SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 3, Terminal Charges

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 3, Terminal Charges

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          “We will be landing at La Aurora International Airport in a few minutes.  The weather is 27 degrees Centigrade or 82 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is cloudy and has been raining on and off this evening.  Wind is picking up out of the West.  Welcome, La Paloma Blanca Ministries, to Guatemala City.”

          A soft cheer arose.

          Esmeralda was gazing down at the lights of the city, “The air up here is making the lights waver like hot coals.”

          Into the ribbon of twilight rose four mountains.  I asked, “Are those the volcanoes you were talking about?”

          “Yes.  That one is Pacaya, the one that caused all the trouble.”

          “And that is near where we are going?”

          “Yes, near the city of La Antigua.  A village named Mudéjar.  It was once an estate granted to one of the conquistadors.”

          I had never been so attracted and so intimidated by a young woman.  During the flight she had lectured me about Guatemala.  But she was the first girl I ever actually wanted to listen to.  I didn’t care what she talked about.

          When the plane halted at the terminal everyone stood up and began to file out.  I let Esmeralda go ahead of me.  She wove away quickly through the crowded aisle without another word, to be with the other apprentice pastors.  Since I had been seated toward the rear of the plane I ended up near the end of the line entering the terminal.

          At the entrance there were several armed guards on each side of the line of La Paloma Blanca workers.  Nearest the line each guard held leashed a big Pit Bull lifting its forepaws off the ground straining to savor each passing person.  Many of the workers made brave smiles and said cute things to the dogs but it looked to me as if they might as well have said “eat me first” the way the dogs reacted.  I was determined to stare straight ahead.

          As I passed, both dogs began to growl savagely and bark at me.  My chest felt like it had suddenly filled with ice water.  A guard came over and said right into my face “Come with me.”  I looked back to see the ripple of turning faces as the rest of them heard about what was happening to me.

          Two guards took me into a room and pulled the duffle bag out of my hands.  The first one glared at me as if daring me to challenge him.  He just dumped the duffle bag contents onto a table.  I realized that the second guard was holding his gun at my stomach.  A moment later the first guard held aloft what looked like a baggie of marijuana.  I nearly fainted.

          “Explain this.”

          “It isn’t mine, I swear.”

          He gave me a cruel smile.

          I was ready to cry.  “I swear, I swear to God.  Do you think I am loco?”

          “I think you are estupido.  This is not Los Angeles.”

          I suddenly thought of Roberto and our last night of partying.  Would he have been so fucked-up that he put a baggie of dope in my duffle bag as a “going away present”?

          “Well, no matter how stupid you are you will learn how serious this is.”

          He got out his phone and spoke calmly and triumphantly while staring at me.

          “Detain the others.”

          They hassled me for a long time.  Then they brought in several of the apprentice pastors.  There were five of them, including Esmeralda who didn’t look at me.  They argued in low voices.  I gathered that all the other workers were being searched as well.

          I stared mournfully at the baggie of marijuna that the guard was brandishing.  Then a realization hit me.

          I interrupted the heated discussion.

          “Esmeralda!  I admit I partied the night before the flight.  But I did not take dope with me!  It isn’t even the same weed we were smoking.  I swear!”

          There were more hissing heated words.  I wondered without hope: was I going to jail or back home?  Finally, there seemed to be an understanding.

          “Esmeralda.  What is going on?”

          She looked over at me with disappointment, “We are going to pay a ‘fine’.  Money we can’t afford.  And a guard has to come along with us to Mudéjar.”

          I have never been so thankful and so shamed at the same time.

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 2, La Paloma Blanca

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 2,  La Paloma Blanca

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          Two weeks later I was at the airport.  Pastor Maximón had expedited my passport.  I had said good-bye to my Grandmother the night before and then I had spent the night with my friend Roberto who got me drunk and loaded.

          “California Sensemilla is very good for the mind but, however, so is Colombian and hash and let’s not forget Magic Mushrooms,” Roberto prescribed.  The next day I awoke next to him on the couch and he said good-bye to me without opening his eyes.  I grabbed my duffle bag with the La Paloma Blanca Ministries logo that Pastor Maximón had issued to me for my possessions.

