Ever wonder about evil? Interesting word. It has a tone in and of itself, one that comes through loud and clear, delivered in writing, in a glance or a stare, spoken out loud or in a hush, or left unsaid altogether. Curious? I don't believe Websters does it justice definition wise, how could they, it is so much more than a word. It's a verb, and adverb, an adjective, even a proper noun at times as in "Dr. Evil" of Austin Powers fame. Nevertheless, however its used it encompasses in degrees all that human beings fear, outright and in secret. For example:
Child to Mother: "I wish Daddy was dead!"
Mother to Child: "What an evil thing to say!"
Is evil instinctive or is it a learned condition? Can someone actually be born evil? That's an unpleasant thought. Is it any less unpleasant knowing that there are those among us who are learning this condition under our noses, often under our supervision? What does the parent of a serial killer feel, when there was never a sign that their child was being altered? How many times have we read this in a newspaper, "he was a nice quiet guy, he was our neighbor for years?" Some cultures believe that evil is an entity that feeds on human fears using the weak willed or simple minded to initiate terror. Who's to say you're not living next door to or sleeping beside a ticking human bomb. There have been many stories along that line of reasoning, including this one. It's pure fiction of course, I'm reasonably certain. However, consider this, for those of you who believe yourself to be of a faith, be you a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or whatever, if there are angels, there are also demons...
(a short story by nicholas sheridan stanton)
(… “well now they call me the breeze……I keep blowin down the road…” Lynyrd Skynyrd tune 1972 or 1973…something like that )
Vehicle A, southbound on Hwy 41
The world looks different from the back of a Harley Davidson. Sort of inspires the outlaw in you. You know the part of you that secretly roots for the bad guys in every western you ever watched as a kid. There are those that can leave behind childish things, most of us are that way. Then there are those that never seem to grow out of them. This guy was one of the latter. He was dressed from head to toe in raggedy denim and leather, his long unkempt hair blowing wildly in the wind with a pair of dark glasses keeping flying bits of the road from punching out an eye. Whoever he was, he looked lost in a highway daydream as he motored south past Myrtle Beach toward Daytona, FLA. No doubt he was on the hunt for high times with some smooth skinned coeds enjoying ‘spring break’ from campuses up and down the eastern seaboard. It wouldn’t be much trouble scoring with that crowd; at least it never had been. This dude usually got whatever he wanted, one way or the other. Preferably the other, if the other involved whiskey, blood, and fear. He was your typical scooter trash, the sort that runs wild from north to south then back again whenever and wherever the law chose to look the other way. Born to lose and destined to raise hell, this badass was everything your Daddy warned you about. On any other day this would just be another drunken venture into Babylon. But not today, this day was going to be different, this day would be a pisser, this day would bring some changes ready or not.
Vehicle B, Northbound on Hwy 41
Bobby Pinella was exhausted, he did a slow blink, his eyes drooping for only a second or two, but it was just long enough to cause him to drift over the bumpy lane dividers. He jerked the wheel quickly in a reflex course correction, spilling the cold drink he had just bought a few miles back in Savannah...
“Shit,” he exclaimed.
“Why can’t these fucking Bozos ever get the lids on these cups right,” he shouted at no one in particular. It had been a typical steamy afternoon in the deep-south, so a pit stop at Hardee’s had seemed like a good idea on this last leg of his journey home. He was returning from yet another mind numbing seminar on teaming and sexual harassment in the workplace. It was an annual pilgrimage required of all middle management working in the aerospace industry. A prerequisite handed down in large by the Feds who held the purse strings on the huge defense contracts that his company and countless others relied upon for their life blood. Honestly, how many ways can they re-hash the same tired P’ rhetoric he thought? For Christ’s sake, it’s getting so you can’t mention the crack of dawn without offending some thin skinned weenie somewhere, somehow, someway.
“It’s the emasculation of America I tell ya,” Bobby would vent to his buddies and co-workers, always careful to be out of earshot of the known feminists working in finance. After he finished toweling off his wet lap with a wad of napkins from the Hardee’s bag, he fiddled with the radio and changed the station.
“KBST 109, in Richmond” sang the radio, playing a familiar jingle that pours out over nearly every AM station in this part of the country.
“Get ready for another 30 minutes of uninterrupted music from the 60’s, and 70’s,” said an overly mellow DJ.
“Here’s a classic from the Rolling Stones.”
“I see a red door and I want it painted black…”
“Well all right,” Bobby said out loud, singing along with Mick and the boys. Eventually he forgot about his damp pants and started to feel a little closer to home.
Robert Jon Pinella was pretty much as normal as they come. Born and raised in Brooklyn, but settling in New Jersey to start a career and raise a family. The father of three, he was the first shift production manager at the Power Amplifier Devices plant located in Fairfield. He was a regular Joe of sorts, devoted to his wife of 13 years, but still enough of a sinner to notice the hot little Cuban number working on the low voltage assembly line, as well, truth be told, his neighbor’s nineteen year-old niece home for the holidays from Columbia University. He wasn’t unattractive, not by a long-shot; in fact some might refer to him as ruggedly handsome, a real man’s man! He took pretty good care of himself, playing racquetball three or four times a week, coaching peewee football, and avoiding McDonald’s most of the time. Well, okay, some of the time (goddamn Big Mac’s). He and his spunky little spouse had a decent marriage. They were good parents, albeit a tad vocal at times. They were active in their church, as volunteered regularly at the children’s school. And if you asked either of them, they would likely say that they loved each one another dearly. Although to the untrained ear, it might not appear that way given the volume of their weekly sometimes daily discussions. Were one to rate their marriage it would register somewhere between level 3 and 4 on the intimacy scale. Where level 3 referred to bedroom sex (you know, children in the house, privacy), and where level 4 would be termed hallway sex. This is where you pass each other in the hallway and say fuck you! For the most part everything was okay, but something was definitely missing, something important. Something that clarified, qualified, and intensified their life together. They each sensed something coming their way, although neither had a clue what it might be? It was coming alright, without warning, and it was coming soon and head on.
“I want to paint it, paint it, paint it, paint it black…black as coal, black as night…”
“Sweet Jesus,” Bobby screamed!
