Days of Grace
posted October 2004
The sun peeked out through the thick clouds on Sunday morning and after a few attempts its warmth pushed those all back out over the lake, from back to where they had come from.
When Grace and Fran awoke and saw the sun they decided to drive to the Rocky River Metropark for a long walk. Due to the throbbing in her shin, Grace had not jogged the previous day so the subtle headache over Ruth Vassel and Father Malachi was still with her. A walk in the park would probably do her good.
Since the very day Grace moved to the Cleveland area, the Metropark system had been one of her favorite outings: mile after mile of paved and unpaved trails for jogging or walking, one could fish trout in the rivers, mountain bike up and down the ravines or simply enjoy the intense wildlife despite the urban surroundings. For an outdoor buff like Grace, it was a treat spending many hours here.
Leaning into the baby-stroller, Grace tried to ignore the pain in her leg. Fran walked next to her, her hand occasionally touching Grace's shoulder or back. Watching people exercise their dogs in the huge grassy areas, parents walking with their children or athletes pushing their limits soothed Grace, allowing yesterday's revelation by Chirkin to return to her mind.
Ruth Vassel. She had called Malachi ‘Brother' yet they had been lovers. Lovers? Could it have been a platonic love or a forbidden act of a Catholic priest? Father Malachi, Cleveland's own ‘Thornbirds' drama? Grace could not help but smile.
“Does your leg hurt that much?” Fran asked placing her hand on Grace's shoulder.
Far away in thought, Grace realized she wasn't focusing on her walk any longer. She straightened up and shot Fran a quick smile. “It's nothing really. Just stiff.”
Fran gave her a lopsided grin and then put her arm around Grace. “My hero,” she whispered brushing her lips across Grace's ear. “Perhaps you should let me have a look at it?”
Grace did not have time to object before an energetic voice hollered behind them.
Grace jumped. Turning around, she saw Patty Steele fast approaching accompanied by a bearded man larger than life.
“If I'd known I would find you here, exercising your motherly duties, I would have brought my camera for the Kodak moment.” Patty laughed from her depths.
Unsettled by the intrusion, Grace felt her cheeks flush and considered for a moment if it would be okay to just walk away. Fran casually brushed her hand across Grace's back. Grace looked at her, pleading for an escape, but Fran did nothing to help. Instead she flashed that darn cute smile Grace could not resist. Whipped again, Grace cussed her own weaknesses and faced her colleague.
It was not that Grace hid anything about her life at work; she just did not want to talk about it. There was a line between family and work. Grace rarely spent time with colleagues outside work and every time she bumped into someone, she did not know how to act. It was not a big difference in her behavior, but it was something about being a cop – a female, gay cop – that made her dress in armor at work to keep her private life away. Or perhaps it was the opposite – she shielded her police work from her private life. Whichever it was, she did not want to end up talking about diapers, sex or clothes with her colleagues. Neither did she want to talk about murder, blood and weapons during Saturday night dinners.
Patty Steel, on the other hand, shamelessly bulldozed Grace's boundaries. As she and the giant man stopped, cooed over Eric, Grace wondered if she should not keep this woman at arm's length.
Despite it all, Grace gathered herself and introduced Fran to Patty.
“She really is a looker, Jacobson!” Patty nudged Grace in the side and laughed, causing Grace to blush again. Patty now turned to Fran and added, “I'm sorry, but she showed me a picture of you and Eric the other day. I told the detective she had a great taste.”
“You showed her a picture of us?” Smiling, Fran looked at Grace.
Grace sent out a prayer for a sink hole to open up under their feet. “Well -,” she stuttered drumming her fingers against the stroller bar.
“Oh, don't hurt yourself, Jacobson.” Patty laughed again and looked way up at her companion. “This is my teddy bear,” she snuggled in under his arm and patted his stomach, “Winston Theodore Wright Jr.”
Perhaps Grace was nervous or maybe tired, but immediately she felt something begin to bubble inside her. A split second later, she burst into a laugh she could not remember having had in years. Tears streamed down her cheeks, she could not breath and she almost wet herself. The fact that the others just looked at her is if she was completely out of her mind did not help. Even Eric looked confused; more so than usual.
Grace tried to stop. She turned away from them, thought she was though, took a deep breath and faced them. Twice, she had to repeat these actions.
“I'm sorry,” she eventually managed to say though not able to stop smiling. She looked at Winston Theodore Wright Jr. “I'm sorry,” she emphasized. “I don't know what happened. I--.”
Theodore placed his big hand on her shoulder and said, “It's okay. I get that a lot up here.”
Looking up, meeting his big brown eyes, Grace relaxed.
“So, now that we have identified that Jacobson is certifiably nuts and damn Yankee rude,” Patty said turning back to Fran. “Where are y'all headed?”
“We're parked just around the bend,” Fran replied.
A man and woman on roller-blades swooshed by. Grabbing the moment of distraction, Grace looked after them and considered that maybe she should get a pair of blades. She had heard it was good for ones legs. Fran brought Grace back from her thoughts with a subtle tug to her jacket.
It turned out they all parked in the same parking lot and so they walked together. Fran walked next to Theodore leaving Grace stuck with Patty. It was not as bad as she feared.
“Did you get the report of the dirt sample?” Patty asked.
Unaware, Grace looked at her. “No.”
“Really? That's odd.”
“What was it?”
Patty reached out her pinky finger at Eric. The boy gladly grabbed onto it. “They found some dirt on the floor where the priest was killed. Turned out it was sand from Edgewater Park .”
