Excerpt: The Christians


ST. JOSEPH, MO. / PAOLA, KS. – 1932

Shep and Wally Paul stood over the man who was on his knees begging for forgiveness. “Please forgive me… Please…”
“Don’t tell us,” said Wally Paul, “tell the Lord.”
And then the man threw himself to the floor and he wailed and gnashed his teeth. “Forgive me Lord, I have sinned against you and I have transgressed and coveted, but I repent oh Lord, I repent of my sins and I renounce my sharp-dealing ways…” And then he turned his face up to the Heavens and the tears flooded his eyes and overflowed on to his cheeks and he pleaded until words finally failed him completely and all that he could do was execute sobs.
Wally Paul then tenderly placed his hand on the man’s scalp and said, “Lord, this heathen has come to you and has accepted Jesus Christ in his heart. He has been washed clean in the blood of Christ and comes to you a reborn man…”
“Yes…. Yes…”
A moment later Shep said, “You are forgiven brother, you have been given grace in the eyes of the Lord. May you now be accepted into the light, brother.” Shep then drew his .45 and placed the barrel to the man’s temple. “Go toward the light.” And then he pulled the trigger and the man fell over dead. “Go toward the light.” And then the two men folded their hands in prayer.
When they had completed their address to God Wally Paul said, “His soul has left the earthly plane, brother. He has found grace and been accepted by the Lord. Ad majorem dei gloriam: all for the greater glory of God.”
“Then our work is done, brother,” Shep replied. He then counted out the paper and coins in his hand and gave half to his brother, making ten-dollars. Shep then scratched at his left hand. Killing a man, even in the cause of righteousness, always played on his mind and caused his gun hand to itch. Sometimes he had to rub at it until the skin was as red and raw as an onion before he satisfied the tingling sensation.
As they made their way to leave the dead man’s house Shep was prompted by his bother to retrieve the heavy leather Bible that was resting on the dead man’s kitchen table; the one that they had just sold to him. It was a glorious book, handsomely illustrated and bound in supple white goatskin with gilded edges. It had HOLY BIBLE embossed on the cover in gold foil and it looked brand new despite the fact that it had been hauled half-way across the country and back and had exchanged hands (albeit temporarily) more than two dozen times in the last six weeks.
With their business completed the two men calmly exited the dead man’s house and then shut and locked the dead man’s door, using the dead man’s keys, and then they walked down the gravel drive to where their vehicle, a cranberry-colored Ford V-8 Cabriolet, was parked. As was their habit, the elder of the two, Wally Paul, sat behind the steering wheel and Shep on the other side, the Bible nesting in his lap.
“Where to now, brother?” asked Shep.
“Where ever the good Lord wants to put us, I reckon.” And then Wally Paul started the Ford’s powerful engine, slipped the gear and drove away. It wasn’t too very long into their journey before Shep began to complain of hunger pains. This did not sit well with Wally Paul as he had already admonished his brother twice that day for not having eaten his breakfast.
“With all due respect to your stomach, I believe that we should put a few miles between us and God’s newest angel before we talk about stopping for lunch.”
“But I’m hungry.”
“Then why did you not eat this morning, brother?’
“As I’ve told you twice brother, I was not hungry then, but I am hungry now.”
“A wise man would have wrapped his breakfast knowing that his hunger would return later.”
“A wise man would not focus on the past, or lament upon what he could have done differently, a wise man would attend to his present needs.”
Wally Paul sighed. When his boyish brother fell in these pugnacious frames of mind it was best to ignore him as there was little that anyone in Heaven or on earth could do to uproot his focus, but Wally Paul was a dogged man himself, unwilling to bend to his brother’s mood swings, so he said, “I understand that as a fact, but the truth is I would feel a whole lot more relaxed knowing that a hundred or so miles have passed, and have separated us from the St. Joe police station, before we stop.”
Shep turned away from his brother and stared out of the window.
Wally Paul smirked. True-to-form behavior, he thought. “Do not go into a funk, brother. We will stop soon enough.”
“I’m not in a funk,” Shep said sullenly. “Besides, you worry too much, brother. Remember what the Good Book says, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ‘ Philippians 4: 6-7.”
