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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 13 ñòðàíèöà
The reason we have no choice now is because we made a bad one in
the past—which is why we were all energized by Shay's attempt to die on
his own terms. It was still an execution, but even that tiny sliver of preference
was more than we had on a daily basis. I could only imagine how my
world would change if we were given an option to choose between orange
scrubs and yellow ones; if we were asked whether we'd like a spoon or a
fork with our meal trays, instead of the universal plastic "spork." But the
more animated we got at the possibility of, well, possibility... the more
depressed Shay grew.
"Maybe," he said to me one afternoon when the air-conditioning had
broken and we were all wilting in our cells, "I should just let them do what
The officers, in an act of mercy, had opened the door that led to the
exercise cell. It was supposed to afford us a breeze, but that hadn't happened.
"Why would you say that?"
"Because it feels like I've started a war," Shay said.
"Well, imagine that," Crash laughed. "Since I'm over here practicing my
This afternoon Crash had been injecting Benadryl. Many of the inmates
here had made their own points—homemade hypodermics that could be
sharpened every few uses by scraping them against a matchbook. Benadryl
was given out by the prison nurse; you could accumulate a stash and open
up a capsule, then cook down the tiny beads of medicine in a spoon over a
soda-can stove. It was a speed high, but the buffers used in the medicine
would also make you crazy.
"Whaddya say, Mistah Messiah . . . you want a hit?"
"He most certainly does not," I answered.
"I don't think he was talking to you," Shay said. And then, to Crash:
"Give it to me."
Crash laughed. "Guess you don't know him as well as you think you do,
Liberace. Ain't that right, Death Row?"
Crash had no moral compass. He aligned himself with the Aryan Brotherhood
when it suited his needs. He talked of terrorist attacks; he'd cheered
when we were watching the news footage of the World Trade Center collapsing.
He had a list of victims, should he ever get out. He wanted his kids
to grow up to be addicts or dealers or whores, and said he would be disappointed
if they turned out to be anything else. Once, I heard him describing
a visit with his three-year-old daughter: he told her to punch another kid
at school to make him proud, and not to come back till she did. Now I
watched him fish Shay the hype kit, hidden neatly inside a dismantled battery,
ready for a hit with the liquefied Benadryl inside it. Shay put the
needle to the crook of his elbow, set his thumb on the plunger.
And squirted the precious drug onto the floor of the catwalk.
"What the fuck!" Crash exploded. "Gimme that back."
"Haven't you heard? I'm Jesus. I'm supposed to save you," Shay said.
"I don't want to be saved," Crash yelled. "I want my kit back!"
"Come and get it," Shay said, and he pushed the kit under his door, so
that it landed square on the catwalk. "Hey, CO," he yelled. "Come see what
As the COs entered to confiscate the hype kit—and write him a ticket
that would include a stay in solitary—Crash slammed his hand against the
metal door. "I swear, Bourne, when you least expect i t . . . "
He was interrupted by the sound of Warden Coyne's voice out in the
courtyard. "I just bought a goddamn death gurney," the warden cried, conversing
with someone we could not see. "What am I supposed to do with
that?" And then, when he stopped speaking, we all noticed something—or
the lack of something. The incessant hammering and sawing that had been
going on outside for months, as the prison built a death chamber to accommodate
Shay's sentence, had fallen silent. All we heard was a simple,
"... you're gonna wind up dead," Crash finished, but now we were
starting to wonder if that would still be true.
The Reverend Arbogath Justus preached at the Drive-in Church of
Christ in God in Heldratch, Michigan. His congregation arrived in their
cars on Sunday mornings and received a blue flyer with the day's scripture,
and a note to tune in to AM 1620 in order to hear the good reverend
when he took the pulpit—formerly the snack bar, when it was a
movie theater. I would have ridiculed this, but his flock was six hundred
strong, which led me to believe that there were enough people in
this world who wanted to tuck their prayer requests beneath windshield
wipers to be collected, and to receive Communion from altar girls
on roller skates.
