Changing Habits by Pat W Coffey
Ogden, Utah-1965, St. Agnes School
One decision, one date, one dead man, and I'm entombed in this place. Exiled far from anyone I know. Coerced by circumstance to dress and live as a nun. My family believes they buried me. My graduate school plans vanished. My life changed because of one stupid encounter! The bell shattered Sophie a.k.a., Sister Jude’s thoughts.
She pushed her chair back. Her fifteen-decade rosary attached to her tunic caught a drawer pull. Damn! You’d think I’d get use to this attached chain of beads. I hate the bindings of this outfit. The long medieval wool garb weighs heavy on my shoulders. The wimple cuts into my face and holds my head in place. Quick movements are cumbersome.
Sophie surveyed the playground through square glass and metal paned windows. Okay where are my little renegades? This banishment keeps me from leaving my classroom to check on my students. Another teacher attends to this joyous time.
The young woman studied the playground. A group of girls played hand-clapping games. They appeared lost in a world of rhyme and rhythm. The children amused themselves in Ogden, Utah with the same playground games I played as a child in Chicago.
"Snap, snap, snap," echoed the sound of the ropes hitting the playground’s asphalt. Agility! I envy their balance and depth perception to skip "Double Dutch."
Her gaze shifted to the north end of the playground. The boys claimed basketball nets to play H-O-R-S-E. She discovered the rest of her class engaged in team selections for "Red Rover." Sophie's heart stung as she recalled her childhood memories. Strong girls always chosen first for their strength to keep the opposing team from breaking through the line. Sophie was small for her age and seen as weak. She felt lucky if she was picked on a team.
Childhood, carefree days of fun and freedom, but not always for the oldest child in a large family. Summer days included swimming. Picnics on the boulevard, playing on the swings, monkey bars, slides, and of course hide and seek at night, but never alone. Never alone, Sophie's brothers or sisters tagged along. School and the classroom offered solitude from her family babysitting responsibilities.
A knock interrupted her thoughts. Sophie turned to see a tall nun standing with her arms folded under her scapular. "Can I help you sister?"
"Am I disturbing your prayer time, Sister Jude?"
It took a few seconds before Sophie recognized the voice.
"Nothing ever stays the same, does it?" answered Special Agent Cheryl Bond.
"I was watching the children on the playground and envying their freedom." Why is Cheryl in a habit?
Agent Bond walked to the windows without speaking. She took a chair from the first desk. Unaccustomed to the habit's yards of material, she struggled to make herself comfortable in the child sized chair.
Sophie paced back and forth. “We aren't scheduled for a 'nature walk' for another two weeks." She squinted her eyes and said, "I hope you brought some news for me. I'm tired of living in exile.” She folded her arms as she asked, "Will I ever have a life, my life? When will I be able to go to graduate school?"
Agent Bond held up her hand. "Stop pacing." The agent pulled out a chair and patted the seat. "Please sit down. I have news for you." Cheryl pulled a letter from her tunic's deep pocket.
"Sit, Sophie, we need to talk. The Agency’s concern for the safety of the sisters, children, and you increased in the last week."
Sophie sighed and sat next to Cheryl. "I thought you had news for me. The Agency reports concern about my safety every time you visit.”
"The bureau is re-examining your case and your safety is the issue. Caruso's case wraps up soon. Once it's put to bed, your status moves forward. I just got off the phone with my supervisor. He wants you to complete this change of status form. Once we finished with Dominic Caruso’s case, we can the transfer you to the U.S. Marshalls’ permanent witness protection program. This means a new identity, new location, and graduate school.
Sophie sat rigid in her chair. "They’re considering my case? That's wonderful!" The news overwhelmed the fugitive with the warmth of hope and freedom. Her eyes flooded with tears. “I'm grateful to the nuns at Saint Agnes. They took a scared and wounded girl and transformed her into a nun. I'll miss Mother Superior. She taught me how to speak, walk, and take on the mantle of a sister."
The Agent laughed, stretched her legs out in front of her and said, "You didn't mention living in a habit. I don't know about you, but it drives me nuts every time the Agency makes me wear this outfit. I don't wear it often, so when I do, I lay out the pieces one by one to ensure to dress properly. The stiff coif headdress is tight. My chin chafes from the cap used to cover my hair. Placing the white wimple on straight is the trickiest.”
