Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Chapters 69, 70 and 71

Working late in his studio several days later, Colin was surprised when Jamie walked in. Putting down his tools, Colin thought it was a good time for a break.
   “Hey, Murphy,” Jamie said, somewhat hesitantly. Colin thought he looked a little nervous. 
      “Hey,” he replied, picking up his thermos of coffee. “What brings you to this side of campus?”
“I ... um, I needed to check on the schedule for the Habitat for Humanity project for next week. Wondered if you’d look at it and see if there’s anything we might need to change.”
Colin narrowed his eyes and studied the boy. “I can ... but I’ve never had to look at them before. What’s this really about, Jamie?”
   The young man shifted from one foot to the other, hesitating. 
   “Sit down, son. You’re making me nervous. What is it?” Colin hoped it was about the boy’s obvious continued depression so he could offer some help. He had been increasingly worried about Jamie.
“I ... I just wanted to ask you something personal, that’s all.”
“Personal? Go ahead, ask,” Colin said, immediately thinking about Maggie. Maybe he wants to ask me about marriage? With only his mother raising him, maybe he wants a man’s perspective on marriage?
   “I was wondering what you thought about becoming a priest?”
   “A priest?” Colin sputtered.  “Um, my future wife probably wouldn’t be too keen on the idea. And I think I’m a little too old for the priesthood.”
Jamie blushed.“No, I meant me. The priesthood for me.”
Colin was stunned and hoped his face didn’t show it as Jamie appeared quite serious. “Well, son, that’s an interesting question,” he said, recovering. “I’ve always admired the men who give their lives to the church, especially my brother. It’s a difficult decision and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Um, shouldn’t you be talking to Father Sean about this? He’s much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am.”
“I know, but I wanted to know what you thought first. Do you think I’d make a good priest, I mean. Am I good enough like your brother to be a priest?” His face was contorted in pain.
   “I don’t think it’s a matter of being good enough, Jamie.”
   “What if you’ve made some mistakes? Some big mistakes. Can they be forgiven enough for you ... I mean for me ... to join the priesthood?”
  “Jamie, everybody makes mistakes. Even big ones. And yes, I believe we can be forgiven for any mistakes we make, we just have to ask. Heaven knows my brother was no saint when he was ordained. All humans make mistakes, and sometimes big ones. No, I don’t think it’s a matter of being good enough, because if that were a prerequisite, I doubt there’d be any priests at all.
   “I think Father Sean would tell you it has to do with hearing a definite call from God to serve. You really need to talk with him about it.”
   Jamie looked unhappy with that answer and stood up to leave. Colin rose, too, walking with him to the workshop door, thinking he needed to give him something more.
   “Why don’t you go talk with him tomorrow? I know he’ll make himself available for you.”
   “Thanks, Murphy, I will.”
   “And Jamie,” Colin said as the Saddle Tramp walked away. “I think you’d make a hell of a priest.”

Chapter 70
The early morning sunshine promised a clear, unusually warm February day, so I walked to work last Friday morning. I knew another cold front was due in later tonight but for now, I enjoyed the warmth. I’m getting married few weeks from tomorrow, I thought happily as I made my way across campus. What a miracle. How blessed I felt to find love twice in one lifetime. I was positively giddy with happiness and I’m sure the spring in my step reflected that joy.
   Late in the afternoon, I was deep in a project for the athletic department, and realizing it was going to take me longer than I’d anticipated, I phoned Colin to tell him I would be working late — I wanted the weekend free for wedding planning. 
   He was doing the same, he said — working late, that is, not wedding planning; he knew enough to leave all of that to the bride and friends — and offered to pick me up about eight for a late dinner. “Best proposal I’ve had all day,” I said brightly. “See you then. I’ll look for you out front by the circle and come right down.”
   Around 7:00 p.m., I was surprised to get a call from Bennett Boyle’s office phone. When I answered, he said in his usual flat tone, “You’re still in the office. Can you come down here? I need to ask you about parts of Parker’s Washington speech. I told him it would be ready first thing Monday morning.”
