In the Silence

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Paul began to visit Marcea more often, sometimes five times a week. Although her dream of the overnight house for special children was unfolding, she needed more. From their long talks Paul knew  Marcea's deepest desires and wanted to help. Now that he had renewed  the bond with his father, Paul only had a couple of things left in life he wanted to do but these last urges were urgently digging at his conscience. Marcea respected Paul from the first day that they met, and she always honored his wish to treat him as a friend first, priest second. She shared everything about her past with Paul -- things that she could only tell a true friend. Maybe it was his collar that made her feel so at ease. Whatever it was, they were becoming very close.

The response from parents of handicapped children was unbelievable. The convent worked out perfectly, thirty small rooms now being used by God's special children. One weekend, eleven children stayed over for Friday and Saturday night. The parents were thrilled to have a place they felt comfortable leaving their child overnight. The diocese set up a board  of directors and Marcea was hired as second in charge. For the first time in her life she was earning a good  salary. Three registered nurses were brought in and  after twenty years Sister Katherine was again using her administrative skills. The anonymous contribution had left the old convent debt free, allowing them to realize a profit from the beginning and make needed improvements.

The daycare/preschool, in conjunction with the Overnight Fun House for handicapped children, proved to be a good combination. The daycare/preschool was open during the week leaving the weekend free for stayovers. Bill was kept busy making wheelchair ramps, widening doors and tending to everyday maintenance. After Bill oversaw the complete painting of the old convent, he and Mary convinced themselves that it was time for them to get on to retirement. There was a small good-bye party before they headed to the California coast in search of a quiet retirement resort; eight days later they were back. Bill chided that he was too young to retire -- maybe he would next year, after he rebuilt the old playground. Mary didn't say a word; the long loving hugs the school children gave her explained everything. 

Ann was never happier. She loved school and made many friends, but no one was as good as friend as Sister Madeline, her horse buddy. They never missed a riding lesson together, and Ann was already saving for her own horse. On weekends Ann would help by reading and feeding some of the special children and Sister Madeline said she should be paid for her help. Although Marcea had first insisted that Ann do the work as a labor of love, Sister Katherine made her realize children need to be rewarded for their efforts and that charity is better learned if one first has something to give from. Marcea also recognized how much different her life would have been with more financial security.

Danny did not like all the changes and resented that nothing was ever said about David. Now that Marcea was earning a good living she was looking for an apartment. He feared they would never need David again.  The closer Paul was getting to Marcea the less Danny cared for him. Danny overheard Paul trying to convince Marcea to take a trip with him, someplace that would fulfill both their needs. Paul was insistent, and Marcea kept making excuses that she was too busy at her new position. Danny decided right there -- if that ever happened, he would intervene.   

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One Friday evening nineteen different children were scheduled to stay over the weekend. Danny usually spent most of his time in the private section of the convent that Bill had sectioned off, reading or using his computer. Each day he became more discontented with the way things were working out. Not only was David being forgotten, so was he. No longer was he the only handicapped. Danny was used to attention and played peoples sympathy well. Now he had competition. Some of the special children that stayed over night played the sympathy game better than he. Everyone was neglecting him. Even David couldn't call every Wednesday. Danny was more than feeling sorry for himself. He was in deep depression, wishing he were dead.

This particular Friday Danny stayed alone in his room until about eight. Then he decided he'd watch some TV. Danny wheeled himself down the long hallway and opened the door into a common area that had been recently set up with a VCR and video games. When he pulled the door open he was immediately disappointed because some children were watching a video he had seen a hundred times. Out of spite, he looked for the remote so he could change the channel. While steering himself around the corner of a large blue sectional couch, he almost ran head on into a girl, also in a wheelchair. Danny stopped dead in his tracks. This girl was older and had short auburn hair almost the same color as his. She was so pretty! But she had no arms or legs. Danny couldn't help from staring.

The girl smiled. "Hi, my name is Robin."

In her smile there was so much love and friendliness that Danny immediately fell under her spell. "My name is Danny."

"Isn't it your mother that started this house?"

"Yes, it was her, the nuns, and Bill and Mary. My sister Ann works here too, and some nurses."

"I think it's cool. This is the first night I have ever stayed over someplace without my parents. They're neat but I'm glad to get a break from them."

Danny liked Robin. She was older, but most of all she was wise. He tried to talk more grownup. "This video is stupid. It's for kids."

"It is kind of childish, but if you listen real closely there is a hidden message to it." Then Robin went on to explain the message of good and evil in the video and how it applied toward life. Danny listened in awe. It wasn't long before they were sharing about God, the love of his Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Both of them knew they were part of a greater plan. The proof not only shown in their attitudes toward life -- it was also written in the Beatitudes.

