Monday, August 1, 2011

last 2 chapters of Murder on the Block


Tuesday, October 28, 1 p.m.

Richard slept until almost 10 a.m. on Tuesday—nearly 14 hours, interrupted only by a 7 a.m. need both he and Cecelia had to relieve their bladders. While the dog squatted in the parking lot and spent several minutes snuffling around the property, distinguishing scents and storing them, in a way humans could never imagine, Richard peed and let her back in and they both slept for three more hours.

When they finally got up, he fed the dog and ate half a piece of toast without much interest, Richard was content to sit on the couch, watching morning TV shows, until Dante and Mara arrived at one p.m. with bagels, cream cheese, wine and most of the whole story.

“The Jamaicans knew you went out with the dog every morning, Padre,” Dante explained, smoking as fast as he could. “And we now know who told them about that. So one of them would come by while you were out—you were punctual each day—and check to box to see if there was a message de jure. That is, until you became their new best friend and they’d come by to ‘pray’.”

“But Spencer and Johnson,” Richard asked, “how did anyone think they were mixed up in anything?”

“Besides a romantic interlude on a rock?” Dante shook his head. “Star-crossed lovers, those two….It happened back on the mainland. Malo Miano, the late, great Stevenson’s partner in crime, is a very cautious man.”

Richard’s headache was almost gone and his stomach was full of two bagels and his headache was medicated by good red wine Dante had found at the only Block Island package store, but his understanding was still lagging behind. “I don’t understand,” he said.

Dante looked at him the way one would look at a dull fourth grader or at a goofy Lab/Retriever mix.

“Miano had a source at the ferry landing in Point Judith,” Mara said, taking up the tale. For once she was the one pacing. It seemed that once things fell into place, Dante became calmer and Mara’s nervous energy kicked in. “He took down license plate numbers of suspicious cars that might belong to, oh, I don’t know, undercover cops. The Lexus fit the bill and Miano had a mole in the Providence Police Department who would run the plates.”

“You aren’t the only one who had a daily constitutional, Fr. Lucas,” Dante took over. Richard thought they moved back and forth like tag-team wrestlers or a ball at a tennis match. “The soon to be much mourned Stevenson Matthews, walked by the public beach phone every morning at 8 a.m. sharp. If the phone rang, he’s pick it up. If not, he’d enjoy a walk on the beach. The morning after Spencer and Johnson arrived on the Block….”

“My God, Dante, you’ve become an islander!” Mara said, pacing through the living room.

He gave her a poison look before continuing. “Our lovebirds, Spencer and Johnson, were doubtless still in their bed at the White House when Stevenson happened by to leave a message and some sodium penathol and a couple of syringes for Eli and Jonas. He was probably here before 8:30.”

“So the couple came over on Monday….” Richard began.

“The earliest ferry,” Mara chirped in from the kitchen.

“And on Tuesday….” Richard tried again.

“On Tuesday while you were out for your jaunt with your faithful canine friend….” Dante interrupted.

“Her name is Cecelia,” Mara added, back at the front door: pacing, pacing….

“I know that,” Dante said impatiently. “And, as I was saying, Stevenson left the message, Eli, I think it was picked up the sodium penathol and the note, probably eating the note, totally getting rid of it, since the only note we’ve found was the one in the house out of the dozens, hundreds there had been. All this while you were eating breakfast and reading the New York Times while your dog…excuse me, Sergeant, while ‘Cecelia’ was waiting outside.”

“I ate outside that morning,” Richard offered, “so she was with….”

Mara laughed, back in the kitchen, and Dante fumed. “I’m up to here with these interruptions!”

Everyone was quiet for a moment. Richard raised his hand and Mara, halfway back from the front door to the kitchen again, laughed once more.

“Shit!” Dante said. “I call on the priest now….”

“Sorry to interrupt,” Richard said, guilty that he was about to laugh when discussing the death of two human being, “but Eli and Jonas somehow kidnapped them?”

Dante breathed deeply. “Yes. As they tell it, now that our inadvertent murderers are telling anyone who will listen anything and everything, hoping for a reduced sentence…it was a clean snatch. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Mara, quit pacing!”

“How can I help it when you say things like ‘a clean snatch’ with a straight face?” she responded. Then she took a chair across from Richard at the kitchen table and took over the story. “Getting them was easy. Johnson and Spencer were accountants, not agents, not trained. They had parked up at Mohegan Bluffs and went down that endless staircase for a romantic walk on the deserted beach. It’s sad, really…they left the Lexus unlocked and when they came back our bad guys were waiting for them. They made Spencer drive back up to the rental Miano had for them.”

“This Milo Miano rented the house?” Richard asked.

“Not directly. It was some offshore account that wired the money to the realtor. But Flash and the FBI have the realtor’s computer. They’ll trace it back eventually….” Mara stopped and lowered her head onto her hands like a grade school kid taking a nap.

