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Part I

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT...

...
when my client first walked through my inner office's door. Yeah, she was attractive, but that wasn't what struck me about her. The lady, who'd told me on the phone that her name was Frannie Olsen, had that look of a person who'd been shaken badly by a personal tragedy. Whatever it was, I knew it wouldn't take a bunch of questions to get this one to talk.

"Frannie, have a seat. Coffee?" I offered, with a slight smile. "No, thanks.", she replied without joy, "I'd like to get right to it, if you don't mind." "Ok." I replied. And then she began to reveal her tale, which started one of the most unusual cases I have ever experienced.

"For years," Frannie began, "I've attended church, prayed and generally tried to lead a good life. My parents raised me to believe in God. As the years went by, I met a young man, and we fell in love. We just both knew that this was 'it.' You know, that this love was forever. We got married, had a child and things were going great for us. My husband was getting ahead, and it just seemed like God had blessed us with heaven on earth. A nice home, a new car and truck, well, we'd found 'the good life.'"

She took a deep breath, before continuing. "Then last month, shortly after opening, a man walked into the store my husband managed. He pulled a gun, and shot him in the head, and left after emptying the cash register. The company computer indicated that there was only one hundred seventeen dollars and change in the till..." Frannie's voice trailed off, and she began to softly cry.


Life has many foggy, stormy nights.

I passed a box of tissue over to her. It didn't pay to get too involved in a prospective client's emotions. I'd read about the incident, of course. The cops didn't report having any leads, in spite of the video tape of the entire incident. "So you want me to find your husband's killer, is that it?" I asked.

"No." she said, as she composed herself a bit. "I think the police will find him. They told me about an out-of-state lead." She paused, adding, "But please keep that to yourself, they've not shared that information with the press." "Then, what is it that brought you here?", I wondered out loud.

Frannie's face took on an intense look, "I want you to tell me if there is a God."

"Pardon me?" I blurted out. After years of being a private detective, a sleuth isn't supposed to run across any more surprises from prospective clients. I was almost embarrassed by my own reaction, but I think I covered it well. At least I'd avoided choking, or spewing coffee out all over my desk...

"I want you to prove, one way or another, if God exists." the young lady stated, continuing: "Then, I want you to tell me exactly what you've learned."

I rocked forward in my chair, and waved my arm in the air. "Lady, I think you came to the wrong place. That door plate, my yellow pages ad, license and business card all say I'm a private detective. I'm sorry about your loss, but I think what you need is to talk to your favorite priest, minister or other spiritual leader." I began to ponder if my next ad should have the words 'free initial consultation' deleted, but her soft voice broke my train of thought.

"Look, I'm serious." she said flatly. Frannie's tone and face confirmed it, even before she reached into her purse and lightly tossed the check onto my desk. I glanced; it was for my one week fee plus standard expense money, which we'd briefly discussed on the phone before she came in. "I've already talked to my minister. It didn't help. My son asked me the other day, "Mommy, how could God let this happen to Dad?" I couldn't answer him, and really want to know the answer to that myself. Will you take the job, or will I have to look for another?"

It had been a long time since I've been in a church, any church. And the last time I'd cracked open the Good Book was a Gideon Bible in a modest motel. But it seemed to me that her words were a paraphrase of some New Testament verse I'd read. I shook that thought off, and focused on my new client's request.

"Ok, Ma'am. I see you're serious, but how do you suppose I should prove one way or another if there is a God? A lot of smart people have debated that over the centuries you know."

She smiled, just a bit. "You bring me the proof, however you want to go about it is just fine with me. You are the detective, and you have a reputation for being objective. So go and find the truth; that's all I ask." I couldn't help but share a wee smile back; and that's how it all got started. She rose, we shook hands, and Frannie disappeared from sight, even as the fragrance from her perfume lingered in the air...


Lightning storms.  They can destroy, but they also cleanse.

As the door closed, a clap of thunder reminded me of the storm that was taking place outside. I looked out the mini-blinds and pondered the irony of the real storms in people's lives that cause them to turn to, and away from, the idea of God. As lightening streaked across the night sky, the contrasts of darkness and light in my own life flashed through my mind. It was almost comical; a cynical detective was being asked to answer the age old question: "Does God exist?" Save for that look in Frannie Olsen's eyes, I'd have passed on this job without hesitation.


THE SEARCH FOR EVIDENCE BEGINS...

"How should a detective approach this issue?" I wondered. I quickly decided that I should pursue this like any other probe. Perspective is important in any honest investigation. I'd developed the habit years before of seeking information from all sides, trying to get an objective view of a case. A person needs both a broad view of things, as well as the little details, in order to find the truth.


A good detective searches for the truth with an open mind.  Seek the TRUTH!

As I made the drive home from my office, a variety of conflicting thoughts warred in my mind. Every day, millions privately and publicly offer their prayers to God. Millions of others feel doubts, ambivalence or cynicism about the notion of a Creator. A growing number of people simply don't believe in any unseen omniscient Power. For them, since seeing is believing, what is unseen simply can't exist.

I vaguely remembered some things I'd learned in a required philosophy class from back in my college days. But I believed that Frannie wanted something more, something she could sink her teeth into. Her son had asked a question that dated back to at least the time of Job, the good man in the Old Testament who had so many bad things happen to him. I tried to put it all from my mind: Frannie, God, her son, the feelings of millions on different sides of the issue; not to mention my own thoughts on the subject. I tried to relax in the usual ways, struggling to unwind before going to bed that night. I failed. It was well into the night before my tossing and turning was rewarded by a fitful sleep.