After almost an hour of talking, Danny wanted to show off. "Hey, Robin do you know much about computers?"

"Not a whole lot. I have an old one for typing."

"My godfather sent me the best one you can get. It has a CD-ROM,  sound and all."

"What's a CD-ROM?"

"Do you want to see it?" Danny asked her, forgetting that she had no arms to even wheel herself with. Not one use to putting his foot in his mouth, Danny said, "I'll be right back."

Danny returned a few minutes later with a short piece of rope. He hardly ever asked for help, and could always figure out a plan to overcome his own handicap. He had just tied the rope onto her chair when one of the nurses came in. "What's going on here, young man?"

"I want to show Robin my computer."

"You'd better go check with your mother first," said the nurse, putting a damper on his plan.

  Bypassing Marcea, Danny returned a few minutes later with Bill at his side -- the soft touch. Bill pushed Robin to Danny's room, then brought them in some cookies and soda. While Bill helped Robin with the cookies and soda Danny connected to a local computer bulletin board service. Danny showed off in a normal ten-year-old fashion. Robin was impressed. With a pencil in her mouth to type, Robin could use her own computer, but never even knew that two computers could talk to each other. Danny was now her computer guru.

Bill returned after an hour, once the other children had been put to bed. As Bill pushed Robin back down the hall, Danny followed in pursuit. Back in the common area, Danny conned the nurses into to letting Robin and himself stay up a little later to watch TV together. They watched some teenage comedy and laughed and laughed until almost midnight. Finally, they had to part till morning.

  One of the nurses helped Robin to the small plain white room that once was occupied by a sister and still had a crucifix on the wall. Bill had wired intercoms into each room and installed night lights. The intercom was left on low so the children could hear and be heard. The dim glow of the night lights in each room and all down the hall was very comforting. All Robin's apprehension and fear had been forgotten. She had a friend to think about. Her eyes were tired and she could barely make out the plain ivory crucifix on the wall but Robin asked God to make sure her parents where having as much fun as she was.

The realization of Marcea's dream was well received by the community. It was ironic that she and David had never had the same opportunity to spend one night completely alone, especially since now she was contemplating taking that one night off away from her children to be with Paul. He was very persistent.

Two days later when Paul stopped by, Marcea told him that she was ready. While Paul was checking his calendar for a tentative date that worked for both of them, Danny eavesdropped on their plans. They set a date a month from then, after Easter and after Paul returned from visiting his parents in Oregon. After all this time, Paul  was thrilled with her decision and made Marcea promise that she would not back out. It was just something he had to do, before . . .

Leaving the convent, Paul drove out to Monsignor Timothy Grant's small mission church in Davis to discuss something's with his mentor. This last desire seemed foolish, self centered but it was an urge that just had to be satisfied. Worst of all, it was David's fault. It was David who had introduced him to such beauty that Sunday months ago.

Monsignor Grant, now semi-retired, lived at the small mission church eighty miles east of San Francisco. Polio had weakened his preaching voice, and here he only said mass three times a weeks. He had always been David's guiding light, had gone to bat for him when he wanted to become a priest. At that time the bishop was not overly enthused with Paul as a candidate for the priesthood. The monsignor fought for Paul the whole way, never losing faith in him. Paul proved to be a good priest right from the start,  became well respected. When Paul had learned he tested HIV positive he offered to resign from the priesthood.  Timothy, the name the monsignor preferred over his formal title, again stepped up to the plate for him. This time the bishop not only agreed with the monsignor, he took a stand. Paul had been completely honest about his past before he became a priest, had been forgiven and proved to be an exemplary priest. For Paul to resign now would be completely against what the church stood for. The bishop wuld not hear of a resignation.

Monsignor Grant knew something was on Paul's mind whenever he'd show up and this time, before the waitress even came to take their lunch order, he asked, "Paul I can tell that you have something you need to get off your chest. What is it?"

"Timothy, last fall when I flew back to see my friend David, he introduced me to something so beautiful that I just can't get it out of my system. Everything was fine till David invited me over to dinner to meet Marcea and her children. And ever since that Sunday I have had a desire burning in me that I just can't squelch, no matter how much I try."

The waitress came to the table and took their order, giving the monsignor time to phrase his response. "Go on Paul. Tell me about this deep desire. But first a short prayer is in order." Timothy reached across the table and put his hands over Paul's. "Dear Heavenly Father, please guide us. Please give him the strength to continue as a good priest and fill your needs, not his. In your holy name we pray, Amen."

Paul continued, "Timothy, what I want to do is something you probably can't understand unless you experience it first hand. So I ask that you not say anything till after we finish lunch."

