Jesus Built My Hot Rod

Devor M. Barton

When I got home from work that day, I found a strange man in front of my house, working underneath the hood of my car. I walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. He straightened up and turned around to look at me. I said, "Hello. This is my house, and this is my car. Can I help you?"

It wasn't really my car. It just came with the house. I couldn't afford to buy a car on my salary, not even the heap that sat on blocks in front of my house. It was a '64 Ford Mustang, top-of-the-line with all the options, that had seen much better days, before it had been re-sold and passed on through a series of high school students and their younger siblings. When I bought the house, the car had long since been retired and stripped for parts. The previous owners had no further use for it, so they'd left it behind. I'd never been motivated to do anything about it, so I just left it there. The neighborhood kids used to play in it when I wasn't around, but that had stopped after a skunk crawled in and died. Now I come home from work and this stranger's messing with it.

He was typical of the transients that passed through the neighborhood. He was young and looked like a hippie, unshaven and in need of a haircut, but he could have been rather attractive under all that brown hair. His clothing, some kind of oversized robe, was dirty and unkempt, and the only thing he wore on his feet were an old pair of Birkenstock sandals. Fall was beginning, and just looking at his flimsy garments made me cold.

"I have a proposition for you," he said. He spoke well enough, seeming to be almost as smart as me. "Your vehicle needs a lot of work. The belts have rotted away, the body is rusted, the paint is almost gone, the engine needs to be re-built, the transmission needs to be replaced, your carburetor is shot, the springs are coming out of the seat cushions, there's no muffler, all the glass is cracked, the oil pan and radiator both have major leaks, and you have a dead rodent in the back seat. I can fix everything, but it will take me awhile, probably the entire winter, and I do not have any money or anywhere to stay. What I am offering is to restore your car for you in exchange for letting me sleep in your shed. I do not want or need any money. I have a loaf of brad and a couple of cans of tuna which I can make last all winter. All you need to do is pay for the parts I need and let me use your tools, and when spring comes around, you will own the finest automobile ever made."

I didn't know what to make of his offer. This guy shows up from nowhere, offers me this supposedly fantastic deal which won't cost me a thing except for parts, and I'm supposed to take him into my house and let him live in my backyard for the winter? It seemed fishy to me. But something about the guy made me feel that I could trust him. It was the same felling I had back in the army when I realized that my good buddies were willing to sacrifice themselves to save me. Besides, he seemed to know what he was talking about, and I had been wishing that I had a car so I wouldn't have to take the bus to the slaughter house and back again every day. Going to work wasn't too bad, but no one would ever sit near me on the way home. And even if the guy couldn't make the car run again (it sounded awfully crazy), I could probably sell it to a collector when he was done and make enough money for the balloon payment on my house.

I stuck out my hand. "all right, you've got a deal; I'll pay for parts and put a roof over your head, and you get this thing running again." He smiled, and we shook hands. When we shook, I discovered that he had nasty scars in the middle of his hands. That explained why this intelligent-sounding man had become such a bum. The same thing happened at the slaughterhouse all the time: a guy gets hurt on the job, can't work any more, can't pay the hospital bills, so he becomes a drifter, doing whatever odd jobs he can, whenever he can, just to survive. It's a sad situation, but like management says, it can't be helped. I hoped the scars wouldn't prevent him from the fixing the car. "What's your name?" I asked, letting go of his hand.

He looked startled at first, and I watched as his eyes darted from side to side. "Um," he said finally, "you can call" Aha, I thought to myself, that really explains it. He's one of those migrant workers. Still, he looked awfully white to me.

And so Jesus moved into the shed in my backyard. It wasn't really a shed, but the name fit well enough. I t was a building that was too big to be a shed, but too small to be a garage. Actually, it was originally built and used as a small stable, back before the suburbs had expanded outward and consumed the farmland that used to be around here. The people who first owned the house had kept a cow and a couple of sheep in there, but sold them with the house and land when people started moving their trailer homes onto the surrounding property.

