Vow of Silence
By Melinda Holley
By Melinda Holley
Beta Read by: Dotty and Raven Moonwind
Written for PetFly by: Bruce Kalish
internal thought in * *
Written for PetFly by: Bruce Kalish
internal thought in * *
~~~~~~~~~~ Act I ~~~~~~~~~~
*I just love bus stations. They’re so anonymous. The only people using them are the ones too poor to take planes like the rest of the civilized world. Nobody wants to see anything or anyone. Oh, they may remember a uniform or somebody with a flaming red Mohawk and a nose ring. But ask them to describe the face of the man in the uniform? Or the person with the Mohawk and nose ring? Can’t be done.*
Humming lightly under his breath, the slender form in the hooded black sweatshirt counted to ten before following the monk into the men’s restroom. Carefully looking over his shoulder, he saw the other few inhabitants of the bus station’s waiting room were all female and young children. There would be no interruptions. Glancing at the clock on the wall, he took a deep breath.
The man quietly washed his hands at the sink. His eyes briefly glanced at his reflection in the mirror then down again as he heard the toilet in the first stall flush. A young monk quickly emerged, muttering an apology as he squeezed past the hooded figure to the second sink.
As the young monk washed his hands, he saw the young man reach behind him for the towels. Obligingly, he edged even closer to the sink.
The young man quickly pulled a length of thin wire from beneath his sleeve. Whipping over the monk’s head, he twisted it, causing the wire to dig deeply into the neck of the surprised monk. Simultaneously, the hooded man kicked the monk behind his right knee. Off balance, the monk found himself half-standing, half-kneeling.
The hooded man grunted as he twisted the wire tighter, coldly smiling as the monk desperately gasped for air.
Minutes later, a young monk exited the restroom just as the last call was announced to board the bus for Seattle.
Jim Ellison sighed as he leaned against the side of his truck. Sipping the hot, bitter coffee from the truck stop’s café, he squinted at the bright sunlight. "My truck better be here when we get back, Sandburg," he warned.
"Don’t worry, Jim. Everybody going to the retreat leaves their wheels here." Blair Sandburg rubbed his hands together in eager anticipation. He watched the massive trucks pulling in and out of the truck stop. "Canadian plates!"
Jim rolled his eyes. "I hope you don’t plan on playing the license plate game the entire trip." When Blair grinned, Jim took another sip of coffee. "So, Sandburg. When you said ‘retreat’, you meant a spa, right? Mineral baths? Massages?"
"I don’t remember saying that," Blair quickly answered. "I believe I said ‘simple’. I might have even used the word ‘Spartan’."
Jim eyed his partner. "Simple. Spartan. Exactly, and I do mean exactly, what do you mean by ‘simple’ and ‘Spartan’, Sandburg?"
Blair stood in front of the Sentinel and stared up at him. "Look, Simon says you haven’t had a day off in over a year. Your energy level’s way down. You’ve admitted your sensory skills seem to be getting dull. So I did some research. The tribal elders used to send their sentinels out once a year on a retreat to sharpen their senses."
Jim frowned as he considered Blair’s explanation. "So you’re talking about…what? Solitude? Long walks in the forest? Primeval communing with nature?" He shrugged after a few moments’ contemplation. "Okay. I can deal with that. But no primeval screaming nonsense."
Blair grinned and patted Jim’s arm. "Just think of it as a place to get back to your spiritual roots."
Jim irritably drained the last of the coffee and crumpled the cup. He tossed the cup into a nearby trashcan and glared at the younger man. "Sandburg, I swear…if you’re dragging me into some new-age, workshop-to-find-my-inner-essence…"
"No!" Blair laughed. "This is very traditional, Jim." He smiled at the vehicle pulling into the truck stop. "Trust me. Very traditional."
Jim turned to see an old school bus pull to a stop in front of them. Reading ‘St. Sebastian’s Monastery’, his jaw dropped in surprise when the door opened. A smiling monk leaned forward.
"Hi, guys. Hop in."
Jim turned to Blair. "Chief, this whole monk thing is an act, right? Like at Caesar’s Palace. I mean, you know the guy in a toga taking your bags isn’t really a Roman."
Blair glanced away. "Uh…ummmm." He edged around Jim towards the bus. Breaking into a wide smile, he stared up at the confused monk. "Brother Christopher! How are you? This is my friend, Detective Ellison. The one I told you about. Remember?"
Brother Christopher’s smile faltered when Jim whirled around to confront Blair. "I’m afraid you may have been misled, Detective Ellison." He tried to frown at Blair but failed. "What exactly did Brother Blair tell you about our retreat?"
Jim stared down at Blair who slowly met his eyes.
"Brother Blair?" Jim softly asked.
Jim looked out the cracked window to see a beautiful older building nestled between lush gardens. He glanced at Blair who sat in the seat in front of him. Leaning forward, he whispered, "Monastery?"
"Later," Blair hushed him as the bus jerked to a stop.
Brother Christopher turned and smiled with pleasure. "Here we are. All in one piece."
"I take it that’s a miracle?" Jim muttered as he followed Blair and the monk from the bus. He smirked at the silent look of reproach the young anthropologist threw over his shoulder.
An older monk stood on the gravel path that led to the monastery. He patiently waited with hands folded in front of him. "Welcome to St. Sebastian’s," he greeted them when they joined him. "I hope your ride wasn’t too uncomfortable. We only send the bus out twice a month for supplies." He eyed the other monk with an air of resignation. "I’m afraid Brother Christopher’s driving suffers from a lack of practice."
"He’s always kidding me about my driving," Brother Christopher confided in a mock-whisper.
"I wasn’t aware I was joking," Brother Jeremy rebuked. He briefly smiled at Blair. "Welcome, Blair. It’s nice to see you again."
Ignoring Jim’s raised eyebrows, Blair smiled in response. "It’s a pleasure to be back, Brother Jeremy. This is my friend, Detective Jim Ellison. Jim is this Brother Jeremy, the abbot."
"Brother Jeremy," Jim smoothly greeted. "You know, when Blair suggested a retreat, I confess the last thing I thought about was a monastery. No offense, but I was wondering when I could get a ride back to the truck stop."
"I’m afraid not until tomorrow morning," Brother Jeremy calmly answered.
"Jim, don’t worry about it, man," Blair soothed. "I’m telling you. This place has everything you’re going to need."
"Uh-huh," Jim absently nodded. He glanced around then looked at the two monks. "Do you have a satellite dish?"
"No." Brother Christopher threw Blair an apologetic look.
"Television?" Jim continued.
"I’m afraid not." Brother Christopher shook his head in denial.
Brother Christopher glanced at Brother Jeremy. Silently, the two monks turned towards the monastery.
"Sandburg," Jim growled.
Brother Jeremy turned around. "Scared you, didn’t we, Detective?"
Blair eagerly looked around as the two monks led them towards their room. "Oh, cool. You’ve got electricity!" He felt Jim’s start of surprise.
"Earlier this year," Brother Jeremy explained. "We also installed a generator for when the power is interrupted." He looked over his shoulder with a shadow of a smile. "In fact, we’ve installed a single light bulb in each cell." His eyes glittered with what might have been amusement as he glanced over Blair’s shoulder to Jim. "For the convenience of our guests." He turned back around when Brother Christopher opened one of the doors. "This is your cell."
