The Black Mass of Brother Springer

BOOK: The Black Mass of Brother Springer
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The Black Mass of Brother Springer




Charles Willeford





First published in 1958 as HONEY GAL





Chapter One



Softly—I didn't want to waken Merita—I eased the window up as high as it would go and inhaled the aroma of ammonia, stale food, discarded socks, and some air that wafted lazily up the air shaft. Less than three feet away I could see into another hotel room, almost the same as mine, and observe the heavy breathing of an old geezer sleeping like the only man left in the world without a conscience.

       Far below, three or four stories at least, a harsh feminine voice berated someone very cleverly indeed, without pause.

       "How," I wondered, "did I, the Right Reverend Deuteronomy Springer, wind up in a place like the Anderson Hotel on the edge of Harlem, in New York City?"

       To think was difficult. I was very tired, and there was a feeling of unreality, almost impossible to pinpoint, that made me feel like an observer watching someone else do very foolish things, amusing things, that were somehow unimportant to the real me. But the real me was beginning to merge with this strange energetic creature who was also me. I ran my fingers through my thick black hair—long hair, and I had always favored the crew cut—and I liked the heavy feel of the long straight hair. It helped my impersonation.

       "Dear God," I prayed, sticking my head out the window and peering up at the small square of blue sky at the top of the air shaft, "deliver this poor lost sinner from temptation and show him the Glory Road, for Yours is the power and the glory, forever. Amen!"

       This short prayer revived me somewhat. I grinned wryly, and pulled in my head. I now prayed naturally, systematically, automatically, painlessly, somewhat like the bond-a-month savings plan where you work, or the bond-a-month savings plan where you bank. I picked up the bottle of gin on the dresser and took a snort. The bottle was less than half full and I lowered it a full inch before I took it away from my lips. My stomach was flushed with sudden warmth and I was now fully awake. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mottled full-length mirror on the bathroom door, and smiled grimly at my reflection.

       Some minister of the gospel! Standing in the center of a sleazy hotel room, naked except for a pair of dirty boxer-type shorts, with long, pale skinny legs, long hairy arms, and hunched shoulders, I resembled a bank clerk rather than a minister. Except for my eyes; they were too large for my thin face and contained inner lights glowing like hot, blue flames. "Lit and nourished by gin at $4.15 per fifth," I thought ruefully. I turned away from the mirror and counted my money again in the canvas money belt. Counting money belonging to yourself, and not to a bank or a firm or someone else, gives a man uncommon pleasure, I had discovered. I riffled through the bills quickly. I had counted the money so many times, and it was all there, $4,053. A lot of money...

       Merita turned over in bed and I turned to see if she was awake. She wasn't; she slept peacefully, beautifully, like a contented cat. She was the wonderful color of real coffee, not instant coffee, but expensive, exotic coffee, diluted with pure, thick, yellow cream. The fairest of them all. And she was this beautiful color all over. Quite unlike the expensive women at Miami Beach who sought the same golden brown for their bodies but were cheated by vacant strips of dead white across breasts and hips. Convention, convention. I shook my head. It was all so very sad. These women on the beach were paying, perhaps, as much as thirty-seven dollars a day, and were only rewarded with a semi-tan. It didn't seem fair. Merita now; she didn't have to expose her wonderful body to the sun to maintain her golden color.

       Merita lay on her right side, her legs like opened scissors. Her legs were long and shapely, and the straight toes were close together, the nails painted blood-red, matching her fingernails. I marveled at the extreme height of her hip, and the sharp downward slope to the narrow waist. Her hips were wide and deep, without fat, and her waist was almost narrow enough for me to span with my hands. But she was filled out marvelously above her narrow waist, above her flat, tender belly. A perfect thirty-eight, and most of the thirty-eight was in the long evenly matched breasts, not in a thick, meat-padded back. Merita's back arched, and when she stood erect, she carried herself like a queen.

       A golden queen from some forgotten race in time—a high priestess of love. Where in the world had those desk clerks found the presumption to turn us away? The Anderson was the third hotel we had tried before getting a room the afternoon before. Prejudice is more subtle in New York, but unmistakable. No Room at the Inn. But perhaps the hotel clerks were suspicious of my cloth? Perhaps it was strange to these clerks that a man wearing black, and a white, backward collar should be registering at all with a beautiful dark-skinned girl at his elbow, and using the name of Mr. William Johnson. Of course. I laughed softly. That was it! They were merely playing it safe, afraid for their jobs, and prejudice or the knowledge that Merita was a Negro did not enter into the situation at all. Even the clerk at the Anderson had smiled—and what had he called me? "Padre!" Again I laughed softly. He had mistaken me for a Catholic priest on an illicit holiday, instead of a minister of the Church of God's Flock. How stupid of me! I had been so anxious to get Merita into bed I hadn't used my head. I should have discarded the clerical garb and purchased a plain suit of some kind.

       I was not Mr. William Johnson anyway, was I? No, I was the Right Reverend Deuteronomy Springer of the Church of God's Flock, Jax, Florida. However, that wasn't true either. I was actually Sam Springer, Novelist, from Miami, Florida, playing at being the Right Reverend Deuteronomy Springer...

       But was I really playing? I did not know. Somewhere along the way, my personality had been transferred to the role of minister, and the novelist had disappeared. Yet had I not now regained my identity because of the lovely girl in the bed, and the things we had done together during the night? These had not been the things, maybe, a real minister would sanction. Still, they had not been the actions of a novelist, either...Not this novelist, at least, who had been a quiet, faithful husband, somewhat dull, and a man who had never failed to mow the lawn every other Saturday morning.

