The Wrong Man to Cross
Part Two
A John MacNeil Novella
by Duane Swierczynski


...... Chuck Underhill put the time of the break-in between 2 and 4 p.m. Jonesy told him she left just before 2, and didn't return home until after a dinner of Chinese food at Kum Lin's with her mother. By that time, Chuck was already there, and he'd taken my statement.

...... “I feel like I'm turning into your secretary,” he said.

...... “Tell me about it. You want a Rolling Rock?”

...... “Some other time, John.”

...... “You think this will win me any points with IA? Get me back on the job?”

...... “Doubtful.”

...... “Fuck.”

...... “All this trouble for nothing, huh?”

...... “Hey,” I said. “Gimme some credit. I'd done this, I would have used a cat.”

...... I gave him the names -- Corey, Creed and Halek -- on the sly. He gave me a disapproving look, but fuck him. He'd be doing the same thing, someone sliced open a dog and spread its blood over his boy's bedroom walls.

...... The forensics guys snapped photos, made notes, did the usual thing, Chuck shook my hand, and then I busied myself with getting rid of the puppy carcass and as much of the blood as I could. But the carpet was fucked. I'd have to rip that up tomorrow. And I'd need some kind of special sealant and primer to get rid of the writing, otherwise the boy would be staring up at the ceiling someday, dreaming of baseball, and he'd be able to make out the words GLORY TO SATAN. More money, not even my own, down the pisser.

...... That night, the boy slept between us in our Queen-sized bed. I looked at his sweet little face as he dreamed.

...... “Kiss head,” he'd said before falling asleep.

...... I thought about how fucked up it was that during all of my years in Kensington, I'd never felt frightened in my own bed. Now that I'd moved my family to his allegedly nice neighborhood, I couldn't sleep.

...... Every little sound kept me awake. Heat bugs doing their thing. The occasional car whizzing by a few blocks away on Holme Avenue. Jonesy snoring lightly, even though she maintained she did no such thing. Even though I'd once taped her and presented her with the evidence. The boy, breathing his gentle breaths.

...... The coughing, right outside my bedroom window.

* * * * *

...... I slid out of bed and crawled across the floor. Outside, bathed in the sodium light, was a tall man, smoking, wearing a long overcoat, even thought it was a humid night. Only I knew it wasn't a man, because of the hair.

...... It was Spikes. Watching the house.

...... He didn't run when I walked outside, I'll give him that. Then again, maybe he expected me to be carrying a baseball bat or a gun. He thought too highly of himself --- to me, he was just a punk kid. My hands were empty, except for my house keys.

...... He cocked his head and said, “Evening, Officer John Francis MacNeil.”

...... “Evening, shithead. Want another beer?”

...... Spikes' face was still freshly scabbed over. He'd had a few stitches installed, too, in his forehead and right cheek.

...... “I'd love one of those Rolling Rocks you bought home this afternoon.”

...... He must have still been in the house when I returned. That creeped me out. I tried not to let it show.

...... “Can I see some I.D.? A police officer can't just go handing out beer to minors.”

...... “You didn't seem to mind last Friday.”

...... “Yeah, well I've seen the error of my ways.” I flashed a big goofy grin. “I'm scared straight.”

...... Spikes took a hit off his cigarette. He was a showman all the way: every move, from lifting the butt to his lips to blowing the gray smoke, was calculated, stylized. He thought was hot shit. I decided to let the air out of his tires.

...... “Then again,” I said. “I don't need I.D. I know who you are.”

...... “Oh, do you?”

...... I took a stab. What the hell -- I had a one-in-three shot.

...... “Sure, I do, Billy.”

...... Spikes smiled. I'd hit it. “My friends call me Billy Prophet. You could call me Billy Prophet.”

...... “Oh, we're friends now?”

...... “We're closer than you think.”

...... “That's great to hear. I'll add you to my Christmas card list. Which juvvie center you in, by the way? St. Vincent's?”

