Authors: Michael Lister
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Hard-Boiled, #Religious
“It’s cold out here,” Harrison said. “Why don’t we talk inside?”
“Something about this place bother you, Brad?” Steve asked.
Brad looked at him in disbelief. “
,” he said, “a man was murdered in a way that mocks the way my savior was killed. It doesn’t bother you?”
As if his uniform, Brad was wearing the same faded, paint-speckled jeans and camouflage jacket, and though his boots still looked newer than anything else he wore, they were now spotted with dirt and grime and flecked with paint.
“We can talk about me some other time,” Steve said.
“It’s just that there are evil spirits at work here,” he said. “Now, I’m not scared of the devil. That lyin’, thievin’ serpent’s under my feet. But I respect my adversary, and I know not everybody stays as prayed up as I do, so they can be vessels of wickedness without even realizing it. And the thing they want to do is destroy the light.”
Steve gave him a perplexed look.
Brad rubbed the whiskers on his angular face with his thumbnail, tracing his jawline from beneath his ear to the cleft in his chin, sighing heavily as he did.
“People like me,” he said. “Bearers of the light. Satan wants to destroy us. We know how to bind and loose and—”
“If that’s all it takes, why don’t you bind the forces of darkness at work here?” I asked.
?” he asked. “You’re supposed to be some hotshot prison preacher. Don’t you know how to conduct spiritual warfare?”
“Did you rape and kill Tammy?” Steve asked.
?” he asked in shock. “
. I’m a sinner and I hate to admit it, but I didn’t have to
“But you slept with her shortly before you killed her?”
“We’ve matched your blood type,” Steve said. “We know you did.”
His eyes grew wide, fear entering his face. “No. You’re not settin’ me up for this, I can tell you that. You hear me? I did not kill her. I did not rape her. I—”
“You slept with her on the day she died,” I offered.
He shrugged. “I might have, I can’t remember. We did it a lot. It all runs together, you know? But
I did, it was because she seduced me and I was led astray. I’m weak, but I didn’t kill her.”
“Did you kill Clyde?” Steve asked. “Nail him up to this tree?”
Steve moved the beam of his light up to the spot where Clyde had hung.
,” he said, squinting up at the tree. “Of course not. I’m a man of God.”
“A man of God with feet of clay who commits sins of the flesh,” I said, using his own words against him.
“You’re also a handyman. You’re about the only one around here who could’ve done it.”
“Well, I didn’t,” he said. “And anyone who knows me’ll tell you I couldn’t have.”
“Oh, yeah,” Steve said. “Why’s that?”
“First of all, I would never do anything that mocked my Jesus. I love him too much. And second, if I’d’ve nailed him up to that tree,” he would have never fallen down.”
As Steve and I were leaving the abbey to go interview Reid and Richie, Sister Chris stopped us and asked to talk to me. Steve said he’d go talk to Richie’s parole officer and get things ready and I could meet him at the station.
When he left, Chris and I stepped into one of the classrooms.
Actually sitting face to face with Sister Chris, I noticed she was much rounder and heavier than she first appeared, and I realized her habit hid her weight well, especially how round and full her pale face was. We were seated in two desks that faced each other.
Before she said anything, I said, “I read about you in Tammy’s journal.”
I just wanted to see how she responded and what she might say.
“I wondered if she wrote about us,” she said, adding with a sheepish wince, “I looked through your room when I heard you had it. I’m sorry. Someone had already been there, because it was a mess.”
Unlike the other classrooms, this one had been remodeled, and was now a smart classroom with built-in audio-visual equipment, carpet, new desks, handicap access, and a marker board, the sharp alcohol smell of erasable ink replacing the dull, dusty smell of chalk.
“I’m relieved you know,” she said. “I’ve been tiptoeing around here waiting for this. Now, I’m just glad it’s over. Well, not over, but hopefully it’s the beginning of the end.”
Wondering what she was relieved I knew, I said, “Tell me.”
“It wasn’t a relationship really. Just sex—especially for her. I wanted more, but she had no interest in me as a person. I was just what was around when Kathryn turned her down.”
I nodded, encouraging her to continue.
