The Priest's Graveyard (9 page)

BOOK: The Priest's Graveyard
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Move it, Renee! Move it, move it!

I reached in and grabbed the money, shoved it under my arm, and ran for that red
sign. The concrete was cool under my feet, and that reminded me that I was naked below the waist.

I pulled up and scanned the garage. Benches with tool boxes lined the walls. One of the cars was high on a lift. This was
undoubtedly where they brought cars to modify them after stealing them. Had Bourque been involved in jacking cars?

Several overalls hung by hooks on one wall. I hurried over to them, pulled down the first pair, and stepped into it. The legs
and arms were way too long, but with a little folding and scrunching it fit well enough for what I needed.

I headed back toward the door, then on second thought veered toward a tire machine and picked up a black crowbar.

The night was cool outside. I was in a warehouse district lit by a full round moon.

I stood there in my blue overalls with my money-stuffed pajamas under my arm, and I stared around in a wide-eyed daze. I needed
to move, I knew that, but I had no clue where to go.

I didn’t know what I would do when I got to wherever I went. I didn’t really even know who I was. I knew only that I was alone,
that if Lamont was alive he would have a difficult time finding me.

More than anything, I knew that I hated the man who’d done this to us. His name was Jonathan Bourque, but as far as I was
concerned he was really Satan.

You have to go, Renee. You really have to go.

I wiped away my tears on the sleeve of the dirty overalls and stepped out into the night with nothing to my name but a shattered
memory, a few scrawny muscles and thin bones, a pretty face, and a bag of money over my shoulder.

When I counted it later, I learned that the hundred-dollar bills added up to about three hundred thousand dollars. And that
was enough money to do what I thought I needed to do.


Three Months Later

Danny Hansen stood
at the back of the Long Beach Hilton’s banquet hall waiting for Jonathan Bourque’s introduction. Three large chandeliers
twinkled over the banquet hall hosting the Cancer Research Fund’s benefit dinner. The four hundred guests seated before the
finest silver and crystal place settings were being served their choice of tenderloin, wild Atlantic salmon, or stuffed quail.
Most of the men and women were dressed in black and white, like himself. They were the cream of society, unlike himself.

Yet so few understood.

Despite Danny’s violent encounter with religion as a teenager, he knew that violence itself was a natural aspect of life that
could be used for good or evil.

Angels and demons had both wielded violence and would again, surely. As would so-called God and the so-called devil.

Did not God make waves to crash violently on the coral? And if that violent pounding killed a baby crab, did one blame God
for making violent waves? No.

The same could be said for all the great sins decried by religion through the ages. All were condoned or embraced by God himself
in given situations.

Had not Rahab the prostitute been called a great woman of faith for lying to save God’s servants?

Had not Jesus taken up a weapon in anger to whip the merchants out of the temple?

Had not God blessed David with many wives and mistresses?

If any of these wealthy, tastefully dressed contributors to the Bourque Foundation’s Cancer Research Fund knew of Danny’s
particular violence, they would undoubtedly grow red-faced and cry foul.

They had been bred, born, and raised in a system that bowed to a set of rules and laws, both religious and societal, that
satisfied their need for a nice, neat box of moral understanding. In their minds, violence in general was immoral, and killing
outside the law was diabolical, even when it truly benefited society.

Danny thought about that for a moment, wondering absently if he was wrong in his own understanding of the matter. What if,
however absurd it seemed to him, all these thickheaded fools were actually right and he was wrong? Would God forgive him?

Either way, one thing was certain: While feeling smug for avoiding “bad” behavior, most people missed the point of morality.

Morality wasn’t about following rules. It was about treating others with love. The box of rules certainly aided that cause,
but only as a guideline. Danny’s use of violence against the guilty was an act of love. For Danny so loved the world that
he gave up his own dignity to cleanse the temple of snakes.

Like the one about to take the stage.

Crackling applause filled the room when Jonathan Bourque was introduced, and Danny shifted his attention to the man who stood
from his table and strode toward the podium.

Three months had passed since Danny had taken his last subject, that being Cain Kellerman. He’d spent that time settling his
spirit and examining his conscience, always mindful of his oath to change his behavior if he ever became convinced that what
he did was immoral.

The ten weeks of rest had ended with affirmation. His mission to bring justice to his small corner of the world, regardless
of the danger to himself, was sound. Inspired even.

Indeed, if he ever had to give his life to this cause, he would.