"Fair enough."

"Okay, Timothy." Paul took a deep breath. "I want to buy a motorcycle."

"What?" gasped the monsignor, forgetting his promise.

"Yes. I want to buy a motorcycle. Last fall when David took me for a ride, well, it was unexplainable. The wind, the sun, and even the smell of the countryside filled every sense in me. I can't explain it. All I can say is it felt like I was gliding through heaven."

The waitress brought their food while Paul explained how he had plenty of his own money and would be discreet and not embarrass the priesthood. It was just something most people could never understand. It wasn't a death wish -- it was a reason for living. 'You have not lived, if you have not ridden' was a motto David now understood. David hardly touched his food. He felt like a teenager asking for permission.

Timothy finished his breakfast and while the waitress filled his coffee cup, he thought of how much he'd miss Paul. "I only have one question, Paul. Could you give an old crippled up man a ride someday?"

Paul smiled. "You bet."

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Paul wasted no time in looking for just the right motorcycle. David had spoken so proudly of Harleys that Paul went right to their showroom. It was like being in a museum glancing upon great works of art; each motorcycle was like a great sculpture. There was one sky blue painted bike that just looked and felt right. As Paul sat on the black leather seat he told the owner of the shop the story of how he got hooked by that Sunday afternoon ride. The owner just rubbed his foot long beard, smiling. It was a story he had heard a hundred times before. 

The long-bearded shop owner thought it was cool that a priest was buying a cycle from him and offered to do some custom detail work. He said, "No two Harleys should be the same." He promised that his custom airbrush work would give the bike identity and fit Paul's personality. They worked out a deal and Paul was back in a couple of days with insurance verification and a check.

The spring weather was unseasonably warm and Paul kept checking the long range reports. If the weather held, he had a cycle trip mapped out on Highway 101 all the way up the coastline to visit his parents. Easter was early this year, the first week in April, and the spring weather kept holding. Everything was falling into place. Paul checked his calendar. There was one important date he had marked. Right after the busy Easter week he could take a ten day road trip and still be back in time for his date with Marcea. Paul started making all the arrangements.

When Paul came to see Marcea to make sure their date was still on, he sensed her apprehension. He told her he already made the motel reservation and cut his visit short. This over night trip would be the last and most important thing for him  to do.

Being it was still early in the day  and the sun was out in brilliance, Paul got the itch to take his motorcycle for a ride. He was keeping his Harley in a storage building at the mission church in Davis where Monsignor Grant said mass. When Paul pulled into the church parking lot he saw a police car, then noticed that the front door of the church had been kicked in. This was the third time the church had been vandalized in the last two years.

  Inside, pews had been turned over, pictures torn down, and a police officer was taking down information from the monsignor. Two parishioners had  already started to clean up the mess, disgusted with the on-going vandalism. When the policeman finished taking the report he again suggested an alarm system, saying this would not have happened if they had installed one last time they were hit. Monsignor Grant wouldn't  hear of an alarm on a church, but now wished he had listened. This time the vandals broke the hinges off  the small safe and stole some cash and the monsignor's gold chalice. The chalice did not have much gold weight to it, but his mother had presented it to him the day he became a priest and she had the diamond from her wedding ring set into the base. Paul had never seen Timothy so desolate.

Word spread fast and several local citizens showed up with mops, buckets and paint to help. It was a solemn mood. The monsignor tried for awhile but ran out of physical strength to help with the clean up. Paul knew it was time to console his friend, yet didn't know what to say -- the loss of his chalice was too overwhelming. Paul walked into the sacristy where the monsignor was resting on a folding chair, still dazed. Paul reached down, gripped his brother by the arm,  gently lifted  Timothy to his feet, and said, "Let's go. You need a break from all of this."  They left by the side door and walked toward the garage storage building on the far end of the parking lot.

Unlocking the padlock, Paul swung open the heavy wooden door and then pushed out the Harley. Without giving Timothy a chance to protest, Paul handed a helmet to him, started the bike and yelled, "Get on!"  It took all the monsignor's strength to lift his leg over the seat, but once on leaning against the back rest, he felt comfortable and secure. Nobody noticed the two men in collar pulling out of the parking lot on the cycle. It would have been a memorable sight.

It was near eighty degrees and getting warmer as they glided over some back county roads. After riding fifty miles with few words, Paul checked to see if Timothy was ready to return. The ride had been good medicine; the formerly ever present glow was returning to Timothy's face. Paul was turning on to Highway 50 to head back, when three rough looking biker types came down the highway from the other direction, their women behind them clutching their waists. They gave Paul the look as they passed the intersection. Paul quickly turned in the opposite direction, keeping an eye on them in the handlebar mirror. The adrenaline pumped as he watched all three motorcycles make a U turn in the middle of the highway. Paul started to analyze the situation. I'll ignore these guys, slowdown, and let them pass by. Maybe I should turn off. I'd better keep an eye out for a police car. . . I really got us in a fix. It was stupid to take the monsignor for a ride. He's had enough problems today. Now this!

