Authors: Michael Lister
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Hard-Boiled, #Religious
Later that afternoon, I found Kathryn down by the lake. She now knew the truth. Any innocence she’d had left was long gone. Sister Abigail had told her everything, just before confessing to Steve.
I stood beside her for a long time without speaking. I didn’t know what to say.
After a while, I said, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s a lot to take in,” she said.
I was having difficulty taking in certain things myself.
I guess I’d never know exactly what happened to Tammy. I had seen and I had heard—video footage and confessions—but neither had helped a whole lot. Something profoundly mysterious had happened, and it wasn’t as simple as who killed whom—of course no mystery ever is. There’s always the why. Even when we know the who and the what, we rarely know the why—not really, not fully—not even the murderer knows that. We know why they and psychiatry and religion and philosophy say they did it, but all fall short of giving us true understanding and insight into the deep, dark mystery of a murderous heart.
“I’m not sure how to feel,” she said. “The truth is, I don’t feel much of anything.”
“Your mind’s just protecting your heart—the way it does your body when it’s in severe pain. It’s actually a grace. You’ll feel again. And whenever you do and whatever you feel will be fine. Right now, you’re just numbed a little by shock.”
“When I think about how much they both love me—” she began, but broke off and let it hang in the air. “But when I think about what she did…”
I wasn’t present when Sister Abigail had told her what she did, but if it was anything like what she shared with me, I had no doubt she would understand in time.
“She didn’t come out and say it,” she said, “but I know she did what she did for me.”
I nodded, but didn’t say anything.
“I get sick just thinking about that.”
“Our motivations for mundane things are complex, but for something like this, they’re unimaginable. It wasn’t just for you.”
“I thought I knew her,” she said. “I thought… Now I wonder if I know anything at all. It’s just so…”
I thought about how little I knew about what had really happened. I had no way of knowing if Tommy’s death was anything other than what it was officially believed to be, though I thought it likely Tammy did kill him. I knew far less about the mystery of possession and exorcism than when I had arrived. I didn’t know what would happen to Sister Abigail or St. Ann’s. The one thing I did know was that I didn’t know, that the universe was a profoundly mysterious place, far beyond anything I had ever thought or imagined.
She turned to me and touched my face. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you.”
I thought about all we had shared, the way in which the Mystery had revealed herself to me through this lovely woman. She had been the conduit for an intense sexual-spiritual encounter, but like all graces God uses in our lives, she was the vessel, the sign pointing me beyond her to the boundless beyond. As grateful as I was to her, I wasn’t about to make an idol out of her. She was a gift—one I was thankful for, but my most focused attention and adoration was reserved for the giver.
“You don’t have anything to apologize for. I’m sorry. Sorry that I left you. I truly thought you were safe there. Sorry for what you went through at the mill. Sorry for all you’ve found out about your family—and I’m very sorry you lost your father.”
“I can’t even think about us right now.”
“But when I’ve had time to process all this—”
I nodded, but didn’t say anything, just let it be there between us, pregnant with possibility.
Dropping her hand from my face, she shook her head and let out a long sigh. “I just found them and I’ve already lost my dad. Now, I’ll be losing my mom soon.”
She began to cry.
I put my arms around her and held her.
After a long moment, she looked up at me and asked, “What’s going to happen?”
I smiled and shook my head. “I have no idea, but anything’s possible. I’m convinced of that now more than ever before.”
After Kathryn had gone, I stood staring at the lake for a long time, preparing to depart, ready to get away, but in some ways not wanting to leave.
In homicide investigations, as in religion—or life for that matter—we know so little compared to what we think we do, and we understand even less. There’s a reason why they’re called mysteries. And just because we happen to discover who committed the crime doesn’t mean we really understand much about it. This was nowhere more true than in Tammy’s case.
I had watched and heard as Tammy displayed superhuman strength, revealed things she couldn’t possibly have known, spoke in languages she didn’t know. What did it mean? Were they signs of demonic possession? Or was there some other more scientific explanation? Was what was revealed the presence of unseen spirits or the unlocked potential of a dark, mostly unused part of the human mind? Not only did I not know, I seriously doubted I ever would.
