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.
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 --