Byron took me by the hand and the two of us checked out of the hotel room. Down in the streets below life went on as usual. People walked passed us with big smiles on their faces and went about their business without a worry in the world. The same couldn’t be said for Byron and I. He was about to walk into his father’s congregation after five years of seemingly having evaporated off the face of the earth. I was about to blow my cover and go to prison for the rest of my days. I took a deep breath and followed Byron’s lead.
“I haven’t been here in an eternity,” he spoke as he racked his brain, “I might have to ask for directions.”
“Damian Welker has a hideout somewhere around here apparently,” I spoke as I looked around the buildings myself, “it seems like both our lives begin and end here.”
“We can worry about him later, for now if I don’t find my folks in the very near future I might as well back out.”
“It’s a little too late for that Byron. It’s me who’s by your side now, don’t forget that.”
Byron flashed me a smile as he squeezed my hand. After about half an hour of walking or so, Byron spotted the church. It was just a little brown building like any other in the decor of the street. It wasn’t some fancy street with stained glass windows and statues of Jesus on the cross made out of pure gold. It was just across the street from where we were yet it seemed to be a world away. Nothing had registered in my mind by that point. I was about to turn myself in yet my mind still felt like it was running away.
“I don’t have a clue how I’m going to explain any of this to my folks,” Byron’s voice was cracking up, “talking to the police is one thing but telling your mom and your dad that you killed somebody is something else.”
The cars honked angrily as Byron and I ran across the street pretty much in the middle of the place but as I did so I felt like a burden was lifted off my shoulders. There was a certain aspect of comfort involved in reaching the end of the road.
“I never thought I’d see this day!” Byron exclaimed with a mixture of joy and longing.
“I never thought that this would be my life,” I whispered to myself in response.
The two of us barged into the building about an hour before the service was about to begin. A man in his sixties immediately rushed over to us and happily greeted us. The look on Byron’s face indicated that his entire world was falling apart. That man was not his father. The pastor had no idea who either one of us were. It wasn’t him. I felt like I was about to faint because I was so sure that everything was going to end the moment we walked into that church. But both our suffering was prolonged. Byron looked like he was about to cry. He had been so sure and so ready to see his parents again but he had been disappointed. The man presented himself as Esteban Ravenshaw and invited us to have a seat in the very small church and talk for a while before he was to hold the regular Sunday morning meeting.
“I’m looking for a man named Andrew Davis-Harris,” Byron did his best to prevent his voice from cracking as he spoke, “he used to be the leader of this church.”
“Sorry son,” Esteban replied in a neutral tone, “Andrew hasn’t worked here in some four plus years. I can give him a call for you and leave your number with him to call you back however.”
“I was hoping to speak to him in person, but that’s fine, I’ll catch up with him another time.”
“Since he lost his oldest son the man has been having some hard time coping but there is no doubt in my mind that he’ll be happy to reconnect with you if he used to be your spiritual leader.”
The three of us sat down in the chairs arranged in a circle in the small room while Esteban spoke about how he found the Lord some thirty years ago. The room smelled like old mold but it was probably just the dirty carpeting. Crosses and decorations and picture frames with Bible verses adorned the dark paneling walls everywhere. I couldn’t sit still so I went and took a look around the place hoping to find a distraction. In the pastor’s office there was a picture on the wall of a young Byron with his parents and younger siblings. Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning was written underneath the frame. It was such a shame that Byron’s father hadn’t been there because he would have definitely rejoiced at seeing his son again, especially if he had thought that his son was dead for five years.
“My daughter, your face is troubled,” I hadn’t noticed Esteban beside me, “is there anything I can help you with?”
“I don’t know,” I muttered softly under my breath.
I was at a complete crossroads in my mind. That little church wasn’t the end of the road, and I no longer knew what to do.
“Let’s take a look at a verse in Matthew,” the man went on, “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
“Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul,” I muttered out a verse from Job that I’d learned from Byron, “to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the gave?”
“Job makes some very valid points my dear, but don’t forget that although your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be.”
“Is there really hope for the hopeless?”
“Jesus said that even the hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows. Tell me what’s going on with you and I promise to do everything in my power to help you.”
“I’ve done something so terrible, and it haunts me.”
