Our three grandchildren are here tonight. Josh and Cathy are at a wedding and will spend the night in Hartford. Pray for us! We've kept the twins overnight before, but not all three....
So, I don't have time to write more but will send the next chapter of Murder on the Block
Friday, October 24, 2003—7:23 a.m.
Richard rolled over and over again, tangling himself in his sheet and blanket, trying to pull himself to consciousness to respond to the repeated pounding on the door and the calls of his name.
Then Cecelia dove off the bed and leaped up on the person standing in the bedroom door, licking her and wagging her tail like a flag at a 4th of July parade. Richard rolled over, now entombed in his bed clothing, wrapped up like a mummy and saw a head so blond it was almost white nuzzling his dog. The head came into focus and he noticed how dark the eyebrows were and how wide the smile was.
“Wake up, sleepy head,” Mara said in a loud, whispery voice, full of smoke and fog and morning, “your dog is ready for morning. It’s time to wake up….” She smelled faintly of the garlic from her scampi the night before. Richard had long ago noticed how some people’s bodies processed garlic and seemed to have it ooze from their pours. Susan had been like that. His daughter, Miriam, as well. And now this police Sergeant. It was disconcerting since Richard was fond of women who smelled of garlic.
Richard stared at her in the dim light of early morning. She ruffled Cecelia’s head and pushed her aside. Then Mara put both knees on Richard’s king-sized bed (a gift to St. Anne’s from a grateful priest who spent two weeks each summer on the Block and wanted a comfortable place to sleep) and leaned over toward him. She was dressed in sweats—a loose fitting light gray top and equally loose pants. Her face was only a foot or so from Richard’s and she smelled of last night’s garlic and ale and of women’s sweat and of something different, something fruity…green apples, Richard thought, green apples that had just fallen from the tree. That fresh. That new.
“I’ll take your dog out,” she said, breathing on him, “while you wake your ass up and get dressed.”
Mara was on all fours, knees and hands on the bed with him, her lips—the flawless top one and the bottom one with the wondrous flaw of a scar almost in the middle—within easy reach of Richard’s mouth. He thought, for a fleeting moment, about rising up and kissing her. But it passed almost before it occurred to him.
“How…how did you get in?” he asked, instead of kissing her.
She stayed poised on his bed. “I knocked and yelled and then found out that the church is unlocked and the door to the house from the church is unlocked as well….Then I found you wrapped up in your cocoon with your dog slobbering all over me.”
“Some watch-dog,” Richard said.
Mara jumped off the bed, landing on her feet, growing suddenly grave. There was enough light for Richard to see the gray of her eyes. Storms gathering over the sea—and she was so lithe and graceful and under control.
“When Cecelia and I get back,” she said, turning toward the dog and the door, “I expect a butterfly from that cocoon.”
She moved so rapidly that Richard’s reply was stuck in his throat. So he got up, washed his face, brushed his teeth brutally to make up for his neglect the night before and found his dog and Mara in the kitchen.
She was pouring Uncle Sam Cereal into two bowls.
“I don’t cook like Dante,” she said, “but I’m making toast and slicing this God-awful cantaloupe I found in the fridge.”
Two teaspoons of Splenda and cold milk made the healthy cereal eatable. The melon was tasteless but the rye toast, smeared with butter and topped with damson jam from some previous priest’s stay on the Block, left in the refrigerator for those to come, was marvelous to Richard.
Half way through their silent breakfast, the Mr. Coffee was through with its work. Mara got up to pour and doctor the brew for them.
“The church door is always unlocked?” she asked, pouring half-and-half into the cups.
“Are you being a detective now?” Richard’s mouth was full of toast.
She carried their coffee to the table and handed him a cup.
“Where’s your gun today, detective?” Richard was being playful.
Still standing by the table, after taking a sip of coffee and sitting her cup there, Mara slowly lifted her baggy sweat shirt, showing him an expanse of flat, brown stomach and the hint of the swell of her breast so he could see the shoulder holster that held her weapon. Even as she was doing it, she was wondering why—she could as easily have told him she had a shoulder-holster or joked back with him: “that’s why they call it a concealed weapon, Father….” But before she could stop herself, she had lifted her shirt in an obviously seductive way.
He instinctively looked away. Mara lowered her shirt as slowly as she had raised it and then sat down opposite him at the table. She breathed in and out through her nose twice—very slowly and audibly.
“Richard….Father Lucas….” Mara spoke softly, almost tenderly, in her naturally breathless whisper, “I don’t think we should do this. I really don’t.”
Richard’s mind was racing wildly between the garlic/ale/green apple and sweat smell of her and the glimpse he’s just had of her belly and the wondrously round bottom of her breast…and a gun as well….He was still chewing on a bite of rye toast she had toasted and the butter and jam she’d smeared on it.
“Listen, God Damn it!” she said coarsely, jarring Richard back from his thoughts. “Dante wants you and me to be detectives for him. And here I am exposing myself to you at the breakfast table….I don’t know why I did that. I really don’t.”
Richard suddenly had lots of things to say, lots of rebuttal material about how it had been no big deal and she shouldn’t feel bad, but he was still thinking about the expanse of skin he’d seen and she raced on before he could speak.
She was terribly upset with herself, Richard knew at least that much. So she raved on: “I’m a good cop, but not if I’m out of control. I’m no good to myself and doubly no good to you. Dante and his hair-brained schemes about using you to help in whatever the fuck happens next…. But I can’t. I just can’t make you do this….”
Richard was confused. “Why not? Why can’t we do this…whatever this is?”
Mara bit her bottom lip and then released it. Richard was fascinated by how pale her lip seemed and how pink it soon became. He was on the verge of asking her about the little scar when she started talking again.
“The ‘why not?’ is like this,” she said, suddenly dreamy, disconnected, as if no one was listening, “I like you, Richard….Dante thinks it’s chemistry or hormones or the fact that we’re both lonely. Whatever…. You’re a gentle, tender man and I’m supposed to work with you, use you, find out what you don’t know you don’t know and solve all this nonsense and then walk away….but what the hell was I doing raising my shirt to you—I’m not sure why I did that and it’s not something I would ever do. I’m on thin ice here, I know, but I believe I’m starting to worry about you and worry makes me careless….so that’s the why not….That’s the truth.”
Richard stared at her. The “truth” that all his training and education had taught him would “set him free” seemed suddenly like a great burden on his heart. “Oh, God…” he thought, distracted by whether or not that qualified as a prayer, then returned to the jumble and stew of his feelings and thoughts. Here is this woman, he thought, confused and troubled, that I actually “think of” as a woman and not just another person I’ve met since Susan died….And there is this incredible down on her tight, tanned belly and she’s wearing a gun and she just told me she’s starting to “worry about” me and I want, more than anything, for her to go away so I can remember how mournful I am and yet, if she goes away now….
“Cat got your tongue?” Mara said, softly, slowly, just before taking a drink of her coffee. Her ocean-storm-gray eyes turned soft, moist. She was waiting for something from Richard that he wasn’t sure how to give but knew he didn’t want to withhold.
He took a deep breath and started to say something like, “I am beginning to care for you, though I don’t know why,” or “I’m old enough to be your father,” or “My wife just died—a year ago or so—and I’m still on LWS time….” He never knew which thing he would have said because he was saved by the front door flying open, Cecelia waking from her slumber under the table and a massive collision between his dog and his daughter.
Miriam Lucas’ hair was cut as short as Mara’s, but was so black it was almost navy blue in certain light and remarkably, incredibly curly. In high school she’d worn it as a soft Afro—towering on her head in a profusion of tangled curls. In college she’d grown it out and suffered gladly the jokes about her hair being like some vast, layered hat. As an adult, she had it cut as short as she could, but no matter how short it was, it kinked and twirled out of control.
Miriam is a tiny woman—barely 5’1’’ and weighing 98 pounds on a fat day. Though Richard was 5’10” and Susan 5’8” and both their sons an inch or two over 6 feet tall, Miriam was a miniature miracle with black hair to everyone else’s dull brown and inexplicable jade green eyes out of the soupy DNA mix of Susan’s bright brown and Richard’s darker brown. Richard had often thought she was a leprechaun, born of recessive Irish genes on both sides. “Munchkin” and “Hobbit” were the names her brothers gave her.
Her cheek bones were so high and prominent that her eyes looked almost Asian. Her skin was just a shade darker than a piece of typing paper. Her mouth was generous and her lips so unnaturally red she never wore lipstick. Susan had called her “Black Irish”. Richard always called her “Princess”.
Dressed in jeans, a purple sweater and the sandals she wore until the first snowfall, she was on the floor with Cecelia in the middle of the living room and anyone would have been hard pressed to decide who was happier to see the other. The dog was only a few pounds lighter than Miriam and Richard laughed to see them tangled so while Mara wondered if the Lab might hurt this tiny girl.
Finally, face covered with slobber, Miriam stood up and started talking non-stop, as always.
“You didn’t call, Daddy, so I came over on the first plane. Just a twenty minute flight—can you believe that—from Logan. I’ve been so worried about you I just couldn’t not come. How are you, anyway? Is this just awful? There were some guys on the plane in suits and skinny black ties who looked terribly grim and Republican and….”
“The Homeland Security agents have arrived,” Mara said calmly, looking at Richard, who was looking at his daughter, who suddenly—noticing her for the first time—was staring, with her generous mouth wide-open at Mara.
Things got awkward fast. Richard stood up in what passed as his pajamas—a pair of faded gym shorts and a UConn tee-shirt—Cecelia, still excited from her bout with Miriam, put her front paws on Mara’s lap and began licking her face, Miriam looked back and forth from her (she believed) still-mournful father to the lovely blond woman trying to push away the dog to stand up.
Richard moved toward Miriam and took her in his arms. “I should have called…I meant to call…last night, but when I got home….Well….”
Miriam returned her father’s hug, but stared around his arm at Mara, who had calmed the Lab enough to stand up.
“Where were you last night?” Miriam asked, narrowing her green, almost Asian eyes at Mara.
Richard stepped back. “Mara and I had dinner after Dante left….” He was suddenly seized with a confusion and embarrassment that would rival any adolescent’s worst nightmare.
“This is Mara…Sgt. Coles...,” he said to Miriam, who was standing absolutely still, staring at Mara. “Mar…Sgt. Coles,” Richard continued, falling back on time honored formulas to smooth the heavy seas of his predicament, “this is my daughter, Miriam.”
Mara offered her hand, but Miriam wasn’t through staring. After a couple of moments, the detective slowly lowered her offering.
“I’m glad to meet you, Miriam,” she said, as calmly as she could.
Miriam broke the exchanged gaze with Mara and turned to Richard.
“I think we should talk in private,” she said, her voice emphasizing her confusion and need.
Cecelia was still rubbing against Mara’s legs, adoring her in the way dogs do. She reached done to pet the Lab’s head.
“The dog and I will take a run now,” she said, obviously flustered. And, with Mara’s surpassing grace and Cecelia’s rambunctious clumsiness, they made their way through the living room and into the great outdoors.
“Want some coffee?” Richard weakly asked his daughter.
She stood stock still, a mighty mite, by the table, then slowly turned her eyes to Mara’s cup and cereal bowl and plate with a half-eaten piece of rye toast still on it.
“What’s up here, Daddy?” she finally asked, a bit too harshly for Richard’s liking.
He had the good sense (the Spirit moving, he later told himself) to take his cup and go to the kitchen where he found another cup and slowly, meticulously made them both fresh coffee. He carried the steaming brew back to the table and sat down, motioning to the chair at the end of the table for his daughter. She sat down, glumly.
“Is this sugar or Splenda?” she asked.
“Sugar for you, Splenda for me,” Richard answered.
“Cream or milk?” Miriam’s voice was harsh, judging.
“Cream for you—half-and-half, actually—and the same for me,” Richard said, softly.
The two of them sipped coffee for a few minutes.
“Miriam,” Richard finally said when he thought she was beginning to calm down, “until your reaction to Sgt. Coles—Mara—I had no more idea than you about what’s up here, as you put it.”
Miriam started to speak, but Richard calmly raised his hand and said, “not yet.”
She looked at him and he could see love and worry in her face. Miriam had been the worrier of the family—wild and untamed, but always concerned about the others. She swallowed her words with a sip of coffee.
“Two people died and I found them,” Richard began, “and I’ve spent the last two days with police of one ilk or another and there’s this one police officer, who you were, I must say, very rude too, who is here on the island to do something I only vaguely understand and….”
Miriam’s face was back to what Richard always saw—open, accepting, interested.
“I’m sorry, Daddy,” she said.
He melted, as always with his daughter. “I know, Princess….And something is going on here just in the last two days—something besides the murders—something about me and how I am beginning, little by little to come back to life.”
Now she smiled her pixie smile, eyes almost shut. “And this woman—this police sergeant, this…what’s her name…Marty?”
She smiled even more. “This Mara is part of your coming back to life?”
Richard rubbed his face. “I don’t know,” he said, sad, almost defeated. “I don’t know at all.” Brightening, he continued, “but I know I have to find out. Does that make any sense? Is it enough that I’m feeling stuff I haven’t felt—not Mara in particular—just in general…I’m feeling again, not just bad feelings, but good too….Is that alright with you?”
Miriam laughed out loud.
“Let’s go find her…her and your dog,” she said, rising.
Richard waved the thought away. “Forget it,” he said bluntly, “she’s a runner. She might run Cel to death. We could never fucking catch her.”
Opening her mouth, rolling her head, Miriam moved around the table and insinuated herself into Richard’s lap.
“Omygod,” she said, laughing, kissing his face, “you said ‘fucking’, Daddy! You must be getting better. You’ve been so…’non-profane’ since mother died!”
Richard wrapped his tiny daughter in his arms and, inexplicably, began to weep. “I must be,” he said, burying his face into her hair.
Father and daughter had cleared the table and put everything away before Mara came back. As they moved around the small kitchen, Richard suddenly remembered the first two weeks after Susan died—how Miriam had taken a leave from school, sent Milagros back to Boston, and stayed with him in the suddenly too large, too lonely house. The boys had left only a day or two after the funeral, but Miriam stayed on. The two of them had moved like wraiths for several days, neither able to sleep but both spending lots of time in their beds. After the first week, they began, tentatively and carefully, to talk late into each night. The flood of people who had been dropping by died out quickly enough to a trickle and then to almost nothing besides a few phone calls and cards each day. So he and Miriam would take long, almost silent walks with the dog, cook complicated meals they only picked at and, once fortified by a bottle of wine or several whiskeys, wrap themselves in blankets on the two couches in the family room and talk with the TV on and muted.
Richard would tell stories about Susan—most of which Miriam knew anyway—and about what they’d been like B.C. (“before children”). Miriam would relate her memories of childhood, of the mischief she and Jeremy would get into and how Jonah would cover for them and clean up their messes. Most of it was harmless childhood pranks, but there were things about drinking and drugs (“just pot, Daddy, and only pot—well, maybe a little something else, but only experimenting”) that Richard hadn’t known about. By then Jonah was away at school and the two younger children had to cover their own tracks. Richard wasn’t whether he was more relieved or embarrassed that he hadn’t known at the time.
Deep in the nights he began to wonder if he had been paying attention at all when he children were young. But Miriam reassured him he’d been there when they needed him—they just hadn’t needed him as much as he might have imagined. And he came to see Susan through Miriam’s eyes and through her interpretation of her brothers’ vastly different points of view. He was struck, in those late night talks, by how distinct and unique each child was—something he, as an only child, had always found confusing.
Their nightly conversations were initially tender and gentle, but after a week of staying up to the early hours and sleeping late, laughter began to slip into their talking. Both of them felt guilty to be laughing, half-drunk—as if gayety were a sin against Susan. But the two of them had so often laughed together, so often been so silly Jeremy hadn’t known how to keep up while Jonah and Susan—like the two adults—would merely shake their heads and smile lovingly. They would even tell jokes, though Miriam was terrible at it, because Richard—a natural storyteller and speaker—was so good.
(“Mom would have liked this one,” Miriam said one night, already giggling to herself—one of the reasons she was bad at joke telling. “Do you know the difference between southern zoos and northern zoos?” Richard didn’t, so she told him, laughing, “northern zoos only have the names of animals of the cages!”
Richard looked puzzled in the dim, flickering light of the silent TV show, so she asked, “don’t you get it?” When he shook his head, she added, “the southern zoos have ‘recipes’ on the cages….”
Richard almost chortled, “you left that out….”
“Left what out?”
“The recipe part. The punch line should have been, ‘southern zoos have recipes beside the names of the animals’. Something like that.”
Miriam grimaced, thinking, then laughed so hard she almost fell off her couch, so hard Cecelia woke up to come check on her. “That’s good, Daddy,” she said, breathless, almost as if he had told it to begin with.)
One night—the last night before Miriam went home to her classroom and Milagros—Richard asked her if she and her brothers had discussed what to do about him and decided she should stay with him for a while. She had laughed about that.
“What’s to discuss, Daddy?” she said. “I’m the only one who could have stayed. I’m a lowly school teacher, not a lawyer or a doctor! And I’m the ‘girl’, it’s my job to take care of you….” Richard was touched by her words, but then she added, “besides, Jonah or Jeremy would have driven you crazy. Can you imagine?”
He couldn’t imagine, of course. After a day or two, Jonah would have started rearranging Richard’s sock drawer and Jeremy would have gone to Blockbuster to rent the complex video games he loved to play. Neither would have sat in the flickering light of a soundless TV set, wrapped in blankets, talking the night away. Only Miriam could do that. Only Miriam could endure the silences of the day and the tears they shed at night. She had done the job only she could have done—smoothing the transition for her father from the shock and denial of Susan’s death to the long, painful, necessary months of his mourning. All that came to him at once and completely.
After they finished off the second bottle of wine of that night, he said to her, “it’s time for you to go, Princess.”
She unwrapped herself from her blanket and wrapped herself around him. “I know, Daddy,” she whispered after they had shared a long, tearful hug, “it’s time.”
The next day she left. And Richard began Life Without Susan alone.
Here they were, almost a year and a half later, sitting on the couch in St. Anne’s Rectory, watching CNN with the sound turned off, when Mara and Cecelia returned.
The dog ran by them into the kitchen where she noisily began lapping up a whole bowl of water. Mara stood in the door, drenched with sweat. Her hair was plastered to her head, a shade or two darker than normal and her sweat suit was so wet it clung to her and showed the outline of her shoulder holster clearly. Richard found himself thinking if it was uncomfortable running with a gun weighing her down and the holster rubbing against her skin.
“I brought Cecelia home,” she said, so out of breath that her voice was even more like a whisper, “and I’ll be going now….”
Miriam was rising from the couch, staring intently at Mara. “No, don’t go,” she was saying, moving slowly toward the detective. “I was so awful to you before. It’s just…just that I….Well, I was….”
“Worried about your father?” Mara finished for her.
Miriam sighed. “Yes,” she said, “exactly. But that doesn’t excuse how rude I was….I’m just so….Well, I’m….”
“A little crazy when it comes to him?”
“Do you know what I’m thinking?” Miriam laughed out the words.
“I am a detective, after all,” Mara answered, smiling, holding out her hand once more, and this time Miriam took it. Richard noticed Mara’s hand enveloped and contained his daughter’s. Mara’s hands were at least as large as his and Miriam’s were tiny. The two women grinned at each other and then at Richard.
“If I’m staying, I need a shower…and some clothes….”
Miriam threw back her head, exasperated. “Oh shit,” she said, “I left my bag in the taxi!” Then looking up into Mara’s face, “but you couldn’t wear my clothes….I mean….” Then she turned and sized up her father. “But you’re as tall as Daddy. He has something you could wear, I’m sure.”
Mara bit her lip to keep from laughing as Richard jumped off the couch and raced to his room. Glancing at the TV, she said to Miriam, “the sound is off, you know.”
Miriam waved a hand before her face, “it’s a family thing,” she said, smiling as Richard returned with a towel, a pair of jeans, some white athletic socks and a purple Block Dog tee shirt. Mara took them from him, turning her gray eyes on him with a smile.
“And a belt,” he said, “you’ll need a belt since the waist will be too big.” Then he paused and blushed.
“No underwear?” Miriam asked. And the two women looked at each other and burst into laughter at his expense.
While they listened to the water running in the shower and Richard flipped the channels, Miriam said, softly, “she’s a beautiful woman.”
Richard’s breath caught. Miriam’s words had shocked him from an subconscious vision of Mara in the shower, imagining her body under the spray. How much embarrassment must he endure? He was horrified by what he had been thinking but was spared from responding by the Block Island taxi that pulled into the parking lot.
Miriam ran to the door. “My bag is here,” she said, rushing out the door. But before she got to the taxi, another car arrived. A Block Island Police cruiser driven by Officer Alt pulled up beside the taxi bearing two large passengers in dark suits.
Richard stood, holding the door open, and Cecelia ran out to greet positively everybody. Malcolm Alt patted her genuinely, though she was the cause of untold humiliation for him. The taxi-driver, a middle aged, extremely fat woman, handed the Lab a bone from the box she kept beside her seat for all the Island Dogs she ferried about in her van. The two suits more or less ignored the dog’s attention, as well as Miriam’s who seemed to be trying to engage them in conversation about having shared a plane ride from Boston with them a few hours earlier.
One man was tall, perhaps 6’4’’, and so gaunt that his black suit and white shirt hung uncomfortably on his frame. He looked like a man in his early 30’s with a long, slender nose and ears that stood away from his head. His hair was that muddy brown Richard associated with people several generations removed from the British Isles. Beside him was a fire-plug of a man in a matching, though much differently cut, black suit. This one’s hair was red and as severely cut as his partner’s. But his face was round and ruddy, matching in roundness the body it rested on. The two of them reminded Richard of Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy—some mismatched, almost comedic pair.
Ignoring both Richard’s dog and his daughter, the two of them mounted the steps to the deck of St. Anne’s house. Without prelude, the taller, thinner one—Abbot or Laurel—reached into his inside jacket pocket and produced a multi-folded document.
“Father Lucas,” he said, thrusting the papers out toward Richard, “I have a federal warrant to search this house and church.”
Richard was reaching out instinctively, a normal reflex, to take the papers when Mara shoved past him, still steaming from the heat of her shower, damp underneath Richard’s sweat shirt and too large jeans. Her feet were bare (Richard noticed with surprise that Mara’s toenails were polished a pale orange—‘tangerine’, he thought) and her head was wrapped in a towel.
“I’m Sgt. Coles, Rhode Island State Police,” she said, grabbing the papers and opening them up to read. Without looking at the two suits, she asked, harshly, “and you are?”
By then Miriam and Cecelia had arrived at the door as well. Things were getting crowded.
“Daddy, these are the guys from the plane,” Miriam said, moving past everyone and through the door with her recaptured overnight bag.
The dog followed her inside. Richard still stood, holding the door open like the doorkeeper for the House of the Lord.
The shorter man answered Mara’s question. “I’m Federal Agent Cosby and this,” motioning to the tall, brown haired man, “is Agent Nash.”
“What happened to Agent Stills?” Mara asked, absently, still reading the papers. Richard did all he could to keep from laughing.
Mara looked up from the warrant and said to Richard, “those aren’t their real names. We’ll never know their real names. I’m not sure they remember them….”
By then, Officer Alt was in the midst of them.
“Go on inside, Malcolm,” Mara said kindly, “find some coffee and something to eat.” The policeman nodded and passed Richard by.
Then she continued in a tone that was all business-like and formal, “Father Lucas, I’ll keep these gentlemen occupied out here long enough for you to go telephone Mr. Matthews and the Bishop of Rhode Island about why we shouldn’t let this warrant stand.”
