26. I’d much rather be a reverend in blue jeans

Neil Diamond—Forever in Blue Jeans

Some people think of me as obsessed and argumentative, perhaps pathologically so. But I’m not obsessed, nor really that argumentative, in the sense of a person who loves to argue and seeks out arguments, and never wants them to end. Instead, what I am is relentless.

Often, I really don’t know when to stop, continuing a discussion long after other participants are weary, and running down the very last detail of a boring story despite the glassy looks of my audience. I know only too well that this relentlessness can be a problem, for myself and for others.

To give you an example, I once worked at a big company, in the mid to late ‘90s, and was part of an effort to build the company’s, and the industry’s, first web application. I not only did the documentation for the product but also assisted with the design and business analysis. The product was a success, and our director asked, “What’s the next big thing?”

An emerging concept around this time was the web portal. New sites like CNN and Yahoo! were starting to bundle together lots of information, making it easy to access, and drawing huge numbers of viewers. The idea of a giant resource hosting all kinds of information rather than a single-purpose website was new and enticing, and as the decade grew older, portals such as MSN, Lycos, and Excite were giving traditional websites a run for their money.

The product group decided that we should build a web portal, and the buzz around this budding idea reached the president of the company. At a conference, the president strode up to me and asked, “What is a web portal and why do I need one?” I explained as best I could what we were planning; he nodded and walked away. He green-lighted the project and gave us a budget of $800K, lots more money at the end of the ’90s than it is now.

I was assigned to work with the product marketing guy to hammer out the design for the portal. We produced proposal after proposal, but the VP of Marketing turned them all down. After nine months of this, it was obvious the guy had no notion of what he wanted. Like art, he only knew he hadn’t seen it yet. My marketing counterpart brought up the idea of killing the project and turning the money back in. I was initially totally opposed this idea. I don’t quit. I’m relentless. But eventually, after more ideas got rejected, I agreed it was useless to struggle further. We met with the VP and said, “We think the money should be used on something else. Perhaps next year we’ll be able to agree on what a company portal would look like.”

That was a valuable lesson for me. Sometimes you do really need to give up. But it’s really not in my nature.

Another example: In high school biology class, the teacher gave us an in-class assignment. We were to take these cut up pieces of paper and, working together without words, assemble them into a square. The teacher divided us into two groups and gave each a box full of pieces.

My group struggled mightily to fit the pieces together, but it wasn’t happening. Suddenly, a member of the other group, the student council president, started gesturing that we should combine our pieces. I refused to consider this, and held out, feverishly trying to solve the puzzle, until the others deserted me and merged our pieces with the other group’s. Sure enough, all the pieces were from a larger square, and we had solved the problem, which was to cooperate. My relentlessness had obstructed progress.

I’ve tried to learn from these and other examples of counterproductive relentlessness, but it’s hopeless. I will pursue a goal until long after it’s obviously futile. This trait is both the key to my success—running down every detail for a corporate white paper—and an obstacle. It’s a form of perfectionism, and I often remind myself of a famous aphorism, originally from the 17th century Italian, “Il meglio è nemico del bene” (The better is enemy of the good), later popularized by Voltaire as “better is the enemy of good” and now usually expressed as “Perfect is the enemy of good.”

You see how I am?

It’s a brilliant Miami afternoon and Charles and Chip are shooting the shit in the man cave and watching Casablanca for umpty-ninth time. The sun shines through the slats of the first-floor deck, drawing a slow-moving black and light shadow pattern on the hard floor of the room. Chip seems to be in a funk: no boisterous laughter, no good-natured ribbing, just quieter, energy-less, as if something is weighing on his mind. Charles barely notices. He’s waiting for his friend to bring up his latest World article. For some reason, he wants Chip to bring it up and stubbornly waits, stewing. As the afternoon wears on, he gets more and more pissed. After an hour or so of watching the movie and talking about Bogie and Bacall, Charles can’t stand it anymore.

“So, did you see my article in the World?”

“Yes, I did,” Chip says coyly.

“Well?”

“That’s a deep subject for a shallow mind,” Chip says as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

“Well, you tool, what did you think of it?”