...... “I hear you're in the private investigation business. You've become a regular dick.”

...... “You heard wrong, Bill. And that gag's older than you.”

...... “Didn't the boy-priest hire you to find his poor missing slut sister, Angela?”

...... We were both up on our current events, I'll give us that.

...... “Fifteen dollars,” he said then. "Hell of a way to start a business."

...... Really up.

...... It had to have been Rick Panico spilling the works. But to who? Not this guy, I hoped. Weren't they mortal enemies -- the priest-to-be versus the teenage lapdog of Satan? Maybe Rick had told a friend, and that person told a friend, and all of a sudden, it was a fucking shampoo commercial. Did everyone in Holme Circle know I'd taken money from a shot-up seminary student to find his missing sister? Did they know that there wasn't any cold Yuengling at the beer store? Did they know I scratch my nuts first thing when I wake up the morning? First the left ball, then the right?

...... “I want to hire you, Officer MacNeil,” Billy said. “It's a red-hot case.”

...... “Take a number.”

...... “I can help you find Angela. In fact, if you want, I can lead you right to the grave in the woods. There are pretty blue flowers planted on top. Gardenias. That's his favorite.”

...... His? The devil likes gardenias? But instead I asked “You killed her?”

...... “No. Angela was one of my favorite pets. It was him. He killed her.”

...... “Who?”

...... Billy reached inside his overcoat. Suddenly, I was sorry I didn't stuff my pistol down the back of my shorts before coming out here.

...... He pulled out a black videocassette.

...... “What is that?”

...... Billy lobbed the tape at me. I caught it in both hands.

...... “The solution to your case,” he said.

...... “And you're giving it to me out of the goodness of your heart?”

...... “No. My sole purpose on earth is to spread chaos and disorder, to pave the way for Satan to enter to every human heart. It's fun. Want to hear my demon name?”

...... “Not particularly. What's on this?”

...... “You'll see.”

...... “You, butchering another defenseless dog?”

...... “No, much better. How's your son's bedroom, by the way? You think he can smell the blood as he sleeps? What an education he's receiving.”

...... I smiled, wondering what it would be like to snap his forearm in half.

...... “Wanna watch this with me? I've got a VCR in the downstairs den. Nobody will hear us.”

...... Before he could answer, I walked away, tape in hand, down the sloping front driveway. My house had the double garage doors facing the street, with the entrances on the side. I keyed in and lifted the door. Even though it was a new model, it still made a bit of racket on the street. I wasn't doing much to endear myself to my neighbors.

...... I flicked on the light, then spied what I wanted. It was over by the door that connected the garage to the finished den. I hadn't lied. I really had a VCR and our old console TV down here, along with some slightly-ratty couches from my sister, who couldn't use them anymore. There was even a long countertop, which was going to be transformed into a bar one of these days, just as soon as I got myself enough money for a beer-meister system. Shit, fresh beer in the den? I'd never have to leave the house.

...... “You're really going to watch this now, aren't you?”

...... His excitement betrayed his youth. Billy delighted in sounding like a bad-ass, but he was still just a punk kid.

...... “You know what you are, Billy?”

...... I'd paused at the den door. My fingers reached for the baseball bat I had tucked in the corner.

...... “What?”

...... “Trespassing.”

...... I didn't take the head shot, as much as I wanted to. Instead, I swung at the center of his body mass: his chest. Even one-handed, the blow knocked him off his feet and sent him skittering across the cement floor. That had to hurt. I'd nailed him in the chest with both feet last Friday. I gave him another measured tap to the ribs -- enough to bruise, not break -- and a crack on the forearm.

...... Okay, maybe the forearm crack was a little on the hard side. But unless he was left-handed, he'd recover.

...... Surprisingly, there was a lot of fight left in him. He was already trying to get up. So I jabbed him hard in the gut like a pool cue on the eight ball, which drained him of air, not to mention ambition.

