“Do you think they’ll be glad to to see us?” Mike asked with a grin as they walked along the path from the Indian Trail to the Monastery front door.
“I have my doubts,” Kenny replied. “I think they’re on their work hours now, so maybe we can find one of them.”
The monastery’s front door was big and heavy, just like the one Mike walked through at Elm Avenue Presbyterian, but it was unlocked, and Mike and Kenny stepped inside. They peered in the Guestmaster’s office but it was empty. “What do we do now?” Mike asked.
“Great detective skills there, Sherlock. Try the call button,” Kenny said, pointing to a button that said, “Ring for assistance.”
Mike pressed it twice and waited, and after about 30 seconds Father Theodore, the monastery’s Guestmaster, came out brushing his hands and wearing a kitchen apron. He saw Kenny and Mike, and his face formed a frown, “You guys? I didn’t know to expect you two.”
Six months ago Mike and Kenny spent a couple days at the monastery on a prayer retreat, but neither were ready for sleep at the monks’ early bedtime. Mike had some 80’s arcade games on his phone, and what started as an innocent time-waster became a full-blown Donkey Kong/Asteroids/Pac-Man/Defender tournament in their room in the monastery guesthouse. Just as Mike shouted, “Yeah, in your face, loser!” to Kenny after clearing a level at midnight, they heard a knock on the door.
It was Father Theodore, sleepy-eyed and in pajamas. “Gentleman. Guests usually come here to pray. We can hear you down in the cloister.” The abbot took them aside the next day and reminded them this was a monastery and not a frat house.
As Mike and Kenny stood before Father Theodore they could see the obvious disappointment in his eyes. Mike spoke up, “Umm . . . hoffnung.”
Father Theodore’s eyes woke up in surprise, and he paused, thinking for a few seconds on how he should respond, “Ok, guys. Maybe you need to talk to the Abbot.”
A half hour later Kenny & Mike are sitting in Abbot Brendan’s office. The Abbot said, “Guests often come here with secrets which we do our best to keep a secret. Tell me how you know to say that word here.”
Mike spoke up, “Thank you for seeing us, Father Abbot. We were investigating the story of the Thomasville Monster. We found a clue that led to the old Presbyterian church. We found the word hoffnung written on the wall of the cellar. An elderly woman in town, the child of German immigrants, said that her people had to go into hiding for a time, and they were sent up the Indian Trail. When they heard the sound of the bell they were to say hoffnung and find a place of refuge. We thought we could see what we could find on the trail, and we heard the monastery bell, and here we are.”
Abbot Brendan said, “The last time you were here you two didn’t strike me as the kind of guys who would figure out a story like this, so let me say I’m impressed. You have most of the story now. A member of our community might fill in a few of the cracks for you, but sometimes secrets are secret for a reason. Can I ask you to keep this a secret when you leave here?”
Mike made the zipper sign across his lips. “We don’t have confessionals in our church, Father, but we know about confidentiality. Our lips are sealed.”
“Why don’t you stay the night,” the Abbot said. The guesthouse is empty. And may I say, pastors, you could make use of a shower. You’re a little ripe after your hike.”
After the evening meal, Mike & Kenny are showered and fed, and they’re sitting at a table in the guesthouse kitchen with Brother Aldric. His cane leans against the table but he managed to walk in there on his own.
“The monster?” Aldric said. “That was just a flock of birds.” Kenny looked at Mike and raised his eyebrows. “It was a fearful time, and people in the town wanted to make anything they saw a threat. They see a flock of birds when the sun has almost set and they’re sure it’s a monster the Germans sent after them.”
“Did you see it, then?” Mike asked.
“I’m old, but not that old. No, one of our German guests saw it. He said the birds swooping around looked like a moving shape in the sky.”
“So, what happened with the Germans?” Kenny said.
“Come here,” Brother Aldric said. “Let me show you something.” Aldric moved slowly along with his cane and led them to the entrance lobby. One wall showed various pictures of the monks through the years. “Look at this one,” he said, pointing to one from 1917. “I’m told one of the monks was related to a photographer from the city who came and took this picture. Do you see anything special?”
Kenny and Mike looked it over, and Mike spoke, “Is this all the monks from that time?”
“Yes,” Aldric said. “The monastery was newer then. I think maybe 15 years old. Look at the monks on the right.” Aldric pointed to a grouping of a dozen monks.
“Is that a woman?” Kenny asked while pointing to one monk whose hood was up.
“Yes,” Aldric said, “And here are two more women. Look at this shorter monk. He’s actually a child. Most wouldn’t notice unless someone pointed them out.”
“They hid here?” Kenny asked.
“Yes,” Aldric said. “Your predecessor, Albert Cogman, came to the monastery looking for a place to hide the Germans. You have to understand Catholics and Protestants didn’t cooperate on anything back then, so it was brave of him come here. Our Rule says we welcome all guests as we welcome Christ, so the community took them in for a time. It was really only for a few months. Any visitor just saw a hooded monk and didn’t think it might be an immigrant hiding.”
“I always heard Rev. Cogman was stern and judgemental. I’m surprised by this story of compassion.”
“Bert wasn’t so bad,” Aldric said. “The scowl was only armor for the soft heart he carried.”
“You knew him?” Kenny asked.
“Yes, only when he was retired. This all happened long before I came here. When I was a young monk he and the Germans would come back here, once a year, after Easter to remember their stay here. He was really a gentle soul once you got past the frown he showed the world.”
Mike asked, “Did they bring the treasure here? Did they leave it here?”
Brother Aldric sighed, “After learning all this you still don’t understand? When they referred to a treasure or precious things it was only a code. It was a way to talk about the people they were protecting. It was the Germans they hid, they were the treasure.”