Chapter Seventeen: The Questions of the Dead
Why didn't I ask Desai which person was the one tailing Garrison? Had she had a body and the physical ability, she would have kicked herself smartly for that lapse. From her perch in the glowing golden clouds, she was able to see Modesto and re-orient herself. Leaving the sparkling ice crystals was harder than she thought it would be, however.
The light was intense, a reflection of the sunlight on billions of tiny diamonds of ice. She was submerged in the light, and felt warmed by it. She was surrounded by the light, and had a strange urge to call it Home. When the sun set, and the light faded, she mourned its passing, and yearned to follow it around the world. Time is passing. I can't do this forever.
She dropped like a stone to the sidewalks of Modesto, recognizing the same street leading to the precinct. Gerry the Ghost swarmed up to her as she had before.
"Stupid Girl, I found something out for you."
"Hello, Gerry. My name is Roj, not Stupid Girl."
"Not who you are, what you are. That's how I call it."
"Then I should call you -- no, never mind. What did you find out?" If the truth were to be told, finding out information from Desai was a lot less irritating.
"That drug trail you're looking for is being run by a big black nigger named Duchamps. He's an evil one, probably has a gang the size of Pancho Villa's army working for him."
"Gerry," Roj said, feeling her heart (or what might have been her heart at one time) sag. "I know who he is. And he's not a nigger."
"He surely is, I saw him myself!" sputtered the ghost.
"No one is a 'nigger.' That's a mean word to say."
"Well, that's what he is, I don't know why I shouldn't call him one." The other specter crossed her spectral arms and jutted her lower jaw.
"Because it's mean. Call him a black man, or call him an African-American, or just call him a criminal, but don't call him a nigger. That's a racial slur."
"I don't know what 'racial slur' means if you can't call a nigger a nigger."
"I don't want to talk to you any more. You make me wish I had a body again so I could puke." Roj turned away.
"He can dress in a suit and make a lot of money, but he's still a nigger!" Gerry called after her.
"Just shut up," Roj muttered, and fled up, onto the top of a roof, vowing not to talk to that ghost again.
The sky was dark, with clouds moving in. I need to check on Matt, she thought. My poor Matt.
With one leap she was on his apartment building, sinking down through the roof to his room. He was there, sleeping, snoring, in t-shirt and boxers; he hadn't gone to the bar this evening. But new in the room was a box of shells for his pistol, sitting on the bedside table. His gun was there, shining like a beacon.
Roj furiously checked the chamber of the pistol -- it was fully loaded again. She knocked the bullets out and took them to the hiding place in the mixing bowl on top of the cabinets in the kitchen, then went back and put the new box of shells in there as well.
There was also a brand new bottle of Captain Morgan sitting on the kitchen counter. With rage, she opened it and began to pour it down the sink. Garrison's people have been giving Matt liquor to keep him from being killed, she recalled from Desai's observations, and put the bottle back on the counter.
Roj curled in a swirl of herself on Matt's pillows, remembering his scent without the booze, wishing she could be taking his sheets -- no, wait, they could have been their sheets to the laundromat, making a clean, neat bed for him to sleep in. That would never be, and the weight of that fact hurt her deeply. Was he eating anything at all? Was he killing himself with hard liquors? What could she possibly do to help him?
She could, indeed, pour his booze down the drain, help him to sober up. And then what would Matt Trapester do the minute he was clear-minded? Right. He would set off in search of her killer, active duty or no. He was just that way, and he himself was hurt that much by her death. He wouldn't care if he lived or died through the encounter, and if he couldn't bring Max Duchamps to trial and send him to jail, he'd shoot Max himself, even if it meant jail -- oh, but it probably wouldn't be a full sentence, as Matt was currently supposed to be mentally ill. He'd know that if he wasn't so mucked up with alcohol, Roj thought with a start. Desai is right, and Garrison's cronies are probably acting in his best interest, even if they don't intend it that way.
What next? She had done a number on Garrison and the money woman with her duffle flambé; Duchamps couldn't post bail on the woman without drawing attention to himself, and Garrison was going to have a hell of a time explaining why he was hanging out with a gun-toting, money-lugging chick who didn't want to meet the local police -- once he convinced them he was the head of the police force in his precinct, that was, and that would be almost as good as dinner theater to watch, if Roj didn't feel as though her time floating around here wasn't rapidly drawing to a close.
