He does not thank the harlequin, for such a gift is beyond the formalities of words. Instead, he accepts it in silence.
Then the little man is digging around again in the chest and comes up with a smaller object – a cigar box. He places the box on the workbench near by, lifts the lid and sifts through the objects until he finds what he’s looking for. This he hands to Abraham.
What is it? Abraham asks. He holds the thing up to the light. Moses recognizes the object, dimly. He has never been one for computers, neither in the new world nor in the old, but this thing he recognizes as a something you plug into a computer port. It looks like nothing to speak of – a rectangle of plastic, smaller than a matchbox, with a sliver of metal poking out of it.
It’s magic, ain’t it? the harlequin says in response to Abraham’s question. Here there ain’t no grid, no spark, no electric. So it ain’t no use to me. But find you a working machine to plug that doohickey into, and it’ll journey you whole new places, won’t it?
Uh-huh, Abraham says, unenthused. Hey, you don’t happen to have another of them killer swords, do you?
This strikes the harlequin as funny, and he laughs his cackling laugh, shaking his head and waving his finger in the air as though to indicate that he needs a moment.
Killer swords, he says under his breath, smiling.
Hey, buddy, Abraham says, slipping the plastic object into his pocket, you’re all right, you know that? What’s your proper name anyway?
The harlequin straightens up and puffs out his chest, announcing himself with military seriousness.
My name is Albert Wilson Jacks, ain’t it?
Moses observes the expression on his brother’s face collapse.
Albert? Abraham says. Albert? Your name’s Albert?
Albert Wilson Jacks, the little man repeats.
I guessed that name. Albert – that’s one of the goddamn names I guessed back there.
Is it? says Albert Wilson Jacks with a bashful smile.
It goddamn well is, Abraham confirms.
That’s a lesson to you, ain’t it? Justice and hearts – they’re naught but busted machines.
So Moses and Abraham Todd leave Albert Wilson Jacks the harlequin there in his solitary fortress – and when they will think of him in the future, they will think of his hands that never stop tinkering and of his words that are spoken only to himself and to the myriad crevices of madness that mark any lost space.
Back outside in the desert sun they cross the vast runways between the rusted corpses of the massive airplanes. If technology has a life, and from what they’ve seen of the harlequin’s workshop the brothers believe now that it has, then this is a place of lost souls. A graveyard of machine corpses. Their stillness is a beautiful betrayal.
They arrive at the car and climb in. They roll down the windows to release the hot air baked stale and stifling by the sun. But Moses does not turn the key in the ignition. He keeps his hands, unmoving, on the wheel.
What is it? Abraham asks.
Where are we goin?
What do you mean? We’re goin west.
That ain’t what I meant.
What’d you mean then?
I mean what are we doin just wanderin hither and thither across the globe?
We’re surviving. We’re warrioring our way through life. We’re doin the best we can. Doin better than most if you ask me.
It ain’t enough, Moses says and looks grimly through the windshield. In front of them is a road that leads only two directions: the nowhere they came from and the nowhere they haven’t yet been.
Well, what’re you lookin for then? Abraham asks his brother.
I don’t know. How bout a direction? A destination. How bout a purpose? It ain’t quite livin without a purpose to shape the action. Even the slugs’ve got that.
Abraham considers for a moment. He is fifteen years Moses’ junior. An accidental birth given way to an accidental life. Five years old when everything went to hell, he only barely remembers the time before. He grew wrong somehow – Moses doesn’t know how. But the only thing he seems to respect in this world is his fraternal bond with Moses. And that’s worth something. It counts.
Okay, Abraham says finally.
Okay, then, let’s find ourselves a purpose.
White Dove of the Desert " Acolytes " A Saint and the Virgin Mary " Ignatius " Supper and Appetites " A Measurement of Saints and Sinners while a Mission Sleeps " Interlude " The Canoness " A Demonstration at a Grotto " Where the Vestal Came From " A Job of Work " Treachery " Escape
Purpose is sometimes a building. The architecture of order.
Two miles from the graveyard of the Tucson airport, they discover the Mission San Xavier del Bac. Long ago, someone built a high stone wall around the whole place, but there is a painted sign on the arching gate doors:
YOU ARE WELCOME
RING THE BELL
High up on the wall, a rope has been tied around a cleat in the adobe. Moses gives the rope a tug, and above them a copper bell sounds its tinny note through the desert heat. A few minutes later, they are greeted by a woman who without speaking bows to them, her hands folded in prayer to her lips, then beckons with her hand for them to enter and shuts the big gate behind them, securing it with a whole series of iron bars slid through huge hasps.
The mission itself is a wash of whiteness towering against the cloudless blue of the sky. Two octagonal towers rise up on either side of the façade, and between them is an ornately carved stone entrance that looks to Moses like a massive holy book with a door in it – as though you were being asked to step into the very illuminated manuscript of faith. Three wrought-iron balconies protrude from the front of the structure, and in one of them sits a young girl, maybe seven years of age, her legs dangling over the edge, her hands gripping the bars. She watches the Todd brothers enter below, and in her expression is there more manuscript than in all the building façades in the country.
In the front courtyard are planted many varieties of cactus and, at their bases, herb gardens in thick verdant patches. There is a full community here, and as the two men enter, they are greeted with serene nods by the residents: plainly dressed men and women who are carrying baskets of tomatoes or digging in the earth with hoes or stitching up child-sized overalls.
How many are you? Moses asks the woman.
But the woman doesn’t answer. Instead, she puts her fingers to her lips and shakes her head apologetically.
You don’t talk, Moses says. That’s all right. Mostly palaver’ll just get you in trouble. That’s been my experience anyhow.