Chapter Twenty-Six: Vitelli's End
Marilee came through the front door with Graydon right behind her. They stopped in the kitchen doorway. Her parents sat at the table with Fr. Ambrose, his back to the two young people. When he saw Frank's eyes lift toward the doorway, Fr. Ambrose rose from his chair and strode forward, extending his hand.
"Good evening, Marilee. It is good to see you again. Who is this young man with you?"
Marilee blushed shyly. She turned to bring Graydon alongside.
"This is Graydon Williams, our friend. He's helped us so much! Graydon, this is Father Ambrose, our family priest."
Ambrose extended his hand to grip Graydon's: the two locked eyes and time seemed to freeze. Ambrose instantly remembered the moment he first encountered his mentor, many years ago, when he sensed the depth of the elder man's intellect and spirit. That gaze had been returned in measure when the elder recognized his student.
Ambrose felt himself studied in the young man's gaze. He sensed a mind that had recently grown to power, but he also saw a reflection of something timeless, ancient, as if older eyes weighed and judged him through the eyes of this unusual youth.
Graydon, in turn, recognized a lifetime of dedication and sanctity in this old man's soul. His face was deeply wrinkled and weary but his eyes were strong, clear, and confident. They were windows to a soul at peace with itself.
The moment passed so quickly that the others in the room missed it, yet in a single instant a bond of respect and trust had formed in that simple handshake.
"It is my pleasure to meet you, Father. I have heard nothing but praise from my elders for all the good things you have accomplished in the valley."
"Bless you, young man. Graydon, is your name? It is most assuredly my delight to meet you. I sense that we have friends and more in common between us. I believe we will see much of each other before all is done."
Frank puzzled at this development. He could hazily see the aura of the two, bright and strong around them. When they met their auras seemed to merge and swirl and come away with some of each now shared with the other.
How odd, he thought. Did I really see that, or is my mind finally giving way to the upheaval of this last year?
"Mom, Dad, what's going on?"
"Nothing much, pumpkin, except we've been enjoying Father Ambrose's company."
"Well, its good to see you, Father Ambrose. Graydon and I just walked back from downtown. We had a soda at the drugstore. Mom, I brought the mail back from the Post Office. Graydon has to get back to Winthrop. He's got a ride that will meet him downtown in a little while."
Marilee excused herself, smiled at Graydon and stood up on tiptoe to plant a soft kiss on his cheek. They blushed while the parents chuckled, amused. She scampered from the kitchen.
"Father Ambrose, are you going back to your chapel soon?" Graydon asked.
"Why, yes ... as a matter of fact, I was just leaving," Ambrose replied. "Frank, Madeline, please excuse me, and thank you so much for your time and the use of your telephone. I'll be in touch very soon, and please, don't be concerned. All will be well, I'm sure."
"Could I offer you a ride downtown, young man?"
Graydon nodded yes and the two shook hands with Frank, said goodbye to Madeline, and left the house. Graydon seated himself in Fr. Ambrose's ancient Ford sedan, but before he could close the door the elderly priest moved his finger to his lips and motioned Graydon to silence.
"I fear we may be watched; there is one who may have helpers about, who is struggling mightily to learn secrets we'd rather he not know. We'd best keep our silence for now. I'll take you downtown, and let you out so you can catch your ride. But I'd like you to visit a mutual friend of ours. I believe you are very close to the Brightmans, is that correct?"
Graydon was slightly startled, but maintained an indifferent expression. He guessed that Fr. Ambrose was well acquainted with everyone in the valley and would know that his family lived close to the Brightman ranch.
"Yes, Father, of course I know them."
Fr. Ambrose settled himself in the driver's seat and the old car moved down the subdivision street, toward the hillside lane that curved down and around to the tributary river road and into town.
"Very good. Please visit James Brightman as soon as you can. He will have information for you that I sense you must know, if all is to come out as it should. This information most seriously concerns the three of you, and the sooner we are prepared, the better is our chance for avoiding a great difficulty." Fr. Ambrose smiled across at Graydon, seeing the young man's instant astonishment. Yes, he thought to himself, this young man is no one's fool. He heard me say "three" and he is quickly coming to the right conclusions.
