The Avenging Angel
I’ve been accused of being an intemperate man, and I can see the which of why of that. After all, shooting folks will get you that kind of reputation. The thing is, vengeance is mine, so sayith the lord, but when you are a lawman, you have to take a little of that vengeance for yourself, as brother Brigham was known to have said. But the truth is I am an intemperate man; that and having died a lawman is to which is what got me into my current situation, which I will describe presently.
However, I suppose I should start closer to the beginning. When I was seven years old there was a potato famine in Massachusetts where I was born. Now, in 1810 there was no help for a man or his family but that which he could muster on his own, and being potato farmers we moved to Palmyra New York where I met and was befriended by an older boy named Joseph Smith. People say that the reason Joseph and I became friends was that we both had a limp; Me from an improperly set bone and Joseph from a childhood injury.
That may be true, but the reason we stayed friends was that we both saw God. In those days it was an accepted truth among the folks in New England that the lost tribe of Israel had migrated to North America and somehow been integrated into the bloodline of the American Indians. The thing both us boys knew was that there is a difference between accepted fact, and articles of faith.
A man’s mind can be changed about facts, but you will never change his faith; that’s something only he can do.
Joseph taught me that faith is the most powerful element of any single man or woman. That ability to see and believe unshakably in things that cannot be sensed by others can separate a miser from his horde, and cause folks who would just as soon cut each other’s throats to give up their ways and live in harmony.
Other than the fact that we both limped, and that we both stuck by our faith, no two boys could have been more different than me and Joseph. Joseph was a great storyteller, but I couldn’t even remember jokes. I had seen Joseph sell hard shell dirt farmers witching rods that he said could be used to detect gold underground while I could barely convince the same men to give me menial jobs. But the biggest difference between me and Joseph was that he talked his way into and out of trouble, while I fought. In the end that made Joseph a great talker, and me a great fighter. It made us the best of friends until it separated us forever.
There ain’t a lot to be gained by telling the whole thing here, so I’ll just say that Joseph Smith went on to found a new religion, and I, Orrin Porter Rockwell went on to become an avenging angel. If you want to know the whole story, look it up in a library, or find a peckerwood named Wilbur Witt down in Texas who is kin of mine and ask him. I’d be careful about that though; like Joseph, that boy will talk the shine off a tin cup.
On June the twenty seventh eighteen forty four Joseph Smith, the prophet of the lamb, candidate for president, and my best friend was murdered by a lynch mob in Carthage Illinois. Like any great controversy there are many perspectives and more arguments than are needed to explain it. What killed Joseph Smith was the fact that he quit moving west too soon. By the time we had reached Kirkland, Illinois the Saints had grown large enough that our militia was more numerous than the Illinois national guard. Fearing the might of Joseph’s Sword, that snake Thomas Ford, then governor of Illinois convinced Joseph to go to Carthage to face charges of polygamy. As is the habit of politicians he lied, and Joseph died. I heard of the death of Joseph and his brother by means of a rider from Carthage. By then there was already talk of a new prophet, and Emma, Joseph’s wife was already declaring that her son was to be the new prophet. Brigham Young, an up and comer in the church, who had gone to England for two years to establish a spearhead there in an attempt to develop relations with the crown, was making his bid.
Yes, I was there on that June day when Brigham and Emily went to loggerheads over the issue of who would be the next prophet, and yes, I knew it would be me who decided the outcome.
Brigham Young, an ex carnival barker was up against the wife of my best friend, practically claiming the position of prophet before Joseph’s body was properly set to rest. But even as my hand reached for my gun my heart reached for the truth, and the truth was that Brigham Young was the best hope for the new path to the Creator, blazed by Joseph. Did I make the right choice? Well, ask yourself this: who else could have gotten two thousand people pushing their belongings in wheelbarrows across wild America thirteen hundred miles over mountains and across rivers in the worst of winter? Who else could have raised up a new Jerusalem in the miasma of the Great Salt Lake ? Only a prophet, that’s who.
You see, only a true prophet can show folks their own faith. So began the final stage of my journey to becoming an avenging angel.
Part VIII The Danites
Something that history forgot was how fragile the Mormon foothold on this world was in the mid eighteen hundreds. Easily outpacing our trek to Salt Lake City were two railroads who would eventually join in what was to become Salt Lake City as they unified a nation. Mining interests descended on the coal fields of Ogden. Just as soon as we settled and began the process of building and cultivating our new territory the war with the Mexicans ended and the U.S. made us a territory.
