8. Breathe Deeply

The following passage was sponsored by the newly remodeled Sea Shores Motel and the Old Testament, and includes the last part of Chapter Eight in The Gates of Pair O’ Dice.

That evening Jimmy and Bobbie Beth returned to her motel room decked out in their Saturday at the beach get ups. They’d been to a spot twenty miles down the Texas coast where no one from Corpus Christi was likely to recognize them. Jimmy dressed in cut-off jeans and a loud Hawaiian shirt, while Bobbie Beth looked her age in a pair of white clam digger slacks and a bright blue blouse with the shirttails tied off, exposing her midriff. She didn’t wear any makeup, and wore her sun streaked blonde hair back in a bouncy ponytail.

Jimmy had patched things up with Papa Hugo, and cut down on his drinking, so he’d been acting much nicer towards her too, almost sweet, in a redneck roadside revival preacher kind of way. Like a good-hearted woman, Bobbie Beth forgave him. Besides, being so young and inexperienced, and so deep off into that relationship, she didn’t see any other way out but to see it through. Then there was the other thing, the thing she’d been trying to tell him.

Jimmy was drinking, tipsy and on his way to tight, but not drunk by any means. He played grab ass with Bobbie Beth. She tried to fend him off and stay out of his reach, as he said, “Come on baby, gimme some of that sweet lovin’.”

“You’ve been drinking, Jimmy, not now. I’ve got a terrible headache from being in the sun all day.” Jimmy kept coming on to her. He locked his hands behind her butt, pulled her pelvis toward his and made a grinding motion. Bobbie Beth attempted to push him away and said, “Hey, take it easy.”

“Easy, maybe you’d like it rough? Some women do, you know. You can’t flirt with a man and turn him on all day, and then ask him to turn off the switch when we get behind closed doors. This ain’t high school, sugar.”

“Be gentle.”

“Come on baby, I need you. I’ll be gentle.”

“Don’t Jimmy, please. I need to tell you something. I think I’m…pregnant,” Bobbie Beth said as she made an effort to loosen his grip and push him away. She hadn’t planned to tell him that way, or that soon. A couple of months before, Bobbie Beth could never have imagined finding herself in that place, in that position, saying those things. At first Jimmy froze like he’d been shot, but his mood quickly shifted, and he turned angry.

“So whose kid is it, mine or Jessup’s?” Jimmy asked with a hissing snarl as he released her abruptly.

“I’m not going to dignify that with an answer.”

“It’s his kid, ain’t it?” Jimmy reared back and slapped Bobbie Beth across the face with first one hand and then the other. He grabbed her arm intending to throw her onto the bed, but she spun around awkwardly and fell hard against the night table with her stomach taking the brunt of the impact. Bobbie Beth slumped to her knees on the floor, clutching her abdomen and gasping for air. A red stain quickly formed at the crotch of her white slacks as she fainted and collapsed on the floor.

Twenty minutes later in front of the Sea Shores Motel, the medics lifted Bobbie Beth onto a gurney and loaded her into the ambulance. One of the cops came over to speak with the medics and asked, “What have we got here, Dave?”

“Somebody roughed her up. One of those he said, she said deals that got outta hand. Could have been the same guy who knocked her up,” Dave said.

“Pregnant, huh. Looks like she’s underage too.”

“That’d be my guess.”

Jimmy stood nearby. He looked and sounded sober, smoking a Camel and drinking a cup of Joe. He’d conveniently changed into more conservative garb, a dark suit and tie. “I found her on the floor of her motel room, beat up, bloody, and unconscious,” Jimmy said with a congealed earnestness almost anyone would have believed.

“There was no sign of forced entry, so she probably knew her assailant. Any idea who might have done this?” The first cop asked Jimmy. The cops knew Jimmy as the preacher who led the prayer meetings out on the Corpus Christi Pier, and as an associate of Hugo Herren, which seemingly put him above suspicion.

“She was running around with this bad news guy, a drifter named Jessup.”

“Can you give us a description?” The second cop asked as he pulled a small notepad and pen out of his shirt pocket.

“Six feet tall, long brown hair down to his shoulders, and a beard, a hippie looking fellow. He drives an old green Ford pickup truck with a kooky looking camper in the back.”

“Any idea where we can find this Jessup?” The first cop asked.

“Bobbie Beth, uh, Miss Rayne told me he was staying at Mayor Lide’s place over in Pair O’ Dice. The Old Gates Home they call it, corner of Shoreline Drive and Gates Street,” Jimmy said, sticking to his story like Elmer’s Glue.

