El ladrón generoso

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Yao Sheng Shakya

Queridos amigos,

A menudo nos pone sumamente contentos ayudar a alguien que lo necesita. Lo cierto es que muchas veces nos sentimos halagados de que hayan acudido a nosotros y, aunque no queramos reconocerlo nos sentimos un poco “superiores”. Si no ¿por que habrían acudido a nosotros? Luego, cuando otra persona viene en nuestra ayuda, respondemos al pedido ya que, después de todo, tenemos una imagen que mantener de ser personas amables y bien dispuestas.

El Zen nos enseña en cuantos problemas nos podemos meter cuando nos sentimos obligados por nuestros propios egos a ayudar, ayudar y ayudar, sin meditar un momento en nuestras motivaciones.

Déjenme que les cuente una pequeña historia:

 

Un joven padre de familia trabajaba en una verdulería y, durante tiempos difíciles en el país donde la comida era escasa, hurtaba algunos vegetales para su esposa y sus hijos.

Al enterarse de esto, su hermano y su suegra, acudieron a él y le suplicaron que les trajera algunos vegetales y frutas extra. Ya era difícil para él sustraer comida para su familia, pero sintiendo que no podía negarse, se prestó a ello.

Pronto, su hermano y su suegra sintiéndose “muy orgullosos” (y algo más inteligentes que la media, también) de que tenían un familiar tan caritativo, corrieron el rumor por todo el barrio y pronto algunos vecinos acudían a él para pedirle que les consiguiera un poco para ellos.

Así fue como el dueño de la tienda se dio cuenta del robo y denunció a nuestro joven protagonista. El hombre fue arrestado y culpado por la sustracción de la mercadería. Su familia estaba claramente avergonzada. Obviamente, nadie podía confesar que había estado recibiendo mercadería robada. Y confesémoslo, nadie quiere tener sangre en común con un ladrón… aunque, en privado, los beneficiarios de antaño le decían a nuestro bienintencionado ladrón frases del tipo “cualquier cosa que necesites estaremos aquí para ayudarte”, sus discursos nunca se concretaron.

¿Quién colaboró para pagar los honorarios de su abogado? Nadie

¿Quién se prestó a asistirlo mientras estaba en la cárcel? Nadie

¿Quién ofreció sostener económicamente a su familia mientras estaba preso? Nadie

Uno de los principales preceptos del Zen nos prohíbe tomar algo que no es nuestro. Si el hubiese cumplido  esa regla, no hubiese plantado en su conducta ese hábito que creció y creció hasta llevarlo a la cárcel. Muy tarde aprendió que el deseo de agradar, de ser amable sin importar que, había arruinado su vida y la de su familia.

Normalmente escuchamos todo tipo de discursos que nos animan a ayudar, a compartir, a dar todo de nosotros a los demás ¿Quién puede estar en contra de eso? Pero cuando nuestro ego toma el control, bañado de la satisfacción de ser el héroe del día, entonces nuestra conducta se apodera de nosotros y nos volvemos ciegos a toda posible consecuencia.

 

A Father’s Birth (#3)

luisluis
Master Yao Xin Shakya

A Father’s Birth

 

A series of articles on becoming a parent from a Zen’s priest memories, guts, and imagination

 

Click here to access all available issues of “A Father’s Birth”

 

 

Part 3:   A Stained Bear in the Patio

 

Mount Athos: The Skete of Prophet Elijah Photo Credit: www.macedonian-heritage.gr
Mount Athos: The Skete of Prophet Elijah
Photo Credit: www.macedonian-heritage.gr

The next morning brought a blue and gold day. We had promised to visit Mouni Pofiti Ilyas and to speak to the priest there; and it was a promise we eagerly looked forward to keeping.

We were directed to a mountain lake and told that we could hire a boat and spend some time, just the two of us, on the surface of a blue pearl of a lake in the middle of Crete.  We stayed on the water for an hour or so and then continued on to the church that the “pope” had recommended to us.

It was a huge disappointment.  We stared up at the church that seemed to have been thrown together in no particular style, banal in the worst way, and half falling apart.  A small 19th Century monastery sat grudgingly beside it.  Why, we wondered, had the “pope” insisted on his particular monastery.  “Probably,” I said, “he was proud of his village and wanted us to know it better.” The shame was that there were so many really beautiful and very well preserved spiritual sites all around us.  “We may be wasting our time here,” I decided.

What we were doing, was “judging a book by its cover,” and this is always a foolish thing to do whether we are looking at people or old churches. The things in life that give us the most trouble are those things that we are too quick to dismiss or to overlook, regarding them as useless, unaesthetic, or unimportant. What we should have done was to be positive and trust in the old priest’s judgment –  to look for that feature that was so special to him that he wanted us to see it.  But instead we superimposed our own values on the building’s appearance and were negative and disappointed.

We walked around the monastery ground and finally found the main entrance, a very large metallic door.  As I pushed on it I felt like a child pushing open a museum door.  My wife encouraged me to continue,  The sun was overhead and very hot and all I really wanted to do was to go back to the cool lake.

But we pushed the door open and to our surprise there was another door just inside the first one.  This door was small and we could tell ancient.  I had to laugh at our initial foolishness.  We opened this interior door and found a lovely little patio – the flowered square that sits in the middle of the monastery complex.  There were beautiful trees and flowers everywhere.  “It’s like an Eden in here,” my wife said.  And all around it was a high wall.

I thought about the habit we humans have cultivated since antiquity: constructing high walls that separate what is inside from what is outside.  City states and the walls are our frontiers.  Sometimes our homes have walls and guards that permit only the chosen to enter.   In religion we see such walls too. They are supposed to enclose a sacred space. But the wall around the outside of this church was difficult to understand.

The interior walls were painted pure white and the sun’s effect on them made them dazzle and scintillate and, frankly, to hurt our eyes.  I was still visually adjusting to the place when I saw a big black thing on a wall.  At first I thought it was a hole in the wall and then the hole moved.  It was a very tall and husky monk and he scowled as he stood up and looked at us.  I knew without asking that this was the monk the “pope” said we should meet.

I could appreciate that monks must get sick of tourists who ask the same dumb questions over and over.  But this monk was showing more than irritation at being interrupted in whatever it was he was doing.  He glared at us and my wife murmured that she was uncomfortable being there.  His black robe – which was much like our black ceremonial robes – had blotches of white all over it; and I realized that we had interrupted him while he was painting the wall.

He walked towards us, whispering something into his thick beard.  I quickly told him that the village “pope” had sent us.  He squinted a moment, doubting us perhaps, and then he told us to wait until he had finished painting the wall and had cleaned his brushes and tools.  We waited in the garden, playing with a cat (there are always cats inside a monastery); and then

we walked around looking at the various architectural details that had been hidden from the street.  The monastery was far more beautiful than we had imagined.

Finally, he came to us and quite rudely asked, “Before you enter,” he said, “I must ask whether or not you are Protestants.”  We said that we were not and explained our backgrounds.  He seemed relieved.  “Zen,” I said, “Is the mystical path of Buddhism.” He looked at me as if to say, “I know that.”  So I stayed quiet.  I knew that there were centuries of old conflicts regarding the universality of God’s grace and the manifested energy of the divine.  It’s sometimes difficult to imagine how what seems to be trivial is actually sufficiently powerful to split Christianity. In Buddhism we have similar splits about points that seem trivial to others.  But I could tell that this priest neither needed nor wanted any comments from me.

Keeping our mouths shut, we followed the monk into the monastery church.  Here, again, there were no Byzantine wonders to be seen.  It was simply a nice 19th Century church – with one exception.  The church displayed many fanions or banners, black and gold decorations that bore the double-headed eagle – which is the Mount Athos’ emblem.  This monastery was then a sub-branch of an Athonite monastery, one that was outside the Athos peninsula.  I didn’t know that such places existed and realized that the church had to be very special… very holy.

The emblem of the double-headed eagle signifies that the monks practiced “union and silence” throughout their everyday life.

We paid homage to the icon at the entrance, a beautiful icon of Elihya waiting for the coming of Christ at the end of times – which is, of course, similar to the way we await the coming of the Future Buddha, Maitreya.  We also bowed before an icon of Mary carrying the Christ in glory, his head at the center of her chest – her heart chakra.  Finally, we reverently bowed and acknowledged a variety of holy relics just as we would bow to a stupa.  Finally we were directed to sit on a bench near the altar.  We took out our Buddhist prayer beads, and silently repeated the name of the Buddha as we circled the beads through our fingers.

The big “bear monk” looked at us strangely.  He was astonished by our respect for his icons and what he regarded as their Christian Orthodox practices.  He came and sat next to me and said, “Keep repeating the prayer.”  I thought this was strange but I did as he asked.  Then he said, “You need to be diligent in your practice, more effort is needed.”  Now I was clearly confused.

Here was an Athonite monk giving me a critique of a Buddhist practice.  He saw my confusion and explained, “Saying the prayer isn’t enough.  A prayer has nothing to do with just repeating words.”  My own master had often reminded me of not falling into the trap of self-hypnotic trances by getting lost in a mantra.  I was not succumbing to that hypnotic attraction, so I looked at the monk, wondering what he was trying to teach me.

“When you pray” he said sternly, “you must keep humble and attentive.  When you pray you must pray for all the world, just as when you confess your sins, you must also acknowledge the sins all human beings make, and pray for them, too.”  I was really stunned by these words since they could have come from the founder of my own Zen lineage: Ummon or Yun Men.  He always insisted that students practice attention in all things they did.  Every moment, every action is a mirror of our essential oneness with others.  This was the mindfulness, this realization of not being someone who stands out, but is rather humble, a member of the whole of mankind.

The monk pointed at my wife’s swollen belly.  “Baby’s name?” he asked.

“Eliott,” I said, and his face lit up joyfully.  Suddenly he was not the grumpy, grudgingly tolerant monk I thought he was.

“Eliott’s father and mother,” he said buoyantly as he jumped up, “you come with me.”  He led us to the entrance of another small building.  He asked us to wait, and then he closed the door.  We waited, admiring the simple but beautiful details of the wooden door.  Finally he returned.  His face was very serious and he carried a small gold cross in his right hand.  “This cross,” he said, “is the one that the founder of our monastery always used.  It had belonged to one of our saints.  Do you wan to receive the blessing?”

I looked at my wife and saw that she was intrigued.  We both cautiously answered, “Yes,” like children who are asked, “Can you keep a secret?”

The monk began to utter a few mantras that we did not understand, and then he blessed himself with the cross, just as an esoteric Buddhist would do before “entering the mandala” to establish the “Vajra Wall,” that would purify and create a sacred space.

He turned to me and rubbed the cross on the crown of my head and in the three dantiens, the three more important chakras (head, heart, hara).  The he repeated the actions but in reverse, ending at the crown of the head.  Finished, he indicated that I step back into the shadow of the church’s tower.

And then his face changed.  He said the same mantras, but this time they seemed so full of meaning, as if he were not merely praying, but communicating with someone.  He proceeded to perform what in yogic or other mystical traditions is regarded as “opening the channels and chakras” and “attaining the union of opposites in the heart.  It looked like a Christian version of accessing the microcosmic orbit.  My wife looked radiant as he blessed her and he, too, had that “other worldly” look of exaltation.  And I knew that he was connecting with a saint… the prophet Elihya.  It scared me a little to think that so much holiness was being heaped on my little son… as if he would be expected to become some kind of Buddhist saint.

Years before, at a crucial point in my spiritual life, my ass was saved by the Zen teachings I found in the Orthodox Christian teachings of the Desert Fathers.  Through the Desert Fathers I was able to reconnect with Zen.  I’ll always be greatful to Thomas Merton, Gregory Palamas, and an old summary of the Philocalia.  But in that church at that moment, I realized that mystical traditions in all the great religions are the same to all true spiritual seekers.

A few days later, we were in the ancient capital, Hania, the very night of Orthodox Easter. All the parish church communities gather to prepare a big altar with an holy image which they surround with flowers and lights.  All the church bells ring and everyone carries a candle.

I looked at my wife, her face glowing in the candle light, and thought about the the other living flame, the one that was in her womb.  And then I remembered the priest’s insistence that I be humble and attentive and think not only of my child but of all unborn children.  I felt a curious connection to the world.  It was a very heavy thought!  I tried to shake off that sense of responsibility to all children.  Even though I knew it would haunt me, for the moment, I tried to brush it aside, and I asked myself, “Good Grief! What on earth are you going to name your next child?”

The Money Lender (#7)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Money Lender

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

If you haven’t read the previous issues:

The Money Lender #1

The Money Lender #2

The Money Lender #3

The Money Lender #4

The Money Lender #5

The Money Lender #6

Part 25   Harold

 

Harold and Paul encountered a tornado in Iowa (from a safe distance) and a violent rainstorm in Wyoming that made them decide to park rather than get washed off the road; but otherwise, the trip was pleasant.  They’d call ahead and reserve a couple of rooms since Paul snored so loudly that he required his own room. They would eat a leisurely breakfast and get on the road; and never drive more than 500 miles in one day.  Soon they entered Ely in White Pine County and met Stella at the motel in which she had been waiting.

Paul showed them the house he had in mind.  “It needs work, like I said, but you get 50 acres with it and that includes a half-dozen acres of standing pine.”

Harold asked Stella if she liked it.  Surprisingly, she refused to commit herself to making it her address.  “I don’t think it’s for me,” she said.  “I’m a ramblin’ rose – or something like that.  Actually, I may have other housing plans.” Stella turned away, walked to the door, and said, “You’ve also got a trout stream, if I’m not mistaken.” She looked back at them for a moment and then went out to wait for them in the truck.

Harold did not know how to respond to her comments.  “So,” he said to Paul, “buy it.  I like it.  I like the solitude of the place.”  He walked around the interior.  “Hire people to do the repairs and then hire an interior decorator to make it look rustic… like Bonanza.  I’d like that, if that’s ok with you.  This will technically be our place.”

Paul refused.  “No, I won’t claim any part of it as my own.”

“Then put it in our three names. Stella, yours, and mine.  Joint tenants.  Like a tontine.  Last man standing gets it all.  I insist on this.”

Paul looked around.  “Well… if it’ll make you happy. I’m the oldest so that tontine deal don’t mean much to me.  But I would like to see Stella get her own place.  Maybe seein’ her name on the deed will make her feel more at home.”

“Then be sure to tell the interior decorator to make the nursery extremely nice.”

Harold contacted a real estate agency and asked the agent to handle the paperwork and title transfer to three owners.

The two men checked into the motel in Ely.  Paul called all the contractors who quickly went to work.  If all went as planned, the house would be ready for occupancy in less than a month, minus the furnishings.

When Paul came to make his report, Harold asked, “What’s Stella so reluctant about?  I’d have thought she’d jump at a chance to have her own place.”

“Don’t say anything.  Let her tell you in her own way.  You know that Brant made her prove it was his kid by getting one of those tests. That had to be humiliating for her.  She must really be nuts about him. While Stella was living in that little Airstream Brant owned, he gave her the idea that they had a future together.  It was bullshit.  I know Brant. He’s done it before with Indian women.  He likes to get them pregnant and then make them get an abortion.  He doesn’t want to pay child support.  So he cons them into thinking that they’ll have a nice house and a life together if she only gets rid of the kid.  And then he dumps her. And the truth is that he’s marrying Molly on Saturday the 12th and the reception is gonna be at the Blue Bison.  I hope Stella has enough sense to stay away.

“That’s the day before my First Holy Communion!  Damn!” Harold stopped to think about Stella. “And she gave me all that blood when she was pregnant.”

“Yep.  You needed it and she’s a very special lady, though a little thick-headed if she still hopes he’ll marry her.  Women!”

“I don’t know what to say.  Stella and Brant and Molly?  I was going to have a big breakfast celebration at the Bison after my first Holy Communion.  Shit.  I thought I’d invite him since we cost him a cow needle and a bunch of towels. They’ll be far away on a honeymoon, I hope.”

“Stella’s hopeful she’ll see him this Friday night at the Bison.”

“Tell me something,” Harold asked.  “She wouldn’t get an abortion, would she?”

“A twenty-eight year old gal who’s childless ain’t likely to do that.  But you never know. I’m praying she don’t go down that path.”

*

Friday night came and went.  Brant never came into town.  A bridal shower was being held for Molly.

On Monay, Harold drove out to the house with Paul.

An Indian Harold had never seen before was working on the roof.  He called up to him, “Are you from one of the Amerindian groups around here?”

“Sure am.  Shoshone.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jack Gaston.”

“I’m Harold Weitzman.”  As Jack nodded, Harold said, “Howdy, Jack.”

Jack raised his right hand palm out.  “How,” he replied, and the two men began to laugh.

“Where do you eat lunch, Jack?” Harold asked.

“In town.  At the Blue Bison.”

“Quit at noon?”

“Yeah.  Usually.”

“Ride in with us and I’ll buy ya’ a steak.”

Jack looked at Paul.  “Nah,” he said.  “If you want to ride in with me, fine.  Otherwise, maybe I’ll see you there.”

Part 26   Tim

 

Tim left the Zen Center and drove past Rick’s house several times on Saturday night.  He could see lights on in the house in several rooms.  He parked and walked back to the garage and  looked inside. Rick’s Jaguar was there. He turned the corner and walked back to the rear of the property.  He knew how to gain access to the yard but not the house. He returned to his car and drove around the block again.

Rick’s house had three apricot colored doors that faced the street.   The center door was the front house door, and the two side doors were actually heavy plywood garden gates. He turned the corner and walked the length of the wall went around the property.  There was no break in the wall. It simply connected to the house next door. He returned to the gates. He recognized the kind of latches that were mounted on the gates.  A half-inch diameter rod had been cemented into the cinderblock wall and a C-curved latch on the door would fall over the rod and secure the gate. A narrow chain was attached to the top of the C curve and, to open the gate, it was necessary to pull up the chain.  It was possible to insert a padlock into that circle and prevent the gate from being opened, but there was no padlock there. The latch could be opened on the inside by letting the chain come over the top of the gate so that it could be grabbed and pulled up.  The gate also had a clearly visible spring that forced the opened gate to close.

Once, while parked on the other side of the street,  he had seen Rick walk down the street with his leashed dog and several grocery bags.  He put one bag on the ground and pulled up the chain, lifting the latch. He pushed the gate open and went in, bringing all his bags and the dog with him.  The spring mechanism forced the door to swing shut behind him and, presumably, to re-latch the gate when the C-curve dropped down and closed over it.  The identical device had been installed on the other gate.

The house walls were stucco which had been painted a light tan and the eaves a dark brown.  Rick’s gardening skills were everywhere in evidence. Curves of blooming geranium kept separate from the lawn by glazed bricks and lattices of white trumpet vines that neatly obscured an alcove made for several trash cans. Throughout the garden’s design, there were colorful enameled pots of portulaca and bougainvillea that let their flowers drape gracefully over the rims.  Two palo verde trees lent their peculiar mystique to the lawn, and again Tim marveled at the cosmetics of evil.

On Sunday morning he waited outside Charlene’s church and when she exited he signaled her.  He looked so different in his new Hawaiian persona that no one would have associated him with the man who used to work at FNN CCC’s office.   Charlene signaled back and then she spoke briefly to her mother and while both of her parents walked in one direction, she came alone towards Tim.  “You look like a beachcomber in the desert,” she said laughing.

Tim didn’t dare to stand too close to her. “You look like an angel.  Listen, I’m gonna try to find a way to get myself out of this hole I’m in. I’m not experienced at this sort of thing, so it may just blow up in my face.  If you think that if I fail I’ll cause you any grief, I won’t risk it. Should I go ahead with it and at least try to set things right?”

Charlene said, “Yes, providing you promise me we’ll honeymoon in Hawaii after we get married downtown.”

“Which island?” he said, laughing as he kicked the curb.  Cautiously he began to walk backwards away from her.

“You need to speak to Julian Cardoza, the head CPA.  You won’t get near him unless you use my last name.  So use it!”

All day Sunday Tim Murphy worked at home, cleaning, cooking, and dreaming about playing in the surf with Charlene Cottone Murphy.  Everything depended on so many different “if’s” that he once again fell into a backwards kind of extrication from his labyrinthine mess.

On Monday morning, he began to answer some of the “do or can’t do” questions of the problem. Tim knew how he could enter the yard, but not how to get inside the house. He drove to a locksmith service and supply store and asked the clerk if it were possible for an ordinary person to buy lock picks.  “Sure,” the clerk said, “we’ve got half a dozen different kits.  What kind of lock are you trying to pick?”

“Gee,” Tim said, “I don’t know the name of the lock.  It’s nothing like a dead bolt.  It’s just an ordinary kitchen door lock in a tract house.  My mom is getting up in years and is starting to forget to bring her keys.  She won’t leave one under the mat or in a flower pot.  She’s has boarders from time to time and every time one leaves, she changes the exterior door locks.  She calls me when she locks herself out and half the time she’s forgotten to give me one of the new keys.  I really need a way to pick the lock open.”

“Landlords have that problem, too.  Tenants change the locks and then leave.  Here,” he said, pointing to a kit that cost $29 is all you need.  Let me show you how to use it.” He brought out a sample door lock and showed Tim the fine art of inserting one end of a flat half-swastika shaped tension wrench and then, keeping pressure on the wrench, to insert one of several “raking” pics – the Bogota, Worm, and Diamond were his preferences. “We rock the pick up and down to push the pins up in place.  We don’t drag the rake back and forth the way the name suggests. Also try to count the number of pins you have in there. There will be half a dozen or less.  Here,” he said, handing the tools to Tim, “You try it.”

Tim inserted the tension wrench, pressed it firmly as he rocked the worm pick up and down.  The lock opened.  “I’ll be damned,” Tim said.  “I’ll be able to teach my mom to do this.”

“Yeah, but will she remember to bring the pick kit outside with her?  I mean… if she forgets her keys!”  The two men laughed.

“What was I thinking?” Tim grinned. “But I guess I’m the one now who has to carry the pick kit with me.  I’ll have to get one of those pocket protectors.”

Lock picking was always good to know, so that part of the problem’s solution was certainly not wasted effort.  Getting otherwise useless carbon monoxide would be an exercise in pure faith.

Tim had the list of meat packing supply houses and laboratory chemical supply stores.  He went first to the meat packaging place.  The owner was pleasant.  When Tim asked if he could purchase a canister of CO, the owner simply asked, “It would help if I knew what you wanted to do with it.  They come all sizes and for different purposes.”

“I’ve been invited on a legitimate Elk hunt in Montana – on a Sioux Reservation.  The Indians cut up the meat and then try to package it so that it stays fresh.  But when they take it overland, no matter what the ambient temperature is, the meat turns grey and ugly.  It’s perfectly safe to eat, but it looks unappetizing.  They bring meat to a big kind of pow wow and they want their meat to look first rate.”

The owner nodded and produced several canisters. “You gotchur’ small, medium, and large.  What’ll it be?”

Tim took the medium one.  “It has a good valve on it, doesn’t it?” he asked.

The owner pointed to the nozzle and the valve.  “For short bursts – which is what they want – you just tap the valve’s lever.  If you depress the lever all the way, the gas will just keep flowing out.  You can also use the proper size hose that will fit down into the bag.  They probably won’t have a way to suck the air out of the bag, but the CO will displace the air if you stick the tube all the way down to the bottom of the bag.”

“Gee… I’m glad you explained that.  I’m a greenhorn.  Thanks for educating me.”  He took the extra long rubber hose line.

The next time that Rick left the house, Tim planned to enter it and get “the lay of the land.”  He finished his deliveries early on Monday and parked down the street.  At 7 p.m. the garage door opened and Rick drove his white Jaguar down the drive way and turned onto the street in the direction opposite to Tim.

Tim did not wait. He got out of his car, briskly walked to the gate, pulled the latch up, and pushed the gate open.  A street light gave sufficient illumination for him to see that there was a propane barbecue grill outside.  Fine, he thought,  When they’re in Never Never land, I’ll bring it into the kitchen and light the burners at an improperly low flame.  The CO from the burners will be blamed. He entered Rick’s bedtroom. The phone company had drilled a small hole through the stucco wall and into the room. He inserted one of his new lock picks into the hole and made it larger, then carefully he blew the dust away. He was certain now that a small tube could be inserted into the hole.  The dog?  Well, with its owner dead, why not just take the dog home to his mother.  Maybe it was chipped.  No problem. There were chipping devices and re-chipping devices. They were cheap to buy. He’d get rid of any chip in the dog’s scruff.  First he’d have to talk to the fingerprint man.  He could get to him through the firm’s CPA or lawyer.

He went to Rick’s desk and took a few old cancelled checks.  Copying his signature did not appear to be a problem.

He left the house as he had entered it and went home to practice signing Rick’s name.

On Tuesday morning he went to the Recorder’s office and got the legal block and section number of Rick’s house from the computerized plat books. He also obtained blank Quit Claim Deeds by which title could be transferred.

He then drove to the CPA’s office and asked to speak to the head of the firm, Julian Cardoza. He negotiated a few tiers of receptionists and secretaries, each time gaining access to the one above it by saying that the business concerned a member of the Cottone family.  Finally he gained entrance to the office of Julian Cardoza.

The smartly dressed man looked up from his desk, completely bewildered that such a young impossibly garbed man would dare to use the name of his most important client to gain access to him.

Tim did not wait to be asked to speak. “I’ll be brief, Mr. Cardoza.  I didn’t steal any money from FNN CCC or anybody else.  I can prove it.  I want you to know how the theft occurred – it was cleverly done – and I want you to know who did it… who stole FNN CCC’s money and made a fool out of FNN CCC’s management for being so easily tricked.”

“And precisely how do intend to accomplish this?” Cardoza tilted his head to the side, gesturing that Tim should sit down.

“I can bug Rick Dubrovsky’s cellphone. He’s the guy who acted as Joshua Mays’ accomplice. You’ll be able to hear the entire conversation.  There’s a third cashier… Charlene.  You know her.  We have a personal relationship which I value very much and I wouldn’t involve her without her consent.   She’s willing to call Rick Dubrovsky, one of the two thieves and tell him that some plainclothes cops were nosing around the office and she overheard them say they had a witness who saw Joshua put his Tim wig and glasses on… I’m not sure where he made the change… but he made it, all right.  And she also heard them mention both Joshua’s name and someone named Rick Dubrovsky. She’d also say that she was calling Rick because she couldn’t get through to Joshua.  They don’t allow cellphones in that Zen Center he’s living in.

“After Rick finished talking to her, he’d be quick to contact Josh as some kind of emergency, and you’ll hear them discuss the scam.   You’d get a perfect recording between them.  Of course, Joshua is a coward and if you roughed him up a little you’d get the same response easier.  But this has to happen soon. Before the weekend.”

Cardoza leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment and said, “You don’t know this, but I questioned that thumbprint.  When I compared them all after I had the copies together, I could see that they were identical.  This seemed unnatural.  I mean, on Monday a man might have a little grease on his thumb; and on Tuesday some powdered sugar from his donut. But these were clean and identical… absolutely identical. It bothered me enough so that a few days later I had an expert look at them and in his opinion they were phony prints, maybe made from a kind of 3D imaging device.  They didn’t use the old gelatin and silly putty method but some new thing that was developed in Europe.  But what was the point?  The cashiers all identified you… you the way you used to look.  The money was returned.  So what do you want from me?”

“Put me in touch with your fingerprint man.”

“Ok. It’s not that I don’t trust your spyware, but I’d prefer to hear a perfectly clear unedited recording made between the two of them.  Our guy will know what kind of equipment you need.”

“Dubrovsky has a little dog.”

“Have you nothing that will quiet the mutt?  Valium inside ground beef will do the job.  Do you have tranquilizers at home?”

“Yes… a cabinet full of them.  Left over when my dad died recently of a heart attack.  Overwork from trying to pay off the debt we didn’t owe.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your father.  Yes, I guess that finding out how this theft was accomplished is worth the trouble. But how is Charlene supposed to know how to reach Rick?”

“The moment Rick hears that she’s Charlene Cottone he’ll know she’d have the connections to get the president’s home phone.  But she can just say she got it from Joshua’s old Rolodex. She just has to say she’s calling him so that he can call Joshua and warn him that some suits were nosing around and dropping his and Rick’s names.  She could also add that they mentioned something about the thumbprint and other things she couldn’t quite hear.”

“And suppose we bring the scheme to light.  Who’s gonna pay your bank the 40K?  I sense that this rush of yours to complete the ‘mission’ within the week just might indicate that you plan to put the two of them in harm’s way. Think ahead, my boy.  You were never charged with a crime.  Ah,” he smiled, “I begin to see.  You want to look good for Charlene’s sake… for her family.  But you’ll still owe the bank money. You don’t expect the Cottone family to pay the bank?”

“I have a plan to get $40K worth of his property.”

“What? Force him to sign a phony bill of sale?” he laughed at the naivete. “I see it now.  You’ll phony up a Quit Claim Deed to his property – if his deed is not encumbered. And for all you know he owes more on the house than it’s worth.  But you’ll go ahead and forge his signature and get his I.D. and let someone who owes you a favor stand before a notary to verify the signature.  And then you’ll immediately record it.  So, if the crook should die, so what?  Your claim is good because it will be filed before the grantor’s death. That’s not a very original plan and in any event, I don’t like it.  It involves forgery and perjury.”

“Oh? You liked it enough when Rick and Joshua did it.  You guys fell for their scam.  I’ll make it work, and then I’ll sign it the property over to you… providing you get me and my mom off the hook for the 40K.”

“Of course.  That goes without saying.  But we don’t know that he owns the house or if he’s got a big mortgage left to pay. What I’m trying to tell you is that we don’t know if his equity covers the 40K, and apparently neither do you know.  Go out and wait in the outer office.  I have a few calls to make.”

Tin went into the waiting room.  He asked himself, “How am I going to get access to Rick’s iPhone, and how much is good spyware gonna set me back?”

Cardoza came out of his office.  “Our man… the fingerprint man… will be by your house this evening at 7 p.m. He’ll talk to you more then.”

Tim stopped at the fabric shop to get a few items that his mother needed and returned home to meet the fingerprint man who had just finished parking his car.  They spoke outside.

The fingerprint man wasted no time.  “You’ve got to get access to Rick’s cellphone for at least ten minutes.  I’ve got the software that will install an app and stay active whether he has the phone on or off.  We’ll get all his text messages and voice mails and the actual conversations he has on the phone.  We can also activate the video function if you think there’s something worth seeing in Rick’s house.”

“No… We only need the audio functions.”

“So how do you plan to get access to his phone?”

Tim thought for a long minute.  “Ok.  I’ll drug the dog if he’s outside. I’ll just toss ground meat laced with Valium over the wall.”

“Forget the Valium.  Use this.”  He handed Tim an unlabeled eye-dropper bottle.  “Then what?”

“Then I can get into the yard. I’ve got a ‘Lost Dog’ notice that was taped to my front door.  I can use it again as a reason I’m at Rick’s gate. Then, when I’m inside I can pick a door if its locked; but chances are if he’s left the dog out, the kitchen door, at least, won’t be locked.  But if it is, I can open it.  You will have to knock on the front door and figure out a way to keep him occupied.  Can you dress like an FBI agent?”

