Title: The Conscience of a God
Author: Birgitt Schuknecht
Fandom: due South
Rating: PG
Pairing: none
Category: drama
Disclaimer: The characters used in the following story are not mine. I
do not make any money out of this. It's written for fun and for the fans
of the show.
Feedback: birgitt.schuknecht@uni-essen.de
Spoilers: inspired by "The Deal" (sequel to "Conscience of a Priest")

The Conscience of a Priest
by Birgitt Schuknecht

Author's note: This is the final instalment of my "Conscience"-cycle.
It's inspired by the ep "The Deal". "Conscience of a God" follows after
"Conscience of a Priest".
The following story deals with a delicate matter. It’s about religion. I
do not want to offend anyone by what I’ve written. It is the way I see
God, the way I understand him. Probably I'm wrong, but then that's my
problem. I might be right. Again, that only has to concern myself.
Still, if you think it's a blasphemous act for a writer to take the POV
of God, please do not read on. I have no intention to insult anyone
whatever his or her belief.
Keep in mind: Although this a work of fiction, it's written by a real
person. Tolerance is the issue. I tolerate any belief as long as it
respects other people's concerns.

*...* indicates thought

Sometimes it's easy not to worry about all the pleas of mankind.
Sometimes it's not. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not ignoring the
prayers and wishes that come my way. It's just that I made a decision a
long time ago not to act upon them.

Why should I value one human being above the other? If I were to take
any action in matters of mankind I would have to make such a choice. And
I won't have that. I don't want mankind to impose their moral standards
on me. If they aren't able to stick to their own values and morals why
should I stick to them?

So many people call for divine intervention. Whenever an innocent
suffers, people expect me to do something spectacular to prevent that
from happening. But why should I do that? It's not me who lets the
innocent suffer.

It's not that I don't care. I do care. Otherwise I would have stopped
listening a long time ago. But I am still here and I am still listening.
Because I take an interest, a strong interest. But I won't interfere
with mankind. People are free to decide for themselves. Whatever the
outcome. I can live with that. The question is: Can they?


Father Behan stood in front of the hospital entrance, gathering his
courage. He was grateful for Brian Dawson's presence. The priest and the
lawyer had called the Vecchio home and learned that Ernesto and Anita
Vecchio were in the hospital with their son, Ray.

"Come on, Micky, get over with it. Would you like to see Marco first?
That might be easier." Dawson eyed his friend with a concerned look.
Again the priest had not slept much. They had discussed the matter until
it had been well past midnight. The lawyer had gratefully accepted the
priest's invitation to stay in the guest room. Early this morning he had
driven home to change while his friend had held morning mass, leading
the parish in prayer for the bodies and souls of Marco Mitrani and
Raymond Vecchio.

The priest nodded. "You may be right there, Brain. And I have to talk to
his parents as well. The housekeeper told me they hadn't left the
hospital in the last days. Oh, Brain, I'm such a coward in these things.
Without you I might not even be standing here."

Brian Dawson chuckled. "Without me you would be married now with Sybille
Hastings." Father Behan shot his friend a dirty look. The memory of the
girl who had dated the two friends at the same time still made him
blush. It had been a short-lived infatuation that very well could have
ended in marriage hadn't the two men found out that they had been in
love with the same woman. First they had had a fight about it, then they
had drunk themselves senseless about it and finally they had decided to
give up on Sybille instead of their friendship.

With a sigh the priest led the way into the building. The receptionist
gave them room numbers for both Marco Mitrani and Raymond Vecchio. When
they came to Marco's room they found his parents in the anteroom. Father
Behan went over to them. After acknowledging the priest's presence both
stood up and all three shook hands. Dawson stayed in the background, not
wanting to disturb.

Father Behan fears turned out to be unfounded. He had no difficulties to
relay his concerns to the worried parents. Finally the three sat down to
share a prayer for Marco's well-being, all of them too aware about the
chances the boy had to get better.

Mrs. Mitrani informed the priest that the doctor was with his son now.
Father Behan nodded thoughtfully. "I'd like to see the boy. I will be
back later. I will pray for your family. And all the people in the
parish share your worry and concern about Marco. This morning's
congregation wanted me to tell you this."

At his words Umberto Mitrani broke out into loud sobs. His wife tried as
best as she could to comfort him. Father Behan touched her arm lightly,
then stood up to leave. Claudia Mitrani called after him, "Thank you,
Father, for coming here. I know how hard all this is. For everyone. And
we are grateful for your prayers. It's just... sometimes I wonder if God
is ever listening."

The priest looked down on the distressed parents. He wished he could
promise her something, but he knew he couldn't. All he dared to say was,
"I'm sure he listens." Then he joined his friend and the two men left
one misery behind to face the next.


The nurse in the psychological ward led the men into an empty office.
"I'm sure Dr. Caulfield won't mind you waiting here for the Vecchios.
They are with their son. You understand, the boy is in no condition that
I let you two seeing him without the doctor's affirmation. I'll get the
Vecchios now to join you here. And I will inform Dr. Caulfield as well."
With that she left the office.

Dawson sat down on the couch, but the priest had no desire to do the
same. He paced the room nervously. Finally he stopped, turning to the
lawyer. "This is going to be difficult. I don't know much about Ernesto
Vecchio and I do not know how he will react."

His friend seemed to expect a reaction, so Dawson said as cheerfully as
he could, "So we'll have to wait and see, Micky, won't we?" He was
startled when the priest broke out in a short laugh. "You know, Brain,
that's exactly what Raimondo would have told me." Father Behan seemed to
be more relaxed now, he sat down beside the other man.

The door opened and the Vecchios entered. Anita rushed at the side of
the priest, breaking out in sobs. The lawyer stood and went over to the
desk, sitting down on the edge of it, facing Ernesto Vecchio. He did not
especially like what he saw but he tried to keep his emotions from his
face. Ernesto Vecchio looked at his wife for a few moments, then he
taxed the lawyer. "And who might you be?"