“Good news! There is nothing too terrible or atrocious for God’s love, mercy, grace and forgiveness. Confess to Him your sins and you will be washed clean. How about you and your friend stay for the meeting and then all of us can finish this conversation?”
“What did you say your names were?”
“Ana and Byron.”
The man’s eyes lit up when he heard Byron’s name. It was unknown if he made the connection between Byron wanting to see Andrew Davis-Harris and that man having a missing, and presumed dead, son also named Byron. Either way, the man didn’t let that distract him from sharing the message Jesus shared to his people that morning.
“You seem to have impressed him with your Bible knowledge,” Byron tried to lighten the mood as the pastor was speaking with a group of other people.
“I think he was more impressed at meeting Andrew’s son than the few melancholic verses that I know,” I muttered in response, “so what are you going to do about this?”
“I don’t know. This wasn’t what I was expecting.”
“I think I’m going to get out of here because I simply can’t sit still anymore. I need some air.”
The two of us got up and left in a flash. We walked back to where we had parked the car the night before and we both sat in it without saying a single word for the longest time. Byron felt just as empty as I did and I didn’t have much more of a clue on what to do next any more than he did.
“Do you want to hide out in another hotel room until we figure out what to do next?” Byron asked me softly just to break the silence, “I’ll get us some more food for the rest of the day.”
I nodded my head but I didn’t speak.
“I’ll also make a point to get us a better room for tonight,” Byron joked as he started the car, “one with a TV at least. We should be prepared for whatever we’re going to see on the news tonight.”
What was going to be broadcasted on the news at six was exactly what I was afraid of. Were they onto me? What was the best thing to do? Run and hide or turn myself in? Both of those options had worked out awfully for me in the past. What about the people I cared about still out on the streets? What would happen to them if they caught me?
“I guess there is a time to tear and a time to mend,” I muttered to Byron, “but I don’t know what time it is now.”
“And a few verses after that,” Byron spoke gently, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. No one can fathom what he has done from beginning to end.”
“And you know Byron, that’s exactly what scares me. Some people are tempted to say that what you don’t know can’t hurt you but what you’re not prepared for is what can cut you the deepest.”
“In that case maybe the best thing to do at this point is to try and figure out what the authorities know and you can figure out your next move.”
Byron grabbed some drive-thru Wendy’s before checking into a much nicer hotel room. There were two large beds, a nice big couch, a microwave, a phone, a TV with some 500 channels, a small table with two chairs, room service available around the clock and a beautiful view of the city. I immediately dropped my bag next to the door when I came into the room and flopped down on one bed to tune into some local and national news channels. The navy blue bedsheets were soft and had a floral pattern with a vintage twist. The floorboards were made out of varnished natural wood and one wall made out of beautiful brown bricks. I felt like royalty for a moment even though the room was far from being the king’s palace. As I was laying on the bed next to the phone I contemplated prank calling somebody just for the hell of it but first I had to face what I was going to see on the news.
Just as I feared, the first thing I saw on the news was a special report about the gruesome discovery of a city councillor’s body on an abandoned factory lot in a little hick town called Cobalt. Byron and I were glued to the screen up to the very last second of that broadcast. The female reporter said that so far the authorities had no suspects but they were investigating the possible links to other recent crimes. The reporter did mention however that the city councillor had received a piece of blackmail telling him to bring a hundred thousand dollars to the factory in exchange for silence. What the TV didn’t tell Byron and I was that I was the one who had sent him that, but deep down, I knew that he knew. The broadcast finished with a showing of Damian Welker’s mugshot saying that he was wanted for weapon’s trafficking and that there might be a link between his weapons and the one used in the murder.
“I gave him ninety thousand dollars but it seems like I’ve only dug the trenches deeper down,” I muttered as that broadcast came to an end, “how long Byron?”
“A day or two,” his voice was broken, “somebody’s gonna talk and somebody’s gonna put you at the crime scene.”
“And if I kill myself am I going to hell?”
“Look, Ana, it’s not my place to tell you where you’ll go. All I can say is that if you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your savior, all of your sins are forgotten.”
“Seriously? Even murder in cold blood?”
“Isn’t that what the pastor said? Yes, even murder in cold blood. I don’t recommend suicide though. There’s still a life out there for you.”
