Days of Grace
by Elize

Part 3
posted  July 2004
 
 

 
 

12

Before Sean's performance in the church, Grace had planned on driving to Mary Parker's place on the other side of town, but now the mere thought of spending half an hour in the car with her grumpy partner choked her. The more she thought about his behavior toward the young friar, the more out of hand she believed he had been. For her, the young man was expressing his emotions in the way he knew, but Sean somehow seemed to take it personally. She had seen his scruffy behavior before, but this time she was not willing to tiptoe around it. His arrogance and religious beliefs was not what she nor this investigation needed.

Without any explanation Grace turned into the garage under the police headquarters. Sean didn't make any comment and Grace was glad he kept his mouth shut. In her opinion, he had opened it far too many times already.

With focus straight ahead, they marched by Mrs. Kolinsky's desk – Sean first, Grace three steps behind; neither of them said ‘Hello'. Mrs. Kolinsky peeked up at them and shook her head. Grace heard her sarcastic comment, “Babies.” A raspy chuckle followed, but Grace ignored her. The woman could not possibly know how it was to work with an old dog like Sean.

Seated at her desk in the office, Grace tried to work away the irritation by studying the church's accounting ledger. The numbers looked like any other numbers from bookkeeping: debit and credit, red and black. Grace was not much for accounting, but from time to time she tried to keep the book at home. It usually never lasted longer than a week. The truth was far too painful.

Back to the church's books, she noticed most numbers were in the debit column. St Matthew's seemed to be as poor as the rumor said: heating was expensive, as was electricity. Father Malachi's paycheck was not much to celebrate, $18,000 a year. Then there were costs for Mary Parker, Pamela Griffin and a maintenance company, Gordon's Yard and Building Maintenance LLC. Candles, wine and sacramental wafers were ordered from an online company : catholicsupply.com. Grace smiled. The World Wide Web had indeed reached a large audience. In the income column she found weekly collections of about $3000, a sale of entertainment books brought in quite a sum and special donations -- the largest one $30,000. At a glance, Grace thought the church got more money than she had expected but she honestly didn't know what would be considered a lot in these circumstances.

Someone had made small, barely visible marks in the margin next to some of the income posts. The $30,000 had one, as did the collection from April 13 and September 21. Dashes -- at one account there were three dashes, by another two. What did it mean?

Grace sat back in the chair, ledger in her lap and looked through the window just as a flock of seagulls passed by the window. Chewing on the back of her pen, she made a mental note to talk to Mary Parker about the notation marks.

A company by the name of Connor's Food Imports was a reoccurring account. The name sounded familiar, but Grace could not remember from where. She peeked at Sean, his grumpy, old face and wild hair. Her partner sat sunken down in his chair. Mindless of the world around him, he watched his computer monitor; his eyes scanned whatever was on the screen and occasionally he clicked the mouse. Grace assumed it was Solitaire.

“You seem thoughtful, Grace.”

Interrupted by a familiar voice, Grace looked up at Dodge. He frantically chewed gum at a frequency that made Grace nervous. “If you need any help, I'm willing,” he said and popped the gum.

Sean frowned from behind his computer; nibbling her lower lip, Grace pondered whether she should shove the gum down Dodge's throat or accept his offer. Young and full of enthusiasm, he was, unfortunately, gifted with a great serving of bad luck. Dodge could use some encouragement, Grace thought.

“Do you know anything about a Connor's Food Imports?” she asked. The gaze from Sean burned on her cheek but Grace refused to look at him.

A bubble from Dodge's gum snapped again. “I think I can help you with this,” he said and sprinted the two steps to his desk.

Grace nodded and eagerly rolled her chair after Dodge.

Dodge sat down and fished up his PDA from the desk. “I'm positive I've come across this place in my recent interviews, he mused and switched on the device. He rapidly clicked with the little pen across the screen. “It must be in here -- somewhere.”

After two minutes of clicking without result, Grace felt her hopes falter. Humming and cursing, Dodge's face became more strained. He swept his hand across his now flushed cheek and muttered something Grace could not hear. She knew he really wanted to help and she honestly felt for him. But as Dodge gave up on the PDA and started rummage through the file folders on his desk, Grace discretely rolled back to her desk.

Sean sat back in his chair, his hands resting on his round belly. Grace could see from the corner of her eye he smirked. Damn it , she cursed inwardly while looking at Dodge.

“I know I've seen it.” The tone of Dodge's voice was about to reach desperation and Grace knew she would have to give up on him. It was going to be painful.

Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and counted to ten before slowly exhaling. “Never mind, Dodge,” she muttered as she opened her eyes again.

Dodge's shouldered relaxed, his enthusiasm faded. “Sorry.”

“Yeah.”

Sarcastic satisfaction radiated from Sean. If Grace had been alone she would have screamed right about now, but she bit back all her frustration and looked down at the account ledger on her desk. The name Connor's flashed at her as if it was written in neon.

“I hate this job,” she muttered and grabbed a pencil so hard her hands whitened. Without looking up, she addressed Sean, “What is Connor's?” Her tone of voice would have scared children.

Sean did not respond. The pencil in her hand, again, Grace counted to ten before she looked up at her partner. He nonchalantly rocked in the chair, his hands still on his belly. “What?” he said smugly. “Are you talking to me?”

Grace gritted her teeth, promising herself never to invite the man to her house again. “Yes, I am talking to you, Sean!”

“Oh.”

Grace winced.

“What did you say, Grace?”

“I asked if you know anything about Connor's Food Import?”

Sean hummed. “I didn't hear that, but since you asked so nicely --.” He smiled; Grace shot back a grin. “If I say Andry Chirkin will that give you a clue?”

Not only was he patronizing her, she would have to guess. Grace knew she couldn't think straight when she was angry and so did Sean. But she was not going to let him take the final score. Forcefully, she swallowed her pride. The taste was bitter.

The name Andry Chrikin did sound familiar and by focusing she quickly figured out from where. “He owns one of a nightclub on St Clair!”

Feeling like she just had made a superb homerun, Grace grinned widely while clapping her hands. “He is the guy they tried to get for --.“ She paused to search her memory. “Racketeering!”

Grace looked first at Sean then down on the account book. She didn't know what to think. Her mind roamed: gambling. What did that mean?

“It must be a coincidence,” she said and looked at Sean again. She was confused, her mind wandering in directions she didn't want to go. “The bill is to a food import, not a nightclub.” Grace eased. Food - not a nightclub. There was nothing wrong with buying food.

“Still an interesting coincidence,” Sean mused.

Thoughtfully, Grace nodded. “Very interesting.”

Grace's phone rang. Far away in thoughts, she jumped by surprise and two more rings passed before she answered.

It was Patty Steele. Grace's eyes locked onto the sky outside as she listened. The dark horizon was closer now and shortly the city would be wrapped in whatever was blowing in. Grace shivered as Patty told her that the sedative substance in Father Malachi's blood was also in the tea mug. As soon as Patty said the words, Grace searched for eye contact with Sean.

Sean had returned to his computer, though, and didn't notice she wanted his attention. Grace sighed and pitched half a pencil at him.

