Thursday, June 16, 2011

First Draft Complete!


Dear Readers,

Thank you to all of you who read Touch as I posted this first draft a chapter at a time. I apologize that due to other projects the posting was so infrequent these last couple of months. I hope you found it to be an entertaining story. Personally, I have really enjoyed watching this idea grow.

After I allow this manuscript to rest a month or two, I plan on returning to Touch to give it a final polish. Hopefully, by the end of this summer I will have this novel available for readers as a free ebook in multiple formats. I also plan on putting out a paperback edition for those who might be interested in purchasing a copy.

For those of you who were waiting till I reached the end before reading this thing: Well, it is now complete. At least this first draft. I have the complete table of contents below for easy reference:

Thank you again for reading!!!



Chapter XXII: A Kiss

Bill opened his eyes. Sunlight streamed through an open window. He was thirsty. He looked around and saw Gloria sitting in a chair next to him. He realized he was in a hospital. There was a muted television on a stand above the foot of his bed set to ESPN. A silent golf tournament was underway. The room smelled of antiseptic and Freon. A filthy air conditioning unit rattled next to the window as it blew out a cold and steady breeze.

Gloria reached over and took Bill's hand. "Hey guy, how you doing?"

Bill smiled. "Not so hot."

She smiled back. "Well, that's to be expected after getting a load of buck shot in your arm."

As if reading his mind, she held up a Styrofoam cup. He drank, gratefully, and enjoyed the sensation of ice cold water on his palate. "Thank you," he said, aware of a dribble of water falling from his lips.

"Don't mention it." Gloria reached up and wiped his lips with a paper tissue.

"How long was I out?"

"Long enough for me to have some news. I don't know how you did it, Bill. I don't understand this thing at all, but that skull was more than enough for a warrant. More than enough for a couple arrests."

"The Greens?"

She nodded. "We thought it was a single guy, but we were wrong. It happens. There was a storage building on the property, off in the woods a ways." She frowned. "I'm glad you didn't see it."

Bill remembered his vision. In his head, he saw the room full of the corpses of children patched together from various body parts, stitched together with ropes and wires and support poles, black and white feathers everywhere, and a floor littered with the bodies of dead swans. The scent of foul raw poultry assailed his senses. He nodded. "I did see it, but I'm glad I didn't have to see it again."

Gloria pointed to the television. "The talking heads have been having a field day with his one. It's the talk of the nation. Old Jimmy Swaggart had nothing on the Green's. I kind of feel sorry for the older Green, but his son was a real piece of work. Not to mention his wife. They both confessed. In fact, they were bragging. And to think they are still claiming they were doing god's work."

"God as they understood Him, I guess. But that's not God."

Gloria smiled. "Whatever you want to call it; I don't understand any of it."

"Thank God for that!"

Gloria grew silent. She reached over to Bill's face. "I missed you, you know. I thought about you a lot."

"I missed you, too."

She leaned in and touched her lips to Bill's. He kissed her back a moment and the pain went away for the briefest of moments. Her kiss was familiar, comforting, and kind. It reminded him of a more innocent time. Then she pulled away. "Now, I'm going to miss you again." She smiled but did not look happy. She looked to the door and stood up. She slapped her hands against her slacks. "Anyway, I need to be going. You have some visitors on the way."

Bill arched his eyebrows.

"She loves you, Bill. They love you. I don't understand your touch exactly, but things aren't set in stone. You may be able to get a feel for the past, you may have some basic understanding of the present, but none of us can ever know what the future holds. Hell, what were the chances of us meeting up together again like this? Pretty damn unlikely. Anyway, I need to go."

Bill nodded his head. She turned towards the door. "Wait!"

Gloria turned back around.

"Benny loves you, you know."

She smiled. "I know."

"He's a great guy."

"I know."

Bill nodded his head. "Maybe you're right. Maybe no one can see the future. Maybe the future is only what we make of it. Perhaps the crap I felt was just how things could go, a possible future. Perhaps that future could be different if I invest the time to make it different." He thought of his kids, his wife, and hoped it wasn't too late.

Gloria nodded. "Maybe."

