Thursday, March 21, 2019

Enrichment Week Story, Day 2 - HISTORICAL FICTION

      On the second day of my Enrichment Week creative writing seminar, I challenged the students to come up with a short piece of historical fiction.  As always, I didn't ask them to write something I didn't do myself, and I thrashed out this little piece, based on a well-known battle in English history.  So step back with me now to a summer day in the Year of Our Lord 1485, which turned out to be a memorable day in the life of a poor Welsh blacksmith . . . .


By Lewis Smith


          Gwyned Olfur was a Welsh blacksmith of uncertain parentage; he had been found by a priest on the local cathedral door as a squalling infant.  Jymm Olfur, the local smith, had lost his infant son to crib fever a few days before, and he and his wife had offered to take the foundling in.  Gwyned had learned to work the bellows almost as soon as he could walk, and by age eight he was wielding a hammer.  At fourteen he took over most of Jymm’s business, since his adoptive father was growing gnarled with arthritis at the ripe old age of forty-two.  Gwyned was nineteen when old Jymm breathed his last; his adoptive mother Nell had perished when he was still a lad, so he was now a skilled blacksmith in a kingdom torn by war.  With nothing tying him to the small town of Padding-on-the Rhys where he had lived his whole life, Gwyned decided to seek greener pastures – or at least, a more wealthy clientele – elsewhere.

          The Wars of the Roses, as the deadly dynastic struggle between the Yorks and the Lancasters would be called by historians, was in its twentieth year when Gwyned settled in the village of Leicester. The local blacksmith had died during an outbreak of typhus the previous year, along with his two apprentices, and the town was sore in need of an experienced metal worker.  Gwyned settled in quite comfortably, and married a local girl named Jilly the following year.  As King Edward seized control of the throne and old Henry VI finally met his end – smothered in his bed by the three brothers of York, according to rumor – Gwyned and Jilly welcomed the birth of a healthy son.  The blacksmith named the boy Jymm, after his father.  The boy turned six years old in the same year that King Edward suddenly fell ill and died, leaving the throne to the two young princes born him by his commoner wife, Elizabeth Woodville.

          Not long after, Richard, the Duke of York, usurped the throne, and the little princes disappeared without a trace.  Gwyned heard the gossip at the local tavern, but paid little attention to it.  Kings and great nobles came and went; they fought their wars and lived or died, but unless the conflict came rolling over the town where Gwyned lived, they mattered not to him.  He kept his head down figuratively and literally, smithing everything from plowshares to horseshoes to halberds and pikes, according to the demands of his customers.

When Henry Tudor led his army across the English Channel a couple of years later to challenge Richard, Gwyned took notice of current events at last, only because they affected his business.  The Earl of Leicester was a faithful liegeman to King Richard, and Gwyned found himself busily forging battle axes, halberds, and pikes for several weeks.  The insurgent forces drew closer to town, and word spread like wildfire that King Richard himself would be coming to Leicester on his way to crush the rebellion once and for all.

Even stolid old Gwyned found himself a bit excited at the prospect of seeing the king in person.  He’d caught a glimpse of the Earl a time or two, riding by on his way to go hawking in the marshes, but an actual king was a whole different level of nobility.  So when he heard the shouts of the crowd gathering in the streets, he set his hammer down and doffed his heavy leather apron and went out to join them.

Richard came riding up at the head of a long procession of fifty knights and several hundred men-at-arms.  Gwyned had heard whispers that the king was a hunchback, but as the monarch rode by, he saw no evidence of it.  He supposed the heavy cloak Richard wore might conceal a minor deformity, but of a certainty the king was no monster.  He had black hair, worn just above his shoulders in an even cut, and his features were regular – pointed, aquiline nose, thin lips parted in a slight smile, and large, light brown eyes.  Richard acknowledged the cheers of the crowd with a gentle wave, and then he and his knights rode on up to White Boar Inn, while the regular soldiers made camp in the field outside of town.  Gwyned watched as the crowd dispersed, and then returned to his shop, donned his apron, and returned to his forge.

