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caught you," he said. "Have you got a moment?"
I watched the baby's mother push the stroller onto the yawning elevator.
"This is what I didn't tell you," Dr. Perego said. "And you didn't hear
it from me."
I nodded, understanding.
"HIV causes cognitive impairment—a permanent loss of memory
and concentration. We can literally see this on an MRI, and Du-
Fresne's brain scan showed irreparable damage when he first entered
the state prison. However, another MRI brain scan was done on him
yesterday—and it shows a reversal of that atrophy." He looked at me,
waiting for this to sink in. "There's no physical evidence of dementia
"What could cause that?"
Dr. Perego shook his head. "Absolutely nothing," he admitted.
The second time I went to meet with Shay Bourne, he was lying on his
bunk, asleep. Not wanting to disturb him, I started to back away, but he
spoke to me without opening his eyes. I'm awake," he said. "Are
"Last time I checked," I answered.
C He sat up, swinging his legs over the side of his bunk. "Wow. I
dreamed that I was struck by lightning, and all of a sudden I had the
power to locate anyone in the world, anytime. So the government cut a
deal with me—find bin Laden, and you're free."
"I used to dream that I had a watch, and turning the hands could
take you backward in time," I said. "I always wanted to be a pirate, or a
"Sounds pretty bloodthirsty for a priest."
"Well, I wasn't born with a collar on."
He looked me in the eye. "If I could turn back time, I'd go out flyfishing
with my grandfather."
I glanced up. "I used to do that with my grandfather, too."
I wondered how two boys—like Shay and me—could begin our lives
at the same point and somehow take turns that would lead us to be
such different men. "My grandfather's been gone a long time, and I still
miss him," I admitted.
"I never met mine," Shay said. "But I must have had one, right?"
I looked at him quizzically. What kind of life had he suffered, to
have to craft memories from his imagination? "Where did you grow up.
Shay?" I asked.
"The light," Shay replied, ignoring my question. "How does a fish
know where it is? I mean, things shift around on the floor of the ocean,
right? So if you come back and everything's changed, how can it really
be the place you were before?"
The door to the tier buzzed, and one of the officers came down the
catwalk, carrying a metal stool. "Here you go. Father," he said, settling
it in front of Shay's cell door. "Just in case you want to stay awhile."
I recognized him as the man who had sought me out the last time
I'd been here, talking to Lucius. His baby daughter had been critically
ill; he credited Shay with her recovery. I thanked him, but waited until
he'd left to talk to Shay again.
"Did you ever feel like that fish?"
Shay looked at me as if I were the one who couldn't follow a linear
conversation. "What fish?" he said.
"Like you can't find your way back home?"
I knew where I was heading with this topic—straight to true
salvation—but Shay took us off course. "I had a bunch of houses, but
only one home."
He'd been in the foster care system; I remembered that much from
the trial. "Which place was that?"
"The one where my sister was with me. I haven't seen her since I
was sixteen. Since I got sent to prison."
I remembered he'd been sent to a juvenile detention center for
arson, but I hadn't remembered anything about a sister.
"Why didn't she come to your trial?" I asked, and realized too late
that I had made a grave mistake—that there was no reason for me to
know that, unless I had been there.
But Shay didn't notice. "I told her to stay away. I didn't want her to
tell anyone what I'd done." He hesitated. "I want to talk to her."
"No. She won't listen. The other one. She'll hear me, after I die.
Every time her daughter speaks." Shay looked up at me. "You know
how you said you'd ask her if she wants the heart? What if I asked her
Getting June Nealon to come visit Shay in prison would be like
moving Mt. Everest to Columbus, Ohio. "I don't know if it will
But then again, maybe seeing June face-to-face would make Shay
see the difference between personal forgiveness and divine forgiveness.
Maybe putting the heart of a killer into the chest of a child would showliterally—
how good might blossom from bad. And the beat of Claire's
pulse would bring June more peace than any prayer I could offer.
Maybe Shay did know more about redemption than I.
He was standing in front of the cinder-block wall now, trailing his
fingertips over the cement, as if he could read the history of the men
who'd lived there before him.
Til try," I said.
