AND ON THE SEVENTH DAY...
By James Winter
“The Word is life! The Word is abundance! The Word is your only hope of salvation!”
I'm not sure what blast was worse: The cold air off Lake Erie blowing through Gotham Square or the hot air from the street corner preacher standing in front of the Bixby Building. I pulled my overcoat around me a little tighter and started across the square toward Tribe's. A late breakfast, hot coffee, and most of all, heat waited at Tribe's.
Every damn Saturday he showed up at noon. Every Saturday, rain or shine, in the blistering heat and subzero cold, he would stand on Gotham Square across from the Bixby Building and shout at anyone moving to or from the PORTA Center inside.
I decided to walk around the far end of the square to avoid the schmuck. Another blast off the lake hit me like a cold slap. I made a beeline across the square instead. The reverend blathered on.
I'd made it across Musgrave Avenue when I heard the preacher say, “You! With the red book!”
I stopped. I had a red book all right, The Days Are Wicked by Stephen Blake. Signed by Steve himself. It was a birthday present.
“You're reading the wrong book! That guy's a loser!”
Something colder than the wind blew down my back. I turned around and marched back across the street toward the preacher. A bus and a taxi both slammed on their brakes.
“All of you! Your salvation lies here!” He held a Bible over his head, waving it around in his ungloved hand. Christ, what idiot stood out in this weather without gloves and a hat? Well, me, but I hadn't planned to stay outside this long.
“Drop what you're doing and pray! Pray now to Jesus Christ!”
“Excuse me!” I could shout, too. And I wanted an audience.
“Heed unto the Lord and -”
The preacher turned to me. “Yes?” It was the quietest I'd ever heard him.
I held up my copy of The Days Are Wicked. “Do you know this man?”
He stopped and stared at me “Er... No.”
“He's Stephen Blake, a former priest from Belfast. Sound familiar?”
“Look, sir, I have a mission to perform here and...”
“Now that's very interesting, Reverend. See, you said I was reading the wrong book. You also called Mr. Blake a loser. How do you know that if you don't know Mr. Blake?”
“I don't,” he said, now looking anywhere but at me. “Sir, I really must...”
“So you lied. Doesn't that violate one of the Ten Commandments?”
He held up his Bible, and shook it at me. “My point was you need to read this. You weren't reading this.” He began to speak louder again. “My friend, if you do not have this, nothing you read will do you any good.”
I snatched the Bible out of his hand and tossed it in front of a passing PORTA bus.
“Hey!” He started to go for the Bible.
I grabbed his belt and yanked him back. “I'm not finished with you. Have you been through what my friend Steve's been through?”
“Sir, I have known more despair in my life than you can possibly imagine.”
“Really? So, your sister was killed by Unionists for being in a Protestant neighborhood at the wrong time? And only a week after losing your father in an IRA bombing? Tell me, when did this happen? Because you're in Port fucking Ontario, Ohio, Reverend. The only fucking IRA here is my fucking retirement fund.”
He started to walk away again.
“Hey! Hey! I'm not done!” I said. “You never answered my questions. I just want to know how you think this guy's a loser.”
He turned and shoved me to the ground. I got up, swung the copy of The Days Are Wicked as hard as I could at his face. I heard his nose snap, and blood poured from it. The preacher took a swing at me.
We both looked up to see a mounted police officer, baton hanging at his side.
“Did you see that officer?” I said. “I can't believe a man of the cloth would....”
“I saw everything, mister. Now get out of my sight before I haul you in for assault.” His eyes flicked toward the preacher, who held his nose while blood soaked his shirt and jacket. “And you. Take your sideshow out of here, and don't let me catch you harrassing pedestrians on this square again.”
“He attacked me,” said the preacher.
“Really? Who shoved him? Who called him a loser?”
“I called his friend a loser.” He'd started whining through his broken nose.
“It's real simple. Off the square and don't come back. Or you can preach to the Norwalk lockup over the weekend.”
“Can I get my Bible?”
The cop rode out into the middle of Musgrave Avenue and halted traffic. The preacher scurried out and grabbed the Bible, which came apart in his hands. He shuffled off into the Bixby Building and, hopefully, the PORTA Terminal downstairs.
The cop grabbed my shoulder. “Here.” He handed me a card. It listed him as a minister for a church out in Vodrey Heights. “I'm a preacher, too. Guys like him make my job hard.” “So now you expect me to come to your church?” I said.
“No, I just want you to understand we're not all like that.”
“I know that.”
“And if I ever see you toss a Bible out in the street like that again, a littering charge will be the least of your worries.”
I looked at his card again and tucked it into Steve's book. The cop Steve would understand. Even if I still didn't.
James Winter, author of 2005's Northcoast Shakedown, usually shows up for work 15 minutes late and zones out for most of the day. He lives in Cincinnati.