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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 15 ñòðàíèöà
Then I realized where.
Shay had said it to me the first time I'd met with him, when he'd
explained why he wanted to donate his heart to Claire Nealon.
I kept reading intently, hearing Shay's voice over and over again:
The dead aren't alive, and the living won't die.
We come from the light.
Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone; you will find me
The first time I had gone on a roller coaster, I felt like this—like the
ground had been pulled out from beneath my feet, like I was going to
be sick, like I needed something to grab hold of.
If you asked a dozen people on the street if they'd ever heard of the
Gnostic gospels, eleven would look at you as if you were crazy. In fact
most people today couldn't even recite the Ten Commandments. Shay
Bourne's religious training had been minimal and fragmented; the only
thing I'd ever seen him "read" was the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
He couldn't write; he could barely follow a thought through to the end
of one sentence. His formal schooling ended at a GED he'd gotten while
at the juvenile detention facility.
How, then, could Shay Bourne have memorized the Gospel of
Thomas? Where would he even have stumbled across it in his lifetime?
The only answer I could come up with was that he hadn't.
It could have been coincidence.
I could have been remembering the conversations incorrectly.
Or—maybe—I could have been wrong about him.
The past three weeks, I had pushed past the throngs of people
camped out in front of the prison. I had turned off the television when
yet another pundit suggested that Shay might be the Messiah. After
all, I knew better. I was a priest; I had taken vows; I understood that
there was one God. His message had been recorded in the Bible, and
above all else, when Shay spoke, he did not sound like Jesus in any of
the four gospels.
But here was a fifth. A gospel that hadn't made it into the Bible but
was equally as ancient. A gospel that espoused the beliefs of at least
some people during the birth of Christianity. A gospel that Shay Bourne
had quoted to me.
What if the Church forefathers had gotten it wrong?
What if the gospels that had been dismissed and debunked were
the real ones, and the ones that had been picked for the New Testament
were the embellished versions? What if Jesus had actually said
It would mean that the allegations being made about Shay Bourne
might not be that far off the mark.
And it would explain why a Messiah might return in the guise of a
convicted murderer—to see if this time, we might get it right.
I got out of my chair, folding the book by my side, and started to
Heavenly Father, I said silently, help me understand.
The telephone rang, making me jump. I glanced at the clock—who
would call after three in the morning?
"Father Michael? This is CO Smythe, from the prison. Sorry to disturb
you at this hour, but Shay Bourne had another seizure. We thought
you'd want to know."
"Is he all right?"
"He's in the infirmary," Smythe said. "He asked for you."
At this hour, the vigilant masses outside the prison were tucked into
their sleeping bags and tents, underneath the artificial day created by
the enormous spotlights that flooded the front of the building. I had to
be buzzed in; when I entered the receiving area, CO Smythe was waiting
for me. "What happened?"
"No one knows," the officer said. "It was Inmate DuFresne who
alerted us again. We couldn't see what happened on the security cameras."
We entered the infirmary. In a distant, dark corner of the room.
Shay was propped up in a bed, a nurse beside him. He held a cup of
juice that he sipped through a straw; his other hand was cuffed to the
bed's railing. There were wires coming out from beneath his medical
johnny. "How is he?" I asked.
"He'll live," the nurse said, and then, realizing her mistake, blushed
fiercely. "We hooked him up to monitor his heart. So far, so good."
I sat down on a chair beside Shay and looked up at Smythe and the
"That's about all you've got," the nurse said. "We just gave him
something to knock him out."
They moved to the far side of the room, and I leaned closer to Shay.
"Are you okay?"
"You wouldn't believe it if I told you."
"Oh, try me," I said.
He glanced over to make sure no one else was listening. "I was just
watching TV, you know? This documentary on how they make movie
theater candy, like Dots and Milk Duds. And I started to get tired, so I
went to turn it off. But before I could push the burton, all the light in
the television, it shot into me like electricity. I mean, I could feel those
things inside my blood moving around, what are they called again, corporals?"
"Yeah, right, those. I hate that word. Did you ever see that Star Trek
where those aliens are sucking the salt out of everything? I always
thought they should be called corpuscles. You say the word, and it
sounds like you're eating a lemon ..."
"Shay. You were talking about the light."
"Oh, right, yeah. Well, it was like I started boiling inside, and my
eyes, they were going to jelly, and I tried to call out but my teeth were
wired shut and then I woke up in here, feeling like I'd been sucked
dry." He looked up at me. "By a corpuscle."
