This newcomer was nothing if full of surprises—first, regular nights out at Chéri and now moving these high brows to conspicuous chicanery. Darzsa could do nothing but laugh. Small town Jo shared a bench with those who’d demand a shoeshine if he wasn’t in a suit that rivaled theirs in appearance. What exactly had he been doing in all these years? One way to find out.
“Excuse me, sir. Mind catching me up on what you’ve been telling these fine ladies and gentlemen about?”
“Why ye—Darzsa!” Josiah’s eyes lit up when he recognized him as the one who demanded his attention. “What are you doing here?”
“A little this, a little that around town, and I followed these enthused people to you. I see you’re taking advantage of the festivities, going on about spirits and such.”
Josiah bid his audience goodbye, tipped his hat to the older gentleman sitting next to him, and handed him a bulletin before joining Darzsa and beckoning him to follow.
They walked around the square an arm’s length apart but stole glances at each other as they strolled through the cohorts of drum players and singers. Josiah found a more secluded area to sit on the perimeter of the square. Darzsa sat on the edge of the seat, digging his fingers into the wood to keep himself grounded and not gravitate closer to him.
“I didn’t know that many people would care to listen to me talk,” Josiah admitted. “I stopped to share a bench with a stranger, then more and more came.”
“You have a way with words, I suppose.” While Josiah doubted himself, Darzsa knew those words were smoother than silk sheets to unassuming ears. “Tell me what all the fuss was about. What is this about mediums and talking to spirits?”
Josiah draped his arm across the back of the bench, his hand dangling close to Darzsa. “It’s more than talking to spirits. Lottie, she wants a change. Something greater. This isn’t like how those white folks up north put on these big shows outdoors. Look around,” he pointed to the middle of the square, “singing and rituals for anyone to see. The pews full down at the cathedral full on Sundays. A divine connection to the other side. All of it together.” He laced his fingers together and held them up. “That’s what she wants.”
Religion wasn’t something that Darzsa thought or cared about. Ironic, really, considering in less than a week, its spell was going to have the city in mourning after weeks of wanton indulgence. And it was the reason he was here.
“What kind of church is this, darling?”
“One that will be for refuge and healing. A sanctuary for people like us. For black or white, immigrant or local, rich or poor. The cast out and forgotten. She wants them all, no matter if they’re on the street or in one of those houses by the river. Anyone is welcome to receive messages through her from God.”
Josiah cleared his throat, nearly choking on his words like even he doesn’t believe the baloney coming out of his mouth. As far as Darzsa was concerned, someone’s blind faith has done nothing but hurt him. He was the cast out and forgotten, and that same religion used to destroy him has yet to help him. Jo might as well kneel in the pulpit with these Catholics every Sunday, reciting their Hail Marys or whatever they mutter after they’ve sinned for the umpteenth time that week.
“You followed this woman all the way here because she says she talks to God?”
“It’s not talking to only Him. Communicating with spirit guides and receiving their messages for healing the heart, body, and mind,” he turned toward Darsa, “Lottie is known to do those usual parlor tricks that they like so much.
“Back home, she used to rake in the dough doing them. She’s trying to get in good with one of those Italian businessmen to get some land. I know,” he tapped Darzsa on the arm, “come and see what it’s all about.”
First, he was preaching on this Lottie woman’s behalf; now, he was inviting Darzsa to partake in one of these charades. He’d be inclined to refuse him flat out, but Josiah looked so eager and spiffy in his suit. The words from his lips meant nothing to Darzsa because he was too busy staring at the source.
Josiah’s mouth drew inward, face taut from hiding irritation that was evident in his tone. “It’ll be mostly for show anyway, but her methods still hold true. No harm in sitting in, even if she doesn’t contact anyone for you.”
Nothing to lose except a waste of his time and day he could be making money or anything else. He’d rather listen to his neighbors shouting or have Ellie do his makeup. But the way Josiah hung onto the promise of Darzsa yielding to his proposal. It almost, almost worked. Once Darzsa made up his mind, it was next to impossible for him to change it.
“Enough about that.” He clicked his tongue and tipped his head for a better look at Josiah in his suit. “I work tonight. Will you come by later? Alone.”
Conceding to the force that was Darzsa’s willpower, Josiah straightened his jacket, letting the question linger between them for a moment. “I’ll see if my schedule allows me.”
And was that an edge of contempt to Josiah’s voice? “Playing hard to get, are you?”
“Not as much as you are.” Josiah raised a brow before relaxing his face into a hint of playfulness at the corners of his eyes. He brought his hand to the brim of Darzsa’s cap, tilting it slightly, and ever so gently brushed his warm fingers against Darzsa’s cheek. “Until next time.”
Long after Josiah left, Darzsa sat there, holding his cheek like some bluenose stuck on his crush. A brief touch was all he needed to melt from the burning flame within him. The early evening breeze whirled around him, bringing him to his senses. Home was the next stop until tonight’s shift and hopefully another encounter with presumptuous Jo.