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They had been calling all morning; they had set up camp outside
my home. How does it feel to know that there are protesters outside
the prison, hoping to free the man who murdered your child and your
Do you think Shay Bourne's request to be an organ donor is a way to
make up for what he's done?
What I thought was that nothing Shay Bourne could do or say
would ever make up for the lives of Elizabeth and Kurt. I knew
firsthand how well he could lie and what might come of it—this
was nothing more than some publicity stunt to make everyone
feel badly for him, because after a decade, who even remembered
feeling badly for that police officer, that little girl?
There are people who say that the death penalty isn't just because
it takes so long to execute a man. That it's inhumane to have
to wait eleven years or more for punishment. That at least for Elizabeth
and Kurt, death came quickly.
Let me tell you what's wrong with that line of reasoning: it assumes
that Elizabeth and Kurt were the only victims. It leaves out
me; it leaves out Claire. And I can promise you that every day for
the last eleven years I've thought of what I lost at the hands of
Shay Bourne. I've been anticipating his death just as long as he
I heard voices coming from the living room and realized that
Claire had turned on the television. A grainy photograph of Shay
Bourne filled the screen. It was the same photo that had been used
in the newspapers, although Claire would not have seen those,
since I'd thrown them out immediately. Bourne's hair was cut
short now, and there were parenthetical lines around his mouth
and fanning from the corners of his eyes, but he otherwise did not
look any different.
"That's him, isn't it?" Claire asked.
God, Complex? read the caption beneath the photograph.
"Yes." I walked toward the television, intentionally blocking
her view, and turned it off.
Claire looked up at me. "I remember him," she said.
I sighed. "Honey, you weren't even bom yet."
She unfolded the afghan that sat on the couch and wrapped it
around her shoulders, as if she'd suddenly taken a chill. "I remember
him," Claire repeated.
M I CHAEL
I would have had to be living under a rock to not know what was
being said about Shay Bourne, but I was the last person in the world
who would ever have believed him to be messianic. As far as I was
concerned, there was one Son of God, and I knew who He was. As for
Bourne's showmanship—well, I'd seen David Blaine make an elephant
disappear on Fifth Avenue in New York City, but that wasn't a miracle,
either. Plain and simple: my job here wasn't to feed into Shay
Bourne's delusional beliefs . . . only to help him accept Jesus Christ as
his Lord and Savior before his execution so that he'd wind up in the
Kingdom of Heaven.
And if I could help him donate his heart somewhere along the way,
so be it.
Two days after the incident at I-tier had occurred, I parked my
Trophy outside the prison. My mind kept tripping over a verse from
Matthew where Jesus spoke to his disciples: I was a stranger, and you
took me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me;
I was in prison, and you came unto me. The disciples—who were, to be
brutally honest, a thick bunch—were confused. They couldn't remember
Jesus being lost or naked or sick or imprisoned. And Jesus told
them: Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of my brethren,
you have done it unto me.
Inside, I was handed a flak jacket and goggles again. The door to
I-tier opened, and I was led down the hallway to Shay Bourne's cell.
It wasn't all that different from being in the confessional. The
same Swiss-cheese holes perforated the metal door of the cell, so I
could get a glimpse of Shay. Although we were the same age, he
looked like he'd aged a lifetime. Now gray at the temples, he still
was slight and wiry. I hesitated, silent, waiting to see if his eyes
would go wide with recognition, if he would start banging on the
door and demand to get away from the person who'd set the wheels
of his execution in motion.
But a funny thing happens when you're in clerical dress: you aren't
a man. You're somehow more than one, and also less. I've had secrets
whispered in front of me; I've had women hike up their skirts to fix
their panty hose. Like a physician, a priest is supposed to be unflappable,
an observer, a fly on the wall. Ask ten people who meet me what I
look like, and eight of them won't be able to tell you the color of my
eyes. They simply don't look past the collar.
Shay walked directly up to the door of the cell and started to grin.
"You came," he said.
I swallowed. "Shay, I'm Father Michael."
He flattened his palms against the door of the cell. I remembered a
photograph from the crime evidence, those fingers dark with a little
girl's blood. I had changed so much in the past eleven years, but what
about Shay Bourne? Was he remorseful? Had he matured? Did he wish,
like me, that he could erase his mistakes?
