Chapter 9 – The Iona Awakening

Christie gently tapped on Liam’s door at around 6:00 am to invite him to join the community for breakfast. No response. Deciding it would be best to let him sleep a little longer Christie and Stag walked down the still dark hallway toward the dining hall. They passed a window and noticed Liam, sitting outside on a bench in a small alcove, watching the sun lift its sleepy self from the horizon.

“You go ahead Stag, I’m going to go say good morning to Liam.”

Christie walked outside and sat next to him, quiet for a few moments before offering, “Good morning.”

“I’m never up this early. Most days I’ve only been asleep for a couple of hours by this time of day,” replied Liam.

“We missed you at the evening service last night.”

“Yeah, I’ve never understood a lot of that church stuff, or religion in general. I think I’d have just felt frustrated through the whole thing.”

“What bothers you about it,” inquired Christie?

“A lot of things. This whole idea of an angry God who sends people to be tortured in Hell if they don’t pray the right prayer, or go to the right church, or wear the right clothes. The idea of a ‘good’ God who let’s good people die horrible deaths and evil people live worry free, or deprives good people of children but then gives them to women who will have a baby in a bathroom somewhere and throw it in a dumpster.”

“That’s what you think faith is about,” asked Christie pulling something from his pocket and rubbing it between his fingers?

“It’s what I’ve seen. Where I grew up there were a bunch of different churches. The Catholics said everyone was going to Hell except them and the only way to not go to Hell was go through a class, eat a cracker that they said was the actual body of Jesus, and start doing what the priest said…the same priest who got caught having sex with young boys in his office. The Baptists said that the Catholics were a cult and they were going to Hell. Actually, I hope that priest IS burning and being raped by demons in Hell right now. There was this other group where the women couldn’t cut their hair or wear makeup, or wear anything other than denim skirts and they said that everyone else was going to Hell. A couple of towns over there was a huge church where a few thousand people went every week. Multi-million dollar buildings on a multi-million dollar piece of land. The pastor had his own jet, drove a Bentley, and finally left town after four women came forward and said they were all fucking him in exchange for ‘allowances’ of several thousand dollars a month.”

“Stop saying ‘fuck’,” interrupted Christie, this time with a smack to the back of Liam’s head that startled him out of his rant.”

“Seriously? You’re smacking me now?”

“Don’t say ‘fuck,'”

“You’ve just said it twice yourself!”

“Shut up,” said Christie while continuing to rub a white stone between his fingers and looking out across the grounds toward the water.

“Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to realize it’s all a sham. People go to a building once a week to sing songs, listen to a lecture, eat a cracker, and pretend to be good people, and then walk out of the building an hour later and go right back to treating each other like shi… like crap.”

“You’re right Liam. It is all a sham, what you’ve described.”

Liam didn’t expect to be agreed with, and looked at Christie without saying anything, but in a way that invited him to elaborate.

“Liam, do you know anything about this place?”

“No, I’d never heard of it until now.”

“We’re sitting in the middle of a battleground. Not a place where armies fought with guns or swords or tanks or bombs, though many people did die in this battle. Iona is the last battleground of a great war between religion and spirituality.”

“There’s a difference,” asked Liam?

“An irreconcilable difference, Liam. It’s believed that sometime in the early fourth century a Roman soldier, passing through Scotland, shared with the people here the story of a man named Jesus, who called himself the Son of God, who performed miracles, who ate meals with outcasts and sinners while shunning, and criticizing the religious leaders of his time. He showed compassion to prostitutes and thieves, while calling priests the ‘sons of Satan.’ And this Jesus taught people that if they wanted to know God, truly know and experience God, all they had to do was love one another, and live and love better than the priests and preachers.

“This Jesus taught that God was in and knowable through all things. A field of flowers, the birds flying overhead, the smile of a child, the stars in the sky. That everything that  existed was not only made by God, but God was in it, and all things, from the smallest blade of grass to the largest mountain. From the insect crawling on that blade of grass to the billions of stars in the most distant galaxy, God was the maker of all, was in all, and through all things constantly shows us his nature as a good, loving, kind, compassionate, forgiving, and wildly creative deity. God speaks to us through everything that exists.

“The Jesus that soldier spoke of was killed by the priests. But after three days in the grave, he returned from death to demonstrate his greatest lesson, that he and God were one, the same, and he himself, Jesus, was that creator and because of him all things live and move and have their existence.

“The people of this land understood that Roman soldier’s message. They already had a spiritual way of understanding the world around them that fit perfectly with his message. They knew of this deity and his goodness, but didn’t know his name or that he had died and returned from death to reunite humanity and deity and unveil the image of that deity within each of us and within all things.

“The message took hold and spread throughout the land of Scotland through people like St. Patrick, and St. Columba, and countless others, and a rich, vibrant way of spirituality swept across Scotland, and Ireland, and England, and Wales. People came to know God, and experience him in all aspects of life. Work. Play. Raising their crops. Weaving their tapestries. Eating together. Caring for one another. God was in all things, in all activity, and they did not see spirituality as something you do in a church on Sunday mornings, but in the way your hands feel in the soil or the way the breeze feels on your skin, or the sound of a child’s laugh. The image of God exists in all things and all people, from the moment they come into existence, and the whole point of any and every life is to simply unveil that image of God and begin living and loving from that place, because true perfection is found in that image. To the people of this land, all of life was a continuous prayer.

“But, just outside of our borders was the great Holy Roman Empire, the most powerful political, military, and religious kingdom on earth. The emperor and the Pope ruled together and global conquest was the goal. Military conquest. Religious conquest. Political conquest. The military slaughtered those who refused to be  ruled by the emperor. The crusaders slaughtered those who refused to be spirituality ruled by the Pope and his priests. And where we had men like St. Patrick and St. Columba who taught that the image of God existed in all things and all people, they had men like Augustine who taught that all things were evil at the core, even a newborn baby, and that all people had to be ‘saved’ from an eternal torture in Hell and that salvation came through surrendering to the Pope and his priests. Those who refused to surrender, were beheaded or burned, but only after being tortured in the most horrible of ways. What a great way to build an empire. Only the Pope and his church can rescue you from Hell.

“The Holy Roman Empire slowly crept into the British Isles with their armies and their priests. And finally, sadly, right here on this island in the year 664 a meeting was held, and our people surrendered to the Romans, and religion, the religion you described to me, Liam, defeated true spirituality in the way of Jesus, and has continued to spread around the globe for the last fourteen hundred years, replacing the image of God in all things, with the image of the church and her priests and popes and preachers and charlatans.”

“So, you’re saying I don’t need to be saved from Hell so I can go to Heaven,” asked Liam?

“You do need to be saved Liam, but not from a place of torture after you die. You need to be saved from yourself, and the Hell you are creating in your own life and in the lives around you, and in the world you share with us. Heaven and Hell are right here, around us, in us, always, from the beginning of time. We can cooperate with God as co-creators of Heaven right here and now. Or we can cooperate with evil as co-creators of Hell right here and now. And whichever you choose to create, you not only create for yourself, but you create for every living thing on the planet. Every thought you have becomes a decision, which then becomes an action, which, like a stone throne into the sea, sets into motion ripples and waves that reach us all.”

Liam felt startled by the analogy Christie had just used, as it perfectly echoed his own silent thoughts by the seashore the evening before.

“Yesterday in the cemetery you asked how old I was and then said that I was just setting my feet upon a path that would bring a lot of destruction in my life, but that I was here just in time. What did you mean by that,” asked Liam?

“Liam, we are all connected in a very deep, mysterious way. You, Anastagio, me, everyone you’ve seen here, in fact every human being who ever has lived, is alive today, and will be born tomorrow are knit together into a living tapestry of creation. What do you see up in that corner of the alcove Liam,” asked Christie pointing upward?

“Wow that’s a big spiderweb. I hadn’t noticed it.”

“Watch,” said Christie as he plucked a blade of grass, stood, and gently tapped the end of the silk strand furthest from the other end of the web that spanned about 16 inches across.

Immediately the builder of the web, a nickle-sized black spider darted out of the furthest darkest corner where the web began and scurried across the web to the point where the blade of grass touched the silk.

“Creation is like this web Liam. It touches all of us. It comes from all of us. And everything we think, or say, or do creates invisible, yet perceptible movement that touches us all. If our hearts and spirits are alive, and awake, and paying attention, we can feel and understand every movement. I feel the movements you are creating in our world, with the way you live your life. And I know, it will not end well for you, and it will create grief for many. But, my friend. You are here, now, at Iona. And you’re just in time.

