Monday, June 23, 2008

Son of a Preacher Man by Sammie Jo Moresca

Tuesday afternoon, Bianca arrived at the Alabama worship hall of the Reverend Bobby McNaughton, planning to confront him about a sensitive matter. The pale, yellow grass contrasted against the brown leaves littering the edge of the woods. Moss slithered around the trunks of second growth oaks. Spring was stubborn this year.

The parking lot hosted only seven vehicles. It could have held seven thousand. She parked her white, hard-topped Jeep. The afternoon sun beat down on the windshield, warming her. As Bianca shoved the door open, her cell phone dropped onto the concrete. She stumbled out and grabbed it. A pulsating rumble approached. Smoothing her gray, knee-length skirt, she stood and shut her door, careful to lock it.

He parked his Harley in the space next to hers. She focused on his tattooed arms as he revved it up three times. He looked over at Bianca with the scariest eyes she had ever seen. She shuddered and hurried across the lot to the walkway.

She sat on a cold stone bench, carved in memory of someone's son. Looking at a side doorway, she could hear the gaggle of middle-aged women who congregated with cameras, bibles, and fried chicken.

"Hi, Desi," they cooed.

The tattooed man said, "Hello." He nodded and pushed the intercom button. Someone buzzed him into the reflective glass door.

So that was Desiderio McNaughton. Late twenty-something problem child of his righteous father, the great Revered Bobby McNaughton. The tabloids had chronicled Junior's life story, from high school high-jinks to his last overdose. There's probably one in every family. Kids of cops and preachers sometimes are the most troubled. She snorted. Yep, I'm the former, and look at what trouble I jumped into.

And that's how it went for the next four days. Bianca paced around the grounds of Fort God, waiting and watching for Reverend McNaughton. His female followers held vigil, sometimes singing hymns. Nobody ever penetrated the entrance of the church, except Desi. The doors remained locked. Worshipers were only allowed in on Sundays.

On Friday at five o'clock, Bianca realized this wasn't working. She'd have to find another way to get to see the reverend. The ladies had all left, and she decided to take a quick reconnaissance stroll around the grounds. Stained glass windows in teal, amber, and blood-red animated the beige stucco façade.

A rear door flung open. Bianca's breath hitched.

Desi stepped out. Shoulder length wavy black hair, full beard, neatly trimmed. And those scary cerulean eyes. Wild, don't-you-dare, I'll-kill-you, give-me-a-chance, please-love-me eyes. He said, "Hi."

Bianca nodded.

"You here to see 'im?"

"Yeah." She began walking toward the front of the building.

He joined her. "I've seen you 'round."

"Un-hunh." In the southern air thick with pheromones, she tried to act cool, despite her racing heart. This guy was scarier ... and hotter than she'd expected.

"He's not coming."

"Hunh?"

"My dad. He's rehearsing in a warehouse."

"Warehouse?"

"Yeah. I don't know his reasons. Wants to be top secret, I guess ... I'm Desi." He stuck his hand out.

Oh, no. I guess I have to shake it. She did, as she tried not to stare at his tattooed knuckles.

His shake was firm, and he smiled as he tried to look into her eyes. She wouldn't let herself stare into his.

"Well?" he demanded.

Her mind raced. "What?" She looked around the grounds, no one else was in sight. No one to witness ... him killing her ... him kissing her ... She shook off the danger in her fantasy and tried to focus.

"I told you my name, what's yours?"

"Oh ... sorry. Lor--uh ... Bianca."

He cocked his head. "Loruhbianca ... sounds like Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques." He sang the words.

"I mean, I'm Bianca."

"Whatever. So, are you comin' to the ball?"

"I ... don't know anything about it."

"I figured you were in town for the fundraiser. We always get a load of groupies in quarterly."

"Groupies?" What an odd choice of words. "You mean devout followers?"

"Nah, groupies. Females, nineteen to ninety, flocking to fornicate with the good reverend."

She furrowed her brow. "No, he's not like that..."

Desi spit into the well-manicured boxwoods. "Not that I've ever seen evidence of. But the women keep hoping. The younger ones even try to go through me. The older ones are grapefruits."

"Grapefruits?" A jet rumbled above them. She looked up at it.

"Sour. Too good for the likes of me, or who they pre-judge me to be."

She couldn't stop staring at the ice in his eyes as he mumbled an explicative.

The old grapefruits must be onto something. The son of a preacher man certainly doesn't respect me, talking that way. The ball, though, sounded like a good opportunity to have a talk with Reverend McNaughton. "How do I get a ticket?"

"Sold out. Always are. Just show up and crash."

"Okay. When and where?"

"Tomorrow night. At the Westwood resort. On the waterfront. Know it?"

"No."

"Well, I guess you're outta luck then."

She glared at him. "What's the dress code?"

"Black tie."

"So, evening gowns and tuxedos then?" Where the heck would she get an evening gown?

"Yeah, but I'm not dressin' up for those fuckers. They're all so caught up in their own asses, they don't care about me. I don't own a fuckin' penguin suit anyway.

"You're not attending then?"

"Oh, I'll be there. I'm the entertainment."

