Reprinted from January 1993
One night I was awakened from a sound sleep. RB was tossing in bed, pulling covers and muttering to himself, I shook him gently. He jerked upright in the bed and yelled, “Where am I?”
“You were having a bad dream, dear,” I said.
For a minute he just lay there rubbing his eyes. “Bad dream? Martha, it was a nightmare!”
Then he got up and sat on the edge of the bed. He lit a cigarette and started relating the details.
“Martha, I dreamed I died and went to heaven….”
I laughed out loud. “That part alone proves it was just a dream.”
“I saw the pearly gates,” he went on, ignoring my teasing. “They sure looked pretty, and I took out my loupe and examined some of the stones. H-m-m-m, just as I thought…synthetic.”
“Just inside the gate was a door with a sign that read ‘Independent Watchmakers and Jewelers.’ So I went in and there was this old man with a nameplate on his desk that said ‘Father Time’.
“’Hey, I’ve been expecting you,’ the old codger said. He flipped through a large book and ran his finger down a crooked column. “You’re RB, aren’t you?’
“I couldn’t very well deny it, so he got up from his desk and said ‘You come along with me.’
“So I followed him to another large room that resembled a court room.
“’The judge here is Saint Peter,’ Father time explained, ‘and all these jerks ahead of you are independent watchmakers and jewelers too. Your bunch is on trial today for the sins you committed on earth. You’ll get a fair trial, and after Saint Peter finds you guilty, you’ll have to do penance.’
“I nodded okay because after being a watchmaker/jeweler for over 25 years, I figured I’d already had my fair share of hell, so the trial was just a formality. Yeah, I was pretty confident all right.
“’Just sit down and cool your heels,’ the old man said. I did and then he left, and all of a sudden I felt lonely.
“Glancing around the room, I soon spotted a familiar face – but as usual, I couldn’t remember the name. Just then, St. Peter called out ‘Henry Blink,’ and the guy I knew stood up and walked to the bench.
“’Yes sir.’ He sounded scared.
“Soberly, St. Peter read the charge. ‘Henry, you’re charged with hostility and unnecessary revenge against a customer. How do you plead?’
“’Not guilty, sir,’ Henry managed to gulp.
“St. Peter rubbed his chin. ‘Well, now Henry, according to our HBI (Heavenly Bureau of Investigation) report, the angel that had you under surveillance has a notation here that in 1971 a customer came to you with an electric watch that he’d purchased at a discount store. He asked you for a battery because the discount store didn’t carry such low profit items. And Henry, you asked him if he wanted to have the watch cleaned and maybe a new band. Does this sound familiar, Henry? Does it refresh your memory?’
“Henry shifted uneasily. ‘Yes, yer majesty-I mean yer honor.’
“St. Peter went on. ‘When you mentioned the band, the customer gave you a big horse laugh and said, Hell no, I’m not going to pay you $8.95 for your beautiful JB watchband. I’m going back to Gipsums and get one for $1.25.’
“’That’s right, yer holiness,’ Henry gulped.
“’The charge further states that in an attempt to get even with this customer, Henry, that you deliberately picked up a jewel screw that was lying in your apron and put it inside the battery hatch before you put the cap back on.’
“Then there was this long pause and Henry hung his head and his face was turning very pale. ‘But sir,’ he mumbled, ‘the watch was still running when he went out the door…’
“’Bailiff!’ called St. Peter. ‘Take Henry to the room on third floor with the thick shag rug. Toss 1000 jewel screws onto the rug. After Henry has recovered every last one of them, let him go into heaven.’
“St. Peter slammed down his gavel and they led Henry away-screaming.
“The next defendant stepped forward.
“’Yes sir, I’m Sam, sure enough.’
“St. Peter read the charge. ‘Says here that you used to promise repair jobs out within a week or so, and then you often took months to finish them. How about that, Sam?’
“Sam looked down at his toes. ‘I always figured I could do ‘em on time, yer faithfulness. If’n them durned salesman would jest stay outta my shop and quit pestering me all the time to buy modern, time-saving equipment.’
“’Well, this is a fair court,’ said St. Peter sympathetically. ‘So Sam, you just polish on the pearly gates for about the same amount of time you made your customers wait.’
“’Oh, Lord!’ Sam moaned. ‘Now I won’t get to go to heaven for another 50 years!’
“’Next case! Benny Goldbend?’
“A long, lanky fellow stood up. ‘Yes sir. I’m Benny.’
“’Says here, Benny, that you used to be a salesman and you represented all your diamond goods as blue-white and perfect, whatever that is. Now, Benny, let’s hear you lie yourself out of that!’
“Benny stammered. ‘Well, uh…uh…uh…I s’poze…’
“’How long were you in the jewelry business, Benny?’
“Benny thought. ‘Fifty-five years, four months, one week and two and a half days, yer most generous grace.’
“St. Peter motioned for a deputy angel. ‘Gather into one place all the stones that were sold by this sinner,’ he instructed. ‘Then make this liar search through the stones until he can find JUST ONE blue-white and perfect diamond. Not until then shall he enter heaven.’
“A frail little guy came forward, blinking his eyes. Respectfully he clutched his cap in trembling hands.
“’Ted, you seem to have a pretty good record….’
“Ted’s face brightened as he watched St. Peter scan through the full report. ‘Forty-two years at the bench – my, my. Says here you were reliable, a good citizen, member AWI and Texas Watchmakers Association…’
“’Oops! Wait a minute! According to this you were once doing trade repair work and when the jeweler would not pay his debt and asked you to return the last watch you had, that before you did you put in some spring bars so tight they had to be cut out! Shame on you, Ted!’
“While Ted trembled, St. Peter pondered the verdict, drumming his fingers on the bench. Then he told the angel in charge of the prisoners: ‘Take Ted to the basement. Give him curved bands to put in straight-sided watches, and straight bands for curved watches. Don’t supply him with any pins that fit. Let him fit bands for the next 80 years.’
“But do you think the sentence upset Ted? When they led him away he had a happy smile on his face. He was remembering the deadbeat jeweler and how he’d fixed his wagon by installing those tight pins, and he was saying over and over to himself, ‘It was worth it…’
“And so the trials went on.
“’Frank Flack, you’re accused of misleading, discount advertising that caused your fellow tradesmen untold misery, grief and trouble. The statutes of punishment are clear. Back to Earth for you, Sam…’
“But Sam’s smile of relief faded very quickly when St. Peter added, ‘but this time you will be born poor and grow up to own a small jewelry store located between two greedy discounters.’
“Frank started to sob and plead for mercy, but then everyone in the courtroom stood up and cheered St. Peter’s verdict. As Frank was shoved through the ‘reject’ door, one of the spectators jumped up and booted him in the rear end.
“There were many, many others. One fellow drew a sentence of untangling a bushel of Lady Gruen hairsprings. Then St. Peter called out my name. I was just getting up to the bench when you awakened me, Martha. Thank heavens for that!”
RB was perspiring very heavily. He rubbed out the cigarette and got back under the covers. “I’ve just got to go back to sleep,” he said.
“Aren’t you afraid, dear, to go back to sleep?” I asked. “You might be facing St. Peter again.”
But RB laughed. “Not a chance. I was the last one to be tried, and I noticed an announcement of the docket that was coming up. St. Peter was going to give the watchmakers/jewelers a rest and start trying customers. And believe me, Martha, I wouldn’t miss that for anything! Good night!”
In a minute he was snoring. I flicked on the night light and there was a smile on his face, and every few minutes he would kick and slap his hands together and laugh like crazy.