Beta Read by Dotty and Raven Moonwind
Written for PetFly by Bruce Kalish
internal thought in italics
I just love bus stations. They're so anonymous. The only people using them are the ones too poor to take planes like the rest of the civilized world. Nobody wants to see anything or anyone. Oh, they may remember a uniform or somebody with a flaming red Mohawk and a nose ring. But ask them to describe the face of the man in the uniform? Or the person with the Mohawk and nose ring? Can't be done.
Humming lightly under his breath, the slender form in the hooded black sweatshirt counted to ten before following the monk into the men's restroom. Carefully looking over his shoulder, he saw the other few inhabitants of the bus station's waiting room were all female and young children. There would be no interruptions. Glancing at the clock on the wall, he took a deep breath.
The man quietly washed his hands at the sink. His eyes briefly glanced at his reflection in the mirror then down again as he heard the toilet in the first stall flush. A young monk quickly emerged, muttering an apology as he squeezed past the hooded figure to the second sink.
As the young monk washed his hands, he saw the young man reach behind him for the towels. Obligingly, he edged even closer to the sink.
The young man quickly pulled a length of thin wire from beneath his sleeve. Whipping over the monk's head, he twisted it, causing the wire to dig deeply into the neck of the surprised monk. Simultaneously, the hooded man kicked the monk behind his right knee. Off balance, the monk found himself half-standing, half-kneeling.
The hooded man grunted as he twisted the wire tighter, coldly smiling as the monk desperately gasped for air.
Minutes later, a young monk exited the restroom just as the last call was announced to board the bus for Seattle.
Jim Ellison sighed as he leaned against the side of his truck. Sipping the hot, bitter coffee from the truck stop's café, he squinted at the bright sunlight. "My truck better be here when we get back, Sandburg," he warned.
"Don't worry, Jim. Everybody going to the retreat leaves their wheels here." Blair Sandburg rubbed his hands together in eager anticipation. He watched the massive trucks pulling in and out of the truck stop. "Canadian plates!"
Jim rolled his eyes. "I hope you don't plan on playing the license plate game the entire trip." When Blair grinned, Jim took another sip of coffee. "So, Sandburg. When you said 'retreat', you meant a spa, right? Mineral baths? Massages?"
"I don't remember saying that," Blair quickly answered. "I believe I said 'simple'. I might have even used the word 'Spartan'."
Jim eyed his partner. "Simple. Spartan. Exactly, and I do mean exactly, what do you mean by 'simple' and 'Spartan', Sandburg?"
Blair stood in front of the Sentinel and stared up at him. "Look, Simon says you haven't had a day off in over a year. Your energy level's way down. You've admitted your sensory skills seem to be getting dull. So I did some research. The tribal elders used to send their sentinels out once a year on a retreat to sharpen their senses."
Jim frowned as he considered Blair's explanation. "So you're talking about…what? Solitude? Long walks in the forest? Primeval communing with nature?" He shrugged after a few moments' contemplation. "Okay. I can deal with that. But no primeval screaming nonsense."
Blair grinned and patted Jim's arm. "Just think of it as a place to get back to your spiritual roots."
Jim irritably drained the last of the coffee and crumpled the cup. He tossed the cup into a nearby trashcan and glared at the younger man. "Sandburg, I swear…if you're dragging me into some new-age, workshop-to-find-my-inner-essence…"
"No!" Blair laughed. "This is very traditional, Jim." He smiled at the vehicle pulling into the truck stop. "Trust me. Very traditional."
Jim turned to see an old school bus pull to a stop in front of them. Reading 'St. Sebastian's Monastery', his jaw dropped in surprise when the door opened. A smiling monk leaned forward.
"Hi, guys. Hop in."
Jim turned to Blair. "Chief, this whole monk thing is an act, right? Like at Caesar's Palace. I mean, you know the guy in a toga taking your bags isn't really a Roman."
Blair glanced away. "Uh…ummmm." He edged around Jim towards the bus. Breaking into a wide smile, he stared up at the confused monk. "Brother Christopher! How are you? This is my friend, Detective Ellison. The one I told you about. Remember?"
Brother Christopher's smile faltered when Jim whirled around to confront Blair. "I'm afraid you may have been misled, Detective Ellison." He tried to frown at Blair but failed. "What exactly did Brother Blair tell you about our retreat?"
Jim stared down at Blair who slowly met his eyes.
"Brother Blair?" Jim softly asked.
Jim looked out the cracked window to see a beautiful older building nestled between lush gardens. He glanced at Blair who sat in the seat in front of him. Leaning forward, he whispered, "Monastery?"
"Later," Blair hushed him as the bus jerked to a stop.
Brother Christopher turned and smiled with pleasure. "Here we are. All in one piece."
"I take it that's a miracle?" Jim muttered as he followed Blair and the monk from the bus. He smirked at the silent look of reproach the young anthropologist threw over his shoulder.
An older monk stood on the gravel path that led to the monastery. He patiently waited with hands folded in front of him. "Welcome to St. Sebastian's," he greeted them when they joined him. "I hope your ride wasn't too uncomfortable. We only send the bus out twice a month for supplies." He eyed the other monk with an air of resignation. "I'm afraid Brother Christopher's driving suffers from a lack of practice."
"He's always kidding me about my driving," Brother Christopher confided in a mock-whisper.
"I wasn't aware I was joking," Brother Jeremy rebuked. He briefly smiled at Blair. "Welcome, Blair. It's nice to see you again."
Ignoring Jim's raised eyebrows, Blair smiled in response. "It's a pleasure to be back, Brother Jeremy. This is my friend, Detective Jim Ellison. Jim is this Brother Jeremy, the abbot."