Edgewater Park laid along the Lake Erie shoreline only a twenty-minute walk from the church. It was a fairly large piece of land stretched along the coastline; the prepared barbecue spots among the trees attracted a lot of people during summer and all over one could find families on blankets picnicking. Its sandy beach was also a great escape for those who liked to swim in the lake.
“Malachi was a jogger,” Grace said. “I think. We know he swam.” Patty eyed her and Grace explained, “We found Speedo's in his closet.”
Grace and Patty continued talking about the case until they reached their respective cars and parted. Grace still did not want a personal relationship with a colleague, but, to her irritation, she liked Patty. Her bluntness was unexpectedly refreshing. Fran seemed to be of the same opinion.
“And Theo is a great man,” she said as they backed the car out from the parking lot.
Fran grinned. “That's what he likes to be called.”
A car backed out right in front of them. Grace hit the breaks. The driver struggled to get things straight and Grace twisted the gear shirt into park.
“I invited them for dinner next week,” Fran said casually.
Stunned, Grace looked at her. Fran smiled, leaned over and kissed her. Pleasantly and quickly distracted, Grace could not find space to argue. In her mind a little voice wondered how much food there would be left after Theo had his share.
Grace sat with a mug of coffee in one hand and a donut in the other. It was a cliché she did not mind maintaining. The yogurt and rye bread she had for breakfast at home was not bad, but this made her think better -- at least she believed it did.
Thomas told them how his and Alvaro's case of a 24 year old found raped and murdered in an empty lot two weeks ago progressed. They were conducting surveillance on a neighbor and thought the case would be solved fairly soon.
“As you may know,” Darby scanned through his papers, “a man was shot to death outside Gory Bar on West 9th Street Thursday evening. Jameson took the call, but I want you --,” he looked at Grace, “to take this.”
“Oh, come on!” Grace protested. “I already have three active cases and five on hold. I can't take any more.”
Darby kept flipping though his papers. “We all have a lot to do, Jacobson. Besides, Jameson can help you.”
“But I need to focus on the Malachi case!”
Her chief looked up, his brows stitched together Grace knew the conversation was over.
“I can't say I've seen a lot of progress on that case,” he said. “Perhaps you should put that case aside for awhile?”
“No!” Grace barked. Darby's gaze cut through Grace and more calmly she added, “No, we're closing in on the murderer.” It was not entirely true, but not a complete lie either. Grace felt they were getting closer although she did not know how.
“Good. It would not be pleasant to tell Chief McArthur we could not solve this particular one.”
Grace took a bite of her donut then a large swallow of coffee.
“Tell me about the Malachi case, Jacobson. How is it going?”
Chewing longer than necessary, Grace eventually told Darby how she and Sean had run into Chirkin the other day and got information about an old girlfriend of Father Malachi.
“You ran into Chirkin?” Darby questioned.
Grace faltered. “Yeah,” she said and took another sip of coffee. Looking into the cup, she felt the heat of Darby's gaze. Smiling, she looked up and quickly added, “We found this woman's name among Malachi's papers. We thought it was his sister. But, Chirkin sorted that out for us.”
Darby stood up and with his hands clasped behind his back he sporadically walked around. “What about his money problems? If he knew Chirkin, are we looking at possible gambling debts?”
“Well, we don't know much more about that. But since I just happened to cross Chirkin's path I asked him -- of course.”
Grace smirked. Darby stood by the window and looked out. It was still sunny, but clouds moving in over the lake foretold it wouldn't be for long. “He said he did not have anything to do with his gambling,” Grace said.
Darby spun around and pinned her down with his gaze “And you believed him?” he burst.
Trusting Chirkin was not exactly what Grace would call it, but he had denied any involvement in gambling and there was not much Grace could do about that at the moment. Besides, she was more caught up in the fact of Ruth being a lover, not a sister. She knew that Malachi had not been a priest all his life and their relationship could have been a pre-seminary thing, but the fact they kept in touch led Grace to believe there was something else. What, she did not know, but it was enough for her to let the gambling slip for a bit. Darby, on the other hand, seemed to be of a different opinion.
“Focus on who he owed money to and don't waste time on old stories,” he ordered and sat down again. Grace decided not to argue. She could check on both the gambling and Ruth Vassel. And after all, she did have a partner.
Grace returned to the mystery of Father Malachi and Ruth Vassel. Hoping to find out more about Ruth Vassel's death, she dialed the number for the Santa Fe Police. She was patched through to a Detective Martinez who was not very interested in searching information on a two-year old case, but after some persuasion and female sweetness, he told Grace Ruth Vassel had died in a car accident. A teenage drunk driver had smacked right into the driver's side of the car.
Martinez gave Grace a phone number to David Callahan, Ruth's neighbor. “He seemed to know a lot about her,” Martinez said and hung up.
Flipping though her notes, Grace found the name ‘David' from when she had read though the postcards. Grace felt a sudden excitement about this. Whatever the cause of Malachi's death was, she wanted to know more about Ruth Vassel. Captain Darby may be right about gambling being the real reason for his death, but she had a gut feeling Ruth was important, too. And one thing Grace had learned though the years -- always trust her gut.
When she called David Callahan's number she got an answering machine. The message was quick and ended with a strained ‘bye' so common when people finished talking into a machine.
Grace left her name, rank and phone number. She then sat back and looked at the phone, waiting for it to ring. It did not. Looking out across the room, everybody else seemed to be fully occupied: Thomas put his jacket on and was obviously on the run, Holly typed on her computer and Sean scratched his head. Everybody was doing what they should be doing. Grace decided to clear some old records off her desk.