The motorcycle came out of nowhere flying across the center divider directly at him. Bobby had no time to react other than to brace himself for the impact. The rider’s head hit the windshield of the mini van with a loud wet thud. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and the impact made a sound like a watermelon hitting the pavement from a second story fall. Mercifully, Bobby had been spared a total visual experience having been blinded by the van’s instantly deployed air bag. The mini van swerved wildly, dragging the motorcycle under the front wheels creating a shower of sparks as the two vehicles slid and bounced hard off of the center divider. They came to a sudden and merciful stop about a hundred yards from the point of impact. Bobby groaned, his eyes tearing from the punch in the face courtesy Mr. GM’s efficiently designed airbag. He suspected that his nose might be broken at least it sure felt like was. Pushing the deflated plastic away from his face he leaned back in his seat. He rolled his head to the left and watched as cars whizzed by the scene. He closed his eyes for a moment to collect his thoughts. His head ached and it seemed as if he’d been sitting there an awfully long time. By his count no less than fifty cars and trucks had passed him on by without a one stopping to help. You’d have thought that at least one of them would have had a cell phone! He heard sirens in the distance.
“About time,” he said out loud!
“HEY mister, mister,” a voice called.
“Can you hear me dude,” shouted a kid in faded blue jeans?
Bobby was aware that there were people trying to free from the wreckage, his seat belt seemed to be holding him inside what was left of his mini-van. He looked around and studied his situation. They were going to have to cut the steering wheel away, that much he knew for sure! While he couldn’t see the wheel through the deployed air bag, but he could feel it wedged snugly in his lap. He wiggled his fingers and toes and took a quick inventory, relieved to know that everything was still attached. A few cuts and bruises maybe, but nothing serious from what he could tell. He sighed deeply, still here, he thought, uttering his first audible words since the impact. “Thank you Jesus,” he sighed.
A firefighter appeared and placed a heavy wool blanket over Bobby, covering his face and torso and then signaled for someone to start cutting. The blanket was meant to shield Bobby from the sparks caused by the circular saw that they were using to cut away the steering wheel pinning him in his seat.
Meanwhile, back in Jersey…
The phone rang over the noise in PJ’s (short for Paula Jo) busy kitchen. JR (little Bob) was sitting under the kitchen table banging the lid to a saucepan on the floor to an erratic rhythm. The girls would be getting home from school any minute PJ thought as she walked over to the phone on the wall. She picked up on the fifth ring just as the answering machine intercepted the call.
“Darn you stupid machine!” Paula yelled over the chaos as she picked up the receiver.
“Hello,” she shouted over the outgoing message.
“Hello?” she said again, this time with a little attitude.
“Mrs. Pinella, Mrs. Robert Pinella,” a voice asked?
She gave the marinara sauce a stir as she wedged the receiver between her ear and her left shoulder.
“Yes?” she answered, suddenly aware that her husband wasn’t home yet. She anxiously looked around the room and counted noses.
“Ma’am, this is Trooper Stringer with the Georgia State Police,” the voice said identifying himself. He paused a moment to give her time to reply When she didn’t respond right away he continued
“Your husband was involved in a traffic accident ma’am,” he explained.
“Oh my God,” PJ whispered loudly!
She froze beside the stove placing her left hand across her furrowed brow. She didn’t want to hear anymore and was sorry she’d answered the phone at all. Yet at the same time she desperately needed to hear everything.
“Ma’am,” the officer said, his thick southern drawl strangely comforting.
“Yes, yes, please go on, is Bobby alright,” she asked?
“Yes ma’am, he’s okay considering the circumstances, but he’ll be a little late getting home for supper,” the trooper answered in a much calmer tone.
“Thank goodness,” PJ said with an audible sigh.
“Listen, did he break anything important like a leg or arm,” Paula asked a nervous little giggle in her voice? She bit the nail of her left index finger while she waited for a reply. It was a habit she had since childhood.
“No, just a few cuts and scrapes as far as I know.”
“Listen, your husband asked us to call home so you wouldn’t worry,” the trooper added.
“Thanks so much officer,” PJ replied sweet as you please, hanging up in the middle of the trooper’s parting pleasantries.
Paula Jo turned off the burner under the sauce and reached down to pick up JR who’d been crying ever since the phone rang. She held her son tightly, silently thanking God for his mercy. Looking up she was startled to discover that Sarah and Jasmine were standing in the doorway anxiously waiting for an explanation, tears welling up in their little eyes.
“Oh man, I’m sorry girls, come on over here,” she said to them kneeling down to scoop up the rest of her brood. She held them close as she explained what had just happened.
“Daddy was in a little car accident today, but he’s okay, so don’t worry. He’ll be home a little later to kiss you each goodnight just like he always does,” she said stroking their hair as they quieted down.
“What happened, did a dunk diver get him,” Sarah asked with a slight lisp, her little hands set firmly on her hips, a stern look on her face?
“I don’t know honey, let’s just all put on our smiley faces and wait for Daddy to get home, OK,” PJ said glancing at the clock over the fridge; it was 3:45 in the afternoon.
Back at the scene of the accident…
It seemed like he had sat in that car for hours waiting for help, but Bobby was finally free from the wreckage. He sat on the far right shoulder of the highway, safely out harms way and held a cold compress to his head. All things considered he was in pretty good shape. Through the haze produced by his throbbing head he surveyed the chaos surrounding him. The Highway Patrol was on the scene with two cars and a motor officer, as were two engine companies from Savannah, including a Paramedic unit. Apparently his mini-van and the motorcycle were the only vehicles involved in the collision. So there was that to be thankful for. Bobby surveyed the roadside in both directions looking for a sign of the motorcycle rider. He hoped that whoever he was, that he hadn’t been too badly injured, although he suspected the worse. Squinting in the mid-day sun, his eyes focused on a yellow mound in the middle of the highway. It was surrounded by brightly burning flares as a stream of ghoulish voyeurs cruised slowly, no doubt taking to heart the grim reminder that life is random and that nobody is guaranteed a tomorrow.
Unable to control his curiosity he got up and walked over to the figure lying still on the hot blacktop. He felt a little nauseous as he neared the body, experiencing all at once anger, horror, relief, and guilt in a rapid fire machine gun like cadence. He expected to be stopped before he reached the motionless figure, and was surprised when he was met with only casual resistance from an officer standing nearby. He gave the man a nod and walked on by. Then, without understanding why, he knelt down beside the victim and stared at the yellow rain slicker like material stretched out in front of him.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” he whispered, genuflecting quickly and reaching for his crucifix.
