The Legend of Luther Brown

Curt McDaniel

 

 

 

                                 “Sit down, you're rockin' the boat.”

                                 - “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” Walter Bobbie

 

There was a lawyer who went to heaven and his name was Luther Brown. Luther wasn’t sure how he had died. He had read the opposing brief in the Muckenfuss case while lying in bed, set the thick sheaf of paper on the nightstand, and turned off the light. When he awoke, he was in heaven.

 

On earth, Luther had dedicated his life to avenging justice, to righting wrongs. Some said Luther’s fierce stare, intensified by his bushy, black eyebrows and hawk-like nose, could crack the coolest of witnesses from a distance of twenty feet. Some insisted he was a colossus of a man, physically towering over his opponents, though in truth he was of diminutive stature. No one debated his passion. It was said he once beseeched an opposing witness to speak the truth in such a vehement and heartfelt manner that the witness not only confessed to the event in question, but to several others as well and then thanked Luther for helping him bare his soul.

 

With Luther’s earthly life behind him, he contemplated heaven. He saw smiling people idly strolling across a vast panorama of rolling, grassy hills. A soft, white light emanated from all directions suffusing the landscape in a gentle glow, while a delicate breeze carried along the sweet fragrance of lilacs and narcissus.

 

Luther set off across the hills to explore heaven. One of the first people he ran into was Gordy. He hadn’t seen Gordy “The Fist” since he was about 18, but it was himolder, meatier, and more wrinkled. But the gapped grin, the thin eyebrows, the big forehead made clear it was Gordy. And the voice. The loud, intruding voice.

 

“Hey, Luther!” Gordy called out, approaching quickly when he saw him. “How are you?” He held out his thick hand, smiling.

 

Luther looked at Gordy, then at his extended hand, then back at Gordy. He did not offer his own hand.

 

“What are you doing here?” Luther asked, cocking his large head to the side, studying Gordy carefully.

 

Gordy laughed. “Yeah, kind of a shock, ain’t it?”

 

Luther frowned. “’Mistake’ is the word that comes to mind.”

 

“They don’t make mistakes in heaven, old bean. I musta earned my way.” Gordy grinned broadly.

 

Luther crossed his arms and stared at Gordy, but said nothing.

 

“Hey, look,” Gordy said. “We’re in heaven, forget the past. It means nothin’ here.”

 

“On the contrary,” Luther said. “The past is what determines why we are here. Our life on earth, our actions, decisions, and choices, determine our place in eternity. Your past should place you somewhere very far from here.”

 

“Maybe I redeemed myself,” Gordy said. “You ain’t seen me in a long time. I coulda reformed, got religion.”

 

Luther squinted at Gordy. “Seems unlikely. Did you?”

 

“No. At least I don’t think so.” Gordy shrugged. “Hell, I don’t know why I’m here, but I’m glad I am.”

 

Luther began to rub his chin. “Something’s not right about this. It’s unjust. And that won’t do.”

 

Luther had a mission now. He set off in search of an angel.

 

 

Before Luther could find an angel, he met someone else he knew. He walked over a gentle knoll and saw her standing in front of him. A tall, blond-haired woman with joyous blue eyes and a familiar little smile that grew broader when she saw him. He stopped; she approached.

 

“Luther!” his ex-wife called out. “What a – well, I guess it’s in poor taste to say ‘a surprise’ isn’t it?”

 

“Hello, Katherine,” Luther said. “You may find this odd, but I’m in a rush.”

 

Katherine laughed. “Hello? Luther? Eternity,” she said.

 

“Yes, yes,” Luther said, nodding, but not smiling. “But I’ve found a problem that needs to be fixed.”

 

Katherine took a step forward. “Luther Brown! You will do no such thing,” she said. “It was bad enough to ignore the children and me on earth for the sake of your precious quest for justice, but here?”

 

“Yes, it shocked me, too. But even if God is perfect, his underlings might not be.”

 

“Underlings?”

 

“You know, angels, cherubim. The ‘host of heaven.’”

 

“You think the angels made a mistake?”