“What?” Sean jerked.

“The tea mug.” Grace hung up the phone. “That was Patty. The sedative was in the mug. It's all over the mug.“

Sean scratched his head. “Why did she call you about that?”

“What?”

“It's not her job to check these things.”

Grace looked at him. Why did he ask this? Who cares? She shook her head and said, “I don't know. She probably thinks I'm so darn cute she can't stay away from me.”

Sean chuckled. “Right.” He paused for a beat then moved back to the investigation. “So, someone stuffed the old man full with sleeping pills, then dragged him up on the chair and lynched him.”

Someone, Grace thought. It could be anyone. It could be Andry Chirkin. Or?

“It has to be someone inside the church,” she mused. Sean sat back in his chair and drummed his fingers across his stomach. Grace leaned forward. “Someone knew about his routines with tea and could move around without people paying attention.”

“Or --,” Sean held up a finger. “Someone knew someone who let someone in.”

Grace tried to follow his logic. “Maybe it was I,” she suggested.

“Maybe.”

They both laughed. At that moment Grace thought they had a lot of information but like her desk, it was not in any order. She took a pencil and put it in a cup full of other pencils, corrected the stacks of paper and threw away an old napkin. She had ten post-it notes attached to her monitor, some quite dated. She threw away one about Preg. training Wednesday's 0600 and another about a Halloween party.

With her desk in some order, Grace straightened up. “We need to talk to this Mary Parker.” She hoped Sean had heard what she said and continued. “She must know about Conner's Food and, hopefully, she will know what these ledger marks are.”

Sean looked up from the text he was reading. “What?” He had the expression of someone who did not know World War II was over.

Squinting her eyes, Grace tried to decipher if Sean was fooling around with her. His eyebrows were arched, his mouth slightly open and his nostrils --. Grace grinned.

“Your nostrils flutter like a hummingbird!” She chuckled and tossed an eraser at him. Laughing, Sean covered his face from the attack. Grace stood up. “You're such a bad poker player, Sean.”

Just then, Chief Darby entered the room. Grace recognized his solid strides even before she saw him.

“Jacobson,” Darby called.

Grace looked at Sean who quickly stood up and gathered his things. They both managed to get their coats on before Darby reached their desks.

“Yes, Sir.” Grace turned to face her chief.

“We have a press conference at 1800.” Grace unconsciously grimaced and Darby stressed. “You have a press conference.”

Grace felt like someone just put four bags of cement on top of her. “All by myself?”

Darby grinned. “Oh, no. I'll be there.”

This was a part of her work Grace did not like -- press conferences. It was one thing when they'd captured someone, but now, with nothing but speculation; it felt more like a waste of time. But she knew people wanted to know what was going on; somehow it made them feel more involved. Perhaps it was right, yet Grace didn't like the snooping journalists pushing her to reveal more than she could tell. This was why she preferred having Darby there, to support her and tell the press when it was enough.

“Good.” Grace glanced at her watch. It was only two hours till 1800. It would be tight to get an interview with Mary Parker before facing the media, but she didn't want the woman to hear too much about the case on the news before she'd talked to her.

“1800 then,” she said while putting on her coat.

Darby nodded. He was just about to leave when he asked, “By the way -- how is it going?”

“Well,” Grace began, “someone killed him.” Darby looked at her expecting something more, but Grace only met his glance and instead started to back, with small steps, away from her desk towards the exit.

At the moment, Grace didn't know what to say and what to reveal. They did seem to have the cause of death -- strangulation in combination with sedative -- but for now, Grace wanted more to hold on to before she shared the information.

Darby frowned but did not take the question any further. “Well,” he said standing with his hands behind his back, “Thanks for the explicit information.” He curtly nodded them off.

Grace and Sean took the opportunity and hurried towards the elevator. The name Andry Chirkin's nagged Grace. She hoped it would remain no more than a name but slowly prepared herself for the worst. The thought of a bunch of Russian gangsters to deal with was not appealing. Grace crossed her fingers Mary Parker would be able to give a good reason why St Matthew was doing business with a Chirkin company.

 

13

Grace parked outside Mary Parker's white, cottage style house. An old fashioned mailbox painted yellow stood by the curb, its flag in an up-right position indicating there was mail inside.

“Looks like the woman has a lot of time for yard work,” Sean stated with his grouchy charm and stepped out of the car.

The yard did seem to be in perfect condition. The lawn, still a thriving green, grew on either side of the concrete pathway leading to the porch; a couple of apple trees with withered fruit stood in front of the house. Raked flowerbeds stretched out at the foot of the porch. Grace thought about her own flowerbeds; she had promised Fran weeks ago to deal with the sadness, but she still had not managed to get to it. Last weekend, Fran made an attempt to do it for her, but Grace had quickly told her not to worry. Looking down on Mary Parker's flowerbeds, Grace ordered herself to put some time aside for domestic chores.

What looked like two chairs and a small coffee table sat hidden under blankets in the corner of the porch. A broom stood behind the door, as did a snow shovel. The doormat in front of the door had the text ‘Welcome' printed in red letters. It was so perfect Martha Stewart herself could live here.

The only thing missing was Mary Parker herself greeting them with an apple pie just ready to go. Grace could not see any lights on inside and she could not hear any noise from a radio or TV. The house seemed empty.

“I hope she's home,” Grace said hitting the doorbell. She suppressed any thoughts of the woman having left the state or worse.

Sean looked around. “Don't see any car.”

No one opened the door; with a nagging feeling this was not going to work out as she hoped, Grace hit the bell again.

Neither Grace nor Sean said anything. They both listened carefully to any kind of sound from inside that would reveal someone was there. Nothing.

Sean sighed. He strolled to one of the windows and casually peeked inside. “Quiet,” he mumbled.

Turning around and looking out across the street, Grace was about to give up when a noise suddenly came from inside the house. Grace and Sean looked at one another before turning back to the door. Uncertain as to what the noise was, Grace hit the door bell more frantically than before while hollering, “Ms. Parker! This is Cleveland Police!”

Again Grace heard the noise. It was like something was falling down stairs; it sounded like cans or glass.

“Ms. Parker, we know you are in there! We just want to talk to you!”

Silence fell again. Grace listened so intently she thought she would hear her brain processing. It was frustrating.

“Where the hell is she?” Sean hissed.

Grace's mind worked on overdrive. She had not planned for Mary Parker being anything else but a bookkeeper -- a gray little woman with a sense for numbers. Now she did not know what to believe. Ms. Parker might be calculating in more ways than one, Grace thought when it hit her.

“Damn it, Sean!” she burst and put her hand on his arm before rushing off the porch. “Cover here while I check the back!”

Taking a left down the porch, Grace ran across the lawn. The lawn was wet and she almost fell as she took her last leap before reaching the driveway. “Crap,” she fussed as she slipped. As she rounded the corner, she reached inside her jacket and pulled her weapon.

When she reached the back, Grace peeked around the corner and observed a nook on the house, an empty terrace, another lawn and flowerbeds. The yard was deep and contained by a wire fence. On the other side of the fence was the neighboring yard.

