Days of Grace
posted May 2004
With the weatherman predicting snow already and Thanksgiving just a few days away, Father Malachi knew from experience this was only the beginning of a harsh Cleveland winter. The city, hugging the shores of the great Lake Erie, was never treated gently by the northern winds pining down from Canada.
A draft pinched his neck and a tree branch scraped across the colorful window. Fearing the storm would break through the church pane, he turned around and saw the branch with its long claws reaching for him; it was as if the tree wanted to come inside and take away what was his.
Having ridden through many storms worse than this one, he shivered and turned his back against the window again. He buttoned his black, wool cardigan; took yet another sip of tea and tried to ignore the uncomfortable feeling this storm delivered.
He stroked his cold fingers across the short stubble on his chin while scanning the numbers in the book before him. The collection from last Sunday was larger than usual, he noted. Smiling, he quietly thanked the members of his parish.
“And you, my Lord,” he mused peeking at the small crucifix on the wall in front of him.
It was a good parish, a small community in a large town filled with temptations from the modern world: drugs were tormenting the youth, gangs fought wars to win respect and a shiny car, symbols of the good life. His followers were gentle though, they listened to him and tried to follow his lead toward a better life.
Father Malachi heard the subtle noises of the cleaning woman sweeping the floor beyond the closed door; he looked up as short thuds from the broom hitting the pews moved along. Swoosh, swoosh – the sound moved closer, then moved further away.
Comforted by the presence of someone else in the church, he sat back in the chair resting his tea mug against his flat belly and looked out across the room. The only light source was the desk lamp and the fire from the fireplace in the corner behind him. Intrigued, he watched as mysterious shapes brought to life by the fire danced across the solid walls of naturally pale limestone. He joined the dance till they shadowed the cabinet of the sacred vessels then he turned his gaze to the other side of the room. The collection of Thanksgiving pictures made by first graders overshadowed the picture of the Pope. Father Malachi smiled, realizing the children from the Urban Community School were far more enlightening than the Holy Father.
A yawn suddenly built up inside him. He let it out with a deep moan and reached for his long list of daily tasks. Several tasks still remained to be done. He had been busy: a meeting with the children's choir, preparations for Thanksgiving and the upcoming Advent services, interviewing volunteers to help with the free meals and now - checking the church finances. Time had chased him and he had hoped to stay ahead of it, but now, at the end of the day, he was being run over.
“Only a couple more pages, old man,” he muttered to himself and rubbed his itching eyes then returned to the account ledger laying open in front of him.
His gaze landed on a large donation made a few days ago. The donor was the widow of one of the city's construction lords; a family of money. When the head of the family died, the check was sent -- a contribution to the poor church; a plea for forgiveness and prayer for the scoundrel of a man to enter heaven. Malachi sighed. The man would end up in the scrolls as a man of great deeds although he had done nothing but run over people. This was something Malachi had seen far too often during his twenty years as priest of St Matthew; of late, it disturbed him.
“The church needs more than your money,” he mumbled, making three, small dashes in the margin next to the widow's name.
Another big yawn forced itself up through his mouth and an irritating headache snuck up to pound in his head. He drank the rest of the tea then put the mug back on the desk and let his face rest in the palm of his hands. The numbers in the book suddenly were getting fuzzy and he fought to keep his eyes open.
It was quiet, only the pop and spark from the fireplace kept him company. He noticed the noise from behind the door had ended.
Sometime later, when soft footsteps penetrated his consciousness he struggled to open his heavy eyelids. With his chin resting in his hands, he thought he saw the door was open but could only see a dark, human contour standing in the doorway.
“Are you done cleaning?” he asked. His voice sounded terribly groggy, he thought; the words seemed to fall out in slow motion. If the headache hadn't rumbled like thunder inside his head, he would have laughed at it. But instead all he could do was close his eyes.
Monday evening, around six o'clock, three days before Thanksgiving -- no one with a clear sense of mind would go to the grocery store during that time of the year; no one, but Grace Jacobson and what seemed to be 5000 other desperate souls.
“Excuse me.” Grace pushed her loaded cart past a man with two, screaming children. She turned hers into the pasta/bean/ethnic foods aisle.
