Funny thing is, I met The Reverend because of my parole officer. You get out and you got nothing and nobody sees you – you might as well be invisible. That’s what I told my parole officer and he wrote something down on a sheet of paper and handed it to me and said “Go see this guy” and I did.
The Reverend started his place while I was inside, a little more than a year ago. The Sunshine Mission was down by the river in a rundown area, in some old buildings that used to be warehouses or factories of some kind. When I found the place there were three of four guys standing around outside, a couple more inside. It was pretty shabby, really. The Reverend had an office with some beat up furniture and all this spiritual stuff – posters and such – plastered all over the walls and when I introduced myself and told him my parole officer sent me he pointed to a chair and said “Sit.” His desk was stacked up with folders and books and he saw me looking at all that stuff and said, “They never forget.” He let that hang there like I’d know what he was talking about. I had no idea what he was talking about.
He stood up, walked around his desk and leaned back on it, pointed at the tattoos on my arms and said, “Shouldn’t have done that.” I didn’t respond. Inside, I learned saying nothing was a sure way to steer clear of trouble. “People see those things, they know they weren’t done in some expensive tattoo parlor.” He was right. Mine looked like hell. I didn’t like ‘em either, but inside you join up with whoever will have you.
I handed him some paperwork, he looked through it, dropped it behind him on his desk and said “You got to find some work right away. You know that, right?”
I did. I nodded.
“What can you do?”
It was the simplest of questions and I was tired of hearing it. I’d been hearing it my whole life. “I worked in the kitchen inside,” I said.
He got me a job, four days a week. Sometimes five. There was a hat and a shirt I had to wear and I was okay with that. My job was dropping frozen potatoes into a fry basket, dropping the basket into oil, pulling it out and getting the fries into these little boxes. I watched burgers fry, too. Chicken went into the fry basket. It was easier than working in a prison kitchen and I got paid on Friday and The Reverend took about half of what I made and I didn’t complain. I kept in touch with my parole office and when he asked how things were going I said fine and when he asked me about the job I said it was fine and when he asked how I was getting along at the mission I said fine. He told me “Don’t lose that job” and I assured him I wouldn’t.
I got to know the other guys at the mission a little bit. We played cards in the evening sometimes. There wasn’t no television. Lights-out was 10 p.m. On days I didn’t work The Reverend had me do stuff around the mission, painting and carpentry and picking up whatever needed picking up. I’d have conversations with him on occasions. He wasn’t a big guy, but you look at him and the first thing you think is “this guy knows how to handle himself.” He never raised his voice.
He’d preach on Sunday mornings. He’d read from the Bible and talk about it and ask if anyone had questions and usually there wasn’t no questions. The last time we talked – this is years ago now – he kept telling me to keep an eye out. “They never forget.” He kept saying that and it wasn’t so much a warning as it was … I don’t know … maybe it was a warning. I never knew him real good. I don’t think anybody did. If he had past, he never talked about it. If he was on edge all the time, and I think he was, he hid it pretty good. He ran the place like a drill sergeant.
When I got released from parole – eighteen months after I got out - we had another conversation. He kept insisting on the same message, the same thing. Be prepared. Keep an eye out. Life will get you when you let your guard down. That kind of stuff. I told him I was thinking about moving on.
“Where you think you’re going?”
I didn’t have an idea. None. He said “If you’re thinking about starting over – I’m not trying to talk you out of it – but if you’re thinking about starting over, don’t just hop on a bus and go anywhere. Think it through. Think about what you’ve done. That’s gonna follow you. Don’t think it won’t. And don’t think you can get lost in a crowd. Everybody thinks you can get lost in a crowd. You can’t. Not if somebody wants to find you.” He had his arms folded across his chest, staring at me. “Find yourself a quiet spot somewhere. Find somewhere nobody thinks about, out of the way, where you can stay out of trouble. That’s the best you’re gonna get. Think about that.” I thanked him and told him I’d do some thinking and that seemed to satisfy him. That’s the only time he shook my hand.
Couple months later I’m walking home from work – I’d worked a night shift – and I get up near the mission and there’s cop cars everywhere, cherries flashing. There’s an ambulance, too. Maybe two ambulances. Story I heard later was some guys come busting into the mission – middle of the night – hollering for The Reverend. That’s what the other guys at the mission say. They come out running and The Reverend sends them all back to bed – they say it’s the first time they heard him really raise his voice and he raised it real good – and eventually it all quiets down and in the morning them guys wake up and The Reverend is gone and there’s two dead guys in the mission. One’s in The Reverend’s office, and one’s by the front door. The cops find another dead guy in a car, not all that far away.
That pretty much puts the kibosh on the Sunshine Mission. There was a couple of us stayed around – the cops questioned all of us, seems like for days – but we were all gone inside sixty days. The little thinking I’d done about moving on, I had to fire it all up again, and I did. I moved on.
Couple years later I’m living in Superior, Wisconsin. I lucked out going there, really. It was small enough and out of the way and I found work fast – two part-time jobs – and found me a decent place in a half decent neighborhood. I’m working and I’m staying away from trouble and I’m not crazy about the winters, but the summers are worth staying for.
Then I bumped into The Reverend.
Actually, he bumped into me.
I had me a car and one Sunday I drove up to Duluth – it’s less than an hour away – just to see it, just to be doing something. I was just killing time, walking around downtown; it’s all closed up on a Sunday, but I’d never been there before, I hadn’t made the effort.
I wish I’d never gone there.
