|General Fiction posted December 29, 2013||Chapters:||...49 50 -51- 52...|
A chapter in the book Along the Jericho Road
A priest is in the midst of a personal crisis when a killer lures him into a twisted world of moral corruption, cover-ups and revenge.
JANA BURKE IS HAVING A DINNER MEETING WITH HER FORMER LOVER AND FBI PROFILER, DRESDEN STREDWICK, II, WHEN SHE IS CALLED TO THE HOSPITAL. HER GRANDMOTHER IS BEING ADMITTED AFTER A SUSPICIOUS FALL IN HER HOME ON THE SIOUX RESERVATION..
Detective Jana Burke arrived at Bronson Medical Center in under eight minutes. She recognized a car near the Emergency Department's entrance as that of Ty Longacre, Sioux Tribal Policeman. The other available spots were reserved for physicians; and, since she was driving her private vehicle, she avoided the urge to park there and risk getting towed.
The main lot was taxed to the limit due to evening visiting hours. She circled, aware of the wasted time, when she saw the tail-lights of a car in reverse. The elderly driver inched out and looked both ways before moving another few inches. With excruciating caution, the man finally vacated, and Jana pulled in just ahead of an oncoming car. She sprinted towards the bright lights of the hospital's entrance.
I'll start at the information desk and hope they've had time to get the room number listed.
Jana was dismayed to find over-sized, comfortable chairs, a colorful rug and potted plants were now at the center of the atrium. A pool of moonlight spilled through a solar panel overhead. What the heck... trying to make the place feel like home?!
Glancing to the left, Jana spotted a circular desk with a large sign indicating the location of Patient Information. She stepped to the counter. “I'm Detective Burke, and this is an emergency,” she said to the female volunteer wearing a pink smock and picture I.D. Card. “Do you have the room number of Agnes Longacre? She's in the process of being transferred from ER.”
Red-rimmed reading glasses dangled from a jungle print cord around the woman's neck. She paused in the process of lifting them to her face, dropping her voice in a conspiratorial manner. “You'll have to spell that name for me, Detective. Sounds foreign to me.”
Jana used the tip of a pen to retrieve a pad from near the woman's elbow. She passed it back, and the woman angled it in order to read the printing. Several times she stopped to compare a name on the computer screen to the one on the pad. Jana's hold on her patience ebbed with the passing seconds.
“Ah, here she is.” She beamed a victorious smile that dissolved against Jana's frozen features.
“She's on the orthopedic wing. Room 244A,” she said in a brusque manner. Determined to complete her helpfulness mandate, the woman pointed to the wide blue stripe on the floor. “You'll follow the blue stripe until it turns into a red stripe. There'll be a bank of elevators that will take you to the East wing...”
“Thanks,” Jana mumbled and hurried down the hallway. As promised, the blue stripe merged with red, and Jana saw a possible delay heading toward her intended target. She pressed past a mobile hospital bed manned by two women with O.R. caps and gowns. Reaching the elevator bank ahead of them, she stepped in and pushed the floor button, feeling distant guilt she didn't hold the door for them.
She passed through the entrance of the Orthopedic wing, walking slowly along its perimeter in search of her grandmother's room. A short, well-muscled young man, wearing a tan shirt with the tribal law enforcement logo on his sleeve emerged from one of the rooms. Jana recognized her cousin, Ty.
“Hi, Cuz.” His face was somber. “I'm sorry, but I couldn't keep the doctor from taking Nikhunsi (your grandmother) into surgery. He claimed they had to use the operating room spot or lose it until tomorrow morning. I knew you wouldn't want to risk a complication, so I gave them the go-ahead.”
Jana's face crumpled. Ty placed a palm on her shoulder and gave a slight squeeze. “The lady sharing Aunt Agnes's room is real nosy,” he said. Pointing towards a glass-walled visitor's room fifty feet away, he continued, “We'll have more privacy there.”Jana nodded and took the lead. Satisfied the room was empty, she sat in a corner chair facing the doorway.
Ty pulled out his wallet and took out single bills. “Would you like a Coke?”
“Please,” she said. “I could use a jolt of caffeine.”
Ty set the cold plastic bottles next to a jigsaw puzzle covering a rectangular table. He placed a desk chair across from Jana, drained a third of the soda with one gulp, then leaned back for the expected interrogation.
Jana's feet were planted wide on the floor, and her eyes were bright. She needed to chew somebody's ass, but recognized that Ty wasn't the real target. Retrieving a recorder from her bag, she set it on the arm of the chair. “Start with how you found her, Ty.”