...... “Never fuck with a cop's family,” I said, then dropped the bat on the floor and went looking for my plastic wrist cuffs. I know I had a couple of pairs around here someplace. I slid the videocassette tape on top of some cardboard boxes to free both hands.

...... No wrist cuffs. So I grabbed some duct tape and secured the fuckwad to a support pole, making sure I left one hand free. His right one. I taped over his mouth before he got any ideas about screaming. Or talking about chaos and disorder again.

...... Then I went upstairs and took a butcher knife from the block on our counter. I was taking a chance, but I don't think Chuck would notice it. I could just tell him that I forgot to report it stolen -- after all, I had dead dog blood all the hell over my little boy's room. It could have easily slipped my mind.

...... I walked back downstairs, amazed that Jonesy and the boy could sleep through all of this.

...... I pressed the handle of the butcher knife into Billy's right hand, then closed his fist around it.

...... “We got prints from this afternoon,” I explained.

...... Then I let the knife fall to the cement floor. I kicked it away.

...... I walked over to my garage door. I used a crowbar to break the handle lock. Then I let Billy hold the crowbar for a second or two. Same deal.

...... His eyes said: Fuck you.

...... My eyes said: Like I give a shit?

...... Then I went upstairs and dialed Chuck's beeper. I thought about having a Rock, but that wouldn't look right. No, better the beleaguered cop on suspension be clean and sober. He'd just kissed his sleeping son's forehead when he heard the grinding sound of metal on metal outside, when down to investigate, and oh my God, to what my wondering eyes should appear…

...... Chuck picked up on the fifth ring.

...... “Chuck, you're not going to believe this.”

* * * * *

...... Sunday morning I sat at the breakfast table, cutting up a doughnut into bite-sized pieces for the boy. “Cop food,” he said, pointing.

...... I smiled. The kid had a sardonic sense of humor, even if he didn't know it yet. I'd taught him to point at his cousin's pet goldfish and call it “sushi.”

...... Jonesy joined us. She had an oversized coffee mug that read “Don't even think about talking to me until this is empty.” She hadn't looked me in the eye all morning, which meant she was pissed about something. A classic passive-aggressive, my Jonesy. Until she finally spoke up, at which point she usually exploded.

...... “Daddy cut it?”

...... “Daddy's cutting it, buddy.” These glazed doughnuts were slippery bastards. I looked at Jonesy. “So what is it?”

...... “Nothing,” she said. She kept her eyes busy by picking up today's Daily News that was resting on the table. I had been trying to read it while feeding John, Jr., but that was like trying to put in a contact lens while mowing the lawn.

...... “I'm going to take care of the bedroom today. Figured I'd get to the hardware store first thing, get what I need.”

...... “You need money?”

...... “No,” I said. “I got a little something on the side. In fact, I'm picking up $100 this morning. So I'm good.” I wanted to say: Make sure you tell your mother. But I was in subtle interrogation mode, not attack dog mode.

...... Jonesy kept reading. I think she was pretending to check out the boldface name in Dan Gross's gossip column.

...... “Daddy cut it again?”

...... “You finished already? Okay, buddy. Hold on.” Then, to Jonesy: “Are you sure nothing's wrong?”

...... “Stop asking,” she said.

...... Yeah, right. Stop asking. That's all she wanted me to do. Keep asking. Keep guessing. Until I let out enough rope that she can whip around my neck and kick the chair out from under my feet, yelling, I can't believe you just said that?

...... “This is about last night, isn't it?”

...... There it was. I could almost hear the tiny pling! of the metal safety pin being released from the hand grenade that was her brain.

...... My best option was to dive across the table, take the boy into my arms, and fall to the floor, covering his body with mine, praying that the flying, stinging shrapnel wouldn't punch all the way through.

...... Instead, I sat there and took it face-first.

...... “What if that boy had killed you?”

