Authors: James L. Rubart
Tags: #Suspense, #General, #Christian, #Religious, #Fiction
Corin told him the story of the pipe. When he finished Tesser said, “Fascinating. Utterly fascinating.”
Tesser picked up his coffee and poked at the outside of the cup with a twig for a long time before answering. “I’ve always liked you so much, Corin.” He turned and smiled. “You were my best student ever. And my friend. I’m sorry.”
A burst of autumn wind rained leaves down around them like giant gold snowflakes.
“That you have to get mixed up in all this.” Tesser dug into his kneecap with his fingers.
“What are you talking about?”
Tesser sighed. “No, I think I’ll leave it at that.” He stood and ambled over to the bridge that crossed over the stream that flowed out from the pool under the falls and stared down at the water.
“Uh, I don’t think so.” Corin stood and joined Tesser on the bridge, waiting till his old professor looked up. “Talk to me. What are you worried about?”
The old man puffed out his cheeks till he looked like a giant squirrel with a mouth stuffed full of marshmallows. “Think about it. Any time you get an object or an idea that purports to have powers beyond our understanding, you start attracting others like . . . like . . .” He swatted at another mosquito that landed on his arm. “See what I mean?”
“Bloodsuckers out for my chair.”
“Well, someone convinced that woman to lock you in that pipe.” Tesser rubbed the blood from the dead mosquito on his arm. “But they want more than blood, more than the chair. They want its power. They’ll be coming out of the woodwork soon. And they’ll be willing to do anything to get it.”
“I think I know who is behind all this. This religious whacko has been after me to see the chair, telling me he can protect me from its powers.”
“Does it matter?”
“No, I suppose not, but still.” Tesser shuffled his feet on the concrete as if he was doing an impromptu dance. “Maybe it matters. Maybe not.” His feet kept moving. “If the Mob was after it, that would be different than if it was a lady running a local day-care center.”
“Hey, some of those day-care ladies are pretty tough.”
“It’s a guy named Mark Jefferies. Pastor of a huge church down around La Jolla.”
A startled look flitted across Tesser’s face and vanished a moment later.
“You know him?”
Tesser looked away. “No, but I’ve heard of him.”
The professor waved his hands above his head. “Doesn’t matter, but it proves my point.”
“That people are coming after it.”
“Yes. Exactly. Which means it must be hidden well.” Tesser waved his hands again. “You must hide it. I want no part of that piece of this chaotic equation.”
Corin tapped his knuckles on the railing and watched the curtain of mist float across the pond at the base of the falls that hid the surrounding foliage.
Tesser shuffled over the end of the bridge and back, grabbing the scraggly tufts of gray sprouting out of his chin and yanking on them like he was starting a leaf blower. “Where is the chair now?”
“It’s in my vault in the store.” Corin lied. He was done trusting anyone 100 percent, including Tesser. Including Nicole.
“Not good. Not safe. Need to have it someplace safe.”
“No one is breaking into that thing.”
Tesser stopped pulling on his goatee and glared at Corin. “The right people can break into anything.”
His friend was right. His basement wasn’t secure enough. The incident in the pipe convinced him he needed to move the chair to the secret bunker he’d built years ago in the woods behind his house. He would move it soon.
“Any thoughts on where I should hide it?”
Tesser paced past Corin and back three times before answering. “Maybe to my house.”
Tesser stopped and stared. “You must move it to my house. Soon. Tonight.”
“Why yours? I thought you said you didn’t want to get wrapped up in this problem.”
“Equation. I said equation, not problem.”
The surge of a car engine startled Corin. He turned to see a Honda Accord with tinted windows pull into the parking lot.
“I thought you said no one would be coming out here today but us.”
The car crunched over the gravel parking lot straight toward them.
“Let’s take a little walk,” Corin said.
“You are paranoid.”
“Thank you.” Corin strode down the path on the other side of the bridge, glancing back to make sure Tesser kept up with him. “C’mon, let’s move.”
The old professor shuffled along somewhere between a slow jog and a fast walk.
“A little faster, Prof., yeah? I don’t think we want to be meeting any new friends at the moment.”
“I haven’t moved like this in decades, maybe centuries.”