Sophie touched her headgear, "There are days when I wish I could just walk outside without this stuff and feel the wind dance through my hair."
Agent Bond added. "You've lasted longer in this convent than some of my other cases."
"Misplacement of any part of this getup can lead to an uncomfortable day. "Sophie turned, placed her leg on a desk. She pulled her tunic up. "I hate these hideous black cotton stockings."
"You're smart to put on the stockings. You'd blow your cover if you didn't wear those ghastly things."
"Yeah, the stockings itch. When the weather is hot, I get a rash on my legs. I need to stay in character, but I'd give anything to run barefoot around the convent. Living here is as confining as this habit. I miss going out to dinner, to a movie, getting a haircut, I don't want to be living like a nun all my life.”
Cheryl looked at the woman who is her longest protection case. “Sophie, are you listening to me? I asked how did you learn to tackle the habit?"
Mother Superior checks me daily. She made me sew some snaps on my tunic and scapular to insure the two articles of clothing stay put."
"The hardest task for me is the veil. Pinning that heavy black wool on the headdress with those dressmaker pins is an artistic trick. Did Mother Superior share a veil trick with you?"
"Yes, I’ll show you. I also pre-tie the rope belt. The knot cinches the belt tight."
"The habit hides someone's identity, but the weight of the garment makes it difficult to run fast. Have you been practicing running in those orthopedic shoes?"
"The habit isn't the problem. It’s these shoes. They make it difficult to run on an uneven surface. The small heel on the shoe changes your weight distribution."
“Let's hope you never need to run in this getup," added her case Agent. "Why do you think I take you for shooting lessons in the nearby woods. Your ability to defend yourself is vital. I hope our target practice sessions soothe your cabin fever. Remember, you must maintain your Sister Jude identity with these women."
Sophie shook her head. "I realize my safety is important, but I can’t shake the sorrow of the events that brought me here. I was shot. Marty is dead. Mom and Dad think they buried me. I'm cloistered in the middle of a forest waiting for the Agency to gather enough evidence. Some days, this doesn't feel real, and other days, it’s scary."
"Well, I admit, this case is unusual. If we keep you safe, the bad guys go to jail for a long time. I hope knowing that the 'good guys' will win gives you satisfaction."
"Yes, but the guilt for leaving my family is my greatest sorrow. They think I'm dead. The realization that I can never speak to any of them without endangering their lives is overwhelming. Why didn't I realize what I was getting into when I agreed to see a movie with Marty Dunhill?"
"You can sit here despairing or you can help fill out this 'change in terms' form for your case," replied her handler.
"Did you say 'change in terms' form?" A bell rang and summoned the end of lunch recess.
Cheryl slid the form back into her tunic pocket. "We'll do this later."
Sophie walked towards the classroom door, stopped, turned, and faced her protector. “So, are you coming back after school? Or are you staying the night?”
Agent Bond stood from her chair. She smiled, "I’m on my way out on right now. I won’t be spending the night, let's meet tomorrow after breakfast."
Sophie tilted her head and asked, “Let’s make this simple. You want me to stay in the convent and wait for you. Correct?”
"Tomorrow!" repeated Sophie as she walked out of the room to gather her students. Her heart and future kindled with the possibility of change. She opened the exterior doors and a gust of wind force a chill through her, “Hurry now,” she instructed her students.
“That black sky announces a nasty storm. Quickly, get in before the rain starts.”
The last student sauntered in as Sophie struggled with the wind to shut the door. A bolt of lightning pummeled the playground. Her face flushed from its heat. The electrical energy erupted into an earsplitting thunderbolt. Stunned and breathless, Sophie opened her eyes and removed her hands from her ears. “What just happened?” The clouds released rhythmic rain as Sophie evaluated her status.
I’m not scorched, but the heat felt like I was being drawn into a fire. Is this an omen? My babcia (grandma) told me to fear lightning. Her little brother was playing in the field while the family was harvesting hay. Without warning, lightning came from nowhere and killed him. “Módl się wdzięczność, błyskawica jest dziełem diabła.” (Pray granddaughter, lightning is the devil.) She’d cross herself and pray each time the heavens flashed. Are you trying to tell me something babcia? Is the devil near?
