For he shall give his angels charge over thee . . .
This is a true story, a good story for the telling, written as best I can remember, and colored-in only slightly with literary license. As such it remains a little jerky and bare-boned, and actually that might be for the best. Any names are fictitious, of course, and the main character is known only as The Bishop in order to protect his identity. But then again, as you will see from the story, greater forces than I can provide protect him anyway and he has little need of my weak cover.
The bedside alarm clock whirred and its numbered sheaves whispered as they fell on queue, one in front of the other, marking every minute, every hour, . . . 1:48 A.M, 1:49 A.M, 1:50 A.M, . . . in hushed footfalls of times passing. The Bishop slept-on beside his wife, oblivious to the clocks measured tracings in the mornings darkness.
But his was an uneasy sleep.
He was not a professional clergyman no Mormon Bishop ever is. No, he was a civil engineer by profession, as was his father, and his father before him, and in his career with the Forest Service he mapped, and traced, and shaped the hills and valleys, and when fire season came, a season of terror, he marshaled an army of people, equipment, and supplies against that formidable foe. But off the job, after work and sometimes even before, while other men enjoyed their families, and their leisure, he mapped, traced, and shaped another sort of terrain and fought another sort of battle the terrain of the human heart, and the battle for the welfare of souls. His task was the care of his fellow Ward members, and he worried and fretted over them, helped them, prayed for them, loved them. He blessed babies new to this world, and conducted the funerals of those passing onto the next. Weddings were often his responsibility, and baptisms, but it went far beyond even that. His concern was not only for the next life, but for this one too, and he nurtured his flock, spending many hours counseling the ward families, helping them find jobs when in need, furnishing food when they were hungry, blessing them when they were sick . . . the task was endless. Too much it seemed for any one man, but he did it just the same.
Yes, his sleep was troubled because of the turmoil of the battles he fought on this world and the next. But tonights sleep was especially difficult, and, as it proved, for good reason.
For miles and miles away, in a secluded campground, rough hands wrapped a chain around a prone and bloodied mans boot and dark shapes moved in the desert stillness amidst exhaust and smoke. A wicked laugh; cursing; the breaking of a liquor bottle; the rumbling of a powerful motor these proved the last sounds a barely conscious man ever heard in this world. For the emblem on his leather jacket differed from his assailants and life was cheap, and mean, and meaningless, and they were drunk, and unthinking, and found a final victory in his death.
4:58 A.M., 4.59 A.M., 5:00 A.M., 5:01 A.M . . . and the silence in the room was shattered by the ringing of the phone. The Bishop clawed and fought his way back from sleep, groped for the phone, and answered a gravelly Hello.
"Hello. Bishop? This is Officer Seamons of the Highway Patrol" the voice on the other end crackled, then paused. "Im real sorry about this Bishop," the voice continued, "but we need your help. Rick Willie, Patricia Willies son, . . . I believe shes in your LDS Ward? Hes been killed . . . some sort of gang fight maybe . . . dragged to death behind a motorcycle . . . it seems that way anyway . . . Look, Mrs. Willies needs a friend, some comfort, and we hoped you could come over."
"Dragged to death? Who would do such a thing!" a part of The Bishops mind loudly screamed while another conjured up an image of a frail, mouse of a women, who sat on the back row of the chapel, alone, very quiet and shy.
"Of Course," he replied, "Ill be right there."
"What is it honey?" his wife worried as she sat up.
"Sister Willies son. Hes been killed", he answered, "Ive got to get over there to see if I can help."
"Oh, no!" she burst out, "How terrible! . . . was it a car accident? What?"
"Something like that . . . a motorcycle accident", he replied as he quickly begin dressing himself "I dont really know . . .," he lied, "But Ill call in while. Well have to get some of the sisters over there to help her later."
She heard the door shut and the car start in the driveway but she was already on her knees deep in prayer. She prayed for Sister Willie, but also for The Bishop, her companion and helpmate these many years, for although her confidence in him was great, he would need all the compassion and wisdom he could muster for this situation. Finishing, she climbed back in bed only to realize the effort to be futile. "No use trying to get back to sleep," she thought, "Too much to think about." "Another hour or so, " she continued, "and Ill be able to call around and get some help over there . . ."
A patrol car sat in the driveway. "You The Bishop?" asked the patrolmen through the rolled-down window as The Bishop walked in the early morning light toward Mrs. Willies door.
"Yes", he replied.
"Sargent Seamons is up there in the house with her. A terrible shame . . . ", he continued.
