The Money Lender (#8)

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

The Money Lender #7

Part 29   Stella

 

Stella had not given any indication that she intended to leave town.   But by noon when she still had not appeared, Paul and Harold again checked with the desk clerk and learned that the chambermaid said her bed had not been slept in and she had not even used the fresh towels she had been given the day before.  They repeatedly called her cellphone, but their calls went right to voicemail.

Paul and Harold made the rounds of likely places to ask about her.  She had told no one where she might be going. She had said nothing about shopping or looking for a job. She hadn’t begged the Tribal Elders to let her return to the safety of the reservation.  Harold asked specifically if she seemed at all depressed or desperate, and the answer was always No.  The last time they had seen her – which was that very morning – she seemed normal.  Independent.  Self-resourceful.  Determined in a constructive way.

The wedding reception was in full swing when Paul called Brant and begged him for information.  “Any little thing you’ve heard will help,” he said.

“Sorry,” Brant said.  “I haven’t seen her. I told her I’d give her money to set herself up in a new life; but I didn’t intend to be tied down to her.  I told her not to name the kid after me or she’d regret it.” He paused to greet a wedding guest.  “Look,” he said, returning to the call, “we had fun.  She ate my food and slept in my bed.  She was warm and loved for a few months.  And I’ll pay her a nice sum of money for her trouble if she keeps her distance.  If you run into her, the offer still stands.”

Paul said, “Sure.  I’ll tell her,” and disconnected the call, cursing Brant under his breath.

“Could she have possibly killed herself?” Harold asked Paul.  “Tell me the truth.”

“No.  The only people she has to fear are your in-laws.  A twenty-eight year old woman who is a one-third owner of a house – whether she wanted it or not – is having her first healthy baby.  She’s in love with the kid already.  You can rule out suicide. We have to start thinking like cops. What unusual things stand out in recent days that could account for her disappearance?”

“Brant’s wedding.  He has a big family and they’ve come in from all over the country for the wedding and that stranger who asked questions about her.”

“Right. We can’t forget that before the wedding started to attract people, there was a guy who was asking questions at the motel desk.  He must have flown into the Ely airport.  We don’t have a name, but he wasn’t seen walking around.  We’ve been looking for Stella.  Maybe we should be looking for him! He had to rent a car or take a cab.”

Paul called the cab dispatcher who was an old friend.  “Any srangers in town before the deluge of Brant’s wedding?  Can you think of anyone?”

The dispatcher tried to be helpful.  “There were a few professionals who were here to set things up… the stage at the Blue Bison had to be decorated for the reception…  the church got all kinds of flowers and bows and the organ’s been fixed.  So there were tradespeople… strangers… coming into town just before the big event.  But the deluge started Thursday night.  I’d try the car rental people.”

Harold called the car rental company.  “We’ve got zero cars to rent,” the clerk said.  “Every vehicle down to Double Duty Pickup trucks have been rented out.  Sorry.”

“I don’t care about the recent rentals… just one before the crowd gathered.  A single man, perhaps?”

The clerk looked.  “Yes, I rented a Ford Fusion to a guy from Philadelphia.  He’s still got it.”

“That’s the one.  Here, I’ll let Paul Oteiza talk to you” He handed the phone to Paul.  “You’re better known and trusted.  You’ll get better information.”

“You got those GPS devices in your cars?” Paul asked.

“Sure.”

“So you can tell me where that car is now?”

“Certainly.   Let me look, Paul.  Hold on.”  When he retured to the phone he gave Paul longitude and latitude coordinates… which he helpfully located on a flat paper map for him.  “Cooper’s mining Company.  It’s not exactly a deserted place.  A group of rock hounds meet there on most weekends to scrounge around the area.  They get a little drunk and play poker.”

“Anybody else there now?”

“None of them that I now of, but that’s where the Ford is.”

Paul thanked him.  “Get movin’,” he said to Harold.  “That strange guy’s got her in an abandoned mining office.”

Paul pulled his gunbelt from under the seat and put it on before he started the car.