“I think it was right on the mark. You are relentless. You don’t quit. You don’t give up, even when I’ve so very obviously bested you in an argument. You’re a bulldog, it’s true.”

Charles says, “Wait, when have you ever bested me in an argument?”

“Well, boyo, just being the last person to say something doesn’t mean you’ve won an argument. Often, I grow tired of your bullshit and just shut up. You’re like the S.S. Relentless, or better, the Titanic—bam, bash, right into the iceberg, again and again and again.”

Charles is shocked and angered by Chip’s accusations. He studies his friend’s face. He has noticed over the last few weeks that Chip’s not his usual rosy self. His typically jolly expression is missing, and he looks tired and tense. Something must be bugging him, Charles thinks. Maybe that’s why he’s being so harsh on me. Charles sits and for a minute can’t think of anything to say.

“But I love you anyway, you big lug,” Chip says, jumping to his feet and coming over to Charles’s couch to wrap him in a bear hug. Which Charles hates, and always has. Charles struggles to break free of the embrace, but he’s no match for Chip’s strength and so he just goes limp. Chip plants a big kiss on Charles’s cheek and releases him.

“Oh, gross! You slobbering fool!” Despite his embarrassment, Charles is touched by Chip’s show of affection. This does not prevent his entire face from becoming beet red. He thinks, God, he’s acting strangely. Should I ask him what’s up? Chip is staring impassively at the TV, idly munching on Dorito after Dorito.

Finally, Charles says, “What’s up, big guy? You don’t seem yourself today.”

“Whom do I seem like?” Chip says, barely glancing at Charles.

“Like a Chip who’s got something on his mind,” Charles says.

“Like this chip?” Chip holds up a Dorito glistening with Velveeta.

“C’mon, man. Something’s eating you. You want to share?”

“Not really. Let’s change the subject.” Chip slouches down on the couch and crosses his arms across his chest.

Charles at first is at a loss to come up with something to talk about. It doesn’t seem like Chip wants to talk about the World article. Finally, he thinks about an article idea he got recently.

“OK, says Charles. “You want a new subject, here’s one. What’s the best song about masturbation?”

Chip says almost immediately, “‘I Touch Myself,’ by Divinyls. Hot chick. Always re­minded me of Peggy Bundy from Married…with Children.” Chip stirs on the couch to face Charles. He looks interested, and a little less gloomy, if not exactly cheerful.

“Yeah, that’s a good one. Kinda blatant. The king of blatant beat-off songs in my book is ‘My Ding-a-Ling’ by Chuck Berry: ‘every time the bell would ring / You’d catch me playing with my ding-a-ling.’ So Pavlovian. I prefer stroke songs that kinda flew under the radar, like ‘She Bop’ by Cindy Lauper.”

“Also good,” Chip says. “But, shit, the lyrics are, ‘Hey, hey, they say I better get a chaperone, / Because I can’t stop messin’ with the danger zone.’ So only kinda subtle.”

“Yup. But ask the average person, and they won’t know it’s about rubbing one out.”

“Hey, a great blatant one is ‘Darling Nikki,’” Chip says. “That’s about as upfront as any song: ‘masturbating with a magazine.’”

“You’re right. Prince was always right up front about sex. I think one of the most obvious stroke songs was from the Buzzcocks. After all, they’re a band named after a dildo, and their epic, ‘Orgasm Addict’ features the classic lyric, ‘You get in a heat, you get in a sulk / But you still keep a-beating your meat to pulp.’ They actually make orgasmic grunts instead of a bridge. Anyway, the reason I’m interested in self-abuse songs is I’m thinking of writing a column on the subject of subliminal masturbation.”

“That seems like an oxymoron, you moron!” Chip shows a little more life.

“Funny. Not. But I’m looking for songs that are subtle, that fly under the radar. Like the Who’s ‘Pictures of Lily.’”

“Wait. That was about yanking the crank?” Chip is warming to the topic.

“Sure. Let’s see.” Charles pulls out his phone. “Here you go:

I used to wake up in the morning
I used to feel so bad
I got so sick of having sleepless nights
I went and told my dad

He said, son now here’s some little something
And stuck them on my wall
And now my nights ain’t quite so lonely
In fact I, I don’t feel bad at all
I don’t feel so bad at all”

Chip whooshed his hand over his head. “Totally missed that one. Cool! So ‘Dancing with Myself’ is too obvious, right?”

