bone graft from Justin’s pelvis to create bone shavings that they’ll mix with bone morphogenetic protein to help stimulate his bones to grow.”
Although Aubrey was elated over the good news Kelli delivered to her about Justin, and although she was excited about the new levels to which God was taking the Restoration Reset Ministry, she was concerned about Jennifer. Someone called her cell phone a few times but would hang up whenever she answered.
“I wonder if it’s Jennifer,” she shared with her husband. “I’ve called her apartment and left message after message for her to return my calls. Neither Simone nor Kelli have heard from her. She hasn’t been attending the meetings. The two times she’s answered her phone, she was evasive and abrupt. Can we please stop by her place again and see what’s going on? Maybe we’ll catch her this time. It’s not like her to just take off and not say anything.”
Using Tucker Gravlin’s position to get a search warrant, they searched Jennifer’s apartment. Aubrey got lost in her thoughts as she recognized the trinkets and pictures from trips the four friends had taken together, plaques they’d given to her, and books they’d shared. Lord, we had so many good times together. Jennifer, Simone, and Kelli are true friends.
Pulling open one of the dresser drawers, Aubrey thumbed through some loose papers.
“Something is not right about this,” Aubrey said showing her husband the papers.
“Let’s see what you have here, Detective Aubrey,” her husband said as he looked over the papers.
“My spirit is unsettled about this: Lottery tickets. Signed loan papers. Tickets to horse racing tracks. A signed contract with a Mr. Diego D. Francia. This only means one thing: she’s having financial troubles. My question is: Why didn’t she just come to us? That’s not like her. Quintin, are you listening?”
“Yes, I’m listening. I believe we have something here,” he said waving the papers in his hand.
Aubrey sat next to him on the bed as they both read the contract.
“Seems like she’s in some kind of trouble. Do you know these people: Diego or Luis Francia?”
Aubrey shook her head, no. “Let’s see what Google has to say about them.” She tapped the names into her cell phone. There was only one listing—a Raul Francia. He had never heard of a Diego or Luis Francia.
Diego and Romina Francia’s trip to Spain turned out to last only two days rather than two weeks as was originally planned.
“Romina, is he still trying to start up some illegal business?” Romina’s mother, Rosita Garcia, asked her daughter. “I told you never to marry him. I could look into his eyes and tell he was not for real.”
“Oh, Mama, he’s just not good in business,” Romina said as she lamely tried to defend her husband knowing there was some truth to her mother’s words.
“Why does he not take the job on your Papa’s farm? He’ll give him a good position—you know, we’re family,” Rosita said.
“Mama, he’s just too proud. He wants top positions, but does not want to do the work to get to a top position. He wants easy money. Plus, he does not want to work under Papa—you know—family,” Romina said.
“No, no, that’s not good. He must work to get money,” Rosita said, “which reminds me, the police stopped by looking for him.”
“Why would they be looking for me?” Diego asked his in-laws after Romina relayed the message to him.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to figure out,” Juan, his father-in-law, said. “Rosita, did you save the newspaper?”
Rosita went inside the house to retrieve the newspaper. She handed it to her husband. Juan turned to the section he wanted his son-in-law to read and showed it to him. It was a report requesting anyone who knew the whereabouts of Diego Francia to contact the police.
“When the police stopped by, they mentioned something about Luis’ birth and legal matters and a Doctor Cruz seeking retribution and people saying you swindled money from them,” his father-in-law informed him. “Why did you not let us know you have money problems? We could have helped you. What’s going on?”
“Nothing! Nothing!” Diego shouted. His seemingly calm demeanor quickly changed to an angry one. “I make my own way. I take care of my own.”
“Even if it’s done underhandedly?” Juan said. “I talked with the police. All you have to do is pay the money back and you will be free to come and go. I told them I would let you know they were looking for you. They want you to go ahead and turn yourself in. I told them I did not know of your address here in Spain, which is true because you do not live here. I have not told the police you’re here visiting as I am trying to give you a chance to make things right yourself. I am also doing this for my grandson.”
“What’s going on, Romina?” Juan asked his daughter.
Diego Francia gave his wife a you-had-better-be-quiet look. “Romina, I just remembered I have to take care of something. I’m going to need your help,” he said to his wife. He hurriedly said goodbye to his in-laws.
“But we only just got here, and we haven’t eaten yet,” his wife said. “Mama went through all that bother to cook us a feast and we leave?”
“We’ll have to eat at another time,” Diego said.
He took his wife by the arm and ushered her to their rental car. Romina looked back confused at her parents. “What couldn’t wait until after we’ve eaten?” she asked as they drove off.
“Our trip back to America,” her husband replied.
“Diego, we just got here. We’re supposed to spend two weeks here.”
“Well, two weeks are up. Once we get to the hotel, pack our clothes. I’ll be calling the airline for an early flight out,” her husband said.
“Diego, you can’t run forever.”
* * * * *
The following week was a rewarding one for Aubrey. Her mother received a good report from the doctor on her follow-up visit. She was to be mostly on bed-rest with minimal activities.
“Thank God for Mariadas’ willingness to stay with you during the daytime as I take care of my customers,” Aubrey said to her mother after taking her mother’s tray with her evening meal up to her. “She’s about two weeks into her ESL course and she’s loving it. And I’m into two weeks of my Spanish course and loving it.”
“Excellente,” Mother Jamison said on receiving her food. “Muchas gracias.”
“El gusto es mio,” (The pleasure is all mine) Aubrey replied with a smile. “From what Quintin was sharing with me, it’s going to take about six months to a year to solidify her status here in America and probably another six months to file for her entire family. We are thinking of giving them your house, but so as not to let it seem like a hand-out, letting them rent it out at a low cost like we’re doing with the college students. What do you think?”
“Anything to help out and especially seeing I won’t be needing it. She’s been a blessing to me. We may not speak the same language, but we understand each other. It’s like we’ve been knowing each other for a long time,” Mother Jamison said.
“One of Quintin’s lawyer friends who speaks Spanish fluently took her out to dinner. After that they’ll be going to see this performance put on by some Spanish actors. I don’t want her to feel cooped up and all alone in the church’s apartment,” Aubrey said.
“What’s that?” Mother Jamison asked her daughter referring to a letter Aubrey picked up off her tray.
“That’s my next great news. If all goes well, my little two-year-old Saudi daughter, Habiba al-Ahmet, will be here to begin her new life with us by Christmas. I’m still hoping she’ll be able to make it by Thanksgiving then we can take a trip up to spend Thanksgiving with Quintin’s parents.”
“That would be a miraculous answer to prayer.”
“And if all goes well, we should be taking another trip to Saudi Arabia at the beginning of next summer. Hopefully, you’ll be well enough to travel with us. Who would ever think little unknown us would lead such an exciting life,” Aubrey said.
“You never know what God will do with and for you once you surrender your all to Him,” Mother Jamison said.
Jennifer was surprised to see the Francias back sooner than she expected them. Mr. Francia had asked her to house-sit the two weeks they would be gone. “You know, water the flowers and set the sprinkler system on the lawn; wipe away the dust. I’ll knock $50.00 off your next payment,” Mr. Francia told her.
As if that would help any, Jennifer thought.
“In fact, you are welcome to sleep here the whole two weeks if you want. Consider this your vacation,” he said.
How can I just let him order my life around? Jennifer thought. “Mr. Francia, I appreciate your willingness to knock the $50.00 off, but even with that, I am still not going to have all the money to make the next payment on time. I’m going to have to get another job. I guess I’m asking you for an extension.”
“That can be easily fixed,” Mr. Francia said. “You may want to consider being Luis’ nanny full-time. You know—live in with us. That would take care of your room and board and meals, access to my wife’s car in case you have to turn yours in, and if you cooperate you may even travel regularly with us to Spain.”
Jennifer offered little protest; she felt trapped as she had not quite figured out exactly what was going on within the Francia family. She glanced at Mrs. Francia who was holding Luis. Mrs. Francia opened her mouth to protest, but her husband sharply raised his hand. “Silence!”
Jennifer took him up on his offer their second day away on their trip to Spain. It was during her second day at the Francias’ place that Aubrey had searched her apartment.
“I’ll see you to your car,” Mrs. Francia said to her after they arrived back home in the United States.
“What happened?” Jennifer asked Mrs. Francia. “I thought you were going to be gone for two weeks.”
“Things did not quite work out,” Mrs. Francia said.
Jennifer extended her hands to give Luis a hug before driving off.
