|Mystery and Crime Fiction posted August 15, 2012||Chapters:||...14 15 -16- 17...|
diabolic forces gather
A chapter in the book Along the Jericho Road
A priest is in the midst of a personal crisis of faith when a killer lures him into a twisted world of moral corruption, cover-ups and revenge.
Previously: Father Brian has left a hand-written note to be delivered to Sheriff Oleson by Detective Jana Burke. The notes states, with surprising certainly, that Debra Padget's killer is poised to commit another murder, possibly that very evening.
It was well past dinner time for them both, and Alyx was determined to get his master to rectify the grievous oversight. From his seat on the couch, the dog flicked his ears like two tiny sails and whimpered in a bid for Father Brian's attention. But the priest continued to pace an invisible line from one end of his study to the other, blind to his dog's devices.
Why did I leave such an important message in the hands of anyone but Sheriff Oleson? I should have insisted on speaking with him personally. How can I be sure he even got the message, or if he did, that he read it?
When another half hour passed and the priest showed no signs of snapping out of his self-absorbed state, Alyx changed tactics. The Sheltie jumped off the couch and, with narrow hips swaying seductively, marched to the doorway of the study. He sat his butt down, lifted his muzzle and cut loose with a restrained howl.
"That's enough, Alyx. You've already had two walks today." He strode into the hallway and pointed upward. "Go upstairs if you can't behave yourself." Tail dropped low, the dog climbed slowly to their shared bedroom, hopped on Father Brian's bed and laid on his side, helpless to do anything but wait.
Father Brian watched until Alyx disappeared from sight, then stepped back into the study. As soon as he crossed the room's threshold, he experienced a cold sensation. To test his theory, he compared the hallway to the study. Clearly, it was colder in the study than it was in the hallway. I've let the fire burn low. That's got to be it.
He moved to the fireplace, perceiving the smell of smoke mixed with something else familiar, but elusive. He tipped a heavy log onto its side, and used a billows to fan the embers to flame. Once the flames were steady and strong, he added small logs to the pile.
Again, he caught a whiff of something exotic. "What is it I'm smelling?" he wondered out loud.
Leaning closer to the flames, he inhaled and jerked upright when he recognized the distinct smell of sage. Medicine man, Tony Buday, had explained to his friend that the Sioux believe the sacred herb protects the pure of heart. Father Brian was stunned by what he felt was the implicit meaning of this sign: his friend knew of his struggles.
After his strange encounter with the malevolent shape earlier in the day, his understanding of the murderer's thinking had increased tenfold. Though he could not see the man's features, Brian was certain a connection had been forged through superhuman means.
Further, he believed that Jesus allowed this to take place so that he, as Christ's physical counterpart, could win the ultimate clash between good and evil. Simultaneously, he was terrified that his own personal failings would be exploited by the Adversary, and lead to defeat. Exorcists always stood the risk of having the demon transfer from the possessed to themselves. And, even when they routed the demonic energy, rarely did they escape without significant emotional trauma.
This was Father Brian's primary reason for keeping a crucial puzzle piece to himself. There was great danger for those who were ill-prepared to face Satan, one of the reasons the Catholic Church only allowed exorcisms to be performed by its consecrated priests. He did not intend to lie, but he also did not feel the time was ripe to share all his thoughts with the authorities.
Seated near the fire, its warmth dulled the edges of Brian's anxiety. His mind turned to a favorite psalm: 'The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my saviour; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.'
His fears retreated and his body relaxed. Except for the crackling of the fire's flames, the study was completely silent. Its thick oak door muffled outside noises providing a perfect setting for counselling sessions and, of course, prayer.
It wasn't until Alyx barked in the unique way he had of letting everyone in the vicinity know someone was at the door, that Father Brian heard the chime of the doorbell.
He hurried to answer. Through the peephole, he recognized Derek Oleson. Taking a few seconds to shake the cobwebs from his mind, he opened the door.
"Sheriff, I didn't expect you to come by personally. You must be dead on your feet after the day you've had."
In fact, the man's features were drawn, and Father Brian recognized the pinched look of a person in the grip of a tension headache.
"I was tempted to handle this by phone, Father, but your cryptic message seemed better discussed in person."
Derek noted the fact Father Brian dodged eye contact and offered no explanation.
"I'm sorry, forgive my manners, Sheriff." The priest opened the door wider, stepping back at the same time. "Please come in."
Derek bent to remove his boots and a crooked smile warmed his features as he noted the tentative approach of Father Brian's dog. He held out his hand for the dog to sniff. "I was here earlier ... remember me?" Alyx barked once as if to say, "Yes, I do."
At the mention of their earlier interview over lunch, Father Brian slapped his forehead. "Alyx, oh my goodness, I forgot to put out your supper. So that's what you were trying to tell me."
The detective observed the interaction between priest and dog, and would have sworn there was a hurt look in the honey brown eyes the dog turned in the priest's direction.
Impulsively, Father Brian placed his hand on Sheriff Oleson's shoulder and peered into his face. "It seems that we have come full circle on this dark day, Derek. If you haven't eaten, can I make you a sandwich?"
"I've already eaten, Father," his voice was raspy with fatigue. "I'm here because of your note. Remember? And wondering how you know the killer is going to strike soon -- possibly tonight is how you phrased it?"
Father Brian's cheeks flushed red as if slapped. "Right, then. Well, if you'll go into the study -- the room with the fireplace -- I'll join you just as soon as I get Alyx his dinner." The priest turned abruptly and hurried down the hallway to the kitchen.
After orienting himself to the layout of the rooms, Derek poked his head into the room he thought was the study. A field stone fireplace took up most of the wall and a tower of burning logs brightened the interior with its cast-off light.
Derek moved in the direction of the couch, but stopped in sharp surprise when he saw a dark, cloaked figure wearing a brimmed hat seated in one of the wingback chairs facing the fireplace. Why didn't Father Brian mention he had a guest?
The man stretched his legs closer to the fire and spoke without turning. "Sheriff Oleson, how kind of you to join us." The voice was low, yet seemed to bounce off every wall in the room.
Derek spun around at the sound of the priest's approach. "Why didn't you tell me you had someone in here with you, Father?"
The priest was stunned by the force of the man's angry words and utterly confused by his statement.
"What are you talking about, Derek? There's no one in here but you and me."
Derek began to protest, "I'm telling you there's a man sitting in one of your chairs ..." but went no further. A slithery chill wound its way along his spine, and he knew without looking the seat was now empty.
Thanks once again to Tillom for the great artwork!
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