The pasta was at the other end she deciphered from the items sign suspended above the shelves. Right in front of her was an older couple, blocking off even the smallest child from passing by. The man, dressed in a Cleveland Indians' ball cap and jacket, complained about the selection of baked beans. The woman argued, “These,” she held up a can, “are as good.” The man obviously did not want to listen.
Grace not so subtly tapped her fingers against her cart and craned her neck to see if the pasta really was still on the horizon. It was.
The woman, dressed in a pink down jacket and large, white hat picked out another brand of beans. Grace looked at her watch; she was late.
“This is not going to be pretty,” she mumbled just as the woman noticed her.
The woman's large body heaved in a chuckling response. Grace could have sworn she felt it through the floor. “I'm sorry, Honey,” she said to Grace, still chuckling. “This old man, he just can't live without his beans.”
The man looked as though he had been dragged into the store against his own will. Grace smiled weakly at him and started tapping against the cart again.
“You will see one day, young lady.” The woman chuckled on. “One day that Prince of yours will be as grumpy as this one.” She laughed aloud and gave her old man a flat slug across his cheek.
The rough slap caused Grace to jerk and she straightened up, expecting a scene. But the man just grinned and lovingly tweaked the woman's nose. Standing down, Grace shook her head.
The world is full of them , she thought, believing human nature to be more absurd every day.
The older couple slowly started to stroll forward and Grace quickly put her cart into motion. Pasta and then bread; that was all she had left to buy.
An unfamiliar sound suddenly penetrated through the human buzz. It was a cell phone; Grace kept pushing forward hoping, if she ignored the sound, it would be someone else's. It could be. She had never heard the ring tone before -- but then there was Fran.
This was one of Fran's morning amusements: to change the melody of Grace's cell phone. Several times, Grace had been among colleagues and criminals when, to everybody's amusement, an embarrassingly bad melody went off. Grace would always try to sound irritated, but the truth was she thought it was cute. The only one who knew that was Fran.
Unfortunately, it was her phone, no matter how much she wanted it not to be.
Grace stopped and reached inside her coat pocket, fishing it out. The name flashing in the display was exactly who she feared it would be.
Sighing, she hit the ‘talk' button. “Sean, I don't want to talk to you!” she barked just as a family with three children passed by.
A raspy, male chuckle hit her ear. “I know you love me, Jacobson. It is nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Can't think of anything worse,” Grace frowned as one of the children climbed up on a shelf. The mother yelped and lifted him down. Grace relaxed.
Sean hummed in her ear. “I think you can,” he said. “I'm right now looking at a dead priest hanging from a beam in his sacristy.”
Grace's eyebrows arched and her senses flipped over to red alert. “Who?”
“Father Malachi Craigan at St. Matthew.”
The turmoil of holiday shopping vanished around Grace; the woman with the children left the aisle and Grace was alone. Taking a deep breath the buzz of humanity returned. She brushed her hand over her face, knowing it was time to focus.
“I'll be there in fifteen minutes,” she said and hung up.
Forcing herself through the crowed, Grace reached the cashiers. The lines were longer than a week. Grace looked at her fully loaded cart then her watch. She did not want to leave only to fight through the grocery store again later. Quickly, she reached inside her coat.
“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen,” she called out in a clear voice and flashed her badge. “Police business! I need to come through!”
The people in line grudgingly gave way. Quickly, Grace paid for her groceries and headed out to face the wind-chilled evening.
37 years old, Grace was an experience homicide detective of the Cleveland Police Department.
A native of Buffalo, she majored, to her mother's dislike, in criminal justice at Buffalo State University. Grace's father, a National Parks Ranger and Grace's hero, was more supportive. In his characteristic lack of big words, he patted her shoulder and said, “You take care of yourself now, Blondie.”
Her mother, who had named her daughter after the most beautiful woman she'd ever known - Princess Grace, declared she was not going to be able to sleep knowing her Grace could be in danger. It was not the first time she said this and definitely not the last time. It would take years before her mother understood that Grace's life was a fairytale quite different than the Princess of Monaco's.
Tossing all her things into the car, Grace began her drive for St Matthew only a few blocks away. As soon as she left the parking lot, she picked up her phone and hit speed dial. The warmth in the voice that shortly would answer made her smile.