“Well, look at that,” Mrs. Francia said as Luis raised both hands towards Jennifer. Jennifer was thrilled as he had never reached out to her before. He still held that distant look in his eyes.
Jennifer held Luis close to her. “You’re so precious,” she whispered in his ears.
Mrs. Francia was touched at such a genuine show of love in spite of what her husband was dragging Jennifer through. I can’t let Diego use her anymore. Yes, there was an accident that could have happened to anyone. And to see that Jennifer has such a great attitude about it.
“Mrs. Francia, I don’t know how much longer I can go on with this contract. My finances are down to nothing. What am I going to do when I am completely out of money? Could you please talk to Mr. Francia for me? My life is being totally disrupted because of this. Why would he refuse to give me a copy of the doctor’s report?” Jennifer pleaded.
Mrs. Francia lightly touched Jennifer on her arm; her heart went out to her. “It will all work out. I will definitely talk to him.”
“I’m getting ready to turn my car in because I have defaulted on my payments going on two months now. I am also going to be out on the streets soon because I am behind on my rent. I appreciate your husband’s offer, but I have my own life to live,” Jennifer said. “And I feel like something is not right. Please tell me what’s going on.”
The quiet pleading in Jennifer’s voice broke Mrs. Francia’s heart. She almost gave in and spilled everything about her husband’s shady dealings. She took a quick glance towards her house and saw her husband watching them from one of the living room windows. Taking her son and giving Jennifer a quick hug she whispered, “I’ll talk to him. Go home and don’t think about it anymore.”
Mrs. Francia slammed the front door shut upon entering the house. “Diego!” she almost shouted as she placed Luis in his playpen.
“No need to shout. You took too long talking to her. What were you talking about?” her husband said.
“I’ve had enough of your scheming and using people and stealing their money. We’ve been living off other people’s money for too long.”
“Say no more!” Diego said.
“No! I’ll decide when it’s no more,” Romina said. “You are taking the life out of her. She is down to nothing. She is about ready to lose her car and her apartment–”
“I gave her an offer to come live with us with all expenses taken care of, but she has shown no interest. If she knows what’s good for her, she’ll accept,” Diego said coldly.
“The poor girl is trying to work her way through college; she does not need this. She probably won’t be able to finish college. Do you want her to be a loser like you?”
Diego looked at her with anger in his eyes but tried to hide it with a sly smile. “Don’t worry about her,” he said. “I have plans in case that happens.”
“What kind of plans?”
“Don’t you worry about that. Just do as I have instructed you and that is to care for Luis, keep your mouth shut, and let me handle things,” her husband said.
“Well, I’ll be handling some things from now on,” Romina said.
After Quintin and Aubrey made copies of the lottery tickets, money order receipts made out to Diego Francia, tickets to the horse racing tracks, signed loan papers, and the signed contract, they placed the originals back in the drawer.
After dropping the papers off that evening, Quintin placed a call to Tucker Gravlin. “Yes, something looks fishy, Tucker. No one has seen or heard from her for some weeks now. She’s left a few messages on my wife’s answering machine stating that she was doing fine. My wife said that was unlike her. What we found in her apartment does not support her messages. The person in the apartment next to hers told us they hardly ever see her anymore, and when they do, she’s in a hurry. I hate to think this is a case of blackmail. Her parents have already filed a missing person report.”
“It seems like we have something here,” Gravlin said as he carefully read the contract. Pointing to the date, he said, “This contract’s going on two years now. Seems like she’s paying money indefinitely to this Diego Francia. Let me talk with Chief McGinnis to get permission to pursue this.”
Aubrey passed on a picture of Jennifer to Tucker Gravlin. Prayer was still going up among the ladies of the Restoration Reset Ministry for Jennifer’s safety.
“I’ll be checking with the airlines for the name Diego Francia. He may be an illegal immigrant. I’ll also check with the INS office to see if he may have switched citizenship.”
Jennifer drove home depressed. Something is fishy about this whole thing. Lord, please show me what’s going on, she prayed silently.
Upon arriving at her apartment, she thought of giving Aubrey a call. I so want to meet up with them at the Cherry Blossom Cafe. I wonder how things are going with Simone and Kelli. Lord, how I miss the ladies at the Restoration Reset Ministry. I miss Brad so much, she thought as she twisted the engagement ring around her finger.
Jennifer visited the horse racing tracks again the next Saturday, but lost the few dollars she bet on the horse, Fair Lady. As she lay in bed deciding what to do next, her mind went to Luis. I do know Luis was acting strangely before the fall. He hasn’t acted any differently since then. Maybe if I hang around a bit longer things will clear up. She fell asleep listening to the messages Aubrey left for her to return her phone calls.
Jennifer was called upon again to render services to the Francias two days after their return from Spain.
“We’ll be going up North for maybe a month-long stay; but this time we’ll be leaving Luis behind. He seems to have taken a liking to you and I like that. My wife will be coming with me, so we’ll need someone to keep an eye on Luis for us,” Mr. Francia informed Jennifer. “We’ll be leaving on Wednesday. ”
“I’ll accept your offer, but under one condition,” Jennifer said, “and that is that you release me of the entire payment for this month. Consider my watching Luis as payment.”
Mr. Francia was silent for a few seconds, then said, “No, no. We cannot have that. Luis’ brain will never function like other little boys. He’ll never know what it is to laugh and play and enjoy the sunshine like other little boys his age. His world will always be one of darkness, and remember, it is all because of you. You ought to be sacrificing everything in your power for him.”
“If you don’t I am going to the police,” Jennifer said firmly surprised at her own words. The past two days of turning things over in her mind and praying intensely about the situation had given her a renewed strength that left her thinking, Mr. Francia is probably used to having his own way, which includes his wife cow-tailing to everything he tells her to do. I see the fear in her eyes whenever conversation about Luis comes up.
“Okay. Okay,” Mr. Francia said. “You watch Luis while we are gone with no payment, but you pick payments back up as soon as the month is over.”
He is hiding something and he’s using Luis and his wife. She is afraid of something, Jennifer thought as she noticed his sudden change of spirit at the mention of the police.
“Remember, you must never let him out of your sight, especially when he’s in the crib or on the bed. Don’t take him outside in the heavy sun; give him sunshine through the open window. We’ve filled the cupboards with enough food for the month, so there’s no need for you to go to the store,” Mr. Francia instructed Jennifer as his wife listened quietly. “And don’t speak to the neighbors.”
While her husband took the suitcases to their van, Romina Francia said to Jennifer, “I spoke with Diego about tearing up the contract. Don’t worry. Everything will work out. I’ll talk with him some more. Call my phone if you need anything.” She stopped talking when she heard her husband coming back into the house.
“Let’s go,” he said, patting Luis on the head.
Mrs. Francia gave her son a kiss and a hug before handing him over to Jennifer. She looked deeply into Jennifer’s eyes. There was no need for words. Jennifer saw the look of sympathy mixed with fear and uncertainty in Mrs. Francia’s face as though she was struggling between two decisions. She gave Jennifer a quick hug. “Call me if you need anything,” she whispered.
“Let’s go! Let’s go!” Mr. Francia said. “Keys. Keys. Give her your keys.” He took the keys out of his wife’s hand and gave them to Jennifer.
Tucker Gravlin’s inquiries to the airlines and the INS office proved unsuccessful. He did random checks at Jennifer’s apartment, but that, too, was unsuccessful.
“She left with a suitcase and a medium sized box,” a neighbor informed him. “She seemed in a hurry.”
Gravlin passed this information on to Quintin who passed it on to Aubrey. “Well, at least we know she’s alive,” Aubrey said as she left a new message on Jennifer’s cell phone.
Jennifer resisted the urge to return the calls. She was more interested in getting answers to questions that had been plaguing her lately: What exactly is wrong with Luis? Was he born with some kind of brain disorder? If so, why didn’t Mrs. Francia tell her about it? Why does she seem to live in fear of her husband? Exactly what does Mr. Francia do for a living? Why didn’t Mr. Francia let her read for herself the report from the emergency room visit with Luis? Does their sudden return from Spain have anything to do with Luis’ condition? I am determined to get some answers while I have the chance, she thought.
Mr. Francia called her around ten that night and again at ten in the morning. “Now you wouldn’t run out on us, would you,” he asked her, “especially with Luis in your care? That would be kidnapping.”
Jennifer, more hurt than shocked that he would think such a thing, answered, “Of course not.”
Mr. Francia chuckled. “I didn’t think so. I’ll be calling in the morning.”
