Thompson Jr. had always hated having the same name
as his father. Until now.
Every time the phone rang and someone asked for Judd,
it was "Which one? Big Judd or Little Judd?" The funny thing
was, Little Judd was already taller than his father. He had
just gotten his driver's license, and the whiskers on his chin
formed a thin goatee. He was tired of being called Junior, and
if he were never called Little Judd again for the rest of his life,
it would be too soon.
But now, for once, being Judd Thompson Jr. was working
in Judd's favor.
This break was meant to be, Judd decided. After days of
fighting with his parents about where he was going, who he
was with, what he was doing, and how late he would be in, he
had just happened to be home one afternoon. And his mother
picked that day to ask him to bring in the mail. If that didn't
prove this was meant to be, Judd didn't know what did.
Judd sighed loudly at his mother's request. She said he
acted like any small chore or favor was the biggest burden in
the world. That was exactly how he felt. He didn't want to be
told to do anything.
"Why can't you get it?" he asked her.
"Because I asked you to," she said.
"Why do I have to do everything?"
"Would you like to compare what you do around here with
what I do?" she asked, and that began the usual argument. Only
when his mother threatened to ground him did he stomp out to
the mailbox. He was glad he did.
On the way back to the house, idly flipping through catalogs
and letters and magazines, he had found it-an envelope
addressed to him. It was clearly a mistake-obviously intended
for his father. He knew that as soon as he saw it. It was business
mail. He didn't recognize the return address.
Just to be ornery, he slipped it inside his jacket and gave
the rest of the mail to his mother. Well, he didn't actually give
it to her. He tossed it onto the kitchen table in front of her,
and half of it slid to the floor. He headed to his room.
"Just a minute, young man," she said, using another of his
least favorite names. "Get back here and give me this mail
"In a minute," he said, jogging up the steps.
"Oh, never mind," she said. "By the time you get back
here, I'll have it picked up, read, and answered."
"You're welcome!" he hollered.
"A job not finished is not worthy of a thank-you," she said.
"But thanks anyway."
Judd took off his jacket, cranked up his music, and lay on
his bed, opening the envelope. Onto his chest dropped a credit
card in his name, Judd Thompson Jr. A sticker on it told him
to call a toll-free number and answer a few questions so he
could begin using the card. The letter told him they had
honored his request. He could spend tens of thousands of
dollars using that card alone.
Judd couldn't believe his luck. He dialed the number and
was asked his mother's maiden name and his date of birth. He
knew enough to use his grandmother's maiden name and his
father's birthday. This was, after all, really his father's card,
wrong name or not. The automated voice told Judd he could
begin using the card immediately.
It was then that he planned his escape.
Judd felt desperate to get away. He wasn't sure what had
happened or why, but he was sure his family was the problem.
Judd's father owned a business in Chicago and was wealthy.
His mother had never had to work outside the home. Judd's
little brother and sister, nine-year-old twins Marc and Marcie,
were young enough to stay out of his hair. They were OK, he
Marc's and Marcie's rooms were full of trophies from
church, the same as Judd's had once been. He had really been
into that stuff, memorizing Bible verses, going to camp every
summer, all that.
But when Judd had gone from the junior high to the senior
high youth group at New Hope Village Church in Mount Prospect,
Illinois, he seemed to lose interest overnight. He used to
invite his friends to church and youth group. Now he was
embarrassed to say his parents made him go.
Judd felt he had outgrown church. It had been OK when he
was a kid, but now nobody wanted to dress like he did, listen to
his kind of music, or have a little fun. At school he hung with
kids who got to make their own decisions and do what they
wanted to do. That was all he wanted. A little freedom.
Even though they could afford it, Judd's parents refused
to buy him his own car. How many other high school juniors
still rode the bus to school? When Judd did get to drive one
of his parents' cars, one of them told him where he could go,
whom he could go with, what he could do, and when he had
to be back.