*

Stella sat in a wooden chair with her hands tied to the arm rests and her feet to the front legs.  A dark felt bag was over her head.  The bag made it difficult to breathe, but if she asked to have it removed, she’d see her abductor and then he’d have a good excuse to kill her.

“You’ve caused a lot of trouble, Minnihaha,” the man said.

“I have nothing to do with Aaron or his troubles, nor he with mine.”

“Maybe I’m more concerned with the trouble you’re causing the Chastain family.”

“Oh… so you thought I was gonna do a war dance as the bride went down the aisle.  I was getting ready to leave town… to go to Reno to look for work, or to Winnemucca.  I’ve got no plans to stick around Ely.   Brant’s got nothing to fear from me.”

Well, he doesn’t exactly see it that way.  And neither do Molly’s folks.  You’re a threat to decent people.”

*

Paul stopped the truck.  “If we get any closer he’ll see us.  I know it’s too far for you to walk with that metal crutch.  Since you’re not armed, you might as well stay here.  This is the only road out.  I”ll go up  and look.”

Staying down low and close to the shrubbery that lined the path, Paul proceeded towards the cabin.  His moves were graceful… so graceful that they seemed as natural as the wind blowing across a wheat field.  A flickering light suddenly shone through the window.  The light grew steady and Paul knew that an oil lamp had been lit.  He stood at the edge of the window and looked in to see Stella tied to the chair with a hood covering her head. The man was talking to her.  Paul put his ear to a crack in the wooden slat wall and heard the man blame Stella’s determination to ruin Brant as the reason he had to keep her out of sight until the wedding party left for their honeymoon.  Brant, Paul knew, would not have brought someone in from Philadelphia to abduct Stella.  This was the work of Joel Blumenthal, his wife, and Caroline.  He thought to himself, “Harold is a fool. I feel sorry for him, but I feel sorrier for the victims of fools.”

The man’s satellite phone rang and the man stepped outside the cabin to talk. Paul was at the south wall of the building. On the outside chance that he could pick up something on his iPhone, he put it on to record.  The cabin door was in the North wall.  The man walked around to the western side of the building and stood near the corner, not two feet away from where Paul was hiding, pushing himself flat against the wooden wall.

“Look!” the man said, “the deal was to keep her here until the Wechsler girl could get him to Las Vegas.  Nobody said anything about offin” her.”

Paul could hear the caller’s voice clearly.  “Something must have spooked Aaron.  Caroline says she had him right where she wanted him, and then he got cagey.”

The man said, “Well, that’s her problem, ain’t it? I was hired to get the Indian woman away from town for a couple days so Caroline could snare him. I’m worried about the guys who come out here regularly on weekends.  They’re not here now because of the wedding. But you never know.”  Nobody spoke for a few moments.

The caller said, “Can you fix it so that it looks like Aaron killed her?”   The man answered, “You saw him.  What’s he gonna do? Laugh her to death?”

The caller said, “Then just get rid of her and dump her someplace.”

The man grew angry.  “I didn’t get paid for that. You ain’t a stranger to me, Joel. You deposit 25K with Jerome and when he gets the money, I’ll do it.  There are plenty of mine shafts around here, but I’m not doin’ anything on credit. I’ll have to dispose of my Glock and you can also buy me a new one.”

Paul could hear the caller shout, “Do it! And spare me the details. And Jerome isn’t around. He’s in Florida with his mother.  Your money will be paid to you in a poker game at Sammy’s house on Saturday night.  Next Saturday night.  You’ll win thirty grand.  Deal?”

“Blumenthal! Listen! You ain’t thinkin’ this through.  Killin’ this Indian gal don’t mean that Caroline can get Aaron out of town this weekend.  He’s got that church thing on Sunday.  You’re quick to promise to pay, but you got a rep for reneging.  If I do the job and he don’t go with Caroline, you’ll welch on the deal.” The man shifted the phone from one hand to the other as he drew his sidearm from its shoulder holster.  Paul could not hear what Blumenthal said. “We’ll see.” the man said.  “The money better be paid or your family will be runnin’ back to Hans Goebbels for protection from me.” He disconnected the call, put his phone in his pocket and, still holding his weapon, began to walk back to the front of the cabin.

