To see more literature about Zen and the Art of Investigation:
The Money Lender
by Anthony Wolff (Ming Zhen Shakya)
If you haven’t read the previous issues click here
Part 5: Joshua
Joshua Mays struggled with having to look hopeful. He remembered to smile as he waited on the customers he detested, which accounted for most of them.
Tim Murphy, while socially shy, was sincerely friendly with the customers. Many would even let someome get ahead of them so that they could have Tim for a cashier. Providentially, as if to verify this – and make Joshua’a attempt to seem friendly even more difficult – a client named Stanley Tinker declined to go to Joshua’s window and to wait instead for Tim to be available. Stanley Timker suspected all humanity of mocking his name. He had a leg deformity and knew nothing about sports; and he grew up in Brooklyn where the Dodgers played. He become known as “Stinker Tinker” pronounced as “Stinka Tinka.” But he later heard about Tinker to Evers to Chance which meant nothing to him because he didn’t know a ground ball from a pop fly. Yet when he came into the FNN CCC office Tim would say, “Wait a minute! You’re not Evers and you’re not Chance! You must be the good one… Tinker! Best shortstop the world has ever known!” And Tinker would laugh and say, “Sorry No relation.” And then Tim would counter, “Well, I can see the way you sign your name, you’re good with your hands and you’d have made a great shortstop.” Mr. Tinker always felt as though he had been elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame when he left the office. The FNN CCC had no clients named Jeter, Ripkin, or Banks.
Charlene would smile, much too openly, or even eaves-drop a laugh, when Tim’s customers said something that was particularly nice or clever to him; but each nice remark made Joshua despise him more for “playing up” to them, for “being so hard-up for friends” that he’d stoop “to get buddy-buddy with losers.” But now that religion was upon him, Joshua was forced to chime in, “And Tinker was a great hitter, too!” He quietly photocopied a document Tim Murphy had signed, folded it and put it in his coffee-table book about the Early Popes which he prominently displayed. He left a white paper pad upside down on Tim Murphy’s desk and Murphy obliged by picking up the pad and putting it on Josh’s desk. At lunch, Josh drove to Ex-Father Rick’s house to give him the pad and the photocopy.
The good ex-priest turned the signature upside down and practiced copying it until it was impossible to tell the real signature from his copy. He put on latex gloves and typed the following letter on an old Royal typewriter into which he had inserted a new ribbon:
To Whom It May Concern At Saint Steven’s Retreat:
It has come to my attention that a person named Joshua Mays intends to apply to your seminary to be admitted as a novice. I will not name at this time any particular criminal act that I have reason to suspect Mr. Mays of committing; but I am offering my sincere opinion that the Roman Catholic faith would not be served by having someone who is presently under suspicion for financial irregularities at the Friend-N-Need Check Cashing Company which is located near Nellis Air Force Base. I attend Mass regularly at Saint Gregory’s and you may contact any priest there to vouch for my integrity.
(signed) Timothy Murphy
Then he selected an envelope from a new batch he had just purchased. He burned the rest of the envelopes and the white pad. Then he burned the new typewriter ribbon, replaced the old, looked through the type to see any peculiariities, and with an emery board he accentuated the irregularities and made a few new ones and with a tapping hammer readjusted several letters that appeared to be a millimeter below the others. Still not satisfied, he rubbed some black stamp pad refill ink over the keys and swiped a cloth over them, leaving the “o” and the closed loops of the “b” and “e” filled with what appeared to be old residual ribbon ink. He turned on a vacuum cleaner and opened the dust bag so that a cloud of dust settled on the old machine. “Semper Paratus,” he said by way of offering an explanation as he shoved the typewriter into a closet.
When Joshua arrived after work, Rick let him see the letter. Then, using a wet cotton ball Rick sealed the stamp and the envelope, and still wearing his latex gloves, dropped the envelope into a plastic bag. He then put the leash on his dog Bruno, and he, Josh, and Bruno walked to the farthest post office he could comfortably find… some ten blocks… and mailed the letter.
“Let us return to my domicile,” he said, “and I will teach you some ecclesiastical techniques I acquired in seminary school.”