If only his parents knew what he was doing when they
thought he was "just out with the guys," Judd thought. How
he hated his curfew, his parents' constant watch over his
schoolwork, their criticizing his hair, his clothes, and his
Worst of all, he was grounded if he didn't get up for
Sunday school and church every Sunday. Just the Sunday
before, he had put up such a fuss that his mother had come
into his room and sat on his bed. "Don't you love Jesus
anymore?" she asked.
What a stupid question, Judd thought. He didn't remember
ever really loving Jesus. Oh, he had liked all the stories and
knew a lot of verses. But loving Jesus? Loving God? That was
for little kids and old ladies. But what could he say to his
"If you want the truth, I only go to church so I can go out
on weekends and use the car."
That was clearly not what she had wanted to hear. "All
right then, just forget it!" she said.
"I can stay home from church?"
"If you don't want to go anywhere for a week."
Judd swore under his breath. It was a good thing his
mother hadn't heard that. He'd have been grounded for life.
In Sunday school, Judd copped an attitude. He wore clothes
his parents only barely approved of, and he stayed as far away as
possible from the "good" kids. What losers! They never had any
fun. Judd didn't smile, didn't carry a Bible, didn't look at the
teacher, didn't say anything. When the teacher asked his opinion
of something, he shrugged. He wanted everyone to know he
was there only because he had to be.
In church, he slouched when his father wasn't looking. He
wanted to burrow within himself and just make it through to
the end of the service. He didn't sing along, he didn't bow his
head during prayer, he didn't shut his eyes. No one had ever
said those were rules; Judd was simply trying to be different
from everyone else. He was way too cool for this stuff.
As usual, Pastor Vernon Billings got off on his kick about
what he called the Rapture. "Someday," he said, "Jesus will
return to take his followers to heaven. Those who have received
him will disappear in the time it takes to blink your eye. We will
disappear right in front of disbelieving people. Won't that be a
great day for us and a horrifying one for them?"
The kindly old pastor talked about how important it was
for everyone to be sure of his own standing before God and to
think and pray about friends and loved ones who might not be
ready. Judd's little secret was that he had never really believed
any of that.
He'd had enough chances. At vacation Bible school, his
friends had prayed and received Christ. He was embarrassed.
He told them he had already done that at home. At camp a
few years later, Judd felt guilty and sinful when a young
speaker talked about church kids who weren't really Christian
believers. He had wanted to go forward; he really had. But he
had also just been named Camper of the Week for memorizing
a bunch of Bible verses and being the fastest to look up some
others. What would people say?
Judd knew he didn't have to go forward or talk with
anyone to receive Christ. He knew he could do it by himself.
He could pray sincerely and ask God to forgive his sins and
make Jesus the Lord of his life. But later, when the meeting
was over and the emotion wore off, he told himself that was
something he could do anytime.
Judd felt the most guilty when he was twelve years old and
many of his Sunday school classmates signed up to be baptized.
Their teacher and Pastor Billings made clear to them that this
was an act of obeying Christ, a step taken by Christians to
declare themselves followers of Jesus.
As the students were baptized, they were asked to tell
about when they had received Christ. Judd had done the
unthinkable. He had quoted Scripture and made up a story
about when he had become a Christian "once by myself at
He felt guilty about that for weeks, never having the guts
to tell his parents or his Sunday school teacher. Yet something
kept him from confessing to God and getting things right with
Christ. Now he was sixteen and had feelings and thoughts he
believed no one would understand. He was bored with his
church, frustrated with his parents, and secretly proud that he
wasn't really part of the church crowd. He went because he
had to, but someday soon he would make his own decisions.
With the small error on that credit card, Judd Thompson Jr.
had his ticket to freedom. He had seen his dad get cash with his
credit card at the bank and at the automatic teller machines.
And he knew that almost anything could be paid for with that
Of course, one day the bill would come and his parents
would be able to trace where he had been. But he could put
a lot of miles between himself and them in the meantime.
For several days, Judd saved cash, withdrawing as much as
he could each day from the automatic teller machine. He hid
the money with the passport he had gotten the year before
when his father took him along on a business trip to Asia. He
had been miserable on that trip and let his dad know it every
chance he got. Judd Sr. had finally given up trying to convince
Judd Jr. that this was "the opportunity of a lifetime."
