IV: Faith & Guilt
There can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven. Robert Green Ingersoll
The rattling of instruments no longer fazed Hank. He had been at the wheel for about a day now. They had passed through a number of small towns, but nothing felt quite right about any of them. Hank knew there was the last piece of his massive puzzle lying out in the shifting sands somewhere, but where, he was unsure.
For the first few hours, John had been quiet, but soon the calm that allowed the car to remain a neutral temple was shattered. John and Erika began to squabble about everything, and Hank was frankly growing tired of it. Very well, he thought, if you must fight, do it out of earshot.
At the few stops along the roads for food and drink, Hank and John had come up with a few riffs and progressions, and had about two songs' worth of ideas written down on a small legal pad John had brought from home. They referred to the two arrangements as Of Little Time and Purgatory.
As Hank's two comrades bickered around him, Hank pulled into another town, larger than the last few, with a number of close-knit homes and a few tall buildings. The streets here were paved, and as Hank pulled onto what he believed to be the main street, he spotted a sign saying Bienvenido a Paraso.
Spanish. Hank said aloud to his comrades. We must've passed into Mexico.
Didn't even hit a border marker. John noted from the back seat. Not even a checkpoint or anything.
Yeah. Hank nodded, turning onto a back street. He began to take in the sights of a larger town: the people scurrying about; the visuals of street performers and vendors trying to earn a few extra pesos. He smirked at a group of boys playing stick ball in a wide alley. A few businessmen in sensible suits rushed by, chatting on their cell phones. It was nice to see the hustle and bustle of small town life again.
He had seen the St. Isabella Church since they entered the town limits: it was a large, gleaming building of stone and marble, with lovely stained glass windows depicting the passion of Jesus Christ. Hank had set this as his destination, if only to watch the faithful scurry into sanctuary. His comfort in a higher power had died long ago, and seeing the foolish blindly toss their trust into a series of metaphors was rather humorous.
But as he parked on the side of the road and watched with John and Erika, he noticed a young Hispanic boy walking up the steps with a pair of sticks in his hands. Under his arm was a snare drum, carefully crafted by hand. It was a beautiful sight, and perhaps the sight he was waiting for. Hank stared, unable to remove his gaze from what he was sure was the sign he was looking for. This lovely percussion-oriented creature was bowing to a tyrant above. Hank could not accept this.
What's up? John asked, catching Hank staring at the boy.
I feel like destroying something beautiful.
Virginia Beach had changed since he had last been here. The former family appeal of the street performers and hotels had been replaced with the cold familiarity of sport coats and high rises. The hand of business had the beach in a stranglehold, threatening to drive the sands back into the sea. What little culture remained was located in the seedy downtown area, where a former amusement park fairground had been converted into a concertgoer's paradise.
Charlie stood uncomfortably in line behind a dreadlocked man, breathing in the atmosphere. He figured if anyone knew anything, this would be the place to find that particular anyone. And by his estimation, this anyone would be able to be the solution to his issue. Finding Anson wouldn't be easy, but where could he turn when he had no leads? Who had always been the answer? The Deus Ex Machina?
Hand Drawn Hollow wouldn't be coming on stage until sunset, which gave Charlie about an hour to find who he was looking for. The bands didn't have a particular waiting area, so Charlie would have to look diligently. Surely the most intelligent man he knew would be conning a con-man out of his own money? So why not the gaming booths?
His search proved fruitless at the ring toss and frog leaping booths, but he could smell that wafting scent of knowledge. It was at the arcade tent area he came across the bald head he was looking for. He was playing skee-ball, easily scoring upwards of a hundred points when Charlie approached his black tank top covered self from behind.
Kingston. Charlie said calmly, folding his arms.
Kingston turned, revealing his now clean shaven face and worry lines. He had grown older since Charlie had last seen him a few months ago. He had disappeared into the New York upstate area the last he saw him, and it appeared life had gotten to him.
Charlie! Kingston said, immediately recognizing the former Chagrin vocalist. Been awhile!
I was gonna say the same thing. Charlie replied.
Listen Kingston muttered, putting a hand on Charlie's pudgy shoulder. I heard about Becker. Damn shame.
Yeah. Charlie sighed. But that's not why I'm here. I'm looking for someone.
Anson. He's disappeared.
