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"Along the Jericho Road"


Chapter 1
The Maiden Moon

By Writingfundimension

Along the Jericho Road:  

CHAPTER ONE: A MAIDEN MOON 

**********  

It was in the devil's hour when the night was naked of color that Father Brian DeShano's faith clashed with doubt. To most, the surface of his life appeared smooth as Bass Lake on a still, high summer day. But a few had glimpsed the inner turmoil, lurking beneath the quiescent waters, like dagger points capable of slicing through tender flesh.  

A milestone fiftieth birthday had come and gone with no word from his father who lived in Hawaii with his fourth wife. Though Brian celebrated the event with intimate friends and more-than-wise consumption of alcohol, he admitted to no one the scourge of rage the snub resurrected. He'd not been able to quiet his morbid obsessing over this latest wound. Prayer, even confession, brought short-lived relief.  

The tailspin of his emotions was as toxic as slow-leaking battery acid, corroding his faith in the healing power of God. He felt the torment most exquisitely in the early morning hours, when the stark silence of the rectory merged with his obsession to know why his mother Lucinda executed herself at the end of a rope when he was six years old.  

Slumped in his recliner, rosary beads abandoned, he rubbed analgesic gel in circles around his swollen knuckles. More than a decade of Minnesota weather extremes aggravated his arthritic condition making it even more difficult to submit to sleep. A Pendleton blanket protected his knees from the rectory's chill. Though its reds and greens had faded into muddy hues, he treasured the physical link with his mother. It eased his loneliness. 

Gathering the edges of the blanket, Brian filled his fists with the fine-spun wool. Atop the cloth lay a Polaroid snapshot of his parents: a ruddy-complexioned Swede and a striking woman with waist-length black hair. His father's broad smile appeared genuine, though his mother's eyes were closed against the camera's intrusion. 

He felt the picture held clues to his mother's fate. But a cataract of fear blinded him to its possibilities.  His obsession with finding the truth about her death had begun to impede his pastoral duties. As a result, the membership of St. Matilde's was down by twenty percent.  Young families were drawn to sharp-witted homilists able to engage their limited attention spans. And, despite his Bishop's warnings, he was unable to find the key to bringing them back into the fold.  The shame of his failure was a suppurating wound compounded by the Priesthood's isolation.  

There was one person Brian felt would hear his story without judgment. Tony Buday was a reputed medicine man and member of the Upper Sioux Community located outside Granite Mountain. Their friendship had evolved following mutual involvement in a community outreach event aimed at addressing gambling addiction on the reservation. 

Tony had once expressed pleasant surprise at Father Brian's tolerance of belief systems that conflicted with his own. And the priest appreciated the manner in which the Native American Indian elder wore his personal power lightly and without arrogance. 

Three sharp raps on the wall behind Brian's head brought him upright in the chair.  They sounded as if made by someone standing next to him. Brian's Sheltie, Alyx, lying on the floor beside his chair, barked at something only he could see in the corner of the room. Brian scooped the frightened dog unto his lap. 

"It's okay, boy," he whispered, but Alyx continued to growl despite his master's efforts to soothe. 

I've had the exterminators out here five different times, and they've assured me there are no pests nesting in the rectory walls. Yet, the noises persist. I don't dare call them again.

A cold breeze brushed his bare arms, leaving goose bumps in its wake. His eyes were drawn to the closet door's slow movement outward. When it reached mid-point, it slammed back against the wall as though given a violent kick. Alyx catapulted from Brian's lap and scurried underneath the bed. 

Dear God, what is going on? Is it you, Mother? Are you trying to send me a message. I want to hear. I'm trying to understand.

Brian set aside the blanket and stood. Through a window to his left, he observed the pink tint of an impending dawn. He made up his mind to call Tony.  

I need a fresh perspective. I trust Tony. It's time for prayer combined with a plan of action.

Tony's schedule was clear, so Brian arranged for them to spend a weekend at the Diocesan Retreat on nearby Bass Lake. He called in a favor, arranging for a fellow priest to cover weekend masses and set off early Saturday morning to collect his friend.    
 
                                                               ***   

"Think the rain will hold off?" Brian asked as he cleared a space in the front seat for his friend.

"Beats the heck out of me. Mother Earth's signals grow increasingly mysterious to me. I just go about my day and appreciate the warmth of Brother Sun whenever he chooses to appear." 

"Ah... well said, my friend. I couldn't agree more." 

Silence ruled on the ride over to the lake which was not unusual for the two men. Brian's thoughts were on the picture he'd packed in his duffel bag, and whether he felt ready to hear what Tony had to say. But he knew the old man would be unstintingly honest. I need a straight answer.

Upon reaching the lake, they loaded a small motorboat with fishing gear, a thermos of coffee and homemade doughnuts provided by Tony. After several hours passed in small talk punctuated by comfortable silences, they turned back to shore with a dozen good-sized walleye. Tony gutted and scaled the fish they caught, leaving the cooking up to the priest. 

Brian seasoned them with a blend of Old Bay seasoning, coriander, sesame oil and hot chilies before searing them in a cast iron skillet. In another pan, he caramelized onions in butter then added quartered new potatoes, finished off with diced fresh parsley. Tony smacked his lips in a comical gesture of appreciation as they both tucked into the simple, delicious meal.  

Dinner aside, the friends dueled over a chessboard. Rhythmic rain pounded the sides of the cabin, adding another layer of thickness to the trapped heat. 

"I concede to your superior skills, once again," Brian finally admitted as he tilted his chair backwards, palms forward in surrender. 

"The Native peoples have an advantage in games requiring patience, Father. We waited for shelter after our homes were stolen and we waited for the U.S. government to keep its promises. Now we wait for our monthly allotment checks from all the money hauled in through our casinos." 

Brian's laugh softened the tension of old wounds that hung in the air between them. 

"What troubles you, friend?" the Elder asked. "Your spirit feels heavy, and your eyes are dark with doubt." 

"I'm struggling with an old wound, Tony. Despite all my ministrations, it refuses to heal." 

"I do see a gray shadow following your every movement. I don’t want to alarm you, but it appears as if something has attached itself to you. I'll do whatever I can to help.  

 Pushing aside the chessboard, Brian pulled the Polaroid from his pocket and placed it in the center of the table. "Tell me what you feel from this picture, Tunkasila." Brian used the surname as a gesture of respect—much like one Sioux would to another.  He then averted his gaze and sat in silence.  

The Shaman picked up the photo and balanced it between the pads of two fingers. He rolled his eyes back and forth while sniffing in rapid bursts.  Brian saw all this from the corner of his eye and  tried to remain calm in the face of such weird behavior. 

"I assume these are your parents?" Tony asked. 

"Yes." 

"Your father is bored. His smile is fake." Tony's finger hovered above the woman in the picture. "This woman once had a warrior spirit, but the vitality has left her body. Death is very close. Here, where the picture is blurred, its presence is revealed. 

Brian leaned into his elbows. "She killed herself a month after the picture was taken." 

Tony inclined his head. "I am sorry. But it appears death stalked her, my friend. When death sets out to claim us, nothing on earth can change our fate." 

"Suicide is a mortal sin for Catholics, Tony. The soul is lost. Condemned." 

"We Sioux have a much more compassionate viewpoint on that matter. A soul is never lost, just confused." 

For the first time, Brian felt his spirits lift. Telling Tony was the right thing to do. 

"Strange things have been happening in the rectory. Banging doors, rapping on the walls. I think my mother is trying to reach out to me.  I won't let her down, Tony. I don't care what it takes, I must bring her spirit home." 

Tony turned the picture over and slid it back across the table. "Be very careful," he warned, " you don't know the cost of the what you seek. Once we have intercourse with the non-physical realms, we can become confused and forget the way back ourselves."
                                                            
                                                                    ***

Crows called to each other as they rested on the rectory's turrets. Brian wished he could pull the covers over his head and spend the day in bed. But thirty years of strict discipline forced his feet to the floor. 

He stripped the sweat-soaked bedding, threw it into the hamper and dressed. Alyx rose from his dog bed, shook out his fur and stretched his legs. He waited by the door for his master to finish and together they headed down the stairs to begin their day's rituals. 

Setting water to boil, Brian retrieved the ceramic teapot and a tin of leaves. He placed them on the counter next to the dog treats for Alyx who’d exited through the dog door. Next he pulled out a measuring spoon and dipped it into the tin. The smell of sage mixed with blueberries soothed his budding headache. 

Brian placed the tea into its infuser basket and set in into his mug. The phone in his study rang, and he hurried down the hall. Caller I.D. showed it originated from parishioner and shut-in, Debra Padget. He answered on the fourth ring. 

"Debra what can I do for you this morning?"  

"Oh, Debra won't be needing your ministrations any longer, Father DeShano. It's the undertaker she'll be needing now."

What in the name of God... 

"She's dead?" his voice rose with panic that ripped through his chest. "How... Hold on—is this some kind of sick joke? I know every one of Debra's caregivers and your voice is not familiar." 

"We're wasting precious time, Father. You'll be meeting me soon enough—a meeting that's been a long time coming." 

"What have you done to her? She's a helpless, gentle old lady, who wouldn't harm a flea. 

"Was, Father." 

"What!?" 

"Was harmless and sweet. Now she's just dead."   

 





      



 

Author Notes Dictionary of terms:

Devil's hour: 3 A.M. is the hour of darkness. 3 P.M., when Christ died on the cross, is the hour of mercy.
Diocese: The territorial jurisdiction of a Bishop.
Shaman: A keeper of rituals and healer.
Sheltie: Miniature Collie.

Thanks to Tillom for: Pour L'amour De Vert

St. Matilde's is a fictional church.

I have used the patois of the Dakota Sioux in this work of fiction. The following is a definition of those terms:

Tunkasila: Grandfather


Chapter 2
A Blood-Red Moon

By Writingfundimension

Previously:

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.

********************


Responding to the promptings of i yo ki ca'ska - the thread which connects all of nature - Canada geese congregated in the neighborhood park. Taking flight, they settled into a V-formation, leaving behind the humans' dwellings as their ranks covered miles in mere minutes. The tragedy unfolding below held no interest or sorrow, for their hearts were attuned only to survival.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Debra and Earl Padget built their modest tudor-style home when Earl returned from serving in WWII. Anxious to fill it with children, the couple endured the pain of multiple miscarriages. Finally, at age thirty-eight, Debra carried a child to full term. But when their infant boy died just weeks after birth, Earl agreed that working outside the home might be a good antidote for his wife's grief.

She became head cook in the cafeteria of St. Matilde's grammar school until she had a stroke in 1990. Her beloved Earl passed away several years later from a heart attack, but Debra refused to succumb to self-pity. She enjoyed people and had a network of friends and professionals that allowed her to remain in her own home. 

However, her niece and only-living relative, Darcy Shaw, complained about her aunt's 'pig-headedness' to anyone who would listen. It irked her that the old lady would not do the 'sensible' thing and enter an assisted living facility. But Debra suspected her niece was more concerned about an inheritance than in what was best for her aunt.

Unable to rise above the sin of unforgiveness, Debra confessed her feelings to Father Brian during his weekly visits with her. "I try to give her the benefit of a doubt, Father; but she's a cold fish with boorish manners and I simply don't trust her."

Father Brian's response was the reason so many of his church family treasured him. "Nowhere in the Bible does it say that one should embrace gullibility as a replacement for common sense. If your gut tells you someone is not being honest, then trust what you are feeling, my friend. Do your best in the situation, then let God take over."

Lying in her bed, Debra mentally replayed an ominous encounter with her niece earlier in the day. "I'm concerned about how vulnerable you are in your physical state, Aunt Debra. There are so many nuts out there willing to prey on helpless old folks like you. The locks on your doors are rusted and need to be replaced.  At least consider getting someone out here to take care of that."

It was easier for Debra to dislike her niece when she wasn't making sense. Maybe she's right...or maybe she's just trying to scare me into doing what she wants.  

She arranged her pillows to alleviate pressure on her neck and settled in to watch television. But worn out by her brush with her niece's toxic energy, the old lady was asleep on her back and snoring before eight o'clock, blissfully unaware of the intruder who entered her home.

He watched her sleeping, taking time to calm his breathing. He was pleased that he'd gained access to the house without detection. Before doubt could nettle his confidence, he pulled a syringe from his kit and tapped it to be sure there were no air bubbles in the liquid. With practiced efficiency, he injected the paralytic drug into Debra's arm. A rush of pleasure inflamed his groin when he saw her eyelids flutter and her muscles react to the assault on her nervous system.

********************

After dispatching an ambulance to the home of Debra Padget, Father Brian punched out the cell phone number of Sheriff Derek Oleson who was, at that moment, reviewing case notes for a trial appearance. Even with bifocals, he had to squint to read the small type in the legal documents.

This is such a bunch of bullshit. No matter what the facts are or what I say..this slimy turd could flip on one of the other gangbangers and earn himself a lighter sentence.

Licking the tips of two fingers, he was in the middle of turning a page when he felt the phone vibrate in his uniform pocket.

"Sheriff Oleson, here."

"Derek...it's Father Brian."

The sheriff crossed his ankles and leaned back against the burgundy Naugahyde booth he occupied at the back of Rhonda's Round Up. He raised a finger and the pretty blonde waitress he'd been working on asking out, came rushing over to fill his cup.

"Father, it's great to hear your voice. We sure miss you at poker night..."

"Something horrible has happened, Derek; or, at least I fear it has."

The sheriff switched the phone to his left hand and reached inside his uniform for a notepad. Father Brian's voice cracked with emotion, setting Derek in professional mode. "First, tell me if you're in any danger, Father?"

"Oh, good Lord, I hadn't even thought of that. I don't think...no I don't believe I am. But one of my parishioners, Debra Padget, has been murdered."

"What the hell...are you sure...hold on will ya, Father," the Sheriff said. Brian could hear an anxious buzzing in the background and then, "Father, I gotta go. Just got the message about Mrs. Padget and I'm on my way to her home right now. Hey, how'd you find out before I did?"

"I'm the one who alerted 911, right after getting a call from a man in Debra's house that I believe is her murderer."

********************

His state of arousal was begging for release. But he forced himself to concentrate on the emergency vehicles, police cars and reporters. For months he carefully orchestrated the crime scene in his head. Like an artist exhibiting his paintings, he imagined with what awe his handiwork would be perceived by others. 

His sweat-soaked clothing became an icy sheath, and he shivered despite the heat pouring into the car. Anxiety began to leach his euphoria, when, at last, the one he'd been waiting for arrived. As Father Brian exited his black sedan, the killer made his escape, confident the message he left was about to be delivered.     

Author Notes Terms:
i yo ki ca'ska: A Sioux phrase that loosely translates to the thread that controls the flow of the natural world.

Thank you Tillom for use of your great artwork, Pour L'amour De Vert


Chapter 3
A Graveyard Moon

By Writingfundimension


********************
Previously: Father Brian DeShano alerted authorities to a possible murder after receiving a phone call from the man claiming to be the killer. 

********************

The morning light splayed a thin layer of gold along the squad car's dashboard. Sheriff Derek Oleson sped along the neighborhood streets, his siren and lights a warning to crossing pedestrians and merging traffic. A mental list of priorities tumbled into place, including an interview with Father Brian DeShano at the earliest opportunity.

Why would a killer call a priest before leaving the scene of a crime? Were they seeking approval, or possibly, absolution? And why St. Matilde's when there were a half-dozen other parishes in the area?  

He was less than five minutes from the crime scene when he spoke into his handset. "Dispatch, put me through to Detective Burke."

Seconds later, his top detective answered, "Detective Burke here, Sheriff."

"Jana, I want the area around the Padget home sealed tighter than a duck's ass. No one, and I mean no one, is to be given access to the body other than emergency personnel. Have they arrived yet?" 

"Just arrived, Sheriff Oleson." Three years on the force and Jana Burke remained a tantalizing enigma to Derek. Other than the fact she lived on the Sioux reservation with her uncle, Tony Buday, the remainder of her life was a total mystery.  

He imagined the lift of her chin and the way she straightened to full height. At five feet eleven inches, she was one of few members of his squad that could look him straight in the eye. "Detective Newstead ordered me to remain on guard outside the house," she said in a voice thick with contempt. "He's going through the Vic's closet and dresser drawers and I'm concerned he'll contaminate the crime scene due to his total lack of experience, Sir."

His latest recruit had bricks for brains and a need to prove the uniform makes the man.

"I'm just a few blocks away. Inform Detective Newstead that I want him waiting at the curb when I get there. And, Jana, get in that house and make sure the EMT's preserve the positioning of the body if possible."

"Right away, Sir."

He cut his siren before reaching the Padget home. Neighbors stood on their porches and lawns, bundled against the bone chill of a fall morning in Minnesota.

Most of them came from the same immigrant stock as the victim -  private and tough as hell. Debra's death, especially if it was murder, would screw with their minds. Interviewing them before shock affected their memories was imperative.

He navigated his black and white Dodge Charger around an ambulance and fire/rescue vehicle, and parked beside the CSU's gray van. The crime scene personnel were waiting for his okay before entering the home as he'd instructed. 

Detective Newstead waited at the base of the wheelchair ramp. He remained silent and refused to approach his superior.

You've got no idea who you're messing with, junior. I'll either make you a better cop or send you running home to momma.

When he reached the rookie's side, Sheriff Oleson hooked his thick fingers into the younger man's arm and applied enough pressure to get his attention. "Here's how it's going to be, Detective Newstead. You're going to oversee external security while Detective Burke and I assess the crime scene. When the press arrives, you are to refuse any comment. Are we clear?"

"Very." 

Derek kept hold of the arm, ever-so-slightly increasing the pressure."I said are we clear, Detective Newstead?"

"Yes, we're clear, Sir."

********************

When Derek Oleson entered the home, his senses went on alert. In the living room, EMT's packed up the life-saving equipment in preparation for departure.  

One of them pointed down a short hallway. Surprised, and relieved by the absence of the odor of blood, he proceeded to the back of the house.

Most of the body was blocked from view by Detective Burke who stood motionless beside the bed. The old lady's television was on, and he wondered why no one had thought to turn it off. He slipped protective gloves from a pocket and moved into position to be able to see the entire body.

He opened his mouth to speak and decided against it. Officer Burke studied Debra Padget's corpse as if in silent communication with it. He waited out of respect for a process he didn't understand but which had produced gold in past investigations.  

"The CSU's were already set up when I got your call." Her words were devoid of emotion. "Had to pull rank to get them to hold off until you got here, Sir. This ... the condition of the body ... the face ... it just seemed important that you see it first."

"Other than to determine that she's dead, no one has touched the body or anything else in the room?" he asked as he retrieved his notebook.

"Besides Newstead, that's correct, Sir."

"Very good. Now, I'd like a few minutes alone in here, Detective." He registered how she deliberately slowed her steps in an effort to pretend she wasn't glad to get out of there.

Debra Padget's body was posed in a manner suggestive of a casket. The body had been obviously handled, but there were no signs that she struggled with her assailant. It was likely a toxicology screen would show the presence of some sort of sedative.

After replacing Debra's nightgown with a mauve evening gown, white hosiery and heels, the killer had placed her on top of the bed linen. An elaborate wig was the only object of clothing carelessly placed. Derek scanned the room and spotted three hairpiece pedestals but only two wigs on the dresser across from the bed.

The killer had likely waited until last to apply a heavy coat of make-up to her features. Except for her lips. Lightly taped across her mouth was an object Derek Oleson recognized immediately.

********************

Father Brian wasn't surprised by the Sheriff's urgent request given that he was the only person known to have spoken with the killer. "Father, can you get to Debra's house right away? There's something weird about the body. I need advice, and likely your special skills, to handle the situation."

"Of course, I'm on my way."

He nearly collided with the church secretary entering the door just as he was exiting. "I'm sorry, Norma, I didn't see you coming up the steps."

"That's okay, Father. Where you rushin' to so early in the day?"

It occurred to him that running into her was a stroke of luck. The parishioners of St. Matilde would likely be calling for information when they heard that one of their own had been murdered. It was important that Norma reassure them that every measure was being taken to see that the murderer was quickly apprehended.

Father Brian briefly described the basic situation, avoiding any mention of his conversation with the killer. "I'm sure you can appreciate that it's important to reassure the parishioners, especially the elderly ones."

The secretary pressed a Kleenex against her mouth to stifle a sob. "I'm sorry to leave you with this burden, Norma. I know you and Debra were old friends." His voice was genuinely compassionate. 

"Don't you worry, Father," the woman replied as she adjusted her shoulder bag, "I'll handle things here. And I'll be praying, too, for the cops to catch the dirty devil quickly."

********************

A van with the call letters of the local television station blocked the priest from parking near the home. As he walked quickly past the news van, he noted a young officer engaged in conversation with the pert, bubbly anchor of the morning news program. Their body language spoke of a more-than-casual acquaintance.

Investigators searched the bushes for evidence and dusted the exterior of all entrances to the home. They glanced up as he moved past them and quickly returned to their jobs when they saw the Roman collar. A checkpoint guard at the home's front entrance searched his list and, finding the priest's name there, let him go past. 

He expected the controlled chaos of professionals competing for space, but the house was quiet. Detective Burke approached as soon as he walked through the doorway. Father Brian recognized her from visits in her uncle's home. He'd always been a bit in awe of her natural beauty, and she looked even more impressive in her uniform.

A warm smile illuminated Jana's features and her handshake was firm. "Thanks for getting here so quickly, Father. Sheriff Oleson asked me to make sure you two are left alone. He's waiting in the victim's - in Mrs. Padget's bedroom." She bent closer to the priest and whispered, "Be prepared, Father, the room holds the residue of si-la-wa-ci-T." 

He reached out and lightly touched her arm. "Thank you, Detective. I appreciate the warning."

Dread of what was waiting grew with each step along the worn, berber carpet leading to the bedroom.

Sheriff Oleson busied himself inspecting the sash of the bedroom window. He nodded briefly in Father Brian's direction and then returned to making notes in his pad. It was kind of the man, Brian thought, to set his own agenda aside and allow the priest some time to absorb what he was seeing.

He had been present at thousands of death-bed rituals in his years as a priest. Most of them held sorrow, some of them joy. Studying Debra's corpse, shock moved quickly to heated outrage at what had been done to a good woman. He flicked a tear from his cheek. "What kind of mind thinks of such an abhorrence, Derek?" he asked, aware of the lawman's close scrutiny.   

Sheriff Oleson brushed a hand slowly over close-cropped gray hair.  "Twenty plus years in law enforcement, Father, and the answer to that question still eludes me. But, the one thing we have now is state-of-the art behavioral profiling. I believe this murder was planned and executed by a sociopath, and I've spent my career studying them."

"Father, I called you here because I hoped you could provide me with an insight into the object taped to Mrs. Padget's mouth. Is it what I think it is?"
  
The hairs stood up on the priest's arms as he bent closer to the body. "It appears to be a communion host," he responded. "Whether it's a consecrated host, or not, I can't tell."

"Would that make a difference?"

"Yes, a profound difference. A consecrated host is believed to hold the living body of Jesus Christ. Outside the ritual of holy mass, access to them is severely restricted. There are very specific instructions on how to dispose of consecrated hosts, Sheriff. My guess is that the killer knows all this and is hoping to achieve maximum shock value."

Derek rolled his pen between two fingers. "How so, Father?"

"The host is going to be treated as evidence and, likely, handled by a number of people unaware of its significance. Any good priest would find that appalling."  

The lawman's attitude flipped suddenly from curious to cold-as-steel. "Any good priest, Father Brian, or just you?"   


to be continued....








 
   

Author Notes Terms:
CSU: Crime Scene Unit
EMT: Emergency Medical Technician
Host: A round wafer used in traditional Christian services.
Roman Collar: A special shirt collar worn by Catholic priests.

Thank you once again to Tillom for her great artwork!

si-la-wa-ci-T: Sioux translation - bad desires


Chapter 4
A Maza Moon, Part I

By Writingfundimension

**********

PREVIOUSLY:  Father Brian DeShano, pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church, has been called to the scene of the brutal murder of one of its elderly parishioners.

********** 


Doctor Franklin Bloomquist was of the generation of physicians that exclusively wore white labcoats. After all, he had no reason to be concerned about causing white-coat hypertension in his patients, as they tended not to have a pulse. The words 'Medical Examiner' were embroidered in purple on his pocket. The effect would have been impressive were it not for the shrunken sleeves and the fact the garment's buttons had lost all control of their ability to hide the stout stomach underneath. 

Detective Jana Burke observed the Medical Examiner's SUV weave among the variety of vehicles scattered along the street in front of Debra Padget's house, forcing him to park a fair distance away. His cheeks were florid and his breathing labored by the time he reached the main entrance.

Head down and mumbling angrily to himself, he reacted sharply to the sudden materialization of the policewoman obstructing his momentum.

"What are you doing sneaking around, young lady? You scared the hell out of me!"

"It's Detective Burke."

"What's that?"

"My name is Detective Jana Burke. We've met before."

"Very well ... Detective Burke. What's going on here?"

"Sheriff Oleson has temporarily closed the crime scene to all personnel. He's interviewing an important witness."

His eyes narrowed as if he were studying alien amoeba on a plate. "I am not under the authority of the Sheriff's Department, Detective. The sheriff can interview his witness in one of the other rooms while I examine the body."

Moving past her, the man put his full weight on the toe of her boot. Jana grunted with pain, but Doctor Bloomquist neither acknowledged nor apologized for his actions as he climbed the porch steps.

Jana wiggled her toes to make sure nothing was broken then hurried to intercept the doctor, only to see him disappear through the bedroom doorway. Her fury dissolved when she caught the unguarded look that Sheriff Oleson turned on the man who had defied his orders. Derek Oleson's eye color could change rapidly, depending on his mood. At the moment, they'd gone from hazel to the brilliant gold of a focussed feline.

"I don't want you touching the body yet, Franklin. We have an unusual situation, and I've asked Father DeShano here to assist me in handling it."

"I am on a very tight schedule today, Sheriff. I've already been delayed at the front door," pointing in the direction of Jana Burke, "supposedly on your specific orders. I consider it an egregious matter that you and your detectives are impeding the disposition of my duty here."

Sheriff Oleson ignored the protests of the M.E. He closed his notebook, stored his pen and faced his subordinate. "Detective Burke, would you provide Father Brian with a set of gloves?"

"Yes, Sir." She deftly removed a pair of gloves from her pocket and handed them across to the priest.

"Father, I'm going to let you remove the object from Mrs. Padget's mouth. Don't try to remove the tape," the Sheriff emphasized. "Leave it all in one piece and place it into the evidence bag that Detective Burke is holding. If you need, or want to say a prayer, now's your chance."

Doctor Bloomquist blustered, "This is most improper, Sheriff." Clutching his satchel in both hands, the M.E. moved towards the bed. Quicker than a firefly's flash, Jana stepped in to prevent him from reaching his goal while Sheriff Oleson took the man's arm and steered him into the hallway.

"Wouldn't think you'd want the public to catch wind of the fact that you tried to prevent a priest from offering last rites to one of his parishioners, Franklin. Ten more minutes either way aren't likely to change your findings, am I right?"

At the mention of public opinion, the Medical Examiner acquiesced. "I suppose you're right, Sheriff. As long as he doesn't put oil or any other foreign material on her skin."

**********

Father Brian believed the heart held autonomy over the brain. Though his brain directed the act of the communion wafer's removal and conducted the ritualized prayer for the deceased, memories of Debra formed a gentle counterpoint.

"In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; may any power the devil has over you be destroyed by the sign of the cross ... "

Father, your timing is perfect. Just took some peach cobbler out of the oven, and don't be telling me you're watching your weight.

"And by calling on the glorious and blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and her illustrious spouse, St. Joseph ...  "

I miss my Earl so much, Father. I know I'll see him again some day, but it's just so hard sometimes.

"And all the holy angels ... "

The kind people who care for me, bring my favorite casseroles, play cribbage with me - well I just can't repay all their goodness, Father.

"Archangels, prophets, martyrs, virgins and all the saints."

When my baby died, I blamed God and stayed angry with Him for a long time, Father. 

"God our Father, Your power brings us to birth. Your providence guides our lives, and by your command we return to dust. In company with Christ, may Debra rejoice in your kingdom where all tears are washed away."

The priest reached to make a final sign of the cross above the body, and was shocked by the appearance of a white mist emerging from the center of the corpse's forehead. He jerked his hands away and watched as the mist coalesced into a sparkling ball, paused for a few seconds and then shot straight up through the ceiling.

"It's Howiwacipi," Jana Burke whispered in the priest's ear.  "My uncle has witnessed this mystery many times."

Father Brian looked into Jana's shining eyes and peace embraced his heart. "You saw it, too? That's good because an hour from now I'm going to be thinking I've lost my marbles."

Her pleasant laughter lingered in the air.

"I'd better clear out of here now, Detective Burke, before we have another dead body on our hands. By the sound of the loud voices, I'm guessing Doctor Bloomquist has reached the end of his rope."

**********

"Sheriff, Father Brian is leaving now. Shall I get the CSU's guys going?"

"Yes. And Jana, I want you to take Detective Newstead and start canvassing the neighborhood. I expect folks will be eager to offer assistance. And since most of them have lived here as long as our vic, they're likely to have noticed if someone unusual has been hanging around."

"They'll expect me to tell them what happened to Mrs. Padget, Sir. How do you want me to handle that?"

"Tell them the truth, Jana. We don't yet have a cause of death. Just assure them we have our best personnel on the case, and will keep them informed when we know something of more substance."

"Yes, Sir."

The Sheriff turned his attention to where Father Brian had exited the house. Walking quickly, he reached his side. "Father, I'd like to talk with you later today. What would be a good time for me to stop by the rectory?"

Father Brian blinked his eyes rapidly in a effort to focus on the lawman's face. Finally, he answered, "I'm scheduled to review financial reports this afternoon, so unless an emergency call comes in, I'll be available then, Derek."

He turned away, but was stopped by the unexpected sympathy in the Sheriff's next words: "Try to put the image of what you saw here today out of your head, Father Brian. I'm not saying you won't have nightmares - I did for years.  But, eventually, the memory will fade."

"There's something else I'd like you to consider. I think it would be a good idea to have a patrol car watch the rectory, at least for the next few days. I suspect the killer will be in communication with you again. And this time, it might be in person."

 

Chapter to be concluded with Part II ~~~ 

Author Notes Terms:
CSU: Crime Scene Unit
Medical Examiner: A physician specializing in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology.
Vic: Victim
White Coat Hypertension (syndrome): Phenomenon where a patient's blood pressure increases in the doctor's office but is normal elsewhere.

Sioux Dialect:
Howiwacipi (hoh wee wah chee pee): Ghost dance.
Maza (mah zah): Steel

Thanks, once again, to Tillom for the use of her artwork:
Pour L'amour De Vert


Chapter 5
A Maza Moon, Part 2

By Writingfundimension

Previously: 

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.

**********


Because Father Brian had never observed the processing of a crime scene, he was unprepared for the cold, methodical dance of the investigators around a corpse they couldn't afford to care about. He longed to lay one of Debra's hand-knitted afghans across her torso and face but realized that, for the time being, she was a possession of the state. Frustrated by imposed impotence, he escaped to his car after agreeing to an interview by lead investigator, Derek Oleson. 

He drove a short distance before stopping to consider his options. The interview with Sheriff Oleson was several hours away, and he  needed solitude to process the craziness of the morning's events.  On a whim, he struck off in the direction of the Diocesan summer camp.

Thoughts circled endlessly and theories bobbed in his brain like carousel ponies. What was the meaning of the macabre face paint and coffin pose? The killer spent precious time dressing Debra's body and perfecting her make-up. Were these acts staged for the benefit of the authorities, or did they have a more depraved meaning?

The irreverent act of taping a communion wafer across the victim's mouth was, in the priest's opinion, indicative of a grudge. In fact, the whole thing smacked of suppressed rage. And that suggested the possibility that one murder would not satisfy the killer's lust.

Father Brian intended to ask Sheriff Oleson to withhold from public knowledge details of the sacrilegious use of a holy object. He would attempt to impress upon the sheriff that such information would produce panic and arouse suspicions among elderly Catholics. Still, Derek Oleson was a seasoned detective. He would likely consider it a strong possibility the perpetrator was a member of one of the Catholic churches in the area and able to procure a communion wafer without drawing attention to himself.

Steeped in his thoughts, the priest almost missed the Bass Lake road sign and had to make a sharp turn. He slowed the car to avoid potholes in the gravel lane that led to the fishing camp's main bunkhouse. Exiting the vehicle, pine-needle droppings, agitated by the wind, stuck to his skin and the fabric of his suit.

His destination was a rear bedroom on the main floor of the lodge where he'd stored an extra set of outerwear. He entered the small room and quickly stripped himself of the formal black clothes worn to the crime scene. Stepping into an adjoining shower cubicle, Father Brian endured the pounding of the hot water on his skin until he felt cleansed of death's stench.

Freshly dressed in jeans and a Timberwolves sweatshirt, he wished he could fly away and be plain old Brian. What would it be like to fade into the background and leave off all the rules and expectations demanded of a cleric?

He examined his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He knew he'd lost weight in recent months and was aware of the incessant spread of gray hair.  Though he appeared years younger in casual clothes,   the desolation reflected in his eyes suggested a man in deep crisis.

On his way through the cabin's kitchen, he brushed against a table where he'd shared a meal of fresh-caught fish with a friend named Tony Buday.

Father Brian's eyes widened as he remembered a snippet of their conversation: 'Be very careful, my friend, that you do not lose yourself in the land of the dead. You do not know the cost of what you seek.' The Sioux medicine man uttered the cryptic warning while holding a picture of Father Brian's deceased mother.

Had Tony predicted Debra's death, and the way the killer would pull him in with a phone call? Could he be the killer's ultimate target?

He willed the holy man's words to retreat to the back of his mind and stepped on the path to Bass Lake. A chipmunk whistled a warning from a thick nest of ferns and, briefly, Father Brian detected a familiar scent: White Shoulders, Debra Padget's favorite perfume.

Even after seeing a mysterious, shimmering ball of light rise from Debra's corpse and shoot through the ceiling of her room, he was too steeped in rigid ritual to believe in mundane miracles. He told himself the smell was the result of sensory overload.

A pine picnic table at the water's edge was left outside to weather all four seasons. Despite this ingratitude, it was sturdy - no doubt a result of its stoic Norwegian heritage. Father Brian sat atop it and rested his feet on one of the benches. Across the lake, the leaves had gone from gold to ochre and blazing red to mottled maroon.

He sat with his chin in his hands taking no notice of time's passage. The vibration of his cellphone made him jump. Although he didn't recognize the number coming in, he thought it might be a parishioner with an urgent need.

"Enjoying the peace and quiet of the lake, Father?"

The voice of Debra Padget's murderer felt like the screech of a page as it's ripped from the spine of a book.

"What will Sheriff Oleson think of you dropping out of sight for several hours, Father? Derek is a sharp detective and right now you are suspect numero uno."

"You heartless bastard. What you did to Debra ... may the Angels of God ..."

"Fuck Your Angels," the man screamed. "God tried to get you all to repent, but you insisted on business as usual."

"Repent of what? I can't help you if I don't know what you're talking about. Listen, whatever's been done to you, we ... the church ..."

"I don't want or need your help, hypocrite. Madness, when it finally comes is liberating, Father. I highly recommend it."   

"Now who's the hypocrite? You knew exactly what you were doing when you entered that innocent old woman's house and stole her life. That's evil, not madness. You're walking the devil's plank straight into the fires of hell."

The only sound the priest heard was the smacking of lips as if the man was chewing gum.

In a perfect imitation of the priest's voice, he responded, "Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?"

Father Brian had heard enough. His finger moved to disconnect the caller when he heard, "You like riddles, Father? Personally, I love them. Anyway, I've got one for you ... could the fact the old lady trusted you, be the only reason she's dead?

Author Notes Biblical quotation: Luke 7:41

Terms:
Afghan: Blanket
Communion Host: A bread wafer used in Christian rituals.
Diocese: The territorial jurisdiction of a Bishop.
Medicine Man: A Native American Indian spiritual adviser/leader.
Norwegian Pine: A species of pine trees found in parts of the United States.
Timberwolves: A professional basketball team.

Thanks to Tillom for her artwork: Pour L'amour De Vert.


Chapter 6
A Hota Moon, Part 1

By Writingfundimension

**********

Previously:  Debra Padget, an elderly invalid, has been found murdered in her bedroom. The body is posed for coffin placement, and garish make-up applied to her face.  Detective Jana Burke has been sent out by her commander, Sheriff Oleson, to canvass the neighborhood for witnesses.

**********


Detective Jana Burke possessed a golden talent of combining pointed questions with
purposeful silence to incite criminals to confess. Cracking cases gave her a wicked high. But the interviews she'd conducted that morning produced no such euphoria. She'd carried the virus of fear into the homes of Debra Padget's neighbors. Her presence represented the sickening realization the bogeyman had materialized in their own back yards.

She mounted the steps of the last home on her list, desperate for a solid lead. Dot Minski's neighbors had used descriptions ranging from the colorful to the profane. But everyone agreed on two things: she was a voracious gossip and crazy about cats.

Firm knocks and shouted identification brought no response from inside Dot Minski's house. After a decent period passed, Jana underscored the name in blue, her code for an incomplete interview, and headed for her patrol car.

She punted pine cones while mentally rehearsing her report of failure for Sheriff Oleson. Startled by the sound of a whistle, a mourning  dove fled a tree branch, nearly colliding with Jana's head. Reflexively, she reached for her side piece.

"Yoo Hoo, Officer! I need to talk to you." Jana relaxed the hold on her gun and turned toward the source of the sound. Dot Minski stood in her doorway waving a light square of fabric.

The detective approached the elderly woman, surprised to observe she was a hunchback - something not one of her neighbors had mentioned. Bent at the waist, she struggled to lift her chin and head. Around her neck was a whistle, and in her arms lay an obese tabby.

"I'm glad I caught you, Officer. Didn't hear you knocking right away 'cause I was using my grabber to get Delilah's squeezie toy out from under the bed. She got so excited she jumped on my back and knocked me on my patout." Jana pressed fingers to her lips to cover a smile. "I suppose I should ask you for some form of identification," the woman cocked her head in a sassy manner, "but you don't look like the kind of person to murder a poor old lady in her bed. You're a real policeman, right?"

"Yes, ma'am. I'm Detective Jana Burke with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department," Jana assured her. "It's wise of you to be cautious when a stranger comes to your door." 

The old woman beamed like a child who'd worked out a mathematical equation on a blackboard and was rewarded with the teacher's praise.

"Well now that we've settled that, come in, Detective." The smell of cat urine permeated the inside of the terrace-level apartment. A crescent-shaped faux marble entryway trimmed in tarnished gold neatly severed the connection of the living room and hallway. At the center of it, a welcome mat displayed the caricature of a howling choir of calico cats.

Directing her guest toward the living room sofa, she said, "Have a seat, won't you?"

Jana mumbled, "Thank you," and dutifully seated herself on the sagging sofa. She watched as the old lady arranged her sparse frame in the middle of a large rocker with room enough for Delilah to lay beside her and sleep. Once settled, the woman continued her train of thought. "I'm sure this will come as no surprise to you, Detective, but you are a rather tall lady, and I like to look people in the eye when I'm talking with them. But I suppose your height is helpful in your line of business?"

"Yes, ma'am, being tall does have its advantages."

Detective Burke did a quick read of the lady's body language, and recognized that sparrow-faced Dot Minski relished the limelight. The fervid glow in the old lady's eyes was a phenomenon the young woman observed often in murder cases. She saw in it a fascination with violence that permeated the white man's world. Though it was personally repugnant to the Sioux part of her, at least she wasn't expected to play grief counsellor with this woman.

In fact, Dot Minski had a passion for true-crime novels, and believed herself attuned to the thoughts of the investigator. Word had travelled quickly of Debra's suspicious death, and the old lady had scoured her memories of past conversations with the victim. Finally, like a miner pulling gold from a soup of sludge, she recalled an odd conversation.

A telephone rang from an area Jana guessed to be the kitchen. "Excuse me a moment, it's probably my home-care aide checking to see if I need any groceries," Dot said. She rose from her seat, dropped Delilah on the sofa next to Jana and disappeared. The cat sniffed Jana's leg, dismissed her as snooty and moved to the corner of the couch to groom herself. Due to the spread of her belly, the cat was only minimally successful in touching fur with her tongue.

Tendrils of a one-sided conversation floated in from the kitchen and then there was a silence broken only by the chink of colliding crockery. When the old lady returned, she had a tray with two black mugs imprinted with 'Don't Whine' in gold and a plate covered by a checkered napkin.

Jana was about to tell the woman that she didn't have time for pleasantries and was expected at the police station. But she stopped short and berated herself mentally for the shame this would cause an elder. Oho-wa-laka, Wakanka - to respect elders - she could hear her mother's voice impart the essential importance of this command.

When the old lady reached the lamp table next to the sofa, she shoved aside a large tote to make room for the tray. The tote dropped to the floor, disgorging a black and white feline who screamed in surprise, then shot out of sight.

"Oh dear, please excuse Montrose's bad manners, Detective. He likes to tangle himself in my yarn and I sometimes forget he's even there."

"Have many cats?" Jana asked, on the alert for feline bullets.

"Too many, I suppose." The woman nodded yes, but her eyes said no.

Jana took a bite of banana bread and sipped green tea giving Dot time to re-focus. Then she set the food aside and retrieved a notebook and pencil from her pocket.

"Mrs. Minski, do you recall seeing any strangers hanging around the neighborhood recently or had anyone approach you in a suspicious manner?" Jana kept her eyes on the notebook waiting for Dot Minski to answer.

"I don't recall seeing anything out of the ordinary, Detective. And it's very upsetting to think a murderer could blend in so well without anyone the wiser. Makes you wonder if it wasn't an inside job?"

The investigator lifted her head sharply at the suggestion. "What makes you say that, Mrs. Minski?"

"Oh, I have my sources," she snapped. "I would suggest you talk to Debra Padget's niece. I hear there was no love lost between them."

Undeterred by Jana's lukewarm reception of this information, Dot Minski continued to lay the groundwork for the coup de grace.

"You know, Earl Padget and my husband, Marvin, worked together in the same factory for years. The four of us played bridge regularly. But after our husbands passed, time between visits became longer. This last June, I decided to have my care-giver take me to Debra's house and that's when she told me."

Jana forced her jaw muscles to relax while the old lady relished center stage. Finally, patience shed, she brusquely commanded, "Time is of the essence in a murder investigation, Mrs. Minski, especially the first forty eight hours. If you have information that could shed some light on this terrible event, it's important for you to tell me now."

Neither fazed nor cowed by the admonishment, Dot steepled her fingers in her lap and looked into the distance. Finally, she continued her monologue. "It was obvious Debra's health was deteriorating. She wanted to talk about death, like so many people my age. Frankly I find it boring, but Debra needed to get something off her chest."

The old lady paused to take a bite of her bread and a sip of tea. She had a faraway look in her eyes which Jana suspected was all for show. "Hmmm ... what was it she said ... oh, yes ... Dot, I'm going to go to my grave with a terrible secret, God forgive me."

The detective's bullshit barometer told her Dot's information was legitimate and, at the moment, their only real clue. She turned eyes that had become searchlights on the old woman and demanded, "Did she give you any indication of the nature of that secret, Mrs. Minski?"

"No, she didn't, Detective." The old woman, still in character, pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of her house dress to dab the corner of her dry eyes. With affected penitence, she added, "I'm sorry now that I didn't ask her to explain. If I had, she might be alive today." 
 

~~~ to be continued

Author Notes Terms:
Coup de grace: Decisive stroke.
Hunch-back: Those who suffer from the spinal distortion known as kyphosis (buffalo hump). It appears in the elderly and is not treatable in its advanced stage.
Patout: Buttocks.
Side Piece: Firearm.
Wicked: Current slang term for awesome.

Thanks, again, to Tillom and FanArtReview, for the perfect accompanying artwork.

Hota (Ghoh-Dah): Sioux translation - grey.


Chapter 7
A Hota Moon, Part 2

By Writingfundimension

Location: Front yard of Debra Padget's home.

Granite Falls Sheriff, Derek Oleson, accompanied the neon yellow gurney and cadaver pouch used to transport Debra Padget's body to the mortuary van. His action was both a gesture of respect and the sealing of a bargain: He would move heaven and earth to find her killer.

Pressed against the crime scene tape, a cluster of sidewalk gawkers also followed the gurney's movements. The Sheriff overheard snatches of their murmured conversations as the body passed. At one point, a middle-aged woman jabbed the man beside her and hissed, "It hardly looks like there's anything in the body bag." Then, as if struck by divine inspiration, she squealed, "Jerry, ya' think maybe they found her body in pieces?!"

An elderly lady gasped,"Oh my, Lord," and burst into tears at the suggestion that Debra had been mutilated. Several others flashed angry glances in the woman's direction. And Jerry made sure everyone knew where he stood on the matter by answering, "Freda, would ya' shut your face, for criminy sakes?"

When the doors of the mortuary van slammed shut, effectively dropping the curtain on the show, all but a small core group drifted away. Of those who remained, Derek knew there was a solid chance the perpetrator could be among them.

In studying the profile of serial criminals, he'd learned they often inserted themselves into police investigations in order to divert the attention of the authorities away from themselves. His pulse revved in anticipation of a killer in plain sight.

Is this what you've waited for all your miserable life? Take credit for the show, you bastard, and give me a way to hunt you down.

The detective zeroed in on a bald, caucasian male wearing navy blue scrubs. The man rocked on the balls of his feet in an agitated manner, and beamed a broad smile in response to the Sheriff's scrutiny. Along with his weird behavior, the fact he was wearing the uniform of someone in the health field led the investigator to wonder if he was the source of the drug used to immobilize Debra Padget.

Moving outside the man's field of vision, Sheriff Oleson issued an order into his two-way radio. "Anyone in the vicinity of a white male wearing a navy blue uniform, approach the subject for questioning."

The suspect did not resist the detectives who routed him toward an unmarked patrol car. And observing the efficiency of his men, their Superior granted himself the rare pleasure of a slim smile of satisfaction. Though he itched to question the man himself, he'd promised his shrink he would 'work' on his control issues and allow his detectives to utilize their skills.

The mortuary van pulled away from the curb, revealing a covey of reporters moving en masse in his direction. Sheriff Oleson groaned, feeling all at once like a stone guard atop a hill of secrets surrounded by shark-infested waters. Media exposure might be mother's milk for some, but Derek detested the phony posturing.

Still, the public had a right to know a killer was on the loose. He pasted on his official spokesperson face, confiscated a microphone, and delivered a statement of his department's preliminary findings.

"At approximately eight o'clock this morning officers responded to an anonymous tip, and entered the home of Debra Padget where her remains were discovered. The Medical Examiner has confirmed that Mrs. Padget was murdered, and it appears access was gained into her home through an unlocked side entrance. To Debra Padget's many friends and neighbors, I offer my personal pledge that my department's full resources will be devoted to the apprehension of her killer."

He'd turned his back to the reporters in dismissal when a woman's voice yelled, "Is it true, Sheriff Oleson, that Debra Padget was tranquilized before her murder and that the body showed signs of kinky, anti-religious abuse?"

The Sheriff whipped his head in the direction of the speaker: Channel 14's Evening News-Anchor, Danika Marten. Her gotcha-grin emphasized smug confidence in the reliability of her source.

Whoever it is, I'll toast their ass.

Derek knew there was no way to undo the damage of the woman's statement. He resisted the urge to spew expletives, instead answering in a perfunctory manner, "The information received by your news station is total speculation at this point. I'd like to add, Ms. Marten, that such information appears designed to inflame public fears and, potentially, impede the progress of this investigation."

Aware that the older members of the press corps likely agreed with the Sheriff, Danika Marten retaliated, "My source is someone close to the investigation, Sheriff Oleson; in fact, it's a detective in your Department's Special Crimes Unit."

**********

Sheriff Oleson passed the last of the CSU on their way out of the Padget home. He'd decided to do a final survey of the crime scene when he couldn't shake the notion he'd overlooked something important. It was also the best antidote for the simmering resentment of Danika Marten's revelation he was not in complete control of his people.

He began in the living room, looking simultaneously for something and nothing. Drawn to a curio cabinet in the corner, he discovered an odd detail. On a shelf devoted to framed photographs, one of the frames - a tri-fold style - displayed two pictures instead of three.

The detective removed the frame from the cabinet and stepped into the natural light of a nearby window for a closer examination.

The photographs appeared to come from a Polaroid-style camera. Though faded, enough detail remained to indicate they'd been taken at a retirement party, likely in the basement of St. Matilde's church. The first picture was a close-up of a rectangular, decorated cake with the message, 'Good Luck, Debra' piped into its center.

Derek's scalp tingled when he studied the second picture. It showed a smiling Debra, seated in a wheel chair, with a pink rosary wound around her fingers and spread across her lap. Behind her was a banner that read: 'Thank You for Eighteen Years of Service'.

He drew a notepad from his pocket and jotted a personal reminder to determine if a pink rosary was among the items retrieved from the crime scene. He then placed the picture frame in a plastic evidence bag, thinking perhaps Father Brian could provide information on the missing photograph.

A visual sweep of the kitchen and other rooms offered nothing new, and he was about to leave, when, on a hunch, he decided to step into the bedroom one more time.

In obedience to guidance good investigators often possess but can rarely explain, Sheriff Oleson entered the cold, dark room. He had to believe the CSU's had covered every inch of the room looking for evidence. What could they possibly have missed?

Immediately his attention was pulled to an area just above the head of the bed, where the paint was darker in hue than the rest of the wall. He knelt on the stripped mattress, pulled out a utility light and illuminated the area in question.

By God, is that what I think it is?

As the import of what he was seeing sunk in, Derek went back into every room of Debra's house to confirm his suspicions.

**********

Once inside his car, Sheriff Oleson phoned Father Brian Deshano, the pastor of St. Matilde's, to see if he would have time for a few questions. The priest answered on the second ring. "This is Father Brian, how may I help you?"

"It's Derek Oleson, Father. Would this be a convenient time to come by the rectory for an informal interview?"

"Sure, as good as any. Have you had lunch yet?"

"Not yet. It's been quite an eventful day so far, Father."

"Yes, I caught your press conference. I'm truly sorry you found out about your department's leak in such a public way. On the other hand, I've always said you possess a poker face that would make a Vegas gambler weep." The detective laughed outright, and it felt good to let off some steam.

"I've got posole simmering on the stove, corn bread muffins and fresh-brewed coffee," the priest continued. "Do you have time for lunch while we talk?"

"I won't turn down the offer. Your culinary skills are legendary, Father."

"Really, now that's news to me." Father Brian's laugh sounded forced and Derek felt his scalp tingle again.

"One more thing, Sheriff, the killer called me again."

**********
Location: A weathered one story bungalow with attached garage across the alley from St. Matilde's parsonage.

"Where've you been, Eddie?" she wailed. I called and called and when you didn't answer I was forced to go in my pants. I stink, and you know how much I hate that!"

"Cut the drama, Ma. That's why you wear Depends. We change the pants and the smell goes away."

"You haven't answered my question, Eddie, where were you?"

"I slept in a little, that's all. Had to work a double shift because dickhead Melvin called in sick again."

He placed his hands on the mattress and bent close to her face. His attention was fixed on the multiple thick gray hairs that stuck out from her chin like sprouts from a rotting potato. "I'm paying twenty bucks a month for Medic Alert, Ma. How many times do I have to tell you, if it's an emergency and you can't reach me, you press the button on the device?"

Spittle hit his cheek as the old woman screamed, "I don't want any strangers in my home. Besides, they'd take me to the hospital, and the next step would be the nursing home."  

His cold, empty eyes stopped her dead in her tracks. He'd been such a happy baby, but now there were times when she didn't recognize him at all.

"I'm sorry, Eddie, don't be angry. I appreciate everything you do for me. I really do. It's just ... you'll keep your promise right, Eddie? You'll never put me in a nursing home, right, Eddie?"

He made no sound as he reached into his pocket and drew out the pink beads. He waved them back and forth in front of her eyes as if attempting to hypnotize her. "Got you a little present, Ma. Another rosary for your collection." 



 

Author Notes Terms:
CSU: Crime Scene Unit - responsible for gathering physical evidence.
Depends: A brand of adult diaper.
Hota: Sioux for grey.
Mortuary: A place in which dead bodies are kept until burial.
Perpetrator: Someone who commits a deed.
Posole: A thick Mexican soup made with pork and hominy.
Unsub: Unknown subject of an investigation.

Thanks again to Tillom for Pour L'amour De Vert

A little longer chapter than usual, so I'm especially grateful for your time.


Chapter 8
Iwaka Moon

By Writingfundimension

Father Brian's dog, Alyx, stood upright on his back legs and boxed the air with his front paws when the priest entered the kitchen. The Sheltie's tail swept the floor furiously and his dark brown almond-shaped eyes shone with joy.

The priest stooped to gather the dog into his arms. "I'm home now, little buddy, and I'll bet you're as hungry as I am, huh?"

In apparent perfect comprehension of the question, Alyx wiggled his butt as a signal to be let down. He pranced across the kitchen tile, nails clicking like miniature castanets, and halted directly in front of the cabinet where his food and treats were stored. Seating himself in a pose suggestive of a satin sphinx, he waited on his master's pleasure.

Father Brian retrieved the dog's ceramic food and water bowls from the Fleur-de-Lis elevated pet feeder he'd purchased because it claimed to aid in a dog's digestion. Once his food and water was in place, Alyx stepped to his food bowl, paused as if to give thanks and dipped his head to eat.

Mrs. Findley, the housekeeper, nearly laid an egg when she first saw the dog 'contraption'. The woman believed dogs belonged outdoors in pens, and was appalled at Father Brian's silly waste of money. Alyx, sensitive to her animosity, hid in the den on her cleaning days.

The priest thanked heaven it was his housekeeper's day off. Her questioning of his whereabouts would likely have ended in the exchange of cross words. Between the horrific scene earlier at Debra Padget's house and the second call from the killer, Father Brian's emotional state was already taut as piano wire.

He crossed to the gas stove, lifted the lid of the stockpot filled with simmering posole, and stirred its contents slowly. A deep inhalation of the sensual aroma of the loosened elixir quickened the need to satisfy his hunger.

But the burst of pleasure evaporated when his cell phone rang from where it lay on the countertop. Father Brian reacted as if he'd suddenly come upon a coiled rattlesnake. Only after determining it was a caller known to him, would he touch it.

His greeting was interrupted by Norma, the parish secretary. "Father, turn on Channel 14 right away! They're interviewing Sheriff Oleson from Debra Padget's home."

He patted the surface of the countertop looking for the remote to the kitchen's small television and finally located it underneath an oven mitt. Quickly, he located the station, his curiosity piqued by how much the sheriff would reveal about Debra's murder.

"That snotty, hot-pants T.V. anchor is making our Sheriff look like an incompetent boob. I'm going to call the T.V. station and complain," Norma's voice shook with indignation.

"Do what you think is right, Norma," Father Brian answered into a dead phone line. 

The televised interview was winding down, and Father Brian leaned in close to the screen as the camera panned the crowd of onlookers. He had only seconds to scrutinize the faces, but with near-certainty, he believed he knew the identity of one that radiated pure malevolence.  

**********

Sheriff Oleson aroused strong reactions in both men and women when he entered a room. His every movement invited comparison to the liquid grace of a cheetah. Military training and the discipline of martial arts contributed to his uncommon demeanor. But, the fact he felt no need to prove himself to anyone made up the larger part of his confidence.

When in uniform, he was the epitome of a 1950's Hollywood lawman: His favorite screen hero was Marshall Will Kane in the movie High Noon. He kept his hair styled pretty much the way he had most of his life, the natural wave tamed with styling gel and sideburns trimmed to an inch below the hairline. There was a little more gray - after all he was 52 - but not nearly as much as some of his colleagues.

As he brought his car to a stop in front of St. Matilde's, he debated the need for a jacket as the weather had turned wet. There was just enough wool in his uniform to put off a nasty smell when damp. But he decided to sprint to the front door and minimize the amount of rain it would absorb.

St. Matilde's rectory was on the historic registry of Granite Mountain. Its white wraparound porch had a cement floor that was freshly painted each year. Planters ran the full length of the wood railings, and still held the mottled remains of the summer's geraniums. Burgundy wicker furniture was stacked beneath the roof's overhang and securely fastened with heavy tarp. 

Father Brian answered the door before the sheriff's second knock. Through the open door, the detective got his first look at the impressive foyer with its crystal chandelier and marble floor covered with Persian rugs faded enough to be the real deal. "Come in, Sheriff," he said with a tight smile that did not trespass the corners of his mouth.

Detective Oleson stepped inside noting the priest had changed his clothing after leaving the crime scene. Although he looked younger in jeans and sweatshirt, he still emanated an invisible barrier of formality.

Once inside, Derek checked his shoes to be sure they were clean of mud. Only then did he offer his hand in greeting to the priest and say, "Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Father. I know this morning was rough on you. Even after twenty years  of this work, I've never gotten used to the emotional impact of violent death."

"I appreciate your understanding, Sheriff," the priest responded while gesturing down a hallway leading to the left. "My study is a good place for us to talk and eat. I've got the fireplace turned on, but if it's too warm, just let me know. I'll set a tray and be along in a few minutes."

The tightness in the detective's chest and shoulders relaxed a little as he settled into the comfortable cushions of the plush tapestry sofa. His stomach grumbled impatiently now that he'd teased it with the possibility of food.

Carrying a mahogany tray, the priest entered the room and set it down on the glass-topped table in front of the couch. "I must warn you that I use a variety of chiles in my posole, Sheriff. I wheedled the recipe from one of the hispanic grandmothers at my parish back in northern New Mexico. The first time I ate it, I learned the hard way that you don't drink cold beverages to still the heat - only makes it worse."

"Thanks for the warning, Father. I like spicy foods, personally. Seem to have a cast-iron gut when it comes to that."

The silence that followed attested to the delicious quality of the stew.

It was spice hot, but the flavor of the pork and hominy balanced the heat with richness.

When the sheriff finished his portion, Father Brian offered another.

"Really delicious, Father Brian, but I'd prefer to get a few questions out of the way. Since you witnessed the 'breaking news', you can appreciate that I have some pressing business back at the Station.

"Ah, yes, the informant. I understand. A mystery I'm sure you'll solve in short order."

Sheriff Oleson took a small black notepad from the attache case he'd brought with him, leaving the top of the case open. He flipped the pages of the notepad then abruptly stilled his movements and fired a question in the priest's direction.

"You dropped quite a bombshell, Father Brian, with your news of another call from the killer. What makes you so sure that's who it was?"

"He referred to details only the killer would know, Sheriff. Besides, I will never forget the man's voice."

"What did he say this time?"

Father Brian stared into the bottom of his bowl, appearing to gather his thoughts. His mouth trembled, and he swallowed several times before answering.

"He implied, Sheriff, that Debra Padget might still be alive if she had never met me."

Characteristically, Sheriff Oleson offered an uncensored, blunt assessment of the suggestion.

"The maniac's trying to confuse you, Father Brian. Wants you to doubt yourself so you can't aid in the investigation."

The priest nodded in comprehension - his troubled spirit absorbing the crumbs of consolation the detective offered.

"Father, I noticed several interesting details in Debra's house that I believe may aid us in determining the psychology of her killer. But I need you to confirm my suspicions."

"Of course, I'll do whatever I can to help your investigation."

"Do you remember if Debra Padget owned a pink rosary?"

"Yes, it was rose-quartz and part of her retirement gift from the parish. In fact, she always kept it hanging from the newel post of her bed." The priest briefly closed his eyes and when he opened them he added, "I don't recall seeing it this morning, Sheriff."

"I don't either, but I need to confirm with the CSU's whether they might have found it and placed it into evidence."

"Another detail is troubling me." He paused to make direct eye contact with the priest. "I'm not a religious person, Father; but it seemed very odd to me that a woman as devout as Debra Padget would have no religious artwork in her home."

The priest blinked rapidly then slowly shook his head in denial of the fact as presented by the Sheriff.

"Debra had pictures of our Lord and the Blessed Virgin all over her house, Sheriff. And over her bed was a valuable cross, I believe it was solid gold."

The Sheriff's cell phone went off, and when he registered the caller was Detective Jana Burke, he excused himself and stepped into the hallway. 

"Yes, Detective Burke."

"We've got a situation I think needs your immediate attention. The guy we picked up from the crowd at the crime scene claims he's Debra Padget's killer. And Detective Newstead is demanding he be allowed into the interview room along with the arresting detectives. Things are getting pretty heated, Sir."

The sheriff slammed his hand against a nearby wall. "Damn that pain in the ass. I'm on my way, Detective. Let everyone know that I'll be the one to conduct the interview. Jana, smart move to call me."

He came back into the den, and explained his reason for interrupting the interview. "I'm sorry, Father, but I've got to get back to the station A.S.A.P. I'll give you a call to schedule another time. I've got a few more things to cover with you."

"No problem, Sheriff.  Ah ... before you go, I think I'm ready to take you up on your offer."

"My offer?"

"Yes, you suggested a police presence outside the rectory.  At this point, I think it would be wise."  

~~ to be continued ~~


 

Author Notes Terms:

CSU: Crime Scene Unit

Iwaka: ee-wak-kah Sioux for babble.

Posole: Mexian soup/stew made with pork, hominy, garlic and chiles.

Sheltie: The Shetland Sheepdog, or "Sheltie: as it is commonly called, is essentially a working Collie in miniature. A rough-coated working dog, he is alert, intensely loyal, devoted and keenly intelligent.

**One of Hollywood's great leading men, Gary Cooper, played Marshall Will Kane in the western classic, High Noon.

Thanks to Tillom for the loan of her artwork.


Chapter 9
A Mato Moon

By Writingfundimension

Sheriff Oleson resisted the urge to activate his patrol car's siren and flashing lights. Doing so would save precious minutes, but he needed to arrange his thoughts and priorities before reaching police headquarters.

His pulse hadn't slowed a beat since Detective Jana Burke's warning of a clash between an aggressive rookie and a senior detective assigned to Debra Padget's case. Derek deliberately lifted one finger after another to encourage his fists to relax their grip on the steering wheel. His mind was a dozen steps into the future when he brought a cardboard container to his lips, and cursed the cold crud he spit back into the cup.

Breaking my own rule about leaving trash in the patrol cars.

The detective sucked a mint to rid himself of the stale coffee taste and corralled his thoughts in the direction of what he knew so far about Debra Padget's murder. One development stood out: The theft of an antique gold cross from the victim's bedroom.

Why steal an item distinctive enough to be easily traced, and leave behind a collection of rare coins in the bedroom dresser?

The smattering of facts floating to the surface of the case presented a conflicted psychological profile of the killer. The man's call to Father Brian before leaving the crime scene had the earmarks of an opening gambit of a twisted psyche. Yet, the killer took time to carefully prepare and pose the corpse – not the act of someone releasing volcanic emotions.

If the man currently in custody proved to be Debra Padget's killer, it would put an end to concerns about the integrity of his Violent Crimes Task Force. But, in their haste to redeem themselves in the eyes of the public, their chief needed to be certain his detectives weren't tempted to make the fantasies of a potential publicity seeker fit the case.

Until he could ferret out the identity of the department's news leak, Sheriff Oleson recognized the wisdom of withholding certain details from the rest of the team. And, in order to avoid any tapping into his private conversations, he contacted dispatch from the sealed confines of his car, and had them patch him through to the forensic pathologist.

Doctor Franklin Bloomquist answered on the fifth ring. “Sheriff Oleson, you saved me a phone call. Just finished Debra Padget's autopsy. Had to piss off a few folks in order to make this a priority, but given the way this case has been handled so far, I thought it best to get the facts straight as soon as possible.”

Derek Oleson's cheeks flushed deep red at the insulting inference that he'd lost control of his murder investigation. But he lived by the adage of picking your fights, and decided to let Bloomquist's verbal jab go unanswered.

"Your initial impressions were that Debra Padget was drugged before being smothered, Franklin. Any idea what type of drug the killer used?"

The tox screen isn't totally complete, but early indications are the killer used a high grade paralysis-inducing drug.”

What exactly does that mean?” The detective's voice held shadings of frustration.

What that means, Sheriff, is the drug had to have been obtained from the anesthesia department of a surgery facility.”

Derek pictured the man currently in custody and wearing hospital scrubs.

Could a technician or nurse secure that kind of drug?”

In the old days before nurses were indistinguishable from the cleaning people, I would have said such a thing was impossible. Still, I'm certain there are rigid security requirements for accessing the type of drug used.”

Right. Anything else you care to share?”

The Coroner's response was unintelligible due to the fact he was concurrently cussing out an underling in the background.

I didn't catch that, Franklin.”

I said your vic wasn't sexually assaulted. The underwear we removed had no signs of semen or other bodily fluids. That doesn't mean he didn't grope her but there were definitely no signs of penetration. You're dealing with one shrewd perp, Sheriff, who likely wore gloves the whole time he was in the house.”

**********

The blonde in the Camaro took her eyes off Sheriff Oleson long enough to freshen her mauve lipstick. Tapping her cheeks to invite color to the surface, she lowered her mirror in time to see the object of her interest exit his car.

Derek was steps from the private entrance to his office when he heard someone hailing him from the parking lot.

Sheriff Oleson, wait up. I need to speak with you!”

The detective viewed the approaching woman with suspicion, concerned she might be another member of the Press. But seeing her tight jeans, stiletto heels and low-cut blouse, curiosity replaced his impatience.

He waited for her to catch up, and tried to keep from laughing at the way her shoes caused her knees to bow outwards, making her look like a creeping crab.

Up close, she wasn't as young as the make-up and clothes were designed to make her appear, but she'd hardly broken a sweat, which was a lot better than he'd do running across a parking lot wearing high heels.

The woman finger-combed her short, wavy hair, giving Derek a chance to admire the rose tattoo on her wrist and her perfect manicure.

"I'm Debra Padget's niece, Darcy Shaw.” Tipping her head and smiling up at him sweetly, she continued, “I figured you'd want to talk with me, especially since I was the last person to see my aunt alive – except for the murderer, of course."

Darcy pulled her lips into a flirtatious pout when the detective made no response.

She playfully swatted his arm and continued, “It was quite a shock to learn of my Aunt Debra's murder over the television and not in person.”

Before he could respond to her complaint, the woman shot a hostile look in the direction of someone behind him. Hearing Jana Burke's voice, Sheriff Oleson thanked the gods for the detective's exquisite timing.

Ms. Shaw, I apologize for the fact you were not notified personally about your aunt's death. I take full responsibility for that,” Jana said, firmly guiding the woman towards the main entrance of the Sheriff's Department. “Let's find a quiet spot, and I can take down all you remember about your last visit with your aunt.”

Quick as a trout following a brook's watery depths, Jana Burke had taken control of the situation, giving Derek time to slip away.

Later, he would ponder the possibility that Jana Burke could only have known the woman was Darcy Shaw if she had been eavesdropping from a hidden location.