Jesus spread some of the hay around inside the shed and made himself quite at home. I couldn't imagine actually living in a stable, but Jesus seemed to be comfortable. He told me that he was "born in a barn," or something like that. I worried about him freezing to death over the winter until I saw that he'd found the old horse blanket that was in the shed and was using it. I knew then that he'd be fine. The winters in this part of the country were usually pretty mild.

I was quickly impressed by his Protestant work ethic, for the very next day after I found him looking at my car, he began working on it. He went through and removed everything that was hopelessly ruined and made a list of what needed to be repaired or replaced, and what materials he needed to do it. He also removed the dead skunk from the car and buried it out back near the septic tank, then got a whole bunch of pine-tree air fresheners to overpower the smell.

In order for Jesus to get the parts he needed, I opened up a charge account and the garage on the corner of my street. Jesus promised me that we would go slowly and keep the costs down enough to keep me from going into any serious debt. Since the garage knew I'd be buying a lot of parts from them, and since one of the mechanics was a good drinking buddy of mine, they were willing to loan Jesus all the tools he needed to get the job done. In all, it looked like the Mustang had a good chance of getting restored.

Things went great the first few weeks. I would go to work during the day, and Jesus would spend his time working on the car. It wasn't long before I could tell that progress was being made, as the car's appearance gradually improved over time. Jesus put down a coat of primer, and purchased magnesium wheels so he could get the car off of it's blocks. He spent most of his time working on the engine, though. He said that he was a perfectionist, and that he wanted the car to be able to "both purr like a kitten and growl like a lion," whatever that meant. Still, he never bothered anyone and the neighborhood seemed to fall in love with him, so I felt that my instincts had been right.

But then, things started getting weird.

One morning, about a month after Jesus first showed up, I was getting ready to go to work. I was in the kitchen, preparing my morning pick-me-up (beer and vodka) when I happened to glance out the window into the backyard. There, between the house and the shed, knelt Jesus, staring intently and immobilely at a bush in front of him that was clearly on fire. I dropped my glass and grabbed the fire extinguisher from its hook next to the kitchen doorway. Racing outside, I pulled the pin and, taking careful aim with the hose, smothered the flames that were consuming the bush. After the fire was completely extinguished, Jesus blinked a couple of times and looked up at me, still kneeling in his position before the charred remains of the bush. He didn't say or do anything to acknowledge my presence. I completely lost my cool.

"Good Lord! What in God's name is going on here? Just what the Hell do you think you're doing? A bush in my backyard is clearly on fire, and the only thing you can do is sit in front of it and warm your fucking hands? Jesus Christ!" I wore, "what would you have done if the whole god-damned house was on fire? Taken off your clothes and started sun-bathing? Jesus H. Christ!"

Jesus blinked again. "I was talking to my Father," he said, stressing the words "talking" and "Father." He continued to stare up at me.

I leaned in close to him and peeled back his eyelids, examining each of his pupils. They looked fine. "What are you on, boy?" I asked him. Even though the only thing I'd ever seen him drink was water from the hose in my backyard, I always smelled wine on his breath, so I knew he was getting some kind of drugs or alcohol from somewhere. But I didn't know where. It sure wasn't from my house. I'd been aging a two-liter bottle of California Red in my refrigerator for the past couple of months, and it hadn't even been opened yet, so I knew that Jesus hadn't touched it. As he continued to stare up at me with his blank face and hound-dog eyes, I realized that he wasn't going to tell me anything. I also felt that he probably shouldn't be working on the car until he got over this weird acid-trip of his.

"Um, look, take the day off today or something," I told him. "The car can wait. It's not going anywhere." I smiled a little at the joke. Jesus didn't. I continued. "look, I'll leave the door unlocked today. Take it easy, go inside, watch some tv or something. Try watching the talk shows. They're pretty interesting, a real hot-bed of sin; maybe you'll like them." He was still on his knees, staring at the burnt, foam-covered bush when I left for work.

When I returned home that day, he was back at the car again, working under the hood. We ignored each other. I stayed in the house; he worked on the car for awhile, then went straight to his shed. It wasn't until I was lying in bed that night, trying to fall asleep that I remembered there had never been any bushes in my backyard.

When I woke up the next morning and took a look, there was no sign that there had ever been a bush burning in my backyard.

