A Villain Meets Jesus – Part 3

“Isn’t that why anybody bothers with anybody else?” Charles half-growled and raised his tone on the last word. He closed his eyes, ready to pray for unconsciousness. He swallowed a mouthful of bile and turned his face away. “Everybody wants something or other.” A drop of sweat slid down his forehead.

“Your viewpoint is narrow and shaped by corruption.” The street sweeper laid down the broom. “Not everyone seeks their own gain.” A moment of silence passed. “What do you want, Charles de la Motte?”

How did he–? Charles jerked his head to confront the street sweeper and earned a sharp jolt to his injured shoulder. He grunted, waiting for the stab to pass.

Oh, that’s what the man was about. He knew Charles was the escaped French convict and sought blackmail reward. He projected a soft, mocking laugh. No point in denying his identity. “So, you do know about me.” He paused to breathe, which remained a chore. “I haven’t sixpence to my name. You might as well drag me to the authorities if you’re after money.”

Suspect merriment faded from the street sweeper’s eyes. His brow wrinkled. “What have I to do with your worthless coins? I wish to help you.”

“Help me?” Charles sputtered a laugh. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask what he’d require in exchange. But didn’t he just say not everyone sought their own gain? Did he refer to himself? And why was Charles inclined to believe him? “Are you able to set my arm?”

“I am.”

The hairs on the back of Charles’s neck prickled. Something odd and indescribable, like an other-worldly power, accompanied the street sweeper’s words. Almost as if they contained tangible life. A gust of wind skimmed over him, and yet it wasn’t wind. If Charles hadn’t already been lying on the ground, he surely would’ve collapsed. Drops of sweat slid into his hairline. He tried moistening his lips with a dry tongue. “Then, please. Help me.”

Strong fingers seized Charles’s elbow and shoulder, and an equally startling upward shove popped his shoulder into place. Pain and nausea evaporated. His shivers ceased. The man’s touch pierced to his marrow just as Reaper’s did, but the difference was darkness and light. And fire. Pure love burning through him, warming him to his core. Love? Was he losing his mind?

The street sweeper kept hold of Charles’s arm as he pulled him to his feet. “How do you feel?”

Blinking, Charles yanked his arm away. He stepped back on unsteady legs, his stockings snagging on the pavement’s sharp corners. “Well I . . .” He rolled his arm backward and forward. Good as new. “I no longer feel pain.” Was this some sort of elaborate trick? He drew back his head and eyed the shorter man. “How did you do that? Are you a magician? Some sort of mystic healer?”

The street sweeper kicked the broom upright and crossed his arms over the handle. His beard didn’t hide the slight smile curving his lips. Was this an amusing diversion for him? No matter what he claimed, everybody had an ulterior motive behind their actions.

“I am none of these things you assume. What has light to do with darkness? Yes, I have healed your body. I would also heal your soul and spirit, if you will let me.”

“My soul and what?” Charles thrust his head forward and bit back a laugh. “You’re aware of my name, but it appears you haven’t heard the tales about me.” He grinned. “I’ve committed offenses large enough to turn the English king’s head and earn me a traitor’s . . . um.” Wait, what? Charles shook his head, and his smile slipped. Why was he saying these things? “I thought that the reason you bothered with me.”

The street sweeper sighed. His shoulders drooped. “I have not only heard, I have seen.” Sadness weighed his quiet words.

There was no way this London sweeper had seen him do anything. Charles crossed his arms and lifted his chin. “Indeed? Name an incident.”

The street sweeper held his gaze steady despite unshed tears shining in his dark eyes. “I will not. The time to stand as your judge will come, but I am here now as your friend.”

What a jest. The fool puffed himself up as an expert of things he knew nothing about. He might even be a little crazy. Perhaps he fished for information. And Charles had just said too much. “Thank you for helping me, but we’re certainly not friends.” He passed the street sweeper and headed down the shadowed street. Puddles soaked his stockings. A cat leaped from a wall to his left.

“We might be friends.”