“You see Liam, true spirituality, faith, has nothing to do with church buildings or religious organizations, or preachers, or clothing, or sermons, or Heaven and Hell awaiting us in some distant time and place after we die. It’s so much simpler, yet so much more real and profound than what we humans make it to be. It’s simply this: Understanding that we and everything that exists are all here as the result of a wildly creative, passionate, good, and loving God who has placed his mark, his image, within everything that exists. It’s understanding that evil came into the world and every moment that evil tries to extinguish, cover, and hide the image of God. Being saved, or ‘born again’ as some put it is simply what happens when we rediscover ourselves and the image of God within us, and we begin living out of that place, creating Heaven all around us with every thought, decision, and action. And it’s in that place that we find God, walking alongside of us, guiding us, giving us peace, and rebuilding a bond between us and him that will last for all eternity when all things are finally made new, as they were intended to be.”

Liam sat quietly until Christie finally stood and said, “Let’s go have some breakfast before we begin our trip back to Glasgow.”

As Liam stood and they turned toward the door, Christie reached for Liam’s hand and placed within it the object he’d been holding between his thumb and forefinger throughout the conversation. It was a smooth white stone, with the word “Faith” carefully etched into it’s surface on one side, and the word “Fe” etched into the other.

“Take this my friend. Remember me and this conversation wherever your travels take you and whenever you hold this stone in your hand. I’ll be staying behind when you and Anastagio leave. This is where I live.”

After breakfast and goodbyes Liam and Stag left the shore on the ferry back to the mainland. When they reached the other side Liam pulled his phone from his pocket. A signal. Five missed text messages. Two missed calls. All from Isabella. He dialed her number. She answered.

“Mi amore! I was so worried. Are you okay? I’m so glad you called me back.”

“Hi Isabella. Yeah, I’m fine. I knew I was probably missing messages from you but I was on Iona, an island off the coast where I couldn’t get a signal. It’s good to hear your voice. Where are you?”

“I’m in Glasgow, Liam. Will you be back today? I flew here to see you.

Bonus Material

Chapter 8 – Oneness

As Liam walked slowly toward The Abbey, bringing his emotions back under control, he thought to himself that the last time he remembered crying was around the same day he last prayed, when his little brother died. Liam didn’t cry. Life had taught him to build walls around his heart, to keep emotion at bay, to focus his energy on accomplishment and pleasure.

He paused for a moment, pulled his phone from his pocket thinking of Isabella. No signal. Liam wondered where she was, who she was with, what she was doing, and if she was thinking of him in that moment too.

Making his way down the path past the massive stone Celtic cross and through the arched entryway of The Abbey, Liam approached  Stag and Christie as they stood talking with one of the caretakers.

“We’ll be staying here for the night Liam. I’m afraid your accommodations at The Abbey will be austere compared to your penthouse back in Glasgow. I hope you don’t mind, ” warned Christie.

“I suppose I can adjust for a night,” Liam replied with half a smile. “What’s the plan for the rest of the day?”

“The time is yours. You can relax in your room, or walk the grounds, there’s a nice common room and a library. We’ll have a shared evening meal later. And at 9:00 there’s an evening service every day, if you’d like to join us, “answered Christie.

Liam chose to spend most of the rest of the day walking around the island. He couldn’t remember the last time he walked, just to walk, and see, and feel, and listen, and notice anything other than himself or that day’s conquest.

He took his shoes off and felt the grass under his feet. For an hour or so he sat, simply leaning against a tree near the cemetery, noticing the clouds passing overhead, and the occasional contrail of a jet. He wondered about the people on that jet. Who were they? What were their names? Where were they going and why? What were their lives like? Did he know anyone on that plane? Had he at some point passed by one of them as a random stranger in an airport somewhere a week ago, or a year ago? Could one of them have stepped in front of him in a line somewhere, perhaps just to get a cup of coffee, and forever altered his life? Was Isabella on that jet?

Even as he sat alone, on a tiny Island off the coast of Scotland, far from anything or anyone familiar, Liam began to not feel alone. Somehow he felt as if he knew the people passing thirty-two thousand feet above. The forty-eight kings were a few yards away and they had touched his life as he touched their headstones. He ran his hands through the grass where he sat and felt grounded, rooted, and an inexplicable oneness with the soil beneath him, like he belonged to the earth and the earth belonged to him.

Liam left the tree and walked down the grassy hill toward the craggy coast where sea meets stone and birds dip from the sky to pluck insects from the water’s surface and small colorful boats bob in the waves. As the abbey sits at an inlet, the waves aren’t large, as one might expect next to the sea. They roll in quietly, almost undetectable, from some distant place, before slowly building to a gentle whitecap that rises from the surface to kiss the stony shore.

Liam was mesmerized by this. What started the wave? Did someone a thousand miles away drop a stone into the water, setting ripples into motion around the world to become gentle lapping whitecaps at his feet on Iona but a tsunami destroying towns and taking lives in another place? What if he dropped a stone into the water? Where would his ripples go? What would they do? Would they lull someone to sleep by their shore in a distant place? Would they become a tidal wave killing 300 people in another? Liam stooped to pick up a stone and toss it into the water, but paused, and let if fall from his hand back to the ground, not wanting to take a chance on being responsible for the destruction of a village in Thailand.

The afternoon passed quickly, and as the sun began to dip below the horizon Liam walked back to the abbey for the evening meal. Two weeks ago he would have never imagined himself having dinner, in a monastery, with a half Italian concierge, a short, dark-skinned Scot, a handful of monks, and a dozen or so people from around the world who had come here on some kind of spiritual pilgrimage. Yet here he was. And it didn’t feel strange, or uncomfortable, or threatening. It just…felt.

Liam skipped the evening service as “church” never really seemed to make much sense to him, and instead settled into his small, quaint bedroom for the evening. Again he looked at his phone only to find no bars, no signal, no hope of speaking with Isabella. He began to worry that, had she been trying to reach him, perhaps by now she was thinking that he’d lost interest in hearing from her. He rolled onto his side, and for the first time he could remember, felt himself drifting to sleep before ten o’clock.

Chapter 7 – The Forty-Eight Kings

Liam was awake at 5:15 in the morning. He wasn’t returning from a club. He hadn’t been drinking. He was surprisingly clear headed, having been asleep since about 11:00, which was a rare occasion in his life. On this particular morning he lay in bed with blurry eyes skimming his finger along the screen of his phone tracing the ending words of the hour-long text conversation he’d had with Isabella before falling asleep.

“How’s Milan?”

“It’s one of my favorite cities. Have you been?”

“I haven’t. What’s your favorite thing about it?”

“I love Via Monzoni! I always go there, the shops,
the restaurants, and when I feel like being a little
extravagant I stay at the Grand Hotel et de Milan.”

“It sounds like a place I should visit,
especially if you’re going to be there.”

“I’m usually here two or three times a week
amore. Come Liam. I’d love to show you one
of my favorite places.”

“I guess I should thank you. I’ve spent
the whole evening here at the hotel talking
to you instead of drinking at a club and
talking to questionable people.”

“You must like me Liam.”

“You do grow on a guy.”

“Gracias mi amore. But I must say goodnight.
I have a very early flight tomorrow.”

“I want to meet you.”

“You will Liam. I want to meet you too. Buenas

“Goodnight Isabella.”

Liam threw the covers off, walked out onto the terrace, and as the sun began to break over the horizon thought to himself how unusual it was that a simple text conversation with a woman on the other side Europe seemed so much more pleasurable than waking up next to a woman from a club after a night of unbridled passion.

Other thoughts began to crowd into Liam’s mind as he shook off the fog of sleep. He thought about the acquisition back home and wondered how it was progressing and if he should call Carl. What did Christie mean about “meeting the kings” today? How serious is the problem that caused him to pass out? Should he head back the states to get the tests done? What’s Isabella doing right now? Is she up yet?

Christie and Stag had planned out the day. They would board a train at the Glasgow Queen Street station for a three hour ride to the resort town of Oban on Scotland’s western coast, yet they had shared few details with Liam beyond that, and that he should plan for an overnight stay. When pressed, Christie had said with his unusual accent that seemed to be part Scottish, part Spanish, “Mr. Francis, life is a journey, not a destination, and the journey reveals itself with every step forward.” He seemed to always say things like this. Liam always just shook his head, not quite understanding, or seeming to care much about understanding.

At 7:45 the train pulled away from the station and began it’s trek along the River Clyde, following her to where she empties into Loch Lomond in the heart of Trossach’s National Park, before turning west toward Ardmucknish Bay. The trio rode quietly for the first hour or so, listening to the clacking of the wheels on the tracks, looking out across the landscape, each of them engaged in their own private, unspoken narrative. Christie was the first to speak.