The only biker without a woman behind him pulled up right along side of them, no more than two feet away. He had on a leather jacket the cut out sleeves revealing tattoos on huge muscular arms. His face was rough and hidden behind a scruffy beard. Paul focused straight ahead, trying to ignore the situation. The two other riders pulled up behind. They were now two by two, traveling up highway 50. Paul gave the throttle a twist and his bike accelerated putting some distance between them. The three bikers all sped up and they were back in the two by two formation again. The lone rider yelled, "Hey, pull over!"

Paul acted like he didn't hear and just continued down the highway. The years of martial arts training were not for this purpose. The monsignor patted Paul's shoulder and pointed at a place to pull over but  Paul drove on by. They traveled about another mile before the big biker, getting dangerously close, yelled and pointed for Paul to pull into a parking lot ahead. Paul felt forced to do so but was mentally preparing himself. He shut off the bike, kicked down the stand and got off. The  lead biker dismounted. His big black boots had two inch heels and he towered over Paul by half a foot. The two others, with their women, circled their Harleys around behind, surrounding Paul and Timothy.

The lumbering biker pulled off his black leather glove and extended his hand. "I heard about some priest buying a new Hog. I thought the Beard was putting me on. He's the one that did the custom job on the tank here."

Paul shook his hand. "That must be me. My name is Paul."

"My name is Franko. So this is your ride?"

"Yes. A friend of mine gave me a ride on one in Colorado and I enjoyed it so much I just I had to buy one,"  Paul nervously explained.

"That's cool. You got bit by the bug, huh?"

"I guess you could say that." 

"How does it ride?" asked one of the other riders.

"Good I guess. I've only taken it out a few times. I just wanted to give my friend Monsignor Grant a ride. He wasn't having a good day."

"Yeah, there's nothing better to take your mind off things than a ride in the country. Isn't that so, Monsignor?" Franko said respectfully.

"I sure enjoyed it. Even more than when the bishop takes me out riding on one of his smelly horses." Everybody laughed. "Could I buy you boys and young ladies a cup of coffee or something?" Monsignor Grant asked the five.

"Sure," said Franko. "There is a place to stop just up the road. Follow me."

The Harleys roared again and Paul took up the rear. What the heck are we doing? No one will ever believe this. I can't believe it's happening. Timothy can make friends with anybody. He never passes judgment. That's probably what I respect about him most.

They all turned into a roadside cafe and went inside. There was something about the monsignor. It was more than his small, frail stature, his weak soft voice. Where ever he was, people would pull up close to him and listen.  The three men and two girls sat around him at the small round table asking him question and savoring each response. He was like an old wise man or maybe some great philosopher. Whatever -- he definitely had the inside track on life. 

  The short stop for coffee practically turned into a group therapy class. Franko told how he had attended a Catholic school until sixth grade. Then one of the girls gave witness to how much she believed in God. Everyone had something to tell or ask. Paul sat in the background admiring Timothy for his enlightened view of life, despite being so crippled from polio since the age of fourteen. Paul couldn't help but compare his affliction to Timothy's. He thought back to his teenage years, playing ball in the street, riding his bike, running in the surf and all the other things Timothy never did as a teenager. Paul silently thanked God, waited a few minutes, then interrupted the group. "I hate to break things up, but we should be getting back."

Franko reached for the check, but Monsignor Grant already had it. "I asked you kids to join me," Timothy said.

"Okay, but I owe you one," replied Franko.   

As Timothy slowly limped up to the cash register Franko turned to Paul and asked, "You said the monsignor was having a bad day. Is it his health?"

"Oh no, he never complains about that. Some vandals broke into his small mission church in Davis, messed it up, and broke into the small sacristy safe. Inside the safe was the chalice his mother had given to him in 1958 when he became a priest," Paul said quietly.

A hush came over the table. There was an underlying code bikers lived by: No one should hit a church. "When did it this happen?" asked Franko.

"Last night." Paul got up from the table. "Good-bye. It was nice meeting you all." Paul and Timothy got back on the bike and waved at their new found friends through the window of the cafe.

