The Road Not Taken
Josiah came out of the bathroom. He was now clean-shaven. His hair and skin were still damp from the shower and he wore only a towel wound around his hips. He walked over to his tote bag and started searching through it for clean clothes, but not before Nathan noticed a large yellow and purple bruise on his lower abdomen.
"Jesus, where did you get that," Nathan exclaimed. "Let me look at it."
"Im fine, a doctor already had a look at it. Its just a bruise."
"Just the same I think I ," insisted Nathan.
"Leave it alone I said!" Josiah tone was sudden angry.
"Itll just take a minute ," Nathan persisted.
"For fuck sake! What dont you understand? I said leave it alone." Turning to the room full of men. "Leave me alone will you? All of you, I didnt ask you to come here and I dont want you here! Just leave! Go back to Denver and mind your damn business!" Clothes in hand, he disappeared back into the bathroom slamming the door behind him.
The six men sat and stood frozen in place, stunned by the sudden and uncharacteristic display of anger from the senior member of the team.
"What the hell was that about?" exclaimed Buck, asking no one in particular.
"Sheriff Santiago did not exaggerate in the least, that was most atypical conduct for Josiah." The lack of a formal title indicating Ezras degree of concern.
"Chris, that bruise looks serious, it could mean internal bleeding, torn muscles, or any number of "
"I hear you Nathan," interrupted Chris raising a hand to stop the worried mans words. He sat with his other elbow on the arm of the chair, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Look, you boys go check us out of the hotel, well get some rooms here for a while."
They stood as they prepared to leave.
"It dont need all of us to check out, you sure you can handle him on your own?"
"Yeah, Im sure Vin."
"Suit yourself," Vin shrugged.
JD was the last one out the door. He turned back to look at Chris. "Look, Chris maybe I could talk to him."
"I appreciate the offer JD, I really do but I think a little more experience is needed right now." Chris put a hand on the kids shoulder and squeezed gently to let him know he meant it when he said he appreciated the offer of help.
"Sure Chris," the kid gave a dejected little nod of his head and left. Chris closed the door quietly behind him.
Chris was left alone to decide what they were going to do next. Christ this wasnt going well, fumed Chris.
Josiah and he had driven alone to Josiahs motel room a short distance down the highway from town. Vin had driven the suburban back with Buck and JD while Ezra and Nathan had followed in Nathans truck. Chris had attempted to first, reassure Josiah that they were only there to help and then to question Josiah as to what had happened. Josiah had remained silent. Only when, in exasperation, Chris suggested that he could always go talk to Rosemary Morales to find out what was going on, did Josiah speak. "Go anywhere near her and I will break your neck."
No, things were not going well at all...
Chris felt out of his depth here. Looking out for the teams emotional and psychological well being was Josiahs department. Josiahs quiet strength and sensitivity had made a strong impression on Chris when they had first met in Kansas City. Chris knew that no matter how well trained a team was, their biggest asset would always be how well they got along together and how they dealt with their personal "stuff." Personal "stuff" was not Chris strong suit. That was one of the two reasons why, much to the surprise of the ATF brass, Chris had made Josiah his second-in-command. The balance had worked well for the team. When any of them needed help that "stuff". Josiah was the one who stepped in. He handled it with style and grace. Heck, half the time he wasnt even aware there was a problem until after Josiah had left his office.
What was he gonna do now? Every man came with his own unique set of assets and right now the asset they needed most, was held by the man they needed it for.
Which one of them would most likely be able to get Josiah to talk? Running down a mental checklist, Chris reviewed his options. Buck, this situation required a subtlety in style that just wasnt Buck. Nathan, maybe, but he seemed the most distraught of them all over Josiahs situation. Could he divorce himself from his feelings long enough to find out what had happened? Vin, not a man for words to say the least. Ezra, by virtue of his up-bring the man was well suited for the duplicity of his chosen profession. This situation needed a level honesty and sincerity that Chris was not sure Ezra was capable of at least not yet. JD, he would speak from his heart, but Chris felt he lacked a maturity that was needed here. That left himself.
What did they know for sure? Josiah had left Denver Thursday morning. Why he left was still unknown. Why he had driven here was still unknown. Two days later theres a report of a man matching Josiahs description at the home of one, Rosemary Morales. A few hours later hes arrested for fighting in a bar. What had happened in those two days? Were they correct to assume Rosemary Morales was connected and if so how?
Josiah was angry, that was obvious. What had Soaring Eagle said to him? "I dont have to tell you what a man uses anger for." Chris knew only too well. A man uses anger as a shield. A shield against fear, hurt and sorrow. So what had happened in those two days to cause him fear, hurt or sorrow?