Luis was already asleep. Not wanting a repeat of the accident, she placed him on a thick comforter on the floor. She began her search in the kitchen, praying silently: Lord, I do not know exactly what I am looking for, but let me know it when I see it. And please get me out of this mess I’ve gotten myself into. I hate to bring anyone into it at this late stage, so I’ll just try to get out of it somehow with Your help. Please forgive me for not trusting You in the beginning. The more I think about it, the more I blame myself for allowing Diego Francia to use me like this. Lord, I am holding back on going to the police because I fear for Mrs. Francia, and I am also not sure what the doctor’s examination of Luis produced. Please bring me through this. Amen.
Jennifer located two drawers with nothing but bills. Her search through the living room only produced magazines and other miscellaneous paperwork, most of which was in Spanish. Calling it a night, she scooped Luis up and placed him on the bed next to her. She went off to sleep thinking of Brad and how much she missed him.
As soon as she got off the phone with the Francias the next morning, her search of the guest bedroom turned up futile. She cautiously entered the master bedroom almost expecting Mr. Francia to jump out at her. She was about to give up her search when she spied a safe tucked away in the back corner of the walk-in closet. It was draped with a red shawl. Where is the key? she thought as she searched around. Bingo! She eagerly reached for the three keys hanging from a nail above the safety box hidden behind Mrs. Francia’s dresses.
Jennifer carefully combed through each paper. Two of the sheets were a signed contract with Jennifer Livingston and a doctor’s report from Dr. Ramon Avendano Cruz whose patient was Luis Francia. This may shed some light, she thought as she read each line.
“Oh, my! I knew it! I knew something was wrong with Luis,” Jennifer said to herself as she glanced at Luis sitting next to her. Jennifer continued reading. Luis was born with a brain disorder stemming from medications Mrs. Francia took to fight pneumonia she had contracted while pregnant with Luis. He would be several years behind his peers physically and mentally. The medical report was signed by Dr. Ramon Avendano Cruz. There were other sheets of paper written in Spanish attached to the English copy she had just read.
Jennifer saw other important documents. Several loan companies in three states were demanding payment. The reason cited for wanting the loan was to pay a medical bill. Other letters were from bill collectors also demanding payment. She found other contracts similar to the one she signed. These were made out to Dr. Cruz for $1000.00 each month to be paid to Diego Francia who blamed the doctor for being negligent in treating his wife during her pregnancy thus resulting in Luis’ condition. Another person by the name of Sullivan also signed another contract to pay $1200.00 to Mr. Francia. There were similar ones written in Spanish. She also saw some letters written by Juan and Rosita Garcia, who Jennifer guessed were Luis’ grandparents.
So as not to be in their bedroom lest the Francias returned early, Jennifer took all the paperwork that had Luis’ name written on it, the loan papers and the creditor letters demanding payment. Pushing the box back in the corner, she covered it with the shawl and placed the keys on the nail pulling the hanging clothes back in place. Picking Luis up in her arms, she went to the living room.
Once in the room, Jennifer sat on the floor to carefully read each document. Using her laptop, she was able to decipher those pages written in Spanish.
“Luis,” she said, picking him up off the floor where he had been quietly playing, and placing him on her lap so she could look directly in his face, “I hate to tell you this, but I believe your father has been using your illness to swindle money out of people.”
She picked up the doctor’s report from Luis’ emergency room visit. “It says here that you had a bad bump when you fell from your baby bed, but that you should be fine; just to apply a cold compress three times a day for the first 24-48 hours; apply Neosporin, and that you should recover without any problems. On the ‘Long Term Effects’ line, the word ‘NONE’ is written and signed by Dr. Clo Ramses. Your father told me the fall would stunt your development. He lied to me and has been blackmailing me ever since.”
Jennifer hugged Luis. “I’m just glad you are okay. Now you and I will have to figure out what to do about this. What do you think I should do? … Smart boy. Let’s pray about it and sleep on it. I don’t know about you, but all this detective work is making me hungry.”
As Jennifer prayed intermittently throughout the rest of the day on into the night, peace came over her that everything would work out. She was more upbeat when she spoke with Mr. Francia that night.
“Everything is going well. And I appreciate the break on this month’s payment,” Jennifer told him.
“If I’m pleased when I get back, I may just give you another break to get caught up; but don’t count on it,” he said.
Mrs. Francia exchanged a few words with Jennifer and spoke with Luis before saying good night.
“You know, Luis, I saw your eyes light up when your mother was talking with you. I believe you just need someone who loves you to talk to you often and to cuddle you a lot.” Jennifer sat in the rocking chair and rocked and cuddled him as she shared with him her plans to be relieved of his father’s deception.
The police search for Jennifer proved unsuccessful. There was a twenty-four-hour watch on her apartment.
“Her disappearance is a mystery to all of us,” Tucker Gravlin said as he touched base with Quintin and Aubrey. “If it’s an actual kidnapping, the kidnapper hasn’t left any leads for us to follow. If she’s being blackmailed because of money problems, she’s probably laying low to avoid causing any problems or bring unnecessary attention to herself.”
“But why wouldn’t she just come to us?” Aubrey said. “We would have helped her get through whatever it is. I thought we had that kind of relationship.”
“She probably kept it quiet so as not to bring harm to you all,” Gravlin said.
“Think back, Aubrey,” Quintin said. “Has she ever expressed even in the slightest about needing more money, or even looking sad, even though she may have tried to cover it up?”
“No,” Aubrey said after thinking for a few seconds. “I do remember once all four of us were sharing what we would like for God to do for us within the course of a year, and she did mention she would like to have a life of peace. That sounds far-fetched, but as I think about it, that prayer may have been her cry for help. Mr. Gravlin, it has to be serious because her fiancé has not even heard from her.”
“I’m worried, Quintin,” Aubrey said as they got ready for bed. “Not knowing where she is or if she’s okay is what I can’t take. Who would harm a sweet and caring person like her?”
“Now’s not the time to worry,” her husband said embracing her. “Now’s the time to pray. God has already shown us what prayer can do. Let’s just pray and leave everything in God’s hands.”
Aubrey awakened the following morning with heaviness on her heart for Jennifer. She thought of giving Simone and Kelli a call to let them know there was still no news, but changed her mind.
“I’m sure they’re praying for Jennifer’s safety,” her mother said to her. “You’ve seen me do nothing but pray my way through difficulties and pray others through their difficulties. Prayer has never failed me. And your husband is a living testimony of what prayer can do. So rather than worry about Jennifer, let’s just pray for her.”
Aubrey received two encouraging letters later that day. The first was from Simone. “Listen, Mother,” she said as she read the letter out loud:
Dearest Aubrey and family,
I trust that you are all doing well. Kelvin and I are having the time of our lives interacting with the Nomatsiguenga group here in Peru. I would have never thought for a minute that I would be learning another language; definitely not the Arawakan language. Kelvin is catching on real fast. It’s taking me a bit longer to learn; but I am loving it. Pray for us as Kelvin has expressed an interest in working with one of the Bible translators for this area.
It’s interesting, but we had to travel by canoe for several days as the village is located deep within the Peruvian Amazon. Only a small percentage of the Nomatsiguenga are Christians. No one has ever taken the Gospel to this inner group that we will be working with. They love to tell stories to each other, and that’s right down my alley. I believe God has already opened up the door for us because they believe in a Creator who causes the river to flow and plants to grow. But even more amazing, they believe this Creator was taken from them and promised to reappear some day. With that belief, you know it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to believe John 14:1-3 and accept Jesus Christ as that Creator.
I will be giving you a call soon. If all goes well, we should be home within six months. Give our love to everyone. Have you heard anything from Jennifer? I tried to call her but have been unsuccessful. I just sent a postcard to her.
P.S. Thanks for talking me into bringing those bags of candy; the children loved them. Tell your husband Kelvin will be calling him soon.
The second letter was from Kelli. It read:
I trust that you and the family are all doing well. Thank you so much for your prayers. Great news: Dr. Vilseck, Justin’s doctor here in Germany, was able to get in touch with Dr. Anandhuru Petras to have him perform the operation on Justin’s legs. I don’t know if I told you this or not, but Dr. Petras is in the USA doing work with the interns for one year at Emory University. He won’t be able to break away; but he says if we can come there to Emory, he’d count it a pleasure to perform the operation with the interns looking on.
Aubrey stopped reading and handed the letter to her mother. “Here, Mother. I’m going to call Kelli right now and talk her into staying with us while they’re here. It would be fun seeing her, Trevor, and Justin again.
