Summary: Tenth story in my summer writing project. Hopefully I'll get to season two over the fall.
Living in Silence
by Twilight (Dawn)
The truck lurched to a stop and Jim looked around the barren farm land, a glint of suspicion in his eye. "And you say they're sending a shuttle bus for us…it's okay to leave the truck here?"
"Yeah, man. It's perfectly safe here." Blair popped the auto lock switch, opening the passenger door and dropping down to the ground, stretching out his legs. It was only an hour ride, but halfway there he got that old familiar feeling of apprehension rocking and rolling in his stomach.
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.
But Jim needed a break…and so did he.
His friend came around the back of the truck, pulling and swinging a golf club from a bag Blair didn't see him load into the flat bed.
Rolling his eyes, he asked again what Jim had expected from this little foray. "I'm sure I said spartan." But Blair could tell that Jim still didn't understand that this trip was about getting back to the basics, leaving behind the trouble and stress of his life…at least that was what it had been about the first time Blair had visited several years back.
An old yellow school bus pulled to a stop, gravel crunching under the large tires and a man Blair hadn't seen in years opened the double door. "Hop in, guys."
Jim shot him a doubtful look, but grabbed up his duffle, stowing it under a seat about halfway back. Blair slid into the bench in front of him shaking his head as Jim gave him a line about togas and Romans.
The thin road was bumpy, the bus rolled to a stop miles into the surrounding woods and Blair looked through the streaked windows at the monastery grounds. The old white house looked the same, but the black trim had been replaced with a more tranquil blue. Flowers and trees flanking the house were in full bloom and the sun was shining brightly on the man waiting near the door as they climbed down the steps of the bus.
His stomach did another little roll and he wondered again about the wisdom of visiting this place again. The first time wasn't by choice, but Blair found that the solemn holy men and their gentle ways were a balm to his frazzled nerves and solace for a mind that just wouldn't shut off…and of course so many of them took care of him during his physical recovery, including him in their duties, letting him tag along and blend in for as long as he needed.
Pushing his thoughts away, he greeted Brother Jeremy, a man he admired greatly. Jim pressed them about creature comforts that he was accustomed to, and Blair reassured him all the way through the familiar halls to their room.
If he would just give it a chance…
Blair knew that this was just the kind of atmosphere that Jim needed to relax.
It sure had helped him.
He dropped his duffle bag on the small writing desk overlooking the workshop, a place he used to visit daily during his month long stay, a place he could let his hands work and his mind drift…he almost didn't have to think about what had happened.
Blair turned as Jim's cell phone chirped, shaking his head as Brother Jeremy shot him a look.
"Excuse me." His friend turned his body toward the door, face concealed by the bulky black phone. "Ellison. Hey, Sharon. I'm, uh...I'm out of town. Yeah. Well... We'll pick it up where we left off. Ah. 7:00 sounds good. Uh, I can't really, uh…Goodbye."
Unbelievable. "Jim, did you just make a date in a monastery?"
"She called me."
Blair shook his head, smiling as Brother Jeremy snatched up Jim's phone, demanded Jim's gun and returned just as his friend settled down to listen to his walkman radio. "No radios either. Sorry."
"Maybe he's a sentinel monk." A pillow landed firmly on his head. "What?"
Jim settled back to the bed, flinging his arm over his head. "I can't believe I listened to you."
"Come on, man. Give it a shot." Blair lay back down on his bunk, the mattress was thin, and the pillow flat, but he was surprising comfortable. "I'm glad they got a generator. It was hard on my eyes reading by candle light."
When Jim didn't answer him, he looked over to see his friend's mouth open and eyes closed, soft breath sounds escaping in rhythm to the rise and fall of his chest. "Told you man…relaxing."
Blair lay for a bit making sure Jim was deeply asleep before getting up and softly closing the door behind him. The steps down to the ground level creaked in all the old places he remembered, the back door from the kitchen still swung on squeaky hinges.
He nodded in greeting to the few men he passed working in the yard or sitting at the picnic table along the east garden. The plants and flora tended by the monks were so colorful and the trees surrounding the property grew lush and tall, keeping out prying eyes.
The old workshop was quiet as he tentatively stepped over the threshold, seeing the man that had helped him beyond measure, using a soft cloth on an old window frame. His weathered hand flexed as he guided the rag around the top of the window, looking up to see Blair standing in the doorway.
And he wasn't sure…
Was the monk really mad?
He had broken a promise. "Brother Marcus...Hello."
