The sun had not yet roared into the sky. A Mapleton City Police cruiser rushed along on Chisholm Chapel Road. Sarge drove. Denny rode shotgun.
Sarge smoothed his thick mustache with his thumb. Denny reached around his side to itch his back fat. The sun began to push reds and oranges through the blue morning horizon.
“She didn’t see who broke it?” Denny asked.
“Didn’t say. She was pretty upset,” Sarge said.
Sunlight began to creep over the trees. Sarge and Denny put on aviators, almost simultaneously. A beam of light hit a nick on the windshield. A month ago, a gravel truck had kicked up a pepple into the cruiser’s windshield, and the city didn’t find it necessary to fix it. Reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, indigoes, and violets danced through the pock and onto the dashboard. Neither Sarge nor Denny noticed.
Sarge and Denny arrived at Miss Abernathy’s country house. The cruiser’s worn tires rolled slowly over her circular gravel driveway. A spry, elderly woman greeted them with a fast gait as they rolled to a complete stop.
“Thank you, Sarge, for coming out here so early.”
“No problem, ma’am,” Denny said.
“Show me what happened,” Sarge said.
Miss Abernathy walked them around the to the rear of the house, past the old well and flower garden that anchored her side yard.
“Here,” she pointed. “I found the basement window broken this morning as I was walking Banjo.”
“And Banjo didn’t say nothin? No barking?” Denny asked.
“Well, Banjo’s sniffer ain’t workin’ so good. Gettin’ long in the tooth.”
Miss Abernathy pointed to Banjo, her chocolate labrador retriever. He was asleep in the dirt next to his doghouse.
“And you haven’t gone down into the basement? Haven’t seen anyone suspicous around these parts?” Sarge asked.
“No and no.”
Sarge and Denny walked to the broken basement window. The glass was partially broken, as if a rock had been thrown at it and had continued its trajectory inside. Most of the pane was still intact. The sun began to peak through the trees, casting light on the scene.
Sarge crouched to a catcher’s position and held his hand up to the broken window. A cool outdraft brushed his fingers.
“Sarge, what is it?” Denny said.
Sarge drew his index finger up to his lips. “Shh.” Sarge cupped his hand to his right ear and listened toward the window.
“Nothin,” Sarge said.
Sarge and Denny walked over to Miss Abernathy. “Ma’am, may we enter your basement?” Denny asked.
“Oh, gosh, of course. Here, let me unlock the storm doors.” Miss Abernathy walked briskly to the storm doors, located the key on a very full key chain, and unlocked the storm doors.
As they followed Miss Abernathy to the basement entrance, Denny wispered to Sarge, “Is it safe to go down there?”
“I reckon,” Sarge said.
“How do you reckon?”
“‘Cause Banjo doesn’t give a shit.”
“Banjo cain’t smell his own asshole, Sarge.”
“Well, we’ll see. Ready your weapon, just in case.”
Sarge pulled on the solid iron storm door that served as one of two ways into the basement. The other way in was the entrance off of the kitchen from which a semi-finished wooden staircase led downward.
“Stay up here, Denny.”
Sarge walked slowly down the storm door stairs and into the basement. It smelled like a basement—musty with a hint of turpentine. Dust covered everything. The sun shone through the broken glass of the window and onto the basement floor as a single vermillion beam of light.
Sarge saw a decent sized rock on the basement floor.
“Denny, I found the culprit.”
“What is it?”
Denny fumbled down the stairs. “Ooh, let me see boss!” he said with an impulsive enthusiasm.
“Denny, get back up there! It’s not—”
The basement storm door slammed shut. A click-click followed. Denny tried to ram the door with is massive frame and it didn’t budge an inch.
“Shit,” Denny said. He turned red.
Sarge interlaced his fingers behind his head and exhaled loudly. His knuckles turned scarlet under the pressure he channeled into his hands.
“Miss Abernathy! Unlock the door Miss Abernathy!” Sarge yelled.
Denny jumped up on the shelf below the broken window and looked outside. “Let us out, Miss Abernathy! Let us—” Denny slouched.
“She’s down, Sarge.”
“Let me look,” Sarge said. He slipped onto the shelf where Denny had stood to see that she was, in fact, lying on the ground next to Banjo.
Sarge jumped down from the shelf. The shaft of light took on a coppery bergamot color.
“Is she dead?” Denny asked.
Denny pulled out a Baby Ruth bar from his shirt pocket and ate it in a few chomps.
Sarge shook his head. “Think, Denny. Who’s out there? Did you see anyone other than Miss Abernathy before you came down here?”
