Excerpt from The Coppersmith

Posted: June 13, 2008 in Excerpts

Okay, so since I keep talking about The Coppersmith in this blog and on various forums so much, I thought I’d give you an excerpt from one of my favorite chapters. Enjoy!

He stared over the surface of Onondaga Lake, marking the small whitecaps as the wind pressed against the water, shoving it repeatedly against the shore like some abusive step-dad. Ahead he saw the white facing of the Carousel Mall, its teal roof and spire pushing ahead into the air, the kitsch steeple of a mega church to consumerism. The city of Syracuse sprawled out to the right toward the end of the lake, a vast display of commercial and industrial warehouses decaying through time and disuse. Deeper in, the city showed signs of life and urban renewal, especially in the inner city near Clinton Square and the various government buildings, and also in Armory Square, with its bars and cafés appealing to the student body of Syracuse University. But the residential side streets of south Syracuse were garbage strewn and graffiti stained, graphically highlighting the street gang problem city officials had long denied. The city’s renaissance was less a rebirth than a refusal to die completely. A combination of political maneuvering and inherent cynicism stifled the entrepreneurial ambitions of even the most ardent developers. The consequence was the city, like many in the United States, lay exhausted on the ropes of twenty-first century progress, not willing to concede the bout, but unable to score a knock-out either.

He breathed in, filling his lungs. The vague fishy smell of the lake mingled with the cool dampness of the air. A storm was on its way, probably lake effect sweeping down from Ontario in one of its frequent reminders of the great lake’s presence to the northwest. A small prayer of unknown tongues slipped through his lips, and the interpretation that pressed itself upon his mind was thanksgiving for the weather. The storm would hold out long enough for him to accomplish his mission. Torrents of cleansing rain would wash away the evidence of his passing and obscure his retreat. Slipping his hands inside the fingers of the work gloves, he stepped in the boat and examined his cargo.

Pastor John Ellingworth glared at him from where he sat in the bow, not quite as fearful as he’d been when Marshall first tackled him in the lavatory at the Full Gospel church on Salina Street, but not confident, either. He was secured across his ankles, knees, arms, and hands with duct tape. A final piece was fastened across his mouth. He continued to work at the tape with his jaw and tongue, but it showed little signs of loosening. Marshall had pressed his hands together and wrapped them in tape. A mocking posture of prayer. He further strapped them both across his neck and behind his knees with several layers of tape. It kept his hands in an uplifted position but prevented him from standing up.

Marshall inspected the bindings, then patted him on the head while he returned to the stern. He sat down beside the motor and filled the tank from the gas can on the floor of the boat. He took what remained of the gas and began sloshing it liberally around the deck and sides of the boat, pouring a generous portion over the top of Pastor John’s head. John squealed beneath his tape. He leaned to one side, examining the water.

“Go ahead,” Marshall said to him. He sat bolt upright. “I really don’t care if you drown here or drown there, heretic. But it’d be nice if you’d stay with me a little bit longer.” He fired up the motor and grinned. “Helps with the message, you see.”

John sank back down in his seat as the boat moved away from the pier. A shout caused them both to turn their heads. On shore, not a hundred feet away, a man ran toward them, pointing. Marshall’s breath came out in a sudden laugh as he gunned the motor, driving the boat into deeper water. John eyes went wide, fixed on the figure on shore, his nostrils flaring with every breath, unmindful of the acrid fumes that penetrated his nasal cavities. He glanced at Marshall, the corners of his eyes creased in what could only have been a grin. Marshall wanted to reach forward and slap the grin off his face, but to do so would require letting go of the tiller, and the boat would stall. He settled for glaring at him menacingly, and ignoring the weakening shouts of the man on shore.

John’s eyes reverted back to the shoreline, squinting under the burning of the fuel that dripped on his eyelids. The man pulled out a cell phone and talked into it, watching the boat disappear in the waves.

Soon they were in deeper water, though the shoreline was visible in all directions. John found the gasoline had loosened the glue of the duct tape, and by rubbing his face against his shoulder and the tips of his fingers, the flap of tape peeled away. It fell from his mouth, still clinging to the other side of his face. He rubbed the other cheek, but it hung there resolutely.

“You won’t get away with it,” he said.

Marshall glanced up, studying the pastor a moment. He shrugged.

“That guy on shore had a cell phone. He’s called the cops. You know they’re coming.”

“You’re probably right.”

“What do you think they’ll do to you when they catch you?”

Marshall smiled and looked away before answering. “It doesn’t matter what happens to me. This isn’t about me.”

“What is it about?”

“This is about what my Lord requires. I am merely the Lord’s instrument, dealing out justice to his enemies, and wrath upon those who prophesy falsely in his name. Whether he wishes me to stop now or see his gospel to completion is up to him. But I will not stop until he takes me.”

“Listen,” said John, “you don’t have to do this. You-you could find someone else. Just put me down on shore and get away before they find you. You could try again later, when they’re not watching.”

