Tag Archives: redemption

Wrath of the Lamb

Joshua Schafer knew the corridor well. Since the state had re-established capital punishment, he as death row chaplain had ministered to twenty inmates, and there were three more executions slated for later in the year. With luck, he wouldn’t be here for those. He’d done the paperwork for an unpaid leave of absence hours before, and there was no reason to think he’d be denied. He’d read the newspaper that morning and was certain he’d made the right decision. The headline had assaulted him. He knew that when a man of the cloth feels hatred and revenge in his heart, it’s time to step back. And not only step back but reconsider whether he was prepared to go on—with everything.

+++++The corridor looked the same as last time, smelled the same, sounded the same. Light, shadows, echoes, the inelastic ambiance of fear: all the same, except for one thing. The young prison guard kept glancing back at him as they walked down the hallway to unit 05, where an inmate had been transferred to the death house just yesterday. At first, it was only a slight sideways look and Schafer thought nothing of it. But then it happened two, three more times and Schafer touched his clerical collar wondering if something was out of order.

+++++They stopped at 05, and the guard hesitated.

+++++“What is it guard?”

+++++Again the look, this time more of a stare, making Schafer even more uncomfortable.

+++++“I get the feeling there’s something about me that’s bothering you,” said Schafer.

+++++“I’m just amazed, sir,” said the guard, a shadow of embarrassment passing over his face.

+++++Did the kid even shave yet? thought Schafer.

+++++“You look astoundingly like Cullen,” said the guard.

+++++Schafer had seen the photographs, flipped through the file. Yes, he’d noticed a resemblance in the sandy-colored hair, high cheekbones, over-large ears, and a nose that was long and narrow and a bit crooked from a straight-on angle. But it hadn’t concerned him, and what could you tell from a photo anyway?

+++++“Hmm,” said Schafer, as he looked away. “I think we should get on with this.”

+++++“Sorry, but it’s hard to ignore,” the guard said. “You’d think you were the man himself. What’s that word people use? Uncanny? That’s it, uncanny.”

+++++Schafer felt heat rise from his chest and neck. He took a long breath. “Look, I haven’t got a lot of time, and quite frankly it’s been a rough morning for me. Daunting, to tell the truth. I’d like to move this along as quickly as possible.”



+++++Joe Bob Cullen looked directly at the chaplain as to the two men shook hands. For a moment Schafer had the sensation he was staring into his own slate-blue eyes. They sat facing each other at a metal table inside a small meeting room a few paces from Cullen’s open cell. The room was without a door and separated from the rest of the unit by a cinder block wall painted white. There were three guards, but they couldn’t be seen from where the two men sat. Cullen wore the usual death row inmate’s uniform, a white jumpsuit with DR printed in black on the back.

+++++“I’m sure you’re aware that on the day before an execution the inmate has a chance to meet a chaplain. The new rules allow us ten minutes in a semi-private setting. I’m here to introduce myself, and to say I’ll be there for the procedure unless of course, you would prefer me not to be. We can also have one more visit before the execution tomorrow.”

+++++“Fine by me,” said Cullen. “Whatever the rules and regulations say.” He laughed.


+++++“I’m glad I’m dying in a more liberal state where they treat us guys like human beings.”

+++++Schafer nodded and studied the file he’d brought with him. He noted that Cullen was born two days after him, in 1977. He looked up. “I can pray with you as well, offer communion, answer any questions you might have. And I can…”

+++++Schafer stared at Cullen’s face, impassive as granite. Photographs did little justice to the resemblance between the two men. Was it true that somewhere in the world my exact double exists? thought Schafer.

+++++“Cat got your tongue, padre?”

+++++“Er, no, it’s just that…”

+++++“I know what you’re thinking, pastor. By the way, you prefer to be called pastor or are you one of those down-and-dirty, streetwise padres? You prefer Joshua or maybe Mr. Schafer?”

+++++“Mr. Schafer’s fine.”

+++++“Mr. Schafer it is, then.”

+++++Schafer fidgeted with the file in front of him, ran his hand across his sandy colored hair. His knees bounced to an unknown rhythm. He stroked his chin and realized he’d forgotten to shave. He’d left his house in a hurry after reading the morning paper. Had he switched off the toaster?

+++++Cullen watched as he sat leaning against his chair back. His legs were crossed. “People tell me I’m your Doppelgänger,” the prisoner said. “That’s the word, ain’t it? Doppelgänger?”

