Moses Sagas The Matchbook Diaries


Moses Sagas Serialized Pop Fiction Book Part 4

Chapter 4: Tsui- Gathering Together, Massing: “Through the collective piety of the living members of the family, the ancestors become so integrated in the spiritual life of that family that it cannot be dispersed or dissolved.” – from I Ching the 45th gua

MOSES
Twink’s heart sees him coming before he gets to Brentwood.  At 20, and through with school, she remains a fragile child, impenetrably shy and physically slight.  She keeps a menagerie of animals, rarely socializes beyond the boundaries of her family, and doesn’t see her own strength.  She’s too young for her age; she ought to have gotten out more, but she’s private by nature.

There’s terror in their father, Arthur’s eyes, all this time Moses watches it grow into a master that steals the man’s dignity and makes his surrogate father a humiliated slave.  If he could, Mose’d make a pill they’d swallow that adds 10,000 years to their story.  Then there would be a chance that fear would lose its impact and men and women would walk right though fear perceiving it to be the dickless ghost it is.  But Arthur can’t stand still long enough for anything to approach him, much less to challenge it.  Tonight jittery anxiety crackles all over him.

“Tonight, darling boy, you are going up there?”  his voice is twisted in torment.  Moses’ adopted mother has been dead three years, but Arthur’s horror of the accident makes him violently protective of his children.  Arthur’s no dummy; he doesn’t know, but he’s pretty sure that his own father killed his beloved wife.

“Yes, Dad.  I’ll be back in a few days.  In time for the library.”
There is the predictable pause.  Mo is agreeing to attend the ribbon cutting for Sarah Deasy Memorial Library on the sprawling church campus.  This settles his father’s argument.  The steam goes right out of him.

“Moses-Jinn, be careful.  Please.”

His son takes his father’s hand.  “Dad, don’t be afraid.”  The breathing steadies, slows.

Climbing the stairs two at a time, Mo heads to see his sister.  Twink sits obediently in her reading lounge, magazine in hand, her legs curled beneath her, five cats sprawled in her lap.

“Twink?”

She opens those huge blue eyes widely.

“Mo, I didn’t – I -,” she sighs, “I didn’t want to tell you because I thought you would not go.”

“I know that’s what you thought.”

“You’d have gone anyway,” she says, patting the orange tabby, Minksy, who loves her best.

“I did not train you to see ahead to protect myself.  I did it to bend the time for you, to show you how false it is.”

“But you were surprised.”

“I was.”

“What’s she like?”

“Strong, headstrong, beautiful, smart, tough.”

“You like her.”

“I do.”

“But?”

“Twink, trust – do you see that trust isn’t an earned bond between us?  I do not trust you because of who you are.  I trust.  You are in my life, as close to my heart as my other family.  If you feel betrayal, it is likely that you yourself feel betrayed by your nondisclosure.  You did not hurt me.  Asherah surprised me, but she’s going to be an asset.”

Twink narrows those smart eyes of hers.  When she thinks she gets the sweetest expression on her forehead, a slight downward slant to her eyebrows. When she’s concluded thinking, Twink’s eyebrows go up in a small crescent.

“It’s hard to be your little sister.”

“Try to bear the burden best you can.” He grins.

She gets up then, and the blueish cat with the big green eyes, the one she calls Morrow, flips over onto his back and stretches.

“What is it like, Mo, being you?”  She’s rarely this deep.  Growing up, she was a haven because she did not treat him like a circus act.  Moses is only her brother.  But tonight she acts like he’s a stranger, he’s been gone a long time in her perspective. This hurts him like a dagger.

“Be specific, in what way?”

“Knowing what you do, all that pressure, the demands, the threats?  I know she will help you.  I can feel it when I see her in your life.”

“I do not worry about the next moment.  I’m here now, with you, Twink.  I see Morrow sleeping, and Minksy is hungry and about to go down to the kitchen.  I want to talk.  Do you have time?”

It’s late, and Twink usually has a full schedule.

“Bring it,” she says, sitting back down and patting the cushion beside her.

“I’m starting a company.  I want you to follow your heart.  We both know your heart is not in my business.”

“I’m not interested in being away from you Moses.”

“I know that.  I’ve made an office for you.  You can use it whenever you like, or never.  I do not foresee a role for you.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t one.”

She sits with this.  He can see her thoughts, not because of his gifts, but because he knows Twink better than any other person.  She’s not scheming.  It’s not her way.  She lets things drift into her, slip down light like a feather until that idea hits some bit of her soul that yields her reply.

“It’ll be to do with flowers,” she says, lightly.

“They will be coming for me now, Twink.”

“To get to you they’ll have to come through me.  I’m all over you all the time.”

“As are my animals.”

“Then why are we discussing this?” she’s staring into her brother’s eyes like she does when she’s doing those unpredictable spiritual calisthenics that seem peculiar to women.

“I’m leaving this house, taking up my own place, to draw the enemy to me, and not here.”

“That’s not all of it.”

“At the library opening there will be, in the crowd, one I seek.”

“Who?”

“An agent of the enemy.”

“Not Grandfather, but someone working for him?”

“The other way around.”

“Grandpa,” here she literally cups her hand to his ear, whispers, “Grandpa works for someone?”

“Not that he knows.”

“Is that always how they do, those others?  They move those people like pawns?”

“With even less concern for their survival.”

“So what will happen?”

“Grandpa will die, though not soon.”

She drops her hands to her lap.  She shakes her head.

“Oh, Moses, I’m sad.”  He knows she does not love her grandfather.

“You are?”

“You want me to be aware, not surprised?”

“I want you not to be standing on the platform when the shot gets fired. Are you willing to do that?”

“Ok.”

“Rock will be there.  Stand with him.”

She nods.  He kisses her, tells her he’s heading to the cabin, though she already knows.

Moses is ready to fly down the stairs to the car but Twink calls out,

“Can I ride with you and not Gran on Thursday?  She’s just gotten too – weird.”

Mrs. Deasy, is a one-time Texas debutante, used-to-be-beautiful woman, the type of woman who understood how to play the role she was bred to play.  But in the end, marriage to the Reverend Deasy Senior has gotten the better of her.  Grandmother Deasy floats along in self-medicating cloud for days at a time, briefly sobering for hours or even a day before heading back under again.

“Yes, of course, if you prefer,” and he takes to the stairs.  In a moment he’s looking forward to a long drive free with Jimmy Page’s guitar.

Hours later he flings open the door of the small cabin behind the family mansion and breathes in the earthy smell of the forest groin: musty, rich, and moist.  He turns his keys onto the metal table and washes his face with cold water in the kitchen sink.  Both houses are mostly closed in summer when the tourists descend.  In the pantry he finds a bottle of warm apple juice.  He drinks, fast.  It’s dark, but the moon is rising right before the dawn; he wants to be outside, needs the open air.

Out, now, he takes his time.  Walking is his favorite pastime; it’s the perspective that allures him – the pace, the height of a mortal man among giant things.  He finds the hidden valley that skims the heavens and lays down beneath the lacey canopy watching the moon drift and fade through the green leaves, thinking of Asherah.  She’s strong, but it won’t protect her.

She doesn’t know pure evil.  This is his concern.  He’s seen it, in its various, dull, flat forms.  It’s always the same backstory.  Someone wants something that they don’t have: money, power, a woman.  And they sell their soul to obtain it.  They’re boring, those masses, but tragic too, since they never see what could have been.  But he does see; he knows what might have been.  He sees what their world loses when they hoard and lie and scheme.  He watches liberty, that great and shining thing, leak out of them, moment by moment.  Liberty, the only treasure, is the most costly of them all.  And the humans give it away, sell it so cheap though it is so, so dear.  Even after all the history he’s seen, he remains appalled by just how much of eternity their individual souls contain – one human being is a feast of a lifetime for an anti jinn, a spiritual creature trying, uselessly, to make death into life by consuming a soul.