~~~ to be continued~~~



Author Notes Terms:
Perp: Perpetrator
Vic: Victim

Thanks, once again, to Tillom for the great accompanying artwork.

Sioux dialect: Mato (mah-doh) Bear


Chapter 10
Kaskeya Moon, Part 1

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

Previously:  Sheriff Derek Oleson is called to headquarters by Detective Jana Burke in the midst of his interview with Father Brian. A new recruit is anxious to make a name for himself by taking over the interrogation of a man claiming to be the killer of Debra Padget. The Sheriff must use cunning and instinct to maintain his authority and control over the case, especially after learning there is a department leak.   

**********

Chet Lapinski tracked the progress of a spider that was soon to discover the error of advancing in his direction. For the moment, he forgot his aching bladder. If he had to wait much longer for two asshole detectives to get their act together, he might be forced to piss his pants.

Bright overhead lights bathed his scalp in heat, and sweat trickled down his chest and back, filling the interrogation room with an acrid tang. 

Where the fuck is everybody?! 

He was ready to confess. Hell, he was anxious to confess. The punk, Detective Newstead, wanted to be the one to record Chet's confession, but Detective Hitchens, the older dude, insisted they wait for Sheriff Oleson. They'd abruptly left the room, and for a while he could hear sounds of an argument going on outside the door. Then nothing for what seemed like hours.

Adjacent to where he sat was a formica table. "Why didn't I think of this before?" he chided himself. Probing its underside, he found no hidden microphones. Though a bit disappointed in the banality of his experiences thus far, he was pleased by his own cleverness.

Swiping his damp palms across the fabric of his pants, Chet splayed his fingers to mimic a woman examining a manicure. He imagined them necklaced around Debra Padget's neck, feeling the final collapse of cartilage as her windpipe disintegrated. His pleasure abruptly skittered back into its dark hidey-hole when he realized there was dirt imbedded beneath the few fingernails he hadn't ripped away with his teeth.

Panic set in. Had he gotten them dirty crawling around outside that bitch's windows looking for a way to get in and punish her for the way she ruined his life? His small pocket knife - the one his daddy had left him - had been confiscated, leaving him with nothing to scrape away the dirt. If he could get to a bathroom, he might be able to get cleaned up before the Sheriff arrived.

A surveillance camera was positioned near the ceiling. Chet grunted on rising from the moulded plastic chair, crossed the room and directed his words toward the blank screen. "I need to use the toilet right now; otherwise, I'm gonna pee all over your nice, clean floor."

In short order the door opened. An angry Detective Newstead pressed his fist into the middle of Chet's back and roughly shoved him through the doorway and down the hall.

"Hey, you're hurting me," Chet whined. "That's police brutality."

Looking around to be sure there were no witnesses, the young detective snarled, "Get used to it, freak. I used to be a prison guard, so I know what's waiting for you. You're gonna be screamin' for your mama every night." He forced the bathroom door open with his boot tip and added, "You've got exactly three minutes." 

********** 

Sheriff  Oleson nudged the metal security door of his private entrance closed behind him. The rectangle of light that oozed from beneath the lowered blinds of his office window gave the room its only light. Derek mentally patted himself on the back for following routine the night before. It gave him a few minutes alone before assuming the mantle of his authority.

He stepped quickly to his computer console, and while it was booting up removed the baton, radio, flashlight and holstered Glock semi-automatic from his duty belt. After typing in the password prompt, Derek prayed the CSU staff had entered the items removed from Debra Padget's home. When the updated file came up, he made a mental note to congratulate them on their efficiency. 

Derek tapped his mouse pad for each item listed. Then he went back and read it a second time, confirming that neither a rosary or gold cross were mentioned in the evidence file. 

A slight shudder accompanied the unwelcome thought that Debra's death might somehow be linked to a series of break-ins at local churches during the winter of 2010. Investigators had concluded it was likely homeless persons trying to avoid freezing to death, but maybe there was something else behind it. Nothing of substantive value had been stolen, though a few of the churches mentioned candles and small crucifixes missing.

Crossing the room to raise the window blinds, he looked out on a bustling squad room and two empty holding cells. Derek hoped to hell that being sequestered in an interrogation room for several hours hadn't agitated Chet Lapinski to the point of unwillingness to cooperate further.

Certain types of killers craved an audience, even if the looks directed at them were contemptuous. Showing up at the crime scene, standing around openly enjoying the proceedings would suggest the man currently in custody was someone looking for that kind of attention. Keeping him out of sight was a bad move on someone's part, and he'd find out in short order the identity of that person.

Case Detective, Ron Jolly, stood near the printer reading a report that had just come across. He looked up in time to meet the Sheriff's stern gaze. The information Detective Jolly held was important, yet his cop's instinct told him it would drop the bottom out of their case. It had apparently fallen on him to be the bearer of bad tidings.

Better get this over with.  

Derek opened the door before his detective knocked. "This is everything available through our database on the suspect, Chester Lapinski, Sir." He maintained a neutral set to his features as he handed the report to his boss. "Personally I think it raises more questions than it answers, but read for yourself."

Other than spending some time in jail for being in arrears of child support payments, Sheriff Oleson found no serious run-ins with law enforcement. The suspect lived with his elderly mother and was employed as a nurse for Care With Compassion, a home healthcare provider, until four months prior.

That's when Chet Lapinski's world came crashing down around him. A series of complaints had been made by elderly shut-ins who claimed they'd been billed for visits Mr. Lapinski had never made to their homes. Once substantiated, Chet's superior, Marion Burdock, had terminated him.

There followed a series of nasty encounters between Chet and Mrs. Burdock, culminating in her obtaining a P.P.O. against the former employee due to threats of bodily harm. Just the evening before, the woman had called 911 to say that someone was attempting to break into her home. Whoever it was had disappeared by the time the police arrived.

Sheriff Oleson looked up from the report without bothering to cover his disappointment.

"I see what you're getting at, Ron. Marion Burdock called in her complaint at 11:37 P.M. and lives half way between Granite Mountain and St. Cloud - a two hour round trip by car. If Lapinski was the burglar, that would make it very unlikely he was the man who killed Debra Padget at or around the estimated T.O.D. of 11:00 P.M. last night." 

Derek let out a long sigh of frustration and rubbed his palm over the top of his head in a rare display of perplexity.

He'd worked with Ron Jolly for ten years, and he trusted the man's instincts largely due to his creative and deductive abilities. Detective Jolly was a decent man, respectful to a fault and loyal. It was this latter quality that prompted Derek to make a spontaneous decision.

"Ron, I want you to sit on this report for now. There's a chance, though small, that Lapinski wasn't the person who attempted to break into Marion Burdock's home. He could still be our perp."

"Yes Sir, I agree. In fact, I contacted Chet's former place of employment on the off-chance that someone there might be willing to talk about his termination." Detective Jolly grinned like a man whose horse just came in first. "I was lucky to get a chatty secretary with, apparently, little regard for HIPPA regulations. When I mentioned I was one of the detectives investigating the murder of Debra Padget, she screamed, 'Oh my God, Oh my God' into the phone."

Partially seated atop Derek's desk and facing him, Ron Jolly continued, "Took a few minutes to get her to calm down, but when I got the gist of what she was referring to, I'll admit to a chill going down my own spine."

"Weird coincidence or important clue, I'm not sure. But the secretary told me the person responsible for the majority of complaints that got Chet Lapinski fired was Darcy Shaw, on behalf of her Aunt Debra."

~~~ to be continued with Part 2 ~~~

Author Notes Please note this is the first part of Chapter Ten. I have separated it into two posts due to length. Thank you for reading!

Cast of Characters:
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church
Alyx: Father Brian's beloved pet Sheltie.
Tony Buday: Medicine Man and Healer living on the local Sioux reservation
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Sheriff of Granite Mountain, MN
Detective Jana Burke: Niece of Tony Buday and veteran Detective of the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department
Detective Ron Jolly: Ten year veteran of the Sheriff's Department
Detective Paul Newstead: Rookie detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department
Detective James Heppner: Senior Detective of the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department
Chester (Chet) Lapinski: The man who claims to have killed Debra Padget
Marion Burdock: Owner of a Home Care Service that employed Chet Lapinski

Terms:
Perp: Perpetrator of a crime
T.O.D.: Time of Death
P.P.O.: Personal Protection Order
HIPPA: Governmental guidelines for the care and privacy of patients.

Thanks, once again, to Tillom for the fine accompanying artwork.

Kaskeya: Arrested (Lakota Sioux) kah-shkay-yah


Chapter 11
Toka Moon, Pt. 1

By Writingfundimension

Your conscience represents to you the divine office which you neglected, by which you fell into the guilt of mortal sin, and how even when you recited it with your mouth your heart was far from Me.

Source: The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Sienna

**********

Previously: In the middle of an informal interview with Father Brian, Sheriff Derek Oleson is called back to Headquarters. The priest does not realize that a man is in custody who claims to be Debra Padget's murderer.

***********


St. Matilde's rectory


Sheriff Oleson's abrupt termination of their meeting left Father Brian with unanswered questions and troubling facts to consider. The priest learned Debra Padget's murderer left behind a valuable coin collection but stripped her walls of inexpensive religious items and an antique gold cross.

The gold cross means quick cash, but what kind of sick need does he have for the rest of it?

Unbidden memories surfaced of a confession he heard in the early years of his priesthood. The penitent claimed to be a Satanist with terminal cancer who hoped to avoid God's wrath. The man's voice was filled with pleasure as he related his deeds, giving rise to doubts about his sincerity. Even as Father Brian spoke the words of absolution, repugnant images insinuated themselves into the priest's subconscious like freeloading relatives.

They returned now with a strange potency, attested to by the slight tremor of his limbs. He stacked the lunch dishes in the sink, poured the last few inches of coffee from the carafe into a mug and placed several cookies on a plate. He'd only gone a few steps before he felt as if he'd walked into the middle of a dense spider web. A quick sweep of his face did not reveal anything visible. Yet, the feeling persisted.

Imagination's in overdrive.

He continued down the hallway to his den with Alyx trailing behind. Father Brian sat down on the couch, patted the cushion, and the dog leaped beside him. Alyx circled and had just found a comfortable spot when a loud pop from the fireplace followed by the thud of collapsed logs startled both of them.

"I'm as jumpy as a cricket, Alyx. You feelin' it, too?" The dog's ears snapped to perfect peaks in response to his master's voice. Father Brian rose to add logs to the fire. With one hand on the mantle and the other in his pocket, he stared into the flames and returned to his thoughts on the case.

Debra Padget was targeted because she was Catholic. He'd known it the minute he saw the communion wafer taped across her mouth. And based on the Sheriff's pointed questions, it was the number one hypothesis on which the investigator was building his case.

It's reasonable to assume I'm a suspect. Sheriff Oleson is an astute detective, and I'm the only one who's heard from the killer. I'll have to admit the man hinted Debra was murdered because of  her association with me. But I don't understand how that could be? Our relationship was in no way inappropriate! 

Father Brian felt a sharp pain at the base of his neck followed by waves of anger that rolled up into his chest. It took all his strength not to obey the urge to grab a figurine of the Virgin Mary from the mantle and hurl it into the flames.

Stop it, Brian. Go to your desk now and finish your paperwork.

Alyx watched his master cross the room and sit down at his desk. The dog jumped from the couch, and moved to his own little bed beneath a nearby window. Soothed by the ticking of the clock and soft rustling of pages, he slept.  

Father Brian opened a desk drawer and took out a monogrammed leather case. He removed his reading glasses, and carefully rubbed each lens with a soft cloth. It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the small print of the Financial Commitee's monthly report. A sticky note was attached to the second page of the report urging a meeting between the committee and Father Brian in the near future. It was signed by Dan Sherman, accountant and financial advisor for St. Matilde's.

Naturally, more bad news.

For the tenth consecutive month, Sunday collections had failed to meet the cost of keeping St. Matilde's operating. Father Brian reconfigured the pages of the financial report he'd been reviewing into a neat stack. Slouched in his chair, he closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose and released a drawn-out breath.

Why not paint a big L for loser on my forehead?

Responsibility for St. Matilde's financial crisis rested squarely on his shoulders. He believed it was the inevitable fall-out of his loss of inspiration and, to a degree, young families being lured to independent churches run by charismatic preachers armed with business savvy.

Brian pampered himself with a rare moment of self-pity. Normally he avoided the spring of secrets that formed the nucleus of his internal life. Although he'd experienced moments of other worldly bliss from fasting and extended prayer, the come-down to a leaden, gray world was the sheer hell of a 'dry' junkie. He preferred the indifference of purgatory.

Brian crossed his arms and grabbed the backside of his shoulders. He dug his fingers deep into the muscles and let out a soft, 'hunhh' as the tension released. A terrible thought intruded to ruin the moment.

Will Debra's murder scare away some of the older parishioners? We can't afford to lose any of them! They're the only ones that give regularly.

Frustrated, the priest stood up with such force, his chair slammed into the wall. Alyx, Father Brian's Sheltie, whined and cowered on his mat. Seeing the sensitive dog's anxiety shamed the priest. Dropping to one knee, he softly whistled for Alyx to come closer.

The dog looked above and around his master's head, and refused to move from his spot. Father Brian previously observed Alyx scrutinize parishioners who came for counselling in this manner. Inevitably, the dog would avoid an angry person or rest his paws on the feet of the sad and lonely.

It hurt Brian that Alyx wanted nothing to do with him after his angry outburst. He was anxious to make amends, so he urged softly,
"I'm sorry I scared you, buddy. How about I make it up to you with a walk in the park?"

Alyx loved going to the park where he attempted to herd the geese as was the nature of his breed. The dog bounded across the floor and licked his master's hand. Brian laid his palm flat. "Friends again?" Alyx delicately placed his paw into the warm palm and barked once.

The Sheltie ran through the doorway, and Brian could hear his toenails clicking as he crossed the kitchen tile. The saying 'I want to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am' was never more true than at that moment.

He remembered he needed to secure the fireplace doors. Turning, he was shocked to see a thick, humanoid shape inches from his face. Despite his housekeeper's insistence the rectory was haunted, until this moment Father Brian had no personal belief in ghosts.

God help me!

Brian crossed himself and firmly proclaimed, "In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, be gone. You have no power to harm one who has been saved by the blood of Jesus the Christ."

The physical effect of the creature's telepathic response was like the terror of a fly trapped between two clanging church bells: Lost agna, vos es iam mei (Lost lamb, you are already mine).


~~ chapter continues with Part 2 ~~

Author Notes Terms:
Satanist: One who claims to worship Satan
Sheltie: Miniature Collie Dog Breed
Telepathic: Communication from one mind to another by extrasensory means.
Toka: Sioux for Hostile

Thanks to Tillom for the use of her artwork.


Chapter 12
Kaskeya Moon, Part Two

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

Previously:

Chester (Chet) Lapinski claims to be Debra Padget's murderer. He refuses to speak with anyone but Sheriff Oleson.

Arriving at headquarters, Derek Oleson learns the suspect was terminated from his employment after being accused of fraudulent service claims by Darcy Shaw, Debra Padget's niece.

********************
HEADQUARTERS, GRANITE MTN. SHERIFF DEPARTMENT

Detective Ron Jolly's persistent digging revealed Chet Lapinski had strong motive for wanting Debra Padget dead. When and how to utilize this information required patience and finesse much like the art of fly-fishing. Devotee Sherrif Derek Oleson had painstakingly nurtured both qualities, and the man in custody was to be pitied if he thought this all a game.  

Detective Jolly's opinion of the suspect, Chet Lapinski, had neither been asked for nor offered. But the detective suspected his superior would soon discover the same troubling discrepancies he had.

Chet Lapinski  acts more like a junkie on a crack high than a cool-headed serial killer.

Derek Oleson uncoiled his spine and stretched to his full height. His demeanor was controlled and his words curt, "Ron, get a copy of your report to Jana Burke, then come find me. I want you to be in the room when I interview Chet Lapinski."

"Sure thing, but you're gonna have a fight on your hands, Sir. Our newest recruit is hot to get the confession."

Ron laughed when he saw the fox-at-the-coop-door look on his boss's face. “Ouch,” he blurted. “I remember getting that look a few times. Knocked me off my high horse and taught me to shut my mouth and open my eyes.” On his feet and moving through the doorway, he continued, “Hope that idiot kid realizes this is the best damned department he'll ever work for!"

Detective Jolly located the room Jana was using to conduct her interview with Darcy Shaw. He rapped lightly on the door.

"Who is it?" He barely heard Jana's raspy reply.

"Sorry to interrupt, Detective Burke. I've got something you need to see."

There was no immediate reply, and he debated whether to knock again or enter uninvited. The door opened just as his knuckles touched its surface. Detective Jana Burke smiled sourly and said, "Can it wait, Ron?"  

He slapped the report against his open palm. “The Boss wants you to have a copy ..." He was prevented from finishing by Jana's dramatic sneeze into the wad of Kleenex in her fist. The overpowering smell of perfume nearly knocked him back.

The perfume's source sat on a couch at one end of the room. By design, his first view of Darcy Shaw was of shapely legs and a pin-up pose. A beat later, he noted how her perfect porcelain smile burned out when she registered the color of his skin.

"This won't take long, Ms. Shaw,” Detective Burke mumbled in the general direction of the woman and pulled the door closed before she could protest.

"Ron, I need a bottle of water. Would you mind grabbing one for me.” Rotating her eyes in the direction of the waiting woman. "And one for the princess, too."

Her eyes were already running down the page of facts he'd provided, so he pulled back the comment on his lips and hurried to the break room. When he returned with the water bottles, Jana appeared revitalized.

She hooked two fingers around the bottle tops and nodded her thanks. "You and Derek gonna interrogate Chet Lapinski together?”

His throat tightened around his words, "Yes, how'd you know?"

Belying the dignity with which she held herself, Ron recognized a fiery pride dampened by disappointment in her unguarded face.

"I know, because it's the way I'd do it." 

**********
"Justice
is a process, not an outcome, Derek." Besides giving him a reason to crawl into the bottom of a bottle of Jack Daniels and stay there for six years, his ex-wife, Janine, had unwittingly given him the mantra by which he conducted himself professionally. She'd come from a long line of Texas lawmen -- her own daddy had been a Texas ranger. After he sobered up, he realized she'd offered him the best damned advice he'd ever gotten.
 
Derek Oleson excelled in his job because he focused on what he was able to manage and assumed the rest was out of his hands. And h
e believed Jana Burke innately possessed this same knowledge. She gave every inch of herself to making a good case, yet was able to distance herself emotionally from the inevitable disappointment of seeing her hard work undermined by a sympathetic jury.

With a rogue rookie on his hands, the sheriff needed Jana to take care of a potential problem in the person of Darcy Shaw. He hoped she understood this wasn't about her being the only female in the department, but a decision based on common sense: Detective Jolly had an uncanny ability to cull the chaff from a criminal's alibi. Together, the two men had a reputation for putting together rock-solid cases.

She
riff Oleson rounded the corner in time to see Detectives Newstead and Hitchens in the midst of a heated conversation. Hitchens stepped away, but Detective Newstead stood his ground.

"Insolence or balls of steel, hard to know with this one," thought Derek.

With a smile to disarm, he dug right in. "I understand you feel entitled to be the one who interviews our suspect, Detective Newstead."
 
"I never said I was entitled to anything, Sir," he countered while jabbing a finger into the air between them. "Most of you have done this hundreds of times. I just want my chance to show that I can pull my weight around here."

The senior detective rarely lost his cool with his employees, but when pressed, he could unleash a sharp verbal hook you never saw coming.
"Really, Detective. It's your professional opinion that I should entrust the confession of someone claiming to  have commited one of the most sensational murders ever seen in this county to a new recruit with less than a year's experience? What kind of a damned fool do you take me for?!"

The rookie reacted like a man who'd stepped in a thick pile of cow shit with his brand new two hundred-dollar boots.

"Here's what you're going to spend your next forty-eight hours doing, Detective. I'm putting you in charge of discovering how details of this investigation were leaked to the press."

Newstead's jaw went slack and he sputtered, "Why are you doing this to me? Can't one of the older guys like Hitchens do that?" Ron Jolly put out his arm in time to prevent Detective Hutchins from launching himself on Newstead.

I
n a tone devoid of any emotion, Derek continued, "You have your orders. Now either comply," holding out his hand, "or surrender your service pistol and badge."

Finally, the gravity of his situation got through to the man. He rushed to make things right. "Please excuse my behavior just now, Sir. I'll have a report on your desk in forty hours, I promise."

Derek's instincts told him the younger man was trouble waiting to hitch a ride with the right opportunity. But without proof, his only recourse was to isolate Detective Newstead from the more active aspects of the investigation.

"I suggest you get moving, Detective. The clock is ticking."

**********
  """"This interview is being conducted on September 13, 2010, at 3:54 P.M. by myself, Sheriff Derek Oleson, in the presence of Detective Ronald Jolly. Let it be noted that Chester Lapinski has been apprised of his constitutional rights, and has waived his right to counsel at this time."

 "Chester, I'm Sheriff Derek Oleson, and this is Detective Jolly."

"Chet ... call me Chet, will ya? Only my father ever called me Chester.  I knew I was in for a beating when he called me Chester."

"Your dad beating you--that happen a lot, Chet?" Derek asked gently.

Eyes bright with desperation, Chet looked away from the sheriff's face to hide the sheen of tears.

"Yes, but never on Sundays! Mama forbade my daddy's drinking being the Lord's Day and all."

Derek probed deeper. "It sounds like your mama could stop your daddy's drinking when she wanted to, Chet. So how come she couldn't stop the beatings?" 

Crossing his arms and caressing his biceps, Chet met the investigator's eyes head on. "Because she enjoyed watching. She'd stand in the doorway and say things like, 'that'll teach you to sass me.' And afterwards, I could hear the bedboard banging against their bedroom wall." 

Derek pulled a single sheet from a file on the table and appeared to study it. In his peripheral vision, he could see Chet Lapinski bouncing his knees like he had a baby in his lap. 

"Says here that you currently reside with your mother. Is that correct, Chet?"

The garbled response was mostly unintelligible.

"Chet, you're going to have to speak up." Pointing to the recording device.

"Are you currently residing with your mother, Chet?"

The suspect rose halfway out of the chair and spat out his words.

"Yes, I live with my mother, okay?! I had my own apartment until that bitch Marion Burdock fired me."

Chet leaned back and stared at the ceiling. "She always had it in for me. She never even gave me a chance to explain my side of the story."

"Is that why you killed Debra Padget? Because she got you fired?"

The suspect's eyes darted about like a man trying to find something familiar in a fog-shrouded landscape.

"The voice said 'Kill Debra Padget' and that's what I did. I walked right up to her front door. It took her a long time to answer because of the wheelchair. She screamed when she saw it was me and tried to shut the door. I stuck my foot out so she couldn't close it all the way. I chased her into the bedroom and choked her with my bare hands."

Derek Oleson kept his voice neutral and friendly, despite his frustration. "After you strangled Mrs. Padget, did you do anything else with her body?"

Chet struggled to pick up the cue. "I...uh...threw a blanket over her body and left the house."

The senior detective placed the paper back into the file, stood up and said, "Detective Jolly will take the remainder of your statement, Mr. Lapinski."

"Say, what's going on here? I don't want to talk with one of your minions. You don't believe me, do you?!"

Before Chet's fingers could make contact with the fabric of Derek Oleson's sleeve, Ron Jolly had the man pinned in his seat.

Sheriff Oleson exited the room, leaving Ron in charge. In the hallway's silence, the fear that had been dodging reason rose in full force. 

Hours wasted entertaining the delusions of a pathetic wanna-be. I've got a hunter on my hands, and all I can do is follow his trail of bodies.


 

 
 



  


    








 

 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 

Author Notes This is the completion of events begun in Chapter 11. I have included a summary of that chapter for those of you new to my novel. Thanks for reading!

Cast of Characters:

Sheriff Derek Oleson: Granite's Mountain's Sheriff
Detective Jana Burke: Member of the Sioux Indian Tribe, and Granite Mountain's only female detective.
Detective Ron Jolly: African American and ten year veteran of the Granite Mtn. Sheriff's Dept.
Detective Paul Newstead: Rookie detective recently hired by Sheriff Derek Oleson.
Chester (Chet) Lapinski: The man who claims to have killed Debra Padget.
Marion Burdock: Owner of a Home Care Service that employed Chet Lapinski.
Father Brian DeShano: Catholic priest

Terms:

HIPPA: Governmental guidelines of privacy for employees and patients.
PERP: Perpetrator of a crime.

Thanks to Tillom for the use of her excellent artwork.



Chapter 13
Owaka Moon, Part 1

By Writingfundimension

Previously:  A man who claimed to be the killer of Debra Padget has been eliminated as a suspect.  While waiting for the coroner's findings and with little in the way of clues, Sheriff Derek Oleson and his team of detectives scramble to apprehend the murderer before he has the chance to kill again.
.
**********


Stanley Eitner pulled his red Impala into a handicap parking space near the McDonald's entrance. He didn't realize how fast he was going until his car jumped the curb and he heard the sound of metal meeting concrete. He jerked upright, more embarrassed than afraid, and backed the car up. When he felt its tires bounce on the pavement, he shut down the engine.

Normally, he would immediately inspect the car's undercarriage for damage. But today was not a normal day.

His muscles fought to stay inert as he searched his pockets for a handkerchief. Ducking his head to avoid the scrutiny of strangers, Stan wiped his cheeks and dabbed
 the circles of tears scattered across the front of his jacket. A sob rose to his lips, but he choked it back for the sake of his dignity.

Get moving, you don't want them to find you like this.

Stanley nudged the car door open and hooked his fingers around the lip of its roof to pull himself upright. Intent as he was in his movements, he didn't notice the skateboarder closing in on his car. The boy managed to correct his trajectory at the last second, and let loose a slew of obscenities as he dodged between parked cars.

"What, you got shit for brains?!" Stanley yelled back. His heart rate soared, and he held on to the door frame until his fright passed.

A young woman with a toddler under one arm and two bags of food clutched to her chest approached him from the sidewalk. "I saw what happened. Are you okay, mister? You're white as a ghost."

"I'll ... be ... fine ..." He patted the air between them for assurance. "Just need a few minutes alone to catch my breath. Sorry about swearing in front of your daughter."

The worry lines about her mouth softened into an impudent grin. "Oh, don't feel bad. Her father's been known to lose his cool in traffic and drop the f-bomb, so she's heard worse."

"I appreciate your concern, young lady, but I can manage from here."

The young mother hiked her daughter higher on her hip and conceded defeat. "Okay -- I sure hope your day gets better!" 
 
When Stanley felt some of his strength return, he shut the car door and moved toward the entrance. His legs responded like congealed jello and he feared he would fall before he reached his goal. Dropping down into the padded seat of a corner booth, he had, again, the impression of being dumped on the barren beach of a forgotten island. 

At twelve-thirty sharp, Jim Duffy and George Anderson, both retirees like Stanley, met in the parking lot and came through the door together. They spotted Stanley at their usual corner booth and waved. Jim stepped into line ahead of George, ordering a mocha cappuccino to go with his Big Mac. His companions referred to it as a 'girly' drink, so he always got an extra large just to rub it in.

George and Jim took seats on either side of Stanley. Engrossed in their debate over the merits of Jim's new graphite driver, neither one noticed their friend's stupefied state. The last to arrive was the fourth member of their lunch group, Chaz Bramer. Seeing the evil grin on Jim's face, Chaz braced for the usual trash talking.

"Say, Chaz, need me to give you a reminder call next time?" sniped Jim Duffy.

Chaz gave it right back. "Ah, for criminy sake's, Jim. It's not like you have anywhere to go after this. I'm worthless before noon and you damned well know it. Wait 'til you get to be my age, you'll find out."

"I am your age, you old fart!"

When Stanley didn't join in the laughter, Jim worked a little harder to keep the vein of humor going. He twisted his body sideways, his face contorted into a mock-strain, "Constipation getting' you down, Stan?"

Chet and George snickered, but the humor died on the vine. Stanley remained motionless.

"Hey, Stan," Jim said as he gently laid his hand on his friend's shoulder, "Something bothering you?"

The three men were alarmed when they observed the red blotches that sprouted on their friend's cheeks..

"Something awful has happened to Debra," was all the stricken man could manage.

They all knew the Debra he referred to was Debra Padget. Stanley had been sweet on her ever since their years together at St. Matilde's school where he'd done double duty as basketball coach and history teacher.

Jim quickly responded, "God, Stan, has she had another stroke?"

Stanley slammed a fist on the table, drawing glances of disapproval from a nearby family. "Don't you people watch the news?"

"Hey, take it easy, Stan. We had an early tee time and came straight here from the golf course." The three men leaned in close to Stan as a show of support. "Tell us," George urged. 

"I don't have any details. I called her home at six thirty to see if she needed me to pick up any extra groceries." His prominent Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed vigorously to keep control of his words.

"I was surprised when a male voice answered the phone. Since I didn't recognize the voice, I asked who he was. He said he was with the Sheriff's Department and Debra was not able to come to the phone."

Stanley covered his face with his hands then he dropped them into his lap. His torso bounced like a yo-yo between the table and his seat back. "I asked if she'd been taken to the hospital and the man said … he told me ... 'No, Sir. I'm sorry but that's all I can tell you at this time. The Sheriff will likely be making a statement later today.'

"I dressed and rushed over to her house. There were police cars blocking the street and yellow crime scene tape around Debra's house. I tried to find out something from one of the officers present but he brushed me aside when I admitted I wasn't a relative."

My only thought was to go to the rectory to see if Father Brian had any information. Though I rang the bell a dozen times, the only sound I heard was the barking of a dog.

The concerned looks on his friends' faces worked like the handles of a spigot, filling his eyes with tears. He pulled out his hankie and wiped his cheeks.

"Stan, have you eaten anything today?" Jim's voice was tight with concern.

When Stanley didn't answer, George unwrapped his own burger and put it into his friend's hands. "A stress like this can put you into diabetic crisis, Stan. Eat this hamburger," he urged. 

The distraught man looked at the object in his hands as if it was a moon rock. "I'm not sure it'll stay down, George. I wanna puke when I picture her lying on cold steel while the coroner cuts her body up looking for clues."

"The coroner is involved? What the hell is going on, Stan?!"

"Debra was murdered last night. They --  the newspeople --  say she was tortured and mutilated."

Chaz Bramer's coffee cup hit the table and, like a tower without a foundation, it came to rest on its side, sending brown liquid rivulets in multiple directions.

**********

A man wearing sunglasses made his way past their table. His cane tapped rhythmically on the floor tiles. The hand that held the cane was tattood with a peace sign. He loved playing the role of the flower child who'd tragically lost his eyesight in 'Nam.

He moved slowly and carefully -- just as he imagined a blind person would -- in the direction of the transit bus waiting in front of the restaurant. He avoided touching any of the homeless people who rode the bus to keep warm, not that any of them would come within a foot of him. He was last to enter, and at the top step, he greeted the driver, "Greg, my man, how's it hangin?"

The bus driver crossed his arms, unaware the contempt that wreathed his features was noted and filed for future reference."I ain't your man, Eddie. How many times do I have to tell you that?!"

A mocking smile accompanied the mental picture of Greg lying at his feet, throat slit from ear to ear. Eddie enjoyed his fantasy a few seconds longer, then seated himself behind the  bus driver.

Greg felt his arms grow goosebumps as a blast of cold air hit him from behind. Later he would tell his wife that it felt like he walked into a meat locker.

Author Notes Terms:
Driver: Golf Club
Big Mac: Proprietary name of a hamburger.
McDonald's: Fast food restaurants.
Trash Talking: Goading

Owaka: Lakota Sioux for battleground

A special thanks to Tillom for the use of her artwork.


Chapter 14
Owaka Moon, Pt. 2

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

Previously: A man who claimed to be responsible for the murder of Debra Padget is eliminated as a suspect. Sheriff Derek Oleson calls a meeting of his team of detectives working the case in order to regroup and focus their efforts on finding the real killer before he strikes again.

**********


Twelve hours lost, evidence deteriorating and a killer inflamed by publicity. Sheriff Oleson suppressed the urge to thrash Chet Lapinski for insinuating himself into his case with a false confession. His people had wasted precious energy, and pinned their hopes on a man who was one shoe shy of a pair. As much as he wanted to charge Lapinski with obstructing a police investigation, he kicked him loose to focus on finding the real killer.

Due to a department leak, the Sheriff's office was under the jaded scrutiny of the press who'd already disclosed a fissure in his camp.

As case commander Derek felt there was a gun to his head, and his instinct was to use the power of his office to raise some hell. But first, he needed to find out which of his detectives he could still trust.

He drained the remnants of a soft drink, then squeezed the aluminum can between his fingers, watching the veins of his hand swell with the sudden influx of blood. Dropping the mauled object into a trash can, he turned to find an emptied hallway.

A check of his watch indicated enough time to duck into his office before the Task Force meeting. He tucked his legs beneath the chair,  drew a notebook from his pocket and laid it flat, using a paperweight to prop it open.

This was Derek's first time alone since leaving the crime scene, and his fingers frenetically responded in urgent need to download impressions and feelings into a private file. When his watch alarm beeped, he forwarded the file to his home computer.

The detective always slept fitfully for the duration of an investigation; it was just the way he was wired. The list was his version of hot milk when sleep eluded his grasp and thoughts nudged him toward panic. And it offered the additional benefit of scrubbing his mind of impediments to a fresh perspective.

Now he felt ready to turn his team's disappointment to determination.

**********

Senior detectives, Epstein, Jolly and Morales huddled at one end of a conference table. To a man, their faces showed strain, their body language that of a trio of coyotes converging on a fresh carcass as they compared case notes from the canvass of the victim's neighborhood. Little of interest came up, certainly nothing obvious, as most of the people interviewed were in a state of shock.

Detective Enrique 'Rick' Morales rubbed his knuckles across the Sheriff's Department patch on his sleeve and spoke with firm conviction. "This perp blends into the background like a cockroach hiding in a dark corner. He's gonna' be a bitch to profile."

Ron Jolly wrote B.I.T.C.H. across the top of his pad and underlined it three times. "I'm in total agreement. He slipped in and out without leaving any trace of his presence except for the communion hosts and weird body painting. I think it's a pattern he's bound to repeat..."

"Unless we catch him first, Ron," interjected Sheriff Oleson from the open doorway of the conference room. Skeets Epstein had seen the knob move, so he was prepared for the sudden entrance. But the other two detectives were taken by surprise.

"Dammit, Boss, would you quit with the ninja moves, already?" Ron blurted to cover his embarrassment at being caught flat-footed. Epstein laughed to the point of choking, which only drew a menacing look from his colleague.

Derek's blue eyes glittered with mischief. "What can I say, Ron? You  should know by now I'm a man of many talents."

Ron gave up a smile in response. "Yes, Sir, that ... you ...are."

Sheriff Oleson claimed the seat at the head of the table, put on his reading glasses and opened a file he'd brought with him. Head lowered and eyebrows arched in perfect imitation of a perturbed professor, he queried, "Where's Jana?"

Morales, who often partnered with Burke, perceived the remark as a criticism of Jana's professionalism and rushed to defend her. "She's only just finished with the Darcy Shaw interview!"

The older man accepted the obvious loyalty behind the words, so he chose to let the remark pass.Taking one of the crime scene photos from the top of his neat pile of papers, Derek walked to the 'evidence' board and placed magnets at the four corners of the picture then stepped back.

The victim looked like a sleeping drag queen. "What we know so far," tapping his finger on the photo, "is that Debra Padget had no known enemies. She was confined to a wheelchair and relied on the charity of neighbors and friends. It's likely she was conscious, if only briefly, during the attack and aware she was about to die."

He paused to allow everyone present to absorb the impact of that terrible thought before continuing. "Here's our preliminary data." The room was silent except for the sound of a marker sliding against board as Derek listed the bullet points:

   1. Confined to a wheel chair
   2. Any number of daily visitors
   3. Comfortable but not wealthy
   4. A lifelong Catholic
   5. Former employee of St. Matilde's
   6. No children - one surviving relative (Darcy Shaw)
   7. Niece claims the victim often left her doors unlocked
   8. Early estimate of T.O.D. between midnight and 3 A.M.
   9. No signs of sexual assault
 10. Smothered with a pillow after injection of a paralytic drug
 
11. Face painted, body posed
 
12. Lips sealed by a communion host taped to the skin
 
13. Money left untouched, religious objects removed from home

Sheriff Oleson asked over his shoulder, "Any thoughts?" The words were lost in the sound of a door opening. Detective Jana Burke entered the room and hastily seated herself.

"Sorry I'm late. Father Brian came to the station looking for you, Sir." She pushed a folded sheet of paper across the shiny surface of the table in Derek's direction. "When I told him you were in an important meeting, he scribbled this note. Insisted I give it to you right away."

Derek picked up the note -- what he read made his gut twist a little tighter:

Sheriff

I need to speak with you as soon as you're free. I believe the killer is going to kill again VERY SOON. No matter the time, call me!

Father Brian

 

**********

Author Notes The optimal time frame for solving a case is within the first forty-eight hours.

Terms:
Perp: Perpetrator
T.O.D. - Time of Death

Owaka: Lakota Sioux for battleground

Thanks to Tillom for the use of her artwork.


Chapter 15
Yusice Moon

By Writingfundimension


**********
Readers please note: Jana Burke and her uncle, Tony Buday, are Lakota Sioux. I have chosen to include the Sioux dialect here without providing an immediate translation.  You will find their meaning and proper pronounciation in the Author's Notes.  Thank you!  

**********

Jana Burke exited the Sheriff's Department alone. The detective's vehicle was parked a good distance from the building in a part of the lot reserved for daytime employees. Once she was satisfied no strangers lurked about, she stepped into the open.

A breeze laced with moisture lifted her hair where it escaped her wool cap. She looked to the sky, hoping to see the first stars of the evening, but low-lying clouds denied her this simple pleasure.

The night's sounds nudged aside her worries, and she opened her senses to Wakatanka's gifts: the percussive love calls of crickets, reminiscent of a native drum beat, the pepper-sharp smell of fall leaves, and the distinct spice of apples split apart by foragers.

"Hwaah," she grunted when a small shape whooshed past her face and brushed the top of her head.

Hupaki Glake -- drawn to my body's heat. Time to go.

After securing her briefcase, she climbed onto the seat of her Jeep. Her last precaution was to unlock the glove box to allow for easy access to the Beretta 90-Two stowed there before starting up the engine.

Just in case.

It was twenty-eight miles from the Sheriff's Department to the home she shared with her uncle on the Lakota reservation. The last leg of the drive was through reservation land where felled trees lay in abstract compositions that lent a touch of elegance to the rough landscape.

The 'flats', as they were called, offered natural protection for herds of sitehaska, and Jana automatically slowed her speed. Though it was windy, the swaying cattails could signal an animal poised to emerge from the tar-black shadows beyond her headlights. Thoughts darted in and out, fleet as a school of minnows, splitting her awareness between the road and all that she'd heard at the Task Force meeting. 

As murderers go, this guy was almost gentle. He incapacitated Debra Padget with a powerful drug and smothered her with a pillow. There were no signs obvious of sexual trauma. Was the drug used to keep her from fighting him so he wouldn't have to get more violent ? Or to keep her still while he painted her face and dressed her up to look like she'd been embalmed, before smothering her?

These and other questions would consume Jana's waking thoughts, even her dreams. None of her colleagues wished to jinx the case by saying as much, but the young detective suspected Debra Padget's killer was just getting started.

They had their assignments for the following day: Epstein would go back to interview Debra's neighbors; Jolly would check out all the local surgical centers for missing drugs; Morales would scan the data base for crimes matching theirs and Jana was to dig deeper into Debra Padget's background. The Sheriff indicated he would pursue the religious angle with Father Brian.

Detective Burke rarely held back information, but she'd decided to withhold something from her fellow detectives, even if they'd been open to such matters. In large part, the decision was due to her inability to articulate what amounted to little more than an impression of how Father Brian looked as he rushed to intercept her at the Station.

The priest's expression was serious, which was appropriate for the circumstances. What bothered her, though, was the way his features appeared fuzzy, similar to a face through a lens just before you get the camera into focus. After he started to speak, the phenomenon disappeared, but an uneasiness lingered.

In truth, she'd approached the priest with a bit of personal bias. Her uncle spent many hours in the priest's company, and considered the wasicu a good friend. But her medicine-man uncle would agree that spiritual people were particularly prone to demonic attacks.

I wonder if Father Brian bears closer scrutiny?

She pulled into a slot next to her uncle's flat-bed truck, and walked through the breezeway connecting the garage to rest the house. She'd noted the single lamp burning over the dining table as she navigated the gravel driveway. Once inside the house, she was surprised to find her Uncle Tony seated at the table, separating out piles of dried herbs.

As a sign of respect, she waited for the Elder to speak first.

He paused in the middle of his task, placid eyes and relaxed features offering a port in the storm. "Hau, my sister's daughter."

She bowed her head slightly. "Hau, my mother's brother."

Jana's uncle gestured towards the stove. "There's rabbit stew for your enjoyment." He kissed his fingertips and pursed his lips, "Very tasty if I do say so myself."

As if on cue, her stomach growled and they both laughed.

"I'm going to take a shower first, Uncle. And then I'd love to have a bowl of that stew -- and some chamomile tea, if you don't mind?" Tony nodded in approval, and watched her move in the direction of her bedroom, noting the bulge of a gun at her hip. He would never pry or expect her to tell him about her case, but he'd seen the news reports and knew what kind of effort it took for her to appear calm.

He rose from his chair and moved to the stove, turning on the gas flame to start the stew simmering. A cold draft moved past him, instantly putting him on alert. Looking around, he saw the door to the breezeway was ajar.

That's odd. I recall Jana securing the deadbolt after she came into the kitchen.

Tony locked the door, setting the deadbolt in place, and returned to  praying over his herbs, soon lost in meditation.

When the overhead light dimmed three times, he chalked it up to the aged state of his electical wiring and resumed his task. But when it happened a second time, he rose from his chair with the intention of checking out the breaker.

The Elder had not gone one step before a sound, similar to a distant train approaching, caused him to cock his head in puzzlement. The sound mounted in intensity and he felt as if a horde of crazed bees probed for a way to get into his skull. He fell back in the chair, gripping his head in agony.

Raising one palm to the table's surface, Tony fought to make his fingers inch forward until they reached the mound of blessed sage. He squeezed the sage and tried to speak, but his mouth was paralyzed. Summoning every bit of his strength, he commanded with his inner voice, "Iyena Ekta ... Iyena Ekta ..."

It seemed to take forever for the din to fade, and finally, disappear. Stunned, the old man closed his eyes and breathed rhythmically until the pain in his ears receded.

When his thoughts regained some order, he made his way gingerly toward his bedroom. What he would say to Jana, he wasn't sure. Certainly, he didn't want to worry her unnecessarily, but he'd dealt extensively with unnatural energies in his role as tribal healer. This ... this was intelligent and wily ... as predatory an energy as he had ever encountered, and, with unaccustomed dread, he realized it was far from through with him.

**********

Diary Entry: 

The cross is beautiful. I wish that I could lay it upon your chest, but they would say that your grievous sin defiles all sacred symbols.

The ignorant cow had it hanging on a nail above her bed, oblivious to its import. But I knew it was waiting for me.The Lord wanted me to have it as a sign my mission is pleasing in His sight.

Its metal is pure and details exquisite. Surely Christ guided the old Master's fingers to convey the agony of flesh ripping in slow increments from bone, and blood streaming from a thousand open sores. As I kiss the twisted feet, I dream that it is upon your lips my mouth lingers.

By the next full moon I will lie once more by your side, my darling. And for the vipers who perverted our love, who made you doubt its beauty, Satan makes ready their welcome.

Eternally yours



Author Notes Sioux Translation:
Hau: Hello (hah ue)
Hupaki Glake: Bat (hue pah kee glah kay)
Iyena Ekta: Enough, Go Back (ee yah nah -- ay kdah gnee)
Sage: An herb used for healing and protection.
Siteyaska: White-tailed deer
Wasicu: White person
Wakantanka: Great Spirit
Yusice: Ruin (yue shee chay)
Thanks to Tillom, once again, for the wonderful artwork.


Chapter 16
Inyang Moon

By Writingfundimension

**********

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.

Author Notes Inyang: Lakota Sioux - to track
Thanks once again to Tillom for the great artwork!


Chapter 17
Nagi Moon

By Writingfundimension

***************
Previously:

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 good 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."

***************

"I'm telling you a man was seated in front of your fireplace when I walked into this room," Sheriff Oleson insisted. "Were you counselling someone who didn't want to be recognized and left through another door, Father?"

The priest lifted his chin a fraction. "Only one entrance to this room, Sheriff, and no other persons have been in this rectory since I returned from the police station."

Glancing downwards, his voice shook a bit. "My housekeeper insists the rectory is haunted." He tried for a smile as he met the Sheriff's hard look. "In the old days, priests favored the loose-fitting black cassocks most of the time. It would make sense that our resident ghost would be a priest."

"I don't believe in ghosts." Derek Oleson's jaw was clamped so tight his words came out in chunks. "But ... I do believe that Debra Padget's murderer ... convinced as he is of your mutual understanding ... might decide to pay you a visit."

"If it is God's will then nothing on this earth can keep him from me," the priest insisted.

The detective was too exhausted to argue. Making a last-ditch effort to impress upon the priest the gravity of the situation, he warned, "A psychopathic killer's real pleasure lies in making his victims suffer. If this guy is like the others I've dealt with, your death would be slow and infinitely more painful than you can imagine. Maybe God's okay with that, but I'm not."

Father Brian gasped when the detective pulled a firearm from the holster tucked into the small of his back. "Is that really necessary?! I've already told you ..."

A finger to his lips, Derek tilted his head in the direction of the hallway in an unspoken directive for the priest to vacate the room. Though he resented being ordered about in his own home, he chose to comply.

The sheriff kept to the outer edges of the room as he made his way to the two sets of French doors that flanked the fireplace. They were of thick oak and curtained to contain the sunlight. He checked first one door, then the other, proving them securely locked. Derek slid the curtain panels of one set of  doors aside, and the entirety of the rectory's rear property was visible through the panes of glass. Due to its natural slope, anyone attempting escape through the doors would face a drop of approximately fifteen feet unto a concrete slab. Possible, but not likely.

He crept toward a corner closet and stood alongside, listening for any sounds of movement. Slowly, he tried the knob and finding the door unlocked, he nudged it wide, gun ready. The room was filled with storage boxes from floor to ceiling, leaving no room for a grown man to hide. The investigator checked the ceiling for a trapdoor and finding none, he holstered his weapon. Returning to the center of the room, Derek motioned for Father Brian to re-enter while he surveyed the entire seating area from that vantage point.

"I'm curious, Father," he queried. "The chair in question isn't turned in the direction of the couch, like the other one. Instead, it's facing the fire. Why is that?"

"I moved it closer to the fire for warmth." The cleric tapped his knee. "Helps with the joint pain." 

I'm not buying it, Padre. But I'll let it slide for now.

Derek finger-combed his brushcut, exposing an irregular, angry scar along the underside of his forearm. Father Brian's impression was of skin mangled by dull metal. A beat before he looked away, Derek caught his stare. "Long story," the detective said as he absently rubbed the scar. "I forget it's there sometimes ... but I never forget who gave it to me."

He chose a seat in the middle of the couch, leaving Father Brian with no choice but to sit in a chair directly across from him. "It's been a long day and we're both tired, Father. Whatever I saw can wait until another time. Let's get started, and you can fill me in on the second phone call from the killer and why you think he's going to murder again."

Unbuttoning the flap of his breast pocket, the detective retrieved a notebook and recording device. When he activated the device and placed it on the table between them, a vein spasmed in the priest's right temple.

"As I mentioned earlier, Father Brian, this is an informal interview, which you have requested to be conducted in your home: the rectory of St. Matilde's Catholic Church."

"That is correct, Sheriff. Is it necessary for you to tape our conversation?"

The sheriff nodded. "It's standard procedure these days."

"In that case," reaching inside his blazer pocket and retrieving a similar device, "I, too, would like to record our conversation. The killer has chosen to confess his actions to me, and I want to be sure nothing gets screwed up in translation."

"Do you have reason to believe I may misrepresent the facts, Father?"

"Not at all, Sheriff. But you must understand the killer may consider his conversations with me as completely confidential, just as they would be in a confessional. It would be a shame to get this guy to trial only to have pertinent information thrown out if he claimed to believe everything he told me was 'client' privilege."

"That's the only reason you want to tape our conversation?"

"What other reason would I have, Sheriff."

Derek's eyes were like two blue marbles set atop molten mounds. "I'm working on that, Father."

A grandfather clock in the hallway chimed eleven times giving the room its only sound as Sheriff Oleson scanned his notes. Finally, he turned his attention back to the interview.

"I found an item at Debra Padget's house that I believe holds one of the keys to why she was killed. In her curio cabinet was a trifold picture frame with the center snapshot removed. The remaining pictures led me to think they'd been taken at her retirement party. Were you attached to St. Matilde's when Debra Padget retired?"

"I was an assistant at that time -- the pastor was Monsignor Lew Flaherty." He rubbed the gray stubble along his jaw and stared at a point in the distance. "As I recall, Debra Padget and Coach Stanley Eisner, both retired at the same time."

"Wait a minute." Prickles of energy moved along Derek's spine. "Wasn't Lew Flaherty known to have been a pedophile by Catholic authorities, even before his placement at this parish?"

"Yes, that has unfortunately been proven to be the case. Your predecessor, Sheriff Manton, investigated complaints by three separate sets of parents from St. Matilde's, and arrested Monsignor Flaherty. He was convicted of statutory rape, but died after serving less than a year in prison."

Brian felt a sudden surge of his pulse. "Sheriff, you don't think ... dear God in heaven ... what if Debra Padget and Stanley Eisner chose to retire in the midst of the scandal because they knew about Monsignor Flaherty's crimes?!"

Author Notes Characters for this chapter:
Father Brian DeShano: Catholic priest - pastor of St. Matilde's
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Sheriff of Granite Mtn., Minn. The lead detective investigating the murder of one of the parishioners of St. Matilde's - Debra Padget.
Debra Padget: Murder victim. A shut-in and personal friend of Father Brian.

Terms:

Monsignor: A roman Catholic prelate
Nagi: Sioux for Shadow (nah-ghee)
Rectory: The residence of a parish priest

Thanks to Tillom for the use of her artwork!

Treat Alert: I recommend lovers of fantasy/fiction check out a great novel by the very-talented barking dog (this was neither solicited nor renumerated by b.d.).


Chapter 18
Yaza Moon

By Writingfundimension

********************
Previously: 

"Wait a minute." Prickles of energy moved along Derek's spine. "Wasn't Lew Flaherty known to have been a pedophile by Catholic authorities, even before his placement at this parish?"

"Yes, that has unfortunately been proven to be the case. Your predecessor, Sheriff Manton, investigated complaints by three separate sets of parents from St. Matilde's, and arrested Monsignor Flaherty. He was convicted of statutory rape, but died after serving less than a year."

Brian felt a sudden surge of his pulse. "Sheriff, you don't think ... dear God in heaven ... what if Debra Padget and Stanley Eisner chose to retire in the midst of the scandal because they knew about Monsignor Flaherty's crimes?!"

********************


The homicide detective's features darkened perceptibly. "Does Stanley Eisner still live in the area, Father?"

"He winters in Florida, but doesn't leave until after Christmas. We crossed paths last week at Debra Padget's house."

Derek wasted no time in dialing the station.

"Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department."

"This is Sheriff Oleson, Frank. Run me through tonight's duty list."

Desk Sergeant, Frank Tanner, answered the command with the same laid-back response he'd give a waitress asking how he wanted his coffee."I'll have to get it from your office, Sheriff, but I think your door is locked."

"Frank, this is urgent. Patch me through to any patrolman hanging around the bullpen."

"Don't see anyone handy, Sheriff."

"Check the toilets, break room and every damned office in the place until you find someone I can talk to. When I say urgent, that means I want it done yesterday!"

"Uh, yessir, of course ... uh ... do you want to hold?"

"Frank --"

"On it , Sir."

Derek furiously drummed his fingers along the taut line of his thigh muscles as his thoughts collided like a freeway pile-up. He put a hand over the receiver and asked, "Do you have access to Stanley Eisner's address, Father?"

Without speaking, Father Brian picked up a pad from a nearby end table and scrawled the information across the top page. Tearing it from the pad, he bent and handed it across to the detective.

"You know Stanley Eisner's address by heart?"

"Stanley's a church Board member," Father Brian clarified, "and last Sunday he hosted a 'coffee' for myself and two new board members at his home."

Derek's response was cut short by a familiar voice."This is Officer Blakely, Sheriff. I understand you've got an urgent matter ..."

"I've reason to believe the man who murdered Debra Padget may be about to kill his second victim. I want you to take a partner and get to 3435 Maple Court. DO NOT use either lights or siren. Be prepared but not aggressive. We don't want to push the perp into a hostage situation."

The young officer responded in a tense voice. "I understand, Sir. But what if we're too late?"

"Follow policy and secure the crime scene. I'm approximately ten minutes away." Derek sprang to his feet, shoved his notebook and recording device into his pockets and hurried toward the rectory entrance.

Father Brian followed closely, and while the sheriff laced-up his boots, the priest could only think to say, "I'll keep a prayer vigil."

The air around and between the two men grew oppressively thick, and Derek felt a jab between his shoulder blades sharp enough to elicit a gasp.

The priest moved closer and spoke in a low, strained tone. "Something wrong, Sheriff?"

Derek shook his head in the negative, straightened and reached for his jacket. He'd had enough of the bullshit going down in the rectory, and was anxious to get on with his job.

"Say your prayers if you think that'll help, Father." Patting his holstered weapon, he added, "While you're at it, ask God to help me hit my mark."

********************

Stanley Eisner refused his friend, Jim Duffy's, offer to stay the night with him despite making a strong case for the adverse effects of emotional trauma. Jim went so far as to suggest that Stanley might need someone nearby when more details of 'poor Debra's' last hours became known to the public.

The intensively private man insisted he would be safe by himself. Jim relented only after Stanley promised to go straight home after a stop at the chapel to say a rosary for the repose of Debra's soul.

Two other people were in the chapel as Stanley entered. Neither reacted to his presence. He collapsed into the corner of the last pew feeling as if he'd run a marathon. He reached into his back pocket for his leather rosary pouch. As fingers moved steadily across the beads, he hoped his desperate prayers would mend the torn edges of his shattered spirit.

Abhorrent mental pictures of Debra's last hours triggered a tortured mix of rage and despair -- feelings he'd wrestled into silence the previous decade. He raised accusing eyes to the exposed Eucharist and chastised God.

How could you let this happen to such a faithful believer?

His throat ached to release a painful knot of tears, but Stanley would not allow it. They were the precursor to the knowledge Debra was utterly gone from his life -- a fact he would not accept. He hurried from the chapel to his car, and returning home, kept himself busy readying the garden beds for the coming winter months. Twice he felt a fluttering of his heart and pressure on his sternum, but each time, the pain subsided as quickly as it came.

After a light supper, he showered and took his nightly sleep aid. He chose the living room over his bedroom, and switched on the television, clicking until he found the twenty-four hour music station. He knelt on the couch and reached behind it for the thick quilt and goose down pillow stored in a wicker basket. He stretched out the full length of the couch. The room was dark except for the colorful nature scenes that accompanied the changing tracks of music.

Lulled by the warmth of the blanket and the soft feathers beneath his head, Stanley felt the familiar lethargy of the sleeping pill. Just on the edge of sleep, a sudden thought caused him to jerk upright in a panic. I forgot to call Debbie and make sure she's okay for the night.

The awareness he'd dueled with all day came roaring to the surface. "It's wrong ... ALL WRONG!" he screamed to the ceiling. Hugging his knees to his chest, he rocked back and forth, keening like a stricken animal. It was no longer important to keep up appearances, and there was no one to judge the broken-hearted child Stanley thought he'd banished.

Tears spent, he fell back against his pillow and waited for sleep to free him from his living nightmare. He brushed it off and tried to relax.

But when an incredible pain tore into his armpit and down his arm, he knew he needed to get help. Fast! 
Oh my God, I think I'm having a heart attack.

Efforts to rise from the couch only made the pain worse. In desperation, Stanley dropped onto the floor and began to roll in the direction of a phone.

He'd only managed to go several feet before falling backwards, his entire body rigid with pain. As he closed his eyes, an advancing black void swallowed his mind's light. A pounding at his front door kicked the darkness back.

"I hope they're not too late..."

Author Notes Term:
Yaza: Sioux for ache (yah zah)

Characters:
Father Brian DeShano: Catholic priest.
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Granite Mtn. Sheriff
Debra Padget: Murdered woman
Stanley Eisner: Friend of Debra Padget's
Jim Duffy: Stanley Eisner's friend

Thanks to Lndslmn for the fantastic accompany artwork: Worm.


Chapter 19
Tanika Moon

By Writingfundimension

Sheriff Derek Oleson doubted most civilians appreciated the emotional fallout of being in law enforcement. Divorce, depression, and poor health due to the traumatic stress dogged veteran cops -- all for a salary paying slightly more than the manager of a Seven Eleven.

The best detectives would tell you they couldn't conceive of doing anything else. And if pressed for a reason, they'd look at you with battle-weary eyes and give you a bare smile ... remembering a mother's tears of gratitude when the remains of a murdered child were returned at long last.

Debra Padget's body would be released by the Coroner in the next twenty four hours. Derek pictured the niece, Darcy Shaw, soaking up the limelight of a high-profile funeral, and then sashaying off to gorge on the pickings of her aunt's estate. He'd witnessed the phenomenon many times, yet the cunning blonde stood out, even in that group of ghouls.

If I find out you're connected in any way with your aunt's murder Darcy Shaw, you'll be sorry you were ever born.

He approached the location provided by his GPS, parked behind a mobile medical unit and hurried inside. Jack Means, the county's best Emergency Medical Technician, was kneeling on the floor next to Stanley's body. He cradled Stanley's head in his hands and slid a device beneath his neck in order to keep an open airway.

No face paint, no communion hosts. What happened here?

Rather than question the E.M.T., Derek looked around for one of his men. A uniformed officer was on the phone with only his back visible. The officer's stature and stance seemed familiar and when he finished his phone call and approached, Derek's face drained of all its color.

Detective Newstead spoke rapidly hoping to fend off the Sheriff's rage."Before you jump all over me, I'm here because I was the only one available to accompany Officer Blakely. My cousin Officer Rybeck's son had his appendix out and I offered to take his shift tonight."

Derek was too tired to dig to the bottom of what he suspected was a pile of shit. 

"What did you find when you got here?"

"We found the vic ... I mean ... Mr. Eisner lying on the floor, barely conscious.  While Officer Blakely called for an ambulance, I did what I could to make him comfortable ..."

Sherrif Oleson snapped, "You messed with a crime scene?!"

"No, sir. Upon arriving here, we quickly secured the perimeter of the house. The doors and windows were all locked with no signs of forced entry. We pounded on the front door and identified ourselves as police officers and got no response."

Detective Newstead paused, fully expecting his senior officer to find fault in some way. When none was forthcoming, he continued. "Due to the serious nature of the situation, we felt it prudent to enter the residence and ... uh ... kicked in the front door. We found Mr. Eisner about as close to death as I've ever seen." He pointed to the living room. "The E.M.T.'s believe he's had a massive coronary."

All the fatigue the adrenaline shoved aside came roaring to life. Derek realized it was time to retreat and regroup. 

"I want you to park yourself at the hospital. Do not let the man out of your sight."

The young detective displayed obvious relief, but his superior was not yet done with him. 

"Detective Newstead, you 'played' this just the way I would have.  Good job."

"Thank you, sir." He tipped his cap and smiled.

**********

Dawn's light hunkered beyond the window, anxious to press itself forward like an itinerant preacher's healing hands. Jana lay curled on her side, wide-eyed, senses alert. The dream's graphic images faded but not the dread.

She recalled bits and pieces of Sioux legends she'd heard growing up, but at the moment they offered no comfort.

Her people encouraged certain 'gifted' ones to access the invisible beings known as Wakanpi and learn of their desires. Her uncle, Tony Buday, was reputed to have been born with such a gift.

Jana squeezed the satin trim of her blanket until the tips of her fingers were numb. She was a cop for God's sake, and cops could not afford to be mystics. Yet the dream had shown her to be that rare mixture of both. She felt trapped by her heritage and resentful of, what to her, was more akin to mental illness than a gift.

Ever since moving into her uncle's home, she'd experienced dreams of violent events and natural disasters. Worse were the shadow people that hovered around her bed. At first she thought it was her uncle checking on her -- until she began to find bruises and scratches on her flesh.

Jana did not feel she knew her uncle well enough at the time to ask for his advice. He was kind but aloof, attributes they shared. If the situation continued much longer, she'd resolved to seek psychiatric intervention.

One Saturday morning Tony asked her to help him prepare a fever poultice for one of his 'patients'. Jana's job was to pluck peppermint leaves from their branches, keeping a steady pile for her uncle to grind with his mortar and pestle.

She was taken aback when he spoke in the manner of one continuing an old conversation. "Dreamers have the potential to retrieve information to aid them in their healing work." His voice was edged with authority. "But it's a dangerous path for the unbalanced ego."

How does he know about the dreams?

First ten, then twenty minutes went by with no further elaboration on the medicine man's part. She glanced in his direction. He appeared fully engrossed in his task of grinding the fresh herbs -- the fragrance of peppermint filled the room.

Out of respect for the Elder, Jana allowed the silence and continued her task of separating leaves from branches. His words were hardly comforting when they came.

His chair scraped the floor as he edged it sideways to face her.

"Lost and angry souls are drawn to the energy of healers." His eyes bored into hers. "Even those who are not fully walking that path."

The elder curled his fingers and Jana could imagine they were the talons of a bird of prey.

"When they claw at you, begging you to save them, you must order them to leave. Under no circumstances, allow yourself to feel their pain, Tuzaya."

When Jana offered no response to her uncle's odd pronouncement, he dropped the subject.

Inexplicably, there were no more dreams -- or visitors -- following that afternoon in her uncle's kitchen. Months passed and Jana settled into believing they were gone for good.

Until tonight.

She'd not moved from the warm nest of her body pillow until her bladder screamed for attention. When she padded down the hall to answer nature's call, her body shuddered.

Uncle must have turned down the thermostat for the night.

Jana finished quickly and hurried back to her warm bed. She crawled back under the covers, but was soon up looking for another blanket. For extra measure, she dug into the back of a drawer for a pair of light wool socks and slipped them on her feet.

With the combination of warmth and a placated bladder, Jana dropped into a light sleep.

Her consciousness was split between dreaming and knowing she was dreaming: She stood on the porch of Debra Padget's home, furious with a hooded figure who'd breached the security of the crime scene. She waved her arms and yelled for him to look at her, but her words came out garbled. Again, she screamed, and, again, unintelligible sounds came from her mouth.

A crow dropped unto the step below where Jana stood. It paced back and forth three times, flapped its wings and cawed.

The figure turned sharply and floated across the lawn. It stopped at the foot of the porch. The crow disappeared and in its place lay a long, ornately jeweled staff in the shape of a shepherd's crook. Jana could hear labored breathing, but the thing's cowl kept its features from being seen. She reached for the staff but a gloved hand grabbed her wrist and twisted until she heard a bone snap.

Jana fell to her knees from the intense pain only to face an even greater horror. The staff had become a writhing, spitting nest of snakes. She tried to scramble backwards, but her body would not respond.

She kept telling herself it was a dream ... that nothing in the dream could hurt her. Her chin rose and she faced the hooded figure full on. The cowl fell back to reveal the face of Debra Padget.

The make-up applied by her killer was smeared into chaotic lines of color. Debra's eyes bulged, and she frantically gouged skin into red, raw ribbons as she tried to remove the wafer taped to her mouth.

Extreme fear kept Jana from reaching out to help the dead woman.

From the depths of her subconscious mind the words of a prayer taught to her by her foster mother grabbed hold of her thoughts. 'Angels bless and Angels keep ... Angels Guard me while I sleep ...'

Between one eyeblink and the next, Debra's face disappeared and another took its place. It appeared male through features contorted with rage.The tattoo of a dragon ran from the back of his skull to the front of his neck. He opened his mouth and the stench of rotted flesh accosted her. She woke, then, with his words reverberating in her skull:

I AM INVINCIBLE.

Author Notes A longer chapter than usual. If you choose to read, I appreciate the support!

Characters:
Detective Jana Burke: Homicide detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department. Also a member of the local Sioux Tribe.
Tony Buday: Medicine Man and member of the Sioux Tribe.
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Commander of the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Detective Newstead: Homicide detective.
Debra Padget: Murder victim.
Stanley Eisner: Debra Padget's dear friend.
Darcy Shaw: Debra's niece.

Sious Terms:
Tanika: ancient. Pronounced: Dahn-Nee-Kah
Tuzaya: Niece. Pronounced: DUE ZAHN YAH
Wakanpi: Invisible beings. Pronounced: WAH KAHN PEE

Thanks to Lndslmn for the great artwork titled: Worm


Chapter 20
ILAKA MOON

By Writingfundimension

*******************
Previously:  The Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department is investigating the murder of an elderly shut-in.  Because of the nature of the crime, there is a mounting concern this could be the first act of a serial killer. The only objects taken from the scene are those of religious significance, including a rose quartz rosary. 

********************

Marsha Nugent had seen the backside of her youth three decades earlier. Her biological clock had sprung its springs, and she freely admitted she'd worked up more sweat during menopause than she ever had in the bedroom.

She approached her profession with the fervor of a born-again Christian. In her own estimation, her instincts as a nurse bordered on the supernatural. And who better than the trapped, terrified elderly to feed her savior complex?

For seven years she'd held the position of Home Care Nurse. The nature of her job allowed her to be free of the politics of institutional nursing. Despite a considerable cut in pay, she relished the ability to call her own shots.

This was her first appointment of the day. Though she had a full caseload, she'd buckled to her superior's pressure to assume the care of Gertrude Pearce.

"This case is right up your alley," Jane Richter insisted -- a bit desperately Marsha thought. "Two other nurses have begged me to re-assign them from the Pearce woman's case. I can't get them to tell me what's really going on, either. They maintain her wound care needs outweigh their experience, but get all squirmy when I press for more details."  

Glancing at the file on the seat, she verified the house number and brought her Durango to rest in the middle of a pile of dry leaves.

Exactly two minutes to spare. 

Marsha craned her neck to locate an entrance. The residence sat at the rear end of its lot, closer to the alley than the street. Evergreen trees dwarfed the bungalow, their limbs grasping for possession of the rotted roof.

Despite the looming presence of St. Matilde's twin spires, the area had experienced a surge in car invasions. Marsha blanketed anything that might appear valuable to a thief, gathered her valise, exited and locked the vehicle. She smoothed the wrinkles from her suit and finger-combed her silver bob.

First impressions tend to last.

On reviewing the case file the previous evening, Marsha 
was disturbed by what it didn't contain. Each of her predecessors had mentioned a son as primary caregiver. Neither included an assessment of the son's ability or willingness to follow through with their recommendations. This was surprising given that Gertrude was a brittle diabetic who'd suffered a debilitating stroke.

Aside from their initial conversation with the man, there was no further mention of him in the file. An oversight of that magnitude by one nurse was bad enough. But two nurses?

Curiosity piqued; she talked with both women by phone. They repeated their 'official' explanation for asking to be reassigned. Jackie, the second-case nurse, tersely hinted at something darker. "The son, Eddie, totally creeped me out. When you meet him, you'll know what I mean."

Her breath was coming a little faster at the thought of today's meeting with this mystery man. She had seen every kind of elder abuse during her years of nursing. No matter how subtle, Marsha had a knack for finding it.

I don't get paid to look the other way.

The sound of her heels hitting the sidewalk never made it off the ground. She followed the path through a thicket of lilac bushes. Passing through them, she had a weird thought.

Could my life be in danger?

Ahead she could see a single cement step beneath the front door. It was covered by a sheet of plywood forming a crude ramp. Forced to step into the tall, damp weeds beside the stoop, she set down her valise and stretched to reach the doorbell.

She pressed the bell twice with no answer.

Have they forgotten the appointment?

Marsha retrieved her valise, balanced her weight on the edge of the step and raised a fist to pound on the door.

She heard the scrape of metal against wood. Dropping her arm to her side, she waited for the person on the other side of the door to reveal themself.

A male figure blocked her view of the room beyond. Marsha had no ready explanation for why everything about him seemed wrong.

"Who're you?" he demanded.

She thrust her hand forward and said, "I'm Marsha Nugent, Gertrude's new home care nurse."

He ignored her outstretched hand. Marsha pulled it back to safety.

"Are you the son?"

His laugh bled bitterness. "Yeah, I'm the son."

Stepping aside, he pointed down a hallway.

"You'll find Ma in the back bedroom."

She blocked the warning bells in her brain in order to focus on the woman she was there to help. Sweeping past him, she located the bedroom and entered.

Combined smells of feces and unwashed flesh permeated the room. She whirled, fully intending to give the son a chewing out, but his lurid features silenced her.

Stretched taut across prominent cheekbones and a high forehead, Marsha had the impression of young skin on old bones. The pupils of his eyes were lifeless black voids in the middle of white pools. He had a neatly trimmed goatee and diamond studs in both earlobes.

"Ma's afraid of the dark, so she sleeps during the day. Maybe you can examine her without waking her up?"

Marsha's voice sounded shrill to her own ears. "That would be a violation of my code of ethics. I will not conduct an examination of your mother without her permission."

His malicious smile turned her blood to ice.

"Suit yourself."

The man turned away, and Marsha noticed the tip of what looked like a dragon tattoo at the base of his skull.

"A dragon's blood turns from red to amber as it soaks into the ground."

My God he's reading my thoughts.

"Drinking the blood is said to make you invincible."

He traced the shape of a cross into the air and growled.

"You enjoy your power, don't you Miss Nugent?"

Marsha answered in a firm, take-charge voice. "I would like to get back to the reason I'm here, Mr. Pearce. I'll be doing an initial assessment of your mother's health status today. Once that's been accomplished, I'd like to speak with you about my findings and recommendations."

Eddie moved closer to the doorway.

As if on cue, the woman in the bed began to thrash about. Marsha stepped quickly to her side. "Mrs. Pearce, it's okay. I'm the visiting nurse."

Gertrude's movement stilled. She stared up at the nurse like a baby bird from the bottom of the nest.

"Does Eddie know you're here?"

Marsha looked to where Eddie had been standing. A car door slammed outside the window. Pushing aside the curtains, she watched an orange Datsun streak away.

Stretch the truth but don't lie. 

"He knows why I'm here."

She pulled a straight-backed chair next to the bed, gently lifted her patient's hand and laid her own beneath it.

She'd spent a decade as a psychiatric nurse. Eddie's behaviour revealed anti-social tendencies and a stunted ego. She quickly resolved in her mind to find out what was happening in this home.

"Mrs. Pearce, I'm going to try very hard not to hurt you. I'll be checking your vital signs first, then I'll have to move you a bit to look at your pressure sore. Do I have your permission to do that?"

Gertrude Pearce lifted an arm covered with bruises and pointed to a shining pink object hanging from her bed post.

"I need my rosary. You can examine me after you give me my rosary. Mother Mary watches over me when Eddie isn't around."

Marsha removed the rosary from where it dangled against the wooden bedpost. It appeared to be rose quartz. She pressed it into Gertrude's palm.

"I have hundreds of these." The old woman kissed the cross. "This is the prettiest one Eddie's ever given me. He said a very special lady gave it to him just before she died."


Author Notes 'the unusual frequency of people with possession having facial skin that looks strangely stretched, tight and smooth is an extraordinary observation... ' From Glimpses of the Devil by M. Scott Peck, M.D.

Sioux translation:

ILAKA: Control (pronounced ee-lah-kah)

Thanks to DrCArt222 for the great accompanying image!


Chapter 21
POHA MOON, PT. 1

By Writingfundimension


***************

Previously:  Father Brian has a frightening encounter with a dark presence in the rectory of St. Matilde's following the murder of Debra Padget. Although there had been rumors the rectory was haunted for years, the diabolic presence that confronts him is of a much more powerful nature. He believes it is his destiny to be God's champion in an ultimate showdown with Satan. 

***************


Raindrops ricocheted off the plastic rain cap Caroline Findley wore to protect her hairdo. Her movements were slowed thanks to walking with two knees that felt like they'd morphed into footballs overnight. A gust of wind tore into her body -- a minor impediment in its course. She shrank deeper into her coat and dropped her head like a bull readying itself to charge.

One of these days I'm gonna chuck it all and migrate to Florida like most of my friends.

Her salary as housekeeper for the pastor of St. Matilde's offset her heating bills through the winter months. Along with her husband's military pension, and social security, she managed to balance her checkbook and still set a little aside. But, truth be told, she was in no position to afford to live anywhere else.

Caroline faced the rectory door with determination. It hadn't been replaced in thirty years and every time the weather turned damp, it swelled.

She sank her teeth into the tip of her glove and yanked upwards. Shifting a bag of groceries to her other arm, she spit the glove atop the package of Oreo cookies and thrust her hand into her coat pocket. Digging deep, she felt the cold metal of a key.

The elderly woman inserted the key into the lock and wrenched it with practiced force. It would not budge.

Oh, for the love of God how many times do I have to remind Father to replace this door!

Out of pure frustration, she kicked the door, setting in motion insistent barking by Father Brian's sheltie. Using the knob for leverage, the housekeeper was able to extend her torso and peer through the window in the door. Only the dog was visible.

"Alyx, it's just me. Stop that infernal barking -- you're not helping matters any."

The dog ignored her. Head low, teeth bared, he appeared to be disturbed by something beyond her line of sight.

Probably just impatient to get outside.

Caroline went back to wrestling the door for dominance. Finally forced to give up the effort, she turned to make her way to the front of the rectory.

A second before she heard it, her scalp tingled a warning.

"Try the door again," a disembodied voice invited. 

The housekeeper came from a long line of steel-hearted Welshmen. It was that blood in her veins that made her turn back around. She made the sign of the cross and reached for the knob. The door swung inward before her fingers reached it.

Tired of being the brunt of poltergeist activity by the resident ghost, Caroline decided it was time for a good old-fashioned throwdown. She entered the kitchen, and dropped her bag on to the table. Then she faced the room's center and yelled, "Stop with your stupid tricks. You're dead, remember? Get out and let me be!"

She waited for a reaction. The only sound that broke the silence was that of raindrops against the roof. 

If I'd known how easy this could be, I'd have done it months ago.

Caroline took no notice of Alyx's terror. Had she not possessed the belief that dogs were dumb, soulless beasts, she might have been forewarned.

Removing her coat and hat, she placed them on a hook beside the broom closet. She put away the groceries and debated whether to make a cup of tea in order to warm herself.

This room is freezing.

One of the thermostats for the furnace was in the hallway outside the kitchen. She noted it was set at seventy-two degrees. Father Brian differed from his predecessors in that he liked the common rooms kept comfortably warm for both visitors and residents alike.

Back in the kitchen, it was at least twenty degrees colder. She set out to check all the windows and nowhere found anything to account for the temperature difference.

I'll start my cleaning upstairs. Father Brian can check the furnace when he comes in following Mass. Though it's obviously not the pilot light or the whole house would be cold.

The switch for a single overhead bulb was to the right of the closet doorway. The cord leading to the bulb rocked back and forth, causing jagged shadows to crawl across the walls. Caroline attributed the cord's movement to the air from the nearby heating vent. Hadn't she just ordered the ghost to leave?

She gathered her work tools and placed them in a pail. Reaching for a dust mop against one of the walls, Caroline felt a hand clamp unto her shoulder, squeezing with such force she fell sideways. The light bulb shattered, spewing glass on her head and the closet door slammed shut.

Father Brian had just entered through the front door and was shaking off his umbrella. He'd seen his housekeeper's car in the driveway.

"It's Father Brian, Mrs. Findley," he called out.

The response he received was the spine-jarring, hysterical scream of a woman in extreme terror.

Author Notes Thanks so much to DrCArt222 for: To Tip the Scales. A really awesome picture!

Sioux translation: Poha (Blow) poh-hahn


Chapter 22
Poha Moon, Pt. 2

By Writingfundimension

