We settled into the corner booth of a local diner, sliding in along the torn vinyl seat and propping elbows on the worn table. Mercy ended up in the middle.
The server, an older woman, juggled our three iced teas, a Cobb salad, a double bacon cheeseburger, and a breakfast platter. Once all the food was delivered safely and we started digging in, Mercy brought up Keith's show, talking around the sausage link she popped into her mouth whole.
“So, what did you guys get from Keith's display?” She paused. “You ain't gonna be joining his little coalition, are you?”
I laughed. “Not today.” I chewed on a french fry. “But he's got a very dramatic display going on. I can see why he's got a following. I wonder how many are actually in his... coalition, as you called it.”
Mercy nodded. “From what I've seen and heard, he's got a couple hundred general followers. Maybe two or three dozen hard core.” She gulped her tea. “The hard-core ones are the ones who give him the real money.”
Joseph crunched down on a crouton. “Yeah, the tithing. How much does he ask them for?”
Mercy shrugged. “Don't know for sure. He asks for 10%, so about seventy, eighty bucks a month, I'd say. I heard one guy gives over a thousand a month.”
I choked on a piece of bun. “Wow! Estimating an average of a hundred bucks a month, times thirty-some people? That's around three or four K a month!”
Joseph rubbed the bridge of his nose. “There's something off about the whole thing, though. He knows how to get people's attention, and bring them into his game, but he doesn't seem to really know where to go with them.”
I nodded. “His goals are all very vague and he never gives any firm plans.”
“Like he doesn’t know the endgame,” Joseph said.
I considered this for a moment, chewing my last bite of burger. “Maybe he doesn't. Myabe he doesn’t have the plans. Maybe he just plain doesn't know what comes next.”
Joseph frowned, thinking about this. “But, then... that means he isn't the head honcho of this little horde.”
“Then who is?” Mercy asked.
Joseph sipped on his tea. “That, my dear, is an excellent question.”
“How do we find out?” I asked, leaning back in my seat. “We can't just corner Keith and make him talk.” I paused and sat up.
Joseph must have read my mind, because he started smiling and it was an evil smile. “Well, maybe we could do just that.”
I grinned back at him. “Or something close to it.”
Mercy rolled her eyes and stuffed the last half of a pancake into her mouth. Her words were muffled as she talked around the syrupy glob. “You'alls crazy.” Joseph and I nodded. “And what was this about getting shot?”
I snorted and flagged down the server for refills of our drinks while Joseph told Mercy what had happened in the parking lot. Then I sighed and told them both about the interrogation.
Joseph shook his head. “Damn! He seriously thought you were involved in that stupid Thor's Hammer gang? What was he thinking?”
I frowned. “He was doing the ignorant, all Pagans are the same thing crap. You know how that goes.” I slouched in the booth. “What bugs me, though, is that he said they got a tip that I was involved. There is no way I had anything to do with this.”
Joseph sucked down half his tea. “We know this...”
I sat forward. “So where'd he get a tip about me from?”
Mercy frowned. “What about that guy from the park?”
“He wouldn't,” Joseph said. “Not without Rowan’s say-so… Holy crap!’I growled. “That bitter, whiney, butthurt little... Grrr! She totally would do that kind of underhanded BS move.” I grabbed the bill and scooted out of the booth. “I should hex her with so many boils on her ass that she can't sit down without thinking of me!”