Varella parked his rental car next to the Ford Taurus of the man who’d introduced himself as Josh. Josh had chosen the Good Earth Restaurant, it was a pleasant earthy place that used to only serve fowl and health food until recently when they’d added beef to their menu. Once inside, the waitress seemed to recognize Josh, and she seated them deep inside the restaurant, away from any windows at Josh’s request. As they walked over Varella noticed a slight limp in the man’s walk. Josh had observed the glance. “Old football injury” he said as he slipped into the booth.

Varella ordered a coffee, while Josh asked for their well known spicy tea. Josh got right down to business.

“My name, as I said is Joshua Nunsson.” The man handed him a business card. It said ‘Hewlett Packard, Field Support’.

“This may sound really strange to you, but Carl had called me the night he died. In fact I was on my way to his house when I saw the police. I tried to go in but some dough head cop wouldn’t let me, even though I said I was a friend and that he’d called me over.” He paused ” You’d think they’d want to talk to me especially if it was a murder. After I found out how he’d died, I didn’t know who to talk to.”

Their coffee and tea came, once the waitress had left Josh said “It’s almost like it’s out of a detective novel.”

“Why did you decide to talk to me?” asked Varella

“Carl had planned for us to meet last Sunday”

“You and me?”

Josh nodded.

“At his house?”

“Yes”

“What about?” Varella was slightly puzzled, Carl had not mentioned anything that afternoon when they had talked. This could be a lie.

“I don’t know” responded Josh “He had seemed excited and didn’t want to talk over the phone, but it wasn’t like it was a big hurry, as though what he had to say to me could wait. He hinted something about a letter and a key that he wanted to give me.”

“I don’t understand.” This conversation was raising a whole lot more questions than it was answering. Varella was slightly frustrated and his questions came out in a rush. “How do you know Carl? Did you see him that day at all? Have you told the police since that night? And if not, why not? Do you have any idea who may have wanted him dead?”

Josh spread out his huge hands, “I guess I should start at the beginning. Let me start from when I first met Carl. I met him while water skiing. Our boat had broken down and he gave us a tow back to our campsite.

“When, where?”

“Oh about 3 months ago at Don Pedro.”

Varella knew the reservoir quite well. He’d skied there often.

Josh continued “When I first met Carl we got into a very interesting debate about religion, and as a result I started witnessing to him.”

Varella didn’t have the faintest idea what “witnessing” was, but he didn’t say anything, hoping that it would become apparent soon.

Josh continued “As a result of that debate, he challenged me to prove my religion was not a myth and I in return challenged him to prove it was. So together we started doing some research work.”

“Research work on what?”

Josh hesitated “On the historical background of religions… a religion.. Christianity. I’d get the references for him and he’d go look them up at the local library. It fascinated him. He started spending large amounts of time looking things up, cross referencing things, old historical accounts, other religions, you know cults, stuff like that.” Josh stopped talking he wasn’t very sure of his conclusions now. He waited, averting his eyes from Varella.

Varella stared at the man in front of him, his eyes narrowing. He waved his hand in a inquisitive “go on” sign. Josh continued at his urging, but hesitatingly. “Now somewhere along the line, he may have found something that…..” Josh waved his huge palms in an ‘I don’t know’ gesture.

“That got him killed?” Varella was still very skeptical. This sort of thing didn’t happen to him or his friends. This sort of thing only happened in murder mystery movies.

But the fact of it was that Carl was dead and it hadn’t been an accident. And like in the movies, he’d been chased and followed and now he was hiding out. And like in a classic mystery murder novel this huge football player could be anybody, even part of the team that had killed Carl. This could be part of the process of eliminating the only existing witness. But Varella had to admit to himself, Josh seemed to be his only lead right now, if this guy was involved in Carl’s murder in anyway, then it was Varella’s duty to maintain contact.

“I don’t know Dare.'” His name came easily to Josh, “This wasn’t a robbery. Nor was it a jealous husband. All I know is that somewhere along the line he must have discovered something or done something that warranted his death by some sort of group. Something that may have had to do with what we were looking into and I know this sounds unlikely but you have to admit that it is possible. Especially since he had just called both of us up and had asked us to come over and discuss something that couldn’t be discussed over the phone. And then somebody gets there before us and kills him.”

“What could he have found out that could have made someone want to kill him? You did say cults didn’t you? He was studying up on cults. What cults?” Varella asked.

Josh wasn’t sure. “Do you still have access to Carl’s work and house?” he asked “Maybe you could find out what he was going to tell me… us… that night? There may still be some of his research notes lying around, if we could find out what he’d been working on the day he died….”