Technically, he was a blacksmith and not a weaponsmith, but his father had taught him how to forge and sharpen blades, and the demand was so high right now the castle’s armorer did not resent the competition.  Gwyned was now making his fourth halberd of the day, heating the blade till it glowed red, and then hammering it flatter and wider to make the flared edge of the weapon.  He enjoyed the rhythm of his work; hammering, honing, cooling, and heating again. So intent was he on the job that he did not notice the figure standing in the door of his shop.

“You are the one called Gwyned?” a soft voice asked.

“So I be,” he grumbled.  “What of it?”  Then he turned and saw King Richard standing in the doorway.  The blacksmith’s ruddy face turned pale, and he dropped to one knee in reverence.

“Begging your pardon, yer Majesty,” he said.  “I dinna know it was you.  Gwyned Olfur, blacksmith of Leicester, at yer humble service.”

“Captain Flewellin told me that you are as skilled with weapons and armor as you are with plows and shovels,” the King said.  “I have a job for you.”

“It will be my honor to serve ye as me humble skills allow,” Gwyned said, his heart leaping with excitement.  Completing a smithing job for the King would give him a reputation that no other smith in the district enjoyed.  “What shall I be smithing for ye?”

“The grip on my shield is broken,” King Richard said.  “We shall be facing hard fighting near Bosworth on the morrow, and I need my shield to be steady in my hand.  Can you repair it?”

He handed over a brightly painted metal shield, and Gwyned turned it over to study the grip, which had been soldered onto the iron band that ran across the center of the shield’s interior.

“Soldering is difficult work, sire, and it takes time for the metal to set and harden.  I can re-attach this, to be sure, but if you are to be fighting in the morning you might be better off with another shield.  I can’t guarantee the strength of the bond when it’s had less than a day to set,” he explained.

“This shield has brought me luck in every battle,” Richard said.  “It bears my personal coat of arms, and has spared me many a hard blow.  Will you do your best to repair it?”

Gwyned looked at the grip, which was worn smooth from use, and at the broken joint where it had been affixed to the shield.

“I’ll do what I can, an it please yer Majesty,” he said.

“Good man!” King Richard clapped him on the shoulder.  “I shall send my squire to fetch it after nightfall.”

Gwyned hated soldering; it was one of the trickiest aspects of his craft, and especially on a large piece like the grip.  At least, he thought, one side of the grip was still firmly attached; he wouldn’t have to hold the other end in place.  He pulled a ceramic blow pipe down from the shelf, and got a small bar of bronze that was seated next to it.  He inserted the T-joint of the pipe into the hottest part of the fire, and then wrapped a sheepskin hose around the far end, wetting it and tying it with leather thongs.  He cut an appropriate sized piece from the bronze bar and held it at the end of an iron rod, then began vigorously blowing through the hose. The flow of air pulled flames from the red-hot coal and shot them out the narrow end of the hose.  Gwyned blew and sucked in air and blew some more, until finally the bronze bar began to glow red hot.  He used the iron rod to place it at the broken joint on the back of the shield, and then blew more flames onto it until the iron itself began to soften.  Then he took a small tap hammer and wedge and shaped the solder into the joint as best he could, although mixing two metals and getting them to bond was always difficult.  He blew and hammered and shaped the joint with the rod, until finally he was satisfied with his work.  He still had no idea if the solder would hold or not, but it was the best he could do.

The repair was barely complete when a tall, anxious young squire appeared to collect the shield.

“The metal’s barely cooled,” Gwyned said.  “The less it’s handled before tomorrow, the better.”

“I shall inform His Majesty,” the squire said.

The next time that Gwyned saw King Richard, the usurper was being carried into town dead.  He had been stripped of his weapons, armor, and most of his clothing, and a gaping hole in the back of his head was dripping blood and grey matter onto the cobblestone streets.  His body had been pierced through in several places, and his hands were tied together.  Word was already spreading like wildfire that Henry Tudor had proclaimed himself as King Henry VII on the battlefield.

“Wonder what happened?” one of the townspeople said.

“His shield broke in his hand,” one of the soldiers said, “and that’s when the first blow hit home.  After that, he never stood a chance.”

