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Authors: Jane Haddam

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BOOK: True Believers
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“And Father Healy wasn't in the living room,” Gregor said.
“In the living room or the dining room or the kitchen. I checked all those places. And then I knew, you know, that he'd gone upstairs. So I went to the bottom of the stairs and called up to him.”
“And?”
“And nothing happened,” Sister Peter Rose said. “He didn't answer back. So I called again. And then next thing I heard was the thumping.”
“Thumping like somebody falling or thumping like somebody pounding?”
“I don't know,” Sister Peter Rose said. “Thumping like somebody was taking something big and blunt like one of those weight bags boxers use to practice on and slamming it against the floor, over and over again. Like that. It didn't make any sense really. I couldn't understand why he wasn't answering me. And I thought, I don't know, that he was having a heart attack or maybe this was a home invasion and there were people in the house and then I don't know what I was thinking, but I ran up the stairs to find out.”
“You could have been killed,” Sister Thomasetta said. “Think what would have happened if it was a home invasion.”
“Well, it wasn't,” Peter Rose said. “And I got up to the top of the stairs and the door to his bedroom was closed, but I could hear the thumping in there, so I opened it. I know I shouldn't have opened it. When the Cardinal Archbishop finds out about this, I'm going to be sent right back to the motherhouse. But I did open it, and there he was, on the floor, all sort of contorted—I'm not sure how to describe it—all bent up and creased, sort of, his skin was creased and I just lost
my composure. I just—I screamed and screamed and then I could see that he was dead and I didn't know what to do about it.”
“There wasn't anything for you to do about it,” Scholastica said. “What do you think you were supposed to do about it?”
Actually, Gregor could think of a number of things—call the police; call the ambulance; get help; not panic—but he didn't mention any of them, because most civilians could not do anything but what they did. Training could teach you to handle the surprise of somebody dying violently before your eyes. Without training, people mostly did what they could do.
Gregor got up and went to the parlor window to look out. A little way across the courtyard, tech men were going in and out of the rectory while a young dispirited-looking priest was standing by.
Gregor retreated from the window. It was dark out there, now. Other than the police and the parochial vicar, the courtyard was empty.
“I suppose,” he said, “we'd better find out what the autopsy says about what the man ate.”
Ian was with her when the sirens started, and he was with her an hour later, when the street was calm again and only the lights at the end of the block gave any indication that there was something wrong at St. Anselm's. Edith knew it was a mistake. Will almost never came home before the middle of the night anymore, but this might be the time, and to have Ian sitting here naked wouldn't do. She looked across Ian's lap at the night table. He had laid out his Rolex watch and his Coach accessories: leather card case, leather credit card case, leather wallet. Everything Ian owned that wasn't gold was mahogany leather. Edith got up and found a robe to wrap around herself. Then she sat back down on the bed and stretched out her legs.
“It can't go on forever,” she said finally. “Will knows now. Nothing we do will make any difference to that.”
“It will make a difference if he can prove it.”
“He can say he walked in on us. He did walk in on us. Isn't that the same as proof in a divorce court?”
“Not if you deny it.”
“I thought I wasn't allowed to deny it,” Edith said. “Under oath, I mean. I thought you told me, when we started—”
“I know what I told you.'
Until now, the room had been dark. Ian never seemed to like the light on when they were together. Now he switched on the bedside lamp and sat looking up at her, the pale hair on his chest seeming to rise and fall in a stray draft. Edith's roll of Life Savers were lying on top of the dresser. She got it down and popped the one on top into her mouth, fingering
it along the smooth small curve first, as if she wanted to memorize the shape with her fingers.
“Everything we've done,” she said carefully. “From the very beginning. Everything we haven't done. It was so that Will wouldn't find out”
“But Will did find out, Edith. So that's over.”
Edith went to the window and looked out. “There's been another one, down the street. Did you know that. Father Healy. Didn't you know Father Healy from your office?”
“Vaguely. Mostly, I only knew the Cardinal.”
“You knew that girl. That Bernadette Kelly.”
“Of course I did. She was a receptionist.”
“She could have ruined you.”
Ian got very still. Edith could feel it. “I wouldn't say that,” he said finally. “She wasn't a very bright girl. Everybody knew that.”
Edith turned the soft mints over and over in her hands and then put them back on the bureau. It was worse than still in this room. Everything had come to a dead stop. The lights in the church's courtyard down the block were spilling into the street. Every time somebody walked past there, he looked as if he had been lit up. Edith went from the bureau to the window to the bed and back again.
“She could have ruined you,” she said finally, “and you knew it, and I knew it. She could have stopped you. She told you so. I heard her.”