There was a part of me that knew I should tell Maggie Bloom that I had
been on the jury that convicted Shay Bourne. It was one thing to keep
the truth from Shay; it was another to compromise whatever legal case
Maggie was weaving together. On the other hand, it was up to me to
make sure that Shay found peace with God before his death. The
minute I told Maggie about my past involvement with Shay, I knew
she'd tell me to get lost, and would find him another spiritual advisor
the judge couldn't find fault with. I had prayed long and hard about
this, and for now, I was keeping my secret. God wanted me to help
Shay, or so I told myself, because it kept me from admitting that I
wanted to help Shay, too, after failing him the first time.
The ACLU office was above a printing shop and smelled like fresh
ink and toner. It was filled with plants in various stages of dying, and
filing cabinets took up most of the floor space. A paralegal sat at a reception
desk, typing so furiously that I almost expected her computer screen
to detonate. "How can I help," she said, not bothering to look up.
I'm here to see Maggie Bloom."
The paralegal lifted her right hand, still typing with her left, and
hooked a thumb overhead and to the left. I wound down the hallway,
stepping over boxes of files and stacks of newspapers, and found Maggie
sitting at her desk, scribbling on a legal pad. When she saw me, she
smiled. "Listen," she said, as if we were old friends. "I have some fantastic
news. I think Shay can be hanged." Then she blanched. "I didn't
mean fantastic news, really. I meant... well, you know what I meant."
"Why would he want to do that?"
"Because then he can donate his heart." Maggie frowned. "But first
we need to get the prison to agree to send him for tests, to make sure
I drew in my breath. "Look. We need to talk."
"It's not often I get a priest who wants to confess."
She didn't know the half of it. This is not about you, I reminded
myself, and firmly settled Shay in the front of my mind. "Shay wants to
be the one to ask June Nealon if she'll take his heart. Unfortunately,
visiting him is not on her top-ten list of things to do. I want to know if
there's some kind of court-ordered mediation we can ask for."
Maggie raised a brow. "Do you really think he's the best person to
relay this information to her? I don't see how that will help our
"Look, I know you're doing your job," I said, "but I'm doing mine,
too. And saving Shay's soul may not be important to you, but it's
critical to me. Right now. Shay thinks that donating his heart is the
only way to save himself—but there's a big difference between
mercy and salvation."
Maggie folded her hands on her desk. "Which is?"
"Well, June can forgive Shay. But only God can redeem him—and it
has nothing to do with giving up his heart. Yes, organ donation would
be a beautiful, selfless final act on earth—but it's not going to cancel out
his debt with the victim's family, and it's not necessary to get him special
brownie points with God. Salvation's not a personal responsibility.
You don't have to get salvation. You're given it, by Jesus."
"So," she said. "I guess you don't think he's the Messiah."
"No, I think that's a pretty rash judgment."
"You're preaching to the choir. I was raised Jewish."
My cheeks flamed. "I didn't mean to suggest—"
"But now I'm an atheist."
I opened my mouth, snapped it shut.
"Believe me," Maggie said, "I'm the last person in the world to buy
into the belief that Shay Bourne is Jesus incarnate—"
"Well, of course not-"
"—but not because a messiah wouldn't inhabit a criminal," she
qualified. "I can tell you right now that there are plenty of innocent
people on death row in this country."
I wasn't about to tell her that I knew Shay Bourne was guilty. I had
studied the evidence; I had heard the testimony; I had convicted him.
"It's not that."
"Then how can you be so sure he's not who everyone thinks he
is?" Maggie asked.
"Because," I replied, "God only had one son to give us."
"Right. And—correct me if I'm wrong—he was a thirty-three-year-old
carpenter with a death sentence on his head, who was performing miracles
left and right. Nah, you're right. That's nothing like Shay Bourne."
I thought of what I'd heard from Ahmed and Dr. Perego and the correctional
officers. Shay Bourne's so-called miracles were nothing like
Jesus's . . . or were they? Water into wine. Feeding many with virtually
nothing. Healing the sick. Making the blind—or in Calloway's case, the
Like Shay, Jesus didn't take credit for his miracles. Like Shay, Jesus
had known he was going to die. And the Bible even said Jesus was
supposed to be returning. But although the New Testament is very clear
about this coming to pass, it is a bit muddier on the details: the when,
the why, the how.
"He's not Jesus."
"He's not." I pressed.
Maggie held up her hands. "Got it."
"If he was Jesus . . . if this was the Second Coming . . . well, there'd
be rapture and destruction and resurrections and we wouldn't be sitting
here having a normal conversation."
