ORLANDO SMART-POWELL - Company Message



AMERICAN MESSIAH - A GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL



CHAPTER 1

     




    
     Knock-knock.

     Winston looked up from his laptop and paused a moment. He peeked back at the computer and searched for the time. Three o’clock it was.

     It was three in the afternoon on a Sunday with no one expected to arrive on a Sunday at three, he thought.

     He turned down the music streaming from his computer—a smooth flowing African tribal beat with a techno undercurrent. It had just enough bass to dance to, like the type he used to dance to that had a heavy bass that, with a few drinks, could temporarily throb out the worries of the world from his head. Those…the drinks and dancing and throbbing rhythms…no longer worked at easing his troubles. But writing did.

     He typed a few more words—hit enter—before getting up from the desk in the small office off of the dining room and crossing over to the door. You knew somebody was gonna come looking for ya one day, he told himself, as he stepped out into the hallway.

     Why are you surprised, Winn? Huh? Are you that stupid-smart? You that smart-stupid?

     Knock-knock.

     Ricky, his lover, was upstairs.

     Ricky had not mentioned anything to him about anyone stopping by…especially not at three o’clock…not at three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. It could not be one of Ricky’s friends, he thought. All of Ricky’s friends were likely still nursing a hangover from a Saturday night of drinking and dancing and preening and ego stroking, and then most, likely comforting shamed egos in a cold bed they had envisioned would still be warm with the embers of passion from the night before. And Winston—Winn he went by—knew his friends who were gray-beards like he, were probably still nursing their stiff knuckles and sore knees after a Saturday night of drinking and dancing and preening and…and…from a night of dancing to music seeped in that heavy bass that throbbed their worldly worries away.

     And besides, he figured, the knock-knock knocking just did not sound right. There was a tenor to its tone that seemed to insist, this ain’t about the arrival of good tidings, you old man.

     Knock-knock.

     Knock-knock-knock.

     Winston turned his head to the side and listened for the march of Ricky’s footsteps descending on the stairway on the other side of the house. But all he heard was the bubbling of the water heater in the basement, and the growl of acid and black coffee swishing ill in his stomach. Hmm? he gathered. If Ricky stayed true to who he was, and there was no reason he could think of to suggest he would not, Winston figured that even if Ricky had heard the knock-knock knocking, he would choose to remain upstairs lost in the midst of his electronic world of motherboards, cables, routers and computer code that looked like hieroglyphics to his own dark brown eyes, and dollar signs to Ricky’s lighter brown ones, which were twenty years younger than his.

     Ricky was willfully preoccupied, Winston thought, which was a good thing…at least for now. The knock-knock on the front door…now a more determined knock-knock-knock…was not meant for Ricky anyway, he figured. He had been expecting this for some time now. Though that was not entirely true, he thought. He had been waiting for a bullet to pierce the window and strike him in the temple. Perhaps when he turned the keys to start his car, then it would come…the boom, that is. Poison slipped in his drink while he was out dining, he contemplated more than once. A rare, bizarre cancer from an agent that was somehow injected into his system, he had pondered that means also. But a visitor who was knock-knock knocking on his door he had not guessed would be the way he would finally be done in and silenced.
     
     The walk from the office past the first of two sitting rooms and then over to the foyer took his long lean legs less than twenty steps. Ricky’s shorter and even leaner ones would have needed about ten more to cross the same distance. Victorian homes like theirs always crammed all the rooms together it seemed; no room that much further away from the next.

     He stopped a foot shy of the front door. The door’s pane of colored glass cast mixed irregular shaped designs onto him and the floor.

     His distorted reflection in the mosaic made his thinning, cottony black and white hair seem more unkempt than it actually was. Nappy—was what white folks called it—kinky, he was always quick to respond, correcting them. Spying the collar of his red sweatshirt reminded him he was still wearing the outfit he wore the day previous—gray sweat pants and a white t-shirt underneath his sweatshirt. He looked down. His sweatpants were blotched with red table wine he had been drinking after another night of typing and uploading, and listening to videos of what others had to say of his typing and what he had uploaded. But right now, this very moment, what was most central to him was who was on the other side of the glass looking at him, and had been knocking on the door at three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon.

