Are the deacons of Shalom Bethel invincible? Legend has it that in the 1940’s, they came out of a gunfight with holes in their clothes but not their skin. Bullets bounced off of them. They walked through buckshots like water. That story is passed down by every deacon. The legend of Stephen Stone. That legend is about to be tested.
On the heels of a nightclub triple murder, a mysterious blizzard hits Shalom, a city normally warm year round. The blizzard brings with it bitter memories and ghosts Deacon Oak East thought were long gone: his prior drug conviction, his on and off relationship with his wife, the gruesome murder of his father and the role he played in it. But it’s not just the past that haunts him. In the present, a homicide detective wants him and the deacons for the nightclub murders. And a gangster named Cap Morgan wants revenge. The snow is falling. But soon, it will be raining bullets. Is the legend true? Are the deacons of Shalom Bethel bulletproof?
The early evening air cooled Oak’s skin and caused it to tighten. The sensation was odd, like someone pinching him but all over. Bringing his skin cells closer together? The thought was crazy and Oak traveled back to a biology class in which the teacher was showing a video on mitosis. Cells were dividing, giving rise to two daughter cells with the same number of chromosomes. There were different phases. One in particular where the chromatin seemed to span the two fused cellular bodies. So cool. That’s not what was happening with Oak’s skin. It was tightening…stiffening. And how would that look under a microscope?
He shook those thoughts, jogged up to the duplex and slapped the knocker three times. The door opened and he saw Moody Norco. The man who hated his guts.
“Come on in,” Moody said. “You want something to drink?”
“Nah, I’m working. What’s up?”
“Nothing much. Getting over a cold.”
“No. I mean what’s up?”
“You mean the money?”
“I always mean the money when I ask that question.”
Moody was devious and dangerous. Instead of repelling Oak, this fact attracted him. Pulled him to the man like gravity. An invisible yet powerful force that he couldn’t escape.
He carried the weight of the world into Moody’s apartment that evening. His uncle had kicked him out the house. He had lost the women he loved. And then there was that nagging guilt, the thought that God would never forgive him for what he had done eight years before. Life had burdened him. Perhaps this devious dude was just dangerous enough to remove that burden.
Oak snapped his fingers in Moody’s face. “Come on, man, I don’t have all day.”
“I’m going to warn you right now,” Moody said, “it’s been slow.” He motioned to a half-naked woman who scampered into the back room.
“I don’t care how slow it’s been. You’re delinquent yet again. Frankly, I’m fed up with it.”
Moody’s eyes narrowed. He tightened his fist but nothing more.
“Tell your girl to hurry up with the money,” Oak said.
“C’mon. Let me fix you some Cognac. I know you like that Yack! With Coke, right?”
“Man, you’re trying my patience!” Oak pushed Moody out of the way and stomped into the bedroom, where he figured the woman was counting the money. But there was no woman. Instead, there was an open window, curtains dancing in the breeze and two guys holding sawed off shot guns that were aimed at Oak’s chest.
“You sure you don’t want something to drink?” Moody asked again with a smile as he brandished a silver Saturday Night Special.
“Truth be told,” he said, his pistol pointed at Oak, “I hate you! Why did you all of a sudden get to be boss of the streets? You haven’t put in work. You haven’t done dirt. And what’s worse, if war comes, you’d never be man enough to squeeze a trigger. You’re not a boss!” Moody and his two gunmen backed Oak into the living room. He asked, “You’re not gonna beg for your life?”
“Not at all,” Oak replied.
“Well, I gotta say I’m disappointed.”
Oak shrugged. Sighed. “Well I’ve seen too much evil. Been the cause of too much pain. Being murdered like this is a fitting end.”
“You’re not gonna cry or try to make a deal?”
“Nah. If you’re gonna shoot me, get it over with already.”
Moody chuckled. Smiled. Then his lips straitened. “This wasn’t what I imagined would happen. In my mind, I saw you sniveling, snot dripping over your lips as you begged for your life. Forget about the money. Just don’t kill me, Moody! I would demand that you call me the king. You are the king! Then, I’d make you get down on your knees, your hands folded in prayer and praise. But…”
Oak jumped at Moody like he was going to throw a punch. Moody flinched. His boys flinched too.
“Unbelievable,” Oak laughed. Then he screamed, “Do it!”
Shot guns lifted. Forestocks pumped. Snub nose hammer pulled back. An engine roared and the hood of a SUV came crashing through sheetrock and plaster. It was Sampson, Oak’s bodyguard. Crashing through the wall. Shooting through the windshield.
Shots blazed from every direction. Glass shattered. Sampson took one in his shoulder but served several to Moody and his boys. As they hit the floor, Sampson yelled, “Lay down and stay down!”
“O!” he screamed as he grunted his way towards him. “O.E.!”
“Are you wearing a vest?”
He patted Oak’s chest and back. “Oh my goodness!” he said. “You’re not wearing a vest!”
Oak looked at Sampson and saw that he was bleeding heavily. He took off his shirt and pressed it against his wounded shoulder. He said, “We gotta get you outta here.” Then he helped Sampson to the passenger side of the SUV, got in the driver’s seat, and slowly backed the out of the rubble.
As he drove to Shalom Memorial Hospital, images of the shootout replayed in his head. The ear splitting pops and mind numbing explosions. He racked his brain for a reason why he was still breathing.
He said, “I’m sorry, Sampson. I should have been the one to get shot back there.”
“You did get shot.”
His bodyguard took a deep breath. Winced in pain. “They lit you up, man. You were getting popped left and right.”
“Sampson,” Oak smiled warily, “were you smoking dope while I was in the apartment?”
“I’m serious!” Sampson screamed. “Bullets just bounced off of you. At first I thought it was the adrenaline playing tricks on my mind. But nah. You were just walking through those bullets. I know what I saw.”
About the Author
James Fant is an award winning author who lives in Charleston, SC with his lovely wife and two hilarious children. He received a degree in biology from College of Charleston and a master’s in business administration from Charleston Southern University. His love for literature was forged by the works of Eric Jerome Dickey, Walter Mosley, and Stephen King. He also finds inspiration from screenwriters Shonda Rhimes, Aaron Sorkin and Kurt Sutter. Literarily, James has always been drawn to intelligent yet imperfect characters and he writes novels with them in mind.