Authors: Michael Lister
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Hard-Boiled, #Religious
“Whatta you think really happened?” Kathryn asked.
Before going to my room and attempting to fall asleep—something that probably wouldn’t be as difficult as it usually was—I wanted to have one more look at the crime scene in the light of day.
I was standing at the edge of the clearing when she walked up behind me.
“I have no idea,” I said, turning toward her. “But I have a really hard time believing the devil did it.”
She looked out at the circle of trees in a kind of childlike wonderment.
“‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy,’” she said.
Her eyes were red, their lids heavy, purplish half-moon shapes beneath them. Otherwise her face had very little color.
“Well, whether his father’s ghost was real or imagined,” I said, “it didn’t turn out too well for the Prince of Denmark, did it?”
“No, it didn’t. Still, one must play the part one’s assigned.”
The early morning sun had yet to climb above the treetops, but there was more than enough light to see the violent scene.
“Pretty fatalistic,” I said.
She shrugged, continuing to look around. “Still can’t believe she’s dead.”
She opened her mouth wide and yawned, slowly lifting her hand to cover it—a gesture that seemed an afterthought, a nod to a social nicety she really didn’t have the energy or the conviction for.
After a moment, she looked directly at me for the first time. “Are you closed to the solution to this mystery being a supernatural one?”
I thought about it. “I try not to be closed to anything, but I must confess that to even consider it requires a willing suspension of disbelief on my part.”
“But you’re willing?”
I gave a half shrug and a small nod, but I wasn’t even that sure I really was.
“You think he did it, don’t you?” she asked.
“I think it the most likely scenario so far, but the investigation is just beginning.”
“Like you, I’m not sure if I believe in demons or if it’s even possible for one to inhabit a human being or if they can, if it’s possible for them to kill the person. In fact, I find the whole notion highly unlikely, if not out and out impossible, but I can tell you this—the devil’s more likely to have done it than Father Thomas.”
“How long you known him?”
“My whole life,” she said. “He and Sister Abigail raised me.”
“You grew up here?”
She nodded. “My mother dumped me on their doorstep when I was just a few days old,” she said. “They raised me like their own.”
“Which could cloud your objectivity.”
“There’s no such thing. Surely you know that.”
I nodded. “You’re right. But there are degrees of subjectivity.”
“Sure. I admit to little or no objectivity, but I’m telling you after a lifetime of living with the man that he could no more murder a person than you could.”
“Bad example,” I said. “You just proved my point.”
“I stick by what I said. I’m not saying you’ve never been capable of murder, just that you aren’t now, but even if I’m wrong about you, which I’m not, I’ve just met you. I’ve known Father for over three decades.”
As if oblivious to the blood-covered leaves and broken branches, the birds in the trees whistled and sang enthusiastically, creating the background music of the forest soundtrack, their sweet songs soothing on a nearly subconscious level.
“And I meant what I said earlier,” she added. “There are a lot of things we don’t understand—about both good and evil. Living in a place like this teaches you that.”
She sighed and gave me a wide-eyed expression. “That’s a long conversation for another time, but trust me. It’s true.”
“Give me the short version,” I said.
“There’s something so safe and artificial about civilization. It insulates you from nature, from Goddess, and from evil. Everything is so domesticated and homogenized. Most people live apart from reality. Being out here, living this kind of wild lifestyle, we’re close enough to the raw, natural universe to know how little we understand, how little we know, how little control we have over very ancient powers—including evils.”
“That’s an interesting perspective, and one I share. I don’t exactly live in a city.”
“Even a rural area like Pottersville is not the same as being here.”
We were quiet a moment, then she said, “Well, I’ll let you get back to what you were doing.”
She turned to leave, but I stopped her. “One question before you go.”
“Steve said the two of you spent the night together last night, what time did—”
“We most certainly did not,” she said.
My eyebrows shot up. “He wasn’t with you just prior to discovering the crime scene in the cabin?”
“Well, yeah,” she said, hesitantly, her brow furrowing, “he was in my cabin, but only because he fell asleep. He asked if he could talk to me after dinner last night. He seemed lonely, so I let him. We talked for a while. He didn’t seem to have much to say, which confirmed my suspicion that he just needed company. After we ran out of things to say, we sat there in silence a while, until we both drifted off.”
“Did either of you leave the cabin while you were together?”
She shook her head.
“Who fell asleep first?”
She shrugged. “I guess I did, but I’m not sure. Why?”
“And when did you wake up?”
“He woke me up because he thought he heard a scream,” she said.
“So he could’ve left while you were asleep?” I asked.
She nodded. “I guess he could have, but do you realize what that means?”
I did, but wanted her say it. “What?”
“That if he really was asleep like he claims,” she said, “I could have been the one to sneak out of the cabin.”
When I got back to my room, I found a leather rose-colored journal lying on my unmade bed. A small gold key tied to a short length of burgundy ribbon sat atop the small book. Carefully placing the key into the lock on the side, I popped open the latch and lifted the top cover. A name was scrawled in black ink across the first page. Tammy Taylor.
