One several occasions the guys who lived at the farm suggested I carry a gun when I was out working with them or staying in my cabin. But despite all the stories and evidence of violence the Krishnas had engaged in, I never actually feared them or felt physically threatened. My battles with them were relatively sanitary affairs, conducted through the medium of the law and their phalanx of attorneys. Occasionally when I was at the farm there would be a face to face confrontation over a missing goat or something, but these were brief and, while distasteful, never held a threat of violence. In general I felt comfortably insulated from the sordid realities of the cases I was involved with.
I did, however, have a psychic uneasiness that seemed to accompany each case I pursued against the Krishnas. The closest I can come to describing it is that it felt like I was opposing a powerful negative force, perhaps even pure evil. Whenever I was involved in a case against the Krishnas things began going wrong in my life. Once my sister became very sick. Another time so many things on my car broke at the same time I had to sell it for junk. On another occasion I had to be hospitalized for emergency surgery.
One night in the kitchen I told Rose that it felt like I was fighting an unseen intelligence when I had a case against the Krishnas, that my life invariably became more troublesome and complicated, while the Krishnas seemed to effortlessly maneuver around every legal trap I tried to set for them.
"There's two kinds of magic," Rose said. "White and black. White magic is what I call between-ness, and I recommend everyone learn how to use it. But there's black magic, too, and the Krishnites are dealing in it, whether they know it or not."
"By attracting certain types of entities. Different kinds of entities are attracted to different kinds of human acts. Entities gain energy from our actions--our expenditures of energy. Sex is the primary release of energy the entities feed on, and some feed on particular kinds of perversions. Keith Ham and his outfit are feeding the pederastic entities. Naturally these entities want to protect the Krishnites so they can continue to get fed."
Rose also went on to say, however, that these entities would eventually turn on the Krishnas and bring about their downfall. This, he said, was the price one inevitably paid for dealing with the dark side. I took some solace in thinking that the Krishnas might someday be on the short end of things, but in the meantime I was not comforted by the thought that "pederastic entities" were interfering with my personal life.
So it was psychic protection I felt more in need of than physical protection, and consequently I never thought seriously about owning or carrying a gun. I came from a strictly pacifist household. My father never touched a gun in his life and he passed this aversion on to his children. I was thoroughly intimidated by guns, and firmly convinced that if I carried one there was a far better chance I'd accidentally shoot myself than come up against a situation where it might save my life.
Everyone who lived on Rose's farm, though, did carry a handgun, partly to shoot feral dogs who occasionally attacked the baby goats, but mostly as a symbol of readiness against the Krishnas. Somehow the farm residents managed to carry their weapons with a casual mindfulness that did not seem to conflict with the high spiritual purpose that supposedly brought them together. I found myself simultaneously disgusted and fascinated by their machismo. It was appropriate enough for the situation to make me look hard at my own aversion to weapons, and to face it as a possible fear and weakness, not as an expression of principle.
Several months after Bryant's murder I received a call from Tom White, the Marshall County prosecutor. He said he had something to tell me and he wanted to meet with me to talk about it. This was an odd request for several reasons, but it was obvious he didn't want to discuss it over the phone so I agreed to come by his office the next time I was in his building.
The call itself was unusual because Tom and I were not on good terms. We were about the same age and had gotten along fairly well while we were both Moundsville attorneys. Then in 1980, to my astonishment, Rose advised me to run for County Prosecutor to get my name in front of the public. Tom White also decided to run that year and we opposed each other in the election. He was a Baptist Democrat hometown boy. I was a Jewish Republican outsider.
Running for prosecutor turned out to be one of the best pieces of professional advice Rose ever gave me. I lost badly, of course, but got more votes than anyone thought I would, and after the election I noticed a change in attitude towards me in the legal community. If I'd won I would not have fared nearly so well. The prosecutor's office in Marshall County was not a desirable job. Traditionally, candidates were attracted not by the position itself, but by one or more of it's three side benefits: it was a stepping stone to the judiciary, you got all the female divorce clients you wanted, and you could supplement your income with a little graft.
