Test of Faith

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He opened his eyes and saw an angel. She was perfection. Her hair was a blond corona that cascaded down to her shoulders, framing her flawless face. It glowed as if on fire, almost white in its radiance. Her skin was clear and white, as if made of marble, and her cheekbones were high and fine. Her eyes were a piercing blue, watching him intently, moist with concern and wide in innocence. Her nose was straight and true, with a slight upturn at the end giving a young girlish appearance to her face. She wore an expression of surprise, her lips, the color of soft pink roses, were held apart to form an oval.

“Mr. Cavil, are you alright?” she said, “You had been calling out in your sleep.” She shifted position slightly, revealing the morning sun through the window behind her that had been shining on her hair, and he was momentarily dazzled. He felt a dizzying shift of perspective as he realized where he was: the St. Lucille Mission. He had been here before, many times, often for soup or a light dinner, and occasionally for a warm bed on a cold night, or a shower to wash away the grime of a life on the streets.

“How did I get here?” he asked. He had no memory of coming.

“Your friends brought you in. You had passed out.” She raised an eyebrow at him. “I think you had been drinking again, Mr. Cavil.”

Cavil propped himself up on his elbow, and as if to punctuate her rebuke, felt a terrible pounding in his head. He looked around and saw that he was in the dormitory, a long thin room lined with narrow beds, ten on each side. The furnishings were sparse and poor, but it was clean and warm. The beds were mostly empty, but he could see a few other forms huddled under blankets. He groaned and lay back down.

“You take your time Mr. Cavil,” she said, “and when you are ready, have a shower and some breakfast if you like.”

She stood up, smiling at him. Her smile was broad and genuine, showing perfect white teeth. It lit up her face and dimples formed on her cheeks. His angel’s name was Sophie, and she ran the mission with her husband, Martin Peterson. She was simply dressed, in a crisp white blouse with short sleeves and dark gray pants. She wore sensible shoes on her feet.

She turned and walked away from him, into another room where a handful of men were sitting around a table eating cereal from big bowls. They were poorly dressed, refugees from the streets who had spent the night at the mission. She gathered some dirty dishes and walked to the kitchen to add them to the others. On the way she passed another, smaller room where four men were gathered in a circle, open bibles on their laps. Her husband, Martin, looked up as she passed and they exchanged warm smiles.

The men with Martin were better dressed than those in the dining area. They were living in the mission’s few private rooms, having made a decision to turn their lives around. This was the part of the mission of which Martin was most proud. They had, in the last few years, helped many back on their feet, to lead constructive and fulfilling lives in their community. Martin insisted that there be no pressure to convert to Christianity at the mission, and all were welcome irrespective of belief. But many did convert; perhaps inspired by the kindness they received from Martin and his wife.

Sophie filled the sink with steaming hot water and began to wash up when she heard the mailman stuffing the morning mail through the letterbox. She dried her hands and went to pick it up. Shuffling through the junk mail and utility bills she came to a letter with “Urgent” stamped on the front in red letters. The contents elicited a soft “Oh!” of surprise: the letter inside was titled “Notice of Eviction”.

#

An hour later, Martin and his wife were together in the dining room. Martin was sitting at the table, with his head in his hands. Sophie was pacing behind him, wringing her hands. The men had mostly gone; the homeless had returned to their lives on the street and their longer-term guests were either back in their rooms or performing tasks around the Mission. One of the latter group, a man of middle years, was cleaning the dining room floor with a mop and bucket.

“But what will we do?” asked Sophie, “Where will we go?” She continued to pace.

“The eviction gives us a month to find somewhere new,” replied Martin looking up, “but I am not optimistic about finding something we can afford. We are already right on the bread line and still haven’t paid off some of the debts from setting up.”

Sophie sat down at the end of the table. She sighed.

“If only we hadn’t spent all that money on Jerome’s -” she started but Martin interrupted.

“No,” he said, shaking his head, “paying for Jerome’s operation was exactly the right thing to do. Without it he would still be in pain. It was the right thing to do, and we need to have faith that the Good Lord will look after us.”

“Of course,” she said, hanging her head. “So what will we do?”

