The Priest's Graveyard (12 page)

BOOK: The Priest's Graveyard
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I was a
neurotic mess who’d been taught by Lamont that everything pointed to some greater purpose. After meeting the priest, I became
that much more convinced that everything Lamont had said was true, not that I’d ever doubted him.

Here is how I thought about it: I was lost and God sent Lamont to save me. My name is Renee, which means “reborn” in French,
as Lamont also liked to point out, and I was indeed reborn in his house of laws. Then I became lost again, and he showed up—a
priest named Danny Hansen.

I looked up his name. Danny is from Daniel, which means “God is my judge.” So you can understand why I couldn’t sleep that
night. For the second time in two years I had been saved from death by a man of the law, so to speak.

This could only mean that I was on to something, that I had a purpose, which I assumed had to do with delivering justice.
Being the judge where the law had failed, as Lamont said.

The priest’s words circled my mind like buzzards, whispering and calling to me.

It isn’t the first time that Jonathan Bourque has been accused of injustice…

I do understand…

They’ll come looking for you…Leave town…

The next morning I tracked down Father Danny Hansen. As it turns out, priests are public servants who apparently live open,
transparent lives. Unlike Jonathan Bourque.

Danny Hansen was one of several priests at the Saint Paul Catholic Church on Long Beach Boulevard. He was a parochial vicar
in charge of benevolence who served under the pastor, Bernard Lombardi.

The parish receptionist was a sweet woman named Regina who was enthralled with my somewhat modified story of recovery from
heroin addiction. When I explained that I needed Father Danny Hansen immediately and had lost his number, she was happy to
provide it.

I found his address through a reverse-directory search on the Internet. He lived in Lakewood, in a subdivision called the
Brentwood Estates, a middle-class neighborhood in which most of the brick homes looked like they had come from the same mold.

A Yellow Cab driver delivered me to the address shortly after noon. I paid him and stepped out of the car into a cul-de-sac
ringed by five homes.

The house directly in front of me was number 3005. This was God-is-my-judge’s home, a single-story red-brick house with brown
trim, bordered by a green lawn, like the rest of the houses.

Not a soul besides me was around that I could see. The quiet was a bit unnerving. I wasn’t used to this kind of neighborhood,
having lived first on the street, then in an ocean mansion, and now in a hotel.

I walked up to the cement landing and stopped in front of the door. A clay pot with a leafy green plant sat to one side. The
doorbell button glowed orange, and I wondered if I should push it or just knock. It was early afternoon and I had no idea
if the priest was even home. I reached up and pushed the button.

When no one responded to the faint sound of the chime inside, I tried again. Still nothing.

I had already decided that if the priest wasn’t home I would simply wait, but standing there alone on the porch, I felt completely
exposed. Maybe it would be better if I waited in the back, where neighbors peering through their windows would be less likely
to notice me. Surely Danny wouldn’t mind if I sneaked into his backyard.

I stepped onto the grass and walked to the side of the home, then through a wooden gate. At the back of the house, sliding
glass doors stood behind a small porch with a table and two chairs. A set of blinds blocked my view of the interior. I looked
around his small green lawn, then slid to my seat next to the door and waited.

What if I was wrong about Danny Hansen? What if he didn’t know more about Bourque than I’d convinced myself he did? What if
in my obsessive state of mind, I’d read him wrong?

And yet everything the priest had said seemed to suggest more than the actual words—maybe only to me, to my own craziness,
but what if I was right?

What if Danny Hansen knew much more about Bourque than he let on? What if he hadn’t come into that basement by accident? What
kind of priest would suggest I leave town, if not one who knew precisely how dangerous Bourque really was?

Either way, I had to know, because this could be my first real break. My simple plan had all gone wrong, but I just might
have found my guardian angel.

The previous night’s pacing and fretting caught up to me. The next thing I knew, I was slumped over between my knees, climbing
out of a foggy sleep. I opened my eyes to dusk and jerked up. I wiped some drool from the corner of my mouth, alarmed that
I had slept so long.

“Welcome to the land of the living.”

