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Investigating the Clues.......
Angel of Mercy Part 6
by Begin Again
| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| April 17, 2010 Views: 241|
Columbine vines in various shades of pink and purple draped the garden wall. French Lilacs grew on each side of the gate. The fragrant oasis was a welcomed sight, a stark contrast to the surrounding neighborhood. Once a better section of town, the aging architecture was scarred by vandalism and neglect. A group of children played kick the can in the street, challenging the stray car that entered their playing field. Several pig-tailed girls skipped rope on the sidewalk. Across the street from the small chapel, someone's grandmother sat in her rocking chair.
Cautiously maneuvering between the irate street players, Jerry eased the car into a parking space near the church. Amidst a few cold stares and several unsavory quips, he exited the driver's side. Getting out the passenger side, Van Buren collided with a barefoot escapee. A young teenage girl followed closely behind, scooping up the squealing child.
"Sorry ma'am. He got away from me."
Laughing, the Lieutenant playfully tickled his bulging stomach. "No harm done." The girl smiled and returned to her home, squirming child in hand.
The detective joined Van Buren on the sidewalk. "No respect nowadays." He shook his head in disgust.
"What? You don't remember playing with your friends, running wild and free."
"Sure, in a park or someone's back yard, not in the streets."
"If you haven't noticed, there's not much grass or yards anywhere around here."
As the pair approached the garden gate, it swung open and a young woman stepped out onto the sidewalk. The tailored suit molded to her every curve. Jerry's eyes traveled up and down her svelte figure with appreciation. She flashed a smile, exposing a set of brilliant white teeth, an orthodontist's dream.
"Beautiful day, isn't it?" The honey-coated words slid off her ruby red lips. Momentarily tongue-tied, Jerry simply drooled and nodded.
Amused at the detective's obvious infatuation, the Lieutenant gave him a gentle nudge toward the gate before adding, "Yes, it is. Have a good day."
"You do the same." She turned and walked away.
Inside the garden, a young man was busy trimming rose bushes while he chatted with one of the priests. A ball cap shaded his face.
As the officers approached, the priest turned and walked toward them, his hand extended to greet them, "Good day, I'm Father O'Brien. Can I help you?"
The Lieutenant shook his hand. "Good day, Father. We were wondering if we could have a word with you?"
"Of course. Let's sit on the benches over there." He gestured to the other side of the garden. "These old legs don't like to stand too long any more."
After exchanging small talk about the spectacular array of flowers and shrubs, Father O'Brien turned the conversation back to the officers, "Now, what did you need to speak with me about?"
"Someone is providing hot meals to the homeless --"
"God Bless their soul." Father O'Brien made the sign of the cross on his chest. "Our Lord works in mysterious ways."
"Yes, Father, but we believe this person is going beyond the call of the Lord." Van Buren hesitated for a moment and then continued, "We think the same Good Samaritan is responsible for the recent murders."
"Why would some one who brings them food, also kill them? You must be mistaken."
"It's our opinion, that the person believes he is helping them, relieving them of their misery."
"Oh, Father in Heaven, help this misguided soul."
"Have you any idea who might be distributing the food, Father? We're told that you are the connection between this neighborhood and street people."
"You flatter me. The church offers them meager donations of clothing and blankets when we have them. Our small congregation donates their time at the Soup Kitchen and I deliver the Lord's message when I can."
The gardener gathered his tools and wheelbarrow of clippings and disappeared beyond the lilac hedges. Jerry had hoped to get a closer look at the man and maybe a word or two.
"How about the gardener? Is he a priest too?"
"No, he's not a man of the cloth. About four years ago, I found Steve sleeping in the garden, barely alive. I offered him a bed and food until he was strong again. Over time, his knowledge of the scriptures and his expertise in the garden earned him a home here. Except for occasional talks about the Bible, he busies himself with the flowers and late night walks."
"Do you know anything about his background?"
"I'm afraid not. I've asked a few times, but he is a closed book about his past."
Father O'Brien stood, indicating our interview was over. "I'm sorry I can't be of any more help. I have an appointment, but if you have any further questions, please feel free to stop back. Our doors are always open."
