It was one of those misty mornings in the summer. It reminded him of the times Monifa and he went for walks. He remembered that it was on the morning of Holy Thursday when he had told her about the hot cross buns his mother used to make every year for Good Friday because it was the traditional day to eat them. “Bavarian Rohrnudeln are the German version of hot cross buns but there isn’t any icing and they are usually served with vanilla sauce. They were more of a dessert than breakfast buns,” he explained to Monifa.
“I love hot cross buns.”
“You’ll love my mother’s.”
“Is your mother a good cook?” she asked.
He smiled. “She is the best.”
“It sounds like you miss her cooking.”
“I do. One of these days I will take you to Quedlinburg to meet her and the rest of the family.”
“Do you think they would accept me?”
“I don’t see why not and if they don’t it wouldn’t make any difference because, you see, I’m madly in love with you.”
“And I’m madly in love with you.” Her eyes sparkled and a radiant smile spread across her face as she gazed up at him, making his heart skip a beat.
Since they were far from the parish, he reached for her hand as they continued their walk. He had meant what he said about taking her to Quedlinburg. They would go there during the Christmas holidays and stay at a hotel. He would take her to meet his family but first he would take her around the town. They would visit Saint Mathilde, where he was baptized and go a steam-train ride up to Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains. Monifa would enjoy that. Since she loved art, he would take her to Lyonel-Feininger-gallery, the castle and Quedlinburg Schloss, where the first German king was crowned. At nights, they could go for romantic walks in the quiet streets of the old town. They could stop and kiss in the dark shadows or underneath the golden glow of the lanterns.
As soon as this ordeal with Gracelyn was over, he was going to start the paperwork of seeking a dispensation from his vows and laicization. He hoped that he wouldn’t meet with any opposition to his choice to leave the priesthood for love but if he did, he was not going to back down. And he was encouraged by the fact that no where in the Bible did it say that priests couldn’t marry and by Pope Francis who described celibacy as a matter of tradition rather than dogma and that it could change.
He would be free to love Monifa openly and not hide it anymore like it was a shameful secret. And it was keeping their relationship a secret which had cost both Father Schmidt and Sister Augustin their lives. If only he had left the parish and taken Monifa with him. Even as he thought about it, he knew that Father Schmidt would have opposed him. And things might have gotten ugly and the last thing anyone needed was for a nasty scandal to sully the reputation of St. Albertus Magnus.
He was in the sanctuary now. In a couple of hours, Monifa would be leaving the parish and him. It was the best thing to do although it was going to be really tough not being with her for a while but her safety came first. Once she was gone, he could proceed with his plan to get a recorded confession out of Gracelyn. Dread filled him at the thought of meeting her in the sacristy. He was convinced that she was insane or possessed by the Devil.
Walking over to one of the pews, he genuflected before he knelt. Eyes closed, he said a prayer, asking God for His help in what he was about to undertake. The words of Father Schmidt came to his mind, “we can’t have this kind of evil in our midst.” He had been referring to his relationship with Monifa, of course but the evil came from another source–Gracelyn. And he had to rid himself of her. As long as she was free, no one, especially Monifa, was safe.
After he finished praying, he sat on the bench and remained there in the quiet of the sanctuary for a while. He was going to miss this place. Many times he had come here for solitude and to feel close to God. He had stood at the pulpit, looking out at the sea of faces as he preached. How many Communions, had he conducted or baptisms or Confirmations or weddings and funerals had he officiated over the years? And the parishioners. Some of them he enjoyed ministering to while others, not so much. They still hadn’t really warmed up to him. Sometimes he felt that they were still comparing him to Father Schmidt.
He got up from the pew and left the sanctuary. As he stepped out into the corridor after closing the doors behind him, Sister Paschek came hurrying towards him. “Father Kiesler, is there anyone else in the sanctuary?
“What’s the matter, Sister?”
“Father Kiesler, it’s Monifa. I don’t know where she is. When I went to wake the girls earlier, she wasn’t in her room and her bed hadn’t been slept in.”
His heart stopped and his face turned deathly pale. “Have you checked the rest of the dorm?”
“Yes. Sister Feldmann and I checked everywhere. She wasn’t in any of the rooms or in the bathroom. We have no idea where she is. She’s not in the library or in the refectory or any of the other places where she would likely be. I don’t know where else to look. I’m very worried.”
“Maybe she went for a walk. I’ll go and see.”
“All right, Father.” She bustled off.
He stood there for several minutes, his mind whirling. Where on earth could she be? She knew that she was supposed to go to Mrs. Wisenthal. He had been on his way to the office to call the taxi when he ran into Sister Paschek. Had she decided to go for a walk before she left? Perhaps she was in their “secret room”. He would go there first.
When he reached the building with the “secret” room, he ran up the stairs. He froze when he reached the doorway. Monifa was lying on the floor. She seemed a bit groggy but she was alive. “Danke Gott,” he muttered as he rushed over to her and got down on his knees. “Are you all right?” he asked as he carefully sat her up.
She nodded. “I feel strange, though.”
“Thank God, you’re all right.”
“How-how did I get here?”
“I don’t know. What happened after you left me last night? Sister Paschek said that you didn’t return to the dorm.”
“I was on my way there when someone grabbed me from behind and put something over my face. I blacked out. When I came to, I was in here. I was afraid to leave because I was feeling groggy so I stayed here until it got light outside. I tried to sit up but felt a little dizzy so I lay back down. And then, you came in.”
“I’m going to take you back to the rectory and call for an ambulance from there. I’ll come with you to the hospital.”
She nodded, still feeling a bit dizzy. The nausea wasn’t as bad as before because she had vomited a couple of times.
As he was about to pick her up, a noise behind him made him turn around. Gracelyn stood there. “I knew you’d come,” she said.
“How do you know about this place?”
“I saw the girl come here one day and followed her. Shortly afterwards, you joined her. I know this is where you were that morning when Sister Riegel went to the office to speak to you. I was standing right below. I could hear the two of you grunting like animals. I thought this might be the first place you’d look for her. How gallant of you to come and rescue the damsel in distress. You’re sadly mistaken, though, if you think you can save her.”
He stood up and faced her. “What are you going to do?” he demanded.
“What I’ve told you that I was going to do if she’s still here when the 48 hours expire.”
“She was going to leave today. I was on my way to the office to call for a taxi when Sister Paschek told me that she was missing.”
“Your 48 hours were up last night. I saw the girl leaving the rectory. She shouldn’t have been there, Jürgen. She should have been gone but now, it’s too late. Again your actions are going to cost someone else to die.” She had a syringe in her hand. “Move out of the way.”
“What is that?”
“Something that will knock her out permanently.”
When Monifa heard that she cowered behind him, her eyes wide with terror as she shook like a leaf.
“No!” Father Kiesler cried, blocking Monifa.
“Don’t be a fool. She isn’t worth it.”
“I’m not going to let you harm her.”
“Move out of the way!” Gracelyn yelled, her face red with fury.
He lounged at her and managed to wrestle the syringe away from her. In the altercation, she lost her balance and fell back. As she lay on the floor, stunned, he turned his back to her to attend to Monifa. “I promise, she can’t harm you anymore,” he assured her.
He leaned over to pick her up when he felt as if his head had exploded. The last thing he heard was Monifa scream before blackness came over him.