Through out the week, the flow of people eager for his guidance never slowed until Saturday evening. Usually, he kept late hours to see as many as possible, only stopping when Sister Maria forced him to take his rest. When the church grew silent, he left his meeting room to discover what caused this break in the tide of visitors. The church was empty except for three men in suits. They were not typical of the people who sought him.
“Father Pedro,” said the nearest man, swaggering towards him, “you have an important visitor.”
“All of my visitors are important,” responded Pedro. He watched the man lower his sunglasses as if in disbelief. He knew already what this goon wanted. The pistol beneath his jacket was clearly visible.
“None, I think, are quite this important.” said the man as the other two took places behind and beside the Father. They ushered him towards the front door of the church.
Sister Maria stood by the doors as if to help him, but he waved her aside. “Everything is alright,” he assured her, prompting chuckles from the thugs. He stepped through the door which the first man had opened for him. Outside there were two black cars and a limousine. He knew who was inside the long, white machine and walked towards it without being prompted. The door was opened for him and he got inside, sliding across the fine leather seat.
“Hello Esteban,” greeted Pedro, “how are you this evening?”
“I am well, as always. And you?” responded the drug lord, as he lit a cigarette. “I hope you don’t mind if I smoke. Would you…” he began offering a gleaming silver case to Pedro.
“No, no thank you.”
“Of course not. Driver, go.” commanded Esteban over his shoulder. The car began to drive slowly with one black car in front and the other behind. “I think you know why I am here.”
“Yes.” answered Pedro, waiting for Esteban’s speech.
“This is not the best way to get my attention.” said Esteban, more as if thinking out loud than speaking to the Father. He turned towards him, continuing “You have done quite well at becoming famous across our island, they tell me people have come from all over to see you, to hear you. Surely the people have tithed a fortune to you.”
“The sum of the people’s money does not make a fortune, Esteban. Even if it did, it means nothing to me.”
“Oh come, there is no need to deny yourself life’s comforts.” he said with a charming smile. “But I understand you prefer to give it back to them. A school here, a clinic there, you could be wealthy if you wished.”
“I am wealthy, Esteban, in ways that make money meaningless.”
Esteban could not stifle his laughter, but he pressed on. “I see the little church, perhaps you would like a donation? It would be nothing for me to build something bigger for you, something grand. It would help you see more people. It would help the people understand that the Cartel is not so bad.”
“This is your point?” asked Pedro, “You wish to buy silence?”
“It would be the simplest solution. You stop speaking against the Cartel and I will look after you. If you wish to remain in poverty you can give my gifts away, think of the good you can do with them.”
“I can not ignore the harm the Cartel causes, Esteban. I hear it from the people every day.”
The drug lord snuffed out his cigarette, immediately placing a new one in his mouth. This was beginning to test his patience. “Don’t be so naïve, Pedro. The Cartel is what holds the economy together. The tourists come for the drugs, without it the island would have even less than it does. You say you are for the people, but what you ask would bring them even more suffering.”
Pedro shook his head. “I ask for nothing.”
“I am not asking either!” said Esteban, raising his voice to slightly less than a roar. “I am telling you to accept either my gifts or the consequences.”
“I am sorry to disappoint you, but I can not.”
“Driver, back to the church!” roared Esteban, and the tires squealed through the turn.
When the car stopped, Esteban spoke again. “Before you go, listen carefully. I give you one more chance. Speak no more of the Cartel or it will not be just you that suffers, I promise that the people who seek you will be punished.” He searched Pedro’s face for any sign of fear, and was all the more angered to find it missing.
“Now it is my turn to give you the chance, Esteban.” said Pedro, without a hint of fear or anger in his voice. “Remember that it is God alone who can punish. He can punish you, Esteban, despite the many blessings he has given you.”
The color of Esteban’s face became nearly purple for a moment. He wanted to kill Pedro himself, right here and now. He took a few deep breaths through his flared nostrils and laughed as he regained his composure. “Not even God can challenge the Cartel.” he spat at Pedro, “Go!”
Pedro opened the door and stepped out. The cars drove away and Pedro entered the church.
Story by Joe Stanley