Jonathan Bourque was speaking in a deep, rich voice that conveyed confidence. Oratory was perhaps the gift that served him
best as a priest, then as an attorney, and now as the founder and figurehead of the Bourque Foundation, which swindled unsuspecting
charity donors of millions.

He was married to Cynthia Bourque, a blond woman twelve years his junior who had married him for money. She secretly hated
him for many reasons, including his refusal to have any children because he privately despised children.

He stood six foot three. Six-four if you counted his black, slicked hair, which looked like it might break if tapped with
a hammer. The man wore a mustache and goatee, which softened his ax-shaped nose. High cheekbones rose toward a forehead that
sloped back to meet an arching hairline.

He was appealing in the sense that power and authority were attractive, but if one were to remove Bourque’s social standing
and sharp intelligence, he would not be considered handsome, at least not to Danny’s thinking.

“Every dollar you contribute goes to work in industries throughout the world, employing millions, before the profits are returned
to charities like the Cancer Research Fund. In our last fiscal year, the Bourque Foundation returned one hundred eighty-two
percent to its benefactors. I think it’s safe to say that we have elevated benevolence to a whole new level, my friends.”

Applause thundered. Naturally. Bourque was spoon-feeding these socialites his own special blend of manure, made to smell like
strawberries and go down like a health-food smoothie.

Danny stood just inside the back door, one hand in his pocket, the other holding a glass of water. The ice was nearly melted.
He took a swig, then set it down on the drink table to his left.

“Would you like another?”

He faced a woman in coattails named Kris, according to her Hilton server badge. “No thank you.”

“A soft drink? Coke, Sprite, Dr Pepper? Anything?”

“A stiff martini, perhaps.”

She glanced down at his jacket. “Tell me about it. These charity dinners are all the same.”

“That they are. Still, as they say, it’s more blessed to give than to receive.”

“So they say.”

“Hold the martini.” He winked. “My work isn’t finished.”

She laughed. “The story of my life.” She moved off.

Danny was willing to bear the weight of purifying the world for women like Kris, who served others in small ways that made
God smile.

He sighed and returned his attention to the podium. Bourque’s right hand rested inside the breast of his jacket as he talked.
Without glancing down he slid long fingers into his pant pocket, slipped out a cell phone, and set it on the podium. The information
on the device could prove helpful, but people of Bourque’s caliber almost always protected that information with densely encrypted

Besides, the kind of information that Danny sought would be hidden in the minds of a very few people, not in a PDA. Indeed,
if Cain Kellerman hadn’t offered up disturbing details about Jonathan Bourque in a bid to extend his life, Danny might have
already moved on, because nothing he’d found so far provided anything but circumstantial suggestions that Bourque was as evil
as Kellerman had insisted.

It wasn’t easy to distinguish the kind of snake that deserved crushing from the ordinary garden variety that filled half the
room. In fact, the craftiest were chameleons, who could fool even the most astute observer.

Bourque finally glanced down at his phone. He’d come to the end of a sentence and his pause was natural. But for the briefest
moment his eyes darted to the far entrance. If Danny judged the man correctly, there was some tension in his fleeting look.

He followed Bourque’s glance to a man who stood at the other exit, PDA in hand. The head of the Bourque Foundation’s security,
Redding. Simon Redding. Though four inches shorter and at least as many thicker than his boss, he favored the same dark slicked-back
hair. The man looked like Italian muscle from the streets of Chicago.

There was a connection between them, communication made with unspoken words, but nothing more than Danny expected, considering
their roles here.

Yet if there was any one person who might unlock closely guarded secrets in Bourque’s empire, it would be this man, Simon
Redding. Upon seeing him for the first time that night, Danny felt his nerves tighten.

When he glanced back at Bourque, the man was talking while staring down at the podium, nonchalantly sending a message.

“That reminds me of a joke,” Bourque said, grinning. “A blonde and brunette were ushered to the gates of heaven.”

When Danny looked back, Simon Redding had vanished through the exit.

“Saint Peter addressed the blonde first…”

Danny didn’t hear the rest of the joke. He was moving already, slipping out the door to his rear, into the hall that ran the
auditorium’s length. No sign of Redding.

There was a choice to be made here, but it wasn’t a moral choice. He could either return to the banquet hall and follow through
with his intention to meet Bourque for the first time if the opportunity presented itself, or he could take a few minutes
to perhaps learn more about Redding.

