Christmas came and went. The weather got warmer and the snow melted off the front lawn, and some folks were even walking around wearing shorts. But still, the Patton family kept their Nativity scene up. January, February, March… and the little manger made of cast-off lumber remained, even though the straw had turned brown and the plastic animals toppled over.
Jebus, in the arms of his plastic mother, had had enough.
He’d waited patiently for the Patton’s to pull the Nativity down and put it away until next winter, but apparently the family had other things to do. Jebus was getting tired of the exposure. Sure, it was an honor and a privilege to serve every year, to be the newborn savior in the arms of his Blessed Mother, but enough was enough.
So early one evening, just as darkness came, Jebus crawled out of Mom’s embrace. He stood on the lawn for a long moment, staring up at her lovingly. He ignored the plastic guy next to her; it wasn’t his real dad anyway.
He turned on his chubby little heel and headed out into the world to seek adventure.
The city was a den of vice and depravity. Neon lights flickered red and gold over a sordid cesspool, populated by pimps, hookers, muggers and ne’er-do-wells.
Baby Jebus loved it.
He strolled along the city streets, marveling at the towering buildings and grimy back-alleys. He passed store-front churches, kiosks selling smokes and soda pop, hot dog vendors and drug dealers. It was like nothing he’d ever seen before.
A cop car prowled by and the cop inside glanced at him with no interest before moving on. Jebus stared after the car.
A female voice behind him said, “Hey. Hey, little man.”
He turned to see a tall, thin prostitute standing there smoking a cigarette and grinning at him. She must’ve been in her ‘30’s, although the ravages of her profession made her look a good ten years older. She was missing one of her front teeth.
She said, “Aw, ain’t you the cutest thing. What are doing out here all by yourself, little man?”
“I’m just looking around.”
“Are you lost?”
“No. I mean, I don’t think so, anyway.”
The prostitute squatted down next to him and rubbed a hand over his smooth bald head. She blew smoke in his face.
“You need someone to look after you, little man. What’s your name?”
“I’m Baby Jebus.”
“Well, hello there, Baby. I’m Maggie.”
“Hi, Maggie. You’re very nice.”
“Aw, ain’t you sweet!”
She started fussing over him, turning him around and around, like she was checking for defects. “We have to get you some clothes to wear, Baby. You can’t be walking around in a cloth diaper, people are going to talk. Are you hungry? You look hungry. Why don’t you let ole’ Maggie buy you something to eat?”
Jebus was touched by the prostitute’s kindness, and right away he knew he liked her very much.
She took him to a thrift shop and when they left he was wearing a pair of little shorts, a tee-shirt with Metallicaon the front, and spotless white sneakers. They walked hand-in-hand to a diner nearby. The waitress took their order.
Maggie talked a lot while they ate, told Jebus her whole life story. It was a tale of woe and misery that had led her to this life of degradation, and Jebus got the sense that finding him on the street could very well be the positive turning point of her life.
He hardly touched his meal, but Maggie finished her fish sandwich quickly, and frowned at the empty plate.
“I’m still hungry,” she said. “But I don’t have enough cash now to buy another one. Ah, well.”
Jebus grinned at her. “You don’t need cash. Look.”
Another fish sandwich appeared on her plate.
“What the—“ Maggie said. “Did you do that?”
He beamed at her happily and she reached over to rub his head again. She picked up the sandwich, took a bite, and said with her mouth full, “You forgot the mayo.”
They laughed, and were still laughing when a muscular man in a purple suit and lots of gold around his neck came bursting into the diner. He looked around, clearly furious, and spotted them. He charged over.
“Maggie, you bitch!” he said. “You useless scag! Why ain’t you out working?”
Maggie dropped her sandwich. “Pancho… I was just… I got hungry, is all. A girl’s gotta eat sometimes, right?”
‘Bitch, you eat on your own time! You ain’t been on your corner in over an hour now. You costin’ me money!”
He yanked Maggie up by the hair, and she cried out in pain. “Stop it, Pancho! Stop it! Okay, okay, I’m coming!”
Jebus stood up on his chair, put his fists on his hips. “Hey,” he said. “You leave her alone.”
Pancho turned to him. “What? What you say, little man?”
“I said get your hands off her.”
Still gripping Maggie by the arm, Pancho smiled menacingly at Jebus. “Is that an order, little man? What are you gonna do? You gonna hurt me?”
“Not unless I have to.”
Pancho laughed out loud. “You don’t say.” He tossed Maggie away and she stumbled into some chairs and almost fell. Jebus watched Pancho.
“You’re fuckin’ with the wrong guy, little man.” Pancho swung one beefy fist, caught Jebus on the jaw.
Jebus took the punch, hardly moving from his spot, then wiped the blood away from his mouth with the back of his hand and glared at Pancho. “I turn the other cheek,” he said. “Once.”
Pancho swung again, but this time Jebus ducked under it, came up with a haymaker to Pancho’s chin. Pancho staggered back on his heels, stunned, and Jebus followed it with a right cross.
Pancho went down.
By that time, Maggie had recovered and came running to Jebus. “Are you okay, Baby? Did he hurt you?”