“Mr. Francis, how have you been feeling since you left the hospital?”

“It took a while to shake off the groggy feeling and the headache. Still have this bump on my head where I hit the floor that hurts. Other than that I guess I’m okay.”

“That must have been a frightening experience. Has anything like that happened to you before?”

“No, I’ve never passed out before that, well, not because of something like that. I’ve blacked out from drinking too much, you know, but no, never from a medical thing. So yeah, it was kind of fucked up.”

“Stop saying ‘fuck.”

“Sorry. Yeah it was a little scary.”

“Anastagio told me the doctor wants you to have some tests done soon. Are you going to go back to the states and do that?”

“I don’t know. On the one hand, if I have something that’s going to kill me, do I really want to know about it? Would it be better just to drop dead sometime without spending months or years knowing it’s probably going to happen? But then I think, if it is something that could kill me and can be corrected, well that’s good because there’s a lot more I’d like to do before I’m dead.”

“Like what?”

“I’d like to make a few billion more. Maybe catch up to that Musk guy. I’d like to buy a couple other houses. There’s still a lot of places I want to see. There’s a flight attendant I’d like to get to know. I spent the first part of my life living small. I’d like to spend as many years as I can seeing how big I can live. Seems too early to be dead.”

“Hmm,” Christie said with a single nod before turning back toward the window.

Stag had closed his eyes in a nap. Liam rode along quietly, his mind criss-crossing between the things he had thought about on the terrace before leaving, wondering what Isabella was doing, the conversation he’d just had with Christie about death. He thought about this trip Stag had arranged, how odd it seemed. How different it was from what Liam was accustomed to spending his time doing. The frustration he felt on the plane toward this trip was gone and had been replaced by a curiosity, a willingness to see what this journey was all about.

The clacking of the wheels began to slow, the Oban station came into view, the railcars jolted gently to a full stop, and the passengers began to make their way off the train.

“Alright guys, we’re here. What’s next,” asked Liam?

“We’re not quite there yet, Mr. Francis,” Christie replied, grabbing his bag from the undercarriage of the railcar. “We need to hurry to catch the ferry to Craignure. We’re cutting it close. Let’s grab that cab across the street. It’s about a ten minute drive from here.”

Twenty minutes later the three boarded the ferry at the Oban Ferry Terminal and began the 45 minute crossing to their next stop on the Isle of Mull. It wasn’t until they disembarked that Liam became impatient with the journey after Christie informed him they now had an hour long bus ride to the village of Fionnphort on Mull’s western coast.

“Seriously guys, where the hell are we going? We’ve been at this four hours already and you’re saying we have another hour to go? You haven’t told me anything about why we’re doing this.”

“Mr. Liam, you hired me to plan your adventures yes? Being in the presence of royalty is often worth the strain of the journey, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Royalty. I’m wearing fucking jeans and the closest royalty I know of around here is back in Buckingham Palace,” Liam thought to himself.

“Have a chicken sandwich Mr. Francis,” Christie offered, pulling one from a cooler as they settled onto the bus.

It was almost noon. Liam pulled out his phone thinking he’d pass the time with a text conversation with Isabella if she wasn’t in the air.

“Well done gentlemen,” Liam said showing Stag and Christie the face of the phone with no signal bars before shoving it back into his pocket and sinking down into his seat, almost pouting as one might expect from a child who has asked for the fourth time, ‘Are we there yet?’

Liam closed his eyes and drifted restlessly in and out of a shallow nap before feeling the bus come to a stop and hearing the rustling of passengers shifting out of their seats. Through the window he could see water, a small unimpressive cluster of houses, a few cattle, certainly nothing that would indicate the presence of royalty. “I’ve been played…these assholes,”

“Okay Mr. Francis. We’re almost there. We have one more very short ten-minute ferry ride.”

“I’ve been thinking we were ‘almost there’ for a couple of hours now. Are we really almost there?”

Christie and Stag looked at each other with a subtle laugh as if they were entertained by this testing of his patience. “Yes, Mr. Francis, we’re almost there.”

A few minutes into the final ferry ride Liam looked across the water and saw a small lush, green island with her landscape dominated by a large stone structure that appeared to be an ancient church. They disembarked and slowly made their way along a stone path toward the building that Christie had called “The Abbey.”

Liam sensed something unfamiliar as they walked along the path, his hands relaxed and buried in his jeans pockets. First, he slowed his pace, as if he knew, instinctively, that this was something that shouldn’t be rushed. He felt a presence, a calm, a peace that he never would have been able to put into those words, but it was a sensation that seemed to wrap him in comfort. It was extraordinarily quiet. A gentle breeze rustled his hair. A bird sang in the distance. He could hear the waves of the Atlantic gently lapping at the shore.

Christie gently placed his hand on Liam’s shoulder, turned him slightly, and said “This way Mr. Francis” as they walked toward a section of land to the south of the abbey enclosed  by a short stone wall. Once inside Christie asked, “What do you see Mr. Francis?”

“It’s a cemetery.”

“Walk with me,” replied Christie. A few steps into the enclosure Christie pointed to a stone cross. “Rub your hand across the front of this stone.”

“It just feels like stone. No inscription.”

They walked a little further and Christie pointed to another stone with the same invitation. Liam obliged, with a similar response. For the next thirty minutes or so Christie and Liam continued this odd ritual, with Stag walking quietly behind. Liam touched large stone crosses, smaller ones, some stones not shaped like a cross, but more like an obelisk. Some had been broken and misshapen by time and the elements.

Christie stopped. The three stood silent for a few moments. Liam wasn’t quite sure what to make of what had just happened.

“Mr. Francis, do you know what you just did?”

“I walked through a cemetery touching eroded headstones where people are buried.”

“Who were they?”

“How  would I know that? There weren’t any names on the stones. No names, or dates, or anything.”

“What do you know about their lives?”

“Nothing, of course.”

“What did they own Mr. Francis? Where did they live?”

“Christie, you’re asking me things there’s no way I could know. How long have they been dead? Hundreds of years?” I don’t even know what this place is. Where are we?

“Mr. Francis, we are on the Island of Iona and  I just introduced you to forty-eight ancient Scottish kings. Men who, in their turn, ruled the entire kingdom of Scotland, had great possessions, wealth, power. You just met them. And what did you see?

“Stones with no names.”

“There are many other stones here Mr. Francis, with names and dates, some with flowers on them tended to by people who knew them. None of them were kings. Nobody tends to the graves of the kings. Mr. Francis, we are not remembered for the things we own, or the power we possess, or the women we have who weren’t rightfully joined to us, or even the the bloodline from which we come. We are remembered by those we have loved, and given to, and cared for. Look at these stones Mr. Francis. Who around you here is truly great?”

Liam stared out across the cemetery without giving an answer.

“Death is coming Mr. Francis. For you, for me, for Anastagio. It’s coming. It will be upon all of us, most likely without warning. And when it comes, our possessions will be sold or given to others. It will be too late for us to love. Whatever pleasure we enjoyed here, justly or unjustly, will be forgotten. We will be placed in the ground, under a stone. And we will only be remembered for how we lived and how we loved.”

Stag put his hand on Liam’s shoulder and stood quietly. Liam felt something he’d not felt in a very long time. An inexplicable connection with another human being that seemed to emanate from deep within him.

“Mr. Francis, how old are you,” asked Christie?

“I”m forty-four. I’ll be forty-five next month.”

“You’re just in time Liam,” Christie said looking into his eyes, and for the first time calling him by his first name.

“What do you mean?”

“You are at a crossroads that you don’t yet see. There’s a path ahead of you, and you have one foot on that path and are about to begin walking. And it is a path that will leave you scarred and forever changed. Your heart will be broken. Your soul will be damaged. You will never think or feel or love the same way again. And at the end of that path is a stone, with no name.”

A long silence stood between them.

“Mr. Liam, we’re going to be spending the night here at the abbey. When you’re ready, we’ll show you to your room,” Stag said with his hand still on Liam’s shoulder.”

“You guys go on ahead. I’m going to stay here a few minutes,” Liam replied.

Stag and Christie walked toward the abbey. Liam sat on the ground, leaned against a stone with no name. And for reasons he could not understand, began to weep.


Chapter 6 – Isabella

It’ a quick 10 minute drive from Queen Elizabeth University Hospital to Blythswood Square on Highway M8 as it winds it’s way past Bellahouston Park, where you’ll find the Palace of Art and the Glasgow Ski and Snowboard Centre, before crossing the River Clyde and entering the arts and cultural center of the city.

