In the House of Dark and Light
Colton opened his eyes to unfamiliar surroundings. He damned himself for letting Breanne coaxing him to the spare cabin. He sat up in bed and looked at the now unoccupied spot next to him. The whiskey had clouded his good sense. He glanced at the door. It as slightly ajar. Judging by the intensity and the slant of the morning sun filtering through the narrow gap between the door and the jamb, it was late. He reached or his phone on the night stand and checked the time.
He jumped out of bed and hurriedly dressed then hurried over to Georgia’s cabin and rapped on the door with his fist. He waited an anxious moment and tried again. After another brief wait Colton returned to his cabin. He found a note taped to the door, took it down, and read it.
By the time he arrived at the diner’s parking lot the spaces were already beginning to fill with the early lunch crowd. He climbed off the seat of his Harley and walked inside. He was met by Georgia.
He said, “I’m sorry”
“Save it!” The tone of her voice was terse.
A few of the diners looked.
“Follow me.” She led him to the back and through a door that was an entrance to a small office occupied by an old metal desk. Georgia rounded the back corner, stooped then stood holding the bundled pup. It squirmed and whimpered. She returned to where Colton stood. “It’s lucky that the owner took a day off.” She stuffed the pup into his arms. “I could have gotten into a lot of trouble bringing a puppy in here.”
He apologized again then turned and headed for the door,
He stopped and turned around.
“You can’t take an animal into the dining area.” She pointed to the door behind the desk. “Take Flinn out the back way.”
He felt her stare on the back of his neck as he drove away thinking that she somehow knew that Breanne had lured him into the vacant cabin for a night of torrid sex. His thoughts returned to the contents o the envelope that Breanne given him, and he set a course for the other side of town.
Fifteen minutes later Colton veered from the road and into a vacant parking lot. He stopped his bike and looked up at the Gothic spires towering above his head. The early afternoon sun hanging just above the cross affixed to the peak caused him to squint. A Jewish German architect, who had fled Germany during the to the United States during the outbreak of World War Two, designed the Holy Land church. At the conclusion of the war, he mysteriously disappeared without a trace. A decade later, the Catholic church purchased the structure from the state.
He freed a hand and gave one of the doors a tug. It yielded silently as if determined to keep his arrival secret. He stepped into the small foyer and let the door swing closed behind him cutting off the external source of light, leaving the room overpowered by shadows. He glanced down at the stoup. He regarded the god of a monotheistic religion as superstition and snubbed the ritual of dipping his fingers into the bowl of holy water and making the sign of the cross.
The cathedral was eerily quiet. Dark. The air denser. He wondered if the sense of heaviness was due to layer upon layer of confessions from burdened hearts. He remembered, as a child, stealing a pack of gum from the local grocer. It had seemed like such a small infraction at the time, but in the privacy of his bedroom he’d removed the contraband from his pocket and was instantly hit by a pang of guilt. His own shame coerced him into confessing to his mother. After making him return the gum and making an apology to the store owner, she’d taken him to see the priest. Colton remembered his mother marching him up the aisle to the confession booth. She’d referred to the narrow strip as Sinner’s Alley. He remembered that the air had felt thick. It was like wading through sludge. It felt like that now.
The sleeping puppy stirred.
As he drew closer to the altar, Colton caught a whiff of the scented candles burning at the feet of the Jesus effigy. The figure, bound to the cross by spikes, seemed to follow his approach with a judgmental stare. He averted his gaze to the huge pipe organ looming in the background. As a child, his curiosity had been held by it, along with the organist, a squat little woman with hawk-like features. He’d thought she resembled the gargoyles perched on the outside ledge of the church. Never seeing the old woman anywhere but sitting at the organ, his juvenile suspicion that she was one of them had been concreted in his mind. He walked over to the instrument. After years of her fingers plucking out hymnals, the keys were worn and yellowed. Colton flipped the orange toggle switch and the electric pump kicked on. The thing hissed at him as its cloth bladder filled with air. He knew it looked like a bag from an old style vacuum cleaner, because on one of the rare occasions she wasn’t sitting at it, he’d easily slipped his small body through maintenance door at the back of the massive instrument. Now, after all these years, he was about to fulfill one of his puerile temptations. He pressed down on a set of keys. The pipes belched out a long, sour note that reverberated off the walls.
“You’d better be glad that Misses Papadopoulos wasn’t here to see you do that,” a male voice said from behind him.
Startled, Colton stepped away from the organ, spun around, and watched a figure, cloaked in dark robes, approach. It was Spangler, the knife wielding Indian that had delivered the message from Colton’s old man, and the sealed envelope Breanne had handed to him last night.
Now, a few feet from Colton, Spangler stopped. “I’m sorry to hear about your father.”