After thanking the priest for his time, they headed back to the car and the next stop - the family of Stephen Williams.
The Williams' home was a stark contrast to the chapel and it's neighborhood. The stately, three-story, brick mansion with its winding driveway, nestled among towering pines and a perfectly manicured lawn. A canary yellow Ferrari convertible zipped away as we approached the house.
"Now there's a beauty." Jerry watched the car disappear down the street.
"Seems as if that's been your motto all day, pal."
Remembering the young woman at the church, he chuckled. "Must be an old man trying to relive his youth."
"Now you sound like Max talking, telling you how old you're getting."
"Yeah, never thought I'd miss his needling, but it's just not the same without him here." The Lieutenant raised an eyebrow and Jerry quickly covered his tracks, "Not that I haven't enjoyed spending time with you, of course."
The front door opened saving Jerry from further explanation.
After the introductions, the Williams' family and the officers gathered in the formal living room. A maid served glasses of lemonade and chocolate chip cookies. The Lieutenant explained the reason for their visit and asked about Stephen.
"Why would you ask about Stephen? You certainly can't be considering my son for your murders?" Mrs. Williams buried her face in a lace handkerchief.
Mr. Williams wrapped his arms around his wife, comforting her. "You have no right to come here, accusing our son."
"We aren't accusing anyone, sir." Standing near the fireplace mantle, Jerry pointed at a picture frame. "Tom Penwell has this same picture in his office."
"Yes, our sons were inseparable." Mr. Williams let his eyes rest on the photo for a moment before continuing, "Stephen blamed himself for Justin's suffering. He'd ignored his best friend's pleadings to let him die, and in the end, he was faced with so much more agonizing pain. In Stephen's mind, he'd let his brother and his best friend down. It pushed him over the edge, I guess."
"Do you ever hear from him?" Van Buren continued to quiz the parents. The mother moved away, setting in a chair by the window.
"No, but we are aware that he makes a monthly withdrawal from his trust fund each month."
"Do you know how he makes that withdrawal?"
"I believe it's automatically transferred to another account, but we aren't privy to that information."
After a few more minutes, the Lieutenant thanked them and left, ending another day of investigating.
As night settled over the city, the thumping of tires on the overpass eased. One or two people at a time started to return from their daily pickings, claiming their piece of ground for the night. A shock of red hair poked from inside Max's sleeping bag as the occupant coughed and choked. The sweltering heat of the day still suffocated most, except for James. Shivering violently from a fever, his clothes clung to his body. Beads of perspiration dotted his forehead.
Returning from the river, Goliath lowered his giant frame to the ground, cradling James' head in his lap. A coffee can filled with water and torn rags lay by his side. After dipping a rag into the water, he gently bathed the young man's face. He knew his friend was extremely sick, street medicine wasn't the cure.
"Night's settlin' in, lad. Max be back soon. Maybe he can help." A series of coughing and a long rattling moan was the only response Goliath got. "Don't ya go quittin' on me, ya hear." A tear glistened in the corner of the giant's eye.
As the sun sunk beneath the horizon, a familiar figure entered the camp, carrying buckets of chicken. The small community buzzed with excitement, eagerly reaching for their share. Spotting Goliath hovering over James, the Governor moved in their direction.
Kneeling, he pressed his palm against James's forehead. His eyes met Goliath's as the heat penetrated his hand. "Boy needs a doctor."
"No doctor gonna help the likes of us, Gov."
A scratchy voice whispered from Goliath's lap, "Just need me some spirits to warm my inners."
"You're lying in the sweltering heat, shivering to death, son. You need medical attention."
"Ain't having no white coat poking at me. A long swig and I'll be fine in the morning."
"Even if I had a bottle, you know I couldn't give it to you." The Governor shrugged his shoulders.
Goliath's voice cracked as he spoke, "Gotta help him, Gov. You're all we got."
Standing, the man paced, kicking bits of gravel with his shoe. Finally, he knelt beside Goliath and James again, touching the boy's cheek. Nodding, he whispered, "You know the little chapel, St. Mary's? The one with the pretty garden."
"Yeah, we know it." James's raspy voice answered. A tirade of unintelligible words and hacking followed his efforts.