After that, things were fine for a while. Since I had no evidence that the bush wasn't simply a Johnnie Walker-induced dream of mine, I let Jesus stay and keep working. I typically avoided him and the car as much as I could, but he didn't seem to notice. Eventually, because I felt sorry for such a hard worker having to be outside in the cold all the time, and because I felt I could trust him again, I started leaving the house open for him every day. Also, I felt bad about swearing at him. I hoped he didn't take it personally, and that he could forgive me.

That ended in December.

I came home from work, and for the first time, Jesus wasn't out front working on the car. I figured that there must have been a really good episode of Oprah on, and Jesus was inside watching it, so I went in to see what it was.

Jesus was in the kitchen, sitting on a chair behind the kitchen table. His head was thrown back, his eyes were closed, and there was a very weird look on his face. Judy Watson, the next-door neighbor, was kneeling in front t of him with her head bobbing up and down above his knees.

"What the Hell's going on?" I screamed. They both jumped and turned to face me. "Just what the Hell is this? I go to work so I can make some money and pay my dues, like a good American should, and then I come home to see this going on in my own house? You!" I shouted at Jesus. "I do you a favor. I keep a roof over your head, keep you from freezing to death, and this is how you repay me? By ignoring my car and the deal we had, and messing around in my own house with this...this...harlot? And you!" I shouted at Judy. "You have no excuse, Judy. You're a married woman. If Johnnie and I weren't old hunting buddies, I'd have half a mind to tell him about this. But...just...get out of my house. Go back to your own place, where you belong."

She and Jesus looked at each other, then back at me. "I was just washing his feet," she said.

That stopped me. I took a closer look at her, and there was water dripping from her long black hair. But I couldn't say for sure that it wasn't sweat, and I didn't see any sponges or wash clothes or anything on the floor where they had been.

"Yeah, right," I said. "And what were you washing his feet with? Your hair? I don't think so. Now get out of here. Both of you!"

Judy took Jesus' hand and led him to the back door. "you will come and see what we can do with my husband, won't you?" I heard her ask as they left.

That made me shudder. I was raised on old-fashioned values, but like Donahue said, if they wanted to form a threesome, it wasn't really any of my business, just as long as everyone is willing and no one gets hurt. Still, it made me sick. Especially after seeing what they were doing under my own roof!

I must say, though, that I went easy on Judy because I felt sorry for her. Ever since Johnnie came down with cancer, she'd been falling apart, trying to make enough money from tips as a waitress to keep Johnnie in pain killers and other drugs. She did her best, but Johnnie continued to deal with the pain by taking it out on Judy. I hadn't realized it had gotten that bad between the two of them, that she had to resort to making time with this drifter that was helping me out. Still, it's possible she was telling the truth. I mean, her hair was wet, at least. But really, the story they gave was just insane. Who'd ever believe such a thing? Washing a guy's feet with your hair? Besides, you could probably hide a lot of sin under that robe of his.

It was Christmas Eve. I'd been avoiding Jesus ever since the kitchen incident. Whatever the three of them had done together, it seemed to have helped Johnnie quite a bit. He was up and around again, thinking of trying to get his job back at the used car lot. Johnnie was definitely a changed man. Jesus had managed to perform some kind of miracle for those two. They had gone to their in-laws to celebrate Christmas, so I was all alone again for my turkey tv dinner.

As it was cooking, I thought about Jesus, who was out in his shed. He'd been really nice to help Johnnie out like that, and to not leave after I lose my temper with him again. Also, it was Christmas, and he really seemed to be a good Joe. But he was alone, and so was I, and no one should ever have to be alone on Christmas Eve. I decided to go out back and see if he wanted to join me for dinner.

It must have been a full moon that night, because there was a bright light shining over Jesus' shed. I had to squint just to find my way to the entrance. Jesus looked up as I approached.

"Um, look," I said, not knowing where to begin. "Um, you've been really nice...and forgiving...lately...and it's Christmas-time, and...I just wanted to ask...if you wanted to come in and join me for Christmas dinner, or something..." There. I'd said it. The next move was up to him.

Jesus just stared at me for a moment. He never seemed to talk much. I hoped he didn't think I was trying to come on to him or anything. I wasn't.