At the airport everyone else’s parents were there.  Everyone else was talking at once and hugging everyone else.  We boarded this big private plane that some rich donor chartered for the ministry.  On the fuselage of the plane was painted the same logo La Paloma Blanca Ministries.  There were supposedly thirty of us, young and old.  Each of us could only bring the issued duffle bag.  The aisle was crowded and I shuffled toward the back of the plane.

Then I saw her again.  The aisle seat next to her was vacant, thank you Jesus.  She was wearing a Mayan peasant blouse richly embroidered with bright blue and red designs.  She seemed to be bowed praying.  As I approached she raised her eyes to me and when I paused at the vacant seat she made a swift but delicate gesture for me to sit down.  I stowed my duffle bag under the seat because supposedly all the compartments above were reserved for ministry gear.

I didn’t intend to be rude but when I turned to look out the window I stared at her profile.  She was small but there was something very strong and sure about her.  She had full long hair tied in the back.  She wasn’t wearing any make-up.  Her skin was dark and unblemished and there were wisps of black hair on the side of her cheek.  It made her look earthy.  She had a small emerald stone pierced into her earlobe, both earlobes, I found out soon enough.

She glanced out of the corner of her eye at me and smiled.  “I’m Esmeralda.”

“I’m Alonzo.”  I couldn’t find any more words.

She started talking about the ministry like we were old friends.  But when she turned toward me I must have looked a little surprised.  On each cheekbone under her eyes was painted a very faint gold cross with a tiny dark dot at each crux to represent a nail, she told me.

“So when we look into the mirror we remember who we serve.”

“Who is ‘we’?”

She indicated others bearing the faint gold crosses.

“We are apprentice pastors.”

As she spoke I just stared into her big dark eyes and nodded little agreements.  I didn’t know how much older than me she might be but she was a lot more together, more mature than I was.  Her gaze was steady and without fear.  Then she tilted her head a little to the side and smiled.  I suddenly realized that she had asked me a question.

She laughed, “You will make a wonderful husband.”

My face got hot.  Luckily a woman stood up in the aisle at the front of the plane and asked for everyone’s attention.

          “For those of you who are new to our ministry, I am Rita.  Before we take off I would like to lead a little prayer.”

Everyone bowed their heads.

“We give thanks for the generosity that has allowed us this ministry.  We thank you for moving all these hearts to serve you.  Grant us safe journey and safe return.  And guide us do only good as it is your will.  Amen.”

          We had almost an hour’s wait because something was wrong with the electricity and then we had to wait our turn to use the runway.

          I listened to Esmeralda the whole time, trying not to be stupid.  The flight to Guatemala City took five hours.  I fell asleep.  Then it took a long while to land.  We must have started descending a hundred miles off.  All the lights were turned off and all was nearly silent except for the steady noise of the motors.  Then some kids started to sing softly and slightly out of unison so that it was barely possible to identify what they were singing.  But it struck me that it was the most beautiful singing I’d ever heard.

          That did not prepare me for what happened after we landed.

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 1, Maximón’s Mission

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SERVANT OF THE SCORPION – Chapter 1, Maximón’s Mission

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          “Look at what was done to her.”

          The Agent holds the photograph up to the face of the Interpreter.  Her eyes repel toward me with disbelief.

          I know what the photograph shows.  Her lips, her nose, her cheeks, her eyelids and her ears are cut off.  She is not lucky to be alive.

          “What is your full name?”

–         Alonzo Cesar León Navarro

          “How old are you, Alonzo?”

–         Nineteen.

          “Where do you live?”

–         Nowhere now.  Here.  I guess you could say at the San Nicolas Mission in East L.A.

          “How did you get involved in this?”

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          The girl I wanted to marry suddenly got married to someone else right after high school.  She told me I didn’t know what I wanted.  But I said I wanted to be married to her.  That wasn’t enough.

So then I really did not know what I wanted.  I wasn’t ready for college.  I told my Grandmother, “College isn’t ready for me.”  My Grandmother told me I couldn’t stay with her anymore if I wasn’t going to college.  Where was I going to stay?  When I saw my father he said I should “man up” and join the Army.