I suppose it wasn't a big stretch to go from the movie screen to the
small one, which is why Reverend Justus ran a television ministry site,
too, on a cable station called SOS (Save Our Souls). I'd caught it a few
times, while I was flipping through channels. It was fascinating to me, in
the same way Shark Week was fascinating on the Discovery Channel—I
was curious to learn more, but from a nice, secure distance. Justus wore
eyeliner on television, and suits in a range of lollipop colors. His wife
played the accordion when it came time to sing hymns. It all seemed like
a parody of what faith was supposed to be—quiet and heart-settling, not
grandiose and dramatic—which is why I always eventually changed the
One day, when I went to visit Shay, my car was stopped in traffic
leading to the prison. Shiny, scrubbed Midwestern faces worked their
way from car to car. They were wearing green T-shirts with the name of
Justus's church on the back, scrawled above a rudimentary drawing of a
'57 Chevy convertible. When one girl approached, I unrolled the window.
"God bless you!" she said, and offered me a slip of yellow paper.
There was a picture of Jesus, arms outstretched and palms raised,
floating in the oval of a sideview car mirror. The caption read: OBJECTS IN
MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.
And then below it: Shay Bourne: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing? Don't
Let a False Prophet Lead You Astray!
The line of cars chugged forward, finally, and I turned into the
parking lot. I had to pull my car onto the grass; it was that crowded.
The throngs of people waiting for Shay, and the media covering his
story, had not dissipated.
However, by the time I came close to the prison, I realized that the
attention of most of these people was not held by Shay at that moment,
but by a man in a three-piece lime-green suit, wearing a clerical collar.
I got close enough to see the pancake makeup and the eyeliner, and
realized that Reverend Arbogath Justus had now moved into the realm
of satellite ministries . . . and had chosen the prison as his first stop.
"Miracles mean nothing," Justus announced. "The world is full of false
prophets. In Revelations, we're told of a beast that uses miracles to fool
men into worshipping it. Do you know what happens to that beast on
Judgment Day? He and the people who were fooled are all thrown into
a lake of fire. Is that what you want?"
A woman fell forward from the cliff-edge of the crowd. "No," she
sobbed. "I want to go with God."
"Jesus can hear you, sister," Reverend Justus said. "Because He's
here, with us. Not inside that prison, like the false prophet Shay
There was a roar from his converts. But just as quickly, it was
matched by those who hadn't given up on Shay. "How do we know
you're not the false prophet?" one young man called out.
Beside me, a mother tucked her sick child into her arms more
tightly. She looked at my collar and frowned. "Are you with him?"
"No," I said. "Definitely not."
She nodded. "Well, I'm not taking advice from a man whose church
has a concession stand."
I started to agree, but was distracted by a burly man who grabbed
the reverend from his makeshift pulpit and yanked him into the crowd.
The cameras, of course, were all rolling.
Without thinking twice about what I was doing, or that I was doing
it on film, I pushed forward and rescued Reverend Arbogath Justus from
the clutches of the mob. He wrapped his arms around me, gasping, as I
pulled us both up onto a granite ledge that ran along the edge of the
In retrospect, I didn't know why I had chosen to play the hero. And
I really didn't know why I said what I did next. Philosophically, Reverend
Justus and I were on the same team—even if we pitched religion
with very different styles. But I also knew that Shay was—maybe for
the first time in his life—attempting to do something honorable. He
didn't deserve to be slandered for that.
I might not believe in Shay—but I believed him.
I felt the wide, white eye of a television camera swing toward me,
and a herd of others followed. "Reverend Justus came here, I'm sure,
because he thinks he's telling you the truth. Well, so does Shay Bourne.
He wants to do one thing in this world before he leaves it: save the life
of a child. The Jesus I know would endorse that, I think. And," I said,
turning to the reverend, "the Jesus I know wouldn't send people to
some fiery hell if they were trying to atone for their sins. The Jesus I
know believed in second chances."
As Reverend Justus realized that I might have saved him from the
mob to sacrifice him all over again, his face reddened. "There's one true
word of God," he proclaimed in his camera-ready voice, "and Shay
Bourne isn't speaking it."
Well, I couldn't argue with that. In all the time I'd been with
Shay, he had never quoted the New Testament. He was far more
likely to swear or go off on a tangent about Hanta virus and government
conspiracy. "You're absolutely right," I said. "He's trying to do
something that's never been done before. He's asking questions of
the status quo. He's trying to suggest another way—a better way.
And he's willing to die for it to happen." I raised a brow. "Come to
think of it, I bet Jesus might find a lot in common with a guy like
I nodded, stepped down from the granite ledge, and shoved my
way through the crowd to the security partition, where a correctional
officer let me through. "Father," he said, shaking his head, "you got no
idea how big a pile of you-know-what you just stepped into." And as if
I needed proof, my cell phone rang: Father Walter's angry summons
back to St. Catherine's, immediately.