“Yeah, plus it’s Billy Idol. Billy Idol only belongs on only one ‘Best of’ list: Best Sneer. Even better than Elvis.”

“Them thar’s some fightin’ werds, bucko!” Chip is an Elvis freak. “Hmm, did Elvis ever do a masturbatory song, I wonder?”

“I don’t think Presley did, but Elvis Costello did do ‘Pump it Up,’ which might have something to do with masturbation. It’s hard to tell. Could be about just about anything. Could be about a blow-up girl, like The Police’s ‘Be My Girl’ was. Anyway, Elvis himself said it was about drugs and his band.”

Chip nods. “In the blatant category is Thomas Dolby’s ‘The Key to Her Ferrari.’ You ever hear that one? I went through a serious Thomas Dolby phase. It’s about coming at 100 miles an hour, all over the seat. Friends don’t let friends drive with their dick in their hand.”

Charles laughs and pantomimes driving and yanking. “Yeah, then there’s ‘Blister in the Sun’. It’s a bit oblique, but it seems obvious how he stains his sheets, although it could be an alimentary problem.”

“Alimentary, my dear Flotsam.” Chip chuckles at his corny joke. Charles feels good that the discussion is cheering up his friend.

“Then there’s Devo’s ‘Praying Hands’,” Chip says, “where the guy may be using both hands to do himself, or he could be jacking off while diddling his lover.”

“Don’t know that one. Was never a big Devo fan. OK, here’s a more-subtle one: ‘Turn­ing Japanese!’” Charles squinches up his eyes, opens his mouth wide, and pumps his fist over his crotch. “Not particularly PC, though,” he says. “But it could make the list.”

The two sit for a couple of minutes trying to think of more songs. “‘Spank Thru’ by Nirvana?” Chip says.

“Too obvious,” Charles says, turning to his phone. “I’m just gonna Google it. Hmmm. Janet Jackson’s ‘If?’ Don’t know that one, but it’s subtle: ‘How many nights I’ve laid in bed excited over you / I’ve closed my eyes and thought of us a hundred different ways / I’ve gotten there so many times I wonder how ‘bout you.’ That works. Nice to get some diversity in there. Hmmm, here’s a highbrow group going down and dirty: ‘Billy Liar’ by The Decemberists. But unfortunately, it’s pretty blatant: ‘hands in his pockets / Staring over at the neighbor’s, knickers down.’ So, no.”

Charles scrolls a bit more. “Oh, ick! Britney Spears!? ‘The more I come to understand the touch of my hand / The small of my back / The arch of my feet / Lately I’ve been noticing the beautiful me / I’m all in my skin and I’m not gonna wait / I’m into myself in a most precious way.’ Ugh. Not on my list! Let’s see, here’s a Bjork song; not gonna do it. Madonna? Not a chance. The Pixies? Too depressing. Yuck! ‘The Stroke,’ Billy Squier—awful and blatant, oh, and 38 Special, ‘Hold On Loosely’—not on my watch! Atlanta Rhythm Section ‘Imaginary Lover’—yes! That’s a keeper!”

“Are you almost done?”

“Yes, yes, oh yes, yes, yes, yes!” Charles shoots Chip a wry smile. Chip just shakes his head. “Actually,” Charles says, “I think I just thought of the most subtle wank song ever: Jackson Browne’s ‘Rosie’ from Running on Empty.

“Huh? That’s about a groupie, although you could make the case that rock stars’ use of groupies is masturbatory.”

“It’s only partially about a groupie. Let me get the lyrics up. Here. You know the refrain:

Rosie, you’re all right
(You wear my ring)
When you hold me tight
(Rosie, that’s my thing)
When you turn out the light
(I got to hand it to me)
It looks like it’s me and you again tonight, Rosie

“But what you fail to hear is a line that precedes this. At the beginning of the song, Jackson gets Rosie a backstage pass, but: ‘when they walked off stage / You know, the drummer swept that girl away.’ Jackson loses Rosie in the first verse! He’s singing to his hand, your famous Madame Hand, Rosie Palm! ‘You wear my ring’—he yanks left-handed or has a ring on his right. ‘Rosie, that’s my thing’—yeah, your ding-a-ling. ‘I got to hand it to me’ Oh, wonderful! This is the centerpiece of my article! Yasss!”