“We already checked his house, we didn’t find anything. I still have a key to his house, but it may be under police guard. I have full access to his office though.” Something didn’t seem right here. “But before I do anything, I want to know specifically what Carl had been studying, what references had you given him. What were your conversations with him. And why was he looking up this stuff. Start right at the beginning again and go all the way through, in more detail. And finally why I can or should trust you.”

Josh nodded his head resignedly and took a deep breath, “OK, let’s see, it was sometime in May, or wait, actually it was in April. We’d gotten stuck on the lake and had waved frantically to each motor boat that came by. Carl and two of his buddies, Alan and somebody else I forget his name, were the first to stop and offer us help. The water in the reservoir as you know had been real low last summer, and our propeller had struck a treetop, apparently when they made the reservoir they hadn’t cleared all the trees in the valley and so when the water level goes low the trees stick out of the water. Well, we hit a partially hidden tree and the force sheared off our prop. Carl stopped, gave us a tow back to our campsite, which happened to be in walking distance from his. We’d planned to pack up and leave since we only had one boat in our group, but Carl asked us to stay on and share his boat. So we very happily did. On the last night of our stay, Carl and I went fishing on the lake. In the process we got into a discussion about religion. As you probably know, Carl believed that all religions were superstitious rituals conjured up by the ruling class to oppress the uneducated peasants. His argument went something like this I believe; since all religions required you to have blind faith, one possibility was that they were all correct, in which case it didn’t matter which religion you picked because they all lead to some sort of a heaven, or if all the religions were incorrect, in which case it still didn’t matter which religion you picked because it didn’t make any difference in the long run. But his biggest peeve was that he felt that the aspect of blind faith caused all religions to eliminate themselves, because you have to have some way of telling right from wrong. And if there was no way of telling right from wrong then it certainly wasn’t fair or just and it was just luck that some people had “accidentally” picked the right religion, because they had nothing to base their judgement on, except their feelings.”

Varella’s head was spinning and he was finding out that Josh liked using run-on sentences.

Josh saw the look of confusion and smiled, “it’s like this” he said, “if Islam was the only correct religion, then there would have to be some way of proving that Islam was the only correct religion. There would have to be a straightforward, historical or scientific way of proving that Islam was correct. And it couldn’t be just ‘a feeling’, it couldn’t be that it ‘felt’ right. Because there are millions of Hindus who say that Islam is wrong and Hinduism ‘feels’ right….So who is right?

Varella agreed 100%, but wondered how this all fit in with Carl’s murder. He thought of Carl’s face that looked like putty and shook his head trying to shake the image.

“So” continued Josh dimly noticing Varella’s actions “he challenged me to prove to him that there was enough historical evidence to prove Christianity was right, Carl felt that if there ever was a religion based on blind faith and rituals, it was Christianity. I in return challenged him to prove to me that it was a religion based on only blind faith, because I’d had enough of skeptics going around saying that it was a myth, without ever unbiasedly studying if it to see if it really was.”

Josh was just warming up, he sat on the edge of the seat leaning forward “Our first challenge was to prove that Jesus really existed. And the reason this was important was because lots of people don’t believe that a man named Jesus really ever existed. Some people believe that he was the combination of the good qualities of a number of altruistic men. Others believe that he is a fairy tale only mentioned in the Bible and nowhere else. And since they think the Bible is just a collection of fables, Jesus is therefore not really a genuine historical person who occupied time and space. In fact the author Joseph Campbell even claims that Jesus was just a metaphor. And of course some people say he really existed but that he was just a good teacher. So I set out to prove to Carl that Jesus was a genuine human being who not only existed in time and space, but who also changed history.”

Now Varella was getting a bit interested, “So how did you do that?” he asked. Maybe Carl had found out something the Christians or the Church didn’t want him to find out.

“Well I found some historical references for him that documented that Jesus was a real person, real flesh and real blood. This spurred him on a lot, he started really getting into it. All of a sudden he wasn’t studying it, to prove it was wrong, but to prove that it was right.”

“What were the references? And why could they have gotten him killed?”

“Well I don’t have them on hand but if you wanted to drive over to my home, I could dig them up for you.”

The thought was appealing to Varella, but he wasn’t that stupid. At least here in a public place he was safe, besides, he didn’t know Josh from Adam. This huge football player could easily be planning to do him in, as soon as they got far enough away from witnesses.

“How about if we meet at the Camden Public Library in about 2 hours from now?”

Josh liked that idea, but had a better suggestion. “Carl went to the Main Library in downtown San Jose, we should be able to find out which other books he checked out while there. That might lead us to what he wanted to tell me that night.”

Varella waited until Josh had driven out of sight before he even started the car, he took a couple of detours that would have revealed if Josh or anyone else was following him. Apparently the coast was clear.