I flinched and saw that Danny Hansen was seated on a chair with his legs crossed, nursing a beer. He wore jeans and a pale
blue button-down shirt with short sleeves, looking more like the priest’s twin than the man who’d rescued me the night before.

I clambered to my feet, nearly tipping over in the process.

“Want a beer?” he asked. His voice carried a very slight and quite pleasant accent that I couldn’t place. Maybe European.

I stared at him, not sure what he expected me to say. Did he know I didn’t touch beer? When Lamont let me drink it was only
wine, and then only the best, not the grape juice that teenagers and NASCAR fans sucked up, as he put it. Was it a trick question?

“Why?”

He shrugged. “Because you’re thirsty?”

“Oh.”

“Would you like one? I have Fat Tire and Corona.”

“No. Thank you.”

He nodded then took a pull from his bottle of Fat Tire. He indicated the empty chair. “Have a seat.”

I slid into the chair across the small round metal-mesh table and folded my hands, feeling awkward. I’d rehearsed what I would
ask him, but my mind was now blank.

Danny looked at the horizon and took another drink. His arms were well muscled and his hands were large. A scar ran from his
right thumb over his wrist. Maybe he’d gotten it dragging a victim from a car wreck or rescuing an unappreciative cat from
a tree. But somehow I didn’t think this priest spent his downtime patrolling the neighborhood for car crashes and stranded
kittens.

“I see you didn’t take my advice,” he said, eyes watching the dimming sky over his neighbor’s roofline.

“To get out of town?”

“Yes.”

“No.”

He drank again, just a sip, as if he needed time to think.

“I couldn’t sleep,” I said.

“You were sleeping when I found you.”

“I mean last night.”

“That’s understandable, I’m sure you had a lot to think about. You were fortunate I came along when I did.”

“Thank you.”

Danny set his bottle down and turned his eyes to me. “I meant what I said. You shouldn’t be here. And I mean in this town,
in this state. You can thank me by leaving. You need some money?”

“No, I have some.”

“How did you find me?”

“You’re a priest, your life is transparent.”

He didn’t respond to that, but he broke his stare and looked back at the neighbor’s house. There was much more to this priest
than what showed on the outside, I thought. The line of questioning I’d rehearsed finally came to me.

“Where did you learn to pick locks?” I asked.

“Why did you come to me, Renee?”

“You remember my name? Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, but that doesn’t answer my question.”

“Because I need to know where you learned to pick locks,” I said.

“A quick search on the Internet will tell you all you need to know, if you want to learn how to pick locks.”

“I’m more interested in you. You’re a priest who knows how to pick locks and handle criminals and come up with clever escape
plans quickly. I want to know who you are and where you learned to do what you did.”

He eyed me suspiciously. “What I did was only natural. I meet rough people every day in my line of work.”

“I’m sure you do. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think God might have sent you to save me.”

“Then be saved,” he said. “Leave town. And stay the heck away from men like Jonathan Bourque.”

“I can’t leave town, not until he’s dead.” Had I just said that? I had. So then I was committed. “So you see, I still need
saving.”

He looked at me for a long time, and I spoke again, thinking I had no choice now but to trust Danny Hansen completely.

“If I tell you where I come from, will you tell me how you learned to pick locks? Never mind, I’ll tell you anyway. I was
rescued from the streets by a man named Lamont Myers. I was overdosed on heroin and as good as dead, and he saved me. He took
me into his house and brought me back to health. We fell in love and then were married. Not officially.”

I wasn’t sure why I added that last comment.

It was the first time I’d ever talked to anyone about my love for Lamont, and I was surprised by the surge of emotion that
welled up in my chest. Tears sprang to my eyes and I thought I might begin to fall apart, right there on Danny Hansen’s back
porch.

“Lamont was like an angel to me. I took care of him and he loved me. We listened to music and we danced. We drank wine and
we watched the Malibu shores under the moonlight. I was lost but Lamont found me. You must understand that, Father. He was
everything to me.”

He looked at me with soft eyes and I saw only empathy and goodness in them. “I do,” he said. “Call me Danny. Please.”