“Shouldn’t have rushed me work,” Gwyned grunted, and returned to his forge.

Monday, March 11, 2019


   Every year, at GCS, we have a break from our normal curriculum called ENRICHMENT WEEK.  During this time, teachers offer specialty classes based on their skill set, and students sign up for the ones they want based on their interests.  For the second time, I am doing a creative writing seminar class called ONCE UPON A TIME, where my students and I write short stories together.  Today was the first day, and after a morning of discussing some of the perils and pitfalls of being a writer, and various ways of getting published, all of us sat down to work on a short story of our own.  Today's writing challenge was to compose an original horror story, and as the kids busily wrote, so did I.  Here is the result - a tale of an inner city mission that welcomes an unexpected guest for the evening service . . .

                           A SUNDAY NIGHT VISITOR

                                                      By Lewis B. Smith

          The Cathedral of Charity had an impressive name, and it occupied a once-impressive building.  There its impressiveness ended.  Originally built in 1805, the church had been known as Redeemer Presbyterian for the first century of its existence.  But the feisty Scots-Irish founders had suffered from factions and splits that had slowly diminished the congregation; the Presbyterians had finally been forced to sell the imposing structure with its towering steeple to a rapidly growing Methodist church just before World War I had broken out in Europe.  The Methodists had worshiped there for twenty years, but then a scandalous affair between their pastor and the mayor’s wife had driven many of the members away.  By then the building was in sore need of a paint job, and some of the stained-glass windows had been broken out by storms and vandals and replaced with cheaper and less colorful panes.  Next the African Methodist Episcopal Church had bought the aging building; their congregation was faithful, but poor, and while they tried to ward of the slow decay of time, every year the once beautiful church became shabbier and more decrepit.  The district where it stood, once a proud old Charleston neighborhood, fell on hard times.  Fine old houses were remodeled into tenements and apartment buildings; grocery stores were replaced by adult theaters and liquor stores.  Finally, the AME church shut its doors, unable to pay the bills, and the building stood vacant for a decade before Bart Jameson bought it.

          Bart was an unlikely philanthropist; he had been a Silicon Valley pioneer in the 1990’s, and video game company he founded made him a multimillionaire before he turned thirty.  A fifty-room mansion, trophy bride, fast cars – he’d had it all for a while there.  But then a drunken accident had left him paralyzed for a full year, and on his hospital bed he had found the element his life was missing – faith.  A kind nurse had read the Gospel of John to him on her lunch breaks, and he emerged from his ordeal mostly healed and on fire for God.  He realized that he had been an incredibly selfish, materialistic jerk his whole life, and didn’t want to be that person any more.  He sold his share in the company and traveled back to Charleston, the city of his birth.  Janet, his trophy bride, was less than thrilled with the move and the modest home he purchased in a middle-class neighborhood.  But when she found out that he intended to spend his millions – and the remainder of his life – helping the city’s poor and indigent, she bailed on him.  He let her go without too much fuss – in all honesty; she was a shallow person that he had married for one reason only.  With her looks and skills, it wouldn’t take her long to snare another millionaire husband.  Bart was lonely some nights, but his work kept him exhausted enough that he always fell asleep before his loneliness could drive him to do something stupid.

          He had fallen in love with the old church the moment he saw it and had a vision of what he wanted to do there.  He repaired the worst of the structural damage but didn’t try to restore the place to its former grandeur.  It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford to do so; he had plenty of money.  But his mission was about giving people new lives, not a shiny church building to worship in.  The Cathedral of Charity housed a soup kitchen with free meals twice a day for the poor, a halfway house with twenty beds in what were once Sunday School rooms, and several classrooms where practical skills like cooking, carpentry, accounting, and computer programming were taught.  He wanted to give his congregation a means to support themselves, to earn a decent living doing something besides selling drugs or their bodies or both.  The residents of the Five Pines slum were roughly three quarters black; the rest Puerto Rican and Mexican, plus a handful of whites who could not afford to escape to a better neighborhood.  They were suspicious of Bart at first, wondering why a rich white guy would bother to open a church and mission in their back yard.  But he had won them over, slowly, by his generosity and radiant love for all those around him.