       It was all very confusing, but there was the money...and the time for decision was now, and it had to be the right decision.

       Again I reached for the gin bottle, but I stayed my hand. No more. Not now. A prayer, perhaps? I sank to my knees. The nubby, well-worn nap of the carpet hurt my bare knees and I quickly got to my feet. The hell with prayers! Who did I think I was kidding?

       Shaking my head to dislodge the cobwebs of confusion, I returned to the open window and stared morosely into the deep well of the air shaft.



Chapter Two



Money is the root of all goodness. To talk disparagingly about money is the privilege of those who have money. There are also those people who state matter-of-factly that "money isn't everything." This statement is also true, but only so long as one has money.

       If I was overly preoccupied with thoughts about money that morning, I had plenty of reasons, too many of them. I did not have any money. I knew it, and the Thrifty Way Finance Company of Miami knew it, or suspected it, but my wife did not know it and she did not suspect it. Oh, I had a few dollars. Eighty-seven dollars and forty-two cents to be exact. That wasn't very much money. I'll explain:

       I was living in a year-old project house in an area of Greater Miami known as Ocean Pine Terraces. My house was four miles away from the ocean; there were no pines in the area because they had been bulldozed away to make room for the new homes, and there were no terraces. The section of Southern Florida known as Ocean Pine Terraces was as flat as Florida can be for as far as the eye could see.

       My monthly payment of $78.60 on my house was five days overdue.

       My car payment on my three-year-old Pontiac was one month overdue. A small payment, only $42.50 per month, to be sure, but there were seven more such payments to go before the Pontiac, purchased second-hand anyway, would be mine.

       The furniture in my two-bedroom-Florida-room project house was not lavish or expensive; it had been chosen with care, and had only amounted to $2300 in all, including the large metal desk which I considered mandatory for my work, and the portable television set.

       On my furniture, however, I still owed $2,030, in monthly payments of $105.50. Two months had elapsed since I had made a payment on this "set of sticks." The Thrifty Way Finance Company Manager had loaned me $150 two weeks before and "set of sticks" had been his term for my furniture, not mine. (An interesting point of law: Who owned the furniture? The furniture company, the finance company, or me?)

       I owed the milkman $5.40 for the current month, the grocer for groceries delivered during the month, the telephone bill, the television repair bill for a new booster for the picture tube, and several other sundry bills, including an unfulfilled pledge at the Unitarian Fellowship Society.

       As an ex-accountant, the figures interested me, but I did not really worry about the bills; I worried about the cash and/or credit to keep going, to continue my way of life. It was a wonderful way to live.

       I was a writer, a novelist to be exact. There may be some who will say that the publication of one novel does not make a man a novelist. I disagree. The publication of my novel, No Bed Too High, had provided me with an escape from a fate worse than death, and that fate was a dead-end position as an accountant with the Tanfair Milk Company, Columbus, Ohio.

       No matter how old you are, you still need milk! That was Tanfair's slogan. As the company accountant, I had made out the check for $25 to the milkman in the southwest area of the city who had submitted the winning slogan in the company-wide contest.

       Ten years hunched over a desk clutching a No. 2 pencil in my fingers, adding and subtracting, multiplying and dividing, and writing reports had driven me to the brink of madness. I so detested my job I was willing to do anything to escape from it. The idea for the novel had flashed into my mind during a coffee break, and for eight months I had worked over my novel at night, sitting at the kitchen table in our small apartment. Adding and subtracting words, multiplying and dividing situations and characters, I had completed a handwritten novel containing approximately 70,000 words. After I had the manuscript typed I mailed it to a publisher in New York. It was returned. I mailed the mss. to another publisher and two weeks later I received an advance royalty payment and a contract from the Zenith Press. But I didn't quit my job immediately. I waited. Fearfully.

       Six months passed before my book appeared in print and I received the six free copies promised in the contract. The novel was printed on fairly good paper and was bound in a material closely resembling cloth. And the book was dressed up in a gaily colored dust jacket. Artists today have forgotten how to draw pictures of things, but the large splotch of red on a solid yellow background, and the meaningless spidery lines dripping away from the red splotch gave the jacket a modern look. The title and my name were both correctly spelled, and altogether it was an impressive little book. Set in 10 pt. type the book was easy to read, and it read ten times better than it had in typescript. I read it through in one sitting and was amazed at how interesting it had become in print.

       I was a novelist.

       The contract and the check for $250 had not really convinced me, but the physical handling of the bound volume sold me at last.

       The next morning following the arrival of my six books I donned a pair of leather sandals, a pair of red linen slacks, a pale yellow sport shirt imprinted with tiny red rickshaws, and a white linen jacket. I placed dark sunglasses over my nose, and a straw hat with a solid yellow band upon my head. These clothes had been purchased several weeks before and had been put aside for the occasion.

       "You look beautiful!" my wife told me admiringly, and I agreed with her.

       I dawdled over my breakfast, discussing future plans with my wife, and presented myself at the office exactly one hour late for work. I did not go to my desk, however, because I had cleaned it out the evening before. I went instead to Mr. Louis Carlisle's antechambers (the manager of Tanfair Milk Company), and asked his secretary, Mrs. Burns, for an appointment.

       "My, don't we look gay this morning!" she exclaimed.

       "In Columbus, yes," I said, "but in Florida, this attire is quite the thing. Now if you will inform Mr. Carlisle that I am waiting..."

       Mrs. Burns disappeared into the inner office of the manager, and within two minutes she reappeared, smiling, and held the door open for me. "Mr. Carlisle will see you now, Mr. Springer."

BOOK: The Black Mass of Brother Springer
2.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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