     The knock-knock, which had become a knock-knock-knocking, had ceased.

     Winston squinted as he peered harder.

     Though the glass distorted the view of the white man as much as it did his own image, Winston realized that he did indeed recognize the man, even though he was certain he had never met him before. The man’s white hair and goatee were clearly familiar to him. The man was leaning in toward the door; bent at the waist like a father in the midst of a lecture to a child. His white face, however, was sans the grimace a fatherly lecture would undoubtedly induce. It was more of an uncle’s kindly, yet authoritative demeanor his crooked posture and tightly pressed thin lips conveyed.

     And dressed for business he was; white suit and a white briefcase gripped in his right hand that made milky the reds, blues and greens coming through the stained glass.
     
     Winston put his left hand on the doorframe as he yanked open the door. The door opened with a creaking yawn, as new doors on old homes were won’t to do on old homes that were constantly settling. He waved the white man in—bidding him an ill welcome—with a swish of his arm down and away from his body.

     The man was easily equal to his six-foot height, Winston noted, as the man stepped past the threshold and into he and Ricky’s restored Victorian. Winston opened the door wider, backing up until his legs pressed against the radiator on wall behind him and he could go no further.

     The white man stopped for a moment and then turned, and smirked at him. Such a simple gesture…that grin…was enough to gin up a face full of uneven, symmetrical wrinkles on his face that was already teeming with them. His dark pink, practically red lips stayed curled in that smirk all the while he looked at Winston. He looked up and then down, as though appraising all that had been so recently remodeled in the house that now made it more of a caricature of a Victorian than a restored one.

     And then the white man resumed. He carried on down the hall…smirk still intact; deep set wrinkles proudly still on display. He made his way down the narrow hall that was just wide enough for one person to access and two to squeeze through if they were careful to forgo nightly, sweet excesses. His stepping in his white, shiny shoes were solid and sure, as though he already knew where he was headed.

     Winston closed the door and followed him.

     The white man—this familiar white man—glanced left as he passed the narrow living room, and then swung his attention to the right, where he turned and entered the much larger room—a dining room—with gold painted crown molding smiling down from above and boasting a dining room table that could sit ten, though was in a house of only two. The white man stopped a few feet past the threshold of the dining room and turned, waiting for Winston to enter.

     “Dare I say, good evening…Winston Herrera-Parks?” the white man asked, as Winston came in and moved back from him so that they stood facing one another. “I suppose whether it is good or not is dependent on how the evening proceeds. For in the end, I may say it was a good one. You on the other hand may have quite a different perception about it. But let us not start there, hmm? Let us say it is a good evening thus far, shall we?”
Winston stared at him—his brown eyes dancing with white man’s sparkling blue ones.

     “My name is Samuel Merrica,” he said, as he brought the white briefcase directly in front of his crotch and grasped it with both pale hands. “And let’s just be frank. There is no reason for you and I to dance this dance anymore, is there? This is not the time for subterfuge or…or veiled deceptions. So,” he said and paused for a moment, “you already know why I am here, don’t you?”

     Winston raised his grayed, black brow.

     “I am here to kill you,” he said simply, and then smiled, showing teeth there were just as ghastly white as his skin. “Oh, indeed, Winn,” he insisted. “Winn…that is what your boy, Ricky, upstairs calls you isn’t it? Yes? No? Who cares at this point? Hmm?”

     “I know why you’re here,” Winston mumbled. “You might as well come in and have a seat.”

     “Why, I’d be delighted!” Samuel gushed.

     Winston motioned toward the chairs on the opposite side of the table. Samuel grinned as he walked about the dining room that was decorated with wood carved African masks with slit eyes; paintings and pictures of niggers in chains and chokes…barefoot Negroes in ragged burlap shirts…colored folk wearing straw hats, top hats…and discerning African-American ladies in flowered tea hats on their way to church.