“Go, Go, Go – don’t look back!”
Big Lou’s command spurred Harry, his cellmate, to run faster. They cleared the last hurdle from the jail compound just as alarms and flashing lights kicked in for the search. The old motorcycle was just where Maudie Mae had promised.
They pulled sweatshirts over orange jumpsuits, followed by extra baggy jeans. With regular jackets and helmets, they looked perfectly innocent. Big Lou leaped on the bike and expected Harry to take second seat.
“Hey, why can’t I drive?”
“Shut up and let’s haul. Every second counts.”
After an hour of top speed escape, they stopped at a little country store and bought supplies. The two fugitives sauntered up to the counter and checked out like normal shoppers. As soon as they pulled onto the road again they heard cop cars wailing in the distance. The recently self-paroled prisoners made a quick turn down a dirt road and shut off the motor.
Harry toted the groceries and his partner-in crime pushed their transportation.
“Hey man, I’m tired and hungry. We need a place to hole up.”
“Of course we do, listen to those chopper blades. We got to hurry! Hey…look, what’s that old building doing way out here in the woods?”
Harry was the first to espy the unlocked basement door. As soon as they were on the main floor he began to sniff.
“Oh no, I can’t believe this!"
Big Lou growled, “What?”
“Crime-a-nee…this is a CHURCH.”
“How do you know?”
“It’s the old hymn books and…” He stopped to inhale again, “…whatever it is that makes these places smell the same. My grandma used to take me when I was a kid.”
“Well, at least it’s warm.” Big Lou took the new flashlight and aimed its beam at a pull down attic ladder.
“We might be better off up there, you know, in case they was to find the bike we stashed.”
Happy with their new hideout, they folded the steps up behind them and closed the trap-like door. The next afternoon they heard that familiar whirr of copter blades. As they settled down to wait, they heard talking below them, and someone hitting a key on the old piano. Pretty soon several voices began to sing.
Big Lou whispered, “I think they’re having choir practice or something.”
They heard cars drive up. Doors slammed and somber music played. The sound of weeping pushed against the sanctuary ceiling and up through the convict’s pallet’s in the attic. Big Lou was the first to get it.
“Aw shoot…it’s a funeral. I HATE funerals!”
The two guilty men planned to make a break after the deceased was on his way.
Harry muttered, “It must be getting towards the end. Somebody has a preachery voice, sort of loud and smart sounding.”
Sure enough, Pastor John could be heard right to the rafters.
“We know Brother Bob was saved and bore good fruit.”
Big Lou scooted closer to Harry. He had a question. “Saved from what? What does fruit have to do with it?”
Harry had tears of remembrance in his eyes. He kept quiet and motioned for his ignorant pal to listen as the man downstairs talked on.
“EVERYBODY in this building,” he thundered, “has a final date with the Almighty. Only ONE can wash away our sins and take our punishment. Only ONE can keep us from the eternal fiery furnace. Do you know Jesus as your Savior?”
Big Lou pressed his ear to the floor to get every drop of this revelation. He had done some mighty bad things in his life and he didn’t like fire one bit. He began to sob like a bellowing moose, which made Harry follow suit.
Pastor John, an unusually cool man, stopped his funeral speech and gazed upward. The whole flock of mourners did the same. No one moved as the attic stairs creaked and unfolded. Two blubbering men in baggy pants and sweatshirts stumbled towards the front. They held their unshackled arms up. Big Lou spoke first.
Harry followed like a sheep. “Me too.”
The choir, as if hypnotized by the scene, started to sing, I Surrender All. The State Police, having found the get-away bike, came marching down the aisle and clamped handcuffs on each willing prisoner.
Pastor John spoke quietly with the converts and told them they were free at last. No true or more dramatic words had ever been spoken at that plain little church tucked away in the wildwood.
* I Surrender All
Judson W. Van De Venter, 1855-1939
Winfield S. Weeden, 1847-1908
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