Bill smiled. "Love matters, Gloria. It's important. Family's important. What you do is great. You've accomplished so much, but you're lonely. I feel it. I know you're afraid. I am, too. When you let someone close, it makes it that much easier for them to hurt you, but I think you're right: The future is what we make of it. I hate to sound cliché, but we deal with the hand we're dealt. That's all any of us can do. And if you want to know what I think, Benny's one hell of an ace up your sleeve. That's all I'm saying."

"I know. I know. Thank you, Bill."

"Thank you, Gloria."

They paused and looked at one another. A tear fell down Gloria's cheek leaving a trail of mascara. "Goodbye, Bill."

Bill smiled. "See you around, G."


"Yeah, maybe."

She left the room. After a few minutes there was a knock at the door. He heard the muffled sound of tiny voices. Over it all he heard the most beautiful voice he had ever known: "Bill?"

No matter what may happen, no matter the potential betrayals and heartaches, no matter the cost, and there's always a cost, Bill knew that – because of these shining moments – what lay on the other side of the door was worth any amount of pain.

"Come in."


Chapter XXI: Mommy

Bill touched the soil. He was aware of Mrs. Green next to him. Her humid breath caressed his cheek as she leaned over him.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

Bill couldn't answer. The soil told him a story.


"I'm sorry Mommy!" a child's voice.

A woman spoke: "Spoil the rod and spare the child."

"I didn't mean to."

She either didn't hear him or didn't care. Either way, it didn't matter. She raised a shovel.

Bill smelled piss and shit and shame, and above it all, fear.


Bill retched and fought unconsciousness. The donut from that morning did not taste nearly as good on the way out as it did on the way in. He looked down and saw a mess of coffee, wet crumbles, and sprinkles.

"Are you all right?"

Bill looked up and saw Mrs. Green. He flinched and fell down. He scrambled backwards with his feet and hands until he pressed his back against the wood of the barn. Shards of peeling paint pressed against his thin t-shirt. "You had a child?"

Mrs. Green's face matched her name. "What did you say?"

"You had a child!"

Her face grew grim. She crouched down and placed her hands on her knees. "I never had a child. What are you talking about? Who are you, anyway?"

"You had a child. You killed him. He was just a baby."

A firm hand slapped his cheek. "Shut up!" She stood up and walked away. She turned around backwards and spit at Bill. "I never had a child."

Bill looked at his hands. They trembled. Spit poured out one side of his mouth. His tongue swelled. He closed his eyes and tiny hands clenched Bill's hands. He squeezed those tiny hands, trying to comfort this ghost of a child. He opened his eyes and saw he had clenched his fists. Bill fought to unclench his hands. Once they were open wide, he saw they were empty. Yet his hands retained the impression of the soft skin of a child, unblemished and untarnished by this world. Bill noticed a mound in the earth. Grass covered it, but it was still a mound. He looked and saw Mrs. Green heading towards the house. He stood on shaky legs and looked around. There was no shovel, but there was a pitchfork. He grabbed it and began to dig. The earth was dry and hard. Rocks made digging difficult, but he ignored his exertion. The lingering touch of the child's hand pushed him forward.

After removing the first foot of dirt, the digging became easier. Hard-packed earth gave way to rich soil. Bill looked around the side of the barn from time to time to make sure no one was coming, to verify he was alone. He dug.

The hole grew deeper. He wondered what he was doing, what was pushing him on, and for a moment, doubted his touch. He closed his eyes and felt an embrace, the embrace of a child. He opened his eyes and dug harder. He ignored the sickness in his gut, the shaking of his limbs. The pitchfork scraped against occasional rocks. He no longer looked around the side of the barn. His focus intensified on his labor. He had no choice but to dig. Digging was all that mattered now.

The pitchfork scraped against something white. He thought it was another rock. He pushed the pitchfork down and pulled up. The white object came loose from the earth. Bill sat down and looked at the upraised pitchfork in his hands and began to cry.

Looking down on him was a tiny skull. A tine of the pitchfork was jammed in an empty eye socket. The skull looked down on him. Without the lower jaw, the skull was frozen into a perpetual, silent scream.

"What have you done!"

Bill turned around.

Mrs. Green glared at him. A shotgun was in her hands. She held it up with her eye lined down the barrel.

"You killed your own child."

