Catchy (Sitting 44) A Very Slow Fast … April 15th, 2018

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It was meant to be a very quiet arrival at Ronald Reagan Airport in Washington, D. C. Over the weekend, Jubal had contacted Matthew, explaining that he planned on returning on Wednesday afternoon at 2:15, and would appreciate a pickup, so he could get right back into the hunt of things. He had briefly updated Matthew on his journey.

Jubal had only spent four days with the Dalai Lama before traveling on to Japan, China, India, and ending up at a conference of rabbis and mullahs in Jerusalem. He had many stories and much adventure but he wanted to come home.

Matthew agreed to meet him in Washington, and contacted Soos to put together the “on-the-ground-plan.” Perhaps that was his mistake–because Soos decided that the return of Brother Carlos was good reason to have a national festival.

First she put the word out on social media, so there were five thousand screaming fans at the airport when he taxied down the runway. She also got hold of Mother Rolinda, who was still pastoring up in Baltimore, even though her burned-out church was being repaired and the local congregation was meeting in the park. Rolinda suggested they hire “The Angels”–fifty motor-cycle-riding dudes and lasses for God, who used to be part of the Hell’s Angels. Soos loved the idea and also thought a local high school marching band would be wonderful once they arrived in the middle of Washington, D. C.

As Matthew arrived at the airport, he became aware that he was once again part of an event. The past few weeks had changed him from a mere curmudgeon to a full-blown people-hater. He had “jailed himself” in Las Vegas for nearly a month. He drank, he slept, he gambled a bit, and he discussed with several prostitute friends whether lemon was necessary to add to the butter for a “good lobster-eatin’.”

So when Matthew drove up and saw all the people with banners and damnably sweet faces, he was tempted to turn around and pretend he had been waylaid in Nebraska due to a storm. (You could always count on Nebraska to provide you such a cover.) But he figured there was some member of the press who would identify him and foil his deception.

A beleaguered Matthew greeted a surprised Jubal Carlos, as they both headed to the parking lot and Jubal was offered a Harley Davidson to ride into Washington. (Matthew opted for the chauffeured Lincoln Town Car.)

Fifty motor-cycle disciples with shiny helmets were escorted into town by the police department as the fans roared and Jubal Carlos waved his fist in the air as if leading a charge at Gettysburg. The five miles into town were quickly covered, since there was such a smooth passage. As soon as the high school band saw Jubal, they burst into what sounded like a John Phillips Sousa march dipped in salsa. Jubal rolled up with his cohorts, jumped off his motorcycle and danced his way to a set of congas which were waiting for him and joined the band in sweet revelry.

Soos estimated there were probably ten thousand waiting for them in the Capitol Square. She had set up a microphone so Jubal could address the crowd and share about his journey.

After about ten minutes of music and everybody getting their fill of Nathan’s hot dogs, Jubal stepped onto the stage and walked up to the microphone. Matthew pushed closer–he wanted to both see and hear. He was curious. He had missed Jubal Carlos. Even though Matthew had no intention of bowing to a divinity, he still had deep admiration for Jubal’s convictions.

Jubal stood quietly for a minute, letting the crowd have its will. All at once, everyone fell silent. Jubal took the moment, added his own pause, and then spoke.

“I have been with the Dalai Lama, to Japan, China, the Ganges River in India, and Jerusalem, where Jesus was glorified.”

The crowd cheered. Jubal looked across the mass as if gazing upon a beautiful horizon. Then he started to laugh, pretended to wipe some sweat from his brow, leaned into the microphone and shouted: “But it sure is damn fine to be home!”

What followed was a scream that could have awakened all the stone monuments in the fair city. Matthew laughed. Jubal was very corny, somewhat predictable, fairly ordinary, and loved by all. Deep in his heart Matthew believed that he was much more clever than Mr. Carlos. Yet it was difficult for Matthew to get any affection, even from the bell-boy if he gave a particularly good tip. Jubal continued.

“I’m not gonna hold you here long, but I am going to tell you what’s next. I’m going to leave this stage, and I’m going to head to that building–”

He turned and pointed to the Capitol.