“There is no life behind bars Byron. There’s nothing behind bars.”
“God has a way of making things work out for the better you know. Sure I’ve been out here for five years having to make bad choices in order to live another night and to protect the guys but God has given me so much to look forward to. And even when I go to prison, I know that God will use my life to make a difference.”
I didn’t speak.
“If you’re such a righteous man,” I began apprehensively after a long moment of silent contemplation on my behalf, “why the hell haven’t you turned us in? All of us?”
“Because my work here wasn’t done,” Byron spoke gently, “my life still hadn’t served its purpose. But now I have a feeling that my time out here is done.”
“Go home to your family Byron, I’ll figure out what to do in the few days before the cops find me. I shouldn’t be that hard to hunt down.”
“I’m staying with you until the very end Drifter! You should know that by now! You saved my life! I know that God put the two of us in that alley that night for a very special purpose.”
I took an extended bubble bath and ended up making the bubbles flood the bathroom when I turned on the jacuzzi feature in the tub but I had a good time and a good laugh. I ate more food than I should have all at once and I watched a variety of things on TV. When it was time for the evening news to come on I changed the channel to see what kind of new dirty, if any, the authorities had on me, my people or Damian Welker.
Tonight we have an update on a story that we brought to you this afternoon. The local police department has established a possible link between the murder of city councillor Dwayne Jackson and the mass grave of bodies discovered over a week ago. Authorities now say that they have a few persons of interest, however, they aren’t releasing their identities or their pictures just yet. Now let’s go to Jeanine Carling who is in Cobalt tonight reporting on the police’s newest findings. Jeanine, it is to my understanding that this crime was premeditated and that the culprit didn’t act alone is that right?
Once again Byron and I stared at the TV screen with the blankest of blank expressions on our faces right to the very last moment of the broadcast.
“It sure looks like you’ve uncovered something absolutely horrific,” Byron’s voice was almost filled with fear, “and maybe you’ve started a chain reaction of events of record proportions.”
“I didn’t know about any of those things,” I choked out with a dry throat, “I only wanted to avenge my brother.”
“Do you really think he killed those girls?”
“I don’t know. But I do feel like he had something to do with Richard Parker’s murder. Just the look on his face before I shot him…”
“He was guilty.”
“Oh yeah, caught red-handed. But what disturbs me even more is the fact that he totally hadn’t been expecting me. He was prepared for somebody else.”
“I guess we’ll never know the truth now. I don’t think it’s okay to kill people but it seems like you did this town a solid.”
“Monsters getting rid of other monsters. Why does humanity only bring out the worst in each other?”
“That’s why we need God, and oh Lord I’ve got one heck of a guilty conscience myself. The end looming over your heard just makes it so much worst too.”
“At least our guilt lets us experience God’s forgiveness. I had the corruption and control people do in the name of God though.”
“Me too, and I don’t blame those who want nothing to do with God or spirituality because of that, but I say just talk to God, seek God, and God will guide you. Forget about organized religion and this and that faith. God is mighty enough to guide you to the truth if you only open your heart.”
Byron smiled softly at me. God was really the only hope in such a screwed up situation. What about the rest of my people though? What was going to happen to them? I was guilty for my own actions and I fully understood that but the rest of my people out there had no part in my recent actions. All they had ever wanted was to survive and I did not want to take them down with me. But then again, I should have known better than to think that anything is fair in life. It isn’t.
“Do you think that he would have gotten away with this?” I asked Byron after some more contemplation on my behalf, “I mean, they don’t even think it’s me at this point.”
“This is bigger that either one of us at this point,” Byron’s voice was low and pensive, “some crimes never get solved but one of this magnitude probably won’t be unsolved for long.”
“What if they frame Damian Welker for this?!”
“That’s going to be his mess. He’s already wanted for so many other things.”
“But I can’t just let them blame him for something he didn’t do or even know about! That’s just not right!”
“And where do you get your morals all of a sudden?”
“From up my ass Byron! That man looked out for me when I was with him! I can’t just not look out for him and Connor when they looked out for me in the past. Aren’t you paying me back for looking out for you?”
Byron’s face fell. He knew that I was right.
“I need to find Damian Welker.”