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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 6)

~~ Ch. 6 ~~

Monday afternoon was Hornby’s day to go grocery shopping. His diet included more than tv dinners, but his level of absent-mindedness seemed to be increasing as the years rolled on. He would lose track of time, forget what he came to buy, or get caught up in a conversation about theology.

He was fond of saying, “Theology is not boring. Theologians are boring!” He tried his best to keep his lectures and class discussions relevant and practical and, well, interesting. He remembered his old friend Daryl Busby, a former colleague at a small Bible college in Canada, saying, “Surely it must be a sin to bore God’s people with God’s Word!”

Hornby was always ready to discuss doctrinal matters, because good doctrine, he believed, was solidly based in truth. And the truth will set you free, he thought to himself.

He remembered going grocery shopping one Monday afternoon when he met his plumber friend John Ensel who had also lost his wife to cancer. “Theo,” John said, “got your list?”

“List? Oh, my. Nope. Forgot it again!”, Hornby answered.

“Well, that’s okay, my friend. Somedays without my Mary I find it hard to put one foot in front of the other. But we must, you know?”

“Yeah, I know,” Hornby answered. “I know she’s with the Lord, and her pain is gone, and she’s probably so enamored with the Lord Jesus that she hardly even thinks about me down here.”

“I’m not so sure about that, Theo,” Ensel responded. But what do I know? I’m just a humble plumber, DR. Hornby!”

Hornby and Ensel loved poking fun at each other, especially about their different levels of education. “I’m not so sure how truly humble you are, John. I know that you’re probably more widely read in theology than I am — and I teach this stuff!”

“Theo, you know that I just fix water problems, flooded basements, and clogged toilets. I’m just a small fish in God’s pond.”

“John, you remind me of something said by John Gardner, who was the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson. Gardner said, ‘The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.’”

Hornby and Ensel laughed and laughed at that quote, and for the next hour, they discussed the finer points of God’s omnipresence, the state of believers who were already in heaven, and whether or not those saints paid attention to what was going on down here on earth. Neither was aware that their discussion was taking place in Aisle 7, Feminine Hygiene and Incontinence Aids.

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 5)

~~ Ch. 5 ~~
Detective Lance Ryland couldn’t understand how Delvaney, whose blood alcohol level was below .08, could have simply driven his Lexus over a cliff. “It just doesn’t make a lick of sense,” he said outloud to himself. “Unless he was swerving to avoid a deer or something, one might think he purposely did himself in!”

A routine autopsy was done on Delvaney’s body. Dr. Michael Stumpf was straightforward in his report. No detectible injuries pre-mortem. No evidence of a stroke or a brain abnormality. Injuries consistent with a major car accident. Nothing unusual about the victim’s death.

*******
“What a fascinating read,” John Smith thought to himself. He had hacked into the coroner’s website and the post-mortem report on Delvaney. “Thankfully, they think it was an accident,” he muttered. “Not true at all. Nor was this a murder or a suicide. It was a justifiable homicide. An execution. A judgment. A biblical judgment.”

*******
“Hey, Boss! You really think Bubba offed himself?!”, asked Butch Milano, one of Mike Slaughter’s “associates.” Slaughter controlled most of the illegal drug enterprise and all of the prostitution rings in Chicago.

“No way, Butch,” Milano said.

“Boss, Delvaney was just acquitted. He walks out of the restaurant after celebrating and then drives off a cliff. No skid marks. No evidence of another car banging into him.”

“I know. I know. I think someone was after him. Who were his enemies? Track down his cell phone records. Did he call anybody before he croaked? Nobody just found ‘not guilty’ drives himself off a cliff!”

“I’ll get right on it, Boss,” Butch said.

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 4)

~~ Ch. 4 ~~
Faithful Bible College was founded in 1941 by the Reverend Lawrence W. Clemons, an associate evangelist of D.L. Moody. FBC had only recently celebrated its 75th anniversary.

The school rightfully prided itself on its commitment to the authority of the Bible, the relevance of the Christian gospel, and the need to train young people in the skills they would require to serve Jesus in a post-Christian, and frequently anti-Christian, society.

I’ve never seen such a dedicated faculty, thought Dean Sean Miller to himself. They’re not only excellent teachers, but they are paid so much less than they could earn at a secular university.

“Good morning, Dean Miller,” said Bible professor Dr. Hornby.

“And a good morning to you too,” responded Miller. “What classes do you have today, Theo?”

Dr. Miller knew full well that Hornby had two classes today — “Intro to Theology” and “Discipleship 101.”

Hornby smiled and said, “Don’t worry, Sean, I probably won’t forget which class I’m teaching!”

This bit of repartee came from an incident a few months ago when Hornby began his class lecturing on the Hebrew grammar used in the Dead Sea Scrolls to a freshman class in Church History. After a few minutes, a young coed raised her hand and said, “Uh, Dr. Hornby, will we need to know this for our midterm in, uh, church history next week?”, Hornby turned scarlet and put aside his Old Testament lecture notebook.

