“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. Please . . . please, help me.”
Kneeling at the altar of the small chapel, he stared up at the huge wooden crucifix and prayed everything had been a nightmare—a horrible, reversible nightmare. Holy water dripped from his hands and trailed back to the baptismal font where he’d been trying to cleanse the invisible blood from his skin for the past four hours. However, it was useless—his flesh and his soul were stained and would be forever more.
The silence in the centuries-old stone church was louder than anything he’d ever experienced. It permeated his thoughts. He was drowning in wave after wave of remorse and despair. Of evil and horror.
They were coming for him. Why it hadn’t happened yet, he wasn’t sure—but they would come looking for him soon. Seconds had given way to minutes in his mind. Minutes had become hours. Why, Father? Why was I there? Why didn’t you stop him? Why didn’t you stop me?
His heavy head hung low as he clasped his hands together, extending toward the bronze figure suspended on the wooden cross by metal stakes driven into the hands and feet. His knees ached from the cold, hard floor, but he refused to stand. He deserved the pain and so much more for what he’d done.
At thirty-four, almost his entire adult life had been dedicated to serving the Lord. His faith was the one thing which he’d found comfort in, but today that faith had been tested and he’d failed miserably. The devil inside him had taken over his mind, body, and yes, his soul. It didn’t matter that the evil had been in response to an even greater evil. One which had no remorse. One which had harmed an innocent child.
Burning tears blurred his vision and rolled down his cheeks before falling to the floor to mix with the small puddles on the granite tile. “I’m sorry, Father. Please help me. Tell me what I must do.”
His life as he’d known it was over. Part of him wanted to run and hide, but that went against his morals . . . his code of ethics. Despite everything that had happened earlier in the day, he still had them and would abide by them. He would take whatever punishment and penance he faced—with the courts and with the Holy Father. And maybe someday he would receive His forgiveness.
The scraping and clanking of the large wood and iron doors at the rear of the church told him his time was up. They had finally come for him. He fought the urge to flee. Multiple footsteps approached as, out of the corner of his eye to his left, he saw a uniformed officer emerge from the sacristy. The side door to his right, leading to the parking lot, opened and another officer filled the entryway. They were covering every exit. Didn’t they know he would go willingly? That he wouldn’t fight what he deserved?
The purposeful footsteps stopped several feet behind him and he waited, holding on to his last moments of freedom.
He winced at the sound of his name spoken so softly. He should have known Shane Stewart would come for him. The man was the only person left in the world whom he considered to be family. While they weren’t blood related, they’d spent their formative teenage years in the same foster home and remained close as their lives had led them in different directions. And now they were on opposite sides of the law.
Adam touched his fingers to his forehead, heart, left shoulder, and then the right. Praying for strength and guidance, he slowly stood and turned around. His best friend was accompanied by another plainclothes detective and two uniformed officers—six men in total had come for him. He ignored the others as his gaze meet Shane’s. The pain, regret, and sadness he saw there were almost unbearable. “I’m sorry, my friend.”
When Shane didn’t say or do anything, his partner stepped forward and pulled a pair of shiny, metal handcuffs from his sports jacket. As the man rounded behind him, Adam placed his hands at his lower back, his brown eyes never leaving his friend’s sad, green ones.
The detective fastened the cuffs around his bare wrists with resounding clicks which echoed throughout the chapel. “Brother Adam Westfield. You are under arrest for the murder of Brother Armand Santiago. You have the right to remain silent . . .”
* * *
Five Years and Four Months Later . . .
“So, do you have plans on where you’ll go from here, Brother Adam?” Jose Ferrara finished gathering the prayer books left behind by the other prisoners who’d come to the morning’s spiritual service. The numbers usually varied, but today had been a full house as they’d come to say goodbye to the man who had given them guidance and understanding these past few years.
Today was Adam’s release day. A day he’d been looking forward to and dreading for months now. He’d served a little over half his sentence. With time off for good behavior and overcrowding in the prison system, the parole board had approved his early release. In less than two hours, he’d be a free man. A shudder passed through him, and he shook off the combined feelings of anticipation and anxiety.
Taking the bound missals from the convicted car thief, Adam stacked them on the closet shelf and shut the door. “Not really. Think I’m just going to travel a bit. Enjoy the things I’ve missed in here.”
“Like what? I mean, I know what I’ve missed, but everyone has their own list.”
He exited the prison library, heading back to Cell Block C, with Jose on his heels. They were buzzed through several heavy, locked doors, and some of the guards shook his hand along the way. He’d been a model prisoner during his time there, and had made friends among the guards as well as the inmates.