The sharpness of his voice even penetrated his wife sobs. She pulled
herself from the hug the priest had pulled her in, brushing away the
tears. Father Behan braced himself to confront Ernesto Vecchio. "Mr.
Vecchio, we are here to help you. I am not just here as a priest giving
spiritual support. We want to help your son in the trial he will have to
face." *So much for diplomacy,* the priest thought. *Maybe the direct
approach is the best...*

"How do you know about that?" Vecchio's face wasn't giving anything
away. He eyed Father Behan suspiciously now. "And who is this fella?"

Dawson decided to help his friend and give him some time to recover. "My
name is Dawson, Brian Dawson. I'm a lawyer, specialised in violent crime
cases. My friend, Father Behan, consulted me on your son's behalf and we
are both convinced that there is a way to prove his innocence."

Vecchio jerks his head in Dawson's direction. The lawyer stood up from
the desk he'd been still leaning on and straightened. No way that he
would let himself be intimidated by that man. Vecchio seemed to built up
anger now. "I don't see that that is your business. We've already got a

The priest stepped between the angry man and his friend. "Yes, we know
that. Varese, Zuko's man. But how can you trust a man who thinks it best
for Raimondo to plead guilty instead of trying to prove his innocence?
My friend here is ready to defend your son. He and I are convinced that
Raimondo is innocent."

"Are you? Well, I'm not, and I think Zuko's advice in this is best. He
should know, his connections with law enforcement are far better than
mine or..." he pointed at the lawyer who stood behind his friend, "his."

Father Behan sighed. This was going to be difficult indeed. "Mr.
Vecchio, what does you make believe that Raimondo would be capable of
such a violent attack? Why should he beat up his best friend? Has he
shown any violent behaviour in the past that makes you think he's guilty
in this?"

Ernesto Vecchio fell silent. Uncomfortably he looked at his wife. The
woman had followed the argument without saying a word. But now she rose
and crossed her arms. "No, Raimondo couldn’t have done this to Marco. I
told you once, Father, that he is a good boy. I still believe that. I
know he's innocent. But Alfredo Zuko is convinced that he wouldn't stand
a chance and so we agreed to accept his offer." Another sob escaped her.
"Oh, Father, if you know a way to help us, please tell us what to do. I
won't survive it if anything happens to mio Raimondo."

Her husband seemed to think different. "No, Anita, I won't have that.
I'll stick to Zuko's man. You'll risk everything we have by confronting
someone like Zuko." His anger was replaced by another emotion, even more
dangerous. The man was frightened now.

Anita Vecchio straightened herself. "I'll risk everything. I've got
nothing to lose anymore. All I have left is Raimondo. And isn't he worth
fighting for?"

Father Behan observed with admiration how the woman seemed to get the
better of her husband. But Vecchio wasn't defeated so easily. "And what
about the rest of our family. Have you forgotten Maria and Francesca? Is
all you can think about your miserable son? What about me?" His last
words came out in a hoarse choke.

"Ernesto, this is your last chance to prove that you love your son,
after all. I know that you do, deep, deep in your heart. You just can't
see how to show it, how to rely on this love. You've hurt Raimondo again
and again in the past years. I still have no idea why you did this to
him, to us... But you have the chance to stop now. Let's start anew from
here. Show me that you love him and that you believe in him. The only
way to help him now is to trust in his innocence. By doing it the way
Zuko will have it, we might save him from prison. But what about his
little soul?"

The two friends looked at each other in amazement and relief when
Vecchio let his wife pull him into an embrace. His shoulders jerked up
and down, the man was crying silently. Mrs. Vecchio smiled and winked at
the priest. Dawson chuckled slightly, "I'll have the necessary papers
with me. As soon as you've signed them we begin the work.


The trial against Raymond Vecchio was scheduled two days from now.
Dawson and Father Behan were in the middle of preparations for it. After
reading and re-reading the material spread out before them, the lawyer
looked up tiredly. "This is going to be hard. I have spoken to the
witnesses repeatedly. No one will change their testimony. Officer
Dolliard is the only one who is convinced that Marco's attacker was
Frankie Zuko, but all he could supply would be mere suspicions. To have
him as witness of the defence wouldn't help us. On the contrary,
prosecution would turn his testimony against us. We need some facts to
start with."

"I thought the best bet would be the janitor, Mr. Putrami. He must have
seen something." Father Behan ran a hand through his hair. Then he
reached for the coffee, only to discover that it had turned cold. "But
he sticks to his first testimony. Do you think he will change it when
he's under oath?"

"Micky, that man fears his own shadow. I won't risk Ray's life on the
hope that Putrami will make a truthful testimony in court. No, I think
he will tell us the same in court as he told us yesterday. Maybe he
believes it already."

"If only Raimondo could remember... He still has no memory of the
attack. The only memory he has is that he played basketball with Marco,
alone, on the school-yard, and the next thing he remembers is Marco
lying unconsciously at his feet. And that is no testimony in favour of
his innocence..."

The lawyer nodded, fighting his desperation. "I know. We know that
Frankie Zuko attacked Marco Mitrani, not Ray. So that memory of his must
be twisted. There's missing something. He's connecting two different
experiences. But how can we prove that? We can only pray that his memory
comes back fully before he has to testify in court. With his current
memory he will dig his own grave. In addition to that Dr. Caulfield will
supply a medical report stating Ray's mental instability. Who wouldn't
be mentally unstable after a shock like that?"

Father Behan rose from his chair and left his office, coffee pot in his
hands. A few minutes later he returned and poured his friend and himself
a mug of fresh coffee. "Wouldn't the disappearance of the basketball
help us?"

Dawson gave a short, humourless laugh. "No way, Micky. It does nothing
to exonerate Ray. There are several witnesses who testified seeing him
with the weapon in his hands. The basketball is not essential. It would
have been if they found some traces of Zuko's fingerprints on it. Now
its disappearance will only be filed away as another prove for the
shortcomings of law enforcement. But law enforcement is not prosecuted
here, Ray is."