“Okay, thanks Reverend Sunday. He shouldn’t be too hard to find. We’ll go pick him up, and bring him in for questioning,” the second cop said.

A half hour later, the same two Corpus Christi cops banged on the door to Jessup’s camper with their nightsticks. Jessup opened the door, and stuck his head out, when the second cop busted him upside the head with his nightstick and said, “That’s for resisting arrest, you long haired hippie freak.”

They handcuffed Jessup and shoved his limp body into the back seat of the police car. Granddaddy heard the ruckus, so he stomped out onto the front porch and squinted over toward Gates Street where Jessup’s camper was parked.

“Hey, what the hell’s going on out here?”

“Mayor Lide, we’re taking this man into custody on charges of assault and battery, and statutory rape,” the first cop yelled back at granddaddy. Half asleep, I thought the whole thing was just a bad dream.

***

First thing the next day, Sunday morning, granddaddy and I went to the Corpus Christi jail to see Jessup. Too many jumbled up thoughts and emotions were rattling around in my head and heart, so I decided not to even open my mouth. Granddaddy said to Jessup through the cell bars, “She’s under eighteen, Jessup, so even if it was consensual, they’ve got you dead to rights.”

“I’m innocent, sir. I didn’t do this. Ask the girl.”

A purple goose egg protruded from Jessup’s forehead where the cop whacked him last night, and there were a few scratches around his face as well. I wondered, why hadn’t Jessup healed himself, like he healed the bruise under Bobbie Beth’s eye, and so many other people at the revival? Maybe this was another aspect of Jessup’s personality, a darker side of him I’d never seen before?

Granddaddy said, “I hear she’s in pretty bad shape, the miscarriage and loss of blood has her driftin’ in and out of consciousness. The doctors have her heavily sedated. They won’t let anybody talk to her yet.”

“I would never do anything like that,” Jessup said clearly as he shook his head from side to side and then stared granddaddy in the eye. Jessup hung his head, with both his hands stretched out to their full length on either side, holding onto the bars of his cell.

Granddaddy seemed almost convinced about what Jessup said, but even after what I’d been through with Jessup over those past couple of months, I couldn’t be completely sure about him right at that moment. The thought of Bobbie Beth laying up in a hospital bed, hurt bad and maybe even fighting for her life, set my brain on fire.

Granddaddy paced back and forth in front of Jessup’s cell for a really long minute and finally said, “Okay, I’ll pay the three hundred dollars bail, but don’t you go gettin’ jackrabbit fever on me. If you skedaddle, I’ll hunt you down myself. You need to stand your ground, and face this like a man.”

“Yes sir. You have my word on it.”

After he posted Jessup’s bail, we drove back to the Old Gates Home in granddaddy’s Cadillac convertible. He and I rode in the front seat, somber looks on our faces. Meanwhile Jessup lounged around in the back seat, smiling as if he didn’t have a care in the world, his long hair blowing in the wind. Granddaddy glanced in his rearview mirror and noticed Jessup’s blissful countenance.

“No need to get all down in the mouth there, Jessup. It’s not like you’ll have to do time in prison. They’ll probably just hang you.”

Jessup said, “I think we ought to do what anyone would do when faced with a crisis of this magnitude.” Granddaddy and I waited for some pearl of wisdom to leap forth from Jessup’s mouth, but all he said was, “Go fishing.”

***

Late that afternoon, the four of us, granddaddy, grandmama, me and Jessup made a trip out to Lago Cielo in granddaddy’s Caddy. When we arrived at the lake Jessup said, “Why don’t you go with me in the canoe? I’ll teach you how to use my bamboo fly rod.” I could tell he wanted to talk to me about something. As we paddled away from the shore, I turned back toward the pier where granddaddy and grandmama were fishing. Even that far away, I could see the look of disdain on her face as he lowered his Fish-A-Rator into the water.

My casts were awkward. The fishing line kept getting tangled which pissed me off no end. The frustration about a lot of things boiled over, so I slapped the side of the canoe as I threw down the fly rod, and said, “Damn it!”

“Geezus son, you’re gonna scare the fish.”

“Shit Jessup, most people would be worried sick and you’re out here having a high old time, like everything’s just sunshine and roses.”

“The sun’s shining, the birds are singing, and the fish are biting. Seems like another pretty good day in Pair O’ Dice to me.”

“Did you do it?”

“Do what?” Jessup said as he looked at me with questioning eyes, like he had no earthly idea what in the whole wide world I could possibly be talking about.

“You know damn well what. Did you have sex with her? Did you get her pregnant? Did you rough her up? That’s what they’re saying you know. Well, did you?”