It’s impossible to effect this transformation by consuming.  The antiJinn know this, but they drink the human soul anyway.  The life that hell drinks is wasted, like pouring water into a sieve.  The dark ones, it’s their curse that they can’t stop trying.

If they could be cannibals, the demons, they would.  Instead it’s a tragic use of eternity, demons perpetually grasping like insects, fighting, scheming for a drop of life, life that humans trade for trinkets.  The mercy in it for the evil mass of the damned and dead, a mercy they do not deserve, is that one day soon they will cease to be.  Their torment, which had a beginning, must also have an end.

The forest knows what Moses is, there is no concealing him, because unlike humans, nothing else alive is capable of disguise. A she-bear visits him, along with a small herd of deer.  The bear doesn’t wonder if she can feed her cubs tomorrow.  She doesn’t wish that she were another kind of animal.  Animals are terrible prey for demons; they just don’t lie and act out of their own perimeters.  Only one animal in all of history was consciously bad, and that was hardly the snake’s fault, Moses thinks, defensively.  Snakes are stupid, and that was why the one got used.

In the place where the humans live, there are few eyes that see, few ears that hear.  Like the zombies they are so fond of watching in their movies, they stagger here and there and squander their godlike power.

It’s game on.  Any one of those allied with Moses could, at any moment, make a choice that undoes it all.  And now Gypsy.  Beautiful girl.  Headstrong, warrior princess, Moses’ Valkyrie.  What was a godman meant to do with such a woman?

Nighttime insect-song erupts from hundreds of acres of wilderness and Moses rolls over onto his empty stomach, burying his face in the tall grass as her face blooms in his mind’s eye, her sighted eyes staring into his with upmost intensity: eternal k’un.  It’s one thing to watch people fuck themselves up, it’s sad and yet unfortunately, still, even now, compelling, to try to stop them.

It’s another thing altogether to know that if he causes one of them to fuck it up he’ll know what mortality is.  And if he dies, if an immortal is turned, his soul will indeed be the undoing, an entirely pure form of the drug the demons need, in their endless slavery, the drug that would release them from the hold his oldest brother placed on that realm in that reckless gamble years ago.

If Moses’ success were a given, then he’d not have been permitted to enter this realm.  But, unlike his brother, whose work stands forever perfect, his janitorial work will be far less spectacular, and yet necessary.  The risks are catastrophic.  But the head of his family wants as many of these little creatures as is possible to unleash from the sticky mortal web they believe to be real.  So here he is, unforced.  He chose this.

He takes her ring from his pocket, turns it around slowly, contemplating.  The gold is pure, soft, and heavy, like the gold on his streets at home, and just as worthless.  Made by a Chinese prophet two thousand five hundred years before – inside this ring are the same characters as the ones on Asherah’s toe ring, the Chinese luopan, its compass pointing to the chi.  Gypsy’s mother, the broken priestess- she once knew the destiny of her only daughter.  But she has forgotten all of it; her dignity has been muddied.

If Moses gives Gypsy this ring, she will be bound to this project, immortal, but bound, by the same rules as he is bound.  Nevertheless, if he gives her this ring, and she accepts, she will lose the life she knows, and in return shoulder an intolerable burden.

Moses lays his hand to the giant tree on his left, roots, crown, concentric circles, layer after layer, accretion of, in the case of this tree in particular, 257 years, 5 months, and 6 days. He undoes the image in his head, rewinds the mental tape and watches the tree develop once again from its infancy through to its current mature grandeur.

Finally, mid- morning, he stumbles back to the cabin exhausted, a feeling he’s unaccustomed to – it is impossible to erase an immortal disposition, and he’s been in this skin for only a few decades, a nanosecond in spiritual time.  If human beings knew how long they last, they’d act differently, at least that’s always been his argument.  No one else agrees.  Elijah’s a cynic.  If the assholes had it to do all over again, they’d make the same stupid choices, that’s what he says.  But Mo, he’s an optimist.

He showers then, hurriedly, drinks water from the tap, and climbs the tallest tree behind the cabin, calling for his birds.  They build a nest for him in the treetop within a quarter hour, and he climbs in gratefully, passing out from exhaustion as the limbs of the trees waltz beneath him.  It’s half a day before he climbs back down.  The whole cabin is glowing in the twilight, and the smell of lilies pervades.  It’s his cousin.

“Elijah,” he says, before opening the door.  At the white metal table where his adoptive mother used to write down Jewish recipes in pencil sits his pain-in-the-ass cousin, eyes white, hair nearly purple.

“You found her,” says Elijah.

“It’s too soon, like I said.”

“You’re testy. Does that come from testicle, I’m just wondering now…”

“You’re such a dick. I’m wary of the girl.”

“You’ll manage.”

“She’s a child.”

“She’s a woman.”

“A very young one with stars in her eyes. You’ve given me no choice.  You’re so sure of her.  How can you be?  They’re not like men.”

Elijah glares, “The woman will fight; heaven knows they do it better than we do, that’s why we waited.”

“Don’t tell me what heaven knows.”

“The holy hippy, flings himself down here and whines about bruising?”

“I’m not like him, I’m not that pure.  We all know this.”

“No one is like him. He’s not even a reasonable excuse for a god – if you designed a god, you’d still give that god a few peculiarities.  He has none.  I still recall that shredded curtain like it was yesterday.”  Here Elijah makes a few sound effects, moves his arm up and down.

“Have you no sense of how she smells?  You must have been amused, watching, as she stepped up behind me.”

“You know the prophecy included a partner.”

“The prophecy was a person.  Not a woman.”

“Are you actually saying women aren’t people?”  Elijah laughs grandly.

“That’s rich, isn’t it?”  He has to admit it, he’s sounding foolish.

“Yes.”

“Elijah, I’ve always been the weakest link.  Passion is my weakness, not my strength.”

“You’re wrong. You’ve always been wrong on that.”

“Fine.  You know my temper.  If I’m going to work with her, she has to be inoculated.”

“Rat – it’s the year of.  Are you truly losing your mind out here in the galaxy of the unreal?”

“I’m quite clear, mocking cousin.  I’d kick your ass if it were flesh like mine is. But we both know I’d break my fist in half if I punched you right now.”

“I did my stint, remember?”

“You were hard to ignore; the jars of water and the trench.  You have a flair for it.”

Abruptly Elijah vanishes, still laughing, leaving a faint echo of holiness.  The earth’s beauty, mingled with its constant refrain of unreality and death has an appalling, sensual nature, certainly compelling in the way that a ghetto is beautiful.  But now Moses feels the absence of eternity and perfection.  The task is immaculate, as must be his performance.

ASHERAH

I run when I need to think. I sure as hell need to think.  Running, it’s such a rush, and I always feel clear afterwards.  Moses was too much on my mind.  He’s dangerous, and unpredictable.  A Deasy?  No.  I know in my heart he is not a Deasy, but, but, but I say….  He asks me to give up my work at the paper for the first time in my life.  I love my life, all of it.  Other than the loneliness, I am happy.  I have art, culture, interesting people to listen to, and satisfying work.  I pull on my black track suit, lace up my Adidas.

Anyway, I want to get out of the house.  Sundays Ulysses and I read the competing editions and our book review comes out.  I know he hasn’t read my Deasy review and it’ll be on the front page of that section today.  If I can avoid his congratulations and analysis on my piece, I will.  I need something; I feel itchy.