Pre-Dawn, Ogden Convent
"Stay down, for God's sake, stay down." Marty's last words woke Sophie from her fitful sleep. Tortured each night by the same dream, she laid tired on her cot and waited for the convent chimes to announce matins (morning prayers). Each morning I wake feeling pain from my gunshot wound. Marty’s death chills me. I sleep, but awake exhausted.
Today marks my second anniversary of living in suspended animation. How quickly my life evolved into anonymity. Sophie Janisewski no longer exists.
The unwilling fugitive opened her eyes to early morning light. My life is like pre-dawn. It is not dark, but it is filled with unknowns. It is not bright and filled with hope. I wait, protected without brightness. My life remains dusk.
Tears fell from Sophie’s eyes. Today, Mama and papa attended a mass remembering me. My family took a trip to the cemetery to place flowers on my grave. My heart languishes because they don’t know I’m not buried there.
The reputation of grandma's rye and pumpernickel breads brought Marty to the bakery. Our first conversation started about bread. If I wasn't covering for my grandmother, my family and I would be celebrating my Master’s Degree.
The chimes summoned the convent's residents to rise and prepare for matins. Sophie never missed. The calming chants and wisdom of the Divine Office soothed her soul and mind. Praying renewed her hope in the future and life beyond these convent walls.
Tumbling out of her cot-like bed, the cold tile floor jolted her back to reality. Sophie stood in front of the small basin. The sink is about two feet from the bed. It is evident why the nuns call it a cell. She turned on the cold-water faucet, and splashed the icy wetness on her face. Need to brighten these cheeks. Don't want anyone thinking I'm sad. Better, grab a toothbrush. Smiling is an important nun reflex. She slid into her habit and giggled. Mom and dad would not recognize me in this garb. Swaddled in these clothes, no makeup, hair tucked away, I am just another 'penguin' in a sea of black and white.
A soft rap on the door surprised Sophie. Agent Cheryl Bond walked in indicating silence by placing her finger over her closed lips. The fugitive nun nodded yes. She followed Cheryl out the door and down to the stairs.
When they reached the Great Hall, they walked through the empty kitchen. Cheryl stopped, turned, and listened as if someone was coming.
Convent Laundry Area
Sophie followed Bond down the stairs into the kitchen and to the basement door. Still silent, the agent the basement stairwell. Sophie followed Cheryl one creaking stair after another. The women walked together until they got close to the laundry area, then the bodyguard stopped. Sophie looked to her protector for direction. The Agent signaled to her charge to stand with her back about four feet from the laundry door. Sophie took two steps and placed her body against the wall.
Sophie's stance made her look like a huge black blob on the wall. She took a glanced at her Agent and saw a gun hidden under her scapular. Something not right, if Cheryl is carrying a weapon in the convent.
Bond walked with caution to the door. She placed her head against the massive wooden barrier. She stood for a few moments and listened. She entered the and motioned to Sophie to follow.
Two stern, suited men stood in the room trying to avoid the clothes lines. The older man approached first. "Good Morning, allow me to introduce myself. I'm Special Agent Sebastian Goodyear and this is my partner, Agent Peter Allread. We reviewed your case.
We want to discuss your request to go to graduate school."
Sophie turned toward Cheryl. Her Agent pulled her hand from her scapular and touched her charges' shoulder with her left hand.
Sophie began to rub the scar under her clavicle. So much has happened in the last two years. No longer can I tell who is telling the truth. She lifted her head and responded to the visitors, "Good Morning, welcome to Ogden, Utah, gentlemen."
"Sophie, er, a, Sister Jude," began Agent Goodyear, "thank you for all the information you provided us about the Dunhill family business connections. These connections in Chicago lead us to other connections in other U.S. cities. As of a week ago, with search warrants issued, we got enough evidence for the Grand Jury. In a year or two, all the guilty family members will be behind bars."
Sophie looked down and said, "You know, I would never have dated Marty, if I knew his family was part of the Chicago Mob. My idea of the mob consisted of first and second generation Italians. Marty Dunhill did not have an Italian name."
