Arthur Nagel is an ugly, little man. He stands barely four feet tall, and his head is much too big for his body. The muscles on the left side of his face are totally paralyzed causing his face to droop. Because of his looks, most people think Arthur is mentally deficient. He is not.
Arthur lives on East Fifth Street in Los Angeles - sometimes called "the nickel" or "Skid Row." He resides in the "City Of Angels Hotel", Room 821. If you live in this shithole, you're on the edge of the world. You can get a room for a night or a lifetime. Most of Arthur's monthly disability check goes to paying for this room, which includes a bed, two chairs, a bedside table with a small lamp, a dresser, a microwave oven, and a small refrigerator. No television. No radio. The only window in the room looks down eight floors onto a trash-filled alley. Unlike most living quarters, there are no collected objects from an earlier life - no sense of gathered time.
Only two outsiders ever come into this room. One is an old drunk, named Eddie Sellers, who lives on the seventh floor. Arthur pays Eddie a few bucks to run errands: trips to the grocery store, the liquor store, and sometimes the Laundromat. The other is Brother Thomas from the local mission who comes by once a month bringing his message for the sick and infirm. He has never made the lame walk or the blind see, but he does carry a big King James Bible full of platitudes and beatitudes, which are recited with evangelistic enthusiasm, so as to give Arthur hope.
The only time Arthur leaves #821 is to walk down the hall to the bathroom.
Arthur Nagel would be considered just another peculiar loner if not for his amazing talent. He is a master musician - an expert guitarist in the Mississippi Delta style.
Arthur spends most of his days sitting on the edge of his bed drinking Seagram's 7 from a Dixie cup and playing his ancient acoustic guitar. Since Arthur has trouble forming some words, he has learned to use his voice like a musical instrument to improvise solos over finger picked guitar chords. Using only the right side of his mouth, he creates unique sounds - high wailing tones, almost animal-like in their intensity. He runs through notes and phrases that are inside and outside the blues, and some that are missing from the twelve-tone Western music scale altogether.
Arthur's only reprieve from the sameness and solitude of his existence is an occasional visit from his one and only fan. Actually, it's not a visit, because the boy never comes into the room. He just sits in the hallway across from Arthur's closed door and listens to him play. When the boy hears something he likes, he claps. This has been going on for months. The two music lovers have never met.
Brother Thomas is a handsome middle-aged man with a long nose and a smooth face. His brown hair is combed straight back on his head. Today, he's dressed in a white shirt, a skinny black tie, gray slacks, and black shoes. At this moment, the whole of Arthur's tiny room is filled by his impressive voice.
"Heavenly Father, have mercy on this simple man. And Lord, may the words you spoke at the 'Sermon on the Mount' bring him comfort in these difficult times.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
With each line, the voice of Brother Thomas swells.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
And blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
In thy holy name Lord, Amen."
"All over," thinks Arthur. The dramatic prayer is always the grand finale.
Brother Thomas closes his bible and gets up from the chair. For almost an hour, he has been sitting knee to knee with Arthur, who's perched on the edge of the bed.
He shakes Arthur's hand, and turns toward the door. Then he stops and looks back over his shoulder.
"Arthur, I talked to a friend of yours yesterday at the mission."
Arthur looks up - surprised. For as long as he can remember, he's never heard the word "friend" associated with his name.
"His name is Adam. He told me that he comes over here and listens to you play guitar - claims you're something special."
Arthur shakes his head in denial.
"I don't know him," mutters Arthur. "The boy just sits out in the hall."
"I don't know much about him myself," says Brother Thomas. "I do know the boy is really sick - fourteen years old and already a junkie. He's been hustling the street since he was eleven. Now he has full-blown AIDS. He's going down fast and has absolutely no interest in making a fight of it. The crowd he used to run with won't come near him now. Even the folks at the mission don't like him hanging around."
Brother Thomas pauses and runs his right hand through his hair as if he's pondering something.
Then he waves to Arthur and says, "Got to finish my rounds. I'll drop in next month to see how you're doing."
And he's gone.
Just after nightfall the rain starts. As Arthur gets up to close the window, someone knocks at the door. Arthur keeps quiet hoping that whoever it is will go away. But the knock comes again - this time a little louder. So he moves closer to the door and calls out, "Who's there?"
From the other side of the door there's a fit of violent coughing. Then a voice.
"Mr. Nagel, my name is Adam. Could I please speak with you a minute?"