The Flute Maker

Spies live in mortal danger of being discovered. Espionage thrillers are coiled around the tension of the cat-and-mouse chase. The protagonist frequently fills both roles at various stages of the story, at once the lethal predator and cheese connoisseur. We often see our hero being pursued by law enforcement and enemy agents. But how often have we seen spies chased by agents of the Holy Spirit? “The wind blows where it wishes,” Jesus told Nicodemus. “You hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The following scene comes from “Confrontations” – Chapter 37 of Gypsy Spy.

He stationed himself on the west side of the building. Here, the trees held their ground; a spot of wildness in the city. The grounds of the condominium were laid out like a pastoral park. Manicured lawns were laced with slate-paved walkways which led to wishing wells and park benches. Nineteenth century lampposts gave light to midnight strollers and atmosphere to romantics. But all this finery crumbled away at the edge of the forest. Manicured lawns gave way to tall grass and tall grass to tight thicket. Carlos hid himself a few yards in front of the tree line in a cluster of wild hollies. From his vantage point, he tried to catalog all the security activity on the side of the building he planned to attack.

Security rounds were performed every two hours on the hour by non-uniformed guards. First, they would walk around the entire building making sure that all was locked and that nothing was amiss. Then, usually in pairs, they would stroll through the park on the lookout for vagrants or misfits. It took them twenty minutes to complete their task. He figured that the best time to try to approach the building was right after their rounds were done. They would feel most secure then and less alert. The challenge lay in crossing the one hundred yards of open ground without being picked up on camera.

Two cameras were positioned on each face of the building between the first and second floor. On his third day of surveillance, after some much needed rest, he did nothing but pay particular attention to the motion of the cameras. On each side of the building, the pattern was the same. They would sweep in toward each other and then sweep out. Each full sweep took fifteen seconds to accomplish. Positioned as they were on either side of each corner of the building, this meant that a camera blind spot developed during a portion of the inward swing. Carlos estimated that the blind-time window was no greater than four seconds. Once the opposing camera swung in enough, the ground left uncovered by one would be in view of the other and vice versa. It was useful information, but it helped little. Even if he could line himself up perfectly with a corner of the building, he would have to run a hundred yard dash in four seconds not to show up on camera. Impossible.

Nestled once again in his hedge of hollies, he considered his dilemma. Once he got to the building, getting to the third floor was rudimentary work. Each floor had balconies which would serve him as steps to achieve his goal. And the security system was designed to keep undesirables from approaching the edifice. Once at the face of the building, he would be behind the sight-line of the cameras. But how to get to the building? The west face was still his best approach and he would have to maximize on the four second blind-spot on the southwest corner. One of the wishing wells was in that line of sight and he could use it to his advantage. The movement of branches caught his ear, distracting him from his investigation.

He looked over his shoulder and saw an old man heading toward him down a small trail that cut into the woods. If he keeps on his present course, he will come within feet of me, Carlos thought. The boy considered burrowing himself deeper into the thicket, but thought better of it. He was in a hollow space in the midst of the tightly knit hollies and felt sure that he was well concealed. Someone would have to be looking for him to find him. But just in case, he kept his eye on the old hiker. Clothed in heavy, black pants and a black dress jacket, he was dressed warmly for the hot summer weather. Carlos felt sure that the man must be sweltering. But his square face, framed by wild grey hair with a peppering of black, looked calm and cool.

As the man came closer, Carlos was able to make out more details. He had on a pair of well-worn military boots which hadn’t seen polish in decades. His hands clung to a book strap slung over his shoulder. A bleached white shirt shone past the black jacket like a beacon and showed no signs of sweat. The man seemed to glide over the path, glide straight to Carlos. He was prepared to bolt should the man take note of him. It would not do to have a witness get a good look at him. The closer the man came, the more apprehensive Carlos became. One rock, he told himself, one rock and the threat would be gone. He scratched around in the dirt and found a missile of adequate proportions. Come on, he said to himself, come a little closer, old man. He could hear his heart hammering in his ears. His pores opened up in a flush, drenching his body with sweat.