“Doubt is a part of faith. It’s almost like doubt is the battery charger for faith. Each time our faith is tested and we have misgivings, our faith is made stronger by that doubting.” Jessup picked up his fly rod and cast flawlessly toward the shoreline. A large bass hit the popper, and Jessup played the fish. That fly rod bent over nearly double, and I felt the same way.

“It doesn’t seem like this is the right time or place to be fishing.”

“We’ve already discussed time, but place, that is something we should talk about. We begin in the same place, as part of God. We’re separated from God, given a unique identity called our soul, and free will. Then we’re sent along on our merry way. Our soul is the record of what we do with our free will. The ancients tell us the soul lives in the city of Nine Gates. What we call the body. These Nine Gates are the openings where your vessel, your temple, receives its life forces and nourishment for the body, mind and spirit, and then releases whatever it no longer needs. Specifically, we’re talking about your two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, a mouth, genitals, and your anus.”

“I knew there had to be an asshole involved.”

Jessup smiled and said, “I believe there are also Nine Gates for soul progress you need to open often so the hinges never rust. If we want to remain fully engaged in the business of living our best life, we need to regularly embrace change, cross rivers, climb mountains, go fishing, laugh at life, believe in miracles, rock and roll, breathe deeply, and love unconditionally. Having said that, these are not rules, nor laws, and certainly not commandments. These are just concepts I contemplate as I create my life. But hey, I’m not trying to start a new religion here. So if you don’t like these Nine Gates I suggest, then please choose others that make sense for you. But, whatever gates you choose, keep opening those gates, and even more importantly, enjoying your journey along the Way.”

“That’s a lot of gates.”

“Okay, let’s wrap up this conversation about place. No matter what types of lives we lead, or how many lives for that matter, sooner or later we realize our rightful place is with God, so we gladly rejoin Him. Some people believe in the concept of God, others the Tao, Buddha Consciousness, or Heaven only knows what else. Maybe God is nature, simpler yet, maybe God is water: a cloud, a raindrop, a lake, a stream, a river, on their Way, back to the ocean.”

“I thought you said we were wrapping this up?”

“Did you hear the one about the dyslexic agnostic insomniac who stayed up all night contemplating the existence of dog? Dogs give us unconditional love. Maybe dog is God, or God is dog. Because words are so inadequate, the Oneness has many names.”

“Get to the place already.”

“We reincarnate over and over again until we work out our karmic issues. Or as my old high school football coach used to say, ‘Boys, we gon’ keep runnin’ this same danged ol’ play ‘til you young ‘uns get it right.’ So you see, we start in the same place, and we end up in the same place, with God.  Everything that happens in between, is just the stuff that happens in between.” Right about then, Jessup pulled a big ass bass into the boat.

I wished I could get in the boat with Jessup too. I wanted to come onboard with him, but the doubts about everything nagged at me. It was lost on me at the time, but Jessup was once again teaching a man how to fish.

***

That Sunday night at the Corpus Christi Pier and Pavilion the faithful arrived for the evening’s revival. At the same time several workmen from the company hired to run the fireworks display the next night, on Labor Day, showed up to store the pyrotechnics for the event in a large closet out by the pavilion. The workmen brought several carts full of firecrackers, roman candles, bottle rockets, and free standing cardboard cannons that delivered exploding star bursts way up in the sky that looked like flowers: peonies, chrysanthemums, dahlias, and such.

The Herren family once again seated themselves front row center. The preacher man gave Papa Hugo a small wink and a nod. Jimmy wanted to be heard, and the flock needed to be herded by their shepherd.

“Tonight we’re going to be speaking from the Old Testament brothers and sisters,” the man of Gawaduh said as he prepared to twist that testimony to his own ill intentions. “Exodus, Chapter 21, Verses 23 through 25.” Jimmy stormed across the stage and shook his fist at the heavens. “‘But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, and stripe for stripe.’ Let me hear it people, an eye for an eye.”

“An eye for an eye,” the crowd yelled as they nodded vigorously at one another confirming their mutual appreciation of that Old Time Religion.

“There’s an innocent young girl lying unconscious in a hospital bed only two blocks from here. The long haired hippie who hurt that young girl is free on bail, and out walking the streets this very night. Now that don’t seem right to me.  How many of you good people have a teenage daughter or a teenage sister?”

Jimmy was dragging the truth across the hot coals of Hell that night. If you could barbeque the truth then that must have been what Jimmy had in mind. A good sprinkling of worshippers in the crowd raised their hand. The preacher man tried to close the sale.