The man's eyes narrowed as he studied Blair, the deep lines on his brow drawing together "I remember you. The young man who promised to write to allow me to vicariously enjoy his exploits in the real world."
"You know, time...gets by you sometimes."
A few seconds passed in silence, and then a huge grin erupted on the older man's face. "Well, I forgive you, but then..."
"You have to." Blair stepped forward as he did, feeling the man's big burly arms wrap around him, squeezing. "You look great."
Brother Marcus patted his back, brushing a hand through Blair's longer hair. "I've missed our talks. Do you think we could have some time while you're here to have a talk?"
"You can count on it." Blair looked around the small building, knowing that within its walls he was free to speak, to talk about things that very few people knew.
The dinner bell tolled and they hurried from the shop.
"Oh, it's good to see you." Marcus slung his arm casually around his shoulder and it reminded Blair again how safe this place had been when he needed it most. "Let's go get that friend of yours, before the chili is all gone."
Well…that was awkward.
Jim picked up his spoon, asking Blair to pass some bread. An explosion of taste and textures danced on his tongue. The chili was good. Really good, savory with just the right amount of spice and fresh finely chopped green pepper and onion, the ground beef tender but chunky and the beans were the real thing, soaked not dumped from a can. "Mmm."
"I'm glad you approve, Brother Jim." The man to his right, Daniel, smiled brightly, pointing with his spoon, "It is Brother Blair's recipe, except we use beef…but we so enjoyed it when he first made it for us I decided to use his secret blend of spices."
Jim could pick out cumin, oregano, a dash of cayenne pepper, a little bit of fresh garlic and a bit of paprika, but there was an underlying flavor, almost sweet.
Blair watched him, sipping his wine, realizing that Jim was cataloging the flavors. "You'll never guess, man."
"Hmm." He shoved in another spoonful, determined to figure it out.
Most of the men around the table were quiet, but Brother Jeremy spoke in hushed tones to the man that Blair had introduced as Brother Marcus. He seemed familiar, but it was clear that Blair was fond of him.
Once the meal was finished, a younger monk started clearing the table, another pulled on an apron and gloves to wash the dishes.
Blair pitched in, stacking a few dirty bowls near the kitchen sink, running a hand gently over a corner hutch standing near the table that stored the remaining dishes.
"He made that, you know?" Marcus stood alongside Jim, watching him watch Blair. "It's teak, I came upon a demoed house boat and salvaged all the original wood, but he did a lovely job…kept him busy for hours on end. Its color has deepened, it's almost golden now."
"I had no idea he could make something like that." Jim turned to the older monk, curious.
When Blair had approached him about this trip, he had only mentioned that he had spent some time here in his early college years, but didn't say why.
An odd tendril of worry worked through Jim's stomach; he had sensed since his arrival that something had transpired and this man knew exactly what it was. An overwhelming need to find out and protect Blair coursed through his veins…it had happened before, but Jim didn't mention it to his friend, knowing that Blair would want to find out why, which meant a lot of uncomfortable questions and endless tests.
Maybe he could take a more direct route. "Blair never did mention how he found this place originally."
"Oh…well, actually I found him alongside the road in a ditch, but that's a story for him to tell." The man walked off, leaving Jim no closer to figuring out the source of his restlessness.
You're just overreacting...what could happen in a monastery?
Blair put the flatware away, chatting with the cook, looking his way. "He'll never guess."
"Hmm...I sure didn't." The man chuckled, shaking his head. "I'll see you in the morning."
Blair wandered over and Jim asked, "Well…now what?"
"I don't know, man. We're free for the evening." Blair moved past him, heading toward the hall leading to their room…cell, whatever.
"How about some B ball Brother Blair?" Jeremy held a basketball in his hand, a small smile on his face. "I believe I'm still one up on you."
"Basketball...yeah...beautiful." Jim followed the group of shrouded men out the back door and onto the parking pad, noticing the hoop for the first time.
The men quickly divided into teams, some of the older monks standing off to the side to watch. The ball passed easily from hand to hand, swishing through the hoop or rebounding off the back board with a familiar thump.
One guy, Jason, snatched the ball and made the winning basket. "Hey, what about thou shalt not steal…Come on, rematch…"
"You'd better be careful, Jim. People might think you're having a good time, man." Blair bumped shoulders, trying to reach the ball.
"Yeah. Well, it's not too bad."
"Give me the ball." Jim passed it to his friend, watching as Blair showed off, spinning the ball on the tip of his finger, switching easily from hand to hand.