"The nurse said it was a seizure. Do you remember anything else?"
"I remember what I was thinking," Shay said. "This was what it
would feel like."
I took a deep breath. "Remember when you were little, a kid—and
you'd fall asleep in the car? And someone would carry you out and put
you into bed, so that when you woke up in the morning, you knew automatically
you were home again? That's what I think it's like to die."
"That would be good," Shay said, his voice deeper, groggy. "It'll be
nice to know what home looks like."
A phrase I'd read just an hour ago slipped into my mind like a
splinter: The Father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people
don't see it.
Although I knew it wasn't the right time, although I knew I was
supposed to be here for Shay, instead of the other way around, I leaned
closer, until my words could fall into the shell of his ear. "Where did
you find the Gospel of Thomas?" I whispered.
Shay stared at me blankly. "Thomas who?" he said, and then his
eyes drifted shut.
As I drove away from the prison, I heard Father Walter's voice: He's
conned you. But when I'd mentioned the Gospel of Thomas, I hadn't
seen even the slightest flicker of recognition in Shay's eyes, and he'd
been drugged—it would have been awfully hard to keep dissembling.
Was this what it had felt like for the Jews who met Jesus and recognized
him as more than just a gifted rabbi? I had no point of comparison.
I'd grown up Catholic; I'd become a priest. I could not remember a
time that I hadn't believed Jesus was the Messiah.
I knew someone, though, who could.
Rabbi Bloom didn't have a temple, because it had burned down, but
he did rent office space close to the school where services were held. I
was waiting in front of the locked door when he arrived just before eight
"Wow," he said, taking in the vision in front of him—a red-eyed,
rumpled priest clutching a motorcycle helmet and the Nag Hammadi
texts. "I would have let you borrow it longer than one night."
"Why don't Jews believe Jesus was the Messiah?"
He unlocked the door to the office. "That's going to take at least a
cup and a half of coffee," Bloom said. "Come on in."
He started brewing a pot and offered me a seat. His office looked a
lot like Father Walter's at St. Catherine's—inviting, comfortable. A place
you'd want to sit and talk. Unlike Father Walter's, though. Rabbi
Bloom's plants were the real thing. Father Walter's were plastic, bought
by the Ladies' Aid, when he kept killing everything from a ficus to an
"It's a wandering Jew," the rabbi said when he saw me checking
out the flowerpot. "Maggie's little idea of a joke."
"I just got back from the prison. Shay Bourne had another seizure."
"Did you tell Maggie?"
"Not yet." I looked at him. "You didn't answer my question."
"I haven't had my coffee." He got up and poured us each a cup, putting
milk and sugar in mine without asking first. "Jews don't think Jesus
was the Messiah because he didn't fulfill the criteria for a Jewish messiah.
It's really pretty simple, and it's all laid out by Maimonides. A
Jewish moshiach will bring the Jews back to Israel and set up a government
in Jerusalem that's the center of political power for the world,
for both Jews and Gentiles. He'll rebuild the Temple and reestablish
Jewish law as the governing law of the land. He'll raise the dead—all of
the dead—and usher in a great age of peace, when everyone believes
in God. He'll be a descendant of David, a king and a warrior, a judge,
and a great leader . . . but he'll also be firmly, unequivocally human."
Bloom set the cup down in front of me. "We believe that in every generation,
a person's born with the potential to become the moshiach.
But if the messianic age doesn't come and that person dies, then that
person isn't him."
"Personally, I've always seen Jesus as a great Jewish patriot. He
was a good Jew, who probably wore a yarmulke and obeyed the Tbrah,
and never planned to start a new religion. He hated the Romans and
wanted to get them out of Jerusalem. He got charged with political rebellion,
sentenced to execution. Yes, a Jewish high priest carried it
out—Caiaphas—but most Jews back then hated Caiaphas anyway be
cause he was the henchman for the Romans." He looked up at me over
the edge of his coffee mug. "Was Jesus a good guy? Yeah. Great
teacher? Sure. Messiah? Dunno."
"A lot of the Bible's predictions for the messianic era were fulfilled
"But were they the crucial ones?" Rabbi Bloom asked. "Let's say
you didn't know who I was and I asked you to meet me. I told you I'd
be standing outside the Steeplegate Mall at ten o'clock wearing a Hawaiian
shirt and that I'd have curly red hair and be listening to Outkast
on my iPod. And at ten o'clock, you saw someone standing outside the
Steeplegate Mall who had curly red hair and was wearing a Hawaiian
shirt and listening to Outkast on an iPod... but it was a woman. Would
you still think it was me?"