“Hey!” Paul shouted.  The man turned around and Paul shot twice. The man gasped as if the air had been knocked out of him.  He fired once at Paul, striking him in the left shoulder and then he stepped around the corner, out of sight.  Paul checked his shoulder and decided to go around the small building from the opposite direction.  He ran the length of the south wall and proceeded up the eastern side.  He could see Stella through a window. The man was not in the room. He cocked his revolver and turned the corner of the north wall, expecting to find the Glock pointed at him.  He heard a car door slam and the sound of the Ford starting.  The man had simply decided to drive away.  As the car began to turn down the trail, Paul took a shot at him and hit the rear window.  The car swerved and then straightened itself and continued toward the road where Harold was waiting, unarmed and helpless.

From the roadside, Harold watched the man drive directly towards him. Instinctively, he took off his right-side metal arm and leg crutch, propped his body against Paul’s truck, and as the Ford paused slightly before entering the main road, Harold, using his left hand and arm, swung the crutch into its windshield.  As the crutch smashed the glass, the car veered off the dirt road and skidded into the main road’s run-off gully. It was not a deep gully, but still he did not try to back out of it.  One of Paul’s bullets had struck the man’s right arm and, since he was right handed, he not only had difficulty steering, but he had to put the car in reverse with his left hand. He fumbled with the shift with his left hand, cursing and threatening Harold who hobbled to the car and opened the door. The man tried to pick up the Glock which he had put in his lap so that he could use his left hand to shift into reverse.  Harold struggled with him to get the gun.   Several wild shots were fired and the man let go of the gun and held his right arm.  “Get me to the goddamned hospital!” he shouted at Harold who was still hopping on one foot, holding the gun in his left hand and pointing it in the general direction of the Ford.

Paul went into the cabin to free Stella and then ran to help Harold.  He ran ahead of her towards the two men at the main road. When he was close enough to see his truck he yelled, “Who the hell shot my new truck?”  He was still carrying his revolver.  Nobody moved.

Stella arrived to take charge of the scene.  “Everybody get in Paul’s truck.  I’ll drive.  We need to get all three of you to the hospital.”

“I’m fine,” Harold insisted.

“Then why is there blood running down your right hand?” she asked.

“Damn!” Harold said, “one of the wild shots must  have grazed me.”

They drove to the emergency room.  Harold was bandaged and, having recently had so many shots, was let go.  Paul required surgery to remove the slug and had to stay the night.  The sheriff’s deputy arrested the man, one Jerry Popovich, for kidnapping and attempted murder, and let him get his “through and through” arm wound repaired before he took him to the jail.  Another sheriff’s deputy picked up Caroline Wechsler who related the plan in excruciating detail as she protested her innocence.

 

Part 30  Tim, Joshua, Charlene and Rick

 

Charlene did not know how her parents would take to someone named Murphy. Their earlier assertion of not objecting to someone named Murphy joining the family, had been reconsidered.  It had been merely a convenient response they now said.  There had been an understanding, albeit only a one-way understanding, that Charlene would marry one of the nice Italian second cousins or close family friends who appeared to be eager to have a Cottone for a wife.   As though it were a desirable future, Charlene’s mother huckstered these young suitors who were most likely to continue the traditions of domesticity that Charlene had grown up experiencing.  Repeatedly she warned Charlene about the hazards of cultural clash that invariably occurred by marrying into an outsider group. She did not realize that Charlene prayed for a cultural clash to rescue her from her current domestic lifestyle.

Caroline hated emotional exhibitions; and her extended family always seemed to be engaged in a “show of emotion” contest.  Whoever wept and moaned loudest loved the departed, or the bride and groom, or the new baby… whatever… best.  She absolutely refused to go to funerals.  Also, she was always dieting and there was never a way to avoid pasta, sausages, and rich sauces. She hated to cook and her mother was always cooking. She didn’t like wine that was always served at meals, and Tim drank Dr. Pepper which happened to be her favorite.  She also liked his fair skin, eyes, hair, personality, and thought that he was both cute and sexy.

