Christian Short Stories

In God's Crosshairs
By Web Ruble

Web Ruble writes: I am a retired newspaper reporter of some 40 years, and a couple of those years I was religion writer at The Oregonian, Oregon's largest daily. Now I am a novelist and short story writer. My wife Norma and I live in Fairview, OR but split our time between there and Tucson, AZ where we are now until about April 15. We are lay leaders and deacons at Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church in Fairview, OR (near Portland). We also are volunteers on Thursdays about nine months out of the year in a soup kitchen in Gresham, OR.

He carefully sighted in his rifle. With growling stomach and a black heart he found "his target" in his crosshairs. Perfect. Chunk of cake.

Doing this was the only satisfactory answer. The dead can't hurt you, anymore. Moreover, his target -- Grifton -- had hurt him so much and so deeply that the jerk had it coming. Justice.

On this day, however, he was not emotionally prepared to do it.

The day of reckoning was coming though. Dan wanted to make sure of everything. One slip and it could be disastrous. No. Not could be. It would be.

He mused:

How did I arrive at this juncture anyway?

Dan Helbrig recognized this was to be his ultimate vengeful volley -- one that he had been planning for several years. Only he and his lack of acidic courage could wimp it. He just had to stay the course and all would wear well.

What's more Dan inexplicably felt righteous in his determination to end Albert Grifton’s life.

Dan had become the newsroom’s laughing stock. Not only had Grifton been responsible, but he had publicly humiliated him, removing Dan’s last thimble of respect. In Dan's bone-cracked alley of tradition, this was intolerable. If one tolerated humiliation, he deserved it.

There was but one answer to that – learned in Dan's early years, ghetto -- death. If one went as far as Grifton did to hurt someone, he deserved the sanction.

Martyrdom -- how down-home the thought!

The hooligans in the pool hall would be proud of me.

Dan remembered moments earlier driving his chugging 1985 Plymouth Caravelle up the west hills road. There had been no chance of chickening out on this sunny, slightly breezy day. This was to be a trial run.

He had his rifle. With mounted scope, it had been in the back seat covered with a blanket. It hadn't been visible and had no telltale lumps. The only thing that Dan had to do was make sure that he that he didn't make any axel-and-wheel-based errors that would attract police.

He'd gone up Sokol Hill, where he was now, and cased Grifton's place. He had the rifle because when he had found the right spot, he had wanted to be able to sight-in and make sure he could take out his target with a single shot.

Danny had needed a blind from which to shoot and make his escape without being seen. He knew where Grifton’s home was -- on a terraced street on the south hill known as Sokol. Oddly enough, he mused, Sokol meant falcon in several languages of the Slavs. Dan was what friends called “a bottle of catsup” -- Heinz 57 varieties. He was part Czech and Polish, and some 55 other ethnic extractions.

However, it was his Slavic background that had brought him the ridicule at the television station. Huh?

The station was known for its liberal stance on just about every issue, including in-office politics. Favored were women and minorities of a dozen stripes. He was certain that white males like himself – especially those of mysterious, minute-oriental eastern European extraction - had been pushed aside for others.

Dan had been a little left of the political center himself; but this paled before others whom he thought were so far left that they fell off the spectrum. Some were downright anti-American. When he’d joined the KYRT-TV staff, he thought he'd find intelligent folk with balanced viewpoints. They’d wrap him in welcome.

They did at first. However, as the staff began to change with newhires, attitudes warped. Everything U.S. to the U.S. was ridiculed. He soon found himself pushed aside. He wasn't doing any news reporting or editing. He was kept aboard as a public relations hack.

The ego-tripped could not fire him because salty old Mel Warner, the station owner, had promised all employees that they’d have a job with him as long as they kept their noses clean.

As far as Dan knew he had done that, even though he had developed an alcohol problem. One of his friends -- a conservative cohort --had an orangutan of a drinking problem and had been fired after being dried twice. His friend’s dismissal was understandable. However, another had been fired simply because he had “not passed muster.” He was judged politically incorrect. Still another -- the helicopter mechanic who had an impressive military record -- had told him it would not be wise for Dan to be seen talking to him, office politics being the way they were.

Outrageous! I’ll talk to anyone I want to.

The realization -- that this naive, self righteous stance was a mistake -- came too late. He had been branded an undesirable.

Finally, Dan' s demise had come. After a series of laughs and insults from middle management, he consulted the personnel director who told him he was eligible to retire. Dan slipped out unnoticed. Despite efforts to avoid a retirement “roast,” he went out on a boot of laughter.

Grifton got him aside moments later and wished him well. That, at least, was something. But Dan knew who it was that engineered the whole final five years of his misery -- Grifton.

Dan's cultural background had but one answer for that. No more Mr. Wimp.

They wanna play hard boiled? I'll show 'em poached macho.

The only matter now bothering Dan was an idle comment he had made to a friend: "Those guys think power is confined by the four walls of that room. Well, I'm prepared to take it outside. Are they ready for that? They'll learn the meaning of power.”

He had said that over brandies one night at a nearby lounge while recalling his tough labor union background.

Labor unions, you see, had been essential for the survival of eastern and central European immigrants like his family had been. Unfortunately, however, the TV station had no union.

One day he noticed that employees who had Slavic names had been pushed aside. Then later, he knew of firings of those who dared defame any minority group, even by accident. Yet those same powers who did the firings would make cracks about Slavic performers such as Baryshnikov. Comments like "Another Slavic stud" or "Another loyal immigrant . . .who needs 'im?" cut deep.

Hypocrites. They just want power for themselves. They don’t really give a whit about anyone else.