"Be there at eleven o'clock. I'll get help." Patting the shivering sleeping bag, he stood and hurried off into the night.
On the other side of the river, a handful of people huddled around a burning barrel. A man strummed a guitar and sang a song, offering his companions a small respite from their dismal life. I huddled near-by, watching, listening, hoping for one small break, information to lead me to the killer. Living undercover, I'd gained a new respect for life, and I was eager to return to the one I'd left behind. Imagining fresh, clean sheets and a hot shower sent tingles through my body, a sensation usually derived from the prospect of a woman.
Around nine thirty, I decided to return to the other camp to check on James. The young man was in sore need of medical attention. Somehow, I was going to have to convince the Lieutenant to get me a bottle of antibiotics. Mentally, I put that thought at the top of my things-to-do list in the morning.
As I neared my usual home-away-from-home, I spotted the empty sleeping bag. My eyes scanned the campsites. There was no sight of Goliath or James. Fear gripped my chest,
A few newcomers skittered away when I approached them. The next two or three simply shook their heads when I asked about my friends. Finally, I spotted a woman, a friend of Goliath's, huddling on the filthy mattress under the overpass. As I moved in their direction, she instinctively pulled her daughter closer. I wasn't a stranger to her, but she wasn't taking any chances with the child's safety either.
Having purchased an orange for James, I pulled if from my pocket, offering it to the little one. She peered at her mother, waiting for permission to take it. When the woman nodded, the dirty little fingers snatched it from my hand and eagerly began to peel the succulent fruit. Her enjoyment brought a smile to my face.
"Thank you. She hasn't had much fruit lately." The woman's eyes filled with love as she watched the little girl gobble the fleshy pieces of orange.
"Wish I had another one to give you." At that very moment, I wished I had a truck load of oranges to give these poor unfortunate people. The little girl's joy reminded me of Christmas and wrapping paper flying everywhere in my excitement. I wondered if she remembered a warm home and Christmas mornings, or if living on the streets had erased that memory.
"Have you seen Goliath, the gentle giant, or James ... the young man with the red hair?"
"Yes, Goliath was tending to James. The young man is very sick." The child's mother shook her head. "The Governor was here earlier with buckets of chicken. I saw him speaking to them."
"The red-haired one wanted spirits. Why'd he want a ghost, mommy?" The innocence of the young child brought a smile to my face and her mother.
"I don't know, honey." She twirled a strand of the little girl's hair around her finger. "Maybe he was trying to scare snoopy little girls."
I was nowhere closer to finding James and Goliath. The thought of the Governor talking to them gnawed at me. If he was the killer, the disappearance of my friends didn't bode well. I said my goodbyes and moved along, asking others if they'd seen them. No one could help.
Frustrated, I returned to the sleeping bag and slumped down on the ground, leaning against one of the concrete pillars. Pulling my knees to my chest, I rested my head against them.
"Mister ..." I lifted my head to greet two children. A boy about ten and a girl close to eight, I guessed. "Amy says you're looking for Goliath and James."
"I sure am. Do you know where they went?"
"Well, Goliath went to the river to get more water, and about that time, James stumbled past our camp, muttering something about going to church."
My eyes shot to the river bank about a hundred yards away. "Did Goliath come back? Did he go with James?" Beads of sweat trickled down my back.
The girl added the next information, "The giant went crazy when he couldn't find James. We told him about church and he went barreling up the hill toward the street."
My heart came to a screeching halt. The girl was twisting a silver chain between her fingers. On the end of it was a silver cross ... identical to the ones left at the scenes of the murders. I swallowed hard, trying to keep my voice calm. "Where'd you get the cross, honey?"
Instantly, she shoved it into her jeans pocket. "It's mine."
"Oh, I wouldn't take it. I just thought it was mighty pretty."
Slowly, she pulled it out again and let it dangle from her fingers. "The Gov gave it to me. Told me I could talk to Jesus and he'd keep me safe."
I scrambled to my feet, my mind racing in a million directions. I needed to get to my backup, find the church and my friends, before it was too late. The Governor's idea of help wasn't what I wanted for them. I thanked the children and then lumbered up the hill toward a secluded black sedan.
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