The Church of Vengeance.
The Church of Vengeance.
By Roger Morris.
For a brief moment, in a decade known for aberrations in musical taste, Paul Jobson was almost famous. Working as a sound engineer for a recording company, he was one day given the chance to produce in his own right. And the single he produced, a novelty 45 performed by a TV soap star and a choir of school children, achieved a fame of sorts, or rather notoriety, due to certain allegations concerning the soap star and members of the under-age choir. The song was not a hit by any means, although it did hover just outside the top forty (at number 59, to be exact). A video was made and, thankfully, soon after erased. The disc marked both the high point of Jobson's career in the music industry and its end. That's the way these things sometimes go. It's a phenomenon known as guilt by association. As far as we know, none of the children ever cut a record again either.
Jobson decided to fall back on the thing he did best. Drinking. In the meantime he ploughed what money he had into a series of misguided ventures at the fringes of the music business. As these inevitably failed, one after the other, Jobson saw his meagre resources dwindle. It was at this point, with his usual combination of bad judgement and evil luck, that Jobson crashed a music business party in the private room of a large West End restaurant. It was a liggers' paradise. Jobson soaked up the free booze and in return liberally abused his former friends, colleagues and employers. And that night he took the first of the small steps that led him to his destiny. He met and proposed marriage to a session singer called Sugarlips (not her real name). In his defence, it has to be said that she did have the most beautiful caramel coloured skin, innocent wide eyes and a laugh of undreamt-of filthiness. Lips, too, that fully merited her nickname. He genuinely fell in love with her. Unluckily for him, as well as being a session singer, Sugarlips was also a hooker, although she limited her clientele to people of influence within the music business, gender immaterial. Somehow, god knows how, she mistook Jobson for such a person. Blame it on those innocent wide eyes. He was shooting his mouth off and she believed him.
Anyhow she accepted his proposal. And they celebrated their betrothal with fast frantic sex in a public place. A few days later they were married. And soon after that Sugarlips found out that Jobson was not in fact a person of influence within the music business. And soon after that Jobson found out that Sugarlips was a whore.
Arguments, recriminations, domestic violence (those sweet sugar lips swelled up to double size, those innocent wide eyes narrowed to slits, that beautiful caramel-coloured skin turned purple and green) - followed by half-hearted reconciliations and bitter storing up of wrongs. And what to do about money? Staking all in a last desperate attempt (and in a secret stash stolen from Sugarlips), Jobson invested in a venture on the fringes of the fringes of the music business. Okay, it was a drugs deal. But it paid off. Jobson was able to replace the stash before its absence was noticed and on the proceeds of the deal he decided to get out of the music business, fringes included, once and for all.
One of his drinking cronies was a bloated refugee from the catering industry, a former restaurant manager who had successfully antagonised and exasperated everyone he had ever worked with. Consequently he was as unemployable in his own field as Jobson was in his. This man, whose name was Timothy Pinker, was lazy, dishonest, vicious and greedy, but he made up for it all with a charming smile and a plausible manner. He was a wonderfully clear-sighted individual, capable of seeing the errors and incompetence of his enemies, and gifted with a visionary confidence regarding his own future. For him, the future would be a time of vindication and revenge. Sweet desserts.
Now Timothy Pinker had for a long time been on at Jobson to become his business partner. He had seen a niche in the restaurant market, for a quality fast-food outlet serving the lunchtime office crowd. Mixing grandiose schemes with a specious caution, he had negotiated the lease to a small retail unit, to be the first of a chain that would, he asserted, come to dominate the country.
Unexpectedly awash with cash after his stint as a purveyor of recreational drugs to popstars and record company execs, Jobson finally succumbed and put his money where Timothy Pinker's mouth was.
But it was a time of distractions and the biggest distraction of all was Sugarlips' bombshell. She was pregnant.
The baby came out early and there were problems. It was more than fifty-fifty, more than touch and go, it was a miracle she lived at all.
But she was not right, poor child. Blame it on bad blood or blighted seed, or blame it on what you will. A doctor took Jobson and Sugarlips into a small room and looked at the wall while he told them that their little girl was in for a tough time. It was too early to tell the full extent of her disabilities, but... He broke off. Jobson sensed the words left hanging in the air: basket case.
For the moment, she was being kept alive by the machines she was hooked up to. That was the first time the doctor looked them in the eye, and it was Jobson's eye he chose to meet. Maybe that was the first of Jobson's encounters with the devil's representatives on earth, or maybe he had been meeting them all his life. 'It goes without saying,' the doctor said, 'that there is one course of action open to us. We can simply switch off the machines and let nature take its course.'