I run for eight miles and rip my headphones off, I’m drenched and my body rattles with intensity.  Fuck it, that wasn’t it.  Speed dial.

“Chris?”

After six and a half rings: “Fuck, Gypsy, it’s like, ante meridiem, isn’t it?”

My cousin is out late as a rule.  He’s a darling of the LA club and hotel scene, and gets invited everywhere.  His work is sexy, ahead of the curve.  He’s Dad’s posterchild, being groomed to be the front man for the paper, his mop of dirty blonde hair and absurd clothes are perfect for the slightly pretentious, liberal left mojo of Ulysses’ newspaper.  I was always OK with this plan.  I never intended newspaper life.  I always wanted to be an artist, though I’m certainly getting off to a damn slow start.

“Chris, I really need to – “  I stop.  He’s right.  It is early, like 8:30 which for Chris is dark-thirty.  I am about to hang up.

“How’s my favorite cousin?”

He always calls me his favorite cousin.  I am also his only cousin.  The truth is, Chris is my favorite person on the planet and 7 years my senior.

“I know, you’re allergic to mornings, sorry, but I met someone the other night.  I need to talk.  Can you?”

I hear him sigh, “Where?”  Then there is a distinctly female mumble, sheets moving.

I lower my voice involuntarily, “Chris?  You busy?  I can – “

True to form my boy whispers into the phone suddenly more alert, “Actually, you’re giving me a great excuse,” before adding, louder, “where?”

“You’re a crappy actor, Chris.  Can you make it to Good Stuff before you insult that poor girl’s intelligence again?”

He agrees.

By ten-thirty a badly hungover Chris Joyce sits across from me, squinting through dark glasses, waiting, with zero patience, on the best burger on the beach.

“I feel like skewered shit,” he says.

“That phrase recalling those meatballs your mom used to make until someone said something.  I swear Chris, you dress like you were brought up in Graceland with Liberace as your favorite uncle.”

“What?  This is – it’s –  it’s designer something.  Fuck – I dunno.  The stylist does this stuff.”

“Yeah, it’s something,” I say.  “I have to squint to look at you.  We need you a new stylist my darling, one who has moved up from primate and into homo erectus.”

“And. Your. Point. Is?”

“It’s Sunday, Chris.  People are sleepy.  That shirt’s like its own revolution.  I’m almost nauseous looking at it.”

Ignoring me, he launches in, “Soooo, this is a first, I must say.  Who is he?”  His blonde hair spills over his blue eyes; he’s grinning.  Chris is reckless, modestly rich, brilliant in the news business, and fickle about all personal things except one: me.

I smile at him.  He’s also so full of shit.  He plows ahead.  I can’t speak.  So he baits me.

“I love that half happy, half ‘I’m-going-to-blow-your-fucking-head-off’ smile.  You’re wearing the signature sneer, Mona Lisa.”

“Moses Deasy.”  I lean on both elbows to watch my cousin’s response.

Chris lifts one eyebrow and is about to say something.  The waitress delivers his burger platter and he looks at her like she, too, might be on his menu for the day.  I shake my head, pitying the poor waitress.

“I swear, Asherah, I must still be blind from last night because what I just heard you say, before a goddess delivered my burger-slash-morning-after-pill, is that the first man you’re thinking about entertaining as a possible boyfriend has the surname Deasy.”

“Ok, you’re calling me by my proper name?  Really?  Yeah, no, he’s not boyfriend material.  But he’s asked me to work for him.”

“You work for the paper.”

“Yeah, but, this guy, Chris.  He’s no Deasy.  And he’s building some kind of  – it’s not a business – I don’t know the plan.  But he’s asking me to be a part of it.  I met him when I was out with Ken and Tina.”

He ignores my comment.  “You’re asking permission to quit the paper?  That’s why you took me away from a nice morning coitus session?”

“No.”

“Didn’t think so.  Spit it out Gypsy.  There’s something you’re not saying.  You like this guy.”

I didn’t identify the feeling as a romantic feeling.  It is more along the lines of trepidation.  Chris inhales half of his gigantic burger in three bites.  He brightens considerably.  Large quantities of grease lube him up.

“Do you chew?  I’ve seen dogs eat slower. I’m worried he’s fanatic, or, no, that’s not the word.  Chris, I can’t put my finger on it, but if he lost his control, and he seems to have a lot of that, I am not sure I want to be around.”  I tell Chris about the time with Moses on the beach.

“I’m starving,” he says, eating the remaining meat feverishly while I talk.  He wipes his face neatly.  “OK, OK, so, what’s the problem other than Ulysses, obviously?”

“He’s a little,” I cross my legs more tightly under the table, my workout pants are sweaty and hot.  I probably smell. “He’s strange, I guess, or, not strange, wrong word, but, gifted.”  I sip my chocolate, figuring that the calories Chris is eating are enough for the both of us.

“Strange how, or how strange?”  He blows a huge wad of ketchup onto his plate and looks at me intently.  I stall.  He starts on his fries like he’s going to war.

“You have more vigor than should be permitted in one package.  But this Moses, he’s intense, Chris.  I mean really, really intense.”

Chris has a way of suddenly snapping to attention at exactly the right time, which is why I love him. His whole face gets alert and he instantly grabs onto something and then just goes for it.  His ears even get a little pointy when he does it.

“That’s not that strange.  Lots of film stars and exceptional people have a sort of aura.  You’re leaving something out.”  He’s making short work of his fries.  I have the feeling that if someone put a finger near the plate, it might get bitten.

“He’s terribly beautiful.  I do mean terribly.  When I look into his face it’s like I’m seeing the kind of force and sheer energy that builds mountains.  He’s hot, much warmer than an average person.  And when he touched me, it was like that time you made me test that bobby pin theory in your mother’s socket on the second floor.”

“I’ve apologized for that already, Gypsy, more than 3 or four times.”  He scoops the last few fries in ketchup, feeds himself like he hasn’t eaten in days.  But I know he actually might be starving – he tends to forget to eat, hence his very slender hips which I’ve disconcertingly heard termed “fuckable”.

I close my mouth, open it, and close it again and finally force it out.  “Chris, I think he’s supernatural.”

Chris leans back in his chair.  “Did you just use the adjective supernatural?  Let me dial this in: you meet a young billionaire at a bar, he drives you home, romances the crap out of you in an hour on the beach.  But he has a fever, charisma, and a perverse connection to electricity so therefore he’s a god.  Don’t major in philosophy or logic.  You’ll fail.”

“Have you ever known me to exaggerate Chris?  You know – why don’t you lick your plate?  That would really add a bit of flourish to the ingestive performance you just gave.”

Chris ignores me, hoarks the last bite of pickle, chews slowly, and swallows.  “They really should make a hamburger pill.  It would be so efficient.  I feel much better.  I don’t think I ate anything last night at all except cocktail onions, which, incidentally, go down like marbles.  OK, here it is from the Older Cousin.  You’re being a coward.  Don’t look for a reason not to like him.  I’ve known you since you were a fetus, and not once have you ever, and I do mean ever, even thought, even given one squirt for the, and I’m underestimating here, sixty-two hundred men who want you.  You slept with a forgettable prick just to get it over with.  But you’ve never been in love.  Now you meet one who is rich, talented, and handsome.  And you like him.  If he’s, as you say, miraculously endowed, why does that make him ineligible?”

“It doesn’t.  But it does make him a little scary. And I didn’t mean to sleep with Bruce.”

“Funny, that.  I always mean to screw when I do it.  But you do it accidentally?”