“I’m not gonna impersonate an FBI agent.  What I could do is look like I am an FBI agent who is impersonating a building inspector of some kind.  I’ll invent an emergency so that he won’t dismiss me.”  He went to his car and from a large suitcase of phony I.D. items, removed a clip-board, a lanyard with official looking Identification inside the plastic, and a pen and wrote Rick’s name and address in the “subject” lines.  “Now,” he said, “what am I investigating?”

“You don’t want him to go back into his house for anything… like if you said there was trouble with his barbecue or a noise complaint…  but you can say that others in the neighborhood have been complaining about some lunatic who has been vandalizing water meters.  You can pick up one of those two-tine water-line openers to make it look legit.  You can get another one of those rods that insert into the cement top of the water meter compartment and just lift it off.”

“Let’s go before the stores close.  You got a good brain.   We gotta do this tonight.  Go get what you need.”

Wide eyed with surprise that the home invasion was going to take place so quickly, Tim stood frozen for a moment.

“Go!” barked the fingerprint man and Tim ran into his house and jumped up the stairs two at a time to get to his desk.  He grabbed the Lost Dog notice and a small roll of scotch tape. He yelled to his mother, “I’ll be back shortly.”

While the fingerprint man went into a hardware store, Tim went into a supermarket and bought a small package of ground meat.

As they drove, Tim made small meatballs into which he squirted the unknown Valium substitute.  When they parked near Rick’s house, the Fingerprint man showed Tim how to program the spyware once he had access to Rick’s cellphone.  At 8 p.m., holding the Lost Dog notice and the tape, and carrying the lock pick kit and the software transferring equipment, Tim approached Rick’s house and listened for the sound of a barking dog.  The moment he neared the gate, the dog came running and barking. Tim tossed the meat balls over the gate and busied himself with taping the Lost Dog notice onto Rick’s mailbox.  The dog stopped barking in order to eat the meat and by the time Tim finished taping the notice, the dog was apparently conscious but calm.  He could hear him finishing the meat.  He wondered if what he had given the animal would kill it.

The fingerprint man, clip-board in hand, leather belt with tools, and a phony I.D. badge hung on the lanyard and an additional pocket I.D. that confirmed that he was indeed a city inspector, knocked on Rick’s front door.

Rick answered.  “Yes… What can I do for you?”

“I’m  sorry to disturb you this late, I’m Greg Moresby with the City Hydrological Inspection unit.   Someone has been tampering with water meters in this area.  We’ve gotten numerous complaints.  I don’t want to open your meter and read it – I mean I have a legal right to do this – but sometimes the little lady of the house sees a strange man poking around… well, you get my drift.  Could you step outside a moment,” he flashed his rod and his pronged valve adjuster, “and we can take care of this in a minute.”  He also had a flashlight hanging from his belt.  “Ever noticed any peculiar increase in your water bill?”

“No,” Rick said.  “For a man who doesn’t have a swimming pool, I do use a lot of water.  For the lanscaping, you see.”

“You’ve don’t a beautiful job Mr.” he checked his clipboard, “Dubrovsky. Prettiest house on the block.”

While the fingerprint man poked and pretended to test the water system, Tim could see that Rick had a clear line of vision to the gate.  He therefore by-passed the gate altogether and went to the end of the wall where he was hidden by a large pyracantha bush.  Then he hoisted himself up and over the cinderblock wall.  The dog was sleeping.  He tried the kitchen door and found it open.  He entered the kitchen and found Rick’s cellphone on the kitchen counter.  He stood there and as calmly as possible, got out his equipment and took the steps he had just learned to install the bugging app into Rick’s phone.  It had taken about eight minutes to finish the installation. He wiped his prints from the phone and retraced his route to the shelter of the pyracantha bush.

*

Using the master cell phone, set on speaker, Julian Cardoza, the fingerprint man, an unusually fat man, and Tim sat in Cardoza’s office and listened to Rick wash dishes and sing off key to the piano recitation of Errol Garner. Satisfied that the equipment had been properly installed, Cardoza picked up a phone.  “I’ll call Ms. Cottone and ask her nicely if she’ll come down here.  If she asks what it’s about, I’ll tell her it’s the theft in the office. I happen to know that she’s home.”

Charlene required no coaxing to cooperate.  “I knew Tim didn’t do it.  But who am I?” she said. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

Charlene called Rick from her phone in one of Cardoza’s outer offices while the four men sat in Cardoza’s office listening to the call on speaker so that the play back would not be heard.  “Listen, Rick,” she said. “I’m guessing you’re Rick Dubrovksy.”

“I am.  What is it that you want?”

“I’m Charlene Cottone from the FNN CCC office.  I’ve been debating with myself about calling you.  I tried to reach Joshua last night but it’s impossible.  We had a couple of suits in the office yesterday. His name and your name were mentioned.  I like Joshua and I miss the guy.  I hope he’s doing well with the monastery people.  But there’s some kind of trouble going on.  Somebody recognized him going into a bathroom or someplace as Joshua and coming out as Tim.  There’s trouble too with the thumbprint he used.  So can you deliver a message to him to be extra careful. One of the suits mentioned something to do with those Knights.  There’s been too much trouble already and I like to work in a calm environment.”

“Well, Miss Charlene, I’m certain that I speak for Joshua when I thank you for your consideration.  I hope I’m not asking too much when I request that you not discuss this with anyone else.  Things have a way of being exaggerated.  At any rate, I’ll take care of contacting Joshua to keep him apprised of the situation.  I’m sure he’ll find it interesting.”

He immediately called the Zen Center.  “Would you kindly call Fa Hui to the phone? This is an emergency.”

“Oh,” the reception monk said, “we were afraid of this.  This is about Brad?  I’ll go get Fa Hui.  I know how important this is.”

Rick did not know who Brad was or why the reception monk would be so anxious to cooperate.

Joshua took the call and walked away from the reception desk as he answered, “What’s up?”

“Charlene Cottone just called me.  Evidently some law enforcement types have evidence against you.  You were seen going into a men’s room as Joshua and emerging as Tim.  Why couldn’t you have been more careful!  And not only that, but they’ve been scrutinizing the thumb print and suspect that it’s a phony.  If you mention my name in any of this, I swear I’ll kill you in the most unpleasant of ways.”

“Jesus! Rick.  Get a grip! Look, they don’t have the wig, they don’t have the mustache, they don’t have the glasses.  Anybody could have impersonated Tim.  Without DNA on the actual wig or glasses they can’t prove it was me.  And you’re the one who got the thumbprint from Germany.  You said it was foolproof.  I guess it wasn’t. So don’t dump the whole mess on me.”

“She thinks the men are federal or state agents.  I don’t understand this.  No crime was ever reported.  They got their money back… unless you took more than I knew about.”

“Chill out! All I took, you know about.  It’s probably got nothing to do with us. She’s got the hots for Timmy boy and she’s probably trying to play detective to help him.  She’s hoping we’ll make some kind of mistake. So Chill!”

“I’ll stay cool.  Don’t worry about me. Go on as though nothing had happened.  If it is the government, they will act glacially.  It will be another year before they complete the paperwork.  And who the hell is Brad?”

“Some sick friend from Malibu who wants to give me his old surfboard.  He’s got MS or some disease.”

Rick angrily clicked off the phone.

Julian Cardoza placed $5000 in an envelope and handed it to Charlene.  “This,” he said softly, “is a personal gift from me to show respect and appreciation for your assistance.  If you talk to your dear grandfather, tell him I want to play another round of nine with him… any day… any course… I want to get even.”  He smiled broadly and turned to the others.  “What a golfer he is!  Bobby Jones better be practicing.  Some day her grandfather is gonna humble him on that course up there.” He pointed towards the ceiling.

Charlene took the envelope, shrugged, and said simply, “I’ll be sure to let him know.”  As she left the office, Tim stood up.  She brushed the envelope against his chin.  “Call me later,” she said.

Four men – Cardoza, the unidentified fat man, the fingerprint man, and Tim – had listened to the conversation.  The unidentified man spoke to Tim. “And your father… a Marine in Kuwait?  My brother was there too.  You have our sympathy and respect.  You and your mother will be well recompensed for the misfortunes we are partially responsible for.  You have taught us a lesson. You know what Michelangelo said when he was dying?  ‘Ancora imparo.’ This means, ‘I am still learning.’  So are we. But we will be more careful.  Don’t worry no more about the loan.  You got payment coupons?”

“Yes, Sir.  I do.” Tim said quietly.

“You gotta plan to get this guy’s Rick’s property away from him?”

“Yes, Sir.  I do.”

“How you gonna do that?”

“Impersonate him, forge his name to a Quit Claim Deed, and get a witness to have it notarized, and then record it.  Then sign it over to you in exchange for the loan relief.”

“That’s too much trouble.  Too much dishonesty.  And we don’t want him to just write a check to pay off the debt.  That’s too easy.  He needs to be taught a lesson.  We can cut one of his balls off and tell him to sell the house to my sister for ten dollars and other good and valuable consideration.  That’s how they put it.  Ten dollars and other good and valuable consideration.  But you still have to put tax stamps on the real value of the property.”

“I don’t think we need to know all that…  Sir,” Julian Cardoza said, “The conversation is not privileged.”

“Whadya mean?  I’m your client. Frank here is your client.  And if Mr. Murphy ain’t your client what’s he doin’ here?”  The unidentified man shook his head and looked at Cardoza. “You haven’t figured out yet that it’s like making sausage.  Nobody wants to watch and see how its done.  They just want to eat it with a little tomato sauce.”  He looked at Tim.  “If this Rick don’t cooperate, we take his other ball off and threaten his cock.  He’ll cooperate.  What kind of car does he drive?”

“A new white jaguar,” Tim answered.

“My daughter goes to college.  She wants a new car.  She’ll like a white Jag.” He looked around the room. Anything else?  We could use one of those baby grand pianos.  He got one of them?”

“I didn’t see one when I was there.  But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t own one.”

“What about Joshua?” Cardoza asked.

“Oh, him,” the fat man said.  “I thought he didn’t own anything. He’s the real snake in the Garden. He needs a big lesson.  I think we can trust Timothy here to take care of the job.”  He turned to Cardoza.  “See to it he gets an unshakable alibi whenever he needs one.”  He turned to Tim. “If you should need help, you call.”

Julian Cardoza could not resist asking, “And how does a smart kid like you think he’s gonna get away with… a job like that?”

“I can’t tell you.  If I do you’ll be a party to it.  Just get Rick to sign his property over to you… but let him think that he can live in it and drive the car for another couple weeks or so. Record the documents immediately. That’s all.”

“Consider the title transfers a done deal,” Cardoza said.  “By Thursday or Friday at the latest, the instruments of conveyance will be recorded.”

The unidentified man nodded approval. He looked at Cardoza.  “Take him to a tailor.  If he’s seein’ Charlene he ought to look presentable.  Look at that shirt.  Marone!”

Tim and the fingerprint man (whose name Tim assumed was Frank) went out to the car.

“You did good tonight,” Frank said.

“I’m still too much in shock to know what I did tonight.”

 

Part 27    Rick,Tim, Joshua, Harold

 

It is an understandable fact that innocent people who are placed under suspicion find life far more uncomfortable than people who are guilty.  Joshua had inured himself to the possibility of being discovered. Always, in the back of his mind, he held in check the muscular impulses of shocked indignation that he could easily flex whenever someone accused or implied that he was guilty of something that he had in fact done.  Rick, he believed, would keep him informed of any developments.  Meanwhile, he prepared his denials and relied upon using Rick to support his denial.  He had already taken the trouble to learn Rick’s Social Security number and all his vital statistics. He had even learned Rick’s credit cards and bank account number and even had his pin. If worse came to worst, he’d become Rick Dubrovsky. Why not? How could Rick complain without implicating himself?

His dream of Maui and the salt water spray washed away any sense of reality.  “Wow!” he exclaimed when he heard that he was to be given such a good board…. a  deepwater board.  Brad (by now he was certain he remembered who he was) must have thought he was a terrific surfer. “A Donald Takayama.  That’s a fantastic surfboard,” Joshua squealed to the receptionist.  “If Brad calls again, tell him sure, I’d love to have it.  Can’t pay him anything except my promise to take really good care of it.”  He learned also that Brad had “other stuff” to give him.  A bonus!

Joshua was supposed to study the Lankavatara Sutra, but all he could think about was surfing in Maui. He had to keep Rick in line.  He might need him as an alibi or for some money. Borrowing was definitely preferable to stealing even though it accomplished the same thing, there being no intention to repay the loan.  But Rick was furious with him and spoke to him in very unpleasant ways and the days at the Zen Center had suddenly become unbearable.  “Please let this nightmare end!” he begged the heavens. “Please get me that board and make Rick feel generous towards me.”  He could hide in the middle of the Pacific… he could live eternally in a wave’s curl.

A few times each day he’d stop at the reception desk and ask if Brad had called.  He hadn’t.

*

Harold Weitzman called Paul aside.  “I’ve been wonderin’. How come Jack Gaston won’t ride with you?”

“Squaw trouble.  Guilt by association.  He knows I’ve done business with Brant and he’s seen him with me and Stella. Ain’t no secret how I feel about her.  And it ain’t no secret that I’ve never got to bat much less to strike out. I was always too old for her, but that didn’t stop me from wishin’ things were different.  So I don’t know what he think’s I have to do with their romance. But he isn’t taking any chances.”

“Why didn’t Brant marry her? We could have given her a house in town for her third of our ranch house.”

“Probably because he’s been engaged to Molly at the Blue Bison and is marrying her next Saturday.”

“I know it’s none of my business, but I can’t help caring. Is Jack Gaston in love with Stella or something?”

“No.  He’s her half-brother.  She’s been pretty much ostracized from the tribe, but he still tries to look out for her.   She hasn’t given anybody any trouble around here… except for Brant. So Jack’s just lookin’ out for her, I guess.”

“Ask him if he’ll talk to me about it.  I want to get along with everybody.  I’m sick to hell about shiksas and goys and orthodox and reformed and rich and poor and living in one room while owning a big house just for show.  I’m tired of dishonesty and disloyalty and people telling me what they want me to do for them. I’ve been through hell this past year.  I want peace now… ‘the peace that passeth understanding.’ I’m celebrating my First Holy Communion in another week and I’m damned if I want all this conflict in my life.”

Paul stopped by Chastain’s in-town office. There was to be a Saturday reception at the Blue Bison on the afternoon of the wedding.  It disturbed Paul that Stella was still continuing to live in the motel room that was being charged to the Chastain account.

Paul opened the office door, ringing automatically the overhead bell.  Brant had been sitting in his overstuffed desk chair and swiveled around to see who had come in. “What’s the problem, Paul?” he asked.

“It’s about calling a truce.”

“I’m telling you right now not to give me any shit about Stella.”

“It’s not about me or Stella.  It’s the new kid in town… Harold Weitzman.  He found out about Jack Gaston takin’ sides against me, and all the hard feelings, and he asks that when you have a moment to talk, if you’ll discuss some kind of truce with him.  He’s a nice kid and he don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with the locals.”

Brant did not appreciate his personal business being made the topic of discussion. “All right.  I’ll talk to him.  But right now I’m busy.”

A half hour later, as Harold was studying his Catechism, Brant stopped by the motel.  “I’ve got another girl in town, a girl I’m fixin’ to marry.  She’s young… younger than Stella who says she’s twenty-eight.  If Stella wants to make an issue of that baby, I have my own ways of making her see the light.  Christ knows, it wouldn’t be the first kid she’s dumped.”

“Ah,” Harold said, “But wouldn’t it be the first kid of yours that you want her to dump?”

“You keep talkin’ like that when you ain’t got the whole story and people are gonna forget you’re packed in plaster.”

“Touché,” Harold nodded.  “I’ve got to start minding my own business.  I’m willing to look after Stella, but I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea,  She saved my life out in the desert.  I owe her. And I’d like a clean slate, that’s all.”

“As far as I’m concerned, she’s all yours and Paul’s – if she wants him.  But out of consideration for my bride-to-be, just don’t start any trouble about Stella.  The issue is closed as far as I’m concerned.  She opens it at her own peril.”

Harold walked Brant to the door and saw Paul talking to a sheriff’s department deputy who was parked inside a patrol car.  Paul signaled Harold.  “This one’s for you.”

As Harold hobbled over to the car, Paul introduced Deputy Mike Larkinson.

The deputy got out of the car and helped Harold to walk back to his room. He waved to Brant who looked back as he walked away from the motel.  “Well, Aaron or Harold Weitzman, I’ve got a message from the Sheriff.”

Harold shrugged.  “What’s the message?”

“You can call your folks back in Philadelphia.  Not an hour passes but we get a call from a lawyer or an in-law or a broker or Rabbi or some damned person who wants to talk to you.  The post office is also starting to accumulate mail for you at General Delivery.  You might want to look into that as well.”

Harold-Aaron Weitzman agreed to take care of all the problems as quickly as possibly.  “They’re deliberately harassing the sheriff’s office to try to get to me,” he explained.  “Relatives.  What can you do?”

“If you decide to shoot ’em, just don’t do it in my jurisdiction.”  The deputy waved goodbye and left.

*

On Wednesday night three men came to Rick’s front door.  One carried a medical bag; one carried a attaché case; and the third, a muscular gentleman, carried nothing but the willingness to carry out orders.

It was the third gentleman who knocked on Rick’s door.  Loudly.  Rick answered trying to affect an Oscar Wilde cynical nonchalance to people who had never heard of Oscar Wilde.

“To what do I owe this visit?” Rick asked.

The large man pushed him back into the house and the other two followed.

The man with the attaché case said simply, “We have some papers for you to sign.  I think you’ll find that everything is in order.”

Rick saw that he was selling his property for “ten dollars and other good and valuable consideration” to Maria DiBona, a single woman.  “You can’t be serious!” Rick said, tossing the paper at the man with the attaché case. He recognized the fingerprint man.  “You! You’re just a city inspector! Get out of my house!”

The man picked up the paper and said, “You did wrong and you know you did wrong and you’re payin’ for that wrong you did.  We’re being fair.  We’ll give you one more chance to sign the papers peacefully, or you’ll be signing them… painfully.  But you will sign them.”  He pushed Rick down into a chair and put the paper in his lap.  “Sign!” he said.

Rick sneered at the three men.  “Who the hell do you think you are barging in like this, and demanding my property?”

The man with the attaché case nodded to the large man.

Instantly, Rick was tossed down on the floor with his hands behind him in handcuffs.  A ball gag was placed in his mouth.  Rick kicked and squirmed.  He was dragged to a table, his pants were cut off, and his feet tied to two of the table’s legs.

The man with the doctor’s bag opened it, sprayed something that became ice cold on Rick’s scrotum, and proceeded to remove one of Rick’s testicles and to sew up the wound he had made.  He sprayed the area again and Rick’s legs were untied and a towel placed between his legs.  “If you weren’t such a prick,” Frank said, “we would have settled the account more to your advantage.  As it is, this is a cheap lesson for you to learn.”

“We’re in a hurry.  Could you please execute these documents?” the man with the attache case said as he freed Rick’s hands while placing his own hands on Rick’s shoulders.

Rick was shaking so badly he could barely hold the pen.  “Take your time,” he was instructed.  “We got a notary here.  Your signature is known.  Don’t try to play any tricks.  And make sure you sign all these here instruments of conveyance. No omissions or failures to initial. Life without a penis can be a real problem.”

Rick signed the documents.   “Now the car,” the man said.  “Where is the title?”

With the ball gag still in his mouth, Rick could only nod towards his desk.  The heavy man went to the desk,  “You tell me when I’m getting warm.”

He tried the drawers on one side.  They were evidently cold.  On the other side, the closer he got to the bottom drawer, the more exaggeratedly Rick nodded his head.  He opened the bottom drawer and removed an envelope that contained the title.  He carried it to the nan with the attache case.  Rick signed the title.

“You can stay in Miss DiBona’s house and drive her car for a few more weeks.  We appreciate that it takes time to get readjusted to new situations,” the heavy man said, patting Rick’s shoulder.

The doctor gave Rick a shot of penicillin, told him to keep the area clean, and then the heavy man unbuckled the ball gag, and the three men left.

Rick placed a call to the Zen Center and asked for Fa Hui.  The Reception monk thought that Rick sounded angry.  “I’ll deliver the message,” he said.  “But he cannot be called to the phone just now.”

Joshua did not know why Rick had sounded so distraught when he made the call.  Cool Rick.  What had happened to Mr. Cool?  Well, Rick could wait. If he kept Rick waiting awhile it might make it easier to hit him up for some money.   A loan.  He’d say it was a loan.  He had less than eight hundred dollars to his name. That would get him to Maui and he could get a job quickly. There was no crime at the check cashing office.  No police were looking for him… anywhere.  Rick needed to cool down. But he, Joshua, still needed more money.  And he still needed to hear from Brad.

*

On Thursday the new grant deed was duly recorded and the new car title was duly registered after an irate Miss DiBona sat in the crowded Department of Motor Vehicles from 9 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. waiting for her number to be called to a service desk. On Thursday night Tim received an anonymous call that said the business had been concluded regarding the transfer of assets and that shortly he would be notified by the bank that the note had been paid in full.

On Friday, just as Tim was delivering an order of yoga outfits, his cellphone rang.  The bank’s vice-president was calling him to congratulate him for such a prompt repayment.  “But you know,” he said in his business-smarmy voice, “we can’t make money when loans get paid off so quickly.  So I’d like you to keep us in mind when you expand your business interests.”

Tim said that he surely would do that.

*

Harold Weitzman went to the sheriff’s office and personally apologized for the intrusions his family and former in-laws were making.  “Would it help,” he asked, “if I told you to tell them that I said you were not my private secretary and then just hung up on them?”

“No. It wouldn’t.  They have a congressman and we have a congressman and the two of them have apparently been talking.  Harold, this is one mess you’re going to have to straighten out yourself… and as soon as possible.”

Harold collected the messages.  “Good Grief,” he said.  “These people are going to make me take an hour in the confessional.” He looked at the deputy. “I’m gettin’ ready to take my First Holy Communion.”  He looked at the messages.  “Well, I’ll deal with them one at a time.  And truly, Sheriff, I am sorry for putting your and your office through all these… ” he quickly counted, “eighteen messages.”

The following morning Harold and Paul went to the Post Office. The General Delivery Office clerk was glad to see him.  His mail from Philadelphia was bound with rubber bands.  Legal-sized documents… requests from Rabbis…  personal pleas from an assortment of relatives. And one hand written, perfumed letter from Caroline Wechsler who had not added any married name.  Harold put her letter in his breast pocket and went back to the motel to try to sort everything.

Since he was not alone, he opened his mother’s mail first. She thanked him for the gift of $250,000 and assured him that she had not told anyone that he had given it to her.  She wanted him to give her a clue about his future plans. He wrote back in a kind of code.  “Mom, I’m so sorry I couldn’t give you and dad any money.  But I do need it to start a new life here in the west.  I’ll pay Rebecca’s funeral expenses today.”

His mother had added in a postscript that she had consulted an attorney who advised Aaron to pay the debts but to write on the back of the check that acceptance of it constituted the full payment of any money due and a guarantee that there would be no further monetary claims or harassment.

“Let’s separate this stuff into the “Rebecca” condolence mail and the receipts that have to be reimbursed.  Now that we have money we can pay them.” He began to make piles of photocopies of airplane tickets, hotel bills, miscellaneous expenses, time lost from work.  “Add a few thousand extra to the disclaimer that you write on the back of the check. Maybe it will get them to stop,” Harold said.

“Ok.” Paul said simply and began to record the expenditures.

The Blumenthals were a more difficult problem.  Paul said, “Do you want to pay them off?”

Harold did not hesitate.  “No.  I’m not going to reward a vicious liar.”   Paul had a copy of the air freight bill for shipping Rebecca’s casket back to Philadelphia and also for the funeral services.  “We can pay them separately and directly whenever possible – just be sure to write on the check what the payment is for,” Harold said.  “You can also ask Mr. Bluemthal to put us in touch with a stone mason to carve her headstone. They’ve got some temporary marker now. We’ll pay the mason directly, too. But I want to approve the carving’s message.”

“Fine.”  Paul said simply.

When all the unpleasant mail was attended to, Paul wanted to go out for dinner.  “You go,” Harold said, “And bring me back a steak dinner to go… and a six pack of coke.”

As soon as he was alone, he took the perfumed letter from his shirt pocket and read Caroline’s letter.

“My darling Harold… for that is what I understand that your name is now.  But you are still the same man I have always loved.  

“I cannot tell you how great my error was in letting you go.  What a fool I was.  I traded a jewel for a bunch of rags.  Rags… yes that is what my life has been like without you.

“Oh, I don’t mean that I’m poor.  No, my husband has granted me generous alimony.  I am poor in spirit.  I am a beggar in the streets of Romance.  My heart was broken when I learned that you were marrying Rebecca Blumenthal.  The rumor was that she was pregnant and this hurt me so much because more than anything in this world I would want to have your child.

“Please do not turn me away.  Please try to forgive my terrible mistake.  I will come to you and if you do not want to see me, just turn away.  I will not clamor for your attention.  I will just leave quietly.  But I must see you in person.  I need to receive your forgiveness and maybe… just maybe… you will find a tiny little place in your heart that remembers me and all the good times we had together.”

Au revoir, mon cher Harold.

Your Caroline.”      

When Paul returned with his boxed dinner, Harold showed him the letter.  “Do you remember me telling you about Caroline? Read this and tell me what you think.”

Paul nodded and read the letter. “I think she found out that you have money and a beautiful diamond ring and she wants both the money and the ring.  She doesn’t say when she’ll be here.”

“I don’t know what to think.  I used to be a man who was above spying.  No more.  Get ready for her.  Bug her room – wherever that room is.  Just find out with proof what she’s after. I want to believe that it’s me.  But I’ve passed the supersaturation point for bullshit.  I can’t handle any more.”

Paul asked, “Is this letter the reason you didn’t want to go to the Blue Bison?”

“Yeah… I wanted to read it alone.”

“You had me worried.  I thought you didn’t want to see Molly and that didn’t look good for the future.”

“Brant can do whatever he wants with Molly.  That’s none of my business.  I feel bad about Stella’s baby.  I don’t want it to grow up without a dad around… always poor… never fitting in… not one place and not another. Let’s talk Stella into moving in with us… if that’s ok with you.” He paused a moment. “By the way, have you seen Stella lately?”

“I saw her walking to the shopping center.  She’s getting some new maternity clothes. I guess she’s serving notice to Brant that she ain’t dumping this kid.  So having her stay with us is fine with me. I already ordered baby furniture for her.  I admire the lady and wish I was 50 years younger.  I never had any kids of my own and before I die I wouldn’t mind being a grandpop.”

“I don’t want her groveling in some courtroom trying to squeeze child-support money from him.  Set up a trust for her and the baby.  Give her whatever you think is equitable.”

They decided to go to the Blue Bison to have a beer, but as they passed the motel entrance,

Paul said, “The town is startin’ to fill up with wedding guests and tradespeople for the reception.  I know the desk clerk and I want him to let me know if and when Caroline checks in.”

“Good Idea,” Harold said.

As they sat at a table in the Blue Bison, Paul’s phone rang.   It was the desk clerk.  “I just checked in that lady you asked about.  She’s in Room 111.”  Paul thanked him.  He turned to Harold.  “Caroline’s here in Room 111.  I’ll go get that baby monitor gizmo.  You get her out of the room.  Wait ten minutes then call her and have her meet you here.  That’ll give me time to get the thing set up.  I won’t have any trouble being let into her room.”

He then left to go to a florist to buy a ceramic vase filled with roses that also contained a baby monitor.  He put batteries into both the monitor and its mate and returned to the motel.

Caroline had just gone out to meet Harold.

Paul got the manager to open the room so that he could put the flowers inside.  The manager waited until he had found the perfect place to put the flowers and then they left and the room was locked again.  He returned to his room and turned on the monitor’s mate.  No sounds came from the room.  He left his cell-phone on “recording” and put it beside the receiving monitor.

When he heard Caroline return to the room with Harold, he discreetly turned off the recording and went to the desk clerk’s office to gab awhile. He stayed until it seemed as though he might have some special interest in the desk clerk.  Then he abruptly said he’d see him later and retreated to his own room, leaving both the monitor and the phone recording turned off.

They were there for three straight hours.  Paul did not know what to think.  Suddenly, Harold knocked on his door.  Paul quickly opened the door and Harold stood there hand in hand with the beautiful Caroline.

“Come on with us,” Harold said.  “I want you to get to know my long-lost girl.”

“Sure,” Paul said, and walked with them to the Blue Bison that was, by then, filling up with the dinner crowd.

Molly and Brant were being feted as the rustic room was being decorated with garish crepe paper signs and mylar balloons.  A few dozen people were line dancing as the band played.

Paul, Harold and Caroline sat in the corner, apparently oblivious to the festivities.  Paul smiled.  “Well, Harold, she’s as pretty as you said she was,” he said.

“Caroline, Honey, this is the guy who saved my life.  Paul Oteiza.”

“I think Mr. Oteiza saved my life, too.  I’ve learned the hard way that without you in it, I have no life.”

They sat and talked about Brant and Molly and then Caroline excused herself to go to the powder room.

“Isn’t she wonderful?” Harold said.  “She explained everything.  Her parents had forced her to go with them to Europe.  She never wanted to break up with me.  We have history.  A long and beautiful history. I just can’t get over this.  Seeing her here.  Making love to her was like being in Heaven.” He sighed.  “Caroline’s Jewish.  She wants me to consider returning to Judaism.”

Paul smiled and said nothing.

After twenty minutes, Paul excused himself and said he’d see them both back at the motel.  For another hour Harold and Caroline celebrated at the Blue Bison.

Paul lay on his bed in his own room and watched television. He called Harold’s room and got no answer.  Just as he was falling asleep, Harold knocked on the door.  “Where’s Caroline?” Paul asked.

“I just dropped her off so that she can get showered and maybe take a nap or something.  I’ll be seeing her later.”

Paul quickly turned on the monitor and recorder. “Sit down a minute and listen.”

“She’ll be in the shower,” Harold said.  He was ready to leave, but Caroline’s voice was heard again.  “Am I good or am I good?” She laughed.  Harold quizzically looked at Paul, turned off the TV, and sat on the edge of the bed.  Caroline continued.  The monitor was so sensitive that they often could hear the other side of her conversation.

“He told me he invested in a house and 50 acres of land.  He plans to live in it with that old guy who helped him when Rebecca was killed… and with that Indian woman he got pregnant!”

The voice on the phone seemed to ask if the property could easily be sold.

“I have no idea.  I came right out and asked him how much money he had left, and he said that after his mother’s insurance ran out he had to pay all his own hospital bills, which included a couple of weeks in physical therapy.  He had the house refurbished and he’s hired an interior decorator to furnish it in a rustic style.”

The male voice said something that they could not understand.

“I told you that you needed to act right away… right after Rebecca was killed.  Months have passed.  I think he’s still got your rings and I’m certain that I can get them back…but they’re in a bank safe deposit box and he can’t get them until Monday.  As to his bank account balance?  That I don’t know.”

“Does he own the property outright?” the male voice said.