“Here’s what I’m going to do. Yesterday morning I began a fast. Actually, it’s rather simple. I’m drinking water, some electrolytes, and bottled fruit and vegetable juices. I just wanted you to know the truth before the press calls me a liar because they smell asparagus on my breath.”

More uproarious laughter, leaving Matthew shaking his head. Jubal waited for the giggles to die down, and went on.

“I’m going to sit in the rotunda of that Capitol and stay there, fasting, until this country passes a bill. I think we should call it ‘The National Action of Kindness.’ I know people will say it’s meaningless, but it is time for the United States to lead the world forward by using kindness–before we bury each other in a grave of nuclear ash.”

A chorus of “amens” and a few “hallelujahs” skirted across the gathered. Jubal spoke on.

“I do not know if I will be allowed to stay in the Capitol, and I certainly don’t plan on being any trouble. In other words, I will find my own corner and brighten it. But until we Americans realize that everything we do–every law we pass, every decision we make–has to be run through the concept of kindness, we will continue to hurt one another, destroy our young people and fail to be the shining light to the world. I’m not asking you to join me in the fast. I’m not doing it because I feel like I’m special. No one likes to eat like your Brother Carlos. So pray with me that those fat-cat-politicians will hurry up and do something, so I can get back to continuing my burrito addiction.”

And yes…more laughter.

Jubal stepped away. He didn’t even stop to talk to Soos, Rolinda or Matthew. He slow-jogged his way toward the Capitol, where in a very few minutes, he came to the door and was refused entrance.

By this time, many from the crowd had followed, including all the staffers. They stood on the steps and shouted at the Capitol above them. “Let him in! Let him in!”

Jubal did not say anything at all, but stepped back four paces, crossed his arms and stood his ground. All at once the doors opened, and the guards moved to the side.

Ninety-year-old Medero Fairchild, the oldest sitting Senator, slowly stepped out and embraced Jubal. He put his arm around him and walked toward the guards. They stepped forward to prevent Jubal from entering the Capitol Building. The old man lifted his hand and spoke to them.

“This is my friend. He’s here at my request. You young gentlemen do a fine job guarding us, but now Mr. Jubal and I need to get inside and catch up on things.”

The austere protectors looked at one another and realized that it was foolishness for them to argue with the “Old Eagle of Liberty” (one of Fairchild’s nicknames).

Jubal Carlos stepped inside the Congress with his arm around a ninety-year-old senator from the state of Tennessee. The crowd went wild, and the guards broke form and style and waved at them.

Matthew shook his head. He raced to the car, hurried to the airport, and flew back as quickly as he could to his cave of protection.

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 52) Black Tuesday… April 30th, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

In the midst of the Garsonville healing, Richard Meningsbee, in his spirit, just decided to participate. For nearly three weeks, he didn’t peruse, view or “oogle”any pornography on the Internet.

He wasn’t sure why. Honestly, he was a little afraid to contemplate it. Was it the arrival of Carl, with his purity towards the work? Maybe it was the movie being such a flop. Or was it just realizing that Jesus was right when he said the physician needed to heal himself first, before he could hang up a shingle and start treating sick folk.

It was perplexing. For he was still tempted–there was a huge vacuum in his life, which lay empty, mocking him and making him feel less than needed and certainly never wanted.

On Tuesday morning, he woke up yearning for a cup of coffee that wasn’t made by his own hands. He had not been back to the Garson-Fill to see Carla since the day she rejected his invitation to dinner and startled him with her revelation about domestic abuse.

Why did men want to hurt women? Was it because women reminded men of how much more they could be? Or was it because men knew that if they struck out at other men, there was the danger of incurring injury. Meningsbee never understood it.

But his mind was burdened with thoughts of Carla. He wanted to see her–but to what end? She had made her position clear. After all, he thought, she might take off running or maybe even leave town, which would be horrible considering that she had established new friends and great possibilities. So up to now he had stayed away out of respect to her feelings.

But today he thought his feelings needed a little attention of their own. He wondered if he could just be friends with Carla. Maybe he could begin to replace her image of Christian men being brutal with a Christian man, yearning to be an equal and merciful.

Whatever the reason, on Tuesday morning Meningsbee was uncontrollably driven to go to the Garson-Fill.