When they returned to the church most of the damage was cleaned up. The ride had been a good way to ease the pain and temporarily forget how some things are just not sacred to a few, misguided people. It's hard to believe but these poor unfortunate souls are the focus of Christian prayers. The vandals may have been born into a family coping with the sin of substance abuse, or maybe they were not  raised by a loving father and or mother, maybe no parent at all. The worst scenario would be a family possessed by the sin of hate. These are not excuses for the actions of sinners, but the reason Paul and Timothy were called to be priests -- to help lost souls find the forgiveness Jesus preached and died by.

Paul walked around inside the small church thanking everyone for their help. Nobody mentioned a word about the chalice, knowing it would probably be melted down for the gold and the diamond sold to a pawn shop or unscrupulous jeweler. Timothy had just knelt down in a pew when Paul went over, put his hand on his small shoulder and said softly, "I have to get back Timothy. I have to prepare for Easter week. Are you going to be okay?"

"I'll be fine. I need to do some preparing for Easter also. Make sure you call me before you go on your trip. Then Timothy stood back up. "Paul, thanks for the ride. Thanks for everything . God bless you."

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On Good Friday Paul called the monsignor and could tell his spirits were still somewhat solemn. Paul wished him a happy Easter two days early and said that he would stop by in about two weeks. He was to leave on his trip to Oregon the following Monday.

It was the usual Easter Sunday, all churches filled to the doors. The monsignor celebrated his one mass at the small church in Davis and Paul was just finishing his third mass for a large church in San Francisco. Happy that this was his last service for two weeks, there was a little extra glow to Paul's face as he stood at the back wishing everyone a Happy Easter. Marcea was one of the last to leave, pushing Danny in front of her. Paul embraced Marcea  while quietly reminding her of their up- coming date in just three weeks. Danny overheard and intervened, "Where ever you are taking my mom, I want to go too."

Paul squatted down. "Danny, that would be fine, if it is okay with your mother. I'm taking her to a healing service that a good priest friend of mine puts on. It is a little long and we will have to stay overnight, but if you came along you could keep your mother company in her motel room. I'll be staying with my priest friend."

Danny got excited. He had seen healing services on TV, sick people being cured, people in wheelchairs walking. "Mommy, can I go? Can I?"

"We'll talk about it later," said Marcea, still reluctant about going. No matter what Paul had said to her during their long private talks over the months, she did not need to be healed. There was no way she could ever forgive David for what he had put her through. To have been practically raped, to have jeopardized her children's welfare was enough. But David's saying she was partially to blame, because of her past, created too deep a wound to heal.

Bill, Mary, and Ann were the last ones in the church and Paul walked with everyone toward their cars. Bill grabbed Paul by the arm holding them back from the rest. "Father Paul, I don't mean to pry but when you take this trip to see your family, will you be riding on one of those motorcycles?"

"Yes, Bill. I know it's foolish, but I can't get it out of my system. I plan to take Highway 101 all the way up to Oregon and then cut over to Colorado to surprise David."

"Y'all be careful," said Bill as he reached inside his suit jacket for a piece of paper. "I know who got you hooked on them motor scooters. It was good old David. I had a feeling you were going to try to round him up, so I jotted down a few places for you to look."

"Thanks, Bill. I'll tell good old David you said hello."  Good old David, rang in his head as he walked back toward the church. Paul hadn't heard from David for months. At that time David had just moved into a new apartment and said he was working on a plan to get things straightened out.  Danny was the only one who knew that  David was no longer even in Colorado. Marcea's seemed to loath David and Paul felt this was the main reason David had ceased writing and trying to make contact. That was why Paul had been so persistent about Marcea's attending a healing service. She needed released not from the abhorrence she had for David, but from what she had for herself.

The next morning Paul was traveling north on the Pacific Coast Highway, planning to spend a few days with his parents in Oregon before heading east to Colorado. He couldn't wait to see David's face when he showed up on his motorcycle. Maybe the two of them could ride their Harleys back to California together. They still needed to get the medical records straightened out.

Ironically, on this same Monday morning David was also on the road, in a pick-up,  headed south, on the East Coast. David had been in twenty-five different cities in the last month using a different Automatic Teller Machine every night. The $200 per day credit limit was a problem. By time David paid for a motel room, food, and transportation costs he was not able to accumulate much money. David was headed to the casinos in Atlantic City, planning to get the remaining $94,000 out of the ATM account before he left for the Caribbean Islands.

  From his desk in Colorado, Scott was waiting for this, having charted every city where David had used an ATM. He knew that David would make a move for the casinos again. This time David would not slip through the Department's fingers. This time the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms would be there. 

