My new novel WHEN HEAVEN SIGHS is on Amazon. With a message of hope and unity for God’s family of believers, it is a mystery set in Nashville, Tn
It is for sale on Amazon: www.amazon.com/dp/0578663902
A long-lost heavenly message and assassins willing to do anything to destroy it!
Below are the first two chapters. Hope you enjoy.
He stared at his bare feet on the hot, rough surface of the sidewalk. The skin on the top of each foot was stained a dark brown from the summer sun and the dirt of the streets. It was almost as brown as shoe leather would have been if he had been wearing any shoes. Still looking down, he could not miss the half-moons of black dirt encrusted underneath each chipped and brittle toenail and wondered how he could have let himself sink to such a low level. Feeling a pang of guilt, he was glad his mother could not see him. She would not recognize him, and if she had, she would have become hysterical over the sight of him in his current condition.
A slow, single drop of sweat rolled off his forehead and fell to become a wet blotch on the dry surface of the sidewalk. For what seemed longer than rationally possible, the liquid blob sat and sizzled on the blistering concrete as the heat boiled up in waves to hit his already overheated face. On this hot, dry August afternoon, walking along the sidewalks of downtown Nashville felt like walking through a hot oven.
I need to get medical help. If I can just get to the mission, but am I going the right way was all his confused mind could manage to spit out. He knew he needed to stop and ask for help with finding the downtown homeless shelter, but the last time he had stopped to ask for directions, it had almost cost him his life. That had been in the port of a foreign city.
He was still cognitive enough to realize the disease attacking his body contributed to his mental state, but since that dangerous encounter, his fear and paranoia had increased with each passing day. Now heart racing panic set in if a stranger on the sidewalk turned to glance at him for one split second longer than what he felt they should. He had covered his trail as well as he could but knew he was no professional in evading detection from the type of people that were looking for him and what he was carrying. His pursuers could not be too far behind.
Trying not to be overcome by the weakness and tremors caused by his fever, he leaned one hand against the hot brick of an old building. Taking two slow steps forward and bracing himself against its wall, he managed to move into the shadow afforded by the railroad overpass right above his head. He looked both ways down the four lanes of Eighth Avenue and recognized the tall red brick buildings of Cannery Row.
His mind slipped back to the last time he had been there. It had been for a concert inside its large Ballroom. Although it seemed like a lifetime ago, it had only been this past April. Since then, the upheaval and obliteration of his old life had been so total and complete that he knew he would never be able to reclaim the naïve innocent world he had once lived in and realized he had only himself to blame. He had been the one to set the wheels in motion that had resulted in his situation being what it was at this moment.
I’m going the wrong way. He wiped one dirty hand across his burning forehead. He shook his head, and shoulder-length, curly black hair swung around his face. A few strands stuck to one wet cheek. As another intense tremor took hold of his body, he lost control of himself and for a few minutes could only lean against the bricks until it had run its course. The chills and fever had been going on now for the last two days. The only warm places left on his body were the burning soles of his feet and the pulsating fire in his temples.
I must get help. Can’t let them find me and the papers before I get them to where they belong. I can’t give up. Everything depends on me getting the papers into the right hands. Just need to get to the mission. I can rest there. He patted the front of his chest. A small piece of paper rustled inside his shirt pocket.
He turned around to walk back the way he had come. Again, a chill shook his body, and the fever he had been waging war against finally won and sent him down head first into the hard gray of the concrete sidewalk. Lying face down, the last thing he saw were the tires of a car going down Eighth before the dark unconsciousness of the fever overwhelmed him. Like vultures circling a newly dead body, a few homeless men standing outside the nearby free medical clinic moved forward to pick at his still warm body to claim any prizes they thought might be left behind.
As the small group huddled over the still form of the young man on the hot concrete, pockets were searched, and the backpack he had been carrying was fought over until it was claimed by the winner of a small scuffle waged on the sidewalk. Without warning, a shrill voice interrupted their foraging.
“Get away from him. I’m calling the police!”
A brave, blue-jean clad young woman elbowed her way through the small group to bend over the motionless form of the young man lying in the hot afternoon sun. All of the men scattered unwilling to face an afternoon encounter with the Metro Police Department. Fumbling in her purse, she pulled out a cellphone and dialed 911.
“I’m on Eighth Avenue South. There’s a man down on the sidewalk. I’m not sure if he’s even still breathing. Please hurry. I don’t know how much longer he can hold on.”
Some of the men had backed away when the young girl first arrived but now moved a few inches closer to watch and make sure there would be no more treasures to retrieve off the body. The woman leaned over the young man until the sound of a siren assured her that help was on its way. Only one older man hesitated for a few minutes then slipped off by himself through the alley.