“No. Do you think someone got the drop on us, Sarge?”
“Well, it probably ain’t the wind.”
A thud came from above. The cascading light from the broken window refracted in lemons and golds.
Denny turned white. Sarge unholstered his service revolver.
“Shh,” Sarge said. “Stay here. And when I say ‘stay here,’ I mean it.”
“Sorry boss,” Denny said between heavy breaths.
Sarge crept up the creaky wooden staircase. For a guy nicknamed Sarge, William Sergeant Willoughby, had a thin frame and a rather unimposing demeanor. He had been on the Mapleton Police Force—which consisted of three officers and two staff members—and had joined right out of high school. Twenty-five years of cats in trees and broken windows had taught him one thing: the fear of the situation is always worse than the reality.
Sarge turned back to look at Denny. The shaft of light from the broken window bathed Denny in a green shade.
Sarge approached the door at the top of the stairs. He turned the knob slowly and was surpised to find that the door was unlocked. He opened in at a snail’s pace. It creaked and cracked with age.
“Mapleton Police!” Sarge shouted into the house. “Put your hands up and don’t make any sudden movements!”
“In here,” an elegant voice from the dining room said.
Sarge sprung through the door, turned the corner, and pointed his gun at the intruder.
“Please, Sergeant, wouldn’t you like some tea?”
“Yes, it’s a hot beverage one commonly offers to company. Won’t you sit?”
“Put your hands up where I can see them!”
“My hands are where you can see them. Please sit.”
“I don’t know who you are, but Miss Abernathy lives out here alone! You don’t live here, city boy! You’re trespassing! That’s against the law, so put your hands up!”
Blue light refracted through the kitchen window. The stranger wore an elegant dark grey three piece suit. His cufflinks were an immistakable letter “A” from what looked like a old typewriter keys. Sarge considered himself a straight man, but the stranger was the most beautiful man he had ever seen. The intruder had eyes as deep as the sea and a charisma that almost commanded instant compliance with whatever he might ask you to do.
“You ok, Sarge!” Denny shouted from the basement.
“Stay put, Denny!”
“Oh, Densmore can join us,” the stranger said.
“No, he should stay down there.”
“OK.” The stranger made a light fist and spread his fingers out in an exploding motion. Sarge heard a giant thud in the basement.
“What . . .What did you just do?”
“Come now, Sergeant, have a seat.”
Sarge placed his revolver gently on the table and sat. He kept his eyes peeled on the stranger and his posture tall.
“Earl Grey is my favorite. Would you care for some?”
“Sure, I guess.”
The light in the kitchen assumed a purple hue. The stranger poured hot water into the cup before Sarge. It mingled with the tea bag and released a violet steam.
“Beautiful morning, isn’t it? The name’s Abraxas.”
“Abraxas? What kind of name is that?”
“It’s an . . . old one.”
“What do you want, Mr. Abraxas?”
“I wanted to speak with you, Sergeant.”
“OK, so speak.”
“Do you believe in God?”
Sarge’s posture straightened even more. He inhaled and looked up at the ceiling briefly before answering.
“I believe in Jesus Christ, my personal lord and savior. I believe God sent his only son to die for our sins.”
“OK, but do you believe in a living, breathing all powerful God?”
“Well, the Bible says—”
“Sergeant, I’m not interested in what you think the Bible says. I want to know what you believe. You. William Sergeant Willoughby.”
“Well, to be honest with you, Mr. Abraxas, all that stuff we talk about a church happened a long time ago. I believe what my preacher tells me to believe.”
“Why do you believe it?”
“Because Reverend Jacobs, well, Reverend Jacobs says the devil will get me if I don’t.”
“Ah, the devil. Do you believe in the devil?”
“I ain’t no Satanist, Mr. Abraxas, if that’s what you’re saying.”
Abraxas snorted. “Does the devil exist, Sargeant?”
“My preacher says so . . . so, yes. I believe the devil exists.”
“Your preacher, Reverend Jacobs, how did he get his authority? How do you know he’s telling you the truth?”
“Well, he went to preacher school. He was vetted by the congregation. He does a lot of good. Helps people, you know.”
“What if I told you that the good Reverend is stealing from the congregation? Embezzeling church funds to buy . . . things?”
“That’s a serious accusation.”
“Yes, it is. And it’s the truth.”
“What proof do you have?”
“What do you want from me, then, Mr. Abraxas? I’m bound to exercise my state given authority of arrest if and only if I have, at minimum, probable cause to suspect some crime has been committed. A hunch from some tea drinking dandy from ain’t gonna do.”
“I don’t want you to arrest him.”
