By Jonathan Woods.
The pair of black Mercedes flew through the night on wings of mercy and hope. In minutes they left behind the paved streets and blinking neon of the Capital. For the first hour, as they crossed the coastal savannah, the road was a narrow strip of asphalt pitted by spring rains and the relentless rhythm of overburdened truck traffic. As the terrain shifted into the rolling hills and valleys of the piedmont, the road degraded into an ill-maintained gravel ribbon. Finally in the upland rain forest they bounced and jolted along a dirt road carved through the jungle with little to differentiate it from a hardscrabble streambed.
In the first Mercedes, protected by the thick padding of the leather back seat, the Bishop lolled restlessly, his fingers coaxing prayers from a rosary. His elegant robes belied his lean, ascetic figure. Worn black boots tapped an erratic rhythm. Chiseled by time and adversity, his face nevertheless wore an expression of innocent expectation, as if the world were nothing more than a swaying piñata about to burst and scatter its bounty.
In the second car Chancellor Tabor used a flashlight to thumb through a small leather diary, occasionally scribbling a notation. Tabor’s traveling companion the ancient Deacon Santiago had fallen asleep moments after the journey began. His body jerked and flopped to the rough irregular beat of the road, bringing to mind a cadaver undergoing electric shock treatment.
At the end of the night they would arrive in a remote jungle village where the Bishop would say seven a.m. mass standing on the steps of an adobe chapel overlooking a slash and burn clearing, where a motley congregation of perhaps fifty peasants would have gathered. Most would be still half asleep; all would be hungry. Ahead through the pitch-blackness, several sodium vapor lights high overhead announced the intersection with the main north-south highway at the edge of the savannah. Jake Quint the Bishop’s half-Indio driver and bodyguard braked to a stop in front of the emerald green Sweet Time Super Market. Inside Chang sat on a metal stool watching a kung-fu melodrama on a tiny TV screen and chain smoking. Behind him shelves stacked with merchandise disappeared into semi-darkness.
Selecting a quart of local rum from one of the selves, Jake set it loudly on the counter in front of Chang. As if on signal, Chang’s mother, her face as mute as a cast iron wok, emerged from a back room. The young woman accompanying her and holding her arm was of stunning beauty, a lotus blossom opening at first light. Maybe sixteen, she smiled at Jake with all the hopefulness of youth. A dress of shiny cream-colored material clung like milk to her dusky body. She was as drinkable as a Black Russian on a slow night, thought Jake.
“Anything else?” Chang asked.
“That’s everything,” Jake said. He looked at the girl. “Unless there’s something you’d like. Maybe some gumdrops?”
She smiled again and shook her head.
As Jake and the girl came down the steps from the Sweet Time Market, Chancellor Tabor’s iguana eyes studied them through the open passenger window of the second Mercedes. Jake shot the Chancellor the finger, at the same time running his hand across the young woman’s to-die-for ass. The Chancellor bent forward and wrote in his notebook, his pen dancing a black scriggle across the yellow flashlight-lit circle.
Jake opened the rear door.
“Your Excellency,” Jake said.
For an instant the Bishop’s eyes confronted Jake’s, looking for any sign of satiric intent. They found none.
Next they fastened on the young woman.
When his eyes touched her, the girl flipped into a trance; a dreamy smile appeared on her face. Like a perfect wave, she curled into the seat beside the Bishop. The door closed with a thump.
As the Mercedes sped into the night, her hand beneath the ecclesiastical robes found a dick of rising proportions.
The first woman to come forward used the name Nadia. This happened a year after the Bishop abandoned his ecclesiastical office so he could be elected El Presidente of the Republic.
Nadia made an appointment with the editor of the Leftist daily, El Verdad, who bought her lunch at a trendy bodega and published her story in two parts to sell more papers.
What was her story? That ten years before she had met the Bishop at a philanthropic tea. He smiled at her and listened patiently to the sadness and loneliness of her life taking care of sick and housebound parents. They left the tea early and ended up in a discreetly maintained pied-a-terre where the Bishop ran her ragged, bounding after her over Victorian sofas, high-back chairs and rococo coffee tables, Empire sideboards and zebra-striped hassocks, until he cornered her amid a scree of pillows and feather bolsters on the broad ecclesiastical bed. Nine months later she gave birth to a daughter she named Francesca.
The President’s press office issued an official denial.
In the bars and cafes of the Republic they began calling him the Bishop of Love.
A private helicopter transported the Bishop from the Capital to the remote estancia in half an hour. They passed above orange and papaya and mango orchards, vast earth-walled tanks in which zillions of shrimp and tilapia swam and copulated, and of course herds of beef cattle scrounging the savannah.