My relationship with Tom had deteriorated after the election, partly because we had been opponents, but mostly because Tom let the office go to his head. He tried to be a bigshot and get tough on petty crime in a community where no one really cared because there was a thief in every extended family, and very few people got seriously hurt. Tom went overboard trying to throw the book at some of our minor offenders and we beat him soundly a few times before he backed off.
Adding to the friction between us was the fact that he had become somewhat jaded. After the election he quickly fell in step with the local power structure and the people who had backed him. It was also obvious that the Krishnas had nothing to fear from him. Whether he was in their pocket or merely sensitive to his own compromised position, the result was the same. Children continued to get molested at New Vrindaban, bodies kept turning up, and raw sewage was being dumped into streams running through Rose's and other non-Krishna farms. Nothing was done. Several times I confronted Tom about his lack of action against the Krishnas and our conversations were not friendly. All in all, it was odd he would call and invite me over for a chat. So odd, in fact that I delayed several days before stopping by his office. I even talked to Lou and John about it, trying to figure what Tomís angle might be.
When I finally did call on Tom his secretary informed me he was out of town for the day. As I started to leave I heard someone call my name. I turned to see Fred Gardener, an assistant prosecuting attorney with whom Iíd had several friendly dealings, standing behind the counter that separated the prosecutor's staff from the public. We greeted each other warmly, then he motioned for me to follow him to Tomís office.
"I know why Tom called you," he said.
When he closed the door behind us I looked around and was amazed at what I saw. Tom's normally tidy office had been turned into a war room of Krishna research. Stacks of overstuffed manila file folders were piled on the desk and floor. A sea of telephone message slips were laid out on a credenza. One wall was covered with aerial photographs, most of them of Krishna properties.
"Wow," I said. "I had no idea. I thought Tom was..."
"On their side? Yeah, I know."
"That's not what I meant, exactly. He just never seemed interested."
Fred sat down in Tomís high-back, red leather chair and leaned back.
"That may have been true at one time, but not anymore. Too much has happened."
I sat down. Fred gestured broadly to the stacks of files around the office. "We've been interviewing everyone you can imagine. The rats are deserting the ship, lining up to see who can tell the most the fastest."
"That's a good sign," I said. "Even after Bryant was murdered his closest friends still refused to talk. They were terrified of Ham."
"They should be," Fred said quietly. "So should you."
His statement brought me up short. I didn't know what to say so I just waited for him to explain.
"Thatís why Tom called you. We've been interviewing devotees recently about the Chuck St. Denis murder. Lots of people who are afraid of Drescher are starting to come forward now because they really think we might have him this time." Fred's jaw tightened, and I sensed how badly he really did want to nail Drescher.
"Anyway, we had this one devotee in last week, a pretty high-up guy in the organization. Been at New Vrindaban from the beginning. He had some good corroborating details on the St. Denis case, and validated a few things we already knew about the Bryant murder. I could tell he had good information so I asked him if Keith Ham had a hit out on anybody else."
Fred paused for effect then grinned. "He said, 'Yeah, that lawyer, David Gold.'"
I heard the words, then my mind froze. I could only hope I didn't look as scared as I felt at that moment. Fred seemed to scrutinize me as he continued.
"This witness said Drescher used to follow you out to your cabin."
He paused a moment to let me say something. I couldn't.
"Youíve got a cabin out at Rose's place, right? Dark brown wood, cement block foundation? Sits right above a little stream?"
"Yeah, well, that's the place Drescher described to this witness. Drescher said he followed you out there a few times."
"At night, I guess," I said. It was a stupid thing to say, but I had to say something. I thought of the many nights I had walked by flashlight through the half-mile of thick woods between the farmhouse and my cabin. Which times had Drescher been there, watching?
"Drescher told this guy, 'The only reason that son-of-a-bitch Jew boy is still alive is I couldn't find the right spot to blow him away.'"
Fred grinned at me again. Part of him was immensely enjoying my discomfort.
"At least Drescher's in custody now," I said.
"Yeah, but the Swami's not. And he's got plenty of other flunkies."
"I know." I stood up, anxious to leave. "Thanks for the tip."