I sat in the front pew of the church as Father Walter paced in front of
me. "What if I blamed it all on being moved by the Holy Spirit?" I offered,
and received a withering glare.
"I don't understand," Father Walter said. "Why would you say
something like that... on live television, for the love of God—"
"I didn't mean to-"
"—when you had to know that it was going to bring the heat down
on St. Catherine's?" He sank down beside me and tipped his head
back, as if he were praying to the carved statue of Jesus on the Cross
that rose above us. "Michael, seriously, what were you thinking?" he
said softly. "You're a young, handsome, smart, straight guy. You could
write your ticket in the Church—get your own parish, wind up in
Rome . . . be whatever you want. And instead, I get a copy of an affidavit
from the attorney general's office, saying that as Shay Bourne's spiritual
advisor you believe in salvation through organ donation? And then
I turn on the midday news and see you on a soapbox, sounding like
some kind of... some kind of..."
He shook his head, but stopped short of calling me a heretic.
"You've read Tertullian," he said.
We all had, in seminary. He was a famous orthodox Christian historian
whose text The Prescription Against Heretics was a forerunner of
the Nicene Creed. Tertullian had coined the idea of a deposit of faith—
that we take what Christ taught and believe it as is, without adding to
or taking away from it.
"You want to know why Catholicism's been around for two thousand
years?" Father Walter said. "Because of people like Tertullian, who
understood that you can't mess around with truth. People were upset
with the changes of Vatican II. The Pope's even reinstated the Latin
I took a deep breath. "I thought being a spiritual advisor meant
doing what Shay Bourne needs to face his death with peace—not what
we need him to do, as a good Catholic."
"Good Lord," Father Walter said. "He's conned you."
I frowned. "He hasn't conned me."
"He's got you eating out of the palm of his hand! Look at you—you
practically acted like his press secretary today on the news—"
"Do you think Jesus died for a reason?" I interrupted.
"Then why shouldn't Shay Bourne be allowed to do the same?"
"Because," Father Walter said, "Shay Bourne is not dying for anyone's
sins, except his own."
I flinched. Well, didn't I know that better than anyone else?
Father Walter sighed. "I don't agree with the death penalty, but I
understand this sentence. He murdered two people. A police officer,
and a little girl." He shook his head. "Save his soul, Michael. Don't try to
save his life."
I glanced up. "What do you think would have happened if just one
of the apostles had stayed awake in the garden with Jesus? If they'd
kept Him from being arrested? If they'd tried to save Hi's life?"
Father Walter's mouth dropped open. "You don't really think Shay
Bourne is Jesus, do you?"
Father Walter sank down onto the pew and took off his glasses. He
rubbed his eyes. "Mikey," he said, "take a couple weeks off. Go somewhere
and pray. Think about what you're doing—what you're saying."
He looked up at me. "And in the meantime. I don't want you going to
the prison on behalf of St. Catherine's."
I looked around this church, which I had grown to love—with its
polished pews and the spatter of light from the stained glass, the whispering
silk of the chalice veil, the dancing flames on the candles lit in
offering. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.
"I won't go to the prison on behalf of St. Catherine's," I said, "but I
will go on behalf of Shay."
I walked down the aisle, past the holy water, past the bulletin
board with the information about the young boy from Zimbabwe the
congregation supported with their donations. When I stepped outside
the double doors of the church, the world was so bright that for a
moment, I couldn't see where I was headed.
There were four ways to hang someone. The short drop involved a prisoner
falling just a few inches; their body weight and physical struggling tightened
the noose and caused death by strangulation. Suspension hanging required
the prisoner to be raised upward and strangled. Standard drop
hanging—popular in America in the late nineteenth and twentieth
centuries—meant the prisoner fell four to six feet, which might or might
not break his neck. Long drop hanging was a more personal execution: the
distance the prisoner fell was determined by weight and body type. The
body was still accelerating due to gravity at the end of the drop, but
the head was restricted by the noose—which broke the neck and ruptured
the spinal cord, rendering instant unconsciousness, and a quick death.
I'd learned that next to shooting, hanging was the world's most popular
form of execution. It was introduced in Persia twenty-five hundred
years ago for male criminals (females were strangled at the stake, because
it was less indecent)—a nice alternative to the blood and guts of a typical
beheading, with all the same punch as any public spectacle.