Timothy went off to ring the bell and another game organized. He relegated Anthony to Blair's team and as the game got started the bell tolled. Its chime crisp and clear and Jim wondered if it could be heard in town.
It was a sound he could get used to.
Blair managed to score a few baskets, zigzagging back and forth, letting Anthony pass him the ball. Jim had just fired off a shot when a loud thumping came from the bell tower and they all took off to find Timothy lying still at the bottom of the steps.
He could tell just by looking that the young monk was dead, no sounds of life emanated from him. Jim couldn't hear his breath or his heart beating and his head lay at a strange angle.
Later Jeremy wasn't happy with Jim's assertion to get help, but relented, opening his drawer to retrieve Jim's phone and gun. "They're gone. Your gun and phone...I put them in this drawer. It was locked."
Well, if he had any doubts before...
"I'm going to have a look around."
Blair followed along quietly, lost in his own thoughts.
They found the body lying in a simple pine box in the front of the sanctuary, Christopher knelt at the low altar off to the side, reciting a prayer and rubbing his crucifix. He looked up when Jim stepped forward.
Blair hung back a little, but leaned in to look when Jim pointed out the fine marks on the man's ankles.
"Wherever mortals gather, there is evil."
It sure looked that way.
After checking the tower and finding the small holes in the baseboard they went in search of the Abbot.
There definitely was a murderer in their mist.
"Man, I just can't believe this." Blair walked briskly beside him, wringing his hands, his shoulders subtly shaking.
"Christopher was right, Chief. They're just men and men are capable of horrible, vile acts." The door leading the house was unlocked and Jim banked that they always left it that way.
The halls were cast in shadow, only a few lights burned in some of the adjoining rooms, but most of the monks had retired to bed earlier in the night.
"Yeah...but this place was different," Blair said, following along, his voice low.
And that feeling, that almost there knot of tension came again.
"You never did tell me how you found this place." Jim turned, hearing a slight increase in Blair's breathing, watching as his pupils expanded.
"It's a long story, man."
Letting the subject slide, they found the light in the kitchen still on and Jeremy sitting at the table sipping something in a mug that didn't smell like coffee or tea.
The man was reluctant, but finally agreed to wake the monks.
Once everyone was settled around the kitchen Blair slipped out to warm up the bus and Jim explained his plan to get the men to town. He knew before even turning that something was wrong, Blair smelt off. "All four tires were slashed...man, what are we going to do?"
He reached out to grab Blair's shoulders, hoping that the touch would settle his friend down. "We'll ask for a volunteer to walk into town."
The best laid plans...
It made sense at the time, but when most of the men raised a hand, he wasn't sure what to do.
Jeremy volunteered Theodore and Blair nodded. "He can do it, man. I used to take walks with the guy from time to time and he totally blew me away. He's stronger than he looks."
"I suggest we all go back to our cells, lock ourselves in and try to sleep if you can...and please remember Brother Timothy in your prayers."
The men moved off to their own rooms and Jim followed his friend, shutting and locking the door to their room, after a quick trip to the communal bathroom.
Blair stripped to his tee and boxers, slumping down on his side, pulling the blanket up to his chin, still shivering.
"It's going to be okay, you know. I won't let anything happen to you."
"I know, man...it's just..." Blair flipped over, looking at the ceiling. "I'm okay. Don't worry about me, Jim."
Jim found his sweats in his duffle and changed before getting into his own bunk, shifting the sheets and blanket, rolling until he found a comfortable spot, forgetting to turn off the bare bulb that hung in the center of the room.
He rolled again and reached toward the switch over his bed, near the door. With a flick of the switch, the small room was plunged into total darkness.
Blair surged forward, stumbling from his bed and drawing the heavy drape covering the window opened just a crack. "Hope you don't mind."
"No problem, Chief." A gentle silver light from the full moon filtered in through the small opening, and Jim could see Blair laying back down and rolling to look at him.
"I was nineteen."
Jim shifted, giving his friend his full attention, but he didn't want to say anything, sensing that Blair was just gathering his thoughts.
After a minute or two, Blair blew out a breath and began to speak again. "It seems like so long ago, but then sometimes it seems just like yesterday. I really hadn't thought about it in a long time. I was getting ready to go on an exposition with a professor...a mentor, really. It would have been my second trip to Peru, but I got appendicitis...of all the dumb luck."
