The Priest's Graveyard (23 page)

BOOK: The Priest's Graveyard
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“And I’m telling you, you have the wrong man. I’ve never heard of him.”

“You’re denying that you’ve killed people for Jonathan Bourque?”

“No. I’m not denying that. But whoever this Lamont is, I wasn’t involved.”

I stood in silence. He was telling the truth? He said it with such conviction that I was tempted to believe him. This wiry
snake had killed for Jonathan Bourque, but maybe Lamont wasn’t one of his hits.

“You’re lying.”

“Why would I lie?”

“Then who did?” I asked.

“I have no idea. I’ve never heard of the man. Now are we done here?”

“No.”

My mind was reeling. Part of me was saying that he
wasn’t
guilty of killing Lamont, so I
didn’t
have the right to kill him and all my work digging his grave had been wasted.

But another part was telling me that Danny would kill Darby regardless. He was the lowest kind of human, abusing those closest
to him for his own gain. If there was any man who deserved justice, it was him.

I imagined the children upstairs, cowering in the beds, and I felt rage boil in my face. I admit that my anger was probably
partly motivated by the fact that I hadn’t uncovered Lamont’s killer, but anyone who physically abused his wife and children
without showing the slightest remorse did not deserve to live.

In fact, now that I was able to put Lamont’s death out of the picture, I saw that this ugliness in Darby’s character was worse
than the role he played for Jonathan Bourque.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that overtook me then. My hands began to shake and for a moment I thought I might fall.

“Face the other way,” I said, eager to get his eyes off me.

He stared at me angrily.

I felt frantic. “Turn the other way! Turn toward your wife, you pile of vomit. Turn your head!”

“What are you going to do?” The first signs of concern crossed his face.

“Nothing, just turn. Turn away from me!”

He turned his head and swore. I jerked out the second syringe, pulled the sleeve off using my teeth, and rushed up to him.
“Will you just settle down? I—”

It was as far as he got. I stabbed the needle into his neck and shoved the plunger home. I did it without taking time to think.

Darby Gordon roared and came up like a tiger, clawing at the needle still stuck in his neck. I jumped back, gun level with
his face. “Shut up!”

But I’d missed his vein. It would take longer for him to go under and he wasn’t shutting up. He flung the syringe across the
room, cursing bitterly, demanding in the vilest terms possible that I tell him what I had done.

“Shut up!” I cried. The whole neighborhood would hear if he kept this up! “Shut up!”

“You thupid…”

His eyes clouded as the drug began to reach into his mind. Grunting like a cow, he lunged from the bed, took one long step
toward me, and collapsed facedown at my feet.

I stood over him, shaking from head to foot, gun still pointed at the bed where he’d been lying only a minute ago. Emily slept
on in peace. The house had gone completely silent.

I had killed him? But the rise and fall of his back said he was alive.

No one rushed in to arrest me. The kids were not standing in the doorway wondering what all the hollering had been about.
It was just Darby and Emily in a deep sleep, and me standing over them with a gun.

Now what?

The moment the question crossed my mind, I knew the answer.

Directing the sacrament
of penance would be the least missed of all Danny’s duties when he left the priesthood. This much he’d known from the first
time he’d taken up position in the confessional and heard an older woman named Betty confess that her obsession with chocolate
at two in the morning was the real reason for her obesity. But he’d missed two dates with the box in the last two days due
to his preoccupation with Renee, and Danny felt obligated to make an appearance today.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been two months since my last confession.” A middle-aged female had taken the booth.
Danny made a point not to identify those who bared their secrets to him, because he had no interest in the paltry sins of
the flock. Stealing, cheating, lying, fornicating, masturbating, overeating, gossiping, jealousy, anger, et cetera, et cetera,
et cetera—the common sins of the masses, so banal, so human—were utterly predictable, and inevitable, no matter how hard people tried to avoid them, no matter how many prayers they
uttered.

What was the point? Go and sin no more, he would say, but they would. It was impossible not to.

“But you are here,” Danny said softly. “God will reward you for that.”

“I have thoughts, Father. They scare me.”

Take this woman speaking in a timid voice now. If her thoughts were about hating and abusing others in a premeditated, purposeful
way, he might find her confession more interesting. But to date, he’d never encountered such a person in this box. He’d met
plenty outside the law.

“Go on.”

“It’s my mother-in-law. She’s coming for a visit and I hate her. My husband and I have fought for three days and I can’t take
it.” She sniffed once.

“Well, you don’t plan on killing her, do you?”

The woman uttered a short gasp. “No!”

“Good. That wouldn’t be wise.”

She recovered and went on, and he listened dutifully, but he only heard the broad strokes. His mind drifted to the matter
of Renee, who hadn’t called today and didn’t answer his call two hours earlier, at noon. She’d probably lain awake half the
night thinking about her first solo effort. He had found sleep fleeting himself.

It was unlike her to sleep in, but last night had been no ordinary night. It could have gone worse, much worse. At least she
hadn’t done anything stupid, like attack the man, which Danny wouldn’t put past her. They would have to work on her impulsive
nature.