He decided to wear a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and put on a ball cap so Carla wouldn’t think he was trying to impress her with his appearance. It was probably silly, but he thought the effort was important.

He started out the door three times, but turned and sat back down. He didn’t want to blow this. He was in a fragile place, where climbing the mountain was possible, but also possible was falling off the cliff.

On his fourth attempt he made it out the door and headed down the street to the Garson-Fill. It was nine o’clock in the morning and a “Closed” sign was hanging on the door. That in itself was weird. He had never seen that before. Maybe someone was sick. Or maybe they were closed.

But even from a distance he could see inside, and there were people moving about. He was just about ready to turn and walk away when he heard a huge bang coming from the cafe. He turned to look.

He really couldn’t tell that anything was wrong–yet for a brief second he caught a glimpse of Carla. She was talking to a man.

Meningsbee figured she must be busy. Maybe she just hadn’t gotten the chance to open up yet because of her conversation. It seemed like a horrible time to interrupt.

But he did anyway. Completely unsure of his reasoning, he followed an inkling in his spirit. He just felt something needed to be done. The situation was akilter.

Coming to the door of the cafe, he knocked on the window with a smile on his face, waving at Carla. The gentleman she was talking to turned around, and when he did, Carla frowned at him and waved him away.

He knocked again. Something was certainly awry.

The man said something to Carla. She sighed heavily, walked over with the keys, opened up and spoke through a small crack in the door.

“Richard, we are closed today.”

She spoke slowly, obviously trying to control her emotions. Richard looked into her eyes. She was in some sort of distress.

“Oh, gee,” he said. “Couldn’t I just get a cup of coffee? Aren’t you glad to see me?”

She took a quick glance over to the man, and realizing that he wasn’t observing her, she shook her head. Meningsbee boldly grabbed the door, opened it and entered the cafe.

He stuck his hand out to the stranger, and said, “Hello. My name is Reverend Richard Meningsbee.”

The man snickered, held out his hand and they shook.

“I’m Gus.”

Meningsbee made his way over to a nearby table and sat down. “You know, I’ve always wondered if Gus is short–like for Gustave–or if someone just decides to name someone Gus.”

Gus glanced over at Carla and then back at Meningsbee. “No, I’m just Gus. Is this your boyfriend, Carla?”

“No,” said Carla, as she hurried to get a cup of coffee for Meningsbee.

“Well, Reverend,” said Gus. “Is she right? Or is she your sweetie?”

“Well, she is sweet,” said Meningsbee. “But look at me. I’m a mess. No woman would want me. That’s why I’m a preacher. I came to God. I heard He doesn’t reject anyone.”

Gus chuckled and turned to Carla. “He’s a funny one, Carla. A funny preacher. A funny ugly preacher. Right?”

Gus turned again to Meningsbee, obviously trying to stir some anger.

“Well, you know, Gus,” said Meningsbee, “I think you have to have some kind of characteristic about your face that stands out enough to be ugly. My face just kind of looks like God forgot to fill in the blanks.”

Gus laughed again. It was a big laugh–because Gus was a huge man. He stood about six foot four and weighed nearly 300 pounds.

The sight of him made Meningsbee’s bowels tingle in fear, but the reverend tried to maintain his composure, because he believed that Carla was in danger.

“What brings you to town, Gus?” asked Meningsbee.

“A financial transaction,” said Gus, looking over at Carla. “Isn’t that right, dear?”

She tensely nodded her head.

“I see you called her ‘dear,'” said Meningsbee. “Are you family?”

Gus sat down on a stool near Meningsbee. “Carla didn’t tell ya’? Well, she’s my wife.”

Was your wife,” fired Carla over her shoulder.

She walked over and set the coffee down in front of Meningsbee. “Just the way you like it, Reverend. Four sugars.”

It was a signal–Meningsbee never put sugar in his coffee. He always told Carla that if he wanted cake, he’d take sugar. What he wanted was a good cup of coffee.

“So you say there’s a financial transaction,” continued Meningsbee as he tried to choke down the sweet fluid.

“Yeah,” said Gus. “It seems that Carla here owes me a lot of money.”

“Really?” said Meningsbee. “Carla, do you have a lot of money?”

