Pasour Rhyne carried his small bag off the Greyhound bus. The bus had just arrived at the terminal on Crabtree Boulevard in Raleigh. It had been a lengthy six-hour trip from Morganton; Morganton was only a four hour trip from the capital city but by the time the obligatory stops at such burgs as Hickory, Kannapolis, and Greensboro were made the time added up. He was holding an official envelope with the words Western Carolina Center for the Criminally Insane in the upper left-hand corner and his name handwritten in the middle of the envelope; it was his official discharge papers from the institution. Pasour had been to the center several times, but this was the first time he had been given official discharge papers. Of course this was the first time he was being released following having been found innocent by reason of insanity of the murder of one Alma Devine, aka Sister Alma. Sister Alma had been a well known and prosperous evangelist and faith healer in Dallas North Carolina until her untimely demise at her little dead baby’s wake, where Pasour had pumped three bullets from a 32-caliber pistol into her chest.
Pasour was thinking back to those circumstances as he got off the Greyhound and went inside the snack bar to think about what it was he would do next. He sat down on one of the worn wooden benches; “Damn bitch got what she deserved,” he thought to himself. “Last time she embarrasses me in front of everybody in the community”.
The moment of ignominy for Pasour had occurred during one of Sister Alma’s Wednesday faith healings. Pasour was already upset because the head usher had given Pasour’s usher duty away because Pasour had been acting so crazy. “All I did was do the Larson Savoney sign in front of the crowd,” Pasour recalled. The Larson Savoney sign was accomplished by placing one’s left hand across the waist, raising the right arm and placing it across the forehead about halfway up the forearm, and then wiggling the outstretched fingers. The “sign” was usually accompanied by a big goofy grin on Pasour’s face exposing his giant yellow horse teeth. Ever since he had the dream when he was twenty years old he had been going on about Larson Savoney and how they would have meetings down on the banks of the South Fork River under the cloak of darkness and how they were a super-secret organization and how Pasour’s daddy was the grand poobah of the order. Pasour would carry on about the Larson Savoney all the time but would get very quiet when anyone would question him about it; he would just clam up and grin his goofy toothy grin and do the sign over and over.
But what had upset Pasour Rhyne so awful much was what Sister Alma had done when she was conducting a faith healing on Uncle Joe Clemmer, a pillar of the community who was so afflicted with arthritis that he was bent over like a half-opened jack knife. Sister Alma had just laid the healing on Uncle Joe and he was hopping and skipping around on the stage when Pasour had gotten a little over excited, kind of caught up in the moment, and had jumped up on the stage and started doing the Larson Savoney sign over and over again. Sister Alma had instructed Chief Usher Oscar to “throw that stupid son of a bitch out of the tent,” and that was how Pasour had found himself dumped unceremoniously onto the gravel parking lot.
Pasour looked down at the envelope with his discharge papers in it and opened it. It read sort of like a proclamation: “I, Dr. Charley Glenn, being the director of the Western Carolina Center for the Criminally Insane, do hereby declare that Pasour Rhyne, of Dallas, North Carolina, has been personally evaluated by me and that I have found him to be of sound mind and therefore is released from this facility”. Pasour grinned widely as he remembered the hour-long interview that had convinced the good doctor that Pasour was a changed man. And even though Pasour had said what he did to the good doctor just to get sprung he realized that he truly was a changed man; he had become obsessed with Melville B. Cox and knew in his heart of hearts that being a missionary was his calling. Pasour didn’t think that he would have too much trouble getting into the situation; after all, he had been spokesman for the Larson Savoney for decades without going through any formal training. “How hard could it be?” he had said to himself, and the idea for his trip was hatched.
At the interview with Dr. Glenn Pasour had brought in one of his little Upper Room religious magazines his momma sent him every month and had started in on how he had found religion and how it had made him realize how evil he had been and that he was awful sorry “bout what had happened to Sister Alma” and that he had “seen the light and that it was Jesus Christ.” Pasour had gone on like that for that whole session and Dr. Glenn, a devout Christian, had been quite impressed. Pasour had rehearsed what he was going to say over and over again and figgered he “had it down purty good”; the only other thing that he had really had to work on was his insatiable desire to jump up and do the “Larson Savoney” sign, but he managed to control this urge for the entire hour and was called back to Dr. Glenn’s office the next day and given his “walking papers.”
Pasour put the papers back in the envelope and looked at the address that he had scribbled down on it. “Edenton Street United Methodist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina,” he read out loud. Pasour had been reading one of his Upper Rooms and had come across a column about a man named Melville B. Cox who was a Methodist missionary in the early part of the nineteenth century. The article mentioned that there was a marker commemorating Preacher Cox in front of the church in downtown Raleigh. Pasour was very proud that he could determine what century an event occurred in; he had taught himself that whatever the year was you just added a hundred years to it and that was the century. He had been helped along in this intellectual endeavor by watching Walter Cronkite’s “The Twentieth Century” every Sunday night at six thirty. That was when it had occurred to him that it didn’t make sense that ol’ Walter was talkin’ ‘bout stuff that happened in the nineteen hundreds and the show was called “The Twentieth Century.” The following Monday he had posed the question to his teacher, Miss Froneberger, and she had told him the secret about how centuries were named. Pasour had felt pretty good about himself and his century epiphany and became an even more ardent fan of the show. His favorite one was when during World War II the Germans had demanded that some army, maybe in somewhere like Czechoslovakia, surrender and the leader of the besieged group had sent the German general a message that said “nuts”. He had gone around the playground all that next day practicing saying “nuts”, first trying his best at what he thought might be a Czech accent. He would cross his arms and assume an imperious air and say the word. Then he would say it doing his Walter Cronkite accent that he had been working on. After a while a group of his classmates had gathered around him and started taunting him, but Pasour was not discouraged from his acting; in fact, he always felt stronger when they made fun of him. It was at those moments that he realized how brilliant he truly was, and not at all “quare” like all the kids called him.