Such an enigma. So simple and innocent, yet so complex. World-wise in a way that drew him like a moth drawn to the flame.
The fact that he might be burned wasn’t lost on him, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. Killing the man who’d ended Lamont’s
life was Renee’s obsession. Renee was his.

He heard two more confessions, both from women—no surprise, 80 percent of all confessions were given by women—both involving
paltry sins. He was about to call it quits when another person entered the booth and sat still, unspeaking. Perhaps a man.
Men tended to be less forthcoming.

“You’d like me to hear your confession?” Danny asked.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I put two bullets in a man’s head last night and buried him under the doghouse in his
backyard.”

Renee’s unexpected voice came to him like the sound of an angel.

What she said robbed him of breath.

“Are you mad at me?” she asked meekly.

“I…” Had he heard correctly? He couldn’t move. They were in the church where, however unlikely, voices could carry! She’d
killed a man?

Now she spoke hurriedly. “I’m sorry, Danny, but I had to do it. You have to understand that.”

“You…Who?”

“Him,” she said.

“You went back?” he whispered.

She gripped the latticework between the booths with both hands and spoke with hushed excitement. “He’s dead. He was the worst
of the worst. He—”

“Not here!” Danny abruptly stood, sliding the gate between the booths closed as he did. “Meet me at the Starbucks two blocks
down in fifteen minutes.”

Then he walked out of the booth and strode for the offices without looking back. What had she done? What had she done?

 

  

They sat at
an outside table half an hour later, Renee staring at her herbal tea, Danny watching her over an untouched vanilla latte.

There was no one within earshot, but that could change. “Go on,” he urged. “All the details. You’re in their room. Both are
sedated…”

Her eyes flitted up, bright, eager. The eyes were called windows to the soul, and he was already deep inside of hers, cohabiting.
Their common character, their interests, the raw attraction…all of it had pressed them into the same mold. Even now, in the
wake of her breaking sacred trust with him by going off on her own, he felt an inseparable bond with Renee.

“I couldn’t leave them,” she said. “I don’t think he was involved in Lamont’s death, but when I thought about the demonic
way he treated his wife and children, I just couldn’t leave him, right?”

“Actually, you could have.”

“Would you have?”

He thought for a moment, scanning the area without moving his head. The strip mall’s parking lot was nearly empty. Danny often
treated those in need at this Starbucks. Drug addicts, hardship cases, single mothers—the coffee shop was more of a confessional
than the one in the church.

“Maybe not,” he said.

“That’s what I thought. So I—”

“Hold on.”

A car pulled up to the curb and two teenage girls piled out, laughing. This wouldn’t do. Renee was too volatile to trust in
any public setting, and his nerves were wound too tight for his own comfort. Meeting her here was a mistake. He wasn’t clearheaded
around her.

“Let’s go for a ride in my car.”

“Okay.” She stood without hesitating.

Danny wore the collar now, and some might raise an eyebrow at the sight of a priest giving such a beautiful young woman a
ride, but it was nothing new to the regulars here. The disadvantaged were often without wheels, and they were sometimes beautiful.

He was overthinking the situation.

He steered the car down Long Beach toward Ocean Boulevard, headed to Bluff Park on the beach. It would be nearly deserted
at two in the afternoon on a Tuesday. She rode in the passenger seat, waiting for his direction like a good understudy who
knew she was about to be reprimanded—already at work on him in her own subtle way, and unaware of what she was doing. She
was smarter than she realized, he thought. Raw and undisciplined, but a natural. Perhaps even more gifted than he.

He turned the radio on. A pop station was playing one of Beyoncé’s latest singles. “Okay. Now tell me.”

She picked up exactly where she’d left off. “I couldn’t leave them, Danny. I just couldn’t. Her, of course, but not him. But
I couldn’t kill him in the house, either. I knew I would leave evidence of a break-in because I’d cut a hole in the kitchen
window, but that’s not exactly bloodstains on the floor, which is what I would have left if I’d killed him in the bedroom,
right?”

She was looking for his approval. “Go on.”

“So I opened the bedroom window, dragged him over, and shoved him out into the backyard. Then I locked it, made sure there
were no signs of a struggle, and went out to the kitchen, where I left the note.”

“The note?”

“On a piece of paper using a Sharpie I found on the counter.”

“You left your handwriting?”

“No. I wrote in block letters.”

“Wrote what?”

“He’s gone. Breathe a word to the cops and you’ll be next.”
There was a twinkle in her eyes. “But here’s the smart part. I signed it Jonathan Bourque.”

He grasped her reasoning immediately. There was a connection between Bourque and Darby Gordon. In the unlikely event that
the wife went to the cops, Bourque would learn about it. He’d leverage his relationship with the authorities to shut down
any investigation, keeping the note tying him to Darby Gordon from surfacing.

“Smart,” he said.

“I thought so, too.”

“Then what?”

“Then I dragged the body to the grave and shoved it in.”

“He fit?”