He felt curiously chilled in spite of the heat of the day. He grabbed the bright yellow blanket and looked over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching. His hand trembled slightly, as he pulled the blanket toward him, revealing the face of his not as lucky co-victim in this accident. Gasping he drew back involuntarily as he surveyed the corpse, mentally assessing the damage. Actually he was surprised by the relative neatness of it all. The poor guy’s arms, legs, and head were all where they were supposed to be, and the clothes on his back were still attached and un-blemished except for a small amount of drying blood on the white tee-shirt under his black leather jacket. There was the obvious head trauma with the pale discoloration of the face. And the thick trail of drying blood ran down the left side of his head. The drying blood was matted in his dark shoulder length hair. The guy looked as if he may be only sleeping. As if he might get up at any moment and walk away, well almost. The look on the biker’s unshaven face was disturbing though, and gave Bobby the willies. Even so, he couldn’t look away or make himself re-cover the corpse. He just stared into his open and lifeless eyes, those incredibly clear, blue-green, wide-open, dead eyes. The longer Bobby stared into them the less dead the biker appeared, and soon a chill ran from his spine all the way to the base of his neck, causing him to shudder visibly.
A soft breeze whipped up and seemingly drowned out all the background noise. Bobby thought that was odd, maybe he had damaged his hearing in the crash he wondered, moving his jaw trying to make his ears pop. Suddenly a whisper broke through the silence, but from where? He looked around but it was just him and the dead guy, how weird he thought? A few seconds passed and then he heard the whisper again, a little louder this time.
“What the hell,” he started to say, not finishing his sentence. He squatted beside the body and placed his ear close to man’s face. Then, as if he had been shot from a cannon, Bobby fell backward away from the corpse. Landing on his butt he reached behind him and crab walked in reverse five or ten feet from the dead man. He nervously looked around making sure that no one had caught his hasty retreat. Then, the whisper came again. It was soft and low, an even toned voice, and it was coming from the body.
“Hey man, what took you so long,” the voice asked?
Bobby looked around nervously, a queer grin on his face, was anyone else hearing this he wondered?
“Actually, we’ve been waiting for you dude,” the voice continued.
The dead man’s unblinking eyes gazed skyward, unwavering. Bobby could swear he could see the rolling clouds reflected in those eyes. He looked around again nervously. He could feel the sweat begin to bead on his upper lip, just like it did when he was scared or when PJ caught him in a little white lie.
“HEY, Bob,” the voice shouted.
“Forget about everyone else for a sec okay,” the voice commanded.
This wasn’t happening, how could it, words from a corpse, ridiculous! The lips weren’t even moving for Christ’s sake!
“Look man, we gotta talk, and I there ain’t a lot of time,” the voice continued, oblivious to the argument Bobby was having with himself.
“Come on Nancy, get a grip will ya! Nobody can hear this, it’s just you and me old son,” the dead man assured him.
“Wha… What,” Bobby said in a loud whisper, trying not to appear to be doing exactly what he was doing, which was talking to a dead man! He cleared his throat.
“What,” he asked again, in a slightly calmer, slightly softer voice?
“Listen, I don’t know exactly how this is supposed to work, but let’s agree on a few facts, OK,” the voice asked?
Bobby nodded involuntarily, silently answering the direct question. He shook his head violently hoping the vigorous action would put an end to this hallucination. It didn’t, and the voice continued.
“So, first of all let’s agree that I am dead, literally road-kill, that’s painfully obvious!”
“Second, and here’s a news flash for ya, there really are angels man! In fact I’m speaking to you through one right now.”
Bobby’s attempted a 360 degree head turn, trying to spot the alleged spirit.
“Get real Bob, you can’t see him, or her, actually I don’t know what it is, you can’t exactly tell by the looks of he or she?”
Bobby grinned sheepishly, nodding in acknowledgment.
“Anyway, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I mean, you don’t see my lips moving so someone must be getting these words into your head. ”
“Third, and believe it or not this is weird part, the whole accident thing was arranged for our benefit by you know who,” the voice said, pausing to let Bobby catch up.
It became uncomfortably quiet for a couple of minutes. Bobby looked away from the body. He could see the rescue personnel packing their gear back onto the engines, while the cops busied themselves with traffic control. The coroners van had arrived and the driver was talking with someone who Bobby presumed to be in charge of the scene. Traffic had started to move a little smoother now that their vehicles had been moved out of the way. Things were beginning to look like they were returning to normal, and he hoped that he would blink and discover himself in the back of an ambulance suffering from a concussion or something, and that all this weirdness had just been an illusion. The short silence was broken.
“Still with me Bob,” the voice asked?
“It’s a lot to accept, I know, but take the advise of someone who's spent a lifetime NOT listening, pay attention to what I have to say,” the voice pleaded.
“OK,” he replied under his breath, trying to avoid drawing attention to himself.
“So, how’s your faith anyways Bob,” the voice asked softly?
“Excuse me,” Bobby replied?
“Your faith Bob, do you believe in what that crucifix hanging around your neck represents?” The question touched a raw nerve in Bobby and he frowned involuntarily.
“Never mind, you don’t need to say anything. He knows you do, and that’s why you and I are here right now man.”
“What do you mean,” Bobby said out loud before he could catch himself?
“Apparently it’s true that everything happens for a reason Bob.”
“Apparently you know who is a bit of a control freak.”
“What happened,” Bobby whispered?
“My bad, angel baby here just warned me that I was about to queer a sweet deal for myself. Anyway, we move on!”
“Apparently this is my chance for redemption for the life I’ve led.”
“Apparently this is an answer to my Mom’s prayers, years and years of them. This is sort of a reward for her faith I guess.”
“You’re kidding right?”
“Careful Bob, the needle on your faith gauge is shaking, and dig it, the meter reader is standing right next to us,” the voice chuckled.
Bobby’s face reddened as if he’d been caught farting in church, keenly aware that he was buying into all of this nonsense. He suddenly felt the presence of others. Other what he didn’t know, but he and the corpse were not alone, he sensed that much!
“Like it or not, this was all planned dude. We couldn’t have avoided this even if somebody had told us all about it beforehand. It’s just how it works my man. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a hand in what happens next, you know, free will and all that. Well, at least you do, I’m sort of handicapped at the moment.”