          The first Sunday he tried to preach there, only a half dozen people had been seated in the vast auditorium.  He had been nervous and his sermon brief; all but one of the attendees filed out quietly without a word.  That last one was passed out in his pew, reeking of alcohol.  Bart waited two hours before he gently woke the man and asked him to leave so he could shut the building down for the night.  But word had spread, and the congregation had grown.  Bart helped all who came to him in need of food, or work, or a place to sleep, or help with their bills.  One thing he had learned early on was to never carry any cash on him beyond the twenty that he spent on his meals.  Instead, he had a credit account with the local grocery store, gas station, and utility companies.  A signed business card from him sufficed to fill up a car’s fuel tank or a hungry mother’s grocery cart. 

He’d given away over a hundred thousand dollars his first year there; now it was up to almost a million annually.  He calculated that he had enough funds to last ten more years helping the poor before he would require outside help.  There was a small donation box in the back of the church, but the offerings he got from the neighborhood were meager, not even paying the bills for the sprawling old structure.  He’d debated whether to put the box up at all, but those who attended were adamant that they wanted to give something back to the organization that had helped them so much.  Bart now had a dozen part-time instructors and cooks working for him, plus one full time accountant and an assistant pastor.  He didn’t pay them much, but they all shared his sense of mission, his burning desire to lift these people out of poverty and set their feet on a better path.

Nowadays the sanctuary was packed with people every Sunday morning and often on Sunday evenings as well.  Bart preached simple, basic messages, emphasizing the love of God and his desire for all people everywhere to come to repentance and find forgiveness and grace at the foot of the cross.  After the service, he held an altar call and invited anyone who felt led to come down and pray with him.  Once he’d prayed with every single penitent who came forward, he would move to the rear of the church, where the needy waited.  He gave out his cards to all and sundry, knowing he would receive the bills from the grocery store, gas station, or utility company.  The only places he would not establish a line of credit with were the predatory businesses that catered to the worst instincts of his flock – the liquor stores, especially.  The grocers had been told that his line of credit would not cover purchases of any alcohol whatsoever.  He knew he could not single-handedly dry out every drunk in Five Pines, but he was determined at least that they would not feed their addiction on his dime.

It was a cold, rainy Sunday night in March as Bart prepared to take the pulpit of the old cathedral. There were about two hundred people in attendance, many dressed in rags, or mismatched hand-me-downs.  A few streetwalkers came in, shivering in their short skirts and low tops, looking for shelter from the cold on a night when few johns were out there.  Bart’s friend and associate pastor, Jim Englewood, got up and led the crowd in some lively praise songs.  He was nearly done with the musical portion of the service when the visitor came in.

Bart noticed the man right away.  He was slightly above average in height, with dark hair that fell to his shoulders and a pale face with chiseled, aquiline features.  His eyes were dark and piercing, sweeping the room quickly and taking in its occupants before he took a seat on the back row.  He was dressed in black slacks and a white shirt with a long grey trench coat; he also wore an expensive snap-brim fedora which he removed the moment he stepped out of the foyer and into the sanctuary.  The man had money; that much was clear – his clothes were expensive, and he moved with a lithe grace that few in the ghetto could have mimicked.

Bart wondered what could have brought such a well-heeled man alone to his charity church service on such a dismal night, but he put the thought aside to focus on his message.  He was preaching from one of his favorite texts, John Chapter Four, and didn’t want any distraction to rob the story of its importance.  He invited the church to stand as he read the story from the Gospel, and then bade them sit as he launched into his message.

“I’ve often thought the Samaritan woman would have been at home in this neighborhood,” he said.  “How many of you ladies have suffered from blighted dreams, how often have you thought that this man was different, that he would care for you, love you, provide for you, only to be used and cast aside yet again?  This woman knew hurt and heartache; she knew scorn and contempt from her community.  Why else would she come to draw water in the heat of the day, when no one else was around?”