 

“Look, I’m not pointing fingers or laying blame. I just want the matter corrected.”

 

Katherine reached out and gently took hold of Luther’s arm. “Luther. Relax. Enjoy it. You can finally let go. You’re in heaven.”

 

Luther pulled free. “Unfortunately, it turns out heaven isn’t all it was billed to be. I’ve got to go.” He walked away and continued his pursuit of an angel.

 

 

Angels wandered amongst the heavenly throngs, their white, feathery wings distinguishing them from the ordinary folk.  Their smiles were said to warm the hearts of even the most churlish of curmudgeons. Luther approached the first one he saw, a female angel named Shekinah with cascading chocolate-colored hair and a glowing smile.

 

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Luther said.

 

“Yes, my son,” Shekinah said, turning her beauty and smile upon him.

 

“I’d like to lodge a complaint.”

 

“A complaint?”

 

“Something’s wrong and I want it corrected.”

 

Shekinah turned up the intensity of her smile. “Surely you are mistaken, sir. You are in heaven. Everything is as God has ordained.”

 

“Either you are wrong or God has made a mistake. My money is on the former.”

 

Shekinah’s smile was more rigid now. “Mr. …?”

 

“Brown. Luther Brown.”

 

“Mr. Brown, perhaps if we joined in prayer, we could find solace for you.”

 

“Solace is not satisfaction; it is the refuge of the defeated. And my experience with prayer has been less than satisfactory.”

 

Shekinah took a step back, her smile gone and her eyes wide. “I see. This sounds rather serious. Let me get some assistance.”

 

Shekinah waved to someone in the distance. A few people had gathered around Luther and Shekinah, intrigued by someone arguing with an angel. Shekinah smiled at them, trying to downplay the palpable tension. Luther stood resolutely, feet spread, head cocked, waiting patiently for justice. Soon another angel walked up. He was a head taller than Shekinah, with larger, broader wings.

 

“Ah, Archangel Gabriel, thank you for coming,” said Shekinah. “This gentleman insists that something is wrong in the kingdom of heaven. I’ve assured him he is mistaken, but he is persistent.”

 

Gabriel looked down on Luther. He towered over Luther by more than a foot and his broad chest and wings created a commanding appearance. Curly black hair framed a long, serious face.

 

“Well, well. If it isn’t Luther Brown. Welcome to heaven,” Gabriel said.

 

Luther nodded. “Thank you, sir.”

 

“I watched a few of your trials, unobtrusively, of course. Quite impressive.”

 

“I simply sought what was right.”

 

“Yes, we all do what we can. Though it comes at a cost, doesn’t it?” Gabriel asked.

 

“Such as?”

 

“There was a divorce, I believe. And an estrangement from the kids.”

 

“Part of the burden of my calling.”

 

“And you burned through legal associates at an amazing rate.”

 

“They didn’t meet my standards. Their research was too cursory, their depositions not probing enough, and their legal analysis too weak. ”

 

“I see. Did you never suspect that perhaps your standards were too high or the cost too great?”

 

“Never, sir. Wrongs must be righted. Justice must be done. Surely you understand.”

 

Gabriel studied Luther carefully. “What is your complaint about heaven, Luther?” he said.

 

“Someone is here who should not be. An evil, vicious man filled with greed and malice.”

 

Gabriel curled his mouth slightly in a smile. “But you are not to judge, Luther. That is the role of God and surely you don’t mean to play His role.”

 

Luther crooked his large head slightly and fixed his frowning gaze on Gabriel. “I played His role on earth because He did not. If necessary, I will play His role in heaven, if that’s what it takes to ensure justice is done.”

 

Gabriel raised his eyebrows. The group of onlookers had grown as word spread of Luther’s confrontation with the angels. A murmur fluttered through the crowd at Luther’s statement.

 

“Look,” Luther said, sensing he might have gone too far. “I’m not saying it’s intentional. Heaven’s a vast place with multitudes of people arriving all the time. It was probably just an oversight.”