~~~~~~~~~~
Previously:

She gathered her work tools and placed them in a pail. Reaching for a dust mop against one of the walls, Caroline felt a hand clamp onto her shoulder, squeezing with such force she fell sideways. The light bulb shattered, spewing glass on her head and the closet door slammed shut.

Father Brian had just entered through the front door and was shaking off his umbrella. He's seen his housekeeper's car in the driveway.

"It's Father Brian, Mrs. Findley." 

The response he received was the spine-jarring, hysterical scream of a woman in terror.
~~~~~~~~~~

Father Brian raced in the direction of the scream. On the kitchen table were his housekeeper's keys and gloves, and her coat hung in its usual position.

"Mrs. Findley, where are you?"

Alyx crept from beneath the table at the sound of his master's voice. He refused to make eye contact with Father Brian. His head was bowed and he lay shivering on the floor.

"Come here, boy," Brian urged, wiggling his fingers in gentle invitation. The dog whimpered but stayed rooted to the spot.

What in blazes is going on?

From the vicinity of the storage closet, he heard three sharp raps on the door.

Maybe she's fallen in the closet.

Crossing to the corner room, he called a reassurance, "Hold tight, Mrs. Findley." He turned the door's knob and prayed she wasn't lying in front of the door. His brain did a double take as the door swung wide -- the light switch was on but the room was black.

Wedged between storage boxes and curled in a protective ball was his housekeeper. The door's thickness had muffled the sound of her weak response. He squatted beside her, incredibly relieved she was conscious.

"I need to find a flashlight. Don't try to move until we can see if you've been injured."

Ambient light from the kitchen streamed around Brian's frame. He was shocked by the revulsion apparent in his housekeeper's upturned features.

"Please... Father... p-please g-get me outta here!"

"It'll only take me a couple of minutes to get my flashlight. It's not safe for you to move just yet. The overhead lamp has burnt out."

The movement was lightning fast. Brian was surprised by the strength of the woman's grip on his knee and the streaks of red on her knuckles.

"HE did it," she croaked. "HE threw me to the floor and made the lights explode."

Father Brian laid his hand atop hers. "Listen to me, Mrs. Findley. You believe in the power of the cross, don't you?"

She loosened her grasp of his leg. "Yes, Father, I do believe in the power of Jesus and the miracle of the cross." In her eyes, he saw a tiny flame of hope.

"You've had a horrible shock." He reluctantly continued, "I foolishly believed I could keep this business to myself, but I see that's not going to be possible now. I must warn you that some of what you'll hear will require you to have faith, also, in me."

"I'll do my best. After what's just happened to me, you could tell me Martians were living in the attic and I'd believe you."

The priest chuckled. "I've always enjoyed your dry wit, Mrs. Findley. Now, about that flashlight ... "

"Look on the nail above the light switch." Her voice was stronger. "I keep one there for emergencies."

Brian secured the flashlight and did a quick survey of the scene. Except for shards of glass, there was no obvious impediment to movement.

"Let me take your arm and help you to a standing position. Please don't try to do it alone. Lean into me and allow me to do most of the work." With the priest's help, Caroline straightened to stand. Despite the shaking of her limbs, she maintained her balance.

"Do you think you've broken any bones?"

"No, I don't feel sharp pain anywhere. Bruises will likely be sproutin' up from falling against the plastic storage tubs, but I don't think I've broken anything useful."

"Thank God." The priest smiled with genuine relief.

Side-by-side, they moved towards the light. Once Father Brian was assured she was walking in a steady manner, he guided her down the hallway to the den. She balked at lying on the couch, insisting she was okay.

The priest sensed the best way to handle his housekeeper's stubbornness was to offer her a choice: "It's either lie here or I take you to the hospital. Which do you prefer?"

When Caroline realized he meant business, she agreed. Father Brian helped her find a comfortable position on the couch before setting off to locate blankets and a pillow. Quickly he retrieved the items and first aid kit from the parlor bathroom.

Mrs. Findley's skin had a gray cast, and the priest struggled to recall whether she had a heart condition. He tucked the blankets about her body and placed a pillow beneath her head. When he held her hand in order to clean and dress the half-dozen small cuts on her knuckles, she neither flinched nor spoke.

"How's the patient doing?" he asked, finally meeting her steady gaze.

"Better. Thank you, Father."

The moment stretched into minutes. To break the tension, he walked to the fireplace and arranged the logs before setting a flame to them. Finally, he could put it off no longer.

"Mrs Findley, I must ask that you keep everything I'm about to tell you..."

Holding up her hand like a school child asking for a bathroom break, the housekeeper interrupted, "Father, if you don't mind, I'd sure appreciate a nip of that fine scotch you keep in your personal stash of liquor. And while you're at it, why don't you pour some for yourself. You look to be half dead yourself."

"How do you know about my private... oh, never mind." His grin was wide and genuine. "I think that's a brilliant idea, Mrs. Findley."

When Father Brian returned from his bedroom with two glasses and the scotch bottle tucked beneath his arm, an unlikely scene amused him.

Mrs. Findley was sitting upright against her pillow and in her lap rested his sheltie, Alyx. Though the woman's movements were tentative, Alyx appeared to be loving the attention.

"I never thought I'd live to see this day," Brian quipped. "I thought you were a devoted dog hater?"

"It's dogs in the house I don't like. Alyx proved himself a good watch dog today. That counts for something in my mind."

Brian poured two fingers of whiskey into each glass and placed one in her hand. From his seat opposite, he watched her take a swig of the liquor, which didn't seem to phase her in the least. He sipped from his own glass and used the time to figure how to approach his fantastic story.

She spoke first before he could recount his own encounter the previous night with an intrusive presence he believed was demonic.

Her words stunned him. 

"What happened to me -- the Thing that attacked me -- it's responsible for Debra Padget's murder, Father."

"How can you be so sure, Mrs. Findley?"

"I've felt its presence before."

A chill crept along his spine, seeping deep into his bones. 

"Where?"

"Here, Father. I felt it and smelled its stench when Monsignor Flaherty lived in the rectory. But I didn't understand what it meant until the police uncovered the truth about him."

Sadness held Brian in its grip. "Can the wounds caused by one man's selling his soul to Satan ever heal?" he thought.

"Neither you nor Debra deserve what's happened to you. The important thing now is for you to tell the police everything you know. No matter how trivial you may think it is, you must reveal everything to Sheriff Oleson."

A bit of color had come into Caroline's cheeks. The liquor was working its magic. She took another sip, swallowed and sighed.

"Debra's spirit was with me in that closet, Father. It was her that chased the Thing away, then rapped on the door to help you find me."

Brian held his breath and waited for confirmation of what he'd sensed all along. 

Her head fell back unto the pillow, and she closed her eyes. "Don't be afraid, Father. It will not be man's law that prevails -- it will be God's."

Author Notes Characters:

Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church
Mrs. Caroline Findley: Widowed parish housekeeper.
Alyx: Father Brian's Dog

Thank you Avmurray for the fantastic artwork to accompany this chapter.

Poha(Sioux): Blow - po hahn


Chapter 23
SICA MOON

By Writingfundimension

~~~~~~~~~~

Four hours of sleep, an hour at the gym and a muscle-pounding shower. Sheriff Derek Oleson felt ready to tackle the case of Debra Padget's murder with renewed enthusiasm.

He'd contacted the detectives of the Special Task Force and ordered them to Headquarters at 08:00 hours. His first stop, though, was the hospital.

It would take a miracle for Stanley Eisner to be awake and alert. Derek put a hold on his mounting anxiety that the one person who could provide a link to Debra Paget's murder might die before they could even talk with him. 

Briggins Medical Center
had tripled in size during the ten years of Derek's tenure as County Sheriff. Its rare, Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture had recently been the subject of heated debate between preservationists and the hospital's directors. The last he'd heard, they'd still not come to satisfactory terms.

Heads turned as he entered the main entrance. Derek headed directly for the bank of elevators. He pushed the button for the fourth floor and, hands on hips, waited for the door to open. He felt someone's eyes on him and turned to meet the hard stare of an elderly man bent over a walker.

The man's puffy features and bulbous nose spoke of a fondness for booze. His chin angled toward his breast-bone as he shot a suspicious glare over the top of his smudged spectacles.

"What you poh-lees-men doin' to catch the killer of that lady?"

Derek met the man's look even as he recognized  the challenge of his words.

"I've got my best people on it, Sir. We expect a break in the case very soon."

"Better hope so. Pervert's prob'ly sizin' up his next victim, waitin' to pounce like a barn cat in heat."

The elevator bell set the old man in motion. Moving fast as a fish off a hook, he pushed his way past Derek. Before taking up residence in the middle of the elevator, he punched the number of his floor and the close-door button. The sheriff was forced to put out his forearm to stop the doors' momentum. He reached around to tap the number four and gave the gent a wide berth.

The door opened on the second floor and the man stepped out. Derek thought about his question and the emotion behind it in on his ascent to the fourth floor.

Probably more scared than angry. Good, it'll keep him home with his doors locked until we can make an arrest.

He located a sign with directions to the cardiac unit. Passing a well-lit waiting room, Derek observed a frail, elderly woman with a wad of Kleenex in her fist trying to keep up with the tears rolling down her cheeks. Next to her was a teenager with long, greasy black hair and torn jeans, thumbs clicking a message into cyberspace.

He turned away from the all-too-familiar scene. Too many damned times he'd been the one to deliver news that hit the receiver like an atomic blast.

A good cop never gets used to it.   

Turning right, he faced the doors of the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and pressed the metal disc on the wall. The security door whooshed open, revealing Detective Newstead positioned in front of the nurse's station. All his attention was on the pretty blonde seated on the other side of the desk.

The younger man turned to see who was approaching. He straightened, pivoting to face Derek. There was an alert gleam in the younger man's eyes. He seemed no worse for the wear of a night spent keeping guard over Stanley Eisner.

Derek led his detective to a corner out of sight and hearing of the medical personnel.

"Quiet night?"

"Yes, Sir. Mr. Eisner was in surgery for five hours. He's been on monitors ever since leaving the recovery room. I stayed with him as much as possible -- there's a visitor limit in Cardiac Intensive Care."

Derek nodded his approval.

"After I explained to his surgeon that the subject, I mean Mr. Eisner, was a possible witness in a murder investigation, he agreed to allow an officer to be present for safety purposes. It's amazing how much can be overheard when you make yourself blend into the surroundings." He smiled in that smug way Derek disliked.

It's probably too much to expect empathy from someone on the short side of thirty.

"The old guy's in pretty bad shape. They had to open him up and do what they could to repair the damage to his heart. He looks like he's been beaten by a pipe-wielding gang."

"Who's taking the next shift?"

"Officer Poole." Detective Newstead looked at his watch. "He should be arriving any minute."

A white, middle-aged male emerged from one of the side rooms and approached the detectives.

"I've noticed you hanging around like you're doing surveillance or something." He moved close to Detective Newstead, dropping his voice to a pseudo-whisper. "I'll bet you have some famous criminal stashed away in one of these rooms."

Prickles of energy moved along the fine hairs of Derek's arm, and he had the notion that he should memorize the man's features.

A commotion at the end of the hallway drew the detectives' focus away from the man. The officer who arrived for duty appeared to have earned the disapproval of the blonde nurse who was insisting he present some identification.

Derek approached the desk, nudged Officer Poole aside and addressed the nurse.

"It's commendable that you take your job seriously, ma'am."

Her smile was tight and brief. "I just want to be sure no one is pretending to be a policeman. It would help if you provided us with photo identification of your detectives, so we can focus on the well-being of our patient."

The sheriff placed his elbows on the desk and leaned closer. "That's an excellent idea..." he glanced at her tag, "Ms. Roberts."

Her stiff manner thawed with his words of approval.

"I can personally vouch for Officer Todd Poole as being the real deal. We'll do our best to stay in the background and out the way of all you professional folks. If you have any problems at all, here's my card."

She snatched the card and tucked into the pocket of her electric blue scrubs. "Thank you for understanding."

"You're welcome. Do you have any idea when Doctor Drake will be coming to see Mr. Eisner?"

"He'll be in surgery for most of the day. However, he has a nurse practitioner who monitors cardiac patients throughout the day. Would you like me to call you when Mr. Eisner's surgeon gets here?" she offered.

"That's not necessary. Officer Poole will keep me informed."

Remembering the inquisitor from earlier, Derek looked around but there was no sign of him lounging about.

Strange.

He gave a brief physical description to the nurse. "He came out of one of the rooms at the end of the hallway. I realize you can't give me his name, but can you confirm if someone meeting that description is here, right now, visiting one of the patients?"

"That area is currently being renovated. And no one from maintenance will be here until after nine o'clock."

He took Officer Poole's arm and pulled him aside.

"Be on the lookout for a middle-aged white male with a goatee, diamond studs in his earlobes and a tattoo circling his neck. He's a person of interest as of now. I want him brought in for questioning. And, Todd, no one gets in to see Mr. Eisner without clearance from the supervising nurse."

~~~~~~~~~~ 

Detectives Burke, Morales, Jolly and Epstein sat quietly studying their notes and keeping their own thoughts. A coffee carafe and a box of cinnamon scones -- Jana's contribution -- were the table's only decoration.

Detective Skeets Epstein slid the box closer to himself, speared the middle of a scone and lifted it from the box.

"Jana, you do know it's not manly for guys to eat scones, right?"

"When have you ever turned down free food, Epstein?" Jana shot back.

He dropped the scone and turned a sorrowful look in her direction. "I'm what they call an 'emotional' eater, Jana. This case has my insides all twisted up. The perp is out there just laughing his ass off while we stumble around like blind mice." 

Their boss chose that moment to enter. 

"Everyone manage to get a few hours sleep?" he asked. Except for Jana, they nodded in the affirmative.

The senior detective searched her face, noting the tight lines at the edges of her mouth and a hint of something different in her manner. She blushed under his lingering attention.

Derek crossed to the mounted evidence board and leaned his back into it.

"We've caught a break." 

Detective Jolly blurted, "Then we're wasting precious time."

"Ron, you know the dangers of over-zealousness in a case. Besides, I only just got the information late last evening."

"Father Brian DeShano has suggested a motive for the murder of Debra Padget."

The four seated detectives appeared stunned by the source of the break.  

"The priest's had the knack for being one step ahead of us from the beginning," Detective Morales remarked. "How has he managed to do that?"

"At the moment, I want you to focus on the what and not the how," Derek replied sharply. "The lead is worth following up, but will require us to resurrect an old case."

He picked up a marker and wrote in red: Monsignor Lewis Flaherty.

"Shit," Detective Morales mumbled.

Derek walked to the head of the table. "You and Ron did some solid police work on that case, Rick."

"Yeah, and I remember how it tore apart this community, especially among the older Catholics," Detective Jolly added.

Derek handed a sketch of the man from the hospital to be passed among the detectives. "Make sure you each get a copy and take it out with you on interviews. He's a person of interest at this point."

When Jana Burke held the sketch in her hand, her pulse jumped. The facial features had been hidden in her dream, but the dragon tattoo was the same one worn by the menacing hooded figure.

What in hell are we dealing with? 

~~~~~~~~~~

Author Notes APOLOGIES FOR THE LARGE TYPE. GOTTA LOVE WORDPAD!

Sica: Sioux for Bad -- shee-chah

Frank Lloyd Wright: Pre-eminent American Architect

Thanks much to Kenneth Dinkel for the great artwork: Serenity


Chapter 24
Aze Moon

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

***************

Previously:
Walking to the evidence board, Derek leaned his back into it.

"We've caught a break. Father Brian DeShano has come forward with a possible motive for the murder of Debra Padget."

The four seated detectives were stunned by the news.

"The priest's had a knack for being one step ahead of us from the beginning," Detective Morales remarked. "How has he managed to do that?"
 
"At the moment, I want you to focus on the what and not on the how," Derek replied sharply. "The lead is worth following up, but will require us to resurrect an old case."

He picked up a marker and wrote in red: Monsignor Lewis Flaherty.

***************  


A blizzard of photographs, files and boxes filled Jana Burke's cubicle. She and Detective Epstein had split up the voluminous amounts of hearsay evidence generated in developing the pedophilia case against Monsignor Lewis Flaherty.

Jana opened a fresh file, unprepared for the sudden ambush of her heart. Clipped to the front of its contents was a picture of a nine-year-old boy -- the Catholic priest's youngest victim.

The young Sioux detective gently touched a fingertip to the place where the boy's sandy brown hair curled against his neck. The outline of his face formed the shape of a heart, and his eyes curved upward at their corners.

Hopa hoksi (beautiful child).

The eyes staring up at her were laser points of pain, provoking a rage that jerked her out of her neutral zone.

Hands trembling, she turned the picture face down. Clues could be obscured by strong emotion. And Jana wanted, needed, to view the gathered evidence with fresh eyes.

Returning to the file laid out before her, she skimmed its contents: a mixture of typed reports and hand-written notes. With persistence, she was finding it easier to decipher the handwriting of the principal case detectives. Her gut told her the personal notes, especially, were a treasure trove of uncensored first impressions.

Detective Morales had a tight style of writing, very much in line with his intense personality. The writing of Detective Jolly, by contrast, was large and filled with loops, indicative of the generous and open person she'd found him to be.

She held an ink-faded note up to the light.

"The Monsignor reminds me of one of the jungle cats at the Minnesota Zoo," Rick Morales wrote after a failed interrogation session. "He hardly blinks. When he does look at me, I know he'd get rid of me in a heartbeat if I stood in his way."

"Lasted one year in prison," she thought. Somewhere in her reading there'd been mention of the Prosecuting Attorney having successfully blocked the Catholic authorities' insistence their cleric be separated from the rest of the prison population.

Your first taste of hell.

 She snatched up her desk phone on the second ring.

"Burke speaking."

"Hello, Detective, this is Father Brian. I'm glad you were the one to answer."

"Oh?"

"This may seem presumptuous of me, but I need a special favor."

"Can't make any promises. I'm hip-deep in files from an old investigation that may be linked to Mrs. Padget's murder."

"I understand. And I wouldn't be asking this if it weren't a delicate matter - one that requires patience and tact."

She rose and peered over the top of the partition. Her squeaking chair was likely audible at the other end of the line, but she desperately hoped someone else was available to take the call.

The bullpen was empty except for a patrolman focused on his laptop.

Shit.

Switching the receiver to her other hand, she pulled a blank pad and pen close.

"Are you still there, Detective?"

"Um... yes, still here. Should I come down to the rectory to take care of this so-called matter?"

"That's not necessary. My housekeeper, Mrs. Findley, and I can be at the station in twenty minutes."

"Your housekeeper?" The confusion was obvious in Jana's voice.

"Yes, the woman has been an employee of St. Matilde's for nearly thirty years."

Jana's intuition made the intended leap. "She was employed during the tenure of Monsignor Flaherty."

"Exactly. Now, for reasons I'm not at liberty to reveal, she's ready to give information she withheld when the police originally questioned her."

Heat tinged the young detective's response. "You mean information that could have kept an innocent old woman from being slaughtered?"

Father Brian was stunned by the force of her response. "Please try to understand, Jana. Older Catholics were taught that priests hold a direct line to God."

"Excuse me, Father, but that's a load of bull crap."

She could hear the priest breathing into the phone. Finally, he responded. "I happen to agree. But it's a powerful temptation to believe you're invincible. You young people are especially good at it."

Touche.

A disturbingly familiar electric energy emanated through the phone line. Jerking upright, Jana urged, "Father, your housekeeper may be in physical danger. Don't let her out of your sight."

"Yes, I totally agree. I've arranged for her to be driven straight to her niece's home in St. Paul once she leaves the police station." He paused to clear his throat. "Can I count on your help?"

"I'll interview your housekeeper but, beyond that, I make no promises. Can you bring her down right now?"

"Yes. God bless you," he said. "We're on our way."

**********

Fritz Buell bumped his turn signal, slowed, and passed beneath the marble arch of St. Matilde's Cemetery. Persistent clouds, pregnant with impending rain, followed him the whole way. His car crept steadily north until coming to a stop in a newly-opened section. He slipped a pair of galoshes over his shoes and made his way to her side.

"Hi, Milly. No flowers today, honey. I didn't have time to stop for 'em 'cuz Mack called from California."

It never mattered to Fritz what folks thought of him conversing out loud with his dead wife. He talked with her just as if she was sitting across the dinner table from him.

"Tried again to talk me into movin' out to California. I told him the same thing I been tellin' him since you died. I ain't never gonna abandon you."

He'd cried more in the eight months since Milly's death than he had his entire life. Pulling a handkerchief from his back pocket, he wiped his cheeks dry.

A blue jay landed on a nearby headstone. It hopped to the ground,  hunger outweighing its wariness.

The old man waved an arm in its direction. "Shoo... I ain't got nothin' for ya."

The bird was looking into the space beyond him and seemed suddenly turned to stone.

A sharp blow to Fritz's kidneys nearly took him down. His groan mingled with the screeching of the bird as it escaped.

An arm surrounded his neck and pressed against his windpipe. "Start walking toward your car and don't turn around," a male voice commanded. 

"Take my wallet, I promise I won't turn ya' in," Fritz begged.

"I'm not here for money."

Fritz had no choice but to follow the order. Every time he stumbled, a solid fist pounded his spine. "Quit fucking with me, old man!"

When they finally reached the door of his car, Fritz croaked, "Wh...a..at you gonna do t'me?"

His attacker's laughter was a bitter, crazy sound that filled Fritz with terror.

"Why, Mr. Buell, I'm going to make you famous!"

Author Notes List of characters for this chapter:
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church.
Monsignor Lewis Flaherty: Previous pastor, convicted of pedophilia.
Detective Jana Burke: A full-blood Sioux Indian and homicide detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Detectives Morales, Jolly and Epstein: Homicide detectives with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Derek Oleson: Granite Mountain's Sheriff and lead homicide detective.
Debra Padget: An elderly, house-bound member of the St. Matilde's parish found sadistically murdered in her home.
Fritz Buell: Retired janitor and employee of the Granite Mountain Catholic schools.


Aze (Sioux): ah zay - run
Hopa Hoksi: Sioux


Thanks to Amfunny for the great artwork: Haywire.


Chapter 25
Yatiza Moon

By Writingfundimension

***************
Previously: Father Brian arrives at his rectory following morning mass to discover his housekeeper has been attacked by an unseen evil presence. She reveals to him she has felt the Presence before when she was employed by the church as housekeeper to a pedophile priest: Monsignor Lew Flaherty. She tells Father Brian she has some information she never shared with the police about the Monsignor and is ready to tell the police what she knows. Detective Jana Burke has agreed to conduct an interview at the Sheriff's Department.

***************

Detective Burke emerged from the break room with crackers, a knife and a jar of peanut butter. She kept emergency snacks stored in a box in the cupboard. In order to ward off her endlessly-hungry male counterparts a warning was attached: 'Touch this and you Die.'

Her agreement to wait for Father Brian and his housekeeper forced Jana to put lunch on hold. Unlike Skeets Epstein and the other detectives who consumed caffeine and candy bars for quick boosts of energy, Jana preferred a healthier approach.

She returned to her desk, made a space on the cramped desktop for the plate and twisted off the jar's top. The first cracker collapsed under the weight of the peanut butter. When the same thing happened to the next two, she grabbed the cracker box and looked for the expiration date.

Expired a month ago. Crap.

Jana hooked one foot on each side of her metal wastebasket and pulled it close. She jammed the cracker box inside, propped her feet on the basket's edge and plunged her knife into the peanut butter.

She was licking the underside of the knife when Father Brian found her. Eyes shifting, he took in the room's disarray.

Dropping her feet to the floor, Jana slid the basket out of sight. To recover her dignity, she set the jar aside and reached for her notepad.

"I'm sorry to interrupt your lunch break, Detective." The priest gestured about the room. "I imagine it's grab and go when you're in the middle of an investigation."

"Pretty much, but I wouldn't have it any other way." His perfect understanding was a welcome gift.

"Where's your housekeeper?" 

"Seated by the information desk. I'll need to assist her. She's had a recent fall that banged her up pretty good."

"We'll be talking in one of the interrogation rooms. Its got a desk and chairs, but not much else. Also, I'll be taping the session. Will she be willing to proceed under those conditions?"

"I'm sure she'll rise to the occasion," Father Brian was quick to assure. "She may look a bit frail, but don't underestimate her. Her mind is sharp."

Jana stood up, "As a Native American, I'm used to being judged by my looks. I've learned to trust half of what I see and even less of what I hear." She jutted her jaw in the direction of the waiting woman, "After you Father."  

Caroline Findley stared fixedly at the floor, looking stiff and uncomfortable. She gripped an object in her lap that turned out to be her purse. Father Brian approached, held out his elbow and she rose with his help, first draping the purse over her shoulder.

"Mrs. Findley, this is Detective Jana Burke. She's one of the detectives investigating Debra Padget's death."

"Thank you for agreeing to meet with me on short notice, Detective. I've been convinced by Father Brian my life may be in danger.
My niece in St. Paul has agreed to let me stay with her."

Detective Burke nodded her agreement. "We'll also be notifying the  authorities in St. Paul for additional support. Now, if you'll follow me, we'll be going down the hallway and into one of the interrogation rooms."

Once they were settled, Jana began the recording with a clarification. "This interview is at the request of Mrs. Caroline Findley. She is currently employed by St. Matilde's Catholic Church as housekeeper for Father Brian DeShano, who is present at Mrs. Findley's request."

In turn, Mrs. Findley stated, for the record, she had been employed as housekeeper by St. Matilde's Catholic Church during the time of Monsignor Lewis Flaherty's pastorship. She'd not been extensively interviewed by investigators at the time of his arrest. "It was my assumption they felt I had little to add to their case. I was so badly shaken by the whole thing, I don't know if I'd have survived being put on the stand."

"During the period you were employed as housekeeper for Monsignor Flaherty," Jana queried, "did you personally observe anything that hinted at the abuse for which he was later convicted?" 

"He kept his perversions hidden from me." The housekeeper's eyes were glassy with tears and her lips trembled. "On two separate occasions I overheard him talking in low tones on the phone, and I didn't want to believe what my heart was telling me."

The elderly woman hung her head to hide her tears. Father Brian placed his arm across the back of her chair for encouragement. "I know this is very difficult for you, Caroline," he said gently. "Take all the time you need."

Jana moved a box of Kleenex within reach of the woman and waited a minute before proceeding.

"What did your 'heart' tell you about the phone calls, Mrs. Findley?"

The woman raised her head and in a voice filled with contempt, admitted, "The way he talked was the way a man talks to a lover. It was sinful and it disgusted me. When it turned out it was boys and not a woman - God forgive me, I refused to believe it then."

"But you believe it now?"

"Yes. I have the evidence of his own words."

Jana stared at the woman, revealing nothing of her thoughts.

Father Brian reached into his pocket and pulled out a bundle of letters. He laid them on the table and slid them across to Jana.

"I was polishing the panelled walls of the master bedroom closet in preparation for Father Brian's arrival. A door popped open and inside were those."

"You read them?"

"Just one. It was enough to convince me of the truth about him."

"For the record, Mrs. Findley, why didn't you give these letters to the police?"

"When I found them, Monsignor Flaherty had already been convicted. The parish was just starting to get back to normal. I didn't want to cause more pain to the boys who wrote them. I felt they'd been through enough."

"That wasn't your call to make, ma'am."

Father Brian started to protest, but Caroline put up her hand to stop him.

"It was not a wise choice, I see that now," she said. "And I pray with all my heart there isn't anything in those letters that could have kept Debra Padget from being murdered."

Jana's tone softened as she realized that cherished beliefs ruled this woman's life.

"Is there anything else you'd like to add, Mrs. Findley, before we wrap up this interview?" Jana's finger was poised over the recording device.

"There is one more thing, Detective. I hope you won't be offended, but something about your features reminds me of an argument that took place at the rectory between the Monsignor and a man from the Reservation."

Jana's hand froze and she turned her head slowly, taking in Father Brian's shocked features.

"Go on," the detective urged.

"The gentleman was very upset over the fact that his daughter had chosen to become Catholic. He said he knew nothing but bad would come out of that and he, finally, had proof of it."

"What was the Monsignor's reaction?"

"He laughed. He told the man he had powerful friends within the church, and the last person they'd listen to would be a... a... heathen like him."

Jana cringed at the offensive racial stereotype. It was several moments before she could continue. "Do you recall the man's name?"

"No, I never heard it. I'm only telling you the story because of what the man did next."

Jana swallowed dread that rose in the form of bile.

"First he spoke in a language I didn't recognize. It sounded like a rhyme or something like that." Mrs. Findley spoke quickly, under the sway of the memory. "Then he said the Monsignor would not escape the revenge of his ancestors. I remember, especially, that word -- ancestors. I..I thought he might hit the Monsignor, he was so angry."

"What was Monsignor Flaherty's reaction?" Jana probed.

"He threatened to call the police. The man, just as cool as can be, said, 'Go ahead, I'll be glad to tell them my story.' Then he stormed out of the rectory and drove off."

"What happened next?"

"The Monsignor gave me a stern look and said I was not to repeat what happened to anyone. He made me promise."

Detective Burke clicked off the recorder and rose. "Thank you for coming in, Mrs. Findley. I wonder if you'd wait outside in the corridor while Father Brian and I have a word?"

"Certainly, Detective. If you'll point me in the direction of the bathroom, I need to use the facilities."

"I'll take you there, myself, ma'am."

Waiting for Jana to return, Brian struggled to get his mind around the disturbing revelation that someone from the Sioux reservation had threatened Monsignor Flaherty.

Jana came through the door, closed it and leaned into it with her hands behind her hips.

"Father, I'm going to ask you to keep everything spoken here confidential for now. I need time to talk with my uncle."

"Of course, you don't even need to ask." His eyes were dark with pain. "I'm afraid this case is like a hill thick with pines and impermeable to the light."

The detective crossed to the table and leaned forward. "And, I, Father, think we're dealing with a man who believes the police are stupid and will never catch him."

She straightened. "A common belief, but one that will make him drop his guard. And when he does? We'll descend like flies on a week-old corpse." 

Author Notes Characters:
Monsignor Lewis Flaherty: Convicted pedophile and previous pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church
Father Brian DeShano: Current pastor of St. Matilde's.
Caroline Findley: Father Brian's housekeeper.
Detective Jana Burke: Member of the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department, and one of the case detectives investigating the murder of Debra Padget.
Anthony Buday: Jana's uncle - an elder of the Sioux Indian Tribe.
Thanks to DrCArt222 for use of his artwork.
Sioux translation: Yatiza: Affirm (yah-dee-zah)


Chapter 26
Inaji Moon, Pt. 1

By Writingfundimension

********************
Previously:  Stanley Eisner teeters on the brink of death following a massive coronary.  It is believed he has knowledge of a motive for the murder of his good friend. Debra Padget. The murder may be linked to a pedophile case involving the former pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church.

********************

Sheriff Oleson navigated his patrol car along the tree-lined streets of Granite Mountain. Naked of their leaves, the trees' graphic imperfections were as evident as his struggle to catch up with a killer on the run and plenty of time to destroy evidence.

Tracing the edges of the badge on his chest, Derek catalogued the slim progress in the investigation thus far. Determination and frustration seesawed for dominance as he admitted his hopes were pinned on an old man haggling with death.

He'd gotten word from his officer at the hospital that Stanley Eisner was barely hanging on.

"I think you should get down here right away, Sheriff. I'm not sure what is happening, but there's a group of nurses hovering over Stanley's bed. I overhead one of them say the surgeon's been paged."

"On my way. Todd. Be extra vigilant. This is a good opportunity for a disguised killer to take advantage of the crisis. Don't hesitate to pull aside suspicious personnel."

"Copy that, Sheriff."

Derek pictured Stanley with tubes and pain killers rendering him helpless and a virtual sitting duck. An earlier encounter with a nosy stranger loitering outside Stan's room came to mind. Before the sheriff could ascertain the reason for his presence, the man disappeared like a wisp of fog.

A sketch had been drawn up based on Derek's recall of the man's appearance. Most notable was a dragon tattoo that wound around the man's neck and up into his hairline.

"Damned near impossible to conceal," Derek comforted himself.

A Mercedes SUV veered wildly ahead of him. The driver had a cell phone to her ear while gesturing with her other hand, leaving the car to steer itself.

The detective engaged siren and flashers to get her attention. He could see her grab the steering wheel, turn sharply and come to a stop thanks to the curb. Rather than waste precious time on a traffic stop, he settled for sending her a hard stare as he cruised past, certain she'd be back on the phone as soon as he disappeared from sight.

Three minutes later he pulled into the hospital's short term parking and exited. His hands and feet tingled with nervous energy as he neared his goal. A few feet from the elevator bank, a white-haired gentleman with lines etched deeply into the corner of his eyes, waylaid him.

"Sheriff, I'm Jim Duffy, a friend of Stanley Eisner's. I've just come from CICU. They won't let me see Stanley 'cause I'm not immediate family. I know something really bad is happening with him right now, and I'm afraid he's going to die before you can talk with him."

"Then you know it's imperative I get to his side as soon as possible, Mr. Duffy."

"Yes, Sir. But, first, you need to know something about Stan."

Derek took a firm hold of the man's elbow and led him to a quiet corner. "Please make this brief, Mr. Duffy."

"Stan received a threatening letter two weeks before Debra Padget's death. He never told a soul but me. I urged him to go to the police. But he said that whatever happened was in God's hands. That he should'a done the right thing years before and maybe it was his sins catchin' up with him." Jim pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped his eyes.

"Do you know if he kept the letter?"

"No, Sir, I do not." Derek's brief hope plummeted. "But all his important documents are kept in a safe in his home."

"How do you know about the safe?"

"Stan showed it to me when he put me in charge of his estate. It's all in his will."

"Do you know the safe's combination?" Derek told himself to breathe.

"Yes, Sir, I do."

"Great." Derek clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Wait here and I'll send my officer down. If Stanley doesn't survive, we'll have to get a search warrant and that could take some time."

"I understand." A sheen of tears set his eyes glowing. "Stanley is one of the good ones, Sheriff. That letter, and Debra's death, led to this heart attack. Whoever wrote it might as well have put a gun to his head."

Derek nodded solemnly. "The letter could be a direct link to the killer. Do you understand what I'm telling you?"

"I'll leave it to your people to find and process it, Sheriff."

"Ex-military?"

"Yes, Sir, Army Staff Sergeant. Served in Korea."

"I hope Stanley lives to hear the tale of how you helped the police solve a murder, Sergeant Duffy."

Jim looked at the floor and mumbled, "I'm praying for him to survive."

"Prayer is good," Derek whispered as he brushed past the older man.

The elevator was full, but soon the occupants moved to their safety zones as if they feared he would ticket them for elevator loitering.

He walked through the CICU doors into a scene of controlled chaos with Stanley Eisner as its hub. Officer Todd Poole rushed to greet his commander.

"Mr. Eisner's had a massive stroke, Sheriff.  It's looking pretty grim."

"Surgeon here yet?"

"Got here just as Mr. Eisner went into cardiac arrest. He's in the room right now."

Derek recognized the blonde charge nurse as she exited Stanley's room, and read the outcome in her flushed face and slumped shoulders.

"He's gone, Sheriff. He never regained consciousness."

She pointed to a green-garbed, slender man with a surgical mask bulging about his throat. "That's Mr. Eisner's surgeon. Give him a couple of minutes, will you? He takes it very hard whenever he loses a patient."

From his vantage point near the door, Derek watched the surgeon with growing curiosity. Doctor Drake stared at Stanley's face as if willing him back from the dead. Then he gently raised his patient's hand from the bed and straightened each curled finger. Crossing to the other side of the bed, he repeated the action. Finally he laid both of Stanley's hands across his chest. It was then he acknowledged Derek's presence.

"There's a small room down the hall to your left where we dictate our chart notes. If it's unoccupied we can talk in there, Sheriff."

He moved briskly with the sheriff on his heels. The small space had two seats in addition to the conference table and was currently unoccupied. Doctor Drake dropped wearily into one of the chairs, but Derek remained standing.

"I'm sorry you were unable to speak with Stan... Mr. Eisner," Doctor Drake began. "The amount of damage to his heart was so extensive I worried about the possibility of complications. A small percentage of heart surgery patients succumb to post-op strokes. Stanley was one of the unfortunate few." He glanced at the wall clock and back at Derek. 

"Thank you for taking a few minutes to talk with me," Derek quickly interjected. "Your services, I'm sure, are required elsewhere, Doctor, so I'll keep my questions brief." 

"Appreciate that. Now, what can I tell you?"

"I believe Mr. Eisner possessed knowledge that placed his life in jeopardy. There's evidence he was the target of a man who has already committed one murder."

"You're wondering if there was any indication of foul play?" The physician cocked his head like a bird listening for a worm. "I can tell you that Stan's heart failure was the primary cause of death. Given that his heart imploded, however, I would refrain from calling that a natural event."

Both men grabbed their pockets on hearing the telltale buzz of a cell phone. They smiled in recognition of their brotherhood then separated like boxers in a ring. Seconds later, the surgeon came tearing out of the office and through the automatic doors.

Jim Duffy stood outside the doorway, his face filled with fear. Derek hated the part of his job that called for breaking the hearts of innocent people. But, there was a larger purpose to be served and a woman's death to be vindicated. He put on his game face and strode forward, ready to grasp a glimmer of hope. 

~~continued with part two~~

Author Notes CICU: Cardiac Intensive Care Unit
Characters:
Derek Oleson: Granite Mountain Sheriff and lead homicide detective.
Jim Duffy: Retiree and friend of Stanley Eisner.
Stanley Eisner: Retired former teacher at St. Matilde's Catholic School.
Debra Padget: Invalid widow murdered in her home.

Sioux translation: Inaji (arise) ee-nah-zjee


Thanks to Darrin Stevens for use of his great artwork.


Chapter 27
Inaji Moon, Part Two

By Writingfundimension

~~~~~~~~~~
Previously:

'The Elder had not gone one step before a sound, similar to a distant train approaching, caused him to cock his head in puzzlement. The sound mounted in intensity, and he felt as if a horde of crazed bees probed for a way to get into his skull. He fell back in the chair, gripping his head in agony.

'Raising one palm to the table's surface, Tony fought to make his fingers inch forward until they reached the mound of blessed sage. He squeezed the sage and tried to speak, but his mouth was paralyzed. Summoning every bit of his strength, he commanded with his inner voice, 'Iyena Ekta... Iyena Ekta... '

It seemed to take forever for the din to fade, and finally, disappear. Stunned, the old man closed his eyes and breathed rhythmically until the pain in his ears receded.'
~~~~~~~~~~

Tony Buday had a great deal on his mind. His walking stick scraping the cold earth beneath shriveled leaves and the snuffling of his old coon dog kept his thoughts company. A wind blew through from Canada overnight, turning the forest path hazardous with patches of black ice.The medicine man kept his eyes on the ground and his steps slow, but was less successful with his thoughts.

He worried about the safety of his niece, Jana Burke. She was hip deep in the murder investigation of Debra Padget. Like the good cop she was, she would rely on reason to guide her. Tony felt, to his core, an otherworldly evil was behind the murder. Reason, alone, rendered a person blind to such forces.

A sleek red squirrel eyed the approach of his walking stick. The creature twitched with nervous tension as it waited to see if the object had the power to conjure food. When it realized that attached to the stick was a very large creature, it bounded off to the safety of a nearby maple tree. Tony watched the squirrel, a flash of red on gray, race up the tree with surety and grace, marveling at Great Spirit's free gifts.

"Picaya, wopila-kiye (Well done, one who makes glad)," he said.

At the sound of his master's voice, the coon dog trotted to his side. Tony reached into his pocket for a treat. He held his hand open and a large tongue retrieved it, leaving his hand shiny with saliva. With the tip of his stick, Tony rubbed Wasu's belly and chuckled at the way the dog rolled onto his back and groaned with pleasure.

"We're a fine pair, Wasu," Tony said. "A back rub and a tasty meal by a fire is all we need to be content."

Soon the dog returned to his hunting, and Tony's thoughts moved to consider the effect a parishioner's murder was having on his friend, Father Brian.

The two men had an unlikely friendship given the fact Tony's own nephew was one of the young men abused by the pastor's predecessor. But Father Brian's genuine desire to find a common ground among all faiths led Tony to open the door to a world that many Native Americans his age deeply mistrusted.

The previous night's spiritual attack left Tony with the prescient notion that he and Father Brian were the targets of an energy more dreadful than anything he'd encountered as a Sioux medicine man. He was often called upon to clear dark energies oppressing the people of his tribe. What he'd felt in his kitchen was an evil of unparalleled vigor. It stirred dark emotions he'd thought mastered.

Once before he'd been tempted to use his powers to punish rather than heal. Tony sometimes regretted his decision to wait and see. Abeya (scattering of family) and wicate tonskaya (death of a nephew) had been the price.

Although he knew his nephew's spirit had been stolen from him by a waka-sica (devil), he failed to heal the boy in time. Events quickly spiraled out of control beginning with the confrontation between Tony's brother-in-law and the priest he believed raped his son. The Monsignor scorned the idea his Bishop would believe anything an 'Indian' said. Police warned him to let them handle it.

They'd been gathering evidence and arrested the Monsignor shortly afterwards. With the possibility of having to testify at a trial, Tony's nephew Billy, took his own life. In his suicide note, he pleaded for his parents to understand and forgive him. He feared the repercussions of testifying and could see no other way to prevent further shame.

Adding to his family's pain was the insinuation among some of the tribal members the tragedy was punishment for abandoning the Old Ways. The family withdrew further when friends and relatives, following Sioux custom, avoided talking directly with them about how they were coping. The manner of the boy's death was never openly acknowledged and his name was avoided by the members of the tribe.

Michael Longacre, his brother-in-law and the boy's father, left the reservation a year after the trial. Since his wife, Agnes, refused to leave her reservation family behind, they divorced. Tony had immediately taken over seeing to his sister's needs. She'd renounced the Catholic church and gone back to the Old Ways. In the decade since her son's death, she pursued a purposeful path as healer, ministering to women in crisis.

So intense was his concentration, he did not notice his dog had slipped from sight. The sound of Wasu's baying startled him. It was a joyful sound letting him know whoever approached was known to them both.

"Hau, Tiblo-Ya (greetings, older brother)," a beautiful silver-haired woman hailed as she approached.

"Hau, Milan (greetings, younger sister)," he responded, feeling warmth fill his heart at the sight of her.

She was dressed in a hand-woven traditional skirt and blouse. A thick vest was cinched at the waist with a belt set off by a fist-sized pure silver buckle, and she wore a headband which served the dual purpose of restraining her long hair and keeping her ears warm.

Agnes quickly reached his side and linked her arm with his. Ablak-hingla (a peaceful quiet) settled between them as they covered the last quarter mile to Tony's house.

His sister spoke of trivial matters as he set about preparing lunch for them. Removing a tin of cinnamon tea leaves from the cupboard, he measured a large spoonful and tipped them into the tea strainer. He poured boiling water over the leaves and placed a lid on the pot. When the stew was warmed through, Tony dished it into two bowls, poured tea into mugs, and sat. He and Agnes ate without speaking.

Indian time was a mystery to the white man. But for his people, it was an acknowledgement that some things should never be forced. He trusted Agnes would tell him the real reason for her visit when the time was right.

While Tony washed and put away the lunch dishes, Agnes moved to the blue and green plaid rocking chair in the seating area just off the dinette. After putting away the last plate, Tony seated himself across from her.

"Acaga (the freeze) brings stiffness to my knees," she said by way of opening the conversation.

"I've just made a fresh batch of poultice for arthritis. Be sure to take some home."

Agnes tilted her head and gazed on her brother with deep affection. "Oi-ahokipa, Tibla-Ya (you take good care of me, elder brother)."

'Forgive my impertinence, Agnes," he tried to keep the concern from his voice, "Is there something troubling you?" 

Agnes rubbed the pads of her fingers over the mug's design. She kept her eyes averted and Tony did the same.

"I've come to ask for your advice. I've had a vision of my son three times."

Tony inwardly shuddered. He was glad his culture considered direct eye contact to be a sign of disrespect for at that moment he could not have hidden his fear.

The rocking chair creaked a steady cadence.

"I could not make out his face. Mahpiya Wan Akahpeya (a cloud covered him), but I know my son's voice. He stood at the end of my bed. Too far away for me to touch." Her voice shook in a rare display of emotion.

"The first two times, I didn't understand," she continued. "But last night, his words were plain. He ce na, Ina (it keeps happening, Mother)," he said. "Leksi (Uncle) Tony, he jan jan, waka sica (must stop the devil)."

Agnes turned eyes bright with anger in his direction. "Is this related to the white woman's murder?"

"Yes."

"Is this related to the reason for my son's death?"

"Yes, I believe so." Tony watched for her reaction to this news.   

"The waka sica (devil) visited you," she stated with certainty.

Tony touched together his fingertips as gesture of confirmation.

"You are a strong man, Tiblo-Ya, but you are no longer young. You need my help to finish this."

Agnes set down her mug and stood up. "Yuncan (I'm not afraid), let us together atakuniSniyan waka sica (banish the devil)."

~~~~~~~~~~

Sheriff Oleson entered the Eisner residence to oversee the removal of any material pertinent to the murder investigation. Since they had the permission of Stanley's only legal representative, there was no need for a search warrant.

Jim Duffy had proven to be a man of his word. In short order, they opened Stanley's safe and retrieved all its contents, including a letter sealed in a pouch. While the CSI, Dave Morgan, properly tagged and secured the contents of the safe, Derek performed a cursory search of the house.

Dishes had been left to dry in one side of the double sink. The small kitchen was spotless and orderly, befitting a long-time bachelor. According to Jim, Stanley had never been married. After his retirement from St. Matilde's Catholic School, he'd devoted his time to charitable activities.

A quilt lay coiled on the couch, and there were signs that furniture had been moved around to accommodate the Emergency Response Team. Officer Poole cleared his throat behind him, pulling Derek from his concentration. He turned.

"Sir, I've made a careful examination of the doors and windows. Except for the obvious damage to the front door where the detectives kicked it in, the rest of the windows and entrances show no signs of forced entry."

"Well done, Officer Poole." The young man worked to suppress a grin. "Escort Jim Duffy back to his car before heading to the station to make your report."

Derek watched the young man move off with a new confidence to his step. The senior detective was genuinely pleased with the young officer's poise. He made a mental note to place a commendation into Tod Poole's personnel file.

"Any other areas you want me to process, Sheriff?" Derek was in Stanley Eisner's bedroom when the CSI appeared in the doorway.

Stanley was killed by his heart, not a murderous intruder. Coming here seals that for me.

"No, you can take off, Dave."

Turning back to the room, he tried to get a feel for the kind of man Stanley Eisner was. The bedroom, like the rest of the house had an impersonal feel to it with its sparse decorations and absence of family photographs. Looking around, Derek had the eerie sense a stranger in his own home might come away with the same feeling.

He exited the house and had just reached the door of his patrol car when his phone went off.

"Sheriff Oleson."

"You need to come down to the Station right away, Sheriff. Another member of St. Matilde's is reported missing."

"I'm on my way, Jana."

Author Notes Characters:
Tony Buday: Sioux Medicine Man and Uncle to Detective Jana Burke.
Jana Burke: Sioux Indian and member of the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department
Agnes Longacre: Sister of Tony Buday
Derek Oleson: Granite Mountain Sheriff
Todd Poole: Officer with the Granite Mountain Sheriff Department
Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church
Stanley Eisner: Former employee and member of St. Matilde's Catholic Church

I have opted for including the Sioux translations within the body of this chapter. If it seems odd that the two NA elders would mix English and Sioux, I can only tell you that being raised by bilingual elders myself, this is a very common pattern. Especially when they are among themselves. Irregularities in upper and lower case are consistent with the Sioux Language.

Thank you much to donkeyoatey for the superb accompanying artowork!


Chapter 28
Kahije Moon

By Writingfundimension

Previously:

"An arm surrounded his neck and pressed against his windpipe. 'Start walking toward your car and don't turn around,' a male voice commanded.
'Take my wallet. I promise I won't turn ya' in,' Fritz begged.
'I'm not here for money.'
Fritz had no choice but to follow the order. Every time he stumbled, a solid fist pounded his spine. 'Quit fucking with me, old man!'
When they finally reached the door of his car, Fritz croaked, 'Wh... a... at ya' gonna dot'me?'
His attacker's laughter was a bitter, crazy sound that filled Fritz with terror.
'Why, Mr. Buell, I'm going to make you famous!'
~~~~~~~~~~


Detective Burke sat alone in the seat of her police unit. She'd sought the privacy to sort through her thoughts before the Task Force met.   

Why didn't Mother tell me her only sibling killed himself after being molested by a priest? Cultural taboos be damned... I'M FAMILY.

The situation felt like a fresh insult to her integrity. One that undermined her confidence and threatened her ability to do her sworn duty.

Should I go to Grandmother Agnes or Uncle Tony for the facts? Uciwayeki has endured so much in losing both of her children. I don't want to bring up old pain. But if I approach Uncle Tony, he may still be so angry he won't want to talk about it either. How can I approach this without offending someone?

Jana noted the arrival of Sheriff Oleson, but was reluctant to speak with him. She'd not jelled on how to relay her recently-gathered information without exciting suspicion.

She was surprised when he exited his car and stood next to his bumper. He appeared to be waiting for her to approach.

A fitful rain was absorbed by the heavy cloth of her uniform. With each step closer to him, her boots split apart the shallow pools of standing water, mirroring the strong divides burning within her soul. 

"Get it sorted out, Jana?" he asked when she was close enough to speak.

"Excuse me, Sir?"

"I've noticed your habit of going to your car and sitting alone when you need time to think."

She looked at the ground, unsure of how to deal with the revelation that he'd been so closely watching her.

"Don't worry. I doubt anyone else has noticed," he assured her. 

