Days of Grace
posted March 26, 2005
It was just after midnight when Grace looked at the entrance to Club Caesar from the backseat of De Rossi's car. They drove by – one pass to get a last check on the situation. Seven cars were parked on the street right outside the entrance and two men just walked inside. In the blink of an eye, Grace saw strobe lights flickering in the dark. Strobes --, she thought as their driver made a u-turn. Grace hated strobes.
“It looks pretty empty,” Grace said.
“A bouncer is right inside the entrance,” De Rossi said. “It's not as quiet as it looks from out here.”
Grace was getting nervous again, doubting they were doing the right thing at the right moment. “What if Chirkin isn't there?” Grace turned to Sean.
“He's there,” De Rossi said from the passenger seat. Neither Grace nor Sean responded. De Rossi added,” I sent a guy in for a drink. Chirkin is there.”
Looking out through the window, Grace saw a man hurrying along the sidewalk heading downtown. Claudia is prepared, she thought. Of course she was. We have to get the right man, not just his minions. Nervous, Grace felt she wasn't able to think straight. Just then, their driver turned into an alley across the street from the club and came to a halt.
“Ok, guys,” De Rossi said.
They all stepped out from the car and headed toward the street. To the right, Grace saw the headlights of four other police cars. Two of the cars passed by and stopped at the intersection some one hundred yards away, the other two turned into empty parking lot next door. When all were in position, two black vans approached at high speed.
Grace pulled her weapon and checked the rounds one more time. Her hands burning, she squeezed the grip.
“Let's go!” De Rossi ordered as the vans stopped outside Club Caesar.
Running across the street, the SWAT team – black commandos with helmets and assault weapons -- stormed out from the back of the vans. The men stopped for a couple of seconds and made sure Grace, Sean, De Rossi and her partner were behind them then, on the command of the leading SWAT, they busted through the door.
As though trapped in a flood, Grace was flushed through the door and into the club.
Screaming people rushed up from their seats. How many? Fifty? A hundred?
The bouncer was pushed down on the floor, a foot pressed against his back. Grace moved on. Sweat trickled down her face; she wiped it with the back of her hand and scanned the crowd.
Women screamed. Where was Chirkin? Men shouted. The SWAT members plowed their way into the smoky, dank space; a table or two fell over, glasses broke. Two women on the stage, dressed in only thongs, tried to shield themselves with their bare hands. Where was Chirkin? A group of men swung against a couple of SWAT; shouting, they were pushed backwards by the barrel of a gun and steadfast determination.
Out of the corner of her eye, Grace saw De Rossi move to the right. De Rossi pointed to the back of the room. Through the strobe lights, she finally saw Chirkin.
“There he is!” Grace called, hoping Sean was behind her. Pushing through the crowd, she ducked a glass flying across the room, and elbowed a man twice her size. She was not letting this moment or Chirkin slip away.
But the dark, the strobes, the screaming people had a different destiny for Grace. A push so hard from behind Grace could feel her lungs deflate. She fell forward. That edge looks awfully sharp, she surmised as the table-top rushed toward her.
Perhaps I should sleep in today. Grace curled up and sighed. I don't feel well; I'm tired. Who is screaming? Be quiet! She opened one eye. Feet, legs, dark and light.
“Oh, crap!” she groaned as reality returned. Pushing herself up, Grace saw a fuzzy image of Sean's back. “Oh, shit. Get up,” she ordered herself. “Get up! Get up! Get up!”
A hand held her down. “Be still, Jacobson.”
The world spun like a Merry Go Round as Grace turned her head to De Rossi. “Chirkin,” she mumbled, trying to wriggle out of De Rossi's grip. “I've got to get him.”
“Don't worry, Jacobson. They've got him.”
Why was De Rossi spinning? Grace felt sick just by looking at her. She choked and swallowed. “Sean – I've got to help --.” She struggled to sit up.
Suddenly, the over-headlight flickered and bright light filled the space. Grace's head exploded. “Oh, shit!” she covered her eyes.
“You --,” De Rossi said and forced Grace to lie down, her head in De Rossi's lap, “are going to the hospital.”
“No, no, no,” Grace protested, trying to sit up. “I'm okay.” Half sitting, she starred at De Rossi. She's blurry. Something sticky glued Grace's right eye shut; she tried to blink it away.
De Rossi sighed. “Give me your phone.”
Grace was confused. What the hell does she want from me? she thought. Suddenly, De Rossi started searching around her waist. “Hey!” Grace protested in vain.
With a puckered expression, De Rossi hit the buttons then put the phone to her ear. Grace closed her eyes. Just for a second.
“Hi, this is Detective Claudia De Rossi.”
