snowed in

Chapter Three


Tuesday Morning – September 11, 2012

Driving home in the wee hours of the morning, exhausted and at the same time exhilarated, Lee replayed the events of the evening, thoughtfully envisioning each action and conversation.

As Simon and Roz had followed her progress through the church they had prayed quietly, holding hands and asking occasional questions in hushed tones. With each room they completed the power of the prayers had increased until finally, upon entering the sanctuary, Simon had solemnly held out his hand to take the vial of oil from her.

“Lee, I think this part is up to me,” he volunteered, then turning he made the mark of the Cross above the entryway and, gaining purpose with every step, progressed around the room anointing the pews, the pulpit, the musical instruments, and anything else in his path. When he reached the steps leading to the alter, the young shepherd whom she had once termed a “doubting Thomas” dropped to his knees and eloquently asked Almighty God to pour out His grace and favor upon this church.

“Father, bless us. Guard and protect us from the evil that is working against us. Guide and direct us as we bring your Word to these, your children. Open their hearts and minds to accept your love and your blessings and encourage them to walk, every day, in your Holy Way.”

Satisfied with the results of their dedication, the three of them had lingered in Simon’s office, talking over their expectations, dissecting the motives of those in the congregation they supposed would be their strongest opponents, and forming plans for moving forward on what they believed was God’s path for them.

As Lee turned her pickup off of the country road into her driveway a cold sense of dread overshadowed her thoughts and a snippet of scripture played through her mind.

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Tired as she was, she took the time to carefully lock the truck and the barn doors. “Don’t need a repeat performance of recent afflictions, thanks. Lord, I know you have this under control, and I know it will be as you planned. In the end the outcome will bring you glory and honor. Just don’t want anything I do, or don’t do, to make it easier for the enemy to bring a reproach on your Gospel.”

Once in the cottage she carefully locked both doors, checked the answering machine for new messages, munched on a few soda crackers, took a couple of aspirin and turned in for the night. When she looked at her bedside clock for the last time it was a little past three. “Gotta be up by no later than seven to meet Noel for coffee,” she thought, and having set her internal alarm for 6:45, she snuggled under her covers and dropped into a sweet, peaceful sleep.

As Lee slept Margie Whitmore hovered over her laptop continuing her hours long chat session. She had never stayed up quite so late before, but the things she was learning from her internet friends were so very interesting and played so perfectly into the imaginary vendetta she was building against the pastor – the pastor she felt had not only betrayed her but the entire Community Church congregation – she simply couldn’t close it down and go to bed. Besides, she was half way through a second pot of coffee, making it highly unlikely she would be able to go to sleep even if she did go to bed.

“Marge? You ever gonna come to bed?” Bill’s groggy voice coming from the bathroom startled her and Margery angrily closed her laptop and picked up a Bible she kept handy for such moments.

“Just finishing up my study on this portion of scripture. I’ll be there before long. Go back to bed, Bill.”

While she wasn’t exactly comfortable with the deception, Margie knew she could head off another discussion about the quality of her internet friendships by simply allowing Bill to believe her late-night time was spent in Bible study rather than chatting or surfing the web. His arguments were so misplaced! Sometimes she thought he actually bought into the fundamental ideals Simon had been teaching lately. Her personal point of view stressed tolerance toward the philosophies of others. She defended that point of view as an underlying tenant of her Christian faith. It was simply narrow-minded for Simon and Bill to label her friend’s ideals as New Age. And even if they were New Age – what possible damage could they do in her life?

She sat quietly for a few minutes, holding the unopened Bible in front of her, until she heard Bill softly snoring once more, then lying the book aside Margie reopened her laptop and resumed her chat session.

After a restless night Noel Renwald opened one eye and checked the bedside alarm for perhaps the tenth time since three o’clock. His plan to meet with Lee Langston had given him little peace since they’d set the appointment a week ago. Now it was too late to back out, but he felt more uncomfortable than ever as the minutes ticked forward and he knew Lee would already be up and on her way toward Granger to meet with him.

“Just call her, Noel.” As usual, more in tune with his concerns than he sometimes was himself, Charlotte rolled over and snuggled close to his side. “You don’t have to go through with this, you know. It’s Simon’s battle now. You’ve had your inning and going back, getting involved again, probably won’t make any more impact now than it did four years ago.”

“I know. I know.” He hated the resignation in his voice. Hated knowing that while his wife’s apprehension was nearly as strong as his own nothing would be gained by backing out now. “But honey, I gave Lee my word. And in the end…my word is my vow. I can’t go back on it. You understand…right?”

“Of course I do, Noel. Go jump in the shower and I’ll put the coffee on. Lee will be here in a little under an hour so we need to get going. We’ll need some time to pray before she arrives.”

