I have no time to write, but can send you chapter 2 of Murder on the Block (it's longer than the first chapter...endure....)
Thursday, October 23, 2003—7:17 a.m.
Richard smelled bacon cooking and voices speaking softly. Someone was in the house with him. He willed his mind still. He tried, as he had been trying for nearly a year and a half, to pray. And nothing happened—not even a busy signal. Here he lay, a priest of God, unable to pray. As far as he knew, no one had figured that out yet—not the folk at St. Mark’s in Worthington or the precious few people of St. Anne’s on Block Island.
The last prayer he had prayed came sprawled out on the tile of the kitchen floor, his lips pressed against Susan’s mouth, blowing for all he was worth, trying to remember the training he’s received at the Worthington YMCA in first aid. He and Susan had both gone, imagining that parents of three children should know the basics of resuscitation. He had blown the breath of life into a remarkably life-like dummy, watching, out of the corner of his eye, at Susan laughing while he essentially kissed an obviously male torso.
But all he tasted on the floor of their kitchen was the taste of death. It was not unlike the taste of spring greens a day or two past the expiration date on the cellophane package. He could not for the life of himself describe it any differently or explain what that taste was like. But he knew it. It was the taste of death.
“Oh God, Jesus, please….” was the prayer he prayed in that moment. And, just as people who pray often tend to reduce their prayers to code, Richard’s prayer boiled down to one word…”Please, please, please….”
It did not please God to let Richard’s wife of almost 30 years live. In response, Richard, without ever “deciding” or “choosing” one way or the other, simply stopped praying at all. He simply stopped then and there.
To say he grew ‘angry’ with God would not be subtle enough to describe it. What he felt and experienced and lived out of was a sudden and complete ‘disinterest’ in whatever God was up to that kept the Almighty from noticing that this lovely, good, sometimes annoying woman was dead. Whatever else he knew or imagined that much was true: Susan was dead and God had been distracted by something else. In the beginning, for three months or so, even though he couldn’t pray, Richard had given God some wiggle room. There were a lot of things for the Creator of the Universe to be interested in, after all. There was the slaughter of innocent people in wars and on the streets of civilized countries. There was the insidious expansion of deadly diseases—AIDS, malaria, even new strains of flu—that silently removed thousands each day from this place and time. There was the wasting of the planet—global warming, damage to the ozone layer, deadly flumes, the ravages of pesticides in the air, ground, water table. God was busy with other things, Richard credited that for a few months, it was impossible to deny. But eventually, he realized that no matter what was deterring God from that kitchen floor in Worthington, Connecticut, it wasn’t as important as whether Susan lived or died. So, he stopped praying.
He had given it a great deal of thought to ‘not praying’ in the months since then. He had convinced himself that even though he didn’t pray any more, his role as a priest allowed him to be prayed through in the liturgies and rituals of the church. For almost six months after that morning, Richard did not celebrate the Eucharist or lead prayers. People gave him a wide berth. His assistant essentially took over St. Mark’s though Richard was still technically the Rector. And by the time he had gone through the almost Byzantine theological gymnastics that allowed him once more to stand at the altar—a man bereft of prayer himself, able to pray for others—the parish had given him a year’s leave of absence, with pay and benefits, and named Stephanie Poole, his Curate, as “Priest in charge”.
Richard wasn’t sure how many of the members of St. Mark’s in Worthington expected him to return, healed and restored, to take up his role in their life again. A scant few, he sometimes thought. He was, after all, a deeply wounded and broken man now. That might be an apt metaphor for a priest theologically, but practically, who would want to be comforted by someone who could not find comfort for their own soul? And who would want a priest who couldn’t really pray? So he had embraced the offer to come to Block Island—to “say prayers” rather than pray them for that tiny winter congregation while he sought to find the fruits of a year of counseling and introspection. What would he do next? He hadn’t even begun to plum the depths of that question when he and Cecelia happened upon two more dead people on a muddy dirt road in a place he was sent to be healing.
The woman whose name he couldn’t remember was in the doorway. She looked a little worse for a scotch filled night but was still almost beautiful. Her blond hair was spikey, like some punk rock singer Richard dimly remembered. She (“Mary?” “Martha?” “Marta?’: he ran through a litany of M names—“Mara”, that was it!) was dressed in faded jeans and a white Brown University T-shirt that almost reached to the top of her jeans. There was a sliver of flat, tanned stomach showing. Richard hadn’t noticed Mara or the other detective carrying in any luggage—but then, Richard hadn’t noticed much, high on pills and whisky and slurring his speech and not knowing if he could move or not.
Sgt. Mara (now he needed to dredge her last name from the left over stew of his memory) almost smiled at him, but not quite.
“Good morning, Father,” she said in what he would have described as a whisper except it was totally audible. “Cecelia needs to go out and you need to shave. Breakfast is almost ready and Dante wants to see the church.”
She lifted her hand and showed the rousing dog her leash. Cecelia tumbled from the bed and stumbled to Mara who bent down and embraced the dog’s head, holding it against her chest.
“Good morning, girl,” she said in that loud whispery voice that Richard remembered from the previous night as somehow sad. When Mara stood up, the leash was miraculously connected to Cecelia’s collar and the two of them left on six feet, leaving Richard alone, not a little confused and hung over and remarkably hungry.
Richard’s older maternal cousin, Marlin, had taught him what a man needs in the morning. “Three S’s,” Marlin said to ten year old Richard, “shave, shower and shit.” Many were the mornings, like this one as October began to die on Block Island, that Richard remembered that advice, and followed it.
Cecelia was eating boisterously and with much noise from her bowl in the small kitchen when Richard arrived, jeaned and t-shirted himself. Dante Caggiano (whose name bubbled up from the alphabet soup of Richard’s memory as soon as he saw him) was dressed in blue—navy blue pin-stripped suit, sky blue shirt, deep blue tie with navy blue accents, but the same black loafers—all of which was topped with an “HAVE YOU KISSED AN EPISCOPALIAN TODAY” apron, replete with a six inch square seal of the Episcopal Church in red and white and blue. Richard had noticed it on a hanger in the hall closet and secretly wondered who would ever wear such a garment.
Dante had one of the Rectory’s frying pans in one hand and a short, unfiltered cigarette in the other.
“You can’t smoke in here,” Richard said automatically. “There’s no smoking in the house.”
“I know,” said Dante, putting the cigarette in the corner of his mouth, expertly closing his eye and finding a spatula to shovel scrambled eggs onto a plate, which he quickly transferred to the table where Richard always sat. “But you can’t smoke outside because the fucking wind is always blowing on this piss-poor excuse for an island. So I will, from time to time, more often than you wish, I’m sure, Padre, be smoking in here.”
While he was holding his right eye almost shut and talking, the policeman was looking through the cabinets around the kitchen and presenting Richard with a bottle of Texas Pete Hot-Sauce. Richard thought he heard water running somewhere, but didn’t mention it.
Richard looked up at him. For just a moment Dante seemed to be still, but when that moment passed he was washing out the frying pan, dousing his cigarette butt in the water, dropping it in the trash can, changing Cecelia’s water bowl and putting two plates in the dishwasher.
“The dishwasher…”, Richard began.
“Was never fully anchored so I should be careful about pulling the top shelf out too far…”, Dante finished for him.
Richard covered his eggs with hot sauce and took a bite. They were fluffy, tasty and full of cheese.
“How did you know…,” he began.
Dante finished, “that you liked hot sauce? There are four bottles in various places around the kitchen. Elementary, my dear Padre.”
“He’s a detective, after all,” Mara said, entering the room, dressed now in black slacks, a huge, white fisherman’s sweater and expensive running shoes, her hair still wet from the shower.
Richard looked up at her between bites, thinking she was almost beautiful, wondering how long he had been noticing women again.
“My lovely Mara was taking a shower as we shared these moments together,” Lt. Caggiano said, removing the apron and lighting another cigarette with a delicate, monogrammed silver lighter. “That was why you heard water running, though you didn’t mention it.”
“Isn’t he amazing?” Mara said, teasingly, pouring two cups of coffee from the Mr. Coffee by the sink. “It gets annoying after a while, believe me.”
She carried the coffee to the table and sat one cup in front of Richard.
“A little cream,” Dante said, carrying a pint of half-and-half he grabbed gracefully from the refrigerator, “and one—no two—Splendas”. He handed Richard two yellow packets.
“How did you know that?” Richard asked.
“Don’t ask,” Mara spoke, whispered, “just be annoyed.”
Dante was standing with his back to the table, looking out the glass door to the back yard, watching the fluttering life of dozens of birds there.
“There are three pints of half-and-half in the fridge and an almost empty box of Splenda packets on the counter,” he said. “You’ve been here six weeks, in this house, and, unless you drink a lot of coffee—which I doubt—probably two or so a day, you’ve been using up about two packets a cup. Simple deduction.”
“Annoyed yet?” Mara said to Richard, nodding and winking again.
When his plate was empty and Dante had rinsed it thoroughly and put it in the dishwasher, Richard leaned back and felt like himself for the first time in over a day.
“Lt. Caggiano,” he said, “is it normal….”
“For the investigating officers to move in with a suspect?” Dante completed Richard’s question. “Not at all. But when our friend, Stevenson, suggested it, I couldn’t think of a reason why not.”
“Am I…”, Richard tried to say.
“But darling Mara and I aren’t two to abide by senseless regulations. You’ve noticed that, I presume?”
Mara laughed. “It’s real important to Dante that you realize he isn’t your normal detective. He has a reputation to uphold.”
“And you,” Dante said to her, though not unkindly, “have a reputation to live down….”
She laughed again.
Richard tired of the interchange between the two cops. “But am I…”, he started again.
“A suspect?” Mara and Dante said together, alto and tenor, though Mara’s voice was the lower pitch. They laughed, though Richard didn’t.
“Bread and butter,” Mara said.
“Guns and butter,” Dante replied.
They both laughed again, the comfortable laughter of people used to laughing together.
“Of course you are, Padre,” Dante began. “Of course and always.”
“One in three times,” Mara added quickly, “the person who reports the crime did the deed.”
“A remarkable and difficult reality,” Dante said. “Even we don’t understand it.”
“Why would a murderer turn themselves in?” Mara asked.
“Because they want to get caught?” Richard interjected, totally confused and searching for dry land in the swamp of his brain and the circumstances. He imagined the chemicals in his blood stream were still playing tricks with his logic.
“No!” Dante cried, suddenly in full movement, careening around the living room, waving his hands and wondrously lighting another cigarette in the midst of the fluttering of his arms. “No and a thousand times no. The killer calls in the crime thinking that act of civic duty will inoculate him or her—see how modern and politically correct I am, Padre—from being a suspect. And, in the meantime, we defenders of the faith—I mean our civilization’s, faith, Father, don’t be offended—know that our job has a third of a chance of being done when we discover the person who called 911. This really isn’t very hard, this solving of murders.”
Lt. Caggiano was flitting around the house so rapidly that Richard had to close his eyes to avoid the distraction of Dante picking up and putting back books, touching flat surfaces, swinging his arm around with a lit cigarette in his hand and dancing—that was the only word for it—dancing around the Rectory.
“So,” Richard said, calmly and slowly from behind closed eyes, “I AM a suspect?”
“Open your eyes, Father Lucas,” Mara whispered. Her whisper was just negligibly softer than her normal speaking voice. “He’s standing still now, you can handle it.”
Dante was perched on the end of the table where Mara and Richard were sitting. Even angled on the edge of a table, his suit’s lines fell sharply.
“Of course not,” he said. “You’re a respected, though damaged, 55 year old Episcopal priest with three children who live…correct me on this, Mara, if necessary…in Boston, New Haven and St. Louis, am I right?”
“Right as rain,” Mara answered.
“And though you have less than $3000 in your savings account, you have a remarkably good pension plan and almost no debt and a house that you’re not living in that is valued at just over three-quarters of a million dollars,” Dante continued. “You are in good health, though you might want to notice the next blood work about your liver—seems you’ve been drinking more than usual since your wife…Susan Marcia Browning Lucas…died….”
“Wait a minute!” Richard tried to say. He wanted to ask how he knew all this and especially if his house in Worthington was really worth that much.
“Lay back and enjoy it,” Mara whispered, really whispering this time, “he’s just showing off.”
“Your children are comfortable, law abiding and relatively debt free,” Dante went on, holding one extinguished cigarette in the palm of his hand and lighting another, “though Mary…no, Miriam…was arrested during a gay-rights demonstration in Boston when she was a student at B.C.—no Tufts, I forgot for a moment that you’re an Episcopalian. And your Episcopalian bishop thinks the world of you and there is nothing to indicate you are anything other than you seem to be. It’s astonishing, isn’t it, what the Rhode Island State Police can learn overnight? So why would you, reasonably, have anything to do with drugs, money or terrorism?”
Dante took a drag on his cigarette that would have pulled smoke and nicotine into the soles and toenails of his feet, if that were possible. He glided from the table to the sink in the kitchen, dropping one butt in the trash and extinguishing the second under a thin stream of water.
“Drugs, money or terrorism,” Richard finally interjected, “is that what this is about?”
“Isn’t it always?” Mara said.
