Pasayten Pete

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Altered Plans

"As I see it, we have a number of problems to deal with. Some are moral and spiritual, and some are practical."

Mike and Fr. Ambrose rested in their hotel room after a light meal. Both were troubled. They were confronting a massive problem, head on, and neither was sure how to proceed. Following the first rule of consultation, "two heads are better than one," they were engaging in some sincere discussion of their goals and how best to achieve them.

"Our biggest problem is the good Bishop himself," Fr. Ambrose mused. "It's a weak soul who must be frightened into doing the right thing. Imagine, a pilgrim comes to a fork in the path. It's little test of his character if he chooses the more difficult path because he can plainly see the hungry lion standing on the other one!"

Mike smiled at that. His old friend had a lovely way with putting a difficult issue into simple words.

"No, no test of faith at all. We see that he has been taking the easy path each time he comes to a decision point. He failed to expose the priests and risk scandal for himself; he chose the easier path. He quietly covered up for them and transferred them away. He ignores the pain and suffering of the children and their families, while choosing to protect himself from exposure and loss of status. Are these the acts of a servant of God? No, truly not. But are we to choose for him? Do we direct him to put his feet on the right path?" Fr. Ambrose was thinking aloud, trying to sort it out.

"Good friend, the ultimate judgment rests with the Lord. I think we can only use our own moral compass to set things straight here during the short time we have. This Bishop has enjoyed a long career and we've already dealt with part of the pain and wreckage he's allowed to happen. It's a true miracle that Marilee has recovered and despite all that, her family was uprooted and had to make a new beginning for themselves. But what of the others? How many are suffering, are destroyed, that we do not know? Could we bear it if we did know?" Fr. Ambrose rose, paced to the open window and stared out into the busy street below.

"No, my friend," he turned to face Mike. "I know that you have endless tricks and devices stashed away in your mind and in that medicine pouch of yours. I have endless faith in the right and wrong of things, and I know that we are entrusted to use our talents, you and I, to do what we can on this earth to assist those good souls who need us. If we must confront these perverted devils here in this life, then we shall do it. Leaving them alone in some misguided hope that they might later make a right choice is not something we have the right to do. Mercy to those devils is a terrible wrong that we would do to their victims, past, present and God forbid, future. No! By damn, Mike, we must do everything in our power to stop this. I had hoped the Bishop would receive us, listen to us, and do his duty. Apparently that is not to be. So be it. Let him reap the harvest of his life's work! He can deal with us now, and face his Maker later!"

Mike stared out through the open window, its curtains fluttering gently in the humid, warm midwestern breeze. The lion's not standing on the path waiting for some pilgrim to come stumbling along. He's right here in the room with me, and he's going to tear a huge chunk out of that Bishop before we return home, I think.

He looked to Fr. Ambrose and gestured for the good priest to stop pacing angrily back and forth across the worn hotel room carpet.

"Very well. We have several layers to peel away in dealing with this stinking pile of garbage, then. First, those priests. Either we deal with them individually, or we find a way to force the Bishop to do it. I'd prefer that he do it.

"Second, we have the issue of Sister Agatha's order being forced to sell their house and abandon the aged members to state charity. At the same time, our good Bishop is gloating over his millions of dollars in contributions to gild the bricks on his palatial edifice. I wonder what would happen to that golden stream of wealth if his influential friends were to get a whiff of his rotten secret? I wonder what choices he might make if he were confronted with a fork in the path? He could choose to spend some of that wealth to assure a secure future for the sisters, or he could persist in spending it for his own glorification, only to lose it all in disgrace and banishment? I wonder..."

Mike rose and began pacing back and forth across the carpet, following the trail of his thoughts.

"Third, we have the good Bishop himself. We've abandoned the idea that he will see the error of his ways upon hearing the simple truth from us, we simple folk that he values so little. So we force the truth upon him. He'll deal with the priests, and he'll provide for the sisters, and he'll settle for a bit less glorification of the edifice. But what of him? I think we need to offer him a choice for himself. He cannot continue as Bishop; he'll only revert to his corrupt self when no longer confronted with his terrors. No, I think he needs to see that his remaining as Bishop will be his destruction; that voluntarily choosing the plain and simple path of a worker for the Lord could be his salvation. Truthfully, we'll be the lion in the path that causes him to take the harder journey, but after that he must walk upright or fall on his own. There's a certain justice in that, don't you think? And it leaves his fate entirely in his own hands. We'll not be playing God with his life. We're simply redirecting his feet, a little. Yes?"

Fr. Ambrose smiled up at Mike with a huge, serene smile.

"Oh, you heathen devil, you! I thank the Lord for two things, sir: one, is meeting yourself, and the other is that I've worked hard to be a simple man, and that I've never given you cause to doubt my role as a shepherd among the sheep! You, sir, are a lion that any wolf thinking to torment the sheep should fear!"

"Kansas City Star, how may I help you?"

"Hello, my name is Father Ambrose ... I wonder if I might be connected with your columnist, Michelle Michaels?"

"Yes, Father, right away. She's at her desk. I'll ring her."