On the trip back to the motel, Varella mused about what Josh had been talking about. So for some odd reason Carl had been researching religion. Why on earth would Carl do a thing like that. Varella knew that like himself, Carl, was a very practical and logical person. He could understand why Carl may have been interested in the legendary and mythological history of religions, but Josh made it sound like Carl had been studying and half believing what he was finding. That just didn’t make sense. Carl was not an idiot.

He remembered mass, he remembered the times he’d been in church looking up a the priest, not understanding, but fervently believing that what he was doing brought him closer to God. He remembered confession, the small wooden alcove with the thick curtain around it. It smelled like it had been there for thousands of years, a dry woodsy musky smell, the wood was worn down and the little room was dusty, but he’d felt close to God in there. He also remembered how the sound was so dampened in this little room that he was sure that even if he screamed at the top of his 12 year old lungs, the noise would still come out as a whisper. “Father, forgive me for I have sinned, it has been 3 months since my last confession. Last week I did not listen to my mother when she asked me to do the dishes. I also got angry at my little sister and hit her.” He’d tell the priest what he considered were the real bad things that he’d done. The priest would whisper back in this low voice the penance he would have to pay. Then he would say the five Hail Mary’s or whatever the Priest deemed was necessary to remove his sin and he’d feel clean and holy again. And he loved that feeling, the feeling that he was pleasing God. He especially loved Holy Communion where he, a mere mortal got to experience a real miracle as the wafer that melted into his mouth became the real flesh of Jesus.

But as the years passed, it got harder and harder to keep getting that feeling each time. And year after year he’d go through the same routines and the same rituals until he realized that it had become automatic and he did these things not because he thought that they’d get him closer to God but only because it was tradition. The rituals started to mean less and less and deep inside he started feeling like they were meaningless rituals that he performed because that was the thing to do. He never could put a date on when he decided that all religion was hogwash. He just remembered knowing that it was so. In actual fact it had happened so gradually that even he hadn’t realized it. One year in high school he was a good Catholic and the next year he wasn’t anything. If God required these same stupid rituals and prayers read and written in a book, repeated year after year after year, God must be the most boring God in the world, or He was dead. In either case he didn’t care anymore. For a while he kept going to church and doing the rituals, but doing his own thing the rest of the time. Church and reality had no connection. After a while he realized that he was becoming a real two faced hypocrite, acting all pious in church and not really believing in any of it. From then on it used to irk him to even be in a church. Watching them go through their meaningless and endless rituals. They all had so much farcical solemnity about them that it made him laugh, and it made him sad to see all the poor fools who actually believed it. He once even took communion when he shouldn’t have, just to see if God would really strike him dead. There was another time when he tried to save part of the wafer so he could see if it really became the flesh of Jesus, he’d put it under a microscope at school and check it out, but the first few times the wafer melted too fast. He got tired of going to church soon after that and never got a chance to repeat his experiment. As far as he figured it, God didn’t exist, and if He did, He had betrayed Varella.

For the rest of his life Varella had not even been bothered about the issue of God. It had never really come up and was irrelevant in his experience. But now he was finding out that his very best friend had been getting involved in this hokey religious monkey business before he died. Now in his maturity, as far as Varella was concerned, Jesus was just another good and wise teacher, if he ever existed that is. So what, there’d been a lot of good men, like Buddha, Mohammed, Prof. Smith, I mean Gandhi and other people like that, and today there was Mother Theresa. Josh had said that he’d shown Carl proof that Jesus had been a real person. Varella doubted that there was any real proof. As far as he knew, Jesus was only mentioned in the Bible. And you can’t use the Bible to prove itself, too many Christians seemed to do that. Jesus was the sort of man that legends had been created about, that’s all. And as far as he knew some guys had gotten together and written the Bible, and over time it had been translated or passed on by word of mouth until some guy had finally written it down. It was an inaccurate collection of good sayings as far as he was concerned. In fact he knew that there were errors in it. It was just that some people had just gotten carried away with the whole concept and gotten fanatical about it. It may have even been a good idea that just got out of hand.

In the more recent past like Carl, he’d postulated that religion had been created by the aristocrats to collect money to build their big monuments to themselves and keep the poor uneducated peasants in submission. It was certainly not for him.

Still Varella had to admit, it sounded like Carl had been buying this junk, and it even looked like Carl had been killed for this garbage. He’d heard a bit about cults and Moonies and brainwashing organizations. Varella wondered if this strange man, Josh was a part of one of these cults, somehow or another they may have actually been able to twist Carl’s mind into believing what they were selling. But Carl was so logical and factually based that Varella doubted that that could have happened. Something was bad wrong here, and Varella didn’t even know what.