Then again, there was nothing in the Bible that said before the
Second Coming, Jesus wouldn't pop in to see how things were going
here on earth.
I suppose in that case, it would make sense to be incognito—to pose
as the least likely person anyone would ever assume to be the Messiah.
For the love of God, what was I thinking? I shook my head, clearing
it. "Let him meet with June Nealon once before you petition for organ
donation, that's all I'm asking. I want the same things you do—Shay's
voice to be heard, a little girl to be saved, and capital punishment to be
put in the hot seat. I just also want to make sure that if and when Shay
does donate his heart, he does it for all the right reasons. And that
means untangling Shay's spiritual health from the whole legal component
of this mess."
"I can't do that," Maggie said. "It's the crux of my case. Look, it
doesn't matter to me whether you think Shay is Jesus or Shay thinks
Shay is Jesus or if he's just plain off his rocker. What does matter is that
Shay's rights don't get shuffled aside in the grand mechanism of capital
punishment—and if I have to use the fact that other people seem to
think he's God to do it, I will."
I raised a brow. "You're using Shay to spotlight an issue you find
reprehensible, in the hopes that you can change it."
"Well," Maggie said, coloring, "I guess that's true."
"Then how can you criticize me for having an agenda because of
what I believe in?"
Maggie raised her gaze and sighed. "There's something called restorative
justice," she said. "I don't know if the prison will even allow it,
much less Shay or the Nealons. But it would let Shay sit down in a
room with the family of his victims and ask for forgiveness."
I exhaled the breath I had not even realized I was holding. "Thank
you," I said.
Maggie picked up her pen and began to write on the legal pad again.
"Don't thank me. Thank June Nealon—if you get her to agree to it."
Motivated, I started out of the ACLU office, then paused. "It's the
right thing to do."
Maggie didn't look up. "If June won't meet with him," she said, "I'm
still filing the suit."
At first, when the victim's assistance advocate asked me if I'd
attend a restorative justice meeting with Shay Bourne, I started to
laugh. "Yeah," I said. "And maybe after that, I could get dunked
in boiling oil or drawn and quartered."
But she was serious, and I was just as serious when I refused.
The last thing in the world I wanted to do was sit down with that
monster to make him feel better about himself so that he could die
Kurt didn't. Elizabeth didn't. Why should he?
I thought that was that, until one morning when there was a
knock on the door. Claire was lying on the couch with Dudley
curled over her feet, watching the Game Show Network. Our days
were spent waiting for a heart with the shades drawn, both of us
pretending there was nowhere we wanted to go, when in reality,
neither of us could stand seeing how even the smallest trips exhausted
Claire. "I'll get it," she called out, although we both knew
she couldn't and wouldn't. I put down the knife I was using to
chop celery in the kitchen and wiped my hands on my jeans.
"I bet it's that creepy guy who was selling magazines," Claire
said as I passed her.
"I bet it's not." He'd been a corn-fed Utah boy, pitching subscriptions
to benefit the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
Saints. I'd been upstairs in the shower; Claire had been talking to
him through the screen door—for which I'd read her the riot act. It
was that word Saints that had intrigued her; she didn't know it
was a fancy word for Mormon. I had suggested that he try a town
where there hadn't been a double murder committed by a young
man who'd come around door to door looking for work, and after
he left, I'd called the police.
No, I was sure it wasn't the same guy.
To my surprise, though, a priest was standing on my porch.
His motorcycle was parked in my driveway. I opened the door
and tried to smile politely. "I think you have the wrong house."
"I'm sure I don't, Ms. Nealon," I replied. "I'm Father Michael,
from St. Catherine's. I was hoping I could speak to you for a few
"I'm sorry . . . do I know you?"
He hesitated. "No," he said. "But I was hoping to change
My natural inclination was to slam the door. (Was that a
mortal sin? Did it matter, if you didn't even believe in mortal
sins?) I could tell you the exact moment I had given up on religion.
Kurt and I had been raised Catholic. We'd had Elizabeth
baptized, and a priest presided over their burials. After that, I
had promised myself I would never set foot in a church again,
that there was nothing God could do for me that would make up
for what I'd lost. However, this priest was a stranger. For all I
knew, though, this was not about saving my soul but about
saving Claire's life. What if this priest knew of a heart that UNOS
"The house is a mess," I said, but I opened the door so that he
could walk inside. He stopped as we passed the living room,
where Claire was still watching television. She turned, her thin,
pale face rising like a moon over the back of the sofa. "This is my
daughter," I said as I turned to him, and faltered—he was looking
at Claire as if she were already a ghost.
