Betty Donovan waited for the guard to buzz open the thick gray prison bars that kept the criminals from pouring into the streets. Her smile matched the brilliance of her yellow cardigan and white Capri pants. She held a well-thumbed Holy Bible with gold leaf pages along with a small blue-covered loaner Bible.
The door locked itself open inviting her to walk through. She waved to the video camera, at the guard she knew was watching her. She walked lightly in her yellow pumps on the shiny gray concrete floor to the next set of armored doors. The magnetic lock snapped as she approached. She pulled the door open and smiled at the prison guard behind glass so thick it distorted his appearance.
“Sure thing Ms. Donovan,” his metallic voice said through the speaker.
“How’s Tina feeling?”
“She’s good, but ready to get that baby out.”
“I’ll keep her in my prayers.”
“We appreciate that ma’am.”
“How many times do I have to tell you that I’m just Betty now. I left all that formal stuff back in Austin.”
“I know. It’s just habit after all those visits as first lady you know?”
“Well that’s one habit you’re welcome to break, it’s just little old me now. How many do we have today?”
“Only one?” Betty said looking into the window to the inmate day room.
“It’s getting tougher to find anyone who was raised religious now-a-days, even in Texas.”
“Well, you know what the good Lord said, ‘wherever there are two or more
gathered together, so will I be also.’ I guess it’ll have to be me, him and the Lord today.”
Bruce, dressed in a bright orange prison jump suit, rose to his full six feet-two inches from the metal picnic table-style table bolted to the concrete floor as Betty approached.
With no hesitation, Betty extended her hand, “Hello, I’m Betty and I’ll be leading the Bible study this afternoon.”
“Hi, I’m Bruce,” he said as they shook hands.
“Please sit, Bruce. I brought an extra Bible for you if you want one.”
Bruce smiled. “Thank you, but I don’t think I’ll need it.”
“Do you have all the verses memorized or something?” Betty said.
“A lot of them.”
Betty looked at him skeptically.
“You can test me if you like,” he said.
Betty flipped through her large black leather-covered Bible. “Okay, Psalms Twenty-three.”
Bruce stared into Betty’s eyes and recited, “‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me’…come on give me a difficult one.”
She raised her eyebrows and crinkled the thin pages as she flipped through them. “Okay, Second Timothy chapter one, verse seven.”
Bruce smiled, “This is one of my favorites. ‘For God hath not given us the spirit of
fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
“Okay, smarty pants, how can you do that?”
“I spent some time in a monastery in Italy.”
“Were you a monk?”
“I used to be.”
“What’s a former monk doing in here?”
“I was convicted of involuntary man slaughter for killing a man in El Paso.”
“Did you do it?”
Bruce leaned forward and whispered. “I altered the brakes on a car I borrowed and then hit a man and claimed the brakes failed.”
“But why did you do that?” Betty asked, still whispering.
“I had to make it look as though it were an accident. I can’t fully fulfill God’s mission while doing hard time.”
“What mission do you believe you’re doing for God?”
“I am a recaller.”
“What’s a recaller?”
“I recall recalcitrant souls. And what are you doing here Betty? Why do you choose to spend your time here?”
“I used to be the First Lady of Texas, so volunteering was my main job. But now, I do it because I just want to help others.”
“Did you and the governor get voted out?”
“No. The son of a bitch divorced me just after he won his second term. He told me that he had found someone else, his young campaign manager. But, I never liked politics anyway. I just went along with it because that’s what he wanted to do. Anyway, that’s all in the past. I’m interested in your situation. Who tells you who needs to be recalled?”
“And where do you recall them to? Heaven?”
“No, heaven doesn’t exist like most people think it does.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve been blessed with the ability to remember who I was before I came to this life as God’s recaller. We are gathered together as glowing auras of light in a conglomerate of support groups. Our souls learn through observance of other souls’ examples until we are ready to choose the next life where we will be tested.”
“That sounds a lot like reincarnation. You believe in reincarnation?”
“There’s more to it than that, but that is one interpretation we have come up with here on Earth.”
“I don’t believe in reincarnation. I believe there is a heaven, just like the Bible says, paved with gold.”
“There isn’t anything wrong with believing that Betty.”
“Well, good, because that’s what I believe,” she said and the furrowed her brow at her next thought, “How can you do evil things and think you’re doing good?”
“Why do you believe God has no hand in anything evil? If he is the creator of all things, he must obviously be the creator of both good and evil. People ask, ‘why do bad things happen to good people?’ The answer is personal growth.”
“I’m not sure I understand.”
Bruce held his hands up as if he was holding an invisible ball. “Imagine you’re looking down on Earth and can hear people’s thoughts. What would you hear?”