Secretly Judd had to admit that he enjoyed the hotels, the
meals, and even learning how to get around in foreign cities
with different cultures and languages. But he wasn't about to
tell his dad that. Judd knew Dad had dragged him along only
to get him away from his new friends, the ones his mother
called the "evil influences." It was also supposed to be a time
for him and his dad to bond-whatever that meant. Dad had
tried, Judd had to give him that, but there had been no bonding.
Mostly it was just Judd scowling, complaining, arguing,
and begging to go home.
At least he got a passport out of the deal. That, along with
his new driver's license and the credit card, gave him what
he thought was complete freedom. A friend had told him he
looked old enough to pass for twenty-one and that he should
get a fake identification card that would allow him to buy
liquor in Illinois. It was cheaper and easier than he thought
to get both his driver's license and his passport copied with
a new birth date.
His plan was to take his stash of cash and go to O'Hare
International Airport some night. He would take the first flight
he could get to another English-speaking country. Beyond that,
his plan was not clear. One thing was sure: He wasn't going to
bum around begging for a place to stay. He would live first-class
all the way.
Now Judd was a criminal. He told himself he wasn't
scared. Breaking the law only made him bolder about his plan,
and he began making up reasons why he had to get away from
home as soon as possible.
As he made his plans, Judd became more and more angry.
He disagreed with everything his parents did or said. He was
mean and sarcastic.
One day after school his little brother came into his room.
"What do you want?" Judd asked Marc.
"I just wanted to ask you a question. Are you still a Christian?"
Judd lied. "Of course," he said. "What's it to you?"
"I was just wonderin' because it doesn't seem like you're
happy or acting like one."
"Why don't you get out of here and mind your own business!"
"Will you be mad at me if I pray for you?"
"Don't waste your breath."
"You're makin' Mom cry, you know that?"
"She shouldn't waste her tears either."
"Judd, what's the matter? You used to care-"
"Out! Get out!"
Marc looked pale and tearful as he left. Judd shook his
head, disgusted, and told himself Marc would be a lot better
off when he outgrew his stupidity. I used to be just like that,
Judd thought. What a wuss!
Judd stuffed some of his favorite clothes in his book bag
and jogged downstairs. "And where do you think you're going,
mister?" his mother said. Did she always have to talk like that?
Couldn't she just ask a simple question?
"I'm going to the library to study," Judd said. "I'll be there
till closing, so don't wait up for me."
"Since when did you get interested in studying?" his
"You said you wanted my grades to improve!"
"You don't need to go to the library to study, Judd. Why
don't you stay here and-"
"I need some peace and quiet, all right?"
"What will you do for dinner?"
"I'll get something out."
"Do you need some money?"
"No! Now leave me alone!"
"All right! Just go! But don't be late!"
"Mom! I already told you! I'm staying till closing, so-"
"Don't wait up, yeah, I know. Are you meeting someone
"I'd better not find out you've been out with your friends,
But Judd was already out the door.
* * *
At O'Hare, Judd found a flight on Pan-Continental Airlines that
left early in the evening and was scheduled to arrive in London
the following morning. His phony identification cards worked
perfectly, and he enjoyed being referred to as Mr. Thompson.
His first-class ticket was very expensive, but it was the only seat
left on the 747.
Judd knew it wouldn't be long before his parents started
looking for him. They would discover his car at the airport,
and they would quickly find his name on the passenger list of
the Pan-Con flight. He'd better enjoy this freedom while he
could, he decided. He would try to hide in England for as long
as possible, but even if he was found and hauled back to the
United States, he hoped he would have made his point.
What was his point, exactly, he wondered. That he needed
his freedom. Yeah, that was it. He needed to be able to make
some decisions on his own, to be treated like an adult. He
didn't want to be told what to do all the time. He wanted the
Thompson family to know that he was able to get along in the
world on his own. Going to London by himself, based on his
own plans, ought to prove that.
Judd sat on the aisle. On the other side of the aisle sat a
middle-aged man who had three drinks set before him. Beyond
him, in the window seat, a younger man sat hunched over his