Grace opened one eye; the other didn't want to follow.
“No, I don't know if anything is wrong, but I'm in an argument with your obnoxious partner. She is laying here with a gash in her forehead – a canyon, so deep I can see the hairs on the back of her head.”
Grace touched her forehead. She frowned. It wasn't that bad.
De Rossi said, “I told her she needs to go to the hospital, but Grace doesn't agree. What do you think?” De Rossi then removed the phone from her ear and just held it between Grace and her.
The voice on the phone sounded like something from a bad cartoon: rant, rant, rant, rant – bla, bla, bla. Grace couldn't hear a word, yet she knew. When the voice stopped, De Rossi put the phone back to her ear and said, “That's what I thought.”
Life is unfair, Grace moaned.
“Hi there, Champ,” a male voice, well-familiar to Grace said.
Grace peeked through her left eye. “Sean, De Rossi forced me to lie down. I was going to help you.”
Sean chuckled. “You look like shit, Jacobson.”
Ignoring his comment, Grace asked how it went. Sean smiled. “He's being squeezed into a squad car at the moment. Fussed so much he'll end up in hell.” He reached out and brushed something off Grace's forehead. “Not that he wouldn't anyway.”
“Time to go,” De Rossi said and helped Grace up on her feet. Grace swayed and felt the sour taste of bile rise up her throat. Grimacing, she swallowed hard.
“Sean.” She tugged onto her partner's arm. “Look through every piece of paper. Make sure Vice doesn't get it all – its our case.” Leading Grace by her arm, Sean said he would. “And tell me everything later.” They reached the ambulance. A paramedic looked her over and helped Grace inside. “And don't start the interviews before I'm there,” she hollered just as the door closed. Grace panicked. Did he hear that? The ambulance pulled away. Grace's left eye flickered. He did hear that?
Laying on the gurney at the ER, Grace tried to block out the noise and get some sleep. A nurse had taken care of her on arrival; first the nurse held up a mirror in front of Grace, proving to her there actually was a huge wound on her forehead. She then cleaned her off and placed a gauze bandage over it temporarily.
“The Doctor will stitch it up,” the nurse explained, leaving Grace to her own thoughts.
She must have nodded off for a while because when she looked up, Fran was leaning over her.
“Can you push her through for an X-ray?” Fran asked and looked at a man to the right of Grace.
“I'll see what I can do.” The man wrote something on a chart then shot a grin at Fran. “You want to sew?”
Grace rolled her head to face Fran. Fran smiled – a crinkle of concern between her eyes, but she smiled. Fran then looked at the man.
“No, but I wish I could.”
Saying he would be right back, the man left.
“Hi,” Grace whispered.
Fran eyed her then reached out and placed the palm of her hand on Grace's cheek. “Hi. How do you feel?”
Grace closed her eyes and felt. “Terrible.” She chuckled and opened her eyes again. “It didn't feel so bad when it happened.”
Taking Grace's hand in hers, Fran leaned down and placed soft kisses along her knuckles. “You'll be fine in a couple of days.”
A couple of days. Grace didn't have time to be sick for a couple of days. “We have the guy who killed Malachi,” she said. “I have to interview him tomorrow.”
Fran sighed, but didn't respond. Instead she said, “You're going to have a scar right above your eyebrow.” She leaned forward and brushed her lips against Grace's ear. “It's going to be very sexy.”
Goose bumps spread across Grace's body and she couldn't help but smile. The smile faded quickly, though, when she noticed the man returning with needle and thread.
After having had her wound stitched together and her head X-rayed for a possible crack in her skull, Grace insisted she go home.
“This,” she pointed at the wound, “won't heal any faster here.”
Fran had been surprisingly supportive, but Grace had a hunch she figured it would be easier to keep her in bed at home. Grace wasn't so sure.
The following morning Grace woke up with a headache so bad she couldn't think straight.
“Oh, God,” she groaned and turned into the pillow. The pillow curled her skin. “Aow!” Breathing heavily, Grace turned onto her back again. Eyes closed, she tried to calm down. When she heard Fran's footsteps coming up the stairs, she forced herself to sit up.
“Grace Jacobson – what are you doing?”
Grace peeked up at her. “I've got to get up.” She looked at the clock; it was 1:20. “Oh, shit.” Grace made an attempt to stand up, but swayed back onto the bed.
Fran was immediately by her side and sat down next to her. “Grace, you have to stay still,” Fran said and put her arm around Grace's shoulders.
She was right, Grace knew that – she really did – but at the moment that was beside the point. She had to get down to the station, talk to someone about what she missed last night. In the haze of Novocain and painkillers, Grace had dreamt about her fall, her complete failure at the scene. Oh, it would bug her for -- for days.