She sneaked along the house wall and around the nook before finding what she was looking for: a door.

The door was wide open and Grace now really feared she misjudged Ms. Parker. The woman was most definitely hiding something and now she could be gone. Grace cursed herself, knowing this was not going to be well-received by the captain.

With her pulse picking up, Grace reached the door. “Ms. Parker!” she shouted and then waited. No response. She took a deep breath, and then called again. “Ms. Parker, I'm Detective Jacobson and I'm coming in now!”

Without waiting for a response, Grace quickly cast a glimpse through the door: she saw the kitchen, but no Mary Parker.

Leaning back against the wall, she gathered her thoughts. Eight years ago she would have run into the house without thinking of the risks, six months ago she would have thought some, but today she hesitated. With her heart frantically beating she thought about fear for the first time.

“Come on, Grace,” she whispered. “Parker is already gone, you know it.” Pointing the weapon up toward the sky, she squeezed the grip with her sweaty hands a couple of times before she let go with one hand and fished out her portable radio.

She called for Sean over the off channel. “What the hell are you doing?” he hissed.

“The back door's open; no one's answering. I'm going in.”

Her partner paused a moment then said, “Keep your eyes open.”

“I will,” Grace mumbled while putting the portable back in her pocket. With her hands again tight around the grip, she focused on her breathing, her heart beat and tried to shut out all sounds but the ones that could come from inside the house.

Grace was ready. “I'm coming in now, Ms. Parker,” she called and took one step around the corner and in through the door.

She entered the kitchen right away. A kitchen table sat in the middle of the room, the sink counter and stove stood behind the table; to the right of the counter was a door to the hallway and one to the left led into the living room.

A clean plate, a glass and silverware sat on the table, a clean pot and skillet on the stove. It smelled of dish soap, clean and shiny. The motor of the fridge started with a big jump; Grace jerked from the sudden interruption in the silence. She looked at the fridge and in a small space between it and the stove sat two small plates -- one with water and one with food.

Cat food, she thought. Instantly, the noises she had heard from the house earlier came back to mind. Had a cat been stumbling around in here making all the noises? It seemed like a natural explanation.

“If that's the case --,” she mumbled, “What on earth am I doing in here?” She began to feel stupid, but knew she had to work this through without letting her guard down. It could have been a cat, but she did not have any further evidence.

Trying to work towards the front door, she carefully walked to the left where she glanced into the living room: no one there. She returned to the kitchen and took the door out to the hallway: no one there. A door in the hallway was slightly open. Grace peeked inside: stairs led down to the basement. She made a quick decision not to go down there -- not without backup. Instead, she closed the door and continued to the front door.

To warn Sean she was coming, Grace called, “It's me.” She unlocked the door and opened.

Sean met her with a smug grin. “I don't think you have authority to be in Ms. Parker's house, Jacobson.”

“I thought I saw a fire in there,” Grace lied with a smirk playing in the corner of her mouth and held the door open for Sean. “Do you want to check, too?”

Sean grinned, but remained where he was. “You think she was really home?”

Thinking back to the noises and the bowl of cat food, Grace was positive someone had been in the house. But if it had been Ms. Parker, she couldn't say. A cat seemed more believable. Grace's professional conscious started poking her shoulder; it made her irritated she could not justify her actions. No, they should not be in Parker's house without a warrant and they were never going to get one on these charges. Charges, Grace frowned inwardly. She had made a mistake and she hated it.

Grace shrugged. “There was cat food on the floor,” she said and slowly walked out from the house and closed the door behind her.

“Cat food!” Sean started laughing. “You mean you charged in there because of a cat?”

Swallowing her pride, Grace ignored his question. Instead she said, “It would be stupid getting caught for trespassing.”

Sean chuckled while he looked out across the street. A red sedan passed by and he followed it with his glance. Grace wondered what he was thinking about, but she did not dare to ask. It was probably some evil thoughts going on inside him, something she would have to experience when she least expected. Grace knew that for Sean, gloating was his only joy.

Before returning to the car, Grace picked up a note pad from her pocket and wrote a message to Parker she should contact either Grace or Sean as soon as possible. She dropped the message inside the mailbox and made sure the little flag was in the up-right position.

“When we get back,” Grace mused thrumming her fingers across the wheel, “I will check if Parker has any priors. One never knows what may turn up.” She still had a feeling Ms. Parker was hiding something. Something was odd like the door being opened in the back although no one was at home.

As if reading her thoughts, Sean asked, “You still think she fled through the backdoor?”

“Maybe,” Grace said slowing down the car as they reached the intersection. “It can never hurt to check.”

Looking to the left, a red Chevrolet pick-up truck approached followed by huge semi- trailer; looking to the right, she saw no traffic, only a woman walking on the opposite sidewalk.

Grace followed the woman with her eyes; her arms swung back and forth, she took long strides. The woman seemed to be dressed only in a sweater or a thin jacket as though not far from home; Grace squinted her eyes to get a clearer view. The day was not as cold as the day before, yet it was not warm and the wind made the treetops bend.

Grace's heart began beating faster. What if the woman was Ms. Parker? The semi-trailer passed in front of them. Unconsciously, Grace craned her neck as if hoping to see above the truck. One second later, the truck was gone and so was the woman.

“Where did she go?”

Sean looked up. “Who?”

Looking from left to the right, back and forth, Grace searched for the walking woman but she was nowhere to be seen. “The woman on the other side of the street,” she clarified.

“Was it the Parker woman?” Sean straightened up.

“I don't know.”

A car horn honked behind them. Grace peeked in the rear mirror and saw a car. She waved her hand in excuse and hit the pedal, took a left turn and then stopped on the other side of the street.

Sean stepped out and Grace joined him. They both scanned up and down the street, but the woman was not to be seen; only a man with a Golden Retriever came waking towards them.

“Excuse me, Sir.” Grace smiled at the man; young, perhaps early twenties, dressed in jeans and a gray hooded sweater with the text “CSU” on the chest. “Did you see a woman walking here just a moment ago?”

The man stopped. “No,” he said hiding his hands in the sweater pockets.

The dog's tail wagged as he sniffed Graces pants. She patted his head and he moved on to Sean, leaving a trail of white fur on her black pants.

“You sure?” Sean asked ignoring the dog.

“Yeah,” the man replied and pulled up the hood over his head.

The man and the dog moved on leaving Grace and Sean with no more options. “She probably is in one of the houses here,” Grace muttered while wiping off the dog hair from her pants. “We could knock on every door along the street, but I don't have time for this now.” She cast a glance at her watch. “Press conference.”

“While you take care of the press,” Sean said on the drive back to downtown, “I'll keep calling the woman till she picks up.”

As day faded to night, and rush hour traffic hit, she pondered whether Ms. Parker really had left the house or perhaps it had been someone else. It could have been the cat but why was the door open? And the woman on the sidewalk: what were the odds that could have been Ms Parker? The case was not going as Grace had hoped. No quick solution, no one confessing because of bad conscience. They had only managed two interviews during an entire day, which she, at the moment, thought was not enough. But sorting out the bits and pieces -- the interviews they had conducted and the information they had gotten from the bookkeeping ledger and the rectory -- it was not so bad.

