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by Jeremy Martin
On the third day of summer break, Thesaurus opened his office for business, raising the
garage door and setting the markered posterboard sign in front of his old metal desk.
25 cents plus expenses
Solved in 24 hours or your money back
Hugh Munculi, Thesaurus’ classmate, walked in, rapping his knuckles
once on the doorframe before entering.
“Well,” Hugh said. He opened his fist, revealing a quarter.
Thesaurus pulled a manila envelope from a drawer and tossed it onto the
“You were right, Hugh,” he said. “Your mother is having an affair.”
Hugh grinned, grabbing the envelope, making to squeeze the brass brads.
Thesaurus waved a preventative hand. “Save the Freudian scene for
the counselor. It’s proof enough to get you new sneakers. Maybe a video game
system, if you play it right.”
Thesaurus produced another envelope from the drawer, sat it on the
“What’s that one?” Hugh asked, reaching for it.
Thesaurus leaned back and propped his feet on the desk, right on top of
“My copies,” Thesaurus said. “I need new sneakers, too.”
Hugh grew pale.
“You do like having both your parents living in the same house, don’t you,
Later, Bags Douchely, 13-year-old leader of the Knifewound Gang, walked
in, producing then pocketing what appeared to be a wooden nickel, which was
probably worth more than a quarter, when you thought about it. He wore ripped
denim and a black Jughead cap. Thesaurus cupped his hands around his crotch.
“Easy, Yancy,” Bags said. “I’m here to hire you.”
Thesaurus’ hands didn’t drop. “That so?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I need you to solve the mystery of why your breath
always smells like my dog’s nutsack.”
Thesaurus closed his eyes a moment. “Nice try, Bags,” he said. “But we
found out in ‘The Case of the Unscooped Poop’ that your dog is neutered.”
Bags was already ten feet down the sidewalk now, and laughing.
Janie Corruthers walked in, wearing a long black dress. Until the
Thesaurus Maroon series was revamped in the mid-1990s, Janie had been
Thesaurus’ secretary. These days, she was the school’s star athlete and had two
She slapped a quarter, sweat-slicked and shiny, onto the desk. One of her
fathers had been killed the previous weekend.
“I need you to find god for me, Thesaurus,” she said, and rubbing a red-
rimmed nose. She wasn’t the best looking girl in fifth grade, but she could fill out
a training bra, sure as heck!
“What should I do then?” Thesaurus asked, looking for nothing in an
empty drawer. She’d caught him looking at her chest before.
“Nothing,” she said. A tractor-trailer had slid off an overpass in a
rainstorm onto an SUV driven by Dad #2. “That’s just between god and I.”
“Between god and me, you mean,” Thesaurus corrected. “Me meaning
you, of course.”
Janie blinked moist eyes.
The coin was damp and ungrippable, requiring Thesaurus to slide it off
Thesaurus made an appointment that afternoon to interview the pastor
of the local non-denominational congregation, the First Church of Christ the
“What can I do you for?” the pastor asked, extending a wan hand over a
rack of aborted-fetus fliers.
“I need to find god in the next 24 hours,” Thesaurus said. The pastor had
a thin, cold grip.
“That should be easy enough,” he said. “I talk with Him every day.”
“Great,” Thesaurus said and flipped open a Big Chief Tablet ($1.99 before
tax). “Mind if I listen in?”
The pastor’s laugh could be accurately transcribed as follows: “Ha, ha.”
“God rarely speaks in words, my boy,” he said. “More often in feelings,
the majesty of nature.”
Thesaurus closed the pad. “That hardly seems transcribable.”
The pastor nodded. “But that’s faith. The evidence of things unseen.”
“But my client’s paying for proof.”
“Faith should be proof enough for him. A faithful prayer can move a
mountain into the sea.”
“Her name is Janie, and one of her fathers died.”
The pastor tapped neat-clipped nails on the pamphlet rack.
“Janie has two daddies?”
The pastor thumbed at a fetus flier.
“Well, you might say that the AIDS virus is God’s punishment for the sin
of sodomy. Sounds hard, but the believer can find the work of the creator in it.”
Thesaurus rubbed the quarter’s rough edges in his pants pocket. “Does
god ever kill enemies with falling trucks?”
“His ways are often strange, but our mere existence is proof of His
The pastor began walking Thesaurus toward the exit. “A scientist would
tell you the same. Nothing spawns from nothing.”
Thesaurus closed his eyes a moment. “Maybe, but after the creation
what ensures continuance?”
And on a burnished throne sat god, dead as hell, not-watching the
masterwork through rigor-mortised eyes, twitching only from the tunneling of
interdimensional maggots. Decided deicide. That’ll be a quarter.
Clarksville Community College’s general science professor had her back to
Thesaurus. With a shredded rag she erased a physics problem from the dry-erase
board, sporadically spraying an ammonia-based cleaner.
“The concept isn’t essential in the operation of the known universe,” she
said. “And it’s therefore not scientifically relevant.”
Thesaurus opened the tablet and unperched a sharpened #2 pencil (75
cents) from behind his ear. “If you can’t observe it, it isn’t there, in other words?”
“Not exactly, Thesaurus,” her graying ponytail pendulated with the ever-
widening erasure arcs. “Many subatomic particles are assumed to exist purely
because other observable data indicate it.” Her every movement jingled tiny tin
bells on her out-of-season holiday sweater.
Thesaurus closed his tablet. “So god is like a non-reacting, unobservable,
The board, now clean, smelled faintly like a wet bed. Still the professor
continued wiping. “If you like.”
The rag squeaked on the board.
“What’s inside a quark?”
The professor did not turn around. “Have you considered meditation?”