Chip nods in grudging admiration. “Well, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that song and didn’t catch that. Nicely done. Now, what’s the point of this article?”

“Wankers abound!”

“Wow. That’ll make the front page of the World, easy!”

“OK, smart guy, how many times have you seen articles on masturbation in a daily newspaper?”

“Uh, probably never.”

“Right. So, I got that going for me. But even better, since the context is music lyrics, I’m going to try to present the self-gratification urge as a case of misheard lyrics, your self mishearing the song of the procreative urge.”

“Hah?” Chip looks confused. “Come again?”

“Ah! I see what you did there!” Charles laughs. “Maybe I can work that into the article: Masturbation is mankind mishearing something the Universe said and saying, ‘Come again?’ But I will explain in simple terms that a guy like you can understand.”

“Oh, I would be most grateful, Master Bates,” Chip sneers.

“Sit at my feet and learn, acolyte.” Chip rolls his eyes. “So, you’re familiar with Whit­man’s ‘I Sing the Body Electric,’ right?” Chip nods and makes a “No, duh” face.

“Well, I think that poem is about wanking, at least partly. Dig: ‘The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them / They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them.’ Walt was getting busy with these armies, engirthing and whatnot.”

“Oh, you can’t be serious! That poem was groundbreaking in its celebration of the worth of the body, and of people, and disputing the common feeling that the body was corrupt, and the soul was pure.”

“Take it easy, sāmaṇera! I’m just talking about the opening lines and the fact that Whitman in later stanzas lists the features of bodies in a way that sounds masturbatory. So, if I take this poem’s title literally—Whitman’s singing; it’s a song—it’s another case of the listener not hearing the meaning properly—mishearing lyrics, in other words. Similarly, onanism can be seen as the body mishearing the procreative urge and, rather than getting busy with another human, as the urge intends, turns inward and whacks off.”

“OK, OK, I get your premise. Just leave Whitman out of it!”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. It’s a bit too esoteric for my audience. But do you get what I’m saying?” Chip nods reluctantly. “Add in many religions’ prohibition of mas­turbation, upon pain of sin or even banishment—you remember my John Mittney chapter, right?—and the whole subject of self-love gets all tangled up in shame and repression. Yet, as in our song discussion just now, masturbation still pokes through in art.”

“You did not just say ‘pokes through’ Obvious Boy!” Chip smacks his forehead in disgust.

Charles chuckles. “I did, and I meant it! So, we have two ways in which messages are misheard: We mishear our body’s urge to make babies, and we mishear, or fail to hear, masturbatory messages in the lyrics we discussed. It’s similar in literature. Sometimes these messages are blatant, as in Portnoy’s Complaint, which was totally scandalous in its time for even discussing masturbation.”

“You make a good point there, for a change,” Chip says, finally feeling comfortable as the discussion turns to an area of his expertise. “In pre-modern literature, it was scandalous to discuss the physical act of love, but discussing self-love was beyond scandalous, although there were veiled references as far back as medieval literature. Fanny Hill was written in the mid-1700s, and is pretty explicit, and is the first porn novel in English. But it really wasn’t until the 20th century that novelists dared write openly about beating off. Even though Joyce had Bloom pull his pud in Ulysses, he dressed it up with so many metaphors that you might not have even noticed. Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers is one big wank. And Faulkner’s protagonist in As I Lay Dying literally gets blown by the wind!”

“All good material for my article! That last bit gives new meaning to ‘the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind!’ Anyway, I want to mix religion into the article as well. It seems like all religions are based on misheard lyrics from the universal song, stuff we can’t quite hear right and thus misinterpret. Or, like Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ we just pick out parts we like and interpret them wrong. Have you ever really listened to that song?”

“Sure,” Chip says. “It’s a stone bummer: ‘Down in the shadow of the penitentiary / Out by the gas fires of the refinery / I’m ten years burning down the road / Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go.’ You show that verse to a hundred people and 99 of ‘em couldn’t identify the song.”