Fred stood with me and gripped my hand with genuine concern. He was no longer smiling. "Watch your back, Dave."
As I stepped out of the courthouse and into the street my thoughts became more clear and I was hit with a flood of emotions. The main one was raw animal anger. I was furious. Not so much at the Krishna leaders who wanted me dead, but at all the compromised public officials whose fear, greed, and political ambition had, in effect, endowed the Krishnas with a license to kill. Then as I fumed and muttered I was suddenly stopped by an eerie, unfamiliar uneasiness. I shivered involuntarily and quickly looked behind me, then to both sides.
I hurried back to my office, eager to tell somebody about it. But the only person there was one of the secretaries, and I didnít want to scare her. I started to call Rose, but decided to wait until I saw him at home that evening. Then I remembered I wouldn't be going home until very late, probably after he'd gone to bed. That evening I was going to be on television for four hours in my capacity as president of the local bar association.
The presidency of the Marshall County Bar Association was a revolving position determined strictly by seniority. That year, it was my turn to be president. It was also customary for the local bar associations to do at least one community service project a year, and tonight was it. We had joined with the neighboring Belmont County and Ohio County Bar Associations to do a live call-in show, which was scheduled for that evening on a local station. As much as I loved having my face in front of a camera I'd have given anything to avoid going that night. But as president, there was no way I could back out.
I left the office in the late afternoon and drove to the station. The format was that a hundred lawyers would be manning the telephones and answering legal questions for free in the background, while the other two bar association presidents and I sat out front with the show's host, discussing legal issues.
At seven o'clock we went on the air. After a slow start the phones began ringing and behind us all the lawyers in the studio were soon occupied. In the foreground, the show's host did a good job of keeping us on legal topics that would be of interest to the common man. I tried to hold my attention on what I was doing, but I was still distracted by the events of the day and feeling very out of sync with the entire scene. Though I participated in the conversations, I probably spoke the least often and was the least eloquent.
I was surprised, therefore, when late in the show the floor director handed the host a slip of paper that thrust me into the spotlight. The host glanced at the message.
"It's a call-in question," he said, looking up, "and the caller asks that it be directed to Mr. Gold. Well, it's not really our format to have these gentlemen answer questions on camera, but we're nearing the end of the show so I suppose it's all right. Dave?"
"Sure," I said. "Why not."
The host read from the note. "This caller asks, 'Does the law recognize a person's right to defend his church against outside threats? You can legally kill to protect your home. What if you live in your temple?'"
I could not say anything for a few seconds and it was one of the others who spoke first. "We were expecting mostly questions on taxes and real estate," he joked.
"I, uh... I think the logic is twisted, here," I said slowly, trying to rise to the occasion and put coherent thoughts together. Whatever the true reality, in my mind I was now answering a question from a man who was planning to kill me, and who was watching me answer it on TV.
"The law does recognize self-defense when your home is physically entered or attacked," I went on. "And of course when your life is in danger. But what you seem to be talking about is a pre-emptive strike against some vague religious enemy. That's murder."
I started to say more but the host was becoming uneasy.
"Thanks, Dave," he said, quickly. "I'd like to turn now to a legal topic that many of us in middle age are becoming more conscious of--wills. Harry, when should a person think seriously about making out a will?"
I know the host was simply trying to segue to the next topic on his list, but the irony was so thick I almost started laughing. The others seemed oblivious to it and launched energetically into admonitions about how it was never too early in life for a will. I felt like I was on another planet.
Finally at eleven o'clock the director gave us the "All clear," and the lights dimmed. I left the studio and headed towards my car. I walked quickly, occasionally stealing a glance behind me or up ahead into the darkness. When I got to my car I jumped inside and locked the doors. Then, as I put the key into the ignition another thought hit me. I paused, then held my breath and turned the key. When the next sound I heard was the engine roaring to life, I exhaled deeply and told myself I'd seen too many gangster movies.
By now I was hoping Rose would be in bed when I got home. The small black and white TV in the kitchen only got one channel--the one I had been on all evening. I was sure that Rose had seen me, and undoubtedly had passed the evening poking fun at my posturing and ego for the benefit of my housemates. But as I climbed the steep cement steps that led from the street, I could see the light still on in the kitchen.
