Supplication and Demand

Posted on Mon, Jun 22 2020 in Essays and Stories

"What do you reckon is the bandwidth of the Almighty?" Jonesy asked as he hung his lanky frame through my office doorway. I had been up all night going over the latest report from accounting, but he looked as though he'd had even less sleep. Impressively dark circles hung around eyes that were shining like I'd never seen.

"What?" I asked, startled by the sudden interruption.

"The Almighty? You think we could..." He trailed off. "It'll be easier if I just show ya," he said. "I have some charts pulled up in the conference room. This is gonna be huge, Jimbo!"

"It had better be," I said, tossing a stack of papers onto my desk. "The most recent numbers don't paint a pretty picture." I grudgingly hoisted myself from my chair and followed him down the hallway to our small windowless conference room. Projected on the white wall I saw the same numbers I'd poured over the night before: a flat, faltering line meandering lazily across the months.

"These are our numbers for the past thirty-six months," Jonesy began. I guess he could tell by my expression that I was already painfully aware of that fact, because he quickly clicked the mouse and a second line appeared, slowly but steadily trending upwards. "These are the number for Cullinghams over the same period."

"Where did you get those?" I asked

"Well, ya see, I met this little chap at Jacob's middle school play back in May. Turns out his mother is old man Cullingham's secretary. So I gave him a USB drive and twenty buck and told him to copy all the files on his mommy's computer."

"Do you have any idea how illegal that is?"

"Do you want to know what I found out, or not?"

I had to admit I was curious.

"So, most if it was worthless, but I found some internal quarterly reports that allowed me to graph their growth for the past three years. Basically, it coincides with what we expected."

"So you risked getting us sued and shut down to find absolutely nothing?"

"I ain't finished yet. You know I don't give up that easily," he said. "So, I emailed down to their accounting department and asked for the complete database of transactions, to see if there was anything interesting there."

"And they just said, 'Sure, here you go?'"

"Well, I used his secretary's email address."

"How'd you do that?"

"You remember the USB drive I gave to her..."

"You know what, on second thought, I'd like to keep some plausible deniability. What did you find?"

Jonesy clicked the mouse and a third line appeared on the screen, roughly tracking the previous line, but with noticeable spikes and jumps.

"Now a lot of this here is just noise. Payroll, rent, contracts they've had for years. So I went through and scrubbed out any recurring events, to get a feel for the real picture." A new line appeared, offset a bit from the others, but with some noticeable small bumps. "You can see there's a bit of a pattern. Let me zoom in here a bit, so you can see it better"

Sure enough, a heartbeat pattern appeared. "Now I went through and checked, and every Friday a new revenue bump starts. Fridays! I thought that can't be right, but I went over it again and the signal is there, regular and repeating. So regular, in fact, that I was able to map the standard deviation from a rolling window." Yet another line appeared, this time closely hugging the zero line, with only an occasional jump or dip.

"So, I pulled up old man Cullingham's calendar to see what he's being doing. Turns out, every Friday at 10 AM sharp, the old boy sets aside ninety minutes to go down to St. Paul's church and spend some one-on-one time with the Good Lord Himself."

"You're telling me you think God is helping Cullingham?"

"You're right to be skeptical, Jimbo. I didn't think that made no sense neither. I reckoned it was some sort of mental boost he got. You know, getting alone with his thoughts for a bit, calming his soul, that whole thing."

"So, I figure we just need to think differently, so back at the beginning of September I arranged for one of Cullingham's suppliers to have an unanticipated outage. Nothing a little self-confidence can do about that, right?"

He looked like he expected me to answer, but I was still trying to figure out if I wanted to how he'd arranged a factory outage.

"Turns out, the very day that old man Cullingham finds out that his supplies aren't coming in - a Friday, I should add - I get a call from the Rothhaven Group, saying they've decided to take their business to Cullinghams. Less than a week later, old Cullingham's got more business and his supply chain's back up and running."

"Don't tell me you're planning to take up praying, Jonesy?" I asked.

"Nah, me and the Big Man ain't really on the best of terms. Won't even answer my calls. You still going to church?"

"Yeah, I get there from time to time, if there isn't an early football game."