Wally Paul did a slow burn. He was not one who delighted in having the Holy Scriptures thrown at him in retribution and so he turned to face his brother, to rebuke him with a sharp look, but Shep was still gazing out of the window, so instead he said, “’O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense.’ Proverbs 8:5.”
Shep could not help but smile to himself, which his reflection in the side glass showed; he was enjoying their game. “’Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink.’ Colossians 2:16,” he said triumphantly.
Wally Paul gripped the wheel tightly; he was enjoying their bantering a whole lot less than was his impish brother, so he snarled, “’Still thy tongue lest ye taste the vengeful heel of my boot ‘twixt your teeth!’ Wally Paul 1:1”
That did the trick, and not another word escaped Shep’s lips until Wally Paul turned the nose of the Ford into the parking lot of a fried chicken shack.
“Hey,” said Shep, “fried chicken!” He clapped his hands together in delight, like a small child.
“As Moses said to Aaron, brother: ‘Come before the Lord for he has heard your grumbling.’” He silenced the engine and then smiled warmly at his brother. “’Go in peace, be warmed and filled.’” Oddly, the chicken shack was located exactly one hundred miles from the dead man’s house in St. Joe, in Paola, Kansas.

Shep and Wally Paul pushed on into the shack which, by way of better explanation should rightfully be called a cafe, and took a seat at a table by the window. While Shep studied the menu Wally Paul looked out of the window, trying to (as he liked to say) “get a bead” on things. The sky was putty gray color in color and the dark cloud in the distance signaled that it might spill rain, but rain in these parts had been pretty scarce for some months. Wally Paul watched as a small boy armed with a stick fought the wind while he rolled a large wooden hoop down the street. He was followed by a mongrel dog who barked and snapped at the leaves that danced in the air.
“I like the name of this town.”
Shep glanced up from the menu. “Why? What’s it called?”
“Pay oh la-la-la, huh?” Shep chuckled.
Wally Paul gave a wan smile and twitched his brush mustache, but he didn’t share in his brother’s laughter. “Actually, I was thinking more of the city by the same name in Italy, and the saint that came from it. Funny how you should assume the other.”
Shep gave him an odd stare. “Are you questioning my devotion, brother?”
“No. It’s just today, I had to remind you to fetch the Bible however you handled the money quickly enough.”
Shep was about to respond when he paused and let the matter drop. “Tell me of this Paola in Italy, brother, I’m unfamiliar.”
“Very well…” Wally Paul took a long sip of water, wiped the droplets from his lips and began: “Between the time of St. Catherine of Siena and that of St. Teresa of Avila came the life of St. Francis of Paola. He was one of the greatest wonder-workers in the history of the Church. Francis was so famous that Louis XI of France, suffering from a prolonged ailment, begged Francis to make the journey from Italy in order to cure him.
“St. Francis taught the king that resignation to God’s will was more important than bodily healing. After helping Louis spiritually and preparing him for death—and exerting great influence through the king—St. Francis held the king in his arms as he died a good death.”
“I have not heard of this before.”
“St. Francis of Paola also had occasion to help his own family, specifically his nephew, Nicholas d’Alesso, son of Francis’ sister Brigida. His sister had not consented to allow her son to become a monk, and the lad had died. St. Francis of Paola decided to bargain with his sister over the death and life of the nephew.
“When the young man’s body was about to be lowered into the grave at Francis’ monastery, Francis stopped the grave workers, and instead carried the body to his own room. That same night, after many tears and prayers on the part of Francis, his nephew came back to life. But Nicholas’ mother did not know this.
“In the morning Brigida came to the monastery church, unaware of what had happened. She wept there in the church over the death of Nicholas, her oldest son. Francis kept the youth hidden away while he spoke to Brigida: ‘Brigida, if your son should return to life, would you consent to his becoming a religious?’
“Brigida looked at her brother in his penitential sackcloth robe. Her eyes glimmered with some spark of hope. ‘If Heaven wants it,’ she said, bemoaning that it was not too late, ‘it will be my greatest consolation.’ Francis left her, went to his cell, and returned with Nicholas clothed as a monk. His mother, relatives and friends who had come sorrowing to the church greeted him with amazement and great joy.”
