Actually, It's Jesus, 7: Sustenance

A few days later Jesus found himself in Charles’s kitchen, this time learning the finer points of cooking something called baklava. As usual they spent their time before the meal had been finished talking about non-work issues, as Charles carefully laid sheets of paper-thin and almost absurdly fragile dough atop one another and painted the layers with melted butter. Every few layers he’d add an even layer of finely-chopped nuts before putting more dough down. Jesus thought he’d go insane making a dish like that. On the topic of insanity:

“So you’re telling me that you’ve been having seizure dreams that last for days?” Charles looked up from where he’d been cutting the uncooked baklava into tidy little triangles.

“The first time, it was longer than that. Months.”

Charles shook his head. “Man, them bikers really fucked your head up. For real.” He was using a dish of honey to glue almonds atop each triangle of baklava. “If I didn’t know you like I do I’d say you were making shit up, or losing your mind.”

“Feels like I am when it happens. You know, I wake up and I’ve been through all this crazy shit and then it’s like I’m right where I was, just a few seconds later according to the people around me. But it’s not like it’s a dream where everything’s weird and you can fly and shit like that. It’s as real as me sitting here. So I wonder if I’ve gone crazy too.”

The conversation continued as Charles put the baklava in the oven and served Jesus a dish made from various heavily-seasoned vegetable items arranged like spokes on a wheel with wedges of pita bread in the center. Jesus started by trying one item at a time, beginning with a tangy cucumber salad in yogurt with fresh dill, and then a curried thing with chickpeas, tomatoes, and golden raisins.

“No, I mean it’s good like that, but here’s how it’s meant to be eaten.” Charles took a wedge of pita, swirled it around the center of his plate, mixing all the items together, and ate it off the bread. “See, this is how it’s done. You got your hot items and your cold items, they stay best if you only mix them together right before you eat them. So you mix up just as much as you’re about to eat at a time.”

Jesus gave that a try and was treated to something beyond the sum of all the flavors on his plate. “Wow,” was all he could manage. Visiting Charles was never a bad meal, but this was something at a whole other level.

Somehow Charles managed to clear his plate faster than Jesus despite the fact that he never seemed to stop talking. He wanted to know more details about Jesus’s unconscious adventures, asking for details here and there, then got up to clear the lunch plates. “That’s a hell of a story, man. Never knew you had problems with elephants before though.”

Charles chuckled. “Now you’re gonna want to watch this.” He took a pitcher with a dark-colored substance he referred to as “the syrup” out of the fridge, set it down, and pulled the baklava out of the oven, immediately filling the room with a mouth-watering nutty smell. Jesus saw that the baklava had turned golden brown, slightly higher in the center of each triangle than along the edges. Then Charles poured the syrup all down the edges of each triangle, leading to a sizzling noise. As he did, each triangle puffed up a bit more, and the smell of honey, spices, and something Jesus found familiar but oddly out-of-place was also in the air. It was pleasant, whatever it was, and smelled good with all the other flavors of the baklava.

“I’ll make us some coffee while we let this cool for a minute.” Charles began his coffee-making routine which like most things Charles did in a kitchen was both unfamiliar to Jesus and excellent in its result – this was not the first time Jesus had had coffee there. Charles brought him a cup, black.

Jesus sipped his coffee and sat back, completely content with the world. Sure, he’d worked in kitchens, could chop veggies, flip burgers, and put a salad on a plate. But Charles could cook, and Jesus was impressed every time he ate there.

Charles sat down with his own coffee and sat in silence, staring out across the Bay at Angel Island and Point Tiburon just to the north of it. The tide was heading out, leaving a lane of water a couple of hundreds yard wide which was lighter-colored and smoother than the waters beyond due to the millions of cubic feet per minute of water surging out of the Delta on its way to the Pacific Ocean. The sun was behind them, and occasionally a twinkle reached their eyes as a wave or a boat wake bounced the light back to Charles’s kitchen window. Jesus enjoyed the moment. The quiet, the coffee, a full stomach, a kitchen filled with delicious smells, and an incredible view, all working together to make something more than each constituent part very much in the same way that mixing the ingredients of the lunch Charles served did.

After Charles had served Jesus a slice of baklava – along with another cup of coffee – and both men had enjoyed their pastries, Charles got down to business. “Houseboat Jason asked for you by name for this one. I guess you impressed him somehow by how you, you know,” and here, Charles chuckled, “got the keys for a car and drove it to Concord. Beats me. Anyhow, for this job I’d feel a lot better if you had somebody with you, but I don’t have anybody lined up who can help. You got anyone in mind?”

