Friday, July 29, 2011

since I mentioned mysteries

Here's the penultimate chapter of Murder on the Block


Monday, October 27, 2003—6:11 a.m.

Mara was alone with Richard and Cecelia in the ‘big bedroom’ where whatever priest was serving St. Anne’s slept. She sat on the chair Stevenson had brought in from the kitchen for his night’s vigil. The parting between the detective and the Sr. Warden had been, understandably awkward. On one hand, Stevenson had kept vigil over Richard through the night. On the other hand, she had deep suspicions that Stevenson knew something more than was imaginable about the whole deal—the murders and the drugs. Mara realized there was no way to tie him to it yet; however, his gentle kiss on her cheek and his caring report on how Richard had passed the night was hard for her to accept. She was glad when he was gone.

Richard stirred about 7 o’clock. He opened his eyes and he and Mara gazed at each other for a long while. She put her hand to his forehead and held it there. He looked at her without smiling. They sat like that for another space of time, just looking at each other.

“I am so sorry…,” she began.

“Don’t worry about it….I should have never been here, and never let the dog out and never come running out there….”

“But I am so sorry I hurt you.”

“It was Eli and Jonas, wasn’t it?” he asked, knowing the answer.

She nodded.

“They were the bad guys?”

Another nod.

“For sure?”

“For sure,” she said in a voice that he would have thought ‘breathless’ but didn’t because he was accustomed to her voice.

Oh, Lord, Richard thought, ‘I’ve become accustomed to her voice’. When will I escape movies and TV?

Mara told him he needed to eat. Then she left him to go to the kitchen to scramble eggs and burn toast and make coffee for him. When she returned she brought the dog’s bowl full of kibbles and eggs. Cecelia finally dropped from the bed, enticed by eating as Mara fed Richard eggs on a spoon and heavily buttered toast from her hand.

She helped him sit up to drink the cooling coffee—milk and Splenda, just like the wanted it—and was about to ask him about Stevenson when the dog started to whine.

“She needs to go out,” Richard said, half-holding the cup and half-holding Mara’s hand.

While she was gone, letting Cecelia out, Richard gathered the pillows on his bed and laid back, knowing what he knew and wishing he could tell her, knowing he wouldn’t, not now, not yet.

When she came back she didn’t sit on the chair. She laid behind him on the bed and held him softly in her arms.

“I have something to tell you,” she said, caressing him from behind, “something you don’t want to hear…I think Stevenson knows more than he’s telling….”

He was torn with conflicting emotions. He tried to call up LWS time and realized, for the first time since she died, he couldn’t immediately count out the months and weeks and days, much less the minutes. Mara was leaning against him and he suddenly realized that she was trying to get close to him in all this debacle to ‘use’ him to solve her crime. It wasn’t his crime—he was an innocent bystander. Mara was using her guile and her body and her sensuality to ‘entrap’ him. He’d seen enough TV Cop Shows to understand why she was doing it, but it shocked him to realize how susceptible he was to her trap. And all this time he had began to imagine there was ‘something’ between them. But now she was about to violate his soul, his loyalty, his absolute commitments….How dare she?

His head was throbbing. He needed more Advil. He needed her not to feel so soft and inviting behind him. He needed to “come to himself” and shake her off—her and all her deceit and all her flirting. He was about to shrug her away when her cell phone rang.

She sat up and answered. It was Dante as she knew it would be.

“Any luck with the Padre?” he asked after she said ‘hello’.


“He must be there with you? Right?”


“Guess who got off a plane just now?”

She didn’t answer, aware of Richard so near her.

“Well, I’ll tell you, since you asked, James Tennant.”

Mara listened and did not speak.

“Just in case you don’t know, he’s an up and coming junior partner in the law firm of ‘Duwey, Cheetam and Howe…..”

Again, Mara was silent.

“How close are you, darlin’? In bed with him?”

“Affirmative,” she finally answered.

“Well, actually, Jimbo Tennant is part of the law firm of Craft, Newsome and Collins, the very same law firm that represents, guess who? Our old friend, Milo Miano. Flash is wetting his pants, the net is closing and some very big fish may be entrapped.”

Mara turned off her phone, knowing full well she would catch hell from Dante. She knew she had to go back to the little Police Office to be there when James Tennant, Esquire, who would inadvertently tie all this nonsense back to the mainland and hopefully to a very nasty mob connection, got there to represent Eli and Jonas.

She also imagined as she sat on the edge of the bed where Fr. Lucas was laying, that he thought she had done all this out of duty. She knew he would have a hard time believing that she was conflicted about ‘using’ him to solve her crime. Will he ever trust me again? she wondered, afraid to ask him outright. Can he ever believe how conflicted I’ve felt all the way through?

She re-insinuated herself next to him. But his body was hard, rigid, rejecting of her closeness.

“Richard,” she said, as truthfully as she had ever spoken, “I’m sorry.”

“My head doesn’t hurt that much,” he replied.

She truly embraced him for the first time and pressed her body against his back, seeking something, some response, not for ‘the case’ but for herself.

“That’s not what I meant,” she offered.

After a long moment he shifted away from her in the bed. “I know,” he gave back.

Slowly she rose from the bed. “Do you need anything?” she asked, kindly.

“My life back,” he responded, harshly.

She did not answer. Weighed down she walked down the hall and was opening the door when he spoke from behind her.

“When you come back, you’ll have what you need,” is what he said.

She wasn’t sure what he meant, but she left, taking his car without asking.

James Tennant was good, she had to give him that. He had rehearsed both hung-over Jonas and vibrant Eli to refuse to answer any questions. And refuse to answer they did.

Dante offered everyone in the room, including the prisoners, a cigarette from his golden case. When they all refused, he lit up and blew smoke from four inhales before he asked: “Does either of you know who was paying you?”

Tennant trained, there was no answer.

“How did you get your instructions?” Dante asked into silence.

“I think it was from notes like this one,” he said, showing the note in a plastic bag they had found in the Jamaicans’ house. “But in a box in the church.” He put the communion set box on the desk and opened it with the key he’d taken from Eli’s neck.

“Do you know who left you the notes and the money to exchange on this buoy,” he put the buoy that the FBI frogmen had detached from the anchor that held it on the table, “for the drugs on this buoy that you then put back in the box in the church?”

Eli was shaking his head. He too wondered who the ‘connection’ was. But he didn’t know and his lawyer of last resort had told him not to talk.

“Let me mention some names,” Dante said, “and you tell me if you recognize them. James Tennant? Stevenson Matthews? Dante Caggiano? Milo Miano?”

Though he paused for half a minute or so between each name and the lawyer flinched involuntarily at the mention of Milo Miano, Eli and Jonas’ response was the same. Silence.

“OK,” Flash Gordon said, after the last silence, “I am going to take this conversation away from the Rhode Island State Police in about an hour. I am Agent Gordon of the FBI. In an hour, you will be answering questions from the FBI, which I assure you is an entirely different ordeal. You’re going back to your cell and you may talk with your lawyer….Just know this, you are ‘small fish’ in this fish fry. You can take the heat all by yourselves or give us something else to look forward to eating….”

After Officer Alt had taken the two men away, Jimmy Tennant trailing in their wake, Dante observed: “I liked the fish fry image greatly, Agent Gordon. Does it imply you are hungry?”

It was just past 11 a.m. when Mara and Dante and Flash slid into booths in the Mohegan Restaurant. They weren’t quite open but badges and Flash’s ID got them in. They sat for half-an-hour drinking water with lemon in it before they could order from the lunch menu and have drinks. FBI power only goes so far….

They all had bloody Mary’s though their lack of sleep and the general disposition of the case would mitigate against it.

“To unconventional ‘cops’,” Dante toasted them.

So they ate fried seafood and consumed several glasses of vodka and tomato juice, knowing the ‘missing link’ was still missing.

Finally, over bad coffee, Mara told them that Richard had promised that they would have what they needed. Flash paid and walked back up the hill to Block Island’s representation of a ‘jail’. Dante and Mara had some cheese cake for dessert, just to give Richard time for what he was doing, and then drove his car back up Spring Street to the church.

Richard was prone on the couch listening to a cassette of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks on the little tape recorder he sometimes used to record his sermons, an ice bag on his head, several ibeprophins in his stomach and the bottle on the coffee table along with a bottle of Diet Coke. He had slept after Mara fed him breakfast, after he began to think he was being ‘used’. When he woke up at a bit after 10 he had taken Advil and called Stevenson to ask him if he could come over. He remembered Mara telling him how Stevenson had spent the night with him and would be back soon and listened to Mara’s apologies and seen her sad eyes fill with tears three or four times.

Richard was torn between them—his old friend and this woman who had insinuated herself into his life further than was safe for him. He was torn between loyalty and discovering the truth, between old ties and justice.

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth,

blowing down the backroads headin’ south.

Idiot wind, blowing everytime you move your teeth,

You’re an idiot, babe,

It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe….”

He heard a car pull up in the gravel and Cecelia rose, tail wagging to greet Stevenson as he came and opened the door. So proprietary, Richard thought, just like always….but I never really noticed.

The Senior Warden was dressed as if going to court—a pale gray suit with tiny black pinstripes, a blindingly white starched shirt and a Yale tie. But he wore waterproof, ankle high duck boots. How incongruous, Richard realized, always enough misdirection with Stevenson to keep you from coming to opinions, from seeing through the guise…but I never really noticed.

“Richard,” Stevenson said, a mixture of sympathy and cheerfulness in his voice, “how’s your head? I hear you were a hero….”

“Hardly,” Richard laughed, making his head hurt. “More like the anti-hero, or non-hero….”

Stevenson smiled, showing his perfect teeth. “But you were there for the ‘shoot-out’….”

Richard pulled himself off the couch. It felt like his right eye was about to come out of his left ear, but he made it to his feet, staggered a bit, waved Stevenson away when he tried to help him and said, “or the ‘anti-shoot-out’ or ‘non-shoot-out’.”

This time Stevenson laughed and Richard forced himself to laugh in return. He spent the night watching over me, Richard reminded himself, already regretting what he was about to do.

Making his way around the coffee table toward the bookshelf where the tape player was. “Let me turn this off,” he said. Dylan was singing “You didn’t know it, you didn’t think it could be done, in the final end he won the wars after losin’ every battle…. After pushing “Stop”, he pressed “Record”, as quietly as possible, moving the volume to high. Turning toward Stevenson he said, “Drink?”