Red lights flashing, a Metro ambulance pulled up to her position on the sidewalk. A well-built young paramedic jumped out to take her place. She stood up and moved out of the way.
“What happened here?”
“I don’t know. I found him like this.”
“Have you touched him?”
“Only his shoulder.”
“Good. He looks contagious. Pete, bring the IV with you. He needs fluids. He’s burning up.”
A second paramedic brought the IV. The first turned their patient onto his back. A small trickle of blood started to ooze from his nose. He moaned and gave one small cough. After a second cough, the young man lifted his head, started gagging and then projectile vomited red bloody fluid over the paramedic’s chest and arms. Both ambulance workers backed away, but as a massive seizure took control of their young patient’s body, they placed him on a waiting gurney and heaved him through the back doors of the ambulance. The last thing the young man’s sidewalk savior saw of him was his still twitching feet before the door of the ambulance was slammed in her face. She stood watching the flashing red lights fade into the distance through the Saturday afternoon traffic.
“Father Tom, I’m through typing the manuscript. I’m going to go on home.” The shrill voice of the woman carried with an echo over the young priest’s cellphone.
“All right, Margaret. I appreciate you staying over tonight to help me get these last pages ready for the publisher. I’ll have the extra check in your box tomorrow morning. Since it’s so late, can I walk you out to your car?”
“No thanks, Father. My husband’s waiting outside. He’ll follow me to my car.”
“Great. Thanks again for helping this procrastinator out.”
“Oh, I almost forgot. Your tea is ready in the kitchen. I thought you might want some before you left for the night.”
“Thanks for remembering. I don’t know what Father Robert and I would have done without you. I’ll help myself on my way out.”
“Good night. See you tomorrow in mass.”
“Good night. You and your husband be careful on the way home.”
The young priest tapped on the glowing screen of his cellphone and watched it turn black. He rubbed his aching forehead. I shouldn’t put this type of thing off until the last minute. I’ve got to get some sleep.
He stood up and walked over to a small mirror hanging beside the door. Glancing at himself, he realized the dark shadows of fatigue under his eyes would be very obvious to his audience during his Sunday morning mass and resisted the small pricks of the urge to stay and work for another hour. Perfectionism had always been one of his faults that had often impeded his ability to finish things, and the manuscript was complete just the way it was. So, passing his hand through his thick brown hair and jingling car keys in his pocket, he forced himself to step out of the room and close the squeaky, old oak door behind him.
He walked through the main body of the church and could not help but admire the statuary and artwork above the altar. I was blessed to have Saint Angela’s as my first assignment. I could not have started out at a better place.
He continued crossing the front of the large room and slowed down only to linger in front of the wooden figure of Christ on the cross in the small alcove to the side of the main sanctuary. This particular rendition seemed to him to be a cross between Picasso’s cubism and art deco styles with the large chevron shapes in the background behind the cross. The sharp angels in the wood made the Christ look abnormal, but he supposed after almost being beaten to death, his Savior’s abused body might have looked rather deformed. Still, he admired the contemporary style of the young artist.
St. Angela’s was built in the early 1920’s, but in September of 2006, a voracious fire had destroyed the front of the building. The regional diocese had approved a rebuild of the front structures in a more contemporary style of architecture. It was to match the growing influx of young families and millennials into the Belmont Avenue area and the remodeling of older homes with a more modern take on the neighborhood’s recreation.
As was the young priest’s custom, the result for him of standing before the crucified form of Christ on the cross was a deep sense of peace. Others in seminary had not had the same experience of the representation of Christ’s last hours on earth, but it had always sent shivers of awe and wonder down his spine. At times while praying before the figure, the presence of Christ in the room with him had been so real, it felt as if at any moment a hand would be placed upon his shoulder in comfort if he just concentrated and focused hard enough.
He stopped his late-night rambling and fell to both knees in front of the life-size wooden figure. After giving the sign of the cross, he bowed his head and began his prayer. However, this night’s late hour worship did not have its usual effect. The peaceful sense of being filled up or made complete did not come.
The further he got into his praise the stronger a sense of dread and anxiety started to fall around his shoulders. This was not normal for him. Taking a deep breath, he stopped and tried to start over. His sense of anxiety only intensified. A few beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. Was there another presence in the room besides just him and his Savior?
With his concentration now broken, he turned to look behind him. I really do need some sleep he thought. Again, he tried to start another prayer. This time his reverie was interrupted by what he thought was the sound of footsteps at the back of the sanctuary crossing from one side of the large room to the other. Was it his imagination or did he catch out of the corner of his eye the dark shadowy form of a man darting between the columns close to the Belmont Avenue entrance of the cathedral? That was not good. No one should be in here at this hour. The place was supposed to be locked up tighter than a drum. He rose from his kneeling position and turned to try and catch the culprit.