“That tears it, this is nuts, I’m losing my freaking mind,” Bobby snarled as he started to rise up. But before he moved an inch he felt a tremendous weight upon his shoulders, as if someone were literally pushing him back down.
“Might as well sit tight and listen Bob, looks like you’ve got an angel of your own now,” the corpse said empathically. Bobby crossed his arms and reluctantly relaxed.
“That’s better dude. So, like I was saying, apparently were here to help one another.” “You’re here to help me help my mother’s prayers get answered, namely, to help me save my immortal soul by saving your immortal soul.”
Bobby lowered his head into his hands and rubbed at his temples. He thought about jumping up and making a run for it, but he could still feel pressure on his shoulders.
“And what does that mean,” he asked in exasperation?
“It means Bob that I’m gonna tell you something you ain’t gonna like, then I’m gonna give you a task you’re flat out gonna hate. And like it or not, you’re gonna to have to take it on faith that these are the words and wishes of you know who.”
“You know who?”
“That’s right, JC himself!”
“No damn it, now cut that out!”
“Alright already, I meant the Lord God Almighty. There, are you happy now you pasty white whatever you are!”
“By the way, those better be pointy toed shoes you’re wearing bucko, otherwise I’m gonna drag your winged bootie by the first nail shop we come across when we get on up to Heaven!”
“Can we get on with this, I’m getting a cramp from sitting crossed-legged,” Bobby pleaded?
“Sarcasm, perfect, nice to see you’re buying into this Bob, I was a little worried.”
“So, getting back to business, the tale and the task right? OK, here’s the thing Bob, your old lady Paula Jo, well, she ain’t what she seems to be.”
“Is that so?”
“Yeah, that’s so, and don’t cop an attitude asshole, OUCH, I mean buddy!”
“Hey, cut me a freaking break angel baby, I’m deliverin holy words here man!”
“Now, where was I, oh yeah, PJ ain’t who you think she is. Hold on now, you might want to take a breath here dude, she’s one of Satan’s brats my brother, that right, daughter of that old devil himself!”
The corpse’s unwavering eyes continued to stare skyward while Bobby’s rolled in his head as he sighed audibly.
“Okay, that’s the tale part, now for the task. Well sir, she’s gotta die Bob, and that’s all on you buddy!”
“Bob? Bob? Are you still here, are you picking up what I’m laying down?
Back in New Jersey…
Paula finally got the twins to sleep and was on her way to peek in on JR when she felt the first wave of nausea. Must be nerves she thought as she steadied herself with one hand on the wall in the hall. She was anxious for Bobby to get home so that she could hug the stuffing out of him before socking him good and hard for scaring the crap out of her! Continuing down the hall she reached the nursery and looked in on JR. He was sleeping peacefully, although she couldn’t see how with his chubby little knees tucked under him like that, and his fat diapered butt sticking up in the air like an alley cats tail. Closing the door quietly she made her way back down the hall to settle onto the couch in the living room and catch the first few minutes of the 11 o’clock news.
She wondered if there would be any mention on the TV about Bobby’s accident. Paula surfed the channels checking the major network news broadcasts. Alas, there was no mention of his brush with death. Just as well she thought she didn’t want to hear all those details anyway.
“Jeez, so much crap in the world today,” she said to herself as she watched another replay of the senseless shootings at that High School in Colorado earlier. Paula winced as she fought another wave of nausea. The sandman finally took over and PJ fell fast asleep during the weather report, “another cold front moving into the tri-state area this weekend, don’t put away those umbrellas yet folks!”
Confirmation, acceptance, and resolve…
“That’s it in a nutshell Bob, pretty wild ain’t it?”
Bobby fidgeted with his crucifix while he digested all of this. He was having a hard time accepting this insanity, hell, he was having a hard time breathing!
“And you thought that I got the raw end of this deal,” the voice added softly.
“This is too weird man! I can’t believe any of this! Why me, why her,” Bobby asked?
“Can’t answer you Bob, that’s a question you’ll have to ask the man himself when your time comes,” the corpse seemingly replied matter-of-factly.
“How in God’s name could I do such a thing?” Bobby wondered out loud.
“That’s right, you got it, in His name, that’s how you do it man,” the voice answered.
“No such thing as a free lunch Bob, everything worthwhile requires a little sacrifice, a little suffering. No pain no gain, right,” the motionless body added?
“I ask again Bob, how’s your faith? Is it as strong as it was thirty minutes ago? Do you acknowledge what you are experiencing right now is real?”
“Wait, just wait a minute! I’m supposed to believe that my wife is the actual daughter of the actual devil? I’m supposed to believe that there actually is a devil?”
“Well, if you accept that God you pray to Bob, you sorta have to accept the devil that he spends so much time warning you about, don’t ya think?”
“This is too bizarre, too absurd! I’ve known Paula forever, since we were kids. I’ve slept beside her for years, she’s the kindest, gentlest, sweetest person I’ve ever known,” Bobby shouted!
“What, OK, hold your horses, hold your horses! Bob, my silent friend here says to remind you that we’re dealing with the great deceiver here, the father of all lies. Don’t let him into your head, keep the faith, accept the truth, do what you’ve been told.”
Booby Pinella wiped the sweat from his brow with his shirtsleeve and sat in silence while he contemplated all of this crap.
“Hey, you OK over there buddy,” hollered an officer as he took a statement from a witness?
“Uh, sorry, I’m just dealing with all of this, you know,” Bobby answered quickly.
“Well wrap it up, you shouldn’t be near that body anyway, you’re contaminating the scene,” the officer added motioning for Bobby to clear the area.
“Yeah right, sorry bout that, I’ll be right there,” Bobby replied suddenly aware that there was no longer any pressure on his shoulders.
"You know, the outcome is already known to Him, I don’t know it, but wish I did!”
“Believe me, if I did I’d tell you, honest! The only thing left now is for you to decide between the world and your faith. Wish I could see it play it out, sounds like a role for the ages!"
“I’m beginning to wish you had come through the windshield and killed us both,” Bobby muttered as he stood up to leave the scene. He bent down to re-cover the body with the yellow blanket, as he rose he heard the voice once more.