"It’s what we call our rooms," Brother Christopher shyly explained.
Blair headed into the room, but Jim stopped when his cell phone rang.
"Excuse me," Jim apologized. Turning partially away, he answered, "Ellison." His voice immediately lowered and softened. "Hi, Sharon. Yeah, I’m out of town. Well…sure, we can pick up where we left off."
Brother Christopher glanced at Brother Jeremy then down at the floor.
Blair smiled apologetically at Brother Jeremy who sternly glanced at Jim.
"Yeah, 7 o’clock sounds good," Jim softly continued. "Uh…I really can’t now. Sure, can’t wait. ‘Bye." He turned around to see a surprised look on Blair’s face.
"Jim, did you just make a date in a monastery?" the young anthropologist demanded.
"She called me, Sandburg," Jim smirked.
Brother Jeremy smoothly reached out and snatched Jim’s cell phone. "I’ll give this back when you leave. There’s one telephone in my office for emergency calls only. Cell phones are not permitted. Oh, and I’ll take your gun as well."
"No," Jim resisted. "I’m a cop. I keep my gun."
"Guns are not necessary here," Brother Jeremy continued. "We are a sanctuary of peaceful contemplation."
"Jim. C’mon, man," Blair pleaded in embarrassment. "We’re in a monastery. It’s the last place on earth you’re going to need a gun." He threw Jim a pleading look. "Please?"
Silently, Jim removed his gun. Making sure the safety was on, he silently handed it to Brother Jeremy. He noticed the older monk handled the weapon with more familiarity than he would have credited.
"Thank you." Brother Jeremy curtly nodded. "Brother Christopher. I believe you have duties to perform." Without further comment, he abruptly left the cell.
"I’m sorry," Brother Christopher softly apologized. "He’s really okay once you get to know him. It’s just that he hasn’t been away from St. Sebastian’s for probably 20 years. There’s really quite a story about it, a mystery, really."
All three men turned towards the open door at the sound of Brother Jeremy’s firm call.
"Coming, Brother Jeremy," the younger monk called in reply. He turned back to Jim. "You know, I read a lot of mysteries in my personal hours. We have no television so what else is there to do but read? And write…I’m sort of an author and…I was wondering…well, I’d really appreciate it if you’d look at one of my stories…to check my accuracy on police procedures?"
Jim realized the monk’s ramblings resembled Sandburg’s and relaxed. "Sure. I’d be happy to do it."
Brother Christopher widely smiled. "Thanks." He glanced over his shoulder. "I’d better…well, I have things to do."
"Later, Brother," Blair smiled as he closed the door. He turned and bounced experimentally on his bunk. "Brother. I love that." He glanced at Jim who was digging into his duffel bag. "I promise you’re going to really…really appreciate this place."
Jim decided to ignore the younger man. He stretched out on his hard bunk and slid headphones over his head. He propped the radio on his chest and began slowly twisting the dial.
Blair jumped to his feet when the door suddenly opened.
Brother Jeremy casually stepped inside and took Jim’s headphones and radio. "Sorry. No radios either." Before Jim could respond, he quickly left, shutting the door behind him.
Jim stared at Blair in surprise.
"A Sentinel monk?" Blair weakly joked.
Slowly, looking over his shoulder with concern, Brother Timothy quietly eased the door open to an empty cell. Quickly looking around, he dropped to his knees and reached under the bunk.
He grimaced as his fingers touched something. Leaning down until he was prone on the floor, he stretched until he finally grasped the object and dragged it from under the bunk. Raising to his knees, he pondered the green duffel bag for a few moments before unzipping it.
Before Brother Timothy could look inside, he heard the soft footfalls of someone approaching. Knowing that all the monks should be at their appointed tasks, he quickly shoved the duffel bag back under the bunk. Desperately, he slid behind the door and prayed.
A hooded monk entered the room and quietly walked to the small table next to the bunk. Reaching out, he took the book lying on the table. Hesitating, he knelt next to the bunk to pick up a crucifix necklace with a broken chain. Silently, he cupped it in his right hand and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Brother Timothy waited several minutes before cautiously exhaling. Shakily, he slid along the wall towards the bunk. Gathering his courage, the young monk knelt next to the bunk and reached under it for the duffel bag.
~~~~~~~~~~ Act II ~~~~~~~~~~
Blair cautiously entered the workshop. Hanging from the roof and propped against the sturdy walls were small and large pieces of beautiful stained glass. Two monks were silently bent over workbenches, intent on their creations.
Blair studied one large piece that was propped against one wall. An almost-finished stained glass representation of the Madonna mesmerized him. "Wow," he murmured.
The two monks looked up in surprise. One monk immediately returned his attention to his workbench. The other put down his tools and walked closer to Blair.
"I remember you," the monk bluntly spoke. "The young man who promised to write to allow me to vicariously enjoy his exploits in the real world."
Blair shyly smiled. "Hello, Brother Marcus." When the monk merely crossed his arms across his burly chest, he blushed. "You know…time…sorta rushes past you sometimes."
Brother Marcus sighed. "I forgive you, of course. But then…"
Blair grinned. "You have to!"
Brother Marcus grinned. "I have to!"
The monk pulled Blair into his arms for a tight hug.
"You look great," Blair muttered as he pulled back.
"I’ve missed our talks." Brother Marcus gently squeezed his shoulder. "Do you think we will have time for them while you’re here?"
"Count on it," Blair promised. "That is, if you don’t mind me being around when you’re working."
"Part of our work is to share it," Brother Marcus pointed out. "That’s why we welcome visitors." He glanced past Blair when he heard the bell in the tower ring. "Ah, dinner." He grinned. "We’d best hurry if we want any." He gently hugged the younger man. "It’s good to see you, Blair. And in one piece, too."
Jim warily eyed Blair as the younger man and a tall burly monk were the last ones to reach the dinner table. The food on the table was plain, sturdy fare. The sentinel had been afraid their diet would consist of little more than rice cakes and prayer.
He raised his eyebrows when Blair clasped his hands and slightly bowed his head. He winced when Blair kicked him under the table. He quickly folded his hands.
"Dear Lord," Brother Jeremy intoned. "We are blessed with the bounty we are about to receive and for the presence of our visiting brothers, Blair Sandburg and James Ellison and for bringing them into our midst."
Brother Timothy silently slipped into his chair and bowed his head over his folded hands.
Brother Jeremy shot an irritated look at the younger monk. He caught Jim’s slight smile. "Brother James? Would you care to complete the benediction?"
Surprised, Jim’s eyes widened in surprise. "Well…uh…."
"It’s traditional to include one of our guests," Brother Jeremy added.
Jim was about to suggest Blair be so honored, when he saw the look Blair was giving him from half-open eyes. "All right," he sighed. "I’ll give it a shot." He took a deep breath and assumed what he hoped was a pious expression. "Thank you, Lord. For all you…do." He swallowed. "And for the great chili. Amen."
Jim heard Blair’s sigh of exasperation even as the monks intoned "amen".
"Wine?" Brother Christopher asked Jim with an understanding smile.
"Thanks," Jim gratefully nodded. "I hear you make that here."