There’s more (did I mention you can look this up?), but the gist of the matter is this: we had created a new land, and there were plenty of thieves who wanted a piece. In eighteen fifty eight President Buchanan sent five thousand troops to Utah to capture the Temple Square. We survived on thistles and cactus until we made the desert bloom and now came the gentiles to reap the rewards of our labor. The only answer was the Danites.
Of the twelve tribes of Israel the tribe of Dan was the guardians of the people. Brigham Young, never a kind master, anointed me king of the Danites, and as such I killed over three hundred men in the service of the prophet. The last two were the Aiken brothers, a couple
of whore masters and saloon keepers who had come to service and provide comfort to Buchanan’s army. I shot them in the back with no remorse and left their bodies to them what needed them. As their blood touched the ground, I rested comfortably in the knowledge that they would enter the celestial kingdom.
As I awaited trial for ridding the kingdom of heaven on earth of these two gentiles I died of a heart attack. It always vexed me that I have been reported to have died of natural causes. You see, my daughter and I had gone to the theater and the performance had been exceptionally poor. It was that what killed me. If you had to endure such a performance after paying to see it, it might have killed you too.
Part IX The Fire Down Below
During my lifetime in the kingdom of heaven on earth I never gave much thought to what happened after I died. I always assumed that I would be given my proper place in the celestial kingdom; but killing weighs heavy on a man’s heart, and all the stories from my life before accepting my new beliefs, the ones I changed myself after Joseph, came to settle on me the way the salt mists, the inversion would settle over us in the Great Salt Lake valley; which I admit is strange, but time is like wine, it makes us forget. I was stone cold dead; this I knew, yet I was standing in front of a desk behind which sat an attractive but severe woman who appeared to me to be in her late twenties, or early thirties. In front of the young woman was an open file with my name on it. After some fidgeting and throat clearing I resigned myself to waiting until she had finished reading.
Looking at me in a bored and professional manner she said “So, it appears that you are of the new path. What do you expect now?”
I felt flustered. I knew a bureaucrat when I saw one, but I felt deeply offended. “Look, Orrin, may I call you Orrin?”
Before she could speak again I did. “Porter. Look miss…” Her face went sour and she said “Ms. if you please. We need no incidents here at H.R.” She inclined her head at a sign on the wall behind her which read Human Resources” I had seen the look before so I moderated my voice and asked her where I was.
“The department of Human Resources Porter. I should have thought that obvious.”
“Well, Ms.” I looked at her desktop and sure enough saw a wedge of wood trimmed in metal that proclaimed the name Ms. Woodward. “Woodward, I have no idea why I’m here or what in all creation Human Resources is.”
Throwing her chin into the palm of her hand had Ms. Woodward sighing and looking at me as if I were simple. “It’s very simple.” As the thought ran through my head that she was reading me like a book, she looked at me knowingly. “This is where you accept employment, or continue on the path you have chosen.”
I was nonplussed. “Path…employment,” I spluttered. “Lady, I’m dead. My last boss gave me no time off, I’m…I’m retired!”
“So,” she said sweetly “it’s decided.” She checked a box on the paper in front of her. “You’ll take your chances with the other retired murderers.”
Panic surged through me. Remember how I said murder weighs heavy on a man’s heart? Better make that his soul. In that moment I feared the fire down below more than I ever had. Stammering I looked at her desk and I saw the badges I had worn in life, plus another that looked like it bore the letters “Avenging Angel.”
My sawn pistol rested there next to it wrapped comfortably in it’s worn holster. And, I noticed too, that my hands were young again. Reaching up to touch my face I felt the truth of a young man’s beard, and the smoothness of a face no older than I had been when we were giving the army of Johnson hell. Getting my emotions under control I asked “The job. What is the job?”
Grinning now she said “Why the same as always Porter, protecting the church and it’s members. Actually, there may be a vengeful act or two, but only in the name of the prophet.”
Waggling the strange pencil she held she sighed again. “Tick tock boogeyman, what will it be?”
I thought about faith. I thought about the sermons I’d heard in church and almost said that I’d take the path offered by the prophet, when a snippet of conversation with Joseph rose like a bubble in my mind. I remembered him saying to me that all men need faith, but only so that their real feet might follow the real path. This was real. Ms.Woodward was real.
“I’ll take it” I blurted “The job I mean.” Showing me a smile that was all teeth and no eyes the woman erased the box she had checked and put a mark in the box next to it.
“Excellent Choice Orrin.” Flicking her pencil at me she looked at me and said “Now, meet your partner.”
I heard myself ask “partner?” As I tumbled end over end into eternity.
The Butcher Shop