Kelli answered her phone on the first ring. “I figured you’d call,” she said to Aubrey.
“Of course I would. I want to hear the great news directly from you,” Aubrey said.
“It’s not a difficult operation at all. CPT or congenital pseudarthrosis is a difficult disease as they are still not sure what causes it. Because Justin’s so young, he’s going to require multiple surgeries, bracing or casting to correct the fracture. The doctor is going to initially insert a rod which they will replace to keep up with his growth. Dr. Vilseck says because of modern technology they’ll also consider using pulsed electromagnetic stimulation and low frequency ultrasonography as alternative therapies to help speed fracture healing time.”
“Praise the Lord! You sound like a doctor reeling off those medical terminologies,” Aubrey said. “I just knew it would all work out.”
“We praise God, too,” Kelli said.
“So exactly when is the operation?” Aubrey asked. “And since it will be at the hospital, which is close to us, you all can just plan on staying here with us.”
“Thanks, Aubrey, but we don’t want to inconvenience you especially on such short notice. The military will take care of everything, and –”
“And I will hear no more of it,” Aubrey said. “It’s already settled. Let us know exactly when you’ll be coming.”
The friends talked for a long time bringing each other up to date on Simone and Kelvin, the Restoration Reset Ministry, Mother Jamison, Aubrey’s home business, events in Germany, Mariadas Carmen, and of course, Jennifer.
“How’s the adoption of your daughter coming along?” Kelli asked.
“If all goes well, she should be celebrating Christmas with us if not Thanksgiving. Quintin’s grandfather is pulling some strings for us, so things are moving along rapidly.”
“God is good,” Kelli said as they bid each other goodbye.
Brad! Jennifer awakened suddenly early the next morning. That’s who I’ll call. He’ll know what to do. She began to have second thoughts on the phone’s third ring when her fiance answered.
“Hello, Jennifer? Is that you?”
“Yes, Brad, it’s me.” Jennifer said trying to control her excitement. “How’d you know it was me?”
“I recognize your number. Your voice is shaking. Are you alright? Where are you? You’ve had us all worried. We’ve even put out a missing person’s report on you.”
“Oh, Brad. Things are not going so well. I feel like my life is caving in. I really need your help with something ASAP.”
“Whatever you need,” Brad said. “What’s going on?”
Jennifer told Brad everything from the time she first babysat for the Francias until the very second she was talking with him.
“Jennifer, he’s blackmailing you. He’s using his son’s illness to get money out of you. Why didn’t you just tell me about this from the very beginning? Why didn’t you just go straight to the police? We could have resolved this already.”
“Well, it happened before I met you, and I just did not want to bring you nor my friends into something I brought on myself,” Jennifer said. “Plus, I did not want to endanger your lives.”
“Well, you certainly did keep it to yourself because none of your friends, including your parents, know where you are or what is going on with you. We are all worried out of our minds about you. We have the police searching for you. We thought you had been kidnapped or something,” Brad said. “Aubrey is the one who figured out you were having some kind of money problem.”
“I’m sorry. I guess I reacted out of fear and shock especially when Mr. Francia mentioned that he’d sue me for negligence. I was searching for the best way out without bringing unnecessary attention to myself.”
“I’m just happy you’re alive and well,” Brad said. “We’ll talk more about it once we get you out of this mess. I guess you’ll have to stay put until the Francias return seeing that you have their son in your care. Apart from going to the police, what else do you want me to do?”
“Could you swing by here and pick up all the paperwork I took out of his safe and make two copies of each. I’ll return the originals to the safe, then you can keep one set, and if you could help me decide the next best move, we’ll give the second copy to whoever needs it—maybe the police or a lawyer.”
“Sounds good to me,” Brad said. “Where do I meet you?”
“At the Francias’ place. Call me when you get to their house. Here’s the address,” Jennifer said. “I’d take care of it myself, but Mr. Francia has a way of popping up. He’ll tell you he will be returning on a certain day then surprise you by turning up on a different day. Plus, he’s told me to avoid taking Luis out in public.”
“I’m curious: Is his wife in on this?”
“I am sure she isn’t. She does what he says mostly out of fear, I think,” Jennifer said. “I’m doing this for her as well as for Luis. It would be good if we could bring things to a head while he’s gone.”
“I’ll be there in about thirty minutes,” Brad said. “Are you still wearing the engagement ring I gave you?”
“Yes,” Jennifer said softly. “I miss you so much.”
“I miss you, too.”
Brad was dialing her number in about twenty-five minutes.
“Meet me at the door,” Jennifer said.
Once he got to the door, Brad embraced her, giving her a kiss on the forehead. “Don’t you ever scare me like that again. And promise me right now that as long as we’re friends, you’ll come to me with whatever trouble you are in.”
“I promise,” Jennifer said handing him the papers. “What do you think we should do going forward?”
Glancing through the papers, Brad said, “Since you have Luis with you, I think you should stay put until they return. I’ll return the originals back to you, and I’ll give a copy to your friend’s lawyer husband.”
“I really did not want to get them involved,” Jennifer said. “They have so much going on already.”
“You don’t have any money to pay for another lawyer, do you?” Brad said. “The last time I spoke with them, they had a private investigator searching for you. Like I said, I’ll give him a copy; they’ll get to the bottom of this.”
Looking around, Brad said, “This is a beautiful house. Have you thought about our dream house yet? I think I better marry you before you disappear for good.”
“Brad, this is not the time for romance,” Jennifer said as Brad kissed her on the lips. “Plus, I think I hear Luis. Let me go get him before we have another accident.”
Brad followed her to the bedroom.
“This is Luis,” Jennifer said picking him up off the bed.
“Hey, Luis,” Brad said shaking his hand. “His eyes look a little out of focus.”
“Yeah. That’s what made me do some investigating for myself,” Jennifer said.
“Well, let me go take care of this, then I’ll get in touch with Quintin. Do you want me to have Aubrey to give you a call?”
“You can tell her I’m doing well and that I will talk with her once things settle down. Tell her I’ve been getting her messages.”
“I’ll give you a call later and give you an update on your friends.” Brad gave her a lingering kiss and, before taking off, he asked her, “Why don’t you just go to the police with Luis? They’ll protect you and be waiting here for this Mr. Francia when he returns.”
“I could do that; but I want to stay and see what else I can find out about him. Don’t worry; He won’t hurt me in any way.” Jennifer returned his kiss. “I feel safe now that we’re in touch once again.”
Quintin was very happy to pass on to Aubrey the great news Brad had given him about Jennifer. Aubrey was elated. “I’m going to call her right now,” she said.
“Not so fast. She wants things to remain as they are until we find out exactly what is going on,” Quintin told her. “Come here,” he said embracing her. “Didn’t I tell you to just pray because you never know what prayer can do.”
“I’m learning,” Aubrey chuckled.
“Take a look at these,” her husband said handing her the copies Brad left with him. “I’m getting ready to turn them over to Gravlin. This is incriminating evidence against Mr. Francia in Jennifer’s favor, and in favor of Dr. Cruz and others, I’m sure. Brad brought them to me at the office.”
“Wow!” Aubrey said after carefully reading each sheet. “Let’s hurry and get her out of this mess.
“What do you think?” Quintin asked Gravlin at a meeting they had in his office the next morning.
“We got something here. This Francia fellow is definitely blackmailing people—an easy way to get money. It’s such a pity he’s using his son’s condition to do that and it seems his wife is caught in the middle,” Gravlin said. “Seems like I’ll be taking a trip to Barcelona, Spain, sooner than expected to talk with Dr. Cruz, and also with the Garcias, and maybe a few others.”
Tucker Gravlin’s first stop in Barcelona, Spain, was at Centre Medico Tecno off Viana 12. Dr. Ramon Avendano Cruz had his own private office across the street from the hospital, but worked on call at the hospital.
“Yes, Mr. Gravlin, have a seat. How can I help you?” Dr. Cruz said.
“Dr. Cruz, I work with a police department in the United States. As I mentioned to you over the phone, I’m working on a case involving a Mr. Diego Francia, and your name surfaced in our investigation.”
Dr. Cruz raised his eyebrows at the mention of the name. “Yes. I know him very well. He’s been a pain in my life for the past two years. I hope you’re coming to me with good news.”
“What do you mean by good news?” Gravlin asked.
Dr. Cruz chuckled, but his tone was serious. “I hope he’s behind bars and awaiting trial, and I’ll be quite eager to help prosecute him. Here’s why.”
Dr. Cruz spent the next thirty minutes telling Gravlin about Diego Francia’s unscrupulous ways.