"Yes," Brother Christopher nodded as he poured the rich, dark wine into Jim’s glass. "We try to be as self-sufficient as possible."
At the other end of the table, one of the monks glanced down at the napkin he was unfolding in his lap. Then he casually reached for his wineglass and solemnly watched the others at the table.
After the evening meal, the monks retreated for prayer. Jim casually grabbed Blair’s arm and pulled him outside. "Let’s go for a walk, Brother Blair." He hugged the younger man.
Blair hesitated then widely smiled. "Great. There’s lots of space to walk around here." He waited as Jim guided them away from the monastery. "So…how do you like the vacation so far, Jim?"
"Like the vacation?" Jim stopped, dropping his arm from Blair’s shoulder. "No television?"
"No getting upset at all the bad news," Blair retorted.
"No radio-broadcast sports games?" Jim countered.
"No getting frustrated at bonehead plays," Blair calmly replied.
"Sandburg!" Jim took a deep breath and spread his hands. "Look, I appreciate the effort you’ve made here. But closeted at a monastery isn’t exactly my idea of a vacation."
Blair suddenly poked Jim in the chest. "Your idea of a vacation is no vacation," he grimly answered. "Do you have any idea just how tightly wound you’ve been the last couple of weeks? Even Simon…"
"Simon! You got Simon involved?" Jim demanded.
"Not exactly," Blair explained. He waved his hands for emphasis. "Sort of a mutually agreed-upon maneuver." He grinned at the words.
"Mutually agreed-upon, huh?" Jim grumbled.
Blair nodded. "Seconded by many of your co-workers, man. Look, you need this break. A break away from noise, lights, the whole civilized rat-race. Even Burton…"
"The explorer, not the actor," Jim interrupted as he began walked.
"Yes, the explorer, not the actor," Blair agreed with a sigh. He trotted to catch up. "Even Burton mentioned that there were times when sentinels would go on a retreat. Get away from the tribe for a while. He didn’t mention what happened while the sentinel was away. You know, I’m sure there were some sort of rituals involved…"
Jim glanced at the younger man and inwardly sighed at the expression on Blair’s face. "If I don’t have access to television and radio, you don’t get to do any tests."
"Huh? Right. Sure, Jim." Blair shoved the idea back for future consideration.
Not the least bit convinced, Jim glanced back at the monastery. "So what’s the story on you and this place?" When Blair glanced at him uncertainly, he grinned. "I mean, you did the prayer bit very convincingly. What’s a good Jewish boy like you doing in a place like this?"
Blair’s blue eyes widened. "Jewish?"
Jim hesitated. "Sandburg isn’t a Jewish name?"
Blair stared up at his friend. "Jim, have you ever seen me wear a Star of David? Seen anything in my possessions that would indicate I’m a practicing Jew?"
Jim opened his mouth then quickly closed it.
"Really, man. You shouldn’t make such rash assumptions." Blair chuckled as he smacked Jim on the arm. "As for my history here, well, Brother Jeremy and my mom were protestors." He began walking towards the back of the monastery. "C’mon. There’s something I want you to see."
"Brother Jeremy? A protestor? I don’t believe it." Jim hurried to catch up.
"It’s true," Blair nodded. "They were some of the original ecological protestors in this area. Brother Jeremy belonged to a very activist group within the Church. This house used to belong to Frederich Klimer."
"The old timber baron?" Jim frowned. "He died back in the early-70’s, didn’t he?"
Blair nodded. "In the last couple years of his life, he became involved in ecological causes, especially in reforestation. And he converted to the Catholic faith. When he died, he left this house and lands to the Church with the stipulation that it be converted to a monastery." Blair grinned. "He had no direct heirs so challenges to his will were disposed of pretty quickly. The Church made a lot of alterations, including the bell tower then put Brother Jeremy here."
"As penance?" Jim remarked.
Blair shrugged. "Maybe. Anyway, he’s been here ever since. Mom’s been here a few times. But since it’s a monastery, she can’t stay overnight. I’ve spent some time here when things got really hectic and I needed some quiet space to work things out."
Jim eyed his companion after some moments of silence. "Sandburg’s not a Jewish name?" he teased.
Blair shot his friend an exasperated look then smiled. He pointed to their right. "There. That’s what I wanted you to see."
Jim turned and reluctantly smiled. "How is it possible that Brother Jeremy left that intact?"
"It came with the house. Brother Jeremy thinks it’s good exercise, not to mention a way for the brothers to work together," Blair laughed.
Jim contemplated the basketball hoop. *’Monks playing basketball. Okaayyy.’*
"Nothing to it. Oh, we’ve got the "D" now. We’ve got it now." Jim chanted almost rhythmically as he bounced the basketball to Brother Joseph. "That’s right, pass it off. Oh, Junior!" he called in Blair’s direction. "I hear the fat lady. I hear the fat lady singing." He grimaced as Brother Joseph’s shot banged off the edge of the rim. Brother Michael grabbed the rebound and easily made the basket. "Oh, nice rebound."
"You ain’t got nothing, Jim!" Blair happily sang out as Brother Michael lobbed the basketball in Jim’s direction.
"It looks slippery, but he’s working on it," Jim promised with a grin. "Come on. Here we go…here we go." He slowly edged closer to the basket, watching as his teammates moved with him. "Yeah, oh yeah. He’s racking them." He feinted to his left only to have Brother Timothy steal the ball and dribble towards the basket. "Hey, come on! What about ‘Thou shalt not steal’?"
Blair giggled as the monk made a perfect jump shot. "You better be careful, Jim. People might think you’re having a good time." He nudged the sentinel’s shoulder.
"Yeah, well, this is fun," Jim admitted. He caught the ball Brother Timothy threw towards him. He smiled at the monk’s grin at him and noticed more of the monks standing on the sidelines alternately laughing or quietly talking.
"C’mon, man. Give me the ball." Blair backed away, holding out his hands.
"How about a rematch?" Jim suggested, turning towards his teammates. "How about a rematch, guys?"
Brother Timothy motioned towards the bell tower and walked away.
"You’ll have to count Brother Timothy out," Brother Marcus advised. "He’s got to ring the bell for vespers."
"He’s a quiet guy," Jim remarked.
Brother Christopher smiled. "He’s taken a vow of silence."
"You guys actually do that?" Jim asked in surprise.
"It’s standard every morning from four to six am. But sometimes, it’s done for up to two months, as in Brother Timothy’s case. It’s very difficult, but the effect can be quiet cleansing." The monk impishly smiled. "I’ve never managed to do it for very long."
"I know the feeling," Jim muttered as he glanced to where Blair was huddling with his teammates. "Well…" He looked around. "How about you, Anthony? C’mon, baby. Let’s see what you’ve got." He tossed the ball to Brother Anthony who briefly clutched it to his chest then dropped it. "Sorry. Let’s see your jump shot," he encouraged when the young man finally retrieved the ball.
"We know you’ve got one, Brother Anthony," Blair chimed in.
"C’mon, nothing but net," Jim encouraged.
Brother Anthony awkwardly held the basketball then lobbed it in the direction of the basket. They all watched as it missed the basket by two feet to the left.
Jim turned to Blair. "He’s on your team."
