FIESTA, CALIFORNIA | 1889
The preacher followed Philomena’s instructions to a dusty blue clapboard house on the main street of town. The girl jumped down from the horse and ran across the hard, sunbaked yard.
“Hold up!” Fox shouted. It slowly dawned on him that there might be something in that house that a child shouldn’t have to see. “Stop where you are, girl!”
Philomena stopped before reaching the wood-framed screen door hanging from a single hinge. Out of all the crazy things she had already witnessed that evening, perhaps the broken screen disturbed her the most. It wasn’t like her father, who took pride in his home—and happened to own the local hardware store—to let something like that stand unrepaired even for a moment. She was also not used to being shouted at and stood fast with a look of defiance that said at any moment she was going to continue on and nobody was going to stop her.
“I’m going to go in first and I’ll give you the all-clear if it’s safe.” Fox removed Gilliam’s instrument of self-destruction from his belt and carefully moved the broken screen. “I am deadly serious, child. Do not come in until I tell you that it’s all right.”
Philomena nodded her consent and Fox quietly stole inside the house, careful not to bring any attention to himself. He held the dead man’s gun in front of him, unsure of what he might be walking into.
Although he recognized the trappings of a comfortable merchant-class life, Fox couldn’t say that he admired them. The acquisition of glass hurricane lamps and white Irish doilies was not anything he had ever been interested in. Did these people not know material things would merely weigh them down? Did not the Son of God himself say it was easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle … ?
Fox’s reverie was cut short by the discovery of the former Mrs. Gilliam laid out on the parlor floor. Her delicate features were unmarred but a rich puddle of blood had pooled underneath her head. Her head … that face. Removed from the ill-fitting disguise of a shopkeeper’s wife and mother of a precocious young lady, Fox remembered Emilia Gilliam for who she once was. He chided himself for not remembering her earlier when she came to him, as so many did, for a private spiritual consultation.
On a night not unlike this one in many ways, the beautiful young woman had visited Fox after an impassioned sermon had driven them both to distraction. Fox was younger then and so filled with the Spirit that it often manifested itself in earthly ways that were traditionally seen as less than divine.
“Mother, where are … ?” Philomena stopped in her tracks and let out a scream that could be heard for miles.
“I told you to wait outside!” Fox admonished the girl out of pure reflex. He lowered the gun and went to her to comfort her as well as shepherd her back into the entryway. He was holding her as she shook into his black woolen vest when voices outside the house reminded him that for the second time that night he was standing over a prostrate body and holding the very weapon that, more than likely, was responsible for the sorry condition of both.
Fox crouched down to better look the distraught girl in the eyes. “Listen to me,” he searched the girl’s panicked face for connection. “Is there anyone I can take you to? An aunt or uncle?”
Philomena’s eyes struggled to focus on the lanky preacher’s face as her mind struggled to understand what he was asking.
“My father,” the girl began.
Fox took a deep breath and once again considered his options. He decided the situation, unlike many he found himself in, called for unvarnished truth.
“Listen, my dear, I don’t know what exactly happened here tonight, but I do know that your father is not coming back. Is there no one?”
The girl shook her head no.
“What about your little friend, the one you were with tonight?” Fox fished. “Can you stay with her family?”
Philomena shook her head, knowing all too well that the Narcisse household could barely afford to keep food on the table as it was. She didn’t need to add to their troubles. The girl began to realize how suddenly alone she was in the world.
“It’s settled then,” the preacher suddenly stood. “You can come with me, but we had better get out of here.”
The girl was not expecting that sort of offer and it caught her off-guard. “Why can’t we stay here?” she exclaimed. “It’s my house! My father … ”
“Listen, child. Your father is dead, all right?” Philomena’s trepidation began to erode his nerves. “Short of some kind of miracle, of which, I believe we’ve had our quota tonight, he is not coming home. Your mother … your mother cannot help you either. The longer I stand here with this … ” Fox tossed the pistol away into the corner and doing so helped calm him immeasurably. “The longer we stay here, the more likely I will be called upon to answer questions that have no good answers.”
“Where can we go?” The reality of the situation became clear for the girl and her natural sense of curiosity came to the fore.
Fox thought for a moment. “We are going to Hawai‘i. I have been corresponding with a woman out on one of the islands for some time. I believe she may give us sanctuary.”
Philomena, for her part, had only thought of Hawai‘i in the most abstract terms, if at all, and a flood of questions came tumbling out of her mouth driven primarily by an inability to deal with the present. “Do they speak English there? Are there headhunters?”
Fox laughed in spite of the gruesome night they were having. “Yes, of course they speak English. The Queen of Hawai‘i is a very cultured woman. She would never allow headhunting. I think you are confusing it with Borneo.”
“What about monkeys? Are there monkeys?”
“I really don’t know. I guess we’ll just have to find out.”
“I hope there are monkeys.”