"That won't get you nothing. Old man Cullingham, he goes every Sunday, and gives quite a lot of money, I've heard. Got a whole row of windows named after him down at St. Paul's. We haven't got a hope of out-praying him, but there is another way."

"I'm listening."

"You see this dip here in early August? I checked it against Cullingham's calendar. Turns out, he had a group of foreign investors visiting and they invited him to play golf with him Friday morning. Seems the Almighty didn't like that too much, so I figured if we could just get Culligham to skip this prayer stuff, we should be able to beat him, easy."

"I removed it from his calendar, but an old geezer like that don't use a computerized calendar anyhow. That's just for his secretary. I tried to arrange for some meetings, but was told that he wasn't available at that time. Seems he's wised up about that. So I set his house on fire..."

"You what!"

"Relax Jimbo, it was just a little fire. And the point is, that didn't work neither. See this big bump here? The old man rushed out of the church. I figure he must've prayed the whole way. By the time he gets to his house, the firefighters have everything under control. He was so grateful that he made a sizable donation to the fire company. The news stations got wind of it, and put him shaking the fire chief's hand on the five o'clock news. The way I see it, the Big Man don't like it when we interfere."

"So you're saying there's nothing we can do?"

"That ain't what I'm saying at all, Jimbo. I'm just walking you through my process. I told you, I got this figured out. After the fire thing didn't work, I went back and started looking at some of the smaller dips in the line, checking if there was anything unusual. Turns out, old man Cullingham went and prayed like normal, but he didn't get as big a bump as usual."

"You remember how my ex-wife was really into saving the world? Well, a few weeks back I was over there picking up Jacob for the weekend and she's got this flyer from a Praying for Africa brunch she'd gone to that morning. I didn't make too much of it at the time, but if you look closely at the graph, you can see a slight dip on that Friday."

"And that really got me thinking. So, two weeks back there was a Unity prayer vigil all Friday morning down in the square. Big event, lots of people from all over. And sure enough, when I checked Cullingham's numbers for the last week, there wasn't as big a bounce as normal. That's when I knew we were onto something."

"What have you got in mind?" I asked, curious despite my earlier misgivings.

"I'm starting a prayer group. We're gonna focus on the major social concerns of the day, and meet regularly on the first Friday of every month."

"Jonesy, you do whatever you need to do. I just want to see results."

"Trust me Jimbo, you will. You will."

True to his word, the next months went surprising well. I didn't check in on Jonesy too often, but I gathered that he was now the puppet master behind at least a half dozen prayer groups, all of which faithfully met every Friday morning to pray.

One group met to play for the President, another was very concerned about orphans in Russia. Jonesy was very careful about which groups he started. "You've got to make sure they're not accidentally praying against our interests, you know." All I knew was that for once the lines on our charts were showing the slightest upward trend.

I was just starting to enjoy the new normal when Jonesy burst into my office at a full run. He was breathing heavily, but I managed to make out "Need you... get... worst people.. possible... right now."

"What's gotten into you?" I asked

He paused to catch his breath. "We've done it Jimbo. It's better than I could have imagined. I need you to go downtown and round up at least a dozen of the worst characters you can find, right away."

"I will do no such thing. What you do on your own time is none of my business, but I won't have you bringing it into the office."

"This is business, Jimbo. Don't you see? This is our big opportunity."

"What are you talking about?"

"It's like this. Today some my groups were getting together. There was a big prayer meeting for POWs down at the VFW. And over at the park they were holding a morning of prayer for endangered species. Meanwhile, I was up in the redevelopment district at the inaugural prayer vigil for the end of gang violence. We had great weather. A whole bunch of people turned out."

"As I was driving back, this truck is weaving through traffic, passes me on the double yellow right before an intersection, and then knocks a kid off his bike. The kids laying there right in the street, and the fellow in the truck screeches to a halt. I think maybe he's going to stop and help, but he just mutters to himself and drives off."

"That's horrible."

"The thing is, there was a cop sitting right at that intersection, and didn't do nothing," Jonesy said.

"Yeah, the police around here aren't good for much."

"That's what I thought, but then a few blocks down, I'm stuck behind a garbage truck, and I see this kid come busting out of a shop. His pupils are tiny and he's got an armload of various items from the store that he clearly hadn't paid for. The proprietor of said establishment is right behind him, a shotgun in hand. The guy is looking all around, even up at the sky. I figure he's a goner, but then the shop owner trips over his own feet and the guy gets away."

