A humiliated young tough is tutored in the art of power mongering by a mysterious stranger
| POWER TO THE POWERFUL, A cautionary tale
With the possible exception of his mother, everyone who knew Adam Bleaker would gladly have queued up all day for a chance to vote him into far-off oblivion. Even the beleaguered Ma Bleaker, when confronted with fresh evidence of her son’s antisocial proclivities, would have been tempted to cast her ballot with the majority.
The sad truth is that Adam had never been even marginally tolerable. As a baby, his alarming toothless smiles were perceived as sinister. His coos and gurgles were reminiscent of an imminent catfight and his dimpled fists were weapons used to bruise and shatter. His first wordwas a vile epithet directed at his father - an amiable soul who became so unnerved at the virulence of the opprobrium spat his way that he walked into the twilight one evening never to be heard from again. Because children in the neighbourhood had learned early to avoid that bristling mass of fists and feet, Adam spent his time thoughtfully observing the effects of
pointy tools on animate and inanimate objects, mixing compounds that might be explosiveand methodically dissembling live grasshoppers.
School was one prolonged tantrum. Adam harassed the girls into mass psychological distress, pummelled the boys into snivelling subservience and taunted his teachers into early retirement. As he reached the age when boys’ voices begin to deepen, he began to see girls in a differentlight. No longer frail entities to be goaded into tearful collapse, they were now appealing creatures promising a different kind of pleasure. Thus it was that Adam began to develop a prurient interest in Amanda Armbruster.
Amanda Armbruster was what every father would want his daughter to be. At fifteen, she was an avid learner already fluent in Urdu and comfortably ahead of her teachers in astro-physics and calculus. She was a musical prodigy, a superb athlete and mistress of the more effective methods of unarmed combat. Discerning and strong-minded, she was also the epitome ofgrace and beauty and of course, had no time for the likes of Adam Bleaker.
Adam found this out one evening when he lay in wait planning to intercept Amanda who he knew would be on her way home from choir practice. Amanda’s normal route took her through a dimly lit park with an abundance of shrubbery. There Adam accosted her. Amanda could never bring herself to say exactly what Adam had proposed but whatever it was, she was so deeply offended that she hurled him headfirst into a caragana hedge that concealed an iron fencepost. Adam took sucha blow to his head that he crumpled to the ground bringing bits of leaf and twig with him.There he lay immobile with no one to come to his aid. Disoriented and angry, he swore eternal vengeance on the girl who had dared to spurn his advances. He sat up, brushed the foliage off his torn clothing and scrambled to his feet. He turned in the direction he thought Amanda had
taken and bawled out a torrent of abuse - threats and curses all laden with an appalling stream of blasphemies. When he paused for breath, he heard the sound of clapping and turned toward it. There, only a step or two away, was a man seated comfortably on a park bench who hadn’t been there only a moment before. Seeming to have come out of nowhere, he was sitting with an amused expression on his face. He raised a hand in a friendly salute and smiled broadly.
“Well spoken, young man. Very well spoken indeed. I don’t often hear sentiments like yours expressed so eloquently.” The man gave a low, confidential chuckle. “So she didn’t like your approach. No matter. With a little coaching, we’ll replace that line with one that works. Now come over here and sit down. We have something to talk about.”
Adam didn’t accept the invitation and held his ground while scrutinizing the newcomer. There was no air of the stranger-in-town about him. Even seated on a bench, he was a commanding figure. He looked to be over six feet and appeared lean but fit and muscular. His clothing was casually expensive, a tan leather jacket over a pale yellow shirt open at the neck to reveal a hint of lush black chest hair. His tailored brown slacks had their cuffs tucked into exotic looking boots. Adam’s eyes lingered over the boots.
“Crocodile.” He was told.
