It was five forty-five when they pulled into one of those squat, L-shaped sleep-overs off Route 32, a few miles out of the heart of town. There were only two other cars there and they made the man's tired old Lincoln look decent by comparison: an ancient pick-up that was half covered in dirt, and a fairly new Japanese econobox with a dummy tire on the back and its windshield cracked down the middle.
Felicia felt slightly uneasy and made sure her cellphone was in her bag, right next to the pepper spray. The john had told her his name was Saul. He was about fifty, had a little bit of hair left that was almost entirely gray, and was unusually tall and thin. He wasn't wearing a ring. His clothes looked clean but rumpled, obviously work clothes: a pair of black slacks and a basic white dress shirt, the kind that looked lost without its jacket and tie. His shoes were black leather pointed loafers. The watch around his wrist looked pricey. She wondered why the man was driving an old jalopy. He didn't look like someone who put his back into his living.
Felicia waited while he went into the office to secure a room. She had promised him one hour: condom or nothing, including for oral, nothing kinky, no costumes, no role-playing, no pictures, no anal, and no mouth-to-mouth kissing. The man had meekly accepted all of her conditions, and only nodded along while she had spelled them out. He looked at her in a kindly manner, and didn't appear anxious or desperate. That was probably why she was a bit worried. A part of her kept telling her to back out now, but she very much needed the money, and Saul had offered to pay her twice her usual amount. The only thing he seemed insistent upon was getting his one hour.
Once they were in the room, Saul put the money on the desk next to the phone, and made no haste whatsoever to close the door. In fact, he told her that if it made her feel better they could leave it open. This offer made Felicia laugh.
"So that's it, you like to feel like you're being watched? Well, no. No."
"I meant only if you felt uncomfortable." Saul said in his overly polite manner, and went to close the door. He sounded effeminate. For a moment Felicia thought maybe he was a gay man who couldn't quite come to terms with his sexuality and was out to put it to the test. She watched him take out a tiny black book from his shirt pocket and place it on the desk, and noticed for the first time a small crucifix hanging from an ordinary chain around his neck. Felicia placed her bag on a cheap mauve recliner, watching him, waiting for him to make some kind of advance; but he merely pulled out the chair at the desk, sat in it, and took that tiny black book into his hands. He smiled at her as he took out a pair of reading glasses from that same shirt pocket and put them on, where they rested on his nose in a funny way and made him look like a librarian or a pharmacist.
Felicia took a few steps towards him and asked him, "You want me to...take something off... or something?"
Saul shook his head, though she saw his small, nondescript brown eyes flit over her bust-line. She was wearing a stretchy green tube-top and a well-made bra which made her look bustier than she really was. "No, that's not what I want, Felicia." Saul said, "All I want to do is talk to you, about something very important."
Felicia sighed, on the one hand relieved and on the other hand irritated. She waved her finger at him, "Look, don't bother. I've heard the good news already. Are you one of those Mormons?"
Saul glanced down at his long-sleeved white shirt and smiled warmly, "No, but I understand why you might think so. The Mormon theology is a radical heresy. But anyway, you do have me figured out. I really do want to tell you some good news, but only after you've heard some bad news, I'm afraid."
Felicia decided to go and have a seat on one of the beds. When she crossed one leg over the other she saw the man's eyes flit rapidly over her smooth, caramel-colored thigh, then away at the floor, then back to his book, which he was leafing through. She realized that with the white shorts she had on she was revealing quite a bit of leg. She was glad that at thirty she could still be shockingly sexy, even after one baby and two failed marriages. She uncrossed her legs and sat demurely on the edge of the bed, leaning a little bit forward while she spoke:
"No offense, but I've heard the bad news, too. Do you honestly think you can tell me something I haven't already heard a thousand times? Jesus, I get a sermon every couple of days from my mother on the phone. I went to church all the time up till I was like, twenty five. I believe in God, too, just not the same as you do. I mean, maybe the same God but not in the same kind of way."
"But that's not quite true," Saul said, turning towards her again, "When you say you believe in the same God as I do, I assume you're Christian? Probably Catholic?"