"Hey, Father," a voice yelled out—I would later learn it was Calloway
Reece—"you got any of those wafers? I'm near starving."
I ignored him and focused on Shay. "So . . . I understand you're
"A foster mother had me baptized," Shay said. "A thousand years
ago." He glanced at me. "They could put you in the conference room,
the one they use for lawyers."
"The warden said we'd have to talk here, at your cell."
Shay shrugged. "I don't have anything to hide."
Do you? I heard, although he hadn't said it.
"Anyway, that's where they give us hep C," Shay said.
"Give you hep C?"
"On haircut day. Every other Wednesday. We go to the conference
room and they buzz us. Number two blade, even if you want it longer
for winter. They don't make it this hot in here in the winter. It's freezing
from November on." He turned to me. "How come they can't make it
hot in November and freezing now?"
"I don't know."
"It's on the blades."
"Blood," Shay said. "On the razor blades. Someone gets nicked,
someone else gets hep C."
Following his conversation was like watching a SuperBall bounce.
"Did that happen to you?"
"It happened to other people, so sure, it happened to me."
Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of my brethren,
you have done it unto me.
My head was swimming; I hoped it was Shay's nonlinear speech,
and not a panic attack coming on. I'd been suffering those for eleven
years now, ever since the day we'd sentenced Shay. "But for the most
part, you're all right?"
After I said it, I wanted to kick myself. You didn't ask a dying man
how he was feeling. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, I thought, how was
"I get lonely," Shay answered.
Automatically, I replied, "God's with you."
"Well," Shay said, "he's lousy at checkers."
"Do you believe in God?"
"Why do you believe in God?" He leaned forward, suddenly intense.
"Did they tell you I want to donate my heart?"
"That's what I came to talk about. Shay."
"Good. No one else wants to help."
"What about your lawyer?"
"I fired him." Shay shrugged. "He lost all the appeals, and then he
started talking about going to the governor. The governor's not even
from New Hampshire, did you know that? He was born in Mississippi. I
always wanted to see that river, take one of those gambling boats
down it like some kind of cardsharp. Or maybe that's shark. Do they
have those in rivers?"
"Your lawyer ..."
"He wanted the governor to commute my sentence to life, but that's
just another death sentence. So I fired him."
I thought about Warden Coyne, how sure he was that this was all
just a ploy to get Shay Bourne's execution called off. Could he have
been wrong? "Are you saying that you want to die. Shay?"
"I want to live," he said. "So I have to die."
Finally, something I could latch onto. "You will live," I said. "In the
Kingdom of the Father. No matter what happens here. Shay. And no
matter whether or not you can donate your organs."
Suddenly his face went dark. "What do you mean, whether or
"Well, it's complicated ..."
"I have to give her my heart. I have to."
My jaw dropped. This specific part of Shay's request had not made
it to the broadcast news. "Nealon? Is she related to Elizabeth?" Too late
I realized that the average person—one who hadn't been on Shay's
jury—might not recognize that name and identify it as quickly. But Shay
was too agitated to notice.
"She's the sister of the girl who was killed. She has a heart problem;
I saw it on TV. What's inside me is going to save me," Shay said.
"If I don't bring it forward, it's going to kill me."
We were making the same mistake. Shay and I. We both believed
that you could right a former wrong by doing a good deed later on. But
giving Claire Nealon his heart wasn't going to bring her sister back to
life. And being Shay Bourne's spiritual advisor wasn't going to erase
the fact that I was part of the reason he was here.
"You can't get salvation by donating your organs. Shay. The only
way to find salvation is to admit your guilt and seek absolution through
"What happened then doesn't matter now."
"You don't have to be afraid to take responsibility; God loves us,
even when we screw up."
"I couldn't stop it," Shay said. "But this time, I can fix it."
"Leave that to God," I suggested. Tell Him you're sorry for what you
did, and He'll forgive you."
"No matter what?"
"No matter what."
"Then why do you have to say you're sorry first?"
I hesitated, trying to find a better way to explain sin and salvation
to Shay. It was a bargain: you made an admission, you got redemption
in return. In Shay's economy of salvation, you gave away a piece of
yourself—and somehow found yourself whole again.
Were the two ideas really so different?
I shook my head to clear it.
"Lucius is an atheist," Shay said. "Right, Lucius?"
From next door, Lucius mumbled, "Mm-hmm."
