It was 5:30 am as I walked with the other nuns through the cold, early morning air to the chapel for Morning Prayers and Meditation. Once inside, there was a feeling, something more than simply a comfortable air temperature. Feeling the soft flickering of the votive candles on my eyelids, I knew that there was no one, at least no one here in the chapel, who meant me harm. There was only love. The everyday world, with its politics, celebrity gossip and Man’s seemingly relentless inhumanity to man was a million miles away, and I felt at peace. For this small, quiet part of the day, I knew that I was part of something good… not family, (because they are picked for you), and not those who make up your social world: classmates, friends, lovers and spouses, (because so few of those relationships hold claim to anything like permanence), but something more lasting and more… connected, somehow. This, the Order, the sisterhood ….it is so different and just plain good.
After leaving the chapel, I went looking for work to do. There were ten nuns living in the convent at St Emily’s and easily half of them were approaching retirement age, so I didn’t have much trouble finding ways to help. The wake for Father Noonan was scheduled for the afternoon and it was clear that many of the women were truly devastated, not so much by the fact of the death, as by its unexpected appearance among them. I found Sister Phyllis in her office and told her that I was available to do any of the housekeeping that was normally done on Saturdays. It was clear that the nuns really wanted to spend time with each other, to search for some solace or, failing that, to share their grief.
“I can see why Sister Bernadine thinks so highly of you, Sister,” Sister Phyllis said, later in the afternoon, as I worked in the basement laundry room. “No, don’t look so surprised! I’ve known her since she entered the Convent, and I know she can be one tough Mother Superior and, to be honest, not overly generous with praise and other kinds of individual encouragement.”
“I think I knew that about her, though it’s always enjoyable to have an impression confirmed by a third party! What I am surprised at is that you’ve known Sister Bernadine for so long.” I replied, as I folded sheets and pillowcases. The washing machine churned confidently and the dryer intermittently added its voice to the not-unpleasant noise in the washroom.
“So, tell me, Sister Phyllis, has my Reverend Mother always been as strong and confident a woman? I’d call her my role model, but even I don’t have that much ego.”
The Mother Superior of St Emily’s laughed as she took one end of the sheet that I was trying to fold. “You might be surprised to hear me say it, but yes, Sister Bernadine was as strong a woman then, as she is now. The only difference is there is less anger now. I think that all of you at St. Dominique’s, have everything to do with that change. She found in God, and the Order, what she was looking for when she first came to us back in 1998.”
“But you’re getting me to reveal secrets, and I’ll have none of that, Sister! Thank you for helping the other women by taking on the chores today. They are really taking Father Noonan’s death hard. And thank you for letting me set aside the burden of being the Mother Superior here, if just for a few moments. It’s good to relax with simple work. But I must return to the others.”
As the Mother Superior of St Emily’s opened the door to the staircase, I had a thought,
“Mother Superior, you know I’m here because Sister Bernadine sent me to help Father Noonan with the problem with the school website. I feel I must not return home without trying to do something. After I’ve finished with the chores, may I have your permission to go to your office in the school and just look around a bit? I’ll be careful and not disturb anything.”
“Certainly, child, here, take my keys. I’ll be in the church from 5:00 until 8:00 this evening.
At around 5:30, as the dusk gathered, I walked down the weekend-quiet halls of St Emily’s School. The door opposite the library, was marked ‘Principal’ in black plastic letters. I unlocked the door and entered, to find that the office consisted of two rooms, an outer office furnished with a blond wood coffee table, around which were two molded plastic chairs and a small couch and, on the opposite side of the room, a grey metal utility table. The coffee table had copies of National Scholastic and ‘Is the Priesthood for You?’ The utility table had a monitor, a computer along with a flat screen display, a keyboard and mouse sitting on the top.
‘Well, girl, you came here to learn something, lets see what we figure out,’ Looking closely at the computer’s power cord, I saw no signs of blackening or charring, neither on the cord no onr the outlet in the wall just behind the square leg of the table. Holding my rosary with my left hand, I plugged the power cord into the wall socket. Nothing happened. Saying a silent, ‘Thank you Lord’ I sat in the metal chair in front of the monitor and immediately jumped up, laughing to myself,
“Why yes, Lord, I will avoid grounding myself un-necessarily.”