“That’s what I’m talking about. Humanity has a hearing problem. They hear the chorus, but not the verse. And perhaps the biggest thing they’re not hearing clearly is the message from the Universe.”

The two men sit in silence, drinking their beers. Although Chip had cheered up some­what during the first part of their conversation, his gloomy mood returned with this left turn into Springsteen’s bummer song. Chip begins thinking about his calling and his religion. Could I have misheard the message? Misheard the call? I have to admit, there are a lot of parts of Methodism that I don’t think make sense, where what I think is right is at odds with what my religion teaches. Could it be that I have wasted my life? Is Charles not a deluded man who has wandered away from faith but instead a clearer thinker than I am? Chip looks over at his friend, who is staring out the glass sliding doors, obviously furiously thinking about his article. Charles sees him looking and says, “Sorry, I was just writing the article in my head.”

Chip gets up and says, “I need another beer. You?” Charles turns his head, distracted, nods and resumes staring out the sliding glass doors. Chip grabs two beers, hands one to Chip and says, “I need some air. I’m going out to the backyard.” Charles, still intensely thinking, just grunts, and Chip pulls the sliding door and steps outside. He walks around the pool and down the slope toward the ancient sinkhole. He stops and turns around, walking back to the garage from which he emerges carrying a quart of motor oil. He unlatches the gate to the chain link safety fence that surrounds the sink­hole, walks to its lip, opens the oil, and pours it into the water several feet below. Then he sits on the edge of the hole, swatting mosquitos, drinking beer, and pondering his life.

After half an hour, Charles comes out to join him. “What’s up with you, Chip?” he says.

“Nothing. I’m just tired I think.” Charles sees the empty motor oil bottle and asks, “What’s the deal with this?”

“Hmmm?” Chip says distractedly. “Oh, it’s for the skeeters.” Chip points at the water at the bottom of the sinkhole. “The stinkers breed in any standing water, so I periodically pour a quart of oil in the hole. Keeps ‘em from breeding. Kills the larvae.” Chip stares glumly into the hole.

“Ah! Interesting. Say, with this sinkhole and all, aren’t you afraid your house is going to sink?”

“Nah. This parsonage was built in 1922 and the hole had been around probably for decades before that. It’s stable. The only pain is, I have to maintain this fence around it that keeps the dogs, the toddlers, and the stupid from falling in.” Chip waves his arm to indicate the rusty chain link fence which has periodic bright patches where it obviously has been mended.

Chip seems so gloomy. Charles is getting more and more worried. “You sure you don’t want to tell me what’s bugging you?”

“Nah. I’m OK. Just a little low.” Chip grimaces. “I’ll be OK.”

Trixie comes out onto the deck and says, “Chip, come in and get dressed for the wake.”

“Ah, shit,” Chip says to Charles. “I forgot Old Man Keeler’s wake. Nuts. Smell you later, buddy.”

“OK,” Charles says. “Call if you need to.” Chip gives Charles a hug and walks up the hill to get ready to go.

The next afternoon, Trixie calls Charles. “Charles, it’s Chip. He’s been arrested!” Trixie’s voice is quivering and hoarse, as if she’d been crying for some time.

“Oh, my god, Trixie! What happened? Why?”

“They arrested him on . . . weapons charges!” Trixie begins to sob. Charles is boggled by the news.

“Weapons charges? Chip’s never owned or even shot a gun, has he?”

Trixie blows her nose and tries to calm herself. “Charles, when he saw the cop cars pull up in front of the house, Chip told me he had been collecting guns from gangbangers for a gun buyback program that his buddy, Pastor Dabrezil, from Haitian Immanuel Baptist, got him involved with. Neither of them knew it was a scam. He said it was apparently run by a crooked cop out of Miami Gardens. Dabrezil got roped in by the pastor at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. That fuckin’ cop was selling the guns to the Haitian Batay Ouvriye militants. Oh, Charles, Chip’s in so much trouble!”

“OK, Trixie, let’s try to be rational here. So, Chip told you all this?” Trixie says yes in a very small voice. “OK, so that’s what happened. And if so, then Chip and Dabrezil and the Antioch pastor are patsies. They’ll just get their hands slapped, maybe not even go to trial.”

