Jesus Wept -- John 11:35
“I’m so tired,” Keith said, peering over the edge of the roof. He sat down. No one heard him yell about the bomb.
Ernie Benson, the Lighthouse Inn bartender, was a jovial even-tempered man, voted “LaConner’s Best Bartender” year after year for fixing you a good drink and steering you out the door in a nice way when you had enough.
Ernie was also a big man, tall and round and he had a problem, seeing Keith take the ladder up to the roof. “This is really screwy,” he said. But he had to climb the ladder and lift up the hatch to peek out and find out what Keith was doing up there.
“Keith, what’s going on? You can’t be up here.”
“I’m so tired,” Keith said. “I need to find Lisa. I need to find out if she’s alive. Did you kill her? Are you an agent?”
“It’s me, Ernie. You need to come down.”
Police Chief Larry Yonally was driving down First Street when he saw Keith on the roof of the Lighthouse, thinking he was a worker or something. Taking a closer look, he recognized Keith’s balding head and his scruffy beard in profile, and his signature dark brown combat jacket covered with magic marker quotations from the Old Testament.
“Oh shit,” he said. “We gotta get him down.”
Larry began thinking, “If I blow the cop whistle on him he might just get worse. I have to parse this thing out. He’s up on the roof, and we have to get him down easy and no one gets hurt.”
But Keith saw Larry and his adrenalin surged. “It is the curse of Babylon,” he raged. “I will tear it all down. The CIA has a secret prison under this building and they’re keeping Lisa in a cell. I have to know if she’s alive.”
Keith was talking loud enough now, people on the sidewalk heard him and looked up. Larry was thinking, “Geez, now we got a situation.”
He pulled the police car in front of the library across the street. He got out of the car and stood in the street, “Keith, it’s me. You know who I am, right?”
“Larry, yeah, I see you. Well, see this knapsack. I have a bomb. I have the power now. It is time for the truth. Jesus guides us all. And I will smite thee and free the minions.”
Larry had to counter the threat, “Nobody’s gonna smite nobody. Smiting is against the law and we just don’t do that kind of thing around here. Put down the backpack and come down right now.”
“If I come down, the CIA will torture me just like they are torturing Lisa.”
A crowd gathered. In LaConner a crowd is six or more people, but it had all the dimensions of a crowd, milling about, hesitant, seeing the cop, seeing the man on the roof, and wondering who it was.
Amy Hahn the librarian looked out the window from her desk, confirming her hunch – it was going to be a weird day, but weird in a good way? Maybe, because it was time for the truth – the Man with the Explosive Device gets to set the agenda, at least for a while. “Reality is a beautiful thing,” Amy said. There was a bench on the sidewalk outside the door where she could watch. “I’ll take a look-see,” she said, “first shoo the children home.” But none were present.
It’s like if you had the money, you could hire an aeroplane to do your message in skywriting. Keith didn’t have the money, but he could tinker with electronics, and he knew that he could build a bomb, and further, people like Larry knew he could build a bomb, and now he only had to convince them of the righteousness of his cause. They would join him in his battle with the anti-Christ.
“Written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond, saith Jeremiah, chapter twenty-two, verse one. See, I have it written on the back of my jacket, and the people will now the truth,” Keith cried.
Larry was looking steady, projecting calmness with his posture, not reactive, not tense, breathing easy.
Fred Martin, most sublime Methodist, genteel Rotarian, compassionate, conservative, pharmacist and former mayor, came from behind the counter at the drugstore and went out to the street. He looked up and saw Keith. He saw Larry and he walked over to confer.
“There’s time, I’m going to move slowly,” Larry said to Fred. “If I tell the people to move back, they’ll become alarmed. If I call the sheriff for back up, he’s just going to barge in and take over and shoot the man. People could get hurt.”
Fred responded with papal dignity, “Don’t call the sheriff. Keith is a sick man. This is our show in LaConner. We can get him down easy.”