“You're late!” a voice barked in answer.
The tone of the woman answering was not exactly what people might combine with warmth but for Grace it was. “Hi, Francesca,” she said softly.
“You do know, Grace, the only time you call me Francesca is when you're going to tell me something I don't like.”
Grace grinned. “Am I that obvious?”
Silence fell. Grace turned left onto West 25th and caught the traffic light outside of Westside Market. Stopping, she saw the traffic lights swing about from the wind and she steeled herself thinking they would fall down on her.
“What has happened?” Fran asked.
The light turned green and Grace continued her drive. She said, “I have bad news, Fran.” She held on for a moment, not wanting to give this message but knowing she had to. “Father Malachi is dead.”
The other end of the line went silent. It was not that Francesca Gentile, Grace's partner, had a personal relationship to the reverend but her parents did. At least they talked about him as if they did. The Italian couple had chosen St Matthew many years ago as their family church and Fran, her five brothers and sisters were all christened there. Fran was not much for going to church but her mother and father attended regularly. Father Malachi was their connection to God.
Grace knew Fran was shaken. She would have preferred to tell her in person when she got home, but knowing the media she chose to do it now; TV and the rest of media outlets would most certainly already be there; like hungry lions they would hope to get something juicy to chew on.
Eventually, Fran asked. “How?”
Keeping one eye on the road, Grace let her mind be with Fran. “It looks like he hung himself.”
“It can't be true,” Fran cried.
Trying to stay calm and focused, although her heart ached with Fran, Grace said, “Sean only told me what he saw. I'm on my way there now.”
Fran stuttered. “I can't believe this. It can't be true.”
Grace let go of the wheel for a second; brushed her hand through her short, blond hair. “Listen, I will be home as soon as I can. Call your parents and prepare them.”
After a long pause Fran sighed. “Yes, I will.”
A baby cried in the background and Grace could not help but smile. “It sounds like someone is upset over there,” she said, hoping this would bring Fran back to what was important in life.
Faintly laughing, Fran replied, “Well, someone has been without diapers for quite a while now.”
Seeing the church coming closer, the frenzy of police lights and TV vans; Grace was quickly reminded of where she was going. Hers and Fran's son, Eric, only six months old, was safely going to be cared for – diapers or not. Although Grace wanted to turn around and head for safety, she knew it was impossible. She had a job to do.
She parked among the squad cars and said, “I'll be home before you can blink. But, Fran, I've got to go, now. Give Eric a kiss.”
“I love you, Grace,” the woman on the other end of the line said and hung up.
Sitting in the shelter of the car, Grace braced herself to step out to the fray. With the phone still in hand, she sighed and whispered, “I love you, too.”
As soon as Grace stepped out from the car the media hawks swooped around her. She scanned the area, wondering where her colleagues were to hold them off. The sharp wind, slicing in across the Flats was probably one reason for their absence. Grace shivered and pulled her coat tighter around her.
A microphone blocked her way. “Detective Jacobson! Was he murdered?”
Grace ignored the reporter and jogged to the safety behind the blockade. Still hearing the reporters shouting behind her, she walked with fast strides up the stairs into the church.
Well inside, Grace faltered for a moment not knowing where to go. Although the church was full of people – most of them police officers – there was a calmness embracing the atmosphere. Everyone was talking softly and with a certain respect she usually did not see elsewhere.
Nodding toward familiar faces, she decided to take the left aisle where most people stood talking to one another. Grace caught a word here and there along her way: “Pay cuts, faith, trust no one.” They were worried, yet, Grace could not help but wonder if they didn't have anything better to do than just hang out.
She observed her partner, Sean Leary, standing next to a man and a woman with his note pad in hand. His hair was perpetually awry and Grace wondered if he had already lost the comb she gave him last week. She grinned just as he glanced up and saw her. Suspiciously, Sean squinted his eyes at her but nodded and continued taking notes. Grace figured by now she had spent a month's pay on combs.
Grace continued. Candles burned on the altar table creating magical reflections on the crucified Son of God on the wall above. Hanging on the cross, Jesus sorrowfully looked down on her as if searching for understanding. Grace had none to offer.