+++++“Yes it is,” Schafer said, trying for nonchalance. “I must say, I’d never realized how strong the resemblance is until now.”

+++++“Makes you sorta nervous, don’t it? Like it’s one of those there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I sorts of things.”

+++++The chaplain shrugged and smiled. “The world is full of chance occurrences, coincidences, marvels. There are so many unpredictable things they’re almost predictable. It’s all part of God’s wondrous, mysterious universe.”

+++++“Like the twist of fate that left me taking the rap for a murder I didn’t commit? The lousy break that allows me to be the fall guy and another bastard goes free?”

+++++“My remit is not to discuss your sentencing but to minister to your spiritual needs.”

+++++Cullen smiled, and Schafer noted that his bottom teeth were so closely packed that one tooth had been pushed forward. He instinctively raised his finger to his mouth to feel a misaligned incisor in the same position.

+++++“I’m thinking you may have some spiritual needs too, padre.”

+++++Schafer frowned. “We all feel the necessity of having a relationship with God. In some it’s sharper than in others, but it’s there for everybody.”

+++++“I read the papers,” said Cullen. “Saw the headline. What was it? Former Accused Murderer Wins Lottery. Yeah, that was it.”

+++++Schafer glared at the prisoner. “That has nothing to do what we are about here, Mr. Cullen. What we are about here is the fact that tomorrow evening at 6 sharp you will receive a lethal injection. My goal is to assist you spiritually in any way I can between now and that moment of truth.”

+++++“Well,” said Cullen as he picked at a fingernail. “I don’t believe much in the truth, frankly, since I told the truth and look where it got me. But I ain’t a dumb man, padre, and I know a little bit about human nature. You know, prison is about the best place I can think of to read up on the world, get your bearings. Some of the boys call it FelonyU. And my education tells me your seeing that headline must have just torn you up.”

+++++“Mr. Cullen, if you have no questions or requests for me, then I’ll say my goodbyes until tomorrow.”

+++++“Now wait a minute,” said Cullen, as Schafer was about to stand. “I read how the man who’d been acquitted of raping and murdering the prison chaplain’s young wife—Magdalena, right?—goes out and lives a fine-and-thank-you-very-much kind of life. And then what happens? Bastard wins the lottery and becomes an overnight millionaire. How’s that for luck, padre? I’m reading that paper and thinking, why, that must be hell for the chaplain. Pure hell. Because the chaplain still thinks the man did it. Still thinks his wife’s former lover is the murderer. Or so says the paper. Were you misquoted?”

+++++Schafer rose. “I think we’re done here.” He stood but didn’t move as he stared at the inmate.

+++++“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world,” said Cullen.

+++++Schafer’s face darkened.

+++++“I know a little bit of the Good Word too, padre. It ain’t only newspapers and pornography I read. I know that when John the Baptist said he was thinking of Christ as the Lamb of God, he was thinking of sacrifice.”

+++++“You’re no sacrificial lamb, if that’s what you’re saying,” said Schafer. “You killed a convenience store owner in cold blood. Just because you wanted what little cash the poor man had. God forgives you, of that you can be certain, but the people have a right to seek justice, and tomorrow they will have it.”

+++++“Well we can disagree on the sacrifice part,” said Cullen. “An innocent man killed for something he didn’t do is a sacrifice, I’d say. I’ve got the job of somehow atoning for the crimes of all the good citizens out there. I’ve never been big on sharing, if you know what I mean, but there it is.”

+++++“I can see the Lord has not yet opened your heart. In the next 24 hours I will pray that he does.”

+++++“Well you go right on and pray, padre. I can’t stop you from doing your job. But I thought I’d remind you that the Book of Revelation also speaks of the wrath of the Lamb. That’s right, the Lamb’s wrath. And it even says, ‘These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them.'”

+++++“I will not stand here and allow you to misuse the Lord’s Word.”

+++++“But I bet you’ll allow me to be your wrathful Lamb, won’t you, padre?”

+++++“What do you mean?”

+++++“I’ll take care of the fucker who did your wife.”

+++++“I have no idea what you’re going on about, Mr. Cullen, and this is highly inappropriate anyway—”

+++++“You and me. Exchange places.”

+++++“This is preposterous.”