He placed the bottle on the table and leaned forward in his seat. “Dispatch got a notification from the Life Alert people. I was wrapping up some paperwork and catching calls. I recognized the address as belonging to Aunt Agnes.” His cheeks colored with emotion. “I wish more of the elders would get those devices... maybe they will once this story gets around the Rez.”
Jana squeezed the neck of her bottle. “How'd she fall?”
“First you need to know that when I got to the house, all the doors were locked. The Life Alert people knew where she kept a spare key, which I used to enter the residence. Once the ambulance arrived and she was secured, I checked the entire perimeter of the house and found no signs of forced entry.”
“Why would you do that? I'd have assumed she'd slipped?”
“That was my assumption on the drive to her house. But when I got there, her first words to me were, 'Tell Jana I was pushed.” He indicated a spot on his forearm and said, “She clamped her fingers into my arm deep enough to leave dents; and, clear as a bell, said, “I'm not hallucinating and I didn't stumble climbing the ladder.”
"She pulled me close so the EMT's entering the house couldn't hear the rest. “All evening I kept smelling something rotten. I decided to investigate my cupboards thinking a mouse might have died in there. When I was at the top of my step stool, I felt a rush of cold air go past me and a terrific pressure around my belly. Then I was hurtled backwards. I must've been out for a bit, 'cause the next thing I remember feeling was tremendous pain.”
Jana went very still. “Did you think to call Uncle Tony?”
“I decided to go by the house rather than call. Knowing Tony Buday as I do, I figured he'd jump into his truck and drive like a maniac to get to the hospital. I planned on giving him a ride, but he was nowhere around. His truck was gone, and the house was dark. I flashed a light in through the windows and nearly pissed myself when that hound of his lunged at the glass,” he said.
Jana cocked an eyebrow for emphasis. “Wasu has, maybe, four teeth. I doubt he'd do much damage. But I know what it's like to have a dog come after you like that.” She paused to gather her thoughts about this new situation. “It concerns me that Wasu was alone. It's very rare for Uncle Tony to go anywhere without him.”
“I'll stop by his house once more after I leave here,” Ty responded. “We'll probably find he was sound asleep and didn't hear the ruckus.”
“Thanks for all you've done, Ty." Jana reached across and patted her cousin's knee. "There's no reason for you to stick around. I'll stay until she's out of surgery, and I can talk with the surgeon.”
“You sure? I don't mind keeping you company.”
“Go home and get some sleep. It could be hours before we get any news. I'll call you when I have more details.”
She watched him until he was out of sight, then retrieved her cell phone and dialed a familiar number. “I know it's late, but I need to talk with you right away. I'm at Bronson Medical Center – my Aunt's been brought in for injuries sustained in her home. I can't explain right now, but I believe this is related to our murder investigation.”
Detective Rick Morales was halfway out the door before she even finished.
“I'm on my way, Jana.”
Father Brian DeShano was taking no chances after the hellish night he'd had. He squinted through the rectory door's peephole. The man standing on his porch was one of the Granite Mountain Detectives. He wasn't sure which one, but at least he knew it was safe to open the door.
He released his hold on Alyx. The dog leapt to the floor and made a beeline for his dog bed. Brian looked into the mirror above a marble table off to the side. He was shocked at his state of disarray. Running fingers through his tousled hair, he pasted a smile on his face and pulled open the door.
Detective Skeets Epstein spoke first. “I'm sorry I didn't call first, Father. Was on my way home when it occurred to me that you might be just the person to fill in the blanks for me. I've come across some material I think might be pertinent to our murder investigation.”
Father Brian stepped back and signaled for Skeets to enter. “Actually, this is a perfect time, Detective. I'm not sure what more I have to offer, but I'll give it a shot.”
Skeets shrugged out of his coat and placed it on the coat rack beside the door. Damn, it feels like the inside of meat locker in here. In his characteristic blunt manner, he asked, “Are you doing some sort of penance thing, Father? I mean, it's freezing in here?”
Brian's face drained of color. “The thermostat is set on 70 degrees. Perhaps the pilot light has gone out.”
“Just point me in the right direction. I'd be glad to check it out for you,” Skeets offered. “I have an older home, and that kind of thing happens all the time. It's annoying as hell.”
“No!” Brian's words tumbled out, “I can take care of it, Detective. Besides, I'm sure you're anxious to get home after your long day.”
He gestured towards the study. “I've had a fire going in the fireplace all evening. It should be warmer in there.”
Skeets chose a large, boxy chair near the fire, and watched Father Brian settle onto the sofa. A small dog appeared from the shadows and jumped up alongside the priest. Brian settled his pet and looked across to the detective. “This is Alyx,” he explained.
“I'm not much of a dog lover,” Skeets said, “but I have to admit that's a beautiful specimen. What's the breed?”
