“Shake off your slumber, O son of God.”
Why is Papa speaking English?
The seventeen-year-old runaway from Virginia Beach smiled-happy to be home again. But for some reason his bed was cold and hard this morning, and he could feel his heart pounding in his back and in his side against-
The bus station floor. I fell asleep again at the bus station.
Paul Jimenez cracked his eyes-a bright ball of light stinging them to slits.
No, he thought. Something else. I can’t wake up.
“Bad shit,” he heard himself whisper. “Eliot, you motherfuck-”
But then Paul Jimenez remembered that he didn’t talk to Eliot anymore-had not even seen him in over six months, ever since the pigs picked him up for stealing those checks. And Paul never used that shit like Eliot did-never used that shit at all anymore. He had been lucky with that, had been warned about that shit almost a year ago on his first day in town by the guy he met at the Boston Public Library; the guy who smiled a big gold-tooth smile when Paul said he was clean; the guy who told him about the big bucks a kid like Paul could make on Arlington Street as long as he stayed clean.
“You start taking that shit, though,” the guy had said, “and you’re done, son. Hawks ain’t gonna drop that kinda coin for a junkie. Fresh and clean. Remember that.”
Paul’s eyes fluttered wide, and amidst a bright white haze the young man suddenly understood that he was not on the bus station floor; he was not even on the floor at Brian’s-that cold hardwood floor on which he had been crashing with his friends for the last couple of months, and on which a roach tried to crawl in his ear. But he was lying down-yes, could feel something steel-hard on his back and buttocks. And he was groggy, felt like he couldn’t move-had to be doped up on something. Yet at the same time he felt his veins pumping with energy, with the light above him, with the heart pounding beat of-
Music? Somebody slip me shit at the club? Some bathroom floor in Chinatown?
For a moment Paul thought he could see the dance floor, the lights flashing on the college boys-some looking for it for free, some looking to make some extra money to get their Abercrombie & Fitch fix. All the same.
“That’s it,” said the man’s voice-a voice that Paul recognized from someplace. “Come forth from the stone.”
Paul tried to speak, but his throat hurt-felt like he had swallowed a glass full of needles. Then he felt a dull prick, a tug on his forearm. His heart was racing-even more so than when he confessed to Papa that he liked boys; even more so than when Papa shut him in the hotel room with that prostitute hoping that he would come out a man; even more so than when Papa drove him to the Greyhound station, bought him a bus ticket to Boston, and told him never to come home again. But this was a different kind of heartbeat-harder, more painful-a heartbeat that he could feel all the way down to his fingers and toes, the tips of which felt like they wanted to pop.
“Where am I?” Paul asked, his voice cracking. The edges of the light before him solidified into a white rectangle-
Must be the Strand, he thought-the shit-bag movie theatre where, as “Jim,” he used to meet his clients in the back row for a quick swallow or no swallow-ten percent of either going to the theatre manager, of course. But that was before he started using the computer at the library; that was before he set himself up in business online-where the real money was. Yeah, he still worked Arlington Street sometimes, but only in a pinch; only when-
No, Paul thought. It ain’t the Strand-screen was too sharp, too close to his face in the darkness. And then Paul’s senses, Paul’s memory came back to him in one big rush-the images in his beating blood filling his brain like water in a balloon.
The man in the car. The big man in the suit. Chris. Was going well. Was buying Jim’s innocent act. Then he spit at me-no, pinched me in the neck; smiled at me when I-
Instinctively Paul tried to sit up, tried to separate himself from the cold steel behind him-but his head would not move, would not even turn from side to side. And he felt something on his shoulders-hairy and itchy. Paul tried to lift his hands, but his wrists were tied down; and although he could not see his chest, his thighs, or his ankles, he understood all at once that the man named Chris had strapped him down to a table.
It’s finally happened, Paul thought, his mind scrambling for what to do. I finally got myself in with a loco.
Sure, during his year on the streets of Boston, Paul had run into his share of freaks-had even let a hawk dress “Jim” up in a diaper once and whip him with a belt. Probably should have gone to the hospital after that one, but the money from that gig was so good he was able to rest up at Brian’s for a couple of weeks before going back to work. But now something was really wrong. He had been slipped something-could feel it in his chest, in his hands and feet, pumping hard, pumping painfully.
He had to think. Fast.
“I’ll roll which-you, lover,” he said as Jim. “But you gotta tell me what’s what first. Turn on the lights so I can see you, baby.” Paul’s voice felt sharp, clear, but seemed to disappear in front of him-sucked up dead into the darkness. Then suddenly the screen above him flickered into life.
The image floating before Paul’s eyes was that of a statue-dirty white marble against the darkness, floating just inches from his face. Paul recognized it immediately. It was the Jesus and Mary statue from atop his mother’s dresser; the small white figurine that she’d had since before he was born-the one he was never allowed to touch; the one she used to look at when she’d say her rosaries.