Brown eyes met blue, connecting and exploring forbidden sensations. Jana found it increasingly difficult to squash the urge to caress Derek's cheek and hang on his every word. 'Confusing trust with desire,' she'd tell herself.

The dangerous feelings were part of the reason she lived on the reservation with her uncle. It was outside Derek's social circle, and she'd have no chance of running into him outside of the job.

Get this back on track.

"I'm sorry to hear of Stanley Eitner's death, Sheriff." She aimed for a neutral response.

"By all accounts he was generous and well-liked," Derek replied.

He stopped just before the entrance, forcing her to slow in response.  "Do you think it's wrong for me to be relieved it was Stanley's heart that killed him and not some heartless butcher?"

She was touched by the small glimpse of insecurity behind the armor of bravado he normally affected. 

"No, Sir. I think it shows how much you care about the people who make up this case and not the other way around."

"How can you be so young and get that so perfectly, Jana? I've worked with a lot of law enforcement types. Few I've known, maybe three or four, ever got that."

Tapping his badge, he continued, "Your talent and good instincts set you apart, Detective. Keep it up, and you'll be wearing this badge someday."

Jana graced him with a rare, brilliant smile. It was he that looked away first.
 

Inside the station, Rick Morales did not approve of the scene he was observing. He couldn't make out the context of their conversation, but the affection in Jana's smile didn't need translating. His heart slid south.

She's never looked at me that way.

Someone grabbed Rick's arm, and he whipped his head around, ready to tell whoever it was to piss off.

"Stop spying, Morales," Ron Jolly ordered, "and get a move on. Sheriff's called a meeting in his office."

Bobbing his head in the direction of the two detectives entering, Rick sneered, "Maybe you should tell them that." Ron ignored the comment and kept moving, leaving Morales to catch up.


Minutes later, the entire Task Force - minus Skeets Epstein out interviewing Debra Padget's neighbors a second time - assembled in Sheriff Oleson's office.

"You took the call from the California son, Rick," Derek began. "What makes you think we're looking at another possible victim? The old guy may have decided to break his routine and go on up to the casino. The majority of their early morning patrons are over the age of seventy."

"I thought of that - even suggested it to the son. But he was adamant his father does not deviate from his routine. When he couldn't reach him on his cell phone or land line, he didn't waste any time calling us."

"Nothing worse than kids who move away and turn hypervigilant when their parents' needs can't be met from the other side of the country."

"I think there's more going on," Rick asserted. "Matthew Buell, the son, is CEO of an energy co-operative in Southern California. He's intelligent and informed. He knows about the Padget murder. Since his father was an employee of St. Matilde's during the same time frame as Mrs. Padget, he's forming some of his own conclusions."

"We went immediately to Fritz Buell's house," Jana added. "No one answered the door and the garage was empty. Rick and I checked the entrances and windows. No signs of anything unusual, and no reason to enter without a warrant."

"According to the son," Rick cut in, "Mr. Buell has been in the habit of visiting his wife's grave every morning after Mass. A call to Father Brian confirmed Mr. Buell did attend Mass. Puts him at the cemetery by approximately eight thirty."

"I think we're all expecting the worst and hoping for the best," Derek began. "Rick and Jana, I'd like you two to check out the cemetery site. Just in case, take a CSI guy with you."

"Has an APB been issued?"

Jana spoke first. "Yes, and I've also taken the liberty of alerting the Tribal Police."

"Why would you do that?!" Rick spoke for the entire room.

Nonplussed, Jana continued, "This killer is organized and cunning. He knows that dumping a body on reservation land will create a territorial dispute. What better way to stall an investigation and give him time to commit his next murder?"

"Though I wish you'd consulted me first," Derek responded, "I see the merit in your thinking, Jana."

"Now, let's find Fritz Buell, hopefully alive and in one piece."

~~~~~~~~~~

Hank Gephart clamped his fingers around the handle of the metal bucket and put his back into the restroom door. Simultaneously, he bumped his elbow against the wall switch, extinguishing the room's light. His backwards progress stopped when the door stalled at midpoint.

What the heck?

The janitor dropped the bucket's handle and turned. He blinked in surprise. Darkness stretched the length of the hallway and beyond to the Fellowship Center. Hank always kept the lights on in any area of the church he worked.

With St. Matilde's locked and unoccupied except for himself, Hank's thoughts took a terrifying turn. While he was cleaning the bathroom, someone gained access to the church. What if they were nearby waiting for the chance to accost him?

Ever since the previous year's burglary, Hank dreaded being alone in the church. Specific objects - a crucifix blessed by Pope Paul VI and unsanctified communion wafers - had been stolen, yet solid gold chalices remained untouched. The police initially considered him a suspect. When Hank provided a solid alibi, the case quickly fizzled and died for lack of clues or witnesses.

After the incident, Hank seriously considered keeping a gun handy. His Catholic upbringing, however, instilled a reverence for God's house. So, he shelved that plan and came up with an adequate alternative.

Hank's lungs tightened with fear, forcing him to gulp for air. Desperately he searched his memory for the whereabouts of his pepper spray.

He searched the pockets of his supply satchel and grunted with satisfaction when his fingers met metal. Gripping the can in his fist, Hank stepped sideways, flattening himself against the wall.

Without his body weight to keep it ajar, the wooden door closed with a soft swish.

His limbs trembled with apprehension. Other than his own ragged breaths, he detected no other sounds. Hank pulled out a pocket-sized flashlight and, using minimal motion, scanned the immediate vicinity. A slim ray of light illuminated the doorways and half the hallway. No one jumped out of the shadows, and he began to relax a little.

Hank strained to recall everything he'd done in the last half hour. Was it possible he'd been on automatic pilot and forgot that he'd been the one to shut off the lights?

No, I'm positive I left those lights on.

"Had Father Brian come into the church for some reason?" he wondered. "Not seeing anyone about, Father might have assumed the lights had been left on by accident."

Get a grip, Hank. If it is Father Brian, he's likely in the sanctuary. You've got to check it out.

His knees wobbled as he pushed himself away from the wall. Placed strategically to impede the door's progress, was a bag of garbage. He'd not noticed it in his brief sweep of the hallway.

I know I did not leave a trash bag lying out here. This game is starting to piss me off.

Anger replaced fear. Hank switched off the flashlight and strode to the nearest wall switch. Under the bright overhead lights, he realized what he'd assumed was a garbage bag was, actually, a cardboard box. On top was a gold box with a fancy red bow.

What if it's a bomb?

His brain screamed stop, yet he dropped to his knees and crawled closer for a better look. He grasped the box with trembling fingers. The top easily lifted. A square of white batting covered something beneath. Hank lifted the cotton.

Oh, Dear God.

The box slipped from his fingers and rolled onto its side, disgorging its contents - a single human ear.

Author Notes Characters:
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Granite Mtn. Sheriff and lead homicide detective.
Detective Jana Burke: Homicide detective and Sioux Indian.
Detective Ron Jolly: Homicide detective.
Detective Rick Morales: Homicide detective.
Debra Padget: Murdered member of St. Matilde's Parish.
Stanley Eitner: Deceased friend of Debra Padget.
Agnes Longacre: Jana Burke's Grandmother who lives on the Reservation.
Tony Buday: Jana's Uncle and head medicine man of the Sioux Indian Tribe.
Frtiz Buell: Retired janitor of St. Matilde's Catholic School.
Hank Gephart: St. Matilde's church janitor.

Terms:
APB: All Points Bulletin
CSI: Crime Scene Investigator
CEO: Chief Executive Officer

Sioux Terms:
Kahije (kah-keezjay): Suffering
Uciwayeki (uen-chee-wah-yea-kee): My Grandmother

Thanks to donkeyoatey for the fabulous accompany artwork.


Chapter 29
A Hoka Moon, Pt. 1

By Writingfundimension

PREVIOUSLY:  One person murdered and one missing has the Detectives of Granite Falls Mountain struggling to connect the dots among a random series of events stretching back a decade. A member of the Sheriff's Department's Task Force is conducting second interviews with the murdered woman's neighbors.

~~~~~~~~~~ 


Detective Skeets Epstein sidestepped puddles on his way to Frankie Durbin's front door. He noted a rusted drainpipe lying atop a haggard bush beneath a side window. An obese tabby popped out from beneath the bush, startling the detective. It hissed, revealing its sharp teeth, then bolted for a nearby chain link fence. Halfway up, the cat lost steam and dropped to the ground.

A cat that's too fat to climb a fence is plain pathetic.

Skeets looked down at the inch of fat that lapped over his belt. Silently, he swore on his sweet mother's grave he'd eaten his last donut that morning. He buttoned his jacket to cover the fat, then knocked on the door of his final followup interview of the day. 

There was a faint sound of scraping metal followed by the door  opening the length of an interior chain bolt. A man with thick-lensed glasses peered through the gap. He blinked against the daylight coming through the door -- the magnifying effect of his lenses gave the impression his eyelashes were flapping wings. "Who're you?" he demanded.

"I'm Detective Epstein with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department."

"I'll need to see some I.D. 'afore I let you in."

"Certainly, Mr. Durbin."

Skeets produced his identification, which Frankie snatched from his hand and brought close to his face. The owl eyes went back and forth between the detective and the badge. Finally satisfied, the old man returned the badge and lifted the chain, opening the door wider.

"Follow me," Frankie ordered. The two walked down a short hallway. Skeets noted, in passing the living room, an oxygen tank leaning against a threadbare couch. The device's hose and nosepiece lay on a floor that looked far from clean.

They entered a small kitchen with a table in the center covered by piles of old newsprint and unopened mail. The sink was stacked with dirty dishes soaking in gray water, and the smell of layered grease hung in the air.

"Wasn't expectin' anybody today. Place's a bit messy," Frankie said over his shoulder as he filled a coffee cup from the machine on the countertop. He turned, cup in hand, and came to stand a few feet from the detective.

When it became obvious to the investigator that he was going to be offered neither coffee nor a seat, he ploughed forward.

"This shouldn't take long, Mr. Durbin. We have a new lead in the case of Mrs. Padget. We believe the person responsible for her death is passing themselves off as a nurse or health care worker. Do you recall seeing any unusual medical personnel hanging about on the day of the murder?"

"For crying out loud. In case you hadn't noticed, ninety percent of this neighborhood is over the age of seventy. We all spend too much of our time, and most of our hard earned money, hangin' around the medical profession. And if you ask me, they all look suspicious."

"I understand, but..."

Suddenly, Frankie was uncomfortably close. "I watch a lotta cop shows, and I know you fellahs have a window of opportunity that's about ready to slam shut. Why are you wasting time bothering a bunch of old people who can't hardly recall what they had for breakfast?" He jutted his chest forward, "The neighborhood's in a panic, and I'm not the only one huggin' a shotgun to my chest at night, Detective."

Frankie's elbows shot out from his side causing a chain reaction. Coffee from the cup in his hands splashed up and out, connecting with Skeets' tie. Frankie mumbled, "Sorry" and looked away as his victim grabbed a napkin from the table to blot the spreading brown stain.

The old guy was huffing like he'd climbed a flight of stairs, and Skeets suspected he was working himself up to continue his tirade.

He's scared and I'm pissed. I'll issue a warning about the gun and get the hell out of here.

"Mr. Durbin, grabbing a loaded gun when you're half asleep is a very bad idea." Skeets could tell by the man's false smile that he was going to get nowhere with his little speech.

The guy's probably a vet who risked his life for the right to bear arms.

Holding direct eye contact, he continued, "The best thing you can do is keep your doors locked and your eyes open for any unusual people or situations." He reached into his shirt pocket and retrieved a business card that he placed on the table. "Use the number on that card any time day or night. You aren't that far from the Sheriff's Department, and we can have someone here in less than five minutes."

Frankie slid the card off the table and squinted to make out the number.

Great. Can't see a foot from his face but he's gonna nail a target across the room.

Skeets suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. He slanted his body away from the angry man and said, "Thank you for your time, Mr. Durbin. I'll see myself out." Turning, he retraced his footsteps.

The old guy is right. Precious hours wasted and nothing gained. I hope the rest of the team's had better luck.

"An orange pickup," Frankie called from the doorway of the kitchen.

Skeets turned to face him. "An unusual vehicle, Mr. Durbin?"

"Yup. Saw it in the alleyway a coupla' days before Debra's... ah ... before she died and I ain't seen it since."

"Would you be able to positively identify it if you saw it again?"

"Hell, yes. Damned driver missed hittin' me by inches when I was puttin' out the trash dumpster."

"Anything else you recall?"

"Pretty sure it was one of them Japanese models. You know, the ones built for midgets."

Skeets' pulse pounded in his throat. "Did you see the driver?"

Frankie shook his head. "No, it all happened so fast. He was driving like a maniac."

"You've been a big help, Mr. Durbin. It's things like this that can make or break a case."

Frankie flashed a gap-toothed grin.

Hands on hips, Skeets looked at the floor to consider whether he should mention his new concern. He decided to follow his instinct. "I don't want to frighten you, but you will need to be extra careful. If the driver of that pickup is the murderer, you may not be safe. We can provide you with a place to stay until the case is solved?"

"Ain't goin' nowhere, Detective. Besides, Sally's the jealous type. If anyone gets too near, she knows how to eliminate the competition, if you know what I mean?"

It took a few seconds for Skeets to recognize Frankie was talking about his shotgun. A smile edged out his frown.

"In any case, I'm going to arrange for regular surveillance of your house. Just promise me you won't put a hole through one of my officers."

"I'll damned sure try, Detective, but you better warn 'em not to sneak up on ol' Frankie."

~~~ continued in part two ~~~

Author Notes Terms:
Hoka: Sioux term for badger and pronounced hohn-kahn.

Thanks to Deloralok for the use of her artwork.


Chapter 30
A Hoka Moon, Pt. 2

By Writingfundimension

 Previously: One person murdered and one missing has the Detectives of Granite Mountain struggling to find a connection among a random series of events stretching back a decade. During a second interview, one of the murdered woman's neighbors remembers an important detail.

~~~~~~~~~~


Skeets Epstein weighed the potential value of Frankie Durbin's information. The man's poor eyesight, made evident by his thick glasses, disqualified him as a reliable trial witness. The detail of the suspicious vehicle, however, merited serious consideration.

The detective was eager to dig into motor vehicle records looking for all registered owners of orange pickups. Nothing about the Padget case was falling into line easily. He hoped fate had shown up in the guise of an irksome, gun-nuzzling retiree.

Skeets was that rare detective who never resisted desk duty during a  homicide investigation. He relished hunting the virtual paper trail aided by the taxpayer-funded, state-of-the-art computer system. Like a good bird dog, he lived for that moment when his prey hit the ground.

Supplementing his own talent for finding the buried track, he'd patiently nurtured official contacts throughout the country---cops, like himself, with a sixth sense for connecting obscure dots. Thanks to those contacts, he'd recently solved the cold case murder of six-year- old Lila Cooper. Providing closure for Lila's family reinforced his passion for police work.

When he'd moved from St. Paul to Granite Mountain in the 80's, to accept a position as a homicide detective, he'd already concluded he was destined was to be a team player but never its leader. He was neither whip-smart like his commander, Derek Oleson, or polished like his partner, Ron Jolly. Yet, he was confident of his unique skill-set and content to pass the ball to the youngsters.

Witnessing Jana Burke's slow burn of ambition, he sized her up as being the one most likely to hit the top. "It won't be due to gender parity, either," he thought. "She's good. Scary good."

Skeets checked his watch and figured a short break for lunch would do no harm. He angle-parked outside a butcher shop/deli owned by a Finn named Lolly. Skeets approached the counter, pulled a tab and took a seat to wait his turn. The soft-spoken owner was humping to satisfy a female customer who insisted on precise measurements.

"Not an ounce over, Lolly."

"Ya, I understand, Mrs. Gunter. I do my best."

The lady studied a list in her hand as Lolly scooped freshy ground beef and placed it on the scale. Skeets stepped behind the woman and surreptitiously peered over her shoulder. She was a long way from the bottom of her list.

Stepping to a refrigerated case along a side wall, Skeets studied the packaged sandwiches. Only two remained. Both were tuna on rye. He selected a sandwich and slice of cheesecake. He reasoned the tuna and cheesecake would cancel each other out, leaving him with a net zero weight gain. Grabbing a diet coke, he paid his bill and left.

Skeets adjusted his car seat for extra room and was placing a napkin over his lap when his cell phone rang. He shoved aside the food on the adjoining seat and grabbed his phone by the second ring.

"Epstein, here."

"What's your current location, Skeets?" Detective Ron Jolly asked.

"Approximately a quarter mile from the Station. What's up?"

"A call came through 911 reporting a break-in at St. Matilde's Catholic Church. The caller identified himself as the janitor and claimed a burglar left behind a severed human ear."

"On my way."

"I'm pulling into the church parking lot right now, Skeets. There's been a new development in the case. A second parishioner of St. Matilde's is reported missing. The boss believes this break-in could be connected and wants two detectives on the call."

"Understood." Skeets clicked off, gave one last, longing look at his lunch, and engaged his siren as he sped away from the curb. Arriving minutes later at the church, he parked between Ron Jolly's patrol car and the CSI van.

Skeets recognized Father Brian as the person entering the church foyer ahead of him. He hoped the priest ignored him. He'd rather face the cold eyes of a psycho killer than the soul-probing look of a priest. Skeets considered himself a contentedly lapsed Catholic. But the stern stare of a priest could still nudge guilt to the surface.

Father Brian turned and Skeets registered his ashen face and trembling hand holding the door ajar.

There's nothing worse than a shepherd helplessly watching wolves devour his sheep, he thought.

Skeets offered a glimmer of hope to the stricken priest.

"The bolder these creeps get, Father, the more likely they are to slip up. Maybe today we'll catch a break."

His words had the hoped-for effect. Brian took a deep breath and released his shoulders.

"I pray you're right, Detective."

Together they passed through the church lobby to the Family Center at the rear of the building. Hank Gephart, the janitor, was sitting on a folding chair. His head rose. When he recognized Father Brian, he released the tears he'd been holding back. "Father, I swear I locked the church doors."

The priest knelt on the floor and patted Hank's shoulder. "I'm certain you did nothing wrong. Once the detectives have your statement, would you like me to drive you home?"

Skeets looked at Ron, who nodded.

"That won't be necessary, Father," Skeets said. "We'll see he gets home safely and keep a watch on his house until its clear what's happened here."

We need to get this guy out of here. He's a hair's width from full blown panic.

Skeets hurried to where Ron Jolly watched the processing of the human ear. As yet, the larger box had not been opened.

Ron spoke in soft tones, "Smell anything odd?"

Skeets sniffed in short bursts until recognition dawned.

"Formaldehyde?"

"Yeah."

Ron pointed to the CSI and continued, "Mark says the ear's been in formaldehyde a long time."

Skeets was momentarily elated. "Not from our missing person."

The CSI looked up from his squatting position. His hands were poised just above the banker's box. "Ready when you are."

Skeets signaled the go-ahead. Mark carefully removed the lid. Inside was a neatly folded pile of men's clothing. On top lay a sheet of paper. Since Ron was wearing gloves, Mark handed the paper to him.

Ron scanned it then tipped the page for Skeets to read.

"Please donate these to a worthy charity. Fritz Buell no longer requires their use."

Father Brian, who'd approached unnoticed, moaned, "Dear God in Heaven."

Skeets whirled to face the priest. "Don't jump to conclusions, Father. This could be a diversionary tactic." But even as he said the words, he knew they held a hollow wish.

Author Notes Characters:
Skeets Epstein: Homicide Detective
Ron Jolly: Homicide Detective
Jana Burke: Homicide Detective
Derek Oleson: Sheriff of Granite Mountain
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's.
Hank Gephart: Janitor
Debra Padget: Murder Victim
Fritz Buell: Missing Man

Terms:
CSI: Crime Scene Investigator

Thanks much to dragifortuna for the great accompanying artwork!


Chapter 31
Maya Moon

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong violence.

The man invading Sheriff Derek Oleson's personal space jabbed his forefinger into the detective's sternum.

"Dad's been missing for four days. FOUR DAYS. Nothing is more important than finding him. If that means calling in the federal authorities, then by God, do it!"

Derek flattened his lips into a straight line and stepped back. The detective's parry had the effect of halting Matthew Buell's tirade. He slumped sideways against Derek's desk and rubbed his right arm for warmth.

"My department is running a solid investigation." Derek's voice was even, his words precise. "We have nothing, as of yet, to warrant the interest of the FBI."

The coarse laughter of the third man in the room brought Matthew Buell to his feet. Clenched fists telegraphed a warning that his employee, Private Investigator Aaron Noff, chose to ignore.

"Spoken like a politician, Sheriff Oleson."

Aaron leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. "What you need, and your investigation sadly lacks, is clarity. You're asking yourselves, what is motivating this killer? Is he acting out his fantasies... perhaps, exacting revenge? Or maybe he's a sadist who can't get it up without inflicting pain?" He made a quarter-turn with his chair and spoke directly to Fritz Buell's son.

"Here's the part Sheriff Oleson won't tell you, Matt. They've got next to nothing in Debra Padget's murder investigation other than a questionable link to a decade-old pedophile case. The man who suggested the connection is Father Brian DeShano, the only person to have direct contact with the killer." He pursed his lips and made a popping sound. "I'm not surprised they don't want the Feds snooping around."

Matthew shifted his position to address Derek. "Dad considered Father Brian a friend. Without question, he would do whatever the priest asked. Why haven't you examined his involvement more closely? The idea my father was snatched because he knows something about an old pedophile case is ludicrous."

Derek bent forward to inspect the tip of his boots. When he raised his eyes, they were diamond-hard. Instinctively, the P.I. crossed his arms in front of his chest.

"I'm curious, Mr. Noff," Derek began. "How would you track a missing person?"

"Statewide vehicle alert, process DNA from the clothes, and look for witnesses." Aaron's voice rose a notch as he protested, "I shouldn't have to tell you how to do your job."

A slow-spreading flush moved from Aaron's neck to his scalp when he saw Derek's checkmate smile.

Matthew moved to within sight of the two men. "Understand something, Sheriff. I'm not here to impede your efforts. I respect your limitations. But I am, by nature, a deal maker, and when necessary, a ball breaker." He glanced up at the wall clock. "In less than thirty minutes, accompanied by an attractive blonde television anchor, I intend to offer $10,000 as an incentive for finding my father."

Derek turned toward Matthew, planted one leg and rested his opposite knee against the edge of his desk.

"Throwing that kind of money into the mix is dangerous --- ninety per cent of the leads it'll generate are bullshit and a waste of manpower," Derek insisted. "Are you willing to take that risk?"

"I'm going to use my resources as I see fit, Sheriff. What I have is money. Lots of money..." Matthew's voice cracked and he looked away for a moment. "Dad held two jobs in order to pay for my college education. He made me the man I am. And I intend to use everything at my disposal to bring him home safe."

Derek's jaw was tight but his tone was conciliatory. "You may not believe this, but I do understand."

The younger Buell exited the room, but Aaron Noff delayed. "I've been executing a background check on Father Brian," he began.

Derek watched the younger man fiddle with his jacket zipper. He suspected it was a ploy to get a rise out of him, but he no longer cared.

"Go on," Derek growled.

"Are you aware Brian DeShano was a surgical nurse before he became a priest? He dropped from sight when his mother committed suicide. Seems she overdosed when her sexual relationship with a priest was exposed. Sometime after that, Brian entered the seminary. His sponsor was Monsignor Lewis Flaherty."

Derek flinched.

Aaron recognized he'd scored a bulls-eye. He tipped the brim of his ball cap and swaggered through the doorway. Derek, following on his heels, kicked the door shut. He longed to put his fist through something, anything. Instead, he cleared his mind of emotion and chewed on what he'd just heard.

The news is a game-changer.
First step, corroborate the story. Second step, invite Father Brian down to the station for a not-so-friendly chat.

He moved to his desk phone and pushed the intercom button.

"Megan, round up any of the Padget case detectives in house and get them into my office right away."

~~~~~~~~~~

Fritz Buell's naked body lay on the gurney needing no protection against the cold of the sealed room. His face showed signs of a violent, deadly struggle.

A figure wearing a surgical gown wheeled a stainless steel instrument tray to a spot next to the gurney. Gloves in place, he raised each of Fritz's eyelids and taped them open.

He turned sideways and panicked when he found the tray too low. He ripped off the gloves he was wearing and adjusted it to the proper height. He re-gloved and surveyed the objects he'd assembled.

Separating the edges of the sterile package, he counted the contents and prioritized them. His next act involved choosing a blade. Normally, for an optimal cosmetic appearance, he'd use the thinnest scalpel blade. Since it was unlikely anyone would appreciate such an effort in this case, he chose the standard size ten.

Severing the six ocular muscles of the right eye, he lifted the organ with forceps and dropped it into the specimen container. Next he removed the left eyeball and placed it beside its partner. He packed the empty orifices with sterile gauze to absorb possible seepage from the severed nerves and finished by cauterizing the wound edges. Finally, he stepped back and grinned with satisfaction as he surveyed his craftsmanship.

My best work yet.

He transferred the container filled with Fritz Buell's eyeballs to a fireproof safe, gathered the surgical tools and placed them in a sterile bath. The gown and gloves would end up in a local landfill.

The air in the room thickened oppressively as he lifted his victim from the table and laid him on the painter's tarp. A familiar energy slithered up his spine to the top of his head. The agony of invisible spikes being driven into his skull doubled him over. His hands flailed against the unseen tormenter. As the pain mounted, he screamed, "You're killing me."

The pain stopped.

"I'm following your orders," he whined, "why hurt me?"

A guttural, disembodied voice assaulted his brain.

"You are slipping into pride and arrogance and require a reminder. I control your destiny. Disobey me, and I will punish you in ways the twisted mind of man has yet to conceive."

to be continued

Author Notes Terms:
DNA: Genetic marker
Gurney: Wheeled stretcher.
Ocular: Eye
P.I.: Private Investigator
Scalpel: A small, thin knife with an attachable blade used in surgery

Characters:
Derek Oleson: Granite Mountain Sheriff
Fritz Buell: Missing former employee of St. Matilde's School
Matthew Buell: Fritz's son from California
Aaron Noff: Private investigator hired by Matthew Buell
Father Brian DeShano: Current pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church
Debra Padget: Murdered employee of St. Matilde's Catholic School
Megan: Sheriff Oleson's professional assistant
Monsignor Lewis Flaherty: Previous pastor of St. Matilde's imprisoned for pedophilia

Maya: Cliff - Sioux (mah yah)

Thanks to donkeyoatey for us of his artwork, The Alchemist. Fantastic!


Chapter 32
Iyaope Moon

By Writingfundimension

Previously:

"Matthew Buell moved to within sight of the two men. "Understand something, Sheriff. I'm not here to impede your efforts. I respect your limitations. But I am by nature a deal maker, and when necessary, a ball breaker. He glanced up at the wall clock. "In less than thirty minutes, accompanied by an attractive blonde television anchor, I intend to offer a $10,000 incentive for finding my father."

Derek turned toward Matthew, planted one leg and rested his opposite knee against the edge of the desk.

"Throwing that kind of money into the mix is dangerous --- ninety per cent of the leads are bullshit and a waste of manpower," Derek insisted. Are you willing to take that risk?"

"I'm going to use my resources as I see fit, Sheriff. What I have is money. Lots of money...' Matthew's voice cracked and he looked away for a moment. "Dad held two jobs in order to pay for my college education. He made me the man I am. And I intend to use everything at my disposal to bring him home safe."

~~~~~~~~~~


Tribal policeman, Ty Longacre, found himself dead center of a family dispute. He'd been called to the Bree farm on Cowbird Lane to break up an altercation between twin brothers, Raymond and Russell.

Lynn Bree, niece of the twins and co-owner of the farmstead, was the one who made the call. She was waiting for him at the top of the driveway as he stepped from his patrol car.

"What're they fightin' about this time, Lynn?" Ty asked without preamble.

"The same old nonsense. Casino allotment checks came in the mail yesterday. Raymond discovered Russell opened his envelope without permission -- you know he just won't give up on the idea he's getting less of a payout. The uncles never questioned each other's honesty until that damned casino opened."

She raised a palm to shade her eyes against a sudden burst of light through patchy gray clouds. "I heard them hollering and thought nothing of it. But when I saw Raymond heading to the shed, I figured I'd better get you over here just in case things get out of hand."

Ty's answering smile curved gently like a river connecting two mountain peaks. His high cheekbones and deep-set, cocoa-brown eyes set every single woman's pulse fluttering. Lynn was one of the few that didn't go soft under his scrutiny.

"I've got goats to milk, Ty. The uncles are upsetting the animals, and I'd appreciate it if you could get them settled down."

He tipped his hat and promised, "I'll throw them in jail overnight if I have to."

"For what its worth, you have my permission to do whatever it takes." She turned her back on him and walked to where three goats scrubbed the top of their wire pen with their tongues.

Ty openly enjoyed the easy sway of her hips and the gentle rock of her waist-length braid as she made her way up the slope to her animals.

You're a fine lookin' lady, Lynn Bree.

Reluctantly he turned away and followed shouts to a naked patch of ground a few feet from a tool shed. Past arguments between the brothers were rarely serious, mostly just a way to let off some steam. But Raymond appeared unusually frenzied today, and Ty figured it had to do with the empty liquor bottle he spied lying on the ground.

Grabbing a shovel leaning against the shed, Raymond swung it close to his brother's face, missing skin by a whisker. Russell blushed blood- red and screamed, "You crazy jackass." Thrusting out his chest like a randy bull, he rammed into his brother, knocking him to the ground. His enraged twin wrapped his arms around his brother's legs, laying him out flat. The two rolled around on the ground while hurling insults back and forth.

Ty picked up the shovel and set it inside the shed. He closed the door and stood watching the two men who showed no signs of letting up. Tentative scraping sounds came through the warped slats of wood behind him. A slight movement among the tall grasses to his left drew his attention.

A barn cat moved with practiced stealth in the direction of the rickety building.

Idukala (mouse) will soon feel the breath of Igmu (cat), he thought.

He watched the brothers tussle, hoping they'd lose steam of their own volition. Taking off his genuine black Stetson, he pulled out a square of cloth from his pocket and wiped moisture from the inner band. He'd been razzed for looking like a Wasicu (white person) when he first started wearing it. But he admired its craftsmanship and the inches it added to his height.

He placed the hat back on his head, tapped it into place and walked to where the two men were still going at it. Reaching down, he grabbed Russell who was sitting on his brother's chest and working to extract a handful of his brother's hair.

The old man struggled briefly then went slack in Ty's grip. Raymond made no move other than to turn his head sideways and spit out the dirt and pebbles in his mouth. Looking from one to the other, Ty rumbled, "I'm tired of comin' out here and pryin' you two knuckleheads apart. This is your last warning. Next time I'm called out here, you two will be treated to an overnight stay in our fine jail. Am I clear?"

"Lynn had no business calling you," Raymond protested. "This is family business. We'll settle it our own way."

Ty released his hold on Raymond. He looked down at his twin and and asked, "That how you feel about it, Russell? Because I've got better things to do with my time than come out here and save your sorry ass."

Russell held his hand out for his brother to pull him to his feet. He took a minute to steady himself before answering, "I agree with Raymond. This is family business to be settled between ourselves. Our Tuzaya (niece) doesn't understand the old ways."

"There's old ways and then there's stupid," Ty shot back. "If you ask me, Lynn's the only one with common sense in this family."

Raymond's hand shot out and gripped Ty's wrist. "Never disrespect the old ways," he warned. "You young people sneer and call us crazy for holding to tradition." He leaned closer. "But something's coming, I can feel its ready to show its face. The signs are everywhere, but you're blind to them."

Ty felt a stir of excitement mixed with dread. The Elder mirrored his own thoughts following the recent conversation with his cousin, Detective Jana Burke, about her missing persons case.

He jerked at the sudden buzz of his cell phone. Shaking off Raymond's hand, Ty grabbed the phone from his belt. The two brothers took advantage of the distraction to head for their cabin.

"What you got, Lu?"

Dispatcher, Luella Bovier, spoke slowly to cover the shaking of her voice. "Tony Buday just called to report he's found a body. You'll find him and... it... at the turnout overlooking Mullet Lake."

Ty held the phone close to his ear as he hurried up the slope to his car. He knew he would likely get no further details about the body beyond what was required. Luella was a die-hard follower of the Sioux belief that it was inviting disaster to discuss a dead person.

"One of ours?" he ventured as he maneuvered his way onto the main highway.

Her breathing was thick with the struggle of whether to answer. "A Wasicu," she finally replied.

"Aw, crap," he blurted.

"Copy that," she responded.

"I'll need back-up. Have Jake stop by the station to get the crime scene kit and meet me at the site. My ETA is twenty minutes. And if Mr. Buday calls again patch him right through to me."

"Yes, Sir. Be careful, hey? I've got a really bad feeling about this one."

"Thanks, Lu. I'm gonna need you to keep an extra tight lid on this one. If it's the guy they're offering a $10,000 reward to find, our office will shortly be the center of the storm."

"One of the advantages of being a sovereign nation, Ty. The Feds don't join the party unless we invite 'em."

"The Feds I can handle. A son bent on finding someone to blame for his father's murder? Our tribal rights mean little to a rich white man unbalanced by grief and looking for vengeance. Get as tough as you need to, Lu. Nobody, including personnel from the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department, is to be given any information until I've had all the time I need to find out what we're dealing with."

"Does that include your cousin?"

Ty paused. It wasn't that he had any particular issue with his cop- cousin, but he knew she'd be extra protective of her Uncle Tony.

"At least for now, especially not Jana."

Author Notes Characters:
Tony Buday: Medicine Man for the Sioux tribe and uncle of Detective Jana Burke.
Tyson Longacre: Tribal policeman and cousin of Homicide Detective Jana Burke.
Russell/Raymond Bree: Twin Brothers and member of the Sioux Indian Nation.
Lynn Bree: Niece of Russell Bree and member of the Sioux Nation.
Luella Bouvier: Dispatcher for the Tribal Police and member of the Sioux Indian Nation.
Matthew Buell: Son of missing man
Fritz Buell: Missing man

Native American Terms:
Iyaope: Blame (ee-yah-ohn-pay)

Mullet: A type of fish


Thanks to donkeyoatey for the awesome accompanying artwork:
Eve's seducer


Chapter 33
Utahu Moon

By Writingfundimension

Previously:  Fritz Buell has been kidnapped and detectives of Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department fear he's been murdered. The missing man is a member of St. Matilde's Catholic Parish whose members are still reeling from the murder of one of their beloved elderly members, 
~~~~~~~~~~
Excerpt from Chapter 32:

He jerked at the sudden buzz of his cell phone. Shaking off Raymond's hand, Ty grabbed the phone from his belt. The two brothers took advantage of the distraction to head for their cabin.

"What you got, Lu?"

Dispatcher Luella Bouvier spoke slowly to cover the shaking of her voice. "Tony Buday just called to report he's found a body. You'll find him and... it... at the turnout overlooking Mullet Lake."
~~~~~~~~~~ 


The raucous exchange of crows discussing their morning plans drew Tony back to the moment. He'd pushed his chair back from the kitchen table and was sitting with his knees crossed, fingers wrapped about the cup cradled in his lap. Using the percolator-style coffee pot handed down by his mother, he made his coffee strong and drank it black. The potent stimulant barely managed to clear his brain fog.

Wasu draped his head across Tony's knee. The Medicine Man raked his fingers through the coon dog's dense fur, eliciting a low rumble of pleasure. Eyebrows bobbing, Wasu rolled the whites of his eyes in a silent plea for table scraps.

Picking out a crooked slice of bacon off his plate, Tony held it above the dog's nose.

"Is this what you're waiting for, Wasu?"

The dog clamped his lips around the bacon, walked a short distance away and dropped onto his belly to consume it. Rubbing his nose along the floor, he searched for stray crumbs. Finding none, he turned to licking the residual grease from his paws.

His master derived none of the usual pleasure from watching Wasu's antics. Tony had slept badly. Twice he'd been ripped from his rest by the violent shaking of his mattress. The first time he thought it might be his niece, Jana, shaking him awake. But then he remembered she'd called to say she'd be staying in town with a friend.

He took a flashlight from the bedside table and got up to search the room. There was no sign of anything out of the ordinary. He concluded it must have been a vivid dream, crawled back under the blankets and was soon asleep.

The second attack lifted the mattress up off the frame, causing his head to hit the backboard.

Shooting upright, Tony reached inside his nightshirt and grasped the pouch resting against his chest. It was hot and pulsed with an internal energy---indicating that whatever was in the room represented a threat. Tony sniffed the air in short bursts. A smell that was a mixture of wet fur and feces emanated from somewhere nearby. He scanned the floor to see if, perhaps, Wasu had gotten sick during the night and was astounded to find his hound lying passed out beside the bed.

Though Wasu was old, his hearing was keen. Tony realized a terrible magic was at work to both render his dog unconscious and produce the poltergeist phenomenon.

Probing his scalp, he found a tender, raised area which proved he'd not been dreaming. I'll not stand for this. Tony pressed his palms into the mattress beneath his hips and gathered his strength. In a voice rough with contempt, he shouted out a challenge.

"Iglaotontin (identify yourself)! This old man does not fear you, Ignaskinyan (possessor)!"

The response was a crash that came from the direction of his kitchen. Wasu woke and stood at the foot of the bed barking. Tony stepped onto the cold floor and into his waiting slippers. He grabbed his dog's collar, and the two of them advanced down the short hallway.

Cabinet doors teetered on their hinges and drawers lay overturned on the floor. Wasu pulled free of Tony's grasp. He whimpered and circled in agitation, torn between retreating to safety and staying by his owner's side.

Tony stepped through the cutlery and dried goods strewn across the floor and stopped before the only drawer in the room left undisturbed. He pulled it partway open, removing an eight-inch stick of blessed sage and a flame starter. He hugged the bundle against his chest and bowed his head.

Keyape, wahiteSni t'e kin magnaye yelo (Together, let us remove this evil that laughs at the mischief it makes).

For the better part of an hour, he purified every room in the house.

Blowing on the burning tip of the bundle to keep a steady stream of cleansing smoke, he smudged the spaces and sealed the doors and windows. Only then did he turn his attention to the mess on his kitchen floor.

A hot shower and breakfast eased residual tension. Tony was satisfied that, for the moment, he'd rid his home of a pestilent energy. If, as he suspected, its intention was to intimidate him, it failed in that regard. He intended to proceed with his plan to hunt for fall mushrooms coaxed to the surface by the recent rains.

Carefully, he stacked his breakfast dishes into a neat pile and placed them at the bottom of the sink. He then dressed in several layers for the long walk to the edge of his property --- a quarter mile of which abutted Mullet Lake. There, ancient oaks shared space with amputated limbs that served as protection for the shy, sun-seeking fungi. Tony folded a cotton flour sack and tucked it into his pocket. Depending on the quantity found, he'd eat some for his evening meal, and others he'd dry for winter stews and soups.

At the bottom of the porch he hesitated. Patting his pockets, he came up empty for the object of his search.

Where did I leave that phone? If Jana comes home and finds I've left it behind again, I'll have to endure another tongue lashing.

Tony promised his niece, Jana, he would never go out for his woodland walks without the cell phone she bought him. Wasu, who was busy marking the nearby trees, failed to notice Tony had gone back into the house.

A search of the house was fruitless. "Am I just not seeing it?" he wondered.

"Look under the bed," a voice answered in his mind.

Tony knelt beside the bed and reached underneath. His fingers closed around the small metal object. Stuffing it into his jacket, he hurried from the house. 

The further his footsteps took him into the woods, the better he began to feel. Soon, Tony was caught up in the beauty of the early morning forestland. His walking stick kept a steady tempo in his head as he made his way over and around jutting roots and leaves huddled beneath the curving fronds of woodland ferns.

As he walked, he dissected the night's events. This latest spiritual attack represented an escalating level of menace. They had begun only when a link was suggested between Debra Padget's murder and the vile acts of a pedophile cleric who'd preyed on Tony's nephew. He was firmly convinced an old evil was on the move.

Wasu bounded into view with his big, red tongue draped sideways across his teeth and tail wagging excitedly.

"What have you found, Wasu?"

The hound barked twice, twirled and led the way to a spot in the woods a short distance from where Tony stood.

"Probably a squirrel teasing him from the safety of a tree trunk," he thought as he followed.

Tony felt prickles of energy along his arms and up his spine as he caught up with his dog. Nudging aside the curious hound, Tony grunted in surprise. A pair of snakes slid from beneath a fallen log and disappeared quickly into the tall grasses.

Snakes were common in his woods, but he'd never seen two of them traveling side by side. Was this a sign that, indeed, the two events were linked, or was it a foretelling of something coming? The knot in his gut kept him on the alert.

He neared the spot where he'd found mushrooms in the past. Using a flashlight, he combed the area for his most-prized specimen: Hen of the Woods. The mushroom derived its name from the fact its color bore a strong resemblance to the back feathers of a chicken. Tony loved it fried with butter and onions and accompanying a good piece of steak.

A compass check confirmed he was moving in the right direction. He smiled when he caught sight of a line of oak trees. He approached the wide-girthed 'grandfather tree'. Studding its base was a mass of Hen of the Woods. He picked half the mushrooms and gently slid them into his sack. His final act was to thank the plants for the gift of their lives.

The sun had brought a pleasant warmth to the emergent day and he was anxious to return home and cook up a batch of the mushrooms. Rising, he looked about and was surprised by how far he'd wandered off his regular path. Mullet Lake was visible through the trees, which meant he'd reached the lookout and was no longer on his own land.

The Lake appeared mantled in diamond dust where the sun reflected off its surface, and Tony was drawn to its mute beauty. He intended to rest a bit on the bench that faced the water, but stopped short of it when he noticed the seat was occupied.

Cautiously he approached.

"Hau (hello). Is everything okay?" he said by way of giving notice of his approach.

A Wasicu (white man) dressed in a loose, black gown, lay on his back with his bare feet hanging off the edge of the bench. Tony resisted being near a corpse, but knew he needed to confirm the man was dead. He touched one of the feet and recognized the cold, hard state of rigor mortis. A quick scan revealed two round discs were taped over the dead man's eyes and a note was pinned to the garment.

The missing white man.

Stepping far away from the body, Tony called Tribal Police Headquarters. He reported the finding of the body and agreed to wait for the Tribal Policemen to arrive. Seated on one of the downed logs, he felt the full weight of his seventy-six years. His emotions flip-flopped between the desire to destroy and To Ksa Pe (His wisdom).

He worried about what complications this would create for his niece as case detective. Even more, he worried about the pain this finding would cause his sister, Agnes. How was he going to tell her the murdered man was placed on the identical spot her sexually-traumatized son, Billy, shot himself years before? 

Author Notes Native Americans consider Sage a sacred herb that purifies and cleanses body and spirit. Commonly, it is found in bundles. The tip is lighted and the fragrant smoke is swirled around the body or used to seal windows and doorways. The process is referred to as smudging.

Characters:

Tony Buday: Sioux Medicine Man and healer.
Jana Burke: Niece of Tony Buday and a detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Agnes Buday: Tony Buday's sister and Jana Burke's grandmother.
Debra Padget: Murder victim
Billy Longacre: Victim of a pedophile priest who committed suicide.
Tyson (Ty) Longacre: Tribal policeman

Terms:

Poltergeist: A noisy, usually mischievous, ghost
Utahu: Sioux for oak (ue-dah-hue)

Thanks much to MinoYasue for the awesome artwork: The Messenger


Chapter 34
Osteya Moon

By Writingfundimension

Previously: A woman has been ritually murdered and a man is missing. The Detectives of Granite Mountain are scrambling to come up with witnesses and clues to both events. Complicating matters is the involvement of the pastor of the Catholic church the two victims attended, Father Brian DeShano, and a nebulous connection to a ten-year old pedophile case.
~~~~~~~~~~
 

The effect of Matthew Buell's offer of $10,000 to find his father exceeded Sheriff Oleson's fears. The Task Force detectives were straight-jacketed by tips ranging from a caller, certain she was sitting next to the missing man at a fast food restaurant, to a fisherman who panicked when his line snagged on a submerged log.

Derek chafed at the administrative position he'd assumed, moving detectives about like a chess master and trying to stay on top of the details of two converging cases. His constituency expected him to prioritize developments and make a case that would hold up in court. Though it was pure torture for a physical guy like Derek to be chained to his desk, duty trumped personal preference.

Monitoring without interfering was his motto, which had proven effective in prior investigations. He encouraged his detectives to lead with their skills and follow with their noses. He'd seen too many cases go cold because cops failed to grasp the larger view.

There'd been no ransom demand for Fritz Buell but Derek had notified the FBI, just in case he'd been kidnapped and taken across state lines. It turned out to be a good call having the Feds available considering the steaming pile of crap in which his department was currently immersed.

Derek kicked back from his desk and stretched his legs to lengthen his torso. He pressed his knuckles into the muscles along both sides of his lower spine and sighed as he felt the knots release. Averaging five hours of restless sleep was beginning to take its toll.

A shelved memory surfaced on his drive to the station that morning. Because of its persistence, he decided to visit the scene in his mind.

Early in the Padget murder investigation, he'd encountered a suspicious man at St. Matilde's rectory where he'd gone to interview Father Brian. "The priest denied it, but I know there was a third person in that rectory. Why would Father Brian lie to me?" 

"The stranger addressed me by name without a glance in my direction and claimed to be expecting me. Only Father Brian knew I was coming by for an interview after wrapping up at the crime scene. His claim that he saw no one and heard nothing doesn't add up."

In light of disturbing revelations concerning Father Brian, Derek chastised himself for letting a possible accomplice in the murder of Debra Padget slip from his grasp. It was of little comfort that he'd executed a thorough search of the study and found no means of escape. The man had, apparently, come and gone like a fragment of errant fog.

Derek removed his reading glasses, laid them inside the case on his desk and turned his back on the view of the grim faces toiling away in the bullpen.

A narrow window at the rear of his office afforded a view of the playground of Prescott Park. The decision to build a law enforcement center adjacent to the city park was a controversial one. Neighborhood parents felt the proximity to a criminal element presented a clear threat to their children's safety.

"When did the public start to question law enforcement's ability to prevent violent crime?" Derek blamed it on dirty cops that were like cancer cells bullying their way through a healthy organism. 

Derek's chair squeaked as he leaned back to enjoy a slice of normalcy. He watched a twenty-something mother hurry to keep up with her curious, energetic toddler. The boy's blonde hair curled about his neck, and his cheeks were flushed with exertion. As his mother pushed him on the swing, Derek could see the child's legs flailing in an effort to reach higher.

He wants to push the limits and be safe at the same time.

A knock on the door drew his attention from the tranquil vignette.

"C'mon in."

"You asked me to remind you of the Task Force meeting, Sheriff," his secretary announced from the doorway. "It's in twenty minutes."

"Thanks, Megan."

He lingered long enough to see the mother remove her child from the swing's seat and hug him to her chest. As she whirled him around and around, Derek could almost hear the boy's joyous laughter.

Crossing to the window, he drew the blinds and obliterated the happy scene. The young mother would expect him to keep her child safe, just as Debra and Fritz had. At the moment, he felt he was failing the citizens of Granite Mountain, leaving them exposed to an amoral avenger. Snatching up his glasses, he headed for the conference room.

Derek was the first to arrive. He set a carafe of coffee on the table and sat down near the evidence board. Crime scene photos of Debra Padget's body and the bedroom where she was murdered took up most of its space. Like beggars at the gate, photographs of Frtiz Buell, his car and the location of his abduction, formed a lone, straight line at one edge of the board.

He turned at the sound of the door opening. Jana entered alone. Her eyes went from his face to the board at his back, and Derek drank in the play of muscle, memory and emotion her features displayed. He wasn't sure when or why, but he had a strong sense the case had become intensely personal for his young detective.

"I'm glad you're the first to arrive, Jana. I'm anxious to hear what you've come up with on Father Brian's background."

Jana placed a file on the table, pulled out a chair and sat. She opened the folder and searched through reports, separating out the facsimile of a letter. Placing the paper on the table between them, she commented, "This is a copy of the letter Monsignor Flaherty sent recommending Father Brian for seminary admittance. I've highlighted the areas I think you'll find pertinent."

He glanced sideways, but her neutral expression gave no hint of her thoughts.

Derek withdrew his reading glasses from their case, picked up the letter and read it through twice to be sure he'd not missed any nuances.

Monsignor Flaherty related how a desperate Brian DeShano approached him following morning Mass. He offered to hear his confession, but the young man wanted to talk face-to-face about the  thoughts that plagued him. His mother's suicide had pitched him into  despair, and he feared succumbing to the voices urging him to follow her to the grave.

The letter went on to describe the healing Brian DeShano had experienced through the grace of God's sacraments. When he asked the Monsignor to sponsor him for the seminary, he'd been happy to do so.

'This young man is destined to be an exceptionally compassionate shepherd to other struggling souls,' Monsignor Flaherty had written, 'and I'm pleased to offer his name for consideration.'

Derek laid the letter down and stared into space. "Aside from the fact  a convicted pedophile wrote this letter, it appears innocent."

"What if the healing mentioned was more personal than this letter suggests?" Jana murmured.

"More personal... as in sexual, Jana? "

"Intimate in some way," she shot back. "If Father Brian had been in love with his benefactor, and later discovered that he'd just been another one of his victims, it could have led to a mental breakdown. The letter claims he admitted to Monsignor Flaherty he heard voices in his head urging him to do bad things."

"A plausible theory.Tell me... "

Jana clasped her hands together and steepled her fingers. "I think in some twisted way, Father Brian may have needed to murder Debra Padget to cleanse himself of guilt."

"For being a pedophile himself?"

"No! For failing to save the boys from abuse, just like he failed to keep his mother from suicide."

"But why kill someone who witnessed the abuse and... kept... quiet..." His eyes lit up with understanding. "You think he's projecting his guilt onto his victims and killing them to bury his sins?"

"It's one possibility."

"One possibility? You have another?"

Jana fidgeted in her seat. Her head was down but her words were clear and strong. "We Sioux believe in the power of the unseen to determine our destiny." Her eyes were bright with challenge. "This may sound like superstition, but I assure you it is something I have personally experienced."

"I don't doubt you, Jana," Derek answered with more passion than he'd intended.

The young detective's words tumbled out. "I think there is a supernatural force influencing a human agent to do its evil deeds. Whether that agent is Father Brian, I am not prepared to say. But, my gut tells me it would be easy for someone with inside knowledge of church affairs and his personal history to set him up."

She added, "I've been able to verify that Father Brian has solid alibis for the night of the Padget murder and the morning of the Buell abduction. In both cases, a number of people will vouch for him. Unless he has an accomplice, there's no way he committed these crimes."

Jana's phone buzzed and she glanced at the caller I.D. The name was both startling and unexpected.

"Detective Burke."

"Hi, Cuz. We found your missing Wasicu out here at Mullet Lake."

"Ty, tell me he's alive."

"Wish I could. Pretty gruesome scene here. I've secured the area and have done all I need to do. Now, it's your turn."

"We'll have detectives and a CSI team there as soon as we can."

"Jana, your uncle Tony found the body. Any reason you need him to wait for you?"

"How's he holding up, Ty?"

"Hard to say."

Code for he's standing nearby, and you don't want to offend him.

"Take him home will you? We can stop by the house afterwards."

Derek guessed the nature of the call and as Jana tucked away her phone she could see her boss was visibly deflated by the news. "I want you and Rick to work together on this one, Jana. I've got to locate Matthew Buell before he hears about this from someone else. I'll have my work cut out keeping him and his know-it-all private eye from descending on the crime scene."

Jana quickly gathered her notes and rose. Derek laid his fingertips on her sleeve. "I'm not questioning your ability, but keep me informed on every phase. We have not only Matthew Buell involved, but the F.B.I, and now Reservation Law Enforcement. There's a hundred different ways I can see this going all to hell."

Author Notes Characters:

Detective Jana Burke: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department and member of the Sioux tribe.
Detective Rick Morales: Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Deparment who is secretly in love with Jana Burke.
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Head of the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Ty Longacre: Tribal policeman and Jana Burke's cousin.

Fritz Buell: A elderly man abducted while visiting his wife's grave.
Matthew Buell: Wealthy industrialist and son of the missing man.
Monsignor Lewis Flaherty: A cleric convicted of pedophilia who died while incarcerated for his crimes.
Father Brian DeShano: Pasto of St. Matilde's Catholic Church in Granite Mountain.
Debra Padget: Elderly murder victim, also a member of St. Matilde's Catholic Church.

Terms:
Bullpen: The working area of a police station.
Cold case: A case that has not been solved.

Sioux Terms:
Osteya (bad luck) A/Oh/Shday/Yah
Wasicu: White Man

Many thanks to adrianart for the awesome artwork accompanying this chapter.


Chapter 35
Conze Moon

By Writingfundimension

~~~~~~~~~~

Previously:  Fritz Buell's body is found on the Sioux Reservation by Tribal Policeman, Ty Longacre. Detectives Burke and Morales of the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department have been called to the scene.

~~~~~~~~~~


Detective Jana Burke winced at the sharp crack of each bone. Fritz Buell's fingers gave ground with reluctance. She knew the Medical Examiner's actions were necessary. It was the only way to retrieve the note clenched in the dead man's fist. What disgusted her was his insensitive manner, and the way he wrenched the cadaver's fingers about like a plated carcass.

Doctor Bloomquist lost his argument for prompt dispatch of the corpse to the morgue. Despite indications the body was beginning to decompose, the homicide detectives insisted they needed the note first.

His concern, by contrast, was the accurate time of death. That determination could be off by as much as twenty-four hours if the corpse had been stored at thirty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. His brutal actions meant to convey his outrage at being superceded.

Fritz Buell's thumbs and first fingers lay mangled. Jana realized it was the ME's intention to break every finger. "Enough," she ordered. Dr. Bloomquist desisted but made no effort to get out of the way. He was three times her weight, but a sharp jab unbalanced him.

"There's no need to get nasty, young woman," he shot back. "Worse indignities await Mr. Buell at the morgue."

"We're not on your turf, doctor. Look around you. I've got plenty of witnesses to corroborate a claim of corpse abuse." Jana drew closer. "Bet you didn't know the victim's son is a multi-millionaire? I'm certain he'd love a target for his rage once he learns of his father's murder."

The ME searched for support and found its opposite. Every face telegraphed hostility. Bristling, he stepped aside.

Tribal policeman, Ty Longacre, observed the conflict between Jana and the Doctor from the crime scene perimeter. Finding the body on reservation land made this, technically, his case. Short-term, he'd chosen to stay in the background enjoying the inevitable drama of a white man's posturing.

Jana inched the paper free. Her partner, Detective Morales, held a clear plastic bag into which she dropped the evidence. Safe from contamination, they were able to spread it flat on the gurney and read its contents.

Rick Morales read it through twice before commenting. "Cursive style. Similar to the note we found at the rectory. The paper is light weight and looks expensive... I'm thinking custom designed?"

"I agree, Rick." She tapped the document for emphasis. "Are you familiar with this Bible quote?"

Her question surprised him, then he realized it was because of his Catholic background.

Here was his chance to impress her. Unfortunately, like many Catholics, his exposure to Scripture was limited to three brief readings at Sunday services. The killer's quote was not one he recognized.

A familiar voice interrupted, "Let me have a look, Jana." The fact the speaker was her cousin, Ty, both surprised and irritated her.

"What do you know about Bible quotes, Ty?"

His grin let her know her prickly attitude amused him. The two cousins fished and camped together in their youth, and Ty knew she could be quick to take offense.

"Six years I took Grandfather Dubry to every single service held at the Beacon Baptist Church. You wouldn't know that since you'd left the Rez by then." Jana flushed at his subtle jab. Though she'd had no choice but to leave the reservation with her mother, her contemporaries were slow to embrace her back into the fold. Taking a job in the white man's world punctuated their concern she'd abandoned their ways.

Jana waved her hand over the paper indicating he should proceed.

He read in silence. 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.'

Rick Morales and Jana had Ty hemmed in, which wasn't helping his concentration. Seagulls squawked as they marched toward the smell of meat and a cold wind flattened Ty's jacket against his chest. He strained to tune out all external stimuli.

New Testament language. I know that much.

He closed his eyes and imagined the words on a page. Gradually, the rest of the text became clear.

Popping upright, he announced, "It's from the New Testament. Basically, Jesus is admonishing his followers' tendency to blindness of their own faults. Could be why Fritz Buell's eyes were cut out."

Rick Morales interjected an insight to save face. "The black garment on the body is a priest's cassock and those are communion hosts taped..."

"You've got your note." Doctor Bloomquist's voice shattered the moment. He turned to the CSI team and barked an order. "Load the body. I'll follow in my car."

Jana nixed the order. "You don't call the shots here, Bloomquist. The body will be released when we say it's released." Working on calm, she lowered her voice to address the lead CSI.

"Todd, you have everything you need?"

"Yes, ma'am. We've covered it from every angle. It's okay by me to wind this up."

Ty hadn't moved from his spot beside the gurney. Jana laid a palm on his shoulder. "Appreciate the help, Ty. Do you have any objections to removal of the body?"

"No. We've done our own sweep of the crime scene. I'll send you a copy of our findings -- providing you keep us in the loop." He winked at her and was pleased to see her smile.

"That'd be great. I know you don't have to do that. And I'll do my best to keep you informed. Now that it's clear we're dealing with a serial killer, the Feds are gonna want in. Plus, the dead man's son has his own hired help. From what I've heard about the guy, you can expect a visit."

The seagulls reacted first to the sound of the screeching tires. They rose as a group and flew toward the center of Mullet Lake. Jana groaned when she saw whose vehicle it was. As if conjured by his father's ghost, Matthew Buell had arrived on the scene.

Rick was on the move before Jana had a chance to ask. Matthew exited the passenger side intent on reaching his father. Rick stepped in his path. "You don't want to see him like this. There's nothing you can do."

A solid punch gave Matthew a temporary opening, but Rick recovered quickly. He grabbed the back of Matthew's jacket, pulling him to the ground and pinning his shoulders. He looked up for confirmation the body was on the gurney and covered before speaking.

"Stop! I don't want to hurt you, Mr. Buell."

Matthew's head rose from the grass. The tendons in his neck bulged, and his eyes were wild. "Get off me," he screamed. "This is harassment. I have the right to see my father!"

"Civilians are not allowed inside a crime scene. I'll use force to remove you if necessary."

Jana approached and knelt beside the two men. She nodded to Rick, and he released his hold on Matthew's shoulders.

"Nothing we could say will ease your pain, Mr. Buell. Let us do our job. It's the best expression of love you can offer your father right now."

"C'mon, Matt. Let me take you back to the hotel." Jana eyed the oddly docile private investigator standing a few feet away. His face was white, and he looked ready to pitch the contents of his stomach. She refrained from asking if he'd ever been at an actual crime scene.

Thank God he didn't see the body.

Rick stood up and offered his hand to help Matthew do the same. Supported by Aaron Noff, Fritz Buell's eldest child climbed the slope to his car. He moved as if all the vitality had been leached from his bones.

"All his wealth, and not a single penny of it can change today's outcome," Rick commented.

"Losing his father this way, so soon after his mother, I don't think he'll rest until his father's case is solved. Remember that mother whose daughter went missing two years ago? She called the police station every day until she passed from cancer."

Jana turned to face the Lake. The curve of her neck and the exotic smell of incense that permeated her clothes aroused an old hunger in Rick. He walked away rather than follow his urge to press his body against hers, luxuriating in the feel of her hair against his skin.

"I'm not looking forward to this next part, Rick," she said when she caught up to him.

"You mean the paperwork?"

"No, the interview with my Uncle Tony. He'll be as tight as a freshly dug clam when it comes to sharing information. If you think I'm difficult, wait until you meet the man who taught me all I know."

Author Notes The New Testament quote is from Matthew: 20: 1-16.

Characters:

Detective Jana Burke: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's department and member of the Sioux Nation.
Franklin Bloomquist: Granite County Medical Examiner
Fritz Buell: Elderly parishioner of St. Matilde's Catholic Church
Matthew Buell: Murdered man's son
Ty Longacre: Tribal policeman for the Sioux Reservation and Jana's cousin
Detective Rick Morales: Homicide detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department and Jana Burke's partner.
Aaron Noff: Private Detective hired by Matthew Buell.
Tony Buday: Tribal elder, Medicine Man and Jana's uncle.

Sioux Dialect: Conze Chohn-Zay - Angry

Thanks to drmerlin for the great accompanying artwork!


Chapter 36
Suta Moon

By Writingfundimension

Previously: An elderly, home-bound parishioner of St. Matilde's Catholic Church is brutally murdered in her home. The corpse is posed and communion hosts taped to her lips. The killer has twice called Father Brian DeShano to taunt him with cryptic clues. Homicide detectives with the Granite Mountain's Sheriff's Department have considered the possibility  the priest is the killer. 

~~~~~~~~~~

Father Brian DeShano embraced the sublime mystery of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. His role as Confessor endowed him with the power to erase the stain of sin. Providing the person confessing approached the sacrament with a sincere heart.

He grieved the churchgoers' waning reverence for the sacrament's power. He'd experienced its miraculous ability to heal the spirit. Following his mother's suicide, he turned to a Catholic priest for advice. Father Flaherty advised the young man to release Satan's hold on his thoughts and allow Jesus to heal him.

"I do want that, Father," Brian whispered. Immediately, a mysterious light filled the dark confessional. Soft as a baby's sigh, it entered through his crown, spread across his chest and absorbed his despair. A conviction grew. This was Christ calling him to the priesthood, and six months later he was a seminarian.

Twenty-eight years had passed, yet he could readily summon the sublime peace of that long-ago day.

If any parishioners experienced that in my confessional, they've not shared it with me.

"Brian, you're as good a priest as I've ever met." Father Alan Borkowski, the speaker, was Brian's mentor.

The two priests regularly exchanged confessional services. At that particular moment, they were seated across from each other in St. Catherine's ultra-modern rectory savoring coffee and blueberry ebaskivers. The clean lines of the den's furniture echoed the Scandinavian aesthetic Swedish immigrants introduced into Minnesota.

"I think you're burned out right now," Father Alan continued, "Add to that the murder of a close friend and parishioner..."

"A sabbatical is out of the question right now," Brian interjected, "even if the Bishop would allow it. We're understaffed, and the new candidates won't be ready for another year."

The older man massaged his arthritic knuckles. Minnesota winters had worn down his immune system. Yet, he submitted to his Bishop's wish to keep him in the diocese - probably until the day they carted him off to the morgue. He'd known Brian for over a decade and could tell when he was dissembling.

Father Borkowski leaned forward in his seat and softened his eyes to blunt the effect of his words. "I don't think a sabbatical will do you any good, my friend. I believe you're suffering from suppression of the truth. Or, at least, something you believe to be true."

Brian was stunned. He'd not spoken of his fear his mother was forever beyond the reach of forgiveness. He must, as a representative of the church, profess the belief that self-murder was a damnable sin. His heart, however, was at odds with his tongue.

Why should my mother be punished for the unholy spirit that took over her mind and compelled her actions?

He was not ready to speak of the matter and knew Alan would not press further. He placed his coffee cup on the tray table and stood.

"I've got an appointment in forty-five minutes with Debra Padget's niece. The Coroner's released the body, and we're meeting to discuss funeral arrangements."

Father Borkowski was half-way out of his chair when Brian signalled him to stay seated. "No need to see me to the door, Alan." He reached the den's threshold and looked back, "Same time next week?"

"God willing."

"Keep me in your prayers, old friend?"

"Always, you know that."

Brian's sudden grin held mischief. "One more thing. Stop being stubborn and take that new medication your rheumatologist prescribed. To heck with the side effects," he said before disappearing into the hallway.

It was Father Borkowski's turn to be stunned.