Finally, Jesus spoke. "I am Jewish," he said. "I do not usually celebrate Christmas."

Well, great. I really put shit on myself that time. But how was I supposed to know? I'd never met a real Jew in person before.

"Well, look," I said, "you could just come in and keep me company. You don't have to actually celebrate or anything." My comeback sounded really weak.

Jesus continued to stare at me. "Tomorrow is my birthday," he said.

That took me back. It sounded ironic, to be Jewish and born on Christmas day. "Well, there you go, then. You can just come in for an early birthday dinner before you get your free meal at Denny's tomorrow. I didn't know it was you birthday, so I didn't get you anything. This could make up for it."

Jesus hesitated again before he replied. "Actually, I have been drinking wine here to celebrate. You are welcome to join me, if you like."

I shrugged, and sat down with my back against the wall opposite of Jesus. I felt guilty about offending him by mentioning Christmas, and hoped I could make it up to him by helping to celebrate his birthday his way. He poured some water from the garden hose into a fancy looking cup, like the one Indiana Jones was looking for in The Last Crusade. He must have had some kind of powdered wine in the cup already because after he stirred the water with his finger, I had a cup of the best wine I'd ever tasted. Jesus also produced some small, bland crackers from out of nowhere which I only ate to be nice. They must have been some kind of Jewish thing. I noticed that Jesus himself didn't eat any, but I figured from the way that he kept absentmindedly rubbing his belly as if it hurt that he must have already had his fill. It was really good wine, though, and Jesus seemed to have an endless supply of the powder, although I never saw him pour any into the cup.

We talked for hours. Jesus must have been a history teacher before or something, because he really knew a lot about what things were like right after they switched from BC to AD. He was fascinating. It was amazing hearing all the stories he had to tell. They were kind of farfetched, involving mystical beings and people hundreds of years old, but they were all very good, involving battles between good and evil, with a moral at the end of each one. Listening to him speak renewed my faith in humankind, which I didn't realize I had been doubting. When I finally looked at my watch during some story he was telling me about a giant whale (which I think he stole from Pinocchio), it was well after midnight. I told Jesus that I had to get up in the morning and go to work, so I could put in the overtime which kept him in car parts. After wishing Jesus a truly happy birthday and telling him to try and take the day off, I went into the house to go to bed.

The tv dinner was ruined, but it didn't matter. My soul was full, even if my stomach wasn't (that's what Jesus would have said), so I went to my room and crawled into bed.

It was the best Christmas of my life, and I only have Jesus to thank for it.

Jesus and I got along quite well after that. He made lots of progress on my car, and I worked lots of overtime to keep him in supplies. We were both so busy trying to meet the spring deadline for the car that we never got to talk much, but we always smiled and waved at each other when I left for and came home from work. It was after almost a month of this that Jesus saved a kid's life.

It was early evening, and I was walking the 20 blocks between the bus stop and my house. It was an unnaturally cold winter, and a layer of ice had formed on the small lake in the neighborhood. I saw a noisy crowd forming on the shore of the lake, and wandered over to investigate.

Apparently, a group of boys in the neighborhood had dared one of their younger brothers to walk out on the lake. To prove that he wasn't chicken, the poor kid had made it all the way out to the middle of the lake before the thin ice broke and he fell through. The ice near the shore of the lake was also smashed through where some adult had tried to go out and rescue the boy, but had discovered that he was too heavy. Soaking wet, the man sat on the shore with the other parents, waiting for the fire department to arrive with a ladder. By the way the boy in the middle of the lake kept slipping under the surface of the water, we all knew they wouldn't make it in time. A couple stood crying together off to the side of the crowd.

Suddenly, Jesus appeared on the other shore of the lake. He took in the entire situation with one look, but he never even slowed down. He was out on the lake before anyone could stop him. The ice shattered under his feet as he made his way out to the drowning boy, but he didn't fall through. When Jesus reached the middle of the lake, he reached out and took the boy's hand in his own. Lifting gently, he lifted the boy out of the water and carried him safely to shore, where the boy's sobbing parents wrapped him in their arms.