...... “But he didn't.”

...... “We were sleeping right upstairs. He had a knife. He could have easily cut your throat and walked upstairs to kill us.”

...... “But he didn't.”

...... “It isn't the fact that he didn't do it,” she said, finally looking at me. “It's the fact that you didn't even consider the possibility. We're an afterthought.”

...... “What did you want me to do? Run upstairs and call the police? The ones who are still on the job?”

...... Ouch. Came out with my fists too far apart. Left myself so open for the jab, Clarissa didn't even have to take it.

...... She went back to her paper.

...... I'd fed her the same lie that I gave Chuck and the rest of the department: that Billy Corey had used a crowbar to break into the house, intending to scare us (or worse) with a butcher knife he'd stolen that afternoon. Made sense to Chuck, who took the little Satanic cocksucker into custody, and promised to bring in Creed and Halek for questioning on the afternoon break-in.

...... But Jonesy wasn't buying. She had a finely-tuned bullshit detector, calibrated to my particular brand.

...... She didn't believe Billy Corey had broken in. She thought I'd invited him in.

...... She was right, of course.

...... But I couldn't tell her that, because admitting it would prove her theory. That my girlfriend and son were afterthoughts.

...... And deep down, I knew she was right about that, too.

...... “John cut it?”

...... After giving the boy his third piece of glazed doughnut, I walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Eyed the green bottles of Rolling Rock sitting there on a shelf. That would taste great this morning, cut through the thick fog in my head. And there we go. Morning beers. One of the signs of my personal apocalypse.

...... I settled for a Diet Coke instead.

...... Fuck.

...... I threw on a t-shirt, then my shoulder rig and my unofficial .38, then a baggy, short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt over that. It was hot, and I wasn't allowed to pack while on suspension, but whatever. I'm sure I'd end up in the park later today, and I didn't want to be ambushed by Billy's two asshole buddies. Or any assholes. There seemed to be a lot of them out there.

...... I kissed the boy on his head, ignored Jonesy, hoping she wouldn't see the bulge under my shirt, or the fact that I was wearing an extra shirt. I starting driving out to Holy Redeemer. And after a while, it dawned on me. This whole thing was stupid.

...... Who did I think I was, working a case private? Asking for a $100 retainer?

...... That's what we had agreed to before I'd left the hospital yesterday morning. “Hey, parking's really expensive out here,” I'd said. Rick told me not to worry. He had plenty of money from his high school graduation. It was worth a hundred bucks a day, if it meant he could find out what happened to his sister.

...... And I'd agreed to it.

...... A crooked cop is a crooked cop is a crooked cop.

...... Just a few blocks from my house, I got sick to my stomach. I had to pull the car over to the side of the road.

...... Cranked down the window, took some deep breaths. The air was soupy. Was this really fucking April? Jesus. I rolled the window back up, started the car and cranked the A/C. Wearing two shirts killed me.

...... After a minute I realized that I'd parked next to another entrance to Pennypack Park.

...... I turned off the car, stepped out, and walked toward the gravel path leading deep into the woods. I hadn't been down here since last Friday, and we all know how that turned out. These woods were cursed. I had spent all of this money getting us up here, and I knew in my gut that I'd have a hard time taking the boy down here to run around. Too many bad memories already.

...... Look son, that's where they used to hold black masses.

...... See that dark stain on that big stone over there?

...... That's where they sliced up a golden retriever.

...... No, Daddy didn't cut it. Bad men cut it. And Daddy cut the bad men. And now the bad men were all gone…

...... This was going to be one of those really hot, humid spring days. It already felt like I had a blanket of moisture covering me. If I'd bothered to shower this morning, I would have had to take another one.

...... I took a few cautious steps down the path. It was broad daylight, yet I was absolutely unnerved. I still felt nauseous, which was really odd considering I hadn't had so much as a beer last night. This was no hangover. Something picked at my brain, like an itch.