“A couple of Aspirin and I will be like new,” Grace said and turned to face Fran. The motion she made was too quick, and sent a pang through her entire body. She grimaced; Fran eyed her with a hint of ‘I-told-you-so.'
Realizing she had to change attitude, Grace leaned closer to Fran. “Please,” she whispered, taking Fran's hand.
Seconds passed before Fran stood up, walked over to the bathroom and returned with her medical kit. “Let me look at you first.”
Sean called while Fran examined her, informing Grace that De Rossi was having the first interview with Chirkin around 4 pm. No wound in life would keep Grace from missing that and about an hour later Fran dropped her off outside the police main entrance.
The pain relievers had kicked in and as Grace entered Homicide she didn't feel as bad as she feared she would. On the other hand, she probably looked bad.
“Do you intend to scare the truth out of Chirkin?” Sean asked.
Grace automatically touched the bandage above the eyebrow. “You think it'll work?”
“It isn't pretty.”
True, Grace thought as she hung up her coat. But this was not a beauty contest. “So, tell me what happened.” She sat down, eager to hear what Sean had to say.
“Well-,” he reached for a Zip-lock bag on his desk and handed it to Grace. “This was in Chirkin's safe. In his office.”
Straightening the plastic and turning the piece a couple of times, Grace looked up at Sean. “A stamp.”
Sean nodded. “And not just any old stamp – ‘the' stamp. The laurel is there filled with green ink.”
Grace eyed the piece again. “And it's the same one as on Malachi's receipts?”
“Crime lab is working on determining the ink right now; I told the guy I needed an answer right away so he should call back soon.”
Grace put the stamp down in her desk and sat back resting her cheek in the palm of her hand. If this was the same stamp they would be able to tie the connection between Chirkin and Malachi. It would also state that Chirkin had lied to them the first time they met; back then Chirkin had prompted he was not involved in such an activity as gambling. Grace sighed. One step closer.
“Do you want some coffee?” Sean asked in a low voice.
Grace peeked at him. She couldn't remember if Sean ever had made such an offer before. Sure, he had brought her coffee, but not offered. Not like this.
Grace smiled. “I'd love some coffee.”
Sean stood up and walked over to the coffee maker. Meanwhile, Grace closed her eyes, took the moment to rest. In the background she heard a cup hitting another, the glass pot being pulled off the burner and then back again. As Sean returned, Grace opened her eyes and cast a glance at him.
“Have you heard anything from De Rossi? Was there women working at the club without visas?”
Sean handed Grace a white mug; it was hot and Grace embraced it with both her hands.
“From what I understand,” Sean said and walked around to his own desk, “four of the women were illegals. One of them was a dancer, the other three waited tables. It's not like they had any paperwork proving they actually were hired by Chirkin, but from what I heard, they were pretty outspoken.”
Sipping the warm coffee, Grace looked at her partner above the rim of the mug. “What do you mean?”
“They were cooperative.” He shook his head. “They really didn't want to be there.”
Grace had no doubt that was true, yet it could be hard to get these women to talk to the authorities. Who knew what experiences they had? Trust -- they probably didn't have a great deal of at the moment.
“But you think they will testify?”
“I would think so.”
I hope so, Grace thought. For De Rossi's sake. It would be an outstanding achievement for Vice to crack a trafficking ring. Homicide's reputation, on the other side, was entirely in Grace's hands. She got nervous. Her mind felt like a big, black hole. What am I going to say? She began to feel worried, her heart beat loudly. When the phone rang, Grace jumped.
Sean answered. He nodded, hummed and penciled something down on a piece of paper. Curious, Grace straightened up. The phone call seemed to take forever yet Sean revealed nothing of what it was about. When he eventually hung up, Grace leaned forward resting her elbows on the desk.
“It's the same ink,” Sean said and flashed a grin.
Indeed, Grace thought and sat back again. So, Chirkin, you did lie to us. Without a word, she shook her head. You shouldn't have done that, Chirkin. Grace threw a glance on her watch; it was five to four.
“Let's go down and check out De Rossi's interview.”
When Grace and Sean walked into the small observation room, the interview had already begun.
Claudia De Rossi sat with her back to the one-way window; Grace watched over De Rossi's shoulder. Chirkin seemed grayer than she recalled, even smaller. She would have thought Chirkin was a tough man, someone who demonstratively would stand up against anyone. Perhaps she was wrong. Unshaved and puffy, Chirkin sat back, his hands in his lap while his lawyer – a trimmed man in his fifties – argued with De Rossi that she had no proof Chirkin was involved in trafficking.
