The black limousine slid down the street like a shadow, the rain beading on the windows. It was a miserable night, a night in keeping with his mission, with his thoughts. He glanced through the port past the silhouette of the driver to the world outside. The highway was a black tar ribbon, sucking up the headlights, giving nothing back. He was glad he'd arranged for the limo, glad he didn't have to make this drive.
He was William Everett, son of David Everett, the only progeny of a man who had recently entered the eternal dirt nap from which there would be no rising.
William hadn't come home for the funeral. He hadn't seen or communicated with his father for just over 28 years. He felt that returning home for the death of his father would be a betrayal of their relationship, one based on distance and neglect.
It hadn't been William's choice. When William had been 7 years old his father had decided to take a long walk one morning and apparently forgotten his way home, leaving the young boy and his mother alone. They had struggled, terribly at times, but they had survived and eventually thrived. William well remembered the dinners consisting of cheap mac and cheese, the beverage of choice simple water. His mother had done her best, taking whatever jobs she could to support them. She had often taken jobs cleaning house for people, those who responded to the hand written notices she'd posted on index cards and taped or thumb tacked onto community bulletin boards in stores and laundromats. Her clientele hadn't been much more affluent than herself; the earnings had been meager but sufficient. She told William that at least it was honest work. She instilled in him the belief that honest work was good work, no matter what it happened to be.
William sat in the darkened rear of the limo, recalling the scent of bleach which sometimes seemed to permeate his mother, especially her hands as she stroked his hair when she returned from a job and found him lying asleep on the tattered sofa they shared. She would tiptoe gently to him, kneel beside his still small form and stroke his forehead and ruff of sandy hair, waking him just enough to get him moving toward his bed.
He shook himself, shrugged off the ghosts which insisted on accompanying him on this trip to wrap up loose ends. He was returning to his Dad's old stomping grounds because his father had stipulated he do so as a term of his last will and testament. Just like his old man, doing this to show he still had control, could still make people dance to his tune. Even those who hated his guts.
His gaze shifted toward the right, looking through the bespeckled side window. He caught a glimpse of azure blue, a neon sign proclaiming Moral Kiosk, whatever that might mean. The glimpse, so like a snapshot, suggested a thin figure in the stall, just enough to suggest its identity as a man.
Almost there, almost done for this day. The limo made the last couple blocks and slid into the parking slot in front of the brownstone, the last abode of good old dead Daddy. William got out and the driver handled the few pieces of baggage. William had no intention to be here any longer than necessary to fulfill the terms of the will, collect his inheritance, and shake the dust from his feet, finally rid of this burden on his soul.
He tipped the driver, reaffirmed that he would return tomorrow morning at 09:00 sharp to whisk him to the offices of the attorney his Dad had made executor of his estate. He rang the bell and the door was promptly opened for him by Ms. Hutchinson, the live in housekeeper employed by the senior Everett. The attorney, Thomas Fraser, had already informed William that Ms. Hutchinson had been provided for, being gifted with a retirement income double her working wage. William didn't begrudge her a cent, figuring she'd earned it in her years of waiting on his father. God knew, his old man could afford to be generous now.
Between the time of David's walk out of their lives and the present day several things had occurred. William had worked his way through college, then worked his way into a very comfortable position with his company. He was that most valuable of employees, the man who knew how to make things work, a fixer. If he didn't, he figured it out, saving his company multiplied thousands of dollars in down time and lost production. Whenever one of the several production facilities went down and the on site maintenance staff weren't up to the job, William was called in and put to the task of getting things squared away. He had never failed to do just that, and he had been well rewarded.
Part of the reward he enjoyed had been to support his mother when he started making significant money. She had always been there for him and he, by God and all that's Holy, would be there for her. And he had been, right up until the melanoma carried her away these five years past.