Pasour walked over to the cab stand adjacent to the bus station and crawled into the back of a cab and carefully recited the address of the church to the driver. It took about ten minutes in morning rush hour traffic to make the trek, the cab driver pulling up in front of the large brick church on Edenton Street. Pasour paid the fare and got out and stood looking at the largest Methodist church in Raleigh. He walked around the side of the church and looked at the beautiful stained-glass windows; he remembered that some preacher at the church had delivered a collection of sermons about the windows. It had been mentioned in the same Upper Room article that had zeroed in on Melville B. Cox. Pasour got tired of looking at the windows and walked back to the front of the church. Then he noticed the metal placard on the sculpted pedestal at the edge of the sidewalk; he looked at the weathered metal sign and read out loud—-Melville B. Cox, 1799-1833, Minister of Edenton St. Methodist Church, 1831. First American Methodist Missionary to Africa, 1833. Then at the bottom of the sign was a quotation from the good missionary; “Let a thousand fall before Africa be given up.” Centered at the top of the placard was a round seal with a man with a wide brimmed hat sitting on a horse with the inscription “The United Methodist Church” encircling the perimeter.
There was a concrete bench a few feet away and Pasour took his bag and went over and had a seat; it appeared to him that he had a considerable amount of pondering to do and he figgered he might as well get right to it.
The first thing he wanted to tackle was this: why would anyone who had a nice church in the capital city of North Carolina be so possessed as to want to give it up to go way off to Africa? Pasour thought about this for a good five minutes before coming to the conclusion that it all came down to a question of “the greater good.”
“Well I reckon that if somebody is gonna be a missionary, like I have decided to be, and ol’ Melville B. Cox wuz, I reckon it just goes with the territory,” he thought to himself. “I am satisfied that once you get that fire going ‘bout bein’ all crazy ‘bout Jesus they just ain’t hardly no stopping it. Just like me when it come over me,” Pasour said out loud. Pasour mentally checked this question off.
The next burning question he tackled was why would his hero choose to go to Africa in particular,’stead of some safer place,like maybe England or France? This one only took a couple of pondering minutes with Pasour figgerin’ that “come to think of it I guess Africa is ‘bout the worst place in the world to go to and if a missionary is real serious ‘bout doin’ the best work he can do it would make a lot of sense to go to the roughest place you could find”.
“Reckon it made more sense than goin’ into of one them cotton mills and trying to convert them yahoos,” Pasour discerned. That took care of another curiosity and he found himself with only one remaining. Pasour got up from the concrete bench and walked back over to the placard and re-checked the date.
He once more read the words on the placard, paying special attention to the dates.
“Hmmph,” he said out loud, “first Methodist missionary to Africa in 1833,” he read, thinking smugly how that was in the early portion of the nineteenth century. That date did not trouble him so awful much; what was bothering him was that Pasour had so cleverly noticed that 1833 was also the year of Melville B. Cox’s death.
Pasour had seen enough Tarzan movies and cartoons in his strange life to remember that when the drums started in the rain forest and the negroes start closing in on Tarzan and Jane and that bunch that it “wa’n’t long before they brought out the big pot and started slicing up the taters.” Pasour had a mental vision of himself neck deep in boiling water with wild negroes dancing around the pot while taters and whatever other vegetables they had floated by him. This scared him more than a little and he had to sit down on the concrete bench once again to kind of sort things out.
After about ten minutes a light bulb, though a rather dim one, went off and Pasour Rhyne stood bolt upright and thrust his right forefinger in the air and shouted “eureka.” This finger in the air and eureka shouting was something he had started since he had decided to be a missionary; he had a vague recollection of seeing somebody like Jules Verne or some other famous character do it in a movie. Whoever it was that had done it Pasour had been very impressed by the action and had adopted it as sort of his “go to” expression whenever he would come up with some noteworthy missionary thought.
“Why hell, who is to say that Melville didn’t succumb to cholera, or dysentery, or even one of them horrible sex diseases, like gondorea?” he shouted, and then immediately felt ashamed for having used the “h” word. Having sort of figgered out that it was at least possible that Melville B. Cox had not been somebody’s meal Pasour sat back down on the bench and resumed comtemplating how he could best serve Jesus and just where he should go on his missionary journey.
Pasour Rhyne had been sitting there thinking for almost five minutes, about double his normal attention span, when he noticed that someone had walked up and was standing a few feet away observing him. The man was about forty years old with a good build, a handsome face, thinning hair and little John Lennon glasses perched on his nose. When he saw that Pasour had noticed him he smiled and walked over to the bench and extended his hand. Pasour stood and shook the stranger’s hand; “Bob Umstead here,” the stranger said.
Pasour was more than a little taken aback; he was not accustomed to people walking up and shaking his hand, and he certainly was not used to someone smiling at him, but he was composed enough to manage a weak smile as he shook Bob Umstead’s hand. Pasour noticed that Umstead’s hand was strong and calloused, unlike his own pallid thin appendage. “I am Pasour Rhyne, and I have come here to be a missionary; also, I am the chief officer of the organization known as Larson Savoney,” he blurted out. Bob Umstead held the smile and continued to look at Pasour Rhyne; “I was watching you from over there in front of the Dodd Hinsdale house. Now it is a fancy restaurant but many years ago it was in poor repair and unoccupied; a friend of mine owned it and let me stay in there rent free-no heat, no water, but a place to live. You know that turret at the top of the house is quite a thing; one can stand in there and turn all four directions and look through the windows. I was reminiscing about that time when I noticed you over here. I knew that you were busy thinking about unusual things and that is why I approached you. I am not your average person; I understand that all people are different and I do not judge them because they may appear a little strange. I am a little strange myself,” Bob Umstead said and flashed his smile.