“I was believing my own bullshit awhile in there.  I’m ashamed of myself, had all those thoughts of Bruce and I running the paper.  Can we just chuckle about that and forgive me?”

“No need for forgiveness Gypsy girl.”  Chris pulls the extra dishes he was meant to use to dress his vanished burger tosses an extra two pickles and a tomato slice into his mouth at once, chews them.  He takes a few swigs of Coke before speaking again,

“Just think, if he’s god, your gifts on Valentine’s and New Years’ will be awesome.  You might get, like, the Arkenstone.”

“Fuck you.”

“Pass.  As the one person who knows you best I offer one word of caution.”

“Hit me.”

“Don’t be a pussy.  You want to work for him.  I can see that.  Ulysses wants whatever you want.  He’s not going to stand in your way.  Trust your instincts because you have awesome instincts.  And trust me, maybe this guy’s a real gem, but you’re a fucking miracle yourself, you sweet, hot thing, and he ought to be down on his knees thanking God that he met you, too.”

“Thanks.”

“I love you, baby girl, more than I love anything, except, maybe, my own bed with a hot, liberated, not-interested-in-marriage girl in it.”

“Latin motto for my cuz: Carpe Puntang.”

“Ouch.  Yeah.  Maybe.  Oh, and if he hurts you I get to bust his Deasy ass.”

“No problem,” I say, grinning now.  “Go back to girl #367 who is waiting at your house.”

“Are you kidding, I’m not going back until I know she’s gone.  Five times were enough.”

“You’re a player.”

“Not with you I’m not.”

“Yeah, that’s true, and plus you’re so darn adorable,” I say, getting up.

“That’s me.  Adorable.”  He stands up and pays our bill, his silk t-shirt glimmering.

Really, euthanize that shirt.”

He pats his chest, “Keeping the shirt.  No, no wait, I’m going to buy one for Moses, send it over, in the name of diplomacy.  Once he reads your scathing review of his grampa’s autobiography, we’ll need to placate him.”

I kiss him and walk home feeling better, wishing maybe I hadn’t run so damn far.  At Ulysses’ house, Tibet is having some kind of staring contest with a very large seagull through the plate glass.  There’s a pile of vomited furball beside Tibet, who only yacks when she’s nervous.

And Ulysses is draped over the couch, eating a bagel and cream cheese.  There are sections of 20 newspapers all over the floor.

“Dad.”

“Hey dolly.  I’m just about to get up.”

“Dad.  It’s one-thirty.”

“And, your point is?  It’s Sunday, we non practicing Jews need to loll around a bit.”

“I saw Chris,” I say, heading into the kitchen.

“Yeah?  Early for him no?”

“He was wearing such a shirt, Daddy.”

“Part of his charm.”

“Much the way a hideous laugh or a loud sneeze are charming.”

“Touche,” my dad says, and shuffles up to kiss me.  Then, in his charming way, he smacks my butt with the newspaper that’s still in his hand.  “What a review!  You manage the perfect balance between mortified indignation and reluctant pity for that puffed up prig.”

“Alliteration, Daddy?!”  I laugh, drink what’s left of his tomato juice.  Then Dad gets that look he gets when he’s just figured something out.

“What happened Gypsy?”

“I met the man’s secret grandson last night, Daddy.  He’s not like anyone I’ve ever met.”

“I’ve heard the same from someone? – Sian Morgan, I think.”

“The lawyer, daughter of THE lawyer?”

“Yeah – he’s a client of hers.  The biggest I’d wager.”

“Isn’t she like, my age?”

“Dunno.”  My father turns, stares at the shimmering California ocean.

“Daddy?”  I walk to where he is, grab his hand.

That gets his full attention, his head slowly, deliberately, swivels to stare me right in the face.  “You’re in love with him.”  He looks at me stunned, utterly, by his own statement

I squeeze his hand, “Yeah.”

He shakes his head, “Good luck my daughter.  But know that if he isn’t what you think, I’ll surely move heaven and earth to go against him.”

“I know it Daddy.  I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” he says, kissing me on the forehead, “Never apologize for love.  Now, after this enlightening dialogue, I’m going to go meet Smack Line about the damn concert – LA will foot the bill for the security, and now I’ve got to get him to carry the cost of the port-o-potties.”

“You know how to live, Dad.”

“Don’t I just?” he grins, leaps up with the energy of a 16-year-old, and trucks it up to shower.

_____

By Monday morning I’ve kind of, sort of, wedged, or at least tried put Moses on a back burner.

I brace myself for another dose of Henry Wotton as I drive to work.  Henry is the new editor of the most prestigious book review on the west coast.  He can smell anything remotely trite or commercial, and approaches every piece of prose with violent cynicism and a terrifying depth of knowledge.  At only 37 he’s amassed an impressive number of finds, novels he is essentially credited with discovering.  As a handseller, no one outdoes Henry.  If he recommends a writer, their career is almost a given.  My father loves him.

I don’t.  And now I’m about to resign.  Henry’ll be pissed and take it personally, and then there is the dreaded Bruce Wayne who is most likely right now in the company café. Two men I will not miss.  The one man I was heading towards I wasn’t sure about at all.  Bruce and I had a few dates, and unfortunately, sex.  It was truly unfortunate, in the sense that right in the middle of our sex scene I was actually going through my closet, mentally, trying to figure out where I shoved this great pair of Moroccan slippers that remain inexplicably lost.  I guess Bruce had the sex of his life because he’s never stopped trying to date me.  He’d be sexier if he were made of wax, with the added benefit that, if he were, he’d not be talking and might just melt away.

I park in the underground lot and head for the stairs when someone runs up from behind me in the semi darkness.  I figure they’re late for work, want me to hold the lift.  I don’t even turn around. They push me hard, headfirst, into the pavement.  When I try to break my fall I cut my wrist open on an raw section of guardrail.  I yell but a large male hand covers my mouth and wrenches my injured wrist behind my back.  Sometime during that swirl, when my muffled face is in the air over the guardrail, and my wrist dripping blood, the hand that had shoves me grabs my left breast.  The hand lets go, tries to rip off my skirt.  I suddenly realize this is rape, not a mugging.  Then, the groping hand slithers off of my body as I hear Henry running up, from far away, right before I black out.  He is screaming, “Hey!  Hey!”  I know his whiney voice well.

A second later, or a minute, or an hour after, I stare up at Henry’s terrified face.  He’s patting my hair, talking into his cell.  I examine the ceiling of the parking garage because I’m temporarily insane, or the world is, but either way, the most comforting thing to do is to analyze something boring and predictable.  Like those lights?  Why have I never in my life looked up at the lights in the Journal’s parking garage?  They’re bloody HUGE lights.  Who knew?

“No,” he says, “I won’t move her.  I think her arm’s broken maybe just bloody.  Listen, the guy in the ski mask is headed down, stop him!  I’m not leaving her alone.”  But they didn’t stop him, because, weirdly, my attacker was never seen coming or going from my father’s building.  This, of course, I did not know at the time.

Henry summoned security and dialed 911 before I even stopped examining the concrete ceiling; I suddenly wonder how used chewing gum winds up on the ceiling?  Are there people who actually throw used gum up?  Maybe it’s bird shit  but then the birds would’a have to have ingested helium…  I must have rapped my head hard.

The EMS guys who appear like magic have stopped my bleeding and placed surgical tape on my wound.  At some point I see I’m shaking, actually, trembling from head to toe.  I keep trying to get up.  I can’t find my way to upright.  It’s like when I was young and a gigantic ocean swell crashed over me before I could jump the wave, and I ended up paddling straight face first into the sand instead of up to the surface.  I’m disoriented.

“Ash?”  Henry is looking into my face in utter terror.