          I couldn’t get a job.  One day I applied at this Vietnamese fast-food place.  It was a hot day.  The only good thing about it was the beautiful girl ordering at the counter.  On the way back I walked past the San Nicolas Mission.  The same beautiful girl walked past right in front of me and went into the Mission.  It looked cool inside so I followed her through the small door.  Compared to outside it was really dark.  I couldn’t see for a minute but it was a lot cooler.

          The walls and floor were white and all the wood was dark, almost black.  I sat down in the last row.  I didn’t see the girl.  I looked around.  The white paint was holding this place together.  It was dark and cool because the four windows along each side toward the altar were small with thick stained glass.  Above the altar was a round window with a star-shaped pattern of stained glass, like a rainbow web.

          The street door opened behind me.  I heard a soft whirring sound and I turned to look.  An old man in a motorized wheel-chair was coming down the aisle and he stopped beside me.

          “Nice in here, isn’t it?” he said.  “Praying for cooler weather?”

          “Praying for a job, man.”

          “What do you do?”

          I looked toward the altar, “Screw up.”

          He laughed, “You have come to the right place.”

          He raised both arms toward the altar.  “Blessed is he who knows he has screwed up”, then turning to me, “for he has begun to be saved.  I’m Pastor Maximón.  What’s your name?”

          “Cesar.”

          “Do you know what we do here at the San Nicolas Mission?”

          “Talk about Hell?”

          He smiled and his eyes narrowed, “Yes, but we also do something about Hell.  We find homes for orphans from Central and South America, and, right now, we’re getting a team together to help rebuild a village in Guatemala that was hit by an earthquake.”

          “That’s nice.”

          “Would you like to help?”

          “Would I get paid?” I said, thinking this was bullshit.

          “Well, we are told to render unto ‘Cesar’, aren’t we?  Yes.  We have some generous donors who have funded this entire adventure.”

          I didn’t expect that.  I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “You look like you’re in good shape.  Are you going on the trip?”

          He made rowing motions with arms that suddenly looked really big and muscular, “No.  But I work out all the time.  I used to compete in martial arts.  I fought for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.  I still teach even after I lost my legs.”

          “How did that happen?”

          “I stopped along the freeway to help a lady with a flat tire.  I was being a good Christian, right?  I had her car jacked-up when this drunk woman hit us.  Not a scratch on her.  But me, I was sitting there staring at my cock-eyed legs.  It took the ambulance twenty minutes to get there.  But God decided it wasn’t my time to die.  That was more than… years ago.”

          “Well, I hope the drunk bitch is rotting in jail.”

          “She got seven years.  No insurance.  But she had a young daughter and no family here.  When I heard the sentence I knew I didn’t want that child to grow up without a mother.  I petitioned the judge to let her out.  I had to sign a bunch of papers.”

          “You’re kidding.”

          “When they let her out she came to me crying saying over and over ‘thank you, thank you’.  What can you do?  God gave me this challenge for a reason.”

          He closed his eyes, “I like you, Cesar, and I can tell you have a strong spirit.  I think God has put you in the right place at the right time.  This will change your life in so many good ways.”

          For some reason I thought of the beautiful girl who had crossed my path going into the mission.

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THE SILVER STOGIE AWARD

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THE SILVER STOGIE AWARD

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        We were all invited to The Katman’s Cutters Lounge cigar bar to celebrate his Silver Stogie Award for Best Cigar Blog.  The Katman’s daughter Katie served the ceremonial Clynelish 20-year old Scotch to Michael, Rick, David, and me.

        Like a conquering Julius Caesar saluting his Legions, The Katman held aloft his Silver Stogie Award and a quiver of five Padilla Edición Especial Obsidian cigars from his private reserve, “From the legendary 2006 batch,” he announced in triumph.

        I sighed, remembering, “Oh, the ‘velvet curtain’ sensation of the smoke in my mouth….”

        David asked, “Wasn’t the world supposed to end in 2006?”

        “Someone’s world is always at an end,” The Katman philosophized.