“I realize it’s breaking my vows in a way. It’s just… I don’t think it’s a sin. I’m not sure what kind of minister you are, or what you believe, but I don’t take the Bible literally. The fact that lesbianism isn’t even addressed in scripture gives us some insight into the bias of the writers and their male-dominated worldview. The few times where homosexuality is mentioned, I think it’s either an example of what the writer considers wrong or it’s talking about things that would be wrong in heterosexual relationships too. Anyway, since I don’t see it as sin, I don’t think abstinence should be one of our vows. I’m certain I’m called to be a bride of Christ, so since my choice was between following my vocation without keeping all of my vows or not making any vows but not following my vocation, I chose the former.”
I nodded my understanding.
“It’s not like I’ve had a string of lovers, but God made me a sexual being just as much as he made me an intellectual and spiritual one, so I’ve never been completely abstinent either. I knew Tammy was troubled and I shouldn’t get involved with her, but she was so… anyway, I found it very difficult to resist. Also, and I know how lame this sounds, I thought I might be able to help her.”
“I’ve been guilty of thinking the same thing before,” I said.
She smiled, her pale, full-moon face seeming to grow even larger. “Of course, Kathryn doesn’t need helping, does she?”
My face must’ve registered my surprise, because she quickly added, “Everybody knows you two have hit it off.”
“You’re right,” I said, “she certainly doesn’t need rescuing or saving.”
“It feels so good to be able to talk to someone about this,” she said. “Especially someone so understanding. I’ve been so sad and had to keep it bottled up so tightly.”
“I was wondering why you were being so open and honest with me.”
“I’ve been so preoccupied with it that I haven’t been myself. There’s something I’ve been needing to tell someone, but just haven’t been able to muster up the strength.”
“What is it?”
“I heard you guys have Ralph Reid in custody.”
I nodded. “Steve does. I don’t have anybody in anything.”
“Do you think he killed Tammy?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I didn’t have anything to do with it. I loved her. I couldn’t hurt her. I actually hoped once she was free we might actually have a real relationship.”
“You knew about the exorcism?” I asked.
She nodded. “I was one of Father Thomas’s prayer warriors. I was shut up in my room praying while she was being killed.”
“So you didn’t see anyone out and about that night?”
She shook her head.
We were silent a moment.
“I wish I would’ve believed her. She just always had some drama going and told so many lies. I don’t know. I just didn’t believe her.”
“Not long ago she thought someone raped her,” she said.
She nodded. “She was unconscious at the time. That was the other thing that made it even harder for me to believe. She couldn’t say for certain, but she knew. I mean, there was no way she could prove it, but she was convinced. She was certain who did it too.”
“He drugged her. Talked her into meeting him for a drink, said he had some family business to discuss with her. Told her he could make her a very rich woman. She met him, had one drink, and the next thing she could remember was waking up in her bed the next morning. She was fully dressed—even had her shoes on, but he missed a button, and he was rough with her. She felt it. And she could smell him on her.”
No wonder he had taken such extreme measures to get Tammy’s journal. If she wrote in it about what he had done, he would not only be implicated in her rape, but become the prime suspect in her murder.
“Did she report it?”
“Who would believe
? She had a reputation, you know? And it was well deserved.
even had a hard time believing her. But spreading your legs because you want to and having someone spread them when you can’t stop them are two very different things.”
“I think Reid may have raped your cousin,” I said.
Eyes narrowing, teeth clenching, jaw flexing, Steve’s face flushed with anger. “If he did, he’s a dead motherfucker.”
I knew how he felt. There was something about rape that seemed even worse than murder.
I told him what Chris had told me.
“Son of a bitch,” he said. “Why didn’t she come to me?”
It was a good question, and one I’d have asked if she were my cousin, but now was not the time, and there would never be an adequate answer.
“She wasn’t in a good way,” I said. “I don’t think she had been for a long time.”
He nodded. “Thanks.”
I patted him on the shoulder. “You okay?”
“I will be. A little time alone with Reid should start me in the right direction.”
The first thing Steve did when he walked into the cell was take out his gun.
Pulling the slide back and jacking a round into the chamber, he pressed the pistol into Reid’s forehead as he pushed him to the back of the cell.
Cowering in the corner, Reid’s face was contorted in fear, and he looked like he was about to cry.
“Different rules today, Ralph. You lie to me today, you die. It’s just that simple. Understand?”
Reid nodded slightly and slowly, unable to move much because of the barrel pinning him to the wall.
The holding cell we were in was large and the only one in this part of the building. No one could see us. No one could hear us. No matter what happened, there would be no witnesses.
“I’m gonna start out with an easy one, one that you shouldn’t mind answering truthfully, okay?”
“Okay,” he said, his voice soft and squeaky.
“Have you ever had sex with my cousin?”
Reid seemed to relax a little, his eyes squinting a little less, his shoulders dropping a fraction.
Nodding the best he could, he said, “Yes. Yes I have.”
“Was she conscious at the time?”
I could see it in his face. He knew he was a dead man.
For a long moment, he didn’t say anything.
“Ralph,” Steve said, “was she conscious? Did she consent?”
He didn’t say anything. Didn’t move a single muscle, unless his heart was still beating, but I couldn’t be certain of that.
“Refusing to answer is the same as lying, Ralph,” Steve said. “And both result in the same thing. Your death. Do you under—”
“Please don’t kill me, Steve,” he said in the pathetic voice of a bully and a coward who knows he can’t escape the fate he created for himself.
“Last chance,” Steve said. “Did she consent? Was she conscious?”
“No,” he said so softly it was nearly inaudible. “Steve, I swear to God, it was just the one time. I never touched her again. I didn’t go anywhere near her the night she was killed.”
“Well, DNA’ll tell us soon enough.”
“I swear it’s the truth.”
“But so is the fact that you raped her,” he said.
“Oh, God, Steve, I’m so sorry. I was out of my mind. She was torturing me. Sleeping with everybody
me. She knew what she was doing. I just went crazy. I’m sorry. Please don’t…”
“‘Please don’t’… that’s what Tammy would’ve said if she had been able to, but you made sure she wasn’t.”
“I know what I did was wrong and I deeply regret it, but she was a very sick person. I read her diary before it was destroyed and let me tell you… You don’t want the world to know what she did, what kind of person she was.”
“Listen to me you piece of shit—”
“Steve, she killed Tommy. She drowned him at the marina. Held him down until he was dead. I think Father Thomas was right. She was possessed. She had super human strength. She killed him. She did it for fun. She said so in her diary. I tore the page out before the goons destroyed it. But the world never has to know. Do you understand what I’m saying? I can prove she was a murderer, but I won’t.”
“You’re trying to blackmail me?”
“No. Of course not. I’m just saying no one has to know. Please.”
“What’d you use on her? GHB?”
“Please, Steve,” Reid pleaded. “Please don’t.”
“Don’t what?” Steve asked.
“You know,” he said.
“Please don’t kill me.”
“Did you kill her because she figured out what you had done to her?” Steve asked. “Because you knew what I’d do to you when I found out?”
“I didn’t kill her. I swear to God.”
“But you were going to kill Kathryn.”
He started to say something but stopped.
“You had her tied up at the mill. You were going to let her explode into a million pieces, you psycho son of a bitch.”
“I had nothing to do with that. I swear it.”
“Lie to me again and see if I don’t cover that wall with your diseased brain.”
He stopped as one of Steve’s officers came to the cell door and called to him.
“Go away,” Steve said. “Whatever it is, it can wait.”
“No it can’t, sir,” he said. “I wouldn’t interrupt you if it could.”
Steve let out a mean laugh and shook his head. Easing the hammer down and holstering his gun, he said to Reid, “He just bought you a few more minutes of life. Use it wisely. Make peace with your maker.”
After Steve had gone and Reid and I were alone in the cell, he said, “You gonna let him kill me?”
“What can I do?” I asked. “I’m just one guy.”
“That’s what one of the girls in town was saying about stopping the way in which the Gulf Coast Company is gonna rape our land.”
“What does that have to do with—”
“You corporate rapists are so used to doing whatever the hell you want and having the government and everyone else just wink and hold out their hands, that you think you can do anything anytime. And most of the time you’re right. But not this time. Try offering Steve some of your precious money to forget about the fact that you raped his cousin.”
His eyes grew wide as he heard Steve’s footsteps coming down the stairs.
When Steve entered the room, he motioned me over to him. Walking out of the cell and closing the door, I joined him over at the bottom of the stairs.
“Come on,” he said.
“What?” I asked. “Where?”
“Father Thomas just confessed.”