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The Heart is Returned

from The Reeducation of a Turd Peddler
by John Henry Peabody


BACK AT THE historical society, Dolores greeted us at the door. We found a full house gathered around the heart. Even Peter Librado, Janet’s older brother and head of the tribe, was there along with Darby Hipper and Sean Heany.
  “Wow, look what Serra’s cat dragged in.”
  Peter looked at me oddly.
  “Not you, Pete,” I shook his hand. “You’re the chief. These two, I mean,” nodding towards Darb and Sean.
  “Hey,” Dolores offered. “Serra’s cat dragged me here, too.”
  “And Lo, too,” I considered.
  We gathered and stared at the jar. I could see that each of us was working up our own calculation.
  “What do you think?” Janet asked.
  I bent over, pencil in hand, touching the glass.
  “It’s not it,” I said, standing back.
  “It’s not, is it?” Peter replied.
  “No. It’s not the heart and it’s not the jar. Although I must admit the jar is nicely done. A good fake. Plus the heart I knew didn’t have surgically precise incisions at the ends. And this one’s too pink.”
  “All of a sudden you’re an expert on the heart?” Janet looked me over.
  “Well, maybe I spend more time at the mahogany cases than I should, but, yeah, I do have a pretty complete notion about how the heart and the jar look.” I turned to Dolores.
  “Hank is right. It’s not the heart. We’ve even looked it over together. Well, once, right?”
  “Yeah,” I said.
  Janet didn’t look like she was having it but, still, she couldn’t say no.
  Peter added. “You know, I’ve thought about the heart more than I’ve actually seen it.”
  “Everybody looks at it once,” Sean piped in. “So that is their expertise. It might be a long stare, but it’s a One Time Look Over kinda deal. Like your turd collection, Hankie,” nodding towards the cases. “It gets a glance. Then they stare. They they realize what they’re staring at. Then they freak out.”
  “Anyone else?” Janet turned. “Darb, you’re keeping quiet.”
  “Yep,” he stepped forward.
  “How do you mean?” I could see Peter becoming more engaged.
  “You can buy this kind of thing,” Darb said.
  “Darby collects stuff preserved in jars, Pete.”
  “Oh, yeah?”
  “He’s got snakes in jars, baby dolphins, fish, hearts,” I offered, “
  “One heart,” Darby corrected. “From a guy who went on a rampage in the 1950s. My lunatic heart.”
  “Would you happen to have—” Peter asked him directly.
  “—He’s been vetted,” Janet interjected
  Darby put his hands up. “I didn’t take the heart. I have no need for it.”
  “Darby is a fetishist,” I said. “Any fetish the thief of the heart has is not about rubbery things in formaldehyde jars.”
  “Yeah, some kind of history fetish is what we’re after,” Sean stared into the glass.
  “Here,” Darby sat down at the computer. “Let me show you.” He jiggled the mouse to wake up the screen. “You’ve got internet access, right, Hankers.”
  “Cable and WiFi,” Dolores let him know.
  “There you go,” the screen lit up. “Oh, that’s cute—you have El Fornio dot com as your main page.”
  “Say it loud and say it proud.”
  Darby typed in the URL for West Coast Bio Supply. “These guys have all kinds of stuff,” he went through the roll-overs. “Eyeballs, snakes, lizards, bags of frogs for classrooms, joints, brains. Look, they got brains!”
  Darby poked around the site, clicking down until he found the hearts for sale.
  “There you go,” he looked back at us, showing off the screen. “Human heart, $99.99.” He grabbed a pencil and wrote down the 1-800 number.
  “They’ve got a website for everything these days,” Peter said.
  Janet spoke to him in dialect. “No,” Peter replied. “I don’t have a Facebook account. Should I?”
  Sean had wandered away and was standing on a chair, looking into the mahogany cases. “Not everything needs to have a website,” he said, jumping down and walking back. “You have actually labeled each fucking piece of shit in the wooden cases, Hankie. You know you’re insane, right?”
  “You should be there when I rehydrate them.”
  “Aaah!” he clutched his hair. “Too much information.”
  “It’s not what you think,” Dolores defended. “It’s more `sciency.’ ”
  “ `Sciency?” Sean said. “What’s so sciency about a piece of shit?”
  “It’s fossilized, pelican man. More mineral than manure,” Lo shot back.
  “That’s good, Peabody,” he laughed. “You should put that on one of your pamphlets: `More Mineral Than Manure.’ Give the gal a raise.”
  “It’s a volunteer position, Sean.”
  “Volunteer?” Sean asked. “I know way too much about that kind of work. Take the girl out to lunch once in awhile then.
   Dolores looked at me.
  “Well . . .” I thought. This heart in a jar business was getting out of hand.
  “Alright,” Darb picked up the phone and called the number. “I know a gal that I work with when I buy stuff there.”
  Peter turned to me. “You know that if we get a hold of the heart before you do, it’s likely that it’s not coming back. Not here, at least.”
  “I am aware of that,” I told him.
  “We may be able to work something out, but . . .”
  “Well, we should. After all,” I nodded towards the `I Saw Junipero Serra’s Heart in a Jar’ t-shirts. “I’m able to fund a large part of our budget with things like that. When those shirts leave the building, so does the idea you guys want to get across. Those coffee mugs, kitchen mitts, post cards and baseball caps are more than just revenue, Pete.”
  “I’m not doubting that,” he agreed.
  “It’s like rebuilding the mission without rebuilding the mission.”
  Darby connected with the 1-800 number as the other line rang at the historical society.
  Dolores went to get it.
  “Hi,” Darby began, “Is this Patty? No. Is Patty there? I’d like to talk to Patty.” He looked at us. “Patty? Hi, Patty, this is Darby Hipper . . . That’s right. `Hipper than thou but not hipper than thee.’ How are you? Good. Look, I need some help on something . . . No, I’m not buying anything today. What I want to know is did someone from my city, or somewhere close to it, buy the $99.99 heart special, like, in the last week or so?” Darby gave a thumbs-up.
  “Have her search on the city field,” I tapped him.
  “I understand, Patty,” Darby continued. “You don’t want to break any rules—me, too. Maybe what you can do is if you find a name, you can come up with a rhyme or joke instead of telling me the name, then we can—how’s that?”
Peter smiled. “It’s not even how I think.”
  “It’s his element,” I replied.
  “Really?” Darby continued on the phone. “Okay. Tell me what it is.”