“Hello, hello. Who’s there? Is anyone there?”
Only a dead, empty silence answered the wavering echoes of his inquiry as his words bounced from one wall to another. Attempting to make as little noise as possible, he moved toward the front entrance and passed between each tall column seeing and hearing nothing and no one. Again, he thought I really do need sleep. I had better get out of here.
He rubbed at the fatigue in his eyes and shook his head to dispel the dark atmosphere that had enveloped him from the first second he had entered the open expanse of the sanctuary. Moving once again, the sound of each step he took on the cold marble floor trailed behind his progress across the large inner space. He could not help but keep looking back over his shoulder until he reached the safe confines of the smaller kitchen. He stopped and took a deep breath.
There exactly as Margaret had said it would be was his tea in an old insulated thermos sitting on the counter beside the stove. He reached up into the cupboard, pulled out his chipped coffee mug with the large black letters TOM and with hands shaking, poured a large dose of the steaming liquid. He gulped down the full cup and poured more into the empty hollow of the porcelain vessel then sank back into one of the wooden ladderback chairs to finish off a second cup. Now too tired to even try to keep his eyes open, he felt his body relax, almost going numb, and let his chin fall to his chest.
# # #
With a sudden jolt, Father Tom’s head snapped upward. The only sounds present were the scritch, scritch of the soft slippers on his feet grating on the heavy grey tiles of the cathedral’s roof. He rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes, blinking to try and clear his blurred vision. Where am I? Oh yes, he remembered now.
He shook his head and swayed trying to keep his balance on the sharp angles of the church’s dark roof. Yes, the voices had told him to go out tonight, to get up on the roof and show the world what a wonderful, saving God we all have. He is a god so full of wonder and ecstasy that He could make even a lowly young novice like himself be able to fly. He could fly high above the cares and everyday problems of this world to soar out into the unknown with nothing but Christ to hold him up.
Yes, Father, you can do this. Flying with Christ should be no problem for someone such as yourself. Remember, He loves and cares for you and will catch you if you fall. Take flight now Father and trust in God. From somewhere deep inside a very dark place, the insidious, sly voices spoke to him again. Fly, Father, fly!
The young priest spread out his arms and looked to the full moon hanging large and heavy in the dark summer sky over Nashville. The day had been unusually hot with no air moving at all. Dust and humidity had created a thick, yellow circle around the moon’s white, crusty edge.
Teetering on the crest of the roof, he stood trying to keep his balance as he breathed in the warm humid air covering everything like a sticky, moist blanket that could not be shaken off. Again, the soft sound of the slippers on his feet was the only noise to catch his attention. He looked down at his feet. Father Robert would have wanted him to go flying in his old house shoes. That would be a fitting tribute to the man himself. They were only worn, flat sandals, but the soft cotton kept the tiles from hurting his feet. His eyes traveled up his body and took in the white robe he had taken from his closet below. It would be only proper to go flying in the full vestments of his priestly office.
I just need to get to the front edge of the roof. That would be the best spot. He had managed to make his way to the front of the cathedral’s roof. The only thing separating him from success was the large concrete statue of the archangel Michael overlooking Belmont Avenue below. Keeping a delicate balance on the sharp angle of the roof, he leaned against the angel’s back and threw one arm around it as he manipulated his way around its edge. He inched his way around it cautiously, fingers clinging to whatever he could manage to find to grasp on its hard, curved surfaces. Sweating and with legs trembling from his efforts, the young priest stopped and leaned backward against the front of the angel’s chest. From here, he could still see the huge yellow moon suspended in the thick summer night’s air.
There is almost no traffic. It must be very late. Balancing himself with one hand on the angel’s large sword, he leaned closer to the front edge of the sanctuary’s roof to stare at the empty street below. Now would be his one perfect moment.
Yes, Father, yes. Now you can show your faith to the world. Fly, Father, fly the soft, dark voices inside his head whispered. Black snakes of deceit or trust – he could no longer tell the difference – they coiled and slithered through his mind entangled so tightly he knew he would never loosen their grip which was threatening his existence.
I must show my faith. Now is my one great opportunity. Father Tom let go of the safety of the angel and spread his arms outward lifting them upward toward the arch of the celestial spheres above still glowing with the city’s lights. Nashville would be no lackluster place tonight!
“Tonight, you will shine with more than man-made light. Tonight, you will shine with the glory of God.”
After speaking those few last words, he made one forward lunge and took his last step into the thin air lying just beyond the roof’s edge. With arms and legs flailing at the empty air for support, the last sounds Father Tom heard were the loud screech of a car’s brakes and a young woman’s scream as she witnessed his white robes fluttering down and smacking against the hard, black asphalt of the street below.