Every night Johnny went out looking for him, hoping to catch him alone and off his guard. Johnny owed him something - revenge and a slow death.
One night, late, after hours of searching for his enemy, Johnny came to the old village church. The front doors were open and he wandered in. Johnny never did drugs or drank, but he did smoke a lot and he needed a gun. He had his last smoke over an hour ago and was having a fit.
"Maybe I can just take something small but valuable and get some money for it." The thought encouraged him to snoop around. He picked up the gold candle holders on the altar and started to leave. When he turned, a Padre who had somehow come in silently, stood there facing him. "You do not want to do that, son. Those belong to the church." Johnny pulled out a knife and told the Padre to back off. "I need the money, Padre. Now, don't do anything stupid to get yourself killed."
The Padre held out his hands to the side, the full sleeves of his long white robe looking like wings. "Would you kill, my son? In the house of the Lord? No - I do not think you would. Put down the knife and let us talk."
"Talk? About what? The only thing I need to do is get out of here and get me a gun and some smokes then kill that man." Padre held out his right hand and said, "Give me the knife, son then we can pray for guidance. You will not kill - the Lord, the ONLY Lord of the Hood, is the one I serve," Padre looked up at an oil painting of a shepherd and his sheep he had hung on the stone wall many years before. "Our Lord will set things right."
"Pray! Are you mocking me? I don't need prayer, I need revenge. The last time I prayed was when Mama died. I was just eleven and she was the only thing in the world I loved, the only one who prayed for me! I lived on the streets for nine years till I met Marie. You want me to pray, Padre? For what?"
"Pray for what, Padre?"
"For Salvation, Johnny. Pray for all the loss, hurt and pain that brought you here tonight."
Johnny lifted his chin and stared at the Padre. "How do you know my name? Who are you?"
"I am Efram Munoz, the Padre here for many many years," he dropped his hand. "I work for the Lord and He gives me what I need to know."
"Well, aren't you all wise and mysterious? He told you my name did He?"
"He did. Put down the knife, Johnny, and tell me your story. The Lord can carry you on His shoulders. He can make you more than you can be."
Johnny dropped the knife, tears in his eyes. "Marie, used to sing a song to me with those words in it. She would sing me to sleep on nights when I remembered Mama and I cried. Cried like a baby when she sang in her beautiful voice."
Padre Munoz started singing, softly at first then strong in his deep baritone voice. He touched Johnny's shoulder gently, yet Johnny felt such a surge of power and love that shook him to the core. He fell on his knees and cried as he heard again the words that lingered in his troubled mind.
"You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be"
- as sung by Josh Groban
Johnny could not stop crying the whole time Padre Munoz sang. In between sobs Johnny started talking. He could not stop talking and sobbing.
"He killed her, Padre. My beautiful baby, my Marietta, my Marie. Lord of the Hood killed her because she would not join his gang and be his woman. They bragged about him killing her, his gang members - they bragged about it," Johnny shouted, rocking back and forth, arms wrapped around his middle, clutching his t-shirt in tight fists. The candle holders now lay on the floor, forgotten by Johnny.
Still on his knees, Johnny grabbed the hem of Padre's robe and held it to his chest like a baby would cling to a blanket for security. With tears streaming down his face Johnny sobbed. "She was a good girl, Padre, my Marie was, she had a good heart. Bless her Padre, bless her soul, please. She took good care of me, like Mama did and she loved me, loved me so much. Padre, she worked nights. She told me she got a great job as a connoisseur in a big fancy hotel. She got really big tips from the high paying guests she said. I worked nights at a restaurant and during the day I went to University to get a degree in medicine. I would have been a good doctor, Padre. Marie was helping me pay the tuition.
"Every morning, when I got home, Marie and I would have breakfast. Then she would shower, put on that cute little white dress, white heels, little white gloves and take her white purse and go sit in the church for a few hours. That girl prayed more than anyone I know. She'd slap my hand if I started eating before she said prayers. She prayed for homeless kids and mothers who had to work hard to support their kids. She prayed for me, that I would become a good doctor."
Johnny became very quiet when he mentioned the little white dress and how much Marie prayed. He seemed to be in another time where he was once again with Marie and so proud to be with her.
She was not There
"She did not come home from church one morning. I was sleeping, but I woke because I sensed she was not there. It was too still, too quiet. I got up, dressed and took off, walking to the church. I was about a block away when I saw a crowd gathering in the entrance to an alley. I stopped and asked a guy, a gang member I had seen around, what happened.