Charles stopped, then turned toward the street sweeper with a mocking chuckle. “Did you know why I fell? I’m training to steal something of value. Most likely, I’ll either be dead or imprisoned again before the month is out.”

Sympathy filled the street sweeper’s eyes. “You look at me with loathing, and yet you loathe yourself.”

Charles sneered at the Jew. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“I know that you loved Jeanne-Marie.”

Charles froze, mid-turn. He curled his fingers. That name was sacred. Whether the man had healed him or not, Charles wouldn’t suffer to hear it upon another man’s lips. How did the street sweeper know her name? Charles had always used her pseudonym “Meg” when in England. He’d even called her Meg in private. Unless he’d slipped and called her Jeanne-Marie as she lay dying in his arms? But this man hadn’t been aboard his ship. Perhaps one of his crewmen had talked.

Charles strode forward and halted in the man’s space, nearly chin to Jewish nose with him. His muscles twitched. The street sweeper didn’t back away. Didn’t even seem tense. Either the man was too trusting, or he knew his way around a fight.

“I want to be your friend.”

A sense of victory and satisfaction at having figured out the man’s angle diluted Charles’s anger. He widened his stance and crossed his arms. “Ha! See? You did help me for something.”

Jesus shook his head and released a heavy exhale. “Why won’t you believe what I say?”

“What’s in a friendship with me? Huh? You’re a Jew.” He poked his finger in the sweeper’s chest. “Aren’t you?”

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“You are right in saying that I am a Jew, but wrong to assume I’ve healed you in order to gain your friendship.”

“A Jew and a Frenchman, friends?” Charles snorted. “Are you in some sort of trouble?”

“No. But you are, Charles. That’s why I want to be your friend. I care about what happens to you.”

Charles’s attempt at a mocking laugh came out nervous. “What’s your name, Jew?”

“Jesus.”

Charles threw his head back and roared. Though a Jew, he was quite a humorous fellow. He gripped Jesus’s shoulder. “Alright, henceforth I’ll consider you my friend, but I doubt we’ll see each other again.”

Jesus’s lips curved in a knowing smile. “We certainly will.”

“De la Motte!”

Charles started at Reaper’s deep gravely voice, coming from behind him.

Reaper stood at the far end of the block. His skull-topped cane caught the light from a street lamp. “Come along. We have work to do.”

“Don’t go back to Reaper,” said Jesus, his smile gone. “Something bad may happen to you.”

Charles glanced from Reaper to Jesus. “He saved me from an ugly death, and gave me a job and place to stay.” He stepped back and narrowed his gaze. “How do you know his name anyway? You street sweepers must know everybody. Why doesn’t intelligence workers ever think of street sweeping for a spy’s cover?” He turned with a chuckle, reaching for his tricorn but not finding it. “A good night to you, Jesus.”

Sadness weighed in Jesus’s eyes. “Grace and peace to you, Charles.”

An odd farewell, but he’d heard stranger. The sweeps of the broom continued behind him as Charles as made his way to Reaper.

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A Villain Meets Jesus – Part 2

Almost there . . . Clinging to a suspended rope, Charles rocked back and forth, swinging himself closer and closer to the ajar casement window. Oh, how Jeanne-Marie would’ve cackled at the sight. He envisioned her petite, curvy figure standing among the passersby of King Street. She’d press her hand against her belly, black curls bouncing as she threw back her head and howled over his pathetic attempts at a feat she had excelled at. Queen of the Yardarm, they’d called her.

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Charles stretched his arm as he swung near the open window. His fingers grazed the sill. He groped and successfully latched onto it, but his grip wasn’t secure enough to counter the backward momentum. Mince! His legs hit the wall, and in his scramble, he lost the rope and the sill.

Weightless, he forced his body limp as he smacked the cobblestones. His shoulder popped. Air whooshed from his lungs, which locked up tight. The feeling was even worse than the time he’d suffered a surgeon to dig a pistol ball out of his arm.

Gaps and cries surrounded him. A horse whinnied. Footsteps shuffled.

“Who is he?”

“Is he dead?”