Just then Josiah came out of the bathroom fully clothed. He started to gather up his wallet and pocket change and look for his car keys.
"Youre looking better," commented Chris.
Josiah only scowled in reply.
Okay, well forget the niceties. Chris shoved his hand through his hair as he tried to figure out how he was going to proceed. "Josiah, whatever is going on, maybe we can help."
"Chris you cant help, none of you can and if you could I wouldnt want it anyway. This is my business, not team business, not ATF business, my personal business. Take the troops and go back to Denver." Josiah paused and stared angrily back at Chris through the mirror on the wall in front of him."
The shield of anger slipped out of place for a moment as Chris starred back at Josiah through the mirror. Chris was shocked at Josiahs worn out appearance. God he looks like an old man! The Sheriff was right, he was suffering. What could have happened to him to effect him so deeply in such a short period of time?
In that vulnerable moment Josiah pleaded, "Just go home, will ya?"
"Josiah I cant leave," Chris spoke quietly, "none of us can leave you here like this. Youre obviously upset "
"UPSET!" Turning to face him, Josiah suddenly exploded on him. "Beeeuuutiful deduction Chris. I was upset so I got drunk and I got into a bar fight. I always do when I get upset. Cant put anything past you Larabee. Nosirree!"
"Okay, you were more than upset "
"You dont get it do you? I BROKE HIS ARM. I wanted to hurt him and I did. He has two children under four and another one on the way. He and his wife bought a small ranch to work so they could earn a little extra money on the side. Now he wont be able to work the ranch for six months and hes on two-thirds of his wage while on sick leave, because I had an attack of ," Josiah stopped suddenly, as if he realized hed said too much.
"An attack of what?" Chris asked, urging Josiah to continue.
"Where are the keys to the suburban?" asked Josiah impatiently ignoring his bosss question, as he turned his back to Chris and resumed his search for the keys.
"Forget the damn keys," ordered Chris. "What got you so upset that you broke that mans arm?" Chris prodded, trying to keep the urgency he felt out of his voice.
Dammit, Chris cursed to himself, I almost had him! "Vin has them," he said, resigned to having lost the opportunity.
"Hes with the others, they went back to town to check out of the hotel."
Josiah abruptly turned and walked out of the motel room and over to the suburban. He knelt down on one knee and reached under the front fender on the drivers side.
Chris stood in the open doorway watching him.
"Wheres the spare key?" Josiah asked, his tone was impatient, as he stood up.
Chris shrugged and shook his head, "I dunno."
Josiah turned and started walking away.
"Where are you going?" Chris called after him.
"The hell away from the all of you!"
+ + + + + + +
The rest of the team found Chris sitting outside Josiahs room on one of the Adirondack chairs that lined the front of the dozen motel units.
They werent surprised to find Josiah was not there and the expression on Chriss face told them all they needed to know.
The six men tumbled back into the motel room dumping their belongings anywhere there was a spot.
"We saw Josiah, or at least Vin did," reported JD. "Hes just sitting on a big rock out in the desert looking off toward the mountains."
"I gather your discussion with Mr. Sanchez did not go well."
"Not well at all, Ezra," replied Chris glumly.
"Were lucky he didnt take off in the suburban," said Buck as he tossed his duffel into a corner.
"He tried but Vin had his keys."
"What kept him from using the spare under the front fender?" asked JD.
"It wasnt there."
All eyes turned on Vin.
"No offense Chris, but if he was going to take off, I figured itd take moren just you to stop him," said Vin with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence Tanner."
"Chris," there was an impatient edge to the normally soft-spoken mans voice, an indication that Vin was beginning to feel the stress of the disharmony within the team. "I dont care who it is, itd take more than just one of us to stop any single man on this team if he really wanted to do something."
Chris sighed heavily and pushed his hand tiredly through his hair like theyd seen him do so many times since Josiah went missing. "Sorry Vin, I should be commending you for anticipating Josiahs actions. Youre right there was no way I was gonna keep him here. Taking the keys was a smart move." Youre losing it Larabee, Vin was only backing you up!
"What do we do now Chris?" asked Nathan.
"I havent got any ideas," said Chris sounding discouraged, "any of you got one?"
"You mean other than tying him to a chair and interrogating him until he gives?"
"Oh really Mr. Wilmington and did you have the forethought to bring your rubber hose with you?" Ezras annoyance with Bucks ludicrous suggestion was evident in his voice. The situation was even getting to Ezra.
"Anybody got any serious ideas?" asked Chris.
"What about this visitor, Rosemary Morales, the Sheriff mentioned, maybe we should talk to her?" suggested Nathan.