The elegant man looked at his watch. “A little early,” he said, “but if you’re imbibing, so will I. Scotch maybe. Neat.”

Richard poured the drinks—a full two fingers of scotch for Stevenson and a dribble on the rocks with lots of water for himself. His mind was racing—how do I do this? Mara and Dante would know. And what about my loyalty to this man—all he’s done for me, 20 years of friendship? And yet…yet…if I’m right he is a drug dealer and a murderer, after the fact, but a murderer all the same.

Richard took a deep breath, trying to remember every interview with a suspect he’d ever seen on Law and Order or read about in the mystery books he used to devour. Then he whispered what might have been the first ‘real’ prayer he’d prayed in over a year—“help me”.

“Cheers,” Stevenson said, raising his glass.

“Salutations,” Richard replied, and they drank. Richard noticed that his friend’s hand shook, almost imperceptibly as he lifted his glass to his mouth. He also noticed Stevenson almost drained the drink in one gulp. Maybe this will work, God, Richard thought.

“About this whole mess,” Richard began, his head pounding, suddenly thinking scotch might have been good for him as well, “I have a few questions I need to ask you.”

Stevenson’s eyes bored into Richard’s. He finished off his drink and pointed to his glass. Richard went to the kitchen and brought the whole bottle to the coffee table. After replenishing his drink—2 and a half fingers, Richard noticed, Stevenson finally responded: “Questions?” was all he said.

“Well,” Richard began, his concussion suddenly releasing a whole panoply of symptoms—light too bright, dull pain, mild nausea—“I just think you might know a lot more than you’re saying….” After Stevenson took a healthy drink and stared at the ceiling, Richard added, “It’s just something I think.”

“And your evidence is?” Stevenson asked, filling his glass again. Richard was emboldened by the quantity of scotch the old man was drinking and at such speed.

“I’ve seen the note that Eli and Jonas got from their contact. And I know the handwriting.”

Stevenson, in mid-sip, started to speak, spilling Scotch on his tie and shirt. Bingo, Richard thought, holding up his hand to stop the Senior Warden from responding.

“And I know about the box—the box in the sacristy…. You wouldn’t have left the porcelain set there. With it in the box there was no room for the money you left and the drugs you picked up. But you brought it back sometime before the search.” Suddenly Richard had a revelation. “You brought it back in your Bean bag with the chicken soup, just to show it was there. And I know where the Jamaicans got the sodium penathol.” Richard watched Stevenson’s countenance fall. He had always thought that was just a line from the Psalms, but now he saw it happen. All the confidence and hubris and sophistication of Stevenson Matthew’s demeanor melted away. He was no longer a ‘mover and shaker’, friend of presidents, wealthy New England scion of law and banking—instead, he was only an abandoned boy from a dying town in Pennsylvania.

“I hate doing this, Stevenson,” Richard almost whispered, almost in the tone of Mara’s natural voice, “but I have to know. I just have to know….”

Stevenson regained some of his regal bearing. He finished off another glass of liquor and poured yet another slowly.

“And how much of all you know,” Stevenson asked, a bit of his childhood accent slipping in from fear and alcohol, “have you told your new friends from Providence?”

Richard realized it might be the last time in the conversation he could tell the truth. So many times in his obsession with TV and movies he had felt a twinge of doubt when interrogators intentionally lied to the suspects. That wasn’t fair, he always thought. But now, in that moment, his friend of 20 years held in the balance, he realized that lying is sometimes necessary, sometimes lying is the way to Truth.

“I’ve told them nothing,” he said, truthfully.

Stevenson sighed audibly. When he spoke his voice was so slurred that Richard knew he hadn’t started drinking just a few minutes ago.

“I suppose I need to tell the truth,” he said, softly. Then he added, a little drunken edge to his voice, “and you would tell me, doubtless, that the Truth will set me Free?”

Richard leaned back into his chair across the coffee table from his old friend. He’d never had any illusions that Stevenson was a pious man—but now, in this moment, knowing what he knew, imagining what he didn’t yet know—Richard ached. Loyalty was always his highest virtue. And, in spite of whatever else, he was loyal to this man.

“You’ve done so much for me, Stevenson,” he began….

Drink had turned Stevenson a bit manic. He stood up and started pacing around the room, glass in hand, a lot like Dante did, but without the same gracefulness.

“Damn right, I have,” Stevenson said, anger edging into his voice. “And now I need to know what you are going to tell those fucking detectives you’ve become so fucking bonded with…in more ways than one….”

The look Stevenson gave him turned him into “bad cop” in his amateur role in all this. That look was lascivious, the only word Richard could find for it. And he realized Stevenson had already imagined what he, himself, had imagined—Richard and Mara locked in an embrace, rolling on the bed, showering together.

“Didn’t take so long to forget your precious Susan, your dead and precious Susan, did it?” Stevenson was staggering in the middle of the room, his eyebrows arched, his eyes wet with drink and imagining. “You called out for the beautiful detective last night. She cold-cocked you and yet you were whimpering her name…’Mara….Mara….show me your gun, Mara….” And then, drunk as he was, he slowly moved his crotch in and out, swinging his hips. He took a drink and laughed.

Richard suddenly remembered all the ways Stevenson had looked at Susan, through all the years, all the innuendos he had spoken, all the overly long embraces at 19 arrivals and departures from the Block. The Truth, he suddenly realized, the Truth will set you free…but first it will piss you off….

“It’s your life we’re talking about here, not mine” Richard said, hoping Stevenson was too drunk to notice the blinking light on the tape player that said “recording”.

Then Richard lied—bald faced and boldly. “I’ll never tell them what I know,” he began, stepping out into virgin territory for him, “but if I am to remain ‘loyal’ to you, I must know. I must know, my old friend.”

For three-quarters of an hour, after Stevenson, exhausted by too much morning scotch and too much guilt, had collapsed back into his chair, the man talked. He was deflated and, Richard believed, knew the priest would tell on him.

It was then that Stevenson recounted his lonely, painful childhood in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, abandoned by his father and raised to greatness by his house-cleaning mother who worked herself to death, literally, for him. He had recreated himself as a scholarship student at Yale, married into money, made tons of money himself, become a man ‘to be reckoned’ with, lost his wife’s fortune on bad investments and been drawn into a scheme by one of his less than savory clients, who was a silent partner to the Mianos, to smuggle drugs to the mainland via Block Island.

“I needed the money,” he said, weeping now, a pitiful sinner and drunk, “to BE who I had become….”

He laid out the whole plot to Richard, much of which he had guessed already.

Richard spoke very little, hoping the tape was long enough and wouldn’t click off at some point, exposing his blatant lies. But he did interrupt Stevenson’s confession from time to time.

“The two people in the Lexus,” he asked, “did you order them killed?”

“No, of course not,” the old man, looking older by the minute, answered. “I just provided the sodium penathol. And I warned them about using too much….”

“The truth serum you got from Dr. Weinstein?” Richard said softly, “because you convinced him it could help you deal with your wife’s death?”

“How did you figure that out?” Stevenson asked, seeming genuinely curious.

“The internet,” Richard said, kindly. “A Time Magazine article from 1958 when some doctor had decided sodium penathol would help people deal with trauma in controlled doses.”

Stevenson laughed. It was a real laugh, not the laugh of someone drunk. “The internet! That’s where I found it too,” he said. “How about that.”

“Kismet,” Richard replied, a little harsher than he meant to be. Then he asked, softer again, “did you ‘warn’ them in person? Did you tell them face-to-face how much was safe?”

Stevenson looked confused—drunk and bewildered. “I never met the two gentlemen,” he said. “I’m not stupid. It all started in Providence. They were ‘sent’ here to do this. I mailed them a key to the box and communicated only by notes…notes they were supposed to destroy.”

“And they did,” Richard commented, “except for that last one you must have pushed under the door to their house.”

The old man shrugged and Richard’s guilt at betraying him grew. But the plunged on: “I have to ‘know’ the whole story, Stevenson….”

So Stevenson laid the whole thing out—how he had turned in the Jamaicans with an anonymous call to Homeland Security and DEA. How he and the contact he had in Providence had decided to set them up with a false ‘delivery’. How he thought it would be all over—no connection to him—and, most damning, how they could start again in the spring with new runners, new swimmers, new middle men.

“There are powerful people involved in this,” he told the priest, “people who wouldn’t hesitate to kill anyone who crossed them….” He paused for a long moment. “You, for example. Your children. Your grandchild. They are very powerful.”

Richard took it as the threat it was. Stevenson realistically couldn’t depend on Richard’s ‘loyalty’. Stevenson needed to cause fear in Richard’s heart. But that heart was too full of new life, of coming alive again, that the threat made him angry.

“Do you think they’re more powerful than God?” he asked.

Stevenson shook his head, amused. “God doesn’t hold a candle to them,” he said.

Shortly after that, it was over.

Richard walked him to the porch when it was finally all told and recorded over Bob Dylan. Stevenson, always the gentleman, offered his hand to Richard and Richard, always loyal, took it. But before letting go, he had one more question, one that shouldn’t be on tape.

“Cynthia’s death,” the priest asked, “was that really an accident?”

Once more, as it had when they began, Stevenson’s face collapsed.

“Oh, God, Richard, you don’t think I could have killed her?” he asked, suddenly sober.

“You’d lost all her money,” Richard replied, leaving that to hang in the Autumn air of an October afternoon on and island in the Atlantic.

“None of that mattered,” Stevenson whimpered. “She knew. I told her I’d practice some law, get on some paying Boards, even sell my collection. She said it didn’t matter, it was just money. She had just forgiven me when I let go of the tiller on the sailboat to hug her and a wave turned us over. It was a mistake even a rookie sailor wouldn’t make. But I did. She forgave me and in return, she drowned.”

“That’s what really happened?” Richard asked, growing less skeptical. “So why didn’t you follow through with your promise to her?”

Stevenson staggered a bit and Richard kept him from tumbling down the steps from the deck to the parking lot.

The old man took a deep breath. His alcohol dampened eyes were now full of real tears.

“I got greedy after she died…and needy. You must know how that is, you of all people. But Cynthia’s death was a tragic accident…one of my own making, I must grant you that. But I loved her. That…that, you must believe, my friend. And forgive me,” he whispered.

Inexplicably, totally out of character, Richard raised his right hand and made the sign of the cross over Stevenson.

“In the name of God,” he said, prayerfully (his second ‘real’ prayer since Susan died), “you are forgiven.”

Stevenson embraced him, stinking of scotch and guilty sweat. Then he climbed in his Jeep and turned around awkwardly in the parking lot.

He lowered the passenger side’s window and called to Richard.

“Tell them I won’t run,” he said. “I’ll be home when they need me….”

Then he drove off, wobbling on the dirt road from side to side.

Dante and Mara found Richard drinking the rest of the bottle of scotch that Stevenson had left. He had told himself getting stinking drunk would help the pain in his head and his heart. But he knew it wouldn’t—he was just lying to himself.

“Drunk again,” Dante said, “and the crime not yet solved. Some detective you are….” Then he noticed the look of distain Richard gave him and stopped talking. He glanced at Mara who was behind him.

She sat on the coffee table and, leaning forward, asked, “what is it, Richard?”

He looked at the glass in his hand and sat it down beside her. Her eyes were soft gray in the afternoon light and Richard felt them pulling him in, disarming him. But he resisted and stared unspeaking at her. His heart was breaking in three pieces—one for the life he had known that was over, one for Stevenson and loyalty and one for her.

“Richard…?” she said. He thought he heard real concern in her voice, but how could he trust it now?

“I have your pound of flesh,” he said, so pained he didn’t even chide himself for the literary allusion.

The two detectives stared at him in mutual confusion. He almost smiled to see them so dissembled.

With more energy than he could have imagined he had, he got up with Mara’s help and went to rewind the tape on his machine.

“Listen,” he said.

Dylan’s voice came roaring out of the machine since Richard hadn’t turned the volume back down. “I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me better than that, sweet lady….”

“Bob Dylan? I don’t understand.” Dante said, standing as still as a statue.

Richard fast forwarded the tape just a little. He knew the song by heart. “Listen,” he said, his voice breaking as he spoke.

And they did.

When Stevenson’s voice stopped, there was the sound of a door shutting and then muffled voices. Richard realized it was he and Stevenson on the deck talking. Then the machine clicked off and everyone in the room involuntarily jumped a little. They sat for a while, no one speaking.

Then Dante slowly took out his cell phone and punched in numbers. “Flash is still on this rock, probably at a bar somewhere,” Dante said, listening to the tinny ringing.

“Dante,” Richard said.

The detective held up his hand. “Flash, it’s the Brahmin—right, Stevenson. We have him on tape with the Padre, full confession….” Dante listened. “We’ll meet you at his house. He isn’t running….No, it’s a sure thing, a damn sure thing. The only detective around here wears a collar.”

Dante waved to Mara. “Get the tape, let’s go….”

“Dante,” Richard said again.

“Richard, thank you so much for this,” he said when Mara handed him the cassette. “We’ll talk when….”

“Dante!” This time Richard used ‘the voice’ he always used with the generations of dogs who had shared his life when they misbehaved.

Just like the dogs, Dante and Mara stopped in their tracks. Dante had the door half-open and held it there. Mara stared, shocked. Even Cecelia, hearing ‘the voice’, sat and looked expectantly at Richard.

Richard took a breath and said, softly, “he’s a good man, Dante.”

Dante responded in a measured, quiet voice. “He’s also a drug smuggler and an accomplice to murder. Is he really a ‘good man’?

Richard glanced at Mara. She seemed to understand a bit of what he was saying.

“And his wife’s ‘accident’, Padre, that might have been….”

“Don’t even go there, Dante. Don’t even start,” Richard said, realizing in the moment that he had ‘gone there’ with Stevenson himself. A barely perceptible groan escaped him. “It’s your job to see ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’, Dante. But it’s my job to find the ‘good’ in even ‘badness’….What Stevenson did was indefensible, but I can defend him as a man. He kept this tiny church going and gave me his support. Maybe even his love. So he’s a ‘good guy’ in my heart, no matter what he did.”

Dante, Mara and Cecelia remained still, waiting to be released.

“Just remember that, OK?” Richard sat back down, drained by drink and emotion.

Dante nodded. “I’ll remember,” he said. So Richard waved them away.

After a few moments, Cecelia came over to rest her snout on Richard’s knee. He rubbed her gently.

“And he’ll be dead when you get there,” he said to the departed detectives.

While drinking the first of what needed to be several cups of coffee, Richard wandered into the church’s sacristy to get a vial of holy oil, a white stole and a Prayerbook. When he came back to refill his cup, the phone rang, as he knew it would. It was Mara.

“Flash is coming to get you, Richard,” she said. “I think you know what you’ll need.”

“I’ll be waiting,” he said. He would take the last rites of his church to Stevenson, anoint his cooling head and pray the solemn prayers. It was an ironic act of loyalty, he thought, the least he could do—all he could do.


It was dark when Richard heard his own car pull onto the gravel of the parking lot. Dante had commandeered it, just like a cop in a movie, for the last day. The detective had obvious long ago dropped the guise of ‘not being on the island’, but his car wasn’t. It was back in Providence in the garage of Dante’s townhouse.

He had been sitting in the dark, illuminated only by the light of the muted TV as people and events and television shows paraded before his eyes with no sound. He still remembered the warm clay-like feel of Stevenson’s forehead against his thumb as he smeared the oil and whispered the ancient words of relief and release in the ear of his dead friend:

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;

In the name of God the Father Almighty who created you;

In the name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;

In the name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.

May your rest be this day in peace,

and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.”

The ‘congregation’ had been Mara, Dante, Flash, Stevenson’s sobbing Cuban house keeper and the two EMT’s on the island—Virgil, a part-time fisherman and Stella, a secretary at the tiny Block Island high school. Both of them were weeping. They had known Stevenson for most of their lives and genuinely mourned his passing. Richard, as soon as he arrived, had dispatched the law-enforcement types on duties: to find a wine glass and plate that matched, to find wine and some sort of bread—crackers would be nice, and to locate a small table that could be placed near the exquisite red leather couch Stevenson’s body was lying on. He had, obviously to everyone but the EMTs, chosen this spot to die. The syringe and vial of sodium penathol was still beside the kitchen sink. Stevenson had been well enough acquainted with his addiction to truth serum to know he’d have time to reach the couch and assume a proper position before the drug stopped his heart.

Dr. Weinstein had come and gone. He’d declared the patient dead and been questioned about the drug by Mara, who was gentle and kind in her inquiries. Richard was both angry with the 90 year old doctor’s complicity in all that had happened—addiction, murder, the ripping of the fabric of the small year-round society of the island—and in admiration of Dr. Weinstein’s loyalty to an old friend. And, since he was gone, one of the few Jews on ‘the Block’, though he’d not been to Shabbat services in several decades, it seemed only appropriate to the priest in Richard to celebrate a funeral mass in the presence of Stevenson’s cooling body.

Mara had found a half-empty package of cracked-pepper crackers. Dante returned with a bottle of Port worth several hundred dollars and Flash brought in an antique table—probably Louis XIV vintage. And together that odd assortment of worshippers shared, Richard believed if no one else did, in the very Body and Blood of Christ after he had said the proper words and broken the crackers.

No one dared not receive this odd and curious sacrament. Even Dante took a piece of cracker from Richard’s hand on his tongue and sipped—though not as deeply as he would have wished—from the fragrant, thick wine. At the last, Richard took a tiny piece of cracker, dipped it in the wine and reached over to the haunting oval of Stevenson’s mouth to place it on his dead tongue.

Dante shivered and was about to tell the priest not to touch the body again, certainly not to put foreign objects, like a wine soaked piece of cracker, in the body’s mouth. But Mara touched him lightly on the sleeve.

“He needs to do this,” she whispered, “we’ll explain to the M.E.”

So Dante held his tongue, still very much alive, while Stevenson’s tongue, dead almost an hour, held the Body and the soaked in Blood of Christ.

Dante did not need to worry. Dr. Anthony Jay, the Rhode Island State Police Medical Examiner would never see Stevenson’s body. It was flown off the island on a FBI helicopter Flash had summoned and delivered to a morgue in Quantico, Virginia. Cause of death was, as at least four of the people at that odd mass knew, “sodium poisoning.” However, the autopsy would also reveal a benign but growing brain tumor and a severely compromised liver. Stevenson Matthews had become a ‘dead man walking’ long before the truth serum set him free.

After the body and Flash Gordon were gone, Mara and Dante did a half-hearted search of obvious places in Stevenson’s house. They found note paper that matched the note they’d found at the Jamaicans’ house and a pen that contained ink identical to the ink on that note. They bagged them as evidence along with the syringe and vial that were easily matched to the syringes and vials from the house above the bluffs already in evidence bags.

They emptied Stevenson’s desk, a brilliant reproduction of the desk JFK had in the Oval Office of all it’s paper—carefully filed phone bills, bank statements and a damning personal calendar enclosed in an expensive leather binder—and placed them carefully, hands covered in RISP issued rubber gloves, into an empty box that once held 12 bottles of vintage Merlot. They went through all of the 17 rooms of the house, gathering whatever they though needed gathered and meticulously storing it for use in the grand jury case they were sure would occur.

All that time, Richard sat on the couch where Stevenson had chosen to die and tried to sort out hid emotions and thoughts. The housekeeper had long before gone to a neighbor’s house to make calls and plans to leave the island.

At some point, Mara drove him back to the rectory while Dante either gathered more evidence or admired the collection of porcelains Stevenson had accumulated over the years.

He still had mild symptoms of his concussion, but the symptoms that most obsessed him concerned his broken heart. Mara drove skillfully and carefully back down to the town and out to the church. In the beginnings of dusk, they said not a word to each other in the ten minutes that drive required. They both got out of the car and climbed the three steps up to the deck and the door of the house. Cecelia, ever predictable, greeted them with groans of joy and movements born of the natural grace of her species.

Still, the two humans did not speak, except to say the dog’s name and appreciate her greeting. Richard suddenly turned and opened the door. Cecelia flew through it and he followed. And Mara followed him.

The dog was already 25 yards ahead of them, running toward the sea. Mara drew even with Richard, both behind the dog, and they walked in silence.

It took a great dose of courage and a jolt of genuine fear that she was about to lose something she wasn’t even sure she wanted for Mara to speak.

“We couldn’t have done it without you,” she said.

“Of course you could have,” he answered tersely.

“It must have taken all your courage to make that tape.”

“Or all my manipulation or all my disloyalty….”

His voice was so tinged with anger that she walked for perhaps two minutes before she replied.

“Ok, it started as a ‘job’, my ‘role’ in getting the bad guys. That’s what I do, Richard, I get the bad guys.” She paused, hoping and praying he would respond. But when he didn’t, she continued: “and it became something else. I don’t know what and I don’t know when…but something very different. I came to admire you and appreciate you and then, I don’t know quite how to say it, to ‘care for you’. And tomorrow you and Dante and I will talk about the whole story and try to see if we can in any way understand what happened here on this island.

“But you need to know this. I wish we had met somewhere else, somehow else. And I know you think I’ve messed with you, somehow, someway. And I need you—really need you—to know that was part of it but not all of it….not all of it at all. Not at all.”

By that time, Sgt. Coles was weeping, something she didn’t do often, hardly at all. And she was feeling the need to get away from him, to give him space and give herself space. So she grabbed his arm and lifted her hands to his face and kissed him angrily on his lips. Then she turned and walked back to the house and his car, which she would drive back to complete whatever interrogation was possible with Eli and Jonas. Let him follow his dog into the sea. Let him disappear from her life. That would be much better. Let him live his life without knowing how she knew the courage it took for him to break the case wide open, like an egg in a frying pan. Let him live his life without knowing that what began for her as a ‘job’ became something altogether different.

Richard stood in the field and watched her walk away. He knew that whatever happened from this moment on he would never forget her gait, how she walked, the unselfconsciousness of it all, how he could know her from afar by that walk, that gate, lovely beyond graceful.

He let Cecelia wear herself out with running, pretended to eat some dinner, drank three glasses of water with four Advils and went to bed, knowing he was alone until morning. His sleep was long and dark and without dreams.

The Norway Tragedy

What happened last week in Norway is astonishingly horrible. It is a small country, just under 5 million, only a million more than CT. The impact of what happened is, proportionately, more horrific than 9/11 was for the U.S.

And everyone seems shocked, appalled and asking 'how could this happen there?'

I've been reading lots of Scandinavian mystery novels the last few years. The Steigh Larson trilogy everyone has read and lots of Henning Markell and Anne Holt and Karin Alvtegen among others.

Mystery novels, it seems to me, are mirrors of a society, stories of the darkness of a culture. And those novels are full of characters like the mass murderer--white supremacists, neo-Natzis, serial killers, anti-immigration extremists. There is a dark underbelly to the low unemployment, high (and free) education, great health care image of the Scandinavian countries. I knew that through Mystery Novels. The writers of mysteries in that part of the world are not surprised by what happened last week.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Laws of Nature (and Washington)

It occurred to me this morning that what is going on in the nation's capitol may just be confirmation of the Laws of Nature. For example:

A. "What goes up must come down." Every time the President invites Congressional Republicans up to the White House to negotiate, they walk out and head back down Pennsylvania Avenue.

B. "Every action causes an equal and opposite reaction." Whenever the Democrats off a 'deal' (even the one with the deepest cuts anyone has suggested or the most recent one that gave the Republicans everything they said they wanted at the beginning of this mess) the House reacts by saying that's not at all what they wanted.

C. "A body at rest tends to stay at rest." The Republicans won't budge.

D. "A body in motion tends to stay in motion." The Tea Party is driving us all deep into a tragic mistake.

All this time I've thought the problem was because of partisan politics. In actuality, Issac Newton predicted this long ago....

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

more murder on the block



Richard and Cecelia had been out since 6. They’d walked down to the rocky beach and back—pausing for a wasted 10 minutes in the pathways through the high brush until Richard realized Cecelia wasn’t going back to the wetsuits and he couldn’t find them without her.

He picked up a couple of empty rum bottles he found in the field to carry back to the house. As he crossed the parking lot, Cecelia yelped to see Dante smoking on the deck and ran to him, her tail working overtime. As usual, Dante ignored her and called to Richard, “Drinking already, Padre? And on the Lord’s day at that.”

Richard said, “good morning to you too, Lieutenant” while he was putting the bottles in the recycling box on the side of the house. He was trying to remember what days the recycling and trash center was open. People on an island have to send their garbage to the mainland, to some huge hole in the ground outside of Providence. Richard was amazed at how much refuse even one person, living alone, could create on a weekly basis. During the summer the station loading garbage was open every day. When autumn came, most of the business went away. When his children were small they loved to go to the recycling center. Anything recycled was carried off the island for free—garbage you have to pay for, pennies a pound, actually, but it must add up during the season. He was about to mention to Dante one of his pet theories about how day care providers and trash haulers should be two of the highest paid professions, when he looked up and Dante was beside him.

“Did you find them, preacher?” he asked, smiling wickedly.

Richard flushed. Though he knew Dante meant the wetsuits, he still said, “find what?”

Dante chuckled. “This detecting business gets under your skin, doesn’t it? Nothing like a little evidence to get the blood moving and the gray cells working, I always say.”

“What do you think the wetsuits mean?”

“We have a couple of ‘secret swimmers’ among us.” Dante thought for a moment. “It means something, I think, but I don’t know what yet.”

“Are you going to stake it out?”

“Lay in the bayberry, drinking coffee and wait?” He smiled at Richard. “I don’t think so, unless you’re interested in trying that tonight. I figure our swimmers might just come to us, if we’re lucky.”

They wandered inside to find Mara and Miriam making pancakes. Richard smiled, realizing his daughter was re-creating the Sunday breakfasts of her childhood. When he woke, before leaving for the early mass, Richard would make the batter and leave it in the refrigerator. Susan would add blueberries or chocolate chips or bananas and make the children pancakes. The boys ate them with maple syrup and Miriam with honey, preferably the kind with the cone still in it.

“Guess what’s for breakfast, Daddy?” she said, dropping sausage links in a frying pan.

Mara was trying to pour batter onto a griddle in perfect ovals, but they ran into shapes that looked like countries of Europe.

“It’s not quite hot enough,” Richard said.

She looked up at him. There was flour on her cheek. He stepped over, adjusted the gas slightly, licked his thumb and wiped the flour away. Miriam and Dante exchanged a glance.

After they ate, Dante cleaned up, a cigarette dangling from his lips. “I always work for my daily bread,” he commented, pulling out the dishwasher’s top rack.

“Not too far,” Richard warned, then looked astonished as Dante pulled it all the way out without the rack tipping forward. Dante grinned. “I fixed it, Father. Couldn’t sleep on that couch so I fixed your dishwasher about 1:30 in the a.m. Like I always say, ‘earn your keep’, Dante, ‘earn your keep, young man’….”

Richard went to change into khaki’s and a black clergy shirt from his running shorts and sweat shirt. When he came back, Dante whistled. “My Lord, you are a priest after all!”

“Cleans up nicely,” Miriam added.

Two cars pulled into the church parking lot, crunching gravel.

“The faithful are arriving,” Dante said, heading for a bedroom. “I’ll stay out of sight since some of these folks have met me and I am, after all, not here.”

“Almost ‘show time’, Daddy,” Miriam said. Mara realized it must be a family joke. “Are you coming to see him in action?” Miriam asked her.

“Dressed like this?” Mara said. She had on white jeans and a black turtle neck sweater.

“With your looks,” Miriam replied, looking the detective up and down, “no body will pay attention to what you’re wearing and most of the men will be wondering how you’d look wearing nothing at all.” She noticed that Mara blushed and glanced around to see Richard turning his head away. Oops, she thought, too close to the truth.

“I forgot to take my detective suit to the B and B,” Mara said to cover her discomfort. “I think I’ll change anyway.”

Richard went through the door from the kitchen to the sanctuary to greet the early comers, get his vestments from the closet and try to forget how accurate his daughter’s words had been. I’m must be having an anima attack, he told himself. He took comfort in pushing his thoughts about the detective off on his unconsciousness. Then he was submerged in the greetings and condolences about ‘his awful week’ from the altar guild ladies and the retired music teacher who played the little organ during the winter. They were waters he could swim in without much effort. He didn’t think of himself as especially outgoing, but he was well schooled in the social vocabulary of the church.

Just before 9, he took his seat near the altar. The prelude was near it’s end—something by Bach that sounded under-served by the little organ—and he suddenly realized that by sitting quietly, the people filling the little church probably imagined he was praying. It struck him as ironic that prayer was assumed in him, even when it wasn’t there.

Richard’s inability to pray, except as a leader of worship, had changed—perhaps improved—his preaching. Oddly enough, the humility he felt from God’s silence and his own unwillingness to ask for the Almighty’s ear had given him new insight into human vulnerability. Where once he would have pleaded with the congregation to put their faith in God, to lean into the Love of the Lord, he now knew the profound loneliness of those without that comfort. Always admired for his optimism and clear hopefulness, Life Without Susan had taken him—for the first time in his life—into the Dark Night of the Soul he had described so glibly before actually knowing it. He understood God much less than before but he comprehended the depths of human suffering in a real and powerful way.

A friend of his had told him years ago: “I can’t trust anyone who hasn’t had their face on the pavement”. Richard had understood that intellectually at the time; now it was something palpable, something he knew at his core. Living without God had made him less impatient with those who knew that experience inside out. He had always been caring and sympathetic to those “lost souls” all around him—now he had real compassion for them...he had joined their ranks. He had always said, “I feel your pain” as he sat by the deathbed or in the recovery room or outside a lawyer’s office with a parishioner. At last, it was true. His sermons had ceased to give “advice” about how to deal with life’s vicissitudes. When he preached during LWS, it was much more from his heart than his mind. He was a fellow traveler for the pained and confused and angry. He urged them to cling together against the Darkness.

The Sunday after he and Cecelia had found the Lexus and it’s passengers of death, the gospel reading from the Episcopal lectionary was from Mark: the story of the healing of blind Bartimaeus. Always before, in the dozen times this passage had come up since Richard was ordained, he had seen it as a testimony to the blind man’s faith. Bartimaeus sat by the side of the road and called out to Jesus as he was passing. “Jesus, Son of David,” he cried, “have mercy on me!”

“What an example of optimism and faith,” Richard had preached in times gone by. “We need to find the Bartimaeus inside ourselves. No matter how dark the blindness of our lives may be, Jesus is near. We only need to call out for his healing love….”

Richard remembered those sermons as he read the lesson late Friday night. Easy enough for me to say, he thought, then.

This time it was not Bartimaeus’ faith that struck him, but the blind man’s desperation and fear. The crowds around him told him to be quiet, not to bother the Teacher. But Bartimaeus was so alone, so lost, so locked in his darkness that he continued to call. When Jesus heard him, it was the crowd around the blind man that brought him the news—the self-same crowd that had discouraged him now told him to “take heart”. It was the people around him in the darkness that must have guided him to his healing.

“Bartimaeus could have never made it to Jesus without the help of those around him,” Richard said that Sunday morning at St. Anne’s. “He was blind—how could he have found his healing without those around him guiding him as he ran? And he did run. Mark tells us so. Imagine the depths of longing, the depths of pain that would cause a blind man to try to run….”

Miriam and Mara sat in the back, snuggled into a corner of the tiny church. The tragedy of the week had brought a larger crowd than usual to the Eucharist. Stevenson was standing by the front door along with two other men because all the 40 seats were taken. The summer crowd was always like this—filled with visitors to the island. But October usually brought less than a minion of true islanders to church. When Richard first saw the parking lot full and entered the church from the rectory’s living room in his vestments, he had thought curiosity had brought them there—the wondering of how he would ‘bear up’ after having discovered the murdered couple. But as the liturgy began, he softened, wondering himself if they had come out of concern for him rather than morbid curiosity. And perhaps, he thought as he listened to Stevenson read the first two lessons and lead the Psalm, perhaps they had come longing against hope themselves.

The first verse of the Psalm of the day—Psalm 13—struck him deeply, causing him to see those gathered there not as the crowd that discourages, but as the crowd that would support those running blind.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?

How long will you hide your face from me?”

“We must be the crowd who supports, who guides, who holds onto those running blind,” he said, nearing his conclusion. “None of us can find healing without the love of friends and the kindness of strangers.”

Miriam almost laughed when he said those words. And even wrapped up in what he was trying to say, Richard realized she would chide him for unconscious literary allusions. Since Susan’s death, Richard had never written out sermons—first not having the energy and then because he had learned to like speaking without notes. And, sure enough, English major that he was, lines from plays and poems would find their way into what he was saying.

“It may be,” he continued, avoiding Miriam’s smiling gaze, “that we all need help from others because we are running blind. It may be that we wanderers on the earth can only find our way if we cling together.”

He paused, about the end. Then a synapse in his brain reminded him of something that seemed to fit.

“A few weeks ago,” he said, “I discovered two men sleeping off what must have been quite a drunk here in the church. My first thought was the wake them and ask them to leave. My first thought—like the thought of the crowd about Bartimaeus—was to chide them….But then, watching them sleep, I realized the church is where we should come when we are confused.

“So, I fixed them breakfast and woke them up. We ate together, breaking bread. They were embarrassed but quite hungry.”

He noticed Miriam stifling another laugh and saw that Mara had suddenly sat upright and was staring at him with her ocean gray eyes.

“Sometimes we—the church, the people of God, Christ’s Body in this world—are the hands and feet and voice of God to each other. When God has seemingly forgotten us, we must reach out to comfort and embrace each other. Only then…just perhaps…may we run through the darkness toward the light….”

Richard felt suddenly exposed. Maybe he should write his sermons down. He would have never used his own ‘good deed’ as an illustration had he been using a text. He always cringed with preachers pointed to themselves as examples of how to live. That was probably why Mara seemed so shocked. It was a prideful thing to do.

Half-way through the Nicene Creed Mara squeezed out of the row and, nodding to Stevenson by the door, left. Richard’s mind was racing. He wondered, as he often did, if the people in the congregation imagined he was totally focused on what he was during in the service. The few times he’d ever mentioned to anyone that it is possible to say Mass while thinking of something else they had seemed horrified. He wondered where Mara had gone, picturing her in the mind in the suit she was wearing—the same one she’d had on the first time he saw her. He thought about the lunch he’d have with Miriam before the plane to Boston. Fried fish or lobster roll, he tried to decide during the prayers of the people.

After the peace, when Richard realized how few names he knew among the people there, Stevenson made some announcements. A planned potluck, the repair of a window in the rectory and a reminder to pray for the Diocesan Convention next weekend in Providence was followed by Stevenson asking Richard to join him in front of the altar.

Stevenson threw an arm around Richard in a show of uncharacteristic affection. Then he began speaking in his most impressive and stentorian voice—a voice that Richard had often thought of as “the Board Room” voice, a voice so full of confidence and seriousness that it could not be ignored. Though Richard was not terribly short, Stevenson wrapped himself around him like a little league coach encouraging a struggling pitcher.

“We all know the travail that Fr. Lucas has endured,” Stevenson began. Richard didn’t remember ever hearing “travail” used in a real conversation. “And his strength and courage during this week of trials has been exemplary.” (Richard had, of course, heard “exemplary” spoken, but never about him—much less his strength and courage.)

“Richard has suffered much in the past year,” Stevenson’s words were bringing a blush to Richard’s cheeks, “and I know you will join me in supporting him in the times ahead….”

Before people could applaud, Stevenson stopped them with a perfectly timed, though subtle movement of his large, well manicured right hand.

“And today, Richard’s daughter, Miriam, who’ve we’ve had the pleasure of watching grow up summer after summer here on the Block is with us as well.” Richard watched Miriam blanch, though only he could have noticed her already pale skin grow even paler. Stevenson was motioning to Miriam in the back of the church. “Come on up, dear,” he was saying.

Miriam rolled her eyes, but ever the dutiful priest’s kid, she moved to the center aisle and started toward the front where Stevenson had already started clapping his hands as a signal that all could applaud.

Stevenson in the middle, Richard and Miriam shrunk in his presence as the congregation acknowledged them.

“I’ll get you for this, Stevenson,” Miriam whispered just beneath the noise. Several people were wiping tears away and Richard was mortified to see Mara and Dante standing in the very back, near the door, smirking at him. They would not soon let him forget this moment he knew.

But Stevenson was not through. “Today I’d like to ask Fr. Lucas to use the antique porcelain communion set that is normally only brought out on Christmas and Easter.” He looked at Richard as if he had just offered him the Pulitzer Prize. “Richard…?” he asked. Of course Richard nodded assent and Stevenson asked Irma Norman, a member of the altar guild to bring up the silver case, about the size of an overnight case. Stevenson unlocked it with a flourish with the tiny key that seemed to materialize in his hand. As Irma unpacked the chalice and paten (Chinese, Richard imagined, from the pastoral scenes of high mountains, torrential rivers and serene Buddhist monks painted on them—surely worth a priest’s annual salary) Stevenson beamed and the congregation applauded again.

Finally, the offertory sentences had to be said and the service had to continue. Dante and Mara disappeared onto the porch. Richard could see them through the open door—Dante smoking franticly and Mara’s head bent near his, her mouth moving, her head turning back toward the church and nodding. Intrigue on top of humiliation—Richard did finally lose himself in the ancient and oh-so-familiar formulary of the canon of the Mass. He took the bread and broke it, blessed the cup and elevated it and invited all to come to the feast of the Lord’s Table. People reached to touch his hand as he offered him the host. More than a few whispered good wishes and blessings as the told them the little tasteless piece of wafer was, indeed, the Body of Christ. By the time all had received—even Miriam, though Richard doubted she much believed his pronouncements about the bread and wine (she probably just wanted to see the porcelains up close)—there was little wine left in the invaluable cup. Richard wished there had been several slugs of the inferior port to fortify him for what would come next.

The coffee and cookies on the deck in the warm October sun was as horrendous as Richard had feared. Stevenson had whipped the people into a frenzy of support and comfort and many of them quoted parts of his sermon.

“I know you’ve been ‘running blind’,” one tall, well dressed woman with a Beacon Hill accent told him, “but Randolph and I are here for you.” Randolph had on an impeccably tied bow tie and terribly expensive herringbone jacket. The creases in his khaki’s would have caused paper cuts and his wing-tips were polished within an inch of their life. Randolph pursed his lips and nodded solemnly. Liver spots on his aging face were mostly obscured by the kind of flawless tan only the rich seemed to get on Block Island. Richard mumbled his thanks, wondering who in the hell Randolph and his wife were.

It went on like that until Mara, wearing sunglasses and stunning, sidled up to him. “Block Island’s Bartimaeus,” she whispered hoarsely. Before he could reply she added, conspiratorially, “Dante and I need to talk to you now.”

“I’m taking Miriam to the airport,” Richard replied, unconsciously mocking her whisper. “After that maybe.”

Mara took off her sunglasses so he could see her roll her eyes. “Oh, Jesus,” she said through clinched teeth, “this is about murder most foul.”

Richard smiled and shook his head in confusion.

“You remembered,” she said, leaning toward him.

“Remembered what?”

“What you knew but didn’t know you knew,” she said, “or however that Italian asshole, Dante, put it.”

“I have no idea….” Richard began.

“I know you don’t,” she said, gripping his forearm tightly. A sudden jolt of feelings consumed him at her touch, “but I DO!”

Richard was driving his Volvo toward Old Town. Dante was smoking in the passenger seat, though Richard asked him not to. Miriam and Mara, like two 1950’s wives, sat in the back, leaning up against the front seats, listening intently.

“So who were they?” Dante said, turning his head to blow his smoke toward the open window.

“Who were who?” Richard responded, disoriented and confused.

“The two drunks in the church—that’s the key to the whole case—who were they?”

“The drunks are the key? How do you know?”

“He’s a fucking detective, Daddy,” Miriam chirped in from the back. “This is what he does—gut feelings, instinct, detecting…all that shit.”

Richard turned toward her for a moment, just as he was negotiating the turn up hill toward town.

“What kind of mouth is that?” he said, sternly.

“The one you fuckin’ gave me,” she replied, equally stern. “Don’t play ‘good preacher man’ here. Tell Dante who they were.”

“Let me guess,” Mara said, “they were Jamaicans.”

Richard nodded.

“Yea for the girl detectives!” Miriam cheered, “Nancy Drew lives!”

“Not really,” Mara said. “Dante was so interested in the off-island workers and the fisherman theory from the beginning….” Dante glared at her and she winked.

Mara plowed on: “did you ever see them—besides that time, of course?”

Richard was nodding his head. “Before and after, both.”

“Tell me about the ‘before’ times, if you can…” Mara’s eyes grew wide and she pointed ahead. “But you don’t have to look at me, keep your eyes on the road.”

“Let’s see,” Richard began, “before that day I’d seen them around town—they were always together. Did some work around the dock from time to time, rented Mopeds for the guy who rents them, handyman stuff.”

“So they were familiar to you when you saw them asleep in the church?” Dante asked.

“Sometimes I wished them good luck when they went fishing at night,” Mara whooped and Richard paused, “they’d pass through the church parking lot and I’m be on a late walk with Cecelia….”

“And after the day in your sermon, Richard,” Mara asked, leaning up so her arms were on his seat and her face next to his, “did you see them after then?”

“Oh, more often,” he replied. “A couple of times when I got up late, I’d meet one of them coming out of the church when I started my morning walk.”

“How’d they explain themselves? Why were they there?”

“They’d been praying,” he said, “just passing by and stopping into pray. They are Anglicans, after all.”

“Could you identify them?” Dante asked.

“Sure,” Richard said….He was slowing down for some people riding bikes in front of him. “I know their names…”

“You know their names, Father,” Dante said, tossing his cigarette butt out the window.

“Eli and Jonah…no, Jonas. I remember because I had to ask Jonas how he spelled his….”

“Last names,” Mara bit off, “or where they live.”

“Eli Holland and Jonas….” Richard tried to think.

“Not ‘Salk’, I hope,” Miriam said, giggling.

“No, it was pretty common,” Richard said as Dante was frantically punching numbers into his cell phone. “They are the ‘year-round’ Jamaicans who live just inland from the bluffs in a rented house. They do repairs during the winter, watch out for summer houses, help unload the ferry…things like that….”

“Wake up some judge, Brooks,” Dante was saying into his phone. “We need a search warrant for the domicile of one Eli Holland and Jonas…come on, Padre, what is it, what is the ‘common’ name?”

Richard laughed out loud. He was coming to the round about around the statue of Minerva.

“Christian,” he said, “Jonas Christian….

Mara flopped back and pushed on Richard’s seat with her knees. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she said, breaking into a deep, sultry laugh. “Christian, ain’t that a kick in the ass! No wonder you couldn’t remember!”

While Mara and Miriam collapsed on each other in the back seat, Dante was all business. He instructed Richard to circle the statue and take him and “the laughing detective bitch in the back seat” back to the church. “We’ll wait for Brooks there and you can tell us exactly where these perps live.”

“Oh, my God, Dante,” Mara howled at the lower pitches of the female voice spectrum, “you said perps again!”

Miriam and Richard were sitting in the Block Island airport’s tiny grill, having lunch, waiting for the next flight to Boston. Miriam was picking at her salad and talking non-stop. Richard was concentrating on his second hot dog.

“I hate to leave, Daddy,” she was saying as her father chewed, “everything is getting so exciting….You have mustard on your chin…no, higher…there, ok. I want to be in on the ‘bust’ or whatever. This is one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever been around. Milagros will simply die when I tell her about Mara and Dante and Flash and the poor dead people….Oh-oh, more mustard…there, on your shirt, lucky for you it’s black….Am I just blathering?”

Richard found time to nod while wiping off his shirt and taking another bite. Of course I shouldn’t eat hot dogs, he was thinking, but thank you for not mentioning it—well, except for the mustard.

Miriam grew suddenly still. Richard could feel her staring at him. Here comes the ‘hot dog’ lecture, he thought.

Instead, she said, “you really are alright, aren’t you? You really are coming back from the dead.”

Her eyes were almost pea-green in the light of the little restaurant. They enveloped him when he looked up.

“Yes, Princess,” he said and then took a sip of his diet Coke. Hot dogs and diet coke, he said to himself, a perfectly balanced meal.

“Have you slept with Mara yet?” his daughter said, forking a piece of cucumber and lifting it to her mouth.

It was one of those things that hadn’t happened to him since he was an adolescent—he gulped, snorted and felt the cola rising toward his nose. His choking and coughing and clearing out his nasal cavities by blowing his nose into a paper napkin, then another, gave him ample time to gather himself.

“That might be considered an inappropriate question in some circles,” he finally replied.

“Not my circle,” she said, giving him a knowing grin.

“Sgt. Coles and I have a ‘professional’ relationship,” he said, knowing he was lying to his daughter.

“Bullshit, Daddy,” she said, a bit too loud for Richard’s comfort—the little restaurant was packed with Islanders, one of the favorite Sunday eating places on the Block. “I’ve seen the glances—I’m a very sexual woman, if you haven’t noticed—and I know the clues. You two are smitten.”

Smitten,” Richard said, about to laugh. “That’s what you think—‘smitten’?”

His daughter pulled herself up to her full height in the booth they were sharing, which wasn’t very tall. “As ‘smitten’ as ‘smitten’ can be,” she said, almost singing it. Then she grew suddenly serious. “It’s not being ‘unfaithful’ to Mom,” she said, as solemn as a church bell. She’d be standing on the sidelines cheering for you, Daddy. Really.”

As they sat there like that, the flight to Boston was announced.

“Any mustard on my face or clothes?” Richard said.

Miriam shook her head and smiled. “Really, Daddy,” she said in the tone of voice most people talk with a cancer patient, “I couldn’t be happier than this: you being happy, whatever that means.”

Then she smiled at him and told him his children’s plan—that all of them, the whole family, would spend Christmas at Jeremy‘s house in St. Louis. That was the plan and he must accommodate himself to it.

Richard smiled back at her. He was about to ask what her brothers would think if he brought a woman to Christmas in St. Louis…but then he realized he had known Mara for less than a week, and ‘smitten’ as he was, he had no idea whatsoever what her thoughts about him were. This is all crazy, Princess, he thought. But he exercised restraint enough not to say it. He was thinking of Mara’s eyes, how painfully and profoundly gray they were, how stormy and dangerous.

“Sounds good for me,” he said.

“Great,” she said, then sobering, added, “I’ve asked Dante and Mara, but I don’t know if they’d tell me the truth…are you in danger because of all of this? Are you?”

“Maybe it’s time for a little ‘danger’,” is what he said, standing up, leaving money on the table for their meal, “and time for you to go back to Boston.”

Father and daughter embraced in the middle of that little eatery and again on the tarmac before Miriam climbed the steps to the commuter jet and waved back at him. He watched the plane taxi and leap into the air and kept watching even after it was less than a dot in the sky.


Richard drove around the island for almost an hour. That meant he covered every paved road at least once. He didn’t know why he was delaying his return to St. Anne’s, but he was. He ended up at the ancient burial grounds of Block Island, stopped his Volvo and walked among the graves for a while.

So many dead, he thought, even on this tiny boulder in the sea. He read names and dates and wondered about the lives of those slumbering beneath the shallow soil. He found the oldest grave on the island—Margaret Guthry who died in 1687, just 25 years or so after the 16 white people who settled on the island arrived. Her tombstone was remarkably undamaged, considering all the wind and weather that had taken place in the 316 years since her death.

Richard sat by Margaret’s grave in the warmth of the October sun for a long time—half-an-hour at least. He was thinking, not of Margaret, of course, but of Susan, whose grave he was not able to sit by. He resisted talking to his dead wife, remembering Jimmy Steward in Shenandoah. Lord, he thought to himself, my whole life is movies and TV shows! I’m incapable of an original thought. However, his thoughts were ‘original’ for him. He was thinking about Susan and how many ways he had subtlety failed her, how his indiscretion about ‘time’—how to be a priest and be a husband and father—didn’t measure up. He also thought about Mara, this woman he barely knew, having dated Susan for three years before they were married. In less than five days, Mara had awakened him to his longings, his hopes, his life again. Surely it was just the excitement of being a character in a TV show—a priest/detective in a cable channel murder mystery, a supporting actor to something so much bigger than him. That was it…that was the explanation. Nothing formed so quickly could be lasting. Just a passing fancy, that’s all it was, an understandable and short-lived infatuation, soon to be dispelled and done with, a ‘fling’ that never really got ‘flung’.

He wandered among the tombstones, wishing Cecelia was there with him, running wild, and Miriam, so they could wonder together what life had been like for these long dead people. He found a plot where five children were buried, along with the parents that outlived them. It was stunning to him to consider that possibility. How can a parent outlive their child? What kind of courage and fortitude would that require? He knew this cemetery was only one of thousands holding such secrets, such painful realities. And he wandered among the grave stones, wondering for almost two hours.

He drove back to the rectory in as oblique a pattern as one can conceive of on a small island. When he got there, Cecelia was outside and greeting him with wetness and whines. Inside the house he found Dante and Mara in the little “office” in one of the three bedrooms, worrying over his computer.

“Padre,” Dante said, smoking like a furnace, “we’ve got photos of our perfectly legal entry into the abode of your two Jamaican friends. We wore those wondrous gloves, but, to tell you the truth, our presence would only have improved the general order and cleanliness of Eli and Jonas’ home.”

Mara was flipping through some photographs she’s taken with her digital camera. Dante was correct, the pictures showed a home in great need of a major cleaning. Pizza boxes and empty ‘tall boy’ cans competed with items of clothing and general disorder. But then she brought up a photo of a note. It wasn’t clear enough to read, but both the detectives knew what it said.

“There’s a drug drop tonight,” Dante told Richard, “and we think it is just off the rocks down below this house. We think this church has been used, in ways we don’t yet understand, to enable a major drug smuggling ring to do their business. I’m getting tingly feelings about it all. I think we’re about to break open something very, very big. I just don’t know how yet.”

Though Richard couldn’t read the note on the computer screen, he could recognize the hand writing.

“I’ve seen this handwriting somewhere,” Mara said, pointing to the screen. “I don’t know where or when. But it looks familiar to me. Dante, what about you?”

“Wishful thinking, my love,” he said, “but the cursive is quite correct. We’re looking at the writing of a very educated criminal.”

Richard excused himself, claiming he needed a bathroom break. But he flushed the toilet in the bathroom just outside that bedroom without need, just to cover himself as he crept down the hallway and into the kitchen. There was a note attached by a magnet the shape of Block Island on the front of the refrigerator. He took it off, glanced at the handwriting and stuffed it into the back pocket of his jeans. He didn’t dare throw it in the trash, knowing from his movie and TV experiences how often the police examined garbage. Once it was in his pocket, it almost burned his butt. Mara had been in and out of the kitchen numerous times and opened the refrigerator dozens of time in the last few days. No wonder the handwriting on the note left in the Jamaicans’ house looked vaguely familiar to her. She’d been glancing at it for days. But Richard would handle this part of the investigation, even though telling them now would make it so much simpler. ‘Loyalty’ was Richard’s byword, his credo, what made him who he was. And he wasn’t yet ready to give that significant part of himself away.