"Excuse me?" Blair demanded, hands on hips.
Jim only grinned in reply as the bell in the tower began ringing.
"Never mind." Blair airily waved his hands. "I can work with this. I bet he can guard pretty well." He raised his voice. "C’mere, Brother Anthony. Do I have an assignment for you."
Suddenly, they stopped at the sound of a startled yell abruptly cut off.
"What was that?" Brother Marcus asked in surprise.
"Oh, man. Come on," Blair urged. He’d seen Jim immediately head for the bell tower.
Jim narrowed his vision as he stepped into the shadowy bell tower. He saw a crumpled figure lying at the foot of the stairs. Quickly, he knelt next to the body and checked for a pulse.
"Jim?" Blair asked in a hushed voice.
"What’s going on here?" Brother Jeremy demanded as he pushed past Blair.
Jim looked over his shoulder. "He’s dead."
Night fell a few hours later. Brother Timothy’s body had been removed to the chapel where some of the monks had begun to pray. Blair had silently watched as Jim had first examined Brother Timothy’s body, then returned to examine the bell tower. When the sentinel returned, he’d briefly nodded at Blair then gone to find the abbot.
The young anthropologist had hesitated then followed his partner. After a few seconds, Brother Christopher followed. They both heard the angry voices from the abbot’s office.
"This isn’t some back alley in Cascade!" Brother Jeremy snapped. "You’re claiming that Brother Timothy was murdered. Here in St. Sebastian’s?" He angrily shook his head. "I don’t believe it."
"There were no witnesses to his death. There has to be an investigation if only for your protection," Jim pointed out. "Now, I’ll need to use your phone." Not wasting time on further argument, he picked up the receiver.
"Must you bring more outsiders?" Brother Jeremy sighed. He nodded as Blair and Brother Christopher joined them.
"Brother Jeremy, a man died. We have to at least report it," Blair pointed out.
"Your phone’s dead," Jim evenly spoke. He replaced the receiver with ill-concealed anger.
"It’s an old phone. With old wires," Brother Jeremy pointed out. "It wouldn’t be the first time it’s been out of order."
"I’ll need my cell phone." Jim held out his hand. "And my gun, while you’re at it."
Reluctantly, Brother Jeremy unlocked one of the desk drawers and opened it. His eyes widened in surprise. "They’re gone. Your gun and cell phone. I locked them in this drawer myself."
Jim’s jaw clenched. "There were marks on Brother Timothy’s ankles," he advised. "Consistent with something being stretched across the steps to trip someone."
"Did you find such an object in the bell tower?" Brother Jeremy coolly asked.
"No," Jim curtly admitted. "But then I wanted to examine Brother Timothy’s body. And you didn’t allow that until he’d been placed in the chapel."
"Which would allow plenty of time for a wire of some sort to have been removed from the bell tower," Brother Christopher guessed.
Brother Jeremy glared at the monk. "You believe Brother Timothy was murdered?" he demanded.
"Where mortals gather, there is evil," Brother Christopher slowly answered. "I don’t remember where I read it. But I believe it to be true."
"What I did find was a small hole drilled on each side of the top step of the landing," Jim continued, his eyes on the abbot. "There was moisture in the sawdust, indicating it was a very recent operation. Probably a metal eyelet was screwed in on either side. Then a wire or piece of monofilament was stretched across the step. As dim and shadowy as the bell tower is, there was no chance Brother Timothy would see it."
"But why would anyone want to kill him?" Brother Jeremy argued.
"We don’t know that yet," Jim admitted.
"Brother Timothy rang the bell at the same time every day," Blair pointed out. "The killer must have been aware of that."
Jeremy slowly got to his feet. "You’re suggesting someone here…one of us is a murderer?"
Blair nervously licked his lips.
"That’s exactly what I’m saying," Jim evenly acknowledged.
"That is not possible!" Brother Jeremy shook his head. "Someone…an outsider must have broken in. Perhaps a thief trying to seal those stained glass windows we’re restoring. Some of them are very old and valuable."
Brother Christopher nervously glanced from Brother Jeremy to Jim.
"Brother Timothy died in the bell tower, not the workshop," Jim pointed out. "The tripwire had to have been rigged between the time he rang the bell for dinner and when he went back to the tower to ring it for vespers. A stranger wouldn’t have known his schedule. A stranger would have been noticed immediately." He stared at Brother Jeremy. "Now, we are all going into town together."
"Is that an order, Detective?" Brother Jeremy bristled.
"If necessary, yes," Jim firmly nodded.
Brother Jeremy took few moments to obviously control his temper. "You come into my world with your cynicism, your guns, and phones…and proceed to give us orders about what we will do?" He shook his head in repressed anger.
"Brother Jeremy, a man has been murdered. We can’t deny that," Jim pressed. "Somebody has to take charge of the situation and deal with it."
Jeremy half-smiled. "You don’t like me, do you, Detective?" he challenged. "You think I’m an anachronism. That our order serves no purpose."
"I didn’t say that," Jim denied.
"You didn’t have to," Brother Jeremy acknowledged. "I remember those like you. Full of action. Unless something is occupying your every waking moment, you aren’t happy or satisfied. St. Sebastian’s was founded to allow a place of peace and contemplation. Away from the so-called modern world. We have preserved that for over twenty years. You’ve been here less than one day and propose to destroy it!"
Brother Christopher winced and looked at Blair in silent supplication.
"I never…" Jim angrily began.
"Guys. Guys!" Blair interrupted. "C’mon. This isn’t an argument that can be settled tonight. Or even in a year. Okay? Let’s just deal with the subject at hand, okay?" He waited until both men relaxed. "Brother Jeremy, we’re all going to be a lot safer once we get out of here. You know that."
Reluctantly, the abbot nodded. "It seems I have no choice."
Jim stood almost at rigid attention as he addressed the monks sitting around the dining table. He was aware of Brother Jeremy’s angry eyes on him from the far end of the table. "Brothers, I apologize for the inconvenience and for disturbing your prayers. But getting you out of here tonight is the only way I can ensure your safety." He caught the abbot’s eyes. "And that is my primary concern. I promise I’ll do everything I can to get you back here as soon as possible. Blair is warming up the bus so…"
The door opened and Blair motioned for Jim to join him. Blair eyed the monks at the table then lowered his voice as Jim stepped closer. "All four tires on the bus have been slashed," he muttered. "Somebody really doesn’t want us to get out of here. What do we do now?"
Jim quickly thought. "We ask for a volunteer to walk into town. If I was the murderer, I’d want to get out of here. I’d be the first one to raise my hand." He turned to face the silent monks. "Gentlemen. It seems the bus is out of commission. We’ll need a volunteer to walk back to town."
Nearly all the monks raised their hands.
"So much for that theory," Blair muttered.
"I think Brother Theodore is the best suited for that job," Brother Jeremy decided.
"Do you think you can make it?" Jim asked.
Brother Theodore gently smiled. "I’ve walked fifteen miles three times a week for the past forty years."
"In the middle of the night?"
Brother Theodore’s smile widened. "Would you care to put a C-note on it?" His eyes widened when Brother Jeremy cleared his throat. "Which, of course, I would donate to the Church."