He saw the nods of agreement, and a few of the women in the audience shouted “Amen!”  He smiled and moved on, talking about the power of Christ to shatter prejudice and hatred, to redeem ruined dreams, and to cleanse mortal sins. He spoke for just under thirty minutes; one thing he had learned was that his parishioners didn’t want endless explanations.  He wrapped up with a passionate invitation for all who heard to come forward and find new life in Christ.

Many stirred and came down the aisle; the strange visitor, however, remained on the back row, simply watching as the faithful and the repentant came for prayer.  Bart and Jim prayed over each one who had come forward, and when they were done, Bart quickly moved to the back of the church so that the needy would not be kept waiting any longer than necessary.

There were two dozen or so standing in line to speak to him.  Five simply needed groceries to feed their children; another six asked if he could put gas in their cars so they could fill up and drive somewhere – one to a funeral, four to work (or so they said), and two needed gas to go see relatives in the hospital.  He signed the cards and passed them out until finally the last grateful recipient headed out the door.  As Bart started to lock the front of the church after the elderly woman whose gas bill he had just paid, he noticed the tall stranger standing there, watching him closely.

“Why do you do it?” the man asked him bluntly.  “Why do you give away so much?”

“Because I can,” Bart said.  “I had more money than I knew what to do with, but then when I found God, I discovered a useful purpose for my wealth.  These people had no hope, no reason to go on.  I help them with their bills, and feed their children, and do everything I can to give them their lives back.  God gave me a second chance when I nearly died a few years ago, so I promised that if I could get back on my feet, I’d dedicate my life to helping others.  Honestly, I am happier here than I ever was out West, even when I was making nearly fifty million a year!”

“That is most admirable,” the man said. “If more pastors had your attitude, churches would be fuller than they are.”

“I think many share my attitude, but few have my means,” Bart said.  “I was blessed with a lot of wealth, and I am going to give as much of it as I can to as many as I can for as long as I can.”

“You fund all of this yourself?” the man asked.  “Impressive!  What is your name?”

“I am Bart Jameson,” the pastor replied.  “I am able to pay for all our operations for the time being, although at the current rate I will have spent everything I have in another ten years or so.  Then it will be time to go and beg for donations.”

“You remind me of an old friend,” the man said. “He was caught in a terrifying situation and was sure he would die, so he promised God he’d become a monk if he were spared.  He was, and he did, and he devoted his life to the service of God with wonderful sincerity.  I think I should like to support your ministry, if you would accept a small donation in his honor.”

“That would be wonderful, Mister -” Josh paused.  “I’m sorry; I don’t know your name.”

“Few in this town do,” the man said.  “I just returned after an absence of many years.  Lu Card is my name – Alexander lu Card.  Please, call me Alex.”

“Well, Alex, I will say that if you are planning on making a donation of any size, I wouldn’t drop it in the box back here,” Bart explained, leaning on his cane.  “I clean it out after every service, but it still gets jimmied open every few days.  Just let me know when you want to drop it off, and we can put it in the church’s bank account, where I can distribute it to those who are truly needy.”

“You shall hear from me soon, then,” Alex said, and with that he smoothly stepped through the door and vanished into the night.  Bart stared after him for a moment, and then slowly locked the front door.  He emptied the offering box and counted out the money – about fifty dollars in wrinkled bills and pocket change.  He put it in a bank envelope and stuffed it in the inside pocket of his jacket, then locked the back door of the church and stepped out into the night.

Jim had already headed out, so Bart was left to walk alone to the guarded underground parking lot three blocks from the church.  His van was not an expensive vehicle, but he’d lost three sets of hubcaps and two radios parking it on the street outside the cathedral.  He’d long ago lost any fear of walking alone down the street at night.  Most of the people in this rundown neighborhood regarded him as a godsend, and he felt as safe here as he had in his old gated community streets in California.

He was a block away from the parking garage, walking past an alley, when he saw a figure lunge out of the shadows towards him.  Ever since his injury, Bart had walked with a limp, and this damp weather had played havoc with his condition.  He could not have outrun the man if he tried, and he didn’t even have a chance to bring his cane up in self-defense before he was wrapped up and dragged into the alley.

There were three of them, two black and one Latino, pimps from the look of them.  Bart’s heart sank, and he said a silent prayer.