...... And then I saw clusters of blue flowers along the path, and I remembered.

...... "Oh, I can help you find Angela. In fact, if you want, I can lead you right to the grave in the woods. There are pretty blue flowers planted on top. Gardenias. That's his favorite."

...... The videotape.

...... I'd forgotten about it in the excitement of the night before. Billy Corey hadn't said a word about it when he was cuffed and tucked into the back of a squad car.

...... I jogged back up the path, hopped into the car, cranked up the A/C, then drove back home. Which took about thirty seconds. Sealed myself in the basement. Told Clarissa to keep the boy upstairs. She wasn't speaking to me, so she didn't stop me with any questions. Found the tape on top of the cardboard box, right where I'd left it. Popped in the tape.

...... I watched it. I watched it again, just to make sure. Finally I called the Our Lady of Sorrows rectory. I asked for Father Moore.

...... “Father, I have a confession to make.”

* * * * *

...... I didn't know the priest who opened the door. He was tall, a gaunt man with bushy eyebrows that could support a coffee mug. Deep lines were etched on his face, as if he'd lived twice his sixty years. His mouth was a thin pale line over his chin. It could have been mistaken for another wrinkle.

...... “Hi, Father,” I said, giving him my best Sears Family Photo smile. “John MacNeil. I'm here to see Father Moore.”

...... The priest looked down at my hand, which I'd extended out in the traditional way. He seemed to appraise it, weigh his options, then decide against.

...... “Father Malachi Martin,” he said. “If you would please, wait in the vestibule. I'll see if Father is available.”

...... Yes, he's available. I just called him twenty minutes ago. No clearance from the Vatican required.

...... But whatever. I'll just hang here in the vestibule, Fadduh. No prob. The tile floor looks comfortable, in case I want to rest my ass on something.

...... The chances of me attending Sunday mass at Our Lady of Sorrows were rapidly dwindling. In fact, it was all up to Father Kutch, the only one I hadn't met yet. Maybe he'd have a personality. If so, maybe Jesus would welcome me back into his bosom. I hadn't been to mass since…. I did a quick mental check to see if anybody had died in the past few years, and realized no. So yeah. The last time I was in a church was my sister's wedding. St. Ann's, of the pink marble. Beautiful service.

...... Nothing against the church, or the priests. I still pretty much believed in the same old stuff, and I'd bet the priests down at St. Ann's were a lot of fun to hang out with, especially on beef and beer night. But it was the daily Sunday mass that got to me. It was like watching a rerun of the same damned TV show every week. It got boring. Besides, mass usually got in the way of a perfectly good hangover.

...... Chuckles returned.

...... “Father is waiting for you in the church.”

...... “Do I have to go back out and around the front?”

...... “You may use the connecting hallway.”

...... “Thanks, Father. You're a real champ.”

...... I said it in a way where the “a” in champ could be taken for a “u.” Like he gave a shit either way.

...... Why was Father Moore waiting for me in church? When I walked up the tan-carpeted steps, then through the sacristy, and then into the church proper, I saw the light. Literally -- the light above one of the confessionals in the back.

...... Oh, this was going to be fun.

...... I pulled open the red curtain and remembered: no chairs. I knelt down on the padded stool. On cue, the door slid open, and I could barely see his face through the wooden mesh. It was like looking at somebody through a picnic basket.

...... “Good afternoon. How long has it been since your last confession?”

...... “Father. I just came to talk. I'm not here to…”

...... “Why not make your confession anyway? Then we can talk freely.”

...... “This really isn't the best way to kick off the conversation.”

...... “Oh? Why is that?”

...... “Because I think some kids are trying to frame you for murder.”

...... Father Moore was silent. Maybe he thought I was kidding. Hell, I would have thought the same thing.

...... “Murder?” he asked.

...... “Can we please step out of the box, Father? It's a little strange doing this in here.”

