Lou Martin walks side by side with Joe and George. They walk off the side-walk to approach the next house.
“This time, I’ll go first then you two start in.” says Lou.
Lou knocked on the door. It quickly opens with an old woman’s face poking through the inch of the door that is opened.
“What do you want?”
“Mam, what I have for you is a deal of a lifetime!”
“Are you solicitors?”
“No mam we’re evangelists.”
“Can you read?”
Then read the door. No solicitors!” The old woman slams the door in Lou’s face. Lou eyes a big sign in white letters saying ‘ No solicitors!’ Lou turns around to Joe.
“What do you think Lou? Just move on to the next one?”
Joe scratches his chin, looking around for the next house in the neighborhood.
“No. We try again.” Lou knocks hard on the sign. The old woman opens the door.
“You again, I told you no solicitors.”
“We’re not solicitors’ mam. We’re men of God.”
The woman’s brow furrows.
“What do you want?”
“We’re here spreading the good news, the new revelation, which God has brought to us, the prayer box.”
The woman raises her eyebrow.
“The prayer box.”
Joe turns on a nearby boom box, playing the singing of a children’s choir.
“That’s right mam the prayer box.”
George takes out of a red wagon a black square box, raising it on one hand and a flashlight on another. He spins around in a circle while shining a light at the box. Joe then picks up a box and a flashlight and moves in sequence with George.
Lou starts in a solemn pastoral voice. “The prayer box is a genuine miracle from heaven, a prophetic vision originating from the very mind of God, given to us for the very purpose of knowing God almighty as he is.”
The old woman squints her eyes.
“To know God huh?”
“Yes Mam to know God.” Joe and George dance around, each spinning with each other in the graceful motion of a tenure ballet dancer. Their legs sticking out and palms outstretched. Their fingers are inches away from each other. Their hands descend with the bass note of the track to rise suddenly with the crescendo. Both their voices chant in a high pitch, the old woman creeks the door a little wider.
“How does it work?”
“Glad you asked. First you write on a piece of paper anything you want God to grant. Then you put in a dollar after you fill it with money and wishes.”
“Prayers.” The old woman interrupts.
‘Right prayers, then you send it to the address on the bottom of the box.”
“Well….” The old woman looks down. Lou’s eyes get wider. The music stops. Joe and George bend over with their hands resting on their legs. Their mouths panting for breath, sweat glistening on their foreheads. The moment halts in eager anticipation for the words that will follow from the old woman’s lips. Her tongue licks the dryness from the roof of her mouth as she purses their lips readying her-self to speak.
“I think. It’s bogus, pure schlock, bum-cum.” Lou backs away.
“I’ve seen salesman like you before.”
“Evangelists.” Lou corrects.
“Whatever. You go door to door to peddle your garbage to anyone willing to listen. A week ago it was brooms that you can ride into heaven with. You only had to think happy thoughts. A month before that a toaster that would burn the likeness of the Virgin Mary, guaranteed to make you holy with eating one piece a day. A month before that glasses and earplugs that would protect you from temptation, just sit in a dark room with the headgear and it will protect you from the evils of the world only sixty six dollars and six cents. I also remember a fellow, who would sell goats to sacrifice for sin. Real goats! I called the police on that man.”
Lou put his hands in his pockets, keeping his eyes on the old woman.
“I should call the police on you! You heartless swindlers! You fiends! You should be locked away, preying on the hopes of normal, decent folk!” The old woman exhales a deep sigh as she looks into Lou’s hard face.
“May God help you, you sorely need it.” The door swiftly slams. Lou pulls out a piece of gum and chomps on it nosily. He turns back to Joe and George.
“Well boys let’s get back to home base.”
It is a long walk back. Joe and George pull the red wagon with their heads down, while Lou walks forward, his head high, confident with his lack of success.
“Another rotten day.” Mutters George.
“Another like the last.” Responds Joe.
“You have to expect it with the racquet we’re into.” Joe spits too close to his feet and walks through it.
“I’m tired of it. There’s no money in this!”
“The people have caught on to us. It’s the same idea with different packaging. Bud, don’t tell Lou that he’s convinced he’s a prophet.”
“We’ll have to tell him some time.”
“Does he know?”
“Do I know what?” Lou was listening in onto the conversation, staying quiet to catch his two apostles unaware.
George and Joe sink into their jackets.
“I don’t like repeating myself.”
“Nothing, it’s nothing, really its nothing.” said George.
“Yea. Yea.” responds Joe. “It’s nothing.”
“It didn’t sound like nothing.” Lou turns around staring George and Joe with fierce eyes. All shadow penetrates with dark intensity from the contours of his face; a presence is felt unclean and terrible swallowing the confidence of Joe and George. They both became smaller and smaller under the gaze of Lou.