“For what I can understand, three were supposed to be owners… joint tenancy.  Aaron, the pregnant Indian woman and that old guy Paul Oteiza.  She wants some other guy to marry her… maybe it’s an Indian thing. I can tell you this much, Aaron’s not in love with her… not the way he’s still in love with me. But you know Aaron.  He has this idiot sense of ethics.” There was a pause.  “He’s planning to officially become a Catholic on Sunday. With luck, I’ll get him to marry me in Vegas on Saturday.  So I don’t have much time.  Just don’t tell me anything I don’t need to know.  I don’t care if she’s dead or alive or living in the floor above me.  ok.  Gotta go.  Say Hi to Mrs. B. for me.”

They listened for a moment more while Caroline took a shower.

“What am I going to do?” Harold’s chin quivered and a tear ran down his face.  Again, he asked, “What am I gonna do?”

“Grow up.  You’re not a teenager any more.  ” Paul saw the misery on his face and softened.  “Look, how many times do you have to have the same trick played on you before you get it?  Caroline’s here to fleece you. She partnered-up with Rebecca’s father. If they were crazy before, they’re really desperate now. They’re going to do whatever it takes to prove that your marriage vows were fraudulently made and therefore all the gifts you received should be returned.. They’re worried that if you marry Stella in Nevada, the courts will be sympathetic.  And since you can prove that the baby’s not yours, you’re gonna look legit to the court.  People around here are conservative.  They admire people who keep kids and raise them.  If you had only become a Catholic, the Blumenthals would’ve only been able to claim that you were mentally unbalanced when you married Rebecca. But your conversion followed Rebecca’s death.  If they raise the issue here, they’ll have the whole Catholic Church down on them.  But Stella is a serious problem. She’s holding out for Brant.  What do you want to do?”

“Call Stella.  Make sure she’s ok.”  Harold said.  “Then shoot them all – except Stella… but not in this jurisdiction.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.  Do you want me to talk to Caroline and ask her to leave?”

“No. Let’s string her along and find out exactly what she’s up to.  Tell her that I have decisions to make with the renovation contractor but that I’ll call her later.”

*

On Friday morning Abbot Jy Shao called Chuan Yi and Joshua into his office.  “I have bad news,” he said. “Monseigneur Garcia has just informed me that one of his principal contributors, Professor Reynard, is very sick… he happens to be the scholar our dear Fa Hui has been assisting.  So we will postpone the dinner; but as to the Saturday pickup, I’m afraid,” he said sadly as he looked directly at Joshua, “that you will have to drive yourself to your mentor’s home. I’m sure you’ll want to be there to comfort him through his illness.

Joshua bowed. “I can accomplish two things:  help my sick teacher and give my Toyota a little exercise.”

“Maybe,” the abbot said, “you should go out there now to be sure that it runs.”

“Excellent idea,” Joshua said.  “But Chuan Yi has my car keys.”

“What are you doing with his car keys?” the abbot asked Chuan Yi.  “Is this a prison we’re running?  Get them for Brother Fa Hui immediately.”

The Toyota ran fine.  Joshua saw that it needed more fuel, but other than that, he could foresee no other problems.”I have a few things here I have to finish first,” he said, praying that he’d hear from Brad. Seeing Rick was of secondary importance.

“When you finish your chores,” Jy Shao said, “would you be kind enough to stop by my office.  I’d like to have a few words in private with you.

Joshua walked to the Abbot’s office thinking that it was fortunate indeed that he had not purchased the air conditioner he had promised to install in the Abbot’s room. He needed all the money he could get. He had decided that as soon as he received Brad’s surfboard, he’d just announce that he was returning to Catholicism, leave the Center, and as quickly as possible, get on a plane to Maui.

There was no point in hanging around.  As he saw it, the FNN CCC thugs could not be interested in him since he owned nothing they could confiscate.  Rick would louse things up for him.  He was calling the Center as though he were a lunatic.  He must have found out about that extra Two Grand he got from Dave Lonigan.  No doubt he wanted his share.  Too bad.

“I’m not without resources,” he told himself. Brad had contacts in all the great surfing locations.  One contact would give him another and he just might meet some Surf Bunny with enough money to take him in tow through an endless summer of his own.  He would perform a legitimate purpose by keeping everyone up to date on Brad’s condition.   Yes, he’d function as a “go between” for the ailing surfer and his buddies.

He knocked gently on the Abbot’s door and was told to come in and sit down.

Joshua sat and affected a look that said, “How can I be of help to you?”

Jy Shao was different.  His eyes did not have that rheumy redness.  His nostrils were the same color as the rest of his face.  He smiled at Joshua.  “I wanted to thank you again.  I haven’t felt so perky or spiffy or whatever you want to call it in years. Cedar chips! What a brilliant idea.”

“It was my pleasure.”

“I know that Chuan Yi asked you to write about Ultimate Reality for our little contest. It’s too bad that it could not formally have been presented.  I would have known that though he offered it as his own work, it would have come from you.  I also must confess that I heard about your recitation of Nagarjuna’s verses.  I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall when you told Chuan Yi you had deliberately reversed several verses.  Ah, I don’t have to tell you that he has much to learn.

“But that’s not why I asked you here.  I know you’re still… let’s say… not fully convinced about Zen. I hope you choose to stay with us.  After your ordination, I’d like to make you an apprentice, so to speak, for the post of Dharma Master. Eventually, of course. The post is not filled now; there’s been no one with the depth of understanding and the generosity of spirit needed to fill it.”

“Master!” Joshua exclaimed, genuinely surprised.  “I’m too new here and I am unworthy.  You seem to be so much stronger now.  Why don’t you start to give regular Dharma talks?”

“Ah, too many years of performing like a coughing seal have ruined my reputation.  No one respects me. I carry my old infirmities around like an albatross necklace. Unless a student has respect for his teacher, he cannot learn. But I can give you a few lessons… here, in private.  I’d be so honored to do that.” He tapped his fingers together as if he were ready to proceed.  “How much of the mystical path do you understand?”

“Well, I know that Nirvana encompasses all, but to enter it we must pass through the transcendental tattvas.”

“Yes, the Eighth Step of the Path is the Transcendental Step.  Meditation means “to dwell” and we dwell in Nirvana when we inhabit that state.”

“What I don’t understand is why,” Joshua asked, “Nirvana is so controversial.”

“Definitions and methods. The fullness or emptiness of the mind. Some people believe that when the mind is empty of thought, they have entered Nirvana. They haven’t. They’ve mastered self-hypnosis, that’s all.  Meditation is an altered state of awareness. The peace and wonderment of it radically changes a person.”

Joshua suddenly stood up.  “Master, I’m expecting a very important call.  The reception monk doesn’t know that I’m in here to let me know if it comes in.”

“Go and tell him,” Jy Shao said.  “And then come right back. Before you leave to attend to your mentor,  I want you to understand a few things that may help you to make a more informed decision about us.”

Joshua, unconcerned with his apparent rudeness, hurried down to the reception desk and informed the monk that if he received any calls, he could be reached in the Abbot’s office.  “Ah, Brad…” the monk said.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll not keep the poor guy waiting while I look for you.”  Joshua returned to the abbot’s office.

“After true meditation comes orgasmic ecstasy,” Jy Shao continued, “which some people call Samadhi.  When it is experienced, not a single muscle is moved.  We barely breathe.  We sit there and the thrill divine envelops us in an exquisite, full body orgasm.. Have you experienced this yet?  I hope I’m not shocking you.”

“The orgasm, yes… but not quite that way. I’m delighted that you care enough to be so candid.”

“Then, a year or more later, if we are lucky, we may encounter the Buddhist Trinity: first is Satori when our Lord Amitabha enlightens us.”

Joshua glanced at his watch and was thinking about Brad.  He had not heard Jy Shao’s comment.  “But why should there be so much contention about Nirvana?”

Jy Shao smiled at the non-sequitur.  “After satori and samadhi they can move on to the visual encounter with the Bodhisattvas… an erotic experience, a living adventure that is devoid of physical movement but yet is all encompassing.  It’s a Divine Marriage entered into in the sex opposite to the meditator’s own gender.”

“What? Like homosexuality?” Joshua wondered if this state explained Rick’s odd sexual choices.

“No. Only when a person is in the meditative state does this transsexuality occur.   The experiences all occur in the mind.  And what great experiences they are.  There is no physical touching. Yes, they may be in the presence of another human being… for example Shams and Rumi.  But the sexuality exists strictly inside the individual’s head.”

“Ah, I see,” Joshua said, seeing nothing but that Rick was automatically excluded from any spiritual sexuality.  Again he glanced at the face of his watch.  “Just the mind… Hmmm.”

“And then the third and final corner of the Trinity comes with the conception and delivery of the Divine Son. Some religions believe that the spiritual child can break the material barrier and actually become human.  Christianity and Daoism and some forms of Buddhism believe this.  Other religions, Islam, Judaism, and Zen Buddhism say that it is possible but that it hasn’t happened yet… hence the Future Mahdi, the Future Messiah; and the Future Buddha.”

“This is all very interesting,” Joshua said, nodding his head as if he understood.  “And Chuan Yi doesn’t understand this?”

“Chuan Yi is a lost cause.  But you are clay as yet unformed by ignorant hands.  You have a good heart and a generous nature. You have that rare quality that makes a Bodhisattva.  So I ask you to think about the Dharma talks.  We learn so much when we have to teach it.  I’m counting on you to lead others into the light… to be that lamp unto their feet.  And I just wanted to say thank you for what you have done and what you are destined to do.”

Joshua pressed his palms together in a pious gesture. “You’ve honored me more than I deserve.”  he said, wondering whether this approbation would make it harder or easier to get to Maui.  Would they try to keep him there?  The thought of bossing Chuan Yi around did appeal to him; and so did moving into his nice bedroom. And just suppose things didn’t work out for him in Maui – for all he knew Brad had enemies there who would make his life hell – then he’d need a place to come back to.  He couldn’t ask Rick for help.  Rick’s solution got him in this expensive hell-hole. Yes, Rick was a useful fool.  As everyone knew, they were the worst kind.    He looked up at Jy Shao, “Master, please forgive me if I seem a bit distracted.  But I am worried about Professor Reynard.”

“A good student always worries about the health of his mentor,” Jy Shao said sympathetically.  “And if the professor needs care that he can’t afford, please let me know.  Possibly we can help.”

“Excellent!” Joshua said with a tad too much enthusiasm.  He tried to soften the remark.  “It’s so good to know we have friends when we’re in need.”  Well, he thought, let’s pay the obligatory call on Rick.  With a little luck he might be able to con him or the Zen master into giving him some money.

As Joshua drove away from the Zen Center, Abbot Jy Shao walked into the reception area and seeing Chuan Yi, whom he did not particularly like, he began to rhapsodize about the spiritual potential of Fa Hui.  “For years I prayed that I’d be sent someone with such talent, someone to whom I could pass on my insights into the Great Mahayana Prajnaparapmitra Canon.  How fortunate we all are to have him come to us so serendipitously.” He paused to consider the most appreciative audience he could find for his good news.  “Get Monseigneur Garcia on the phone for me,” he instructed the receptionist monk.

*

Monseigneur Jaime Garcia had thought Jy Shao had sounded stronger when he spoke to him earlier, but they had not had the time to discuss the specifics of his health.

“Jimmy, I cannot put into words our Fa Hui’s concern for me and his willingness to spend his own money on solving my problem.  I haven’t coughed in days.  I’ve actually gained weight.  I was going to model my new robe at the dinner, but then Reynard got sick.  Maybe I’ll need an even larger size when we do have our dinner.  You realize that I owe my recovery to you for sending him to me. And he’s so spiritually precocious!  I intend to instruct him personally in the intricacies of the Dharma. What a blessing!  Knowledge and the Healing Touch.”

Later, Monseigneur Garcia congratulated Father Joseph Pulaski for whatever his input was in the ZCS’s  acquisition of spiritual phenom Fa Hui, a.k.a. Joshua Mays.  “He apparently has the Spiritual gift of Healing. The Abbot is a new man. Wants to mentor him into what would normally be an adept’s role.  He never could find a replacement because, for some reason, the monks out there don’t ever seem to be playing with a full deck.  But this Joshua has given the place something that it didn’t have before: hope.” He patted Father Joe’s shoulder. “Really, when I think of all the good he might have done for our poor brethren, I’m sorry we didn’t snatch him when we had the chance.  Let’s hope he does Professor Reynard some good.”

The Monseigneur went back into his office and Father Joe immediately called Rick to tell him the wonderful news about the spiritual prodigy they had helped on his path greatness.

“Is he on his way here?” Rick asked.

“Yes.  Everyone’s hoping that he can find a way to make you feel better.”

“I’m sure he will,” Rick hissed.

 

Part 28  Joshua, Rick, Tim, Stella

 

Even before Joshua Mays pulled into Rick’s driveway, Rick had typed out various instruments of indebtedness. He greeted Joshua in a manner that was less than friendly.  “Do you know what I’ve been put through because of your greed and stupidity?  Don’t answer that! You have no idea. I lost one of my balls because of you.”

Joshua did not imagine that Rick meant anything but the kind of balls a person could bounce.  “What the hell do I have to do with balls?”

Rick proceeded to outline the events of Wednesday night and the subsequent loss of assets he had sustained.  He placed several promissory notes in front of Joshua.  “Sign these.  You owe me for the loss of this house, for the loss of my car, and most of all, for the pain and suffering I have endured because of your negligence. And I am willing to overlook the damage done to my little friend Bruno.”

“And here I was hoping to borrow some money from you,” Joshua said flippantly.  “I guess that’s out.”   He looked through the papers and tossed them back at Rick. “The plan was yours.  I carried it out precisely.  You received ten percent for your services. That makes you an accomplice.  Suck it up.  You were well serviced for your services. I’m not going to sit here and be verbally abused by you.  And don’t call me stupid.  Abbot Jy Shao considers me a brilliant commentator on the Prajnaparamitra Canon.  He wants to train me personally. You are not nearly so intelligent as you imagine.” He got up and walked out the front door and went to the movies.

*

Tim Murphy should have been elated with the outcome of the events that followed his meeting at Julian Cardoza’s office.  He was free of debt. He didn’t have to look for a job, but if he had wanted one, word would get out that he had been wronged and was completely trustworthy.  Charlene welcomed a relationship with him.  His mother’s little business was growing nicely, but if he were to entertain a serious relationship with Charlene he needed to think about more challenging work.  He couldn’t support a wife on what he would earn making pickups and deliveries for exercise clothing.

And yes, it was a grusome punishment for Rick, but one that was surely deserved.  Tim imagined that crimes committed so insouciantly by sinners were rather like roaches.  For every crime they were caught committing, there were dozens hidden from view in dark places that would never see the justice of daylight. Rick still had his brains and money in the bank.  He could start over someplace.  It was even possible that the trauma of such a retribution would cause him to think about consequences – it could not, of course, grow him another conscience.  No, a conscience was not like a salamander’s tail. There was no limb regeneration.  A man can’t lose it and then simply grow another.  A conscience was rather like an optic or olfactory nerve.  Lose it and things will never be the same.

He had not, however, reckoned on the effect that the events would have on his religious feelings. The more he thought about the perfidy and duplicity of Rick and Joshua, of the Knights and of the Zen people who would give scum like Joshua refuge – with or without remuneration – and of the attitude of his own priest towards his parents’ predicament, the more he felt disappointed with organized religion.   Everyone in the parish knew that his father was washing windows.  And certainly the priest knew that his father’s heart was damaged.  The priest delivered sandwiches and cartons of milk and cookies to bums who lived under bridges. Why didn’t the priest ask one of them to help his dad wash windows or collect cans?  Why not deliver sandwiches and milk to his house?  He went to confession.  He told the truth to the priest.  But instead of help and condolence, all the priest did was worry about being cheated out of the funeral income.  And, of course, to warn him not to seek revenge. The priest thought God’s edict was inviolable: “Vengeance is Mine.”   No, there were many exceptions. An honorable man who was wronged by an evil man and who could get no legal relief, then that man could claim the right to seek revenge… providing he didn’t get caught and also that he didn’t let anyone else get blamed.  Not an easy thing to do.

But still… losing his Catholic faith.  The enormity of the loss… the repercussions of the loss…  this he was not prepared to experience.  He might have overlooked the entire subject of revenge if only those who “wore the cloth” had acted with more Christian or Buddhist charity.

On another serious matter, he wondered whether Joshua was still living at the Zen Center.  He drove past the entrance and noticed that Joshua’s car was not there.

Using his burner phone, at 6 p.m. Tim called the Zen Center and asked for Fa Hui. He disguised his voice slightly in case Joshua was there.

“Ah, no,” the receptionist monk answered, “Brad?”

“Yes.”

“You sound strange.”

“Oh, just a little bout of weakness.  How are things with you there at the Center?”

“Fine.  But Fa Hui ought to be jumping for joy right now.  Abbot Master is so pleased with him.  He sees someone who is truly spiritually gifted in Fa Hui.  He asked him to be his ‘protege’ or   personal student so that he can ease him into the position of Dharma Master. And that, let me tell you, is no small potatoes.  He’d be second in command.”

“Really?  It’s great to hear that his surfing soul is as spiritual as people say it is.”

“Yes, living here has brought out spiritual qualities that a great master like Jy Shao can detect.  It’s called the ‘Buddha Eye’ of seeing into someone’s soul, seeing that he’s got what it takes to become a bodhisattva.  Fa Hui is the real McCoy.”

“Imagine that.  Not yet a novice and he’s being hand picked to become a Zen teacher!  Well, tell him I called.  I’ll try to call again tomorrow.  I think a bed is ready for me at the hospital I’m to go to for extended tests.”

*

Rabbi Emmanuel Cohen followed the directions to the not-quite-finished house.  “Am I welcome here?” he called as he parked his car.

“Sure,” Harold said. “Paul and I were only talking about the weather.  Stella just made coffee.  Come on in.”

The three men sat at the kitchen table of the unfinished house.  Stella served coffee and cinnamon buns that she had just baked.

“Sit down with us,” Harold insisted.

Stella reluctantly approached the table.  She was not entirely uninterested in the house since she did ride out frequently with Paul to make coffee and cinnamon buns for the workmen, but she was uncomfortable sitting with them and giving the impression that she was “the lady of the house.”  Paul pushed a chair out with his foot, and as she sat down and rested her hands on the table, a peculiar red string bracelet was clearly seen. Neither Paul nor Harold had ever questioned her about it – they had assumed it was an “Indian thing,” but the Rabbi recognized it.  “Do I detect a Kabballah follower?”

“I’m a beginner,” she said.  “But it seems to have made a difference in my life.”

“You know,” said Rabbi Cohen, “this setting would be a perfect place to create a small Kabballah center.  Have you ever thought about gathering a group?”

“I’ve got enough on my plate. My baby is due in December,” she answered. “But I do often go out into the mountains to meditate.”

“It’s something to think about,” Rabbi Cohen said.  “If you’re in favor of attracting young people into mystical religion, this is the perfect place for it.  Beautiful.  Scenic.  And just close enough to a city for good transportation.”

“What kind of mysticism?” Paul asked. “Judaism? I’ve heard that in many ways it’s like the old Shoshone religion,” he said.

Rabbi Cohen was interested in pursuing the congregational aspect.  “Every religion has a mystical school. I know a peripatetic Kabballah teacher.  He makes the rounds.  Mystical Judaism is becoming very popular.  It’s replacing yoga, I’m told.”

“Do me a favor, then,” Harold said, “and find out about bringing the man here for a lecture series or whatever you call it.  I’d like to do something constructive with my life, and running a center for mystical teachings of many religions is something I could do.  One night for Yoga, one for Sufi, one for Shoshone, one for Kabballah, one for Zen.  Have I exhausted the week?” he asked laughing. “We could build ‘The Mystic Motel.'”

“You left out your own religion,” Rabbi Cohen said. “Mystical Christianity.”

Harold laughed. “Please don’t let that get around!”  He sighed. “You know… I’m not complaining,” he said, “but I’m right handed, and I still can’t walk properly on my right foot much less hold a pen with my right hand.  My future in the job market is not bright. But I fantasize about becoming an official Catholic Lay Teacher.  I could run a kind of mystical retreat… a place where people could learn spiritual techniques while also getting away from life’s complications for a week or two.  Incidentally, will you be here Sunday for the Communion ceremony and party after?”

“I have an appointment at home tomorrow afternoon, but I could come up again Sunday.  I probably won’t go into the Church to witness it, but afterwards if you have cake and ice cream, count me in. Maybe I’ll bring the wife.”

“Have you heard from the Blumenthals lately?”

“I think I’m supposed to answer, ‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’   Yes, I hear from them or from other Rabbis every week. When the phone rings my wife and I have a bet about who is calling.  Nobody else seems interested in me anymore.  I’m thinking about accepting a position with a Philadelphia synagogue to save my fellow Rabbis a fortune in telephone bills.”  He smiled.  “Just kidding!”

“Did they tell you about getting my old girlfriend to make a pitch for me?” Harold asked.

“Yes. That’s one of the reasons I drove up here.  I sort of gathered from a few of the conversations I’ve been having lately that an old flame of yours was going to try to rekindle your once torrid relationship – and that she’ll be well compensated for it.  The Wechslers owe the Blumenthals a lot of money. Debts will be cancelled.”

“They came right out and told you that?” Harold asked.

“No, what they said was that if a certain party thought that marrying you was going to get all that money away from you and not be given to its rightful owners, the parents of the girl would pay dearly. In other calls I learned that the girl in question was Caroline Wechsler.

Paul laughed.  “So they set Caroline in motion and now they’re afraid if she gets you to marry her, she’ll stiff the Blumenthals. Ah, money.”

The rabbi suggested the route that was being followed. “Mr. Blumenthal insists that since you were committed to Stella and were having a child with her as well as being her secret drug addict buddy, your marriage to Rebecca was fraudulent and the circumstances of her death were, as he put it, too convenient to be anything but deliberate murder. I’ve sent him copies of every document I could get that disproved his theory in its entirety. I even had the Medical Examiner do me a favor and call him and personally relate the blood transfusion incident.  But Blumenthal is adamant.  He wants to take things back to the status quo ante.  An annulment.  A voiding of the marriage contract.  He knows that if the marriage was declared to be fraudulent, then he’d get his money back.  He’s disguising greed as a moral imperative.  I told him that it embarrassed me to call him a Jew.  Ive never said that to anyone else before in my life.  I felt that my good conscience demanded that I warn you.”

“I managed to learn that for myself.  But Caroline doesn’t know that I’m aware of the plot.” He sighed.  “Let’s not sully this beautiful place with talk about those people.  We can change the subject and talk about something that does interest me: starting a meditation center with a nice garden and, I’m serious, a few bedrooms for overnight guests.  I’d like you to be one of the series of teachers,” Harold said.

“I’d like to study the Kabballah formally,” Stella said.

Paul laughed.  “Your first customer and she’s not even Jewish.”

They sat and talked and decided not to return to Ely that night.  First Paul went to bed.  And then Harold retired for the night.  Rabbi Cohen discussed the principles of Kabballah with Stella until dawn caused the others to awaken.  “It’s that coffee she makes,” the Rabbi explained.  “I’ll have to get her to teach my wife. I’ve got her phone number and address here and she’s got mine.  When you pick a place for your little center, I’ll let my wife work on the project with Stella.  There’s no point in you and me getting involved.  The Blumenthal reach is long.”

Rabbi Cohen returned to Las Vegas.  The rest headed back to Ely for breakfast.

*

Stella had said she wanted to go to her room to freshen up, but she did not return to have breakfast.  Paul knocked on her door and got no answer.  He went to the front desk to ask if there were any messages from her.  “No,” the desk clerk said, “but there was a strange guy around here, Paul, a few days ago.  He looked like one of those plainclothes cops.  He was asking me questions about Stella.”

“Oh?  What kind of questions?”

“Was she planning a wedding?  I said, ‘Not that I know of.’  Was she pregnant?  I said, ‘ditto.’  I don’t give out information but I did see him hang around and talk to one of the chambermaids.  It wasn’t my place to question her about their conversation.”

Paul Oteiza returned to Harold’s room.  “Stella’s got some kind of tail on her.  I don’t like it.  Some detective-type was asking questions about her.   Was she getting married?  Was she pregnant?”

“And then she disappears?”

“Maybe she got paid off to have an abortion.” Paul shrugged.  “She’s been under a lot of stress.”

“I’m getting ready to celebrate my First Holy Communion on Sunday…  walking last in line with a bunch of little kids…  and thanking God I didn’t have to wear a white jacket and short pants…  and then all this happens.  What else?  Tell me!  What else?”

“Let’s go get a beer,” Paul said, “before the lunch crowd arrives.”

“No.  First we have to find out where Stella is now.  My God!  Am I responsible for getting another innocent woman killed?”

“You’re an unknown commodity around here.  Let me go to the sheriff’s office and lay this out for them.  We’ve got to stay within the law.”  He picked up his iPhone.  “I’ll play this recording for them and report what the desk clerk had said about the visitor.”

“I’ll go with you. I want to stay out of Caroline’s way. Let’s leave word at the desk that I had to attend to business.”

The sheriff was interested.  “This town is flooded with outsiders because of Brant’s wedding.  The last thing I need is a kidnapping or worse. ”  He listened intently to the recording.  “That girl is up to no good. She says that if nobody tells her specifically what’s being done to Stella, she’s off the hook.  Somebody needs to explain conspiracy theory to her. You did right bringing this to me.  But it would have to be on the busiest weekend of the bloody year.”

Go to Issue #8

The Money Lender (#6)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Money Lender

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

If you haven’t read the previous issues:

The Money Lender #1

The Money Lender #2

The Money Lender #3

The Money Lender #4

The Money Lender #5

Part 21:   Tim

 

First there are the problems of chaos which must be understood, and then there is the hard work of converting chaos to cosmos… order.

Had the problems that confronted Tim Murphy affected only himself, or had they been able to stand separately and be examined and gauged relative to the others, he might have tried to prioritize them.  But there were so many problems of such complicated natures that he could not get beyond his initial bewilderment. He was cognizant, too, of the effects that his actions had and were continuing to have on his relationship with Charlene Cottone. If she had told her parents about her affections for him and they then learned that he was blamed for a $30,000 theft, they would insist that she sever her relationship with him.  They’d use the incident as proof that they, not she, were better qualified to choose her marriage partner, and she’d be forced to marry within her extended family.

He needed to organize his life but he could find no stating point, that one loop in the knot that when tugged, will free an end point and allow for the unraveling process.  His parents had supported him so faithfully, that he went along with their solutions.  They, of course, in their generosity only made him feel worse.  Now he was indebted to the bank and to them, as well. His mother’s unlicensed sewing business began to show a tiny profit.  His father became a handyman who not only trimmed an occasional tree, but went from store to store with a bucket and squeegees and window cleaning liquid and began to earn even more than his mother did.  During the day Tim made all the pickups and deliveries, and each evening he and his dad collected discarded aluminum cans. They did not venture into the rabbit business.  There was just too much work involved.

Charlene would call and he would arrange to meet her briefly in a place they felt secure… in the park or outside a church neither attended.  The meetings were brief and he could never hold her and kiss her. He’d see her walking towards him and all he wanted to do was cry, first for joy and then for the misery of his life that kept them apart.

Charlene understood how frustrating if was for him to be innocent of a crime and not be able to associate openly with her because he feared that his “guilt” would rub off on her.  She decided to discuss the matter with her parents, to get them to see that he had been wrongly accused. They listened but did not seem to hear what she was trying to tell them.  Both agreed that while they were not averse to having an Irish son-in-law, they certainly did not want a thief in the family.  “We’ve had enough of that,” her mother said with unmistakable finality.

“But he’s not a thief, Momma!” Charlene protested.  “He’s innocent.  He was framed.”

“They’re all innocent,” her father retorted.  “Take a poll of jailbirds.  Nobody’s guilty.  Stay away from him.  That’s final.”

It was not until Tim and his parents made the second monthly payment that their efforts began to organize themselves into a routine.  They no longer had to canvass health clubs for made-to-order yoga clothing.  His mother had taken the measurements of each customer and kept the information in a file.  A weight-loss was celebrated by Mrs. Murphy making a personal visit to the health club to get the new, smaller measurements of the lucky loser. To celebrate the diminishing size, she would go to the market, buy a stalk of celery, trim it, and then pass the tray of clean fresh celery around instead of cake.  A woman who happened to be a commercial artist was so pleased by this that she designed a logo for the yoga brand: a  celery stalk.  Mrs. Murphy’s new sewing machine had an embroidery function and she began to embroider the celery logo onto the breast pocket along with the purchaser’s monogram, if requested… at no charge.  The garments could be worn on the street, and many women purchased half a dozen outfits. Tim steam-ironed and bagged each outfit.

Merchants and professionals who had large windows, knew that on a given day in the week, Mr. Murphy would appear, give a thumb’s up sign and raise his eyebrows, and wait to be given either a thumb’s down “not this week” which he’d acknowledge with a smile and a wave, or receive a thumb’s up that indicated he should proceed with the window washing. He began to acquire clients who would drive him to their homes where he would do the entire house, providing the owner supplied an extension ladder wherever one was needed.

For nearly two months, each day had seen an improvement in Tim’s health and attitude and a concomitant increase in his determination to discover who had framed him. He had done nothing about the problem since, before he could investigate the source of his trouble, he had to deal with treating its symptoms.  Once, however, the second payment was made, he began in earnest to investigate the source of the problem.

He knew that the letter that had been sent to David Lonigan had been written on parchment paper and that there was a blue cross superimposed on a white one in the logo of the sender.   He had searched the internet for Roman Catholic orders and found a “minor” order or “ministry”: the Knights of the Blue Cross who operated a home of some kind called Saint Steven’s Retreat.  They had only one address: just west of Las Vegas, Nevada, close to the California State Line.  Two months into his troubles, he finally had the time and mental strength to visit the Retreat.

People are quick to size up a stranger.  A man who appears to be weak is likely to arouse an aggressive attitude, the opposed ranks of supplicant and benefactor. However wrong that first impression might be, Tim decided to eliminate the possibility of contention.  He would not appear to be weak or needy.  For several weeks, he ate a quart of extremely rich ice cream as he sat with his parents in the living room watching TV. He quickly gained a few pounds and developed  a more substantial look.

Things were running smoothly.  The downstairs of the house became a mini-factory. The dining room table had extensions which, when installed, enabled Mrs. Murphy to use it as a cutting board.  Her business was beginning to pay off.  She also got several athletic uniform contracts.  Mr. Murphy and Tim did the fabric pre-washing, drying, cooking and cleaning and all the driving for supplies and deliveries.  The strain showed on both of his parents, but Tim was now in possession of a plan.  He was going to “dress for success” and visit the Retreat.

He purchased quality casual clothing – slacks, shoes, and shirt – bought new sun glasses and had the barber style his hair differently and shave off his mustache. He dyed his hair light brown. He inspected himself in the mirror and agreed with his image that he did not appear to be the kind of man who could easily be pushed around. There was always the possibility that he’d run into Joshua. He set out for Saint Steven’s Retreat.

As he approached the brick hospital-like building and pulled into one of the visitor’s parking places, he noticed that the wall around the building was extremely high and had buttressing columns every six feet or so.   A gurney, with restraining straps hanging from its sides, had been pushed against the entrance room’s wall.  As Tim went farther into the building and approached the only desk that could serve as a reception desk, he read the name-plaque on it, “Rev. Fr. Joseph Pulaski, M.G.”  Tim could see that along with his computer, the wall behind him held a shelf that contained a scanner, printer, fax machine, and several metal file separators that had color coded labels.  This, Tim told himself, was probably the guy who typed the letter.