        Rick, always holding his acoustic guitar, quickly invented a Flamenco tune, singing, “Padilla, Padilla, Edición Especial…”

        Mike grinned adoringly, “Oh, my Long-Filler is hard…”

        The Katman allotted a Padilla Edición Especial Obsidian to each of us like it was a diploma.  He said, “Girls, you are going to sing for your cigars this time.  Look over there,” and he pointed to the far corner while nodding to daughter Katie who flicked a light switch and revealed a staged set of drums, two guitars, a singer’s microphone stand, and The Katman’s fretless Fender Jazz Bass guitar.  On the bass drum daughter Katie had painted a logo entitled The Brothers of the Leaf.

        “Pahr-tay!” The Katman joked, “Let us play onward.”

        Occasionally there had been jazz combos at Cutters Lounge but we had never jammed there ourselves.  We had been in and out of bands together in our glory days but this was The Katman really letting his Afro down.

        I said, “I haven’t touched a guitar in years.”

        Mike said, “Then you can play skin flute.”

        I replied with a lewd gesture toward him, “Here, let me warm up.”

        Rick intervened, “Gentlemen, no solos yet.”

        The Katman pointed out, “We need you on drums, Allen.”

        David said with apprehension, “What are we going to play?  Make it something I can still sing.”

        The Katman said to us all, “The instruments can jam first and loosen-up on something simple.  David, think of one you’ll be comfortable singing, like ….”

        “Please,” Mike said, “No Jim Croce.”

        “How about Dave Mason?” offered David.

        Rick asked, “Like ‘Feelin’ Alright’?  That’s got a groove,” and he proceeded to scratch a chukka-chukka rhythm on the electric guitar, “or maybe something from this century, guys, like Colbie Caillat‘s ‘Brighter Than The Sun’?” and Rick then segued into the rhythm of that song.

        “I don’t know the lyrics,” said David.

        Mike teased, “Know any good Hip-Hop?”

        Then The Katman just ignored us all and began to lay down some funk in E and all the instruments followed.

        Daughter Katie began mocking us by dancing The Twist.

        Our jam finally morphed into a funky version of Van Morrison’s “Redwood Tree” naturally enough, and David was happy and soulful as he sang.  The other patrons of Cutters Lounge gathered near and joined in the spirit of the fun.  It was like one of our early garage-band gigs, except that this time no neighbor lady approached the band with the back of her hand against her forehead like a tormented Ophelia, entreating us not to play so loud; I smiled in remembrance.

        Several patrons staked-out a dance floor area in front of the band.  We played and jammed and joked for an hour.  The Katman called a cigar break.  There was polite applause.

        I laughed, “Man, I am sweating!”

        Mike poked, “Yeah, good thing you don’t have a woman to hold.”

        “Hold this, spooge-breath,” I retorted, grinning.

        Michael, Rick, David, and I sat back down on the big couches.  The Katman returned to his lounge chair.

        The Silver Stogie Award for Best Cigar Blog was not a joke or a minor recognition.  The Silver Stogie Award is given for excellence that is defined as “informative, innovative, amusing, and serves the community”.  The Katman was sponsoring orphanages in Honduras and Guatemala.

        It was my turn to say something in The Katman’s honor, “My father is facing Alzheimer’s.  I took him to see the movie Act of Valor last weekend.  He really appreciated it.  The movie referenced something that Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief, said.  I thought it was very powerful and appropriate for us.  I thought it would make a great credo for our efforts here together at Cutters Lounge:

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Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.

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        The Katman’s eyes glowed molten red from the ember of his cigar.  We all had an itch in our eyes.  We raised our cigars in salute to The Great Spirit of Tecumseh.

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THE GRAVES OF LOUIS GAROU

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THE GRAVES OF LOUIS GAROU

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          Louis Garou was a black slave on a sugar plantation in the French Caribbean colony of Ayiti.  It was 1789 and the National Constituent Assembly of the French Revolution had promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

          Louis Garou listened to a domestic servant Odetta LaSang who lamented, “The declaration did not revoke the institution of slavery.”

          Odetta LaSang long ago had taken pity on Louis Garou for the lashings upon his mind, body, and soul by overwork; inadequate food, shelter, clothing and medical care.  Therefore, Odetta LaSang swore that she secretly would educate him.  But teaching Louis Garou to read or write was forbidden by the fearful slave masters.  There were ten times more slaves than white masters and Odetta LaSang had told to Louis Garou the words of Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau who had written that “the whites sleep at the foot of Vesuvius.