When he had first arrived at Sing-Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, NY, several things had prevented him from being a target for the thugs who loved to assault and/or rape newcomers as a sick version of a welcoming committee. One—word had quickly spread that he was a Franciscan Brother, and some drew the line at assaulting a man of God. Two—the man he’d killed was a child molester, the scum of the earth according to most inmates, therefore making Adam some sort of hero in their mindset. Three—the one man who had tried to take him on a few days after his arrival had learned the hard way that Adam held a black belt in Krav Maga, the martial arts which had originated in Israeli Defense Forces. From the time they were fourteen until adulthood, Adam and Shane’s foster father had been a police officer. Harry Brooks had enrolled them in the classes to give them an outlet for their teenage energy and angst, and to instill the discipline which both had lacked up to that point. He’d even taught them in boxing, wrestling, and how to defend themselves against dirty, street fighting. The training had kept them out of the trouble most kids their age had been getting into and ultimately pointed them in the direction their lives would lead. Although, Harry would probably be rolling over in his grave if he knew where Adam had ended up.
“Things like the sunrise and sunset over the ocean or a mountain. The smell of fresh cut grass. A child’s laughter.” He let out a small chuckle. “A poached egg.”
“Ha! I’d take any egg that wasn’t powdered. But fuck that, man. I just want to see my woman again and be able to fu . . . well, you know, any time I want.”
The corner of Adam’s mouth ticked upward. Jose always seemed to remember he was talking to a former man of the cloth a second too late. But he managed to catch himself more often than not. “I get the gist, yeah.”
“What about you? I mean, you weren’t always a brother, right? Before all that, did you ever have a girlfriend?”
While his vow of celibacy had been a part of him since he realized his role in life was to be spent in the Brotherhood, he did have a few experiences with the opposite sex during his teens. “Kelly Adams. We met and dated in high school. Everyone teased us, saying if we got married, I would be Mr. Adam Adams.”
Jose laughed. “That’s funny. Was she hot?”
“I believe the phrase you would use is ‘she was smoking.’”
They entered Cell Block C’s indoor rec area. The cells were located around the perimeter on three floors. The higher two levels overlooked the large open room where men of all ages, races, and sizes found something to do to whittle away the endless days. Some were watching the few TV channels they were allowed. Others read, played cards or chess, and worked out on the weight benches. It was pouring rain for the third straight day, otherwise most of them would be out in the courtyard on this first day of spring. A few had ventured out for brief moments just for a change of scenery.
“Where’s she now?”
Adam shrugged. “Last I heard, she’s living in Florida, happily married with a few kids.”
Jose was about to ask another question, but was interrupted when one, then two, then more of the inmates started clapping. Soon the entire block thundered with applause. Adam knew it was their way of celebrating his release. It wasn’t done for everyone, just men who’d gained the ultimate respect of their peers. His cellmate, Justin Bauman, stepped forward and handed him a crudely wrapped gift as the others cheered. “Bro-ther Ad-am!” Clap. Clap. Clap, clap, clap. “Bro-ther Ad-am!” Clap. Clap. Clap, clap, clap. While he’d officially resigned from the Brotherhood in disgrace after his conviction, most of the inmates had chosen to keep using the title—especially those who’d embraced their faith in the Lord.
Embarrassed at the impromptu party, complete with a hastily made cake from the prison’s kitchen, Adam waved and tried to quiet the crowd down. “Thank you. Thanks.”
It was a full minute before the shouts changed. “Speech! Speech!”
He grinned. “If you would all shut up, I can give you one!”
Laughter faded to silence as he stared at the present in his hands. Leaving it wrapped for a moment, he swallowed and searched for right words. “These past few years have been a form of hell, as most of you can attest to. But somewhere along the line, I’ve found friendships I never expected. I thank you for that. Now that I’m leaving, someone’s going to have to step up to the plate as chess king around here.” A few chuckles scattered throughout the cell block. “Whether you’re here as a lifer or someone who will one day be released from this hole, please do your best to become someone you can be proud of. Someone God can be proud of. Work hard. Respect others. And may God bless you and keep you safe.”
His words were met with another round of applause. While he knew many would turn a deaf ear to his advice, others would try to heed it. If only one person found comfort in his words, then they were worth saying. Tearing open the package, he was stunned to find a leather-bound copy of one of his favorite books—Death Be Not Proud. He’d read his foster father’s copy many times when he’d lived with Harry, but after the man’s line-of-duty death, the book had been accidentally donated with the rest of his extensive collection to several nursing homes and veteran hospitals. Adam had found a copy in the prison library and reread it every few months.
A lump developed in his throat and he coughed to clear it. “Um . . . wow. I didn’t expect this . . . and I’m not sure I want to know where it came from . . . but thanks. Every time I read it, I’ll think of all of you.”
A little over an hour later, his meager possessions were packed into two shopping bags, and he signed a receipt for the items which had been stored in the property office. He was escorted out to the yard—the rain had temporarily subsided, but a mist still hung in the air—and up to the main gates where several more guards shook his hand and wished him well. The last, huge blockade opened and he took the final few steps leading to his freedom. As he was pulled into his best friend’s embrace, the metal gate clanged closed behind him.
Standing an inch shorter than Adam’s six-foot-three, Shane slapped him on the back several times before releasing him again. “It’s damn good to see you on this side of the fence again. How does it feel?”
“Honestly . . . weird.”
“Ha! Yeah, well, you’ll get used to it. C’mon. Let’s get out of here. I’m taking you for lunch, complete with steak, potatoes, and beer.”
The Friar is available on Amazon!