“I’ve been in police work too long,” Lt. Caggiano said, now standing by the sliding door to the back deck, staring out at the marsh behind St. Anne’s. “There used to be other things to consider—passion and happenstance and the occasional ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ crime. But now it is all much simpler…and, if I might say, much duller. Drugs and money and terrorism are the whole thing, Father. The woof and warp of murder. And there is absolutely no reason to believe you have anything to do with any of that. So, as of now, let it be said, you are officially not a suspect so lovely Mara and I can domicile with you while we investigate and do other detective things here on this miserable rock.”
Mara actually giggled. Dante turned around and stared at Richard.
“Let’s see that church now,” he said.
Dante was curious about everything. He wanted the history of the large old stained glass window of St. Anne and her daughter, Mary.
“I think it must be from the old church,” Richard said, staring at the window he’d been staring at for a few weeks every year for two decades, realizing he’d never really thought to ask about a stained glass window leaning up against the wall.
“The one that burned?” Dante asked, already near the altar, examining fair linen and candlesticks. “And before you ask how I knew about the church burning, it’s because I took that coffee table history of Block Island with me to read in the helicopter.”
By the time he finished speaking, Lt. Caggiano was seated at the little electronic organ, figuring out how to turn it on and playing a few bars of something that sounded like Bach.
“Not a very good sound,” he said, switching to something sounding like the score for a silent movie. “But one wouldn’t expect it to be….”
Mara was sitting on one of the rattan chairs near the wall of glass that made up the north wall of the building. She was staring out down to the water and the ferry dock.
“How do you get people to listen to you?” she asked, still staring out. “Why don’t they just stare out at the view.”
“Some do,” Richard answered as Dante switched tunes again, this was something smoky, moody, a jazz tune familiar to Richard that he couldn’t place.
“Ellington,” Dante said, watching him watch Mara watch the view, “from the ‘Sacred Concerts’. Thought it appropriate.” Then he stood and moved around the little chapel again.
“You…,” Richard began.
“Play quite well,” Dante finished, “yes, I know.”
Mara turned back around, her gray eyes crinkled shut, “my God, Father, don’t encourage him!”
They all retreated to the part of the church near the front door. Dante was staring at a plaque with multiple small name plates by the door.
“Those are the people whose ashes are interred in the Memorial Garden out back,” Richard told him, moving to read over the detective’s shoulder.
“This one,” Dante said, pointing. He pointed with both his index and second finger, as if he were holding a cigarette between them. “This ‘Cynthia Jane Cuthbertson Matthews’, any relation to our friend Stevenson?”
Richard nodded. “His wife. She drowned in a boating accident. It wasn’t while I was up here—it was September, but Susan and I came over to the island for the funeral. She was a sweet and gentle woman. Stevenson was shattered. He had been in the boat with her and couldn’t save her.”
Dante sniffed, as if smelling a fine wine. “So the two of you are both in the widower’s club,” he said, “an exclusive club since women tend to outlive us by so long.”
“Only the good die young,” Mara said from behind them. Dante shot her a withering look and Richard flinched. Her hand flew to her mouth and her eyes widened. “Father Lucas,” she said, “that was thoughtless….”
He shook his head and smiled at her embarrassment. “It’s okay….And probably true….”
Nevertheless, she retreated to the deck just outside the door while Richard showed Dante what was in the kitchen. As he was taking out the silver from under the sink, he noticed it didn’t seem as crowded as usual. But the thought quickly floated away as Dante admired the communion sets.
And on it went until Richard had replaced all the silver altar pieces and shown Dante the few, dull vestments from the closet for him to examine and comment on.
“You know a lot about this stuff,” Richard told him finally.
“Two years in the seminary,” he said, “until I found my true calling—detective work and attractive men.”
“Oh, Lord,” Mara said from the doorway. She’d come back in but stood by the door staring out into the church parking lot to the houses beyond. “Dante thinks it important to share his sexual orientation as soon as possible. I don’t know why. Perhaps he thinks its disarming or will create some tension so people will say things they didn’t intend to say.”
“Or maybe Dante just wants to be open and honest,” Dante said, “and to let Fr. Lucas here know that I really appreciate the Episcopal Church, especially after this past summer.”
“This summer?” Richard asked, genuinely confused which, he decided he would be around the two detectives.
“The election of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire and how the General Convention, I think that’s what it’s called, had the theological courage to approve it.” He looked at Richard, holding a white stole. “Isn’t that what happened, Father?”
Richard nodded, remembering now. “And high time,” he commented.
“Hear that, Mara dear,” Dante said, putting the stole around his neck after kissing the cross in the middle of the long white cloth. “That’s why the church I don’t go to is now the Episcopal Church.”
Mara laughed. “If that’s true for all homosexuals of your age, then when you find partners and adopt a child or when you start worrying about your mortality, the Episcopal church will be overflowing with well-to-do gay men and lesbians with lots of disposable income. Quite an evangical moment for Episcopalians.”
“You mean ‘evangelical’, I think, Richard said softly.
“Whatever,” Mara said, not miffed at all as he thought she would be. “Evangelical….”
Lt. Caggiano turned toward her, wearing the stole. “What do you think, Sergeant?” he asked, modeling it for her. “Maybe the church needs me back after all.”
“Fat chance these days, unless you do make the Episcopal church the church you don’t attend,” she said, walking out onto the deck that surrounded two sides of the house and connected chapel. Then she called back, “not much wind, Dante.”
“Come on, Father,” he said, handing the stole to Richard, “she knows if she doesn’t get me outside I’ll light up in a church.”
“You’ve done it before,” Mara called, though neither of them could see her anymore.
Richard followed in Dante’s wake, still carrying the stole, and when he stepped outside he saw the white, Rhode Island State Police helicopter sitting in the parking lot only a few feet from his battered, eight-year-old Volvo and a black sport’s car that was built incredibly low to the ground and looked terribly expensive.
“Ah,” Dante said, lighting a cigarette. “Brooks is back from breakfast.” The pilot waved from the cockpit of the helicopter and seemed to be playing with gages. “I let him take your car, Father, since your keys were on the counter and there’s no way he can drive the Ferrari.”
“No one but Dante can drive the Ferrari,” Marta said as she slipped around the detective, took Richard’s arm with a conspiratory smile and led him back into the church just as the rotaries of the huge machine jumped to life. A whoosh of air entered the door and Dante cursed outside, loud and creatively.
“The wind came up, Dante,” Mara said, laughing and moving quickly down the center aisle toward the door to the living room of the house.
Richard stood in the middle of the church, watching Dante—windblown and trying to pull the door closed as the helicopter began to ascend in a clamor of wind and noise that drowned out the detective’s curses.
“I don’t see how you slept through its landing and taking off last night,” Mara was saying as she and Richard sat at the table in the same places as the night before, drinking coffee, watching Dante flit around the room, examining everything over and again. “Three of your neighbors called the police.”
“They doubtless thought it was a terrorist attack,” Dante said from the kitchen, looking through drawers. “Or the feds coming to search for Osama bin Laden the way they did for Philip Berrigan.”
“You know that story too?” Richard said, “was that in the book?”
“No, Father,” he said, standing suddenly still next to him. The lack of motion was almost dizzying to Richard. “Our good friend and host, Stevenson Marten Matthews told me that tale. He was one of yours, wasn’t he?”
“Stevenson?” Richard asked, confused by the question.
“No,” Dante replied, still stone, “the fugitive harborer, the Berrigan hider. Stringfellow, wasn’t it?”
“One of mine?”
“An Anglican, of course.”
Richard nodded, understanding.
Dante took off his coat and hung it neatly on the chair to Richard’s left. He sat down, crossed his legs and leaned across the table toward the priest. “So naturally, given the history of Episcopalians giving sanctuary to criminals,” Dante said, slowly, frowning, “Mrs. Symons and Mr. Byrne, two of your neighbors, good citizens both, assumed that you were giving aid and comfort to drug dealers or suicide bombers and the helicopters were landing again. Déjà vu all over again.”
Richard glanced at Mara who was biting her lip and shaking her head.
“Drugs and terrorism again….” Richard said, looking back at Dante’s Al Pachio frown.
“And money, too, Father. Oodles of it most likely.”
“You seem sure.”
“Oh yes, since my little flight to Providence and a couple of hours with the Medical Examiner, Dr. Jay, and CSI folks—none to happy to be working through the night because the Italian asshole , as I am known in those circles, is breathing down their necks….”
“An unpleasant visual image at best,” Mara said softly.
Dante glanced at her, darkly and turned back to Fr. Lucas. “This whole double homicide—the technical term for two people being murdered at one time—has absolutely everything to do with terrorism, drugs and money. No doubt about it. Case closed.”
Richard must have looked shocked because Mara giggled. He looked back and forth between them, like someone watching tennis. “The case is closed! You’ve solved the murder?”
Dante laughed suddenly, like an explosion in a bottle. “No,” he said, leaning back in the chair, lifting the front legs off the floor and folding his hands behind his head, “quite the contrary. This will probably never be solved—at least not to the public’s knowledge. Unless of course my lovely assistant and I do that in the next eight hours or so, because before the day is out, the feds really will be crawling over this island like a hundred Berrigan brothers are running loose in the woods and Mara and I will be packed back to Providence on a special, high speed ferry. ‘The sooner, the better,’ our friends from Washington will say, ‘get them out of here so they don’t do something crazy and embarrassing like solve this crime.’ That’s what I mean, Father Lucas, by saying this case is closed.”
Richard shook his head, suddenly as confused as the drugs and scotch had made him. “The…the FBI is coming?”
Mara laughed and got up to get more coffee.
Dante lowered his chair and stood up. “No, no. Those federal employees would actually have a chance of solving this mess and are, more or less, bound by the government to let some of the truth be known to someone.”
“I’m confused,” Richard said. “Then who? The CIA?”
Mara was back at the table. She’d found some stale cookies in a cabinet and arranged them on a saucer. “The reason it isn’t the CIA is that, in spite of their bad press in the last few years and the fact that supposedly they stay out of domestic situations,” she explained, as to a small child about not running with scissors, “if they were coming they would have already been here. They would have beat us here.”
Dante was walking again. He circled the table slowly so that Richard had to turn his head to watch him talk. “No, good Padre, the really incompetent sons-a-bitches are going to know in just a few hours what’s going down up here on this inhabited vestige of the last Ice Age. They should know by now except our alphabet buddies in the FBI and CIA will take their time telling them since those guys are as pissed off as yours truly that real policemen aren’t going to be handling this one. This one is too big for actual professional law-enforcement types. This one is so big only the biggest assholes in the universe can handle it.”
“Stop walking!” Richard said suddenly as Dante passed behind him. Cecelia, sleeping peacefully on the couch through everything else, including the departure of the helicopter, heard the change in tenor in Richard’s voice. She growled lowly, rolled off the couch and stared at the three people across the room.
Dante smiled at Mara over Fr. Lucas’ head and she smiled back.
“Sit down…please….” Richard said, with a bit of hesitation. But the Lieutenant sat down in his chair and looked at him.
“Yes,” Dante said.
“Who are you talking about?” Richard said, near exasperation.
Dante took a deep breath. “Two dead people,” he said slowly.
Richard rolled his head and sighed. “I know there are two dead people,” he said, “but you were talking about some mysterious federal agency that is on its way here. That’s the Who I mean!”
Cecelia walked over and sat beside Richard, gazing as menacingly as a Lab can at Dante.
Dante watched the dog and spoke softly. “You know what’s really interesting here, Father Lucas?” he asked. When Richard didn’t move, he continued: “over 24 hours ago, you discovered two dead people in a wrecked SUV and you haven’t yet asked how they died.”
Richard frowned at him and made a hand motion, something like an invitation to move closer. “So?” he finally said.
“So, Father,” Dante said, narrowing his eyes and leaning forward, “you’re dealing with two accomplished detectives here….”
“Unconventional but accomplished,” Mara added.
“And accomplished detectives,” Dante continued, more rapidly, “even unconventional accomplished detectives always tend to postulate that if someone who reports a murder doesn’t soon ask something about how the murder happened…then that’s because they already know….”
Richard leaped up, furious, bumping Cecelia with his knee. The dog let out a rare, threatening bark and her hackles rose on the back of her neck.
“You arrogant, little jerk!” Richard said, louder than he had said anything since he cried out to God on the kitchen floor beside his dead wife. “I was in shock and then I was stoned and drunk and since then you haven’t stopped talking and flitting around and Mara is so lovely and distracting….” Realizing what he just said, he paused.
Mara smiled coquettishly at her boss. “I’m so lovely I don’t need to be charming….” She smirked.
Richard looked at the two of them and, expended, sat down and laid his hand on Cecelia’s head to calm her.
The three people and the dog sat in tableau for a long moment or two.
“When could I have asked,” Richard said, quietly, not a little embarrassed, “what happened to those two people? They were in a car wreck. They were dead. What was I supposed to ask?”
“I told you he had it in him!” Dante said, triumphant, to Mara.
“You were drunk, last night,” she replied, feigning anger. “I’m the one who told you Richard had it in him!”
He smiled slyly. “So it’s ‘Richard’ now, is it? No more ‘Father Lucas’ this and ‘Father Lucas’ that?”
The two police officers stared at each other like two bullies on a playground.
“I’m…I’m sorry,” Richard said. “About the….”
“Lovely and distracting thing?” Dante said, still staring at Mara.