Dante put his hand on Mara’s shoulder. It was a tender touch, Richard would remember, a touch of respect and love between good friends. Dante seemed to know what Mara was thinking.

“Nothing could justify those poor people’s death,” he said, massaging his assistant’s arm gently. “They were, just like all of us, looking for a little tenderness in a crazy world. But one thing that gives meaning to their murders is that we will finally, one way or another, get Milo Miano and many others of his ilk.” He moved away and stretched. “It will take years of litigation with state and federal prosecutors having pissing matches over jurisdiction, bleeding money into numerous court houses, but Milo Miano, miscreant malefactor is going down! Love doesn’t conquer all, obviously. But it has given us the hooks to put into one very, very bad man and his minions. I’m sure, for Johnson and Spencer, their little bite of love wasn’t sufficient—they wanted more. But from their deaths, something good will come.”

He smiled, first at Mara, who had raised her head, and then at Richard.

“Jesus, Dante,” she said, her eyes wet with tears, “you’re boarding on noble…crazy, but noble.”

“I think I’m going fishing,” Dante said, turning toward the door.

Richard looked him over, tailored and immaculate as always. “Dressed like that?”

The detective turned back toward them at the table.

“Just kidding,” he said. “I simply need some air.”

At the door, he stopped again, lighting a cigarette. “By the way, I called Miriam and filled her in on all the details since you haven’t found time to do that.” Richard started to speak, but Dante blocked him with a gesture, a hand held up meaning ‘stop’—the sign of crossing guards, cops, red road signs. “She said to tell you that Christmas in St. Louis for will be just what you need to ‘recover’ from all this.

“Do you think, Father,” Dante asked, not giving Richard time to respond, “the dog might come with me?”

In that moment, Richard could have almost sobbed…or shouted. “Just call her name,” he said, gently.

Dante inhaled deeply on his smoke. “Cecelia,” he said, “want to go for a walk?”

The dog climbed down off the couch, did that little stretch that dogs do, the one that looks like a bow, and trotted over to Dante and the door. Lt. Caggiano bowed from the waist, returning the salute, smiled back at Mara and Richard like a child on Christmas morning, not sure what to do about the presents under the tree, opened the door for Cecelia and they left.

Neither of them spoke for a minute or two after Dante and the dog had gone. Then Mara finished up the details that still confused Richard. She told him it was possible that originally Stevenson did try sodium penathol for his grief. Dr. Weinstein, who she’d interviewed a few hours before, though he had no business giving Stevenson the prescription, certainly believed that was true.

“Or maybe he got it for this eventuality,” Richard said, grieving himself, “for when things fell apart….But why would he give it to those two idiots?”

Mara told him Jonas Christian was a certified practical nurse who had worked for years in nursing homes in Jamaica and was perfectly qualified to administer drugs, though he probably had no idea how ‘truth serum’ worked, if it worked at all. And when both their victims died, Jonas, most likely drunk as a skunk, decided to stage a drowning.

“They had a bucket of ocean water where they kept minnows for bait when they really fished—not what they did ‘down there’.” She moved her head toward the front door and the rocky beach a quarter of a mile beyond. “He didn’t want to use all the salt water and lose the bait—he was very drunk, remember—so he switched to bottled water.”

Certainly, she said, it was the most botched faked drowning, which isn’t common, in all of history since they left two drowned people in a car and turned it over on a street they knew well because of all the late night walks down to swim out with money and return with drugs.

“I’m not sure how much Eli really knew,” she continued. “He was out hiding the Lexus while Jonas was supposed to get the ‘truth’ from Spencer and Johnson. Had Eli known about the water Jonas siphoned down their dead gullets, he most likely would have dumped them off the bluffs into the ocean instead of leaving them in the car. Eli was truly astonished to find out what all Jonas had done. He’s a lot smarter than his buddy.”

Richard found new confusion. “Eli and Jonas had fishing gear with them Monday night, when they were arrested and you beat the shit out of me with your gun. So what was the gear we found on the beach and that Malcolm found down the way? What was that about?”

Mara, smiled at him. “Trace evidence,” she said.


“Our murderers must have watched as much ‘cop TV’ as you, out here on this island—hardly as lively as the island of Jamaica, you must admit.” She paused to let that set into Richard’s mind. “So they bought another set—Miriam and I found out where, but not ‘who’ last Saturday. Eli, who tried to clean up the mess, told Dante he threw it away because it had been in the Lexus and he was afraid we’d find ‘trace evidence’ on it.”

“And you would have?”

“We did,” she said proudly. “The Rhode Island forensic folks put that slicker and those waders in the Lexus. No ‘bout a doubt it.”

Richard almost laughed. “I haven’t heard that expression for years.”

She shook her head. “I’m from the Midwest where ‘years ago’ is ‘today’.”

Between what Stevenson had confessed—“may his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace”, Richard found himself saying in his head—and what the detectives had told him, the picture was coming whole for Richard at last.