Marshall felt the urge to vomit rise in his throat. Worm, he thought. He said nothing.

John pressed his lips together. A twinge of conscience quietly informed him he was encouraging someone else to die in his stead. He angrily shoved the thought to one side. He was only trying to buy some time! If he could convince this lunatic to see reason, he could give the cops a complete description. He knew his face, his car, everything. They’d catch him before he hurt anyone else. Please, God! Jesus, please make him believe me!

“Is that what you’d like me to do then?” said Marshall. “Take you to the docks?”

John’s breath caught in his throat. Oh God, yes! Thank you, Jesus! He nodded his head. “Yes! Please.”

Marshall looked away, a small smile spreading across his lips. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said.

He angled the boat toward the end of the lake and pushed the throttle to full. John turned his head to see where they were going. Over the sound of the boat’s motor he heard another sound, loud and throbbing. Both he and Marshall looked up when a helicopter passed overhead. The chopper circled and came back, settling down low over the lake. A uniformed policeman put a bullhorn to his lips and shouted through it, “Shut down your engine and put your hands on your head!”

John stared at the helicopter, watching it grow larger as the boat sped toward it. His captor showed no signs of slowing down. John turned again in time to see Marshall hold up a large muzzled gun and point it at the helicopter.

“No!” he cried as his eyes were seared by a blinding flash of light. A glowing ball of pink flame arc toward the aircraft. The aircraft lurched in mid air and spun on its axis. The tail rotor whipped around ninety degrees. The copter barely missed the flare that whizzed toward them. In a second, the boat sped under the helicopter. John turned back to watch it. He saw Marshall reloading the flare gun with one hand. The other firmly grasped the tiller of the boat. With a gurgled cry he flung himself at Marshall. Marshall rose in one fluid motion and lashed out at his forehead, palm holding the weapon. It smashed into his face.

John’s vision exploded into a dizzying array of light. For a moment he thought the flare gun had gone off in his face. Then his vision cleared. He stared at the azure vault of the sky. The endless blue was broken by a dark bar that passed above him, then blue again. He blinked. His face throbbed with pain. The coppery taste of his own blood mingled with gasoline seeped past his lips to assault his tongue. He was on the bottom of the boat, and they’d just passed under a bridge. Behind them, closing fast, came the helicopter. Ahead, another bridge loomed. A green sign hung across it said Hiawatha Boulevard.

They were coming to the inner harbor. He pushed himself into a sitting position. His whole face ached. He was certain his nose was broken. Behind them, the helicopter came in closer, then inexplicably it rose again. In the distance the flashing lights of several police cars converged on the harbor. The second bridge flashed overhead, and the helicopter came down again, almost on top of them. Marshall glanced up to watch it for a moment, then back down at the man who cowered near his feet. “Don’t you just love being out on the water?” he exclaimed.

John blinked his eyes in disbelief. This guy was really nuts. Turning around again, he saw the final bridge before the harbor coming up fast. Bear Road, he thought. He looked back.

Marshall crouched on the boat’s aft bench. He winked at the pastor. “It’s time to pay for your sins, Paulist!” he said. John furrowed his brow. “I convict thee of breech of the holy Sabbath, teaching heresy, and blasphemy against the Most High God!”

Marshall rose partway to his feet as they neared the bridge. He pointed the gun at John. “No! No, wait!” John cried.

“And I sentence thee to death!”

The flare exploded from the gun, and Marshall leaped backward off the boat just as it passed under the bridge. The fuel caught fire. Pastor John Ellingworth quickly knew the searing heat of the Coppersmith’s judgment. He screamed.

What everyone else saw was a fiery craft of roiling black smoke careening toward the harbor. It veered toward the right as it chopped across the waves. It struck bow first into the pilings along the pier. The stern of the boat lifted clean out of the water, catapulting a flaming figure toward the wall before crashing down again. The body slammed against the wall with a resounding thud. It dropped straight down, disappearing beneath the water. The half-empty gas can exploded first, rocketing into the air, followed by the louder boom of the gas tanks themselves. Pieces of debris flew high up before dropping back down to land and water.

As rescuers dove into the water to recover what was left of Pastor Ellingworth, a slender form crawled out of the water beneath the Bear Road Bridge. He ran a hand over his forehead, pushing the water out of his eyes. He watched the glorious display of God’s power before climbing up the embankment beneath the bridge. He stripped off his coat and jeans and stuffed them in the plastic bag he’d kept in his pocket before stepping out into the sunshine. He climbed up the embankment to the sidewalk above.

“What was that?!”

He turned to the voice. A young man about his own age stared at the remains of the boat. “I dunno,” he said. “Looks like some crazy fisherman caught himself on fire and blew up his boat.”

The kid glanced at him. “What happened to you?”

He looked at his jogging shorts and T-shirt, still soaking wet. “Yeah. The explosion. I freaked out and fell in!”

“Wow.”

“Yeah, I gotta go change.”

“Peace.”

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