I. M. Bourne

Isaiah Matthew Bourne. We had been told this at his trial, but I had

forgotten that Shay was not his Christian name. "I. M. Bourne," I said

aloud. "Sounds like a guy Trump would hire."

I am bom.

Was this a hint, another puzzle piece of evidence?

There were two ways of looking at any situation. What one person

sees as a prisoner's babble, another might recognize as words from a

long-lost gospel. What one person sees as a medically viable stroke of

luck, another might see as a resurrection. I thought of Lucius being

healed, of the water into wine, of the followers who had so easily believed

in Shay. I thought of a thirty-three-year-old man, a carpenter,

facing execution. I thought of Rabbi Bloom's ideathat every generation

had a person in it capable of being the Messiah.

There is a point when you stand at the edge of the cliff of hard evidence,

look across to what lies on the other side, and step forward.

Otherwise, you wind up going nowhere. I stared at Shay, and maybe

for the first time, I didn't see who he was. I saw who he might be.

As if he could feel my gaze, he began to toss and turn. Only one of

his eyes could slit open; the other was swollen shut. "Father," he

rasped in a voice still cushioned with medication. "Where am I?"

"You were hurt. You're going to be all right. Shay."

In the comer of the room, the officer was staring at us. "Do you think

we could have a minute alone? I'd like to pray in private with him."

The officer hesitatedas well he should have: what clergyman isn't

accustomed to praying in front of others? Then he shrugged. "Guess a

priest wouldn't do anything funny," he said. "Your boss is tougher than


People anthropomorphized God all the timeas a boss, as a lifesaver,

as a justice, as a father. No one ever pictured him as a convicted

murderer. But if you put aside the physical trappings of the body something

that all the apostles had had to do after Jesus was

resurrectedthen maybe anything was possible.

As the officer backed out of the room. Shay winced. "My face ..."

He tried to lift up his hand to touch the bandages, but found that he

was handcuffed to the bed. Struggling, he began to pull harder.

"Shay," I said firmly, "don't."

"It hurts. I want drugs ..."

"You're already on drugs," I told him. "We only have a few minutes

till the officer comes back in, so we have to talk while we can."

"I don't want to talk."

Ignoring him, I leaned closer. "Tell me," I whispered. "Tell me who

you are."

A wary hope lit Shay's eyes; he'd probably never expected to be

recognized as the Lord. He went very still, never taking his eyes off

mine. "Tell me who you are."

In the Catholic Church, there were lies of commission and lies of

omission. The first referred to telling an outright falsehood, the second

to withholding the truth. Both were sins.

I had lied to Shay since before the moment we met. He'd counted

on me to help him donate his heart, but he'd never realized how black

mine was. How could I expect Him to reveal Himself when I hadn't

done the same?

"You're right," I said quietly. "There's something I haven't told

you . . . about who I used to be, before I was a priest."

"Let me guess . . . an altar boy."

"I was a college student, majoring in math. I didn't even go to

church until after I served on the jury."

"What jury?"

I hesitated. "The one that sentenced you to death. Shay."

He stared at me for a long minute, and then he turned away. "Get



"Get the fuck away from mel" He flailed against his handcuffs,

yanking at the bonds so that his skin rubbed raw. The sound he made

was wordless, primordial, the noise that had surely filled the world

before there was order and light.

A nurse came running in, along with the two officers who were

standing outside. "What happened?" the nurse cried, as Shay continued

to thrash, his head whipping from side to side on the pillow. The gauze

in his nose bloomed with fresh blood.

The nurse pushed a call button on the panel behind Shay's head,

and suddenly the room was filled with people. A doctor yelled at the

officers to unlock his damn hands, but as soon as they did. Shay began

swatting at everything he could reach. An aide plunged a hypodermic

into his arm. "Get him out of here," someone said, and an orderly pulled

me out of the room; the last thing I saw was Shay going boneless, sliding

away from the people who were desperately trying to save him.



Claire was standing in front of a full-length mirror, naked. Her

chest was crisscrossed with black ribbon, like the lacing on a football.

As I watched, she untied the bow, unraveled the ribbons, and

peeled back both halves of her chest. She unhooked a tiny brass

hinge on her rib cage and it sprang open.

Inside, the heart was beating sure and strong, a clear sign that

it wasn't hers. Claire lifted a serving spoon and began to carve at

the organ, trying to sever it from the veins and arteries. Her cheeks

went pale; her eyes were the color of agonybut she managed to

pull it free: a bloody, misshapen mass that she placed in my outstretched

hand. "Take it back," she said.

I woke up from the nightmare, sweat-soaked, pulse racing.

After speaking with Dr. Wu about organ compatibility, I'd realized

he was rightwhat was at issue here was not where this heart

came from, but whether it came at all.

But I still hadn't told Claire a donor heart had become available.

We had yet to go through the legal proceedings, anyway

and although I told myself I didn't want to get her hopes up until

the judge ruled, another part of me realized that I just didn't want

to have to tell her the truth.

After all, it was her chest that would be hosting this man's


Even a long shower couldn't get the nightmare of Claire out of

my mind, and I realized that we had to have the conversation I

had been so studiously avoiding. I dressed and hurried down254

stairs to find her eating a bowl of cereal on the couch and watching

television. "The dog needs to go out," she said absently.

"Claire," I said, "I have to talk to you."

"Let me just see the end of this show."

I glanced at the screenit was Full House, and Claire had

watched this episode so often that even I could have told you Jesse

came home from Japan realizing being a rock star was not what it

was cracked up to be.

"You've seen it before," I said, turning off the television.

Her eyes flashed, and she used the remote to turn the show

back on.