The parents thanked Jesus over and over again, and everyone else in the neighborhood patted him on the back and congratulated him, but Jesus' sense of modesty forced him to bow his head in embarrassment as he tried to walk back to my house, surrounded by this mob of people.

It was the most impressive feat that I had ever seen, and I watch pro-wrestling every week. Somehow, this former history professor had known exactly where the strongest part of the ice was, and had used it to save a boy's life. It was a miracle. The boy survived with only a mild case of pneumonia, which disappeared soon after his parents brought him by to thank Jesus in person and to shake his hand. I realized then that it was a very good thing I had let Jesus spend the winter in my shed.

A couple of weeks later, we had a slow day on the killing line, so I came home from work early. Jesus wasn't in front of my house working on the car. I didn't know where he was. So I settled down in front of my tv to catch the evening news. When the local broadcast came on, the top story was of a man who had entered a bunch of savings and loans in the downtown financial center and torn them apart. He didn't steal anything, just made a big mess. They showed a security camera clip of a long-haired man in a flowing white robe turning desks over and throwing papers around and generally making a mess of things. They also showed a police sketch of the suspect, who was still a large. It was Jesus. It had to be him; no one else had the same look of total calm in his features.

The news people interviewed witnesses, customers of the banks, who all said the same general thing: since they had all lost so much money in the scandals years before, they considered the man to be a hero who had finally done what they had never been willing to do. Only the lenders themselves seemed to be unhappy about the whole thing.

I turned the tv off and went straight to bed. I didn't want to see Jesus when he came home that night. I simply didn't have the heart to turn him in. I knew from talking to him that he was a good man, even though he was a bit odd. And he did save that boy's life. Besides, he hadn't hurt anyone or stolen anything; he just did what everyone else wanted to do. I was impressed by his willingness to martyr himself for the sake of other people and their happiness. He really was a king among men. I just went to bed and pretended that I didn't know a thing.

The next morning, when I left for work, Jesus was back again and working on my car, safe and sound as always. I swear, that man had the luck of one of God's own children. Except for losing his job and becoming a bum and everything, I mean. I think Jesus could tell that I was uncomfortable in his presence again, but he still waved at me, although he didn't smile like usual. I waved back, and proceeded on my way to work.

I got halfway down the block before I stopped and went back. My mom had lost everything when the savings and loans failed. It killed her. I stepped up behind Jesus and waited until he turned around to face me.

We just stared at each other for a moment. Then, I reached out and shook his hand. He responded the same way. I then turned around and went to work, and Jesus went back to the car. Neither of us ever said a work about the savings and loans incident, and we got along great together for the rest of his time with me.

It was the Friday before Easter. I was just about to leave work when my supervisor told me that I had a phone call. It was Jesus. He was using his one phone call from the police station. I immediately left and took the bus to police headquarters to find out what was going on.

Jesus told me that the car was finished, and that he had planned to take it around the block for a test drive. He had barely backed it out of the drive when the policed pulled him over because the car didn't have any license plates or tags. They then found out it wasn't insured, either. Nor was Jesus able to show any proof of registration. When they discovered that Jesus didn't have a license, they nailed him.

With the Republicans voted into power, people from all over town had been complaining how ineffectual the police were, and how they kept letting criminals get away with everything. The people wanted vengeance, so the police decided to make an example out of Jesus, and crucify him. They ticketed him for everything and threw him in jail. They told me that they wouldn't release him until I got the car insured and registered, paid Jesus' tickets, and covered the towing and storage charges for my car. The total was almost a thousand dollars.

I didn't know that to tell Jesus. I was flat broke from the cost of restoring the Mustang. I didn't have access to a thousand dollars, and neither did anyone I knew. If anyone had a thousand dollars available, they sure as hell wouldn't be living in my neighborhood. Although he was stuck in jail, I told Jesus to hang tight for a couple days, and that I would figure out something. Without any idea of how to rescue Jesus, I took the bus back home.

When I got there I didn't even have the heart to cross my front yard. I just stood there on the sidewalk and stared at the barren patch on my front yard where the Fort Mustang, the cause of this whole situation, used to sit. Now a good man, a righteous fellow, a veritable superstar, was in prison with no hope of reprieve, and I felt guilty as sin. As I stood there, worrying, Johnnie and Judy approached from next door.