Larry nodded, staying focused, gauging the crowd.
“We need to get everybody out of the Lighthouse,” Larry said.
“I can do that,” Fred said. He walked slowly over to the restaurant door, walked in, and came out a few minutes later. “No one is in there but Ernie and he won’t leave. The cooks and waitresses are out in the parking lot.”
Keith was mumbling quietly, swinging his backpack, watching birds fly overhead.
Barbara Cram, with her hoarse and hacked voice and her indifferent haircut, was the loudest woman and the best meat-and-potatoes cook in LaConner. An un-paid and un-appointed social worker, she was once awarded the Girl Scouts Medal for First Degree Meddling in the Affairs of Other People. She got a phone call at her home on Fourth Street up on the hill. She usually found out the LaConner gossip minutes before it even happened, so she was on this one like right now. Into the phone she said, “Keith Brown? That crazy bastard. I’m coming down.”
She grabbed her cigarettes and lighter, came down the hill, right down the Benton Street stairs and took it all in. “I’m gonna help.”
She strode up to Larry and Fred. “This is going to be a long day. You fellas could use a cup of coffee, I’ll bet.”
“Yeah, sure, Barbara.”
With that she left the major domos and walked right into the Lighthouse Inn despite Larry’s cry, “Hey, don’t go in there.”
She came out five minutes later with a tray of coffees, looked up at Keith, said “How’s the weather up there, handsome?” and started to pass around the cups.
Stern now, Larry demanded, “Unauthorized bystanders need to stay at least one hundred feet back from the incident.”
“Don’t be a jerk, Larry. He isn’t going to hurt anyone,” Barbara said.
“But he might.”
Brian Healey closed his shop for the nonce. Located in the Pier Seven building, which a lot of people considered bad luck in the first place, he seemed to think it was funny to name his business “Cheap Trinkets for Tourists” explaining, “well, that’s what people say anyway.” But business was awful, and people suspected the cause was actually his personality.
Brian walked over to the scene, looked up at Keith and said, “Shoot him.”
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.
Jeremiah, 17. 9
Tom Robbins and Cynthia Sibanda were skipping down the Benton Street stairs whistling the theme from the Pink Panther. Cynthia was a black-skinned beauty and Tom Robbins was a Virginian by birth, so gallantry came to him naturally. Together they would make romantic history. They stopped at a landing half-way down the stairs, being at eye-level with the Lighthouse Inn roof across the street.
Keith spotted Tom and Cynthia, saw their happy smiles, and began to shout. “Beelzebub, meet thy doom. “
“You horse’s ass,” Tom called back and considered that a kind of praise, for his love of horses going away and that’s what you see when they go away, like a mare with glistening, chestnut-brown firmly muscled hips, like two Brazil nuts in a creamy nougat. Tom coulda wrote a book about a horse’s ass and you would learn things you never knew were there.
And somehow, like the other bystanders, he did not sense approaching death. Keith did have a bomb. And he might detonate the device, and people might be killed and injured, and yet no one took it seriously, let alone Tom Robbins, who was a serious man for all that.
“Cindy, we can sit here on this bench on the stairway landing, being halfway up and halfway down,” Tom said. He knew about the hidden plum tree next to the landing, behind the rampant blackberry vines. There, under the plum tree, was a shrine to Saint Bridget, just a small statue amid a tiny clearing, a place for votive candles. No one knew it was there except Tom, and he only suspected it. “Saint Bridget was a holy woman and the patron saint of folks like you and me,” he told Cindy. “She will protect us, although I believe more in circus monkeys.”
“Monkeys are like gods in my home in Zimbabwe,” Cynthia said, “ but we also love Princess Diana as well as Michael Jackson. Is that man going to blow up his bomb?”
“No, my African beauty, although he has the madness and power of Shaka Zulu. Fate has done Keith cruelly and people have made him small. This is his revenge, his day in the sun. Let us repose and hear his words,” Tom said.
