The Hand of God by edward j rathke

He tasted like ash, called himself Frank, hired me to look for his wife but a man was dead. A curiosity, how a man smiles so with the back of his head gone. Frank, all sweat and shake, vomit stinging his eyes, seized movements making me nervous. I lit a cigarette and gave it to him, but he dropped it, the blood hissed.

Digging through the dead man’s pockets: came empty.

‘I can’t believe you shot him,’ Frank’s voice creaking, worn and dry.

‘It wasn’t an accident.’

He shook his head, wiped his brow.

* * *

‘What if you can’t find her?’

‘Is she real?’

‘You don’t trust me?’

‘I’ll find her even if she’s you.’

‘Why would I pay you to find me?’

‘You’re lonely.’

* * *

‘How did it happen?’

‘Just help me,’ I clipped my bangs back.

A wan smile, but he laced my heels while I stretched my fingers. I turned and Frank zipped my dress, hands lingering on my hips, tugging me back to bed. I slapped his hands away and he snorted, his preferred style of laughter.

‘Does it make it hard?’

I faced him, ‘What?’

‘Your hand.’

‘It works.’

He cocked his head, to the left, my right, eyes pointing, ‘How about the other?’

‘One’s enough.’ Holstering my gun, I avoided his sad eyes and what I saw there. Pity. The way a child looks at a dog with three legs. His voice, a miserable whimper.

I found my coat, and he rose, nude, helping me into it.

His breath on my neck, ‘Where will you go now?’

‘To find your wife.’

He spun me, ‘Will you come back?’

* * *

‘Is that why they call you The Hand of God?’

‘No one’s ever called me that.’

‘You don’t listen.’

‘Not to men.’

* * *

Frank came in wearing a Stetson and a trench, thick tie choking his pallid face. ‘You’re Benoit?’

I waited for more but he only shuffled his feet, wiped his forehead.

‘You’re a detective?’

‘What do you want?’

‘My name’s Frank. Just Frank. You don’t need a last name. I heard that. Do you?’

I motioned him to sit but he just took a step forward and held his hat.

‘Someone’s gone missing. I heard you can find people. She’s my wife. I think she’s dead but I’m afraid she’s not. Or, I mean, I want to know. It’s been two weeks. She left with no note or clothes. Not so much left. She never came back. Work and then nothing. You help people, don’t you? That’s why, isn’t it? You can find her? I thought you’d be a man.’

His lips raced. Expecting more, so silence, but he stopped there and didn’t pick up. Staring at his feet, his hands, the painting on the wall, the view of the neighboring building, everywhere but me. A minute dragged on and he dug in his pockets but nothing in his hands.

‘You can smoke if you want.’

He looked at me, nodded, opened his hand as if offering nothing, ‘No, I–it’s fine. Do you smoke?’

‘Tell me about your wife.’

‘Huh, yeah. Right. What do you need to know?’

‘Anything helps.’

Distracted and nervous, he curved and straightened his hat. Unnatural in his hands and worse on his head. His bagged eyes, small and light, a wide nose and sunken cheeks. Pacing, he told me about his wife, too conscious of his hands, shoving them in pockets, covering his mouth, gesturing sharply. Sleep left him in the dark and she disappeared in daylight. A walking blank slate, oblivious or stalking, he made me nervous.

I told him I’d find her and offered my left hand. He sent out his right, pulled it back, averted his gaze from the absent hand, then couldn’t meet my eyes.

* * *

Frank’s breath returned beneath the starless sky. ‘I’ve never seen someone die before.’

‘Keep walking.’

‘Did you have to?’

The click of my heels echoed off the brick buildings, an answer of sorts.

Terrified, he asked question after question but received only steps. Back at the apartment his grip icy and strong on my hand. Immobilising. ‘What happens now?’

‘I’m going to find your wife.’

His mouth tightened, even his lips paled, ‘Will you?’

I pulled my hand away and he slapped me, my face warm. I walked ‘round my desk and sat. ‘If she’s real, I’ll find her.’

‘It’s been six weeks.’

I pointed to his watch and he gave me the finger then lit a cigarette and stared out the window. ‘I should hate you for this.’ His sallow face lit by the baleful moon, the smoke’s dance caught in the air.

I flexed my fingers, ‘Come back tomorrow.’

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