Grace was eager to get in there with. She had objected to De Rossi taking Chirkin on first, but she might be able to push him while trying to get at the larger crime of trafficking in slavery. That push, Grace hoped, would help with their interrogation.
“Good for De Rossi she has plenty of witnesses.”
Sean nodded. “Yeah, she has enough, but Chirkin is not going to tell on anyone. If he does, he'll be a dead man tomorrow.”
When Grace and Sean stepped into the interrogation room Chirkin straightened up in the chair. “What are they doing here?”
De Rossi stood up and turned to leave. “Nice eyebrow,” she whispered as she brushed by.
Again, Grace reached up and touched the bandage. Chirkin's lawyer protested, argued something about his client being unstable or tired. Grace wasn't listening too closely.
“Hello, Chirkin,” Sean said and sat down on the chair where De Rossi just sat. Grace pulled out a chair and sat down next to him.
“Sean O'Connor,” Chirkin responded sourly. “I didn't know you had switched departments.”
Sean responded with silence before he said, “You remember Detective Jacobson.”
Chirkin turned to Grace, “Of course.” He licked his lips.
Inwardly, Grace sighed. The smarmy attitude she recalled from their first meeting was back. She wanted to wipe it off him.
“Mr. Chirkin --,” Grace began and first placed the bag with the stamp on the table then the one with the receipts. “The last time we spoke you told us you didn't run gambling.” Chirkin flinched; pleased about this reaction, Grace continued. “But we found these -,” Grace pushed the bag of receipts across the table, ”in Father Malachi's home.” Chirkin made no attempts to look at them, so Grace took the bag and pulled out one of the receipts. “Here, look at this. It's a gambling receipt and here in the corner -.” Grace pointed. “Here is a laurel.”
Chirkin sat back and crossed his arms. “That means nothing.”
Grace eyed him for a moment then took the other bag and pulled out the stamp. “This -,” she waved the stamp, “we found in your safe.” Chirkin just looked at the stamp. “It has the exact same laurel as the one on the receipts and the ink is the exact same.”
When Chikin didn't respond, his lawyer broke in. “This doesn't have anything to do with what my client is arrested for. We will not answer any of these insinuations.”
“Oh, but it does have to do with who you are, Chirkin.” Grace smiled as she observed Chirkin for signs of reaction: the corner of his eye jerked slightly. “You lied to us when you said you didn't run gambling and now it turns out that you do.”
“I do not!” Chirkin burst.
“Are you saying someone else is running the gambling from your office and behind your back?”
Chirkin silenced, but behind his eyes Grace could sense he fumed. In a way, she found it strange. In relation to trafficking, gambling wasn't much to fuss about. Unless --. Grace weighted the different crimes: Ten years for trafficking, but the murder of a priest would most probably lead to capital punishment. The death sentence is a good justification for his defensive manners.
“Let's put all the cards on the table, Chirkin.” Out of the corner of her eye, Grace saw Sean peek at her. “Malachi owed you over $14, 000. Is that why you killed him?”
It was a huge chance, Grace knew it, but she was not up for spending days coaxing the truth out of the man. Grace felt she had the advantage and she was going to use it.
“What the hell are you talking about? Is this why you're here waving your so called evidence in front of me?” Chirkin leaned forward, his face was bursting red and he breathed heavily. “You don't know what the hell you're talking about,” he hissed.
The attorney jumped in. “You have no evidence. What is it detective? Trafficking, prostitution, racketeering and murder? Got anymore unsolved cases you want to pin on my client? This interview is over.”
Grace ignored him. “You lied to us the first time – you're lying to us now.”
“Don't be smart with us,” Sean filled in. “The jury will have to decide if they're going to believe the Cleveland PD or the man who has women slaving in their city as prostitutes.”
Sitting back, Chirkin shook his head. His lawyer leaned closer and whispered something in his ear; Chirkin listened at first but then blew him off with a stern look. With little patience, Grace waited for him.
Eventually, he leaned forward. “Let me tell you something about Father Malachi. Everyone knew he was a bad gambler. And if you had investigated, you would too.” Chirkin chuckled. “He took chances, got behind and then took even wilder chances. Finally, someone had to look after their interests.”
Grace eyed him. There was an odd determination in his voice. Although, he cloaked his own name, Grace was more than willing to listen.
“So-,” Chirkin continued, “I figure they asked him for a favor.”
He smiled and Grace decided she didn't like what she saw.
“I heard he was asked if he knew some woman. You know -- someone from the street who could work off Malachi's debt.” Chirkin smiled.