+++++“You and me, we look alike. So close I could be you. I know you see it. I know you know.”

+++++“And you’re suggesting I stand in for you, so you can…what? Kill the man who killed my wife? If I had that much hatred in my heart I’d do that myself.”

+++++“But you won’t. I know you won’t. You’re a man of God. You’ll carry around the hatred all your life. You’ll ask for forgiveness, do good works, think you’re helping guys who are ready to get a chemical stew in their veins. But you won’t do anything but get on your knees. Meanwhile the acid of revenge eats away at your insides. Always eating until there’s nothing left. You take my place and you can rest assured you’ll get the one thing you want more than anything else in the world, more than life itself. That man will die. The minute I get out of this shithole, I’ll hunt that man down and kill him. All you need to do is give me the key to outside. They’ll probably catch me for it too, so don’t go thinking I go scot-free. But it will be worth it to have a little more time outside.”

+++++Schafer straightened his shoulders. “You underestimate how God’s grace works in our hearts. How it enables us to move on.”

+++++Cullen harrumphed. “How’s that working for you so far, huh? I know I couldn’t move on from something like that. A pretty little wife, you find out was screwing with this guy, and then he stabs her full of holes—and then lives the life of fucking Riley. No, padre, a man doesn’t move on from something like that. That sits with a man. Claws at him. That kind of injustice makes grace melt like snow in April.”

+++++“You said you weren’t a murderer. You didn’t kill the convenience store owner.”

+++++“I said I didn’t do that murder.”


+++++The chaplain heard the door to unit 05 close behind him. His knees were mercury. His heart thumped and he feared the guard could hear it. His mind raced. He was in the courtroom a year ago watching the defendant. He saw how the man smirked when the judge said four fateful words, “acquitted of all charges.” He felt as if some dark soul of revenge and destruction had come to colonize his life. He was in the bedroom where he’d found Magdalena’s naked body, the sheets soaked in red, walls splattered. He imagined her and the man together, in that bed. On the carpeted floor he saw what would be identified as the murder weapon, a kitchen knife, and he’d wished many times since then he could drive it into his heart to stop the burn of hatred.


+++++Again he walked the corridor. The guard was an older man and he didn’t study the pastor’s face as the young guard had yesterday. The sounds and smells of death row seemed strangely muted, as if he were in some other place and some other time, or no time at all. His black trousers and black shirt felt snug, as if he’d donned someone else’s clothes. His white collar scratched his neck.

+++++He thought about his duties. Praying with the condemned man, offering to take care of any last-minute things for a spouse, a child. Ensuring the prisoner was able to say his last words at the execution. Standing at the end of the gurney as the procedure went on.

+++++Cullen was already seated at the metal table when the chaplain entered. The prisoner looked up and smiled, a picture of casualness.

+++++“We have five minutes at most,” said Schafer. He stood behind the white cinder block wall and undressed.

+++++“Perfect fit,” said Cullen as he shed his uniform and began dressing in the pastor’s clothing. Schafer slipped on Cullen’s white shirt and trousers. They exchanged shoes.

+++++Cullen handed Schafer a folded piece of paper. “My last words,” said Cullen, smirking. “There ain’t much so you can memorize it quickly.”

+++++Schafer nodded. “All you have to do is stand there by the gurney and let me say my piece, I mean, your piece, and…”

+++++“I seen the documentaries. I know what the padre does when they start feeding the poison.”

+++++They looked at one another, not sure what to do next. A guard strolled past the entrance to the small room. “Couple more minutes, gentlemen,” he said, barely glancing at them.

+++++“You kneel,” said Cullen in a hushed tone.

+++++Schafer went down on his knees and bowed his head as Cullen raised his arms and whispered, “And they said to the mountains and rocks, fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?”

+++++Schafer opened his eyes and looked at the linoleum floor. He heard the buzz of fluorescent lighting overhead.

+++++Cullen walked out and the chaplain was alone, still kneeling.