Grace looked up from the report she was reading. Her partner sat back in his chair, his hands crossed over his belly. The tie around his neck was, as usual, slightly loose. “What?” she asked although she heard what he had said.
“Well, the Parker woman said Malachi had talked to him. I just think we should try to get it confirmed.”
Grace looked down on her report. It was an older case; a woman in her 50's killed her abusive husband and was now awaiting trial. Grace had to gather all the information for the Assistant D.A. It was not a difficult case. The woman's bloody fingerprints had been found on the knife in the husband's back. But even with the simplicity of the case, the paperwork was tedious. A visit to Bishop Collina sounded far more intriguing.
“Can anyone just show up?” Grace looked at Sean. “Just knock on his door and get in?”
Sean chuckled. “Probably not just anybody.” He grinned. “But we are not just anybody.”
“Right,” Grace mumbled, stretching backward and pulled out the yellow pages from underneath a shelf behind her. She had no intention of getting over to the Bishop just to find out he was out of town for three weeks.
“Good afternoon,” Mrs. Flannery smiled at them.
Flashing her badge, Grace introduced Sean and herself. “We have an appointment with his Eminence.”
“Yes, just a moment.” Mrs. Flannery stood up.
Grace caught the sight of a pearl necklace hanging around her neck. As Mrs. Flannery walked by -- her one inch heels echoed against the marble-flooring -- Grace saw the matching pearl earrings glimmering. Grace looked after her as she walked towards a dark door: black stockings and a black, fairly tight, skirt. Something told Grace this woman was far from wool when dressed for private occasions.
After what seemed like an unnecessarily long wait, Grace and Sean were shown into Bishop Collina's office.
The dark, royal blue carpet and gold-gilded decorations were of striking contrast to the reception area: the office was quiet but bright as a day. The walls had pale-yellow wallpaper; pictures of bishops, cardinals and past popes looked down on Grace. Strained, serious men. Straight ahead of them was a massive mahogany desk, behind it a gold ornamented chair. To the right was a fireplace framed by white stone which matched the white moldings in the rest of the room. To the left were windows facing Superior Avenue ; beneath the windows: bench seating for four.
The bishop seemed to be in a good mood though. “Detective Jacobson,” he said, walking around the desk to greet them.
“Your Eminence.” Grace smiled as she shook his hand. “Thank you for seeing us on such short notice.”
“It's the least I can do in this serious situation,” Collina replied and then turned to Sean.
Grace saw Sean wipe off his hand against his pants before shaking the Bishop's. The seriousness of being invited to the Bishop must suddenly have caught up with him. If the Bishop noticed Sean's nervousness, Grace could not tell. He casually offered them both a seat on the small sofa by one of the windows. The Bishop himself sat down in a throne like chair on the other side of a coffee table. He offered them a cup of tea from a sideboard next to him; Grace accepted hoping it would give her more time; Sean declined.
Collina gave Grace the fine, gold rimmed, porcelain cup on a saucer. “How is the investigation going?”
“It's progressing,” Grace replied not really knowing what to do with the cup. Could she put it down on the table - on the high-glossy table in dark walnut? She peeked at the Bishop. Easily, he sat back, the cup on the saucer in his left hand and the right lightly holding onto the thin ear. Grace tried the same.
“Your Eminence,” Grace began, balancing the cup. “We have information Father Malachi was stealing money from the parish.” Looking at Collina over the lip of her cup, she took a sip of tea. It was bitter. A dash of milk would have helped but Grace did not dare to loosen her grip. Meeting the bishop's glance, she saw the cup in his left hand begin to slide on the saucer; the moment lasted for a split second before Collina saved the cup and took a sip as if nothing had happened.
Slowly, he put the cup back on the saucer. “I can not reveal anything of what Father Malachi told me in confidence, Detective.” He looked up at her. “You know that.”
Yes, nevertheless, it bothered her. “Is there any way you can tell us what you do know?” she asked.
Collina smiled. “No.”
The smile must have caused a bomb to begin ticking inside Sean because suddenly he stood up and paced to the window. Grace grimaced sensing this was not going to end well. Should she tell him to leave before he blew up? Sean looked out through the window, his hands in his pant pocket anxiously fidgeting with his keys and change. Perhaps he would calm down if she just gave him a few seconds? Unfortunately, the Bishop did not know Sean.
“When was the last time you gave confession, Son?” he asked.
His voice was calm, irritatingly calm. Grace closed her eyes.
“I am not your son,” Sean growled from deep inside.
Opening her eyes, Grace saw Sean turn around and point his finger at Collina. This was not good. Not good at all.
“You could just tell us what you know and we could perhaps catch a murderer instantly, but no, you have to play the act.” He pinned down the bishop with his gaze. “What is wrong with some decent honesty?”
“Sean,” Grace said slowly, putting the tea cup and saucer down on the table and then stood up. “It's time for us to go.” Sean's face was dark red and his hair seemed wilder than normal. The Bishop remained seated, calm and confident.
Without a word, Sean stormed out of the room. Mrs. Flannery protested as he charged past her. What a mess, Grace thought suddenly feeling very tired.
“Would you care for biscotti, Detective Jacobson?”
Collina's soft and irritatingly calm voice grated in Grace's consciousness. Mrs. Flannery looked in, confused over what was going on. Grace did not blame her. Grace looked down on the Bishop. He held a tray of biscotti in his hand, a subtle smile draped across his face. Grace chuckled.