"Sorry bout you havin to off your old lady man, but if it’s any consolation you were chosen for this a long, long time ago.”
“So, like Mr. Nike says, just do it,” giggled the voice.
“Ok, my angel baby here says that we gotta go now. Remember, I’m countin on ya, you’re my ticket to Heaven dude. Don’t let me down!”
“Just to be clear, there’s no wiggle room right? She has to die,” Bobby asked in a normal tone, no longer concerned about being overheard?
“Read Revelations Bob, carefully. It might help you make the right decision. By the way, it never actually says that the Anti-Christ is male or female, food for thought Bob, food for thought. See ya in the funny papers citizen!”
Bobby stared at the corpse a moment longer grateful the silence. He searched one last time for signs of life, wondering if that was all there was. He imagined the corpse grinning at him from under the blanket; he even thought that he heard the voice chuckling sucker!
“HEY,” the officer hollered!
“Didn’t I tell you to clear out buddy?”
“On my way officer, my bad, sorry,” Bobby apologized, turning quickly to walk back toward the tow truck that was dragging his car onto an angled flatbed.
“Wait a minute you guys, let me get my stuff out of the back first!” he yelled to the operator. Bobby Pinella jogged toward the wrecker, trying to come to a decision in the time it took to cover the fifty yards. His faith or his world…
Pinella Home, Fairfield, New Jersey
Bobby glanced down at the illuminated face of his Timex watch and saw that it was a little past midnight as he pulled the rental car into the driveway. He was so glad to be home and put this confusing, exhausting day behind him. All he wanted to do at the moment was get inside, lock the door behind him and hug his family into the next dimension! Of course, he also wanted to warm up some of PJ’s pasta with marinara, crack open a cold one and wait for the sounds of his normal life to lull him into a deep, deep sleep. He wanted to peacefully erase any memory of what may or may not have taken place on that hot Georgia blacktop.
He heard the TV in the front room humming softly as he quietly closed the kitchen door behind him. Bobby took a quick look in the fridge, man, he was hungry, but he didn’t have the energy to chew much less fix a plate of something. He settled on a fast swig from a half full bottle of Gatorade. He drained the bottle then went in to wake up his sleeping wife. He stood over her, watching her sleep peacefully, and wrestled with his given task. Se didn’t look evil, she looked like an angel?
“Paula, hey PJ,” he spoke softly into her ear as he stroked the hair away from her face. “I’m home honey,” he whispered. PJ stirred and opened her eyes sleepily.
“Poopy, you’re home,” she whispered while she hugged his neck and wiped the tears from her eyes on his shirt. Poopy-pants was the pet name she had christened him with after she saw him in a pair of sweat pants. Not the most flattering term of endearment, but it was harmless as long as she didn’t use it front of his brothers or his Dad.
“Sorry babe, this must have been hell for you,” e whispered, immediately wishing he had chosen his words more carefully.
“Are the kids okay? What did you tell them,” he asked softly.
“Don’t worry, they’re fine. I told them you were in a fender bender and not to worry,” PJ answered. She sat up suddenly and hugged her husband tightly. They held one another for a long time before Paula suggested they go to bed. Bobby kissed her on the forehead and told her he’d be in after he peeked in on the children. Paula kissed him back and got up to walk to their room wrapped in the afghan Bobby’s mother had knitted for him when he had gone off to university. He watched her enter the hall and disappear into the darkness. His faith or his world…
Bobby stared at the red numbers on the cheap digital alarm clock on the nightstand. He had been watching the digits change one at a time for the last twenty minutes. Paula had fallen asleep before he had gotten to bed, exhausted from her own day. Typically they would have made love before going to sleep, but clearly this was an unusual day. He was sure that Paula had convinced herself that she would make it up to him in the morning. Sex at sunrise had always been her favorite way to start the day. Bobby wrestled with the tale and the task. He had wrestled with it all the way home, he had wrestled with it walking up the drive to his house, he had wrestled with it as he kissed each of his children goodnight, and he wrestled with it now as he watched the night tick away one red digit at a time.
He had actually blinked sixty times trying to catch the change from 11:59 to 12:00. He had been a few seconds early and had to watch the red colon flash four times before the time changed. Midnight, the witching hour, how apropos he thought.
Paula stirred next to him and rubbed her naked bottom back against his, moaning softly in a dream. Bobby felt a little guilty when he became semi-erect, given what he was contemplating. He closed his eyes and tried reciting batting averages in an effort to squash his natural urges and stay focused on the task at hand. Mantle, Maris, Ford, Berra, he chanted softly, using his beloved Yankees to usher him back to a controlled state. He opened his eyes, 12:03 in blood red numbers stared back at him. That was nuts he thought, he was certain that at least thirty minutes had passed since he’d nodded off. He pulled his arm from under his pillow and checked his Timex just to be sure. Yep, 12:03 give or take a few seconds.
This was going to be a very long night. Bobby felt a drop roll from his brow to the tip of his nose, realizing suddenly that he was sweating profusely. His hair was matted with perspiration and his tee-shirt stuck to him under the covers. As he rolled over to kick off the blankets and gasped. He found himself nose to nose with Paula, her eyes wide open and staring right through him. Recovering quickly he realized that she was still sleeping deeply, but her eyes were open, trance-like, it was really weird! He felt tightness in his chest, like he might be having a heart attack or something! But before he could attempt to rationalize an explanation he heard a familiar sound, a voice, seemingly coming from the direction of Paula’s sleeping form.
“Penny for your thoughts Bob,” it asked softly.
12:03am State Police HQ Savannah, Georgia...
The fax machine beeped twice as the paper began to feed through the rickety old antique. At the same time the monitor on detective Josh Cadenhead’s desktop flashed and displayed a fading Outlook notice of an incoming email from the FBI’s fingerprint bureau. Officer Cadenhead was a second year patrolman recently assigned to this precinct. Josh sat up in his chair and set his Georgia Bulldogs coffee mug down on the desk in front of him. He pulled out the keyboard tray from under his tabletop and used his mouse to click on the Outlook tab from the bottom of his desktop where all the other minimized programs were resting. He doubled clicked on the unopened email once the program came up and read the short message, rife with the typical adjective challenged law enforcement jargon. As he read the three lines he began to choke on his last sip of hot coffee.