For his part, Graydon was lost in a whirl of thoughts while the old car rattled along, leaving an embarrassing swirl of blue oil smoke behind. Jim and Mike both nagged Ambrose to use some of the charity money to replace the car with something newer, but he refused. "As long as our good Lord sees fit to keep this one running, I'm satisfied to drive her," Fr. Ambrose retorted with his small smile. "I am used to this one; she suits me. She's old and tired, like myself, and I'll not reward her faithful service with a trip to the junkyard, thank you both very much!" And that was the only answer they would get, no matter how they pleaded and cajoled with the old priest.
"Yes, young man. I know your shaman friend very well. I would never utter this outside of this moving vehicle, and I know that you keep a cautious tongue as well. But we both know, since our meeting today, that we're involved in something much greater than the average eye would see. Please meet with James and your mentor as soon as possible. There is much to be decided, and very little time for us to act."
Graydon remained silent until they arrived at the corner store where he found his friend waiting. He was quiet for the entire ride back to Winthrop. His soul rejoiced, for some reason he couldn't quite understand, but he had the odd feeling he'd looked through a window to see a glorious light shining from a new direction.
The dreamscape opened into a mountain meadow. A soft wind, a gentle sun, and a calm sky illumined a peaceful landscape surrounding them as he stood face to face with his soul mate. He held her small hands in his. He saw himself reflected in her calm, beautiful eyes.
The moment changed when his spirit guide, the night hawk, swooped down beside them and fluttered before their upturned faces. Both of them saw the small bird with the bright eyes.
Both of us? Graydon started, shocked that Marilee was standing beside him in this dream and his spirit companion appeared to her, openly. How is this? What does this imply?
She knows, young shaman. She knows your secrets, your soul, the very essence of your being. This is the meaning of soul mate. It should be no surprise to you. From the moment you accepted her love, she agreed to walk this path with you. She will remain by your side for time and eternity. She will not falter nor doubt; she will truly be your strong half, your sure reserve of strength when the trail becomes faint and difficult, and the way seems too hard to continue. She will not let your steps turn aside. She will know the certainty of your love for her, your skill and good heart and your devotion to your purpose. She and you are the two wings of a soaring bird, strong in life and eternal in spirit. Never doubt, never forget, never falter.
The night hawk faded from view. Graydon gazed upon the face of his love, and she at his. They walked a short distance and found a lichen-covered granite shelf at trail's edge, a natural bench that overlooked a golden valley with a silver river winding down its length. They sat and waited.
In time, a vision opened to both of them. They saw a dark shadow form into the outline of a small, hawk-faced man. The dark specter glared at them with flaming eyes, his clutching hands held a snare grasped tightly between its thumbs. It cast its stare from one to the other, but could not quite focus on them. It was searching, seeking, but not quite finding. An aura of pure hatred surrounded the dark shape.
Marilee gripped Graydon's arm tightly but never flinched. She stared back, studying the horrible figure, seeking to understand the meaning. In that instant, she knew, as did Graydon. They understood the meaning. There was an evil presence in the valley that sought to ensnare and destroy them, their friends, and their innocence, their souls. Marilee saw even deeper. She recognized the entity that sheltered and concealed the unspeakable horror that had been done to her and her family.
Graydon, I know what we must do. You and I, together. Only we can do this and we must do it soon!
For the first time since he had known his respected mentor, Graydon found him speechless, struck dumb, staring at him with wide eyes and a mouth held tight lest some incautious word burst forth. Graydon calmly faced Mike, waiting for him to gather his composure.
"Yes, she was in the dream with me, and the night hawk spoke to us, together. Then we saw the specter, the shade with the snare searching for us, and for you!"
Mike settled back into his chair in the Brightman's parlor. He had no choice but to accept the truth of Graydon's vision. Jim Brightman sucked noisily on his pipe, nervous and struggling not to show it. Father Ambrose sat in a third chair, joining them in the council circle. Ambrose had ridden up with Jim Brightman from Twisp in the Brightman's jeep, knowing that if he used his ancient Ford one of Vitelli's spies might see and follow.
"I know you don't like it, but if you have faith in your guide and mine, you know that this is what must be done and that she and I must do it." Graydon disliked confronting his mentor this way, but he had little choice. He saw the vision, knew the import of it, and had Marilee's confirmation. The two of them, he and Marilee, would deal with M. Vitelli and they would do it in the small chapel. They would confront Vitelli and face him down. Father Ambrose would lure Vitelli to his chapel office with a promise of the information he sought.