“But the whole thing is really so profoundly stupid, from start to finish,” Richard said, staring unaccountably at the imperfection on her bottom lip and not her North Atlantic eyes.

“Episcopalians make terrible criminals,” she said, sliding her hand across the table to touch his arm. “They have no real sense or appreciation of evil.”

Richard thought about that for a while. Then he asked, “this Milo Miano fellow, he’s a really evil man?”

She nodded. “The worst,” she said, softly. And softer still she added, “but Stevenson was evil too….”

“When will it all come out, about Stevenson, I mean?” he asked.

She pursed her lips before speaking. “Not for a while. A week. A month. Who knows—Christmas. And depending on how the lawyers want to spin it, maybe never. We’re keeping it out of the media so the FBI and the State Police can gather evidence against Miano. But, as Dante believes, the Feds will get all the credit and still screw this up.”

He was still avoiding her eyes, not wanting to be drawn into their crashing surf and dark evenings. “So I can bury him out back—his ashes in the church yard—and people won’t yet know his part in this whole stupid mess? He can have a hero’s funeral?”

“I guess so,” she slowly answered. “Who knows when it will all come out? And another thing you don’t know is about the ‘will’.”

He was startled. “Stevenson’s will?”

“His last and the testament to boot,” she replied. “Oh, the Feds will find a way to get the cash—drug money after all. But the House goes to the Nature Conservatory and the porcelains go to St. Anne’s.”

“What will St. Anne’s do with statues and bowls?” he asked.

“You really are naïve, Richard,” Mara’s low voice was sweet, almost adoring. “Dante only got a little look at them when we were there and he thinks they’re worth four or five million.”

Richard was speechless, so Mara continued, “the 20 people or so who come to this church on a regular basis could start a museum or build a cathedral or help some people who really need it with all that money.”

Now he looked into her eyes and was swept away on the stormy seas, dangerous and deadly. She stared back at his brown eyes—the color of earth, soil, humus.

“Why does Stevenson’s ‘memory’ mean so much to you?” Mara finally asked.

“Stevenson was a ‘good man’ too,” he began, not knowing where he was going, but knowing he wanted to go there. “He was generous and kind and loyal. He’s been good to me, to me and my family, for almost 20 years. I can’t let him be ‘evil’, I’m not prepared to let that be.”

Mara watched him for a long moment and sighed. “Two innocent people are dead. In my book, that’s ‘evil’.”

Richard got up, went to the kitchen and came back with another bottle of the fine Merlot Dante had brought. When he had poured them both large portions, he sat back down.

“This Milo Miano,” he began, avoiding her eyes, staring at the “No Smoking” sign on the wall behind her that Dante hadn’t heeded for a moment, “does he have a family.”

“Richard…,” she began.

“No, just tell me.”

Deep breath and then she said, “yes, of course. He has a daughter and two sons, just like you, about your children’s ages if I’ve got that right from Miriam. The sons, Rocco and Milo, Jr. are as deep in it all as their old man. Marylynn is married to a computer programmer. She’s outside it all, but it’s Milo’s money they live on—drug money, prostitution money, ugly, dirty money all laundered and folded and smelling of fabric softener.”

“And grandchildren?” he asked, thinking of Susan holding their grandchild before she died.

She closed her eyes, as if seeing something in her mind. “Five or six, at least,” she said. “He’s under constant surveillance and, yes, we have video of their Thanksgivings and Christmases, of them on the way to Mass, of Milo with his grandchildren playing in the yard. Real Normal Rockwell stuff, just your average American mobster, drug-dealing, murdering family at play.”

This time he reached across the table and touched her arm. She looked at him and took a long drink of her wine.

“Just like the Godfather movies,” he said.

“I know what you’re going to say….”

“Maybe you can’t see the good in even the worst people….”

“And maybe you,” she answered after a moment, staring straight into his eyes, disarming him completely, “maybe you are just another Episcopalian, unwilling or unable to appreciate evil enough.”

Richard leaned back, deep in his almost forgotten theology, wrestling, as theology always does, always must, with the nature of Evil. The truth was, Richard did have difficulty with Evil when he tried to puzzle it out. The best he could do, usually, was affirm his belief in the overwhelming goodness and grace of God and describe Evil as a ‘metaphysical default’. Just as light needed darkness to be distinguished, good needed evil. He realized, not for the first time, how insufficient such a calm, theological approach was in the face of murder, death, violence and pain. So he decided to keep his thoughts to himself.

So they sat, quietly, simply in each other’s presence, for a half-hour or so, until Dante and Cecelia came back.

Dante threw open the door and the dog bounded into the room, “we’re home!” Dante called. Both Mara and Richard got up to welcome them.


That moment sent Richard into a reverie that would come and go for days, for weeks, if the truth be known, until he packed his things and his dog into his wheezing Volvo and left Block Island. And the reverie, the wondering, the entangling question for him was this—“where is HOME?”