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The weather got cooler as Paul absorbed the winding Pacific coastline on Highway 101 up north.  He knew of the dangers of riding a motorcycle and deep, deep, down under his helmet, far inside the gray matter, Paul wanted to steer head on into a semi-truck or maybe over a coastal cliff. It was the same thought he often had -- like wanting the airplane to crash, or putting a gun to his head, whatever... just something fast, to simplify things. But in the silence and the solitude of the ride Paul knew it would be wrong and started to meditate, forcing these ill thoughts back down into the abyss. I'm not on a death ride and never will be. I know that my destiny was laid before the creation of the universe and I accept it. Years ago I submitted myself to serve God, not to play God.

Not only was the cooler weather something Paul hadn't planned on but the fog and mist along the coastal route was damp. Paul hadn't planned on getting wet and he had just made it to the Oregon boarder when the cool evening air flowing across his wet clothes caused him to shiver. Hot coffee at a small restaurant helped warn him up but it was getting colder outside. Paul  decided to find a motel to spend the night.

The first three motels had their NO VACANCIES sign displayed.  Paul should have stopped and gotten into some dry clothes but was determined to find a motel. He had to travel to the next city, Gold Beach, before he finally found something -- a row of one-roomed beach cabins, Paul's hands were so numb he could hardy grip the pen to fill in the registration card.  Paul left the office and pushed the Harley in front of the dirty white row of cabins with red peeling trim. He stopped in front of number 4 and hurriedly opened the door. He saw the queen size waterbed and the broken door leading to the bathroom. A black velvet painting hung over a small dresser, a block of wood holding up the corner where a leg once was.

The room didn't matter; Paul saw exactly what he wanted. Closing the door he went straight to the wall heater and turned it on high. Standing in the stream of heat Paul peeled off his wet clothes. The warmth was wonderful. Paul stood in front of the heater fifteen minutes before he quit shivering. Then he arranged his clothes over a chair in front of the heater. A towel around his waist, Paul stepped outside. As he untied the nylon athletic bag from the Harley, his nostrils filled with the cool salt mist and he got chilled again. Back inside he stood in front of the heater and started to sneeze. I need to be more careful. I should take a hot shower and get a good night's rest.

Unable to get the shower to work, Paul drew a bath in the chipped up porcelain tub.  Relaxing in the hot water, he changed his plans. In the morning, before I leave this town I need to get gloves and a rainsuit. I should head inland. The  Oregon Coast is wetter and cooler then I thought. Now I see why all those bikers wear all that black leather. Before I leave Portland for Colorado I need to be better prepared.

The next day Paul found a sporting good store and purchased  rain gear and leather gloves. It was a typical cool and foggy coastal morning, but Paul was dry and his hands were warm. He headed east. Within twenty miles Paul had climbed above the fog into the Coastal Mountain range. The sun felt good as it beat into his chest, but it also made him sweat inside the nylon rainsuit. Paul pulled into the gravel parking lot of a roadside cafe and couldn't believe how hot and fatigued he was feeling. When he bent over to pull off the rainpants he got dizzy. Paul stood back up and took several deep breaths before he bent over again.

The elastic on the bottom of the rainpants must have been too tight because his ankle hurt. Paul put one foot up on the seat of the Harley and started to massage his lower leg. Its tenderness alarmed him and when he pulled down his sock to inspect his ankle -- reality hit. There were two deep dark purple blood bruises on the inside of his leg. Now almost ready to faint, Paul dropped to his knees. Please God, not now. Please, just let me have this last couple of weeks with my parents and with David. And I need a few extra days to get Marcea to the healing  service. Then my life will be complete and I will never call upon the power of your Spirit for my own needs again. Please God, grant this prayer. In Jesus' name I pray.

Paul instantly  felt a renewed strength come over him, he got off his knees, packed away the rainsuit and went into the roadside cafe for breakfast. By time he finished eating, and after listening to thirty minutes of twanging Country Western songs, Paul was ready to hit the road.  He rode an hour through the mountains and stopped in Roseburg, the first city he came to on Interstate 5. From a motel room Paul called Mr. Miller and said he would be a day late. Paul crawled into bed just past noon knowing he had to rest.

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The next day Mr. Miller skipped lunch and kept getting up from his desk to look out the second story office warehouse, expecting Paul anytime. When he heard the low rumble of a motorcycle he went to the window for the twentieth time, more out of habit than interest. He watched the rider park and get off then start to walk toward the building Mr. Miller couldn't believe his eyes. "What the hell!" he said to himself, rushed out of his office, down the stairs and met Paul right at the entrance door. "What are you doing riding one of those damn things?" 

"Dad, it's a long story. It's just one thing I wanted to do before I die." Immediately Paul was silent, he'd not meant to put it like that, it just came out accidentally.

