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6. framing

DANIEL SALAT

“I can’t help it, Father,” Jeff said as he got out of Daniel’s parked car and shut the door behind him.  “I have to admit it.”

“What’s that, son?” Daniel retrieved his satchel and then got out of the car, too, locking the doors with the electronic key now that they’d both exited. “You don’t look well.  Headache coming back?”  Morning had arrived in earnest, and already a thick July heat was coming up off the pavement and and sidewalk.  And — in the outdoor light, out of the car — Jeff did look sick.  Ashen at the cheeks.

“No,” Jeff said, barely audible to Daniel.  “I’m ashamed.”  Jeff looked away from Daniel, out toward the street.

“Talk to me, son,” Daniel said.  “It’s just us — mostly.”  There were only a few people outside, the usual passersby who frequented Fitz Circle this time of day.  And people in Drodden — well, the good people, anyway — shied away from inquisitions over their neighbors.  But Daniel’s words were meant to invoke more than that.  Daniel wanted more than anything else in this moment for Jeff to be mindful of God.  How God was everywhere, and always watching.  And that the arguments Jeff might put forth against coming with Daniel weren’t just arguments against Daniel’s words, but — just possibly — God’s, as well.

Jeff turned away from the street,lowering his head for a long moment. Then, he looked back up  toward the multi-floored Police Station before them, and perhaps beyond even that. “I’m sorry, Father . I think there’s something wrong with your thinking.”  He sounded serious, but also more than a little ashamed.  “I don’t want to say that.  But I have to be honest.  For everyone’s good.  I think this is … the wrong call.”

Daniel held up his right hand to signal Jeff to wait a moment and then walked around the back of the car to where the younger man was standing.  “Don’t tell me you’re backing out now, Jeff.  When we’ve just got here?  I’m doing this for you, too, you know.”

“For me?”  Jeff’s voice cracked.  He reached out with his left hand, laying his palm flat against the passenger side window-glass.  “I’m sweating and breathing hard.  I think I’m the problem in your thinking, Father.  I don’t think I can do this.”

Daniel thought for a long moment, just watching Jeff.

The younger man was sweating heavily, and his legs looked shaky.  Jeff’s curly, sandy hair looked darker than normal; it was wet from perspiration.  And Jeff’s breathing was shallow.  Not the sort of rasping, like it had been when Daniel had come across him in the nave earlier that morning, though.  This was a raspier sound, heavier and more panicked.  “I can’t do this.”

Daniel leaned in toward Jeff, putting both hands on the younger man’s shoulders.  “Neither can I, Jeff.”  Daniel’s voice was as quiet as he could manage while still making sure Jeff could hear him.

That broke Jeff out of his panic:  “What?”   Then, Jeff coughed a few times, sniffling wetly after that.

“None of us can do this, Jeff.  It’s up to God. Without God, I’m just a man in a funny outfit with an old book and some bottled water.  Do you think I’ve had the Vatican training?”

“Huh?”

“There’s Vatican training for handling possessed people.  I certainly don’t have it.  There’s an entire school dedicated to it.  But before we go calling the Big Hats, I’m answering the calling I think God gave to me.  I’m asking you to do the same.  That’s why you came to my office.  Don’t you realize?”

“I –”

Salat continued, interrupting Jeff.  “Do you think I expect to have some kind of magical powers here?  Those aren’t mine.  Those are God’s.  He’s the one who’s asking you — maybe telling you — to help me.  I can’t do this alone.”

Jeff shook his head hard.

Droplets of sweat struck Daniel’s cheek.  Daniel didn’t pull away, or even let go.  “It’s up to God.  And God brought you here.

“No,” Jeff said, looking into Daniel’s eyes now.  He made no move to pull away from Daniel, either.  “I was sick.  Sick with — I don’t know.

I know.  You told me.”

“Yeah.”  Jeff hunched over a little.  “Emma told me about what happened with the Marshes and I – … wanted you to explain things.”

“Didn’t I?”  Daniel chose this moment to gently release his hands from Jeff’s shoulders.  “I gave you the best explanation I know.”

“It’s not good enough.”