I was just about to throw him out when Claire said hello and
propped her elbows on the back of the sofa. "Do you know anything
She rolled her eyes. "I'm just asking, Mom."
"I do," the priest said. "I've always sort of liked St. Ulric. He's
the patron saint who keeps moles away."
"Have you ever had a mole in here?"
"Then I guess he's doing his job," he said, and grinned.
Because he'd made Claire smile, I decided to let him in and
give him the benefit of the doubt. He followed me into the kitchen,
where I knew we could talk without Claire overhearing. "Sorry
about the third degree," I said. "Claire reads a lot. Saints are her
latest obsession. Six months ago, it was blacksmithing." I gestured
to the table, offering him a seat.
"About Claire," he said. "I know she's sick. That's why I'm
Although I'd hoped for this, my own heart still leapfrogged.
"Can you help her?"
"Possibly," the priest said. "But I need you to agree to something
I would have become a nun; I would have walked over burning
coals. "Anything," I vowed.
"I know the prosecutor's office already asked you about
"Get out of my house," I said abruptly, but Father Michael
My face flamed—with anger, and with shame that I had not
connected the dots: Shay Bourne wanted to donate his organs; I
was actively searching for a heart for Claire. In spite of all the news
coverage from the prison, I had never linked them. I wondered
whether I had been naive, or whether, even subconsciously, I'd
been trying to protect my daughter.
It took all my strength to lift my gaze to the priest's. "What
makes you think I would want a part of that man still walking
around on this earth, much less inside my child?"
"June—please, just listen to me. I'm Shay's spiritual advisor. I
talk to him. And I think you should talk to him, too."
"Why? Because it rubs your conscience the wrong way to give
sympathy to a murderer? Because you can't sleep at night?"
"Because I think a good person can do bad things. Because
God forgives, and I can't do any less."
Do you know how, when you are on the verge of a breakdown,
the world pounds in your ears—a rush of blood, of consequence?
Do you know how it feels when the truth cuts your tongue to ribbons,
and still you have to speak it? "Nothing he says to me could
make any difference."
"You're absolutely right," Father Michael said. "But what you
say to him might."
There was one variable that the priest had left out of this equation:
I owed Shay Bourne nothing. It already felt like a second,
searing death to watch the broadcasts each night, to hear the
voices of supporters camping out near the prison, who brought
their sick children and their dying partners along to be healed. You
fools, I wanted to shout to them. Don't you know he's conned you, just
like he conned me? Don't you know that he killed my love, my little girl?
"Name one person John Wayne Gacy killed," I demanded.
" I . . . I don't know," Father Michael said.
He shook his head.
"But you remember their names, don't you?"
He got out of his chair and walked toward me slowly. "June,
people can change."
My mouth twisted. "Yeah. Like a mild-mannered, homeless
carpenter who becomes a psychopath?"
Or a silver-haired fairy of a girl whose chest, in a heartbeat,
blooms with a peony of blood. Or a mother who turns into a
woman she never imagined being: bitter, empty, broken.
I knew why this priest wanted me to meet with Shay Bourne. I
knew what Jesus had said: Don't pay back in kind, pay back in kindness.
If someone does wrong to you, do right by them.
I'll tell you this: Jesus never buried his own child.
I turned away, because I didn't want to give him the satisfaction
of seeing me cry, but he put his arm around me and led me to
a chair. He handed me a tissue. And then his voice, a murmur,
clotted into individual words.
"Dear St. Felicity, patron saint of those who've suffered the
death of a child, I ask for your intercession that the Lord will help
this woman find peace . . ."
With more strength than I knew I had, I shoved him away.
"Don't you dare," I said, my voice trembling. "Don't you pray for
me. Because if God's listening now, he's about eleven years too
late." I walked toward the refrigerator, where the only decoration
was a picture of Kurt and Elizabeth, held up by a magnet Claire
had made in kindergarten. I had fingered the photo so often that
the edges had rounded; the color had bled onto my hands. "When
it happened, everyone said that Kurt and Elizabeth were at peace.