The most arresting feature of the man’s face was his eyes. Glittering and never still, they were deep-set and dark under thick black eyebrows. They swept over Adam shrewdly, seeming to read him through and through. While studying him, Adam saw he was clean-shaven, his features sharp but unlined. He certainly looked
mature, though his movements were quick and easy. Adam had a momentary vision of the fellow dressed in top hat and tails racing until he overtook a galloping horse, then swinging himself up into the saddle. During that same moment, the glittering deep-set eyes were watching Adam with amusement. “I’ve done that, you know.”
“You’re kidding, in that outfit?”
“Yes, I wear what I want. You see, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, not fashion.”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass about fashion.”
“Ah, but for some people, following fashion is a weakness and that provides an opportunity to exploit. Taking advantage of someone’s insecurities is good strategy. In a rudimentary way you’ve been doing it all your life. And that’s why you interest me.”
A puzzled Adam now found himself seated beside the stranger with no recollection of having walked over there to sit.
“How do you know what I’ve been doing?”
“I’ve had my eye on you for quite some time. I think you have great potential but you’re a bit of a diamond in the rough. Let’s start by improving your plan for revenge on that girl you’re so
“Yeah, I want her to be real sorry.”
“I understand, but the way you’re planning to do it will get you into serious trouble.”
“Big deal, I’m always in trouble.”
“I’ll show you how to get even without ending up in jail. Now, suppose we move on for a bit. We can talk as we go.”
They rose from the bench and headed toward the park exit. Adam found that he had to exert himself in order to keep up with his companion’s long strides. They emerged from the park and headed down the empty street. They had walked less than half a block when they came across the most magnificent motorcycle Adam had ever seen. It hadn’t been there when he entered the street and Adam hadn’t seen it drive up, but there it was. The stranger had an air of proprietorship when they stopped beside it.
Adam whistled and ran a hand through his unkempt hair in a gesture of disbelief. “Holy crap,
is this ...?”
“Yes, it’s mine.”
“What make? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“It’s rare, but you could own one.”
“I bet it cost a bundle.”
“Yes, it takes money but money is easy to come by.”
“Then why are my pockets always empty?”
“They’re empty because you have a reputation as a bully, a thief and and liar.”
“So what if I always strike first? It’s better than the alternative.”
“Never mind. That’s where your potential lies. You won’t have to change what you are. You’ll only have to conceal it,”
“We’ll start slow. Begin by brushing your teeth, combing your hair and saying please and thank you. In six months, you will seem to be a new person. You’ll be helping little old ladies to cross the street and finding yourself in demand as a babysitter,” he laughed.
“I wouldn’t like that.”
“But you’ll pretend to like it until you get your toe in the door in the occupational field that you choose.”
“Occupational field? You mean work.” Adam’s interest began to wane.
“Yes, work. An occupation. I can see you doing well in almost anything, entertainment, finance,sports ...”
“Sports? I never get to play.”
“You don’t need to play the sport to be involved in the game. You start by helping out. Maybe you’re just an errand boy but you keep your eyes and ears open. You find out who’s doing what and why. The more you know, the closer you are to power and with power you can be anything and have anything you want.” Adam felt his hands open and close, as if preparing to grasp at a power-filled future.
“Have you heard of Mac Grimsby, the guy who owns the Ravens ball club?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of him.”
“He was once a kid like you. He was no ball player. He couldn’t get on a kindergarten team. But now he owns forty of the best ball players in the world. Do you think that he cares now that he never hit a home run? Of course not! Look, I have to take care of some business at the fair so let’s meet again tomorrow morning.” With that, he effortlessly climbed onto the gleaming motorcycle and said, “Keep an eye out for a green Chevy pick-up.”
“Ok,” answered Adam. “I’ll see you in the morning,” and he turned toward home.
He looked back over his shoulder, intending a parting wave, but the stranger and his motorcycle had already disappeared. He continued on his way, wandering irresolutely homeward. He was too excited to think of sleep and imagined himself wielding the kind of power the man had suggested could be his. Power that would have Amanda Armbruster humiliated and begging for forgiveness.