“I’m going to say it again. What don’t I know?”
They both shrink together like turtles hiding in their shells. Too much is going outside that is threatening to come out.
“This is the last time I’m going to say this. What don’t I know?”
“The door….The door is padlocked.” Trembles George.
“We haven’t been paid in so long. We’ve neglected to pay rent for the office. They’ve evicted us.”
The sunshine returns to Lou’s face.
“Oh is that all? First I thought something really bad happened.”
George and Joe both get up puzzled by Lou’s good mood.
“You’re not mad?”
“Mad? Shoot. I should give you guys a hearty pat on the back for all your hard work.”
Lou turns; they continue to walk in the same direction. George and Joe stay silent afraid that raising their voices may trigger a reversal of fortune.
They come to the padlocked door of the compact slab of concrete that is dubiously called the office, a giant gray square in a row of dilapidated buildings.
Lou takes one look at the lock, before he picks up a trash can and slams it against the door. Lou takes the lifeless lock off from the door and throws it down the street. They all enter the darkness with only the light of a match to see.
“Just grab the prayer boxes and then let’s get out of here.”
Joe and George look at each other.
“What prayer boxes?” They say in unison.
“The ones they mailed back.”
“There are none.”
The light goes out. Redness burns through the strain in Lou’s face, the malevolence in his eyes swirl like cobras looking for something to devour, but only seeing themselves.
“There has to be some!”
He runs to the back room where they’re all piled up. All opened. All used, hopes, dreams, fantasies, worries, concerns, pleas, anxieties, all discarded in a corner to be taken out with the trash. While their containers stand over them like a monolith. Lou Jumps into the boxes throwing them wildly about, digging deeper and deeper and deeper to look for anyone not opened. Anyone not tried. He digs himself a crater, before he finds one. At the very bottom, he opens it with the eager glee of a child opening his first Christmas present.
His wide smile slumps when he pulls out a half penny. After unfolding it he then he reads the piece of paper. ‘To know Jesus’ like any fortune read from a Chinese cookie. He crumples it and throws it away.
Joe and George approach Lou with another lit match.
“What are we going to do?”
Lou presses his hands on his temples. His head jerks up right, staring intensely forward.
He approaches a filing cabinet, which he ferociously pushes aside. Then he tears his fingers into the wall paper and rips out the dry wall to come to a safe. He spins the dial around a few times and pops open the door. He climbs into the safe, his whole body within to come back out with armloads of cash.
“What is this?” says Joe and George. They’re awestruck at the boatloads of cash on the floor.
“My emergency fund.” says Lou.
“How long have you been keeping this?” says Joe.
“Since we started.” says Lou.
George and Joe became white hot, volcano angry. “Are you kidding me? We ate army surplus noodles for months watching our bank accounts dwindle to nothing. We got kicked out of our houses sleeping in cots, before we got kicked out of the office, while you were playing wild mystic in the woods. And you had a nest egg that you didn’t bother to tell us about?!”
Lou watches as the stream comes out their ears. They stomp around on the floor; degenerating several evolutionary leaps back. Flinging their arms wildly, jumping up and down trying to run up the walls only to fall down and start clawing at themselves.
“Are you done?” says Lou.
George and Joe lay down panting. They both stood up adjusting their ties and letting out a deep breath.
“Yea, we’re done.” Says George.
“Well. Get a sack.” Says Lou. They go to the other room. When they return they shovel money into the sack, avoiding eye contact trying to pretend that they just didn’t have a mental breakdown.
They return outside, Lou carries the sack over his shoulder taking in the city air deeply.
“Well it’s all good and done.” says Lou.
“Yes, and with the money we can pay off our debts.” says George.
“Right, Right, but not quite yet.” says Lou.
“What do you mean?” says Joe.
“Well, if we go and do that we’ll look desperate.” says Lou.
“We are desperate.” says George.
“No we’re not. We have a sack full of money.” says Lou.
“Where are we going?” says Joe.
“We’re going to the post office.” says Lou.
“Where are we going to put the money?” says George.
“We’re taking it with us.”
They open the double doors of the post office. Ignoring the tremendously long line, Lou cuts to the front of the line. The line takes tremendous offense.
“Hey buddy!” Screams a man in the middle of the line. “You can’t cut in front of everyone. You have to go to the back of the line.”
Lou Shoots back a stare filled with venom. His face molds into that of a tiger. He growls with the ferociousness of the jungle, everyone in the line backs up.
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to get in the back of the line.” says the cashier.