"Don' t beat yourself up the wrong deduction," said Goodyear. "Dunhill's grandfather changed the family's name while waiting in line on Ellis Island. He took the name from a cigarette label he found on the ground."
The Agency didn't think his family was dealing with the mob let alone calling the shots in Chicago." The agent continued, "The shooting in the drive-in revealed the Dunhill family as the hub of the mob's dealings."
"All the information about the Dunhill family was what Marty talk about - food," Sophie added. "He talked about picking cheeses and dairy items in Wisconsin. The family contracted for local school districts. He raved about the collection of fish, shrimp, and other seafood in Florida his family procured for restaurants."
"All his trips coincide with information we had about mob activity in those areas," answered Allread.
"So, Agent Goodyear has Caruso gone to trial ?" Sophie asked leaning on a wash machine trying to absorb all that was happening in this tiny room of drying racks and clothes' lines.
Agent Allread stood and said, "I'll tell her the bad news."
Sophie stood straight, "What bad news?"
Allread watched as her skin flushed and brown eyes narrowed. He knew he needed to calm her. "Would you like to sit down?"
"No, thank you, and where do you see a chair? Anyway, I prefer bad news standing up," she snapped. "What happened, the Grand Jury wasn't satisfied with my statement? I don't want to hear that I put my life on hold for two years. My family believes I am dead. Are you telling me I've lived in exile for nothing?"
"I wouldn't say for nothing," replied Allread.
Clenching her fists behind her scapular, Sophie went on. "I wasn't the only witness to the crime, what did the other witnesses say? I've lived like a monk for two years. Alone, cut off with no communication from my love ones."
Allread began, "The Agency swooped in and made a deal with Caruso and with the prosecutor right before the trial."
"What kind of deal?" a testy fugitive folded her arms across her chest to keep her from shouting at the agent.
"The deal stated if Dominic Caruso cooperated fully with the Agency, the charges for the deaths of Marty Dunhill and Sophie Janisewski would be dropped. The two years he was held and cooperated with the Agency would be considered time served."
"You mean to tell me you forgave a professional hit man twice over for information about prostitution and drugs."
"Caruso helped the Agency close multiple unsolved murders cases."
"My murder wasn't important enough."
"Well, actually, you were his original target." Allread added. "Caruso never meant to shoot his high school friend. Marty was engaged to an Italian girl before he met you. The girl's father recruited Caruso to shoot you, Sophie. The marriage between his daughter and Marty proved to be more than a pre-arrange union. It was a peace pact to unite two strong territories and eliminate fighting between both families. "
Sophie walked to a small step stool in the corner, "Marty told me he broke off the engagement."
"I think we all could use a cup of coffee." Goodyear turned towards Bond and said, "Could you please bring some?"
Bond shook her head in agreement. Her charge's face lost all signs of color. "I'll be back as fast as I can. Would you like a throw, Sophie?"
The upset witness nodded and placed her head in her hands. After all these years, it is difficult to believe Marty was a member of a crime family. Let alone an active member of their business.
Sophie lifted her head with restraint. She surveyed the laundry room and focused on the two government agents.
"What is it Sophie?" inquired Allread moving closer to the nun. "Do you remember something?"
"Before the first shot was fired, Marty said, 'What is he doing here?' I turned to see why he was upset. As I moved, a shot rang out and my shoulder exploded with pain. Marty turned, shoved me to the floor and said, 'Play dead, for your sake play dead.' Then another shot rang out, then another, then another. I passed out. When I became conscious the medic was putting me in an ambulance. I said nothing. I didn't move."
Kitchen, Ogden Convent
Agent Bond took the steps two at a time to the kitchen. She plugged in the coffee pot. She grabbed a tray, placed sugar and cream, and four mugs on it. Her instincts told her something was not right. Why didn't Goodyear inform me of his pre-dawn arrival?
Mother Superior walked into the kitchen. There on the counter next to the tray laid a gun. She looked at Cheryl, "Early Company?"
"Sophie and I are entertaining unexpected guests from the Agency. We are in the laundry room. You'll need a teacher to replace her."
"This day was bound to come," said Mother Superior. "She is a talented teacher. She will be missed."
"I'm not sure about the details. I'm about to call my Unit Chief for instructions."
