In the midst of the Garsonville healing, Richard Meningsbee, in his spirit, just decided to participate. For nearly three weeks, he didn’t peruse, view or “oogle”any pornography on the Internet.
He wasn’t sure why. Honestly, he was a little afraid to contemplate it. Was it the arrival of Carl, with his purity towards the work? Maybe it was the movie being such a flop. Or was it just realizing that Jesus was right when he said the physician needed to heal himself first, before he could hang up a shingle and start treating sick folk.
It was perplexing. For he was still tempted–there was a huge vacuum in his life, which lay empty, mocking him and making him feel less than needed and certainly never wanted.
On Tuesday morning, he woke up yearning for a cup of coffee that wasn’t made by his own hands. He had not been back to the Garson-Fill to see Carla since the day she rejected his invitation to dinner and startled him with her revelation about domestic abuse.
Why did men want to hurt women? Was it because women reminded men of how much more they could be? Or was it because men knew that if they struck out at other men, there was the danger of incurring injury. Meningsbee never understood it.
But his mind was burdened with thoughts of Carla. He wanted to see her–but to what end? She had made her position clear. After all, he thought, she might take off running or maybe even leave town, which would be horrible considering that she had established new friends and great possibilities. So up to now he had stayed away out of respect to her feelings.
But today he thought his feelings needed a little attention of their own. He wondered if he could just be friends with Carla. Maybe he could begin to replace her image of Christian men being brutal with a Christian man, yearning to be an equal and merciful.
Whatever the reason, on Tuesday morning Meningsbee was uncontrollably driven to go to the Garson-Fill.
He decided to wear a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and put on a ball cap so Carla wouldn’t think he was trying to impress her with his appearance. It was probably silly, but he thought the effort was important.
He started out the door three times, but turned and sat back down. He didn’t want to blow this. He was in a fragile place, where climbing the mountain was possible, but also possible was falling off the cliff.
On his fourth attempt he made it out the door and headed down the street to the Garson-Fill. It was nine o’clock in the morning and a “Closed” sign was hanging on the door. That in itself was weird. He had never seen that before. Maybe someone was sick. Or maybe they were closed.
But even from a distance he could see inside, and there were people moving about. He was just about ready to turn and walk away when he heard a huge bang coming from the cafe. He turned to look.
He really couldn’t tell that anything was wrong–yet for a brief second he caught a glimpse of Carla. She was talking to a man.
Meningsbee figured she must be busy. Maybe she just hadn’t gotten the chance to open up yet because of her conversation. It seemed like a horrible time to interrupt.
But he did anyway. Completely unsure of his reasoning, he followed an inkling in his spirit. He just felt something needed to be done. The situation was akilter.
Coming to the door of the cafe, he knocked on the window with a smile on his face, waving at Carla. The gentleman she was talking to turned around, and when he did, Carla frowned at him and waved him away.
He knocked again. Something was certainly awry.
The man said something to Carla. She sighed heavily, walked over with the keys, opened up and spoke through a small crack in the door.
“Richard, we are closed today.”
She spoke slowly, obviously trying to control her emotions. Richard looked into her eyes. She was in some sort of distress.
“Oh, gee,” he said. “Couldn’t I just get a cup of coffee? Aren’t you glad to see me?”
She took a quick glance over to the man, and realizing that he wasn’t observing her, she shook her head. Meningsbee boldly grabbed the door, opened it and entered the cafe.
He stuck his hand out to the stranger, and said, “Hello. My name is Reverend Richard Meningsbee.”
The man snickered, held out his hand and they shook.
Meningsbee made his way over to a nearby table and sat down. “You know, I’ve always wondered if Gus is short–like for Gustave–or if someone just decides to name someone Gus.”
Gus glanced over at Carla and then back at Meningsbee. “No, I’m just Gus. Is this your boyfriend, Carla?”
“No,” said Carla, as she hurried to get a cup of coffee for Meningsbee.
“Well, Reverend,” said Gus. “Is she right? Or is she your sweetie?”
“Well, she is sweet,” said Meningsbee. “But look at me. I’m a mess. No woman would want me. That’s why I’m a preacher. I came to God. I heard He doesn’t reject anyone.”
Gus chuckled and turned to Carla. “He’s a funny one, Carla. A funny preacher. A funny ugly preacher. Right?”
Gus turned again to Meningsbee, obviously trying to stir some anger.
“Well, you know, Gus,” said Meningsbee, “I think you have to have some kind of characteristic about your face that stands out enough to be ugly. My face just kind of looks like God forgot to fill in the blanks.”
Gus laughed again. It was a big laugh–because Gus was a huge man. He stood about six foot four and weighed nearly 300 pounds.
The sight of him made Meningsbee’s bowels tingle in fear, but the reverend tried to maintain his composure, because he believed that Carla was in danger.
“What brings you to town, Gus?” asked Meningsbee.
“A financial transaction,” said Gus, looking over at Carla. “Isn’t that right, dear?”
She tensely nodded her head.
“I see you called her ‘dear,'” said Meningsbee. “Are you family?”
Gus sat down on a stool near Meningsbee. “Carla didn’t tell ya’? Well, she’s my wife.”
“Was your wife,” fired Carla over her shoulder.
She walked over and set the coffee down in front of Meningsbee. “Just the way you like it, Reverend. Four sugars.”
It was a signal–Meningsbee never put sugar in his coffee. He always told Carla that if he wanted cake, he’d take sugar. What he wanted was a good cup of coffee.
“So you say there’s a financial transaction,” continued Meningsbee as he tried to choke down the sweet fluid.