“HOLY SHIT,” he shouted to a near empty room! Josh swiveled his chair toward the now silent fax machine. He jumped out of his seat and covered the ten feet between he and the fax in less than two steps. He grabbed the only sheet in the tray and looked at it intensely, his teeth exposed in a tight lipped grimace as he recognized the face on the page.
“I’ll be goddamned,” he said shaking his head.
At that moment a rather frumpy looking fifty-something man in uniform appeared in the doorway. His hair and clothes were a bit disheveled and it was obvious that he had just been awakened from a deep and until recently peaceful sleep. The agitated man was Sergeant Marlon Dupree, the watch commander.
“What in the hell is all the noise for Josh? May I ask why you insist on ruining a perfectly peaceful shift with all this commotion boy,” asked the Sergeant?
“Sorry Sarge, but you better take a look at this,” the young patrolman replied.
Sergeant Dupree walked over to where Josh stood by the fax machine and took the paper from his extended hand. He reached into his shirt pocket to retrieve his reading specs and placed them low on the bridge of his nose as he looked at the face on the page. The sergeant shrugged and handed the paper back to Josh.
“So, what’s the big deal,” he asked?
“Sarge, that’s the fella we kicked loose from that accident on Hwy 41 this afternoon, the one where that bad-ass biker was killed. Remember, the one they call Oatmeal on account of him being sorta retarded,” Josh answered.
“Yeah, I remember, Oatmeal, aka Virgil Caley. And he wasn’t retarded, he was just slow since his older brother Vince had caved in his head with a 2X4 when they was kids,” Sergeant Dupree replied.
“I’m still not getting the connection Josh, what’s the big deal about the other fella? As I recall from the 5150s he was just Joe Average on his way home from a business trip, nothing exotic or exciting?”
“Yeah, well maybe he was nothing special this afternoon, but tonight I think we got a problem,” Josh said excitedly.
“Meaning,” Sergeant Dupree asked?
“Meaning we ran his prints as SOP for accidents with fatalities and we got a hit from the FBI database,” Josh replied.
“What sort of hit,” asked the watch commander, suddenly wide awake?
“It turns out that one Robert Jon Pinella is not who he claims to be. Actually, his prints belong to one Frederick no-middle-name Rogers, a suspected serial killer from up Boston way,” Josh answered. “And we had him not five hours ago!”
“I remember him,” Sergeant Dupree shouted!
“He was that Yankee bastard that murdered his family in Mars, Massachusetts about forty miles or so outside of Boston. Pretty gruesome as I recollect, killed them all, a mother and her children, three of them, with a claw hammer while they slept. He left a note saying that wasn’t his idea, that it was God who had told him do it, said he was sent to save the world, or some such nonsense. That was back in 1978, and then he surfaced again in Lynchburg, Virginia around 1988, same thing, a whole family, a mother and three children bludgeoned to death with a claw hammer, it was horrible. Again, the father was the prime suspect and nowhere to be found. The same note was left to come to think of it. Fast forward to 1998, right here in Savannah. You’re too young to remember but I do, I was actually involved with the search for this guy. A woman and her three baby boys, triplets, and I mean babies, they were infants, five or six weeks old, were found dead in their home, each of them had their heads caved in with a claw hammer. Once again the father was suspect and once again he was nowhere to be found, just up and disappeared as if he never really existed. Same note, same fingerprints, same result, cold case.”
The two patrolmen sat in chairs facing one another and pondered the facts for a few minutes. It was uncommon quite in the station house for a Friday night, and the two men took advantage of the absence of interruptions to chew on what had been said.
The young officer was the first to speak. “I don’t get it; the guy you’re talking about would have to be well over sixty years old if of course we’re assuming the guy in this picture and the guy in the wreck are the same fella?”
“Sarge, that fella in the accident today couldn’t have been too much older than me, twenty-nine or thirty, thirty-five tops!”
“I know that Josh, but fingerprints don’t lie boy. Listen, maybe he’s just aged really well, or maybe he dyes his hair, or maybe he had some work done on his face, hell son, maybe a lot of things.”
“One thing’s for sure, he went home to a family, and we know that for certain. Officer Stringer’s report states that he spoke to the wife around 1:00 or 2:00 o’clock this afternoon,” Sergeant Dupree recited, looking back toward his office as if he were trying to remember something.
“Way ahead of you Sarge,” Josh said, jumping out of his chair, heading for the bank of file cabinets against the far wall. The elder watch commander got up and followed his excited charge. Josh went to the traffic bank and rifled through the current open cases eventually locating the Caley/Pinella file. As he pulled it from the cabinet Sergeant Dupree pulled it from his hands.
“Let me see this thing,” he said, placing the manila folder on the top of the five drawer cabinet and opening it. It was a good thing that they were both over six feet tall, otherwise someone would be hunting for a chair to stand on right now in order to get a glimpse of the documents inside. The Sergeant ran his forefinger over each page until he found what he was looking for.
“Here it is, Fairfield, New Jersey. Quick, get the local PD on the phone, we don’t have much time,” the watch commander shouted!
12:04am Pinella home...
Bobby blinked as he waited for the voice to continue. His initial surprise had faded, replaced by a queer curiosity. He wasn’t alarmed by the sudden presence of the voice; in fact he had been expecting it. After all, wasn’t this the way it always happened? How many times had he come to this moment? How many times had his faith been tested? How many tests must he pass? How many others he wondered had to do likewise? Could he be the only one asked to serve this way? How long had he done this, how many times had he been called? He couldn’t recall, he didn’t want to recall. The whole process was tiring, he wanted the world to stop, he was ready to get off.
“I know what you’re thinking,” the voice continued finally.
“You always say that,” Bobby answered weakly.
“And it’s always true isn’t it,” the voice replied.
“I suppose. Can I ask you a question?”
“I rather you didn’t, I’m not in the mood to chit chat Bob.”
“Humor me, have I ever let you down?”
“Very well, ask me…again,” the voice said sighing.
“You know it’s not fair that you can read my thoughts. That really bothers me,” Bobby said softly.
“The point Bob, get to the point will ya. It’s getting late and you’re burning daylight somewhere in the world. I’ve got other stops,” the voice replied tiredly.
“That’s just it, what other stops? Are there others like me?”
“No Bob, you’re the one and only.”
“So what are these other stops you speak of?”
“Just other stops Bob, for other things. There are lots of fish to fry my friend.”