'Pull the plug!' cried Jobson, and it must have been taken for a cry of outraged horror. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say it was. At any rate, Sugarlips' simple mother's 'NO!' was louder and carried the day.
An extra mouth to feed is one thing, but the kind of medical care and special equipment that little Cindy-Lou needed would have bankrupted King Midas. Jobson could see nothing but trouble ahead for all of them. He decided that the sensible thing to do was run a mile.
Meantime, the quality fast food outlet aimed at the lunchtime office crowd opened its doors. Unfortunately, no one came through them. But somehow, it staggered on, well past the time when the plug should have been pulled on it. And somehow, Timothy Pinker got richer and fatter. And as he got fatter, his suits got sharper. He swapped his clapped out Toyota for a black BMW nine series with smoke glass windows. It was all a mystery to Jobson, who suspected that Pinker was using the place as a front for some other operation of doubtful legality. If so, he wanted in. But Pinker was holding his cards close to his chest. And whenever his partner asked for a cut, he pleaded business was bad. There was a showdown. The same old combination of bad judgement and evil luck came through. Jobson took a brick to the smoke glass windows of Pinker's beamer and then proceeded to trash the restaurant he himself had shares in.
At that point Sugarlips filed for divorce and hit him with a legal bill of breathtaking enormity. Soon after, she started bandying round words like alimony.
You have to remember that while all this was going on, Jobson's best friend, only true friend, was still the bottle, or not so much the bottle as the crate. He drank at every opportunity. Alone, in company, in bars, on the street, in his car, in the cheap hotel room he was living in, on the crapper, in bed, whatever bed he happened to be in.
Then three things happened in quick succession. On the rebound from Sugarlips, he picked up a 19 year-old barmaid with musical aspirations. He was still using the Mr Big in the music biz line and we can only assume that there was something about Paul Jobson that women went for. The more sleazy and seedy he got, the more they bought his musical impresario line. In the end, it worked so well he started to believe it himself. He had some cards printed on one of those machines in motorway service stations and set himself up as Gina's manager. Then he billed her for his services. He went with her to the building society as she drew the money out. 'We have to keep this side of our relationship on a professional footing,' he explained as she handed over the contents of her bankbook.
The second thing was that he had the shit beaten out of him by a gang of thugs hired by his erstwhile business associate, Timothy Pinker. He curled himself into a ball and put his arms around his head as they rained jemmy blows down on him.
And the third thing was he found religion. Or to put it more precisely, religion found him.
A man of God, he claimed to be, but if so his was the god of the Old Testament. Over shot glasses and beer pots, he preached a sermon of Vengeance, Fear and Sin. At the end of it, he looked into Jobson's eyes - for Jobson was the only one left in the bar by now - and said: 'I see a troubled soul. Tell me your troubles, brother.'
Brother. It was something about the word brother that did it. That and the fact that Jobson felt himself to be in the presence of the most hard-arsed bastard he had ever encountered. He simply could not resist. He poured out his heart and his troubles. The promising career cut short by the sins of another. The ex-wife who turned out to be nothing but a common prostitute, and who now had the effrontery to take him for everything he had. Not forgetting the cheating business partner and his hired heavies. (In fact, the only thing he did forget to mention was a severely disabled baby daughter and her life-support equipment.)
The stern face of the man of God grew sterner. 'Stranger,' he said, 'it is as well for you that I wandered into this bar tonight. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Reverend Reeve. My church is the Church of Vengeance. And I can help you. You have been good enough to tell me your story and now I will tell you mine. You look at me now and who do you see? Reverend Reeve. But once I was just plain John Reeve. I was a man lost and forsaken. I trusted in my fists and in my blade. I took a shotgun and I shortened the barrels with a hacksaw and I took that weapon into building societies and sub-post offices. That was my way and that was how I lived. I even killed a man, shot him dead, in cold blood, because he cheated me out of my share. Then the Lord came to me and he said, Reeve, it was not given to you to take revenge for the actions of that scumbag. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. But Reeve, he saith, Give yourself to me, make of yourself a Reverend and it will be granted to you to take revenge on my behalf.'
This was how it would work. In return for a contribution to the Church of Vengeance, the Reverend Reeve would pay a visit on Sugarlips and 'sort her out' (his phrase). This was the kind of religion Jobson could relate to.
By a stroke of fortune he still had on him the cash Gina had taken out of her savings account. He handed it over to Reeve and the two men went their separate ways.
Meantime, Gina was getting impatient about her singing career, or lack of it. She demanded her money back. Arguments, recriminations, domestic violence. The same old story, only this time there was no reconciliation. Just Jobson screaming after her as she slammed the door: 'I should have got the Reverend Reeve to sort you out as well, bitch.' And then he indulged in behaviour typical of solitary drunks. In short, he railed. He even called on the absent Reverend Reeve: 'Reeve,' he shouted, 'can you hear me? Kill her too. Kill that slut.'