“Do you like to sail?” Charlene whispered as she passed Tim’s counter.
“Never been” he wrote on a pad and let her read it as she returned to her counter.
“Sunday, after Mass. Lake Mead Marina. 11 a.m.”
Tim giggled. “Date,” he wrote back.
He bought new jeans and a horizontally striped navy blue and white long-sleeved T shirt. “Ahoy” he said as he entered the Marina and saw her sitting on a barstool, waiting for him.
“Aye, Captain,” she smiled, dropping her feet to the floor. “I sure hope you know how to sail.”
“The only knot I know how to make I tie my shoes with. Am I qualified?”
“Over-qualified for this rig,” she said, slipping her arm through his. “Do me a favor and don’t let us get drowned. My parents are away until Wednesday. They’re supposed to be having the time of their lives at some big reunion. The news that I am dead will not amuse them.”
“I do know how to swim,” Tim said. “In fact, I was on my College swim team.”
“Michael Phelps! I’m dating Michael Phelps!”
Tim grabbed her waist playfully and pulled her to him for just a moment as they walked to the slip that berthed the 31 foot sloop, The Cozy Nostril. The name embarrassed Charlene.
“I’m gonna lay it right out for ya’, Tim. I come from what the nicer papers call “a colorful family.’ If you don’t want to associate with me, I understand. You can say that it doesn’t matter, but if your family has lived in this valley for more than ten minutes they will have heard of my great-grandfather and my grandfather and though we’re all legitimate now… surgeons, dentists, real estate agents, restauranteurs… they’ll remember the Cottone name and they won’t be happy about you hanging out with one of “that bunch.”
“When I put my arm around you,” Tim said quietly, “do I have to squeeze them into the loop?”
“No,” Charlene said, and inexplicably she burst into tears and put her face against his blue and white striped shirt. He held her tightly and kissed her hair while she sobbed for a few minutes. “You can’t imagine how relieved I am.” She looked up at him and he laughed.
“You look like a raccoon,” he said. “That black stuff you put on your eyelashes has made black circles under your eyes.” He took out his pocket handkerchief and leaned over the side of the dock to dip it in the water that was at the moment filled with the gaping mouths of carp that lived around the marina.
“No!” Charlene squealed. “That water is filthy. Use the bottled water we have in the fridge on board.”
“Our first fight,” said Tim. “How am I ever going to confess this?”
Charlene giggled. “This kind of fight is no sin.” And then she added in an odd voice, “Not if you really understand sin.” With her foot, she tapped a metal object on the deck to which the ship was tied, “This is a cleat. Watch how I untie the line.”
There was only one sail to raise and once it was up and they moved according to the outboard motor and then to the wind’s will, they settled together at the wheel. “I also think you should be aware that the trouble ahead may not come only from your side. My people do not like outsiders. And someone named Murphy is definitely an outsider.”
“Then let’s not bother with people named Cottone or Murphy. You can be Elizabeth I and I can be Napoleon. Though separated by time, we are also free of close relatives.”
“And language,” she added, turning up her face hoping, but failing, to get the shy Napoleon Murphy to kiss her. She smiled inwardly. Charlene Cottone did not lack confidence.
Part 6 Aaron
At the Sunday afternoon wedding ceremony and reception, Uncle Benny introduced Aaron to Arnold Goldman, the son of his friend. “Arnold’s got a big used car lot in Las Vegas and is making money hand over fist,” he explained to the small gathering of people that stood near Aaron and Rebecca. “He’s in the market for a Ford dealership and needs a good salesman, somebody he can trust, to take over the used car lot when he gets that dealership.” Aaron and Arnold shook hands and then left the group so that they could speak privately.