As Father Pulaski looked up and smiled and said, “Good Morning.  How can I help you?” An ambulance that did not have its siren on pulled into the space immediately in front of the entrance.  Pulaski’s phone rang.  Someone inside the ambulance was calling him.  Tim could hear distinctly both sides of the brief conversation.  “We’ve got a wild one in here.  We got stuck on the 110 and in the wait his Haldol injection wore off.  Can you send Big Brother Herman out to help us?”

Father Joseph answered, “Sure, I’ll have to go look for him.  He’s in the back garden. Be patient.”  He ended the call.  He stood and lay his iPhone on his desk, “Could you give me a minute,” he said to Tim. “We’ve got a medical emergency.”  He then hurried through a door that apparently led to the building’s rear.  Tim picked up his phone and flipped through his call history.  He read Chuan Yi’s name and number which meant nothing to him except its peculiarity. He then read Jy Shao’s name and number and this also was merely odd.  A little farther down the list he read Rick Dubrovsky and that name meant something to him, but he did not recall what it meant.  Hearing Father Pulaski talking to someone as he approached, Tim returned the phone to the desk.

As Father Pulaski hurried past him with a burly man who was still wiping potting soil from his hands. Tim called, “I can see you’re busy.  I’ll return again tomorrow if that’s all right with you.”  As the psychotic old man was being forced out of the ambulance and onto the gurney, Tim went to his car and drove away.  Who was Rick Dubrovsky?

At home he did a net search on Rick Dubrovsky which netted him no information except his street address.  Finally, he hazarded a call to Charlene.  They did not exchange pleasantries.  He simply asked if the name Dubrovsky meant anything to her.  “Not really,” she said, “All day long we hear people’s names.  Pretty soon they all just become mush,” she said.  “Did you know that after all that bragging about going into a Catholic seminary, Joshua rather quietly went into a Buddhist monastery?”

“Buddhist?  Not Catholic?  That’s weird. Which monastery?”

“I don’t know.  It’s local. Remember how upset he was when that letter came?  Well, he left FNN right after that.  I only just heard about it when the auditors asked about a $2000 payout Lonigan had given him.  I squeezed out a little information and learned that those Knights wanted him to test himself about living like a monk for a few months or year in the Zen Center of Sandyville.  I think the auditors had something to say about it too.  They didn’t want him leaving town.  From what I’m told, he still has to attend Mass every week and take Communion.  Funny arrangement.  He can’t participate in Buddhist rituals, either. Meditation but not services.  He gave them a lot of money so I guess he’s a paying guest not a novice.  Lonigan gave him the few thousand extra that he needed to be admitted.”

“Charlene, I’m gonna prove my innocence.  See what you can learn about Rick Dubrovsky.  I miss you so much.”

“Ditto.  Double ditto. I’ll see what I can find out.  Are you eating better?”

“Yes.  Pretty soon I’ll look like a Sumo wrestler.  Just for you.”

Charlene spoke to him in a soft voice.  “More to love.”  She heard someone coming.  “Gotta go.”

He looked at his phone.  “You are the chink in the wall.  We’re like Pyramus and Thisbe.” Then he thought about the end of Pyramus and Thisbe and shuddered.

This was an important clue: Joshua was living in a Buddhist monastery in the vicinity.  But which one?  Tim had found Rick’s home address but he could never see any activity in the house whenever he drove past it.  Charlene had said that Joshua was a guest and had to go to Mass on Sundays.  So did he, of course.  He had never seen Joshua in or around church on Sundays, but he assumed Joshua attended another church – if he went to church at all.

The Buddhist temple problem was more easily solved. He got a list of temples and monasteries in the area and was shocked to see the number of them.  Buddhists of every nationality seemed to have their own temple.    The Zen Center in Sandyville was the absolute last number in the list.  “Z for Zen,” he said aloud as he called the number.  The receptionist monk regretted that neither guests nor monks could receive telephone calls unless the call constituted an emergency.  “Well,” Tim said softly, “It’s an illness that might become grave.  If if does become an emergency, when is the best time, or conversely, when is a bad time, to call Brother Joshua?”

“His name around here is Fa Hui.  And I guess the mealtimes…  6 to 7 a.m.; noon to 1 p.m.;  and 6 to 7 p.m. would be the best times.  You can’t disturb him in the meditation hall.  The free time that the monks have is staggered so I can’t tell you when he’d otherwise be free.  But try mealtimes.”  He stopped to amend his information. “Oh, he leaves the monastery before dinner on Saturday afternoon and doesn’t get back until Sunday noon. He helps some theologian do research.”

Tim Murphy drove to Sandyville.  “So this is your hideout!” he said aloud, looking at the building.  He could see Joshua’s Toyota which had been moved into the shade of a cottonwood tree.  “Come next Saturday, I’ll be outside,” he growled, “waiting for you to leave for Confession and Mass.  Let’s see where you go then.”

 

Part 22  Joshua

 

During successive Saturday nights Rick assumed the role of the fictional Professor Reynard and taught Joshua some of the background of the old Buddhist scriptures.  “The trick in deciphering this garbled baloney is to learn the glossary and to recognize and then delete repetitions.  The verses are best understood if you take them out of poetic form.  Remember: in order for a thing to be true and real, it must be true here, there, today, yesterday, tomorrow.  No doubt this business about being and non-being was hot shit in its day.  The Law of the Conservation of Matter and/or Energy covers the subject completely.  Relativity to them was mere comparison, a subjective observation – provable no doubt by consensus for their needs, but jejune and sophomoric by any standard today.  This nonsense is kept alive because people who have been stupid and unwise enough to study philosophy, have nothing else to write about except, of course, their own opinions about wisdom and the stupidity of those who disagree with them.  One writes a book that calumniates a few other philosophers, so they naturally write books in rebuttal. That’s what keeps their names in print. They write commentaries on each other’s bullshit.”

“What is the real truth?” Joshu asked, turning on his digital recorder.

“Real truth?  Careful, my boy… next thing you’ll be spouting tautologies.  First recognize that like cuisine, religion depends upon location to a great extent.  If we don’t find a Plato in the jungles of New Guinea, the problem is not with the intelligence of the people of New Guinea, it’s with the jungles of New Guinea.  Geography allows for riparian cities in which ideas are exchanged, arts and crafts are learned, trade is facilitated, and the climate and natural predators can be controlled to some degree. In the jungle, food is so scarce that people live in small groups. Travel is difficult and venomous creatures and predators are daily problems. Surviving is a full time occupation. Yet they have religion, and many beliefs which make us uncomfortable in their sophistication.

“People find ways to record things.  You can dig up a block of caliche – that’s limestone in its thick mud-clay state before the air dries it into stone – and with your thumb nail carve a perfect Mayan glyph. They had ink and a version of paper, too.  They needed to write and record trade and astronomical dada, just as the Egyptians did. But whether literate or illiterate there is always a search for the Real World.  Priests, shamans, medicine men all sought knowledge of mystical truth. They sought the transcendental realm, the ultimate truth, and were not content with navigating this toublesome material world with all its egomaniacal conceits.”

“But what about the societies around these seekers?  They had their rain gods.”

“Sure, rain gods and wind gods were for those who could not see beyond the Material World illusions – notice I did not say delusions. Many people did see the Real World.  Plato certainly did. What’s more, people who have been in the Real World have seen the identical Real World, no matter where they live. Jung discovered that. Nirvana encompasses this world.  It is another world entirely.

“There are those tho insist that the material world is everything.  Obviously there is no room in it for a place called Nirvana.  So they cultivate the asinine idea that Nirvana is the emptiness that remains when the material world is obliterated.  They strive – sometimes for hours a day – to eradicate all thoughts – and when they succeed in this self-hypnosis, they think they are enlightened.  They fail to understand that you cannot desire not to desire.”

“Were you ever in the Real World?”

“You ask too many questions.”

 

Page 23  Aaron & Paul

 

While Harold went to a special physical therapy center to help restore use of his right arm and leg, Paul Oteiza  drove U.S. 80, the northern interstate route, to Philadelphia.  Harold had gotten Paul a new pickup truck with a long bed and a camper shell cover so that he could sleep in it anytime that he wanted.  He drove through Salt Lake City, Cheyenne, Des Moines, Cleveland, and finally Philadelphia. He had the keys to the house and called Aaron to report on its condition.

“It needs yardwork like you wouldn’t believe,” Paul said.  “Ain’t nobody mowed this grass since it was sold. I can do some landscaping for ya’ if you want to invest in a mower and some pretty plant life. It could also use exterior paint.”

“Buy whatever you need,” Harold said.  “And hire anyone you need. Surprise me with the results.”

Paul sent him photographs of the “before” state of the property.  “I’ll keep you posted as we progress,” he said, and added, “By the way, someone in the neighborhood must have notified Mr. Blumenthal because I got a pic of him sittin’ in his car across the street watchin’ me.”

“Are you sure it’s him?” Harold asked.

“I saw him in the hospital,” Paul said.  “I know he recognized me.  I waved to him but he didn’t wave back.  Maybe he thinks you’re going to come back here to live.”

“Don’t answer anybody’s questions,” Harold advised. “They may want to burn the place down.”

“Do you have fire insurance on it?” Paul asked.

“Of course,” Harold said.  “Do you think I’d trust them around my property without it?”

Paul engaged a first rate painting company and as expected the painting was done quickly and well.  The garish blue grim had been tamed to a pearl grey, and trim that had not been given a contrasting color, in this case dark grey, was now tastefully restored to what the architect, no doubt, had intended.  The rye grass, fed and watered, returned to a lush thick green; and the numerous chrysanthemum and marigold fully-flowering plants that he placed inside the brick circles he made around each tree, added a degree of beauty that exceeded neighborhood standards. Harold commented that it was almost beautiful enough to make him want to return to Philadelphia.  They understood “almost.”

August can be a miserably rainy month in Philadelphia.  Hurricanes will roar up the eastern seaboard and ruin roofs and vacation plans, and even when the wind is not blowing or the rain not coming down in sheets, the city is humid and hot.  Unlike in the desert, where a sweaty armpit is never seen because the dryness of the air evaporates any moisture it can suck into its vacuum. Coming from the lightness of the desert, the easily breathed air, the unwrinkled collars and sweat-free underwear, Harold deplaned and immediately felt the skin beneath his arm and foot casts began to itch with dripping perspiration.  He had taken the red-eye out of Las Vegas to Philadelphia to accommodate the time-zone differences.  Paul met him at the airport and together they went directly to the escrow office.

Waiting outside the title company’s office stood the Blumenthals, held in check by two uniformed security guards.  Mr. Blumenthal had wanted to get inside the building, but Harold had called ahead, insisting that security be called to prevent him from disturbing the proceedings.

By noon, when all the papers were finally signed, the checks written, and the hands shaken, the negotiation was finished.  As Paul began to push Harold’s wheelchair, the real estate agent stopped him and called him aside  to tell him that the improvements he had made to the house were “nothing short of amazing.”  He wanted to hire Paul on a permanent basis.  Paul gracefully declined and then notified Harold that the deal was “almost” good enough to make him want to accept it.

Harold had actually made twenty-two thousand dollars on the transaction.

“Ready to head home?” Paul asked.

“No… I’ve got a couple of errands to run.”

“Ah, Caroline’s house?”

“I was gonna say, ‘First take me to Saints Peter and Paul’s Cathedral.’  You had to mention Caroline.  Ok.  Let’s drive past her place.”  He gave Paul the directions, but the blinds were still lowered and closed as they had been when she went to Europe.  “Well, we tried,” Harold said, “now we can go to Saints Peter and Paul’s Cathedral.”

Now that the cast had been removed from Harold’s foot, he could walk short distances, providing he supported his foot with tape and used an old fashioned crutch – it was the only kind that would fit comfortably into his right armpit.  He could put no weight on his right hand and had to move the crutch forward by pressing his arm cast against it and swinging his body and arm.  He walked then, in a kind of scalloped manner.

Paul sat in the rear of the church as Harold hobbled his way to the front. The choir was practicing Mozart’s Requiem and Harold, feeling dizzy, tried to lower himself in a pew.  A priest who was crossing the nave, saw him and came quickly to assist him.  The two sat together and listened to the music and when the Requiem had ended and the organist and choir master began to bicker about fine points in the performance, they talked about the peculiar events of the past summer.  The priest introduced himself as Father Pete and then pensively spoke to Harold.  “I personally believe that no baptism is as spiritually effective as one between a loving stranger and a soul that’s looking into the abyss of death. Don’t get me wrong. It’s always nice especially when the baby doesn’t yell its head off or knock the oil cruet over or spit up on your new orarium – its’s a beautiful sacrament. But yours had the hand of Christ in it.  I can just tell.  I don’t know why it was so special. But it seems that you received more than just a Baptism.”

“He’s sitting in the back row…. the man who baptized me.  But the person who really saved my life was an Indian woman named Stella.  She took a big syringe used for cattle and drew a pint of blood from her own arm and injected it into mine.  I think she had to do it eight times.  Her elbow joint looked like a pin cushion”

“And they were really strangers?”

“Yes. I was frying in the desert with a bunch of broken bones. Gave me water and blood and a trip to the ambulance.”

“So our Blessed Mother was with you, too. Are you going to stay with the new faith?

“Oh, yes.  I’m learning the catechism every day.  A priest comes and tutors me. I’m supposed to take my First Holy Communion on September 13th, in Nevada.” He paused to assume the supplicant’s role.  “Father,is it possible to ask you to dedicate a Mass to Stella Buchanan… who stood in for our Virgin Mother and Paul Oteiza who seems to be God’s right hand.”

“Of course.  He took out a tiny tablet and wrote their names. When he finished and was about to put his pen away, Harold asked him for it.  He wrote a check for Twenty-two thousand dollars and gave it to the priest.

“I thank you for your donation, but it costs nothing to offer a Mass in special recognition of saintly people.”  Then the priest noticed the amount.  He raised his eyebrows.  “Very saintly people.”

“Make it a good one,” Harold smiled and asked the priest to help him to stand.  “You know,” Harold said, “this is my first visit to a Catholic Church.”

“It would have cost you less to spend the day at the Four Seasons.”

They were still smiling when they reached the rear of the church.

 

He stopped at his mother’s apartment to pick up a few books and personal items.  His mother was at work and he missed saying goodbye to her.  “Let’s roll past the shoe store she works in.”

Paul agreed.

As he hobbled up to the store front he could see his mother inside, kneeling on the floor trying a white satin pump on a girl.  She happened to look up at the dark shape in the window and cried out, “Aaron!” when she saw him.  She ran to the door, opened it, and tried to hug him without knocking him over.  “You’re on your feet.  Oh, I knew you’d be fine again.”

“I’m going back to Nevada to live, Mom.  You can visit me whenever you want.”  She began to cry, saying how much she’d miss him.  He pressed a check for $250,000 in her hand and said, “Quit your job and sublet the duplex and find a little place in Florida – where all your friends go.  And when you feel like it, come out and visit me in Nevada.  Just don’t let it be known that I gave you any money.  You’ll get more trouble than you bargained for.”

Paul and Harold left Philadelphia that afternoon.

 

Part 24  Tim

 

A few weeks after the second payment was made, Tim’s father had a heart attack while washing a window. The store owner called 9-1-1 and Tim and his mother went to the morgue to identify the body. Mrs. Murphy decided to wait in the hall.

The Medical Examiner spoke to Tim as he showed him the body.  “Your dad kept the business card of his cardiologist, Irwin Baker, M.D., in his wallet. I spoke to Dr. Baker.  He’s already been here.”

The M.E. looked at Mr. Murphy and sighed.  “He died a noble death. You can tell, you know.  His shirt collar is a bit frayed but starched and it’s already been turned.  You don’t see that done any more today.  It takes a woman’s love to do that.  His clothes and his body were immaculate.  Baker said he was livin’ on borrowed time, this good man.  I understand that he’s to be cremated.”

“Cremated?” Tim was shocked. “But we have a family plot!”

“No more you don’t.  He told Dr. Baker that he sold the plot to pay off some family debts.”

Tim’s mother had been listening in the hall just outside the doors. She stepped into the lab.  “God forgive me,” she said.  “Your father feared that he would pass and that funerals were terribly expensive.  I agreed.  We really needed the money, Timmy. When I go you can put our ashes together.” Tim nodded; but it was as if she had said, “You’ve reached the bottom.”

Grief had entered its robotic phase.  Tim moved in all the right directions and said all the right things and soon there was an urn sitting on the mantlepiece.  His mother had not missed a day of sewing.  She had contracts to meet and, as long as she did not have to prepare for a service or a wake, it was a simple matter of choosing a crematorium and then to ask Tim to pick up the ashes.  “God made life hard for him.  People come for the food and drink.  As the Irish say, ‘They took the ice right off the corpse and put it on the beer.’  Your dad was not a drinking man.  I’d have gone crazy with a bunch of maudlin drunks who apparently didn’t know him well enough to offer him a dime when we were in such trouble.”

During this entire period, from death to cremation, Tim had not tried to contact Charlene.  He did not want to talk about his father’s death.  Still in an emotionless state, Tim continued to make the pickups and deliveries.  He continued to collect aluminum cans.  It was a good way to spend the evenings without Charlene.  He did not, however, wash anyone’s windows.  And then two weeks after his father’s death, during one dinner time, his mother reverted to habit and said, “Tell your dad dinner’s ready.”  Tim looked at his mother and began to bang his head against the table and then, finally, he began to sob hysterically as he repeated his father’s name. He called “Daddy…  Daddy…” a few dozen times and then finally he raised his head and looked at his mother’s agonized face.  “Because of me he worked himself to death,” he said.

“No, son,” she whispered, “because of some evil person who was seized by the devil to torment you… to disguise himself to look like you and then bear false witness. You are not to blame. He is the one that God will have to deal with.  Your father died a happy man… happy to help you.  It’s a wonderful thing to help a good person who needs help.”

Tim’s mother stood by his chair and he locked his arms around her and continued to cry.  “I miss him so much,” he said, ending his grieving episode with a several long shuddering gasps. “I’m tryin’ to find Joshua, the guy who framed me, but, Momma, what’s the point?  Suppose he stands there and laughs in my face. The law doesn’t even know it was broken. And if I spilled everything and it went to trial, they still have all the evidence against me.  I lost my father because of Joshua’s greed. I’ve got no life with Charlene because of his greed, and if I object to the frame-up, your life and mine wouldn’t be worth a nickel… not with these people.”  He shed a few more tears of frustration, and then, it was as if the answer to what he must do had been written on his heart but was illegible under a covering of dirty ice. The hot salty tears melted the covering, letting him read the message.  “Joshua must die.” He snuffled and went into the bathroom to wash his face.  When he returned to the table, he ate his meatloaf and mashed potatoes, as thoughts, plans, schemes, came from out of the stratosphere to crash into his mind. Oh, yes.  Oh, yes. He was on the right path, now.  He told his mother what a good meal she had made and then he collected the dishes to wash them in the sink. There were so many ways to dispose of an evil human being!

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, assuming that Joshua would not be there, he called the Zen Center and asked if he could speak to Joshua.  He corrected himself, “to Fa Hui.”  The receptionist replied, “Oh, No. He’s gone on his weekly research assignment.  May I leave him a message?  Is this some kind of emergency?”

“No. Not really. Well, maybe not for him, but for me.  I’m getting ready to go into a hospital in Colorado.  I’ve got multiple sclerosis and can’t surf anymore.  I wondered if he wanted my board and gear.  If you talk to him tell him Brad Brenner from Malibu called.  I’m sorry but I don’t have a phone anymore for him to reach me.”

“He’s in Las Vegas. I don’t know where he does his research.  He gets back at noon tomorrow.  After that, he goes to the meditation hall and you can’t talk to him until his free time and I don’t know when that will be scheduled.  The best I can advise is to just call whenever you can and maybe you’ll get lucky.”

“Good idea.  I might have more time than I figure, but when they get a bed for me, I’ve got to be there within forty-eight hours or somebody else will be given my bed. Ok. I’ll keep trying. What about next Saturday?”

“Not tonight, or next Saturday, but the one after that he’ll be here for a big dinner the abbot has… a special dinner about the Dharma. Maybe he could get free to come out and talk to you.”

“Oh… that’s two weeks. Well, maybe I’ll drop by just to see your monastery and maybe I’ll catch him.  I understand the garden is very beautiful. I’d like to see it before I go. But I can only use my sister’s car on weekends.”

The reception monk was moved.  “You come by at any time.  It may do you good to sit out there in the meditation garden.  And I will certainly tell Fa Hui that Brad Brenner from Malibu has called and wants very much to speak to him.”

When Tim disconnected the call he had learned several things. Rick was still picking Joshua up and taking him home.  He also knew that he needed to effect a disguise of some sort. He had not decided on which specific way he’d take his revenge on Joshua, but he could get things started.   He needed to find an abandoned building out in the desert. The old railroad spurs that picked up ore from the silver mines had small well-built station houses that were still standing.  He also knew the location of abandoned mine shafts.

*

During Confession, a gossipy woman admitted her sin of not having told Father Leon sooner that Mr. Murphy had been cremated.  “When I think of all the comfort you could have given his poor widow during these past few days, I am so ashamed for not doing my Christian duty. I should have informed you of this sinful breach right away.”  She continued to confess a variety of sins, none of which surpassed the venial level, at least not that he heard. Father Leon was busy deciding when he could find the time in his busy schedule to call upon the Widow Murphy.

It was on Sunday evening that he rang the Murphy’s doorbell.  Tim answered the door, invited him in, and with a clenched jaw, made tea for him.  The priest knew a hostile attitude when he encountered one, and Tim’s was definitely hostile.

“Why didn’t you notify the Church when your father died?” Father Leon asked.

“Did you think we didn’t have enough debt?” Tim replied.  “Did you want us to pay for a funeral service, and the organist, and the tip for the altar boys, and to buy the flowers and the casket and the Mass cards?   My father died because he worked so hard to pay a debt that we did not owe.  And you want to know why we didn’t increase the debt.”

“Timothy–”

Tim did not allow the priest to interrupt his narrative.  “Maybe you’re angling for my mother’s body. Look around you. The whole downstairs has been converted into her factory.  You can hear her sewing machine going from dawn to dusk back in the kitchen where the light is best. At the rate she’s going, ‘carrying the burden of her faith’ as you put it, she’ll soon drop over dead like my father.  Do you want me to get her now and take her away from her work.  It’s piece work.  She’ll have to work harder to make up the time she’ll lose entertaining you with your guilt trip about my father’s cremation and your sleazy attempt to get her to make preparations now for her own funeral service. Yes, hurry… get the contract signed before she collapses from over-work.”

“Timothy! Don’t talk like that!  You’re angry.  You want revenge.  You told me about the way you were blamed for something you didn’t do.  I know the experience was cruel and unjust.  You have my sympathy.”

“And what am I to do with your sympathy?  Can I spend it like the food stamps that people put in donation plates?  What I need is revenge.”

“God says that vengeance is his alone to take.”

“No. Not in every case.  When the injured party is innocent and has no legal redress; and the evil one remains free to harm again and again, then the doctrine of Nemo me impune lacessit applies. A man is permitted to say, ‘No man cuts me with impunity’ and then to take whatever revenge is necessary.'”

“Only God knows the evil or the good that is in a man’s soul!  Right off the bat Genesis enjoins us from making such judgments. We may not touch the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The judgment of what is in a man’s soul and the reward or punishment that follows upon that judgment, are God’s alone to make.” Father Leon grew angry. “You, my boy, may not usurp God’s prerogatives. Vengeance is God’s exclusive right!”

Tim grinned. “Ah, Father Leon, God has permitted revenge to be taken many times.  Not only may a man touch that Tree, but he can take a small branch from it and make a wreath for his head.  If his cause is just and his record is clean and no legal recourse is available, God will allow him to take vengeance.”

“And you consider yourself to be without sin? To be clean enough to usurp God’s authority? And you haven’t been to church in weeks.”

Timothy laughed. “Only a priest would equate goodness with church attendance.” Then his attitude softened.   “Father, when I say, ‘Nobody cuts me and gets away with it,’ it isn’t a bully’s swashbuckling boast. While my dad was fighting for his country, he got a heart virus.  And he couldn’t even get help from the V.A. hospital.  So I went to work and helped to pay the family bills and lived a righteous life until clever people used my innocence against me.  Now, I who have never stolen, am considered a thief.  And my father, instead of being able to take it easy in retirement had to work himself to death trying to pay off a fraudulent debt. He needed your help but you were too busy helping those who won’t – or say they can’t – help themselves.” Tim stopped talking because one of the rules in taking vengeance was stealth.  He certainly could not let the priest know or suspect the plan he had in mind.

Father Leon put down his unfinished cup of tea and left the house.

Tim still needed to think through his revenge.  It would have to be one in which he did not get caught.  No innocent person could suffer as a result of the revenge he took. “Either I strike him down or else I have to share the guilt the next time he victimizes another innocent person. The judgment is clear.  If I’m wrong about this let God damn me to hell as he lifts him to heaven.”

Each night he lay upon his bed and considered and then rejected a hundred different ways to take revenge on Joshua and still not get caught.

It occurred to him that if Joshua could masquerade as Tim, why couldn’t Tim masquerade as someone else?  The idea that had first inspired him to pretend to be a buddy of Joshua’s from Malibu was like a string that led out of a maze.  He was going backwards, filling the plan in after he had initiated it.  By taking the first step, the second would occur and then the third and soon he would be led back to a starting point. When Joshua was dead, then there would be a new beginning.  He went to a tanning salon.   He got his ears pierced and acquired a tattoo that said “Pe’ahi.”  He bought several Hawaiian shirts and a puka bead necklace.

On Saturday afternoon, he parked outside the Zen Center and recognized Rick’s Jaguar enter the driveway and pull up to the administration office. He had seen Rick before, but now, standing amidst the blooming oleander bushes, he got a good look at him. Joshua soon exited the building and got into the car. The little dog he had seen Rick take for walks through the neighborhood was in the car. About twenty minutes after they had driven away, he entered the building and spoke to the reception monk.

When Tim introduced himself as Brad Brenner, the reception monk treated him as an old friend. “From Malibu!”  And he lamented that Fa Hui had just gone out and wouldn’t be back until noon the following day.  “Is there a emergency of some kind, Brad?” he asked.

He feigned reluctance, and let the plan unfold.  “Like I said, I got some bad medical news.   Can’t surf anymore.  But here’s the thing.  I had just bought a new board not two weeks before I got my diagnosis.  It’s a $1500 board.  I’m not trying to sell it. My sister wanted to give my board and some other gear to her brother-in-law, but –  I don’t want to sound petty so please forgive me if I do – the guy’s an alcoholic and he’d just sell the stuff and spend the money on booze.   I remembered that Joshua lived in Las Vegas, so on the spur of the moment I told her I had promised to give it to Josh – Fa Hui – in return for a big favor he had done me in Malibu. I’ve been out of the country – endless summer stuff.  I’m staying with her until my bed’s ready.  I called Josh’s office and they told me where he was. He’s a righteous dude… a fine surfer. So if he wants to sell it, fine.  Would you just tell him that it’s a Donald Takayama Model T longboard.  I can try to get the car again next Saturday.  Maybe next Saturday night?”

“Oh, dear.  Next Saturday night is that big dinner celebration here I mentioned.  I asked our assistant abbot about letting Joshua leave the table and he said, ‘No way!'” He lowered his voice, “Dinner for eight. It’s a special affair  – the winner of a theological debate is announced.”

“Wow. So Josh is not only a fine surfer, he’s an intellectual, too. I never knew that about the guy!”

“Team would be more like it.  It’s to announce the winning team.  He’s just on a team.”

“Oh, I see.  Still…  ”

“Yes, on one team is our abbot, vice-abbot, and one scholar – that’s Fa Hui; and on the other team is the Monseigneur of Saint Steven’s Retreat and his assistant and a scholar, and then two Philosophy professors who judge the winner of the written commentary. Twice a year they have a good natured debate and the winner is chosen after the dinner.”  He lowered his voice, “It’s always held here because our food is superior to the food at Saint Steven’s – the other place.”

Tim smiled coyly.  “What does the winner get?”

The reception monk laughed. “The winner gets to keep a cheap little bust of Beethoven.  It was the only figure they could both display without anyone asking questions.”

Tim pretended to be a little dizzy.  “Say, I’m a little tired right now.  I get tired quick.  Would you mind if I sat in your back yard?  I sure would like to see that famous garden.”

“Sure,” the monk said as he opened a french door that led onto the veranda.  “Enjoy.”

Tim noticed a string of “dream catchers” strung along the eaves of the building.  “What are these for?” he asked.

The monk smiled.  “It’s our little defense against ghosts.  They’re authentic Navajo or Hopi – I can never remember which – dream catchers. The place is supposed to be haunted.  A lot of us get nightmares and see strange and mysterious things.”

“Do the ‘dream catchers’ work?” Tim asked.

“Who can tell?  Without them things could get worse.  Nobody wants to take the chance,” he added, laughing.

“If you feel up to it, take a slow walk through the meditation garden. At sundown it begins to cool off around here.”

Tim walked to the side of the courtyard and climbed a couple of steps that perhaps had been made to buttress the wall.  A stool had been placed on the top step that was nearly enclosed by a jasmine bower, and so many vine shoots and tendrils curled around the legs of the stool that Tim wondered if he was doing something wrong by sitting there.  Apparently, he reasoned, nobody takes advantage of the view or the coolness of the little jasmine grotto. The cloying scent of jasmine was strong and despite the coolness of the bower, he didn’t think he’d stay seated there much longer.  But he was about four feet above ground level and he had a nice view of the court yard.  He saw several monks doing the slow walking meditation through the garden sculpted with stela type rocks, portulaca, ice plants, and sweet william that grew along the pathway edges.  A weeping willow tree of some sort stood in the middle of the rock garden. Tim imagined that its drooping branches would sway in the wind.  It seemed so serene.  How, Tim wondered, could a snake like Joshua reside in such a place.

Most of the courtyard was planted with herbs and vegetables for the chef.  Tim noticed rows of parsley and dill and other rows of spinach, carrots, tomatoes, scallions, and other plants he could not identify.   He studied the 500 gallon sausage-shaped propane tank and saw two shoddy wooden doors in the cinderblock wall opposite him.  Ruts in the dirt path ran from the doors to the tank and left no doubt that this was the refilling truck’s route.  He noticed that two hose lines led from the tank – one went directly to the kitchen, the other to the dormitory.  The desert gets cold at night and Tim rightly reasoned that the dormitory used a propane heating system.  He guessed that the abbot’s bedroom probably had its own small electric heater.

As he continued to survey Joshua’s refuge, he noticed that something seemed wrong with the tall chimney that rose from kitchen at the point that it connected to the exhaust pipe from the dormitory. The junction was surrounded by aluminum foil in a sloppy way.  It was therefore difficult for Tim to determine whether the angle of connection it formed was 90 or 100 degrees, but in either case was far too horizontal.  The guide wires that held the kitchen chimney upright were slack.  Quite possibly the main exhaust pipe had slipped down and this affected the angle of the other pipe’s insertion.  This, he reasoned, was probably the cause of the nightmares and hallucinations.  The system didn’t have to be clogged – though it might be – for enough of the exhaust to back up into the dormitory. The monks were suffering from chronic low-grade carbon monoxide poisoning.  Killing by CO poisoning at the monastery!  Now that was an idea.  But he rejected it because of the high collateral damage. Then he thought about Rick Dubrovsky.

