I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I’m a former assassin for various agencies of our government. I was cut from the program in my mid 40’s when I developed diabetes and bursitis in my right shoulder. Ever try to throw a knife or fire a high powered rifle with bursitis? It’s no fun, let me tell you. Being an aging assassin is worse than being an aging football player. And we don’t get paid to do any endorsements. Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan would really take on a different meaning for us.

Many of you have seen Kill Bill and the Bourne movies where they show assassins trying to get out of the business being hunted down by other assassins. Not accurate at all. Think about it. If that got around, who’d want to be an assassin? “What’s your retirement program like?” “Um. We kill you.” Here’s what really happens. You’ve heard of the witness protection program? Where criminals who agree to testify against other criminals are given a new identity and relocated? It’s a similar program. The Former Assassins Reintegration Program (FARP). We get some plastic surgery, maybe get some vocational training, get relocated and set up in a business, etc. And then we live a normal life. The agencies we used to work for are behind the misinformation you get from the previously mentioned movies and spy novels. It’s easier to let you think they’re all killed than to think they might be your neighbor or coworker. Or the cook fixing your dinner. That kind of thing makes people nervous.

One guy I used to work with got set up in an exterminating business. We all got a good laugh over that one. The motto on his truck said: “I’ll kill ’em for you.” He figured it had been a good motto for the last 23 years, why not keep it?

Occasionally things go wrong. Like the guy in a southwestern suburb who got tired of his neighbor’s loud music and assassinated him–three bullets to the head, point blank. Very effective. After that they added a psychological dimension to FARP–Conflict Management Without Elimination. It’s always a very interesting class, especially the role playing portion.

As former assassins get older they sometimes have some special needs beyond those of normal senior citizens. To help, there are special nursing homes for them, although to be honest, they don’t live very long there. A lot of them are crotchety, set in their ways, suffering from various levels of senile dementia, and they keep killing each other.

You’re probably thinking I could get in trouble for telling you all this. Well, that’s true–if they caught me. But with all the cut-backs there’s currently only one guy monitoring the media for any leaks on this program, and he spends most of his time reading movie reviews and examining Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. He’s pretty sure some day there’ll be a security leak there and he wants to be ready. So I’m relatively safe. Plus I owe him money, so he’s not going to take me out of the picture any time soon. Besides, most of the people who could make trouble for us are afraid of us–who wants to anger a professional killer? I don’t mind angering my accountant or the receptionist at my doctor’s office, but I think twice before I get a former coworker mad. I don’t need one more reason to be looking over my shoulder (which is getting more difficult, thanks to the bursitis).

Speaking of my doctor, that’s always a touchy area for us old assassins. I mean, I’ve got a jagged knife scar on my left shoulder, a bullet scar on my ribcage, and a long, white scar on my right calf that came from a pen (Bic, I think, but that’s a long story). Those things make a doctor curious, and we’ve got to come up with reasonable explanations for all them. This French assassin I knew was bitten by a guy on his forearm years ago and had a very noticeable scar. His doctor asked him about it and he said a dog bit him. The doctor said, but those are human teeth marks. Oh-oh. Trapped. He finally just said, “Oh. I could’ve sworn that was a dog.” And left it at that.

I thought that was a pretty good answer.

 

Wolf wondered why his parents named him Wolf. 

“Mom, why did you name me Wolf?” he asked his mom.

Mom sighed.  “Go ask your dad, it was his idea,” she said.

Wolf found his dad sitting in front of the TV.

“Dad, why did you name me Wolf?” Wolf asked.

Dad glanced up.  “Huh?” he said.  Then his eyes returned to the TV.

“Why did you name me Wolf?” Wolf repeated.

“It’s a cool name, isn’t it!” Dad said with enthusiasm.  “Tough!  Masculine!”

“It’s kinda different,” Wolf said.

“You bet!  That’s what I like about it!  If  your mom had her way you’d just be another Jerry.”

Wolf nodded and went back to his mom.

“Dad said it’s a cool, tough name,” Wolf told her. 

Mom sighed again.  “It was between Wolf and Butch, and Wolf won.”  She stopped her veggie chopping and looked up at him.  “If you don’t like it you can always go by your middle name, you know.”