“You’d hear billions of good people trying to make their way in the world. And you’ll also hear billions of others plotting to make their personal lot in life better at the expense of others. What we don’t realize is that peace, harmony and its by-product, true happiness, cannot be attained without love. But love is not a zero sum game. There is no equal and opposite reaction to love. When love is applied to the equation it is re-directed and multiplied exponentially.”
Betty smiled. “You believe love conquers all, but you also believe that you’re sent on a mission from God to kill people for the good of society?”
Bruce smiled. “Life is full of paradoxes Betty. But I am not a foot soldier, blindly executing orders without context. I have communed with the Almighty and have been given this difficult task for my own growth.”
“You know you sound like a crazy person, right?”
“Yes, but that is none of my concern. I realize that there are many who are not yet developed enough to comprehend this.”
“Comprehend what? Vigilantism?”
“No. Underdeveloped souls cannot be allowed to hinder human progress toward the realization that love is the answer to the refinement and ultimate perpetuation of positive human development.”
“No offense, but I think if there is a hell, you’re headed there.”
Bruce smiled. “It’s not easy stuff to accept, but just like heaven, hell doesn’t exist either. It took me a few lifetimes to understand this.”
“What does the prison psychiatrist think about all of this?”
“I tell her what she wants to hear.”
“Most would call that lying.”
“Most do not realize that lying is not a damning sin. In fact, there are no damning sins.”
“Because there’s no hell right?”
“Precisely. We are here to develop our souls, to grow as loving beings, not count our transgressions and atone for them on our knees, chanting prayers as if we could take it all back with enough penitence after the fact.”
“I think many would disagree with you.”
“Yes, I know. I can’t help it that our species are mainly a large flock of sheep. We trust habit and tradition regardless of whether it makes sense or not.”
“So, you don’t believe in sins?”
“The only thing that counts is that we develop ourselves and help develop others in this personal battleground on Earth. The highest form of development is to love others above yourself and the lowest is to sacrifice others for personal gain. If an undeveloped soul threatens a critical path for someone else while exercising free will, there will be an intervention. That intervention is me.”
“I guess I don’t understand fully.”
“Someone like me was sent to kill Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Trotsky, Che Guevara and John F. Kennedy.”
“What’s wrong with JFK?”
“We poured our money and effort into putting men on the moon simply to honor the legacy of a superb leader. Collectively, JFK was worth more to us as a revered memory. Exactly why he was recalled.
“What about Hitler? Or Stalin? Why didn’t someone recall them?”
“Those two were allowed to reign for some time specifically to serve as examples of how not to be. Sometimes negative examples are more potent than positive ones. Look at the phenomenal experience millions of people were able to gain all over the world from their personal struggles during World War Two.”
Betty shifted in her seat, suddenly a bit uncomfortable.
“We should get back to our Bible study.”
“Okay, I have an example from the Bible, Judas Iscariot.”
“What about him?”
“What did he do?”
“He betrayed Jesus.”
“Yes. And people hated him for this. But what was he really doing?”
“He was fulfilling prophesy.”
“Yes. He accomplished his specifically assigned task of betraying Jesus. He chose that life to live. His aura changed colors the moment he betrayed Jesus. He grew as a soul. His grief was epic and his legacy eternal.”
“You admire Judas?”
“He is one of my all time heroes. His betrayal allowed Jesus to fulfill the prophesy and positively affect billions throughout the course of history. The ones who administrate organized religion are the ones who have distorted his sacrifice.”
“I don’t know if I believe what you believe. But the Bible tells me to be tolerant and compassionate even to those who may not believe exactly as I do.”
“That’s an excellent interpretation Betty. I think the world would benefit from a healthy dose of tolerance. Who is to say there is only one right way to think and believe?”
“Well, I do my best. It’s not easy to be tolerant.”
“The real challenge is to continue to love when everything in your being screams to not love. It’s a challenge I overcame the life after I was burned at the stake during my time as Giordano Bruno.”
“Why were you burned at the stake?”
“For not agreeing with the beliefs of the Catholic church at the time. There’s a statue that commemorates my sacrifice at the exact spot where they burned me in a field that is now Campo dei Fiori piazza in Rome.”
“Where did you and the church disagree?”
Bruce smiled. “Reincarnation among other things. So, after two hundred and thirty years of counseling with my soul support group, we decided it was time I put the ordeal behind me. They helped me choose my next life as a French mercenary tasked to protect the Pope. I eventually laid down my life for the legacy that tortured and killed me in my previous life as Giordano Bruno. My aura changed color from a relatively under-developed pale red to a progressing light yellow the moment of my sacrifice.”
“Looking at it that way, I think my aura changed a shade when I found out about my rat-bastard of an ex-husband cared more for politics than for me.”
“If you do something about your ex-husband, then that is aura-changing growth for the soul. I believe I can help you with that.”
“You can help me with what?”