“Hey! Hold on there! What d’you think you’re up to?” Several shepherds with their dogs on leashes had gathered to chat near a quiet intersection, and Adam had blundered into the web of leashes the moving dogs had created. Annoyed, he kicked and punched at the canines as he tried to move forward. He did not get far because in a few seconds he was restrained from behind by an iron-like forearm pressed tight against his throat. He tried to break free, but the arm only tightened. He tried kicking but it was hard to kick backward. The world began to spin and he saw bursts of fireworks. At last the pressure was eased and Adam was freed. For the second time that night he fell to ground, this time gasping for breath.
The men began calming their dogs and by the time they were settled, Adam was sitting up. The dog owner who had applied the chokehold pulled him to his feet. Adam squared off defiantly. The man shook his head as he warned Adam, “Kid, don’t pretend to get tough with me. I could whip you with one hand and if you ever come near these dogs again they’ll have your balls for breakfast!” With a rough push and a swift kick, he sent Adam on his way.
Safely out of range, Adam stopped to look back. He was murderously angry and wanted a good look at the man who had handled him with such contemptuous ease. He would get even with that guy and it would be his dog that paid the price.
In the morning, Adam was up and out of the house early. He had lain awake much of the night burning with rage, first throttling his pillow with Amanda Armbruster in mind and then giving it the pounding he felt the shepherd deserved. Still smouldering when he set out, he decided to hang out at the fairground and watch for that green pick-up.
When he arrived, it was too early for public admission and the gates were closed. Adam walked along the fence considering by which of his previous ploys he might sneak in. Then he spotted a well-used green half-ton parked about half a block ahead. Adam picked up his pace. As he came up beside the truck, the passenger door swung open and a hand beckoned him from inside the cab. Adam slid in and settled himself on the worn seat. The truck pulled out from the curb and started down the street.
Dressed in denim, a plaid shirt and a black Stetson hat, the fellow looked like someone who might have reason to be at a farm fair. Still, he would not disappear in a crowd. Maybe it came down to the neat fit and immaculate condition of his everyday garb. Whatever it was, it was easy to see he was not just a two-bit farmer. With one hand on the wheel and tipping his hat back with the other, he smiled at Adam and said, “Let’s take a drive. The fairground won’t open for a couple of hours.”
“Fine with me. I’ve got nothing to do.”
“Good. Our chat will take most of the morning. We’ll take the road along the west side of the community pasture. We can park near the lake for a bit and come back in time for lunch. Did you have breakfast?”
“No, it wasn’t ready. And I was pissed.”
The man was suddenly less companionable as he leaned toward his passenger and hissed, “Adam, you speak the truth to me, always!”
“Ok! I was mad about that girl who tossed me into the hedge and ... I got in a fight with some sheep herders who said I kicked their dogs.”
The man relaxed and laughed out loud. “Ok, Adam. I’ll give you a pass this time. But don’t forget what I told you.”
They found a shady spot to park the truck and the man seemed friendly again when he asked, “Do you have any questions?”
“Yeah. What’s your name?”
He answered with a smile, “You can call me Beazely.”
They were at the highest spot on the road. On their right was the community pasture bordered by six-foot fence posts with four strands of barbed wire. Ahead of them was the road descending in easy stages leading down to the lake. “See the hawk down there on that fence post?” Beazely nodded toward a post partway down the hill. “It’s a red-tail. Like you, he hasn’t eaten this morning and he’s hungry. Watch him closely. He sees something.”
Adam watched intently until he realized suddenly and incredulously that his perspective had changed. He could no longer see the hawk, but back up the hill, he could see the truck. Looking downward, he realized the powerful yellow talons splayed out over the wood post were his own and looking into the distance he was astonished at his visual acuity. His hunger felt urgent but he chose to forgo the cricket nearby in favour of something barely visible in the shade of a distant buckbrush. He’d go for that. With a flap of his mighty wings, he took off, thrilled at the sensation.