Felicia nodded, "Yeah, but I don't really follow it. A lot of it seems stupid."
Saul looked as if he was relishing this chance to speak with someone he felt he could save, and that he truly did want to save her. He sat forward and nodded again, resting his forearms on his pant legs, absently fanning the gold-edged pages of his little Bible. "It's good that you don't follow it." he said, "And it's good that a lot of it seems foolish to you. You see, the Catholic theology is also a heresy. You know what that means, correct?"
"No. Well, sort of. A heretic is like, somebody who worships the devil or something?"
Saul laughed softly, "In a certain sense, yes. A heresy is a teaching which is not merely inconsistent, but deceptively inconsistent, with the truth of Scripture. Usually it is done more by way of ignorance than pure ungodliness. For instance, I am sure most Catholics are sincere in their hearts and love Christ and believe Him to be their Savior. They are not evil or reprobate by choice, only by ignorance. Most of them can be reached quite easily and converted to the true Church. All one has to do is show them that idolatry is a grievous sin and that the Pope, and also the Mother of Christ, are wrongly worshiped as idols, and are placed nearly on the same level of worthiness as the Triune God. But I also am convinced that in the hierarchy of the Catholic church there are many willfully degenerate and reprobate sinners, not only sinners but doers of evil..."
Felicia held her hand up, and was surprised at how readily Saul stopped speaking. She looked as if she were about to rise at any moment, but remained seated, "Listen, I'm sorry. I don't want you to waste your time or your money on this. You aren't going to convert me, if that's what you want. You know, to tell you the truth, I can't believe you guys are taking this door to door business so far. I mean, it's one thing, knocking on people's doors, but picking up prostitutes? Why can't you be happy with your beliefs and let other people be happy with theirs?"
Saul let her speak and showed no sign of wanting to interrupt her. He answered softly, "First, I don't go door to door like some people who are purportedly interested in saving souls; and second, that's the language of the modern world you're using. If it makes you happy, it's okay. But I'd be willing to bet that if you thought about it you would realize that you don't really feel that way at all. Certainly you don't believe that something is okay simply because it makes one happy?"
"That's not what I meant." Felicia said, "I meant, like that a person's religion is their own thing, their own choice. Just because I think a person should be left alone to believe whatever they want about God doesn't mean I think they should be allowed to do anything at all, long as it makes them happy, like as if... you want to be a rapist and that makes you happy so it's okay. That's not what I meant."
Saul smiled, "But in a very definite sense, Felicia, it is what you meant. Perhaps you don't intend to mean that, but ultimately, following your worldly line of reasoning, you do mean it. If you have read the Bible, which is God's word in a very literal sense, then you must know that at no place, at no time, did God ever give to His creatures leave to do whatever makes them happy, or to worship Him in whatever manner they choose. In fact, quite the opposite. That is what I meant when I said that you do not worship the same God as I do. The God you see through the veil of confusion which incorrect teaching has woven around you is not the Almighty and Sovereign God of Scripture, but a false and man-made idol, a revolting caricature of God. What you envision as God is a cheap and tawdry imitation, a lazy and permissive nanny, not the stern Father and Lawgiver of Genesis, nor the unwavering and steadfast Judge that is the risen Christ of Revelations."
Now Felicia did get up, and was unconsciously pulling down at the legs of her shorts. By this time she was becoming offended, and she didn't feel like humoring Saul any further. She let the adrenaline flow through her veins, as she knew she had to at moments like these. She said to him, looking him straight in the eyes:
"This shit gives you a hard-on, doesn't it? Sure, you're not undressing me, taking my body into your hands, enjoying something which you could never possibly have gotten without having to pay for it; but you're doing me in your own way, and I'm not sure your way is any more decent. You get me here, somebody you know sells her body for money, somebody who doesn't exactly have the finer things in life, somebody who might be unhappy and vulnerable. And you sit there in judgment of me, feeling better than me in every way, and you tell me things to make me start thinking about shit I try hard not to think about so I can survive, so I can feed my baby. You're using me the same way, except you're not fucking my body, you're fucking my mind. And it gets you off. It excites you every time you get to corner someone and judge them, feel superior to them. You're a john, you just don't know it, and you're no better than the others."