"I’ll take that bet," Jim grimly nodded. "When you get into town, notify the authorities immediately of our situation."
"I understand," Brother Theodore nodded as he stood. "I’ll gather a few supplies and be on my way."
"Brothers, I suggest we retire to our cells and maintain silence for the rest of the night," Brother Jeremy ordered. "Sleep if you can. But, please, remember Brother Timothy in your prayers."
"Thank you for your cooperation," Jim said as they filed out. He glanced at Brother Jeremy. "I am sorry for the inconvenience, Brother Jeremy."
The abbot curtly nodded, then left.
"Jim, are you sure about letting Brother Theodore go alone?" Blair hissed.
"We’re going to stay up for quite a while to make sure nobody goes after him," Jim quietly replied. "The killer knows if he’s missing at breakfast, he’s blown his cover."
"Man, I hope you’re right," Blair murmured.
Brother Jeremy quietly closed the door behind him. He turned to face the cell’s inhabitant. "Brother, I believe we have a problem," he sadly spoke.
~~~~~~~~~~ Act III ~~~~~~~~~~
Morning came with all the remaining monks accounted for. Both Jim and Blair had remained alert and patrolled the monastery’s immediate grounds until the wee hours of the morning. After a late breakfast, Blair decided he would talk with Brother Marcus.
A hooded monk opened one of the cell doors. He quickly entered the sparse room and unscrewed the light bulb. He carefully replaced it with a second bulb, then quietly left closing the door behind him.
After silently watching the monks at their tasks, Jim decided to talk to Brother Anthony who was working with Brother Michael in the garden.
"Good morning, Brother Anthony," Jim greeted. "I know this is a bad time to be asking questions, but I really have to do this. I was wondering if you could shed some light on Brother Timothy’s background."
The two monks looked at each other then returned their attention to their tasks.
"Uh-huh," Jim nodded. *’I swear if Brother Jeremy ordered them not to divulge any information…’* "Well, maybe another time."
As Jim turned to leave, the bell from the bell tower began ringing.
Brother Anthony immediately jumped to his feet and ran after Jim. "Detective, please. Wait." When he caught up with Jim, he smiled. "I’m sorry. We observe a two-hour period of silence every morning. It’s to help us remember our vows. The bell rings to let us know when we can speak."
"I’m sorry for interrupting," Jim apologized.
Brother Anthony glanced back to where Brother Michael remained working in the garden. He flushed at the look his fellow monk gave him. "I just think you should know some of the brothers are afraid of you and Blair."
"Why?" Jim asked. "Right now, we’re your only protection."
"Some think you might be the killers," Brother Anthony admitted. "You’re outsiders, and you arrived just hours before Brother Timothy died."
"What do you think?" Jim asked, folding his arms across his chest.
"I trust in the Lord, Detective," Brother Anthony smiled. "If He calls me, I’m happy to join him." He sighed. "The only thing I can tell you about Brother Timothy is that he was from Kansas."
"What about the other monks?" Jim queried.
"We don’t usually talk about our old lives," Brother Anthony apologized. "Most of us have come here to put the rest of the world behind us for good."
"Look, all I want to do is find Brother Timothy’s killer and keep anyone else from being killed," Jim explained. "Any information could prove vital."
Brother Anthony frowned. "Well, Brother Michael has been more secretive than most about his past. And he’s our newest arrival."
"The others?" Jim asked.
"Brothers Marcus and Joseph have been here about as long as Brother Jeremy. Brother Joseph was a social worker. Brother Marcus was some sort of businessman. I think he was an accountant." Brother Anthony waved over Jim’s shoulder.
The sentinel turned to see Brother Christopher leaning out of the bell tower, watching them.
"Brother Theodore was a teacher, and Brother Frederick was an actor," Brother Anthony continued. "Mostly low budget, I’m afraid."
"I thought he looked familiar." Jim nodded with a slight smile. "I understand Brother Jeremy has been here for about 20 years?"
"Yes," Brother Anthony eagerly nodded. "He’s very dedicated to the order. I know he’s gruff, but he’s the most decent man I know."
"What about Christopher?" Jim asked, glancing up at the monk in the tower.
"I believe he was an insurance salesman," Brother Anthony’s eyes twinkled.
"That explains the talking," Jim ruefully grinned. "What about yourself?"
"I was a man without direction or purpose," Brother Anthony admitted. "One of those poor unfortunates you see everyday shuffling along the streets of any city. Someone with no place to go or anything to do when they get there." His briefly smiled. "Then, one day, I walked into a church…and my purpose in life was suddenly clear to me." He shook his head at Jim’s blank expression. "It was as simple as that."
"Brother Jeremy says I’m cynical," Jim replied. "Maybe I am."
"In the outside world, you have to be," Brother Anthony admitted. He glanced back at the garden. "I should be getting back to work."
"Thanks for your time," Jim offered. He walked towards the front of the monastery only to have Brother Christopher intercept him.
"Why were you questioning Brother Anthony? Is he a suspect?" Brother Christopher eagerly asked.
"Why were you watching us from the tower?" Jim countered.
"Brother Jeremy assigned me Brother Timothy’s duties," Brother Christopher explained.
"Everyone’s a suspect," Jim advised.
Brother Christopher’s eyes widened. "Even me? Why would I want to kill Brother Timothy?"
"Why would anyone?" Jim asked in return. "So far, I don’t have any motive. Until I do, everybody’s a suspect."
Brother Christopher sagely nodded. "I understand. But you can trust me. As a matter of fact, I’m working on a couple of leads myself." He smiled. "I’ll keep you in the loop," he promised as he turned to leave.
"You do that," Jim muttered.
Brother Jeremy looked up from his desk when someone gently knocked on his door. "Come in."
Brother Frederick entered, quickly closing the door behind him. "I thought you should see this."
Brother Jeremy rose in surprise as he saw the items in the monks’ hands.
"Brother Timothy used to meet me out here every morning," Brother Marcus sadly recalled. "I’d see him sitting on that bench. Just sitting and staring at the sky. I always wondered what he was thinking about. He had such expressive eyes. There was truth in them." He glanced at Blair who was quietly walking next to him. "I was looking forward to the end of his time of silence so we could talk. There aren’t many willing to choose this life. The temptations of the world are too great."
"So are the rewards," Blair pointed out.
Brother Marcus broadly smiled. "And you, young Blair. Have you successfully battled your temptations?"
Blair coughed. "Uh…well. Maybe. Depends on the temptation, I suppose." He glanced at the larger man. "Did you?"
Brother Marcus watched some nearby birds take flight. "I suppose it depends upon the temptation," he admitted. "Some yes. Some no." He was silent for several moments. "You have to understand, Blair. This place…it’s a sanctuary. You’ve been here enough to know that. Brother Jeremy knows that feeling of sanctuary will be shattered." He saw Jim approaching and put a large, friendly hand on Blair’s shoulder.
"When I came here, I found what I was looking for," he admitted. "Perhaps it wasn’t in the exact form I thought it would be. It’s not for everyone. But it works for me now." He pleasantly nodded at Jim. "I’ll see you at lunch. Don’t be late. You’ll only get crumbs, you know." He headed towards the workshop.
"Okay. ‘Bye," Blair nodded.
