“There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
I left the house and went to a coffee shop I like to frequent. They were friendly with people like me, and they didn’t hassle us to leave for fear we would run off customers. Sheila, one of my favorite servers, approached with a smile. “Wow, Matt,” she cooed, “Would you look at you.”
I smiled and replied, “Shut up, Sheila, and give me my regular cup of coffee.”
She leaned over the counter and asked, “Got a hot date today?”
I laughed and said, “You’re worse than Dexter.” I shook my head. “No date. Just got stuff to do.”
“That stuff must be hot for you to dress all up,” she giggled as she turned and got me my coffee. She sat a cup in front of me. “Black, like you like it.” She gave me a wink and walked away.
After drinking my coffee, I called Sheila over. “I ain’t got a phone. Do you think you can call me an Uber driver?”
She gave me a skeptical look. “Uber? Hell, you probably can’t afford that cup of coffee.” She pointed to the empty cup. Her eyes widened when I pulled out a bunch of twenties from my pocket. “Where did you get that? You rob some place?”
I laughed and said, “No, I didn’t rob some place. Besides, you don’t want to know.”
“I already know,” she laughed. “Dexter was in the other day. He told me about your new ‘job.’ She laughed again as she made a quote sign when she said job. She leaned forward and asked, “Where you going, Honey? Why do you need Uber?”
“I told you,” I replied. “I got stuff to do.”
“Give me a minute, Matt,” she said. “I got a couple of customers I have to wait on. A few minutes later, I noticed her take out her phone and make a call. She looked over and gave me a thumbs up.
Ten minutes later, she looked out the window as a car pulled up. “That’s your ride,” she informed me. She winked and said, “Have fun.” I nodded, walked out and got in the car.”
“Where to, Buddy?” the driver asked. He was a middle-aged man who looked to be in a hurry.
“1954 Maple Drive,” I replied. Fifteen minutes later, we were pulling up to a large church. It hadn’t changed in the last five years. The parking lot was full as people strolled into the church. I noticed Pastor Simpson’s wife standing at the doors greeting members as they entered.
“You want me to pull up to the entrance?” asked the driver. “Or do want me to drop you off here?”
“Here is fine,” I replied as I handed him a fifty.” He looked at it and then at me. “Can you wait for me? I won’t be long.” He nodded, and I got out. I walked across the street and stood behind a large tree. I didn’t want anyone to see me, especially my parents. I wasn’t sure they still attended the church. As far as I knew, I didn’t even know if they were still alive.
I continued to watch members enter the church. I then noticed a black Lexus approach and pull into the parking lot. I watched as my parents got out. Mom hadn’t changed much, but my father seemed to have aged. His dark hair was turning white, and his appearance was much older. He was also walking much slower than he did.
I immediately felt rage surge through my body. Seeing them once again brought back all the horror I had to endure as a young boy. They had abandoned me when I was just sixteen. After leaving me with Pastor Simpson, I never saw them again. They never tried to contact with me. They were entering a church of worship, but they were hypocrites. They had given up the one thing that should have been sacred to them-their child. I had wandered the streets for years trying to find a safe place to live while they lived a comfortable life unconcerned what had happened to me.
As I watched them embrace Pastor Simpson’s wife, I was consumed with hate. I knew that I had to carry out what I had thought about all last night- revenge. I looked at my watch. It was now eleven. I sat down and waited. I could hear music coming from the church. Fifteen minutes later, the music stopped, and I recognized Pastor Simpson’s voice emanating across the street.
I rose and started walking toward the church. I looked back to make sure the Uber driver hadn’t pulled off. When I opened the door, I took a deep breath and entered the large foyer. A small woman approached, looked at her watch and said, “You’re very late, Dear. You’ll have to sit in the back pew so you won’t disturb Pastor Simpson’s sermon.”
I smiled and replied, “I won’t.” She opened the door and directed me where to sit. A woman smiled and scooted over to make room for me. Pastor Simpson didn’t seem to notice me. Of course, I had my clothes on, so he wouldn’t.