Maybe it was a lack of sleep; maybe it was just the weight of the

imminent future on my shouldersfor whatever reason, I snapped.

I whirled around and yanked the cable feed out of the wall.

"What is wrong with you?" Claire cried. "Why are you being

such a bitch!"

Both of us fell silent, stunned by Claire's language. She'd never

called me that before; she'd never really even argued with me. Take

it back, I thought, and I remembered that image of Claire, holding

out her heart.

"Claire," I said, backpedaling. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to"

I broke off as Claire's eyes rolled back in her head.

I'd seen this beforetoo often. The AICD in her chest was

firing: when Claire's heart skipped a beat, or several, it automatically

defibrillated her. I caught her as she collapsed, settling her on

the couch, waiting for her heart to restart, for Claire to come to.

Except this time, she didn't.

On the ambulance ride to the hospital, I counted all the reasons I

hated myself: For picking a fight with Claire. For accepting Shay

Bourne's offer to donate his heart, without asking her first. For

turning off Full House before the happy ending.

Just stay with me, I begged silently, and you can watch TV twentyfour

hours a day. I will watch it with you. Don't give up, we've come so


Although the EMTs had gotten Claire's heart beating again by

the time we reached the hospital, Dr. Wu had admitted her, with

the unspoken agreement that this was her new home until a new

heart arrivedor hers gave out. I watched him check Claire, who

was fast asleep in the oceanic blue light of the darkened room.

"June," he said, "let's talk outside."

He closed the door behind us. "There's no good news here."

I nodded, biting my lip.

"Obviously, the AICD isn't functioning correctly. But in addition,

the tests we've done show her urine output decreasing and

her creatinine levels rising. We're talking about renal failure, June.

It's not just her heart that's giving outher whole body is shutting


I looked away, but I couldn't stop a tear from rolling down my


"I don't know how long it's going to take to get a court to

agree to that heart donation," the doctor said, "but Claire can't

wait around for the docket to clear."

"I'll call the lawyer," I said softly. "Is there anything else I can


Dr. Wu touched my arm. "You should think about saying


I held myself together long enough for Dr. Wu to disappear

into an elevator. Then, I rushed down the hallway and blindly

plunged into a doorway that stood ajar. I fell to my knees and let

the grief bleed out of meone great, low keening note.

Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I blinked through my

tears to find the priest who was Shay Bourne's ally staring at me.

"June? Is everything all right?"

"No," I said. "No, everything is most definitely not all right."

I could see then what I hadn't noticed when I first came into

the roomthe gold cross on the long dais in the front of the room,

one flag with the star of David, another with a Muslim crescent

moon: this was the hospital chapel, a place to ask for what you

wanted the most.

Was it wrong to wish for someone's death so that Claire could

have his heart sooner?

"Is it your daughter?" the priest asked.

I nodded, but I couldn't look him in the eye.

"Would it be all rightI mean, would you mind if I prayed for


Although I did not want his assistancehad not asked for his

assistancethis one time, I was willing to put aside how I felt

about God, because Claire could use all the help she could get.

Almost imperceptibly, I nodded.

Beside me, Father Michael's voice began to move over the hills

and valleys of the simplest of prayers: "Our Father, who art in

heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on

earth as it is in heaven."

Before I realized what I was doing, my own mouth had started

to form the words, a muscle memory. And to my surprise, instead

of it feeling false or forced, it made me relieved, as if I had just

passed the baton to someone else.

"Give us this day our daily bread and lead us not into temptation.

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others ivho trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

It felt like putting on flannel pajamas on a snowy night; like

turning on your blinker for the exit that you know will take you


I looked at Father Michael, and together we said "Amen."



Ian Fletcher, former tele-atheist and current academic, lived in New

Canaan, New Hampshire, in a farmhouse on a dirt road where the mailboxes

were not numbered. I drove up and down the street four times

before turning down one driveway and knocking on the door. When I

did, no one answered, although I could hear strains of Mozart through

the open windows.

I had left June in the hospital, still shaken by my encounter with

Shay. Talk about irony: just when I allowed myself to think that I might

be in God's company, after allHe flatly rejected me. The whole world

felt off-kilter; it is an odd thing to start questioning the framework

that's ordered your life, your career, your expectationsand so I had

placed a phone call to someone who'd been through it before.

I knocked again, and this time the door swung open beneath my

fist. "Hello? Anyone home?"

"In here," a woman called out.

I stepped into the foyer, taking note of the colonial furniture, the

photo on the wall that showed a young girl shaking hands with Bill

Clinton and another of the girl smiling beside the Dalai Lama. I followed

the music to a room off the kitchen, where the most intricate

dollhouse I'd ever seen was sitting on a table, surrounded by bits of

wood and chisels and glue gun sticks. The house was made of bricks

no bigger than my thumbnail, the windows had miniature shutters that

could be louvered to let in light; there was a porch with Corinthian columns.

"Amazing," I murmured, and a woman stood up from behind the

dollhouse, where she'd been hidden.

"Oh," she said. "Thanks." Seeing me, she did a double take, and I

realized her eyes were focused on my clerical collar.

"Bad parochial school flashback?"

"No . . . it's just been a while since I've had a priest in here." She

stood up, wiping her hands on a white butcher's apron. I'm Mariah

Fletcher," she said.

"Michael Wright."

"Father Michael Wright."

I grinned. "Busted." Then I gestured to her handiwork. "Did you

make this?"

"Well. Yeah."

"I've never seen anything like it."

"Good," Mariah said. "That's what the client's counting on."

I bent down, scrutinizing a tiny door knocker with the head of a

lion. "You're quite an artist."