“She never said anything of the kind. Edie, don't be a fool. You didn't hear anything like that. Even if you think you did, you can't corroborate it.”
“I don't have to corroborate it. I heard it. And then a week later, less than a week later, she was dead. Out in that trailer park where she lived. They never would have known it wasn't diabetes if that silly husband of hers hadn't brought her into church. Nobody would ever have known. But he did.”
By now, the room was beyond dead stop, beyond anything Edith could remember experiencing in her whole life. Ian could have been a block of marble. If he had smoked cigarettes, he would have brought one out to have something to do with his hands. With the light on, there were no shadows in the room. Edith thought that she must look like those
women in movies, lit to be hags. The light was wrapped around her, making her look creased.
“You,” Ian said, “are making mountains out of molehills. Because if you think I killed Bernadette Kelly, you're crazy. There are other ways of getting out of trouble if you have to. I'm not about to go around offing people with arsenic and risk a death sentence. And besides, you can explain Bernadette Kelly, but what about the rest of them? That gay boy. And the nun. And now—what? What's going on down the street?”
“I'm not sure.”
“Maybe it's another one,” Ian said pleasantly. “What did you think I did, Edie, drop in over at St. Anselm's and off somebody on my way here to pork you? One of the other nuns, maybe, or one of the altar boys. If they still have altar boys, after everything that's happened there.”
“I'm not saying you killed anybody.”
“Well, you're saying something, Edie. Maybe you ought to come right out and just say it. Because if you think you can blackmail me, you're very wrong.”
“I thought you didn't want publicity. I thought you said it was dangerous.”
“Dangerous isn't the same as lethal.” Ian got out of bed and grabbed for his pants. He had no robe here—he had never kept any of his clothes in this house—but his underwear was lying right on the floor at the side of the bed. He wore boxer shorts with prints on them. It was one of the things Edith had found most fascinating about him when they had first met.
“I think you're underestimating the problem,” Edith said. “You can't really think that nobody is going to find out. Not now. The new Cardinal isn't like the old one. He's going to do an audit one of these days, and he's going to find those extra names you put on the victims' list. And he's going to know it was you. Even Bernadette Kelly knew it was you.”
Ian stopped with his trousers halfway up his legs. “I don't know what you're talking about,” he said.
“Everybody else will,” Edith told him.
Ian pulled his pants the rest of the way up and buttoned them. Then he reached for his shirt. “I think it's time we cooled this off a little,” he said carefully. “You've gotten too wound up in it. You're under too much stress. We need a vacation from each other.”
“Every time somebody came up who could expose you, they died,” Edith said. “Did you notice that? Bernadette Kelly. And that gay boy, as you call him, who was the lover of one of the victims on that list. I'm not a detective genius, Ian. If I found out, everybody else will.”
“I think you're insane,” Ian said. “I think you've walked straight into one of your fantasies and can't find your way out. You've got no idea if that gay boy was the lover of one of the pedophilia victims, and even if he were, what would he know that could hurt me? And what about the other one, the nun? I've never even met the nun. And what about what's going on down there now?”
“There are four extra names,” Edith said carefully. “On one of the lists of victims, there are four extra names. They change the calculations. You slipped it by the old Cardinal Archbishop because he was practically senile, and now you're stuck with it, and everybody who knows anything about it has died.”
“If that's the case, Edie, I'd be more worried than you are to have me in the house. If I've already killed at least three people, I might not be fastidious about killing one more.”
Edith looked at Ian standing at the side of the bed. He had started to put on his shirt, but it was still unbuttoned. It was a good shirt, cotton oxford, with a button-down collar. Sometimes it seemed to her that Ian dressed entirely out of a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, or maybe John O'Hara.
She walked out of the room and down the hall to the bathroom. She turned on the light and closed the door. She had jogging things hanging in the cupboard. She put those on, because she couldn't stand the idea of going back down the hall to her own bedroom. Everything in this house was cramped and old. Everything was—ordinary. Her jogging things were bright red. The pants had racing stripes down the outsides of the legs.
Dressed, she came back into the hall and listened. Ian was still in the bedroom. She could hear him swearing under his breath.
“I'm going down to the kitchen,” she called to him.
He didn't answer, but she didn't expect him to. For days now, she had known what was going on, what was happening to them. She had been in enough love affairs in the course of her life to understand when one had suddenly become unglued.
The energy was gone. The passion just seemed hallucinatory. Except that she had never been in this particular love affair for energy, or for passion. The truth of it was, Ian disgusted her, physically. He was the kind of pale, half-soft man who made her feel as if he were oozing.