Grace realized she should be satisfied with the results. Tomorrow was a new day and by the end of it she would talk to Mary Parker.

During the press conference later, any thoughts she had about doing a good job was quickly dashed by the press. The reporters slammed her for not having revealed any information and although Grace told them she had none to give they kept picking at her.

When Chief Darby took over and asked the press to cooperate without interfering, Grace's mind escaped to the thoughts of the completed crime scene report waiting on her desk.

Without looking up from her crossword puzzle, Mrs. Kolinsky had waved the folder across her desk when Grace and Sean returned. Most of what was in the report Grace already knew yet she felt anxious to dig into the information. Having it in black and white would confirm the faint dots they had staked out this far and it would, hopefully, help them stay on track. But, from experience, Grace knew the conditions could change instantly.

Unconsciously sighing aloud, Grace heard Darby ask the public for help, for information on anyone who had been in the area of St. Matthew between 5 pm and 7 pm and seen anything suspicious. He then closed the press conference.

Relieved, Grace quickly stood to leave, her mind thinking about home. But it took another ten minutes to get out from the press conference. A reporter from the daily newspaper tried to fish out more regarding how Father Malachi had died; if it was true he had been drugged and sexually molested. The last comment caused Grace's eyebrows to shoot up along her hairline and she denied the speculations. Soon, she found herself arguing with the reporter about what she had and had not said. It was frustrating.

 

14

The drive home offered Grace time and space to feel how tired she was. The day had been long; all the new questions made it difficult to shut down as her mind continued to work the case. She knew she would still be thinking about it when she went to bed. Occasionally, Grace dreamed about a blue-collar job; something she simply could let go of after every shift. To come home after work and have time for her family, play with Eric without a case on her mind. Wouldn't that be something? She tried to avoid thinking in these terms, but lately the thought had occurred more often. She knew she needed more time with Fran and Eric.

“I need a vacation,” Grace whined as she sank down on the couch next to Fran. It was almost eight o'clock. The news anchor for CNN reported about a former magazine owner who had sued her staff while the marquee in the bottom of the screen reported about a bombing in a foreign country. Grace was bored.

Laughing, Fran put her arm around Grace's shoulder and pulled her close. “You just had a couple of days off, Grace”

Grace sighed ignoring her partner's comment.

“Perhaps we should take a trip to Beth and Joe's after Christmas?” Fran suggested.

Florida , Grace thought, while her senses picked up the clean scent of Fran's sweater. White beaches, a warm breeze and thin clothes. Fran's brother, Joe, years ago had done what Grace dreamed about: packed his family into the car and moved south. As Fran placed feather light kisses on top her head, Grace tried to understand why she hadn't done the same thing. She had thought about it several times in the past -- every winter to be exact, yet here she was freezing again.

“Sounds fantastic,” Grace mused and turned her face against Fran's. “I wish we could retire and just play all day.”

Fran chuckled and planted a quick kiss on Grace's mouth. “You would be horrible to have around all day without anything to do.”

Frowning, Grace sat up. “I would not! I can sit and do nothing.” Fran's blue eyes sparkled at her, a quirk played across her mouth. Grace really didn't want her partner to be right about this, but Fran knew Grace far too well. Fran said nothing; she just looked at her. Grace added, “I should take a leave of absence and prove it to you.”

Still smiling, Fran looked down on Grace. “You know you can't be without your job. You love doing what you do.” She took Grace's hand, entwined their fingers. “But if you want a day or two off you should take that. You have months saved up.”

Grace sighed. “Yeah.” There was a commercial about vacuum cleaners on TV and it was overwhelmingly dull. “I just feel like I'm missing so much of Eric.” She squeezed Fran's hand. “And you.”

“Did something particular happen at work today?” Fran asked.

Grace didn't reply. She could not think of anything different about this day from other days. She told Fran about the confusion with Mary Parker and how she had been a little afraid to face what was inside the house. “I've never felt this before.” She paused a beat. “Guess that was different.”

A short moment of silence fell before Fran responded. “For eight years, I have waited for you to say this, Grace.” Fran turned Grace's face with her hand, tucked her leg under her and put her arms around Grace. “My first memories of you are you being injured and every day I fear finding you like that again.”

Grace looked away. She had not expected to hear this and a moment of guilt twisted her stomach. Although she knew her family was worried that something would happen to her -- her mother in particular -- Grace never took it completely to heart. She did a good job, no one said anything else, but it meant taking risks. Risks. She thought about the word. What exactly did that mean?

“I can see you are thinking now,” Fran whispered. “But let me tell you, I love you with all my heart and would not like to have you any other way. I knew who you were from the very beginning, Grace, and you are still this person.” She paused and brushed her hand across Grace's hair. “You might hate to hear this, but you are getting older.”

Horrified, Grace pinned Fran down with her stare.

Fran chuckled. “And you are getting wiser. Life changes, Grace, and having a child do changes life a lot.”

Grace turned away. She didn't like lessons; she wanted to come up with the answers on her own, but Fran had for some reason always been ahead of her. There were moments when this irritated Grace although she would never admit it to anyone. Nibbling her lower lip, Grace searched for a way out of the uneasiness she was experiencing. Her mind was blank, but a door to safety was found: the new Volkswagen commercial provided her with an out. “Look at that, would you.” Grace chuckled.

Without further explanation, Fran planted a quick peck on Grace's cheek and got up from the couch. Grace looked at her as she walked away; Fran's long hair almost reached her waist, the thin pants flapped across her bare feet. Tiptoeing, Fran rounded the corner and headed up the stairs to the second floor.

Feeling grumpy, run over and guilty, Grace stared at the news anchor on CNN. He had a perfect smile, perfect hair and a curious look. She had no idea what he was talking about or whom the woman next to him was. Grace changed the channel and ended up watching a show featuring a cat rolling around in its water bowl.

After a short while Fran came back. Grace peeked at her from the corner of her eye. She had something in her hands. Without saying anything, Fran placed Grace's jogging shoes, tights, jacket and undergarments in Grace's lap.

Grace looked at the pile of cloths. “What am I suppose to do with this?” she asked and looked up at Fran who stood with her hands on her hips.

“When was the last time you were out jogging?”

Grace shrugged. “I don't know.” Fran smirked and Grace added, “Not that long ago.”

“ Buffalo Marathon .”

Grace's eyebrows arched. “No! That was in June!”

Nodding, Fran leaned down and lifted Grace's feet. “And you have been restless ever since,” she said pulling off Grace's socks.

“You want me to get out now?” Grace asked as Fran took the clothes, put them on the couch and then pulled Grace up on her feet.

“You have too much on your mind,” Fran said unbuttoning Grace's shirt, “and you're whining. Take it for a run.”

Grace frowned, but followed Fran's orders: her pants fell to the floor; she lifted her foot to get out of them and put her tights on; Fran forced her sports bra over her head, then the under shirt; a thin fleece sweater and on top of all her wind jacket. When the shoes were on, Fran kissed Grace and said, “Get out and play now. And don't come back before you're a good girl.” Before she knew it, Grace was standing on the porch carefully stretching and looking out over the cold night.

For the first two blocks Grace kept a very light pace while she wondered how her sudden encounter with fear made her a bad girl. One reason could be Fran had been home with Eric for too long and maybe forgotten how it was to work. She doubted this was the reason but it sounded good. The difficulty of letting work and private life remain two separate parts of life was something they had talked about before Eric was born. Grace had many times supported Fran through times when children had died in her arms or entire families been wiped out in accidents or criminal acts. It was tough to stay emotionally above the tragedies, yet Grace could not recall ever having called Fran a bad girl.

Turning onto Lake Avenue , Grace could feel her stiff muscles begin to accept the rhythm; the leaps came easier, her heart beat a new rhythm and her breathing evened out. It was probably after nine o'clock and only a few cars passed her along the way. The old oak trees lined both sides of the street and whispered in the wind; meanwhile, the last leaves drifted away leaving the branches exposed. Lights shone invitingly in the houses along the street. Smiling, she took a deep zip of crisp air and forcefully pushed it out again. The air kicked life into her loafing brain and the pulse of her blood paced up. She increased the speed, pushed her chest forward and aimed for the park a few blocks ahead.

“Come on, Grace,” she hissed between her teeth. Nothing could stop her reaching the park now.

Fifty minutes after having left home, Grace stumbled up on the porch. She had reached the park, but oddly enough, the way home had been much longer then the way there. It had been so long she needed to walk every now and then. While leaning against the wall stretching her shortened calves she found only one way to describe herself: she was a bad girl. It was time to organize her life; get her shape back so she could clear her mind from negative or troubling thoughts.

Fran smiled at her from the couch as Grace fell in through the door. The smile was seductive, almost superior. Grace felt her cheeks flush.

“So,” Fran began slowly. “How was it?”

Even the voice was seductive, Grace thought and suddenly felt very frisky. “Good,” she responded while pulling off the jacket and sweater. She dropped the clothes to the floor and strolled up to Fran “Very informative,” she added straddling Fran's lap.

Grimacing, Fran placed her arms around Grace's waist and brushed her nose against her forehead. “You stink,” she whispered and kissed the hot skin. “And taste salty.”

“That's your fault entirely,” Grace hummed pulling Fran into a sweaty embrace. Fran groaned in complaint and tried to break lose, but Grace held her tightly. She whispered in Fran's ear, “Thank you for sending me out. Every second hurt, but I needed it.” She felt Fran relax.

“You have to take care of yourself, Grace. That's all I want.”

Grace closed her eyes while taking in her lover's words. Fran had always taken care of her, made sure she ate right, slept enough. Loved her. With Eric in their life, Grace wanted to be home more, share the joy and tears with them, but the more she tried the more she felt behind. Grace knew Fran was right.

“It felt good torturing myself; good to have nothing on my mind but heartbeat and breathing.”

Fran leaned back and tenderly eyed Grace. “Some people call that relaxing.”

 

15

With her cheek resting in the palm of her hand, Grace took a sip of coffee and casually scrolled down the online entertainment news. The last Lord of the Rings movie was one month away. Only one month, that was uplifting. A new album by someone she'd never heard about had good ratings; Grace doubted she would agree. “Not a saxophone in sight,” she muttered looking at the picture of half naked women surrounding a man in his twenties dressed in baggy pants and two-dozen sweaters.

Someone skimmed the top of Grace's head; she looked up just as Sean grinning walked by.

“Don't fall asleep, Jacobson,” he said and sat down by his desk.

After yesterday's jog, Grace had felt more relaxed then she could remember being in a long time. She had snuggled with Fran on the couch until Fran politely suggested she should take a shower. Grace obeyed.

Clean and dressed in a striped, flannel pajamas, a cup of hot milk in her hand, Grace sat next to Eric's crib admiring her son: his dark silky hair on top of his fair skinned head. His mouth moved as if he was talking and Grace could have sworn he smirked.

“Just like Mom and Dad,” Grace whispered as she swept lightly across his hair with the back of her fingers.

Very happy with her life, Grace then crept into bed, curled up behind Fran and prepared to greet sleep. She waited, but nothing happened. She turned around, but sleep was nowhere to be found. She whispered, “Fran, I can't sleep.” The lack of sympathy on Fran's part was not unexpected, yet no less frustrating.

Grace fell asleep somewhere between that moment and the alarm going off. Sitting at work with a headache needling behind her eyes, she was certain she had only slept a few minutes.

“If you do a background check on Pamela Griffin and the friar, I'll take care of Mary Parker,” Grace mumbled in response to Sean's snotty comment. It seemed like a fair share of tasks at the moment.

Before she began, Grace shuffled over to the coffeemaker, poured her mug full and shuffled back again. While she logged into the system, she watched sleet beat against the windowpane; out her window the thick layer of clouds wrapped around the city making it almost as dark as night, yet it was ten o'clock in the morning.

Shivering, Grace heard the beep signaling she was inside the police database. She tapped in Mary Parker's name and social security number. The hourglass appeared on the screen as it processed the search.

“Nothing interesting is coming up on Brother William,” Sean informed her.

Grace's computer stopped; Grace read: Parker, Mary Joan. Born: October 10, 1956. Record: Arrested for prostitution May 4, 1975. Arrested for prostitution June 10, 1977.

Stunned, Grace stared at the text on the monitor. Prostitution. She looked at the picture in the corner: a blond woman, young yet old with an empty look; her head tilted a little to the right. She looked tired.

“Well, well, well,” she said aloud and leaned back in her chair seeking Sean's attention. He, of course, didn't look at her. Grace coughed and said a little louder, “Well, well, well.”

Nonchalantly, Sean looked up. Grace's headache dissipated behind her smug expression. “Prostitution.” Sean straightened up. “Mary Parker - the bookkeeper of St Malachi - has a record for prostitution.” Grace lifted the coffee mug to her lips. “Twice,” she added before taking a large sip.

“You're kidding!” Sean stood up, walked around to look at Grace's monitor. “Well, well, well. That can't be something the church is proud of.”

“I wouldn't think she had that information in her job application.”

“Wouldn't think so.” Chuckling, Sean rocked back and forth on his feet, his hands played with coins and keys in his pant pockets. “Was she convicted?”

Grace scanned the page. “Doesn't look like it.”

“The damn church is full of dirt,” Sean muttered.

Grace made a minor objection telling him not to jump to conclusions too fast, but Sean simply waved her off. “Father Malachi probably found out the truth, but the hooker was not going to let him ruin her life.”

“Sean!” Grace choked. It sounded awful when he said it, but, all of a sudden, the pieces fell into place. It was like finding the last key in a computer game. Images of a solution appeared in her mind, yet she was confused because it all happened too fast. Could it be this simple?

“We shouldn't waste any time,” Sean said.

He was right.

Just as they were about to leave, circumstances changed. Grace didn't know what to think when Mrs. Kolinsky announced Mary Parker was on her way up to see Grace. Would the key to their crime come to them?