They turned left down a path that would provide a screen of trees in another thirty yards.
“You with me?” Corin asked as he looked over his shoulder.
“Can’t we wait to see if it’s Guido before I give myself a coronary?”
Corin turned and grabbed Tesser’s elbow to support him but kept walking, backward now, and stared at the car. It stopped at the edge of the parking lot closest to them. Why did the car have to be black? Somehow sky blue would make him feel better.
A few seconds passed and the passenger door opened. A moment later the driver’s door opened. Two women got out. Young, probably mid-twenties. Camera bags were slung around their necks.
He breathed deep. Paranoid for nothing. What was wrong with him? Corin glanced at Tesser. “If we get shot, it will only be digitally.”
Tesser sucked in and pumped out little puffs of air like he was blowing out a row of birthday candles one at a time.
“You going to survive?” Corin tried to repress a smile.
“I see that . . . whew . . . smile!” Tesser put his hands on his knees. “Believe me, when you hit 92 and I’m 150, I’ll be in better shape than you are.” His friend coughed.
“That I’d like to see.” Corin put his hand on Tesser’s back. “Really now, you okay?” Seeing Tesser have a heart attack because of his paranoia wasn’t his idea of the ideal outing.
The women walked to the halfway point of the bridge and set their camera bags down. Picture time. Of the falls.
“Can you walk?”
“Of course I can walk.” Tesser scowled.
They ambled down the path for a few minutes before Corin reverted back to their earlier conversation. “You think I should bring the chair to your house to hide it.” Maybe that was the better idea. Corin’s house was a target. Tesser’s wasn’t.
“Yep, yep, yep.” Tesser’s head moved up and down like a bobble-head doll.
“For your protection. I don’t want you to be hurt.”
Corin slung his arm around Tesser’s shoulder. “I feel the same.”
“Until recently, we haven’t seen each other in years. There’s no connection for anyone who comes after you to make between you and me. And you need someone you can trust.” Tesser yanked up on his pants and tightened his belt. “Plus it will give me more opportunity to study that fascinating work of craftsmanship, so my offer isn’t entirely altruistic.”
“Do you have a secure room?”
Tesser waggled his fingers in front of him like he was playing air piano. “I have a basement that no one has been in for years.”
“In other words, no.”
“Pshaw. No one will look there.”
“I don’t know, Tesser.” Corin turned and guided them back toward the parking lot. “I want some place with a lock on it. A big lock.”
A tinge of frustration passed over Tesser’s face. Corin sighed. He knew his old friend only wanted to help. But until he figured out what this thing was, Corin wanted it in a spot he could get to anytime he wanted, and he didn’t want anyone else knowing the spot. It would protect them as much as it protected him.
“It’ll be okay in the safe. Trust me.”
“Okay, okay; it’s just if anything happened to you, I’ll never forgive myself and all that . . .”
“You’re not getting mushy on me are you, Tess.”
“You call me Tess again and I’ll deck you.”
They walked in silence, the coolness of the air trying to find crevasses in his clothes where it could streak in and send a chill into his marrow.
“Now that I’ve been healed, are you convinced the chair was made by Christ Himself and truly has powers to heal?” Corin asked.
“Almost. It could be psychosomatic.”
“Psychosomatic healing. The mind convinces the body it’s healed, and for a time the symptoms are overridden and things seem to be different. But in a majority of cases the symptoms come back.”
“In other words, the healing was in their minds? In my mind? I believed it strongly enough for it to become real?”
“Something like that.”
“You’re kidding.” Corin reached out and caught a gold aspen leaf as it fluttered toward the ground. “If this leaf believes strongly enough that it’s green, will it turn green for a few hours?”
Tesser tapped the side of his head and spoke in a Scottish accent. “Ye cranium is a powerful beasty if ye allow it to be.”
“Doesn’t make sense.” Corin let the leaf fall from his open palm and settle to the ground. “The kid, Brittan, wasn’t believing he was healed of his asthma. He was just sitting in the chair resting. I wasn’t believing I was cured of my claustrophobia. I was just trying to save a dog.”