“Well, Danny, you should know that Jonathan Bourque killed Lamont.” My throat knotted painfully. I swallowed but that didn’t
help. “And he would have killed me last night if I hadn’t escaped.”

Danny averted his eyes. I think he was about to say something, but I wasn’t done. I was desperate to speak. This was my confession
and Danny was my priest.

Bitterness crept into my voice. My face was hot and my breathing was thick and I wanted to scream. I tried to remain calm
but I didn’t do it well.

“You’re probably thinking that I’m mistaken, but I know that pig killed my husband. Lamont worked with him, and my husband
told me how evil Bourque is.” The words came out like nails. “Lamont found out something that he wasn’t supposed to know,
and he told me he was afraid for his life. The next day he disappeared.”

Tears leaked down my cheeks. Danny watched me with steady, kind eyes.

“I waited for him for three days. Two men broke into our house then, and I heard them talking about Bourque while I hid in
the corner.”

Then I settled down a little and told him everything.

I told him about the money I’d stuffed into the pajama bottoms. I told him about climbing into the trunk and escaping to the
warehouse. I told him about renting the room at the Staybridge hotel in Long Beach.

I told him much more than I had intended, but I was speaking for myself and I couldn’t stop. The whole time, he just listened.

When I finished I wiped my cheeks with the back of my hand and we both sat in silence for a moment.

“I have to kill him, Danny. Is that so evil?”

“I’m so sorry for your pain, but it’s not your place to decide,” he said.

“Who then? Will God decide? I think God wants him dead!”

“Then he will see to Bourque’s death, either here or in hell. But believe me, you won’t survive that kind of confrontation
with a man like Bourque. He’ll crush you.”

Danny said it calmly, without any passion or deep conviction, but he said it, and I immediately pounced on his admission.

“So you agree Bourque is a ruthless man.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You did! And you said as much last night before you even knew my story. Why else would you be so adamant that I get out of
town?”

He hesitated, and I embraced the pause as a statement of affirmation.

“Aren’t you jumping to conclusions?” he asked.

I hardly heard his denial. “I don’t think you were there by accident. In fact, I think you have a problem with Bourque. You
followed that man down into the basement. Who in his right mind would look for the bathroom through an employees’ door? And
how did you know to tell me to hide in the other closet—unless you’d already checked it out?”

I’d caught him flat-footed.

“Will you help me?” I asked.

It was getting dark, but I was sure I saw his face go a shade lighter. He didn’t know what to say. I was right about him.

“This is absurd,” he said in a soft voice. Then, with a little more intensity: “Listen to yourself. It’s true, Bourque has
a reputation and I wouldn’t put foul play past him. I’ve seen my share of ordinary people doing horrible things. But I’m not
above the law. I’m a priest! I’m so sorry for your loss, I really am. Injustice infuriates me to no end. But if you think
I’m in any position to actually help you get your revenge, you’re terribly mistaken.”

“I don’t think so. I think you’re the only one who
can
help me. Tell me where you learned to pick locks.”

“What?”

“I saw the way you handled yourself, and you’re not like any priest I’ve ever heard of. Tell me, and maybe I’ll believe you.”

He stared at me, mouth parted.

“Go on,” I said. “Tell me.”

Danny closed his mouth, leaned back, and stared off at the horizon again. It seemed to be his escape. He sighed. “This is
ridiculous.”

I noticed that his hand was trembling, only a tiny bit, but it was on the table right in front of me and there was a tremor
in his bones. I suddenly felt a deep empathy for him, maybe because I thought he might have suffered as much as I had. Maybe
that’s why he was a priest.

I reached out and put my hand on his. “It’s okay, Danny,” I said. “You can tell me.”

He glanced at my hand, but I didn’t remove it. I couldn’t help thinking Danny needed me, and I was desperate to be needed.
Also, I can’t say I wasn’t pleased with the small amount of power I felt in taking control of the situation. It was as if
we’d switched roles. And I had done that!

“Tell you what?” he asked.

“Tell me how you were so deeply wounded,” I said.

BOOK: The Priest's Graveyard
6.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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