“The Blue Cat?” Jesus asked outside the brewpub.
“Named after the largest species of catfish.” Phyllis Straughter pointed to the giant trophy fish mounted above neon sign.
“That’s where you want to spend the first evening we’ve had alone in three weeks?” The tall gangly bachelor couldn’t hide his irritation.
“And whose fault is that, Mr. People Magazine’s Sexiest Prophet?” she hissed. His itinerant ministry put Jesus in a different Midwestern city every night: Rockford, Peoria, Keokuk, Muscatine, La Crosse, Madison, Des Moines, Rochester, Newton. His Sprinter Mini-bus—now pushing 170,000 miles—showed its age, as did he.
Phyllis faced him, hands folded demurely. She looked so innocent in her yellow sundress with her hair down. She didn’t look at all like an Assistant District Attorney. They’d met when she prosecuted him on charges of unlawful assembly, operating a restaurant without a license, and failure to obtain a health permit.
She’d argued in court that he fed 3000 attendees at his Spirituality First Seminar with no regard for the health and safety of those who shared his loaves and fishes. He spent three nights in jail before his hearing. Eventually she offered a plea bargain. Jesus was sentenced to time served and had to pay a $450 fine. After the trial, he’d offered to buy her a latte at Joe’s Java Jungle two blocks down from the courthouse.
“The coffee’s better at Beelzebub’s Brew Pub and Roastery.”
“I know,” he admitted, “but I get a family discount at Joe’s.”
At Beelzebub’s the lattes led to craft beers and Rueben sandwiches. Phyllis ordered a pitcher of Helles Bells, a classic helles style lager brewed with Pale, Vienna, and Chit malt with a generous dose of Mittefruh hops. The lager lived up to its name.
The now intoxicated Assistant District Attorney made a lewd suggestion about how they might spend the night. Waking up in the morning at her condo, Jesus asked about a long-term relationship.
“Friends with benefits. That’s my best offer,” she’d told him. “You’ve got a sweet ass, but you’re not really boyfriend material.”
Since puberty Jesus had been ill-at-ease around women. His father hadn’t helped. Joseph Carpenter was a barista, not a ladies man. And his mom claimed to be a lifelong virgin, even after his siblings were born. High school had been a nightmare. His science fair project of turning water into wine had been disqualified when he failed to provide a Works Cited page.
Two months after their first coupling, Jesus met Phyllis again at a Halloween costume party hosted by his cousin John. Jesus wore a messiah costume: long robes, fake beard, a wig and Teva sandals. His cousin dressed as a prophet in camel hair clothes; both went barefoot and commando.
Phyllis arrived at the party in a red PVC corset, thigh high stiletto boots, and a cat mask. She carried a riding crop and whipped people upon request. Both John and Jesus requested, but only John lost his head over her.
Back at the Blue Cat, Jesus took a breath. “Tell me again why we’re here.”
“This, Prophet Boy, is where the munch is.” Phyllis waved at the half-dozen patrons she knew standing at the bar.
“It’s a social event,” she explained, “a casual gathering of people with an interest in BDSM.”
He lowered his voice. “And why would we go to that?”
“A chance to get to know people,” she demurred. “It’s educational. Tonight’s topic is Kibaku. There’ll be a demonstration.”
“Kibaku?” His face flushed.
“Japanese rope bondage.” Phyllis stroked his arm and eased him toward the bar. She needed a beer, and Jesus was always slow to whip out a credit card. “Surely you haven’t forgotten the night of my office Holiday Party?”
Jesus hesitated. “I admit, I liked the sense of surrender. I didn’t have to be in charge or to know all the answers.”
“Is that what you liked?” she purred. “It wasn’t all the sex?” Phyllis gave him a hip bump. “Don’t answer that.” She motioned to the tapper for Big Bad Dog and held up two fingers. The bartender nodded. “Tonight’s munch might open some doors.”
“I need to be about My Father’s business,” he folded his arms in front of him like he always did when he was pouting.