“I don’t get it?”
“And I don’t have the time or inclination to explain it to you. Suffice to say that you serve a purpose, a divine purpose, but it’s not the only purpose that needs attention. Now, as we’re not omnipresent like the other team we need to hurry along as we have a schedule to keep.”
“It just would be nice to know what that purpose was for once, that’s all I’m saying. Frankly, the whole faith angle is starting to dull,” Bobby said, capitulating as he always did.
“Okay Bob, we’ll make it up to you next time, promise,” the voice chuckled.
“Right...” Bob replied rolling over to get out of the bed. He rose gently, careful not to wake his sleeping bride. He looked down at her and admired how beautiful she was. They were always beautiful, that was a prerequisite, it made the shock, horror, fear, and outrage more intense, assuring a hardness of hearts that would last the required time period before the next installment. He thought about that a moment, perhaps that was his purpose, made sense sort of? Maybe his work was meant to give mankind the fortitude to deal with evil? Yeah, maybe that was it.
“You just keep thinking Bob, whatever floats your boat dude,” the voice whispered.
“Shut up,” Bobby hissed as he left the room, headed for the garage to fetch his tool.
12:16am State Police HQ Savannah, Georgia...
“That’s right, Pinella, Robert Jon,” Officer Cadenhead repeated into the telephone handset. He drummed his fingers on his desk nervously as he waited for a reply, locking eyes with his boss Sergeant Marlon Dupree from across the room. He’d spent the past fifteen minutes trying to convince a desk Sergeant in Fairfield to get off his ass and whip over to the Pinella home before something terrible happened, if it hadn’t happened already. He rubbed his face nervously while he listened to a conversation going on in the background on the other end of the line.
“What’s happening,” Sergeant Dupree asked?
“Sounds like they’re deciding whether or not to hang up on us, it’s two against one that we’re a hoax,” Josh answered.
“Christ on a stick, gimme that phone,” Sergeant Dupree ordered, taking the handset violently from the young man.
“Alright, who’s on this fucking line,” he demanded!
“Watch the language buddy unless you feel like talking to a dial tone,” came a quick reply.
“Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. This is Sergeant Marlon Dupree of the Georgia State Police, and you would be?”
“I would be Sergeant Cavatelli, 23rd Precinct, Brooklyn, New York that’s who!”
“Brooklyn,” Sergeant Dupree asked confused, looking over to Josh for an explanation. The junior officer shrugged apologetically, confused himself at the mishap.
“Listen, Sergeant, we’re urgently trying to reach the local PD in Fairfield, New Jersey.”
“Boy, did you get the wrong number Mac!”
“Yeah, yeah, rookies, you know what I mean!”
“Amen brother, we got our share of those up here as well.”
“Okay, Sergeant to Sergeant, can you help expedite this call to the right people? There may be lives in harms way as we speak?”
“So we gathered from your guy’s rambling,” Sergeant Cavatelli replied.
“We just got the fax from your office and cross checked it with the nimrods in Boston. Your photo matches there photo from 79, pretty freaking incredible if it’s true!”
“What fax, what photo,” Sergeant Dupree asked befuddled?
“Uh, that was me boss, I sent them an email with some pictures from the accident scene this afternoon,” Josh confessed.
“You did? When did you do that?”
“While I was dialing the wrong number I glommed onto a wrong email address as well,” Josh explained. It wasn’t a good explanation, but it was the truth.
“Oh, well um, good job officer,” Dupree replied still confused, he was still a snail mail kind of guy. The instant information age had steamrolled right on past him years ago.
“Hey, if you two are finished feeling each other up you maybe want to take this number down,” Sergeant Cavatelli said, butting in. He read them the Fairfield number and wished them luck, making them promise to call him with the details later no matter how things worked out.
“Thanks Sarge,” Marlon Dupree said, hanging up and quickly dialing the Fairfield PD.
“Cross your fingers boy,” he said to Josh as he punched the numbers on the phone.
12:25am Pinella home...
Bobby paused on the way back to his room and peeked in on the children. He usually took care of them first because they made the least noise and besides, he just wanted to get that part over with quickly, it was toughest on him emotionally. So innocent these sleeping cherubs, this part of his task was always hardest to understand. But these children were older than all the others, having come early in his marriage to Paula. He had had time to bond with these kids; he had developed a relationship with each of them. They weren’t strangers to him, or dolls as the others had always seemed to be. The boy would be easy, he was the youngest and most detached from Bobby. The girls would be hard, but he didn’t let himself dwell on that. He closed the door and continued down the hall to his bedroom. The Berber carpet was soft and the house was new and well constructed so he made no noise as he walked. There were no creaks or squeaks, no unexpected settling, there would be no warning, there never was.
He pushed open the door slowly he looked over to his bed. Paula lay sleeping peacefully, snoring softly as she always did when she wound up on her back. He smiled wryly and gently closed the door behind him. Walking to the foot of the bed he listened for the voice to return as it usually did at this juncture. He paused a moment to listen more closely, no sound came and he continued. He held onto the hammer loosely in his left hand and gave it quick spin. He liked the way the smooth wooden handle felt as it revolved in his palm. He repeated the motion several times and then abruptly clenched his fist, instantly stopping the spinning hammer. Squeezing the grip with all of his might the tool began to physically vibrate as the muscles and tendons in his arm tightened and flexed revealing the full potential of his full power. Bobby drew in a deep breath through his nose and then let it out slowly through his pursed lips, the soft whispering sound ringing in his ears as he turned to walk around the bed. He stopped beside the night stand on his side, his back to the window, the dark outline of his frame shrouded in the backlight of the full moon. He closed his eyes, and struggled with the challenge, “My faith or my world,” he recited silently?
“Do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it,” the room shouted.
Bobby began to sweat and softly chanted, “my faith, my world.”
He raised the hammer to his face, grasping it in both hands now. He touched the cold steel to his lips, drawing strength from the sensation.
“My faith, my world…”
12:45am State Police HQ Savannah, Georgia...
“What’s happening over there,” Sergeant Dupree asked in a harsh whisper?
“Stay cool Sarge, they’re going in as we speak,” replied Lieutenant Garrett of the Fairfield Police Department.