“…just dropped out of the sky.”

Charles squeezed his eyes shut and curled into himself, drawing his knees toward his chest. He thought of every curse word he knew, and then counted numbers as he attempted breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.

“Make way.” Reaper’s deep, gravely voice. “He’s my boy, that one. He’ll be well. Look, he’s moving about. Let me near him.”

Charles’s lungs finally permitted small, painful sips of air.

Reaper crouched beside him. “Imbecile.” Spittle flecked Charles’s cheek as Reaper hissed into his ear. “A child could maneuver that window. Get up. We’ll take you to the bonesetter.”

Charles still couldn’t speak.

Reaper straightened, lifting his cane. “I said get up.” He whacked Charles’s throbbing arm.

The ache intensified and spread a strong wave of nausea into his gut. Charles stiffened, and a pained grunt exploded from his lips. He gulped air and rolled to face the ground. The demon would get all Charles was worth if it killed him. He pushed up with his good arm, braced a bloodied knee against the cobblestones, and stood on sheer force of will.

Reaper grinned. “I knew you had it in y–”

Charles smashed his fist into Reaper’s eye, snapping the demon’s head back. The effort drained his strength and he staggered, dizzy again.

Reaper righted himself and laughed, blasting rotten breath into Charles’s face. “Why are you wasting your strength?” He pulled Charles to his side in a crushing hug. “Come on. We’ll get you patched up. Pour some gin and opium down your gullet. You’ll feel better soon enough.” He brought his hand down on Charles’s displaced shoulder.

Charles grunted, knees buckling. His entire left side pulsed with the devil’s own pain, and he began to shiver uncontrollably. The carriages and people around him swayed in a dizzying blur. He slipped from Reaper’s hold, and his vision went black.

***

Charles lay on a hard surface. His left shoulder burned, and the fire spread when he tried to move. Freezing wind pummeled him without mercy. Had he been left for dead? Wouldn’t be the first time.

Sweeping sounds came from nearby, and flickering light needled his eyelids. The clip-clop of horses moved past on his left, echoing down the street. Distant laughter erupted from somewhere behind him. The sweeping continued, closer.

Charles blinked his eyes open. A street lamp towered above. His body trembled from unspeakable ache and bone-deep chill. Groaning, he pushed past the nausea that stirred with his slightest movements. Where was he? A dark substance smeared his shirtsleeves and breeches, stiff to the touch. Blood, likely.

A putrid smell invaded his nostrils. Decay. Waste. Was he lying in the gutter? A squeak sounded high above him. Shutters swung open, and a woman tossed liquid contents from a chamber pot–right over top of him.

Charles growled, determined to pull himself up. Sweat broke out on his forehead and neck as he rose to a sitting position. He expelled the contents of his stomach, mostly liquid, and waited for waves of dizziness to subside. What he wouldn’t give for a bottle of gin. His shoes were gone and his frock coat, too, which explained why he was so cold. He wouldn’t even look for his pocketbook.

He rolled to one knee and paused to weather another crippling swell of nausea. Nothing left in his stomach. What was this malady? Charles had led a privateer crew into battle after battle during the American war with England. He’d played a dangerous spy game with Britain’s admiralty, danced with death, and taken serious blows so many times. He prided himself on his fearlessness and savy, and whatever was wrong would not take him down. Charles glanced around for something to grab onto.

A man approached on his right.

Charles froze. Was the thief coming back to pick him over again?

The stranger held a sweeper’s broom in his hand and wore an uncocked hat. When his face caught the light, a full, dark beard surround a bright smile.

Charles curled his lip. Only staunch Jewish men had such unfashionable beards. The man was a shade darker than fair, too, like those who lived in the deserts.

“Friend, let me help you.” A singular kindness, even authority, exuded from the stranger’s voice. He extended a hand encased in fingerless gloves.

Charles ignored the offer and struggled to his stocking feet. “I have nothing but the clothes on my back. You’ll not get that until I’m dead.”