“Hmmm. Sorry about that, students! I guess my old age is catching up with me.”

The students laughed, and looked at him with deep affection. They knew how much he cared about them and how hard he worked to make his lectures not only interesting, but practical. He had only missed one week of classes after his beloved Eleanor had passed away from breast cancer.

Faithful Bible College’s classes were almost done for the Spring semester. The student body numbered only about 150, so it was fairly easy for the nine members of the faculty to learn almost all of the students’ names.

Although every student had to major in Bible, there were several minors at FBC that students could pursue. Dr. Rick Nation was the department chair of political science and math minors. Mrs. Gertrude Kominsky was in charge of the English and American Literature minors. Dr. Mortimer Sandover supervised several adjunct teachers in the Business Administration program. Dr. Warren Peace oversaw historical studies and Dr. Hornby was the head of the Bible/Theology studies.

All the teachers were committed Evangelical Christians and their camaraderie was, to Hornby, one of the best parts of teaching at FBC. Each could have made more money teaching elsewhere, but FBC, though small, challenged their trust in the Lord to provide for the school and gave them great freedom in administering their various programs.

Hornby enjoyed the bantering, the give-and-take, between the faculty members. All seemed to relish teasing each other, some playing practical jokes, others poking fun at each other’s foibles. Although it was never said, they simply loved each other and their role in the ministry of training a new generation of church leaders at FBC.

“Say, Mortimer,” Rick Nation said one day in the faculty lounge.

“Yes, Rick?”

“You run our Business Administration program, right?”

“You know that I do, Dr. Nation. Why do you ask?”

“Well, Mort, I heard that you bounced a check at the local Seven-Eleven last Friday! You’d think the head of the Business Administration department would know how much money he had in his personal checking account!” Nation laughed, partly because Sandover had done the exact same thing the month before.

“Yep, I sure did,” Sandover blushed as he began walking out of the faculty lounge. “But I heard that you actually misquoted Jesus the other day in your political science class.”

“What? Never! What did you hear?”

“I heard you said that ‘Jesus was a friend of Republicans and sinners,’ misquoting Matthew 11. You really meant Democrats, right?” Mort laughed as he asked his question. Everyone knew that Nation was a committed member of the Democratic party, even though it sometimes presented a real challenge to his Christian convictions.

The students quickly picked up on the good natured teasing of the faculty, and weren’t reluctant to follow their example. Hornby thought back to one Monday morning as he got to school for his 8 am “Intro to Theology” class. He went into his classroom, placed his hat on his desk, then went to make himself a cup of tea in his office. He got a bit side-tracked and finally returned to the classroom by 8:12. No students. Everyone had left. They had assumed that class was cancelled. Hornby sent the class what was to him a strongly-worded email which read, “When my hat is on my desk, I am in the classroom and class is not CANCELLED!”

The next Monday Hornby got to the classroom a bit early, put his hat on his desk, then went to his office to make tea. He got back to the classroom at about five minutes after 8, only to find no students there, but 32 hats each nicely placed squarely on the students’ desks.

Hornby laughed and laughed about that prank, remembering that he had pulled exactly the same stunt when he had been a student, earning the nickname “the Mad Hatter.” “I guess what goes around comes around,” he said to himself.

Hornby unlocked his office door on the second floor of the classroom building, sequentially turning on the five lamps in his office, his small waterfall planter, and his ancient cassette player. He hated the fluorescent overhead lights and almost never used them. Even though cassettes were an outdated medium, he had accumulated quite a collection over the years, his two favorites being B.B. King’s “Greatest Hits” and the album “Chicago’s Number One Singles.” Hornby loved going to thrift stores and adding to his treasury for about a dime a cassette.

He looked around his office, once again purposing in his mind to get rid of the three boxes which had been on his floor for almost a year. I’ve got too many books and not enough room for them, he thought. He was gradually going through his collection and selling or giving away books to students to assist them in beginning their own libraries.

One shelf held multiple copies of the four books he himself had written over the last few years. Their titles included, “Anyone Searching for the Real Jesus?”, a challenge to the so-called historical search for Jesus which often seemed to be nothing more than a liberal effort to discount the reliability of the four gospels. Hornby also had his autobiographical account of his trip to Turkey ten years before to search for Noah’s ark, entitled “Where’s the Ark Parked?” What a waste of time that trip was, he thought outloud, although he was fairly pleased with the title.