I nod.  The guys are asking me routine questions.  A cop car pulls up.  Someone decides I need to sit in a chair.  I eventually end up sitting in a stranger’s car, a kind secretary from the law offices on the 3rd floor.  She lowers the bucket seat so I am reclining.  The officer is solid and serious, taking down my statement.  Almost 2 hours later, I’m on the elevator.  Henry’s been gone a long time, but I know he’s probably going to pounce when I get in.

I tell no one that rape had been the attacker’s intention, though Henry knows, I’m certain, he’s fucking smart if nothing else.  But I don’t want to be in the office any longer than necessary.  It’s going to be hard enough to quit after Henry protected me.  They said I ought to go to the hospital, that stitches are necessary if the bleeding begins again.  I plan not to bleed again.  I decide, willfully, that my wound will not need stitches knowing I have no control.  I can feel my heart literally hammering in my chest.  I keep shaking my head, like there is a fog all around me and I can’t displace it.  I’m going to shake this off, wake up.  But I am up.

By 12:30  I’m tucked upstairs in the Joyce newspaper building, sitting at my desk rereading the same notes over and over trying not to flip out.  My hands are still shaking so badly I can’t even discern one line from another.   Henry is probably having trouble, too, in his glass office.  I force myself to get up, walk over, wait until Henry motions me into his office.  I sit down.  He pulls the interior blinds.

“What are you doing Henry?”

“He was going to rape you Ash.  Rape.”

“Yeah, well, he didn’t.”

“I need to show you something.”

He pulls out an envelope with some tape on it.  The writing on the front reads “Asherah Joyce”.  It’s sealed.

“This was taped to your back.  I didn’t want to say anything in front of the guards and the EMS techs.”

I take it from his hand, look at it, set it in my lap.  I am numb.

“Thanks.  Henry, I resign.”

“What?  Why?  We’ll look at the security tapes.  We’ll have someone revamp our precautions.”

“No, it’s not that.  I have another job for the summer.”

“Asherah, I had a call from the East coast last night.”  He actually has the review in his hand, is waving it at me.

“I’m going,” I say, cautiously.  I look at the block writing of my name on the envelope.  There’s much control in the penmanship.  The person who shoved me is calm, premeditated; this person isn’t lusting, this person is castrating, not me, Moses.  It’s Moses.

Henry pushes around to the side of his desk and levels his extremely intelligent gaze at me.  “It’s the Deasy piece, Asherah.  I knew we were taking a risk exposing you that way.”

“I can assure you that’s not why.  And I’ll read this later,” I say, waving the envelope and standing up slowly.  “I think I’ll head back home.”

“Let me drive you?  Or can I send a staff person?  It’s probably not a great idea for you to drive yourself home.”  He stares at me like a very nervous smart person who isn’t sure how to proceed without my suddenly bolting.  I am lucky I’ve quit in this moment; Henry hasn’t heard me and I’ve escaped the initial argument.  But this isn’t about the review.  It’s about Moses.  And no one can know.  No one.  Not my dad, for sure, but not anyone.

“I’ll drive myself.  It’ll give me time to think.  When my dad hears about this all hell will break loose and you guys are in for a massive increase in security screening.  I want to be gone before that happens.”  I look at my watch, I have about 15 minutes to disappear.

Henry appraises me, his striking mind running through the possibilities, weighing each end.

“OK,” he says, slowly.

“And Henry, listen, thanks for that.  I know we aren’t friends, but you stood up for me this morning.”

“Anyone would have done that.”

“No, Henry, that’s not true.  You’re an honorable man.  Now I know.  I don’t forget anything.”

“It was an honor to be there, Asherah, I mean that,” he says, and pats my hand.  That pat triggers another memory.  Not long ago I saw Henry at the market in Beverly Hills.  He had his back to me.  He was staring at a display of fruit, I stopped, stood there, many feet away, and realized he was clutching his baby daughter’s hands.  She stood in front of him, and he was holding her up on his loafers.  Henry’s not a monster.  He’s arrogant, but then most genius’ are.  I shift my gaze with owlish precision until my eyes eventually meet his.

“All I know is that when you shouted the person behind me ran off.  You saved my life and my dignity.”

He squints uncomfortably and I turn to go.  Suddenly he is in front of me and opening the heavy door of his office.

Still as I get up, prepare to leave, I know I’m not really standing on the 15th floor.  I’m floating, or ghosting, suspended in a reverberation of terror.  I’ve spent my whole life with newsmakers, and I’ve seen plenty of scenes that are too disturbing to print.  But now I understand.  I understand why victims stay silent and run.  It’s the shock.  It gags you.  Your mind clicks into auto-pilot mode and instead of living in your skin you are willfully, externally, moving your body around like it’s a marionette.

I don’t want to leave my dad’s building; it’s a second home to me. I’ve hung around my father’s offices since I was still wearing tights and patent leather shoes. Slowly, and with great concentration, I walk back to my desk to grab the Deasy galley. It’s thumbed up thoroughly with my notes stuck in it everywhere; I don’t want anyone else to see it. I try to walk casually out of the office.  I know the staff know – it’s a fucking newspaper.  They’re too polite to disturb me.  Fuck it, someone’s already told my father and where the fuck is my goddamn cell phone?  Oh my God.  He has it.  He has it.  Nevermind.

I ride the elevator to the 33rd floor.  I walk like a zombie outside onto the roof.  It’s blindingly sunny.  This is common; today is like every single summer day in LA.  Right now I love that LA is always sunny and 72 degrees.  At least that hasn’t changed.  Because something sure as hell just changed.  I set the envelope aside without opening it.  I’m also pretty stoned on the pain medication the techs shot into my arm.  I take the first deep breath, try to gather the ocean from the wind.  What did I have on that cell?  Whose private line was on there?  God only knows.  It’s password protected, no way that fuck can get into it that fast.  I’ll have it somehow turned off by the end of the day.  Can I even do that?

My father’s suite of offices is located directly underneath me, and Chris’ on the floor just below.  I feel safe here.  Because we are a news agency, security is very tight.  I don’t know how that guy got into the garage, but he’d never have gotten into the building.  There are scans and even invisible protection once you attempt to enter the building.  My attacker knew that.  He knew he had to get me before I got inside.  I’m so frightened by this revelation I jump quickly to my feet, walk over to the edge.  What was I thinking I’d see?  The guy running away?

Below, cars slip past noiselessly, colored fish in a mechanical stream.  I love it out here.  No one bothers to climb out to this side, ever; the roof means total isolation.  In 10th grade I made out with Sam Peters up here, Sam Peters who is now heading to the east coast for a shot on Broadway.  Sammy Peters with the gorgeous red hair.  He was an excellent kisser.  He’ll kiss some girl on Broadway one day.

A seagull lands on the roof.  It’s then I remember, my father is on the plane to New York this morning for the whole week.  I’m fine.  He’s heard, but my phone’s gone, and I’ll avoid him for a week.  I stretch out my legs, return to the gravel floor, my back against the wall.  I breathe in consciously for the second time.  The seagull looks at me like he’s having coherent thought.  I realize he looks like the same bird that pissed off my cat.  But this can’t be.

“This is Century City bud, ocean’s that way, better snacks.” I say to the seagull, thinking of my Tibet.  His yellow eyes are beady and annoyed.  He paces back and forth, his fat bunch of tail feathers wagging like a bustle.  I smile, he’s ridiculous. “Fine, stay, you fat little buttful of fluff.”  The bird stares right at me for an extended moment and sits down like he got it.  I stare at him, but then, I’m too tired.  I’m so tired now.  But fuck that guy, I’m tougher than he is.  I need to know what I know, to remember my work, my research.