By the time he left ‘the Block’ he knew that island was not his home. And he knew that Worthington, Connecticut would not be his home again, except for as long as it took him to sell his house—about four days for $789,000, just a tad above Dante’s estimate, but it was a seller’s market. He and Cecelia house sat for a member of the parish who wintered in Florida, for reasons Richard never understood, having only been to Florida twice and hating it more the second time than the first. But it was a place to live while he said his ‘good-byes’ to his parish and met with his bishop and decided where ‘home’ would be next.

Home”, he knew from the old and trustworthy aphorism, “is where the heart is.” So he considered where his children lived: New Haven and Boston and St. Louis and even considered living in a place in between, on some coordinates of those locations, but that ended up being Paducah, Kentucky, as best he could chart it and that seemed to make no sense.

But he knew, somehow subliminally, that when Dante and Cecelia arrived back at the Rectory after their walk that October night, Dante’s saying “we’re home” was right and true. Somehow, Richard began to imagine, “home” is not so much a place as a state of mind, a hopefulness, a belonging, a possibility.

One night he next week, Dante and Mara back in Providence, after the funeral for Stevenson which was so large it had to be held in the Baptist church and still several hundred people spilled out on the grass and the little square near the statue, he knew, somehow in an inexplicable, unexplainable, paradoxical, painful and joyful and real way, that there would be a ‘home’ for him..

And he, on that night and on a night two month’s later when he was at a dinner in his honor at St. Peter’s in Worthington, he had next to no idea where that home would be.

But he had regained Hope, a little Faith and he was thinking about praying again by that time.

Mara and Dante left at about two p.m. to write reports and have one more go at Eli and Jonas before they were flown off the island by the F.B.I. and escaped their inquiries for good. They took Richard’s car without asking. After a 20 minute nap, his head still a little out of sorts, Richard and his dog went down to the sea for a long while.

When he came back at 4:30, his car was in the parking lot and Mara was sitting in it, leaned back and dozing. He knocked on the window on the way by and she followed him to the house. But she stopped, just inside the door.

“There is more to say,” Mara told Richard, who was obviously, to both of them, agitated by her presence.

“Everything wrapped up now,” he asked, “all the paperwork done?”

“Dante is finishing it,” she said, coming inside to the kitchen table. “Sit down, Richard, we have to talk.”

He obeyed, like a timid school child and took his seat opposite her.

“We have to talk—just you and me—no Dante and no Stevenson, obviously. It’s just what we need to finish up because it ‘matters’, it really ‘matters’, whether you know that or not.”

Richard knew, really ‘knew’, that what was about to happen ‘mattered’. So he nodded, waiting for Mara to speak.

She held his gaze with her eyes and said, “whatever you are feeling, what you did was for the greater good.”

“The greater good,” he said, feeling suddenly angry, “betraying a friend of 20 years? Is something bigger than a friendship of two decades? And to be drawn into this by Dante…and you…you most of all.”

“I tried say this earlier, but obviously didn’t do it well enough,” she said. He’d never heard her voice so hard and clear, almost without the smokiness and whispering quality of her speech. “I could tell you I argued with Dante and told him it was a terrible idea to involve you in any way. I did do that, and I tried to tell you that. I could say all that and it would be ‘true’. But there is another ‘truth’, if you’ll allow multiple truths, Dante was right. He was right as rain. What you knew that you didn’t know, or however that Italian ass-hole put it, that was what broke this case wide open, Richard. That was what got the bad guys caught. That was what—beyond that, way beyond that, beyond those dupes from Jamaica—will bring down Milo Miano. What a toot. Who knew this crazy case would result in handing cops what they’ve been wanting for twenty years—as long as you knew Stevenson—something solid to nail the whole Miano mob.

“You and I were simply pawns in that. Unwillingly, both of us, I hope you believe I was as unwilling as you—but we were the pawns that moved first and broke open the chess board for bigger moves.”

“But you’d have gotten Eli and Jonas anyway, somehow. You were already thinking about them.” Richard sounded desperate to Mara, so she spoke softly, gently.

“Yes. You are right. But we had nothing to tie them to it all. We’ve had gotten them for the murders but not the drug drops. It was you who tied them to the church, to their connection, to Stevenson, to the pick up and drop off place. We were running blind and had no probable cause until your sermon.”

There was a long pause. Finally, Richard said, “Don’t think you can appeal to my vanity by quoting my sermon….”

“Preachers are ‘vain’,” Mara said, smiling as best she could. “Who knew?”

After a while, he smiled in return.

“But all the other stuff,” he said, “all the, God I hate the word, ‘flirting’, showing me your gun, spending all that time with me…just to solve a crime?”