The situation was comical: Sean's fleeing, the Bishop offering cookies and her left in the midst of these two wills. Grace felt it would be best if she got out of there as soon as possible, but the determination on Collina's face conquered her.
“I think we should try your questions again,” he said nodding toward the sofa.
Grace eyed him; he smiled with a hint of concern. She could not tell whether it was Malachi's money fraud or Sean's outburst, but he seemed sincere.
With a calm voice, Collina told Grace he had kept a watchful eye on Father Malachi for at least a couple years. Malachi had become agitated and more often than sought him for conversation or confession. What the confessions had been about, Collina could not say, but Grace put the pieces together.
“According to Mary Parker, Father Malachi threatened her unless she helped him with money fraud,” Grace said.
Collina nodded, his expression a bit clouded. “Yes, so I was told.” He paused for a beat then added he never thought Malachi would go that far.
“When did you hear this?”
“Ms. Parker told me.”
Looking down into the cup in his hand, Collina said he should had probably shared this information with Grace as soon as he found out, but Parker had not told him until recently. “The situation is quite disturbing for the Church.”
Grace didn't know what to think. But somehow she wasn't surprised. For some reason she expected Collina to know more than Grace would ever find out.
Moving on, she looked at the notes she made earlier. “Are you aware of Mary Parker's past?”
“I try not to concern myself too much with peoples past,” Collina began, “but more on what they do today.” Collina smiled at her. “I assume both you and I have a fairly good picture of Ms. Parker's past.”
“And you never thought she might have been the one who killed Father Malachi?” Grace asked.
Calmly, Collina surveyed her; Grace felt as if he could see right through her. “I do not judge, Detective. Not even those who might think so.” He placed his saucer and cup on the sideboard and, looking at Grace, clasped his hands together. “To find the truth about Father Malachi's death is up to the police.” Again, he smiled.
All this smiling made Grace nervous, yet she had to admit the Bishop was a good man to talk to. About an hour after she entered, Grace shook Bishop Collina's hand, thanking him for his time. Their conversation had not led her to any startling discovery, but she had gotten a few things straightened out. Malachi had been in need of money and most probably threatened Mary Parker.
Right before stepping out of Collina's office, Grace turned and asked if he had heard of Ruth Vassel. Collina merely smiled and answered he could not talk about it. Grace took his answer as a ‘yes', though she asked nothing further.
Oddly enough, his outburst had not angered her. In contrast to his attack on Brother William one week ago, this was just sad. Sean must know it would take a lot more than simple rage to get the Bishop off balance -- if that was what he wanted. She really did not know the point of his aggression, but it sure was fascinating.
But at the moment, Grace was more curious about his present mood. Walking down the stone stairs, the answer came as she saw him subtly raise his hand to greet her. She took long strides toward him and the closer she came the more she could read his face; he looked like a dog peeing against a bonsai tree.
Turning on the car engine, Grace glanced at the clock in front of her. “Let's grab a bite before we head back to the office,” Grace suggested as she pulled out from the parking lot. Driving back to the office right now would be a bad idea. Better to get Sean's confidence back on line otherwise he would be sitting in his hole of misery for the rest of the day.
Sean said nothing but merely nodded in agreement.
Grace drove to the closest McDonald's. She would have preferred sitting down in a dim bar to eat a rare done burger with curly fries and drinking a cold Foster's Beer, but at the moment it was better to find a place where they did not have to leave the car. Hopefully, solitude would be enough to get Sean to speak about his outburst at the Bishop's.
Without asking what Sean wanted, Grace ordered two Big Macs -- a large Root Beer for Sean and a medium Coke, no ice, for herself.
After parking the car, Grace dug her hand into the white paper bag, ripped off the paper around the burger and then stuffed fries into her mouth. Chewing, she peeked over at Sean and the ritual that was about to begin.
Sean peeled off a piece of paper from the bag, put it on the dashboard and gently squeezed ketchup on it. Then he placed the box of fries next to the ketchup and took the burger from the bag. He methodically peeled back the wrapper and then took his first nibbling bite.
Grace smiled. Sean was one of the sloppiest men she knew, yet no one could eat a burger in the car like him. “A man needs to be good at something,” he told her the first time she witnessed this.
They sat in silence. Grace watched the cars -- the never ending flood of cars -- passing by on the street in front of them. Occasionally, she met someone's glance, a second of connection through the haze of today's rush. It made her wonder who these people were. Did they think the same? She would never find out.
“I'm sorry about earlier.”
Sean's voice brought her back to the inside of the car and she looked at him. He did not look at her, but his eyes seemed focused on something far ahead.
“I don't know what happened,” he mused.
Grace looked away, back at the traffic, not really knowing what to say. “I had a good talk with Collina anyway,” she began. “He didn't reveal much in speech but I understood he knows most of what we know about Malachi, Ruth and Parker.” In the corner of her eye, she saw Sean nod. Taking a deep breath, she looked back on him. “But you need to get over this, Sean. Whatever it is.”
Her partner did not respond, but she could sense he took what she said to heart. “Perhaps you should see your mother,” Grace suggested knowing she took a risk bringing his family up, his mother in particular with whom he did not speak to unless it was her birthday.
He slowly folded the burger wrapping together, did the same thing with the little piece of paper with ketchup on the dashboard then said, “Yeah, perhaps I should.”
