"That exorcism took a lot out of him," Bill said, "physically, and spiritually. "And it wasn't the last one, either. Those demons, they were all over Utica back in the day, grabbing kids left and right. That was when World of Warcraft came out, you see, and like everybody knows, that's just Dungeons & Dragons on the computer. Digital gateway to Satan." The assembled men shook their head; everyone there knew someone who had lost a child to the horror of Role Playing Games.
"So he was real busy, being the only exorcist in all of Utica. And the story goes... well, one day, it was just too much. This kid got herself possessed by one of them Pokemon demons, and Thomas did everything he could to help her, but..." His voice trailed off.
"She stole an ice cream truck," Bill said quietly. He kept his eyes on the table as he spoke. "Ran down a whole family of blind Tibetan orphans, then choked herself on Rocky Road. It was all over the news, you must remember it?" When Terry nodded, Bill continued. "Well, Thomas took this real hard. Figured it was all his fault, and spiraled into a depression. Story goes, he lost his faith, and started wandering again."
"Where did he go, Illion? Deerfield?" Terry asked in a hushed voice.
"Further," Bill replied. "Wandered down South. They spotted him in California, before he ended up in Mexico, and then he made his way to the Dominican Republic."
"What was he doing down there?"
"No one knows. He disappeared into the mountains, lived off the land. There were rumors, a man that would come out at night and strike fear into the hearts of evildoers... but they're just stories, I think. El Gringo Blanco, they called him. Silly."
"Anyway, there was this group of missionaries, from his old church. Their pastor came looking for them, but.... It looked like all hope was lost, but the pastor had one more chance. He went looking for Thomas... and he found him."
Terry looked skeptical. "That sounds a lot like..."
"Yeah," Bill said. "It doesn't say 'based on a true story,' I think because he wanted to remain anonymous, but that Rambo movie is suspiciously familiar to those of us who've known Thomas for a while. Well, known him as well as anyone does, anyway."
The rain was pouring down in thick sheets, and Thomas, huddled in a ditch on the top of Mt. Ominous, pulled his poncho up over his head.
I deserve this, he thought, for my failures. I deserve to suffer.
Suddenly, an unexpected noise made Thomas tense. Instantly, every nerve ending was alive, every sense keen, as he silently searched the night for the intruder. His perceptions informed him that the interloper was coming up the goat path, behind him and to the left. Careful not to rustle the poncho, Thomas rose to his feet and hid himself among the vegetation.
The trespasser came to the top of the hill and stood there, shining his flashlight and looking around him. He spotted the poncho, and moved toward it...
Thomas slipped out of the shadows, a deadly wraith cutting through the night, and grabbed the man from behind, clamping one arm around his throat, and immobilizing his hands with the other.
"Explain yourself quickly," Thomas said in a dangerous whisper, "if you want to leave this place alive." And then, for good measure, he repeated the instructions in Spanish, Portuguese, and Pig Latin.
Lightning flashed, and thunder rolled.
"Thomas," the man croaked, "it's me! Your old pastor!"
Thomas instantly released the holy man and stepped back. "It's dangerous for you to be here, pastor. It's dangerous to be around me. You know that better than anyone. Why have you come?"
"It's our missionaries," the pastor said. He turned to face his old friend, and Thomas gasped. He looked haggard, world worn. Deep bags hung under his eyes, and his hair was a wild tangle. He hadn't shaved in days.
"They were taken," he continued, "three days ago. By the Bando... Bando..."
"Bandoleros," Thomas said, his voice thick with disgust. "The feared Dominican gang, led by Jose El Papi Jose. We have met many times."
"Yes," the pastor said. "I've talked to the police, but Jose El Papi Jose has bribed them all, and our Consulate says that their hands are tied; they can't risk the delicate Coffee trade by ordering a military intervention."
"Heartless bureaucrats," Thomas spat.
"No one can help us, Thomas. No one... except you."
Thomas' eyes went wide, and he turned away. "I am no good to you, pastor. I am no good to anyone. Ever since that girl..."
"Thomas, that wasn't your fault!" The pastor said imploringly, grabbing Thomas by the hand. "You couldn't have known she would steal that ice cream truck!"
