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Miracle: (A Short Story)
Bob Johnson and Bill Parker arrived at the man's door to kill him. They had been sent on this errand for the most banal of reasons. The apartment's occupant, one Jorge Santos (single, divorced father of one eight-year-old son) had been an accountant for a very large Cleveland-based firm, poised to take the next step to becoming a multinational operation.
One aspect of the business was perfectly legal, legitimate, and proper. Another aspect of the business, however, was perfectly illegal, illegitimate, and improper: a front for organized crime's money laundering and procurement and distribution of narcotics and small arms around the world. This was a joint venture of the Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Chicago, and Los Angeles crime families.
Santos's responsibilities had been strictly confined to the legal side. But somebody had made a mistake, a clerical error, and a file had landed on his desk which never should have done so. He had learned things he never should have. He had followed up: carefully, furtively, undetectably, so he had thought. Feelings of patriotism and civic duty were stirred within him. He had contacted the FBI and told them about it.
Santos and his handlers were preparing for an upcoming grand jury appearance. Los Angeles, Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit, and especially Cleveland wanted him silenced before it was too late, and many important heads were put on the chopping block. For this reason, Bob Johnson and Bill Parker---not their real names, of course---had been called in to take care of it.
"Bob Johnson" and "Bill Parker." Good men, those two. Sure hands at that kind of work. A couple of slick boys from back east.
One of them knocked. The door opened. This was too easy. "Mr. Santos?" Bob Johnson said. "Jorge Santos?"
"We're with the FBI. My name's Bob Johnson and this is my partner, Bill Parker. Could we come in? There's a few things we need to talk over with you."
"What does that mean?"
Bill Parker said, "Sir?"
"What does being 'with' the FBI mean? Are you consultants, contractors, or are you actually directly employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation?"
"We're investigators," Bill Parker said. "We need to talk over a few things with you about your grand jury testimony, as well as make preparations for your security."
"Your 'special agents,' then?"
"That's right," Bob Johnson said. "Could we come in out of the hallway now?"
"Shouldn't you have announced yourself as 'Special Agent'.... what's your name again?"
"Bob Johnson, sir."
"Shouldn't you have announced yourself as 'Special Agent Bob Johnson' and 'Special Agent Bill Parker'?"
With a sense of mock injury, Bob Johnson jerked a thumb in his partner's direction. "So, you remember his name and forget mine, huh?"
"Sir," Bill Parker said, "my partner and I don't really stand on ceremony. Titles aren't really that big a deal with us. You know what my father does for a living? He's a doctor. A surgeon. A heart surgeon. But when he's not on duty at the hospital he doesn't go around saying, 'Call me Dr. Parker.' He says, 'Call me Frank' cause that's his name; or, if you must be formal then its 'Mr. Parker,' nothing more than that."
Bob Johnson said, "Some agents announce themselves, 'I'm Special Agent... whatever.' Many do but some, like us, don't bother. Its not a rule. How 'bout it sir? Have we answered the 'Riddle of the Sphinx' yet? May we come in out of the hall now and talk to you?"
Jorge Santos said, "You sure are taking a lot of guff from me for FBI agents."
"Are we?" Bill Parker said.
"We don't mind," Bob Johnson said.
"Sure," Bill said.
"We like playing games," Bob said.
"Games are fun," Bill said.
"That's why they call them 'games'," Bob said.
"Are you really FBI agents?"
"Sure," Bill said.
"Are you really an accountant?" Bob said.
Jorge Santos looked at them sideways. He seemed exasperated, perplexed, and boondoggled.
Bob Johnson said, "Look, why don't we just show your our credentials," reaching inside his breast jacket pocket. "We should have done that in the first place."
His partner followed suit and the accountant examined them. He took his time about it with furrowed brow---as if he really knew what a genuine FBI ID badge was supposed to look like.
Bob and Bill knew that. They were unconcerned. The identification had been prepared for them by the best paper man in the business. In addition to that, the two of them did not look at all threatening. They looked rather like the antithesis of what they were, killers. They sort of looked like bankers or accountants themselves.
He finally returned their identification and stepped back out of the door. Bob and Bill politely nodded their way in.
"You two are a couple of seriously weird FBI agents."
"Met a ton of us, have you?" Bob said airily.
The place certainly looked like bachelor digs.
