M I CHAEL
I would have had to be living under a rock to not know what was being said about Shay Bourne, but I was the last person in the world who would ever have believed him to be messianic. As far as I was concerned, there was one Son of God, and I knew who He was. As for
Bourne's showmanship-well, I'd seen David Blaine make an elephant disappear on Fifth Avenue in New York City, but that wasn't a miracle, either. Plain and simple: my job here wasn't to feed into Shay
Bourne's delusional beliefs... only to help him accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior before his execution so that he'd wind up in the
Kingdom of Heaven.
And if I could help him donate his heart somewhere along the way, so be it.
Two days after the incident at I-tier had occurred, I parked my
Trophy outside the prison. My mind kept tripping over a verse from
Matthew where Jesus spoke to his disciples: I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me;
I was in prison, and you came unto me. The disciples-who were, to be brutally honest, a thick bunch-were confused. They couldn't remember
Jesus being lost or naked or sick or imprisoned. And Jesus told them: Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of my brethren, you have done it unto me.
Inside, I was handed a flak jacket and goggles again. The door to
I-tier opened, and I was led down the hallway to Shay Bourne's cell.
It wasn't all that different from being in the confessional. The same Swiss-cheese holes perforated the metal door of the cell, so I could get a glimpse of Shay. Although we were the same age, he looked like he'd aged a lifetime. Now gray at the temples, he still was slight and wiry. I hesitated, silent, waiting to see if his eyes would go wide with recognition, if he would start banging on the door and demand to get away from the person who'd set the wheels of his execution in motion.
But a funny thing happens when you're in clerical dress: you aren't a man. You're somehow more than one, and also less. I've had secrets whispered in front of me; I've had women hike up their skirts to fix their panty hose. Like a physician, a priest is supposed to be unflappable, an observer, a fly on the wall. Ask ten people who meet me what I look like, and eight of them won't be able to tell you the color of my eyes. They simply don't look past the collar.
Shay walked directly up to the door of the cell and started to grin.
"You came," he said.
I swallowed. "Shay, I'm Father Michael."
He flattened his palms against the door of the cell. I remembered a photograph from the crime evidence, those fingers dark with a little girl's blood. I had changed so much in the past eleven years, but what about Shay Bourne? Was he remorseful? Had he matured? Did he wish, like me, that he could erase his mistakes?
"Hey, Father," a voice yelled out-I would later learn it was Calloway
Reece-"you got any of those wafers? I'm near starving."
I ignored him and focused on Shay. "So... I understand you're
"A foster mother had me baptized," Shay said. "A thousand years ago." He glanced at me. "They could put you in the conference room, the one they use for lawyers."
"The warden said we'd have to talk here, at your cell."
Shay shrugged. "I don't have anything to hide."
Do you? I heard, although he hadn't said it.
"Anyway, that's where they give us hep C," Shay said.
"Give you hep C?"
"On haircut day. Every other Wednesday. We go to the conference room and they buzz us. Number two blade, even if you want it longer for winter. They don't make it this hot in here in the winter. It's freezing from November on." He turned to me. "How come they can't make it hot in November and freezing now?"
"I don't know."
"It's on the blades."
"Blood," Shay said. "On the razor blades. Someone gets nicked, someone else gets hep C."
Following his conversation was like watching a SuperBall bounce.
"Did that happen to you?"
"It happened to other people, so sure, it happened to me."
Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of my brethren, you have done it unto me.
My head was swimming; I hoped it was Shay's nonlinear speech, and not a panic attack coming on. I'd been suffering those for eleven years now, ever since the day we'd sentenced Shay. "But for the most part, you're all right?"
After I said it, I wanted to kick myself. You didn't ask a dying man how he was feeling. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, I thought, how was the play?
"I get lonely," Shay answered.
Automatically, I replied, "God's with you."
"Well," Shay said, "he's lousy at checkers."
"Do you believe in God?"
"Why do you believe in God?" He leaned forward, suddenly intense.
"Did they tell you I want to donate my heart?"
"That's what I came to talk about. Shay."