Gently placing the journal on the floor, I fell into the bed, clothes, including my jacket, and shoes still on, and thought about what I should do.
If I really wasn’t going to investigate, I didn’t need to read even one of the entries. Before I could think about it long, my eyelids fell shut and I drifted off. I woke a moment later and looked down at the little leather volume on the cold tile floor.
One must play the part one’s assigned, I heard Kathryn say as clearly as if she were in the room with me.
I reached over and pulled the book into bed with me and began to read. As I did, the bulb above me began to flicker and emit an electrical hum.
Why do I keep doing the same stupid things over and over again? What’s wrong with me? I don’t set out to fuck up, but that seems to be what I always do. Why? What’s in me that’s so weak or wicked? I try to be good, I really do. And I am for a while, but it never lasts for very long. I want to get better for real this time. Not just come off the shit I’m on, but stay off it. And that includes Clyde. I’ve got to stay away from him if I’m going to make it. I love him so much, but we’re no good together. It’s like we’re self-destructive soul mates. Why does it have to be so damn hard? We should be able to be together without hurting each other so much. Why can’t we just be in love? Just spend our whole lives loving each other, making each other happy? Why does he have to be so restless? Why do I have to be so weak? I can’t think about that now. Maybe we can be together one day, but for now I’ve got to take care of me, work on me, get me better. Maybe Clyde will do the same thing. I begged him to. Told him if he loved me he would. Well, we’ll see, won’t we? Says he’ll die for me, die without me. I told him if he wants to be with me he’s got to be clean and sober and sweet. He can be so sweet sometimes, and not just when he wants to bone me, but mainly then. I wish he was here to make love to me right now. I’ve got to stop thinking about that, about him. I’ve got to really concentrate on getting better. It’s our only hope. I can do it. Can he?
I fell asleep feeling sorry for Tammy Taylor, and thinking how much all of us addicts sound the same. When I woke a few hours later and read another entry, I felt less sympathetic.
At St. Ann’s. God, could this place be any more boring? Not many people here, but more losers per capita than anywhere in the world. It’s a beautiful piece of property. Shame to waste it on a few frigid bitches and dickless pricks. Going out of my mind, biding my time until I can get back to living. Think I’ll fuck with these assholes for some fun. Seduce every last one of them, then make fun of their limp little dicks or the dykes for wanting but not having one. Scoring a couple of priests and nuns should be fun. Find out what they won’t do and figure out a way to get them to do it. Show them what real power is. The power of me. I’ve got more power between my legs than all their pathetic little prayers put together. This whole place will be pussy-whipped inside a week. And then I can get on with my real plan.
Was someone trying to supply me with other suspects, or helping to build a case against Father Thomas? Was he one of her conquests? What was Tammy’s plan? I thought about it, but not for long. Soon I was asleep again and dreaming, but not for long. Soon I was awake again and reading.
I don’t think Father Fuckup thinks I have a demon. He thinks I’m out of my mind. Mad as a hatter. Still wants to fuck me, though. I can tell. Well, we’ll see who’s mind is more warped when I get finished with him. Don’t see any real challenges. Maybe old Sister Abigail, but I couldn’t do her anyway ‘cause that’s just gross. I’m committed to my mission, but I’m not that committed. I’m crazy, but not that crazy.
“John,” Tammy said from the hallway.
I jumped up and ran to the door.
Just as I put my hand on the knob, it turned.
“John, let me in. Now. Help me. Please.”
I tried to open the door, but couldn’t.
Then someone began banging on the door so hard it shook, but a moment later when I was able to open it, no one was there.
I stepped out into the hallway and looked up and down. It was empty and quiet and I was alone.
Had I imagined all that? Was I still asleep? Was I so creeped out by all that had happened, so freaked out by Tammy’s diary, so bone-weary that I was hallucinating? Or was it something else entirely?
I returned to bed and to the journal, Tammy’s voice from the hallway still in my head.
I’m so sorry. Oh God. What’s wrong with me?
I don’t know why I wrote those things. I don’t mean them. Sometimes I think mean things. Sometimes I feel so bad inside I want to hurt someone, but I’m not a bad person. I’m not. God, please forgive me. And help me. I’m so sick of this shit. I don’t want to live like this any longer. Help me. And be with Clyde wherever he is. Please protect him and let him get clean and bring him back to me. I miss him so much. Especially his cock. I wish he was inside me right now. God, I’m so fucking horny. Father Fuckup isn’t much of a substitute, but he’ll do. Kill two birds with one stone. Get off and knock him off his goddamn high horse. Of course, he’s probably got a pussy in his pants. Good thing I know what to do with one of those too.
I was disturbed and a little uneasy, but more than anything else, I was so lonely I could hardly breathe––and reading Tammy’s diary only made me more so. Weary and sad, confused and adrift, I was in limbo between a restless sleep and a dreary waking world, my isolation an ice pick puncturing and deflating a lung.
“Were you having a sexual relationship with Tammy?” I asked.
