|Mystery and Crime Fiction posted December 10, 2013||Chapters:||...48 49 -50- 51...|
Jana confides in Dred
A chapter in the book Along the Jericho Road
Sunkothai Moon, Part II
Father Brian DeShano is in the midst of a personal crisis when a killer pulls him into a twisted world of moral corruption, cover-ups, and revenge.
Date: December, 1981
Seven-year-old Jana Burke curled into the crook of her Uncle Tony's arm. Her instincts were to avoid being touched by strangers, but all shyness disappeared when the kind man lifted her onto his lap and soothed her spirit with the gentle rocking of his chair. When he shifted his pipe to the side of his mouth, she knew to pay attention.
“Thunzan, did your mother ever speak to you of the Heyokha?”
Jana studied the pattern in the blanket covering them both. “I do not, recall, Leksi.” Her voice was hollow as if an echo from a great distance.
Out of respect for the dead, the two lapsed into silence. Shifting logs in the pot-belly stove created a brief flurry of flames.
At length, Tony continued, “I know that you are young, little one. But the loss of your nihun has changed the way you see this world.” He lightly touched her chest with his finger. “It has changed you here.”
Jana willed no more tears, but liquid filled the corners of her eyes and tumbled down her face. She recalled her people's belief that tears falling in this manner are of the heart.
“Persons, especially those we most love and need, shape who we become, my niece.” He continued. “Your mother's leaving this world too soon – that is the trickster spirit, Heyokha, at work. Our people both respect and fear this spirit. It functions as mirror and teacher, using extremes to force us to look at ourselves. To see our weaknesses, our fault, our fears.”
“I'm very afraid, Leksi,” Jana whispered.
Uncle Tony turned her face upwards and looked into warm brown eyes so like her mother's. “Do not run from this fear, child,” he urged. “Face it, and you will grow strong and straight.”
The memory of her Uncle's words blazed hot and bright, like a falling star, leaving in its wake the sensation of something once beautiful extinguished.
Dred sought her eyes, and she met his look with unflappable calm. He bore visible signs of aging: gray hair at the temple and a permanent crease from a habitual frown. His natural vigor, however, had not diminished in the least. Jana sensed sadness behind the smile he offered and quashed a sympathetic pang.
Standing while she seated herself, he waited for her to get situated, then slid in close enough to ensure their thighs would touch. It was a move calculated to subordinate her. Instead, it pissed her off. She moved to the far end of the booth, leaned across the table and said, “This is business, Dred. One cop commiserating with another. When I leave here tonight, I leave alone. Clear enough?”
Round, red spots appeared high on Dred's cheeks and his lips compressed into a gash. Their waitress, Dani, looked askance at the couple who both appeared tense and angry. “Been a while, Jana,” she said on approaching. “Probably not a lot of personal time until you find the wacko killing those sweet, old folks.” She dropped two menus on the table and set a frosted mug in front of Jana.
“Is this what I think it is?” Jana asked.
“A Woodchuck, on the house, for our favorite cop.” She gestured to where her brother watched from behind the bar. “Donal figured you were off the clock and could use a cold one.” Jana flashed her most brilliant smile in Donal's direction. He grabbed the air as if catching it and patted his heart.
Appearing miffed at being ignored, Dred grumbled, “What's a Woodchuck?”
“A blend of ginger beer and hard cider. Care to try one?”
“God, that sounds awful! I'll have a Belvedere, no vermouth with a lemon twist.” Dred dropped his flirtation and made a show of being all business.
“I'll get your drinks and give you two time to study the menu." She turned to Jana. “The lamb shanks are especially good tonight.”
Jana made a show of studying the menu, but her thoughts churned.
The man sharing her booth was considered a dilettante by some in the Bureau. His meteoric rise up the ranks ruffled lesser egos, but came as no surprise to Jana. Dred's spectacular ability to grasp the flawed thinking of the criminally insane was a gift not without its price. In their time together, she'd seen how he struggled to keep from falling into the pit inhabited by those with dead eyes who butcher the innocent.
When his drinking became a problem, he took a voluntary leave of absence and entered a private facility. Jana was there with him, ready to soothe, longing to help him heal. She suspected but could not acknowledge his other addiction: women -- lots of women. For the second time in her life, Heyohka had slipped in behind the mask of someone she loved.
“Does your sponsor know you're drinking again, Dred?” she asked.
“My drinking is none of your business.”
The response told her everything. He's hiding the fact he's off the wagon. Jana filed the information away for discussion with Sheriff Oleson at a later time.