"Not really. I'm just better at detail than I am at the big picture." She

turned off the CD player that was trilling The Magic Flute. "Ian said I

was supposed to keep an eye out for you. And Oh, shoot." Her eyes

flew to the corner of the room, where a stack of blocks had been abandoned.

"You didn't come across two hellions on your way in?"


"That's not a good sign." Pushing past me, she ran into the kitchen

and threw open a pantry door. TwinsI figured them to be about four

years oldwere smearing the white linoleum with peanut butter and


"Oh, God," Mariah sighed as their faces turned up to hers like sunflowers.

"You told us we could finger-paint," one of the boys said.

"Not on the floor; and not with food!" She glanced at me. "I'd escort

you, but"

"You have to take care of a sticky situation?"

She smiled. "lan's in the barn; you can just head down there." She


lifted each boy and pointed him toward the sink. "And you two," she

said, "are going to clean up, and then go torture Daddy."

I left her washing the twins' hands and walked down the path

toward the barn. Having children was not in the cards for meI knew

that. A priest's love for God was so all-encompassing that it should

erase the human craving for a familymy parents, brothers, sisters, and

children were all Jesus. If the Gospel of Thomas was right, however,

and we were more like God than unlike Him, then having children

should have been mandatory for everyone. After all, God had a son and

had given Him up. Any parent whose child had gone to college or

gotten married or moved away would understand this part of God more

than me.

As I approached the barn, I heard the most unholy soundslike cats

being dismembered, calves being slaughtered. Panickedwas Fletcher

hurt?I threw open the door to find him watching a teenage girl play

the violin.

Really badly.

She took the violin from her chin and settled it into the slight curve

of her hip. "I don't understand why I have to practice in the barn."

Fletcher removed a pair of foam earplugs. "What was that?"

She rolled her eyes. "Did you even hear my piece at air?"

Fletcher paused. "You know I love you, right?" The girl nodded.

"Well, let's just say if God was hanging around here today, that last bit

probably sent Her running for the hills."

Tryouts for band are tomorrow," she said. "What am I going to


"Switch to the flute?" Fletcher suggested, but he put his arm around

the girl and hugged her as he spoke. As he turned, he noticed me. "Ah.

You must be Michael Wright." He shook my hand and introduced the

girl. "This is my daughter. Faith."

Faith shook my hand, too. "Did you hear me play? Am I as bad as

he says I am?"

I hesitated, and Fletcher came to my rescue. "Honey, don't put the

priest in a position where he's going to have to liehe'll waste his

whole afternoon at confession." He grinned at Faith. "I think it's your

turn to watch the demon twins from hell."

"No, I remember very clearly that it's your turn. I was doing it all

morning while Mom worked."

"Ten bucks," Ian said.

"Twenty," Faith countered.

"Done." She put her violin back in its case. "Nice to meet you," she

said to me, and she slipped out of the barn, heading toward the house.

"You have a beautiful family," I said to Fletcher.

He laughed. "Appearances can be deceiving. Spending an afternoon

with Cain and Abel is a whole new form of birth control."

"Their names are"

"Not really," Fletcher said, smiling. "But that's what I call them

when Mariah's not listening. Come on back to my office."

He walked me past a generator and a snowblower, two abandoned

horse stalls, and through a pine door. Inside, to my surprise, was a finished

room with paneled walls and two stories of bookshelves. "I have

to admit," Fletcher said, "I don't get very many calls from the Catholic

clergy. They aren't quite the prevalent audience for my book."

I sat down on a leather wing chair. "I can imagine."

"So what's a nice priest like you doing in the office of a rabblerouser

like me? Can I expect a blistering commentary in the Catholic

Advocate with your byline on it?"

"No . . . this is more of a fact-finding mission." I thought about how

much I should admit to Ian Fletcher. The confidentiality relationship between

a parishioner and a priest was as inviolable as the one between

a patient and his doctor, but was telling Fletcher what Shay had said

breaking a trust if the same words were already in a gospel that had

been written two thousand years ago? "You used to be an atheist," I

said, changing the subject.

"Yeah." Fletcher smiled. "I was pretty gifted at it, too, if I do say so


"What happened?"

"I met someone who made me question everything I was so sure I

knew about God."

"That," I said, "is why I'm in the office of a rabble-rouser like you."

"And what better place to learn more about the Gnostic gospels,"

Fletcher said.


"Well, then, the first thing is that you shouldn't call them that. It

would be like calling someone a spic or a Hebethe label Gnostic was

made up by the same people who rejected them. In my circles, we call

them noncanonical gospels. Gnostic literally means one who knowsbut

the people who coined the term considered its followers know-it-alls."

"That's what we pretty much learn in seminary."

Fletcher looked at me. "Let me ask you a question. Fatherin your

opinion, what's the purpose of religion?"

I laughed. "Wow, thank goodness you picked an easy one."

I'm serious ..."

I considered this. "I think religion brings people together over a

common set of beliefs . . . and makes them understand why they


Fletcher nodded, as if this was the answer he'd been expecting. "I

think it's there to answer the really hard questions that arise when the

world doesn't work the way it's supposed tolike when your child dies

of leukemia, or you're fired after twenty years of hard work. When bad

things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people.

The really interesting thing, to me, is that somehow religion stopped

being about trying to find honest solutions . . . and started being about

ritual. Instead of everyone searching for understanding on their own,

orthodox religion came along and said, 'Do x, y, and zand the world

will be a better place.'"

"Well, Catholicism's been around for thousands of years," I replied,

"so it must be doing something right."

"You have to admit, it's done a lot wrong, too," Fletcher said.