“They will? You really think so?”

“Yes, I do. Think of the headlines if the cops jail three pastors who were only trying to get guns off the streets. They were duped. It’s the cop who will go away for a long time.”

“What if they don’t catch the cop?”

“Well, let’s just not go there. Where’s Chip now?”

“He’s at the Pre-Trial Detention Center downtown. We can see him at 5:30.”

“OK, good. So, I’ll come over now and sit with you, and then later, we’ll go see him together.”

Charles hangs up and drives over to the parsonage to console Trixie. On the way he thinks, so that’s why Chip has been acting so weird lately. I’ll bet the package Chip took over to Emmanuel that night we had pizza was guns. And that day we played basketball at the church, I’ll bet that package I saw Chip take from the guy in the car was a gun. Jeez, Chip, what did you get yourself into?

By the time Charles and Trixie arrived at the detention center, Trixie was a basket case. I’d never believe that Trixie could ever be so emotional, Charles thinks. She’s always so no-nonsense and in charge. I would have thought she’d have stormed on down to the center and kicked some ass. He glances at Trixie who is clenching her fists, digging her fingernails into her palms, very obviously trying to keep it together. “It’ll be OK, Trixie. We’ll get him out of this.”

Trixie looks at him and says softly, “I hope you’re right.”

After waiting a half an hour, Trixie and Charles are ushered into the visitation room. Cripes, this looks like a cliché out of some bad cop movie, Charles thinks. Smudged glass and telephone receivers on armored cables. They sit down just as Chip is led into the cubicle. He turns and thanks the guard, who smiles and slaps him five. Charles sits down smiling but as he turns to see Trixie, his face falls. He lifts the receiver. Trixie grabs at the receiver and fumbles it, causing it to knock loudly against the glass as it falls to the ledge below. She picks it up and says, “Oh, Chip,” before bursting into tears. Charles decides it will be best if he turns around while the two talk, or rather, while Chip talks and Trixie mostly cries. Eventually, Trixie says, “He wants to talk with you.”

Charles hugs Trixie and takes the phone. Trying to keep it light, Charles says, “Looks like you’re making friends in there.”

“Oh, Clyde? He’s actually an old friend and a former church member. But, yeah, you know I’m always friendly and glad to meet new people. I talked with several people in the holding cell. Might have a couple of new counseling clients when they get out.”

“So how are you holding up?”

“Fair to middlin’. Actually, kind of relieved.”

“Huh?”

“Yes, you may have noticed that I’ve been, ah, a little testy recently?”

“Yes, especially yesterday. Did you see this coming?”

“Kinda. Pastor Dabrezil got suspicious the last time he met with Patrolman Beaugelove Dajuste two days ago. The guy seemed bugged and jittery and said that he couldn’t reimburse us for the guns for a while—we were fronting $75 a pop, to coin a phrase. Agwé, that’s Pastor Dabrezil’s first name, called the Miami Gardens police station to enquire and found they didn’t have a gun buyback program. Agwé called me yesterday and told me the cops were real interested in what he told them, and he wouldn’t be surprised if we heard from them. Well, we did. And now I’m here.”

“By the holy old dynamiting Jesus!”

“Hey, good one. I’ve never heard that oath.”

“It’s from Nova Scotia. You don’t want to know how I came to hear it. But seriously, they can’t actually think a bunch of pastors was running a gun ring.”

“Well, they probably will realize that, but for the moment, I’m stuck in the slammer. And I don’t have any money for a lawyer, so I’ll have to have a public defender.”

“I can’t see this going to trial.”

“Well, the cops told me they can’t find that fucker, Dajuste, whom I never met. Without him, they’ve got a trio of pastors to take the fall.”

“But think of the bad press.”

“That didn’t stop them from crucifying that Haitian Pastor in West Palm Beach who left his wife for her best friend. It was all over the news. And this would be juicier: ‘Pastor Gang Sells Guns to Haitian Militants.’ I just don’t know why I was so stupid. I just took Agwé at his word that we were helping a legitimate buyback program. There were so many red flags: the Miami guns were going to Miami Gardens, not Miami. We were turning them in via another pastor who was giving them to a cop. I never thought of checking to see if Miami Gardens was doing a buyback. Last time they did one, it was all over the news. I’m an idiot!”