"This is my property. You didn't have no right to be digging here. This wasn't any of your business, asshole. I don't know what you are or who you are, and I really don't care."

There was a loud crack. It echoed across the land. Bill was tossed to the ground and became aware of a dull ache in his shoulder that quickly turned into a sharp pain. He reached up and touched his shoulder and pulled it away wet with blood.

"You killed him."

"You just don't know when to shut up, do you?" She cocked the rifle again. She aimed.

Another crack of sound filled the air.

Bill closed his eyes and winced, but there was no impact.

He opened his eyes and saw that Mrs. Green was on the ground. She yelled and writhed in pain. She held up her hands. Her right hand was missing several fingers. The partial stump gushed blood.

Gloria stood in a powerful stance with her legs far apart. Her pistol shone underneath the hot Florida sun. Benny walked over from behind Gloria and kicked the rifle away from where it lay next to Mrs. Green.

Another man stood to the side. He was a slim man with thinning hair dressed in a jogging outfit. "Radha!" the man yelled and ran over. He kneeled down next to the woman and glared at Gloria. "You shot my wife!"

"Your wife was just about to kill a man. She'll be okay. Gloria's a great shot. If it had been me, she'd probably be dead," Benny said. He had his gun out now and pointed it at the couple. "Now, would you mind telling me whose skull that is?"

The man began to cry and mumbled incoherently.

Gloria put her gun away and pulled out her cell phone. She called an ambulance, hung up, and walked away as she started talking to someone else. Bill thought he heard her say something about a warrant.

Bill looked and saw his shirt was covered in blood. It pooled on the ground.

Lying on its side next to him in the growing pool of blood sat the skull of a child. It continued its silent scream. Bill reached out a bloody hand and touched the skull. "It's okay now." The skull grew silent.

The sun was directly overhead. Bill looked out at the grassy land all around him. Wisps of Spanish moss fluttered with an unfelt breeze. There were mounds everywhere. If he had not been looking for them, he would not have seen them. He wished he had not seen them.

Several dozen screams rose from the earth and Bill felt his body shudder and suddenly grow cold despite the heat. He leaned to his side and fell down. "They're everywhere. They're everywhere. Everywhere," he repeated over and over until he could no longer speak and the world faded.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Chapter XX: Mrs. Green

Benny turned down a dirt lane. It wound past a pine forest which opened up into a large open field dotted with cypress trees. Spanish moss hung and blew with the breeze. The sun overhead was bright and yellow and hot. The song of crickets and birds drifted through the open windows of the rental car. Gloria waved her hand outside the window and moved it with the air flowing past. She held a pen in her other hand and bit the tip while she looked at a legal pad in her lap full of notes.

"Well, here we are." Benny said.

Bill looked up. In the center of the field was a large white home. It looked like a plantation. Roman pillars stood on the porch. They pulled into the gravel driveway which was a large circle. In the middle of the circle was a flowerbed blooming with roses in various colors. Azaleas bloomed along the porch.

Benny turned off the ignition and they stepped out of the car.

"Walk around, Bill. Touch things or something. I don't want you to go inside. You aren't FBI, and I don't want it coming out we had a civilian with us during all of our investigation. It might nullify anything Green says in there in court."

Bill nodded his head. "Sure thing. I'll just take a walk. I could use one anyway. This was a pretty long drive." He fingered the lighter in his pocket and his mouth watered at the thought of a cigarette. He knew he was probably getting addicted to the dang things again, but didn't care. He wanted one.

Benny and Gloria walked up to the porch. Bill stood outside the car and watched. The door opened and a smiling man stepped out onto the porch. Gloria lifted up her badge and said something. Bill couldn't hear the conversation. The man on the porch, the one Bill assumed must be Green stopped smiling and waved Benny and Gloria inside. Benny and Gloria followed him through the door. Before Green went inside he looked to Bill. His face was stern and unreadable.

Once the door closed again, Bill pulled out his smokes. He lit one up and sucked in a comforting draught of smoke. He looked around. He decided to explore the grounds. He started off by walking around the circle of roses in the middle of the driveway. Bees flitted from petal to petal, buzzing and pollinating. A Monarch Butterfly lifted off a yellow rose and fluttered into the sky.