Situated at the corner of Blythswood Street and W. Regent Street and overlooking a private garden square, the hotel’s stone colored Georgian townhouses were originally home to merchants and were later turned into the club headquarters for The Royal Scottish Automobile Club. The newly opened two-bedroom penthouse, Liam’s new home for next few days, or weeks, stretches over 1,850 square feet with a private entrance, an outdoor terrace, fully-equipped kitchen, bar and dining room, and a master suite with a double steam shower as well as a sunken bath.

Liam had been discharged from care with a stern reminder from Doctor Rashid about his new prohibitions, prohibitions Liam had neither interest in, nor intentions of following. To him, life was meant to be lived with abandon, and come what may. He’d worked too hard and become too successful to spend his remaining years playing small.

“Mr. Liam, I’ve invited Christie to join us for brunch at about 11:00 if that sounds good to you.”

“Yeah that’s fine. I need to get settled, grab a shower, and make a couple of phone calls. See you at 11:00,” Liam replied, distracted, and in a hurry to get to his penthouse. “Hey, what is this number,” Liam asked handing Isabella’s slip of paper to Stag.

“That’s a phone number in Spain. The 34 is the country code. Spanish phone numbers have nine digits and since it begins with a 6 that means it’s a mobile number. Someone you know?”

“If I’m lucky,” Liam said grabbing the paper from Stag’s hand and heading toward the elevator.

Once inside Liam quickly dismissed the porter with a tip far below what a porter in such an establishment would receive. He had grown accustomed to spending lavishly on himself, but no so much on those around him. He settled himself onto the sofa and dialed the number on his mobile.

“Hola,” came a soft, familiar voice after a couple of odd sounding rings.

“Is this Isabella?”

“Si, quien es?”

“Umm…I only speak English.”

“I’m sorry, yes this is Isabella. Who is this?”

“My name is Liam. I was on your flight from Naples to Glasgow yesterday and you handed me a piece of paper with your name and phone number on it as I was leaving the plane.”

“Ohhh…Liam! I’m so happy you called,” Isabella shouted into the phone. “I was nervous being so forward handing you my number like that. I looked at my phone several times yesterday hoping to see a call.”

“I’m glad you pushed through your nervousness. I had a bit of a problem yesterday. As soon as I got off the plane I passed out and ended up spending the whole day and last night at the hospital. I was discharged this morning and just got settled into my penthouse at Blythswood and thought I’d give you a call.”

“Oh no amore! Are you okay?”

That word, amore, didn’t stir the same feelings deep inside Liam the way it had so many other times he had heard it, as recently as a week ago at Le Sirenuse. This time it felt oddly comfortable, even calming and reassuring, sincere.

“I’m okay now. The doctor wants me to have some tests when I get back to the states, but I don’t think it’s anything too serious. Are you still in Glasgow?”

“No, I’m in Brussels between flights at the moment.”

“Will you be coming back to Glasgow soon?”

“It’s not likely. I don’t normally fly that route. I got called in at the last minute to help out after another flight attendant was sick. And now that I’m on the phone with such a handsome gentleman from my flight I’m very happy I went off course for a day!”

Isabella spoke nearly perfect English but with a very noticeable Spanish accent that Liam felt extremely alluring. Her voice, feminine, but with a tone of assertiveness, and confidence.

“Your number is from Spain. Is that where you’re from?”

“Si, I live in the Haza Cuevas neighborhood in Malaga. Do you know where that is?”

“Haven’t a clue.”

“Ah amore, I must show you! It’s right on the coast of the Mediterranean, about two hours away from Gibraltar. You’d love my city Liam!”

“Did you grow up there?”

“No, my father is from Mexico. My mother is from  a small town just outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico. I grew up in Puerto Rico until I was thirteen. My father left us. Madre met a man from Spain and when I was almost fifteen she married him and we moved to Malaga.”

“You have a beautiful voice.”

“Gracias mi amore. That means, ‘Thank you my love.”

“Yeah I kinda picked up on that. I understand bits and pieces. So what made you decide to hand me your name and phone number? Why me?”

“I’m glad we’re so far away from each other right now or you’d see my face is red. I noticed you when you boarded the plane. You were very serious, you even seemed a little frustrated, but I could see a kindness in your eyes. I was drawn to you. You’re very handsome. You smelled good when you passed me at the cabin door. Every time I passed you in the cabin you were looking out the window with this distant look in your eyes. It was a look of…how do I explain…longing. Like, there was something stirring deep inside of you and you were gazing out the window hoping to find it.  When cabin service began and I came by and asked if you wanted a drink, you were in a very deep conversation with the man next to you, but you paused, looked me in the eyes, asked for a glass of wine. As soon as I looked into your eyes something leaped inside of me and I thought to myself, ‘There he is.’ So after we landed and were taxiing to the gate, I just had a feeling that I couldn’t let you go without at least giving you a way to contact me if you wanted to.”

Liam sat quietly, long enough for Isabella to ask if he was still on the phone thinking the call may have dropped. No woman had over spoken to him that way before. He’d slept with dozens of women throughout his adult life. Sweet things were said, but always in the context of a shallow, usually drunken, sexual encounter, or by women who were drawn to him not for who he was, but for what he had and what he could do for them before they disappeared never to be heard from again. Isabella’s words did not find a soft landing spot in Liam’s heart, though he felt a warmth like none he’d felt before.

“Yes, I’m still here. That was nice of you to say. Thank you for the compliment. So where do you fly to next?”

“I’ll be flying to Milan later today, then to Belarus, and then to Spain and I’ll be home for a couple of days.”

“I have to meet a couple of friends for brunch in a few minutes. Can we talk again?”

“Of course Liam! I’m really happy you called and I’d like to spend a lot of time getting to know each other. You have my number. Call or text me any time and if I’m in the air when you do, know that I’ll call or text you back just as soon as I land.”

“Good talking to you  Isabella.”

“You too amore. Ciao.”

Stag and Christie were seated at a table near the window overlooking the gardens when Liam came out of the elevator. His mind still lost in the conversation with Isabella, he didn’t acknowledge Christie’s greeting, quietly pulled the chair away from the table, seated himself, and looked out the window deep in thought.

“Mr. Liam, how are you feeling,” asked Stag?

“I don’t know. It’s been kind of a fucked up couple days. Glasgow, the whole passing out and hospital shit. I missed an opportunity to meet this amazing attendant from our flight who gave me her number. She’s in Brussels now and doesn’t even normally fly into Glasgow so she won’t be back. I have no idea what do here. Why am I here Stag?”

Stag turned to Christie as if to give him the floor.

“Mr. Liam, you’re a very wealthy man and you live a very large life don’t you?”

“You could say that.”

“You should take today to rest. Tomorrow I’d like to take you someplace and introduce you to the kings. Just stop saying ‘fuck.'”


Chapter 5 – Room Sixty-Six

Nothingness. Silence. Blackness. Then a fragment of an image, a memory, a thought, a random synaptic firing. Another. Slowly the fragments begin to link, merge, and form a shadowy consciousness. A sound seemingly approaches from the distance, a rhythmic beep…beep…beep,  heightening the emerging sense of awareness. Another sound. A voice. Then another.

Discomfort. Sheets twisted. A tightness in the bend of the elbow where a needle is inserted and taped into place.  Throbbing pain in the front right side of the head. Wires attached to small sticky pads tugging at the hair on the chest. A growing wave of panic. The room is too cool.  The voices sound urgent.

Recollection. The airport. The attractive Latin flight attendant with glasses and straight black hair, who served him his wine in the first class cabin and came by to check on him a little more often than he was accustomed to, now standing at the cabin door, touching his shoulder with a prolonged look while thanking him for flying today. The piece of paper she slipped into his hand. The walk to baggage claim. Stag’s phone conversation with Christie along the way. The loss of breath. The ringing in the ears. The narrowing field of vision. The sensation of falling. The impact of the floor. Nothingness. Silence. Blackness.

“Welcome back Mr. Francis. I’m Briella, the lead nurse today. How are you feeling?”

“Where am I? What happened?”

“You’re in the emergency ward at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Do you have any memory of how you got here?”

“Just bits and pieces. I was walking to baggage claim after a flight from Naples. Started feeling strange, felt myself hitting the floor, and now I’m here. What’s wrong with me? What happened?”

“We’ve run some tests and the doctor on duty is going to come see you in a while. You do have a nasty bump on the head from hitting the floor, but that will be fine. In the meantime, we’re going to move you out of the emergency ward to a room and the doctor will come there to talk with you. Is there anything I can get for you to make you feel more comfortable?”