The man came on. Carlos held his breath. The vision of the man terrified him. Throw the rock, a voice inside his head said, get rid of him. By the time his wrist was cocked, the man had stopped at the edge of the holly bushes. “Be still, fear not,” the man said. His command had instantaneous effect. Carlos felt the rock fall out of his grasp. His body shook and his heart raced. Run, run, RUN! The voice cried out in his head. But his heart clung to the old man’s words. Fear not, fear not, fear not, he said to himself, making it a personal litany. “It’s a crying shame,” the man continued in French, “I used to play in these woods as a child. I hid in them, as you are doing today, during the Nazi occupation. Now, another building sits atop my memories. Cain built the first city, you know. I have yet to visit one that failed to have the heart of the Devil in it.”

Now is your chance, the voice told him, he’s not even looking at you. Get away now, he’s dangerous to us. “Be still, lad,” the man said. “Those cameras can see deeper than you suppose.” His comment distracted Carlos. He turned to look at the cameras he had been watching all day. When he turned back, the man was gone. Where? A rustle of branches and the old man broke into his sanctuary of thorns. He sat cross-legged under the low canopy of the bramble. Carlos kept his distance, unsure of why the man terrified him so. The old man slung the book strap off his shoulder and revealed a bundle of short bamboo stalks. He undid the buckle and the bundle rolled apart. Carlos watched in fascination as the man picked through them and selected the one he wanted. Carlos recognized the form of the handmade flutes now as the old man brought one up to his mouth.

He breathed into the flute through pursed lips and sweet music poured out of the bamboo. The watery sound captured Carlos’s mind. He rode on each bar like a sea gull on a stiff breeze. As the recital continued, he could scarcely keep a smile off his face. The world and its worries fell away. Nothing existed except the music. It needed no meaning. It was sufficient in itself. The joy of the song lifted his heart and watered his eyes. Then the breeze ended. The man placed the flute in his lap. Why did you stop? Carlos wanted to ask. But he found himself dumb. What was happening to him?

“You feel it, yes?” the man asked him. Carlos looked at him and was pierced by his eyes. I’m naked, he thought, I’m naked and this man knows it. “Music has power, child,” the man told him. “It always has. Everybody knows it. But no one cares to admit how deeply it can affect a person or an entire society. Wagner understood, as did Bach and Beethoven. But I doubt that their audiences understood the impact of their work. Tell me, have you ever heard of King Saul?” Carlos thought for a moment. Jane had exposed him to several anthologies of Bible stories. He recalled little about King Saul, but the name was familiar. He nodded yes. He didn’t dare utter a word; fearful that if he did, the man would melt away like his other apparitions.

“Good,” the man said. “You see, Saul was a good man and a fair general. But on one particular mission, he disregarded the orders of God Almighty. Not a wise undertaking for any mortal man. Because of his disobedience, God removed from him the anointing of the Holy Spirit and sent an evil spirit to torment him. This spirit would seize him with terror and his servants took note of it. They asked their king for permission to search out a man who was cunning with the harp to set the king’s heart at peace. He granted them permission and they in turn found David. And it came to pass that when the evil spirit afflicted Saul, David would play on his harp. David’s skillful playing was powerful enough to keep the evil spirit at bay. It set Saul’s heart at peace, as my music did you.” Carlos gave the man a quizzical look. He had missed an important point. What was the man trying to tell him?

“Spirits are most powerful inside people, my friend,” the man said. “Environments, music, and words can combine to make the thoughts which become the avenues for them to walk into your mind and do as they will. They bind you and drive you to do that which you would not. Then they tell you that it was your idea all along. My music is just a bandage, a pacifier. The cure lies in removing the cause. When you desire to be free, my son, call upon God. He will answer your prayer.” Carlos watched as the man gathered his up flutes. Bandage? For what? Even as he tried to recall the old man’s words, they were disappearing from his mind. How can I be free when the world has bound me to my course? he asked the man’s retreating back. Who are you? Where did you come from? he wanted to ask. But the old man was gone like a wind. Forget him, the voice said, you’ve got work to do.

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