Keith almost winked, “Beelzebub, you will fear me. I call you out. We will both be destroyed this day.”
Tom cried back, “Monkey’s uncle!”
Behold, I will make thee a terror to thyself, and to all thy friends.
Jeremiah, 20: 4
Big Janet kept playing Pac-Man on her stool at the LaConner Tavern. She had to pee really bad, but she was approaching the All-Skagit-Valley Points record and she determined to stick it out.
Roger Cayou and Chico Narkowitz came out of the LaConner Tavern to watch. “This is going to be good,” Roger said. “I could really use a slice of watermelon right about now.”
Chico took a broader view. He pushed back his hat, tilted his head skyward and held forth, “It kind of reminds me of World War II. After Pearl Harbor, we got afraid that the Japanese Navy might send submarines up through Deception Pass to invade Skagit Bay and conquer LaConner. I mean, it could have happened. So the Coast Guard had us build a concrete artillery defense camp out on Goat Island to repel the invaders and that’s what I did during the war – keep those guns ready.”
“A waste of time,” Roger said. “Those Japanese never came near.”
“Darn right, they stayed away. We had those big guns on Goat Island and scared ‘em off. So I would call us a winner.”
“So we’re going to sit on this bench, and you eat your slice of watermelon and we’ll scare off the demon that’s driving Keith Brown to madness. That’s how we keep our town in a good way – just hold on fast and keep a good spirit.”
Keith Brown, on the roof of the Lighthouse Inn, with a credible explosive device in his backpack, knowing this was his last day as a free man, had the strength of ten men. The air had a burning clarity. His skin glowed with violent bliss. He spread his arms wide like Christ crucified. “I have never been so alive,” he said.
Down on the street, at ground zero, Larry looked around at the gathering, “I guess everybody is here. Maybe we can talk him down.”
But everyone was not there. What about Don Coyote? Don Coyote was not on the scene. He was watching from behind a hedge in back of the Garden Club. Don Coyote, it should be explained, was a real person. He watched and saw many things, but, like a leopard in Africa, he was rarely seen.
That left Jimmy and Hitch and Aurora Jellybean some ways off, a bit south of the drama, not yet sucked in. “Larry don’t want us around,” Jimmy said.
“Will anyone get hurt?” Aurora asked.
“It’s only a hoot,” Hitch said
“I don’t like watching, we should head back,” Jimmy said. “Keith is my friend and he’s a bum. He should get a job mowing lawns. Like in the spring when we go picking daffodils at Lefeber’s, you can make $50 a day doing that. Zappa does even better because he’s all cranked up. I’ve seen Zappa pick 8,000 daffodils in a day. That’s $80 and you’re rich. The point is you work every day in March, all muddy and wet and cold, and the wind is blowing and you get too tired to think. That’s why I like it. You just walk and pick, walk and pick, it’s like total Zen. Your mind is empty. No worries and no fear. But Keith won’t go, he just sits out there at Fishtown looking at old porno magazines. Crazy enough, I guess. Now he’s going to get on the news. I hate it. KIRO-TV will get here, and then it all goes ballistic. We gotta keep this in town, act like nothing much is going on. This is our show. If everybody stays cool we can talk him down.”
“So you need to do something, Jimmy,” Hitch said.
“Yeah, Jimmy, you’re the man,” Aurora said.
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Note. For people who don’t live in the Skagit Valley, several commercial farms in the valley grow hundreds of acres of tulips and daffodils for the fresh market. Daffodils are harvested in March, tulips in April. Big crews of farm workers pick all these flowers, one at a time. In 1982, this labor was still performed by local residents. Zappa was a champion picker, although the legendary “Kathy” surpassed even him, going over 10,000 flowers a day more than once.
Don Coyote. Don Coyote is a real person, but that is not his real name.
Disclaimer. The resemblance of any characters in this story to actual persons is a coincidence and not intentional. No offense is intended either. If this story can rise to the level of good beach reading, the author will be very satisfied.