Anyone who'd had limited religious instruction or a thorough college

education knew about the Catholic Church and its role in politics

and historynot to mention the heresies that had been squelched over

the centuries. Even sixth graders studied the Inquisition. "It's a corporation,"

I said. "And sure, there have been times when it's been staffed

badly, with people who think ambition trumps faith. But that doesn't

mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater. No matter how

screwed up God's servants are in the Church, His message has managed

to get through."

Fletcher tilted his head. "What do you know about the birth of


"Did you want me to start with the Holy Ghost visiting Mary, or skip

ahead to the star in the East..."

"That's the birth of Jesus," Fletcher said. "Two very different things.

Historically, after Jesus's death, his followers weren't exactly welcomed

with open arms. By the second century A.D., they were literally dying

for their beliefs. But even though they belonged to groups that called

themselves Christians, the groups weren't unified, because they were

an very different from one another. One of these groups was the socalled

Gnostics. To them, being Christian was a good first step, but to

truly reach enlightenment, you had to receive secret knowledge, or

gnosis. You started with faith, but you developed insightand for these

people. Gnostics offered a second baptism. Ptolemy called it apolutrosis

the same word used when slaves were legally freed."

"So how did people get this secret knowledge?"

"There's the rub," Fletcher said. "Unlike the church, you couldn't be

taught it. It had nothing to do with being told what to believe, and everything

to do with figuring it out on your own. You had to reach inside

yourself, understand human nature and its destiny, and at that moment

you'd know the secretthat there's divinity in you, if you're willing to

look for it. And the path would be different for everyone."

"That sounds more Buddhist than Christian."

"They called themselves Christians," Fletcher corrected. "But Irenaeus,

who was the bishop of Lyons at the time, disagreed. He saw

three huge differences between Orthodox Christianity and Gnosticism.

In Gnostic texts, the focus wasn't on sin and repentance, but instead on

illusion and enlightenment. Unlike in the Orthodox Church, you couldn't

be a member simply by joiningyou had to show evidence of spiritual

maturity to be accepted. Andthis was probably the biggest stumbling

block for the bishopGnostics didn't think Jesus's resurrection was literal.

To them, Jesus was never really humanhe just appeared in

human form. But that was just a technicality to the Gnostics, because

unlike Orthodox Christians, they didn't see a gap between the human

and the divine. To them, Jesus wasn't a one-of-a-kind saviorhe was a

guide, helping you find your individual spiritual potential. And when

you reached it, you weren't redeemed by Christyou became a Christ.

Or in other words: you were equal to Jesus. Equal to God."

It was easy to see why, in seminary, this had been taught as

heresy: the basis of Christianity was that there was only one God, and

He was so different from man that the only way to reach Him was

through Jesus. "The biggest heresies are the ones that scare the Church

to death."

"Especially when the Church is going through its own identity

crisis," Fletcher said. "I'm sure you remember how Irenaeus decided to

unify the Orthodox Christian Churchby figuring out who was a true

believer, and who was faking. Who was speaking the word of God, and

who was speaking . . . well... just words?"

On a pad in front of him, Fletcher wrote GOD = WORD = JESUS,

then spun it around so I could see. "Irenaeus came up with this little

gem. He said that we can't be divine, because Jesus's life and death

were so different from that of any manwhich became the very begin264

ning of Orthodox Christianity. What didn't fit this equation became

hereticalif you weren't worshipping the right way, you were out. It

was sort of the first reality show, if you want to think of it that way:

who had the purest form of Christianity? He condemned the folks who

got creative with faith, like Marcus and his followers, who spoke in

prophecies and had visions of a feminine divinity clothed in the letters

of the Greek alphabet. He condemned the groups that swore by only

one gospellike the Ebionites, who were attached to Matthew; or the

Marcionites, who studied only Luke. Just as bad were the groups like

the Gnostics, who had too many texts. Instead, Irenaeus decided that

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John should be the four cornerstone gospels

of what to believe"

"because they all had a narrative of Christ's Passion in them...

which the Church needed, in order for the Eucharist to mean something."

"Exactly," Fletcher said. "Then Irenaeus appealed to all those people

who were trying to decide which Christian group was right for them.

Basically, he said: 'We know how hard it is to figure out what's true,

and what's not. So we're going to make it easy for you, and tell you

what to believe.' People who did that were true Christians. People who

didn't were not. And the things Irenaeus told people to believe became

the foundation for the Nicene Creed, years later."

Every priest knew that what we were taught in seminary had a

Catholic spin put on ityet there was an incontrovertible truth behind

it. I had always believed that the Catholic Church was evidence of religious

survival of the fittest: the truest, most powerful ideas were the

ones that had prevailed over time. But Fletcher was saying that the

most powerful ideas had been subjugated... because they jeopardized

the existence of the Orthodox Church. That the reason they'd had to be

crushed was becauseat one pointthey'd been as or more popular

than Orthodox Christianity.

Or in other words, the reason the Church had survived and flour

ished was not because its ideas were the most valid, but because it had

been the world's first bully.

"Then the books of the New Testament were just an editorial decision

someone once had to make," I said.

Fletcher nodded. "But what were those decisions based on? The

gospels aren't the word of God. They're not even the apostles' firsthand

accounts of the word of God. They're simply the stories that best supported

the creed that the Orthodox Church wanted people to follow."

"But if Irenaeus hadn't done that," I argued, "chances are there

would be no Christianity. Irenaeus united a whole mass of fragmented

followers and their beliefs. When you're in Rome in A.D. 150 and you're

being arrested because you confess Christ as your savior, you want to

make sure that the people beside you aren't going to turn around at the

last minute and say they believe something different. In fact, it's still

important today to figure out who's a believer and who's just a

nutcaseread any paper and you'll see how anger, prejudice, or ego

are all routinely passed off as the Word of God, usually with a bomb

strapped to it."

