Sûrah XXIII
THE BELIEVERS
"Lo! those who go in awe for fear of their Lord, And those who believe in the revelations of their Lord, And those who ascribe not partners unto their Lord, And those who give that which they give with hearts afraid because they are about to return unto their Lord, These race for the good things, and they shall win them in the race."

23
THE DISCIPLES

Underwear worn as outwear is indigenous to The Haight, The 'Lower' Haight, downhill from gentrified, retail-avaricious Ashbury; neighborhoods change. So, too, will this one when the runoff—mostly youthful, racially mixed, a grab-bag populace pierced, tattooed, and otherwise altered anatomically (not to mention chemically)—is market-value priced from its rent-controlled asylum. Password: tolerance. Live-and-let-live intermixed with I-me-mine-centricity sues for a patchwork style of peace wherein multiple roommates prosper... Z's among those gathered at the Daily Grind Cafe.

GREER

No way! It's death that fuels religion. We're scared shitless 'cause we die. We are while knowing that we weren't and sure as last-gasp won't be. Stymies consciousness; 'mortal dread,' I call it. Rational minds freak out, which triggers all that hocus-pocus of organized religions—including whacko cults like Harbin 'Herbal' Hot Springs. What a joke!

Greer stubs the life from a cigarette while lighting up another (smoking disallowed except at two of the cafe's outdoor back-porch tables) in what evidently is a three-butt-long harangue.

GREER

I mean, let's face it; life's a bitch and then we die. Does that make sense? Take any reasonable brain and tell it how, eventually, it's kaput, and watch it fabricate an escape clause—plausible to absurd—because intellect, faced with intellect's end, revolts. We're fucking terrified; that's how faiths maintain their hold.

JUDY

Well, Jesus loves you.

GREER

Fucking AIRHEAD!

Judy titters at her housemate's short-fused temper.

Duke, grown bored, peruses art (i.e. graffiti) on the patio's roughhewn fence.

As Greer, post chug-a-lugging coffee, resumes his one-track discourse.

GREER

To 'profess' religion is ridiculous; to 'believe' it is inane; and to 'impose' it is an act of out-and-out fanaticism! Z, for example.

JUDY

You see? I told ya; Greer may detour but he always circles back.

GREER

An evangelical loon if ever I met one.

JUDY

That a quote?

GREER

Butt out! And Trouble—capital T. I vote we oust her.

JUDY

That's not fair. It isn't her fault some creep's after her.

GREER

No? Whose is it, then? You know zilch.

DUKE

We all know zilch; that's why we called this little meeting.

Out walks Amy.

AMY

I've been waiting in the front. What's up?

JUDY

Been home yet?

AMY

Came straight here. Why?

DUKE

Just as well.

AMY

Huh? What, what, what? What's going on?

GREER

Had us a visitor.

AMY

So? I'm listening. "Had us a visitor." Who, where, when?

JUDY

Like late last night, like at the flat, like we're not sure.

GREER

"Not sure"? Come on! Who leaves a calling card like that except a fellow holy-roller?

AMY

A calling card like what?

DUKE

We think the guy that maybe did it is the same one after Z.

AMY

Did what?

Pistol hails the group as he shags an extra chair.

PISTOL

Hey, ol' home week. All assembled? I got rid of it. What a stench! Pop-topped the dumpster at El Quake-O and chucked it in. Hosed down our stoop.

AMY

Will someone tell me, please, what's going on, before I pee my pants?

PISTOL

That's right; you spent the night at...

AMY

Never mind where I spent the goddamn night; just spit it out. What's this about? What the fuck's gone down?

FLASHBACK

Skirting sallow auras of streetlamp light, walks a solitary figure (male) that pauses... looks for numbers... ducks into a doorway. He carries a paper sack replete with air holes, contents stirring, making rustling noise that the predawn stillness amplifies.
Unperturbed, the figure reaches with his gloved hand into the bag, extracts a living creature, and holds it upside down by its twist-tied feet. Wings flap. Neck cranes. An anxious cluck-cluck, vented gutturally, quickens, escalates into SQUAWKS, as—BANG, BANG, BANG—one wing is nailed, feathers to wood, with a ball-peen hammer.
Residents wake.
Another—BANG, BANG, BANG—ensures both wings are fixed in a parody of flight by him who stabs the chicken's anus with the long end of a crucifix.
Residents stir.
Impaled, the bird aborts its outcries once divested of its head. Nerves twitch. Blood spurts; the threshold (evacuated hastily) drips with splattered gore.
Residents rally, rush in tandem to the scene... to find the evidence of a trespass—its perpetrator vanished.

