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Chapter 17: Carla

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Parsonage
A novel about life behind the scenes for an evangelical pastor's family: in the church, the parsonage, the community.

© 1996 G. Edwin Lint

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"But Preacher, you yourself said last Sunday morning on the radio that people look at each other on the outside only, but God looks down into our hearts!" Carla Stetson was standing in the court room doorway, red-faced and screeching, clenched fists flailing the air. "How do you know what lustful thoughts are in his heart while he's carrying my Tessa around on his back, playing horsey. Yeah, horsey! Stud is more like it!" She paid no attention to the mighty gavel whacks Judge Schwartz was raining on his bench, except to direct her venom in his direction. Carla started down the aisle, still screeching and waving her fists.

"How can you call yourself a judge and allow people to suggest that this kinko creep is fit to be in the same room with my Tessa? Lock him up and throw away the key! That's what I say!" Carla had clearly lost control. Her face was beet red and contorted with hatred. As she screamed, flecks of foam flew from her mouth.

Two uniformed officers finally appeared in the doorway of the court room, assessed the situation, and hurried down the aisle toward Carla with handcuffs ready. But she reached the bench before the officers reached her. With an agility Jim didn't think a person could have in such a state of mind, she got a toe hold on a piece of ornamental molding on the front of the Judge's bench and hopped up to crouch on her hands and knees on the top where, she continued screeching right in the judge's face.

"If you let this weirdo out on bail after what he's done to my Tessa, I'm going straight to the Governor! No, I'm not! I'm going to the United States Congress! In fact, I'm going to the President!. You'll never sit up here in your sissy robes, you pompous, old --" and then Carla lapsed into a tirade of vitriolic obscenities and vulgarities which spewed out of her mouth like sludge from the sewers of hell itself. Jim was amazed that any human being could have such an articulate and fluent command of the obscene vocabulary which was now scorching the air around poor Judge Schwartz's ears. By now, the judge had pushed his high-backed leather chair back against the wall in a vain effort to escape the disheveled banshee which was continuing to vomit verbal atrocities in his face. The poor judge's glasses were lopsided and covered with her spittle. Carla had a firm hold on each arm of his chair and was violently slamming the chair against the wall behind the bench, over and over again. Down went the Pennsylvania flag. A couple more slams and the American flag was down also. Finally the officers got control of one of one of Carla's wildly flailing arms and snapped a cuff on it. That proved to be a mistake. Before the second cuff could be affixed to her free arm, the woman emitted such a violent roar of rage it seemed to rise up from the very caverns of Hell itself. With a strength beyond human knowledge, she broke free from both officers and started running down the aisle toward the door.

Carla was a mess. Her face was covered with blood, probably from a bloody nose received in the scuffle with the officers. Her blouse was ripped half-way open and her fitted skirt was up around her waist.

The burly desk sergeant from the prison down the street was in the doorway toward which Carla was racing, a police radio up to his face. The crazed woman ignored the officer and skidded to a halt right beside Jessi, who was sitting on the end of her bench, close to the aisle. And then to everyone's horror, especially Jim and Debra's, Carla lifted her hands from the folds of her skirt where it was bunched at her waist to reveal a police revolver which she was holding in a remarkably steady two-hand grip. Calmly Carla stepped up to Jessi and pressed the muzzle of the revolver firmly against the frightened girl's forehead, just above her eyebrows.

When Jim first heard Carla's vulgar, obscene, and profane outburst, he had known the true cause. Carla Stetson was demon-possessed. This was no clinical reaction to grief and rage. This was no situational maladjustment. This was nothing which could be explained by Freudian or Rogerian pschobabble. This was demonic power in its crudest, rawest, and most savage form. Although Jim had counseled many victims of demon possession, without exception their symptoms had shown a suave, smooth, almost undetectable form of evil. But this evil was different. This evil was straight from Hell itself, undiluted by the conniving posturings of snide and sophisticated demons. This was the work of one or more demons of the very lowest order in the demonic hierarchy.

When he realized Carla had snatched one of the officer's revolvers, he whirled to the front of the court room expecting the other man to have his gun trained on the woman's head. No hope there. Only one gun was in the court house and Carla had it. The other man was armed with nothing more lethal than a riot club, a flashlight, and a two-way radio.

