Two passions, p.2
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       Two Passions, p.2

           Ted Reynolds
 
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It would be really unfair to have escaped into a body that was due for a heart attack any moment. At that thought, he leafed through Cassidy’s wallet again for any signs of health problems –diabetes or something — but found nothing like that. There was a driver’s license, but he sure wasn’t going back to look for a car. There was an organ-donor card, but he tore that up at once on deep instinctive principle.

  As the wail of a siren diminished into silence the prisoner looked down at hands which had never before been his. He flexed the muscles and the fingers curved; these meat-slabs had crushed the life out of a man and two women. Feeling their power from within, he could well believe it. But he still couldn’t believe that they were now his.

  He paced back and forth from barred door to barred window. He wished for a mirror, though it was obvious what had happened. Obvious, even if impossible.

  He rested his forehead against the bars in thought. God is also able to do this then. I did ask for it, with all my soul, for a mere instant anyway, and God has allowed it to happen. But I asked for it. I will have to live with the results of that asking. I can only hope I can remain strong enough, for long enough.

  Surely God would not allow anything totally terrible to happen to him, when he had expressed himself in that way only from sympathy and pity. He hoped he had not been acting from spiritual pride. If so, surely only in venial degree. He would try to live up to God’s expectations, whatever they might turn out to be, for this rather unprecedented situation.

  With seeming irrelevance, a recollection swam up from years before.

  Sixteen-year old Peter had been helping an older fellow (one who knew what he was doing, and could hammer a nail straight) in constructing a conservatory as annex to a friend’s house. The day they finished the clerestory the other guy went home, leaving Peter to sweep off the roof and stow away the tools. It was a late autumn evening, and he was bundled up in a parka for warmth. He collected up the tools and headed for the ladder.

  This ladder’s base was wedged tightly onto a second-story ledge eight feet down, from which it was a drop of another story to the back yard. With purposeless unreason, he started down the ladder as if it were stairs, facing outwards. The parka hood, thrown back, caught on the projecting top of the ladder with an abrupt tug. As his feet and hands both lost hold of the ladder, it jerked away from the gutter into a perfect vertical, dangling him like a rag puppet from his parka hood.

  The view was extensive from where he hung. Yards and lawns and windows were empty for blocks in the dim twilight. His mind projected the coming trajectory of himself and ladder, a smooth curve down into a predestined cluster of yard equipment, hard, sharp, and painful. This is really a dumb way to die, he had thought. I hope no one’s watching.

  This lasted some one tenth of a second, while the ladder considered which way to topple.

  Clowns. Stilts.

  Without consciously thinking it out, his hands had grasped the sides of the ladder, and he was working it about, in tiny little steps on the ledge far below, until he faced in toward the wall. Then he placed his palms on the wall and let the ladder lean back against the house. He wasn’t yet on the ground, but extrication was merely a matter of cautious time.

  He looked about again. It seemed he could see for miles. He had almost killed himself, and no one anywhere had noticed. He didn’t even have to tell anybody.

  He felt now as he had at that earlier moment, betrayed by a stupid and inadvertent impulse, dangling by the back of his neck over an abrupt descent to doom. He was absolutely terrified.He really missed his rosary.

  In a way, though, there was a pleasing aspect to his predicament. God seemed to have chosen Peter Cassidy for a very unusual way of demonstrating his faith. It’s surely more interesting than being shot full of arrows, or being crucified upside down… Oh, oh, spiritual pride was creeping in again. Nos pardone, Domine.

  He ran his hands up and down the rusty bars, anticipating. The man now wearing the priest’s cassock (the priest’s body!) should be back before dawn, to prepare him for death. He shuddered at a new thought. The condemned man was to be shriven by someone he knew was neither qualified nor worthy. Though, come to think of it, the hands once laid on him in sacrament had only touched his body; perhaps it was the body which held the priesthood, rather than his soul. He had no idea. The point had never, to his recollection, been raised in Seminary.

  But how could his own priestly body justifiably confess and absolve his own sinful soul? Could that possibly be a valid sacrament? It seemed highly unorthodox. But then this whole business was confusing in the extreme.