Not his style, really. Kingston smirked, turning to a man dressed in black to his right. The man swept his hair out of his eyes and turned to face Charlie, who was immediately shocked at his identity.
Kris. Charlie stated, breathless. What the hell?
Long story. Kris muttered, running a hand along his stubble-ragged face. Let's just say Kingston here pulled some strings and got me out of jail. So I guess I'm his personal rhythm guitarist slash bitch.
I have connections. Said Kingston humbly. He shrugged. But Anson. I don't recall hearing anything about him.
Haven't seen him, really. Kris agreed. Not on the music or prison scene, at least.
Hey, he's gotta be somewhere, you know. Kingston muttered, thinking. I'd go talk to his sibling.
I already checked with his brother. Charlie argued. He's got nothing.
Brother? What brother? Kingston asked. I was talking about Amber.
Amber? Charlie gaped.
Amber. Kingston said plainly. His sister?
Right. Charlie said. Uh, actually, I had no idea he HAD a sister.
From what he told me back on tour, Kingston said, Anson's dad took her in the divorce settlement.
Jesus. Charlie sputtered. Where can I find her?
Anson's father took her to Georgia. Kingston added as he turned back to his skee-ball. Franklin, Georgia. 5 Browning Street.
Thanks. Charlie said, beginning to turn away, but then he turned back. How do you know all this?
Kingston laughed quietly.
Let's say I know people.
Hank, John, and Erika entered the church quietly, hoping not to disturb the service about to begin. John and Erika took a passing glance by Hank as the signal to find a place in the pews while Hank stood against a support beam. He folded his arms comfortably and watched as the young Hispanic boy set up his drums in the orchestral pit in front of the choir. Hank smirked. The boy looked prepared; ready to work. It was the perfect attitude.
The priest eventually handed it off to the band and choir. Hank watched with earnest interest as the band played on. The boy took a backseat, but kept the pounding, steady rhythm of a Latin Gospel. Soon enough, he had grown to an excited tempo, leading the band to a massive drum solo, shaking the pews with his effort. Hank could swear a drum head broke from his strength, but everything looped together.
Hank stole a quick glance at John and Erika. John nodded to Hank, telling him silently that this boy was perfect for them. Erika didn't look at Hank. She hadn't really acknowledged him in a long time.
A big hand for the band. Announced the priest as the song ended. The boy modestly waved to the flock, and Hank smiled. He's perfect. Hank muttered below his breath. But much too hopeful.
Yes, he thought. We'll have to remedy that.
Hoff took a puff on his cigarette before tossing it to the ground and grinding it with the heel of his shoe. The embers were quickly snuffed before the mighty heel of local law enforcement. Hoff could only wish his cases were this easy.
This one was beyond his comprehension: the perfect murder. The perpetrator had made a clean kill, stolen a child, and taken off into the Southern California desert. Mastermind? Perhaps. But what they knew couldn't fill a pillbox. They had nothing.
But laying in bed last night, Travis Hoff had had a revelation. Perhaps the perpetrator had signed into the Oasis Motel.
And so, here he stood; upon the small stairway to the lobby of the Motel, staring at his own reflection in the glass door. He was still young, as he had last checked, but he was aging rapidly. The formerly smooth faced rookie was now a slightly wrinkled two-year veteran. The time spent fighting the evils that lurk in the backyards of innocent families had killed his soul.
As he swung the glass door open, a tiny bell suspended above the door rang out, attracting Midge, the owner. She was an older woman, but looked quite helpful. She didn't even seem to notice the smell of smoke on Hoff as he approached the desk.
Travis Hoff, Imperial County Sheriff's Office. Hoff stated, holding up his badge to the light. Midge suddenly grew pale.
Don't worry, ma'am. Just here to ask some questions about the murder.
Understood. Midge responded, her voice quivering oddly.
I was wondering if anyone had checked in aside from the Montierres last week.
Hang on, let me fetch the book. Midge stuttered before bending down to remove the book from the shelf under the desk.
Hoff took this short opportunity to examine the room. It was small, probably no more than fifteen feet by ten feet. A large mirror hung on the wall to his left, with a rack of brochures below it, announcing the few nearby attractions.