The Agent lifted the phone and dialed the number. "Yes, this is Special Agent Cheryl Bond. Unit Chief Steed is waiting for my call."
Unit Chief Steed is in an important meeting, may I take a message?" responded the clerk.
"Interrupt the meeting. Tell him Sister Jude has visitor! That's an order!" bellowed the Agent.
Within seconds an annoyed Steed picked up the phone, "What do you mean you have visitors?"
"Allread and Goodyear are here to talk about Sophie's status," relayed Agent Bond. "I only was expecting Special Agent Goodyear."
"Eliminate Allread, repeat eliminate Allread!" barked back Steed. "A few seconds before your call, I was notified that Allread is working with the Chicago Mob. After a foiled escape, Caruso told us the mob bought off Allread. The mob instructed Allread to find Sophie and kill her."
"I understand Chief." She slammed the phone into the receiver. Turned towards Mother Superior and said, "I think it would be prudent if you and the rest of the sisters went to the church for morning prayers today."
"I'll gather them now." Mother Superior hugged Cheryl and left the kitchen. She practiced this for this event.
Bond took a deep breath, steadied the tray, and placed her gun under it. Resolute in her determination to follow the orders given to her by Unit Chief Steed returns to her charge and the agents.
Laundry Area, Ogden Convent
"Shh! ... someone is coming, cautioned Goodyear.
"I'll get the door," offered Sophie.
Allread leapt for the door and shouted, "No Sophie, allow me."
The impetus agent opened the entrance. For a brief second, he stood in front of Agent Bond. Without saying a word the Agent nun fired two shots. Allread went down.
Sophie slid her hands from her ears. They were ringing from the shooting in small room. She turned to see both agents looking at each other. Goodyear had a flushed face and a gun drawn on his fellow Agent.
Bond stood in the door jam and balanced the coffee tray with one hand and her gun aimed and ready under the tray. "I called the Agency to verify your visit. Steed informed me of Caruso's attempted an escape. Once he was back in his cell, he identified his accomplice as Allread. Steed ordered me to 'eliminate' Allread."
A cold chill spasmed down Sophie's spine. I was the target. Cheryl just saved my life. What is happening?
"We must leave Ogden now," commanded Goodyear. Sophie must change her identity and name again."
"Give us two minutes to clean out our cells," requested Sophie.
"Sorry Sophie," interrupted Agent Bond, "your location and cover is blown. We must leave. We don't want to endanger the sisters who gave you sanctuary and the children who attend St. Agnes."
"Sophie, let's clean this mess," said Bond. "Goodyear, move Allread's body into your vehicle. We must hurry."
We need to move into an emergency safe house," shouted Goodyear as he dragged Allread's body towards the door. Nicely done, Cheryl. Your quick action is noted. Our goal is to keep Sophie safe."
Cache National Forest, Emergency Safe House
Sophie's reality of her safety shattered. She found herself in a jeep driving to an unknown destination searching for anonymity and security. Agent Bond sat next to her in the back seat. The Agent had a gun on her lap and another one strapped to her ankle. Extra ammunition stashed in a black bag on the floor. Allread's body was propped in the front seat next to Goodyear. The fugitive approached the scenario with horror and humor.
We resembled a cast from a Hollywood B-movie, mused Sophie. Here I am, driving to parts unknown in silence accompanied by a gun sling nun, a dead man, and an agent turned race car driver.
Agent Goodyear veered off Interstate 80. The county highway's scenery reminded her of a world back in time. The road tossed both the living and the dead travelers around in the Jeep.
This jeep is perfect for a non-asphalt wilderness road. No one lives here, surveyed the fugitive. But it won't work for me, there isn't a college in sight.
Another turn brought the travelers to a pot-holed road ending in a town from another century. Sophie tapped Cheryl on the shoulder. "Is this a real town or a desolate movie lot? The gas station and small general store haven't washed a window in decades."
Cheryl groaned and pushed her arms into the roof of the jeep. "Would you clean your windows with these high winds blowing dust and tumbleweeds?"
"The town appeared desolate, a perfect place to disappear. Oops!" Sophie slid towards Cheryl and slide back into her seat as Goodyear swerved to miss a deep hole.
"How are you two girls doing back there?"