Soon, Sean caught up to her. She heard his ragged breathing announce his arrival. Fifty years and a few, divorced twice and a little too honest for most people; Detective Leary was the one who knew everybody in town, knew every corner of the city and did not care what he looked like and what he said. He was easy to dislike and hard getting to know, but somehow Grace found herself lucky working with him. His bad cop attitude had more than once led way for Grace to get people to open up.
“Who are they?” Grace asked hinting at the man and woman behind them.
Looking at his note pad, Sean read, “Mrs. Pamela Griffins, 45 years old. She works as a cleaner here and was the one who had the honor of finding him. And,” he looked at his notes again. “William Lindsay – Brother William Lindsey.”
Grace stopped and threw a glance at the woman. “Poor lady,” she whispered. “She'll have a haunting image following her for a while.”
“Amen,” Sean added.
Grace saw Brother William put his arm around Mrs. Griffins, who leaned her face against his chest. “What about the friar?” Grace asked seeing him brush his hand across Mrs. Griffin's back.
“He works here and lives just around the corner,” Sean replied, chewing on his pen. “He saw the commotion and came running.”
Nodding, Grace filed the names in her memory and moved on into the sacristy.
The crime scene was like every other crime scene Grace had been to: crowded. Technicians were in full progress of collecting evidence; a photographer was shooting pictures from every angle of the scene, one man was dusting black powder on the desk and chair in search for fingerprints. Extra lights had been brought in and the room was now stifling hot. Strolling deeper into the room, Grace noticed a faint glow in the fireplace, the chair behind the desk was leather, on top of the desk a white mug tipped on its side and beside it a book lay open. Grace peeked down at the book. An a ccounting ledger , she stated quietly
The victim lay on the floor in front of the desk. A slender figure, dressed in a Coroner's office dark-blue jacket, was kneeling by him examining the upper regions. Because of the examination, Grace could not see Father Malachi's face, only his legs.
“Who took him down?” Grace asked.
Sean, standing next to her, fiddled with the pen in his hand. “The doc and I did. After she'd done the first exam and pictures had been taken.” He paused for a beat. “I say he's been down for some ten minutes.”
The pathologist seemed totally absorbed in what she was doing and Grace let her take her time. Having never seen the doctor before, Grace unconsciously studied the woman from behind: ash blond hair tied back in a leather thong slipped back and forth across her back as she looked from one side to the other, her back was slender and her buttock -. Grace stopped looking.
There is a dead body in here, Grace. Do your job and check out only the crime scene, will ya?
Frowning at her silliness, Grace could not help but wonder where this attitude came from. It was not the first time she let her mind tip toe away from the seriousness of a situation. A defense mechanism, she figured. The hopelessness she felt for the evil in society surfaced with the call about someone's tragic death, but soon after she entered the scenes, she changed, became almost immune to the emotional reality. This evening's distraction was the new pathologist.
Starting over again, she focused on the dead man. Grace noted his polished shoes, black pants, and black – maybe gray - socks. Spotless. Her investigation trailed up along his legs finding nothing of interest when she suddenly --.
“That is one nice pair of boots,” she said aloud looking at the doctor's feet.
Sean grunted next to her. “God, Grace! Sometimes,” he shook his head, “you are such a girl.”
“What?” Grace looked at him, not understanding what she had done wrong. “Look at the boots, Sean. Alligator!”
Chuckling softly, the doctor looked up above her shoulder. In a soft drawl, she responded, “And they're real. Some ol' gator lost his life over these.”
The doctor looked older than Grace anticipated. How old was hard to tell; her face seemed wrinkled by too much sun or wind. But her eyes sparkled and Grace liked her immediately.
“Where did you get them?” she asked, looking down at the boots.
The doctor slowly stood up. “Justin Boots in Fort Worth, Texas.”
Grace laughed. “Where else.” She raised her hand slightly and fluttered her fingers. “Detective Grace Jacobson.”
“Patty Steel, your new forensic pathologist in this hole in the world.”
Grace laughed again but Sean sighed and she felt his irritated gaze, so she put on her command mask. Clearing her throat, she began again, “So, what do we have here?”
Turning back to the lifeless body on the floor, Patty explained the victim had died less than a couple of hours ago. “Rigor mortis have set in to the smaller muscles but the large ones were still relaxed.”
