CHAPTER 24: A*SOLUTION
It wasn’t the first time a woman had slammed a door in my face, and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be the last, but I wasn’t prepared to give up without a fight. I went looking for her at the club with a Riot Fest pass in hand as a peace offering.
“I told you, she’s not working tonight!” Evelyn said in exasperation after I’d pestered her for almost an hour. “You’re obsessed.”
“I am not.”
“You are.” Evelyn insisted. She filled a pitcher in the bar’s sink. The water smelled like iron. The whole bar area smelled like stale blood. It was a Wednesday night and if Melody was working then she was doing a good job of avoiding me. “C’mon, you wouldn’t be hanging around if it was anybody else and you found out they had kids: you hate kids.”
“I don’t hate kids; I’m just not looking to be anybody’s daddy. You know—unless they’re over eighteen and into that kind of thing.”
“Damnit, you’re hopeless.” Evelyn kicked aside one of the rubber floor mats and poured the water down a drain in front of the coolers. “She works when she wants to work. I usually don’t see her till the weekend.”
I cursed inwardly: if I couldn’t give the pass to Melody, then my second plan was to give it to Evelyn to give to Melody but by the weekend it would be too late.
“You got change, lady?” Father Mohawk sidled up to the bar beside me and plunked a metal coffee can down on the countertop. He peeled off the plastic lid and pull out a wad of singles which he smoothed into stacks on the bar in front of him. His lips moved silently as he counted, and the dollar store rosary around his wrist clinked against the lip of the can every time he reached inside for another wad.
“Who the hell comes into a strip club with a coffee can full of singles and exchanges it for twenties?” I asked. I picked up one of the stacks of bills and flipped through it, momentarily distracted from the Great Melody Dilemma.
“Play nice,” Evelyn said. She snatched the cash out of my hand and re-counted the bills before sliding a handful of twenties across the bar to Father Mohawk who bundled them with a rubber band and tucked them into a pocket.
“I’m buildin’ a church,” he said.
“That’s a good one, tell me another.”
“So, you’re really a priest?”
“Yup.” Father Mohawk glanced at me sideways and grinned like a little kid who was up to no good. “Well, almost. I haven’t been ordained yet. Soon, though, I hope.” He stuck out a hand. “Jesse. Father Jesse.”
Father. That was rich. He was younger than me.
“—Warner. From OXBVI.”
“Imma fan… God, sorry, I’ve been trying to be cool, but…” Jesse struggled to suppress the keening delight he’d been bottling up for some time now.
“What the hell is a priest doing in a strip club?”
“Confession,” he grinned. “Where better ‘n here, right? Come for the titties, leave with the Holy Spirit. One stop shop.”
“Good work if you can get it,” I said. Based on the wad of twenties he’d shoved down the side of his kilt, business was booming. “Just how much does a confession go for these days?”
“Oh, it’s free. Strictly donations. You wanna try it? Confession, I mean?” It wasn’t a question so much as an invitation.
“I’m good,” I said.
“I’m not Catholic.”
“You don’t have to be; I’ll still help you.” Father Jesse pushed himself away from the bar and nodded toward the hallway leading to the bathrooms with a jerk of his head. “C’mon, I’ll show you how it works—in case you change your mind.” He tucked the coffee can under his arm and loped off down the corridor without waiting to see if I was following him. I glanced at Evelyn who stared back, interested to see what I would do.
“Is this guy for real?” I asked.
She just shrugged. “One way to find out.”
Feeling self-conscious, I shuffled down the hall. Father Jesse waited beside a door that led to what seemed to be a storage closet. He pushed it open as I approached and ducked inside, the tips of his hair brushing against the top of the door frame.
“It’s a bit tight,” he said. “Just squeeze in.”
“That’s what she said.”
The storage closet was half occupied by a grinding row of refrigerators full of pop for the bar, pumping hot air into the closed room. What wasn’t taken up by the drinks cases was filled with cardboard boxes and cleaning supplies. Father Jesse gestured me toward a broken dance booth propped in a corner. The plush sidewall was marred by a fist-sized hole that had been clawed through the upholstery and fiberboard at about waist height. I took a seat and did my best to get comfortable. I could see Father Jesse through the hole doing his best to arrange his long limbs in a folding chair wedged between the booth and the wall. There was a flurry of thuds and a muffled swear and then he settled into silence.
The room was womb-like in its warmth. I could hear the thudding bassline of the music outside but the booth smothered it into a muted heartbeat that felt strangely cozy.
