Friday, July 29, 2011

since I mentioned mysteries

Here's the penultimate chapter of Murder on the Block


Monday, October 27, 2003—6:11 a.m.

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

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

“I am so sorry…,” she began.

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

“But I am so sorry I hurt you.”

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

She nodded.

“They were the bad guys?”

Another nod.

“For sure?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“He must be there with you? Right?”


“Guess who got off a plane just now?”

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

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

Mara listened and did not speak.

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

Again, Mara was silent.

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

“Affirmative,” she finally answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My life back,” he responded, harshly.

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

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

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

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

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

Tennant trained, there was no answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth,

blowing down the backroads headin’ south.

Idiot wind, blowing everytime you move your teeth,

You’re an idiot, babe,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cheers,” Stevenson said, raising his glass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shortly after that, it was over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Listen,” he said.

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

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

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

And they did.

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

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

“Dante,” Richard said.

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

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

“Dante,” Richard said again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;

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

In the name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;

In the name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.

May your rest be this day in peace,

and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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