Novel Excerpt: Berea, KY

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A rare day off, so I finally get to work on my novel.

The first appearance of Reverend What and Kumiko Yasinovskaya:

Paradise Motel, Berea, KY.

Reverend What was a diminutive man. He crossed the threshold from his motel room to the outside world, dressed only in pink-striped pajamas and a jipi fedora, hand-woven by Mayans in the caves of the Yucatán peninsula. Osvaldo Pugliese’s Andrés Selpa floated from inside, a spinning vinyl disk on a mobile record player. He rolled a cigarette, lit it, and tossed the match, watching as a flat-bed truck bounced across the crumbling asphalt.

Beyond a thin trail of scrub pines, endless semis droned through the thick mid-summer air like bored cicadas.

“What’s for breakfast?” Kumiko Yasinovskaya, a towering woman, peered out from her room into the bright morning, squinting as she drew a short silk robe across her muscular body. She pulled her dark hair away from her face and tied it behind. “It’s already hot.”

“Is it?”

“Hey, you know you’re barefoot?”

He nodded at the truck. “I got you something.”

She crossed her arms. “It better be a bacon and egg biscuit.”

The driver hopped from the cab and approached slowly, reading from a clipboard. “A, uh…Reverend…What?”

“That looks to be a blue 1972 Buick Electra.”

“Uh, yeah, that’s what it says. I guess just sign here and this baby’s yours.”

“Thank you, my good man. And this is my driver, Ms. Yasinovskaya. The car is for her.”

“You put a bomb in my last car. You can’t expect me to just pretend that never happened.”

“Oh, okay.” The driver glanced up at her and touched the bill of his cap. “It’s a, uh…it’s a pleasure. I do hope this one works out for you!”

“It was a convertible. You’re replacing a 1960 Jaguar XK150 DHC with a Buick.”

“I thought perhaps you would scream when you saw it. You do realize the leg room this model offers?”

The driver grinned and nodded. “Yeah, it’s a big one.”

What handed the clipboard to the driver. “Are you a religious man, young sir?”

He looked over the paperwork and nodded. “I go to church every Sunday, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Kumiko is a zealot. Do you know what that means?”

The driver considered this, but said nothing.

What gestured to her, drawing attention to the woven iron of her crossed arms and the soft curves of her bare legs. “She is not of this world. She drives because her father taught her when she was twelve. She eats an inordinate amount of pork because she believes this will assimilate her into your culture. However, she is and will ever be a tourist in your world. Hers is a binary existence in which she has one goal and anyone who impedes her path is an enemy with a capital ‘E’. Do you understand what that means?”

He shifted from one foot to the other and back again. He lifted the cap and scratched his head, looking sheepishly up at Kumiko and her stone expression.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t want to know anything about it.”

Kumiko spat. “I want to watch it burn. May I?”

The driver shrugged and took a step back. “Give me a second, I’ll have it down in a jiffy. Then you can do whatever you want with her!”

What slowly drew from his cigarette. “The end justifies the means, my dear, you know that better than anyone. One cannot trace what does not exist.”

“Why did you say that to him? What did you want me to take from that little performance?”

Reverend What dug into his scraggly beard. “There was another incident during the night. I need your assistance.”

“Do you want me to kill him?”

“If I let you kill him, will you drive me to Taylorsville?”

Kumiko sighed and lowered her arms. “You refer to me as your driver again, I’ll tear your throat out.”

“An occupational hazard, to be sure, sharing adventures with an assassin. It was always my assumption.” Reverend What smiled broadly. “Very well, if the terms are agreeable, let us retrieve our bags and be on our way.”

“What’s a ‘Taylorsville’?”

“I imagine it is a place quite proud of its pork and chicken products, if the uniformity of factory farms in its vicinity is any indication. Does that suffice to convince you?”

Kumiko gazed down on him. “One condition.”

Reverend What produced a dented flask from his shirt pocket and swallowed with a grimace. “You want to know why I called you a zealot in front of a complete stranger, drawing undue attention to both of us and putting his life at risk.”

“I want to know why you went to Nazareth without me last week. You can’t expect me to just tag along when it’s convenient for you.”

The driver unhooked the car and the flatbed slowly moved back to its original position.

“Aristotle is to have said that if we declare all opinions opposed to ours as false in relation to our own, we then must admit that an infinite number of true and false opinions also exist. That man, like you, completely lacks the capacity for self-reflection, and so his mind is encapsulated in a perfect world, protected from the true nature of reality.” He dropped his cigarette, stepped on it with his bare toe, and looked up at Kumiko sadly. “I envy you your certainty, Kumiko. And believe me when I say I did not abandon you. I went alone to Nazareth to protect you. Doubt is a worm that eats away at self-worth, and no one is more prone to suicide than zealots who learn to doubt.”

The driver clapped his hands together as if to remind them of his presence. He walked over to briskly and smiled at each of them in turn. “Well, here’s your key. Which one of you wants it?”

Kumiko: “What’s your name?”

“It’s John, ma’am. Nothing special.” He held the key out for her.

“Are you happy, John?”

John shrugged. “I couldn’t ask for much. Got a roof over my head, a good wife, my kids love me. Sure, I could drive myself crazy thinking about what might’ve been, but that ain’t no way to live, now is it?”

Kumiko accepted the key. “No, it is not. Live a good life, John. Death has no power over one who is unafraid of life.”

The driver laughed and shook his head. “I hope you don’t mind if I tell my wife about you, she’ll never believe me. You two are a couple of characters!”

Reverend What bent the rim of his hat and smiled. “You are correct, sir. No one will ever believe you. Good day to you. And good life.”

He waved and jumped back into his truck.

“I think I see what you mean,” Kumiko said, “but I still want to know what happened there. And someday, you will tell me about Belżec.” She smiled. “Whether you like it or not.”

What sighed. “Kumiko, my penchant for secrets has a purpose, the value of which you would appreciate if you ever came to know it.” He returned the flask and shook his head. “Never mind. Perhaps this heat simply gets our blood up, as they say.”

“After all this time, please don’t tell me you’ve suddenly learned how to keep your mouth shut? If you weren’t so impossibly short, I’d swear you were an imposter.”

Reverend What turned to his room, waving his hand. “Thy mind doth present itself as a labyrinth, my dear. This morning, I need a driver more than I need my secrets. After all, the pedals of that Buick are quite beyond my ability to reach them. You shall have your story.”

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