Lou whips his stare back at the cashier. The cashier wets himself.
“Umm. What can I do for you sir?”
Lou’s expression instantly changes into a polite smile. “Do you have any reserved mail for 367 Babel avenue?”
“Let me check.” The cashier disappears into the back room into a world of towering infernos of paper.
“What are we doing here?” says Joe.
“You’ll see.” says Lou with a smile so wide you can see his alligator teeth.
The cashier comes back through the doors carrying a loaded bag. He slams the bag, heavy on the counter.
“Are you Lou?”
The cashier brings out a stack of papers. “Ok. Sign here and here and here and here and here and here.” Lou writes his name to the pointing of the cashier’s finger.
“Ok all set.” He grabs the papers and calls the next person forward.
The line avoids eye contact with Lou as he exits the building.
“What are we doing with the bag?” asks Joe.
Lou ignores Joe as he leads them into an alley. He reaches into the bag to pull out a prayer box.
“How do we still have prayer boxes left?” says Joe.
“We stopped receiving them for months.” says George.
“I put a hold on our mail, while I was away.” says Lou.
“Why would you do that? We wouldn’t have lost our homes and our office if money kept coming in.”
“Don’t ask questions.” Replies Lou sharply. “Just do what you are told. Now pick up a box and hurl it at the wall. I’ve lost the key.”
Joe and George begrudgingly do as they were told. Breaking boxes open one throw at a time, while Lou takes the money and discards the prayers within. As Lou gathers the last of the cash he thinks to himself. ‘To know Jesus’ He does not know what this means or why he should think of this now. It bothers him. He tries his best to put it out of his mind.
“Now what are we doing?” says George.
Lou reaches in the bag and hands George and Joe a wad of cash each.
“Joe, go to the costume shop and buy three devil masks. George, go to Al’s gun shop and tell him Lou sent you. Give him the cash and you should receive two shotguns and a Glock.”
“Wait what?” says Joe.
“What are you talking about? This doesn’t make sense.” says George.
“It will when you come back.” Says Lou.
“How do you know it’s enough?”
Lou’s face changes into darkness ugly and terrible. “It’s enough. NOW GO!”
Joe and George run down the alley nearly tripping over each other going the opposite way.
Lou sits down thinking over his plan. How perfect it is. How marvelous it is. How fantastic. How wonderful, his day dream of success. People exalting him above all others. A super model in his mind places a crown on his head. The president of the United States drapes a cape around his shoulders. The emperor of China hands him the keys to the Forbidden City. He is led up to the top of an Aztec temple by an elephant as the whole world watches.
His thought is interrupted and his vision shatters by the words ‘to know Jesus’. Lou’s face tightens; he tucks his hands underneath his armpits.
“What does this mean?” He says to himself. “What can this possibly mean?”
“What does what mean?” Joe and George are back with the guns and masks.
“Nothing, never mind, do you have everything?”
“Yea, we’ve got everything. Why did we get these things? What is your plan?”
“We’re going to a rob a bank.” says Lou.
“A bank?” says Joe.
“A bank.” says Lou.
“Why are we robbing a bank? We have plenty of money.” says George.
“We don’t have enough.” says Lou.
“When will it be enough?” says Joe.
“Just a little more.” says Lou.
“Well I’m not doing it.” Joe stamps his feet. “We’ve lost houses. We lost jobs. We’ve lost possessions. We’ve lost dignity. We’ve lost everything we have. Just so you can get more money? I’m not doing it. I’m through following your fiddling!”
Lou grows twenty feet, an impenetrable darkness surrounds him. “You’ll do what you’re told and like it!” He screams with the ominous presence of unclean spirits. Joe’s boldness left him as quick as it entered him. His knees wobble. He falls over, retreating into the fetal position. In a mousy voice he mumbles out the words.
“Ok. Fine.” George pulls him up.
They walk on down the road. Lou’s thoughts are on the words. ‘To know Jesus.’ When Lou should be thinking of strategy, when he would be thinking of glory, when he would be considering everything he should spend his money on. Carefully categorizing and itemizing his fantasy list of most wanted things. All he could think about is. ‘To know Jesus’.
“What does it mean? What does it mean?” Lou Whispers.
“What does what mean?” says George.
“Never mind what I said.” Snaps Lou. “Just get on with what you’re doing.”
Lou pulls the devil mask over his face. George and Joe do the same. They run into the bank pointing their shotguns.
“Get down on the ground!” A lady in a fur coat shrieks. Lou knocks her out with the butt of his gun and shoots a warning shot into the air. Everyone falls to the floor. A young teller loses her breath, Lou’s points his gun right in her face.