"Beautiful aren't they?"

Bill turned around. A young woman smiled at him. Her hair was nearly as dark as her eyes. She was dressed in gardening clothes: white overalls, blue flannel shirt, and Crocks. Her white overalls were stained green and black with foliage and dirt. She held a dirty spade in her hand with a pink handle.

She pointed at the roses with her spade. "They were here when we moved in, but in bad shape. Overgrown. They needed cultivating and care. They had been ignored for too long. You know what happens when things get ignored? They get out of control. It takes time to make things work again, to look right, you know?"

Bill nodded his head. He took a drag from his cigarette.

She looked over her shoulder towards the door. "You got a smoke I can bum?"

Bill shrugged. "Sure. I guess so." He held the pack of cigarettes out to her.

She put her hand over his outstretched hand and shook her head. He felt a surge of thoughts and hidden desire surge through him. It was surprising in its intensity. He tried to ignore the thoughts and images assaulting him. So much lust, so much anger, too, and above it all, bitterness. Mixed in with all of it was something stronger, deeper, something like rage. "No. Not here. Franklin gets angry when I smoke. Says it's unbecoming of a preacher's wife. Everything's unbecoming of a preacher's wife."

Bill shrugged. "I wouldn't know."

She smiled. "Just follow me, okay. He can't see us if we're behind the barn if he happens to look out the window." She retracted her hand. She touched her fingertips with her thumb. "You have nice skin. Soft or something."

Bill smiled. "Thanks."

Behind the barn, she squatted down on her haunches and rested her back against a red wood wall. The paint peeled in places. She sucked on her cigarette deeply and let out clouds of smoke. She puffed it down to the butt within a couple minutes. "Ahh. Haven't had one of those in months."

Bill nodded. "I hadn't had one in years until recently myself."

She looked up to him. He wondered if it was a just a play of shadows but realized that her eyes were a strange color: a deep purple. He'd heard of purple eyes before, but never seen them in person. The effect was disorienting. She smiled. "Do you think I'm pretty?"

Bill cleared his throat. "Uhm. Sure. I guess."

She giggled. It wasn't a school-girlish giggle. It was deeper and more seductive. It was the sound of a woman playing coy. "Most guys find me pretty. They always have. I don't get to have too many guys looking at me these days. You know, I'm sometimes surprised by how much I miss it. It's good to feel desired, you know. Hey, you mind if I have another smoke?"

Bill shook his head. "Sure." He flicked a cigarette out the open end of his pack. She took it and held it to her lips. She looked up to him with her purple eyes and smiled, waiting for him to light it for her. He extracted his lighter from his pocket and lit her smoke.

She inhaled. "Ah. The only time guys see me these days is at church." She pouted. "They all think they're too good to look at me there. If their eyes come across me, they glance away."

Bill nodded his head. He lit another cigarette for himself. "Sounds like you have some serious problems." He laughed at his own joke inside his head, but was careful not to allow a smile to cross his face.

Bill touched his hand to the boards of the barn over her head. There were no stories there, or at least, nothing interesting. It was a very old barn, had held many residents, but for the last few years served as a storage space for unused antiques and excess furniture.

"Can you help me up?" The woman, Mrs. Green, reached up her hand. When they touched Bill again, the shock of her touch overwhelmed him. He fought an urge to pull away, not wanting to seem impolite. She pulled herself closer and looked into his eyes. "I don't know what it is, but you have great skin. Every time I touch you, it's like an electric current."

Bill nodded his head. She leaned in close as if to kiss him. Bill pulled away. The scent of carrion filled his nose. He bent over, suddenly sick, and began to gag.
He touched the ground and shuddered.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chapter XIX: Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child

Benny flicked through the channels. He moved the channels past a cooking show, a show with a young couple looking for houses, a myriad of talking heads doling out news of varying importance, some band performing with acoustic instruments dressed up like lumberjacks, an infomercial for a new knife that promised it could cut just as easily through an aluminum can as it could a tomato – Bill wondered why anyone would ever need to cut an aluminum can? Benny finally settled for a sports show providing the latest statistics for college football.

"Georgia's looking pretty lousy this year," Benny said.

Bill nodded. "Georgia's looking pretty bad most years these days."