The priest sighed deeply. *Have I been wrong,* he thought desperately,
*to interfere in this matter? Maybe it would have been better to let
have Zuko his way. Now Raimondo's chances were nearly non-existent.* His
brooding was interrupted by a knock. "Come in," he called out. The door
opened and a small girl entered. Father Behan jumped up. "Irene Zuko!
Child, what are you doing here?"

Dawson eyed the kid with interest. He observed her nervous gestures as
she spoke to his friend. "Father Behan, Mrs. Donatelli told me where to
find you. I came to ask you about Ray." The priest was at a loss for
words. Dawson recovered more quickly.

"You came to ask about Ray? Why? Oh, I'm sorry, I'm Brian Dawson, Ray's
attorney in the trial." He stretched out his right hand and the girl
took it, giving him a little smile.

"Irene Zuko, nice to meet ya. Yes, I want to know how Ray's doing. I do
not dare to ask at home or the Vecchios. I thought it would be a good
idea to come here."

Finally Father Behan found his voice again. "You were totally right to
come here. Ray's is... recovering, but he still doesn't remember
anything. We have to give it some more time. Why is it that you're so
interested in his well-being, Irene?"

The girl blushed fiercely. "Um... Father Behan, Frankie and Ray don't
like each other very much, but I cannot see why that is. Ray's different
from the other boys. He's so... kind, somehow. When he comes over to our
house, he treats me like a real person. Not like the others, Frankie's
friends I mean. They pull at my hair and try to frighten me. But I don't
fear them. I just think they're... stupid somehow. They do as Frankie
tells them to, all the time. Ray is different. And Marco is... ah was
different too. I cried a lot when my father told me that he is so sick,
he won't get really well anymore!"

"Well, Irene, that's very kind of you to worry about Ray and Marco. All
we can do now is pray for them both." Father Behan still wondered at the
courage of the girl. "Is there anything else we can do for you, Irene?"

Irene hesitated, but finally she blurted out, "How could he do that? How
could Ray beat up Marco like that? He was so happy when he came to our
house that day. I think I even heard him whistle when he left."

The two men were stunned. Dawson feared that he had misunderstood the
girl. "You think you heard him whistle when he left? When was that? Can
you remember the day?"

Irene seemed to be confused by the lawyer’s reaction. "Why yes! How can
I forget that! It was the afternoon before Ray beat up Marco. He wanted
to speak to Frankie. I was in the house when they talked, but I could
hear them through the open window. Please, don't tell him. Frankie hates
it when I spy on him, but I was curious what Ray wanted." Irene got even
more confused when she saw both men jumping up and doing a high five.


"Reasonable doubt, Micky, reasonable doubt. With Irene's testimony we
can prove that Frankie and his friends planned to be there. Even if we
won't get a testimony out of them, Irene’s report will suffice to
convince the jury that there is the possibility that someone else could
have attacked Marco."

Father Behan did not allow himself such enthusiasm. "But will the jury
listen to a little girl?"

The lawyer nodded vehemently. "The fact that she is a little girl will
even intensify the impact. Let me tell you what we do. We have to live
with the fact that Ray might not remember in time. So his testimony will
not help us. Neither those of all the other witnesses. We have to accept
that. Irene's testimony will be the turning point. The jury will have to
see that there is a reasonable doubt that Ray is guilty."

"I pray to God that you're right, Brain. It's Ray's only chance."

Dawson's fears concerning the testimonies of Frankie Zuko's friends were
confirmed when they were interrogated by the investigating officers. All
of them denied having been there that night. Brian Dawson made sure that
no one suspected his source of information that led to this
interrogation. He just demanded that all friends of Frankie, Ray and
Marco were interrogated in that matter.

All he and his friend could do now was waiting. Waiting and praying that
Ray might remember in time.


Court in Session #1

Judge: Joseph Harding
Prosecution: Vincent Norton
Defence: Brian Dawson

Norton: Dr. Caulfield, you have given us a detailed report on the mental
condition of Raymond Vecchio. Although your expertise was very clear I
would like to ask a final question. Do you think Raymond Vecchio was
capable of the vicious attack on his best friend Marco Mitrani?

Caulfield: Well, that's not an easy question to answer. He still hasn't
back his memory fully and the shock he's under could as well...

Norton: Excuse me, Doctor, just try to answer my question. Do you think
it possible that Raymond Vecchio beat up Marco Mitrani?

Caulfield: Yes, I think it's possible.

Norton: Thank you, Doctor, I have no further questions.

Dawson: Dr. Caulfield. Like my colleague here I have to congratulate you
on the clarity of your report. And you just told us that there is the
possibility that Raymond Vecchio could have beaten up Marco Mitrani -
from a psychological point of view.

Caulfield: Yes.

Dawson: Isn't it also possible that Ray's mental instability and the
shock he suffered could have been inflicted upon him when he wasn't the
attacker but the witness of the attack?

Caulfield: Taking into account the viciousness of the attack and the
fact that the victim is his best friend... yes, that's equally possible.

Dawson: Equally possible?

Caulfield: You see, psychology is not an exact science. I would not dare
to weigh one possibility over the other. The patient has been in my care
now for more than two weeks. And there have been times when he seemed
normal to me, just like any other boy his age. And there have also been
times when he was brooding and in a especially dark mood. But those mood
swings could be explained either way. And I'm not capable to assess
which explanation is the more probable one.

Dawson: Thank you, Dr. Caulfield.


Court in Session #2

Norton: Mr. Putrami, could you just sum up what you saw on the evening
of the day in question?

Putrami: I saw no... nothing. Ah, I mean, I checked the grounds as
usual. When I came over to the basketball court I found the boys.

Norton: You mean you found Marco Mitrani and Ray Vecchio?

Putrami: Yes. Marco was unconscious and... and...

Norton: We know, Mr. Putrami, just go on.

Putrami: And there was Ray. He stood beside Marco, a basketball in his
hands. There was blood all over it...