Wolf’s lip curled slightly.  “Leland?” he said.

Mom nodded.

“No, I think I’ll stick with Wolf.”

Just then his little sister came in.  Mom’s face lit up.

“Hi Chiffon, honey!  How’s my little sweetheart?” 

Wolf rolled his eyes.  “I’m going to Rock’s room,” he said.

Thanks to the aging of the baby boomers, we’re also seeing an increase in the amount of retired government-employed hit men entering the Former Assassins Relocation Program.  So it was inevitable I’d run into an old coworker at some point. 

Which I did last Sunday afternoon.  He’s now a greeter at Walmart (I can’t tell you which one, but don’t make any sudden suspicious moves around those greeters, just in case).  Our eyes met, then he did the classic double take.  He gave me the old signal so I wandered over to the discounted chips and stared at Doritos for awhile until he walked by.  Then I followed him casually into Health and Beauty until he stopped to look at mouthwash (which he always needed, as I recall).  I picked up some toothpaste and read the instructions (I didn’t know there WERE instructions on toothpaste; have you ever met anyone who was stumped about how to brush their teeth?).

While holding some Scope up to the light he said, “Are you here to eliminate me?”

“No,” I said, “I’m here for deodorant.”

He turned and looked at me.  “Really?”

“Yeah.  I didn’t know you were here.  Remember, our locations are supposed to be kept secret.”

“But ALSO remember that it’s the US government who promised us they’d keep that secret.”

He had a good point.  I seemed to recall a few other promises from the government that weren’t kept.  A couple of years ago a former assassin known as seven-double-0 (because he always got things backwards) had an apparent heart attack in a movie theater.  Upon closer examination he was also found to have a bullet in his head (for those of you who have no medical background, that is not common for a heart attack).  The general feeling was that the government had decided he was too risky to have around.

But be that as it may, it seemed to be nothing but a genuine coincidence that me and the Walmart greeter wound up in the same town.  We talked for a few minutes and he pointed out a few lazy employees he said he’d like to remove (in the strongest sense of the word), but since we really weren’t supposed to communicate I picked up my deodorant and headed out.

A minute later I circled back in and walked up to him.

“You’re not really thinking of doing anything to those employees, are you?”  I asked.

He smiled.  “Are you kidding?” he said.  “And spoil this set up?”

We old assassins still have a sense of humor.

It was dark.  In the distance a train whistle made its mournful cry.  A man stood on a bridge looking down into the water.  A Burger King bag floated by underneath him.  The taste of a Whopper filled his mouth. 

Another man slowly walked towards him and stopped about about 6 feet away.  “Are you Rico?” he asked.

The man continued staring into the water.  “Who’s asking?” he replied.

“I’m a friend of Sean’s.”

He turned and looked at the newcomer.  “Yeah,” he said, “I’m Rico.”

Sean’s friend leaned on the railing next to Rico.  “Sean explained what I’m looking for?” he asked.

Rico nodded.

“The target is a guy named Walter Kurl.  He works for the Glass Paper Company.  He’s–”

“Glass paper?”

“It’s not paper made of glass, Glass is the name of the family that owns the company.”

“Huh.  They should’ve gone into the glass business.”

“Yeah.  We get that all the time.  Anyway, Walter Kurl is a supervisor there.”

“We?  You work there too?”

“Yeah.  Kurl is my boss.”

“Pretty sick of him, huh?”

“You have no idea.  He’s got this coming, and then some.”

“Okay.  Where’s the place located?”

“At a deserted warehouse on the edge of town.  Kurl  works late every night, then he walks–alone–through the parking ramp to his car.”

“What kind of car does he drive?”

“A ’68 Rambler.  Maroon and white.”

“Really?  What kind of engine?”

“I don’t know.  Never looked under the hood.”

“Hmm.  I suppose I’ll be in too much of a hurry to take a look.  Oh well.”

“Anyway, I figure you can hide somewhere in the ramp and get him when he comes out.”

Rico nodded.  “I’ll push him down for you.”

“Hard.” said Sean’s friend.  “I want him pushed down real hard.”