Knowing it would be a long night, Dante and Mara had seltzer with the dinner of cold roasted chicken and potato salad and fresh greens that Richard served them. It was the last of the bounty folks from the island had brought to Richard after he found the bodies on Wednesday. Just like any death, the support tended to wilt away before the week was out. They ate quietly, none of the playfulness that was usual for the two detectives. Richard thought they were getting their ‘game faces’ on.

When Mara went looking for chutney in the refrigerator, she opened the door, then closed it immediately and stared at the dozen or so things held on the surface with magnets. She didn’t mention it, but Richard watched her and realized she ‘didn’t know what she didn’t know’ and was confused by it all.

They all watched a little TV after dinner, Mara flipping restlessly through the 7 or 8 channels. Dante went to the second bed room for a quick nap and Mara closed her eyes, sitting on the couch. Richard made coffee that he didn’t drink and spooned out vanilla ice cream that ended up going to Cecelia. Finally he went into the “office” bed room and went on the internet, searching for a half-hour or so until he found, and printed out, what he had been looking for, though he wasn’t sure, when he was looking, what he was ‘looking for’.

Shortly after midnight, after sternly warning Richard to ‘stay inside’, no matter what, although they did let him make a quick trip to his car,Dante and Mara took some of the throw pillows scattered around the living room furniture and took up prone positions under the deck of the church and rectory. While they were there, Richard found the tape recorder he used to record sermons and the Bob Dylan cassette that Miriam had given him because he didn’t own a CD player. He put the tape in the machine and set it on the book shelf and went to his room, reading a mystery novel with Cecelia beside him, trying, though failing, to fall asleep.

Transcript of a phone call to the (DEA in Boston, logged in at 12:08 p.m., Sunday, October 2-, 2003.

DEA: Department of ATF, how may I help you?

Caller: Something big going down on Block Island tonight, after midnight.

DEA: How may I direct your call?

Caller: Get agents out there. It’s up Spring Street, on the beach below some church.

DEA: What kind of event are you describing.

Caller: Big drug deal. Get there. (connection from 401-466-7171 disconnected)

Transcript of a phone call to the Office of Homeland Security in NYC, logged in at 12:12 p.m., Sunday, October 2-, 2003.

HS: Homeland Security, how may I help you?

Caller: You have agents on Block Island. Inform them there’s a big drug deal going down tonight. This is not a crank call.

HS: You’re calling from Block Island? Where is that? What is your name?

Caller: Down on the beach near some Episcopal Church. Let your people know.

HS: Is this a matter of national security?

(call was disconnect from 401-466-7171)

It all ‘went down’, as they say in TV and Movies, like this, as near as anyone can tell.

The note that Dante and Mara found at the Jamaican’s house had, unlike all the others, been slipped under their door. It said:

Things have gotten hot. Monday night will be the last delivery for a while. After that pick up, go home for a while, see your families. Come back in December. There will be a Christmas bonus.

So the Rhode Island State Police and the FBI (from Dante’s mouth to Flash Gordon’s ear) knew about the drop of drugs in the ocean. And they knew Eli and Jonas would be coming back toward St. Anne’s, as always. Malcolm Alt, of Block Island’s finest, had seen the note as well. There had been two anonymous calls, later traced to the public phone near the beach of Old Town, made to Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Agency tipping both agencies off about the action. Another call from that phone to a certain Milo Miano in Providence, just three minutes later involved several agencies in search warrants and arrests in the following months. In fact, a check of the calls from that phone revealed it was the contact for the whole drug smuggling operation. From that phone, the whole debacle had gone down. In the end, the caller from that innocent phone was known. Case closed.

However, on that night, the five agencies of law enforcement involved had chosen different paths. Dante and Mara, of course, were waiting under the deck of St. Anne’s. Homeland Security had broken into the summer house where the seagull liked to sit and Cosby and Nash were armed and ready. The FBI, against Flash’s advice, infiltrated the small maze in the field behind St. Anne’s, near the ocean. The two agents came too early, failed to wait on Agent Gordon and discovered the wet suits Eli and Jonas would need, retreated over a stone wall and waited there where Flash found them. Three DEA agents set up their surveillance behind the stone wall directly across the field from the FBI’s stone wall. Malcolm Alt, not a bad policeman but limited in his field experience, waited with two other under trained officers in a Block Island police car parked near where the Lexus had been turned over on Spring Street.

The scene was set.

At 2:30 a.m., Eli, less drunk than Jonas on good rum, quietly entered the church through the ever open door. When he emerged he had what he thought was a waterproof package containing about $375,000 in unmarked bills. Actually, it was cut up pages from the Boston Globe. The 13 law enforcement agents involved in the stake out all wondered where Eli had found the money. The only civilian watching the proceedings—Fr. Richard David Lucas—knew for sure, but he wasn’t telling anyone yet.

Eli and Jonas located their wet suits in the small maze, stripped down and pulled them on. They were carrying flippers and snorkels and both were superb swimmers, having been conch divers back in Jamaica. Even a little tipsy, they could out swim most Olympic medal winners.

As they had done dozens of times, they swam out to a buoy about a hundred yards off the rocky beach, towing an identical buoy hooked to the cash they thought they had. Switching the lines from the two buoys was seamless, as always. They swam silently back to the shore with what they believed to be nearly half a million dollars worth of heroin. Little did they know, because of a phone call made from a public phone near a beach on Block Island, they were dragging carefully wrapped packets of flour and sugar. Wet as they were, they had been ‘hung out to dry’ by those above them. No ‘connections’ would be found, those overconfident bosses believed. Eli and Jonas would take what all Fr. Lucas’ television shows, movies and crime novels would refer to as the fall.

The two Jamaicans changed out of their wet suits, hid the buoy they’d pulled out of the chill north Atlantic and walked down the road toward Spring Street and St. Anne’s talking in whispers about their good luck and the time they would spend back where it was warm and the sea was mild. All that was left to do was to get home with both the drugs and the money and the next day take the Ferry to Port Judith and a cab to Providence airport. All would be well, all would be well, all manner of things would be well for them.

Here’s what went wrong: as the FBI crossed the stone wall to the south of Eli and Jonas with stealth born of training and Drug Feds crept over the wall to the north with an equal adroitness…and as the Homeland Security Agents abandoned their illegally entered house to track the two Jamaicans…and as Malcolm Alt opened the door of his cruiser, causing a light to come on that Eli and Jonas would have seen had they not been exhausted by swimming and a bit high on rum…and as Mara and Dante lay, face down, on the deck of St. Anne’s…at just that moment Cecelia started whining and fidgeting and dancing around as if she needed to pee and Richard David Lucas, a man who had five years of education beyond his BA in English, decided it would be alright to let the half Lab/half Retriever out the back door of the rectory to relieve herself.

Well, the rest is obvious. Cecelia ran around to the front and surprised Eli and Jonas in the church parking lot where she began to lick them like long-lost friends. Powerful flashlights that various federal agencies had brought with them came on, flooding the two Jamaicans and Cecelia as if it were mid-day.

Thirteen guns were drawn and five law enforcement groups began screaming—at the two “perps” and the dog. At just that moment, Richard rushed out the front door of the Rectory, worried about someone shooting his dog. His sudden appearance upped the anxiety of 12 fingers on 12 triggers. Only one gun carrying person reacted differently. Mara leaped to feet with the grace of a gazelle and brought her Glock down on Richard’s left temple with a calculated and remarkably effective blow.

He dropped like a stone. His mind became oatmeal with a little honey and two pats of butter.

“Sorry, Richard,” she whispered to him through the haze of his semi-consciousness, “sorry, love.”

It took another ten minutes to calm everyone down enough to lower their guns. It was Dante, obviously, who finally closed the deal. Eli and Jonas were face down in the gavel of the parking lot, half-drunk and scared nearly to death while a 70 pound dog licked their faces. Nearby was a small suitcase sized package of the raw material of sweet rolls.

Dante stood up and holstered his gun. He walked across the illuminated parking lot and pulled two sets of handcuffs from the pockets of his tailored suit that he’d bought in Venice a year before.

“I’m Lt. Dante Caggiano of the Rhode Island State Police,” he shouted to the dangerous people with guns all around him. “Block Island is, as loathe as I am to admit it, part of Rhode Island. I am now putting these two men under arrest. Officer Alt will help me transport them to a retaining facility—if there is one on this rock—and we will sort out the rest after that….Is that acceptable to the ladies and gentlemen here assembled?”

One by one, as Dante and Malcolm secured the prisoners, the lights went off and adrenaline pumped law enforcers began to wonder and ask each other if there was anywhere to get a drink this late on Block Island. The only answer was the Rectory of St. Anne’s and so agents from three federal bureaucracies filed into Richard’s home away from home to drink up all the spirits people from the parish had brought him while Dante took the ‘perps’ to jail and Mara carried Richard—literally ‘carried him’—to his bed and found ice to apply to the wound she had inflicted on his head.

About 4 a.m. Mara called Dr. Weinstein who came to check Richard out to see if he needed Brooks to fly him to a hospital on the mainland. Brooks had arrived a few minutes before Mara called with a message from the Commandant of the Rhode Island State Police to “cooperate fully” with all federal agencies and, surreptitiously, to make this collar be Rhode Island’s alone. Dante is in the right bureaucracy, Mara thought, deciphering the message.

The doctor was there when Richard began to revive. “A mild concussion,” he said. “You must know how to hurt people appropriately.”

Mara didn’t smile. She knew she must go to interview the two Jamaicans with Dante. And she needed to move all the feds out of the rectory. She wished Miriam was still here to be with Richard. Cecelia was curled around his body, whimpering a bit, but he needed a “watcher”. At just that moment, Stevenson came into the room.

“I’ve heard about it somewhat,” he said to Mara, embracing her. “I’ll sit with him if you have to go.”

She was delighted and so relieved.

“Oh, Stevenson,” she said, near tears, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

She knelt by Richard’s bed and kissed his forehead.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

His eyes opened and he spoke, a little garbled, but understandable: “you had me at ‘I’m sorry, love’.” Then he seemed to fall asleep.

She kissed his forehead again. Looking at Stevenson and Dr. Weinstein she said, “I’ll leave him in your hands. Be gentle with him.”