"I should have known!" Thomas shot back. "I was young, and arrogant, and foolish, and all of those orphans died because of my carelessness!"
"Thomas," the pastor said consolingly, "we all make mistakes. We all fail. But the righteous man..."
"Gets up seven times," Thomas finished.
"That's right. How many times?"
"This is your seventh time, Thomas! Get up! Do what's right! Do what needs to be done!"
Lightning flashed once more, and Thomas looked at his old friend. "You are right. I will rescue these brave missionaries, and defeat Jose El Papi Jose once and for all. Do you... have any money?"
"To buy guns?" the pastor asked.
"No," Thomas said. "Guns are too messy, too inelegant. There is a chance of innocent people being hurt. But Dominican money is largely coins... and I must forge myself a knife!"
Using a fire made by rubbing two sticks together, Thomas melted the holy man's coins down, and then used a nearby rock to pound them into the shape of a blade. An epic blade, a copper blade of justice. Rain poured down, and the firelight glinted off the new weapon, and Thomas nodded to himself. "I'm ready."
"But how will you find them?" the Pastor asked.
"This place is my home now," Thomas said. "Nothing can hide from me here. Not the gamey, yet delicious, rabbits which I consume on a daily basis, and not Jose El Papi Jose!"
With that, Thomas ran off into the night.
He tracked them to the Bandoleros' secret Jungle Compound, a primitive complex of bamboo huts and tin roofed storage sheds. Thomas briefly wondered why they had gone to the expense of importing bamboo, but decided that their profits from the kidnaping and ransom business would easily pay for such extravagance.
He could have snuck in, but Thomas was eager for this war to end, so he screamed out a challenge, waited for the Bandoleros to stream out of their huts, and charged into the camp. Many, many Bandoleros died that night, victims of the copper blade of justice, and even Thomas' own bare hand.
Finally, Jose El Papi Jose and Thomas stood face to face, the only remaining warriors. "You have defeated my men," Jose El Papi Jose said, "but I think you will not find me so easy an opponent!"
Their clash was epic, a titanic struggle between two worthy foes. Jose El Papi Jose was a master of Mexican Judo, but Thomas had been trained in the secret arts of French Kickboxing, which isn't nearly as sissy as you might think. Plus, Thomas had the power of Righteous Anger which, in the end, allowed him to prevail.
"And now your rain of terror ends, Jose El Papi Jose!" Thomas said, and snapped the villain's neck with his bare hands.
Thomas ran to the pen holding the captured missionaries, pulled the barbed wire off of the cage, and forced the door open. The missionaries streamed out, singing hymns and shouting for joy.
"Thank you, Thomas!" said the beautiful blond missionary, Seraphina. "When you left, I thought I would never see you again! But I knew in my heart that we would be reunited one day!"
She stood on her toes to kiss Thomas' cheek, but he turned away from her. "I am sorry, Seraphina. I wish that we could be together, but I am still damaged from that terrible ordeal with the demon and the ice cream truck. You know if I leave you now, it doesn't mean that I love you any less. It's just the state I'm in, I can't be good to anyone else like this."
Seraphina looked away, hurt, but she answered bravely. "One day, you will be whole, and on that day, I will be waiting for you," she said. "Oh, what happened to your hand?"
"It's nothing," Thomas said, looking down at the wounds. "It was just the barbed wire, surrounding your prison cell. It cut my fingers. I will be all right."
"But he wasn't all right," Bill said. "He had been gone so long, he hadn't had a chance to have his tetanus shots updated, and the hospitals in the Dominican Republic aren't as good as they are up here. The wound got infected, and he had to be flown home. The doctors did everything they could, but the fingers had to be amputated."
"That's incredible," Terry said.
"That's hogwash," Old Man Quin said.
"Oh really?" Bill said, bristling.
"Yeah, really. You think the guy who took down Jose El Papi Jose would lose a battle to a little big of tetanus? Let me tell you something. Once, Thomas got bit by a rattle snake, and after five days of suffering, the rattle snake died. Tetanus. Please."
"Nah, his battle with Jose El Papi Jose was just a warm up act. He didn't lose his fingers until the sequel..."
Tune in tomorrow for Part Five of the Remarkable Account of Thomas' Halved Hand, The Korean Interrogator of Doom!