He smiled at her. “I’m okay. No problem.”
“You saved me, Baby.” She gave him a big smooch on the head and for the next few minutes cooed and hugged him, until he started to get embarrassed.
Then she held him out at arm’s length, a look of worry coming over her face. “Oh no… I just realized.”
“With Pancho out of commission, well… who’s going to be in charge? Me and the other girls, we need protection out there.”
“You mean, like… a pimp?”
“Well… don’t think of it that way, Baby.”
“Think of it as protecting us. That’s not so bad, is it?”
“Then it’s settled!” Maggie said, and hugged him some more.
And that’s how Baby Jebus became a pimp. Over the next few months, word got around that he always treated the girls kindly and respectfully, and so his stable grew. It wasn’t long before Jebus practically ran the entire industry in the city.
In fact, the operation got so big that he had to hire help. Twelve in all, solid men who were devoted to the boss. Each of them were so dedicated, in fact, that they left their families behind, lived with Jebus in his brand new penthouse apartment, and ran the day-to-day operations.
Jebus spent most of his time wandering the streets with Maggie and his 12-man crew, helping people out whenever he could.
A homeless fellow Jebus had gotten to know always complained about his flaky scalp—Jebus healed it with a special blend of dandruff shampoo that he invented himself.
One poor bullied kid kept getting rocks thrown at him by the other kids, until Jebus set them straight, told them, “Hey, any of you who thinks you’re better than him, go ahead and throw rocks. But by throwing the rocks, you’re proving you’re notbetter than him.” If anyone else had said that, the kids would’ve just mocked him, but when Baby Jebus spoke… people listened. Even punk kids.
A woman who lived around the corner from Jebus’ apartment had a stutter. Jebus wrote a book on overcoming speech impediments as a gift to her, and within a week she was speaking normally.
He just liked helping people.
One day at the apartment, Maggie was giving Baby Jebus a foot massage when Jude came in. Jude was one of the inner circle, a valued member of the Twelve. “Heya, J,” he said. “You got a minute?”
“Sure,” Jebus said. “Sit down.”
Jude looked at Maggie. “I mean… um… alone?”
“Oh.” Jebus said to Maggie, “Can you give us a minute, hon?”
“Sure thing, Baby.” Maggie got up, gave Jebus a quick peck on his forehead, and left the room.
Jude sat down across from the boss. “Listen, J, I was thinking… have you ever considered branching out the operations?”
“What do you mean? Branching out into what?”
“Well… here’s the thing. There’s lots of money to be made out there. You already have the market cornered on prostitution, but have you ever considered gambling? Numbers running? Drugs?”
“Yeah. I know it sounds crazy, sounds wrong, even, on the surface of it, but listen… if you controlled the drugs in this city, you could guarantee their safety. You know what I mean?”
“No, Jude, I don’t. Drugs aren’t safe. How could anyone guarantee that?”
“By making sure they’re pure. You know how much the other guys cut their supply with all kinds of dangerous chemicals? If you ran the drugs, you could make sure that doesn’t happen. And you could also control the flow of them.”
Jebus frowned. “Gee, I don’t know, Jude.”
“It’s a no-brainer, boss. By controlling the drug trade, you could actually decrease the amount of drug usage. Think about it! It would all be in your hands.”
“Well… I suppose I could open up a drug clinic in the city, to sort of… make up for it.”
“Yeah! Great idea, J.”
Jude started to get up and run off to do whatever he had to do to get the new operation going. Jebus said, “Hey, wait. What about the gambling thing you mentioned?”
“Oh. Well, honestly, boss… if you’re running drugs, then running gambling doesn’t seem that bad, does it?” He grinned at the boss and hurried off.
And so, by autumn, Baby Jebus had become the crime boss of the entire city.
Life was good. Money rolled in like crazy, more than Jebus knew what to do with. He donated almost eighty percent of it to charity, to the homeless shelter and the new drug clinic and the new Baby Jebus Child Care for Prostituteshome. And he still had more than he knew what to do with.
He had the security upgraded in the building and installed all new alarms. The Twelve all bought new Cadillac Escalades and BMW’s. Baby Jebus bought a ’68 Mustang. He was too little to drive, though, and had to hire a chauffeur.
He didn’t get out to help folks as often as he used to. Most days, he lounged around the apartment in his cloth diaper, avoiding visitors. He got Maggie her own apartment on the other side of the city so he wouldn’t have to see so much of her.
And the money kept coming. Drugs were more lucrative than he could ever have imagined. And the gambling profits alone kept all of the Twelve in champagne and caviar non-stop.
All of these enterprises, of course, eventually attracted the cops.
One day in late December, just a week or so before Jebus’ birthday, the chief of police called the apartment and asked, politely, if Baby Jebus could come by the station. Jebus thought it was odd, but since the chief had asked nicely, he said he’d be along later that day.
The Twelve tried to dissuade him from going. “It’s a trap, Baby J, it’s gotta be. Why would the cops want you to come to them? It smells fishy.”
They all thought it was crazy, except for Jude. “It couldn’t hurt, boss,” he said. “After all, having a good relationship with the pigs can’t be anything but helpful, right?”