Rico turned and looked at him.  “You must really hate this guy.  Get a bad performance review or something?”

“Never mind why.  Just push him down for me.”

“You bring the money?”

Sean’s friend nodded and reached into his pocket.  “$17.50, right?”

Rico nodded.

“Here’s a twenty.  Keep the change.”

Rico crumpled the bill into his pocket.  “You got a picture of Kurl?”

A photograph appeared from a pocket.  “That’s him on the left.  The guy with the bow tie.”

Rico stared at it.  “I didn’t know handlebar moustaches were coming back.”

Sean’s friend sighed.  “They’re not.”

At 5:40 the next evening, Rico stood in the shadows in the parking ramp.  The ’68 Rambler was about 20 yards away.  No one was in sight.  An owl hooted.  Rico chewed gum, and waited.

At 6:12 he heard hard shoes on concrete, echoing in the ramp, slowly clop-clopping towards him.  He spit his gum out.  His body tensed.

A shape came into view.  As it passed under a light, Rico saw the handlebar moustache.  He silently moved into a course to intercept him just before the Rambler.

Walter Kurl approached his car and reached into his pocket for his keys.  A voice spoke behind him.

“Mr. Kurl?”

Walter Kurl turned.  Rico used the palms of both hands and pushed Kurl hard in the chest.  He went down on the concrete, his keys sliding away.  Rico chuckled, then turned and ran.

“Hey!” yelled Walter Kurl.  But it was too late.

     Three days after his crucifixion, the remaining eleven of us were together, hiding.  Like the last survivors of a slaughter; we were stunned, frightened, unsure what to do next.  In our continuing conceit at being in Jesus’ inner circle, we imagined all the Roman soldiers were bent on hunting us down.  In truth, they never gave us a second thought.  They saw us for what we were—ordinary men, followers without a leader.  Harmless.   

     Early in the morning on that third day, we huddled together; silent, afraid to venture outside.  Mary was going to bring us some food, though our appetites were small.  Suddenly we heard her voice out in the street.  She was running towards us, shouting Peter’s name over and over again, surely attracting the attention of all Jerusalem.

     Peter’s eyes widened in fear, and I’m sure we all thought the same thing: soldiers are coming!  We leaped to our feet, a few of us pushing to get at the window in the back, ready to escape. 

     The door was barred and Mary banged on it, continuing to call out for Peter, and then adding John’s name.  Finally someone opened it and she burst in.  After making sure no one was following her, the door was immediately barred again.

     “Mary, are you mad!?” Peter hissed at her, grabbing her by the arms.  “Be quiet!  You’ll give us all away!”

     But Mary heard not a word he spoke.  “I’ve seen him!” She shouted.  “I’ve seen the Lord!  He’s alive!  He called me by name!  He’s alive!”

     At first everyone was stunned, and then James looked at me, a frown on his face.  I saw Matthew and Bartholomew exchange knowing glances.  Simon turned away, shaking his head sadly.

     “Mary,” Peter began, but she interrupted him.

     “I was at the tomb.  The stone was gone!  It was empty!  I was sitting there, crying and confused, and he came up to me.  Peter, it was Jesus!  He’s alive!  He told me to tell you…, he told me to tell you…” 

     And then she began to laugh.  It was a pure, joyous laugh, and I envied her ability to do it—even if it was due to madness.

     “I don’t remember what he told me to tell you!” She said, shaking her head as she tried to catch her breath.  “I don’t remember!  But it doesn’t matter—he’ll tell you himself!  Peter—he’ll tell you himself!”

     Then, finally, she looked at Peter, and she saw the expression on his face.  Her head snapped over to John, who could only hold her gaze for a few seconds, then looked down.  She spun rapidly in a circle, looking at all of us, and the joy in her face melted away.

     “You don’t believe me!” she said.

     Peter tried to smile.  “Mary, we would all like to see him again…”

     “And now I’m telling you that I have!  I’m not mad and I’m not lying!  That means I’m telling the truth!  I’ve seen him!” 