I open the galley, beginning at the beginning, resisting the impulse to read the information I care most about, re-taking brief notes in my head:  Abraham Deasy –valedictorian from some public school in the hot, dry inner California farm country.  Law degree, UCLA.  Hardworking, full scholarship, married the girl he’d dated since high school, loyal to her for the duration of her life, which was, mercifully for her, short.  Suicide.  Tragic.  Now Abraham’s a childless widow.  He went to seminary after her death and then founded his church.  His second wife came after his money did; she’s got some kind of social pedigree from someplace, some kind of older money.

The second Mrs. Deasy hails from Houston, and proves slightly hysterical.  Convenient new connections for Abraham, though.  Arthur, Moses’ father, is the first and last product of that union.  The second wife is still alive and hopelessly silly.  She has chronic insomnia and depression and frequently appears un-sober.  Arthur, overburdened only child of a terrifyingly severe man who, externally, never made big mistakes, seems smart but timid, almost terrorized.  He knows something.  But he can’t/won’t say.  What does that church do with all of its profit?

Arthur travels to Israel, courts Sarah Baruch, and marries the Hebrew girl who, though, she never actively participated in Abraham’s church, goes week after week for her husband’s sake.  Sarah gives her husband a son, Mordecai.  That son is now married.  They adopted Moses five years after Mordecai’s birth.  Sarah reportedly taught this child, the adopted child, her mother tongue, showing immense favoritism.  Later on, the same year of Moses’ adoption, Sarah gives birth to Twink, the little sister, her second biological child.  After this, much later, Sarah Deasy has conflict with iron fisted patriarch Abraham Deasy, apparently over the disposition of her Jewish fortune, but curiously, not with Arthur.  I wonder at the audacity of Abraham here, as if he were somehow entitled to every woman in his realm.

Then, lately, Sarah Baruch Deasy signs her entire gold and diamond fortune over to her adopted son; a simple will, it’s all for Moses.  The fatal quasi-accident follows.  The seagull still watches me with unnerving intensity.

“Do you know anything?”  I ask him.  He glares at me as if he finds my familiar tone rude.

No mention in their autobiography of Abraham’s corporate connections, or his substantial international influence.  Almost nothing about Moses, either.

“What do you think?”  I ask the bird who is really staring at me.  He blinks.

I put the book down, open the note knowing I’m messing up evidence.  There’s only one word.  “Ggyro.”

“Like a stuttering compass or the sandwich?” I ask my bird friend.

I ball it up, hoist the letter into the air and chuck it off the roof.  It’s stupid.  I am going to be bullied; that’s no surprise.  It’s Moses.  The other team sees me as a threat, or the weak link.  Why rape though?  And a deliberately misspelt reference to a lamb sandwich?

The seagull leaves abruptly, as if he’s lost patience.

By two o’clock I reach the part of the galley where Moses is accused of being a computer criminal.  The gravel I’,m sitting on is hurting my butt, and probably my butt now looks like an antiskid matt from a public gym.

The teacher, Moses’ teacher, took a few of the boys, in the fifth grade, to see a random number generator.  When Moses entered the room, the machine reset itself, lost its randomness.

At the time, Abraham suggests Moses is at fault, insinuates, also, that the lying boy is also answerable for his mother’s death.  I knew these to be lies even before I’d met Moses.  A billion dollars is at stake.  Moses certainly has motivation for murder.  But I trust my instincts.  I’m a newsman’s daughter through and through.  Aside from the Lambo, Moses isn’t pretentious.  No, this isn’t about money, I think, this is about power.  Moses has it, and somehow that hurts Abraham because what he has is nothing compared to what I now know is in his adoptive grandson.

Deasy’s silly book, on the scant .01% devoted to the subject of Moses, falls heavily on the side of Moses being a liar and a con artist in such an absurd way no real thinker could read it without laughing or crying.  In the end I stuff the galley in the water spout there and drive myself back home.  My eyes filled with spots as they readjust to the dim interior light and I’m trying not to consider what I actually look like.

When I pass into the elevator someone steps in saying my father has called 7 times.  Then they say Henry texted me.  I shake my head, poke it into Henry’s office before leaving.  I’m not disclosing the loss of my phone either.  I give him a raised eyebrow.

“Come to the Deasy library opening.  10am tomorrow.  Please.”

Without thinking I reply, “OK, send a car.”  He’s got no idea.  Schmuck.  Fuck whomever it was this morning.  I’m not afraid.  But I am, I am afraid.  I’m afraid because Moses is obviously constrained by certain principles.  Afraid that the one he’s provoking will not be bound by any rules, instead this enemy will have no limit, no moral compass, no boundary for the depravity.  I know about depravity like a newsperson.  I do not plan to know it personally.

Before exiting the building I stop at the massive front desk on the first floor, I call my dad, calm him down.  He thinks it’s the Deasy review and I let that stand.  I’ve puzzled over reporters who are willing to take any risk for a story, men and women who work for my father and routinely ignore State Department regulations and enter countries they’ve got shitty chances of ever leaving again.  I marvel at that level of single-minded commitment.  Those crazed people, their heart leading them, their brain dragged behind like an unwilling animal.

Now it’s me.  I know, in my heart, that people will die, that there will be intolerable costs.  And I don’t care.  I was born for this.  It’s mine, not just his.  I know I’ll join Moses, now and always.

I finished high school with a really bad reputation of being a total snob.  It’s an accurate assessment.  In Ulysses’ world I met human beings who risked everything to do something monumental.  Important stuff happens a lot in our business, and the collateral damage is that everyday life eventually loses its poignancy.  I can’t get worked up over Facebook posts or not being asked to prom.  My father followed his heart and built a serious newspaper that gave people an opportunity to get slightly less biased news than from the other papers.  My turn.  My heart.  I never wanted to run a newspaper.

My passion is illuminated manuscripts like the Book of Kells and the works of Blake, many of which are here in LA in original form.  I keep planning a visit Dublin, to see the Book of Kells in its Real Life version.  But, as it turned out, business never took my dad to Dublin when I was with him.

Stepping out of my car, which is now underneath our house on the strand, I’m lonely.  What I really want is to talk to someone, anyone, someone not connected to the paper, someone not aware of our family politics, someone with zero interest in my public life.  I rarely miss having a best girlfriend, but I feel that sadness now, thinking there is no girl, not even my mom, I can call.  My mom is no friend and probably not even sober.  It’s after three, she’s tanked by now.

I did not know that at that moment Moses was on the Pacific Coast Highway.  He stops on the edge of the road.  A few birds descend where he sits in his car.  A moment later those birds leave and he gets in, floors it; the car jumps in response.  He’s at my door in fifteen minutes.  We arrive at my house at the same time, though he says later I cut him off when I pulled into our garage.  I actually have a lot of pain, the analgesic is gone and now the cut pounds hard in hot little drum beats up my arm.  And what the fuck am I going to do without a cell phone goddamnit?

My father’s house on the strand looks distinctly East coast against the other modern houses of our southern California village.   Ulysses built it after my mom became a junky, kept it a secret so she’d stay out of it, though she was never one to chase anyone.  Our house here is everything my mom was, a complicated jumble, impractical and romantic, ridiculously hard to decorate or to even use in parts.  I love the intensity of our house; I love it that it reminds me of what my mom once was.  Tucked into the intense beauty of Ulysses’ house, I immediately feel better.

But a moment after I arrive, I walk down the flight of stairs for water and see him through the one-way glass windows, tall, lean, perfectly handsome, mass of curly black hair shining, beautiful skin framing a pair of eyes that could only belong to a god.  I walk slowly to the door and open it.