“Give me the money from the drawers or I’ll blow your head off!” The other tellers slightly move. Lou cocks his shotgun.
“I said you! Everyone else stay on the floor. I don’t want any paint blowing up in my face now do I?” The teller puts the money in the bag, trembling.
“Hurry up, now! Or you may not have hands to count money with!”
“Please don’t kill me.” She sobs, trying to wipe the snot running down her face.
“Come on! We don’t have much time before the cops get here.” yells George.
“We have plenty of time! Just watch those people and make sure they don’t do anything funny.”
The teller finishes filling the bag. Lou snatches it from her and runs out the front door. He runs down an alley with George and Joe hard behind, through empty buildings down, bleak basements to the dumpster on Babylon Avenue. They rip off their masks panting for air. George and Joe falling over from the labyrinth they just ran through.
“Lou” Wheezes an exasperated Joe. “Lou, bring me my share.”
“And mine as well Lou.” Spits out George. “I’m done with this.”
“Well, you’re entitled to your share.” Lou drops the bag and turns around. “Here’s your share.”
Two guns blasts ring out. Lou drags Joe and George to the dumpster and throws them in as easily as you discard any piece of trash.
He takes the bag out from behind the dumpster and with maniacal glee opens the sack to drool over his treasure.
“Finally, I have what I want, two big bags of cash and no one to share them with!” He takes two big fists full of cash.
“God in my hands.” He rubs it in his face. “God in my hands! My money! My God! I have everything I could ever need! I have everything I could ever want! All available to me. My final dream. My ultimate vision. Nothing can stop me now!”
A breeze drifts through the alley way and something that sounds like a tear in a fabric. Lou looks over and sees that both bags somehow ripped open. The cash spills out being taken up in the wind. Lou’s eyes turn into fire as he sees his money twirling upward. He trips over his legs and falls on his face. He lifts his head, watching as all his money gets carried away in a whirlwind. He checks the bags to find nothing left.
“How can there be nothing left!” he screams.
“Nothing left! How is this possible?!” He rips his suit off then his shirt and then his pants, punching his fist into the ground. Cursing everything he sees around. Then it hits him right in his brain. The words stand out against the empty contours of his mind. ‘To know Jesus’. He remembers an address. Lou doesn’t bother to find clothes he just walks down the suburban block and knocks on a mahogany door. It was a little while, till a little old woman opens the door. She seems to recognize Lou and before he can say one word she flings her arms around him.
“Oh thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” Lou is uneasy. Dumbstruck this is the woman he saw this morning.
“I was thinking that I was never going to get out of that wheelchair. When I saw you this morning I knew you wouldn’t remember me. I tried all those wacky inventions you peddled on me. I even sent in a prayer box. Oh, I was desperate. I didn’t much more than a penny to my name after purchasing the darn thing. I heard somewhere of this man named Jesus. How he died for my faults, my sins. I don’t much know much of the bible or nothing. Hardly read anything till it fell open to the passage ‘come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest!’ I read on and on. I put that down in my prayer to know that man in my prayer box and put my last penny in it. I was behind on my bills and an inspector came to kick me out. But I fought back. I gave him such a tongue lashing for riling up an old woman. He gave me one day to come up with the money. I prayed. You know what after you left hours before the inspector came I heard another knock and a bag of money was there, right there where you’re standing. But then I heard a voice say. When the door knocks get up and walk and just as I’m standing now. I’m walking. Praise the Lord for he is good!”
Lou stands and stares not knowing what to say.
“Why you’re stark shivering naked. Come on in. Let me get you some clothes. Are you hungry?”
Lou puts on the clothes that the woman gives him. He ate the soup she. Thanks her and leaves wandering the street.
Then he sees a man strumming a four stringed guitar with a rope tied around his waist pulling a red cart with a midget throwing out cash to the many thankful people following. It’s a sort of eclectic parade. There are people in wheelchairs raising their arms and crying ‘Hosanna!’ There are men and women with Down Syndrome calling out ‘Jesus loves me this I know’ There are hobos in broken top hats singing ‘Praise the Lord!’ There are men with bent bags playing guitar. There are women with missing arms playing bag pipes. They’re a procession of the lame playing the tambourine, lute and lyre all singing at once.
“I love you Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ I love you! Yes I do! Yes I do!”
Lou can’t believe it. A lute player with his head bent to his left shoulder stops playing and walks up to him.
“Do you know Jesus Christ?” He asks.
Lou looks to the ground. “No. No I don’t.” He then picks his head up, police sirens blaring in the background.
“But I feel as though he’s near.”
Lou Martin walks side by side with Joe and George. They walk off the side-walk to approach the next house.