He made his money during the early 2000s when Fishtown was making a turn. Gerald Rivers was there to scoop up what he could. Young professionals, hipsters and later on millennials were appearing on the narrow streets and along Frankford and Girard Avenue. Rivers bought up all he could and sat on most, rented out what he could. By 2010 Rivers had flipped all his residential real estate at almost triple the price he paid for it. He began buying on the commercial strip where coffee shops, bakeries, vegetarian restaurants and hipster pubs opened up. He flew under the radar as other big buyers made splashes about their talents developing old city neighborhoods. Rivers preferred to be in the background although he was known in certain circles as realtor, speculator. In others he was known as a skirt chasing cocaine sniffing egotist. The one thing Gerald Rivers didn’t realize during his money making days was his age. He was now 16 years older than when he began his business dealings. 52 in Fishtown was a lot different than being 36. His other problem was he would hit on any woman in a skirt no matter the age and was horrified when a twenty something asked him bluntly how many grandchildren he had. The change came to him one night at Johnny Brenda’s when he bought drinks for a group of ladies, he waved at them when in unison they all said “thank you Pappy”.
+++++Caroline Peterson had her eye on Gerald Rivers for some time. She had come out of a bad marriage, obtained her real estate license and worked for a small broker. Some of her girlfriends told her stories of Rivers, his condo on the river, his cocaine habit, how wealthy he was. Caroline considered herself different from the others. She came out of her marriage hardened not needy. In her early forties she knew she had a brief period of time to make some money and land a man she could take advantage of. She knew how to dress, spent her free time at the gym, hardened her body as she had her mind, wore her hair in a bun although when set free it hung down to her waist. Caroline was at Johnny Brenda’s the night Rivers was called “Pappy” and made sure he noticed her laughing at his stunned look. The following morning she made sure to bump into him at his favorite coffee shop and did so for the next two weeks until Rivers made his approach. She smiled at him the first time he attempted to speak to her and left the shop. Caroline made a habit out of wearing short skirts and low cut tops with just the right pair of heels. She would sit at the first high top table and cross her legs. Rivers would come in and order his coffee and without fail come over to speak with her. After his fourth attempt she engaged him. He was charming asking what she did for a living and what her hobbies were. Rivers was impressed she was in real estate telling her he dabbled a bit here and there. He asked her out on a date and she politely declined. That evening she arranged to be at Rivers favorite restaurant, arrived at five and took a table in the corner. Like clockwork he arrived at five-thirty and immediately noticed Caroline. He walked to her table and asked if he could join her as he sat down. Caroline smiled at him. They each spoke of their lives and ambitions and Caroline of course told him she was newly single and desired to get involved with a decent man. Rivers told her he just might be that guy. Caroline was spinning her web and Rivers didn’t notice, he was enthralled with her. Over the next two months they dated, went to theater, five star restaurants and not once did Rivers even get to third base. Caroline noticed Rivers wasn’t snorting cocaine although he drank a bit too much.
+++++The moon was full in the summer sky; there was just enough humidity in the air to cause Sean Forks to break out in a sweat. It took him over four years to admit to himself that he had been a bad husband. He often thought back to telling his ex she was too fat, her hair was shabby and her clothes disgustingly tight on her. There was nothing she could do that was good enough and when he got drunk he slapped her around. Sean stood along the river at Penn’s Landing breathing in the warm air thinking of what an idiot he was and still is. The last time he slapped her around she broke out a baseball bat and cracked his ribs. Within an hour she had moved out all of her stuff and he hadn’t talked to her since. Their divorce was uncontested, she didn’t ask for anything. Over the last month Sean Forks had been stalking his ex-wife who was in fact stalking a rich realtor. Unlike Sean, Caroline has transitioned to a full dating relationship and now the guy was chasing after her. Sean had noticed a woman everywhere he went while on his stalking detail, she was always lurking in the background. Every so often she would enter a restaurant and sit in the back watching the couple.
+++++It was a Tuesday evening at seven o’clock and like the clock Caroline and her realtor arrived at El Rey on Chestnut Street. He noticed the woman standing at the Dunkin Donuts. Sean decided to walk over and talk to her.
+++++“I’m Sean, I’ve seen you around a bit.”
+++++“I noticed you around.”
+++++“So what brings you here?”
+++++“I’m hunting a pig!”
+++++Sean looked her over. She had long blond hair, green eyes, and an excellent figure. He took her for a rich girl by the designer pocket book she had slung over her shoulder.
+++++“So who’s the pig?”
+++++“A creepy old guy like you! All I want is to get him alone but he’s always with that glamour chick!”
+++++“Hey I’m not a creep!”
+++++“What else do you call a guy who walks up and talks to someone he doesn’t know?”
+++++“I think we have something in common.”
+++++“What the fuck would that be?”
+++++“Your pig is dating my ex-wife.”
+++++“Isn’t that something? We’re both loser stalkers!”
+++++“So why do you want to get him alone?”
+++++“He dated me for a month, he degraded me, had his way and when he was done told me to get lost, treated me like a fucking whore!”
+++++“So what do you want to do to him?”
+++++“I wanna blow his brains out! What do you think of that?”
+++++“A little drastic I think.”
+++++“Drastic? That fucker gave me the clap!”
+++++“That sucks!”
+++++“So what did the princess do to you?”
+++++“She broke my ribs and left me.”
+++++“That’s pretty cool.”
+++++“No one deserves that!”
+++++“You look like an abuser, she probably waited too long to kick your ass!”
+++++“I wasn’t a good husband. I’ve changed.”
+++++“So you think she’ll take you back?”
+++++“No. I just want to say I’m sorry.”
+++++“She doesn’t care.”
+++++“Good advice from you. Your stalking a guy, call me names and you want to blow his brains out!”
+++++“At least I’m not a whinny bitch like you.”
+++++“You didn’t tell me your name.”
+++++“Well Monica, I thought about you being in all the places I was and figured you were doing the same thing I was. I have an idea.”
+++++“And how aren’t you a creep? You have a plan for me?”
+++++“I was thinking instead of you lurking out here or hiding in the back of the joint we could go in together.”
+++++“So let me get this right. You are asking me on a date so that we can stalk our exes together?”
+++++“I just thought we could both get this over with and I don’t think you need to shoot him.”
+++++“What’s your plan?”
+++++“Let’s go in like a couple, grab a booth across from them. They always sit in a booth. We can act like a couple and I’ll pretend to notice Caroline and take you over to introduce you. After I apologize to her you can have your say with him.”


