Jean hadn’t thought much about the Reverend since they last saw each other but was happy to hear from him and was glad her gift to him was welcomed. Finally she’d made her way over to the Revered merely minutes before they were all due to go into town for supplies. “Hey there stranger! Thanks for sending me a letter, hadn’t seen one of those in a while.” The last time she’d seen letters were the ones her father hid from her from her long lost brother.
“How you been? How has your holiday season been?” Christmas had come and gone by then and she hadn’t seen him since.
“More a’note than a letter I’d think, but y’welcome anyhow.” He said, that strange accent that sounded like a British man putting on a southern accent. Willis wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking so- his British had faded a long time ago to something more ‘home on the range’, but certain words never changed. “The seasons are always full of wonder and opportunity.” He replied, offering her a hand into the truck, they weren’t going alone- actually the Reverend didn’t have any supplies to get, he was going for his own accord and just catching a lift with others. “Can’t say I ain’t pleased the new year is come ‘round finally. And what a wonderful place to spend the winter than on the beach.” WIllis said with a chuckle.
Jean laughed at that as she got helped into the truck with all the rest of the people getting supplies. “I hope we find ourselves at another beach come summertime cause I ain’t never dipped my feet in the ocean and it seems a might cold for that.” Jean couldn’t quite place his accent but she figured he’d probably been around a lot and things change after someone’s been somewhere for a while.
“Listen I was hoping you could help me figure something out. You see a lot of the people at Zion, think you might be able to tell someone’s handwriting?” She asked, though she hadn’t had any luck with the Fitz fellow, maybe the reverend might know.
Willis shrugged slightly. “Honestly not too many people ‘round here write. So that would narrow y’down quite a bit. Can’t promise anything but I’m happy ta take a look.” He offered as he got settled in for the ride.
She pulled the folded paper out and it looked to be already crumpled. Fitz had crumpled and thrown away the note but after they spoke, Jean had secretly fished it out and tried to smooth it as best as she could. Maybe she didn’t need to know who wrote that note but part of her really wanted to know. She handed it to him and awaited his examination. In big bold black letters were the words GO HOME.
“I got it on Christmas Eve, don’t say who it’s from and after what happened with Kerr last month it could really be anyone.” Except for Kerr cause she loved those animals.
Willis took the paper and looked at it. Right away he recognized the handwriting, but kept it to himself. “Not seen it before.” But he had, many times, every Sunday. “You said you found it… was it on your bed? Maybe someone got the wrong one?”
She turned the piece of paper over in his hands. On the back it read: To Jean. “Now I’m not sure but I don’t know any other Jeans that work with us.” She sighed and shook her head as the town was approaching in the distance. “I shouldn’t worry about this, right? I mean it’s just a silly note.” Even if it did hurt her feelings.
Willis just waved his hand. “New town, new start.” He said with a small smile. “Besides, you’ve nothing to fear in Zion. Everyone’s protected. So even if one person has an issue… they’re just one person. If you don’t let their anger or hatred, or whatever it is that caused them to leave such a callous note get to you, then they’ll have nothing to fan the flames. And being alone, they’ll soon become just embers.”
Jeans eyes lit up as they finally made it to town. “Thank you Reverend, you’ve been nothing but kind to me.” And if she ever had to pick a man who would keep her safe, she’d probably pick the Reverend. Not too many holy folk wanted to spend more than a few minutes around Jean back home because she was unapologetic about who she was and they certainly didn’t like it. Only reason she didn’t end up locked up was because they all respected her father.
“Of course.” He wasn’t unkind. Not really, not that he viewed himself at least. Willis just happened to enjoy seeing others punished for their sins. That wasn’t unkind… was it?
Will climbed out of the truck and helped Jean down. The town was definitely larger than their last location and there were even outdoor cafes where you could sit and enjoy watching people- which was exactly what Willis was looking for. “So, what is on your list?” He inquired, having nothing himself that day but to observe and assist God.