"How does he know about that? I only stopped taking it yesterday!"

~~~~~~~~~~

The bank teller studied the petite blonde next in line. She took in the tight jeans, low-cut floral blouse and large purse sporting the exclusive Coach insignia. The woman glared at the backside of the customer at Margie's counter as if trying to make him disappear.

Margie was one of two tellers working the lunch hour. She made small talk in an attempt to stall until the other teller was free so she wouldn't have to deal with the blonde. The gentleman at her station was a regular customer and they often spent a few minutes catching up on local gossip. Today, he was late for a doctor's appointment and couldn't linger. When the blonde stepped to the counter, Margie put on a fake smile and said, "How can I ...?"

"Are you the head teller?"

"Excuse me?"

"I need to get into my aunt's safe deposit box." Dangling from the woman's finger was a purple band with a small key attached. "The solicitor of her estate provided me with this key. I want to view the contents of her security box."

This time Margie's smile was genuine. "The lady you need to speak with is on her lunch break. If you'll come back in an hour, I'm sure she'll be glad to assist you."

"That's not going to work for me. If the woman is on the premises, I demand to see her now."

The woman's aggression took Margie off guard. In just under a minute, she'd come to despise her. The Branch Manager watched all this from his office. He stepped to the customer's side, and without a glance in Margie's direction, dismissed her.

"I'll handle this, Margie," he said. Though the man's overbearing attitude offended her, she was relieved at his interference.

"Why don't you come into my office where we can speak in private, Miss Shaw?"

Lashes thick with black mascara framed Darcy Shaw's startling blue eyes. She tilted her head and said in a honeyed voice, "I'm flattered you know my name, especially since I do my banking elsewhere. I'm sure I'd recall meeting a handsome guy like you?"

"I saw you on television." He lowered his voice to imitate sympathy. "You know, after the... um... murder."

"Oh, of course." She tucked a curl behind her ear. "Reporters are beasts! I wasn't prepared for their assault. I feared for my own safety, I can tell you."

With a deft hand, Patrick Morgan steered her into his office and had her sit across from him behind a closed door..

"I see you have the key to your aunt's deposit box," he began. "It'll take just a few minutes for me to secure the other key. Can I offer you some coffee while you wait?"

"Well, aren't you a gentleman? I appreciate the offer, but I'm in somewhat of a hurry. I'm meeting with my aunt's pastor to... oh, dear, this is so hard... to arrange her funeral." She dabbed at non-existent tears.

"A difficult day for you," Patrick murmured. "I'll secure the key and be right back."

~~~~~~~~~~

Finally, Darcy was alone with the box. Her hands shook as she lifted its lid. Her stomach lurched when she realized there was no jewelry inside. The contents consisted of a couple of stock certificates and a sealed mailer. She tore off the top of the mailer and pulled out several letters addressed to her aunt. They'd been carefully sliced with a letter opener indicating they'd been read.

At first she couldn't comprehend what she was looking at. Each letter consisted of words cut from various sources. Darcy's hands shook as she read the words and realized they were death threats. Included with each letter was a photograph. In each one, her Aunt Debra was with a priest she vaguely recognized.

I think this is the priest they sent to prison for raping those boys. Crap, crap, crap. I can't show this to the police. Nothing can stand in the way of my going to Mexico for the vacation I deserve!

She shoved the letters and certificates in her purse and slammed the box shut. She had just enough time to make it across town for her appointment with Father Brian. She'd plan her next move while driving to the meeting.

Once she'd exited the building, she let loose. "Damn you, Aunt Debra," she hissed, "you were always a real pain in the ass."

Author Notes Cast of characters:
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church.
Father Alan Borkowski: Past of St. Catherine's Catholic Church.
Monsignor Lewis Flaherty: A convicted pedophile priest, previously the past of St. Matilde's.
Debra Padget: Murdered parishioner of St. Matilde's and Father Brian's personal friend.
Darcy Shaw: Debra Padget's only living relative.

Terms:
Bank Branch: A bank location separate from the main headquarters.
Ebaskiver: Danish pastry (eh-bah-skee-ver)
Sacrament of Reconciliation: The confessing of one's sins to a priest who then gives you absolution of your sins.
Teller: Bank employee

Sioux term:
Suta: Hard (sue-dah)

Thanks much to lilacCollas for the great accompanying artwork.


Chapter 37
Kesto Moon

By Writingfundimension

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Previously: Two elderly members of St. Matilde's Catholic Church have been murdered. The Detectives of Granite Mountain's Homicide division have yet to receive any substantive clues to the killer's identity. Further complicating the investigation are indications the present day events might be linked to a decades-old scandal involving Monsignor Lewis Flaherty, a pedophile priest.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  


Forty-foot red pines lined the dirt road, crouching like granite monoliths dotting an alien landscape. Detective Rick Morales tapped his brakes to slow the Impala. The front end of the patrol car rocked as he and his partner, Detective Jana Burke, navigated the approach to her uncle's home.

"This is more like a two-track than a road," he grumbled. "Has your uncle considered adding a layer of gravel for better traction?"

"I suggested it when I first moved back. But he made a good argument for not wasting his money." 

Rick pressed for details."The argument was?"

"He'd be stuck back here for the entire winter. Does his own snow-plowing, and dirt's easier to plow than gravel."

"See, that's why I like living in town." Rick's attention was on Jana and not the road.

"Watch out!" Jana warned, and a moment later a blur of beige leapt from the edge of the woods into the path of the car.

Rick punched the brake pedal, stopping the car in time. A white-tailed doe studied the passengers of the inert steel monster, and switched her tail as if to say, "Go away, Wasicu." With two nimble bounds, she disappeared from sight. Rick waited to be sure she had no companions before proceeding.

"My uncle feeds the deer in the lean months. We have a dozen or so living on the property along with the wild turkeys. I'm always extra vigilant at night," Jana offered.

"I'm glad we stopped in time. I ran one down along old Cedar Road last fall," Rick said. "I felt bad for a week after that, especially when I got the bill to repair my car."

"Here on the reservation, if the animal's intestines are intact, we contact a family in need of meat."

Rick gave her a quizzical look. "Why's that important? You mean because they eat them?"

"Yeah, Rick." Her lips pressed into a straight line. "Preferably raw and beneath a full moon."

Crap, I've offended her.

He tried again. "I'm sorry, that didn't come out right. My people eat innards, too, as do most cultures. You know I'm not a hunter, so I'm trying to understand the rationale."

She answered him as if he were a toddler wheedling a forbidden treat. "When the intestines are damaged, it contaminates the rest of the meat."

"Oh, that makes sense." He snuck a look in her direction. "I can be a real dork, sometimes."

"Yeah, Rick," she laughed, "well-meaning, but definitely a dork."

The road ended with a final twist. Rick pulled alongside a vintage orange pick-up. Jana slapped her hand against the dashboard of the patrol car.

The motion kicked Rick into alarm mode. "What's wrong, Jana?"

"My grandmother is here, which means Uncle Tony has likely told her about the dead man."

"Is that bad?"

"I don't know yet."

Jana stepped from the car and waited for Rick to join her. The tension she radiated put him on edge. "Do you think we should conduct separate interviews?" he asked as they climbed the steps to the front entrance.

"They'll never allow it. And we can't force the issue since the reservation is out of our jurisdiction. Besides, this isn't an interrogation per se. We just want to get as much information as possible about the state of the body when my uncle found it."

He squeezed her elbow to get her attention. "Finding the body like that -- maybe your uncle needed to talk with someone close, someone who would understand the implications."

Her chin was up, eyes guarded, "I don't follow."

"Yes, you do, Jana. Your cousin committed suicide on the same spot we found Fritz Buell. I know you don't believe in coincidences any more than I do. There's a link here, and your family may hold the key to the nature of that connection."

Intent on the conversation, neither noticed the door open. Rick stepped aside for the woman who emerged. He noted her beauty and the fact she offered no greeting. Her face echoed Jana's, but there the resemblance ended. The woman was short and dressed in a traditional manner with a loose, flowing dress cinched at the waist by a beaded belt.

Rick was mystified by the way the two women regarded each other with no obvious sign of affection. Jana's posture went from cautious to receptive as she bent to kiss her grandmother's cheek.

"Hau, Unci. You are well?" she asked.

"My work keeps me busy, and I am content to be of service in my silver years." She grasped Jana's hand for emphasis, "Your work, Mitakoja, makes you a stranger to those who love you."

"I'm in the middle of a murder case, Unci..."

The old woman dropped Jana's hand and leaned in close to her face. "You'll need more than the white man's law to defeat the evil bearing down on you. Come to me before it's too late." She wrapped her shawl about her shoulder and, without another word, walked away.

Rick spoke for Jana's ears alone, "Wow, I thought my grandmother was a tough old bird." Jana's flashed him a smile that made his heart do a full-out flip.

"I used to let her get to me," she said. "Then, one day, I realized her sternness was a function of teaching me to respect the old ways."

"That is an excellent insight, Tuzaya." The speaker wore a denim coverall with a plaid long-sleeved shirt rolled at the wrists. He stood in the middle of the doorway. Behind him, Rick could see the glow of a wood-burning stove. Lying in front of the stove was a blood hound that watched the proceedings with mute interest.

Jana pointed to Rick and said, "Leksi, meet my partner, Rick Morales."

Rick thrust his hand forward. The other man's grip surprised him. "Pleased to meet you, sir, though the circumstances are less than ideal."

"Certainly for the dead white man," Tony quipped.

The young detective chuckled and added, "I see unvarnished honesty runs in the family."

"And I see you are an astute young man," Tony shot back.

The elder gestured for them to enter. Rick knew Jana shared the home with her uncle and thought it odd she would wait for an invitation to enter.

I suppose it's another traditional angle of some sort. Sloppy kisses, bear hugs -- that's what I get when I visit my family.

Jana led the way through the small sitting room into a kitchen that smelled of something delicious cooking. A skylight over the kitchen table made the room clear as day.

His stomach growled the closer he got to the range. A quick breakfast and nothing since then. No wonder I'm light-headed.

Tony pulled out a chair for his niece to sit. "We can talk here, but first we will have some stew." Jana offered no resistance. Rick was struck by her acquiescence.

"A bowl of whatever's cooking sounds great," Rick readily replied. "We're used to grabbing food on the go, so may I request we eat and talk at the same time?"

"It's imperative we report our findings as soon as possible," Jana added. "What we need from you, Leksi, is a description of the state of the body, and surroundings, when you came upon the scene."

Tony had two bowls in his hands and was setting them before his guests when a loud pop came from the heater. His startled reaction caused the liquid to slosh up the sides of the bowls. Looking in the direction of the wood stove, he muttered, "Quiet."

Rick looked at Jana for some explanation, but she was focused on Tony. His hands shook as he placed the bowls in front of them.

Jana opened her notebook and read her brief notes. Rick took the cue and did the same. But unlike his partner, he took time to savor the delicious stew. He guessed the source of the strong-flavored meat was venison along with an abundance of vegetables and chilies, probably jalapenos. It was hot and savory.

The one thing Rick had learned from Jana was the importance of Indian time. He kept his eyes on his plate and waited for someone else to break the silence.

"I was searching for mushrooms and got pulled off my usual route," Tony offered. "I don't make a habit of going to that spot."

He gestured to where the hound lay close to their food. The animal's head lifted when he heard his name, "Wasu had wandered off, or I'm sure he would have smelled the body as I did, even before I saw it on the bench."

"Did you see any vehicles or strangers, Leksi?" Jana asked.

Tony pushed his bowl away and sat back in his chair. The repetitive tapping of his boot on the wood floor suggested an inner struggle.

"I saw something suspicious." The medicine man stared into a void beyond the two detectives. "A black figure crouched beside the body. When it sensed my presence, it whirled to face me. Its eyes blazed like red rubies, and its mouth was twisted into a horrible smile."

Rick felt an uncharacteristic pulling in his solar plexus. He had the urge to run out the front door.

Jana hurried to ask, "Did the figure threaten you, Leksi?"

"Physically? No."

Rick's urge to run reached a crescendo. He stared into his bowl to steady himself before asking, "I'm not following, sir. Are you saying the figure in some way threatened you from a hundred yards away?"

The elder's question took Rick by surprise, "Are you a Christian, Detective Morales?"

"I don't see what relevance..."

"Answer him, Rick," Jana ordered.

His eyes narrowed with resentment, and he considered the option of telling them both to go to hell.

What's wrong with me? I'm not usually this wound up.

"I was raised Roman Catholic," he answered.

"Then you are familiar with the concept of evil forces wandering the world in search of souls?" Tony queried.

"I am."

Tony pointed to Rick's pad. "What I'm going to tell is not meant for your official report." He paused for effect. "What I saw standing over the Wasicu's body was the visible representation of the evil that is behind these murders. The creature that mocked me is using a human being to do its dirty work."

Rick blurted, "We can worry about an exorcism after we catch the human bastard preying on these helpless old people. What we need are clues to that person's identity. Is there anything  I can put into my report, that will help us do that?"

"Perhaps." Tony closed his eyes and went silent. For the longest minute of his life, Rick kept his mouth shut. He didn't dare look at Jana.

"The priest is the key to understanding this mystery," Tony spoke directly to his niece. "And something else -- you must accept that Death stalks all of us. Use its presence to guide you."

"By priest, do you mean Father Brian?" Rick's voice rose with frustration, "Are you telling us he's hiding something?"

Tony flattened his hand and sliced the air.

Jana stood up. "C'mon, Rick. The interview is over."

Detective Morales looked from niece to uncle and saw the same mulish set of the mouth. He pushed back his chair and rose.

The words were hard but necessary. "Thank you for your time, sir."

Tony nodded in acknowledgement of Rick's words.

Following Jana out the front door, he felt as if he'd stepped outside a space station and into the heart of zero gravity. Did he dare ask his partner to tell him what the hell her uncle was talking about?

Author Notes I've opted to put the Sioux translations in the AN's rather than the body of the chapter for better flow.

Sioux terms:
Hau: Hello
Kesto: Barbed
Leksi: Uncle
Mitakoja: My grandchild
Unci: Grandmother
Wasicu: White person

Characters:

Detective Jana Burke: Homicide investigator with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department and a member of the Sioux nation.
Tony Buday: Jana's uncle, Agnes's brother and medicine man for the Sioux tribe.
Father Brian DeShano: The current past of St. Matilde's Catholic Church.
Agnes Longacre: Jana's grandmother and Tony's sister. She is a traditionlist hearler for the Sioux tribe.
Detective Rick Morales: Homicide investigator and Jana Burke's partner.

Big thanks to donkeyoatey for the use of his superb artwork yet again!