He stood up to refill his coffee. "Do you know what I heard on NPR
on the way over here today? Another bus blew up in Israel. Three more
kids from New Hampshire died in Iraq. And the cops just arrested some
guy in Manchester who shot his ex-wife in front of their two kids. If
Jesus ushered in the messianic era, and the world I hear about on the
news is one of peace and redemption . . . well, I'd rather wait for a different
moshiach." He glanced back at me. "Now, if you don't mind me
asking you a question . . . what's a priest doing at a rabbi's office at
eight in the morning asking questions about the Jewish Messiah?"
I got up and began to walk around the little room. "The book you
loaned me—it got me thinking."
"And that's a bad thing?"
"Shay Bourne has said things, verbatim, that I read last night in the
Gospel of Thomas."
"Bourne? He's read Thomas? I thought Maggie said he—"
"—has no religious training to speak of, and a minimal education."
"It's not like the Gideons leave the Gospel of Thomas in hotel
rooms," Rabbi Bloom said. "Where would he have—"
He steepled his fingers. "Huh."
I placed the book he'd loaned me on his desk. "What would you do
if you began to second-guess everything you believed?"
Rabbi Bloom leaned forward and riffled through his Rolodex. "I
would ask more questions," he said. He scribbled down something on a
Post-it and handed it to me.
Ian Fletcher. I read. 603-555-1367.
The night Shay had his second seizure, I was awake, gathering ink that I
planned to use to give myself another tattoo. If I do say so myself, I'm
rather proud of my homemade tattoos. I had five—my rationale being that
my body, up until three weeks ago, wasn't worth much more than being a
canvas for my art; plus the threat of getting AIDS from a dirty needle was
obviously a moot point. On my left ankle was a clock, with the hands marking
the moment of Adam's death. On my left shoulder was an angel, and
below it an African tribal design. On my right leg was a bull, because I was
a Taurus; and swimming beside it was a fish, for Adam, who was a Pisces. I
had grand plans for this sixth one, which I planned to put right on my
chest: the word BELIEVE, in Gothic letters. I'd practiced the art in reverse
multiple times in pencil and pen, until I felt sure that I could replicate it
with my tattoo gun as I worked in the mirror.
My first gun had been confiscated by the COs, like Crash's hype kit. It
had taken me six months to amass the parts for the new one. Making ink
was hard to do, and harder to get away with—which was why I had chosen
to work on this during the deadest hours of the night. I had lit a plastic
spoon on fire, keeping the flame small so I could catch the smoke in a plastic
bag. It stank horribly, and just as I was getting certain the COs would
literally get wind of it and shut down my operation, Shay Bourne collapsed
This time, his seizure had been different. He'd screamed—so loud that
he woke up the whole pod, so loud that the finest dust of plaster drifted
down from the ceilings of our cells. To be honest, Shay was such a mess
when he was wheeled off I-tier that none of us were sure whether or not
he'd be returning—which is why I was stunned to see him being led back to
his cell the very next day.
"Po-lice," Joey Kunz yelled, just in time for me to hide the pieces of my
tattoo gun underneath the mattress. The officers locked Shay into his cell,
and as soon as the door to I-tier shut behind them, I asked Shay how he
"My head hurts," he said. "I have to go to sleep."
With Crash still off the tier after the hype kit transgression, things
were quieter. Calloway slept most days and stayed up nights with his bird;
Texas and Pogie played virtual poker; Joey was listening to his soaps. I
waited an extra few minutes to make sure the officers were otherwise occupied
out in the control booth and then I reached underneath my mattress
I had unraveled a guitar string to its central core, a makeshift needle.
This was inserted into a pen whose ink cartridge had been removed—and a
small piece of its tip sawed off and attached to the other end of the needle,
which was attached to the motor shaft of a cassette player. The pen was
taped to a toothbrush bent into an L shape, which let you hold the contraption
more easily. You could adjust the needle length by sliding the pen
casing back and forth; all that was left was plugging in the AC adapter of
the cassette player, and I had a functional tattoo gun again.
The soot I'd captured the previous night had been mixed with a few
drops of shampoo to liquefy it. I stood in front of the stainless steel panel
that served as a mirror, and scrutinized my chest. Then, gritting my teeth
against the pain, I turned on the gun. The needle moved back and forth in
an elliptical orbit, piercing me hundreds of times per minute.