From the first moment of Carla's outburst, Jim had been praying. Praying for the Holy Spirit to intervene. Claiming the power of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Now in a moment of inspired boldness, he began to pray aloud, beginning with the words of Bill and Gloria Gaither's song he loved so well. "'Come, Holy Spirit, we need You. Come, Sweet Spirit, we pray. Come in Your strength and Your power. Come in Your own gentle way'. Heavenly Father, if we ever needed you, we need you now. Cover us with the blood of your Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross as our Lamb of God, as our sin sacrifice. He died so that we won't have to die for our sins. We pray that right now you will send a detachment of Your Holy Angels to this court room and intervene on Jessi's behalf, right now, Lord! Right now."

As Jim prayed aloud, he was joined by Debra. And then, he began to hear Jessi's sweet voice, tremulous with fear, and very faint at first, but growing in volume and intensity. She, too, was saying those precious, ageless words of power, which had been used down through the centuries in the continuing conflict between God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Angels on the side of Good, in spiritual conflict against Satan and his demons on the side of evil. Precious words. Powerful words. "Heavenly Father, we adore you as the one true God of all the universe. . . Cover us with the shed blood of your Son, Jesus Christ . . . Come, Holy Spirit, release your power in this room right now . . . Heavenly Father, You have promised that your Holy Angels will watch over us so we won't stub our toes on the path of life. Send those angels right now. Come, Holy Spirit."

One by one by kids from Ivory and the softball players overcame their temporary fears and joined their voices with those of the Hogan family. With ever increasing volume and intensity they prayed, using those same sweet and powerful words, knowing full well that it wasn't the words but the faith behind the words which transmitted their wishes straight to the throne room of Heaven. Some of those who prayed dropped to their knees. Others stood, arms lifted to Heaven with tears streaming down their faces. Not tears of fear. Not tears of horror. But rather, a curious blend of joy and exultation.

Then those who prayed began to join hands. It started with Debra walking to Jessi's side and, right under the baleful glare of Carla, taking Jessi's hand. Jim took Debra's hand. Paul came back from the defense table and took Jim's hand. Dave and Patricia quickly joined the chain of faith. And so it continued until every born-again believer in the court room was a link in the prayer chain which ended with Jessi. And as people moved about the court room to join the chain, the volume of prayer continued to increase.

During the praying and the linking, Carla listened and watched with a cynical smile on her face. Her eyes were hollow and lifeless, almost as though her face was carved from chalk. She began to speak, causing a lull in the praying.

"Where is your Heavenly Father? Where is your Bleeding Lamb? Where is your Holy Spirit? Where is that detachment of Guardian Angels? Do you see them. I sure don't see them. But I'll tell you what I do see. I see a Smith and Wesson .38 police special with its muzzle pressed against the forehead of the darling daughter of the Reverend and Mrs. James A. Hogan." As she spoke, she twisted the revolver so the barrel ground cruelly into Jessi's flesh.

"Now, let me tell you what's going to happen here, and it has absolutely nothing to do with a Heavenly Father, or a Bleeding Lamb, or a Holy Spirit. And it surely has nothing to do with Guardian Angels, whatever they are." She paused to wipe her bloody nose on a bare forearm. "Here's what's going to happen. This gun has room for six bullets. And there are six people in this room who will be dead in less than five minutes. The number one victim will be the preacher's kid here. She dies first because I want to make her father watch her brains run down the wall back there. The night my Tessa was in the hospital and near death, where was he--" and she repeated the tirade Jim had received over the phone the night Dave was arrested. And I want the mother to watch and suffer, too, because she's so hoity-toity and thinks she's better than anybody else. And I want that kink-headed weirdo who's been such close friends with this preacher's kid" and she jerked her chin in Dave's direction, "to suffer because he's the one who almost killed my Tessa. That's the first bullet." And she held up one bloody finger.

Poor Jessi was crying silently, the sounds of praying dimmed by the perverse drama of the moment. Jim noted the silence with a start and resumed his praying. Others did, also, and soon, the volume of prayer was at its previous level.

Suddenly Carla moved the muzzle of the gun from Jessi's forehead and jammed it in her mouth, cutting her bowed upper lip with the sight. "Stop that infernal racket or I shoot her right this instant!" she bellowed. The praying ceased, audibly, at least, and Carla continued her monologue.

"Number two bullet goes straight up the belly button of kink-head's wife. I hear she thinks she's going to have a baby." Dave and Patricia's faces were misshapen with agony and tears flowed freely. "Well, I'm gonna save them the trouble."

"Number three bullet goes in the head of Old Baldy up there," and Carla pointed to Judge Schwartz who had slumped in his chair during the monologue. He'll probably let weirdo kink-head get off Scot free, anyway.