“Time’s up, preacher man!” snapped one of them.  “You been turning my whores into good girls, and that’s bad for business!”

“Nobody wants to have a good time with a girl who’s got some guilt trip going,” said the other.  “Lucinda wouldn’t even go get a ‘bortion when I told her to the other day.  I had to beat that baby outta her stomach!”

“It’s time to shut you down for good,” the Latino said.  “We don’t need no gringo do-gooder ruining our profession!”

“I have some money,” Bart said.  “Fifty dollars in the bank bag, and another twenty in my wallet.  I even have my old wedding band.  I’d really prefer to stay alive, if possible.”

“Whoa, boys, he has seventy whole dollars!” one of the pimps jeered.  “Why, I might could get twenty minutes with Lucinda for that!  If I had to pay for her services, that is!”  The other two laughed, but there was no real humor in their mirth – only mockery and hatred.

“You’d have a lot more than that if you didn’t keep giving every dime you have to these losers that show up every Sunday!” snapped the tallest one.  “We don’t want your money, stupid honkey!  We want to shut you down, ain’t that right, JoJo?”

“Don’t be using my name like that, cuz!” the shorter black man said.

“Don’t worry, JoJo, he won’t be in any condition to tell nobody nuthin’ when we are done with him!” the tall pimp said. “Now hold him for me!”

The tall pimp was a sadist, Bart quickly realized.  The man knew just where and how hard to hit to induce the maximum amount of pain, and in a matter of moments Bart was screaming in anguish as one hard blow after another pounded into his face, his stomach, his throat, and his groin.  His screams gave way to grunts and gasps for breath; blood ran down his face and obscured his vision.

“That’ll teach you to be preachin’ to our whores!” the tall man finally said, pausing for breath.  “Now finish him off, Luiz!”

The Latino pimp let go of Bart’s arm and pulled a long, shining switchblade out of his back pocket, drawing back to plunge it into the hapless pastor’s chest.

“Wait!” Bart said through broken teeth.  “Please, can I say one thing?”

“Aw, preacher man wants to say his last words,” the one called JoJo jeered. “Let’s hear what he got to say!”

Bart stood there, swaying, pulling free of their grasp.  He looked at his three assailants, his breath coming in great whooping gasps.  He drew himself up and looked at the three of them, determined to leave his life as he had lived it over the last decade.

“I forgive you,” he said.

“What kind of bull is that?” snapped the tallest one.

“No bull,” said Bart.  “I don’t want to die with hate in my heart.  So I forgive you.”

“Loser!” the pimp said.  “Kill him!”

Bart saw the blade coming, and felt it puncture his stomach as he collapsed to the ground.  But before his assailant could strike again, a black blur swept across his field of vision.  He struggled to keep his eyes open, but consciousness was fading fast.  The last thing he heard before he faded out was the sound of screams.

The next thing he heard was the sound of someone throwing up violently, and harsh voices pierced the fog that filled his brain.

“Geez, Captain, what on earth could have done this?” one said.

“No idea,” came a reply.  “I’ve been on the force twenty years and never seen a crime scene this bad.  Hopefully this guy can tell us something.”

Then blackness.

Bart awoke in a hospital bed, his middle swathed in bandages.  Every muscle in his body hurt.  He groaned softly.

“Mister Jameson, it’s good to see you awake,” a voice said.  He recognized it as that of Doctor David Sherwood, his physician.  “You are lucky to be alive. The police found you within moments of your being stabbed, and they are anxious to talk to you.  We’ve got you stitched up and the internal bleeding is stopped.  Barring any infection, you should be able to go home in a week or two.  Do you want to talk to them?”

Bart nodded, and tried to sit up in bed. It hurt too much, so he laid back and waited.  Moments later, a uniformed patrolman came in.

“Glad to see you pulled through, Pastor Jameson,” he said.  “I wouldn’t have given a nickel for your chances when we found you.  Can you tell us what happened to you?”

“Three pimps jumped me,” he said in a soft whisper.  “They were mad because their girls have been leaving the life behind and trying to get clean.  They tried to kill me.”

