Herr von Negut

A runner handed Jimmy a block-letter note smudged with charcoal substance. MEET ME IN READING ROOM. DWIGHT. He tried to find Cathy to tell her he was being stalked by a horror.

Cathy was double-bound. If she hung around DC, waiting for a pause in his argument with Eldridge Cleaver, she looked like a chick waiting around. If she insisted on speaking to him, she seemed possessive. If she did nothing, DC would think she didn’t care. If she succeeded, who was to say that Jimmy or someone else would not burst in at some drastic wrong moment, leap to the right conclusion, and all be revealed. She chose to stay far enough away not to look like hanging around, close enough to seize an opportunity, which she would make appear deliberate to DC and accidental to those nearby. Would he smell bathroom sex all over her? She sat beneath a ficus plant, fiddled with a paper cup. The plant enlarged. A vine invisible when she sat down snaked up the ropy branches; its tendrils fiddled with her hair.

“Hello, Cathy,” came a voice from the leaves. She peered through, saw a priest on a chair on the other side. She had never spoken to a priest in her life.

“Hello, uh.”

“Fahder Flannigan,” said the priest.

“The yattayattayatta Fahder Flannigan from the Lenny Bruce routine?”

“The very same.”

“Glad to meet you.” She wedged her hand through the waxy leaves and shook his pale one.

“I couldn’t help but notice your interest in the two gentlemen there,” he said, “the Panther and the community leader,” which sounded like an FBI agent’s idea of a pickup line.


“And it put me in mind that I spent the better part of my life in quest of the Historical Jesus.”


“Until one day I met our fellow-travellers in space and time, persons from Trafalmadore.”

“That’s a town in Ireland?”

“Tramore you’re thinkin of, in County Waterford. This would be Trafalmadore, the planet in outerspace.”

“Umhm(!!)” Trapped behind a pot with a lunatic priest.

“I notice your two fine exclamation points,” said the priest, “but I assure you it’s all on the up-and-up. Mr. von Negut, the well-known German-American author, interviewed me. He’s writing a novel based on my experiences.”

“That would make sense.”

“So as I was saying, all those years and the best brains in New Testament Studies, and we came up with nothing that was solid and true but four bare facts: Yeshua of Nazarath lived, he had a brother James, he was a disciple of John the Baptizer, and he was arrested, tried, and executed by the Romans. That was until I met the Trafalmadorians, who had photos and tapes.”

“They had photos of Jesus Christ.”

“Don’t be confusing the man with the manuscript. Yeshua was the man, warts (which he had) and all. Jesus-the-Christ was the hero of the greatest story ever told. Yeshua came to the attention of a Trafalmadorian quadruple on vacation in Galilee. Mr. Christ was ranting and feeding the poor, so they followed him around and got it all on whatever a digital holder is.”

“I suppose you have a copy.” She pictured a full-page spread in the Midnight Special.

“I fear not. We don’t have the proper equipment on Earth and then there’s the problem of, you know, the source.”

“That wouldn’t bother Cosmo.” Will I see Cosmo again?

“The Trafalmadoreans don’t live in time. For them, the future is over there, and the past is over there, they see it all at once. It’ll be in Mr. von Negut’s book. A real heartbreaker for the earthly professions, seeing as how on Earth we know there is no such thing as objective historical truth; instead historians deal with the perpetual transience of pale imitation of a final reality that can never be known, a   forever-escaping past.

“You’re quoting someone.”

“A compulsion of priests.”

“And your lord and savior king?”

“A short, dark, strong man, sort of a high voice, shy, but once you get him started, off he goes, full of brilliant half-baked ideas, a phrase-monger of real ability. There were a number of fellows like him at the time, but he gathered a political/ religious/nationalist following around him, a bit of a cult. You don’t want to know about them, really, what they did to each other, the way they treated women, who beat up whom, who betrayed whom to the Romans or the religious courts or was falsly accused of doing so, the chaos of their actions, the factions that arose before and after his execution.”

“Sounds familiar,” said Cathy.

“It’s getting ahead of me you are. That was the end for me, for there was no connection a'tall a'tall between Yeshua the human bean and Jesus-the-Christ. So I wandered off and read the future history of the Black Panther Party.”

Now he had her attention. Cathy pinched off a fondling tendril, dropped it to the floor.

“Don’t tell me,” said Cathy. “Go ahead. No.”

“Something fascinating appears when you compare the two texts, the text of Yeshua and the text of the BPP (we Biblical scholars like to initialize our texts, hereinafter referred to as BPP). In the case of Yeshua, a man who no doubt believed the world was flat and women inconsequential: he lived and died. Centuries pass and here come the Gospels— Virgin Birth, the Resurrection and so on, cut & tailored & trimmed & pressed into the New Testament by God-knows-who.”

“Your point was about the Panthers,” said Cathy, who feared the point would be that Huey Newton was the Messiah.

“The BPP goes the opposite. Huey, Bobby Seale, the early disciples, start out instant legends, bigger than life itself. The Gospels come first. Your boyo Jimmy will write one. Oh yes, a real hagiography, his booklet on the Panthers, and a turrible embarrassment to him later. And Ramparts Magazine. And the Party itself, Huey in that African wicker chair with the spear and all, warrior-saints every one. Then 5, 10, 30 years later come what you might call the Baspels, the “bad-news” accounts by Panthers themselves, those who survived, so I shan’t tell you their names, except David Hilliard, who wrote the best one to my mind. They’re gritty as hell, these Baspels, full of street-smarts, street-stupids, ego-trips, rape, murder, intrigue, self-deception, sex, drugs, power-trips, fascinating stories, and not all bad news by far, stories of courage, bravery, heroism. They’re all true-to-life, but which ones are true-to-truth? They agree, disagree, say what they want, these Baspels. A methodological puzzle. The Gospels of Jesus-the-Christ agree too much, trimmed to fit like the stones of a church, whereas the Baspels disagree too much, like memoirs of war, each peering out from behind a sandbag, bunker-slit.”

“And you came to a conclusion, I’ll bet,” said Cathy. She couldn’t imagine a priest not.

“You got me there,” said Fadher Flannigan, “yis I did and it was this: that all the facts were false and the opinions true.”

“An example would help.”

“I’ll give you a sentence, which being in time, occurs one word after another. Try to hear them all at once.”

He took a deep breath as before diving or crying out.

“The Black Panthers, who were evil incarnate and the greatest threat ever to the internal security of America, bravely organized, served, and defended the Black community under attack by the genocidal forces of democratic law and order.”

“I see what you mean,” said Cathy. “It makes no sense. But in the end, did they not lead a revolution? Or did they, and lost?”

“Ahhhh,” said Father Flannigan, “ahhhh.” The wintry sound of a crowd sobbing at a great death.

“Ahhhh,” said Father Flannigan, “the revolution.”