Chapter 4: God May Forgive You But I Won't
I had two choices. One, return to the office, write up my notes into a background piece and begin the myriad machinations that would send this issue to press and keep our sinking ship afloat. Frankly, though, that didn’t sound like me. The other option was to retire to my couch with a beer, a book and the afternoon Red Sox game muted on the TV. But while that seemed to be playing to my strength I decided to split the difference and phoned in the story to Gladys before heading over to the Episcopal Church.
I’m not a religious guy so I don’t know much about the Episcopalians other than that they believe Joe Piscopo is The Messiah, but don’t quote me on that. I’m more what the “now you’re showing your age” comedian Flip Wilson described as a Jehovah’s Bystander. That is I believe in a higher power I’d just rather not get involved, thanks. What I did know, however, is that the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous met there for coffee and sadness- I’m assuming the latter which may indicate that I have a problem come to think of it- three nights a week.
The church itself was a Department of Corrections halfway house style clapboard box on Washington Street between the last surviving Ben Franklin Five-and-Dime store and a new breakfast/lunch place aspiring for hipness called Johnny Java’s. The latter was popular with the pass-through ski crowd, but still hadn’t lured the locals away from the Artfield Diner two blocks over.
I figured if there was something bothering Curly Carson he may have shared it or shown it at the meetings. I wasn’t sure what the etiquette or legality was regarding sharing what went on in these things, but Hell three people were dead in a town a stone’s throw from Hooterville so I was hoping everyone was on board in trying to understand what happened. That said I really had no idea what went on behind closed doors in these groups. The closest I’d come was through Derf, my former roommate in Boston, a man with a taste for gambling so intense my monthly request for rent money would invariably be met by “let’s see how the Celtics (or Bruins/Red Sox/Patriots) do tonight and I’ll get back to you.” In reality, though, I never learned much from Derf since he only attended GA meetings sporadically and generally with a deck of cards in hand because “When am I ever gonna find myself in a room with a bigger bunch of losers than this? There’s money to be made!” Well, I couldn’t argue with his logic.
First, however, I had to pee like a racehorse. An idiom Derf assured me did not translate into a profitable wagering theory (as in bet on the horse that relieves himself during the Post Parade…he’ll be lighter) though Lord knows he tried. Thus I ducked into Johnny Java’s only to find the lascivious lusciousness of Miss Iceland at the counter ordering a mocha-venti-latte-grande-macchiato thing-y at $6.50 a pop. If I had any notions, and I was still fooling myself I did not, of getting more than friendly with her this pretty much blew a John Holmes-sized glory hole in it. As I looked down trying to determine which cost more, her coffee or my entire ensemble, I heard her voice call out to me.
“Hey. If I didn’t know better I’d think you were stalking me,” she said with just enough of a smile to hold my guilty paranoia at bay.
“Well, I’d love to stalk you, but to tell the truth it seems like a lot of work on my part,” I cracked. “Plus what with binoculars, ladders, infrared glasses it can really get expensive. Frankly, but for my inveterate cheapness, Courtney Thorne-Smith doesn’t know how lucky she was back in the 90s.”
She seemed to soften for the first time. Maybe she appreciated the help I’d arranged at the high school or maybe she was finally getting me. That last idea had even me chuckling when she offered, “Can I buy you a coffee?”
“Thanks, but I’m about an espresso shot away from a heart flutter. Let me just use the restroom and we’ll compare notes.”
The bathrooms were in the back past two rows of empty bistro tables and walls lined with reproductions of impressionist paintings by guys who never felt the need to enunciate the last consonant in their name- Monet? Renoir? Degas? It took a while to relieve myself of the Big Gulp worth of coffee I’d consumed and then figure out the pretentious ozone-friendly hand dryer. So when I got out Miss Iceland had already spread her laptop out on a table (unfortunately not a euphemism) and was talking to Wally Reynolds still in uniform and looking completely out of place.
“What’re you doing here?” I questioned Wally who was wearing a Miss Iceland induced shit-eating grin that would no doubt disappear the moment we broached the subject of the murders.
“On a coffee run for the Chief and the guys,” he replied nonchalantly. Behind him I could see the young barista and her lumberjack bearded manager stacking various drinks in those cardboard holders. I wasn’t sure what I found more disconcerting, that looking like you were auditioning for a ZZ Top cover band had suddenly become hip, or the thought of Andrew, Chief Bowden and the boys walking around with steamed milk moustaches and licking the whipped cream off their White Chocolate Frappuccinos.