Miss Michaels's column was a widely-read feature in KC's daily newspaper. She'd built up a huge following surprisingly quickly for one so young. She had a good nose for human interest stories that gripped her readers. She sat sipping tea with a country priest and his companion. They'd handed her a folder of documents and photographs. She felt unusually moved by the story she saw unfolding before her. She was already grateful she'd had a strong intuition to accept his invitation for a private meeting away from her office.

"I see that all of these letters have been written and signed by Sister Agatha. Do you have any background material on her? Where she's served, who she is?"

"Strangely fortuitous that you'd ask that, young lady. I just happen to have a few things with me. Perhaps you'll find these as fascinating as I've always thought them to be. Sister Agatha is no ordinary woman, I assure you. But I'll let you keep these and you can form your own opinions." Fr. Ambrose handed over a thick binder of journals, notes, and photographs that he'd accumulated over the years. He'd had the foresight to have everything duplicated. The originals were safely back home.

"Please, keep these. If you have any questions, or need more material, please call me."

Mike smiled. He could see from her face that she'd already been hooked. She was staring at a photograph of Sister Agatha and Fr. Ambrose when they were much younger. There was a jungle background, a primitive building with a wide porch roof, and at least two dozen native women and a hundred children gathered around them. The part that had her transfixed, however, was the familiar face of the country's former prime minister and two of his aides in the process of placing a medallion about her neck. It was obviously a high honor.

Later that evening Miss Michaels sat on her couch at home, bare feet curled up under her, stacks of papers and photographs laid and sorted all around herself and on the facing coffee table. She had a notepad in her lap, a pencil slipped lightly behind her ear, and a telephone handset tucked under her chin.

"Yes, Donovan, I said hold back both the Thursday and Friday columns. I'll be working most of the night, and I'll finish it up tomorrow afternoon in time for deadline. This will be a two-part series and I want it in front of our readers before the weekend."

"Yes, you heard me right. And if I were you? I'd send a reporter and a photographer to this weekend's charity golf tournament. He might ask the good Bishop why he's throwing the most decorated nun ever to serve in Malaysia out into the street together with a dozen of her sisters, due to lack of funds, when at the same time he's about to spend three and a half million bucks on gilding that palace of his? And Donovan? You'll want a photographer there to get the expression on his sweating face when he tries to squirm out of it!"

The mayor sat at the head of the conference table in the City Hall executive conference room, facing rows of city and church assistants down both sides. The Bishop, sweating and nervous, sat at the far end. He'd been listening to an evaluation from the Mayor's special assistant for public relations. The report had lasted some twenty minutes but could be summed up quite briefly: a quick poll of the city's residents the previous day revealed that the Bishop was about as popular as an outbreak of measles. Public opinion seemed to be split between tarring and feathering the Bishop and riding him out of the city on a rail, or simply tarring and feathering him and hanging him from the highest spire of the edifice he'd planned to renovate.

"My God, man! What were you thinking? You've gotten us all involved in this project, and I'm quoted earlier this year as saying I and the city government are 'proud and impressed' with this project! And you're forcing these dear sisters out of their home? Throwing them to the tender mercies of state welfare? A burden on our taxpayers that you refuse to honor? It beggars belief!"

The Mayor pounded his fist on the table so hard that half his staff jerked back in their chairs. The Bishop seemed to slink down in his chair, his eyes closed and his face flushed nearly purple.

"There is a way to resolve this, you know!" the Mayor continued, speaking in a deadly soft voice that the Bishop could barely hear.

"It is not my wish to tell the Church how to do its business, but let me make a private recommendation, simply as one person of responsibility to another. It would be a very good thing if you could find some room in your budget to save that home, to establish a fund that would provide for their needs on a continuing, stable basis, and to do it quickly so we can announce to a sympathetic public that we, meaning we as in all of us, city and church alike, place the highest value on these treasured servants of humanity; that they deserve to live the remainder of their lives in safety and security! That is only my advice mind you, so I'll leave it to your good judgment how to proceed from here."

The mayor rose from his seat, placed both hands flat on the table in front of him, leaned forward and continued to stare at the Bishop. In a voice even and calm, he continued: "It would be beneficial if we could hold a joint news conference on ... oh, let's say this coming Thursday ... so the news will be in Friday's paper for the weekend readers. My press secretary will arrange it, and I'll also suggest that she provide advance material to Miss Michaels for her column. Yes, I think everyone will welcome such good news, coming so soon after such a dreadful development. Don't you?"

The mayor grinned a truly ghastly smile at the Bishop, whose face had gone from purple to pale white. The mayor gestured to his staff to rise. He spun on his heel and left the room without further word. It was several minutes later before the Bishop was able to compose himself and leave.

Sister Agatha received a special delivery envelope informing her that any "unfortunately premature" instructions to vacate the house, disperse its occupants, and prepare it for sale were on "indefinite hold." She was instructed to continue as if nothing untoward had happened, and to please wait for further instructions regarding a new budget and funding sources. She crossed herself, gazed thankfully up to the heavens, and rose from her chair. "Sisters," she called loudly. "Sisters! Good news!"

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Pasayten Pete © Graybyrd 2010

Last modification: 2016/8/25 at 19:30