When I was walking back to my car I felt somebody behind me but I didn’t turn around. You learn not to always turn around so fast. Just keep going. Going forward is keeping out of trouble. Backwards is trouble. When I touched the handle on my car door another hand landed on mine and I turned and saw this guy, chunky, shaved head, big beard. When I looked into his eyes I knew right away who it was and I didn’t smile. Spooked me, I’ll tell you that. Spooked me good. I was glad it was daylight.
“You follow me?” he asked.
I was scared right off. It don’t bother me to say that one bit. He said it like he said everything: quiet, simple, no emotion. Inside you learn to think fast and I did. “Buddy, I don’t know you from Adam.” I looked up and down the block, everything closed. No traffic.
He didn’t hesitate. “Yeah, you do,” he said, and his hand was still on my hand it tightened up a bit and he looked up and down the block, looked back at me and said, “Follow me.”
He turned around and walked and I followed, all the time wondering why I’m following him. There ain’t nobody out. Not a soul. I could’ve walked away. That’s what I think. I could have. We walked a block, then another, heading toward the lake, and he walks us into a coffee shop of some sort and we sit at the window and he orders two coffees, looks at me and says, “You want something to eat?” and I said no.
A young guy brings us two coffees and The Reverend looks at me and says, “I’m not leaving here.” Just like that. I wasn’t sure what that meant. “But you are,” he said.
I sip at my coffee, blow on it, looking down, and he said, “They showed up. That’s what happened back there. At the mission. That’s what happened.” The Reverend was staring at me, deadpan, like he always did. It’s like every word out of his mouth is an effort because it’s a cold, hard fact. “I did what I had to do,” he said.
I knew what he was talking about and wished I didn’t. I wasn’t asking no questions. I learned there are things you don’t want to know.
“I ever treat you wrong?” he asked.
I sighed. “No. No, you didn’t.” I tried to smile, looked at him and said “But you took a big chunk of my little bit of money, don’t you think?”
He shrugged and we sat there, quiet. He was looking out the window most of the time. Finally he said “You gotta go. Sorry. You can’t be here. I can’t trust you. I’m not saying you’re following me … how would I know? … but you remember what happened don’t you?” And he put those cold eyes on me and I knew what he meant. Outside, a cop car went by and I’m thinking “How did this happen? What twist of fate put me right here with this guy, again?” I knew what he was telling me. He didn’t have to do no explaining. He wasn’t asking and I’m sitting there thinking where do I go? I know I gotta go, but where?
“You got Wisconsin plates,” he said. “Where you at in Wisconsin?”
I didn’t answer. I could stay mum for as long as I wanted. Now it was me looking out the window. He didn’t push it. He’d made his point.
“Take your time,” he said. “Plan it out. Iowa maybe. Nebraska. Everybody’s looking for help these days, right? You can find a job anywhere.”
He was right. The times meant a con with some years of straight-and-narrow could find work. I could find work, I knew that. I didn’t have much to move, I knew that, too. I wasn’t sure how fast I had to move, but I knew I had to move soon.
“I don’t want nothing to happen to you,” he said. The Reverend could always say simple things and make them sound … I don’t know … not so simple.
He stood up, walked over to the counter and paid, pointed into the case and had some coffee cake thing wrapped up, came back to me and handed it to me. “It never stops,” he said.
I had no idea what his life was like. How could I know? But I knew he wasn’t no preacher. I knew that years ago and so did the guys at The Sunshine Mission and nobody – not one of us – ever said a word about that. We – all of us – knew there was something going on with him. Nobody was stupid enough to ask. There are things you don’t want to know. Maybe The Reverend didn’t kill those guys. I didn’t believe that, but I sure as hell didn’t know anything that would put him behind bars. Did he think I did? Is that what he was thinking?
“Take your time and think it through,” he said. “Be smart.” He looked back at the guy at the cash register, turned and looked at me. “Let’s not meet like this no more.”
I spent maybe a year in Michigan. Didn’t like it that much and moved to Iowa where I got a pretty decent job that paid more than I thought I was worth. A year or two later, I’m watching the news and there’s these murders in Duluth, Minnesota. The news says the bodies are hard to identify. There’s two bodies found down by the lake, then police find a dead body in a car at a rest stop on the interstate and the news says the police are thinking they’re related.
Iowa was nice, but after a while I felt uncomfortable. Just not comfortable. I was skittish and wasn’t sure why. There wasn’t nothing I could do to shake that feeling so I moved again, thinking I got to pay attention. Stay alert. Keep my eyes open.
Nebraska was next and I lucked out and got me a job driving and every time I took a load through Ohio it was beautiful, and I started thinking about Ohio. Ohio ain’t as cold as Nebraska and I was tired of the cold. I mentioned that at work and the boss said they had a depot in Ohio I could probably drive out of there if I wanted to and I said I might try that and I did.
Been here now for years and I like it just fine. I mostly drive I-70 east, sometimes a little west, it’s all interstate. Easy. I’m in my apartment a week ago and the TV says there’s been these murders in Cincinnati. There was two bodies found down by the river and another body found in a car somewhere and the police are saying it looks like something that happened in Duluth a year or so back and they say maybe the FBI are gonna get involved.
I’m north of Cincinnati, closer to Dayton. It’s nice most of the time, winter or summer. I ain’t never been in Cincinnati and I’m not likely to be going anytime soon.
Kreuiter lives, reads and writes in the Midwest. A
typographer (he watched the linotype die), he has published fiction in
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Sou’wester, Literally Stories, Halfway Down
The Stairs and other online and print publications.