“The flitting homophobic reference?” Mara quickly added.
And then they both broke into laughter. After a while, in spite of his resentment at having been so manipulated, Richard joined them. By then, Cecelia, confused by the emotional roller-coaster of the past few minutes, licked everyone’s face in turn and allowed Mara to take her out for a walk.
“Here’s the thing, Richard,” Dante said, “if I may call you Richard?” Accepting an affirmative nod, he went on: “actually, two things. What’s interesting is how those two folks died and who they aren’t.”
“You mean ‘who they are’?”
“No, my friend….I truly mean who they aren’t.” Dante grinned, stood up and rubbed his hands together like someone excited about what comes next. “I won’t walk, Richard,” he said, “but I need to stand up because this is just too good. All their ID’s said these two were Dr. Michael Johnson and Dr. Malinda Spencer—researchers for the Mystic Aquarium—Ph.D.’s doing jobs someone with a bachelor’s degree would be qualified for, getting paid B.S. salaries…both in the academic and the bull shit sense of the initials. Dr. Johnson even had his last pay stub in his pocket from the Aquarium, though our dear colleagues of the Connecticut State Police confirmed, somehow in the middle of the night—that neither that check nor Dr. Johnson come from Mystic.”
Dante was glowing, warming to his task.
“The Connecticut State Police,” Richard asked, “did that last night?”
Dante did one of his stone still moments. “Oh, my new friend,” he told Richard, “what you and so few folks know or could know—it’s actually a problem of epistemology—is that if it weren’t for the State Police of the fifty little nations we call ‘states’, the whole fabric of the society would be long ago torn asunder from top to bottom. We are,” he said, touching his chest almost reverently, like an altar boy crossing himself at the consecration, “WE of the states’ police—notice how I can accurately speak that plural form…and how, since I found out overnight that you were an English major in college, you can appreciate that—WE are all that is between Rhode Island and Connecticut and Virginia, where you were born, and utter chaos.”
Richard was caught up in the performance by then. He grinned and made his “go on” motion again.
“So, we paragons of crime detection—the State Police—ask ourselves, ‘who could manage a cover like that?’ Who, I ask you, Richard, and I always say ‘Richard’ since I learned overnight you’re never called ‘Rick’ or even ‘Rich’….”
Richard spread his hands and laughed. Then he bowed his head. “Homage to the states’ police,” he said.
“Well done, my new friend,” Dante said, beginning to move around in spite of his promise. “The names of the two deceased do exist. Addresses exist and phone numbers and next of kin. But they both live, not in Mystic, but Arlington, Virginia. So the mystery deepens.”
“So who do they work for?” Richard said, impatiently.
Dante returned, spun the chair beside Richard around and straddled it. “That’s not the deeper mystery,” he said, almost whispering in excitement. “The real mystery is how they died.”
“Not in the accident?”
“The accident, as you call it, was staged. The motor in the car didn’t die when it wrecked, it was turned off with the key.”
Richard frowned, trying to understand. “The key was turned off?”
“Exactly,” Dante said, “you are a worthy student of detection.”
“So someone wrecked it on purpose?” Richard said.
“Exactly! Precisely! It was wrecked, as you put it, by someone quite stupid but not totally so because there’s another thing…no fingerprints—besides yours, of course, anywhere on the door handle or window or steering wheel….Not even the fingerprints of the victims.”
“No finger prints?”
“None….So the car was wiped down carefully before it was dumped in the hole and the ‘dump-er’ must have worn gloves. Dr. Jay and his crime scene cronies thinks the wiping was done with Formula 409 or some similar cleaner. And not a print yet found but yours….” Dante smiled at Richard.
“But how…where….” Richard stammered, suddenly realizing the implication of what Dante kept saying.
Dante just smiled and watched Richard’s face.
“Mar…Mara….” Richard thought hard. “The drink she made me have….”
Lt. Caggiano laughed and clapped his hands together once, loudly, startling Richard even more. “Lovely Mara,” Dante said, “pouring spirits down the gullet of a man on serious tranquilizers. Hardly ‘by the book’, but we aren’t your mother’s detectives. It was her job and she did it well. Lovely Mara…and, by the way, take it from someone with a ‘queer eye’, she is as charming as she is lovely….”
Richard almost blushed.
Dante said, suddenly serious. “But more of that much later….What is for now is the P.M., which is detective-speak for….”
“Post mortem,” Richard added.
Dante stared at him. “A better student than even I predicted.”
“Well enough,” the detective said. “Now, listen to this and search your memory of P.D. James and Ruth Rendall—both of which are on your bookshelf—and whoever else you read to see if you’ve ever heard a post mortem quite like this.” Dante paused dramatically. “They drowned.”
It was Richard’s time to stand up. He breathed in and out and stared at the picture on the wall behind where he’d been sitting. Women in long, pastel dresses on a beach beside of calm waters; he chuckled. “Drowned,” he said, almost to himself, “in a car….”
After a moment of confounded silence, Dante continued, “It’s still ‘preliminary’, Dr. Jay delves deeply into murdered folks, but it gets better. Listen: Dr. Johnson, whoever the hell he really is, drown in sea water, saline, salt water, like all around this island.”
“Yes?” Richard asked, thinking as furiously as he had in over a year.
“You know the rest? Prove yourself to me,” Dante said from the side.
“The other one…Dr….What’s her name?”
“Spencer. If either of them are, in fact, PhD’s.”
“Dr. Spencer,” Richard said, still thinking, pausing. “Did she drown in fresh water?”
Dante yelped like a seal. “My God, you’re as good as Mara said you’d be! She was right, you know, earlier? I was the one who didn’t believe in you, but she did.”
“So he drowns in the sea and she drowns in, what? One of the ponds?”
“Oh God,” Dante chanted, moving around the room rapidly, “it’s even better than that! She was drowned in bottled water—Poland Spring, the fake-tooth wearing ME thinks, but he’s not quite sure. Could be Avian—something like that. And there is absolutely no trace evidence to indicate that either of them were ever submerged in any kind of water other than a shower at the White House, then we’re left with imagining….”
“Stop!” Richard said. “They were staying at the White House? The B and B here on the Block?”
“The very one.”
“So you already know I know the owner?”
“Of course,” Dante said flatly, “she’s one of your flock here at St. Anne’s.”
Richard shook his head and turned to look at the detective. “It’s a small world,” he said.
“No, my friend,” Dante replied, “It is a remarkably big world. But this is one bum-fuck small island….”
Dante smiled and continued his rounds of the room, looking at books, taking them from the shelves, flipping them open, putting them back, all the while smoking a cigarette and flicking the ashes into one of his hands.
“So they didn’t drown naturally?” Richard asked.
Dante stopped and looked at him. “What could ever be ‘natural’ about drowning?”
They both ended up on the couch, watching TV. Dante was about to go find the rest of the bottle of scotch when Mara and Cecelia came back from their long walk. The lab tried to leap the large coffee table to get to Richard but landed on top, kicking her legs wildly until he helped her across onto him like an 60 pound lap dog.
Mara was flushed from the walk and excitement. “Did he guess, Dante?” she asked. And, surprisingly, before her boss could answer, she said, “I figured out how they got away…they went fishing….”
“Guess what?” Richard asked her, wrestling with his dog, entranced by Mara’s energy, by her wind-blown hair, her smile, her loveliness.
Dante returned with three glasses and a totally different, equally good bottle of Scotch.
“She’s wondering if you figured out what feds are on their way to this far away place with its strange sounding name.”
Richard was shocked to realize that he had figured it out. “Terrorism, drugs and money”—it made perfect sense, the only sense in the world.
“Homeland Security,” he said.
Dante yelped and Mara laughed.
“Time for a drink,” all three said together.
Bread and Butter. Bread and Roses. Butter and Guns. Bread and Butter and Roses and Guns.
“You know what,” Richard said as Dante was examining the whisky bottle, “I saw something like this on TV one time.”
“Like what?” Mara asked.
“Someone drowning but not drowning—drowning in a weird way….”
“Sky diving,” Dante interjected, putting three glasses on the table. “It was on a Monk episode.”
“You watch TV mysteries?” Richard said. “I thought real cops hated TV cops.”
“Quite the contrary, Father,” Dante was pouring healthy dosages of scotch into glasses, “where do you think we get our ideas?”
“And where do the bad-guys get their ideas?” Mara added, lifting her glass.
“To murder most strange,” Dante toasted.
“Stranger than TV….” Said, Richard, touching his glass to theirs, wondering what he was doing drinking before lunch.
They had a drink—just one this time—and then drove down into the little town in Richard’s Volvo (“not enough room in the Ferrari for three”, Dante said…”no one but Dante and I ever ride in his car,” Mara replied) for lunch at one of the little picnic tables outside a fish place. The weather had cleared and turned unexpectedly warm so Mara and Richard shed sweaters and let the autumn sun bake them. Dante kept his suit coat on and complained about the heat.
Half-way through their lobster rolls, Richard tried to take up the conversation they’d had in his car. “So let me get this straight…,” he began.
“Don’t you love the lobster roll?” Mara interrupted.
“If the sun doesn’t turn it rancid before we finish, we’ll be lucky,” Dante replied.
Richard looked at them. Both took bites, as if they were part of a synchronized eating team, and glared back at him from above their sunglasses.
He nodded and whispered, “Too public a place to ask?”
Dante nodded in return and Mara smiled in mid-chew, lobster meat stuck in her teeth.
Dante swallowed and whispered back, “we’ll make you a detective yet.”
Richard bit, chewed and thought, “that’s what I was afraid of….”
Dante insisted they drive around the island and “see the views”, which they did for nearly an hour, pulling over and stopping from time to time at Lt. Caggiano’s suggestion. As they approached the South East Lighthouse, Dante said, “pull in through the gate.”
Richard parked and they wandered out toward the Light and the cliffs. The wind was picking up and clouds rolled crazily over the mainland 13 miles away.
As they walked, Dante spoke. “The lab is rushing the toxicology screens, so we can know more about how the victims might have been killed. But even Homeland Security, as inept as they are, will figure out that they need jurisdiction before the sun sets.”
“That’s where you come in,” Mara interjected. Richard frowned at her and the three of them kept walking.
“Precisely,” Dante continued. “I’ll be scourged back to my dungeon in Providence but I want to keep my toes in the water.”
“You and I are Dante’s toes,” Mara said in her hoarse whisper of a voice.
“And this is going to work how…?” Richard asked.
“Lovely, charming Mara has accumulated nearly six weeks of leave,” Dante said, pausing at the fence before the cliff’s edge, staring out, trying to light a cigarette in the rising wind. “She’ll stay on the island with you.”
Richard reacted visibly and stammered, “wi…with…with me?”
The two detectives shared a knowing smile. “There are, given the recent unpleasantness…,” Dante began.
“…Some available rooms in the White House,” Mara concluded.
“And there is that inexplicable public phone at New Harbor, where the fast boats land,” Dante added. “We’ll keep in touch from there since cell phones and email will be too risky. We are, after all, dealing with the federal government, though a wounded part of that bureaucracy.”
The three of them were talking to each other but gazing down over the towering cliffs at the water pounding below. This part of the island had been falling into the sea for centuries. The lighthouse had been moved back once and would need to be moved again in twenty years or so, if not sooner.
“If we need to reach him,” Mara said, “We’ll use that phone to call a restaurant in Providence and order pizza. Of course it is too fancy a restaurant to serve something so pedestrian as pizza. Dante will call that phone back in 10 minutes from a secure place and one of us will answer.”
“Will there be a code word?” Richard asked.
“Italian asshole, might do,” Mara snickered.
“Or blonde slut,” said Dante.
“We could say ’10-4, good buddy’.” Mara added.
“Or ‘1st Corinthians 13’, in honor of our priest,” said Dante. “Or we might do something as uncreative and mundane as rely on my good, musical ear to recognize your voices when you say ‘hello, Dante”.
“Okay, okay,” Richard replied, giving in to the ribbing, “so I’ve read too many crime novels.”
“Exactly right,” Dante added, quickly, “crime novels is what you’ve read. You’ve not read many Rhode Island State Police novels, because there aren’t any. And do you know why, my good priest?”
Richard shook his head but Dante was staring over the cliffs.
“I asked if you knew why you haven’t read any books about the Rhode Island State Police,” Dante said, louder, “about people like fetching Mara and yours truly?”
“No,” Richard said, realizing his error.
“Here is why, my dear Richard,” Dante said, echoing the baritone certainty of an aging college professor or brand new preacher, “Mara and I actually solve murders and do so without chase scenes or fist fights or dodging bullets. All very bland and boring. Not the stuff of pulp fiction.”
“But we do it unconventionally,” Mara piped in, reaching over to touch Richard’s arm.
“Which one might think would make good reading,” Dante went on in the same tone. “However, we are both so self-effacing and humble….”
“Not to mention lovely and well dressed….” Mara said, laughing out loud now, leaning into the fence.
“That no one would notice how heroic and brave we are,” Dante finished, just as Richard took a step back and then two quick steps forward to pull Mara away from the fence.
She shook her head and smiled at him. He held her shoulders a moment longer than he could have without blushing.
“I don’t like heights,” he said, sheepishly. “I never have.”
“Time to go,” Dante said.