His voice was short and no longer bashful; Grace understood the conversation was over. “Good,” she said, crumpling her trash and stuffed everything into the old bag. “Let's get back to the office.” She tossed the bag in the backseat, put on her seatbelt and turned on the engine.
Grace took a left turn from East 9 th Street onto Superior toward Public Square . It was not the smoothest way but she always found it interesting to see what kind of characters hung out around the square and Terminal Tower. The fancy hotels, movie theaters and glittering shops attracted the most diverse population – the poorest of the poor, the richest of the rich.
“I think we need to work more on Chirkin,” Sean said. “He's a slick bastard and wouldn't think too much about killing Malachi. Even though it sounded like they were buddies.”
“Yeah, I bet. But I don't know what to do. He seems to be good at sweeping away all traces of his actions.”
“Comes with the job, I guess.”
They got stuck behind a bus and the construction site of a building. Halting, Grace looked at the ad on the back of the bus: a baby on life support, promoting the ‘Never, Never Shake a Baby' campaign. The tiny infant lying on a white sheet wrapped up in life-supporting tubes was extremely disturbing.
Grace looked away and her glance caught someone sitting on the opposite sidewalk, leaning against a wall: a woman, young and familiar. She nudged Sean's arm. “Isn't that the woman from the funeral?”
Leaning a little forward, Sean hummed, “Yeah, the homeless girl. What is she doing there?”
The woman's hair lifelessly framed her face; she had pulled up her legs and embraced them with her arms. A piece of cardboard sat against the wall next to her; something was written on it, Grace could not see what.
The bus in front began to move away. “Let's talk to her,” Grace said and pulled the car up to the curb. A car behind them honked, the driver probably irritated at her for not getting out of his way quickly enough. Grace waved at him to pass by before she opened the door and got out.
The woman saw them; Grace noticed how she peeked from under her bangs but showed no sign of interest. Just as they took the step up on the sidewalk, Grace said, “Hello.” The woman looked up, but did not respond. Instead she looked away, down the street as if she did not want to have anything to do with them.
“Hi,” Grace tried again. A faint ‘hi' came in response but she still did not look at them. Grace squatted in front of her. She was much younger than Grace first believed -- early twenties probably and dressed in a faded down jacket, jeans and tennis shoes. On the piece of cardboard Grace read ‘young, homeless and hungry.' Grace fished up her wallet, pulled out a five dollar bill and put it in the buckled paper cup.
“I'm Detective Grace Jacobson,” Grace said hoping to get a little more attention. She did. The woman looked up although her gaze kept shifting up and down the street, from Grace to Sean. “This is my partner,” Grace continued her voice calm. “You have a few minutes to talk?”
The woman wriggled under the attention. “I just need money for food,” she muttered.
“I know you do. We're not accusing you of anything, Ms. --.“ Grace paused, seeking eye contact.
“Beth,” the woman sighed.
Grace smiled. “Beth. We saw you at Father Malachi's funeral and we wanted to know how you knew him.” The mentioning of Father Malachi's name brought some light into Beth's sad eyes and Grace even thought she saw the hint of a smile.
“Did you know Father Malachi?” Grace asked.
Beth shook her head. “No, not really. I used to eat there. He was good to us.”
Grace nodded. Many good things had been said about the late priest and there was no doubt a lot of people missed him. It was so strange to know this and at the same time know he threatened Mary Parker. Grace still could not put these pieces together and it bothered her.
The wind pinched Grace's cheek. She shivered and longed for a hot bath. Beth's lips were almost blue, yet she seemed unaffected by the cold. A bath was probably not her main concern, but to find a roof over her head for the night was. There was something admirable about the homeless, their way of surviving the cold, the heat, the violence, the humiliation. Grace could not even imagine.
“Where is your baby, Beth?” Grace's question was like a slap in the face and considering where Beth sat today, she knew it would hurt. This was the kind of question one would tip toe around to ask anyone else. Humiliating, but Grace was part of the system. She had to ask.
The light in Beth's eyes turned off; rage flashed by then sadness glimmered. “I don't know what you mean,” she stammered, tears welled up in her eyes. Grace did not like herself at the moment, knowing she had brought up what Beth tried to forget.
“I saw you last summer,” Grace said, “and you were pregnant. We both saw you.”
Beth looked away, clasped her arms tighter around her legs and slowly rocked back and forth. “She's in a better place.”
A better place? Grace's mind alarmed. In Beth's world that could mean something completely different than for Grace.
As if reading her mind, Beth added, “She's adopted.”
Grace exhaled in relief.
“Father Malachi helped me.”
A bit stunned, Grace watched Beth, her face marked by a hard life. Grace was surprised to hear Father Malachi's name and adoption in the same sentence, yet she did not know if it was just pure ignorance from her side; ignorance of not fully understanding how things worked on the street. Not a day went by when Grace did not learn something new.
Standing up, she looked at Sean. Her partner shrugged. “The church helps a lot of people,” he explained.
Grace shivered again. The wind picked up and now snuck inside her coat. She looked at Beth sitting on the concrete sidewalk, no where else to go.
“Can we take you for a cup of coffee,” Grace asked knowing she did not really have time for it.
They walked across the street and into a coffee shop that served coffee for no less than $1.60. Beth and Grace sat down by one of the small, round tables while Sean went to get the hot beverages. Beth looked down on the table, avoiding the risk of attracting anyone's attention. Survival, Grace figured and thought back to the previous year when Beth had been sitting in the same place as today, but then pregnant. How many had not rushed by her, judged her without even seeing her? Avoiding people was probably the only way to manage.
