by Stoney M. Setzer

If nothing else, Nicole thought, they picked a meeting place that nobody would find accidentally.

She made her way up the sidewalk as casually as possible, having parked several blocks away. It was a nuisance that the meeting place could only be reached by foot, but Nicole knew it was also a necessity. Not only was there no room to park nearer, but also it would have drawn attention and thereby suspicion.

Fortunately—no, providentially, she must remember the new term—a heavy fog hung over the city that night, giving her and her fellows additional cover. Nicole could not see more than five feet ahead of her, meaning that no one else could see her very well either. She stayed near the storefronts lining the street, fearing that the reduced visibility might cause her to miss her turn. Since she only had a ten-minute window to arrive, she could not afford to lose her way.

As she passed in front of the crowded tavern, she knew her turn was near. She glanced in through the huge windows at the patrons who were in various stages of intoxication, shaking her head in sorrow for them. They were drinking merrily without a care in the world, not knowing how much was at stake.

Quickly she turned right, down a seldom-trafficked alleyway. Immediately there was another right turn, followed by a left that brought Nicole into a blind alley. As she always did on meeting night, she wondered how many people knew that these nooks and crannies even existed. Other than her fellows—and the police—Nicole would have bet they could be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.

She strode to the end of the alley and turned left to find the stairwell leading below street level. Always well hidden, it was nearly impossible to find in the fog, and Nicole descended more carefully than usual for fear of falling. An unadorned wooden doorway was to her right at the bottom, and Nicole gave the secret knock—five quick raps, a pause, followed by two more quick raps.

Kyle, the doorman of the week, opened the door just enough for Nicole to quickly slide through. Once Kyle had closed the door again, he instructed, “You’re at Table Eleven.”

Thanking him, Nicole made her way through the smoky room to her designated spot. Other than a few dim overhead fixtures, there was very little light here, just barely enough to see. Nicole had heard rumors that this place had been a speakeasy way back in the early twentieth century during Prohibition. She couldn’t help but appreciate the irony; although she and her cohorts now met secretly for entirely different reasons, the practice was just as illegal.

Lisa was already seated at the table, and she nodded her greeting. Nicole returned the gesture as she slid into her seat. She then took up the prescribed ruse, lighting a cigarette that she would never bring to her lips and ordering a drink that she would never taste. Nobody else ever sampled their cigarettes or their drinks either. They all understood that these were mere props, a part of the smokescreen.

Nicole had been given the last arrival window, and shortly the forbidden meeting started in earnest. A balding man in a suit stepped up onto the stage at the front. “Does anyone have any prayer requests tonight?” he inquired.

“Mike’s grandmother is having surgery tomorrow,” someone called from across the room. “They don’t know if she’ll make it through or not.”

Another half-dozen or so prayer requests were voiced before the man in the suit said, “Let us pray.” Everyone bowed their heads, and the man led them all in a prayer, taking care to recount each request voiced by the assembly. Silently Nicole recounted the requests in her mind, asking for intervention in each issue, as well as adding a few requests of her own that she had left unspoken.

The music began to rise again after the man said, “Amen,” but it was interrupted almost immediately. Everyone gasped and turned in unison as the door crashed open. The police!

“Freeze, everyone!” shouted the first policeman, a burly man with the disposition of a rattlesnake. At his feet, Kyle laid reeling from a blow to the head. Turning quickly to his left, the policeman exclaimed, “See! I told you that this was a worship service!”

A stately, dignified officer stepped forth, obviously the officer in charge. Nicole recognized him at once, but she struggled not to react. She could not even look at him.

The senior officer took a look around. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen cigarettes or drinks in a worship service, have you, Sergeant Harris?”

“Sir, I’m a lieutenant,” Harris corrected.

“Not after you waste time with this when there are real criminals to apprehend, Sergeant. Since when do worship services resemble this? It looks like a nightclub to me!”

“But I heard the music! And—”

“What of it? Now come on before I demote you again.” Looking at the people in the room, he said, “We apologize for the interruption.” Without further ado, he ushered Harris out the door.

Nicole breathed a sigh of relief. Having a man inside the police department certainly kept their meetings from becoming raids. She just wished that it wasn’t her father; it made keeping a straight face difficult.

She also wished that their ancestors had done a better job of defending their beliefs. History told of a time when there was actually freedom of religion, but bit by bit Christians had allowed it to erode, with many not showing any concern until it was too late.

The suited man was reciting something from the outlawed Book about the remnant, how they would never be stamped out entirely.

That’s us, Nicole thought as she flicked ashes off of the cigarette she would never smoke. We’re the remnant, hiding under the smokescreen.

© 2007 Stoney M. Setzer
Original fiction debuting at Residential Aliens.

Stoney Setzer is a middle school special education teacher near Atlanta, GA. In addition to spending time with his family, he enjoys writing, reading, watching old movies, and cheering for the Atlanta Braves. Stoney's Enamored, a story of spiritual warfare, is available only in the newly released Residential Aliens Anthology.