“Make sure you put me in a private room.”

“I wish I could Mr. Francis, but for now you’ll be in a room with another patient. We’ll do all we can to make you comfortable.”

“Where’s the guy who was with me?”

“He’s in the waiting room. We’re going to take you on down to room sixty-six and we’ll let him know that he’s welcome to join you there.”

A young man, probably just out of university, and an older woman, both in light blue scrubs raised the side rails of Liam’s gurney, unlocked the wheels, and began rolling him toward a set of elevator doors. Neither looked at him or spoke to him, but talked between themselves as if he was a piece of cargo. The woman talked about her son who was just beginning his second sentence at Prison Greenock and how she knew getting pregnant twenty-four years ago was a mistake. The young man said something about regretting choosing nursing in university and how he wished he’d gone into international trade, but it would have pissed off his dad who was a physician.

The room was a pale shade of yellow. A worn red leather chair sat in the corner between the wall mounted television and the bathroom. On the far side of the room near the window a man, perhaps in his late twenties, laid staring out across the parking lot on the other side of the window with headphones on that did little to prevent the thumping of whatever he was listening to from spilling out into the room.

Wheels locked. Rails dropped. The woman pulled the curtain between the two patients and both “caregivers” walked out of the room with neither of them having ever said a word to Liam.

“Fucking British,” Liam thought to himself.

He felt groggy. His eyes wanted to close. But he couldn’t relax with the muffled rhythmic thumping on the other side of the curtain.

“Hey, would you mind turning that down a little? This is a hospital not a pub.”

No response.

“Liam raised his voice, nearly shouting this time, “I’m trying to rest, will you turn that shit down!”

“Sod off,” came the reply as the volume increased even more.

Had Liam not been attached to the I.V. drip and heart monitor he would have followed his natural impulse in a situation like this to jump from the bed, shove the bedside table out of the way, rip the headphones from the man’s head, smash them into the wall, and return to his side without another word. He had little patience for anything that interrupted his world.

“Mr. Liam!” came the voice from the door. “How are you feeling my friend? It seems maybe you’re worse at flying than I am,” Stag said with a smile as he approached the bed.

“What the hell Stag? I still don’t know what’s going on, what happened to me, why I’m here. The emergency nurse said the doctor would come talk to me. once they got me up here. How long was I out?”

“Well you laid on the airport floor for about fifteen minutes before the ambulance arrived. It was a twenty-minute drive from the airport to here. I don’t know how long you were out in emergency before you woke up. When you come into a city you sure know how to make an entrance!”

Before Liam could reply a Middle-Eastern man in a white coat walked into the room behind Stag.

“Hello Mr. Francis. I’m doctor Rashid. How are you feeling?”

“I’m sleepy, my head hurts, and I wish someone would tell me why I’m here instead of asking me how I’m feeling.”

“Yes sir, I understand. You had a significant episode of bradycardia. This is when the heart rate drops dangerously low and not enough oxygen gets carried to the rest of the body. If it’s significant enough, you’ll pass out just as you did today.”

“So what caused it?”

“Have you had any heart problems in the past?”


“Has anyone in your family had heart problems?”

“Not that I know of.”

“How often do you drink alcohol?”

“Every day, a few times a day.”

“How about drugs of any kind?”

“I’m not sure I should answer that.”

“I’m not going to send you to jail Mr. Francis. I’m trying to find out if there’s anything that’s going to send you to a grave before you should be there.”

“Yeah, I smoke pot. Do a few lines of coke now and then. Oh, and Ecstasy. How serious is this?”

“Well it’s too early to tell. It’s not uncommon. People have episodes like this. Sometimes they’re random and never happen again. But sometimes it can be a sign of damage that’s been done to your heart. If that’s the case it could be a defect that you’re born with and only discover later in life after an episode. Or, it could be damage that’s come later in life and heavy drug and alcohol use can be a cause. Most people who have an episode, may faint for a few moments, wake up quickly, and are fine. What worries me about your episode is that you were out for over an hour and it took some time for your heart rate to stabilize.”

“Okay, so now what.”

“You’re from America, right?”

“Yeah, North Carolina.”

“Will you be returning soon?”

“I hadn’t decided.”

“We’re going to keep you here overnight just to keep an eye on you, and release you in the morning. But I strongly urge you to get to your doctor back in America soon and have him do a complete cardiac examination. In the meantime, you should not drink and you absolutely must not use any drugs.”


“Pardon, sir?”

“You’ve probably never done a line of coke from between a woman’s breasts have you?”

“Umm, no sir, I have not. And if you were planning to do that any time soon I strongly suggest you think again.”

“British women aren’t my type anyway,” Liam replied, his mind going back to the flight attendant, trying to recall her name tag. “That piece of paper,” Liam reminded himself. He had stuck it in his pocket in the rush off the plane.

“I’ll come back to check on you in the morning before we discharge you. Get some rest.”

Stag’s phone rang. “Hello Christie. Oh good, I’m glad you’re here. We’re in room sixty-six. I cleared you at the nurse’s station.”

“Who is this Christie you keep talking to?”

“He’s an old friend of mine that I thought would be good for you to meet. I don’t know a lot about Scotland. This is my first time here, so Christie will be helpful during our stay. He’s a great man. He walks among kings.”

“Why did you pick Glasgow anyway Stag? You never did answer me when I asked you on the plane. I would have never chosen to come here and frankly I was a little pissed when you told me. I thought you’d pick someplace a little warmer with beaches and without pale redheaded women who don’t wear makeup and never smile.”

“You told me to manage it Mr. Liam. So, I have a few places picked out over the coming weeks that I think are important for you to visit. If you decide to fire me I’ll understand and will go back to my concierge desk,” Stag said with a wink.

A knock at the door followed by “Hello?”

A small framed, middle-aged man, standing barely over five feet tall, with dark skin and jet black hair, wearing a khaki colored button down shirt stood in the doorway waiting for an invitation in.

“Come in Christie! It’s good to see you old friend. I want you to meet my new friend Liam who’s found himself in a rather uncomfortable situation on his first day in Scotland.”

Liam raised his hand in an uninterested wave. “You don’t look Scottish.”

“Neither do you sir. But here we are. In Scotland.”

Liam glanced at Stag thinking, “Yeah, thanks to you.”

“Were you able to get things taken care of at the hotel Christie,” asked Stag?

“Yes, I’ve let them know what’s happened and they’re holding the room for Liam. It’s all taken care of.”

“Where are we staying? You never bothered to tell me that either.”

“I have us at Blythswood Square Mr. Liam. I think you’ll enjoy the penthouse.”

“The penthouse?”

“Yes Mr. Liam. There’s only one penthouse, it’s thirty-two hundred dollars a night.”

“Maybe you’re not doing a bad job after all Stag. But still, Glasgow?”

“Mr. Liam you need your rest. If you don’t mind, Christie and I are going to go have some lunch and catch up for a bit.”

“Yeah no problem. Before you go, grab my jeans out of the armoire.”

After Stag and Christie left the room Liam reached into the front right pocket, pulled out a folded piece of paper and opened it. The writing was clear, simple, and elegant. It was only letters and numbers written in blue ink yet something about those letters and numbers stirred in him a feeling he hadn’t felt before. An inexplicable energy seemed to flow quietly off the paper, an energy meant only for him, that only he could, and should, feel.

Isabella 34-662-871-638


Chapter 4 – A Small Metal Cross

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, my name is Captain Aiden, welcome to flight 2187 to Glasgow. We’re number five in the lineup for takeoff so we’ll have you in the air shortly for our three hour and twenty minute flight. Expecting a smooth ride. The weather in Glasgow is sunny and seventeen degrees celsius. Relax and enjoy the flight. Once we reach cruising altitude I’ll turn off the seatbelt sign and you’ll be free to move around the cabin and our crew will begin cabin service at that time. Flight crew, prepare for takeoff.”

Liam lifted the shade to look out across the tarmac of Naples International Airport. He wasn’t accustomed to flying this early in the morning. In fact he wasn’t accustomed to doing much this early in the morning as his evenings and nights usually stretched into the early hours not long before dawn before finally falling asleep, usually in an alcohol or drug-induced stupor with a strange woman next to him.

A gnawing frustration inched it’s way through Liam’s mind and body as the plane slowly taxied toward the runway. Frustration over the hour. Frustration with the destination Stag had selected. Frustration over the fact that his new overpaid personal concierge didn’t understand the kinds of places Liam typically traveled to and the kinds of activities he engaged in in those places. Glasgow, Scotland would never have made Liam’s list.

