Authors: Jackson Neta,Dave Jackson
Copyright Â© 2013 by Dave Jackson and Neta Jackson
Published by Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., 134 Franklin Road, Suite 200, Brentwood, Tennessee 37027.
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Library of Congress Control Number: 2013947488
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Scripture quotations are taken from the following:
The Holy Bible, New International Version
. Copyright Â© 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
The New American Standard Bible
, Copyright Â© 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
The Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright Â©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Any references to real events, businesses, organizations, and locales are intended only to give the fiction a sense of reality and authenticity. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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ISBN: 978-1-61795-001-8 (trade paper)
Cover Design: Brand Navigation
Cover Photo: Â© Getty, Shutterstock
Interior Design and Typesetting: ThinkpenDesign.com
Printed in the United States of America
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The tremor in Mattie Krakowski's fingertips
increased as they brushed her thin, lined lips. Through the dusty curtain, the late-afternoon gloom of drifting snow glowed neon blue. She pulled back the lace veil and studied the puffy mounds strewn up and down Beecham Street like igloos. Not one car had moved all day. The snow that covered the sidewalk was free of footprints.
“My, oh my, Tom! So this is what you call âglobal warming'?”
She was talking to WGN's renowned meteorologist, who had been explaining why Chicago faced its heaviest snowfall for February 9 in more than 125 years.
“I just don't get it, Tom. I just don't get it.”
Tom Skilling was Mattie's friend. So were Regis and Kelly and Oprah and anyone else who cared enough to talk to her from the moment she woke up until after she fell asleep in her tattered old rockerÂ .Â .Â .Â only to rouse herself later just enough to shut off the late-night car commercials that always blasted twice as loud as her friends.
Mattie surveyed her street once more. The city trucks hadn't even tried to plow Beecham. Still, none of the snow mounds were big enough to cover the big pickup truck belonging to the man next door. He was very industrious. A Muslim or something. Maybe he was out somewhere plowing parking lots. Those drifts were high. Mattie noticed that one nearly covered the awful For Sale sign the bank had planted in her yard. If that weren't bad enough, they'd come along and tacked the word
on top. It still showed above the snowdrift.
She shivered and let the curtain fall back into place, releasing a musty whiff of burned toast, rancid grease, and scorched coffee. The place needed cleaning, but ever since her second-floor tenant moved out over a year ago, she'd had no money for cleaning help. She hadn't been able to make her mortgage payments either. Her son had remodeled the second floor, but still she hadn't been able to rent it. Now the bank was telling her she had to move out.
She waved her hand in front of her face to fan away the dust. She didn't like to think about the things she couldn't change and turned back toward the TV. “You didn't say it was gonna be
cold, Tom. Don'tcha think a little warning woulda been considerate?” Pulling an old blanket around her shoulders, she walked to the thermostat in the hallway, the ragged ends of the blanket dragging on the floor. Though she'd turned the dial up to seventy-five, the thermometer needle said the temperature had dropped to sixty-two. No wonder she felt so cold! She tapped on the little gizmo her son had installed a few years before to help her save money and turned the dial up to eightyÂ .Â .Â .Â and listened. But there was no familiar rattling in the air ducts to assure her that the old furnace had come to life. She waitedÂ .Â .Â .Â still no rumble from the basement.
Land sakes alive, she'd have to give Donald a call. Maybe if he knew she was freezing, he'd drive in from Elgin to see her. But no, noÂ .Â .Â .Â he couldn't do that in this storm, and she shouldn't make him feel guilty. She was trying not to do that anymore. Besides, he was much too busy with those grandchildren. Mattie wrinkled her brow and closed her eyes. What were their names again? She could see their cute little facesÂ .Â .Â .Â no, wait, they were teenagers now, all knees and elbows and loud, much too loudÂ .Â .Â .Â or, maybe one was even married. She wasn't sure.
Regis was almost eighty, same age as she was, and he didn't seem so forgetful. Still pretty handsome too. And he was such a nice man.
Mattie drifted back toward the living room. She'd check with Tom to see how long this cold snap would last, because she needed some heat!
Suddenly, her hand shot up to pat her withered lips. What ifÂ .Â .Â .Â what ifÂ .Â .Â .Â ? Had she paid her gas bill? “Oh Tom, Tom,” she called toward her TV screen, “I have to go check on the gas. I'll be right back. Now don't go away, Tom!”
She made her way into the kitchen and turned on the front burner of the stove. It lit with a
and settled into a nice circle of blue flame. She held her hands above it, enjoying the warmth until the fringe of her blanket nearly caught on fire. “No! No! No!” She slapped at the fringe. “Whew.” She took a deep breath and turned off the stove. So it wasn't the gas! At least she'd figured that much out. A paper-thin smile stretched across her face. She hadn't yet lost it all.
