(COPYRIGHT 2011/2014 TIM MURR/ST ROOSTER BOOKS)
The air was all warm mist and misery. The humidity had intensified with the afternoon’s thunderstorm, which had blown in off the ocean quickly and left everything uncomfortable and damp. The rain always turned up the garbage smell. Made the neon beer signs and gas lamps look like something out of a horror movie.
I’d been popping into the usual spots trying to find Lucky. No one’d seen Lucky, but they all kept asking me about Lenny. If I’d heard what happened to him. I said no all seven times and all seven times I was told about how he’d been found down an alley with his skull bashed in.
Nobody cared that he was dead. Nobody liked him. It was just an addiction to the sensational and the dark that kept everyone talking about it. The black trucks rolled down the streets every morning picking bodies out of the gutters or out of alleys or out of their desperate little rooms. Death was as common clouds here, but Lenny was killed with passion. The killer took a minute, not to snuff out a life, but to say something. That underlined the event. That got people talking. Passion is currency. Passion gets papers printed. Passion gets radio specters pouring out of speakers and into the consciousness of the listeners. Passion is a gossip machine. Passion captures the imagination. Passion is mental cocaine for the masses.
This particular night was nothing special, just one out ten million. I strolled past the hookers and the religious freaks and the bums. Foreign sailors chased girls and cursed in languages. Young men hassled scrap collectors. Cops cruised by in patchwork patrol cars with chicken wire welded over the windows. No one was really up to anything and in this place that meant it was just the calm before the storm.
Whatever the storm wound up being, I don’t know. I missed it, because I went to church. Not on purpose, mind you. Just wound up there. Sometimes you get caught up with a movement of people and just go where the current takes you. That’s what happened when I rounded the corner into a dark neighborhood, with shot out street lights, and on to the road that goes past the mission with the big red neon cross. Lots of people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and species shuffling along, muttering to each other.
I was lost in my own head, not paying attention to my feet until the neon cross was directly over my head and I was being gently pushed through the doors. I’d been here once before, when I’d had too much to drink and had passed out on the sidewalk. The preacher who kept the place was a nice guy. I liked him. He took care of me. The place had been a gym, but they slapped the neon on the roof and painted a sign that said ‘Mission’ and ‘Church of the Midnight Choir’.
I wanted to turn back, but I was too tired to push through the throng coming up behind me, so I grabbed a pew in the back and collapsed. There was a hymnal in the pocket in front of me and a pot-bellied drunk to my right. The place was filling up quickly while a stiff looking lady with thick glasses played an old synthesizer set to ‘organ’. She played one song continuously, I don’t know what it was called, but I felt it in my bones. Like I’ve always known it.
There was graffiti carved into the wood on the pews. Some religious, some profane;
‘There is no hell just endless darkness’
‘That is hell’
‘For a good time suck my dick’
‘I want to go home’
‘Thomas D was here 1867-2102’
‘Just accept love’
‘My name is Sid guess what I did’
‘Jesus is love’
‘No one ever loved me’
The music faded off a single note and the preacher stepped up on stage. He looked tired, with swollen lips, like he’d been punched in the face, and a slight limp. He fixed the congregation with a look of warmth, took a deep breath, and opened his fat lips.
“We’ve all got blood on our hands…in one way or another. We’re all guilty of something. So we can begin tonight knowing that we are all on common ground. We’re all sinners. We all fall short of God’s expectations. In that failure we can we look to one another and say ‘brother, sister, I’m with you’.”
He took a sip of coffee from the Styrofoam cup on the little table to his left that was piled high with a large Bible and stacks of papers. His congregation looked like they were waiting in line to be whipped. I took a deep breath and crossed my arms. Blood. Sinners. God’s expectations. It was going to be a long night.
Preacher man looked lost, like he had no idea what he was going to say next, or why he was even there.
“I hear it everyday; Why are we here? What is the point? Where is God? Well, I don’t know. I preach the word. I’m not a psychic. I don’t know much more than anyone else, it’s just that my brain is tuned into a radio wave not everyone can pick up. It’s not a blessing...it’s hard! You say ‘why that tornado?’ and I say ‘Jesus loves you.’ And you say ‘so what?’ And some of you…why do you even come here? You demand answers and I tell you what I know and you punch me! One of you tried to stab me! You come here with all your filth and lies and anger…”
The pot-bellied man beside me had started vigorously scratching his belly and grunting with discomfort.
“Whether you like my answers or not…one truth remains…whether you like it or not…and none of your sorcerers or poets or scientists or soldiers can change the fact…that Hell is real…and Satan is real…and me and all my ‘useless’ words…are the only thing standing between you and him!”
The man was clawing at his belly with both hands. Tears streaming down his face.
“And you’ll never wash the blood off your hands!”
The man’s lap was covered in blood and he’d bit through his bottom lip.
“What’s done in the dark will come to light!”
Skeletal hands ripped through the man’s belly while the preacher’s neck began to stretch and twist reaching out across the congregation, coming at me. I couldn’t move.
“The Avenger of Blood knows who you are! He’s waiting outside those city limits! For YOU!”
The pot-bellied man nudged me in the ribs and my face fell out of my palm. I looked at him scared shitless. He whispered, ‘you were snorin’. I thanked him and focused on the smiling preacher who was talking a wedding and virgins and their wicks.
I ducked out quickly and hit the wet streets with ghosts breathing down my neck. Just another night. Except not really. Lenny was dead and in what was left of this world he had been the best friend I had. Phantoms and nightmares ran me out of my hotel room and were going to keep me running.
I saw Juliet walking arm in arm with bullish man with scarred knuckles. She said hello with her eyes from across the street, but otherwise gave no indication that she’d noticed me. They went into a building I thought was abandoned and I shuddered hard. A police car sped past and I hit the first alley I came to, running fast back to the safety of the hotel bar.
Cheap whiskey, take me away!