He hands me the note I had thrown from the roof.  In silence, I let him inside, and sit down heavily on the couch.

“What are you?  I?”

“How did they get to you?”  The anger in his black eyes is startling.

I sit there, the strong salt water breeze blowing in through our open windows; it’s quiet, the middle of a work day afternoon.  People who own these houses don’t use them much.  It’s mostly just the domestic help on weekdays.

“I don’t know.  I did that Deasy piece in the Sunday edition.  It wasn’t, you know, com-plee-mentary.”

“May I?”  He reaches for my injured wrist.

I brace myself for the pain as he grabs my wrist and stares, running his fingers over the wound.  He glares at me, or at least he glares at whatever information now runs through his mind.  The pain of contact with Moses, on top of the injury, takes my breath away.  I steady myself with my other hand.

His face clouds; he realizes how long he’s been holding my wrist.  He drops it.   “I won’t do that again.”

“Can’t say I’m disappointed.  Must put a dent in your romantic life to have high voltage power thrust off your fingers.”

“Huge,” he says.

“Why are you here?” I ask him.

“For you,” says Moses.  “May I stay?”

“Yes, I don’t want to be alone, really, I needed space from Ulysses’ world.’  I jump in,  “That bird.  He works for you.  He caught the note when I dropped it off the roof.”

“Friday.  He is called Friday.”

Moses stares at my left breast.  He knows.  I ignore this weirdness for the moment.  “Tell Friday thanks.”

Moses grimaces; the aggression in his face is almost wild.

“Lillith,” he says, like that means something.

“Who’s that?  Not someone working for Deasy.  I’d know the name from my research.”

“He works for her.”

“He – how?”

“He doesn’t know.”

“Who is she?”

“Like me.”

“You mean the antithesis of you.”

He nods.

“She has your powers?”

“No, we don’t know exactly what she can do.  She’s limited in many respects.  Her slaves can only feed her so much.  She’s too hungry to be very strong, she can’t inhabit skin.”

“It was a man, anyhow.”

“She’s not fit to do her own work.”

“So the man is, what?  Possessed?”

“He’s a follower, he doesn’t know her either.  That’s not the right word.  You can’t know her.  He isn’t aware of what she is.  The message she sends is for me, not for you.”

“The note says, gyro.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“What does it say?”

“Orgy.  She made him misspell it.”

The hair on my head literally stands up on end.

“She has people watching all of us around the clock.”

“She does?  Why?  And, just so you know, I’m not nearly so easily deterred,” I say.  “I’ve been threatened a lot of times because of my dad.  This is the worst injury I’ve sustained, of course, but it won’t alter my decision.  I quit the paper today.  I want to do whatever you are doing.  I’ll be at the meeting on Wednesday.”

“And you are coming to the library tomorrow?”

How did you?  Nevermind.  Yes, I am.”

“He will be there, the man who did this to you will be there.  If he touches you again, he will be sorry.”

“You do not need to defend me.” I say, irritated.  “I’m not helpless.”

“No, you aren’t.  But you are not familiar with your opponent.”

“An enemy is an enemy.”

“She is not an enemy.  She’s the mother of all evil.”

“He’d a had to kill me first,” I say, my eyes flaring, “if he thought he’d rape me.”

“He wasn’t trying to rape you.”

“He wasn’t?”

“He would have eaten you.”

I stumble over the word, “Eaten? What the fuck do you mean eaten?”

“If you are absolutely certain you are joining me, then I’m going to ask you to let me do something for you.”

“What’s that?” I ask, carefully.  I won’t agree to protection.

“Provide protection.”

“Absolutely not.  I’m private.  Someone hanging around would make me insane.”

“Not a person.  I assign my animals or I withdraw my offer of a job.”

I nod.  Me, who bargains like a Bedouin, me, outspoken child of an outspoken man, suddenly morphing into a damsel in distress with a suitor who then assigns me a legion of what?  Seagulls?

“My father, will be pleased, I think, actually.” I say tentatively.  “But you get it, right, that I’m not answerable to you, and that your animals are only permitted in my radius so long as I give you my permission.”

“If all I wanted were employees, I have surely overplayed my hand.”

“Yes, clearly, you’ve got a team of exceptionally equipped people.  If I were building an army, I’d choose them too.”

“I didn’t.”

“No?”

“No.  They chose me.”

“And me?”

“You tell me,” he says, his eyes drifting to the ocean.

“Bah!  Nevermind.  It’s no fun fighting with you.”

“Pity,” he says, unfolding himself from the couch we drifted to and sat down on. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says, “and I’m sorry you were hurt.  I knew there was a possibility, but I thought it would happen further along.  If they come at you again, you will not be unprotected.”

“Thanks.  Do you always barge in and out like this?  Is it customary for you to be excused for rudeness because of whatever it is that you are?”

He stops and turns to me again.

“The closer you get to me, Miss Joyce, the more uncomfortable your life will become.  I’m keeping my distance for your benefit, not mine.  I have the feeling, also, that you are very tired and in great pain.  My presence is a burden.”  His look shifts between imperious and agonized, a flutter somewhere deep in his eyes.

Miss Joyce?!  You are the opposite of a burden.  I can’t tell you why, but I don’t lie, Moses.  Don’t protect me, not from you.  I know you won’t hurt me.  I know it like I know my own name.  I want to be near you.  It’s like I’ve waited all my life for you and didn’t know it until the night we met.” This comes whanging out in a rush.

“You don’t know much at all, Gypsy.  You believe yourself well educated, and connected to power, but you know nothing about your destiny.  Nothing about what might be asked of you, of the depth of the risks you might have to take,” with this he shakes his head.

“Well that’s all fine and dramatic, Moses.  I’m stronger than you think and I dislike men who underestimate me.”   Too much of a good thing.  He’d said my nickname.

“I’m not sure I’m equal to the task, Gypsy.  And I don’t have control either.  Power, information, even love and loyalty, they do not combine to give me control.  I can’t control the people connected to this, I can’t control what I am doing here, and I am not sure that I can control myself.”  He stands so still it’s spooky.

“Hey -OK.  But – don’t go.  Do you have to?  You know what I was thinking before you came?  That I needed a friend.  Could you stay?  Have something to eat with me, curl up on the couch, watch a movie?  Just a few hours?  I am scared, Moses.  I’m tired too.  Will you stay?”

I watch the reasoning, the argument marching through his mind.  It’s almost five in the afternoon now, and I hadn’t eaten since the day before at lunch with Chris.  He nods, slowly, and carefully retraces his steps.

“Sandwich?” I ask, heading into the kitchen.  I need to move to avoid the pain in my wrist.

He follows me.  Our kitchen is spotless, the maid works only 3 days a week, but we rarely eat more than a few meals at home a week, and mostly just breakfast.  She keeps the food stocked for us, throwing out whatever spoils.  There’s always some weird green shit growing in a take-away container when my father’s inner Jew kicks in at supper and we end up taking something home which inevitably becomes unrecognizable.  No one ever eats those bits.  I feed them to the seagulls.

I check the fridge.  “Pastrami on rye, a little butter and mustard?”  I grab some very delicious looking cherry tomatoes, fling them in the strainer, let the water run over them.  I check the fridge for pickles, find them.

“Thank you,” he says, leaning on the wooden counter across from me, his eyes devouring the room.  My collection of Chinese baby hats from Miao country are hanging in a long row across the top of the kitchen cabinets.  He smiles when he sees them.  I make our sandwiches, fetch bandanna napkins from a drawer, set them on the wooden kitchen table in the bay window overlooking the beach.