"Superior? Certainly not." Saul said, and seemed completely unruffled, like an acting coach who had just watched a student rattle off a chunk of dialogue. "I am a wretched sinner, utterly depraved and unworthy of my Maker. There is nothing in my body or my soul which makes me anything less than despicable to my Lord. When I compare myself to you, I am like a broken and withered weed beside a beautiful flower in full bloom. There is nothing in me that makes me worthy of your company. When I look at you I see the majestic work of the Master Craftsman who made the Sun and Earth, a work which fills me with humility and shame, a shame which serves only to remind me of my total reliance upon my loving and forgiving Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."
Felicia stared hard at the man who had, in a few sentences, made her skin crawl as well as given her the greatest compliment she had ever received; and yet there was something inside her that told her not to fall for it. Saul stared back at Felicia, his eyes searching her out, looking like he wanted more than anything else to win her over to God, to bring her out of the tangle of sin in which she was so deeply, but not irrevocably, involved. Felicia wished he would tell her he was only joking and stand up, unzip his fly, become the kind of man she was accustomed to. She looked at the bundle of bills folded neatly in half on the desk. She needed the money. There was only forty-five minutes left before his hour was up, and she felt certain that, at the very least, he would be true to his word and drive her back to where he had picked her up.
"Felicia." Saul said finally, breaking the long silence, "Man does not judge his fellow man. The authority for that lies solely with God. We may think we judge, but we do not. God has passed judgment on you already, and did so even before calling the light forth from the darkness, just as He has already passed judgment upon me. For all I know, which is virtually nothing, it may be that you are destined for the bliss of Heaven while I have been passed over and have only the torments of Hell in store, regardless of what I think or do. All I can do is act in accordance with my spiritual desire, which is to guide God's Elect out of the darkness and into His Holy Light. I act in ignorance, knowing not whether the souls with whom I engage will be saved or passed over. That knowledge is completely in God's possession. I am called to sow the seed where I may, but only God knows whether the soil is fertile, and if the soil is fertile, I can not fail; if the soil is barren, I can not succeed. I do this for the Love of my Lord Jesus Christ in full knowledge of the fact that I may merely be an instrument in His hands, whom He uses according to His whim in order to achieve His will, and that while I may be an instrument for the will of my Lord, I may nonetheless be intransigently determined, through my own depravity and sinful nature, to damnation. I sincerely hope in Christ for my salvation, but I am not so vain as to be convicted that I will be the beneficiary of such grace, nor that I have earned it in any way whatsoever."
"God's elect?" Felicia asked. "I've heard that before."
"Mmm." Saul replied, closing his eyes briefly and nodding, once again fanning the pages of his book, and for the first time Felicia realized that he had no intention of reading from it, even though he had put on his reading glasses. Any nervousness or uneasiness that manifested itself in Saul was transfered to the little book. Felicia had noticed while she was making her accusatory comments to him that he was fidgeting with the small Bible, fanning the pages, bending it. He spoke calmly and evenly:
"The Elect are those whom God has chosen for salvation. They were chosen before the founding of the world, just as those whom God has passed over were chosen. But we... I mean, the Elect, are not chosen due to any personal merit, neither for the charity of our acts nor the depth of faith in our hearts..."
"You mean their acts, the faith in their hearts." Felicia said, interrupting him again. Again, Saul had stopped speaking immediately, allowing her to speak. Felicia walked across the room to the desk, unwrapped a plastic cup, and went to the bathroom to get some water. She wanted to smoke a cigarette, but politely decided not to. Saul smiled broadly, showing his perfectly white teeth. Felicia sipped her water and noticed that he had dimples, and how his eyes brightened when he smiled wide like that. He was probably quite handsome at one time, she found herself thinking.