"Brother Marcus," Jim greeted. He turned to Blair as they began walking back towards the monastery. "Did you find out anything?"
"Yeah," Blair admitted. His eyes followed Brother Marcus. "I found out I could never do what these guys do. I mean, the sacrifice. The commitment. Jim, I can’t believe one of them would kill another."
Jim sighed. "Sandburg, they’re flesh and blood. Just like you and me."
Blair shook his head. He started to argue when Brother Frederick ran up to them.
"Excuse me," the monk apologized. "But Brother Jeremy asked if you’d meet him in your cell."
"What happened here?" Blair exclaimed.
He and Jim stood in the middle of their small cell staring at the chaos. Someone had thoroughly searched and trashed their belongings.
"Great," Jim muttered. "Just great."
Suddenly the door was slammed shut behind them. Both men heard it immediately lock from the outside.
Through the small opening, they saw Brother Jeremy looking at them with a stern expression.
"Hey! What’s going on?" Jim demanded.
"Brother Frederick found these in your cell when he was collecting the bed linen for the laundry." The abbot held up Jim’s gun and cell phone.
"Somebody’s trying to set me up!" Jim exploded. "Even you have to see that! They’re trying to get me out of the way! You guys are in more danger now!"
"Perhaps," Brother Jeremy acknowledged. "But not from you."
"Brother Jeremy!" Blair pushed his face against the opening. "You know me! Come on, you can’t believe I’m a threat to you! And neither is Jim!"
Brother Jeremy sadly looked back at the young anthropologist. "You’ve changed, Blair. You walk with violence now. I’m sorry, but we can’t take any chances."
Blair backed away from the door with a stunned look on his face.
"Brother Jeremy! Open this door! Now!" Jim angrily ordered.
Brother Jeremy walked away, followed by Brother Frederick. When both men disappeared around the corner, Jim angrily hit the thick wooden door with his hand. "This is ridiculous! I’m going out the window."
As Jim moved away, Blair looked out the door and saw Brother Christopher. "Brother Christopher! Come here! Open the door!"
"I can’t do that," Brother Christopher sadly answered. "But I found something Detective Ellison should see. Have him come to the door. I’ll get it from my room." He walked to the opposite end of the corridor.
Jim joined Blair at the door. His nose wrinkled. "What the hell is that smell?"
"No, Brother Christopher!" Blair called. "Open the door first!"
"Kerosene!" Jim’s eyes widened as he shoved Blair away from the door. "It’s coming from down the hall."
Blair crowded against Jim as the Sentinel adjusted his sight to view Brother Christopher’s room.
"Oh, God," Jim muttered as he saw the liquid in the bottom of the light bulb in the monk’s cell. He saw Brother Christopher reach for the dangling cord. "No! Christopher, don’t turn on the light! DON’T!"
Blair added his shouted pleas as Brother Christopher pulled on the cord.
Instinctively, Jim closed his eyes and pulled Blair away from the door. An enormous explosion of fire and thunder erupted from Brother Christopher’s room.
~~~~~~~~~~ Act IV ~~~~~~~~~~
Brother Jeremy and Brother Frederick watched as Jim and Blair examined the charred remains of the dead monk’s room.
"The killer probably injected the kerosene into the light bulb then replaced it," Jim evenly reported. "When Brother Christopher pulled on the cord, the filament set it off."
"He was just trying to help us," Blair mourned.
"I’m sorry," Brother Jeremy said in a shocked voice. "I don’t know what to say."
"Why don’t you explain that to Brother Christopher?" Jim seethed.
"I understand your anger," Brother Jeremy quietly acknowledged. "And I fully deserve your wrath. From now on, you’ll have my complete and total cooperation. And those of the other monks as well." He held out Jim’s gun and cell phone. "Please…find whoever is responsible before someone else dies."
Blair silently watched as the subdued abbot left, followed by the silent Brother Frederick.
Jim snorted. "Clip’s gone. So’s the cell phone battery." He put the cell phone in his jacket pocket and the gun in the holster in the small of his back. "Come here. I didn’t want to show this to Brother Jeremy."
Blair followed his partner to one corner of the wrecked room. The Sentinel leaned down and picked up the remains of a photograph. "Look familiar?" Jim asked.
Blair squinted. "Sorta…" he shrugged.
Jim tapped the edge of the photo. "Jackie Kozinski. He ran the Midwest unions in the 70’s." He snorted. "More of a gangster than a union leader. Racketeering, extortion, you name it. Rumor had it he ordered several contract killings. He finally turned federal witness, ratted out his former buddies who did his actual dirty work, then disappeared."
Blair looked up. "Disappeared?"
Jim shrugged. "Rumor said he was killed, but they never found the body."
"They never found Hoffa’s either, did they?" Blair pointed out.
Jim grunted and pointed again to the photo. "Where have you seen that ring before?"
Blair held the photo up to better catch the light then looked in shock at his friend. "Brother Jeremy?" he whispered.
"His right hand to be specific," Jim grimly nodded.
"Jim, if that’s Brother Jeremy in the photo…man, what’s going on here?" Blair anxiously demanded.
"It’s possible Brother Jeremy had something to do with the deaths of Brother Timothy and Brother Christopher," Jim theorized.
Blair automatically shook his head. "Jim, I know Brother Jeremy." He wilted a little under the Sentinel’s cold stare. "Okay, I don’t know him. But I know him." He ignored Jim’s exasperated expression. "Why is someone going to kill over a picture taken of a man who disappeared fifteen or twenty years ago?"
Jim tilted his head to one side. "Brother Jeremy said one of the purposes of the monastery is to provide a refuge. So, what if Kozinski isn’t dead? What if he’s here?"
Blair stared at the picture in his hand and closed his eyes.
Brother Jeremy knew the moment Jim and Blair entered the chapel. Still, he sat in the first pew and never indicated he was aware of their presence until Jim stood next to him.
"Who is he to you?" the detective asked.
"Who?" Brother Jeremy calmly replied.
"Jackie Kozinski," Jim replied.
"I don’t know what you mean," Brother Jeremy answered.
"Sure you do," Jim casually continued. "One of your monks is Jackie Kozinski." He held the picture in front of Brother Jeremy’s eyes. "Brother Christopher may have died because he found this picture. And that’s your ring, isn’t it?" Jim pointed at the corner of the damaged photo. "What happened, Brother Jeremy? Is Kozinski a friend of yours? What did he do? Did he roll over on the mob, and you gave him a place to hide? He have a little plastic surgery just to be on the safe side?"
Blair winced. He wished Jim didn’t sound so much like he was grilling a suspect at the station.
"You don’t understand," Brother Jeremy shook his head.
"Oh, I understand." Jim’s voice was low and silky smooth. "You provided a murdering gangster with a refuge. Then, after all these years, somehow Brother Timothy figured it out; and Kozinski killed him."
"No!" Brother Jeremy angrily denied as he got to his feet.
"And then Brother Christopher found out, and Kozinski killed him as well," Jim mercilessly continued.
"No, my God. You’re wrong!" Jeremy angrily replied.
"I’m right," Jim firmly argued.
The two men stared at each other in anger for several moments. Just when Blair thought he would have to physically get between them, Brother Jeremy stepped back and drew himself up to his full height.