...... “If you don't mind, I'd like to stay. Besides, it's the safest place to talk.”

...... I don't know who he was bullshitting. I was a former Catholic grade-schooler. Kids were always sneaking back to try to eavesdrop on confessions. How else were we supposed to learn who was feeling the tits of the St. Ann's girls? Or who was jerking off, imagining they were feeling the tits of the St. Ann's girls? Or, most important, which St. Ann's girls were allowing their tits to be touched?

...... “I had a run-in with Billy Corey last night. I caught him breaking into my house. He, uh, had a tape.”

...... “He broke into your house to give you a tape?”

...... Fuck. That did sound bad. It was going to be messy, when this all became public. But I'd figure it out later. I always did.

...... “There was something really strange on this tape. Three quick scenes. One was some footage of Angela Panico, Rick's sister. She was in the park, dancing to a rock song. AFI, if I'm not mistaken. It was some kind of party.”

...... “Go on.”

...... “Then the tape cut to this really bizarre thing. It was a guy dressed up like a Catholic priest -- like one of you guys, with the long brown robes. His back is to the camera, and he's holding up this cross like it's a sword. And then he swings back, and I can see two kids kneeling in front of him. One's a guy, but I can't make out a face. The other is a girl, and yeah, it looks like Angela again.”

...... “And then?”

...... “Then nothing. The film cuts to the weirdest part.”

...... “What?”

...... “Some footage of you, giving a homily at mass.”

...... The confessional was silent. I half expected him to tell me to say a few decades of the rosary and ask God for forgiveness.

...... “Father,” I said. “They're trying to frame you for something. That Panico girl has been missing for what? Five days now?”

...... “Why me?”

...... “You're the enemy. Corey told me that last night. You told me you and the other priests were new here, right? I think this Satan-worshipping shithead wants to cause another scandal in the parish.”

...... “You've read about what happened, then.”

...... “No. What's past, is past.” That was a lie, right here in the wooden confessional. I very much wanted to know. But I hadn't gotten around to asking Jonesy to help me do an Internet search on her laptop. I was very curious about what had brought these new priests here to Our Lady of Sorrow. I could guess, of course. I mean, what else could it be with priests these days?

...... “Do you have the tape with you?”

...... “Thought you might want to see it. And look, I know you're probably all about forgiveness and turning the other cheek, but there's a girl missing. I've gotta do something. I'm suspended, but I have buddies who will look into this. I just wanted you to know first. I owed you that.”

...... Another lie. I was here on a fishing expedition.

...... I wanted to know why Moore was hell-bent on protecting these assholes who wanted to burn him.

...... “I appreciate that.”

...... We sat there for a while… well, I was kneeling. I think Moore was sitting, comfortably. My knees started to ache.

...... “Okay, then, Father. I'd better go.”

...... “Wait.”

...... “Yeah?”

...... “Will you allow me to grant you a blessing and absolution?”

...... “Hey, geez, Father.”

...... “C'mon, just a blessing. You're going to need the spiritual help, considering the road you're traveling.”

...... He had me there. “Do your thing.”

...... I can't remember all of the words. Moore was mumbling them quietly, with his hand held up vertically in front of his face, as if the power of God was streaming through it and into me, the sinner. I guess that was the idea. It had been such a long time since my last confession I couldn't honestly remember if this was part of the usual routine, or something special Moore cooked up. Then the tone of his voice changed, and I knew he was ready to wrap up, which was good, because my knees were fucking killing me.

...... … in nomine Patris…

...... The hand went up.

...... … el Filii…

...... The hand went down.

...... … et Spiritus Sancti…

...... Now side to side.

...... I waited for the “Amen!” but there was nothing. Moore shifted in his seat. I heard a metallic clicking sound, like someone flipping open an old-fashioned Zippo lighter.

...... And then the blade punched through the picnic basket and stabbed me in the right shoulder.

...... “Amen.”