“If that had been the only reason,” she began, feeling like she was flying in a dream above artic oceans, “and it was Dante’s plan…one I reluctantly took on but ‘took on’ nonetheless—if that had been the only reason, I would still say it was worth it.”

“The end justifies the means?” he asked, acid in his voice.

“It often does. And in this case it does surely, I think.”

He was tired of sitting so he stood up and walked around behind her. She scooted her chair around to face him.

“But it wasn’t the only reason. Is that what you said?”

She took a deep breath, trying to clear her mind, searching for the words she wanted. Richard waited. Albert, the agitated gull, was making a terrible fuss. Richard wanted to make a fuss as well—he wanted to squawk and complain that Mara was taking too long to replay. Instead, he waited.

“This is terrifying for me to say,” she began at last, “but I do care for you in a way that has become important—no ‘dear’—to me. The bad news is,” she began at last, “that it may be something like the Stockholm Syndrome—not exactly, but something like that.”

“Like Patti Hearst?”

She smiled. “Before my time…but, yes. Something like that. Here we are, you and I thrown together in some unexpected and somewhat ‘dangerous’ situation where you become, in some ways, my captive. Except it all breaks down there because, for me, it’s me identifying with you in your captive state. So, I begin to sympathize, then empathize and then begin to ‘care’ in a way the situation wasn’t meant to create.”

She paused and he thought for a moment. “That whole suggestion might be to give me a way out, a kind of ‘failsafe’…I know, that too is before your time…but, nevertheless, the ‘bad news’ applies mostly to me. I feel in danger. I identify with the object of my danger—you. I begin to rely on you, trust you, believe in you….On and on, like that…is that a possibility?”

She nodded. “But remember,” she said, as solemn as a Sanctus bell, “I’m enmeshed in this too. It’s a shared syndrome. So we both have an out if we need one.”

“When I came down to give Stevenson last rites, I hated you,” he told her, quietly. “But it doesn’t stick. Already the hatred is gone. Could that just be reverting to the Amsterdam Syndrome?”

“Stockholm,” she corrected, “and yes, that could be the case.”

“Want some coffee?”

Over coffee at the Rectory table, in their usual places, Richard began again: “If there is ‘bad news’ there must be ‘good news’. That’s what’s known as a metaphysical default….So, what’s the ‘good news’?”

Her hand reached out and touched his. “Tell me, Richard, is this where Susan usually sat when you were here?”

He glanced down and nodded. She took her hand away and pushed back from the table. Standing, she moved to the chair at the head of the table and sat back down.

“The ‘good news’ is this—for my part at any rate—being with you these few days has awakened something in me I thought was pretty much dead. I’d given up on Prince Charming. I’d resigned myself to being a detective and being Dante’s ‘girl Friday’. I don’t ‘date’ anymore. I have sex from time to time but it’s just instinctual and isn’t going anywhere. No man I’d want more than that from likes to have a romantic evening interrupted by my running off to look at the next dead body. So resignation is my modus operandi, my way of being in the world….

“So, whatever this is,” she waved her hand back and forth between them as if shooing away gnats or dispersing smoke, “I’ve realized I have some feeling left, some emotions hanging around….And that is your gift to me.”

He finished his coffee and wished he had one of Dante’s cigarettes though he hadn’t smoked since Jonah was born.

“Thank you for being sensitive enough to change seats,” he said, avoiding her eyes, wanting to speak clearly and not be drawn into the undercurrents of those gray seas. “The same goes for me—the feeling and emotion parts and even ‘longing’. I haven’t ‘longed’ for anything since Susan died except for her not to be dead.

Resignation is an interesting way to be. I had a professor in seminary who believed ‘resignation’ was that sin against the Holy Spirit Jesus talked about and we’ve wondered about ever since. To be ‘resigned’ is to resist the Spirit’s power and purpose. No hope. No possibility….And I’ve been ‘resigned’ to being the mourning widower—that and nothing else.”

“And now?” she asked, again touching his hand.

Finally he looked up into her eyes. He noticed a tear running down her cheek—a single, perfectly pearl-shaped tear, almost even with her lips.

He smiled at her and said, reaching up to wipe the tear away, “that, Sgt Mara Coles, is your gift to me….”

They simply sat at the table, not moving, their hands no longer touching, for nearly ten minutes, until Mara looked at her watch and jumped a little in her chair.

“O my God, I’ve got to take Dante to the airport. He’s flying back to Westerly in half an hour.”

She got up quickly and put on her leather jacket that she’d tossed on the couch. Cecelia, who all this time had been dozing on the living room floor came immediately to life, expecting a walk.

“Do you want to come with me?” Mara asked. “I’ve got to pick him up at the Spring House in a few minutes?”

“He’s not coming to say ‘good-bye’?”

She smirked and rolled her eyes. “Dante’s no good at ‘good-byes’. Want to come?”

“No, I’ll take Cecelia for a walk and think about dinner.”

She shifted back and forth from foot to foot, like a small child with something difficult to ask.