“Is this the report you wrote up for Luis Francia, his son?” Gravlin asked presenting Dr. Cruz with a copy of Luis’ birth certificate and other hospital release papers mentioning Mrs. Francia’s illness during her pregnancy, the medication taken with both her and her husband’s consent as evidenced by their signatures, and an explanation of the harm it may cause to the mother and/or the unborn child. “It has your signature on it also.”
“Yes. How did you come by these?” Dr. Cruz asked after studying each sheet.
“Let’s just say through some private work,” Gravlin said. “I take it you signed this as well.” Gravlin handed Dr. Cruz another sheet of paper dated one year and nine months back with his signature. It read:
I, Ramon Avendano Cruz, am totally responsible for any birth defects, physical or mental, that may fall upon Luis Francia (while in the womb) or Romina Francia (patient) while under my care at any time during her pregnancy and thereafter.
Both parents will be released of any negligence on my part because of bad advice, wrong diagnosis, wrong medication, or other that may bring about harm to either the mother or the child.
This statement is sealed and binding by my signature.
Dr. Cruz looked Gravlin in the eyes. “I do not know where this came from, but I did not sign any such paper.”
“How do you account for your signature on it then?”
“It’s clear. Diego Francia forged my signature,” Dr. Cruz said without blinking. “I don’t know how much you know about our profession, but before we administer any medication—even a headache pill—or perform surgery except in an emergency or administer care of any kind, patients and/or their guardians are required to sign a paper after we’ve discussed the advantages, disadvantages, side effects, or anything negative that may result, thus releasing me or any other doctor from any harm that may come to the patient.” Fishing through the papers Gravlin had given him to look over, Dr. Cruz said, “It’s strange, but I do not see that consent form among these. Francia must have switched it out and replaced it with this forged one.” Chuckling, Dr. Cruz added, “I must say he did an excellent job forging not only my signature but my office’s letterhead.”
Dr. Cruz called one of his assistants into his office. “Nurse Margaret, this is Tucker Gravlin. I don’t know if you recall the unfortunate situation we had with a person called Diego Francia. Anyway, I’ll need for you to go back almost two years to his wife’s pregnancy and the birth of his son, and pull up all the paperwork we have on them. We should have everything on the computer as well as in their files, but check with the hospital if you need to. Make a copy of everything. Mr. Gravlin is in need of them. Get on that for me right away.”
After Nurse Margaret secured Romina and Luis Francia’s names, she hurried off to do as she was asked.
“Are you still paying Francia $1200.00 each month?” Gravlin asked.
“He’s pushed it up to $1400.00. He threatened to sue me and to drag my name in the public as incompetent and negligent. I’m in private practice so I can’t hide, so to speak, behind the hospital institution. I could not afford to have my name scandalized like that, thus risking my practice closing down. I was trapped,” Dr. Cruz said.
“Why didn’t you get a lawyer?”
“I threatened him with a lawyer, but I guess fear got the better of me.”
“Do you happen to know or hear of anyone else he’s swindling money out of?” Gravlin asked.
“No. But someone brought his dealings to the attention of the police. There was a picture of him in the newspaper about two months ago. Apparently I’m not the only one he’s been swindling money from. I’ll have to ask my wife to see if she can locate the newspaper. I did ask her to save it. Excuse me while I call her.”
Dr. Cruz exchanged a few words with his wife in Spanish.
“Excuse me for speaking in my native language, but my wife is not as fluent in English as I am. She’ll try to locate the newspaper. I kept it because I was contemplating going to the police as another witness. Now that you have turned up, I will definitely get a lawyer.”
“I encourage you to do that,” Gravlin said. “It seems he’s taken his swindling practice over to the United States where he’s now living.” Gravlin shared with him what Diego Francia was doing to Jennifer.
Dr. Cruz shook his head. “He needs to spend the rest of his life in jail. Using his mentally retarded son for his evil purposes. His wife is just as sweet as can be. She’s the complete opposite of him.”
“Do you think she’s in on this?” Gravlin asked.
“Definitely not. I don’t even think she knows the details of all that he’s doing. And whatever she may know, I believe he’s using threats to keep her quiet.”
“Dr. Cruz, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. I won’t keep you from your patients any longer. If nothing happens, I’ll be by tomorrow, say around eleven, to pick up the newspaper and other information.”
“Yes, eleven is fine. I have to perform a surgery at 7:30 in the morning, but Nurse Margaret will have everything for you. But I should be back by then. Please keep me informed as to what transpires.”
“I will,” Gravlin said gathering, up his papers and placing them back in his briefcase.
After enjoying a delicious lunch of Spanish omelet with avocado and tuna tapas, Gravlin’s next stop was at the home of Juan and Rosita Garcia. Jennifer had run across a few letters they had sent to the Francias expressing concern for Luis’ well-being. In more than one of the letters Rosita Garcia asked if they had found a U.S. doctor yet for Luis, how were they doing financially, and how they wished they had remained in Spain and worked on her husband’s farm.
“Si, Senor Gravlin. I offered him a job on my farm. I would have paid him big money, but he is too proud to get his hands dirty. He says he’s a businessman and wants to own his own business and have people to work for him. I say to him, you start small then work your way up. But he will not listen. He’s too proud,” Juan Garcia told Gravlin.
“He’s dragging our daughter and grandson all over the world saying he’s conducting business, but I do not believe him,” Rosita said.
“I told him multiple times that he’s not a businessman,” Juan said. “My daughter has even told him that more than once. She’s hurting because he will not listen to anyone. She says she fears for their son because their family life is not stable.”
Juan and Rosita looked at each other in such a way that seemed to help them make a decision. “I assume my son-in-law is in some kind of trouble?” Juan said as his wife excused herself.
“Yes,” Gravlin said. “Do you know where he is right now?”
“He came here less than two weeks ago. He was supposed to vacation for about three weeks but left after two days; that is after we showed him this and told him the police stopped by wanting to speak with him,” Juan said, reaching for the newspaper his wife handed to him. “As far as we know, they returned to America. We have not heard from them as of yet.”
Gravlin briefly shared with the Garcias their son-in-law’s shady dealings.
“I knew something was up,” Juan said. “I tried to get him to tell us what’s going on. My wife tried to get Romina to tell what’s going on, but he left suddenly. She called to say goodbye, but he limited her conversation with us. She sounded scared.”
“I believe he’s warned her about speaking with us or anyone for that matter,” Rosita said. “You can keep the newspaper, and please, Senor Gravlin, let us know what happens to him and especially to our daughter and grandson.”
“I will,” Gravlin said. Thanking them for their cooperation and hospitality, he left for his hotel.
Early the next morning, Gravlin made two phone calls: one to Chief McGinnis, the other to Quintin Rodney.
“Great work!” Chief McGinnis said. “I’ll get in touch with the police department over there to let them know our side of the case; after that, I’ll get back in touch with you.”
Gravlin touched base with Dr. Cruz and assured him they would put a stop to Francia and that he may be able to get back some if not all the money was stolen from him.
“My wife will be very happy to hear the good news. Great work!” Quintin said. “I’ll share that information with Brad to pass on to Jennifer. I’m sure this will set her mind at ease. Thanks again.”
Aubrey had a song in her heart the rest of the day. She immediately contacted Simone and Kelli via email to give them an update. They answered with uplifting words of praise and thanksgiving unto God.
Brad and Jennifer had a rejoicing time over the phone once he broke the news to her. “This calls for a celebration and, as you already know, I celebrate with a great meal. Let me take you out for a quick meal,” Brad said.
“Are you forgetting I am watching Luis? And what if the Francias were to return while we’re gone?” Jennifer said.
“We’ll just make up something to tell them,” Brad said. “Plus, you have nothing to fear now. We have multiple pieces of evidence against him. I’m coming to pick you up at exactly six o’clock for about an hour. We’ll just pretend Luis is our son.”
Brad and Jennifer had a memorable time.
“Don’t you worry about a thing. As soon as Francia returns, give me a call, and we’ll get in touch with Detective Gravlin, then you’ll be all mine,” Brad said. “In the meantime, think about a wedding date because I do not like sharing my girl with another man—especially a scoundrel like Diego Francia.”
Jennifer giggled as he kissed her goodnight. The heaviness had been lifted from her heart. It felt good to once again experience peace. “I think I’ll give Aubrey a call. I owe her that.”
“Please do that,” Brad said. Turning to Luis, he said, “And you, little fellow, you take care of my girl. She’s extremely precious to both of us.”