Norton: And were there any other people apart from Marco and Ray?

Putrami: I never saw anyone else the whole evening.

Norton: After finding the boys you called the police and the ambulance?

Putrami: Yeah, I did. I ran back to my house and called them.

Norton: That is all, Mr. Putrami, thank you.

Dawson: Mr. Putrami, you found the two boys alone at the crime scene.
But you did not see the attack itself.

Putrami: No, no... Everything was over when I found them...

Dawson: What did you think when you found the boys?

Putrami: What did I think? Whaddaya mean by that?

Dawson: That what I asked you. What did you think when you saw Marco
lying there, badly hurt, and Ray standing beside him?

Putrami: I cannot say now, I can't remember.

Dawson: Hmmm. I see. But let's assume you thought Ray was the one who
had attacked Marco...

Putrami: Yes?

Dawson: When you thought Ray to be the attacker, why did you leave him
alone with his victim in order to call the police?

Putrami: Uhm... ah... I'm sorry, I cannot answer that.

Dawson: I thought as much. Thank you, Mr. Putrami.


Court in Session #3

Norton: Raymond - or can I call you Ray.

Ray: I'd like that better. No one calls me Raymond. It would make me
feel a different person.

Norton: And we can't allow that, Ray. Very well. I would like you to
tell us about the day Marco got hurt.

Ray: Yes, I try. You know, it's kinda difficult. I don't know much of
that day anymore.

Norton: Take your time, boy. We're not here to punish you, we are here
to find out the truth. And don't you want to find out the truth for

Ray: Well, I'm not sure about it, sir. I'm not sure if I could live with
the truth, you know.

Norton: I see, young man, that you take your oath very seriously. I hope
you will be as honest with the court whatever question we will ask you.

Ray: I will do my best, sir.

Norton: So, try again and tell us what you remember.

Ray: Marco and I were on the basketball court, on the school-yard,
taking shots at a turn. It was very warm, but it was also fun.

Norton: Were the two of you alone?

Ray: Yes, there were just Marco and me. Most of the time we play on our
own. And Mr. Putrami doesn't mind us using the court in the summer
holidays, although it's forbid... Oh shit, I hope, he won't get into
trouble about it now. Sorry, Mr. Putrami, I never meant to tell them.

Norton: Well, Ray, I don't think you'll have to worry about Mr. Putrami.
He will just be fine. Go on.

Ray: There isn't much else. I remember a darkness, like I'm being in a
pitch dark room, the door closed and I can't get out. I... I... can't
breathe in there. It's really frightening, I remember screaming... no,
no that was later, in the hospital. When I remembered... when I... oh
I'm sorry, it's happening again....

Norton. Take your time Ray, there's no need to fear anymore. Just tell
us what you remember next.

Ray: I remember Marco... He's hurt... his face... is... is gone... I can
remember nothing else. I'm in the hospital after that. But even that is
still rather blurry. I remember doctors and nurses, and I think I
remember my parents... and Mr. Zuko. The next thing I know for sure is
Dr. Caulfield talking to me and explaining to me that I had been under
shock for some days.

Norton: I think, Ray, that is enough for now. Don't hesitate to tell us
if you remember something more. Just talk to Dr. Caulfield and he will
know what to do. OK?

Ray: Yes, sir. Sir, can I say something else? It's nothing I remember,
but I think it's important.

Norton: Your Honour?

Harding: Hmm, it's not usual for a witness to make a statement, but you
may continue, boy!

Ray: I just want to apologise to Marco and his parents. They've always
been good to me... Whatever I did or did not that night, I never meant
to harm Marco. I was his best friend and he was mine. I know that's not
possible anymore, still... I just wanted to let them know.

Harding: Er, very well, Ray. I understand that. Mr. Dawson?

Dawson: Your Honour, I do not have any questions.

Harding: I understand that, Mr. Dawson.


Court in Session #4

Norton: Mr. Vecchio, you might be surprised that I asked you to testify
as a witness, but I am sure you have some vital information to share
that will enlighten the motive of the horrible deed we have to deal with

Vechhio: I dunno what you're talking about. You're accusing my boy of
attempted murder, and want me to testify?

Norton: Just answer my questions and remember that you're under oath.
Mr. Vecchio, in the last years your son has been exposed to repeated
physical abuse. Can you tell us anything about it?

Vecchio: What?

Norton: Your son has been beaten on a regular basis.

Harding: Mr. Vecchio, I must inform you here, that you don't have to
answer this question, if you incriminate yourself with it.

Vecchio: No, thass OK. I can answer that. Boys need a hard hand. I only
gave my son the education I saw fit for him.

Norton: By beating him regularly.

Vecchio: Why yes. I didn't kill him, though. You can see that it hasn't
done him any harm.

Norton: I beg to disagree, Mr. Vecchio, your son stands trial in a case
of attempted murder. How can you possibly believe that your... education
hasn't harmed him in any way?

Dawson: Objection.

Harding: Mr. Norton, please refrain from drawing unfounded

Norton: No further questions, your Honour.

Harding: Mr. Dawson?

Dawson: Mr. Vecchio, has your son ever reacted to the beatings?

Vecchio: No. Not at all.

Dawson: He did not cry, protested or tried to hit back?

Vecchio: No, just ducked and ran into the arms of his mother afterwards.

Dawson: That's all, Mr. Vecchio.


Court in Session #5

Dawson: Irene, tell us what you saw and heard on the afternoon of the
day Marco Mitrani was attacked.

Irene: Yes, sir. I was at home, behind the house. My brother Frankie was
there also, with some of his friends. Ray Vecchio came into the garden
and I yelled to Frankie that Ray was there. Than I ran into the house.
Oh, before that Ray asked me if I wanted to kill him. He wanted me to
think I frightened him to death, by yelling so loudly. But that's only
Ray. He always teases me.

Dawson: I see. So he was in good mood?