Benny grunted. "Your Gators aren't doing so hot either, bub."

Bill shrugged. He continued his conversation, but his mind roamed elsewhere. He felt the sheets beneath him, heard their stories: the lonely business men, a bickering vacationing couple fighting quietly with the kids asleep in the twin bed next to them, a pair of newlyweds. He paused at the feeling of the newlyweds, grew embarrassingly aroused, and tried to shift his thoughts further away. He was not some creepy peeping tom and had trained himself to ignore such stories. Young couples seemed to be everywhere. They were in gas station bathrooms, on picnic tables, in the woods, in rental cars. Everywhere.

Bill thought about his wife and wondered if she would have been open to such things when she was younger. He doubted it, but then again, he wasn't sure. He missed his wife but could only see her with the other man. He wondered if a place could rekindle what was lost, or at least slipping quietly away, but doubted it. He needed to talk to her, to tell her his thoughts, but he worried how she would react. Could he get her to believe him? Yes, he knew he probably could, but what could this development possibly add to their relationship? They had been slipping out of touch for years. They had sunk into the routine of busy lives – separate careers, kids, PTA meetings, book club meetings for her, fantasy football for him, his model ships, her romantic comedies – there just wasn't enough time. They had lost time for each other. What they were – the young couple who stayed up all night talking or making love – had changed into what they had become – business partner who were lucky to sneak in twenty minutes alone to themselves once the kids were asleep, and usually, they were so exhausted by that time they most likely spent those moments getting ready for bed themselves in a state of zombie-like exhaustion.

Bill looked over to the phone but decided not to pick it up. Not yet.

Benny started flipping through the channels again. He paused at an infomercial with athletic women pole dancing in fluorescent leotards and smiled over to Bill. "Great way for a girl to get in shape, huh?"

Bill politely smiled back. "Think that lady down at the pool uses this workout?"

Benny laughed. "You mean Magda?"

Bill caught the reference to Something About Mary and laughed, too, but it was simply a social effort. His mind roamed, and where it roamed there was very little humor. The sheets beneath him, the bed, and all the embedded memories of the hotel room became background noise. He thought about his vision at the church. He thought about his vision at the walking track. He thought about the crime scenes. Most of all, he thought about the victims: kids, just little more than babies. They were so innocent, so trusting, so undeserving of such a horrid fate. How could faith twist into something so sick and peculiar? How could the words of a kind and perfect man simply asking people to love one another turn into such a fugue of violence?

"Spare the rod and spoil the child."

"Huh, what'd you say?" Benny hit mute on the television.

"As a kid, were you ever beaten?" Bill asked.

"Why do you ask?"

"I just remembered something about Green. At least I think it was Green. There was a bestselling book a few years back, a Christian living thing, about discipline and child-rearing. I remember buying a copy of it at the suggestion of a fellow church member. It was pretty harsh stuff, I thought. All about spanking and using paddles and switches and stuff and talked about how liberal psychologists were trying to take away parents' rights to use corporal discipline in their homes. A spanking manifesto, basically. I thought it was pretty harsh stuff, honestly. I mean, yeah, I spanked my kids from time to time when they were little. But sparingly. Typically just popping their hand if they reached for the stove or slapping their butt if they tried to run out in a parking lot, that sort of thing. My parents spanked me. I got paddled a few times in school, but it wasn't all there was to discipline. My parents rewarded good behavior and sent me in the corner if I acted out most of the time. I only remember a handful of spankings. I tried to do more or less the same with my own kids. But this book, what it said was just so harsh, I felt. It quoted that line from the Bible again and again: 'Spare the rod and spoil the child.'"

Benny nodded. I think I know the book you are talking about. It got the headlines for a while when I was in college. Kind of like the Chinese Tiger Mom thing at that time."

"Was that written by Green?"

Benny scratched at the stubble on his chin. "Maybe."

Bill nodded his head. "I think so, too. Let's go online and find out. If so, I think it's time we have a talk with Green's son."