Pasour Rhyne felt a little befuddled, not being accustomed to people talking to him that much, and most certainly the kindness in the tone of Bob Umstead’s voice was quite foreign to him. Before he knew it he was babbling and telling Umstead his whole life history, including from where he had just been discharged. Pasour watched Bob Umstead closely as he told him about The Western Carolina Center For The Criminally Insane, thinking that Umstead would recoil or maybe even turn tail and run but Umstead just stood and nodded occasionally while Pasour went on with his life story.
“You certainly have had a full and interesting life Pasour; could you tell me a bit more about Larson Savoney?” Bob Umstead said, and Pasour told him all about the dream and his daddy being the head Larson Savoney guy and the clandestine meetings down on the banks of the South Fork River. Bob was nodding and smiling again and then he looked at Pasour and said “Guess you don’t have anywhere to stay, do you?” Pasour assured Bob Umstead that he did not.
“How ‘bout you come with me to my little house out off Poole Road; nothing fancy but at least have electricity, running water and a working bathroom. Plus I want you to meet a friend of mine who is staying with me. His name is Martin Crandle and I think you two may have a lot in common,” Bob Umstead said and smiled at Pasour. “Come with me,” and with that Pasour followed Bob Umstead over to a ragged red Volkswagen and the two of them headed to Poole Road.
Martin Crandle was finishing up some fine tuning on his gun sketches. He had already worked on his grenade launcher model and had made very good progress on the guns, especially the high-speed sniper rifle that ran on steam. He had had a lot of trouble with that one, what with the body of the weapon getting so hot, but by persisting and introducing a cooling method utilizing dry ice he figgered he ‘bout had it solved. Crandle got up from the kitchen table where he had been working and went over to the hall wall where his new tennis racquet was hanging on a ten-penny finish nail. In actuality the tennis racquet was not new and most certainly was not his; he had stolen it from a friend of Bob Umstead’s a few days before. Umstead, or “Bumstead” as his detractors called him, had taken Crandle along with him to visit Mitch Zureka, a local tavern owner. While they were there Crandle had seen Mitch’s tennis racquet and had deftly placed it on the front porch and then had put it in the back seat of Umstead’s red Volkswagen. Bob Umstead did not find out about the theft until a few days later and he had given Crandle hell.
Crandle remembered how Bob Umstead had raked him over the coals; “Why in the hell would you do something like that, and especially to a friend of mine. Now I will never be able to show my face in Mitch’s Tavern again. You need to return that racquet right away,” Bob had told him, and Crandle promised that he would “the first chance he got.” That had been two weeks in the past. Crandle started hopping around the kitchen in his white tennis shorts and his knit tennis shirt practicing his forehand and backhand and serve.
“Might turn pro,” he said out loud. He stopped his practicing when he heard Bob Umstead’s Volkswagen pull in the driveway. He put the tennis racquet back on the wall, then thought better of it and stashed it in the hall closet. He was standing in the kitchen when Bob and some guy he had never seen before came in.
“Martin Crandle, meet Pasour Rhyne,” Bob said, and the two shook hands. Bob had bought a case of Budweiser at the Piggly Wiggly so he opened it and put all but three cans in the old fifties style Leonard refrigerator. The latch on the refrigerator was broken so Bob had gotten an eight-inch concrete block and set it in front of the door to keep it closed. Bob parceled out the beer and said “Let’s go sit on the front porch guys.” Bob and Pasour went over and sat down on the edge of the porch floor, since there were no chairs on the porch.
Crandle looked at Umstead and said “I’ll just stand; not going to screw up my tennis shorts.”
“Speaking of tennis, did you return Mitch’s tennis racquet like I told you to?” Bob Umstead said, giving his guest a very hard look.
“Absolutely. Hitchhiked into town and took it right to the old Lebanese while you were gone,” Martin Crandle lied. “He really appreciated getting it back. Where did you run up on Pasour?” Crandle listened intently while Umstead recounted their meeting and told Martin all about Pasour’s life and where he had been and ‘bout Larson Savoney and Sister Alma. Pasour kind of puffed his chest out when Umstead mentioned Sister Alma. “Bitch got just exactly what she deserved,” Pasour muttered, grinning widely and exposing his giant yellow horse teeth.
“What did she do to you Pasour?” Crandle asked as he pantomined serves.
“She insulted me in front of all the community,” Pasour said. “Ya would think that a so called ‘evangelist’ would know better than that. What is it that you do Martin?” Pasour asked, sensing that there could be a budding friendship at hand.
“I am an international advisor to governments’ militaries. I design new weapons for whoever wants to pay the top dollar. Just got back from the Middle East; had a lot of meetings with government officials. My next stop is the Pentagon; reminds me, I got to call the Secretary of Defense and get an appointment. A lot of people think I am some sort of renegade traitor because I deal with countries all over the world but I prefer to look upon myself as just another entrepreneur, selling my ideas to the highest bidder,” Martin Crandle announced, looking into the distance with a faraway look in his eyes.
Bob Umstead was absorbing everything that he was hearing; he was satisfied that Crandle was a nut and Pasour Rhyne actually had papers, but he was always attracted to the odd ones. Umstead had pondered his selection of friends on many occasions and had come up with a kind of rationale that explained his actions, at least enough to satisfy him. Bob was positive that he was manic depressive, and when he would get in his down moods he would talk incessantly about how “I need to get on Lithium” but he would never go to a doctor; additionally, when he was down he couldn’t stand to even think about women, quite a change from his womanizing norm. Eventually things would improve and he would get in an upswing and he would quit worrying about it, but the hell he went through instilled an understanding of people and it allowed him insight into odd personalities. He was never condemnatory, preferring to try to understand them; he usually concluded that most of the time aberrational behavior was due to a deep-seated feeling of insecurity or inferiority. Anyway, that was his theory and he was sticking with it. His own mental condition was in the upswing; he noticed that that was when he would “adopt” his assemblage of odd friends. On the other hand, when he was down he didn’t want to be around anyone, especially women. He remembered one time several years in the past when a guy named Dan Holland had showed up in town one summer fresh from student teaching. Holland was sort of just goofing off, trying to figure out what to do with his life. Although Bob Umstead was in one of his down times he took pity on him and let him stay at his house as long as “you don’t bring any women out here.” Things had gone along okay for about a week until Bob had come home unexpectedly and found Holland banging a little redheaded aquarium salesman. Bob had chased both of them out of the house, throwing their clothes out onto the front porch.
