“All of her plagues will be delivered in one day—death, mourning, and famine—and she will burn with fire, because God, in all His strength, will judge her!”
That was how he always began his message. For almost ten years, this middle-aged man of inconspicuous stature came to the same spot at the center of Calloway Square, and shouted the biblical prophesy to all who could hear it.
“All of her plagues will be delivered in one day—death, mourning, and famine—and she will burn with fire, because God, in all His strength, will judge her! Her kings will bewail her and lament for her, when they witness the smoke of her burning! They will realize that their days of corruption and decadence are over! And they will cry, ‘Alas, that great city—that great city, Babylon!’ Indeed, its judgment will come!” The man raised up his Bible as evidence to his words. “And the people will also wail and wonder what city would ever be as great, for Babylon will be no more! Her riches will be scuttled! Her bright lights will shine no more! And her cherished ground will be soaked with the blood of saints and sinners, alike!” He paused momentarily. “Such is the destiny of Babylon, for the angel declared, ‘Babylon the great is fallen—is fallen! It has become the dwelling place of devils and the hold of evil spirits, and for that, it had been judged!’” Then, as always, his words seemed to roar. “Take heed, Dreyton! My brothers and my sisters—take heed! We are Babylon! Dreyton is that great city, and it has been judged! And soon Dreyton will fall—will fall, indeed!”
Many walked by the man thoughtlessly, but some were not so openly dismissive of his words, because they had heard the tale of his origin. According to urban legend, the man had been a partner in a commodities trading house, successful in his profession, until one day everything changed. He rose from his desk after a telephone call, and he left his office without a word to anyone. Then, after two days, he reappeared in the square, just across the street, and he began reciting those words. No one knew why, or even how, this might have happened to a man of such prominence—but it had happened. This man had forsaken wealth for the life of a pauper to deliver a single message to the people. And that message, unchanged after all these years, seemed to carry so much power and meaning that it invoked a quiet fear, prompting some to evade it, while others mused.
Even Patrick paused to take notice, though he was less inclined to consider the message sincerely. He was a bit amazed that the man had continued the same routine for such a long time, but he was even more shocked by the fact that, in all that time, no one had tried to silence him. Surely, Patrick foolishly thought, the message from this man had trampled someone’s civil liberties. But, then again, the message did seem harmless. After all this time, he contended, “Dreyton hadn’t fallen yet.”
Patrick gave up any thoughts about the broker-turn-crier, perhaps in the same way he had given up the beliefs of his Christian upbringing many years ago. He walked away, proceeding across Calloway Square and the main court of the Riverside shopping center and then, ultimately, into the most expensive dining establishment in Dreyton. Once inside, he remembered many of the times that he frequented Old Savannah with his parents—nearly every other Friday, to be exact. To the Duttons, this restaurant was more than a facet of Dreyton’s pride for its Southern roots; it was their home away from home, and that euphoric sentiment made Patrick comfortable amid the smooth jazz tunes and the grand décor. Even after all of these months, very little had changed about the place, allowing Patrick to be nostalgic for a while longer. As the maitre d’ escorted the young man to his table, they passed his family’s favorite booth, and though it happened months ago, he could still imagine the last time that the three of them were sitting there—sharing and laughing, actually being a family. If he could have cried, the memory would have provoked a tear or two, but he had cried too much and for far too long. He just did not have the tears to shed anymore.
The pair reached the appropriate table, where they found Bryan mindlessly staring out of the window onto a stunning view of the river. It seemed that, even during the busiest hours, Bryan was always able to secure this secluded, little spot, on the far side of the room. Perhaps, Patrick jokingly reasoned, it was because Bryan was just a good guy. But everyone knew that personality carried such little weight in a place like Dreyton; Patrick was confident that there was another reason for the preferential treatment.
Bryan rose from his seat with a smile. “W’sup, champ?” He greeted his friend politely, and gave him a firm handshake. “Have a seat.”
Patrick took his seat, and then he asked, “You ordered, didn’t you, Bry?”
“No, I figured that I’d wait for you.” Bryan also returned to his own seat.
The maitre d’ cleared his throat loudly, reminding the two boys of his presence. Then he spoke. “Your server will be with you shortly. Nonetheless, is there anything more that I can do, Mr. Kennedy?” He was obviously trying to flaunt his British accent, though it was broken and ineloquent.