Johnnie's cancer must have gone into submission or something, because he didn't seem to be in pain anymore. He no longer grimaced every time he took a breath, and he seemed to be his old, cigar-smoking self again. Even Judy had been able to rediscover her happy, smiling face. But neither of them were smiling now.

"We saw the whole thing," Judy said. "We tried to call you, but your supervisor said you couldn't be bothered for anything while you were working, and he wouldn't take a message. you? What's going on?"

So I told her the whole story, from the police spearing Jesus to use as an example to my eternally tormenting guilt at not being able to get the thousand dollars needed to free him. When I was done, Johnnie took Judy's hand and they stared into each others' eyes. Finally, they nodded at each other, in one unspoken agreement, and then they turned to face me.

"We have about a hundred bucks saved up in our retirement account," Johnnie said. "We could probably donate the whole thing to help get...Jesus...out of jail."

"And we'll ask around the neighborhood. I'm sure that, if we ask enough people, we can take up a big enough collection that can free him."

"I can't take your money," I said. That wasn't quite true. Normally, I'd be perfectly willing to take everyone in the neighborhood for whatever I could, but not like this. Not when they were simply giving it to me, practically throwing it at me...and not if they were giving it to free the man that I had imprisoned.

"We're not doing it for you," Johnnie said, "we're doing it for Jesus. We owe him that much at least." Judy left to start making phone calls, and Johnnie wrote me the check that closed out his retirement account.

That night, I had just turned in for bed, still worried about how I could get my hands on the other $900 I needed to free Jesus, when a loud knocking on my front door woke me up. It continued, repeatedly, as I crawled out of bed and answered the door.

Facing me was the family of the young boy whose life Jesus had saved. "I know it's late," the father said, "but we couldn't sleep without knowing that we did what we could to help the man who saved my son, and my family." He handed me a heavy, paper bag. "I'm afraid it's not much, but it's everything we have. I hope it helps. Please give...Jesus...our best wishes. Thank you very much, and God bless."

They turned around and left. Inside the bag was a collection of small bills and coins which totaled to almost a hundred fifty bucks. Already, I was one-fourth of the way to the required goal. Maybe things would work out all right after all.

The next day was Saturday, and I had more visitors in that one day than I'd had since I bought the house. Having nothing better to do, I was at home when each one arrived.

The first visitor arrived late in the morning. It was Sam, my friend from the corner garage. He gave me another $75 to add to the pot. I was surprised, and asked him why. Sam told me that, a couple months ago, he had been trying to track down a strange engine noise when suddenly a blade on the car's fan had snapped off. It grazed his skull and sliced off his ear. Fortunately, Jesus was in the shop, looking for a fan belt, and managed to re-attach the ear right away. I looked at the ear Sam had almost lost. It was amazing how nicely it had healed. I knew that Jesus had been well-educated, but his knowledge continued to amaze me.

Later that afternoon, the Widow Morgan, who lived in the fancy two-story house down the street, topped by. She was walking her pet pig, a little pot-belly that she bought to show off her late-husband's money. I'd never liked the ugly little thing. I always thought it was possessed by the devil the way it kept escaping from the Widow's yard and shitting all over the neighborhood, then rutting through it's own feces.

But now the pig simply trotted along behind its owner. It looked happy. The damned thing even wore a shiny, satin-pink ribbon around its neck, and never even tried to get it off. The Widow Morgan gave me $200. She said that she owed it to Jesus for managing to train her little "Poughkie-poo." This put me over half-way to my goal, but I was still relieved when the old witch finally got her crapping little familiar off my property.

Finally, late that evening, the priest from the local Christian church arrived with some members of his congregation. They'd managed t scrape together almost $500 from their bingo winnings, and they gave it all to me for Jesus. They said that Jesus had been very nice to their church, and had come by to help with communion when they ran out of supplies. Like everyone else, they always hesitated before saying Jesus' name, as if they couldn't believe that was really what he was called.