AMY

Ooh, how gross!

PISTOL

Downright disgusting. Chicken shit everywhere. Whew; some stink! We shoulda cleaned that mess up then, 'steada waitin' till this morning.

AMY

Practical jokester?

GREER

Who stuffs Jesus up a slaughtered chicken's ass to get a chuckle? What we've got is a ritual killing—done by a former bosom buddy of our incognito roommate.

AMY

Where is Z?

PISTOL

The term is AWOL.

DUKE

You've not seen her, Amy?

AMY

No. Well, not since... Thursday night.

DUKE

So no one here has seen her later than yesterday?

Nods all around.

AMY

You think this sick-o maybe grabbed her, Duke?

DUKE

Nope; last night was a warning.

GREER

Yeah, for who; our occupant alien or for us?

DUKE

My guess is both. And that's precisely why we need to pool our information. Amy first.

AMY

Why me? It's not my fucking fault...

GREER

You dragged her home.

AMY

To help pay rent. As I recall, you all took cuts of Etta's pre-paid fifth.

PISTOL

We'll reimburse her.

JUDY

Yeah, we'll pay her back next month when Etta comes home. She's cool about sublets.

DUKE

Who's at fault is not the issue; we're not fixing any blame, we're trying to 'fix' the situation. So knock it off.

The squabbles cease, as each, in turn, recites a personal thumbnail sketch.

  • Amy's Slant
    I assumed she needed a place to crash, is all. She looked so stranded. Had an accent, so I knew straight off, she was foreign. Lebanese. Or is it Jordan that she comes from? I'm not sure, now, which she told me. From a farm, though; she knows plants and stuff, made Etta's potted orchid thrive. In fact, the two are sorta similar—not their looks; I mean their moods. Both tend to mope, take lengthy walks, keep mostly to themselves. And that's why I assumed that Z would fit; just one more quirky stray with no place else to go.

  • Greer's Slant
    Said something about a camp, once. Not a Girl Scout camp, I'll wager.  We shook hands; her palms are calloused. Maybe from farming. I'd say soldiering—gotta grip like a goddamn grunt. And is it likely that a farmer speaks a foreign language perfectly? She's a rich kid, silver-spoon type, straight A student, grad-school bound—until she dropped out, started mingling with some hard-line, gung-ho militants. Speculation, I admit, but Z's no goody two-shoes.

  • Judy's Slant
    Well, she hinted that her dad was like some big shot. Diplomatic service. Made her feel, you know, like a reject, like some total disappointment. Really bugged her. Lots o' things bug her. Like profanity; makes her cringe. And like she's very prim and proper when it comes to being nude, keeps totally covered, even blushes when she catches me in the buff. What else? She's single, never married, and, a sucker, I think, for sweets; and, if I'm not mistaken, I think she's an only-child. But even if she's heaps of trouble, I don't care; I like her.

  • Pistol's Slant
    Born Zahra Rahnavard, eight September, 1980, in Ankara, Turkey. Passport issued in the city of Istanbul. And get this tidbit; she has visas from a host of "evil empire" countries. Right; I snooped. Why fool with guesswork when there's access to the facts? If I spoke gibberish, I'd be quoting from a letter signed by someone code-named "Homa." I put that back, along with her International Driver's License, her TCs—Z's near broke—and a dog-eared paperback, underlined extensively, of "The Glorious Koran" or some such nonsense. As for comments about her character, we've barely said hello.

  • Duke's Slant
    Thought runaway, at the start. Looked young. Been around, though. Knows things. Done 'em. Get the feelin' Z's seen action. Like my uncle; served in Nam. He has this cold-fish look that says "don't ask;" like you really don't wanna know, and if you press him he mums up. The same with Z. I felt like punchin' her out a coupla times; she's snooty, cops this attitude. But I figured it's just armor; underneath, she's not so tough. I'd be her friend but she reminds me of a dog, gets hit by a truck; you try to lend a helping hand, you get it chomped. That's my take on Z, a walking-wounded mutt.