Chapter Twenty-five: Learning In The Afterlife
Roj looked at Desai, puzzled. "The what? The Walkaway?"
In turn, he tilted his head to one side. "The Walkaway. When the First People walked away from Providence and decided to set up their own rule instead of living with the Most High."
"Are you talking about Adam and Eve?"
"That is what your holy book calls them."
"Now, wait. I read Bible stories, and they pretty much said that Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden because of their disobedience."
"But Adam and Eve (as you call them) chose to leave the shelter of the Most High in order to learn what was wrong. The Most High would not cast out any of those he loved so."
"Then why didn't he stop them?"
"He created them to make their own choices, whatever those might be, giving them his own life to be creators in their own way. If he had created them to be dumb slaves, without voice or volition, what kind of life would that be?"
"Like Max, my murderer," Roj said, shuddering. "Get in line, obey me, or you're dead ... Oh, I can see something about this ..."
She stopped at the Vintage Faire Mall and curled herself up on top of an air conditioning unit at Macy's.
Roj sank back in remembrance of what she had been taught of God's nature.
"God sees everything we do," her mother had told her when she was thirteen. "So be good." Looking back at the memory, she could see that her mother was cramped in the shoulders and the face, with fear. The oil of it oozed from her pores and flowed upward into her face to dim her vision. Roj was confused by it, for it made her own adolescent features dim, unreadable, and unfamiliar to her mother's eyes. Her mother's fear, however, was not of God, but of Roj.
"Why did she tell you that God sees everything you do?" Desai said, observing the memory with her.
"She was terrified I'd go have sex or do drugs, I can see that now. She brought God up because she didn't know if I'd listened to what she and Dad had told me about things. It was almost a threat, but a desperation threat, not a cruel one.
"I was going to a party at a friend's house, but she didn't have to worry -- with my pimples and self-consciousness, I just sat in a chair by myself and watched the clock until it was time to go home. Oh, no, see me there? I'm like everyone else, just wishing I was one of the girls who snuck off to do some heavy petting, wishing someone wanted to do something bad with me. But it wasn't Mom telling me that God would be watching me that kept me from doing stuff, it was that I didn't have the opportunity."
"Your mother loved you."
"Yes, she did. I know that, Desai."
"Then why did she seem to threaten you with God?"
Roj watched her mother in the memory, the fear deepening what felt like lines in her face, marring the carriage of her shoulders. "She ... was trying to find words that would make me behave properly. She must have known that I would do ... well, whatever ... if I could, if I could get away with it."
"Do you know any mother or teacher who would not have used a Higher Power to try to get her children or students to ignore the temptations around them and stay on course with what was right?"
"No, of course not. My friends' mothers and fathers talked about God's wrath, or correctional institutions, and the teachers set up the Principal of the school as a minor deity who'd deny us our high school diploma and ruin our lives if we got too far out of line."
"Many times, tellers of the story of Human and God also used God's alleged wrath as a way of turning people away from doing wrong, just as your mother hinted."
"When I was fourteen, I didn't really give a hang about death or what happened after. I just wanted Norm Casey to see me and fall madly in love with my intellect. I wanted wrong with Norm Casey. Other girls were getting wrong and were happy as could be."
Desai looked at her without compassion or sympathy, but with understanding. "I remember."
"What are you saying? That the Bible stories were exaggerations?"
"I did not say that. What is written in your Book is what has been passed down for thousands of years. Some of it was written, some of it was told by voice before it was written. Throughout all of that Book, the purpose was to try to turn people's hearts to God. Some of the words are beautiful, some are fierce."
Roj stared at him, waiting for more information. She kind of knew some Bible stories -- Cain kacked his brother Abel, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt while God killed the Egyptian army, Jesus was born in some barn, and then got crucified, but was resurrected and part of God.
"Like the Egyptians, getting swallowed up in the sea, when they were trying to keep the Israelites as slaves. That was pretty fierce."
"Yes, it was. The Egyptians were ordered to kill all the Israelites, because God had manifested Himself in the Israelites, and the Pharaoh wanted to hide that manifestation. According to his beliefs, he himself was a god, and had been humiliated by his powerlessness."
"So God killed them instead ... I'm trying to understand how that works with God being merciful, Desai."
"Tell me, Roj, about the commander of Pharaoh's army: in seeing the waters parted and standing like a wall on either side -- a miraculous feat by the Most High -- why would he order the men to pursue? Faced with the living power of God, why did they persist? They could have said, 'This is clearly out of our league' and turned back, but they did not. The walls of water stood until the Israelites were out of the water, and the purpose for the miracle was done. The Lord is not going to stop people from willful stupidity."
"But they all died! Maybe if they had understood more ... "
"I promise you, if any of the people in all the world, from beginning to the end, are sincerely seeking God, they will not be lost. You yourself know that Death is not the end."
"What about all the people Cortez killed? In high school the teacher said it was a case of people having to become Catholic, or die."
