“I don't get things wrong all the time,” Edith said. “You've just been fed a biased view of history. The Church doesn't want you to know the truth, and so it tells you a lot of lies.”
“The definitive history of the period is Cantor's
Civilization of the Middle Ages
. Cantor teaches at Columbia, and he's not a Catholic. Go look it up.”
“You've never been taught to think,” Edith said. “That's your problem. The Church doesn't want you to think, so it teaches you with rote and drills and then you can't make up your mind for yourself. You've been brainwashed.”
“I at least know that the Middle Ages and the Dark Ages are not the same thing,” Mary said. “Now, if you don't mind. I have to unload these boxes, and then I have to go back for another set. I've spent all morning at the hospital with a friend who is not in good shape and I have to get across town and to class before three. I'm in no mood to put up with your nonsense. Come back and talk to me when you're able to say a complete declarative sentence without getting six facts wrong.”
“It's not my facts that are wrong,” Edith said, hearing the high thin rise in her voice that was the start of something like hysteria. “I'm not the one who's mired in fear and superstition. I don't go to bed every night begging some fantasy who doesn't exist not to send me to hell.”
“Good,” Mary said. “Neither do I. I've got to hurry.'
Edith stepped back. Mary strode out of the room into the hall. Edith followed her. The closer she got to the open basement door, the colder it was. She stepped outside and looked
around. Mary was at the van, hoisting another large box onto her shoulder.
“It's not me who's mired in fear and superstition,” Edith said again, but her voice came back to her on the wind. There was nobody else who could hear it. She was shaking, but that might be the cold. Her head hurt. There were a million things she wanted to do right then, but none of them were looking up the Dark Ages in a book by somebody named Cantor. Mostly, she just wanted to scream.
What she did instead was to walk away from the basement door and from the parking lot, to the side path that went around to the front of the church. By then, her muscles were twitching uncontrollably. If she hadn't been keeping strict hold on herself, she would have looked like a Parkinson's patient. She went around to the front of the church and headed up the street to her own house and her own living room and her own coffee. When she got there, she thought better of it and kept going.
If she walked long enough, she would come to a bus stop. She could get on and go somewhere to shop, or to the library, or to a museum. If she rode long enough, she might even be able to calm herself down. The only thing she knew for sure was that she couldn't stay here, on this street, any longer this day.
Maybe, she thought, I need to find a hotel room.
Roy Phipps had been in jail before. In fact, he had been in jail often, but never more than overnight, and never in any facility more serious than a municipal holding tank. Even in those places where most of the police and most of the populace agreed with everything he said and wished him well, he ended up in jail, because one or another of the people who followed him got overly enthusiastic or way out of line. They cared, he knew, when they ended up behind bars. It frightened them in a bone-deep way that it could never frighten him. They lived so close to the edge that they were always worried about falling offâbut Roy wasn't. It had been years since Roy worried
for a moment about sinking back into the lower middle class, or worse. God was on his side. More importantly, celebrity was on his side. This was the truth about America: people would forgive you anything as long as you were famous. Roy had made it a point of becoming famous, just as he had made a point of never veering a single inch from the revealed word of God. It all worked together. The truth will make you free.
Now he stood patiently at the desk and let the woman officer count out his personal things, naming each one, as if it mattered if she spoke the list aloud.
“One black leather wallet,” she said. Her voice had the flat-bottomed drone of central Pennsylvania. “Fifty-four dollars in bills. Seventy-six cents in change. One American Express gold card. One driver's license. One bank card.”
“Reverend Phipps doesn't believe in credit cards,” Fred said. “He says it's the way Satan seduces us into slavery.”
The woman looked up. Then she looked down again and went on counting. “One copy
The Pocket Bible
, King James version. One set of keys on a cross-shaped key chain.”
Fred looked at the floor, and the ceiling, and the walls. Roy could see that he was so ashamed he could barely breathe, and he seemed to be coming out of his suit, bursting the buttons as they stood. The suit was wrinkled, the result of a night in the tank and the fact that Fred had bought it at JC Penney's. Roy didn't know why the suits always bothered him so much, but they did. It seemed to him that he had been better than this, even in the days when he had had no money and had had to bus dishes to make his walking-around money.
Of course, maybe he hadn't been. The trouble with memory was that it played tricks on you. That was what had happened to him the one time one of his brothers had come up to see him in Philadelphia, when he had just started to make a name for himself as a preacher. He would have said, before that, that he knew his brothers' faces as well as he knew his own. He saw them in his sleep. He saw them in his
. Then this huge hulking man had appeared in the doorway to his church, and he hadn't had the faintest idea who it was.
“That's it,” the woman officer said. “Will you sign this, please, attesting to your agreement that your property has been returned to you.”
Roy took the paper she handed him and bent over it. He
never signed anything without reading it. That included things like this, which were just copies of things he had signed before. The officer looked annoyed. Fred shifted his weight from leg to leg. Roy thought about protesting the use of the phrase “in the same condition”ânothing was ever in the same condition; wear and tear and misuse damaged all thingsâbut then bent down and signed. There were times and places to make scenes. This was not one of them.
He handed the paper across the desk to the officer. The officer handed him his things. Roy put them back one by one in his pockets. It was quiet in this police station at this time of day, although out here the neighborhood was no longer very good. Last night, when they had come in, the place had been pandemonium.
“I sent Carl out to get a cab,” Fred was saying. “It didn't work too well. Cabs never seem to like to stop for Carl. So I sent him home.”
“We don't need a cab,” Roy said.
“I thought maybe you'd rather ride than walk,” Fred said. “I mean, you know, in case they've got press people around here, with cameras. And that kind of thing. I thought maybe you wouldn't want for it to be on television, you coming out of jail.”
“It's been on television before.”
“Well, yeah, I know. But I thought that was different. The protests, I mean. It wasn't like this.”
“What's so different about this?”
“Well,” Fred said.
They had come out onto the front steps. The day was cold but clear, not quite as dark as it had been in the last few weeks. Roy snapped up the collar of his coat and drew his scarf more tightly around his neck. It really wasn't a very good neighborhood. Some of the buildings were either abandoned or close to it. They had windows boarded over with plywood and trash on their front steps. The gutters were clear, but that was only because the police station was there and the garbagemen didn't want to annoy the cops. Roy pulled on his gloves and headed down the stairs.
“I don't see why this arrest should be any different than any other,” he said. “Why do you think it is? Because the
homosexuals behaved like the animals they are and made the blood flow in the streets?”
“No,” Fred said. “No, that wasn't it.”
“Then what was it?” Roy had them headed to the left, back to their own quiet street. “Have the newspapers been blaming it all on me? There's nothing new in that. They always blame it all on me. I never start the violence. They always say I do. So what?”
Fred started looking around again, up and down and sideways. Then he reached under his own coat and brought out a newspaper. “This,” he said, handing the paper over.
It was the Philadelphia
, and the biggest picture on the front page was not of the riot, but of Roy himself, in a studio shot taken for publicity purposes maybe five years ago. The headline read:
Controversial Pastor Chief Suspect In Church Poisonings Case
Roy handed the paper back. “This is interesting,” he said.
“It's all over everywhere,” Fred said. “It's on the television. They're all saying you killed that woman at the church yesterday. And the other two. You know.”
“And then what?” Roy asked. “I started a riot to cover it all up?”
“Something like that.”
“It isn't true, you know,” Roy said. “The police aren't interested in this angle. The papers are making it up.”
“How do you know?”
Roy looked over his shoulder in the direction of the police station and the holding tank. “Because they didn't ask me about it. They didn't make me get a lawyer. They didn't demand that I come in for questioning. If I were really their chief suspect, they would have done all those things. Do we know how this woman died?”
“It was poison,” Fred said, surprised. “We knew that last night.”
“Do we know what kind of poison. Are they sure that it was arsenic yet?”
“Oh,” Fred said. “I guess they are. I mean, I assumed they are.”
“But nobody has said so.”
“No,” Fred agreed.
They reached the corner, and Roy stopped, waiting for the
light. “This woman who died,” he said. “She was a nun. But not one of the usual nuns. She was the one who didn't wear a habit. The one who wasâ” Roy tried to think of a word for it, but there wasn't one. “The one who was in favor of abortion,” he said finally, but he didn't like that. From what he remembered, the woman had never said anything in favor of abortion. It was just her â¦ general demeanor. “The feminist one,” he said finally.
“Oh,” Fred said. “Well, yeah. It's like I told you yesterday. She was the one who wore the suit who went on television that time and said that we were un-Christian. You remember. She sort ofâ”
“I remember. So she was a liberal at least, and maybe a radical. She had a lot to do with the gay people at St. Stephen's.”
“Well, yeah,” Fred said. “You said that last night.”
The light changed. They crossed the street. Roy sighed. “I know what I said last night,” he said patiently. “What I'm trying to get at is what the papers have confirmed. What have they said about her? That she was a liberal? That she was a radical? That she knew a lot of the gay men at St. Stephen's?”
“Oh,” Fred said. “I don't know.”
“Didn't you read the papers this morning? You brought me one. Didn't you watch the news?”
“Well, yeah,” Fred said. “But I wasn't thinking about her. I was thinking about us. You know. The people in the church. There's a lot of bad stuff out there about us.”
“There will be. They'll hate us. It doesn't matter,” Roy said. “Tell me what you did notice. What about the murder itself? Where was she found? What was she doing?”
“Oh, she was found in somebody's office at St. Anselm's. I don't think she was doing anything. I think she was dead.”
Yes, Roy thought. Of course she was dead. Of course she was. His head hurt. Surely there had to be a better way than this to do what he had been put on earth to do. If God had to choose him as an instrument, why couldn't He choose a few secondary instruments with the brains He gave to chickens? They were coming up on another light and another crosswalk. Roy stopped again.
“All right,” he said finally. “Here it is. We've got to get hold of a certain amount of information. For one thing, I want
to know who it is the police really are treating as their prime suspect. For another thing, I want the autopsy report before it hits the street. Don't we have somebody in the medical examiner's office?”
“Jeb Brandish,” Fred said. “He sweeps up.”
“That's all he has to do, that and listen. The other thing I need is some information on this Gregor Demarkian. Where he lives. How he lives. Who he lives with. Is he gay, do you think?”
“I don't know.'
The light changed again. They moved again. “I've read a few things about him in the papers, but I don't know either. I never paid much attention. On the other hand, I do seem to remember some woman. Send somebody to check that out. Maybe they're living in sin.”
“Gotcha,” Fred said.
“The best thing would be to find him on the record with something completely discrediting,” Roy said. “Or at least something we could use to charge bias. Some anti-Christian statement. Some atheist organization. Something.”
“You mean like the ACLU?”
“Not really,” Roy said. “The police department isn't going to fire him just because he belongs to the ACLU. If he does. I was thinking of something like American Atheists, or the Council for Secular Humanism. The chances are he doesn't belong to either, though. He used to be with the FBI. He'd know better than to join organizations that could compromise him.”
“Right,” Fred said.
Now they were coming up on St. Anselm's by the side. Roy looked into the parking lot and saw that it was nearly empty. The noon Mass had to be over. He picked up speed and turned left at the corner, down their own long and almost-pristine-again street.
There was a lot of activity going on at St. Stephen's, people going in and out. Roy stopped and looked at the bulletin board, but it was too far away for him to read. Underneath it, though, there was a sign made of red letters on white posterboard that said: PRAY FOR TOLERANCE. 6 PM.
“What's all that about?” he asked.
“They're doing some kind of service for the guys who got
beat up last night,” Fred said. “Carl was wondering if you wanted to picket it. You know. I said I'd ask.”
“We should think about it. It's the kind of thing we picket. There may be a serious police presence after last night.”
“Right,” Fred said. “That's what I told Carl.”
Roy turned away and started down the street again. “We've got guys who got beat up,” he said. “We should do a service, too. But it wouldn't attract the same kind of attention. There's something else about Gregor Demarkian.”
“He might not have joined any of those organizations, but somebody close to him could have. Somebody he's connected to, publicly. Check into that.”
“And while you're at it, check out Edith Lawton. Check outâ” Roy stopped.
He could spend all day telling Fred what to check out, but in the end he would have to do at least some of the checking himself. Fred wasn't up to it, and Fred was the cream of his own particular crop.
Up the street, the front windows of their church gleamed in the sun, untouched by last night's madness.
God would always take care of His own.