Uncle Benny had vouched for Aaron, a recommendation that freed Aaron from feeling that he was abandoning his uncle. He vouched for Arnold, too. Selling used cars was not exactly a step up from selling new junk appliances, and Aaron knew that he’d still get complaints. Poor didn’t mean stupid, Aaron had learned, but it did usually mean ignorant. He wondered if customers interpreted the pity in his eyes as an assurance of his concern for them. Whatever it was, he was a good salesman. He liked people. And when he talked to Arnold Goldman, the two of them got on well. He’d learn the used car business while he went to school at night, and then he’d either take over the lot or move on to the dealership. He liked Arnold’s girlfriend Michelle Morgan, too. Nobody else did. “She really does live in a trailer-house,” Rebecca confided.
“When are you going back to Vegas? Aaron asked Arnold.
“We’re taking the red eye out tonight. And you?”
“We’re leaving on Tuesday. Vegas for our honeymoon! I’ll be glad to talk to you more about the position when we get there. We’ve got a few appointments here in town tomorrow that we can’t break. The Blumenthals are taking us to see a real estate agent – I think they want us to look at houses – they’re trying to keep us here – and we need to open a joint bank account for the money gifts; and get life insurance policies. So we’ll get there on Tuesday around brunch, Vegas time.”
“Call me when you get in town and I’ll show you around and we can both give the move some thought. I think it’ll work out… but you never can tell. You or your bride may not like living in the desert.”
“How do you take the heat? We see the temperature on the morning news and it seems oppressive.”
“To be honest, I’m a New York City boy, myself. And out in Nevada… and I caution you now not to pronounce Nevada as ne-vah-dah. You are not permitted to say that “a” as anyting but the “a” in “at” – the locals really get chapped if you do. Anyway, in Nuh-va-duh I go from an air conditioned home to an air conditioned car to an air conditioned space in a garage parking area to an air conditioned office. I’ve even stopped seeing customers outside in the afternoon in the summer. One of my men has to sweat it out… the cars really heat up when they’re sitting in the sun. Do you speak Spanish?”
“High school Spanish. Two years of it.”
“Started at Temple but never got past my first semester. I got a really bad case of flu. I took six months off to help my uncle and get some money together – and then I took a course in… well, life.”
“By ‘Life’ do you mean ‘pregnancy?’ I thought Rebecca looked a little thick around the waist and Michelle caught her throwing up in the ladies’ room. I guess that’s why they want to see you completely settled in a house with a life insurance policy to protect the kid. Your father-in-law is afraid some disgruntled customer may take a shot at you.”
Aaron smiled weakly and did not reply except to say, “Rebecca’s a good kid.”
Part 7: Joshua
Dave Lonigan never could escape a feeling of dread whenever an employee asked to speak to him privately and then would shut the door to his office and timidly sit down in front of his desk. And this is what was happening just before lunch on Saturday morning. He took his glasses off and put them in their case. “And just what did you want to speak to me about?” he asked Joshua.
“I’ve been… well… sort of lying. I concealed the truth because I was afraid that I’d be rejected.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Hawaii and surfing. I’ve been telling everyone that I wanted to go to Maui to live. But I don’t have any desire to go to Hawaii.” He removed a rosary from his pants pocket. He held the beads so that Lonigan could see the dangling Crucifix. “For luck,” he explained. He continued, “I applied for admittance to a Roman Catholic Order… it’s been my life’s dream… I never thought they’d take someone like me… sometimes loving God just isn’t enough, if you know what I mean. But I heard last night that I was seriously being considered… so I’m in the pipeline.”
“And does this mean you’ll be going to live in a monastery?”
“Yes. If they’ll have me! But that’s not likely to be for weeks or months.””
“Well, I guess all I can say is, ‘Congratulations!’ If that’s where your heart is leading you, you need to follow it.” Lonigan was much relieved by the subject of the private discussion. “When will you be leaving?”
“Whenever they tell me I need to show up. But if you hire someone to replace me in the meantime, I’ll understand and go home quietly… to wait.”
“Then I guess I can’t order a cake just yet,” Lonigan said, standing up to shake his hand.
Joshua did not have to explain anything to anyone. David Lonigan regarded it as a kind of proof of the integrity of FNN CCC that one of its cashiers was going to enter a monastery. He made the formal announcement in the office and even called a few friends to tell them.