Since their donation put me over the thousand dollar goal I needed, I told the congregation that I was going to go down to the station that very minute and get Jesus released. But the priest asked me to wait until the next day. He said it would be more "appropriate." I wasn't sure what he meant by that, but since he did save my hide, I figured it was the least I could do to thank him. Maybe it was some religious thing, the next day being Easter Sunday and Jesus being Jewish and all. Or maybe they just wanted everyone from church to be around when their friend Jesus returned. I never did figure it out.

So, the first thing Easter morning, I took the bus to the police station and paid all of Jesus' fines. The police said that, because it was Easter, almost everyone was on vacation, and they couldn't release my car. But they promised to tow the car out to me first thing the next morning. I got a receipt, and Jesus and I headed home.

Because it was a holiday, the bus was only half price, which was fortunate, since I was broke again. When we got to my house, everyone from the neighborhood was waiting to greet us. They mobbed Jesus, and everyone hugged him. There was much talking and joking and laughing and genuine good feeling all around, which I quickly excused myself from. I noticed that Jesus soon left the celebrations, too. I joined him in his shed.

The neighbors continued to party on my front lawn well into the night, congratulating themselves on their good deed. Jesus and I didn't have anything to do, with the car still in hock and all, so we spent the rest of the day in his shed, toasting each other with his instant wine. We didn't talk much, but it was a good bonding experience anyhow. The party eventually broke up, and Jesus and I turned in for the night.

I woke up the next morning with a bad hang-over and the phone ringing in my ear. I answered it hoarsely. It was the impound lot, saying that the car was on its way out to me. So for the first time in 15 years, I called in sick to the slaughter house. I got out of bed to fetch my morning wake-up.

As I crossed through the living room, I glanced out the front window. Jesus was on the front lawn, his back turned to me, facing a dozen men. They were all wearing flowing robes similar to Jesus', and wore beards of various lengths. I went outside to see what was going on.

One of the strange men was talking to Jesus. "We finally found you," he was saying. "we're ready to follow you again, like before."

"I know," Jesus replied. Was this his gang, and did he used to be their leader? That could explain the scars on his hands, and why he was a drifting bum. I noticed that one of the men standing furthest away from Jesus kept looking around, all shifty-eyed. I didn't trust him at all. The other men looked all right, though.

We were interrupted by the arrival of the tow-truck, pulling my restored car, which was covered by its old, protective tarp. The men moved aside to watch as the driver lowered the car to the ground. I signed for it, and he drove away.

Jesus pulled the tarp off of the car. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. He had completely restored the entire vehicle. The trim was perfectly polished chrome. The tires were rugged white-walls with mirror-like chrome hubcaps, and the rear wheels were larger than the ones in front. Jesus had cut a gap in the hood to make room for a large, chrome-plated blower. Quadruple glowing exhaust pipes bulged from underneath the sides of the car. The upholstery was a luxurious brown leather. The entire vehicle was painted a glossy jet black that shined in the sunlight. There were bright orange, red, and yellow flames painted on the sides and hood, which gave a distinct impression of a burning car racing down the road, even though the Mustang remained stationary. But the finishing touch was on the trunk.

Somehow, somewhere, Jesus had perfected painting into an art form. On the back f the Mustang was the image of a single golden Mustang, rearing up beneath a perfect silver moon. I would have assumed it was a photograph, but no photograph could ever capture the emotion held in that image. Each stroke of the brush conveyed an image of unrestrained wild nature, powerful muscles beneath thick skin and a flowing mane. It was an image of solitude and independence, wrapped in a declaration of strength and pride and flavored by confidence and moral turpitude.

It was even better than my painting of dogs playing poker.

I looked at Jesus. "That's the most wonderful thing I've ever seen," I told him.

"Wait until you see what's under the hood," he said. He opened it to show me a clean and powerful motor, shining with chrome and reinforced steel. Engines weren't my strong point, and I didn't know what to say. I looked up at Jesus.