On the way to the car, Richard asked about the phone number of the restaurant they would have to call and both detectives laughed. He was confused and said so.
“We won’t need to contact Dante,” Mara said, “just rely on that.”
Richard thought for a while. When they were in the car he paused before starting the engine: “so the whole ‘phone’ thing….”
“Just a little ruse,” Dante said, “a little joke on you….Things will be much simpler than that, just you wait and see.”
Richard passed through ‘confused’ to ‘angry’. He threw the car in gear and accelerated too fast back toward Spring Street.
“We have an appointment, Sgt. Coles and I,” Dante told Richard as the three of them stood in the parking lot of St. Anne’s and Cecelia barked and threw herself against the front door of the house, trying to get to them. Mara ran up and let out the dog, jumping and licking all in sight, including Dante who seemed not to notice. “We have thirteen minutes to get there, but thanks to our driving tour of the island after lunch, I know we can do it.”
Richard had absent-mindedly picked up one of the dozen or so tennis balls that littered the house and yard and parking lot and thrown it over one of the ubiquitous stacked stone walls that lined and relined Block Island. The Lab easily leaped over and chased the yellow ball down a long expanse of grass.
“Thirteen minutes, you say?” Richard quizzed Dante.
“See, I told you he’s a born detective,” Mara commented, passing by on the way to Dante’s Ferrari. “I suppose we’re taking the big car….”
“You’ve noticed I don’t wear a watch, have you, Father?”
Richard grinned. He had begun to enjoy the little games with Lt. Caggiano. “I didn’t know I noticed until you said the thing about thirteen minutes.” Richard felt a surge of pride in his unconscious observations. “But I suppose you’re going to tell me you have an internal clock.”
Dante gazed at him with unfocused eyes. He looked exactly like Al Pacino playing a blind man in Scent of a Woman to Richard. “Such things exist”, the detective said softly, turning to notice Mara was in the driver’s seat of his car. “Get out of that seat, you blonde hussy,” he yelled. “Then turning back to Richard, said, “it is now exactly 2:49 p.m. and we have only 11 minutes to get to Stevenson’s house.”
Cecelia came back, slobbering with her ball and dropped it at her master’s feet, then laid down in front of him. Richard watched Dante start the Ferrari—though the engine was so quiet he wasn’t sure he heard it turn over. The sleek car slipped out slowly into the dirt road. Dante wouldn’t want to damage the bottom of his pride. Only then did Richard think about what Dante had told him about internal clocks.
“Sixteen months, two weeks, five days, eight hours and 34 minutes,” Richard said to himself, as much to prove Dante right as anything. Then he tossed Cecelia’s ball across the wall again, watched her jump it gracefully, catch a scent and run off toward the ocean. Then he said out loud, “since Susan died.”
Ten minutes later, the panting dog found Richard down the dirt road toward Spring Street, examining the crushed bushes and weeds where the Lexus had turned over. He hadn’t ever noticed how steep the bank was just outside the track in the road. It dropped off four or five feet. Obviously, he thought, the marshy area between St. Anne’s and Spring Street had been filled with dirt at some point to make the narrow roadway. It must have all been marsh at some point in time, long ago. Gradually, over decades, as wetlands will do, the wet earth below the road bed had reclaimed the edges, just as the sea ate away at the south-east cliffs of the island, and created this drop-off the vegetation had disguised.
He thought about how many times he’d driven up that road late at night after dinner or a party where he’d had a bit too much to drink. Susan was always concerned about his post-drinking driving but gently so, especially on an island where you could seldom push your car above 40 and there was scant traffic. Back home in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, where he’d been a curate before coming to Worthington, she’d driven home at night. Had she known how being just a foot or so outside the track could turn over a car, she’d have not let him drive on Block Island either.
The matted and broken scrub brush held the outline of the white SUV. Richard was wondering how long it would take nature to spring back, renewed and fierce, and belie the fact that a car ever ran off the road there. Surely before he left in May to go—where would he go?...and would it, wherever it was, be “home”?—but probably long before that the bushes he could never remember names for, but Susan always knew, would again hide this hazard from the view of residents and fishermen and priests who thankfully served a few weeks at St. Anne’s.
Since Dante and Mara had christened him their “detective-in-training”, he lifted the yellow police tape around the area and tried to see something that others, more trained and alert that he, had missed. He imagined himself finding some remarkably important clue in the midst of the mess the SUV left behind that would prove Dante’s faith in him was well placed. But Cecelia was pestering him with her tennis ball and he knew, deep inside, that wanting to find a clue was meant to please Mara, not Lt. Caggiano. So the priest and his dog went back to the house and took a nap. As Richard slept, he dreamed, and though he wouldn’t quite remember the dream when the detectives came back and made so much noise fighting that it woke him up, he had the distinct feeling that his dream wasn’t about a woman with brown hair and brown eyes like Susan’s, but about blond hair and sad gray eyes instead.
Dante and Mara had returned feisty and conflicted but when Richard came down the hall, they stopped talking. Mara was slumped on the couch, with her sweater in her lap, looking up at the ceiling and Dante was examining the books on the shelves for what must have been the tenth time in less than 24 hours.
“Padre,” Dante said as if Richard hadn’t heard them arguing, “have a nap did we?”
“A little,” Richard answered, wiping his left eye, wondering where he’d put the Visine.
“Pleasant dreams, one would hope.”
“God, Dante,” Mara said crossly, still resting her head against the back of the couch, “why must we talk in that convoluted way, one might wonder….” She clearly wasn’t through fighting, but Dante smiled benevolently at her.
“Someone else could stand a nap,” he said through his smile.
She sighed and rose gracefully from the couch. Richard thought she moved like some lean animal and, since she was wearing a simple white blouse, he noticed for the first time how long her neck was—like the neck of the small island deer. He stared at her until she finished glaring at Dante and turned.
“Let’s go, Richard,” she said, “get a sweater. Some of us have detective work to do.” Before he could answer she banged out of the front door onto the deck.
Dante smirked at him. “A real pistol, our Mara,” he said. “Hurry, Father or she’ll go without you.”
Richard started to ask, “go where?” but instead grabbed a sweater off a chair and whistled for Cecelia. The Lab came bounding down the hall and beat him to the door.
They caught up with Mara who was walking with her hands stuffed down in her jeans and a scowl on her face. She stopped at the gate one of the neighbor’s had erected across the dirt road as it led away from St. Anne’s toward the ocean.
“What’s this about?” she asked, sensing Richard beside her.
“Freda Symons lives in the last house down there,” he was pointing to a distant building overlooking the water, “and she actually owns the road from here to there though a couple of other houses use it. She got tired of people who wanted to fish from the rocks leaving their cars down at the bend so she put up the gate and gave the other residents keys.”
“Good gates make good neighbors?”
Richard laughed. “I don’t think so. Everyone hates the gate and most everyone hates her. But it is effective. To fish, you have to walk from here. People park in the church’s lot to go fishing.”
There was room to walk around the gate, which stood on it’s own between the rock wall and some bushes. Cecelia was already two hundred yards down the road, anticipating a chance to swim in the surf. Richard and Mara followed her. At the end of a large open field was a half acre of dense vegetation with paths cut through it and maintained. Mara walked over to the path.
“A maze?” she asked.
“Not really,” Richard said, suddenly remembering how his kids would run in and out of the brush for hours when they were small, chased by whatever dog they owned at the time. Cecelia had been the dog of the empty nest. She was the companion of only Susan and Richard and now Richard alone. “There is a huge maze on the far end of the island, over there.” He pointed and Mara looked. Through the light fog of afternoon you could make out Mansion Beach across Old Harbor. “This is just a path.”
She smiled at him, her gray eyes not quite so sad. “Shall we?” she asked and they plunged into the brush, hearing pheasants clucking and the shuffle of rabbits.
“God, this place is a zoo,” Mara said half-way through, “listen to the critters.”
“I didn’t know people from Rhode Island said ‘critters’,” he said.
“I’m not always from here,” she answered. “Rural Ohio, actually, about 40 miles from Columbus. I came to Brown and fell in love with Providence and never left.”
“How’d you become a policeman?” Richard asked.
“Detective is better,” she answered lightly, “not so gender specific.”
He cringed a bit. “I’m usually more politically correct,” he said shyly and she laughed.
“One would hope so….” She began, imitating Dante’s voice quite well.
“One would, wouldn’t one…” he added. Then they both laughed.
They emerged from the path and came to the dirt road again. The way down to the rocks was steep. Cecelia was already wading in the water, sniffing and sneezing and shaking her head. Richard followed Mara down, noticing how surely and effortlessly she moved down an unfamiliar hill. When they got to the rocks—a rock beach 40 feet wide at low tide that stretched off in both directions and disappeared from view around the bends of the island—they did what people always seemed to do: they paused and stared at the ocean and the mainland in the far distance. The ocean was gentle with only scattered foot high white caps to the horizon. The sun was beginning to go down behind them, back to the west toward the church and the gray water was touched with gold and orange. The sky was almost perfectly clear and the slightest breeze came off the water.
“It gets calm this time of day,” Richard said, breaking the silence.
“Eight years,” Mara replied and smiled broadly when she noticed the confusion on his face. For the first time he realized that there was a tiny line down the exact middle of her upper lip. It looked like a ridge of skin just a half-shade darker than the rest of her mouth. As imperfections went, he found it startling and not unattractive. He also noticed the faintest down above her lip and then realized she knew he was staring at her mouth.
“In the State Police,” she said, looking away, sparing him obvious embarrassment. “Eight years. I studied Psychology at Brown and went to law school right after college at Rhode Island University. Criminal law fascinated me and I decided to get a little practical experience, so I applied to the State Police. I thought I’d be a lawyer for them, doing something in an office, handling complaints of misconduct, something like that. But Dante sat in on my last interview and followed me to my car.”
“Dante did, did he?” Richard said, working on his Dante imitation.
She smiled at him again. “It was weird. I don’t even know why he was in the room and the whole time he just smoked—even then you couldn’t smoke in the interview room, but he did—and looked bored. But then he follows me out of the interview and into the parking lot. He introduced himself and told me what I needed to do was work with him, be in the field, be a detective.”
“You thought he was hitting on you….” Richard guessed.
Mara cocked her head and looked at him. “You really are a detective at heart.”
“Of course that’s what I thought,” she said, turning to watch Cecelia trying to drag something out of the water with her teeth. “But he said, ‘let me assuage your fears, Ms. Coles’, I swear to God—‘assuage’—“I admire your obvious physical attributes as one might admire a fine porcelain…”
“Fine porcelain?” Richard blurted.
“Dante collects porcelains, as it turns out. He has a fortune worth of the stuff. But let me finish this…he then said, I swear he did, it’s etched in my memory, ‘but my proclivities lie in quite another arena. I happen to need a partner and my influence is such that my new partner could be you, if you would consent.’ Well, by then I just thought he was a nut case but I asked around and it turns out that Dante Caggiano could be working for the Justice Department or one of the alphabet agencies but he wants to stay near the restaurants.”
“The restaurants?” Richard was genuinely confused.
“Dante is a restaurateur,” she said, smiling at the word. “He owns the two finest Italian eateries in Rhode Island. ‘Maria’s’ in Providence, founded by his father and named for his mother—the restaurant we won’t need to call…sorry about that prank—and ‘Maria’s Also’ in Westerly—you’ve heard of them?”
“I’ve eaten at them!” Richard said. “Stevenson took Susan and I to the one in Providence and we happened across the other one. ‘Maria’s Also’—what a great name for a restaurant.”
“Pure Dante,” Mara said, “essential Dante….Well, look at this won’t you?”
Richard looked. Cecelia was staggering across the rocks with a nine foot long fishing rod in her mouth, just the kind to cast into the surf, except it had no reel or line. When she finally dragged it to them and dropped it at their feet she sat back on her haunches, soaking wet and proud to beat the band with her trophy.
“Richard, even your dog is a detective!” Mara said, excitedly, squatting down to pet Cecelia and look at the rod. “This is what we came here to find. Just exactly.”
She took a pair of rubber gloves from the back pocket of her jeans and slipped them on expertly. “Little chance of finger prints. Whoever threw this away was wearing gloves too. But this proves my theory. Mara, you are brilliant! Won’t Dante have to eat crow?”
Richard seemed to remember her saying that morning, “they went fishing!” or something like that. Mara explained while they looked around in the surf where Cecelia had found the rod, the dog shaking and splashing, thinking Mara and Richard had joined her game. Sgt. Coles had been trying to figure out how someone could wreck a car on a dirt road in the middle of the night and then leave. Going up or down Spring Street would risk being seen by some passing, late night driver. But no one would give a second thought to a fisherman walking down to the rocks with a flashlight. Mara had asked Stevenson that afternoon if people fished at night and he told her it was a favorite time for the serious and committed.
“So he, she, whoever,” Mara told Richard after they found a brand new plastic tackle box—empty—on the rocks twenty feet or so from where the dog had found the rod, “doubtless wore those long boots and a slicker with a hood, probably carrying some bucket of some kind along with the other gear. He dumped the stuff in the water, thinking it was wash away…or, not even caring if someone found it, and walked along the water back toward town or the other way to wherever he left a car, or maybe it’s close enough to walk back to wherever he came from. I bet if we get the Block Island cops to search down other dirt roads we’ll find the boots and slicker somewhere. Then maybe we’ll have something to go on. Maybe even some tire tracks.”
