Jim Meirose

In the Shadow of the World’s Largest Cross

The Last Judgement by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov

Private Detective Gerdulon’s Ford coolly sat parked off I-80 in Iowa, in the shadow of the world’s largest cross roadside attraction, whose snack bar had fed Mr. Gerdulon a late lunch, and whose accompanying patio provided him an hour or two to sit, snack, and shake off the tension twisted up in him from this morning’s hours of driving. The cross being a popular attraction, the small snack area mandated that the detective share a picnic table with a straight-looking standardly midwestern neatpressed family of three, licking down cherry red standard size one lick tricks all icy crème cones—a regional specialty, said the old plank chipped white menuboard. The darksuited man, his thick floral wife, and their pencilthin shortson unexpectedly began chatting up Mr. Gerdulon, even though he’d tried to maintain a foot-thick separation from them. He feigned a moody stare up the giant cross, thinking that he’d seem somehow entranced deeply enough by the towering symbol, and the piped-in church music softly wafting from the massive slab into which it stood anchored, that no caring Christian would dare distract him.

But—a man’s voice turned him. It was the man.

Excuse me, sir—may I ask you a question? You seem so moved by the cross. What does it inspire in you?

Mr. Gerdulon caught his breath—what’s this, he thought—so unusual, slightly rude actually, yes, yeh, not caring one bit about breaking a stranger’s mood—he sized up the family’s six variously colored and sized eyes pinning him back, and since he’d no non-rude recourse but to answer, he said, It’s calm here. Very calm. You know, actually, I took this exit just to visit the snack bar, but now, sitting here, well, hey, yah. This cross is quite impressive.

—all right now, that’s polite enough, quick look away like you need a response. Case closed.

Yes, it is. We come here daily.

Gerdulon nodded, without looking over, thinking no, crap, what is your problem, mind your business kill it kill it—

We’re blessed to live within line of sight of this marvel. As a matter of fact, it can be seen for twenty miles in every direction. Did you know?

My, my, yes, Gerdulon said softly. That is impressive.

—okay? Okay? Now great yes slow it stop leave me be please leave—

Yes, it is. By the way, my name’s Michael. And this is my wife Edith, and our son, Jacob.


Mr. Gerdulon turned to him, nodding as pleasantly as possible, thinking God, damn, yes, yes. I really regret having taken this exit now, but—

I’m Peter Gerdulon.

—Peter? Crap, no, why, that’s not me, I’m not that, but anyway now that’s it so—

Good to know you, Peter. Does business of some kind bring you by here today?


That’s right. Yes.

What’s your field?


Mr. Gerdulon feigned clearing his throat to buy himself a moment to think, then said quickly, I’m a doctor.

—okay there I’m aa doctor not a detective okay a doctor now please leave me be—

Really? What a coincidence. I happen to be a physician myself. Do you practice a specialty? Or general medicine?

—Jesus Christ! No—

I—what? Oh, yeah, sorry—general medicine.

What school did you attend?

—crap. Crap. Huh dig find a name think a name dig find search ‘n say—

Duke University.

Very good, said Michael, smiling wryly. I attended Saint James, in Anguilla. Couldn’t quite swing a school like Duke. Scholarship?

Eh, yes. Scholarship.

Lucky man. Good for you!

Mr. Gerdulon nodded, expecting more, but Michael had turned to the cross, gazed up the entire height of it, and—stopped there, with closed eyes.

Thank God.


Edith sighed to Gerdulon, Yes, yes, praise the savior, for this cross. In these trying times we need more than ever, such signs that God is in Control. You know that, Peter?

Gerdulon nodded silently, hoping that would be the end of it. And it seemed to be, as he joined the three in quiet meditation on the cross, thinking—ah, good it was a roundabout road to get them back to minding their own business, but I guess Duke University slapped Michael down silly, yes, thank God thank o a—o—o—o—

Mr. Gerdulon’s eyes wandered in the silence ‘round, up, down, back, forth, happily, and, when his eyes stopped where the palus and patibulum intersected drilling in the dead center of the monstrously tall cross, it came to him that  now’s the perfect time to silently, slowly, casually slip away, go, and be gone. He eased off the end of the bench as smoothly as possible. Silently, he gathered his food wrappings, and turned away toward a nearby trash can, but, at his first step away, Michael stopped him.

Oh. Dr. Gerdulon, wait a second, wait up. Here’s my card.

Gerdulon turned to the card thrust toward him, and took it, saying, Oh yes, of course. Thanks. And great to meet you.

Certainly. And do keep in touch.

Of course—but Michael’s face said, without words, that exchanging cards is proper, and expected Mr. Gerdulon’s to be handed to him, but no no, how to—Michael’s hand hovered expecting give one here, right now, right immediately, and Mr. Gerdulon knew they’d be frozen there eternally, unless he said something so, he said slowly, Uh, oh, I’m sorry, but I don’t have a card with me. Sorry.

I expected so, sir, said Michael icily.


Mr. Gerdulon knew some reply was required, but what did that mean; the tone of it sounded like, he expected so, so expected so he’d have none—expected he’d been lying, eh, lying lying, lying—just as he had and still was and he was and he was—was no damned doctor. No, said the doctor’s eyes, why’d you lie, what you got to hide, eh, ah—even in the holy shadow of this huge holy cross, where he died for you; why could you not come clean in the shadow of the cross; shamed of your work, are you, yes! Shamed of your work shamed of the bulge of that holster under your coat shamed to say you’re a private detective because nobody says when asked what they do, I’m a private detective, it even sounds silly, and, Duke University? My God, Duke University, by no stretch of the imagination could such as you be Duke material; his eyes, no; tell his eyes to stop looking like he’s looking at a liar. Ttell him, tell him, but—he’s going to talk no he’s not going to he is here there no, yes.

Until the Lord returns at the very end, oozed Michael—the light of this cross is going to shine for people like you, who travel by. We expect people like you, sir. There are lots of people just like you.

No more! Turn, run, and get away.

—we expect people like you sir they’re everywhere—

Get to the car quick. The keys get the keys—

Every time, we’re hoping to be visited by one who is different, but—

Slam, engine roar quick turn the key make it roar.

You’re just another of the same.

Gerdulon’s Ford powered back onto and up the ramp o I-80. He avoided looking in the mirror for fear of seeing, for the next twenty miles, the receding cross thrusting heavenward from the wide flat green farmland. He sped the Ford up more powerfully by the instant, in order to shrink the cross back away to its final gone nothingness, at last.

Far away and away, at last.

Smoothly out of sight of the thing, where the road came up fast and smooth, he pulled the Doctor’s card curiously, wanting to know.

Gorilla Playing Saxophone—With BALLOONS! At Your Party!
Call Michael * 908-635-1453 * Call Michael
Call Michael Now!

Shit! God! There you go, crap! He flicked the card out the cracked-down window. As it fluttered back gone in the eighty mile an hour slipstream, he smiled. Yes I knew there was something wrong back there, I knew it. I smelled it. See, I do have what it takes to be a detective! Stop calling me a liar, a phony, stop, stop it now, boy, get back where you belong, stop, stop—ah here comes the Iowa state line at last. Beautiful sign they got. Praise God!


About the writer:
Jim Meirose‘s work has appeared in numerous venues. His novels include Understanding Franklin Thompson (JEF), Le Overgivers au Club de la Résurrection (Mannequin Haus), and No and Maybe – Maybe and No (Pski’s Porch). A new novel Audio Bookies is forthcoming from J.New Books.

Image: The Last Judgement by Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov (1848-1926). Oil on canvas. 690 x 700 cm. 1904. Public domain.