Gloria Patri (An Excerpt)

Gloria Patri (An Excerpt)

When Andrew finally got up the courage to call Solomon a few months later, he’d found that his old friend was quite amenable to meeting somewhere for a drink. And so it was that Solomon Becker, no longer the kid Andrew had once known, entered Riley’s Bar with a baseball cap jammed over his forehead. He wore sunglasses inside even though it was dark out. When he took the glasses off, Andrew saw that his pupils were dilated like he’d just had an eye exam.

They ordered cheap beers and whiskey sours and even, on the bartender’s recommendation, a few old fashioneds, which Andrew had only ever seen in old movies. When they first began to drink, they spoke of nothing at all, or at least nothing of consequence. Andrew noticed that Solomon had developed a habit of speaking and smiling in a way that covered his teeth. The brief glimpses Andrew saw of Solomon’s mouth showed that his teeth had more deeply yellowed and that one or more of the back molars may in fact have gone missing. It was hard to tell.

As they spoke, Solomon made a reference to a year he’d spent in prison, as though this were common knowledge. Andrew tilted his head in confusion, his forehead wrinkled. “Am I hearing you correctly?” Andrew said. “You’re saying prison?”

Solomon laughed thinly. “Somebody tried to steal from me so I beat them up. It was pretty bad. I don’t know. But now I’m out. And that’s pretty much it.” Solomon seemed reticent to speak of it anymore, instead pointing to the tiny fake Christmas tree at the end of the bar decorated in colored lights and silver garland, still here even though it had just turned to February.

“I like that Christmas tree. If you’d decorated it with all white lights, I’d have known you were with the government.” The bartender laughed just the once, but then looked to Andrew as though he might be able to clarify—but they shared each other’s cluelessness.

“You talk to Naomi these days?” Andrew said to Solomon. “I heard she moved to New Jersey.”

“She’s free to do what she likes. I can say nothing ties me to her anymore.”

“She’s your sister.”

“Only in certain narrow definitions of the term. Only in ways intended to drag down and confine. In a truer sense, I have no family.”

Solomon shared with Andrew a series of beliefs he held: how every airline in America was conspiring to envelop the country every hour of every day with streams of mystery chemicals flowing from their wingtips; of Jade Helm 15, a supposedly above-board military training operation for twelve-hundred U.S. soldiers but which was actually a front for a hostile takeover from the government. There would have been a time—not that long ago—when all of this would have struck Andrew immediately as complete and utter bullshit. But his conversations with Big Boy had shifted things in his mind. And he had seen enough in the Army—the curtain had been pulled back just enough on the bureaucracy of America, a glimpse into how messed up everything was at the highest level. How orders were sometimes made up and supported by all involved despite having been based on the foundation of a lie. How the entire system was built around protecting the guy at the top. It was clear that the government would happily kill men and women and children for a lie. Andrew figured: a conspiracy theory is only crazy if the conspiracy isn’t real.

Solomon drew with a black-capped pen on a cocktail napkin the name ANDREW COOK. “This is your legal name, right?” Solomon shook his head. “That’s the fake you.” Seeing Andrew’s confusion, he continued. “I’ve been learning so much lately. The government, the federal government, has trillions of dollars in foreign debt, right? A lot to China, a lot to other places. This we can agree on, right? We’re all fucked. There’s no way the government will be able to pay all that money back while staying in a position of world power. And so what they do is, they sell the citizens of this supposedly great nation into economic slavery. And the way they do that is by selling our name, our identification. This”—he tapped with his middle finger Andrew’s name he’d written on the napkin—“is a representation of the Andrew Cook they’ve sold as collateral against their debt.”

Andrew was confused and said as much.

“You know your birth certificate, right?” Solomon said. “Anything like that, any sort of contract with the federal government—driver’s license, permits, even your zip code. These are all examples of the tightening noose around your neck. And on these official forms, you always see your name in all caps like that: ANDREW COOK. That means they’re talking about your straw man, the fake you they made up and sold based on what they think your earning power might be. To get out of all this debt. Because as I say, they’re screwed. So that means that this”—he produced from his pocket a second pen with red ink and wrote beneath Andrew’s name the words: an-drew: cook—“is the real you. I mean this in a legal sense. When you sign this on a document instead of your government name, you’re essentially telling them: up yours, I know what you’re up to and I want no part of it. I opt out. It’s a way to differentiate yourself from the straw man. an-drew. Of the family Cook. Are you starting to see? Are you starting to get it?”

It made a certain kind of sense to Andrew, he supposed. He could make out a world in which this was the case, though he wasn’t sure it was the one they actually lived in.

“This is real,” Solomon said. “It’s the truth. I’ve devoted my life to this. Once you see that, everything else is going to slip right into place. It took me some time to get around to accepting it. But that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to just accept it. It’s the first step to harness the power of the universe.”

“The universe?”

“The power of the mind.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You know I’m a warlock. A magus.” Solomon said this as though confiding in Andrew that he’d taken up bowling as a hobby.

Andrew paused. He nearly laughed but stopped himself. “What does that mean?” He pictured incantations and long drooping sleeves, of magic wands and spells.

“It’s about controlling your own power. It’s about asserting that power over others. You can think of a judge as a magus. Every cop you’ve ever met is a magus. There’s nothing that can stand in your way when you realize the power of consciousness.” Solomon finished the last of his drink. “You think this is bullshit. Well, you know what? Just because I like you? I’m going to show you the cosmic power of the mind. I’m going to make things happen for you in a way they never have before.”

“Well, gosh. Thanks.”

“You’re being sarcastic.”

“You’re very perceptive.”

“You just go ahead and laugh it up. You go ahead and make fun. But just wait and see what happens. See if the universe doesn’t open itself up to you in a big way soon.”


A few days later, as though compelled by an invisible force, Amos Brainerd called. Andrew hadn’t seen him since Iraq—had even forgotten that everybody used to call him Big Boy. The call felt like a sign from God.

“You remember that project I was telling you about? It got a little sidetracked but I’m back on schedule now. Getting the whole gang back together. There’s a real community here. There aren’t many who will stand with us. But I think you might. I think you should. I would pay top dollar for a good man like you, Shortbread. I mean it.”

Andrew felt the allure, said he was interested. He thought of Solomon, of his interest in these sorts of things, and asked if Big Boy would consider additional recruits.

“I trust you,” Big Boy said. “If you think so, I believe it. The more the merrier. Bring him along. All we’re looking for are willing souls.”

“He’s a willing soul,” Andrew said. “A kindred spirit, that’s for sure.”

“Collectively, we’ve got more figured out than you and I ever have in our entire lives, brother,” Big Boy said. “I’m telling you. This is the thing you’ve been looking for.”

Andrew thought about the proposition a great deal over the next several days, turning it over and over in his mind until it gained traction, like rolling a snowball down a hill. The concept of moving out west did appeal to some part of him, a part he was barely cognizant of, the part that wanted to tame a wild stallion or eat bull testicles.

Andrew realized he’d acquired a peace about the whole thing. He called Solomon the next day and explained everything. Said he was going to leave soon, but that Solomon was welcome to think on it for a couple days—but Solomon accepted without hesitation. He said he had nothing to keep him here anymore; nothing at all. They left the next morning.


About the Author

Austin Ross's fiction, essays, and interviews have appeared in Literary Hub and elsewhere. He lives just outside Washington, DC, with his family. For more, follow him on Twitter @austintross or go to austinrossauthor.comGloria Patri is his first novel.


Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash