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.
"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?"
"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..."