"It simply will not succeed if you go yourself, Mike! We have been shown what we must do, and we can do it together. We are not one, nor even two. We have been shown that the two of us together form something much stronger, strong enough to confront and defeat this monster. Anything else will not work; it will fail," Graydon explained.
"But son, to put Marilee in that position," Jim protested. "She... her father... it is just too damned risky!" he sputtered, upset beyond his normal reserve.
"No, not at all," Fr. Ambrose interjected. Jim and Mike stared at him, half shocked. Their old friend seldom entered their arguments. His interruption, as much as his words, was a huge surprise.
"She is very much more than she appears, despite her young age and slight frame. She is spring steel, my friends. She is no frail flower that wilts with the first frost. She has the spirit of a panther in that small body, and you would do well to consider that before either of you tell her she cannot stand beside her young man in any moment of peril. And that caution should go doubly so for her father. He, of all of us, should know the quality of his daughter. Yes, he will wish to protect her, but he dare not stand in her path when she is called to her duty beside her chosen one."
The weight of those words brought the room to a heavy, brooding silence. Jim sucked even more noisily on his pipe, finally slamming it upside down to knock it fiercely into a heavy glass ashtray to dislodge the tarry slug inside its bowl. Emptied, he thrust it into his tobacco pouch and tamped it full, and brought the stem back into his mouth. He clamped down on it and glared back at his old friend, then at Mike, and then at his youngest and most precious friend. Graydon sat uncommonly calm and composed, letting his mentor and his counselors hash out their feelings amongst themselves. He knew that in time they would come around. Mike, despite his reluctance to accept that the two teens would face their common threat, would allow it. They had been chosen and the adults must step back into supporting roles.
"Damn!" Mike stood, regarded each of his friends in turn, then settled his gaze on Graydon.
"It is decided, then. Please forgive me. I must take a long walk and face down my fears. Before I go, I'd offer this advice. Graydon, when you and Marilee do this thing, be certain that her father suspects nothing. For if he knows beforehand, I do not think that all of us together are strong enough to hold him back. He would fight us to prevent her from doing this thing.
It was the third day and M. Vitelli was growing almost insanely impatient. He had one agent keeping watch over Fr. Ambrose's movements, and another agent trying to spy on the Jacobs, but that was a nearly impossible task. In such a small town where outsiders were given little notice until the second or third time they were seen behaving strangely, appearing in places where they had no excuse to be, calls would be made to the local city marshall or sheriff's deputy. Or worse: an angry husband or father might confront the stranger. Sometimes, if it were dusk or after dark, they would do so with a shotgun held ominously at their side.
Thus he had no clues from his agents. Fr. Ambrose did visit the Jacobs family; otherwise, he moved around the valley between the two towns as normal for his priestly duties. There was one report of a young man riding with Fr. Ambrose from the Jacobs' home to downtown Twisp, but there was only the one time and it appeared to be their daughter's boyfriend needing a ride. There was no sign of any others visiting or meeting the Jacobs. If it had been longer than just a few days, that in itself would raise suspicion, but M. Vitelli could not draw any conclusions just yet. He had a nagging feeling about one long afternoon absence when Fr. Ambrose was gone but his disgraceful old car remained behind. That was no proof of collusion with anybody. He might simply have gone off somewhere with one of his wealthier parishioners.
The call from Fr. Ambrose came late in the afternoon of the third day.
"I have information you will wish to hear. Will you come to the chapel? We will not be disturbed."
"Yes, certainly. It is about time! It is well for you that this day has not ended without result!"
"I am certain of that, M. Vitelli. Be assured, what I have for you here will command your attention. I will be in the chapel. Please come in through the front entrance."
Less than five minutes later the black sedan slid to a smooth stop beside the chapel and Vitelli sprinted up the front steps. He flung the small but heavy door to one side and stepped through, not hiding his distaste for this pathetic excuse of a church.
A proper place for a poverty pocket full of poor peasants! he swore under his breath. He strode impatiently forward down the threadbare runner covering the polished hardwood planks of the chapel aisle. His eyes struggled to adjust from the bright outside light, to focus on the altar end of the dim interior. He expected to see Fr. Ambrose waiting for him at the corner doorway to his small office. He was not there.
He could see no one in the colored shadows cast by the stained glass windows on either side of the altar, but in the darkness by the altar itself ... were there two figures there? Yes, two slender figures, one taller than the other, side by side. They were hardly older than children!