She shook her head but refused to speak.

“Come on over here, dear,” said Gus. “Don’t be anti-social.”

Turning to Meningsbee, he added, “Don’t you hate it when a woman is anti-social? It makes you think she doesn’t like you. It would be easy to take that personal.”

Meningsbee decided to act. “Gus, I don’t think Carla wants you here. I think it’s time for you to leave.”

“I can’t do that, preacher,” Gus said. “I haven’t had the chance to show you my gun.”

He pulled out a massive pistol. Meningsbee knew nothing about firearms, except that they kill, and this one certainly looked like it was capable.

“A gun?” said Meningsbee. “Now, Gus, why would a big fellow like you need a gun?”

“Because sometimes people just don’t listen to my voice,” he replied, pointing the gun at Carla.

“Let’s all calm down,” said Meningsbee. “There’s gotta be a way to work this out, right? After all, you wouldn’t have come to town unless you were trying to get some money to start something. What is it? A new business?”

“Don’t play me, preacher,” Gus said. “I understand your game. I’ve been a born-again Christian all my life. Washed in the blood of the lamb. I was the youngest boy at the Bay City Pentecostal Assembly to ever speak in tongues. I know the Word. You understand what I’m saying? I know the Word. And the Word says, ‘Women, submit to your husbands.'”

“Well, that’s my mistake,” said Meningsbee. “I didn’t know you two were still married. I thought you were divorced.”

“Divorce is a sin,” said Gus. “She may want to indulge in it, but neither I nor the Lord God recognize it.”

“Listen, Gus,” said Meningsbee, leaning forward. “I don’t think you want to use the gun.”

Suddenly Gus stood to his feet, shifted the gun in his hand, pointing it right between Meningsbee’s eyes. “I can tell you’re no prophet, because you’re wrong. I would love to use this gun. You see, I’ve got nothing to lose, which means I might have everything to gain. And if I blow your head off, and then blow my head off, we’re gonna gain our souls, even though we’ll lose the world.”

Carla gave a screech. “Gus, stop it! Leave him alone! He’s not part of this.”

“Sure he is,” said Gus, lowering the gun and pointing it back at Carla. “If he was really a man of God, the Holy Ghost would have told him to stay home for his coffee today. Am I right, preacher?”

“Or the Holy Ghost sent me here to help you both,” said Meningsbee. “There is that, you know, Gus.”

“The only help I need is money,” said Gus.

“Well, I can get you money,” said Meningsbee. “I’m a signer on the church account. I probably shouldn’t be. How much do you need?”

“I don’t want that money. That’s God’s money. It would be filthy lucre. I want hers.

“How do you know she has money?” asked Meningsbee.

“She sent five hundred dollars to my cousin, Reno, who’s dying of cancer.”

“I see,” said Meningsbee, a little surprised.

“If she’s got five hundred, she’s got a thousand,” Gus concluded.

All at once the town constable pulled up in his cruiser and headed for the front door of the Garson-Fill to get his morning espresso and crueller. It was a ritual.

Gus became nervous. “Now, we do need to get rid of that smokie!”

Meningsbee interrupted. “I think maybe I could do that. Could I do that? Gus, would it be all right if I did that?”

Gus tucked the gun away under the zipper of his coat and said, “You damn better well.”

It was actually pretty simple. Meningsbee knew Bill. He told him they were having trouble with the water filtration system and that they were closed for the day.

“Well, what are you doing here?” Bill asked.

“Carla called me,” Meningsbee replied. “I had told her I used to work with this kind of stuff years ago. She thought I might be able to help.”

“Well, Meningsbee, you are a man of many talents,” said the cop. “Now I gotta go find me a cup of coffee and a donut.”

He turned and walked away, and Meningsbee shut the door and stepped back to his place.

“I’ll make you a deal, Gus. Why don’t we go over to the church together, and I’ll give you two thousand dollars out of my personal account. Not God money. Just preacher money.”

Gus took the gun out and pointed it at Meningsbee again. “Do you think I’m stupid? The second I leave here she’s gonna call that cop back.”

“Good thinking,” said Meningsbee. “So let’s tie her up. There’s got to be some rope somewhere.”