Benny slipped his laptop out of its case and turned it on. "It'd be flimsy evidence, won't hold up in court, but if you're right, this might just be a godsend. Fits our profile anyway."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chapter XVIII: Poolside

Bill sat by the pool and smoked a cigarette. He watched the grey smoke curl up into pale blue sky and dissipate against a backdrop of white puffy clouds. A pair of children swam and splashed in the tiny hotel pool. They laughed and jumped around and screamed. Bill watched them and shivered. The air felt far too cool for swimming, but he understood – knew it from their accents – that the family was made up of snowbirds who had come down to Florida for an escape from the chill of the northern climate. The mid-seventies might feel cool to a nearly lifelong Floridian such as Bill, but to the northerners it would be sweltering.

The mother of the children sipped from a can of beer. A cigarette smoldered in an ashtray on the armrest of her faded blue plastic chair. Her thick pink fingernails glinted with sunlight. She was too thin and too tan, almost orange. Garish red lipstick stained the filter of her cigarette. Her wiry arms gave her a corpselike appearance. Thin, mottled skin hung from her bones. She nodded to Bill and smiled. Bill smiled back to be polite and looked away.

Bill rested his head on the back of the chair and felt the cool plastic. It told stories of mothers much like the one in front of him. Thousands of mothers watching their children, slathering themselves with suntan oil, adjusting bathing suits and postures to look just right, looking at men, looking for men, enjoying being looked at by men, or being disappointed when men looked away. Some of these women were simply happy to feel the sun, and Bill vicariously enjoyed the feel of the sun through the cipher of the plastic chair’s stored memories.

“Hey, Bill. Got you some coffee.” Benny sat down next to Bill.

The woman across the pool looked over the top of her sunglasses towards Benny. Benny turned away and faced Bill. Bill saw Benny was blushing. The woman across the pool smiled.

“Beautiful day, huh?” Benny nodded up to the sky.

“Yep.” Bill took the cup of coffee from Benny’s outstretched hand. “Not hitting the mini-bar tonight?”

Benny shook his head. “Nah. It’s the Sabbath.”

Bill smiled and nodded. “That it is. So, let’s take it easy.”

Benny nodded. He leaned back in his chair.

Bill reached out his hand holding the pack of cigarettes. “Want a smoke, man?”

Benny shook his head. “The Sabbath.”

Bill nodded. “Fair enough. Where’s Gloria?“

“Taking a bath. I guess she needed some alone time." His voice became distant and hollow.

Bill held the cigarettes out again. “Sure you don’t want one?“


Bill shrugged his shoulders. He extracted another cigarette and lit it from the burning cherry on the butt of his previous smoke. He inhaled deep and exhaled. He coughed. “Stuff isn’t good for you anyway.”

Benny nodded. He had his eyes closed and appeared lost in though. “Nothing fun ever is.”

The too tan woman continued to steal glances at the two men sitting across the pool from her.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chapter XVII: Medieval Constructs

“It was just a dream, Bill.”

Gloria looked back to Bill. A little line creased between her eyebrows. Her eyes were perfectly framed by the rear-view mirror, and Bill was struck by how lovely her eyes were despite her stern expression.

Bill sighed, “Maybe. But it didn’t feel like a dream. It felt like, you know, touch. It felt like I was feeling a story.”

Benny crinkled back the paper wrapper on his cheeseburger and took a bite. He slurped a sip of soda. “I don’t know. Maybe it means something, G?”

Gloria looked over to Benny. “Christ! Not you too?”

Benny shrugged. He held a French fry up to his mouth. “He’s been dead-on so far as far as we know.”

She inhaled and shook her head.

“I don’t think it was real,” Bill said. He ate a French fry and swallowed it down with a sip of soda. The straw in the soda held a hint of the lives surrounding it. He saw a single mother dreaming of a night out away from her kids and knew this to be the woman who had served them the fast food back at the drive-through window. Bill tried to ignore the feelings and stories embedded in the plastic and Styrofoam and paper. He ate a chicken nugget and tasted its history. It surprised him how little of the history of that nugget had to do with chickens and how much had to do with various grains and varieties of soy.

“What do you mean: Not real?” Benny asked.

Bill swallowed his nugget with a slurp of soda. “Well, it doesn’t fit in with my own theology, I guess. Did you ever read Dante in college?”

Gloria nodded.

Benny nodded, too. “I never actually read it, but I studied it. Got an A on a paper about it. I remember writing about the rings of Hell and all that.”