Could I live with that? What other choice did I have? It wasn’t likely to change, but then, neither was I. I’d continue to investigate and continue to be baffled and humbled and surprised and in awe of life and the Great Mystery who created it, who sustains it, who
it. What else could I do? I had a strong suspicion that’s what she created me for. And perhaps I could learn to do it with more peace. Perhaps I could do my work and step back as Sister had suggested, letting go of my attachment to the outcome and the angst that goes with it.
I wasn’t sure how long I had been there like that when Steve walked up.
“I’ve finished my official report,” he said. “Wanted to run it past you to make sure you don’t have any problems with it. I don’t want FDLE knocking on my door one day soon because you tell them you have questions about my investigation.”
I shook my head. “They won’t.”
“I don’t want to, but I don’t have a choice. I’m charging Father Thomas with Tammy’s death.”
I turned and looked at him in surprise.
“You got a problem with that?”
“Yeah. I do. We don’t get to decide what to do with the guilty.”
“Investigators. We don’t get to punish or exonerate. Only investigate. We’d have too much power otherwise.”
“I know that, but… just this one time.”
“You know how many times I’ve wanted to—how many times I told myself I would just do it the one time?”
“Have you ever…”
I nodded. “Stone Cold Killer case in Atlanta. It’s one of the reasons I quit the cops.”
We were quiet a long moment.
And, as usual, I recalled the recurring nightmare.
In it, I’m running up Stone Mountain, my heart slamming against my breast bone from exertion and the fear of what I’d find when I reached the top. I’m weary and unsteady, a mixed drink of bone-tired fatigue, mental exhaustion, and vodka coursing through my veins. Still I run as fast as I can, but I’m too late. When I reach the top, he releases her, and her body slides down the cold solid granite, following its contours like a tear in the crevices of a wrinkled face.
“I killed a serial killer,” I said finally. “A very, very long time ago now. And not a day goes by I don’t regret it.”
“I’m not charging her mom,” he said. “What’re you going to do?”
“I told you I wouldn’t contact FDLE. You know what I think you should do. You know why. What you do is up to you.”
“There’s been enough lives lost,” he said.
“That mean Ralph Reid’s safe?”
“I’m talking about human life,” he said.
I shot him a look.
“I’m not gonna take him out. I’m not.”
“So… you can reverse your collar and let what Sister Abigail told you be a sealed confession.”
I was conflicted about his decision, wishing there was a solution that would allow for both justice and mercy, but I could let it go. At least I was pretty sure I could.
I nodded again.
“I figure if I save her mom’s life and her abbey, I might just win her over.”
“You deserve her,” I said. “I wish you luck. I really do.”
“I’m just glad she’s not my cousin.”
We were quiet a few moments, the cold breeze blowing off the lake stinging our eyes.
“Well,” he said, “whatta you waitin’ on? The case is over. It’s time for you to go home and get on with your life.”
“It certainly is,” I said. “It most certainly is.”
A native Floridian, award-winning novelist Michael Lister grew up in North Florida near the Gulf of Mexico and the Apalachicola River where most of his books are set.
In the early 90s, Lister became the youngest chaplain within the Florida Department of Corrections—a unique experience that led to his critically acclaimed mystery series featuring prison chaplain John Jordan: POWER IN THE BLOOD, BLOOD OF THE LAMB, FLESH AND BLOOD, THE BODY AND THE BLOOD, and BLOOD SACRIFICE.
Michael won a Florida Book Award for his literary thriller DOUBLE EXPOSURE, a book, according to the
Panama City News Herald
, that “is lyrical and literary, written in a sparse but evocative prose reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy.” His other novels include THUNDER BEACH, THE BIG GOODBYE, BUNRT OFFERINGS, SEPARATION ANXIETY, and THE BIG BEYOND.
Michael’s “Meaning” books are meditations on how to have the best life possible and include THE MEANING OF LIFE IN MOVIES, THE MEANING OF JESUS, and MEANING EVERY MOMENT.