"Get out. Now," the abbot ordered.
Jim silently shook his head.
"Get out!" Brother Jeremy thundered.
They all turned to see Brother Marcus approaching. "It’s over, Jeremy. I’ve been responsible for enough." He placed a hand on Blair’s shoulder. "I’m Jackie Kozinski."
"What?!" Blair shook off the monk’s hand. He stared at the older man in shocked surprise. "But…" His voice trailed off. He saw Jim’s brief sympathetic look then turned away.
"Blair, believe me," Brother Marcus quietly spoke. "I won’t deny I’ve done things in the past. Terrible things. But despite the accusations…" He turned to stare at Jim. "I’ve never been involved in murder. Not in my past. Not here." He turned back to Blair. "And certainly not now. Blair…" He reached out again for the younger man only to watch Blair throw up his hands and walk towards the back of the church.
"My mother and Jackie Kozinski’s mothers were best friends," Jeremy quietly explained. "We grew up together. When Jackie Kozinski needed sanctuary, I provided it." He glared at Jim. "He had honored his agreement with the authorities by testifying."
Jim kept a watchful eye on Blair who hovered just close enough to hear their conversation. "If you’re not responsible for these deaths, who is?"
Brother Marcus sadly smiled. "I’m unfinished business, Detective. Even after twenty years. I put away Joey Sarelli. Joey must have believed I was dead. I learned he died last year in prison. Joey had a son, Tony. I figure Tony must have gotten a lead on me."
"My mother died six months ago," Brother Jeremy hollowly explained. "I, of course, attended her funeral."
"And anyone knowing Jackie Kozinski’s past would have made sure someone observed her funeral then tracked everyone who attended," Jim thoughtfully nodded before glancing at Brother Marcus. "So, you think one of the monks is a contract killer for Tony Sarelli?"
"Jeremy doesn’t want to believe that," Brother Marcus nodded. "But it’s the only logical conclusion."
Jim and Blair stood in the sunlight watching the monks at work. Brother Jeremy and Brother Marcus stood to one side. Blair resolutely ignored Brother Marcus’ silent attempts to catch his attention.
"Who are your most recent arrivals?" Jim asked.
"Brother Anthony and Brother Michael," the abbot quickly answered. "Brother Michael was a banker from Detroit. Brother Anthony grew up in Indiana. In fact, he was a point guard for his university’s basketball team."
"Excuse me?" Blair asked in surprise.
"Full scholarship," Brother Jeremy nodded.
"From the way he played last night, you never know it," Jim grimly recalled. He stared across the front lawn at the young monk. Brother Anthony stared back. He briefly turned then spun around, gun in hand. He grabbed Brother Michael and aimed the gun at the monk’s neck. "Looks like you found your man, Detective."
The prisoners stumbled up the steps into the bell tower.
"Go on! Get up there! Faster! Move!" Anthony demanded. Standing next to the ladder, he waved his gun at the prisoners standing in the corner. "Okay, here’s the drill. You turn over Jackie Kozinski, and no one else gets hurt." He aimed the gun at Brother Jeremy’s heart.
"I told you already. Kozinski isn’t here," Jim patiently repeated. He felt Blair behind him tensing up when the gun moved in Jim’s direction.
"And I told you I don’t believe it!" Anthony snapped. "Maybe I’ll just start shooting and get lucky, huh? Then when you see the big guy upstairs, you tell him to teach you to lighten up."
"Stop it," Brother Marcus wearily interrupted. "I’m Jackie Kozinski."
"Get over here," Anthony ordered.
Marcus walked over, and Anthony shoved him to his knees.
"Wait. I’m Jackie Kozinski." Brother Frederick stepped forward then knelt.
"Once I was known as Jackie Kozinski." Brother Joseph knelt.
"No. I’m Jackie Kozinski." Brother Jeremy knelt as well.
Blair sidled from behind Jim.
Anthony glared at the kneeling monks. "Fine. You want to play the martyrs. No problem."
"How many rounds you got in that gun?" Jim demanded. "One of us is going to be on you before you’re through."
Anthony angrily growled. Grabbing the hatch, he pulled it shut after him as he left the tower.
"Thank you, my Brothers," Brother Marcus sighed. "But I think we’ve just sentenced ourselves to a mass grave."
"Not if I can help it," Jim grimly argued. "Blair, check the door."
The sentinel carefully leaned out of the bell tower. When he spotted Anthony, he tilted his head and listened….
"Yeah, it’s me," Anthony crisply spoke into a cell phone. "I know it’s taken longer than I thought. Just get up here if you want to be in on the end. No. It doesn’t matter anyway. I’m gonna do them all anyway just to make sure." He laughed. "If you get lost, just look for the smoke signal."
Jim quickly turned around. "How much does this bell weigh?"
"About a thousand pounds," Brother Jeremy frowned.
Jim nodded. "Brothers, I’ll need your belts."
"He’s jammed the door, Jim," Blair quietly advised. "No way we can get out from this side." He looked over the side. "Oh, man. You’re not…what am I saying? Of course, you are."
"I’m open to other suggestions, Chief," Jim admitted. He watched as Anthony spread gasoline on one side of the tower.
Blair checked the knots on the belts, then passed one end to Jim. Brother Jeremy was tying the other end to the top of the bell.
"He’s on the other side," Brother Marcus quietly observed.
Jim threw the knotted belts out the tower and started down. Blair anxiously watched his partner quickly lower himself to the ground.
Jim silently dropped to the ground then slid around the corner of the tower.
Anthony tossed the can of gasoline to one side and struck a match.
Jim launched himself towards the killer hitting him square in the back. The match flew from Anthony’s hands to land in the grass. Anthony struggled to roll over, but Jim’s fist connected with his jaw. For good measure, Jim pounded Anthony’s head into the ground before snatching the burning match.
As he stomped out the small fire in the grass, Blair and the monks cheered from the tower.
"That should hold you for a while," Jim grunted. He gave the belt securing Anthony one final twist.
"My belt?" Brother Michael asked.
"Afraid so," Jim nodded.
The monk gave a very unmonklike snort. "He can keep it."
Jim chuckled then quickly spun around.
"Jim?" Blair questioned. "What…"
Suddenly a Cadillac roared up the gravel drive. Guns from both the driver and passenger side of the car began firing.
Brother Marcus fell grabbing at his leg. Brother Jeremy and Brother Joseph immediately got him to his feet. Brother Michael stumbled as a bullet lodged in his shoulder. Brother Frederick and Blair grabbed him as they ran towards the monastery. Jim slammed the door shut behind them.
Blair cautiously looked out the window.
Brother Marcus paled. "Tony Sarelli."
The monks immediately headed towards the back of the monastery. When Jim and Blair turned around, they were alone.
"Split up," Jim immediately ordered.
"Come out, Jackie!"
"It’s safer that way," Jim urged. "Just go."
Anthony ran up to Sarelli. "Glad to see you. Get this off me!"
Sarelli freed the killer than slammed him against the hood of the expensive car. "You had two months to find Jackie, and you didn’t do it! You could’ve killed all of them, but you didn’t do it! Now, I’m gonna give you one more chance to atone for your sins, brother," he sarcastically offered. "Find Kozinski. Kill him!"
