FIESTA, CALIFORNIA | 1889
The empty field where Fox held his annual revival was packed solid by the time night fell. To the west, back toward town, a sea of faces—familiar and not—floated and were illuminated by the moon and myriad hanging lanterns. Above them all, stretched an anomaly to the night sky: a brilliant comet had appeared as if to portend significant events not yet defined as either beatific or satanic.
Philomena had wildly underestimated the number of her fellow town folk who must be feeling the need for a spiritual overhaul. The Good Reverend Mordecai Fox, the evening’s guide out of the wastelands of sin and dissolution had contracted for a hundred and fifty chairs to be set up under the large white canvas tent. It was already standing and swaying room only.
Fox had been in business long enough to have built a network of like-minded—that is, anyone with a interest in making a good little piece of change—laborers and security types, so that by the time he rolled into town, the show was practically ready to go. Fox reflected back that this year’s performance would be the lucky thirteenth time he had stopped into this little knuckle drag town to bring them the glorious Word.
“It’s almost showtime, boss,” Urias knocked on the side of the Gypsy wagon.
“How is the crowd, Aaron?” Fox spoke through the thin wooden door of the trailer.
Urias glanced back toward the mass of humanity, taking little notice of the late addition to the starry firmament. Signs and omens were Fox’s business, not his. “Well, boss, what I saw of the opening act wasn’t half bad. I think they are going to be ready to be feeling the healing.”
“That’s what I like to hear. I’m going to let them stew in their own juices for a few more moments, and then we’ll throw in some spice.”
“I’m ready when you are,” Urias answered and turned to meet a solitary figure approaching him at a concerning clip. His right hand automatically fell to his holstered Colt. “Good evening, friend. Is there something I can help you with?”
The figure stepped out of the shadows into the circle of light thrown by the lantern hanging above Fox’s door. Urias immediately recognized the man as Gilliam, the hardware man.
“’Evening, brother Urias,” Gilliam spoke and held out his good hand. “Keeping the good reverend here safe and sound?”
Urias hand hovered naturally above his leather for a moment before clasping the man’s own in a friendly shake. “Well, brother Gilliam, what a treat to see you out from behind that counter. I have to thank you for delivering the crate this afternoon. Are we to have the pleasure of your lovely wife’s company as well this evening?” An expert study of the human character, Urias noticed a small twitch in the man’s countenance before it was quickly and consciously hidden from him.
“Not tonight,” Gilliam apologized. “I’m afraid she is feeling a little under the weather. Tell me, is the good reverend available?”
“Sorry to hear about the missus, I hope she recovers soon,” Urias shifted his eyes to the Gypsy wagon. “You know how Reverend Fox gets before his sermon, I don’t … ” Urias noticed a sheen of sweat dripping from the man’s forehead. “Have you been running this evening?”
Gilliam raised both hands in a gesture of full disclosure. “I so wanted to have a word before … I promise, this will only take a minute of his time,” he angled. “I know how precious it is.”
“Make it quick then, brother. I’ve got to go make sure that our snake handler is still with us on this mortal coil.”
“You have my word,” Gilliam’s eyes flashed in the lantern light. “And please, call me Mortimer.
Urias hesitated before knocking on the wagon. “Reverend Fox, brother Mortimer Gilliam would like to have a word with you if it’s all right.”
“Mortimer!” Fox’s disembodied baritone rang the wooden walls of the caravan like a guitar. “Of course; send him in.”
Urias motioned for the man to mount the stair, and waited as Gilliam was welcomed inside. Something doesn’t feel quite right, he thought; still, he knew both men pretty well, and what was the worst that could happen? Now about that blasted snake handler.