They were walking rapidly back toward the church and the setting sun was in their faces, casting an orange glow over everything. Mara was talking almost as fast as she was walking, going on and on about what a break this was and how Dante was going “to owe me big time for making fun of my theory!”
At some point Richard stopped listening to her words. He listened instead to the rhythm of her strange, whispering voice, to her excitement and joy in finding something to work with, something to go on in the case. He was simply glad to be walking with her into the sun, sharing the road with her. Something in him almost forgotten stirred briefly, like a shadow of a memory seeking the light.
Lt. Caggiano was on the deck, smoking one of his unfiltered cigarettes, talking on his cell phone as Mara and Richard and Cecelia returned triumphant. Richard had to credit Dante—the detective showed great interest in the fishing pole and tackle box and listened attentively to Mara’s theory about back roads. He immediately called to Block Island Police and told them what was needed. They confirmed that there was one spot north toward town from the rocks beyond St. Anne’s that someone could hide a car to find in the dark. Or else, they suggested, the “perpetrator” could have walked all the way down the rocky beach to the Ferry landing.
“They actually said ‘perpetrator’, just like that?” Mara asked as Dante recounted the other side of the conversation.
“Obviously the local cops read mysteries and watch Law and Order, reruns,” Dante told her. They laughed companionably together.
“Dante forbids saying ‘perpetrator’, Mara explained to Richard, “or ‘bust’ or ‘nab’ as simply too stereotypically cop-speak.”
Dante was staring down toward the rocks where the fishing gear had been found. He pointed to the right with his cell phone. “But young officer Alt is convinced the real treasure may be waiting on them to the south—out toward Mohegan Bluffs and the lighthouse. That way, he tells me, is a rabbit warren of little used roads and tracks.” He paused and stared at the sky. “So little light left, we should get Brooks and the helicopter back over here,” he added, almost to himself, punching in numbers on his phone with his index finger still gripping a butt.
“Brooks,” Dante said, “kick out the teenage girls out of your apartment and get the bird over to Block Island….Now, that’s when….and don’t land too near my car….What? Yes, of course bring it with you.”
He turned to Mara and Richard. “Brooks has some more reports from crazy Dr. Jay, the pathology genius. He’ll bring them.” After lighting another cigarette, he said, blowing smoke, “Good job, Sergeant. You made me a proper fool.”
Mara pursed her lips and mumbled, “Thanks Dante.” Then she turned and went into the house. Richard stood on the deck while Lt. Caggiano smoked. Dusk was gathering. Richard realized how profoundly Mara needed Dante’s approval and how inept she was in accepting it. Perhaps that, he thought, watching his dog circling in the dirt parking lot, sniffing the ground for scents, would somehow explain the odd relationship between the two. They were always joking and jabbing—putting each other down—and bragging about how “unconventional” they were. Dante was bound to be stingy with his praise and Mara, as graceful as she was, lacked the grace to revel in it when it came. Two people who knew each other better than perhaps anyone else knew either of them; but they couldn’t quite “let go” with each other. How hard it is, Richard thought, for the children of earth to be open and vulnerable in relationship. He was just about to analyze how he and Susan had been with each other in that long ago time before LWS began when Dante said something he didn’t hear.
“What did you say?” Richard asked, noticing that Dante was leaning against the railing, staring out at nothing much, standing uncharacteristically still.
“She adores me, of course,” he said, softly, tentatively.
“Obviously,” is all Richard could think to say.
While Dante and Richard were still outside, Mara sat on the couch and flicked through the 13 or so TV channels of Block Island’s cable. No news of the murders yet on CNN. It always helped to have the Feds involved. The alphabet boys could hold back any news longer than the humble Rhode Island State Police. And the Feds were really involved in this mess, she thought, imagining people yelling and throwing things in several suites of offices in Washington by now. The longer it stayed off the cable news, the longer Dante could stay on the case. As soon as he left, they’d agreed, she’d take vacation and play detective with Fr. Lucas. But she wasn’t sure exactly how to “detect” without Dante involved. For too long now she’d been Tonto to his Lone Ranger, Robin to his Batman, Ginger to his Fred. She still was lit from within from his grudging admission that he’d been wrong in the argument they had coming back from Stevenson’s about the “fishing” angle. Objectively, she was right about as much as he was when they disagreed, but it didn’t feel that way. She was still, in her mind, Mary Magdalene to his Jesus.
And the “going fishing” dispute about how the killer left the SUV wasn’t the only thing that went wrong on that trip to talk to Stevenson Matthews, not by a long shot. Mara played it back in her mind as she clicked through the channels on TV.
It started as soon as they got in Dante’s Ferrari and drove as carefully as a surgeon does heart surgery down the dirt road to Spring Street.
“Let’s talk about your priest,” Dante said, once his precious car was on real pavement.
“He’s not my priest!”
“Testy about it, are we?” Dante said, lighting a cigarette, grinning maniacally at her. “Proves my point doesn’t it, Sweetness?”
Mara sighed and watched the scenery to her right. They were swinging around a curve that revealed a tiny cove where the waves beat monotonously on the rocks.
“I detect some chemistry,” Dante said, emphasizing the last word entirely too much for Mara’s liking.
“He’s old enough to be my father.” She said, with a note of finality.
They drove uphill past the Spring House and then back down hill past a couple of smaller hotels toward the little town.
“Well, just barely,” he said, “but should we review your history—an affair with your married college advisor that ended badly and then that genuine relationship with a widowed law school professor that you broke off three weeks before the wedding….”
“You are a bastard,” she said, seething.
“And you, my lovely partner, are constitutionally attracted to older men. But this isn’t about that—it’s about Fr. Richard David Lucas, who knows something he doesn’t even know he knows that we—sleuths that we are—need to know.”
They drove in silence down the one long block facing the ferry dock. Hotels and restaurants and gift shops were on their left.
“What does he know?” Mara finally asked.
“I don’t know,” said Dante, lighting up again. “That’s why we need to find out what it is.”
“How do you know he knows something?”
“I’m a detective. It’s just a detective kind of knowing. But to figure it all out we have to talk about this priest who you aren’t ready to claim as your own or admit you feel drawn to.” Dante drove through the rest of town and then turned right, back down to the shore line, following the directions Stevenson had given him.
“So what do we need to talk about regarding my priest and what he knows but doesn’t know he knows?” Mara asked, almost smiling at the whole “knowing” conundrum.
“You’re the psychologist among us,” Dante replied, suddenly pulling into the parking area for the one public beach on Block Island. There were only two other cars there and neither of them was a Ferrari. “We’re can be at good Stevenson’s in a matter of three minutes from here,” he said, “and we don’t want to be on time. Give him ten minutes or so to stew and wonder what we want. So let’s stretch our legs and see the sea.”
Standing on the sand, staring out at Point Judith over the water with only two other people walking the mid-week, October beach, Dante smoked and talked. It was his belief that some key clue to the double murders was locked inside Fr. Lucas on an unconscious level. He had no idea why he imagined that was true but both he and Mara were familiar enough with his hunches to give credence to his belief.
“One thing that is absolutely blocking his ability to call that much needed piece of information from his mind,” Dante said, “is his grief.” He paused for a moment, as if considering something. “Grief is the arch-enemy of memory,” he continued, “and so I need some of your psychological insight into the nature of noble Father Lucas’ grief….Like this, did he really love his wife all that much?”
Mara’s laugh came out as a snort. “How should I know, Dante? How could anyone know?”
“We’re back to epistemology again,” he said calmly, gently. “None of us could possibly really know—I just want your insights and feelings, your fabled women’s intuition.”
A ferry was approaching the island, and beyond that two sailboats were tacking against the wind. One sail was white and the other deep red. Mara shifted into “psychologist mode” and tried to formulate a reply, seeking to drive from her mind how naively Richard Lucas had let her ply him with liquor just to get his fingerprints on a glass and how trustingly he had let her put him to bed.
“Oh, he loved her alright,” she said, speaking flatly, analytically. “He loved her as much…or more…than most women dream of being loved. But he is a good man, a decent man—unlike present company, I might add—a man who wants to ‘do right’ by his life. So, since she died so suddenly and unexpectedly, the tragedy threw Father Lucas into a psycho-drama of his own making. “Did I love her enough?” he must be asking himself daily, hourly. “Did she know without doubt that I loved her?” he agonizes, mostly subconsciously, I suspect. So he’s decided he failed her in some way—didn’t love her completely, fervently, totally…didn’t love her enough to keep her alive. He’ll wallow in that for a while—perhaps a long while, maybe the rest of his life. Or else he’ll decide, as he doubtless should, that his love was sufficient enough and true enough, in spite of whatever was missing in it, and move on.”
After a moment, Dante moved back toward the parking lot and Mara followed. He paused near the bathhouse. “Look, another public phone,” he observed, “a dying breed except on this island.”
“Two things,” Dante said as they walked, “first of all, damn you’re good at this, your psychological training serves us well.” He paused so Mara could appreciate his rare compliment. “And secondly, you, my lovely assistant, are already hoping you’ll be around when its time for the Reverend Mister Lucas to, as you so aptly put it, move on.”
“Damn you, Dante,” Mara said, opening the passenger side door of his car, “you are a genuine asshole.”
“Rhode Island’s finest,” he said, getting in. And when both doors were shut and he’d turned on the engine, he added: “but no man’s fool.”
Mara wasn’t sure at all about what the interview with Stevenson Matthews accomplished. He spent the first 20 minutes showing the two detectives remarkable items in the study of his sprawling house with a wrap-around porch situated on a knoll above New Harbor with a view of water in every direction. Mara admired his antique Block Island memorabilia, several almost priceless pieces of art, his collection of nautical instruments and the pictures of himself and his late wife—beloved Cynthia—with three, or was it four?—presidents. But when he asked if they’d like to see his porcelains, she excused herself and stood on the porch for a while, knowing he and Dante would be beside themselves and suggesting trades for some time.
She did learn that night fishing was a common tradition on Block Island and, yes, down from the church was a prime spot. Dante seemed to be asking about where and how the island’s hotels and businesses found summer help for most of the rest of the time they were there. Mara would later regret that she hadn’t been paying attention because she was lost in her theory about finding some evidence that the killer or killers had passed themselves off as going fishing to leave the scene of the crime. Besides that, she was thinking about what Dante had said about her and older men and realizing she’d never completely resolved that in her own mind. Here she was, almost 33, unmarried, childless and “lifeless” besides her job. All that took her deeper into self-examination than she liked to go, but she was spared dangerous introspection when Dante thanked Stevenson and said it was time to go home.
They were back in the car and on the road when she realized she had no “home” to speak of, nothing worthy of the name.
“My pretty,” Dante said, “we lost you there somewhere. Are you back with us yet?”
Mara was suddenly exhausted, peeved and depressed. “So what do you want from me about Fr. Lucas?” she asked, tired enough to go to sleep. “Besides whatever else I’ll be doing once you are shuffled off the case and the island, you want me to find out what he doesn’t know he doesn’t know, is that the deal?”
“Precisely the deal, darling.”
“And how do you propose I find that out? Do I need to sleep with him or something like that?” her voice was past tired to hard.
Dante glanced over at her, slumped back in the rich Corinthian leather seat, without her seat belt on, and he knew something was up with her. In addition, he was reminded of how deeply he cared for his younger partner.
“Something akin to that, emotionally at any rate,” he said, gently, “only in the line of duty, you understand. A little Father Lucas-knows-best pillow talk wouldn’t hurt. If you’d like to….”
She burned and breathed deeply, “You might like some pillow time with the good priest as well, I’d suspect.”
Dante flinched at the level of her unkindness, though he knew it was deserved. He had, after all, seen how Mara looked at Richard Lucas and how in looking at him the hard shell of her had momentarily dropped away and she was just a woman looking at a man. He’d felt a genuine hopefulness for his lovely colleague when he saw that look, a hope of a promise of something good for her. But business was business and murder was the most serious business of all—besides, time was running out and the boys from Washington would arrive sooner rather than later. Dante needed all he could get from Mara’s skills and wiles. So he took a cigarette from his case, flicked open his silver butane lighter and expertly lit up while driving back through the little town.
“He’s not quite my type,” he said, hating how he had to play this out and damage his connection to Mara, “almost…but not quite.”
“Why not?” she asked, almost with anger.
“Too old for me,” he said, fully realizing he was 52 and, himself, old enough to be his partner’s father.
She laughed, breaking the tension, and sat up. “Give me a cigarette, asshole.”
He feigned surprise. “You don’t smoke.”
“I do now,” she said, talking the unfiltered, French made cigarette, inhaling deeply as he held out his lighter without taking his eyes from the road.
As she exhaled smoke, he said, “how was it for you, darling?”
Mara choked and coughed and they both laughed. Then she brought up her theory about the “perp”—which she said on purpose just to annoy him—disguised as a fisherman, climbing out of the Lexus and walking calmly down the dirt road, through the gate, over the hill to the surf and away.
Dante didn’t buy it. He was convinced someone had followed the Lexus onto the little road, headlights off, waited for the driver of the wrecked SUV to come back and then calmly backed onto Spring Street and away.