          No, Odetta LaSang was not going to educate Louis Garou to ingratiate himself by learning the conventions of his tormentors.  Odetta LaSang taught Louis Garou instead about vodou (spirit demons and deities) because Odetta LaSang was secretly a mambo (vodou priestess).

          Some slaves already had run away from the plantation and lived in the jungle beyond the sugar plantation by stealing what they could not find to survive and by living in fear of being recaptured and violently punished.  Runaway slaves when captured were whipped and many were tortured as a warning to the thousands of other slaves.  Some were castrated.  Some were burned.

          A confederation of runaway slaves known as maroons (“fugitives, runaways”) had congealed and they were perpetrating sporadic raids on the sugar plantation.  But they had no leader.

          Louis Garou had always sought his refuge within flickering dreams of rebellion but under the tutelage of Odette LaSang the pitiable slave was devoured slowly by a fiery conspiracy of ungodly revenge.

          Louis Garou’s macabre enlightening could not be hidden much longer under a bushel of sugar cane.  One night he simply walked away into the jungle.

          He appeared before the maroon camp, terrifying them with his apparition.  They saw angels falling from his eyes.  He grinned upon them with the teeth of a dog.

          Louis Garou proclaimed himself the savior of the maroons and he gave them commandments of blood.  Louis Garou convened the maroons in a vodou ceremony and inflamed their ever-present African ancestors.  The disembowelment of a black female pig marked the beginning of the holocaust on Ayiti.

          The slaves of the sugar plantation had been told in the epiphanies of Odetta LaSang that the descent of Judgment would be sudden and terrible upon the French grands blancs (wealthy white aristocrats).  Yet even Odetta LaSang fell to her knees when she finally witnessed the horror that her epiphanies had refused to reveal.

          Louis Garou led the attack on the plantation mansion.  Grands blancs security guards and administrators were hacked down like sugar cane.  Mulatto workers were not spared.  Louis Garou finally broke into the kitchen where Odetta LaSang was shielding the innocent young grand blanc children that she had raised.  Louis Garou told his rabid followers to bring the parents down to him alive.  In order to force the mother and father to witness what would happen next he commanded that their eyelids be sliced off.

          Possessed by his fearsome Djab (personal demon) Louis Garou snatched the children one by one away from Odetta LaSang and with his teeth he disemboweled them alive upon the lace cloth of the dining table.  He flung their limp husks into the basket of garbage that was to have been given to the slaves to eat.  Then, while the guts still steamed, Louis Garou reached into the face of the mother and pulled the eyeballs from her sockets, throwing them upon the heap of the children’s entrails.  She toppled forward spewing blood.  The mind of the father had fled his body.  To bring the father’s mind back Louis Garou had him placed upon the table and his skin peeled off.

          Louis Garou then took the gory lace tablecloth and commanded that it be raised as the flag of the rebellion and so it was done.  Odetta LaSang chanted protection for herself as she followed Louis Garou outside.

          The massacre soon covered the entire island of Ayiti.  Louis Garou at last declared amnesty for the survivors who had hidden themselves, promising, “I will not kill you!”  As soon as the survivors revealed themselves Louis Garou had them buried alive.

          Odetta LaSang proclaimed to the sated followers, “We are free.  We are the Republic of Ayiti!”

          The sugar of Ayiti was too valuable to the economic interests of even a newly enlightened France.  Napoleon Bonaparte eventually sent a formidable expeditionary force of French soldiers and warships to the island in order to restore French rule.  Odetta LaSang and Louis Garou were forced to flee Ayiti by stowing away on a vessel bound for Nouvelle-Orléans, the capital of French Louisiana.

          Odetta LaSang became a wealthy woman once in Nouvelle-Orléans.  Louis Garou was not documented as being seen again although there have been strangely gruesome murders and inexplicable vanishings in New Orleans ever since.  One day Odetta LaSang just disappeared and her devotees said that she entered the spirit world intact.  Her abandoned mansion became a vodou pilgrimage site and finally it was declared the Historical Site known today.  Lately there have been financial difficulties and maintaining the site had become problematic.