  Most likely, the other won’t be back in the morning anyway. No man could have the stomach for carrying out such a charade, particularly as he can’t know the procedure. He’ll call in ill, or simply fail to show up.

  If he does show up, the prisoner thought, I will know by his eyes how he plans to run with his new life. If he is really redeemed through my sacrifice... I guess I can accept that. But if he means to carry his old sins into his new incarnation, what then? Ask him to change back? He will certainly not agree. And l am sure that it took two passionate desires to allow the first transfer

  He wondered if Masserman’s soul could be redeemed in Cassidy’s old body. He hoped the murderer would make good use of this second chance. He didn’t think he grudged the other’s inheritance of his life, his salary, and . . . Lord, what kind of a priest will he make? Or will he run amuck again, and make a murderer of what was once me? Everyone will blame me for whatever he does. Everyone but my God.

  Or will He also hold me responsible?

  Oh, Lord, let this cup pass … His throat unexpectedly felt very dry. These lips did not seem framed for prayer.

  He stiffened suddenly as a dire thought struck him. Suppose he had taken on not only the other’s body and death, but his sins as well! He desperately strove to recapture what he had felt at that critical instant, how far his self-sacrificial willingness had extended. Surely not to damnation!

  He thought of the last walk in the morning. He believed, he barely believed, he could do that with dignity as an innocent man, a substitute for another in body . . . but, please God, not in soul, not carrying another man’s sins to account for at his own judgment. He tried to kneel to pray, but this body did not seem to be able to kneel.

  He was running pretty much on instinct. Just escaped from prison, supposed to be legally iced in the morning, what he needed most was a place to hide. Cagel was the smartest man he knew, Cagel owed him from way back, Cagel would know what to do next. So he headed for the block of bars, pawnshops, and seedier establishments that Cagel unofficially managed. Beyond that he hadn’t tried to think.

  His escape was not a usual one, he felt, but how unusual only began to come home to him when Cagel looked up from the snooker table and smiled at him. Cagel had never before smiled at him, he suddenly realized. More like a nervous twitch was his usual welcome. But here he was beaming like he was glad to see this visitor.

  “Well, good evening, Father,” said Cagel warmly. “What brings you here?”

  And suddenly the doubtful nature of his situation came home to him. It seemed incredible that he hadn’t realized that Cagel wouldn’t immediately recognize him as Masserman. But how could he? This was Cassidy’s body, after all. He was caught between two ways to go, to appeal as Masserman or to dissemble as Cassidy, and both ways suddenly flung so many problems at him that he was struck open-mouthed and speechless between them.

  How could he possibly convince Cagel who he really was?

  Did Cagel happen to know Father Cassidy personally?

  Might Cagel turn him in as Masserman?

  What did he have on Cagel if he turned ugly?

  Was Cagel at all religious about these affairs?

  He stood totally dazed so long that Cagel had to say “Sit down, Father. You look like Hel I mean, you look real rotten. Let me get you something.”

  He let Cagel hurry to the front of the bar, and tri
ed to collect himself. Why should Cagel do anything for a strange priest? But he didn’t think Cagel would believe the truth; he himself wouldn’t have before this experience.

  And then, in another swift change of vision, he saw everything in yet another light. What did Cassidy need from Cagel anyway? It was Masserman who needed to hide, and he was already hidden. He shouldn’t even be here; he should be in Father Cassidy’s place, wherever that might be. No one could ever suspect the priest of being the condemned man, unless he acted suspiciously.--.like in coming here! he thought. He got up to go, just as Cagel came back with a cup of coffee. “Here, Father, this should help you. Say, I’m sorry I said you-know-what. I have no idea what That Place looks like anyway, and I hope I never do,” he added with an attempt at a lighter touch.

  Thinking how to handle this, the man with the coat over the cassock sipped the coffee. It didn’t taste right, but it seemed to help him. Meanwhile, he thought of the one way Cagel might still help him. And it involved almost telling the truth, in a way.

  He looked up from his cup at the surprisingly pleasant Cagel, who had never, he now realized, liked Masserman, but who respected priests.

  “You know Lloyd Masserman?” he asked.

  Cagel’s long face became immediately solemn, almost sad. “Oh, yes, poor guy. I mean, I know he killed
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