“I am telling you, Children of God,” he shouted as he paced back and forth across the stage. “We are at the end of time.” He held his Bible into the air. “God tells us that we will see evil and wickedness consume the earth before the Rapture.” He stopped and looked out into the congregation. “Are you ready for the day that Jesus arrives?” There was a loud chorus of “Amen!” I looked to the front of the church and saw my parents sitting in the third row. My mother was holding her hands in the air and waving a small Bible.
Pastor Simpson again asked in a screaming voice, “I ask you, are you ready?” He smiled as the congregation erupted in shouting and applause.
He began to speak in a softer voice. “It won’t be long, Brother and Sisters of God. Be washed in the blood of the lamb. Ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins.”
I couldn’t take his sanctimonious rantings any longer. “And what about you, Pastor Simpson?” I shouted as I stood and walked down the aisle toward the stage. “Are you going to ask your Jesus to forgive you for lusting after men?”
Gasps echoed throughout the sanctuary as I spoke. “What about it, Pastor Simpson?” I made sure to stress the word pastor. “Are you going to ask your Jesus to forgive you for trying to feel on my cock in a gay bar last night?”
I watched as the blood drained from his face as I drew nearer. “Stop that man!” He shouted nervously. “Get that pervert out of here!”
I laughed. “Me?” I shouted. “I’m the pervert?” I looked over to my right and noticed my mother and father sitting in the middle of the pew. I pointed to them and shouted, “Oh how righteous can you be when you toss your own son out on the streets at sixteen, Mother and Father Dear?” My father started to rise, but my mother grabbed his arm and pulled him back to his seat.
“Get out!” shouted Pastor Simpson. Suddenly, three men surrounded me and attempted to pull me away.
“Fuck you, Pastor Brown,” I shouted loudly as I wrestled away from the men and stood at the foot of the altar. “Tell them about the secret life you lead. Tell them how you are nothing but a perverted cocksucker like me!” I unbuttoned my shirt and removed it while I wrestled with the three men who were trying to contain me. “You want me now? You wanted me last night when I was dancing naked in front of you!” I could hear loud gasps from the congregation around me. Several were standing and leaving their seats and heading for the exits.
“Liar!” shouted Pastor Simpson.
I replied, “Am I really you degenerate pervert!”
“Shut up!” he shouted as he reached under the platform and pointed a small revolver at me. When one of the men pulled my arm back, the gun went off and I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder. The congregation erupted into total chaos. People were screaming and trying to leave their seats. Even the men who had tried to contain me ran toward the exit.
“You sick pervert!” shouted Pastor Simpson as he again pointed the gun at me. A second shot pierced my arm. I grabbed it and winced in pain. He looked down at me with rage in his eyes. Then he turned and ran to the back of the stage and disappeared behind a curtain. I wanted to follow him, but I was in too much pain.
I turned and ran toward the exit. As I ran through the lobby, I glanced to my right and saw my mother’s head buried in my father’s chest as she wept. He looked at me with a look of utter disgust.
I bolted out the door and jumped into the back of the Uber car. He turned when he saw the blood oozing from my shoulder and arm. “What the fuck is going on?” he asked. “What happened in there?”
I winced in pain. “Get me out of here!” Several angry men were approaching the car. The driver hit the accelerator and drove quickly away.
He turned and asked nervously. “What went on back there?” He stopped the car and said, “I think you should get out.”
“Please,” I begged. “They’ll kill me if they catch me.”
“I’m taking you to the hospital,” he informed me. I nodded and rested my head. I was in too much pain to argue with him.
Even though I used my shirt to try and contain the bleeding, blood still oozed onto the backseat. The driver kept looking back to see if I was still alive. Ten minutes later, he sped into the hospital emergency and slammed his breaks. He jumped out of the car and ran inside. Minutes later, he emerged with three attendants pushing a gurney. I also noticed a police officer behind them.
They carefully removed me from the car and placed me on the gurney. I was then pushed through the doors, down a long hall and into a room. Two doctors were waiting for me. They quickly examined my wounds, and I heard one tell the other, “We should get him into surgery.” A nurse inserted an IV into my arm, and seconds later I was unconscious.
‘Where am I’ I asked myself as I tried to open my eyes. I attempted to put my hand to my eyes to block out the bright lights shining from above, but I felt a sharp, stabbing pain in my arm.