Chapter 38
Heca Moon

By Writingfundimension

Previously:  Debra Padget's murderer is still at large.  The coroner, after a thirty day delay, has released the body for burial.  Debra's only relative, Darcy Shaw, is meeting with Father Brian to arrange her funeral.

~~~~~~~~~~


Alyx swatted the insect whose incessant buzzing was disturbing his nap. Seconds later it landed on the tip of his nose and advanced to a spot between his eyes. Father Brian chose that moment to look up. He laughed at the sight of his Sheltie batting his nose with his paws.

"I think it's time we see Greta for a fall tune-up, Alyx," he said. The dog came to his feet at the mention of his groomer's name.

Patting his leg, Brian summoned Alyx. Starting with the sweet spot just above the dog's belly, he lightly scratched upward. "I know why you like getting groomed," the priest continued, "you may fool Greta, but not me. It's those treats from Heavenly Paws she keeps on hand isn't it?"

Alyx tilted his head and slitted his eyes. "You're a cheap date, buddy," Brian added. Dog ears lifted and fell in shameless acknowledgement.

The familiar routine was a welcome respite from his task. On his desk was the first draft of the sermon planned for Debra Padget's funeral mass. The Medical Examiner had completed its processing of the body and had, at last, released it for burial. He debated whether to make reference to the manner of her death. To do so might prove upsetting to Debra's niece and close friends. But, for those few not aware of the circumstances, it could instill a sense of caution.

What if the killer comes to church disguised as a mourner? He might consider mention of his deed as encouragement.

Brian decided it was not a risk he was willing to take. The formal ritual would remain a celebration of Debra's resurrection through Christ. Whatever the manner of passing, murder or cancer, the Mass was considered a celebration of the soul's return home.

Head bent, Brian prayed, "Lord, give me the words to make this sermon a fitting tribute to a godly woman."

He winced at the sudden memory of the last time he saw Debra, mere hours after her murder. Her body lay on the bed, posed like a macabre mannequin, face painted like a prostitute's. Brian lifted his sleeve to his cheek and dried errant tears.

No time for this.

Like a mirrored reflection, Debra's crystalline eyes rose in his mind. He felt the feather touch of fingers caress the top of his head. Words, fleet as a hare, erasing his sadness: I am at peace, Father.

Door chimes interrupted the moment. Alyx retreated to the safety of his cushion, and a rare growl issued from his throat. Brian shook off his disorientation, signaled Alyx to settle down, and hurried to answer the door.

He could see a woman with her nose pressed against the door's window as he approached. She called out, "Father Brian, it's Darcy Shaw. I'm here for my appointment."

On his first try, the door refused to budge. "Give me a moment," he yelled, "the damp weather is making the door stick."

The door came loose on the third try. Darcy Shaw, who'd been pushing from the other side, fell across the threshold, landing on her knees at his feet.

Brian blushed scarlet. "Oh my goodness... are you hurt, Miss Shaw?"

Darcy flopped onto her butt and raised her hand for assistance. Brian pulled her upright and chose to stare at his shoes while she adjusted a blouse that left little to the imagination.

Hands on hips, Darcy reproached the priest. "As much money as the Catholic Church rakes in every week, you'd think you could put a little of it aside to fix the damned door, Father!"

"It's only a problem when it rains more than usual. I'm sorry it picked today to act up." When he saw the storm clouds gather in her eyes, he rushed to smooth things over. Pointing to his office, he said, "There's a warm fire in the grate. Why don't you make yourself comfortable on the couch? I've got one of those new-fangled coffee makers - the single serving kind. I can have a hot cup ready in minutes."

Darcy flashed an expansive smile, leaving Brian dazed by her sudden mood shift. "That sounds great. Do you have any of those flavored coffees? I really like hazelnut. And nothing but the leaded kind! Drinking decaffeinated coffee is gross."

Brian felt as if he was stuck in the center of a cyclone. Debra always told me her niece was a piece of work.

He gave her a perfunctory smile. "I'll see what's available. Meanwhile," tipping his head in the direction of the study, "have a seat, and I'll be right back."

Brian filled the coffee maker with water and stood against the counter waiting for it to get hot. Darcy appeared in the kitchen doorway, hands on her hips again.

What now?

"I can't have it," she announced.

"Excuse me?"

"Your dog. I can't be shut up in a room with a long-haired animal like that. I'm very allergic to pet dander. You'll have to lock him up somewhere until we're done."

"The dog's name is Alyx," he informed her. "I'll take him upstairs right after I finish what I'm doing. It's unusual for him to bother my guests. He usually stays in his bed while I conduct business."

"Oh, he's in his bed alright. I don't want to risk contamination if he decides to get friendly."

Not bloody likely, lady.

"I understand, Miss Shaw." Brian turned his back hoping she'd realize she'd been dismissed, but he could feel her watching his movements. He picked out a hazelnut-flavored coffee packet, and waited for the rich, brown liquid to fill the mug.

He crossed to where she stood and pressed the coffee into her hands. "Ouch, that's hot," she exclaimed, but he chose to keep walking and ignore her complaint.

Alyx was standing in the hallway outside the office. Brian lifted him in his arms and ascended the staircase. He whispered in the dog's ear, "I'll bring you back down as soon as the lady leaves." Alyx licked his owner's cheek in apparent sympathy.

He returned to the study where Darcy sat facing the fire. Her arms were wrapped around her torso. She turned to face him. "Damn it's cold in here. It feels as if I'm sitting in the middle of a freezer!" She looked around the room. "This place gives me the creeps. I keep seeing a black shadow moving along that wall," she pointed to a spot behind his desk.

"I'm sure it's a trick of the light. Would you like me to lower the window shades?"

"Don't bother," she snapped. "Let's get down to business."

Brian sat across from Darcy and placed his hands on his lap. "First, let me offer my sincerest condolences on the passing of your Aunt Debra. As you may know, she was a good friend; and I will miss her very much."

"My aunt had many friends," Darcy quickly added, "but no family besides me." She pulled a long face in an effort to appear aggrieved. "Her needs became more complicated during the last few years. Mind you, I did what I could to keep her happy, but that wasn't always possible. Aunt Debra could be quite demanding at times."

"Caring for the elderly can be emotionally and physically draining. When our deeds are heart-centered, though, both parties benefit spiritually."

Crossing her legs, Darcy lifted her purse from the floor. "Sounds like you're preaching, Father. I'm not Catholic, so you're wasting your time."

A vein pulsed at Brian's temple, and he struggled against taking the young woman to task for her rudeness. For Debra's sake, he chose to stay silent.

Darcy pulled a sheet from her purse. "I've arranged for a viewing of my aunt at the McElroy Funeral Home over on Fern Street. It's going to be a week from today -- that's a Thursday -- from 6-8 P.M. Can you be there to say a few words?"

"Certainly. What about the mass? Were you planning that for the following morning?"

"Mass? There won't be a mass. She's to be cremated, and her friends can say their goodbyes at the Funeral Home."

"Your aunt was a life-long Catholic, Miss Shaw." Brian's voice was thick with reproach. "You cannot deny her the privilege of a Christian burial mass. What harm can it do, after all?"

She stood up. "The harm is that I cannot afford to pay for a meal following the mass. Add to that $5,000.00 to rent a casket for pre-service viewing, well it's just not going to happen."

Desperate to get the situation under control, Brian urged, "Please reconsider! It's not necessary to have a casket. We can set the cremains on a table in front of the altar with a photo of Debra. It's done quite a bit these days."

"What about the luncheon?"

"I'll pay for it out of my own pocket." Too late, he realized the woman had set him up.

Darcy smiled in triumph. "Do you think the church will be full?" she gushed. "Given the fact my aunt was murdered, I'm thinking it will be. Imagine, Father, this could be the most high profile funeral you've ever done."

Author Notes Cast of characters:

Alyx: Father Brian's dog.
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church.
Debra Padget: Murdered widow and parishioner of St. Matilde's.
Darcy Shaw: Debra Padget's only living relative.

Terms:

Cremains: Ashes
Heca: Sioux for buzzard. Pronounced: g-hay-chah

Thanks much to donkeyoatey for the use of his brilliant artwork.


Chapter 39
Kuta Moon, Part 1

By Writingfundimension

Previously:

Tony pointed to Rick's pad. "What I'm going to tell you is not meant for your official report." He paused for effect. "What I saw standing over the Wasicu's body was a visible representation of the evil that is behind these murders. The creature that mocked me is using a human being to do its dirty work."

Rick blurted, "We can worry about an exorcism after we catch the human bastard preying on these helpless old people. What we need are clues to that person's identity. Is there anything I can put into my report that will help us do that?"

"Perhaps." Tony closed his eyes and went silent. For the longest minute of his life, Rick kept his mouth shut. He didn't dare look at Jana.

"The priest is the key to understanding this mystery." Tony spoke directly to his niece. "And something else -- you must accept that Death stalks all of us. Use its presence to guide you."

"By priest, do you mean Father Brian?" Rick's voice rose with frustration, "Are you telling us he's hiding something?"

Tony flattened his hand and sliced the air.

Jana stood up. "C'mon, Rick. The interview is over."

********************


Detective Burke retreated into silence on the ride back to Headquarters. She stared out of the side window, watching without seeing. Bricks and mortar replaced the open fields rimmed by thick pines that marked the Sioux reservation lands. Rick Morales, her partner, opted not to use the siren, giving them both time to wrap their thoughts around what they'd just heard.

Uncle Tony was, she sensed, asking her to read between the lines. But her mind threw up roadblocks of logic as she recalled the scene in his kitchen. He reported coming out of the woods -- his attention immediately drawn to the park bench where he witnessed a dark, distorted shape bent over the dead man, Fritz Buell. Further, he intimated it was the 'real' killer using a human being to do its evil bidding. In his cryptic fashion, he refused to explain this theory or provide further details. 

I should not have allowed him to call the shots.
  
A knot of tension settled in the middle of her gut as she struggled to find a way around the problem this created for her and Rick. It wasn't hard to picture the reaction to their account of the interview: "Your uncle wants us to believe a ghost is killing these people?" Even if they didn't say it out loud, she was certain most of the other detectives would dismiss him as a batty old Indian spewing superstitious nonsense.

Jana tasted blood where she gnawed the soft skin of her bottom lip. Rick's silence compounded her anxiety. A quick glance at his tight grip on the steering wheel signaled he, too, was dreading the evidence review.

"We got zip from the interview with Tony Buday." Rick's voice startled her as did his use of her uncle's formal name. "We should skip mentioning the thing he claims was standing over the body," he said. "It could have been a large bird, for all we know."

Jana agreed. "It's going in the report, of course," she answered. "But I see no reason to speak of it at this point." Their eyes met in mutual understanding with her breaking contact first.

"I'm going to ask Ty to pay Uncle Tony a visit," she added. "It's well within his rights since the body was found on the reservation. Maybe Ty can persuade him to give up more details. "

"Now, see, I have a real problem with that, Jana," Rick countered. "This is our case. The body was dumped on the reservation, but the actual murder likely took place somewhere else. Unless you think our killer is a member of the tribe?"  When she averted his stare, he turned his eyes to the road.

In fact, Jana had wondered the same thing, but she would not admit her suspicion. "Ty won't be intimidated by my uncle," she said. "Besides, he's a relative. That counts for a lot on the Rez." Unless you've chosen to walk the Wasicu's way as I have, she thought.

Old feelings of shame and anger washed over her. There was a wall, painfully real and forbidding, that kept her on the outside looking in. A wall set in motion centuries before her birth. She resented facing its impenetrable surface alone on a day like this. Her head drooped as she kneaded the tight muscles at the back of her neck.

Rick felt a wave of fatigue emanate from where Jana sat hunched in her seat. He could identify with her situation. Being a minority male in the white-bread Midwest, he'd borne his share of racial stereotyping. Still, observing the level of resistance to Jana being both female and an Indian trying for acceptance in a male-dominated profession, he had to admit prejudice toward Native Americans ran deep.

They were minutes away from the station, and Rick had something he needed to get off his chest. "We scoured the crime scene of the first victim. The killer left no sign of his presence other than the dead woman's body. Nothing to give up his DNA." He rested his palm on the console between their seats in a conciliatory gesture. "I expect we'll find he was equally thorough with his second victim. I hate to use it, but the word professional comes to my mind."

"Or a serial killer who practiced until he got it right." Jana responded. "A nurse, for instance, with access to the elderly, where a death could be chalked up to lethal drug interactions. It happens enough that it wouldn't raise a red flag. Especially if there's no family in the picture."

Rick nodded. "Good point, Jana. I think we should revisit all the medical facilities in the area. This time we have the composite sketch of that creepy character Derek encountered at the hospital. With a little luck, we'll run into someone who knows more than they think they do."

They entered the parking lot of the Sheriff's department. Jana spotted the twin, black, unmarked vehicles first. "The Feds," was all she said. As their car moved slowly past a knot of men standing alongside the vehicles she recognized Matthew Buell. He stood with his hands in his pockets and his elbows tight to his body. The man standing opposite him turned and peered into the car, making eye contact with Jana. His quick, easy smile telegraphed his pleasure at seeing her.

Crap, why'd they send him? Maybe the D.C. promotion didn't pan out.

Rick caught the look between them. "You know him, Jana?"

"Yes, I know him."

"Well, who is he," Rick's voice skirted petulance.

"Dresden Stredwick III. Dred to his friends."

Rick's jaw went slack. "The Feds' number one profiler has been assigned to our case?" was all he could manage. He parked the car and sat in stunned silence.

"He's brilliant, Rick," Jana finally said. "But trust me, he's far from perfect." She reached across and touched her partner's arm. "We go about our business and apologize to no one. Agreed?"

"Yes, of course. I won't lie, though. I'm feeling the extra heat already with this guy showing up."

Jana smiled. "Understandable, Rick. That's exactly the effect he's counting on."
 

********** End of Part One**********

Author Notes Characters:
Tony Buday: Sioux medicine man and Jana's Uncle.
Fritz Buell: Second murder victim.
Matthew Buell: Fritz's wealthy son.
Detective Jana Burke: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Officer Ty Longacre: Reservation Policeman and Jana's cousin.
Detective Rick Morales: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department and Jana's partner.
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Granite Mountain's Sheriff.
Dresden Stredwick, III: FBI profiler.

Terms:
Kuta: Sioux for below (kue-dah).
Wasicu: White man.

Thanks much to donkeyoatey for the great accompanying artwork: Rock, paper, scissors.


Chapter 40
Kuta Moon, Part II

By Writingfundimension

**********
Previously:  Two elderly parishioners of St. Matilde's Catholic Church have been murdered. In the course of the investigation, a possible link to the present days murders is discovered in the case of a dead pedophile priest. One of  the young victims, Matthew Longacre, was a Sioux Indian whose mother had been a devoted Catholic. When the priest was arrested and Matthew faced the possibility of having to testify, he committed suicide.  Matthew's secret relationship with a fellow altar boy is at the heart of the unfolding, demonically-directed revenge.

**********


Tribal Policeman Ty Longacre was the last person to leave Fritz Buell's crime scene. He'd been studying three sets of tracks in the woods adjacent to the park. Snapping photos and taking measurements, he carefully recorded his findings. Once satisfied, he emerged into the clearing to find nothing but crime scene tape vacillating in the wind.

Grasses, both green and gold, lay flattened in a tight circle as if alien astronauts had left behind a sign that something watched from the skies. He skirted the perimeter of the crime scene on his way up the slope to his patrol car.

Once his camera and evidence bags were stowed, Ty leaned against the driver's side door and crossed his legs. He took off his Stetson and set it on the hood. A bank of cumulus clouds released an imprisoned sun, and Ty turned his face upwards allowing it to burn away all the extraneous details of the day.

He snapped alert to the sound of screeching gulls from the edge of the lake. A pair of them vied for the remains of fish. He watched without seeing while puzzling over his findings in the woods.

Three sets of prints. One animal, one human. 

Likely Tony Buday and the dog.

The third set? In all his years of tracking, he'd not seen anything like it.

They could belong to one of Jana's investigators. Maybe they made a sweep before I got there. 

The tracks ended at the base of a tree thirty feet from the edge of the woods. Ty studied the  tree's surface to see if someone had climbed it. It showed no signs of molestation, and he was left with an unsettling scenario: Whoever walked up to that tree appeared capable of flight.

Ty's father had been a legendary tracker. His first born inherited the ability, and in the view of a number of the tribal elders surpassed his father's talents. Ty would have blackened the eye of anyone suggesting such a thing to his face. He'd learned from the best was all he'd say on the subject.

As a Sioux Indian, he also believed in nature spirits. The wind, the trees, the water -- all of nature -- fell under the rulership of protective spirits. The befouling of this beautiful sanctuary by a brutal murder may have drawn the wrath of such a spirit. He knew they could shapeshift to confound human detection.

A terrific gust of wind carried sand from the shoreline over the crest of the hill and into Ty's face. He carefully rubbed his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. A cold feeling spread up his arms. He no longer doubted an angry spirit, whether nature or otherwise, was stirring.

I've got to get to Tony Buday right away. The old guy knows better than anyone on the Rez how to deal with these things.

Ty replaced his hat, tapped the top to settle it into place and entered his vehicle. Clouds reclaimed the sun, and the color of the lake dimmed to a flat gray. He took a deep breath and turned on the ignition.

I'll do whatever it takes to restore balance. This I swear before the Ancestors.

***************

The stench the Watcher emanated blended with the rotting vegetation of his woodland cover. He never ventured among humans without dousing himself in cologne. Though he'd been warned to cut back on its use in consideration of the sensitivities of his co-workers, he feared, more, their detection of his alter ego.

He recalled nothing of how he'd come to this spot in the woods. He'd grown used to these lapses in consciousness, but this time he demanded answers.

You promised me a reward if I killed Fritz Buell. I did everything you asked, even adding that little touch with the eyes. So, why am I lying here, freezing my ass off, watching the house of that meddling old Indian? What if his hound picks up my scent?

"Oh ye of little faith," the voice answered. It slithered through his brain, filling him with a dreadful hope. "Stay still and watch."

All but a slice of the sun slipped behind the trees that kept Tony Buday's house hidden from strangers. Clumps of stubborn leaves clung to their branches, causing the fall sunlight to flicker like solar fireflies. The Watcher dropped his eyes before the beauty that seared him like a red-hot brand.

I'm sick of your crazy orders. I take all the risks, and you take all the pleasure. It's not fair! We had a deal...

"Shut up, fool. Your reward is the honor of serving me. Let it not be said I don't keep my promises. I'm about to toss you a scrap."

The sound of tires on gravel startled the Watcher. A tribal police car pulled close to Tony Buday's porch and parked. The driver removed his hat and exited the vehicle. He straightened and turned at a muffled, unusual sound coming from the woods.

Jamming his fists into his mouth, the Watcher tried to cover the sound of his sobs. Through his tears, he watched Ty Longacre approach while his hand slid in the direction of his weapon. His straight, black hair accentuated a square jaw. His mouth was full-lipped and of perfect proportion. The eyes that scanned the surroundings were alert and intelligent.

Matthew, h... how is it pos... sible?

The Watcher's heart banged violently against his skin. He tried to crawl in Ty's direction, but his limbs were leaden. He struggled against the omnipresent force that held him, but his efforts had no more effect than a gnat in a hailstorm.

The door of the house opened. The hound, Wasu, hurried to Ty's side. The light melody of the animal's tags warned Ty of the dog's approach. He knelt and scratched the old dog about his ears. Wasu licked his hand in gratitude. "Some day soon, we're going to go on a hunt together, boy." Wasu looked at Ty with adoration shining through his cloudy eyes.

"Hau, Ty," Tony Buday called from the doorway.

"Hau, Uncle Tony," Ty called back. He squinted into the darkness that lined the path leading into the deeper woods and decided he'd heard a squirrel rustling through the underbrush. He approached the stairs leading to the main level of the house, laid his hand on the railing and looked up. "Am I catching you at a good time?"

"As good as any."

Tony waved Ty forward. "I'm quite a popular guy today," he said. "First Jana and now you. Come on up and we'll see if you have better luck parting the cobwebs of this old man's brain."

Ty took a moment to shake his Uncle's hand, then followed him into the house and shut the door.

The Watcher lay on his belly, soaking the earth with his grief. Foam and vomit spewed from between his teeth. He was consumed with pain.

Minutes passed. He rolled onto his back, and clawed at his jacket. He retrieved a folded cloth from his shirt pocket and brought it close to his face. Buried within was a faded newspaper clipping. Black-haired, square-jawed Matthew Buell was caught by the camera, making the shot that took St. Matilde's varsity basketball team to the finals.

The voice in his head mocked him. "Not satisfied, Eddie?"

Bastard! You promised to give me back Matthew, not some kid that looks like him.

"Oh, that's a promise I intend to keep as soon as you complete your end of the bargain. Fateor anima vesta, and your agony pleases me. Now get yourself together. We have much yet to do."

Eddie moved deeper into the woods, heedless of the sounds he made or the proof of his presence that he left behind.

Author Notes One of the signs of the presence of an unclean spirit is a smell that, often, is only discernible to the possessed person and those familiar with demonic manifestation.

'Team members have reactions to the presence of demons... They've smelled sulfur and rotting garbage...' Dr. Paul L. Cox, Deliverance Minister.

Terms:

Fateor anima vesta: Latin translation - I own your soul.
Hau: Hello
Kuta: Sioux for below (Kue-dah)
Rez: Reservation

Characters:

Tony Buday: Sioux Indian Medicine Man and relative of both Michael and Ty Longacre.
Jana Burke: Granite Mountain Detective
Eddie: Serial Killer
Michael Longacre: Deceased son of Tony Buday's sister, Agnes Longacre.
The Watcher: Eddie

Thanks so much donkeyoatey for the use, once again, of your fabulous artwork.


Chapter 41
A Kazuzu Moon

By Writingfundimension

PREVIOUSLY:

Crap, why'd they send him? Maybe the D.C. promotion didn't pan out. 

Rick caught the look between them. "You know him, Jana?"

"Yes, I know him."

"Well, who is he?" Rick's voice skirted petulance.

"Dresden Stredwick, III. Dred to his friends."

Rick's jaw went slack. "The Fed's number one criminal profiler has been assigned to our case?" was all he could manage. He parked the car and sat in stunned silence.

"He's brilliant, Rick," Jana finally said. "But trust me, he's far from perfect." She reached across and touched her partner's arm. "We go about our business and apologize to no one. Agreed?"

"Yes, of course. I won't like it, though. I'm feeling the extra heat already with this guy showing up."

Jana smiled. "Understandable, Rick. That's exactly the effect he's counting on."

**********


"Who's the bozo in the lobby acting like a rock star?"

Detective Skeets Epstein jabbed an elbow into his partner's side. "Careful, Russ. The guy's an FBI criminal profiler with a pedigree as long as one of those fancy show dogs. Wrote a book on the subject. Required reading for Bureau newbies."

"I figured FBI when I spotted the black sedans with tinted windows," Russ said. "What's the hotshot's name?"

"Dresden Stredwick, III. Latest in a long line of lawmen."

The two detectives sat in their department's conference center. They'd arrived for the initial big meet between the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Office and the FBI. Skeets nibbled an energy bar and bore a sour look on his face.

"Matthew Buell pulled in a favor to get him here," Skeets remarked. "There's an unsubstantiated rumor that Fritz Buell's kid plans to sue our department for not properly warning and protecting the parishioners of St. Matilde's. Claims we knew there was a risk to former employees of the church, and we failed to inform his father."

"This case has become a nightmare," Russ said. "The clues are random and disjointed. It's frustrating... like spinning a Rubik's Cube. I hate those damned things."

Skeets laughed, then tried to cover it by clearing his throat. His boss, Sheriff Derek Oleson, chose that moment to enter the room. His features were relaxed except for his eyes. Their usual green color had turned to steel gray, and Skeets recognized the storm that threatened.

A trail of personnel followed the Sheriff into the room. Derek Oleson moved to stand at the head of the table. Detectives Jana Burke and Rick Morales sat to his right.

Skeets scribbled something on a sheet of paper and passed it to Russ: What's up with Rick? He's fidgeting over there as if he's sitting in a pile of red ants.

"Anything you want to share, Skeets, before we get started?" Derek asked.

The rotund detective reddened at the call out and responded, "No, Sir."

"I've got something to say, Derek." Russ Jolly zeroed in on his boss. "I'd like to know what you think about the feds waltzing in here and taking over. Why are we letting a millionaire motivated by revenge interfere with our case?"

Derek stepped back to the wall, leaned against it and crossed his arms. "Is that what you all think?"

***

The question hung in the air, disrupted by a trio of agents who entered. Their leader was of an indeterminate age. He had the standard federal agent look -- dark suited, clean-shaven and trim. A pair of glasses hung from a cord around his neck. He stopped at Derek's side while his partners seated themselves on the empty side of the table.

Derek cocked his head in order to hear what the agent said into his ear. He replied with a curt nod. The profiler moved to a whiteboard, picked up a marker and faced the room's occupants.

"My name is Agent Dresden Stredwick. I'm accompanied by Agents Michael Callahan and Gregory Steckley." Turning back to the board, he wrote: Together we'll solve this case, and underlined together. He snapped the cap back on the marker and looked in the direction of Skeets and Russ.

"We're on the scene to offer our unique services, Detectives, not to supplant your authority."

Skeets was stunned. "How'd he hear what Russ said from behind a closed door?" he wondered.

"I'll be in charge of my own men. Sheriff Oleson will continue his role as your superior. The difference going forward is that you will have access to the FBI's extensive databases. Particularly, in the area of profiling."

"From what I gather, you're the best in that field," Skeets interjected. "I don't mean to sound crass, but we've got only two corpses and haven't even made the Minneapolis StarTribune. Which has me scratching my head over why the feds would send over one of their star profilers?"

A quiet voice from the room's corner drew everyone's attention. "The question's legitimate, Agent Stredwick. I think it would be a good idea to address this right now and clear the air," Derek said.

Stredwick remained nonplussed. "Good old Midwestern forthrightness. Gotta love it." He walked to the evidence board and turned his back on them, making a show of studying it. He turned and posed a question to the only female present.

"You're intimate with my expertise, Jana. Is there a justifiable reason for my involvement in this case?

"I think Matthew Buell's plea is a cover for your real agenda."

"And that is?"

"The killer moved the second body to the reservation. A smart move because the United States Government has to honor the sovereignty of the Sioux nation. Which leads me to believe the FBI's primary agenda is mediation. As to why you've been assigned as lead? Your sub-specialty is cults. The victim's ties to the Catholic Church, the religious symbolism central to both cases, possible connection to a pedophile priest -- you'd have been my choice."

Skeets shifted his weight and leaned forward on the table.

"That's fine for now," he said. "As long as you don't change the rules once the press learns of this latest killing."

"Damage control is what we do best," Agent Stredwick replied. "My people will handle the press and community relations. It will be our priority to ensure the public your department has access to every possible law enforcement resource."

"I get that," Rick Morales said without lifting his head. "But I don't buy the bit about community relations. We were doing fine until you got here."

"Not so, Detective... ah... Morales, is it? We're aware you may have someone in this office leaking information to the press. Item number one is to find that leak and shut it down."

Rick's face blanched, and his upper lip trembled. "I know the identity of the snitch. So, half your mission is already accomplished." He pointed to the agents sitting. "You can leave your underlings here and head back up to D.C. or wherever you come from." He brushed Jana's hand from his arm and slumped in his chair.

"Rick," Derek said, "wait for me in my office."

The detective gathered his notes and exited the room.

"I assure you we will cooperate completely with your office, Agent Stredwick." Derek nodded in Jana's direction. "Detective Burke will be the liaison between our two departments." He glanced at Skeets and Russ. "Though she has less experience than the rest of my team, she's a good investigator and has the advantage of having FBI experience."

"Very good, Sheriff. Shall I continue with the rundown of how this is all going to work?" Agent Stredwick said.

Derek looked at his watch. "It's early for a lunch break, but I'd like to talk with Detective Morales, clear this up, and have him here for the particulars."

"Hold on," Stredwick said. "You expect to clear him of suspicion in the space of an hour?"

"I don't suspect him of anything other than a tendency to care too much about his victims. He may have an idea of who is responsible for the leak, but so does every detective in the room. The person in question has been suspended from this case."

"Nevertheless, I'd like to be in the room when you talk with Detective Morales."

"Suit yourself."

***

Skeets hurried to his desk, opened the bottom drawer and retrieved an object. He pocketed a cigarette pack and headed to his car. Lowering the window halfway, he removed a cigarette, straightened it and placed it between his lips.

Smoke soon filled his nostrils, sending a rush of pleasure through his body. He started the car and pointed it in the direction of McGuffin's Pub where a Reuben sandwich, slathered with thousand island dressing and oozing cheese, waited -- along with a certain sexy television anchor.

to be continued ...

Author Notes Sharp-eyed readers may note that I have changed the name of one of my characters to Russ Jolly. I've discovered there's a real Ron Jolly! Not a policeman, but I've no intention of taking any chances I might appear to slander.

Characters:
Fritz Buell: Recent murder victim.
Matthew Buell: Wealthy son of Fritz Buell.
Jana Burke: Sioux Indian and homicide detective with the Sheriff's Department.
Skeets Epstein: Veteran homicide detective.
Russ Jolly: Veteran homicide detective.
Rick Morales: Homicide detective and Jana Burke's partner.
Derek Oleson: Sheriff and lead homicide investigator for the Granite Mountain Sheriff'd Department.

Terms:

FBI: Federal Bureau of Investigation
Criminal Profiler: A criminologist.
Reuben: A sandwhich consisting of corned beef, swiss cheese
and the afore-mentioned dressing usually served on rye bread.
Rubik's Cube: Hand held puzzle.
Sioux term: Kazuzu (kah-zjue-zjue) Knockdown (to)

Thanks so much donkeyoatey for the use, once again, of your stunning artwork.



Chapter 42
Nama Moon

By Writingfundimension

**********
PREVIOUSLY: The FBI has sent their top profiler to Granite Mountin to assist the local authorities in capturing a serial killer preying on elderly parishioners of St. Matilde's Catholic Church. The FBI's first order of business is to identify and remove a leak in the Sheriff's Department. Detective Skeets Epstien, a member of the Granite Mountain Homicide Division, is on his way to a clandestine meeting with the local television News Anchor, Danika Martin, who revealed publicly she had inside information on the case. 

**********

Detective Epstein parked his Oldsmobile in the shadow of an industrial-sized dumpster. He'd spotted the pearl gray Mercedes near the entrance to McGuffin's, and chose to park at the opposite end of the pub's parking lot. He grabbed a file folder, tucked it away and exited the car.

Two women in a conspiratorial huddle blocked his progress. One of them was a stocky brunette with a spiked hairdo and glass-shattering voice. She flipped the screen of her iPhone and exclaimed with pride, "Here's the little rascal after his first haircut. He shook the whole way home, then peed on the carpet the minute I let him out of his crate..."

Skeets did a quick detour and prayed the women wouldn't see him. The brunette was a pub regular who'd made several clumsy attempts at seduction. He let out his breath once he passed without their notice.

News Anchor Danika Martin's car came into view. She'd parked it on an angle, forcing the cars on either side to give it a wider berth. An otherwise pristine surface was marred by a decal on the rear bumper that read: I'm Being #Followed.

Dammit, I said to keep it low-key, Danika.

Skeets shook his head in disapproval. He wobbled between ditching the reporter or proceeding with his mission. In the end, it was his grumbling stomach that won the toss.

The smell of grilled meat drew him into the pub's murky interior like the gong of a bell. He ignored the bartender's grin and made his way to the last booth. Danika looked over the top of her menu, lifted her wrist to eye level and stared at her watch.

"Twelve minutes less for you to make your pitch, Detective."

Skeets sat facing the kitchen and placed the file folder out of sight. He took a napkin off the table and quickly covered the evidence of his expansive midriff. "I'm sorry you had to wait."

A waitress approached the table, and Skeets glanced up. "I'll be paying for both of us, Patty. Could you bring me a coke with double the ice? By the time you get back, we'll be ready to order."

Danika laid the menu face down on the table. Her lips twisted in contempt. "I normally avoid places like this. I can feel the grease in the air congealing on my skin. Do they have a decent salad, here?"

"Wouldn't know about that, but they have a kick-ass chili. Or is that not your thing, either?"

"Grew up in Texas. I like my chili full of meat and spicy."

"I can attest to the fact it is both."

Patty returned with the coke, took their order and hurried off to take care of a large group anxious to settle their tabs.

Skeets placed his menu with the others in the oval tin that also held condiments and napkin-wrapped flatware. He spread open one of the bundles.

"Have you noticed the trend for restaurants to allow only basic utensils? The only time I get a spoon is when I order soup. What's that all about?"

"You might consider upgrading your restaurant choices, Detective," the reporter quipped. "That isn't a problem in the places I frequent."

"Really? Well, you must write down the names of those places. That way, I can be sure to avoid them."

Their eyes locked. Steel met steel, and Danika broke first. "Let's get down to business, shall we? What have you got for me and what do you want in return?"

"By now you are aware another murder has taken place. What I'd like to know is how you're going to present the situation to the public?"

"And I should share that with you... why?"

"We're willing to keep you in the loop if you'll refrain from reporting certain details."

"I have a responsibility to my public, Detective. This community is at risk due to a perverted serial killer," Danika leaned forward and planted her elbows on the table. "The people at greatest risk are elderly, vulnerable citizens. They watch television news more than the average viewer. I've earned their trust, and I won't let them down."

Patty appeared, and after settling their plates, stepped back and wiped her hands across her apron. She directed a smile at Skeets and asked, "Can I bring you anything else?"

"Another coke when you get a chance, Patty."

"Sure thing." Her smile disappeared when she addressed Danika, "ready for a refill?"

Lifting her water glass in the air, Danika remarked, "Have you got anything besides city water? Perrier or Voss, perhaps?"

"We have seltzer water. Will that do?"

"Forget it, I'll stick with this. Bring me fresh slices of lemon, please. And I don't want the heel of the lemon this time. I want thin slices from the center of the fruit."

"Of course." Danika scrutinized her chili with suspicion, oblivious to the chill in Patty's voice.

"The service is fast; I'll grant you that," Danika remarked. "Well, here goes." She chewed thoughtfully for a full minute and then set down her spoon. "Shoot. That's the best chili I've had in a long time." She looked at Skeets with newfound respect.

"You said WE earlier. Does that mean Sheriff Oleson knows about our little tete-a-tete?"

"Yes, he does. In fact, Derek was the one who discovered you and Officer Newstead had, shall we say, a special arrangement. Said officer has been removed from the Task Force. Your inside source is officially dried up, Ms. Martin."

"Oh dear. You refer to him as Officer Newstead. Sounds like he's been demoted." She dug to the bottom of her soup bowl and shoved its contents around with vigor. "I warned Paul that talking with me might lead to something like that. He wouldn't listen. He claimed the Sheriff had it in for him anyway."

"That's bull crap. Besides, it's not Newstead I'm here to discuss." Skeets placed the manilla folder on the table between them, and rapped his knuckles against it in a syncopated rhythm. "This file's contents are for your eyes only. I'll give it to you on the condition you avoid broadcasting the highlighted sections until our department gives you the green light." Danika's hand shot forward, but Skeets was faster. He whisked the file from sight then picked up his sandwich to enjoy the last few bites.

Danika's anger blew over him in palpable waves, but he showed no interest in anything but devouring his meal. Patty, seeing he was finished, came over and cleared his plate. "Another coke, Detective?" She was all sugar to him, and he knew it was partly an act to irritate the snobby blonde sitting across from him. "No, thanks, Patty. I'll take the check, though."

"Sure thing. Be right back with that." She did a stiff half turn and addressed Danika. "Would you like to take your chili home?"

Danika shoved the bowl aside. "No. Take it away, please."

Patty was barely out of earshot before Danika hissed, "Cut to the chase, Detective."

Skeets opened the file folder and placed it back on the table. An 8X10 photograph of Dresden Stredwick III, lay atop the contents. Danika retrieved reading glasses from her purse,  pulled the file closer and studied it.

"I know this man," she said. "He's an FBI profiler." Danika jerked upright. A predatory gleam enhanced the cool blue of her eyes. "Matthew Buell told me he planned to contact the FBI. Hinted he'd attended college with one of the Bureau chiefs. Looks like he called on an old friend."

"Sheriff Oleson plans to work closely with the FBI. We're grateful for any help they can give us. But we don't totally agree on some aspects of how to approach this case."

"I'm listening, Detective."

"We're following a significant lead. One that has the potential to muddy up the case due to its highly emotional nature."

"Are you referring to the pedophile angle, or the fact that Father Brian is a viable suspect in these murders?"

"Father Brian has solid alibis. The pedophile angle, however, is a promising direction of inquiry at this time."

Patty chose that moment to drop off their change. "See you on burger-and-a-pint night, Skeets?

"Working extra-long hours right now, Patty. I'll be back when things settle down."

Danika's knowing grin irritated him. "You can get that smug look off your face. If we did happen to be doing the dirty together, at least she won't lose her job as a result of it."

"Collateral damage, Detective. My conscience is clear." She pulled her purse onto her lap and removed a compact. Flipping it open, she stared into the mirror. "I need to be at the network station in twenty minutes to prepare for the evening news." She snapped the compact closed and faced forward. "What will it take for me to walk out of here with your file in my purse?"

"Beneath the photo is a preliminary autopsy report on Fritz Buell. We're asking for your assurance the two areas marked with an asterisk are kept concealed for the time being."

Danika scanned the report. She appeared genuinely shocked by what she read. "Gouged out  eyeballs and signs of anal penetration. Does Matthew know about this?"

"He knows about the mutilation but not the rape."

"I see your concern. But don't you think the public should be warned this person is obviously demented and of even greater danger? That's what my editor is going to say, and I'd be inclined to agree with her."

Skeets slid the file out of her reach. "Here's what the press rarely grasps. Panicked citizens add up to guns pulled from boxes hidden in closets and used against imaginary intruders like neighbors checking on them or delivery people. They tend to shoot first and ask later."

"I'll agree to your conditions in exchange for an exclusive interview with Dresden Stredwick and first access to the murderer."

Skeets lifted the file and held it out for her to take. "I can't promise to deliver the profiler, but when we catch the bastard doing these murders, you can pick his brain all you want."

"You have a deal." Danika snatched the file and bowed it in order to fit it into her purse. She slid from the booth to the floor and made ready to leave, but Skeets wasn't finished with her. His leg blocked her exit.

"One last thing, Ms. Martin. If you even hint this case is related to a pedophile priest, our office will alert Bishop McClaren, and your news station will be facing a lawsuit by the Catholic Church for pernicious slander. Further, we will categorically deny knowledge of any of the details in that file if released without our permission."

"I said we had a deal, Detective." She stepped over his leg and bent to whisper in his ear. Her breath was hot against his skin. "Matthew Buell's private investigator has been making friends inside the coroner's office. You've just confirmed information I got three hours ago."


-- TO BE CONTINUED -- 

Author Notes Cast of characters:
Fritz Buell: Elderly homicide victim.
Matthew Buell: Fritz's wealthy son.
Detective Skeets Epstein: Homicide detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Danika Martin: Television News Anchor
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Granite Mountain's Sheriff
Dresden Stredwick, III: FBI profiler

Terms:
Doing the dirty: Slant for having sex
Profiler: Specialized criminologist
tete-a-tete: A private conversation between two people.

Sioux term: NAMA (nah-mah) - conceal.

Big thanks to donkeyoatey for use of his superb artwork yet again.


Chapter 43
Iktomi Moon

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong violence.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of sexual content.

PREVIOUSLY: TWO ELDERLY PARISHIONERS OF ST. MATILDE'S CATHOLIC CHURCH HAVE BEEN MURDERED. IN THE COURSE OF THE INVESTIGATION, A POSSIBLE LINK TO THE PRESENT DAY MURDERS IS DISCOVERED IN THE CASE OF A DEAD PEDOPHILE PRIEST. ONE OF THE YOUNG VICTIMS, MATTHEW LONGACRE, WAS A SIOUX INDIAN WHOSE MOTHER HAD BEEN A DEVOTED CATHOLIC. WHEN THE PRIEST WAS ARRESTED AND MATTHEW FACED THE POSSIBILITY OF HAVING TO TESTIFY, HE COMMITTED SUICIDE. MATTHEW'S SECRET RELATIONSHIP WITH A FELLOW ALTAR BOY IS AT THE HEART OF THE UNFOLDING, DEMONICALLY-DIRECTED REVENGE. 

**********

Matthew 12: 43-45:  "When the unclean spirit is gone out of man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished.  Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be unto this wicked generation."   

**********

A persistent bang broke through the nightmare and banished the fiend in the process of severing his tongue. On waking, Eddie's frantic probing proved its wholeness.

Sleeping pills gave him two, maybe three hours of sleep before the demon came each night with a new way to torture him. He knew he was being punished for raping Fritz Buell when he'd sworn not to touch a man like that again. But the weakling's begging aroused him, and before he could stop, he'd penetrated and climaxed to the sound of agonized screams. The pleasure was short-lived when he discovered Fritz's catatonic state, so he made the quick decision to smother him and transport the body to the laboratory.

The nightmares proved the omniscience of 'Master'. Swift and brutal punishment followed his deviance from the plan.

The din of summoning bells filled the bedroom, and Eddie heard his mother begging for help -- except she was butcher-wrapped and stowed in the garage freezer.

The worthless bitch is dead. Something is mimicking her, as if I'm stupid enough to fall for that.

His torso was slick with sweat, and a full bladder screamed for relief, but he hadn't the courage to leave the safety of his bed. Feigning sleep, only his eyes moved about the room as he waited for the sound to repeat.

A line of pure white was visible at the bottom of the room's only window. Its glow gave him a moment of comfort before a dark mass rose from the floor, swallowed the light and sped up the wall, morphing into a man-sized spider. Extending its hairy appendages to the ceiling, it moved with horrible delicacy until it hung above the foot of the bed.

Eddie willed his legs to move and feet to run, but his body ignored the brain's panic. A heavy weight dropped onto his naked body and began a slow slide towards his face. He'd thrown off his covers sometime during the night, leaving himself completely exposed to the creature. Pincers tore at the flesh of his abdomen, leaving a steady trail of pain with its advance.

The bulk of the creature's body rested on his chest. Trapped and helpless, Eddie chugged air into his lungs to keep from smothering. Displaced blood rushed upwards. He feared his head would explode from the pressure.

A flat, inhuman voice rose from the creature's depths. "Don't you think I'm beautiful, Eddie? Remember when you charged your friends a dollar to look at the caged spider? I do."

Eddie's eyes bulged with terror, and his head snapped forward. He stared into twin pools of hell-fire.

"You kept me by your bed. At night, you'd pin me to the corner of the cage with a beam of light and laugh at my fear. Then you decided you could get more money for a spider trying to crawl with half its legs."

The creature's maw opened, and a fetid smell issued forth. "When He's through with you," it continued, "we'll be waiting for revenge. Me and my brothers will rip your body to shreds over and over."

Rage surged through Eddie, restoring strength to his limbs. He flung the creature from him with such force it slammed into a wall and exploded into a thousand tiny spiders that screeched and burned out as they collided.

Rushing to the bathroom, he reached the toilet in time to expel a stream of bile, retching over and over in a futile effort to cast out the evil that claimed him decades before.

Pulling himself to the edge of his tub, he turned on the shower jets, cranked the faucet to the hottest setting and stepped into the middle of the stream of water. He emerged twenty minutes later, patted his traumatized skin dry and stepped in front of a mirror.

From a cabinet drawer, he retrieved a satin-sheathed, curved blade used for animal sacrifices. His source told him the blade came from the personal stash of Minnesota's top Satanist and hinted it had been used on more than animals. Eddie stroked its shiny surface until it vibrated with power.

Swollen spider bites ran the length of his torso. He slit the tip of the lump near his pubis, and it receded. In quick succession, the remaining mounds were incised.

The mirror reflected the outcome, and Eddie's sliver of humanity fled. A contemptuous whisper confirmed the message carved into his chest: M E U S. "Mine, complete and forever."

Author Notes The nature of this chapter is disturbing. Because of its intensity, I've kept it short. In my extensive study of possession and exorcism, the details of this chapter are relatively tame in comparison to the reality of such a state. However, I have appropriately issued a warning for unsuspecting readers.

Cast of Characters:
Eddie: Serial killer

Sioux Dialect: Iktomi (spider)

Thanks to Stacey Nagy for use of her splendid artwork.


Chapter 44
Thawichasa Moon

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

Previously: Two elderly members of St. Matilde's Catholic Church have been murdered. Since one of the murdered victims has been discovered on the nearby Lakota reservation, the FBI has become involved.  Part of the team is an old flame of Detective Jana Burke, FBI profiler Dresden Stredwick, III. His specialty is cult murders. The presence of the FBI is greeted with little enthusiasm and much suspicion. Jana Burke decides to go for broke and confide her unorthodox suspicions with her former lover.

**********   


Detective Jana Burke pressed her fingertip into the space between her eyebrows and moved it to the outside edges of her nostrils. She completed five rounds, holding each point for five seconds. Eyes closed, she breathed deep into her abdomen to dispel her fatigue. An old, familiar face popped into her mind.

Jana first learned of Chinese energy medicine when she lived in Los Angeles. She'd suffered from migraine headaches since puberty, and was concerned about their effect on her ability to hold down a law enforcement position. Her roommate at the time, May Siu, was a second generation Chinese-American.

During a debilitating episode of head pain, Jana lay in her darkened bedroom, unaware her moans carried to the apartment's living room. May entered without knocking. She pleaded with her roommate to accompany her to the office of a well-known Chinese doctor. Desperate for relief, Jana acquiesced.

Cars and motorbikes lined the street in front of Doctor Kim Suen's office. The front entry was filled with people sitting on both furniture and floor. Jana groaned, but May was driving. She had no choice but to wait.

When it was her turn, she panicked. What if something this guy does makes it worse?

Anticipating the situation, May grabbed Jana's arm and pulled her along a narrow hallway and into a small room, which was surprisingly cozy. Decorated screens formed a triangle at the head of a massage table. Along one wall was a rosewood table. Resting atop it was a marble statue of a white-robed woman seated in the lotus position. Lavender day lilies in a jade vase cast a soft shadow over the face of the statue.

May helped her onto the table as Dr. Suen entered the room. Even in her bleary-eyed state, the man's vigor was palpable. He approached the table, and, in total silence, studied his patient from head to toe. He extended his right hand and touched the tip of Jana's nose.

"The governing meridian is reversed. You are experiencing headaches, yes?"

Jana lifted her head and looked at May. "You told him, didn't you?"

"I did no such thing. I know how close-mouthed you are about yourself. Dr. Suen senses energy imbalances, just like your Uncle Tony, Jana."

"The Western mind has yet to grasp the importance of the body's electrical impulses," Dr. Suen continued. "In your case, the line of energy that runs from your waist, up your spine and across the top of your head is plugged, to use a term you Americans can understand." His lopsided grin offset his somber tone. "This is a serious situation that can lead to a number of problems ranging from organ dysfunction to emotional imbalance."

"Both my mother and grandmother have endured migraine headaches for years," Jana reasoned. "Medication would help, but I don't have any insurance to cover it."

"Drugs mask, they do not cure." He signaled for May to help Jana sit up. "I'm going to use my own Ki to unblock your energy. By the time you leave here, your headache will have subsided."

As promised, Jana was pain free and clear-headed by the time she reached her apartment. It was an amazing experience that left a lasting impression.

Sitting at her desk, cross-country and five years removed from that first meeting, Jana silently thanked May and Dr. Suen for opening her mind to the body's natural healing ability. On returning to the Lakota reservation to live with her Uncle Tony, they had many discussions about the kinship of the Lakota and Chinese ways of healing. As fascinating as the topic was,  she loved being a detective too much to follow in her uncle's footsteps as Tribal healer.

This is not the time to deal with old wounds. She closed her laptop and stood up. Time for a break and supper. I can't afford to lose more weight.

**

She locked the door of the office assigned to her for the duration of the manhunt. On her way to the locker room, she checked to see if any other Task Force members were present. It was a relief to find they were elsewhere -- eating alone never bothered Jana, especially after a volatile day. Her partner wouldn't look at her, let alone speak to her, and she'd no idea where he'd gone. Rick's jealousy was becoming a big problem - one that needed addressing if their partnership was to continue.

Stowing her gear in the locker, Jana's mind was on the Chianti and lasagna she favored at Gypsy's Trattoria. She turned into the sudden, sweet smell of floral cologne. Dresden Stredwick III stepped into view.

"Jana, at last we're alone."

"I see you still favor those girly colognes, Dred."

"Aw, do you always have to bust my balls, Jana? I'm not the man you remember." He grinned. "I've grown up despite your conviction that hell would freeze over first."

"That remains to be seen." Jana tried to brush past him, but he grabbed her shoulder and spun her back around. A steady, strong fire smoldered in his eyes, and an old desire lassoed her heart. He pulled her into a crushing embrace and hungrily probed her mouth. Jana pressed for release despite the urge to surrender.

The FBI profiler dropped his arms and stepped back. "I'm sorry. That was out of line. It's just... seeing you again... I thought I'd gotten over you, Jana. Am I crazy to think that fate has brought us together for a reason?" He jammed his fists in his pocket as if to keep from reaching for her.

"Fate has brought us together, Dred, to stop a maniac from wreaking more havoc on innocent souls and a community I've grown to love. I don't know if there's a second chance waiting for us, but that's not what's important right here, right now."

Sadness stared back at her. This is the man I thought was a cold-hearted narcissist? The job's changed him. Hell, it changes us all.

Jana made an impulsive offer. "I'm on my way to Banger's Pub. If you have no plans, I'd like for you to join me." Her throat tightened at the answering smile. Dresden Stredwick looked a decade younger when he smiled.

"I'd really enjoy that, Jana."

She shook her finger and tried for stern. "This is not, I repeat, not a date, Dred. I've always valued your instincts, if not your judgment, and I've got some feelings about this case that I haven't felt comfortable sharing with anyone on the Task Force. There's a dimension to it  that needs serious consideration."

"You've been ridiculed for your supernatural leanings, Jana, but I always respected that part of your emotional make-up. In fact, the FBI has been known to employ the services of mediums. All hush-hush, of course. Last year we closed a cold case due to the visions of a remarkable old lady from North Carolina. She was as thrilled as we were to get a serial rapist off the streets.

"I don't know if I'm sensing the supernatural or a complete amorality on the part of the killer. Either way, I'd need to back up any assertions with facts. That's where your famous talents come in."

He patted his heart. "Useful is good, for now."

Jana grabbed her carryall and led him through the rear entrance. "I don't want to be seen leaving together." She took a pad from her bag, scribbled directions and handed it to him. "I have to stop at the ATM, so you go on ahead and get us a table."

Snapping a two-finger salute, he quipped, "Yes, sir." Jana stuck out her tongue and turned her back on him.

**
Dred watched her approach her vehicle for the pure pleasure it gave him. Suddenly a thick grey mist passed behind her, blotting out her figure. He blinked to clear his vision, and it was gone. Remaining was a deep, uneasy feeling that he'd just witnessed the extraordinary.

Strange. He zipped up his jacket against a bone-deep cold and headed for his own car. Ghosts, pedophilia, a messy soup of clues... what the hell is coming next?

Author Notes Terms:
Ki: Chi - Life Force
Meridians: Any of the pathways along with the body's vital energy flows according to the theory behind acupuncture.

Cast of characters:
Detective Jana Burke: Homicide detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's department.
Detective Rick Morales: Homicide detective and Jana Burke's partner.
Dresden Stredwick, III: Famous FBI profiler.

Thawichasa: Sioux for girlfriend

A big thanks to donkeyoatey for his fantastic accompanying artwork.


Chapter 45
Taku Moon

By Writingfundimension

"When a disturbance really gets going, say into what we call a diabolical siege. then you get phenomena like materializations, de-materializations, teleportations, levitations -- of both people and objects...'     Ed Warren, Internationally Renowned Demonologist 

**********

PREVIOUSLY: Two elderly members of St. Matilde's Catholic Church have been murdered. The Detectives of Granite Mountain Sheriff's division struggle to sort through a confusing assortment of clues. Further complicating the investigation are indiciations the present day events may be linked to a decades-old scandal involving Monsignor Lewis Flaherty, a pedophile priest.


**********

Sheriff Derek Oleson paused to observe the black fly make its way across his desk. It's movements were sluggish, its vigor paling with each moon. Winter's approach portended annihilation of the insect's brief brush with life. Because it was not cursed with this awareness, the fly approached a scattering of crumbs with much the same enthusiasm as its first meal.

Zigzagging across a paper surface, stopping now and then to rub its antennae, it naively made its way forward. Whether it sensed the watcher's scrutiny made little difference. If forced to, it would escape and find another route to its destination.

In Derek's desk drawer was a flyswatter. Fruit flies descended like a biblical plague during the apple harvest, and the swatter was put to good use. But with the first frost, they ceased to be a problem. The larger species of fly would die next. He decided to leave the doomed creature to its devices and concentrated on two reports in front of him.

Fritz Buell's preliminary autopsy report revealed he'd not been drugged like Debra Padget, the first victim. The only contusions on his body were caused by his abduction from the graveyard. Derek surmised he was in a state of shock from the rape and easily succumbed to strangulation, thereby eliminating the need for a paralytic drug. The rape and post-mortem removal of his eyeballs pointed to a brutal rage toward the male victim. "Or, in the killer's mind, greater culpability?" Derek theorized.

He flinched at the sharp raps on the door of his private entrance. Through its peephole, he recognized Detective Skeets Epstein. Derek asked him to avoid the outer office after his meeting with newswoman, Danika Martin. The detective's frown hinted at the meeting's outcome.

Skeets offered no comment until he was seated across from his boss. "The lady showed, Derek, but you're not going to like what I learned." Derek's immobile features masked his concern.

"There's a leak at the morgue," Skeets continued, "and it's not one of ours. Danika claims that Matthew Buell's private investigator has an inside source. Extra, un-taxed cash would be tempting. I'd be willing to bet Matthew's money is juicing the information flow."

"She tell you how much they've got?"

"From what I could gather, just about everything. Which leaves us with zip for a bargaining chip. Though she promised to hold back the information on the mutilations, I don't trust her, Derek."

"Do you think she's covering for Paul Newstead by claiming it's Matthew Buell's P.I.?

"She's capable of juggling two men if it serves her purposes. My gut tells me the hired hand is jockeying for fame with a side of sex in exchange for information. But I think Newstead's out of the picture, following his demotion."

Derek locked his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. "We may end up being grateful for the FBI's presence after all."

"How's that?"

"They trump the press every time. At their word, Miss Martin will find her well of information bone dry."

"It's ridiculous that we have to depend on outsiders to get the local press to behave," Skeets said. "I miss the days when reporters like Neil Guthrie looked at himself as part of a team with the community's well-being uppermost. I hope his ghost haunts Danika Martin's dreams."

"He'll have to get in line." Derek retrieved the two autopsy reports and slid them across to Skeets.

"What are these?"

"The first item is Fritz Buell's preliminary autopsy findings. Beneath it is Debra Padget's final report. Read paragraph four of the coroner's preliminary findings on Fitz Buell."

Skeets read and re-read the paragraph, placed a finger to mark a spot on the page and looked up. "Fritz Buell's torso had three lacerations on the stomach giving the appearance of inverted crosses?"

"Keep reading," Derek responded. "It gets better."

"Likely to have been caused by the claws of an animal due to the distinct tearing nature of the wounds," Skeets read aloud. He hesitated before asking, "Do you think the killer used an amputated claw gained through some kind of freaky ritual?"

"I'd be inclined to agree with you if it weren't for the copious amount of fresh animal feces found inside the pocket of the Fritz Buell's Cassock. The Coroner's adamant the excrement was deliberately placed. Dr. Bloomquist's exact words were: 'It's ludicrous to think an animal happened upon the body before you did and decided to crap on it.'

Skeets rolled his eyes. "Sounds like Bloomquist. Crass but succinct. Are we dealing with two different killers, then? I don't recall any of that kind of abuse with the first victim."

"We missed something." Derek grabbed his pen and twisted the cap. "I went back to Debra's report and found an obscure item buried in the final autopsy report."

"Every member of the Task Force reviewed that report at least a dozen times," Skeets insisted. "What could we possibly have missed?"

"Her stomach contents revealed she had a foreign body present. It's composition? Cat hair, rodent bones and fibers resembling string."

Skeets shot forward and planted his elbows on the desk. "Holy hell, Derek, are you telling me the lady had a hairball in her stomach?"

"I'm telling you that extricated from our first victim's stomach was an object consistent with the common hairball. And yet, nowhere in Debra's house were there signs of a cat."

"Further, Bloomquist claims the foreign body had no signs of digestion. Which led him to conclude it got into her stomach post-mortem." Derek tossed his pen onto the desk. "We're talking about an object the size of a golf ball. How is that possible?"

"The killer could have surgically placed it. After all, he used professional-grade tools in order to remove Buell's eyeballs."

"I wondered that, too. But Bloomquist assured me the only incisions into Debra Padget's corpse were made by him."

"Was it forced down her throat?"

Derek shook his head. "No signs of scraping to the lining of the esophagus. Instrument or fingers, one would expect signs of an item that size being forced down her throat."

The air in the room was charged with energy, and Skeets went very still. Derek stared at a spot to the left of his detective's face in a determined effort to resist the tug of wild superstition.

"Bloomquist gave me information not included in the report that he'll deny ever saying," Derek continued. "He swears he removed the foreign object from Deborah's stomach and placed it in a basin for definitive analysis at a later time. Yet, his assistant recalls no such object being present. Bloomquist, himself, searched the lab, but was unable to locate it."

"I don't believe that hairball disappeared into thin air," Skeets was quick to interject. "Bloomquist is covering for his lab's foul-up."

"I don't disagree with you. However, given this latest information, I believe it prudent we proceed armed with the knowledge our killer has strong ties to the occult."

"God help us if the public gets a hint of this, Derek. Do you plan to share this with the Feds?"

Derek skirted the question. "I want you and Morales to go back into the files of those church vandalisms a few years back. Look for anything that correlates with our murders. Also, interview any witnesses. It'd be especially important to hear what they say in light of what we know."

Skeets pushed back his chair and stood up. "Rick is a good detective, but he's acting a bit irrational these days. You putting him with me to get him away from Jana for a while?"

"Jana has to remain available to the FBI."

"Of course. I'll round up my new partner and get started."

"Good." Derek reached across his desk and retrieved the report copies. "Everything we've discussed remains confidential for the time being."

"Understood, Boss. When the time is ripe, I'll be more than happy to give you the podium. You're going to get tremendous resistance. This investigation is heading in a bizarre direction, and I've got a bad feeling it's gonna get even crazier."

**

Derek's private number lit up. He paused from his writing to check the number. When he realized who it was, he opened a small notebook before answering.

"This is Sheriff Oleson speaking."

"Sheriff Oleson, this is Father Frederick Northrup. I was contacted by the Archdiocese of Minneapolis following your inquiry. Sorry it's taken a few days to get back with you. I've just returned from Rome and had some urgent business to attend to first."

"Thank you for taking time out to call me, Father. From what I've been given to understand, you... ah... specialists are spread thin."

"Currently, that is the situation; but things are changing. A batch of younger priests are being trained to take over. I can tell you it's not a moment too soon. I'm not in the kind of shape that handsome young actor from The Exorcist was, and we know what happened to him." His full-throated laugh was pleasant to the ear and Derek started to relax.

"Tell me how I can help you, Sheriff."

"I'm working two homicides here in Granite Mountain with ritualistic implications.There are aspects of each that suggest we're dealing with someone who has a grudge against the Catholic Church -- specifically, St. Matilde's Catholic Church. Additionally, one of the victims had three inverted crosses burned into his abdomen. From what I've been reading, the inverted cross is used in Satanic rituals."

The priest interrupted, "St. Matidle's?  Wasn't that Monsignor Flaherty's parish?"

"Yes, it was. It's now under the leadership of Father Brian DeShano."

"I'm quite familiar with Father Brian. I'm surprised you're reaching out to the Archdiocese when you have an exorcist right in your own back yard."

Derek sputtered, "Why didn't my original contact inform me of that fact?"

"They may not have known. We're a reclusive bunch, Sheriff. One only learns our identity when, and if, a situation is proven to be of demonic origin. That's something you can discuss with Father Brian. Or is there a reason you might not want to do that?"

"I'd prefer to speak with you first. Father Brian has his hands full dealing with the aftermath of the murder of two of his parishioners. I'm willing to come over to Minneapolis for a meeting at your earliest convenience."

"That's not necessary. My sister lives near Granite Mountain. I was planning to visit her the day after tomorrow. My secretary will contact you when the arrangements are confirmed."

"I appreciate your generosity, Father."

"Don't thank me yet, Sheriff. If you're involved with a true demon, then I suggest you get on your knees and start to pray. Your world view is about to be shattered."

Author Notes Terms:

Hairball: A ball of hair accumulated in a cat stomach as a result of licking its coat.
Juicing: Powering
Taku: Sioux for Being/Creature
The Exorcist: A very famous movied based on William Blatty's book.

Cast of Characters:

Fritz Buell: Second murder victim
Matthew Buell: Fritz's wealthy son
Jana Burke: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church.
Skeets Epstein: G.M. Homicide detective.
Danika Martin: Television news anchor and journalist.
Rick Morales: G.M. Homicide Detective and Jana Burke's partner.
Officer Paul Newstead: Fomerly a homicide detective who was demoted when he was discovered to be leaking confidential information to a local T.V. newscaster.
Debra Padget: First murder victim

Thank you, donkeyoatey, for the superb accompanying artowork: Eve's seducer.


Chapter 46
Okoka Moon, Part 1

By Writingfundimension

**********

Previously: Two elderly parishioners of St. Matilde's Catholic Church have been murdered. In the course of the investigation, a possible link to the present day's murders is discovered in the case of a dead pedophile priest, Monsignor Lewis Flaherty. 

**********


Beyond the rim of the silver cup, Father Brian saw only confused faces struggling to remember the meaning of his movements. His call for them to proclaim their faith went unanswered. He set the chalice down, bowed, and whispered words of blessing. Straightening, he moved to the line of wheelchairs in front of the table to distribute Communion.

Harriet Brubaker's tongue lunged between her thin lips. Brian placed a wheat-brown wafer on its pebbled surface despite his knowledge she would transfer it to the pocket of her robe as soon as he turned away. Brian let it go, reasoning that Harriet, in her right state of mind, would never commit such blasphemy.

He made another pass with a wine-filled chalice. Harriet slurped the sweet wine and smiled. "Just like my daddy made," she said. Brian gently extricated her fingers from the cup's stem and moved to the next person.

"Hey, I wasn't done," she hollered. Morton Neiderer, who was next in line, rounded his chest in imitation of a cock and faced her. "Aw, shuddup," he yelled. "Were you raised in a barn?"

Brian stepped between them, blocking any sudden punches. "Now, now you two. This room is church when He is present through the consecration."

"Sorry, Father," they both mumbled, but he could see the stubborn set of their faces. "Hell on wheels, both of them," he thought.

At the conclusion of the Mass, facility aides wheeled the residents to their respective rooms. Brian removed his stole, gathered the ritual paraphernalia and stowed it in a duffel bag. A few steps shy of the elevator, someone called his name.

"Father Brian, hold up, will you?"

He turned in the direction of the voice. Maureen Penfold, safety director for TenderCare Senior Living, clattered her way towards him. She was a large woman suffering from the mistaken belief she was half the size attested to by her mirror. Her short skirts inevitably rode up her cellulitic thighs, and her knees slapped against each other in a chain reaction that started with her six-inch heels.

"Another minute and you'd have missed me, Maureen." Brian offered, giving her time to catch her breath -- hearing the telltale wheeze of asthma at its edges. Her brows met at the fold between her eyes in a look meant to disarm.

"Father, do you have time to talk? I've got a... um... situation I need to discuss with you."

"I'm pressed for time just now. Could we make it another day?"

"This won't take long. It's about one of your parishioners, Georgie Lutz."

Brian's face registered alarm. "What about him?"

"Really, I think it would be better if we discussed this in my office." She pointed two doors down and ordered, "Follow me."

Brian was never sure if Maureen didn't like men, priests or just him. He'd almost asked her once, but the wiser part of him reasoned her sour attitude was due to an uphill battle keeping residents and their families happy. He entered her office and sat his duffel bag on the chair across from her.

By the set of her mouth, he figured she got his message: Get to the point.

"As you know, Georgie has advanced-stage dementia. He wanders at night. Can't sleep because he naps all day. We've been forced to rig his bed and chair with alarms to keep him from roaming the halls."

Brian tucked his hands into his armpits. "I understand the necessity of such action."

Maureen gestured dismissal. "I doubt anyone understands how difficult it is to maintain control in this place." She leaned back in her chair. A sound like a knife slamming into steel emanated from it. Maureen shifted forward, and the chair issued a distressed croak. "I hate this damned chair," she said, going on the offense. "Apparently the legs have to fall off before I'll get a replacement."

Brian shifted his weight to his left side, and let silence hang between them like a distorted bubble. When he offered no encouragement for her to expound on her troubles, she turned back to the matter at hand.

"Since Georgie has no family," she intoned, "I'm turning to you as his parish priest. This last week, he's been waking from his naps screaming until he's hoarse. The aides have been able to figure out he's seeing a man with 'broken' eyes in his room who says he was murdered by a devil." She glanced up to check the priest's reaction.

Father Brian dropped his arms and leaned into the edge of her desk.

"Obviously, he's having hallucinations."

"A reasonable conclusion, Father. Except for..."

"You're killing me." They both jumped. The voice snuck under the door and filled the airless room. It was a mangled version of a scream. Maureen's face paled. "What the hell was that?" She crossed to the door and yanked it open. There was no one in the hallway to explain the voice. Behind her, Brian felt a frigid zone surround them both.

Maureen put out an arm to hold him back. "Wait here, I'm going to see what's going on."

Grabbing the arm, he forced her to stop and face him. "Let go. You're hurting me," she squeaked.

There was fear in her eyes, but he didn't care. "What did Georgie tell you. I have to know his exact words."

"He said the dead man's name was Fritz Buell and that he was killed by a devil. A devil he claims lives in the rectory -- your rectory, Father."

"That's nonsense," Brian said. "He must have read about Fritz Buell in the paper."

"Georgie hasn't read a newspaper in two years."

"Then someone in charge of his care mentioned it."

An eruption of activity drowned Maureen's response. A pair of uniformed women rushed past the doorway. "We've got a code red," they called back to Maureen. "Georgie Lutz stopped breathing!"

Brian wanted to move, wanted to follow them to offer Georgie a last blessing, but he was rooted to the spot. He registered only that Maureen had left him alone in her office. Alone, and shaking like a cooped hound waiting for the next vicious blow.

-- End of Part 1 --

Author Notes Cast of Characters:
Fritz Buell: Murdered retired janitor of St. Matilde's Catholic School.
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor, St. Matilde's Catholic Church

Sioux Term:
Okoka: Wild, noisy confusion

Thank you much to donkeyoatey for use of his splendid artwork: Nightmare


Chapter 47
Okoka Moon, Part Two

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

**********
PREVIOUSLY:

"There was fear in her eyes, but he didn't care. "What did Georgie tell you.  I have to know his exact words.

He said the dead man's name was Fritz Buell and that he was killed by a devil. A devil he claims lives in the rectory -- your rectory, Father."

**********  


The man in the orange Datsun marked Father Brian's return to the rectory. "I'll give him time to get into the house, then I'm going in after him," he said to the beast seated alongside him.

"Patience, Eddie-O. This has to be done right. Fuck up now and the whole deal's off."

"You promised I could do whatever I wanted to him," he argued. "S'posed to be my reward for killing the others. Anyway, he's half yours already, so what's the big deal?"

Claws pierced the fabric of his shirt. Eddie screamed and twisted, but only succeeded in widening the gash in his flesh. Nerve endings screamed pain along the length of his arm. He flopped against the steering wheel and sobbed. Eyes as cold as deep space studied its human counterpart. "Whatever am I going to do with you, Eddie?" it said.

"I've done everything you've asked, haven't I? You want the priest, and I want Matthew. What are we waiting for?" Eddie whined. He used his shirt to wipe the snot and tears from his face, then took it off and used it to stem the flow of blood from his shoulder.

The beast lunged, snapping its jaws. Eddie shrank back to avoid further damage to his flesh. Settling back on its haunches, the cur lifted its paws and rubbed its eyes in perfect imitation of frustration. "The priest is not yet ready to give his soul to me." Sour, fetid air filled the truck's cab. "Once I have ground his will to nothing, you will be told what to do with the rest of him. Get creative, and I'll see you in hell."

Pain and fear rendered Eddie mute. His eyes were closed against the horror of his life. They snapped open at the tapping on his side window. A gray-haired man wearing a blue cardigan mouthed, "Do you need help?" He raised a cell phone to eye level and pointed to it. Eddie panicked. Oh Christ, I've been seen.

He waved the man off, started the engine and streaked off.

The old gent looked at his Schnauzer and said, "That boy's up to no good, Jake. Mark my words." He took out a small notebook from his pocket and wrote down the Datsun's license plate number.

*********

Father Brian DeShano paused to review what he'd written. He struggled to craft a fitting memorial for Debra Padget's funeral in two days' time. His teeth deepened the dents on his ball point pen as he read. "This is crap," he thought. Balling up the page, he lobbed it onto the growing pile in his trash bin.

Eluding him was a balance between his personal insights and espousing the resurrection rhetoric required of a Catholic funeral mass. Prudence demanded he not appear to be personally affected. The rules were nowhere written down, yet they remained etched by the ages: Priests must remain aloof from the congregation, especially its single female members.

The younger clergy ignored such archaic notions, but Brian recognized its inherent wisdom. Yet, he'd sought out Debra's company to ease his loneliness and hoped he'd eased hers. Memory of a home visit one week before her murder nipped at the edges of his awareness. It crystallized all that was unique about their relationship.

**

Before he knocked, Debra pulled the door open. A beatific smile wreathed her face, softening his heart. "C'mon in, Father. I've just pulled some cinnamon rolls from the oven." Her eyes flashed mischief. "Now don't go giving me a lecture about baking special for you. I promised a batch for my Bible study group and set aside a few for us."

"You've always understood the psychic connection between the stomach and the heart, Debbie." Brian placed his jacket on the coat stand and turned back to add, "something I believe our dear Lord also appreciated."

The elderly widow's face crumpled. Tears glistened in her eyes. Father Brian dropped to the level of her wheelchair and laid his hand atop hers. "Forgive my weak attempt at a joke. I meant it as a compliment."

"I know that, Father. It's just that my late husband used to say things like that to me." She patted his hand. "You're a true gentleman, just like my Earl." She looked into his eyes, and he shuddered before the knowing reflected there. It was rare, and always meant imminent death. "I'll miss our talks, Father," Debra whispered.

**

To his everlasting regret, he'd remained mute. Fear stole his courage that day, and he let an opportunity pass to acknowledge the sweet grace of Debra's affection. With the murder of a second parishioner, rage built upon the foundation of guilt, and Brian passionately prayed to be free of the corrosive emotions.

As a priest, he'd counseled many souls to beware of the unholy ones who feed on dark feelings. But with no one to bounce his thoughts off, he'd begun to slip into despair.

He prayed for deliverance. Yet, nothing seemed to soothe his nervous state. When he tried to confess the situation to a fellow priest, Brian felt as if his tongue had doubled in size and nothing came out of his mouth. In one lucid moment, he made a pact with himself to seek counsel with his old friend and Tribal Healer, Tony Buday. His plan was to contact Tony right after the funeral.

A whoosh from the direction of the fireplace brought Father Brian's Sheltie to his feet. Alyx growled a warning. Brian looked up from his writing and struggled to make sense of what he was seeing. Forks of flame rose from the logs in the gas-burning fireplace and joined to form a spiral, shooting a foot high. ''That's impossible," he thought.

The shrill ringing of the rectory phone drew his attention away from the strange phenomenon. Brian noted there was no caller identification. His hand wavered above the receiver. "Don't answer," a voice in his head warned.

He brought the receiver to his mouth. "St. Matilde's rectory. Father Brian speaking."

"Padre, long time no talk. How you holdin' up?"

Brian recognized the killer's voice. He decided to play along. "Pretty well, all things considered. How about you?" The hissing of a startled snake oozed through the line.

He isn't expecting sympathy.

"This is a terrible mess you've gotten yourself into," Brian hurried on before the man could hang up. "At the end of it, there'll be nothing left of you... nothing at all. You'll have given yourself to the Destroyer who hates God's sons. It's not too late to ask for forgiveness. Through Christ's blood...."

"Aamaaazzzzing graaace..." a cacophony of voices screeched through the line.

Brian stood his ground. "Stop it! You want to end this, I know you do. Surrender to the police, please, in the name of God!"

"Save me, son." Brian turned cold at the single voice that emerged from the chaos: Monsignor Lewis Flaherty. "I was a good priest," he said. "You know that better than anyone. I made some mistakes, but it wasn't my fault. I swear I never meant to hurt any of them."

I can't show sympathy. This is the work of the demon.

"God alone knows what was in your heart and has dealt with you accordingly," Brian responded.

"I'm so cold, so cold... God has abandoned me."

"I'm sorry... "

"NO YOU'RE NOT! You priests never apologize for anything," the voice of the killer screamed. "You hide behind your lawyers, pushing money under the table and thinking that makes it all okay."

Brian felt as if a fist had rammed into his gut. He leaned into the edge of the table, fighting to get his breath.

"Your mother killed herself because she copulated with a priest. She broke her wedding vows and committed a sin, with full knowledge and intention. You keep trying to deny it, Padre, but the truth won't go away. She's in hell with the rest of us. Join us. We'll take your soul in exchange for hers."

"I'll never join you..."

"Oh, but, Padre, you can't resist. It's your mother's legacy."

The connection went dead. Brian dropped to his knees, grabbed the crucifix lying on his chest and prayed, "Dear Mother of God, have mercy on your child in this hour of need."

Scraping sounds of furniture moving and doors slamming came from the upstairs bedrooms. Outside, it sounded as if an army was goose-stepping across the roof.

Alyx raced to the foot of the staircase, barking in alarm. Brian roused himself and crossed to his dog. He picked him up in his arms and slowly ascended the staircase, prepared to do battle with the evil besieging him.

Author Notes Cast of characters:
Tony Buday: Sioux Medicine Man, Brian's personal friend
Eddie: Serial Killer
Father Brian DeShano: Catholic priest
Debra Padget: Murdered parishioner
Monsignor Lewis Flaherty: Convicted pedophile priest

Terms:
Cur: A mongrel dog
Sioux Term:
Okoka: Wild, Confusing

Thanks to donkeyoatey for his fantastic accompanying artwork: Eve's Seducer


Chapter 48
Wiyaphe Moon

By Writingfundimension

********************

PREVIOUSLY:

"Your mother killed herself because she copulated with a priest. She broke her wedding vows and committed a sin, with full knowledge and intention. You keep trying to deny it, Padre, but the truth won't go away. She's in hell with the rest of us. Join us. We'll take your soul  in exchange for hers"'   

"I'll never join you..."

"Oh, but, Padre, you can't resist. It's your mother's legacy."

The connection went dead. Scraping sounds of furniture moving and doors slamming came from the upstairs bedroom. Outside, it sounded as if an army goose-stepped across the roof.

Alyx raced to the foot of the staircase, barking in alarm. Brian roused himself and crossed to his dog. He picked him up in his arms and slowly ascended the staircase, prepared to do battle with the evil besieging him. 


********************

Father Brian climbed the oak staircase to the upper rooms of the rectory. A whimper from Alyx, clutched to his chest, brought him back to the moment. He willed his arms to relax, but could not extinguish the violent trembling that radiated from the core of his body.

The stairs were carpeted but creaked due to the age of the wood beneath. Brian paused at the top landing. Every door was shut except that of the end room.  He could hear strains of music that sounded like an old L.P. recording of a Wagner opera, stuck on the soprano's high note.

He recognized the music. Monsignor Flaherty, the previous pastor, was obsessed with Der Ring Des Nibelungen and played it at all hours of the night. Brian gathered his courage and opened the door of the room where he thought the sound originated. He was puzzled, but relieved, to find there were no signs of a phonograph or anything to create the kind of racket he'd heard earlier.

Father Brian searched every inch of the rest of the rooms save one: Monsignor Flaherty's  quarters. When Brian assumed pastorship of St. Matilde's, he chose not to occupy the room of the man he replaced, despite the fact that it was spacious with a large private bath. He suspected that some of the Monsignor's sexual trysts with young boys had occurred in the room. The de-frocked cleric's furniture still remained which further unsettled him.

The bedroom door stood open in silent invitation, despite the fact it had been sealed with holy oil and locked following Lewis Flaherty's trial and incarceration. Brian approached the room, feeling with every step he was pushing through an invisible curtain. The air was heavy and left a weird sheen where it met bared skin. His lungs labored to pump adequate oxygen to muscles and limbs.

Rhythmic booms came from inside the room the closer he approached -- THREE, one, THREE, one, THREE, one. He knew it had to be coming from a demon that was using the number three as a direct insult to the Blessed Trinity.

Brian staggered slightly when Alyx yelped, turned his head and snapped at the air just beyond his tail. He freed the dog which landed with a soft thud and dropped into a crouch, still snarling at the air.

A black shadow whooshed past them, darting through the room's doorway. It moved so fast, he thought he might be seeing things. But Alyx's reaction was to lunge in the direction it moved. Okay, this is really happening. Humans can be tricked but not animals.

Brian stepped into the room and was overcome by the smell of sulphur. He felt his gut twist, and fought to keep from retching. Slapping his hand against the wall, he searched for the light switch and flipped it on.

The light was short-lived. Bulbs imploded, and the room returned to darkness.

Against the opposite wall, a shadow oozed its way upwards, swallowing the weak light bleeding through the window shades. The temperature dropped to freezing, and he could feel his resolve sliding away along its icy edges.

Brian back-stepped to the foot of the bed, grabbed the crucifix lying against his banging heart and began to recite passages from The Roman Ritual of Exorcism.

"I exorcise you, Most Unclean Spirit! Invading Enemy! All Spirits! Every one of you! In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ..." A wicked howling drowned his lone voice.

The cross warmed the palm of his hand. Armed with a new sense of comfort and safety, Brian advanced on the shadow forming itself into the shape of a horned creature. He closed his eyes to prevent being drawn into its spell.

"God, Creator and Defender of the human race," he challenged with mustered bravado. "You, who made man in your own image: Look on this, your servant, Brian, who is assaulted by the cunning of the unclean spirit..."

'Stop, Brian please, haven't I suffered enough?" A familiar voice, pulsing with pain, came from a corner of the room. He cocked his head and squinted into the darkness. On a console, sat a statue of the Virgin Mary. Astonished, he watched the statue rise and hover at eye level.

"Your words... they burn my flesh. Stop, I beg you." The voice was coming from the statue. It was his dead mother's voice, and her tortured eyes glowed through the marble. Brian groaned and took a step towards her, caught up in the need to heal her.

Those who die by their own hand become mine, Priest. Attack me and you attack her. A different, guttural voice punched its way through Brian's brain and had the unplanned result of bringing Brian to his senses.

He gripped the crucifix harder. The pain where its edges bruised soft flesh further focused his thoughts.

"You are an obscene illusion. My mother's not in danger, but you are, you unholy Bastard!"

Anger burned a path through Brian's body. He'd heard and seen enough. His voice was ragged but clear as he continued the prayer to banish his demonic torturers.

"The Strength of the mysteries of the Christian faith commands you. Get out! Offender! Get out! Give way to the Christ in whom you did not find any of your own doing!"

Brian's legs trembled, and he swayed on his feet. As though sensing his waning strength, demonic forces mounted their furies into a spectacular offense. The Blessed Virgin's statue lifted from the table and moved towards him. It began to spin ever faster. Alyx leaped through the air and knocked Brian aside just as the statue whizzed past his master's head and shattered against the wall.

Though dazed, Brian pulled Alyx to his chest and buried his face in the soft fur. "Good boy, Alyx," he murmured. Alyx bumped his master's cheek with his nose, and Brian lifted his face. A gentle wash of love filled his being. He stroked Alyx's ears and said, "We'll get through this together won't we, boy?"

A doorbell chimed below. Brian felt an immediate lift of the pall of evil. His body felt stiff and sore, but once he was on his feet, he found his strength returning.

"Round one goes to the Lord." He spoke the challenge for the sake of any lingering spirits. The door chime sounded again, and Brian hurried to answer the call.

 ...to be continued...

Author Notes Cast of Characters:

Alyx: Father Brian's Sheltie
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church
Monsignor Lewis Flaherty: Deceased pedophile priest.

Der Ring Des Nibelungen was Wilhelm Richard Wagner's
four-opera trilogy. It is believed that Hitler was enamored of the German composer.

I have included quotations taken from the actual text of The Roman Ritual of Excorcism. These words are to not to be trifled with by laypersons. There is great power in them, and they are not to be used by any but those trained and recognized by the Catholic Church as official Exorcists.

Sioux Term: Wiyaphe (Ambush)

Thanks so much to donkeyoatey for use of his wonderful artwork: Eve's seducer


Chapter 49
Sunkothai Moon, Part One

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

PREVIOUSLY: 

Jana made an impulsive offer. "I'm on my way to Banger's pub. If you have no plans, I'd like for you to join me." Her throat tightened at the answering smile. Dresden Stredwick looked a decade younger when he smiled.

"I'd really enjoy that, Jana."

She shook her finger and tried for stern. "This is not. I repeat, not a date, Dred. I've always valued your instincts, if not your judgement, and I've got some feelings about this case that I haven't felt comfortable sharing with anyone on the Task Force. There's a dimension to it that needs serious consideration." 

"You've been ridiculed for your supernatural leanings, Jana; but I've always respected that part of your emotional make-up. In fact, the FBI has been known to employ the services of  mediums. All hush-hush, of course. Last year we closed a cold case due to the visions of a remarkable old lady from North Carolina. She was as thrilled as we were to get a serial rapist."  

"I don't know if I'm sensing the supernatural or a complete amorality on the part of the killer. Either way, I'd need to back up any assertions with facts. That's where your famous talents come in."

He patted his heart. "Useful is good, for now."

**********


Anchor Bank was located on an oak-lined street ten minutes from the Police Station. Jana exited the parkway and pulled in behind the cars waiting to get their instant money from the ATM machine. She noted the condition of the car ahead of her -- a beater with one working tail-light. Had the car been in traffic, she'd issue a citation, but the bank's parking lot was private domain and she'd gone off the clock.

I should be heading to the Rez and a decent night's rest instead of ripping the scab off an old wound.

Rain slashed sideways across her windshield. She flipped on the wipers. The temperature had dropped twenty degrees in just two hours. Every Minnesotan knew that could mean sleet, ice, even snow. Traffic was light and pedestrians rushed along the sidewalks, heads into the wind, muffled against the cold. A ripple of anxiety built to a roar the closer she got to the restaurant and the man waiting there for her.

Like a physician aware of the little nasties circulating with impunity through the fluids of the human body, Jana was intimate with Dresden Stredwick's chezi okhizata (insincere) nature. Four years earlier, she'd been accepted into the Special Crimes Unit of the FBI. Her poise got her foot in the door, but it was her fundamental aptitude that propelled her career.

Once Jana joined Dred's team, he pursued her with his trademark single-minded focus, claiming her trust despite rumors of his womanizing ways. When she uncovered proof of his infidelity, he laughed at her 'archaic' notions of modern-day relationships. The betrayal landed her on a shrink's couch, her career in shreds and her soul dead in the water. Now, here she was heading for an intimate meeting with the one man for whom she skated the edge where love and hate meet.

"It's business," she said out loud. "Nothing more. End of discussion. End of lecture." Jana crossed her arms as if her conscience could see the mulish set of her features.

Bullshit. One kiss and you're caving. You know what Doctor Siever's opinion would be.

Jana pulled forward and cracked the window just enough to allow her to slide the ATM card in the slot. She entered her I.D.# and waited for the money. Snatching it off the tray, she shoved it into the pocket of her jeans and headed west.

Dresden's earlier kiss aroused her senses, but it wasn't enough to make her forget the agony of clawing her way back to sanity after their break-up. Yeah, she knew Doctor Sievers might see her action in a negative light, but Jana vowed to stay strong.

Time will tell if you've changed, Dred, but sure as hell, I have. It'll be your ass in a sling if you try to play me, Wasicu (white man).

**********

Banger's, a third-generation Irish pub was tucked between a butcher's shop and hardware store in the part of Granite Falls known as the Glens. The pub's aging Irish clientele still came for pints of bitter beer and authentic pub fare, but grumbled in private about the new generation demanding micro-brews and something called 'small plates'.

The pub's ceiling was copper; and the walls, painted a warm beige, refreshingly free of chain mail and glass-eyed animal heads. Donal, youngest family member and pub manager, covered the walls in artwork produced by locals as well as his own photography of the Irish countryside. Most evenings, he worked behind the bar, yelling out a greeting to hearty souls seeking refuge from the foul weather and a table near the floor-to-ceiling granite fireplace.

Donal was setting up a round of fancy drinks for a group of women hoping the eligible Irishman would come out from behind the bar and get friendly, when he spotted Jana coming in the door. His spirits dropped when he saw the direction of her gaze – the guy with the expensive watch and “I'm important” looks who was pretending to blend in.

It was unusual for Donal to notice the maneuvers of his patrons, but he'd had his eye on Jana ever since she started coming in for the occasional night out with the other detectives. He found himself willing to play the fool just to see her smile. Now, his protective instincts kicked in when he watched the way the guy acted all innocent when he'd been hitting on Donal's sister, Dani, just minutes before Jana arrived.

Obvious history there by the way they're looking at each other.

The disappointment he felt came as a surprise. Donal aimed a spiteful glance in the direction of the man as a warning to watch his step. The good-lookin' tomcat was already up and helping Jana with her coat. He turned his head to meet the bartender's challenge. Cold eyes assessed and dismissed him in an eyeblink. Flipping on a smile, he sat back down in the booth, and turned his total attention to the beautiful woman he'd never stopped loving.
 

~~End of Part One~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters:
Jana Burke: Homicide Detective
Dani: Co-owner of Banger's
Donal: Owner of Banger's
Dresden Stredwick, II: FBI profiler
Ginny Sievers: Psychiatrist

Sious Terms:
Sunkothai: Wolf's Lair

Other terms:
ATM: Automatic Teller Machine
Beater: Old banged-up car
Tomcat: A man who can't stay faithful

Thanks so much to Angelheart for the beautiful accompanying artwork.


Chapter 50
Sunkothai Moon, Part II

By Writingfundimension

**********

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.”

“True.”

“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.”

“Which hospital?”

“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.

Author Notes Characters and General Terms:
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

Sioux terms:
Leksi: Uncle
Nihun: Your mother
Sunkothai: Wolf's Lair.
Thunzan: My niece.

Thanks to donkeyoatey for use of his terrific artwork: The Alchemist


Chapter 51
Pemni Moon

By Writingfundimension

PREVIOUSLY:

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.”

“The Pedophile?”

“Yes.”

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.”

Author Notes Cast of Characters:
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

Terms:
a.k.a.: Also Known As
Life Alert: A personal alert system
Penmi: Warped (Sioux translation)
Rez: Reservation

Thanks to DONKEYOATEY for use of his fine artwork once again!


Chapter 52
Napha Moon, Part 1

By Writingfundimension

Previously:

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's hand, and he was punching out numbers, when Father Brian surprised him with another bit of news.

"The Pearce residence is across the alley separating the church property from the homes on the other side of the 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 hands 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."

***************


Detective Skeets Epstein secured badge and weapon from his car. Traveling on foot, he approached the house of the serial killer cutting a vicious swath through the elderly of St. Matilde's parish.

Back-up was on its way, including Sheriff Oleson, his commander. Skeets surmised they'd park down the street and approach the house on foot, gambling on the element of surprise to make an arrest with minimal collateral damage.

Epstein circled the Pearce home in an effort to ascertain who, or what, might be present. Impenetrable yews rimmed the exterior, forcing him to a crouch-crawl around them. He grunted from the exertion and cursed his forty extra pounds. Thick drapes barred him from seeing into most of the rooms. Finally, he found a glass-paned side door which allowed him a glimpse into the kitchen. A candle flame, on its downward slide, was the room's sole illumination. He tried the handle, but it was locked just like the other doors.

Skeets stepped sideways and leaned back against the house. “This is weird.” he thought. “Father Brian said Edward lived here with his bedridden mother. Who'd leave an unattended candle with an invalid in the house?"

The snarling of an animal about to attack came from somewhere to Skeets's right. The hairs along his arms stood up in warning. Can't use my weapon and alert the Perp. He moved away from the sound to avoid a confrontation, but it switched directions with a speed that left the detective confused and disoriented. It sounded close, very close.

He looked around to get his bearings, and found himself in front of a garage that was detached from the Pearce home. A light shone from the second floor apartment. Through the window, behind the drawn shades, two people embraced and kissed.

The half-dozen helmeted figures stalking the perimeter of the house distracted Skeets. He noted their positions before turning back to look up at the window. In the space of seconds, the light was snuffed, the figures gone. Christ, where'd they go?

Derek Oleson had seen his detective hovering near the garage. “What have we got, Skeets?" he asked when he reached his side.

Skeets jerked around to face Derek, and was glad for the darkness masking his surprise. Shit, I didn't hear him. I'm losing it.

The senior detective radiated controlled excitement which had a calming effect on Skeets. He gathered himself and quickly relayed the situation, including all the bizarre sights and sounds experienced since leaving St. Matilde's rectory.

“The potential for the mother being here changes things,” Derek said. He drew his service weapon and moved in the direction of the side door entrance to the kitchen. Head marksman, Officer Langston, came into view, and Derek waved him over.

“Get your men ready to enter that garage. I'll radio you when I want you to move in,” Derek instructed.

“Sir, what about the house?” Langston asked.

“There's a potential complication – there may be an innocent bystander in the house. Detective Epstein and I will enter alone.”

“Understood. We'll get into position and wait for your signal."

“Be careful,” Skeets added. “There's a large animal on the property that's been following me around the house, staying in the shadows."

Langston hurried off, and the two detectives positioned themselves on either side of the door, keeping their drawn guns below the window's line of sight. The candle, earlier observed, had burned down, leaving the house in complete darkness.

Derek turned the handle and opened the door with ease. Skeets felt the force of Derek's scrutiny. “I know the door was locked!” he wanted to say.

Epstein moved with caution through the kitchen, leaving Derek to radio the rest of the team. The house felt to Skeets as if it were a spider waiting for a fly to slip into its web. His senses were on high alert as he followed the strong smell of bleach.

Derek caught up with him, and, together they canvassed the house. When they reached the room at the back of the home, Skeets put out his hand to stop Derek. He put a finger alongside his nose and Derek nodded his understanding. It was here the smell of antiseptic was the strongest.

In a surprising move, Derek knocked on the door and called out, “Mrs. Pearce, this is Sheriff Oleson. We got a call that you might be in some sort of danger. We're coming in to make sure you're okay.”

The bed was stripped, and it was obvious the room was empty. Skeets flipped on the overhead light, and was unprepared for the bizarre scenario it revealed.

Hundreds of Rosary beads hung from nails on every wall of the room. Above the bed's headboard was an inverted, ornate crucifix. Skeets recognized it as the one that had gone missing from Debra Padget's home the night of her murder.

Derek's radio crackled, and he grabbed it up. “Tell me you've got our Perp, Langston.”

“Sorry, Sir. The garage and apartment are empty. But you need to see this place. It's... well, you'll know what I mean when you get here.”

A stunned Skeets protested, “Boss, I tell you there were two people in that apartment. I... I saw them with my own eyes.”

Derek holstered his weapon with more force than usual. “They got away, Skeets. There's nothing to do now but go over these buildings for something we can use to get the murdering bastard once and for all.”

On his way out the door, he added, “At least we now have a name: Edward Fucking Pearce.”
 

~~ End of Part 1 ~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters:
Skeets Epstein: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Derek Oleson: Sheriff of Granite Mountain
Debra Padget: Murder victim


Terms:
Perp: Perpetrator/suspect
Rosary: A circle of beads used to pray to Mother Mary

Sioux Term: Napha (evade)

Thanks dubach for the use of your great artwork!


Chapter 53
Napha Moon, Part II

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

PREVIOUSLY IN PART ONE:

Hundreds of Rosary beads hung from nails on every wall of the room. Above the bed's headboard was an inverted, ornate crucifix. Skeets recognized it as the one that had gone missing from Debra Padget's home the night of her murder.

Derek's radio crackled, and he grabbed it up. "Tell me you've got our Perp, Langston."

"Sorry, Sir. The garage and aparment are empty. But you need to see this place. It's... well, you'll know what I mean when you get here."

A stunned Skeets protested, "Boss, I tell you there were two people in that apartment. I.. I saw them with my own eyes."


Derek holstered his weapon with more force than usual. "They got past us somehow.  Nothing to do now but go over these buildings for something we can use to get the murdering bastard once and for all." 

On his way out the door, he added, "At least we now have a name: Edward Fucking Pearce."


********************

Detective Skeets Epstein stood at the foot of the bed, hand on his Glock, studying the impaled rosaries lining the bedroom wall. Thus far, the raid of the suspected killer, Edward Pearce's, home had been a total bust, and Skeets was desperate to find evidence of any kind to vindicate his decision to push the panic button.

Except for a pile of bedding, there were no articles of clothing or anything to indicate the gender of the room's prior occupant. But it was the only bedroom with an attached bath, and Skeets reasoned, likely the one used by the suspect's mother. Father Brian had indicated Gertrude Pearce was a member of St. Matilde's, and Skeets knew that most older Catholics have a strong belief in the power of intercessory prayers to the Mother of Jesus.

He felt a visceral contempt for the malignant mind behind the staging of the holy objects, and a certainty it represented an utter and complete contempt for the woman who owned them. Panic gripped his insides at the thought Gertrude Pearce may have met the same fate as Debra Padget and Fritz Buell.

Did you know your son was a monster, Mrs. Pearce?

He knelt on the floor. Using his flashlight, he scoured the carpeting beside the bed. His heart sank when he found a large, dark stain. Sniffing a corner of the surface revealed the source of the bleach. He popped upright, causing C.S.I. Brian Lopez to gasp in surprise.

“Sorry, Lopez. Didn't mean to startle you,” Skeets said.

“What are you doing here, Detective?” Lopez asked. “Thought you'd be over at the apartment where all the action is going on.”

“I'm following the Sheriff's orders. He wants you to search this room first.” He scrambled upright and pointed to an area just beyond the edge of his foot. “Start here. There's a stain on the carpet that's been scrubbed with bleach.”

Two other CSI's entered the room, nodded a brief acknowledgement of his presence and fanned out to begin their tasks. Skeets put a hand on Lopez's shoulder to get his attention. “Did I hear you right? They found something to incriminate the bastard over at the apartment?”

“All I know is they found a body in a freezer in the garage. Doctor Bloomquist is on his way... though he's pissed as hell having his dinner party with some political mucky-mucks interrupted. I'm sure everyone within shouting distance will feel his wrath.”

**********

Just when you think you've seen the worst...

Sheriff Derek Oleson walked the perimeter of the room without touching any of the objects. He was no homophobe, but the phallic sculptures and sexually graphic photos taped to the wall made the hair go up on the back of his neck. His hands were clenched in his pockets, and bile rose in his throat.

This isn't helping.

Derek made a conscious decision to shut down his emotional reaction and force his mind into investigative mode. He closed his eyes. When he felt calm, he re-opened them. Eyes darting from one side of the wall to the other, the realization dawned it was the same boy, at different ages, in all the pictures.

He moved in for a closer look at a photograph of the boy, now a teenager, lying against a stack of pillows. Long, black hair was pulled forward and formed seductive curls just above the nipple line of his bare chest. He had high cheekbones, a slight hook in the curve of his nose, and looked to be Native American. With a sickening thud, Derek registered the strong resemblance to one of his homicide detectives.

Aw, Christ, this is gonna do a number on Jana's head.”

He forced aside his concerns, and focused on what the implications of the room's contents had for the case. Most of the pictures were polaroids, and he wondered if they might be the original property of the pedophile priest, Monsignor Flaherty. It was just a hunch; but a plausible one that would go toward establishing motive.

Derek heard the sound of a sharp intake of breath behind him. He recognized the man, thanks to his distinctive cologne.

“Why wasn't I informed of this raid in advance, Sheriff?” Agent Dresden Stredwick demanded.

“There wasn't time. Detective Epstein received a strong lead and had to go with his instincts.” Derek faced the Profiler and continued, “Quite natural for him to call me considering I'm in charge of this investigation, and his commanding officer.”

He gestured to the room behind him. “Looks to me like you should be getting your notebook out, Agent Stredwick. I'd say you've got plenty of material here to give an informed opinion on the mind behind these killings.”

Agent Stredwick glared at the Sheriff, his face rigid with rage. “I don't need to be told how to do my job, Sheriff Oleson. I've been doing it at least as many years as you've been solving petty larcenies and locking up drunks.”

Derek closed the gap between himself and the Agent. Eyes colder than blue hell raked the man up and down. “Is that alcohol I smell on your breath, Agent?” he said in imitation of the agent's drawl.

Agent Stredwick's face blanched, and he stepped back. “I had a drink with dinner. Since I had no idea of what was going on here, I didn't see the harm in that.”

“No harm, as you say, in a drink or two off duty, Agent. Though it's my understanding you have a history of alcohol... issues... shall we say? Now, that has me worried because as you point out, I've had lots of experience with drunks. They rarely tell the truth about how many drinks they've really had.”

“This is fucking nonsense,” Agent Stredwick snarled. “You're intimidated by me, and would love to find a reason to get me kicked off this case.”

Derek became aware of the large figure blocking the doorway. Detective Skeets Epstein's eyes danced with humor, and Derek surmised he'd caught most of the conversation. He stepped around the irate Special Agent and approached him.

“I'd like you to assist Agent Stredwick until the rest of his staff gets here. See that he has everything he needs in the way of equipment, will you?”

“Yes, Sir. Where will you be?”

“Waiting for the Coroner to arrive. I think it would be prudent for him to oversee our handling of the body found in the freezer. It's been taped inside a shroud, and I don't want any damage done to potential evidence through improper procedure.”

“Forward thinking, as usual, Sir,” Skeets said. Derek guessed the approval in Skeet's voice was intended for the Agent more than him.

He tapped a finger over the detective's heart. “You went by the book. Skeets. Exactly the way I'd have done it. Thanks to you, we've got a pivotal break in this case. Need I say good work?”

“Not necessary, Sir. Just doing all I can to put a soulless bastard in a cage for the rest of his god-forsaken life.”

Derek nodded in approval. “If you hear any shouting, don't be alarmed. I'm expecting Bloomquist to arrive with both attitude and indignation.” He started down the stairs and stopped. “Get hold of Jana,” he added. “I want her to report to me before she sees what's in that room.”

~~ TO BE CONTINUED ~~



 

Author Notes Cast of Characters:

Dr. William Bloomquest: Coroner for Granite Mountain
Fritz Buell: Murder victim
Detective Jana Burke: Homicide Detective and member of the Sioux nation.
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church
Detective Skeets Epstein: Homicide Detective
Monsignor Flaherty: Convicted Pedophile
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Head of the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department
Edward Pearce: Murder Suspect
Gertrude Pearce: Suspect's mother
Dresden Stredwick, II: FBI Profiler overseeing the case

Terms:

CSI: Crime Scene Investigator
Perp: Perpetrator of a crime
Rosary: A five decade circle of bead used for spiritual
meditation.

Sioux Translation: Napha (evade)

Thanks much to donkeyoatey for use of his awesome artwork: Eve's Seducer


Chapter 54
Onuni Moon

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

Previously:

Detective Jana Burke waits for news of the outcome of her grandmother's surgery. Her cousin and Tribal Policeman, Ty Longacre, was called to the woman's home when she fell from a step stool, fracturing her arm.

Before going into the procedure, Agnes Longacre reported to Ty that she was pushed to the floor by an unseen force. He related these circumstances to Jana as well as the fact that Jana's Uncle Tony was not home when Ty stopped by to check on him.

Jana insists that Ty needs to return to the Reservation and locate her Uncle. In the meantime, she has called her partner, Detective Rick Morales for moral support.

**********

Jana huddled in the plastic chair beside her grandmother's hospital bed. Her hands lay palms up in a gesture of supplication. She stared, unblinking, at the rumpled sheets and cast-aside blanket. It was past the time her grandmother was to have been out of surgery, and no one could give her a reason for the delay. A jolt of fear surged through her, and she bent her head to pray: "Wankan Tanka, please don't take Unci from me."

Her gaze moved across to where an old gent lay with his eyes closed and mouth open. His breath came out in soft puffs.

Jana breathed a sigh. She'd endured the man's groans and demands for stronger pain medication after his return from surgery. The nurses had come and gone, trying to reassure him, but the best she could glean was that he'd experienced an adverse reaction to Morphine.

Guess he finally wore himself out.

Her partner, Detective Rick Morales, came through the doorway with two cups of coffee. When he'd arrived earlier in response to her call, she'd followed her first instinct and stepped into his arms. The tension between her ribs loosened inside the comfort of his embrace. She felt no hesitation in his response, and his breath was warm against her neck.

Now, his eyes searched hers. She read in them concerns that mirrored her own: Was this a move forward in their relationship? Would either of them be willing to risk their careers... the inevitable fall-out of their becoming lovers?

Jana looked away. She cared for Rick, but she wasn't in love with him. At least, not the way she sensed he was with her. Passion was not enough. Admiration was not enough. There had to be something more. What it was, she wasn't really sure. After all, her only 'real' love had been with Dred, a two-timing alcoholic. But there was the memory of the stirrings of her soul in the early months of their relationship, and the way the world was almost too bright for her eyes.

Where'd that get me? Months with a shrink, and persistent relationship phobia," she chided herself. Maybe a guy that's safe... hell, someone who'd put you on a pedestal... is the key. A man who makes his life fit yours and not the other way around.

She took the cup from Rick's hand. A pleasant tingle warmed her skin where her fingers brushed against his knuckles. For the moment, she felt safe.

"I collared one of the nurses to get an update on your grandmother's status," he said. "She tried to blow me off, but I flashed my badge for effect. Must have impressed her because she promised to get someone in here right away."

Jana inclined her head. "Thanks, Rick. Being a male cop, you'll probably get somewhere with them." Suddenly there was tension in the air between them. Her walls had gone up without thought or intention.

Rick stiffened upright, and Jana felt an immediate remorse. Her utter failure to verbalize how tenuous a line she walked between gratuitous respect and the real deal was a big, ugly slash across their partnership. Though Rick offered empathy, she chafed at his efforts. He didn't understand the Native Peoples' resolve to overcome prejudice by sheer endurance. None of her fellow cops did. Her people had lost too many outright wars and, with their dwindling numbers, they were more concerned about saving their customs and beliefs than earning the respect of the wasicuns.

"Rick... I appreciate your help, I really do." She gave him a wan smile. "It's been a long day, and I'm just anxious to see for myself that my grandmother is safe."

A blue-garbed man bustled into the room with a similarly-clad young woman following in his wake. Jana stood up, offering no greeting. A muscle twitched at his right temple, and bold brown eyes assessed her. "I'm Doctor Palmer, Agnes Longacre's surgeon," he said. "I looked for relatives in the surgery waiting-room suite after the procedure was finished." The statement hung in the air as Jana refused to let the man off the hook for his half-assed service.

"She'd been taken for surgery before I arrived. No one informed me of where I was supposed to wait," Jana replied.

"The charge nurse will be informed of the oversight," he said. "In any case, your grandmother came through surgery in good shape. We're keeping her in post-op Intensive Care for a few hours and then she'll be transferred back here."

Jana's stomach lurched. "Intensive care?! Is that normal procedure?"

Doctor Palmer turned towards the young woman standing quietly at his back. He pulled her forward. "Roberta, here, is a nurse anesthetist. She can fill you in on the details of your grandmother's reaction to the anesthetic and the need to monitor her blood pressure. I'm between cases, so I need to get back to the OR. I'm sure I'll be speaking with you again, Miss Longacre."

Jana blocked his retreat. "My name is Burke, not Longacre. And we'll certainly be talking again, Doctor Palmer. I'd appreciate having your cell number in case of emergency."

The surgeon's eyes narrowed. "That won't be necessary. I check with my answering service on a regular basis. Other than the blood pressure situation, which I assure you we have under control, Mrs. Longacre came through surgery fine. Now if you'll excuse me?"

He bustled from the room, and Jana turned her attention to Roberta. Though young, she exuded quiet confidence. Jana suspected Dr. Palmer recognized his flawed bedside manner and left people like Roberta behind to clean up the messes.

"It's not uncommon for older patients to have difficulty with an anesthetic," she began. "In general, they recuperate a bit more slowly than someone younger. Mrs. Longacre weathered the surgery without any other complications. She's got a long road back, though, due to osteoporosis and the compound fracture. You may have to consider placement in a nursing facility until she can regain her strength."

"What's the saying? When hell freezes over?" Jana quipped.

Roberta grinned. "I understand, believe me. I've got a granny like that myself."

Taking a pen from her pocket, the nurse scribbled a telephone number on a slip of paper and handed it to Jana. "Here's my cell phone number, Detective. If you run into any more problems, give me a call."

Jana offered her hand, and the nurse shook it. "I appreciate your assistance, Roberta."

"Dr. Palmer is our top orthopedic surgeon. Your grandmother is in capable hands, Detective."

"Have to trust you on that one," Jana quipped.

The phone in her pocket vibrated. She recognized Detective Epstein's number.

"Jana, get over to 1014 Spruce Street. Come in through the unattached garage. They're pulling a body from the freezer in there, and Derek wants to talk with you pronto."

"Another victim?"

"Affirmative. Gertrude Pearce's her name. Son occupies the apartment over the garage. There's enough in there to make us think he's our Perp. Do you want me to call Morales?"

"Long story," she answered, "but he's here with me. We're on our way."

***************

Jana opted to ride with Rick who was driving an official vehicle and could use the siren. When they arrived at the Spruce Street address, there was a small group of people standing outside the crime scene tape despite the late hour and dip in the outside temperature.

"We need to get these people screened and back in their houses," she said. "Wonder if anyone's been assigned the job?"

"I see your FBI buddy is here," Rick fumed. "How'd he get here before us?"

She shrugged. "Makes sense he's here."

Exiting the car, she headed straight for a figure she recognized -- Officer Tom Langston of the Tactical Response Team. The well-muscled, former Army Ranger was in the process of storing vest and helmet in the rear of the TRT van.

She wasted no time getting to the point. "Tom, who ordered the raid? Morales and I had no prior knowledge of it."

"Detective Epstein got a tip from a priest at the church across the alley," Tom said. "He called for back-up because a man, matching the suspect sketch, lives here with his disabled mother. Sheriff Oleson wanted us on site in case of a hostage situation." Grabbing a jacket from atop a pile of clothing, he turned away, in part to diffuse the vibe of anger coming from both detectives.

"Do they think the body in the freezer belongs to the mother?" Rick demanded.

"I'd lay odds it is. They're in the process of removing the corpse from the freezer now that Bloomquist's here."

Tom shifted to face the garage."The Fed's Profiler showed up after we'd secured the property." He pointed to the lighted room on its second level. "He's up there gathering evidence, and having seen what's in there, I'm sure he's coming to the same conclusion I did -- we're dealing with one twisted fuck."

"Sounds like our man," Jana said. "Wish you'd gotten him in your cross hairs, Tom."

"That's the weird part. Detective Epstein swears he saw the silhouette of two people in that room. We've searched the house and apartment and found no one... ah... no one alive, that is. It's not like Epstein to make that kind of mistake."

"Any escape routes?" Rick asked.

"None. The front door is the only way out of that apartment," Tom said. "Epstein was standing there, and would have apprehended anyone leaving the premises."

"Thanks, Tom," Jana said over her shoulder. Her stride was long and determined, and Rick hustled to catch up with her. The scene inside the garage was subdued. Bright lights hit Jana first, and then came the smell -- a mixture of freezer burn and corrupted flesh.

Derek looked up from his position alongside the corpse. His face was pale and his chin showed signs of stubble. He cocked his head in the direction of a quiet corner, and she joined him there.

"Other than the body, anything solid for this being our guy?"

"There's some strong indicators in the upstairs apartment. Agent Stredwick is there now... doing whatever it is he does."

Derek laid a hand on her arm and said, "I need you to prepare yourself for what you're going to see, Jana."

"I saw plenty of crazy shit when I was with the FBI, Derek. You don't need to worry about me losing my cookies." She made a move to walk away, but Derek pulled her back to face him.

"Under the circumstances, I feel it's important to have this conversation with you. I don't doubt your professionalism, Jana. You know me better than that."

A shiver spasmed through her. "What do you mean by 'under the circumstances?"

"There's pornographic objects and photographs that tie Edward Pearce, the man who lives at this address, to your Uncle."

"Uncle Tony knows this man?"

Derek lowered his voice and edged closer. "Not your Uncle Tony. I believe the subject of the pictures is your dead uncle. The one who killed himself rather than testify against Monsignor Flaherty."

Jana shoved her hands in her jacket and looked at the floor. Several moments passed before she looked up. "I appreciate the warning," she said. "Can we keep this information confidential for now? I'd like to break the news to my grandmother before the press gets wind of the fact an Indian is linked to these crimes."

"Of course. You have my word on that, Jana."

"You moron! I said to be careful removing the tape over the mouth," Bloomquist's bellowing drew Derek's attention. He hurried to diffuse the situation, leaving Jana to watch from a distance while working up her courage for the unwelcome meeting with her kit'A.
 

~~~ To Be Continued ~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters:
Dr. William Bloomquist: Granite Mountain's head Medical Examiner/Coroner
Tony Buday: Jana's Uncle and Tribal Medicine Man
Detective Jana Burke: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department
Detective Skeets Epstein: Senior Homicide Detective with the Granite Mtn. Sheriff's Department
Monsignor Flaherty: A pedophile priest
Agnes Longacre: Jane Burke's maternal grandmother
Ty Longacre: Jana Burke's cousin
Detective Rick Morales: Homicide Detective and Jana Burke's partner
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Head of Granite Mountain's Sheriff Department
Dresden Stredwick, II (Dred): FBI Profiler

Sioux Terms:

kit'A: dead relation
onuni: to wander about
Unci: my grandmother
Wankan Tanka: Great Spirit
wasicuns: Whites

Other Terms:

FBI: Federal Bureau of Investigation
OR: Operating Room
Osteoporosis: A weakening of the muscular skeletal system leading to brittle bones
Perp: Perpetrator/Suspect


The fabulous artwork courtesy of donkeyoatey. Thanks!


Chapter 55
Sunka Moon, Part 1

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

PREVIOUSLY:

DETECTIVE JANA BURKE'S GRANDMOTHER HAS BEEN PUSHED FROM A LADDER AND HAS BEEN TAKEN TO THE HOSPITAL FOR SURGERY BY TRIBAL POLICEMAN, TY LONGACRE. TY AND JANA ARE COUSINS, AND HAVE BECOME EMBROILED IN AN UNSOLVED SERIAL MURDER CASE. JANA IS CONCERNED THAT HER UNCLE TONY, SHAMAN OF THE SIOUX RESERVATION, MAY ALSO BE IN DANGER, AND HAS ASKED TY TO RETURN TO THE RESERVATION TO MAKE SURE HE'S SAFE.

**********

Fog induced by a collusion of marsh moisture and warmth created hazardous conditions as it crisscrossed the winding county road. Tribal Policeman, Ty Longacre, kept his speed low, and his eyes roving the edges of the road for nocturnal animals on the move.

His thoughts backtracked to the hospital encounter with his cousin, Jana; and the fear he sensed beneath her veneer of control. Her edges were invisible to most people, but Ty marked her moods like a tracker marks the lines and swirls of a prey's passing. He reckoned she was at the point where sleep is the only thing that can make you see straight. It was for that reason, his conscience insisted, that he'd suppressed certain details of her grandmother's accident.

A two-lane, granite bridge came into view. It was a wheel gripper even under good conditions. Ty slowed to a crawl, relieved he could see no lights coming towards him. Halfway across, though, an animal broke through the fog rolling up from the banks of the creek.

Shit, where'd that thing come from?

He slammed to a stop just short of hitting the animal. His heart pumped adrenaline to all his nerve endings. He was of a mind to jump out and chase it into the woods. But something held him back. Something about the way the thing moved caused him to reconsider.

Tufts of fog clung to the animal's hindquarters so that Ty could only guess at the size based on its massive neck. He knew some on the Reservation had illegally-bred dog and wolf hybrids, and thought he might be looking at one of those.

Except for the soft rumble of the idling engine, the night was preternaturally silent -- even the bullfrogs cowered in the creek. He expected the dog to move to the opposite bank where a quarter-mile of barbed wire fencing kept out poachers. Instead, it stopped square in the middle of the road, turned and faced the patrolman.

Sweet Christ, will you look at that?

Ty reached for the gun at his hip. Staring back at him was a creature whose face was split down the middle by red and white paint. To the extent it had a muzzle and wicked sharp teeth, it resembled a wolf. But its lips were pulled back into a cannibal grin, and the way its eyes bore into his was as unnatural as anything he'd ever seen.

A devil dog painted like a warrior?!

He kept his hand on the heel of his gun and fought the urge to run the bastard over. Years of hearing tales of devil dogs over-ruled his cop sense. What kept him riveted to the spot was its colors -- red and white -- warned of a foul wind whipping through the reservation bringing blood and death.

Ty's neck hairs rose as the devil dog advanced with the seeming intention of mounting the hood of his car. He shifted into reverse, intending to back off the bridge, when the engine cut out. At any moment, another vehicle could come barreling out of the fog and ram into the back end of his car. He had to do something... anything.

Inertia was a foreign invader, and Ty wasn't willing to bow to its dominion. He nudged the car door open, took up his weapon and set his feet on the ground. Keeping his movements slow, he hunkered down alongside the car and listened for sounds of movement. Despite his heavy jacket, he was cold to the marrow of his bones. He estimated he had a decent chance at getting one good shot off before it came for him. If he missed, they'd likely have to use a shovel to gather up the bloody trail of his body parts.

In one fluid motion, he stood and brought his weapon up for the shot. He expected to be looking straight into the eyes of hell, but the animal was gone. Ty kept his weapon drawn as he searched the area for signs of its presence. He walked to where he'd first spotted it. Squinting into a fog so thick he couldn't see past the toe of his boot, he assessed his chances of finding prints damned near impossible. Anyway, his tracker instincts told him the animal was long gone, though how that was possible was a mystery.

From four different directions, howls filled the night. They reverberated against his skull and filled him with a sense of dread. “Tony Buday. Christ, I'd almost forgotten about him. He'll know what this means. Unless...”