"Orthodoxy takes the risk away," Fletcher agreed. "We tell you

what's real and what's not, so you don't have to worry about getting it

wrong. The problem is that the minute you do it, you start separating

people into groups. Some get favored, some don't. Some gospels get

picked, others get hidden away underground for thousands of years."

He looked at me. "Somewhere along the line, organized religion

stopped being about faith, and started being about who had the power

to keep that faith." Fletcher ripped off the sheet of paper with Irenaeus's

equation, leaving a clear, blank slate beneath. He crumpled the

paper, tossed it into his trash can. "You said that the purpose of religion

was to bring people together. But does it, really? Or does itknowingly,

purposefully, and intentionallybreak them apart?"

I took a deep breath. And then I told him everything I knew about

Shay Bourne.



None of us were getting any sleep, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

Crowds have their own pH, and the remarkable thing is that they can

change in an instant. The people who had been camping out outside the

prisonwho were featured in a countdown every night on the local news

(MR. MESSIAH: DAY 23)-had somehow gotten word that Shay had been

hospitalized for an injury. But now, in addition to the camp that was holding

a prayer vigil for Shay, there was a very vocal group of people who felt

that this was a sign, that the reason Shay had been hurt so badly was because

God decided he had it coming to him.

They got louder, for some reason, after dark. Insults were hurled, fights

were picked, punches were thrown. Someone sent the National Guard

down to patrol the perimeter of the prison and keep the peace, but no one

could shut them up. Shay's supporters would sing gospel to drown out the

chants of the disbelievers ("Jesus lives! Bourne dies!"). Even with headphones

on, I could still hear them, a headache that wouldn't go away.

Watching the eleven o'clock news that night was surreal. To see the

prison and hear the resonant shouts of the mob outside echoing the broadcast

on my television-well, it was like deja vu, except it was happening



There's only one God, people shouted.



They carried signs: JESUS IS MY HOMEBOY-NOT SATAN.



They were separated from the Shay loyalists by armed guards toting

guns, who walked the fault line of public opinion between them.

"As you can see," the reporter said, "sentiment in support of Shay

Bourne and his unprecedented case to donate his heart is waning in the

wake of his hospitalization. A recent poll done by WNRK news shows only

thirty-four percent of New Hampshire residents still convinced that the

courts should allow Bourne to be an organ donor; and even less than that

sixteen percentagree that his miracles are divinely inspired. Which means

that an overwhelming eighty-four percent of the state agrees with Reverend

Arbogath Justus, who's joining us again this evening. Reverend, you

and the members of your church have been here for nearly a week now

and have been instrumental in turning the tide of public opinion. What's

your take on the Bourne hospitalization?"

The Reverend Justus was still wearing that green suit. "Ninety-nine

percent of the state thinks you should burn that outfit," I said out loud.

"Janice," the reverend replied, "we at the Drive-ln Church of Christ in

God have of course been praying for Shay Bourne's speedy and full recovery

in the wake of the prison attack. However, when we pray, we pray to

the one and only Lord: Jesus Christ."

"Is there any message you have for those who still don't agree with


"Why, yes." He leaned closer to the camera. "I told you so."

The reporter took back the microphone. "We've been told that Bourne

will be released from the hospital in the next few hours, but doctors

haven't commented on his condition . . . " Suddenly, a roar went up from

both sides of the crowd, and the reporter covered her earpiece with one

hand. "This is unconfirmed," she said over the din, "but apparently an ambulance

has just driven into the rear entrance of the prison . . ."

On the screen, the camera swung past her to catch a man decking a

woman in a purple caftan. The armed guards stepped in, but by then other

fights had broken out between the camps. The line separating the two bled,

until the guards had to call in reinforcements. The cameras captured a

teenager being trampled, a man being smacked in the head by the butt of

a guard's rifle and collapsing.

"Lights-out," a CO said over the loudspeaker. Lights-out never really

meant lights-outthere was always some residual bulb shining somewhere

in the prison. But I pulled off my headphones, lay down on my bunkand

listened to the riot going on outside the brick walls of the prison.

This is what it always comes down to, I realized. There are the ones

who believe, and the ones who don't, and caught in the space between

them are guns.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one being disturbed. Batman the Robin

began to squawk, in spite of Calloway's efforts to hush him.

"Shut that freaking bird up already!" Texas yelled.

"You shut up," Calloway said. "Fucking Bourne. Wish he'd never come

onto this fucking tier."

As if he'd been summoned, the door to I-tier opened, and in the halflight,

Shay moved toward his cell, escorted by a flock of six officers. He had

a bandage on his face, and two black eyes. Part of his scalp had been

shaved. He did not look at any of us as he passed. "Hey," I murmured as he

walked by my cell, but Shay didn't respond. He moved like a zombie, like

someone in a sci-fi film whose frontal lobe has been removed by the mad


Five of the officers left. The sixth stood outside Shay's cell door, his

own personal security guard. The presence of the CO prevented me from

talking to Shay. In fact, the presence of the CO prevented any of us from

talking, period.

I guess we were all so focused on his return that it took us several moments

to realize that the quiet wasn't just a lack of conversation. Batman

the Robin had fallen asleep in Calloway's breast pocket. And outside, that

dinthat god-awful dinhad gone spectacularly, blissfully silent.


America was founded on religious freedom, on the separation of church

and state, and yet I will be the first to tell you that we're not much better

off than those Puritans were in the 1770s over in England. Religion and

politics get into bed with each other all the time: the first thing we do in a

courtroom is swear on a Bible; public school classes begin with the Pledge

of Allegiance, which declares us one nation under God; even our currency

is stamped with the words In God We Trust. You'd think that of all people, a

lawyer like me from the ACLU would be violently opposed to this on principle,

but no. I had spent thirty minutes in the shower and another twenty

driving downtown to the federal courthouse trying to figure out the best

way to drag religion smack into the middle of a courtroom.