The doctor nodded and Stevenson embraced her. “Worry not,” he said.

“He’s so lucky to have you,” Mara told him, just before she left.

All night through, Stevenson sat by Richard’s bed.

While the agents raided Richard’s alcohol, trading cop stories, and Mara worried about how badly she had hurt him, Dante and Malcolm finally separated the Jamaicans from the happy dog while Cecelia went in the house with all her new federal friends and discovered her master in bed, only a bit conscious. She lay against him, wet and muddy, unwilling to move from the spot.

Luckily Flash Gordon emerged from the herd of law enforcers to help Dante and Malcolm and the two middle aged, overweight part-time Block Island policemen Officer Alt had brought along on what he kept referring to as ‘the sting’. Dante was too wired up to point out that it had been more like an ambush than a sting, plus, he had his hands full with Eli. Jonas was drunk enough to be compliant and a much smaller man than his partner, so the three Block Island cops got him into the back seat of the cruiser with only a little trouble. Eli, on the other hand, was angry and frightened and kept yelling “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” Dante thought he meant it for Jonas but couldn’t be certain. Flash outweighed the Jamaican and helped Dante force him into the seat beside of Jonas, who looked like he was about to throw up. Dante and Officer Alt leaped into the front seat and, making a broad U-turn in the parking lot at more speed than necessary and went bouncing down the dirt road to Spring Street.

“Jesus, Malcolm,” Dante hissed between clinched teeth, “you just drove through a fucking crime scene! Slow the fuck down!”

Since the FBI’s car was hidden down a separate dirt road, Flash looked in Richard’s Volvo, discovering, as he thought he would, that the good pastor left his keys in the ignition so he could always find them. Agent Gordon and the other two Block Island cops climbed in and followed Malcolm and Dante.

“Where does he think he’s going?” Flash asked out loud. “Where’s the fire?”

One of the cops in back said, “Malcolm’s a bit hyped up. He’s never been in on a ‘bust’ before….”

Flash shook his head. “A bust...” he whispered under his breath.

Back in the Police car, Malcolm moved his hands toward the controls for lights and siren.

“If you touch that,” Dante said tightly, “I’ll tear off your hand and feed it to you. Christ, man, its 3:30 in the morning on a nearly deserted island.”

From the back seat, they heard a moan and then retching.

“Jesus, mon,” Eli shouted, “the fool is vomiting on me….”

Dante smiled and took out a cigarette.

“You can’t…,” Malcolm began.

“I know I can’t smoke in the car,” Dante replied, flicking his expensive lighter and inhaling deeply. “But the smoke will cover the stench….”

Eli was thrashing around in the back, pushing Jonas away roughly with his knee. “Stupid, stupid, stupid….”

The Block Island Police Station had a single holding cell. Dante noticed there was a scatter rug on the floor, patterned bedspreads on two single beds and even a bedside table and lamp.

He told Malcolm to get the lamp and table out of the cell. “Is everything on this half-assed island a bed and breakfast?”

Malcolm and Flash waited until the Block Island police had uncuffed Jonas and poured him into bed. He groaned for a moment then started snoring. Jonas, Dante now saw, was a short, balding man built like a barrel. A rum barrel, he thought. Late 40’s, he imagined. Must be what passes for the brains of these two.

Since he and Flash were holding the still hand-cuffed Eli by his biceps, they could feel the hard sinews of muscle. And this one is the ‘muscle’, Dante continued to think.

“How did he swim that drunk?” Flash said to Dante.

“Fool never swim,” Eli answered, obviously furious.

Dante and Flash exchanged a glance.

“Want to tell us more?” Flash asked in a calm voice.

They watched Eli’s face melt from anger to thoughtfulness and then morph into fear.

“I need my ‘rights’ read, mon,” he said, covering his anxiety with bravura. “I need my phone call….I want to lawyer up….”

Dante laughed, getting a glare from Eli and a smile from Flash Gordon.

“Jesus,” he said, “lawyer up”! Too many cop shows on TV, Agent Gordon.”

“I agree, Lt. Caggiano,” Flash said, his smile growing broader.

After they had freed one of Eli’s hands and cuffed the other to a steel desk, which they were glad to see was bolted to the floor, Dante put a phone set in front of him. “Make your call….”

They moved away, straining to hear nonetheless, as Eli dialed and then talked in rapid, but muted words. Dante noticed the man was over six feet tall, probably in his early 30’s and, as the weight lifting crowd at the RISP called it, ‘buff’. He was still in his rain slicker and jeans. They hadn’t carried figured out, the two Jamaicans weren’t planning to have to masquerade any more. Eli was darker than his friend—though friendship didn’t seem evident between them—with a chiseled face and nearly shaved head. He was a striking looking man, unlike Jonas, and Dante pondered again how mere skin color could make someone invisible sometimes. This was a man everyone should remember if they saw him only once.

He stayed on the phone longer than Dante had imagined he would. They’d find out later what the number was he had dialed—obviously one he had memorized for just such an eventuality. When he finally hung up, he turned toward the assembly of five officers. The two older guys were drinking coffee and eating what looked like home-made peanut butter cookies. Officer Alt, Dante credited him, was hyper-alert and stood with a hard look on his face and his right hand resting on his service revolver.

“My lawyer’ll be here on the first plane, mon,” Eli said, as dangerously as he could manage. The man on the other end of the phone had spoken in clipped, menacing sentences, threatening to ‘leave him in the lurch’ if he said ‘boo’ to the cops.” Eli wasn’t sure what a ‘lurch’ was or why he would say ‘boo’ to the police, but he got the point. “I ain’t talkin’, mon, ‘till he gets here.”

They put him in the cell with Jonas after warning him not to do bodily harm to his accomplice.

“You are in one shit-load of trouble, my man,” Flash said, shutting the cell and realizing Eli could probably break the lock with his hands, “so hurting him won’t be any deeper load of shit—but you’d be facing it all by yourself.”

“I’m thinking, Mr. ------,” Dante added, “that your friend there might be a little deeper than you. I’m just thinking that. So you’ll want him around when all this gets to a judge.”

Eli growled, “stupid, stupid, stupid….” Then he climbed onto the bed and turned his face away from the still snoring Jonas.

One of the other FBI agents had retrieved the car and drove Mara to the station after Stevenson and Dr. Weinstein had arrived at the rectory. When she arrived she found Flash, Dante and Malcolm in the one office of the police station, all wearing the ubiquitous rubber gloves of police work and all chuckling to themselves. Dante was so busy chuckling that he wasn’t smoking.

On the table they were sitting around were the two packages Eli and Jonas had been carrying up from the water when they were licked into submission by detective Cecelia. Malcolm had marked the bags as evidence and Dante had used his expensive pocket knife to carefully cut away the waterproof coverings and reveal the contents. When Mara walked in, Malcolm stood up and said, “Sgt. Coles….How’s Fr. Lucas?”

She shook her head. “He’ll be fine I think….Me, I’m not sure….”

“He really fell for you, Sergeant,” Dante said, still chuckling.

Mara glared at him, then rolled her head as if she had a stiff neck. “Dante, you’re chortling. I’ve never seen you chortle before. What’s the joke?”

“Nearest I can tell,” Flash jumped in, “the joke’s on our friends in the lock up….”

Between bouts of laughter, they explained to Mara that the Jamaicans were obviously going to make off with both the money and the drugs but one package was dollar bill sized cuttings of what must have taken the whole Sunday Globe and the other was zip lock bags full of what appeared to be flour mixed with sugar.

“Or Splenda,” Flash said, touching the white stuff with his finger and licking it.

“I’m sure it’s sugar, Agent Gordon,” Malcolm said seriously. “Sugar is much heavier than Splenda. From the weight of these plastic bags….”

The two other men, almost giddy from exhaustion, laughed. Mara gave them a withering look and picked up one of the bags. “I think you’re right, Officer Alt,” she said, hefting the white substance in her hand. Good detective work.”

Malcolm fairly beamed as the other two tried to regain their composure.

The four of them, realizing it would be mid-morning before Jonas was fully awake and Eli would wait for the mysterious lawyer, spent much of the rest of the darkness going over and over ‘what they knew’ and ‘what they still needed to find out’. Though everyone had guesses, no one was sure where the money had been hidden in the little church where it was switched each time there was a delivery with the still damp packet of drugs.

“One thing though,” Dante finally added, opening manila folder with the date and the three men’s signatures on it, “this was around Eli’s neck….” He removed an evidence bag with a sturdy, rather old fashioned silver key on it. A circle of rawhide was threaded through the head of the key and tied in a knot.

Mara shook her head. “The only thing that key might fit is the ciborium….” Seeing the confusion on Malcolm’s face, she added, “the little box attached to the wall beside the altar for the reserved sacraments….But that’s not big enough to packages the size of these in….”

“Oh my,” Dante said, recognition flooding his face. “The plot thickens….There is something in that church this key might open that is ‘just right’ for packages this size. You and I have seen it, lovely Mara. I’ve held it in my hands….”

Her lips parted into a little ‘o’, which is what she said. “Does that mean….”

“That’s what it would mean,” Dante interrupted, subtly nodding toward Officer Alt, who was still staring at the key and looking lost. “But I’m guessing our sleeping prisoners have no idea who their accomplice is, so how do we prove it….”

Malcolm was about to ask who they thought the accomplice might be when Eli started yelling in the other room that, “This stupid fool threw up again! Get in here and clean it up, Mon.” Malcolm left, clearly disgusted at the prospect.

“If we say it in front of him, my darling,” Dante said, finally deciding to smoke again, “it’ll be all over the island before dawn….”

“You don’t think Malcolm is discreet?” Mara asked, clearly it was a rhetorical question for neither of them bothered to respond.

Later, with dawn just beginning to break, the three of them stood outside the Police Station. One of the other FBI guys, Terrell, who was just as black and just as big as Eli, stayed behind to keep things calm. Mara would drive Richard’s Volvo back to the church while Flash and Dante went for breakfast at the airport, just to see if they could spot a lawyer getting off a plane. They all leaned against the FBI car, silent, watching the light come, staring out at the sea they could see in three directions.

“If you get a chance and it feels right,” Dante said as they listened to birds catching breakfast all around them, “you might try out our little theory on the good Padre. Gently, certainly.”

Mara smiled. “Gently, Dante? You’re getting soft.”

“Don’t you wish,” he replied, getting into the big, black, super-charged Ford.

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About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.