That they'd gone someplace better. But you know what? They didn't
go anywhere. They were taken. I was robbed."
"Don't blame God for that, June," Father Michael said. "He
didn't take your husband and your daughter."
"No," I said flatly. "That was Shay Bourne." I stared up at him
coldly. "I'd like you to leave now."
I walked him to the door, because I didn't want him saying another
word to Claire—who twisted around on the couch to see
what was going on but must have picked up enough nonverbal
cues from my stiff spine to know better than to make a peep. At
the threshold, Father Michael paused. "It may not be when we
want, or how we want, but eventually God evens the score," he
said. "You don't have to be the one to seek revenge."
I stared at him. "It's not revenge," I said. "It's justice."
After the priest left, I was so cold that I could not stop shivering. I
put on a sweater and then another, and wrapped a blanket around
myself, but there's no way of warming up a body whose insides
have turned to stone.
Shay Bourne wanted to donate his heart to Claire so that she'd
What kind of mother would I be if I let that happen?
And what kind of mother would I be if I turned him down?
Father Michael said Shay Bourne wanted to balance the scales:
give me one daughter's life because he had taken another's. But
Claire wouldn't replace Elizabeth; I should have had them both.
And yet, this was the simplest of equations: You can have one, or
you can have neither. What do you choose?
I was the one who hated Bourne—Claire had never met him. If
I did not take the heart, was I making that choice because of what
I thought was best for Claire . . . or what I could withstand
I imagined Dr. Wu removing Bourne's heart from an Igloo
cooler. There it was, a withered nut, a crystal black as coal. Put one
drop of poison into the purest water, and what happens to the
If I didn't take Bourne's heart, Claire would most likely die.
If I did, it would be like saying I could somehow be compensated
for the death of my husband and daughter. And I couldn't—
I believe a good person can do bad things, Father Michael had said.
Like make the wrong decision for the right reasons. Sign your
daughter's life away, because she can't have a murderer's heart.
Forgive me, Claire, I thought, and suddenly I wasn't cold anymore.
I was burning, seared by the tears on my cheeks.
I couldn't trust Shay Bourne's sudden altruistic turnaround;
and maybe that meant he had won: I had gone just as bitter and
rotten as he was. But that only made me more certain that I had
the stamina to tell him, face-to-face, what balancing the scales
really meant. It wasn't giving me a heart for Claire; it wasn't offering
a future that might ease the weight of the past. It was knowing
that Shay Bourne badly wanted something, and that this time, I'd
be the one to take his dream away.
Stunned, I hung up the phone and stared at the receiver again. I was
tempted to *69 the call, just to make sure it hadn't been some kind of
Well, maybe miracles did happen.
But before I could mull over this change of events, I heard footsteps
heading toward my desk. Father Michael turned the corner, looking like
he'd just been through Dante's Inferno. "June Nealon wants nothing to do
"That's interesting," I said, "since June Nealon just got off the phone
with me, agreeing to a restorative justice meeting."
Father Michael blanched. "You've got to call her back. This isn't a
"You're the one who came up with it."
"That was before I spoke to her. If she goes to that meeting, it's not
because she wants to hear what Shay has to say. It's because she wants to
run him through before the state finishes him off."
"Did you really think that whatever Shay has to say to her is going to
be any less painful than what she says to him?"
"I don't know . . . I thought that maybe if they saw each other . . ."
He sank down into a chair in front of my desk. "I don't know what I'm
doing. I guess there are just some things you can't make amends for."
I sighed. "You're trying. That's the best any of us can do. Look, it's not
like I fight death penalty cases all the time—but my boss used to. He
worked down in Virginia before he came up north. They're emotional
minefields—you get to know the inmate, and you excuse some heinous
crime with a lousy childhood or alcoholism or an emotional upheaval or
drugs, until you see the victims family and a whole different level of suffering.
And suddenly you start to feel a little ashamed of being in the defendant's
I walked to a small cooler next to a file cabinet and took out a bottle
of water for the priest. "Shay's guilty, Father. A court already told us that.
June knows it. I know it. Everyone knows that it's wrong to execute an
innocent man. The real question is whether it's still wrong to execute
someone who's guilty."
"But you're trying to get him hanged," Father Michael said.
"I'm not trying to get him hanged," I corrected. "I want to champion
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