"Good. No one else wants to help."
"What about your lawyer?"
"I fired him." Shay shrugged. "He lost all the appeals, and then he started talking about going to the governor. The governor's not even from New Hampshire, did you know that? He was born in Mississippi. I always wanted to see that river, take one of those gambling boats down it like some kind of cardsharp. Or maybe that's shark. Do they have those in rivers?"
"He wanted the governor to commute my sentence to life, but that's just another death sentence. So I fired him."
I thought about Warden Coyne, how sure he was that this was all just a ploy to get Shay Bourne's execution called off. Could he have been wrong? "Are you saying that you want to die. Shay?"
"I want to live," he said. "So I have to die."
Finally, something I could latch onto. "You will live," I said. "In the
Kingdom of the Father. No matter what happens here. Shay. And no matter whether or not you can donate your organs."
Suddenly his face went dark. "What do you mean, whether or not?"
"Well, it's complicated..."
"I have to give her my heart. I have to."
My jaw dropped. This specific part of Shay's request had not made it to the broadcast news. "Nealon? Is she related to Elizabeth?" Too late
I realized that the average person-one who hadn't been on Shay's jury-might not recognize that name and identify it as quickly. But Shay was too agitated to notice.
"She's the sister of the girl who was killed. She has a heart problem;
I saw it on TV. What's inside me is going to save me," Shay said.
"If I don't bring it forward, it's going to kill me."
We were making the same mistake. Shay and I. We both believed that you could right a former wrong by doing a good deed later on. But giving Claire Nealon his heart wasn't going to bring her sister back to life. And being Shay Bourne's spiritual advisor wasn't going to erase the fact that I was part of the reason he was here.
"You can't get salvation by donating your organs. Shay. The only way to find salvation is to admit your guilt and seek absolution through
"What happened then doesn't matter now."
"You don't have to be afraid to take responsibility; God loves us, even when we screw up."
"I couldn't stop it," Shay said. "But this time, I can fix it."
"Leave that to God," I suggested. Tell Him you're sorry for what you did, and He'll forgive you."
"No matter what?"
"No matter what."
"Then why do you have to say you're sorry first?"
I hesitated, trying to find a better way to explain sin and salvation to Shay. It was a bargain: you made an admission, you got redemption in return. In Shay's economy of salvation, you gave away a piece of yourself-and somehow found yourself whole again.
Were the two ideas really so different?
I shook my head to clear it.
"Lucius is an atheist," Shay said. "Right, Lucius?"
From next door, Lucius mumbled, "Mm-hmm."
"And he didn't die. He was sick, and he got better."
The AIDS patient; I'd heard about him on the news. "Did you have something to do with it?"
"I didn't do anything."
"Lucius, do you believe that, too?"
I leaned back so that I could make eye contact with this other inmate, a slim man with a shock of white hair. "I think Shay had everything to do with it," he said.
"Lucius should believe whatever he needs to," Shay said.
"What about the miracles?" Lucius added.
"What miracles?" Shay said.
Two facts struck me: Shay Bourne was not claiming to be the Messiah, or Jesus, or anyone but himself. And through some misguided belief, he truly felt that he wouldn't rest in peace unless he could donate his heart to Claire Nealon.
"Look," Lucius said. "Are you or are you not going to help him?"
Maybe none of us could compensate for what we'd done wrong in the past, but that didn't mean we couldn't make our futures matter more. I closed my eyes and imagined being the last person Shay Bourne spoke with before he was executed by the State of New Hampshire. I imagined picking a section of the Bible that would resonate with him, a balm of prayer during those last few minutes. I could do this for him. I could be who he needed me to be now, because I hadn't been who he needed me to be back then. "Shay," I said, "knowing that your heart is beating in some other person isn't salvation. It's altruism. Salvation is coming home. It's understanding that you don't have to prove yourself to God."
"Oh, for Christ's sake," Lucius snorted. "Don't listen to him. Shay."
I turned to him. "Do you mind?" Then I shifted position, so that I blocked Lucius from my sight, focusing on Shay. "God loves you- whether or not you give up your organs, whether or not you've made mistakes in the past. And the day of your execution, he'll be waiting for you. Christ can save you. Shay."