“He hung by this extension cord,” Patty said and pointed at a white bundle in a plastic bag on the floor.
Pursing her mouth in thought, Grace commented, “That's not much to hang by.”
“Well, he more or less leaned into it.” Patty pointed at a chair laying on its side explaining he must have climbed up on the chair; tied the one end of the cord around the beam, the other end around his neck. “Then he just leaned forward.”
‘Morbid' was the first word that came into Grace's mind. It must have taken quite a while to die that way, she pondered as she let her eyes rest on the body on the floor. She had never heard a bad word about the old man; only good things like his enthusiasm for the community and how well he understood peoples struggle in life. Why would a man like that end his life in such a grotesque way? It must have taken him forever to die.
As if sensing his partner's thoughts, Sean asked, “Was he murdered?”
Patty shrugged. “At the moment, I can't tell, but,“ she squatted next to the body and pointed out the marks around his neck. “The noose was fixed, so the cord moved upward.” She pointed at the wide, red lines indicating the extension cord had slid up along his neck. “But I can't find any signs of struggle.” She looked up at the detectives. “A murder victim usually has other kinds of bruises. It is not that easy to get someone up on a chair and lynch them.”
Grace looked around the room again. The ledger on the desk, the overturned mug next to it. Otherwise, the desk was neatly in order. No signs of a fight.
Walking around Patty, Grace squatted next to her. She looked around noticed the floor was shiny clean except for a few lumps of dirt right by the wall. Malachi's eyes were slightly open, his tongue protruded between his lips; his face was expectedly pale. He seemed calm, without fear. Nothing in his expression revealed terror – nothing. “Wouldn't he have panicked?” she asked without looking at Patty.
“Well, suicide or not: probably. But we have no signs of panic so far.”
Something about this is too peaceful, Grace thought as she stood up. She was about to tell Sean her suspicion, but the voices outside the sacristy picked up. As though cued, Sean turned to the door, as did everyone in the room. In stepped the man both Grace and Sean had expected to see but silently hoped they would not: Bishop Collina.
The tall, gray haired man, head of the Cleveland Diocese stood still shifting his gaze around the room as if not knowing where to look or to whom to talk. Grace stepped forward and offered him her hand.
“Bishop Collina, I'm Detective Jacobson and this,” she let Sean in, “is my partner, Detective Leary.”
The bishop's grip was as weak and lifeless as the man on the floor; his eyes did not meet either of them. Instead he found Father Malachi on the floor. Transfixed by the view, his face paled severely.
“Oh, Malachi,” he said taking a step forward, his eyes shiny. “What have you done?”
Sean quickly put his hand on the bishop's arm, saying, “Bishop Collina, why don't we step out of here.”
Suddenly unsteady, his voice faint, his lower lip quivering, Collina met Sean's gaze and whispered, “I don't understand.” Without waiting for a response, Collina looked away and took a step closer to Father Malachi's body.
“Careful,” Patty protested as the Bishop stopped right by the body.
Grace was about interfere when she felt Sean's hand on her shoulder. Wondering, she looked at him but immediately turned back to Collina when he softly began to speak. It was a prayer; subtle words Grace barely could hear. The investigators stopped what they were doing and bowed their heads in respect.
The moment was over as quickly as it had started and the investigation continued. Sean walked up to the Bishop and said, “Your Eminences, let's go.” With his hand resting against the bishops back, Sean led the him out from the sacristy.
Before following, Grace told Patty she would drop by the lab in the morning. Back in her own puzzle of work, Patty just waved her off.
Sean and the Bishop had taken refuge in one of the pews. Grace sat down one row in front of them. Grace observed the two of them while they were in conversation. Collina's face was well defined. A pair of steel rimmed glasses sat on his nose, not on the tip like so often seen, but with a perfect fit.. His eyes were red as if he had cried and his jaws moved from side to side. The bishop seemed tense or perhaps nervous.
Sean sat with his left arm resting behind Collina's back; it looked as if he was comforting him, holding him up. The idea was quite amusing and in a different situation Grace would have smiled at him.
“We'll need the names and phone numbers of everyone working for the parish,” Grace heard Sean say. Grace observed how Sean leaned a little closer to Collina when he spoke; Sean acted like a father figure. This caring side of Sean took Grace off track and she forced herself to ignore it.