Monica and Sean entered El Rey and were seated at a booth directly across from Caroline and Rivers. Monica leaned to the middle of the table and called Sean to her, he leaned across and she kissed him full on the lips. When they leaned back Sean noticed Caroline was staring at him. He stood up and walked over to the table.
+++++“Hi Caroline. I just wanted to tell you I was sorry.”
+++++He waved at Monica to come over.
+++++“Leave me alone. I don’t care. I wish I never met you scumbag.”
+++++Monica walked over as Caroline told her to run as far away as she could from Sean. He was a wife beater and a drunk.
+++++“Really? Did you know your rich boyfriend has VD! He gave me the clap!”
+++++Gerald Rivers looked at Monica.
+++++“Who are you?”
+++++“I’m the girl you fucked for a month, gave the clap and dumped me like I was nothing! You don’t remember me?”
+++++“Well there were so many back in the day. Now that I think of it, you’re that crazy chick!”
+++++“You’re a fucker you are! I ought to blow your brains out!”
+++++Sean and Monica were tossed out of El Rey. They went to Dunkin Donuts and had coffee.
+++++Caroline and Gerald left the restaurant. Caroline told him she was getting a cab, not to call her until he could prove he didn’t have any VD and was not HIV positive. If he didn’t do that he shouldn’t call her ever again.
+++++“So if I do that you’ll sleep with me?
+++++“Go get a test asshole!”
+++++With that Caroline grabbed a cab and went home. Sean and Monica went their separate ways after they chatted and finished their coffee. Neither of them asked for the others phone number. Gerald Rivers went home to his condo on the river. He felt he wasted over a month and half on a chick who would never sleep with him. He drank a few beers and went to bed.
+++++A few months passed as Sean made his way through the twelve steps of life. After his apology he moved on with his life. It was autumn and the city streets came alive with vibrant colors of trees. He had been dating a woman in the Northeast section of the city and the two of them enjoyed the great park areas of the Northeast. On Sundays they would go to the Quaker Diner for breakfast. On this October Sunday they sat by the large screen television. KYW news was on and it quickly caught Sean’s attention.
+++++“Early this morning a Fishtown realtor was stabbed to death in front of Johnny Brenda’s. Police believe it to be a domestic violence case and they have one male in custody.”
+++++Sean looked at the crowd shot. Leaning against a light pole with a huge smile on her face was Monica.
+++++“The latest information from police is that a jealous boyfriend attacked the realtor. More to follow later in the report.”
+++++Sean and his girlfriend finished their breakfast and headed off to Burholme Park for a walk in the West Woodlands.