Tim called. She said, “Let’s meet in the little side Chapel of St. Mark’s at noon.”

“Fine,” Tim said.  He tended to be shy. A chapel’s quiet setting suited him perfectly.

Eagerness got him to the chapel at 11:15 a.m. He sat in a pew in the small chapel and breathed in the piñon incense and studied the bouquets of fall flowers that adorned the altar.  So, he thought, Josh has the Zen people believing that he’s pious.  He intends to take that surfboard and leave town.  What can that old Abbot see in him?

The church organist came in to practice a few new organ selections.   Bach.  The chapel was off to the side of the main church building and the organ’s sound had that distant sweetness that teased the ear.  Was it possible that Joshua had undergone a spiritual conversion?  Like evil Saul becoming godly Paul on the road to Damascus?  If so, how would that change his duty to execute him?  A shaft of sunlight shone through the stained glass window as if it intended to spear Tim’s thoughts with its beauty.  Was the shaft of light a sign?  In another half-hour, the sign would not have been seen. “If I had come at the appointed time, I wouldn’t have seen it at all,” he whispered.

 

Tim thought long and hard about killing Joshua, not necessarily because of the ethics involved in murder, but because he feared that too many people were aware of his intention to kill him  The information could hold him hostage by any one of them. True, they were not the type who ran to the police to report any little infraction of the criminal statutes, but if they were picked up for something else, they could deal with information.  Ah, that was always the trouble with the Shadow Archetype: it was a coin with two sides, friend and enemy.  And prosecutors “flipped” that coin so easily.  For a lesser sentence, your best friend would “turn” state’s evidence and testify against you, becoming your worst enemy.  And these people were hardly friends of his to begin with.

He knew that one of the principal requirements for taking righteous vengeance was that the man who was granted the right to take it should not be held responsible for it and, naturally, no innocent person could be blamed. This was understandable.  If word got out that you could become heroic by flouting God’s Vengeance edict, everybody and his brother could declare war on someone for the slightest insult.  Stealth was required; and stealth, when there were so many actors in the drama, was difficult to achieve.

He reached a conclusion.  Using a burner phone he called Joshua and left a message with the receptionist: he had been called to the hospital and had only one opportunity to give Joshua the longboard.  Therefore he had to meet him at the Gallen Station out on Route 95, a mile south of the Amargosa Valley turnoff to route 373 that went into Death Valley.  He explained this odd choice of meeting place.  “I hide my equipment out there in an abandoned train station so that my sister’s in-laws can’t get it. Tell Fa Hui that he can ask his ride to bring him here this afternoon before he leaves for his session with the Philosophy teacher.   If he leaves a little early, he’ll be back in plenty of time for your big dinner.”

“Oh, that dinner’s been cancelled.  That teacher he worked with got sick, and Fa Hui will be driving himself to his teacher’s house today.”

Tim heard the old news about Rick and tried to sound shocked. “I’m sorry to hear that.  I had hoped Fa Hui and I could spend some time talking about old times at the beach.  But I can appreciate that he’ll be in a hurry to get back. Don’t worry. I’ll have everything ready for him.  We can talk another time.  I’ll be more accessible by phone when I’m in the hospital.  Tell him I’ll be outside the station house waiting for him at 5 p.m.”

*

Rick, his words slurring from the opiates he had taken, placed an emergency call to the Zen Center, informing the receptionist monk that he was Dr. Reynard and needed to talk to Fa Hui immediately.  Joshua stood by the receptionist’s desk and mouthed, “No!” and pointed to his watch and held up five fingers.  The receptionist monk got the message.  “He isn’t here now but I do know that he has an important mission he’s completing right now and then he’ll go to a sick friend’s house after that.  He’s supposed to get there around five o’clock, same as always.”