"Cortez was a man of terrible desires. Gold and fame obscured his soul, making him heartless. He used religion like a weapon, it is true. He and his men, seeing the ways of worship of the indigenous peoples -- the human sacrifice, the mutilations -- were so disgusted that they felt that extermination was appropriate, and that the gold they were taking was a just reward for their fervor. Did not the Christ say that wealth was a grave danger? So it was for Cortez, and so it is for many in this world. Yet the Aztecs are also part of the people of the world, and if they were seeking the Creator, he did not allow them to be lost."
"Hmm. Lost is not the same as Dead. Got that. But back in that history class, I was afraid everyone would find out my family was Catholic." Roj looked at Desai ruefully. "And I don't think that your explanation would have gone over in class -- or anywhere else I've been -- without me getting a beating or being told off or being ostracized."
"Those who persecute are not excused by their race, their creed, or their gender, whether they be Catholic or Atheist, or anything in between." The shimmering of laughter played over him. "You yourself were willing to be persecuted right into Death's crosshairs for the sake of Matt. You stood up and moved between him and his assassins. Do you blame him for your demise?"
"Of course not! What a dreadful thing to say." Roj was feeling nettled again.
"Then why would you be angry because others chose death, or were given death, for the sake of their beliefs?"
Had she had a head, Roj would have looked at Desai with sidelong eyes. Now I know why he just takes off sometimes, I think. I've had enough of angel talk for a while.
She left for downtown, and dropped through the roof of the precinct building to Garrison's office.
Thomas Garrison was on the phone. "Well, at least my office hasn't been vandalized since that little shit was hospitalized. I know he was getting in here somehow. Your man? The one in the hospital? No, of course not, he's not being prosecuted. Just keep him out of sight for a while. The doctor said Trapester was out of his mind and still is, and our psych man is pushing for a psychotic break incident. We've got plenty of time to take care of him." He cleared his throat, checked for his weapon in the holster under his coat. "But let's talk about another of your men, shall we? The one who's playing tail -- or is there more than one?"
Roj leaned in close to the telephone receiver. It's Duchamps. He's working Hennessey and Garrison, both. Okay, Tom, go get him. Or get away from him, whatever works.
"Look, I'm not telling you anything about how I know that. I just know that you have someone stalking me, and I don't appreciate it one damn bit, Max, that was never part of our deal." He drummed the fingers of his right hand on his desk blotter. "Bullshit it was for my safety! Your damn shadow-man burnt up our money and got Canada arrested! What the hell was that all about, you and your gang getting greedy with each other?"
Bingo! There goes trust, right out the window of the top floor! Whee!
"Forget it! It couldn't have been one of my guys, because I never let them know when I do a pick up -- I take my personal bonus off the top, and there's no way I'd let them know when or how much. I didn't blow this deal, pal, you did. You've got somebody looking at your back, too -- and if I were you, I'd be pretty damned worried, because whoever it is in your organization, they're not just after the money, or they wouldn't have set it on fire. Sounds to me like they're after your head." He paused to let Duchamps speak, but only briefly. "Yeah, you do that. But with all this crap that's happened, I've got to say that from my point of view, the deal is off. I don't like being followed, and I'm not going to put up with it."
Garrison hung up the phone, patted his pants pockets for his car keys and new wallet, and left the office. Roj viewed the blank canvas with an artist's eye. So, nothing has happened since Matt was hospitalized, eh? Oh, but you're going to be so wrong. Time for me to check on my cheerful little buddy Hennessey.
Along with a coating of grime, a sprinkling of crumbs, and a dirty dust kitty, Garrison's wallet was still where Roj had left it, under Hennessey's desk. Hennessey himself was sifting through a stack of papers in a folder; when he reached across his desk for a paperclip, Roj shoved the wallet to a millimeter off his shoe. As he sat back in his chair, he felt something against his foot, and bent to see what it was.
A wallet? Under his desk? He opened it, pulled out one of the credit cards, and gasped with such a start that the wallet and card fell to the floor again. Hands shaking, he picked them up and replaced the card, then fumbled out all the other cards and ID, put them back again and picked up his phone. "I need to talk to Tom," he told -- Garrison's secretary? -- "All right," he said tremulously, "just have him call me as soon as he gets back, would you?" He stuffed the wallet in his desk drawer even as he was hanging up, and hurried to the men's room.
Roj smiled, and once again liberated the leather wallet, carrying it off to Hammer's vacant desk, where she disguised it under a stack of papers in Hammer's inbox.
Hennessey returned, pale, still trembling a little, massaging his midsection. He sat down, opened the desk drawer, and jumped in alarm. He pulled everything out of the drawer, shoved it all back, and did the same with the other drawers of his desk. His innards gurgled, and he rushed away to the lavatory once more.
Don't worry, it'll turn up sooner or later. In fact, as soon as you go home, dearie. And then it will be found again. But by whom?