Gus squinted doubtfully. “How does a preacher get two thousand dollars of his own money?”

“I’m a little embarrassed to admit it,” said Meningsbee. “But three weeks ago I won it in Las Vegas.”

“A gamblin’ preacher?” Gus shook his head and turned to Carla. “Is that what you settled for, girl? A sinner–just barely dipped in grace?”

Then Gus made his mistake. He turned to look for rope, and Carla took her opportunity. She grabbed a knife she’d found in a drawer just beneath her hands. She ran over quickly and stabbed Gus in the back.

He grimaced in pain and buckled to his knees. In doing so he dropped the gun on the ground. Meningsbee wasted no time. He grabbed the gun, and while Gus was trying to regain his footing, he took Carla by the hand and they ran out the front door into the street, flagging down the constable, who had decided to try the convenience store for his breakfast.

It didn’t take more than two minutes for the constable to comprehend the situation and head over with them to the diner. But in that length of time, Gus was gone. His truck had disappeared and he apparently was on his way to other mischief.

Bill warned Carla that it was very possible that Gus would return to seek revenge for the stabbing, but she wasn’t afraid.

Meningsbee, on the other hand, was terrified. He was so grateful that he had worn a ball cap, hoping that Gus would never recognize him on a normal day.

Carla was strong. Carla was determined. And for the time being, Carla was safe.

 

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 37) Baby Talk… January 15th, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

Silos went high.

At least they did for Cam Collier, a gentleman in his late forties, born and bred in Quincy, Illinois.

Ten years earlier, he took a risk and purchased nearly all the silos in a four-state area, setting the price on storage and care of the farmers’ wheat and corn.

Everybody needs food. And the most important part of that process is knowing how to store and distribute it.

So Mr. Collier quickly became a millionaire.

Three months ago, he was floating down the muddy Mississippi on a riverboat, gambling away some of his hard-earned dollars, when his eye fell upon a young girl who was working bar-back on the cruise. It was a hot night. She was dressed in a little tank top with sweat pouring down her arms.

She was lonely, lookin’ for a daddy–and Cam was lookin’ for a whole lot more.

They struck up a friendship and in a whirlwind romance of nineteen days, were married and on a quest to find mystical bliss.

So today, in her glorious financial splendor, Kitty, our fortunate recently-married lass, returned to Garsonville to retrieve her little daughter. Anticipating a struggle to regain custody, she came loaded with well-purchased court orders and ten thousand dollars to sprinkle in donations throughout the community, to sweeten everybody’s will in her direction–although as often was the case with Kitty, she had no real comprehension of the situation.

Matrisse had not taken Hapsy into her home so that she could criticize Kitty, or replace her. Matrisse was like a great collector of art, who stumbled upon a precious piece, purchased it, took it home, cleaned it up and placed it on her wall, giving it the honor it deserved.

And Hapsy was deserving.

When the sweet girl had first come to Garsonville, she possessed a frenetic giddiness brought on by any introduction of gifts or sweets. But now she was just happy to sit in a corner with a box of crayons and draw pictures.

Meningsbee found himself cast into the role of the arbiter. Kitty was sure she would need him to convince Matrisse to give up rights to the child. Of course, Matrisse had no rights to the child, and knew it.

So that morning, when Meningsbee stepped out, saw Kitty and retired with her to his office for half an hour, listening to her story, he realized he had only one job: give Hapsy the best chance possible.

“Listen, Rick,” said Kitty, continuing her spiel. “You don’t mind me calling you Rick, do you?”

“Kitty, I don’t care what you call me. I just want you to understand I’m not a fool.”

“I didn’t say you were, Rick.”

Meningsbee pulled his chair closer to her and lowered his voice. “You see, right now you’re high. I don’t know what you’re on, but you’re in the clouds.”

Kitty smiled. “No, sir. I am not high. Crack whores get high. Homeless people–well, they might get high. I, on the other hand, am well-medicated. I have one doctor in Quincy, Illinois, who does nothing but provide me with needed–shall we say “pilling?”–for my various moods. It’s all legal. And it’s all stamped and approved by my local pharmacist.”

Meningsbee just stared at her. Kitty was the worst kind of dangerous. She thought everything was a game, but she didn’t know the rules.