At the other end of the room, Dolores hung up the phone and came back to join us. “I just got the strangest call.” She picked up the remote control. “Channel 17.”
  “Local community access,” Sean let. “What’s on?”
  “A lady friend of mine who works down there just ran across something we might want to know about.”
  Dolores turned on the tube in the corner of the office and began punching in the numbers. The TV popped on and she went through the channels. “There it is.”
  “Oh, god,” Janet moaned.
  Peter sighed. “Not this guy.”
  “White Elk Speaks” came on the screen, fitted in Zapf Chancery. A middle-aged man with long white hair in ponytails, wearing a loin cloth, could be seen crossing a meadow in the montage sequence that served as the opener for the show. From there he burned sage in a cave, lifting his arms in exaltation. And in the fade to the following scene, he shoots a bow and arrow at what looks to be a lame legged fawn. In the last image, White Elk is eating meat off the bone in front of a campfire.
  “Did he just kill Bambi?” Sean asked.
  “It’s like Doctor Phil meets Ishi,” I laughed and turned up the volume. Theramin-like penny whistle music accompanied White Elk’s action. The music ended and the studio camera found him in real time sitting on a couch in a Santa Fe suit, with silver-turquoise belt and beaded headband.
  “Bloody Lawrence of El Fornio,” Sean howled.
  “Welcome,” he said mellowly. “My name is White Elk. Blessings from the Great Spirit. This week we have a special guest whose work many of you are familiar with . . .”
  Janet kept turning between the television and Darby with his 1-800 information.
  “What do you got, Darb?”
  Darby, smiling, turned to her, with a nod. “Alright, Patti. That’s great. I think I can figure it out.”
  Darb wrote on a piece of paper which he folded in two. “Okay, Patti. I’ll talk to you next week . . . Okay. Bye!” He hung up.
  “What?” Janet went after the paper.
  “Why are you watching TV?” Darby asked.
  “Ask them. They turned it on. What’s on the paper?” Janet tried to grab it from Darby’s hand. Darby stopped and watched the TV show.
  “This guy is a freak. I’ve seen him.”  
  White Elk continued. “His books and photos have filled many of you with the imagination you are entitled to—“
  “ `Imagination you are entitled to?’ ” Sean’s face curled.
  “—Although some of his opinions have met with criticism, our guest this week is a good friend of the program—with a special announcement. So, I’d like to welcome to `White Elk Speaks,’ the world renowned photographer and author—“
  “Oh, my god,” Darby said, holding up the paper.
  “What? What?” Janet said.
  Darby put the paper in front of Janet’s face. “Rhymes with?” he asked, then turned to the TV, mouthing the words.
  White Elk finished. “—Gerry Danskin.”
  The camera panned back to show White Elk and Danskin sitting on the couch together.
  Janet shook her head. “That fucker.”
  “Welcome, Gerry.”
  “Thank you, White Elk.”
  “Does he have the heart?” Janet walked up to the screen, leaning her face against it, the static causing her hair to rise. “Can you see it?”
  “Janet,” Peter touched her, then spoke in dialect.
  “No,” Janet said back in English. “No, I’m not going to relax.”
  “She hates this guy, really,” Peter in apology to us.
  “I don’t see the heart anywhere,” Heany said.
  “Hold on.”
  “Gerry,” White Elk continued. “Before we get started, you know that I begin every show with an incantation.”
  “Yes, I do,” Gerry obliged.
  “So, let us raise our hands.”
  The camera panned back as the two of them raised their hands high. White Elk began chanting in dialect. Off camera, a slow drum was beat.
  Peter laughed. “That makes no sense.”
  Janet shook her head. “This is the kind of thing that makes us look bad.”
Peter pointed “There. Right there. He just said, literally, `Where’s mother? She’s in the kitchen. Is she with her friends?’ Like he’s reciting a children’s language exercise.”
  “And that’s about as long a real sentence in Fornay that he can complete.” Janet added. “Some of it is Spanish. I’ve heard that some of it is Sioux, some Navaho. Some just plain mumbo-jumbo. And if he was a real speaker, he would use a few tones for certain words and ideas.”
