He placed the bottle of water on his podium. Stuart Webb laughed. “Just an ordinary bottle of water,right?” He told his audience. Webb was dressed immaculate. Grey three piece suit,white tie, three rings on each finger of his right hand, gold bracelets with scripture engraved. Stuart Webb spoke to his television audience just as he spoke to the pulpit in his church, soft at first, loud to get their attention or make a point. It was a trait he learned from his father and other tent preachers he watched as a child.
“Noooooo..... not ordinary if it comes from a well blessed by the Lord. You see, several years ago, ten to be exact. I was alone, a drifter in the desert, until God led me into a wooded area. I was hungry....destitute. I was in real bad shape, brothers and sisters. I heard a voice, voice of God telling me to keep walking. 'Son,' he said to me. 'You will find your purpose on earth. And I will reward you in heaven.' I stumbled upon a well on a lonely farm. I nearly passed out from no water or food for three days. And a young woman, came from her house and rescued me. She gave me food. And yes, this water,” Webb picked up the twenty ounce bottle and showed it to his congregation and the cameras. “This water healed my body.....it healed my soul. That young woman......became my wife and partner in God's war.”
The worshipers in the Church of Light were not all poor and unfortunate, or sick in need of cures. Webb had made friends with many rich and powerful. A senator, a newspaper tycoon, a couple of movers and shakers in the media.
They all sat in the Pew of his church. They all donated to his church, in return he helped with different problems. For the Senator he helped get him reelected. For the land baron, he convinced an elderly woman move into a rest home so an office building can be built where her house once stood for fifty years. The movers and shakers got all of his money for advertising, in return Webb got good PR.
His congregation hung on to every word he spoke. In the front row, there were three of the sick for this sermon. One woman in a wheelchair, one man on crutches, another man with burns on his face.
He motioned for one of his body guards to help the man on crutches to the podium. “Brother.....you are from wheeling, Idaho?”
“That...that is correct, Rev. Webb.”
“You came all the way to California.....for what purpose?”
The man fought back tears. “The Lord has led me here to be cured.”
“And what ails you, brother?”
“You have been to the Godless Doctors, right? They did nothing for you,brother?” Webb sighed. He bowed his head, whispered.
“That is correct, sir.”
Webb finished whispering. He touched the man on his arm. He opened his eyes, took the bottle of water from his podium. “God led you here, did he not?!”
The man shook his head yes. “Drink this, brother.” The man removed the top from the bottle. He placed his lips to the bottle. The man drank rapidly. “By the Lord's good grace, I cure thee!” Webb screamed at the top of his lungs. His congregation held their breath. “Drink the Spirit water! Blessed by the Lord himself!”
The man dropped his crutches. He held the bottle in his hand and staggered forward. His eyes bugged out of his head. “I ….....am.........cured!” He proclaimed.
Webb's congregation was in awe of his powers.
There was a new face in the crowd of onlookers. A tall man in a shabby sports coat, wearing thick glasses. Webb watched this man as he took a seat in the back row. The congregation was on their feet giving Stuart Webb a standing ovation. The man in the shabby sports coat took out a small notebook and wrote in it. Webb nodded to one of his bodyguards. He came running over. Webb whispered in his ear and pointed to the stranger. The bodyguard put on his best tough-guy face and ambled through the crowd to where this stranger sat.
After the sermon was over, the television crew gone, his congregation left for their homes, Webb kept his staff at work. Which included his wife Tansis, and her brother Jonas. The bodyguards brought the stranger to Webb's office and tossed him into a chair that cost more than most Americans cars. Webb sat behind his desk, pretending to read from the Bible. Behind him on a bookshelf were several books, most of them written by him.
“How dare you keep me here against my will!” The stranger screamed at Webb. “Do you know who I am?”
Webb stopped pretending to read. He looked up from the book. “Why don't you tell us who you are, then?”
“Look,” the man said nervously. “I merely wandered in the wrong building. I was going to leave as soon as you were done.”
“I bet you were,” Webb smiled an ugly smile. He reminded the man of a boar, pug nose and wide mouth with very red gums showing as he opened his mouth.
“His name is Lawrence Fisher,” one of Webb's bodyguards said. “I checked with a friend at the police station, Rev. Webb. He's a reporter for the Seattle free press.”
Webb stopped smiling. His top lip curled up. He had the look of disgust on his face. Webb rose from his desk. “Another fucking reporter,” Webb spat on the floor. “What's wrong with you people, eh?”