“First, we need to start looking canlı bahis for a new place. I can do that, though I don’t have much hope. Second, we need to go a talk to…” he lifted the letter to read the name, “… Raymond Fox and see if we can persuade him to let us stay, or at least give us longer to find a new place.”

“I can do that,” she said. “Maybe if I explain the work we do he will reconsider.”

Martin raised an eyebrow. “Don’t get you hopes up. From the letter it looks like our lessor owns some sort of nightclub – The Fox Den – so I don’t think he will be very sympathetic to a Christian Mission.”

She smiled at her husband. “I’m sure we will be able to sort something out. Remember, the Lord is looking out for us.”

#

Sophie peered nervously out of the cab’s window as she approached her destination, her earlier confidence draining from her. It was clearly a poor area, with a largely black population, though it didn’t appear destitute. The street was busy despite the oppressive heat of the afternoon sun and the shop fronts were open for business. There were market stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, clothing stores with signs advertising 50%-off sales in their windows, launderettes, pawn shops and bars. Her own Mission was also in a poor area, though it was on the other side of town and rather quiet. In contrast the people here were full of life: she saw a large matronly woman haggling; a middle aged housewife arguing over the price of a garment with an intimidated shopkeeper; young men greeting each other with strange handshakes and chatting on the street; an old man sipping beer at a table outside a run down café.

She mentally prepared herself for the meeting. She needed to be forthright, businesslike and assertive, she told herself. She had tried to cultivate this image by wearing a smart business suit. The skirt was blue and came down to her knees, though was a little tighter than she liked and tended to ride up her leg when she sat. She wore a matching blue jacket and a white blouse underneath. He legs were clad in tan pantyhose and she wore sensible blue shoes with a small heel. She had put her blonde hair up in a bun and wore large horn-rimmed glasses. She didn’t really need the glasses, but wore them to provide a more intellectual image. She had applied some lipstick and given her cheeks a light dusting of blusher.

The cab drew up and Sophie paid the driver. It was only as the cab was driving away did she realize The Fox Den was not a nightclub at all. It was a strip club. The name of the club was displayed over the door in flashing neon lights. Next to it was the club’s logo – a silhouette of a naked woman with exaggerated features, also in neon. The silhouette was sideways on, bending over, pushing out her breasts and rear, and had a large fox-like tail and pointed fox ears.

A huge black man with a shaved head stood at the door, dressed entirely in black. His muscles glistened with sweat in the oppressive heat and stretched the black t-shirt he was wearing. She could feel his eyes on her as she walked up to him.

“I need to talk to Mr. Fox please,” she said, a forced and nervous smile on her lips.

“What about?” he grunted in a deep voice. He made no attempt to hide his gaze, looking her up and down.

“Um… about a property he is leasing,” she replied.

“Wait here.” He turned and walked into the club while she waited patiently. She felt horribly exposed, standing outside a strip club, obviously out of place. A band of black youths walked past. They said nothing, but leered at her suggestively. She wished her skirt wasn’t so tight and her jacket was a little longer. Fortunately, the bouncer soon returned and gestured for her to follow.

The inside of the club was dark and it took her a few seconds to adjust her eyes. She followed him along a dingy corridor to a door, which he opened and gestured to her to go inside.

The office was also dark. Its only window was large and ran along one wall, looking out on the main floor of the club, which was also in darkness. A desk lamp illuminated one end of the room and the desk it sat on. Behind the desk sat a man who she presumed was Mr. Raymond Fox, owner of the club and the property the mission was renting. Given the neighborhood, she had expected a black man, but he was not. He was probably about forty, and rather handsome with salt-and-pepper hair and was dressed in a smart black suit and black silk shirt with no tie. He didn’t get up but motioned to a chair in front of the desk.

“Please take a seat Mrs. Peterson. It is Peterson, right?” he asked, “You are here about the rental downtown.”

She hesitated. “Yes… that’s right,” and put on a false smile, walking to the chair and sitting down. She perched on the edge. “I am here to ask if you would reconsider the eviction.”

“And why would I do that?” He had an amused smile on his face.

“I don’t know if you are familiar with our work…” she began.

“Yes, I am, Mrs. bahis siteleri Peterson. I am well aware of all the good work you do at the mission.” He emphasized the words “good work.”