"She seems to be a pretty sensitive subject with him and Id rather we not do that just yet "
"How about I go check the rest of us in here?" JD whispered quietly to Buck.
"Good idea Kid." replied Buck as he nodded in agreement.
The other men barely acknowledged him as JD slipped out the door.
+ + + + + + +
What, from a distance, had looked like a rock was in fact a section of stone wall, part of old farm house that had been left to erode away over time. It was a convenient place to stop when the futility of trying to escape the good intentions of his brothers on foot finally came home to him.
Josiah had been staring out at the mountains in the distance for nearly an hour before he heard the footsteps approach. Well, who got nominated to challenge the lion in the lions den? He wondered half-heartedly. Why cant they just leave me alone!
He made no move the escape the approaching footsteps and remained seated on top of the wall, his elbows on bent knees, hands hanging loose between his legs. The owner of the footsteps stopped just outside his peripheral vision.
"Josiah?" asked the unsure voice.
"What do you want JD?" asked Josiah, his voice sounded weary, he didnt even turn his head to look at the young man. JD youre the last one I would have thought theyd choose.
JD stayed where he was and looked cautiously up at the big man. "Just to talk to you for a minute. Its not what you think," he added quickly, "the guys didnt send me to talk to you. I hate the way everyone figures just send in the kid cause he always gets to everyone."
Josiah threw him a mildly surprised glance and then resumed his study of the mountain range.
"It only really works with Buck anyway," mumbled JD.
"Look Josiah, the other guys dont even know Im here. I just ," the young man paused for a moment and ran the fingers of both hands through his bangs as he pushed them back from his eyes while he searched for the right words. He then stuck his hands in his jeans' pockets and looked toward the mountains in the same direction as Josiah. "I just had something I wanted to say to you for myself."
A long moment passed before Josiah replied. "Say it then."
"Josiah, if something is troubling a person it sometimes makes it easier to handle if they talk about it. You know that cause youre sort of an unofficial shrink."
JD turned his head to look up at Josiah. JD couldnt tell by Josiahs profile if he was listening or not but JD continued on anyway. "Maybe there is nothing that the rest of us can do to help but wed like the chance anyway, even if its just to listen. Were concerned about you is all, cause like... were family," JD paused briefly and took a deep breath before finishing, "and one thing I know for sure, holding back from family only makes things worse."
There was another long pause before Josiah replied. "JD you dont seem to understand this is personal, very personal and difficult for me."
"Any more difficult than admitting to six people you look up to, hell some of them ya practically idolized, that youre not exactly the person they thought you were?"
JD waited patiently while Josiah seemed to still be studying the mountains. He noticed the subtle change in Josiahs disposition as Josiah realized what JD was referring to.
"Have some faith in us Josiah," JD pleaded in a quiet voice.
With that Josiah closed his eyes, dropped his head and shook it gently. The kid had him. Heed some of your own preachings Sanchez and have some faith in these men.
He then slipped gracefully off the stone wall. He marveled at the wisdom of the youth that stood before him as he cast an admiring look down at the young man, "Well said John Dunne."
Josiah turned and JD turned with him. Josiah reached across behind JD to grab the kid gently at the base of his neck as they started walking back toward the motel. "Lets go have a chat with the rest of the brothers."
"I think thatd be a real good idea."
+ + + + + + +
The others were so engrossed in their discussion they hadnt heard Josiah and JD return until JD tugged at the rickety screen door.
Nathan was standing between the two double beds where he had been pacing a moment before. Chris and Buck sat in the only two chairs the small room provided, while Vin sat cross-legged on top of the low dresser drawers and Ezra reclined on one elbow on the far bed.
All of them looked up, their faces registering their surprise as they recognized JDs companion.
No one spoke as their eyes followed JD and Josiah as they entered the room.
Josiah cleared his throat, breaking the awkward silence that had greeted them. "JD has reminded me of something that I had forgotten," he said answering the unasked question.
Five sets of eyes turned to JD for an explanation but they received only a self-conscious little shrug in reply.
"Chris, as my direct superior you deserve an explanation as to why I went AWOL and as my friends, and my brothers, you all deserve to know whats happened and why."
No one moved. No one spoke. Based on Josiahs previous behaviour, no one dared risk doing or saying anything that might divert Josiah from his present intentions.
"Im not sure where to begin," Josiah said thoughtfully as he rubbed his temple with his good left hand. He then brushed his hand through his hair, over his head until it stopped at the back of his neck. Holding the back of his neck he looked sideways at JD, "as my spiritual guide in this situation, any suggestions JD?"
