f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: "Finder's Fee" by Laura Alice Eakes

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, December 29, 2005

"Finder's Fee" by Laura Alice Eakes

They call me the finder.

By the time I was four-years-old, I was so good at locating the lost that my parents changed my name from Ann to Antonia—the female version of Anthony for St. Anthony, patron of lost things. But no one prays to me.

They pay me.

How much are my services worth? That depends on the importance of the find. You lose your wedding ring because you had it off when you shouldn't have, I'm likely to make you pay through the nose. On the other hand, if you hand your suitcase over to the baggage handlers at an airport with the confidence of it reaching the correct destination and it doesn't, my fees are more than reasonable. After all, lost luggage is easy for me to find, so easy I can't figure out why the airlines can't do it with all their computers.

I use my mind.

To kick in the odd gene—surely it's a gene, since everything else in our minds and bodies comes down to genes these days--I usually need to do no more than touch the seeker's hand and look into his—or her—eyes. This, I soon discovered after putting up my shingle in a respectable office high-rise, isn't enough for most people. They want magic, incense and candles, chants and dances.

Incense gives me a migraine.

Chanting creeps me out.

I don't dance for even an aerobics instructor.

Candles I can do. For a touch of the dramatic, I pull out tapers according to the color of the object lost. Green for money, of course.

I go through a lot of green candles, and much of the resultant finds come my way, though I locate pets and children for free. For this latter humanitarian effort, the media loves to trot me out for a feature piece every now and again. their latest piece on how I found a Guide Dog stolen from its owner got me so much publicity I have more business than I can handle. I'm considering that I will stop finding animate "losees," as I call them, when a man walks into my office, his Cole Haans silent on my plush, forest green carpet, and settles his Italian suited posterior in one of my black leather visitor chairs. He doesn't introduce himself. He doesn't shake my hand. He simply sits down and stares at me with celandine green eyes cold enough to refreeze the Great Lakes into glaciers. I know my blood runs frostily enough to produce ice crystals like clots. That makes my heart and lungs labor and my brain go numb.

"How may I help you?" I ask.

Dumb question. See how anesthetized my brain is? What else would he be doing here? He needs me to find something for him.

His nostrils flare, then pinch as though he smells something like garlic breath. "I need you to find something for me," he announces in a voice as smooth and rich as velvet, the real stuff woven from silk thread, not that polyester stuff that shines too much.

See, I'm clairvoyant, too.

And a little facetious.

I smile at him. "Of course you do. What is it?"

I'd be happy to find him a tie that was more interesting than the gray on gray he currently wears with a gray shirt and gray suit. I'm surprised his hair isn't gray. It's red. Okay, it's auburn, but next to all that gray, it's positively foxy. I pay a fortune every month to have hair that color.

Maybe he does, too.

The notion makes me smile more broadly. "I have a ninety-eight per cent success rate at finding money and jewelry, and a ninety-four per cent success rate at finding sp—"

"I know your statistics." He frowns deeply enough that, turned sideways, his mouth would make a credible comma. "Including the fact that you pretend to be twenty years older than you are."

I flinch. Only my doctor and hairdresser know for sure that I don't really have gray hair under my dye-job, and the lines around my eyes are mostly manufactured with clever make-up.

"No one would take me seriously if they knew I was only—"

He cut off my defense with a slashing motion of his hand. It looked like the sort of hand that would sport a pinky ring with an enormous diamond. Since it doesn't, I suspected that's what he wants me to find.

I start to reach for the white candles on the shelf behind my desk chair.

"I don't care why you're pretending to be forty-eight, so long as you can help me find—" The smooth velvet of his voice reaches a seam in its fabric.

I wait.

He stands up, walks to the window that gives a rather spectacular view of the Potomac and monuments beyond, then turns back with his hands clasped behind his back. I shiver again under the arctic blast of his gaze. "I need you to find my soul."

My fingers freeze on a handful of candles. "Your soul?" I stall as my mind races through my colors of candles and the significance I attach to each one.

Besides white for diamonds and silver, I have green for money, red for stray spouses, and black for stray cats.

Black for stray souls, too?

"Your soul," I repeat. Inspired, I straighten in my desk chair. "Do you mean soul as in soul music? Aretha Franklin and James Brown?"

The corners of his mouth twitched upward. "No, I mean as in my eternal soul."

"Oh, well, um..." Where is mine for that matter? "What makes you think you've lost it? I mean, don't you need a preacher?"

Or his keeper?