"What can you tell me about what happened?" The Bishop asked.
"Not much we do really know. A trucker found the body. Weve got people on the scene trying to figure out what happened, but it seems pretty obvious to me. Her son was a Hells Angel. Mustve gotten mixed-up in a fight with another gang . . ."
The bishop climbed the steps to the front door where another officer, obviously glad to see him, stood waiting.
"Glad you could come over. We appreciate it. Im officer Seamons," He said in hushed tones as he shook The Bishops hand. "The body will be over at the mortuary soon," he continued, "and as he talked The Bishop could see Mrs. Willie there in the front-room pale, shaken. "Mrs. Willie asked that we call you. I Hope that was OK?" the officer continued.
"Absolutely!" replied The Bishop. "Well take care of Sister Willie and coordinate things with the funeral home."
The Bishop, now alone in the doorway, gathered his courage, prayed for wisdom and compassion, and turned his attention to Sister Willie.
Rick had been his name Richard Willie and he had been the only child of a broken home. The father had moved on long ago. But then The Bishop had never known either one of them. Rick had grown-up and gone out on his own long before The Bishop had moved into town. One thing was sure: he had been wild and hard for Sister Willie to handle all alone during the turbulent teenage years. Yet, hed loved motorcycles, and naturally gravitated to The Hells Angels, where he found companionship and the father figures he so needed. He was known to them simply as Willie and measured by the number of motorcycle riding visitors The Bishop counted to Sister Willies house during that day and the next he would seemed to have been well liked. But then again something Office Seamons had said to him kept coming to mind: "A death like this will draw lots of club members from out of State even, perhaps some from across the country. Itll be a matter of honor. There may be trouble; if there is, itll certainly be more than we can handle."
In any case, the day for the funeral was set. It would be at the church, and The Bishop would be attending, but not conducting or speaking. A strange circumstance really. He had certainly planned to do the funeral, but the Angels had other ideas and convinced Sister Willie to use one of their own The Preacher of the Road.
That day, the day of the funeral, bikers, with rough faces, rough manners, and in frightening numbers converged on the town. The police had called in reinforcements from all over the county to keep the peace, but there was nervousness in the air, great tension, and even fear, as the towns roads, service stations, and markets, filled with the black leather clad mourners and their monster bikes.
11:45, 11:46, 11:47, 11:48 . . The Angels continued to flow into the chapel as The Bishop watched from behind the pulpit. Below lay the flower-draped coffin and organ music played in the background. He been down greeting the streaming masses just a few minutes before and had shaken more rough hands and looked into more hard faces than he would have chosen to do in a thousand lifetimes. The guest book, customarily signed by those attending, was filling with scrawled signatures like none had seen before -- Snake and his old lady, Scar, Black Dog, Cobra, Speed and his woman, etc, etc. all duly recorded for the record and the comfort of Mrs. Willie. "At least", he thought, "they had come into the church without any liquor and any weapons, as best as could be determined, and they were surprisingly respectful and reverent." The Bishop thanked heaven for this and prayed for its continuance.
But he was worried. "Wheres this Preacher of the Road?, he thought as the clock struck 11:55, only five minutes before noon the time appointed for the start of the funeral.
And the good preacher was- coming, or at least trying to, but in his way stood a small and innocent creature, a mere kid, an unwilling actor in the days madness, who was unlucky enough to pull shift that day working a gas stations full-serve island.
The kid was visibly nervous as he pumped gas into the shiny black Harley while other patrons, equally as rough and menacing as his current customer, waited their turn. The waiting Angel sensed this, and finding joy in the fear of another and the chance to prove toughness to on-lookers, cruelly magnified it.
"Ill kill you if you splash gas on the tank kid!" the Angel bullied as the intimidated worker tried to finish up his task. But the kids hands shook, and he was too quick on the draw, and gas splashed from the nozzle all over the shiny tank.
"M . . . F. . en Kid! God damn you!", swore the Angel, as he bellowed insults and shoved the kid backward.
Seconds later the police moved in. What on a normal day would have been a minor problem could not be ignored on this particular day and terrified but resolute officers cordoned off the station and the main road leading into town.
When the dust settled, The Preacher of the Road found himself on the wrong side of a roadblock and unable to fulfill his contract.