The two men on the deck looked at each other before Agent Nash (Abbott/Laurel) tried to speak. “This warrant was issued by a Federal Judge in Providence,” is all he got out before Mara interrupted.
“This is a church, Graham, or whatever your name is,” she began, turning her troubled sea-gray eyes on him, “and there may be something in the law that you and your federal judge haven’t noticed—separation of church and state comes to mind—and you aren’t moving off this deck until Fr. Lucas makes some calls….” She turned to Richard and repeated, with serious inflection: “Until Father Lucas makes some calls….”
Richard let the screen door slam and rushed to the phone. After he explained the situation to Stevenson Matthews, Stevenson said, “I’ll be there in 10 minutes, don’t let them inside.”
Getting the Bishop of Rhode Island on the phone was more difficult. He was out of the office, but his executive assistant knew how to run him to ground. Richard stood by the phone for a return call long enough for Stevenson to arrive in a big-assed Jeep of some kind. He jumped out, took a few steps and then retreated to his truck to get a large L. L. Bean bag—the most common means of conveyance on the island.
He joined Mara and the Agents on the deck. Stevenson, luckily, was a lawyer as well as a banker and the Senior Warden of St. Anne’s. He knew what to ask Mara.
“What are the parameters of the search?” he asked her, ignoring the agents to the side.
She was still eyeing the papers the agents had brought with them. “They seem to be looking for anything Dante and I may have left here—files, information about our investigation.”
“Why might that be?” he asked, politely reaching out for the warrant. “If you don’t mind, Sgt. Coles,” he said.
“Certainly Mr. Matthews,” she replied, handing him the papers and turning a gaze on Cosby and Nash that would have frozen a rose to absolute zero.
Stevenson read the document, moving his lips slightly and then looked up at Mara, “this is preposterous”.
“I agree,” she said.
Richard was fascinated that a man nearing 80—well dressed in tan, wide-wale corduroy slacks and a deep purple turtle neck though he might be—and a still damp, lovely woman in men’s jeans and a tee-shirt and her head in a towel could be holding up the work of two federal agents. Cosby and Nash looked befuddled, still standing in the yard where Mara had chased them, whispering to each other.
“They’re assholes”, Officer Alt whispered to Richard from inside the door. “Half an hour with them taught me that. They’re not even real cops like Lt. Caggiano and Sgt. Coles or that FBI fellow who wasn’t really on the Block last night.”
Richard would have been shocked if the Islanders hadn’t known about Agent Gordon’s visit. When you live on an island you notice comings and goings acutely.
The phone was ringing, but before Richard could get inside, Miriam answered it by saying, “St. Anne’s Rectory.” A life time as a Priest’s Kid had taught her many things. “Yes, he’s right here…wait there’s another call….St. Anne’s Rectory….Yahoo, it’s me….Daddy, its Jonah….Yeal, he’s fine. House is full of cops of all sorts….I’ll put him on….Here, Daddy, its Jonah the doctor.”
Richard took the phone but Miriam pulled his head down so she could get her ear near the receiver. “Jonah,” he said, his neck suddenly aching, “so good to hear from you….”
From the door Stevenson called out, “is it Bishop Loring?”
“Wait a minute, Jonah,” he said, then to Miriam, “who’s the other call from?”
“Some bishop,” she said, pulling the phone from him.
“Richard,” Stevenson said harshly, “is it the bishop?”
Richard wrestled the phone back from his daughter and spoke into it, “we’ve got a situation here, Jonah, I’ll have to call you back….are you at home or work?”
Jonah’s tinny telephone voice was saying, “What kind of situation? Dad, what’s going on up there?”
Richard covered the mouth piece and said to Miriam, “show me how to get the bishop back….”
She gave him a rolling eye look and an exaggerated sigh. “Daddy, when will you figure out call waiting?” Then into the phone she said, “Jonah, where are you?….OK, I’ll call you on my cell….Hello, Bishop Loring, thanks for holding….”
She handed the phone to her father who handed it to Stevenson.
“Hey, Stevenson,” Miriam said, standing on tiptoe and pulling his face down with both hands to give him a kiss, “pretty exciting, huh?”
After Stevenson put down his bag and told Richard he’d brought some chicken soup his housekeeper made, he talked to the Bishop while Miriam and Richard talked to Jonah on her cell phone. Conversations ended, they all returned to the deck. Mara was sitting in a deck chair, drying her hair in the sun, talking to Officer Alt while the two Homeland Security agents were fuming in the grass. They both started to speak when they saw Stevenson and Richard, but the elderly man held up both hands and stared at them until they were silent.
“Agents,” he said, as if he were speaking to children or the simple minded, “I fear you will be able to exercise your warrant, but not before our bishop speaks to his chancellor and the chancellor speaks to Judge Martini about all this.”
Glancing at Mara, he said, “if it’s alright with you Sgt. Coles, perhaps we can invite these representatives of our federal government inside for some coffee while we wait to hear the chancellor’s opinion?”
Mara shot Cosby and Nash a nasty look then turned, smiling, to Stevenson, “as long as I don’t have to brew it,” she said, almost sweetly.
Miriam grabbed Richard’s arm and squeezed. “Isn’t she wonderful?” she asked in an energetic whisper. Richard was once again, as always, astonished at how quickly his daughter could change her mind and how much she loved an adventure! He began to wonder how long it would take to get her to go home to Boston and he realized he, too, thought Mara ‘wonderful’.
While Richard made more coffee, Stevenson put a plastic container in the refrigerator and took his bag to car. Richard noticed he went through the church to reach the deck, but thought little of it. Stevenson went whichever way Stevenson wanted to go….
The chancellor of the Diocese of Rhode Island, an Ivy League WASP with oodles of money, eventually called back when everyone—including the Homeland Security agents—was full to bursting with coffee and wondering about lunch. Judge Judi Martini was unyielding and told Robert Alan Aronson Morrison, the bishop’s chancellor, that he could appeal her ruling at his leisure, but agents Cosby and Nash could indeed search St. Anne’s church and rectory for any files, papers, notes Dante and Mara had possibly squirreled away and hidden there and any other evidence that seemed material to their case. This was, the good judge was reported saying, relayed to all by Stevenson, from R.A.A. Morrison, “a matter of national security”.
“The tide that swamps all boats,” Stevenson told Richard and Mara and Miriam, “that’s what national security has become since 9/11. Nothing much else matters if you say those magic words.”
“Poof, poof, piffle,” came to Richard’s mind from some long hidden and forgotten synapse in his brain, “make me just as small as Sniffle.” For the life of him he couldn’t remember the context or origin of those words, but he knew they were “magic”, just as much as “national security” was.
Mara and Stevenson stayed at the church to shadow the agents’ search and make sure nothing much got upset or displaced.
“This is holy space, after all,” Richard heard Stevenson saying to Cosby and Nash as he and his daughter and dog were leaving to take a walk into town. As faithful and committed as Stevenson was to St. Anne’s, there was nothing in Richard’s nearly 20 year relationship with Stevenson that would lead him to believe that the Sr. Warden had any concept of “holiness”. Stevenson was a banker and a lawyer. He had a keen sense of the value of space—but, so far as Richard knew, and he knew the older man quite well, “holy” was not a word that came easily or accurately to Stevenson’s lips. But Richard was smiling as he and Miriam and Cecelia left the parking lot and started down the dirt road, past the shrine to the dead in the Lexus—some bunches of autumn flowers well-meaning islanders had stopped by to put there—to Spring Street and town. For as long as he’d known Stevenson and for the intensity of his knowledge of Mara, Richard knew St. Anne’s was in good hands and that the federal agents would be haunted every step and movement of their search.
Cecelia, for all her wildness, knew the command “heel” and walked to Richard’s right and a few steps behind Miriam and him. One of the joys of the dog was that she would never venture onto the road and Richard could take her anywhere without a lead. Cecelia wasn’t brilliant, by any means, but “stay”, “heel”, “sit”, “leave” and “back” were the five absolute words of her vocabulary—they were as deeply ingrained in her as DNA. There was almost no situation that a single word wouldn’t control her. For all of the Lab’s life, Richard had walked her and controlled her with his voice.
The three of them turned down Spring Street, walking past St. Andrew’s parish house and chapel—the Roman Catholic Church on the Island that had another building in the town for packed summer masses and the weddings that contributed so mightily to Block Island’s economy. Then they passed a wondrous house called “Seal Rest”, above the rocks and the North Atlantic where seals were legendarily supposed to sun. In all his time on the Block, Richard had never seen a seal, not once, but the year round residents swore they were plentiful.
The road dipped down past St. Andrew’s and Seal Rest and the island curved slightly to take in a bay of ocean some 80 feet beneath Spring Street. There was a rock jetty in that bay where teens sometimes sought Rhode Island tans and fishers often stood. The jetty pushed out into the water for 25 yards. Richard had many times marked it off at low tide with long strides—25 of them—until he stood at the end, looking toward the mainland…Port Judith and beyond.
They’d walked in companionable silence—Miriam and her father and his dog—for ten minutes or so, until they were almost even with the jetty but high above it, separated from the rocky beach by even larger rocks that formed a formidable and steep decline from Spring Street to the water. One of the things both Richard and Susan had learned from living in New England was that there were always rocks.
Susan grew up outside of Greenville, North Carolina, where the land was red clay and damp, even in the height of summer. Roanoke, Virginia, where Richard had lived as a child and adolescent, had rich, black dirt beneath the grass—like Charlottesville, where he and Susan had met at, of all things, a dinner for Episcopal students given by Father Roberts when Richard was a senior and Susan a sophomore. But in Connecticut and all the other New England states—and especially Block Island—rocks were everywhere. Something to do with the last Ice Age, Richard vaguely knew, a frigid time where the glaciers and ice stopped short of southwestern Virginia and North Carolina, so long ago it numbed the mind to imagine it.
Rocks were not part of his childhood, but they had formed his children, New Englanders all. And a single fisher was on the jetty, casting awkwardly into the surf, standing on Ice Age rocks. Cecelia started barking and poked her head beneath the metal barrier to the rock ledge and the beach below. It was unlike her to bark, being, as some rare labs were, almost silent. But she was interested in the lone fisherman and seemed ready to roll down the hill to get to him.
“Funny hat,” Miriam said, the first words spoken since they left the house.
Richard knew she meant the fisherman’s hat. It was soft and wide brimmed, like something from New Zealand or the defunct Peterman catalog. Besides the misplaced hat, the fisherman wore a bright yellow jacket—not unlike the one the police had found that the murderer wore—and knee boots over what appeared to be dress pants. It was a most unlikely outfit for a fisherman.
Richard’s words did not work on Cecelia, so he finally had to wrap his hand around her collar and pull her away, up the hill in front of the Spring House, out of sight of the man fishing on the jetty.
Several red-winged black birds swirled around their heads as they climbed the grade and walked on the newly repaired sidewalk past bed and breakfast homes, the White House, and a hotel or two. The walk was down hill now, past the artists gallery and down into town.
They’d now walked for half-an-hour, and in the last five minutes or so, Richard had been telling his daughter the details of the past two day—Dante figured large in his story, that included “Flash” Gordon, FBI agent, two dead people and, of course, Mara.
Miriam looked up at her father. “I haven’t heard you so excited….” She began, suddenly stopping on a precipice they both knew well. Her face clouded over as she turned away and dropped into silence.
After a dozen steps or so, Richard completed her thought: “since Susan died….”
Head down, watching her feet, she echoed softly, “since mother died….”
After they crossed the side street and reached the long, unbroken block of storefronts, restaurants and hotels facing Old Harbor, she smiled at him, her eyes brimming. “Having that back in you is like having a little bit of her back too….”
“I know”, he said, wrapping her in his arm as he would wrap her in a blanket, “me too. My being dead inside so long has been like killing her all over again. The only way she can live in me is if I’m really alive.”
