~ 39 ~
(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)
Fr. Michael Leavell, OP.
Sacred Heart Church
November 22, 1932
I left that train station with a sense of irrevocability. A page had turned; the lens of my experience had been shattered; life was never again to be what it had been.
Sheriff Blackwell drove me back to the rectory, his car no warmer during that seeming interminable ride than the frost edging my soul. He gripped the steering wheel, kept his own counsel, and left me to my reflexion. It was just as well, for I had no inclination for his society.
Red-hot thoughts of mayhem throbbed my temples and threatened to completely choke my angels of restraint. Memories of Sadie Faire crowded all my attempts at reasoning and beclouded the world around me.
Just how far I had tumbled into the pit of that black beast named revenge became apparent when Blackwell finally stopped the car. I remained utterly motionless for some moments, lost in a fantasy of Bloodworth on his knees, begging for mercy, the barrel of my revolver at his skull.
I believe that at that moment, Sheriff Blackwell mistook my silence for a loss of resolve; wrongly equated my priestly collar, like many are wont to do, as an indication of timidity.
If you’ve lost the stomach for going out to Echo Lake, Father, he said, I’ll understand.
I looked him dead in the eye and replied, Wallace and I will be at your office by noon.
A quizzical curl of his upper lip preceded his reply; Well, I’ll be waiting.
I simply nodded and got out of the car.
I entered the back door of the rectory into the kitchen and found Mrs. Sullivan at the stove, scrambling eggs with ham. She glanced up at me then returned full attention to her work. I walked past her to the percolator on the counter and poured myself a cup. As I took my first sip, Mrs. Sullivan spoke without looking up.
Everything alright, Father; You seem in a darkling mood, for so early in the day, if you don’t mind my saying.
I nearly laughed at her little addendum; Mrs. Sullivan had never, to my knowledge, ever qualified a comment or apologized for speaking her mind..
Before my reply, the thought occurred that Mrs. Sullivan was the only person in the world to have an inkling of my familiarity with Sadie; to discuss the discovery of Sadie’s mutilated body would only lead to more speculation, questions, and judgments in her mind, and further entangle her in affairs of which she should rightly have no part. I decided that the disappearance of the McCutcheon girl would be all the news that I would relate to our housekeeper regarding my early morning sojourn.
Tragedy has been visited upon Raven this past night, Mrs. Sullivan, I replied; A five-year-old girl named Daisy McCutcheon has disappeared.
The spatula in Mrs. Sullivan’s hand went still and she gave me a hard look.
Ethel McCutcheon is married to a bastard, she said; The kind of man that would beat his wife, wouldn’t hesitate to hurt his child.
I was taken aback, for I had never heard Mrs. Sullivan utter anything remotely linked to profanity, the vehemence of which confirmed my suspicions about Dan McCutcheon.
The little girl wandered off into the woods, I said, not for the first time apparently; There are men out looking for her right now.
Mrs. Sullivan grasped the frying pan and attacked the steaming eggs. A man like that doesn’t deserve children, she said; I hope they find the girl safe and sound, but only for Ethel’s sake.
Mrs. Sullivan glanced up at me again, then with an inscrutable look, returned her attention to the skillet and spoke. You had another woman inquiring after you this morning, Father; An older woman this time. She reached a hand into her apron pocket, retrieved a small white card, and thrust it toward me. Left this for you; Asked me to give it right as soon as I saw you.
I took the rumpled card from her hand and examined it.
On the reverse side, I found a short handwritten note: Room 16, Riddle Block.
I puzzled over the small missive for a moment. I have no acquaintance in Shropshire, have never set foot in that part of England, but if recent days have taught me anything, it is to always expect the unexpected. The coincidence of this oblique summons with the rest of this mornings events brought on a hunch that I had already seen, if not met, this Mrs. Pomeroy. I asked Mrs. Sullivan for a description of my visitor.
Well, she began, seeming to take some delight in my assigning her the task, I’d call her middle-aged; British and buxom, in the best sense of all that. She wore a long flecked-wool coat and carried a smallish carpetbag. She declined my invitation to wait for your return; handed me that card and asked me to give it to you. Very polite, and ladylike, if you take my meaning.
I took the meaning, alright; her last comment was a thinly veiled disparagement of my other recent female visitor, Sadie Faire. I wondered why Mrs. Sullivan would have sympathy for Ethel McCutcheon, but not Sadie. They were sisters in suffering; both ill-used by men they trusted; both in need of succor; both worthy of redemption. Are judgments by the fairer sex always thus against their own, that some mistakes are forgiven, while others are unto the mark of Cain.
I knew that I was correct in my decision not to discuss the discovery of Sadie’s body with Mrs. Sullivan. That news would breach these walls soon enough. Rumors and innuendo about Miss Faire would swirl about the town, and then Mrs. Sullivan would have no choice, as our faithful employee and a good Catholic woman, but to keep her tongue about Sadie’s clandestine visit to our rectory.
As for the mysterious Mrs. Pomeroy, Mrs. Sullivan’s description confirmed that she was indeed the woman I had seen on the platform at Page Street Station. But why did she depart so suddenly just as I approached if she had intentions to speak with me as soon as possible. Her note indicated that a private meeting is what she had in mind, a thoroughly private meeting, but to what end, I couldn’t fathom.
Go take your coat off and sit down, Mrs. Sullivan said; I’ll fix you breakfast.
I looked up from the card in my hand and stared at that small spitfire of a woman and wondered what she really thought of me at that moment; not much I conjectured.