There it was, the letter B.
"Lucius?" Shay's voice drifted into my house.
"I'm sort of busy, Shay."
"What's that noise?"
"None of your business." I lifted it to my skin again, felt the needle
working against me, a thousand arrows striking.
"Lucius? I can still hear that noise."
I sighed. "It's a tattoo gun, Shay, all right? I'm giving myself a tattoo."
There was a hesitation. "Will you give me one?"
I had done this for multiple inmates when I was housed on different
tiers-ones that had a bit more freedom than I-tier, which offered twentythree
rollicking hours of lockdown. "I can't. I can't reach you."
"That's okay," Shay said. "I can reach you."
"Yeah, whatever," I said. I squinted back into the mirror and set the
tattoo gun against my skin. Holding my breath, I carefully formed the
curves and flourishes around the letters E and L
I thought I heard Shay whimpering when I started on the letter I, and
surely he cried out when I tattooed the V. My gun must not have been
helping his headache any. Shrugging off his moans, I stepped closer to the
mirror and surveyed my handiwork.
God, it was gorgeous. The letters moved with every breath I took; even
the angry red swelling of my skin couldn't take away from the clean lines
of the letters.
"B-believe," Shay stammered.
I turned around, as if I could see him through the wall between our
cells. "What did you say?"
"It's what you said," Shay corrected. "I read it right, didn't I?"
I had not told anyone of my plans for my sixth tattoo. I hadn't shared
the prototype artwork. I knew for a fact that Shay, from where he stood,
could not have seen into my cell as I worked.
Fumbling behind the brick that served as my safe, I took out the shank
that I used as a portable mirror. I stepped up to the front of my cell and
angled it so that I could see Shay's beaming face in the reflection. "How
did you know what I was writing?"
Shay smiled wider, and then raised his fist. He unfolded his fingers, one
at a time.
His palm was red and inflamed, and printed across it, in Gothic script,
was the same exact tattoo I'd just given myself.
Shay paced his cell in figure eights. "Did you see him?" he asked, wildeyed.
I sank down on the stool I'd dragged in from the control booth. I
was sluggish today—not only was my head buzzing with questions
about what I'd read, but I was also—for the first time in a year—not officiating
at this evening's midnight Mass. "See who?" I replied, distracted.
"Sully. The new guy. Next door."
I glanced into the other cell. Lucius DuFresne was still on Shay's
left; on his right, the formerly empty cell now had someone occupying
it. Sully, however, wasn't there. He was in the rec yard, repeatedly
running full tilt across the little square yard and leaping up against the
far wall, hands splayed, as if hitting it hard enough meant he'd go right
through the metal.
"They're going to kill me," Shay said.
"Maggie's working on writing a motion at this very—"
"Not the state," Shay said. "One of them."
I did not know anything about prison politics, but there was a fine
line between Shay's paranoia and what might pass for the truth. Shay
was receiving more attention than any other inmate at the prison, as a
result of his lawsuit and the media frenzy. There was every chance he
might be targeted by the general prison population.
Behind me, CO Smythe passed in his flak jacket, carrying a broom
and some cleaning supplies. Once a week, the inmates were required
to clean their own cells. It was one-at-a-time, supervised cleaning:
after an inmate came in from rec, the supplies would be waiting for him
in his cell, and a CO would stand guard at the doorway until the work
was finished—close by, because even Windex could become a weapon
in here. I watched the empty cell door open, so that Smythe could leave
the spray bottles and the toweling and the broom; then he walked to
the far end of the tier to get the new inmate from the rec yard. Til talk
to the warden. I'll make sure you're protected," I told Shay, which
seemed to mollify him. "So," I said, changing the subject, "what do you
like to read?"
"What, you're Oprah now? We're having a book club?"
"Good, because I'm not reading the Bible."
"I know that," I said, seizing this inroad. "Why not?"
"It's lies." Shay waved a hand, a dismissal.
"What do you read that isn't a lie?"
"I don't," he replied. "The words get all knotted up. I have to stare
at a page for a year before I can make sense of it."
" 'There's light inside a person of light,'" I quoted, " 'and if shines
on the whole world.'"
Shay hesitated. "Can you see it, too?" He held his hands up in front
of his face, scrutinizing his fingertips. "The light from the television—the
stuff that went into me—it's still there. It glows, at night."
I sighed. "It's from the Gospel of Thomas."