They walked like that past a scattering of day-trippers. It occurred to Richard to wonder if the people they passed could tell they were father and daughter or if they thought of them as a December-May couple. Miriam looked so little like him that he suspected the men they passed glanced with envy at this nearing 60 man and his not yet 30 girl-friend. That thought amused him and, just more, made him think how Mara was much closer to his daughter’s age than to his. He thought several different things about that all at once—how crazy he was to be attracted to Mara, how brittle he was about himself and his feeling, how lovely and graceful the detective appeared to him. Richard had always been a man who could look at something a dozen different ways. He was never know for being decisive, in fact, many of his friends and colleagues and parishioners had rolled their eyes over the years at how frustratingly circumspect he was—never quite sure or definite in his opinions. He got so lost in his rolling thoughts that Miriam, still wrapped in his arm, pulled on his sleeve.
“Slow down, Daddy,” she said. He hadn’t realized he was walking so fast.
“It’s going to still take some time, Princess,” he told her, lifting away the blanket of his arm, slowing his thoughts and stride, “but I’m coming back to you.”
“Maybe something bitter can make for sweetness,” she replied in a gentle tone, almost as if she didn’t expect him to hear or, if he heard, to respond.
“What?” he said, coming to a stop, thinking she couldn’t possibly mean what she said the way he heard it.
“You know, Daddy,” she smiled at him, “bitter, Mara….”
He shook his head. “How do you know that?”
She laughed her munchkin laugh, throaty and too low pitched for such a little woman. “Good Lord, Daddy, I grew up in church! I know all sorts of thing. I know about epistemology and ontology the doctrine of the atonement and what the epiclesis is….”
Right in front of the Block Dog Store, Richard embraced his daughter and they both shook with laughter. He didn’t wonder, not for a moment, what people passing thought. All he experienced was the feeling—almost forgotten but rising past the dark, odd shapes in his subconscious—of joy. Whether he realized it or not, he was “coming home” to joy.
The two of them, with Cecelia waiting patiently outside, had coffee and deli sandwiches in a coffee house squeezed between an overpriced J. Crew store and a small art gallery and divided up the New York Times—Richard the front page and sports, Miriam got the rest. The argued for a bit about some movie neither of them had seen and about an op-ed piece Richard read to her about the Middle East. No matter how left-wing Richard was, Miriam would outdo him. Arguing with Miriam was a pleasure he had almost forgotten.
The walk back was more uphill and took longer. Miriam used the time to say, “so here’s what Jonah and Jeremy want, Daddy…and me, too, though it was their idea…we’re all going to have Christmas in St. Louis.”
Richard was shocked. “Not at home?”
She walked on for a few moments then stopped and put herself in his way. Staring up into his face, she said, “Worthington isn’t home now. And even if we all came here, this isn’t home. You don’t have to answer now but that’s where we’ll be and we want you there too. New start. New traditions.”
“Princess…,” he began.
“Enough talk,” she said, turning and double-timing ahead of him.
Richard sighed. All the possible arguments that were lining up in his mind melted away. Christmas in the mid-west, he was horrified at the thought. He hurried to catch up.
The fisherman who had been on the jetty was gone, though the red-winged black birds weren’t. Cecelia whined and pushed her head under the barrier several times while they passed the little cove with the fishing jetty. Richard wasn’t used to his dog acting that way and spoke harshly to her. Miriam chastised him for his uncharacteristic mistreatment of the dog.
“She’s just doing what dog’s do, Daddy. And you’re mad at me, not her.”
He felt himself blushing. Of course she was right. One of the mantras that Richard and Susan had filled their children’s lives with was much like that. When one of the endless stream of cats Miriam had grown up with left an offering of a bird or mole or even a baby rabbit on the porch, one of her parents would say, “Sammie” (or Blackie or Abby—all the cats of the multitude of cats had names that ended in an e sound) “is just doing what cats do, darlin’.”
Richard even remembered the conversations he’d had with each of his children about what was “wired into” various creatures, like the way certain things were wired into cars and computers and washing machines to make them do what they do. Even human beings have such “wiring”, he had told them all, wiring about survival and safety and reproduction. “But the difference is,” he always told them, “dogs and cats and eagles and dolphins cannot disobey their wiring, but people can.”
Richard, in the last five minutes of his walk with his daughter back to St. Anne’s, considered how his reaction to Cecelia’s “being a dog” was, finally, more about the thoughts and feelings he’d been having about Sgt. Mara Coles for the last two days. His chastisement of his dog was, most likely, misplaced and should have been directed toward himself. He was, he thought, just “being a man”—experiencing feelings and thoughts on a basic human level and not disobeying his wiring. He made a mental note to be gentler with himself—and with his dog and everyone.
As they turned off Spring Street onto the dirt road where the SUV and the dead people had been, Richard asked, “so if I’m mad at Cecelia for being a dog, as if she could be anything else, what does that make me?”
Miriam grinned at him. “Fish sticks,” she said. It was then that Richard remembered how in his household, among his children, fish sticks were the worse thing ever for dinner, the worse thing in the world, the bottom of the barrel, the dregs in the cup, the lowest of the low. So he smiled back and understood.
In the midst of all that, Miriam and Richard and Cecelia arrived back at St. Anne’s to a house and church dutifully and conscientiously searched by Federal Agents. Stevenson had left and Mara was sitting on the deck with the fisherman they had seen. He was smoking a European cigarette.
“Dante!” Richard almost shouted, “what the hell….”
The detective took off his misplaced hat and took a drag on his smoke. Cecelia ran to him and began to sniff him and whine. As always, Dante ignored the dog.
“I’m like Flash Gordon,” he said, flicking his cigarette far out into the yard, sending Cecelia dashing after it in true retriever fashion, “I’m not here.”
“Dante’s in Cancun,” Mara said, smiling.
The detective stood, lighting another cigarette, “Among the bronzed and rich,” he said, “or at least my brother is….”
The story flowed quickly, effortlessly, from both Dante and Mara. Dante’s brother, Leo, was four years older but could pass in customs for his baby brother. With Dante’s passport and Dante’s credit card, Leo had left the country for Mexico and Dante had bought bad fisherman’s gear and come on the noon ferry.