Irene: He looked like he owned the world. Frankie always got pissed,
oops, sorry, he got... annoyed when Ray was that way. Well I ran off
into the house. But I stood at the open window, and I heard what Ray
said to Frankie. I know, that wasn't nice. But I was so curious.

Dawson: What did Ray and Frankie talk about.

Irene: Basketball. They talked about basketball, like they always did.
But this time it was different. Ray challenged Frankie. He told him that
Marco wanted to show him that he - Marco - is the better player.

Dawson: And Frankie, did he accept the challenge?

Irene: Yes. They agreed to meet at seven. And I know he left the house a
quarter to seven. With his friends.

Dawson: Did you see him come back?

Irene: I was in my room, but I heard the door and I came out to look
down the staircase. He went straight to my father's study. He was sweaty
and panting heavily. He and my father had a long talk. But Frankie never
told me what they talked about. And they had another talk in the study
the next day. Frankie did not want me to come with him. He sent me away.

Dawson: Thank you kindly, Irene.

Harding: Mr. Norton?

Norton: Irene, did Frankie ever speak to you about that evening?

Irene: No, sir, never.

Norton: And you can't tell for sure that he went to the basketball

Irene: No, sir. But where else could he have been? He accepted the
challenge, and a Zuko would never back away from a challenge.

Norton: But you don't know for sure? Just stick to the facts, girl.

Irene: No, sir, I don't know. But I know my brother.

Norton: No further questions, your Honour!


Father Behan looked at his friend intently. „What do you think, Brain?
How’s it going?"

The lawyer took another sip from the coffee mug he was holding. He tried
in vain to find a more comfortable position on the hard chair he was
sitting on, his long legs cramped under the too small cafeteria table.
The venue was crowded and the two friends had been happy to find a
table. „I do not know, Micky, I really don’t know. I think we did OK
with Dr. Caulfield and won even some ground with the janitor. We
couldn’t do much about the testimonies of the officers and the medics
anyway, so forget about those."

The priest nodded thoughtfully, suddenly starting too smile. „Raimondo
did just fine, didn’t he?"

„You bet he did. And it all came so natural. The jury will sympathise
with him, especially after his father’s testimony. Damn, that went
really bad. Norton is very good. He finally presented a possible
motive." Again Dawson tried to find a more comfortable position, again
not succeeding. „God, I hate this place!"

„Irene saved the day. She was really cute. And such a courage!" Father
Behan eyed the coffee in his mug suspiciously. Disgustedly he put a
finger into it, pulling out a rather longish hair. With a grunt he
pushed the mug away from him. „You’re right. I hope I’ll never see this
place again."

„Calm down, Micky. It won’t be long now. Frankie’s testimony will be the
last. Let’s hope he’s not the tough guy he seemed to be the last time I
interviewed him. Maybe the fact that he will have to swear to God will
shake him a little." The lawyer checked his watch and rose. „We’d better
go now. I can’t stand waiting any longer."

„Look who’s talking. And you tell me to calm down. Anyway, let’s go."
The priest stood, stretching his back a little and followed his friend
out of the cafeteria.


Frankie Zuko fidgeted visibly, sitting in the witness chair, facing an
overcrowded courtroom. He never expected it to be so warm up here. The
room was fully air conditioned, but since he had sat down on this chair
he had sweat like a pig. And his shirt collar hadn’t so tight ten
minutes ago, was it? He wished it was all over. At first he had thought
it cool to be a witness in this trial, even if it meant that he had to
lie. But things had got scarier when his little sister Irene had related
the incident in the garden of the Zuko house. He never imagined that
someone had the courage to admit what had happened that afternoon.

*Why did she do it? What made her go to the priest? I cannot understand
it! And I never knew she spied on me that day! Shit, now it would be
very difficult to explain what happened and to convince the jury that
he, Frankie Zuko, had nothing to do with the attack on Marco Mitrani.
Father won’t let them accuse me,* he thought, but his conviction was
declining rapidly now. Hadn’t he taken an oath just two minutes ago? By
all he knew and had learned in church he would burn in hell if he did
lie after he swore to tell the truth.

Brian Dawson started the interview. „Frank, you heard what your sister
Irene testified here in court. Can you give us any further information
what happened on the said afternoon?"

The boy eyed the lawyer suspiciously. „No, sir, not really," he said

The man chose to try it again: „What I meant is did she tell us the
truth? Did you accept a challenge from Ray Zuko and planned to go the
school-yard to play basketball that evening?"

Frankie nodded reluctantly: „Well yes, I did. But I... we didn’t go. I
changed my mind. I did not like the way Ray Vecchio got me into
accepting it."

The lawyer would not let him from the hook. „How so? I mean, you
accepted the challenge. Wouldn’t not going have been a defeat?"

Norton chimed in. „Objection!"

Before the judge could say anything Dawson held up his right hand and
said, „Sorry, I pose a different question. What did you do instead? By
all the outer appearance - related to us by your sister - you did go

Frankie took a deep breath: „As I said I planned to, but on my way to
the school-yard I changed my mind. I told my friends and we decided to
go to Carlo’s place instead, taking a few shots there."

Dawson smiled a little. „I see, Frank. And I am sure that your friends
will second your testimony. Remember, they will be under oath, just like
you are."

„Of course they will, it’s the truth." But as much as he tried he could
not meet the eyes of his interviewer for more than a few seconds.

„Let me ask you another thing. After you returned home from the
basketball game with... your friends, you went straight into your
father’s study, without even changing. What was so important?" Dawson
watched Frankie’s reaction with interest. The boy was losing his
patience. He definitely wanted to be somewhere else.

„I... I had something important to tell him. It’s private. It had
nothing to do with this case." Frankie hadn’t expected to talk about his
father at all.

Dawson was merciless. „Why don’t you let us make the decision if it’s of
interest or not? What was so important?"

The boy squirmed a little in the chair. „You know, I made a decision I
had my father to tell about. I tell you again. It’s totally personal."

The lawyer nodded slowly. „Ah. How would you describe the relationship
between your father and you, Frank?"