The Bishop stood in the middle of a dusty field after the helicopter departed. The sound of breakers came from the nearby oceanfront. Through a line of palms, light flickered on the tips of curling waves.
He brushed the dust from his robes, picked up his weekend valise and started walking toward the yellow stucco house at the far end of the field. Its elaborate ironwork, red tile roof, shaded balconies and stained glass were in the Spanish style.
Left to carry my own suitcase! he thought. No respect! Such were the nouveau riche.
Before the Bishop could raise and lower the heavy brass knocker, a man wearing a sweat-stained khaki shirt and gray dress slacks opened the door. A pistol rested in a leather holster cinched around his waist. He stank of cigarettes, tequila, pussy and sweat. His slacks were creased to a fare-thee-well.
“Don Rodriguez is in the great room awaiting your arrival.”
Don Rodriguez and the other three members of the Party’s executive committee.
Easing to his feet, Don Rodriguez approached the Bishop standing in the doorway suitcase in hand. He knelt.
The Bishop let go of his weekender and stretched forward the hand bearing the ring of office. The suitcase landed with a dull, dusty thud and keeled over.
“Welcome to my humble country home, your Excellency. I’m sure you know these other gentlemen.”
Later that night lying in bed the Bishop recalled the evening as “heady.” The high point arrived when Don Rodriguez leaned across the wide mahogany table, brandy snifter in one hand, smoldering Cohiba in the other, and said with mounting certainty that the Bishop must represent the Party as its candidate for President in the coming election. No one else was so loved and trusted by the people. These hard economic times raised the chances of a Leftist victory. The Party needed a candidate of and for the people. The Party needed the Bishop.
The Bishop lay naked on the white sheets, his head pounding. The mosquito netting hung about him like a stifling cloud. Nothing moved, except the geckos humping on the ceiling.
A door creaked. His door!
His hand sought the cold metal of his antique Webley revolver he’d placed under his pillow next to his well-thumbed prayer book.
“Don’t worry,” whispered a soft female voice. “We aren’t here to murder you. Don Rodriguez sent us.”
With a burst of laughter two female figures, caught in the moonlight, bounded across the room like scampering rabbits and propelled themselves onto the wide bed, breasts bouncing flagrantly beneath gossamer teddies.
Heart palpitating, the Bishop mumbled a brief prayer of amends. Then with a sigh he awaited his death by pleasure.
A week after the articles appeared in El Verdad, two more women came forward alleging they had been knocked up by the Bishop’s wayward schlong. One, represented by a notorious plaintiff’s lawyer, demanded reparations for the shame of bearing and raising a bastard child. The other asked only that El Presidente plant a kiss on the forehead of her two-year-old daughter, anointing her as a gift from God.
An endless pageantry of Masses, street processions and confessions of the rich and powerful filled the weeks before Easter. They left the Bishop feeling exhilarated and exhausted.
In the antechamber behind the apse of the National Cathedral, the Bishop removed his boots. The ripe odor of dead fish rose from his sock-less feet. Leaning down, he massaged his toes. Jake Quest handed him a double tequila disguised in an English bone china cup and saucer. The morning Mass would begin in twenty minutes.
Chancellor Tabor entered.
“I hope to hell, Tabor, that you’ve finished my sermon,” the Bishop said. He took a sip of tequila. The Chancellor rummaged in a leather satchel.
“Short. It must be short,” continued the Bishop. “No longer than ten minutes I told you.”
Tabor thrust a thin sheaf of pages at the Bishop.
“Here’s your Goddamn sermon.”
Shocked by this exchange, an altar boy fainted.
The Bishop pulled on his boots, stood and settled his robes.
“Let’s lock and load,” he said.
Chancellor Tabor nudged awake the ancient Deacon Santiago, who hawked a gob of greenish phlegm into his handkerchief, snorted and wiped his lips with the back of his hand.
The Bishop looked at him in dismay.
“Whenever you’re ready.”
The Deacon hoisted the Book of Gospels and, followed by the Bishop and his entourage, shuffled down an ill-lit side corridor to the back of the cathedral. There they formed up like a ragtag band of brothers for the entrance processional. The organ struck a discordant note of holiness.
Next moment the congregation rose with a great swoosh and broke into song. The purple and white robed procession rolled forward. Acolytes bore flickering candles aloft on silver staffs, the light ricocheting like fairy dust from the gold of the Bishop’s mitre. A silver incense burner, swaying and seesawing above the heads of the celebrants, ejected clouds of rose-scented smoke. Paroxysms of coughing erupted among the faithful.
The Bishop moved at a stately pace. His eyes sought and found among the congregants the most beautiful women, the wives and daughters of the city’s elite.
He knew them all by heart.
