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Night of Salvation
"Excuse me." A small man stepped up to Eileen and spotted up the blood and tears (and snot--who knew what would come of a watering like that) with a soft, clean white handkerchief. "If you would step to the side for just a moment…yes, thank you." Quick as a bird (and with similarly curious-yet-flat eyes in his homely, dark face), he bent to the crack in the pavement, either dropping something down or pulling something up. Either way, his hand danced toward the jacket of his suit and returned with a couple of packets wrapped in gold foil. "Chocolate?" he asked. "Chocolatl International Fine Confectionery."
Dwayne and Eilen took a step back, separated to arm's length (because you need some distance to exchange the kind of glance they needed to exchange), and said, "No." Eileen added, "Thank you."
The chocolates disappeared into the man's pocket. "My card. If you should ever want some complimentary chocolate, you need only call."
And then suddenly they were standing there with business cards in their hands, watching the man's comically broad back busily striding on his short legs toward the Midway.
"Was he wearing a--" Dwayne started to say.
"Didn't he have--" Eileen started to say at the same time.
"A pointy bone or something stuck through his nose," Dwayne finished for her.
"Feather from one ear," Eileen said. "Yes. And shiny shoes, like a little girl's dress shoes."
"I wonder what's in the briefcase," Dwayne said. "He couldn't have been more than five feet tall. Do you think he was a midget?"
Eileen laughed but didn't answer him. The business card was inscribed with the name and a row of pictograms, printed in brown ink. On the back was the stylized picture of a bird. In red.
"I don't believe it. What did he do to your face?"
"Nothing," Eileen answered. "Just dabbed at it with a handkerchief."
Underneath their feet, a crack in the pavement followed the little man's path into the restaurant. Or maybe it was the other way around.
"I do believe," Eileen said. "Dwayne, I need--" Dwayne tried to wrap his arms around her, but she pushed him back. "I need to warn Fat Mac. Come on."
"He's the one with the big knife," Eileen muttered. Dwayne followed her around the back.
Frank scanned the room. He was here. They were both here. He chuckled to himself. Almost as accurate to say they were all here. Well. He wasn't here to buy or sell anything, really; just here to pick up something to eat. He slid into the booth with the two Mormon kids, plopped his briefcase on the table, and popped open the latches.
"Gentlemen," he said, "What I have in here--"
The shorter of the two, Elder Elijah according to his nametag, leaned across the table and whispered, "Do you have any cigarettes?"
"No," Frank said. "I have--"
"Then fuck off."
Frank paused, inhaled deeply (making his bone-piercing roll up the bridge of his nose), and drew strength from the scent trickling its way past the latches of his sales case. "--chocolate."
Elder Elijah drummed his fingertips on the formica tabletop, which Frank took as permission to continue his pitch. He cracked his neck, leaning his head one way--crick--and then the other--crack--making the bright green feather with its gilded tip rustle on the shoulder of his suit. His quick hands flung open the lid of his briefcase and danced back to the edge of the table.
The other young man, Elder Thomas, shrank back into the wall, trying to crawl out of his seat, away from both of them. No one else in the room seemed to notice the impending conflict. Frank didn't care who noticed. He had his product
and he believed in it.
He handed them both a small, gold-wrapped package, each containing two Chocolatl chocolate truffles. Elder Elijah pushed the package out of the way of his fists. Elder Thomas didn't touch his, but his fingers were dancing around, like those of a blinded man who has suddenly awakened from a nightmare and searches for the light switch before he remembers that there's nothing to see, no light, no daylight, never again anything but dreams. Elder Thomas had the chocolates unwrapped and one of them popped nervously in his mouth before he knew his hands had moved at all.
Elder Thomas's face seemed to melt. The rictus of emotion that had distorted his features seemed to erode until what was left was the face of a small child: delighted.
Elder Elijah reached for Elder Thomas's package to take the other chocolate away from the man, but Frank's hand slammed down and pinned Elder Elijah's oversized paw to the table. A few heads turned as the sound echoed around the room.
Elder Elijah stood up in his seat to gain some height over Frank (not hard, Frank had to admit). "Fuck you, you--"
A pale woman sitting in a shadowy booth away from the door laughed under her breath. She reached across the table, as if to restrain an invisible man sitting across from her.
Frank said, "No." The word bent spoons and tipped over loose salt shakers as it passed by. "Sit." The front door chimes tinkled.
Elder Elijah sat.
"Let me tell you a story--" Frank said.
"A story?" asked the little boy whose head had popped up on the other side of the booth. His parents had frozen, coffee cups halfway to their mouths.
"Tommy! Sit down!" his mother snapped, as if she weren't the least bit frightened. "Don't interrupt. Don't stare. Don't talk to strangers."
"I know a story," the boy said.