"And Brother Preacher-Man gets number four.

"Of course I can't forget kink head himself. Gotta save a bullet for him. He gets number five. Think I'll save number six for me. They'll just send me up to Bellefonte to fry in the Rockview chair anyway, so I'll just save them the trouble."

Then Carla's manner became almost professorial and her inflection was didactic. "All right, let's review", and she used the fingers of her left hand to count and pointed with the index finger of her right hand. "Preacher's Kid gets one. Big Belly gets two. Old Baldy gets three. Preacher Man gets four. Kink Head gets five. I get six. Any questions?" Calmly Carla surveyed her prospective victims, staring at each in turn, waiting for a response. No one spoke. The only sound was the tick-tocking of the old school-house clock hanging on the far wall, its pendulum swinging rhythmically below its octagonal face in a case of oiled walnut.

The praying Christians continued to pray in their spirits but the rest of the group just stared dully, too stunned with the macabre scenario to even react.

Jim prayed like he'd never prayed before, at the same time carefully calculating if he'd have a chance to knock the gun out of Jessi's mouth before Carla pulled the trigger. And then he heard the faint wail of a siren in the distance.

Finally! Here we are, practically on top of the county prison and this demoniac was about to perform the massacre of the decade.

"You in there with the gun," rang a metallic voice from outside the court house. "Open that back window and throw out that gun. This is the Pennsylvania State Police. This building is completely surrounded. Throw that gun out now!"

Carla might just as well have been listening to a weather forecast on the radio. And then she spoke, slowly, and with a voice that was not a voice, but rather a montage of sounds of various pitches, volume levels, and timbres, clearly understandable, but nothing like what had ever been heard by anyone in the room. A little like a voice concocted for an episode of Star Trek, only much more horrific.

"I'm going to slowly count to three," said the voice which was not a voice. Carla's lips were synched perfectly with each syllable. "On three, the kid dies." Jessi's knees started to sag and Jim, Dave, and Paul all tensed their muscles, united in their intent to spring on Carla just as she started to say the word "three". Although no cognitive message had passed among them, each knew what the others were planning to do. They were in one accord, in the truest sense of the concept. Then Jon King got the message, and he coiled to spring as well.

"One," said the voice of a demon speaking straight from hell. The muscles in the unified strike force continued to coil and tense. The gun's hammer started to come back and Carla's mouth opened, ready for the voice to say "two". And then, click! the hammer fell-- on an empty chamber, and Jessi sank to her knees.

Out of Carla's open mouth spewed howling, cackling, demonic laughter, echoing and reverberating, as though coming from a series of huge interconnected caverns deep underground. "Fooled you!" howled the voice in sulfuric merriment. "Dummies! You didn't think they'd give this rent-a-cop a slug in that first chamber, did you? Why, the first time he went to the rest room, he'd--" and the voice made a lewd and biologically specific remark about emasculation by accidental gunshot during urination. After an extended period of the hideous laughter, the voice resumed Carla's earlier didactic manner, as though instructing a class of slow learners.

"Well, let's see now. I started with six victims and six bullets. But now, I find I have only five bullets." Again there was pointing at prospective victims and counting on the fingers. "Here was the original plan. Preacher's Kid gets one. Big Belly gets two. Old Baldy gets three. Preacher Man get's four. Kink Head gets five. I get six. But now I seem to have lost a bullet." Now the voice took on a childish inflection. "What shall I do? Oh, what shall I do? I know! I know!" said the voice while Carla's body jumped up and down. I won't shoot Carla! See how simple that can be? Six bullets take away one bullet equals five bullets. Six victims take away one victim equals five victims. Problem solved!"

Next the voice assumed the characteristics of a NASA capsule communicator as heard over national radio and television during one of the early space launches. Male. Military inflection. Stripped of all highs and lows, as though heard over a squawk-box system. "Uh, hello, Victims. This is Mission Control. We've had a brief hold in the countdown due to technical difficulties, but, uh, everything is go right now. So, uh, we're resuming the count on my ... mark. T minus ten seconds to the first firing. Ten, . . . nine, . . .eight. . ." Again Carla's finger tightened on the trigger with the muzzle in Jessi's mouth. "Seven, . . . six, . . . five, . . . " intoned the capsule communicator voice. The Court Room was electric with the sense of spiritual forces in conflict. Although nothing physical could be seen which might be judged out of the ordinary, all the born-again Christians in the room could discern the strong ebb and flow of spiritual energy. Jim and Dave were again in one accord. Dave would hit her high and from the front. Jim would hit her low, and from the rear. And it would happen just after the count of two.