          The real surprise came when potential developers were surveying the grounds of the mansion.  An unmarked crypt was discovered that held a tightly sealed coffin.  The publicity has been sensational.  Of course the speculation is that the body of Louis Garou has been found.  This discovery has resurrected the Historical Site as a viable endeavor: a lucrative exclusive television deal has been signed and tourism has returned with a vengeance.

          I am the Forensic Anthropologist who has been contracted to open the coffin and document the findings and present my “mystery guest” in a televised special.  This discovery has also resurrected my career.  I was laid off in the recent State University budget massacres.  Since then my desperate “consulting business” has consisted only of “consulting” with bill collectors.  I eventually was hired only because my family could be traced back to the time of Odetta LaSang and Louis Garou.  My family legends even say that the disappearance of one of my relatives was attributed to Louis Garou.  I always figured that my ancestor’s disappearance was attributable to a drunken stupor and a swamp.

          Truthfully?  I personally figure that the coffin will contain the remains of Odetta LaSang’s favorite cat.  But who am I to piss on my own parade?

          A mobile cleanroom for isolation and temperature and humidity control has been set-up for me in the parlour of Odetta LaSang’s mansion.  The television broadcast will be early tomorrow for Good Mornin’ All Y’all.  Alone tonight I am expected to open the coffin with painstaking caution and to prepare my “debutante”.  I had insisted that I have no distracting assistant.  Truth be told, I am not too confident of my rusty techniques.

          OK.  Turn on the video recorder.  I am dressed like a surgeon.  Nice touch if I do say so myself.

          “The coffin is wrapped in an oily swaddling that bears symbols of vodou curses.”

          I place the excised strips of the cloth cocoon upon a large stainless steel table.  The coffin itself is revealed.

          “The coffin appears to be made of Bayou Cypress.  It has been given a mirror-like finish,” and then I expound for dramatic effect, “There are ancient religions that believe the cypress tree is sacred.  Some believe that the cypress tree is last tree seen before entering the underworld,” and then I joked, “I guess that was true for this resident, whoever it might be.”

          I lean very close to examine the highly oiled and polished coffin lid.  I can see my reflection.  I stare at myself.  My shifting focus makes me feel light headed.  My vision wavers.

          Suddenly I am looking through a completely transparent coffin lid and I can clearly see that it is me!  It is me laid out as the grim resident of the coffin!

          I open my mouth to exclaim but something has me by the throat.  I try to pull back but I am restrained.  I panic!  The sensation of strangling!  All fades to blackness.

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          I must have fainted.  People are standing around me, looking down at me.  There is the Good Mornin’ All Y’all hostess.  There behind her stands her cameraman.  There are children leaning over me; young boys grin with wicked relish, young girls grimace, “Eeeww!”  There is laughter.  I cannot yet speak.  And then I see a familiar figure with his back toward me.  He turns.

          It is me!  He is leaning down toward me.  I am having a nightmare and I can’t wake up!  His eyes glint and I hear him saying, “The body is badly decomposed but we are fairly certain that it is not the body of a black man such as was Louis Garou.  He will be returned with the coffin to the crypt out of respect for whoever he might have been.”

          The hostess of Good Mornin’ All Y’all asks, “Could this have been one of Louis Garou’s victims?”

          I see the apparition of myself look back down at me and I hear it say, “Now why would Louis Garou have gone to so much trouble to bury a victim when he could have just thrown him into the swamp?”

          The hostess sums up for the camera audience, “And so we have not found the coffin of Louis Garou after all…”

          The apparition of me interrupts, smiling mischievously, “Well, we don’t know that,” and then the apparition of me makes a ghoulish face at the children, saying, “Maybe Louis Garou is just not in his coffin anymore!” and the children shriek.

          I cannot.

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OUT OF SERVICE

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OUT OF SERVICE

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          It was midnight there outside the train station.  That was the last stop on my bus route that night.  I left the doors open for fresh air.  I flipped on the “OUT OF SERVICE” displays front, back, side.  I shuffled to the rear of the bus with my head down to pick up the paper trash before I was going to be driving back to the yard.  I turned around and meandered back up front and when I looked up suddenly there she stood.