His third book was a memoir of his life with Ellie, including his daily journal of the last few months of her battle with cancer. “I Was Made to Love Her” was more than a Stevie Wonder song to Hornby. His latest book, written about a year ago, was a literary lark which he thoroughly enjoyed writing. Entitled “Calvin Had a Cat,” the purposed author was John Calvin’s cat Ulrich and its life with the famed Reformer. Hornby was fairly proud of this last book, for there was a lot of theology and history included in the “memories” of the Frenchman’s feline. He had promised himself that any student who came to his office and commented on the books he had written would be given his or her choice of one of them for free.

Hornby worked hard to make his office a comfortable place for students to come and ask their questions, talk about their struggles, or just hang out. He had a large plaid couch on the right side as one entered the office, then his desk against the back windows, and then his small refrigerator and microwave. His office furnishings were completed by a year-old Lazyboy recliner FBC’s board had purchased for him to honor his thirty years of teaching Bible and theology. It’s not quite as comfortable as mine at home, he thought to himself, but I have been known to catch a few z’s there before or after class.

His refrigerator was stocked with a pint of Half ‘n half, a canister of Starbucks bold coffee, two six-packs of RC cola, and a package of MoonPies. Hornby had enjoyed an RC cola and a MoonPie (which consisted of a large marshmallow squished between two large chocolaty round cookies) as a child. A perfectly balanced lunch, he laughed to himself. He thought it his mission to share that dual treat with any student who came to visit, and more than a few had left with more energy than when they had come!

Down his hall, past the men’s and ladies’ bathrooms, was the faculty lounge. Someone early in FBC’s history had fought against its creation. Apparently one of the board members, when the building was in the planning stages, had said, “We don’t need a faculty lounge! The last thing our teachers should be doing is standing around drinking a bunch of coffee and shooting the breeze!”

Fortunately, that board member was outvoted and the lounge was created out of two spare offices with the wall between the rooms removed. A local furniture store had donated large leather couches, four overstuffed chairs, and beautiful hardwood coffee tables which displayed the faculty’s recent publications. Oh, and the board person who objected to the lounge? He visited the lounge several times during the semester, observing how the teachers encouraged one another, prayed for each other, and brainstormed together about projects that would help FBC in its mission. He was convinced and showed his “conversion” by purchasing a top-of-the-line coffee machine and a year’s supply of gourmet coffees and teas.

Hornby knew that the nine faculty could easily stay in their own offices getting ready for their classes, but the lounge drew them into a fellowship and community that no number of faculty meetings could ever create. And each was expected to spend at least a few minutes in the lounge after the school’s daily chapel was over and before lunch. A teacher who was seen little in the lounge would be followed up by his or her colleagues to make sure things were going well. This was another perk of teaching at FBC.

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 3)

~~ Ch. 3 ~~
Dr. Theophilus Hornby, Professor of Bible and Theology at Faithful Bible College, could hardly believe his luck. Well, “luck” was definitely the wrong word for a mostly-convinced Calvinist like himself, but he still felt “blessed.” Hmmm, he thought to himself. I wonder if the word “blessed” is used by Christians like unsaved people use the word “luck”?

Theo, as his friends called him, had just read the email from the college’s president that the faculty meeting for that afternoon had been cancelled. Is there any greater news at the end of the school year, Hornby wondered, than not having to attend a faculty meeting? “I guess I’m the recipient of sovereign, blessed luck!”, he chuckled to himself.

Faithful Bible College was located on forty beautiful acres of prime real estate in Western North Carolina, an area known for its spectrum of colors in the fall and its well-used ski slopes in the winter. Hornby had given up skiing for two reasons. He was, afterall, seventy-two years old, with knees that reminded him of his age whenever he skied or played tennis with other senior faculty at FBC. And, he had lost one of his best friends to a skiing accident just six months before.

Loss seemed to mark Hornby’s last several years. His only son Mark had vanished in Tibet as he had prepared to scale Mt. Everest with a climbing club from North Carolina. There had been a rash of kidnappings in that area of Nepal, but no group had made any ransom demands. On the eve of his team’s ascent, Mark had gone for a walk and did not return to the team’s lodgings. The sheer pain of not knowing what had happened to his son had severely tested Hornby’s faith, and he had had many angry and broken conversations with the Lord in prayer over his son’s disappearance.

Losing his wife Eleanor to cancer two years before had been especially difficult for him. They had no sooner celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary than she was diagnosed. He missed Ellie terribly, but he had slowly found some comfort in the Lord and in the Lord’s people.

Hornby sat in his old recliner and reminisced about Ellie. He remembered her trying to get rid of that recliner one Saturday by saying, “Theo, it’s old and ragged and has long out-lived its usefulness! Let’s get you a new one.” Hornby responded by saying, “The same three things could be said about me!” They laughed and laughed — but he got to keep his comfortable, form-fitting, cracked leather recliner. Hornby thought to himself that sometimes where one thinks deep thoughts is almost as important as the thoughts themselves.