„Objection," Norton said. „This has nothing to do with this case."

Dawson replied quickly, „Your Honour, I assure you that you’ll see
shortly that this has indeed something to do with this case. Give me
some time to show you."

Harding wasn’t convinced, but he gave it a try. „Go ahead. Just keep
this short and simple."

The lawyer nodded. „Of course, your Honour. Frank, would you answer my
question now?"

Frankie swallowed hard. He had no time to think of a clever answer. He
had to stick to the truth. „I love him, of course. He’s my father. And I
respect him, very much, that is."

„And you wish to be respected in turn, I’d guess. To be accepted by
him?" Dawson turned his back to the boy, seeking out Alfredo Zuko in the
courtroom. There he was. By what Dawson could see of him, his interest
was peaked.

Pride won over Frankie’s fear. „Certainly I do. I am his only son, his
heir and successor."

Dawson swivelled round to face the boy again. „And how far would you go
to win his respect? Would you lie, swear a false oath or even try to
kill an innocent kid?"

Frankie was shocked. He couldn’t think clearly anymore. His eyes
searched for support, finding it in the figure of his father who had
stood up by now and was making his way through the benches. Before
Norton could yell „Objection", before Dawson could repeat his question
and before Frankie could find his voice, Alfredo Zuko shouted angrily at
the young lawyer. „How do you dare to accuse my son? He is Francesco
Zuko, the son of Alfredo Zuko. He has done nothing wrong. He isn’t
accused of anything here. This boy is," he pointed at Ray who stared in
horror at the scene that took place before his eyes.

Alfredo Zuko’s face was flushed. It had taken on a red-blue-ish colour.
Before he could continue he grasped in panic at the middle section of
his chest and began to gasp for breath. He staggered on his feet and in
the next moment fell down to the floor. Murmurs and cries broke out in
the courtroom. People stood up and tried to get a better sight of the
fallen man.

Dawson was the first to reach Alfredo Zuko’s body. He searched for the
pulse and found it erratic. He called, „Get a medic here. Now." Then he
faced the judge who stood behind his desk, pale-faced and speechless.
„Better get the room cleared, Your Honour!"

In the next moment Harding ordered security to get the people out of the
room. Only himself, the lawyers, Father Behan and Charlie, Frankie and
Ray and an officer guarding Ray stayed behind. Frankie Zuko was now at
his father’s side, holding Alfredo Zuko’s hand that was not clutched at
his chest. Zuko’s eyes fluttered open and he managed to strangle out,
„Frankie..." Then he lost his consciousness. Charlie came and pulled the
boy from his father. Only seconds later two medics entered the room,
checked on Zuko and one of them started resuscitation. The other pulled
out a cell phone and called for an ambulance.

It seemed like ages before two more medics arrived with a gurney.
Without stopping their efforts on Alfredo Zuko they loaded the still
form on the gurney and rolled out of the court. Charlie and Frankie
followed them.

Father Behan finally woke up from the shock-like state he’d been in and
went over to Ray, to calm the terrified boy. Minutes later they left the
courtroom, followed by the police offer who was responsible for the boy.
Dawson watched them go, then he turned to Norton and Harding. „I think
we should go to your office, your Honour. I have something to tell you
that will enlighten you about the tragic event that you just witnessed."

Harding nodded slowly, still numbed. He led the two attorneys out of the
courtroom. An eerie silence had replaced the noise of panicked activity
in a matter of seconds.


„Thank you so much for everything, Brain. You saved Raimondo’s life and
my belief in justice." Father Behan hugged his friend shortly, but
nonetheless heartily.

„Your belief in justice?! Well, it was a kind of chickening out. I have
told Norton and Harding as much as I could about Zuko’s confession to
you. With that and all they had witnessed there was enough to end the
trial against Ray for want of evidence. And taking into account what I
know of the Zuko empire there won’t be another trial in this matter. If
you can see this as justice..."

„Maybe it’s not perfect, but I think it’s the best we could get out of
it. Poor Raimondo. He still is in doubt about his role in this. His
memory still fails him..."

„He will get over it. He is a fighter. Micky, we’ll keep in contact from
now on, won’t we? That shouldn’t be too hard, living and working in the
same town. And I would like to meet Ray from time to time... Promise
that you take care of him. As much he will allow it, that is." The
lawyer smiled sadly. „To think how long it took me to gain his trust. I
could have kissed him when he first called me Brain!"

„I know, I feel the same. But it’s his way to deal with things. It’s a
shame that he lost his best friend. He needs someone of his age to talk
to. Not even the combination of a mother, a priest and a lawyer could
make up for a real friend..."

Dawson laughed at that. „Right. OK, I’m leaving. I give you a call when
I’m back from my parents’ place. To be honest I haven’t really got the
time for a visit, but after this case I just have to see them. And
nothing what my partners say about it I’ll take another week of leave."

The priest smiled at his friend. „Give your family my regards. Have a
good trip." The two man hugged again, then the lawyer got into his car
and drove off. Father Behan followed the leaving vehicle with his eyes
for some time, then he went back into his house. He had a funeral to
prepare. Alfredo Zuko had died two hours after Judge Harding had
announced the trial against Ray to be closed.


It took some time before the crowd dispersed after the funeral had
ended. Most of the people were heading now for the Zuko residence to
take part in the traditional meal that followed every Catholic funeral.
But some people had no intention to go there.

Claudia and Umberto Mitrani left in total silence, heading for an
uncertain future in a city foreign to them. But they still had a son to
care about and the worries about him would fill their minds for a long
time to come.

The Vecchios went over to Father Behan to thank him again for his
efforts on Ray's behalf. He accepted their good wishes for him with
pride, knowing he'd done the best he could. Maybe it wasn't perfect, but
he was content with the outcome. When the family turned to leave the
cemetery Ray stayed behind. He whispered something to his mother and she
nodded. It was not easy for her to accept his wishes but she knew that
her Raimondo wasn't a little boy anymore. No way that that fact would
diminish her love for him, on the contrary, but she knew that she had to
let go.