Here it is. Midge announced, slamming a large, untidy book onto the table. Its green leather cover shined in the fluorescent lighting, and assorted colored sticky notes poked their bent heads out from between pages. Midge deftly flipped to last week's date and followed her finger to a single name about three quarters of the way down the page.
Yup. We got a Hank Gracer.
Hank Gracer. Hoff repeated, looking over at the name from a different angle. Hank C. Bison' Gracer.
Yup. Midge replied, closing the book. Hoff removed his cell from his pocket and punched in a number. It rang twice before dispatch picked up.
I need a background check. The name is Hank C. Gracer.
There was the grunt of confirmation. In the ensuing moment of awkward silence, Hoff nodded to Midge, who quickly fled the room with her appointment book. With his phone still to his ear, Hoff t5urned on his heel and exited the lobby, emerging into the hot California sun. A moment later, a voice returned his inquiry.
No data. Hoff said plainly, hanging up and returning his phone to its rightful home in his pocket. Well
He hadn't anticipated this. No matches, no evidence. No leads. Not a single clue as to the location of Erika Montierre. It may as well have been case closed. But Hoff wasn't one to give up on finding someone. Erika Montierre may still have been alive. And as long as he lived, Travis Michael Hoff was not one to give up.
So, fake name. No fingerprint record. Hoff sighed, walking back to his car. You f--king bastard.
Wait in the car. Hank had told his comrades as mass ended and people began flooding out. He had a plan, and he did not have time for interference. John and Erika complied, albeit begrudgingly. They quickly blended with fellow worshippers on the street, immediately becoming chameleons in the forest.
Hank turned back to his target: the boy was just starting to pack up his drums, and had not noticed a single other person remained. Hank moved swiftly across the tile floor, ducking behind a pew every so often to avoid detection. This plan relied on guilt, and only if the boy had any would it succeed.
Hank finally made it to his destination: the confessional booth. The priest had disappeared into the back room and probably would not return for a long time. In a focused rage, Hank slipped into the priest's side of the confessional booth and deliberately slammed the door behind himself, alerting the attention of the darker-skinned boy, who now thought the father had retreated to confessional to await the guilty. Like a fly draw to honey, the boy sauntered over and entered his side of the confessional.
Hank didn't move the slat to view the boy. Rather, he moved it slightly so that he may hear the boy, who kneeled before the slat, his hands clasped in prayer. The following conversation occurred in a mixture of Spanish and English. Luckily, Hank was fluent in both.
Father, forgive me.
I have sinned, Father. My lustful glances at the girls in the streets are of great shame to me.
I forgive you.
You forgive me?
Indeed. It's not my place to speak for God. I cannot guarantee God's forgiveness.
But you do speak for Christ.
I speak for no one, child.
Then what about my confession?
It passes through my ears. Little else.
But God must forgive me.
Perhaps he is listening. Perhaps not. Tell me, my son, has God ever intervened in your life?
God guides me.
That's not what I asked.
.I can't think of
Precisely. May I ask your name, child?
Porfirio del Refugio Cruz Castro.
My dear Porfirio. What is it that drives you?
I have no drive. My drums are my life.
Your life? Have you any parents?
No. Father was killed by the Oeste de la ciudad banditos. Mother fled when bill collectors came for her. I was left to care for my little sister and myself on my own.
And what of your sister?
There came the reply of pure silence. An innocence was missing.
I seedo you think she is with God?
I don't know where she is.
Your faith does wither.
It's not my faith.
It's not knowing. God is invisible. I cannot see Him. I cannot hear Him. I cannot
Feel him. Hank finished.
Yes. My hope for the world has faded. Mother gone, father gone. Maria gone
Hope is a shackle, my child.
Losing all hope is freedom.
Once again, a silence.
Go outside. There will be two people: a young man and a young lady sitting in a car. Join them if you want to free yourself. After all hope is lost, the healing process may begin. Freedom may yet be found.
Somewhere miles away, a single coyote howled into the sun, growling at an absent God. The events of a desolate future had been spun. Four souls gathered in a car in the downtown borough of a small Spanish town. A young police officer a few miles down the road gently swore to himself and lit a cigarette. And somewhere on a southbound highway, a broken hearted boy zoomed toward Georgia.
Back up north, a figure watched the sunset, smiling to themselves as the darkness they helped to create overtook Harmony Hill.