“Why Glasgow,” Liam asked out loud without turning his face from the window.

When Stag didn’t reply from the seat next to him Liam turned to find him, eyes closed, lips moving slightly speaking unheard words, holding between his right thumb and index finger a small metal cross attached to a chain around his neck. Liam watched and waited for him to finish.

“What are you doing?”

“Just praying Mr. Liam. I always pray when I’m in a situation where I’m doing something that humans weren’t meant to do. I don’t fly well.”

Liam shook his head and turned back toward the window. “Stag, if this plane decides to fall out of the sky I really don’t think rubbing that little trinket and mumbling a few words is going to change it’s mind.”

“You never pray Mr. Liam? You don’t believe in God?”

“Not anymore.”

“Do you remember the last time you prayed?”

“I’ll never forget the last time I prayed. I remember everything about that night. Every fucking detail. It was one night in February not long before bedtime. I was eight years old. I did the same thing that night that I had done every night for the past week. I sat on the edge of my brother’s bed and held his hand. It was cold and damp. I could feel it shaking, with the rest of his body. Every few minutes he would begin to shake harder, his face would tense, and he’d make this crying sound before the shaking lessened again. Then it would start all over. He was never really awake. Just there. His face covered with sweat.

“Mom and Dad just kept telling me every day, ‘Pray for Michael. God will listen.’ So every day I prayed. Every day I tried to keep believing that God was listening but he was still sick the next day. Every day he got sicker. I prayed harder. ‘Pray for Michael, God will listen,’ they would say over and over every day. A minister came over one evening and put oil on his forehead and said a prayer. Afterward he turned to the three of us and said, ‘Keep praying for Michael, God will listen.’ So I prayed. Every fucking night I prayed. That night I prayed, ‘God please don’t let Michael die. He’s only 6 years old. I don’t want to be left alone. Please don’t let Michael die.’ ‘Maybe this will be the night that God listens,’ I thought to myself as I turned loose of his hand. One of my favorite toys was a stuffed caterpillar. I tucked it under Michael’s arm, walked over to my bed and got under the covers.”

“Ladies and gentleman this is Captain Aiden again. We’ve just reached our cruising altitude of 38,000 feet. I’ve turned off the seatbelt light so feel free to move around the cabin but please keep your belt fastened while you’re seated in case we hit any unexpected bumps along the way. We should have you to Glasgow in about three hours.”

“So what happened Mr. Liam?”

“My bed was a few feet away from Michael’s. I don’t know what time it was but I woke up to hear my mom crying. I looked over toward Michael and she and Dad were by his bed. Dad had his left arm around Mom’s shoulder, his right hand covered his mouth and his eyes were closed. I knew what had happened. I rolled over onto my stomach, put my pillow over my head to block out everything. I pulled the covers up over me as far as they would go. I didn’t cry. I just laid there thinking, ‘God didn’t listen. God didn’t listen. God didn’t listen.’

“About a year later my Dad came home from work early. It was in the summertime and I was outside playing in the dirt with some cheap toy. He shut  the door of his old truck, walked past me without saying anything, and went into the house. I could hear him and mom talking through the screen door.”

“Hi babe, your home early?”

“It’s over. The mine’s closed. The town just died.”

“It was quiet for a few minutes and I heard Mom say, ‘We’ll just pray. God will listen.’ Ya know Stag, that’s the first time I remember being completely filled with rage. I got up from the ground with that toy in my hand, walked over to a tree and just starting smashing it against the tree, over and over again until it broke into pieces. Then i just started hitting the tree with my hands until my fingers and knuckles started bleeding. At that young age I realized something about God. I wouldn’t have put it in these words then, but the thoughts were there. As a nine-year old kid I began to think about God in four ways, not really knowing which was right.

“Maybe He doesn’t even exist. Maybe we say all of these prayers and we’re just talking to…nobody…nothing. If He existed, why wouldn’t He listen? Or maybe He does exist, but He just doesn’t care. He’s ambivalent. He created everything, but then just leaves us on our own and whatever the fuck happens happens. Or maybe He exists, but He’s just bad. He just lets all of the horrible things in this world happen because He enjoys watching us suffer. Or maybe He exists, maybe He’is good. But me and my family just aren’t good enough for Him to love and care about…and listen to…and help. And everyone around the world who suffers is suffering because for whatever reason, they just aren’t good enough.

“Pardon me Sir, but would you like a beverage?”

“Sauvignon Blanc.”

“So what happened to your family Mr. Liam?”

“My Dad was never the same. He barely talked to any of us. He stared out the window when he wasn’t out doing some odd job like hauling away garbage to the dump for people for a couple of dollars or painting fences for people who could still afford to have people paint their fences. About three months after the mine closed I woke up one morning and he was gone. He never came back. Eventually Mom and I had to leave the house and move in with her mother and step-father in another town a few miles away. Life just went from bad to worse.

“I’m sorry Mr. Liam.”

“Yeah well, it is what it is. I guess what I learned from all of that is we’re really all on our own. Everybody leaves. People you care about just die. People you love just stop speaking to you and walk away for ever. And God…Stag…God does NOT listen.”

Liam leaned his seat back, closed his eyes, and for the next little while drifted in an out of a light, restless sleep until the captain’s voice came back over the speaker.

“Ladies and gentlemen we’ve begun our descent into Glasgow and should have you on the ground in about ten minutes. Flight crew, prepare for landing.”

Liam noticed Stag, once again holding the small metal cross between his thumb and index finger, whispering another prayer as the wheels touched the pavement, the cabin jolting slightly. As they rolled toward the gate Stag pulled out his cell phone, dialed a number and paused.

“Christie old friend, we just landed. Will be wonderful to see you again and introduce you to my new friend, Mr. Liam.


Chapter 3 – Anastagio’s New Job

It took three calls for Liam’s phone to finally rouse him from his sleep on the balcony. Dazed, and disoriented, after fumbling to accept the call he answered with a simple, “What?”

Liam, it’s Carl. Fuck man, I’ve been trying to reach you for an hour. Where the hell are you?”

“I’m in Positano. Rough night. What’s up?”

“Well sorry to be a bother but I thought you might like to know that it looks like the acquisition is a go. The buyer accepted your counter-offer, the board approved the final bid. All that’s left is to set a date for the close. I know you like your fancy trips to places you sure as hell don’t pay me enough to afford, but we could use your input on a few final matters.”

“What do I pay you for Carl?”

“You pay me to run the operation.”

“Then fucking run it. There are decisions to be made, make them. Wrap it up, get it done. Get the payment deposited, and don’t bother me unless the whole damn thing is burning to the ground. What was the final bid?”

“Came in at $480 million.”

“Jesus Carl. Don’t bother me with small shit. Just get it done, okay?”

Liam ended the call and tossed the phone onto the table next to the chaise. He was hungry. It was after 1:00 in the afternoon and he’d been asleep for hours and couldn’t remember when or what he had eaten the evening before. Thinking to himself that he needed to get up, move, and get the blood flowing, Liam pulled on a shirt and made his way down to the entrance of the resort, with no idea of where to go, or what to eat.

Sylvia wasn’t in her usual spot at the concierge desk. “A shame,” Liam thought as  he’d been trying since he got there to figure out a way to get her up to his suite and with the news of the acquisition thought maybe it was a good day to try his luck again. Someone new sat at the desk. An older man with greying hair, small wire-rimmed glasses,  and a pleasant smile that for some reason annoyed Liam. His clear, kind eyes met Liam’s and he raised his hand to offer a greeting.

“You’re name tag says “Anastagio.” That’s too complicated to say so I’m going to call you Stag.”

With a surprisingly un-Italian accent “Stag” smiled and said, “As you wish Sir. How may I be of assistance?”

“Tell me where to eat. I’m tired of the room service menu. I’ve had Cafe Denario across the street and it’s shit. So far this city has me wondering why the hell I bothered coming here.”

“You haven’t enjoyed your stay sir? Most people who come here are quite delighted with everything. Maybe you’ve been looking for the wrong things. I’d be more than happy to help you make the most of your time. How much longer will you be here?”

“Until I’m bored, which is getting pretty damn close.”

“I’ll tell you what sir, if it…well…may I ask your name?”


“Very good Mr. Liam. Pardon me if I’m overstepping my welcome, but I’m very familiar with the city, I know a wonderful restaurant a few blocks away that I’m certain you’ll enjoy. It’s time for my lunch as well. If you would like, I’d be happy to go with you, treat you to lunch, and over our meal give you some ideas on how to enjoy the rest of your time here.”