It was not, however, foolproof. In 1885, a British murderer named
Robert Goodale was hanged, but the force of the drop decapitated him.
Most recently, Saddam Hussein's half brother had suffered the same grisly
fate in Iraq. This was a legal conundrum: if the sentence of death was to
be carried out by hanging, then the prisoner could not be decapitated, or
the sentence wasn't fulfilled.
I had to do my homework—which explained why I was reading the
Official Table of Drops and estimating Shay Bourne's weight when Father
Michael came into my office. "Oh, good," I said, motioning to the seat
across from my desk. "If the noose is positioned right—there's something
about a brass eyelet—the fall causes an instant fracture of the C2 vertebra.
It says here brain death occurs in six minutes, and whole-body death
within ten to fifteen minutes. That means we've got a four-minute
window to get him back on a respirator before the heart stops beating
and oh, I almost forgot—I heard back from the AG's office. They denied
our request to have Shay hanged instead of executed with lethal injection.
They even included the original sentence, as if I haven't read it a bazillion
times, and told me if I wanted to challenge it, I had to file the
appropriate motions. Which," I said, "I did five hours ago."
Father Michael didn't even seem to hear me. "Listen," I said gently,
"it's easier if you think about this hanging business as science . . . and
stop connecting it personally to Shay."
"I'm sorry," the priest said, shaking his head. "It's just—it's been a
pretty bad day"
"You mean the showdown you had with the televangelist?"
"You saw that?"
"You're the talk of the town, Father."
He closed his eyes. "Great."
"I'm sure Shay saw it, too, if that's any consolation."
Father Michael looked up at me. "Thanks to Shay, my supervising
priest thinks I'm a heretic."
I thought about what my father would say if a member of his congregation
came to him to ease his soul. "Do you think you're a heretic?"
"Does any heretic?" he said. "Honestly, I'm the last person who ought
to be helping you win Shay's case, Maggie."
"Hey," I said, trying to boost his spirits. "I was just about to go to my
parents' house for dinner. It's a standing engagement on Friday nights.
Why don't you come with me?"
"I couldn't impose—"
"Believe me, there's always enough food to feed a third world
"Well, then," the priest said, "that would be great."
I switched off my desk lamp. "We can take my car," I said.
"Can I leave my motorcycle parked in the lot here?"
"You're allowed to ride a motorcycle, but you can't eat meat on
He still looked as if the world had been pulled out from beneath him.
"I guess the Church forefathers found it easier to abstain from beef than
I led him through the maze of file cabinets in the ACLU office and
headed outside. "Guess what I found out today," I said. "The trapdoor
from the old gallows at the state prison is in the chaplain's office."
When I glanced at Father Michael, I was pretty sure I saw the ghost
of a smile.
One of the things I liked about Dr. Wu's office was the wall of pictures.
An enormous corkboard held photographs of patients who had
beaten the odds after having Dr. Wu operate on their failing hearts.
There were babies propped up on pillows, Christmas card portraits,
and boys wielding Little League bats. It was a mural of success.
When I'd first come to tell Dr. Wu about Shay Bourne's offer,
he listened carefully and then said that in his twenty-three years of
practice, he had yet to see a grown man's heart that would be a
good match for a child. Hearts grew to fit the needs of their host
body—which was why every other potential organ that had been
offered to Claire for transplant had come from another child. "I'll
examine him," Dr. Wu promised, "but I don't want you to get your
Now I watched Dr. Wu take a seat and flatten his palms on the
desk. I always marveled at the fact that he walked around shaking
hands and waving as if the appendages were totally normal, instead
of miraculous. Those ridiculous celebrities who insured their
breasts and their legs had nothing on Dr. Wu and his hands.
"Just say it quickly," I said, full of false cheer.
Dr. Wu met my gaze. "He's a perfect match for Claire."
I had already gathered the strap of my purse in my fist, planning
to thank him hastily and beat a retreat out of the office before
I started crying again over yet another lost heart; but these words
rooted me to my seat. " I . . . I'm sorry?"
"They have the same blood type—B positive. The tissue crossmatch
we did of their blood was nonreactive. But—here's the remarkable
part—his heart is just the right size."
I knew they looked for a donor who was within 20 percent of
the patient's weight—which for Claire meant anyone between
sixty and a hundred pounds. Shay Bourne was a small man, but
he was still an adult. He had to weigh 120 or 130 pounds.