"And he didn't die. He was sick, and he got better."
The AIDS patient; I'd heard about him on the news. "Did you have
something to do with it?"
"I didn't do anything."
"Lucius, do you believe that, too?"
I leaned back so that I could make eye contact with this other
inmate, a slim man with a shock of white hair. "I think Shay had everything
to do with it," he said.
"Lucius should believe whatever he needs to," Shay said.
"What about the miracles?" Lucius added.
"What miracles?" Shay said.
Two facts struck me: Shay Bourne was not claiming to be the Messiah,
or Jesus, or anyone but himself. And through some misguided
belief, he truly felt that he wouldn't rest in peace unless he could
donate his heart to Claire Nealon.
"Look," Lucius said. "Are you or are you not going to help him?"
Maybe none of us could compensate for what we'd done wrong in
the past, but that didn't mean we couldn't make our futures matter
more. I closed my eyes and imagined being the last person Shay Bourne
spoke with before he was executed by the State of New Hampshire. I
imagined picking a section of the Bible that would resonate with him, a
balm of prayer during those last few minutes. I could do this for him. I
could be who he needed me to be now, because I hadn't been who he
needed me to be back then. "Shay," I said, "knowing that your heart is
beating in some other person isn't salvation. It's altruism. Salvation is
coming home. It's understanding that you don't have to prove yourself
"Oh, for Christ's sake," Lucius snorted. "Don't listen to him. Shay."
I turned to him. "Do you mind?" Then I shifted position, so that I
blocked Lucius from my sight, focusing on Shay. "God loves you—
whether or not you give up your organs, whether or not you've made
mistakes in the past. And the day of your execution, he'll be waiting for
you. Christ can save you. Shay."
"Christ can't give Claire Nealon a heart." Suddenly Shay's gaze was
piercing and lucid. "I don't need to find God. I don't want catechism,"
he said. "All I want to know is whether, after I'm killed, I can save a
"No," I said bluntly. "Not if you're given a lethal injection. The drugs
are meant specifically to stop your heart, and after that, it's worthless
The light in his eyes dimmed, and I drew in my breath. "I'm sorry.
Shay. I know you were hoping to hear something different, and your
intentions are good . . . but you need to channel those good intentions
to make peace with God another way. And that is something I can
Just then a young woman burst onto I-tier. She had a cascade of
black curls tumbling down her back, and peeking out from her flak
jacket was the ugliest striped suit I'd ever seen. "Shay Bourne?" she
said. "I know a way you can donate your organs."
Some people may find it tough to break out of prison, but for me, it was
equally as hard to get in. Okay, so I wasn't officially Shay Bourne's
attorney—but the prison officials didn't know that. I could argue the
technicality with Bourne himself, if and when I reached him.
I hadn't counted on how difficult it would be to get through the
throng outside the prison. It's one thing to shove your way past a group
of college kids smoking pot in a tent, their MAKE PEACE NOT MIRACLES signs
littering the muddy ground; it's another thing entirely to explain to a
mother and her smooth-scalped, cancer-stricken toddler why you deserved
to cut their place in line. In the end, the only way I could edge
forward was by explaining to those who'd been waiting (in some
cases, for days) that I was Shay Bourne's legal advisor and that I would
pass along their pleas: from the elderly couple with knotted hands,
whose twin diagnoses—breast cancer and lymphatic cancer—came
within a week of each other; to the father who carried pictures of the
eight children he couldn't support since losing his job; to the daughter
pushing her mother's wheelchair, wishing for just one more lucid
moment in the fog of Alzheimer's so that she could say she was sorry
for a transgression that had happened years earlier. There is so much
pain in this world, I thought, how do any of us manage to get up in the
When I reached the front gate, I announced that I had come to see
Shay Bourne, and the officer laughed at me. "You and the rest of the free
"I'm his lawyer."
He looked at me for a long moment, and then spoke into his radio. A
moment later, a second officer arrived and escorted me past the blockade.
As I left, a cheer went up from the crowd.
Stunned, I turned around, waved hesitantly, and then hurried to
I had never been to the state prison. It was a large, old brick building;
its courtyard stretched out behind the razor-wire fencing. I was told
to sign in on a clipboard and to take off my jacket before I went through
the metal detector.
"Wait here," the officer said, and he left me sitting in a small anteroom.