     I turned away, walking to the far corner of the room, and sat down.  I agreed with her that there were only those three possibilities, and I knew she wasn’t lying.  I had seen Jesus perform the miracle of raising people from the dead, but who existed that could’ve raised him?  That left only one option.  Poor Mary; these last few days had been too much for her.  Thankfully, none of my companions were accompanying her down this same path.  All of us were crushed, all of us felt lost, but we were all holding on to our sanity.  The one certainty in our lives was that Jesus was dead. 

     Suddenly I knew I had to get outside, even at the risk of being arrested.  I whispered something to Nathanael and slipped out the window.  With my head down and my shawl pulled around my face, I lost myself in Jerusalem’s crowded streets.

     It was very late when I returned.  A fog had fallen on the city, matching the fog in my brain.  I expected everyone to be asleep, but to my surprise a lamp was burning.  I knocked quietly on the door.

     “Who’s there?” John’s voice asked.

     I whispered, “John, it’s me—Thomas.”

     The door was unbarred and opened.  John pulled me in and quickly closed it.  Everyone was wide awake, and they crowded around me, their faces glowing more than the lamp on the table.

     “Thomas!  We have seen the Lord!” John said excitedly.  “Mary was right!  He’s alive!  He was right here in this room!”

     I looked at all of them in shock.  Was madness contagious?  Was I alone spared because I left for the day?  It didn’t surprise me that an emotional woman could have delusions while under a severe strain, but now all ten of them were talking at once, telling me the same thing.  They were smiling, excited; the whole atmosphere in the room had changed.  And I found myself desperately wanting to believe them. 

     But how could I?  I had considered the possibility that Mary was right, but common sense brought me back to the same question: Who could’ve raised Jesus?  There was no one on earth that could do that.  And how is it that Jesus just happened to come by while I was out?  I knew and trusted these men, but more than that I trusted my own eyes and my own mind.  What they were saying was not possible, and I had seen no evidence.  I had to stay strong, and hopefully pull them back into reality.

     I shook my head.  “I’m sorry, my brothers, but we must be realistic—“

     “This IS reality, Thomas!” Simon said.

     I interrupted.  “No, THIS is reality: We saw Jesus’ dead body!  Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my hand INTO his side, I will not believe.”

     The next day they all continued talking as though Jesus were now alive.  Peter took me aside privately and tried to convince me, but I would have none of it.  A few more days passed.  John pointed out to me that Jesus had often done the impossible before, so why not now?

     “Then why hasn’t he shown himself to me?”  I asked.  “I was one of his followers too.  Why does he only come when I’m not around?  This makes no sense, John!”

     John smiled.  “Neither does walking on water, or making a blind man see by putting mud on his eyes.”

     “The blind man SAW, and he believed.  When I see, then I’ll believe too!  But I won’t believe something my senses can’t confirm!”

     On the first day of the week we were together for the evening meal.  The door remained locked.  Peter was about to give thanks when someone spoke in greeting.

     “Peace be with you,” said the voice.

     I looked at the door and saw that it was still barred.  How did someone get in?  I turned to see who it was.

     I recognized the profile of his face in an instant.  It was Jesus!  It was really him!  He turned to me and locked his eyes onto mine.  He was not smiling. 

     “Thomas,” he said, extending his hands to me palms up.  “Put your finger here.  Look at my hands.”

     I looked down and clearly saw holes in each hand—nail holes.  Then he pulled aside his robe and revealed an ugly slit in his side.          

     “Reach out your hand and put it into my side.”  He gently took my hand and guided it to the wound, but I pulled away and speechlessly shook my head.

     “Thomas, stop doubting and believe.”

     I looked up into his eyes again.  There was still no smile on his face, but his eyes were kind—not angry.  Of their own accord, my legs bent, pulling me to my knees.

     “My Lord and my God!” I cried out, my voice shaking.

     “Now you believe, because you have seen me.” He said.  “But blessed are those who have NOT seen, and yet believe.”

     A flood of tears burst out of me and I inwardly punished myself for my lack of faith in him.  How I wished I could live the previous week over, and demonstrate as much faith as I had so-called common sense.  Jesus took my hands and lifted me to my feet, then he looked me in the eyes.  This time he WAS smiling.