          She was black.  She was in her Army fatigues and she was carrying a duffle bag as big as a Volkswagen.  She turned her head and grinned sweetly and fluttered her eyelashes, asking me, “Can you make one more stop?  Please?  My train was late,” then she pouted her full lips.

          I felt badly but replied, “I’m sorry, I can’t.”

          Her face fell and she plopped her duffle bag down and said, “I was supposed to meet my sister at Thompson Creek Road at eleven.”

          I pointed back to the train station and I offered, “There is still a cab over there.”

          She looked up at me and whispered almost with shame, “I can’t afford a cab that far,” then she proffered, “I can pay you.”

          I said again, “I’m sorry.”

          She straightened up and resolved, “That’s alright.  It’s alright.  God will find me a way.”

          I was hearing my angel and my devil argue.

“You’ll get fired.”

“But she put herself in harm’s way for you and this country.”

“So what?  This isn’t a TV commercial.  Just think about how long were you unemployed before you got this job.  It’s a good job.”

“Come on.  It’s cold and dark out there and she looks so tired and sad.  Are you going to make her sleep in the train station?  What would Jesus do?”

“Jesus would get nailed to a cross.”

          I rubbed my palms together nervously and said, “Oh, alright.  Sure, ok.  Thompson Creek Road is on my way back anyway.  And you don’t owe me anything.”

          She gave a little hop, “Praise Jesus,” and her face became radiant as she said, “I’m Zaina.  Sergeant Zaina Bawa.  Thank you, thank you.”

          I sighed, “Yeah.  I’m Bob.”

          Sergeant Zaina smiled and said, “Thank you, Bus Driver Bob,” as she took her place on the long seat right behind the driver’s chair.

          Zaina leaned around the Plexiglas panel behind my chair and said, “You don’t look like a bus driver.  Aren’t you kind of young?  All the bus drivers I’ve known were geezers.”

          I spoke over my shoulder to Zaina as I merged with the freeway traffic, “I was an English major.  I couldn’t find any other job.  I was actually lucky to find this one.”

          Zaina asked, “Don’t you go crazy talking to crazy people on the bus… like me?” and she bowed her head and gave a loud, “Ha!”

          I smiled, “It’s not too bad.  Most people are OK, just trying to get along.  You know.”

          Zaina asked, “So you don’t pull away from the bus stop just when some old lady is running across the street hollering ‘Wait!’?”

          I laughed, “No.  I’m usually behind schedule because I don’t blow people off.  I watch for them.  I even wait for connecting buses if they aren’t too late.”

          Zaina asked with a big smile, “Bob, are you sure you are a bus driver?  ‘Cause you ain’t like any bus driver I ever knew.”

          I just had to say to her, “Actually, I’m a writer,” and I waited for her to be impressed.

          Zaina asked, “A writer, huh?  What do you write?  Bus reports?  ‘Today I talked to a crazy lady named Zaina’.  Aw, I’m just funnin’ ya.”

          I replied undaunted, “Fiction.”

          She said, “You make stuff up.”

          I replied, “Yeah, about crazy ladies named Zaina that no one will believe.”

          She tried to get serious for a moment, “Do you think you can make a living at it as a writer?”

          I sighed, “It will take an Act of God.”

          Zaina shook her head slowly, “God does have a plan for you and me, Bob.  I know that for a fact,” then she became pensive, “Some of the fucking shit I’ve come through…  God was watching out for me, I know, ‘cause I’m right here in America on this bus tonight with you Bob.  And some friends I had ain’t, God rest their souls, I tell ya.”

          I offered, “I can only imagine from TV and what I’ve heard.  I really respect what you do, Zaina.”

          The bus rocked and hummed along amongst the sparse midnight traffic.  In the mirror I saw that Zaina remained pensive and then she reached into her duffle bag and rummaged and pulled out a half-empty bottle of Heaven Hill Black Bourbon.  I quickly switched off the interior lights except for the dashboard.  Was I about to be punished for my “good deed”?