There was an inmate mopping the floor who did not make eye
contact with me. He was wearing white tennis shoes that squelched every
time he stepped forward. I watched his hands on the mop and wondered
if they'd been part of a murder, a rape, a robbery.
There was a reason I didn't become a criminal defense attorney: this
setting freaked me out. I had been to the county jail to meet with clients,
but those were small-potatoes crimes: picketing outside a rally for a political
candidate, flag burning, civil disobedience. None of my clients had
ever killed anyone before, much less a child and a police officer. I found
myself considering what it would be like to be locked in here forever.
What if my dress clothes and day clothes and pajamas were all the same
orange scrubs? What if I was told when to shower, when to eat, when to
go to bed? Given that my career was about maintaining personal freedoms,
it was hard to imagine a world where they'd all been stripped away.
As I watched the inmate mop beneath a bank of seats, I wondered
what would be the hardest luxury to leave behind. There were the trivial
things: losing chocolate practically qualified as cruel and unusual punishment;
I couldn't sacrifice my contact lenses; I'd sooner die than relinquish
the Ouidad Climate Control gel that kept my hair from becoming a
frizzy rat's nest. But what about the rest—missing the dizzying choice of
all the cereals in the grocery store aisle, for example? Not being able to
receive a phone call? Granted, it had been so long since I was intimate
with a man that I had spiderwebs between my legs, but what would it be
like to give up being touched casually, even a handshake?
I bet I'd even miss fighting with my mother.
Suddenly a pair of boots appeared on the floor before me. "You're out
of luck. He's got his spiritual advisor with him," the officer said. "Bourne's
pretty popular today."
"That's fine," I bluffed. "The spiritual advisor can join us during our
meeting." I saw the slightest flicker of uncertainty on the face of the officer.
Not allowing an inmate to see his attorney was a big no-no, and I
was planning to capitalize on that.
The officer shrugged and led me down a hallway. He nodded to a
man in a control booth, and a door scraped open. We stepped into a
small metal midroom, and I sucked in my breath as the steel door slid
home. "I'm a little claustrophobic," I said.
The officer smiled. "Too bad."
The inner door buzzed, and we entered the prison. "It's quiet in
here," I remarked.
"That's because it's a good day." He handed me a flak jacket and goggles
and waited for me to put them on. For one brief moment, I
panicked—what if a man's jacket like this didn't zip shut on me? How
embarrassing would that be? But there were Velcro straps and it wasn't an
issue, and as soon as I was outfitted, the door to a long tier opened.
"Have fun," the officer said, and that was when I realized I was supposed
to go in alone.
Well. I wasn't going to convince Shay Bourne I was brave enough to
save his life if I couldn't muster the courage to walk through that door.
There were whoops and catcalls. Leave it to me to find my only appreciative
audience in the maximum-security tier of the state prison.
"Baby, you here for me?" one guy said, and another pulled down his
scrubs so that I could see his boxer shorts, as if I'd been waiting for that
kind of peep show all my life. I kept my eyes focused on the priest who
was standing outside one of the cells.
I should have introduced myself. I should have explained why I had
lied my way into this prison. But I was so flustered that nothing came out
the way it should have. "Shay Bourne?" I said. "I know a way that you
can donate your organs."
The priest frowned at me. "Who are you?"
He turned to Shay. "I thought you said you didn't have a lawyer."
Shay tilted his head. He looked at me as if he were sifting through
the grains of my thoughts, separating the wheat from the chaff. "Let her
talk," he said.
My streak of bravery widened after that: leaving the priest with Shay, I
went back to the officers and demanded a private attorney-client conference
room. I explained that legally, they had to provide one and that due
to the nature of our conversation, the priest should be allowed into the
meeting. Then the priest and I were taken into a small cubicle from one
side, while Shay was escorted through a different entrance by two officers.
When the door was closed, he backed up to it, slipping his hands
through the trap to have his handcuffs removed.
"All right," the priest said. "What's going on?"
I ignored him and faced Shay. "My name is Maggie Bloom. I'm an attorney
for the ACLU, and I think I know a way to save you from being
"Thanks," he said, "but that's not what I'm looking for."
I stared at him. "What?"
"I don't need you to save all of me. Only my heart."
" I . . . I don't understand," I said slowly.
"What Shay means," the priest said, "is that he's resigned to his execution.