“I want to bring his crime to your attenton.”
“Noted. Are we done here?”
From the kitchen window, the light converged on the dining room table from its component hues into beams of white and shadow. The same light glimmered on Denny’s face as he snored in the basement. The same light also glissened on Miss Abernathy and Banjo, who were snoring in tandem.
“No. I have one more thing to tell you. You, Sergeant, are the most powerful man in this county. You are the law. Reverend Jacobs may direct your spiritual leanings, but if you had proof that he was embezzeling funds, you could arrest him and put him away. That’s power. Now, the reason I brought you out here was to tell you the truth.”
“The truth? The truth about what?”
“What do you mean?”
“The truth is, there is no Satan.”
“OK, Mr. Abraxas, I’m going to ask you to leave Miss Abernathy’s home and be on your way.”
“The truth is, omnipotence lies on a spectrum—like light. It holds darkness on one side, and light on the other. We live in between. There’s a bit of light in the blackest darkness. There’s a shadow in the brightest light.”
“You must hear this, Sergeant. Your life and the lives of everyone you protect depends on this.”
“What kind of horseshit is this?”
“The real kind, Sergeant. The time has come for you to see darkness in that which you revere and light in all that you hate.”
“Because to take sides is to lose what makes us whole.”
“I am the law, Mr. Abraxas. I have to take sides.”
“Yes, in function, but not necessarily in form—you can show mercy to the accused and be skeptical of those in power.”
“Why should I believe you?”
Abraxas grined wide, ear to ear, but said nothing. His eyes dazzled William Sergeant Willoughby for what could have been a moment or an eternity. What Sarge saw in the eyes of Abraxas failed comprehension. Sarge shook his head quickly and snapped out of it.
Then, in the full morning light, Abraxas transformed into a crow. He darted right past Sarge’s ear, causing Sarge to flinch, and through the kitchen window.
“Sarge! You alright!” Denny shouted from the basement.
“Yeah, I’m fine. C’mon up.”
Denny stumbled up the stairs.
“Another window?” Denny pointed to the kitchen window.
“Yeah. Must have been a prankster, I guess.”
“But, Miss Abernathy only said there was one broken window. Don’t you think—”
“Denny, enough. Let’s go.”
On the way out the front door, Sarge and Denny were greeted on her front porch by a groggy Miss Abernathy. Banjo was panting by her side.
“My heavens, I must have fainted,” she said.
“Ma’am, everything is alright. The broken window was probably some kids lookin’ for trouble. You also have a window out in your kitchen.”
“Really? I —”
“Here’s a police report that shows a vandal broke two of your windows. File this with your insurance company and it should be taken care of.”
“Thank you, Sarge.”
“Denny, let’s go.”
The two entered the cruiser, closed the doors firmly in syncopation, and headed back to town. As they hit Chisholm Chapel Road, Denny pulled something from his pocket.
“Does the tape player work in this thing?”
“Check this out.” Denny unsheathed a cassette tape from a worn plastic case and popped it in the crusier’s tape player. An ominous piano accompanied by windchimes filled the cruiser. An electric guitar echoed back and forth between the speakers.
“What the hell is this?” Sarge said. Conga, a bass groove, and an electric piano took over the stereo field.
“My dad used to listen to this when I was growing up. It was his favorite album,” Denny said.
“Well what is it?”
Sarge paused and sat high in his seat. “What the hell did you just say?”
“Abraxas, you know, the second Carlos Santana album. I found it in Miss Abernathy’s basement.”
“Denny, you can’t take people’s things like that, even if it is an old cassette.”
“It’s just junk to her. She’d probably want me to take it.”
Sarge said nothing and watched the road lines pass. Santana transitioned to “Black Magic Woman,” a song with which Sarge was vaguely familiar. The sun hit what seemed to be the 10 am hour, its light firm and clear.
“Denny, are there any songs about shapeshifting on that tape?”
“I don’t think so. They cover a Tito Puente song, though.”
The encounter with Abraxas stuck with Sarge for the rest of his life. Ten years later, it did turn out that Reverend Jacobs had been skimming cash about from his congregation, about a million dollars over his ten year run of saving souls. Sarge ran the investigation which ended in Jacobs doing time in central prison. The good Reverend hung himself about six months into his sentence. And, with every arrest Sarge made, he tried to see the good in even the most vile criminals—how a murdering spouse had also volunteered at the soup kitchen, how an arsonist had donated his time to reading to the elderly, how a petty thief had saved his life countless times (and by petty thief, we mean Denny).
Every morning that Sarge saw the sunrise, he watched the light change as the sun took its place in the sky.