   President Parker was scheduled to be in D.C. on Tuesday at a congressional hearing on higher educational needs, and I had spent considerable time last week researching and composing his testimony. What in the world did Boyle want to change now, I thought. Before I had a chance to answer, he said a word I thought was foreign to him.
“Please? It shouldn’t take long.” 
   Recovering after a moment, I said, “Of course, if you can give me about 15, 20 minutes to wrap up what I’m doing here. Is that all right? I can be down then.” 
  “Fifteen minutes is fine,” he said and then uttered another foreign word, “Thanks.”
  I was astounded. Since the department had been moved under the president late last semester, I rarely even saw Boyle, except in administrative staff meetings, and he didn’t talk much during those meetings except to contradict me now and then. For him to ask for my help... and to utter the two magic words? Unbelievable ... well, maybe not ... I had been praying for him, at least once in a while. Who knows? God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t He?
   I finished up the section I was editing for athletics, and nineteen minutes later headed to Boyle’s office with a final copy of the President’s speech in hand, deciding to take the third floor hallway to the east stairs and head down that way. Normally I took the path of down first, then over to the east wing through the outside arcade and fresh air. I wasn’t sure of the weather, though — had the cold front arrived? — and sometimes the outside door was locked at night. 
   Rounding the corner to the east stairs landing, I noticed the small door to the bell tower was slightly open at the top of the small stairs. I winced at the absence of the red and black inside, my first glimpse since the fire. The walls were now institutional beige. What a shame that the Tramps were thrown out, I thought once again. Boyle was such a prick, even if he has learned to use the magic words. Colin was working on reversing the order and thought the Saddle Tramps might be given permission to reclaim their “clubhouse” by summer.
   I refocused. Who in the world would be up there in the tower at this hour? And why? I knew of no athletic games tonight. I walked up the stairs toward the open door, thinking maybe someone had accidently left it open.
  Suddenly I heard a man’s voice call out, “No!” then a deep scream that ended as something or someone fell. It sounded like Bennett Boyle’s voice, and I took two steps up inside the door, calling up the stairwell, “Hello? Who’s there? Mr. Boyle?”
  I heard movement, then silence. It wouldn’t be Boyle, I reasoned, he’s downstairs in his office. “Hello?” I said even louder. I leaned against the outside wall, straining to see upward, but remembered the sightline was limited, not only by the platforms spanning the stairwell spaces, but also by the lack of lighting. Reaching for my phone on my belt, I discovered I’d left it on my desk. 
   I took a few more tentative steps up the bare cement, calling out his name again. I thought I heard a low moan and quickened my pace, climbing higher and higher ... third set, fourth set, fifth set ... all the while calling his name. “Mr. Boyle? Is that you? Are you all right?” I kept my hands tightly on the old wooden railing to make certain of my footing in the dim light. Now I could see the one hanging spotlight at the top was not on. I found the switch at the bottom of the last set of stairs and flipped it, but the light didn’t come on. 
   The only light was a reflective glow coming in the windows, but it was enough for me to make out a dark figure lying on the floor up ahead — he was on his back on the top level, feet hanging over the edge of the last step. His hands were clasped to his chest and he wasn’t moving.
  “Mr. Boyle?” Recognizing him as I moved closer, I cried out, “Bennett!” Kneeling down beside him, I thought perhaps he’d had a heart attack, but up here? I repeated, “Bennett! What’s happened? Did you fall?” His eyelids opened slightly and he turned his head to look at me. 
   “Anna?” he said weakly. He put his hand to my cheek — his hand was wet and sticky. I recoiled, confused by the mercury smell and Boyle’s touch. His hand fell back across his chest where a dark wetness was spreading rapidly across his starched white shirt. Blood! There was blood all over his shirt! I started to get up to go for help, but he grabbed my arm, tightly, and pulled me back down, grimacing in pain.  
   “Did I hurt you, Anna? Oh, my love,” he continued to whisper, still holding my arm, but barely able to talk. “I’m so sorry, please forgive me. We didn’t mean to ... Oh, Mars, I’m so sorry.”    