“I know,” Daniel said regretfully.  “I know it’s not good enough.  Because — Jeff?  I’m just a guy like you.  I’m just a little older.  And doing a job.”

“You call it ‘doing a job’ when you tell me there’s a devil in Mike Laddow?”

“Is it ridiculous to you?”

“Kind of.”

“Why, Jeff?”  Daniel was trying to sound sincere to Jeff.  He knew he had to count on his sincerity to carry the moment.

“Because I’m 54!” Jeff snapped, looking apologetic a mere moment later.  “I’m sorry.”

“And you come to church every Sunday,” Daniel countered.  “That’s why you’re the right man to help me here.”

Jeff nodded.

But before the reverend could find the words he wanted to say next, he found his concentration breaking.  His thoughts drifted back to First Step.  To the children playing on the basketball court.  How they’d looked at him.  Strangely.  And now, as he stood talking to Jeff, there was more.  Had the light seemed odd?  Like there were particles of dust in it, but bigger?  Like it was moving more slowly somehow?  He lost himself in the image.  It seemed to move slower and slower in his mind, catching him up in that brief moment of memory, the child looking across the distance at him.  Scaring him a little.  And the voice calling out, as if for help.  He was certain it was a peacock’s call.  He remembered being in his room.  He remembered huddling under the covers and hearing the voice: so much like someone calling out ‘Help!  Help!’  It had given him nightmares.  Of people across big distances reaching out to him — calling for help he hadn’t felt capable to give. The same way he felt today.

“Father?”

Daniel raised a hand, clearly dismissing Jeff’s concerns.  “I’m all right.  Just — thinking.”  He collected himself.  “I was thinking about whether I’d done a good enough job of explaining things to you.  I worried about this before.  Which is why I’ve been so quick with it all, and blunt.  If you didn’t believe me, you might not come.  If you did believe me, you might be too scared to  come.  And I see I’ve erred on the side of being righteous.  You believe me, don’t you?”

“I don’t know,” Jeff said, voice quavering slightly.

“I know you believe me.  Because you’re scared to go in there,” he added, sympathetically.  “And so am I.  But there’s a problem with that.  I can tell your faith’s not full.  You’re afraid of me being right.  But you’re also –” and then he paused before continuing:  “– you’re afraid I’m wrong, too, and — well, if I’m wrong, then it means Mike Laddow’s just shown some true evil to the world.  Like we don’t have enough.  I want to be wrong, and then again I don’t want to be wrong.  But — either way — I need a man who can witness, so that we can go to the Church if this is what I think it is.”

“I jsut can’t see how.  I can’t see how there can be this — now.”

“Well, Jeff,” Daniel said, “we don’t have to go in there.”

“We don’t?”

“I’m not the only priest in Drodden.  There are others.”  He shrugged.  “We could just assume that one of them’ll take care of things.”

“Do any of them have that Vatican training thing you talked about?”

“Here, in Drodden?  What do you think, Jeff?  Not bloody likely.”  Salat laughed, a hoarse bark.

“But we don’t have to go in there.  We can turn around and go home.  If that’s what you want?”

Jeff’s cheeks flushed, then went pale.  “That’s not what I mean, Father.”

“Then what do you mean?”

“I don’t know … ”

“Well, I know you.  You know — I went through this, too.  A lot.  Daily.  When I was becoming a priest.  Trying to decide how important I was going to let all this be for me.”

“And now you’re going to fight a demon?”

Fight?”  Daniel shook his head.  “Did I say that?  If I did — I’m sorry, Jeff.”

Jeff just looked at him, expression blank, clearly waiting for more — wanting more.

“You fight evil in yourself.  You can’t fight evil in other people.”

“Then what-?”

“If I wasn’t clear — I apologize.  Sincerely.”  Daniel calculatedly made sure to use that word ‘sincerely’ and to put emphasis on it.  “We’re going to try to talk to Michel.  We’re going to see what he has to say.  And we’re going to listen, most of all.”

“Then, wjhat about — the possession stuff?”

“It’s what I believe. And I want you to be prepared, if I’m right..”

“I don’t want you to be right.”