Ray waited patiently next to the priest as the other guests bid Father
Behan farewell, most of them thanking him for the eulogy he had held for
the deceased. All of them took it as a proof of courage that Father
Behan hadn't backed out on this. It would have been easy for him to ask
the bishop for another priest to take his place for the funeral. But if
Father Behan learned something in those last weeks of trial, it was that
the parish of St. Michael's needed him and that he needed his parish and
its people. All of them, even the Zukos. And now that Alfredo Zuko was
dead there might be a chance to change some things. After all, Frankie
was only eleven years old...

Frankie and Charlie were the last to go. After all others have left,
Irene being tugged away by an elderly aunt, the two went over to the
open grave again. Father Behan and Ray observed the silent figures.
Charlie looked as unmoved as ever, but Frankie was not his usual self.
He seemed much younger, vulnerable and totally miserable.

Ray hadn't seen Frankie since the tragic ending of his trial four days
ago. Those last days had been hard for Ray. He still couldn't remember
what he'd done or had not done to his best friend, Marco. Only the
terrible pictures of his friend after the attack haunted his mind and
his dreams, or better his nightmares. Father Behan and Brain had told
him repeatedly that he was innocent and that someday his memory would
return. But Ray wasn't sure if he wanted to remember at all. It hurt to
think about Marco, it hurt so much. And he hadn't had the chance to see
his friend once. His parents wouldn't allow it. Before the trial Ray had
been in the hospital, undergoing psychological treatment to heal him
from his shock. During the trial he had been confined to his home and
although he had pleaded with tears in his eyes to let him visit his
friend, his parents had told him that that was not possible. And Marco
was in Seattle now, his father has found a new work there, and his son
was to be treated in a rehab centre near the city. The transfer from the
local hospital to the centre had taken place two days before the trial
ended. Maybe I can go there sometime, Ray thought sadly.

He wanted to apologise to Marco. What for he couldn't be sure of. He
just wanted to say, "I'm sorry," like he did in the courtroom. Brain had
told him in his soft and kind voice that Marco wouldn't know him anyway.
That Marco could not respond to the outside world. That his brain was
damaged too seriously for him to ever become his old self. With a
shudder Ray imagined the lifeless shell his best friend would be now. It
resembled the image of the unconscious six-year old boy lying on the
school-yard five years ago. That was how their friendship began and
wasn't it ironic that that was also the way it ended? Ray sobbed
violently and the priest beside him responded immediately by laying a
firm hand on his shoulder. For the first time since he knew the man Ray
didn't flinch away. All those years back he'd avoided any physical
contact with adults, apart from his mother. Father Behan's touch was
comforting and Ray felt a pang of regret that he had avoided this
comfort the last years. With a sigh he stepped nearer to the priest,
leaning on the man for support.

Father Behan stiffened for a second, then he rejoiced at the thought
that Raimondo finally had come to trust him completely. Although the
contact was still kind of awkward, it was a promising beginning. Father
Behan relaxed considerably. He was determined to look after Raimondo
Vecchio for the rest of his life. He had promised that to his God when
he had asked him for support during the trial.

The two pairs were now the last people to be seen on the cemetery. The
ministrants had left, their minds already busy with the rest of the day.
Summer holidays were still on for two more days and they had wasted
already too much time with that funeral. But Frankie Zuko and Raimondo
Vecchio didn't think about the rest of the day. They still were too
troubled by their past. A past - although mostly on opposite ends - they
shared. Ray was torn from his thoughts by a loud wail. Frankie had
collapsed at his father's grave. Charlie knelt next to him, trying to
help the boy to his feet again. But Frankie wailed on and would not have
it. Charlie finally backed away, unable to comfort his late employer’s
son. He couldn't explain his feelings towards Frankie, but he was
somehow repelled by the boy. Maybe he thought him responsible for his
employer’s sudden and unexpected death. Nonetheless, Charlie had
promised Alfredo Zuko to protect his son and his empire until Frankie
was old enough to take over the responsibility himself. Zuko had closed
his eyes contentedly and died an hour later without regaining
consciousness. Charlie would do as he had promised, he would give
Frankie protection and would help him to become his father's successor,
but he couldn't give him his friendship or his love.

Seeing that Charlie left Frankie alone on the ground in front of the
grave, both Father Behan and Ray went over to the boy. They looked at
each other and smiled a little, enjoying their shared thought. Father
Behan may not to be able to forget what Frankie had done to Marco
Mitrani, but he saw the chance for a change here. He would go for it,
burying the past, in order to save the future. For Frankie Zuko and for
this parish. Ray had thought hard and long about what he witnessed in
court, about the rumours and the suspicions, about the possibility that
Frankie was Marco's attacker. But after what he'd gone through himself
during the trial he would never again in his life condemn someone on the
grounds of a possibility. As long as he couldn't remember what happened
and as long as there was no evidence he wouldn't treat Frankie as
guilty. And now, that he has lost Marco, Frankie Zuko seemed to be the
only one left - apart from his family and Father Behan - that tied him
to reality.

And the two boys had something in common. Both suffered a great loss in
their lives and they would both need time to deal with it. Ray's heart
reached out to Frankie, hearing him sob and cry at his father's grave.
Although Ray could not fathom the love a boy could hold in his heart for
his father, he knew what it meant to lose someone beloved. Only two day
ago he had passed the Mitrani house. He had stopped and started crying,
unable to hold back his tears. He had felt much like Frankie seemed to
feel now. And no one deserved to be alone in such a moment. How he'd
wished to have someone with him two days ago. As he and Father Behan
stood near the grave now, observing Frankie squirming on the ground, Ray
pulled lose from Father Behan who still held his shoulder and knelt down
next to Frankie. Without another thought he touched the wet cheek with
the palm of his right hand.