“Nothing for me, said you was gonna teach me to read people, remember?” Most of what Jean ever needed the roustabouts tended to get. There definitely seemed to be plenty of folks wandering around this town, which made sense since the weather was beautiful here. She’d never quite seen a place like this before and for the first time she was happy she’d decided to leave home and come work for Zion.
“Excellent.” He said, offering his arm.
Willis lead her to a small cafe where they were able to get teas and sit outside, watching the people go about their days. As the waitress left from taking their orders he turned to Jean. “So, why can you tell me about her?” He asked.
The waitress was short, brown haired, plain looking. Her clothes were simple and a bit dirty, from work or perhaps in need of a cleaning. She was polite and seemed competent. Of course with Willis’ intuition he was able to align more subtle details with facts that one might not normally display. Like the way her eyes lingered on his priest collar and the slight waiver in her voice as she spoke to him. Guilt over something that God would disapprove of.
She peered at the woman as she walked away, trying her best to surmise something about her. Men were easy, their intentions were never good and Jean knew that much, hell even the Reverend hadn’t proven ill intent yet but she wasn’t dumb enough to believe it’d stay that way. Women were a different story. She couldn’t read other women like she could men, which was why it was fun to chase after them. She noticed small lacerations on her wrists, probably from some rope.
“Well, seems like she either just got back from a kidnapping or she’s into some dirty stuff.” She replied, unapologetic about speculating on someone else’s bedroom behavior.
“Or things forced upon her.” Though Willis was sure due to the guilt, it wasn’t that. “She’s not wearing a ring.” He informed, “So what does that tell you?” As the waitress walked by to help another table he focused on her, trying to determine her sins. (That demon sense picking up on the perfect way thing to say to mess up her life.)
“That she don’t need a ring because a man doesn’t define a woman.” She retorted, unabashedly offended and crossed her arms over her chest. Someday men might ignore a woman without a ring but for now she’d have to listen to this nonsense.
“Or maybe it’s cause she’s with a married man. Who are you to judge Reverend?” Seemed like a dumb question considering he was a man of God but self-righteous clergy drove her mad.
Willis raised his hand in defense. “I’m not saying you should be passing judgement, just reading the situation. Taking in the clues, put them together to get a picture of a person. Married women traditionally have a ring. So the odds are, she’s not married.” He folded his hands on the table. “She’s nervous around me, so clearly what she’s been doing she’s ashamed. A married man could be that.” Adultery, a common sin.
Calming down for a minute she raised her eyebrow at him. “So, she’s with a married man, what does that mean?” Hopefully that she was vulnerable because that was the sweet spot that Jean liked to work with. Down and out men tended to hand over their coin instead of her having to lift it from them.
“Well, let’s see… keep watching.” He said as the waitress walked back over with their tea. “Thank you my dear.” He said handing her payment.
Willis wrapped his hands around his warm tea and held it, a moment as it cooled a bit before sipping. “So, anything else you notice? Anything out of sorts?” He was speaking of the woman’s necklace. Compared to her common unwashed clothes, shoes, and every other sense of her, she was lower class. Unmarried. Living with her family, or a home with other unmarried women. Her job was necessity and she likely had little to no savings- clearly not enough for new clothes as her dress showed signs of repairs. But the necklace she wore… real silver, real blue emerald. There was no way she could have afforded it herself.
Lucky for Willis she did catch on quickly. Jean always had an eye for shiny things. “Necklace like that. Don’t put it over an apron and dirty clothes, that necklace is made for a gown.” She’d worn her fair share when she was on the prowl. Men liked a girl with some class usually had the most money to part with.
A smirk curled from her lips and she eyed the Reverend again. Whether he said he was a man of god or not, Jean could tell he was wicked and she liked that. “It’s a might bit stupid to wear it out in public like this, all up for display and such.” Her valuables were kept close to her, away from any watchful eyes.
“Unless it’s a gift from someone, someone she may see later?” He mused aloud. “Or perhaps something she wants to show off.” He arched a brow, following the truth, those gut instincts (directed by his demon sense). Like little pushes, nudges, a small epiphany each time he thought or said something that lead him closer to the woman’s truth, the right thing to say or do. A younger demon might not be able to read the signs as well, but Willis had had plenty of experience. “Make others jealous… perhaps her lover’s wife frequents this cafe.”