“Away to where?” Mara was asking as they got out of the car in front of St. Anne’s. “It’s a fucking island, Dante….They have a place here they could either walk to our have a car waiting down the beach….”
He was already to the front door of the rectory, shaking his head. The argument came inside with them and only stopped because Richard emerged from his nap.
“Mara…,” Richard said, bursting through the door, jarring her from her memories, then, catching himself in familiarity, he began again: “…Sgt. Coles, we can already see the helicopter!”
She grinned at his enthusiasm. “Brooks is nothing if not prompt,” she said, smiling at him.
Dante came in as well, but rather than look at the two of them, he was gazing at the TV set. Mara had left it tuned to CNN.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Dante said, “will you look at this!”
On the screen was a live, aerial view of Block Island, coming closer. A graphic on the bottom of the screen said, in large, blue, almost gothic letters: MURDERS ON THE BLOCK.
The woman talking was superimposed on the bottom left as the camera panned over rocks, houses, a half-acre of brush, a field and then a small church with a house attached with an old Volvo and a shiny Ferrari parked in front of it. The sound of the helicopter almost above them was drowning out whatever the talking head was saying.
“I guess that wasn’t Brooks coming across the water,” Dante shouted, hoping to be heard.
Richard watched as a police car pulled into the scene on the TV and a young man got out, holding his hat and then having it blow away in the down draft from the helicopter’s rotors. He started to chase it but a large half Lab half Retriever, fur blowing in the swirling air, grabbed it up in her mouth and ran away, jumping a stone wall.
Mara was rocking on the couch, laughing at Cecelia and Officer Alt chasing her, then giving up the chase. The policeman walked, hatless, toward the house and knocked at the door. Mara and Dante and Richard watched him on TV and then opened the door to let him inside.
“Daw nook ni ht”, Officer Alt seemed to say. All three of them stared at him until they realized they simply couldn’t hear him from the roar of the helicopter.
On the TV screen, someone was promising an update from Iraq and then there was a woman worried about constipation. The deafening noise abated as the helicopter veered away to the north. Beyond Mara and Dante and Officer Alt, M., Richard watched Cecelia jump back over the wall and sprint to the house, a policeman’s hat firmly in her jaws. Then he realized what the policeman had been saying, beneath the roar, was simply this: “Dog took my hat”, and on live, national TV at that.
Malcolm Alt brought good news. The second dirt road off Spring Street to the south had paid off. A pair of fishing boots and a yellow slicker tossed hurriedly into the brush, not hid well at all. The Block Island Police had sealed the road and put up crime scene tape around the evidence. Unfortunately, in the near darkness, one of the officers had driven his patrol car over any possible tire tracks, but something, Officer Alt promised, vainly, might be saved.
Just as Dante started to ask a question, Brooks arrived in the Rhode Island State Police helicopter, landing in the grass beyond the parking lot and prohibiting conversation until he’d killed the motor and the rotors had swooshed slowly to a stop.
Brooks got out of the helicopter and wandered toward the house. Richard, who hadn’t gotten a good look at him before, thought he looked like Wayne Newton early in his career except dressed in a police flight suit. He was carrying a manila folder and wiping his broad face with his hand.
“The blessed report,” Dante said, pushing past Officer Alt and almost running to Brooks.
“I think we should go over to the scene,” Officer Alt yelled, not noticing the noise had stopped, “before it’s totally dark.”
Mara and Richard got into back seat of the police car while Dante sent Brooks to the house to stay with Cecelia. He joined them, pouring over the printouts in the folder. Malcolm Alt turned around and started down the dirt road to Spring Street with his siren and flashers on.
“Turn those fucking things off,” Dante said, annoyed. Then, turning to the two in the back seat he said, “Curiouser and curiouser, my pretties!” His eyes were shining with excitement. “According to Tony Jay and his toxology magic, our good federal employees did not, after all drown. Someone filled their lungs with water after they died.”
“So what killed them,” Mara asked.
Dante practically gleamed. “Sodium poisoning,” he said.
“Too much salt?” Richard asked, confused.
“From all the fish and chips they consumed? Not at all, good priest and friend,” Dante told them, “an overdose of sodium penathol,” he chortled. “This is just perfect….”
“Sodium what?” Officer Alt asked.
“Truth serum,” Richard answered. “At least I think that’s what it is.”
“Right as rain,” Mara said, reaching over to squeeze his arm, smiling.
“Just like us, my fine detectives,” Dante said, fishing for his cigarette case, “someone else wanted the truth and wanted it too badly….”
“What is truth?” Richard said, mostly to himself.
When Dante and Mara stared at him and Officer Alt said, “what?” he grinned and said, “It’s from the Bible….”
Richard stood beside the police car, not wanting to be in the way. Darkness had all but fallen and the darkness is very dark on Block Island. There is little ambient light besides the distant glow of Providence across the waters and the scattered houses are mostly dark in October. Dante and Mara moved with stealth, each carrying small but powerful flashlights they had secreted somehow in their clothing. They spoke in whispers to each other and moved very slowly around the area where the Block Island Police had found a pair of waders and a yellow slicker tossed into the brush. After about 20 minutes they came back to the car, each carrying a large, green trash bag Officer Alt took from his trunk when they arrived.
“A veritable treasure trove of evidence,” Dante told Richard when they’d carefully put the two bags back in the cruiser’s trunk, “and doubtless more when our stalwart Brooks returns at first light with the crime scene folks from Providence.”
The detective snapped off his rubber gloves, folded them carefully and slid them in the right pocket of his suit coat. “Officer Alt,” he said, turning to Malcolm, “one of your fine young policemen must spend the night here and wait for the crime scene workers. Try not to get anywhere near the area where we’ve been looking. It’s fouled up enough as it is.” Malcolm Alt was listening intently, not wanting to miss a single word. “Then,” Dante continued, ”you’ll take the good priest back to his Rectory before Sgt. Coles and I take these items to your office to we look over what we’ve found.”
Somehow Dante had managed to light a cigarette while talking rapidly and he waved the officer away with it.
“I think its best, Father,” Dante said softly, knowing voices carried much further on the Island than the mainland, “if you go home. When our federal friends get here we don’t want them to get the idea you’re anything other than a country parson.”
“What else am I going to be?” Richard asked, forgetting to whisper.
Mara brought her finger to her lips and giggled. “You’re our ace in the hole, our fellow traveler,” she whispered, though her whisper didn’t sound much different from her normal speaking voice, only softer. “You are going to play detective with me when Dante leaves.”
“Just make sure that’s all you play,” Lt. Caggiano added, smiling wickedly at them. Mara made a smacking motion toward him and smiled back. Richard was glad it was so dark because he could feel himself blushing worse than he could remember when.
The answering machine was blinking when Richard got back to the rectory. Brooks was sprawled on the couch watching CNN with Cecelia draped around him. The remains of one of the casseroles people had brought to Richard was on the coffee table along with two empty St. Pauli Girl bottles. The lab looked up at Richard and wagged her tail but didn’t bother getting up. Neither did Brooks.
“Great dog, Father,” he said, in a surprisingly high-pitched voice, “damn phone’s been ringing non-stop….Here it comes again,” he added, pointing to the TV.
Richard watched the scene again as the news-chopper flew toward St. Anne’s from the sea. There was the house and church and Officer Alt getting out of his patrol car. There was Cecelia dashing after the policeman’s hat and jumping the rock wall and Officer Alt chasing her in vain.
“That poor guy will never live this down,” Brooks was saying. “Every police department in the country will tape this and watch it during training about how to be professional and dignified.” Richard thought Brooks was being genuinely sympathetic until he laughed in a high-pitched cackle. “Hard to look professional chasing a dog with your hat! Maybe he should become a fisherman or drive the Ferry—hard to take him seriously as a cop.”
“I’m Richard Lucas,” the priest said, “we’ve not really met.”
“Glad to meet you, Father,” Brooks replied, starting to shift the dog’s weight off his legs.
“Don’t get up,” Richard said and Brooks sunk back into the couch.
Richard waited. “And you are…?” he began.
“Oh, I’m Brooks, I fly the bird.”
“I know, I’ve seen you….Is Brooks your first or last name.”
The pilot frowned. “Mostly it’s just ‘Brooks’….”
“You know,” Brooks said, “like Cher….”
“Or Madonna even.”
Richard nodded some more. “Friends is coming on, Father. Wanna watch?”
Richard mumbled something like, “no, but go ahead….” Then he remembered the blinking light on the phone and went to play back the messages. There were 12 messages. The first six were from news papers or TV news affiliates wanting to interview “the priest who found the bodies”. Then a rambling message from Stevenson wanting to make sure everything was alright and letting Richard know he could call “any time you need.” The next three were from Richard’s children. He smiled as he listened to the worry in their voices and their distinctive styles of speech. Even without their voices, he would have known them from their words written on paper.
“Well, Pops,” it was Jeremy, the lawyer and father of Richard and Susan’s only grandchild, sweet Lila, almost two. Richard always rejoiced that he and Susan had gone to St. Louis for a week the month before she died and cooed with eight month old Lila and smothered her with love and affection. And, forever etched in his memory was Lila, crawling down the aisle at Susan’s memorial service, crawling toward the urn of Susan’s ashes on a small table at the bottom of the chancel steps. Lila’s mother, Melissa, caught up to her runaway baby just as Lila was pulling herself to her feet by holding onto the table. “I was so afraid she’d turn the table over and…” Melissa said afterwards, catching herself short, not wanting to offend her father-in-law.
“And spill Mom’s ashes all over the floor,” Jeremy finished for her. Richard and his children laughed for the first time since Susan died.
“Mom would have loved that,” Miriam added, wiping her eyes with one of the caterer’s napkins and leaning into Richard.
“Yes she would have,” Richard said, spreading his arms to embrace his children and Melissa as well, “she certainly would have….”
“Well, Pops,” Jeremy said on the tape, not announcing himself, just jumping into conversation, “You’ve made the news at last! And Cecelia, what a star she is! What’s the inside story out there on the Block? Will you be appearing on talk shows now? Is this an OJ kind of deal? Call us, I want the skinny. Love and kisses from the grandbaby and Melissa….Seriously, are you OK? Gotta go.”
Dr. Jonah Lucas, Richard’s oldest son, was completing his first year as a psychiatric intern at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Serious to a fault, Richard often thought, Jonah had always been the foil to Jeremy’s spontaneity. Jonah had been the student and Jeremy the athlete. Jonah was the debater and Jeremy the prankster—Jonah the pessimist and Jeremy the cockeyed optimist. Now Jonah tried to bring his patients from inner darkness to some new light while Jeremy, a junior member of the Prosecuting Attorney’s office in St. Louis, sought to put people in small, dark rooms for a long time.
“Dad, this is Jonah,” the second message began. “Miriam paged me and told me to turn on CNN. This must be terrible for you. I hope you’re talking to people and not repressing your feelings. I’ll call back but here’s my pager number if you don’t have it….”
“Always in role,” Richard thought, smiling at the professional tone of Jonah’s message. “I won’t repress my feelings”, he said out loud, remembering how that had been Jonah’s problem for much of his life. The oldest of three born each two years apart, Jonah had grown older too fast. He had always been Susan’s favorite—though parents are never supposed to admit such things—and Richard loved him profoundly but liked him less than the younger children.
Once, late at night, when all three children were in adolescence, Richard and Susan had talked well toward morning about Jonah over several glasses of wine. Richard, a glass or two past his normal air of impartiality, told her he didn’t like Jonah’s moods and seriousness and, truth be known, didn’t like Jonah himself all that much.
Susan’s Carolina drawl became more pronounced when she was tired or full of red wine. “Tell you what, Richard”, she said, pronouncing his name languidly as Rich-heard, “let’s divide and conquer. You expend all your worry on Jeremy and little princess Miriam and leave Jonah to me. He’s my boy….”
And so they had compartmentalized their worries. In the end, Richard now realized, Susan got the better of the deal. Moody and brooding as Jonah was from time to time, he never caused them any grief. Brilliant and single-minded, he was a full fledged adult from 16 on. They never spent a moment with Jonah in a principle’s office or emergency room or police station. Jeremy and Miriam, on the other hand, seemed to have special talents at breaking things—curfews, regulations, bones and laws.
Jonah was “the rock”. Lord knows, Richard often remembered, Jonah was the one who made most of the arrangements and handled the details when Susan died while his father and two siblings ran around like chickens with their heads cut off—spouting emotions and needs. Jonah wrote out all the necessary checks for Richard to sign to pay for funeral expenses. Jonah, Richard knew, took the cards about flowers and memorial gifts and answered them all, signing his father’s name to the thank-you’s.
Then Richard heard Miriam’s message. She was his baby, his girl-child, his princess, his special friend, his joy and wonder. For the years of their childhood, Jonah made amends for Miriam and Jeremy beat people up for her. Richard was simply mesmerized by her being. Only Susan was immune to the charms and wiles of that golden child. Susan knew Miriam through and through and cast a jaundiced eye toward her from time to time because Susan knew this child was the second coming of her very self. Familiarity did not breed contempt between the two women of the Lucas family, but it did make for some interesting and dangerous battles.