Frankie's head jerked up, staring at Ray in astonishment. The wailing
and crying had stopped abruptly. Time seemed to freeze as the boys
locked eyes. Finally Frankie choked out, "What are you staring at,
Vecchio?" Maybe those words were meant to be defiant, but Frankie's
voice contained only total misery. For a second Ray was tempted to
answer, "Nothing!" but he couldn't say that. And he wouldn't. Frankie
was hurting, and there was no way that Ray would kick someone who
already was down. Never ever. So he didn't say anything. He pulled out a
big white hanky his mother had supplied him with that morning when he
had been dressing up for the funeral. Frankie snatched the hanky from
his hand, but despite his gruff gesture his eyes seemed to show some

Ray still held Frankie's cheek cupped. When Frankie had finished wiping
his face he blew his nose repeatedly. He offered Ray the hanky again.
Ray started to laugh a little shakily. "No way, Zuko, I rather lose my
hanky and face my mother's wrath than carry your inner feelings with me
for the rest of the day." Father Behan and Charlie drew in their
breathes in the following silence. But after a few seconds Frankie's
flushed face lighted up a little and they could even detect a little
smile tugging his mouth. He punched Ray's chin playfully.

"I owe you one, Vecchio. May... I dunno, but I do not really want to go
home. It will be crowded with all those people. I couldn't stand to talk
to them now. Not about my..." He broke off, choking at the words. Ray
nodded slowly. "You'll miss all the great food, though. That reminds me.
Why don't you come over to my place, Zuko? Mia Mama promised me another
prize meal to celebrate my release from the claws of justice. I promise
you don't have to answer any questions."

Frankie broke into a real smile now. "That'll be perfect. I've wanted to
try out your mother's cooking for a long time, Vecchio. You bragged
about it all the time. I'll put it to a thorough test, be sure of that.
You know, I'm not that easily satisfied."

Ray shrugged his shoulders. "Wait and see, Zuko, wait and see. You'll be
in for a treat." He stood and took Frankie's hand to help him up. He
even bent down to brush off the dust from his and Frankie's pants. "Mama
won't like it that I knelt in the dirt with my good pants."

Frankie laid his right hand tentatively on Ray's left shoulder. "I don't
think she'll mind it. Not today. She'll be happy to have you back..." He
hesitated a moment before adding, "... home." Another silence followed
and the four people eyed each other a little uncomfortable. Ray was the
first to speak. "Frankie, maybe we could stop at your place, getting
your basketball. You know I lost mine, and I thought we could play a
little bit after dinner."

Father Behan escaped a whispered, "Oh God!" and Charlie clenched his
fists. Frankie stared at Ray suspiciously and met a totally unguarded
look from sparkling green eyes. He swallowed hard and could only croak
out, "Sure." The boys turned to leave, followed by a clearly stunned
Charlie. Ray looked back over his shoulder. "Father Behan, I'm sure my
mother would be delighted if you'd join us. You know the portions she
always prepares. There will be lots to spare."

The priest was still shocked from what he had just witnessed. He
struggled for words. "Er, that's very thoughtful of you, Raimondo. But,
you... ah... understand that I had to attend the invitation at the Zuko
residence. But I will be happy to explain Frankie's absence. Go ahead
you two and give my regards to your dear mother, Raimondo."

Frankie Zuko turned to Father Behan. "Thank you, Father, if you could
explain to Irene why I can't come, I'll be grateful. Charlie can take
care of the rest of them. See ya." With that the two boys left, Ray
talking to Frankie constantly, using his hands and arms to relate what
seemed to be an extraordinary tale.

Charlie had stopped and come back to the priest. "What do you make out
of this, Father?"

Father Behan shrugged. "I would like to know myself." Charlie nodded. "I
thought that you're as surprised as I am. This Vecchio boy... he sure
has potential." He paused, then added. "Is he to be trusted?"

Somehow Father Behan knew that Charlie did not mean Ray by that last
remark. "I don't know. I would not trust him. But if Ray can take the
chance, why shouldn't we?" The priest searched Charlie's thoughtful
face, waiting for an answer.

The man who was now in charge of the Zuko empire until Frankie would be
coming of age decided to confide a little in the priest. After all the
man of the church had proofed himself as a worthy opponent during the
trial. "Father, I know what Frankie did in the past, and I know his
shortcomings. But he is still young. And the Vecchio boy could be a
great - sorry for this expression - asset in the task I have to fulfil.
I promise you I will see to it that he comes to no harm. And I won't use
him as a pawn. Would you fight me here?"

A gasp escaped Father Behan's mouth. "You mean, you'd use Raimondo in
building up the new Zuko organisation? Of course I will fight you there.
You said you'd see to it that he will come to no harm. Have you thought
about what your plans will do to Raimondo's soul? No, I won't have

Charlie nodded slowly. "As his priest his soul is rightfully your
greatest concern. But think about it, Father, he has a mind of his own.
Free to take his own actions, to make his own decisions. And I will use
everything and everyone to make Frankie a worthy successor of his
father's. But do not worry, I don't think his father to be the perfect
role model in this. You see, I have some ideas of my own." With that he
left the priest behind, never looking back on his way out of the

Father Behan had difficulties to think clearly. He fled into a prayer to
his God.


You see? Another prayer. One among millions. On which should I act? Who
am I to make decisions for mankind? I am the one who decided to give
them a mind of their own. To let them make their own mistakes. To let
them become what they want to become. There is no perfect ending, no
perfect solution in man's life. Maybe you think certain people are
treated unfair in consequence. Maybe you're right. But fairness is not
the issue. Love is. Trust is. Tolerance is. But also hate, fear and
intolerance. It's your choice now.

I made a decision once, giving man a free will. You see the consequences
each and every day, everywhere. Of course, you can blame everything that
happens on me. I can live with that. The question is: Can you?


The Conscience Cycle:

1. The Conscience of a Friend
2. The Conscience of a Knight
3. The Conscience of a Prince
4. The Conscience of a King
5. The Conscience of a Priest
6. The Conscience of a God