Bryan was unimpressed. With an impersonal, but polite tone, he sent the man away. “No, there is nothing at this time. Thank you.”
“‘Mr. Kennedy’, huh?” Patrick repeated.
“That’s only because I’ve got money in my pockets and a surname that rings more than bells today,” Bryan admitted. “Without any of that, I would just be another nobody, and the Brit probably would have never even looked at me.”
How true, Patrick thought. In this city, it was all about money and clout—who had it and how they used it, and who did not have much and to what extent they would go for it. “Oh, well, right? What can we do about it?”
“Right, dude,” the young Kennedy replied. “What can we do?”
After that, their conversation seemed to devolve into silence, and Bryan’s eyes returned to the incredible view of the river. There, he saw a Kennedy Palmer ship cruising into port—no doubt returning from abroad with imported goods from a world most Americans have never seen and knew even less about. For a very brief moment, the young Kennedy had forgotten that there was a crisis in the making, a situation where his once-celebrated family, particularly his father, stood at the center of criticism, Instead, he thought of how incredible it was that a company like Kennedy Palmer, built on his father’s vision, was doing its own part to bridge this world. That made him very proud to be a Kennedy, but his pride was short-lived when reality struck him. Even through the moderate chatter of the other patrons, Bryan heard his father’s name and a mention of the prospective buyer, The Hajamiri Group—or, perhaps, he thought that he heard that. Unfortunately, before he could pinpoint that conversation, it was gone. That was just as well, Bryan thought. He probably would have not had the stomach for it anyway, and all he wanted now was a peaceful lunch.
“I’ve seen the news about the sale. Man, all of the craziness—it’s really petty.” Patrick was obviously keen to his friend’s distress, and so he brought the topic up for discussion. “You have to know that your father’s getting a bum rap in all of this.”
Bryan could not have agreed more, but he never said one word. He was simply determined to not talk about any of it. Unfortunately, this was one occasion when his determination failed him.
“I imagine that all of this has to be hard on your family,” Patrick went on.
Those words awakened the hard feelings. “Is it? Man, the house is like a fortress, and with each new attack some poor Arab or Asian person, Frank wants to take away more of our freedom” Bryan shook his head. “I never thought I’d ever experience anything like this. I mean, what if we really are in danger, y’know?”
“Shouldn’t think that way, Bry,” Patrick replied.
“It is not like I want to, but when there are bodyguards with big guns looming outside of my house, it’s really hard to think any other way,” Bryan confessed. “I won’t lie. It’s scary and frustrating.”
“Let’s talk about something else, then,” Patrick suggested with a chuckle. “How was your New Year’s Eve?”
The young Kennedy, too, had to smile, and he uttered, “It was life-changing.”
“Oh, really? What happened?”
“Let’s just say the shape of the Earth has changed, and it’s not likely to go back to what it was.”
“What? Your little, holier-than-thou girlfriend finally gave you her virginity?”
“Then it cannot be all that good, Bry.”
“Patrick, Amanda and I are getting married.”
Before much else was said, the server arrived to take their orders, which the two young men gave concisely without ever looking at their menus. There was no need to try anything new, they thought, especially when their favorites were just as good. And so, with their server departing, they were eager to get back to their discussion.
“You and Amanda are what?” Patrick asked.
His good friend was apparently more befuddled than Bryan had anticipated. “Yep, we are engaged,” he proudly replied. “I wanted to ask her on Christmas night with you guys and our families around, but it didn’t seem like the right time. I didn’t want her to feel pressured and uncomfortable. So I did it just after midnight, here, at the New Year’s Eve festivities, surrounded by a crowd of strangers.”
“What? Why?” Patrick was totally amazed. “Why did you do this?”
“Because I love her.”
“We’ve been together so long that it seemed right.”
“And I know that she is the right one for me.”
“Why do you keep saying that, Patrick?”