Settling into his recliner with his microwaved Hungry-Man TV dinner and his ice cold can of root beer from the kitchen, Hornby said to his cat Luther, “Let’s see what’s on the Classics channel.” Luther was a twelve-year-old Persian who was about 10 pounds overweight and moved slowly, deliberately, and, if it had a choice, infrequently. Luther was helped by Hornby up onto the foot of the recliner and his deep-throated purring was almost like the vibrator on one of those fancy new LazyBoys. Luther knew that Hornby would leave a little of the gravy and the meat and maybe some of the potatoes for him to enjoy after Hornby was finished.

“Let’s see what’s on the Classics channel” meant that Hornby was going to watch an ancient episode of “Columbo,” the detective show starring the bumbling one-eyed actor Peter Falk. Falk had had his right eye surgically removed in real life due to cancer when he was only three.

“Oh, good,” said Hornby. “The show’s just starting. ‘The Case of the Overweight Mistress.’ Hmmm, Luther, I wonder if I have seen this one before?” Hornby had probably seen all 68 episodes of the show, but he always fell asleep in his recliner just before the show’s conclusion. Tonight was no exception. When he woke up, Hornby said, “Luther, I can’t believe it! I fell asleep! How did the mystery get solved by Columbo? Oh, well, I guess I’ll have to watch this one again sometime.”

Luther looked up from his corner of the recliner where he too had dozed off. His look seemed to say, “You’re surprised you fell asleep? But it happens every night. Now, did I hear you say something about the remains of your TV dinner?”

Hornby put down the dinner plate for Luther to finish up what had been left of his meal. A few minutes later, after Luther had been out to do his business, the two tucked in, with Luther taking his customary spot at the foot of the bed, curled up and ready for a long night’s rest.

Little did Hornby suspect that there would be a real-life mystery that would invade his world, a mystery for which Hornby would require two good eyes.

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 2)

~~ Ch. 2 ~~
At the bottom of the small canyon, the Lexus was one crumpled mess. “What a waste of a hundred-thousand dollar car!”, Officer Bondo said outloud.

“Maybe you ought to care about the dead body we’ll need to pry out of that hundred-thousand dollar car, Bondo!”, snapped Sargent Sanders.

After rapelling down the sheer cliff, the EMT’s worked with the jaws of life to pop open the driver’s door and it became immediately apparent that there was no life left in its occupant.

“A dozen air bags couldn’t have saved that guy,” commented one of the EMT’s. They strapped the body on the gurney, signaling their comrades to pull up the corpse. Several times the gurney slammed against the rocks and the rescue workers winced at each occurrence. But the victim didn’t mind. Hours before he had departed this vale of tears.

“Hey, I know that guy!,” shouted another rescue worker. “That’s Bubba Delvaney, the crime boss from Detroit!”

Delvaney had recently been found not guilty of racketeering and murder charges. Several key witnesses had disappeared and the Federal Prosecutor Diane Miller’s case had crumbled before her eyes.

Delvaney had left the courtroom with a smirk, and then celebrated his legal victory with his friends at Pontefiori’s Family Restaurant. Feasting on some of his favorite Italian dishes, including pasta primavera, chicken Saltimbocca, and fettuccine Alfredo, he slapped his lawyer on the back and offered a toast to the legal profession.

Three and a-half hours later Fernando, a six-foot-six former NFL tackle who faithfully served as Delvaney’s assistant and bodyguard, asked, “Hey, boss? Want I should drive you home?”

“Nah,” Delvaney said. “I didn’t drink that much. I’ll be okay.” Okay was the last thing the crime boss would be. And those were the final words any human heard him say. Justice was now complete.

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 1)

~~ Ch. 1 ~~
There it is again — a very faint sound. Or is it my imagination? Is it coming from my radio? Can’t be. Radio’s not even on. Is it possible?

He continued driving. He dreaded that sound more than just about any other on earth. Goosebumps immediately began to rise on his muscular, tattooed arms, giving him a chill as he listened hard. But the buzzing became louder and more terrifying. The sweat started to bead on his tanned forehead. He felt himself plunging into full-fledged panic.

“Oh, no! Please, God! It can’t be!,” he said outloud to himself. But all doubt was gone. And there was nothing he could do about it.

The luxury sedan swerved left and then right as he tried to elude the intruder. “I hate these things!”, he screamed a curse as he tried to keep the steering wheel straight.

But his terror overcame his caution as he sought in vain to fend off the unwelcome encounter that was destined — some might say predestined — to happen. The guardrail was no match for the 3715 pound Lexus as it tore through it like it was made out of paper. His blood-curdling scream was not heard by anyone on this lonely stretch of highway. At his rate of speed, the trajectory took him 25 feet past the crumpled guardrail, plunging him into a several second silence where the only sound was the rushing wind framing his desperate cry of “Noooooo!” Crashing into the rocky creek bed 150 feet below assured an unsurvivable event.

 

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