Jennifer and Aubrey talked far into the early morning.
“I hope things will blow over between you and the Francias soon,” Aubrey said. “Kelli should be coming back to the States so Justin can have his operation.” Aubrey shared the latest on Kelli and her family and on Simone and Kelvin. “When they come, the three of us can get together at the Cherry Blossom Cafe for old times’ sake. We can even skype Simone; well, I hope we’ll be able to.”
“I can’t wait to see all of you again,” Jennifer said.
“I’m just glad you are safe and in one piece,” Aubrey said.
“Safe, in one piece, and broke,” Jennifer laughed. “I can’t help but wonder what will happen to Mrs. Francia and Luis. I hate to think they will get separated.”
“We’ll add them to our prayer list,” Aubrey said. “I’m sure it will all work out.”
“I really do hope so,” Jennifer said. After sharing and discussing future plans for the Restoration Reset Ministry, Jennifer said, “Guess what? Brad asked me to set a date for our wedding, so I’ll be needing your services as soon as I save up enough money to pay you.”
“Girl, get out of here!” Aubrey said. “Don’t you ever talk to me again about not having enough money. Consider your wedding planning as a gift from Mother, Quintin, and myself, and no thanks needed. That’s what friends are for.”
After they finally said goodbye, Jennifer lay in the bed for some time reminiscing about the good times she and her friends had at the Cherry Blossom Cafe. She remembered Simone quoting the verse, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,” at one of their meetings. Simone then said to them: “Why don’t we put that verse to the test by each of us asking God to do something for us over this year.”
Jennifer remembered her desire was to have a more peaceful life. Even though she had led her friends to believe she was living a peaceful life, that was not the case, as it was a little before then that she had met the Francias. Jennifer remembered saying, “I’m still living the peaceful, quiet life… I just need a man to live it with.” She smiled as she remembered turning to Kelli and asking, “Are any of Trevor’s friends single?” Well, it seemed that after almost a year of unrest God was finally going to give her the peaceful life she desired … and with a praying man who happened to be a friend of Kelli’s husband. God, You are better than good, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.
Tucker Gravlin returned to the United States after Chief McGinnis told him that he planned to have Diego Francia arrested and to hold him until he could be extradited to Spain to face trial.
Much prayer went up for everything to go smoothly, for Jennifer’s safety, for Luis and Mrs. Francia’s safety, and that Mrs. Francia would be cleared of any charges. Jennifer felt braver and went out with Brad on three other occasions: once for breakfast and twice for lunch.
“Your skin has such a glow to it,” Brad complimented her. “It’s good to hear you laughing and talking again.”
“It feels good to finally see the light after passing through this dark tunnel. I did not see how I was going to get out of it.”
“All you had to do was to have faith in God,” Brad said. “Your friends and I never stopped praying for you. In fact, I have adopted Quintin’s parting words whenever we speak. Those words are, ‘I know what prayer can do.’ Remind yourself constantly that you know what prayer can do.”
“I will,” Jennifer said.
She had just said goodbye to Brad one evening after they had an extended conversation over the phone into the late night when Mr. Francia called.
“We’re on our way back. We should be there early in the morning. Here, my wife wants to talk with you.”
He sounds mighty cheerful. Good things must have happened to him up north. He was probably successful in swindling money out of someone, Jennifer thought. It was good to speak with Mrs. Francia even though her husband cut their conversation short. Jennifer hung up the phone with a sigh. Tonight she had the peace she had so longed for.
Jennifer immediately called Brad who relayed the message to Quintin who notified Tucker Gravlin.
“Great work!” Gravlin said. “I’ll call Chief McGinnis right away and get everything going. Have Jennifer to give me a call right away so I can instruct her on what to do.”
Quintin and Aubrey delivered Gravlin’s message to Jennifer then prayed with her.
“Jennifer, we want you to stay calm and act normal as though nothing transpired while they were away,” Gravlin said. “We’ll have a vehicle patrolling the street from as early as five in the morning and we’ll pick him up as soon as he arrives home. I know it’s going to be hard medicine for his wife, but we can’t afford to let him escape. He’s managed to successfully dodge the police in Spain. They’re depending on us to help put a stop to what he is doing. As soon as you hear him pull into the driveway, or enter the front door, give me a call. Okay?”
“Sure, Mr. Gravlin. I will give you a call,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer’s adrenaline went into work overtime. She hardly slept. She kept peeking through the curtains periodically throughout the night. Upon awakening the next morning, she saw the patrol car twice as they made their rounds.
As she was taking another peek through the curtains around eleven, the Francias pulled into the driveway. She immediately called Gravlin. “I’ll be there shortly.”
Jennifer went to her bedroom and sat in the rocking chair with Luis in her lap.
“Jennifer! We’re home!”Mrs. Francia called out as she hurried through the house to them.
“We’re in the bedroom,” Jennifer said without getting up.
Mrs. Francia scooped Luis up in her arms planting kisses all over his face. “Mi pobre bebe. I missed you so much.”
“Did everything go well?” she asked as she gave Jennifer a hug.
“Si, Senora. Muy bien,” Jennifer said. Both ladies laughed.
“Diego is taking the luggage out the car,” Mrs. Francia said as her husband entered the room.
He looked Luis over before addressing Jennifer. “No more falls I see. Muy bien. You are free to go. Just remember payment is due next month.”
Mrs. Francia closed her eyes and turned her face up to the heavens, making the sign of the cross on her chest. She muttered a few words as her husband walked out the room.
As much as Jennifer wanted to leave, she also wanted to stay to see Mr. Francia get picked up, and especially to be of some comfort to Mrs. Francia.
“I’ll be back soon,” Mr. Francia said to his wife.
They both heard the front door close. A few seconds later, they heard it slam. Mrs. Francia and Jennifer hurried to the living room to see Mr. Francia peeking through the curtain.
“Diego,” his wife started to say but stopped speaking as he firmly held his hand up silencing her.
He turned around sharply and glared at Jennifer. “Did you call the police? They have stopped in front of the house.”
Jennifer did not respond.
“Romina, I’m not here.” He walked toward the master bedroom locking the door behind him.
Mrs. Francia looked at Jennifer with fear in her eyes. Her hands started to tremble. Jennifer placed a hand on Mrs. Francia’s shoulder and took Luis from her when a knock came at the front door. Mrs. Francia opened the door.
A gentleman whom Jennifer correctly guessed was Tucker Gravlin, introduced himself as well as Officer Paneer and Officer Pritchard before showing his ID. He then showed her the warrant for Mr. Francia’s arrest.
“We’re here to pick him up for blackmailing and for swindling money out of individuals here in the United States as well as in Spain,” Gravlin said. “Is he in?”
Mrs. Francia made a sign of the cross and uttered a few words in Spanish. “Yes, he is in. Come in and I will get him.”
Gravlin nodded at Jennifer.
“Diego!” Mrs. Francia called. “Diego!” she called again as she headed toward the master bedroom. Jennifer heard them exchange some words in Spanish. She could only imagine what was said between them as she heard Mrs. Francia say, “I cannot lie,” as she returned to the living room.
“He is in the bedroom, but he refuses to come out,” she told Gravlin.
Jennifer was so proud of Mrs. Francia and the strength she was showing. As Gravlin and the officers made their way to the bedroom, rapid knocking echoed from the front door. Officer Paneer retraced his steps to answer the door. Mrs. Francia gasped. Her husband stood shame-faced before the opened door. Another police officer was holding him firmly by the upper arm. “He tried to escape through the window.”
“Good job, men,” Gravlin said as he read Diego Francia his rights. “Mrs. Francia, we’ll need for you to remain in town as we will need you to answer some questions about your husband’s activities.”
Mrs. Francia who was now sitting down nodded. Her face was ashen. Mrs. Francia and Jennifer looked at each other. “Mrs. Francia, I can explain everything,” Jennifer said as Gravlin and his group left with Mr. Francia. She locked the door behind them and sat facing Mrs. Francia. Jennifer started from the beginning.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Francia, but I could not let him continue getting money out of me, Dr. Cruz and others, and with you caught in the middle. You don’t deserve this; but more than anything, Luis does not deserve this. He’s too precious for this father to do this to him. That’s not love.”
Jennifer braced herself for an angry reaction from Mrs. Francia. Mrs. Francia sighed as a look of relief crossed her face.
“Gracias, Jennifer. You did what I should have done. But I was too scared as he threatened to sue me for negligence—that is, taking the medication knowing the possible harm it could bring to Luis. But I trusted God to have him born safely. The past two years have been troublesome as I have lived in fear not knowing when or if the police would come and get my husband.”