"That," he continued, "Is vanity rearing its ugly head. As I said, I am nothing if not an egregious sinner, filled to the brim with every creaturely fault and shortcoming. It is true, I do believe that I am Elect. But while I believe it I am not convicted of it, and remain aware that I may well be deluded and deceived by a lying spirit, a plaything of some filthy demon; or merely an instrument, completely at God's disposal, whom it has pleased God to make use of, yet chosen ultimately to pass over."
"That's not very reassuring." Felicia said, sipping her water. She heard some noise outside: another car pulling up, and what sounded like a man and woman talking. It was getting darker, but she knew it would still be light by the time she was back in town, and that thought gave her comfort. "What if you are the plaything of some filthy demon, and what if any minute now you take out a knife and slit my throat?"
Saul shrugged, "What if? You see, Felicia, when you engage in a theological discussion you inevitably engage in philosophy. The two things are inseparable. The problem is that philosophy is all about entertaining an infinity of possibilities and potentialities, and if we are to be honest intellectuals we must bring any and all of these to light, even if only to reassure ourselves of their unlikelihood. That I am the plaything of a demon is possible, but only very remotely so, just as it is remotely possible that you and I are not what or whom we think we are, and that all that we see around us is not real. While we entertain the merely possible, out of all due respect for the etiquette of civil discourse, we mustn't believe in the merely possible, but ought to place our faith in that which is manifestly more reasonable. It is much more likely that I am not deceived, and that I am truly here in this room with you, and that it is my true obligation to evangelize to you, here and now, for the purpose of calling you away from the world and toward the bosom of Christ."
Felicia thought, at that point, that Saul was some sort of teacher or college professor. He certainly spoke the part, and looked it also. There were at least two community colleges nearby which she could readily think of, and a few major universities not more than sixty miles away. And if that were true, he certainly wouldn't be able to use the classroom as his personal pulpit, and this frustration could be what was compelling him to literally take it to the streets.
"Well, you used up a good chunk of your time," she said, "But, to be honest with you, I don't feel drawn to what you're trying to sell me, and in fact, it's making me a little uncomfortable. I'll tell you what. Before you said that you had some bad news to tell me. How about you do that, then. But I can sort of guess what it'll be."
"But Felicia," Saul replied, "I've already told you the bad news, though not explicitely. You are not walking in communion with your Maker. You are using the temple of your body as an instrument of profit. You are utterly entangled in sin, and have only one real choice available: either accept that Christ suffered, bled, and died for you, accept Him as your Savior with no reservations, denounce the gravely heretical teachings of the Church in which your precious soul has been baptized and indoctrinated, seek to discover within you the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, confess it incessantly from now until the time you leave this earth, and go with grace to the house of the Lord. Do that, Felicia, or face the consequences. I assure you, they are as dire as they are permanent."
"So, the choice is mine?"
"It certainly appears so, while in fact the choice has already been made; but while only God can ensure your salvation, only you can lose it, forever and always. These are difficult things to digest, Felicia. I know. I have been where you are today, faced with what seems like an impenetrable morass of contradiction. What you must realize is that what seems irrational to us seems so only because of our fallen condition, which limits our capacity to fully ascertain and appreciate the Verities. We have only our natures to blame for this, as God is not responsible."
Felicia knitted her bows, and shook her head, "The choice is mine, but the choice was made before I was born? If I go to Hell, it's because I rejected Christ and deserve it; but if I go to Heaven, it's because I accepted Christ, but I accepted Christ only because God wanted it that way, and it actually has little to do with me?"
Saul grinned and cocked his head slightly, "I don't know if that wording is completely correct, but the sense of what you said is true. To claim that a man is responsible for his salvation is blasphemy, an insult to the sublime Grace of God; and by the same token, the very same token, it would be blasphemous to charge God with being responsible for a man's damnation. Blasphemous and utterly nonsensical as well, given that God is complete and perfect and absolutely just in all things. The Catholic view, that man himself is charged with determining his own eternal fate, with God acting merely as a judge with virtually no hand in the affairs of the world or in the hearts of his creatures, is an unconscionable affront to the blood of Christ, the majesty of the Holy Spirit, the inviolate and pristine glory of the Triune God of Holy Scripture."