He stopped talking and after a while, Jim started to drift, waking to the deep and sleepy voice of his friend. "So I was up here with the hockey team...we used to use the ice rink in town for practice."
"You played hockey?"
"Yeah...was good at it too...anyway, we were having practice and my stomach kept hurting...I had the surgery and when I got out of the hospital, I was driving back home.
I'm not sure what happened, but I lost control of my car, put it in a ditch and couldn't get back out. Brother Marcus came along and tried to tow me out with a rope they kept on the bus."
"So, what...you just stayed?" Jim could hear a ring of truth in what his friend told him, but he knew Blair was glossing over some important details.
"Well...I had a fever. They put me up and...took...ca...care of me..." He stopped mid sentence, sleeping with his head pillowed on his arm, the other tucked around his stomach, fingers lax and curled.
What aren't you telling me, buddy?
Blair mumbled something before turning away.
"In the chili," and then Blair was softly snoring.
"You're up early."
Blair turned to look at the man walking toward him, chubby hands shoved deep into the pockets of his charcoal colored cloak. He smiled softly, sitting down beside him on the bench overlooking the garden. "Penny for your thoughts?"
"It's quiet here."
"Oh, I'd say. Everyone and everything is still asleep, except for maybe old Daniel. Rumor has it; he's making chocolate chip pancakes this morning."
Blair studied the tree line, watching a few squirrels chattering at each other, racing up and down the apple trees and across the phone wires to the roof of the building. "They're my favorite."
"I believe that's why he's making them...we usually only get cold oatmeal and burned toast or burnt oatmeal and cold toast."
A small humorless chuckle escaped, "I wasn't sure if I should come back, you know?" Blair turned on the bench, tucking a leg under him, resting his elbow on the wrought iron back, cupping his face in his hand. "I wasn't really thinking about how I might feel once I got here...I haven't talked...I mean you were the last one..."
"That's understandable, Blair." Marcus reached behind him to lay his arm across the back of the bench, hand near Blair's shoulder, but not touching. "You haven't told your friend?"
"Jim...no, man. I don't think I could...It's just..."
"No need to explain. I understand, but remember I'm here if you need to talk about it." The monk stood, stretching his back as he scanned the front yard. A few of the others had begun to start their day with the morning chores. "Let's walk."
The sun peeked above the trees, the air still chilly and the grass wet beneath their feet. They walked in silence, just like they used to. Marcus had an uncanny way of knowing when to leave him alone, but the man could be relentless when he thought that Blair needed to unburden himself.
He would never forget that night when the monk found him sitting in his car along the side of the road, tail end in the ditch. Blair had tried to compensate when he hit the graveled edge, doubled over in pain, unable to breathe, shaking so badly he couldn't even tell the man his name.
Marcus didn't even blink an eye when Blair clutched his arm to keep him from taking him back.
He couldn't go back.
Even though his memory was sketchy, he knew that he couldn't go back to that place.
The first couple of days were a blur. He only knew that he felt safe and faceless, nameless men in swaying robes attended to him, helping him eat broth and washing down his clammy skin.
When the world finally righted itself, Brother Marcus sat beside him, holding his hand, running a cool cloth over his face and neck and Brother Jeremy came and went, taking his temperature, checking his incision, pressing on his belly to make sure he was healing.
And over the course of the next weeks, each man did what they could, but Marcus most of all, they shared a cell and they talked...he was the only one who knew Blair's secret.
"You're quiet today."
Blair smiled, shaking his head. "Just thinking."
"We all know how dangerous that is."
"You sound like Jim, man." The path thinned, parting at the tree line. They could take the trail leading into the woods and Blair knew that the path circled around, passing a clearing near a stream, before coming back to the grounds at the other end of the house.
But they chose the other one that skirted the woods, bringing them back up the hill and to the garden. "Is he what you were looking for...this guardian?"
"No..." But it came out a little too fast, a little too easy. "I'm just riding with him at the police station...studying closed societies."
"Were you close to Timothy?" He wasn't sure why he even asked, but he did want to know. "Did you know him well?"
"Not really. He had only been with us for a few months and he was still practicing his vows." They cleared the crest of the hill; a few benches lined the cemented walk back to the house. "Timothy used to come out here every morning. I'd see him sitting right up here on this bench...sitting there and looking off. I always wondered what he was thinking about." Marcus turned to him, "He had, uh...he had good eyes, you know? There was truth in them. I was looking forward to the end of his silence so we could talk. Not many men are willing to choose this life. Temptations of the world are too great."