He would never put himself in the position to pressure Redding for information, naturally. Directly involving any person other
than the subject presented unacceptable risks. What he learned from others about his subjects had to come in the course of
ordinary encounters.

Then again, Redding might be the key to his investigation.

There were three doors in the hall. The man had to have taken one of them. Danny headed for the exit closest to the banquet
hall, the one with a red-letter sign that indicated it was for
. He pushed through the door.

Metal stairs. Ascending and descending.

The clap of hard leather soles on steps echoed below. Danny eased the door shut behind him, slipped off his shoes, and descended

A door closed below. From what he could tell, he was alone in the stairwell.

The steps ended two floors down at a door labeled
. He slipped his shoes back on and walked through, entering a short hall. To the right, two closets that he checked were stuffed
with supplies: spare fuses, lightbulbs, coffeemakers, tools, and the like.

Unless he’d made a mistake and descended one too many floors, whoever had preceded him had gone through the door at the other
end of the hall.

Danny was about to back out of the second closet when he caught sight of a black-and-yellow box knife with a retractable blade.
The useful tool struck him as appropriate given the thuggish appearance of the man he was following.

He plucked it off the bench and dropped it into his pocket, then moved down the hall on the balls of his feet.

A sharp slap brought him up short. The sound was muffled but as undeniable as a cap gun on a winter morning.

His heart lodged itself in his throat and he backed to the wall. He might have stumbled upon a lovers’ quarrel off the hotel’s
beaten track—two employees whose affair had been discovered and were sorting matters out rather violently. Or it might be
something less ominous. Perhaps a magazine had fallen off a shelf and landed flat on concrete.

He didn’t think so.

He slipped along the wall, up to a door with a glass window that peered into a darkened room. The sound he’d heard had come
from farther in, perhaps from beyond the single interior door that allowed light to seep past the gap at its foot.

The knob turned in his hand and he eased into the dark room. Immediately voices reached him.

“I told you, I only wanted to talk to him.” The voice sounded timid. Female.

The slap that followed surely wasn’t female. Amazingly the woman did not cry out.

It took considerable control on Danny’s part to remain calm. He couldn’t barge in without jeopardizing both the woman’s health
and his cover. He had to think. Feeling exposed, he stepped to the wall beside the lighted door.

“Mr. Bourque’s a very powerful man. He has enemies.” Danny assumed the low voice belonged to Redding. “It’s my job to make
sure he’s never in danger. You’re trying my patience. I need to know what you think you know that is so damaging to him.”

“Let me talk to him,” she said. “I’m sure it’s a misunderstanding.”

“You can tell me.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

Hesitation. “I swore not to involve anyone but Jonathan Bourque. But I have it all written down in a safe-deposit box, and
if anything happens to me, the truth will go to the press.”

Danny doubted this. It was a television cliché that had little usefulness in the real world.

Feet shuffled on the concrete floor. “I don’t think you understand your predicament,” Redding said. “I should turn you over
to the police and press charges. They are good friends with us and would agree to uncovering your intentions. Or I could—”

“I have a bloody lip,” the woman interrupted.

“Heroin addicts found facedown on the street often have blood on them.”

She didn’t fire back so quickly.

“I’m not an addict. That’s not me.”

“But it will be you if I choose to turn you over to the police. I’ll shoot you up, beat you down, and drop you off.” He paused.
“My other choice is to ask you again, politely, who you are and what your interest in Mr. Bourque is.”

Danny’s mind spun with the implications of the exchange. The woman wasn’t known by Redding but claimed to have information
that threatened Bourque. The fact that Redding took the threat so seriously suggested Bourque indeed had much to hide, some
knowledge that he would protect with force.

“The thing about heroin addicts is that they can do some pretty strange things to themselves without really knowing what they’re
doing,” the man continued. “I knew one who cut off his nose to stop the itching. The police would think nothing of a strung-out
girl coming in with a few missing fingers.”

“You’re going to cut off my fingers?”

“Not all of them.”

This territory was familiar to Danny, and he knew two things already. One, Redding—assuming the low voice belonged to Bourque’s
man—would think nothing of carrying out his threat.

Two, the woman either was truly naive or knew how to play naive most effectively. She sounded like a child, not someone who
could pose a legitimate threat to anyone.

“Only one of them?” the woman asked, still void of emotion.

Evidently her abductor was also taken aback by her fearless question, because he hesitated for several seconds. “I’ll start
with one, yes. Your thumb, up to the first knuckle.”

BOOK: The Priest's Graveyard
5.77Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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