The greens coursing through my system gave me pause and a gentle updraft, which I rode backstage next to the suddenly-chattering girl beside me.
She had important plot points to offer. I had a fresh knife-wound that had recently fallen silent.
Silence was good.
The Reverend stood deep in discussion with a spindly little manchild with big headphones and an even bigger clipboard.
The area was devoid of any sermon attendees apart from the four women currently struggling to cart off the dead keyboardist on a wheelbarrow. I watched them for a moment before going up to the dude with headphones and shaking his hand.
“I should scram,” he said, shooting a mildly nervous glance at the Reverend.
“Stay, man!” I continued to pump magnanimously. “Things oughta get interesting soon!”
“Scram,” said the Reverend, and then my hand was holding thin air. “You’ve got fifteen minutes.”
“So then. Why do you look familiar?”
“Might’ve caught my face on the news, dude. I helped crack a high profile-”
“Not you, doofus. I know you.” Except instead of ‘doofus’ the Reverend used my given name. “Never a good idea to put your face in the public domain, especially next to the people you’re putting behind bars. I was talking to her.”
“My dad was in the force during your reportage days, Ma’am. Used to speak very highly of your bylines. Also the time you torched a police bike and he made the arrest.”
“You’re Inspector So-and-So’s daughter?” except instead of So-and-So the Reverend used an incredibly offensive sobriquet. “How quickly you’ve grown, -”
I leaned in to finally hear my saviour’s name. There were three syllables. There was a distant clatter that sounded like a wheelbarrow being upturned in a ditch.
I caught nothing.
“So then, doofus- oh, don’t give me that look. So then, Jimmy, something tells me you’re not here for an academic discussion. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“A few of your acquaintances dropped by this afternoon,” I said. “I was hospitable but they left in a hurry. One of them dropped something.”
“Ah, yes.” The Reverend fished out the remaining joint from the cigar case. “Is this about the unfortunate choice of roach materials?”
“You’re awfully astute for a Godman.”
“And you’re digging a hole you might not be able to vault out of, boy.” She handed me the J and slid the cigar-case up her sleeve in the same fluid motion. I sat gaping like an idiot. “I knew Vrinda and I know Bharadwaj. You’re an idiot if you think you’re helping either.”
“It’s funny how everybody keeps referring to her in the past tense.”
“Do you even know if she ever existed, Jimmy? Got any pictures to show people while your investigative montage is playing? And why do you think Bharadwaj roams free right now?”
“Because they couldn’t get the charges to stick,” I said, louder than I’d intended. “And he deserves to know, dammit. Is justice reserved only for the photogenic?”
“Nice word, photogenic.” The Reverend pulled a cigarette with the same gesture that claimed the cigar case. “Here’s another one I really like: furlough. And here’s one that goes wonderfully with doofus: homework. Maybe do yours next time?”
“What do you mean?” The girl asked. I was still too busy gaping.
“Ask your old friend. Or his new favourite bird. Or better yet, ask the man whose own landlord thinks he’s a killer.”
I’d stood up without realizing. I was suddenly sober, suddenly in possession of a bum leg, suddenly in the midst of an interrogation I was ill-prepared for.
“Leave him be,” said the Reverend. “The man with the cigar case might have been on my payroll, once upon a time, but he wasn’t supposed to have the damn thing on him. And I sure as shit didn’t order the scramble on doofus over here.”
“What, and we’re just supposed to accept your word?”
“No, Jimmy. You’re supposed to go get your facts straight. Your friend and I have some catching up to do.”
“Well, it has been forever,” admitted the girl. “Give me fifteen minutes?”
“Why the hell not?” I stood up, mock-bowed to the Reverend, and walked out into the cool evening air before she could realize her lighter was gone.
-The Reverend tore you a new one.
Mandy places a small bouquet of yellow roses at my bedside, as if in commiseration. I briefly wonder if a near total loss of sync with my surroundings is worth the lack of pain.
Then I wonder if I am fixating on a drugged-out marathon that I should’ve left behind by now.
-Thanks for the flowers.
-You know, I’ve been wondering.
-Buy me dinner, too, just to be on the safe side.
Mandy doesn’t quite look at me.
-Funny. This is Sunday evening at the old amphitheater we’re talking about, isn’t it?
-More or less.
-We picked up three men from the adjacent building that evening. Coked out of their gourds, all former members of the Reverend’s organization.
-So one of them matched the description of one of your assailants. Minus the facial hair and more or less incoherent, but
-Probably just a coincidence.
-You are absolutely sure you met none of the intruders again after Sunday morning?
-Would I lie to you, Mandy?
-Because we never recovered any containers or coke apart from some residue on a counter. And one of them kept babbling about a marathon man and open windows.
-Common breed on campus, marathon men. Especially that Early in the race.
-They were in a restroom on the second floor with no access point. The only skylight was at least seven feet above the floor with no possible foothold in the vicinity.
-Sounds more like a vanishing man, then.
-I remember wondering how a telecom billboard between the amphitheater and the building could be torn so neatly down the middle.
-Maybe someone got sick of call dropping and opted for dropkicks instead.
-You crazy bastard.
We sit and smell the roses.
-I’m sure it was a smashed grab, I finally offer. Whoever went in there probably hadn’t seen snow before. Maybe they just did a couple of lines for the heck of it and acted on instinct when they heard the latch break.
-A deathwish is no instinct to follow, Jimmy.
-This conversation is veering too far from dinner for my liking.
-It’s not evening yet. Speaking of which – your companion that evening. The one whose name you couldn’t recall.
-What about her?
-Was she the one who testified regarding your whereabouts? After that thing with the Crow?
-Maybe. Why do you ask?
-Two reasons. First: her name is in the case files. Her dad was a legend on the force. It is safe to assume I know her, so you can stop with the horrible attempts at misdirection.
-I’ll take that under consideration. And second?
-Second, she’s waiting in the lobby right now.
-It’s okay, don’t bother getting up. I’ll just bring her upstairs.
-Oh, no you won’t!
But Mandy’s already gone.