The truth, she thought, as she got the coffee things out of the cupboards in the kitchen, was that lately all sex had started to disgust her—an offshoot of the onset of menopause, maybe, except that she'd heard that menopause had exactly the opposite effect. Her hands were shaking, but she wasn't frightened. She could hear Ian moving around upstairs, but he didn't threaten her. She kept trying to get a handle on her emotions and couldn't. She wasn't sad. She wasn't upset. She wasn't scared. She wasn't anxious. Even that deep pit of envy that she carried everywhere at the center of her heart had disappeared, dissolved in the acid of a rage so righteous and so complete that it was burning it up.
That's it, Edith thought. I'm angry.
Then she put the kettle on to boil and turned around to face the door that led into the dining room. He was coming, very slowly, as if he needed to let her know that nothing she did and nothing she said could make him hurry. She could hear his shoes, first on carpet and then on hardwood. He had taken the time to get dressed. She could hear him breathing. That was not as calm.
When he came through the door, he had a gun—and Edith found, to her surprise, that she had half expected that. She knew nothing about guns. This one looked big, and black, and could be held in one hand. Names flitted through her head—Smith & Wesson; Colt—but they meant nothing to her. She had all the lights on in the kitchen, but she could have looked out the bank of windows over the sink and seen those other lights, over at St. Anselm's.
“If it's really true,” Ian said, “that I killed at least three people, I don't think you should be trying to threaten me when you aren't even armed.”
“I didn't threaten you.”
“I think you did.”
Edith giggled. “I saw what you did,” she said, “and I know who you are.”
“It isn't funny, Edie.”
“I think it is.”
“I can't have you going around the city of Philadelphia telling people I added four extra names to the victims' list on the pedophilia case.”
“And pocketed the cash.”
“They'll assume I pocketed the cash, Edie. They'll assume that.”
“They'll be right.”
Ian did something to the gun—cocked it, Edith thought it was called. She wasn't sure. It was odd how she could be so little afraid of this thing. If it were loaded, it would be more than capable of killing her. She was sure it was loaded. She really didn't care.
“I thought you'd get away with it, when this started,” she said. “I thought you were smart enough for that. But I was wrong. There's no way you can get away with it. And now I don't really want you to. So that's that.”
“I could shoot you right here.”
“You won't.”
“You're the one who thinks I've killed three people.” Edith turned her head to the side and looked through the windows at the lights coming from St. Anselm's. Four, she thought. That's what that is over there. That would be four. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked back at Ian. She had gotten to him, finally. He was not only posturing, now. He was furious, almost as furious as she was, furious enough so that his hands were shaking, and the gun was jiggling up and down.
“I don't understand why you thought you could get away with it,” she said. “Coming in here, and taking what you wanted for free.”
“I don't know what you're talking about.”
“It doesn't matter what I'm talking about,” she said.
Ian raised the gun higher in the air, and steadied his hands.
Edith turned her back on him.
Roy Phipps knew, as soon as he saw the lights coming from the courtyard at St. Anselm's, that there had been another one.
He knew it the way some people know that rain is coming by the pains in their joints. Of course, he sent Fred down the street anyway—he had to send Fred, if only to save Fred's pride—but when he had the few details that could be learned by eavesdropping at the edges of the crowd, he knew nothing more than what he had already divined. It was funny, the way it worked out. If he had been a different sort of man, with a different sort of background, he might have become a psychic. He thought he would have been a good one. It was all one, really, ESP, speaking in tongues, transubstantiation, being slain in the spirit. It was all magic, only some of it, like the gifts of the Holy Spirit, was white, and some of it, like the Catholic Mass, was black as pitch. Except that Roy didn't much like calling the Evil Things “black.” No matter what else he was, he had never been an instinctively racist man. He would have welcomed black members into his church, if any had been interested in joining, but none ever were. The real divisions in the world were not between black and white, but between good and evil. He had always known which side was evil—but no, that wasn't true. For a few short years, at Princeton and later in graduate school, he
hadn't
known, and what he remembered of that time was an agony of confusion so great he had sometimes woken in the night in a panic, thinking that his head was about to split open. But it was funny the way
that
worked, too. He had seen it as soon as he had gone to the seminary, which was why he hadn't stayed, and why he hadn't allowed himself to be ordained in any of the small denominations that would have had him. Nothing that you allowed to become part of you ever really left you. He ministered to Fred, but he did it in a J. Press suit. He preached to men with dirt ground into the creases on their hands, but his own hands were as soft and clean and well kept as any New York banker's.