She smiled at that. Maybe this wouldn’t be so hard after all.

“But,” he continued, “I am a business man and I don’t do charity. I have been trying to get rid of that place for years and I finally have a buyer who is willing to give me twice what it is worth. It would be very bad business not to sell. I am sure you understand.”

He held his hands out wide in a conciliatory fashion and his smile was sympathetic. In contrast, her smile dropped.

“But surely…” she began and hesitated again, “for the good of the community…”

“Like I said, I am a business man. Maybe you could raise some funds and make a counter-offer for the place? Don’t you church types have wealthy donors back… wherever you came from?”

“I’m afraid not.” She looked crestfallen. “I mean, people have been very generous, Mr. Fox, but we have used up all the money on the mission already. We still get donations but only to cover our current running expenses.”

He sighed and leaned back in the chair.

“I’ll tell you what, how about I let you stay but for double the rent? I would be out of pocket, but you seem like nice folks and I am feeling generous. I am not a bad guy, Mrs. Peterson.”

“Twice the rent?” she asked, her mouth falling open slightly, “We… we can’t afford that.” She was holding back tears now.

He stood up and walked around the desk. “Then I’m afraid there really isn’t anything else I can do Mrs. Peterson. I’m sorry, but you will have to vacant the premises in one month…”

He put his handle on the door, to open it for her. No, she thought, this can’t be it. She had been sure that God would give them a chance, inspire her to eloquence in defense of the mission, or soften Mr. Fox’s heart to their plight. But now it looked all over for the St. Lucille Mission. All their hard work would be for naught and all these poor people would be on the streets without their support.

“Unless…” Fox said, pausing with his door on the handle.

Her downcast eyes lifted. Was this it? Was he going to change his mind?

Fox turned round to look at her, taking his hand from the door.

“There is another possibility,” he said. “You could come and work for me.”

“What? Me? Work in a strip club?” She laughed despite her desperate situation. “That’s… that’s…” She couldn’t think of a work to express how ridiculous the idea was.

“No, as a waitress,” he interrupted, “just serving drinks from the bar. Our waitresses aren’t paid a wage – they get their money from tips. Let’s say we add only thirty percent to your rent and at the end of each week you give me five hundred out of your tips.”

She brightened. The thought of working in that place sickened her, even if she was only serving drinks, but maybe this could work, temporarily at least.

“How much do waitresses make in tips?” she asked.

“Five hundred should be easily doable,” he replied. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll make it four hundred for the first week and five after that.”

She nodded.

“Of course,” he continued, walking round and sitting at his desk again, “if you didn’t make enough in tips each week you would have to pay some sort of forfeit.”

She nodded, frowning. “What sort of forfeit?”

He looked her in the eye and smiled. “Oh, it needn’t be something you couldn’t afford. Perhaps it could be a service in kind.” He paused. “How about a blowjob?” he asked.

She gasped at his audacity, shocked, and stood up. Her mouth hardened into an angry line.

“Mr. Fox, I will not cheat on my husband, and certainly not with you, no matter what you are offering!”

“Well,” he shrugged, “if you can be a good waitress, you won’t have to. Why should I hire you if you are not a good waitress? But if you think you are too good for compromise, a bit of give and take, I suppose that’s your choice, and there is nothing more I can do.”

He opened the door to let her out.

“Look, I am trying to be helpful here,” he said, standing in the doorway. “I was looking for a way that we could help each other, like civilized folks. Why don’t you go home and discuss it with your husband? Have a think about how much your mission is worth to you both. Come back tomorrow with your answer.”

He moved aside, and Sophie practically ran out the door. Fox chuckled behind her, watching her go.

#

She was back at the mission long before Martin, who was still out looking for somewhere else they could rent. This gave her time to think. She was still shocked at the proposal. How could that man ever think that she would take him up on his offer? Had it been some sort of a sick joke? Was he just trying to shock her? She couldn’t contemplate working in that place; never mind… doing that with that man. But part of her, a small part that she tried to ignore, wondered if this wasn’t bahis şirketleri the only chance to save the mission. Maybe God had given her this as a test of her commitment – a test of faith. Even though she disapproved of even just serving alcoholic drinks, never mind the rest of it, didn’t our morality come directly from God, and if Fox’s proposal would further God’s Kingdom…? When God had asked Abraham to climb the mountain and sacrifice his only son, he hasn’t hesitated, even though it was so obviously wrong. He had done as God commanded. His faith had been tested and he had passed with flying colors. Could this be her test?