Part 8: Aaron
Aaron Weitzman flinched inwardly at the congratulatory proofs offered him. He and his wife became owners, in Joint Tenancy, of a home on which Rebecca’s parents had supplied a $65,000 down payment and had even co-signed the mortgage which Aaron, of course, would be obliged to pay monthly. Aaron was still naive enough to believe the real estate agent when he assured them that the house would appreciate in value overnight. It did not matter to him how much money the Blumenthals put down on the house. If he accepted the job in Las Vegas, they would surely not lose a cent in the re-sale of the house. He did not exactly know how a husband and father-in-law should get along, but he could understand that they did not want their daughter to move to Nevada. He even found it “normal” that the moment they heard the rumor of his job offer, they sprang into action and found a suitable house in a nearly upscale neighborhood.
Many people who attended the wedding reception gave money as gifts which had to be put into a new checking account in both Aaron and Rebecca’s names. A cousin who had an insurance agency had already had a doctor examine and attest to the health of the about-to-be married couple and the insurance papers were signed. The Blumenthals wanted two million on each especially since they feared that one of Uncle Benny’s disgruntled customers might get understandably violent. They paid the initial premiums.
Uncle Benny had said that he’d buy bedroom and kitchen furniture for the new house as a wedding gift, and then he whispered in Aaron’s ear, “Whether the house is here or in Vegas.” He also let it be known that he would soon be retiring to Florida. “I’m gonna cook in a wok, wash my dishes in a sink, and get one of those old washboards and tubs and regardless of what my neighbors think, hang my clothes out to dry. If I could think of a way to live without a refrigerator, I’d do away with that appliance, too.” Aaron supposed that he had also given his parents the $6000 they were to spend on a week’s honeymoon in Las Vegas and also paid for their “open-ended” round-trip air fare. He could not imagine that either of his parents had an extra hundred dollars to give him, much less 6K. But, true to form, his father whispered that as a special bonus, he was escorting his mother to the ceremony and reception, “For the sake of the album photos,” he said.
On Monday evening, Aaron went to the “cousins’ house” for what he hoped would be the last time.
And then a strange and ominous accident occurred. Rebecca had brought all the wedding presents to the “cousins’ house.” She opened a gift from Aaron’s Aunt Esther whose cheapness was legendary. “Look,” she said brightly, “Aunt Esther has given us this beautiful Blue Willow tea set.” The tea set was not particularly beautiful and if one looked closely at the cups and pot, it was easy to see that they did not match. “I’ll make us some jasmine tea!” She put the kettle on and washed the new tea pot and cups.
The kitchen table was strewn with artfully potted orchid flowers which had been table centerpieces at the reception. She put several tea bags in the pot and set the blue willow cups and saucers on the table. While the tea steeped, she sat down and since the pot was closer to Aaron, he picked it up to pour the tea. Aaron did not stand up to do this, but reached awkwardly around an orchid plant, and Rebecca accommodated him by raising her cup to meet the pot’s spout. He filled her cup and then, as she brought it to her mouth to cool it by gently blowing on it, the handle of the cup separated from the cup and the scalding water splashed down on her bare chest.
Rebecca screamed and Aaron immediately got ice from the refrigerator to put on the bright red area. “She’s such a cheap bitch,” Rebecca sobbed. “I guess she got that junk at some discount shop. A family trait, no doubt. So fucking cheap!”
“Do you want me to take you to the hospital?” he asked, although he realized that nobody would do anything but recommend ice and some burn medication that could be gotten from any drug store. He was unprepared for her answer.
“What? Tell them that my husband tried to scald me with a defective wedding present his cheap-assed relatives gave us. Give me my phone! My mother will know what to do.”
Aaron began to reach for her cellphone and then he stopped, and standing motionless, he looked at her with an unmistakable expression of loathing. “If you call your mother, then I will call my mother and ask if I can come home tonight. Instead of having a honeymoon, we will have a divorce. Go ahead,” he handed her the phone. “Make the call.” He took out his phone. “Quid pro quo,” he said.
Rebecca looked at the hatred that streamed from his beautiful blue eyes, the eyes she used to rhapsodize about. Stunned, she said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Really… the ice has helped.”