She was truly disappointed in the Gerry-ghost. True, Gerry had found out about Max, but she had such incrustations of bigotry on her that Roj could not bear to work with her further. She had told Roj on their first meeting, "Some of us have to help," but Roj didn't know what that meant. Was Gerry charged with helping? Who would want a bigot like that to help them?
Yes, she'd sort of seen structures clinging to Gerry, like barnacles, or lime scale buildup, or mold -- the bigotry made her look deformed, and ugly. I wonder what I looked like to her? An electrifying start made Roj jump from the bed pillows. She called me "Stupid Girl" because she said that was what I was. She saw something on me!
In a sudden panic, Roj cried out, "Please, God, may Desai help me?" Trusting that Desai was near, she said, "Did Gerry see stupidity on me?"
"Yes, she did see something on you," Desai said.
"What was it, a neon sign that said, 'Stupid,' with an arrow pointing toward me? Why am I stupid? I went to college, I've traveled across the whole country, why am I stupid?"
Desai looked at her with pity. "You do not even know why she calls you stupid, and she does not even know why you call her a bigot. Yet you both were drawn into meeting each other. Do you think that everything that happens in life is random?" With that, he disappeared again, leaving her alone.
The only thing that she knew wasn't random in life was meeting Matt. That had a sense of rightness that illuminated every day, a feeling like when puzzle pieces click together, like when she first pedaled her bicycle down the sidewalk without her dad holding her upright. Matt was right, Matt was sent to her to save her from herself. Once she met him, all the rules she had been taught in her childhood made sense. Tell the truth. Be chaste. Honor your parents. Love God, who brought you together.
At no time would she ever have thought about cheating sexually on Matt; to do so would have been like death to her heart. She loved him too much to do that, loved him too much to want to do that, though opportunities had presented themselves, at parties and even in the office. Ayers would have gladly given her a thorough screwing had she been in the least inviting. No, Matt was something different, he was the one she wanted her parents to accept and bless as her mate. And honestly, once she met him, fell in love with him, she found herself wishing that she had been completely chaste before she met him and had saved every private part of her mind and heart and body for him.
That's how we're supposed to be for God, Roj mumbled in her brain. To know Him and love Him and serve Him in this world and the next. Those words were drummed into her head when she was in first grade, going to catechism class before church. She remembered the dozen kids in the church basement saying that over and over again each week, and other things, as well, but only that one stuck. In her later years, she thought it was a kind of manifesto by a dictator God. "You WILL know me. You WILL love me. You WILL serve me!" She had resented it a little as a child, tossed it over her shoulder as a teen, forgotten it as an adult. But once she had met Matt, to know him and love him and serve him in this world and the next (oh, to be able to serve him and love him in this next world!) was only what she wanted to do, all that she wanted to do.
Why hadn't she met him in the hallway, dragged him down the stairs immediately, insisted that they go straight to a travel agent and embark upon a trip to Paris, to Tokyo, to New Zealand, spend the night in San Francisco and be gone, together, to some foreign land, alive together, wedding, making a baby?
Well, she hadn't, that was all. She had thought somehow they would be fine, no matter what. They had had all the answers, all the luck. And the reality was that they hadn't known at all what they were getting into, and so were completely unprepared for what really happened.
How lovely to have the first harsh reality check be having my head blown off.
Would I trade that for seeing Matt blown away instead of me? No, not for anything. He's alive. That's what matters.
Desai's appearance and admonition disturbed her, however. Meeting Gerry the Bigot wasn't random? He said that they were drawn into meeting each other. Drawn by ... something not random? Drawn by ... purpose? Drawn by ... Roj stopped short of thinking "by God." God was out there, somewhere, occasionally hearing her prayers, occasionally sending Desai to aggravate her.
Yet, if there is a Desai, a guardian angel, there is a God, and God exists not just in my mind or my prayers, but in a place near me, near enough to have an effect on me. I never really thought I had an angel watching over me, or that whatever God there was really cared a hang about what was going on with me ... except for Matt. Did God send us to meet together, and if He did, why did he separate us?
A breeze, no not even that, not a whisper, but a trail of symbols that said, "So that you can save him from himself."
Roj streamed out of the bedroom. "Who said that?"
The silence of the apartment was complete. No one was there but herself and the sleeping Matt. Roj flew back to the street where she had last talked to Gerry the Bigot. If Desai thought that her acquaintance with Gerry was not a random incident, that perhaps it even had a purpose, she was willing now to find out why it might be purposeful, why Gerry saw her as a "stupid girl."