Again muscles tensed, sweat rolled, hearts raced, adrenaline flowed. Meanwhile the voice continued the count as Carla's finger kept easing back on the trigger. The hammer nicked back, one millimeter for each count. "Four, . . . three, . . . tw--"

Carla's body cheated and gave Jessi a short count, pulling the trigger all the way home. This time the hammer didn't fall on an empty chamber, but on a round of live ammunition, resulting in a resounding--

Click. Misfire!

Everyone froze. No one breathed. No one blinked. Just like in a large tableau at a wax museum. Carla moved first, jerking the gun out of Jessi's mouth and whirling to aim it at Dave's head, pulling the trigger without hesitation. Another click! Misfired again. A window-rattling roar of rage exploded out of Carla's mouth, as again and again she pointed the Smith and Wesson Police Special at victim after victim. Judge Schwartz. Another click. Debra. Another click. Patricia. Another click. As Carla's body was swinging the gun back in line with Dave, he put an end to the futile clicking. From the top of the defendant's table, he launched a vicious tackle which caught her just below the jaw line and flung her backwards toward the door.

At the instant of impact, the double doors leading from the court room to the hall were flung open to show a bullet proof riot shield with a state police sergeant crouching behind it, shouting "Freeze! Polic--" But before he could finish his command, ka-wham! Dave and Carla's bodies slammed into the upper portion of the shield. In the white glare of TV lights and the eerie pulsing of strobe flashes, Dave and the officer could be seen untangling themselves on the floor as the sergeant quickly cuffed Carla, who was lying on the bottom of the pile. The chatter of the numerous automatic 35 mm cameras was continuous.

The cuffs weren't needed. Carla was out, stone cold.

Back in the court room, the prospective victims looked at each in wide-eyed amazement. For the rest of their natural lives, they would be bonded in that special kind of union known to all survivors.

Jessi had fainted but was now responding to the ministrations of her father and Mother who were down on the floor with her. Hugging her, kissing her, bathing her tear-stained face with their own tears of joy.

Suddenly a strong tenor voice rang out in the silent court room with a soaring song of triumph. Everyone turned to look, and there was Paul, arms raised to heaven, belting out the powerful song of praise written by Rich Mullins: "Our God, is an awesome God! He reigns from Heaven above, with wisdom, power, and love. Our God is an awesome God!" Then he jumped down from the table and grabbed Jim's hand as together they marched down the center aisle of the court room, linked hands above their heads, repeating the chorus.

As they passed along the aisle, the chain grew and the singing continued. Debra. Jessi. Dave. Patricia. Jon. The softball team. Ivory. All singing. All with linked hands raised high in victory. When the singing, praising chain reached the front of the court room, Judge Schwartz stepped out from behind the bench, down off the platform, and joined the chain right between Paul and Jim. This time as they passed down the center aisle the judge led the chain straight through the double doors into the lobby, out the main entrance, and down the court house steps. The media people went berserk. Minicams hummed. Strobes flashed. Automatic cameras click-clacked. It was a media event never equaled in the memory of anyone there.

WPIA-TV, a Philadelphia ABC affiliate with a bureau in Harrisburg, was on hand with their mobile dish, broadcasting live to the world via satellite. In a rare moment of corporate unity, ABC agreed to join in a pool with CBS, NBC, and MS-NBC, and Fox News for the widest coverage of a single event since the San Francisco earthquake of 1989. Around the court house marched the singing, praising chain with Judge Schwartz singing the loudest, if not the most accurately, of all. After seven revolutions of the court house by actual count, the judge led the group back into his court room and took his place behind the bench.

Quickly he gaveled the court to order, ended the recess, heard Paul's motion for release on the defendant's own recognizance, granted it, ordered Dave to report to the Grand Jury next Monday, and adjourned the court, all in less than fifteen minutes.

Several times during this whirlwind process, Priscilla Lane sprang to her feet and opened her mouth for an objection, but then quietly took her seat without voicing her complaint. She was last seen that day getting on the elevator without so much as a first-generation Polaroid pointed in her direction.

"Bail"? shouted Jessi with elation when it was all over. "We don't need bail! We got 'defendant's own recognizance'! Our God is indeed an awesome God!"

Parsonage Table of Contents
Links to Other Resources

Disclaimer
About the DiskBooks copyright
How to Download DiskBooks Files
Return to Parsonage Home Page
Return to DiskBooks Home Page
How to Order Disk Copies

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