Even when the darkness surrounds us, there is a guiding light.

I don't remember how many times I hit the snooze the next morning. Issues relating to the question, "Does God exist?" kept rolling through my mind. My thoughts wandered back to the days of my youth, when believing in God seemed easy. Or at least easier. As adulthood approached, life's shocks and disappointments can bite you like a big rabid dog. The hypocrisy and sinfulness of believers and clergy. The scandals, large and small. The people who go to church to be seen by others, or just to chat with friends more than to worship their Creator. The injustice of selfish or evil people getting ahead in life, while good working folks get laid off, cheated or worse. Yes, it was easy to see how people can lose faith. The miracle was those who struggled to live according to their beliefs in spite of all the nastiness and the nonsense that life can bring...

I fired up my PC, and popped in a CD-based encyclopedia. I scanned some articles, for and against. I scribbled some notes on my pad; mainly questions with arrows pointing to ideas or issues that were raised like a balloon moving up into a warm spring sky.

Does God Exist?
My fatigue made me irritable, and the black brew that I'd poured into my mug didn't seem to help. I picked up a phone directory, circling a few names on dog-eared pages. I began the ritual of tapping out the numbers like the staccato of a weapon set on full automatic.

I spent a lot of time that morning on hold, waiting to set appointments with men and women who had letters that followed their names; letters that told others of the volumes they'd read in search of wisdom in their chosen field. I'd periodically catch myself drumming my fingers in a way that I hadn't done in years...

Before I left, I programmed the 'bot in my PC to search the Web for certain information. I liked the Internet, it was one of those untouchable things a modern detective learns to lean on for help. By the time I'd get back, the powerful microprocessors and the PC's high speed modem would have multiple megs of information ready for me to study. I knew it would help.

I could bore you with the details of making myself presentable for those appointments with the "lettered" professionals I'd spoken with; rattling on about the ebb and flow of traffic, their looks, voices and the symbolic images that it all called to mind. But the truth is, my 'let's get to the bottom line' mentality wants to spare you all of that; remember to send me a thank you card for that favor. I'll simply say that after four days of interviews, the talking, note taking and all of the myriads of details of life that passed in between, I didn't see God. No one who knew me would have been surprised by that fact.


We often lock doors within ourselves, and lock ourselves away from others.

I spent the next few days getting my report ready for Frannie. I double checked her phone number before slowly tapping it out, told Fran to come in when she answered, and pensively wondering how she'd react. I knew I was ready to wrap this assignment up.

As I waited for my client, I thought about my Dad, who'd died in Vietnam. I hardly knew him, but Mom told me he was a good man. Before this case, thoughts of my parents taught me to realize how you had to take everything a person said with at least a grain of salt. Mom used to hit the bottle pretty hard, and though she spoke of God favorably, the impression she'd given me as an adult didn't fit that neat and tidy image a child gets of a holy person. Since my Mom was flawed, then Dad was too. Oh, I know, we are all tainted in different ways. I was in no position to judge anyone, based on my own life. Still, there is that old idea that Christians should behave differently, better somehow than others. I tried to push those thoughts aside, seeking to focus on Frannie and the upcoming appointment. I failed.

The Pentagon had sent some of us military types into various countries during my two tours of duty. In Panama, I watched as people lost an eye, limb, a lung or even their lives in what the media quaintly called 'sporadic fighting.' I was lucky in '91. The assignment I drew didn't place me in a cloud of poison gas that was causing so many comrades the awful pains of "Gulf War Syndrome." I recall thinking that the infants born with birth defects after that supposedly antiseptic war surely didn't deserve to suffer; did they?


The proverbial smoking gun!

Then there was Somalia, a hell on earth I used to wish I could forget. The starvation there wasn't caused by a lack of food. It was mostly the result of a few warlords, arms merchants and political types who wanted their little empires so badly that it didn't matter how many died horribly, so long as they got what they wanted. A buddy of mine died there. My pal had distributed food, giving his own rations of candy bars to kids he'd play with during his off hours, and took many a local to the medics for treatment.

But my friend's presence was viewed as a threat to a warlord, who made sure he was ambushed. So my buddy's life ended in a grizzly parade as they dragged his bloody corpse through the streets, the warlord's men celebrating that American's death as if it symbolized their own Independence Day. You probably caught that one on the tube, watching the evening news. But the images of Mogadishu didn't have to make the world news for me to remember them. The VCR of my mind replayed scenes of kids who were skin and bones, the nobility of the mission contrasted with the reality of that savage and avoidable struggle. It didn't take another mission to keep me from re-upping.

Then those two years as a cop, and the last few years as a private dick for hire didn't exactly paint a picture of warmth and brotherly love for me either. Who would blame me if I too denied the existence of an alleged deity who is supposed to be all good, after seeing all the horrors of murder, violence and abuse? How often does someone have to investigate domestic violence to wonder why people get married? How many times does a sleuth have to take photos of someone cheating with someone elses' mate, of people ducking out on family or obligations, or chasing an hombre who'd jumped bond to avoid jail, to see that the world looked pretty unredeemed? I thought about the same stories you've heard, about ministers or priests who'd been caught doing something really wrong; what does that say about the question of God? I wondered how I'd express my thoughts; how I could easily pass on what I'd learned from my research? How would you tell a young woman whose son wanted to know why God let bad things happen to good man who had been a fine husband and father? I didn't feel up to the task. I mused, "Maybe I should "pray about it..."


Click here to finish the story!


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