Recently he had heard rumors that Don Bolano’s youngest daughter Zoë was returning from Paris where she had taken classes at the Sorbonne. At twenty-something she was already a hardened habitué of the bars, dance halls and basement dives of Montparnasse. Or so the stories went.
The procession reached the altar.
Don Bolano stood in the very first pew, beside him Teresa, his thin and attractive wife, heir to a multitude of high-value oil leases.
The Bishop nodded.
Next to the mother a young woman stood, eyes cast down, coppery hair glittering like fool’s gold. The legendary Zoë.
Demurely she wore a strapless, black-chiffon cocktail dress that barely stretched from nipple to crotch.
Standing on the dais facing the nave, wild-eyed as a sex fiend, the Bishop raised his hand in blessing:
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
The Deacon motioned for the worshipers to sit. The Bishop slumped, his hooded eyes surveying the thronged cathedral, inexorably drawn back to Zoë’s lithe figure.
She sat, knees touching, her face bearing the bemused look of a chronic pothead.
Abruptly the Bishop realized she was returning his gaze, her eyes peering into his soul. Slowly her legs spread apart, like a Mickey Spillane novel falling open to a favorite scene.
With a frown the Bishop stood up, wet his suddenly dry lips with the tip of his tongue and began to read aloud from the wrong section of the Missale Romanum.
By the end of six months after Nadia’s story appeared in El Verdad, 23 women had stepped up to the microphone, claiming they had fornicated with the ecclesiastical cock. Nineteen signed affidavits sworn to under the pains and penalties of eternal damnation. Twelve claimed offspring as a result.
The Bishop of Love became the Cocksman of the Confessional. In the heartland there was talk of impeachment. Death threats and offers of unbridled animal behavior arrived in equal numbers. Jake Quint ordered surveillance cameras installed in the gardens of the Presidential residence. Additional armor was bolted to the underside of the ex-Bishop’s Mercedes.
Rigged out in a worn seaman’s sweater and nondescript black pants, navy-blue baseball cap pulled low, the incognito Bishop hurried down a narrow alley in the Capital’s historic central district. At its end a stone stairway sank into blackness. His shoes grating on grit-strewn steps, he descended into darkness with the confidence of a blind man on his home turf.
In a week’s time, his Bishop’s robes abdicated, he would be sworn in as the 67th President of the Republic.
He plunged headlong through the inky tunnel until at last he came to an iron-studded door. A gang-banger wannabe wearing a false mustache and a sombrero opened the door to the Bishop’s knock. The high-tech Beretta pistol tucked in the pimp’s waistband looked like it had been stolen from the set of The Fifth Element.
The thug shot a thumb backwards.
“They’m got tirrredd waitin” fur ya,” he said with a snarl. Or maybe he was hawking up some thick tar deposits. The pinpoint dazzle of a laser spotlight illuminated the lower half of the man’s face; the sombrero’s shadow obscured the rest.
Far away at the other end of a long, narrow hallway, sallow light hung like a cheap curtain. When he entered the room, two tall busty women turned in his direction. Both wore naught but naughty leather shorts that nibbled at their buttocks and hard-billed Waffen SS officer caps. One woman walked barefoot, the other strode on 4″ stiletto heals. A man lay face down across the seat of a bentwood bar chair, his pants around his ankles. Deep red cuts crisscrossed the penitent’s gaunt and puritanic buns.
The barefoot woman, standing between the Bishop and the penitent, held a short leather lash, which she commenced to tap against her long and shapely leg.
“So, padre, what’s it to be tonight?”
Even though the temperature was in the upper 90s, with the sun pounding down from directly overhead like a pile driver, the demonstration in the zocalo before the Great Palace of Government was in full foment. In front of the Palace, a dozen squads of riot police in Darth Vader costumes faced a fiery sea of chanting women. Signs read: Castrate Bad Bishops! Fornicators Burn in HELL!
Suddenly a bottle with a burning rag sprouting from its narrow neck flew from somewhere in the middle of the crowd, splashing in a whoosh of exploding gasoline against the stone façade of the Palace.
With a yell the police charged the protesters, truncheons in action.
Jake Quest, standing in the arched window of his second floor apartment on the far side of the plaza, watched as a mild fracas burst into a full-blown riot. His girlfriend, naked, came up behind him, looking past his right shoulder.
“Do you want another beer?” she asked.
“It looks like a goddamn insurrection,” he said. He turned and followed her back to bed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Woods is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. When not writing, he works part time in a small gallery, Dahlia Woods Gallery. His stories have appeared in dogmatika, Plots with Guns, Thuglit, Pulp Pusher and other on-line literary magazines. Jonathan’s book of noir crime stories, Bad Juju & Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem, will be published in April 2010 by New Pulp Press. Read what other writers are saying about Bad Juju at Jonathan’s website.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, December 10th, 2009.