His growling car approached the terraced street. He drove around the hill and viewed Grifton's house from several angles. The first one he picked appeared to be the best. The road made several loops around the hill. He parked on the shoulder of the one below Grifton's house. The road there had a different name -- Alvernon. From there he hiked up through the woods to a vine copse on the fringe of the loop above.

He knew Grifton had Tuesdays off and when it was sunny he and his wife probably would be out in the yard. He just had to lie and wait until he had a clear shot. Afterwards, he’d leave the rifle and retreat down through the woods to his old beater. He'd casually get in and slowly drive off.

Dan would enter the downtown, take the southern-most bridge across the river and drive east on Fergie Avenue until it became Amarillo. Then he’d go north to the Dallas Freeway and out of town, headed toward Sacramento. He'd ditch the car at brushy Brooks Wayside Loops. He'd walk the 2-3 miles downhill to his cabin. Hardly anybody knew where it was. He'd hide there for 2-3 weeks.

He just had to hope nobody would associate the shooting with the pale gray Plymouth seen slowly leaving the area. The plan should work. He had tested the rifle at a gravel pit. Although he had inherited the old rifle years ago, it held no sentimental value. He'd just abandon it at the blind. He’d wipe the rifle clean of fingerprints before he left home and he'd wear gloves at the shooting.

Dan this day made his dry run, circumnavigating the hill. Finally he decided the area was clear. He parked the Plymouth better than anticipated. He put on his gloves again; got out and went around to the passenger side rear door. He glanced about to see if anyone was looking. There was only one house from which he could be seen. But nobody seemed to be home. He slipped out the rifle and tossed the blanket back inside. He then entered the woods and made his steep climb. It took but a few minutes and he found his vantage point. It had a good view of Grifton's house and yard. Why was he so uneasy?

Still prone with his rifle, he swiveled his head, casing the woods around him. Then he saw them. Two boys, appearing to be about 7 or 8, were beneath a tree house. They were but 30 feet away and with wide eyes they were silently staring at him.

Dan knew that he would not be able explain his presence in the trees with this scoped rifle. So he just waved and packed his rifle back down through the trees to his car. He then drove off in more of a rush than he had planned, his heart pounding and his head aching. His stomach was doing flips. What if the boys told everyone in the neighborhood and gave police an accurate description? Not good.

So Dan waited several hellish weeks. He went through torments of the damned, expecting police to arrive any minute. But they never did.

So one day, without rifle, he drove Sokol Hill loops several times. He could find nothing negative. He peered into the woods to see if the two boys were there. He couldn't see for sure, but they appeared not to be. Perhaps his encounter with them had been lousy luck.

Who's in charge, anyway -- me or a couple of waifs?

Dan was sure that he acted correctly when encountering the boys. Yet he felt downright cowardly. The guys down at his hometown pool hall would have laughed him into the felt for being so gutless.

- - - - - - - - -

Now it was August. Dan selected his sunny Tuesday. Again he parked his car, donned gloves, and visually searched for nosy neighbors. None. He opened the car's rear door, slipped out his rifle and threw the blanket back in. He paused. Then he climbed up through the woods to his assassin's perch. The boys weren't there and the tree house appeared to be disintegrating. Nevertheless, he felt irritable.

He glanced across the street at Grifton's house. Grifton wasn't in view, but someone else was.

Who was it? She was sitting in a wheelchair, sunning herself. She had a small box-like table at her side. On it was what appeared to be a soft drink. Now she was slumping a little in her wheelchair. Grifton came running out of the house. He had a wash cloth. He wiped her chin, mouth, and brushed her hair back. They were exchanging words. Dan thought he heard her say, "I'm better now, Albie. I just want to stay here a few more minutes. Nice. Warm."

Huh? Whoever the woman – probably Grifton’s wife -- she was obviously severely disabled. Moreover, Grifton was attending to her needs. It was a loving scene. Dan was unprepared for this. Then, he remembered years ago somebody telling him that Grifton's wife had been confined to a wheelchair. He had forgotten.

Grifton was being so loving and caring that Dan now knew he could not go through with his plan. It was out of the question.

His stomach's queasiness and his irritability vanished.

Immediately he felt 20 pounds lighter. Something unusual was happening. Joy he had never experienced before was now flooding his soul. Such relief! The spiritual darkness was pealing back to a sunny groove.

Dan slung his rifle, swung merrily down through the woods, and entered his car. He drove off and stopped at a popular restaurant -- The Jolly Bee -- on Fergie Avenue. . He didn't even lock the car. With joyful spring, he tripped to the restaurant entrance.

"What makes you so happy?" the waitress with a beehive hairdo asked, poised with a coffee pot and order book.

"God saved me at the last minute," he said. "He wants me to celebrate with ham and eggs. I've never felt this way before. Oh happy day!"

The waitress paused: "God? Ham and eggs?"

"Oh yes, and keep the coffee comin'."

She put the coffee pot on his table, and with pencil jotted his order.

He looked around the room. His heart was full of cheer. He loved everyone in the place. He glanced down a few tables. A family in a booth was celebrating something. One of the people, a sub-teen child, was in a wheelchair pushed to the table.

"And that family there. Give me their bill. Don't tell them who paid it. They are so festive. I want to propel their joy."

"That family?" the waitress said nodding toward the booth.


The waitress glanced at the table but went back to staring at him. Finally, she shrugged and left.

A middle-aged woman in an adjacent booth looked up from her Bible.

Dan grinned and said, "Well . . .it goes against the traditional grain . . . but it's a start."

(© 2010 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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