“There is a reason I’m in Texas Betty. I can see that now.”
“It was to meet you.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because it was revealed to me that my next assignment is your rat-bastard ex-husband.”
Betty sat in her living room after church re-reading the verses in Mark 14 that relayed Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. A loud knock pulled Betty from her thoughts and made her jump. She tip-toed to the door and pulled the curtains back extra slow so as not to show its movement. She expected to see Girl Scouts or the Tee Ball crowd selling candy bars. But her heart did flips when she saw Bruce standing on her porch with blood dripping from his hands. She took a deep breath before she opened the door.
“Hello Betty,” he said in a calm, metered tone.
“Hi. Did you escape or something?”
Bruce smiled. “No. I was paroled yesterday.”
“I didn’t realize you were up for parole,” she said, her voice barely audible against the constant wail of a police siren in the distance.
“Do you think I could come in and we can talk while I wash my hands?” he said and showed me his hands glistening with wet, red blood.
Betty ignored the few drops of blood dropping onto her porch. “Of course, I’m sorry, where are my manners?” She said and opened the door wider so he could slide past her and into the house.
“Thank you Betty,” Bruce said as he looked her in the eyes.
Betty just smiled. “You can use the sink in the kitchen. It’ll be easier to clean up any blood in there,” she said and pointed down the hall.
Betty peered out the window and saw local black and white police cars speed past the house with lights flashing and sirens blaring. She then focused on the several shiny dots of fresh blood on her porch.
“Oh no,” she said.
Betty rounded the corner into the kitchen and saw Bruce washing his hands with a lather of suds and a small scrub brush for the blood that had seeped under his fingernails.
Betty pointed to Bruce’s hands. “Who was it?”
“Just someone who still needed to learn a thing or two about love,” he said as he kept scrubbing.
A loud knock on the front door cut their conversation short.
Bruce looked over at Betty, “Just let them take me. My mission is my own responsibility to bear. This is the life I have chosen to live.”
“I know what needs to be done,” she said and pulled a long filet knife from the knife block on the counter.
“What’s that for?” Bruce said, looking at the knife.
“You’re not the only one who must make difficult decisions,” she said and pulled the blade hard across her left palm.
Betty bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut as her brain absorbed the sudden onslaught of searing pain from the deep slash she inflicted on her hand. A beautifully random pattern of blood fell on her immaculate kitchen floor like reluctant raindrops.
Betty gingerly opened the front door with one hand and cradled her wounded hand, wrapped in a white dishtowel with bright red splotches seeping through.
The police man’s eyes got wide as he instinctively placed his shooting hand on his weapon when he saw the blood dripping from Betty’s hand, mixing with Bruce’s blood on the porch.
“Is everything okay Ms. Donovan?”
“Yes, yes, officer. I’m just a bit clumsy today. I was cutting open a bag of potting soil and got my hand pretty good.”
“Do you need an ambulance?”
“No, no. I don’t even think I’ll need stitches. Thank you though. What’s going on? Why all the sirens?”
“It seems there’s a dangerous person at large somewhere. That’s all we know right now. We don’t have a description, so I must ask you to stay indoors. If you see anything suspicious, call us right away.”
“Oh, I will officer. But first I think I’ll head for the hospital to get my hand looked at.”
“Be sure to lock your doors and windows when you get home.”
“Oh, I will.”
“Are you sure we can’t call you a ride?”
“No, I’ll be okay, thank you officer.”
Betty closed the door and went to the laundry room off the kitchen. Bruce was leaning on the washing machine, waiting.
“Come on, we’re going for a ride.”
Betty pulled out of her garage, down her driveway and onto the street. She waved to the same police officer as she drove out of her neighborhood. A few minutes down the road she parked behind an eighteen-wheeler, where she couldn’t be seen from the road, and got out to open the trunk.
“Okay, you can get up front now.”
Bruce climbed out of the trunk and settled into the front passenger seat.
Betty smiled. “Where to partner?”
“What do you mean partner?”
“Where are you headed? How will you get there? Do you have money?”
“You don’t have to help me Betty. In fact, it’s better for you if you don’t.”
“I don’t think you’re in a position to tell me what I want.”
Bruce shot an anxious look outside. “We’ll have to discuss this on the way then.”
“On the way to Austin? The governor’s house? I know a secret way in,” she said and cracked a devious smile.
“A ride to the county line will be fine. I’ll tell them I made you take me.”
“If you’re right that there’s no heaven or hell and God’s going to recall him anyway, why wouldn’t I help you recall that son of a bitch of an ex-husband of mine?”
Bruce smiled. “I think your aura’s changing as we speak.”
Todd Tavolazzi is a full-time Naval Officer stationed in Naples, Italy and a part-time writer. He usually writes with a drink and a smoke.