"No, I'm pretty sure it came from the television ..."
"The words. Shay. The ones I just said. They came from a gospel I
was reading last night. And so does a lot of stuff you've been saying to
His eyes met mine. "What do you know," he said softly, and I
couldn't tell if it was a statement or a question.
"I don't know," I admitted. "That's why I'm here."
"That's why we're all here," Shay said.
If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save
you. It was one of Jesus's sayings in the Gospel of Thomas; it was one
of the first things Shay Bourne had ever told me, when he was explaining
why he needed to donate his heart. Could it really be this simple?
Could salvation be not a passive acceptance, like I'd been led to believe,
but an active pursuit?
Maybe it was saying the rosary, for me, and receiving Holy Communion,
and serving God. Maybe for Maggie's father, it was meeting with
a bunch of die-hard congregants who wouldn't let the lack of a physical
temple dissuade them from prayer. Maybe for Maggie, it was mending
whatever kept her focused on her faults instead of her strengths.
Maybe for Shay, maybe it was offering his heart—literally and
figuratively—to the mother who'd lost hers years ago because of him.
Then again. Shay Bourne was a killer; his sentences curled like a
puppy chasing its tail; he thought he had something phosphorescent
coursing through his veins because a television had zapped him in the
middle of the night. He did not sound messianic—just delusional.
Shay looked at me. "You should go," he said, but then his attention
was distracted by the sound of the rec yard door being opened. Officer
Smythe led the new inmate back onto I-tier.
He was an enormous tower of muscle with a swastika tattooed on
his scalp. His hair, sprouting out from a buzz cut, grew over it like
The inmate's cell door was closed, and his handcuffs removed. "You
know the drill. Sully," the officer said. He stood in the doorway as Sully
slowly picked up the spray bottle and washed down his sink. I heard
the squeak of paper toweling on metal.
"Hey, Father—you watch the game last night?" CO Smythe said, and
then he rolled his eyes. "Sully, what are you doing? You don't need to
Suddenly the broom in Sully's hands was no longer a broom but a
broken spear that he jutted into the officer's throat. Smythe grabbed his
neck, gurgling. His eyes rolled back in his head; he stumbled toward
Shay's cell. As he fell beside me, I clasped my hands over the wound
and screamed for help.
The tier came to life. The inmates were all clamoring to see what had
happened; CO Whitaker was suddenly there and hauling me to my feet,
taking my place as another officer started CPR. Four more officers ran past
me with pepper spray and shot it into Sully's face. He was dragged out of
the tier shrieking as the closest physician arrived—a psychiatrist I'd seen
around the prison. But by now, Smythe had stopped moving.
No one seemed to notice that I was there; there was far too much
happening, too much at stake. The psychiatrist tried to find a pulse in
Smythe's neck, but his hand came away slick with blood. He lifted the
CO's wrist and, after a moment, shook his head. "He's gone."
The tier had gone absolutely silent; the inmates were all staring in
shock at the body in front of them. Blood had stopped flowing from
Smythe's neck; he was perfectly still. To my right, I could see an argument
going on in the control booth—the EMTs who'd arrived too late
and were trying to gain admission to the tier. They were buzzed in, still
shrugging into their flak jackets, and knelt beside Smythe's body, repeating
the same ineffective tests that the psychiatrist had.
Behind me, I heard weeping.
I turned around to find Shay crouched on the floor of his cell. His
face was streaked with tears and blood; his hand slipped beneath his
cell door so that his fingers brushed Smythe's.
"You here for last rites?" one of the medics asked, and for the first
time, everyone seemed to realize I was still present.
"What's he doing here?" CO Whitaker barked.
"Who the hell is he?" another officer said. "I don't even work this
"I can go," I said. "I'll... just go." I glanced once more at Shay, who
was curled into a ball, whispering. If I hadn't known better, I would
have thought he was praying.
As the two EMTs got ready to move the body onto a stretcher, I
prayed over Smythe. "In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created
you . . . in the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you; in the
Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you. May your rest be this day in
peace, and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God. Amen."
I made the sign of the cross and started to get to my feet.
"On three," the first EMT said.
The second one nodded, his hands on the slain officer's ankles.
"One, two . . . holy shir," he cried as the dead man began to struggle
"One of the proofs of the immortality
of the soul is that myriads have believed it.
They also believed the world was flat."
-MARK. TWAIN, NOTEBOOK
Claire would be cut in half, her sternum buzzed open with a saw