12:15. A quarter past noon! The Bishop stood up, reconciled to his fate, looked over a sea of black, and began the funeral. In those few days between the accident and the funeral he had learned of Rick Willie as he comforted the mother and now he used this knowledge again as salve and balm for the good Sisters wounds. He spoke of The Gospel, for her benefit, and that of the very few hardy ward members cowering in the corner of the chapel. The Bishop knew that a funeral was a time to teach, to comfort, to remind the faithful of Gods plan for the universe, but this time the dark Angels were there and heard too. And The Bishop drove home point after point, and line upon line, and precept upon precept and as his speech waxed strong, he spoke of all things, even the Plan of Salvation, of the coming of Jesus Christ, His atoning sacrifice, and of our return after death to live with our Heavenly Father -- of resurrection, of forgiveness, of compassion, and of love. To Sister Willie he promised that she should see her son again, alive in the Kingdom of God, and reminded all that death is but a passageway, a door opening and shutting, a portal between this life and a glorious next.
And the Angels wept openly for their fallen comrade . . .
In the car, on the way to the graveside, The Bishop looked back at the stream of Angels and motorcycles and saw it stretched as far as the eye could see . . . dark shapes, exhaust and smoke, wicked laughs, cursing, the breaking of liquor bottles, the rumbling of powerful motors . . . all these things, the last sights and sounds that Rick Willie saw and heard in this life, were the sights and sounds that also accompanied his body to its grave.
At the graveside, The Bishop offered the dedicatory prayer, a final comfort to the family, and a plea to The Lord to set apart the grave, to hallow it, and to protect it. But his prayer was short, for the spirit of the chapel had not followed the Angels here. Several of them had thrown liquor bottles into the open grave as a symbolic farewell and the crowd became a little unruly as some strained to hear The Bishops prayer while others milled about the gravesite impatient with it. With the end of the prayer the crowd began to break-up, much to the relief of embattled peace officers. But The Bishop was not satisfied. The Spirit had not been here, at this place, and he resolved to return tomorrow to dedicate the site again.
That next day, in the dry desert breeze, and alone in the cemetery, The Bishop stood over the grave. The crews had done their work, the grave had been filled in, and fresh dirt and wilting flowers marked a final resting place that would be some days waiting for a proper tombstone to be fashioned and set. There was finally peace here, and The Bishop poured out his soul to The Lord. And as he did his soul stretched wide unto eternity and he wept for the wickedness of mankind, and tears streamed down his face, and falling, wet the soil of the new grave.
After a few minutes, finally satisfied, The Bishop turned to leave, but stopped, slipped his hand in his pocket, grasped a small folded paper, and brought it into the light. On the paper was a single phone number. The paper was tattered and worn for since the funeral he had folded and unfolded it many times and pondered just what to do with it.
"We appreciate what you did for our brother, Padre", The huge, bearded Angel leader had said to him after taking him aside at the end of yesterdays graveside service. Then handing the scrawled number to The Bishop he had continued, "God may forgive; the Angels dont. But we pay our debts. There will come a time when you will be in trouble . . . someone may threaten you, try to hurt you . . . Call this number. We will remember; we will come."
And at that moment, for a fleeting instance, the idea of the thing welled up to overwhelm . . . a whispering of power, and of might, and of safety. To command such legions -- the dark Angels of this world -- was almost intoxicating and he reveled in the glory of it. He considered saving it, deep in some corner of a drawer, or in some cubbyhole of the desk, a loaded gun under the pillow ready to be unleashed against a future worldly foe. He had known fear in his life and his greatest fear was that at some time he might find himself standing alone, against a stronger and wicked foe, unable to protect his wife and family. He was The Bishop, but also a father, and as the world outside grew wicked and corrupt he worried that his shelter against it would eventually crumble and the hordes would scale the wall. Surely this 'key to the legions of Hell, a doomsday weapon, would be useful in that day when all else failed. But could he control it? Could he trust himself with it? Would it hurt the innocent as well as the guilty? Yes, surely it might, he answered himself. Once unleashed, the forces of Hell would be uncontrollable and the sin would be upon his head rather than theirs. And he began to realize that it was really the whisper of Armageddon that he heard, and the breath of annihilation that he felt, and that it was impossible to command both the dark Angels of this world and the Angels of Light of the next. No, he had chosen his side a long, long time ago.
He would act his part and fulfill his duty, even if it meant he stood alone.
And then words of the Psalmist came to him -- "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways . . . They shall bear thee up in their hands . . . He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him" and he was comforted. And tears wet his face and he felt ashamed at his trial and momentary faltering.
With that The Bishop opened his hand and let fall the paper onto the newly covered grave an offering, a sacrifice, a declaration of faith -- and the desert wind caught it and carried his tempter, tumbling, across the cemetery and out of sight.