     “I think you have learned an important lesson,” he said.

     I nodded, still unable to speak, then threw my arms around him and cried on his shoulder.  His strong, living arms enfolded and held me, as they have ever since. 

     Many years have passed since that day.  I have traveled far, telling many people about the risen Lord.  Always, I try to pass on the blessing that I was not able to receive—the blessing of believing without seeing.  Whenever I witness this miracle in someone’s life, I rejoice, but I also feel a brief twinge of regret that I myself embraced doubt more tightly than belief.  I will never doubt again.  

 

 Michael Anderson

Copyright April 2009

 

 

He sat in the car three doors down from the house and watched.  It was a misty, drizzly night, and water droplets on his windshield distorted everything he looked at.  There was a light on in the living room, but the curtain was drawn and the shadows that occasionally moved in front of it were not discernible.  Was she  in there?  It was impossible to say.

He looked at his watch, although he really didn’t care what time it was.  He’d been there just over two hours and he was prepared for 24 more.  He had food and bottled water.  He had caffeine pills to fight off sleep.  He’d even made preparations for his bodily functions.  There was no way he was moving from his self-imposed vigil.  Before another day passed he would know. 

A car pulled up directly opposite him and a woman got out.  Holding a three ring binder over her head, she ran to the front door in a house that didn’t concern him.   Still, he watched her as she fumbled in her purse for a key and let herself in.  A moment later the outside light went off.  He turned away.

A light had come on in another part of the house.  Kitchen?  Bathroom?  The living room light stayed on.  Did it indicate another person in the house?  Not necessarily.  His eyes went back and forth between the two windows.  He waited.  A shadow moved by the second window. 

In his pocket his cell phone started humming and vibrating.  He took it out and looked at it.  It was her.  Should he answer it?  She knew he always kept his phone handy; if he didn’t answer, she’d know he was avoiding her.  On the other hand, she might be looking out the window right now, wondering if that was him.  He hesitated, then flipped it open.

“Hello?”

“Hi,” she said.  “Where are you?”

Again he hesitated.  He could tell her he was home, and if she didn’t challenge him he’d know she wasn’t.  But if she WAS home…

“Target,” he said.

“Awfully quiet for Target.”

“I’m in the parking lot.”

“Are you coming home after that?”

She must not be home, he thought.  She’s trying to get me to let her know when I will be. 

“I need to get some gas first.”

“Okay.  Well, I might run up to CVS.”

Good one, he thought.  Got yourself covered.  His mind raced.

“Why don’t I stop for you?  I’m already out.”

“Naa.  Girl stuff,” she said.  “You wouldn’t know.”

Out-manuevered.  “Okay,” he said.

Silence.

“Okay.  Well, see you later.”  She hung up.

He stared at the words: “Call ended.”  Absentmindedly, he pictured her dropping her cell phone in her purse, then looking up.  But at what?   

 And now what should he do?  If everything she was saying was true, she would wonder what was going on when he wasn’t home within an hour.  If he went home now, and she came breezing in 15 minutes later with a CVS bag, what would that prove? 

He stared at the raindrops on his windshield.  They performed a complicated, never-ending dance on the smooth glass.  Through them the world looked crazy–even crazier than it really was.  He sighed and opened the car door.

Stepping out into the drizzle, it responded by becoming a harder rain.  Leaving his door opened, he walked up the middle of the street and stood in front of the house, staring at it.  The light in the second window was now off, but the living room light remained on.  He wondered what to do, wished there was someone who could tell him. 

For a long time he stood in the rain, thinking.  And only getting wetter.

A Whack on the Side of the Head

By Mike Anderson

At one minute to eight, Rich put his white styrofoam cup down. He walked to the podium, slid his fingers through his hair, and began to move papers around. For 30 seconds he frowned at one of them, while the group took their seats and quieted down. Someone’s watch beeped the hour. Rich looked at the group and spoke,

     “A man was walking down the street. He turned the corner and saw five guys, about

15 years old. They were all just standing around, smoking cigarettes. He glanced at the

first four, thought nothing of it, and kept walking. But when he saw the fifth he stopped.