“Most interesting. He tricked her.”
“…That is not the moral of the story, brother.”
“Then what is the point? He knew that the boy was alive and so he tricked her into allowing him to become a monk.”
Wally Paul sighed. “The point of the story is that resignation to God’s will is the most important thing that there is.”
“However true that statement is, that is not what I took away from the tale.”
“Brother, I believe that the Lord has directed us to this place, so we should go about finding accommodation.”
Before Shep could reply the waitress approached their table to take their order, and when she returned with their food some fifteen minutes later she also supplied them the name of a local hotel, the Jackson.

The Jackson Hotel was a fairly bland looking building constructed of red brick in the American Arts and Crafts style. It housed 50 rooms with bath. There was a sitting room on each of its three floors, a spacious lobby, a guest’s library and a dining room that could accommodate 40 people. At $5.00 per room per week it was more than suitable for Shep and Wally Paul’s purposes.
To save on expenses the brothers shared a room on the third floor, facing West Peoria Street. As Wally Paul unpacked their belongings Shep stared out of the window and down on to the town below. The wind had gathered steam since they were in the cafe and he watched with amusement as the townspeople went about their business, walking to and fro; clutching hats and bonnets tight to their scalps so that they may not sail from the tops of their heads. Shep turned at the sound of a great rustling and noticed that Wally Paul was pulling their white canvas tent from out of its protective sheath.
“What have you in mind, brother?” he asked.
“A tent revival. Tonight.”
“But the weather looks to be turning for the worse, do you think it wise?”
Wally Paul inhaled deeply and slapped his ample belly. “There are many lost souls in this place, brother, I can feel it; I can hear their voices crying out… The best way to address their suffering is with a tent revival.”
And so the pair went about the business of setting up their great white canvas tent, which was difficult due to the steady wind. They chose to erect it in an abandoned field on North Silver Street and then, afterward, Shep went about the town tacking up pre-printed handbills announcing the revival on light poles and shop windows while, at the same time, Wally Paul took to handing them out to passersby on the streets.
After he had exhausted his supply of posters Shep circled back to Silver Street to check on things and was surprised to see that their tent had collapsed. At first he assumed that the wind had knocked it over but on closer inspection he discovered that the tent stakes were undisturbed and that the guy ropes themselves had been severed. He was joined a few moments later by Wally Paul and together the pair they inspected the damage.
“A deliberate act of sabotage,” Wall Paul said. “There’s no doubt that these ropes have been cut with a knife.”
“You are correct sir,” boomed a voice behind them. Both men turned and saw a large, red-bearded man standing on the sidewalk. The wind whipped at the man’s coat tails, revealing a large hunting knife that hung around his waist. “I have cut the ties that bind.” He gave a tight smile, self-pleased with his joke.
Wally Paul queered the man with a look. “What is the purpose of such an act of vandalism, sir?”
The bearded man laughed. “Oh I’m a vandal, am I? Well I dare say that you are a trespasser and an interloper.”
“This property belongs to you?” Wally Paul was having to speak louder in order to be heard over the wind.
“No, but neither does it belong to you.”
Shep could see that his brother’s dander was beginning to rise and so he interrupted. “You say ‘interloper.’ What do you mean by that?”
“I’m the Reverend A.C. Coffey,” the man said with a degree of gravitas.
“Is that supposed to mean something to us?” Wally Paul said. His tone was short and curt with the man.
“You haven’t heard of me?”
“No. Should we have?”
The bearded man smiled. “No matter.”
“We’re also men of the cloth, brother,” Shep added quickly. “My name is Shepherd and this is my brother, Wally Paul.” Coffey acknowledged this with a quick nod of his head. “We meant no disrespect to you or to anyone’s property, brother. We are representatives of the Cleveland Bible Company out of Toledo, Ohio—a most reputable firm. We merely intended to hold a revival meeting on this space tonight.”
“I am aware of your intentions.” Coffey held up a clutch of their freshly-posted handbills. “I don’t believe that you will like it here in Paola, brothers.” He let the bulletins slip from his fingers and sail away in the gusting wind.
