Tow-Truck Eddie was amazed that the man was still alive. He examined the man in the light, seeing that the dark stain of blood still glistened wetly. There were two ragged holes in the man’s shirt. He’d been gut-shot and was bled as white as the cocaine that had spilled all around him. What a mess, thought Eddie, who couldn’t stand disorder of any kind.
The smell of blood was thick in the air: blood from the man, blood from the birds. The smell was appealing, almost intoxicating, and for a moment Eddie just closed his eyes and let the smell wash over him and through him. He felt a little dizzy from it and had to blink his eyes clear for a few seconds.
He bent closer to peer at the man. Never in his life had he seen a man so close to death. He had seen sick people, sure, even badly wounded ones dragged from wrecks, and he’d seen corpses, but never a man hovering on that delicate point between life and death, his life essence fluttering like a lightning bug trying to work free from a child’s cupped hands. It was incredible to see. Beautiful and delicate and quite moving, and it did something to him. At first he wasn’t aware of it, of what was happening within him, but the realization crept into his consciousness as he watched the man continue his task of dying.
The man looked up at Eddie with pleading in his eyes; eyes that were aswirl with pain and fear, hatred and desperation. Tow-Truck Eddie crouched there, tasting the emotions overflowing from the man’s eyes. The flow of pain was exquisite. He licked his lips and sniffed in the scent of blood through both nostrils.
“You’re hurt,” he said, savoring the intense rush of blood scent and pain, of truly perfect suffering right here in front of him.
Tow-Truck Eddie pushed the man over onto his back so he could see the bullet holes more clearly. Fresh blood bubbled weakly from the wounds. He had a sudden and powerful urge to bend forward and drink from the wounds, but he knew that it wasn’t the time for that kind of thing, for that kind of…
He sought the right word.
Sacrament? Was that it? Yes, he thought dreamily. Sacrament. It wasn’t yet time for that kind of sacrament. Not yet. Everything had to be in its time and place, as it said in the Bible. He took the scent again and nearly cried out as the thick coppery smell of fresh blood shot through his nerves like a white-hot current of electricity. His eyes snapped wide and he rocked back on his heels as door after door blew open in his mind. Suddenly he understood! Suddenly—all at once—this all made sense. Everything made sense. Everything that he had thought about and dreamed about for the last few years made absolutely crystal-clear sense. He laughed out loud for the sheer joy of it.
He looked down at the man, staring at him with eyes that were still wide with amazement, seeing the man for who he was…for what he was! He laughed again, and he felt tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. Of course! This was no ordinary accident. How could it be? How could he even have thought that it was? How could anyone be so blind as to think that? It wasn’t even an ordinary crime scene. No, no, this was something far removed from all of that, and Tow-Truck Eddie could suddenly see it. This was something special, something meant only for him, something orchestrated solely for him, and yet something immensely powerful.
He touched the wounds and then looked at the blood on his fingers, glistening black in the light of his flash.
Tow-Truck Eddie’s mind went click! as that thought passed through him.
He was right. This was not the Sacrement in which the Lord had told him he would one day partake. This was…his baptism.
In his mind the voice of God very faintly whispered, Yesssssss.
Tears burned in Eddie’s eyes and he bent his head in humble thanks. All at once, here in this lonely place, amid all this carnage, he fully understood what he was and who he was. God, mysterious and subtle, had brought this man, this baptizer here. Just as surely as he had directed Eddie to come here. Amid all this violence and evil.
And did not God direct Jesus to the waters where John was baptizing the penitent? Was that not amid the oppression and violence of Rome’s crushing occupation of Judea? Not exactly the same, surely, but the pattern was there, clear as sunlight to Eddie.
This man…this dying man…the baptizer, and his blood was the purifying waters of salvation. A child could see it.
The man gasped and blood leaked from his mouth, dribbling down his chin. He would be dead soon, but Eddie wasn’t sure exactly what he was supposed to do. Was he supposed to care for this man? Was he supposed to rescue him?
No, that didn’t feel right to him. This man—baptizer or not—had been manifested to him in the form of a criminal, and Eddie could not believe that God would want his Sword to rescue the wicked. The time for that sort of thing had passed.
What then? Was he supposed to watch him die? Was there a message in that?
That felt closer to the mark, but Eddie still didn’t feel right about it. Letting the man’s life just slip away—an event that was imminent—seemed like a waste of some kind of opportunity.