“So, this is confession,” I said.
“Yep. This is it.”
“How’d you end up here? With all this?” I gestured to the booth around me, remembering too late he probably couldn’t see me.
“Convent next door—the seminary sent me there to serve—I think they hoped the nuns would get me in line, with the hair and the clothes an’ all. Didn’t work, obviously.”
“Almost made me quit, though. Walked out one day thinking maybe I’d made a mistake—like I’d gotten The Call but it had been meant for someone else, right? An’ I ran into Rocco on my way out—you know Rocco? The floor host? Big guy with the shaved head? We were buddies growing up—had the same foster parents for a while, an’ he brought me here, an’ there was Camille—” I heard him laugh through his nose. “Dressed as a Catholic school girl, can you imagine? An’ me with the collar—she thought it was a fetish thing. An’ well, you know, Camille being Camille…”
“She made you see God?”
“Ha. She certainly tried. D’you know she has a law degree? Not that you’d guess it to look at her. Maybe it’s why we get along. A lawyer that doesn’t look like a lawyer an’ a priest that doesn’t look like a priest.”
“The club doesn’t mind?”
I heard a jingle as he shrugged. “I pay house—tip out Rocco and Judge, just like the dancers. The girls seem to like it—some of the patrons too, an’ I do my best to keep the nuns off their back. Kinda works out.”
I shook my head: reality was sure as hell stranger than fiction.
“So, what brings you here?” Father Jesse asked.
“Okay, yeah, besides that.”
“My sister’s the bartender.”
“Lalalalalala—she goes by Eden here. Okay? I don’t need her real name. I’m here t’ be a… whatsit called? You know, someone you can tell stuff? Like a secret? An’ they gotta keep it to themselves?”
“Confidante?” I supplied.
“That’s the one: confidante. What you say to me, you’re saying to God.”
“In that case, fuck you,” I said.
Father Jesse laughed and it sounded like he meant it. “Okay, cool. What else?”
“What’s the deal with the platypus?”
I poked a finger into the hole in the wall as I tried to imagine telling all my darkest personal failings to this weird punk kid. Loose pills of stuffing spilled out through the torn fabric and crumbling particleboard.
“Hang on, is this a glory hole?” I said, realizing what I was looking at. I yanked my hand back like I’d been burned.
Father Jesse laughed. “Yeah, probably. Helps me hear, though. Too many concerts and I’m mostly deaf. You know how it is.”
“Yeah, okay, well, I’m not gonna whisper my secrets into a dick socket.”
“Fair enough.” Jesse retrieved his coffee can and stood up. He emerged from behind the padded wall and gestured toward the door. “Listen, I’m around if you change your mind.” He was smiling, but his eyes were serious. “Doesn’t hafta be confession. Not every problem gets solved with absolution. Some of ‘em just need a-solution.”
Puns. Truly the sign of a deranged mind.
I stepped back out into the comfortable anonymity of an ear-splitting R&B bassline and a thought occurred to me: “D’you know a dancer called Melody?” I shouted.
“You know if she’s working tonight?”
“Haven’t seen her.” Father Jesse stopped me short in the middle of the hallway with a hand on my chest. “I’m not gonna tell you her secrets: her name, when she works, her number, whatever. She wants you to know she’ll tell you herself.”
“Yeah, no—I know,” I said. “I already—I—we been kinda seeing each other. I just found out she has a kid—I wanna tell her I don’t care, but she’s been avoiding me—” The words spilled out of me before I could stop them. Father Jesse just waited, listening. “This is stupid. I’m stupid. Sorry…”
“’S not stupid,” Father Jesse said. “You’re keen on her—I see that. She’s keepin’ you at arm’s length. She maybe needs the space to feel safe, y’know? You chase her down you’re gonna chase her away. Let her come to you.”
I pulled the Riot Fest pass out of my pocket and stared at it, feeling like a moron.
“Anyway, I brought her a pass. We’re playing Riot Fest—she said she’d come if I got her a pass, but…well…”
“You wanna give it to me? I’ll make sure she gets it.”
“Can I trust you?”
“I don’t know, can you?” He smiled, but it wasn’t a joke. “That’s the thing about faith, brother, y’never know if you get it right till afterwards. Sometimes you just gotta take the leap and hope for the best.” He peeled the lid off the coffee can and held it out to me. I stared at the open maw of it: waiting for my offering.
Take the leap. Hope for the best…
I dropped the pass inside.
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