As the nervous bridegroom paced at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, wondering why the priest hadn't shown up for the Saturday wedding and how to tell his bride, the Rev. Gene Nickol was praying he and his receptionist wouldn't be harmed by a man holding a knife to her throat.
"I kept telling him I had a wedding to perform at 11:30, and to pull over and let us out," Father Nickol said yesterday, recounting how he and Aileen "Boots" Pelesky were abducted from the Glen Burnie church and forced to drive their captor in the priest's car.
"I told him to take the car and let us go, but he wouldn't do that."
Their frightening brush with crime began about 9:15 a.m. Saturday, when Mrs. Pelesky, 66, let a stranger into the rectory office.
"Our receptionist, in her good-heartedness, let the man in because he said he wanted to see a priest," Father Nickol told his congregation at yesterday's 10 a.m. Mass, offering his complete account of the story most had heard about on the Saturday night television news.
Father Nickol called it his "wild ride."
Mrs. Pelesky, shaken by her experience, did not attend Mass, but the priest celebrated four services yesterday, cheerfully it seemed.
"I'm glad to be here. I'm here to tell you the power of prayer," he told worshipers who packed the pews. "I believe in guardian angels and the power of prayer better than ever before. The Lord gave me a way out. He gives us whatever we need to get out of whatever challenge we face."
Saturday began as usual for the priest, with the celebration of Mass at 9 a.m. Events began to go awry about 15 minutes later, he said, when the stranger arrived saying he wanted to see a priest. When Mrs. Pelesky entered the kitchen to get a glass of water for him while he waited, the man followed and picked up a paring knife from the counter. At some point, he hit her in the face, and moments later ordered her into the basement.
"He thought we had money. He was foolish, wasn't he?" Father Nickol said, drawing chuckles from the congregation.
Father Nickol said he returned to the rectory from the 9 a.m. Mass and began searching for Mrs. Pelesky because she "wasn't at her usual post."
Held at knifepoint
He found her in the basement, with the man holding the knife at her throat and threatening to hurt her if the priest didn't cooperate. Father Nickol gave the man money -- a small sum, he said -- but the stranger wasn't satisfied.
In the midst of the conversation, they heard another priest come into the kitchen.
"The man didn't want him to come down, so I hollered up to him, and said, 'Boots and I are talking, don't bother us,' " Father Nickol said. The other priest, unaware anything was amiss, finished eating and left a half-hour later. The stranger then ordered his two hostages to get into the priest's car.
"I'm so naive," Father Nickol said. "I even asked him where he wanted to go. But it became clear he had no plan, he didn't have a clue." The man said he wanted the priest to pray for him and kept talking about a friend who needed money.
"I said, 'Sure, I'll pray for you -- I'll pray that you don't hurt us and that you get what you need without hurting anybody.' "
The priest, who was assigned to the Glen Burnie church about a year ago, said he drove toward southern Anne Arundel -- unfamiliar territory for him as well as the kidnapper. He kept steering them into dead-end streets, until the man, appearing frustrated, ordered Father Nickol out of the driver's seat and into the car's trunk.
Mrs. Pelesky replaced Father Nickol behind the steering wheel, and, in the Mercury Topaz, each prayed for survival.
'Inspiration from God'
"You have a lot of time to think in a trunk," Father Nickol said. "I began to think this guy might not let us go, and that I should do something. Then, I had an inspiration from God that said, 'You shouldn't be in this trunk.' Then, I remembered I could pop the trunk from inside the car."
A button in the car triggers a trip wire that unlocks the trunk, and Father Nickol searched for the wire's path through the trunk. He pulled the wire, and the trunk opened.
"But I didn't let it fly open because we were driving," he said.
When the car stopped at a traffic light, the priest opened the trunk and jumped out.
An alert Mrs. Pelesky realized what the priest was doing and took advantage of the diversion, jumping out of the car herself. The two began running down the street, eventually taking refuge in a real estate office, while the kidnapper hopped into the driver's seat, drove into the intersection, collided with another car, then sped away.
The priest's car was recovered by the police about five miles southwest of Davidsonville, at Patuxent River Road and the Brandywine Sand and Gravel pits.
The kidnapper remained at large last night. Police said he was described as black, about 30 years old, 6 feet tall and "well-built," wearing a red shirt with blue and gold stripes and khaki pants, and may have the first name of Darryl.