“You are the Devil, then.” Sister Joyful stood her ground.
“You are a dead man?” asked the Sister.
Judge Joseph Force Crater ran hand over his barbered, slicked and brilliantined hair. “My haberdashery, it is off?—a giveaway in the newly defunct, but I have had much practice. I wear a celluloid collar, that is enough for most doubters. Many have heard of me. My deeds are legend.”
“I never heard of you,” remarked Sister Joyful as she peeled a kumquat.
“Those kumquats. They come all the way from California. You have me to thank for that. Indirectly.”
“You bring them in.”
“Tammany, the downtown Democratic club. I played cat’s-paw to their schemings of a transcontinental railroad. Fresh fruit. Aside from bananas. Heat raises the humors in tropical nations—nasty, the tropics. From far California the Democratic party supplies fresh fruit daily to pacify its voters. A grand vision.”
“You want to make love to me. You should know I am not a freethinker.”
“Dear... no, beloved Sister Joyful, I have loved; I have been loved—seldom simultaneously. I have stayed awake through Parcheesi, backgammon, pocket billiards and, yes, even cribbage tournaments. As a lad I enjoyed parlor maids behind the barn. We called our trysts ‘barn swallows.’ But these days a shapely leg or moist thighs throbbing with lust hardly turn my head. I have a medical condition.”
“You are dead.”
“Death is not a medical condition? This poor chap, f’rinstance...” The Judge had been rifling through the derelict’s inside pockets. He came up with a gold pocket watch and chain. Appended to the chain was a jeweled golden fob with Masonic symbols. Judge Crater pocketed the watch and fob.
“You are dead and you are robbing the dead. We call ourselves civilized,” said Sister Joyful.
“There is a common fallacy in these modern times, that being industrialized means being civilized. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A horse-drawn landau in the twentieth century is an astounding anachronism.”
“This is the twenty-first century. You have been out of things. In... limbo? Heaven, hell?”
“A gray place with vapors. Rather like a hot springs health spa. But without the health. No whole grains and celery tonic. No colonics, upper or otherwise, I fear—high or low. Not much fun, in short. But I am certainly revivified. I don’t feel a day over forty-one. That is the age at which I died. I was garroted and stabbed by a pair of burly policemen and buried in Brooklyn. Coney Island, under the boardwalk.”
“Did you see Jesus?”
“Not in Coney Island. Oh... in the afterlife. A dapper gent wearing plus-fours? I certainly did, dear Sister. Jesus sends you His best.”
“You have seen Him...”
“Not only seen the Savior put we played through—eighteen holes: His place in the Scheme of Things, and all. I let Him have two points when He nickered on his scorecard. Lost a ball in the trees, He did. A foursome. With Sammy Snead and Ben Hogan. Splendid gentlemen. As with you vis-à-vis myself, I had never heard of them.”
“Because you were dead...”
“Not as dead as our everyman here.” The judge had taken another fling at finding the dead man’s pulse. He dropped the derelict’s hand. Blue-veined and scrupulously manicured, it fell across his chest in a gesture of repose. “He is beyond temptation. Dead or alive, however, I fancy myself a connoisseur of the female form divine. And the goods you have on display are ne plus ultra. I have enjoyed many women, but never, never have I been offered the gift of sanctified flesh. Alas, love has become a bore. I have no wish to get into the habit—God, how I love a well-formed pun.”
Sister Joyful stooped to adjust her hosiery. There was a flash of plump, golden thigh. The judge ogled. The sister snapped her ecclesiastical garter belt and stood to challenge the Missingest Man in America. A nun’s habit is her working clothes. I am at work while you, sir, are a malingerer and a cad.”
“Just the devil in my soul. I would blush if I could—bad circulatory system. Lack of use. You will have to pardon me, for these are my little ways.”
“You have seen Elvis...” said Sister Joyful; that an Elvis sighting was the ultimate test of verity was a proven scientific fact.
“Most definitely,” said Joseph Force Crater. “Or was that Clovis, the King of the Franks? Nope, Buddy, Roy and Elvis—they were some sort of musical aggregation. Decidedly not palm court. They gave the Higher Power indigestion; they now entertain on a, ahh... less elevated plane. Clovis, though. Played doubles at lawn tennis with old Clovis, Vlad the Impaler and Johnny Mathis... Vampires and Negroes in paradise. I never would have thought it. Marvelous voice, though. Mathis, that is.”
“You are not quite what I expected.”
“I am the Messenger, Sister. Your sermons are full of me, your homilies rejoice at my coming. Well, here I am. What do you have to say. I have struck you dumb? You are speechless...”
“What I expected, what the Chapel of Divine Satisfaction has been prophesying for as long as I can remember. Ten years... well, three we have been in this particular tabernacle. I expected a miracle, an opening of the heavens. The Rapture, not a lubricious stiff.”
“I have performed my first miracle, Sister. Your miracle. It was a small miracle, but a miracle nonetheless. I have made a dead man presentable. I touched him up with the wink of an eyelid. A cosmetological thingy, but I did it. The Son of God did not command me to make the miracles personal, a dedication if you will, like the disc jockeys do. But I rather like it—a special effect.”
“You have played golf with Jesus. That is special.” Sister Joyful walked to the far corner of the chapel and opened a hymnal. She pretended to read, a slight humming issuing from her throat.
“A favorite of mine,” said Judge Crater. “How perceptive. You have doubts and are seeking solace in the mighty threnodies of faith. Open your heart and we will be connected on a wholly different level. Out loud, please.”
Sister Joyful crossed herself. “I don’t know who sent you, mister. But I fear you are here after doing no good. There’s the piano; do you play?” She cleared her throat and commenced to sing—a full, throaty contralto more suited to a barroom hostess:
“The world is very evil, the times are waxing late,
Be sober and keep vigil, the Judge is at the gate.”
Judge Crater pulled his sleeves up to his elbows and, carefully undoing a pair of cufflinks, crafted out of fifty-dollar gold pieces, rolled back his sleeves. “There.” The piano keys danced under his touch. Rich resonances of the high renaissance filled the air. The Sister’s fine high contralto rose to a waiting heaven while the judge’s butterscotch basso rambled in and out with a forceful harmony which decorated the hymn’s rests and stops with a manly counterpoint.
“There are going to be great doings this night,” said the Judge. “We shall bring the wonders of the New Jerusalem to your frowsty storefront tabernacle. Attend me: I am to perform my Second Miracle.”
“One was enough. You killed that man. He was alive and you killed him, and that’s that. You are going to kill me.”
“No. Nononono. Spare your tears for the forgotten man who had the brass to drop dead in front of your storefront. He was already a goner from the second he strutted forth from his mother’s womb. Life is written. Man proposes; God disposes. All is foreordained. You and I... here in quiet converse, your fear of murder most foul. And by my hands. I have the Power. I am here to fructify a waiting womb. Are you ready, Sister?”
Sister Joyful looked relieved and terrified simultaneously. “I am not a virgin; I guess that leaves me out. I have never been possessed by a spirit, however. I thought that possession was by demons—a migraine of the immortal soul.” Sister Joyful recoiled. “I knew it. You are going to have your way with me, then kill me.”
“As appealing as that thought may be, Sister Joyful, I fear death has slowed my libido. The real, the corporeal me is moldering in a Brooklyn landfill. How then, came I to be here? The man you see before you is a channel for the Holy Spirit, come to conceive a miraculous child. The new messiah.” read more »