Rick grunted and disconnected the call. He had taken opiates for the pain and for so long as he sat still, he was reasonably comfortable. But his wound was in the itchy healing phase and when he got up to walk, the stitches pulled and hurt, and the drugs made him unsteady on his feet.  He needed a servant.  How, he wondered, could so much have gone so wrong?  “That,” he shouted at his bandaged groin, “is what you get for trying to help imbeciles!”

He staggered to the kitchen to make another vodka tonic and returned to the living room, stopping to spin his globe of the earth.  “Well, Bruno,” he asked the dog who had managed to escape death by vomiting nearly all of the drugged meat he had eaten, “where shall we go?”  His hand stopped the revolving globe at the Caribbean.  “No!” he said.  He hated the tropics… the insects, the parasites, the poisonous snakes and spiders, and the goddamned people who stole everything they could carry.  He groaned, and then his fingers crept up to Alaska and stopped at Fairbanks. “Why not Alaska?” he asked Bruno.  “You have long hair and will develop an undercoat to withstand the drop in temperature. And it isn’t as if we can’t afford proper clothing for you.  Little dog booties?”

Isolation and the cleanliness of snow suddenly appealed to him.  “I have enough to buy a camper or one of those Winnebagos.  We can stop at those awful gypsy-style stations where you can get electricity and water and use a laundromat.  It might be fun.” He leaned against the large globe as he tried to drink his vodka tonic and the ball revolved, sending him in a slow helpless descent to the floor.  The glass did not break, though its contents had spilled on the rug.  He picked up the glass and crawled back to the kitchen.  “We have plenty more where that came from,” he advised the dog.  This time he filled the glass nearly to the half-way point before he added tonic water. “This makes up for the one we lost,” he explained.

Rick did not notice when five o’clock came and went.  He had passed out at four.

*

`

Tim, carrying a small sack which held a two-handled wire garrote, a flashlight, and a pair of latex gloves, and wearing a straw hat and aviator sunglasses, hitched a ride up to the Amargosa Valley turnoff and then walked back a mile to the deserted train station.  He still questioned himself about the righteousness of killing Joshua.  What would happen if he didn’t kill him?  That was something to think about.  Rick would be in a frenzied state about having lost his property and he’d want to take it out on Joshua.  And one way or the other, they would find out that Tim and Charlene had gotten married.  Would they be desperate enough to try to hurt Tim, Charlene, his mother, or even their baby?  Yes, he thought.  That was the funny thing about unsanctioned vengeance.  The person would carry a grudge for years and years.  But a sanctioned vengeance?  That was done in stealth.  No one would know who had exacted vengeance or even if vengeance had been enacted at all.  Maybe the guilty person just got a karmic kick in the ass.  What goes around comes around.  Who made it go around was irrelevant.

But as the hour approached, the urgency of making a decision brought an irrational desperation to the problem. Vengeance.  Revenge. Retaliation. Salvation. Redemption. Forgiveness. The terms were tangled in his mind and he needed to reaffirm or to reject his original intention to approach the Sacred Tree and claim the right to destroy an evil man.  It bothered him that the supposedly spiritually advanced Zen master had found so much potential saintliness in such a satanic creep as Joshua Mays.

He had to organize his thoughts. First he reached an obvious conclusion: a man who is safely on the beach, cannot be saved from drowning. No.  It is the man floundering in the water who is the candidate for salvation.  “We cannot save a sinner unless he has sinned,” he whispered. He did not add, “Therefore, if I want to be saved, I need to sin,” but that is what he meant.

Then his thoughts grew darker. “A decent law-abiding, tax-paying man is a clod that is stepped on as the Redeemer runs to help the sinner,” he mumbled. Such a clod-man was destined to be a worker bee, a societal slave.  He doesn’t sin so he can’t repent. No. It was like getting a parole from prison.  If an innocent man was wrongly convicted, he had to lie – effectively to commit perjury – about his guilt and repentance – or else he’d be denied parole and would have to stay in prison. Most men, just to get out of the joint, would lie and this is what the people who wrongly sent him to prison counted on.  His lie would vindicate their lousy police work.  If he refused to perjure himself, they could laugh amongst themselves.  This would prove that he was criminally stupid if nothing else. Society was better off with such a jackass behind bars.