Jennifer gave Mrs. Francia a hug. “I’ll spend the night with you,” she said. “I can stay the rest of the week if you want me to.”
Jennifer returned to her apartment at the end of the week promising Mrs. Francia she would keep in touch. Brad stopped by her apartment to make sure everything was secure and that she made it in safely. They both stopped off for a short visit with Aubrey and her family. The reunion was not without tears.
“Don’t you ever do that to us again,” Mother Jamison chided her. “What kind of friends are we if we can’t help each other?”
As soon as Jennifer met Mariadas Carmen who spent much of her days with Mother Jamison, Jennifer took a liking to her. “She reminds me so much of Mrs. Francia: small frame, kind eyes, soft-spoken. I think she’d be a blessing to Mrs. Francia. Do you mind if I take her to visit?”
“Not at all,” Aubrey said. “She could spend a few days with her if she so desires, and be an encouragement to her—maybe share Jesus with Mrs. Francia.”
Mariadas and Mrs. Francia conversed like long-lost friends. They kept in touch with each other even after Mrs. Francia returned to Spain to live with her parents.
The trial date for Diego Francia was set for two weeks from the date of his arrest being that they had to turn him over to the Spanish officials. Aubrey and Jennifer saw the fear in Mrs. Francia’s eyes as she testified against her husband. “Yes, your Honor. The medication I took while I was pregnant affected him mentally and physically. My husband and I both knew the side effects and we both signed the consent form so Dr. Cruz had nothing to do with my son’s slow development. In fact, Dr. Guillam who treated him in the emergency room said he only had a mild concussion; the double throw rugs helped cushion the impact of his fall. Jennifer has nothing to do with his condition. My husband had her believing otherwise so he could do his dirty work.”
Dr. Guillam’s testimony backed up Mrs. Francia’s testimony. “The concussion only left a noticeable bump on his forehead; it was not severe enough to cause any mental or physical problems at all. I have the report right here,” she said handing the report to the bailiff to give to the judge.
Jennifer was the last to tell what happened on the day her nightmare began.
“After the Francia’s left for dinner, I played with Luis for a while before getting him ready for bed. Even though his parents did not say anything to me about his being slow mentally and physically, I could tell something was not right with him in those two areas. On top of that, he hardly talked at all. He held a blank stare and when I fanned my hand in front of his eyes he did not respond at all. At first, I thought he was going blind. He remained in one position, making no attempt to run and play as other two-year-olds. When I laid him down to sleep he would beat his head against his pillow, moan, and then fall silent. He did this for about thirty minutes before falling off to sleep. I concluded that this was his sleep pattern. It scared me at first. After about an hour of him not moving, thinking he was in a deep sleep, I left the room to get a glass of water. When I returned to the room he was laying on the floor.”
“Oh, my goodness!” Jennifer cried out as she rushed into the room to pick Luis up from off the floor. “How in the world did you fall out of your bed! You were sound asleep when I left the room. I could not have been gone longer than two minutes.”
“Are you alright? Talk to me. Say something,” Jennifer said. She held him out in front of her. “Oh, my goodness,” she said again as she noticed a large swelling on his forehead.
Jennifer rushed off to the kitchen to fix an ice pack. She held it on his forehead as she cuddled him close to her. “I can’t believe you’re not even crying,” she exclaimed. “Oh, God, please have no harm to come to him from the fall. Please, Lord, please.”
After about twenty minutes, Jennifer lifted the ice pack. “Still the same,” she sighed as she placed it back on the bump.
The Francias returned about thirty minutes after the accident to find them sitting in the kitchen.
“Why are you holding an ice pack on his head?” Mrs. Francia asked as she reached for her son. “What happened?”
“How did everything go?” Mr. Francia asked as he walked into the kitchen slipping his jacket off while loosening his tie. He stopped in his tracks when he saw his wife’s facial expression as she fussed over their son. Jennifer was holding the ice pack. “What happened? Why does he have a bump on his head?”
Jennifer’s mouth opened but no sound came out. Her eyes lighted on Mr. Francia, who, turning away from his son raised his head up to the ceiling with his left hand resting on the nape of his neck. Jennifer saw a wad of muscles on his back tighten under his shirt. She braced herself for a possible explosive reaction from him.
Finding her voice, she said, “Mr. and Mrs. Francia, I am truly sorry. I laid him down to sleep and I stayed in the room for an hour to make sure he was asleep. Then I went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. I wasn’t gone any longer than a minute. When I returned, I found him lying on the floor. He . . . he . . . was just laying there, looking toward the door, not making a sound.”
Jennifer’s eyes filled with tears. She glanced from Mr. Francia to Mrs. Francia who was getting more ice.
“I . . . I . . . picked him up. His eyes kept moving from side to side. He did not cry. He never uttered a sound.” Jennifer started to cry. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how it happened. I made sure he was asleep.”
After what seemed like an eternity of silence, Mrs. Francia spoke. “I remember telling you not to ever leave him; to always have him in your sight. Why didn’t you call us?”
“I tried, but your phone kept ringing.”
“I’m sorry. It was in my purse and I accidentally left it in the car,” Mrs. Francia said.
“Come on. Enough talk. Let’s get him to the emergency room,” Mr. Francia said. He took his son from his wife. He stared at Jennifer for a few seconds. Tears were still trickling down her cheeks.
Mrs. Francia rested a hand on Jennifer’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Come on with us,” she said.
“We won’t need you to come. You just go ahead on home. We’ll let you know what takes place,” Mr. Francia said. His bushy eyebrows cast a fearful shadow over his dark piercing eyes. Jennifer shuddered.
The fifteen minute drive home seemed more like an hour to Jennifer. Her mind refused to think. She quietly went to her room and stretched out on her bed. Her thoughts slowly came back to her. How did this happen? Luis does not act like a normal two-year-old. He has not fully developed, and if that is the case, why didn’t Mrs. Francia say something about it to me? I thought I saw a little fear in her eyes when her husband suggested they take Luis in to the emergency room. This is a strange family. Other thoughts bombarded Jennifer’s mind as she anxiously awaited the Francias’ call. It came around six the next morning.
“Jennifer, this is Romina Francia. I trust you had a good night.”
“A restless one. How is Luis? Is he going to be alright?” Jennifer wondered why Mrs. Francia was talking so low.
“Well, yes,” Mrs. Francia said hesitantly.
The next voice Jennifer heard was Mr. Francia’s. She did not know enough Spanish to even begin to guess at what Mr. Francia said to his wife before placing the phone up to his mouth.
“Jennifer, we just returned from the hospital and we have bad news. This fall will affect my son for the rest of his life mentally and physically as well. It was a rather hard fall on a tile floor with nothing but a throw rug.”
Jennifer shuddered as the image of Luis laying on the floor revisited her.
“I have no choice but to sue you for negligence. My son could have died,” Mr. Francia said.
Jennifer gasped. She felt the rising anger in Mr. Francia’s voice. She was sure she heard Mrs. Francia in the background saying something to this effect, “No, no, Diego. Don’t do this to the poor girl.”
“Silencio!” Mr. Francia said to his wife. “As I was saying, Luis could have died. He’s only two years old. What were you thinking leaving him by himself?”
“Please, Mr. Francia,” Jennifer said after she got over the initial shock. “Please, it was an accident. He was asleep. I could not have been gone for more than a minute . . . two at the most. I–”
“I think my wife told you not to leave him by himself. That was disobedience and negligence on your part. I’ll be sending you the doctor’s report and the fees incurred. I’ll also be securing a lawyer–”
“Diego! Por favor!” Mrs. Francia pleaded in the background.
“Mr. Francia, please do not sue me. Please do not bring the law into this,” Jennifer pleaded.
“You leave me no alternative . . . unless . . . you are willing to settle out of court.”
Jennifer did not know what to say as shock come over her. She listened to Mrs. Francia pleading with her husband in the background.
“As I was saying,” Mr. Francia continued, “we can settle out of court. You can take care of the doctor’s bill by paying me so much each month, for, let’s say, four years . . . or maybe for the rest of Luis’ life. Remember,” Mr. Francia said as Jennifer started to protest, “the doctors say he will have mental and physical complications going forward. But, as I was saying, you pay me so much each month and you’ll be fine. No one will need to know—not even my lawyer.”
Jennifer swallowed. Dear God, how can a perfectly good day turn out like this?
“I think you can handle $700.00 per month, let’s say, for five years starting out,” Mr. Francia said.