Bob sat down at the 'dinning room' table and unlatched his briefcase. "I wonder if I could trouble you for a glass of water, Mr. Santos. My throat is parched. Thanks."
Bill glided around the apartment with his hands in his pockets.
Jorge came back with the water just as Bob was screwing the silencer onto the gun. He was pointing at him. "Just put it down, please."
Jorge just stared, bug-eyed.
"The water," Bob said. "Put it down on the table here. Go ahead. That's a good fellow."
Bill came up behind Jorge and put a finger to his lips. "Shhh."
"You're not FBI agents."
"Afraid not," Bill said.
"You should have trusted you first instinct," Bob said.
"Not that it would have done you much good," Bill said.
"Now, Mr. Santos," Bob said, "I'm afraid its time to go for the proverbial 'little ride.'"
Bill said, "Don't worry, it'll be quick and painless."
Bob said, "Of course. We're not sadists after all. We just have a job to do."
Jorge said, "The names you two gave me at the door; your real names?"
"Of course not," Bob said.
"Will you tell me your real names?"
Bill said, "What difference does it make?"
"I'd like to know who my executioners are."
Bob shrugged. "Sure, if you like. Just before the moment of release we will share that bit of honesty with you."
"Let's go," Bill said.
"I'd like to pray first, if I could."
"For what?" Bill said. "Your soul?"
Jorge didn't answer.
Bob said, "Perhaps the intercession of a miracle?"
Bill folded his arms and smirked. "I'd like to see a miracle save you."
Bob frowned at his partner. "A little too sadistic, Bill. This man doesn't deserve that. He's not the scum we usually deal with in good conscience. The poor soul was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"If you let me go, I'll leave town. I'll go far away and I won't say anything. Please."
Bob shook his head. "Sorry, that we cannot do. But I'll tell you what, you can have time to pray... for whatever it is you want to pray for. Are you a Christian?"
Jorge nodded. "Catholic."
Bob said, "You go ahead and pray. Take your time. And if the Lord comes down and pardons you, we will leave. We'll leave you alive and unhurt."
Bill went bug-eyed and his mouth fell open. "Whose being 'sadistic' now?"
Bob said, "Not sadistic, curious."
Jorge turned toward the direction of his bedroom.
Bill put a hand on his shoulder. "Where are you going?"
"To... to get my, my Bible."
"Its not that we don't trust you," Bob said, "but stand right there a minute." He nodded at Bill, who searched the flea trap from top-to-bottom for a gun.
When he finished doing that he said, "Nothing."
"Just stay where we can see you," Bob said. He pointed to the couch in the supposed 'living room' area. "Forget about the Good Book; do it from memory. Just say what's in your heart."
Jorge went over to the couch but did not sit on it. He got on his knees, clasped his hands, closed his eyes, and started muttering, presumably in prayer.
Neither Bob nor Bill hovered over him as he did this. They had simply warned them that if he tried to escape, they would not chase him. They would pay a visit to his ex-wife and son instead... His docile compliance secured, Bob and Bill turned to the problem of what to do to pass the time.
"How long are we going to wait around?" Bill said.
Bob shrugged. "I don't know; we'll play it by ear. There must surely be a long line of customers in front of our friend." He took out a fat paperback from his briefcase.
"You brought along a book?" Bill said.
"The latest best seller by Tom Clancy."
Bill huffed and then started routing around the kitchen cupboards. "There's got to be something to eat around this place."
Bob put a finger to his lips and then pointed at Jorge. "Shhhh, he's praying."
Bill rolled his eyes and kept working. This was a bachelor pad alright, and suitably poorly supplied. However, he managed to scrounge up fixings for hamburger quesadillas. Now, was there anything else to go with it?
He took down a nearly full box of Aunt Jemima Buttermilk Pancake Mix and held it up for Bob to see. "How about buttermilk pancakes to go with the quesadillas?"
Bob looked up from his book. "Why not? If IHOP has taught us anything, its that you can eat breakfast anytime."
Bill took off his jacket, threw away his tie, rolled up his sleeves, got out the pots and pans, and fired up the stove. Expert and efficient short order cook that he was, Bill was putting the chow on the table a little less than a half hour later: a tower of buttermilk pancakes, hamburger quesadillas, three egg white omelets, whole wheat toast, a few sliced grapefruits, and coffee.
There hadn't been any syrup, but there had been a big jar of orange marmalade they could use. And look, its got those little pieces of orange peel in it.