Looking directly at Collina, Grace could not help but wonder why he looked so tense. She did not question his sadness, but the tenseness was nagging her. His hands twisted in his lap and his eye darted about. He did have a reason, but it was as if his emotions were sitting on the outside. She would have thought a man of his position was used to everything between life and death; that tragedies like this was not as uncommon as many would believe. Grace, who did not have much faith in the church and thought it hid way too much of the truth, tried to decide whether the tears in his eyes were real or not.
Gently, she asked, “Do you know if Father Malachi had any personal problems?”
The Bishop looked abruptly at her.” Like what?”
Grace shrugged. “I'm asking you, Sir.”
She watched him swallow, his gaze seeking help from something behind her; Grace waited for an answer.
“Not that I can think of, Detective Jacobson,” Collina responded strained. “But I do not know everything.”
She looked at Sean for support. Her partner - raised Irish catholic - now appeared a size smaller sitting next to the man of the cloth. Collina sat with his back straight, Sean had removed his arm from behind his back and the distance between them grew. Grace had never heard Sean talk about going to mass; mostly, he just made fun of the church; its flaws and restraint on people. But now with his brows furrowed and posture strained, his usual attitude was gone and he seemed nervous.
Deciding to talk to Sean later, Grace turned back to Collina and steadily looked him. “What we have so far is a suicide, but until the Coroner verifies it, there is a chance someone else is involved. If we end up with a murder, I expect you to fully cooperate with the investigation.”
Collina did not answer immediately. Instead he held onto Grace's look; Grace felt challenged and was about to look away when Collina said, “Of course.”
“Good.” Grace took a deep breath and stood up. “Give your contact information to Detective Leary.” Still sitting, the man all of a sudden seemed humanly small and Grace could not help but be sympathetic. She put a hand on the bishop's shoulder; he flinched. Grace smiled and said, “Don't worry, Father. We will find the truth.”
For a blink of an eye, Collina peered at the hand on his shoulder. Grace removed it and the bishop looked up. “Thank you, Detective.”
Grace felt the appreciation was for removing her hand. Beyond that something was strange: the victim too calm – even for a dead person, the Bishop too tense.
Looking at Sean, Grace motioned for him to walk with her to the door.
“Use all your acolyte charm.” Grinning, she looked at him but Sean seemed dead serious so Grace pushed away her playfulness. “Let's hope it was suicide, Sean. It will be much easier.” She paused as they reached the outer door; saw the lights for TV, the cameras, and the reporters.
Turning to Sean, she observed his clouded expression as he looked out over the crowd outside. She whispered, “It will be really ugly if it is murder.”
Sean nodded. “Yeah. I'm not very keen on digging in the Church's dirt. Too much crap can surface.” He looked at her. “Say hello to Fran, Grace.”
Leaving her partner behind, Grace pushed herself through the crowd of media and other curious bystanders. Questions kept hailing over her. “Was he murdered? What did Bishop Collina say? Are there any suspects?” Grace ignored them. There was too much she didn't know and Grace had no intention of being the one who started the gossip. Not until she shut the car door behind her, did she find peace to breath.
“Too many questions,” she muttered and started the car.
It was a spring night eight years ago when Grace met Francesca Gentile for the first time. Grace had gotten a knife wound in her hand after foolishly trying to separate two men fighting, and it had to be stitched together. Francesca - Fran - was the doctor who gently cleaned her wound and put bandages around it - all the while lecturing Grace on using her brain before trying to save the world. Grace felt small – embarrassed even - as the 5'10 doctor reprimanded her.
Six days later, Grace was shot in action and again brought in. Grace remained unconscious until the next day. When she woke up, carefully peeking through her eyelids, it was Fran who was standing next to her bed checking her stats.
Grace heard a soothing female voice whisper, “Good morning, Officer Jacobson.”
Not able to put two and two together, Grace tried to sit up. Pain exploded like knives twisting through her stomach and she fell back against the pillow. Fran immediately reached out and wiped sweat off her patient's forehead. Mumbling something that may have been thank you, Grace fell back into a disturbing sleep.