 

Gabriel’s face turned serious and his eyes glowed darkly. “Mr. Brown, mistakes are not made in heaven. It is man who is fallible, not God.” He turned to leave.

 

“Is there someone higher I can talk to?” Luther asked. “Perhaps a Cherub or maybe a Seraph?”

 

Gabriel turned back to Luther, his eyes narrowed. “That would be of no use. God controls everything in heaven and none can change what He has done.”

 

Luther considered this momentarily, then made up his mind. “All right then, I want to talk to God. If He’s the only one who can fix things, He’s the one I need to see.”

 

There was a long silence. Some say it was the intensity of Luther’s glare; some say it was divine intervention; others say it was exasperation, though Gabriel would never admit it; but finally Gabriel nodded. “All right. I will arrange it. But beware the path of your vengeance, Luther Brown. It may be your downfall.”

 

 

God appeared to Luther in the midst of heaven in the form of Luther himself – the same small body, the same sharp nose and bushy eyebrows. Luther lifted one side of his mouth in a smirk when he saw himself appear. Perhaps God had a sense of humor.

 

“Luther Brown,” God said in a voice resonating with power and authority.

 

Luther bowed slightly. “You must be busy. I won’t keep you. There is a man here who should not be. Gordy “The Fist” Fitzsimmons should not be in heaven. I ask that he be removed.”

 

A crowd began to gather around the two Luthers. Though their external appearance was the same, the voice of God carried an energy and force that made clear to all who He was. Word spread and people flocked to see God and the man who confronted him.

 

“Ah, you are still upset about the bicycle incident,” God said.

 

Luther nodded. “Yes. To reward Gordy by letting him into heaven ….”

 

God shook his head. “Luther, it was just a bike.”

 

Luther jerked his head as if slapped. “Just a bike? Didn’t you hear my sobbing prayers? It was my dream realized and then dashed. It was not just a bike. It was hope.”

 

From the growing audience surrounding the two Luthers, there were gasps and murmurs.

 

“Luther,” God said calmly. “One event does not define a man’s life. A life is full of choices and actions, some made right and some wrong. No man can choose correctly all the time. I am a merciful God.”

 

Tears glistened in Luther’s eyes. “One event defined my life – and there was nothing merciful about it.” Luther turned to the crowd. “We lived a simple life in a small town in Indiana. My father died when I was three and my mother was a seamstress who worked long hours to make little money. When I was nine, the one thing I desperately wanted was a bike. The other kids in the neighborhood all had one and laughed at me as I ran behind them down the street, unable to keep up. Somehow my mother scraped together the money and bought me a bike for my tenth birthday. It was beautiful – cherry red, glinting in the June sun, a little silver bell on the handle.”

 

Many of the onlookers nodded in understanding.

 

“It was the most wonderful thing I’d ever seen, an answer to my prayers.” Luther paused and glanced at God. “I rode around the neighborhood, beaming with a young boy’s pride.” Luther smiled as he savored the memory. Then his smile vanished. “Then Gordy pulled me over. He was the neighborhood bully – we called him “The Fist,” because he used them often. He ‘borrowed’ my bike on threat of a beating. I cried as I watched him ride down the street on my new bike, my dream, my treasure. I never saw it again.”

 

Luther paused and there was silence. Several people wiped their eyes. For a moment, nothing happened. Then someone yelled, “Kick out Gordy!” “Hell, yeah!” called out another. God looked around, his eyes wide.

 

“I learned that day,” Luther continued, “that I could not expect justice on earth. So I dedicated the rest of my life to gaining any amount of justice I could.” He turned to God. “But I expected in heaven, at least, justice would prevail.” He stopped and stared at God with his famous look of intensity and passion.

 

The mob was hollering freely now in support of Luther. God glanced around, his eyes darting from face to face, and he took a step away from them. Then he stomped his right foot, causing the ground to shake and the people struggled for balance. The clamor stopped.