He staggered forward, straight into a deep depression at the side of the road, cloaked by the darkness. He cursed as he fell and twisted away from an impact to his bad arm. A small mercy, but it still hurt like the devil. Lying on his back, he breathed hard through clenched teeth, waiting for the worst to pass. Or the stranger to kill him. Would he?

The famous and highly sought Charles de la Motte, felled by a London street sweeper. He opened one eye as the man came near and crouched beside him. “What do you want from me?”

“Why do you assume I wish to take from you?” The man’s dark eyes twinkled in the lamp light.

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A Villain Meets Jesus – Part 1

Photo by Kirill Pershin on Unsplash

Fetters clanked as Charles de la Motte shuffled around the stone floor of his dark cell. Every day, the walls moved closer. He’d be squashed any day. He gripped the arms of his threadbare frock coat and shuddered. Was it day? Or night? What season? His aching bones and stubborn cough said winter approached. He rubbed hands encased in finger-less gloves, then cupped them and blew hot breath into his palms. A cackling laugh echoed from somewhere in the gaol, giving him pause. Real or imagined? His grip on sanity was slipping. When would the English execute him? The day couldn’t come soon enough. He’d even take death over this hell of brick walls and endless waiting. Living like a caged animal, with only voices and the memory of his wife’s blood pouring out of her. He needed to get out of here. Charles clawed at the walls with ragged fingernails. He would have his revenge on Altamont for Jeanne-Marie’s death.

In his weakest moments, Charles found himself crying out to God for help. “Save me. Kill me,” he muttered. “Anything.” Naught ever came of those desperate prayers. ‘Twas the day he pledged his soul to Satan in return for his freedom, that the jangle of keys met his ears. The lock scraped and his cell opened.

Guards entered. “Lucky day for you, Frog,” said the stout, fat one with a moon-round face and close-set eyes filled with mockery. “Or is it?”

They unlocked his fetters, hauled Charles out of the cell, and led him down a maze of halls and stairways. The jeers of the other prisoners turned his head left and right. Was it the day of his execution, or had the devil really heard his insane talk? Would he hold Charles to his word and drag him to hell upon his death? What year was it? Would the English at least give him that dignity before they stretched his neck, then cut out his entrails and burned them in front of him?

Instead of an execution cart in the courtyard, the guards took Charles to an office containing a desk. A greasy warden sat behind it. The man was the definition of sloppy, wearing stained clothes and a poorly curled wig. He wrote in a ledger splattered with food stains. A plate of balled food that smelled like liver rested atop other papers.

Charles felt the presence of the other man before he saw him. Black, soulless eyes drew Charles’ gaze, belonging to a gentleman decked out like a dandy in pastel silks of the latest fashion. His jabot was pretentious, his tricorn set at a jaunty angle. A gold skull topped his walking stick.

“’Ere ‘e is, Mr. Reaper. Newgate’s resident frog.” The warden eyed Charles up and down with an amused turn to his large, wet mouth. “Although why you’ve gone through so much barney rubble for ‘im, I cannot imagine.” He grunted.

Mr. Reaper turned appraising eyes upon Charles. “He’s thin, but seems to have retained some strength.”

The man’s deep voice curled Charles’s insides. He’d been around some nasty people in his day, but none of them reeked of evil like this one. He met and held Mr. Reaper’s stare. “How do you know of me, sir?” His voice was raspy from disuse, but he could still command an impeccable British accent.

Mr. Reaper barked a laughed. “Everyone knows of you, boy! Your success in abducting the daughters of ole’ George’s top admirals has made you a name.” He winked. “I could use a sly fellow like you.”

Charles licked his cracked lips. “May I ask the day and year?”

“‘Tis…fifeen’h day ov…ember,” the warden answered with his mouth full. “Year ov…loud…’housand seven…’undred an’ eigh’y-eigh’.”

Eighty-eight. Then well over a year had passed. Altamont and Louisa were probably married and in Ireland.

