One Door From Heaven
"The country's Founding Fathers would be so proud."
The stranger's eyes, previously as empty as a sociopath's heart, filled with suspicion. "What're you-some political nut? I thought you were just a sad-ass gumshoe grubbing a few bucks by peeping in people's bedrooms."
"I need more than a few right now. How much did your Navigator cost?" Noah asked.
"You couldnt afford one."
"I've got good credit."
The pacifist laughed knowingly. When the waitress approached, he waved her away. Then he produced a small waxy bag and dropped it on the table.
Noah drew comfort from the beer.
Repeatedly clenching and relaxing his right hand, as though he were troubled by joint stiffness after long hours of punching babies and nuns, the pacifist said, "The congressman isn't unreasonable. By taking his wife as a client, you declared that you were his enemy. But he's such a good man, he wants to make you his friend."
"What a Christian."
"Let's not start name-calling." Each time the politician's man flexed his fist, the fanged mouth widened on the tattoo snake. "At least take a look at his peace offering."
The bag was folded and sealed. Noah peeled back the tape, opened the flap, and half extracted a wad of hundred-dollar bills.
"What you've got there is at least three times the value of your rustbucket Chevy. Plus the cost of the camera you left on the front seat."
"Still not the price of a Navigator," Noah observed.
"We're not negotiating, Sherlock."
"I don't see the strings."
"There's only one. You wait a few days, then you tell the wife you followed the congressman all over, but the only time he ever slung his willy out of his pants was when he needed to take a leak."
"What about when he was screwing the country?"
"You don't sound like a guy who wants to be friends."
"I've never been much good at relationships
but I'm willing to try."
"I'm sure glad to hear that. Frankly, I've been worried about you. In the movies, private eyes are always so incorruptible, they'd rather have their teeth kicked out than betray a client."
"I never go to the movies."
Pointing to the small bag as Noah tucked the cash into it once more, the pacifist said, "Don't you realize what that is?"
"I mean the bag. It's an airsickness bag." His grin faded. "What- you never saw one before?"
"I never travel."
"The congressman has a nice sense of humor."
"lie's hysterical." Noah shoved the bag into a pants pocket.
"He's saying money's nothing but vomit to him."
"He's quite the philosopher."
"You know what he's got that's better than money?"
"Certainly not wit."
"Power. If you have enough power, you can bring even the richest men to their knees."
"Who said that originally? Thomas Jefferson? Abe Lincoln?"
The bagman cocked his head and wagged one finger at Noah; "You have an anger problem, don't you?"
"Absolutely. I don't have enough of it anymore."
"What you need is to join the Circle of Friends."
"Sounds like Quakers."
"It's an organization the congressman founded. That's where he made a name for himself, before politics-helping troubled youth, turning their lives around."
"I'm thirty-three," Noah said.
"The Circle serves all age groups now. It really works. You learn there may be a million questions in life but only one answer-"
"Which you're wearing," Noah guessed, pointing at the guy's
LOVE IS THE ANSWER T-shirt.
"Love yourself, love your brothers and sisters, love nature."
"This kind of thing always starts with 'love yourself.' "
"It has to. You can't love others until you love yourself. I was sixteen when I joined the Circle, seven years ago. A wickedly messed-up kid. Selling drugs, doing drugs, violent just for the thrill of it, mixed up in a dead-end gang. But I got turned around."
"Now you're in a gang with a future."
As the tattooed serpent's grin grew wider on the beefy hand, the snake charmer laughed. "I like you, Farrel."
"You might not approve of the congressman's methods, but he's got a vision for this country that could bring us all together."
"The end justifies the means,
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