"There are things I would like to say, if you think you can listen to me," Joseph-Hael said, looking me steadily in the eye with a stare I could not return. I glanced up at him, but then back down at his feet. "If not, then I will go."
"No," I said. "Tell me."
"Good," he said, smiling. "First, I need to tell you about Detective Al Hall. His body is in the freezer at the bakery. Tell the police that Romeo and I killed him."
"Okay," I said.
"The gun, with Romeo's fingerprints still on it, is in the cabinet of the front counter under the cash register."
"Why did you kill him?" I asked.
He held his open hands in front of his stomach, palms up, and stared into them for a moment. It was a thinking gesture I had noticed in him during our last meeting. Every few seconds he closed his hands, rubbing his fingertips across his palms, and then opened them again. Then, when he had come to some conclusion, he folded his hands together in front of him, lacing his fingers together like a praying man. "We cannot tell you this now," he said. "I want you to know, however, that we did not kill him casually nor without reason. There was no malice in the act."
I stared over at him, not knowing what to make of him. He seemed so earnest and honest. He exuded a calm goodness that didn't seem contrived nor insincere. "Okay," I said, "I'll tell the police about Al and the gun. Is that it?"
Again he stared back down into his hands for a moment. "You know," he said, not looking up, "I am very old, older than you can imagine and older even than I can tell you." He looked up at me and I nodded to show that I was listening. "We live so long, you know, that our memories fail us. I cannot remember my earliest life, only the past few hundred years."
"Yes. It's true. In the time that I can remember, do you know how many humans I have joined with?" I didn't like the description "joined with." I shrugged. "More than two hundred," he said. "When we join with a person, we know them as well as they know themselves, if not better." He paused and stared into his hands for a minute. "You cannot appreciate, I suppose, what it is like to have been so many different people."
"I suppose not."
"The things that are the same about them are vastly telling. Almost everything is the same. The differences all live out on the surface. Personality. Knowledge. Perspective. The diversity is great, I do not deny it. The similarity, however, is even greater. Does this surprise you?"
"I don't know," I said. "I mean, I think a lot of the differences are in the soul. That leaves when you enter. So, maybe you can't see them all."
"Is that what you believe?" he asked, raising the eyebrow over his good, right eye. "When I join with a man, his soul is still there. I imprint to it, all of it, absorbing every detail into myself. Then, I exert my will, which is stronger than the subdued will of the man. When his will submits to mine, I gently send his soul out to his rest. By then I am everything that man was, though I am also still myself."
"Hmmm," I said. It made sense, but I'd never thought of it before. This was not how I had been taught. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Because, I this man Joseph is the first man I have loved," he said. "The things he knows, the things he believes, the way he sees the world, I've never experienced them before. I'll not lie to you, Simon, I had no respect for humanity until I knew Joseph."
I just stared at him, and he at me. "So?" I said finally.
"There are many things I want to tell you, Simon. The things Joseph knows would change everything you know and believe. This was not his will, however. He does not think you are ready to know these things, though he hopes you will become ready."
"Joseph doesn't even know me," I said. "I've never met the man."
"You are caught in a long plan, Simon. It's been forming for years, and the culmination is near. There is much that you do not know."
The words excited me, but scared me. Could I trust this Fate? "So, he doesn't want you to tell me anything after all?"
"He wants me to tell you only one thing," Joseph-Hael smiled again. "He wants me to tell you that there are no good guys and there are no bad guys. There are only people, lives, women and men, and they're all valuable and worthy."
"Really?" I said, disappointed. "That's what he wants you to tell me? There are no bad guys?"
"There are also no good guys. He believes you have been taught an ancient and insidious myth, the myth of good guys and bad guys, the myth of heroes and monsters."
I mulled the words over in my mind, waiting for them to connect with me, wanting them to mean something more. They did not, however. They were empty words to me. "Okay," I said. "I heard you."
Joseph-Hael looked satisfied. He walked a step toward me and held out a hand for me to shake. "I hope you understand those words soon," he said. "Thank you for everything."
I looked at his hand. I saw the way he leaned slightly because of his hurt side. I saw his left eye swollen completely shut. What the hell was he thanking me for. "What about Sam?" I asked, turning slightly away from him and rejecting his hand.
He lowered his hand and sighed. "I will call that payphone there when we are several miles away. It will be within the half hour. Stay near that phone." He looked at me with a serious stare almost like a frown for a few seconds, and then he smiled again. The smile suited his face more naturally. "You will do well, Simon. I believe in this. It has been a privilege to meet you. Goodbye."
He walked over to the Lexus, got in and drove away. I knew Amy was probably watching me through the window, waving goodbye, but I couldn't bear to look.
I felt so confused. In spite of everything I knew, I felt like I was the bad guy, and he was the good guy. I felt guilty. I felt deep regret. "I should have shaken his hand," I said to myself. It was too late. He was gone. The next time I saw him, I would have to kill him.