The next time Grace woke up, Fran was there, again reading her chart. Grace observed her: hair tied back exposing a concerned but warm face, she quickly wrote something on the chart. Grace liked what she saw.
“Don't you have other patients to take care of?”
Seemingly surprised, Fran looked up and smiled. “None as eager as you are to be here,” she responded and wrote more in the chart.
Grace chuckled but the pain returned and she forced herself to stop. Instead, she watched the doctor walk around the bed to stand next to her. Grace noted her smile, her confident eyes, and her hand that softly yet steady grasped her wrist.
When Fran turned on a small flashlight, leaned down to examine her pupils, Grace mumbled, “Maybe it would be easier just to ask you out?”
Still, to this day, Grace blamed her bravado on the medication. If she had been in her right state of mind, she would never have dared to ask – even if it was meant as a joke. The moment she heard her own words though, she thought they sounded as if she meant it.
Fran's response deepened the memory. She stopped her examination, yet kept looking into Grace's eyes. The distance between them was unprofessionally close - only a few inches and Grace could feel Fran's breath against her cheek. Eventually Fran replied, “Perhaps you should before you are mortally wounded.” She then backed away.
Grace did not know what to say then, but one month later she did. Strolling into the emergency room, she saw Fran sitting on a stool taking care of a patient. Grace stopped; the determination she had walked in with vanished and she suddenly felt dizzy. Taking a deep breath, she burst into the smile she had practiced in front of the bathroom mirror back home. At that moment, Fran looked up.
Fran seemed to falter but in moments she smiled. She said something to her patient, stood up and walked to Grace. “I haven't seen you in a while, Officer Jacobson.” Her smile was subtle, almost arrogant; for Grace it was extremely sexy.
Forcing herself to relax, Grace grinned. “I've tried to get injured but -,” she shrugged.
Laughing, Fran brushed her hand across Grace's arm. The gesture was friendly but to Grace it felt like a third degree burn. She flinched and Fran, who saw her reaction, quickly withdrew and hid her hands inside her coat pockets.
A moment of awkward silence fell. They looked at one another: Grace wanted to say why she was there, Fran waited to hear it.
“Listen, Francesca -.” Looking away, Grace fidgeted and brushed her fingers through her hair; she scratched her neck and ear before she forced herself to look at Fran. “I was wondering if you would like to have dinner with me?” Grace tried to remain cool, confident, but she was shaking. She felt her hands begin to sweat as Fran started casting nervous looks around the Emergency as if she was expecting someone to laugh at her. The answer Grace wanted from Fran seemed forever in coming. Off to the side, a man threw up on a nurse, an old drunk woman called another nurse “fascist” and one doctor ran to help in a trauma room. Not the most romantic of situations, she realized while her own heart beat so fast it almost made her sick.
Finally, Fran's scanning eyes returned to Grace. Shaking her head; Fran took a step closer, put her hand around Grace's clinched fist and whispered; “This will never go well, Officer Jacobson.”
Eight years later, Grace cut the curb and parked in the driveway to their house. The porch light faintly lighted the white two-story, Victorian house; inside, she could see the light from the TV flicker off the living room walls. The soft light from a lamp in Eric's room on the second floor signaled to Grace their son was in bed.
With ten bags in her hands and one pack of diapers under her arm, Grace stumbled up on the porch. With fingers beginning to cramp, she let herself in without dropping one bag.
“Fran, I'm home!”
She kicked the door closed with her foot and hurried through the living room and into the kitchen with her load. Everything dropped with a big bounce to the floor and she wriggled out of her wool jacket, tossing it on a stool next to the kitchen bar. Shaking life back into her numb fingers, she saw the jacket slowly slide down on the floor.
Ignoring it, she took a deep breath and relaxed. Nothing like home, she thought standing among the ocean of bags, gazing around the kitchen. The shiny, white coffeemaker; the dishcloth neatly folded over the faucet and the recycling container with used tealeaves and coffee ground. Grace could smell garlic and lemon; had Fran made her favorite --marinated chicken? The mere thought made her mouth water and her stomach growl.
She quickly grabbed one of the bags from the floor, opened the fridge and started to fit the things onto the already jam-packed shelves. Whistling a tune, she forced bags of carrots and celery into the vegetable crisper, yogurt and eggs on the shelf above.