He sprinted for the car and whooped when the engine started. It was another ten miles to the shaman's house. Ty pushed his speed into dangerous territory, heedless of the danger to himself. A sense of doom swirled around him, like cancer cells, arrogant in their power to kill.

He reached the turn-off to Tony's house and was forced to revert to a crawl due to the trees crowding the dirt track lane. He'd been there earlier in the evening when he'd stopped by to give Tony a heads-up about his sister, Agnes, being taken to the hospital. The house had been empty except for Tony's agitated hound.

When Ty reported the situation to Jana, she insisted her uncle would never leave Wasu behind. Her alarm mirrored his own concern. He readily agreed to head back out to the reservation, leaving her alone to wait for news of her grandmother's surgery.

Ty's hopes were squashed when he saw that Tony's truck was nowhere to be found. From the bottom of the porch steps, Ty could see the front door was ajar. He ducked out of sight and assessed the situation.

It was locked earlier. All the doors were locked. Call for back-up or go in alone? It'll take too long to get a deputy out here. Can't afford to wait.

He climbed the steps and pushed open the front door. Peering into the darkness, he could see a large shape sprawled in front of the wood stove. He moved with caution, but almost went down when he stepped into something slick on the floor. He heard a moan and recognized it as the sound of an animal in horrendous pain.

Retrieving his flashlight, he examined the situation from a distance, still wary that it might be a trick of the devil dog to draw him in. His stomach lurched when he realized he was looking at Tony's old hound, Wasu.

When he knelt beside Wasu, he could see the extent of his wounds. His throat was gouged, and Ty smelled the entrails that spilled from the dog's torn gut. Yet his eyes were open and he tried to move his head closer to Ty's hand.

"Aw, shit, Wasu. I'll bet you gave the Sungmanitu a good fight,” he said as he rubbed the dog's muzzle. Wasu managed a weak lick of his wrist, shuddered violently and went still.

Ty swiped the tears from his cheeks and looked around for something with which to wrap the dog's body. That done, he moved through the rest of the house. Except for the violence done to Wasu, everything else appeared neat and untouched.

He switched on the kitchen light and looked around for signs of Tony. There were no dishes in the sink or on the cupboard. No pans on the range and no coffee in the pot which was disturbing as Tony Buday was known to drink copious amounts of coffee each day.

A cell phone rang from somewhere in the house. Ty ran from room to room until he found one on a bedside table.

“Tony?” he asked.

“Sadly no, Officer Longacre. But I do know where Tohneeeee is.”

“I'm warning you that if you've hurt that old man in any way, I'll skin you alive.”

A coarse cackle went on for some seconds before the voice continued. “You saw what I did to that mangy hound. Do you really think you can take me on? Besides, Tony is not important. The priest is the one I want. And you will bring him to me, you and that tight-ass cousin of yours.”

“I'll never let you get near Jana.”

“Oh, but I'm certain no one will keep her from coming after me. In fact, I'm counting on it.”

“You said you want a priest. We have no priests on the Reservation.”

“Cleverness is a virtue I admire. But clever will get our hostage dead. Capice, redboy?

“I'll find you in whatever stinking black hole it is you try to hide!”

“No you will not. You will come only at my summoning. In four hours time, you will receive instructions on how to do that. Until then, sweet dreams.”

The line went dead. Ty sagged against the wall, looking at the phone in his hand. He threw it across the room and retrieved his own from the inside of his jacket. Finger's trembling, he entered the number of Detective Jana Burke.
 

~~~ End of Part 1 ~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters:

Tony Buday: Sioux Shaman and Tribal Elder.
Jana Burke: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Agnes Longacre: Jana Burke's Grandmother
Ty Longacre: Sioux Tribal Enforcement Officer
Wasu: Tony Buday's beloved hound dog

Sioux terms:

Sugmanitu: Wolf
Sunka (Dog)

Thanks to AvMurray for the awesome artwork!


Chapter 56
Sunka Moon, Part Two

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

PREVIOUSLY: 

The Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department has discovered a likely suspect for the serial murders. They have converged on the home, finding graphic evidence to implicate Edward Pearce in the crimes as well as a body in the garage freezer - likely his mother, Gertrude. Jana Burke arrives late and has yet to see the bedroom of the killer. There is concern among her fellow detectives as to how she will react. Covering an entire wall of the room are pornographic pictures of her uncle, a boy who was molested by Monsignor Flaherty and is, it appears, the object of Edward Pearce's dark desires.

******************** 


The pictures. A cry, primal and untamed, tumbled from Jana's lips. Her limbs resisted movement; but she pushed forward. Reaching for the nearest photo, she pressed her thumbs to the boy's eyes. This was the uncle she'd never met. The boy who took his life because of the Wasicu's depravity.

Jana ached to rip the pornographic pictures from the wall and destroy the proof of her family's shame. But they were evidence, and so she had to bear the humiliation of stranger's passing judgment. Her temples throbbed from the effort to hold back tears. She'd not show further weakness before the men in the room.

Laying her forehead against the wall, Jana whispered, “On my life, this desecration will be avenged, Leksitku.”

Detective Rick Morales stepped back into the shadows to cover his concern; and the Profiler remained rooted to his spot, staring at his shoes. Movement in the room stilled to nothing, leaving the old guy, Detective Epstein, to reset the momentum.

Sensing a lifeline, Jana turned toward the comforting figure at her side. “That cold-hearted bitch from the news station cannot get her hands on these pictures, Skeets.”

Though his expression was stern, Skeets' hazel eyes held warmth. “You've got my promise on that, Jana. An APB is in place. If Edward Pearce is anywhere in the state of Minnesota, we'll be booking him by noon tomorrow. Which means that Danika Marten will be preoccupied with throwing her tits around in order to get up close and personal with the killer.”

Jana rarely expressed disdain for the motives or behaviors of other professional women. After all, her own attitude might be judged aggressive at times. Danika Marten, however, was the exception. Her under-handed actions cast the detectives in a negative light, giving the public the impression they were at the mercy of a serial killer due to an inept Sheriff's Department.

“The woman has an uncanny ability to get her hands on sensitive material, Skeets. You can't guarantee it won't happen again.”

The man she'd avoided since walking into the room addressed her. “I can, and will, guarantee that no member of the press will have access to the contents of this room, Jana.” She looked in Dred's direction, and was shocked by his disheveled appearance. His angular features, in the room's low lighting, seemed all lines and skin sucked clean of vigor.

Skeets' reaction mirrored her own thoughts. “Your implication that you have some sort of super power is offensive to me, Agent Stredwick. Further, our department is capable of clamping a lid on this case.” His hands were on his hips, and he was breathing hard.

“That's not been the situation thus far, has it Detective Epstein? In fact, you have yet to identify the mole in your department.”

Jana grabbed a handful of Skeets' shirt sleeve to stop him from advancing further, then stepped in front of him to face her former mentor. She was surprised by the shadow of sorrow in Dred's eyes. Dammit. Don't you dare feel sorry for me.

“I'll take you up on your offer,” she said. “I'll take anyone's help at this point. My family has suffered enough. It would kill my grandmother to see these pictures splashed all over hell by the media.”

Dred nodded and said, “Good enough. I'm a man of my word.”

Jana lifted her chin. “If you say so,” she uttered. Dred's shoulders slumped, and he dropped his gaze. For a moment, she felt something try to break through her barriers: a molecule of a memory of what it was like to surrender everything with no hope of gain. Jana pressed her thumb and forefinger together – a trick her therapist taught her – and was back in the room. Back in charge.

Gesturing towards the photographs and obscene sculptures laid out on a table beneath them, and keeping her eyes on Dred, she said, “These prove we're dealing with a deviant obsessed with my late uncle. Since you're the guy with the special skills, what else can you tell us that's not obvious?”

Her brisk, back-to-business tone broke the spell in the room. The CSI's fanned out to continue gathering evidence, and Dred moved to a Victorian-style dresser with an elaborate mirror vandalized by a coat of black paint. He opened the top drawer of the dresser, then gestured for the detectives to move closer.

“We won't know for sure until it's tested, but I suspect we have the drugs used to paralyze at least one of your victims,” Dred informed them. He pulled an evidence bag from his pocket, picked up a drug vial and dropped it inside. He handed the bag to Rick Morales and said, “Detective, take this downstairs to your M.E. Be sure he understands that identifying this drug is to be a priority.”

“First, I'm not your errand boy,” Rick said. “Second, a dead body goes to the head of the class. And, in case you've forgotten, that's why Doctor Bloomquist is here in the first place.”

Jana shook her head in frustration. “Rick, will you please do what he asks? Edward Pearce could be in the process of kidnapping someone this very moment, and knowing exactly what kind of drug we're dealing with could save a life!”

Rick blushed. “Sorry. Of course, you're right. Hopefully I can still catch him.” Jana touched his hand as he brushed past her.

“Why the black mirror?” Skeets asked.

“Edward Peace is a man deeply conflicted with himself,” Dred responded. He can't bear to look at his own appearance, which I suspect is because he's disgusted by his sexual urges. This blackened mirror and the fact he took the eyes of the male victim, Fritz Buell, are linked in some way. Bet on it.”

“Why Fritz Buell?” Skeets persisted.

“It's possible that Edward Pearce came into contact with Fritz Buell while attending St. Matilde's Catholic School. Father Brian indicated the Pearce's were parishioners.”

“I hope you're not suggesting that Fritz Buell was involved in the molestation that went on there. Because if you are, be prepared to face the legal wrath of his very rich son,” Jana countered.

“I'm not suggesting any such thing. My hypotheses would be that Edward Pearce believed Fritz Buell saw what was happening between the pervert priest and the boys and chose to keep silent. After all, he was the school janitor. A person in that position would hear and see things under the radar for most people.”

Jana and Skeets locked eyes. “You gotta admit it makes sense, Skeets.”

“That might be true for the janitor, but the school cook... Debra Padget? How does she fit into all this?” Skeets probed.

“She cooked meals for Monsignor Flaherty when his housekeeper was on vacation. Maybe Pearce took that as a sign that she approved of what he was doing. He may also have been projecting some of his unresolved rage towards his own mother.” As Dred was speaking, he was simultaneously busy pulling out drawers and examining their contents. The last drawer wouldn't budge, so Jana bent to give assistance.

“Think you can get your hand in there?” he asked.

“I think so.” She slid her fingers into the small opening between the edge of the drawer and the shelf above it. “Feels like a solid object. Let me see if I can move it out of the way.” She felt a sharp pain in her knuckles where wood splinters poked through the skin. But she kept on maneuvering it from side to side until it gave away.

“Hot damn. What have we got here?” Dred whooped. In his hand was a black book which he displayed like a magician producing a rabbit from a hat. He skimmed the pages and looked up wearing a cat-in-the birdhouse smile.

“Edward Pearce, bless his black heart, kept a diary,"

“And videos,” Jana added as she pulled old VCR tapes from the back of the drawer.

Skeets grabbed the videos. “You don't have to look at those, Jana.”

“I'm a homicide detective and a member of this Task Force. Looking at evidence is my job. I will do whatever...” she reacted to the vibration of her pocket phone. The hospital?

Checking the number, she went cold. The caller was Tribal Policeman, Ty Longacre. Her hand shook as she brought the phone to her ear.

“Detective Burke.”

“Jana, you need to get to the reservation ASAP.”

The room started to spin and her insides felt like jelly left out in the sun. “Are you at the house?”

“Yes. Jana, I'm sorry. If only I'd done a more thorough search earlier in the evening.”

“Uncle Tony's dead?”

“No... he's not dead. Kidnapped. And the one who has him says Tony will be released in exchange for the priest.”

Jana gripped the phone to stop the trembling of her hand. “We'd be asking Father Brian to face certain death in exchange for Unci? I don't know if I can do that.”

“I saw a devil dog in warrior paint just before I got to Tony's place, Jana. You and I both know what that means. We have no choice. Just do whatever it takes to get the priest here.”

“I'm at a crime scene, Ty. I can't just ditch my duties here.” She knew how that sounded, and hated herself for even saying it.

“Tony all but raised you, Jana. And you know what he means to our people. What's it gonna be, Cousin? The Wasicu or your own blood?”

~~~ TO BE CONTINUED ~~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters:

Tony Buday: Sioux shaman and Jana Burke's uncle.
Fritz Buell: Second murder victim.
Jana Burke: Homicide Detective and member of the Sioux Nation
Father Brian DeShano: Past of St. Matilde's Catholic Church
Skeets Epstein: Homicide Detective
Monsignor Lewis Flaherty: Catholic priest and convicted pedophile.
Ty Longacre: Sioux Tribal Policeman and Jana Burke's cousin
Danika Marten: News Anchor
Rick Morales: Homicide Detective in love with Jana Burke
Edward Pearce: Suspect serial killer
Dresden Stredwick II (Dred): FBI profiler and Jana Burke's former lover

Terms:
APB: All points bulletin
CSI: Crime scene investigators
M.E.: Medical Examiner

Sioux terms:
Leksitku: My mother's brother
Sunka: Wolf
Unci: Uncle
Wasicu: Whites

Thanks to donkeyoatey once again for the great accompanying artwork.


Chapter 57
Ahanzi Moon

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.
Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong sexual content.

PREVIOUSLY:

The Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department has converged on the home of Edward Pearce, discovering overwhelming evidence that he is the serial killer they have been seeking. Jana Burke, one of the homicide detectives, expresses her concern that the mole in the department has not yet been identified; and that a local newswoman, Danika Marten, may be able to access sensitive information.

*************** 


Danika Marten waved a dismissive hand in her assistant's face. “I'm meeting someone for drinks, so I won't be needing you to remove my make-up. Just leave the hairspray over there,” she said, pointing to a corner of her make-up table, “and you can go.”

She tapped the soft tissue around her eyes in an attempt to reduce the puffiness of a long day sitting in one position under hot lights. Reaching into a drawer, she pulled out her personal stash of expensive eye cream and smeared a light layer beneath each eye.

“You'll get a rash if you leave that make-up on too long, Danika.” The jut of Jordan's chin and pursed lips telegraphed his annoyance.

“Let me worry about that. I've been wearing this crap for the better part of a decade, and I've never looked better.” She turned to where Jordan still hovered nearby, caressed his butt cheek and squeezed. “It's only drinks and, I hope, a hot lead. No reason to get jealous, Baby."

He pushed her hand away, but it was a half-hearted gesture and part of a familiar dance between the two. She unzipped his pants and found her target... stroking until Jordan's eyes closed and his face went slack. With a satisfied smile, she pulled away and sat back in the chair, noting the residual hardness of his member.

Jordan's eyes burned with three parts rage and one part desire. “You're such a twisted bitch, Danika. I do every nasty little thing you ask of me and this is how you treat me -- like some sort of sex slave? One of these days I'll make you sorry you ever met me!"

It wasn't the first time he'd threatened her. She never took him seriously, especially since he'd never acted on any of them. Just macho posturing, she reasoned. Besides he was well-endowed and able to keep up with her ravenous sexual appetite. But there was no way she was going to let the toady know it. Once she'd tired of him, plans were in place to send him to the equivalent of network Siberia. For now, though, he was useful.

Rubbing her foot along the inside of his thigh, Danika coaxed, “Don't be mad, Jordie. Give me an hour, then head over to my apartment. Get the place ready and don't forget to set up the video recorder this time.” She tried to grab his hand, but he moved out of reach.

“Go to hell. I've got better things to do than wait around for a lame fuck with you.”

Danika lunged forward in her chair and threatened, “Do I need to remind you that I can ruin you with one word to the right people?”

Jordan's smirk unhinged her. She rushed for him, nails bared and aiming to damage. He easily subdued her by pinning her arms against the wall.“I'm done with you,” he spat out. “I've had a better offer, and I'm taking it. Try to make trouble for me, and I'll send pictures of you and me doing the dirty to your competitor.”

“You arrogant asshole,” she hissed. Her knee came up, but he deflected the blow and gave it a vicious twist. Danika's other leg gave out and she slid down the wall. Black spots danced in front of her eyes. She remained still until she heard the door slam behind him.

Making her way to the couch at the end of the room, Danika collapsed onto it. She took a cigarette from the pack near her elbow and inhaled deeply. Her whole body shook. The thin blanket she used to cover herself could not warm her. Her knee ached like hell, but she would not let anything stop her from keeping her appointment. After a couple of puffs, a nicotine calm kicked in.

Pull yourself together, girl.

Danika's legs wobbled, but she pushed herself forward. After a quick repair of her hair and make-up, she grabbed her briefcase and hugged it to her chest. None would guess that being a network anchor was the sole reason Danika Marten got out of bed in the morning. She'd pull in some favors and see the muscle-bound turd eliminated before she'd go back to being a nobody. Bet your ass, I'll see you wiped off the face of this earth if you fuck with me, Jordan.

Before her fingers touched the doorknob, she watched in horror as it turned on its own with such force the door vibrated. Despite her resolve, she was terrified it was Jordan come back to finish the job. “Jordan, stop it!” she screeched. “Swear to God, I'll call the police.”

The doorknob stilled. Danika balked at touching its surface, but she was already late for her meeting. The metal was cool beneath her skin. She stuck her head through the doorway and scanned the entire hallway. It appeared empty for the moment. Must have been the janitor.

She closed and locked her dressing room door and hurried in the direction of the staircase leading down to the parking garage. Her only thought was to get out of the building. The red exit sign was the only source of illumination, her clicking heels the only sound.

It's too quiet. Where is everyone?

She passed a half dozen closed doors, which she found weird given there was always at least one person lounging about. Just short of the exit, she became certain someone was following right behind. A jolt of electricity slammed into her spine and she grunted in pain. What the hell...

In full panic mode, Danika pulled her phone from her bag. She whirled to face the stalker, but he'd apparently ducked out of sight. “You have five seconds to show yourself before I dial 911,” she challenged.

A dark shape materialized through the door in the middle of the hallway. Danika watched, transfixed, as it coalesced into a monstrous-sized dog. Its bulging eyes kept her rooted to the spot. She opened her mouth to scream, but there was only an incongruous sound – the animal rumbling with satisfaction. Her bladder let loose, and Danika felt a hot stream of urine running down her leg. Fear drummed the back of her eyeballs and she swallowed against the bitter bite of it. Her whimpering drew the creature closer and she cringed against its assault. Then it did something possible only in nightmares. It stopped at her feet, sat back on its haunches and spoke, “I've come to complete our bargain, Danika Marten - to make you famous and take your soul back to hell with me.”

No, no, no...

The dog shifted its gaze to something behind her. And even as she silently begged God to save her, a sharp prick at the back of her neck sent her diving into waves of all-encompassing blackness.

***************

Edward Pearce hog-tied Danika Marten before dumping her into the back of his truck. He covered her body with tarp weighed down by cement bricks at each corner.

He wasn't surprised to see the dog waiting for him in the front seat. After he'd incapacitated the reporter, it had disappeared. Of course, now that he'd taken all the risks of getting caught, the damned thing would show up to continue bossing him around.

“We've gone too far. I don't know why I let you talk me into this.”

“The love of your life, or so you keep telling me, committed suicide thanks to scum like that woman back there. It was you that came up with the concept of making a statement, am I not correct?”

“I want simple revenge", Eddie said without taking his eyes from the road. "I don't give a fuck any longer about making any kind of statement. Luring the priest is one thing. I can see the sense of that. But getting the press involved this way? I think it's dangerous and crazy."

“Eddie, you're still a pansy little prick.”

Dad?

The car veered towards a concrete wall as Eddie struggled to keep his hands steady. He gawked at the man he hadn't seen in twenty years, wearing the same ugly look on his face as the day his heart exploded.

“Go away. I prefer Satan to breathing the same air as you.”

“The road you're traveling on can only end one way, and it ain't gonna be with your Injun lover.”

Eddie pounded the wheel and screamed, “Liar! I've been assured that I will see Billy again if I do everything He says.”

“Boy, you're a damned fool. Should've drowned ya like I wanted to the minute you came out of your mother.”

Eddie lunged for his father, but he'd disappeared. He pulled to the side of the road and wept out his frustration. Finally, his brain cleared, and he realized where he was. Regaining control of himself, he pulled out into traffic, making sure he did not exceed the speed limit. Up ahead was the exit for the Sioux Reservation. He felt a pleasant anticipation of what he would do once he got there. His father's appearance was intended to scare him off. Instead, it gave him a new resolve.

He'd prove the bastard wrong once and for all.

Author Notes Cast of Characters:
Billy Longacre: Deceased victim of a pedophile priest.
Danika Marten: Local News Anchor
Edward Pearce: Serial Killer

General terms:
Toady: One who flatters to gain favor.

Sioux Translation:
Ahanzi: To be shadowed

Thanks much to omntch for the accompanying artwork: As Darkness Falls


Chapter 58
Wihanble Moon

By Writingfundimension

PREVIOUSLY:

THE GRANITE MOUNTAIN DETECTIVES ARE CLOSING IN ON THEIR SERIAL KILLER, EDWARD PEARCE, WHEN ONE OF THEIR RANKS RECEIVES A MESSAGE THAT HER UNCLE HAS BEEN ABDUCTED. THE KIDNAPPER, LIKELY IN COHOOTS WITH EDWARD PEARCE, DEMANDS THAT FATHER BRIAN DESHANO BE BROUGHT TO THE RESERVATION IN EXCHANGE FOR TONY BUDAY, TRIBAL SHAMAN. WHAT THE DETECTIVES DO NOT YET KNOW IS THAT DANIKA MARTEN, A LOCAL NEWS PERSONALITY HAS ALSO BEEN ABDUCTED.

**********

 

Ty made a thorough search of Tony Buday's home. He fully expected to find signs of struggle, but except for the bloody remains of Tony's mauled pet, nothing appeared out of place. The tribal Shaman might be 83 years-old, but Ty could attest to the man's stamina on their occasional hunting expeditions. He would not go without putting up a bitch of a fight. Whoever abducted the old man must have employed the element of surprise.

A visual of the devil dog Ty earlier encountered popped into his mind. He wondered if the kidnapper might have used the creature to catch Tony by surprise.

If a spiritual warrior like that was not safe against the powers at work here, what hope do I have?

Rubbing the back of his neck, Ty searched his memory to recall stories of the devil dog. His parents never used dark myths to control their children's behavior, though they would have known of the stories. Some of the tribal elders believed the creature was very much alive, even calling in reports of recent sightings. Now, Ty wondered if they'd actually been seeing the same creature he'd encountered.

He pushed his mind to remember something that would give him a way to anticipate the creature's moves. He stilled as a scene from his past unfolded:

Ty had gone fishing one day with his brother and their two friends. After they returned from the creek with several nice-sized brook trout, the boys had cleaned the fish then cooked them over a campfire. One of the boys, Sam Cutter, loved telling ghost stories – his special favorite was the myth of the devil dog. Of course, he'd never seen one and was repeating stories they'd all heard before. Ty grew very anxious and escaped by saying he wasn't feeling well. His brother was upset with him for 'ruining the fun' but Ty didn't care. He hated the thought of a beautiful animal like a wolf turning into a fiend.

In the early hours of the next morning, he awoke from a nightmare calling for his mother. She appeared by his bed wrapped in her thick blue robe. He stammered, “I dreamt a...a...bout the devil dog, Ina. He told me I had to go with him because I'm bad.” Tears spilled down his cheeks and his body trembled beneath the quilt. His mother bent and laid her hands on either side of his face. She brought her face close to his and said, “The devil dog comes when it is called into being by a human who has embraced the death road. The Christians would say a person who has sold their soul to the devil. You are good boy, Son, and have nothing to fear.”

Her words were comforting, but Ty was still unconvinced. “What if I do something that I think is okay, but it ends up hurting other people?” he persisted. “Like cousin Billy did when he killed himself. He thought he was saving his family from shame, but it didn't work out that way.”

His mother stiffened. “This is not something I wish to discuss with you, Son.” But she relented when she saw the confusion in her eldest child's eyes. “I will explain this to you once, and we will not speak of it again.” Ty was afraid to breathe lest he break the moment's spell.

“The young man whose name you've spoken made a terrible mistake. In a way, he was out of his mind due to events he had no control over. The person who caused these events was evil. In order to stop the spread of this evil, your cousin chose to commit what he thought was a selfless act. We believe his heart was pure, though his action was misguided and caused much pain.”

She tucked the blankets up underneath his arms and kissed his forehead. He grabbed her hand as she turned to go. He had to know one more thing. “Can the devil dog be killed?”

“The elders say that only a man or woman wrapped in light can do this deed.” She reached down and caressed his face. “Now it's time for sleep. In a few hours, it'll be time to get up for school.”

“Ugh...” he mumbled. His mother left the door ajar for which he was grateful. He was too old for a night light. Yet, he felt the urge to leave a light burning for his cousin Billy, hoping he'd see from that place where the dead reside that someone below understood what fear will make you do.

Ty came back to himself and felt a rush of expectation. Where a few minutes before he had no clear sense of what to do, he now had a course of action. There had to be tire tracks. Whoever took Tony Buday had left markers behind, and Ty would find them. Since he had to wait for dawn's light to do so, he decided to dig a grave for Wasu and bury Tony's faithful hound. He reasoned that seeing the actual corpse would be upsetting for Jana and not likely to produce any additional information about the abduction.

Before heading out the door to seek out a shovel and a good spot to bury the dog, Ty dialed the number of his deputy.

“Tony Buday's been abducted,” he said without preamble.

Jake's voice was pitched high with excitement. “Wow. The whole rez will be buzzing with the news by noon. Do you want me to assemble our usual group of trackers?”

“First, I want you to pull out all the 911 reports from the last six months. What I'm looking for is any mention of a wolf painted to look like a warrior. Specifically, any mention of the devil dog.”

Ty could hear Jake breathing so he knew he was still on the line. “Do you copy?” he asked.

“Ah, I'm not sure I understand what you're talking about, Ty. A devil dog... as in a flesh-eating soul-stealer? That's superstitious bullshit the elders came up with to scare the kids straight.”

“I don't have time to explain why I know the devil dog exists. Just get down to the station and do as I ask!”

“Copy. On my way out the door. And, Ty... you owe me a helluva story.”

**********

Jana Burke filled the other detectives in on the disappearance of her Uncle Tony and need to get to their home on the reservation. Rick, in particular, insisted he wanted to accompany her, but she spurned his offer.

“Ty will provide me with back-up. The kidnapper gave little other than the fact he has Uncle Tony. He says he'll call back with ransom details. I'm sure he's waiting to see if we obey his demands about not involving any other law enforcement.”

“Jana, any idea why this guy snatched your Uncle?” Sheriff Derek Oleson asked.

God, I hate lying. But I can't mention that the ransom is Father Brian. Not yet.

“It has to be the connection with my cousin Billy,” she replied. "Uncle Tony's disgust with the Catholic Church's handling of the pedophilia was made public at the time. It generated controversy, even hate mail. Maybe this is pay back."

“For now, do everything the guy asks," Derek responded. "But you have to keep us in the loop on this, Jana. This is not just a reservation problem. I know I don't need to tell you that, but your cousin may be a different matter.”

“Ty loves Uncle Tony like a father. He won't do anything to risk his safety. And I will report back in as soon as I know anything. You have my word.”

Jana felt the force of Derek's scrutiny. He knows I'm not telling everything. What will I do if he refuses to allow me to leave the crime scene right now? Do I want to risk my job by an outright refusal to obey?

“Keep us informed, Jana. Remember we're a team,” Derek said. His eyes betrayed his concern, and Jana felt a rush of gratitude for his implied confidence in her judgement.

She looked around at the other assembled detectives. Her heart filled with affection. Down to a man, they were good people. But this was a unique situation. The Sioux Nation had its own laws and courts. She was a member of that Nation first and enforcer of the white man's laws second. Though her fellow detectives would give their lives to protect her own, she knew they had no concept of what a tenuous line she walked.

“When I know anything of value, I'll call. You have my promise.”

**********

Father Brian packed his satchel with care. He placed the holy water, crucifix and Rite of Exorcism in the bottom. Atop that he placed the stole he used to say Mass and a picture of the Madonna and Child.

He bent down so Alyx could jump into his arms. He kissed the top of his dog's head and whispered, “I don't know when I'll be coming home, Alyx. But you'll be just fine with Mrs. Findley. She's got that cute little Dachshund, Charlie. Remember?”

He grabbed a handful of treats from the cupboard, laid them on the bottom of Alyx's cage and placed him inside. The dog whimpered, and Father Brian stuck his fingers through the cage for Alyx to lick. “I wish I could take you with me, boy, but I'm going to a very bad place. And I have to go alone. You'll be okay, I promise.”

Father Brian illuminated the area above the kitchen sink to keep Alyx company until Mrs. Findley arrived. Steps heavy, he moved to the rectory entrance and pulled his wool topcoat and hat from the closet. He heard the siren which signaled the time had come. Looking around the place he'd called home for more than a decade, his heart constricted. Then his eyes fell on a picture of Jesus standing at the prow of a boat, hands stretched to calm the storm.

The priest closed his eyes and whispered, "The Lord is the defense of my life. Whom shall I dread?"

His mother's beautiful face filled his mind, bringing with it a soft golden light that bathed his spirit with peace. He opened his eyes and stepped with confidence to greet the young detective who so desperately needed his help.

Author Notes Cast of characters:
Alyx: Father Brian's Sheltie
Tony Buday: Sioux Tribal Medicine Man and Jana Burke's Uncle
Jana Burke: Granite Mountain homicide detective
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church
Caroline Findley: Father Brian's housekeeper
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Granite Mountain Sheriff and lead homicide detective
Billy Longacre: Victim of a pedophile priest and suicide victim. Cousin to both Jana and Ty.
Ty Longacre: Sioux Reservation Tribal Policeman
Wasu: Tony Buday's blood hound

Terms:
Rez: Reservation
Stole: Garment used for Mass

Sioux Terms:
Ina: My mother
Wihanble: Dreamer

Many Native American tribes refrain from speaking the name of a dead person. The tradition is for a number reasons, most notably to avoid keeping the deceased person earthbound.

The biblical reference is from Psalms 27:1.

Thanks so much, donkeyoatey, for use of your fabulous artwork: Eve's Seducer


Chapter 59
Wayaka Moon

By Writingfundimension

PREVIOUSLY:

Father Brian illuminated the area above the kitchen sink to keep Alyx company until Mrs. Findley arrived in the morning. Steps heavy, he moved to the rectory entrance and pulled his wool topcoat and hat from the closet. He heard the siren which signaled the time had come. Looking around the place he'd called home for more than a decade, his heart constricted. Then his eyes fell on a picture of Jesus standing at the prow of a boat, hands stretched to calm the storm.  

He closed his eyes and whispered, "The Lord is the defense of my life. Whom shall I dread?"

His mother's beautiful face filled his mind, bringing with it a soft, golden light, bathing his spirit in peace. The priest opened his eyes and stepped with confidence to greet the young detective who so desperately needed his help.


**********

Maggie Hubbard commandeered a quiet corner of the nurses' station. She was behind schedule with the required medication check, and needed to complete the task before the 7:00 A.M. shift arrived.

Someone tapped her shoulder, scattering her thoughts. Maggie pressed her lips together to keep from chewing out the interloper.

She swiveled her chair in order to face an auburn-haired nurse wearing lime green scrubs with purple giraffes scattered front and back. They'd been short-handed, and with all the beds occupied, Maggie thought it best to procure a nurse from one of the other departments. The young woman from Pediatrics twisted the top button of her smock, waiting for permission to speak.

"What is it, Cassie?"

"I'm sorry to bother you right now, Mrs. Hubbard.  I..um... don't know what to do about the patient in Room 3011."

 Maggie blinked her eyes rapidly, her internal guage registering wasted time.

"Well, um, she looks odd and something's caused her to get upset," Cassie said in a soft voice that was nearly drowned by the background din of staff preparing to turn over duties to the next shift.

Maggie rubbed the crease between her eyes and sighed. This is a surgical floor with a whole different set of protocols. Be patient. She looked into Cassie's eyes and recognized the doubt reflected there.

"Get Mrs. Longacre's chart," Maggie ordered. "Then you can tell me, with some intelligence, what is wrong with the woman."

She watched Cassie shuffle through the pile of charts until she found the right one. Maggie rose and joined her on the other side of the desk.

"Agnes's vitals were all normal until thirty minutes ago when I did a final check." She thrust the chart into her superior's hands and said, "See for yourself."

"BP is up and respiration is irregular," Maggie noted. "How's her color?"

"Her skin is florid and she's sweating profusely. The antibiotics have all been administered, as was the morphine. Like I say, she was resting comfortably until just a bit ago when she started yelling for someone named Tony. Her eyes are open, but she seems to be in some sort of trance. Keeps mumbling in a language I can't understand."

"Let's see if we can get her calmed down," Maggie said as she walked towards the room. Reaching the doorway, she caught Agnes in the act of ripping out her I.V. and sprang into action. Grabbing the old lady's hands, Maggie ordered Cassie to guide her back onto the bed. Agnes tried to wriggle from their grasp for some minutes before collapsing against her pillow.

"Get hold of her surgeon, Cassie. Hallucinations and violent behavior can be signs of an adverse reaction to morphine. We need to get her switched to something else."

"Wouldn't that have happened sooner?" Cassie asked.

"That's a good question," Maggie responded in a mustered, even tone. "But it's not up to us to make that call.  We report our observations -- the doctors choose whether to act on them."

Agnes's hand shot out from her body and clipped Maggie's jaw. "Ouch," she yelped. She whipped her head in Cassie's direction. "Get an orderly in here to help apply restraints."

"She's just a little thing," Cassie protested. "Don't you think the two of us can get her calmed down?"

"Cassie, don't argue with me. Patients in the middle of a psychotic episode can be abnormally powerful. We can't take any chances that she'll hurt herself or one of us. Just do as I say."

Cassie rushed from the room, returning a short while later with a middle-aged, white-garbed orderly.

"What you got, Maggie?" the man asked.

"I think this lady's having a reaction to her pain medication, Cliff. We'll use the restraints as a precaution until we can get her on something else."

He grabbed his elbow and blew out a breath. "Hate having to do that, but we gotta follow the rules," he replied. 

"I've left a message for the surgeon," Cassie interjected. "I also noted the patient's grand-daughter asked to be called if anything changed." Her gaze flicked upward from where she straightened and smoothed the bedding around the patient. "Do you want to take care of that, Mrs. Hubbard?"

Maggie opened her mouth to respond and stopped short. She had the advantage of years of nursing experience -- most of it in the area of post-operative care. Something else is going on here. The instinct was bothersome and pronounced. This is more than a hallucination. She's determined, not violent. Tony, whoever he is, might actually be in danger. Though, I'd never say that out loud.

"I want the surgeon's opinion first. A change of medication can have quick and positive results.  Family members think we're abusing their loved ones when they see the restraints."

While she talked, she double-checked the I.V site. It looked to be in place and working though there was a ten centimeter area of extensive bruising from trying to find a good vein. Agnes's eyes were fixed on a corner of the room, and Maggie wondered what she was seeing.

"Can you stay overtime a bit, Cassie? I'd like to have someone stay with Mrs. Longacre until the next shift gets on board. She's likely used to your voice and would find that comforting."

Cassie glanced at the clock and back at her superior. "I have to check with my husband to see if he can delay going to work. I have three-year-old twins at home."

"I understand. Go make your call and I'll remain here."

Maggie pulled a chair close to the bed and laid a hand on her patient's arm. Agnes began rocking from side to side and keening, "Wokhokiphe."

That sounds Sioux to me. Wonder what's got you so riled up, Agnes?

Maggie felt a swirling, cold draft at her feet. She looked over the top of her knees towards the floor and gasped. Her feet were in the middle of a thick red pool.

What in the name of God...

Her instinct was to flee, but the clinician in her won out. Just as her finger reached the liquid, it disappeared. But the cold spread upward accompanied by a pervasive sense of despair.

"I can stay as long as you need me, Mrs. Hubbard," Cassie reported on her return.

Maggie felt the effort to respond was beyond her, but with determined effort she managed, "Call the grand-daughter."

"I thought you wanted to wait," Cassie protested.

Maggie placed an arm on the back of the chair to aid her in rising. Shaken and pale, she only wanted to get out the room. But her duty was to the patient. "I changed my mind. Her grand-daughter, Jana Burke is a homicide detective. I can't explain it right now, but it's important for her to know what's going on."

"What if I can't get hold of Detective Burke?"

Maggie looked at the bed and then at the floor where just moments before her shoes were mired in pooling blood.

"Call the Sheriff's department and ask for Detective Ron Jolly. Tell him Maggie needs him to come to the post-op unit right away."
 
                                                                                           ***
 
Tony tested his arms and legs and found them shackled. The surface beneath him was soft, leading him to believe he was on a bed or cot. A thick blindfold made it impossible for him to determine his location or the time of day. The only sound in the room came from a panting animal that reeked of rotting flesh.

A sweet taste lingered in his mouth, and Tony surmised his attacker had used Chloroform. The last thing he recalled was a dog wearing warrior paint blocking his path to the cabin. He did not see who yanked him by the hair and smashed a rag into his face, or remember anything about how he'd ended up in this prison.

Tony struggled to keep his breathing calm. He needed time to engage his other senses in order to figure out the situation. His clothes felt to be intact, especially his shoes, which might give him an advantage. It also indicated the captor was an amateur. A brief hope was dashed by a weird, metallic voice booming in his brain.

"Don't bet on that. I'm in charge, but let's keep that between you and me, shall we?"

It reads my thoughts.

"I do more than read thoughts, Tony. In fact, my area of expertise lies in seducing souls. Not just any soul, mind you. Most of them aren't worth the effort. But someone like you, Shaman?  I'm salivating like a gourmand in the act of cutting into perfectly prepared foie gras."

The ancestors will never allow this to happen. I have devoted my life to living in harmony with Great Spirit.

Tony heard the snapping of toenails against the floor and felt a hot breath in his face. He turned his head away in a deliberate gesture of disrespect.

"I will enjoy your agony," growled the animal. "Those you love are falling into my trap. They will die slow, painful deaths while you helplessly watch. It's going to be quite a show. One worthy of a wizard like you."

Tony raised his head, straining the muscles of his neck. His mouth was dry and his lips felt like putty. Yet, his words rang with authority. "You seek to insult me, but I know what I am: Keeper of sacred traditions and tribal healer."

"Aw, cut the crap, Tohneee. You're a man who imagines he has power. Just like the crude cow in the next room."

Not Jana...

Saliva burned a trail along Tony's cheek. He gagged at the smell of his own burning flesh and fought to keep from screaming.

"Don’t' worry, your precious Jana is safe... for the moment. The one I refer to is a member of the corpo di stampa," the beast continued. "I need her to witness the scope of my powers. You see, I own her soul, and she'll do everything I ask. Especially if I threaten to mangle that beautiful face of hers."

Never. You'll never win.

"Oh, but it is inevitable, Shaman. I will take special delight in your final understanding you have devoted your life to man-made delusions. Such pleasure you can't imagine."

Rage boiled in Tony's veins. He bucked upwards, hoping the restraints would give way.

The creature's howls reverberated against Tony's skull, and pain, like a thousand biting bees, pushed him deep into the ebony abyss.

Author Notes Cast:

Alyx: Father Brian's Sheltie.
Tony Buday: Medicine Man/Healer of the Sioux Nation.
Jana Burke: Homicide Detective. Tony Buday's niece and Agnes Longacre's grand-daughter.
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's and an exorcist for the Catholic Church.
Maggie Hubbard: Registered Nurse
Ron Jolly: Homicide detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department. Currently part of the task force hunting a serial killer named Edward Pearce.
Agnes Longacre: Tony Buday's sister and Jana Burke's grandmother. A member of the Sioux Nation.
Cassie Reed: Registered Nurse

Terms:

Chloroform: A heavy, sweet-smelling fluid which in large doses can cause unconsciousness.
Corpo Di Stampo: Latin for press corps.
Foie Gras: Goose liver - a rare delicacy.
I.V.: Intravenous
Pediatrics: Treatment of children.
Vitals: Metabolic measurements such as blood pressure and pulse.

Sioux Terms:

Wayaka: Prisoner
Wohhokiphe: Danger

Thanks so much, donkeyoatey, for the use of your fabulous artwork once again.



Chapter 60
Wazuzu Moon

By Writingfundimension

PREVIOUSLY:

Maggie felt a swirling, cold draft at her feet. She looked over the top of her knees towards the floor and gasped. Her feet were in the middle of a thick red pool.

What in the name of God...

Her insinct was to flee, but the clinician in her won out. Just as her finger reached the liquid, it disappeared. But the cold spread upward accompanied by a pervasive sense of despair.

"I can stay as long as you need me, Mrs. Hubbard," Cassie reported on her return.

Maggie felt the effort to respond was beyond her, but with determined effort she managed, "Call the grand-daughter."

"I thought you wanted to wait," Cassie protested.

Maggie placed on arm on the back of the chair to aid her in rising. Shaken and pale, she wanted only to get out of the room. But her duty was to her patient. "I changed my mind. Her grand-daughter, Jana Burke, is a homicide detective. I can't explain it right now, but it's important for her to know what's going on."



*****

Sheriff Derek Oleson felt like he was trapped in the caboose of a runaway train. He believed Edward Pearce was their serial killer. Yet, he knew circumstantial evidence without the holy grail of crime-solving -- DNA -- made for a weak case. The Task Force's hopes were high when they found the suspect's apartment. And finding the body of the mother, Gertrude, was a gruesome piece of good luck. While his detectives sifted through the evidence gathered from Pearce's apartment, Derek sweated the results of the preliminary autopsy on the body.

They had precious little evidence to date in this perplexing case. Derek knew the passage of too much time would make witness memories as scarce as a tulip in March. Unexpressed was his fear that Edward Pearce might already have skipped the area, denying justice to the victims' families.

He checked his e-mails for an update on Gertrude Pearce's autopsy. As he pulled it up to read it, Derek swallowed past a knot of anxiety.

Doc, give me the goods.

The message was in typical Bloomquist style: PRELIM. INDICATES CAUSE OF DEATH TO BE FROM NORMAL CAUSES. TOX ORDERED. NO FOREIGN DNA.

Derek smacked his palm against the desk. His fingers itched to punch in the ME's number and argue his finding of a normal cause of death. The toxicology screen could show a lethal drug dose caused the old woman's death. After all, it was her son's M.O. The effort, though, would be a total waste of Derek's time. He knew Bloomquist had a consummate talent for covering his own ass.

Rubbing a knuckle against the edge of his teeth, Derek mulled over his options. He switched screens to view the initial list of items recovered from Edward Pearce's apartment. The drug paraphernalia and a pink quartz rosary linked Edward to, at least, Debra Padget's murder. They were in the process of testing the latter item for DNA evidence linking it to the victim.

That could takes weeks! Dammit to hell, Pearce could be deep in the Canadian wilderness by then.

Derek crossed to where he had a miniature single-serving coffee machine. The sound of its tiny motor laboring to heat the water was a welcome distraction. He brushed cookie crumbs from the front of his uniform. His assistant, Patty, always had a box of sweets on her desk, courtesy of her daughter's bakery.

The ruby-rimmed, mahogany beverage filling his cup smelled of nutmeg. He sipped it, letting the rich taste of cacao and eucalyptus soothe his anxiety. Cradling the cup in his palm, he returned to his desk.

A blast of warmth from an overhead heating duct and the coffee's temperature produced a light sheen of sweat along Derek's top lip. The easy solution would be to remove his tie or roll up his sleeves, but Derek was fanatical about appearing dignified. He wore his uniform like a priest wears a cross. The clothing was an outward sign of his calling and commitment to the American Criminal Justice system.

His head shot up at the quick rap on his door. Leaning into his elbow, he called out, "Come in."

Senior Detective, Ron Jolly, entered and approached. Placing his fingertips on the edge of Derek's desk, Ron bent forward and said, "Sorry to interrupt, Boss, but I knew you'd want to hear this first hand."

Derek blew out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. He gestured towards the chair opposite him, and Ron perched at its edge.

"I got a call from a friend of mine -- a nurse in the post-operative department at Briggins Medical Center," Ron began. "Agnes Longacre is there following surgery for a shattered wrist. I wasn't even aware Jana's grandmother was injured. Were you?"

"Yes, Jana gave me a brief report on the situation." Where are we going with this?

"I need to preface this by saying my friend is a practical woman with years of nursing experience. She's seen just about everything imaginable, and I've never known her to resort to melodrama."

"Understood," Derek replied.

Ron ran a finger along the inside of his shirt collar. He looked at his hands and then up at Derek."Something unnatural is manifesting itself around Agnes Longacre. My friend went so far as to call it evil."

Derek shifted his feet beneath his chair and moved closer to his desk. "Define unnatural."

"A disappearing pool of blood."

"She'd just undergone surgery, Ron. Maybe her wound was traumatized."

"Exactly what I said."

"And?"

"Agnes was not the source of the blood. Maggie is adamant on that point. She says it disappeared from the floor when she bent to touch it. Furthermore, the old lady's panicked about someone named Tony. Keeps yelling he's in danger."

"Any other witnesses?"

"No," Ron admitted. He smoothed an eyebrow with his finger. "I know this all sounds crazy. If it was anyone but Maggie I'd say it was bullshit. The fear in her eyes... well... it was enough to convince me."

"How'd you leave it with her?"

"Assured her I'd make a report. I also told her we'd post a guard outside the room."

Derek nodded. "Good idea."

"Maggie claims she made multiple calls to Jana's listed number without success," Ron continued. "That doesn't sound like our Jana." He looked out the window and then back at Derek. "What in God's name is going on, Boss?"

"I'm not sure, Ron. Jana left me an hour ago after receiving word from her cousin that Tony Buday had been kidnapped. It's the probable cause for not returning Maggie's calls." He closed his laptop and stood. "I told Jana I'd give her a chance to check out the crime scene and confer with her cousin in consideration of his authority in tribal matters. But we've waited long enough."

"Tony really is in trouble?" Ron's voice was low and tight. "Could he be trying to communicate with his sister psychically? Sort of like twins do?"

Derek shook his head. "Ron, I don't believe in much beyond what my five senses tell me. Easier to keep my focus that way."

"Sure, I get that, Derek. But that doesn't explain those times when you look into the eyes of a punk who's raped his little girl and you feel, you just feel man, that you're looking at a human aberration. He licked his lips and frowned. "My grandmother warned me when I became a policeman that I would see things that would shake my faith in God. She told me never to forget that Jesus was my only rock in the midst of those storms."

"Jesus doesn't put those bastards in jail, Ron. We do," Derek countered. "The rest is conjecture."

Both men started when Derek's inter-office phone buzzed. He punched the intercom and said, "Yes, Patty?"

"Sheriff, there's a man demanding to see you right away. Says his name is Father Fred Northrup and he has urgent information. Shall I send him in?"

Derek glanced at Ron as if looking for an answer. "Father Northrup -- the name isn't one I recognize," he said.

"He claims you expressed an interest in talking with him about Father Brian DeShano," Patty elaborated.

Rubbing the back of his neck, Derek searched his memory.

The diocesan exorcist. Shit, I forgot all about him.

"Give me three minutes to finish up with Ron, then you can send him in, Patty."

"Yes, Sir."

                                                                                     ***


Father Fred Northrup, unlike his contemporaries, wore a black suit which enhanced the purity of his white collar. He'd not eaten for over twenty four hours, and was feeling the side effects of his self-denial. He reached down to touch the valise at his feet. It gave him a momentary feeling of strength and comfort.

Sheriff Oleson's secretary faced away from him as she spoke into the phone. Father Fred made no effort to eavesdrop. He'd given her the pertinent details and was content to leave the rest in God's hands. Touching the rosary at the bottom of his pocket, he prayed:

I place my fear at your feet, Dear Savior. It is on behalf of your kingdom that I am willing to draw the Beast's attention.

A foot from his chair was a box filled with frosted, candy-sprinkled cookies. His stomach rumbled a plea to end his self-imposed fast. He gripped his elbows to cover the sound and closed his eyes.

Depart, Demon! A soldier goes into battle with his belly empty and his heart burning to gain the prize.

"Father? Are you alright?"

He turned in the direction of the voice and opened his eyes. "I'm sorry, young lady. Were you speaking to me?"

"I was just saying that Sheriff Oleson will see you."

They both turned in the direction of the detective exiting Sheriff Oleson's office. His eyes locked on the priest's and a current of energy passed between them. Ron nodded and walked away without speaking.

Sheriff Oleson's imposing figure filled the vacant doorway. "Father, please come in. Can I get you anything a cup of coffee?"

"Water would be appreciated."

Derek looked at Patty who stood in the open doorway.  "Bring two," he said. 

Gesturing to a side chair, Derek said, "I apologize for not getting back with you Father. It's generous of you to take time away from your family visit to come by the station. But the situation I wished to discuss with you has been pushed into the background by a series of extraordinary events over the last forty-eight hours."

Patty passed two water bottles through the open door then closed it.

Derek handed one to the priest and placed the other one on his desk. Father Northrup drained a third of the liquid in two gulps. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, dropped his elbows to his side and looked up. "Do you believe in visions, Sheriff?" he asked in a soft voice.

"Depends, Father."

"Skeptics always equivocate," the priest answered. His lips turned up into a gentle smile. "I'm of the Jesuit order. We have a long-standing history of equivocation."

Derek leaned against his desk and crossed his ankles. "Does this 'vision' have any bearing on my murder case?"

"You'd be the better judge of that, Sheriff. To my mind it has everything to do with this case and something even more important to me -- the state of a man's soul."

"Unless you've seen the location of the killer, Father, I have little..."

The priest's hand shot out from the chair and gripped Derek's arm. His face was red, his eyes round and over-bright. "I've seen the man you seek. I'll help you find him for the sake of the soul I must save."

"Edward Pearce's soul is not worth saving, Father. He's little more than an animal at this point. And animals belong in cages."

The priest bowed his head. Derek could see his body was trembling and felt remorse for his crass response. "I'm sorry, Father," he explained. "I was at a crime scene until late and didn't get much sleep last night."

"It's not Edward Pearce's soul I'm called to save," the priest blurted. 

"Pardon me?"

"It's Father Brian's soul God's anxious to preserve."
















































































 

Author Notes Thanks to all you loyal followers of this novel. You've been so very patient with me. This chapter is a bit long, so I, especially, appreciate your forbearance.

Cast of Characters:
Tony Buday: Sioux medicine man and uncle of Homicide Detective, Jana Burke.
Jana Burke: Homicide detective and member of the Sioux nation.
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church.
Ron Jolly: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Agnes Longacre: Tony Buday's sister and Jana Burke's grandmother.
Derek Oleson: Granite Mountain Sheriff
Edward Pearce: Suspected serial killer

Terms:
Exorcist: To get rid of by solemn demand.
Jesuit: A member of a Roman Catholic order (Soeciety of Jesus) founded by St. Ignatius of Loyoal in 1534, to defend the papacy and convert heathens.
ME: Medical Examiner
Sioux Terms:
Wazuzu: Butcher


Chapter 61
Cephi Moon, Part 1

By Writingfundimension

PREVIOUSLY:

Before heading out the door to seek out a shovel and a good spot to bury the dog, Ty dialed the number of his deputy.

"Tony Buday's been abducted," he said without preamble.

Jake's voice was pitched high with excitement. "Wow. The whole rez will be buzzing with this news by noon. Do you want me to assemble our usual group of trackers?"

"First, I want you to pull out all the 911 reports from the last two months. What I'm looking for is any mention of a wolf painted to look like a warrior. Specifically, any mention of a devil dog."

Ty could hear Jake breathing so he knew he was still on the line. "Do you copy?"

"Ah, I'm not sure I understand what you're talking about, Boss. A devil dog... as in a flesh-eating, soul-stealer? That's superstitious bullshit the elders came up with to scare the kids straight."

"I don't have time to explain why I know the devil dog exists. Just get down to the station and do as I ask!"

"Copy. On my way out the door. And, Ty... you owe me a helluva story."

**********


Hands on his knees, eyes scouring the forest floor, Ty pressed himself to find the trail of Tony Buday's kidnapper. The woods beyond the property line were thick with maple and pine trees. Their offshoots struggled to capture some of the precious daylight while forming a natural camouflage for the fiend that slaughtered Wasu.

The tribal policeman tipped his Stetson with his knuckle, reached into his back pocket and pulled out a clean rag. He wiped his face of the sweat he'd worked up burying Tony Buday's hound. Squinting into the distance, he felt a half-formed fear he'd see the devil dog staring him down. Bastard's out there watching... I can feel him.

He pulled a knife from the sheath attached to his belt. Dropping to a crouch, he carefully moved aside leaves and dirt, looking for footprints. Several shallow pools formed a vertical line leading away from where he squatted. He dragged the tip of his knife through one of them and brought it to his nose. It smelled of blood, but he couldn't be sure whether animal or human.

His belly clenched with anxiety. He needed to follow the trail before it got degraded by animals drawn to the smell. Struggling to quell his impatience, he decided to start marking it. That way, when Jana arrived, he'd quickly fill her in before getting down to the business of tracking the killer.

Where the hell is she? It's been over an hour since I called her.

His cousin had promised to pick up Father Brian and head directly to the reservation. Ty estimated the trip from St. Matilde's rectory to the reservation in a squad car would take no more than twenty minutes. Taking into consideration the fog he'd earlier encountered, it might add another fifteen minutes, making Jana's arrival overdue.

Sheriff Oleson may have been unwilling to kick her loose or, worse, Father Brian refused to come?

The latter would present a serious problem. The kidnapper demanded the priest in exchange for Tony.

Ty knew without the priest, there would be no reason to keep Tony alive.

If it comes to that, I'll kidnap the priest myself.

His pocket phone sounded. Ty spat out a wad of tobacco he'd been chewing and cleared his voice. “Longacre, here.”

“Ty, it's Lu. Where are you?” How much do I tell her?

“I'm checking out a B and E.” Not exactly a lie.

There was a pause at the other end. His dispatcher had a sixth sense for when he wasn't telling her the straight story.

“Are you anywhere near the Bree compound?” she asked.

“Ten minutes away,” Ty answered. “Don't tell me the Bree brothers are at each other again. Lu, I don't have time to break up another one of their squabbles.”

“It's Lynn who needs your help this time. She just called to report one of her goats disappeared last night. Says that makes a total of three this week. You know how much she loves those goats, Ty.”

What if the dog I saw has a mate?

“Lu, I'm using my cell phone. Give me five minutes to get to the patrol car and then patch me through to Lynn.”

“Right.”

He hurried to the car and reached for the radio mike. A short time later, Lynn Bree came on the line.

“Hey, Lynn,” Ty began, “I'm real sorry to hear about your goats. Did you or the uncles happen to catch sight of the predator?”

“I can't be sure of anything those two say when they're drinking, Ty. But Russell claims he was out in the shed, two nights ago, getting a bottle from his stash when he heard the goats bleating. He poked his head through the door and claims he had the shit scared out him by an animal rushing past. Said the thing looked like the biggest, damned wolf he'd ever seen in his life.”

“This may sound crazy, but did Russell say anything looked unusual about the animal... I mean besides the size of it?”

Ty heard a gasp at the other end. “He said the... ah... animal had a painted face, Ty. And he felt its eyes were trying to get inside his head. Shit, I thought it was the booze talking.”

“Listen, Lynn. I don't want the uncles tracking this animal. It's very dangerous. Not like anything I've ever seen in all my years of hunting these woods.”

“You're scaring me, Ty,” she said.

“Good. That means you won't let your anger get the better of you and take off on your own search.”

“You know me pretty well.” Lynn's voice was soft and warm.

“Not half as well as I'd like to. But right now, we've got something real bad coming down on the rez, and it would help if I didn't have to be concerned for your safety.”

“Death has been in the wind for a week now,” she said. “I've smelled it, I've heard its wails. Un woawanglake!”

Ty's throat tightened with emotion. “I'll do my best, Lynn.”

“See that you do, Ty Longacre,” she said before clicking off.

I've got a beautiful woman nearly convinced to share my bed and people who placed their safety in my hands. This is not going to be the day I die.

The dispatch radio sounded again. “Yes, Lu?” he answered.

“It's Jake, Boss. Did as you asked and found four reports of people seeing a strange animal hanging around their livestock, no mention of painted muzzles. The reports congregate in one area of the reservation... an area familiar to you...”

“The cabin at Fountain Point,” Ty finished.

“Isn't that your clan's hunting cabin?” Jake queried.

“We've avoided the place since my cousin's suicide. He'd been living there with his boyfriend.”

“Jake get to that cabin," Ty's voice was louder than he intended. "When Jana arrives, we'll meet you there.”

“Don't you want me to confirm the cabin is occupied?” Jake persisted.

“No Jake!” I'm ordering you to stay in your car with the doors locked.”

Jakes's voice wavered, “Don't tell me you believe there's a real-life devil dog out there?”

“I'm telling you not to be a hero because I don't want to have to gather pieces of you to bury."

 ~~ TO BE CONTINUED ~~

Author Notes Cast of Characters:
Lynn Bree: Sioux Nation member.
Russell Bree: Elder of the Sioux nation and Lynn's uncle.
Tony Buday: Sioux shaman and Jana Burke's uncle.
Jana Burke: Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department and member of the Sioux Nation.
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church.
Jake: Deputy with the Tribal Police Department.
Ty Longacre: Tribal policeman and Jana's cousin.
Lu: Dispatcher for the Tribabal police department.
Wasu: Tony Buday's hound dog.

Terms:
B&E: Breaking and entering
Rez: Reservation

Sioux terms:
Cephi: Flesh
un woawanglake: Be careful

Thanks so much to dragifortuna for the superb accompanying artwork: Opel Logo



Chapter 62
Cephi Moon, Part Two

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

**********
"PROBABLY THE MOST DISTURBING ASPECT TO DEMONIACAL PHENOMENON IS THAT BEHIND ALL THE TERROR AND CHAOS, THERE STANDS A SHREWD, CALCULATING INTELLIGENCE."

-- DEMONOLOGIST, ED WARREN
**********


Detective Jana Burke's white-knuckled grip on the wheel went unnoticed by Father Brian. Lost in his own thoughts, his head sagged back against the seat. Panic gripped him, and he longed to escape into the silent comfort of the thick pines retreating in the distance. To ease his raging self-doubt, Brian prayed:

Keep my ignorance and weakness from impeding your glory, Jesus. Let the celestial realm draw near, especially Archangel Michael, the defender of your kingdom.

Trembling overtook his limbs. He hid his shaking hands in the folds of his jacket. He didn't believe these were the effects of his fasting or even fear. Instead, the demon seemed aware of his drawing near and had begun its attack. Brian experienced both wonder and a whisper of rage. The advice of his mentor, Father Northrup rose up in response: "Satan can be at our side for a very long time, analyzing and learning our weaknesses. Then he will tempt us at our lowest point. Don't argue with a demon, Brian. Let the words of Jesus be your only defense."

Jana's words broke through his contemplation. He strained to focus his attention on her.

“The road to Uncle's house has sharp curves,” she said. “Keep an eye out for animals.”

Brian noted the catch in her voice at the mention of Tony. He was tempted to remind her that he'd been to her uncle's home many times, but his own heavy heart cautioned against it.

“I have faith that Tony is still alive, Jana.”

Her silence was her answer. Yet, he pressed forward because he didn't know how much time he had left.

“Your uncle and I discussed the crime committed against your family by Monsignor Flaherty. In fact, I expressed remorse for failing to see him for the disturbed individual he was.

Jana choked out a laugh. “Disturbed?” She threw him a hard look. “Disturbed is the state you're in when your dry-cleaning isn't ready on time. What that man did... what he was... that's unfathomable evil. His rape of young boys was denied all the way up the chain of command. Even your own Pope looked the other way.” Her voice was frigid. “Flaherty was one of the few who went to prison. Guess he drew the short stick.”

“Tony felt much the same way,” Brian admitted. “Then something changed his mind.” He stared down at his folded hands and continued in a soft voice, “The way he looked at me was different – there was real warmth in his eyes that I believe came from forgiveness.” Brian lifted sad eyes in her direction. “I guess he'd discovered that hate first poisons the one who holds it.”

“Try telling that to Fritz Buell's son,” Jana snapped. “See if you can convince him Edward Pearce wasn't enjoying every moment he spent torturing and killing his father.”

“Edward Pearce didn't become a monster overnight,” Brian rasped. “He was physically abused by his father for being a pansy. His mother told me the beatings were so severe that he likely suffered multiple concussions. But she was afraid to take him to the hospital. Afraid the police would haul her husband off to jail and take her child away.”

“Did she tell you that in the confessional, Father?”

Brian realized his blunder and turned away to cover his embarrassment.

“Ah... yes she did,” he mumbled. “What is said in the confessional is sacred. I would not be able to repeat that information in a court of law.”

“A last-minute I'm sorry," Jana snapped her fingers, "and the gates of heaven open? That's very generous of you, Father." 

“Sinners might be able to fool me,” Brian raised his eyebrows. “But God knows. God always knows.”

In her agitated state, Jana pressed the accelerator, increasing their speed. "What I know,” she persisted, “is that Edward Pearce will answer to his very-human peers.” Her chin jutted obstinately. "We build the case, he rots in prison. That's the kind of justice I admire.”

She reached a hand to her rear view mirror and flipped it to night vision to block the sudden onset of high-beam lights. Her eyes grew round with shock. Brian caught her puzzled reaction and turned in his seat to see a SUV closing on them at a high rate of speed.

"Where did he come from," Jana said.

“I can't believe someone would harass a patrol car.” He raised his hand up to block the intense light. “Why don't we pull over and let the fool pass?”

“Can't. There's hardly any shoulder because of the drainage ditch running alongside the road.”

Jana took a curve too fast, and Father Brian was thrown against the door. Alarmed, he glanced in Jana's direction. Her face was pinched and her spine rigid.

“The next half mile is a straight stretch," she mumbled. Sticking her arm out the window, she signaled him to pass. But the driver's reaction was to fall back.

Brian felt the hairs on his arm rise as electricity crackled in the air about them. “Aren't we getting near the old-stone bridge? What's he waiting for?”

Just as the edge of the bridge came into view, their stalker sped up and rammed the back end of the patrol car. Jana's arm swung across Brian's body, pushing him deeper into the seat. “We're gonna crash,” she yelled.

As metal screeched against stone, Brian threw his hands up to protect his face.

                                                                        ***

Aaron Noff blew a puff of cigarette smoke out the car window. ”How's it feel to be closing on the rat bastard that killed your father, Matt?”

“I'll celebrate when he's carved up and left for the coyotes.” The driver turned eyes as hard as diamonds on Aaron, waited a beat, then continued, “I expect you to live up to your reputation, Noff. And don't call me Matt. It's Mr. Buell to you.”

“Sorry,” Aaron mumbled.

“You'll be a wealthy man if this goes down right,” Matthew Buell continued. “Your days of working for gang-bangers who suspect their crack-head whore of double dipping should be over. Unless, of course, you like that sort of thing?”

The P.I. shifted in his seat. “I've got plans for the money.” Go to hell, asshole.

Keeping his voice neutral, Aaron switched subjects. “How'd your meeting go with the red-hot babe from the TV station?”

“It didn't,” Matthew responded.

"What... she didn't show? After she all but offered to fuck you in order to get an interview,” he snickered.

“Waited at the bar over an hour and finally left." Matthew's jaw was clenched in anger. “When I called the TV station this morning, they were all in a panic. Said she didn't show up for work and wanted to know if I could tell them where she was. Obviously, I didn't share the fact she stood me up.”

Taking a final puff of his cigarette, Aaron tossed it out the window. "Think Eddie got to her?” he asked.

“Don't know, don't care,” Matthew growled. “I'll do whatever it takes to get to Pearce, even if it means Danika Marten ends up collateral damage.”

Aaron dug his heel into the floor. Or maybe you don't want any witnesses, including me.  He reached over and cranked the car's heater up then blew on his hands to warm them. “Temperature's dropped since we hit this patch of fog. It feels like the inside of a freezer in here,” he said. “Some kind of weird shit's going down.” His eyes darted from one side of the road to the other. “Makes me wonder....”

“Makes you wonder what?” Matthew snapped.

Brushing cigarette ash from his pant leg, Aaron stared straight ahead. “Our snitch over at the Sheriff's Department claims at least two of the case detectives believe the killer's a devil worshiper. They've reported hearing and seeing things they can't explain.”

Matthew slammed his palm against the wheel. “Devil, my ass. Pearce is a homegrown, bona fide maniac who blames my father for the actions of a pervert priest,” he spat out.

