PRAYER FOR A DYING MAN - ERIC BEETNER
Thinking shit through is not my fucking strong suit so forgive me if I tell you that even I think things got a little out of hand. But what’s a man to do when this guy, Luther Soulman (fucking stage name) completely ruins my home? Not my home like my house but as in the Biblical sense, which is how he talks about everything being an evangelist and all, meaning he fucks my wife and steals my money.
He’s clever; I’ll give him that.
First came the wife fucking and she’s just as goddamn implicit in that as he is and I’ll deal with her later after I clean up this mess I got myself into. But his silver fucking tongue talked that stupid vulnerable woman into selling him half the business out of from under me, which was really 51% of the 5-store hardware business that her father left her but that I damn well run day-to-day. Didn’t even sell it to him – GAVE him all 51% of it but not to him to his corporation - LivingJesusMinistry.com Incorporated. Can you beat that? He got off scott free. Nothing I could do about it. Now half the business goes right into his ministry and that fucking Sunday morning talk show Jesus-fest that he’s got over on channel 9.
Not one month after getting the keys to my kingdom does he decide that that hardware business is going ‘in a different direction’ and he squeezes me out. What he means is that the money is going in a different direction, as in not into my pockets but into his. Meanwhile I’m still trying to reason with Carol, trying to get her back in my bed and trying to tell her that Jesus is not coming back any time soon and she should not rid herself of all worldly possessions and she should stop fucking the preacher. All of this she says is God’s will. Making love with Luther, she says, is like making love to the lord. To which I say, ‘So you’re fucking God.’ And then she tells me not to blaspheme and then that’s another two-hour argument and the short story is I moved out last week. Fucking house is in her name too, since her daddy bought it for her.
So, okay fine, I’m not the first guy to get fucked over. Probably not even the first guy that Luther has fucked over. But I am not one to sit idly by and take it and like I said before, I am definitely not big on thinking things through to their full conclusion. That finds me here at half past two a.m. in some field of what kind of crop I can’t tell. Something low-growing and foul smelling although that might be the manure they spread for fertilizer. It’s early spring so these probably just went in not too long ago so in addition to the more obvious crime I have on my hands here, I have ruined some day laborer’s work. Maybe two rows got torn up, fifty feet each I’d say, no big deal. An hour’s work for him to plant, three hours of sweat and cursing the lord’s name for me to trample over.
Look, I don’t drink much. I like to have a beer or two while I’m watching the Daytona 500 or something. I’ll make one Bud light last through an entire football game, so you’ve got to know that earlier, when I went to his house, I was not in the right state of mind because I hadn’t had Jack Daniels since high school – and then I puked it up all over my junior prom date. (Whom I subsequently married and led me into this shit. Never turn your back on a bad omen.)
So when I show up at his house, it’s more of a compound really, he agreed to see me only because I was making such a racket out front he didn’t want his stuck-up white Jesus freak neighbors to hear me keep screaming about how he fucked my wife.
I had a plan but I can’t say I had planned it out. Is that too subtle a distinction for you? You know what I mean. About thirty minutes before, I had driven over to the old rail yard and crawled through the hole in the fence that has been there since I was about 16. We used to break in there to go drinking, which, seriously I didn’t do much of, and make out with girls (which I did).
So I go in and walk right up on two kids having sex such as it was. Two horny teenagers are like two bucking broncos trying to mount each other in the ring at a bull ride. They didn’t notice me at first and he was either doing real good or killing this girl the way she was screaming. They saw me as I passed and I didn’t look back to see which direction they ran.
I found what I was looking for and after considerable effort, despite my trips to the gym, I managed to get them into the car. Two big fat railroad ties. They smelled like tar and got my clothes filthy from carrying them. And shit were they heavy. I felt like that scene in Rocky 2 or Rocky 3 where he’s training by running up hills with big logs tied to him and stuff. Real old school workouts and that Russian dude is all hooked up to machines and stuff but Rocky still kicks his ass. You know the one?
They barely fit in my car and still stuck way out the back hatch so I had to keep a close eye on how wide I could turn which was not easy to do when you’re drunk and not used to being so drunk. I guess if the cops in this town were doing their fucking job then they would have picked me up and I wouldn’t be in this shit now.
So I’m sitting in Luther’s living room in my dirty clothes on his white couch and I can see him just cringe. All the furniture has, like, gold leaf on it and tacky crap like that. For a guy that spends so much time talking about how much he hates gays, he sure does decorate a lot like Liberace.
Well, I say some shit that probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but he gets the drift because, after all, he’s fucking my wife and stealing my business. I get the sense that he’s feeding me some kind of rehearsed dialogue that he’s used a hundred times before so I get pissed, right? I’m staring at this big statue of the Virgin Mary, I mean this thing is three foot high I swear, sitting on the side table behind his head. He’s feeding me this line of total bullshit and I keep expecting laser beams or some shit to come out of her eyes and strike him down, right? Over the fire place is a big picture of Jesus and in my head I’m screaming at him and saying, “Jesus Christ, Jesus! Why don’t you do something about this guy! He’s fucking other men’s wives in your name. If they think they’re fucking you, shouldn’t you at least get laid?”