Liam didn’t even try to hide the smirk that came with the thought of a concierge offering to buy him lunch, knowing that $480 million, a paltry sum in his mind, was about to be deposited into his account. He decided, though, to humor the old man.

“Sure Stag. What the fuck. Let’s go.”

“Excellent Sir. Let me just tell the manager that I’m leaving for a bit, I’ll call a cab, and we’ll be on our way.”

“You said it was only a few blocks away. Let’s walk. I need to move around.”

“Great idea Mr. Liam. It’s a nice day for a walk.”

After a few moments Stag returned and they exited out onto the street. A few steps into their journey, Liam began to regret his suggestion that they walk, as doing so would most certainly create the necessity for small talk, something he’s never been good at and certainly didn’t feel up to today.

“I haven’t seen you at the concierge desk before. Where’s Sylvia? She get fired?”

“Oh no Mr. Liam. She’s on holiday today. She’ll be back in a week. I Just returned from my father’s funeral in South America. Today’s my first day back. I’ve been gone for a few weeks.”

“You’re from South America?”

“Well, I lived there for many years. My father is Italian. My mother is American, from California. When I was a small child my father accepted some responsibilities in South America, so he moved us there and I spent my childhood and most of my adult life there.”

“Why did you come to Italy?”

“I was given an assignment. I didn’t come straight to Italy. I lived for periods of time in a few different places to prepare to come here. I’ve been here about a year.”

“So let me get this straight. You left your family, familiar surroundings, traveled to different places all to prepare yourself to come to Positano, Italy to work as a concierge at at an over-priced resort with crappy food?”

Stag’s laugher was unrestrained as he slapped Liam on the back and said, “Something like that Mr. Liam! Often our most important assignments, the ones we were made to do, are in unremarkable positions, doing unremarkable things for unremarkable people.”

Liam wasn’t quite sure how to take Stag’s words as it seemed he had just referred to him as unremarkable, certainly not a word he would use to describe himself, particularly at this point in his life.”

“Here we are Mr. Liam! Welcome to Lo Guarracino.”

They were led back to a table in the garden overlooking Fornillo Beach. It was not a busy time of day, so the they had the setting to themselves. After glasses of wine were poured and entrees were ordered Stag looked across the table with those annoyingly kind eyes and said, “So Mr. Liam…tell me about you. Who are you? What do you do? And why are you in Positano?

Liam shifted in his seat and felt a wave of uncomfortable warmth come over him as Stag’s questions were unnerving, in the sense that Liam felt a layer was about to pulled away without his consent. But as he looked at his surroundings, Liam began to feel something he hadn’t felt in a while. Gratitude. This stranger made Liam feel something that few before had made him feel in a very long time. Noticed. So after a sip of wine he began.

“I have a house in Durham, North Carolina in the United States. When I’m not traveling that’s where I stay. I haven’t been there for several months though.”

“You must have a very good income, Mr. Liam, to travel the way you do.”

“Yeah, my net worth begins with a ‘B.'”

With an almost exaggerated smile Stag lifted his glass in a toast. “To your success Mr. Liam!”

“Thanks. Believe me, it was’t always this way. I grew up in West Virginia. My father was a coal miner and when the coal industry dried up, just about everything else died with it. It was a shitty life, sometimes not knowing if we’d have enough groceries to get through the week. Never being able to do anything enjoyable, just scratching at the dirt to survive. All through my childhood I told myself that I would do whatever I had to do, work every hour, kill or be killed, whatever it took to make sure that as an adult I would never have to worry about where the next meal would come from, would never be forced to wear the same three shirts every week and use duct tape to hold my shoes together.” I watched my little brother die one day. He died of something that wouldn’t kill most people, but he died just because we couldn’t afford the medicine he needed. Fuck that. I made a vow…never again would I accept such a life for myself.”

This time with his smile a little more subdued, Stag again raised his glass. “And you did it Mr. Liam.”

“Damn right. I taught myself coding, business, finance. I sure as fuck never had the privilege of going to college so I got what books I could from the library, I shoplifted books from the bookstore, and read everything I could get my hands on. I began creating networked digital solutions for businesses that were too stupid or lazy to innovate, to use to keep themselves alive. Eventually I sold those businesses to larger companies, created new ones, sold those, rinse and repeat.”

“Rinse and repeat?”

“Never mind. It’s an expression. Anyway, that’s how I made my money. Before I came down and met you I had a call letting me know that another deal is closing and I’ll make $480 million. Honestly that amount isn’t enough to get me out of bed to handle the details. I pay people to do that. But yeah, I made it happen and now I can spend most of my time traveling around the world, staying at resorts like yours, and fucking a different woman every night. When did you say Sylvia is coming back?”

Stag raised his glass again, but this time not in a toast, but to draw a long sip of wine followed by a sigh as he turned his gaze out across the beach below. “So that’s what you worked so hard for Mr. Liam?”

Thankfully at that moment the server brought the entrees and sat them in front of Liam and Stag and refilled their glasses. The interruption was welcome because Liam felt that uncomfortable wave of warmth come over him again, not really knowing how to answer the question that had done it’s work in pulling away the layer.

Stag didn’t press for a response.

“So where will you go next Mr. Liam, when you grow tired of our city?”

“Hell I don’t know. I guess I should be thinking about it. Kind of running out of ideas. Seems everywhere I go I end up getting tired of where I am and begin thinking about the next place.”

“Well what are you wanting to experience?”

“Good question. You’d think with the resources and the time I have available I would have some great plan, some bucket list.”

“Bucket list?”

Liam smiled and shook his head. “Never mind, movie reference. Honestly, I hate the details. I hate the planning, the booking of flights and hotels. I hate trying to figure out where to stay and seem to always make the wrong decisions and am disappointed with…everything. I’m just not good at this shit.”

They enjoyed their meal with several moments of silence and then an idea began to form in Liam’s mind. He looked across the table at Stag, thoughtful, and asked, “What do they pay you?”

“Pardon, Mr. Liam?”

“The resort, what do they pay you?”

“Ohhh, only about thirty-thousand Euros.”

“That’s, like, $35,000 in American dollars. Shit Stag, people can barely survive on that in America.”

“I don’t need much Mr. Liam. I live a simple life. I like helping people find their way.”

“Work for me.”

Stag laid his fork along the plate, took a sip of wine, wiped the corner of his mouth with the linen napkin. “Sir?”

“I’m serious. I just realized you’re exactly what I need. For God’s sake you’re a concierge. You tell people where they should go, how to get there, what they should do when they get there. What have I just been talking about? You spend all day doing the shit I hate to do. I’ll pay you one hundred-thousand Euro a year. All you have to do is travel with me, suggest locations, make all the arrangements. I’ll pay all of your expenses on top of your salary. You’ll have your own suite wherever we are. I sure don’t need your old ass around when I bring women back. What do you say?”

Stag looked out across the beach and finished his glass of wine. The pause was a little longer than Liam expected. He had offered him more money than he would ever make in his life for a simple task, traveling to exotic places. How the hell could he say no?

“I’ll tell you what Mr. Liam. I do this for you. Not for the money. For you. I will send most of the money back to my family for the work there. It will be a great help to them.”

“Perfect. It’s Sunday. I want to leave next Saturday. Do what you need to do to be done with your job here by the end of the week. Figure out where we’re going, make the arrangements.”

“What kind of place would you like for me to find Mr. Liam? What do you want to experience?”

“What am I paying you for Stag?”

“You’re paying me to mange your travel Mr. Liam.”

“Then fucking manage it,” Liam said with smile, raising his glass in a toast. “To your new job. Now, find us some gelato.”


Chapter 2 – Morning at Le Sirenuse

Nothingness. Silence. Blackness. Then a fragment of an image, a memory, a thought, a random synaptic firing. Another. Slowly the fragments begin to link, merge, and form a sense of consciousness. A sound in the distance shatters the quiet, a car alarm, quickly silenced, but enough of an intrusion to heighten the emerging sense of awareness.

Discomfort. Sheets twisted, a throbbing pain between the eyes. Dampness. Bright red liquid covering the sheet lying across the right leg. Brief panic, until noticing with stinging eyes the overturned wine glass. The room is too hot. Sweat dampens the parts of the sheet not soaked with Grenashe.

A presence. Movement. Breath. The sheets shift as a person to the left repositions. A strange, but vaguely familiar woman. Long black hair falling across her bare shoulder and breast. What is her name? How did she get there? Was she paid to be there? Will she ask the same questions about him when her nothingness, silence, and blackness form into fragments of consciousness?