“I was about the only one who wasn’t.”
Father Thomas and I were seated on the first pew of the chapel, dark figures amidst candlelight and weak illumination from the overcast morning streaming through the stained glass. He had been kneeling at the altar when I came in, dozing I suspected, his weary eyes falling shut as he had begun to pray. I had taken a seat on the first pew and when he awoke or finished he joined me.
“I shouldn’t’ve said that,” he added. “It was childish and judgmental. You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve yet to grow accustomed to being thought of as a murderer.”
“You do think of me as a murderer, don’t you?”
I shook my head. “No,” I said, “I really don’t. I
think of you as a suspect.”
“You don’t really know me,” he said. “If you did, and you could think I was capable of doing what was done to her, I don’t know what I’d do.”
We fell silent a moment, and I let my eyes wander around the small sanctuary as I thought about what I’d read and what he’d said.
The deep colors of the stained glass along the sides and behind the pulpit in the front were far darker than usual, their rich burgundies and blues looking more like a tapestry than a window, and in the flickering candlelight the hand-carved furniture and statues looked not modern but medieval.
“I’ve spent my entire life helping people,” he said. “Or trying to. It may be in small ways, but I’ve done some real good. Given my life to easing the suffering of others. But this is what I’ll be remembered for.”
If possible, he looked even more feeble this morning than he had last night, his wrinkled skin thinner, paler, his small, watery eyes more sunken and unfocused.
“Do I look like someone she would have sex with?” he said. “Do I look like I am able?”
His last comment made me wonder if he was trying to appear more feeble than he really was.
“Her diary says she intended you to be one of her conquests.”
“Oh, she propositioned me. Sure. But I didn’t take it seriously, and I certainly made no attempt to take her up on it. Does her diary say otherwise?”
“Not through with it yet. Just got it. Someone left it in my room. Any idea who?”
“None. No locks in this place. Be easy enough to take it from her room and put it in yours, but why would they?”
“Because of what’s in it,” I said. “But are they trying to help or hinder the search for the truth?”
“If it’s truly her journal, it can only help with the investigation, even if not everything she wrote in it is true.”
“You don’t fear anything in it?”
Hesitating a moment, he glanced at the confessional in the back. Following his gaze, I studied the large handmade wooden box. It was ornate and antique and I wondered how it had wound up here.
“It’s good for the soul,” I said.
“Can it stay between us?”
“I’m not a priest,” I said. “I can’t absolve you.”
“If it has nothing to do with her death, can it stay between us? If it’s not relevant to your investigation, will you hear my confession as a minister?”
He looked over his shoulder, then all around the chapel, before lowering his voice and saying, “I was attracted to her. She was so… There was something about her. I knew it was wrong—I think that was part of the appeal. I could tell she knew. She looked at me as if I was like every other man she had met and it infuriated me. She knew she had power over people and she enjoyed it. When I walked into the cabin last night and found her strapped to the bed without any clothes on I was more aroused than I’ve ever been. It was hard for me to concentrate. I think maybe that’s part of why things got so out of hand. I was distracted… I just needed to tell someone. I never did anything about the way I felt. Never broke any of my vows—except in my heart.”
“And you’re sure nothing ever happened?”
“The only place we ever had sex was in my mind. I swear it.”
In the silence that followed, I thought about what he had said and how he had said it, running it through the filters in my head, sifting for lies, hoping for truth.
“Don’t you want to chastise me?”
“For having sexual thoughts about a highly sexualized girl?” I asked in surprise.
“I know it sounds silly,” he said, “but I feel so guilty—especially in light of what happened.”
“If you’re looking for condemnation, you confessed to the wrong sinner.”
The back doors swung open loudly and we both turned to see who it was.
“What’s this?” Ralph Reid said, walking down the aisle toward us. “I thought I made it clear I didn’t want my client questioned unless I was present.”
“It’s okay, Ralph,” Father Thomas said. “We’re just talking.”
wasn’t. He was interrogating you and the fact that you think it was just talking shows how good he is at it.”
I laughed and shook my head. He was either one overzealous lawyer or he had something to hide. My money was on the latter. I doubted he was capable of looking out for anyone but himself and, because it was in his interest, the Gulf Coast Company, and his reaction was not commensurate with the threat I posed to his client.
“What prompted this little chat?” Reid asked. “I thought Father had answered all your questions.”
“Actually, he answered all Steve’s,” I said, “but what prompted our discussion was Tammy’s journal.”
“Her journal?” he asked in surprise. “She kept one?”
“I suggested that she did,” Father said. “It’s helpful in the healing process.”
“Do we know where it is?” Reid said.
“I have it,” I said.
“How did you—”
“Someone left it in my room.”
“What does it say?”
“I just started it.”
“I need to see it as soon as possible. It could point to other possible suspects.”
“I’m going to turn it over to Steve. I’m sure you’ll get to see it if there’s a trial.”
“I want to see it
“Well, then,” I said, “you’re being given an opportunity to practice patience.”