"You have at least 400 horsepower under that hood," he began. "Probably more. The engine is a mechanical nonlinear supercharged IC dynamic model system with water-cooled V* cylinders, a 4-barrel Holley carburetor, 2.0-liter multi-port electronic computerized fuel injection, advanced dynamic spark ignition, and a turbo-charged blower activated by a control on the gear knob. The transmission is a synchromesh four-on-the-floor speed-shift combined with a Newman-Hoffner integrated single degree-of-freedom linear system, and with the blower activated, nothing on the road can catch you. It will go from 0 to 60 in 3.4 seconds if you take your time, faster if you're in a hurry. There is also an on-board computerized self-diagnostic system, which will not only point out potential problems and suggest solutions, but which will also self-repair minor damage to any part of the vehicle. The car's finish is a glossy clear-coat, guaranteed to stand up to anything this side of Armageddon. Inside are carbon-reinforced titanium roll bars and infrastructure, just in case you need them. Which you shouldn't, thanks to the electronically self-correcting steering system. The tow bar is good for up to one ton. You have dual-side airbags, side-impact airbags, safety glass windows, a head-up instrument panel display, over-the-shoulder knit-quilted belts, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, and a vehicle-wide on-board fire extinguishing system. Do not forget the power windows, power mirrors, chloroflourocarbon-free air condition, and reclining bucket seats with head rests and automatic lumbar support. The catalytic converter turns regular unleaded into premium high-octane rocket fuel, which will give you, minimum, 85 miles to the gallon. The car has an independently active with-cone suspension system, complete with optimal damping control, interlinked with proto-hydro-pneumatic mounts that enable your car to switch from low-rider to monster truck clearance at the touch of a button. There is also an adaptive vehicle system which maintains equilibrium during load shifts, and a feedforward noise control J-algorithm interior. There is more, which you will discover later, but I have covered what you need to know for now. If there is anything I have neglected to do, please let me know."

Not knowing what to say, I simply stared at Jesus. "Wow," I finally managed to say. Then, "thank you." Then, "thank you very much." Realizing that was all I could think of, I grabbed Jesus' hand and shook it for a very long time. As we shook, my hang-over completely disappeared.

That afternoon, Jesus gathered p his bread and cans of tuna and prepared to leave. He seemed to have just as much as when he had arrived. I walked with him from his shed to the front yard, where his gang was waiting.

"How can I ever thank you enough?" I asked him. "That car is the greatest thing ever. How can I ever repay you? I'd dedicated my life to you, give you my soul, if I could."

"Maybe later," Jesus replied. "you have already repaid me enough for now. With your hospitality, your friendship, your innocence...especially your innocence." He handed me the keys to the car. On the key ring was a wooden cross. "here. Please, take good care of yourself, and may the Holy Father guide you well." He patted me on the back. "I will pray for you," he said, joining his friends.

"you're welcome to come back anytime," I told him. "you can always crash at my pad, whenever you want. Even inside the house, next time. Your friends are invited, too." Jesus smiled, and thanked me. I looked at the men around him, then leaned in to whisper in Jesus' ear. "Don't trust that shifty-eyed guy," I told him.

Jesus smiled again, then whispered back. "I know," he said. Then, he turned and started walking down the street, away from the bus stop and into the dusty countryside, his friends following behind him.

I never say any of them ever again.

I walked over to the restored car. The door opened as smoothly as Jack Daniels tasted. I lowered my self into the driver's seat and settled back, sighing with pleasure. It was as if Jesus had built a little slice of heaven inside the old antique. From the rear-view mirror hung a string of beads. Somehow, Jesus had managed to find a little plastic figurine which strongly resembled him, and he had mounted it on the dash, facing me. I figured he must have wanted to make sure I never forgot the man who did so much for me.

I slipped the key into the ignition, depressed the clutch, and started the engine. It immediately growled to life, then settled down to a slow purr, which threatened to turn into a full-fledge roar at any given moment. Jesus had performed a miracle. Somehow, he had brought this old car back to life. I couldn't understand it, but I was very impressed.

That was yesterday. Today, the license plates arrived, so tonight, I'm going to take the hot rod out for its first real spin. I installed the plates immediately. They were custom-made: LAZ RUS. Jesus must have wanted to do me a favor and name the car after me, using the first three letters of my first and last names. Unfortunately, the shop messed it up and printed LAZ RUS instead of RUS LAZ. That's me, RUS LAZ: Russell Lazenberry. I didn't mind. After all, it's the thought that counts.

And besides, to forgive is divine.