Chapter Seventy-Eight: “Do you think they’re preparing us for hell?”

Gord had a big day at the church the first Sunday in May. The whole sermon was based around various musical numbers, most featuring the warbling voices of the elderly choir, but there were also a few organ solos and a couple songs done by the handbell choir. Gord was quite excited about it, which Finch knew because he talked about it at great length for several days leading up to it. He kept dropping hints and reminders to his roommates that it was happening. Finch took this to mean that he wanted them to be there. While Finch would’ve been there anyway, he did set about coercing Gavin and Amare into coming as well. Both protested, and loudly, but they did as they were told nevertheless. Finch also brought Robin and, of course, Joey turned up, slipping into the pew next to Robin with a grin and a couple of his own friends. One of them was his cousin Vinny. The other was Beezy, the guy who Finch suspected was some kind of dodgy business partner.

The seven of them stood out terribly, far more than Finch normally did. For one thing, Beezy was wearing his usual orange tuque. He had left off his orange parka, likely because it was spring, but he was wearing an orange hoodie in its place. Vinny, apparently having dressed up for church, had exchanged his usual Adidas tracksuit jacket for a branded Adidas t-shirt. He was still wearing his Adidas track pants. Joey had a split lip and was grinning like a mad man. He kept winking at the elderly woman in front of them. She turned every so often, presumably to check if they were still there or whether or not they were participating in some kind of pagan ritual in the pew behind her. She likely wasn’t much reassured by the fact that Amare was openly texting or that Gavin spent the majority of the service complaining about having to sit through the service.

“Christ, it’s hot in here,” he said to Finch and Amare at one point. “Do you think they’re preparing us for hell?”

“I think it’s supposed to be the opposite,” Amare returned dryly, rolling his eyes without looking up from his phone. Upon closer inspection, Finch discovered that he was in fact playing solitaire.

“Well you haven’t been to church in years,” Finch hissed back to Amare. “So it could very well be hell you’re being prepped for. I’m surprised you didn’t burst into flames the moment you stepped through the door.”

“Says the gay Catholic man,” Amare rolled his eyes again.

“This has been, like, a ten-minute organ interlude,” Robin interrupted, turning to Finch with an eyebrow raised. “Do you think he’s gotten carried away? Lost track of time? Who does he think he is, Ray Manzarek?”

“Wow, that’s an obscure reference,” Gavin noted, looking impressed despite his tone.

After about half an hour, Finch began to notice several strange things happening at once. To start with, Gord had lapsed into yet another organ interlude, which legitimately appeared to be part of the organ solo from “Light My Fire”. Finch recognized it immediately because he had had a shift at the record store with Chuck the day before wherein he was forced to listen to The Doors on repeat for eight hours. Chuck, it seemed, had rediscovered his fondness for Jim Morrison. It happened every three months or so. Sometimes Chuck revered him as a musical and philosophical genus. Other times he said he was a degenerate hippie with a penchant for LSD. Finch figured both were technically true.

The second thing he noticed was Joey casually flicking through rolls of cash at the other end of the pew. As Finch assumed Joey was not about to give thousands of dollars in cold, hard cash as a donation to God in a grand show of his devoutness, he was left assuming that Joey was actually making some sort of shady business transaction with his orange-headed friend and his dumb ass cousin in the house of God.

And the third thing he noticed was their neighbour OBG sitting three rows up by himself. He wasn’t wearing an open bathrobe as per his moniker, but instead an oversized mu mu. It was turquoise and fringed. People were staring. Even the woman with the fuzzy beret, the one that looked like someone had skinned a Muppet to make it, was staring at him. His strangeness had eclipsed the woman with the Muppet hat. It had even managed to mostly eclipse Finch and his friends, which was just as well because Finch was fairly certain Joey was in the middle of doing something illegal.

“Christ, now he’s even more like Ray Manzarek,” Robin commented, having clearly also picked up on the familiar organ interlude.

“Uh, I don’t think you’re allowed to use the Lord’s name in vain in the Lord’s house,” Gavin told Robin. Finch, rolling his eyes, thought they had much larger problems at hand.

For the next twenty minutes or so, Finch kept a wary eye on things. He didn’t want to say anything, lest he draw even more attention to anything that was happening. OBG didn’t appear to be doing anything except soaking up the music. He was unquestionably there to see Gord. Finch wondered how he knew the service was happening. It seemed highly unlikely that Gord had invited him. Maybe he had overheard them talking about it one of the time he was lingering outside their apartment door waiting for someone, but specifically Gord, to emerge.