“Fizzy water OK?” I ask, peering into the fridge again.

“Yes,” he murmurs, his eyes drifting to the ocean.  He points at the hats.

“They beg for eyeglasses there, not money,” I say, adding, “But you know that, don’t you?”

He smiles again.

“Have you seen them, the Miao women?”

He shakes his head, “Not like you.”

“They wear their hair in these huge black rolls, mother to daughter, they pass down their own hair, roll it up together.  And in the camelia tree farms you see these women, dressed in sequins, in beautiful gowns, harvesting the nuts.”

His mouth edges up on one side.

“They dress in embroidered gowns every day.  They hosted us, so we had to drink rice wine.  Like 30 shots in a row.”

He laughed then, a complete and utter laugh.

“Yeah, actually I got totally wasted and we had to hire this rickshaw to carry us back to the lodge.  I threw up,”  I added, thoughtfully.  “They’d served us pork, too, which I normally won’t eat, but that with the rice wine – three letters – OMG.”

“What’s that like? Drunkenness?” he asks.

“Pretty fucking uncomfortable.”   I finish making the sandwiches.  “Actually,” I add, “before the rice wine debacle, our hosts also expected us to perform.  So we get there, there’s this line of women, seated side by side all along one wall, and they each sing a song.  Then they gesture, and we have to sing, alone.”

“What song did you choose?”

Leavin’ on a Jet Plane. And believe me, they wanted to once I opened my mouth.”

He grins.  “So, why the Hebrew goddess?”

“Dunno,” I say, reaching up to get crystal cocktail glasses from the top shelf.  I ought to have just used one of the Indian metal cups I like, but I want the nice ones, and as I reach up something black and huge pops out from behind one of my hats.  It’s a blur.  Moses is beside me in an instant.  He catches it in his bare hands, twists its neck and flings the body through the open window into the garden between our house and the boardwalk.  Friday picks it up like a feather Labrador and flies off over the beach.

“I?”  what just happened?  His hand is bleeding.  He stares at the wound like he’s never seen his own blood before.

“Elijah,” he says, absently.  Then he’s beside me again, standing over the sink.  He stretches out his clean hand, “May I?” he reaches for my wounded wrist, rips off the bandage.  I nod, then there’s blinding pain, not just up my arm but running through my entire system like blood.

He takes my arm, presses his bloody wound against mine.  I pass out.

I wake in his arms on my own couch.  He’s holding me, and removing the sweaty hair from my face with his finger.

“I can touch you now,” he says, gingerly.

There is no more pain from the touch, or from the wound, which is noticeably smaller.

“Did you?”  I stare up into his face.

“A little,” he says.  I’m stunned.

“You’re…happy.”

“Yeah,” he says, “I am.”

“What happened?”

“A rat bit me,” he says, like this is somehow good news.

“Is that a good thing?”

“It’s my first injury,” he says, clearly thrilled.

“Wow.  Congrats.  But then?”

“Your blood and mine, they’ve mixed.  You won’t be electrified by my touch anymore.  It’s never been permitted, until now.”

“But why?”  I scramble to sit up; he moves quickly away.

“So I can touch you.”

I examine the wound on my wrist with wonder.

“You healed me.”

“A little, but only as collateral.  I did not do it purposefully, so it won’t jeopardize the work.”  He smiles and looks more relaxed.

“So now, what, we can square dance?”

“Sure.”

“I don’t actually know how to square dance.  Why did it hurt to touch you?”

“Like the electric fences they use.”

I await more.  It’s obvious that whatever Moses is, he’s reluctant to reveal it.

He waits a long beat, “There are two planes of existence, three if you count hell, which is technically non existence.   Human beings occupy a mortal realm that is surrounded on all sides by a spiritual truth.”

“What truth is that?”

“Only the perfect can survive eternity.  It’s a categorical absolute.   Nothing can enter eternity unless it is first made perfect.  So when people touch me, they are effectively touching a finger to the absolute law of eternity.  It isn’t electricity.  The pain comes from something more like light, like a burn – like being purified involuntarily.”

Here he drifts off.  I’m a lifelong newswoman, and I can tell from his manner of speaking that he has never told anyone what he just told me.  I can also say, with a high degree of certainty, that he is exceedingly uncomfortable when the focus turns directly towards him.

We both stand in silence.  I’m not interested in hearing more for many reasons, but the primary one is that I’m actually quite scared, and I don’t scare easily.  I make an awkward transition, the words feel like wooden blocks as they fall gracelessly from my mouth.

“Do I have a rodent issue in my house?”

“No,” he says, taking a deep breath of relief that the questions I might have will not be posed to him today. “That animal was a gift from my cousin.”

“Yeah, well, tell your cousin I like red roses, red wine, big fat diamonds, all kinds of art, fine dark chocolate and red silk, but not rats.  And, ew, now I don’t want to eat in here.”

“Friday is enjoying the rat.”

“Didn’t want to know that Moses.”

I fetch the plates from the kitchen, and plop everything onto the cocktail table in the living room.  I turn on a movie.  As the film begins its opening credits I feel that the best friend for which I’d yearned is with me.

Sometime after the film I said, “Let’s just be friends.  Can we do that?”

“I’m not sure,” he says.

He tells me he’s planning to head up north for a few days to his mom’s place, but otherwise, we didn’t talk much. I rested, at perfect ease.  His presence was like light, like Christmas morning, a heavy joy and yet, not overwhelming.

It was well into night when we parted, I thanked him more formally than I meant to.  He stopped on the threshold of our house, watching the glorious moon.  I knew, standing there watching him watch the world, that friendship with Moses is not a great idea, or even a good idea, but an act of insanity for me, and maybe for him as well.

I smelled him then for the first time, when the breeze shifted.  He has a musky smell, patchouli infused with incense.  Instantly I knew – it’s not cologne, it’s just him.  Sacred.  He smells like a church, an old, well-used one, with just-extinguished candles, pale smoke still rising from the hot wicks.

I quote Chinese war genius Sun Tzu, “He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.”

He moved himself further towards the door, turned, winked at me.

“See you later, Gypsy,” he said, letting himself out the door.  Then he turned, and hands me something.  It’s a beautifully embroidered handkerchief.  His initials, sort of – MB.

“What’s this?”

“My mother made it for me.”

“You used it on your wound?” I ask, examining the huge bloody stain.

“Yes,” he says with a strange smile.

“And you are giving it to me?” I held it like I’d hold a first child.

“Yeah,” he says, “I guess I am. She just told me to.”

He was almost gone before I remember, “Moses?!”

He turned.

“He has my cell.”

“I’ll replace it, tonight.

“But, what if he goes through it?”

“He thought you’d have my stuff in there, you didn’t. Don’t worry.”

Istand there shaking my head, an absurd half smile on my face, as he walks away into the dark.  Moments later I notice a few non-random birds outside my windows.  My new bodyguards.  I carefully fold up Moses’ handkerchief and tuck it into a little mother of pearl jewelry box I received from a Korean friend.  I left that beautiful box empty for five years waiting for just the right treasure.  That beautiful handkerchief is the thing.  What were we doing, he and I?  This would not be the last violence we experienced together, this much I knew for sure.

That night a different seagull delivered a new phone, a red one, an a gorgeous case, and with these a tiny note in Elivish hand, “Don’t lose this one!”

I looked at the strange bird, “Tell your boss he’s a big spender.”

I swear the bird shrugged, and flew off.

“Not as much personality as Friday, darlin’,” I mutter to the dwindling white tailfeathers into the night darkness. By morning my phone is loaded with my stuff again and my dad calls me once every few hours until I think I’m going to lose it.