He had said that of Blair too, during those first horrible, confusing days...'you have good eyes...I can see the truth in them.'
Blair spotted Jim coming up the hill from the house. Marcus gave a little wave then turned back to Blair. "When I entered this monastery, I found what I was looking for. It's not for everyone... but it works for me. Now, I'll see you at breakfast. Don't be late. Nothing but crumbs."
Jim joined him and he tried to express how he admired the men who chose this life, but Frederick appeared from the other direction, clearly anxious. "Excuse me. Brother Jeremy asked if you'd meet him in your cell."
The trashed room was just the first of a string of terrible events. He couldn't believe Jeremy had locked them into their room. "Jeremy, come on, you know me."
"I'm sorry, Blair. We can't take any chances."
Chances, chances...what the hell was going on?
Christopher walked down the hall, ignoring his pleas, saying he had something in his room for them.
"What the hell is that?" Jim sniffed the air, looking through the small stain glass window at the top of the door.
"Fuel...oil or kerosene."
Jim started screaming for the monk to come back, to not go into his room and as Blair tried to see what was going on, to get a sniff of what Jim was smelling a horrific boom knocked him back and into the bed, a blazing ball of fire hit their locked door and ignited the wood, blue flames licking around the edges.
Jim grabbed the desk chair, ready to smash the window when the yells of monks in the hall stopped him. He hollered for Jeremy to get them out and within a few minutes the door fell open, still smoldering. Several men covered the hall, beating back the flames still coming from Christopher's room.
The fire went out quickly, eating away the curtains and part of the thin mattress, but the walls were salvaged and the fire was contained.
Jim pushed Blair back, blocking the doorway with his body, but he still got a glimpse of the shriveled, blackened corpse lying on the floor among the debris.
Strong hands guided him away and down the steps. Marcus held onto him as he dropped into the kitchen chair, discarded stacks of pancakes and cooling coffee placed in front of each seat.
"God...he's dead. He's dead...What is going on?"
"I don't know, Blair...but..."
"You okay, Chief?" Jim rushed through the room, kneeling down to get a look at him.
"Yeah, man. I'm fine."
His friend plopped down next to him. "I'm going to help Jeremy take care of the body and then I'm going to have a look around." Jim looked over the table and then at Marcus. "You stay here for a bit."
"No...I'll help you. Just...just give me a minute."
What a waste.
Burnt papers and a melted typewriter were all that was left of the man trying to help them. Jim hadn't had a chance to get to know him well, but he did review some of Christopher's work the first day he arrived and he wasn't half bad. The monk wrote about a bulimic detective and her exploits living in Savannah, sharing her apartment and life with two cats and a pet snake.
Shifting through the ash and soot, he found a picture, half burned and buried with some other photos. He passed them to Blair, but his friend just wasn't his usual self, having a rough time of it.
The mystery surrounding Blair's first visit irked him, but Jim knew he was close with some of the monks and losing one...well, it just wasn't turning out to be a relaxing vacation.
"Let's see if we can find the abbot."
They found the man in the sanctuary, head bowed and lips moving silently.
"Who is he to you?" Jim leaned over him, resting his hand on the raised pew back.
"Who is who?
"Jackie Kozinski." The monk's heart pounded a little faster, but he denied knowing Kozinski and even as Jim pressed, he still refused to see what he had done by protecting a violent criminal.
Two men had died and Jim knew that the gangster turned federal witness was the reason.
"Get out." Jeremy was so riled up the little vein along his forehead popped and bulged, his face blossoming into a deep shade of crimson.
"That's enough, Jeremy." Marcus walked slowly toward them, but Jim's attention focused on his friend, the pallor of Blair's face and the blood rushing through his chest. "I'm Jackie Kozinski."
Had he known all along?
"What? You murdered two of your friends?" Blair could hardly look at the man, his hands gripped the pew, fingers clenching the wood, legs trembling, but managing to hold him upright.
"I won't deny I've done things in the past ...terrible things...but despite the accusations, I've never been involved in murder. Not in my past... Not here..." Kozinski's eyes searched Blair's. "Oh, Blair... Come on, you have to believe me." But Blair turned from them, his arms giving out just a little.
It made sense that someone put away because of the Union leader's testimony wouldn't let it go unchallenged, unpunished.
Talk quickly turned to the newer members, moving to the door leading to the yard, Blair trailing behind, keeping his distance from Kozinski.
Jeremy mentioned Anthony, a star basketball player for a university in California
Didn't seem like the guy was college team material.