JD thought a moment before replying. "How about you start with why you came here last Thursday."
"As good place to start as any," he replied with a wink. A spark of the man they all knew reappeared for a moment.
"If you would be so kind Buck," asked Josiah as he indicated the chair Buck was seated in between the window and the head of the bed. He wanted a place where he could look somewhere else other than their faces when he needed to. This was going to be difficult for him.
"Gladly," replied Buck as he vacated the chair and settled instead at the foot of the far bed on which Ezra reclined while Nathan sat down at the head of the bed. Ezra swung his feet to the floor and sat up on the opposite side of the bed to make room for Buck and Nathan. JD found a spot on the floor and leaned back against the wall, leaving the bed closest to Josiah empty. Given recent events they all realized that this was likely going to be hard for Josiah and they wanted to give him as much personal space as possible, as possible that is, for seven men in a small motel room.
The chair had seemed too small for Buck and it seemed even more so for Josiah as he sat cradling his bandaged right hand gently in his left hand. "If there was a place that I felt I could go home to, that place would be here. Last Thursday I needed a place to go home to." He stopped speaking and after thinking for a moment shook his head. "No no," he said thoughtfully, "for you to really understand I need to go back to the beginning." His eyes stared sightlessly off into the room as he focused on the memories in his mind. His voice was its usual steady baritone as he began.
"My father was a fundamentalist minister and for many years the ministry consumed his life, as a result he was 40 years old when he finally married. My mother was more than ten years younger than my father. I was born a year after they were married and it was shortly after that, that he heard the calling to missionary service. We spent our first years in Tibet until the Chinese government forced us to leave. I was only a child but I was profoundly impressed by the ways of the Buddhist Monks. So, from the time I was about six years of age I was convinced the priesthood was my calling."
"Life as a missionary is in some ways very interesting. You learn to adapt quickly to new surroundings and you get to really learn about the people and cultures you come to live in but compared to life in North America its hard, hard on both the body and the soul.
Missionary life was especially hard on my mother. My sister was born in Katmandu. The conditions were primitive and the pregnancy had been difficult. My mother was sick for months afterwards and never really gained her strength back. The Mission House offered to rotate us back to the States for a few years so my mother could recuperate. For reasons that remain a mystery to me to this day, my father declined the offer."
"Mother died just after my tenth birthday, Hannah was four. In my heart I never forgave my father. It was hard to cope with. He kept claiming it was Gods will, but I knew we could have gone home for a few years to allow my mother to gain her strength back and return to our posting later when she was well. I hated him for that decision and I buried that hate for a long time."
"Hannah suffered in other ways, she felt almost totally abandoned. Our mother dead and our father, who had never been an openly affectionate person, withdrew from us even further after his wifes death. My fathers aloofness hurt Hannah. She seemed to need him so much more after Mother was gone. As hard as I tried, I could never seem to give Hannah what she wanted. It seemed to me that it wasnt the amount of love she needed so much as the type. I was her brother, not her parent."
"We returned to the U.S. when I was eighteen. Shortly afterwards I decided it was time to follow my own dreams, I decided to enter the seminary in San Francisco. My father objected. He wanted me to stay with them and pursue my education. Though its natural for father and son to disagree, there was an animosity between us the went way beyond natural father and son conflict."
"The night before I was to leave, my father tried to dissuade me one last time. When I wouldnt relent, he became irate. He grabbed me by the front of my shirt and pushed me up against a wall. I was taller and younger but he had the strength of his anger. He had never before become physical with either my sister or myself. I became so angry I could barely see straight. I hit him, once, with my fist very hard."
Josiah hesitated for a moment. He felt the stunned reaction that rippled through the room in response to his savage treatment of his father. He made an effort to ignore it and carried on.
"I had knocked him to the floor. I remember standing over him angry, so very, very angry and wishing he would get up so I could hit him again. The anger I had buried for such a long time surged to the surface. What right had he to inflict his decisions on me, his choices had led to my mothers early death!"
Josiah took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Even now the memory of the anger I felt that night still affects me."
"He didnt get up; he just lay there staring at me. I still remember, very clearly, the expression of disbelief on his face. I turned away from him, I decided I would leave then and there that night."
"To my shock, standing wide-eyed in the doorway; was Hannah, she had witnessed it all."
"I took her to my room. She was shaking with fright. I tried to comfort her. I tried to explain to her that what she had seen was between Father and myself. It had nothing to do with her. Father loved her and she would be safe with him. She had nothing to fear from him. I truly believed that. I finished packing. I hugged her, I told her I loved her and I left."