“Jesus never got laid. Don’t be crude,” Carol used to say.
“I know,” I would counter. “That’s because he’s a character in a book and he gets killed off pretty early on so all the fucking had to be done by other characters because everyone knows you put all the good smut at the end of a book because if people climax too soon they stop reading and just go back over and over the dirty parts.”
She used to huff at me in a way that would kill lesser men.
So there’s Mary not doing a goddamn thing and there’s Jesus looking down at him with some stupid frozen look on his face and I’m thinking, I gotta do something because these fuckers aren’t going to. Well, really what I’m thinking at first is, How do they really know what Jesus looked like? And who poses for these pictures? Does a guy get royalties every time a Jesus picture is sold? Why is it when something good happens it’s a miracle and when something bad happens like a tsunami or earthquake it’s an act of God? Aren’t miracles acts of God too? So, if they’re one in the same, then a tsunami that kills 200,000 people is a miracle!
But the short-term reaction I have is to pick up the Virgin Mary and bash him on the head with it. Which I do.
Now I have a broken Virgin Mary and an unconscious wife-fucking son-of-a-bitch on my hands. I contemplate jerking off on the Virgin Mary statue and saying something like, ‘There! Now who’s a virgin?’ but I decide I don’t have the time.
Getting him into the car was almost as taxing as moving those railroad ties. Carol is having sex with this guy? He’s fifty pounds heavier than me! That will show you what the gift of gab can do for you. Lots more women have been talked into bed than went there because of money or how good a guy dances.
This guy could sell shit to a pig. He had it down on his Sunday morning show. He’d rile up the people and send them into a Jesus-induced euphoria and then, and only then, he’d get to the part about how much he needed their money to help spread The Word. Which, as far as I can tell, meant putting up a website to solicit more money.
I drove out onto Highway 3 because I knew that would take me away from people. I had no idea where it lead to but that’s just the sort of road I was looking for. Luther was coming to in the backseat probably from the smell of tar where his head was leaning on the railroad ties. Tying his hands and feet was a good idea.
I learned something about Luther Soulman in that moment, or in that half hour it took to get out good and far away from any lights; he’s not such a smooth talker when he’s not in control.
“What the fuck are you doing to me? Let me go, you Godless fucker.”
“Now, Luther, I’m pretty sure that cursing is a sin. But really, what isn’t to you people?”
“I know you think you’re being funny but this is a felony. This is kidnapping!”
“What do you call you stealing my wife and my business?”
“I didn’t steal anything. Carol sold me interest through a lawyer. It’s all by the book and if you don’t believe me you can take me to court and find out. I’d love to sic my lawyers on you and have them rip you a new a-hole!”
“Legal definitions aside, isn’t that something you’re going to have to reconcile with your God before you die?”
“Don’t talk about my God. You know nothing about my God! You’re the one who has to worry about Hell fires, not me!”
“I forgot, you can be as big of shithead as you want for your whole life but then all you have to do is apologize on your death bed and you get to go to Heaven, isn’t that right?”
“We’re all sinners. I will confess my sins and receive absolution just as everyone of the faithful will, and in the right time.”
“If I were you, I’d start thinking about what you’re gonna say.”
That shut him up for a while. I assumed he was thinking of ways to escape or thinking about how he was going to wait until just the right instant and then jump me. I didn’t have the radio on so I don’t fault him for needing to occupy his mind.
It had been about five minutes since I’d seen any lights and about ten since a car had passed, so I chose this right here as the spot. I pulled up on the soft shoulder and was careful not to let the car go too far into the gravel for fear of not being able to get it back out. The Jack Daniels had receded now into the back room of my brain to rough up my vision and my stomach. I paused as I got out of the car to see if I was going to throw up or not but it passed soon enough. I saw it as a preview of tomorrow morning but that’s still a long way off.
I went to the hatch first and dragged out the first of the railroad ties. It fell off the back bumper with a crash and this prompted a steady stream of obscenities and hollering from Luther than I dare not repeat but would make you blush hearing them come out of the mouth of a man of God. Engaging in dialogue with him at this point seemed a fruitless affair, plus his shouting was giving me a headache so it was best to stay away from direct proximity of his bellowing.
I crossed the second fifty feet, tearing up low plants as the butt end of the railroad tie gouged the brown, smelly soil. I thunked it down on top of the first tie and could see my makeshift cross for the first time. If I had carving tools I could have made it properly but that all goes to not thinking ahead. Plus, who has the time to really carve wood? I had brought the hammer. That much I planned for.