“You think I do?  But, look, Jeff — odds are high that nothing’s going to happen like you’re worried about.”

“I’m worried something big and red’s going to come flying at me.”

“I told you — it isn’t like the movies.”

“But shouldn’t you teach me more?”

“I told you — I’m prepared.  And there’s danger.  But I don’t want you thinking this is going to be something you’ll even necessarily see.”

Jeff blinked a few times, confused.  “What do you mean?  Like — it’s ... invisible?”

“No.  Think — more subtly.”

“I can’t,” Jeff said.  “I don’t understand.”

“Just stay by my side and you’ll be fine,” Daniel said.  “And you’ll get what U’m talking about once we start.”

“Not knowing doesn’t seem particularly safe,” Jeff pointed out.

“Sometimes, with faith, it’s exactly what’s  needed.”

That seemed to get through to Jeff.  “So I shouldn’t be thinking like I am?”

“Trust me, and — more importantly — trust God.  He put you on this path for a erason.”

“So — what should I be worried about, then?”

“That poor, poor boy in thee,” Daniel said, gesturing toward the upper floors of the Police Station.   Then, he folded his hands together as if in prayer and shook them twice.  “Who probably feels like nobody on the planet cares about him right now.”

But I won’t force you to go in there any more than I’ll force you to think that what I’m saying is true.  I think devils and demons are real.  Real things.  Like i said.  It’s the only explanation I have for what happened yesterday.  It’s the only explanation I want to believe.”

Jeff’s eyes flashed with something that seemed to Daniel like anger.  “Yeah,” Jeff said, speaking urgently.  “But your explanation is — … ”

Daniel nodded.  “Jeff, I know you.  I know you’re someone I can trust on this.  But we’re going around in circles here.I need to know you’re with me.  But you can leave any time, of course.  I … I feel llke I’ve known you long enough to know you won’t.””But why me?”

“I might’ve had to wait days, if you hadn’t come along.  Like I said.  I know you believe things easily, when it’s matters of faith.”  Daniel knew he had to keep his words simple, laying out each idea one at a time and connecting them.  That’s how Jeff worked, Daniel knew.  That’s what led Jeff to belief.  “Look —  her’es another way to connect this all together in your head, if my way isn’t doing it for you.”

Jeff shut his eyes.  “Okay, go ahead.”  He opened his eyes again, his features softening.

“If you’ve got the faith, I’ll ask you to come with me.  If you don’t, I’ll ask you to come along and make sure I’m not a danger to myself, or others.”  He shrugged.  “Either way, you’re doing something good — and isn’t that what matters?”

Jeff waved both hands at his sides, shaking his head again.  More sweat dripped.  “But that’s just it.  I feel like — I’m having a hard time taking this seriously.”  His cheeks darkened with embarrassment, making his face look even more unwell.

Daniel tried to reach out to put his hand against Daniel’s chest this time.  “Faith means making decisions form in here, Jeff.”

“I know,” Jeff said.

“If you intellectualize God’s wishes — well, that’s why scientists are chasing their tails trying to figure out where we come from.  You have to be willing to make choices for God.  And, yeah, sometimes they’re tough ones.”  He pulled his hands away from Jeff. before continuing:  “Sometimes the choices men of God make — well, the choices can make us look like fools.  Building boats in the sand.  But not even the big ones.  It’s the little ones.”  Daniel stopped for a moment, wanting to appraise any response from the other man.

Jeff was silent.  Jeff was listening.

Daniel went on:  “Sometimes they’re embarrassing.  But they’re questions — ones you have to ask yourself.   You’re not trying to prove anything to me.  So ask yourself:  which is it easier to believe in here, Jeff?”

“Easier?” was all Jeff said.

“Easier.  Which is easier?  I mean, that a child we both knew decided out of nowhere to kill somebody?  Or that someone bad — who I know we both really, truly believe is real — and who has made his entire existence out of getting people to do bad things —  put that kid up to it?”

Jeff appeared not to have an answer for that.

“That’s what I thought, Jeff.  Now, come on man,” Daniel said, and turned to walk into the Police Station.

And Jeff Armando?  He followed.

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Published inpart 2

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