Dean didn't have a response, just motioned for Paul to follow him. As soon as they climbed the stairs to the second floor, Paul was staring eye to eye with his own image. He never knew that Mr. Miller had commissioned an oil painting from a photo of the day he was ordained a priest. Now it was hanging in the center of the wall flanked by all his war medals and some old high school football awards. Paul eyes were locked on the wall, his life story on display only a few feet away.

Mr. Miller's silence created a  tension and Paul now wished he had not ridden the cycle, never thinking they'd still upset his father after all these years.

"Hey everybody," Mr. Miller yelled. "This is my son. The football star, and war hero, turned priest. Guess what? Now he's a biker!" Nobody said a word. One could have heard a pin drop. "Well, are you all going to sit there, or are we going to have a party?" laughed Mr. Miller putting his arms around Paul and lifting him off the floor with a huge bear hug. After setting Paul down, Dean opened his office door where there was catered food and drinks. Everyone was invited.

  Not much business was accomplished the rest of the day as Paul was proudly introduced to everyone, even the delivery man. More than half  of the employees stayed  way past the 5 o'clock normal quitting time and a couple of the warehousemen talked Paul into letting them take turns riding his Harley. When one of them got back, he told Paul how another guy had showed up at the warehouse on a Harley last fall and ever since that day how much more pleasant it had become to work for his father.

After the last person went home, Paul and Dean were back in the office, laughing and talking. Mr. Miller still had one last surprise. It took almost four weeks of red tape but he finally obtained an old eight millimeter film from the school district archives. Pulling a projector from the closet, he turned out the lights and started the film. It was the 1966 State Championship Football game. They sat together in the dark, reliving that night. Then came that last infamous play. Paul watched himself holding his side as he ran to the line. The ball was hiked and he watched David explode off the line, first blocking his own man, then with a cross-body-block annihilating Paul's opponent, leaving the field wide open. Then Paul watched himself run toward the end zone and cut to the right. The ball was in the air and with three giant strides he flew across the goal line with his hand stretched out making the winning one-handed catch.

Mr. Miller had previewed the film and planned to stop it right then, after that last play, but he didn't. The camera zoomed in on Paul laying in the end zone. The excruciating pain was written on his face, but it wasn't from a broken collar bone. Paul's head moved side to side searching the stands. Paul's head finally turned toward David, and it was David who  gave him the thumbs up. The film ran out and the light of the projector shinning on the white screen lit up the room. With years of accumulated shame, Mr. Miller looked straight at Paul and said, "Son, I'm so sorry for ruining that night of your life. If I could only do things over, I would have done so many things differently."

"Dad, if I could do it over, I'd change a few things also. But . . . I just want you to know I forgive you, and I love you."

"Son, I forgive you, and I love you too." There was a long period of healing as the two sat there in the silence. Finally, Mr. Miller reached over and slapped Paul on the knee and said, "Damn, that was a good catch!"

"Yeah, but did you see that block David made? Oh, and speaking of David, one of your warehousemen said someone showed up here on a Harley last fall. Who was that?" 

Mr. Miller hesitated, remembering David's request not to tell Paul he had paid him a visit. "Oh that guy, he came here to fix the phones. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw him out by the phone box getting on a cycle. What is this world coming to? First a phone repairman on a cycle and now a priest."  Mr. Miller walked over, shut off the projector, turned on the lights. "Speaking of cycles, go pull yours into the warehouse. I'll give you a ride home. I called your mother a while ago. She has dinner all made for us. I didn't think this little surprise party would last this late. When we get home, I want you to bail me out with her."

"Thanks, Dad. Thanks for everything," Paul said holding back his emotions.

Mr. Miller left the office to open the warehouse door. David rode into the building and parked against a far wall behind two pallets of white plastic pipe that were stacked all the way to the ceiling. While he was unfastening the nylon duffel bag, Mr. Miller inspected the cycle. It was strange, but somehow the custom paint job, or maybe it was the color on the tank, just seemed to fit Paul. Dean could almost relate to Paul's riding this glistening mass of machinery. It wasn't some sort of statement of defiance -- it was about being free, about living.

  After securing the building they left in Mr. Miller's Cadillac. The heat and bench seat was a welcome comfort to Paul. Riding almost a thousand miles in three days would wear down even a seasoned rider.

It was almost midnight when Mrs. Miller met them at the door. Dinner was ruined, but the dessert was still warm in the oven. They all sat around the kitchen table eating homemade apple pie, drinking coffee and talking. Paul explained how the party at the office had lasted longer then they had expected, hoping to ease things for his dad. It wasn't necessary; under the table Rose's hand was on Dean's leg. It was past 1:00 AM when Paul excused himself. It had been a wonderfully long exhausting day.