“All Work and no Role Play, makes the Son of God a dull boy.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“BDSM is about trust,” Phyllis told Jesus sotto voce. “It’s about play. It’s about feeling good. Give it a chance before you go all Money Changers in the Temple tonight.” Phyllis motioned to the pints of the Old English Ale waiting for them. “We’re early. Let’s take a moment.”
Jesus plopped down on the barstool. He looked hesitantly out the big plate glass windows. He worried one of his disciples, or worse yet, one of his donors would see him with Phyllis and start asking questions. As Assistant District Attorney, she’d prosecuted his followers on a dozen different charges.
He took a drink of Big Bad Dog. “This is heavenly!” He was fond of craft lagers and ales, but Phyllis could drink him under the table.
“Well, hello,” said the melodious voice behind them. “Phyllis, darling, who’s this tall dark and handsome fellow?”
“This is Jesus Carpenter. Jesus, meet Mary Magdalene. She’s in the hospitality industry.”
Mary extended her hand to him. Her touch was electric. “A Carpenter, huh? I know your father,” she said casually.
Jesus knew Mary. She’d been two years ahead of him at Nazareth High. She’d been class president, captain of the debate team, founder of the Libertine Club, and Valedictorian. He played third chair trumpet in the band and was secretary of the Chess Club. Even senior boys steered clear of her. She dated single male faculty members and lacrosse players from the local chiropractic college.
“What are you doing here?” Phyllis asked. “As much in demand as you’ve been lately, I can’t imagine you have time for a casual night out.”
“Don’t be disingenuous. You know I’m here for the munch.” As Mary turned to Jesus, her hand dropped casually into his lap. He was erect. “Jesus, be a dear, get me a beer while two old friends find a table.” She squeezed. He moaned.
Phyllis was amazed at the speed he reached for his wallet.
When he returned with the frothy pint, it was obvious the two territorial women had worked out an arrangement. Mary accepted the beer graciously and patted the seat beside her.
“Phyllis and I were just discussing your career opportunities.”
“I have my nonprofit. I have my ministry. I preach. I prophesize.” Jesus seized his beer and drank. Talking to women had always been a problem. It was never a problem on the mountaintop.
Mary pursued the topic. “The Son of God narrative played out well a couple thousand years ago, but….” Jesus shook his head. It actually hadn’t gone that well. “To get Millennials to buy your message, you’ll need to loosen up.”
“I thought bondage might relax him,” Phyllis interjected.
“Millennials aren’t religious,” he protested.
“True,” Mary said, “but they like diversity. They like all kinds of people and orientations. You don’t want them to think you’re a Bible thumping white guy in a bad suit.”
Jesus became self-conscious. “Is something wrong with my suit?” It was Michael Kors.
“I was being metaphorical.”
Jesus tried to focus on the beer instead of the two predatory women on either side of him. Finally he added, “Millennials have an 8-second attention span.”
“And you don’t?” Phyllis blurted out with a laugh. She lowered her voice. “The only time you take a breath is when you’re bound to a St. Andrew’s Cross.” She winked at Mary. “Millennials are adventurous,” she continued. “If they knew about the other sides of you–your blues band, or your collection of UFO artifacts, your Green Church initiative–maybe they’d cut you more slack.”
Mary perked up. “You’re in a blues band.”
“He plays trumpet in a George Thorogood tribute band.” She leaned in to Mary. “He’s got incredible embouchure.” Phyllis stood up. “Looks like the meeting is ready to start.”
The trio grabbed their beers and moved toward the meeting room. Jesus had a woman on each arm, purring, and grinding their hips into his.
“So many possibilities,” Phyllis murmured in a way that gave Jesus goosebumps.
“We’ll go to my place after the meeting, just the three of us,” Mary suggested.
Jesus was supposed to meet The Guys for breakfast at Rock’s Anchor Grill before they left for a revival in Cedar Falls. He would be late.