Before Jim could even formulate a plan, the man whipped out a gun and herded them toward the bell tower and up the steps.
Blair was shoved near the front, but Jim hung back, arguing that Kozinski wasn't among them.
"I told you, I don't believe you. I'll just start shooting and maybe I'll get lucky. When you see the big guy upstairs, tell him to teach you how to lighten up." The gunman waved the pistol erratically, pointing from one man to the next, stopping near Blair's chest and cocking the lever.
"Stop it. I'm Jackie Kozinski." Marcus stepped forward, pushed to his knees by their capturer, head bowed and eyes closing.
"Easy, easy." Jim urged, shooting Blair a warning look...stay where you are.
"Wait. I am Jackie Kozinski." Brother Fredrick moved forward and kneeled next to Marcus. One by one each man knelt, claiming to be the Union leader.
"All right... you all want to play martyrs. Fine." Anthony pointed the gun at Jeremy and Blair shifted a fraction closer to the man aiming at the abbot.
"How many rounds you got in that gun?" Jim asked, nodding toward the pistol. "One of us is going to be on you before you're through it."
Without a word, the imposter turned and descended the stairs, pulling the hatch and locking them inside.
Blair tried the door, but it wouldn't budge.
Jim hurried up the rest of the steps, leaning around the bell to see the gunman pacing the front yard, cell phone in hand and cigarette dangling from his lips.
He leaned farther over the scalloped edge of concrete; the smell of gasoline burning his nose. "I think I can make it, give me your belts."
They fastened the belts together. Tying an end around the top of the bell, Jim made it over the ledge, the makeshift rope holding his weight.
Anthony tossed the gas can and lit a match, dropping it just as Jim tackled him to the mossy ground, struggling to get the upper hand, finally getting his fist back and cold cocking the guy in the face, reaching the match before it could ignite the fuel.
Blair was halfway down the rope before Jim spotted him, dropping down and working at the knot that held the last belt to the next, handing it to Jim to use to bound the man unconscious on the ground.
Blair ran back up the steps, unlocking the hatch, seeing the monks pull the belts back up through the window.
Jim was too busy listening to his friend's progress to hear the car approach. All the men had gathered in the yard, collecting their belts as a Caddy roared into the driveway, picking them off like fish in a barrel.
The monks scattered, heading toward the tower, but Jim grabbed Blair's arm and yanked him up the front steps.
They would have a better chance in the house...more places to hide. "Let's split up."
"What?" Blair doubled over, leaning on the stair railing, but after catching his breath, he ran down the hall and out of sight.
A shrouded figure moved through the hall in front of him and Jim grabbed the man, pulling him inside the room to the right.
Jeremy settled down, listening to his plan, "No, you see, as part of our vows we're committed to abstain from violence...of any kind."
Unbelievable. "Even if you're attacked?"
Well, if they were not willing to help, let them cower in the bell tower.
Time for a little cat and mouse.
Jim searched the yard, hugging the exterior wall, listening for the assassins. A barrage of gunfire hailed down on him and he dropped and rolled away, catching sight of Blair clocking a guy in the head, pushing the gunman out the window before disappearing back into the house.
Jim moved back up the steps, hearing running feet coming from the back. As the door started to open, he pushed out, knocking Anthony down the flight of stone stairs.
The fat guy came from around the car, pointing his weapon at Jim and then at Blair as he exited the side door, but before he could get off a shot, a shovel put his lights out. Jeremy stood, holding the tool away from his body, dropping it to the grass. "Lord forgive me."
Jim called the local P.D., handing Blair the gun Anthony was carrying. "They'll be here soon. You stay put and keep an eye on Shorty here. I'm going to check on the brothers. Jeremy, would you join me?"
The local cops came; ambulances lined the driveway, tending to the few men wounded in the crossfire. Jim talked with the sheriff, watching Blair from time to time as he mingled with the monks, chatting and checking on them.
Now came the hard part.
Blair paled at the sight of a gurney carrying a man covered in a white sheet. The wheels skidded over the graveled road, rolling to a stop at the back of the open ambulance.
Jim pulled down the sheet, sorry that he hadn't had time to tell Blair about the plan, but once the fat guy was shoved in a cruiser, Marcus sat up and Blair jumped like he'd seen a ghost.
The man was bundled up for transport and Jim gave them a few minutes alone before Marcus was whisked off to the nearest hospital.
"Don't come, son...it'll just upset you."
"It's okay...it was a long time ago."