For his part, David had been an artist, and that in part had been the downfall between David and his wife. He had his head in the clouds while the rent went past due. His wife, Janine by name, had grown weary of never knowing if or when they would be able to pay their obligations. In the end, David himself had simply grown tired of the constant strain and arguments. By the time William was in college, David had stumbled into fame and the money started rolling in. For whatever reason, whether embarrassment or stubbornness, David hadn't sent any money to either William or Janine, and they for their part had never asked for so much as a red copper penny.
William roused from those memories, telling himself that it was all water gone under the bridge now. Ironically, William was now to become the beneficiary of David's worldly goods, including his personal artwork and investments. Somewhere along the way David had finally absorbed some sense of responsibility, the result being his considerable assets were all free and clear, no strings attached. His final illness had given him time to set things in order, and he had done so with remarkable efficiency.
Ms. Hutchinson conducted William to his quarters, the suite of rooms favored by his father. The surroundings couldn't have been more alien to his son. The decor was a hodgepodge of eclectic pieces, seemingly none of which fit any scheme, which may indeed have been the desired effect. Following a short time to settle and refresh himself, Ms. H. had presented William with his evening meal, a repast which could have just as well been made of cardboard for all the attention William lavished upon it. Afterwards, he thanked Ms. H. and retired to the study where he made use of his father's liquor cache, an amenity to which he gave much more of his attention than dinner.
He sat and thought and finally, growing claustrophobic, settled on the idea of a walk. Looking out of the high windows of the study he noted the rain had tapered off to a misty drizzle. He put on his trench coat and exited the house.
William turned to the right, retracing the path the limo had used to bring him to this house of memories. The breeze was starting up a bit, sending mist and droplets swirling gently about. He strode the 2 blocks back toward the azure neon glow he had seen earlier.
Arriving at the kiosk, he wondered at the name. Moral Kiosk, how odd. He walked up to the open counter and put his elbows on the weathered pane. The attendant, a tall and gangly character, came toward him, smiling and greeting him.
"Welcome to my place of business. My name is Gabriel. What brings you out on such a damp and chill evening, my friend?" Gabriel spoke with an accent, vaguely Middle Eastern or perhaps Eastern European. William couldn't quite place it and he had a good ear for such things.
"I'm just out for a walk. I saw your booth earlier from my car. I thought I'd come by and see what I might find."
"Excellent, I'm so glad you had that idea. As you can see, this is a humble establishment, offering a small but select group of items. We have magazines, newspapers, cigars for those who so indulge, and other items."
"Yes, I can see your stock in trade. I'm curious, Gabriel, what might a Moral Kiosk be?"
"Do you really wish to know, my friend?"
"I asked, didn't I?" William knew his words sounded like a challenge, but he wasn't in any mood for subtle niceties.
"Yes, my friend, I see. You are a direct man. That is very good, a quality to be admired."
As Gabriel spoke, he had turned halfway and slipped a small curtain aside, revealing a little alcove with various sized bottles and flasks on the two shelves within.
"Behold, my friend. The contents of my Moral Kiosk, an assortment of rare qualities indeed. Perhaps you might have some use for one of them. Here, this small silver flagon, within is trust. Can you use trust, Mr ....?"
"Everett. You mean to tell me you have the emotion of trust in that little flask? That makes no sense, shopkeeper."
"Indeed, Mr. Everett, but I'm certain you have noticed that many things in this world make little sense. Nonetheless, within is trust. Tell me, have you no use for trust?"
"Trust? No, I trust myself and that's where I draw the line. What other wares do you have?"
"Courage, perhaps, the inner strength to face that which must be faced. We all have a need for such strength, yes?"
"I've always had enough of that to see me through, thanks", he said dryly. "What else?"
"You are a discerning man, I fear. Some other things I have are patience...this is a very good virtue."
"William interrupted, "Patience? You have to be kidding. There is no time to be patient in this messed up world. While you're practicing being patient, everyone else is busy running you over. I don't have time for patience."
"I see. Perhaps perseverance?"