"I can't be seen going into a church." He says in a tone that suggests I should know this.

I don't, so I ask, "Why not?"

"I'm an anti religion in politics lobbyist."

Now I'm really confused. Not about the lobbyist part. I know of an organization that promotes religion in politics, so why not one who opposed it? And if he is in politics opposing churches, he sure can't be seen promoting it by frequenting a church.

But why does he think he needs to find his soul?

If he's not simply crazy.

Do crazy men walk around in designer suits?

He shrugs shoulders broad enough to be attractive, but not too broad for elegance. "Something's missing in my life."

I start to ask him why he thinks that something is his soul, then I risk another glance into his eyes—I'm wearing a warm sweater after all—and know he's right. Eyes are supposed to be the windows to the soul.

His windows lead one into nothing more than the blankness of space.

Cold doesn't begin to express the chill that prickles over my skin and seeps down to my marrow. I have to get rid of him—now—or I'm in danger of losing my own soul.

If I have one.

That thought making me queasy, I stand. "As you know, Mister..." He doesn't supply his name, and I don't really want it, so continue, "I need time to meditate and open my mind as to the whereabouts of the missing...ehem...item."

I'm coughing because he's giving me pneumonia, not because I'm nervous.

Or downright scared?

He stands with controlled slowness. "I'll be in touch in twenty-four hours."

"But, sir—"

My office isn't very big, and he's already out the door.

I flop onto my chair with uncontrolled haste. Twenty-four hours to find his soul? Not long enough to find something simple like a lost five karat diamond ring, but I sure want to be successful so he doesn't return after that.

Where to start?

Usually, I can look into someone's eyes and see enough that a few minutes of meditation tells me where the lost object lies—or resides if it's animate. With Mr. Designer suit, his eyes reveal nothing.

Except doubts about my own soul's location.

I attended church for many years. Mom always advised me to keep my special talent to myself. But one can't hide a gift like that. The choir director lost her music one day. She looked so much like crying, I told her where it was. Then I told a distraught usher where he'd misplaced one of the offering bags. Then... Well, one thing led to another until the pastor pulled Mom and me into his office one day and prayed a prayer that scared me as much as the soulless man who'd just left my office scared me. Pastor said I was ungodly. If so I couldn't see the point in going to church, so stopped. I put up my shingle soon afterward, and didn't worry about my soul until today.

If a man who fights religion is concerned about his soul's existence, I sure should worry, too. I'm not antireligion at all. My gift comes from somewhere. I liked church. I'd been told I wasn't good enough for godly people, though, so separated from them.

Was I wrong?

Was that pastor?

I must find out.

Not sure I want to trust a church, I go looking for people with souls.

Brown eyes. Black eyes. Green eyes. No-color eyes. I walk along the streets during rush hour and look into as many eyes as I can. Too many are empty. They're so empty I fear looking into a mirror because those soulless eyes scare me, and I don't want to be afraid of myself.

A giant mirror in a lady's room confronts me anyway. Before I manage to avoid my reflection, I look into my own eyes, one blue, one brown, and see—

After I emerge from a stall, I splash cold water on my face, rinse the foul taste from my mouth, and powder my nose—without looking at the mirror.

No wonder Mr. Designer Suit came to me. No doubt he'd looked into my eyes in a photo and saw the same thing I saw in his eyes.

Emptiness. Darkness.

Still nauseated, I stumble to the bathroom door. A woman holds it open for me. She smiles. She nods. She looks into my eyes.

She has a soul so present I want to grab her and demand, "How did you find your soul?"

Knowing she'll run shrieking to the nearest cop, telling him about the crazy woman in the lady's room, I thank her for holding the door and stride away. I need another technique. Looking into eyes just depresses me.

The city surrounds me with blaring horns, hissing air brakes, and gusts of exhaust mingling with the aroma of cooking meals. Dozens of restaurants from as many nationalities line the streets, people running, sauntering, staggering their way to the doors. Tucked amongst this melee is a grotto, a fountain surrounded by tiny shops and one large bookstore.

I head for it like a cruise missile locked on a target.

Warm air redolent of coffee, paper, and ink greets me at the door. The atmosphere is hushed like a college library during finals, save for the whir click of the cash registers and the muffled hiss of a cappuccino machine. I glance around at the thousands of books and have no idea where to start.

You'd think a finder could locate the right book.

I see a clerk and consider asking him for assistance. "Excuse me, sir, where will I find a book on souls?" Well, why not?

