“The Methodist Church on Main Street was the first God-fearing building in town, no matter what the Baptists would have you believe,” my father used to say. Funny that his love for the town’s history would supersede his Baptist origins.
I had few interactions with the Methodist church in my youth. We cut through their campus walking from the elementary school to go to the First Baptist for choir practice on Tuesdays. The Boy Scouts Troop 88 met on Thursdays in the basement of the building. Every Baptist that wanted a good table raced them to Lazy Susan’s after service was over on Sundays.
The first time I walked into their sanctuary was for a wedding. The last time my friend Jack had his baby baptized there. For years in between, I atoned.
When I came back from Florida, I changed a good many things about myself. Washed the dye out of my hair and threw out any thing that reminded me… I threw out a lot. As I started up library school, my graduate work, I took on things around town to get back in the community. Mom suggested it. The Methodist church was renovating at that time and I lent my help.
I met Bob Simmons there.
I went back today to meet him again.
“Mr. Banned,” Pastor Dave Baker said, pumping my hand when I walked into the fellowship hall, “We are setting up the chairs just over there, and the tables along the wall. Old fashioned potluck, you know?”
“People bringing their own stuff?” I said. Dave rubbed his hands together, his usual calm demeanor disturbed by the flurry of activity.
Dave nodded, “Yeah, yeah, that’s all you have to do is put the dishes on the table. I think Marjorie will have the… uh, you know… what table has what.”
“Sounds easy enough. Have you seen Bob? Is he here today?”
“Bob Simmons?” he said.
I nodded, “I hoped I could talk to him. Think he may be in a bit of trouble.”
Pastor Dave looked around, wiped his hands on his pants, “No. I don’t think he is. What kind of trouble?”
I lowered my voice and leaned in, “Been missing a few days. You know who the Yellow Bastards are?”
Dave’s thin lips pursed, “Heard around. The police think they might be the ones that broke into the cars a few Sundays ago. We and the Brother Flynn over at First Baptist went in on a roving security.”
“Methodists and Baptists working together?” I said.
He smiled, “End times, don’t you read the Internet?”
“Too much. Do you know when you saw him last?”
“Few months, but I’m sad to say that’s not strange. He comes and goes pretty often. Bob always… Well, I’ll be.”
I followed the pastor’s gaze and saw Bob Simmons walk into the doors of the fellowship hall. He had on a yellow shirt and what was left of his hair under a yellow rag. As I walked over to him, he smiled and nodded.
“Ev-O,” he said, “Heard you been looking for me. What’s up? Pastor Dave!”
Bob raised his hand to greet the minister. I walked over to him and motioned for the door. We walked outside, the bright sunshine warming the cool morning.
“Food smells good, huh?” Bob said.
“Yeah,” I said, looking at him. How do you tell a man his friends wanted to kill him? I surprised myself, “Bob, the gang’s gonna fucking kill you.”
Guess you do it like that.
His eyes closed and he looked down, “Man, not you, too.”
“Look,” I said, pulling the map I had printed out from my pocket. The creases were deep from days, but the color was bright, “Punkboy and Chuck came in the other day without you. Talked about taking you to this place.”
Bob looked at the map, taking the paper from me. He looked at the land, the trees and traced a finger down the road, “You show anybody this?”
“Been looking for you for days, Bob. Jessie, your grandma, even the cops didn’t know-”
“You called the cops on me, Ev-O?”
“They said they’d kill you, Bob.”
“Why do the cops wanna kill me?” he said, his eyes widening.
“Not the cops, Punkboy and Chuck. They said you were gonna go out here, that it was your last chance.”
“That’s what they said,” I said, looking at Bob.
“Guess I better not mess up then,” he said, smiling at me.
“What the hell does that mean?”
He crumpled up the map and made to throw it away, but instead put it in his pocket, “Nothing. I mean it. Look, everything’s cool. They were messing with you, that’s all. Knew you could hear them. This map? That was done nights ago and you don’t want to know anything about it, okay?”
“Yeah, that’s why I’ve been out and about. You worry too much. I kinda like it, but already got a grandma, kay?”
He put his hands on his head, “Can’t believe you called the cops. What did they say about the map?”
“Nothing. Parkman wouldn’t look at me.”
“I bet. Look, I mean it, right? Everything’s fine. The guys were just messing with you, pulling your dick, you know? Let’s go serve these church people some food.”
“Yeah. I guess. If you’re sure.”
He nodded, “Dude, everything’s fine. I promise.” His fingers crossed over his chest and he kissed the fingers and raised them to the steeple.
We walked back in and gathered platters as people came in, me on main courses and Bob on desserts. He would shout my name when something really good came in, “Dude! Brownies!” By the end of the dinner, when everything was eaten, the food boxed for delivery meals and the chairs put away, Bob had convinced me.
Everything might have just been in my head after all.