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The Assignment
By Dave Franco

On the day that Greg Williams jumped into the bushes to avoid the police, something happened that never should have. His phone rang. He wasn’t even sure how it could have. As a meth dealer and user, paranoia dictated that he lived life in the shadows—where ringers are on perpetual off.

When the cops heard the ring and pulled him out of the bushes, they did an old fashion beat down. Greg had been running through backyards after he had terrorized a man when a drug deal went south.

As he got perp-walked into jail, it was his eighth time behind bars. He was getting tired of it. Walking through the gates, he was chained to a guy with a lot of nervous energy named Chino. He thought that if you’re chained, it meant you should chat. Greg didn’t share that feeling.
“What are you in for?” Chino asked.
Greg didn’t say anything.
“Dude, what are you in for?” Chino insisted.
“Don’t worry about it,” Greg curtly replied.
“Want to know what I’m in for?”
“C’mon, want to know what I’m in for?”
“I told you, no!”
“Weapons—I’m in for weapons—lots and lots of weapons. I got a whole arsenal. Cannons, bombs, rocket launchers, you name it. I’m fighting the forces of evil here on earth,” Chino said.
Oh, man, Greg thought. Get this guy away from me.

Greg was uncomfortable talking about things concerning God, religion, Satan, angels, whatever. Greg spent the last 17 years of his life in the meth business and once had a dream where the devil showed up to a party wearing tuxedo pants, suspenders with a coat and tails, a collar, bow tie and slicked back hair. In the dream, the devil told Greg to take a gun and kill a man at the party. When Greg said he wouldn’t do it and was done with the devil, the devil replied, “That’s too bad. You were one of my best.”

The dream spooked Greg. But it was more than a nightmare. As a dealer and heavy user who travelled the dark corners of existence, he knew that he had sold his soul to the lowest bidder many years ago.

In the days and weeks ahead, Greg began to curse his luck of being brought into the jail on the very same day as Chino because Chino seemed to now believe that he and Greg had established a brotherhood and was there for him to talk to. At odd, unsuspecting times, Chino would show up with a Bible, point to Ephesians 6 and talk to Greg about putting on the Armor of God.
“Get out of here, man,” Greg would tell him.
Chino was unfazed. He kept showing up. He kept talking. And talking. Even when Greg was on the john, a time everyone knew was a private moment, Chino seemed not to care. He would come right up to Greg and start to talk about the Armor of God and why Jesus was his only hope.
“Get lost, you freak!”
Greg couldn’t catch a break. On the few occasions when he was moved to a new cell, Chino would be moved too. Chino was always moved next door or right above. When Greg was moved to cell 127, the guards moved Chino to 128. When Greg was moved to 116, Chino was moved to 216. Even on the two occasions when Greg had to go to court so his lawyer could wrangle his legal status, Chino had to go to court too. To make matters worse, both times, Chino was chained to Greg.
“It’s tough out there, Greg. When you get out, you got to be smart and remember that nothing is more important than putting on the Armor of God,”
“Hey, Chino, would you knock it off about this stuff?! You’re driving me crazy!”
One night, Greg was in bed with a book on the world’s religions and was reading a chapter on Satanism. It made the devil sound like a pretty good guy. Just then he felt something on his chest. He quickly flipped his book to the side and began to frantically brush at his chest to knock away whatever was there. Through his periphery he saw a man without a shirt, a bow tie, wearing suspenders, tuxedo pants, collar and tails, dive under his bed. His iron bed that was bolted to the wall suddenly shook like plywood.

“Help! Help! Help!” Greg screamed, frantically hitting the panic button and jumping to his knees.

When the guards came to his cell, they found Greg perched on his mattress like a frightened little boy who believes monsters live under his bed. When they opened the cell door, Greg jumped out like a man on fire. “He’s underneath! Check underneath! He was on my chest!”

As he was held outside his cell, he looked back to see the guards search in vain. “There was definitely something under there,” he yelled to the guards. Moments later he saw a mouse scurry along the floor.

A mouse? It was only a mouse? he thought.
Later that morning, Greg sat in the day room having breakfast and deep in thought. “Hey, what was all the commotion about last night?” a voice said. It was Chino. He plopped down next to Greg. He was the last guy Greg wanted to talk to.
“What are you talking about?” Greg said sternly, trying to act like nothing happened so Chino would leave it alone.
“All that commotion. Man, you were flipping out, right?”
“Get out of here, man.”
Chino moved closer and looked in Greg’s eye. “He was here, wasn’t he?”
“Who?” Greg said a little chilled by Chino’s assertion.
Chino grabbed his arm. “Don’t worry, he’s not in you any more.”
Greg looked at him with freak-out all over his face. Chino looked back. “And it wasn’t a mouse,” Chino said.
Greg abruptly stood, looked at Chino, developed a bad case of the shivers and stormed away.

A couple months later, Greg received news that his charges were being dropped. He would be leaving prison immediately. In a rush, he grabbed his things and began his final walk toward the gates, escorted by guards. He looked around quickly to see if he could say goodbye to the guys who had become his friends. Through a window, he saw Chino. He gave him a look and motion with his thumb as if to say, I’m out of here.

Chino, realizing what Greg was trying to communicate, gave a smile and lifted his chin. It was as good a goodbye as they could manage under the circumstances.

Stepping out of the gates, Greg made a B-line for his nearest meth contact so that he could resume right where he left off. Three months later, Greg’s business was operating at peak speed, just like before. Ironically, a probation violation sent him back to jail more time. Greg was beside himself that he could be stupid enough to blow it yet again.

As he walked back into jail, this time a different jail where he didn’t know a soul, he felt the depression that comes with being a person at the end of his rope. Anybody who gets caught this many times must stink as a criminal, he thought. And if I don’t have the thug life, what do I have?

Without friends on the inside, a future, or any self-esteem, Greg looked for something, anything to fill the void. He thought about Chino and all the times he kept talking about the books found in the Bible—Ephesians, Proverbs, Romans. He picked up a Bible and began to read. Like a pop-up book, the words began to spring up out of the pages and suddenly Greg was struck by the richness of the scriptures. He had a new passion. He had to keep reading. In a short time, he read the Bible cover to cover.

Months later, it was time for his release, but this time, instead of going back to his former life, he decided to go to church as soon as he could. He picked Rock Church. At the end of the service, when Pastor Miles said, “Some of you are sitting there with your heart pounding,” it described Greg perfectly. He could hardly contain his excitement to receive this incredible God into his heart, the one he had come to know through the pages of the Bible.

Greg stood, walked to the altar, prayed and then received a new life. He was beyond joyful. His old life was now gone. He was new in Christ Jesus.

He went home and thought about how it was Chino’s words that had lead him to the Bible and softened his heart to receive his Savior. He felt he needed to contact Chino and tell him thanks. Greg got a hold of the official registry of inmates. He couldn’t find Chino’s name. He looked again. He couldn’t find it again. He looked up the weapons charges against him. No one was at that jail with those kinds of charges and there hadn’t been anyone.

Greg sat back bewildered. So where was Chino? What happened to him? As he sat and thought, it occurred on him that the entire time he was in jail with Chino, he had never seen him in the yard or playing basketball or baseball with the guys or lifting weights. He realized he never saw anybody else ever talk to him and never heard anybody mention his name. He never saw him in the mess hall other than the time Chino came up to talk to him. Greg’s eyes widened.

He checked the registry again—and then one more time. Greg even looked up his own name. It was there as a recently released inmate. He checked for his other friends. They were there. But as he continued to check for Chino, it was clear. Chino was not and had never been a part of the system.

There was no Chino.