* * * * *

...... The jab was strong enough to knock me off the kneeler. Enough to force the metal right through my shoulder muscles and into the wooden wall behind me. I yelped.

...... You see, this is why I never go to confession. The penance fucking KILLS.

...... Then the pain hit for real, and wherever there wasn't blinding ripping pain, there was numbness, and the contrast between the two made it worse.

...... “Tonight you will rest in the Kingdom of Heaven,” Moore said.

...... “Fuck you,” I replied, then coughed, which hurt.

...... I tried to shift my body weight to somehow wrench myself free, and that's when I felt a weight bounce on my left side.

...... Oh yeah. My gun.

...... I couldn't get at it with my left hand… my fingers couldn't reach the snap latch holding it place. And unfortunately, my right hand was attached to my right arm and shoulder, which were currently immobilized by the metal skewer this nutty fucker had driven through me.

...... My legs.

...... I leaned back a fraction of an inch to let my weight rest on my ass. I could feel the metal ripping through more of my shoulder, and it was fucking excruciating.

...... I kicked both feet forward like I was doing a leg press at the gym.

...... The cheap confessional wall of the prefab church collapsed and nailed Moore, who grunted. I hope it really hurt.

...... The blade came ripping out of my shoulder. He must have been holding onto it tightly.

...... “Thanks,” I mumbled, then tried to stand up.

...... Some blood spurted out of the gash. I almost threw up.

...... My gun.

...... I tried moving my right arm to reach up for it, but my arm was taking a brief sabbatical.

...... Moore started moving around beneath the wreckage.

...... I felt like was I going to pass out.

...... Oh. Well. Yeah.

...... I was definitely going to pass out.

...... My intention was to step out of the confessional and hobble the few yards to the front doors of the church, say a quick prayer that they were unlocked, then tumble down the stone staircase in hopes that someone would see me, and that somehow, I wouldn't manage to break my own neck.

...... It didn't work out that way.

...... In fact, I didn't even remember losing consciousness....

* * * * *

...... I came to as I was being dragged down a slope. I could hear traffic whizzing by in the near distance.

...... I'd been wrapped me up in something -- not as thick as a rug, but not exactly a blanket either. Probably an old church banner or something. Maybe it would become my own personal Shroud of Turin. Hundreds of years from now, somebody would dig up a banner with a skeleton inside, and the bloodied impression of some asshole (me) trying to figure out what the fuck had happened. Charge the tourists two bucks a pop. Move on to the next item in the freak show.

...... As I was being dragged out to my grave, I tried to think about why a Catholic priest would suddenly go berserk and start killing people.

...... Then it occurred to me that Billy Corey had been telling the truth. This nut-job had killed Angela Panico, along with some other unidentified male.

...... And Corey had been blackmailing the priest. Which is why he and the other Satanic Fun Boys were hands-off.

...... But what would make Corey change his mind and decide to tell me about this shit?

...... And then I passed out again. Not an ideal time.

...... When I woke up again, I was still above ground. Must have lost it for a few seconds. I stole a glance from under my funeral shroud. Early afternoon, with the masses done and that part of Pennypack Park was downright peaceful. I was resting on a slight incline of soil and rocks. Up on the horizon was a green plastic prefab shed where Our of Lady Sorrows kept their grounds keeping supplies. It shielded me from full view of the church, which was probably what Father Moore had in mind. And there were two brown mounds of dirt just a few feet away. Sticking out of the top of them were patches of blue flowers.

...... What was it that Corey had said? Blue gardenias? Shit, he wasn't kidding about that, either.

...... Angela, honey, are you under there?

...... God, hope not.

...... Churches on a late Sunday morning are probably the best places to kill people and then bury their bodies. There's nobody around. I had zero chance of somebody bopping along and saying, “Yo, Fadduh, doin' some gardening?” At which point I'd yell, and the mook would say, “Those sure are some noisy gardenias!”