Suddenly, the TV news penetrated her awareness. Freezing her movement, Grace heard the news anchor speaking with amplified compassion about Father Malachi's death. The reporter said, “People fear a murderer is loose in town.”
“Damn,” she hissed. Dropping the grocery bag to the floor, she dashed into the living room. On TV, the news anchors shook their heads in despair as one reporter speculated. Frowning, Grace shut the TV off.
As she returned to the kitchen, she heard Fran's familiar footsteps rapidly coming down the stairs. Grace quickly continued unpacking.
“Gee, Grace,” Fran hissed. “Can you make more noise?”
With her head still inside the fridge, Grace mumbled, “Sorry.”
Fran continued complaining that Eric woke up from the most subtle sound; Grace countered he could sleep though a tornado blowing the house all the way to Pennsylvania. The fact that Fran spent much more time with the baby and probably knew best was not enough for Grace. One day, she would ask Eric who was right.
Closing the door, she saw Fran smiling on the other side. Grace could not find one moment when her lover didn't take her breath away. Her long, dark hair and the bluest eyes ever. Tall and strong.
Grace let herself be swept away into Fran's tender embrace. Four inches shorter, she leaned her head against Fran's neck and relaxed.
Feeling Fran's heart pulse against her cheek and smelling the sweet scent of her perfume, Grace asked, “Did you talk to your parents?” She felt Fran tense.
“Yes,” Fran whispered in response. She paused a couple of seconds then took a deep breath. “Mother is devastated and is becoming more miserable glued to the TV.”
Grace sighed. Fran's mother was a woman of great emotion and Grace figured she was acting them out to the very maximum right now.
It was one of those moments in her life she never would forget - the first time Grace met Fran's family. Sunday dinner at uncle Vito's restaurant and Grace had felt all of Italy was present, starring at her as Fran presented Grace - her girlfriend. The moment felt very awkward for Grace and it certainly didn't make her feel better when she realized Fran had not told her mother and father about being gay. Her mother ran crying out to the kitchen and her father sat still, determinedly pounding his fist against the table. The rest of the family – her brothers and sisters – kept quiet. Needless to say, the dinner was not a smooth start for their official relationship but slowly, Grace won the hearts of her in laws. In retrospect, she was actually quite pleased how it all had worked out. She became accepted for who she was, not because she was Fran's partner. But that Sunday, she learned that a life in an Italian family was not comparable to her hushed Lutheran one.
Fran's soothing embrace allowed Grace to feel tired. She yawned and closed her eyes for a moment. Father Malachi's face, his lifeless gaze appeared in her mind. She tried to ignore it, hoping it would go away but it did not. Tightening the embrace, she opened her eyes again.
“He didn't leave a note,” Grace mumbled starring at a drop of water leaving the tap over the sink. “He didn't fight. He just seemed to have -,” Grace paused trying to find what she believed. “He just seems to have died.” The explanation was vague, but she could not come up with anything else.
Fran whispered she had seen far too many strange deaths in her lifetime, and working in the emergency was at times hard. Suicide victims often failed. Fran had seen them; poorly cut wrists, a shot through the head that missed the brain only to deform the face; pills for days. She told Grace that Father Malachi was like one of those who would fail: the one's whose time to die was not now. She found it also odd he would actually know how to succeed in committing suicide.
Sighing, Grace agreed. She was uncomfortable with the thought of suicide. “I don't even understand why anyone would need to know how to do it,” she mumbled letting her lips brush across Fran's warn skin. Why would anyone wish to die?
From there on the day's horror blew away from the Jacobson-Gentile residence. Fran kissed the top of Grace's head. “You should take a shower.”
Placing daring kisses along Fran's neck, Grace frowned at the implication.
Fran giggled. “The quicker you take a shower, the sooner we can get to bed.”
Grinning, Grace opened her eyes. Bed, she thought loosening the grip around Fran's waist. “I like that,” she said and trailed her hands in under Fran's black, cotton shirt; feeling her skin, the line of her bra. “I like that a lot.”
Softly, Fran chuckled. “I know you do.” She took Grace's hand and placed it over her breast. “Perhaps you need help showering?”
Grace swallowed, the beat of her heart speeding up. “I believe I do.”
Continue to Part 2