“Thanks,” That as a remarkable statement since it as well known fact that Spangler and the old man never saw eye to eye. Their disagreements had brought them to blows on more than one occasion. Back in the day Spangler was a biker, hell raiser, and a barroom brawler. Eventually, Spangler’s temper became the means for the priest to serve twenty years for murder.
The puppy squirmed inside the blanket.
The priest nodded at the swaddled bundle. “Are you keeping pets nowadays?”
“Not by choice. I found him by the water. His mother and siblings were dead.”
“The pup looks like its only a few weeks old. Are you bottle feeding it?”
It wasn’t like Spangler to beat around the bush. “So, your note said that you needed to talk to me.”
Spangler nodded. “I’ll keep what I need to say short.”
Colton’s gaze was drawn to the pulpit wall behind the priest. The effigy of Jesus looked down accusingly on him. “Can we talk someplace else?”
“Sure.” Spangler escorted Colton to the door at the back of the chapel. On the other side of the door ran a long narrow hall. The air was dry and stale. As they walked the disharmony of their unsynchronized steps played off the walls adorned with pictures of priest past. It was like taking a walk through time. The first photograph was an old black and white, but the trail of photos eventually evolved into color, clothes and hairstyles changed. At last Spangler stopped and entered the door to his right.
Inside, the air was lighter the room brighter by the sunlight pouring through the glass pane and filtered soft white by the gossamer curtains.
Spangler rounded the back of his desk and sat down in an antiquated wooded chair that tilted back and swiveled on a worm gear. “Sit.” He motioned to the chair on the other side of the desk where Colton stood.
It was just as old as the one Spangler rested his large frame in. Colton seated himself. He placed the pup on the floor at his feet. The baby seemed content to sleep a while longer. Colton raised and nodded at the crystal decanter of Scotch. Crystal tumblers surrounded the bottle. “Is that for guest?”
“Need a drink?” Spangler asked.
The priest retrieved two of the glasses and poured them both half full. Spangler sipped as Colton gulped. While he poured another for Colton, he said, “You know that eventually you won’t be able drink enough to keep your demons at bay.”
Colton gulped his drink down. “What would you know about my demons?”
“I know that you have yours just like I have mine, and everyone else has theirs.”
“Is that why you asked me here, to talk about my personal demons?” Colton picked up the glass and drank it down in four gulps then sat it in front of Spangler for another refill.
“That’s enough for now.” The priest placed the glass stopper back in the bottle. “I had to get a twenty years sentence in the pen before I confronted mine.”
“I can handle my demons.”
“Can you? When I look at you I see them dragging you down into the pits of hell a little further each day.”
“Are you going to save me, Father Spangler, from my demons? Are you going to make them go away?”
The priest shook his head. “They never go away. Like the scripture says, I’ll return at a more opportune time. I never was convinced that you were innocent. Even after Lucia admitted to killing my boy and the two others.” Suddenly, Spangler clenched his jaw. His eyes became two seething dark cauldrons. “Many nights I tracked you waiting for the right moment to slit your throat and look into your eyes as you bled out.”
Colton’s heart skipped a beat. The fact that Spangler had stalked him without his awareness sent a chill down his spine. It was rumored that during the priest wild days he had killed a man and gotten away with it. Now Colton wondered if Spangler had summoned him here for that very reason. The place was large with lots of nooks and crannies to hide a body or behind one of the stone walls left to decompose. Spangler could blame the offensive odor, even if it could permeate through the thick blocks, on a dead rat. A wave of shock shot through Colton. His eyes widened. “How about the morning that you showed up to deliver the message from my old man? You had the knife in your hand. You were thinking about killing me then, weren’t you?”
The office door flew open.
The man uniformed cop stood in the entrance assessing the scene. Finally he asked, “Everything all right?”
“What do you want?” Spangler asked.
“Sorry to interrupt, Father, but I saw the Harley parked outside.” Before stepping inside, Officer Joe made a clumsy attempt to make the sign of the cross. “I got orders to take Colton to the precinct.”
“What for?” asked Colton
Joe shrugged. “You’ll have to ask Zorn. I’m only the messenger.”
Colton scooped the pup off the floor and stood.
“You can’t bring that to the precinct,” said Joe.
“The puppy comes with me,” Colton fired back, “or I don’t go.”
" Fine,” Joe replied. “You hash can that out with Zorn.”
The priest shot a hard glance at the officer. “I’ll see you in church Sunday, Joe.”
The officer looked uncomfortable and nodded. Before escorting Colton out of the room, Officer Joe turned to the priest. “And you need to call the M Es office.”
Spangler looked perplexed. ” What business does the M E have with me?”
Again, the officer shrugged. He turned to Colton. “Let’s go.” After officer Joe tucked Colton into the backseat of the cruiser he climbed into the driver’s seat and radioed Zorn before speeding away.