As he sat there, useless information he had acquired, became relevant.  He thought about something Joshua had told him on a coffee break: a surfing friend in Malibu had once worked in a tuna packaging plant in Hawaii. The company would put a cut of tuna in a package, vacuum out the air, and then give the tuna package a jolt of carbon monoxide and then seal it.  The gas kept the tuna bright in color.  In fact, long after the tuna’s normal “shelf life” had expired and the fish was unfit to eat, it would still look appetizing.  Joshua said a person was a fool for eating packaged meat and fish, and that his friend had confided that after a few months on the job a worker would have nightmares and would have to be moved to another department.

It had been a vague intention of Tim’s to lure Joshua outside the monastery with the irresistible gift of a Donald Takayama surfboard.  He’d spend time at the monastery so that Joshua would believe that Brad Brenner really existed and was truly sick, and then he’d leave word for Joshua to meet him at a place in the desert…  he had several in mind… deserted places where he could say he kept his board hidden so that his brother-in-law couldn’t find it. He could the kill him and dump his body down a mine shaft. It would have been a stupid idea to anyone, but when it came to surfing, Joshua couldn’t think rationally. Carbon monoxide. Hmmm. Alternatively, he could find a way to pump CO into Rick’s bedroom when the two of them were together.  Rick would not exactly be collateral damage.   Joshua, on the other hand, absolutely needed killing – and by Tim’s hand, too.

Was the gas available?  He would check the internet. The gas had a commercial use in the meat and fish packaging business. Surely he could buy a canister of CO gas, but how could he get it to do its lethal work?

Why not Rick’s bedroom” Telephone and cable lines had no doubt been drilled into the stucco wall. A rubber tube could easily be inserted.  An easy death for such a treacherous pair.  He could set things up while they were at the big dinner.  But suppose Joshua didn’t return to Rick’s house after the dinner?  There was that dog to worry about.   And the gas tank would have to be collected afterwards.  What about an appliance that malfunctioned?  Something would have to account for the presence of the gas. But wait a minute! With Rick and Joshua dead, how would he clear himself of the $40,000 debt?

Tim needed to think.  Killing someone was easy.  Getting away with it was not.

 

Go to Issue #7

A Master Ordination!

The Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun is pleased to announce that our Yao Xin Shakya has been elevated to the rank of Master in a private ceremony held in Belgium.

 

Our sincere congratulations to him!

 

A short Bio of Master Yao Xin Shakya

 

Master Yao Xin Shakya
Master Yao Xin Shakya

Yao-Xin is a happy married man, and father, living in Namur , Belgium. He received full ordination as a Zen priest in the lineage of Fo Yuan Shakya of the YunMen (Ummon) Ch’an House through the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu-Yun. Since then he is honored to be the Associate-Abbot of the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu-Yun, and the founder and senior teacher of Dharma Winds Zen Hermitage (ZBOHY/Zatma) in Namur, Belgium. Were he shares with humbleness and simplicity the combined practice of Pureland recitation and Ch’an meditation.

Yao-Xin Shakya has studied Buddhism since he was 14 years old, when he first entered a Buddhist Temple for the eyes of a beautiful Vietnamese girl he wanted to seduce. Never got the girl but the dharma never left. Then he studied in the Burmese and Thai tradition but couldnt find his right place there. After that, he found his true home in Zen, ten years ago. He was never a sectarian and sees himself as a humble devotee of the Buddha.

He studies and teaches Ch’an Buddhism under the guidance of Ming Zhen Shakya.

He is also very happy and honored to serve as the Vice-Prior & European Liaison Director of the Order of Engaged Buddhists (OEB) founded by his dear friend, the Venerable Shi Xi-Ken.

Coming soon: Ordination ceremony

Author: Fa Ming Shakya
Author: Fa Ming Shakya

The Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun is pleased to announce the coming ordination of Frederic Douet (Qian Men Shakya) as a fully ordained Zen priest. The ceremony will be held on August 11th, 2015 at the “Shen Mie Lun Zen Hermitage”, Saint-Just, Bretagne, France.
The ceremony will be performed by Master Yao Xin Shakya as the main ceremony in a four days private  retreat.

Our congratulations toQian Men for this new step on their Buddhist path that is the culmination of several years of study and practice within our order (and within Yao Xin Shakya’s “Dharma Winds Zen Hermitage”)

The Money Lender (#5)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Money Lender

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

If you haven’t read the previous issues:

The Money Lender #1

The Money Lender #2

The Money Lender #3

The Money Lender #4

Part 17  Tim

 

Tim Murphy’s parents secured a $40,000 loan from the bank, using the title to their home as collateral.  His father optimistically said, “We’ve got ten years to pay it off at a little more than $400 a month.  Hell, with my new chainsaw, I can make that much on weekends!”  When Tim reminded him that he needed a license to do that, he said, “Well, it’s about time we got one. ‘Murphy and Son.'”  He laughed.  He did not know the hoops he would have to jump through in order to obtain such a license.  Mr. Murphy was born in Iowa and was a Marine Corps veteran.

He put his faith in God and the Corps.  His medals, badges, and assorted “fruit salad” combat ribbons were neatly mounted on silk and suitably framed and hung in the living room where he could look to them for inspiration.  As he considered the display, he’d joke, “It adds a touch of class to our old furniture!” And as he prepared to meet this newest challenge, he looked up at the frame, saluted it, and said, “Semper Fi!

One of the overlooked benefits in conducting financial matters with mobsters is that the government is kept unaware of the transaction and therefore cannot interfere with it.   Of the two antagonists, the mob is often the lesser of two evils. The bank issued the Murphys a check which they were willing to cash without a fee. Mr. Murphy accepted the cash which had been put in a large manila envelope. The fingerprint man showed up at the Murphy home on the date and at the time he said he would be there.  He took the envelope, counted the money, shook hands with Mr. Murphy, and pointed a finger at Tim.  “Keep your nose clean, young man. Get another job.  You’ll get a decent reference.” He turned to Mrs. Murphy and explained with gentle sincerity, “It doesn’t hurt our business to plant a thief in a competitor’s office.” And then he left and it was all over.

“Did you hear that?” his mother said cheerfully. “Mr. Lonigan will give you a good reference.” She picked up the pad of payment coupons the bank had given them and put it the china cabinet.  “You can help your dad on your days off.”

Tim Murphy forced himself to smile at their good fortune and went to his bedroom and pushed his face into his pillow and sobbed.

Nature has ways of helping those who are suffering psychologically.  The sobbing allowed Tim to keep his lungs functioning.  Gradually, however, the muscles that accommodated the gasps and gulps became exhausted by the exertion and a benevolent Providence would then allow him to sink into a slumberous exile, far from the scene of his grief.  Tim had just gone beneath the surface when his mother interrupted nature’s plan and called him to come to the table for an early dinner, an invitation he could not keep.  He sat up, feeling that his head was as heavy as a bowling ball and that his chest had been compressed between the teeth of a giant bear trap.  He could not fill his lungs with breath. His hands were cold and stiff.

His father came into his room and sat on his bedside.  “Son, you’ll upset your mother if you don’t come down.”  Then he put his glasses on and got a good luck at Tim’s swollen eyes.  “Maybe I’ll just bring up a plate for you.  She made pork chops just for you.”

“I can’t eat, Dad.  I’m innocent.  I never did what I was accused of doing.”

“All the more reason you need to keep your strength up.  We’ve got a lot of work to do.  We’ve wasted enough time spinnin’ our wheels. Gotta get you a job. Gotta get me a tree trimming license.  Maybe even hire a private detective to find out who framed you.”  He patted Tim’s shoulder.  “I’ll bring you a plate, or you can throw some cold water on your face and come down.”  This seemed to be an order and Tim dragged himself to the bathroom to shower and let the cold water pummel his face.

He ate dinner, complimented his mother on the excellence of the meal and, sufficiently refreshed, returned to his bed to resume sobbing into his wet pillow.

Mr. Murphy noticed that the time, being only 3 p.m. gave him the opportunity to call the Business License Division.  He spent twenty minutes listening to recordings telling him which button on his phone to push and finally reached a woman who, he surmised, was preparing to leave for the day. She tried to be brief, and he tried to scribble down each instruction she gave.

“Not just anybody can get a chain saw and start trimming trees,” she chirped officiously. “You might want to operate on your wife’s head but unless you’re licensed by the state, you’d be smart to leave her head to licensed medical professionals.  So I’m telling you that you need a variety of things. Just to start the process you need to form some kind of limited liability company – call the Secretary of State’s office to get details for that – get good references, and apply for a City business license, get an Employer’s Identification Number issued by the IRS, have completed State registration forms with the Federal Bureau of Land Management, which will require additionally that you pass an arboreal examination.  Tree trimmers are not the uneducated types who cut down Christmas trees. You have to be able to identify the tree you’re trying to cut down.  Some are protected. You need liability insurance provided by an accredited agency. Suppose a branch you cut damages somebody’s property?  Or you cut yourself or one of the occupants of the home? Or cut into a high-power electric line? There are requirements for Workman’s Compensation Insurance you must meet.  You need to be able to dispose of the debris…  a chipping machine, a hauler to remove said chips, a permit to dispose of said debris at an approved site, and approved equipment and storage facility for keeping said equipment, office space that can contain your business records, and annual reports filed by a certified public accountant. As I said, call the Secretary of State’s office in Carson City.  They’ll give you more details. Thank you for calling and have a nice day.”

Mr. Murphy had not cried since his days in Operation Desert Storm when his best friend was killed.  He hung up the telephone, went into the bathroom, buried his face in a bath towel to muffle the sound, and began to sob. As far as Murphy & Son was concerned, the filial relationship had undergone spontaneous abortion.  He knew that there were illegal aliens who barely spoke English who went around trimming trees.  They had met none of these requirements and law enforcement officers would drive past their jury-rigged pick-up trucks and trailer hitches and say or do absolutely nothing. He recalled those years of R.O.T.C. enlistments on campuses across the country.  The guys in service said that the letters stood for Run Off To Canada.  When he stopped crying, he welcomed the feel of cold water on his face and he wondered how he’d like the climate up there.  “I can drive trucks.  I could re-train for an 18-wheeler license.  I could be an ice-road trucker.”  Then he felt the heart pains and took a pill.

His wife looked at him as he swallowed the pill.  “We’re in trouble, aren’t we?”

“Yes,” he said.  “We’ll have to cut back on everything.  I can still do some trimming… under the table of course… if the illegals don’t turn me in.  I can collect aluminum cans.  We only have to stretch until I can get through to the V.A. and get an appointment to see a heart doctor and then maybe I can collect disability payments. We’ll be ok then. We can raise rabbits. I’ve got friends in the produce departments of two different markets who’ll let me have some good garbage to feed them.  It won’t be much except meat on the table and some spending moneyfor necessities.  We’ve still got Tim’s old rabbit hutches that we keep hoses and stuff in.  I’ll go clean them out now.”

Mrs. Murphy, as usual, tended to be more pragmatic.  “I heard the gals talking in line at the supermarket.  There’s a market for yoga clothes for oversized women.  I’ll get Tim to print me up some business cards and I’ll make the rounds of the yoga places and health clubs.  Who knows?  It might turn into something.  You could be a big help picking up stuff and delivering the finished products.  I’ll go to the fabric store first thing tomorrow and see what all’s involved… patterns and fabric.”

Some good deeds have an effect that is opposite to the one intended.  While the rational person might suppose that such enthusiastic support of his family members during a time of crisis might lessen the burden that so oppresses him, the person who is suffering observes their effort and his burden increases proportionately.  Tim did try to apply for other cashier positions, but the scandal surrounding his dismissal had sizzled through the business community’s grapevine as though it were a lit fuse.  He might as well have shouted, “Fire in the hole!” when he asked for an employment application.  People smiled, backed-off, and tossed his application in the trash.

Nothing that involved money could even be considered; and in a gambling town, everything involved money.  There were other positions, of course.  But a man would have to look at least competent; and in the days and weeks that followed, Tim lost weight, had insomnia, and began to shake uncontrollably.  His father watched him open an electric bill and thought that someone with Parkinson’s Disease could not possibly have trembled more.  His mother’s sewing machine hummed for many hours each day, and by the end of the month, she began to receive income from the sales of the garments.  Tim showed her how to record income and expenditures in journals and to post the data into individual ledgers as accounts receivable and/or payable. She had new business cards printed:  Her particular sales attractant was emblazoned on the new cards.  “We pre-wash the fabric before sewing.  These garments WILL NOT SHRINK!” Fat girls needed to know that.

Tim would hear her sewing long into the night.  He and his father collected aluminum cans and earned $102. which they applied to the first repayment coupon.  There were only 119 more payments to go.  His father feared, not without reason, that neither he nor Tim would live to see that number decline to 118.  Overcoming his humiliation sufficiently to consult his parish priest, Father Raul Leon, Tim made an appointment to seek guidance.

The priest looked at Tim’s emaciated condition and was gentle.  “I cannot help you to repay your debt,” he said, “but I can tell you that if you allow your health to deteriorate, you are, in effect, committing a kind of suicide.  This demonstrates more clearly your lack of faith than if you shouted your contempt for Our Lord from a street corner. When Our Lord begged for wine and they gave him vinegar, he did not spit it in their faces.  So you must regain your strength by eating the food that is served to you.  And instead of lying awake nights worrying about you and what happened to you and who did what to you, you should use that time to thank God for giving you a burden to carry that tests you, so that you can prove yourself, and you should pledge to do all that you can to carry that burden proudly.  It is by carrying burdens that we learn the weight of our faith.”

At first, Tim thought that the advice was nonsensical; but then he decided to try it.  He forced himself to eat and lulled himself to sleep with prayer; and he began to think more clearly.

 

 

Part 18  Joshua

 

A newcomer who brings no skill or talent to his admission has few opportunities to harm his enemies or to gain the goodwill of those who hadn’t particularly cared, one way or the other, how happy or unhappy he was.  It was by extraordinary luck that Joshua accomplished both of these objectives at one and the same time.

Two days after he was admitted to ZCS, a strong wind blew up the dust that gave Sandyville its name.  Abbot Jy Shao wore a gauze face mask and tried to limit the amount of dust that he breathed; but the old wooden structure and the evaporative cooler that blew water-cooled air into the rooms, also delivered intolerable quantities of dust.  Joshua, still in possession of his $2000 good-will parting gift plus the $2000 he salvaged from the blank-check theft, called a landscape supply business and ordered two truckloads of cedar chips that he and a few monks spread around the Zen Center’s barren acreage.

Jy Shao watched the spreading of wood chips and called Chuan Yi into his office to ask why the new man was doing this.  Chuan Yi did not know and offered to go out and put a stop to it.  “No,” Jy Shao said, “it may help to keep the dust down.”  He had already noticed a lessening of blowing dust in the Center’s immediate vicinity.  The men continued to work, and then, miraculously, Jy Shao suddenly stopped coughing.  The wind was still blowing, but it didn’t contain the troublesome dust. He summoned Joshua to thank him for his ingenious solution.  “The wood chips could not have come cheaply,” he said, “so you must tell me what we owe you.”

“Master,” Joshua said humbly, “the improvement in your health has already repaid me.” Joshua spoke with a sincerity that bore the attractiveness of relief.  He knew that he should never have tried to cheat Rick out of his ten percent of the final five money-orders, and certainly he should have told him about the additional two-thousand dollars he wangled out of Lonigan, but Rick did, after all, ultimately receive the ten percent due him, and that the Lonigan money had been spent so wisely – for after all, Rick did respect Jy Shao and Rick respected so few people on the planet – that any portion of it that he might have claimed, he would have willingly donated to the cause.  In performing one good deed for one good man, he thought, he had absolved himself of cheating a clever but a not necessarily good man.

When they left the Abbot’s office, Chuan Yi summoned his assistant, and the two of them approached Joshua to remind him to prepare a commentary on Nagarjuna’s twenty-four verse Nirvana poem.  Fa Tian gave Joshua photocopies of the philosophic verses. Joshua looked at the papers and raised his eyebrows.  “Really?” he asked as he folded them and put the pages into his tunic pocket. Then he proceeded to recite from memory the twenty-four verses, although he deliberately gave the 14th verse as the 15th and vice versa.  “Did I make any mistakes?” he asked.

“No,” Chuan Yi said.  “Your recitation was splendid… just splendid.”

“Oh, my!” Joshua said.  “You must not have been listening.  I twisted the fourteenth and fifteenth verses around.”

“I hope you won’t twist them when you write a comprehensive commentary this weekend,” Chuan Yi retorted.

Joshua immediately went to the library to ask Fa Dao to call Rick. Since Joshua understood that he would not be permitted to speak on the phone, when Fa Dao exchanged greetings with Rick, Joshua shouted, “Tell him they took my car keys.”  Rick asked him to relay the information that he’d be there at 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon and would have him back at noon on Sunday.

Joshua waited for the master to come to the dining room and respectfully reminded him of the agreement.  “Yes, yes,” Jy Shao said, “and be sure to let the cook know that there will be one less for Saturday dinner and Sunday breakfast.  We have blueberry pancakes on Sunday mornings… with real whipped cream.”

“Next week” Joshua said sternly, “with your permission, I’d like to measure your window and the vent that comes into your room.  I know you don’t like special treatment, but you have so much insight to give and I’m just selfish enough to want to learn all I can from you. I’ve got a vested interest in your health, so to speak.” He winked.  “What I’m saying in a roundabout way is that I want to install a very small, just for one room 110 volt… nothing grand… air conditioner so that you could change the filter regularly.  And also keep that outside air from blowing in.”

“Is Monseigneur Garcia behind this?” the abbot whispered cautiously.

“No, Master.  This is just from one humble monk to a great illuminated one.  Homage, it’s called.” He snickered as he passed Chuan Yi on his way out.

Joshua never had any difficulty in leaving the Zen Center on Saturday afternoon and driving away with

Rick.

 

Part 19  Aaron

 

Harold Aaron Weitzman’s psychological distress proceeded in indirect proportion to his physical recovery. He had been receiving no less than half a dozen calls a day from various individuals who either informed him that he now qualified to receive his wife’s two million dollar life insurance policy with its doubling “double indemnity,” or who demanded that he give thatmoney to her parents along with the down-payment on the house, the title of which was now in his name only, and at least half of the money he had received as wedding gifts. Rebecca’s father had constructed a conspiracy theory in which Stella, Paul, and Aaron had arranged the entire scenario from Rebecca’s pregnancy to her profitable death.  Friends with whom he tried to talk, to relate the horrible near-death experience he had had, counseled him, “Look, it’s not so bad.  You two were headed for a divorce that wasn’t exactly amicable.  This way you’re not stuck with alimony and you’re a helluva lot richer than you were a few weeks ago.”  Such insensitive and insulting remarks were the nicest comments he had gotten.  The rest were hateful slurs and threats to take the matter up with Civil and Rabbinical courts.

Father Salazar asked Harold (the name Aaron insisted upon using), “Does it bother you that Stella and Paul visit you so frequently?”

“No,” Harold protested.  “Why should it?   They’re the only people I know and trust.”

“I ought to tell you that Stella threw up in the ladies’ room and Mrs. Blumenthal deduced that she was pregnant.  Your in-laws are promising to make life difficult for her by way of putting pressure on you.”

“Let them try.  I can also circulate copies of Rebecca’s autopsy that proved she was pregnant before we got married.”

“You wouldn’t do such a thing!” the priest was startled by the harshness of the retaliation.

“Normally, no, I wouldn’t. But I’m here, broken and in pain, and all they want to talk about ismoney. I’m really trying not to get hooked on the pain killing pills the doctors prescribe; but suddenly I hear that I’m a needle using heroin junkie.  I know I’m lucky to be alive.  I know that Rebecca died instantly.  Yes, I was driving. And yes, she wanted me to go even faster.  I should have said no, but we were having fun for the first time in months.  We crashed and that ended the final Act of our lives.  Stella Buchanan saved my life.  She gave me her blood and she and Paul Oteiza got me to a hospital.  I never saw either one of them before the accident; but now, they’re going to be dragged into court as accomplices to murder and extortion and God knows what else.  What do you expect from me?  Sweetness and love?  I’m trying to do the Christian thing and forgive; but some people won’t let you forgive them.”

“I’m sorry,” Father Salazar said. “We all ought to be more concerned with the living.  Have the doctors told you anything about your recovery?

Harold scoffed   “I’m never going to walk right again and what I thought was the least of my bone breaks – my wrist –  the doctor tells me is a Colles’s fracture that is going to require specialized surgery. There were also broken bones in my right hand. I’m not complaining about my problems.  It’s what they’re going to do to Stella and Paul that has me half-crazy.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to have the phone removed?” the priest asked?

Half an hour later the room had no telephone service and Harold’s cellphone was shut off.

 

*

 

The next day, Paul and Stella drove down again from White Pine County.

Harold asked Stella to sit on the left side of his bed.  “Promise me you’ll come to me immediately when you have any problems whatsoever.  Promise me. Come right away.”  He tried to sound less serious. “You gals tease a guy and just when he’s interested, you start living a secret life.”

She giggled.  “I’m playing hard-to-get.”

“How can I repay you for what you’ve already done?” he asked earnestly. “How will I ever be able to repay you for the trouble you may have on my account in the days ahead. I owe you my life.  I seem to be owing my life to lots of people these days.  They’re charging a fortune for just making a few repairs.  You saved the whole enchilada, and you haven’t asked for anything.  So, what do I owe you.”

“Nothing but a quick and complete recovery.  I didn’t do what I did for money.  I did it because a human being helps a helpless creature.  Please don’t insult me by offering me money.”

Harold responded by raising her hand to his lips and kissing it.  “Thank you,” he whispered, “for being an angel.  No human being I know would have done a fraction of what you did.”

As he held Stella’s hand to his lips, Arnold Goldman made a long-overdue appearance.  Stella got up from the only chair beside Harold’s bed to let Arnold sit down. Paul, who always sat with one haunch on the bedside, got up too.  Together he and Stella indicated that they’d go to the cafeteria and would be back in an hour or so.  Arnold sat down and sighed, “You… you crazy guy… I ought to be mad atcha’.”  He explained that after waiting a few hours in the heat, he and Michelle assumed that the newlyweds wanted time alone or else had found the Gatlingsburg Track and were having a good time.  There certainly had been no distress signal given. “I’ll be honest.  I was a little pissed that you two ran off without us.  But Michelle calmed me down.”  They had seen no smoke such as might be seen from a crashed ATV. “We did look over the area, but finding nothing, we figured that you’d call me… somebody around there had to have a satellite phone.  Look, we knew that no matter where you were, you were an intelligent and resourceful guy.”

When he finished speaking, Harold said, “If one good thing came out of that near death experience, it was that a veil was lifted from my eyes and I could see people clearly… their goodness and their evil.  I thank God I was spared what might have been years of anguish working for a piece of shit like you.”

Arnold, disgusted at what he regarded as a slur against his good name, left the hospital without saying another word.

Father Salazar found the atmosphere in Harold’s room much improved when the phone no longer intruded into their study of the Catechism.  Harold had agreed to take his first Holy Communion as soon as he was able and, of course, when the big congregational event occurred.  He was hoping to make the September ceremony.

The days passed as Paul and Stella regularly visited him, cheering him by talking about what he began to call the “Three Cs” – cattle, cholla, and Catholicism.  Harold was convinced he still had a few barbs in his hand and Stella would probe with a magnifying glass and tweezers and iodine that darkened the pieces.  She did find a few pieces that had irritated him, vindicating his complaints to the nurses who said that there were no remaining pieces there. Paul’s cattle no longer had access to the circular watering trough and he decided to sell them rather than drive the small herd north.  And after learning from the priest about the threat to Stella’s reputation that the Blumenthals were formulating, he apologized for having done his Christian Duty to someone who did not require it, but, he quietly added, “As long as there was a chance you needed the extra push through the Pearly Gates, I had to act.  I’m sorry if I upset your family.”

Harold answered, “I’m not.”

For several weeks he had listened to his mother relate his father’s complain that he was entitled to some of the insurance money.  After all, he lost a week’s work coming to Las Vegas to see him, plus hotel and plane fare.  She, too, thought that she should be reimbursed for the hike in health insurance premiums she was certain she’d sustain because of the expense of his injury.   Rebecca’s body had been shipped immediately to Philadelphia where it could be buried in her family’s plot and it cost money to have this done.  Blood Tests had indicated that she was not intoxicated when the accident occurred and a sonogram showed the first trimester form a fetus. The coroner released her body as quickly as possible. “Aaron,” his mother insisted, “you surely are responsible for the air fare… for all of us.”

Harold agreed.  “But I cannot pay until I receive some money,” he responded logically.

On the day that the doctors told him that he was fit to become an outpatient and the accounting department advised him that his insurance company had notified them that he’d soon reach the limit of his coverage, he had a long talk with Paul and Stella.  “I’m fit to go home,” he said.   “But as luck would have it, I don’t have a home.”

“How much longer will you be confined to a wheelchair?” Paul asked.

“At least another month. I can’t use crutches or a walker.”

“That’s a long time to wheel yourself down and back the Strip,” Stella joked.

When Harold smiled, Paul added, “I wish I could take you to my place, but I live in a trailer… a small one… as small as the one Stella was livin’ in when she rescued you.  You couldn’t get a wheelchair through the door much less turn it around when you did get it inside. And Stella’s in a motel room.”

“Where will you be living later on?” Harold asked Stella.

“I’ll find a room and a job in Ely or maybe up in Winnemucca.  I’ll be ok.”

“I don’t want you to be just ok,” Harold said.  “I’ve got all that Shoshone blood in me now and I owe it to the tribe to take care of you.”

“You owe me nothing,” Stella said.  “And you’ll insult me if you try.”

“Noble sentiments.  But I hear you’re preggers.  Is that true?”  He happened to look at Paul.

“Hey!  I’m not the daddy… I wouldn’t mind being the daddy, but that honor belongs to a younger man, I’m afraid.”

“Stel,” Harold said softly, “did Brant tell you he’s gonna marry you?  I’ve heard the nurses talk.”

“Up to now he’s been a man of his word,” Stella said.

“But the nurses say he’s giving his word and more to a gal who works at the Blue Bison in Ely.  That’s none of my business, but taking care of you is.  I have to appear in person back in Philadelphia to gain access to some of the money that’s due me, but the insurance money is going to be transferred directly into a bank account. I knew there was two million on each of our lives, but I swear I don’t remember anything about a double indemnity clause.  That’s four-million plus in my checking account.  I called a bank and they’re sending over a vice-president with the papers that will open an account for me.

“What I’m hoping is that there is a house available somewhere in an area you two would like to live and that you’ll agree to buy it with my money and take me there to finish my recuperation.  And maybe have Paul agree to go back to Philadelphia with me in case I have to be there for the sale of the house.  The least I can do for you both is to get you a nice place. Paul, you’re getting up in years. Stel, you need a nursery room.  I need space to clear my head so I can figure out what I’ll do with the rest of my life.”

Paul Oteiza shrugged.  “I’d be a fool to say no.  I do happen to know of a house that’s for sale.  It could use some work, but I can handle it.  It’s country style…  No electricity and no indoor plumbing.  No neighbors but a bunch of mustangs – if the BLM hasn’t killed them yet. We can put a commode inside for you so you won’t freeze your ass off.  There’s a couple of acres of pine and mesquite on the property, so we won’t lack fuel.  It has a pump handled well, but the water’s fine and we can install pipes and a gasoline generator to pump it into the house… or maybe a wind turbine. And it could use a lady’s touch.  This here gal could spruce it right up.”

Harold nodded and whispered, “It sounds perfect.  Stick around.  The bank guy will be here and I’ll give you power to sign checks on the account.”

As they spoke, the bank executive entered the room. He overheard Harold’s last remark.  He asked Paul and Stella if they would mind stepping outside the room for a moment.  When they left, the bank executive said, “You’re not really serious about giving Mr. Oteiza free access to your money…”

 

Part 20  Aaron

 

A Rabbinical council had convened and in the presence of both the Blumenthals and the Weitzmans asked the hospital administrator’s if they could videoconference with Aaron Weitzman in his office.

Aaron, who was sufficiently recovered to be wheeled into an elevator and pushed into the office had asked Paul and a sheriff’s deputy to be present and also a technician from the Coroner’s office who was acting as an official spokesman regarding the medical conclusions reached upon examining the body of Rebecca Blumenthal Weitzman.

The administrator began, “I’ve been asked to call Mr. Weitzman by his chosen name, Harold.  I’d appreciate it if you would honor his request.”  He had moved Harold as close as possible to his desktop screen.

“What is it that you want to know that you haven’t already been informed of by state officials?” Harold asked.

The Rabbi who officiated at the wedding spoke first.  He greeted Harold and said he hoped he was recovering nicely and wanted to convey his sincere condolences regarding Rebecca’s death.  Harold saw Mrs. Blumenthal nudge him with her elbow. The Rabbi continued, “However we are all dismayed that you had an ongoing relationship, an most unsavory connection, to a woman in Nevada and contrived with Benjamin Weitzman to lure Rebecca out there.  This wedding was a sham and the gifts and properties that resulted from such a fraud should be returned or equitably re-distributed.”

Mr. Weitzman interrupted the charges. “We understand that this woman is also pregnant.  Aaron, my boy!  What kind of double life were you leading?”

“About your double life!” Mr. Blumenthal shouted, “You’re not pulling the wool over my eyes any longer.  I can see what you were up to.  We want to know more about this woman you were two-timing my daughter with.  Was she in on the so-called accidental death scheme?  You’re not gonna get away with this.”

Harold held up his rosary.  “Inasmuch as I now consider myself a Roman Catholic I can’t imagine why I’d be a party to any Rabbinical consultation.  I haven’t asked for one and I can only tell you that Mr. Oteiza here, and the dear lady who gave me her blood and who is pregnant, but not with my child, unfortunately, do not have to be subjected to your insults.  Mr. Oteiza has agreed to accompany me to Philadelphia when I am able to travel.  As you know, the insurance company has paid the claim on Rebecca’s policy.  The money is here in Nevada.  As soon as I’m well enough, I’ll come east to complete the sale of the house and to gather some of my personal objects from home. I do not care to live there among any of you and am therefore establishing residency in Nevada.  I deeply regret Rebecca’s death.  I can tell you only that by the grace of God it was instantaneous.  Also, I’ll let you know that when the Sheriff went back to the accident scene to recover her body, he gathered four pieces of her teeth.  I have them and will keep them safe in memory of her.  She was a good kid and no doubt deserved a better man than I. I think that’s all I have to say. We truly hoped to start a new life here in Nevada. That is the truth and either you learn to accept it or you will meet with a few attorneys at law.  We have them here, too.”  As he wheeled himself away from the administrator’s desk, he asked that anyone who had something to say was certainly free to say it.

Mrs. Blumenthal pushed him aside to ask, “What about reimbursing us for the funeral expenses?  Flying out there was expensive for all of us.  Flying Rebecca’s body back didn’t come cheap, either.  We already had the plot but you should pay for the stone.”