Miriam taught third grade in a public school in the North End of Boston. She had a Master’s degree in elementary education from Tufts and lived in the neighborhood where she taught and fought for her students. When she’d been an undergraduate she’d brought home a string of boyfriends…and girlfriends to visit her parents’ home. During her Junior year, Richard and Susan had met Brett at Thanksgiving—a member of the Tuft’s swim team from Vermont—tall and broad in the shoulders as only swimmers are. Then, at Christmas, Miriam had brought home Karin, a darkly beautiful poet, Jewish and sultry. If that had not been enough to confound Richard and test his well-know liberal ideals, Brett was back for Easter. Susan and Richard had agreed that once children lived out of the house and came home with “friends”, they would share a room. They both felt liberated and “modern” about that decision. “If they’re sleeping together in their real world,” Susan had put it, “then it’s crazy to make them lie when they’re with us.”
Richard had willingly agreed. But the junior year holidays had mystified him. Late Easter night when everyone but Miriam and Richard was already asleep, he found the courage to confront her.
“How’s Karin?” he began. They were sitting in the little room off the kitchen with a fireplace. The chairs all faced the fireplace, but, it being April, there was no fire. At least he could look at something besides his daughter.
“She’s great,” Miriam said, brightly—as she said almost everything. “She sends her thoughts and love on this celebration of the murder of her Messiah.”
Richard nodded to the fireplace. “And Brett,” he said, “he’s great as well?”
Miriam began to laugh. It started as a shaking of her head and then her whole body and then a cackling sound coming from her mouth and then the sound spread to the depths of her. It was so infectious that Richard was soon laughing too, though he didn’t know why. He simply couldn’t not laugh when his princess was laughing.
“You know, Daddy,” she said, kindly, instructively, when the laughter died a natural death, like a very good teacher tells a very important truth, “this sexual stuff is a lot more ambiguous than you believe or imagine.”
They sat in a long silence. The dog before Cecelia—there had always been a dog and often cats and other creatures—rested her snout on Richard’s leg until he let her out the kitchen door. When he came back to the fireplace, Miriam was standing, pursing her lips, looking at him, waiting for something.
“Alright then,” he said—and what else could he had said, loving her so enormously, “give us a hug and let’s get some sleep.”
She folded into him. Both his sons were several inches taller than he was, but Miriam was a slip of a girl, tiny, petite, fragile. As he embraced her, he lowered his face into her dark and curly hair. He breathed her in and knew, in the way only fathers of daughters can know that this was the essence of life. He never quite understood the ambiguity of Miriam’s sexuality. He knew she now lived with a lovely and generous Hispanic woman, a social worker at a Boston hospital. Milagros was one of his personal favorites of all Miriam’s lovers. She was almost the same size as his daughter—they could have been models for salt and pepper shakers of two beautiful women. And he had talked with both them about their dreams of adopting a child. Yet, they’d only been together for two years and Miriam’s last “friend” had been Chuck, an investment banker, for God’s sake! Richard would just wait and see.
Miriam’s message was the dearest of the three to him.
“Daddy, I just saw it on TV. Milagros was watching and made me watch. I called Jeremy and Jonah. Are you alright? Are you okay? I could be there tomorrow if you need me. I will be there if you don’t call me. Be brave, daddy. Don’t worry, I can come to you. Oh, I love you….Just know that, this must be horrible for you after…after Mom and all….I’m blathering, just blathering….Call me. Call me. Okay? Be well. I love you. Goodbye.”
The last messages were from more media outlets. Richard erased all the messages but the three from his children. Then he listened to those again and once more. He loved their voices, just hearing them speak, and knew he needed to call them and let them know he was fine, just fine, surrounded by police on every side. He even had the phone in his hand, about to dial Miriam’s number first, when Lt. Caggiano and Sgt. Coles burst into the house, startling Brooks and Cecelia off the couch at last and followed—or, perhaps, propelled into the house by a large, red-haired man who entered last and broke into a song: “There’s no business like show business, like no business I know….”
Not a bad tenor, Richard thought, hanging up the phone half-dialed and turning to see what the fuss was….
According to Dante and Marta, both talking at the same time to Richard, FBI Agent Owen Gordon was one of the good guys of law enforcement. By that, Richard would learn quickly, they meant Agent Gordon was more interested in catching the miscreants and villains (Dante’s terms) than in abiding by the “jots and tittles”, Dante put it, of institutional regulations. Agent Gordon’s presence on Block Island that early evening in October was proof enough of that.
“You never saw me here, Father,” Gordon told Richard after introductions were made and everyone had a neat glass of scotch. Brooks threw down his drink and went back to the kitchen for a refill. Richard wondered if, after beer and whiskey, Brooks planned to fly the helicopter back to the mainland that night.
Brooks stood in the kitchen with Cecelia lying at his feet. Richard felt a slight pang of jealousy that the lab could develop such loyalty to a stranger. The three policemen and Richard sat at the table holding their glasses like bridge hands while Owen Gordon talked.
Owen was as Scots-Irish as Dante was Italian and the two of them were polar opposites in size and demeanor. Agent Gordon was huge—6’5” at least, and must have weighed 250 pounds, Richard imagined, though he wasn’t flabby at all, just big and hard. He was dressed as casually as Dante was formally—an open necked, wrinkled white shirt, equally wrinkled khaki’s, a dark blue, zip-up jacket with a logo for a car dealer—O’Mally Ford—on the breast. He wore deck shoes without socks. His fair skinned face reminded Richard of some bartender’s face from his distant past and his hair was beyond carrot colored to day-glow orange.
“If I were on this island,” Agent Gordon began, smiling and winking, “which we all agree I’m not and never have been…right?”
The others nodded, except for Brooks who was searching through the refrigerator with Cecelia, paying scant attention.
“If I were here I could tell you some fascinating but confusing details,” Gordon paused, winked and waited.
“But you’re not here, for Christsake,” Dante said, anxious and annoyed. “Get on with it.”
Before Owen could answer, Richard asked, “why aren’t you here?”
Agent Gordon laughed and poured more scotch all around. Richard began to think law enforcement played hell with your liver.
“Flash is doing an end run around the other feds,” Mara explained patiently while Dante lit a cigarette and almost swooned. “He’s screwing over the Homeland Security boys by being here.”
“But I’m not here!” Owen laughed.
“Mary, Mother of God,” Dante almost shouted, standing up and knocking over his chair, momentarily distracting the Lab from the ham Brooks was feeding her. “this Mick takes forever to tell you something. Let him talk!”
“My mother was Irish,” Owen winked and explained calmly to Richard, “which explains the dagos’ reference. But my father was a Scotsman through and through.”
“Do you have your gun?” Dante asked Mara.
“In my room,” she answered.
“Go get it and put me out of this misery!”
After another minute of two of what Richard realized was meant to do exactly what it did—drive Dante nearly crazy—Owen settled into his story. Richard noticed the clock on the kitchen wall—7:45 p.m.
By 8 o’clock, Owen had told them that Spencer and Johnson, the two victims, were from Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence—people who spent their days worrying about terrorism, money laundering, drugs and illegal aliens as well as “whatever else has crossed Tom Ridge’s feeble mind since he woke up this morning”. At first, and even second, glance, they didn’t seem to be trained, professional investigators. “Glorified accountants assigned to the Boston office from all we can dig up,” is how Gordon put it, “monitoring banking records that might smell of some terrorist plot. But God knows,” he continued, “these people can do almost anything—no rules for them.” His biggest evidence of the overarching power of DHS was the car they were found in.
“Registered in Michigan with fake Connecticut plates,” he told them, “and when we ran it down it turns out that particular Lexus was seized in Miami from some drug lord. But why did they give it to bean counters?”
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Richard said, interrupting, “but I’ve been wondering where the car is.”
“Providence,” Dante said, testily.
“No more,” Owen added, “on its way to Washington as we speak.”
“God-damn!” Dante said, lighting up again. He was putting his butts in his half-full scotch glass.
“It was a huge car,” Richard said, obsessing on the Lexus, “it must have weighed two tons.”
Owen smiled at him, winking. “Close guess, Father. 4037 pounds curb weight, but someone—the drug guy or Homeland Security had added bullet resistant everything to it along the way. They put another 800 pounds of reinforced steel in the doors.”
“That must have hurt the gas mileage,” Richard mused aloud. Dante almost starting tearing out his hair.
“So why were they here?” Mara asked.
Owen Gordon shook his head sadly. “Amore,” he said. “From their credit card records we’ve been able to find a pattern of week-ends away together—P-Town, New Hampshire, and now the Block.”
“They were just having an affair?” Richard asked, incredulous.
“Not ‘just’ an affair,” Dante said, flipping through some pages the FBI agent who wasn’t there hadn’t given him, “though one would think a priest would have a little less sympathy for adulterers—it was an affair that got them mistakenly murdered, most likely because they were driving the ‘company car’….”
“Wrong place at the wrong time,” Mara said, quietly.
“Star crossed lovers,” Richard added, barely audibly.
The truth was, Owen didn’t know much more than that. No other federal agency—all of which hated Homeland Security—had a clue why the two Mystic Aquarium slash Homeland Security agents slash couple on a romantic weekend were murdered. It all seemed to hinge on the Lexus.
“That’s all I’ve got for you,” Flash said, reaching for the bottle.
“And you’ve never been here,” Richard said.
“Right. And the HLS guys are going to want Dante to not be here either….” Owen laughed and winked. Richard suddenly realized that the agent’s winking—how his face was always contracting and expanding with one eye or another blinking—might be a twitch instead of a subtle message.
It was time for everyone to scatter. Owen had a boat to take Dante back to Providence.
“My car too?” the detective asked, suddenly anxious.
“Sure,” Agent Gordon said, “if you let me sit in the driver’s seat on the way across the water and pretend I’m driving….”
Brooks said a long, slobbering good-bye to Cecelia—he had to go get the Crime Scene people in the helicopter and bring them back before dawn and Homeland Security arrived. Mara went to get her luggage—one small bag, really—so she could move into the White House.
Owen “Flash” Gordon looked at Richard as Mara hurried out of the room. “Missed opportunities never return, Father,” he said, wickedly.
Mara would ride with Dante in the Ferrari and Richard would drive Owen to the dock in New Harbor where the FBI boat “really wasn’t”. Then Richard would drive Mara to the White House and himself home.
As they were all crowding out of the front door onto the deck, Mara turned to Richard, “is there anything open now?” she asked, “a place to eat.”
“One,” he said, “down by the water.”
“Can we eat after we get rid of this trash?” she said.
“Sure,” Richard answered, “no problem.”
Owen and Dante exchanged a glance.
The Ferrari crawled down the dirt road but exploded when Dante turned right. Richard and Owen watched the sports car’s tail-lights disappear around the first curve.
“Good cops, those two,” Owen offered.
“Unconventional, though they may be,” Richard responded.
Owen laughed a broad Scotch-Irish laugh. “They filled me in about their plans,” he said, suddenly serious. “Risky, I’d say, involving a civilian like you.”
“So I’m in danger?” Richard asked, taking the turn uphill by the Spring House. He was a little anxious, but, he realized, more excited than anxious.
Agent Gordon was winking overtime and smiling slyly, “you mean other than from Mara?”
They were gliding downhill toward the statue round-about. Richard was surprised at how he reacted to Owen’s question. Already he had dreamed about Sgt. Coles and he realized her fierce femininity had touched him. But a year was not enough time to mourn a 30 year marriage. His flicker of desire and hope was extinguished by a feeling of guilt. Just then he remembered he hadn’t returned any of his children’s calls.
“Do you know what Mara means?” Owen was asking him as Richard reminded himself he had to make those calls.
“Bitter,” he said, driving through the town and heading to New Harbor. “Mara means bitter.”
Ahead of them, coming up to the stop sign where they’d turn right and quickly left to arrive at New Harbor, Mara broke eight minutes of driving silence.
“I’m not sure I can do this, Dante,” she said.
Dante was lighting a cigarette while he drove and tried to find the Boston Hip-Hop station he loved on the radio. “Do what?” he asked, in the midst of all that.
“Fuck, Dante,” she said, painfully, “you know what….”
“Endure the psycho-drama with fair Father Lucas? Is that what you mean?” he asked, a bit harshly, pedantically. “Teasing out what he knows but doesn’t know he knows that we need to know to discover why two presumably decent people were given sodium penathol until they died and then had water poured down their gullets to confuse us and were left in an expensive SUV on a dirt road on an island—is that it?”
“I mean pretending to like him and being his shoulder to cry on. I mean spending this time with him making him remember what he doesn’t remember.” Mara felt suddenly drained, exhausted. “I mean….”
“Getting attached?” Dante said, softly.
He pulled the Ferrari up on the dock. They both saw a boat ahead with something that looked like a gangplank for an automobile between the boat and the dock. It was very dark, but there were lights in some of the yachts moored by the dock. And up to the right, on a hill, Stevenson’s house was lit up like a Christmas Tree, as if he were having a party.
“I’m already attached,” Mara whispered, really whispered, rather than saying it out loud in her whisper-sounding voice.
Dante was silent and uncharacteristically still. Then he offered Mara his cigarette case.
“I don’t smoke,” she said.
“You do now,” he answered as she laughed and took one of the thin, unfiltered cigarettes.