In stepped a small woman. Small as in thin and short; her hair was short -- blond yet darker than in the thirty year-old picture. No make up, a small mouth. Flat shoes with soft soles, a blue coat that seemed too lightweight for the season, baggy jeans. Grace couldn't help but believe she was a lesbian. Her own prejudice caused her to smile. Ms. Parker most certainly didn't look like a prostitute -- not a hint of vulgarity, not a tone of cockiness in her motions. Again, Grace's prejudice played with her.

“Ms. Parker,” Grace said flashing a smile. Ms. Parker tried to smile back but it came out as something strained. Grace continued, “How good of you to drop by. We were just talking about you.” Grace stretched out her arm and shook Ms. Parker's hand. The grip was as she expected: lame.

“I saw the message on my door last night and I thought I should get here right away, but it was dark and -.” Ms. Parker's voice faded away.

“That's okay,” Grace said and gently placed her hand on the woman's back. “Let's go somewhere where we can talk more privately.”

She led Ms. Parker to one of the interview rooms. Sean followed with his notepad in one hand and his coffee mug in the other. A small table sat in the middle of the room. Grace sat down on one side, Ms. Parker on the other. Sean pulled his chair away from the table allowing for distance during the interview.

“I think you know why we want to talk to you, Mary.” Grace smiled again. “Is it okay if I call you Mary?” The woman nodded. Grace threw Sean glance. He tapped his fingers against the rim of his mug.

“I've been out of town,” Mary began. “I didn't know about Father Malachi until last night.” She looked down on the desk, her hands rested in her lap and her shoulders seemed as if they were about to fall down to the floor.

Grace waited while Mary took a moment to collect herself. She seemed honestly taken by the situation, something Grace wished had not happened. The woman in front of her seemed like someone who could be frightened by her own reflection. Could she be a murderer?

Silence continued until Sean broke it. “Do you have an alibi for the days you've been gone?”

Mary looked up. “I visited my father in Florida . In Tampa .”

“Nice,” Grace added as the wind picked up outside and a cascade of slush hit the window. “Was the weather good?”

“Yes.”

Mary Parker was pale as a sheet. Grace knew if she had been in Florida , she would be at least red. Perhaps Parker didn't like the sun. Grace's mind wandered to Fran who would be hazel tanned even though she spent most of her time in the shade. The world was full of injustice.

As if reading her mind, Mary added, “But I don't like being in the sun – especially not on the beach.”

“How come?”

Wriggling in her chair, Mary whispered, “It's like everybody is watching me.”

She acts like a child, Grace thought. She's insecure and possibly afraid. Grace pondered whether the woman would have a heart attack if she raised her voice, if she screamed at her. Grace spent half a second considering testing her thesis but dropped it.

Instead she told Mary that when they visited her house the day before, they found the backdoor wide open. “You normally leave it like that when you travel out of town?”

Mary's jaw dropped slightly and her brows furrowed. “I don't know what you mean?” She kept shifting her gaze from Grace to Sean. “It was closed when I got home.”

“Perhaps someone else had been inside?”

Shaking her head, Mary mused, “A neighbor looked after my cat. I saw prints of her muddy feet on my kitchen floor. She must have forgotten to close the door.”

Grace froze and though about how she had slipped on the wet lawn. “Prints?”

“Yes, small ones and,” Mary held up her hands, “big ones. She must have brought that big boyfriend of hers.”

Big footprints? Grace could not recall having seen any prints at all. The small ones she could find a perfectly good explanation for although she was not willing to share that with anyone, but the big prints --. It was possible they came from the neighbors boyfriend, but they could also be from someone else, someone who should not have been there. Maybe it was not the cat after all.

Grace tapped her pen against the desk. Before saying anything else, Grace quickly turned to Sean. Her partner shrugged and Grace made a decision to move on.

“It would be helpful if you could verify your Florida trip. Just call in your flight number, car rental or credit card purchase you've done down there.” Grace wrote a note in her report. “You can leave the information to the secretary.”

Shifting position in the chair, Sean said, “Let's get to the point. How well did you know Father Malachi?”

Grace saw Mary's eyes fill up with tears. “I don't know,” she whispered. “He was very kind and gentle. Helpful.”

“How long have you worked at St Matthew?” Grace wondered before she turned around and grabbed a couple of napkins on the desk behind her.

Accepting the offered napkin, Mary replied, “Almost twenty eight years.” She wiped her nose.

Grace hid her surprise, but cast a glance at Sean. His mouth dropped slightly. “Twenty eight years is a long time,” Grace commented looking back at Mary. “You must have heard a lot during the years.” Fiddling with the napkin, Mary blinked away tears. “Do you know if Father Malachi had any enemies?” Grace asked.

Mary looked at Grace, but didn't respond. Sean added, “Did he have any problems he talked to you about?”

A little pile of napkin pieces began to build in front of Mary as she tore of parts off the paper. She said, “Money problems,” and started crying.

Leaning forward, Grace asked what she meant. Mary sniveled and told them she didn't know everything, but over the last year she had a sense money was disappearing or was never registered. Not much, but small amounts every week. A couple of weeks ago her intuition proved to be right when Father Malachi had made her put away $5000 from a private donation to himself.

With a faint whistle, Sean met Grace's look. He then turned to Mary. “Did he say what he needed them for?”

“Not really, but I've seen men come to the church who didn't belong there.” Mary faced Sean. “Russians.”

The name from yesterday, Andry Chirkin, returned to Grace's mind. She gave Mary another napkin while she realized the investigation would be much more complicated if the Russian mafia was involved. That would mean anything could surface. Grace sat back in her chair, looked at a white spot on the gray wall behind Mary. It could also be a coincidence, she thought. Still, they had to speak with Chirkin. Grace did not like it.

The moment of silence broke. “Russians,” Sean mused. “You don't happen to know any names of those Russians?” Not surprisingly, Mary did not. Sean then asked what kind of business the church had with Connor's Food Import's. Mary told them Father Malachi insisted on buying food for the church's free meals from there. “He said he got a good deal and the owner was an honorable man of faith.”

Grace doubted the latter was true and judging from Sean's furrowed eyebrows he was not convinced either.

“Did you talk to someone about the money he wanted from you?”

Mary shook her head.

“Why?”

After a beat of hesitation, Mary whispered Malachi threatened her. Pretty certain that Malachi had threatened her with her past, Grace sighed and looked out through the window. It had stopped raining and a thin slice of blue peeked out between the gray skies. Could it be that the nice, always friendly Father Malachi was nothing but a coward. The man who buried Fran's grandparents, christened Fran's brother's and sister's children had played a charade.

For the record, Grace asked, “What did he threaten you with?”

She could see Mary swallow before she spoke. “I've worked hard to get as far away from my past as possible and I have done well.” She paused and looked out at the same blue sky Grace saw. “Father Julius brought me back to life, away from the streets and humiliation. He helped me with school, he offered me a job and found me place to live.” Looking back at Grace, Mary smiled faintly. “A place of my own.”