Mr. Reaper ambled toward him with an oily smile. “Allow me to introduce myself, Monsieur de la Motte. My name is Reginald Reaper, and I’m here to offer you a proposition. I’ll be blunt and to the point.” He tapped Charles’ arm with the skull handle of his walking stick. Two tiny rubies winked from the eye sockets. “I need a man to frame. If you agree to work with me, you’ll have extended your life by roughly two months, enjoying life on my limitless coffers. Around the end of two months, we’ll set the stage, and in all likelihood, you’ll be caught, arrested, and hanged.” He set his walking stick on the floor between them, his gloved hands covering the skull. “I wondered if a break from the gaol might appeal to you? And however slim, the chance to walk away unscathed, with a heavy purse and new identity?” Mr. Reaper raised his eyebrows. “At the very least, a simple hanging is a much better way to die than being hanged, drawn, and quartered.”

A belch drew Charles’s gaze toward the warden who licked his fingers and smacked his lips. A smile tugged at Charles’s lips as he returned his gaze to Mr. Reaper. “A chance at freedom indeed appeals to me. But the King of England will hardly let me walk out of here.”

Mr. Reaper chuckled and exchanged a knowing glance with the warden. “The warden and I have . . . an understanding. Ole’ George will remain ignorant of your release.” He flattened his lips. “If you agree to my terms, Monsieur, you’ll walk out of Newgate this very moment. No questions asked.”

What did Charles have to lose? If he was caught trying to escape, they’d either throw him back in his cell or execute him sooner. Was he about to make a deal with one of the devil’s henchman? Even that didn’t matter, for Charles had killed, robbed, and lied too many times to hope for even purgatory. God’s silence toward his pitiful prayers rang loud and clear. Charles nodded at Mr. Reaper. “I agree to your terms.”

Mr. Reaper flashed a smile of brown, rotten teeth. “Then come, my friend.” Leading the way to the door, he tossed a purse onto the warden’s desk. Gold guineas spilled across it.

The warden scrambled over his desk, cackling as he grabbed at the coins.

Mr. Reaper put his hand to Charles’ shoulder. An unearthly chill seeped through the wool of his frock coat and past Charles’s skin, which felt raised like the skin of a plucked chicken.  He shuddered.

“Come. We’ll get you some decent clothing, and start working to put some meat on your bones.”

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Feeling Far Away From God?

The other night, I was talking to God and telling Him how much I miss Him. Sometimes we go through dry spells in our Christian walk where God feels distant and His words to us become like precious drops of water in a severe drought. And it may not even be because sin has broken our fellowship–I’m a mother as well as a writer, and I know firsthand how family life can wear you down into a walking ball of anxiety. Plus, I’ve been trying to finish a manuscript rewrite, and the nature of the writing game is immersive focus.

My quiet time has suffered.

So last night, as I talked to the Lord about how I want to be closer to Him and hear His voice, and enjoy His presence, and how frustrated I am at my futile attempts to make it happen, a picture of the movie Wall-E flashed through my mind.

God had the best sense of humor, I’m telling ya.

I’m a mom, so yes, cartoons are frequently in my line of sight, but I haven’t seen the movie Wall-E in years, and my kids aren’t huge fans. So when I got this picture in my head–completely out of the blue–I just knew it was a hug from God. I know, I know–Disney and Pixar are of the devil, but in my experience, God does use culture we can relate to when He talks to us. One day a while back, He gave me “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Risk Astley, which was really funny, because God knows how much I dislike 80’s music.

So, anyway, Wall-E.

The scene that flashed through my mind was when Eve goes into hibernation mode, and Wall-E gives her shelter and carts her around, spending time with her even though she’s unresponsive. Isn’t that such a wonderful picture of how God sticks beside us, even though we can’t feel His presence? It blessed me so much, I just had to share in hopes it would bless someone else. Have a great weekend! (I really should pop over here more often to say hello.)

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Gifts of Encouragement

How do you ever get started on that first novel draft?

I’m guest posting on a fellow writer’s blog if you’d like to come over and read about how I began my writing journey and was blessed with encouragement along the way. Blessings to you.

http://merryheartink.com/gifts-of-encouragement/

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