“What is it?” he inquired.

She looked embarrassed. “May I take your car?”

He laughed. “Sure. The keys are in it…like always….”

She turned to go then turned back slowly. “May I come back for dinner? I’m not leaving until the early ferry tomorrow.”

“Oh, yes,” he said. “You’re expected. After all, we need to say ‘good-bye’.”

She nodded several times, smiling broadly. Then she left.

Richard let the dog out and then searched the kitchen for dinner. Without his car, he had to make do with what he had. There were eggs and cheese and a can of artichoke hearts and a few sausage links left over from Miriam’s visit. That and the Boston lettuce, still fresh, were enough.

He dutifully called each of his children in order of birth. Each of them was astonished at Stevenson’s involvement though Jeremy said “I always thought there was something a little ‘off-center’ about that guy. And the way the justice system works, he’ll probably not be involved at all, The Feds will find someway to exonerate him.” Jonah offered and Ivy League, mini-psychoanalysis and Miriam simply said, over and over, “holy shit, Daddy, holy shit,” to each and every revelation he provided. He assured them all that he was ‘fine’ and all would be well. He also let them know a Christmas in St. Louis sounded absolutely right, just perfect.

His parental duty done, he turned on public radio and was listening to Mozart when Mara knocked timidly at the door.

Cecelia ran to greet her, just ahead of Richard.

She looked both uncertain and nervous, two emotions he’d never seen in her before, she was holding a bouquet of bayberry branches and rosehips. “I picked these for you,” she said, holding them out.

“Is this really OK?” she asked after he opened the door and took the plants and before she came in, hugging the dog’s head.

He nodded, standing away. “Perfectly alright, if you don’t mind an omelet and what’s left of Dante’s wine for dinner.”

She touched his arm and engulfed him with her eyes. “I just want it to be alright,” she said in a whisper.

Richard discovered that Mara truly ‘didn’t cook”. She wasn’t sure how omelets were made or quite how to assemble a salad from lettuce and tomatoes and olives and dressing.

“How do you survive?” he asked her, genuinely concerned for her well-being.

“Lot’s of delivery take-out in Providence,” she said. “We’re a ‘real city’ in that respect.”

They ate in unaccustomed silence—Richard in his usual place and Mara at her new seat at the head of the table. Her simple offering was on the table in a vase he took from the church. Both of them were famished and exhausted.

After dinner and cleaning up, the two of them were sitting on the remarkably uncomfortable bench that ran around the deck at St. Anne’s in the dim light of a 40 watt bulb. It was a soft and unexpectedly warm October evening. They had missed that strange island twilight—all clear and stark and clean—was edging in from the east as the sun set behind the western hill, outlining the houses scattered on the crest in blue and orange. Darkness on Block Island, Richard had always thought, didn’t ‘fall’ so much as it rose up from the ground until it swallowed the light.

Mara was tired (“detecting wears you out,” he remembered her saying at some point) and her head was leaning back on the railing of the deck. Her eyes were closed and her legs stretched out in front of her. She was wearing a leather jacket, unbuttoned, and her simple white blouse didn’t quite meet the top of her jeans. There was the thinnest line of skin showing but Richard wasn’t looking at that. He was staring at her neck—long and vulnerable—and the barely perceptible pulse there.

He tried to remember if other necks in other times had left him quite so weak and breathless, if he’d ever watched blood pumping beneath the skin before.

“You know,” he said, so softly it startled him and he wondered if she heard him. The sleepless, irascible gull on the neighboring roof chose just that exact moment to fuss loudly at some perceived or imagined intrusion by another bird.

Mara took a deep breath and Richard imagined she was asleep. But then she spoke: “I know what?”

Words and phrases were suddenly rattling around in his head like three dozen marbles shaken and thrown into a bowl. He knew he had to say something and knew he probably shouldn’t but opened his mouth anyway.

“You know, I think,” it all began, “how powerfully I’m attracted to you. How I am coming to ‘care’ for you, for whatever psychological reason we can invent.”

He almost pictured the words above his head in one of those cartoon balloons. They were spoken and almost visible and there was no taking them back.

He watched her placid face and closed eyes and began to sputter. “This whole thing…this time we’ve spent together…all the craziness…the getting shot at….”

She sat up suddenly, smiling widely. “Almost getting shot at, remember that distinction….”

He laughed, noticing for the first time how shallow his breath had become, how he felt inside—cold and heavy around the heart but his mind racing and his hands growing warm in the gathering darkness.

Absently, almost without meaning to, he reached a hand toward her and she, surprisingly to him, took it in hers. Mara’s hand was almost exactly the same size as Richard’s, but younger looking, without the weird little brown spots he’d developed while he wasn’t noticing, softer in spite of who she was. A cop with tender hands, Richard thought, as if he was capable of logical thought at that moment, almost gasping for breath, his head about to explode from within, his heart racing.