Ah, Joshua was just one of so many evil doers.  And, “Vengeance is mine!”  What a joke. Unless a person was willing to believe that an evil man could live happily for a few decades and then get what he deserved finally in hell, that Vengeance business didn’t mean much.  What about a the family man who was executed for a crime after he had confessed and repented his action?  He could look down from heaven and watch his kids starve to death.

And not even regret was necessary.  Jesus on the Cross took the Good Thief to Paradise not because he had repented but because he had admitted his crime and asked Jesus to remember him when he got to Paradise.  And if he threatened Joshua now with confessing and repenting his guilt – would it be just as valid a confession as the innocent prisoner who was seeking parole had made?  Restitution?  Rick paid that debt.  Joshua got away with themoney. And could he restore his father’s life?

But that old Abbot who had the Buddha Eye?  He had seen something precious in Joshua. Well, Tim decided, in a moment of crisis that precious thing would show.  He wouldn’t die without begging Tim to forgive him.  Ah, Joshua had probably conned the Abbot the same way he conned everybody else.

He kicked a few stones and stood on the steps waiting to see Joshua’s Toyota.

As the car approached, he waved and then took the garrote out of the bag.

Joshua parked and got out of his car.  He had not as yet recognized Tim.  “Hey Brad! Good hiding place,” he called.

“Yeah,” Tim replied, as he turned and walked into the station. He waited behind the door and then, when Joshua stepped across the threshold and entered the room, Tim grasped the handles of the garrote and looped the wire around Joshua’s head, pulling it down to his neck. He crossed his arms, completing the noose.  Joshua tried to dig his fingers between the wire and his flesh, an impossible task.  He staggered back against Tim who whispered in his ear, “I”m giving you a chance to repent.”

Joshua made gurgling sounds and Tim momentarily relaxed his grip to give him a chance to speak, then he leaned forward to let Joshua see his face.

“Tim! You lying son of a bitch,” he said. “You got no Takayama longboard.  You got me out here for nothing.”

Tim suddenly grew furious that Joshua thought the only thing that needed repentance was not that he had stolemoney and framed Tim for the theft, but that Tim had lied about giving him a surfboard.  In the moment of relaxation, Joshua’s left index and middle fingers had wedged themselves between the wire and his flesh. Just as he started to say, “Murphy, you bas–”  he cut off his own ability to speak by reaching back and, not realizing that Tim’s hands were crossed, grabbed Tim’s left fist and pulled it forward, tightening the noose. Tim immediately pulled on garrote’s the right handle and gave his two hands a quick twist, thus preventing the wire from being pulled open.  Joshua kicked and writhed until, in only a couple of minutes, he slumped, red faced and bulging eyes to the floor.

Tim held the noose tight for another few minutes and then calmly unwound the garrote. He returned the weapon to the bag.  There would be skin cells on it and he would later carefully dispose of it.  His sun glasses and straw hat had been knocked off his head during the skirmish. He replaced them and removed the car keys from Joshua’s pocket and opened the Toyota’s trunk.  Then he returned to pick up Joshua’s body in a fireman’s carry and, checking to see that no traffic was in view, dropped it into the trunk.  He drove the car onto the shoulder of the road, parked, and went back to recheck the station to be certain that no evidence had been left behind. With a sage branch used as a brush, he obliterated the tire tracks in the dirt in front of the station. Satisfied there would not be even a fingerprint or piece of paper left to examine, he got into the car and began to drive.

Tim Murphy knew his destination: a deserted mine in the Sheep Mountains.  There were large beams across the mine’s tunnel entrance and, about thirty feet back, there was a shaft that descended at least a hundred feet. He brought Joshua’s body to the drift, removed a beam, lit his flashlight and inspected the tunnel in front of him for snakes. Wooden beams had been placed across the top of the shaft to prevent animals or people from falling into it.  Tim removed a few of the timbers, returned to get Joshua’s body, and then dragged it to the shaft and pushed it down the gaping hole.