“That, you asshole!” Bryan had hoped that his best friend would have been more supportive. Perhaps that was why he waited so long to tell Patrick. “Look, dude, I know that you don’t really care for one another—that she disliked your lifestyle, and you think she is too this or too that. That’s all fine. Fortunately, I don’t have to take sides in this to love her.” He added, “Amanda does make me complete. She inspires me to believe in things that are bigger than all of us. She has so much conviction, and she is so driven to make a genuine difference in the world that everything she does leaves me in awe. She willingly put everything and everyone, including me, ahead of her own wants and desires. And when I am with her, everyday feels like the very first day, literally; every conversation has the same spark as our very first one.” He paused to think of his new fiancée for a moment. “God knows I love her. God knows that she is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
To Patrick Dutton, a man who buckled at even the thought of commitment, Bryan’s testimony was nothing more than verbal torture. While his host went on and on, Patrick was sinking in his seat and trying to lose himself in the chatter of the midday crowd. He even prayed for some kind of interruption; perhaps that would have saved him from all of this insanity.
“You think this is a mistake, don’t you?” Bryan asked, quite sincerely.
Patrick sat up. He knew that the young Kennedy seemed to value his opinion, and that meant he would have to be responsible with his words. “Is there really no turning back now? I mean, you’ve obviously given her a ring and probably told everyone, right?” It suddenly occurred to him that he must have been at the bottom of Bryan’s list.
“Yeah,” Bryan answered, before taking a sip of water.
“If you’re this far along—why ask what I think?”
“Because I respect you, Patrick.”
“But my opinion isn’t really gonna change things, and for that matter, it probably shouldn’t.”
“No, it will not change my mind, but it would be nice to know that my best friends have got my back.”
“Oh, you want to know my opinion, so that you can change my mind. Is that it?”
Bryan did not reply. He simply looked away.
“You don’t think that this is all a bit premature?” Patrick wondered.
Bryan’s answer was simple, but it was also bedeviled by a hint of insecurity. “No, man, um, I…I don’t.”
There it was. The level of confidence was not so solid, and Patrick caught that. If there was an iota of doubt, Patrick knew that he could have easily argued against the engagement, and that would have wrecked Bryan’s self-assurance. But it was an argument that this friend would not vocalize. Instead, Patrick Dutton smiled, and evenly said, “In that case, dawg, I am happy for you.” That seemed liked the most prudent position to take, he told himself, particularly because Bryan was paying for lunch.
For his own part, the young Kennedy was initially skeptical of Patrick’s blessings, but he nodded with delight, anyway. “Well, I am honored that you think this is a good thing. It really does mean a lot to me.”
“What does, Bryan—this engagement or my blessings?”
Don’t be arrogant, the young Kennedy thought. That was what he really wanted to tell Patrick, but for the sake of peace, he did not. Instead, Bryan only said, “Both.”
Patrick grinned proudly. He liked the thought of wielding influence in this guy’s life. “I don’t suppose that the two of you are stupid enough to do this anything soon.”
Such a comment was just enough to annoy Bryan Kennedy. His eyes narrowing with frustration, he sat back and mumbled, quite loudly, “Not this battle.”
“What’s that, Bry?”
“No, we won’t be that anxious. We are going to do it after college.”
“Good idea. I’d hate to see one of my boys sacrifice his education for the love of a woman.”
“Yep, you’re right, Patrick. After all, you are an authority on love, aren’t you? And you know so fully that an education is not worth sacrificing, don’t you? Oh, no, I’m sorry. I forget that you’ve not been in a decent relationship in years, and that you have sacrificed your own education for the love of nothing.”
There it was—a shot fired with amazing precision. That grin on Patrick’s face instantly vanished, and he truly wanted to fire back with his own words. Then he remembered that the person across the table was his best friend, and that friendship was not worth the slightest risk.
“I was not trying to offend you. I am sorry.” Patrick’s words came with great reticence, but they were his most sincere. Unfortunately, before he could say anything more, something else caught his eye—a couple being seated by the maitre d’ just a few tables away. He could not stop staring, and for a moment, he even forgot about his host. Then his trance was broken when the server arrived with their appetizers and drinks.
“Patrick, are you okay?” Bryan asked.
Patrick’s eyes returned to the middle-aged couple. “That couple—that woman—she looks like my mom.”
There was not much of a need to disagree, Bryan figured, and keeping that in mind, he withheld his opinion behind a blank stare into his black bean dip. But none of that made him any less concerned for Patrick. Even after months of struggling to come to terms with the loss of his parents, months of locking away parts of his life, Patrick seemed to be watching his efforts unravel in this moment; the proverbial floodgates of his subconscious mind burst open, bringing back a wealth of agony. Bryan noticed that a single tear rolled from his friend’s eye, and in that instant, Patrick’s pain became very real.