“I'm a little curious about how Father Malachi helped you with the adoption,” Grace said as Sean returned with three cups of coffee. “How did that happen?”
Beth placed her hands around the cup, held onto it for a moment then lifted it to her mouth. Closing her eyes, she nursed the hot drink. “I'd heard he helped before,” she said putting the cup back down, yet still holding on to it.
“Heard?” Grace wondered. “From whom?”
A bit of silence fell; Beth cringed in her seat, obviously uncomfortable by the questions. “A girl on the street,” she began, “told me I could find help at St Matthew's. She said someone named Mary could get me in.”
Grace's heartbeat picked up. “Mary as in Mary Parker,” she asked.
Beth did not know her last name. “A nice lady. She understood me.”
That did not surprise Grace. Mary Parker's past probably led her to help the women on the street - now that she could do something about it without being in the midst of it.
“I don't get it,” Sean said a little too loud. “Who helped you? Malachi or Mary?”
Beth never looked at him, but responded, “Mary, I think. I talked to Mary. She said she would talk to Malachi.”
“Was the baby born already when you did this?”
Two boys, fifteen something years old, entered the coffee shop. They talked loudly, laughed about some girl in their class who had large breasts. Beth hid behind her cup of coffee while Grace prayed to the gods that Eric would never act like these two boys. The chance he would not was slim, but she made a mental note to teach him how to show respect.
When the boys left, still laughing, Grace asked Beth if she knew what happened to her baby. Beth shrugged. The only thing she knew was the baby had been handed over to the Ursuline Sisters. From there on, Beth had not a clue and she preferred not to.
“It seems like the Parker woman hasn't let her past stay that far away,” Sean mused as Grace drove the short distance back to the office.
“No. We should have a talk to her about this.”
Grace did not know what good it would do for the investigation, but the more she knew about the church's affairs the better it was. The church helped prostitutes. Nothing odd in that, but it does bring Malachi closer to a lot of bad guys.
Near the station, she made a quick decision and turned in the direction of Mary Parker's house.
Once again they walked up the narrow pathway to Parker's house and once again Grace was reminded she had not done anything to her own yard. Ignoring her conscience, she hit the doorbell.
Mary opened the door - a yellow, tiger striped cat hanging under her arm. “Detectives,” Mary said.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Parker.” Grace flashed a smile. “We have a couple more questions we would like to ask you.”
Caressing the cats head, Mary looked from Grace to Sean. The hesitation was obvious but not unusual for someone who had the police standing outside their door. A couple of seconds went by before she invited them indoors.
Mary walked ahead to the kitchen; Grace and Sean followed. Grace could not help but notice the years had been gentle with Mary's figure. The well-worn jeans sat loosely over her hips and the tucked in crew-neck shirt revealed a fairly slim waist. Details Grace liked to pay attention to.
“I'm fixing dinner,” Mary explained as she headed for the stove. She put the cat down on the floor and the animal dashed into another room.
“We won't be long,” Grace assured surveying the kitchen. It was in neat order and nothing like when Grace cooked. On the table sat a plate and glass, just like it had when Grace was here the last time. A jug with a brownish beverage stood next to the glass. Ice tea, Grace guessed. Considering the cold weather, she could not even imagine having ice tea.
Stirring the content in the pot, steam rolling above its rim, Mary asked what she could help them with.
Grace opened up her coat and leaned back against the counter. “We met a woman who mentioned your name.” Still stirring, Mary looked up. Grace added, “A homeless woman named Beth.” Mary stopped stirring.
Time seemed to stop. Grace met Mary's eyes, yet she felt as if the connection between them was broken. Either Mary's mind went totally blank or it worked on overdrive, trying to find a way to explain. Grace almost felt sorry for her; it would have been easy for Mary to just tag along to the question. In Grace's opinion it was not strange Mary helped the prostitutes, it was stranger she faltered right now.
After what seemed like many long minutes, Mary began to stir again. “Yes,” she said. “I remember her.”
Grace saw Sean write in his notepad. “She told us you helped her child get adopted.”
“Do you want to tell us about it?”
Again Mary stopped working and pushed the pot off the burner. “What is there to tell? She needed help and I helped her.” Mary crossed her arms and leaned back against the wall.
Grace smiled. “It sounds great to me, but I wonder if this is something you do often? And if Father Malachi was involved?”
The cat returned to the kitchen, snuck along the wall and the counter till it reached Grace. Carefully, it sniffed Graces shoes then snaked in between her legs.
While Grace tried to keep an eye on the cat, Mary said, “I've probably helped ten, perhaps fifteen, women since Father Malachi took over. The girls get pregnant and can't take care of the kids. It's better for everyone if the kids get a fair chance.”
“I agree,” Grace said as the cat moved along to Sean. Her partner was not a big cat lover and gently pushed the cat away with his foot. “Who came up with the idea? You or Malachi?”
“Neither of us,” Mary replied her tone now a little sad. “Father Julius did.”
Grace saw Sean nod; questioning, she looked at him. “The priest before Malachi,” he reminded her.
Nodding, Grace recalled Mary had been at St Matthew's longer than Malachi. Grace eyed Mary who had, if possible, gone even paler than the first time she met her.
“Are you okay, Ms. Parker?” Grace asked, honestly believing Mary did not look well.
“I think I need to sit down for a while,” Mary replied.
Mary slowly walked to the table, pulled out a chair and sank down. Grace could sense Mary wanted to tell them something, something she had not talked about in a long time. Fingering the rim of the plate, Mary's thoughts seemed far away or possibly so close they bothered her. Grace straightened up, pulled out the chair opposite Mary and sat down.