Wally Paul squinted his eyes against the reddish-brown dirt and dust and the fine grains of sand that were being kicked-up by the wind. “This is your town is it, brother Coffey?”
“Let us just say that I tend to the needs of flock here, there is no need for… additional shepherding.”
Wally Paul glanced over at Shep and winked. “Why, I do believe that the reverend is running us out of town.”
“Easy brother,” Shep replied. He was not looking for any trouble and he was well aware that Wally Paul was attempting to provoke his mean side. “I feel certain that you have misunderstood brother Coffey’s intentions. Has he not, brother?” Shep turned and smiled at Coffey.
“Obviously, I do not possess the legal authority,” Coffey began, “however I am not wholly without influence.” Coffey casually pulled his jacket back, revealing the nickel-plated .45 tucked in the waistband of his pants.
It was at that moment that the full force of the dirt front—rising some five-hundred feet into the sky—rolled on top of them, engulfing them in dense, swirling clouds of silt and soil which blotted out the sun. The impact was like receiving a shovelful of fine sand flung directly into the face and Shep blindly reached out and groped until he found Wally Paul and Reverend Coffey, and then he grabbed them by their sleeves and guided them all to shelter underneath the heavy white tent.
The howling tempest raged over the trio for about ten minutes, during which all manner of detritus and debris—stones, tree limbs, washing, rubber tires, metal sheets and wooden planks wrenched from nearby buildings—were sent raining down upon them. At one point Wally Paul had the air knocked out of his lungs when he was slammed in the chest by what he swore was a sledgehammer. It would later turn out to have been the body of a small boy, the same one that he had seen earlier playing with a wooden hoop. The wind had been so strong that it had not only lifted and carried the child some 100-yards down the road, but it had also agitated the grit in the air to such a high degree that the features of the lad’s face had nearly been obliterated, sanded almost beyond recognition.
But this was all after the fact, during the height of the maelstrom a rather astounding thing happened: Reverend Coffey lost his faith. He started out shivering and whimpering, which soon became moaning and then progressed in to swearing and finally cursing the Lord.
“Why have You brought down this plague upon me, O Lord?” Coffey cried. “I do not sit in the circle of merrymakers, nor do I exult. Because of Your hand upon me I sit alone, for You filled me with indignation. Why has my pain been perpetual and my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will You indeed be to me like a deceptive stream with water that is unreliable? Only a wicked God would punish His faithful servant in this manner!”
Every wail of the wind was met with a baying of fear from Coffey. Eventually Wally Paul could stand the man’s suffering no longer and he began to sermonize and evangelize to the fallen minister, calling upon him to reject the trepidation that Satan had placed in his heart and to accept the peace that comes with the power that Jesus Christ brings. For several minutes he badgered and cajoled the preacher with God’s holy word until Coffey at last broke down and began to sob like a child, as such was the power of Wally Paul’s orating abilities. Coffey confessed his sins and he begged for redemption and he swore his undying love for the Lord, Jesus Christ.
“Lord, this heathen has come to you and has accepted Jesus Christ in his heart,” Wally Paul said. “He has been washed clean in the blood of Christ and comes to you a reborn man…”
“Yes…. Yes…”
A moment later Shep said, “You are forgiven brother, you have been given grace in the eyes of the Lord. May you now be accepted into the light, brother.”
Shep then drew his pistol from his belt, but then placed it in Coffey’s hand. He then pointed the barrel to the man’s temple. “Go toward the light.” And then he put his hand atop Reverend Coffey’s hand and squeezed the trigger. Reverend Coffey fell over dead. “Go toward the light.”
“Ad majorem dei gloriam: all for the greater glory of God,” Wally Paul said. And then the two men folded their hands in prayer.
Wally Paul and Shep quickly rifled through Reverend Coffey’s pockets and extracted two hundred dollars in cash (which they split immediately), a silver signet ring, a gold pocket watch with a gold fob in the shape of a Maltese cross and the reverend’s nickel-plated revolver. These things they also appropriated (Wally Paul took the gun and Shep the watch) and, once the storm had passed, they returned to the Jackson, enjoyed a grand dinner then gathered their belongings and left Paola that evening under cover of darkness.

(c) 2015 Jim Yoakum


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