          Zaina took a swig, cringed and then exhaled.  She leaned forward and held the bottle out into the dashboard twilight in front of my right hand saying, “Welcome me home, Bob?”

          I had a sudden revelation: it was the lipstick on the mouth of the bottle that I wanted to taste.  Good Lord.  I could feel my wild turkey feathers ruffle down below.

          I sneaked a swig, leaning back against the chair and sliding the bottle up and then back down close to my chest, saying, “I’m fucked.”

          Zaina laughed, took another swig and said to me, “You don’t know what fucked is, Bob.”

          I laughed.  This was a whole new world in my timid universe.

          For several miles we both climbed up Heaven Hill, talking and laughing louder and longer.  The bus weaved a couple times because I was laughing so hard.

          I got off the freeway at Foothill Boulevard and Zaina said, “There are cops here.  Better put this away,” then she laughed, “Its empty anyway, Mister Bus Driver Bob!”

          I could still taste the lipstick from each shared swig.  My devil and my angel were in my opposite ears again.

          “Yeah.  Pull into Hibert’s Automotive Repair lot.  It’s after midnight.  They’re closed.  Nothing crazy about a city bus getting some outsourced repair work, right?”

          “Bob, what are you doing?  Just take Zaina to Thompson Creek Road down the street and say good-bye.”

          I said to Zaina, “Thompson Creek Road is just a couple blocks down.  Do you need help carrying that?  Can I call your sister for you?”

          Zaina stood up and leaned close to me, saying, “Thank you, Bob.  It was so nice of you to do this for me.  I wish I could repay you,” while I vibrated like a tuning fork she continued, “I pray you won’t get into any trouble because of me.  I know God will bless you for this,” and she leaned in toward me upon her tip toes to kiss my cheek.

          But when I smelled her and felt her heat against my face my arms were suddenly grabbing her.  I know I shouldn’t have, couldn’t have…  God bless my arms.  She felt firm and I could tell she was strong but, my God, she softly surrendered.  I kissed her on the mouth and her full lips parted.  My tongue stormed inside.  She embraced me and we pressed each other.

          We sank to the floor of the bus, and Zaina gasped, “Wait, wait,” and she clawed a blanket out of her duffle bag and unrolled it and then we rolled on it.  She unbuttoned her fatigue shirt and revealed creamy brown arms and neck outside her A-shirt while I quickly slid my hands under that A-shirt.  Oh, God, oh, God, I had to say out loud close to her face, “God, your skin is so soft,” and she arched up and kissed me as I drew out her breasts in both hands, kneeling like I was praying.  And I was praying: I was giving incredulous thanks.

          I sanctioned her soft, soft breasts and I held the bullets of her nipples between my lip and tongue.  She began to twist side to side.  She was twisting to unbutton her heavy pants, giggling at the effort.  I looked downward.  Under those heavy military pants were white cotton panties, glowing against her dark skin.  I pulled those panties down with my chin, sliding myself down into amenable supplication.

          Minutes later she was tugging my face onto her chest and she asked me breathlessly, “Do you have a condom?”

          I answered, “No.”

          She said, “Oh, Jesus.”

          I advanced into that satin minefield anyway.

          I was probing with my semi-automatic, retreating, probing, retreating, probing, probing and then, dammit, I stumbled helplessly into an annihilating explosion.  I started flagging like a raw recruit when Sergeant Zaina Bawa took command and grabbed me and pulled me erect and reloaded me into the breech as bad as new.

          And then at last, after we both had surrendered several times, we held each other, my nose against her sweet soft cheek, both of us fighting for breath.  Finally Zaina turned her head and she whispered into my face, “My sister will be worried.”

          We helped each other dress.  Then I drove that grunting hissing bus down the narrow neighborhood street of Thompson Creek Road.  Lights came on in a couple of the houses we passed.

          I finally stopped and let Sergeant Zaina Bawa out in front of her sister’s house.  Her sister heard the odd noises and opened the front door, her mouth falling open as wide as the doorway, screeching and laughing, “Zaina, you hijacked a bus?!”

          Zaina called back to me, laughing, “Bob, this is my sister Eloise.  Eloise, this my very own Bus Driver Bob.”

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And that is the real story of how I met your mother.

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