Blair came over to him after the ambulance took off, lights flashing but siren silent.
They joked about going to Sin City and getting his pool cue blessed, 'cause he could use all the help he could get when playing against Blair, but he wasn't surprised when Blair asked a uniform if he could catch a ride to the local E.R.
"Come on, Chief. Let's get dropped at my truck."
Blair nodded, sliding into the back seat of the cruiser, and that funny feeling was back in the pit of his stomach and Jim knew...he was going to find out what happened and soon.
"You're awfully quiet…are you okay?"
Blair looked at Jim sitting across from him in the small waiting room, magazine opened on his lap. "I'm just not too fond of hospitals is all. I mean, what can be taking so long anyway. You said it was only a flesh wound, Jim."
"I did…" His roommate turned his head slightly, closing and tossing the magazine onto the oval coffee table between them. "I think they're finishing up, shouldn't be too much longer."
"Okay…that's good…that's great, man." Jim shot him another funny look so he tried to calm down, taking a breath and holding it. He didn't like the hospital, that was true, but this one in practical put him on edge. "I'm uh…I'm going to go see what's taking so long." Jumping up he headed to the swinging door leading to the emergency room.
Get a grip, Blair…he's not here…it was a long time ago.
A few people looked his way when he stepped into the hall that curved around into a semicircle. A dozen rooms lined the hall and Blair's eyes immediately went to the last one on the left, feeling his breathing pick up and ringing in his ears.
Doctors in green scrubs and nurses that still wore white bustled back and forth, attending to the few patients that lay beyond the drawn curtains, but the last room on the left was empty, so he took a few steps closer, remembering when his coach brought him in the middle of practice when he collapsed on the ice.
A hand landed on his shoulder and he jerked away, turning to see his friend standing behind him. "Easy, Chief…it's just me."
"Sorry, sorry." He was gasping now; tiny beads of sweat worked their way past his collar and dripped down his back. "I just…"
Jim's mouth was moving, but he couldn't understand, closing his eyes against the bright overhead lights, the walls and flowered curtains wavered and dimmed.
"Whoa, buddy. Easy…I need help over here." Jim guided him down, pressing his head between his legs.
A few people moved his way, a nurse behind the desk called for a doctor. "I'm okay, I'm okay."
"Oh, Blair…you shouldn't have come, son." The burly man, known to him as only Brother Marcus knelt on the floor, his left arm in a sling. "Come on; let's get you up off the floor."
Jim grabbed him under the arm, getting him up and propped between them. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be…it's okay." Leaning heavily on Jim, they shuffled to the waiting room and Jim guided him to a seat.
"I'll get the truck...You going to be okay, buddy?"
"Yeah...I'm good, man."
The monk, dressed in street clothes, rubbed his back, telling him to breathe.
It's ridicules...get a grip, man.
The ride was quiet and Blair was grateful, not sure how to explain why he almost took a swan dive in the middle of the emergency room.
He was over it...wasn't he?
Sitting slumped in his eat, he leaned his head against the cool window, blowing some hair away from his heated face.
Jim pulled into the private driveway, taking the truck all the way to the monastery, parking under the basketball hoop. "How about I help Marcus in and then we can hit the road?"
"Blair...I'm so sorry...I hope you can forgive me." Jackie Kozinski sat forward, leaning up to see him. "I hope you know I didn't mean to hurt you."
"You didn't, man. Not really."
Jim jumped out, coming around to open the back door.
"You know you're welcome here anytime...I hope to see you again." The older man slid down off the truck bench, turning back one time and waving with his good hand before following his partner into the house.
Jim was going to get their stuff and drive home, but that just didn't feel right. They still had a couple days left of their week off and he really didn't want to head home just yet. Mind made up, he went into the kitchen. Brother Jeremy sat at the table, sipping from his mug.
"Sit, Blair...can I get you a drink?"
The abbot put a mug of something hot in front of him, sinking back into his chair. It was coffee, fortified with a heavy shot of brandy, but he drank it down, slapping the cup back onto the table.
"Who are you, really?" He still couldn't get his mind around it. It was bad enough...his sketchy memory of that night and now to find out that these people were not what they seemed, who they claimed to be.
"We were friends. We grew up together. It's his story, so I'll let him tell it, but I will say that he was accused of crimes he didn't commit. This place...it's a sanctuary...in more ways than one."
"I thought it was a place of healing...I thought..."