I was just determined to do it without offending the personal beliefs

of the judge.

In the parking lot, I called the ChutZpah and reached my mother on

the first try.

"What kind of name is Haig?"

"You mean like the general?"


"Sounds German, maybe," she mused. "I don't know. Why?"

"I was talking religious affiliation."

"Is that what you think I do?" my mother said. "Judge people on their

last names?"

"Does everything have to be an accusation? I just need to know before

I go into chambers, so that I can tailor what I say to the justice sitting on

the case."

"I thought the whole point of being a judge was being impartial."

"Right. Just like the whole point of being crowned Miss America is to

promote world peace."

"I can't remember if Alexander Haig is Jewish. I know your father

liked him because he supported Israel . . ."

"Well, even if he is, that doesn't mean that my judge is. Haig isn't

quite as easy to figure out as someone named O'Malley or Hershkowitz."

"Your father once dated a Jewish girl named Barbara O'Malley, for

your information," my mother said.

"Hopefully before he married you . . ."

"Very funny. I'm just saying that your theory isn't airtight."

"Well, you don't meet many Jewish O'Malleys."

My mother hesitated. "I think her grandparents had their surname legally

changed from Meyer."

I rolled my eyes. "I've got to go. No matter what his religion is, no

judge likes a lawyer who's late."

I had received a call from my secretary when I was meeting with

Warden Coyne about Shay's protection in the prisonJudge Haig

wanted to see counsel in federal court the very next morning, a mere

four days after I'd filed my complaint there. I should have realized

things were going to move blisteringly fast. Shay already had an execution

date scheduled, so the court had put us on an expedited trial


As I turned the corner, I saw the AAG from the appellate division,

Gordon Greenleaf, already waiting. I nodded at him, and then felt my cell

phone vibrating in my purse with a text message.


I snapped the phone shut as the clerk arrived to lead us into Judge

Haig's chambers.

The judge had thinning gray hair and a distance-runner's body. I

peered at the collar of his shirt, but he was wearing a tie: for all I knew,

he might be wearing a crucifix, a star of David, or even a rope of garlic to

ward off vampires. "All right, boys and girls," he said, "who can tell us

why we're here today?"

"Your Honor," I answered, "I'm suing the commissioner of corrections

of the State of New Hampshire on behalf of my client, Shay


"Yes, thank you, Ms. Bloom, I already breathlessly read your complaint

from cover to cover. What I meant was that Mr. Bourne's impending

execution is already a zoo. Why is the ACLU turning it into a bigger


Gordon Greenleaf cleared his throat. He had always reminded me of

Bozo the Clown, with his tufted red hair and allergies that left his nose

red more often than not. "He's a death row inmate trying to delay the inevitable,

Your Honor."

"He's not trying to delay anything," I argued. "He's just trying to make

amends for his sins, and he believes this is the way he needs to die in

order to reach salvation. He'd be the first to tell you you can execute him

tomorrow, as long as it's by hanging."

"This is 2008, Ms. Bloom. We execute people by lethal injection.

We're not going back to a more archaic form of execution," Judge Haig


I nodded. "But, Judge, with all due respect, if the Department of Corrections

finds lethal injection impractical, the sentence may be carried

out by hanging."

"The Department of Corrections doesn't have a problem with lethal

injection!" Greenleaf said.

"It does when Mr. Bournes First Amendment rights are being violated.

He has the right to practice his religious beliefs, even in a prison

settingup to and including during the moment of his execution."

"What are you talking about?" Greenleaf exploded. "No religion insists

on organ donation. Just because one individual gets some crazy set

of rules into his head to liveor dieby, that doesn't qualify it as a religious



"Gee, Gordon," I said. "Who died and left you God?"

"Counselors, back to your corners," Judge Haig said. He pursed his

lips, deep in thought. "There are some factual issues here that need to be

fleshed out," he began, "but the first of these is, Mr. Greenleaf, whether

the state will agree to hang Mr. Bourne in lieu of giving him a lethal injection."

"Absolutely not, Judge. Preparations are already in place for the

method of execution that was specified at his sentencing."

Judge Haig nodded. "Then we'll set this down for trial. Given the

very real deadline we're working under, it will be an expedited hearing.

We're going to pretend that there's no such thing as federal discovery;

we're going to pretend that there's no such thing as summary judgment

motionswe don't have time for them. Instead, I want witness lists on

my desk in a week, and I want you prepared to go straight to trial in two


Gordon and I gathered our belongings and stepped outside chambers.

"Do you have any idea how much money the taxpayers of New

Hampshire have spent on that death chamber?"

"Take it up with the governor, Gordon," I said. "If the rich towns in

New Hampshire have to pay for public education, maybe the poor towns

can cough up the funds for future death row inmates."

He folded his arms. "What's the ACLU's game here, Maggie? You can't

get the death penalty declared unconstitutional, so you use religion as a

fallback position?"

I smiled at him. "You do if it helps you get the death penalty declared

unconstitutional. See you in two weeks, Gordon," I said, and I walked

off, leaving him staring after me.

Three times, I picked up the phone and dialed. Three times, I hung up

just as the line connected.

I couldn't do this.

But I had to. I had two weeks to get the facts; and if I was going to

fight on Shay's behalf to donate his heart, I needed to understand exactly

how this was going to workand be able to explain that in court.

When the hospital switchboard connected, I asked to speak to Dr.