Now it was nearly nine o'clock, and the street was something like quiet. Roy had been standing at the windows of his office for nearly an hour, doing nothing. Sometime ago, a noise that sounded like a shot had come from the general direction of the house belonging to the atheist Edith Lawton, but it had probably been some kind of illusion. Roy had sent Fred up to check, and Fred had seen nothing worth reporting. Somebody was moving around in the kitchen, but he couldn't
tell who. Nobody was panicking. Nobody was screaming. Maybe it was a premonition. The atheist Edith Lawton was also the whore Edith Lawton. Her fancy man had come to visit hours before. His car was still parked in the street. Maybe the atheist Will Lawton would come home and find them together and shoot them both. For some reason, the thought of that made Roy feel extremely pleased, as if some part of his life had been vindicated.
Around him, the town-house church was quiet. Fred was leading a Bible study in the living room, but other than that there wasn't anything going on for the rest of the evening. Roy sometimes stopped in to the Bible study meetings to straighten out whatever mess they'd gotten themselves into. They read the King James, because they believed that was the only true version, but then they stumbled on the language. Sometimes Roy would read to them from the original Hebrew or Greek, and they would sit solemnly, listening and nodding, as if they understood him. If nothing else proved that it was all magic, that did.
Roy went out into the hall and listened. The living-room door was closed, and all he could hear was the low murmur of hesitation. They were “struggling” with a passage, meaning most probably that they were refusing to accept the plain truth of it. It took a long time to convince people that when God said “hate,” He meant hate, and when He said “kill,” He meant kill. America had been corrupted with the False Christ of compassion and love, as if heaven were supposed to be a vast kindergarten whose denizens could commit no more serious a wrong than running with scissors or drawing on the walls. Calvin had had it right. The vast majority of men were born destined to burn forever in the pit of hell.
Roy went out the front door and down the steps to the street. It was cold, and he wasn't wearing a coat, but he didn't particularly mind. He walked up the block until he got to the Lawton house and stopped. Fred was right, for once. There was no sign of anything wrong here. The front of the house was dark. The back of the house was lit up—there were lights on in the kitchen and the sunroom—but there was nothing to see, and no sounds of panic. He walked past and up to the end of the block, where St. Anselm's was, but there was still a police barrier there. It was set up in such a way that people
could enter the church, if they wanted to, and some people were doing just that They looked like the homeless people Father Healy had insisted on allowing to sleep on the pews. Roy himself had no patience with homeless people. If they were mentally ill, they belonged in mental institutions. If they were drunks or drug addicts, they belonged in the gutter. If they were anybody else—but Roy knew all too much about the ones who were anybody else. He had grown up with the ones who were anybody else.
He crossed the street to St Stephen's and stood for a moment at its front gate, resting his hand for a moment on the wrought-iron railing. Two men came out together and looked him over as they passed, but if they recognized him, they didn't say anything. Roy went up the walk and into the church, which reminded him eerily of the Princeton University chapel—but then, that made sense, because that was “affiliated” with the Episcopal Church, too. He went through the foyer and into the church and saw that, unlike St. Anselm's, there were no homeless people here—but then, he thought, there wouldn't be. It was one of the first things he had ever known about religion, and he had known it all the way back in West Virginia, when he was barely old enough to talk. Churches came and went, but the Episcopal Church was now and always would be the Church of the people who had the most money.
He was just thinking that he ought to go home—he had no idea what he was doing here—when he felt someone at his back and knew, with that same sense that had told him about the murder at St. Anselm's, who it was. At that moment, he was looking at the gold latticework that framed a picture that had been left on the marble altar, and for a moment he went on looking at it, although he couldn't make out what the picture was about. Then he straightened his back a little and turned, to see Dan Burdock standing behind him.
“I never understood where Episcopalians got the money for all that gold,” he said pleasantly. “Even in West Virginia, where I grew up, the Episcopalian church was full of gold. And it wasn't as if anybody there had anything like money.”
“Do you want to tell me what you're doing here?” Dan Burdock asked. “Are you trying to start another riot?”
“I'm standing in the middle of a church, admiring its altar.
I don't see how that could start a riot. Among normal people.”
“From what I remember, it wasn't my thoroughly normal people who started the riot the last time.”
Roy swung his head back in the direction of the altar. “No,” he said. “That's true enough, and on camera, so I won't bother to deny it. On the other hand, the blame for the escalation is entirely on you.”
“What are you doing here?” Dan Burdock asked again. “What could you possibly hope to accomplish? I've got one person dead myself and across the street—”
“The priest died. Yes, I know. We hear everything down the block, you know. We're not exactly in Siberia. Tell me, was it the same thing? Was it arsenic?”
“They'll have to wait for the autopsy.”