Bianca felt a pang of compassion in her stomach. "Don't be so hard on yourself."

"Hunh?"

He didn't seem to get what she meant.

Bianca asked, "What're you wearing then?"

"My mom said I should wear my kilt. I think I'll put my hair up, too."

Her eyes bugged. He laughed.

"I do have a plaid skirt, you know. From the clan. I'm a Puerto Rican-Scotsman."

"Your mother's Puerto Rican?"

"Yeah, I was born there. Dad was in Puerto Rico doing one of his annual summer salvation gigs and fell in love with the beauty queen." Desi's cell phone rang to the tune of "Bad to the Bone".

He answered, "What? ... Okay. On my way. Later."

He flipped the lid and put the small black phone in the chest pocket of his black tee shirt. "I've got a thing. See ya. At the ball, right? Just tell them your name is Schmidt or Finklestein or Frankenstein, or somethin'. Anything Jewish. They'll let ya in. Dress up pretty, and act like you're too good to fart."

Desi jogged off to his Harley.

She wondered why a Protestant reverend would attract a Jewish audience. And if the Salvation Army had any size ten evening gowns.

* * * *

Reverend McNaughton preached an interesting, uplifting sermon to benefit the Tsunami relief effort. Specifically, the organizations caring for the orphans. He left the stage and reappeared on the main floor, thanking the high rollers at the VIP tables. A crowd of women closed in on the pastor. Bianca tried to press forward, only to be shoved back by a thick-necked security guard. "No more pictures tonight. Give him space!"

Fine. It wasn't as if she'd be able to blurt out her business above the throng's din anyhow. Following the music, she made her way to the west side of the classy room, to where the band played. Looking at the lead singer, it suddenly made sense when Desi had told her he was the entertainment. The wild child looked dangerously delicious dressed in those long leather pants. He had a very smooth voice and the women were hooting at him. Yeah, you can dress 'em up, but give 'em an open bar and even prim and proper librarians will let their hair down. She couldn't get close to the preacher man's son, either.

Weaving through the intimate crowd of thousands, Bianca reached her table. She squeezed into her seat in between two distinguished drunks, and she broke a piece of white chocolate from the top of her dessert sculpture. It tasted even better than it looked.

Bianca felt like an imposter walking with the well-to-do. She didn't belong in this world. And she didn't even yearn to have the privilege and money these people did. She just needed to speak to the reverend and arrange to take back what he had in safe keeping.

"C'mon." Desi whisper-shouted in her ear as he pulled out her chair.

Startled, she hesitated. Where does he want me to go? With all the hot women here, why is he even bothering with me at all? She gulped down the champagne in front of her and decided to find out.

She followed him out of the ballroom, through the pre-party room and past the security at the pearl-curtained entrance. They took the escalator down to ground level. She stopped and removed her high heels. Holding the hem of her blue dress in one hand, shoes in the other, Bianca trotted after him. He held the door for her. They walked down the dock. A cold wind blew through her blonde up-do, a long strand broke loose. "It's gotten cold tonight."

"Yeah, it does that by the water. So, you have fun with the rich and pompous?"

She shrugged and said, "No." Then she blurted, "You did. It looked like you were dancing with cloned Paris Hiltons. I've never seen so many thin blondes in skimpy black dresses in my life."

"They're nobody."

"Well they seemed to have enjoyed your performance, and were hanging all over you afterward."

"Don't be fooled. I'm not. They're just trying to get to my dad through me. Always are. You, too, right?"

"What?" She felt the heat of shame rising up. "Yes, but ... no."

Desi stopped in front of a speedboat. He looked at Bianca.

She thought she saw his icy blue eyes twinkling in the halogen lights on the dock. No doubt something illegal caused the twinkle. Exhaling, she said, "Yes, I did come here to try to have a word with your father. But that's business. I don't wanna sleep with him."

"Business?"

"Unfinished business. But me hanging around you is accidental."

He laughed. "You feel like you're about to have an accident?"

"No. I mean, I didn't seek you out. You are just everywhere I happen to be."

"Okay then. You just happen to be following me around then. What're you, a private dickette or something?" He searched her eyes.

"No," she sighed. "That didn't come out right. I guess it does look like I'm following you, but really, it's all ... oh, I dunno."

"C'mon then." He stepped onto a boat ramp and reached for her hand.

"We can't just board somebody's boat," she protested.

"My boat." He snatched her shoes and tossed them on the deck. "C'mon, I'll buy you a drink."

She fumed at the loss of her footwear. No way was she getting aboard a boat after midnight with a strange problem child with spooky eyes.

Desi leaned over and put his hands on her waist. He picked her up a foot off the ground, swiveled, and set her aboard.

She asked, "You got a restroom?"

"Below deck, first door on the left."

Navigating the narrow ladder in her evening gown was no easy feat. It was probably ruined by now, but oh well. She wouldn't need it again. Frustrated that she couldn't fit inside the small enclosure and deal with the folds of all that taffeta, she unbuttoned, unzipped, and stepped out of the long skirt, tossing it over the back of a chair before entering the head. She felt the propulsion of the vessel as she did what needed to be done. Oh no no no no no. He's set sail. She heard the motor.