He walked up to him with an angry look on his face, yanked the cigarette out of his

mouth, whacked him on the side of the head, and said, ‘What do you think you’re doing?!   Don’t be so stupid! Go home, right now!’”

     Rich paused, surveying the group again. They watched him and waited. 

     “Why did he treat that kid different from the other kids?” he asked.

     Silence. The group stared back blankly.

     “Come on now,” Rich said. “This is the part where we have lively discussion. Why did the man treat that boy like that, and leave the others alone? Any ideas?”

     One person in the group stirred. “Um,” he said. “Did he know him?”

     “Very good. Yes, he knew him. How?”

     There was a pause, then another member of the group spoke.

     “It was the man’s son,” he said.

     Rich pointed at him. “Bingo. You got it. It was his son. Okay, next question. Why did he treat his own son worse than he treated strangers?”

     More blank stares, and a few puzzled frowns. He explained further.

     “I mean he lets the other four do what they want; he doesn’t interfere. They’re happy. But with his own son… He’s mad at him, he hits him, tells him to get home. You’d think he’d treat his own son a little better.”

     “Well,” the second man ventured, “he cares about his son. Wants what’s best for him.”

     Rich pounced. “He cares about him so he gets mad at him and hits him? This is caring? The other four must’ve been pretty glad he didn’t care about them!”

     A third member joined the discussion. “His son was doing something stupid,” he said. “He was smoking. Plus it sounds like he was hanging out with a bunch of losers. So because he cares about his son he doesn’t want him hurting himself. He’s kind of rough on him because he wants to get his point across.”

     “Wait a minute,” Rich said, holding his hand up and frowning. “Are you telling me that the father’s anger was actually an expression of love?”

     “Yes.”

     “He gets mad at him.”

     “Right.”

     “Smacks him upside the head.”

     “Well, maybe he didn’t need to actually hit  him. But it wasn‘t like he punched him in the mouth–it was just a hard tap on the side of the head.”

     “Yeah, but isn’t letting someone do what they want to do more loving? Isn’t it more

loving to not  get angry, and to not  hit someone? When I see somebody get mad at somebody else, my first thought isn’t, ‘Aww, look how much he loves him.’”

     The group laughed. Rich continued.

     “It seems to me he was more loving to the four who weren’t  his sons. He let them do whatever they wanted.”

     Another member of the group chimed in. “He left them alone because he didn’t care about what they did–they weren’t his sons. He wasn’t showing them love, he was showing them…” He searched for a word.

     “Indifference,” someone finished for him.

     “Right. But because he loves his son, he gets in his face to stop him from doing something stupid. He’s kind of harsh because it’s important to him.”

     Rich’s frown remained. “So you’re telling me,” he said, “that sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone is to get mad at them, maybe even get a little rough with them.”

     “Sometimes, yes,” the first person said.

     “To let them know how strongly you feel they’re making a mistake,” another added.

     “Then would it also follow that sometimes letting people do whatever they want, and not  getting in their way, could actually be a very unloving thing to do?” Rich asked.

     The group nodded.

     “But,” one of them added, “you can’t go around acting like a parent to the whole world, so you concentrate on those you’re close to–the people you really care about.”

     “And you hope that other people have someone like that in their life,” the second person said.

     “So if the son in this example has the eyes to see it,” Rich said, “his father’s anger and harshness is a way of saying, ‘You’re my son, my flesh and blood. I love you and care about you and I’m not going to let you mess up your life.’ It should give him… a sense of security. Is that what you’re saying?”

     “Yeah,” the group answered.

     “Do you think it did? Give him a sense of security, I mean?”

     “No. At least not right away,” one of the group answered. “It probably just made him mad or scared or something. But later on I think it would, maybe when he’s older and looks back.”

     Most of the group nodded; some looked lost in thought. Rich watched them silently for a moment.

     “Interesting,” he said. “Anger, harshness, and punishment–being a sign of love, a sign of belonging. Something to make you feel cared about and secure. I wonder if anyone’s ever looked at it that way before?”

     “I haven’t,” the first man said. “Until now.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12

 

Michael Anderson

Copyright 2007