"It was the first time Id ever resorted to violence and the first time I consciously turned my back on someone who needed me, all on the eve of my entering training to formally become a man of God." Josiah made a little self-disgusted noise. "The irony is not lost on me."
"I loved the seminary. I loved the study, the ritual, the discipline, I was sure Id found my calling. Novices were assigned to senior priests to guide them and assess their suitability during their first year in the seminary. I was assigned to Brother Ambrose, a man wise beyond his years and from the lack of hair and the many wrinkles on his face Id say his years were many, somewhere between 60 and 160. He did more listening than talking. He never admonished me. He never gave an opinion. Whenever I asked him what the right thing to do was, hed tell me that the journey of this lifetime was mine to make and so the decisions as to what to do were mine."
"At the end of the year, it was decided that I was unsuitable. No to be entirely accurate, unsuitable at that time. I was devastated. Father Ambrose sat and spoke to me for a long time. He assured me he had no doubt of the honesty of my intentions to become a priest and that I had a lot to offer. But I was still very young and though I had seen much of the world I hadnt yet experienced much of life outside of religious service. He urged me to go out and explore what the world had to offer outside the church. I could always apply to the seminary again later. I still remember the last thing he to me "not all priests live as priests inside the priesthood". I didnt really understand what he meant by that at the time but I had no choice, I couldnt stay."
"I was crushed, Id never thought of doing anything else with my life and suddenly it was gone. I had no where else to go so I went home to Father and Hannah."
"My father, as soon as he saw me, slammed the door in my face. I hadnt really expected any better reception from him. Rather than leave right away, I sat down on the front step to figure out what my next move should be and as I have been know to say in the past, "everything happens for a reason". A few minutes later a car pulled into the driveway. There were four or five teenagers in it, the driver looked to be my age. It was 1970, the kids in the car looked like they were into the culture of sex, drugs and rockn roll with both feet. A young woman got out of the car. She had long dirty hair and, torn and dirty clothing and she wore dark sunglasses. She made her way toward me. I suddenly recognized her. She was my thirteen-year-old sister. I was struck dumb. How could this have happened to her in only a year?"
"She stumbled past me as if I didnt even exist. My father must have been waiting for her because he opened the door as soon as she got to it. She was so out of it, I dont think she could have opened it for herself if she wanted to."
"She half stepped, half fell into my fathers arms. When he saw I was still there, he told me to leave, that they neither wanted nor needed me. Only then did Hannah seem to rouse from where ever she was because she called out to me. Father closed the door and locked it. I knew Hannah had recognized me, she called me "Josey". It was her name for me from our childhood, only she had ever called me that."
"I pounded on the door and demanded to be let in. He must have called the police because they arrived within minutes. They made me sit in the squad car while one of the officers listened to my side of the story the other one went and spoke to my father. They conferred for a moment and then both of them came back to the car. They told me that the Reverend didnt know who I was and that he thought I might be trying to take advantage of his mentally ill daughter."
"My own story didnt hold up well under scrutiny. Why would the good Reverend claim not to know his own son? I had no permanent residence, no money to speak of. I protested that the girl could identify me as her brother. The Officer replied that the girl couldnt even tell him her own name. I felt defeated. Now, thirty odd years later, older and wiser, I know I should have pursued the matter further at the time."
"I had very few resources, nearly no money, only distant relatives and having spent most of our lives overseas, no friends in the States. So I did what Brother Ambrose suggested, I went out and experienced life. I enlisted."
Josiah paused a moment and shook his head, "I dont know what I was thinking of. Despite the incident with my father, I wasnt sure I could shoot a gun at anyone. Then by some divine intervention, known as a military snafu, I was selected for helicopter flight school after basic training. I was posted to Viet Nam, co-piloting med-evac flights between field medical units and the evac hospitals."
"I was assigned as co-pilot to Captain Mark Christianson."
"Id been thrown out of the seminary, Id abandoned my sister, Id screwed up with my father and then God sent me Mark. He was just what I needed. He was the ripe old age of 35 and rather than just put up with the tall, skinny, rather naïve co-pilot he took me under his wing, so to speak. He taught me to be a good pilot and more importantly he taught me how to live." A smile from remembered good times spread over Josiahs face as he continued his story. " How to have a good time, how to drink how to throw up, how to flirt with the nurses, and he encouraged other extracurricular activities with the ladies as well. He kept me outta trouble and away from the drugs and the black marketeers."
"God how I loved that man he became my father/mentor/confessor all in one. He listened sympathetically to my endless laments over my screw-ups."
