Swan Dive! Ch. 8: What Would Jesus Do?

In RayRay’s bugged out brain the Duvall twins’ obituary breathed, pulsed and floundered like a dying carp with a continuing life of its own as if these good old boys might jump right off the page and start threatening people and ordering pitchers of beer followed by triple shots of Rebel Yell bourbon which they called whiskey. Each time RayRay read and reread the yellowed clipping in the weekly Clearwater News he hyperventilated and started to sweat from the head, neck and even around the waist.

“Morton and Clifford Duvall, 45, passed onto their eternal rewards to chill with the Lord Friday when the stolen car in which they were riding careened off the Indian Rocks Causeway Bridge. Neither man was wearing a seat belt. Well known in the Clearwater Beach area for their free (and often unannounced) professional wrestling exhibitions, the Duvall brothers also grappled with alligators one winter season until animal rights activists provided evidence to the county prosecutor to shut them down for cruelty after having discovered they pulled the gators’ teeth and sedated the reptiles with Mexican fentanyl. Per their request no services will be held.”

A silver key lay on the kitchen table beckoning RayRay the way the Siren’s song called sailors to crash against the rocks and die. Morton and Clifford drank at RayRay’s for a few months before their fatal accident. In fact, they sat at the bar until closing time the very night of the accident when they gave RayRay the key.

“You’re one of the only people we trust,” Morton said.

“Yeah,” Clifford said. “One of the only people.”

That’s when they gave RayRay the sealed envelope.

“Don’t open it,” Morton said.

“Yeah, don’t open it,” Clifford said.

“No problem, boys,” RayRay said.

People gave RayRay items to hold all the time – an electric rhythm guitar in exchange for beers until pay day and a Brazilian piranha in a five-gallon goldfish bowl that ate fried calamari and whole jumbo shrimp. The twins were impressed when 86-year-old regular Grandma Roses handed over her false teeth in the depth of her dementia because she worried the bill collector would repossess them. Kindly RayRay sunk her choppers into a pint glass of water and sat them beside the cash register after dropping in an effervescent Alka Seltzer tablet to help keep the upper and lower plates hygienic and shiny as the stars in the old woman’s eyes.

“Plop, plop, fizz, fizz,” he said.

Grandma Roses ordered a martini and gummed the olive with a distant smile.

A week after the twins went off the shallow end RayRay opened the envelope after the bar closed. He sat alone with his thoughts and a pitcher of frozen margaritas. After reading the words “TREASURE MAP” underlined three times in gray No. 2 pencil, he contemplated his future and grabbed a sturdy garden trowel from the restaurant back shed and walked a mile up the street to Mandalay Park. The treasure map directed him to the long white and blue park sign that paralleled the sidewalk that bordered the grass and trees that faced the beach. A black X marked the spot on the treasure map under the bushes directly beneath the letter “C” in Clearwater on the sign.

RayRay burrowed under the bushes, hiding and digging when he felt comfortable with the deserted street at his back. Shining his flashlight like a solitary dog walker or lonely senior citizen grubbing for fishing worms, within minutes he clinked the hinged 8.65 x 6.3 x 3.54 inch tin box the twins bought at Walmart and buried about 10 inches into the dirt. The box wasn’t even locked. Looking around and seeing nobody, he shoved the canister into a medium-sized black garbage bag, slung the plastic sack over his shoulder and headed for home.

After opening a fresh Landshark beer RayRay retrieved the box, set it on the table on two open newspaper pages, raised the lid, dug through three layers of bubble wrap and immediately saw the golden gleam from a 24 karat cross. A one-inch piece of what believers worldwide call the “True Cross” on which Jesus hung shined from its sacred spot encased in glass at the center of the crucifix – an even bigger chunk of wood from the cross on which Roman soldiers crucified Christ than the piece that supposedly went to the bottom of the sea in April when Ukrainian soldiers sunk the Russian warship Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet,

This icon was different.

Jesus personally autographed this splinter according to a century of Russian legend verified and sworn to by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill himself. Jesus would have no trouble at all scribbling his John Hancock on this piece of the cross without even breaking a sweat. If Jesus couldn’t do it, who could?

You could actually see the letters JC carved into the wood.

Nowadays microscopic calligraphy is relatively common. And that doesn’t even take into account the Gansu Province artist who carved 204 Chinese characters on a single grain of rice.

 Of course RayRay didn’t know any of that. Nor did he know Morton and Clifford had stolen that very cross from Ivan Popov a month earlier when Ivan fell asleep one night with his head soaking up a puddle of warm vodka on a table at RayRay’s after the terrible twins met Ivan and spent the night banging down double shots. Since all three had at one time or another worked as half-assed professional wrestlers, they loudly argued and compared bear hugs until RayRay had to personally intercede when they began demonstrating choke holds on each other’s larynxes.

Morton pointed to the gold cross hanging around Ivan’s neck from a lanyard advertising Coconut Custard Tropic Tan Lotion.

“You afraid of vampires?”

“Cross worth millions of dollars,” Ivan said. “Borrowed from rich brother to wear to bar to boogie. Gold will help me pick up chicks.”

“Better than the Hope Diamond,” Clifford said.

“Yeah,” said Ivan. “Hope hot mamas dig flashy jewelry.”

“Does your gangster brother know you borrowed his blessed pendant?”

“We don’t tell him,” Ivan said with a slow wink.

After four or five more vodkas Ivan told the boys the story his brother Boris told him about how Boris turned down millions in cash from the Pope who sent Boris a personal Facebook message to offer to buy the celebrated religious icon.

Morton snickered.

“Does the Pope want to wear your love beads to pick up hot cardinals at the Vatican?”

When Ivan flattened out facedown on the table like a sunbaked squirrel splooting on a tree branch, the boys just slid the cross over Ivan’s cabbage-sized head, leaving quietly with the holy icon sharing space on top of a soggy pile of onion rings in a white foam takeout container.

A frazzled and severely hungover Ivan showed up at the bar the next morning looking for his jewelry.

“I lose, how you say, medallion,” Ivan said.

RayRay said he’d let Ivan know if somebody found whatever it was the big drunken thug had draped around his throat the night before like a pitbull in heat wearing a new flea collar and anxious to mate. Ivan gave RayRay his cellphone number. Yet Ivan’s missing precious metal ornament never dawned on RayRay when he found the treasure.

Instead RayRay called the cops – actually an ex-cop. In less than an hour Marty Durkin showed up at the bar wearing black high-top Converses and a Philadelphia Eagles-themed sweatsuit.

“Whoa,” Durkin said when RayRay showed him the prize. “What would Jesus do?”