"And that's when it hit me. We broke heaven."

I must have been staring, because Jonesy paused his tale momentarily.

"Think of it like some kind of, I don't know, a glitch. My nephew told me computers sometimes get all confused and turn positive numbers into negatives. That's what we did, Jimbo."

"Or, it could be you're not getting enough sleep."

"Ahh, always the skeptic. Good on you. I thought the same thing, so I came up with an experiment. I was already running late, and you know how hard it is to find parking out front, especially after eleven. So I petitioned the Good Lord for an open spot right by the door."

"Sure enough, just as I pulled in to the aisle, I saw Betty from downstairs pulling out. It's the best parking space I've had the entire time I've worked here."

"Betty is sixty-six years old and has a bad knee. That's why everyone lets her have that spot by the door."

"The point is, Jimbo, we've done it. This is our opportunity. I need you to find the roughest folks you can and bring them back here at once."

"Why can't you do it?" I asked.

"Because, Jimbo, I've got to stay here and make up our prayer list."

"And supposing that I do buy into your crazy theory, how am I supposed to get them to come back here?"

"Aw, that's easy. Tell them you'll give them ten-thousand dollars for coming."

"Ten-thousand dollars? That's crazy. It's been an okay quarter, sure, but we don't have that kind of money just lying around."

"It'll be worth it. You'll see."

Apparently he could tell I wasn't convinced, because after a moment of intense reflection he said, "Tell you what, Jimbo. If it ain't worth every penny, I'll pay the money myself."

His earnest plea took me by surprise. I convinced myself that if nothing else, at least I could take some of it out of his salary, so a few minutes later I was touring the bars a block away, scraping up anyone drinking on a Friday morning.

By the time I returned with my candidates in tow, Jonesy had cleared the table out of the conference room and ethereal music was playing gently in the background.

"Welcome, folks," Jonesy exclaimed when we appeared. "Please, have a seat, make yourselves at home."

"You the guy with the money?" asked a large man with a beard, patched jean jacket, and copious tattoos. Jonesy pondered the question for a moment and decided to go with it.

"Indeed I am. However, before you see any of it, I need to make sure I'm dealing with the right sort of people. None of you are taking care of a sick parent, or anything?"

"I am," said one lady. "It's the only way I can get access to my gram's prescriptions and social security."

"Excellent!" Jonesy exclaimed.

"Any of you regular church goers?"

A murmur of disavowal went around the room.

"You'll do just fine," Jonesy said proudly. He held up some sheets of paper. "I have here a list of events. What I'd like all of you to do is pray for the events on your sheet."

"Is that it?" asked a skinny man in a white sleeveless t-shirt.

"Just that."

"Well, hey, give me the money and I'll pray for whatever you want," he said, reaching out his hand. Jonesy plopped a paper into it. "When do we get the money?"

"In ninety minutes."

"Ninety minutes! I can't pray for ninety minutes!"

"Aw, shut up Ed," one of the ladies with black lips said. "It ain't like you got something else to do. Just you think how many whiskeys ten-thousand dollars'll get you."

Soon they all had a prayer list. At first their prayers were quiet and hesitant, but with Jonesy's prodding they were soon pleading to heaven with great intensity. Several knelt at their chairs, and other stood with their arms raised in the air. I heard heartfelt supplication for the safe return of a Russian warlord's son, and an impassioned plea for a heavier than normal monsoon season in Indonesia. Another man, with a long scar across the top of his bald head, prayed passionately for a rather unfortunate accident to befall a certain customs inspector.

I could see Jonesy had everything in hand, so I headed back to my office. After I'd closed another deal and finished my lunch, I figured it was time to check in on Jonesy's prayer meeting.

When I got there, Jonesy was all alone. His eyes brightened when he saw we. "Well, we did it Jimbo."

"Did all the stuff you prayed for happen?" I asked.

"Most of that stuff won't happen for a few months at least."

"Then how do you know it worked?"

Jonesy beamed. "Because, Jimbo, I've been over here for the past hour praying those folks would forget all about the ten-thousand dollars I promised them."