When she got back to the living room, Tom was gone. Mattie picked up the remote. “I asked you to wait for me, Tom. Now I'll have to find some other weatherman.” She surfed through the channels, stopping on channel seven, and a woman she didn't even recognize was talking about the storm. What was it Tom called himself, a “meteorologist”? This woman looked more like a floozy.
Mattie stood in the middle of the room, staring glassy-eyed as the floozy pointed to charts and maps and recited meaningless numbers while Mattie's mind drifted back to her inoperative old furnace. Then she turned, shuffled back through the kitchen, and opened the door to the basement. She didn't like to go down there. The old wooden stairs creaked, some lightbulbs were out, and the place was damp. It was also a cluttered mess, what with Fred's old tools, mildewed
s, racks of empty canning jarsâMattie hadn't canned since Fred died, but maybe somedayâandÂ .Â .Â .Â and the cockroaches. They'd never been able to get rid of those nasty things! But the basement also housed the old furnace, and it was calling to her. She had to go see what it needed. She turned the knob on the antiquated light switch and clutched the blanket more tightly around her as she gripped the handrail and began her descent.
Three steps down, her left toe caught the torn hem of the old blanket, and a little cry escaped as she realized she was tripping.
It happened so slowly that for an instant she thought she could catch herself, but the railing was wrenched out of her hand with such force that her body twisted all the way around and bounced off the lower steps with a resounding
, a crack that in that instant reminded her of the first home run Donald had ever hit in Little League.
As she tumbled backwards, Mattie grabbed the edge of the canning rack, hoping to stop her fall, but instead it pulled away from the wall, dumping a cascade of Mason jars down on her just as her head thudded on the concrete floor.
I'm usually willing to help out at Manna House,
the shelter for homeless women where my wife works as a cook, but their idea of a Valentine's party is seldom as kick-back comfortable as watching the Super Bowl had been with my Yada Yada Brothers. So when my iPhone sounded its
Law and Order
ring, I welcomed the opportunity to leave my plate of tasteless white cakeâdefinitely not something Estelle had bakedâand slip out into the lobby.
I didn't recognize the number on the screen, but it was a Chicago area code, so I answered with a roll of my eyes. “Yeah, Bentley.” Estelle bugs me about my gruff greeting, but soundin' like the cop I once was has knocked more than one telemarketer off his game.
“Hey, bro. How's it goin'?” The nasal twang was definitely not that of a brotha, but it sounded familiar.
“UhÂ .Â .Â .Â Okay, I guess.”
“Great! Roger Gilson here. Might have somethin' for ya.”
GilsonÂ .Â .Â .Â Roger Gilson
. Of course. “Ah, yes, Captain Gilson.”
“But not with the CPD. Moved over to Amtrak.”
“AmtrakÂ .Â .Â .Â as in trains?”
“Oh yeah. I cover from here all the way to the West CoastÂ .Â .Â .Â along with one other captain, that is. Can you believe it?”
“What happened to the CPD?”
“Ah, you know. Budget mess. The police pension fund doesn't look so secure anymore. But then you already know that, and that's why I called.”
Gilson's Internal Affairs had helped me nail my corrupt boss about a year ago. But it's hard for any cop to like Internal Affairs,
and I still wasn't sure I trusted Gilson. So I cautiously asked, “What's up?”
“Like I said, I'm at Amtrak now, and we're in a bit of a tussle with the TSA. They're all over us to tighten up security or they'll take over. But with the mess they've made of the airlines, nobody wants them running the nation's trains. Know what I mean?”
Sounded like Gilson had jumped from the frying pan into the fire. If the Transportation Security Administration took over security for Amtrak, Gilson might lose his job. “SoÂ .Â .Â .Â why'd you call me?”
“You had some trouble with your eyes, right? Went blind for a while?”
“Yeah, I had a problem.” A problem that'd scared me spitless because it might've been permanent. Had surgeries, wore eye patches for a while, even had to remain face down 24/7 for two whole weeks. It was a horror movie from which God alone had rescued meâbut I didn't want to get into all that with Gilson.
“Anyway, I'm lookin' for a few men I can trust to work undercover. Know what I mean?”
He waited while I coughed off to the side to keep from laughing at him continually saying,
Know what I mean?
“Yes, Gilson. I know what undercover is.”
“Well, we place undercover officers just about anyplaceâin a station restaurant having coffee, sitting next to other passengers on trains, or in bathrooms mopping up.”
“Ha! So you're lookin' for a black man to work undercover as a janitor. I don't think soâ”
“No, no, no. You don't understand. I was thinkin', with you having been blindÂ .Â .Â .Â you can see now, though, can't ya?”