“Hey, I happen to agree with you,” Aaron soothed. Gesturing out the window, he added, “Stay focused and slow down! You're getting too close to that cop."

The unmistakable rumble of a souped-up engine drowned out Matthew's reply. A blur of black roared past and inserted itself between Matthew and Jana. Despite the opportunity to pass on a straight stretch, the vehicle only slowed, maintaining its dangerous game.

"Asshole," Matthew cursed as he was forced to fall back even further.

Aaron leaned into the dashboard for a closer look. The car's dark windows kept the driver anonymous, and something else made his pulse bang against his temple: No license plate.

“Matthew turn around and get the hell out of here,” he urged. But Matthew appeared transfixed by the unfolding drama. 

 “I think he intends to run her off the road," he said. 

“Sonofabitch, will you look at that?” Aaron shook his head in disbelief of what he, too, was seeing.

The truck rammed itself into the back end of the patrol car, roared past and disappeared. 

Instead of smashing into the bridge head-on, the front end of Jana's car grazed the bridge as it sailed out over the river. Stopping in mid-air, it began to spin. Four dark, roiling masses seemed to be controlling the speed.

“We gotta do something,” Aaron offered without enthusiasm.

“Wait,” Matthew ordered. He pointed to where a blazing sword appeared in the sky above the car. His voice dropped to a whisper, “How is that possible?”

The sword came down, seeming to split the car in two. In its wake, a net of shimmering gold spread out to enfold the car in a protective light. The black spheres dashed themselves against the net over and over, and with every assault it burned brighter. Finally, on a wave of raucous screeching, they coalesced and shot straight up. With their departure, the car levitated to a field on the other side of the river, landing with a gentle thud. The net lifted as if blown by a breath, and winked out.

Aaron, in a total panic, tried to grab the wheel of the car. “Get me the hell out of here,” he yelled.

Matthew lashed out with the back of his hand, grazing the other man's cheek. “Pull it together,” he warned. Continuing across the bridge, he brought the car to a stop at the side of the road.

He grabbed a handful of Aaron's jacket and pulled him close. “I'm going down to see if they're hurt. Take off and you won't get a cent from me. Clear?”

Aaron yanked his jacket free. “I'm not staying in this car alone.” He shoved open the car door so hard it rocked on its hinges. Kicking it shut with his foot, he turned to see Matthew heading down the slope.

Retrieving a colt mustang from his pocket and wrapping a fist around the cold metal, he hurried to catch up with his boss.

Author Notes Cast of Characters:
Tony Buday: Sioux Shaman and Jana Burke's uncle.
Matthew Buell: Son of murder victim, Fritz Buell.
Jana Burke: Homicide detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's department and member of the Sioux Nation.
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church
Monsignor Lewis Flaherty: Pedophile priest.
Danika Marten: Kidnapped television anchor.
Aaron Noff: Private Investigator hired by Matthew Buell.

Sioux terms:
Cephi (Flesh)


Thanks, once again, to dragifortuna for use of the excellent accompanying artwork!


Chapter 63
Witko Moon

By Writingfundimension

PREVIOUSLY:

The truck rammed itself into the back end of the patrol car, roared past and disappeared.

Instead of smashing into the bridge head-on, the front end of Jana's car grazed its surface as it sailed out over the river. Stopping in mid-air, it began to spin. Four dark, roiling masses seemed to be controlling the speed.

"We gotta do something," Aaron offered without enthusiasm.

"Wait," Matthew ordered. He pointed to where a blazing sword appeared in the sky above the car. His voice dropped to a whisper, "How is that possible?"

The sword came down, seeming to split the car in two. In its wake, a net of shimmering gold spread out to enfold the car in a protective light. The black spheres dashed themselves against the net over and over, but with every assault it only became brighter. Finally, on a wave of raucious screeching, they coalesced and shot straight up.With their departure, the car levitated to a field on the other side of the river, landing with a gentle thud. The net lifted as if blown by a breath, and winked out.

**********


Matthew Buell steeled himself for the probability of injury as he rushed toward the downed patrol car. The car faced the river, its front tires pressed into the soft earth. There was no obvious external damage, but he'd seen it spinning and doubted its occupants were as lucky. Do I want to wait around for help to arrive and risk losing my chance to get to that bastard Pearce? If I stay, how do I explain what just happened?

Detective Jana Burke was unfolding herself from the car's interior when Matthew arrived. He observed her swing her legs outward, twist to grab the roof and pull herself upright. She pressed a fist against her lower spine, raising suspicion she'd injured her back. He was about to ask her condition, when Aaron Noff stumbled into him, pushing him forward.

Intent on regaining his footing, Matthew didn't see Jana raise her service weapon. He was surprised by her action and threw up his hands in response. He kept his voice calm, “We saw what happened back there, Detective. You wouldn't shoot good Samaritans?”

“If you're here to help, why is there a gun trained on me?"

Matthew turned on his P.I. and seeing Aaron's colt, he ordered, “Put it away.”

Aaron kept his hand on the gun, looking from his boss to Jana and back again. “Hey, I didn't know what to expect. That shit going down back there was insane. Just taking precautions, is all.”

Matthew's voice rose. “I swear I'm gonna kick your ass, here and now, if you don't put that gun back in your pocket.”

“I'd suggest you listen to your friend,” Jana said over the top of her drawn weapon.

Aaron cursed under his breath, then shoved the colt back into his jacket. Looking only at Matthew, he said, “Happy now?”

Father Brian's voice floated out from inside the patrol car, penetrating the exterior tension.

“Can you help me untangle my seat belt, Jana? It's cutting into my arm.”

“Stay where you are, Father. You may be injured and not realize it. Let me take a look first.”

Matthew watched her clear a path through weeds and over soft, uneven ground. She pulled the driver's side door open and dipped her head below his line of sight. Positioning himself on the driver's side seat, he readied himself to offer help. Except for a tangled seat belt, the car's interior was undisturbed. Strange, the airbags didn't deploy.

Jana asked the priest,"Do you feel any pain?"

“I'm not hurt. The Lord has sent an angel to save us. Don't you see it's a sign?” He grabbed Matthew's wrist and pleaded, "Your father was a good man.. a good Catholic. You were raised Catholic, too, and can attest to these things. Tell Jana what you saw!”

Matthew wavered. The joy in the priest's eyes drew him in, calling him to speak of a miracle he'd witnessed. But the hatred he'd nursed for weeks won in the end. He nodded in Jana's direction and said, “She was driving too fast and lost control of the car. That's what I saw.”

He backed out and stood facing Jana across the roof. “It looks like all you need is a tow truck. Your car hasn't sustained any damage, so I'm sure you can radio for help. I've got urgent business to attend to, so I'll be leaving you now.”

“I'm commandeering your car,” she said.

“The fuck you are.”

“I have the right to commandeer any vehicle in order to apprehend a suspect. Isn't that what you're doing out here on the Reservation, Mr. Buel -- trying to get to Edward Pearce first?”

“You people have botched this case from the beginning.” His eyes bulged with hatred. “The only justice my father is going to get will have to come through me.” He reached into his back pocket and, quicker than the twitch of a cat's whisker, tossed his car keys into Aaron's waiting hands. “You know what to do.”

Aaron's progress was aborted by one hundred and eighty pounds of muscle and determination hitting him in the chest, knocking him flat. He was then rolled onto his stomach and a firm knee shoved against his kidney. “Don't move, asshole,” ordered a male voice.

Jana's voice wavered, "Rick, where'd you come from?"

"Sheriff Oleson asked me to head out to your Uncle Tony's house in advance of the team and see what you were up to. He was concerned that you hadn't checked in with him. I saw a car abandoned by the side of the road and decided to check." 

With a firm hold on Aaron's arms, Rick pulled him to a kneeling position. "Good thing I came along when I did," he added. "Should I cuff him?”

“Arrest my employee,” Matthew warned, “and you'll be looking at a lawsuit. I've got the money and influence to do major damage to your Sheriff's re-election plans.”

Father Brian leaned across the seat and begged, “Please, everyone. Stop this arguing. Don't you understand the devil knows I'm coming? Tony will bear the brunt of its anger.”

“You're right.” Jana reached down for his hand and helped him from the car.

Matthew glared at the two of them as they passed. His fists were balled and his neck rigid. This isn't happening. I will not be stopped.

He watched Jana stop in front of the Mexican cop, who still had a solid grip on his employee. She whisked the gun from Aaron's pocket and scooped up the keys from the ground where they'd dropped during the scuffle. “You can't do this,” Matthew bellowed.

“Oh, but I can, Mr. Buell. You've demonstrated a determination to interfere with a murder investigation, even suggesting that you will kill the suspect before he can be taken into custody. Father Brian can attest to your statements, right Father?”

“That is correct, Detective.”

Rick released Aaron's arms and gave him a shove in the direction of Matthew. The two men watched as Jana and Rick discussed her next move. Matthew heard Rick's voice rise and guessed he wasn't happy with the plan. Jana put up her hands to signal the discussion was done and headed up the slope with Father Brian in tow.

“Five minutes, Jana, then I'm calling it in,” Rick yelled as she disappeared over the rise.

Matthew crossed his arms and leaned into the car, waiting for Rick to approach. He took in the flushed face and aggressive stance.

“Your 50K is hanging on a slim thread right now, Morales,” he warned. “Get me wheels or you can kiss your career, and the money, Adios.”

“Let me think.” Rick snapped. He rubbed the back of his neck while his eyes darted from side to side, working up a plan of action.

“Noff, hot wires your car after roughing me up to make it look like I was taken off guard.” He stabbed the area with is finger. “Once you're gone, I'll call it in over the scanner. It's the best we've got right now.”

Matthew neither spoke nor moved for a full minute. His lips formed a wicked grin. 

“You heard the man, Aaron.”

                                                                   ***

Jana spoke into her cell phone, “Ty, I'm using an unmarked. There's been a... complication. I'll fill you in later.”

“Jake and I have narrowed down Tony's location. He's at the family's hunting lodge. I'm going to head over there right now. You've got Father Brian with you?”

“Affirmative. We're approximately fifteen minutes out.” She heard his breath release. "We have to bring the Feds into this. You know the rules.”

“Understood. You gonna make the call or should it come through me?"

“One of the agents is a friend. I'll make the call."

"Copy that."

Jana dialed the personal number of FBI profiler, Agent Dresden Stredwick. Waiting for the call to connect, she went over the statement of her long-time partner, Rick Morales. He claimed Derek sent him ahead of our department Task Force Team. But Derek wouldn't do that knowing the FBI has the lead in crimes committed on a reservation. Why would Rick lie to me? Her heartbeat pounded in her ears. Are you the Department's traitor?

Author Notes Cast of Characters:
Matthew Buell: Wealthy son of murder victim, Fritz Buell
Jana Burke: Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church.
Ty Longacre: Officer for the Sioux Nation.
Rick Morales: Detective of Hispanic descent affiliated with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Aaron Noff: Matthew's Buell's employee.

Terms:
FBI: Federal Bureau of Investigation.
50K: Fifty thousand dollars.
PI: Private Investigator.

Sioux term:
Witko: Foolish

Thanks to dragifortuna for the excellent arwork: Guess who is watching you...


Chapter 64
Akicita Moon

By Writingfundimension

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

PREVIOUSLY:

A dark shape materialized through the door in the middle of the hallway. Danika watched it, transfixed, as it coalesced into a monstrous-sized dog. It's bulging eyes kept her rooted to the spot. She opened her mouth to scream, but there was only an incongruous sound -- the animal rumbling with satisfaction.

Her bladder let loose, and Danika felt a hot stream of urine running down her leg. Fear drummed the back of her eyeballs and she swallowed against the bitter bite of it. Her whimpering drew the creature closer. She cringed against its assault. Then it did something possible only in nightmares. It stopped at her feet, sat back on its haunches and spoke, "I've come to complete our bargain, Danika Marten -- to make you famous and take your soul back to hell with me."

**********


Danika Marten's brain struggled to comprehend her situation even as it assessed her physical state. Her tongue felt like a brick lying between her gums, and her throat ached with each indrawn breath. Discharged fluid crusted the corners of her eyelids, preventing full movement of the tender flesh. Through slitted lids, she could see nothing past the end of her bare feet.

She sensed she was bound to a soft surface, but had no idea where she was or how long she'd been unconscious. Attempting to roll onto her side, she gasped as if a red hot iron had been placed atop her bones. Pain radiated upwards from her left ankle, and she groaned with the realization it was likely broken, making her situation all the more perilous.

Her recurring nightmare usually stopped at this point, leaving her panting and immobile in the safety of her bed, cocooned in the elegance with which she surrounded herself. But not this time. The nightmare had broken through its imposed chains. Her life was up for grabs.

Danika struggled to pull together the shreds of her sanity. Think, girl. What do you remember?

Images like water bubbles struggled to the surface and popped just as she grasped them. Panic made a brief bid for control, but Danika gave no ground. She was of that strange breed of woman that looks like a sex kitten on the outside and is cold, carbon steel on the inside. She'd fought like a jackal bitch saving her brood to get to where she was in life. With every skirmish, every war won, she learned to detect outside danger. Her instincts told her the likely culprit, Jordan, wasn't capable of carrying through, let alone conceiving, such an elaborate revenge.

If not Jordan, then who...? Focus. What happened on the way to the car?

Reverting to a technique taught to her by a former colleague and war correspondent, Danika pictured herself behind the lens of a camera. Pacing her breathing put her into a witness mode, and she waited for the scene to come forward.

The painted dog! Yes, when I turned, it lunged at me. I felt the prick of a needle and then nothing. Someone used a dog to distract me while they approached from behind and shoved that syringe in my neck. Could it be the serial killer? Makes crazy sense. But what does he want from me?

To her left, a rush of cold, damp air -- smelling of fresh-dug earth -- set her shivering.

Negotiate. Convince the man he needs you – needs your money. Screw the apartment in Paris. Danika forced her limbs to relax. Patience... he's gotta check on you. When he does, you'll be ready for him.

Rustling announced a presence in the room. A sickening sulfuric odor made her stomach lurch.

“Ah, the delectable Miss Marten has returned to the land of the living. At least for now.” The speaker's voice was thick, yet keen as the prolonged screeching of an owl, making her ear drums ache as though flogged.

A scorching breath raked the length of her cheek followed by a tongue that ripped through her skin. “Mm. You taste --- dare I say it --- divine.”

Danika whimpered under the fresh assault of pain. Memory of a painted beast and its hideous smile rose up.

Impossible. Dogs can't speak. Pearce is a ventriloquist.

Harsh laughter from every corner of the room mocked her thoughts.

“Pearce is my servant and does not speak for me,” she heard. “Just as you are my servant, though you have yet to comprehend that fact.”

“Listen. I have money. Lots of money.” She turned in the direction of the voice. “I'll pay whatever you ask. I'll drop out of sight and never tell a living soul what's happened here.”

A drawn-out growl, sending shivers along her spine, was the only reply.

Danika's thoughts raced. Maybe he wants me to write about his crimes. Yes... that's it. I'll promise him fame. It's what every serial killer craves.

“You disappoint me, Miss Marten. I took you to be one of those people capable of thinking outside the box.”

Damn the pain! Danika reared up as far as her bindings would allow. “You rat bastard. Put a gun in my hand and we'll see how far out of the box I can go.”

“Now that's my girl. As good on your feet as you are on your back.” Danika stiffened. The voice had changed to one she knew to be silenced long ago. A bloated face with eyes of ice floated just above her chest. Oh my God, no!

“Carissa? How is it possible – I mean I heard you'd... ah... died. I meant to come to the funeral, really I did. But I had this gig...”

“Save it. You can tell me all 'bout it when you get here. And, hey, I'm not alone. My son... the one you played to get to me? He's here, too, and anxious to get caught up. We be all square y'know. Tyrone showed me how the whole deal went down. Showed me how you forced him into rehab so he'd get so desperate for drugs, he'd do anything you said. Even butcher his mother.”

“I had nothing to do with that. I'll swear it on a stack of Bibles.”

A rich-throated laugh tickled the hairs on her neck. “Ain't no Bibles where you be goin' Princess. But Tyrone... he gonna show you what they is plenty of.”

Danika sobbed her relief when the face disappeared and the room went silent. Then, agony beyond anything she imagined, forced her to scream over and over as the soles of her feet melted beneath a wave of searing heat.

                                                                      ***

Tribal policeman Ty Longacre approached his deputy's car with practiced stealth. Jake jumped when he tapped on his window, recovered his wits and rolled down the window.

“I about crapped my pants, Ty. You could've given me some warning.”

“Man up, Jake. The Feds are on their way, so we have to do what we can to assess the situation before they get here and commandeer jurisdiction.”

“Why don't we just wait for them? There's something awful happening here. My whole body is tingling, and that only happens when I'm around wosiche.”

Ty shoved an object through the window and Jake groaned when he saw what it was. “A BP vest? Is it even the right size?”

“It's a precaution. Now, follow me. And stop smoking those damned cigarettes. I could smell you from thirty feet away.”

“Sorry." Jake exited the car and hurried to catch up with his much thinner boss. " Where we headin' anyway?”

“Used to be a deer stand south of the cabin. It's not been kept up, but it will provide good enough cover. We can observe the property from there.”

Ty winced with every crunch made by his partner's heavy footfall. He kept his eyes moving and his senses on high alert. The devil dog was capable of bringing down one of them. A bullet-proof vest would provide zero protection against the beast's malevolence. But he had no intention of alarming Jake any further with that detail. What did bother him was how easily they'd been able to penetrate the property's perimeter.

Where the hell is that dog? He knows we're here. I'd bet the ranch on it.

His partner cried out as he stepped in a gopher hole and pitched forward.

“For Christ's sake, Jake. Are you trying to get us killed?” Ty hissed.

He grabbed the other man's arm and pulled him to his feet. When he saw the shame his harsh words caused, he softened his voice, “Should've warned you about the gopher holes. The woods are filthy with them. Are you hurt?”

“Just my pride.”

“We're close now.”

They skirted a clump of red pines and, as predicted, could see the wooden platform well up off the ground.

“Ty, I'm not sure I can climb up that far. Plus, it doesn't look like it will hold the weight of both of us."

“It doesn't need to. You're going to do surveillance from up there while I scout the situation at the cabin.”

“That's crazy ass stupid. You don't know how many people – with God knows what kind of assault weapons – are holed up in that house.” He grabbed Ty's shirt and pulled him close. “Wait for the Feds, Bro.”

Ty gave him a gentle shove backwards. “Can't wait. A good man is in that cabin. Someone our tribe honors and values. I'm not willing to put his life in the hands of people who don't care if one old man dies in order to bring down a serial killer.”

He pointed to the vest Jake carried under his arm. “Put that on and get yourself up that tree. No matter what you hear, stay put until back-up arrives.”

Halfway up the sloping trail, Ty froze as the screams of a woman in extreme agony shattered the forest's calm.

Author Notes Cast of Characters:

Jake Bailey: Sioux Tribal Auxiliary Policeman.
Ty Longacre: Sioux Tribal Policeman.
Danika Marten: Television News Anchor.
Edward Pearce: Serial killer.

Terms:

BP: Bullet Proof.
FEDS: Employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Filthy: Slang for thick.
Gopher: Alternately known as a woodchuck. Knows for digging holes deep into the ground for their burrows.

Sioux Term:

Akicita: Soldier
Wosiche: Those with evil intentions.

Thank you so much avmurray for the splendid artwork: Completely surreal.


Chapter 65
Sota Moon, Part 1

By Writingfundimension

"While it would undoubtedly be more convenient for a demon not to possess anyone, he does this for one simple reason: to cause suffering. Remember: demons seek to make people suffer, and with possession they can accomplish this in a very direct way."

-- Father Jose Antonio Fortea, Official Exorcist of the Catholic Church



******

Edward Pearce grunted with every blow of his shovel's blade. The taproot impeding his progress was the size of a man's fist and resisted his attempts to hack through its center, forcing him to go in search of a better tool. He dug his fingers into the solid ground above and pulled himself out of the hole he'd been digging.

The beast had been clear about the hole's dimensions: 6x6x6. The significance of the number failed to penetrate the growing confusion in his mind. He'd conceded control of their situation without the slightest protest. Though he suspected the grave would hold his body as well as three others, it didn't matter. He remained fixated on the promised afterlife reward for his unquestioning service to evil: being with his lover, Billy, for eternity.

He reasoned that Billy's soul was damned to hell for the act of suicide. It was a mortal sin, he'd been taught, regardless of the circumstances of mental duress. Though their abuser was surely in the same place, it didn't matter. Edward believed his benefactor would see to it that he and Billy were left alone.

Moving to a pile of tools lying on the grass, he bent in search of a saw. The woman's screams gave him a moment's pause before he returned to his task. Bitch has it coming to her. Her kind's the reason Billy's dead.

Digging to the bottom of the pile, he felt the sharp-toothed edge of a saw. Shoving the rest of the tools aside, Eddie grasped its handle and stood. A blue jay perched on a tree stump screeched its alarm and flew in a direct line towards his head, turning at the last second to avoid collision.

Goose pimples rose on his arms. Someone's out there. I feel them watching me. He scanned the woods, but spotted nothing unusual. The whole area had the eerie feel of a cemetery at midnight.

A strong scent of cologne replaced that of upturned earth and drew his immediate attention. It can't be... Billy's favorite... Giorgio Armani.

He whirled about, frantic to find the origin of the smell. Billy, are you here?

From out of the woods, a funnel-shaped mist approached. It hovered above the hole. Eddie dropped to his knees and brought his hands up in supplication. From its center emerged the apparition of a warrior. Though it had Billy's face, its body was mature and powerfully muscled. The being was clad in breech cloth with leather leggings. A single braid tied with quillwork strips draped his shoulder and bare chest.

The eyes, Billy's eyes, blazed with contempt. There was no trace of love or warmth in them. Eddie was forced to look away from the light of truth he'd forsaken to appease his blood lust. Pain roared through his body as if it approached the surface of the sun. This is what the damned feel, he thought.

I did it for you, Billy. I've never loved anyone else. Please, tell me you understand?”

Eddie crawled closer to the apparition, groveling before it.

You swore you'd never become like the monster that raped us, Eddie. You've become something far worse. Where you go... you go alone. I am not in that place.

What are you saying, Billy? Our love was the reason for all of it. You can't abandon me now?

As the apparition began to fade, Eddie reached out to touch, one last time, the object of his desire...”

“Edward Pearce, you are under arrest for the murders of Debra Padget and Fritz Buell. Put your hands up where I can see them,” a voice from behind commanded.

The instinct for self-preservation kicked in, and Eddie pulled the gun from his waist. He rolled and got off three quick shots, hitting Ty Longacre in the thigh. The Tribal policeman returned fire. His second shot found its mark between Eddie's eyes.

His last sensation was a weightless falling and then he collapsed like a burned-up twig.

******

“The cabin's down at the end of this lane, Father. We need to go by foot from here.”

The priest had been utterly still and silent during the remainder of their ride. Jana assumed he was preparing himself for what he faced ahead. His blank expression was unexpected.

“Did you hear me, Father? We need to get moving!”

“Yes, Detective, I hear you. But I will not be going with you.

“What the hell are you talking about?"

“Edward Pearce is dead. Your uncle needs to be your priority now.”

“How can you possibly know that?”

“God has given me a vision. My part in this drama is just beginning.”

Jana grabbed the priest's arm, shaking it with vehemence. “You are going with me. If you resist, I will shoot you. Bet on it."

"You won't do that, Detective. It's not in your nature to shoot an unarmed man. Besides, you'll soon find out that I'm telling you the truth.”

He gave her a crooked smile, and reached out to touch her hand. “This is my destiny, Jana. You could no more stop these events than you could hold back a tornado. The devil is a shape shifter by nature. Remember that. It takes the weak and suffering and promises to make their lives perfect. I've dedicated my life to glorifying the risen Christ. Now, I have the opportunity to do that in a concrete way. With the Savior's help, that is exactly what I intend to do.”

Clutching his worn leather valise to his chest, he tipped a finger in salute and exited the car.

She made no move to stop him. His face had reflected the light of a soul approaching peace. Watching his back as it disappeared into the shadows, she whispered, “May the Ancestors protect you, Father Brian.”

******

Ty looked down at the body of Edward Pearce. He shoved the torso with the toe of his boot and, when there was no sign of movement, he bent to confirm the serial killer was dead. I hope you rot in hell.

Ignoring his own wound, he rushed the cabin's front entrance and kicked it in. He passed through a trash-strewn kitchen on his way to the back of the house.The first door he came to was closed. He turned the knob and pushed. The door gave way to the scene of a man gagged and bound to a bed. His heart lifted when he recognized Tony Buday. The elder's skin was gray and Ty feared he might have died from shock. He pressed his hand to Tony's wrist and felt the erratic rise and fall of his pulse. Thank God.

Ty removed the gag and patted Tony's cheeks, but there was no eye movement. A sound came from nearby – the creak of a footfall on the warped, wooden floors. The only place to hide was behind the door, and he quickly moved in that direction.   

Whoever it was, they were moving with equal stealth. He pulled as far back into the shadows as he could, watching and waiting.

He heard a gasp at the same time he saw the tan uniform.

Detective Jana Burke dropped beside her Uncle and was rubbing his hands and face when she reacted to his presence. The adrenaline rush had worn off and Ty was in pain from his wound. He limped to where she knelt and said, “His pulse is erratic, but he's alive. We need to get him to the hospital right now.”

“I saw the body. Pearce do that to you?”

“Yeah, the mangy fuck started firing as soon as I called him out. Doesn't matter, this will heal, though it hurts like hell right now.”

“We still have one unaccounted for, Ty. Danika Marten was kidnapped by Edward Pearce. She has to be somewhere in this house.”

"The television news anchor? She's here. Though what state she's in I can't imagine. I heard a woman screaming earlier. I'll check the rest of the house while you call for an ambulance.”

“Have you seen the hound yet?”

“Shit, I'd forgotten all about that. Strange, there's been no trace of him. I would've expected it to be on guard either outside or here in the house.”

“Its absence has me worried. Father Brian took off on me when we got to the house. He said he had to go on alone. And he knew that Edward Pearce was dead.”

“What?” How could he know that?”

“Ty, I got a really bad feeling. See if Danika Martin's in the other bedroom,” she urged.

He quickly checked the other rooms and found where the woman must have been kept. The bedding was soiled and the room reeked of urine and burnt flesh. On a table was an object Ty recognized.

Ty dreaded the news he had for Jana. He re-entered the bedroom where she was just finishing her 911 call.

“Danika Marten is gone. There's a blood trail leading out the back door. I found something else in the room. Do you understand the meaning of this, Jana?” Ty opened his hand so she could see the object resting in his palm.”

Tears filled her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. “It's Rick's shield. Ty. My God, that's who Father Brian's gone after.”


~~ to be continued ~~

 

     
                                                                                   

Author Notes Cast of Characters:

Tony Buday: Sioux Tribal Shaman and Jana Burke's Uncle.
Detective Jana Burke: Homicide detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department and member of the Sioux Nation.
Father Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church
Billy Longacre: Jana Burke's Uncle who committed suicide following molestation by a Catholic priest and the object of Edward's Pearce's sexual fantasies.
Ty Longacre: Sioux Tribal policeman and Jana's cousin.
Danika Marten: Television News Anchor
Detective Rick Morales: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department and Jana's partner.

Sioux Term:

Sota: Smoke

Other Terms:
666: The Mark of the Beast as found in the Book of Revelation.
Giorgio Armani: A popular brand of men's cologne.



Thanks to AvMurray for use of her terrific artwork: Wasp on Water.

Edward Pearce: Serial Killer


Chapter 66
Sota Moon, Part Two

By Writingfundimension

'It is commonly believed that a priest must be holy and virtuous to be an exorcist, and this is undoubtedly ideal; the more virtuous he is, the better. But strictly speaking, any priest can perform the rite of exorcism. Even priests who are not the most edifying can expel demons... though the exorcism may take longer."

-- Father Jose Antonio Fortea, Exorcist for the Catholic Church  

**********


Jake pulled himself upwards one agonizing branch at a time. It was clear Ty's comments about his belly roll approaching the size of a tire was more than harmless banter. Too much fry bread drenched in honey. It's back to the gym.

When he grabbed hold of the metal ribbing of the tree stand, it creaked. The surface was covered with rust, as was the bench meant to hold his full weight. He looked back at the ground.

If I fall from here, there are broken bones in my future.

Farther up the tree, two branches merged and looped. Appears sturdy with enough leaves to provide good cover. Shimmying his way to a seated position, Jake waited for his rapid pulse to subside. Being an avid bird-watcher, he kept a pair of compact binoculars in his utility belt. Panning the woods through the lenses, he homed in on the cabin, looking for any signs of movement. Where are you Pearce?

A flash of movement at one of the windows drew his eye. Shit! Ty wasn't lying to me.

The painted dog's eyes drew him in despite a raging urge to look away. Its muzzle contorted into a sinister smile, and Jake's brain buzzed with alarm. A disembodied metallic voice urged, “Get in your car and drive back to your safe life. No need for you to die today.”

The binoculars slipped from his hands and landed against his chest thanks to the leather strap around his neck. Jake fell forward and curled his arms around the branch to steady his violent shaking.

The Elders weren't lying. The devil dog is real and capable of casting spells.

A vision of himself, throat torn and life-blood soaking into the ground beneath his body, compounded his fear. What should I do? I've got a three-year old son to consider.

“Leave while you can, fat boy,” the voice jeered.

The sound of three shots followed by two more shattered the forest calm. Jake's concern for his partner and best friend, Ty, over-rode superstition.

Should I pinpoint the origin of the gunfire from my vantage point or haul ass and find out first hand?

Deciding on the latter course of action, he estimated the distance to the ground was too high for a simple drop, so he slid backwards along the limb's length while running worse-case scenarios through his mind. I hope Ty was at the delivery end of those bullets.

He froze when he heard something crash through the trees. A Latino male with a body slung over his shoulder stumbled along the uneven terrain. Jake tucked his feet up toward his knees to avoid detection. Am I looking at Edward Pearce's accomplice? Maybe the bastard's dead, forcing his partner to move to a different location.

The stranger paused long enough to shift the weight of his load before continuing west. Jake's relief was short-lived. In his bones, he felt a bad situation waited for him at the cabin. Hurrying in its direction, he pressed his memory for where the man could be headed.

There's no dwellings on that part of the reservation because of the...

Jake halted mid-step. Retrieving a map, he dropped to one knee and spread the paper on the ground. It showed every reservation landmark. He quickly found his current location, then followed a blue line marking a long-abandoned road. Suspicion confirmed, Jake shoved the map back into his belt and sprinted toward the cabin.

My being in that tree is a godsend 'cause I know where the guy is headed: old Cayuna Mine.

                                                                   ***

 

Father Brian had a vision in his mind of where he needed to go. It was a place hewn out of the earth. In his mind's eye, he saw timbers holding up the walls and tunnels without light. A location both isolated and formidable.

I know there are abandoned mines throughout central Minnesota, but I don't remember any of them being this close to the reservation. Yet, that's what I keep seeing.

He stopped to wipe the sweat from his face. Thick air mixed with the smell of fetid vegetation weighed heavy on his chest, adding to his mounting anxiety. He laid his valise at the base of a tree and leaned into the trunk. Think, Brian. Did Tony ever mention anything about an old abandoned mine?

An urgent sense of danger caused a mental block. Brian slapped his forehead as if the blow would knock something loose. So much riding on me right now. What if I fail?

“God cares nothing for you, Father. No more than he cared to show your own mother mercy. He deals in absolutes. Suicide equals hell. Just ask your mother. She's here with me, you know.”

The priest refused to face the source of the voice. He knew looking into a demon's eyes could be fatal. But he couldn't deny his heart's pounding at the mention of his mother's fate. It was an area of his life where God was not welcome.

My mother was mentally ill at the time. I refuse to accept such harsh judgement.

“I agree, Father! I've said all along a truly loving Father would never demand that his children suffer. Humans come to me because I promise to fulfill their deepest desires. If you let me, I can do the same for you. Think of being with your mother again. I can see to that, you know. Yes.. I, too, can raise the dead.”

Dropping to his knees and burying his face in his hands, Brian's mind reeled with a sudden, sure knowing. My bitterness contaminates me.

Inhuman shrieks battered his skull. “Come join me, Father. There's always room in my ranks for a smart guy like you.”

I will not forsake my vows. Covering his head with his arms, the beleaguered cleric prayed, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”

The shrieking took on a desperate tone at the mention of Jesus. But for Brian, a light uncoiled itself in the center of his mind. Though but a pinpoint, it carried the breath of holiness.

Adonai leads me home.

A wind set the tree tops flailing and slammed him into the trunk. Bark, leaves and debris pelted him. Brian fell sideways, dazed and bleeding from a cut on his cheek. An arm's length away, the roots of a fifty-foot cedar lifted up out of the ground and whipped about like snakes in a mating frenzy. Severed of its security, the trunk toppled forward.

Brian closed his eyes and prayed, “Jesus, forgive my sins against you and bring me into your light.”

He felt the pressure of teeth against his thigh and the sensation of being pulled along the ground.  Where he'd lain, a dagger-sharp limb pierced the ground. His body trembled with the realization he'd faced certain death. Looking around, Brian spotted his savior.

“Wasu! What are you doing so far from home? Have you come to find Tony?

The hound bayed at the mention of his master's name and danced in a circle as if chasing his own tail.

Brian sat up and reached for him, but Wasu backed away from his touch. “You know me boy. I just want to hug you for saving me.” The dog continued to retreat.

Something's different. His fur... it's glowing. Then Brian recalled Jana's statement that Wasu had been murdered, his body buried.

An Angelic bloodhound! Just what I need right now.

Brian rose first to a kneeling position to test his steadiness, then pulled himself upright. He searched the area for his valise, and found it untouched some ten feet away.

“Wasu, take me to where I'm needed.”

The hound leaped into motion, and Brian hurried to keep up as they entered an area of the reservation called Ghostland.

Author Notes Cast of Characters:

Adonai: Hebrew name for God.
Jake Bailey: Sioux Tribal policeman.
Tony Buday: Sioux Shaman and Uncle of Jana Burke kidnapped by serial killer, Edward Pearce.
Jane Burke: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department and member of the Sioux Nation.
Brian DeShano: Pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church.
Ty Longacre: Sioux Tribal Policeman.
Edward Pearce: Serial Killer.
Wasu: Tony Buday's bloodhound.

Sioux Term:

Fry Bread: Indian donut (and much more!)
Sota: Smoke

Thank you MoonWillow for your awesome artwork: Unknown Presence.

Father Brian is reciting a portion of the main prayer of the Catholic Rosary.


Chapter 67
Ih'e Moon

By Writingfundimension

"IF TO DISBELIEVE IS TO BE DISARMED, THEN THE OPPOSITE IS TRUE."

-- MALACHI MARTIN, EXORCIST

**********

Agent Dresden Stredwick slid his finger along the surface of the map then stuck a pin into its surface. He addressed the man who stood at his side. “According to Jana, this is the location of her family's hunting cabin.”

“That's at the edge of the reservation which is both good and bad for us,” Sheriff Derek Oleson replied.

“How so?”

“It's sparsely populated. Which reduces concern for public safety. But it's also densely forested with limited access. Most of the secondary roads are little more than foot-paths.”

“This location is only accessible by foot?"

“Only been there once. If memory serves me, it's possible to get vehicles close to the house, but is that wise? We'll need at least two vehicles, not including the SWAT team, and we run the risk of spooking Pearce. Who knows what he'll do in a panicked state.”

“How far from the main road?”

“By my estimate, less than a mile.”

Agent Stredwick faced the remaining law enforcement personnel seated around the conference table. “The kidnapping of Danika Marten complicates this mission. We must proceed with extreme caution under the intense scrutiny of the press and do everything we can to prevent their interference.”

“You'd have better luck keeping flies off horse shit," Sheriff Oleson interjected.

Laughter eased the tension in the room.

A firm knock at the door brought the group to attention. Into the room strode three clean-shaved, muscular young men wearing black parkas with a golden SWAT logo. They oozed assurance as they circled around Agent Stredwick. He shook hands with each of them before making eye contact with the group.

“Everyone, let me introduce Agents Jarvis, Meteer and Racine. They've just arrived by helicopter from St. Paul and comprise our take-down team.” The three men nodded and stepped into the background.

Detective Skeets Epstein lifted his finger.

The FBI profiler nodded in his direction. “You have a question, Detective Epstein?”

“Do we have any idea of what Jana's intentions are in regards to her uncle? She's a team player, don't get me wrong. But her priority may be to save him no matter the cost to herself.”

Agent Stredwick signaled for the sheriff to answer the question.

“Jana knows bringing in Edward Pearce, preferably alive, is of tantamount importance, Skeets. She's also got Father Brian with her, so I would expect her to take his safety into consideration.”

Skeets persisted. “She's in the company of her cousin, right? He may have a different opinion on how this whole scenario should play out on his reservation.

Derek's cell phone vibrated. His pulse started to dance when he recognized the caller as Detective Burke. Did she forget a detail or has something gone wrong?

He caught Stredwick's eye and cocked his head in the direction of the hallway. Exiting the room, he moved to a quiet spot so as not to be overheard.

“Sheriff Oleson speaking.”

“Derek, thank God you answered. I can't give you all the details right now, but Edward Pearce is dead.”

“You take him down?”

“Ty attempted to arrest him. He received a shoulder wound before fatally shooting Pearce.”

“What about the hostages?”

“Derek, something unimaginable has happened.”

His gut twisted with foreboding. “Tell me.”

Rick... our Rick... he's the department mole. He got here ahead of us and he's on the run. He's taken Danika Marten for leverage is my guess.”

“Christ.  Are you sure?“

Yes. He was last seen heading in a westerly direction. Ty, Jake and myself have put our heads together, and we think his destination is an abandoned iron mine at the edge of the reservation.”

“What about Tony?”

“He's alive... barely. An ambulance is on its way.”

“I'm glad for you and for us. Danika Marten presents enough of a challenge. Any idea what kind of shape she's in?

“Not good. Ty heard a woman screaming earlier. We also found blood on the floor where Pearce was keeping her.”

“He's your partner, Jana. Have you got any idea at all why Rick is doing this?”

“Derek, I...” He heard an escaped sob.

“Sorry, Jana. That was unfair. I'm as shocked as you are.”

“Father Brian knew, Derek. He knew before I did that Edward Pearce was dead, that my uncle was safe. We were almost to the cabin when he made me stop the car and let him out. I didn't want to, but he said he had a soul to save. Do you think he was talking about Rick?”

“Rick's Catholic. I don't know... maybe... but that complicates things further.” I wish you hadn't let him leave.

“I'm heading to the old mine, Derek. I wanted to let you know. There's no use giving me an order to stay put.”

“Jana, the Feds have sent their best shooters. The team will err on the side of caution in dealing with a fellow cop. Don't make this situation more difficult than it needs to be.”

“Rick is more than a partner, Derek. You know what I'm talking about. I can't abandon him to whatever fate has planned. He might listen to me.”

“And he might be having some sort of psychotic break. Whatever his reasons, this will not end well for Rick. You don't have to save him, Jana.”

He could hear the sadness in her ragged reply, “You may be right, but my heart tells me I have to try.”

                                                            ******

Rick's head felt like a ripe melon ready to burst. With each step, the pain increased so that he saw the path through a haze of red. He smelled the beast's rank breath and felt its presence. A voice – its voice – told him when to turn and when to go straight. He followed in blind obedience despite a vague sense of anguish.

The woman moaned. Rick heard it as if from a spot in space, far above any human meaning. His focus was on reaching the mine.

Now that Pearce is dead, Buell won't have any reason to keep our deal. Danika Marten is my last bargaining chip.

As if responding to Rick's thoughts, Danika grasped the fabric of his shirt, clawing at the skin beneath. Rick staggered to the nearest tree. He threw Danika to the ground face down. When she tried to crawl away, he pressed a foot into the middle of her back.

“You leave me no choice,” Rick said as he brought a vial to her nose. He watched until she grew still. A sliver of sanity in his mind urged him to leave her there. To run as far and as fast as he could from that place. It's too late.

“Coward,” the beast's voice jeered from where it circled just beyond the edge of his vision. “Your hop-head sister is going to die. She's got it all planned. An overdose and adios, hermano.”

Rick grabbed the sides of his head and screamed, “Shut up! I know what my sister needs. Just stick to giving me directions, you bastard.”

He lifted Danika Marten's limp body and hoisted it over his shoulder. The pain in his head was so bad he had to squint to keep out the relentless sunlight in order to keep moving ahead. Finally, he reached the mine entrance. Flanked by trees, it could easily have been missed.

Good cover. Entrance is low, making my height an advantage. It's on a rise which should make it easy to see anyone trying to approach..

He squeezed his way into the mine's interior, being careful not to brush the sides and cause a landslide of fractured shale and granite. Once inside, he laid Danika Marten out on a flat area and checked her pulse. The confirmation she was alive brought a grim smile to his lips.

Rick pulled his phone from his belt. Won't get a signal in here even if I had someone I could call. A clear picture of Jana's beautiful eyes rose in his mind. But in a flash, he saw her in the arms of her FBI boyfriend and anger smashed into his gut, leaving him gasping for breath. Jana, he thought, if only you'd given me a chance.

By degrees, the fugitive pulled himself together. His flashlight illuminated the dangers of the pit's floor. Rick stepped around abandoned mining implements, even shirts covered with bat dung. But it was the cache in the corner that gave him a burst of hope. Tucked away in a corner were crates of Trojan dynamite.

With renewed vigor, Rick gathered the sticks of dynamite and proceeded to stuff them into every orifice of the pit's entrance. Snipers don't give a rat's ass about me, but they won't take a chance on losing their prize: Miss Danika Marten.

Rick looked down at her body and felt no remorse. You aren't worthy of a hair off my sister's head.

He located a clean spot to sit upon and rested his head against the stone at his back. I'm ready. Bring it on, Mr. FBI.”

Exhaustion, then sleep, claimed Rick, rendering him unaware of the black-clad figure clutching a worn, leather valise who slipped from where he hid in the mine's dark interior.

Author Notes Cast:

Jana Burke: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Skeets Epstein: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Danika Marten: Kidnapped television anchor.
Rick Morales: Homicide Detective and Jane Burke's partner.
Derek Oleson: Sheriff of Granite Mountain.
Dresden Stredwick, III: FBI profiler.

Translations:
Adios: Goodbye
Hermanos: Brother
Ih'e: Sioux for stone

Thanks to AvMurray for the terrific accompanying artwork.


Chapter 68
Wotawe Moon, Part One

By Writingfundimension

"Malachi (Martin) and I were both in agreement about the vital point that possessed people are not evil; they are in conflict between good and evil. Were it not for such conflict we could not know there is such a thing as possession. It is the conflict that gives rise to the 'stigmata' of possession. Thoroughly evil people are not in conflict; they are not in pain or discomfort. There is no inner turmoil."

--- M. Scott Peck, Psychiatrist and Exorcist
     from his book: Glimpses of the Devil

**********

Previously:

"With renewed vigor, Rick gathered the sticks of dynamite and proceeded to stuff them into every orifice of the pit's entrance. Snipers don't give a rat's ass about me, but they won't take a chance on losing their prize: Miss Danika Marten.

Rick looked down at her body and felt no remorse. You aren't worthy of a hair off my sister's head.

He located a clean spot to sit and rest his head against the stone at his back. I'm ready. Bring it on, Mr. FBI.

Exhaustion, then sleep, claimed Rick, rendering him unaware of the black-clad figure clutching a worn leather valise who slipped from where he hid in the mine's interior. 

**********

 

Father Brian strained to keep his presence undetected until he could reach the kidnapped woman. The gloom in the cave deepened as the sun moved above the trees, casting shadows serving to cover law enforcement's approach. He had a flashlight in his bag, but hesitated to draw attention to his presence.

He'd watched with mounting anxiety as Rick Morales, moving in the manner of a reluctant puppet, rigged the entrance with sticks of dynamite. I know what's pulling your strings. I will not let that thing have you.

To his surprise, Rick did an about-face by collapsing onto the floor and falling asleep. I've seen this before. One minute the possessed is manic and the next, unconscious.

Seizing the opportunity, Brian moved out of the shadows, side-stepping hacked-out boulders and loose granite which threatened to twist an ankle or break a leg. The woman who'd been tossed aside like a bag of trash made no sound or movement. Brian feared she might be dead, but held the hope the detective was not, yet, a murderer.

I will appeal to the part of him that remains holy, no matter the possession. That sweet-faced altar boy who talked of being a priest exists.

Reaching Danika Marten's still form, he bent to check her pulse. Erratic. Skin clammy and cold. He surmised she was drugged, and, on top of the shock from her terrible wounds, he feared there was only a slim window of opportunity to save her life.

Brian removed his jacket and laid it across Danika's body. At least I can keep her warm.

He opened his satchel and found a vial of holy water. I'm sure she's dehydrated, but pouring water down her throat is too dangerous.

Instead, he transferred a few drops to the surface of her lips. His throat tightened at  Danika's weak groan in response to the simple act.

A consuming cold moved through him. He whirled to find a painted dog seated on Rick's chest. The demon's temporal facade. Eyes bulging into the shape of bullets, the beast tracked his movements with avaricious intelligence. Its voice was mellow, even gentrified.

“At last we meet, Father.”

“I know you lust for my soul, Demon. Rick is just another one of your misguided victims – a pawn. What a feather in your cap to claim the soul of a priest!”

“Don't flatter yourself. I don't need another priest in hell. You might say that, of late, I've more than met my quota.” An accompanying shrill laugh bit at Brian's conscience.

Sensing an advantage, the beast lunged, jaws snapping. “You whited sepulcher! Your own Master condemned you. You've held his body and blood in your hands, praised him with your tongue while hating him for abandoning your mommy.”

Brian knew that to argue with a demon was both pointless and treacherous. He bit back the repulsion he felt in meeting the demon's gaze, while reaching into his bag for the desired object. I've got maybe five seconds to do what I must.

Brandishing a crucifix, he advanced on the beast. The animal emitted a howl as the priest clamped the cross onto its back and pressed with all his might.

“Snatch from damnation and from this Devil, the one who was created in your image and likeness. Throw your terror over the Beast, who is destroying your child Rick.”

A kick to Brian's ribs sent him flying across the cave. Pain coursed through him, but he would not allow defeat. He dug his fingers into the stone wall, straining to stand. When he turned, Rick Morales's gun was up and aimed to blow the priest's brains out.

“Now you try to help me?" Rick screamed. "I came to you months ago, begging you to do something to help my sister, and all you could offer were your stinking prayers.”

“Don't punish others for my mistakes,” Brian pleaded. “There's still time to salvage this situation. Turn yourself in and let them get Danika to the hospital. For God's sake, Rick, please!”

The devil dog hopped around cackling so that the very air seemed filled with demonic glee. “Rick is here.. he's somewhere... he's nowhere. Balls to the walls, boys. Lies, flies, lies, flies...”

Rage, forged by the fires of impotence and grief, sent the priest hurtling towards Rick. Remarkably, the crucifix remained clutched in his fist, and when it made contact with the man's chest, he staggered backwards.

Behind the malevolent mask and dead eyes was a suffering, pleading soul.

"Hold on Rick! Don't give into the Beast. Fight... fight for your soul.”

Rick mouthed the words, “Help me...” and then the mask dropped back into place. Skin drawn taut across his cheekbones and the tight line of his lips gave him the appearance of a reptile.

Snatching the crucifix, he ground it beneath his boot. He raised his gun, and though his hand trembled, Brian had no doubt he was a dead man.

A flash of movement caught Brian's eye. Standing at the mouth of the mine was his only hope.

“Stop, Rick,” Jana Burke pleaded. “I'll do whatever it takes to make this right. We'll get through this together, Partner.” She extended her arms as a mother would in offering solace to her child.

The beast roared, “I'll destroy you, bitch,” and leaped at her.

Jana's compassion appeared to touch a chord in Rick. In a defiant act of courage, he turned his weapon on the dog. His first shot hit the beast in its hindquarters, but the animal just changed direction. It crawled up the stone backwards, its hideous grin taunting them all.

Brian screamed, “Jana, the walls are full of dynamite. Get back!”

Rick continued firing on the demon, his mind too far gone to understand the threat. The weapon's discharge set off a cluster of dynamite, sending rocks like death missiles in every direction and bringing down the ceiling of the shaft.

                                                             ******

Brian felt himself lifted above his body. An irresistible force pulled him through a dark tunnel with a point of light at its end. The light grew in size and intensity until nothing but radiance surrounded him. He felt warmth and peace fill his being.

My beautiful boy.” The words were that of his long-dead mother.

Tears coursed down his cheeks as he took in the beauty of her serene face. She stood at the head of a line of people waiting to greet him, but hers was the only one that mattered.

"They told me you couldn't be here," a sob broke through, "because of the suicide."

She pulled him to her chest and whispered in his ear, “I am real, don't doubt that, Son. Remember always.. every mistake is undone by Grace.”


 

Author Notes The clash is that moment, during the exorcism when the demon has come to surface and revealed its presence. It is then the priest and everyone else in the room is in the greatest danger.

Cast of Characters:

Jana Burke: Homicide Detective and Rick Morales's partner.
Brian DeShano: Catholic priest and pastor of St. Matilde's.
Danika Marten: Kidnapped News-Anchor
Rick Morales: Homicide Detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.

For Clarification:

Whited Sepulcher: A term used by Jesus Christ to refer to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
Holding the body and blood in your hands refers to the daily mass, required of every priest, and the moment of transformation of wine and bread into the real body and blood of Jesus Christ.
A google search reveals there is a good probability that dynamite can be detonated with a bullet.

Sioux term:

Wotawe: Consecrated armor

Thanks to Angelheart for the great artwork: All Hallows Evil.


Chapter 69
Wotawe Moon, Part Two

By Writingfundimension

"The possessed person is not responsible, morally speaking, for what he says and does during the periods of fury, when he loses consciousness and the second personality (that of the demonic) emerges."

--- Father Jose Antonio Fortea, Exorcist
     From: Interview With An Exorcist

**********


PREVIOUSLY:

Detective Rick Morales, under the influence of a demonic spirit, has taken the kidnapped news anchor, Danika Marten, to an abandoned mine shaft on the Sioux Reservation. Jana Burke races to the scene ahead of her back-up, in hopes of talking her partner into giving himself up to the authorities.

***********   


Ty could not dissuade Jana from intervening in the hostage situation. He argued against her action, using every bit of logic he could muster, including the high probability that she might get herself killed. He could tell by her blank expression and the way she leaned away from him that she merely waited for him to shut up so she could go ahead with her plan, but still he persisted.

“I agree with Derek. Whatever the reasons for Rick's deviance, only he can provide the answer, Jana. The reasonable and safest course of action is to wait for the back-up team. I'm no fan of the Feds, but this is the kind of situation they're trained to handle.”

“Are you done lecturing me?”

“Jana, you're not thinking straight. What's to be gained by going in there? The priest has already compromised the situation by going off on his own. And you're too close to Rick to be objective.” He turned his body to block her view of the shaft. “Loyalty to a fellow officer is admirable, but risking your life to prove a point...”

“Get out of my way, Ty.”

“Jana, for Christ's sake, Will you listen to me?”

“No more talking. I'm going in there.” She pointed to the bloodied tourniquet wrapped about his wounded thigh. “You need to be thinking about yourself right now. Find a safe spot to rest until help gets here. I can take care of myself.”

Ty squeezed the sides of his Stetson in frustration. “Is this wasicu worth it, Mitakuye?”

“He's family. Our people never turn their back on family.”

“That's really how you feel about him?” Ty searched her eyes and saw they were dark with grief. He didn't wait for her answer. Stepping aside, he gestured to the east side of the cave's entrance.

“I'll cover you as best I can. At least stay where I can see you.”

“I can't promise that. It sounds like a helluva fight is going on in there, and I'm going to follow my instincts on this one.”

He touched his forefinger to the brim of his hat in capitulation, and she brushed past him. He watched her back, feeling both pride and frustration in response to her stubbornness. Hell, it's exactly what I would do in her place. The grandfathers would be proud.

His leg felt like every nerve was on fire. Moving with as much speed as the injured limb would allow, Ty found a niche allowing him to keep his cousin in sight while remaining hidden from those inside the mine shaft.

She stopped just short of the entrance. Ty listened as she pleaded with Rick Morales to turn himself in, promising to remain by his side through the aftermath of his crimes.

Ty hadn't time to get his weapon into position before he heard gunfire from inside the cave and the priest yelling something about dynamite.

Alarm flooded his system with adrenaline. He rushed forward, hooking Jana's waist with his arm and diving for cover. She screamed, “Rick,” and tried to get up, but he kept her pinned to the ground for her own safety.

Overhead, a helicopter's blades could be heard in the distance. It touched down, raining further debris on the chaotic scene. Jana lay still, no longer struggling. Ty's face was inches from hers, lips pursed into a grim line. “You did all you could," he said.

Jana made no reply. She turned her face from his sight, and Ty knew that where she went in her mind, she went alone.

                                    ********

The members of the Task Force arrived on the heels of the helicopter, which turned out to have the assault team on board. When they were apprised of the situation, the lead agent asked to help with clean-up efforts.

“Put shovels in our hands and let us get to work,” Agent Racine insisted.

“That's a generous offer, but we've got lots of good help thanks to the men from the reservation. Along with the excavation people on their way over from Granite Mountain, we have the situation covered as best we can at this point.”

He put out his hand, and the other man took it. “I've been impressed with your professionalism, Agent Racine. You make me wish I'd stayed with the FBI.”

Derek turned away before seeing the look of surprise on the younger man's face. His eyes were on Jana.

She sat on a boulder with her head bowed. Derek steadied himself with a breath and crossed to where she sat. He knelt in front of her, reached across and grasped her hands. Though she pulled back, he kept a firm grip.

“Haven't you been through enough? You should be in that car with your cousin and on your way to the hospital right now.”

Her head shot up, and he could see her heart's agony playing out on her features.

“I'm not going anywhere until I know what's happened. Maybe Rick's lying under a pile of rubble, bleeding out... dying alone.”

“Stop torturing yourself with such thoughts. Rick isn't the only victim, here. Father Brian and Danika Marten need... deserve... our best efforts to save their lives, as unlikely as that may be.”

“We're through,” came a yell from the excavation site.

Derek jumped into action pulling Jana along with him. They rushed to the area where the man had been joined by several others. Soon, they had a space cleared that would accommodate a small-sized individual.

Before Derek could protest, one of the diggers scrambled through the hole.

Aw, shit. Hope he doesn't mess things up further. He stood near the opening, hands clenched, waiting for the man to re-emerge.

The digger popped his head out of the hole. “There's an old guy and a woman, both in bad shape but breathing. The third person is dead for sure. The EMT's arrive yet?”

“ETA two minutes. Don't move anyone.”

“Right. What do you want me to do about the dog that's lying next to the man? He's pretty territorial, though he did let me check for a pulse.”

“Dog, what kind of dog?” Derek demanded.

“Some kind of a hound... come to think of it, kinda looks like old Wasu. Wait... I'll check.” He disappeared briefly then reappeared wearing a puzzled expression.

“I'll be damned, he's disappeared."

                                *******

LOCATION: BRONSON MEDICAL CENTER

Jana felt a slight murmur of guilt as she ascended the elevator to her Uncle Tony's room. In her purse was a small bundle containing wrapped, dried sage and matches, both items requested by the Shaman.

The hospital had an agreement with the Sioux nation that they could perform their healing rituals in designated areas of the hospital. Tony was still recuperating from his ordeal and finding it difficult to keep at bay the negative energy of so many sick people. His room was not one of the those 'approved' by the hospital, but he wasn't strong enough to be moved. Despite Jana's protests, his plan was to smudge the room in the early morning hours when the floor was quiet.

If the hospital puts up a fuss, I'll make the case that my Uncle's smudging is no different than a Christian being prayed over. Hopefully, it won't come to that.

Jana approached the floor nurse for an update. “Has the doctor come by yet today?”

The attractive blonde with a name tag indicating she was the charge nurse, looked up from her computer.

“Yes, just about an hour ago. Your uncle didn't seem pleased with his news.” She smiled, but not in a patronizing way. “Your uncle's anxious to be discharged, and that's wise given all the germs floating around here.”

“Is he making progress?”

“I think so. He's cranky today which is usually a good sign.”

Jana entered Tony's room and was surprised to see Father Brian in his wheelchair alongside the bed. The priest looked up as she entered. His arm was in a sling, and he had a large bandage over the right side of his head. Yet, he smiled with a warmth she was not ready to embrace.

"Something's different. It's as if there's light radiating through his skin. He claims he died and spent time in heaven only to be told he had to return to earth. Could that be the reason he looks as he does?

She took a position opposite Father Brian and laid a palm on her uncle's arm. “I understand you and the wasicu doctor are not seeing eye to eye.”

“At least another week in this place. They wanted to send me to a nursing home for rehabilitation, but I told them I'd pull a Crazy Horse on them if they did. The sad thing is, they didn't have a clue who I was talking about. But the threat seems to have worked... here I lie.”

Jana could feel Father Brian's scrutiny. “I'm truly sorry for the way it ended with Rick,” he said. “Risking your life the way you did was a true act of love. It offered him the chance to redeem his soul.”

“Is that how you see it, Father? Because I see it as my failure to save a good cop in the prime of his life."

"We do not mean to diminish your grief, Tonjan,” Tony interjected. “But we saw what had control over that one's mind and spirit. There we lay the blame.”

Quiet enveloped the room as each one withdrew into their own thoughts. Jana's throat ached from suppressed tears. I won't give in to grief... not yet.

She dug into her purse and brought out a bundle wrapped in rabbit fur. Opening the cabinet that held her uncle's toiletries, she placed it underneath an upside-down basin. Then she stood up.

“I have to get going, Unci,” she said on rising. “There's something I need to see to.”

She turned to go, but Tony took hold of her wrist, forcing her to face him. “Don't linger in darkness, Tonjan. I know what you have planned and once it is accomplished, you must trust the Ancestors to guide his spirit home.”

                                  *******

Jana leaned into the hood of her car. Below, the sun turned the sky a crimson red as it dropped from view. Her eyes followed the erratic wing-play of hungry bats, and her soul  responded to the sound of coyotes, off in the distance, communicating in their own unique manner.

Rick, why didn't you just come to me and tell me what was wrong? You know I'd have done my best to help. Now, all I can do is make this offering on your behalf and hold in my heart the memory of a fine man who, somehow, lost his way.

Taking a hunting blade from her belt, Jana pulled her braid forward and chopped off half its length. She gathered her grandmother's beaded shawl about her shoulders, recalling her words: 'The heartbeat of the Nations is found within a woman.'

Stepping to the edge of the cliff, she tossed the hair into empty space. As it lost itself to the pull of the earth, Jana keened her grief so that the entire valley reverberated with her pain.

Author Notes EPILOGUE TO FOLLOW NEXT WEEK.

CAST OF CHARACTERS:

Tony Buday: Sioux Shaman and uncle of Detective Jana Burke.
Detective Jana Burke: Homicide detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's department.
Father Brian DeShano: Catholic priest.
Officer Ty Longacre: Jana's cousin and tribal policeman.
Detective Rick Morales: Jana's partner and fellow homicide detective.
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Granite Mountain Sheriff.
Wasu: Tony Buday's murdered blood-hound.

Terms:

ETA: Estimated Time of Arrival.
Feds: Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Keen: A wailing lamentation for the dead.

Sioux Terms:

Mitakuye: Female Cousin
Tonjan: Niece
Wasicu: White Man
Wotawe: Consecrated Armor

The Sioux do not speak of a person once they are dead because they believe it will encourage the spirit to linger. Thus, Tony's reference to Rick Morales as 'that one'.

All Native American Peoples hold the sage plant as a very sacred herb, one which dispels negativity and cleanses the energy body.

Crazy Horse was an Oglala Sioux Indian chief who fought against the displacement of his people to a reservation by the American Government. He took part in the infamous Battle of Big Horn.

Thanks to one of my favorite, and very talented, artists, Angelheart for the use of her artwork. As always, perfect!


Chapter 70
Cancega Moon

By Writingfundimension

PREVIOUSLY:

"Jana leaned into the hood of her car. Below, the sun turned the sky crimson red as it dropped from view. Her eyes followed the erratic wing-play of hungry bats, and her soul responded to the sound of coyotes, off in the distance, communicating in their own unique manner.

Rick, why didn't you just come to me and tell me what was wrong? You know I'd have done my best to help. Now, all I can do is make this offering on your behalf and hold in my heart the memory of a fine man who, somehow, lost his way.

Taking a hunting blade from her belt, Jana pulled her braid forward and chopped off half its length. She gathered her grandmother's beaded shawl about her shoulders, recalling her words: 'The heartbeat of the Nations is found within a woman.'

Stepping to the edge of the cliff, she tossed the hair into empty space. As it lost itself to the pull of the earth, Jana keened her grief so that the entire valley reverberated with her pain.

**********


THE AFTERMATH:

The physical injuries sustained by Danika Marten during her kidnapping healed, though she would require plastic surgery for the scars left by burns to the soles of her feet. When pressed to tell the details of her ordeal, she claimed to have no memory of anything that happened following her abduction from the television station. She resigned her position as network anchor and left Granite Mountain, telling no one of her destination.

******

Detective Rick Morales was laid to rest beneath the blue skies of a perfect Fall day. Law enforcement representatives from the surrounding municipalities attended the ceremony, uniting in a common bond of grief for the loss of the young officer. St. Matilde's was packed for the Mass of Resurrection presided over by Father Brian DeShano. Many of those attending recalled his passion and dedication to the profession he loved. Sheriff Derek Newman made the decision to publicly withhold the extent of Rick's involvement in the kidnapping of Danika Marten, particularly in light of her refusal to press any charges.

******

Reports of sightings of the devil dog by members of the Sioux Reservation continued for a period of two weeks following the horrific events at the old abandoned mine. Officer Ty Longacre duly investigated each report, but was unable to confirm or deny its existence.

******

Agent Dresden Stredwick delivered his final report in person. It was determined the drug used to immobilize Debra Padget and Fritz Buell was a powerful pre-surgery sedative known as Etimodate. Edward Pearce likely stole and stored minute quantities of the drug while employed as an orderly in the Surgical Department of Bronson Medical Center. Examination confirmed that the killer's mother, Gertrude, died of natural causes. It was surmised her body was placed in the freezer to avoid detection.

******

Sheriff Derek Newman personally conducted an interview with Matthew Buell regarding his alleged bribery of Detective Morales and obstruction of an ongoing police investigation. Mr. Buell, accompanied by his attorney, expressed regret at the death of Detective Morales while denying any personal contact with said officer. Lacking anything but circumstantial evidence, the County Prosecutor refused to file formal charges. Matthew Buell, accompanied by an urn containing the ashes of his father, returned to his residence in California.

******

Detective Jana Burke took a two-week leave of absence in order to move her grandmother into the home she shared with her uncle, Tony Buday. Agnes Longacre would not leave the reservation for the recommended physical therapy sessions stating she would heal faster under the care of her brother and tribal healer, Tony. Once assured that the elders were strong enough to be left alone, Jana returned to her duties. Only Detective Skeets Epstein was bold enough to remark on the absence of Jana's long, black braid.

******

Edward Pearce's corpse was donated to a body farm once the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department determined there was no next of kin to claim or bury it. Both law enforcement and medical schools use the chemically untreated bodies to study the various stages of decomposition. This knowledge is essential for solving homicides.

******

Father Brian DeShano continues as pastor of St. Matilde's Catholic Church. His parishioners remark in private that he appears to have a renewed enthusiasm for shepherding his flock. They describe an overwhelming sense of peace while in his presence, particularly during the celebration of Mass.

******

The story of Wasu, the spirit dog who saved the life of a Wasicu, spread across the Sioux reservation. Artist, Michelle Stillwater, donated a six foot bronze of the bloodhound hero for all the residents to enjoy as they stroll the gardens adjacent to the Tribal Health Clinic.
 

THE END

A very special thank you to all who have faithfully followed my novel. I cannot adequately express my appreciation for your warmth, support and generosity as we made this journey together. With your help and guidance, I have learned to be a better writer, a better storyteller and a better friend to other struggling writers. As my French grandfather would say: Merci Beaucoup!

Author Notes Sioux Term:
Cancega: Drum

Thanks to BRUCEIORIO for the use of the wonderful artwork.


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