"How European," Bob had said. "Let's eat." He called over to Jorge. "Hey, boss, take a break and come eat. My partner's put on quite a spread."
"Come on," Bill said. "I know your hungry. I could hear your stomach rumbling from way over here."
"You can go back to your praying when you're done," Bob said.
Jorge obeyed. He got up, went over to the table, and broke bread with his executioners.
When they were all done, Bill cleared the table, and washed, dried, and put away the dishes---as if there would be someone around, later, who wouldn't appreciate a mess. Jorge went back to his praying.
Bill joined Bob at the table and took out a deck of playing cards from his pants pocket. "Why don't you take a break from reading and play cards with me."
"You brought along cards?" Bob said.
"Are they marked?"
"Of course not."
After a while they invited Jorge to take another break from his marathon prayer session, to play cards with them.
Jorge did not know how to play any card games. "I play dominoes."
"Oh?" Bob said.
"Dominoes?" Bill said. "You mean like line up a lot of dominoes in silly shapes and knock them over?"
"No, let me show you. I have a box of dominoes in my bedroom."
"Where?" Bill said.
Jorge told him. Bill went and came back with the box of dominoes.
He taught his executioners how to play dominoes.
When they were done, Bill said, "I have to admit, that's kind of fun."
Though he didn't say so, Bob was moved by the experience: The dead passing on knowledge to the living!
Jorge went back to his praying. Bob went back to reading his book. Bill played solitaire.
Forty-five minutes later Bob put his book away. He stretched and yawned, and was just about to say, "I think we better go now...," when the Jorge's landline phone rang.
Bob went over to it. "Don't get up, either of you. I'll get it. Hello?"
"No, I'm sorry he can't come to the phone right now. May I take a message."
"Me? I'm an old friend from back east."
"Wait, let me get a pencil. Who's calling now?"
Bob was saying, "Hay-Sus? Could you spell that please?"
J-e-s-u-s. And one of those little accent things over the 'u.'
Bob covered the mouthpiece. "Hey, its 'Jesus' on the phone." He took his hand off the mouthpiece. "Yes, Lord?"
"Nothing. Sorry, old, bad joke. Go ahead with your message, please."
"Uh-huh, uh-huh... Okay... right... 'next week.' Right, gotcha. Okay, thank you, I'll tell him."
Bob put down the receiver and grabbed a chair. He pulled it up to Jorge, who was still on his knees on the floor. Bob sat on the chair backwards.
Pronouncing the name the Christian way he said, "Jesus said to tell you not to forget about the big interdepartmental bowling championship. Quarterfinals start next week. He's got a real good feeling about it. With you as their ringer, he said, you guys ought to crush the marketing department this year."
Jorge said, "Jesus?" pronouncing the name the proper Hispanic way.
"Jesus bowls," Bob said, pronouncing the name the Christian way. "You can stop praying now."
"Come with me," Bob said, guiding Jorge over to the kitchen sink. "You've got your reprieve. Bill and I are leaving and you are not coming with us; and that means there's no need to tell you our real names."
Bill said, "Let me get this straight. We're not doing this job because some guy named 'Jesus,'"--he pronounced the name the proper Hispanic way---"called up about a company bowling tournament?"
Bob smiled and nodded. "That's right. You got to admit, the sheer coincidence is astonishing. Its the closest thing to a miracle I ever heard of, or been a part of."
"Seriously," Bill said. "We're leaving?"
"And we're not taking him with us?"
"And we're not killing him?"
Bob said to Jorge, "Listen, I must say you have taken all this with a remarkable equanimity. Do you want to throw up?"
No, he didn't think so. He was okay.
"Really?" Bob said. He held his index finger and thumb microscopically apart. "You came this close to getting killed."
Jorge up-chucked over the sink. It was a geyser!
Bob patted his back. He looked around the cupboards for a stiff shot of something. He found a bottle of whiskey and poured him a measure. "Here, drink this."
Jorge drank it, then another. And then another.
Bob took ten one hundred dollar bills from a billfold and handed them to Jorge. "Take this. We're leaving. You take this money and get out of town tonight."
"Go somewhere far, far away," Bill said, "as if you really were dead---which you're not, thanks to a guy named 'Jesus.'" This time he said the name the Christian way.
As they were leaving Bill said, "You know, you're pretty lucky, altar boy."
Bob said, "That's the truth. You ought to play the races."