...... I shifted my body weight to the left, hoping Moore was too busy to notice. He had removed my .38 from its holster.

...... Smart priest.

...... Probably dumped the bullets into a collection box and stashed the iron deep in the waters of the baptismal font, never to be seen again.

...... Then I shifted my weight to the right again and felt something poke my back.

...... Ah. Not-so-smart priest.

...... I wasn't a genius at playing dead, but I guess the grisly shoulder wound fooled him. It must have bled like a fucker all over my shirt, and he thought he'd hit an aorta or something when he stabbed me through the confessional screen.

...... My right arm was completely numb. I wasn't going to have much luck there. My left still seemed to have some feeling.

...... Making no pretense about playing dead now, I squirmed until I had the butt of the .38 in palm, then used my arm to pull away my shroud.

...... I sat up.

...... The priest was further away then I thought. He was just coming out of the back door of the rectory, a tiny gardening shovel in his hand. Wearing black only makes you an easy target.

...... I lifted my .38 and fired twice. Full center of gravity, just like they teach in the academy.

...... I tell you this now, just like I told the investigating committee later, there really was no other option. What did you want me to do? Wing him, and hope that he didn't crawl over and slice my throat when I passed out again? And fuck yeah, I was going to pass out again. It was only a matter of seconds.

...... The force teaches you that if you're going to draw your weapon, you'd better be ready to use it.

...... And if you use it, you'd better be prepared to put a man down.

...... The priest's body whipped backwards and crashed into the wooden staircase behind him.

...... At that moment, I couldn't be too broken up about it. I just wanted to get back home, kiss Jonesy, kiss the boy, and see if Bob Burkhardt was planning on grilling anything.

...... I looked down at my shoulder, and saw that it was burbling blood again. That couldn't be good. I felt my stomach heave, and then I rolled over and threw up.

...... Then it was hello darkness, my old friend. I hadn't passed out this much since my senior prom.

* * * * *

...... Want to know a dirty little secret about becoming a hero cop? You don't have to do any real police work. Forget turning up an elusive fingerprint, or making some great deductive leap, or catching a suspect red-handed.

...... All you have to do is get injured. Badly.

...... Hence, I was a hero cop.

...... The forensics guys came and dug up those brown mounds of dirt. They found the slightly-decomposed body of Angela Marie Panico, 16. Her throat had been slit, and she seemed to have been dead at least four days. A comparison of the wound in my shoulder with hers revealed they had been made by the same cutting instrument -- a spear-like tip designed for slicing and stabbing. Nothing matched to any known tools or cutlery. This was something hand-crafted, original in design. I was no help identifying the weapon because it had been buried in my shoulder in a dark room.

...... The forensics guys scoured the church and determined that Angela had been killed up in the choir loft. They found residual blood stains that even Mr. Clean couldn't remove. The priest had been careful, to a point.

...... And I was the hero cop.

...... Father Kutch expressed shock, horror and sorrow over the events of the past week, and couldn't understand how this could have happened under his watchful eyes. And no, he didn't know where Father Martin was, either. Or at least, that's what he told the investigating officers, and reporters from the Daily News, who called the story "BAD FRIDAY."

...... And I was the hero cop.

...... For about two days.

...... Want to know how to stop being the hero cop?

...... Shoot the wrong priest.
......

Copyright (c) 2006 by Duane Swierczynski.


Duane Swierczynski is the author of the crime thrillers The Blonde and The Wheelman (St. Martin's Minotaur). By day, he's the editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia City Paper. By night, he's tired. It's not mentioned much, but Swierczynski got his first big break right here at the Thrilling Detective Web Site way back in 1998 with a piece of the novel that eventually saw the light of day as Secret Dead Men (PointBlank Press). And Swierczynski is still extremely thankful to that Smith guy. Visit the self-styled "Pole With Soul" at secretdead.blogspot.com.

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