Rose was sitting alone at the table when I came in, working a crossword puzzle. When he saw me he stopped what he was doing and set the puzzle aside. Over the years I had seen him go through several puzzle phases, where he would work the crossword in the evening paper every night for a few weeks, then drop it and not do another one for a year. Once he started a puzzle, though, he would refuse to become distracted until he had completed it. The way he put the puzzle aside when I walked in told me that it wasn't part of a phase. He was just passing the time waiting for me.
"What's new," he said in a tired and friendly drawl. I did not see the familiar hint of mischief in his eyes that would indicate I was about to get the kidding I expected for posturing in front of the cameras. Instead, I sensed concern.
"We did that call-in show tonight. For the Bar Association."
"I know. I saw it. You have something on your mind."
"Tom White called a few days ago and asked me to stop by--said he had something I needed to know about. I went over there today."
"One of the Krishnas they're questioning about the St. Denis case told him Ham put out a contract on me."
Rose raised his eyebrows but made no comment.
"Drescher bragged about following me out to my cabin. He said the only reason I wasn't already dead was he couldn't find the right spot to shoot me."
Rose remained motionless in his chair and seemed to be lost in thought. I continued to ramble on.
"So, I mean, Drescher's in custody now but who knows how many other nuts the Swami has floating around that would be..."
"Get a gun," Rose said, suddenly interrupting. His voice was matter-of-fact but his tone was firm. It was more than a suggestion.
"I've thought about it Mister Rose, but I don't know guns. I don't think..."
"Get a gun," he said again. Then he dropped the subject and went on to talk of other things, including how ridiculous I had looked on TV that night. We had a few laughs at my expense then went to bed.
It never occurred to me to ignore Rose's advice, even though I knew that with or without a gun I would still feel absolutely defenseless. If a Krishna hit-man was lying in wait for me at my cabin or in a dark Wheeling alley by my car, a handgun in my pocket or glove compartment wasn't going to do me much good. I felt incapable of protecting myself against such a circumstance, and strongly believed the only protection I could hope for was intervention from a higher power. But Rose had told me to get a gun, so I started shopping.
The best consultants I could think of were the guys on the farm, but I wasn't sure how to approach them about it. Although I counted them among my closest friends, there was always a gulf between us. Real or imagined, I felt they regarded me as something of a sissy. I spent my days in comfortable offices and ornate courtrooms, while they perched on rooftops and hung from ladders. I spent almost every week-end with them at the farm, cutting firewood, clearing pasture, repairing buildings, or shoveling out the goat sheds. But no matter how well I kept up, I sensed that to them I would always be a week-end warrior.
The Krishna threat against me apparently boosted my stock with them, though. Rose had evidently made it clear that he regarded a threat against one of us as a threat against all. I didn't have to ask them for advice about guns, they came to me.
The following weekend I went out to the farm as usual to help with the endless chores. It was October and the weather was brisk and stimulating. We worked hard all morning, cutting and hauling firewood from the back end of the farm. Afterwards, Chuck, Larry, Mark, Jake and I were relaxing in the farmhouse, fixing lunch. Larry walked into the dining room with an iron skillet half-filled with something unrecognizable he had fried up for breakfast, or perhaps even last night's dinner.
I watched him for awhile, unable to resist smiling at his every move. Larry was one of the funniest people I'd ever met, and his sense of humor was magnified by the comic lifestyle he'd adopted at the farm. He had accumulated a rather eclectic wardrobe over the years by picking through Goodwill bins, and now kept all his clothes in a pile in the corner of his room. Each day he dressed in whatever shirt and pants his hand touched first--a selection method that invariably produced harlequin-like combinations of plaids, stripes and bizarre color combinations. He came from a rough rural town on the northern outskirts of Pittsburgh. He was tall and wiry, and before he met Rose his life was a perilous series of scrapes and jams and misadventures--often involving women.
As I watched, Larry placed his skillet on the table, then went to the refrigerator and pulled out a quart of goats milk, a stick of margarine, and a large jar of a generic-brand grape jelly. He held up the jelly and pretended to read from the label.