Cheryl reached over and slapped her old partner in the back of his neck and said, "Watch what you are saying, Sebastian. We'll discuss this later."
Sophie thought Cheryl's acted out of character, but did not say anything to her. Her body rebelled against the ride with a queasy stomach and a migraine in the making.
The Jeep entered a gravel road. The tires crunched on the stones while her head ached advanced to a migraine.
Multiple U-turns up a steep mountain, under a canopy of lodge pole pines brought the car to a stop in front of a log cabin. The dark, dense forest made it difficult to tell the time of day.
Goodyear turned off the ignition and got out of the Jeep.
Two people approached the agent displaying their identification with their hands in the air. "Hello Special Agent Goodyear. I'm Deputy Kent Ryder." Pointing to the man at his left, he said, "Deputy Robert Jones," as his eyes searched the perimeter. "The supplies for you and your staff are in the cabin."
Cheryl got out of the car, she walked around the front of the cabin looking at the ground and towards the growth in front of her. "Surely, you didn't hike in. Where's your vehicle? Don't see your tracks?"
"Our van is behind the cabin," Ryder explained. "Once, we're certain everything is secure, we'll be on our way."
"Check the perimeter!" ordered Goodyear.
"All clear, sir!"
"Check it again. Remember to take Allread's body with you."
"Consider it done, sir."
"Ryder, what is this suitcase doing out here?" asked Special Agent Bond.
"I don't know, sir. The Integrity Crew brought it with them. It contains clothing for you and your witness." answered Jones, who was struggling with Ryder to remove Allread's body out from the car. "I'll bring it in for the ladies."
"You'll do no such thing! If the ladies want equal jobs, Agent Bond can pick up the suitcase."
"Don't sir me, Ryder!" barked Goodyear, "I'm going to stash the jeep. Cheryl, you and Sophie enter the cabin when I said you can."
Sophie turned to Cheryl, "Is he always this bossy?"
"We almost lost you at the convent. The mob wants you dead. They'll do whatever take to kill you." After two years of hiding this witness still doesn't fully understand that her life has a price tag on it. Any member of the mob can be promoted and gained a hefty reward, if they bring her or proof of her death to the Dunhill Family.
"Goodyear doesn't like women?" asked Sophie.
"Hey what are you doing?" Cheryl grabbed the case out of Sophie's hand. "This could've been a bomb! It could've exploded when you picked it up."
"Well, it didn't blow up. I wanted to be useful," insisted Sophie.
Cheryl put her finger over her lips to signal she did not want Sophie to speak. The agent spoke in a low, soft voice, "The bomb could be rigged to explode when the case opens.
The bodyguard pointed down the road to an oversized pin, "Please slowly walk that tree without talking or making a sound." Cheryl studied her charge's quick moves with quiet precision, "Ah, she did listen to me during my training sessions on bomb scares."
The Agent ran her hands around the sides of the case searching for wires, glue, tape, or any indication of something that's not supposed to be on a suitcase. Her next move required her to be in a couch position. Trained to listen for any unfamiliar sound, Cheryl had only seconds to minimize the damage. She lowered the suitcase to the ground, then she crouched down. She prepared for a loud sound. She opened the locks.
Not sound, still here. The brave woman lifted the case open a half-inch by a half- inch until the case opened wide. Okay, to this point, and Sophie's following the drill.
The Agent's hands went through the case with deft precision as she checked for explosives. "Okay, this suitcase is clean."
A cold chill spasmed dow Sophie's spine. I was the target. Cheryl just saved my life. What is happening?on't you find it strange, Cheryl? Wouldn't you think they would want us hidden in another convent?"
"You were safe at the convent until the mob bought off an Agent. Like you, I'm wondering what headquarters plans to do with us."
Goodyear approached the women. "We think you two need to stay here for a week or so until the mob realizes their mole is dead."
"Ah, Agent Goodyear, I forget, sharp hearing is one of your key attributes. I remember a few cases when it was lifesaving." Cheryl continued to put the items into the case.
"Hey, you've had a tough morning and a hard two years," said Goodyear.
Cheryl lifted the suitcase, "Yes, this is an unusual assignment. Until today, it was one of the more peaceful ones."
"Come on girls-"