           His eyes closed and then let go of my arm. Then he said in a shallow voice, “Anna? I love you. I’ve always loved you.” Grabbing his chest with both hands in obvious extreme pain, Bennett Boyle looked directly in my eyes once more and whispered forcefully, “Oh, God, Mars ... God forgive me.” His eyes closed and his head fell to one side.
  “Bennett!” I shouted.  
  I heard a noise behind me, but before I could turn, my world went dark.
Chapter 71
   My first thought as I regained consciousness was that I was cold — my blanket must have fallen off the bed. But I wasn’t at home in bed, I was somewhere else ... somewhere strange ... and I was dressed. I opened my eyes and looked around. What was I doing on the floor in this cold dimly lit room? I tried to sit up, but the back of my head throbbed and I felt as though I were in a fog. 
   Slowly pushing myself up to a sitting position, palms against the cold floor, head bent down, I tried to focus. Strange, I thought, noticing the papers scattered around me, a page or two halfway down the stairs ... stairs ... I remembered I was taking something down the stairs to ...  Oh, God! Boyle! 
           I frantically looked up and then grabbed my head in pain. I almost fainted but steadied myself on the platform post. I took deep breaths and opened my eyes again, looking around behind me. There he was, sitting up against the far wall ... he’d moved!
“Bennett!” I shouted, slowly crawling over to him, oblivious to the continued searing pain in my head. His eyes were closed and the stain on his shirt was immense. I put my fingers on his neck, but his body was so cold I knew I wouldn’t find a pulse. He was dead.
   Sitting back heavily against the wall opposite him, I crossed myself and then reached up instinctively to touch the egg-sized bump on the back of my head. I felt not only the wound, but also the dried blood that had matted my hair and run down the back of my neck. Who had done this? God, who had done this?
    I wondered how long I’d been out — it must’ve been hours judging by the caked blood, the much colder temperature and the lack of any traffic noise from outside. 
   Colin! He was coming for me at eight o’clock! I pushed myself up, almost retching from the pain, black spots dancing before my eyes. Leaning against the wall for a minute or two, I became a little steadier and more focused. I stepped around Boyle’s body and felt my way to the stairs, leaning heavily on the railing, supporting myself with the wall and the old wooden banister as my head screamed in agony.     
  After what seemed like an endless descent, I reached the door at the darkened bottom of the stairwell, discovering it not only was now closed, but locked. And there was no inside latch. Someone had locked me in the tower!
   I banged on the door, calling for help, again and again, but no one came. “Please, God,” I prayed, slumping against the wall exhausted. “Help me.” Then I turned and forced myself to go back up the stairs, pulling my shivering weary body up by the railing, slowly enough to keep the pain from making me faint. It took an eternity. 
Stepping once again around Boyle, willing myself not to look at his face, I went from window to window, trying to pull one open. Recently painted shut, they wouldn’t budge, and the new glass was now reinforced with wire, so breaking one was not an option. Besides, the Saddle Tramp benches had been burned in the fire last December, so I had nothing to use to even try to hit them with. I sat down on the floor on the far side of the platform, away from Boyle, to think.    
   Facts, Maggie. What are the facts? Fact one: the door downstairs is locked from the outside and no one is around to unlock it. Fact two: in the morning, maybe someone would be around and would hear me and unlock it, but who knew how early or even if someone might come on a Saturday? 
   And to sit all night alone in the dark with a dead man was not my idea of how to spend a pleasant night. Besides, I was cold! I wished I’d worn pants today instead of my wool skirt and jacket. At least it was wool, I thought, hugging myself.
    I thought of Colin again. He must be frantic trying to find me. I had to get out.
    Leaning my head back to rest it on the wall behind me, mindful of my painful lump, I noticed the platform above. The platform had been rebuilt ... I thought it was strange they rebuilt the platform if they weren’t going to be ringing the bells. Now that Boyle was dead, maybe ... Focus on now, Maggie. How are you going to get out of here?  
   In addition to the rebuilt platform, a new ladder was bolted to the floor, resting against the platform and continuing up to the bells. I could climb to the platform, pull one of the chains hanging down and ring a bell! Someone would come to see who was ringing the bell in the middle of the night! Hadn’t Jimmy Stewart climbed up a bell tower in that Hitchcock movie? But he climbed a rope ... I’ve got a ladder ... Focus, Maggie, focus.