"'This product has grapes and leaves and bird shit all clumped together, but it's suitable for normal everyday use--as long as you feed it to someone else.' All right!"
He sat down and piled an enormous slab of margarine on a piece of bread, then spooned a heap of his jelly-substance in there with it. He took a huge bite and shook his head in satisfaction like it was the best thing he'd ever tasted. Then he started on the nameless food in his skillet. After a few bites he looked up at me.
"So our neighbors want to thin out the Jewish population around here, huh?"
"Yeah, theyíre driving down the property values." Chuck said. He was stomping around the kitchen and dining room putting together his lunch, looking sullen as usual. His perpetual scowl was an accurate reflection of his mood about half the time. The rest of the time he was indifferent to life. No one had ever seen him happy. His communications with people were very direct and literal, and he had little use for the formalities of social convention. Sometimes, however, he did show flashes of humor. During the time he was building my cabin he had occasion to phone me a few times at the office. Once my secretary asked if she could say who was calling.
"Yes," he told her.
After a long awkward pause my secretary said, "Well, who is calling."
"May I tell him what this is concerning, Mr. Carter?"
"Yes." Another long pause.
"Well, what does this concern?"
"It concerns my wife," Chuck said, his voice rising. "I want him to stay the hell away from her!" His call was put right through.
Now, as I watched Chuck gather the materials for his lunch in his deliberate manner, I realized how little I actually knew about him--how little any of us knew about him.
"Whoa, boy," Chuck whistled, looking in the refrigerator and spotting the smoked fish I had brought. "If it's open season on Dave Gold let's shoot him now and take his lunch."
Every week-end I brought out something to share, and every week-end we went through the same ritual. If it was something Larry liked he dug right in and ate as much as he could as fast as he could. Chuck, however, would always act surprised and wait for my invitation before eating any of it. He would take a minute portion, to show he wasn't greedy or obligated to me, then later go back for seconds, and thirds, and keep eating until the food was gone or he had made himself sick, whichever came first.
Chuck took the smoked fish out of the refrigerator and set it on the table. Larry picked it up by the tail, brought it up to his face and stared at it, eyeball to eyeball, for several seconds.
"He blinked first," Larry announced triumphantly, then tossed the fish back onto the white wrapping paper and turned to me. "So what kind of gun you looking for?"
"I don't know yet."
"Get one like this," Larry said, pulling his gun from his back pocket and putting in on the table.
Chuck stopped what he was doing and put his gun beside it. "I got one almost like it," he said. "They're good guns."
Hearing the turn in the conversation, Mark and Jake came in from the living room where they'd been eating and put their guns on the table, too. I stared at the four weapons like they were lit sticks of dynamite. Larry and Chuck extolled the virtues of their aluminum alloy Smith and Wesson .38 specials.
"You can walk around with it in your pocket all day and not even know it's there," Larry said.
Chuck's gun was identical, except that his trigger was rounded. "That way it doesn't get hung up on your pocket if you need to pull it out in a hurry," he explained.
Jake picked up his gun from the table. It was a smaller caliber gun but had a longer barrel.
"Those snub-nose things are only good for sticking in people's bellies," he said with an odd laugh. "I can hit a tin can at fifty yards with this."
"Yeah, but itís got no stopping power," Mark countered. "You may hit someone at fifty yards, but they're going to hit back. Now this," he said, lovingly picking up his black steel .44 magnum, "this will settle an argument."
I picked up Larry's gun. It was the first time I had ever touched a handgun. It felt foreign, unpredictable, dangerous. I remembered all the horror stories I'd heard of gun tragedies, and was almost overwhelmed with revulsion. I felt like I was holding a snake and fought off the urge to throw it down. But as I picked up and handled each gun in turn I began to feel less and less intimidated, and by the time I picked up Mark's cannon, I was almost intrigued by what I held in my hand.
Mark smiled at me. "We just might make a man out of you yet."