Suddenly, Patrick turned back to his host, as he wiped away that tear and took a deep breath. “Fuck this. I gotta be stronger, right? I have to maintain my sanity.” He grabbed his silverware, and prepared to put aside any thoughts of the woman just tables away. “Let’s just eat, dude.”
“Sounds good to me,” Bryan agreed. “No more talk of the past or the future, okay? Let’s just sit back and enjoy this time, huh?”
On the surface, Bryan Kennedy and Patrick Dutton could not have been more different. The former epitomized the perfect son—intelligent and ambitious, selfless and well mannered. The latter, on the other hand, while no less intelligent, or well mannered, was just not so perfect. While Bryan was the staid and cautious type, Patrick was a free radical powered by a seemingly unchecked store of energy. While Bryan avoided trouble like the worst of all plagues, Patrick always seemed to cultivate it. And while Bryan focused most of his thoughts on the long term, Patrick definitely clung to the moment at hand. Indeed, the two young men were different, but none of that ever affected their friendship.
Their lunch continued without incident, thankfully enough. There was no more talk of the engagement, of Kennedy Palmer, or of the deceased. Instead, only a spate of light-hearted topics made their way to the fore and brought about a lot of laughs. This was a good reminder of why they valued this friendship, of why they would put aside their differences to sustain a lifelong bond. It was worth it; after all these years and the changes that accompanied them, these two friends told themselves that it was just worth it.
After one solid hour of good food and fellowship, Bryan and Patrick found themselves leaving the restaurant, quite stuffed and satisfied. They casually trekked across the promenade of the Riverside, en route to the exit, passed a jeweler and the men’s store of Banana Republic, where their cellphones beeped to announce the latest post-holiday promotions. And eventually they ended up in Calloway Square. Their timing could not have been more divinely orchestrated. Patrick’s own cellphone began to ring with a legitimate call, just as Bryan became distracted by a loud voice calling out to his soul from the center of the square.
“…Will shine no more! And her cherished ground will be soaked with the blood of saints and sinners, alike!” Those words intrigued the young Kennedy, particularly when he was struck by a profound thought. Was the little Harvey girl one of those saints whose blood was among the first to be spilled? He listened more intently, becoming totally oblivious to everything else, from the sounds of the metropolis to the chatter of people walking by to even his best friend.
“Bry,” Patrick said, and then he paused. The mobile device was still affixed to the side of his face. “Bryan!” He shouted when he got no response. That successfully pulled the young Kennedy back to reality. “Antonio’s on the phone. We’re thinking about a guy thing tonight. You game?”
The simple translation of that usually was “a thing without Amanda”, given the fact that neither Antonio nor Patrick had girlfriends. He could have taken issue with the idea, to wrestle a place for Amanda, or he could have even just declined. But Bryan wondered if he should have even bothered. After all, it was only one night. “Yeah, I’m up for it.”
“Good. We’ll all get together at my place later.” Then Patrick concluded the conversation with Antonio, and he returned to his friend. “Bry, I guess that’s it, right? I’ll just have to see you later?”
Bryan nodded affirmatively, and after a few words and a handshake, the two parted ways. Before he realized it, Bryan found himself drifting deeper into Calloway Square, where he came face to face with the crier.
“Her kings will bewail her and lament for her, when they witness the smoke of her burning!” With his hands stretched toward Heaven and his eyes locked on the bright sky, the man continued to repeat his powerful and unambiguous message. “They will realize that their days of corruption and decadence are over!”
Like a few of those gathered before the man, Bryan felt his soul stirring at the sound of these words and the broader implications of the whole message. There was something about this man that seemed very credible. He could not have been some false prophet. There was something about the message that seemed inescapable. His was not just some vague or toothless prediction. It felt too real, Bryan thought. As he listened to more, he also witnessed one young couple fall to their knees in prayer. Then a third person did the same thing, and that man was followed by others. And even as most walked on, never giving this site anything more than glances of indifference, the crier’s consistent message and the prayers of the evangelicals never ceased. The moment was poignant, but Bryan had to wonder why so many chose to ignore it.
“We are Babylon!” the man cried out, as he wept. “Dreyton is that great city, and it has been judged! And soon Dreyton will fall—will fall, indeed!”
© 2010. All Rights Reserved; G. Harrell Literary Properties, Inc. Reproduction and unauthorized use are strictly prohibited.