“Maybe,” he said. “What kind of situation are we looking at?”

“Package delivery, cash return. A lot of cash, and the exchange is happening at The Swamp.”

Jesus sucked air between his teeth. “You sure you want me going there?” He was bound to stand out, and this was a place nobody in their right mind would want to stand out at.

“Jason says he’s arranged everything with the guys down there. You know that I know that situation, and given how things go down there it’s probably true. If it isn’t true, well, that’s why I want you to bring someone. If you can manage it, the two of you get a thousand each.”

“That’s not a lot for this run.”

“You got anyone or not?” Charles leaned forward in a way suggesting the amount wasn’t up for negotiation.

“Thousand bucks? I’m going to have to get back to you. Call you tomorrow?”

“Only if you say you’ve got somebody and you’ll do it.”

Jesus helped Charles clean up from the meal before leaving. Once that was done he thanked Charles for the good food and good time and got ready to leave. Before he was out the door Charles said to him, “If I don’t hear back from you tomorrow I’ll have to tell Jason you couldn’t take the job. I hope I don’t have to make that call though.”

Jesus nodded and pulled on his sweatshirt. “Oh, and one more thing,” said Charles. “Watch out for elephants!” Jesus cracked a grin and left to the sound of Charles’s mirth.

Driving home, Jesus thought about his options. The only person he’d worked jobs like this with before was Jason, and aside from the fact that Jason was a loose cannon at times, they were still pissed off at one another over what happened in Strathmore.

Then Jesus thought about Tony. The two of them had been through plenty of scrapes together, but that was when they were still teenagers. The situation was bound to be more serious than anything he and Tony had got up to back then. On the other hand, he had brought the car from Houseboat Jason to Tony. Worth a shot anyhow.

He called. Tony answered, “Yeah?”

“Tony, it’s Jesus,” but before he could say anything else Jesus had to wait through Tony hooting and hollering about how he was hearing the voice of Jesus Himself, how his auntie had been wrong about him, that he believed in Jesus after all, and so on. It had been several years since Jesus had had to hear all this, but Tony clearly hadn’t forgotten what to do. From Tony’s point of view anyway.

“Wow, it’s like I never heard that before, except for like a thousand other times.”

“Hah, man. You know you like it.” Tony had a certain drawl to his voice that Jesus recognized. He imagined Tony’s apartment filled with smoke, with a recently-forgotten bong smoldering away on the coffee table.

“You mean I put up with it from you because otherwise you’re pretty cool to hang with.”

“Oh, is that what this is about? You wanna hang out? Only if you bring a garage door opener.”

Jesus laughed. “Dude, how long did we drive around before that thing finally worked?”

“If I had to guess, it was about as long as it took for us to smoke that crappy eighth of weed you brought. Man, that shit was funny.” Tony was right. As teenagers, the two of them had on some stoned “this is a good idea” whim driven for several hours around a massive subdivision with a garage door opener one of them had found, pressing the button over and over until eventually a door obligingly rose to their command. Shrieking with laughter, the pair quickly drove off, their role as chaos agents fulfilled. Although they never learned about it, the aftermath was everything they had dreamed of: the next morning the husband went to get something out of the garage, found the door wide open, completely freaked out and checked that none of his tools had been stolen, then went inside and opened a round of blame game between his wife and their teenage son. As none of them had in fact left the garage door open they all righteously proclaimed their innocence and as such things generally go, the teenager wound up having to shoulder the blame.

“ANYhow,” Jesus said, “I was calling to see if you wanted any work. I need another person on something.”

“I could be down,” said Tony. “What’s the deal?”

“Pickup, dropoff, return cash. Marin to South City.”

“Why do you need another person? Is it gonna be a lot of cash?”

“Yeah. Also the exchange is happening at The Swamp.”

Jesus could hear Tony click his tongue on the roof of his mouth. “Right. Man, I got you. You were thinking if you drove down to Sunnydale all by yourself your ghost-colored self was gonna get robbed, gotta bring a brother with you to make it OK.”

“Um,” Jesus said, at a loss for words.

The phone erupted in laughter. “Man, you know I’m fucking with you, right? Shit, here comes Token Tony to rescue your white ass again, just like the old days!”