Anyway, surely it wouldn’t come to that. How hard could serving drinks be? If an average waitress could make five hundred dollars a week, surely she could too. Then she would never need to pay the forfeit.

Of course, she didn’t express any of this to her husband when he returned. He came into the mission with a weary look on his face and plumped himself down on one of the dinning room chairs, shaking his head.

“Nothing,” he said to her, shaking his head. “Everything I saw was either not fit for our purposes, or was way out of our price range. We can manage a bit more than we are paying now, but not much more.” The lifted his head to look at her. “I hope you got on better than me.”

“I’m afraid not,” she replied. “Mr. Fox apparently has some great deal to sell the place and wasn’t willing to give us more time. He did suggest doubling the rent but I told him we couldn’t afford that.”

“No, not really,” Martin replied. “We would could afford a bit more, but not double. We need to keep something for running costs.”

She took a deep breath.

“He did suggest something else,” she said. “A thirty percent increase in rent if I would work for him as a waitress, for free.” She laughed nervously. “I would also have to give him all the tips I earned.”

She couldn’t bring herself to tell him about the other part of the proposal. She was sure that he would forbid the whole idea anyway, so why complicate things?

“Really?” Martin raised his eyebrows. “What did you say?”

“I said no of course!” she replied. “I can’t serve drinks in a… nightclub!” She couldn’t even bring herself to say “strip-club” in front of her husband.

“Well,” said Martin, shrugging. “Maybe we need to keep our options open. Would it be so bad? I am sure they have bouncers to make sure the staff are safe.”

“But who would help you here, with the mission?”

“I’d manage,” he shrugged. “Look, I realize this isn’t ideal. But it would only be temporary and only if we didn’t find anything else. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the things that are important to us. You understand that, right?”

She nodded hesitantly.

“Anyway, it probably won’t come to that. Why don’t you go back tomorrow and tell Fox that you agree to do it? At the very least, that will keep our options open. I’ll keep looking for somewhere and if we find something before the end of the month, you can tell him you have changed your mind. How does that sound?”

“OK,” she agreed hesitantly.

“Good,” said her husband. “Now, let’s pray. Let’s ask the Lord to help us out of this mess.”

#

Sophie returned to The Fox Den the next day as planned, and was shown into Fox’s office. She wore the same business suit as the day before together with her glasses, and clutched her purse anxiously in front of her. He was sitting behind his desk, and smiled at her as she entered.

“So,” he said, “have you considered my proposal?”

She didn’t sit down. “Your indecent proposal, you mean?”

“Indeed!” he laughed.

She took a deep breath. “Yes, I have. I discussed it with my husband, and we have decided to take you up on your offer.”

“Really?” Fox covered his surprise well. He had never expected her to agree – he had just wanted to see her reaction. Well, this changed everything. The proposal was actually a very poor deal for him; he could lose a lot of money by cancelling the sale, but he couldn’t resist the beautiful woman who stood before him. “Well, this is unexpected!” He tried to compose himself, but couldn’t conceal a big grin.

“I, um… I have no experience as a waitress but…”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he interrupted, waving his hand, “I am sure you will do just fine and won’t have any trouble getting tips. Please take a seat and I will fill you in on our little operation here.” He gestured to the seat in front of him.

She sat down, once more perching on the edge uncomfortably. He noticed the way her skirt rode up her leg and licked his lips.

He explained that the club was open every evening except Sunday and Monday. She would be expected to provide her own cash float, and buy drinks from the bar that she would sell on to customer – for the same price of course. Any tips were hers to keep until the end of the week when she had to provide him with his five hundred dollars. If she didn’t have the cash, she would have to give him whatever she did have and also pay the forfeit. And she was not permitted to make up the difference with her own money to avoid it.

Sophie frowned, but nodded, and said nothing.

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