Mara and Richard watched the FBI boat pull away. Then they watched its lights until it cleared the harbor and turned toward the mainland. Before that, Mara, Owen and Dante had huddled briefly, all talking at once, Richard thought, though he couldn’t hear their conversation, before the Ferrari was driven onto the boat—with lots of directions and curses from Dante—by a young FBI agent—and Lt. Caggiano and Agent Gordon followed it on board.
There was a constant breeze with a hint of winter chill in it, but the two of them stood and stared out across the water for a long time after any sight of the boat’s lights was futile. Mara leaned back, almost against Richard, and he imagined he could feel her body heat and he briefly considered wrapping his arm around her shoulder. But he didn’t.
“Dinner?” he finally asked.
She smiled, wrapping her arms around herself. “That would be nice.”
In unnatural silence, they drove a mile or so in Richard’s old Volvo to the Captain’s Cove, the only restaurant open on the island that late on a weeknight in October. Richard was reminding himself to call his kids—especially Miriam—and Mara was making a list in her head about what she needed to do tomorrow. The gravel of the parking lot crunched beneath the tires before either spoke.
“We’re here,” Richard said.
“Good,” Mara answered, “I’m starving.”
She certainly ate like a starving woman, Richard thought to himself as Mara, unable to decide between Rhode Island style clam chowder and fried calamari for starters, ordered both. Richard picked at Mara’s squid while she quickly finished the chowder.
“Have as much as you want,” she told him, buttering bread to dip in the broth, “I always order too much.”
“I hope you like the food,” Richard said, smiling.
“Oh, I do like food….”
The waitress stopped by. She was an Islander in her mid-50’s, dyed blond hair tucked up under a baseball cap with “Captain’s Table” on the front. Her smile emphasized the sun-wrinkles on her face. She stood by Richard’s chair for a moment, watching Mara eat.
“Everything fine here?” she asked. Mara nodded and pulled the plate of calamari closer to her. “Another ale, Reverend Lucas?”
“Thanks, Millie,” Richard said, glad that waitresses and police officers both wore nametags, thinking everyone should.
“You too, M’am?” Millie asked Sgt. Coles. Mara’s mouth was full so she made a motion with her fork like keep ‘em coming.
After she swallowed, Mara asked, “do I look like a ‘M’am’ to you?”
“She’s wanting me to introduce you….There’s probably a bet in the bar that you’re the cop.”
Mara stopped her fork of squid half-way to her mouth, “or if the priest has a date….” She glanced at Richard, squinted her eyes and shoveled in the calamari. A dollop of thick tomato sauce dropped from the fork to her left breast. “God, I need a bib,” she said, “wiping it away with her napkin, leaving a dime sized red stain on the white sweater.
Richard averted his eyes, realizing he was staring at Mara’s chest, noticing how her breast moved as she dipped her napkin in water and tried to wash away the sauce. “Lord,” he thought, “that’s something I’ve not done for a while….”
Mara had noticed his gaze and his looking away. She felt a blush rising up her neck when Millie returned with more Otter’s Creek Ale.
“Want some seltzer for that?” the waitress asked, smiling at Mara, “better than plain water I’m told.”
“No, thanks. It’ll be fine,” she answered, self-consciously rubbing the spot with her fingers.
“Sure now? Won’t be any trouble….”
“No really…it’s….Don’t worry.” Mara forced herself to stop fussing with the stain, feeling fully embarrassed.
“Staying on the Block for a while?” Millie asked, picking up the empty chowder bowl.
“For a while….” Mara answered, picking up her mug and drinking a third of the glass.
“Hope you enjoy it. Let me get you some more bread….” Millie grinned obviously at Richard and hurried back toward the kitchen.
“Well, she’s certainly friendly.” Mara took another long drink of ale.
“Curious, more likely,” Richard said. “The real Islanders want to know about the tourists, especially detectives from the mainland.”
Mara rubbed her hand through her short, blond hair and Richard suddenly laughed. “What?” she said, a little sharply.
“Now you’ve got sauce in your hair.”
“Jesus,” she said, standing up just as Millie returned with another basket of bread and two more ales. She looked at the waitress, but before she could speak, Millie pointed the way through the bar to the bathrooms.
“Up the steps to your left, dear,” she said.
When Mara had gone, passing the few couples still eating and the half-dozen regulars at the bar, Millie asked Richard how he was doing.
“The calamari is very good,” he answered.
“No, Father Lucas,” she said, shaking her head and almost clucking like a mother to a young child. “I mean after your shock….Finding those bodies and all.”
Richard told her it had been a shock but that he was doing okay, that everyone had been kind and thanks for asking.
“Oh, Sgt. Coles,” Millie said, nodding knowingly, “is she…looking into all that? Mal…Officer Alt…told me earlier tonight there were two of them.”
Richard smiled. He was sure Malcolm Alt has said something like, an arrogant little Italian prick and a really hot blond. Mara wouldn’t have been unknown on the island after the first 10 minutes she’d been there.
“Some Federal officers will be taking over tomorrow,” Richard said, knowing he wasn’t revealing anything half the island didn’t already know. “Sgt. Coles is taking some time off.”
Millie was nodding again. Richard could see questions forming on her face. But before she could ask them, Mara was back. Her hair was damp and she was carrying her sweater. Underneath she wore a tight black crew neck pullover. It was patently obvious now, as Richard had subconsciously imagined, that she wasn’t wearing a bra. But before he had a chance to reflect on that he noticed what she was wearing—a small pistol in a dark brown leather holster and a pair of handcuffs, both on her belt. Never a gun-lover, Richard inhaled involuntarily. Since she never seemed to carry a bag and since she was a detective, he shouldn’t have been shocked to see the gun, but he was.
His reaction was mild compared to Millie’s. She was staring open mouthed at Mara’s waist. Mara sat down and pulled up close to the table, hiding the weapon from view.
“More ale,” she said brightly, “you must have known I’m on vacation.”
The waitress recovered quickly. “Yes M…yes, Sergeant…I’m sure you’ll love the White House. Margarite does a fabulous job up there….” Mara’s suddenly cold glance made her pause. “Your meals will be right out,” she finished and rushed away.
Mara turned the same gaze on Richard. He held his hands up, as if at gun point, “I told her your rank,” he explained, “but not where you’re staying. She knew that not long after you did….”
She rolled her eyes and softened. “God, island people….”
The meals came quickly, as promised. Mara had shrimp scampi and Richard mussels in wine and garlic. The extra bread came in handy for sopping up the rich sauce. They both saved their salads for last. For the first time Richard noticed Mara ate with either hand, switching the fork back and forth.
“In most things,” she said. Then smiling, “but I shoot left handed.”
His eyes must have grown wide because she laughed. “I saw your reaction to my pistol.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just….”
“No problem,” she said, “I forget I have it on and take off my jacket. One of the pick-up lines I got once was, ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing with a gun?’ Then he found out I’m a cop and had a pressing engagement or a wife to get home to.”
Richard was busy separating the black shells and forking the meat out of the mussels. He looked up and noticed that Mara was staring at him. Her face was passive and expectant, like something was required of him. Her slate gray eyes did not glitter in the dim light of the restaurant. Those eyes had so distracted him before that he only now noticed how much darker, almost black, her caterpillar eye brows were than her hair. There were no wrinkles—not one, not any—on her face. Again his attention was drawn to the slight imperfection—scar?—on her top lip. He’d had three 20 ounce mugs of beer on an almost empty stomach, so time stretched out for him as the two of them looked at each other over seafood.
“I must admit,” he said, hesitantly, inspired by ale, “there is something remarkably exciting about a woman bearing arms….”
Mara took a deep breath and smiled at him. Richard thought for a moment she looked like Sharon Stone in some movie whose name eluded him. Sharon Stone was in a bathtub, he remembered that much, and was being watched via a camera by another character. Then he was seized by embarrassment on two fronts: how often he thought people looked like characters in movies and how he had begun to wonder what Mara would look like naked. Richard was truly a “straight arrow”, a Boy Scout, a square and a bore. And for over a year all that had been submerged in what was initially a tidal wave—a Bay of Fundy high tide—of grief and pain and loss. Now the water was, much to his surprise, retreating, and his normal thoughts and feelings were beginning to return. He was staring at a woman’s lips and breasts. He was suddenly aware again of how vital and wondrous it was to be across a table from a member of the opposite sex—and, in this case, an almost beautiful, almost Sharon Stone looking woman, only thinner and carrying a gun. And all that embarrassed him all over again. Richard was once more—after months and months of sitting Shiva in his own way—coming back to life, drinking ale and eating fish with a Sergeant in the Rhode Island State Police and enjoying it all, as embarrassing as it was.
“So you won’t leave me alone here because I’m a cop with a gun?” Mara said, looking at her plate. Her voice was now truly a whisper, and since her normal speaking voice was whisper-like, Richard couldn’t quite hear her.
When he asked what she had said, she repeated it verbatim, still not looking up, but a little louder. He was overcome with compassion for her in that moment. And in the next moment he reminded himself that he hadn’t heard her the first time because he was getting old and his hearing wasn’t what it used to be. A cold chill ran through him. What am I doing here? He asked himself, Mara’s only a few years older than my children….Why am I looking at her lips and noticing her breasts and worrying about how she’s feeling?
For her part, Mara was having second thoughts as well. Am I being so coy with him because Dante wants me to find out what Richard doesn’t know what he knows? Or am I truly wondering if who I am—a woman with a gun and a badge and God knows ‘a past’—is a problem with him? He’s too old, for Christ’s sake. And yet, there’s something here….
So there they sat, two human beings in 2003, in a restaurant on a rock of an island that was a gift of the last great Ice Age, each dealing with who they were and what they were doing there with each other and what it meant. There was more talk and more than enough beer and a minor dispute over who would pay—Mara on her State of Rhode Island credit card (because this had been “official” State Police business) or Richard on his pristine MasterCard (because Susan had always paid the bills and abhorred debt and he’d spend almost no money in the past year)—and then a slightly tipsy, almost silent ride in Richard’s Volvo back through the town and up the hill to the White House.
Richard cut the lights but not the motor. They sat in silence in the chill of October on an island. The front porch light was on and Mara had a key even if the door was locked. She’d put her sauce stained sweater on inside out before they left the Captain’s Table. It was at once—as it always was on Block Island when there were no clouds at night—both extremely dark and lit by starlight not available in Providence.
Mara was about to say something about what they needed to do tomorrow when Richard said, out of the starlit darkness, “I had a wonderful time.”
He regretted saying it as soon as it was out of his mouth and in the universe. He suddenly felt 17 and crazy as that. Embarrassed again. He began to think about how “embarrassment” was a significant part of being human and being alive.
She smiled to herself and remembered how awkward and awful adolescent “first dates” had been. She closed her eyes and bit her bottom lip so hard it almost bled.
“Me too,” she said, quickly, before either of them could say more and ruin the moment. Quickly as a night cat, she opened her door, leapt out and moved, slightly shaken from the ale and the moment and the starlit night toward the White House.
Richard watched her go, admired her grace as she ascended the steps to the porch and began to miss her as she closed the door behind her. Then, absent-mindedly he turned on the radio to a talk-station before backing out in that alcohol inspired carefulness onto Spring Street and drove the half-mile back to St. Anne’s.
Her room in Margarita Larson’s White House was dream-like to Mara. The double bed had high posts on each side. The mattress was soft—but not too soft—the pillows were feather-filled and the blanket was home-made and just heavy enough. After brushing her teeth—something she always did, no matter what…Dante had chided her because she carried a tooth brush and a travel sized tube of toothpaste plus floss and wooden picks everywhere they went—she fell into bed and, for the first time in months? Years? Decided it might be fun to touch herself. She touched her breasts, bringing her nipples to attention, then her stomach—flat and covered with feathery down—and then, if only but a moment, she explored her genitals with her fingers, carefully, gently, falling to sleep like a glass falls off a table. Suddenly. All at once.
Richard, for his part, opened the door to the Rectory with the intention of calling Miriam and his sons as soon as he was inside. Instead, he was greeted with 60 pounds of excited, loving dog and so he stood on the deck for 15 minutes while Cecelia did whatever was her business in the darkness, lit by a million stars.
As he stood in the windy chill, Richard could not help but think of dinner with Mara. Part of that thinking was some misplaced guilt about enjoying the company of an almost beautiful woman when his wife was dead and buried. Another part was replaying what he had said and done and wondering what the State Police Sergeant had “thought” of him. It hadn’t been a “date”, Richard reminded himself, trying to remember what it meant to “date” someone and why his dinner with Mara hadn’t been that. He felt foolish and vain standing on the deck, waiting for his dog to return. So when Cecelia came back, Richard filled her water bowl, gave her a new rawhide chew from the cabinets in the kitchen and followed her down the hall to bed.
As he was drifting off to sleep, he remembered he should have washed his face and taken a St. Joseph’s Aspirin and brushed his teeth—but he didn’t and that was okay too….When he woke from a troubling dream at 3:35 a.m. (he looked at his bedside digital clock) he realized his mouth was almost like a mouth full of cotton and he had forgotten to call his children and tell them he was alright. Falling back to sleep, he also noticed he had an erection, and, for the first time in over a year, he considered masturbating, but his mind was confused…he imagined both Susan and Mara, naked on a bed in some ethereal place—together or separately? he wasn’t sure—but sleep rose up and pulled him under before he could decide or touch himself.