I decided on an aluminum .38 special, like Chuck's and Larry's, and began my search the following week. The first place I tried was Sullivan's Gun Shop on the outskirts of Moundsville. I had defended a juvenile who had broken into the store years before, and more recently Iíd represented a member of the Sullivan family in a personal injury case. I thought I would feel more comfortable taking care of this unpleasantness with people I knew, but the reverse was true. As soon as I walked in my antipathy to guns returned in the form of embarrassment. I felt uneasy and nervous, like a small-town teenager about to buy condoms from the family pharmacist. I was almost relieved when the clerk told me they had no aluminum .38's. I drove to Wheeling and tried several gun stores and pawn shops there, but none had the type of gun I was looking for. I began to wonder--even hope--that maybe I wasn't meant to own a gun.
The following week my other law partner, Jon Turak, returned from vacation. I was anxious to discuss all this with him. Jon was one of Augieís younger brothers. He had joined Lou and me in the practice several years before and had since become one of my closest friends, and definitely my most trusted confident. In some ways he was like Augie--and the other nine Turaks I eventually became friends with. He was gregarious, charismatic, loyal, and very family-oriented. But he was different from Augie in some fundamental ways. There was none of the domineering manipulation or bombastic diatribes that made Augie both an effective leader and a difficult taskmaster.
All of the Turaks were soft-hearted, but most had also developed an emotional armor that allowed them to protect their own feelings when necessary. Jon had not. He wore his affections and vulnerabilities very close to the surface, and seemed to get along just fine that way. Though he was not a student of Roseís, Jon had a profound understanding and respect for Rose and his teachings. He was close enough to the group to share its values and far enough away to give me an objective perspective when I needed it.
His first day back, I gave him a few hours to literally get his feet back under the desk, then about noon I went into his office and sat down. Jon was leaning back in his red leather chair, eyebrows furrowed, perusing a thick legal document.
"I can't believe it." He shook his head in bemused exasperation. "Bill Lemon has really outdone himself this time."
Bill Lemon was the prosecuting attorney for neighboring Wetzel County, and a throwback to the justice systems of a hundred years ago. He viewed us as bleeding heart crusaders and took special pleasure in trying to railroad our clients.
"Do you remember the Littleton case I have with Bill?"
I nodded. Some stolen farm equipment had turned up on the Littleton's property in rural Wetzel County. Lemon charged the son with stealing the equipment. I took the son's case, which we got dismissed. Lemon got mad about it and then charged the mother with Receiving Stolen Property. Jon took the mother's case and filed a Bill of Particulars, requesting discoverable information about the State's case against the mother.
"Listen to this." Jon leaned back again and read from the document. "Here's question 14 in my Bill of Particulars: 'State with particularity all evidence which the State intends to rely upon to prove that Sandra Littleton knew that the farm equipment which appeared on her property was stolen.'"
John put down his document and picked up the State's response. "Answer. 'Sandra Littleton received the farm equipment from her son, Ronald Littleton, and everyone in Wetzel County knows that all the Littletons are thieves.'"
Jon roared with deep, relaxed laughter, then tossed the papers aside.
"So what's new around here?" he said.
I leaned my chair back until it was balanced against the wall.
"Tom White called me right after you left."
"Let me guess. He wants you to represent him in his divorce."
"Not quite." I told Jon the whole story and realized as I spoke how much I'd been looking forward to talking with him about it. When I finished he was silent for a few moments before speaking. I knew what he was thinking. Jon had been involved quite visibly in some of the Krishna cases himself. Just because there was currently no evidence of a contract on his life, did not mean one didn't exist. There was no reason to believe he would be immune.
"You've talked to Mister Rose about it, right?"
"What did he say?"
"He told me to get a gun."
"Not yet. What do you think about all this?"
Jon sat in thought for a moment. He was two years younger than me, and remarkably handsome, with boyish good looks and charm. At the moment, however, he looked old.
"We didn't ask for this," he said finally. "We just did what we thought was right, and this is where it dropped us off."
"So what are our choices?"
"None," he replied, smiling again. "Like Davey Crockett says, 'Be sure your right, then go ahead.'"
We sat in silence for several minutes, then Jon spoke again.
"You know," he said with a grin, "if you walk around with a gun in your pocket there's a good chance you'll just end up blowing your balls off."
