“I could do it,” Tony said as I started the engine. “Believe me. Easy.”
I backed the Subaru up then eased away from the kerb. An old lady in a Ford pulled into the spot almost before I got out. Life in the congestion zone. “Might better open up a car park. You’d get rich a lot quicker. Especially around here.”
Tony shook his head. “A car park is a finite investment. There’s no end of growth potential for religion.”
“Growth potential? You’ve been watching those YouTube videos again.”
“Sidney, the knowledge of the ages is free for the taking if you know where to look.”
I checked the map and made a right at the corner. “What, Wikipedia?”
Tony sighed. He thought I lacked ambition. “You really need to develop your online presence.”
“I’m not getting on Friendface.” I shot him a look as we idled at the light.
“Facebook! Criminy, you don’t even know what it is. You might as well live among the Neanderthals.”
I shrugged. “I got plenty of friends. They drink at my local. Why would I need friends I can’t drink with?” A muffled shout from the boot made us both turn around. Some impatient stockbroker behind me tooted the horn of his Mercedes and I stepped on the accelerator.
“Think we need to pull over?”
“Nah, it’ll be all right.”
Tony turned around to face front again. “You might be content with your lot in life–“
“I’ve got ambition, Sidney. I want something better.”
“Your own religion?”
“Small investment, low overhead at the start then huge results.”
I laughed. “What about those vows of poverty?” The evening sky had that pink glow that never lasted for long but made the old city look new again.
Tony laughed. “That’s for the low level minions. You ever been to the Vatican? Untold wealth. Same thing for all major religions. Mecca. Taj Mahal. Crystal Cathedral. Scientologists.”
“They got a church?”
Tony shot me a look of withering scorn. “They’ve got the whole of Hollywood! Hands in everything. All those rich actors and directors — they’re all due-paying Scientologists.”
“Not Jason Statham.”
“Well, no,” Tony admitted, “but then he’s not really Hollywood is he?”
Another muffled scream from the boot, more of a sob really. “So what’s your religion going to be about?”
When he thinks he’s got a world-beater, Tony gets this smug look that begs for a punch to the kisser. “Happiness. What everyone wants and nobody’s got.”
“I got it.”
“You don’t count, Sidney. Most people are miserable. Hold out the possibility of happiness and riches and you’ll have people eating out of your hand.”
“You don’t say.” I looked at the map again as I found myself facing the wrong end of a one way street. “You’re going to offer them riches? Won’t that deplete your own quickly?”
Tony sighed. He could sigh for England. “You don’t give people riches. You hold out the possibility of riches. Like car commercials that hold out the possibility of sex with supermodels. You ain’t getting it, but you think you might.”
“So you’ll be advertising?” I slowed the car, squinting into the thickening dusk.
“All modern religions advertise. I’ll have my own website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. I’ll be an internet sensation.” Tony looked properly smug.
“We’re here,” I said, turning into the building site. I pulled around behind a large skip filled with rubble. Old Bill said they would be pouring concrete in the morning. All seemed quiet.
“Looks wet.” Tony sighed.
“Well, let’s dig first, then see about the baggage after,” I suggested, opening the rear door to grab the shovels. I handed one to Tony who frowned at it. “They don’t come with golden handles, mate.”
He scowled and pointed. “Here?”
“Looks good to me.” The dirt was wet, but the shovels cut through it with ease. Nonetheless we soon sweated profusely. “Not so young anymore, are we?”
“Speak for yourself,” Tony retorted. “Prime of my life.”
“Think it’s deep enough.” I scanned the horizon. All remained quiet. People having their tea about now, surely. “Let’s get the baggage.”
“So what was he?” Tony stared at the face without recognition.
“Someone who made a serious error in judgement. You want feet or hands?” We dragged him over and dropped the baggage in the hole.
“Face down so he can see where he’s going,” Tony snickered.
“Will there be a hell in your religion?”
Tony considered the thought, which meant he leaned on his shovel and let me do the work. “Carrot and stick really, eh? You need to have both.”
“If there were no fear of punishment, more people would end up like this baggage. But you can’t have it too grim or people won’t be attracted. Gruesome punishments but easily avoided.”
“Like fairy tales.” I heard a sound and whipped round. The biggest dog I ever saw stood by the skip, hackles up, a low growl rippling from its throat. I lifted the shovel, figuring I could bash it with the blade. Tony stared.
The dog crept closer. I wondered if he were diseased or something. Tony joined me, keeping the corpse between us and the mutt. The dog lunged forward and grabbed the baggage’s hand in its mouth and started pulling at it, growling even louder.
“S’pose its his? Trying to rescue him?”
“Bit late.” At least the dog didn’t seem to want to attack us. Inspired, I leaned forward, brought down the shovel and sliced through the wrist. The dog, who’d shied away at first, made a lunge and sank his teeth into the hand. Then he turned and ran off with his prize.
I laughed until I cried. Tony scowled. “What are we going to tell Old Bill?”
“Nothing. He won’t mind him being a hand short. Or is that against your religion?”
“Maybe my faith needs a dog.”
“Well, dog spelled backwards –“
“Hand of glory –“
“Shut up and shovel.”
[Originally appeared in Spinetingler Magazine: 29 June 2012. Reprinted in Kwik Krimes. Ed. Otto Penzler (Thomas & Mercer).