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.
"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.