He continued. “Call it what you wish, but I want to make sure that Hapsy has a future.”

“We got money, Rick. Matter of fact, I’ve been authorized by my husband to give your church a thousand dollar donation. Just think what you could do with a thousand dollars.”

“Just think what Hapsy could do with a mother who could walk a straight line…”

Meningsbee made sure there was no condemnation in his voice, but that his message was clear.

“You see, Rick, you’ve got no say here. When I met you in that motel, I was looking for a sugar daddy. I ain’t gonna lie to you. I quickly realized you had no money. But I thought if I followed my latest lead, it might eventually take me to a pot of gold. That was you. Now, you can’t argue with me. My little plan worked. So I’m here to collect what’s mine and blow this town once and for all.”

Meningsbee paused, took a deep breath and replied, “I haven’t talked to Matrisse about this. Honestly, Kitty, it seemed cruel to consider the fate of the little girl. But I don’t believe Matrisse is going to stand in your way. She knows you’re the mother.”

Kitty leaped to her feet, clapped her hands and said, “Well, good. Then let’s go get my sweetie.”

“Is he a good man?” asked Meningsbee.

“Who?” Kitty replied.

“Your husband. Cam, is it?”

“A good man?” She paused, musing. “Well, he’s never hurt me. He’s always willing to help me. And he doesn’t bother me too often. Honestly, Reverend, he’s in his late forties and working too hard and has heart palpitations. Need I say more?”

Meningsbee sat thinking. Kitty got impatient.

“Are we gonna go get my kid?” she finally demanded.

“Well, when we came in here to talk I wasn’t sure what you wanted, but…well, I kind of knew. So I asked Matrisse and Hapsy to stay in the vestibule just in case we needed them.”

Kitty grabbed her purse and said, “Let’s go.”

They went into the foyer, where Hapsy was perched, playing quietly with some blocks. Matrisse was sitting nearby with her purse in her lap and a small smile on her face.

As soon as Kitty came in the room, Matrisse spoke. “So good to see you, Kitty. You’re looking well. Hapsy is waiting for you.”

When the little girl heard her name she peered up from her toys, squinting her eyes as she gazed at Mama Kitty. Then, in an amazing transition of facial expressions, she went from bewildered to aware to a smile to looking over with sadness at Matrisse.

The little girl knew.

She had traveled with her Mama for years.

So she rose to her feet, walked four or five steps over to Matrisse and gave her a long hug and a kiss. She shook Meningsbee’s hand and stepped over to Kitty, saying, “Hi, Mama. Is it time to go?”

Meningsbee fought back tears. He realized that Hapsy was more aware of her mother’s wild ways than any little girl should be.

Meningsbee put his arm around Matrisse and they walked to the front door of the church, watching Kitty clumsily load Hapsy into a car seat in a huge SUV and then hop into the passenger side, close the door and zoom away.

Matrisse stared at the car as it left and said under her breath, “God bless you, Hapsy. I sent angels with you.”

 

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Reverend Meningsbee (Part 35) A Finer Diner… January 1st, 2017

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Reverend Meningsbee

Meningsbee was spooked.

He wasn’t exactly sure why–maybe it was being awakened by a stranger pounding on his door. Or it could be the haunting dream that Nico shared about empty boxes at Christmas time. Or maybe he was just baffled by why he was traveling through Texas, spending money to pretend he was a vagrant.

Whatever the reason, he gathered up his blankets, pillows and the few items he had brought into the motel room, threw them into the back seat of his car and headed out on the road.

He didn’t know where he was going, but he knew one thing for sure: it wasn’t Garsonville.

He wasn’t ready.

So he puttered around from little village to tiny burg for a couple of days, realizing he was going to have to call the church and have someone stand in for him on Sunday. It wouldn’t be a big deal–the congregation was practically on auto-pilot anyway. All the changes he had suggested had brought about a freedom and liberty which gave the people a delightful blending of humility and confidence.

So when he called the office to tell them he would be delayed, the secretary didn’t even question him.

He wasn’t going to Garsonville–but he did feel compelled to at least head in that direction.

So two days later, he found himself sitting in a small diner in Amarillo, Texas, when he looked up from his breakfast of two eggs, turkey sausage and toast, and saw Mercer.