It was like the lightbulb shined brightly. Adultery and pride. Wanting to show off her new jewelry to the wife of the man she was sleeping with, as if showing her that she wasn’t better than her. Even if the wife didn’t know her husband was cheating, the act would still ring prideful for the waitress, because she knew. “So, what should we do with this information?” He asked, as the waitress lingered at the table of a wealthy woman, a bit older, but similar features. Perhaps just the woman the waitress had been waiting on? Her hand touched the necklace- drawing attention to it. Will looked to Jean. “Should we just hold onto it, or should she be tested to make the right choice?”
As she listened, Jeans stomach started to turn and fast thoughts blew through her head about how she should really be feeling around the Reverend. Part of her agreed with him, wanted him to test her, but that other part of her fought hard to stay at the forefront of her mind. “No. I think we should leave her damn well alone. Just like I don’t care what you do, but I’ll have no part of it.” She said, serious as a heartbeat.
“Don’t mistake me for one of your little lambs, Reverend. I eat lambs for breakfast.” Or lunch or dinner depending on when she shifted. Jean wasn’t an angel by any means but she certainly wasn’t going to judge others based on their regrets.
“I would never take one of my flock out like this.” He said matter of factly. “Never help them learn how to read someone.” Or see him read someone. Willis didn’t want any of them to think that they might be tested through him- or request to be. He didn’t want to risk breaking his word. “You, are a strong woman, with strong opinions. And if you believe that this-” Jezebel was too harsh a word for him to use with Jean. “young lady’s choices are her own… then we shall.” He took a long drink from his tea as he watched the waitress leave the table, a bit of pride in her step as the other woman seemed completely clueless. “I’m sure that woman is better off not knowing that her husband is fooling around behind her back, spending their money on extravagant trinkets for his lover.” He placed his cup down and turned to look at the street. “Who should we look to next?”
Across the street Jean saw a man that was talking very closely to a lady. From here she couldn’t tell but it didn’t seem like the feelings were mutual. “How about him? Looks like a real piece of work.” It was an easy one but she’d rather prey on unsuspecting men then unsuspecting women.
“See the way she leans against him. She’s trying to be polite but she sure as shit ain’t comfortable.”
“So why not just walk apart from him?” He inquired as they stopped at a store front. “Surely she has to have a certain level of comfort or trust to be that close to him.” Willis let her take the lead as he tried to reach out, redirecting his focus even though he still felt drawn to the waitress.
She peered over at him to locate subtle details about him. She smirked and sat snugly back in her seat as she crossed her arms in front of her. “Two men flanking the left and the right of that door. Looks like he’s got detail on him, must be important. Town official maybe? Or a successful business owner?”
“One has his eyes trained on him and the other his surrounding areas. Looks to me like they’re thorough.”
“And what of the girl? Are the men armed? What about that store, what sort of business do you think he might be doing- or be in to warrant security?” Willis pointed out other questions for her to consider. “Use the small details to flesh out the larger questions.”
Jean surveyed the scene again, trying her best to seem lightly interested in case anyone caught them staring. The man looking around pulled back his jacket to rest his palm on his pistol. He must have eyed someone he might perceive as a threat. “They’re loaded alright, and that ones got his eye on someone.” Hopefully not them as he was staring in their general direction.
“Her, she’s innocent. Knows her place, must be a townie of some sort. She doesn’t want him to flirt with her but he’s a very important man and she ain’t going to offend such a wealthy and respected man.” Women in these situations usually were innocent.
“Compare our obvious friend with the other. See how his coat wears?” Willis pointed out the learning opportunity. “How the right side is a little wider? Also how he keeps his arm slightly cocked more than the other? As if ready to reach for his waist at any moment?” He leaned in to Jean slightly. “Now… why are they there? Together?” He was having trouble focusing. The pull behind him was too great.
Willis took in a breath. “Continue observing…” he said, standing. “I’ll be right back.” He said, moving into the cafe.