“They must have a guess,” Roy said. “I sent Fred down to find out, but you've met Fred. He isn't exactly a superspy.”
“Yes,” Dan said. “They think it's arsenic. I haven't actually been over there. I don't exactly have the nerve for that. Or the bad taste—”
“Oh, let's not get started on my bad taste.”
“Why not? Why not, Roy? You've chosen to make a vocation out of it, why not talk about it?”
“Why don't you just come out and say it? Why don't you just tell everybody that you're gay? Everybody knows it anyway. Your bishop must know it, by now. It's the cowardice I can't stand. It was the cowardice I couldn't stand at Princeton.”
“I thought it was the prep school you couldn't stand at Princeton.”
The pews in this church were made of carved and polished wood, with swirling ridges on the ends of them. Roy sat down on the arm of the one just behind him. He had entered the little Episcopalian church in Millard's Corner only once or twice, and been suitably impressed, but it had been nothing like this—or, for that matter, like the college chapels at Princeton and Yale and all the other places he had been since. He knew something about the Gothic aesthetic, about the idea that the house of God ought to reflect the glory of God, but he could never get used to it. In his mind, Christianity would always be a religion of the disenfranchised—of what, in his childhood, would have been called the deserving poor.
“I won't go away,” he said finally. “Oh, I'll go away now, in a bit. I've got work to do, and it's getting late. But I'm not going to disappear from down the block, and I'm not going to fall off the face of the earth. I'll be here as long as you're here. I'll move to wherever you decide to go next. As long as you stay in the ministry, I'll be here.”
“Would you disappear if I left the priesthood?”
“But you won't leave the priesthood,” Roy said. “You know that, and I know that. And your bishop won't throw you out. Oh, you'd be a little safer if you were in Newark with Spong, but not a great deal safer. You're safe enough. So you won't leave, and I won't leave, and I won't be quiet about what I see going on here. With the men. With you. Even if you're more discreet about it than most.”
“Roy, you could have taped every second of my sex life for the last twenty years, and it would be suitable viewing on
Sesame Street.”
“Really? How very intelligent of you. But then, you were always very intelligent. Not as intelligent as some other people, but very intelligent.” Roy got up off the pew's arm. “I came to look around, because I hadn't been in here before. I don't know why not. I should have come in and watched you on Sunday one week, but I never did. Have you ever come to watch me?”
“You know I haven't.”
“But you must have seen me, once or twice, at least in clips. I think they've broadcast me giving sermons a million times by now. They don't broadcast the whole sermon, and they're always trying to find the three seconds out of two hours when I look like I might be sweating, but they do broadcast me.”
“I don't know what you're getting at,” Dan said.
Roy stood up and brushed lint off his jacket. It was probably true. Dan probably didn't understand what he was getting at. On the other hand, as much as he would like to be understood, he had what he had come here to get, and there was no reason for him not to leave. He brushed lint off the arm of his jacket and wondered what it meant, that Dan was wearing a clerical collar and he was not. Really, it was worse than that. Dan was wearing one of those agonizingly tacky black polyester shirts meant to take a clerical collar, the kind you bought
out of a catalogue of clergy supplies, and Roy was wearing his best Brooks Brothers camel hair. Roy thought suddenly of D. James Kennedy, with his Coral Ridge Ministries, always dressed in academic robes to preach. Maybe it was just a kind of social anxiety. When you were not to the manner born, you had to rely on costumes.
“What's the matter now?” Dan asked.
Roy stuck his hands in his pockets. “Nothing is the matter. I wanted to see your church. I've seen your church.”
“Everybody is welcome in this church,” Dan said.
“Something tells me that I wouldn't be, if the men going back and forth around here realized who I was.”
“They realize who you are.”
Since this was possibly true, Roy let it go. He stretched a little and pivoted, taking in the choir loft, the altar, the tall stained-glass windows that lined both of the long sidewalls. It was a beautiful church. He wouldn't have expected anything else.
“Well,” he said, “I think that we've carried this as far as it can go. I'll talk to you later.”
“Of course.”
“Of course.”
Roy backed away, then turned around and went as slowly as he could out the doors to the foyer and out the doors there to the walk that led to the street. Men were still coming in and out, and he thought that Dan might be right. They might know who he was, and just be too polite, too circumspect, too God-damned private school to do anything about it. He wondered if they looked at him after he had walked past, but he knew that the one thing he couldn't do was to turn around to check. He went all the way onto the sidewalk and turned toward home without a backwards glance. He looked at St. Anselm's and saw that girl who worked with the homeless coming out the front doors and half-running to the corner. If he had had any sex drive at all, he would have wanted something like that girl to take to bed.
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