But then, just as suddenly, he was back in the truck watching the hawk. With a few powerful wing beats, it rose in the air, circled, and then swooped down to disappear behind the bush. When it reappeared, rising in the air, it had a struggling red salamander dangling from it’s beak. Adam turned indignantly toward Beazely. “Hey! I was flying! I could have ...”
“I know. That could have been your breakfast but maybe there’s something better.”
They drove downhill to within fifty yards of the shoreline. The beach was rocky and covered with coarse grass and low bushes, good cover for all kinds of waterfowl. “There might be a nest along here,” said Beazely. They watched as a hungry fox arrived making a zigzag patrol of the beach. Sometimes trotting with nose to the ground and sometimes pausing to sniff the air, it angled up and down. When it looked as if it had made a discovery, Adam suddenly found himself soaring again. Swooping down in front of the startled fox, he plucked a baby gosling from it’s hidden nest and carried it to a sturdy tree branch. While he devoured the tender meat with relish, the disappointed fox was left to dodge an attack from a furious goose and gander.
Again, Adam found himself sitting in the truck, now with a full belly. The windows were open and Beazely looked comfortable turned slightly and leaning against the door. Smiling at Adam, he boasted with a palms up gesture, “See, when you’re with me, you get the best.”
Faced with the prospect of having the best in life, Adam’s normal surly demeanour changed to one of earnest attention to his mentor.
“Ok, I’m working with you,” he said enthusiastically. “What is it that we do?”
“We’re in the power business, Adam. The entire world order depends on power and it’s our job to determine who will have that advantage. You see, for those who look out for themselves, power is unstoppable and its effect is inevitable. An Englishman put it succinctly long ago.“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” I really couldn’t have put it better myself.”
“I get it,” said Adam grinning. “Power to the powerful!”
“That’s right! Corruption is what we like to see. It’s our job to help the process along. We operate in every sphere of human activity. Anyone who has the tiniest bit of authority is a candidate for promotion. We make sure the most deserving rise to the top. Among them are leaders in every field, politics, labour, business ... we’ve had huge success with religious leaders. They’ve amassed power in wonderfully devious ways.”
“Do you mean Jesus?” wondered Adam.
“Not Jesus himself, but the stories that were made up about him have helped our cause reach the far corners of the world.”
“How did that happen?”
“The religion of the Roman Empire at that time had so many flaws it couldn’t be fixed. They worshipped a god for this and a goddess for that in virtually every area of human experience and hope. New gods were popping up just like dandelions in June. Gods are like anything else - as numbers increase, they get less respect. Nothing was going well. It was a mess. So a group of men, I call them the Steering Committee, were granted the right to come up with the terms and conditions for a new religion.”
“So where does Jesus fit in?”
“At first, he was pretty well out of the picture. He was crisscrossing the country talking about forgiveness and loving thy neighbour to anyone who would listen. He shared his ideas simply through conversation and eventually attracted a pretty good-sized band of followers.”
“So then what?”
“So then the Steering Committee grew uneasy. They were afraid Jesus might do something that would hurt their project so they decided to organize a whisper campaign accusing him of calling himself King of the Jews. And sure enough, it wasn’t long before a mob of fanatics got riled up and accused him of blasphemy. In no time, the Empire had him arrested and imprisoned. He was innocent but they crucified him anyway with a couple of criminals, common punishment at the time. Once word got out about it, there was a huge outcry from his supporters and the Steering Committee knew they had to do something to keep things from getting out of hand. That’s when they saw how they could use Jesus as the principal figure in their new religion. His death gave the Steering Committee a golden opportunity to lead the new church in a direction that suited their agenda. They took over his message and changed his real life story, making supernatural claims about him, like he was born to a virgin and that he was resurrected after death. They also put out reports that he walked on water and fed the multitudes with a few fish and loaves of bread. They made up blatant lies, like the notion of the firmament, heaven and hell and the promise of eternal life. No evidence required.”
