Which brings us, then, to the crux of the story, the central theme upon which everything else revolves. Plot; characterization; foreshadowing; rising and falling action; denouement; these are all spokes on the wheel, but the hub supporting them and into which they all connect is this: not death, or Death, and not Resurrection, but Redemption. That Redemption is available even for a bad man.
Beauregard Toussaint, whom, at the time of his death, had spent the majority of his life as a very bad man, would reach this conclusion both later, as he reflected thereupon, and in an instant, on an instinctive level, as he experienced it before full understanding set in.
This is how it happened:
The blow from Maka’kahu had killed him. Like the final scene in a movie, everything faded to black.
Then the lights came back up.
Where Saint found himself then, it made him gasp, this man for whom nothing came as a shock.
Home. The only real home he’d ever had, the little shack out on the bayou where he’d lived with his mother and sisters and the father he scarce remembered and whom he seldom saw had abandoned them and his mother had married Red Dog and moved them into town. The old threadbare couch, the wooden cable spool turned on its side they’d used as a table. The walls of mismatched paneling and the wide front window, coated with weatherproofing plastic. The little wood stove squatting in the corner. The picture of the Arch de Triumph hanging on the wall, the one Mama had done paint-by-numbers style. The mirror, in the frame held together by duct tape, the one Saint’s mother and sisters had used to fix their hair, the only one they’d ever owned.
Saint looked away from his reflection with a curse.
“So this is how it’s gon’ be, Bon Dieu?! Showin’ me this place, rubbin’ my face in it, ‘fore you send me on ta’ the fire an’ brimstone? You’re a cruel one, Bon Dieu! Cruel jus’ like me!”
“Non, my petite.”
This man Saint, hardened over a lifetime by a thousand cuts, with nothing left of a soul but scar tissue, not only gasped when he saw her, but a slight moan escaped his lips. His mother, entering the room through the back door, looked just the way she always did in his memories, her hair tied up and her wearing that faded pink calico dress, no shoes on her feet.
“No!” Saint muttered. “It’s too much!”
“It’s me, my petite.”
“Ain’ no trick, Beauregard. Ain’ no reason this here ought’ make you sad.”
Saint swallowed the thing in his throat. “Why’m I here, then? Damn sure I’m not gon’ make it inta’ Heaven, so what is this?”
“If you’d let go of some of that anger,” said a second, also familiar, voice, “you might could see straight.”
Saint turned as Garrett Roth entered the house through the front door.
Saint took a swing at Roth, but somehow the late Governor of Louisiana had already crossed the room before Saint’s fist could connect. Saint struck nothing but empty space.
“Why are you so mad at me?” Roth said. He took Mama’s hand, bent and kissed it. “Ms. Toussaint, it’s delightful to make your acquaintance.”
“You get away from her!”
“Why are you so angry with me?” Roth repeated. “I never did you any wrong.”
“You don’ belong here!”
“I came here as a friend,” Roth said. “I want to help you.”
“Dis be where you left it, my petite,” Mama said. “Where you lost that part a’ yourself that was innocent.”
“You need to find him again,” Roth said, “that innocent child. He’s there, inside of you. That little boy can be saved.”
“I’m not gon’ be preached at by the likes a’ you!” Saint said. “I’m not sorry for anythin’! I’m sure not sorry I let you die!”
“Oh, my petite.”
Mama went to him, put her arms around him. Saint flinched at the contact.
“How much pain you done been in, my baby boy. Time for all that pain ta’ go ‘way.”
Saint couldn’t make himself return her embrace. Tears were stinging his eyes and he squeezed them closed.
“Mama, it’s too late for me. I’m too far gone.”
“Shush, now. That ain’ true.”
“Mama, I’ve done so much, so many bad things. I deserve what I’ve got comin’.”
“That sounds like something I would have said,” Roth interjected.
“The you what done all dem things,” Mama said, “maybe he gon’ be punished, sure ‘nough. But he not be the real you, now is he?”
“Mama, there’s so much blood on my hands!”
“Ain’ no blood on your hands, my petite. Look at yourself.” Mama pointed to the frameless mirror.
Saint saw himself as a ten-year-old boy. Dressed in those ratty jeans he’d worn so much, the new sneakers Mama had saved up for months to buy him. Shirtless, with his skin burned to bronze from all the time spent outside and his hair like silken gold.
“Dat dere be my boy,” Mama said.
“Mama?” asked Saint—or rather the child christened Jonas Beauregard Batiste Francois Toussaint, who would one day grow into a man calling himself by that name. “Do I really get ta’ stay here with you?”
“Some day, petite, but not jus’ yet.”
“But I want to! Please!”
“Listen, son,” Roth said. “You’re getting something I wish I could have. A second chance. I was always so worried over rules, so careful not to break any rules. I missed so much, so many opportunities. But you still have a chance to change things.”
“You be good, my petite. You always remember, you is a good boy. You always look for that good boy inside a’ you. An’ your home always gon’ be waitin’ for you.”
“I’ve got ta’ go back?”
“You got so much left ta’ do,” Mama said.
“First and foremost,” Roth said, “you should take care of that poor Maka’kahu creature. He’s perhaps the saddest of us all. He, too, was once innocent, but now he’s so dangerous. He’ll keep right on hurting and killing unless he’s stopped.”
Mama kissed his cheek. “Try ta’ remember dis,” she said. “An’ remember that your Mama loves you. I see you later, a’right?”
The room began to grow darker, its pleasant warmth dissipating, getting cooler.
“Oh, I almost forgot to thank you,” Roth said.
“Thank me for what? I let you die.”
“But you saved Kiersten.”
Then it all went dark. Then came an explosion of light and sound. No pause in-between. Saint opened his eyes and sat up.
“Beau!” Arly threw her arms around him. “Oh my God! You’re alive! You’re alive!”
“Where am I?” Saint blinked, looked around him.
“You were dead!” Arly said, squeezing him. “But Songbird brought you back! He saved you!”
“You were dead!” Corelli said, looking pale.
“I remember…” Saint began.
But then he didn’t. He couldn’t remember what he’d been about to say.
Nor could he explain why there were tears in his eyes.
“I love you!” Arly whispered, kissing his cheek, burying her face between his shoulder and neck. Saint put an arm around her.
“You were dead!” Pete Corelli looked as if he might pass out.
“You are most fortunate, my friend,” Songbird said, gazing down at Saint, smiling.
“You can raise the dead?” Saint asked.
“No. I am only a conduit. The power comes from K’ti. Yet it is seldom that a rebirth is granted. It depends on the strength of the spirit involved, and if K’ti deems that the spirit is worthy.”
“You were fuckin’ dead!” Corelli said. “For over a fuckin’ hour!”
“Those gifted by K’ti with a physical return,” Songbird said, “are intended for a great destiny.”
“I don’ know anythin’ ’bout destiny,” Saint said, “but I know I’ve got me a score ta’ settle!”