Sunday, August 10, 2008

Friday Fiction for July 25th, 2008

Welcome to my second installment in the Fiction Friday Blog. This is the submission for 25 July 2008, and is an original short story written specifically for this blog.
Readers of Cardan's Pod will recognize the characters in this story, which was sparked by a short scene in the sequel, Marta's Pod. The events in this story are mentioned briefly in that scene, and for a while I've thought about expanding that into the short story contained herein. This narrative takes place a few years after the closing scene of Cardan's Pod, and very shortly before the start of Marta's Pod. This story has a great deal of Christian content, and I hope the reader takes some good principles from it. The story related by Diego Hyland about Rabbi Yisrael Solanter is actually taken from Jewish writings, and as near as we can tell, is true.
Pleasant Deeds, Pleasant Dreams
By Rick Higginson

Reverend Diego Hyland stepped out of the office into the quiet sanctuary, intent upon dropping the sealed envelope in the secretary’s in-box for postage and mailing. At first, he didn’t notice the figure sitting alone in one of the back rows, and was almost back to his office door before stopping to look at the man. His stomach momentarily twisted, and he stood staring at the man for a few moments in silence.

The man noticed his gaze and stood, resting his hands on the back of the seat in front of him. “I don’t know if’n you remember me, Pastor Hyland, but I was hopin’ I might have a word with you,” he said.

“Yes, I do remember you, Mr. Grinnell,” Diego said, feeling his heart beating a bit faster. “The last time I saw you, you were spying on Sally and me, after you had tried to kill our friend Joshua Cardan.” He kept his hand on the open door of the office, wondering if he could lock the door and call 9-1-1 faster than the man could cover the distance through the sanctuary.

“Yes, sir, that was me all right, and I sure wouldn’t blame you if’n you threw me outta here. If’n you’d rather, I’ll stay right back here and say my piece. I tried to think of any way I could get outta it, but I always came back to this was somethin’ I had to do,” Lonnie Grinnell said.

“I think staying back there is a good idea. What’s on your mind, Mr. Grinnell?”

The big man lowered his eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “I ain’t the same man I was, Rev’rend. I can’t rightly say what happened out there that last night on my boat, but it got me to thinkin’ ‘bout my life and the way I was livin’. I gave my life to God while I was in prison, an’ now that I’m out, I found me a good church an’ some good teachin’.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” he said, his emotions reserved. I’ve heard this story before many times in my ministry, he thought. Now, what do you want?

“I know that God has forgiven me for what I’ve done, but I was readin’ my Bible an’ saw this part talkin’ ‘bout bringin’ our offerings to the altar when someone had somethin’ against us. It said to get things right with your brother first, an’ then bring your offering.”

“I’m very familiar with that passage.”

“Well, sir, my lady friend is goin’ through the steps with AA, and part of that is she’s got to go and seek forgiveness from those she’s wronged. It didn’t make no sense to me that if’n she’s been forgiven by God for what’s she’s done, but still has’ta ask forgiveness from other folks, that I could jus’ take God’s forgiveness and forget about those other folks in my past.” He raised his face to meet Diego’s eyes. “You and the missus are good folks, an’ I knew that even then. I did you wrong by tryin’ to hurt your friend, and then by followin’ and spyin’ on you when you was lookin’ for him. I won’t blame you if’n you never forgive me, but God jus’ wouldn’t leave me alone ‘til I came and told you I was wrong and asked.”

“What else do you want, Mr. Grinnell?” Even as he asked the cynical question, he felt a pang of conscience, as the thought crossed his mind asking why he thought the worst of the man. Because I’ve seen this before, he rationalized right back. There’s always a string attached.

“That’s all,” Lonnie said. “Unless-”

Here it comes, Diego thought.

“If’n you know how I could reach Mr. Cardan, so’s I can ask his forgiveness, too.”

“Is that really all you want from Joshua Cardan as well?”

“I don’t blame you for not trustin’ me, Pastor Hyland. Lord knows I weren’t much of a trustworthy sort, and I wish I had somethin’ more than jus’ my words to give you, but that’s all I want an’ it’s a far sight more’n I have any right to ask. I used’ta think the story of Jacob wrasslin’ with God was kind’a dumb, but not any more. I’ve been wrasslin’ with God over this for days, an’ He jus’ keeps pinnin’ me right back on His Word. My brother has somethin’ against me, and I gotta try an’ make it right.”

His hand slipped from the doorknob to hang at his side. How many times have you wrestled with God? The question lingered in his mind. You know what you’re supposed to do, Diego. Are you going to make God wrestle you into submission for this one, too?

He lowered his face. “I’ve done what I had to come do, Pastor, so’s if you want, I’ll jus’ show myself out and leave you in peace.”

Diego closed his eyes and thought a silent prayer. Okay, God. I’m going to trust you, even if I don’t like it. Stepping down from the dais, he spread his arms out and walked down the aisle towards the back of the church. “I’d have to ask your forgiveness if I let you leave that way,” he said.

