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Hector lifted heavy eyelids and surveyed his bleak surroundings. Pain shot through his body like a hot knife as he tried to shift his weight. The heavy shackles bit into his ankles. In the far corner of the cell, a hungry rat appeared, eyes glowing in a small slice of light.
“What’s the matter, amigo; don’t you like your accommodations?”
Hector peered across the cell. A shriveled old man with scraggly hair appeared.
“How long have I been here?” Hector asked.
“They brought you in last night. Don’t you remember?”
Hector gingerly touched a large bump on the back of his head and tried to recall the events of last evening. He recalled locking up his shop and heading home. And… Victor…
Hector’s small antique shop had thrived in years past, but business had all but dried up lately. When reputable banks repeatedly refused Hector a loan, he turned to Victor. It was a desperate and costly mistake.
“I guess this is Victor’s way of calling in his loan. Ten thousand dollars.”
The old man gave a gentle sigh. “Patience is not one of Victors virtues.” Reading the look on Hector’s face, he continued. “Yes, I owe Victor too; half as much.”
Hector’s wild eyes darted about, as if looking for a way out.
“Don’t be so anxious my friend; these things have a way of working themselves out”
Hector stared at the old man as if he were wearing a straightjacket. “Sure, Victor’s going to come in here, brush me off, and apologize for this awful misunderstanding. I imagine we’ll have a drink and a laugh together, and he’ll just send me on my way.”
“I know a man who paid off a huge debt once” said the old man. “It wasn’t even his debt. Actually, it was the sin of the whole world. His name is Jesus. He still offers to pay; even today. You just have to have faith.”
Hector sat dumbstruck. “I’m gonna die in this hole. I need money and this kook is offering me religion…” He glared at the old man and spat on the ground.
Suddenly, the doors swung open and two very large men, one carrying a stool, entered the room. Victor followed them in. The man with the stool placed it in front of Hector’s cell, gave Hector a scowl and backed away. Victor sat down and spoke slowly.
“Hector, my friend, it’s good to see you up and around.”
“What do you want from me, Victor?”
“I’ve come to offer you an extension on your loan. I’m going to give you a week to come up with the money. This is your chance to redeem yourself. Think of it as a grace period.” The two large men unshackled Hector and lifted him abruptly to his feet.
“You have exactly one week to come up with the money. And don’t think of doing anything foolish, Hector. I’d hate to see any harm come to your pretty wife Camilla or your daughter Rosa.”
The chill in his voice made the hair stand on the back of Hector’s head. With his mind racing, Hector stumbled, running from his cell. He stopped at the door just long enough to make eye contact with the old man, before running off into the street.
Hector walked unsteadily to the door of the brick house, bag of money in hand. Victor’s goons led him to a small room. As he waited for Victor, he realized his legs were trembling.
Victor entered, looking at his watch. “You’re late.”
Hector stared at the ground. “I brought the money.” He began to stammer. “It’s only half. I did everything I could, but that’s all I could get.” He held his breath for what seemed like an eternity.
“That is not acceptable.” announced Victor.
Hector released his breath and with it any chance for redemption. He screwed up his courage and said “I know it’s not enough for my debt, but what about the old man. Will you take it for his release?”
Victor smiled. “I cannot” he paused, “because the old man is gone. His daughter came yesterday and paid his debt; his very rich daughter. It seems the old man took a liking to you. She paid your note off as well. You’re free to go. Good day, Hector.”
Hector walked into the warm sunshine, money in hand. With tears streaming, he remembered, and prayed and for the first time in his life, Hector experienced true freedom.
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