Pasour was listening very intently to Martin Crandle; ”Wow, I have never been around an international arms salesman,” Pasour thought to himself. “Reckon maybe I can learn something,” he mused, continuing to be entranced by Crandle’s monologue. Pasour’s rapt attention did not go unnoticed; Crandle decided to kick it up another notch.
“When I was matriculating through N. C. State I was a star on the track team,” Crandle said, hopping around on the porch practicing his forehand. Bob Umstead stared at Crandle and did an inward eye roll.
“Man, he is really getting geared up now,” he thought to himself. Times like this Bob would just sit back and let Crandle roll on; it never failed to be entertaining. Bob had heard this one more than once so he decided he would enable ol’ Crandle a bit.
“What was your specialty?” Umstead asked, doing his best to sound earnest.
“The javelin,” Crandle replied, puffing his skinny little chest out.
“What is a javelin?” Pasour asked timidly. Pasour vowed to tell all the members about what he was about to learn when the next Larson Savoney meeting was called.
“It’s kinda like a long arrow with a point on the end of it. The idea is to see how far you can throw it,” Martin Crandle explained. “Kinda a funny story ‘bout how I got a full scholarship on the track team. One day I was out on the brickyard on campus and this guy was showing off this fly rod that he had. Turns out that he was a fella I didn’t care for, always spouting off about something, so I picked up that fly rod and I rared back and three it over the student union, a three-story building. Just so happened Carl Messere, the track coach happened to be walking by and saw it. That was when he gave me a full scholarship on the spot. Yep, I was ACC champ in the javelin four years running; still hold the conference record. Course now I have settled on tennis as a sport; thinking of turning pro.”
“You did return that tennis racquet to Mitch Zureka, right?” Bob Umstead said, his eyes narrowing as he looked at the yarn spinner.
“Sure, like I said,” Crandle replied. “Well I guess I have been monopolizing the conversation, what with my international deals and all; I reckon we ought to be thinking ‘bout how to kick off your missionary career,” Crandle said, turning his attention to the Larson Savoney stalwart. “We need to come up with something innovative and exciting; they’s plenty of preachers on tv but I am satisfied that you are not in missionary work for pecuniary gain.”
Pasour nodded his head and made a mental note to ask Bob Umstead what “pecuniary” was. He was guessing that it meant something like “peculiar” or “quare”, but he certainly was not sure one lick. Pasour shuddered inwardly when he thought of the word “quare”, remembering back to Costner Elementary School and how his classmates used to call him that.
“Let’s just ponder on this a while,” Crandle said. Bob utilized this moment of silence to go into the kitchen and move aside the concrete block and return with three more Budweisers. When he returned Crandle was sitting down beside Pasour Rhyne and was talking to him in an excited voice.
“I think you are right about not wanting to go to Africa, Pasour, ‘cause it is obvious that things didn’t go too well for Melville B. Cox. Plus there is plenty to be done right here in Raleigh. I was just thinking that maybe you can target the homeless population. I know for a fact that there is a homeless shelter there in South Raleigh and there is another place that serves them breakfast down there on South Wilmington Street. I have talked to some of those homeless ones and they tell me that they don’t feel like their religious needs are being properly addressed; the shelter is just a place to stay and that place on South Wilmington is just a place to get something to eat. Those boys that I know tell me that food and shelter is one thing but that inner craving for the Lord and his word is an entirely different critter,” Crandle espoused.
Crandle’s voice had been rising as he talked to Pasour Rhyne, and it was having an effect on the Larson Savoney follower; he was hanging on Crandle’s every syllable. Umstead was equally impressed, but for a different reason. He had never seen Martin Crandle so wound up, and he was kind of excited to see where Crandle’s idea would take these two MENSA candidates.
As Umstead watched the two he noticed a change in Pasour Rhyne’s countenance. The dulled out eyes had changed; they did not show a flame, but there was certainly a flicker. As Crandle continued his “missionary to the homeless” pitch Pasour got even more excited, eventually getting up from his seat on the porch floor and doing the Larson Savoney sign over and over, his liver colored lips pulled back in a huge grin, exposing the giant yellow horse teeth.
“That’s it, that’s it,” Pasour shouted when he tired of doing the Larson Savoney sign. “I can preach to the homeless and convert them to the Larson Savoney way, show them how to make the sign and everything, and then when I get them goin’ on that and instill some discipline in ‘em I’ll bring Jesus into it and tell ‘em how the whole Larson Savoney organization is a direct offshoot of Jesus Christ and his teachings, and who is to say that it ain’t?” Pasour Rhyne shouted.
Martin Crandle started hopping around on the porch and grabbed Pasour Rhyne by the arm and the two of them danced around and around on the porch, arm in arm, first one direction and then the other. Bob Umstead was busy stifling guffaws but did have the presence of mind to hide his humorous take on what he had witnessed. As his two roommates continued their celebrating Umstead was anticipatory about how this “epiphany” would play out; he went in the kitchen and moved the block and collected three more Budweisers.
The trio rose early the next morning; Crandle and Pasour Rhyne anxious to get started on Pasour’s new career, and Bob Umstead anxious to watch the whole scenario unfold. After Bob fixed breakfast Martin Crandle started fleshing out his plans for Pasour Rhyne’s missionary endeavor.