"It's crossed my mind."
Jon leaned forward in his chair and spoke more seriously. "I know a guy, an iron worker I did some title work for. He's also got a federal firearms license. I could give him a call."
The next morning, Jon walked into my office, followed by a rather smarmy man with flabby arms and a thick mustache in need of trimming. He got right to business.
"Jon said you were looking for a handgun," he said as we shook hands.
"Yes, I am."
The man lifted his large black case onto my desk.
"He didn't know what you were looking for exactly, so I brought a selection." He opened the suitcase and removed his guns one at a time, placing them at intervals around my desk.
"Pick 'em up," he said. "Get a feel."
I started with an unintimidating .22. I examined it, aimed it out the window.
"A good gun for target shooting but not much good in a pinch," my consultant advised.
I nodded and picked up a western style Colt .45. It was incredibly heavy, and I wondered if cowboys really twirled these things on their fingers.
"A show gun," I was told.
I moved on to a .44 magnum. The gun man smiled.
"This is the type of gun I sold to your partner here. It's fast, dependable, and will do some damage no matter where you hit a guy."
I looked over at Jon with amazement. He never told me he'd bought a gun. I started to say something, but I could see from his expression he didn't want to talk about it, at least not now.
"It's a beautiful gun," I agreed, "but I need something I can put in my pocket and forget about."
"Then this is the piece for you," he said, picking up a .38 and handing it to me. Surprisingly I felt an immediate affinity for the weapon. It was light and fit perfectly in my grasp.
"It's called The Agent," the man said. "Colt makes it specifically for the CIA. Aluminum alloy, six shots--the Smith and Wesson aluminum .38's only have five--and it can take a lot of abuse."
I stood up, placed the gun in the right rear pocket of my suit slacks, and walked around my office.
"Can't even feel it," I said to Jon.
I asked about the price.
"I'm selling it for a friend's widow. I told her I'd get two hundred dollars."
I walked around the office some more, feeling the weight of it. I took it out and looked at it, then put it back in my pocket.
"It comes with bullets, right?" I said.
"For a friend of Jonís, two boxes."
"Is a check okay?"
"I prefer cash."
I carried the gun with me for the next few days and strangely, I was more afraid than when I didn't have it. It was as if the presence of the gun made the possibility of imminent death that much more real. Constantly feeling the weight of it in my pocket made it difficult to think of anything else. I told myself I would get used to it, and that someday I would think normally again.
The following Saturday I went out to the farm as usual to help with the work. I showed my new gun around and the residents all approved of my choice. I stuck it back in my hip pocket and felt better about it being there. We had been working the last few weeks clearing a small field for cultivation. That day we worked at digging out stumps. It was cool and sunny--a beautiful day for work.
About an hour later Rose arrived and began to work along with us. Weíd been working in teams of two--one man with an ax, the other with a shovel. But with Rose there, everyone converged on the same stump to be near him.
We stood around the stump, taking turns with the ax and shovel work, talking, laughing at Rose's jokes, sweating in the cool autumn sun. Rose took a turn at the ax and swung it with the power and grace of a young athlete. When he stopped he handed it to me and smiled with true warmth.
I took the ax from him and swung it with a will, exalting in the joy of pure movement. As I did, Rose spoke casually of spiritual matters and the others who stood around the stump became motionless. I swung the ax and listened--no, heard--and his words penetrated more deeply than my own thoughts. Without warning I was moved to tears. I swung the ax harder and kept my head lowered to hide my emotion from the others. And then, suddenly, I didn't care. I stood straight between swings and let my tears show. I swung the ax with a rhythm of movement so perfectly attuned to me it was almost effortless. Each time I bent to chop the root I felt the gun in my pocket press against me. Each time I stood to swing the ax again the sun touched my back. I was simultaneously empty and full. There was nothing I would rather do, no place I'd rather be. If I were killed because I chose to come to this place and learn from this man, then surely this was the reason I was born. I swung the ax and wanted nothing more from life. In that moment an immense burden left me, and although I can't be sure, I believe that for a few hours that day I lost my fear of dying.