He just wants to be an organ donor, afterward."
"Who are you, exactly?" I asked.
"Father Michael Wright."
"And you're his spiritual advisor?"
"Since ten minutes before you became his lawyer," the priest said.
I turned back to Shay. "Tell me what you want."
"To give my heart to Claire Nealon."
Who the hell was Claire Nealon? "Does she want your heart?"
I looked at Shay, and then I looked at Michael, and I realized that I
had just asked the one question no one had considered up till this point.
"I don't know if she wants it," Shay said, "but she needs it."
"Well, has anyone talked to her?" I turned to Father Michael. "Isn't
that your job?"
"Look," the priest said, "the state has to execute him by lethal injection.
And if that happens, organ donation isn't viable."
"Not necessarily," I said slowly.
A lawyer can't care more about the case than the client does. If I
couldn't convince Shay to enter a courtroom hoping for his life to be
spared, then it would be foolish for me to take this on. However, if his
mission to donate his heart dovetailed with mine—to strike down the
death penalty—then why not use the same loophole law to get what we
both wanted? I could fight for him to die on his own terms—donate his
organs—and in the process, raise enough awareness about the death penalty
to make more people take a stand against it.
I glanced up at my new client and smiled.
M I C HAEL
The crazy woman who'd barged in on our little pastoral counseling
session was now promising Shay Bourne happy endings she could not
deliver. "I need to do a little research," she explained. I'm going to
come back to see you in a few days."
Shay, for what it was worth, was staring at her as if she had just
handed him the moon. "But you think . . . you think I'll be able to
donate my heart to her?"
"Yes," she said. "Maybe."
Yes. Maybe. Mixed signals, that's what she was giving him. As opposed
to my message: God. Jesus. One true course.
She knocked on the window, in just as big a hurry to get out of the
conference room as she'd been to enter it. As an officer buzzed open
the door, I grasped her upper arm. "Don't get his hopes up," I whispered.
She raised a brow. "Don't cut them down."
The door closed behind Maggie Bloom, and I watched her walk
away through the oblong window in the conference room. In the faint
reflection, I could see Shay watching, too. "I like her," he announced.
"Well," I sighed. "Good."
"Did you ever notice how sometimes it's a mirror, and sometimes
It took me a moment to realize that he was talking about the reflection.
"It's the way the light hits," I explained.
"There's light inside a man of light," Shay murmured. "It can light up the
whole world." He met my gaze. "So, what were you saying is impossible?"
* * *
My grandmother had been so fervently Catholic that she was on the
committee of women who would come to scrub down the church,
sometimes taking me along. I'd sit in the back, setting up a traffic jam of
Matchbox cars on the kneeler. I'd watch her rub Murphy Oil Soap into
the scarred wooden pews and sweep down the aisle with a broom;
and on Sunday when we went to Mass she'd look around—from the entryway
to the arched ceilings to the flickering candles—and nod with
satisfaction. On the other hand, my grandfather never went to church.
Instead, on Sundays, he fished. In the summer, he went out fly-fishing
for bass; in the winter, he cut a hole in the ice and waited, drinking
from his thermos of coffee, with steam wreathing his head like a halo.
It wasn't until I was twelve that I was allowed to skip a Sunday
Mass to tag along with my grandfather. My grandmother sent me off
with a bag lunch and an old baseball hat to keep the sun off my face.
"Maybe you can talk some sense into him," she said. I had heard
enough sermons to understand what happened to those who didn't
truly believe, so I climbed into his little aluminum boat and waited until
we had stopped underneath the reaching arm of a willow tree along
the shoreline. He took out a fly rod and handed it to me, and then
started casting with his own ancient bamboo rod.
One two three, one two three. There was a rhythm to fly-fishing,
like a ballroom dance. I waited until we had both unspooled the long
tongue of line over the lake, until the flies that my grandfather laboriously
tied in his basement had lightly come to rest on the surface.
"Grandpa," I asked, "you don't want to go to hell, do you?"
"Aw, Christ," he had answered. "Did your grandmother put you up
"No," I lied. "I just don't understand why you never go to Mass with
"I have my own Mass," he had said. "I don't need some guy in a
collar and a dress telling me what I should and shouldn't believe."
Maybe if I'd been older, or smarter, I would have left it alone at
that. Instead, I squinted into the sun, up at my grandfather. "But you got
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