A young man is guilty of a terrible deed and runs away only to discover that someone else is taking the blame for what he has done.
What is a sin and what is a crime? There’s a difference of course — some sins aren’t crimes, but most crimes are sins…or they should be. No one ever wakes up one morning and decides to take a wrong turn in life. It just happens, sometimes by accident, usually through carelessness.
For Nick Rogers, it was really a question of vanity. He wanted things, he deserved things, and suddenly a golden opportunity to have it all presented itself.
Nick was a scholarship student. He was handsome, charming, and off-the-scales bright. But he was dirt poor. The fact that he was at one of the world’s foremost universities rubbing shoulders with the best and the brightest didn’t help one bit.
Whatever his classmates wanted to do, Nick couldn’t afford. He couldn’t afford the bespoke denim, the crisp linen shirt, the sensuous cashmere sweaters, or the skiing holidays in Switzerland or Argentina.
Nick could barely afford a second beer at the campus pub, and he definitely couldn’t afford to ask the gorgeous Dara Wellerton out to dinner. Instead of focusing on his studies, Nick started obsessing about what he was missing out on.
He’d go home at the end of the day to the small room he rented in Mrs. Doeres’ house whose single charm was the price and the fact that it was a mere three blocks walk from the university.
As for Mrs. Doeres, like the house, she had seen better days. She might once have been a beautiful woman, but lonely bitterness and fear of the future made her harsh and miserly.
She was constantly screaming at Nick to mind the switch off the lights and not spend too much time in the shower. Nick had seen her pay for her grocery deliveries out of some heavy ceramic jars filled with quarters she kept on her kitchen shelves.
And of course, Mrs. Doeres didn’t tip. She’d carefully pay out the bill, doling out each nickel and tell me like it was gold, then recount it with a suspicious air as if she thought the grocery delivery man of cheating her.
Usually, Nick just crept up the stairs and avoided her altogether if he could help it, but that fateful evening he’d grabbed a tin of soup and a roll on his way home, so he walked into the kitchen to fix his meager dinner.
He opened the kitchen door and was shocked to see Mrs. Doeres lying on the floor, an overturned stool by her side, and one of the huge ceramic jars she kept on the high shelf in shards around her.
The kitchen light glittered on the small silver and copper coins, and then Nick saw something else. There were rolls scattered among the coins. His thumbs prickled. All thought of the unconscious Mrs. Doeres fled his mind from him.
He picked up the faded green object, It was a roll of fifty dollar bills held together with a cheap elastic band. And there, by Mrs. Doeres foot, was another and another…
Nick quickly gathered the bills, then he looked up at the ceramic jars. Could it be that every one of those jars was filled with $50 bills? Was miserly Mrs. Doeres rich? Nick clambered up onto one of the chairs and carefully inspected every one of the jars.
By the time he was finished, he had accumulated what looked like hundreds of thousands of dollars in old bills. He ran upstairs, got his few belongings together, and shoved the money into his laundry bag.
He took one last backward glance to make sure he’d left no trace of his presence in the kitchen and saw Mrs. Doeres again. He should call 911 – but then they’d trace the call to his phone from her …
Nick hefted the laundry bag, then looked at Mrs. Doeres lying there with varicose veins showing in one twisted leg and her chin hanging on her chest. The money, of course, Nick chose the money!
He ran, which was a mistake. Greta Farris, Mrs. Doeres’ next-door neighbor saw him jump the fence and grew suspicious. She peeked into her neighbor’s kitchen window and immediately raised the alarm.
“It was one of those raggedy long-hair students,” Mrs. Farris told the policeman. “I wouldn’t be surprised that he did poor Daphne in! (Daphne was Mrs. Doeres name) Have you checked the money?”
The detective raised an eyebrow. “Money? Did she keep her pension money in the house?” I have asked.
“Pension?” scoffed Mrs. Farris. “Daphne was a rich woman! She buried three husbands and never spent a cent. Ella Did n’t trust banks! Her grandma went hungry during the Depression, and she told Daphne the only safe money is in your hand!”
The detective and the CSI team immediately started treating the kitchen as a crime scene, and the detective found one of the bill rolls that had failed under one of the counters. “A lot of money,” I mused. “He got greedy, she protested, he pushed her…”
Mrs. Doeres was in the hospital and still unconscious, but Mrs. Farris identified the man she’d seen running away from the house as an indigent boy who was always asking for work and begging for a crust around the neighborhood. He was arrested, and it seemed justice was satisfied.
Meanwhile, things weren’t so rosy for Nick. He’d thought having everything he wanted would be a blast, but every time he touched that money he felt dirty. He saw the poor unlovely Mrs. Doeres sprawling on the floor.
He turned on the TV in the luxury hotel suite he’d moved into — Mrs. Doeres’ stash was well over $750,000 — and saw the headlines: SUSPECT IN ELDERLY LADY’S ATTACK ARRESTED.
Nick watched the snippet in horror. The poor boy they’d arrested had obvious mental health issues, and he did bear a passing resemblance to him. “He’s going to jail!” Nick told himself.
“You were going to be a good man, a great man. You were going to change the world,” he cried angrily at himself. “Look at you, Nick! What are you? A thief, a coward who lets someone else take the blame…”
Three days later, a sleepless Nick walked into the police precinct and asked to speak to the detective in charge of Mrs. Doeres’ case. I have placed the laundry bag on top of his desk from him.
“The money is all here,” he said. “I never hurt her. She had fallen off a stool I think… But then I saw the money… I took it, OK, but I never hurt her.”
The detective looked at Nick sadly. “We know that,” he said. “Mrs. Doeres is now conscious and she will make a full recovery – but no thanks to you. If Mrs. Farris had n’t raised the alarm she would have died.”
Nick was weeping. “I know, I know that. That’s why I’m here,” he admitted. “The other boy, he didn’t do anything at all…I want to confess, make amends. This is not the man I want to be…”
Nick did make amends and apologized to Mrs. Doeres. Of course, he was sentenced to community service for a long, long time, but at the end of it all, he felt that he had redeemed his soul.
What can we learn from this story?
- We decide who we want to be. Our deeds define us, and we always have a choice to do right or amend a wrong.
- It takes a lot of courage to face up to a mistake. Nick was on his way to becoming a good man when he realized he couldn’t live with what he’d done.
- Be content with who you are and what you have. Nick couldn’t accept his poverty and wait for better days so he ended up taking something that didn’t belong to him.
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If you enjoyed this story, you might like this one about a teenager who steals money from his mother’s purse and when she finds it out, she decides to teach him a lesson.
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