Tears trickled down the woman's cheeks. Grace recalled Fran's parents telling her about Father Julius; in their opinion, a wonderful man who had christened Fran and her siblings and led them through their first communion. Considering the compassion in Mary's voice, Grace believed Julius must have been more of a man than Malachi although she knew the truth could quickly turn out to be something different. Grace's opinion about the church most certainly did change with Father Malachi's betrayal of Mary Parker. She pushed her bitterness aside though, knowing St. Matthew did a lot of good in the area and would probably continue playing an important role for those in need.

Without exposing any feelings, Grace asked, “He told you he would reveal your past as a prostitute?”

Mary avoided Grace but nodded in response.

“So, what happened?”

“After a week he came back and wanted more money. It was strange; he seemed nervous and angry. Not like him at all. Told me to find a way, otherwise I would be out of a job.” Mary paused, her face suddenly strained and her look distant as if she was reliving the moment. “He said he was sorry, told me he had talked to the bishop and sought forgiveness. Said I could do the same, but I didn't believe him.”

Grace looked at Sean as he stood up. With his hands in his pockets, he started pacing back and forth in the small room. His mouth moved as if he was throwing a curse; Grace did not hear what he said, which probably was for the best.

Half an hour later, Grace and Sean sat in Darby's office. Still not keen on talking, Sean thrummed his fingers against the armrests.

“According to Parker,” Grace told Darby, “Bishop Collina knew about Malachi's money problem which is something the bishop did not tell us.”

“He knew through confession?”

Grace shrugged. “Possibly, but not necessarily.”

The expression on her chief's face was strained; he said nothing for a long while and Grace tried to relax. She didn't succeed. Instead she pictured Ms. Parker standing on a dark street corner picking up unknown men. In a short skirt, legs bare in the Cleveland winter, and tacky makeup, Mary leaning against a car asking the driver if he needed anything. Anything he wanted. The image did not fit at all with the woman she had just spoken to.

Eventually, Darby spoke up, “What about the Russian? Are you sure it was Chirkin she talked about?”

“No.” Grace sighed. “But we found one of his companies cited in the account ledger.”

Grace explained about the free meals the church offered once a week and Malachi insisting on buying the food at Connor's Food Import. She suspected Malachi took the opportunity of cashing out more money than what he had to pay for the food. With Chirkin behind the store it would not be any problem. If Malachi used the money in Chirkin's gambling, the money would eventually end up in his pocket anyway.

“It's classic fraud,” Grace said. “Parker might have known about it, but maybe not. I didn't want to ask her right now.”

“Why?”

The question remained unanswered by Grace. Instead, she tuned out and focused on the back of a picture frame sitting on Darby's desk. She knew it was a picture of his wife and two daughters. She didn't answer, but instead she quietly wondered why she didn't have a picture of Fran and Eric on her desk. The fact that she'd always thought it was quite silly was one good reason, yet she knew she would enjoy resting her eyes on her family from time to time.

Sean's words reached her as he said something to Darby about keeping a low profile and not stirring things up. Assuming he was talking about the case, she went back to her thoughts. Perhaps I should get a picture. Grace nodded. The one from the cabin in Maine would be great; Fran in her sky blue shirt, her head slightly tilted and a seductive smile. Eric, resting against Fran's chest, dressed in a white little hat trying to focus. And behind them the big, blue ocean - Indian summer in Maine . Grace smiled at the memory.

A quick snap on top of her head brought Grace back to the present and Captain Darby's dark office. “Come on, Jacobson,” Sean said walking out. Grace looked at Darby; he looked at her. Grace smiled; he did not.

“Excuse me,” Grace whispered and casually stood up. Not wanting to seem too eager, she said, “I hope it won't rain tomorrow.” Darby took a deep breath, his left eyebrow shot up as he eyed her. Grace backed up a step. “I mean, with Thanksgiving and all.”

Darby shook his head. “Get ready for the funeral, Jacobson.”

Grace smiled again. “Right.” She turned on her heels and hurried back to her desk.

 

16

Grace wished she had worn a different sweater this morning. The thick wool one instead of the thin, gray turtleneck she wore. Although her coat collar was folded up and she had her scarf wrapped around her neck, the cold breeze still managed to find its way to her skin. She glanced at Sean; his face was red, his nose about to drip, and, subtly, he hit his hands against his legs.

The funeral service for Father Malachi would begin within half an hour. Grace and Sean had waited outside the church for what already seemed like an eternity, observing the people who arrived to pay their respects. Dressed in dark clothes; men, women and children arrived, their faces strained and strides determined. Some met up outside, talked to one another -- even laughed -- before entering together. With Parker's testimony in mind, Grace could not help but wonder if anyone knew about the trouble Father Malachi had been in; if any of them knew he used his position to commit fraud. Grace's feelings were mixed at the moment; she felt angry for the way Malachi had treated Mary Parker; yet curious about the reason behind it.

As Grace pondered, she observed one of the county commissioners arriving with his wife, a famous actress, on his arm. She knew he was Irish Catholic and had a strong labor base like St. Matthew's congregation enjoyed so it wasn't impossible Father Malachi had been a friend.

“Why can't someone just confess,” Sean fussed and wiped off his nose. “I'm going to get pneumonia and die -- alone -- in bed while everybody else is eating turkey and watching football.”

Grace chuckled. “You're pitiful, Sean.” Inwardly, she agreed about the pneumonia, though and in her mind she imagined lowering her body into a steaming, hot bath with a glass of her best whiskey.

Sean sighed next to her before saying, “Speaking of bed.” He nudged Grace in the side and nodded in the direction of the street. “There is someone who'll make sure you won't die alone.”

Following his direction, Grace saw someone who immediately caused her heart to beat faster: Fran. What is she doing here? Grace asked herself, but knew as she watched Mrs. Gentile clinging to Fran's arm and her father walking two steps behind. Grace thought about affording a smile, but decided it could be seen as inappropriate and she maintained her professional appearance. From behind her sunglasses, she observed Fran.

Fran wore her knee-length black coat, and, assuming from the hosed legs, a skirt; a gray cashmere scarf wrapped around her neck, one Grace had given her last Christmas; her hair was neatly pulled back.

“I've always thought she looked cooler than you,” Sean hummed.

It took a spilt second before Grace got what he had said. “What is that suppose to mean?” she hissed trying to stay casual.

Sean grinned. “Just that you're a small, blond and feisty thing whereas Fran looks like --,“ he paused and smirked. “She looks cool.”

“And I don't?”

“Right,” Sean teased taking a step away from Grace.

She was just about to elbow him when Andrea Gentile's voice reached her. Sean was saved. For now.

“Grace, why haven't you arrested someone yet?”

Grace took a breath then turned to her family. “Andrea.” She smiled, greeting the woman with a kiss on each cheek. Her mother in-law smelled of a sweet perfume and facial powder. “I didn't know you where coming,” Grace said and shot a quick glance at Fran before greeting Fabio Gentile. Fran rolled her eyes in response and Grace knew she had not known about this either.

