Page 29 of The Body Departed

47

Many days passed after that incident, and still I had not worked up the courage—or nerve—to speak with Jacob.

My memory seemed stronger since my encounter with Christ, and often, I drifted up to the statue to study it more closely. Had it really come to life? Was he really in there somewhere? Or had my mind played a massive and not very kind trick on me?

The wooden statue looked as ancient as ever. Hell, it was even rotting in some sections. Interestingly, the nails themselves were made of wood, too. Definitely not the iron spike I had driven through the soft flesh of his palms.

You single-handedly crucified Christ.

Lord, help me.

Real or not, trick or not, I had come face-to-face with something overwhelming and powerful, something that had given me peace of mind. And something that had given me the promise of heaven.

Also, the three red-eyed sentries were gone, so that fact alone was proof that something had indeed happened.

Maybe it was the Devil, come to collect their souls?

I doubted it. I would always remember Christ’s love, his overwhelming and powerful love for me. Could the Devil even love? Could the Devil even fake love? I doubted it.

Was the Devil even real?

I didn’t know, but what I did know was this: Jesus Christ was here. He spoke to me, reassured me. Died for me.

I would often find Jacob alone at night in the various classrooms, raising his hand to answer unasked questions, pretending to drink from the classroom water fountain, playing games alone, singing alone, coloring and writing alone. He also did this when school was in session, and a couple of very sensitive kids watched him from the corner of their eyes. And, of course, they would watch me, too.

Perhaps a week after my encounter with Christ, Pauline came by one evening to see me. She wasn’t alone.

She had brought Jacob’s twin brother, Eli.

My killer.

48

Pauline and Eli sat together at the far end of a pew about halfway down the center aisle.

They were the only ones in the chapel, but I knew that could change at any given moment. As they sat, Pauline spied me watching them from the stage. She whispered something in Eli’s ear. He nodded imperceptibly, and she left him there in the pew and came over to where I was standing, near the altar.

“I see you brought a guest,” I said.

Pauline dropped to her knees and bowed her head as if praying. Maybe she was praying, but certainly not to me. She was, I saw, feigning prayer.

“You seem somehow different, stronger,” she said. As she spoke, her lips barely moved. To the average person, she appeared only to be whispering a prayer.

“Well, I had a little talk with someone,” I said.

She glanced up at me sharply, scanning my thoughts, then flicked her gaze up to the statue of Jesus Christ hanging above us. Her mouth dropped open. “You have got to be kidding.”

“The one and only,” I said.

She shook her head, grinning, then looked at me some more. “You look better, James. Brighter, iridescent.”

“Iridescent?” I laughed. “Yes, I feel better. And my memory is coming back, too.”

I looked over her shoulder at the young man sitting alone with his head bowed and hands clasped before him. He could have been any other worshipper, except I knew for a fact that he had shot me in cold blood and murdered Mrs. Randolph with his own hands. Seeing him again, in the flesh, was fairly emotional for me.

“I take it your private investigator was successful,” I said.

“Oh, yes. Found him still living at home. His mother is a wreck. Whole family is a wreck. All of it dates back to the death of Jacob.”

Great. Killed a kid and ruined an entire family in the process. How the hell was I not going to hell?

“Get a grip on yourself,” she said, listening to my thoughts.

I did and focused instead on Christ’s last request of me: to help Jacob move on.

I can do this, I thought.

Pauline continued. “Yes, the family is in a helluva mess, a mess they can’t seem to climb out of. The father divorced the mother a decade ago, and the surviving twin, our boy Eli, has been selling drugs and stealing cars ever since to support her.”

“Shit,” I said.

“It gets worse.”

“Great.”

“Hang in there,” she said. “He was caught selling drugs in his early twenties and spent five years in jail. He got out two years ago.”

“Two years ago was when I was killed,” I said.

“Yes.”

“Which would explain why he had waited so long for his revenge.”

“I suppose so,” she said.

“And what about my partner in crime?” I asked, and amazingly, his name was coming back to me. “Dustin something or other?”

“Yes, Dustin Hicks, the boy who helped you drag Jacob up to the rafters. He was murdered outside his apartment two years ago, too. Unsolved.”

“So Eli got us both.”

“Appears so,” she said. “But that didn’t necessarily make things any better for him. In fact, it probably made things even worse. My PI friend says that word on the street is that this kid owes a lot of money to the wrong people and is in some serious shit.”

“Which explains why he came looking for a wad of cash he remembered hiding on that fateful day,” I said. “The cash in my wallet.”

“And hocking the church relics,” added Pauline. “By the way, what were you doing with all that money in your wallet, anyway?”

I remembered. I remembered with almost perfect clarity. Wonderful, electrifying clarity.

“I was on the high school football team,” I said. “Part of being on the team meant we had to sell advertising for our weekly football program. One of our sponsors had given me cash the day before. I was going to turn it in.”

“And you probably showed it off to someone.”

I nodded. Seemed about right.

“And Eli probably saw you do it,” she said. “You must have left your wallet lying around—”

“It was in my gym locker. He busted into it.”

“Fine. He breaks into your locker, steals it. Someone spots him do it but fingers the wrong twin. And you go after the wrong brother, and…”

She stopped for a breath. Thank God. I looked over at Eli, who was still seated with his head bowed, a miserable wreck of a man. A drug addict, a drug dealer, an ex-con, a killer, and now an only son…

“And the rest is history,” I finished.

49

“So how did you get him to come here?” I asked Pauline. “And why, exactly, is he here?”


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