Fisher swallowed hard. He was genuinely frighted. Here were three very big men standing in front of him. He had memories invade him of times in school where he was bullied. Fisher looked at the two bodyguards and computed in his mind how tall(six-three,six-two) and how much they weighed (three-o-one, three-twenty,) with Webb (six-two, three-eighty). Oh, yes, Fisher thought. He was dripping with sweat. I am definitely afraid of these men.
“I----I'm just doing a Lifestyles report. That—that's all.” Fisher removed his glasses and cleaned them with a handkerchief.
Webb breathed heavy through his nose. He took the glasses from Fisher and handed them to a bodyguard. “Why would you want to do that, Mr. Fisher? I think people have the right to worship as they wish.” A bodyguard bent the rims out of place, handed it back to Fisher. Fisher placed them on his face. The glasses were out of line slightly.
“Rev. Webb,” Fisher temporarily forgot his fear. There was hostility in his voice.”I wholeheartedly believe. I believe also in the first amendment. People have a right to know if someone is taking advantage of them.”
“You calling me a huckster, a cheat, Mr. Fisher?” Ebb’s two bodyguards stepped toward Fisher.
Fisher remembered his fear. He jumped in his chair. “I'm just investigating, Reverend. Nothing.....nothing to hide I'm sure of …..that is...you don't”
Webb thought a moment. He sat on the edge of his desk. “ I don't. Nothing to hide. I'd like to know why you are doing the devil's work. I think if you come over to God's side, I can smooth things over with him.”
“All I want is to speak with a few of you church members and maybe a staff member. That's all.” Fisher and Webb exchanged looks for a couple of minutes. “It's just a harmless Lifestyles report for a small newspaper.” Fisher tried to smile. The fear rose up in him again, memories of being bullied in school, even in college.
Webb went back behind his desk. He went back to his Bible. “Throw this Godless asshole out.”
Four huge hands grabbed Fisher by his sports coat simultaneously, dragging him through the door Webb's office. Fisher cried bloody murder, and it echoed throughout the church, all the way to it's doors. He was literally thrown out the church's open doors. Fisher landed on his face.
“Stay out, friend!” One of the bodyguards bellowed in their gruffest voice that broke like a twelve year old going through puberty.
Fisher got to his knees, felt blood dripping from his nose. He touched it with a hand. The church doors slammed shut. Right on cue, the skies opened up. Rain fell on Fisher as if a bucket had been dumped on him.
Webb stormed into his wife's office. He saw a slim blonde haired woman who wore way to much eyeshadow and too much jewelry on her person. “Stuart, dear. That was a great act of God you performed today.”
Webb scoffed. He saw Tansis brother. Anger filled his fat cheeks. “Jonas, what the fuck was that?”
Jonas looked at his sister, back at Webb. Jonas raised an eyebrow. “What was what, Stuart?”
“You know very fucking well what I'm talking about, you crumb!” Webb was breathing hard. His shouting could be heard all through the church. The rest of the staff heard something, but the lady cleaning a bloody spot in front of Tansis office.
“Stuart,” Tansis spoke calmly. “Dear, watch your language. The staff is listening.”
Webb grumbled to himself. Closed his eyes, counted till ten. He reopened his blood-shot eyes. “I am talking about those performers.” Webb's voice was less agitated, at a lower decimal. “Did you, my brother-in-law, get those people from the local theater?”
Jonas smiled. “Yes, Stuart. You said to, remember?”
“I was joking, you nimrod!”
“Stuart.” Tansis scolded Webb.
Webb contained himself. He smiled that ugly smile, but only slightly.
“Next week, Jonas. I would like a few more less stiff performances. Just try to get some unfortunates....street people, so they aren’t recognized if they perform any Shakespeare in the park.”
Jonas nodded. He had that retarded grin on his face that Webb so hated. Too bad, Webb thought. Marisa was not in the church anymore to handle things like this. Tansis caught Webb and Marisa one too many times in the pulpit in wee hours of the morning moaning and groaning.
“Doing a good job, Jonas.” It pained Webb to say that. Tansis demanded he say it every time he saw Jonas.
Tansis touched Webb on his hand. “Stuart, honey. We got a call from Sparkling House. Looks like they had a problem with their water distribution.”
“Don't tell me that.” Webb rubbed his forehead with a hand. I've got a hundred bottles of Spirit water to send out by Friday.”
“So send out sorry notes for the delay.” Jonas said.
Webb gave him a dirty look. Tansis spoke up. “Stuart.” She was scolding again.
“Or you could send Miguel and his cousin to Blackford rivers to fill some bottles.”
“Oh, Jonas. You are trying your best to get yelled at,” Tansis said, exasperated.
Webb thought a minute. He looked at Jonas. “That’s not a bad idea.”
