A priest is in the midst of a personal crisis of faith when a killer lures him into the twisted world of moral corruption, cover-ups and revenge.
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.
"Hello, Detective, this is Father Brian. I'm glad you were the one to answer."
"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.
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."
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!"