"In turn he shared his family with me. He had a wife, Rosemary, two daughters, Emily and Rebecca and a young son, David. Hed tell me all about them. He showed me pictures of them. Tell me how much he loved them, how beautiful Rosemary was, some of the stories in the letters from home, his dreams for his children, his desire for more children. They came alive for me. I began to think about a family of my own some day. I began to consider options other than the solitary life of a priest that I had once envisioned for myself."
"Midway through my second tour, Base Ops needed a chopper to make a pick-up run. Normally we wouldnt have been considered such a run, the Hueys have no weapons, but intell indicated that it was unoccupied territory and that wed taken the hill just beyond it two days before, so Mark volunteered us. It should have been routine "
"When we arrived at the rendezvous point, all was quiet, so we waited. Mark liked his cigars but regs dictated no smoking inside the choppers. Mark opened up the loading door and jumped out to light up. I stayed in my seat and kept the rotors ticking over, ready to take-off again. Suddenly all hell broke loose. Soldiers came running from cover. Many of them were helping wounded men along, while others provided covering fire. Weapons fire seemed to be coming from everywhere. I looked back wondering where Mark was. I could see he was helping the wounded into the chopper. He ran to help the last man coming toward us. Then they both got hit. The LT shut the door and ordered me up."
With that Josiah paused and swallowed painfully, then he put his bandaged hand over his eyes and took a long, deep, shuddering breath before continuing. He pronounced each word very slowly and distinctly. "I obeyed orders. I left the best friend I had ever had behind not knowing if he was alive or dead."
There was a long moment during which the room full of men remained very still. They, each of them, realized that, rightly or wrongly, Josiah felt responsible for the death of this man. Each of them, in his own way, understood how terrible a burden that was to bear.
Dropping his hand back into his lap he looked out the window, speaking slowly, he continued. "The routine pick-up turned out to be what was left of the squad that had taken the hill. Marks body was recovered and sent home and I received a commendation I had abandoned my friend to certain death. It didnt make much sense "
Josiah turned his attention from the window to no one in particular in the room. He took a deep breath before continuing. "I loved Mark like a brother. It hurt so much to lose him. In my grief, instead of finding comfort in my faith, I turned away from God. I needed someone to blame. How could HE have let this happen?"
"When I turned away from God I turned instead to the bottle. I drank to dull the pain, the pain of loss and the pain of guilt "
Josiahs eyes automatically sought out Chris. Josiah could see the recognition in Chriss eyes. Chris made an almost imperceptible nod in silent understanding.
"It wasnt long before I was deemed unfit for duty and a psychological evaluation was ordered. I was kept on base for the follow-up, it was the way things were done back then. Then one night One night, drunk as usual, I threatened the LT from the mission with a gun. Id decided that it was his fault that Mark was dead and I was going to blow his head off. Somehow I figured this would make things even."
Josiah paused just then and noticed JD seated on the floor, his body tense, a wide-eyed stricken look on his face. JD knows none of us is perfect but I doubt he ever bargained on anything like this.
Josiah continued on, "Years later I would see that even if Id abandoned God, he hadnt abandoned me. Id gone to the LTs quarters to confront him and who should be there already but the base shrink? I dont remember what he said to me, just that he ignored the gun and talked about how I was feeling. He understood so well. His words were calm and reassuring. I remember putting the gun in his outstretched hand "
"Two days later I woke up in the infirmary. I spent the next two weeks there, drying out and talking with the shrink. The LT came to see me. We had along talk about what had happened and about how we both had to find a way to keep it from destroying us. I asked him when he was going to press charges. He just shook his head and said Mark had been his friend too."
"I returned to active duty. Nothing was ever said about the incident with the gun. It was like it had never happened and at the end of my tour I was honourably discharged and sent stateside."
"I was a older now, in a lot of different ways. I wondered pessimistically if this was what Father Ambrose had meant about "going out and living life". I had lost my best friend and my faith in God. I was bitter and I felt empty inside."
"One must suffer the lows of this mortal existence to fully appreciate the highs."
Six sets of eyes turned to focus on Ezra in surprise. He was he who had spoken these sage words of wisdom.
Ezra suddenly realized what he had said and almost seemed flustered by it. "I am sure, I must have read that somewhere." He explained trying to dismiss what he had said as inconsequential.
Josiah watched him thoughtfully, then after a moment his expression warmed. "Nevertheless Ezra, it is quite true."
"My apologies for the interruption Mr. Sanchez, please continue." Ezra was feeling vulnerable and wanted to divert everyone's attention away from himself as quickly as possible.
Josiah straightened in his chair and faced the room again before he continued.