The mother put down her coffee and forcibly turned the little boy around in his seat, but Tommy raised his voice to be heard. "Once upon a time there were two men in white shirts who went from house to house giving away free books with no pictures so they were boring books and not very many people wanted them. Then they met a man with a gun who shot one of the men right through the eye! It was gross. The new man pretended to be the same as the first man. E is for Edward who hates dogs!"
Elder Elijah reached for his backpack.
"Stop," Frank said. Elijah froze. Tommy's mother put her hand over his sticky mouth and muffled him down.
The waitress on the other side of the room, Cerise, said, "Wait. I've heard that one. It goes like this." She started to sing, in a sweet little voice that barely had the strength to cross the room, "You are my sunshine..."
Another waitress, Leilani, muttered under her breath, coughed, and said, "He really didn't care who he killed, as long as he could tell them the story first. If you didn't hear the story first, he usually wouldn't bother to kill you, unless he felt like it. Or he needed something. Because some stories are just stories, but this story was like a recipe." And then she put her hand over her mouth and refused to let any more words come out.
A man, standing watch over the room, said, as if repeating words that someone was telling him over the headphone he was wearing:
"How to make a god.
"First, tell the story.
"Second, find a true believer.
"Third, the seed.
"Fourth, the tree.
"Fifth, the sacrifice.
"Seventh, apothy what? Osis. Apotheosis."
"But no matter how many times he told the story, nobody believed him," an old Indian man came out of the kitchen, followed by Eileen, Dwayne, and the cook, who held his cleaver at the ready.
"Because he did not believe the story," Fat Mac rumbled.
The pale woman said, "What would you be the little godling of, little man? Horror is such a small thing, after all, only the fear of men, disappearing in the daylight."
"What are you talking about?" screamed Elder Elijah. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
And then Elder Thomas said, "Once upon a time, there was a man named Elijah who believed in words, even more than he believed in the God who led him across the world, and that was saying something. One day, Elijah met another young man. His name was Thomas. Elijah convinced Thomas that words were worth believing in, even more than Gods were worth believing in. And so Thomas believed in words, too. One day, Elijah asked Thomas a question. 'Thomas,' he said. 'If God is the Word made Flesh, then what, roughly speaking, is the Word?' Thomas didn't know the answer. Elijah did. Thomas guessed many different things. 'I am.' 'Love.' 'Om.' 'Be.' Even the word 'Word' itself. Elijah always told him he was wrong. 'Keep looking,' he said.
"Now I ask you. If God is the Word made Flesh, what is that Word?"
Elder Thomas looked at Elder Elijah.
Elder Elijah said, "What kind of fucking question is that?"
The pale woman said, "Why do you kill?"
"Because I've got a brain tumor, and I couldn't think of a better way to go than to make people scared of bible-thumpers knocking at the door," Elder Elijah said. "Just my way of making the world a better place."
The woman growled and stood up in the booth. "Then who--"
Frank reached over and pulled Elder Elijah's packet of chocolates toward him. "Eat," he said. The woman was striding toward them. Almost everyone else in the room began stuffing their faces. One man bit the edge of his napkin, since he'd eaten everything else on his plate.
"Stop!" she cried. But it was too late. Elder Elijah had already taken a bite.
Frank's briefcase jumped up on the table. Cups rattled their saucers. The water in the water glasses rippled and popped, single drops vibrating out of the surface, turning into inverted tears, and disappearing under the surface again. The bells over the front door rang. Frank started to giggle. The pale woman stumbled and fell.
Women screamed. The little boy started to cry. Fat Mac drew in a breath and charged toward Frank, but he was sliding away at the same time. The last of the daylight streamed in through the walls, through the crack in the wall that split along the ceiling and the floor and ended at the woman's feet.
The woman climbed back to her feet. "The tree! It's the tree!"
The shadow at the back of her booth raced across the room and flung the door off its hinges. A terrible grinding noise--terrible because it sounded more like an animal than concrete or rock or earth--came up from the crack in the floor.
Frank was still giggling, high-pitched and mad. Elder Thomas's fingers searched out the other truffle and popped it in his mouth; a second later he spit it out, with blood gobbing up from his lips. Frank flung his briefcase to the floor and pulled the table away from the wall, until it was at the center of the room.
Elder Elijah had frozen, his hand still holding the rest of the chocolate. Fat Mac finally struggled up the slope and took aim at Frank. The cleaver slammed onto the tabletop as Frank dodged him. Frank giggled and took the cleaver, brushing Fat Mac's hand away as it it were a child's hand. He ran back to the booth, handed Elder Thomas the knife, and picked up Elder Elijah, throwing him over his shoulder and tossing him on top of the table.
Elder Thomas brought him the cleaver.
By De Knippling