“Yep, after we eat we’ll go down there on South Wilmigton Street and catch them homeless boys as they emerge from the Hallelujah Kitchen. That free food draws a crowd, but there is another hunger burning inside them, and you are gonna tap into it,” Crandle told Pasour.
Pasour thought for a second and said “I know what you mean; my momma had acid reflux for years before her doctor gave her a pill called Omeprazole; she ain’t had no trouble since. Mebbe she can send me her prescription and I can get it filled and we can pass them pills out. Course we will have to interview all of ‘em, cause I reckon all of them ain’t afflicted with it; howsomever, it shouldn’t be too hard to determine. Mebbe if we give ‘em some real spicy food……”.
Umstead was watching Crandle closely; he knew that although Martin Crandle was indeed crazy, that he was also quite bright. He had figured that his “advising” Pasour Rhyne on his career might be a challenge to his patience, so he was pleasantly surprised when Crandle responded.
Crandle interrupted Pasour Rhyne, but he did it politely.
“Now hold on a bit, Pasour, you might be getting a little ahead of yourself. You must remember, like my old buddy out at the nuclear plant used to say, ‘Rome wa’n’t built in a day,’” Crandle said calmly, smiling at his new found protégé. “We will introduce them to the Lord a little at at a time, being very patient all the way. Why I bet if ol’ Melville B. Cox had been in a little less of a hurry he might have done a sight better over there in Africa.”
Pasour was listening intently to his mentor and nodding his head slowly.
“You are zackly right ‘bout that Martin, just perzackly hitting the deal on the head. I gotta kinda ease into this thing or I am gonna mess it up, right?” Pasour asked Crandle.
“You are dead on right, and I have been thinking ‘bout how we can make our presentation to these men as impressive as possible. I think if you referred to yourself as “Brother Rhyne” it would carry more weight and make you sound more like a credible religious leader; additionally, since I am going to be your advisor and be around all the time I think it would more than appropriate to refer to me as ‘Counselor’,” Crandle pronounced. “I know that term is usually associated with attorneys, but you are probably unaware that I have a legal background; in addition to having a paralegal degree from Meredith College, I dropped out of Northern California School of Law in Sacramento, an unaccredited institution, after two years, so I can honestly say that I studied law for three years, just like those bona fide lawyers did. Just so happened that my law school was ‘distance learning’, not one of those archaic brick and mortar schools. I would probably be a judge by now if I hadn’t gotten bored and decided to quit to spend more time on my tennis game,” Martin Crandle announced, an imperious look coming over his face as he looked at Brother Rhyne.
Bob Umstead was doing so many inward eyerolls that he felt that his eyes were doing somersaults. After listening to Crandle’s soliloquy and seeing the excitement on Brother Rhyne’s face Umstead was satisfied that he was in for some major league entertainment..
“Guess we better get on the road Counselor and Brother Rhyne; I believe that those guys emerge from the Hallelujah Kitchen about eight o’clock and it is a quarter til,” and with that the three of them piled into the red Volkswagen.
When they arrived at the Hallelujah Kitchen the double doors to the little brightly painted Quonset hut were open; they could hear the guy that ran the place giving the fellows a little pep talk. The three of them stood near the doors but out of sight and listened as the Reverend Lee Bartle spoke. He was a chubby man with a Richard Nixon beard and a very high voice.
“Alright you guys, I want you to go out there and give it your all,” he squeaked. “Just think like it’s late in the fourth quarter and you are behind by a touchdown and you just gotta score to win the game,” Lee Bartle continued in his falsetto.
“Must be low T,” Crandle giggled, but got quiet when Umstead looked at him hard.
“So get out there and go after it as hard as you can, and score a touchdown for Jesus,” Reverend Lee Bartle concluded.
“Must be a Notre Dame man,” Martin Crandle chortled, drawing another look from Umstead.
It seemed that the longer the Reverend Bartle spoke the higher his voice got, but then he said “so let us bow our heads in prayer.”
What followed had the three of looking at each other to see if they were all hearing the same thing. Beginning with the first word of the prayer The Reverend Lee Bartle’s falsetto voice became a basso profundo, thundering through the building and out the front doors where the three of them were lurking.
“DEAR GOD, PLEASE HELP THESE MEN IN THEIR SEARCH FOR WORK AND STABILITY, AND MAY THEY HOPEFULLLY USE SOME OF THE IDEAS THEY HAVE HEARD HERE AT THE HALLELUJAH KITCHEN AND REMEMBER THAT WHEN THEY ARE SCAMPERING THROUGH THE LINES OF EVIL AND THAT WHEN THEY SCORE THAT WINNING TOUCHDOWN JESUS CHRIST WILL BE WATCHING FROM THOSE STANDS UP IN HEAVEN AND HE WILL HOLD HIS SCARRED HANDS STRAIGHT UP OVER HIS HEAD. AMEN.
The twenty five or so men jumped up and cheered when the Reverend Lee Bartle finished, and poured out of the Hallelujah Kitchen. They were all dressed in obvious Goodwill type apparel and each sported a backpack. Brother Rhyne, Counselor, and Bumstead had stepped away from the hut as the prayer was concluded and were standing over near the red Volkswagen. Brother Rhyne was scrambling around in the back seat of the car and emerged with two items in his hand. Umstead had noticed that before they left the house the newly anointed Brother Rhyne had gone into the bedroom where his bag was and had come out with something in a paper bag. It was this bag that Brother Rhyne had in his hand when he emerged from the car; Brother Rhyne quickly unwrapped the two items. He had a paint strainer in one hand and a portion of an old television antenna in the other. Brother Rhyne laid down the antenna and grabbed the paint strainer with both hands and pulled it onto his head and and halfway down on his forehead; the strainer sort of fanned out at the bottom or closed end so that when he put his head in it it kind of resembled a pontifical hat. Then he opened the piece of antenna and positioned the side pieces so that they made the figure of a cross. Brother Rhyne quickly threw his discarded farmer’s hat with the green visor into the back seat of the red Volkswagen and started prancing around in front of the homeless men, his liver colored lips curled back. The homeless ones stood transfixed looking at Brother Rhyne as he walked around; The Counselor seized the opportunity to launch into an introduction of the missionary.