“But what happened next?” the cop asked.

“What do you mean?” Bart asked. “They stabbed me, and I blacked out.”

“You don’t remember anything else?” the cop said.

Bart closed his eyes and thought hard.

“There was something,” he said.  “A shadow, moving fast.  And . . . I thought I heard screams.”

“You did,” the policeman told him.  “The three men who attacked you are dead.  I mean, really dead.  Torn to pieces.  I lost my lunch when I found them; it was that bad.  The one guy’s head . . . it was on top of the building, thirty feet above the alley. One dude was literally ripped in half, right down the middle.”

“My God,” Bart said.  “I . . . I had no idea.”

The police returned and questioned him several more times, but they made it clear he was not a suspect.  The murders were never solved, although the local TV channels put out a plea for any eyewitnesses to come forward, and the police offered a large reward for any information that could lead them to an arrest.

Bart was on his feet just a few days later, his rapid recovery confounding the doctors who treated him.  Even his old injury didn’t hurt him as much or as often, and his limp was almost unnoticeable.  It had been years since he felt so energetic, in fact. The only odd thing he noticed was that he occasionally got a strange, coppery taste in the back of his throat, like heartburn, even though it rarely came after he ate. He was discharged in a week.

The day after he got home, he received a phone call from his banker.

“Mister Jameson, I really don’t know what to do,” the man said.  “You’ve received a very unusual donation!”

“Unusual as in how?” Bart asked.  “Large?”

“Huge,” the man said.  “Come and see for yourself.”

Bart climbed in his van and drove down to the bank, which was in a much better part of town than the Cathedral of Charity.  His banker, Mister Chambers, met him at the door, looking nervous and sweaty.

“A man dropped off the bag this morning,” he said, “with a note for you.  I thought it was just going to be a bunch of quarters and dimes, you know, regular change – until I opened it to count it out.  Step into the back with me.”

In one of the conference rooms, a table top was covered with gold.  Gold coins, over two hundred of them, carefully counted out and stacked.

“You have one hundred Spanish doubloons, seventy English guineas, and thirty Saint Gaudens double eagles,” Chambers said.  “A rough estimate of the value is around six hundred thousand dollars.”

Bart sat down, gasping at the glittering hoard on the table top.  That would cover almost a full year’s operating costs for the Cathedral of Charity!  Finally, he spoke.

“You said something about a note?” he said.

“Yes,” Chambers said.  “Here it is.”

The handwriting was elegant and flowing, antique in its style as well as in its word usage, but its message was clear.

          Reverend Jameson, it read.
I do not serve your master, but in the place and time whence I came, we valued honorable service regardless of to whom it was rendered.  You serve your God well, and even in your extremity you remained true to your beliefs.  I will confess, I should have intervened sooner, but I was curious as to see how you would face death. Many a priest in my home country showed less faith and even less courage!   

You impressed me, sir, and so I rescued you.  Your injuries were severe, so I took extreme measures to save you.  My rough medicine may have a few side effects, but they should be temporary.  You may look forward to a long and happy life serving the poor who do not deserve you.  Perhaps this small offering can help you in your mission.  I buried it here on my last visit to this town, over eighty years ago, and came back this week to retrieve it.  My kind have always enjoyed the ambience of holy ground, and I had stepped into your sanctuary for a moment’s respite when we crossed paths. Take this money and use it well, on behalf of the crucified one whom you serve.  I doubt our paths will ever cross again, but you may be assured of my best wishes.

Your obedient servant,
          A. lu Card

Bart read the odd note through twice, trying to figure out what the man meant.  How had the mysterious stranger somehow butchered three men and then walked away unscathed?  And what was the “rough medicine” he referred to?

After discussing how to cash in on the hoard of golden coins, Bart stepped down to the hall.  The odd taste was strong in the back of his throat again, and he stepped into the washroom to take a drink and wash his face.  He stared at himself in the mirror and noticed that his reflection looked somehow different, almost slightly translucent around the edges.  He took the note out of his pocket to read it one more time, and as he did, he caught a glimpse of the signature in the mirror.

Only then did he realize just who the night visitor had been.