“I can see something is bothering you, Mary.” The woman sank deeper into the chair. “Please tell me.”
Again, it took a long time; so long Grace began to wonder if they ever were going to get out of there.
Finally, Mary whispered. “I had a baby once.”
Grace sat back, closed her eyes for a split second. Of course Mary had a baby. Grace should have known, or at least considered it. “Did Father Julius help you adopt the baby away?”
Without meeting Grace's glance, Mary nodded. “A baby boy. Father Julius took care of me before he was born and after. Immediately after delivery, he gave the baby to the Ursuline Sisters.” Mary silenced.
The cat pranced across the floor and jumped up in Mary's lap. The woman smiled and smoothed the yellow coat along its back.
“Do you know what happened to your boy?” Grace asked. Frolicking, the cat purred aloud unable to get enough attention.
Smiling at the cat, Mary answered, “No, and I never wanted to know.”
Not wanting to know seemed unbelievable to Grace, yet she understood Mary's reasons. She had made a choice once and there was no turning back.
Grace decided to redirect from Mary and instead talk about Father Malachi. She asked how he got involved in the adoptions. Mary did not know, but one day, shortly after Malachi arrived at the parish, he had asked Mary to talk to a girl who was pregnant.
“Didn't you find it strange he asked you?” Grace wondered.
Mary shook her head. “I knew Father Julius had told him about me. They were old friends and used to meet before Father Julius died.”
“Were all the girls prostitutes?” Sean asked from behind Grace.
Still caressing the cat, Mary eyed Sean for a beat. “The ones I met, yes.”
Grace hung onto Mary's answer for a moment before she asked if there were other women besides prostitutes Malachi helped. Mary could not answer, but she told them there could have been school girls or just ordinary women unable to take care of their children.
“But I really don't know,” Mary added.
Back in the office, it was the normal buzz: Thomas pushed a struggling, well-shaved man in a black suite and white shirt toward the interrogation rooms, Dodge hurried between the desk on his way out and Jameson rushed on her way back.
With a cup of coffee in her hand, Grace sat down at her desk as Mrs. Kolinsky strode by, heading for Captain Darby's office.
“Jacobson!” Mrs. Kolinsky chimed, still walking and without turning to Grace. “The Mrs. called some hour ago. Said you should call her back.”
Before Grace managed to connect that Mrs. Kolinsky was actually talking to her, she had closed the door to Darby's office behind her. Why had Fran called the office? Grace wondered inwardly, turned around and grabbed her cell phone from her coat. It was turned off.
“Crap,” she muttered, put the cell down on the desk and reached for the other phone.
Fran answered within a couple of signals.
“Hi, it's me,” Grace said keeping her voice down. In the background she heard some soft jazz music play. A woman sang.
“Hey,” Fran responded. “Where have you been?”
Sitting back, Grace watched dark clouds entering from the lake. “Out and about,” she said, realizing one cloud looked like an old, grumpy man. “I forgot to turn on my cell phone.” The jazz was turned down and Grace could no longer hear it.
“I thought so. It wasn't anything important and I can talk to you when you get home, but Kolinsky insisted on taking a message.”
Grace smiled. “I'm sure she did.” The grumpy man on the sky faded into something indefinable. “Has something special happened?”
A short pause entered before Fran said, “I was just upset for a while and needed to blow it off on someone.”
“And you wanted me to be that someone,” Grace snickered. It did not happen often, but occasionally Fran's Italian temper surfaced. In those rare moments there was not much to do but listen and let it blow over.
Fran chuckled on the other end of the line. “That's what I have you for.”
“That is what I am here for,” Grace said feeling she touched the state of smarminess. She bit back a smile and said, “Now, tell me what happed.”
“They called from the hospital and said I had to come back after the New Year.”
The clouds in the sky seemed to laugh at Grace. Sighing, she turned away and looked out across the office. The man Thomas had gone into the interrogation with came storming back with Thomas left looking after him. Grace closed her eyes.
Before Eric was born, Fran had worked as much as possible to save up time so she could stay home with him. It had been like the beginning of Grace's and Fran's relationship: no matter how late Grace was home, Fran was even later. For about eight months they barely saw one another. When the maternity leave eventually started, Fran could be home for about two months with just what she saved up. From there on they lived on only Grace's salary plus what was on Fran's saving's account. It did not make them rich, but it was worth every nickel and every second.
The plan had been Fran would return to the hospital in March the year after Eric was born. So far it had worked out very well for them, but obviously not as well for the hospital. Grace had read in the paper about the health system's budget cuts and how the staff had to work overtime to manage all patients. She was not surprised they needed one of their more experienced staff back. Unfortunately, this was not going to be very practical for either Fran or Grace. Eric's opinion she did not even want to think about.
“Ouch,” Grace mumbled in response unable to find words expressing what she felt.
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Fran muttered. “That damn Dr. Cohen, I could --.” She stopped herself then calmly added, “I got so mad when he told me I almost resigned.”
In spite of all the trouble that was building up in the horizon, Grace could not help but smile. Fran's grumpy moments were priceless. She looked at her watch: it was 4:30pm. “Listen,” Grace said. “I'm just going to clean some things off my desk and then Ill get home. Should be there in an hour.”
After hanging up, Grace looked at Sean who sat staring at something on his computer screen. She thought back to what Beth and Mary had told her about the adopted babies, the prostitutes and the Ursuline Sister's. Ripping a piece of paper from a note pad; Grace drew circles, wrote names and connected them all with lines.