The Counselor held both arms heavenward and began; “Oh my brothers, I am telling you that this day is one that you will never, ever forget. I am The Counselor, trusted advisor to the missionary you see before you, who is named Brother Rhyne.” At this point Brother Rhyne bowed deeply and then continued to march around.
“Through receiving a grand vision Brother Rhyne has been called upon to be a missionary to you, the great downtrodden. Brother Rhyne has received his inspiration from none other than the famous missionary from the nineteenth century, Melville B. Cox. Missionary Cox was minister of the big Methodist Church on Edenton Street until he was called to go to Africa and minister to your forefathers. On the historical marker in front of the church are enshrined the famous words he spoke as he boarded the ship to go to your ancestral land so far away: ‘let a thousand fall before Africa be given up.’” When The Counselor said this the homeless group cheered as one, pumping their fists into the air. At that very moment Brother Rhyne held his antenna cross between his legs and started doing the Larson Savoney sign. Never missing a beat The Counselor explained what Brother Rhyne was doing, how Melville B. Cox had introduced the noble warriors of Africa to the secret order of Larson Savoney, how those noble men had so revered Missionary Cox for almost a full year until his untimely demise, choking to death on a tapioca root. “Brother Rhyne, please show our new brothers how to do the special Larson Savoney sign you have been doing,” The Counselor said, and with that Pasour Rhyne laid down his cross and instructed the crowd how to cross their arms and showed them the proper method of finger wiggling.
Bob Umstead was having such a big time watching the show; Crandle never ceased to amaze him and Umstead marveled at how The Counselor could ad lib in perpetuity. Brother Rhyne’s surprise outfit had really floored him, but the most incredible thing was the reaction of the homeless.
“Guess maybe we just hit them at a good time,” Umstead mused to himself. “Probably pretty exciting show compared to the hum drum boredom that they face each day.” Umstead watched as The Counselor started in again.
“If you all listen to what the missionary Brother Rhyne is going to tell you and keep in practice with the Larson Savoney sign, I tell you you are going to win so much that you are going to get tired of winning,” The Counselor said. While the converts were working on practicing their Larson Savoney signs Crandle called Pasour over and whispered in his ear. Pasour nodded and held his antenna cross high over his head to get the attention of the men; “New converts to Larson Savoney, I want all of you to keep practicing the sign while you are on your own for two hours, but right now each and every one of you need to go out and find yourself a piece of cardboard at least a foot square and bring it back with you and meet us right here. That’s in two hours; a good spot to find cardboard would be in dumpsters so see what you can come up with and then reassemble here at the appointed time,” Brother Rhyne said, and the group dispersed, each of them practicing the newly learned Larson Savoney sign.
After the homeless men left Bob Umstead walked over to where The Counselor and Brother Rhyne were standing; “What do you have in mind, Crandle?” Umstead asked, stifling a guffaw.
“Like I wuz just tellin’ Brother Rhyne here, we are performing quite a positive psychological and spiritual service here, and I don’t see any reason that we shouldn’t receive some kind of compensation for our trouble,” Crandle said, beaming at Umstead.
“So what do you have in mind?” Umstead queried again, and The Counselor told him that everything would come into focus shortly but for the meantime, while The Counselor and Brother Rhyne had a strategy meeting, Umstead was to go to Sullivan’s Superette on South Street and purchase twenty five pints of Richards Wild Irish Rose Wine and five or six magic markers. Bob Umstead just nodded his head and hopped in the red Volkswagen and took off, confident that the strange adventure was just beginning.
“Brother Rhyne, it may have come to your attention that there is a palpable paucity of cash lying around. In other words, we are broke, unless you brought a big bag of cash from your quarters in Morganton,” The Counselor offered. Brother nodded in agreement; “What can we do about it?” the former Pasour Rhyne asked.
“Glad you asked that question Brother Rhyne, for what is life but a continuous quest for knowledge,” Crandle said, assuming his most imperious pose.
“Well, I get that, but just asking questions don’t put any food on the table, and I don’t know how long Bob Umstead is gonna keep us up, ‘cause last time I paid any attention he didn’t seem to be working either,” Brother Rhyne said.
“Let me explain,” Crandle said and proceeded to lay his idea out. “You see, what we have here is the classic example of practicality versus the ideal. The practicality portion of the equation is that we gotta eat, while the ideal part is that you have a vision of spreading the Larson Savoney /Melville B. Cox ideas to the world. That is why I hit upon this idea of how to accomplish both while we pretty much just manage,” The Counselor pronounced, crossing his arms and kind of shaking his head, just like in those old films of Benito Musssolini.
Brother Rhyne was looking perplexed, so The Counselor continued. “The reason I sent all those guys out to get their cardboard was because we are going to start a little business, and it is going to be a most symbiotic affair,” Crandle said.
“Whaddayamean mean symptomatic?” Pasour said, and when he spoke the word something about it reminded him of his time at the Center.
“No, no, different word; symbiotic means that it is beneficial for everybody,” The Counselor continued. “Here is how it will work; now these guys I just sent out to return in two hours are like a rich untapped oil well. You can tell there is nothing physically wrong with them; they are just down on their luck, or drunks, or druggies, but there is no reason that, using the proper techniques, they cannot become productive citizens, and as managers of them we can also reap a benefit. That is the whole symbiotic deal,” Martin Crandle said, and smiled as he could see a very low wattage light appear behind his protégé’s eyes.
“So how is it gonna happen?” Brother Rhyne asked.