The Piet`a, Paul said to himself. That’s what she used to call it. The Piet`a.
Yes, there was Mary, draped in her flowing robes and staring down at the crucified Jesus in her arms-the very same version of Jesus that Paul had stared at so many times when his parents were out working. The memories came flooding back to him at once: the strange excitement at first; then, when he was older, the guilt he felt upon looking at Jesus’ body-a virtually naked body that even by the age of six had already begun to cause a strange stirring in his Toughskins.
“I gotch-you,” said Paul, said Jim. “This is what you’re into, it’s cool. But let’s talk business first so we can enjoy ourselves. Okay, lover?”
“Ssh,” said the voice again. “Look at the screen, O son of God.”
Paul knew it was Chris-the guy from the car, the guy from the Internet. Paul could feel himself beginning to panic-his mind racing in time with his heart. He had to stay calm, had to think clearly, had to fight the shit this prick had slipped him. Then suddenly the image of the statue shifted, and began closing in on the face of Jesus.
“That’s it,” said Chris from the darkness, from somewhere off to Paul’s right. “Shake off your slumber, O son of God.”
As did Tommy Campbell on the mortician’s table three months earlier, Paul tried to turn his head, tried to find the owner of the voice, but could see nothing except the image of the statue before him, which now had settled on a close-up of Jesus’ face. It was just as Paul remembered it, but better-much more detailed than the cheap souvenir copy that had been his mother’s. A face that was serene, at peace with death. A face that, even in his panic, Paul could not help but find simply beautiful.
“Seriously, lover-I getch-you. We can do whatever you want, but that shit you gave me is hurting me inside. And I gotta clean myself in back, baby. Know what I mean?”
Paul was telling the truth about the painful pounding in his veins, but as far as getting with this guy? No way. Soon as this loco untied him he was out-would kick him hard in the balls and make a dash for the door. Yes, Paul would take his chances naked outside. After all, even Jim could tell this guy was fucked up.
Paul strained hard against the straps when the image before him began to move again. And just as Tommy Campbell had become transfixed by the body of Bacchus scrolling before him, Paul Jimenez watched as the screen slowly panned down over Jesus’ chest-to the subtle indication of the wound in His side, to the small nail mark in His right hand, down His legs, and coming to rest on the wounds in His feet.
Suddenly-be it from the instincts of a hustler, the shit pumping through his veins, or both-all at once Paul understood. Yes, all at once Paul was overcome with the sweeping terror of knowing deep down that Chris-or whatever the fuck his name really was-meant to kill him.
“You motherfucker!” he screamed, his skin breaking out into cold sweat. “You let me go now and I won’t say nothin’. I got friends. They gonna know who you are, you dumb motherfucker! I told them where I was going! They gonna find you on the computer, you stupid fuck!”
No reply-except the painful pounding of his heart. The image on the screen flickered and changed, and then Paul saw only himself, saw only his face as he struggled against his restraints. He did not pause to ponder the strap and the wig of long wavy hair that had been placed on his head-the wig of long wavy hair that he knew right away was meant to look like Jesus’ hair.
“Help!” Paul screamed as the image on the screen began to pan down over his body. “Somebody help me!” Paul did not care to look for the camera, did not try to see who was filming him. No, for Paul there was one thought and one thought only: Get me the fuck out of here or I will die!
Paul pulled frantically at the straps, watching the screen with pounding terror as the camera moved down his body. He strained harder when he saw the strap across his chest, and as he did so, he saw the wound in his side split open and begin to run red down his rib cage. Instinctively he stopped. No pain, but the feeling of something warm and wet in his hands. And thus, even before the camera reached them, Paul knew what he would see. He began to cry.
“Please, God,” he said-the sight of the gaping holes in the back of his hands making him nauseous. “Don’t do this to me, please! I’ll go straight. I promise! I don’t wanna die. I wanna go home. I promise you, God.”
Paul began to convulse-the shit, the fear pumping through his veins now one and the same. His eyes felt like they would burst. He tried to shut them, tried to keep them in their sockets, but an invisible touch from behind overpowered him.
“Keep watching,” said Chris-his fingers resting gently on Paul’s eyelids and propping them open. “Keep watching and you will understand. Keep watching and you will be free.”
The image on the screen had come to rest on Paul’s feet-jerking, bleeding profusely from the holes that The Sculptor had spiked in them. Paul tried to turn his head, tried to look away from the horror of what had been done to him, but the tears in his eyes seemed only to make the image before him clearer.
“Please, God-I don’t wanna go to Hell…”
And as his heart exhausted itself in a final surge of adrenaline, more than from the terror of succumbing to The Sculptor’s chisel, the spirit of Paul Jimenez took flight on the wings of-
No one knows my name.
No one knows my name.