“More like Tokin’ Tony,” Jesus retorted.

Tony coughed deeply, then laughed. “Well, that’s one thing you right about anyway. But why would I want to go down to Sunnydale? I haven’t been there in years and that’s not long enough.”

“Thousand dollars.”

“Shit, that’s all you had to say. Is this is a Charles thing? That man has his shit wired up tight, if it's him this job should be easy.”

“Yeah, it’s Charles and yeah he sure does.” Jesus breathed a sigh of relief. Then, remembering something, he asked: “You ever meet Houseboat Jason in person?”

“No, only talked on the phone a couple times. Something’s not right with that dude.”

Jesus chuckled. “Man, you have no idea… I’ll fill you in on the ride there. Pick you up at your place day after tomorrow.”

Tony got off the phone and thought about working this job with Jesus. What he knew was that they both worked for Charles, who was either an uncle, a cousin, or something else to Tony. All he really knew is that they were related. Tony trusted Charles to the ends of the earth in work and in good food. Jesus worked for him, so he had that to go on. Still, he’d only seen Jesus once in the past five years when he dropped off the car, and the problem with Sunnydale is that things could go sideways even for someone as organized as Charles. They’d have to be ready for anything.

Back in high school they’d become the sort of friends only a certain kind of teenage male can become: they’d run around together and do dumb shit, but if anything went wrong it was every man for himself. They both understood and respected that, and not infrequently one of them would get caught for something at school they had both done, only to find the other had been assigned detention later the same day for something else. This never failed to lead to massive amounts of shit-talking, which both of them enjoyed greatly.

Their home lives were similar enough for all their differences. Jesus lived in a group home for foster teens in Antioch where he was supposedly required to follow a long list of very strict rules about where to be and when, but in reality the people running the group home didn’t give a shit as long as nobody got arrested or pregnant, at which point they’d throw the kid under the bus with the various authorities and evict them.

Tony grew up in a big house in Pittsburg, the next town over. His grandparents owned the place and hosted a varying number of their children, grandchildren, spouses, friends and others whose presence could not be explained. The rules at home were simple: stay off the couch unless invited, no fighting inside, be home for dinner and ready for breakfast each day, and no disrespecting your elders. It was a lively house full of love, loudness, and the smells of good food. Jesus had been over a few times for dinner and probably the only reason anyone noticed his presence was that he was white. Once it became clear that he was going to enjoy his meal and not be disrespectful he was promptly ignored beyond the level of supervision all the people in the house experienced.

Tony had been living there since he was a toddler after his mom got arrested for getting into a car that had been used earlier in the evening to commit a robbery and despite having no knowledge of that event, when the car was brought to the side of the road by a phalanx of officers she was charged as an accessory to the robbery. Her public defender met her the morning of the trial and told her she was going to accept a plea deal in a few minutes. She tried to argue her innocence but the defender told her it didn’t matter, and by the time she thought to ask about the sentence the hearing had already started.

So it came to pass that Tony’s mom went to serve a 60-month sentence in Chowchilla when he was two. They traveled down to see her there twice, but he could barely remember the visits. She was released for good behavior after two and a half years, and came home to her parents’ house. With a felony record it was almost impossible for her to find work or a place of her own to rent, so for the rest of Tony’s childhood she was either there with him or staying with somebody for a while. She’d get work as often as she could, but the types of jobs where her felony record would be overlooked tended to be short in duration and even shorter in pay. Basically, she survived as best she could, parented as much as she was able, and never let Tony forget how much she loved him. Tony loved her back, and now that he was able to earn money on his own he would check in on her and make sure she had enough. She carried right on surviving, a lesson she desperately hoped her son would never have to learn.

The only time Tony had ever seen Jesus get emotional was when Tony asked him about his mother. They were walking out of detention and Tony mentioned the fact that it was his mother’s birthday and he didn’t know what to get her. This eventually led to Tony asking Jesus about why he was in foster care, what had happened to his parents. Jesus didn’t say a word for at least five minutes, then responded that he’d never known who his father was, and he didn’t want to talk about his mother. Tony never asked him again.

Tony thought about their old friendship. One of the things that had to be different now was that they had to have each other's backs, no more “every man for himself.” He trusted Charles enough to know that Jesus wasn’t going to leave him blowing in the wind if there was trouble, but these kinds of jobs required a lot of trust. Tony was looking forward to it, but he hoped he wasn’t making a mistake.

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