"If I thought for one second that you could deliver, I might go for some of that. Sometimes, I admit, I do get tired. Tired of my work, tired of myself, tired of this life." William paused, having said more than he wished, regretful of that admission.
"Our Father tells us that hardship worketh patience. It is a very strong draught, too strong for many. Perhaps it is just as well you forego this particular potion."
"What's in the brown bottle, the large one off to the side?" William had noticed it sitting there alone, a large dark brown glass bottle which reminded him of the bleach bottles his mother had emptied, so many brown bottles, so long ago.
"Ah, my friend, therein lies faith. Have you need of faith?"
"I don't think I can afford faith, Gabriel. I don't think I ever could." What the hell was wrong with him, giving these things away to a total stranger in a ragged booth on a mist laden street corner?
"How can you exist without faith, my friend? Everyone must have faith to continue, is it not so?"
"I don't know. All I know is I put one foot in front of the other. I wish I had faith, but I don't. Tell me, what does your faith cost?"
"Everything", was the simple reply.
"Everything? You're a little pricey on that one, aren't you? I was right the first time, I can't afford it. How about some other things, some things I can relate to like good old fashioned greed, avarice, desire for worldly goods. Or how about lust? Hatred? Maybe with a side order of slander or libel? Pride, that's always a good one." William couldn't suppress the anger in his voice, and truth be told, didn't wish to.
"I'm sorry, my friend, but such as these you have in full supply. Understand, I do not say these things to provoke your anger. Tell me, is it not true, what I say?"
"You tell me, Gabriel. Hey, look, I'm wasting my time and yours here. I've had my little walk and it's time for me to be going. I appreciate the conversation, weird as it may have been."
"Please, Mr. Everett, one thing. The things you named, the negative things, they are everywhere. You do not have to seek them out, they will find you. My counsel is to reject them, for the sake of your mind and that of your spirit. Forgive me for being so forward, but this is important."
"Gabriel, I don't know. I don't know why I came here, or what this is all about. All I do know, and I know it with certainty, is I'm weary to the soles of my feet. I'm going home, going to bed."
Gabriel gave him a smile, a beaming and beatific grin. "That is good, my friend. May I give you a gift, a small one? It may serve you well this night."
"Gabriel, really, you don't need to do that. I'm all right, really I am."
"It would give me great pleasure to give you this, my friend."
"All right, then I'll accept it with thanks." William didn't want whatever Gabriel was giving, but he'd take it just to be able to disengage, to finally get away without being even more rude than he'd already been to this strange man.
Gabriel turned, reached behind a flask and brought forth a tiny glass vial, topped with a tiny cork. On the side was a little paper label, and in an ornate calligraphic script was the single word Peace.
"For you, Mr. Everett. Tonight, take the whole vial mixed in a glass of water. It may make things better for you."
William spoke a hurried thanks and slipped the vial in the pocket of his coat. He set forth on the return journey toward the brownstone. After most of the first block was behind he turned. The twin lights at the corners of the kiosk illuminated the mist, and along with the azure neon underlighting, resembled nothing so much as a pair of enormous wings composed of mist and light, reaching upward, upward toward Heaven.
Turning, he completed the trip to his lodging. He entered, and with just a few words of apology to Ms. H. he excused himself. He couldn't remember the last time he had been so tired, if ever there had been such a time. He determinedly did his nightly toiletry routine, and set to get beneath the fresh coverlet of the large bed. Pausing, he rummaged in his coat pocket, withdrew the tiny vial, and poured the clear contents into a glass. He sniffed the glass but detected no scent. He grunted to himself, saying "I don't really care at this point whether it kills me or not. Ok, Gabriel, let's see what you got. Peace I can use."
He filled the glass with water, swirled it about to mix the contents, then drank it. Setting the empty tumbler on the night stand, he slipped underneath the cool sheets. Almost as soon as his head settled on the pillow, his breathing slowed and deepened. The last thoughts that crossed his mind was the sensation of fingers caressing his hair so very gently and the scent of bleach teased his nose.