“And Jesus couldn’t complain because he was dead.”
“That’s right. And the Steering Committee was lucky. The population was ready for a religion that promised future reward and punishment. It was brilliant! With heaven and hell put off until the convert died, the Church had control of him his entire life! The new religion was carefully designed to control the people through fear and awe, just like the Romans controlled their empire.”
“Did they really believe or were they just afraid?”
“The Steering Committee knew that if people were to believe in one all-seeing, all-powerful god then they had to be controlled with prohibitions - the Ten Commandments. You need to know them, by the way. They deliberately decided that the god they named Jehovah would live on a firmament, making him inaccessible. It was ingenious! People were required to join the Church, to make vows of obedience and to worship an invisible god while it was deemed only priests could interpret God’s will. Another important hook was the idea that everyone has a soul that will live forever in heaven. That concept was so attractive that it led to the
charming nonsense you see now in sympathy cards and obituaries - that people can hold hands and frolic with their loved ones in heaven.”
Adam rolled his eyes and snickered.
“There’s more. They exerted power over people’s lives by pronouncing themselves the guardians of their souls. They introduced the idea that certain objects, texts and rituals are so sacred they become essential and revered. And the Committee was all male so of course they made sure masculinity prevailed. No girls allowed in the Pope Club! I must say popes have managed some impressive ethical gymnastics over the centuries. Imagine! All those quaint old guys claiming Satan is responsible for the sins of men when in fact they do their evil deeds all on their own. So naive. When people have power over others,
even priests can abuse it.”
“Great stuff! Will it last?”
“Only if they manage to suppress logic and rational inquiry. And they do discourage resistance. During the Spanish Inquisition, people were tortured and executed for questioning the Church’s authority. Effective enforcement does ensure blind faith. And they continue trying to rein in scientific thought. A while back, Church authorities even challenged bureaucrats who wanted to introduce daylight saving time. They argued it would overlay God’s plan. Ha, ha! And the faithful don’t complain because the network of local churches provides them with a comfortable sense of community. Members work selflessly to help their neighbours while the Church gets rich.”
“Great cover! A master plan!”
“Oh yes, they knew what they were doing. Two types of people bring religion into existence,those who need answers and those who take advantage of their need. The Steering Committee harnessed that emotional need by convincing people that religion stems from an event so sacred that to question it is sacrilege. Here’s what happened in a nutshell. After life first crawled out of the swamp and evolved into humanity, man went from living together in small groups to devising and building complex societies, same with systems of religion. Early on, people made up stories with magical beings to explain what puzzled them ... you know, moon
and stars, thunder and lightening and all that. When the Steering Committee was formed, they rewrote the stories making them more complex so only the priests could explain them, and the Church had the final word”. With a sly smile, he raised an eyebrow, “And they made sure people were afraid to doubt them because of the terrible consequences if they did.” Then he exclaimed “What a team! Absolute masters at taking advantage of peoples’ insecurities.”
“So people follow like sheep.”
“They sure do. And you need to know corruption and power and righteousness work wonderfully together. There are extreme cases where people are so blindly righteous they can’t see reason at all. With that in the mix, nations go to war over something as arbitrary as which direction they should stir their tea. Fanatics of any stripe feel justified in doing savage things to each other when they don’t agree. That’s what keeps us in business and I think you’ll fit right in.”
“I can see that,” nodded Adam.
“Great. You’ve had lesson one about power. Are you ready to settle your account with that girl, Amanda Armbruster?”
“So let’s get on with it. Here’s the plan. Do exactly as I tell you. Later tonight, you will turn into a cat. She’ll become one too, a calico. She’ll be on her own for just a few minutes.”
“In the fairgrounds. I’ll plant her on that street that goes from the beer garden to the amphitheatre. The moment you see her, you’ll have to move right in. Can you handle that?”