Anthony took the offered gun and ran to the monastery.
Sarelli glared at his driver. "Go with that idiot."
Jim was startled to see Brother Jeremy waiting in one of the corridors. "Well, they’ve got guns, but we outnumber them. All we have to do…"
"As part of our vows, we’re committed to abstain from violence," Brother Jeremy quietly interrupted. "Of any kind."
"Even in self-defense?" Jim demanded.
Jim angrily stared at the monk. "I’m certain that’s very noble, Brother Jeremy. But you might want to consider that your vow of non-violence could get somebody else killed." He heard Sarelli shouting for Kozinski to surrender. "And I don’t mean one of those goons in the Cadillac."
Before the monk could answer, he walked away.
Brother Jeremy silently walked towards the small storage room behind the kitchen. There, the monks had taken refuge. Brother Jeremy quietly shut the door, then faced them. "I’m afraid the situation appears…grave."
"We have to do something to help," Brother Michael urged.
"I’ve told Detective Ellison that won’t be possible," Brother Jeremy shook his head.
"I really think in this case," Brother Michael continued.
"No," Brother Jeremy firmly interrupted. "On this point, there will be no discussion."
Upstairs, Blair lifted a heavy book from one of the cells. He watched as one of the killers entered a cell down the hall. Stealthily, Blair crept down the hallway. Peering in the open door, he saw the man leaning out the window, his gun aimed at someone on the ground.
‘Jim!’ Blair anxiously realized. He quickly crossed the small cell. "Pssst!" he hissed.
The gunman whirled around.
Blair swung the heavy book, catching the gunman just under the chin. The momentum of the blow forced the gunman through the open window. He rolled off the roof and landed unconscious on the ground.
Jim had turned when he heard the gunman hit the roof. He watched in surprise as the man fell to the ground then looked up to see his partner looking out the window. He raised his hand in silent appreciation, then continued his search.
The monks looked at each other in fearful suspense when they heard a body hit the roof.
"Dear Lord," Brother Frederick prayed as he closed his eyes.
Brother Jeremy stared down at the crucifix in his fingers and prayed hard.
Anthony evilly smiled as he heard sounds from inside the main chapel. ‘Figures. Let’s see how much good praying will do you now.’ He reached to open the doors when they violently swung open.
Jim rushed through the swinging doors, tackling Anthony, who was already off-balance, down the narrow steps. Another quick punch to the jaw sent the killer into unconsciousness.
Breathing heavily, Jim turned to head back to the chapel. He stopped to see Sarelli pointing a gun at his chest. He tensed for one final lunge. Vaguely, he heard Blair yelling in a vain attempt to get Sarelli’s attention.
Suddenly, Jim felt the air close to him compress. He instinctively flinched as a shovel flashed past him to connect with Sarelli’s head. The mob boss silently fell to the ground.
Blair skidded to a stop as Jim cautiously looked over his shoulder.
Brother Jeremy shakily dropped the shovel to the ground then grasped his crucifix.
~~~~~~~~~~ Act V ~~~~~~~~~~
Brother Theodore and the police arrived a few hours later. Anthony and the other gunmen were put into cruisers and driven away. An ambulance with flashing lights sat waiting for the injured. Having given their statements, Jim and Blair silently watched Sarelli being led away.
"There’s no place safe anymore, is there, Jim?" Blair quietly asked.
Jim sighed, seeing the expression in Blair’s eyes. He didn’t have an answer so he kept quiet.
They turned around at the sound of a gurney being brought down the chapel steps. As it reached the ambulance, Jim pulled the sheet away to reveal Brother Marcus’ peaceful face.
"Finally, you son of a bitch!" Sarelli screamed. "That’s vengeance at last! For my father, you rotten traitor!"
Blair spun around and ran towards Sarelli.
Surprised, Jim quickly caught his partner. "Easy. Easy, Blair. C’mon, easy!"
Blair struggled against Jim’s arms that held him tightly. He heard Jim order the cops to remove Sarelli even as the sentinel dragged his guide away.
"Come on, Blair," Jim urged. "Let it go. It’s okay. Let it go." But he didn’t release Blair until the squad car was halfway down the gravel road.
Wiping his face, Blair walked back to the ambulance. He stared down at Brother Marcus, then gently touched his cheek.
Brother Marcus’s eyes flew open.
Blair jumped back with a squeal, nearly knocking Jim off his feet.
"Gotcha," Brother Marcus smiled.
"It’s a miracle," Jim teased.
Blair looked over his shoulder at Jim. "Why didn’t you tell me?" he angrily demanded.
"I didn’t want to take any chances," Jim shrugged. "Besides, your reaction is what convinced Sarelli."
Blair watched as the EMT’s proceeded to move the gurney back into the monastery.
"The bullet went right through," Brother Marcus assured him. "Neither Brother Michael nor I will be leaving the monastery. We will receive adequate medical attention here."
"As far as Sarelli and the world is concerned, Jackie Kozinski is truly dead," Jim quietly advised. "There’s enough evidence to convict Anthony of the murders of Brother Timothy, Brother Christopher, and the real Brother Anthony. Sarelli will go down for complicity in those murders as well as the attempted murders of the monks here at the monastery. There won’t be any need to add the murder of Jackie Kozinski."
Brother Marcus’ eyes twinkled. "Because they’ll all take a deal, right, Detective?"
"Most likely," Jim ruefully agreed.
Blair gently touched Brother Marcus’ shoulder. "I am so sorry, man. About judging you. I…I hope you’ll forgive me."
"Blair, I wouldn’t blame you if you never spoke to me again," Brother Marcus gently smiled.
"Me? A vow of silence? Not possible," Blair laughed.
"That would be a miracle," Jim muttered. He grunted when Blair’s elbow landed in his stomach. "Take care…Brother Marcus."
The sentinel turned to see Brother Jeremy and Brother Theodore standing by the monastery’s main doors. Jim grinned and reached for his wallet. "Here’s that C-note, Brother Theodore. But I never doubted you’d make it."
The older monk smiled. "Thank you, Detective Ellison. I’m sure it will be put to good use."
Jim saw an almost impish twinkle in the monk’s eyes before the man turned away. Jim turned to a somber Brother Jeremy. "Is something wrong?"
Brother Jeremy sighed. "I must admit I’m having trouble accepting responsibility for my violent action."
Jim smiled. "If it helps…I forgive you."
"Thank you, Brother Jim," the abbot dryly replied. He turned to follow the other monks into the monastery.
Jim shook his head and walked to meet Blair.
"Everything okay with you and Brother Jeremy?" Blair asked with concern.
"Oh, sure. I forgave him and he thanked me," Jim casually answered. He saw the younger man’s blue eyes narrow in suspicion. "So…this is your quiet retreat, hmmm? Away from the noise…stress…danger of civilized life?"
"This is not my fault," Blair protested.
"I can’t take you anywhere, can I?" Jim pondered.
"Oh, that is so not true," Blair tried not to laugh.
"Tell you what, Sandburg," Jim proposed as they headed towards the monastery. "Next time we go on vacation, I’ll pick somewhere nice and quiet."
"Oh, yeah?" Blair challenged. "Like where?"
"How does Las Vegas sound?"