Bill nodded. “Exactly! Rings. The stadium became rings. When I looked around at all the devils and demons, they were the souls of the damned. Now that I think about it, there were levels. Just like Dante. The tortures differed to suit the sin, an inverse of all that is good, and The Devil was at the center of it all. But what were the angels doing there?”

Gloria sighed. “Dreams are funny like that. Sometimes they don’t mean anything, you know?”

Bill ate a fry and looked out the window. They rode through a Florida suburb. Farmers' markets and strip malls whizzed by. “Maybe. Maybe you’re right and it was just a dream, but if it’s not, if it wasn’t just a dream, then it’s worth noting. Perhaps I have a link, you know?”

“A link?” Gloria looked back at him in the rearview mirror.

Once again, Bill found himself staring into her eyes. He tore his eyes away, thought of his wife, felt guilty, and looked back out the window. “A link to our guy. This wasn’t my theology. This wasn’t a reflection of my beliefs. I’m not that literal, I guess, in my, uhm, I guess you could call it my translation of faith. I believe differently.”

Benny grunted. “One of those Rob Bell guys, huh? Let me guess: You don’t believe in Hell?”

“No. I believe in a Hell. If there’s a Heaven, there’s got to be a Hell right? You can’t have or understand the concept of light unless there’s some dark somewhere. At least that’s the way I see it. But what is Hell? What is Heaven, for that matter? Are they physical places or spiritual? What are they exactly? I can’t say I know. I’ve read through the Bible probably dozens of times, been an active member of my church for the last six years, typically attend Bible classes and the main services, but I’ve never been able to find a definitive answer on these things. There are beliefs, there are theories, but little that I would accept as fact when it comes to specifics regarding an afterlife. I know some Christians who believe Heaven and Hell aren’t really even an issue until later on. They believe the dead sleep until Christ’s return and then are judged and have their salvation or damnation determined. I don’t know, definitively, about any of that stuff. I would be unlikely to trust anyone who tried to tell me those answers with absolute authority, to be honest. That’s the sort of thing usually reserved for end times cults like the Davidians, for just one example. Anyway, I don’t think anyone living today really knows exactly what Heaven and Hell really are. It’s a mystery. But I really don’t think they look like their Medieval depictions anymore than Jesus was an Aryan with blonde hair and blue eyes. Those are Medieval constructs with very little resemblance to the original Jewish source materials.”

Benny laughed. “He sounds pretty smart, huh?”

Bill could see Gloria’s eyes smile in the rear-view mirror. “Did you go to seminary in the years we’ve been apart by any chance?”

Bill smiled. “No. Just had a lot of time to think over the years and reflect over some of the bitter things like that, especially the last few months since I’ve been on my own. I know enough now to know I don’t really know anything. What you believe and what really are are not always the same thing.” Bill thought about his wife, the love they shared, the way they touched, the way they kissed, the way she promised him her love and loyalty, the way he saw her in another man’s arms the last time they touched. “Beliefs are not the same as facts. They’re more fluid, I guess. At least they are for me. That’s how I know that what I was seeing—“

“You mean dreaming,” Gloria interjected.

“No. I mean seeing, or feeling,” Bill said. “What I was feeling was not my own view on things. The vision was too solid. The underlying theology or cosmology or whatever you want to call it was too consistent. It was concrete and unchanging. It fit in with the worldview I’ve been seeing at the crime scenes, is what I’m trying to say.”

Benny turned around in his seat. “So, do you think Pastor Green’s involved in some way?”

Bill nodded. “Maybe, but maybe not. In my dream or vision or whatever it was, Pastor Green was the Devil. I don’t think our guy sees himself as Satan. He’s too self-righteous for that, I think.”

The three of them bumped in the car as Gloria rode over a speed bump to enter their hotel’s parking lot. She parked the car. “So you think our guy doesn’t care for Pastor Green that much, huh?”

Bill shook his head. “I don’t know if care is the right word. I think our guy cares for him plenty. He did put him at the center of Hell, after all. No, he’s not the hero of The Bible, but Satan’s got a little bit of pull, especially in Dante if you think about it. No, I think our guy respects Pastor Green. I think our guy respects Pastor Green a lot, in fact.”