Dani returned and they placed their orders. As soon as she stepped away, Dred retrieved a notebook from the inner pocket of his vest.
He flipped it open and scanned the top page. “I'm curious why your team hasn't conducted an official interrogation of Father DeShano?" He raised his eyebrows in an imperious gesture.
“He was a protege of the pedophile priest, which could go to establishing motive,” he continued. “He has easy access to the elderly. And he has a history of mental instability. Am I missing anything, Jana?”
It sounded more like an accusation than a question, but she let it slide. After all, she, too, had her doubts about the priest. “I've expressed those same suspicions. The priest has solid alibis, so Derek, I mean Sheriff Oleson, wants us looking elsewhere.”
“Both bodies were recovered well after their murders. We both know that makes the Coroner's TOD less reliable. The priest could have committed the murders and still have enough time to establish an alibi.”
“What's your hesitation? It's not like you to let a superior stonewall your convictions.”
Jana leaned forward, feeling the tension in her muscles begin to release. Her eyes were bright, and she felt something of her old pleasure in talking things out with Dred.
“Everything I'm about to tell you is off the record.” She was offering Dred an olive branch and he looked like he knew it.
“Listen, Jana. You and I always made a helluva team. I respect your instincts just as you respect mine. There's no need to ask me to keep our conversation confidential. You know I will.”
Jana paused to sip from her mug. “I was with Father Brian when he blessed Debra Padget's body. He'd gotten there just after we did. It's all in the report... how the killer called him and bragged about the murder.”
Dani arrived with their food, cutting off the conversation. After she moved off, Jana continued. “He was genuinely shocked by the state of her body. I would stake my reputation on that, Dred. He wasn't faking his grief.”
“You read people extraordinarily well, Jana. I'm not saying you're wrong, but is it possible that he's able to trick people into believing he's harmless? We have only his word the killer called to confess.”
“Of course, it's possible,” she said. “But I keep asking myself why now? What danger did these two people pose to Father Brian? Besides..." Jana pushed her plate aside and leaned back.
Dred chewed his steak without comment. Experience taught him she'd clam up if prodded.
“Uncle Tony trusts him,” she admittted.
Dred laid down his fork, picked up his napkin and dabbed the corners of his mouth. He met her fierce stare head-on. “I know the level of trust you hold for your Uncle, and I don't want you to take this the wrong way,” he said. “But his opinion should not figure into this, Jana. Tell me to go to hell, but you know I'm right.”
A muffled ring tone came from the direction of Jana's bag. She quickly located it and noted the caller was her cousin, Reservation Deputy Ty Longacre. Her mouth went dry and her pulse sped up.
“Ty, what's up?”
“Your grandmother fell in her home. She's fractured her arm. I'm here at the hospital with her now.”
“Bronson Medical. They've admitted her for observation. She won't let them sedate her until she's talked with you.
“I'm ten minutes away.”
“Okay. I think I can stall the doctor long enough for you to get here.”
Jana clicked off, shoved the phone to the bottom of her purse and shrugged her way into her coat.
“My grandmother's being admitted to the hospital, Dred. Would you mind taking care of the bill? We can settle up later.” She was out the door without waiting for his answer.
Noting the empty martini glass, Dred signaled for Dani. Pointing to the empty glass, he said, “I'll take the bill and another one of those."
"Sure. That was a Belvedere, neat with a twist, right?"
"Yes," he said without meeting her eyes. Dani turned away, and he resumed studying the people sitting at the bar. A long-legged blonde, with perfect make-up, winked an invitation.
When his drink was delivered and the meal tab paid, Dred claimed the empty seat next to her. He leaned close and she turned, revealing impressive breasts bursting from her decolletage. “Ah hell, maybe this night won't be wasted after all,” he thought.
Tony Buday: Sioux medicine man and Jana's uncle.
Bureau: Refers to the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Detective Jana Burke: Homicide detective
Father Brian DeShano: Catholic priest and pastor of St. Matilde's church.
Tribal Policeman Ty Longacre: Jana's cousin
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Granite Mountain's Sheriff.
Debra Padget: Elderly widow and first victim.
Sponsor: An Alcoholics Anonymous 'buddy' to monitor and support new AA members.
Dresden Stredwick, II: FBI Profiler
TOD: Time of Death
Nihun: Your mother
Sunkothai: Wolf's Lair.
Thunzan: My niece.
Thanks to donkeyoatey for use of his terrific artwork: The Alchemist
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