In Search of Fate
Chapter 1: The Monastery
Upon entering the visitor’s waiting room, he found himself confronting a complete stranger. She was a young woman around thirty years old. Had she come directly from an office, her appearance could not have been more appropriate—tailored suit, hair drawn into a bun, understated but elegant shoes with no heels. In the Monastery’s austere waiting room, her presence was an affront to its shabbiness and lack of functionality. She immediately rose from one of the tall-backed chairs and self-assuredly put out her hand.
“Adam Questor? I . . . I’m Evelyn Wyman. Your employers asked me to see you to . . . to find out if there was anything you need.” She stumbled over these words, unwittingly acknowledging the awkwardness of the situation.
Questor took her hand. “I’m sure it’s a pleasure to meet you, but I can’t presume to know what ‘need’ my employers think you can fill.”
For a moment, Miss Wyman’s face seemed to relax its formal rigidity. Questor thought she was either going to blush or smile. But, instead, she released the firm grip she had on his hand and motioned to one of the chairs.
“Please sit down and I’ll explain.” She paused, apparently deliberating how to begin. “Recent events and your sudden departure have alarmed your associates. They’re worried about you and thought that I might be of service to you. I understand John Smite was a close associate. His death—and the circumstances of his death—must have been a shock. Perhaps you’d like to talk about your feelings?”
“You’re a doctor I presume—a therapist or counselor, right?”
“Something like that, I’m a clinical psychiatrist. More precisely, I’m Executive Director of the Maryland Institute of Clinical Psychiatry.”
“You’re quite young for such a responsible position.”
“And you too are quite young for such a responsible position. There are many people depending upon you, not just within Global Pharmaceuticals, but around the world. Your work affects millions. I would be honored to help in any way I can. Normally, I don’t take on clients outside of the Institute, but when Ralph mentioned your name, I felt obligated to respond. Please, Mr. Questor, don’t think that I’m looking for celebrity clients. I just want to be of service in my professional capacity, especially to a person whose work is so important. Do you understand my motivation? It’s important that you understand that I’m here to help you deal with these recent events. Of course, anything we discuss here I’ll hold in the strictest confidence. How do you feel about me?”
“I don’t know you?”
A half chuckle escaped Ms. Wyman. She suppressed her spontaneous reaction and restated her question. “I mean, about talking to me about your feelings?”
“I’m a little conflicted between a willful suspension of disbelief and distrust.”
“I don’t follow you.”
“I can accept your purpose in being here, but I’m not sure of Ralph’s in sending you.”
“Why, don’t you trust Ralph?” Ms. Wyman broke eye contact and momentarily looked down at her hands. She seemed to be gathering herself to maintain her equanimity. “He seemed to have an honest concern for your welfare.” Though spoken as a statement, her words had the inflection of a question. “He negotiated a temporary leave for you with his Board and personally took over your schedule until your return. Does that sound like the actions of somebody you should distrust?”
Her question was straightforward, but Adam detected something else in her tone. “Why did he send you?”
“I already told you what he told me. Do you suspect another purpose?” The quizzical look on her face was too intense to be ignored: she seemed to be really questioning whether there might be another purpose behind Ralph’s request for her assistance.
“Well, I suppose we shall see.”
“Does that mean you’ll talk to me?” Ms. Wyman raised a questioning brow, but there was just a trace of whimsy in her eyes.
Questor could not help being intrigued by this woman. “It depends upon what kinds of questions you ask.”
“Okay then, let’s start with why you’re here. “
Questor avoided her eyes as he responded, “It’s quiet—no phones, time to think.”
“But why come to a monastery?” She paused to reconsider her approach. She wanted to explain herself to this man without making him defensive. “I understand that you once studied to become a priest. Did you come here to pray, to seek spiritual guidance or to find the resources within yourself to deal with the death of a close friend?”
Questor surveyed his questioner as if for the first time. He noted how erect she sat, her eyes fixed on him. Was this her professional posture or did she really find him that worthy of her full attention. With the palms of her hands resting on her thighs, her knees pulled tightly together, she seemed ready to pounce on his words. “You seem to have done your homework, Ms. Wyman. Did Ralph provide a dossier on me?”
“No,” she laughed, “but I stopped at the bookstore last night and picked up Mason’s biography. Is it an authorized account of your life?”
“I’ve never read it. Is it any good? What sense does it make of my life? Maybe I should read it.”
“I have only gotten through the first two chapters where he discusses your commitment to the spiritual life and eventual falling out with the Church hierarchy. He seemed to think that you had some kind of crisis of faith. He said your quest for truth went beyond the answers faith provided. Is he right about that?”
Questor turned pensive. “‘What is truth?’ Is it logically derived from self-evident first principles as some philosophers say, or is it the epiphany experienced with faith? Is faith the door you must open before you can experience the truth? If so, then what door do you open? Should I be a Catholic, a Jew, a Hindu, or a Moslem? There are many beliefs from which to choose. The irony is that committed belief in any one of these religions has been used to justify the death of non-believers, those ignominiously termed infidels or heretics. If you leave judgment at the door, you are at the mercy of priests, rabbis, gurus or mullahs for control of your life. If you believe judgment can only be found on the other side of the door, then the question of truth is begged at the very start of your search and you are doomed to never answer that question in any rational way. I could not find sufficient evidence to support a leap of faith and discovered that I was not able to trust those who proposed such to me.”