  Paul retired to the same room he had all the years growing up. The rest of the house had been added on to and remodeled but his room was unchanged. He had often prayed in this bed as a child  but this was the first time he got down on his knees beside it to thank God. He  prayed that his visit next week with David would be as rewarding.

The smell of bacon woke Paul and drew him down to the kitchen. The sight of his mother preparing breakfast with her hair already done and apron on was unchanged. It was like flipping back the rolodex of life some twenty years. When Paul walked up to her and put his arms around her, it  felt almost as though he was embracing himself. Forty some years ago when that miracle began within her womb, he became part of her. Even at birth, when Paul took that first breath before the cord was severed, their bond had become eternal, souls that always were and always will be -- something that was meant for no man to understand.

Mr. Miller came into the kitchen. "I hope you're up to a round of golf. I got us a tee off time at ten."

"That sounds fine, but I did want to spend a little time with Mom," Paul said awkwardly.

"Don't worry, she's playing with us. And I don't want you praying when we play, like she does. She has beaten me a couple of times recently."

"Honey, I think it's been four out of the last six times we played," chided Rose.

  "There's no handicap for either of you today," said Mr. Miller, snatching a piece of bacon. Then they all sat and hurried ate.

  The clouds burned off by the time they were on the third hole. Dean cursed when he sliced into the trees, blaming it on the dew still on the grass. Rose was a true winner, not gloating with her two stroke lead. Even if the sun hadn't come out it still was a beautiful day, only to be topped off with a wonderful dinner at the club. In fact, the next couple of days were the best days the Millers ever had as a family.

Sunday morning Paul asked to borrow the car, wanting to drop in on a fellow priest friend he had met at a retreat years ago. His friend would be surprised enough with him showing up for mass; Paul didn't want to overdo it by riding his motorcycle to the church. Mr. Miller knew exactly where the Holy Redeemer Church was and insisted that he drive Paul there.

  It was a good thing they left an hour early; Dean got lost. Rose tactfully looked at the map and got them there with time to spare. Paul introduced his parents to Father Todd and then accepted Todd's offer to co-celebrate the mass.

The vastness of the old brick church with its thirty foot circular stained glass window up in the balcony overwhelmed Paul as he stood at the pulpit ready to read the Gospel. He found his parents, amongst the two hundred plus people, glad that they were there and thankful they had driven him to the church. The congregation was older; some parishioners were even responding in Latin. Boy, I could imagine the uproar I would have caused showing up riding a motorcycle. Paul started to read, "This is the word of the Lord."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  At this moment, with only distance separating them, Monsignor Grant was also at a pulpit starting to read the same exact words. Not at all unusual, because the same Gospel would be read this Sunday at all Universal Catholic Churches throughout the world. But what was so strange, was that David and Monsignor Grant shared the same concern: How the congregation would regard a motorcyclist approaching the church.

The Monsignor's weak  voice was being drowned out by a roar from outside. It sounded like a herd of buffaloes stampeding into the parking lot of the small mission church. Some of the congregation next to the windows caught sight of the commotion. The sight of at least a dozen motorcycle riders pulling into church parking lot sent fear down the spine of some parishioners, especially in the light of the recent vandalism.

  Little did they know that it was not fear these men and women came to deliver, but respect and support. The word had gotten out when Franko and his friends searched out every pawn shop and fence in the area. Someone had stepped over the line and this was their statement and warning. They came not only to protect a house of God but to give homage.

Monsignor Grant waited  for them, pointing out a few spots up front for some of his new friends to sit. He couldn't help but notice Franko standing by the back door with his tattooed muscular arms crossed across his huge chest, looking like a guard. Timothy nodded to him, then read the Gospel. After that he gave a sermon about  listening in the silence of one's soul to hear the word of God.  He preached how church was not for the self righteous but for the sinner, then concluded by saying, "It doesn't matter if you are in a suit or leathers -- all are children of God."

When the usher was picking up the collection and got to Franko, Franko reached inside his leather vest and pulled out something wrapped in a purple velvet cloth. "Could you take this up to the Monsignor? I found it at a pawn shop where the owner valued sacred things, like his life."

The usher unwrapped the purple cloth. The chalice was unscathed, its return the answers to many prayers. The usher immediately carried it up to Monsignor Grant who silently set his chalice on the altar before limping to the back of the church. Grabbing Franko's huge hand with both of his, he said, "Thank you. I don't know how I could ever repay you."

Now with Franko's huge arms wrapped around the frail monsignor, he said, "No problem. Remember, I owed you one. And it's the least I can do for a friend."

  Timothy stepped back, blessed Franko, and then said, "May the Peace of Christ be with you always."

 

 

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