Abba, Father – Jesus, Savior – Holy Spirit, Comforter, Counselor and Friend…I come to you now…asking that you meet me in the Spirit of Your Holy Word and minister wisdom to me for today. It is clear that no weapon formed against us can prosper; that we are protected and have nothing to fear, but fear itself.

Lord, you have shown me Your will for my meeting this morning with Noel and Charlotte. I have absolute faith in Your Spirit to guide and direct us as we move forward.

The demonic strong holds over Brenner County divide Your church – Your Body. We have churches on every corner, but there is no unity among believers. Christ has said a house divided against itself cannot stand. Lord, Your Word says you will, “destroy the strong holds, abolish the religious black markets and underworld traffic in dark magic, cut down the idols and false gods, and bring unity to the family of God.”

Abba, it is our desire to offer a place where unity can begin to grow and thrive. I ask you to go before me today. Prepare the hearts and minds of those who will meet with us and shower us with your wisdom, favor and grace. Amen.

Wednesday Morning – September 12, 2012

“Noel, did Lee stay with you and Charlotte last night?” Simon’s tone was approaching frantic, his urgency contagious. “I’ve been trying to call her since a little after seven last night. There’s no answer. Not at the house. Not on her cell. Both go straight to messaging.”

“Simon we haven’t heard from her either. She left here late. Thought she was driving straight home. We didn’t ask her to call when she got there. You know how independent she is. We didn’t want to insult her or give her the idea we didn’t think she was capable of making the trip alone. Now I wish we had.”

Simon could hear Charlotte in the background, asking questions rapid-fire. “Where could she be Noel? Should we call the hospitals? Have they called the State Patrol?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Simon cautioned thoughtfully. “Lee is one of the most level-headed, responsible people I know. She always carries a cell phone. If she was in trouble she’d call one or the other of us.”

“Yeah. If she could.” Noel, now fully infected with Charlotte’s panic, was envisioning Lee’s pickup, crashed at the bottom of a ravine or smashed into a cliff side, covered by last night’s snow, with Lee inside, slumped over the wheel, wounded or worse.

“We need to find her! I’m gonna start for your place Simon. You start driving toward us. We’ll meet you at the top of the ridge and if we haven’t spotted her we’ll call the State Patrol from the diner up there.”

“Right! We’re on our way.” Simon turned to Roz and she could read the fear in his eyes. “Lee’s not at Noel’s. She left their place after six last night. Let’s go see if we can find. her.”

Lee woke early, as was her habit, and gazed around the strange room. It took a moment for her to recall checking into the comfortable little B and B outside of Granger the night before. A slow smile played across her face as she remembered what a relief it had been to turn into the parking lot, knowing she wouldn’t have to drive the forty-five miles home in growing darkness, fighting blowing snow.

In a little under a quarter of an hour, after leaving Noel and Charlotte, Lee had pulled off the highway into the circle drive of Holly’s House, Granger’s Premier Bed and Breakfast since 1996. Jumping from the pickup she’d plowed her way up the steps through mounds of snow already deep enough to have her clutching the railing for safety. “Smartest decision you’ve made in months, old girl. No point in taking risks that aren’t necessary.”

What a pleasant surprise the cozy room they offered her had been. Far beyond what she had expected when she’d called to make the reservations, there was a downy queen-sized bed piled high with a warm duvet, several fat pillows and pristine white sheets ironed to the nth degree. The gas fireplace in one corner added not only a glow of welcome, but real warmth, and Lee had settled in without giving a single thought to causing anyone concern for her well-being. Too exhausted to even think of food, she had stripped off her boots, jeans and jacket, washed her face and hands in the adjoining bathroom, tumbled into that luxurious bed and slept like a log for a full ten hours.

Now, the storm having blown itself out in the night, bright sunlight poured through the south facing windows. Glittering rays were dancing off of the drifts piled over the parking lot and sparkling across the tiny desk situated nearby. Lee thought about checking her cell phone, but realized she’d have to dig out the pickup before she could make any calls, and because she hadn’t eaten since lunch on Tuesday, she was famished. So her thoughts turned to breakfast instead of digging out, checking in or heading home. She imagined that was partly due to the fragrance of coffee and bacon wafting into her room from the dining room down the hall.

After indulging in a short-stack with butter and real maple syrup, a third strip of apple-wood smoked bacon and half of a grapefruit she carried a tray with cups and a small pot of coffee back to her room and settled in, with plans to reserve the room for a second night. “No real reason not to. Nothing urgent at home and I need some quiet alone time.” she reasoned.

