Pounding footsteps and silhouettes raced past the sheet-curtained alley windows. A battery of obscenities rattled in their wake. The crunch of flesh triggered groans.
Laina crept toward the window. “I think someone’s getting hurt.”
“Best stay clear of the windows after dark.” Arden took an empty margarine tub from the shelf and sealed the shattered medallion inside.
“Shouldn’t we call the police?” She cringed at metallic crashes and stomping.
“For a fight?” He looked up at her. “After livin’ here a while, I can tell the difference between a murder and a beating. If I called in every tussle, I wouldn’t be able to walk to my house in the daylight. Police wouldn’t come down to the Cauldron for a scuffle, anyhow. Especially at night.”
“How can you stand it? It must be terrifying to live in a place like this.” Rubbing her arms, she backed away from the windows until her shoulder blades bumped against a poster tacked on the wall. She glanced back at the faded waterfall image with the Serenity Prayer printed down its center.
“Nope. I’m not afraid to live here.” Palms up, he stretched out his hands. “I love these folks too much.”
A gunshot rang out from a distant alley. Laina winced. “I’m worried all the time, and my place isn’t near this rough. How do you stay so calm?”
“This helps.” Arden lifted a leather book with pages slipping from its innards. The gold had long since worn from its embossed lettering, leaving only impressions in their memory. “Keeps me focused on the truth so worry doesn’t have a chance to distract me.”
“I never saw the purpose in religion.” She gazed at the pillar candle, still glowing at the battle site. “Until now. Maybe I should be reading something more encouraging than Simmy’s book.”
Arden’s cheek dimpled with his gentle grin. “Gotcha covered. I’ll give you a Bible from my stash of extras when we get to my car.”
“We’re leaving now?” Eyes slammed wide, she pointed to the window. “Going out there at night?”
“You didn’t think I’d have a young lady stay in my apartment overnight, did you? That wouldn’t do at all.” Arden adjusted his Stetson.
“I know you’re a pastor, but–” Glass shattered on the front sidewalk and tires pealed down the street. She redirected her finger to the front door and raised her brows. “Can’t you make an exception and let me sleep on a chair here?”
“Listen, I’ve learned not to let fear–or anything else–open the door for evil. You’ll find a lot of peace, and power against the darkness, if you learn to do that, too.”
“The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).