“Well, you’re in the faith business. You always think the best about anyone you meet. You shouldn’t be hard on yourself. Look, I’m going to help. I’m going to find that pig-fucker Dajuste.”

“Hey, Sgt. Friday, hold your horses! Leave that to the authorities. Since this thing in­volves another country—the guns are going to Haiti—the feds will be all over it soon unless I miss my guess. You’ve been watching too much TV.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m going to help. I’ve got some ideas how Dajuste might have been getting the guns out of the country and back to Haiti. I’ve got your back.”

“Take care of Trixie for me, will you?” Chip looks older than when Charles arrived. His usually cheerful face is sagging, the façade of sunniness gone.

“You can count on it, amigo. When do you think you’ll get out on bail?”

“They said maybe tomorrow. I’m seeing the judge at 10 am. The big question will be if I can afford the bond.”

“I’m positive I can raise the bond by talking to a few church members. Don’t worry about that.”

Chip nods, and signals to the bailiff. He blows a kiss to Trixie, who had quit crying and was sitting straight and stoic in her chair, wiping her eyes.

 

The next day, Charles drove Trixie to the bail hearing. Bail was granted at $10,000. Charles put the $1,000 bond on his credit card; Chip was released and the three of them drove back to Chip and Trixie’s house. After getting his friends settled in, Charles took off, driving to a nearby coffee shop to use the Wi-Fi.

OK, let’s find this bastard on social media, Charles thinks, bringing up Google and plugging in the officer’s name. Just as I suspected, there’s not a lot of Beaugelove Dajustes in the world. I got him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. On Facebook, Dajuste’s interests include the Haitian rum Barbencourt. In addition, he follows the rum’s page and posts there quite often. Hmmm. He also belongs to four Barbencourt groups and raves about the liquor on all of them. Seems to be quite the Barbencourt head. That stuff’s made in Haiti. Who’s bringing it into Miami, I wonder?

After some more digging, Charles discovers that the local distributor of Barbencourt is located in, of all places, Miami Gardens. What are the chances, Charles thinks. A big boat comes in from Haiti with Barbencourt and leaves with cases of wine for the tourist trade that have the odd pistol inside. It could work that way. Let’s see if we can find out who works at the distributor. Charles opens LinkedIn and types in Dajuste. Well, what do you know? There’s a Stéphanie Dajuste who’s a sales consultant there. Wife or sister? Doesn’t matter. I think I should stake out that warehouse and see if there’s any late-night activity tonight. Dajuste will be wanting to get rid of all his iron as soon as possible.

That evening at 8 o’clock, Charles parks in the driveway of a roofing company across the street from the distributor. He’s partially hidden by a tall bush but has a good view of the loading area. He settles in for a long boring vigil and starts listening to “5 Minutes of Rum” podcasts on his earbuds.

Around 10 o’clock, a dark Ford Focus drives slowly down the empty street. Charles hunches lower in his seat and takes off his earbuds. The Focus drives into the loading dock area and a stocky man in jeans and a polo shirt gets out. Monsieur Beaugelove Dajuste, I presume, Charles thinks, fitting his telephoto lens to his cell phone and snapping some quick pictures. A door by the dock opens, spilling light onto the car and the man as he climbs the stairs carrying a heavy cardboard box. Charles can see the silhouette of a woman inside the warehouse. The couple speaks briefly and enters the warehouse.

OK, that’s really circumstantial. Perhaps I’ll see some foolishness with one of the shipping containers sitting at the bays. Sure enough, light starts streaming through the gap between a trailer and the dock. Charles gets out of his car with his cell and creeps up closer. He hears a big creak and a clank as the container doors are opened. Figures begin moving back and forth through the light. Charles gets a little closer. It’s of no use. Even with the telephoto, he can’t get clear shots of the people as they pass the gap. He decides to retreat to his car to see if he can get a picture of Dajuste’s face as he leaves.