“Don’t move your arm, Matt,” said a soothing voice to my side. I focused my eyes and saw a young nurse holding down my arm.
I asked, “Who are you?” I tried to sit up, but the nurse placed her hand gently on me.
“You don’t remember?” she asked.
“Remember what?” Suddenly, my mind was overwhelmed by thoughts of what happened. I recalled Pastor Simpson pulling out a gun and shooting me. What happened after that was vague, but I do remember being driving to the hospital. I looked at the nurse and asked worriedly, “How bad am I hurt?”
She smiled warmly down at me. “You’re very lucky. Your wounds weren’t serious.”
Just then, someone knocked on the door and entered. It was a police officer. He walked over and asked the nurse if she would leave us alone for a few minutes. She patted my hand and then left the room.
He pulled a pad from his breast pocket and looked down at me. “Matt Stevens?” I nodded my head. “I’m Sergeant Lattimore. I want to ask you a few questions about what happened at the church.”
I replied, “I don’t remember too much. I just remember Pastor Simpson pulling a gun and shooting me.”
“Yes, well,” he responded. “The homicide detectives are working that aspect.”
“Homicide?” I asked worriedly. “Am I going to die?” I seemed to be okay, but I was worried my injuries may be worse than the nurse said.
“No,” he replied as he studied my face. “No one has told you yet?”
“Told me what?” I asked. “I just woke up a few minutes ago.”
He waited a minute before responding. I was becoming increasingly worried. Finally, he said, “Pastor Simpson is dead.”
“What!” I responded excitedly. “I didn’t kill him! I never touched him.”
“Relax, Matt,” the officer said. “We know that. He killed himself.”
“What?” I asked incredulously.
“After the incident with you,” he informed me, “He went to his office and locked himself in. When we busted down his door, he shot himself in the head.”
“Damn,” I responded as I lay my head back on the pillow. The son of a bitch was dead. I know it was wrong to feel the way I was feeling, but I was glad that he was gone. Animals like him didn’t deserve to live. He had ruined my life, and I had tried to ruin his. Even though I had no idea things would end as they had, I was glad that my ordeal was now over.
I looked up at the sergeant and asked, “What’s going to happen now?”
“I came here today to let you know that you will be receiving some citations,” he replied.
“Citations?” I asked. What citations.”
He responded, “I’m not going to issue them to you until you’re out of here.” He looked down at his pad. “Right now, you’re looking at charges of disrupting a peaceful assembly and disorderly conduct.”
I asked worriedly, “Are you going to arrest me?”
“No,” he assured me. “Before you leave here, I’ll write up a few citations. You will probably have to show up in court and pay a fine.”
He smiled and replied, “Yep. That’s it. Now, unless you have any questions, I’m going to go.” He patted me on my arm. “You’re a lucky man. We don’t see too many people who get shot twice and walk away without serious injuries.”
“Thanks,” I said as he left the room.
I lay my head back and tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t. It was still difficult for me to forget what had happened. I couldn’t believe that Pastor Simpson killed himself. I guess he couldn’t face his family and congregation after I had revealed the secret life he was living. He led them to believe he was the perfect righteous man. However, he lived a secret life no better than me. I was curious how long he had kept up this charade. Was he doing it when he was attempting to convert me? If he was, then he exhibited the highest form of hypocrisy. He was trying to change me when he was the one who needed help. I was just a kid. He was married and a respected member of the community.
I lay back and smiled knowing he was dead. My revenge had been accomplished.
The young nurse entered the room. She checked my vitals and the IV’s still in my arm. “How are you feeling?”
“Not too bad,” I replied. I was becoming more aware of my injuries, and I realized I wasn’t in much pain. However, it could be the medications I was on that was blocking any pain.
She looked up at the clock. It was almost six. Seven hours had gone by since I first entered the church this morning. “Your physical therapist will be here shortly.”
“Physical therapist?” I asked. “Why do I need a physical therapist?”
She pulled back my gown and looked under the bandage on my shoulder. “You got shot in the shoulder,” she explained. “It damaged some muscle tissue. He will explain to you some exercises you may need to do when you get released.”
“When will I be released?”