Leaning from the waist and reaching over the table top, I pushed the computer’s Start button. Blue light glowed and St Emily’s School website page filled the screen. We all know that the internet is a virtual world, so it comes as no surprise that this world includes virtual vandals, with digital spray cans full of graffiti. St Emily’s website was as defaced as a highway overpass in the bad part of any town, large or small…very defaced. The language was clearly intended to shock the viewers. Taking the time to examine every square inch of the display, I saw nothing that I hadn’t heard before, although someone clearly went to a lot of effort to be imaginative with the sexual pairings. It was obvious that the author wanted no one to not be offended. There was an impressive variety of ethnic and cultural slurs, and even a couple of swastikas, for good measure. It was a Whitman’s Sampler of hate. Looking at the bottom of the homepage I read, Hosting by Omni Corporation and under that; Website Theme: Omni Easy Share. I dug into the program a little and was rewarded with the address of Omni Corporation and, as a bonus, the name S. Eddington was listed as the author of the website platform’s software. Without warning, the computer screen flickered, turned a featureless blue and then changed into the black screen and blinking white cursor of a DOS program…. and, character by character, the message: ‘Fatal System Error’ appeared next to the C prompt.
I stood up and pulled the plug from the wall, all in one motion. “OK Margaret, this is officially now classified as ‘too weird’, with a subcategory of ‘creepy’… let’s get someone here who is used to the weird and the creepy.’
I locked the office door, found Detective Hartley’s phone number and dialed it. At the sixth ring, as I decided that maybe I should just hang up, I heard her say “Who the hell is this?”
“Hello, Detective Hartley? This is Sister Margaret Ryan. OK, I believe you, you don’t have a sister named Margaret. Ha ha Why yes, as a matter of fact, I have heard that one before. Yeah. No, I haven’t had any further contact with the little girl, Alice, yeah that was her name… or her father. Hey, I may be out of line, but was he hitting on you? Well, no, it is none of my business and no, I didn’t find him attractive, though he certainly was charming, and yeah ok, good looking… but…. (laughter) no, what I was calling about was the computer, the one at St Emily’s? Well I came over and had a look at it this afternoon. Well no, but in my defense, I don’t recall a single person or clearly printed sign, on or near, the school computer, stating that examining it was prohibited. Anyway there is something strange about the computer… it’s kind of involved, no not just what was on the computer, but the hardware itself… No, I didn’t change anything or even touch anything, I just looked… Well, no they don’t train us in computers at the Convent… My previous life, sure…no, not offended… Yes, I do think you regret that harsh remark…… Hey (laughter) come on! I’m joking…. you’re familiar with that, right! Just bustin…. what?! Yeah, previous life again…hey, sorry I’m calling on a Saturday Night.
I’m sure you must have plans… Well I’m supposed to leave for home on Monday… The funeral is tomorrow morning. No…. thank you for the kind thought, but I didn’t know him at all, my Mother Superior sent me because she was a friend of his…. No, she never leaves the Convent…No, I don’t think that’s strange, but anyway maybe we could talk some more? No! I’m not confined to the Convent! That went out in the 1960’s… we can wear regular clothes and go out to see people on our own and everything…. Well, I happen to like wearing it…. Oh yeah? you should talk! You wanna know what I thought, the first moment I saw you the other night? Ha ha yeah, heard those jokes before too! No, I thought when, with all the flashing lights and the amazing energy in the air, you in the middle of the chaos, a single point of focus, I thought ‘What a stunning woman’ and immediately after that, “This woman wears her anger like a ruby pendant.” Yeah… it was kinda obvious, but then again, I’m a trained nun. Lol ok… come by the convent later in the afternoon tomorrow and I can show you what I found with the computer in Sister Phyllis’s office. Sure, no problem. Oh and Detective Hartley? … Ok, Maribeth? have a good evening tonight, you owe it to yourself, no one else, just yourself …bye!“
Tom Fearing sat in the little restaurant/café in the Holiday Inn in St Joseph Michigan and read the Chamber of Commerce tourism pamphlet. He learned that St. Joseph, (pop 8,270 and birthplace of Frederick and Louis Upton, who, along with their uncle Emory, founded the company that eventually became Whirlpool), is ‘the Riviera of the Midwest’. Being very prone to imagination attacks, Tom endured rapid-fire mental images of: attractive blonde women in bikinis and fur parkas and the old folksinger, Gordon Lightfoot standing next to Leonardo Caprio on the deck of a large boat. He laughed to himself, loudly enough to attract the attention of his waiter. Wheeling the pastry cart back towards the kitchen, the waiter stopped and asked Tom if he was sure he didn’t want to order breakfast. His concern seemed quite real. Apparently in this part of the country, breakfast was considered a very important meal. Tom thanked him and declined, but seeing the look of disappointment, asked if he could get a refill on the coffee. The waiter seemed delighted by his request and, after asking once more if he couldn’t also bring scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, pushed the cart through the swinging doors and returned with fresh pot of coffee.
