“We might get something lined up for next week.”
These immortal words were uttered by Jesus as we were loading concrete, bricks, and dirt into a waste bin. From the way he spoke, I knew some investigation was warranted. It turned out “we” was me, and “something” was a request from Kosey.
I was already annoyed with Jesus. He’d discovered that a trio of men he didn’t care for had been hired to clear out debris from a recent landscape job in Rosedale. Jesus did some 411 research on the customer and had a friend call the company and cancel, pretending to be the customer’s husband. Jesus then appeared at the work site with a rented truck, ready to work. When presented with the bill, if the customer inquired as to why Junk Away was now Clear-It-All, Jesus would explain that Junk Away was the old name.
“Normally, that’s wrong. We both know that. But this is Rosedale, man. You get in good here, you get references, you’re working for royalty. And those guys are such pricks.”
And now he had told Kosey that I was available after Friday. Jesus sensed my displeasure, but wouldn’t admit he’d done wrong.
“I thought he’d have work for me too,” said Jesus. This may have been true. “Dude’s gonna find you anyway.” This was most certainly true.
I was to wait on one of those downtown streets that runs one block and contains mostly service entrances. A paper-thin VW—not Kosey’s normal car—pulled around the corner. He sat in the driver’s seat wearing his gargantuan sunglasses. In the passenger seat was a woman.
Just a glimpse of her face in the windshield and I knew what was coming.
I was created to serve man. One of the ways I served was to save him from other men. From the day Samuel Halevi pointed at the little boy lecturing to a passel of scholars and said, “He carries a bright flame. No one must put it out,” I was a protector. No matter how many things I build, tear down, transport, abandon, hack out of the ground, it’s just marking time between faces like this girl’s. So many faces, mostly Jewish, but that doesn’t matter. My lot is to be yoked to people whose persecution is perpetual, whose misery is manifold, whose light must be sheltered. Hashem sends them to me. I got in the car.
“Misssssster Adam.” Kosey stamped the floor mat twice. He smiled and drove away. The girl, maybe 20, had thick, dry hair and khaki skin. She was wearing men’s clothing, too large. Not her own. Her face had no cuts or bruises. It’s possible she was injured under the clothes, but she wasn’t holding or touching any part of herself. She seemed tense, but not jumpy. In fact, she didn’t react to anything.
Kosey pulled into the back of a restaurant and pointed to the iron staircase leading to the second floor. I waited while he let the girl out. She looked at the ground, but walked calmly. I trailed them up the steps and into the room.
The walls were brick and beam. Solid. The space was barren except for a mattress and a dry, dusty sink with no tap. No vent, no other entry. A tiny, grated window, inches from an outside floodlight. That was good. The flood radius would block the window once the sun went down. I looked at the floor. The warped and splintered boards were groaning under Kosey’s feet. My weight would make the sound worse. I would have to take up a position now.
“You good?” Kosey asked me.
“Who’s downstairs?” I asked.
Kosey shook his head. “Closed early today. Not back till eight a.m.”
How much force? Could I risk leaving the room to move bodies? Had to be a quick strike, throw them off the landing. It was all I needed to know. He told me he’d relieve me before eight. I didn’t ask where he was going or who might arrive in the night. It was as if the three of us already knew the plan. He left without looking at the girl. He hadn’t spoken to her once.
The door was in the middle of the front wall. The mattress was to the right. The door would open to the left side of the room. Good. I could stand against the wall on the right and they wouldn’t see me or the girl when they opened the door. I planted my feet and went still.
For most of the next 12 hours, that’s where I remained.
Walking from the car to the bed was the last time I saw the girl move. She lay and stared at the ceiling. I thought of Ruth in one of her states. She wasn’t ignoring me, though. She would take looks, trying to gauge what I was about. Her eyes moved from the ceiling to me, never closing, resigned to whatever might come.
Dozens of vigils flashed through my head. Forest perimeters, dark courtyards, rooms worse than this. I wondered if the girl had been through this before as well. Sounds from outside filtered in as the sun went down. Light from the flood sent the room into abstraction.
Late, late into the night, I heard feet on the iron stairs. Two people. I had about 20 seconds. Could be more below. If I came outside, they’d see me, but they wouldn’t know I was the only one here. I looked at the girl. Important enough to send a large group? Maybe not. I had to let the pair come in. How much force? Could I risk leaving the room to move bodies? Had to be a quick strike, throw them off the landing. The other option was to make a noise.
This wouldn’t be any ordinary noise. My voice is the sound of tectonic shift. Raspy at the best of times, monstrous at the worst when I really put something into it. In the right situation, unexpected, behind the Locked Door of Mystery, it could completely unhinge an opponent.
Then I thought I heard quick breathing, so faint it might have been false. I visualized the person on the landing. Young? Inexperienced? Smart enough not to speak to his partner, but scared. Going on feeling alone, I made my rumble. It started low, then slid quickly upward into a war between the old elements of the world. Half-heard, half-felt, I let it ride until even I couldn’t stand it.
They ran. In the ensuing quiet, the girl exhaled.
Kosey relieved me a few hours ago. He asked if there had been trouble. I nodded. He told me to come back this evening, shutting the door to the room behind me. I walked home, knowing somehow that we weren’t being watched.
Ruth was out when I got here, which gave me some time to write. I’ve noticed a quickness in my fingers, a sharpening of my eyesight. Whatever began last night, it’s tuning me up. Vigor, insight, accuracy. Even hope.
But I’m reminded of a recent nature program. A male dinosaur was trying to get at a female’s vulnerable offspring. Her protection instinct made her ferocious, and they battled. The bloodied male managed to snatch one baby in his jaws. The mother attacked again—but this time, she was fighting for the dead body. The baby had simply become food.