"Medically, it doesn't make sense. Theoretically, his heart is
too tiny to be doing the job his own body needs . . . and yet he
seems to be healthy as a horse." Dr. Wu smiled. "It looks like
Claire's got herself a donor."
I stilled. This was supposed to be wonderful news—but I
could barely breathe. How would Claire react if she knew the circumstances
behind the donation? "You can't tell her," I said.
"That she's going to have a transplant?"
I shook my head. "Where it came from."
Dr. Wu frowned. "Don't you think she'll find out? This is all
over the news."
"Organ donations are always done anonymously. Plus, she
doesn't want a boy's heart. She always says that."
"That's not really the issue here, is it?" The cardiologist stared
at me. "It's a muscle, June. Nothing more, and nothing less. What
makes a heart worthy for transplant has nothing to do with the
I looked up at him. "What would you do, if she was your
"If she was my daughter," Dr. Wu replied, "I would already
have scheduled the surgery."
I tried to tell Shay that he was the topic on Larry King Live that night, but
either he was asleep or he just didn't feel like answering me. Instead, I took
out my stinger from where it was hidden behind a cement block in the wall
and heated up some water for tea. The guests that night were the nutcase
reverend that Father Michael had sparred with outside the prison, and
some stuffed-shirt academic named Ian Fletcher. It was hard to tell who
had the more intriguing backstory—Reverend Justus with his drive-in
church, or Fletcher—who'd been a television atheist until he'd run across a
little girl who could apparently perform miracles and raise the dead. He
wound up marrying the girl's single mother, which in my opinion, greatly
diluted the credibility of his commentary.
Still, he was a better speaker than Reverend Justus, who kept rising
out of his seat as if he were filled with helium. "There's an old proverb,
Larry," the reverend said. "You can't keep trouble from coming, but you
don't have to make out a place card."
Larry King tapped his pen on the desk twice. "And by that you
mean . . . ?"
"Miracles don't make a man into God. Dr. Fletcher ought to know that
better than anyone."
Unrattled, Ian Fletcher smiled. "The more you think you're right, the
likelier you are to be wrong. That's a proverb Reverend Justus probably
hasn't encountered yet."
"Tell us about being a television atheist," Larry said.
"Well, I used to do what Jerry Falwell did, except instead of saying
there's a God, I said there wasn't one. I went around debunking claims of
miracles all over the country. Eventually, when I found one that I couldn't
discredit, I started wondering if it was really God I objected to . . . or just
the sense of entitlement that seems to be part of affiliating with a religious
group. Like the way you'll hear that a person is a good Christianwell,
who says Christians corner the market on virtue? Or when the
president ends a speech with 'God bless the United States of America'...
why just us?"
"Are you still an atheist?" King asked.
"Technically, I suppose you'd call me an agnostic."
Justus scoffed. "Splitting hairs."
"Not true; an atheist's got more in common with a Christian, since he
believes you can know whether or not God exists-but where a Christian
says absolutely, the atheist says absolutely not. For me, and any other
agnostic—the jury's still out. Religion is intriguing, but in a historical sense.
A man should live his life a certain way not because of some divine authority,
but because of a personal moral obligation to himself and others."
Larry King turned to Reverend Justus. "And you, sir, your congregation
meets in a former drive-in movie theater? Don't you think that takes some
of the pomp and circumstance out of religion?"
"What we've found, Larry, is that for some people the obligation of
getting up and going to church is too overwhelming. They don't like having
to see or be seen by others; they don't enjoy being indoors on a beautiful
Sunday; they prefer to worship in private. Coming to the Drive-ln Church
allows a person to do whatever it is he needs to do while communing with
God-whether that's wearing pajamas, or eating an Egg McMuffin, or
dozing off during my sermon."
"Now, Shay Bourne isn't the first person to come along and stir the
pot," King said. "Few years back, a Florida State football quarterback was
found lying in the street, claiming to be God. And a fellow in Virginia
wanted his driver's license changed to reflect that he was a resident of the
Kingdom of Heaven. What do you think it is about Shay Bourne that makes
people believe he might be the real deal?"
"As far as I understand," Fletcher said, "Bourne's not claiming to be the
Messiah or Mary Poppins or Captain America—it's the people supporting him
who have christened him, no pun intended. Ironically, that's very similar to
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