Later, sated with breakfast and coffee, standing at the B and B’s side door, over-looking the parking lot, Lee considered the unspoiled white landscape before her. With shimmering frost covering tree branches and electrical wires, and without a single footprint to mar its perfection, the snow hid all evidence of individual vehicles. Her pickup, along with the half-dozen other cars parked nearby, were simply huge unrecognizable white lumps. How she hated to step out the door and spoil that glorious scene. Unfortunately, her phone charger, Bible and notebook were in the pickup and if she was going to stay another night she would need them all. Most especially the charger since this morning her cell phone battery would be completely gone. She’d been afraid of that last night but she’d simply been too tired and unconcerned to hunt for the charger among the packages crowding the front seat so she’d left it all until the morning.

The round trip to her pickup took about five minutes but seemed much longer. The cold winter air turned her breath to ice and caused the snow to crunch under foot. Digging down through the packed front seat to find what she wanted caused her fingers to actually ache from the cold. “Should be a pair of gloves in here somewhere too.” she grumbled. “Gonna need ’em to drive home tomorrow.”

Back inside, she wrapped her fingers around another cup of hot coffee, savoring its warmth. She stood quietly absorbing the peace for awhile, staring out the window, still enjoying the beauty left by the storm, then taking her Bible she settled at the room’s tiny desk, prepared to savor her quiet time alone.

Precious Lord Jesus,” she bowed her head over clasped hands and invited the author of her faith to join her. “meet me now in the Spirit of Your Holy Word and guide my thoughts to align with Your will.”

In a rundown roadside diner, high on the Ridge Route highway between Granger and Ridgeview, the Gundersens and the Renwalds huddled together over steaming mugs of coffee and a plate of home-made cinnamon rolls. To the casual observer no signs of distress would have been evident. Their gathering might simply have been two couples enjoying a mountain outing to play in the snow. In reality these couples were way beyond distressed. Currently their conversation centered on how to locate their mutual friend.

“So…what now?” Simon Gundersen leaned forward and shoved his cell phone back into his jacket pocket. “The sheriff won’t even accept a missing persons report for another twenty-four hours. None of the medical facilities Roz called have a patient who even remotely resembles Lee’s description.”

“And she’s still not answering her phones!” Noel’s voice actually trembled with anxiety. “she’s not at home. So. Where is she?”

“Well it’s for sure she didn’t have a wreck somewhere along the highway. The State Patrol assured me there were no accidents on the Ridge Route during last night’s storm. Period.” Charlotte spoke with what sounded a bit like sarcasm, but the others knew it was only because she was as frustrated as they themselves were.

“So that’s it?” Simon signaled the waiter for another round of coffee then leaned back and studied Noel’s face carefully. “The thing I want to know is why she was so bound and determined to drive to Granger yesterday in spite of the storm warnings. What was that all about anyway Noel?”

“Well…not what we thought it was going to be about. That’s for sure.”

“Noel.” There was an unspoken warning in Charlotte’s tone. She laid her hand on his sleeve and looked at him with what he’d come, over the years, to refer to as that look. It said, quite clearly, “Shut up Noel.”

“Lee called us a while back and set up a meeting for yesterday. When we started hearing the storm warnings we expected her to re-schedule, or cancel altogether. But she called us Monday evening and insisted driving over wouldn’t be a problem. Said she’d see us bright and early as planned. And that’s just what she did. After she got there she said she needed to get some things at the Big Box Stores in town then she’d be headed home. We figured she was a big girl and could handle herself just fine. Never thought a thing about it until you called to say she wasn’t home yet….” Noel’s narrative trailed off without adding any additional information to what the Gundersens already knew.

“But what did she want?” Simon persisted. “Why was meeting with you two so important she would put herself at risk driving in the first big storm of the season?”

Noel shrugged helplessly and looked at his wife for help. If she didn’t want him to reveal the details of their meeting with Lee, she could be the one to fend off the questions.

“Lee had some print-outs she wanted us to look over. She asked us to give her our opinion on her research.” Charlotte answered. Smiling sweetly she adeptly changed the subject. “What do you all think about waiting until late this evening and then checking in again with all the sources we’ve contacted so far?”

If there was an under current in the conversation Simon missed it. “That sounds like it’s about our only option at this point. You’ve got my office number and my cell, right?” He pulled out his own cell and checked to make sure he had contact information for the others. “We really ought to get on the road toward home, Roz. Church tonight. Youth group at five-thirty. That means I’ve got some notes to go over.”

Even if Simon had been clueless, Roz hadn’t missed the point at which their conversation became strained, or the fact that neither Noel or his wife had actually given them any answers. As they backed away from the diner and headed down the mountain she asked, “You do realize we still don’t know what that meeting was all about. Right?”

“Yeah. I got that.”

She knew him well enough to know Simon wasn’t going to have the conversation she wanted to start. His focus was pointed toward home and his preparations for the evening services. More questions would be useless, and so she settled back in the seat and watched the white landscape whiz past her window, thinking about a very disturbing and reoccurring dream she’s been having since one afternoon in July of 2008.

to be continued…

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