“Good question, my delightful fledgling missionary. When the guys return we are going to assist them in creating signs that they will exhibit at strategic locations around the beautiful city of Raleigh. For example, ‘homeless veteran, God Bless’ and ‘veteran with ptsd’ and ‘pregnant, homeless and hungry’,” The Counselor said.
“But how they gonna be pregnant; last I saw they wuz all men,” Brother Rhyne said, getting more confused by the minute.
“Oh my brother, we can get a little creative with a dress and a pillow, and pick one of them that has the longest hair,” Crandle explained.
“Ya mean beggin’? Pasour asked, his face getting all screwed up like it always did when he was getting confused.
“Guess you could call it that, but I would prefer to call it performing a public service. Ya see, we will collect all the money at the end of the day and let the guys keep 25% while we keep 75% for ourselves, 25% for each of us. That way everybody wins,” The Counselor trumpeted.
“But what about the Larson Savoney message and me being a missionary and all that stuff; how does that fit in?” Brother Rhyne asked.
“That is the beauty of the whole plan,” The Counselor said. “We will be waiting outside The Hallelujah Kitchen each morning, just like we did this morning, and we can line them up and distribute the cardboard signs and whatever accoutrements are needed, like the pregnant woman disguise, and then you can have a half hour to do your missionary work and get them proficient on the Larson Savoney sign and such. You know we will switch the signs and locations around so as to approach a different demographic daily; I think we got us a great idea,” Crandle said, crossing his arms and pointing his nose in the air in his best Benito Mussolini impersonation.
At the appointed time the Hallelujah Kitchen crew started filtering in; The Counselor had taken a body count before they had left and verified that all of them had returned, each clutching a piece of cardboard about a foot square. Crandle looked at one of them who was holding up a Miller Lite cardboard case, suggesting that he turn the lettering to the inside, adding that “we don’t want to give people the impression that you all are a bunch of drunks,” even as they were passing out the pint bottles of Richard’s Wild Irish Rose Wine that Umstead had returned with.
“As you can see by the ministering of these gifts, you have already started winning, and the even better news is that all of you are going to be stationed around Raleigh with your signs, people will be giving you money, and we are going to allow you to keep a full 25% of the take. We feel like this is a very generous percentage, what with all the administrative costs associated with an evangelistic endeavor; additionally, each morning when you emerge from The Hallelujah Kitchen and before you are transported to your stations, Mr. Umstead will present you with a pint bottle of King Richard. To further sweeten the pot, you are allowed to take four dollars out of the till for lunch. Mr. Umstead will pick you up between four and five in the afternoon and transport everyone back here where we will divide up the donations,” The Counselor explained. The response of the men was good, even a cheer going up when the wine was mentioned.
“Alright fellas, gather around and let’s get this show on the road; ya see, we got these magic markers here and we are going to assess each and every one of you and decide what we need to write on your cardboard. So everybody get in a single file line and we will get started,” The Counselor announced, and the Kitchen crew lined up. As each man came forward Umstead and Crandle sized them up and decided what kind of pitiful message needed to be printed on the cardboard; meanwhile, the former Pasour Rhyne busied himself off to the side practicing the Larson Savoney sign and working on his evangelistic delivery.
The first man up was wearing a camouflage coat from Goodwill so they decided that “veteran with PTSD” was a good one. The next one was kind of skinny so they decided on “haven’t eaten in two weeks, please help” as a good greeting. And so it went on down the line; The Counselor and Bob Umstead were having a pretty good time with the task and as they progressed felt like their creative juices were getting better. A rather portly gentleman with long hair was quickly fitted with a pillow, a dress, and his cardboard inscribed with “pregnant and homeless,” while the next one was outfitted with “homeless veteran, please help.” All the Kitchen guys were having a pretty good time, what with reading each other’s signs and sipping on the King Richard bottles; Crandle and Umstead had only one man left, a tall, skinny, slight fellow that was a little more than hard favored. Since he had hair down to his shoulders and the enterprising Umstead had swung by the little house off Poole Rd. to pick up some impromptu “wardrobing” he hit upon an idea. Umstead recalled a beggar he had seen on Louisburg Road just recently; whatever it was it was tall and skinny, much like their last candidate, and had hair down to his shoulders, and like their man was less than attractive. Umstead told The Counselor what the Louisburg Road entity’s sign had said and Crandle neatly printed “homeless transgender” on the cardboard while Umstead pulled a long dress over the candidate’s head.
“A most striking effect,” The Counselor pronounced, and he and Umstead smiled at each other with satisfaction. Then Bob Umstead started loading the guys up into the red Volkswagen four to a trip and dispersing them throughout the capital city. On the first run he dropped off one downtown in front of Edenton St. United Methodist Church, leaving him standing in front of the Melville B. Cox historic marker; this had been a special request from Brother Rhyne and Umstead didn’t have the heart to deny it. Next stop was in Cameron Village at the Starbucks, Umstead figgering that a left-wing haven like that would probably be a gold mine for a beggar. The remaining two landed on Person St. and Fayetteville St. As he headed back for another load Bob Umstead was liking this whole idea more and more; he knew that it might take a few days to work the kinks out of it, but once they got it rolling he felt like the concept could be successful.
