rolled through Organ Pipe National Monument and stopped at Why for
gas, as nearly every passing car did. The town consisted mostly of
a pair of gas stations with a thriving trade in ice cold Dr Pepper.
She spent the
hours rolling to Tucson reviewing the case of Brad Keller, a typical
scoundrel inhabiting the underbelly of southeast Tucson, trying to
hustle poker or pool, hanging out in alleyways to pop a pill or smoke
a joint. In going through his possessions in the Keller bedroom, Cosgrove
had come on a deep corner of his closet, behind the suits, where she
extracted a ball of clothing—if you could call it that. Everything
was old, stained in a variety of flavors, and tattered, more befitting
a man who had just hopped off a Southern Pacific freight than a mildly
successful real estate broker. Keller liked slumming. Mrs. Keller
said he probably patronized hookers when he couldn’t score a freebie.
driving with the windows wide open through this stretch of Tohono
O’odham reservation. The gentle fragrance of the desert through car
windows was as close as she got to nature, but she liked it when she
was there. By ten o’clock, there was no avoiding sealing off the car
from the atmosphere into air-conditioned isolation. By eleven, she
was approaching Tucson from the southwest on Ajo Way. She took it
across the south side of town to the base, curled around the air force
base on Golf Links Road and hung a left at Craycroft.
She thought she might spot Keller in the Voojoo temple for the noon
assemblage. The amateurs always went there hoping to buy drugs. They
were always disappointed.
She was half an hour early. She pulled into the Driftwood Lounge next
door with Iggy’s tail pointed at the Lamp Post Motel. She grabbed
a beer, a burger and an inning of the Phillies and Diamondbacks. At
ten till noon, she was in place in a back row of the temple, a discreet
distance from the door, but close enough to see faces clearly. Keller’s
rounded face was etched in her mind, those eyes that seemed to squint
in virtually every photograph, the pug nose and double chin. She waited.
The ceiling rose behind her into an arch all the way across the building,
standard form for a 1950s-era bowling alley. Cosgrove remembered the
Copa Bowl here years ago, how that arched ceiling drew the eye to
the pins at the end of the lanes. The Voojoo who bought the building
had wanted a dome, but thought the big hump-roof was a good compromise.
Voojoo scholars (such as they were) postulated endlessly on the metaphor
of the arched sky. The ceiling was painted black, dotted with thousands
of points set aglow with blacklight. The room was dimmed to electric
dusk. At precisely noon, it would go almost black for three minutes.
The only lights then would be the flicker of a match or a lighter
every few seconds, people starting early. If Keller came in early,
that’s when she would likely miss him. But if he did, she could spot
him once the pulpit lights faded up.
The congregants trickled in slowly. In the foyer, each donned a thin
black veil with flickers from iridescent threads, the Voojoo variant
on the Hebrew prayer shawl. Cosgrove cursed herself for not anticipating
the detail that would obscure a side view of the face. She thought
she knew these Voojoos, but hadn’t considered the necessary privacy
factor within the sect in which membership was mildly scandalous.
All she really
needed to see was that stocky form with the slumped shoulders. Two
such men passed by. It took only a moment to see neither was Brad
Keller. They, at least, had not yet put the prayer shawls up over
When the noon
darkness came, Cosgrove was ready. She stared into the darkest corner
of the sanctuary to get her eyes fully accustomed to the light. She
darted her eyes back at the entrance, but no one seemed to be coming
in. Why was she so sure he would be here? If Keller spent so much
of his time slumming, he might know better than to show up here. The
sudden flames popping up around the room made it hard to make out
the shadows drifting through the doorway. But there was no fat man.
She gnawed on
her lower lip. Wasn’t it three minutes yet? Two more shadows, these
wearing the shawls over their heads, came through the doorway. Women.
One of them, the smaller one, was walking uncomfortably, leaning on
her companion. They came slowly up the center isle and took seats
four rows in front of Cosgrove.
Still no fat man.
Still no lights. But the constant little flames popping up all over
the room were making it hard to see the darkness.
A big man entered.
Much too tall.
saw three lanky cowboys, their boots dragging across the floor. A
mother and son were stopped at the door. No children allowed; it would
generate too much public relations heat. A few couples arrived, none
of them shaped like Keller, and a lawyer she knew who looked around
furtively as he entered.
The light was
faint at first, a simulated dawn on the pulpit where the pins used
to fall. Faintly, the sounds of insects, birds and little gusts of
wind blew through. Then a voice, a chant, possibly in Arabic, wafted
through the chamber.
To the same tune,
the voice chanted a line of Hebrew. The congregation gave the same
response. Same voice, in an attempt at an Oriental tone sounded more
like a meowling cat. Chinese? Again the rejoinder, “Ah-ooohm.” It
was repeated in Greek, Latin, and finally English: “May the power
of the universe be laid upon your head.”
To which the congregation
responded an especially emphatic, “AAAH-OOOOOHM.”
Cosgrove was keeping
an eye on that door. The temple fell silent, save the continuing chirping.
The artificial dawn faded, and just as the darkness became complete,
a spotlight pierced the room and illuminated a glittering gold marijuana
leaf. On the leaf tips a Star of David, a Moslem moon, a crucifix,
a dollar sign and an atom lit up in succession.
An electric bass
laid down a reggae rhythm. In a puff of smoke on stage, a black man
with Rastafarian dreadlocks appeared with a guitar.
power of the universe be laid upon your head.
May the force of life continue past the time when we are dead.
May we live in peace and harmony, may we make a decent buck.
When the world around comes crumbling down
May we just not give a fuck.
Again the audience
chanted, then sang a second chorus with the cantor. Even with the
stage lights, Cosgrove couldn’t see any faces from the back of the
congregation. She eyed a seat at the end of the front row, a much
better vantage point. Still, she watched the entrance for the steady
stream of latecomers. After the song, the cantor backed to a corner
of the stage, but kept the beat going.
A sudden pop accompanied a puff of smoke on stage, but this time no
one emerged from the smoke. The wisps dissipated and there was another
burst of smoke, and seconds later, another. It was in the fourth burst
of smoke and noise that Rev Tobias finally appeared, clad in a satin
white bodysuit, trailing a black velvet, star-studded, high collared
cape, a tribute to the last days of Elvis.
Cosgrove smirked. The rev looked to be all of twenty-five.
She glanced back
at the door and caught the back of a man, a fat man, maybe just the
right size, walking up the center aisle and stopping about halfway
to the pulpit. Was that the slope to Keller’s shoulders? Maybe. Now
she coveted that front-row seat, but she waited for First Fire when
everyone stood to light up. She watched the fat man, glanced back
at the door every few seconds, and scanned the congregation as best
The ten minutes to First Fire felt like an hour, but she was ready
when the crowd stood. She eased down the row to the far aisle, walked
quickly through the smoke and took a deft sidestep to claim the prized
seat. She took a deep breath and allowed herself a nod of satisfaction.
She didn’t want to turn around too soon or too obviously. The congregation
was preoccupied watching Rev Tobias toke on a joint and dance to the
beat, and doing much of the same themselves. She turned slightly to
her left, then a little more until she could see the front half of
the congregation before turning her head. Her eyeballs straining left,
she turned her head slowly and drew the fat man in her sights.
note: The highly irreverent term "Voojews" is from an inspired
smartass remark uttered by Dr. Dr. Daniel B. Rosen (yes, two Ph.D.s)
who lives on the small island of Manhattan.
Slightly irregular science fiction by