She was staring at him and he dared not look away. Summer storm clouds of gray rolled across her eyes. Her voice, always like a whisper, was softer still. “I know,” she said, “I have feelings too.”

“For me?” Richard thought he thought, but he must have said it out loud because she answered, “of course for you….”

Nothing much happened for a long time—at least what seemed like a long time to Richard, though it might have been only a minute or so—he couldn’t tell because his fingers and Mara’s were moving and intertwined and he lifted her hand to his lips and then she lifted his to her lips and time stood still.

{The next morning, Richard would remember that and think: “just holding hands, that’s all it was, and it was as if she had reached inside me and drawn me out, my essence, my soul and touched it to her lips.” Though he was not a poet, Richard would try to write a poem about holding hands to send to her, but it wasn’t right, didn’t turn out and he folded the paper carefully half-a-dozen times, until it was a tiny thing, before throwing it into the trash.

Later, after the first boat left the Block with Mara on it and he hadn’t rushed to stop her, he fished the poem out of the trash and carefully pressed it out, thinking he might someday decide to mail it.

Hand in hand in hand,

until the hands were two no longer.

They formed something new, those hands.

Salt on the tongue, just a taste, a hint

of sweat, a scent of sea and something more.

Hope, perhaps, like a mid-wife calling forth

new life from an old life’s womb,

birthing something new and unexpected,

undeserved, unknown.

A kiss of fear on a finger tip, but more,

fear’s constant friend and greatest enemy:

something new—love’s first touch.

Almost every morning for two weeks after that, until he had buried Stevenson’s ashes and left Block Island for good, Richard read his pitiful poem a dozen times while eating breakfast. He knew enough to know how bad it was, how sentimental and personal. Nevertheless, he kept it in his wallet, well worn around the folds, just in case.}

His face was close to hers, he thought of kissing her and didn’t. They just held hands. Both of them stared, transfixed, at their hands.

“I thought I’d name the elephant in the room,” he said, almost giddy with the smell of her, so near to him.

She raised her eyes from their hands and looked at him. “Know what you get when you name the elephant in the room?”

He thought about it and thought of nothing. “No.”

She bit her lip the way that made him dizzy and then smiled, “An elephant with a name.”

They sat that way, holding hands, the darkness all around them, Richard thinking how good it was to have a hand to hold.

Just as he was thinking that Mara disentangled her hand, stood up and stretched, yawning.

“Time to go to the White House?” he asked. “I can drive you.”

She smiled at him. In nothing but the light of a 40 watt bulb beside the door to the Rectory, he could see her eyes—gray as the evening, as the stormy sea, as something else he didn’t quite understand.

“I checked out this afternoon,” she said, reaching for his hand and leading him into the house. She shut the door before Cecelia could come in.

“There’s just one thing you must do for me before I leave. I hope you will,” she said in a whisper. Richard nodded, though he didn’t understand, and followed her through the Rectory’s living room and down the hall to where he slept. Mara, without letting go of his hand, somehow found the lamp beside the bed and turned it on.

Whispering still, more than just her natural voice, whispering into his ear, she said, calmly, he thought: “you must lay down with me and see what you’re doing.” Only then did her hand leave his and she took off her jacket and dropped it on the floor. She kicked off her sneakers and climbed onto the bed, she looked back at him, nervously, as if she expected him to bolt and run.

Richard lay beside her and took her face in his hands. Slowly, with more patience and wonder than he imagined he had within him, he cupped Mara’s face in his hands and kissed her softly. He had long expected to feel the scar on her lips on his own, but he didn’t. What he did feel was her tongue touching his. Cecelia was barking outside.

They both laughed in mid-kiss.

“Let her go catch a deer,” Mara said.

“Be quite a mess in the morning if she does,” Richard responded, already kissing her again so she missed the last few words.

Over the course of half-an-hour Richard unbuttoned the five buttons of Mara’s blouse while kissing every part of her face and neck and ears and even her short, blonde hair, blinding to him in the harsh light of the bedside lamp.

“Should I turn off the light?” he asked, shyly, at some point.

“Not yet….” She said, soft as smoke.

He parted her blouse and continued kissing her, surprised that she was wearing a bra instead of her gun. He reached behind her in an almost instinctive way, to unclasp the black and lacy bra. In an awkward moment, Mara rose on an elbow to shed her shirt and bra. Richard looked at her, almost gasping and said, from a place he did not know, “I lay down with you, turn over for me.”

She looked at him, her face collapsing into shyness, and then she slowly turned her back to him and waited.

Richard put his right arm under Mara’s side and wrapped her in his left. His hands touched her breasts, tentatively at first, rolling her nipples with his fingers as he kissed her back. He cupped her, adored her, stroked her. After a great, long while, his left hand moved down her stomach and began, with painful slowness, to unbutton her jeans.

“Richard!” she said, anxiously.