"He said a prostitute had been killed. Another guy said that the woman walked back and forth in front of his liquor store every night, waiting for a pick up. Men who came in and bought a bottle or two would pick her up on their way out of the store. A hundred bucks per hour one guy told me! Can you believe that? That gal got picked up at least five times a night! "Now look at her in that pretty white dress, white gloves," said the store owner. "She should have known in her profession that things like this happen."
"White dress, Padre! When he said white dress I screamed for Marie and tried to get to her. Two cops wouldn't let me through the yellow tape as I screamed her name over and over. They took me down to the mortuary for positive identification." Johnny fell on his side sobbing harder, his knees drawn up and arms around them as he shook from crying.
"My beautiful Marie, lying there in that pretty white dress all splattered with blood. Padre, she was brutally killed. Why? Why, oh God why my baby. Why Marie?"
Padre Munoz knelt and pulled Johnny up into his arms. He prayed for Johnny, blessing him with Holy Water and his cross. He rocked Johnny and prayed till the young man was finally quiet. Padre Munoz talked to Johnny, saying he needed someone to keep the church and little cemetery grounds in good shape, paint the church, do odd jobs when time allowed, so he could continue at University. "We will help you as we can, Johnny. You will become a doctor and a fine one. Your Mama and Marie will look down upon you with pride."
Johnny left the church, crossed the street and stopped in front of a newspaper stand. The headlines shocked him, he quickly put in coins and ripped out a newspaper.
"A Young Man Who Was Called 'Lord of the Hood' Brutally Tortured and Murdered."
Johnny could not believe his eyes till he saw a picture of 'Lord of the Hood' lying in an alley and covered in blood. He read:
"Lord of the Hood was on the run from the police. Three eye witnesses saw him kill a prostitute in an alley. They recognized 'Lord of the Hood' because everyone in that community knew who he was. Lord of the Hood apparently was not paying attention to the area and found himself in the territory of a rival gang who caught him, tortured him then shot him in the back of the head. An anonymous gang member had called the newspaper to tell what his gang had done. Those gangs love to boast about their conquests."
Then he saw a picture of Marie, lying in a pool of blood and fell to his knees again. He beat the sidewalk with the newspaper as he shouted, "Padre, Padre Munoz, he's dead, just like you told he would meet his own end just the way he dealt it! He's dead!"
Johnny felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up, thinking it was Padre Munoz. It was a younger Padre, in a black robe. "Son, are you okay?"
Johnny stood up. "Yes, Padre. I will be okay. Padre Munoz," he motioned with his chin to the church across the street,"helped me a lot. He talked with me and something changed within me, deep inside, I felt free and ... peace, Padre - I felt peace flow through me. He prayed for me, Padre, and blessed me. Yes, I will be okay now."
"I have been Padre of that church for twelve years now," the young Padre said as he gazed at his church. "Over that time I have heard about Padre Munoz helping those who really were struggling in life. He was a great man, a great and blessed Padre. He had a touch that healed people. Everyone loved him."
Johnny was puzzled. "Was? Padre Munoz just gave me a job, painting the church and grounds maintenance and the cottage to live in, rent free so I can continue at University," Johnny, too was staring at the church. "You are the Padre there? Where is Padre Munoz?"
"Son, if Padre Munoz gave you a job and the cottage out back, then you shall have it. I desperately need help. Oh, and the rectory needs painting, too."
"And Padre Munoz? Where does he live? I would like to see him again."
"And maybe you will if needed. Son, Padre Munoz passed on, left this world about 40 years ago."
Johnny did become a doctor, a fine one. He met and married a good woman who helped him overcome the past and be ever more faithful to the church and their Lord.
They have two teenage sons. Every Saturday Johnny and his sons drive to the church to make sure the grounds are kept clean. He started a congregational garden behind the cottage for the church potlucks and for those in need. The cottage was used for the potlucks and had a Soup Kitchen, where the homeless could come in any day for a free meal. Donations to the project came in regularly. Johnny's wife and other ladies from the church worked in the Soup Kitchen. Both Johnny's sons eventually became pastors.
Did Johnny ever see Padre Munoz again? No, but sometimes he senses the Padre's presence and says a prayer of thanks. Johnny wrote a book about how he was saved by the spirit of Padre Munoz.