Jennifer remained silent.
“If $700.00 is too high starting out, how about $600.00? $500.00? My wife told me that you were studying to become a children’s doctor. Big money in that. Once you’re done with your studies and are working in the hospital, we can increase the amount. How does that sound?”
Jennifer nodded as though Mr. Francia could see her through the phone. “Yes. $500.00. I should be able to handle that,” Jennifer said in a trembling voice. “Could you please give me two months to begin paying on it?”
“Sure. Give me your full name, house address, and telephone number,” Mr. Francia said. “Why don’t you stop by the house later today around six, and I’ll have everything drawn up in a contract. Okay?”
“Diego, how could you do this to her?” Mrs. Francia asked as soon as he got off the phone. “Can’t you see it was an accident. She came highly recommended. Let it go, Diego.”
“Silencio! I’ll handle it. Our little boy’s well-being is at stake here.”
“Diego, Luis’ birth. He was born–”
“Silencio! Speak no more. Either she pays for her negligence out of court or we go to court. She’s caused more mental and physical damage to our son,” Mr. Francia said.
“Diego, that’s not true, and you know that!”
“This will help take care of Luis’ visit to the doctor. You both ought to be happy I am not demanding the full amount,” Mr. Francia continued.
“Por favor. Please don’t do this. I am begging you.”
Jennifer stopped by the Francias’ to sign the contract Mr. Francia had ready for her. She was given a copy. Before signing, Mr. Francia showed her a signed doctor’s report of three pages stating, ‘Luis P. Francia will require lifelong medical care due to this fall as he will be unable to function mentally as well as physically. He will be considered a special needs child and will require twenty-four hour supervision possibly for the rest of his life.’
Mr. Francia rapidly read that section to Jennifer and flipped the other pages before her. “The other pages are just medical jargon explaining the seriousness of the fall and about x-rays and other things the doctors had to perform. The doctor’s signature is right here at the end in case you don’t believe me.” Mr. Francia pointed swiftly to the signature then returned the report to its envelope.
Jennifer, still in shock, went along with Mr. Francia’s explanations. The doctor’s signature, however, stuck in her mind: Ramon Avendano Cruz.
* * * * *
Jennifer’s testimony sealed Mr. Francia’s fate. The jury found him guilty of lying, blackmailing, and theft. He was required to pay back every cent he stole from Jennifer along with an extra $5000.00. He was jailed by the Spanish authorities.
Mrs. Francia was found to be innocent because she willingly testified against her husband.
* * * * *
“I know what prayer can do,” Aubrey said to her husband as they retired for bed on the night of the trial.
“Like I told you,” her husband said, “you lead a very exciting life. Let’s see: first Kiera’s husband kidnapping their children.”
“Thank you again for placing him behind bars,” Aubrey said.
“Then there’s Roger’s situation,” Quintin continued.
“How’s his new car coming along?”
“Quite well. His former supervisor has gotten in touch with the owners of Chrysler and they are talking very positive. He showed me the blueprint, and all I can say is, he’ll be a millionaire before long,” Quintin said.
“I’m glad things have worked out between him and Vicki,” Aubrey said snuggling up to her husband. “That baby of theirs is beautiful.”
“Which reminds me: when are we going to have our first child?” Quintin asked.
“I’m letting nature have its way. So far things are dormant. You may want to try stepping things up a bit,” Aubrey said.
“As I was saying,” Quentin said clearing his throat, “next there is Mother Jamison’s illness, and then little Justin’s illness–”
“Which reminds me,” Aubrey said, “they will be flying here in the next five days. What a reunion this will be. I wish Simone could make it.”
“Thank God Jennifer’s safe,” Quintin said. “No telling what Francia would have done to her had she not been able to pay him at all.”
“I won’t even allow my mind to think about that,” Aubrey said. Hugging her husband tighter, she said, “Are you ready to step things up?”
Kelli and Justin arrived safely. The operation was a success. Being that Justin was to be seen by the doctor for his initial follow-up care two weeks later, they spent one extra week with Aubrey and the second week with Jennifer.
On their first Friday together, Aubrey, Jennifer, and Kelli had dinner at their old stomping ground—Cherry Blossom Cafe. They got on Skype with Simone. The girls laughed and giggled and shed tears of joy as they reminisced on the past and shared future plans.
“I’m going to begin an outreach like the Restoration Reset Ministry,” Kelli said. “Mine will focus on prayer and we’ll reach out to females in the military—married as well as unmarried. It can get lonely at times, especially when your husband’s out in the field for long periods of time, and not to mention the stress that comes with being a soldier’s wife.”
“You all already know my future plans,” Simone said. “I’ll be learning the language of the Nomatsiguenga people along with Kelvin. Once our six months is up, we’ll return to the States for about a year or less, then we’ll return to Peru. Aubrey, I’ve been thinking, maybe the ladies of the Restoration Reset Ministry wouldn’t mind putting together care boxes to send to the people here.”
“We’d love to,” Aubrey said. “Just send me a list of things you need and the quantity and we’ll take care of everything. And whatever we can help you and Kelvin with personally, please let us know.”
“If you all recall,” Jennifer said when it was her turn to share her future plans, “when we first placed our fleece, so to speak, before God claiming the verse, ‘Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you,’ I asked God for a quiet life. That was my request because during that time I had fallen into Mr. Francia’s trap. Thank God that’s behind me now. Anyway, I believe a life of peace is ahead. I’ll be finishing off my studies by December.”
“And?” Aubrey said.
Jennifer looked at her puzzled; she then smiled as Aubrey said another “And?”
“And . . . Brad and I will be getting married six months from today. We set it for six months because we want Simone to be a part of the wedding party.”
“Whoo-whee!” Simone said. “This is one wedding I cannot miss. I am so happy for you.”
After the excitement died down, Aubrey spoke. “Well, my plans are to continue to minister to the ladies through the Restoration Reset Ministry and to focus on the Interior Design Business.”
“What about children? How many do you plan on having? I’m dying to be a godmother,” Simone said to Aubrey.
“I’m letting nature take its course,” Aubrey said.
“Tell Quintin to try harder,” Simone said.
“Tell him, time is of the essence,” Kelli added.
The girls all laughed.
“We should be flying out to Saudi Arabia to pick up our adopted daughter, Habiba al-Ahmet, the beginning of November; she should be here for Thanksgiving,” Aubrey said. “She’ll be two years old by the time we pick her up, so we’ll have a little one running around soon. I can’t wait. So for the immediate future, I’ll be adjusting to motherhood.”
“And we’ll be adjusting to being godmothers,” Simone said. “Don’t forget to send me some pictures of her.”
The girls chatted far into the night.
The following Friday, Aubrey, with the help of Mother Jamison and Mariadas, put together a send-off party for Kelli and Justin. Guests included: Romina Francia and Luis, Roger and his parents, Alphonse and his fiancee, Jennifer and Brad, and Mariadas. Simone and Kelvin joined them via Skype. The friends had a wonderful time of prayer and fellowship around the Word of God.
* * * * *
Things fell in place for Quintin and Aubrey to have a successful trip to Saudi Arabia. They returned in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends.
“We have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving,” Quintin said as they gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table. “We’re happy to announce the newest addition to our family: Habiba al-Ahmet Rodney. She lost both her parents during a village raid against Christians. She was asleep so the raiders overlooked her. A friend was checking in on the family after the raid when they heard her crying. She took Habiba home with her. My wife fell in love with her and wanted to adopt her, and she’s now ours.”
“And a lovely first grand-baby,” Mother Jamison said giving her grand-baby, who was sitting on her lap, a hug.
The family spent a quiet four weeks leading up to Christmas. As they gathered around the Christmas dinner table with family and friends, Quintin made an important announcement:
“It gives me great pleasure to announce that my wife is with child.”
* * * * *
The Lord blessed Mother Jamison to spend six more years with her daughter and son-in-law and three grand-children. Her last words to her daughter were: “If you can’t remember anything that I have taught you since you have been born, remember how I taught you by example that no matter what is happening in life, you should pray without ceasing.”
Mother Jamison gave her house to Mariadas Carmen and her family as soon as their paperwork cleared immigration.
In addition to Habiba al-Ahmet, the Lord blessed Quintin and Aubrey with two more children: Quindessa Cressida and Quintin James Rodney Jr. God continued to use Quintin and Aubrey to be a shining light and a source of encouragement, hope, and salvation in the lives of many because they carried on what Aubrey’s mother taught them: There is power in prayer. “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
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.