His hand withdrew, gently across her belly.

“What?” he said, as best he could.

“I just thought you’d stopped breathing….”

He laughed. “I had,” he said, “thank you….”

Laughing she took his left hand in both hers and drew it to her mouth. He ached as she languidly, as if there were nothing at all in the world but time, took each of his fingers into her mouth and slowly withdrew them.

“Now…”, is all she said.

Richard opened the fly to her jeans and touched her, lifting her panties with his finger tips, moving under, marveling at the warmth and dampness, touching her, trying to remember to breathe.

After Mara shuttered, she took his hand again and gently, slowly, as before, tasted herself on his fingers. Then, before he knew what was happening, she turned to him and deftly reached across to the bedside light.

“Now…”, is all she whispered, plunging them into darkness.


Wednesday, October 29—7:15 a.m.

When Richard woke up, she was gone and Cecelia was beside him in the pre-dawn. At sometime in the night, he remembered, laying still, not moving, that Mara had gone down the hall naked to let the dog in. When she returned to bed, shivering a bit, she needed to be held closely under the covers. Richard did that. They feel asleep that way with Cecelia settling in at the foot of the bed.

When he got up, he left the dog sleeping and made coffee. As the coffee maker steamed and whined, he found a pen and a piece of paper. He knew Mara would be on the first Ferry from Old Harbor. He had time to go and stop her or go and sail with her or simply go and say “goodbye.” He did none of those things. Instead he sat, eating Uncle Sam cereal and rye toast with butter and ginger preserves and tried to write a poem.

It began:

Hand in hand in hand,

until the hands were two no longer….

(From the Providence,Rhode Island Journal—12/12/03)


A Federal grand jury in Boston has handed down over 140 separate indictments today against reputed Providence mob boss, Milo Miano, his two sons and twenty associates. The sweeping indictments on a host of RICO violations, resulted from the joint investigations, over several months, of the FBI, Homeland Security and the DEA.

Federal agents swept through Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, making multiple arrests last night and this morning. Officials at the Department of Justice refused to comment until after arraignments later today in Providence, Boston and Hartford.

Unnamed federal officials gave credit to the late Stevenson Matthews of Block Island for providing information leading to the investigation. “We couldn’t have reached this point without Mr. Matthews’ cooperation and help,” an unidentified member of the Justice Department commented.

There is a state grand jury in Providence still hearing evidence on many of the crimes covered by the federal….

Lt. Dante Caggiano of the Rhode Island State Police dropped his newspaper on the table of the far booth of a Providence shop named WE ‘R COFFEE, and lit a cigarette.

“You’ve read this crap?” he asked his partner, an almost beautiful woman, who was sipping a latte.

“You know you can’t smoke in here,” she responded, dryly.

He shook his head of short, curly, extremely black hair, kept from graying by an expensive hair stylist named Armando. “You tell me that every morning.”

“I’m sworn to uphold the laws of Rhode Island,” she responded in a voice like a foggy whisper, picking at a banana nut muffin.

He stared at her for a long moment. She had been looking even better than ever for a few weeks and he’d only just noticed it. Her blonde to white hair was cut short and still a bit damp from a morning shower. It sparkled, Dante noticed. So did Mara. And that, though he was a detective, he hadn’t noticed.

Embarrassed by how inattentive he had been recently to Sgt. Coles, he said, exhaling illegal smoke, “perhaps you should call your friend on Block Island and let him know what a prophet I was….How I knew the Feds would take all the credit and get it right by getting it wrong….”

She looked up from her breakfast. Her eyes, swirling gray below black eyebrows, engulfed him and drew him out to sea.

My friend, as you put it, already knows,” she said. “And he’s been off ‘the Block’ for over a month.”

Dante glanced down, pulling the right sleeve of his perfectly tailored suit down a quarter of an inch so the fabric of the suit was just touching the one-of-a-kind porcelain cuff link (17th century France) that held together the glaring white cuff of his shirt.

“You’ve heard from him and didn’t tell me?”

Sgt. Coles nodded, not averting her eyes for a moment, not even blinking. They sat that way, doing one of their renowned staring contests known throughout the Rhode Island State Police until Dante finally lowered his eyes. She seldom won but this time she did. Maybe, out of some deep seated goodness, he let her.

“And what are you doing for Christmas, Sgt. Coles?” Dante asked, dropping his cigarette butt into an almost empty cappuccino cup.

She leaned back into the booth and stretched a bit. “I might be flying to St. Louis.”

“You mean Iowa or Ohio or whatever backwater state you’re from.”

She pursed his lips and shook her head. “No,” she said, “I mean St. Louis.”

“Well,” he said, beginning to grin, “as Ricky Ricardo often said, ‘Lu-Cee, you have some splainin’ to do’.”

They both laughed—her laugh an octave lower than his. And the laughter was so loud that everyone in WE R COFFEE turned to stare.

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About Me

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