He drove Joshua’s car back to town and, far from a street light but as close to Rick’s house as he could safely get, he parked.  He wiped the only keys that he had touched, made sure that he had his hat, glasses, and garrote bag, and jauntily walked past Rick’s house, tossing the keys over the cinderblock wall.

The walk home was a long one, but the air was cool and refreshing.  He dismantled the garrote as he walked.  The left handle went into one sewer and a few blocks later, the right handle entered another sewer.  The wire dropped nicely through the grate of yet a third sewer. One glove and then another found its way into dumpsters as did the paper bag.  He passed a church and had an imaginary conversation with the good thief crucified beside Christ.  “You know,” he said instructively, “it is a bad thing to steal.  But I can understand there are needs that make a man desperate. If you want my opinion, the reason you were saved had nothing to do with repentance. It had to do with admitting that you were the thief and not trying to frame an innocent person for your crime.  If you had done that, Jesus wouldn’t have given you the time of day. You’d be in hell right now with your new best friend Joshua Mays.”

A thought occurred to him as he passed one of the few public phones left in the city.  “I’m still a good man,” he whispered, “and I need to do what a decent man would do.”  He called the Zen Center, pretending to be Brad.  “I waited over an hour for Fa Hui and when he didn’t show up I hitched a ride back to town and gave my board to the guy who was kind enough to pick me up. My hospital bed is ready.  Please tell Fa Hui I’m sorry it didn’t work out.  There is one thing, however, that I thought I should mention.  When I sat back in your garden recently, I noticed that something seemed to be wrong with the connection of your kitchen exhaust pipe and the pipe that joins it from the dormitory.  The main pipe must have dropped down a few inches and altered the angle of the connection with the dormitory pipe. It could be plugged up there.  I stopped at a library and looked up carbon monoxide toxiciy. Low grade chronic exposure to carbon monoxide will give people hallucinations and nightmares.  I would have told all this to Fa Hui, but he never showed up.  So please ask your Abbot to look into it. Cooking’s bad enough, but winter’s coming and you’ll be using that propane heater soon.”

The reception monk apologized for Fa Hui and thanked Brad for his thoughtfulness.  “I had no idea!” he said.  “Of course, we’ll look into it immediately.  Thank you, Brad, you may have saved all our lives! Good luck to you,” he said. “We’ll all be prayin’ for ya’.”

*

Mrs. Murphy had just finished sewing for the night.  She sat in a chair and watched a Law and Order rerun. Tim stretched out on the couch and waited for the commercial break.  “Ma,” he said, “your celery-stalk brand is salable.  Instead of you expanding it with a website, you could sell it along with the house and just quit the business.   You always liked to visit your sister in Daytona. Now you can live down the street from her if you want. I could get a job anywhere with a bank.  I got no black marks against me.”

“I know you’re back in good standing at the office, and I wouldn’t mind living in Daytona Beach. But my sister wants me to move in with her. She’s been all alone in that bungalow for six years now. And you!  You’ve got to think about getting married to some nice girl and getting your own place.”

“You’re right, Ma. It is time.  As it happens, I do have a girl in mind.  I wonder whether she’d prefer living at the beach… or in the mountains… or to stay in the city or suburbs.  “I’ll call her from up in my room and find out.”  He stood up, saluted the framed “fruit salad” decorations, said, “Semper Fi,” and went upstairs to call Charlene who had been waiting weeks to be asked.

*

On Sunday morning Paul was released with a bandaged shoulder and his arm in a sling. Stella wore a new maternity outfit to attend Harold’s First Holy Communion.  He stood two feet taller and was ten years older than the tallest and oldest member of the group.  Stella took many photographs.  So did Rabbi Cohen who stood with his wife in the rear of the church and blended in with the standing-room-only group of parents.

When the ceremony ended everyone met in front of the church.  “Mazel tov!” shouted Rabbi Cohen.

“Shalom aleichem!” Harold shouted back.  “Shalom aleichem!”

 

THE END

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