At first his brain didn’t register. But after a second glance, he realized it really was Mercer, walking in the door of the diner.

Mercer was a member of the Garsonville congregation–a quiet, sturdy fellow who was so invisible that Meningsbee had never even learned his last name. He was also a little afraid of Mercer, because the fellow sometimes showed up wearing a camouflage tie.

But then, all of a sudden, in the middle of Amarillo, Texas, Mercer had appeared, with a little smile on his face.

Meningsbee could not disguise his shock, and as Mercer made his way to the table and sat down, he said, “Are you surprised, Reverend?”

“More than surprised,” said Meningsbee. “How did you find me?”

Mercer leaned back in his chair, peered at the Reverend and replied, “Well, I don’t know if I ever told you this, but I worked in Army Intelligence, and it didn’t take me long to follow the paper trail you left with your credit cards.”

Meningsbee frowned. Mercer continued, “Oh, don’t be upset. You can find anybody anytime you want as long as they’re willing to sign on the dotted line.”

“What are you doing here?” whispered Meningsbee.

“Well, I came to find you,” said Mercer. “Seems like I did a pretty good job.”

“Okay…” Meningsbee was not sure what else to say.

There was a slight pause and then Mercer filled in the silence. “What seems to be the problem, Pastor? Are you addicted to pills?”

Startled, Meningsbee replied, “Pills? No. Why would you think that?’

“Oh, it’s just that sometimes you have that pasty-white face of a heroin user.”

Meningsbee shook his head. “No, I’m not addicted to pills. Just pasty white.”

“Hookers?” asked Mercer.

“Again–no,” punctuated Meningsbee.

“Then it must be gambling.”

“Listen, Mercer. I don’t gamble.” Meningsbee realized if he didn’t speak up, Mercer would continue his probing. “If you must know, I’m very upset about what’s happening in our town with the broadcast, and also the intrusion they’ve made into my personal life.”

“You mean how they stole your computer?” asked Mercer.

“How’d you know that?”

“Once again–I was in Army Intelligence. If I want to know it, I can pretty well find out. What was on your computer?”

Meningsbee sat quietly. He didn’t know what to share with Mercer. He didn’t know anything about him. So he decided to be evasive.

“Personal things,” Meningsbee said flatly.

“Like pornography, you mean?” asked Mercer, leaning forward and lowering his voice.

“Maybe like that,” said Meningsbee, relenting.

Mercer chuckled. “Listen, Reverend. Nobody thinks you’re perfect. Lots of people don’t even think you’re good. There are even some folks who think you’re pretty bad. So here’s how it works–the people who know you aren’t perfect will forgive you. The people who think you’re kind of good will be alarmed that you made a mistake but they’ll get over it. And the people who think you’re bad will just think worse about you. You can’t win people. God’s been working on their hearts for thousands and thousands of years. Isn’t that what you preach? But you also can’t run. That’s somewhere in the Bible, isn’t it? So I came out here on my own to find you and let you know that our little town needs you. We’ve made some stupid mistakes trusting these big-town phonies. Now we look pretty ridiculous. We could sure use someone to help us get out of this. What do you say?”

“Are you gonna tell anybody about our conversation?”

“Well, I’ll tell you this, Parson. You got no business lookin’ at that trash. But it really ain’t my affair. Do I disrespect you for doing it? A little. But I’ll get over it. The point is–will you? Because pictures on the Internet will never replace the wife you lost.”

Maybe it was the tenderness of the statement.

Maybe it was too many days on the road in Texas.

Or maybe it was just dissatisfaction with his turkey sausage.

But Meningsbee broke down in tears.

Mercer stood to his feet and patted him on the shoulder. “Do you need me to follow you home, or do you know the way?”

Meningsbee chuckled. “I got my GPS set.” He looked up. “Thank you, Mercer.”

Mercer sprouted a big smile. “You don’t know my last name, do you?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t.”

“Well, good. That’ll make it harder for you to track me down.”

Mercer turned and walked out of the diner as Meningsbee stared straight ahead.

It was time to go back.

It was time to take on his responsibility.

And it was time to stop being afraid.

 

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