Paul Oteiza responded.  “If you will submit invoices with receipts to me in care of General Delivery in Ely, Nevada, we’ll consider paying the claims.”  He spelled his name carefully and stood up to end the discussion.

Later that evening, a local Rabbi named Emmanuel Cohen visited Harold.  “Before you ask, yes, they – your in-laws – called me.  We discussed the accident and I told them that there were many accidents with ATVs.   Incidentally, a safer – and I mean only relatively safer – machine is the four-wheel off-road vehicle. I’ve read copies of the reports of your injuries that were sent to your mother. I don’t know why somebody in authority didn’t explain to them how Ms. Buchanan gave her blood to you and that the extraordinary way that this was done accounted for the puncture marks in both your arms. And as to the father of Stella Buchanan’s baby, she had an amniocentesis test weeks ago and Brant Chastain was proven to be the father.  So she was pregnant before you and Rebecca even got to Las Vegas.   I think it eased your mother’s mind to know the truth about that. I doubt that Mr. Blumenthal will accept such proof. Also,  I’ve talked to the Sheriff’s men who went to the site.  All I can say is that you were in the hands of God that afternoon.  There isn’t a reason in the world why you should have survived.  Divine Providence.  That’s what it was.  You were in the hands of the angels.”  Then he looked at Harold and said, “You had what we call ‘a battlefield conversion.’  It happens more often than you think.”

“Why is that?” Harold asked.

“Because there are more Roman Catholic priests in the military than there are Jewish Rabbis.  When a man is lying wounded with his life ebbing out of him and his dogtags blown off him, the Catholic Priest or even a Catholic medic will automatically baptize him.  It’s what they’ve always done.”

“Ah,” Harold-Aaron said.  “I wondered about it.  I understand now.”

“Tell me where Mr. Blumenthal first got the idea you had another woman.”

“Damned if I know. Probably from Arnold Goldman, although Stella told Paul that while she had a little bout of morning sickness, Mrs. Blumenthal came into the bathroom.”

“For God’s sake, she saved your life an even took measures to protect Rebecca’s diamond rings.  She gave you a pint of her blood.  That’s not much but it probably did the trick, or so the M.E. told me.  I tried to explain this to Joel Blumenthal and got an earful back.  He’s not gonna let this rest.”

“You may find this hard to believe, but if they had been the least bit civil or sympathetic, I’d have let them have the whole goddamned thing.  But they all turned out to be hyenas… all of them.” He sighed. “Especially the Blumenthals.”

“At first I thought you were being unreasonable, but after talking to him for two minutes, I was wondering if you had overlooked anything else of Rebecca’s that belonged to you.  So where are you going after you leave the hospital?”

Harold smiled and thanked him.  “I’ll be moving upstate to someplace in Lincoln or White Pine county by the end of the week. I’ll let you know my specific address.  But if you’re ever up there or I’m ever down here, I’d like us to meet for lunch or something.”

“The climate in Nevada is salubrious. You’ll enjoy living upstate.  There are four seasons up there.  In Vegas you don’t need an overcoat.  Up there you’ll need a parka or shearling jacket.  As a matter of fact I do take the wife and kids north to Winnemucca for the summer.  Down here we get so many people who have lung problems and need the dry air.  But my wife’s parents died of tuberculosis and she’s terrified that I’ll contract the disease and bring it home to her and the kids.  So when I go to visit a patient, I have to sneak there.” He smiled. “She’ll be delighted to hear that you’ve only got broken bones, torn ligaments, a concussion, cholla punctures, and by the time they take that cast off your foot, athlete’s feet.”

“Tell her I’m happy that she’s happy, and that it only hurts when I laugh.”

Harold had the distinct feeling that he’d meet Rabbi Cohen again.

 

Go to Issue #6

El demonio comprado

20141011_185813
Yao Sheng Shakya

Queridos amigos,

El camino del Zen apunta siempre hacia tomar responsabilidad por nuestras acciones y mantener nuestros compromisos. No obstante ¿Cuántas veces nos juramos hacer tal o cual cosa y al cabo de algunos días, nos olvidamos completamente de todo? Friedrich Nietzche dijo una vez que “los hombres viven mintiéndose a sí mismos y, en todo caso, mienten a los demás como caso particular”. Lo mismo puede aplicarse a los compromisos: en general, los compromisos con nosotros mismos son los primeros en caer. Este no es el camino de los practicantes del Zen.

Una clásica historia ilustra lo que quiero decir.

Había una vez un hombre que iba caminando por un gran mercado, de esos mercados con tiendas coloridas de todo tipo, donde se venden vegetales, incienso, pequeñas cajitas de marfil y artículos variados. En uno de los puestos se anunciaba “Se venden demonios”. El hombre estaba muy asombrado claramente (¿quién no lo estaría?) así que consultó al vendedor:

–   Buenos días señor, dígame… ¿Por qué razón alguien iría a comprarle un demonio?

–   ¡Buenas tardes amigo! Oh, estos demonios son muy particulares. Son sumamente obedientes y pueden hacer cualquier tarea del hogar. Usted debe solamente indicarle con precisión que deberes necesita que cumpla cada mañana y cuando vuelva de su trabajo encontrará todo hecho: la cama tendida, la ropa lavada y planchada, la cena lista…

El hombre estaba entusiasmadísimo, ya que era soltero y su casa era prácticamente una pocilga.

–  ¡Bien! Me llevaré el demonio

–  De acuerdo. Pero recuerde, por favor, que debe darle instrucciones al demonio cada día o cosas inesperadas pueden llegar a ocurrirle.

Fue así que nuestro protagonista llevó a su casa a esta criatura con la gran promesa de una vida libre de quehaceres domésticos. Cada día por la mañana, le daba sus órdenes y al volver todo iba de maravillas: su hogar estaba siempre limpio, ordenado y la cena caliente lo esperaba en una mesa impecablemente servida.

Todo fue un sueño hasta que una noche, la noche de su cumpleaños, sus amigos de la oficina dieron una fiesta sorpresa para agasajarlo. Borracho y exaltado por la atención recibida bailó y se divirtió a sus anchas durante toda la noche. Al amanecer, aceptó la gentil invitación de una de sus compañeras de trabajo para “descansar” en su casa.

Finalmente, cuando llegó a su hogar al día siguiente encontró que el demonio estaba cocinando al hijo del vecino. Lo había fijado prolijamente a una estaca, mientras le daba vueltas para que reciba un tostado parejo. Desesperado, corrió al mercado para recriminarle al vendedor su temeridad al venderle el demonio y para implorarle ayuda. El mercader de demonios lo miró resignadamente:

–   Yo le indiqué que jamás dejara al demonio sin ocupación

–   Pero… ¿Qué debía hacer en caso de ausentarme?

–   ¡Ah eso! Muy fácil. Debía decirle al demonio que cuando terminara sus tareas se entretuviera subiendo y bajando de uno de los árboles del jardín.

De esta manera termina nuestra historia. Es un cuento muy antiguo y muy conocido en las áreas donde predomina el Hinduismo y el Budismo. Algunos dicen que la historia ilustra que la mente siempre debe tener una ocupación (incluso hay un refrán que dice “una mente ociosa es el taller del diablo”) para evitar caer en caminos perniciosos. Puede ser. El ocio no siempre es malo, pero el abandono si lo es. Otro significado, más esotérico, dice que la historia hace referencia a las prácticas de meditación: cuando ninguna técnica parece funcionar y la mente está inquieta no queda otra ocupación que observar la respiración haciendo subir y bajar nuestro abdomen y pecho tal como el demonio de la historia con su árbol.

Sea como sea, estimados lectores: ¡mantengan sus compromisos! Busquen los medios para estar siempre motivados, para cumplir con sus objetivos, establézcanse metas concretas y delimitadas a lo largo del día… un día por vez.

A Father’s Birth (#2)

luisluis
Master Yao Xin Shakya

A Father’s Birth

 

A series of articles on becoming a parent from a Zen’s priest memories, guts, and imagination

 

Click here to access all available issues of “A Father’s Birth”

 

Part 2:   Vespers in the night

 

Still in Crete, we went down to the village and walked across the square and faced the entrance of a small church.  The sound of hymns and the scent of incense floated from its open doors, inviting us to enter.  We could see that there were flickering candle lights inside the church; but outside, standing in the moonlight, we both felt that strange sensation of kensho, of being between two worlds.

We entered the church and something unimportant caught my attention and I precisely lost… my attention.  I drifted past the icons at the entrance, nodding an homage, and then I became aware again of the church.  It was very old, but well preserved with beautiful ornaments and murals painted on the walls.  My wife was getting a little tired, so we sat in a rear pew.

Suddenly a change in the liturgy occurred.  A group of men, local farmers, formed a circle around a high rotating table on which was placed an open book of hymns.  Each man took his turn to step forward and sing a part of the hymn in his own style, reading the text or reciting it from memory.  We could see that the men’s role in the ceremony was central – their expressions were not the fake piety we often see in paintings – but were rather like the expression of a messenger who has to convey important information.  Every few moments in each man’s recitation, he’d glance up at one of the icons as if the message was meant specifically for the spiritual entity that had inspired the artwork.  It was as if something inside the man was singing to something inside the statue.  I knew that feeling.  Often when chanting “Amitabha” – sometimes letting it sound like “Ah-mi-tow-fo” – I’d stare at a statue of the Buddha Amitabha and my voice did not seem to be my voice, but just a sound made by someone inside me that was meant for the marble or the brass to hear.

Behind the main altar, a curtain separated and a man clad in a long ceremonial robe and golden kesa appeared.  The words of the hymn seemed to change, as if they were cues to make a certain mudra, chant a certain line, or strike a certain bell. The man, who I assumed was the head priest or, as one villager called him, “the pope,” became an integral part of the whole.  The singing circle of men and the man in ceremonial robes could no longer exist without each other. And then the liturgy ended.  A blessing was given and the people began to disperse.

It was late and I knew my wife was tired.  We had done a lot of walking in the mountains and it had felt good to sit down in the church, especially in that strangely holy atmosphere.  We were glad we waited to the end of the ceremony.

As we stood up to leave, one of the men who had been in the circle, spoke to us in English.  He welcomed us and explained a few things before he could introduce us to “the pope” who had just removed his golden chuddar or kesa from around his neck.  He reverently kissed it and folded it just as any Zen priest would have done with his rakusu or kesa.  I watched him and it occurred to me that he was now completely alone… or at least alone with his God.  And then I remembered something my grandmother used to say: “Religion is what you do when you are alone.”

The priest approached us with a silent calm, and then he noticed my wife’s swollen belly and he smiled broadly and picked up the wooden cross from his rosary and held it against her belly, whispering a prayer. Then we began to talk.  He spoke a bit of English and some words of French that one of the men who had chanted could assist in translating if we needed it.

He asked if we were Orthodox and I told him that I was a Zen Buddhist but that I respected the Orthodox way and knew it quite well because I had practiced in small retreats that had been founded by Hesychast Orthodox monks from a French community associated with an Athonite monastery.  Athos, or Mount Athos, is a sacred mountain in Greece; and our conversation quickly began to talk about spiritual practices, the role of Silence, the wonders of repeating certain prayers. To the Orthodox Catholics it was particularly The Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”   I told him that in Buddhism, although it could be expressed in slightly different ways, it was “Namu Amida Butsu” or “Namo Amitabhaya Buddhaya.”  We both agreed that there was a inexplicable power that came from repeating these mantras.  We also agreed on the meditative peace of Perfect Silence, the silence that comes when body, mind, and breath are in harmony.  I quoted Lin Ji, that this state “Gives the mind what it needs to attain Oneness.”

Finally we talked about a modern saint I had come to respect from reading his works.  The priest had met this saint several times at Mount Athos.  We were speaking of Saint Father Paisos and the priest or “pope” and I became quite animated talking about him.  We forgot all about the pregnant woman standing next to us. And then, perhaps because the candles behind her had burned down to a critical level, her shadow was cast on the wall.  He and I noticed it at the same time.  And he murmured that Mary must have looked the same as the shadow on the wall.

I thanked him and took my wife’s arm and we started to leave the church when he suddenly called out to us, “What have you named your son?”  Startled, I said in a voice that was more question than answer, “Eliott?”   It was the name my wife and I had recently decided upon.

“Ah yes,” he said.  “Did you know that the village’s monastery is called, “Mouni Profiti Ilyas” (Monastery of the Prophet Elyha).  Elyha is the root name of Eliott.  He added, “You should both visit the monastery and the monk who is in charge of it.”  He blessed us and we thanked him and then got in our car and drove to our little inn in the hills.

During the drive, I began to wonder about odd coincidences. What in the world had made us decide to name our baby Eliott? My wife and I both live in Belgium and our main language is French.  Eliott isn’t a common name at all here where we live.  It was, at best, I had thought, a name we heard on a TV sitcom or in some movie.  There were hundreds of names we could have chosen.  I knew the name of Saint Father Paisos, but I had not associated it at all with any monastery.   As to Athos, that name is well-known as one of the Three Musketeers.  We both would have steered clear of giving our boy any name associated with an adventure story.  It would have been like calling a child, “Clark-Kent” or “Samson.”  So I cannot answer what has become a koan to me.  Why did we choose the name Eliott?

A Father’s Birth (#1)

luisluis
Master Yao Xin Shakya

A Father’s Birth

 

A series of articles on becoming a parent from a Zen’s priest memories, guts, and imagination

 

Click here to access all available issues of “A Father’s Birth”

Part One : Grand-daddy owns a “Taverna”

 

The title may seem pedantic, and the subtitle a bit over-reaching; but my series will give you, I hope, a Zen look at giving birth and facing death in a very short life. Maybe these are just my views on  “being and non-being” as seen through the astonishing image of giving birth from the “nothing important” act of just having sex.

It won’t be anything earth-shaking. I’ll try to present a series of small articles on moments shared with my wife and first boy.

This introduction will be a small episode in itself. It was inspired by an event I had in the Greek island of Crete in July 2014 when my wife was seven and a half months pregnant.

*

She puts more wood on the fire, and he serves me another glass of his home-made wine. “Kallo Krassi” (“the wine is good,” one the few things I know in Greek), I answered. Our hosts were the humble owners of a beautiful “Taverna,” a typical kind of cafe in the Cretan village of Rustika.

My wife and I chose the place for two reasons, first, it was recommended, second, it was the only one we could find. We were told the villages in the area were not that beautiful, but that the mountains were charming and very accessible. It looked fine to us. We didn’t want to spend our holiday in this part of the Mediterranean lying on beaches or sitting in night clubs.

No, we wanted to go high in the hills and visit monasteries and holy places. The atmosphere of Orthodox Easter coming a few days later was in the air, and in this very religious, spiritual region, we were absorbed into the atmosphere. Although it was late in her pregnancy, my wife was full of energy and looked forward to driving through the mountains to stop at holy places in our tiny rented car that seemed easily able to drive us anywhere. But this was, after all, our first baby, and despite the energy and the enthusiasm we felt visiting mountainous holy places, we both felt an increasing anxiety about the coming birth.  Especially me.  It’s scary when you know how many things can go wrong.

When we first entered the Taverna, a bearded old man was setting a fire in a big fireplace and his wife was cleaning tables. As the sun was setting, the place had a reddish and gold glow that made it feel cosy and friendly… and it was quite empty. We sat down and quickly understood that there was no menu and that couple’s English language skills were limited. But their words were said with simple and open smiling faces and we had no problems communicating.

After ten minutes a few locals came in and began drinking and playing instruments. The room was no longer empty. I was feeling happy and thought this Taverna could have been in the Portuguese village I was born in. The same friends gathered toguether after a long day of work; the same reddhish light at the end of the day; and the same folk songs sung and the same instruments played. I’ve lived in Belgium for more than twenty-five years now, I grew up and studied in Belgium, loved and married in Belgium, and always felt at home there.  But I remembered the pleasant sense of togetherness I felt in the villages of my Portuguese region of Alentejo.

We ate and drink everything they put on our table.  The majority of the dishes were made by them, and the rest came from the surrounding shops. A few hours later we met two English families and shared a few laughs with them; and then everyone prepared to leave. Suddenly our wonderful old host, the old man – whose name I can’t remember – stopped me and my wife and asked us, in a kind of grandfatherly way, “Are you believers in God?”

I asked myself if I should start to tell him the details of my own vision of divinity. I decided not to and simply answered, “Yes, in my own way.”   He nodded and told us to pay our respect at the church.  “Hurry,” he said, “it’s near the end of the liturgy and ‘the holy words’ that are said then will be a special blessing for your baby.”  We quickly went to the old Christian Orthodox Church and as we entered we were consumed by the ambiance of the place.  The scent of incense, the light coming through the colored glass, the tinkling of cymbals, and the voices magically chanting.  We heard that final prayer, and when we left, we seemed to have left much of the birth anxiety behind us, as if it had been carried up and away by the smoke and the prayers.

The whole experience was a lesson in humility, in the true meaning of happiness.  These were ordinary folks, no one of any great importance, yet in their grace and “elegant simplicity” they had become marvelous icons, the living embodiments of people God surely had made in his own image. They had no stratospheric ambitions and were content to live down upon the earth in a very human way of life.

As we drove on, they made me remember my own grand-parents, all of whom worked in jobs that are mostly forbidden today in Europe.  They had been child servants in rich homes, miners and farmers. And they all had those smiling faces that were full kindness and compassionate yet could never quite conceal the lives of hardship they had known.

What, I wondered, will I be like when I am as old as they?  In our age of smartphones and wifi everywhere, the context is always changing; but what it means to be a human being and to deal with the world shouldn’t be allowed to change. Yet. when so much is instant and anonymous, how do we remain true to ourselves and to others?  With the scales always growing longer and more complex, how do we harmonize with this world?  More simply, for me at least, I stopped worrying about the baby. It all came down to the big question: what is it going to be like to be a father?  Will I fill the role naturally, will I grow into it with time…

 

Go to Part 2: Vespers in the Night

The Money Lender (#4)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Money Lender

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

If you haven’t read the previous issues:

The Money Lender #1

The Money Lender #2

The Money Lender #3

Part 13:  Tim

 

Tim had been disappointed when he and Charlene were unable to get together on Tuesday.  He had wanted to take her to the Lodge in Death Valley for lunch.  But her parents had returned early and she was needed at home.

And then, on Wednesday, Charlene seemed worried and told him that she suspected something was wrong… very wrong.  But she didn’t know any more than that.  And then he was accused of stealing money from the office.  He knew nothing about any theft.  The documents he saw were forgeries… he and the forger may have been the only people in the world who knew that to be a fact, but he and the forger also knew that the truth might never be known by anyone else.

Charlene called him Wednesday night.  “I’m at a pay phone,” she said. “I’ve got to be quick.  I’m just telling you that I know you’re innocent; but I don’t think that anyone of importance is in the mood to hear that.  Try to understand that my family has me practically engaged to a second cousin and that they know you’re the good looking kid with the map of Ireland all over his face with whom I took the boat out on Sunday.  I’m trying to defend myself against a suspicion of collusion or conspiracy or some damned thing. It hasn’t been easy for me. My parents are furious and that you’ve been blamed makes me hope and pray they had nothing to do with this mess.  Tim, be patient with me. We will prevail.” She began to cry.  “With God’s help, we will prevail.” She hung up the phone, leaving him with no idea how close to hell this scam would take them.

When Tim Murphy came to work on Thursday, he feared that at any moment he would be fired officially.  But no one seemed to notice him. He did not know that when Dave Lonigan had talked to whoever it was who owned FNN CCC on Wednesday night, he was told to get rid of the “rat” but not before the auditors could complete an immediate examination. Also, if the other religious cashier left, he was to make sure he knew where he was at all times – in case they needed him.

And still, no one paid any attention to him. Tim looked around quizzically.  He opened his station, counted his “starting” money from the box labeled for his station, and took away the “closed” sign from his window.  In hopes of protecting her, he purposely avoided looking at Charlene.

Joshua Mays came to work, too.  His eyes were swollen and he maintained the most defeated expression he could manage as he opened his station.

Charlene ignored Tim until she passed his station and put a note on it that said, “You steal hearts, not money. When love is pure, God will help. We will survive this together.”  She opened her station and conducted her business without a single change in her demeanor. But Tim was elated. He blushed and tried to sneak looks at her. He smiled broadly at his customer.

The auditors came and brought with them a man who took fingerprints but who was not with any official police department. He took everyone’s fingerprints and then left.

By lunchtime it was clear that the accountants had discovered $30,000 worth of missing money-order blanks.  They were, by no means, finished their audit, but they told Dave Lonigan that his office has sustained at least this much theft.  No corresponding cash receipts were made to cover the disbursements made to the various check cashing offices that had paid out the money-orders.   The cancelled orders were examined and the payor’s noted, as well as the endorsements of Keith Martin.  The auditors noted immediately the similarity between the M in Martin and the M in Murphy.  Both Joshua and Tim were photographed.  The man who had taken the fingerprints took the photographs to the places the money orders had been cashed.  Timothy J. Murphy was unequivocally named as the man who had cashed them.

The police were not called.  Instead the man who had taken the fingerprints took Tim away in a car.  Joshua wept.  “Why did he do such a thing?” he asked Charlene who did not seem as concerned as Joshua expected her to be.  She did not answer him at all.  He repeated the question in the doorway to Dave Lonigan’s office.

“Come in and sit down,” Lonigan said.  “And close the door.”

Joshua sat in front of his boss’s desk and looked as though he would soon collapse from the shock of it all.

“I talked to Father Joseph at Saint Steven’s,” Lonigan said.  “He thanked me for expressing my confidence in you.  I never suspected you for one moment.  But I want to tell you… and I’m really sorry about this… that letter did its nasty work.  I don’t think they’ll take you there while you’re still under such a cloud.  Is there anything I can do to help?”

Joshua saw an opportunity to make some money from the situation.  “I spoke to him, too, last night.  He never told me that he talked to you… that’s how they are… discreet.  He did say that he wanted me to prove myself… prove that I was capable of living a monk’s life… you know… no wine, women, and song… well, maybe the song is ok… if it’s a chant.”  He liked the way he said that.  It made him sound innocent and naive.  “But,” he continued, “he recommended a place nearby… where he could sort of keep an eye on me… I guess.  There’s a Zen Buddhist monastery in Sandyville.  It’s small but strict.  He wanted me to spend a year there in contemplation as a guest, not a postulant.  Of course, I’m required to make my confession and then take Holy Communion once a week.  There are a few other exceptions like exemption from certain Buddhist prayers; but the Monseigneur of Saint Steven’s knows the Abbot of the Zen monastery. The only thing is that I have to come up with $5000 for my room and board.  It’s a donation a guest or maybe a person trying out monastic life makes when he’s accepted.  I expected to give Saint Steven’s an initial donation… which was only three-thousand.  The Zen place is $5000. So if you could let me work a little while longer…”

“I’d love to have you stay on, Josh.  But I don’t think your heart’s in it.  We’ll be happy to make up the difference.  Two-thousand dollars after what Murphy put you through is not asking for much.  I’m gonna take your place at your window.  And Charlene’s brother who used to work here can come back to take Tim’s place.  We’ll get replacements for you both and let the evening shift double up.  We’ll manage.”  He got up and went to the safe, happy to know that the delicate matter of Joshua’s not leaving the area in case he was needed had been solved. When he returned with a cash box, he said, “Here,” handing Joshua two-thousand dollars, “go with God.  And don’t forget to say prayers for all of us, including Tim.”

Joshua Mays took the money and wiped his eyes.  “You are too good,” he said.  “Should I leave now?”

Lonigan ushered him to the door.  “Sure.  Why not?  You’re too upset to work especially with him around.  You just give those Zen people something to think about.  Maybe you’ll convert them!”  He grinned and Joshua tried hard to return the smile.

As Joshua left the office one thought occupied his mind.  “I am not going to tell Rick about this money.  If I do, he’ll demand it from me.  And I’m no fool.”

The man who had taken fingerprints drove Tim to his home and went inside to talk to his parents. He sat on the couch. “Your son stole at least Thirty-thousand dollars from our company.  He’s got to make restitution plus a little interest on the sum.  So he owes $40,000.  Nothing’s going to happen to him.  Ain’t nobody threatening to take him out into the desert and blow his kneecaps off… or to break one of your legs, Mr. Murphy.  But you understand that the money has to be repaid within two weeks. I’ve checked and I see you own your home.   Banks are giving mortgages at pretty low rates these days.  I wouldn’t delay if I were you.”  After saying this, he stood up and said, “Thank you for your kind attention.” He went to the door and left.

Tim Murphy looked at his parents.  “Mom… Dad… I don’t know anything about this.  I’ve been framed for the theft.  But nobody’s called the police.  I don’t understand what’s going on.  But I’m innocent.  I want you to know that.”

“Of course you’re innocent,” his father said.  “It’s not necessary to try to reassure us of that.  But these people play rough.  There’s no police, so there’s no law.  We certainly can’t call the police.”  He turned to his wife.  “Call the bank… maybe we can get one of those reverse mortgages they advertise.”

Tim dropped to his knees and began to sob.  He had to be helped to his bed.

 

 

Part 14:    Rick and Joshua

 

“Are you ready to discuss the Lankavatara, Nagarjuna, Vasubandhu, and the Gospel of Thomas?”  Rick asked. “For a man who has claimed to be knowledgeable about theology, and has gotten very slick on the subject of money,” he looked at Joshua; and whether it was Joshua’s guilt, Rick’s good guess, or just his natural prescience, Joshua wondered if he knew, and if he did know, how he knew that he had gotten two-thousand extra dollars.  He stared blankly at Rick as his mentor continued sarcastically, “your responses are certain to delight me. What then, have you learned about these scriptures?”

Joshua stammered a few things he had been prepared to say. “Thomas gets… well… weird… about a male and female combination. As to the Lanka… nothing.  I didn’t understand it.”

“I talked to Joe Pulaski.  He still doesn’t know what the topic will be.  He said that he heard that the Monseigneur preferred just the Lanka’s Nirvana section, which may mean the idiots at the Zen Center will stick with Nagarjuna’s poem. So read the Nirvana Section of the Lanka to refute anything he says and continue to mess with Nagarjuna.   Ultimate Reality. Hah.

“My pal Joe, and the Monseigneur, and the Abbot know the circumstances under which you were admitted to the Zen Center; but nobody else does.  You’re going to be given special leave to accommodate your Catholic requirements, but only Abbot Jy Shao will know why you’ve been allowed out.”  He smiled.  “I’ll be happy to hear your confession and to let you communicate with the Almighty.  So while I shower, you can read Nagarjuna’s poem about Nirvana.  It’s an idiotic argument.  Even you should be able to grasp it.” He handed him a book.  “Here a text that contains his 24 verse poem on Nirvana. There’s a bookmark at the page. Don’t worry about Vasubandhu. That’s the other argument.”

“Whose side are you on?” Joshua asked.

“Neither.  It’s a stone age argument.  Look.  They picked the side they wanted.  Chuan Yi is stupid and the abbot is always sick.”

“Who will win?”

“The Monseigneur will regardless of the topic.  I never lose.”

Joshu sat at the kitchen table and read the first verse:

 

If everything is relative,

No origination, no annihilation,

How would Nirvana then be reached?

Through what deliverance, through what annihilation?

 

He read the verse half a dozen times.  Rick entered the kitchen naked.  “Are you lost already?”

“The language is bizarre.”

“Yes… that’s because people who are qualified to translate it are not the same people who understand it. And nobody allows for the natural alteration in a word’s meaning.  Years ago to be called ‘gay’ was to be called ‘happy and light-hearted.’  Now it exclusively defines sexual orientation.

“When you argue ancient philosophy, always keep in mind that you are arguing with idiots.  Do not become one yourself.  These would-be lovers-of-wisdom, that is to say, the philosophers, will tell you that nothing exists… everything is empty… and then they will waste your time arguing about what emptiness means when what they’re full of is pure shit.  Nirvana has two dozen meanings at least.  How can you discuss anything when you don’t agree on basic terms?  Hmm?  You can’t.  So when you read the verses convert the jargon into ordinary terms.”  He pointed to the first verse. “Everything means all things.  Yes?  No?”

“Yes.”

“Relative is mere measurement of quality or quantity.  A is long relative to B.  C is fat relative to D. So things may appear different but they’re made of the same stuff.  So what law is the first verse stating?”

“The conservation of matter?”

“Bravo!  So what does the first stanza mean?”

“If nothing can be created or destroyed, how can you add or subtract Nirvana as an entity?

“Exactly.  Read the second verse.”

 

Should everything be real in substance,

No new creation, no new destruction,

How would Nirvana then be reached?

Through what deliverance, through what annihilation?

 

“This says the same thing as the first stanza,” Joshua said, surprised.

“Precisely.  Now read the rest… but to yourself, please.”

Joshua, asking only for a few definitions of the odd terms, read the twenty-four verses.  “He says that if you blank your mind you achieve what you’re supposed to achieve.  The material world and the spiritual world are identical.  You can’t think your way into Nirvana because it doesn’t exist.”

“Precisely.  But, dear boy, it does exist.  There are two distinct worlds, the material and the spiritual.  This is the so-called Transcendentalist view.  Some knowledgeable forms of Zen hold that you reach Nirvana when you enter the egoless state. Of course!  But your material world ego must then be replaced by your Buddha Consciousness.   Now, we consider the material world illusory because everything in it is constantly changing.  Heraclitis figured that out a few thousand years ago.  ‘All things are in flux’  You can’t step into the same river twice.  The water keeps flowing.

“Here’s the problem: Some fools think that the word “illusory” means “empty” and the material world does not exist. There is a difference between illusion and delusion.  But they don’t appreciate differences. The world exists but only as, say, the aurora borealis exists.  Constant change.  When we say ’empty’ we mean empty of ego.  The kind of ’emptiness’ these fools talk about is attained by self-hypnosis. Unfortunately, the state that’s entered is not Nirvana. Yet they strive for hours each day to attain the state of nothing.  And they see the impervious numbness of those who have attained it, and they stand there and tell you anybody who experiences something different… something blissfully ecstatic… is wrong.  Only in philosophy can an idiot stand there and tell you that what he thinks is more significant than what you experience.

“Nothing in the material world is standing still.  If we reach the point in which nothing moves, we reach entrophy. No heat is being exchanged.  No changes are taking place.  But we’re a long way from reaching the Heat Death of the Universe.

“Nagarjuna put thought above experience. Perhaps he never progressed passed meditation or samadhi. Who knows?  Who cares?  Are there no better uses a man can put his life to than arguing about what Nagarjuna thought?”

The discussion began to bore Joshua.  “Ok.  I’ve got it.  I’ll memorize the poem.  And get familiar with the Gospel.  Then, so that you can win, should I bullshit my way through the meaning by mis-interpreting it?”

“Are you offering me your help by cheating?  My boy… I do not require your help in defeating those assholes. I admire and pity Jy Shao.  He has seen truth.  But the others?  Huh!  They’ve never even known true meditation.  The World of the Spirit is alien territory to them.”

“But they do believe in ghosts.”

“Precisely.”

 

Part 15   Aaron & Family in hospital.