Lonnie stepped into the aisle hesitantly, looking confused as he accepted the embrace. “Pastor, I-”

“As God has forgiven me,” Diego said, his voice breaking as he surrendered to the emotions. “I also forgive you.”

The powerful arms wrapped reluctantly around him, as though he were afraid the gesture would not be welcome. The calloused hands rested on his back with the lightest of touches at first, and then with a more positive embrace as the big fisherman began to sob.


Joshua Cardan listened to the confession with mixed emotions. With every word, he felt again the crack of the sail boom hitting his skull, the humiliation of Cynthia’s laughter over the waves, and the terrible finality of sinking beneath the surface as the two of them had pulled away from the sailboat that night. The nightmares had abated in the time since the murder attempt, but every once in a while he still woke up gasping for breath and covered in sweat.

“What I done was wrong, Mr. Cardan,” Lonnie Grinnell said through the phone. “I ain’t makin’ no excuses and I own up to every bit of my fault in the matter. Your forgiveness is a fair piece more’n I deserve, and I ‘preciate you even agreein’ to hear me out.”

Closing his eyes, he rubbed his forehead with his fingertips, unconsciously lingering over the spot where the wound from the sail boom had been. The advantage of the moral high road, his father’s words echoed in his mind, is that you maintain a good conscience even if the decision doesn’t turn out well.

“Are you still there, Mr. Cardan?”

Take the moral high road, he imagined his father advising him. “Yes, I’m here,” he said. “How did Cynthia convince you to help her kill me?” I’m not sure I’m ready for the high road quite yet, Dad.

“Sir, as much as it might seem fittin’ for me to put blame on her, I done told you I’m ownin’ up to every bit of my fault. I knew she was married when I took up with her, and I knew it was wrong to do so. I had an inklin’ the first time she mentioned how things might be if’n you were outta the way that she weren’t talkin’ divorce, and I should’a dug my heels in right then and there and said ‘no’. I didn’t, though, even when she came right out and said what she was thinkin’. No, sir, she didn’t trick me into anythin’, and I knew right from the start that hitchin’ my wagon to her was trouble. I did so anyway, an’ the only one t’ blame for my bad choices is me.”

So you’re going to let the man who tried to kill you have the high road to himself? He turned and looked at the portrait of himself and his parents. Maybe if you’d decided to fight the cancer instead of just letting it take you, Dad, you’d have been around to give me this good advice in person instead of just in my imagination.

The strong eyes of a man in his prime stared back from the photograph. How can you forgive him, Josh, if you won’t even forgive me?

You didn’t stick around long enough to ask for forgiveness, Dad. He looked away from the portrait to the print-out from Special Agent Williams on his desk. When the FBI agent had heard Grinnell wanted to talk to him, Williams had looked into what the parolee had been up to lately. “So all you’re asking me for is my forgiveness, then?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Cardan; that’s all I’m askin’.”

When Diego had first contacted him about it, he and Sally were both convinced of the man’s sincerity. Hear him out, Josh, and forgive him, Sally had said. Whether you think he deserves it or not, you need it.

“Like I told Pastor Hyland; God won’t let me rest ‘til I’d done what I could to make things right with you, and now I won’t bother you no more. I just wanted the chance to tell you I was sorry for all the wrong I done you, and if’n you can’t find it in your heart to forgive me, I won’t blame you a bit. I can’t say how forgivin’ I’d feel if’n I were in your shoes.”

He chuckled. He wasn’t wearing any shoes at the moment, though the humor of it passed quickly. “I forgive you, Mr. Grinnell. I hope somehow this brings us both some peace in our lives.” There, Dad; I did it. Are you happy?

He met the unblinking eyes in the photograph again, and the once powerful man seemed to return the challenge. Are you?


“You don’t look so good, Josh,” Diego said, closing the office door as his friend took the offered chair. “What’s wrong?”

“I haven’t slept well since talking to Grinnell. The nightmares had gotten pretty rare before I talked to him, but now I’ve had them every night,” Josh said, slumping in the chair almost to the point of falling out of it.

Diego took his seat and gave him an understanding smile. “Did you forgive him, Josh?”

“Yeah, I told him I forgave him.”

“You told him you forgave him?” he said, raising his eyebrows. “I didn’t ask what you told him; I asked if you’d forgiven him. There’s a big difference.”

He shifted forward to put his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. “I want to, Diego; you and Sally have both told me that forgiving him and Cynthia is important to my healing, but whenever I think about it, all I can remember is what they did.”

“What have you done to forgive them? For the moment, just think about Lonnie Grinnell, since Cynthia hasn’t even asked for forgiveness yet, and dealing with her is going to be more difficult for you. Let’s tackle the simpler case first.”

Spreading his hands helplessly, he shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, other than agreeing to forgive him. This isn’t like he owes me money or something, and I just decide to write it off.”

