"The Beast Lord and Consort, to see Rabbi Peter," Curran said.
The woman blinked a couple of times. "Will you wait?"
Curran and I sat in the chairs. The receptionist spoke in a hushed voice into the phone and hung up.
Curran leaned to me. "You think she's calling the cops?"
"Just letting you know, I'm not in the mood to be arrested and if they try it, they won't like it."
I picked up a copy of a cookbook from the side table and flipped through it. Chocolate rugelach. Hmmm. Chocolate, sugar, almonds ... Curran might like those.
"We sell those," the receptionist said, her voice hesitant. "They are recipes from the congregation. Would you like to buy a copy?"
I looked at Curran. "Do you have any money?"
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a roll of cash. "How much are those?"
Curran flipped through the bills.
I leaned to him and whispered, "What are you doing?" "Looking for one that's not bloodstained. Here." He pulled a ten-dollar bill out.
I offered it to the receptionist. She took the money carefully, as if it were hot, and gave me a small smile. "Thank you."
"Thank you for the book."
Curran glanced toward the hallway. Someone was coming. A moment later I heard it too, a quick patter of feet. Rabbi Peter emerged into the lobby. Tall and thin, with a receding hairline, a short, neatly trimmed beard, and wearing large glasses, Rabbi Peter should've looked like a college professor. But there was something in his eyes; they brimmed with curiosity and excitement, and instead of an aging academic, Rabbi Peter resembled an eager young student.
He saw us and paused.
We stood up.
Rabbi Peter cleared his throat. "Um ... welcome! Welcome, of course, what can I do for, eh, you, Kate, and, eh ... I'm sorry, I don't know how I am supposed to address you."
Curran's eyes sparked. If he told the rabbi to call him Your Majesty, we could kiss cooperation with the Temple good-bye.
Curran opened his mouth.
I elbowed him in the side.
"Curran," he said, exhaling. "Curran will do."
"Wonderful." The rabbi offered him his hand. Curran shook it, and then I did. "So what may I do for you?"
"Are you familiar with Elijah the Unbeliever?" I asked.
"Of course. Here, why don't we go into my office. We'll be much more comfortable there."
We followed the rabbi down the hallway. Curran rubbed his side and gave me an evil look. I mouthed "Behave" at him. He rolled his eyes.
The rabbi led us into an office. Bookshelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling, bordering the single large window so tightly that it looked cut out of the thickness of books.
"Please sit down." The rabbi took a seat behind his desk.
We landed in the two available chairs.
"Would you like anything, tea, water?" "No, thank you," I said.
"Coffee, black if you got it," Curran said.
"Aha! I can do that." The rabbi rose and took out two cups and a thermos from a cabinet. He unscrewed the cap, poured black brew into the cups, and offered one to Curran.
"Thanks." Curran drank it. "Good coffee."
"You're welcome. So Elijah the Unbeliever. Which particular part are you interested in, or is it the whole thing?"
"We need a certain fable," I told him. "The Man on the Mountain and the Wolf."
"Ah, yes, yes, yes. A very philosophical piece. In essence, the man on the mountain encounters a wolf who wants to be rid of his savagery. The man turns him into a dog through the sharing of his blood. There are several interpretations. We believe that when God created Adam and Eve, he made them using his own essence; this essence, Neshama, meaning `breath,' is what separates humans from animals. In the fable, the wolf is feral. He lacks a soul, and thus he is consumed with rage. The man shares his blood with the wolf, forging a constant connection between them, just as God breathes a soul into each man and a woman. Since our soul gives us our conscience and takes us beyond the animal instincts, the wolf becomes a dog who will forever follow his master."
Peter slid his glasses up his nose. "There is a second interpretation, based on the teachings of Maimonides, who believed in the necessity of balance. According to Maimonides, one should always walk the King's Road, staying away from the extremes, neither surrendering completely to one's emotions nor rejecting them entirely. The wolf, being enraged, walks the extreme path, and to return to the King's Road, he ties himself to the man, becoming a dog. The dog still retains his primal savagery, but his rage is now tamed, so he achieves his balance. Were you looking for a particular interpretation?"
"We were looking for the exact wording. Do you happen to have a copy of the recording here in the Temple?"
"Unfortunately, we do not."
Rabbi Peter smiled. "But I happen to have studied the tapes extensively. Elijah is my area of study. I've committed the tapes to memory, so if you have a few minutes, I can recite the fable for you if you would like."
Yes! Thank you, Universe. "I'd be in your debt."
"Very well." The rabbi reached into the desk and produced three white candles. He struck a match, lit the first candle, and used it to light two others.
"Why the candles?" Curran asked. "It is traditional when reciting Elijah's words. In one of the recordings, Elijah states that a candle is synonymous with one's wisdom. If you use one candle to light another, your light is now twice as bright. Just so when a teacher shares his wisdom with a student, both minds are enlightened. Since I am about to share Elijah's words with you, I shall light two new candles and our light shall be three times as bright."
The rabbi arranged the candles in the corner of the desk. "Now then. Fable number three. There once was a man of wisdom who lived upon a mountain. One day a rabid wolf blocked his path. The wolf was suffering, for he was full of rage and it drove him to murder and violence. The wolf begged the man to take away his rage, at any price. The man denied him, for it was too dangerous and could cost both of them their lives. The next day the wolf returned and begged the man once more to take away his rage. The man denied him again, for rage was in the wolf's nature. Without it, the wolf would no longer be a wolf. On the third day, the wolf returned once more and refused to leave. He followed the man, begging and crying, until the man took pity on him. He agreed to free the wolf of his bloodlust, but in turn the wolf would have to promise to serve the man till the end of all time.