Gallagher's office. I left my name and number with a secretary, fully anticipating

the fact that it would take some time before he returned my call,

during which I might actually develop the courage to speak to him. So

when the phone rang almost as soon as I put down the receiver, I was

shocked to hear his voice. "Ms. Bloom," he said. "What can I do for


"You weren't supposed to call back this fast," I blurted out.

"Ah, I'm sorry. I really should be less punctual with my patients."

"I'm not your patient."

"Right. You were only masquerading as one." He was silent, and then

said, "I believe you called me?"

"Yes. Yes, I did. I was wondering if you might be willing to meet with

meprofessionally, of course"

"Of course."

"to talk about hanging and organ donation."

"If only I had a dime for every time I've been asked to do that," Dr.

Gallagher said. "I'd be delighted to meet with you. Professionally, of


"Of course," I said, deflated. "The catch is, I have to meet you fairly

soon. My client's trial starts in two weeks."

"Well, then, Ms. Bloom, I'll pick you up at seven."

"Ohyou don't have to do that. I can meet you at the hospital."

"Yes, but I really prefer to not eat the cafeteria Jell-O on my days


"It's your day off?" He called me back on his day off? "Well, we can do it

some other time . . ."

"Didn't you just tell me this was something that needed to be done


"Well," I said. "Yeah."

"Then seven o'clock it is."

"Excellent," I said in my finest courtroom voice. "I look forward to it."

"Ms. Bloom."


I held my breath, waiting for him to lay down the parameters of this

meeting. Do not expect this to be any more than it is on the surface: two

professionals doing business. Do not forget that you could have asked

any number of doctors, even ones who don't have eyes the color of a

moonless night and an accent that tugs like a fishing hook. Do not delude

yourself into pretending this is a real date.

"I don't know where you live."

Whoever said that black makes you look thinner obviously did not have

the same clothes that were hanging in my closet. First I tried on my favorite

black pants, which were no longer my favorite because they only buttoned

if I stopped breathing and didn't intend to sit at all during the

meal. The black turtleneck that still had tags on it made me look like I

had a double chin, and the black crochet shrug that had looked so cute

in the catalog showed every inch of bra roll. Red, I thought. I'll be bold and

make a statement. I tried on a crimson silk camisole, but the only statement

I seemed to be sending was Frederick's of Hollywood. I sifted

through wraps and cardigans and shells and blazers, A-line skirts and

pleated ones and cocktail dresses, tossing them off one by one onto the

floor as Oliver hopped away in vain, trying not to get trapped underneath.

I tried on every single pair of trousers in my possession and decided

that my ass was well on its way to being declared one of Saturn's

moons. Then I marched myself to the bathroom mirror. "Here's the

thing," I said to myself. "You don't have to look like Jennifer Aniston to

discuss the best way to execute someone."

Although, I imagined, it probably helped.

Finally I decided on my favorite pair of jeans, and a flowing pale

green tunic that I'd found for five dollars at an Asian boutique, so I

always felt good about wearing it, even when I didn't look perfect. I

twisted my hair up and stabbed it with a hair stick, hoping it looked

artful and Grecian instead of just messy and out of time.

At exactly seven, the doorbell rang. I took one last look at myself in

the mirrorthe outfit clearly said casual, together, not trying too hard

and opened the door to find Dr. Gallagher wearing a coat and tie.

"I can change," I said quickly. "I didn't know we were going somewhere

nice. Not that I wouldn't expect you to take me somewhere nice.

Or that you're taking me. I mean, I'm taking myself. And you're taking

you. We're just going in the same car."

"You look lovely," he said. "This is how I dress all the time."

"On your day off?"

"Well, I am British," he replied, an explanation; but he hooked his

finger in his collar and slipped the tie from his shirt. He draped it over

the inside knob of the front door.

"When I was in college and someone did that it meant" I broke off,

remembering what it did mean: don't enter, because your roommate is

getting lucky. "It meant that, um, you were busy studying for a test."

"Really?" Dr. Gallagher said. "How strange. At Oxford it meant your

roommate was inside having sex."

"Maybe we should go," I said quickly, hoping he didn't notice that I

was blushing fiercely, or that I lived alone with a rabbit, or that my hips

were so big that they probably wouldn't fit into the seat of the little sports

car he'd parked in my driveway.

He opened the car door for me and didn't turn the ignition until my

seat belt was fastened. As he sped off, he cleared his throat. "There's

something I'd like to get out of the way before we go any further," he

said. "I'm Christian."

I stared at him. Was he some kind of fundamentalist who limited his

extracurricular conversations to people of the same faith? Did he think

that I harbored some secret desire to elope, and was he giving me the lay

Well, whatever. I'd been eating, sleeping, breathing religion with

Shay's case; I was even more sensitive now about religious tolerance than

I'd been before I took up this mantle. And if religion was so vitally important

to Gallagher that he had to bring it up as the first point of conversation,

I could give as good as I got. "I'm an atheist," I said, "but you

might as well know right now that my father's a rabbi, and if you have a

problem with that I'm sure I can find another physician to talk to me,

and I'd really appreciate it if you didn't make a joke right now about

Jewish doctors."

I exhaled.

"Well," he said, and glanced at me. "Perhaps you'd rather call me


I was pretty sure Emily Post wouldn't have covered this topic, but it

seemed more discreet to wait until after we were served our main course

to start talking about how to kill a man.

The restaurant was inside an old colonial home in Orford, with floorboards

that rolled like the seas beneath my feet and a bustling kitchen off

to one side. The hostess had a husky, mellifluous voice and greeted the

doctor by name.


The room we were sitting in had only six tables, covered with mismatched

linen and dishes and glasses; candles burned in recycled wine

bottles. On the wall were mirrors in every shape and sizemy own personal

version of the ninth circle of hellbut I hardly even noticed them.