I used my foot to kick around the tie balancing on top so that it was more or less squared up with the other, then I went back to get Luther. He had calmed down a little, or maybe had just realized that no one was going to hear him all the way out here. I’ll give him credit, he was quiet from here on out. Praying to himself, I suspect. He had a lot to think about right then and there. A lot to reconcile. I kept away from his feet, which could still kick out at me. I was very leery of giving him that perfect chance to lash out and overtake me and maybe even turn the tables. When I had dragged him over to the cross, more or less walking the path of a ditch I had already carved out, I dropped him heavy in the dirt and took a moment to catch my breath. As I sucked in the manure I could see that his eyes were closed asking for absolution. It must have been a long damn list.
I tried breathing through my mouth only but the smell was already in my nostrils and caked to my lungs. This time I did throw up. I was glad to get any of the Jack that might not yet be absorbed by my body out onto the dirt. Surely if cow shit made plants grow this couldn’t do it any harm. One good heave and I was done and I had that euphoric rush that you get right after you puke so it made my task easier for a few minutes. I used that adrenaline to take my precautions before untying his hands. I walked six steps over to Luther and, his eyes still closed, hit him in the jaw with the hammer. He didn’t go out like a light but lay there on his back, stunned and in pain. He coughed and choked like a fat guy in a restaurant who needs the Heimlich. Two big hacks and a tooth that had been clogging his windpipe flew about two feet out of his mouth and got lost in the dirt.
I undid the ropes around his hands and was a little surprised he couldn’t have done it himself with my shitty knots. He groaned a little as I dragged him through the cow shit and laid his hands on the cross. I dug into my side cargo-pants pocket and got out the nails. Not thinking ahead meant that I had not imagined what this moment would be like and whether I would be squeamish or not. Turns out not as I set the nails in the center of his palm and whacked without hesitation. One shot and it went all the way through to the wood. I kind of thought it would give a little more resistance. A second whack and it was deep into the wood and the blood was pooled in the cup of his hand.
There was a haze around him as he tried to cry out in pain but I guess the pain in his hand was not as bad as the shattered jaw that would have burned like fire if he had opened his maw in a giant howl.
Speechless. I made him speechless. Now that’s an accomplishment.
The other hand went just as well. Two hammer hits and then a third for safety. The two railroad ties rocked and bucked underneath him. It would have been better to do it like the Romans and really make this thing official but why go to all the trouble when who’s really gonna see it but some migrant worker, his boss and the sheriff.
It’s entirely possible and more than likely that the worker in this corner of the field is Mexican. That would mean it was a good bet that he was Catholic. Now can you imagine when he returns to see his field all cut up but before he can curse the bastard who did it, he sees a fella crucified!?He’d probably drop to his knees and thank Jesus for the sign, then he’d return to his family back in Yucatan and tell them the tale of how he was visited by Jesus in the fields and Jesus told him to go back and plant his own crops and they would be nourished by the blood of Jesus Christo! Now imagine his surprise when he plants three acres of soybeans and they all die in the hot Mexican desert because there is no Jesus and even if there was he certainly ain’t stopping by for a visit in your field today. Now you have a guy who walked away from a decent paying job in the States and ruined his family by wasting all their money on a false prophet. Goddammit, Luther; that’s two people’s lives you ruined.
Nailing through his feet was a damn sight harder, a big part of which was the fact that my nails weren’t long enough. That’s when I started to have doubts about the validity of this plan. What exactly had I hoped to accomplish out here? The cross is way too heavy for me to ever try to stand up. The two railroad ties aren’t even attached to one another anyway. Now I got a guy who is severely injured but still days away from death who thinks that he’s made peace with his God because he apologized for his sins. He’s not even scared! He’s just waiting to be taken home to the Promise Land.
It took two nails and I bent a third, which I pulled out causing a small bubbling over of blood that looked like the opening of the Beverly Hillbillies. Of course that was black and white but, really, standing here in the light of my cars headlights, the blood is almost black.
I really do appreciate how quiet he is being. He rolls his head from side to side. I’m sure it hurts like hell. Now my work is done and I’ve run up against the limit to my thinking ahead. What happens now? I wasn’t thinking of the hangover when I kept going back to that whiskey bottle. I wasn’t thinking of this moment now when I stole those railroad ties. I guess I thought it would be funny. Shit, this is probably how he wanted to go. I’ll go home and clean up and then this weekend I’ll sit and watch as the donations pour in in record numbers for the lost soul of Luther Soulman. I’ve created a martyr. Of course that’s if he dies. If he doesn’t, then it’s worse maybe. Sure he can I.D. me and I’ll go to jail but think of how much more powerful he’ll be if he stands up in the pulpit and tells about how he himself was crucified. That’s not a martyr – that’s a Goddamn messiah!
So, okay, thinking ahead. Get in the car. Drive back to town. Turn the radio on this time to get your mind off it. Go see Carol. That broken Virgin Mary statue gives me an idea or two. The rest will work itself out.
BIO: Eric’s crime novel One Too Many Blows To The Head, co-written with JB Kohl, is available for purchase. Check out Eric Beetner, Author for more information.