Go with you, she said with exasperation; I’m sure you’ve plenty of work ahead today and you need to eat.
Her gruff but caring manner perplexed me; just when I thought I might predict her thoughts and motives, she slipped me a curve. I left her to the skillet of eggs, refilled my cup and went to the dining room.
I found Monsignor Byrne at the table, engrossed in the morning paper.
I pulled out a chair opposite, sat down with my coffee, stared into the cup and tried to make sense of all that had I had seen and heard in such a short time this morning. Inside the labyrinth of my thoughts, I heard my name echo, looked up, and saw the Monsignor staring at me.
I asked if everything was alright, Michael, he said; I can see by the looks of you that it is not.
Though concern laced his voice, the steel in his eyes spoke to a frustration with me and my furtive comings and goings of late. I took a sip of coffee and gathered my wits; I feared a round of parry and thrust to be in the offing with the Monsignor.
It’s been a long day this morning, Father, I replied; Sheriff Blackwell called me to his office before sunrise to counsel a couple who’s five-year-old child disappeared last night.
Good Lord, he exclaimed, any clues as to her whereabouts.
I’m afraid not, but there is a search party already in the field; It’s not the first time she’s wondered off. She claims to have a playmate, a young boy, who lives in the woods.
The old priest knit his brow, folded the newspaper to the front page and laid it before me. Have you seen this, he asked.
I immediately recalled what seemed to be the enigmatic comment made by the Porter at Page Street Station explaining his trepidation about venturing out into the night; he obviously had seen this edition.
The story below the lurid headline detailed several reports, subsequent to the discovery of Kendree Sinclair’s body. The corpses all bore the same marks–wounds consistent with an animal attack, and evisceration.
The headline spoke of a widening, which brings to mind the concentric circles in a pool after a stone is tossed into the water, but from the location of Kendree Sinclair’s body to the discovery of the latest victim, in a secluded location within a few miles of Echo Lake, it was a linear trail of death, inexorable as it twas mystifying.
I thought about Sadie’s defiled corpse.
And my meetings with Rhea Sinclair.
And my dreams of Katy.
And the discovery of the torture chamber at the Spiritualist Camp.
And the strange feral boy at Sterns-Carson.
And the apparitions in the Tavish spirit room.
And the licentious snow ghost.
All those events coalesced in my mind like a fantastic web, tattered and frayed; a gossamer net that would be unable to withstand even a breeze of reason. Versed in the mechanics of faith, trapped here between Heaven and Hell, I asked myself once again, can such things be. I sat back hard in my chair and rubbed my brow.
Monsignor Byrne pounced on my weary psyche like a lion on a lamb. There’s more that you are not telling me, Michael, he said; It’s not the first time lately either.
I dropped my hand and looked up into his knowing eyes, ashamed, embarrassed, but mostly regretful that my careful artifice of late had not been sufficient to allay Monsignor Byrne’s suspicions about my behavior. I decided to tell him about Sadie Faire, for he to, like Mrs. Sinclair, would hear the news soon enough. And since my intentions were to soon depart and gather Wallace to accompany Sheriff Blackwell to the Grand Hotel, I needed the Monsignor to feel as if he were in my confidence and an ally in my crusade.
A body was discovered along the tracks near Page Street Station last night, I said, a young woman; The Sheriff received the call while I was at his office and he asked me to accompany him to the scene. It was horrific.
Another of these maulings, he asked.
I balked at the question; Monsignor Byrne took note; and I knew that any type of obfuscation would not only be disrespectful, but also counterproductive.
She was a prostitute. Worked for Tavish. She came here yesterday on her way out of town, looking for help. I’m afraid I didn’t have much to offer. I assume she went to Page Street to wait for a train. They got to her before she could escape.
Monsignor Byrne sat back in his chair with a grim expression that he had never before countenanced with me. Who is, ‘they’, he asked.
The remainder of the Tavish gang, I said; They’re still at the hotel; Filthy leeches sucking the lifeblood out of what’s left of his vile enterprise.
Silence fell upon us. Monsignor Byrne fixed me with a flat gaze, sensing an imminent denouement to my commentary. I obliged in a succinct manner as possible.
They tortured the young woman before she was killed. Sheriff Blackwell is going out to the hotel later and confront them. He needs men. I volunteered myself and Wallace as Deputies.
Your civic duty, or something else, Michael, Monsignor Byrne said.
I’m striving to do the right thing, Father; Nothing more, nothing less. You are my Superior, if you forbid me to go, I will acquiesce to your wishes.
The Monsignor lifted his coffee cup from the saucer and reflected on the situation as he took a slow sip. I knew when the cup returned to its cradle, I would have my answer; and so it appeared, in measured tones.
You are a grown man, Michael. One I trust to make sound judgments. Just be careful that your heart does not rule your head. For a priest, there lies the path to confusion.
I had no more words, so with Monsignor Byrne’s thin yet tacit approval for my adventure, I excused myself from the table.
I climbed the stairs, entered my room and closed and locked the door behind me.
I pulled open the top dresser drawer, reached inside and retrieved the flannel bundle tucked in the far right corner. I laid it on the bureau.
Unfolded the wrapping.
I held the revolver in my hand.
Felt the the iron weight of it.
Checked the chamber.
And it seemed to me that I was no longer in control of my destiny.
That I was but a pawn in another’s game.
The psychic equivalent of an insensate drunk.
Falling forward with no control.
Rushing headlong into a destiny of another’s making.
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