INDEPENDENCE, MISSOURI - 1854
FITTINGLY, AND WITH THE suspect irony of a prank fabricated by one of
the more mischievous gods on their mountaintop, I first met Virtue after
an epic bout of debauchery.
It was morning, although that I did not know. For I was still loitering
in my dream, where it was an insufferably hot afternoon. I sat on the
bank of a deep muddy river, soaking my feet, watching a tall bearded man
in a robe paddle slowly across the current in an Indian canoe.
Somewhere, someone was pounding a fist against wood, but otherwise there
was no sound besides the sizzle of the sun and the easy lap of water.
The man drew up in his primitive craft. “Shall I take you across?”
I squinted over the river. There were no trees over there, no cool
relief of shade, and nothing much to recommend that yonder shore beyond
the one where I already was. But I have learned that hope dies hard, and
curiosity urged me that perhaps there was something pleasant awaiting me
on the other side.
“Sure,” I told the man. “Just hold on.”
But when I brought my feet up out of the water, I was dismayed to
discover they were not the two appendages I had expected. Hooves! Cloven
and dripping. Like something off a billy goat. There was no way in hell
they were ever going to fit properly into my boots. I was stricken with
the revelation that no matter where I roamed again, people would
discern, from the wobble in my gait, that I was not truly a man.
The fist pounding on wood sound grew ever louder as I stood there on
that riverbank beneath the burning sun, pondering my future, while
growing accustomed to my new hooves.
Then I heard a voice.
“Rain!” it called, very far away, as if from out of the sky.
“Rain, you there? Answer me, Rain.”
As I tipped my face to the blue heavens, I inadvertently stirred myself
awake, leaving that man waiting for me in his canoe.
As far as I know, he is waiting there still.
The pounding continued, like some club-headed woodpecker having go at a
hollow log. I had a bad taste in my mouth, a bad feeling in my gut, and
a grimace in my persona. I was in no shape to enter into the waking
world. But at that particular moment, I would have done anything –
even something so Herculean as rise up out of bed – to stop that
incessant pounding. I stumbled to the door, opening it a crack.
“Yes?” I said, in a voice even more scratched and dry than I
Distantly, I recognized my go-between, the man who found the tasks that
I would then perform. “Cedric Dallon,” I said. “How are you?”
“I’m put out, that’s how I am.”
I could tell by his mien that what he said was true.
“We had an appointment to meet our client this morning. He’s been
waiting, but I’m sure I don’t know for how much longer.”
“I thought our meeting was for Tuesday.”
“This is Tuesday!”
I scratched, and rocked back into the room, as if consulting my
calendar. Then I stuck my head back out into the hallway. “So it
is,” I said. “My apologies, friend. I seem to have misplaced a
Dallon turned a color that brought to my mind the line, “My love is a
red, red rose…” There was spittle on his mustache.
“Doggone it, Rain! This job is big. And I’m stretched so thin I
can’t afford to let it go! These people are prepared to pay us more
money than you and I have seen in all our other jobs lumped together.”
“Can you get yourself in shape?”
“Of course. I only need a minute.”
I commenced to close the door, but Dallon stopped it with his foot.
“Rain,” he whispered loudly. “Impress him. You know, in that way
you have. Let the man know you speak French and such.”
I nodded. “Sure, Dallon.” And then I closed the door.
The room was unfamiliar. It smelled like a stable. The curtain was drawn
and a blade of sharp white light cut in around its edges. An empty
bottle stood upright on the floor in the corner and a woman was curled
up asleep beside it. She was naked, as was I, and it did not take
Pythagoras to put two and two together in order to calculate the sum of
our relationship. It seemed unbecoming of a gentleman to leave her in
such an undignified position, and so with no small cumbersome effort I
hefted up her fleshy bulk and dropped it onto the bed.
She did not wake.
I pulled back the licorice tendrils of her loosened hair. Someone’s
little angel, I thought, albeit, after she had taken a dubious turn. She
might have been quite pretty, had she not been so god-awful homely. Even
in sleep, she wore her difficult existence like a mask, and although I
did not recall her face, I was relatively certain that given the proper
illumination, and from the proper angle, I might. I found two dollars in
my trousers pocket.
“One for ink and paper,” I said. “And one for you.”
I curled the coin into the girl’s fist.
“Well, dear,” I said. “I hope we had a fine time.”
Then in a fit of romantic delusion, I was compelled to lean over and
kiss her cheek. “Happy dreams,” I whispered.
She snored quietly while I dressed.
All in all, our farewell had been highly unsatisfactory.
Excerpted from "Delivering Virtue" by Brian Kindall. Copyright © 2015 by Brian Kindall. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.