That was true. So Jebus climbed into the baby seat in the Mustang and the chauffeur drove him to police headquarters.
In his office, the police chief said, “Thanks for coming, Mr. Jebus.”
“Please, just call me Jebus. Or Baby.”
“Oh. Well, Jebus… thank you. The reason I asked you to come today… well, we need to discuss your… business ventures.”
Jebus sat in the big, over-stuffed chair and let his pudgy legs dangle. He said, “I see. And what about them?”
“We know you run organized crime in the city, Jebus. Prostitution, drugs, gambling, the whole nine yards. And so far, we’ve allowed you to do all this because it’s in our best interests to know who’s in charge. But…”
“Here’s the thing. You make a lot of money doing that. I mean, a lot. You give a great deal of it to charity and that’s all well-and-good, but…”
Jebus frowned. “Can we get to the point, Chief?”
“Fine. The point is, you missed giving to your most important charity. The City Police Department.”
“It’s only fair, don’t you think? We turn a blind eye to your enterprises, and you recompense us. To the tune of, oh, say… five thousand dollars a week? Sound fair?”
Baby Jebus lost it. He jumped down out of the chair and started smashing up the office. “You corrupt lot of villains!” he screamed. “You vile, wretched, traitorous bastards!” He grabbed the chief’s desk lamp and smashed it against the wall. “Ten dollars a week would be too much! Even a dollar! A penny!”
The chief looked nervous. He said, “What? Would you rather get sent up to Cross Maximum Security Prison? Nobody wants to spend time at the Cross, believe me. And it’s not like you can’t afford to pay graft, Jebus.”
“That’s not the point! The point is, you have a sacred trust, and you’re willing to compromise it for money!”
“Listen, don’t make me get nasty here, Jebus.”
“To hell with you!”
Jebus stormed out, breaking and smashing everything in his path along the way.
He brooded in the apartment for a week after that, watched television and played Call of Duty on the Playstation. He didn’t take any phone calls.
Finally, Maggie, who’d been trying to reach him, showed up at the door and he had no choice but to let her in. He went back to his padded high chair, where he’d been eating dry Cheerios and drinking juice. He didn’t look at her.
She crouched down in front of him, said, “Baby… please look at me. I’ve got horrible news.”
“It’s… it’s the cops, Baby. They’re closing in on you.”
He looked at her. “What are you talking about?”
“They got the security codes for the building, Baby. They know how to bypass all the alarms. They’ll be here to arrest you within the hour.”
Jebus jumped down from his chair, frowned at her. “How?” he said. “How did they get the codes?”
Maggie swallowed hard and tears shone in her eyes. “It was Jude, Baby. He made a deal with them. They said they’d give him control of thirty different territories in exchange for helping them get you.”
Jebus clenched his chubby little fists. “Bastard!” he said. “Where are the rest of the Twelve?”
“They’re waiting for orders.”
Jebus frowned, nodded somberly. “Tell them to get out of town, keep their heads down until this is over.”
“But, Baby, what are you going to do?”
He ran into his bedroom, reached for a trunk he had hidden under the crib. He pulled it out and opened it up.
The Uzi was brand new, never used. He loaded a clip into it, shoved several more into his diaper.
He looked at Maggie, who had followed him into the bedroom. “No way,” he said. “They’re not nailing me to the Cross!”
The cops burst into the living room twenty minutes later, dressed up in full-on riot gear, guns blazing, and Jebus met them head-on. Bullets pounded the wall and floor around him, but Jebus stood his ground, fired back, letting the Uzi do the testifying.
The firefight went on for ten minutes, stuttering machine guns and pistols roaring, men screaming, blood flowing.
Jebus took a bullet to the shoulder, but kept firing. The cops kept coming, and he realized he didn’t have a chance. He had to get out.
Firing over his shoulder, he ran back into the bedroom, slammed the door behind him just as bullets laced the wall he’d been standing in front of a second before. He pried open the secret tunnel entrance he’d had installed two months earlier, and smiling grimly, escaped.
An hour later, he found Jude at the bar.
Jude had a beer mug to his lips when he saw Baby Jebus enter, blood-stained, toting the Uzi. He sputtered beer all over himself, said, “Boss! What are you… I mean, how did you—“
Jebus raised the Uzi, aimed at Jude’s head. “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” he said, and blew Jude’s head off.
Trudging along the city streets, Jebus realized suddenly that it was his birthday. The realization depressed him. It had all gone wrong, hadn’t it? His great experiment with being a part of the world had been a total failure.
He walked and walked, until he found himself in the suburbs. And then he saw it—the old Patton house, with the old Nativity display in front. The hay had been replaced, and it looked fresh and new. He peered closer, saw that he’d been substituted with a cheap, cloth baby doll.
He looked at his Blessed Mother’s plastic eyes, and felt tears welling. He dropped the Uzi in the snow and said, “Hi, Mom.”
She didn’t respond, of course. She was made of plastic.
Jebus took the cheap doll out of his mother’s arms, tossed it aside, and climbed into the spot that belonged to him.
It felt cozy. It felt like the right place to be. He went immediately to sleep.