As Jake walked away from the newsstand, he heard the scream of brakes behind him. His short, spiky hair was too heavy with gel to stand up any higher, but the prickles on top of his scalp made it feel as though it was jumping off of his head.
His death would come at the hands of a ton or two of metal, glass and rubber. Before her own death, his mother had told him and her other children how they would die. Not when, though. Jake really wished she had lived long enough to tell him when he was going to be disassembled by the metal beast.
Today was not his day to die. The car stopped within five feet of Jake and the panicked look on the driver’s face turned to relief as Jake smiled and gave her a thumbs up. His heart was racing but nothing about his bearing betrayed the fear he felt. He was not ready to go through the black night. He was not sure if he would be walking the golden path to heaven or the fiery path to hell.
No, he was not ready to go. Not yet. He had so much to do and so much to atone for. With each little sin, his greater sins from the past became heavier. If his transgressions had physical substance, they would weigh almost as much as he did.
He needed time, but more importantly, he needed a glorious mission to secure his soul. Over the past years, Jake had been the right-hand of Brother Anthony. Guiding missions was part of Jake’s duties for the head of the ministry. These little godly assignments were important, but they did not take away sins as quickly as glorious missions.
Glorious missions were reserved for the most fervent and were a guarantee to the golden path. Brother Anthony ordered very few glorious missions and never any for Jake. Being an indispensible part of the ministry had very few drawbacks, but this was the most glaring one. Brother Anthony would never allow Jake the chance to atone in the greatest way possible.
Even though Jake believed he would go on a godly solo mission one day, a part of him believed the dark past would swallow him before he was granted forgiveness. His was a very dark heritage and a glory run was the only way to heaven.
If his mother’s predictions came true before he was absolved, he would roast in hellfire for all eternity. He was still keyed up from his near brush with death. His fear of dying unforgiven made his heart race. Stepping into a corner coffee shop, Jake ordered a decaf and sat at a window table. He needed time to calm down before going back to the hotel room where Brother Anthony was resting.
The conference he and the good brother were attending was a rallying cry for zealots across the nation and around the world. It seemed as though providence had guided him to this place. As soon as they arrived, Jake felt the anticipation of something important unfolding. At least, that was what he wanted to call it.
A rose by any other name was still a rose and its thorns pierced as deeply as a prickly crown. This place was calling the dark rose inside of him. His past was creeping up to his present and the collision of good and evil, light and dark, and moral and immoral made him anxious.
Sipping his cooling coffee, Jake was not unaware of other coffee drinkers’ sly glances. He was used to the attention his dark brooding looks generated. In the bad days, he used his looks to sinful advantage. In these days, the good days, he used his looks for the good of the ministry. Still, most people were uneasy around Jake. He exuded a barely contained malevolent fury. He was not a person to meet alone in a dark alley.
As he sat sipping and watching passersby, he wondered if his proximity to the evil of his past was tainting him even more. He felt reckless and mean and he could almost feel an oily sheen of malevolence start to spread over his soul.
No, no, no, no, no. He did not realize he was shaking his head until he noticed a few nervous glances directed his way. Whispered conversations froze as he stared without blinking at the others around him. His black eyes were without depth. As a former lover had told him, he had the eyes and personality of a killer shark.
No doubt, his demeanor was disturbing the locals. He did not really care. The comfort of others was not his responsibility.
It never had been. From his earliest memory, independence and self-reliance were more important than a suckling, nurturing bosom. Though his mother tried to give her children as normal a home as possible in the abyss of hell in which she lived, she was fighting her own demon. So, instead, she taught her offspring to rely on themselves. She taught them to escape the malevolent forces surrounding them.
His mother taught her children to fend for themselves by neglecting them. They were forced to depend on themselves. It was the only way to survive. Their father, curse his name, taught them how to hate and how to make the world around them bow to their wishes. Such wonderful parenting did not go unrewarded. The death of his mother was a release to her own glory road.
As he sat sipping cold coffee and remembering the past, he knew he had been called here, to this particular town, for a special reason. Unresolved childhood issues needed to be addressed. Secrets needed to be uncovered. Not his, but the evil secrets of others. His secrets were safe. One day, a glorious mission of his own would wipe the slate of his secrets clean.
He tapped the face of his watch. He had another hour to kill before he and Brother Anthony went back to the conference. Although it was a revival for zealous souls, Jake could see through more of the bull than Brother Anthony. That was another reason the ministry’s head could not let Jake go. The little bit of evil Jake nourished in his soul allowed him to identify evil and deception in others.
Even supposedly “good” religious fanatics could be coerced into tricking their compatriots. Jake had dealt with a few who had crossed the people Jake called his “honorable family.” That little bit of evil came in handy a few times. Brother Anthony called it “necessary righteousness.”
Jake did not bother about the minor details of the ministry. He did what he was told, kept his eyes and ears open, and was a good soldier. All Jake wanted was a chance at regaining the soul he had lost. No, he wanted more than a chance. It was his right to claim the soul he had lost during his teenage years. He could even pinpoint the exact date it had been ripped from him. His soul had disappeared the day his mother died.
He had not loved his mother and definitely not his father. His mother had been weak. She stayed in her own world which had room for only one. Her children were excluded and forced to sink or swim. But, unfortunately for her, the world she chose to live in was full of howls and banshees. Her husband thrived on her fear. At times, Jake knew his father purposely drove his mother into the arms of her nightmares. At times, so did Jake.