“Sure. Will she know it’s me?”
“Yes she will. And she’ll be furious so be prepared to lose some fur.”
“That’s up to you.”
“No problem, I can handle it. I’ll teach her to show me respect.”
“Good, that’s what I want to hear. Now we better head back.”
They drove back into town and parked near the entrance to the fair. Beazely turned to Adam and said firmly, “I’ll let you out here. Get something to eat. You’ll find plenty of money in your pocket so don’t try to sneak in, don’t do anything that will attract notice or get you into trouble. Your only task is to settle things with that girl. Do you understand?”
“Yep. Anything else?”
“Your transformation will occur at six o’clock. Then you’ll have a bit of time to scout around before our lovely calico arrives on the scene.”
“When will that happen?”
“At six-thirty. Make sure you’re in position on time.”
“Afterwards, stay out of sight until you change back at seven o’clock.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll stay hidden.”
Adam spent the afternoon at the fair. He strolled from one venue to the next, enjoying food and drink without seeming to reduce the amount of money in his pocket. He could have treated a friend if he had one, but everyone he knew avoided eye contact. He decided on a concealed alcove where he would change shape.
Toward six o’clock, the crowd was thickening and Adam decided to return to his retreat. He had to pass by the beer garden which was filling up with convivial patrons, most of whom had spent their lives raising sheep. Adam reached the alcove around the corner and waited in the shadows until he transformed into a cat.
A big, powerful black cat. He tried an experimental scratch on a tree trunk and was gratified to see a ragged patch of bark torn away. “Hmmmm. Great claws.” He tested his teeth and jaws on a fallen branch and nodded with satisfaction. He liked his equipment and ventured confidently into the crowd.
Once again he had to pass by the beer garden. Halfway along, his feline olfactory sense was excited by something familiar. The scent evoked an uncomfortable memory and he was impelled to turn back in spite of the warning he’d been given. The scent was infuriating and growing stronger. He was getting close. Then, there it was! Five men in animated conversation were seated around a table immediately adjacent to the route Adam was following. One chair was occupied by the young shepherd and his pup whom we should all remember from the night before. They were celebrating an award and the recognition that came with it for his
mastery of a certain skill, ancient but still practiced by shepherds wherever there are sheep.The award came with a beautifully handcrafted switchblade, double-edged and made of surgical steel, designed for a particular job.
Adam zeroed in on the source of the maddening odour. No mistake. This was it, the same sweaty bootleg that had kicked him last night. Adam drew close. Still closer. He positioned himself carefully, aimed and let fly an odorous squirt.
“Holy hell, he got me!”
A brief skirmish broke out at the shepherd’s table. Chairs were overturned as their owners sought to escape direct involvement in the melee. As if by reflex, the young shepherd reached down, picked up the insolent cat by the tail, clamped him head down between his legs and opened his knife with an ominous click.
“Beazely! Help me! Help me! Can’t you stop this?!” cried an anguished Adam who understood the significance of that click.
But Beazely did not appear.
With arms flailing and still calling for Beazely, Adam awoke with a start, not by the beer garden in the fairground but sprawled in the park exactly where Amanda had thrown him. Adam shook his head at his nightmare and shuddered “Balls for breakfast?! Jesus Christ!!”
Sometime later, with empty pockets restored thanks to the theft of his Mother’s meagre savings, Adam walked briskly toward the centre of town where he planned to keep his eyes and ears open. Now, fully recovered from the trauma of his recent experience, he was brimming with a strange new confidence about what the future held for him. Somehow he felt sure that by rubbing elbows with the powerful, making the right moves and biding his time, he would eventually have enough power to achieve his own ends. When he reached the town outskirts, he stopped in front of a car dealership window to admire his reflection. He nodded approvingly at his transformation. With his thick auburn hair combed smoothly, and sporting pristine attire, he would soon be a match for the likes of Miss Amanda Armbruster.