   Once again I struggled to pull myself up, reaching for the rungs of the metal ladder to steady myself. Surely I could climb four little ladder steps, then I could crawl over to pull the chain.    
   Gathering my strength, I used the cold ladder rungs and the platform’s railing to drag myself to the top and began crawling across the hard frigid tiles. Oh, I thought, they’ve relaid the tiles in a Double T ... mustn’t step on it ... focus, Maggie. Get to the chains. 
   They weren’t there! The killer had either cut the chains or drawn them up on the roof with the bells. No, maybe Boyle had them taken off. If they weren’t going to ring the bells anymore, why would they need chains? The leather gloves were gone, too, most likely burned in the fire. I could’ve used their warmth. I sat down, placing my cold hands under her arms, leaning against the new railing, not brass this time, but a metal mesh. Looking up, I estimated it was another eight or nine rungs up to the trap door. Could I climb up, unlatch it and push it open? 
   I didn’t think I had the strength. 
   Fact three ... or was it fact four? My brain was getting fuzzy. Whatever number, fact was I didn’t know how much blood I’d lost — my blouse was stuck to my back, presumably with dried blood. How serious was my injury? I knew I shouldn’t wait much longer to get medical attention. 
   Fact: If I wanted to get out tonight, I’d have to climb up through the trap door.
   Saying another prayer, I reached again for the ladder and pulled myself to stand. One step at a time, Grant ... just one step at a time. My slick leather-soled shoes slipped on the rungs. My arms ached, my head screamed at every small movement. Hooking not only hands, but elbows around the ladder, I slowly, painfully dragged my unwilling body up and up toward the trap door. 
   After what seemed like another hour, I put my right palm under the trap door to push. I was sweating now from the exertion, numb to the pain in my head, fingers stiff from the cold metal ladder, and I had grown more debilitated with each step. 
   Pushing upward, I slipped again, lost my footing and swung over the edge of the ladder, grabbing frantically at the rungs to stop from falling to the unforgiving tile surface below. Gathering my last reserves, I somehow righted myself. I kicked off my slippery shoes to plant my bare feet firmly, heaved open the trap door and hauled myself up to sit beside the lower bell. 
   Breathing heavily, I took in gulps of the frigid night air. The predicted cold front had definitely arrived. It seared my lungs, but also somewhat revived me as I looked for the chains. Spotting them coiled up on the opposite side of the bell’s ledge, I said weakly, “No way.” 
   There isn’t room for me to crawl around the bell up here, I thought wearily. I’d have to go back down the ladder a few steps and drag myself up the other side to reach the chains — at this point an impossible task in my weakened condition. 
   Despairing, I lay back with my feet hanging out over the open trap door, catching my breath and weighing my new options, if indeed I had any. 
   Feeling cold again, I wrapped my arms around myself and tried to curl up into a ball for warmth. I raised my legs, bending my knees to pull them up, and accidently kicked the bell, bruising my heel. I stopped. I put my legs back down and painfully pushed myself up to a sitting position.   
   I stared at the bell. “Worth a shot,” I whispered weakly. Slowly I lay back down, head spinning. Placing my hands under my thighs, I drew my legs up to my chest, putting the bottoms of my bare feet on the side of the frigid 300-pound bell. I pushed. It moved slightly, but the huge clapper barely stirred.    
   With considerable effort, I scooted back a little and pushed again with my feet. The bell moved more and I pushed over and over until it gave a slight ping, encouraging me. Moving back even further, groaning from the pain and energy expended, my head was now up against the bottom of an open arch. The stone was cold and rough on the back of my already pounding head. I pulled my knees up to my chest again and pushed in steady movement toward the bell. 
            It moved with my feet, again and again, and then went further, swinging back to catch my feet again. I pushed again, moving it even more. Once more. It rang! I pushed again, and it rang again, and again and again. After the sixth successful shove, I fell to my side exhausted while the bell continued ringing loudly with the momentum. 
           “God,” I prayed, “Please let someone hear. I’m so cold ...” 
Once again, my world went dark.

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