No one knew the truth of it all. Jake’s siblings might suspect, but he did not know what they actually knew. He was not even sure if his brother was still alive. Jake had searched for him, but it was as if he had fallen off of the face of the earth. His sister, on the other hand, was very easy to find. She had been catapulted onto center stage with her devil medicine. The results of her dabbling in the black arts had sent her back to their despicable father.
The ministry encouraged its members to keep up with their families—from a distance. Jake was not naïve like some of the others. He knew that part of the ministry was like any other business. Money was what kept it going. If a member’s family came into money, the ministry encouraged the member to coerce financial support from his or her family. Money was not the root of evil as long as it was used for a godly purpose.
Jake’s sister was so close he could almost taste her. It had been decades since he had seen her, but he knew she would recognize him immediately. He had stopped trying to alter his looks. It did not matter because all of his efforts to disguise his physical appearance were for naught. Jake Morton Sinclair was the spitting image of his famous father.
He used his mother’s maiden name officially. Very few knew of his blood ties to Morris Sinclair. Those who did, well, they were not in positions to expose him. Their secrets were far worse than his.
Coming so close to Rubicon Ranch was a gamble. He had unfinished business with his father. The temptation to end that chapter in his life was great. Jake was greater than that, though. He was the savior of himself.
He had kept up with the troubles Morris stirred up for himself and others. A friendly online acquaintance with the state police had not batted a virtual eye when Jake asked her to keep tabs on a list of names. Morris’s name popped up with increasing frequency lately. Jake knew it was a sign that the zealous conference was being held within only a few miles of his father’s home.
Jake believed in signs. He believed in signs so fervently that those in his inner circle feared he sometimes received signs from the devil. Jake knew he did. Good or evil, a sign was a sign. Every minute of every day was full of them. All one had to do was tune in to see them.
Nothing happened without a reason. There was a purpose to it all. The strings of life were already set and Jake could sometimes see where his life-strings were going. On this day as he sat watching out the window of the coffee shop, he saw one of his strings of life walk right in front of his view.
Instinctively drawing back, Jake watched the evilness glide by like the biblical serpent. He heard a small suppressed gasp from the woman sitting at the table next to him. He knew she had made the connection between Jake and his father. It was hard to hide his ties to Morris when they were placed almost side by side. Diversion was his only choice. He did not want his true presence known. Not yet.
“Doppelganger,” he said in a low tone to the woman. She jumped at his voice, but listened with nervous interest. “Everyone has one.”
Jerking his thumb toward his father’s departing back, Jake continued. “That guy looks like he’s mine. Who is he?”
The woman looked like a rabbit caught in the light of a night hunter. When she tried to speak, she squeaked. Clearing her throat, she tried again.
“Morris Sinclair. He’s a writer.”
“Ahh. What does he write?” Jake feigned an interest he loathed.
“Supernatural. He’s a little . . . odd,” she replied with a slight hint of indignation.
If she only knew how odd, she would have collapsed in terror on the spot. Jake resisted the urge to enlighten her and, instead, looked at her with shark eyes, nodded and turned away, effectively ending their short exchange. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her hastily gather her belongings and scurry out of the coffee shop like a mouse stalked by a hungry cat.
Tapping the face of his watch again, he sighed in weary frustration. Only twenty minutes had passed. Stepping to the counter, Jake ordered a refill and a piece of carrot cake. As his order was being prepared, a customer entered the shop and the air seemed to swoosh out. The hair on the top of his head tried in vain to stand straight up.
Distraction saved him. Another car almost lost control and the screech of brakes made everyone but Jake look around to see the source of the noise. His sister Mary did not notice as Jake made his way back to his corner window table. From his seat, he watched as she and the others gawked at the confused driver as he tried to shake off his near collision with a street sign.
His sister had barely aged. She looked much like he remembered. Life had not left too many marks on the outside. Jake could only guess what hell Mary was living on the inside.
But, his sister had always been tenacious. As a girl caught in age between two boys, she had kept up and kept even. In ways, she had risen above her siblings. She had not been as twisted in Morris’s evil life as Jake and his brother. Her sins were not as black, even with her recent legal troubles. To be responsible for the accidental death of a child was not the worst thing. Jake knew firsthand what was worse.
He watched his sister as she paid for her coffee and left. He watched the other customers look after her. The resemblance to Morris was uncanny. Not like Morris in drag, but like an evil queen Morris. A feminine version of Morris was no less imposing. The dark shark eyes and the steady cold look he, his father and his sister shared were their unfortunate trademarks, no matter how they really were inside.
He needed to find out more about Mary. Had she repented or was she still as damned as he? He already knew the answer to this question in relation to his father – Morris was damned and no amount of penance or golden missions would save his father’s soul. It had been burnt to a crisp long ago.
There may still be time for Mary. It was Jake’s duty to try to salvage this family member’s soul. The ministry’s doctrine demanded that he try. If Mary could be purged of the taint of evil, some of Jake’s own sins would be alleviated and he would be one step closer to the golden path.
He watched as Mary walked in the same direction Morris had passed not many minutes before. As she stepped across the road, Morris emerged from a shop and Mary veered toward him. Jake could tell Mary was quietly trying to steer her father away from the other stores. She said something that made Morris narrow his hooded eyes and spread his malevolence like dark wings.
As the pair walked back the way they had come, Jake confirmed in his mind that there might be hope for Mary. For Morris, though, there was no hope and no salvation. His father was beyond redemption. For the Sinclair patriarch, there was only doom