Alyx lifted his head from his paws, and turned soulful eyes in Skeets's direction. “Some sort of collie?” he guessed.
“He's a Sheltie. And, yes, that's a miniature collie. They make excellent pets, Detective.”
“I'll have to take your word on that, Father.”
Pulling a pad and pen from his shirt pocket, Skeets got down to business. “I've been reviewing the files from that rash of church desecrations a couple of years back.”
“How is that connected to these murders, Detective?”
Skeets shot the priest a stern look. “We've got to cover all the bases. There might be a link between freaks who believe they can tame the devil through occult activities and the religious aspects of our case.”
“Of course, that makes sense. Go on, Detective.”
“You were, I believe, the pastor of St. Matilde's at the time of the break-ins?”
“Yes. I've been the pastor here for over a decade. Prior to that, I was Monsignor Flaherty's assistant.”
Skeets studied the writing on his pad, flipped the page and read some more. Finally, he looked up. “A guy by the name of Owen Larson, a.k.a. Stumpy was brought in for questioning. We'd received a tip about a gang, of which Stumpy was a member, who claimed to be Satan worshipers. During the interrogation, he refused to give the name of the gang's leader or supply any information about their activities. With no physical evidence linking him to the crimes, we had to kick Stumpy loose.”
“Owen Larson? That name sounds familiar.”
“It should. He was a student here at St. Matilde's. One of a group of boys who claimed to have been molested by Monsignor Flaherty.”
“Do you plan to talk with Owen?”
“That won't be possible, Father. He put a bullet into his brain two weeks after the Monsignor died in prison.”
“May God have mercy on his soul,” Brian said. He blinked to hold back tears. “When will this nightmare end?” he thought.
“Stumpy slipped during the interview and gave a clue to the boy who was the leader of the Satanists. He referred to the guy as Draco. It didn't mean much at the time, but in light of the sketch offered by Sheriff Oleson, it could be very important.”
“I'm sorry, Detective. I've been so preoccupied with Debra Padget's funeral arrangements, I don't recall seeing the sketch.”
The detective drew another sheet from his pocket, unfolded it and handed it across to Father Brian. “You'll notice the prominent dragon tattoo? I did some research. Draco is Latin for dragon.” He leaned forward in his seat. “Take your time, Father. This is important. Does the face in this picture look at all familiar?”
Brian's brows puckered as he studied the picture. “I need to get my reading glasses,” he said. Crossing to his desk, he searched the drawers until he located a pair. He turned on the desk lamp, and scrutinized the drawing.
It stimulated the memory of a boy sitting in a far corner of the courtroom every day of Monsignor Flaherty's trial. The boy's eyes glittered with malice – a perfect mirror for those of the inked dragon coiled about his neck. An awareness released itself from the grave of Brian's subconscious. He flopped unto his desk chair and closed his eyes. After several minutes, he returned to his seat on the couch, placing his hands on his knees.
“I do recall something from the trial, Detective. It was Debbie Padget who recognized the young man. She told me he was a very close friend of Michael Longacre, one of boys involved in the scandal – inseparable was the word she used.”
Moving to the edge of his cushion, Skeets dropped his hands to his lap. “Tell me you remember the kid's name, Father.” Beads of sweat dotted his upper lip.
“Edward Pearce. That's the man's name. His mother Gertrude is a parishioner, though I understand she's been confined to the home since her stroke. I tried to call on her once... no one answered the door. I left a note, but never heard back from her.”
The phone was in Skeets' hand, and he was punching out numbers, when Father Brian surprised him with another bit of news.
“The Pearce residence is across the alley that separates the church property from the homes on the other side of this block. Do you want me to take you there?”
“Absolutely not, Father. The suspect is likely armed. I'm calling for back-up.” He scribbled an address on his pad and stood up. “Say a prayer that we find this freak hiding in his house.”
With surprising speed for a man of his size, Skeets quickly reached the front door. He paused with his hand on the doorknob and said, “I'll keep you posted – with some luck, you'll be seeing news of an arrest on the eleven o'clock news.”
Book of the Month contest entry
Tony Buday: Sioux Medicine Man and Jana Burke's uncle
Detective Jana Burke: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's church.
Detective Skeets Epstein: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department
Agnes Longacre: Jana Burke's Native American grandmother
Ty Longacre: Jana Burke's cousin and a Sioux Reservation policeman
Rick Morales: Homicide Detective and Jana Burke's partner
Derek Oleson: Granite Mountain's Sheriff
Debra Padget: Murder victim
a.k.a.: Also Known As
Life Alert: A personal alert system
Penmi: Warped (Sioux translation)
Thanks to DONKEYOATEY for use of his fine artwork once again!
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