“Oh, how could we not,” Andrea sighed and shook her head in despair. “I can not sleep knowing there is a mad man out here.” She pulled up a delicate handkerchief from her coat pocket and dotted under her eyes. “He was such a sweet man, Grace.”

There was nothing Grace could do but agree although she wished she could have told Andrea to go back home, have a drink and forget about Malachi. Some day she would find out and Grace somehow knew it would be seen as her fault. The truth in matters like this was hardly ever well received and the messenger was often the one to be shot. Grace had been there before, yet never so personally involved.

Andrea and Fabio found another familiar face among the crowed and excused themselves. Grace looked after them wishing she could be as unaware as they were.

“You look troubled,” Fran said.

Grace took off her shades, looked up at Fran and smiled. “I have a lot to be troubled about.” Fran nodded, but didn't ask more. Instead Grace asked where Eric was and Fran told her she had left him with her sister. Behind Fran, Grace saw Pamela Griffin arrive. She nudged Sean in the side and nodded in Griffin 's direction before looking back at Fran. Pearl drop silver earrings fashionably glimmered from Fran's ears, a gift from Grace some years ago. Grace couldn't recall for what. “You look nice,” she whispered unable to hide the smile that sneaked across her.

Chuckling, Fran shook her head. Grace saw how she blushed and took a peek in Sean's direction; he appeared to ignore her, yet she doubted he had not heard the comment. Fran said, “I better leave you two to your work.”

Sean mumbled something in response.

Just as she had turned around and was about to leave, Fran turned back and eyed Grace. “You should have taken a thicker sweater,” she stated. Without waiting for a comment, Fran walked away to join her grieving parents.

After a moment of silence, Sean said, “Fran could have gotten anyone, but she's living with you. I wonder what's wrong with her?”

Putting her shades back on, Grace muttered, “You're an asshole, Sean.” Seeing Fran let her mother lean against her arm, Grace inwardly had to agree. But not prepared to challenge her luck, Grace decided to let this question remain unanswered.

A few minutes before the service was to begin, Mary Parker arrived in the company of Brother William. A little late considering their position in the church, Grace mused. Parker said something to William who then looked directly at Grace and Sean. After a beat, William raised his hand to acknowledge them.

“What a prick,” Sean said and sighed.

“You better behave or I'll have you suspended,” Grace bit back.

Brother William and Mary Parker both wore black and Grace could not help but wonder why Parker had not been dressed for the funeral when she met with them this morning. Practically, it would have been convenient, but also from out of respect. It then struck her Parker might not really mourn the late Father Malachi. Grace thought she might be relieved her tormenter was gone and her past life would stay in the past where it belonged. The clouds closed beneath the spots of blue sky as Brother William placed his hand on Parker's back. They slowly walked up the few steps and vanished into the church.

“Looks like there are not going to be anymore guests,” Sean said.

Grace looked around. No one else seemed to be heading in St Matthew's direction. “I guess you and I will be the last ones.”

On their way inside, Grace informed the surveillance team hiding in a van across the street to stay where they were and continue to shoot pictures of anyone who showed interest in the church. She got a slightly frustrated response -- some complaints about being cold. Happy to get indoors, Grace ignored it. Hopefully, someone from Chirkin's camp would show up. Just to show they could fool the law. Grace had seen the phenomenon many times before: self-absorbed criminals who could not stay away from the mess they created. Although she did not expect Chirkin to show up in person, some of his minions might.

Sean and Grace sat down in back pew; in the front -- just outside the sanctuary -- the coffin with Father Malachi sat surrounded by candles and flowers. It was a beautiful setting Grace hoped Malachi would have liked. She tried to convince herself he was worth this beautiful attention. Although Parker's words still chimed in her mind she decided not to judge. At least not yet.

Taking in the coffin's air of dignity, images from the morgue flashed in Grace's mind. Quickly, she pushed them away while she hoped the funeral home made him look like his old self again.

The mass began and dressed in a black cope, Bishop Collina sprinkled the coffin with Holy Water and intoned the Psalms. Grace could not help but admire the Latin texts although she did not understand a word. It sounded magical and she understood why it attracted so many people around the world: it was peaceful to trust the words question.

Someone coughed a few rows ahead and a child made an attempt to cry but was hushed to silence when Brother William suddenly stepped forward. The audience craned their necks to see him; Grace looked down on her hands and listened. His voice faint and filled with emotion, he read:

“Martha said to him, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day."

Jesus told her, "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

With that, William glanced at the coffin for a long while then stepped back to his seat.

“He reads well,” Grace whispered.

Sean took a deep breath, exhaled then nodded. “They tend to.”

Grace did not know what went though his mind, but she wished she could tell if he liked what he had heard, if it made him comfortable or if it upset him. She glanced at his expression from the corner of her eye. He seemed tense, yet the squint in his eyes told her he was thinking deeply.

Suddenly Grace heard footsteps of someone entering the church. Her senses on edge, she tried to stay casual while she turned her head. A man -- mid 30's, dark hair, tanned and a well-fitted suit -- stopped by Grace and Sean pew. The man looked around before tiptoeing down the aisle and scooted in on a pew nearer the front. As quickly and quietly as he had arrived he also blended into the crowed. Grace looked at Sean who acknowledged her curiosity. Neither of them knew who the man was.

The Mass continued. Without listening, Grace sank into her thoughts. Irrationally, her mind went from one place to the other: was Father Malachi really a bad guy? What time should they drive up to her parents tomorrow? Why did Malachi sink as deep as he did? Maybe if she trained hard she could run the Cleveland marathon next summer. Between the forest of hats and heads, she found Fran sitting five-six rows ahead. I wonder what I should get her for Christmas?

Bishop Collina passed around the coffin a couple of times while sprinkling holy water on it. Grace sighed. Leaning closer to Sean, she asked, “Is this over any time soon?”

Sean frowned. Again, Grace did not know what he was thinking. “We're just going to pray to the holy angels so they will bear him to paradise,” he replied and looked down on her. “Then it's done.”

“Angels,” Grace mused. “I can sit through that.” Straightening up, she focused on the prayer when her leg began to itch; she scratched and the itch moved down to her foot. She reached down, but the itch now moved to the arch of her left foot. Grace thought about removing her shoes when Sean nudged her arm. Looking up, Grace met his furrowed expression. Flashing a grin, she straightened up again. Whereas her grandmother's funeral service lasted a half hour, this seemed endless.

The service finally over, Grace watched as people filed from the church. She overheard them complementing the Mass, and more than once Grace heard someone praise the late Father. One man said to another he wondered who was going to take over the parish and they both feared it would close without its advocate. Grace made a mental note to ask Mary Parker if the church's accounts were so bad the Bishop actually would shut it down.

Grace caught a glimpse of the unknown dark haired man as he briskly walked out and disappeared into a blue Lexus waiting by the curb.

She grabbed her portable radio from her pocket. “Did you get the Lexus?” she asked the surveillance team as the blue car vanished towards the Flats. She got a positive response and her heart started beating faster. Who was this man?

 

http://www.catholic.org/clife/bible/ “ John 11:24-26.”

 

 
 
Continue to Part 4
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