“Ohhhh-mmmm,” Legs crossed, eyes closed, Thesaurus sat contemplating
on his desk. Infinity in a grain of sand, the slight dilution of the ocean’s saline by
one salivary gob. A single tractor-trailer tumbling over an interstate guardrail.
The vastness of space. The unknowable nature of god. The refunding of money.
The universe was a complex entity in which Thesaurus was a single cell. Against
its thick stone walls he scraped a contraband spoon.
The DayGlo sign outside of Goat’s Head Soup promised “Spirituality.
Tobacciana. Stuff.” Thesaurus pushed open the door, clanging a cowbell duct-
taped to the jamb. The barefoot man behind the counter hopped from his stool,
shaking auburn dreadlocks.
“No one under 18 allowed on the premises.” He tapped a sign saying the
“Sir,” Thesaurus said in a deepened voice, “I suffer a pituitary problem.”
The man nodded. “Oh, you’re some kind of dwarf. My bad, dude.”
“I need to know if god exists,” Thesaurus said. “I need to prove it
The man peered past his wire-rims. “Midget science fair, huh? I heard
about that.” Somewhere within the store countless incense sticks competed
to determine whether the store would smell like balls or balls dipped in putrid
garbage water. “You picked a tough project though, little man.”
Thesaurus nodded, concentrating on breathing through his mouth. “I
talked to a pastor today.”
The man snorted. “Religion is necrophilia.” He set a black nailed hand on
Thesaurus moved, but the hand did not. “Then I talked to a science
With his other hand, the man dug into his pocket. “Science is the
Warren Commission.” He extracted a small cellophane pouch of dried leaves
labeled “Salvia Divinorum” and handed it to Thesaurus. “You got to look for god
the one place you can trust.” He tapped his temple slowly with an index finger
for a really long time.
With homemade construction-paper fliers (a 500-count multicolored
pack – $5.99) and an e-mailed chain letter (free), Thesaurus advertised an
emergency prayer vigil that evening. Despite a forecasted thunderstorm,
Clarksville’s faithful assembled to pray that Mt. Sianide, the county’s sixth largest
point, be raised up and cast into the sea – nearly 300 miles away. Through a red
plastic megaphone ($15.99, receipt attached), he reminded the true believers
that only salt-water submersion would be acceptable for the poor lymphatic
boy who’d requested the prayers. Simply dunking the mountain in a nearby lake
or reservoir would be inconclusive and might even depress him to the point of
lowering his T-cell count. So in English, Latin and imbecilic angel tongues, with
folded palms raised, hands clasped, eyes both closed tight in reverence and
opened wide in ecstasy, the prayers were offered while lightning burned the sky.
From beyond the mountain, clouds appeared and ruptured. Soaked, the faithful
departed, the mountain no visibly closer to the sea. Thesaurus pulled his jacket
over his head and began walking home.
Behind him, size 14 sneakers slapped the sidewalk. Bags! Before
Thesaurus could spin around, a drop-shouldered charge sent him sprawling. His
hands slapped the wet concrete.
“Oh, Thesaurus, it’s only you,” Bags said, not trying to sound
surprised. “You really should be more careful. With that jacket over your head, I
thought you were an Arab.”
Near Thesaurus’ face, a thick nightcrawler throbbed. By the time he
stood, Bags had managed to cross the street.
“You’ll prove nothing, Thesaurus,” Bags said, holding his hands behind
his back, his rain-soaked hat leaking streaks of black dye down his face. “Your
obvious bias toward a Judeo-Christian deity is close-minded, and the way you’ve
stereotyped and simplified Eastern religion is unforgivable.” He nailed Thesaurus
with the hard-packed mudball he’d had hidden – a ten-point headshot. “Ya
Thesaurus spit mud. “Nice try Bags,” he said, “but city council banned
Arabs last fall.” Bags, now retreating, appeared not to hear above his own
Thesaurus was saturated and clammy when he got home, and he
abandoned his muddy shoes on the porch. A parent watched TV through the
closed bedroom door. In damp socked feet he climbed loudly upstairs to open
the tub’s hot-water tap, then quietly downstairs to gank his father’s pipe and
matchbook from the den.
Naked in the hot water, he packed the pipe with salvia divinorum and
pulled deeply, instantly regretting it. He nearly dropped the pipe in a coughing
fit. He pushed his face under and drank from between his legs. He pulled
again, holding in the hot, cruel smoke. In his throat he saw pus-filled pockets
sprouting. He felt the pipe sink to the tub’s bottom. Inside himself grew forests
where anything could hide. His face was a camping tent the rain could not soak
through. Somewhere distant water splashed. Janie was in the tub, just beyond
reach. She splashed again, and her hand nearly grazed his peepee. Janie was not
in the tub, he told himself. In his parents’ bedroom, someone giggled. Thesaurus
coughed again. It was his mother.
His sneakers encased in crunchy mud, Thesaurus walked out to his office
the next morning. He’d forgotten to close the garage door. Janie sat cross-legged
on his desk, waiting for him. Behind her stood Bags, rubbing her shoulders.
“Time’s up, Yancy,” Bags said. “You owe this girl an answer.”
Thesaurus removed Janie’s quarter from his pants pocket,
holding it encircled in his thumb and forefinger. In the United States, this
means “everything’s OK,” but in many countries, it’s considered an obscene
gesture. He slapped it down on the desk beside Janie, causing her to flinch.
“Well,” she said, “where’s god?”
Thesaurus flashed a too-knowing grin.
“Man, motherfuck this horseshit!” he said.
SO SERIOUSLY, WHAT IS THE DAMNED ANSWER?
For the solution to this case, hold the page upside down in front of a
mirror. Upon discovering there is nothing written at the bottom of this page,
glance up at your own reflection’s eye – recognizably human-looking, sure, but, a
centimeter beneath the smooth surface, a brick wall.