He doesn't look at me like I'm nuts. He directs me to the New Age section and the religion section. Knowing the former too well, as I'm too often locked into that box by the press, I head for the religion section. The choice makes me dizzy. One after another, so fast their fluttering pages look like flocks of trapped doves, I yank books from the shelves and skim the blurbs. Using references from Scripture... Scripturally sound and... Portrayed in Scripture...

Which one will give me the answer in time?

I drop onto a bench convenient for exhausted seekers, and stare at the row of books in front of my nose without really seeing them. Slowly, my brain conjures up memories from college regarding research. I never finished college and don't need to write papers in my line of work, since I'm the original source, but something... Something...

Titles of the row of books before me penetrate my brain. An original source. The Holy Bible.

Not caring which version, I yank one from the shelf and flip the gold-edged pages. Hundreds of pages. More pages than I can possibly read and comprehend in the eighteen hours I have left. Where to start? What to look for? Finders or seekers? Does either exist within these pages?

I sit there so long simply holding onto the Bible that a clerk walks up to me. "May I help you?"

This being such a phenomenon in a bookstore, I simply stare at her for I'm sure a half hour a so, then think to ask, "Where do I start in this thing?"

Her upper lip curls. "Most people start reading books at the beginning."

I look into her soulless eyes. "I don't have time to do that. Is there a study guide?"

She looks at me as though I've grown a second nose and yanks a book off the shelf. It's such a big book it should be classified as a lethal weapon and require a license. "This is an index of sorts."

I take it and stagger to the register. "The cost has me wondering if I can add this to my fee.

Only if I find an answer.

Shopping bag over my arm, making me list to one side, I head for the coffee shop and purchase the largest, strongest caffeine drink they offer. Then I seat myself at a table in the corner and begin to read.

The index thing leads me from Genesis to one of the Chronicles, to Ruth. I read each entry, making little sense of any of them as my latte cools, and the café empties. Impatient, too aware of passing time, I flip a few entries.

And discover Isaiah.

"With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee earnestly: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness." Isaiah 26:9 NASV

With my soul...

What if I don't have one?

Frantic, certain my watch is ticking like the heart in The Tell-Tale Heart, I read, flip pages, read. Again and again I find references to seeking God, of a soul yearning for God, of promises that if I seek I will find—what?

My Soul!

I've had it all along. That's the problem. I need to give my soul to the Lord, accept the forgiveness of my sins and believe in His love, His plan, His mercy.

Haltingly, I do this, as the lights flash, warning me the store is about to close. I lurch to my feet, toss my empty cup in the trash, and head for the lady's room before the subway ride home. Heart pounding louder than Poe's corpse's, I stand at the sink with my eyes closed. I'm praying, "This is the most important find of my life. Lord, let it be there."

Shaking, I open my eyes and see that light replaces the darkness once behind my eyes.

Before I can absorb what all I'm taking in, the door opens behind me and a clerk pokes her head in. "You have to leave now."

"I know." I give her a happy smile as I gather up my books. "Did you know that I have a soul?"

"Of course you do." She doesn't say it with the patient patronization of those speaking to the mentally unbalanced; she says it with complete sincerity.

I want to hug her, but figure I'd better not. So I trot out of the store and hop on an escalator to the subway platform. At home, I curl up with more caffeine and read and read and read. By the time I have to go to my office to meet Mr. Italian Suit, I know I am about to deliver the most important information of my career as a finder.

Wrapped in a warm sweater, I sit behind my desk awaiting his arrival. Precisely twenty-four hours from when he left my office, he returns, Italian loafers today silent on the carpet, person clad in a New York designer's idea of business casual.

He settles himself in a chair before speaking. "Well?" He doesn't meet my eyes.

I take a deep breath. "To find your soul, you need to give it away."

His eyes narrow, and I plunge on, shivering ever so slightly, giving him my inexpert explanation of how Jesus bought our souls on the cross, when He died for our sins, then rose from the dead. "So that," I conclude, "is how you find your own soul."

"And you expect me to believe you?" he demands, starting to rise.

I hold up a staying hand. "Look at me and tell me if you should believe me."

He looks. He jerks back as though smacked, and his face whitens. His eyes still lack the light of a soul returned to God, and he blinks several times, hard, like he's trying to remove an irritant. I wait, gradually growing aware that the chill he brings with him no longer touches my exposed skin. I wait for the light to come to his eyes.

Before it does, he stands. "I'll think about this. How much do I owe you?"

I rise also, smiling. "You owe me nothing. The fee has already been paid."