Only then did he admit to himself that he knew all along what Reeve had meant by 'sorting out'. And of course he was filled with remorse and gave in to tears. But was it fake remorse and were they just a drunkard's tears? Maybe not. He thought back to that first night when he met and fell in love with Sugarlips and realised that he still loved her, it was just himself he hated.
He tried to imagine the scene, Reeve at the house, finding Sugarlips. And what about the baby? But it was too horrible.
All the same, he did nothing. Just sat tight and waited. Listening for news. Biting his nails. Drinking.
He must have passed out at some point, came to needing to piss. But there was Reeve blocking his way to the bathroom. Straightaway things got ugly. There was a lot of shouting. Words were said. Words you would not associate with a reverend gentleman. A knife got brandished. The child, you see. Jobson had not told him about little Cindy-Lou, all hooked up in her little cot bed. Reeve's black eyes are blazing. Jobson, not being a man known for his courage, is scared shitless. Scared for himself, and scared of what Reeve might have done to Sugarlips and the baby.
He had to know. 'What have you done?'
And then Reeve went into rather more detail than Jobson needed. Sugarlips, being a Jezebel, had her dress stained red by her own blood. Dyed, was the word he used. He cut her about pretty badly, it seems. Starting with her throat. There must have been a lot of blood. You need a lot of blood to dye a dress. Even the kind of dress Sugarlips used to wear.
'But what about Cindy-Lou?' Jobson had to know.
Reeve wouldn't tell him. He just got raging mad again. He was all set to kill Jobson and Jobson himself could see no other way out of it, even welcomed it. 'Yes, kill me,' he cried, 'I don't deserve to live. Kill me. Kill me now. Kill me quick.'
There must have been something about Jobson's eagerness that made the good Reverend hesitate. He had the knife all ready but he pulled back at the last minute.
'First make a contribution to the Church of Vengeance,' he demanded.
'I don't have any money left,' pleaded Jobson.
That being the case, Reeve refused to kill him.
You see, he was already down on the deal, having administered more vengeance than he had been paid for. That was the way he put it.
He wouldn't say more than that, just smiled as he left, as if to say: 'Have a nice life.'
And now Jobson really did go to pieces. He couldn't stop thinking about Sugarlips there in her blood-dyed dress and poor little Cindy-Lou. It was torturing him not knowing what Reeve had done with poor little Cindy-Lou.
But the strange thing was, there was nothing about the crime on the radio or the TV news. And he had them both on all the time. And nothing in any of those free sheets that get pushed through your door. So Jobson got to thinking that maybe the Reverend Reeve was full of shit. After all, he wasn't really a reverend, was he? So maybe he hadn't killed his girls. It was just a scam. He'd got the money and scared him just enough so he wouldn't go after him. Well, Paul Jobson was more than a match for any phoney preacher man. He'd show Reeve who was whose fool.
The first thing to do was to call on Sugarlips, just to check she and the kid were okay.
The house was in darkness. But then again, it was the middle of the night. He tried the door and the door opened. That was not a good sign. But now he'd gone too far. It was too late to go back. He went in.
He called out her name: 'Sugarlips! Sugarlips, baby! It's me, Paul.'
There was no reply. The house was empty and still. Not a sign of life, but not a sign of death either. No caramel coloured corpse wrapped up in a blood-drenched shroud of a dress.
He called out again: 'Sugarlips! Come on! I want to talk. I want to say sorry. I want it to be like it was.'
The silence was pressing against his eyes. It was making him sick. When he tried the switches no lights came on. All he had to see by was the faint glow from a street lamp and the brief flare of struck matches. But even with that he knew he was not alone.
The darkness spoke to him. 'And death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them.' He heard some business in the shadows, a transaction of shadows, dark secrets unfurling. Then the chase of passing headlights flashed across the face of the man, the reverend man, Reeve. There at his feet, three bodies: Sugarlips, Cindy-Lou, Gina. The beam of light fled the scene and with it went all hope. Reeve was gone. Jobson heard the wild whoop of police vehicles. The room strobed blue upon the dead, who refused to or rise up and dance, or move at all. It was too late for redemption, and besides he'd chosen the wrong church for that. But the flashing image of his little girl, undisturbed now by the spasms of her condition, reminded him that he had never held her, never once held his daughter. He wondered how things might have turned out if he had. He knew that Reeve had set him up, and damned him for a bastard, though he made no attempt to escape. He tried on his fear like a new coat. It left him shivering and lonely but it was all he had.