He frowned for a moment, his triumph dimming instantly as doubt chewed at him. What if he interpreted it wrong? What if he misread the holy signs? So much hinged on his reading it right that he felt a wave of sickening uncertainty crash down on him. His smile faded and fell away and he looked from the man to the wreck to the dead birds and back again. What if the act of reading the signs was itself a test? A puzzle or a riddle of some kind? He wasn’t sure what would happen if he failed to solve the riddle. For a full minute he worried over that as the dying man passed in and out of a haze of delirium.
“No,” he said softly to himself, steeling himself. Doubt was a tool of the Beast, not of the Almighty.
In a ragged whisper, the dying man repeated what he had said: “I’ve been shot.”
“Uh-huh. I can see that,” Tow-Truck Eddie said softly, reveling in it. The pain in the man’s eyes was so finely tuned that it flickered like electricity; he could barely look at it without crying out for the sheer joy of it. His mouth was dry and he could feel his palms grow slick with sweat.
“Could you…help me?”
Oh my, how exciting this moment was! The man was actually begging him for help and that fast the answer came to him. It was not rescue, nor the passivity of standing by and doing nothing. This was a direct command from God presented in the form of a test.
“Who am I?” Eddie asked himself with the droning intonation of a litany, and he responded: “I am the Sword of God!”
His purpose was clear to him. A sword was forged for a single purpose, its nature clear to even the meanest intelligence.
“I am the Sword of God!” Eddie yelled and his declaration sent the lurking night birds screaming into the troubled sky.
He smiled, joy flooding his heart and swelling his massive chest.
“Did you come…to help me?” And the dying baptizer’s words became part of the holy litany, and Tow-Truck Eddie heard the laughter of the Beast buried deep beneath the human pain. This was the key to everything. Compassion and restraint were tools of the Beast and Eddie was being tested on that point right now. Everything hinged on this moment and how he would answer.
In his mind he kept repeating: I am the Sword of God.
Then another voice overlay his own, booming in his brain like heavenly thunder as God said, Do this for me and open the way to paradise!
Did you come to help me?
Tow-Truck Eddie smiled, tears brimming in his eyes. “No,” he said and with great reverence reached for the man. He took the man’s face in both of his hands, lifted it, kissed the sacred forehead, kissed the bleeding mouth, and then held the face close, almost nose to nose, as he looked deeply into those eyes, trying to reach down through the barriers of evil to the trapped human soul within. The man struggled feebly, a last attempt to deceive him, a last ruse to really test his faith, his resolve, but Tow-Truck Eddie was steadfast. He looked into those eyes, searching, searching. The demon resisted him, keeping the man alive, denying Tow-Truck Eddie that brief glimpse into the infinite, but he was not to be denied this most sacred of all rewards. Holding the man’s head with one hand, Tow-Truck Eddie reached down with his other hand and placed his fingertips over the ragged holes torn by bullets. The man felt the touch and his eyes flared with the dread, but Tow-Truck Eddie smiled mildly at him and then thrust his fingers as deeply as he could into the man’s body.
The man screamed with all the agony of man and all the rage of a demon as Tow-Truck Eddie tore out his bowels. Then, the screaming mouth shouted only silence, though the jaws still gaped wide and the throat worked and the chest heaved.
“Bless me,” Tow-Truck Eddie murmured softly, gently. “Bathe me in the waters of salvation so that I may be purified, for I am the Sword of God!”
He stayed with the man, creating with his body the rituals of the New Covenant. The new bond of blood and flesh that would be the cornerstone of the world to come.
Now, hours later, sitting there in the cab of his wrecker, staring at the dried blood, he thought about all that he had seen and experienced. The man’s death had been so exquisite, so enlightening, and afterward when he had done all that was required and ordained to the man, he had learned so much. He felt glutted with knowledge, and yet much of that knowledge had yet to be processed, to be held up to the light of his new insight and examined. He knew that even now, with his mind so profoundly expanded, it would still take him some time to understand what he had seen, and what it all might ultimately mean.
He mumbled his own name over and over again as he sat there.
He had killed the Beast and been baptized in blood all in one night. He was sure that he would meet other demons in the days to come, now that his own nature had been discovered and declared. Well, that was fine, just fine with him. He grinned and flexed his powerful hands, feeling the muscles ripple on his forearms. Let them come, he thought. He would be ready.
He smiled grimly, still muttering his own name over and over again.
“Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.”