“Yes, but your mind has been stirring and boiling and baking the idea of a chair with healing powers for almost two weeks now. At night while you sleep, during the hours you’re awake, your subconscious could have convinced you your mind was healed.”
“A. C. felt a warmth and a supernatural peace. He saw these lights and he lifted a three-hundred-pound desk over his head without any pain.”
Tesser kicked at a pile of leaves alongside the path, shooting a good portion of them into the air, and watched them twist back to the ground. “Don’t go all logical and mystical on me at the same time. That’s the kind of cocktail that stings the throat going down.”
“Seriously, do you think it’s all in our minds?”
Tesser smiled. “I’ve lived through enough moons to be honest enough to say I don’t know everything. I’ve also lived long enough to see something supernatural, if there is such a thing in the world, and I haven’t seen conclusive proof of that. So truly, I wouldn’t go around convincing myself I’ve got a chair of power when in all likelihood you don’t. But on the other hand, given the fact you’ve been healed—someone I know and trust—I could almost be persuaded you have in your possession the genuine healing chair of Christ.”
They reached their cars and Corin took Tesser by both shoulders. “Thanks for the wisdom, Prof.”
“Anytime.” Tesser opened the door of his Lexus. “And please know that my hiding the chair for you is a standing and sitting and lying-down offer.”
“I know.” Corin squeezed Tesser’s shoulders, then released his grip. “I appreciate the concern, old friend.”
“Of course.” Tesser shrugged. “Now, given the new light that has been spilled on this adventure, I think we need to get on a plane to Patmos, don’t you?”
“Where John the apostle lived?”
“Precisely.” Tesser rubbed his hands together. “We’ll talk to the locals. This is the kind of legend that never leaves the land in which it was birthed.”
“Then we’ll fly from there to Greece where the author of
Ladies of the Christ Chair
used to live and talk to his children—if they’re still alive which they’re probably not—and his grandchildren if need be.”
“See if there’s anything else we need to know that he didn’t put in the book.”
The old professor stared at Corin with an irritated look on his face.
“I’ve got a store to run. I can’t jump on and off of planes for weeks at a time. Not to mention I’m broke.”
“No, you can’t worry about those things. You have an adventure to take hold of.”
“I can’t just drop everything and leave for a month.”
Corin sighed. “I have to make money. At least try to make money.”
“I took adventures when I was your age.”
“You didn’t drop your classes and jump on a jet whenever the wild goose squawked your direction.”
“Sure I did. You forget, I went on numerous adventures while you were one of my students and I was working full time at the university. You even complained about how many guest lecturers I always had.” Tesser pulled off his baseball hat and rubbed the stained brim. “How did I do it?”
“You cheated. You had tenure by that time, and you pretended you were in countries on the university’s behalf that you never put one footprint on.” Corin tapped on the roof of Tesser’s Lexus. “You told them you were bringing back artifacts from overseas that would enhance the university’s reputation, when in reality you were buying those pieces from some of your less-than-reputable contacts while you played in exotic ports of grandeur.”
“I didn’t ever do anything immoral.”
“Are you forgetting I joined you on a few of those adventures?”
“I didn’t cheat. Those pieces did enhance the university’s reputation.”
Corin laughed and shook his head. “Someday I’m going to write a book on the adventures we had together and will reveal all your little secrets.”
“I’m an open book. I have no secrets.” Tesser closed his eyes and patted his chest.
Corin smiled. How could he keep from loving the guy? Predictable. Unpredictable. Funny, smart, caring, indifferent. The quintessential contradictive personality. The networks should have made a TV sitcom about his life. It would have been a number-one show.
“Can I bring up something from your past that’s a little painful?”
“I’m too old to carry any pain from the past.”
“I see.” Tesser pulled on his chin hairs. “I told you about me and him, huh?”
“Not much, just that you had a falling out and didn’t make it right before he died.”
Tesser closed his eyes and sighed.
“We don’t have to talk about it.”
“Pshaw.” Tesser batted his hand toward Corin. “Of course we’re going to talk about it. What do you want to know?”
Corin told his friend the story of Shasta and him and as he did, the old man’s eyes watered off and on. When he finished, Tesser took Corin’s hands in his and squeezed for a long time without speaking.