Instead, I drank water and wine and pretended that I did not want to

spoil my appetite by eating the freshly baked bread they'd served us

along with dipping oilor by talking about Shay's execution.

Christian smiled at me. "I've always imagined one day I'd be forced

to consider how one went about losing one's heart, but I must admit, I

didn't think it would be quite so literal."

The waiter arrived with our plates. The menu had been full of the

most delectable cuisine: Vietnamese bouillabaisse, escargot tortellini,

chorizo dumplings. Even the descriptions of the entrees made me salivate:

Handmade to order, fresh Italian parsley pasta filled with fresh artichoke

hearts, roasted eggplant, a medley of cheeses, and sweet roasted red and yellow

pepper, tossed with a sun-dried tomato cream sauce. Slices of boneless chicken

lined with thin slices of prosciutto filled with fresh spinach, Asiago cheese, and

sweet onion rolled and served with fresh fettuccine and a tomato marsala wine

reduction. Boneless breast of duck roasted, thinly sliced, served with a sun-dried

cherry sauce and a wild rice pancake.

In the wild hope that I might fool Christian into thinking my waist

size was not what it seemed to be, I'd swallowed hard and ordered an appetizer.

I'd fervently wished that Christian would order the braised leg of

lamb or the steak frites so that I could beg a taste, but when I explained I

wasn't all that hungry (a colossal lie), he said an appetizer was all he

really wanted, too.

"From what I imagine," Christian said, "the inmate would be hanged

in such a way that the spine would be fractured at C2/C3, which would

arrest all spontaneous respiration."

I was trying very hard to follow along. "You mean he'd break his neck

and stop breathing?"


"So then he's brain-dead?"

A couple at the next table glanced at me, and I realized I'd been talking

too loudly. That some people didn't like to mix death with dinner.

"Well, not quite. It takes some time for anoxic changes to the brain to

result in a loss of reflexes . . . which is how you test for brain-stem function.

The problem is that you can't leave your man hanging for a great

period of time, or his heart will stop, and that disqualifies him as a


"So what has to happen?"

"The state needs to agree that the fact that respiration's ceased is

enough to justify taking the body down from the noose on likely suspi

cion of death, then intubate him so that the heart is protected, and then

test for brain death."

"Intubating him isn't the same as resuscitating him, then?"

"No. It's the equivalent of someone brain-dead being on a ventilator.

It preserves the organs, but there won't be any brain function once that

spinal cord is severed and hypoxia sets in, no matter how much oxygen

you pump into his system."

I nodded. "So how do you determine brain death?"

"There are multiple ways. You can do a physical exam firstcheck to

make sure there are no corneal reflexes, no spontaneous respirations, no

gag reflexand then repeat it twelve hours later. But since time is of the

essence, I'd recommend a transcranial Doppler test, which uses ultrasound

to measure blood flow through the carotid arteries at the base of

the brain. If there's no blood flow for ten minutes, you can legally declare

brain death."

I imagined Shay Bournewho could barely string together a coherent

sentence, who bit his fingernails to the quickbeing led to a gallows.

I pictured the noose being drawn tight around his neck and felt the hair

stand up on the back of my own.

"It's brutal," I said softly, and put down my fork.

Christian was quiet for a moment. "I was a resident in Philadelphia

the first time I had to tell a mother her child had died. He was the victim

of a gang shootingeight years old. He'd gone to the corner store to get

a quart of milk, and was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I will

never forget the look in her eyes when I told her we weren't able to save

her son. When a child is killed, two people die, I think. The only difference

is that his mother still had to suffer a heartbeat." He looked up at

me. "It will be brutal for Mr. Bourne. But it was brutal for June Nealon


I sat back in my chair. This, then, was the catch. You meet a welleducated,

intensely gorgeous, charming Oxford-educated man, and he

turns out to be so right-wing he's nearly pointed backward. "Then

you're in favor of capital punishment?" I asked, trying to keep my voice


"I think it's easy to take the moral high road when it's all theory,"

Christian said. "As a physician, do I think it's right to kill someone? No.

But then again, I don't have children yet. And I'd be lying if I said that

when I do, this issue will still seem crystal clear to me."

I didn't have children yet, either; at the rate I was going, I might

never have them. And the only time I'd seen June Nealon, face-to-face,

we'd been at the restorative justice meeting and she had been so filled

with righteous anger that I found it hard to look at her. I didn't know

what it felt like to carry a child underneath my heart for nine months, to

feel my body give way to make room for hers. I didn't know what it felt

like to hold an infant and rock her to sleep, to find a lullaby in her

breathing. But I knew what it was like to be the daughter.

My mother and I hadn't always argued. I could still remember

wishing that I was as glamorous as she wastrying on her highheeled

shoes, pulling her sheer satin slips up to my armpits as if they

were strapless dresses, diving into the wondrous mystery of her

makeup bag. She had, at one point, been the person I wanted to grow

up to be.

It was so damn hard to find love in this world, to locate someone

who could make you feel that there was a reason you'd been put on this

earth. A child, I imagined, was the purest form of that. A child was the

love you didn't have to look for, didn't have to prove anything to, didn't

have to worry about losing.

Which is why, when it happened, it hurt so badly.

Suddenly, I wanted to call my mother. I wanted to call June Nealon. I

was on my first date since the dinosaurs had roamed the planet, a date

that was really just a business dinner, and I felt like bursting into tears.

"Maggie?" Christian leaned forward. "Are you all right?" And then he

put his hand on top of mine.

Arrest all spontaneous respiration, he had said.


The waiter appeared at the side of the table. "I hope you've left room

for dessert."

I had nothing but room; my appetizer had been a crab cake the size

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