"Christ can't give Claire Nealon a heart." Suddenly Shay's gaze was piercing and lucid. "I don't need to find God. I don't want catechism," he said. "All I want to know is whether, after I'm killed, I can save a little girl."
"No," I said bluntly. "Not if you're given a lethal injection. The drugs are meant specifically to stop your heart, and after that, it's worthless for donation."
The light in his eyes dimmed, and I drew in my breath. "I'm sorry.
Shay. I know you were hoping to hear something different, and your intentions are good... but you need to channel those good intentions to make peace with God another way. And that is something I can make happen."
Just then a young woman burst onto I-tier. She had a cascade of black curls tumbling down her back, and peeking out from her flak jacket was the ugliest striped suit I'd ever seen. "Shay Bourne?" she said. "I know a way you can donate your organs."
Some people may find it tough to break out of prison, but for me, it was equally as hard to get in. Okay, so I wasn't officially Shay Bourne's attorney-but the prison officials didn't know that. I could argue the technicality with Bourne himself, if and when I reached him.
I hadn't counted on how difficult it would be to get through the throng outside the prison. It's one thing to shove your way past a group of college kids smoking pot in a tent, their MAKE PEACE NOT MIRACLES signs littering the muddy ground; it's another thing entirely to explain to a mother and her smooth-scalped, cancer-stricken toddler why you deserved to cut their place in line. In the end, the only way I could edge forward was by explaining to those who'd been waiting (in some cases, for days) that I was Shay Bourne's legal advisor and that I would pass along their pleas: from the elderly couple with knotted hands, whose twin diagnoses-breast cancer and lymphatic cancer-came within a week of each other; to the father who carried pictures of the eight children he couldn't support since losing his job; to the daughter pushing her mother's wheelchair, wishing for just one more lucid moment in the fog of Alzheimer's so that she could say she was sorry for a transgression that had happened years earlier. There is so much pain in this world, I thought, how do any of us manage to get up in the morning?
When I reached the front gate, I announced that I had come to see
Shay Bourne, and the officer laughed at me. "You and the rest of the free world."
"I'm his lawyer."
He looked at me for a long moment, and then spoke into his radio. A moment later, a second officer arrived and escorted me past the blockade.
As I left, a cheer went up from the crowd.
Stunned, I turned around, waved hesitantly, and then hurried to catch up.
I had never been to the state prison. It was a large, old brick building; its courtyard stretched out behind the razor-wire fencing. I was told to sign in on a clipboard and to take off my jacket before I went through the metal detector.
"Wait here," the officer said, and he left me sitting in a small anteroom.
There was an inmate mopping the floor who did not make eye contact with me. He was wearing white tennis shoes that squelched every time he stepped forward. I watched his hands on the mop and wondered if they'd been part of a murder, a rape, a robbery.
There was a reason I didn't become a criminal defense attorney: this setting freaked me out. I had been to the county jail to meet with clients, but those were small-potatoes crimes: picketing outside a rally for a political candidate, flag burning, civil disobedience. None of my clients had ever killed anyone before, much less a child and a police officer. I found myself considering what it would be like to be locked in here forever.
What if my dress clothes and day clothes and pajamas were all the same orange scrubs? What if I was told when to shower, when to eat, when to go to bed? Given that my career was about maintaining personal freedoms, it was hard to imagine a world where they'd all been stripped away.
As I watched the inmate mop beneath a bank of seats, I wondered what would be the hardest luxury to leave behind. There were the trivial things: losing chocolate practically qualified as cruel and unusual punishment;
I couldn't sacrifice my contact lenses; I'd sooner die than relinquish the Ouidad Climate Control gel that kept my hair from becoming a frizzy rat's nest. But what about the rest-missing the dizzying choice of all the cereals in the grocery store aisle, for example? Not being able to receive a phone call? Granted, it had been so long since I was intimate with a man that I had spiderwebs between my legs, but what would it be like to give up being touched casually, even a handshake?