 

It was time for the mid-day Angelus. Paul Oteiza and Stella Buchanan automatically knelt down on the floor near Aaron’s bed.  Father Salazar knelt beside Aaron’s bed but kept his elbows up on the mattress.  Aaron mumbled that he did not know what to say to him. He had begun to realize that his life had been saved by some religious act, and he did not want to disrupt the process by insisting that he was not a goy, that they had misinterpreted something… he did not know what it was, but it was keeping him alive.

“That’s all right, son,” Father Salazar said softly.  “We’ll limit our session to the 23rd Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer.  How’s that?  And if you feel strong enough, we’ll toss in a Hail Mary.  Mr. Oteiza, here, one of the two anngels who saved your life, is devoted to our Holy Mother.  It was in her service that he helped to rescue you.  Shall we begin?”

Aaron nodded and managed to say, “Fine.”

Standing in the doorway, hushed into silence by the floor’s supervising nurse, Mr. and Mrs. Blumenthal, grim-faced as they restrained their anger, and Mr. and Mrs. Weitzman, out together for the first time in years and treating each other as strangers, watched as Aaron began to mouth the words, following the priest’s lead, “The Lord is my shepherd…”  Aaron saw them but did not let on that he had.

The visitors stared at the man and woman kneeling beside the priest.  The man looked like an old cowboy. And the woman, brazenly wearing a sleeveless dress despite the needle marks in her arm, who was she?  One of those Mexican cantina girls?

Mrs. Weitzman had signed the insurance forms when she and her husband arrived at the reception area of the hospital.  At that time, they were grateful to God for having spared their only son. They did not know why the computerized form had given his name as Aaron Harold Weitzman, but there would be plenty of time to correct errors made in the confusion of medical emergencies.

The Psalm’s recitation was finished.  Aaron could hear his visitors shuffling nervously in the doorway.  So far, so good, he thought.  And then he could hear the four of them gasp as Father Salazar began, and Aaron repeated each phrase, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

Aaron’s face had been bandaged where cholla barbs had been excised from his face and the desert sun had burned the skin badly enough to warrant burn medication and a special gauze covering.  His face was also bruised and his lips were swollen from having removed the cholla spines from his hand. The four visitors began to wonder if they had come to the right room.

Father Salazar was pleased with the prayers. He hazarded a final prayer. “Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you,” he said, and to the visitors’ complete confusion, at the conclusion of the prayer, the priest picked up the bandaged left hand from which hung tubes and rosary beads and he lifted and guided the hand through making he Sign of the Cross on the patient’s forehead and chest.

The four visitors marched to the nurses’ station. Mrs. Weitzman asked, “Are you sure our son is in Room 410?”

“Weitzman, Aaron Harold? Yes, your son is in Room 410.”

“Harold?” Mr. Weitzman whispered.  “What is going on?”  They waited until they saw the priest, Paul Oteiza, and Stella Buchanan walk down the corridor and get into the elevator, and then they went to Room 410 and closed the door behind them.

Mrs. Blumenthal elbowed Mrs. Weitzman away from the patient’s side.  “What happened to Rebecca?” she hissed.

 

Aaron whispered.  “We had an accident on an ATV.  Her neck got broken. I’m so sorry.”

Now Mrs. Blumenthal began to shout. “Not as sorry as you’re gonna be, you murdering thief!  Not married even two days and your wife has a fatal accident.  You take us for fools?  You killed our baby.  You milked us for all you could get!  All along you took advantage of her and laid your little trap.  Didn’t even have the decency to use protection.  Oh, you’ll be sorry, all right.  Maybe you think you’ll get the house and the bank account and the insurance policy.  You won’t.  We’ll see to that!  We already spoke to our Rabbi about taking the matter before a Bet Din, a rabbinical court of justice. This marriage was fraudulent.”

Mr. Blumenthal sneered. “And this show of Catholic devotion?  You think you can escape justice by calling yourself a Catholic? Less than a week ago you took solemn Jewish vows! And while we’re on the subject, where are my girl’s rings?  In the morgue they said they were given to you.  I’d like them back! That farce of a wedding will be annulled! You will get nothing!”

“Just a minute…” Mr. Weitzman finally spoke.  “You don’t know what happened.  Look at this boy! He got put in the ICU because he was hurt so bad.  He’d have to be a stupid killer to almost get himself killed while killing somebody!”  It was not a ringing endorsement of Aaron’s efficiency or innocence.

“You defend him?  You adulterous bastard!” Mr. Blumenthal countered. “You’re here to make a show… maybe suck up to him to get some of the money he weasled from us!  It’s in his blood! Like father, like son!”

“Please!” Mrs. Weitzman shouted.  “Can we not remember that Aaron is in critical condition? When he’s able I’m sure he’ll tell us what happened!”

Mrs. Blumenthal snarled at her.  “You who live a lie, who raised this boy to be a liar… you want us to wait for him to think up a good lie.  We know what the truth is!  We identified the truth in the morgue!  You think we didn’t see that junkie woman in here with him?  A fine son you raised. Look at his arm too.  You think the hospital put that many holes in his arm!  Aii!  Aii!   My baby was sacrificed to a couple of heroin junkies.  My God! My God! What did he do to my baby…” She began to wail so loudly that two nurses came running to the room.

The visitors continued to argue so violently that the hospital manager was summoned from his office.  His advice was to call security and have the disruptive persons escorted to their cars or whatever conveyance had delivered them there.  Aaron could hear them arguing all the way down to the elevator and continue to call each other names until the elevator doors mercifully closed.

His ankle and his arm were broken and surgically repaired and in a cast.  His wrist, too, had a broken bone in it.  His collar bone had been fractured.  He didn’t know if the extensive casting of his right shoulder and arm included a repair of that bone.  His left hand hurt from the cholla spines, a few of which were, he believed, still stuck between his fingers. Tubes hung from something behind him which he could not turn to see.  Needles entered a vein on the back of his left hand and were taped in place.  There was enough slack in the tubes for him to move his hand that had been only lightly bandaged.  He lifted his hand and looked at the rosary.

A nurse entered his room.  “I hope everything has calmed down by now,” she said, reading the monitor of a screen he could not see.  “Is there anything I can get you, Harold?”

“No,” he whispered.  “I’m ok.”  But Harold Aaron Weitzman was not ok with anything.  He cursed Arnold Goldman for abandoning him.  He cursed Rebecca for trapping him.  He cursed Aunt Esther for giving him such a cheap wedding present.  He cursed Uncle Benny for vouching for a low-life piece of shit like Arnold.  He cursed his father for having the kind of character that would be charged to him as an inherited trait.  He thought of the little baby that lay inside Rebecca in the morgue. The string of contemptuous charges ended.  He began to cry.  He had really wanted the baby.  Maybe the Coroner would tell him if it was a boy or a girl.

Another nurse came in and saw the tears running into the bandages and wiped his face and made him blow his nose on a tissue from a little box that would appear on his hospital bill as a “sanitary mucus removal agent” that cost $35.00.

 

Part 16    Joshua

 

Joshua Mays parked his Toyota Camry in a dirt area just beyond the parking lot of the Zen Center of Sandyville. While jasmine vines draped the monastery’s courtyard wall and even the awning that covered its tiny official parking area, and there was a variety of trees – cottonwoods, elms, mesquites – that grew in a kind of park area in front of the monastery and could provide shade for half a dozen cars. There was no shade whatsoever for the barren area that surrounded the rest of the parking area.  He parked on sand and in sun.

He counted twelve cars parked outside the Zen Center of Sandyville.  “For a cloistered monastery,” he said aloud to himself, “these guys get around.”  The Center, itself, he thought, had that eclectic look that renovated places always had.  Their original layout had been specific to a function; and a new owner could only apply cosmetic decorations in an attempt to convert the function.

Originally the site contained a placer mining operation which failed when the initial estimate of marketable surface minerals proved to be over-inflated; and then in one particularly rainy season, someone bought the area and tried to raise cattle on the acres of blooming sage that seemed to materialize from nowhere. The building that contained offices, kitchen, and dining room, became the cattleman’s family residence, although the kitchen and dining room were still used communally. The assay office was converted to a room for tools and equipment; the big shed became a barn for horses and as an emergency shelter for the cattle. Two of the dozen rooms of the miners’ dormitory continued to be used by cow hands while the other ten rooms became storage rooms for hay and miscellaneous supplies.

When the climate returned to normal and the “open range” vegetation dried up, the place was sold to the Zen group.  The barn became a temple and meditation hall; the office was the administration office and the Abbot’s residence; and the communal kitchen and dining room stayed the same.  The tool room became the library; and the dormitory once again housed men – although each 9 x 12 room was partitioned in two, and a monk’s cell measured 9 x 6 feet.   Twelve new doorways had to be carved into the central corridor’s walls, but at least each monk had his own room.

Joshua looked around.  Nobody, he thought with some disparagement, could turn a barn into a cathedral.  But, as he often told himself when he entered Rick’s bedroom, “Any port in a storm.”

Still, he wondered, what would cloistered monks want with cars?  He placed his accordion pleated aluminum foil sun-screen across the inside of his windshield and rolled down his windows.  People who left their windows up often returned to their cars to find that the sun had heated the interior of the car to such a high temperature that the windows had “blown-out” which made them look like webbed and sagging glass mats.

He brought his bag of toiletries – shaving equipment, athletes’ feet powder, and deodorant into the reception area.  A “swamp” evaporative cooler supplied the only relief from the heat, but the unit was effective.  A monk looked up from the receptionist’s desk.  He did not smile. He merely asked, “Are you Joshua Mays?”  Joshua answered, “Yes,” and the monk said, “Have a seat.  Shi Chuan Yi will be with you shortly.”

Joshua looked around and wondered how long he would be stuck in such a place.  There was an ongoing audit at the FNN CCC and because of the theft, there would likely be several more in rapid succession.  At most it should take six months for everything to cool down and for him to be regarded as a sincerely religious man.

Chuan Yi came out of the Abbot’s office and, walking briskly past Joshua said over his shoulder, “Follow me.”  Joshua got up and walked behind the man into a side office. “The envelope please,” Chuan Yi said, holding out his hand.  “And your car keys and cellphone if you have one.”

Joshua parted with his car keys, his new iPhone, and the envelope that contained $5000. Had he been asked for his wallet, he would have declined.   Knowing that he was expected to do something in the future, and actually doing it, were, he decided, two entirely different things.  He truly was cutting himself off from the outside world and he wondered why Rick couldn’t have picked a nicer “inside” world for him to inhabit.

Chuan Yi did not indicate that Joshua should sit down, and despite the five chairs that were lined up against his office wall, Joshua remained standing as the priest counted the money, took it to the Abbot’s office, and then returned with a large barber’s bib and a battery powered razor.  “Follow me,” he said.

They went out onto the rear veranda and Joshua was ordered to kneel.  “To you know the Five Fundamental Precepts?”

“Yes,” Joshua answered.  “No harming, no lying, no cheating, no intoxicants, and no sex.”

“Do you accept these Precepts?”

“Yes/”

Chuan Yi removed a small red plastic booklet from a pocket inside his robe.  He wrote the name Fa Hui on the flyleaf.  “Your name is Fa Hui.  Please kowtow and then find a stool to sit on.”

Joshua touched his forehead to the veranda floor and got up to sit on the only stool that was on the veranda.  He looked at the enclosed courtyard and its jasmine covered walls.  There were numerous clothes’ lines for hanging out garments that the priests had washed in a tub and washboard beside the veranda.  Another tub that was also empty probably contained rinse water, Joshua thought.  He saw their propane tank – it was larger than a family size but smaller than the average industrial or commercial tanks he had seen in the outside world. Chuan Yi noticed him studying the courtyard and as he tied the bib around Joshua’s neck and began to shave his head, he said, “The garden in the rear is lovely and loving maintained by us.  You may do kin hin, walking meditation, in our flower garden after meals. Do not use our garden to fart in or to relieve yourself in any way. Your garments must be laundered on Mondays.  A line will form to use the washtub.  You will be last in line. You will do as every senior monk directs you. You will not indulge in any frivolous conversations with other monks.” As he finished shaving he untied the bib and shook the shorn hair from it.  “The wind will blow the rest away,” he said.  “Are you familiar with the Lankavatara Sutra?”

“Not as much as I’d like to be, but I have read the Nirvana chapter recently,” Joshua said.

“Have you now?” Chuan Yi said snidely. “A Mahayana scholar!  Think of it!  Well, we shall see.  Do you favor Vasubhandu’s version of the famous argument?”

“No, Sir.”

“No Reverend Brother,” Chuan Yi corrected him.

“No, Reverend Brother,” Joshua dutifully repeated.

“Let’s get you settled in a room and also get you some proper garments.”

The dormitory had a morning eastern side and an afternoon western side.  The morning side was the desirable side and the monk who was evicted from his room to accommodate the newcomer was not at all pleased to move his things into the hot side of the building. He gave Joshua a dirty look that suggested that Joshua would pay dearly for having caused his eviction.

Chuan Yi told the departing monk to bring a set of “in-house whites” – tunic and knickers and stocking socks and garters as well as a “”street wear” grey uniform of tunic and knickers and grey stocking socks and a grey street robe. “I’ll have Fa Hui stop by the library and get his own shoes to wear.”   He turned to Joshua.  “You won’t get a black robe and kesa to wear until you’re ordained.”  With that final bit of information, he left the room.

Joshua sat on the hard bed and began to rethink the necessity of spending time in a Zen Center.  He rubbed his hairless head as his opinion of Rick’s intuitive genius plummeted.  Who the hell was Chuan Yi?  Rick’s pal?  No.  Rick’s pal was at Saint Stevens. Joe somebody.  Rick doesn’t have a pal here.  Shit.  For five grand the pompous asshole could have been at least civil.

The evicted monk returned with two tunics, two knickers, two stocking socks, and one grey robe.  “Go in the building next door… the one with the red door… and you’ll be given shoes.”  Joshua held up the tunics.  They were different sizes and both were much too large.  He left his room and walked down the corridor to the exit and then went out into the scorching heat and headed for the building with the red door – the building that had once been an assay office and then a tool room and was now a library and shoe supply area.  He opened the door and looked inside.

“Come on in,” the only monk in evidence said.  “You’re the new guy.  Have a seat and give me one of your shoes.”  Joshua was wearing sneakers.  He removed one and handed it to the monk.  “Nice kicks!” the monk said.  “I bet these set you back a hundred or more.”

He went into a closet.  “My name’s Fa Dao,” he called..  “Fa Dao Shakya.  I’m ordained.  And you are?”

“Fa Hui. I see we both have the same first name.”

“No. We both have the first last name.  Fa is a lineage name in the Lin Ji or Rinzai lineage sequence.  The Chinese put the last name first.  You know, like the tennis player Li Na.  Her first name is Na.  Sometimes you’ll see Shakya written as Shi – the Mandarin spelling.  And then that’s the really last name.  So technically I’m Shi Fa Dao.  But Abbot Jy Shao prefers us to use Shakya at the end.  I don’t know why. ”

“Who is Chuan Yi?” Joshua asked.

“An asshole, but don’t quote me.  We’re not supposed to bad-mouth other monks.”

“He asked me about the Lankavatara Sutra.  Does he solicit information about it… I mean is it some kind of test of a monk’s knowledge of Buddhism?”

“Word has already gotten out that the next commentary Abbot Jy Shao is gonna write is about the Nirvana section of Lanka.  Jy Shao is a nice guy but he’s fragile and allergic to dust which is a tough allergy to have here in Sandyville.  He can’t weigh more than a hundred pounds. I’m serious.  He’s skeletal.  Always coughing from the dust. There’s something in it that he can’t tolerate. Personally, I think Chuan Yi is hoping he croaks so that he can become Abbot.  But don’t quote me.”

“I’m incommunicado.  Who the hell am I gonna quote you to?”

Fa Dao put a pair of cotton top and rubber sole shoes on the floor at his feet.  “Try these.  I matched them as best I could.”  He handed Joshua a plastic bag.  “Put those kicks in this bag and keep the bag under your bed… as far back to the wall as you can get them.”

“Jesus!” Joshua exclaimed.  “Are there thieving monks in here?”

“Let’s just say that they’re the borrowing kind.  And what they borrow you can kiss goodbye. But don’t quote me.”

Joshua bagged his sneakers and slipped his feet into the shoes that fit perfectly.  He shrugged.  “Thanks, I guess.”

“We have a friendly meal time here.  We’re not like the Japanese orders… all stiff and silent.  So look for me in the line outside the dining hall. Today is Thursday.  We’ll have French Toast for lunch.  And a big bowl of fruit for dessert. We have to go in shifts because French Toast has to be immediately served.  Cold French Toast sucks.  The food’s pretty good here.”

“Can I quote you about that?” Joshua grinned.

“Wouldn’t hurt, my brother.  Wouldn’t hurt at all.”

The dining room seated nine people at a time.  When Joshu arrived, the administration staff was having lunch while two groups of nine monks each waited in line.  Joshua and Fa Dao were in the last group.

As the administration staff left the dining room and passed Joshua, Chuan Yi stopped and asked, “I trust you availed yourself of the library-copy of the Lanka.”

Joshua stared at him.  “No, Reverend Brother,” he said weakly, “I didn’t know I was supposed to.”

“Are you telling me that I am mistaken when I say that we discussed the Lanka?”

“No, Reverend Brother,” said Joshua.  “We did talk about it.”

“Then you are a disobedient oaf.  And an impudent one since you seem to be calling me a liar.  You were given an assignment and you chose to ignore it. This deserves punishment.”

Everyone turned to stare at Joshua who did not know how to respond.

Chuan Yi continued.  “You distinctly told me you favored one of the two arguments. You gave me a name. What was that name?”

Abbot Jy Shao and another priest came out of the dining room and were approaching Joshua and Chuan Yi just as Joshua answered, “Nagarjuna'” – which Joshua pronounced as Nag-uh-jun-ahr – as Rick had pronounced it.

“You’re a rare scholar of Nagarjuna,” Chuan Yi sneered. “Can’t even pronounce his name.”

Joshua was facing the abbot and Chuan Yi’s back was to him.  The abbot had not heard Chuan Yi’s comment. “Wonderful!” he said to Joshua. “That’s exactly how my old master pronounced the name. The British and New Englanders just hate to say “r” when it’s written but they will say it when it’s not.”  He patted Joshua’s shoulder and continued to walk to his office.  “Welcome aboard, my son,” he called, “and don’t forget the Gospel of Thomas!”  He turned to the man he had been walking beside.  “I hear the new man’s quite a deep thinker.”

When all the administrative staff had left the dining room and the next nine monks had entered, Fa Dao whispered to Joshua, “Your life just got harder.  The abbot made a fool of Chuan Yi.  And he was just getting started with his technique. What he does is work your ass off researching and writing commentary that he gets published as sole writer, or sometimes submits to a contest they have… something that he’ll take all the credit for. Unless, of course, the work is bad.  Then you’ll really get shit on.  But the opening gambit is the same: Chuan Yi chastises a person so that to get back into his good graces, the person becomes his slave.”

 

Go to Issue #5

The Money Lender (#3)

Ming Zhen Shakya
Ming Zhen Shakya
 To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
http://www.zenanthonywolff.com

The Money Lender

by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)

If you haven’t read the previous issues:

The Money Lender #1

The Money Lender #2

Part 9   Joshua, Rick, and the Dharma contest

 

Like Sunday, Tuesday was a “shift day.”  Joshua, Tim, and Charlene did hot have to come into the office. The same cashiers who worked on Sundays, two Muslims and a Jew, filled in on those days and also worked as part of the evening, 5 to 9 crew.

Joshua and Rick, spade and pick in hand, dug a new channel for a sprinkler pipe in Rick’s back yard.  The heat and the exertion affected Joshua more than it affected his host, and the pitcher of vodka, tonic and lime that sat on a table between two deck chairs, began to speak to him, telling him that if he called for a break, Rick would sit down and launch one of his boring soliloquies until sleep overtook his reveries. Of the two irritants, listening to Rick would normally be the least tolerable; but the day was particularly hot and the ground filled with unyielding hardened caliche.  He would simply ask Rick how he became the well-read and insightful philosopher he obviously was. But he would have to be subtle.

Joshua said, “I’m sweating too much.  I need a break.”  He walked towards the deck chairs. “You said that you didn’t publish under your own name.   Are you some sort of ghost writer?”

Rick settled into a chair and drained the drink Joshua handed him.  Then he prepared himself for making a revelation by shaking the ice cubes in the glass as though they were dice in a dice cup.  He paused, ready now, and rattled the cubes as though they were a drum roll.  “Once upon a time I studied philosophy which qualifies a man for nothing.  I found a woman who fell in love with me… that’s what she said.  She was trying to prove to her family that she wasn’t a lesbian so I was her beard, so to speak.  All she wanted was a wedding album and a baby.  Proof.  She divorced me and richly rewarded me for the privilege of signing away my custodial rights to her.  And with my money, no responsibility, and a philosophical background, I got interested in epistemology and especially in nomenclature.  The names people give race horses is a fascinating subject.  I began to read racing forms. Think about it. Swaps.  Seattle Slew?  What the hell kind of names are those?  I went to Belmont a few times and tried to determine if there was a relationship between the way people picked horses and the horses’ names. I mean, I knew there was a relationship, but I wanted to see how great the influence was.  I began to bet.  Big mistake.  As a habit, I concede that it’s better than drugs, and if you can afford a box, you definitely meet a nicer class of people.

“I met a bishop at the track and he liked me and when he heard about my divorce he assured me I had never really been married.  You can’t sanction a fraud. It’s a ‘clean hands’ kind of thing.  You can’t lie to a church and then expect them to fix the mess. So as soon as I found myself out of funds, I entered a seminary with his recommendation, of course.

“Anyway, since I already knew philosophy and some latin and a lot of other useless shit, I advanced.  I prepared to take holy orders – they were trying to transfer me to a Dominican seminary – and then a few months later, I found myself in a nasty situation.  First of all, I didn’t want to be a Dominican. Really! They are just too strict. Rottweilers with robes.

“I really wanted to enter the Order of the Knights of the Blue Cross because that’s where Joe Pulaski went.  He was a year ahead of me, but I did his assignments and taught him all the theology he knows or, let’s say, he could absorb.  But the thing is… when you join a religious order you pledge your life and fortune to the order. I didn’t have anything, so what did I care?  They had these neat robes that one guy sewed – appliqued actually – a blue cross superimposed on a white cross on the front. Snazzy.  Joe had been sent to them because, among other things, he had been naughty with the ladies. That, I fear, is an intolerable offense.  “I had to help Joe out of a few jams and wrote a few papers in his name which made his Monseigneur quite happy with him.  He wrote to the archdiocese, applauding their perspicacious choice.  Joe had told me about this stupid little theological contest the Monseigneur was having with his friend, the Zen Abbot and I was happy to help.

“Then, a week or so before I took my final vows, my uncle in Brazil – a man I never even knew existed – died and left me almost three million dollars. I learned about it when the lawyer called me. I thought it was a joke someone was playing.  If it were true, however, it presented a problem. What was I supposed to do?  Give it to the seminary, the Knights, the Dominicans?  I didn’t tell them anything.  I just took my vows; but among the many congratulatory cards and letters they received, came the formal notification from my lawyer.  Oh, how they rejoiced over my good news!  They read my goddamned mail in the front office!  So there I was newly ordained and telling them they weren’t getting a cent.  Yes, I had signed a contract.  No, Brazil wasn’t going to enforce it. So, right after I was ordained, I took my inheritance and blew it on a few luxury items. A trip to Manaus.  Beautiful town!  And to Rio, naturally.  And I bought this house in the desert, a small sailboat for the lake, and spent money on crap tables and more than a few lovers.  Ah, craps.  You have no idea how many times you can throw snake eyes.”

“And you stayed friends with… what?… Father Pulaski?”

“Joe is a quick study when he’s not concentrating on sin.  He knew that the Knights got money from the families of the whacky priests whose families didn’t want them back.  These guys are so senile or alcoholic or schizophrenic – they come all ages – they denounce Christ and the Church and, if they were sound of mind, could legitimately be excommunicated and sent home – but who in his right mind would want then home?  They’ve already blown their own money.  And putting them in a private nuthouse is not the Church’s idea of good press when they start ranting and doing naughty things. The Knights have a doctor on the payroll who says they’re sane and just nasty and disgruntled types. The Knights warehouse them in a “Retreat” for whatever they can get from the families to keep them there, in this honorable conclusion to a Christian life of service.

“Joe made it clear to Monseigneur Garcia that he ‘farmed out’ many of those erudite papers and that his sub-contractor needed to be paid.  Garcia was happy to pay.  In the old days he had lost face writing laughable comments that his previous assistant had helped him to write.  He lost in those days.  Nobody laughs anymore. I was worth it.  I don’t come cheap.”

“And who helps the Zen Abbot?”

“I told you.  His Vice-Abbot, a churlish fellow named Chuan Yi.  Stupid, naturally.  You know how they say a camel is a horse put together by a committee?  Well, he has a clique of morons who think they know something about the Mahayana Scriptures, so they put their pitiable brains together and come up with truly amusing commentary on Zen Buddhism. Sometimes it’s the only entertainment I get.  You’ll like the Abbot.  He’s sickly but basically intelligent and honest. And he’s as oriental as Abe Lincoln.”

“I’m glad you told me.  It’ll help me get through tomorrow’s big day… when Assistant Father Joe calls my boss.”

“Don’t forget to load your hanki with that strong hand lotion I have. It will really irritate your eyes when you rub them.  Ah, how the tears will flow.”  He chewed the ice that had been in the bottom of the glass.  “The mood is on me.  Let’s go in and take a nap, darlin’.”

“Any port in a storm,” Joshua said.

 

Part 10   Josha, Tim, Charlene

 

The joy that Joshua radiated on Monday vanished on Wednesday when a special messenger delivered a parchment envelope and letter, both of which were impressively embossed with the Knights of the Blue Cross logo.  Dave Lonigan tipped the messenger and went into his office and shut the door.

He sat at his desk, read the letter from the Reverend Joseph Pulaski, Assistant to Monseigneur Jaime Garcia and the enclosed photocopy of a letter that he had received from Timothy Murphy.  The letter’s body was brief:

 

I am in receipt of the attached letter sent by a Mr. Timothy Murphy who, I believe, is your employee.  Mr. Joshua Mays who is also your employee and one with whom I have enjoyed many conversations regarding his admission to our order, is apparently the subject of suspicion regarding financial matters.  I readily admit that we had looked favorably upon his admission but that now, in light of Mr. Murphy’s disturbing communication, we have no alternative but to delay his admission at least until this accusation or insinuation is clarified.  

Perhaps it would be to our mutual advantage if you contacted me at my office.  If you know any more about the matter, and you care to share that information with me, I would be deeply appreciative.  

 

David Lonigan called Tim Murphy into his office and asked him if he had sent the enclosed letter.  Murphy denied it.

“Is this your signature?” Lonigan asked.

Murphy stared at the photocopy.  “It certainly looks like it, but I never sent this letter.”

“Well, let’s think about this.  You knew Joshua was applying to Saint Steven’s Retreat to join the Order of priests that runs the place.”

“We all did.”

“Tim, we learned about this on Saturday.  Until then we thought he was dreaming about surfing in Hawaii.  This letter was written this morning. What choice do I have but to believe the evidence right in front of my eyes. You don’t have the right to slander another person’s character. This is sleazy, Tim, sleazy.  I don’t want to fire you, but I’ll talk to my superiors.  Why did you have to mention FNN in your letter?  Well, who knows why people do stupid things.  Sorry… but the best I can do right now is to tell you to be prepared to accept dismissal. Send Joshua in here on your way out.”

Joshua, prepared with his lotion-infused handkerchief, smiled broadly as he entered Lonigan’s office.  After hearing what his boss had to say, he affected a look of consternation and then horror.  “My priesthood is over,” he cried.  “After this, no one will accept me.”

 

“I’m going to talk to Father Pulaski right now.  I’m going to tell him that I think it’s the work of a prankster.  I’ll also suggest that you call him.  Meanwhile, take the rest of the day off.  I’m really sorry that this has happened.  Don’t worry.  I’ll get to the bottom of  it.  Ask Charlene to come in here.”

Charlene Cottone had been wondering whether something was wrong.  Her parents were supposed to return on Wednesday, but instead had come back Monday night.  Someone had let them know that she had taken the sloop out with a blonde haired guy her age and had looked very chummy with him.  But she did not know this and so she sat in the chair in front of Lonigan’s desk with an imperial air… flaunting her unspoken name,  Cottone…  which Lonigan respected.  He knew that her family was well-connected.  There was also a story about her great-grandfather being convicted of Income Tax Invasion but had never given a fact or a name to the Feds not even in exchange for sentence leniency. He belonged to a sacred fraternity and in another time and in another place he would have been canonized.  Her grandfather was equally venerated.

He seemed to be almost fawning when he asked, “What do you know about stealing or any financial shenanigans going on in this office?”

“If I knew that something funny was going on, I’d have gone directly to my father or my uncles.  Since I didn’t go to anyone, the answer is obvious.  I know nothing.”

He thanked her for coming in and said that that was all he wanted to know.

Charlene boldly stopped at Tim’s counter.  “Something’s going on.  Maybe that’s why my folks came home a day early.  I don’t know what it is.  I’ll find out and let you know.”

*

Joshua went directly to Rick’s house.  “How much of my money am I going to get to keep?” he asked.

“Since you need to get out of sight while simultaneously maintaining the reputation for being religious, the price tag is still 5K for Abbot Jy Shao; two for Father Joe Pulaski, one for me.  That leaves you two thousand.  And you’re not out of the woods yet, you greedy boy.  If anyone of those cashiers doesn’t identify Tim, you can be considered a suspect. Someone may have reason to suspect you.  If you’re in a cloistered order, they’ll be less inclined to consider you. Too much trouble over a mere 30K. Right now I’d suggest that you study as much Zen Buddhism as you possibly can. Joe has heard that the topic of the next commentary chess game is going to be either the Gospel of Thomas, or Nagarjuna’s poem about Nirvana and the Nirvana section of the Lankavatara, or the nature of Absolute Reality. Does any of this ring a bell?”

“I’ve never even heard of the Buddhist stuff. Or the Thomas Gospel, either.  Matthew, Mark, John and Luke, that’s all I’ve ever heard about.”

“There are controversies about all the selections.  I don’t know which one or which side the Zen abbot will take – but you can rest assured that the idiots out there will question you about it.  There’s a copy of Thomas from the Nag Hammadi collection on the kitchen table; and the Lankavatara is there, too.  Start reading it and then after lunch, call Joe. Maybe he’ll know by then whether the Monseigneur is going to do Thomas, Nagarjuna, or the Lanka.”

“Jesus…”  Joshua went into the kitchen, sat down, and began to try to understand what the words meant.

 

Part 11 Aaron and Stella

 

If judging the relationship between two people in public depends largely upon their mutual civility and respectfulness, then the comity exhibited between Aaron and Rebecca Weitzman could serve as a model for the American traveler.  He placed her carry-on bag in the overhead compartment; he gave her the window seat that she wanted but had been assigned to him; he stood up and moved out into the aisle when she got up to go to the bathroom.  She did not have to squeeze by him to get into the aisle or even ask him to guard the pillow she had rented for two dollars until she returned.  He automatically put his hand upon the pillow lest someone from the seat before or behind should reach around and grab it, an unfortunate act of theft common among today’s flying public.  She said, “Please,” and “Thank you,” whenever such acknowledgements were appropriate and he grunted the obligatory, “My pleasure.”  They did not disturb each other for the twenty-five hundred miles they flew west.  And their decorous behavior would indeed have been held up as a model of well-bred young Americans were it not for the fact that they were honeymooners who seemed never to have met before.