As he motored the red Volkswagen down Wilmington Street to pick up the next bunch he espied a white man sitting on the side of the road holding a sign that said “homeless, hungry, PTSD veteran”; Bob Umstead pulled over and stopped the car, walking over to where the man was sitting. The “homeless, hungry, PTSD veteran” was decked out in a felt Robin Hood look alike hat that was filled with bird feathers. Bob Umstead reached into his pocket to pull out a badge; it was set in a leather holder and said City of Raleigh Building Inspector, but at first blush looked very much like a police officer’s badge. The badge had been left at his house by an old friend who had briefly worked for the city in that capacity until it was discovered that he was just signing off inspections without going onto the site. Even at that, he was given another chance, only to screw that up. Seems Dave Hoffman, the friend, was cruising in his city vehicle on Idlewild Avenue; unfortunately, his inspection area was all the way across town. Hoffman probably would have survived that infraction, but what he did sealed his fate. Seems that as he went down Idlewild, a haven for prostitutes off New Bern Avenue, he espied an attractive black woman standing on the sidewalk. She was wearing a short skirt and a big smile. Hoffman pulled over and said something to the lady and then drove off. He circled the block and came back and stopped, and that was when whatever it was that he said reached the level of “solicitation for prostitution”, and the undercover Raleigh Police Officer in the short skirt arrested him. Of course he had been fired and had gone back to his mother’s house in Zebulon, but he had left his badge at Bob Umstead’s house. Bob had kept it, thinking that at some time in the future there might be a situation when it would come in handy, and ol’ Bob was thinkin’ that he had run up on one. Bumstead walked up to the feathered one and whipped out the badge, sticking it back in his pocket quickly.
“Need to move on fella,” he said in his most gruff voice. The Robin Hood look alike jumped up and took flight into the adjacent woods. Umstead turned and went back to the red Volkswagen, muttering to himself that “we don’t need that kind of competition.”
It was almost one o’clock when Umstead finished dropping off the Kitchen guys; he knew it made for a short day but figgered it to be mainly a test run. Doing a little quick math in his head he didn’t think it would be too awfully optimistic to expect that each man could bring in at least thirty dollars per day. After deductions for lunch, the cost of the wine, and the beggars’ cut, Umstead came up with what he felt was a conservative projection of profit to the trio of $400.00. Another ten dollars for gas for the VW and it appeared likely that they would wind up with $130.00 each.
“Not bad for a couple hours work,” Bob Umstead mused. His pleasant thoughts were interrupted by a little question in the back of his mind; “seems like I am doing way more work than my cohorts,” he pondered as he got back to where he had left his business partners. Umstead sat in the red Volkswagen for a good five minutes while he ruminated on the division of labor; finally he concluded that he would leave it alone, realizing that The Counselor had actually come up with the scheme and no doubt Brother Rhyne’s unorthodox “Larson Savoney” antics had played a part in winning over the Hallelujah Kitchen fellows. When he emerged from the car he heard The Counselor call his name; he looked over to a little wooded area about a hundred yards from the kitchen and saw The Counselor and Brother Rhyne sitting on the pine straw laden ground.
“Come join us,” Crandle caroled; when Umstead got there he saw that his two partners had opened two of the extra bottles of King Richard and had already finished about half of the pink elixir. The Counselor reached over and screwed the top off a fresh bottle and handed it to Umstead.
“We need to celebrate our new business,” Crandle said, beaming as he held up the pint bottle, and the trio clinked the bottles together.
“Well, I got all of them dispersed out there,” Umstead told his partners, and recited his profit calculations to them.
“My God, I ain’t never come close to making that much in one day,” Brother Rhyne exclaimed, rubbing his hands together like a fly.
“That’s nothing compared to what I will be raking in after the Pentagon sees my drawings, but I reckon it will do for now,” The Counselor announced. Umstead smiled outwardly but his inward eyerolls were absolutely somersaulting.
After finishing the King Richard’s they hopped into the red Volkswagen and went back to the little white frame house off Poole Road. “We will just hang out here until it is time for me to go pick them up,” Bob Umstead proclaimed, and the three of them went inside and took a nap, worn out by their nascent entrepreneurial venture.
The scene was not quite so placid on the corner on Wilmington Street where Umstead had chased away Robin Hood and supplanted him with Dante Williiams, a thirty year old alcoholic from the Hallelujah Kitchen. After Umstead had let him off he had done like he had been told, walking along the stopped traffic at the stoplight and showing off his cardboard sign that said “please help, wounded veteran with ulcerative colitis and psoriasis.” Dante’s sign was one of the last ones printed up and The Counselor was starting to run out of afflictions but the message seemed to be working well; after two hours he had twenty two dollars. He would walk alongside the cars with his sign out in front and wave at everybody and keep a perpetual mournful expression on his face, just like Bob Umstead had told him to do. The money he had in his pocket was the leftovers after taking a break and going over to the BP station and getting two Nutty Buddies and a pint of Richard’s Wild Irish Rose Wine. He had devoured the ice cream quickly and had slipped into the woods behind the gas station to kill the wine. When he got back to his spot the man with the feathered hat was sitting on the median, holding up a sign that said “mentally ill ex-convict, God Bless”. As Dante Williams got close enough to read Robin Hood’s sign he immediately thought two things: The Counselor would have come up with something a lot better, and that some merry man was about to get his ass kicked; however, when he approached feather boy all of this thinking came to an abrupt halt because as Dante was about to but his big hands around his skinny little throat his begging competitor reached into his pocket and pulled out a small handgun and put it right under Dante’s nose, smiling at the black man as Dante Williams took off running down the road in the direction of the Hallelujah Kitchen.
Seems the rest of the Kitchen crew was not doing much better. The “homeless transgender” had left his post on South New Hope Road after an hour when he had collected twenty-five dollars and noticed that he was only a short distance from his favorite bar, a dive called the Office Tavern. After stowing the dress behind the bar he went inside and in forty five minutes was drunk, killing five Icehouse.
Although The Counselor had figured that he had a great idea, when the time came for collecting the workers Bob Umstead could find no one, all of them to the last man having deserted their appointed posts. As Bob motored back to Poole Road with his entrepreneurial spirit totally deflated he found himself to be reflective and philosophical; after all, the whole exercise had pretty much just been a lark for him to observe. So when he pulled into the yard he was at peace with himself, especially when he walked into the kitchen and saw Crandle re working his “Pentagon Papers” and Brother Rhyne standing by the budding tennis pro wearing his Pontiff hat and brandishing his holy antenna cross, so he moved the concrete block and extracted three beers from the ancient Leonard refrigerator, figuring a drink would go a ways to softening the blow.