"Brother Jeremy," Jim smoothly greeted. "You know, when Blair suggested a retreat, I confess the last thing I thought about was a monastery. No offense, but I was wondering when I could get a ride back to the truck stop."
"I'm afraid not until tomorrow morning," Brother Jeremy calmly answered.
"Jim, don’t worry about it, man," Blair soothed. "I'm telling you. This place has everything you're going to need."
"Uh-huh," Jim absently nodded. He glanced around then looked at the two monks. "Do you have a satellite dish?"
"No." Brother Christopher threw Blair an apologetic look.
"Television?" Jim continued.
"I'm afraid not." Brother Christopher shook his head in denial.
Brother Christopher glanced at Brother Jeremy. Silently, the two monks turned towards the monastery.
"Sandburg," Jim growled.
Brother Jeremy turned around. "Scared you, didn't we, Detective?"
Blair eagerly looked around as the two monks led them towards their room. "Oh, cool. You've got electricity!" He felt Jim's start of surprise.
"Earlier this year," Brother Jeremy explained. "We also installed a generator for when the power is interrupted." He looked over his shoulder with a shadow of a smile. "In fact, we've installed a single light bulb in each cell." His eyes glittered with what might have been amusement as he glanced over Blair's shoulder to Jim. "For the convenience of our guests." He turned back around when Brother Christopher opened one of the doors. "This is your cell."
"It's what we call our rooms," Brother Christopher shyly explained.
Blair headed into the room, but Jim stopped when his cell phone rang.
"Excuse me," Jim apologized. Turning partially away, he answered, "Ellison." His voice immediately lowered and softened. "Hi, Sharon. Yeah, I'm out of town. Well…sure, we can pick up where we left off."
Brother Christopher glanced at Brother Jeremy then down at the floor.
Blair smiled apologetically at Brother Jeremy who sternly glanced at Jim.
"Yeah, 7 o'clock sounds good," Jim softly continued. "Uh…I really can't now. Sure, can't wait. 'Bye." He turned around to see a surprised look on Blair's face.
"Jim, did you just make a date in a monastery?" the young anthropologist demanded.
"She called me, Sandburg," Jim smirked.
Brother Jeremy smoothly reached out and snatched Jim's cell phone. "I'll give this back when you leave. There's one telephone in my office for emergency calls only. Cell phones are not permitted. Oh, and I'll take your gun as well."
"No," Jim resisted. "I'm a cop. I keep my gun."
"Guns are not necessary here," Brother Jeremy continued. "We are a sanctuary of peaceful contemplation."
"Jim. C'mon, man," Blair pleaded in embarrassment. "We're in a monastery. It's the last place on earth you're going to need a gun." He threw Jim a pleading look. "Please?"
Silently, Jim removed his gun. Making sure the safety was on, he silently handed it to Brother Jeremy. He noticed the older monk handled the weapon with more familiarity than he would have credited.
"Thank you." Brother Jeremy curtly nodded. "Brother Christopher. I believe you have duties to perform." Without further comment, he abruptly left the cell.
"I'm sorry," Brother Christopher softly apologized. "He's really okay once you get to know him. It's just that he hasn't been away from St. Sebastian's for probably 20 years. There's really quite a story about it, a mystery, really."
All three men turned towards the open door at the sound of Brother Jeremy's firm call.
"Coming, Brother Jeremy," the younger monk called in reply. He turned back to Jim. "You know, I read a lot of mysteries in my personal hours. We have no television so what else is there to do but read? And write…I'm sort of an author and…I was wondering…well, I'd really appreciate it if you'd look at one of my stories…to check my accuracy on police procedures?"
Jim realized the monk's ramblings resembled Sandburg's and relaxed. "Sure. I'd be happy to do it."
Brother Christopher widely smiled. "Thanks." He glanced over his shoulder. "I'd better…well, I have things to do."
"Later, Brother," Blair smiled as he closed the door. He turned and bounced experimentally on his bunk. "Brother. I love that." He glanced at Jim who was digging into his duffel bag. "I promise you're going to really…really appreciate this place."
Jim decided to ignore the younger man. He stretched out on his hard bunk and slid headphones over his head. He propped the radio on his chest and began slowly twisting the dial.
Blair jumped to his feet when the door suddenly opened.
Brother Jeremy casually stepped inside and took Jim's headphones and radio. "Sorry. No radios either." Before Jim could respond, he quickly left, shutting the door behind him.
Jim stared at Blair in surprise.
"A Sentinel monk?" Blair weakly joked.
Slowly, looking over his shoulder with concern, Brother Timothy quietly eased the door open to an empty cell. Quickly looking around, he dropped to his knees and reached under the bunk.
He grimaced as his fingers touched something. Leaning down until he was prone on the floor, he stretched until he finally grasped the object and dragged it from under the bunk. Raising to his knees, he pondered the green duffel bag for a few moments before unzipping it.
Before Brother Timothy could look inside, he heard the soft footfalls of someone approaching. Knowing that all the monks should be at their appointed tasks, he quickly shoved the duffel bag back under the bunk. Desperately, he slid behind the door and prayed.
A hooded monk entered the room and quietly walked to the small table next to the bunk. Reaching out, he took the book lying on the table. Hesitating, he knelt next to the bunk to pick up a crucifix necklace with a broken chain. Silently, he cupped it in his right hand and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Brother Timothy waited several minutes before cautiously exhaling. Shakily, he slid along the wall towards the bunk. Gathering his courage, the young monk knelt next to the bunk and reached under it for the duffel bag.