"I had mailed letters home to my father and Hannah every month from Nam but there were never any replies. I wanted, needed, desperately to go home to someone, to something, so I decided to go see Rosemary Christianson and the children. I convinced myself it was my duty. Rosemary deserved to hear what happened first hand if she wanted to. It was the least I could do for Marks widow or so I told myself."
"She was like no woman Id met before. She had long dark hair that seemed to shimmer in the sunlight, lovely brown eyes and her smile... when she smiled you felt like that smile was just for you. Like Mark, she was a patient and understanding soul. She was a wonderful mother to the children. The kids were a hoot. They were everything Mark said they were. The girls were lively and outgoing. They looked like their mother. David was very serious four year old and the spit and image of his Dad with his mothers eyes."
"Rosemary seemed to understand this rootless young soldier needed a place to call home for a while. There was a bachelor apartment over the garage for rent so she invited me to stay until I figured out what I wanted to do."
"I found part-time work at a local garage and gas station and when I wasnt working I helped out around the house. One skill you learn in missionary life is self-sufficiency. I did some of the cooking, some minor repairs around the house, built a jungle gym in the backyard for the kids; I even managed to keep her old station wagon running most of the time. I always liked working with my hands, trying to fix things or make something with what you had on hand. I watched the kids for her once in while so she could get away on her own. Marks pension didnt stretch very far so she had gone back to teaching school. In the evenings wed have coffee on the patio together after supper. Wed share our days with each other. She encouraged me to go to college. I teased her about her age. Id found a relaxed loving family life that Id never experienced before. She made me feel apart of it. I couldnt remember ever feeling quite so happy before. Life seemed perfect."
There was another pause as he focused on something through the window. "It began innocently enough," he said quietly.
"An affair JD, we had an affair. I fell in love deeply hopelessly in love. To me she was the one. Despite the ten-year age difference, I wanted to marry her. I wanted to share my life with her. I wanted to be father to her children, to Marks children. I even dreamed that we would have children of our own."
"Before I got around to formally proposing I received news through the VA. My father had died and my sister needed me. I had to go. I left with every intention of returning with Hannah."
"I arrived in San Francisco just in time for the funeral. I was confused because Hannah was nowhere to be seen. Afterwards a man about my age approached me and introduced himself. He had been the driver of the car that had dropped Hannah off at home nearly six years before. I thought it odd that hed be at my fathers funeral, when he so clearly had been a contributor to my sisters problems. I asked him where she was. He looked surprised and replied "You didnt know man, the Rev had to have her committed to a mental hospital six months ago." I was dumbfounded."
"Ed stayed after the funeral and talked with me for quite a while. Hannah had been friends with his younger sister. After I went away to the seminary, Hannah had started having problems in school. At first it was thought to be a learning disability, then it became obvious she was having perceptual difficulties, difficulties with bright light and trouble focusing on her school work."
"It was 1976 but the understanding of mental illness was barely out of the dark ages. My father, had initially been advised by doctors to keep Hannah on a mild tranquilizer and be firm with her. Keep her close at hand and provide a disciplined atmosphere to help her deal with the symptoms. Father wouldnt lock her up and treat her like prisoner though. He had enlisted the help of the neighbours, if Hannah was found away from home without him, he asked that they let him know where she was so he could go get her. The day I came back Ed had found Hannah wandering more than a mile away and not wanting to leave her alone, he had brought her home himself."
"I felt like five kinds of an ass, all this had been going on and Id had no idea, not even a clue. I hadnt been there for Hannah when she needed me and worse yet, Id misjudged my father. I had thought the worst of him and I had let him down when he probably could have used all the support he could get."
"Josiah, cut yourself some slack, your father hadnt exactly gone out of his way to let you know what was going on." Buck was hoping to console his friend to some degree.
"I spose not but it still doesnt excuse my selfishness. Not going to see them even once, in the two years after Id gotten home, not even to check in on them. I saw everything only as it related to me, I had lived only for myself."
"Is that not an entitlement of the young Mr. Sanchez?" asked Ezra.
"Maybe so Ezra, but that attitude was about change."
"I went to see Hannah. I discovered the sister I once knew, was no more, she seemed completely disconnected from the world around her." There was an almost clinical calmness to his words.
"My father hadnt had much money, the Home she was in was clean and she was well cared for but nothing was being done to treat her illness. I spoke with her doctor, I got second and third opinions. The answers were pretty much the same and inconclusive."
"I sold the house and moved Hannah to a better facility, where they would try to work with her and treat her symptoms. Hannahs care began to consume me. I bluffed my way into a job as a repairman for a refrigeration company to support Hannah and myself. I registered in University part-time taking psychology courses hoping to gain a better understanding of Hannahs needs. After a time my interests and course of study included criminal behaviour."