"It is, Blair. For every man here." Jeremy stood, tucking his hands into his sleeves. "I witnessed a murder...The government sent me here in exchange for my testimony. Witness protection...what better place? I realized I could help others like me."
"Are you saying..."
"I'm saying that our silence comes at a price, but I think you already know that. If you and Jim want to stay we would welcome you. Daniel said to tell you he would make banana pudding for dessert tonight and I'm sure Marcus mentioned something about some scrapes of maple he has in the shop." The man turned, greeting Jim as he came into the kitchen, duffle bags in each hand.
"I could use a bookshelf."
Jim raised a brow, "A bookshelf?"
The grating of the saw eating through the wood and the hammering of nails filled the workshop. Jim passed him the measuring tape, plucking the pencil from his work apron.
One completed bookshelf sat against the far wall, rich dark stain still drying. Another just like it awaiting the last piece of wood that Jim had cut and was now hammering into place.
In the distance, the bell tolled and the few other monks working with them hurried off to lunch. They were taking off the tool belts as Brother Marcus came in carrying a tray laden with thick roast beef sandwiches on homemade bread. "I thought you might like to eat here today."
He carried the food toward the back and out the side door to the picnic table. Someone had put on a checkered cloth and filled two glasses with fresh squeezed lemonade, leaving the pitcher on the table. A bowl of potato salad and some fresh cut fruits sat in the middle of the table setting for two.
"Aren't you joining us?" Jim asked as the monk placed the plates, snitching a grape from the bowl.
"No, no...I can't. I have a new member who just arrived from Utah...Blair my boy; I'm holding you to your promise."
"Every month, man. I'll write every month."
"I'll see you both at dinner?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world." Jim sat, dropping a napkin in his lap, scooping up a helping of salad.
Marcus patted him on the back, giving a gentle squeeze before hurrying up the path to the house.
Once seated, Blair put a sandwich and a little fruit and potato salad on his plate, picking at the bread. Jim had been so patient over the last couple of days, never asking him outright what had caused his panic attack, only offering to listen if Blair wanted to talk and he did...he had been silent for too long.
"I left the hospital later in the day...right after my surgery." He glanced in Jim's direction, but his friend only nodded, taking a huge bit of his sandwich. "I was in a lot of pain, but I couldn't stay there...someone...something happened...I don't ...it was all messed up in my head, man...confused." He pushed his salad around his plate, making little potato piles with his fork.
"You know you can tell me anything...?"
"I know...and I appreciate that, man...it's just...I was on drugs and the anesthesia...at first I thought I had imagined it...but after...when I was more awake, things didn't feel right."
"Do you know who it was?"
He shook his head, cheeks burning with shame. "Before they were going to move me for surgery, a nurse came in and gave me something in the IV. She told me she'd be right back...I had to get a catheter and she had to shave my stomach...I closed my eyes and I could hear her walking away, pulling the curtain. I know I was drifting, but when I came to again, someone was touching me. At first, man...I thought it was her...Whatever she gave me, I couldn't open my eyes, but I didn't know anything was wrong at first, then uh...It felt strange, you know...wrong." He reached for his glass, taking a big gulp. "I remember feeling cold and uh...someone was touching me and I could feel something...I don't know what it was, but it hurt and I couldn't ...I panicked. I don't know how long...uh, it went on, but I remember feeling like I couldn't breathe and then everything stopped and someone was asking what was going on...I think the nurse came back."
"This person...they didn't say anything...you didn't hear a voice?"
Hell, sometimes he still thought that just maybe, he imagined the whole damn thing.
He shook his head, a bitter chuckle smothered by another drink from his glass. He had made it through his childhood, exposed to all kinds of people, mostly men and never once was touched in an inappropriate way.
It was unfathomable that as a grown man he would be molested in a place that should be safe, by people he should be able to trust.
"I don't think so, man but I'm pretty sure it had to be a nurse...how else could they explain why my gown was hiked up and the sheet pulled down. The next thing I remember I was in recovery and it hit me, what happened...I was so sick, but scared because it could have been anyone of them. Later when I got in a room...well, I pulled my IVs and got dressed the best I could and left."
"And that's when Marcus found you?" Jim sat back, pushing his plate away.
But Blair picked up his sandwich, nodding his head. "Yeah...I knew I was sorta still out of it and he was going to take me to the hospital, but I guess I freaked out. I've never...I've only ever told him. He had a knack to dragging things out of me, but he's right...he told me I shouldn't carry my burden of silence when I could trust other people...I know that now...I don't want to live in silence anymore."
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