“Then Mason was right. You did have a crisis of faith. It seems unlikely that you should find solace in a religion you left over a decade ago. So why come to a monastery to sort things out?”
“Perhaps my crisis was not with my faith, but with my church. You teach children what to believe, because they need guidance. Adults have to fend for themselves or risk becoming ciphers. But, to answer your question, a monastery is not an unlikely place for sorting things out. Initially, the abbot offered me quarters in the guest house. I declined his offer to share space or schedule with the community and asked for a hermitage. He suggested the use of this little chapel which the monks sometimes use for vigils or, on occasion, as a hermitage. At this time there’s only one monk living the life of a hermit. Nobody knows exactly where he sleeps, but one of the brothers brings him food and Communion every day at the clearing in front of this little chapel. I saw him for the first time yesterday. The brother brought me food too, but I declined Communion. Meeting my companion in solitude was a communion in itself. We only looked at each other, but I saw something in his gaze that I recognized.”
“You knew him?”
“He did seem to have something to tell me; but no, I didn’t know him. I once knew somebody like him, a man of faith who had passed through the door and was at peace with a knowledge in which he felt secure.”
“Who was this person he reminded you of?”
Questor’s inquisitor seemed puzzled at his reply. She tilted her head at an angle, jutted her jaw forward slightly and squinted at him. At the same time she relaxed into the back of her chair and gracefully crossed her legs. Questor stared at her for a moment and then quickly looked away, hiding his embarrassment.
“Mr. Questor, may I call you Adam?”
“If you like.”
“Adam, I don’t believe you’re here to find uninterrupted time to think. This place is also a refuge from what’s out there. Perhaps you’re looking for solace, or some kind of peace of mind. But I don’t think you can find it by going back to a time you have long since forsaken. You must face whatever has driven you to this isolated Monastery. I think you’re in denial.” She paused and weighed her next words before she spoke. “Were you especially close to John Smite? “
“We were friends. I don’t think we were especially close. His lab was under contract to Global for key research into genetic structures of interest to our project. Since much of what we were trying to accomplish depended upon that research, I spent a lot of time with John. Most often I was just a sounding board for his flights of imagination. He was brilliant. But he was much more than a scientist. We spent many off-hours discussing everything from the existence of God to the meaning of our individual lives. In some ways, we were kindred souls—both searching for something. I’ll miss him.”
“Were you shocked by his suicide? It must have been difficult for you to deal with the way he . . . Ralph said that you never returned his message. You just disappeared from work and home. You know, it would be better if you talked about your feelings, even if you have to confront the manner of his death.”
“Ralph’s message only said that he took his life. Is there more to know than the fact that he removed himself from his own existence, as well as from all that knew him?”
“Adam, I’m sorry. I assumed you knew the details, either from Ralph’s message or perhaps from the newspapers.”
“I’ve not read a newspaper since I left. How did he die?”
“The police have reconstructed a rather bazaar story. Apparently, Smite planned his death meticulously. He signed a lab disposal form, laid down in a large box used for lab animal corpses, secured its lid, and sedated himself. The disposal technicians followed his instructions and delivered his makeshift coffin to the furnace where it was incinerated. The police found a hypodermic needle amongst his ashes. He left no record to explain why he would take such action. I’m surprised the police have not contacted you. They’ve interviewed everybody connected with Smite in order to find out his motives. Do you have any ideas why he would take his life in this manner?”
Questor did not reply, appearing stunned at her account of Smite’s suicide. Gradually, his body collapsed into a fetal position in his chair, his head in his hands. His shoulders began to tremble, and then violent shudders wrenched his body. Ms. Wyman, surprised by his reaction, rose from her chair and stood next to him. She placed her hand on his shoulder gently.
“Adam, I’m so sorry. It was insensitive of me to speak so matter-of-factly. Somehow, I didn’t pick up on how close you were to Smite.”
“I wasn’t, not really. But I can’t talk right now.” Questor suddenly rose, almost bumping into Ms. Wyman. She stepped back quickly. He seemed ready to bolt for the door when she recovered and grabbed hold of his arm.
“Adam, you can’t run away from these feelings. Stay with me or at least talk to somebody. I don’t know what’s troubling you, but I would like to help.”
Questor was surprised by her grip on his arm. It had been a long time since any woman had physically touched him. She was strong too. The tensing of her forehead and eyebrows riveted his gaze. He wondered: Could anybody be this earnest and not be real? He straightened himself and addressed her more directly than at any time since he entered the room. “What is Ralph Edwards to you? What claim does he have on you to ask you to intercede with me?”
Ms. Wyman released her grip instantly. “Ralph is my brother-in-law. There’s no special relationship between us other than my sister. Elizabeth and I have always been very close and supportive of each other. She never questioned my single-purpose pursuit of a career in clinical psychiatry when everybody thought I was sacrificing my personal life. And I tried not to question her judgment in marrying somebody like Ralph.”
Questor surveyed her face searchingly, “Ms. Wyman, you just told me something about yourself.” He continued in this direct manner, “Perhaps we could talk, but, if we do, it’ll have to be a dialogue, a two-way exchange. You may be able to help me, even if it’s not the help you may have anticipated. But I need to know more about you before I can” . . . Questor chose not to complete his sentence. Instead, he moved towards the door.