Their civil silence continued on after they checked into the Mandalay Bay Hotel and were conducted to their rooms.  Aaron had brought only one suitcase, but Rebecca had brought three.  A bride did have to appear fashionable, even down to poolside fashions that featured shawls and such to hide her burned breasts.  Needless to say, she had no intention of going into the water.

Aaron called Arnold Goldman who had thought they’d meet the following day, but when Aaron said that they had nothing planned but brunch and were free for the rest of the day, Arnold agreed to bring Michelle and meet them for brunch at Mandalay Bay.

Michelle proved to be the most solicitous of their health. “You’re doing the smart thing, avoiding the pool on your first day.  A bad sunburn can ruin your entire honeymoon.”

Rebecca agreed. “We’d just as soon see your wonderful used car lot,” she said. “Aaron and I are both excited about the prospect.  First things first!” She suspected that Aaron would prefer to be with them than be stuck with her alone, and in this suspicion she was not incorrect.

“That’s what I like to hear!” Arnold said as he nodded to the waiter to present the bill to Aaron.  “Enthusiasm! That’s what counts!” He stood up, “I’ll tell you what.  We’re all the way back in non-valet parking, so why don’t we go get the Lincoln and meet you guys out front?”

“Wonderful,” Rebecca said.  “It’ll give me a chance to go to the little girl’s room.”

Arnold drove the Lincoln all the way north on the Strip until they turned off to stop at his house, a split level that had a kidney shaped swimming pool.  The furniture was modern and completely lacked a woman’s touch. Rebecca, though having appreciated Michelle’s concern about the ruining effects of sunburn on a honeymooning agenda, immediately made a mental list of her girlfriends who would be interested since obviously Arnold would never marry a shiksa like Michelle. No, he’d want a quality Jewish girl, and Rebecca knew dozens of them.

After viewing the house, they went to see Arnold’s used car lot.  His secretary made hazelnut coffee for them, but after praising it, they ran out of things to say.  The lack of affection between Aaron and Rebecca contributed to the awkward silences.  Finally, Arnold had an idea. “There’s a guy next door that rents off-road vehicles. I’ve got a pickup truck that’ll hold two three-wheelers in the truck bed.  We could rent a couple of them and go out to see real desert.  I never get past the parts of the city they’re developing.”

The girls would have preferred to go to the Mall, but Rebecca wanted to make amends with Aaron.  She also did not want to explain the red mark on her chest that might be noticed if she tried on garments while shopping. “I’d love to learn more about the desert,” she said brightly.  “I’ve heard they have a polygamy city not far from here.  I’d like to see that, but I understand that they don’t let you get close to it.”

“We could always try our luck at the tables,” Michelle said.

But Aaron had projected the cost of the hotel bills and quickly declined.  Arnold Goldman said, “Me, too.  I’m game for anything besides those of chance.”  He did not add that he had lost a year’s salary at the tables the previous month – a fact not appreciated by his father who was technically his employer.  “Why don’t we try those All-Terrain-Vehicles,” he said.  “We’ve all got driver’s licenses, haven’t we?”  He looked around and everyone nodded affirmatively. “The seat’s for one, but I won’t tell if you won’t tell.  Yep. Two explorers on a cycle,” he said, “like a snowmobile without the discomforts of snow.” He looked at Rebecca. “If your bride is comfortable with it?”  Rebecca was.  She had noticed a subtle change in her husband’s demeanor when they looked at Arnold’s house and the used car lot.  She correctly supposed that Aaron would not be particularly inclined to invite her parents to their home, and putting twenty-five hundred miles between households, would certainly offer a natural limit to such unpleasant visits.   Yes, distance was written into her formula for happiness.  Then, too, shotgun weddings have different names but they all mean the same thing: the groom had to be forced to marry the bride.  She didn’t want to face her relatives when the baby was born “early.”

The desert.  Cholla cactus has yellow flowers. Prickly pear has red.  Diamondback rattlesnakes bite to kill. Scorpions are the big ones that make you wish you were someone else for an hour or two but are not considered poisonous.  Blackwidow spiders are notorious for biting people on the bare behind in outhouses.  The spiders for some reason favor the underside of the seat.  They too, will make a person regret that one particular bowel movement for years to come, but they are not considered life threatening.

Aaron and Rebecca Blumenthal Weitzman had approximately the same degree of knowledge of the desert as Arnold and Michelle had, which is to say none. No sane person would go into the desert in July unless he absolutely had to. There was no GPS indicator in the old pickup and they had to receive directions from an old map.  Evidently there was a secret race track, the Gatlingsburg Track, that Nellis airmen used for sport… a family track which ATVs – the three-wheeled off-road vehicles – shared days of the week with their four-wheeled counterparts.  Tuesday was a 3-wheeler day.  Going n orth would take them towards Utah on one side and Area 51 on the other.  This was particularly tempting.  They headed North and got lost in Lincoln County.

They parked the pickup on one of the dirt roads they had taken on whims, as if trying to follow half-eaten Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs.  They did not realize that the desert, for all its seemingly unique features, was as confusingly same as an islandless ocean.   Arnold was driving. “We turned left and then at the first left we turned on it,” he said defensively, “and then at the next intersection we turned right and then every time we came to a road of any kind we turned left and we should have gotten to the Gatlingsburg Track.”  He checked the gas gauge.  “This is crazy.  Desert is desert.  We’re probably right around the corner from it and we’ll find it as we drive. Sorry, guys.  But we need to conserve gas. Let’s get the ATVs out now and ride around to see what we can find.”

They parked and the two men lowered the tarp-covered 3-wheeled all-terrain vehicles from the truck bed.  It had taken longer to get to where they thought they were than they had figured, and they had only brought (despite the pointed suggestion of the rental agent that they take a few gallons of water each) a single 2 liter jug of water that they could hook onto a belt-loop.  They did have extra fluids… orangeade and two six packs of beer.  Michelle drank beer with them. Rebecca drank orange juice. She put her wallet into her shoulder bag; but because of the tightness of his jeans  and the awkward position of the water jug, Aaron left his wallet in the truck’s locked glove compartment.

“Desert is desert” they all agreed, without knowing any desert upon which they could form such an observation.  They drove in different directions looking for the Gatlingsburg Track – which was no where near them.  Arnold wanted more beer and Michelle, bored and uncomfortable on the seat behind him, wanted more beer, too.  Aaron began to laugh at some of the mistakes he made, and Rebecca, truly happy with the sudden detente, joined him in the good fun of bumps and ups and downs and arounds, stalling out and the relief of starting again. The thought occurred to her that it no longer really mattered if the bumpy ride caused a miscarriage.  It might, in fact, save her considerable embarrassment.  She acted as a cheerleader at a pep rally and urged Aaron to go even faster.

Arnold and Michelle sat in the truck and each drank two beers.  Time was passing. For the first thirty minutes they ran the air conditioning on and off; but then as they drank more and got sexually involved, they started the engine and let the air conditioning run full blast.  Now, in their second hour of waiting they lowered the air but left the motor running.  With the windows up and the air on, they put a Stones’ CD in the player and sang along with Mick.

*

An Indian woman stood statuesquely on a bluff, looking like the subject of a romanticized artwork that people would admiringly observe in a gallery; but out there in the real sun, wind, and dust, nobody was looking at her. She had crossed the top of the bluff from the side her trailer was on to the noisy side of the truck and the buzzing ATVs.  Intently, she watched Aaron and Rebecca recklessly ride through the desert.  She had also watched Arnold and Michelle when they, too, rode similarly through the brush; but they had driven back to a pickup truck parked on the road and had loaded their ATV in the truck bed. They were sitting in the cab with the windows up.  When they lowered a window to toss a cigarette butt out onto the dirt road she could faintly hear the music they were listening to.

She watched and heard Aaron and Rebecca buzzing and bouncing, and then turn out of sight. She neither saw them again nor heard the buzzing of their ATV.  All was quiet for about forty-five minutes, and then the pickup truck drove away.  It probably meant that the young man and woman on the ATV had deliberately gone out of sight for personal reasons and that the two in the pickup and gone for food or drink and would be back.  The nearest town, Kiddally, was a small cluster of houses, a gas station, a general store, and one restaurant cantina.  Most people drove farther into populated Ely; but no matter where the pickup truck had driven, she should have been able to see its returning dust trail; and after another half hour there was no indication at all that they were returning.

The Indian woman knew the area, and she knew that wherever the two on the ATV were, they were alone.  An hour was just too long to be left alone in the desert especially if they had encountered trouble.  She had seen all four of them at the start and it was evident that they were friends.  It made no sense at all to suppose that the pickup truck had abandoned the two on the ATV.  And yet, the truck’s absence made her uncomfortable.  She decided to descend the hill and take a look around the curve that the ATV had taken.  She knew that there was a dry wash around that curve and they might have had an accident driving into it.

Her name was Stella Buchanan, a Shoshone woman, and she had been asked to “step outside” the house trailer she lived in while the trailer’s owner and a friend of his – and an old admirer of Stella’s – discussed business. She then had climbed the bluff from the western side.  At the top she had only to walk a few meters to see the ATV’s riding around the eastern side.  Back at the trailer there was a large covered water trough that previously had been filled every two weeks by a water tanker.  The trough and seven new and clean galvanized trash cans Stella used for water storage would also be filled.  But the last delivery had not been made and Brant Chastain, the man she lived with, had brought her some water from town. She had learned a few months’ before that she was pregnant and the irritation he showed when being forced to deliver water to her, was writ large across the page of her expectations.  With premeditated gentleness he had advised her to get an abortion since they could no longer live in the Airstream parked outside of town.  He promised her that he’d be coming into money and that after they had the fresh start – which meant minus the baby – they could find a regular house in Ely.

At twenty-eight she thought she could see through any lie or any man’s manipulation to get her to do what he wanted; but this time, she felt anxious. Yes, the baby was his. She had had an amniocentesis test.  Surely he wouldn’t trick her into destroying his own baby boy.  When she was asked to leave the trailer so that he could talk with his friend and occasional business partner Paul Oteiza, she hoped that at least part of the business they were discussing had to do with real estate – any available homes that Paul knew about.  And then she heard the sound of racing motorcycles and had climbed the bluff to see who was foolish enough to be riding around the desert in the middle of a July day.

She watched Aaron and Rebecca scurry around on the ATV and she saw Arnold and Michelle return to the pickup.  “Greenhorns,” she said aloud, expecting that the truck’s engine would overheat and that the two on the ATV would have an accident. She repeatedly looked down at the one-room house trailer she lived in, looking for a sign that the business talk had concluded so that she could return.  It was getting too hot to remain up on the bluff, even if it was cooler there than it was down in the canyons. But the talk inside the trailer continued.

Stella, at twenty-eight, had not lived a quiet Indian maiden’s life.  At fourteen, she had given birth to twin boys, both of whom died within days of their delivery.  From that point on, the Indian curse of “twoness” followed her and she was considered a bad omen by the members of her Indian community.   The clinic nurse gave her shots every three months that kept her infertile, but did not protect her from the attempted sexual molestations of local men and boys. She gained a reputation for being nasty.  She had wanted to become an educated woman, and since she scored well in an IQ test, she was taken into the home of one of the tribal council elders to keep house, babysit, and take a rudimentary nursing course.  When she finished the course, the chief’s children had started school, and she parted amicably from the family.  But the nursing job she got required her to visit elderly patients at their homes, and all too often, randy male relatives of the patients would be waiting to let her into the house.  She refused to go into the homes of half a dozen clients. The council investigated her allegations and found them baseless.  Life in her community had suddenly become intolerable, and she moved on.

Without nursing references, she was able only to obtain work as a bartender at a cowboy’s saloon in Ely, and after a few uneventful years behind the bar, she met Brant Chastain and fell in love with him.  He said he loved her and let her live outside town in a small Airstream trailer he owned in Lincoln County. She had to quit her job and for a few months he stayed with her regularly, but then his visits became less frequent and now he was discussing a new life – minus the baby – a new and better place to live. When she climbed the bluff to let the men talk in private, she was also whispering prayers to old Indian gods to help her to choose the right path and to walk beside her when she took it. She learned the breathing techniques of a medieval Jewish mystic, and every few feet up the hill, she paused to inhale and slowly recite the proper prayers. The few months she had lived in Brant Chastain’s little house trailer were the happiest she had ever known in her life.  She was used to adversity.

Coming down the steep hill required total concentration and she did not pray.  She considered that she might be walking in on two people who were making love.  Maybe they had packed an awning of some kind.  Well, then, she’d apologize and return to the trailer.  It was much too hot to continue to stay outside.

Aaron had been driving fast, too fast for conditions, conditions that he did not know.  He turned a corner without knowing that a dry wash had disfigured the land, scarring it by a meter’s deep gouge.  On foot, they could have jumped down onto the narrow sandy bed.  But they were not on foot, and to people speeding on an off-road vehicle, the plunge had the force of ten storeys.  Down they were flung… momentum… gravity…  centrifugal force…  The front wheel of the vehicle hit the sandy flat of the dry wash and dug in, but the vehicle’s rear kept going… making an arc fron which Rebecca was flung over Aaron’s head. She landed face-first on a rock on the other side of the narrow wash.  Her broken teeth scattered like so much confetti over a group of barrel cactuses.  Her death was as instantaneous as a broken neck’s could be.  Aaron was flung too. And as he tried to brace himself as he landed, he broke his right arm and wrist as they twisted in the vehicle’s handle bar, and had a left hand and the left side of his face punctured with cholla spines. His sunglasses had fortunately protected his eyes.

He tried to get up, but something – he did not know what – had also been broken in his ankle. He also could not lean on his left hand to push himself up.  He therefore put his left hand up to his mouth and tried to remove the cholla barbs from his hand.  Six bloody marks remained as though he had removed six fishing hooks from his hand.  But he could use his hand.  Unfortunately, the broken ankle was on the same side as the broken arm and if he had been able to use a crutch… well, that was wishful thinking.

He tried to crawl to Rebecca, pushing his way across the sand towards her.  He had never seen a dead person before… not up close with her teeth and lips smashed and her jaw distorted by the fracture.  He reached up and grabbed her sleeve and pulled on it, and her head fell back and then rolled around to the side, facing him, upside down.  Her bloody, mangled lower face was grotesque; yet, under the confusing influence of his own head injury, he thought it odd that her head was like a hoola hoop… or something that was attached to her body by a rubber band.   He got out his cellphone, but there was no signal.  He unzipped her little shoulder bag purse and tried her cell.  Nothing.  He was sure she was dead but maybe he was wrong. “I’ve got to get her to a doctor,” he thought.  A doctor would know.  In the noon day sun she did not turn cold since the ambient temperature was higher than normal body temperature.  With his good or at least usable hand he was able to grab a piece of the rear-view mirror that had broken off.  He held it under her nose and could see no sign of life.  Oddly, he did not feel pain in his right arm and for a long moment did not notice that his arm was broken and that under the mangled muscle, skin, and torn shirt, white bone showed.   He thought he could use the mirror to signal someone. He flashed the mirror a few times in the sunlight, but there was no one to signal.  Where were Arnold and Michelle?  Were they looking for them?

There was a beeping horn on his cycle.  He’d try to use it.  He tried to get to the left hand controls of the vehicle to find the horn button.  It was useless. The horn did not work. He could barely touch the handle bar.  The sun, in just a few minutes, had already heated the metal.  He looked around for shade of any kind.  But there was no shade.  He drank the water that remained in his jug and he drank Rebecca’s water too. He did not realize the extent of his right arm’s injury until he felt the wetness of blood.  Suddenly he saw that he was losing blood and he had no way to stop it. He needed to make a tourniquet.  He didn’t wear a belt… maybe Rebecca’s shoulder bag’s strap.  He pulled the bag away from her and then to pull the bag’s looping strap around his arm and raise it to his upper arm.  Then he began to turn the bag over and over, effecting the strap’s twisting.  It finally became tight at a point in his upper arm just above the break to squeeze off the blood flow. He lay his body on the bag to maintain the twist’s tension.  Satisfied that he had made a suitable tourniquet, he studiously looked at the protruding white bone and was, for a reason he did not understand, fascinated by it.  His fascination continued.  He spoke to himself and felt cold.  “You are getting light-headed… probably from loss of blood. Maybe this is what they call ‘going into shock.’   Aaron, will you lose your arm?  God knows what you did to your insides.  Where is Arnold?”  He had not taken notice of the time that they got on the three-wheeler.  He looked at his smashed watch and licked blood from its cracked glass face so that he could read it.  The hands were twisted into uselessness.  Where was Arnold?  Was it possible that he had just left them there?

Aaron listened but could hear no motorcycle motor or the pickup truck’s engine, either. He looked up at the glare that was the sky.  Little by little his eyes closed.  He remembered his mother saying that Rebecca had deliberately gotten pregnant to entrap him. He had responded simply, “We’re all in God’s hands.”  It surprised him that he had so quickly gotten used to the baby.  Yes, he’d like having a baby.  Rebecca would have been different away from her family. She was a good kid, he thought.  A person can’t blame another person for loving him.  He suddenly realized that he couldn’t remember what she had looked like in her white bridal gown.  And she was dead. And then an ugly thought occurred to him.  I’m dying and nobody gives a shit. A bitter realism suffused his thoughts.  All they were interested in was using me.  Can I speak Spanish?  Sure… so I could work my ass off outdoors in 112 degree heat. They’ll never get a dealership. Who are they kidding?  If it had been such a great job Arnold wouldn’t have flown all the way east to offer a job to an inexperienced idiot like me.  There’d have been a line of applicants.  Rebecca wanted to move there because she was pregnant and she wanted to see the shows and have her own swimming pool.  Arnold had one.  He lived in a nice house. Uncle Benny said that Armold’s father actually owned the house.  Arnold hadn’t told them that.  Where was Arnold?   Where was he?  Where was…  Where… He thought he heard someone coming and tried to raise himself to look.  As he did, he released the tension on the twisted tourniquet strap. He groaned. He could see nothing but glare. Nobody was there. His last coherent thought was, “I’m dying… and it’s all my fault.  God help me.  God help…  God…”

As Stella descended the bluff, Paul Oteiza had concluded the meeting and had gone outside the trailer.  Seeing Paul, she waved to him, signaling him to come over.  He walked nearly a quarter mile through the sage and yucca and met her just as she approached the accident scene.  “She’s a goner,” Stella Buchanan called, pointing at Rebecca. “I can see from here her neck’s broken.”

She approached Aaron.  “He looks dead, too.  Hey Buddy!”  She tapped Aaron’s face.  “You still in there?  Jesus, look at this blood.” She touched Aaron’s throat. “I don’t think he’s got a pulse.”  She held up her hand to indicate that Paul shouldn’t move.  “No. I think I feel a weak pulse.”  She carefully lifted his head so that he could drink some water from the canteen she had carried on her hip. His lips seemed to be glued shut with dried saliva. “Come on,” she coaxed Aaron, using the canteen’s lip to pry his lips apart.  “Come on.  Drink a little.”  She poured some water against his teeth.   He opened his mouth enough to take several sips.  She lay his head down and removed her scarf and rolled it tightly and then tied it around his upper right arm to make a tourniquet.

Paul Oteiza got out his cell phone and got no signal.  “Hold his head up so he don’t choke,” he unnecessarily warned Stella. “and give him more water. Can’t pour water in the mouth of a prostrate man.  You’ll choke him.” He pulled her aside and lowered his voice, “Make sure you keep him alive… you know how they hate it when you ask them to save a dead man.”  He stood up and held the cellphone above his head.  “No signal. I’ll go back to the trailer and use my CB radio or Brant’s satellite phone. Keep workin’ on him.  I’ll drive the truck here as far back as I can.” He could see Brant’s truck leave a dust trail on the road.  “Brant’s gone,” he said, “and he’d have taken his sat phone with him.”  He turned to jog back to his truck. She called after him, “It wouldn’t hurt to bring that cattle syringe Brant keeps in the cabinet. I’m O positive.”

Paul Oteiza shouted back, “I’m B.  See if you can find out what type he is.”

Stella cradled Aaron’s head in her arm and gently held the water to his lips.  “Come on,” she said, “You can do it.  Open your mouth and drink a little more.”  She kept looking towards the trailer hoping to see Paul Oteiza’s truck wind its way through the brush.

The largest population of Basques outside of Spain live in Nevada, and Paul Oteiza was a descendant of one of the first families who had settled there. At seventy, he was no longer as strong or as quick as he once had been, but he did no less work than he had always done.  And he felt no less attracted to Stella than he had when he first met her when he was sixty.

Paul got through to the sheriff’s department in Las Vegas.

“You’re in Lincoln County,” the voice slowly responded.

“I think I know where I am,” Paul said, irritated by the lack of urgency.  “Get an ambulance up to the county line.  We’ll meet you there.”

“That’s a big county line and a distance of… sat… 150 miles,” the voice replied. “It’s gonna take a few hours.”

“At 93, Goddamit, at 93 and the county line!  It’s gonna take us some time to get him there. He’s got some major injuries. Major! If he’s taken into Ely he’ll only have to be transported down to you.  So let’s skip the middleman. You come and send your best paramedics.  There’s another one, a woman, who’s dead.  But the living one is gonna need specialized care. Send a helicopter if you can. We’re about ten miles north of the line, at Brant Chastain’s Airstream. Just be quick!”

He went into the trailer, picked up the syringe, a bottle of alcohol, a dog’s leather leash to use as a tourniquet, and a couple of towels and tossed them into his truck and drove back to the accident scene. Stella was still giving Aaron sips of water.  She held her left arm out to Paul and continued to try to give Aaron water.

Paul looked at Aaron. “Ain’t nothin’ but a miracle gonna save this boy.”  He spoke gently to Aaron as he tightened the dog leash around her upper arm and then, finding a likely vein to use, inserted the 16 gauge needle into her elbow pit and slowly began to fill the 60cc syringe.  “Now son, I don’t know who you are and I’m not even sure you’re alive, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”  He looked at Stella. “It’s been years since I did this in Nam, but I think I remember enough.”  Turning again to Aaron, he asked, “Do you renounce Satan and his minions?  Do you repent all your sins?  Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God?  If you repent your sins give me a sign.”

Aaron heard the voice but he did not understand the words. Do you something…  And can you tell…  Aaron’s eyes fluttered.

“What’s your name, son?” he asked.

Aaron tried to speak. “Ar… o…”  He closed his eyes and turned his head.

“He’s likely to say something crazy,” she said.

Paul tied the leather leash around Aaron’s upper left arm and tapped for a vein.  Finding one he inserted the needle and loosened the leash. “Son,” he said, “this lovely lady has O positive blood and that’s the universal doner.  I’ve got B and if you’ve got B and can give me a sign, you can have some of my blood, too.”  As Stella continued to give Aaron water, Paul injected the blood into his arm.

Stella spoke with the medical authority of her old nursing training. “You’ll need seven more to make a pint.  My antecubital area is going to look like a pin cushion.”  She rolled a rock under Aaron’s head to act as a pillow and again held out her arm so that Paul could repeat the blood withdrawal while she continued to give Aaron water. She found it necessary to coax him. “Take a sip!  Please… try to take a drink! Thirst isn’t like it is in the movies.  Thirst makes a man crazy.  Stay with us. Drink!”

Aaron felt the water run over his swollen tongue.  Vaguely he wondered why his tongue should swell when it was dehydrating.  He took another swallow and then another.

“You say your name is Aro like in Harold?”  Paul withdrew the syringe from Stella’s arm and while she tightened the leash on Aaron’s upper arm, Paul tapped for a vein and finding one, he inserted the second 60 cc’s of blood into the crook of his arm and released the tourniquet. “All right, Harold,.” he said,. “We’re using a veterinary syringe we use for shooting steers with hormones.”  He tried to humor him as he finished injecting the blood and turned to apply the dog-leash tourniquet to Stella’s arm.  “But don’t worry. We won’t inject you with ’em.”

Aaron had a momentary flash of consciousness. Arnold had probably gotten help.

Paul again asked as he cleaned a place on Aaron’s left arm, “Do you repent your sins and reject Satan and all his minions?”

“Ye… yea,” Aaron said, slipping in and out of consciousness.

Paul Oteiza poured a little water from his canteen on Aaron’s head.  “I baptize thee, Harold, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”   He spoke nervously to Stella. “Name’s Harold.  Hold him up.”

He turned again to Aaron and repeated, “Now Harold, if you can still hear me, Stella here’s got O positive blood and that’s the universal donor.  So I’m trying to help you with her blood.”  He repeated, “I know I got B blood and if you got B blood, you can get some from me too. So if you can, please, please try to tell me what type you have.”

Nothing.  Stella lifted Aaron’s head again and held out her arm.

“Ain’t much for sterile technique around here,” Paul said, slowly emptying the syringe into  Aaron’s left arm.  “Hope our cows ain’t got the anthrax.”  This was said as a joke but Aaron did not understand what was being said to him.

Paul loosened the tourniquet Stella had applied to his right arm. “I gotta let some blood get down to your right hand. I’ll tighten it in another minute.”  He waited, and then he completed the total of eight 60cc syringes of blood taken from Stella and injected into Aaron.

Stella held his head and gave him more water. “Stay with us, Harold.  I know you’re hurtin’ but we’re a very long way from help. Keep trying to drink.”

The water felt strange in his mouth.  He swallowed.   He opened his eyes and saw nothing but white glare.  He heard Paul say, “We gave you blood the hard way.” He did not know what that meant.

“That pint ain’t enough blood,” Paul said to Stella, “but it’ll have to do.  Let’s get him to the county line.” He took off his shirt and tossed it to her.  “See of you can made a sling for his arm.”

Aaron’s eyes opened but he said nothing. Stella spoke softly to him, “Don’t worry about your lady friend. We’ll send the state police out here to get her.”  She wanted to keep him conscious. “You’re lucky we found you.  Lucky, too, that you’re not one of them BLM thugs.  Damned if any of us would give you a single cc of our blood then.”  As she put the sling around his neck and arm she noticed Rebecca’s jewelry.  She lowered Aaron and turned to pull the rings off Rebecca’s finger and put them inside the bloody purse, zipping it closed. “Her rings are in her bag. I’ll bring them along.”

“Let’s get him into the truck.  She tied the corners of the towels together to make a long hammock-like sling, and they slowly picked up Aaron and lay him on the towels.  Then they carried him to the truck and Paul got into the truck and lifted him into the passenger’s seat which he had reclined as far as it would go.  Stella got into the truck and squatted on the floor between the dashboard and Aaron’s feet.  They proceeded over the bumpy desert until they came to the road and then continued on to the county line.

Aaron again opened eyes and looked around but saw nothing.  Stella tried again to say something funny about the BLM. to keep him awake.   Aaron still did not know what BLM meant; but he smiled a little in acknowledgement.  “Michelle and Arnold?” he whispered.

“I think they’re safe, Harold,” Stella said. “You and your lady Rebecca were out there alone… and I for one don’t know why you were there alone.  Save your strength.” She continued to talk, trying to keep Aaron conscious since the paramedics would have questions that needed to be answered. When Aaron didn’t respond, Paul tried.

“I’m an old Viet Nam vet.  But that was before your time.  I was lookin for strays and dropped in to talk to an old friend, and God and this beautiful Gal led me to you… like you was on a battlefield… and we were the medics trying to get you into heaven instead of the hell we was all headin’ for in that god-awful place.  I’m a desert rat.  I won’t even go to Florida.  The sight of palm trees sickens me,” he rambled on.  “I like the ones at Furnace Creek and Scotty’s Castle… but the rest of them can fall off the face of the earth.”  He could hear the ambulance’s siren in the distance.  Aaron heard it, too; and he sighed, relieved to slip into unconsciousness.

Stella told the medic what they had done and that she’d notify the state police about where the dead woman was. “What’s his religion?” the medic asked. “He looks bad.  Any I.D.?”

“No… nothin.” Stella answered.  ‘The woman’s name is Rebecca Blumenthal. Sorry we couldn’t bring her body back.  I’ll show the coroner where it is… or the buzzards will.” She handed the medic the purse.  “Her wallet’s in it and so are her diamond rings so be careful with the stuff.”

The medic quickly looked to verify the presence of the wallet and rings.

Paul Oteiza helped to transfer Aaron onto the ambulance’s collapsible gurney. “Maybe you can find out who he is through her family.  He’s Roman Catholic.  Harold something. No I.D. or jewelry on hin.  A smashed watch that we left at the scene.  But I saw that the ATV was rented in North Las Vegas.”

“He’s gonna need an orthopod,” the medic said, closing the doors.  Aaron was listening, but he understood nothing.  He wondered what an orthopod was.  He opened his eyes for a moment.  He had been loaded into an ambulance and people were sticking needles in him. Nothing else registered.

 

 

Part 12:   Aaron

 

“Paul Oteiza brought you in,” said the nurse.  “He’s one of those renegade Basque shepherds who raise cattle.”  She was trying to be light hearted in a gossipy way. He did not understand what she was saying. “You’ve been through a lot.  Father Salazar was in to see you.  He prayed over you for a couple of hours last night.  Night before was Sister Mary Isabel.  We didn’t know who you were until your wife’s body was recovered yesterday afternoon and we notified her parents in Philadelphia. The delay was due to being in another county and the need to match her with the description in the purse.  Paper work.   Her driver’s license listed her maiden name.  I can tell you that she died instantly.  We are so sorry for your loss.”

Aaron tried to put the words together, but the drugs he had been given refused to let him think.  The syllables he heard did not form words much less intelligible sentences.  “Rebecca. Yes, my wife.”  Where is she? he wondered.

The nurse continued. “Your parents are on their way… well, they’ll be here tomorrow.  Philadelphia time is three hours ahead of us and it was pretty late yesterday for them when we finally got to talk to them.  Her parents too will be here to identify her body.  It’s in the morgue.  I’m sorry for your loss.”

Aaron looked at his left hand and saw a rosary dangling over white bandages.  He saw that at the end of the string of beads there was a Crucifix.  The nurse saw him looking at it. As if to answer his unspoken question, she said, “Sister Mary Isabel left it for you when you were brought in on Tuesday;  She sat up with you all Tuesday night in the ICU.  Praying.  I can tell you, it didn’t hurt.  We had to move you out of the ICU this morning. We needed the room and you needed more surgery anyway.  There was a real bad accident on I15.”  She finished her examination. “So Harold, you did well in surgery and your vital signs are provin’ it.” She checked the bandages that held the needles in the veins on top of his left hand. “You were one busted up guy! We thought we’d surely lose you.” She assumed a conspiratorial air and said jokingly. “I think the Devil himself wanted to take you with him Tuesday night, but Sister Mary Isabel’s prayers drove him away.  Whew!  That woman can pray up a tornado!”

Aaron slid in and out of thought.  What day is it?  Wednesday? Thursday?  I had the accident on Tuesday.  Aaron picked us up at the Mandalay right after we got here.  Rebecca is dead.  How did I get in here?  What day is it?  Monday?

Go to Issue #4