“I had to jump on him a few times. Something broke, I think his legs.” Her voice had grown soft and she was looking ahead
at the street now. “It made me queasy. But I just kept thinking about his wife and children.”

“Then you shot him?”

“Yes. I shot him twice in the head.”

She went silent. He let her process without further coaxing. Danny had killed his mother’s killer a year after her death.
Even then, in a time of war, after planning the kill for so long, taking a man’s life had bothered him far more than he could
have imagined.

“It hurts,” he said.

“It’s strange,” she said. “I actually felt sorry for him. Not that he didn’t deserve it. I would have felt even more sorry
for his children and wife if I hadn’t killed him. It was the right moral choice.”

She turned to him. “Leaving him alive would have resulted in much more destruction than killing him. And his abuse of them
took away his right to life. He was the worst of the worst, Danny. I promise you that.”

“Did I ask for justification?”

“No. But you’re thinking it. I should have called you first, I know, but I was afraid you’d say no. And I wanted to surprise
you.”

“You’re right, I would have advised against it. And you did surprise me. I hope I’m not creating a monster.”

“What? That’s what you think of me?”

“No, I didn’t mean it like that. Just a figure of—”

“Was God a monster for killing the Philistines? Were soldiers monsters for bombing Berlin?”

The reverend mother’s voice whispered through Danny’s mind.
Are you ever tempted to judge, Father?

“No, they’re not monsters, and neither are we.”

“So.” And that was that.

They rode in silence for a few minutes, approaching the park on the left. What had he been thinking, bringing her into his
way of life? Surely this could not end well. They were playing with the trigger of a bomb that could go off with the slightest
misguided movement.

“What did you do after you killed him?” he asked, breaking the silence.

“I shoved the dirt back in, flattened it all down, and scooted the doghouse back over the grave. You can’t tell, if that’s
what you’re worrying about.”

“You left nothing behind?”

“I put everything back exactly as I found it, drove home, fell into bed, and slept like a baby for the first time in months.”
Her voice was subdued.

Danny pulled into the park’s lot, aware that she was struggling between two poles pulling at her soul. Death, regardless of
its form, had that effect on any healthy human.

He slipped the car into park, quietly let the air out of his lungs, and stared at the ocean across the street. Other than
a Corolla on one end of the lot and a Nissan pickup truck behind them, the spaces were empty.

“Well…It’s done,” he said.

She didn’t respond.

He turned to face her and her tears then. Two watery tracks glistened down her cheeks. Her eyes were closed and she was trying
to be brave.

No, Renee! It’s okay, I didn’t mean to hurt you!
He’d been too callous with her. She’d been up a mountain that few had the stomach to climb, and he offered her no support
or appreciation.

Danny reached for her shoulder and rubbed it with his thumb. “It’s okay, Renee. I cried like a baby after I killed my first,
even though he deserved it. He’d raped and killed my mother.”

She leaned into him, wrapped her arms around his stomach, and pulled herself close to his chest as the floodgates broke. Sobs
began to shake her body as she cried into his shirt.

He held her gently, suppressing his own emotion. “It’s okay, Renee. Really, it’s okay. You did well. I’m proud of you.”

That only brought more tears, buckets of emotion that had pooled for months. His eyes misted, but he could not allow himself
to break down.

Danny was dressed as a priest and he was holding a woman in his arms, but he didn’t care. For so many reasons Renee was far
more important to him than any obligation or reputation related to the church.

He comforted her, and her sobbing slowly subsided until she was able to sit up, wipe the tears from her eyes using her thumbs,
and make fun of her own puffy eyes.

“Take a walk with me?” he suggested.

“Yes.” She laughed, a short chuckle that was born of release, not humor.

They strolled along a cement path bordered on both sides by bright green lawn, Danny with his hands clasped behind his back,
Renee with her hand on his elbow until he suggested it might not be such a good idea in public. A quickness had entered her
step.

They walked and talked for an hour, interrupted by only one call—the office wondering if he was going to make a four o’clock
meeting with the board. No, he wasn’t. His apologies.

Renee took several steps, thinking, eyes on the concrete path. “But he didn’t kill Lamont.”

“You’re sure?”

“As sure as I can be.”

“I think you’re right.”

“So…When can we go after Bourque?”

He chuckled, but the comment unnerved him. “Slow down, dear. The blood isn’t even dry on your hands.”

“No, not that! Of course not. I mean, in general.”

He stepped off the path onto the lawn and stopped, put his hands into his pockets. “Then let’s agree on one thing. We let
this lie for a few days. Time is our friend, not our enemy. It’s critical we sit back and see what Bourque does now. Nothing
proactive on our part. Fair?”

“Of course! Yes, fair.”

“No exceptions.”

“No, not even one.”

“All in good time.”

“Exactly. In good time.”

“Besides, you need to move again.”

“Out of sight, out of mind.”

“Good.”

She looked at the sea. “Maybe we could do dinner.”

“Of course. I would love that.”

“Maybe you could take that collar off and we could go to San Diego or something.”

BOOK: The Priest's Graveyard
3.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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