Jonas smiled. He was beside himself. “Yeah.....it was a good idea. You want me to go with them?”
Webb became agitated again. “What are you stupid or something? I'll go with them. Tansis, call the bottling company and cancel the contract.”
“What?” Tansis and Jonas said together.
“Just do as I say,” Webb walked out of the office, slamming the door. He almost stepped on the cleaning woman. The old woman looked up at Webb. He looked down on her. The blood spot infuriated Webb. “If that spot is still there when I get back, you'll be looking for a new job.”
The old woman snarled, began rubbing the same spot again. She waited for Webb to leave and said, “That suits me fine Rev. Fatso.”
It was hot out by Blackford river. You could see the steam rise from the ground from all the humidity. It looked more like a swamp than a river. The water was so murky. Trees surrounding the river had moss grown over the limbs and their trunks. A swarm of mosquitoes hung around the trees but not anywhere near the riverbed. They had traveled twenty miles to this river in Miguel's old pickup that had almost no suspension left. Webb cursed Jonas ever bumpy mile on the way.
Webb was the last one out of the truck. He stepped out and leaned against a tree. Webb took his embroidered handkerchief and wiped sweat from his face and neck. Miguel's cousin spoke in a nervous voice in Spanish. Miguel looked around. He saw that the sun was going down. Webb shifted his eyes rapidly from Miguel, then to Miguel's cousin.
“What was he saying?” Webb demanded.
“My cousin does not like this, Rev.” Miguel said. He turned quickly to see the river gurgle.
Webb was dismayed. “He's getting payed, is he not?” The sarcasm was thrown hard like a slap in the face.
“I don't think you understand,” Miguel pointed to the river. “He said a lot of people died here------”
“I didn't come all the way out here in the blazing sun to not get what I want, you fucking beaner! Now get to work, filling those bottles up with water!” Webb reached in a box and pulled three bottles out. He began throwing them at Miguel.
Miguel apprehensively picked a bottle. He unscrewed the top off slowly. Webb stared him down. Miguel dunked the bottle in the river. He then lifted the bottle up. Inside the water was pure, crystal clear. Miguel was puzzled. He screwed the top back on, sat it on the ground, took another bottle and dunked it into the river.
Miguel's cousin murmured in Spanish again. He gestured with his hand the sign of the cross. Webb rushed toward the small man. He tried to speed past Webb, but Webb was quick with his hands,caught the man by his ripped tee-shirt that prominently featured Hulk Hogan.
“You get in there and help him!” Webb pick ed the man up and threw him in the river, knocking Miguel face-first into the murky black water as well.
Webb stood over them, tossing the bottles into the river. Miguel's cousin pleaded with Webb in Spanish. Miguel rifled off in their language, cursing the scared little man. Webb's nostrils flared as he grunted at them. “We're not leaving until every bottle, all fifty of them, are filled. You understand?”
The small man wept. He murmured in Spanish again. Webb threw a bottle at the man. “Tell him to shut-up!”
Miguel spoke to the man softly. They both filled the bottles as fast as they could. Suddenly, Webb felt cold. At first he thought it was odd. Then he thought a cold sweat. I'm getting sick, he told himself. Getting a summer cold because of these two bozos.
“Rev.?” Miguel said. “May I tell you something?”
“Make it fast. The longer you diddle with this crap, the longer we'll be here.”
Miguel saw the sun was changing into twilight. Miguel rushed to fill more bottles. “I just wanted to say....there were lots of murders in this area in the late seventies.”
“So what?” Webb shot back.
“It was a dumping ground for angry, restless------”
“Enough already!” Webb's voice echoed through out the stillness of the river. Nightfall fell upon them quickly. He noticed Miguel's cousin had stopped working. Miguel rose from the river, placed bottles in a box in the back of the truck. “Hey!” Webb screamed at the man. “You have to work to get payed, El taco.” Miguel's cousin just stood there. His face had changed. It had become a greyish-white.
Dark circles crept under his eyes, which now rolled in the back of his head. His blue lips were cracked, and seemed to be set in a permanent curl to reveal clenched yellow teeth.
This small man rushed to Webb, splashing blackened water from the murky river everywhere. Webb sensed something was wrong. His eyes widened as he ran to the truck. He heard a growl coming from the small man like no other animal he had heard before. In a second Webb grabbed a tire iron from the back of the truck,. He swung blindly, splitting the man's head in the middle. The tire iron sank in, blood gushed down the sides of the man's face, which now had now become a face of shock. His face immediately changed back to normal. He fell to his knees, bleeding, dying in front of Webb. Webb kicked the man over on his back. The tire iron was driven firth down the man's skull from the fall. Webb witnessed the small man's last breath.