Recollection. The club. The music. The dancing. The drinks. The drugs. The woman, alone at a table medicating herself against the spreading cancer of emptiness, loneliness, and the inability to find meaning and fulfillment in life and love. The meeting of eyes. The sharing of drinks. The lines of blow. The temporary relief found in a knowingly empty connection but a connection nonetheless. The limo ride back to Le Sirenuse from Chaplin’s Pub.

Finally all of the fragments had formed the narrative of the past twenty-four hours. It was a common chapter, really no different than countless other chapters. Only the places and the characters were different, with the series of events remaining predictable, and repeating from place to place with person to person.

Built into the hillside of Positano, Italy overlooking boutiques and pastel houses, the Le Sirenuse consistently ranks near the top of the list of the world’s most exclusive, and expensive resorts. With panoramic views, marble bathrooms, whirlpool tubs, and the air permeated with the aroma of bottled lemon trees, it’s rooms are nearly always filled with the rich and the famous from around the world. Liam Francis, however, has found the accommodations only mildly satisfying, and a bit below his status.


The voice startled Liam from the inner world of his thoughts as he lay in twisted, dampened sheets still piecing together the previous night, thinking about the nights to come, and how none of them ever seemed to produce any lasting sense of happiness.

“English please. I speak English. Good morning.”

“I’m sorry amore. How was your rest?”

Amore. Liam knew that word too. Love. It sounded the same in many of the places where he’d woken up recently. And the hearing of the word sparked a mild anger deep inside of him. Not because this particular woman had used it to address him. But that countless women had used it.




In a dozen different languages in as many different places women had spoken the word to him in recent months. Falling asleep. Making love. Waking. Walking on a boulevard. The word, perhaps the most important word in human history, had fallen casually from the lips of women who could never grasp the magic it was supposed to carry. Every conversation beginning with amore in Liam’s life had ended with the sound of walking away. The echo of a slamming door. Or the sting of deception and betrayal.

“I slept fine. Thanks. You should probably get dressed. I need to get ready to catch my flight.”

“Your flight? I thought you said last night you were going to be here for several weeks.”

“You heard wrong. I have business in Morocco.”

Liam threw the sheets off of himself, pulled on his jeans, and walked unsteadily to the bathroom. After a few moments he returned to the suite to find the woman, was her name Martina, fastening her bra then reaching for her dress.

After putting herself together Martina walked into the main room of the suite to find Liam standing in front of the windows looking out over the city with a glass of juice and vodka.

“Do you at least have time for breakfast before you go?”

“No,” Liam replied with a cold determination to not prolong their connection any longer.

“Did you enjoy our evening together, Liam? You don’t seem like the same person who spoke to me with sweet words at Chaplin’s last night. Were you just trying to get me to come home with you so you could have your fun then send me away?”

“It was fine, what I remember of it. I’m sorry. I really need to get ready to go. Maybe I’ll see you again when I return to Positano. “There’s five-hundred Euro on the counter. Use it for a taxi.”

“Liam a taxi isn’t going to cost five-hundred Euro.”

“That’s fine, just keep the rest and buy yourself something nice,” Liam said while staring out the window. He hadn’t made eye contact with Martina since she came from the bedroom.

“I don’t want your money Liam. I’m not a fucking whore. Don’t bother looking for me if you return to Positano. You’re the same as everyone, only looking for someone to sleep with. Go fuck yourself.”

With his eyes fixed on the pastel houses below Liam heard the door slam. Unmoved. A familiar sound following familiar words all carrying the same familiar feeling, or lack of feeling.

After sliding open the the door to the balcony and settling himself into the chaise and feeling the sun on his face, Liam finished his drink, closed his eyes, and fell back asleep.

He had nowhere to go.

He had nothing to do.

Tonight would be another night in Positano.


Chapter 1 – The Funeral at Nuevo Comienzo

The road leading into the south end of the town, winding through it’s tired, dusty buildings, and exiting from the northeast end after a couple of miles hasn’t changed in a century, probably more. Mostly dirt, some rock, but certainly no pavement. One comes into Nuevo Comienzo only after a slow four-hour trek through the Amazon, passing a handful of tiny villages, home to maybe a couple of dozen inhabitants living in grass and mud huts. And this, only after a grueling fifteen-hour ride on the Yungus Highway, often referred to as the most dangerous road in the world, with the journey interrupted briefly by a leisurely ferry crossing at Rurrenabaque.

By the time the road curves to the left and crosses the bridge, constructed of two massive tree trunks, into the town, the site of anything resembling civilization seems almost like a miracle. The women washing their clothes in the river below pause to watch the vehicle cross. The children splashing in the water stop their playing and run alongside laughing and looking to see who’s aboard. It’s in a place like this that an incoming truck, or bus, is somewhat of a novelty, as few from the outside actually come here on purpose and those who call this place home transport themselves on bicycles, or motorcycles, or horses, or on foot.

Nearly every building is as old as the road. The majority of the structures are places where men and women go to drink and listen to music or sing along, like the Karaoke Noemar. There is a store or two and a couple of restaurants, if one could actually call them that. They consist of a room with a few tables, usually attached to a house, with a kitchen out back where the family meals are prepared alongside those of patrons over an open fire. Chickens walk freely around the tables. Dogs wander in and out. Birds roost in the rafters dropping occasional “condiments” on the plates below. A small television might sit in the corner broadcasting a fuzzy picture of some Latin variety show beamed from a distant transmitter.

Homes are scattered amongst the bars and restaurants with the most financially well-off families, as rare as they are, living in crafted wood or concrete structures while the majority of residents live in dwellings framed with tree trunks, covered with palm roofs, with dirt floors.

As the road curves to the north the structures are fewer, the open grass spaces are larger, and a makeshift soccer field lies to the left. Near the northern end of the town sits one of the nicest buildings in not only the town, but the whole district. It’s called the Palace Nuevo Comienzo, a large three-story red brick hotel with running water and air conditioning units that offer a respite from the heat during the four hours per day that electricity flows through the town. People occasionally come here for nature tourism, or missionary work, and these are the most comfortable accommodations one can find, complete with hammocks in the courtyard and talking parrots.

Across the street from the Palace is an open field, with a long stretch of compacted soil where an occasional airplane might land amongst wandering cattle.

Finally, at the northern end of the town sits the Internado. Out of a four-acre plot of land, at the edge of the rainforest, emerges a three-story brick building with bedrooms, and bathrooms, a kitchen, classrooms, and a workshop surrounded by plots of land growing banana trees, cacao, yucca, and various other crops. From dawn until dusk the sound of children’s voices, laughter, and singing, fills the air. It’s in this place that, for nearly a generation, children from abusive homes in distant villages, with no hope for an education or better life, have sought refuge and experienced the very best of the human spirit. Countless men and women, now out in the world living full, meaningful lives, at one time or another had their first hot meal, or their first non-violent night under this roof.

Today is not a typical day in Nuevo Comienzo. In fact, if asked, most of her inhabitants would say that this day has been like no other that anyone can remember. The town looks different, feels different, smells different, and the typically peaceful and quiet setting has been anything but peaceful and quiet for the past 24 hours or so.

From the southern end of the town to the northern end, every electrical pole has been painted with a  twelve-inch wide purple colored stripe of paint encircling the pole, about five and a half feet from the ground. A strange custom to commemorate someone of significance from the town. The purple has replaced the nearly completely faded orange applied to the poles to commemorate a local political candidate who had aspirations of moving into the presidential palace in La Paz many years ago.

For as long as it’s existed the town has never experienced what could be considered a traffic jam. However, for nearly a day the streets have been clogged with buses, large freight trucks carrying human cargo, and cars and SUVs that are seldom ever seen.

Four planes have landed between the cows, more than this town typically sees in a month. And the Palace Nuevo Comienzo is full. From the landing strip the passengers can see the Internado which on this day is the focal point of all the unusual activity.

A young boy with dirty shoeless feet and tattered clothing, not a resident of the Internado but one who lives in a nearby house, presses his way through the crowd of strangers toward a pavilion situated halfway between the kitchen and the river, drawn by the strong scent of flowers. As he pushes past people speaking languages both common and strange, he reaches the front of the crowd, and a few feet away, in the center of the covered pavilion, lies a  man, cold, still, surrounded by various loose flowers trucked in from a distant place, his body stiff, wrinkled, and worn by age, his eyes closed, and his lifeless expression conveying what one might perceive as a sense of satisfaction over a life well lived.

Men and women quickly changed their plans and adjusted their schedules and traveled from various places around the country and around the globe to this place, on this day, for one reason.

Liam Francis has died.

He was 94.