“So much for Homeland Security,” Richard said.
“So much for Dante’s bank account,” Mara added, laughing.
“Leo knows how to spend money,” Dante contributed, just before Miriam, who’d been standing in the grass, watching and listening, came up the steps, crossed to Dante, took his cigarette from his mouth and had a long draw. Then she hugged him, driving him, for the first time since Richard had known him—two days, more or less—into stunned silence.
“A real detective,” Miriam said in mid-embrace.
Mara and Richard were smiling in disbelief.
“What does that make me?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Richard answered, almost giggling at Dante’s discomfort, “fish sticks?”
Mara glared at him. “Too hard to explain,” he told her. She shook her head and smiled a bit, so glad to have Dante back.
The four of them spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening plotting and planning and inventing schemes. They were a detective on vacation, a detective who wasn’t there—was in Cancun, in fact—a priest and a school teacher…not an impressive corps to take on a murder investigation. And yet they would.
It looked like this: “How long can you stay, Miriam, my love? Because you are a real god-send…an off-islander who people know and don’t fear because you’ve been coming here so long? How long can you stay?”
“Until Sunday?” Miriam said, shrugging.
Dante had obviously been thinking this out. “Exemplary!” he said. “You and the lovely Mara will scour the island, asking questions that people will only answer to a familiar face and two beautiful women….Execllent.”
He turned his gaze to Richard. “You, Father Lucas, will have this job, the one I’ve always known you had—you must pray and worship and whatever a man of the cloth does until you remember what you can’t remember that will break this case wide open.”
“I still don’t know what that means,” Richard began, looking first at Miriam who was entranced with Dante and did not look back and then to Mara who laughed and shook her head.
“This is Dante’s motis operandi,” she said. “he always decides someone on the edge of the case knows something they don’t remember knowing that will make every thing turn out right in the end—bad guys caught and punished, good guys happy and redeemed. Just the way he plays it and he most always plays it right….”
Dante nodded in agreement.
“And what are you going to do to aid this investigation?” Richard asked him, a little annoyed.
“Me,” Dante answered, innocently, “I’m going fishing….”
What he meant was that he was going to spend his days as Leo Caggiano (whose driver’s license and passport he held) amateur fisherman, asking anyone who would listen and even those who wouldn’t, things about fishing the sea around Block Island, gathering information, acting dumb, soaking up answers.
“And all the alphabet soup guys besides Homeland Security have been warned off this case,” he told them all, even the dog sitting attentively at his knee. “So the only people here besides us don’t know shit about all this and we will know it all—especially you, Padre, when you remember what you don’t even know you know….”
Dante was grinning like a crazy man, watching Richard intently, waiting for something.
“Ok,” Richard said, finally, “the bar at St. Ann’s is open.”
Dante laughed, “you are a detective,” is all he said, heading toward the door and the kitchen stash of alcohol.
The four of them—a motley crew at best—had a hardy meal from the casseroles and salads and sandwiches the Block Island folk had brought to Richard in his distress. And they drank a great deal of the wine folks had brought as well.
By the time dinner was over, it was growing dark and chilly. Miriam invited Dante to go for a ride down to Mansion Beach to look at the stars. The unlikely pair sat off in Richard’s car with the dog in the backseat and the priest and detective sergeant were left alone. They watched TV for a while, neither paying attention, then sat on the deck to watch the darkness.
Finally, as much to break the tension of their aloneness as to gather information, Richard asked, “what was the search of the church like? Did they find damning evidence?”
Mara smiled. “Hardly,” she said. “The only exciting moment was when they found this big silver box under the sink in the little room….”
“The sacristy,” Richard prompted.
“Right. The sacristy,” she repeated. Mutt and Jeff got all excited until Stevenson produced a key from somewhere and opened it.”
“The memorial porcelain communion set,” Richard suggested.
“Right again, Father Detective.” She said, smiling. Her smile made Richard’s knees weak. He was glad they were sitting at the kitchen table. “Your noble friend Stevenson launched into the story of why they were there. It was terribly moving. The Homeland Security guys and I were on the verge of tears.”
“It’s a memorial to his wife…his ‘beloved’ Cynthia…who died in a boating accident off of Old Harbor in 1994.” And before he knew it, Richard continued by saying, “the loss of a spouse is a terrible thing, a wound that doesn’t soon scar over….” He paused, realizing he was talking about himself, not Stevenson.
When he suddenly stopped, Mara said softly, “I know the history, Richard. I know….”
After a deep breath, Richard told her that shortly after Cynthia’s death Stevenson had donated a remarkably valuable plate and cup from his collection of porcelains to be used on Easter and Christmas at St. Anne’s Eucharists.
“They must be very valuable,” she said. “When I saw them I wished Dante had been there. He would have coveted them on the spot. He said Stevenson’s porcelains were museum quality. He would have loved seeing those two pieces.”
Richard crinkled his brow. “They were there—the cup and the plate were in the box?” he asked.
Mara nodded. “Why?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know.” He pursed his lips. “I’ve never seen them, never been here at Easter or Christmas. I just imagined because they were so valuable that Stevenson brought them in a day or two before each service. The church is open….”
“All the time…,” Mara finished.
“I guess I was wrong.” Something nagged at him on the edge of his consciousness.
She smiled, “I guess you were,” she said stifling a yawn. “I need to get to the White House and sleep. You need rest too.”
“Too bad for me,” he replied. I’m preaching Sunday. I need to read the lessons.”
“I never thought of that.” She stood up. “Tomorrow, then?”
“Tomorrow,” he said, realizing in some important way that he was sorry to see her leave.
He was still studying the lessons for Sunday when he heard Miriam come in with the dog. She banged around in the kitchen for a while and then it was quiet. Cecelia found Richard in his room and leaped on the bed, exhausted and damp.
“Need anything, Princess?” he called out.
“Nothing, daddy. Good night.”
He knew without seeing that she was watching the TV in the living room with the volume on mute.