Mary had been a prostitute; she had a baby and they were both saved by Father Julius. This happened years before Father Malachi entered the scene. For some reason, he asked Mary to help him talk to pregnant prostitutes. Grace surveyed the map on the paper. Where did all these prostitutes come from? Did all of them really contact Father Malachi voluntarily?
Grace reached for the coffee cup on the desk and took a mouthful of the now cold beverage. Grimacing, she sat back. Sean scratched his head, mumbled to himself then typed something on the computer. He had been on the force for more than thirty years; a lot had changed in Cleveland during those years but some things never changed. The thugs had always been thugs.
“Sean,” she said. Her partner looked up for a beat. “Has Chirkin ever been involved in prostitution?”
Sean stopped typing and eyed her. “Not that I can recall, but it wouldn't surprise me.”
“But the suspicion isn't totally out of the blue, right?”
Sean shook his head. Grace thought back to the stripper she had seen in the club. Strippers were one thing, prostitution - something completely different. But for a man like Chirkin, Grace had an unsettling hunch the leap between the two was not far.
“Let's presume something here,” Grace said propping her feet on the desk. “Let's say Chirkin and Malachi have known one anther for a long time -- perhaps longer than we imagine -- and that Chirkin does have prostitutes working for him.” Energized, Grace twirled a pen between her fingers. “Maybe, Malachi has been helping Chirkin with these more precarious situations all along.”
With his hands crossed over his belly, Sean asked what this had to do with Malachi's murder. Grace sank back. “I don't know.”
“If Malachi actually worked for Chirkin, what would be the reason to kill him?” Sean asked.
Sean pushed Grace to consider every angle – like always. She pondered his question when, suddenly, she realized they were heading in the exact direction Grace didn't want to: organized crime. If this actually had to do with organized gambling and prostitution, working the case could be extremely dangerous.
Meeting Sean's glance, she replied, “Isn't that what always happen? They kill off one another. Perhaps Malachi tried to get out, but Chirkin wouldn't let him.”
“It could actually mean they killed him for reasons that don't have anything to do with gambling,” Sean mused.
Grace nodded. “He could just have screwed up completely,” she said. “Perhaps he turned his back against the wrong kind of people.”
Also, she thought, Malachi may not have fully understood who Chirkin was and what he was capable of doing to protect himself and his interests.
It is a rough world, Grace thought casting a glance at her watch. It was already after five. She straightened up, folded her papers then said, “We must talk to Darby about this. If we're going to dig in Chirkin dirt we need more people.” She stood up and put on her coat. “I gotta run, but let's get the pieces together tomorrow.”
She drove Superior Avenue and across the bridge over Cuyahoga River up till she hit West 25 th Street . The traffic light turned red. Humming a tune, she looked at St Matthew Church to the right. It was exactly one week since Pamela Griffin found Father Malachi in there, hanging by an electrical cord. But tonight, lit up by lights hiding in the shrubs, Grace thought the building looked so peaceful. Beautiful.
Just as she was about to continue, she saw someone come walking from behind the church, up the stairs and entered. Her expression now furrowed, Grace wondered who it could have been. There was only one way to find out.
Grace did not see anyone around. The person who entered was no where to be seen and with her hands in her pockets, Grace strolled up the middle aisle. The suffering Jesus hanging on the cross above the altar seemed to cry for her attention, but instead she ignored him. Turning, she looked away and in the corner to the left of the altar she found who she was looking for.
Of course, Grace thought - Pamela Griffin. She hollered the janitors name aloud.
“Heavens!” the woman screamed twirling around.
Grace immediately saw Pamela did not have any headphones in her ears. “Sorry,” Grace said apologetic. “Thought you listened to music so --.”
“God, Detective! What are you sneaking around for?”
Raising her foot, Grace answered, “Soft soles.” She moved closer. “You don't listen to music anymore?”
Pamela shook her head. “Not anymore. Knowing people could be sneaking around in here made me nervous.” Pursing her mouth together, she said, “Guess people still can do that.”
Grace smiled wryly. “I saw you from the street when I passed by. You were outside.”
“Yeah, I took a break,” Pamela explained, demonstrative leaning onto the broom. “To smoke.”
Pamela did not seem pleased with Grace's company, but Grace ignored that. Instead she wondered, “Is that something you do with regular intervals?”
“Take breaks when you're here.”
Pamela sighed. “I usually take a break at 5:30, get outside for some air.” She smirked.
Interesting, Grace thought. “Any special place you go to?” If Pamela had a routine, someone might have known about it and snuck into the church while she was gone.
“There's a bench in front of the rectory. The wind normally doesn't reach that spot.”
Grace understood. The wind usually came from the lake and sitting in front of the rectory would mean the building sheltered. “How long are these breaks?”
“I try to stay outside for fifteen minutes.”
Fifteen minute smokes break in the cold Cleveland November afternoon? Grace shivered by the mere thought.
As if sensing Grace's amazement, Pamela explained she needed the time not to fall asleep. “I get up at six every morning to study and I'm a lousy evening person. Air and a cigarette, or two, is the only thing that works for me.”
Leaving Pamela to her chores, Grace continued her drive home. Fifteen minutes. Was that enough to get the cord around Malachi's neck and pull him up in the beam? If it was, then the killer must have performed his deed between 5:30 and 5:45. It was possible, but one important question remained to be figured out: did Chirkin know about Pamela's routines?