 

God stared back at Luther. “Luther, you can’t possibly hope to comprehend divine justice and I don’t expect you to. You see and understand with the mind of a man, not God. Your place is not to question my actions; your place is to trust in me.” God looked around at group surrounding them. “You exist through my whim. Any breath you took on earth was a gift from me. Your presence in heaven comes from divine mercy and grace. It is not owed or obligated; it is a gift, a blessing, I bestow on those I choose.”

 

There was some mumbling and few nodding heads. Some people hung their heads, avoiding God’s gaze.

 

“Yes, you created us,” Luther said, his voice loud for all to hear. “But when you took that fateful step and breathed life into man, you also took on responsibility for us. When a mother and father have a child, they are responsible for raising it, caring for it, protecting it. You have failed in that role. You let us suffer when you could have helped. You allowed murder, rape, disease, and genocide. You cannot shirk your duty. You owe us justice.”

 

The mob erupted in cheers for Luther. There was clapping and foot stomping and cheers of “Go Luther!” Luther stood before God, his feet planted slightly apart, his head raised, and his hands on his hips. Though his body was the same as God’s, it now seemed to be larger and more powerful. Confidence and passion inflamed him. As the two figures stood in the center of the turmoil, Luther appeared to stand above God and look down upon him.

 

God looked around at the crowd, a look of pity in his eyes, something not often seen on the face of Luther Brown. People edged in closer on all sides. They continued to yell, some in anger. God stood in the middle of the chaos, listening, watching. Then he held up his right hand and the sky became dark. He thrust up his hand again and the black sky was cracked by a solitary flash of lightning and a thunderous boom. Then there was silence. The mob stood still and quiet. God turned to Luther.

 

“Luther, you are golden-tongued and passionate. You served your clients on earth well and brought them justice when no one else could. You have done much for many people. But you have gone too far; your pride has turned to hubris. You do not know your place.”

 

Luther stood straight and thrust up his large head defiantly and stared directly at God, at his own face. “My place is here, demanding justice.”

 

“You shall get it,” God said quietly. Then Luther was gone.

 

 

Luther awoke in hell. It smelled of sulfur and smoke. A heavy sense of oppression and doom hung in the air. The landscape was dark and rocky, dotted with spiky crags of jutting stone and pits of blackness that appeared to be blasted into the ground. Screams of intense pain and agony arose from the murky depths of the pits.

 

As Luther contemplated spending eternity in hell, he reflected on his actions in heaven and on earth. Maybe God had a point. Maybe he, Luther Brown, should not be the judge of justice. Maybe he should leave justice to God and his divine agents. He was, after all, just a man. Could a man really judge other men? Could a man judge God? What did he know of God’s plan? Of God’s justice? Yet if God’s justice made no sense to man, what use was it to man?

 

Luther wandered through hell, deep in thought. After a time, he met someone he knew – a thin man, bent with age, head bowed. “Nate, what are you doing here?” Luther asked.

 

The man raised his head. “Luther? Luther Brown? You’re in hell?”

 

Luther shrugged. “There’s a story in it. We can talk about that later. What about you?”

 

Nate shook his head. “I don’t know. I mean, I was no saint, but I was no murderer either.”

 

Luther put his arm around Nate. “You were the nicest kid in our neighborhood, Nate. You tutored me in math; you kept Gordy away from me. You would share your lunch with me when Gordy would steal mine. You didn’t have to do that. You’re a kind person.”

 

Nate shrugged. “We’re small people in God’s vast plan. I must have done something to displease Him.”

 

Luther frowned and rubbed his chin. “No. This isn’t right. You’re a kind person and deserve better than this. I’m going to set this straight.”

 

“But Luther, what can man do about his fate?” Nate asked.

 

Luther smiled. “Fight it.” Luther set off in search of Satan.

 

Curt McDaniel lives in Carmel, Indiana with his wife and two children. He is a native of Indiana, but has lived in London and Berlin. He spent sixteen years as an attorney for a large multinational corporation, where his roles included helping open the former Soviet Bloc countries to the turmoil of the free market. His short fiction has appeared in The Sink and he recently completed his first novel.

 

Photo Courtesy of dreamstime.

 

 

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Fiction Copyright © 2006 Curt McDaniel. All rights reserved.