"The days became weeks and weeks became months. In the beginning I wrote to Rosemary every week and then every two weeks and then once a month until one day I realized it had been nearly six months since Id written to her and three years since Id said I would be back."
"Id been fooling myself. I wasnt going back, my commitment to my sister wouldnt allow me to go back. I finally wrote Rosemary and told her just that, and I didnt want to try to fool her any longer."
Anger crept into this voice now. "I was doing the right thing I told myself. No sense going back and opening old wounds and making it harder for everyone. The kids probably wouldnt even remember me. What it was, was the easy way out the cowards way out." He tone was tinged with self-disgust.
"Josiah, ya only did what ya had to do, you were as up front with the lady as ya could afford to be." Vin quietly voiced the thought shared by the rest of them, that Josiah was judging himself too harshly.
"You think so Vin?" There was an undertone of anger in his voice as he glanced at Vin.
"Go on Josiah," urged Nathan.
"Not long after that I earned my degree. I started graduate school only to drop out of the program after the first year because I found a more progressive program in Kansas City for Hannah. As it so happened a profilers position with the KCPD opened up. Thats where I met Nathan and where Chris met me when he came to interview Nathan for the team."
"How does that bring us to the here and now?" asked Chris, still confused as to just what all this meant.
"I had my fiftieth birthday last year and Ive been suffering from a bout of mid-life crisis lately. Wondering about all the choices Ive made in my life, wondering how my life might have turned out if Id done some things differently. Its natural for a person to wonder what might have been if they had made other choices, if other roads had been traveled. What opportunities were missed " Josiahs voice trailed off. He covered his mouth with his good hand and blinked rapidly several times.
He was obviously fighting some sort of battle for self-control. He took a deep breath and then let it out slowly before continuing. "For a while now Ive been feeling the need to go home, last week the need was especially powerful. The only real home I could remember being a part of was the two years I spent with Rosemary here in Cuatro Esquinas."
"Sitting here now I think what a fool I was, you cant go home again," he said a little disdainfully.
"So I drove down here with no particular plan in mind. I visited a few places reliving some old happy memories; an old church that the local Heritage Society was restoring where I volunteered my carpentry skills; a park where wed walk sometimes while the kids rode their bikes, even the spot where Id took the kids fishing. I couldnt seem to work up the nerve to go see Rosemary. What the hell would she think of me just dropping by after all these years anyway?"
"I was walking Main Street Friday afternoon, when someone called my name. A young woman came up to me and introduced herself. It was Rebecca Christianson. She had recognized me even after twenty-five years. She couldnt have been more that nine when I left. Shes now Becca Warner " he paused and looked into the room, "sound familiar? I didnt know the deputy was her husband until Sunday morning after I sobered up."
Chris was becoming more confused by the minute. It would explain how Josiah knew so much about Deputy Warner but Josiah didnt seem to be getting any closer to what had caused all the trouble in the first place.
"Becca and I caught up over a cup of coffee at the diner. Emily is married with two children. Shes an accountant in El Paso now. David married last year. Hes a Mining Engineer with a consulting firm based in Albuquerque. He lives here but works all over the world. Becca became a teacher like her mother and stayed home full time after the children were born."
"The whole time Becca was talking I couldnt help but wonder what Id missed. Was watching the family Id become a part of all those years ago, grow up, worth the life I had chosen?"
"What about Rosemary?" Nathan asked gently.
At the mention of her name a terrible sadness came over his face. "Rosemary? Rosemary had re-married, to another teacher, hed transferred in the year after I left. A fine man from what Becca tells me. Craig Morales has been a loving stepfather to her and her brother and sister and a good father to Sam... It would seem that Rosemary had, had another child. Becca suggested I go visit her mother. It might lift her spirits to have an old friend visit and I could meet her brother. Hes home on compassionate leave because of the recent death of his father."
"I declined, I said I didnt think I should intrude, she said no, that her stepfather had been sick a long time and that seeing me again might be just what her mother needed to lift her spirits."
He began to speak slowly, haltingly, the terrible sadness in his face became frightening. "I thought about it most of the night and most of Saturday before I finally decided to go visit Rosemary. But she wasnt home, Sam was though and like his brother David, Sam has his mothers eyes and is the image of his father."
Josiah leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees and held his hands to his chin clasped together in a fist. He was staring at a spot on the floor. He swallowed painfully in a futile attempt to hold back the tears that started to fall. Josiahs face was a mask of pain. Pain that Chris could feel from across the room.
Tears dripped freely down Josiahs cheeks, his voice was little more than a whisper. "I have a son."
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