The reverend took a breath and leaned against a pillar and waited for an employee to pass him before he was out of sight of others. He faded out, invisible to those around. Willis moves outside and up to the wife, leaning in he whispered in her ear, a small ear worm, something to think upon. I was looking at that necklace with my husband. I saw it sold and was certain he’d remembered and got it for me. But he said he had to work late… he works late a lot.
A few minutes later, visible again, Will returned to the table. “My apologies.”
She didn’t resist the opportunity to watch the man and the woman across the street but something told her something else more sinister was going on. It wasn’t her business, she’d use the reverend to learn what she needed and then ditch him if she had to. She wasn’t going to get herself wrapped up in his holy ways.
When he came back she spoke as if they had not missed a beat. “From what I can tell, if he’s as charming as I think he is, chances are there have been more than one attempt on his life.” She observed. He probably did some dirty underground business for a gang or something.
Willis nodded and was about to respond, however a commotion behind them caused a bit of a distraction. The conversation between the wife and the mistress had been quiet to begin with, but quickly escalated. The shattering of a glass was heard, accompanied by a slap as the mistress caught the hand of the wife across the face and dropped the tray she was holding.
Jeans attention was broken only by the commotion from the waitress and the woman they’d been looking at before. Her glare immediately went to the Reverend who obviously said something to the woman dining that caused the fight. Instead of saying anything she huffed and returned her attention back across the road where the man hadn’t left the young woman alone. If Willis could do this, what could he do to her?
She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. “Guess my opinion doesn’t matter to you.” She only said, keeping her face stoic as she kept her gaze on the man across the road.
“I didn’t say anything to the waitress.” He said simply, watching the events unfold across the street and wishing his tests (curses) could reach long distances.
“Who said anything about the waitress?” She replied, crossing her arms over her chest. Those two women were fine until he disappeared and came back. There was no way he didn’t have something to do with that.
“I asked you if the waitress should be tested and you said no.” He replied, taking a sip of his tea. “I would assume the wife must have known more than we gave her credit for.” With a little thanks to him giving her the strings to connect.
The commotion had died down a little as the two women retired to a table and started to talk. Perhaps they would be able to pass God's test.
Meanwhile, the man was taking the woman into the store and out of their line of sight across the street.
Out of instinct Jean leapt from her seat, like a tiger waiting to pounce. Like a tiger to her prey. It seemed she was learning from Sheeba after all. A low hiss care from her. Strictly speaking, she hadn’t told anyone but her brother what she was and they didn’t speak much. Still, she didn’t care and the anger that bubbled inside of her was beginning to come to the surface.
Finally she calmed down a bit and addressed the Reverend. “If you think the other woman deserved it then perhaps you shouldn’t be claiming to be a man of god.”
“It’s not for me to decide what people deserve or not. I follow the direction God leads me.” He replied. “It’s for them to prove themselves as good people and above their sins.” Willis glanced back to the two ladies talking. “It appears they’re coming to an understanding.”
She glared at him again and stood. “Well I’m a sinner too Reverend, biggest sinner you ever met. Plan on ruining my life too?” She said and walked away from him. Great. One less friend in this hostile place. When was she going to find someone who was trustworthy? Maybe never, maybe she had to rely only on herself.
There was something dark in the Reverend and she didn’t want to poke that monster anymore.
“I haven’t been guided to test you.” He replied simply. It what a white lie. He’d been pulled but his promise to Kristoph was important. Probably why it was so hard to ignore the pull when around those he could test. “Besides. Look at those two.” He gestured to the women. “They’re talking. It seems their discovery, confrontation is generating some good.” They were passing their test. Willis always felt conflicted when that happened.
“And they might had without the fight or your ‘godly’ influence. Just cause the chaos you caused ended peacefully don’t mean what you did was right.” Jean was done with the Reverend, he was just like any other priest back home who’d teach goodness in public and try to bed her in private. She was right not to trust the lord or his many representatives.
She didn’t need to see anymore here so she walked herself back to the truck to wait for all the rest of the carnies to join her.