I like to think I’m the best private eye in Dallas. I can back up that claim pretty well — like, last week? I was working a divorce case; had to find proof that this guy was cheating on his wife so she could get the kids or something. So I make a tinder. It takes four or five fake profiles, but I eventually get the guy. I convince him that I am a 22-year old co-ed who has a fantasy involving a bathroom we both slip into during a church service. He agrees to show up to church.
Now, my plan was simple: hire an actress (or escort), have her wait in the stall, get a picture of him walking in, then one of the two of them together, pair it with the messages. Boom. Then I get a half-grand bonus from the wife’s lawyer.
But the girl I hired doesn’t show up and I, personally, make a critical error. Admittedly, I didn’t do any research into this church. Well, turns out it’s not a normal church. This was one of the full-nine-yards-Pentacostal deals; folks were hooting “AMEN”, speaking in tongues… men were taking off their suit jackets and thrashing on the floor. And me? I accidentally sat in the “altar-call” section. Apparently this is where the “newly saved” sit, and, at the end of the sermon, they come up and say some shit into the mic.
Well, the pastor got himself all worked up, babbled in tongues for a bit, then called on me. So I get up. He then asks me to bear witness to Christ, and “explain” my “journey” to the “flock”. I look left, look right, and think to myself, hell, you know, I was raised Catholic. And now seems to be the time to play the hits; I don’t think this crowd wants anything off my later albums.
I start talking about hell. Damnation, pure and simple. I’m detailing a dream I never had after a night of drunken gambling which never occurred. I’m talking about being cast into the fires of hell, looking at the face of Satan himself, hearing the booming voice of God list my sins off from the Great Beyond. And these people are fucking loving it. I’m getting gasps, I’m getting “Amen” shouted at me when I talk about Christ descending into Hell to rescue me. But eventually, you know, I’m running out of material when it comes time to tell everyone what Christ said to me as he pulled me out of the lake of fire. So I stop, look at the ground all contemplative like. I close my eyes real tight. Then it hits me. I look up, and say “Then, I heard the most beautiful sound — a choir of Angels”. Then I look at the pastor, and say “Brother, can I tell you what song they were playing?” and he says “Of course, my brother, of course.” And I say “Well, if I do, I’ll need you to get the choir to sing it for me, because I know they know it”. And he says we’ll see, then I hold the microphone up to my face, and point at the organist, Ethel. I say “Sister Ethel, I need you to play this one for us. God needs you to play this one for us”, and I pause, before scanning the crowd, and then telling them “And I’ll need all of you to sing along”.
“Ethel, can you play Amazing Grace?”
The crowd began clapping; the applause was pure thunder. The whole room felt like electricity was in the air; the whole flock was on their feet. I grabbed the pastor’s hand, held it up high, and began belting into to the microphone. Was it good singing? No. But god, that doesn’t matter if you got the crowd going. The choir was singing over me anyway, and after a few words I let them take it on home.
Now, I was scanning the crowd again: I needed a way out of this shitshow. Ideally, in a manner that’d give me that sweet, sweet, $500 bonus. You can’t buy seven dollar lattes for women on my wages otherwise. And man, do they love that shit.
As the choir was singing the part about “the Lord hath promised good to me”, I got my lucky break: my quarry was standing in the crowd, hands over his head, eyes closed, brow furrowed. Perfect. I gestured to the AV guy in the back of the room — a quick point to my mic, then two thrust upwards with my thumb. He nodded and fiddled with some nobs.
“Now,” I said over the third verse of the song, “Brothers and Sisters in Christ, while our fine, fine choir is singing, I need to know I’m not alone — that I’m not the only sinner in this crowd. That I’m not the only one”, I said as I closed my eyes, grimaced, bit my lip, then shook my head before looking back out to the crowd, “who is here to be saved today.” I stuck my hand out, pointed at the crowd, closed my eyes, then stopped it over where our adulterer was standing.
I opened my eyes, looked at him, and said “Brother, I hear Christ speaking to me — Brother, have you been to this church before?” He shook his head. I told him to “get on up here, my brother in Christ”. The pastor slapped his hand on my shoulder, then quietly told me that I was “born for this”. I looked at him, smiled, then looked back to the crowd. The man was a few feet in front of me and the altar now. Amazing grace was dying down, which meant I might lose the crowd.
“Ethel, can you and the boys in the band give us ‘How Great Thou Art?”
She smiled. This much attention was rare for her, I could tell. She liked being a rockstar. While everyone looked at Ethel, I reached into my pocket, and flipped the switch on the voice-recorder I always keep on me (I mean Christ, what PI wouldn’t have that with him?)
Eventually our boy stepped on to the altar. I got right in front of him, and slapped a hand firmly on his shoulder, pulled the microphone in front of my face, and looked at him in the eyes.
“Brother, I feel you’re a sinner brother. Is that right?”
He squeaked that he was and began staring at the ground.
“I was too, brother, I was too. But there’s more for us in this world — and I can feel it right now. Right now, I feel Christ — he’s telling me to save you brother.”
He nodded, then looked up at me, in my eyes. There was fear in them — he doesn’t know how I know all this, now that I think about out. God, this might be the first real religious experience this fool has had.
“Brother, I can feel it — before you’re saved, you need to be honest — with me, with the whole flock — have you been out there, boozing?” I said as I shook my head.
“And have you been lying, brother?”
“And has this lying been to a woman, my brother — your wife?”
He froze up. His jaw was hanging open; his eyes were wider than I could ever imagine… I’ve never seen a man look like this before. Poor soul really thought he was communing with God himself… but not in a happy, Jesus-y way. We were in the Old Testament right now. This was vengeance: rough justice. This man was seeing himself being fed to the Whale after avoiding Nineveh. The lots had been cast; he was over the side of the ship. Hell, he wasn’t even looking at me: he was looking into me, past me.
I earnestly imagine that this is how Ezekiel looked at the sky when he saw the crystal-wheel-turning-within-a-wheel that was covered with human eyes. And how embarrassing for this dolt that all of this was happening during, what, at best, could be called “a set-up”. Poor fool.
He said, yes, then I asked if there were other women. He said yes. Then I said, “But Brother, that doesn’t matter now. Today’s the first day of a new day — of a new life — with Christ, brother. Christ. Because, I feel like — right now, brother — you’re saved. Are you saved brother?”
A sheepish yes. Pathetic.
“I need you to say it Brother — ARE YOU SAVED?”
A louder yes. Good, Close.
“ONE MORE TIME BROTHER — ” I shoved the microphone in his face, then gestured at the crowd “TELL ALL OF US: ARE YOU, SAVED AMEN?”
He bellowed a yes and an amen in to the mic. The crowd went wild; Ethel started playing Amazing Grace again (good on her), the pastor was clapping and looking at the sky. I handed the mic back to him, then slid up next to my target. I gave him a hug. He held me tight, then I whispered “got you, you stupid, dumb son of a bitch” into his ear. The man pulled back quickly. I locked eyes with him — his whole face was caught between confusion, disappointment, and fear — pointed a finger-gun at him, wiped the sweat off my brow, and walked off the stage. Sometimes you gotta work for that bonus, I guess.