  Peter backed, “On a basic level, there aren’t any elk around here. So where the hell he came up with being an elk I have no idea. It’s not even encountered in dreams.”
  “His father’s father was part Canadian Indian,” Janet said. “And somewhere along the line he got the idea that he’s Native American and now he’s going play it out on whomever wants to listen to him. His real name is something like Robert Hasseldorf.”
  “Gerry’s the perfect guest,” I said.
  “Where is this?” Peter asked. “Where’s the studio?”
  “They’re down in Three Hills,” Dolores answered. “Let me get my friend back on the phone. I don’t even think it’s live. She ran into it on the program schedule.”
Lo walked back into the main gallery as White Elk finished his incantation.
  “That was wonderful, White Elk,” Gerry told him.
  “Thank you, Gerry.”
  “Mumbo jumbo!” Sean pointed at the screen.
  “Was it more mumbo?” Darby asked. “Or do you think it was more jumbo?”
  “It’s actually kind of `Ho wo wo wo. Ho wo wo wo,” Sean cupped a hand over his mouth and danced on one foot.
  “Tell us what you’ve been up to, Gerry.”
  “A lot. Very busy, White Elk. First of all, I’m completely excited about my new book. It’s the second part of the Modern Missions series. The first was Recipe for Romance. This one will be called Bell Towers and Red Tiles. I just had lunch with the extraordinary Noel Jung of Goat Horn Press and he’s very excited to get a pub date firmed up for this new one.”
  “That is such bullshit,” Janet spoke to the screen.
  “It is,” I said to Peter. “We were there at the Rusty and met the guy when he had lunch with Danskin.”
  “Noel completely rejects Danskin and all of his work,” Janet explained. “How can he . . .”
  “I think the dude’s unraveling,” Darby said. “So that would make it more jumbo than mumbo.”
  “Well, congratulations, Gerry. I’ve seen your photos, and they’re beautiful.”
  “Thank you, White Elk. I expect National Geographic to publish some of my work next fall.”
  “And I understand you have some other announcements.”
  “Oh, do I,” Gerry reached to the side of the couch and pulled up a dark bag.
  “Hey, Janet,” I said, pointing. “Is that a Gap bag? The pleathor one.”
  “Don’t tell me . . .”
  “As you know, I am a member of SCOFS, the Society for the Canonized of Father Serra.”
  “The news about his heart being taken from the historical society was disturbing,” White Elk said.
  “Well, worry no more. Through certain channels and the influence I have in the community, I was able to locate the heart and I am happy to announce on your show today that the heart has been found and will be returned to Father Serra in a matter of days for reinternment.”
  “Where is the heart now?” White Elk asked.
  “It is right here,” Danksin pulled the jar of out of the Gap bag.
  “Oh, my,” White Elk sat up.
  “I told you,” Janet said.
  “He’s the one,” Peter, quietly.
  “Let’s go there right now,” Janet turned.
  Dolores came back into the room. “No use, Janet. I just got off the phone down there. The show is pre-recorded. Taped it yesterday.”
  Janet stopped and turned to watch the TV. Danskin held the jar up for the camera to fix on as the studio lights played through the glass.
  “The journey is finished, Blessed Father,” Gerry murmured. “You will be home soon. There will be no more wandering. The long road to sainthood is nearly complete.”
  Janet stepped to the TV and made a fist.
  None of us had ever seen her so lit up.
  “Gentlemen,” she faced Lo and the boys.
  The phone rang again. Dolores went back. “Historical society?” She listened, then turned to Peter and Janet. “It’s for you guys.”
  At that moment, every cel phone in the room began to ring. Not only was the heart in a jar business out of hand, it was becoming personal. I was, against previous notion, beginning to see things from Janet’s perspective. There was no way that the heart was going back to Carmel and Serra’s grave—I wasn’t going to let it happen. I was, in no uncertain terms, going to be part of making sure it didn’t happen. For the first time in my tenure at the historical society, the heart was more important to me than my turd collection.

Hank Comes to Grips with Serra


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