I bet I'd even miss fighting with my mother.
Suddenly a pair of boots appeared on the floor before me. "You're out of luck. He's got his spiritual advisor with him," the officer said. "Bourne's pretty popular today."
"That's fine," I bluffed. "The spiritual advisor can join us during our meeting." I saw the slightest flicker of uncertainty on the face of the officer.
Not allowing an inmate to see his attorney was a big no-no, and I was planning to capitalize on that.
The officer shrugged and led me down a hallway. He nodded to a man in a control booth, and a door scraped open. We stepped into a small metal midroom, and I sucked in my breath as the steel door slid home. "I'm a little claustrophobic," I said.
The officer smiled. "Too bad."
The inner door buzzed, and we entered the prison. "It's quiet in here," I remarked.
"That's because it's a good day." He handed me a flak jacket and goggles and waited for me to put them on. For one brief moment, I panicked-what if a man's jacket like this didn't zip shut on me? How embarrassing would that be? But there were Velcro straps and it wasn't an issue, and as soon as I was outfitted, the door to a long tier opened.
"Have fun," the officer said, and that was when I realized I was supposed to go in alone.
Well. I wasn't going to convince Shay Bourne I was brave enough to save his life if I couldn't muster the courage to walk through that door.
There were whoops and catcalls. Leave it to me to find my only appreciative audience in the maximum-security tier of the state prison.
"Baby, you here for me?" one guy said, and another pulled down his scrubs so that I could see his boxer shorts, as if I'd been waiting for that kind of peep show all my life. I kept my eyes focused on the priest who was standing outside one of the cells.
I should have introduced myself. I should have explained why I had lied my way into this prison. But I was so flustered that nothing came out the way it should have. "Shay Bourne?" I said. "I know a way that you can donate your organs."
The priest frowned at me. "Who are you?"
He turned to Shay. "I thought you said you didn't have a lawyer."
Shay tilted his head. He looked at me as if he were sifting through the grains of my thoughts, separating the wheat from the chaff. "Let her talk," he said.
My streak of bravery widened after that: leaving the priest with Shay, I went back to the officers and demanded a private attorney-client conference room. I explained that legally, they had to provide one and that due to the nature of our conversation, the priest should be allowed into the meeting. Then the priest and I were taken into a small cubicle from one side, while Shay was escorted through a different entrance by two officers.
When the door was closed, he backed up to it, slipping his hands through the trap to have his handcuffs removed.
"All right," the priest said. "What's going on?"
I ignored him and faced Shay. "My name is Maggie Bloom. I'm an attorney for the ACLU, and I think I know a way to save you from being executed."
"Thanks," he said, "but that's not what I'm looking for."
I stared at him. "What?"
"I don't need you to save all of me. Only my heart."
" I... I don't understand," I said slowly.
"What Shay means," the priest said, "is that he's resigned to his execution.
He just wants to be an organ donor, afterward."
"Who are you, exactly?" I asked.
"Father Michael Wright."
"And you're his spiritual advisor?"
"Since ten minutes before you became his lawyer," the priest said.
I turned back to Shay. "Tell me what you want."
"To give my heart to Claire Nealon."
Who the hell was Claire Nealon? "Does she want your heart?"
I looked at Shay, and then I looked at Michael, and I realized that I had just asked the one question no one had considered up till this point.
"I don't know if she wants it," Shay said, "but she needs it."
"Well, has anyone talked to her?" I turned to Father Michael. "Isn't that your job?"
"Look," the priest said, "the state has to execute him by lethal injection.
And if that happens, organ donation isn't viable."
"Not necessarily," I said slowly.
A lawyer can't care more about the case than the client does. If I couldn't convince Shay to enter a courtroom hoping for his life to be spared, then it would be foolish for me to take this on. However, if his mission to donate his heart dovetailed with mine-to strike down the death penalty-then why not use the same loophole law to get what we both wanted? I could fight for him to die on his own terms-donate his organs-and in the process, raise enough awareness about the death penalty to make more people take a stand against it.
I glanced up at my new client and smiled.