Webb heard Miguel's boots on the dusty ground behind him. He jumped. His breathing became shorter, louder gasping.
Miguel looked weaker than his cousin. But his face looked the same. Miguel was just as fast. He sprinted to where Webb stood , hands stretched out in front of him. That same growl came from Miguel as he grasped Webb's throat with both hands. Webb struggled at first with Miguel. Miguel's hands tightened with each floundering of Webb's body. Webb finally withdrew Miguel's grip. He picked the stout man in the air and slammed him hard on the ground. Miguel's back made a cracking sound. Webb backed away, breathing harder and harder. He leaned against the truck, watched life slowly recede from Miguel's broken body.
Night had definitely replaced twilight.
Webb jumped into the truck and sped away. It's tires spat dirt clogs, dust and gravel. In no time, Webb was far from Blacford river. All the way on the interstate, he tried to make sense of things. Of all the bad luck, he thought. Now I've got two Mexicans dead........dead by my hands. But they came at me......why???
Webb nearly ran off the road as he thought this out. It was no use. It was all one big mess.
Webb came through the basement. He saw that his staff was still at the church. It was late, nearly eleven-thirty. He wanted them gone. He didn’t want to have explain what happened, cause he couldn’t coherently tell the story. Not even in the order of events without babbling. He felt that God had abandoned him. He had to sneak upstairs to his office. He noticed, of all things considered, he did bring in the bottle water with him. I must be thinking right again, he smile to himself. He sat the box down on a table. He went to the steps, then turned, went back to the box of bottle water. He took a handful, counted six or seven, in his arms. He would have Jonas send them out to his followers, as he'd already cashed their checks or money orders.
Fisher appeared from behind the furnace. He had been hiding in the basement for several hours, waiting to witness something for the article he was writing. His hand had swell up from when he wrapped his sports coat around it and broken a window out. He was sure he had broken it. The pain was immense. If he stays put just awhile longer, wait for everyone to leave, he could dig for incriminating evidence on Rev. Stuart Webb.
Webb met up with the cleaning woman coming up those stairs. He smiled half-heartily.
He handed her a bottle. “You've been working hard,” He said as nice as his nature would allow. “You must be thirsty.” It was an awkward moment. One of those moments that Webb always tried to avoid. The cleaning woman was confused. She watched this large man amble toward his wife’s office. She shook her head, opened the bottle. The water looked so nice and inviting. She took a swig. It actually tasted good.
Webb peaked into Tansis office. He saw that she and Jonas were asleep at their desks. He crept in. Webb took a pencil from her desk and wrote a note : FOR JONAS TO SEND OUT IMMEDIATELY. He placed the note underneath the bottles on Tansis desk. He crept out of the office, heading for his.
It was sometime later Webb was awakened by a ruckus. Webb looked at his watch. It read two-twenty. He heard the noise again.
“What the hell is going on?” He rose from his couch, straightened his tie.
Webb came out of his office, peaking out first. He walked down the narrow hallway that displayed photos of several prominent Evangelical ministers of the day posing with Webb. He heard the noise again. It was coming from the pew. He came around the pulpit and saw the cleaning woman. It looked like she was cleaning the back row of seats. Don't that woman ever get tired? Webb thought. He turned to leave when he saw one of his bodyguards sitting upright in the middle row. The shadows from from dim lights covered his face. Webb saw something sticking out of his mouth. He drew closer. Then realized it was the end of a broomstick hanging from the dead man's gaping mouth.
Webb backed away slowly. The cleaning woman noticed him, rose from the seat to reveal the other dead bodyguard. His face was beat in, wounds and lacerations showing he had been beaten repeatedly in the area of mouth,nose and eyes. He was a bloody mess.
The cleaning woman rushed to Webb holding a mallet, blood dripping from the tool. He backed away, listening to her growling. He bumped into someone. Tansis and Jonas. The three of them had the same greyish-white skin, dark under their eyes. They chimed in with the cleaning woman's growl. Tansis reached for Webb's arms, Jonas went for the throat. Webb barreled through them, knocking them to the floor. The next available place he ran to. The basement. The three of them were right on Ebb’s heels. He slung open the basement door. He moved as fast his fat legs could move down the stairs. He met Fisher on the middle steps. Fisher was growling, showing clenched teeth.
They were face to face. Webb screamed, felt four more hands cling to his shoulders. Fisher drew back and drove his pen into Ebb’s forehead. Webb screamed, the pain was intense. He fell to knees. He closed his eyes, felt several hands on him.
This is not happening. He told himself over and over. This is not happening-------