Diego swiveled his chair around, and pulled a book from the shelf. “Let me tell you a story, Josh, from a Jewish book that I have here. Back in the 1800s, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was on a train to Vilna, and was treated badly by a young Torah scholar. When the young man found out who he had insulted, he apologized and asked the Rabbi for forgiveness. Rabbi Yisrael not only forgave the young man, he went out of his way to help him in the purpose he’d traveled to Vilna for, including helping him get a good job. Let me read you the answer the Rabbi gave the young man when he was asked why he had done so much for someone that had insulted him so. ‘When you first came to me and apologized I said I forgave you completely and had no resentment at all against you. And I sincerely meant what I said. But a person cannot completely control his emotions, and I was concerned that maybe I did have a trace of bad feeling in me. And it is an important principle that “Deed erases thought.” So I decided to do you a favor, to remove any possible trace of resentment from my heart and so that I would truly be your friend. For it is human nature that when you do a kindness for someone you come to love him and feel yourself his friend.’”

“You think I should do a favor for Grinnell and be his friend? Diego, the man tried to kill me.”

Diego shrugged. “I just read a story about how one wise man dealt with the problem of forgiveness, and the residual resentment that threatened to spoil it. What you choose to do or not do with that story, Josh, is entirely up to you.”


The conversation with Diego two days earlier hadn’t helped. He’d had the nightmares both nights since, and still felt no closer to forgiving the man and putting the whole incident behind him.

It didn’t help that it seemed Sally was in on it now, and he read over the e-mail she had sent. She was recounting the story of Joseph, and how his brothers had sought to do him harm, but instead it had all turned out for the good of many. “Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” she wrote.

The same eyes still stared out from the portrait. You can still take the moral high road, he imagined his father saying. If you won’t believe me, you can at least believe Diego. He was always the more level headed of you two boys.

He lifted the print-out from Bill Williams and looked at it again. Okay, Dad, you win. I don’t know if this will work or not, but I’m ready to try anything. Dialing the phone, he waited until the switchboard gave him the option for the extension, and then keyed in three more numbers. “Good morning,” he said when the pleasant female voice answered. “Is this Sherry Canelli? Hi. My name is Joshua Cardan. Yeah; that Joshua Cardan.”


“Grinnell!” the foreman yelled across the noisy warehouse floor. “Telephone!”

Lonnie jogged across the floor to the desk and gave the boss a confused look. “Who would be calling me here?” he asked.

He grabbed a cigarette, and started towards the smoking area with a scowl. “Some gal named Canelli; says she’s with some bank. Make it quick. We don’t pay ya to jack yer jaw.”

He lifted the handset and took the phone off hold. “This is Lonnie Grinnell.”

The voice was unfamiliar. “Mr. Grinnell, this is Sherry Canelli with Trans-Oceanic Financial. You had an application for a business loan with one of our affiliate institutions, and it was forwarded to our office after being rejected by the loan committee at that branch.”

Wonderful, just wonderful, Lonnie thought. Now they’re callin’ me at work to tell me they ain’t gonna loan money to an ex-con. “Yes’m; I’m not sure which bank that was, ‘cause I’ve had loans rejected in several already. Folks ain’t exactly eager to take a chance on a man like me.”

“Mr. Grinnell, if you would like to come to my office this afternoon, Trans-Oceanic would like to discuss the terms of your business loan with you.”

He nearly dropped the phone. “Terms? You mean, you’re gonna loan me the money?”

“There are a few formalities to take care of, sir, such as the appraisal of the boat you wish to purchase, and we would like our small business experts to go over your business plan with you and fine tune it for success, but as of this moment, your loan is approved.”

“What made you change your mind? I always figgered if’n the local bank said no, that was it.”

“I don’t know how someone with your history managed it, Mr. Grinnell, but when someone with the financial assets that Joshua Cardan has calls to say they will guarantee the loan, it gets our attention.”


Josh opened the envelope and removed the card and the photograph. The boat wasn’t new, but it was clean and in good shape. The group of smiling men standing at the stern was proudly displaying a large game fish, next to the bold letters identifying the vessel as the Pleasant Dreams.

The thank-you card was plain, and the handwriting inside that of a working man. “Dear Mr. Cardan,” it read. “I still can’t figure out why you done it, but I can’t thank you enough for helping me get Grinnell Charters going. This picture was from our first fishing excursion, and from their recommendation I already got several more trips booked. Kris is working the office, and we’re discussing a date to get married. We both aim to be sure you never have any reason to regret the chance you took on us, and if you’ve ever a mind to consider such a thing, I’d be mighty proud to call you my friend.

“Thank you kindly, and God bless you, Lonnie Grinnell (and Kris)

Smiling, he set the card on his desk and tacked the photo on the bulletin board, and headed down to what he expected would be a good night’s sleep. He stopped just inside the office door, with his finger on the light switch, and turned back towards the portrait. Yeah, Dad. I forgive you too.

You never could stay mad at me for very long.

I love you, Dad. Good night.

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