“You were in there for quite a bit,” Miss Iceland smiled up at me, “and Officer Reynolds and I were just wondering…number 1 or number 2?”
They chuckled. I rolled my eyes. “First let me say if this really was what you were discussing I weep for the future of conversational discourse in this country. Second if you’re going back there you may wanna light a match.”
Miss Iceland laughed a little too hard, but it occurred to me she just might be getting the hang of things around here. As an outsider and newbie she wasn’t just going to roll into town like Kolchak the Nightstalker and start uncovering secrets. She had to soften up the troops and Wally, at least, was eating it up.
Just then Paul Bunyan called out that Wally’s order was ready. He said goodbye to Miss Iceland with a touch of his PBA baseball cap as if he’d just been introduced at the All-Star Game and waddled off. I kept an eye on him wondering if the reason the police switched over from the diner was because they were getting some kind of discount. No money changed hands- though it could have when the order was placed- but Wally did sign some kind of receipt before walking out with a wink that certainly wasn’t directed at me.
“So how’d it go down at the high school?” I asked, figuring she’d want to get down to business.
“Your people were nice. They got me up to speed and introduced me to the administrators,” she said while tapping away at her laptop. “I got some good background on Ted Sheehan, but they couldn’t give me anything on the girl due to student record confidentiality. Still the second I asked about anything relating to the murders or motive they clammed up like Marcel Marceau.”
“Nice,” I replied. “I woulda went with Shields and Yarnell, but Marceau works.” She smiled at me and if it hadn’t quite melted the police enough to get information I had to admit my PIN numbers were hers for the asking.
“So if you’re not getting coffee…or stalking me…why are you here?”
“Well besides the fact that this bathroom is silverfish-free unlike my one at home I was about to drop by the church next door.”
“No offense, but you don’t exactly come off as a man of God…”
“Hard to slip anything past you,” I responded sarcastically. “But actually Curly Carson was a recovering alcoholic. AA meetings take place at the Episcopal Church. I figured I’d check in with the priest…uh, minister…pastor guy or whatever that runs the program. See if he can shed light on his recent mental state. Care to join me?”
“Yeah sure,” she agreed and packed up her laptop, picked up her coffee and followed me out.
A door to the left of the main entrance read “OFFICE”. A light was on in the window so I tried the nob, but no luck. I knocked lightly at first then louder and after what seemed a long time a face peered through the square of window and began to unlock the heavy door.
I recognized the face as that of Logan Brooks, the reverend or what have you. He was just the man we were looking for, but that was to be expected. He ran the church and all its various projects almost single-handedly. From food drives at Thanksgiving to Toys For Tots at Christmas to clothing collection year round, though in his early 60s, he possessed an energy level I couldn’t match on a 3-pack of Red Bull and a fistful of Vivarins.
My erstwhile Artfield Review-er Gladys was a parishioner and friend and handled all his work at the paper. Therefore I only knew him through his occasional visits to the office and Town Council meetings where he was often to be found promoting a cause or recruiting assistance, with varying degrees of success, for said cause. He generally dressed casual; a black jacket over a white polo shirt or cardigan depending on the season. But he was most recognizable by a shock of dense gray, black hair which shot up and back off a shockingly low forehead and that I suddenly noticed was coming at me at an astonishing speed.
I never thought I’d put myself in these shoes, but I felt like a slave trader accidently trying to solicit the abolitionist John Brown. All I saw was a forest of hair, fiery eyes and a craggy face demanding “What do you want? Why are you here?”
I took a half step back, bumped into Miss Iceland and she dropped her quarter filled coffee cup on the pavement. It made a small, harmless mark on the sidewalk, but this only seemed to enrage him more.
“And get that crap out of here,” he rasped pointing at the cup that Miss Iceland was dutifully retrieving. A blue-green vein throbbed on his temple and for a second I wondered if I could even spell the word “aneurysm” close enough so that spell check at least knew what I was going for when I wrote his death up for this week’s edition.
I could sense he was about to slam shut the door so I made a quick appeal to his better nature. “We just wanted to talk about poor Curly Carson and what might’ve driven him mad.”
“You drove him mad. This town drove him mad. And now his blood, his daughter’s blood and Sheehan’s blood is on all your hands. And now the diocese is closing the parish down and forcing me to retire. Not enough parishioners to justify this size building, they say. I’m finished with you people. May you all burn in Hell!”
With that the door slammed, the lock turned, the lights went out inside and Miss Iceland turned to me dumbfounded.
“Pleasant sort,” I suggested, facetiously. And though now I knew for sure we were on to something, I didn’t have a freakin’ clue in the world what that was.