Tom had checked in to the Holiday Inn late the night before and, once in his room, called home. After recounting his very routine flight, he remarked to his wife, Cheri, how “terribly friendly and laid-back everyone seemed. Being from New England does not equip a person to contend with such people. It’s as if everyone was born and raised to play extras in a 1950s movie. Creepy.”
Facing the front entrance of the restaurant this Sunday morning in Michigan, Tom looked up as a man walked through the front entrance. He was, without reason certain that this is Ed Willoughby. Perhaps it was the way he walked in like he owned the place, very comfortable and confident. Tom found himself starting to like the man, a man he’s never met in person, a man he’s just travelled 800 miles to meet. Tom reminded himself, ‘This guy is not your friend. There is a chance, if you play your cards right, that he’ll have a positive affect on your life, but he’s not your friend, your buddy or anything else.”
Tom stood up and called, “Ed? Ed Willoughby?” Ed glanced towards the sound of his name, smiling, expecting someone he knew, but seeing only Tom Fearing (not someone he knew), his smile was replaced by a frown of disappointment.
“Let’s make this quick,” he said as he sat down at the table, across from Tom Fearing.
“Sure. Whatever you say. Let’s start with, ‘I’m a blogger like you.'” This statement, unfortunately, elicited what can only be described as a ‘snort of derision.’ Undaunted, Tom continued, “And I did some research and learned that you’re one of the pioneers of the blogosphere… that you wrote the book on blogging. Back in the early days when the screen was black and the cursor was white and you got on line by sticking your telephone in a rubber shoebox.” A chuckle rewarded Tom’s effort to be detailed. He continued, “And you, and your little group of bloggers, what did you call yourselves, ‘the Hermes Consortium?’ You were like rock stars. Granted it was a tiny audience, mostly geeks in computer labs. Anyway, when I came across this information, the first thing I thought was, ‘Tom! You gots to meet this guy, find him, contact him! If you can’t be Shakespeare, being Samuel Johnson wouldn’t totally suck…. you know?’”
Tom was looking out the window throughout his speech. Despite this, he could feel the change in the attitude of the man sitting across from him in the Holiday Inn restaurant.
“Go on.” Ed Willoughby decided that, seeing how Diane and the kids didn’t expect him home until late afternoon, it’d be foolish of him not listen to what this odd man might have to say.
“… Or, hell, for that matter, at this stage of the game, I’ll settle for being fricken James Boswell!” Ed Willoughby started to laugh and Tom Fearing began to feel… hope, hope that he had chance to make something of himself.
“Well, are you going to buy me lunch, or what?” Ed Willoughby smiled, and realized that for the first time this Sunday, he felt good.
“Well, that depends, are you going to tell about what you and your friends did to become the most respected bloggers on the internet, or what?” Tom Fearing sat back and listened as the man across the table began to speak,
“It was 1998 and I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to have a happy, successful life. Get my master’s degree, start a respectable career, meet a beautiful girl to marry and have a family. I was in my last semester at DePaul, I was going out with a girl, Diane Sloan, and I was talking to the recruiter from Archer, Daniels, Midland. And then, one night in November, I was in the Computer Lab, working on a Programming assignment, and I met Barry Audette…”