“It’s not for me to say,” she replied, “but I wouldn’t imagine you would have to be here more than a day or two.” She replaced my gown back into place. “I have more patients I need to see,” she said. “Get some rest.” I watched as she left the room.
I turned on the television and watched the evening news. I was surprised when the lead story was about Pastor Simpson. They praised him for his contributions to the community. They interviewed several of the church members, and the spoke about how much they admired him. They didn’t mention that he had killed himself. They only reported that he had died suddenly in his office. I was curious if they would mention me, but nothing was said about me disrupting the service. I guess they were going to lead the viewers to believe that Pastor Simpson was a good and righteous man who had died of natural causes inside his office. I didn’t care as long as he never ruined another boy’s life like he had mine.
The door opened and an aide entered carrying a tray. “Hungry?” she asked. I nodded my head. “You didn’t fill out a food order, so the kitchen sent up what we thought you might like.” She put the tray on the table and moved it so it was in front of me. She lifted the top and described the contents. “Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn” she said. There was also a container with pudding.
“Looks good,” I replied as she smiled and left the room. It wasn’t too bad. Of course, for someone who had eaten off the streets for years begging for scrapes, it could have been dog food and I would have enjoyed it. When I finished, I lay back, closed my eyes and listened to the television.
About a half hour later, someone knocked on the door and I opened my eyes. Dexter stood at the head of the bed looking worriedly down at me. “Damn, Dude,” he exclaimed as he walked to the side of the bed and gripped my hand, “What the hell did you do?” He brushed back my hair. “Are you okay, Matt?”
“Yeah,” I assured him. “I’m okay. I got shot twice, but the injuries weren’t too bad.”
I spent the next few minutes telling him what I could remember. I told him how I had taken an Uber to the church. My plan was to confront Pastor Simpson later, but when he started ranting like he did, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to expose him before the congregation. I then told Dexter how the driver had brought me to the hospital.
“I bet that pastor guy was upset, huh?” he asked.
I remember that the media was disclosing the fact that Pastor Simpson had killed himself. When I told Dexter, he appeared angry. “That son of a bitch does what he did to you, and now people don’t know what really happened? That’s fucked up.”
“It’s fucked up,” I replied, “but the son of a bitch is dead.”
“They can’t keep something like that a secret,” he replied. “Maybe someone should call the television station and tell them what really happened.”
“No, Dex,” I pleaded. “If you do that, then my name will get out.”
“Then you can tell your story,” Dexter replied. “Tell them what he did to you.”
I gripped his hand. “Just let it be, please?”
“You know it’s going to come out,” he replied worriedly. “He was a big shot. They’ll find out sooner or later.”
“Just don’t get involved, okay,” I begged.
“Okay,” he grinned as he leaned down and kissed me gently on the lips. “God, I was so worried when I heard what happened to you.”
“How did you find out?”
“You know the guy they call Crazy Dan?” he asked. I nodded my head. Crazy Dan was a street person. Rumor had it that he overdosed on some bad heroin years ago. Since then, he roams the street talking to an imaginary cat. “He told Sarah, the girl upstairs, that a guy had been shot inside a church.” He gripped my hand tightly. “I just knew it was you. When I came to the hospital and asked if they had a patient with your name, they gave me this room number.”
I squeezed his hand. “I’m glad you’re here.” He sat in a chair, and we talked for a while as we watched television. Jeopardy was on, and I was surprised how smart Dexter was. He answered the questions many times before the contestants did. He laughed when I told him he should try out for the show.
“You really think they are going to let a bum like me on a show like that?” he laughed.
“You’re still smarter than any of them,” I said. He sat back and smiled.
Dexter left about fifteen minutes later. He said it was getting late, and he had to help a friend move to another place. He kissed me before leaving. I watched television, and I had just closed my eyes when someone appeared at the door. He was a young black guy wearing a white medical jacket. I figured it was the physical therapist whom the nurse had told me about earlier.
He was reading his clipboard when he entered. “Matt,” he said as he attempted to read my name. “I wish doctors would learn to write,” he huffed as he read my name. “Matt Stivers?”
“Matt Stevens,” I corrected him. He looked up and our eyes met.