He kept an eye on Joey and Beezy as well. The pair of them appeared to be having some trouble counting Joey’s frankly startling stack of money. They were still having trouble when the elderly woman collecting donations stopped next to their pew and held out the wooden collection tray expectantly. Joey smiled up at her, but offered nothing. Finch could see how that was confusing for her. Joey was quite obviously holding a fist full of cash, none of which he was holding out to her as she went around the congregation collecting monetary donations. Maybe she assumed he was shy or confused. Maybe she was determined to collect the most money of all the elders collecting money. Maybe she didn’t understand that the money was actually part of a shady business transaction that, for some reason, was occurring during a Sunday morning church service. Any were viable reasons for why she merely grabbed the cash from Joey’s hand and placed it in the tray herself. There was a bit of a struggle because, naturally, Joey wasn’t willing to let that kind of money go without a fight. The woman was surprisingly strong though and she managed to overcome Joey. She dropped the cash in her tray with a huff and walked off to the next row of pews. Finch watched all of this happen with a shake of his head and the resigned sense that he was somehow going to end up regretting this.

The regret came sooner than he expected. After the service ended, but not before Gord had finished his final benediction, which happened to be a medley of The Doors’ greatest organ solos, Joey slipped up to the front of the church with Beezy and Vinny to where the collection trays had been gathered. Other members of the congregation had begun to file out of their pews, either to go home or to head to the church hall for coffee hour, so it wasn’t conspicuous that they’d left their seats. It was, however, extremely suspicious that they had begun loitering around the donations, especially since they all looked like varying degrees of petty criminals. Together, they were like a PSA for school kids on how to choose the right kind of friends and say no to drugs.

“Oh God,” Robin groaned from next to Finch, having noticed Joey and company as well. Frankly, it didn’t seem like a weighty enough response, but Finch definitely understood where he was coming from.

“We’re going to have to do something,” Finch replied.

“Yes,” Robin agreed, more than a little forlornly. They got up and made their way to the front as well. Gavin and Amare, who hadn’t noticed there was anything suspicious going on, seemed to be under the benign impression that they were merely on their way out, probably making a brief stop to see Gord along the way. The pair of them nattered the entire way up to the front, unconcerned, trying to work out who Gord’s lady friend Myrtle was.

“It’s got to be that one,” Gavin said, pointing too indiscreetly to the woman with the fuzzy, Muppet hat.

“That woman is at least ninety years old,” Amare returned dryly.

“Well then that one,” Gavin pointed to yet another extremely old woman. She was wobbling to a stand with the aid of her friend, another feeble woman with a cane. It seemed like a recipe for a disaster. It could only end badly, like in a darkly comical human dominoes situation.

“That woman is even older,” Amare replied. “She was probably alive for the birth of Christ, that’s how old she is. For her, going to church is just hearing about what her friends used to get up to in the good ol’ days.”

“She’s that one,” Finch interrupted, pointing out Myrtle mostly to get them to shut up.

“Damn it, she’s pretty,” Gavin grumbled bitterly. Finch rolled his eyes. They had reached the front of the church, sidling over to where Joey and his friends were still loitering conspicuously.

“What are you imbeciles doing?” Robin hissed to Joey. It was a good word choice. Finch didn’t think people used the word imbecile enough. He felt weirdly proud of Robin.

“That old hag stole four thousand dollars from me,” Joey hissed back irritably.

“She didn’t steal it from you,” Robin retorted. “She took it from you as a donation to God. They’re probably going to use it to feed orphans or some shit.”

“I think they’re replacing the roof actually,” Finch added.

“What?” Robin demanded, turning to Finch in indignation. “They’re collecting money for themselves? What about the orphans? The lepers? The orphaned lepers?”

Finch shrugged.

“Never mind,” Robin said, turning back to Joey. “Take the money. If they’re not going to give it to the orphans, then they don’t deserve it. Who’s going to cure their leprosy, huh? Disgraceful.”

It was possible he’d gotten carried away. Joey, however, took his response as all the permission and forgiveness he needed and reached into the collection plate to take his money back. Finch assumed it was drug money. Joey was stealing drug money from a church. They were all going to hell for sure. And in the immediate future, they were going to get reamed out by a church elder because Finch could see one of the elderly collection-takers making a beeline for them out of the corner of his eye.

Fortunately, in a bizarre twist of fate, they were saved by the arrival of OBG, who had come up to the front in his ladies’ kaftan to speak to Gord. Gord, who had concluded his outrageously lengthy organ solo, had hopped down from the altar to join them, grinning from ear to ear in his choir gown. His expression faltered at the sight of OBG. Finch assumed it was either for the kaftan or the fact that he would now have to muddle his way through a conversation in broken Spanish, determined to uphold the charade that he didn’t speak English. Either way, it was extremely entertaining and managed to serve as a sufficient distraction from Joey, who had pocketed his money and was slinking away back down the aisle, whistling cheerily to himself. Vinny trailed along behind him, hands shoved ion the pockets of his trackpants, and Beezy, Finch was amazed to find, had already disappeared despite his bright orange tuque.

“Good service,” Amare congratulated Gord, who refrained from answering because of OBG’s presence.

“I wish Myrtle had been old,” was Gavin’s stunning contribution to the conversation. Finch smacked him on the back of the head and one of the choir members glared at him. Amazingly, Finch had come off as the heathen.

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