“Suppose it was your daughter, or your sister over there in that hospital bed? That’d be a different story now wouldn’t it men? Can I get an A-men?”

“A-men!”

“I reckon we could let justice take its course. This long haired hippie will probably get off on some kind of a technicality. Would that be okay with you folks?”

“No, no!”

“Have you good people ever seen a statue of lady justice out in front of a courthouse? She has a blindfold on. Well you folks know me. Reverend Sunday can make the lame walk, the deaf hear, and the blind see. That’s what we’re gonna have here tonight brothers and sisters, we’re gonna have us a healing, a Texas style healing.” Jimmy thundered across that stage looking and sounding like a fire breathing dragon, his glassy bloodshot eyes blazing as he belched smoke and spewed brimstone.

“Yeah! Yeah!” The worshippers reached a fever pitch, and only blood would slake the thirst of this mob as they shouted at the top of their lungs.

“I have often wondered what Heaven will be like for me and you on judgement day, and what Hell will be like for the sinners who have lost their way. Well I’ll tell you one thing brothers and sisters, Hell can’t be any hotter than south Texas is gonna be tonight. I want you men to stand up who have a teenage daughter or a teenage sister about the same age as this poor sixteen year old girl,” Jimmy said, and then counted the men as they stood up, a dozen in all. The four Herren brothers rose in unison, gazed fondly upon their little sister Helena, their mom, and lastly, Papa Hugo, who nodded his head in approval.

Jimmy silently acknowledged the Herren brothers, then said, “As fate would have it…there are twelve of you. The same number of men who would be on a jury. I want you to get in your cars and go get that hippie and bring him back here. You’ll find him in a camper at the corner of Shoreline Drive and Gates Street over in Pair O’ Dice.”

Papa Hugo pounded his cane on the decking of the pier as he yelled out at the top of his lungs, “God’s justice! God’s justice! God’s justice!”

The crowd began to chant lustily, “God’s justice! God’s justice! God’s justice!”

Jimmy grinned from ear to ear in a blood thirsty smile as the preacher man hollered, “He’s gonna have to face God’s justice tonight brothers and sisters. God’s justice!”

***

I walked out to Gates Street and tapped on the door to Jessup’s camper.

Jessup opened the door with one hand, and I saw he held a book in the other hand. I also noticed his face was still bruised. He marked his place in the book he’d been reading with a feather, something called Lord of the Rings, and set it aside as he asked, “What’s going on?”

“I wanted to talk to you, maybe over by the Truth Tree, and ask you a couple of questions about what happened to Bobbie Beth.”

“Sure, let me put my sandals on. I’ll answer any questions you care to ask, anywhere you choose to ask them,” Jessup said as he retreated into his camper to get his shoes.

Right then, a bunch of men roared up in three cars, and a pickup. They surrounded Jessup’s truck. Two of the guys jumped out of the first car and grabbed me, as Jessup stepped out of his camper.

“Let the boy be, Carl, and you too, Frank,” Jessup said, recognizing two of the Herren brothers. “He’s done nothing wrong. I’ll go with you willingly.”

“There’s some folks at the Corpus Christi Pier who think you’ve got some things to answer for, hippie,” Carl said.

As Carl swung a foot long flashlight at his head, Jessup said, “Oh no, not again.” The blow made an odd sound, kind of between a clink and a clunk, and knocked him out cold. The men loaded Jessup into one of the cars. Carl and Frank Herren chilled me to the bone with a hard stare, but then let me go, and I ran back toward the house for help.

Granddaddy walked out onto the front porch as I got up there. Grandmama followed him outside too, and that’s when granddaddy yelled, “I’ve had about enough of this bullshit. Hey, what the hell’s going on out here?”

“Mind your own business old man, and you won’t get hurt,” Carl yelled.

“There’s a city ordinance against this kind of crap, snatching folks in the middle of the night, and threatening a city official. By God, I’m the Mayor of Pair O’ Dice, Texas, and I’ll fine your sorry ass!”

The men drove off with Jessup.

“What in the world is going on?” Grandmama asked.

“Some kind of a mob grabbed Jessup. I think I recognized those Herren boys.”

“I’ve always thought they were spoiled hooligans. Where are they taking him?”

“This guy, Carl, Jessup called him, said something about the Corpus Christi Pier,” I said, trying to catch my breath. “He was the same guy who hit Jessup.”

“I don’t know for sure,” granddaddy said, “but I’d bet my hard earned money that travelin’ preacher’s got a hand in these shenanigans. Come on sweetheart, we’re going for a little Sunday evening drive.”

“I could use some night air,” grandmama said.