“Yeah,” said Gus. “It seems that Carla here owes me a lot of money.”
“Really?” said Meningsbee. “Carla, do you have a lot of money?”
She shook her head but refused to speak.
“Come on over here, dear,” said Gus. “Don’t be anti-social.”
Turning to Meningsbee, he added, “Don’t you hate it when a woman is anti-social? It makes you think she doesn’t like you. It would be easy to take that personal.”
Meningsbee decided to act. “Gus, I don’t think Carla wants you here. I think it’s time for you to leave.”
“I can’t do that, preacher,” Gus said. “I haven’t had the chance to show you my gun.”
He pulled out a massive pistol. Meningsbee knew nothing about firearms, except that they kill, and this one certainly looked like it was capable.
“A gun?” said Meningsbee. “Now, Gus, why would a big fellow like you need a gun?”
“Because sometimes people just don’t listen to my voice,” he replied, pointing the gun at Carla.
“Let’s all calm down,” said Meningsbee. “There’s gotta be a way to work this out, right? After all, you wouldn’t have come to town unless you were trying to get some money to start something. What is it? A new business?”
“Don’t play me, preacher,” Gus said. “I understand your game. I’ve been a born-again Christian all my life. Washed in the blood of the lamb. I was the youngest boy at the Bay City Pentecostal Assembly to ever speak in tongues. I know the Word. You understand what I’m saying? I know the Word. And the Word says, ‘Women, submit to your husbands.'”
“Well, that’s my mistake,” said Meningsbee. “I didn’t know you two were still married. I thought you were divorced.”
“Divorce is a sin,” said Gus. “She may want to indulge in it, but neither I nor the Lord God recognize it.”
“Listen, Gus,” said Meningsbee, leaning forward. “I don’t think you want to use the gun.”
Suddenly Gus stood to his feet, shifted the gun in his hand, pointing it right between Meningsbee’s eyes. “I can tell you’re no prophet, because you’re wrong. I would love to use this gun. You see, I’ve got nothing to lose, which means I might have everything to gain. And if I blow your head off, and then blow my head off, we’re gonna gain our souls, even though we’ll lose the world.”
Carla gave a screech. “Gus, stop it! Leave him alone! He’s not part of this.”
“Sure he is,” said Gus, lowering the gun and pointing it back at Carla. “If he was really a man of God, the Holy Ghost would have told him to stay home for his coffee today. Am I right, preacher?”
“Or the Holy Ghost sent me here to help you both,” said Meningsbee. “There is that, you know, Gus.”
“The only help I need is money,” said Gus.
“Well, I can get you money,” said Meningsbee. “I’m a signer on the church account. I probably shouldn’t be. How much do you need?”
“I don’t want that money. That’s God’s money. It would be filthy lucre. I want hers.“
“How do you know she has money?” asked Meningsbee.
“She sent five hundred dollars to my cousin, Reno, who’s dying of cancer.”
“I see,” said Meningsbee, a little surprised.
“If she’s got five hundred, she’s got a thousand,” Gus concluded.
All at once the town constable pulled up in his cruiser and headed for the front door of the Garson-Fill to get his morning espresso and crueller. It was a ritual.
Gus became nervous. “Now, we do need to get rid of that smokie!”
Meningsbee interrupted. “I think maybe I could do that. Could I do that? Gus, would it be all right if I did that?”
Gus tucked the gun away under the zipper of his coat and said, “You damn better well.”
It was actually pretty simple. Meningsbee knew Bill. He told him they were having trouble with the water filtration system and that they were closed for the day.
“Well, what are you doing here?” Bill asked.
“Carla called me,” Meningsbee replied. “I had told her I used to work with this kind of stuff years ago. She thought I might be able to help.”
“Well, Meningsbee, you are a man of many talents,” said the cop. “Now I gotta go find me a cup of coffee and a donut.”
He turned and walked away, and Meningsbee shut the door and stepped back to his place.
“I’ll make you a deal, Gus. Why don’t we go over to the church together, and I’ll give you two thousand dollars out of my personal account. Not God money. Just preacher money.”
Gus took the gun out and pointed it at Meningsbee again. “Do you think I’m stupid? The second I leave here she’s gonna call that cop back.”
“Good thinking,” said Meningsbee. “So let’s tie her up. There’s got to be some rope somewhere.”
Gus squinted doubtfully. “How does a preacher get two thousand dollars of his own money?”
“I’m a little embarrassed to admit it,” said Meningsbee. “But three weeks ago I won it in Las Vegas.”
“A gamblin’ preacher?” Gus shook his head and turned to Carla. “Is that what you settled for, girl? A sinner–just barely dipped in grace?”
Then Gus made his mistake. He turned to look for rope, and Carla took her opportunity. She grabbed a knife she’d found in a drawer just beneath her hands. She ran over quickly and stabbed Gus in the back.
He grimaced in pain and buckled to his knees. In doing so he dropped the gun on the ground. Meningsbee wasted no time. He grabbed the gun, and while Gus was trying to regain his footing, he took Carla by the hand and they ran out the front door into the street, flagging down the constable, who had decided to try the convenience store for his breakfast.
It didn’t take more than two minutes for the constable to comprehend the situation and head over with them to the diner. But in that length of time, Gus was gone. His truck had disappeared and he apparently was on his way to other mischief.
Bill warned Carla that it was very possible that Gus would return to seek revenge for the stabbing, but she wasn’t afraid.
Meningsbee, on the other hand, was terrified. He was so grateful that he had worn a ball cap, hoping that Gus would never recognize him on a normal day.
Carla was strong. Carla was determined. And for the time being, Carla was safe.