Soon, the dock door opens, and the man comes out, followed by the woman. In the yellow sodium light of the loading area, Charles can barely make out their features as he snaps away, hoping to get a clear picture of a face. The woman says goodbye and walks down the road to the employee parking area. As the man backs out, Charles gets a great shot of his license plate. Gotcha, you nincompoop, he thinks. The man takes off down the street to the left. Perhaps I can get a plate on her, too. He starts his car but doesn’t turn on the headlights. He creeps down the street toward the only car left in the parking area. The woman starts her car and backs out into the street. As she drives off, Charles follows her and gets a clear shot of her license plate.

Well, that was easier than I thought, Charles thinks. That shipment could go out tomorrow, so I better get on over to the cop house right away and give them my evi­dence.

Once there, it took some doing to convince the front desk sergeant to roust a special investigations detective. An hour later, a casually dressed detective with an annoyed look on his face comes in and walks with Charles to a conference room that has a TV.

“I’m Detective Barker, and who might you be?” Charles introduces himself and briefly describes his surveillance, then casts the pictures and video he shot to the TV. Unfortunately, the people’s faces are too blurry and dark for an ID. Charles tells Barker his theory about the gun-running operation.

“You need to stop that container from going anywhere tomorrow,” Charles says.

The detective nods and asks, “How come you’re involved in this case?”

“Pastor Chip is my best friend in the world. I know he was duped somehow, and he had the best of intentions.”

“Do you think the man in your photos is Dajuste?”

“I wouldn’t say that, but I suspect that. Run the plates and see what you get.”

Detective Barker calls Charles at 8 am the next morning, rousting him out of bed. “Looks like you cracked the case, Mr. DeFries,” he says. “The plates match Dajuste’s and his sister’s cars. We got the Feds to seize the truck and, sure enough, they found about 100 pistols in the wine cases. We found the sister and sweated her a little, and she told us Dajuste was staying with a friend on the Beach and planned to charter a Sea Ray to get him to the Bahamas. We nabbed him and have him in custody.”

“Oh, thank goodness!” Charles says. “Did you tell Pastor Chip?”

“No, I figured you’d want to do that,” Barker says. “You know, we usually discourage the Junior G-Man thing, but I have to admit, you did a great job of nabbing a bad cop. We thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Now I just hope Pastor Chip gets a break.”

After he hangs up with the detective, Charles calls Chip. “OK, dude, I cracked the case.”

What you talkin’ about, Willis?” Chip says. “Come again?”

“I’d be happy to. A little detective work on the web, a little surveillance, a little coop­eration from the Miami Gardens detectives, and our boy Dajuste is in the slammer awaiting arraignment. Case closed.”

“What the fuck? You’re serious?”

I’m as serious as a poutine shortage in Chicoutimi during a curling bonspiel,” Charles says, grinning.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“That’s another Canadian expression, via How I Met Your Mother. Some time I need to tell you about my adventure up there, but right now, dude, you’re mostly in the clear!”

“Is that like being only mostly dead?” Chip could never resist a Princess Bride refer­ence.

“I think it’s a damn sight better than being any kind of dead. I think we should celebrate, I’ll come by and take you and Trixie to dinner, although it’s really you who should take me to dinner, given how I’ve saved your massive ass and all.” Chip roared with laughter and said, “Done. But you have to drive. Oh! And you’ve reminded me of a joke!”

“Criminy. I save your butt and you pay me back by telling me one of your stinkin’ jokes?”

“So, back when he was president, Barack Obama was out jogging when he tripped, fell over a bridge railing, and landed in the creek below. Before the Secret Service guys could get to him, three kids, who had been fishing, pulled him out of the water. He was so grateful he offered the kids whatever they wanted.

“The first kid said, ‘I want to go to Disney World.’

“Obama said, ‘No problem. I’ll take you there on Air Force One.’

“The second kid said, ‘I want a new pair of Nike Air Jordans.’

“Obama said, ‘I’ll get them for you and even have Michael sign them!’

“The third kid said, ‘I want a motorized wheelchair with a built-in TV and gaming console!’

“Obama is a little perplexed by this and says, ‘But you don’t look like you are handi­capped.’

“The kid says, ‘I will be after my dad finds out I saved your ass from drowning!’” Chip’s laugh booms through the phone so loudly, Charles needs to pull it away from his ear.

“OK, maybe I don’t want to take you guys out to celebrate after all,” Charles shouts before ending the call.

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