The Posse was poised. Each man showed up fifteen minutes early that fair Wednesday morning and without premeditation to their hyper-promptness. It was like no one wanted to miss a word, an introduction or even a succinct observation of the mysterious stranger.
Sharon was nervous as a shadchan just before her chosen couples’ first meeting. She was afraid that Mr. Hans wouldn’t show up . . . but it could be worse if he did show up and turned out to be a nut case or a criminal. She had the clerics’ breakfast order and Arnie already had the omelets on the grill. She was just going around the table pouring coffee from the clear round pot when she heard the big doors squeak open.
She had her back to the entry. Instead of spinning around and looking, she observed intently each of the four seated men’s facial expressions. They kept staring in the direction of the door, so she was convinced that it must be Mr. Hans. She finished pouring Preacher David’s coffee, stood up and looked at the man.
“Good morning Mr. Hans,” She said with a mustered-up enthusiasm and a painted-on smile.
Mr. Hans was more striking than Sharon had remembered. Beside his tall, lanky frame, his hair donned a fresh cut and his beard was cropped about an eighth of an inch. He had on, for the first time that Sharon could remember, a dress shirt under his usual sports jacket and he had on a hat. The other oddity was the fact he was carrying a brief case rather than his yellow legal pad . . . which he habitually carried under his left arm. He smiled, gave a little two-fingered salute and said softly, “Good morning Mrs. Saunders.”
Sharon heard the sound of the legs of one of the wooded chairs scooting across the rough, pine floor. Father Randy was standing and walking towards Mr. Hans as he was walking towards the table. The two men met and the Father shook his hand vigorously.
“You must be the Mr. Hans that I’ve been hearing about. I’ve been looking so forward to meeting you.”
Sharon was thinking that Father Randy had that rare gift of making everyone feel like a special guest. About that time she heard more chairs shuffling on the floor and all the men were standing as the father and Mr. Hans arrived at the table. The introductions went clockwise around the circle of men.
“Hello, I’m Pastor Mike Monroe of the Manistique Community Church.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Mr. Hans did a little bow with each introduction.
“Hi, I’m David Smith, the preacher at the M 28 Church of God.”
“It’s a pleasure,” then came his little head bow.
To everyone’s surprise Greg, with his likewise thin, but short frame and white beard grabbed Mr. Hans and gave him a bear hug. “Welcome to the group. I’m Gregory Landis. I was the pastor at the Grand Rapids Riverside Methodist Church for about 28 years. I sometimes fill in at the Methodist and the Episcopalian Churches up in Ste Saint Marie. I’ve even been a rare substitute in the pulpit at the Unitarian Church in Munising. We are all delighted that you’ve decided to join us. Did I understand that you too are a pastor?”
Everyone, including Mr. Hans, was taken back by that last assumption. Sharon was thinking, “Where did that come from?” But the question was carefully thought up by Greg in order to start the conversation of discovery about the stranger.
As the men took their seats Mr. Hans spoke up, “Oh no I’m not a pastor. I’m more of a scientist or investigative reporter.”
It seemed like once the questions started, it would hard to turn them off.
Mike asked, “Who do you write for?”
“Oh . . . I don’t write professionally, like for a newspaper or magazine. I’m a reporter for scientific investigation.”
David Smith asked with a serious look on his face, “So who’s underwriting you?”
“Underwriting? I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Who is paying for this? Is it the University of Michigan or who?”
“Oh, I don’t work for any university.” Mr. Hans paused. “First of all, please, everyone, call me Tom. I’m so grateful for this distinguished group allowing me to come and join you. You don’t realize how important this is to me and my work. I’ve come here today to ask some questions for my research and I think your combined experiences are invaluable to draw from.”
David persisted, “That’s all very nice but I still don’t understand who you represent.”
Father Randy flashed a quick frown towards David.
David stared at Tom, in anticipation for some explanation.
The stranger paused in a meditative trance. “Well, gentlemen, if you would be so kind to let my story rest for a while, I would be most grateful. You see, I always speak very candidly and if I told you the complete story of where I’m from, why I’m here and why I want to know what I want to know, then, I’m afraid that you will not trust me.”So David asked, "So . . . you've got something to hide?"
Tom answered, “I guess I do. But I’m not a criminal or a crazy person. I promise I will, in time, explain who I am and what I want.”
Greg, to play devil’s advocate a bit asked, “Any chance you are divine, a prophet or even Jesus himself . . . what about an angel?” He asked the question in the same way you bait deer with cabbage in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula . . . to get them out in a clearing . . . where you can nail them with a rifle. If the man had said yes to any of those transcendent occupations the whole group would have known that they were dealing with a lunatic.
Tom chuckles. “No, I promise that I would not attempt to make such a statement, yet, when I do tell you the truth you find it just as incredible. Now, I think it is my turn to ask you some questions.”
All five men seemed to be in a stare. It was like a standoff in an old western town, each man with his hand on his holster, a bead in his eyes and trying to play each other’s bluff.