He stayed crouched behind the open door of his police cruiser, one hand on his weapon and the other holding onto the cell phone pressed to his ear. Lt. Garrett had been giving the Georgia State Police a blow by blow account of what was going down at 8558 Oakdale Avenue, Fairfield, New Jersey for the past five minutes. They had arrived on the scene with half dozen patrol officers and the SWAT team around 12:30am, about fifteen minutes ago. The perimeter had been established and SWAT was about to enter the home of Robert and Paula Pinella. There had been no reply to the telephone calls placed to the residence once the scene had been secured. That would be good or bad Lt. Garrett had thought, although his gut suspected bad. He decided to wait another minute, it was 12:46, he would give the signal to go ahead at precisely 12:47, and that would be that. He spoke very softly into the cell phone, “okay sarge, you’ll know what we know in about two minutes,” he relayed to Marlon Dupree back in Savannah. Lt. Garrett set the phone down and turned his wrist to check his watch. Twenty seconds, nineteen, eighteen, he looked up to make eye contact with SWAT Team Leader Daniel Olsen who was standing ten feet to his left behind a good sized sycamore tree. The officer held a walkie-talkie to his face and held the lieutenant’s gaze. Nine, eight, seven, Lt. Garrett nodded, three, two, one…
“GO, GO, GO,” Officer Olsen barked crisply into the hand held radio transmitter.
On his command a dozen officers entered the Pinella home from three different directions, four through the back door, four through the front, the balance through a bedroom window on the west side of the house, which as it turned out belonged to JR, the youngest of the Pinella children. Back in Savannah Sergeant Dupree and Officer Cadenhead waited patiently for an update. They could hear the normal commotion associated with a tactical solution, the shouting, the breaking glass, the frantic footsteps, but they hadn’t heard much after the initial surge. Josh Cadenhead bit at his thumbnail as they waited and looked pensively at his boss. It had been three minutes since the start of the operation. He raised his eyebrows, asking his boss with the look on his face, “anything?” Sergeant Dupree shook his head and frowned. “Nothing yet, I don’t like it,” he replied.
An answer came a moment later by way of a shrill scream, followed by more shouting, “down, down, get down now!”
“I heard someone scream, a woman I think,” Sergeant Dupree whispered.
“That’s good right, means she ain’t dead right,” Josh asked?
“Maybe, wait a minute, the Lieutenant’s back on the horn,” Sergeant Dupree said.
“Hey Sarge, you still there,” asked Lt. Garrett?
“Yeah, we’re here, what happened man, what happened?”“Damndest thing, we found a male victim dead in the master bedroom, apparently the husband, Robert Jon Pinella. At least he looks a lot like the fella in the picture that you sent us. But I can’t believe that this is the same guy from those Boston murders. He looks younger than my kid, and he’s 26? Mrs. Pinella isn’t much help either; she’s hysterical but unharmed, as are the kids thank God!”
“That is good news, weird news but good. So what’s so damned peculiar?”
“Well sir I’ll tell ya, I’ve been a cop for better than twenty-two years and I thought that I’d seen it all. But this is a new one. We found this guy covered in blood sitting on the window seat right next to the bed. Hell he looked like a damn cherry snow cone. Looks like a large Vaughn framing hammer had been buried into the top of his skull, claw side first, right up to the handle. You couldn’t see anything but wood Sarge, I mean the entire business end on that hammer was sitting in the middle of this poor bastard’s head. And he his fist wrapped around that hammer like his hand was a vise grip. At first I thought that it was a defensive move, or that he was actually trying to pull it out maybe? But now I’m not so sure.
There is no way he could have done this to himself, not at that trajectory, but the way the damn thing is driven into his head he would have had to have been facing his attacker and sitting perfectly still for that thing to be embedded like it is in his noggin. That was our first take on the situation. But then our CSI with us noticed a strange thing. Mr. Pinella’s right shoulder was horribly dislocated and the hand grasping the hammer was twisted in such a way as to appear as if he had actually delivered the blow himself! It’s crazy, I know, but it’s what the physical evidence is suggesting, go figure? Besides, we can’t find any sign of forced entry or any evidence that someone other than the family was in the house? And I’d bet my pension that the wife could not have delivered this blow. That hammer had to be swung with a great deal of force, by someone way more powerful than the 100 pound pixie sobbing in the next room!”
“Sounds like you got quite a mystery on your hands Lieutenant,” Sergeant Dupree said rubbing his chin whiskers as he spoke. He looked over at Josh and shrugged, and the young officer shrugged back.
“Oh, one more thing; there was a note, just like at all of those other murders. At first glance it looks like the same handwriting, but I’m no expert. But this note is different, I mean first of all it wasn’t on the nightstand, it was nailed to Pinella’s chest,” the Lieutenant explained.
“Was it another God note,” Sergeant Dupree asked?
“Sort of, I guess you might say that,” Lt. Garrett answered.
Lt. Garrett placed his hand over the receiver and answered a question from a passing officer.
“Sorry, where was I?”
“The note, what did it say?”
“Oh yeah, well it was short and sweet. It read:
My family is my gift from God, that gift is my world; my faith, my world are one in the same, eternally connected. You can’t fool me anymore ya liar, screw you, I only listen to you know who.”
“What do you think that means,” asked Marlon Dupree?
“Hell if I know Sergeant, hell if I know. But my gut says that note’s what got Mr. Bob Pinella killed, and was Mrs. Pinella’s and the children’s salvation as well.. My gut also suspects that he wasn’t exactly sad about it either. Actually to be honest, it wasn’t the note that gave that away, it was the goddamn smile on his face that told me that. Yeah, that’s right; I said the son of a bitch was smiling. Smiling like he’d just won the freaking lottery or something. Ain’t that one for the books!”
“Anyway, thanks for the tip. I’ll write this up as an Interstate collar between Jersey and Georgia, sorta has a ring to it,” Lt. Garrett said.
“Yeah, well, ya’ll take care now, ya hear,” replied Sergeant Dupree hanging up.
He leaned back in his chair and nodded at Officer Cadenhead who was staring past him through the window behind him.
“JOSH, you okay boy,” the sergeant asked.
“Ah, sorry, what’d you say Sarge,” Josh replied softly?
“I asked if you were alright boy, you look like you’ve just seen a ghost or something,” Sergeant Dupree teased.
“Nah, I’m okay, I just thought I heard somebody calling my name is all…”