From the beginning of this case, Grace had had a hard time with Father Malachi's ethics. The fact that he threatened Mary Parker made him small. The smug look on Chikin's face disclosed that Malachi had sunken even deeper. He lured someone into Chirkin's nest.
Chirkin chuckled. “I heard he managed to pay off quite a lot of his debt that way.”
Steeling herself from his arrogance, Grace bit back. “An even bigger reason for you to kill him.”
“Oh, I'm not the one he worked for but –.” Again he smiled. “Let's say it was -- do you think he would tell on me?”
“He might have.”
Chirkin laughed. “He wasn't that brave.”
It wasn't going exactly like Grace wanted, but she wasn't surprised. Although Chirkin was in deep trouble for trafficking, he wasn't going to admit murder. “A couple of weeks ago when you sent your men to collect money. Tell me what happened.”
“I don't know what you mean.”
Sean leaned forward. “We have a witness that you sent some guys to the church, threatening Malachi.”
“Threatening,” Chirkin frowned. “We were friends and -. Well, we still had our disagreements.”
There was something in the way Chirkin spoke that made Grace nervous. What was it he knew that Grace didn't?
Grace tapped the back of her pen against the table. “Let's say you didn't kill Malachi –– do you have any idea who could have?”
With a hint of satisfaction, Chirkin sat back. “Did you know Malachi had a son?”
Surprise is a reaction difficult to hide and this time was not an exception. Grace felt like someone tied a knot with her intestines and tightened it really hard. She squeezed the pen in her hand and glanced at Sean. He looked like he could swallow a baseball. Grace took a deep breath and turned back to Chirkin. The man had a grin on his face that Grace couldn't wait to wipe off.
“Yes, we do know that,” she said as steadily as she could.
Chirkin threw a brief glance at his lawyer then crossed his hands on the table and faced Grace. “I'm surprised at you, Detectives. You don't know who it is.”
Damn! Grace cussed inwardly.
“Chirkin,” Sean growled.
What was happening? Grace tensed and her forehead started hurting. She closed her eyes for a moment too long and struggled with her thoughts. Was Chirkin not the killer, but he knew who was? Or is he only trying to save himself -. And who is the son? Did he kill him? Grace felt like she was being slapped around by this man – this awful man. She opened her eyes and met Chirkin's satisfied look.
“Perhaps someone close killed him? An extraordinary good person even. Good people do bad things, too, Detective.” Chirkin sat back, smugly. He looked at Grace with an advantage; Grace felt her case crumble. God! What the hell have I been doing?
Sean cringed in his seat. “Is there a point to this?”
“Oh, you're too eager, old friend.”
Grace could sense Sean was about to explode; she peeked at him. His fists flexed in his lap, but somehow he maintained his temper.
“You know --.” Chirkin leaned closer. “The sins of a father are often passed on to the sons.” He glanced straight into Grace's eye.
A father and son. Extraordinary good. Suddenly, all bells and whistles went off inside Grace and she tugged onto Sean, but maintained eye contact with Chirkin. “Brother William?”
Chirkin laughed out aloud. “Malachi told me years ago that Brother William was his son, but the funny part is that William never knew.” Chirkin frowned. “Stupid kid.”
“Are you saying he killed Father Malachi?” Sean asked.
“I have no idea.”
Grace was stunned. “So?”
Chirkin sat back. “The day after the man died, William came down to the Club and --.” Chirkin let out another loud laughter. “Somehow he knew about Malachi's involvement in women and money and, believe it or not, thought I was involved.” Chirkin laughed again. “Soft kid. Guess he didn't approve of this side of Father Malachi.”
“What did he say?”
Chirkin shrugged. “Something about it being my fault or whatever. I can't remember.”
“Come on, Sean!” She hauled Sean up from the chair and out from the interrogation room.
In a haze Grace watched the city pass by outside the car window. Sean was driving and while she sat in the passenger seat, Grace tried to get her thoughts to settle.
Chief Darby would not be happy with the turn this case had taken that was for sure. It was embarrassing. Muddling over the case in her mind, Grace tried to figure out what she should have done differently. In retrospect – a lot.
Closing her eyes, feeling the pain in her head, Grace focused on the rhythmic beats as the car passed over the seams in the concrete. Ka-dunk, ka-dunk. Dirt from Edgewater Park . Brother William jogged there; on the other hand, so did Father Malachi. Ka-dunk, ka-dunk. I've never really asked him. Grace groaned.
“It's doesn't matter now,” she mumbled, opening her eyes.
“What did you say?” Sean asked.
They crossed the bridge and now stopped at a traffic light. “It just bugs me how reckless I've been. Fooled -- totally fooled by some angel-like kid.” She frowned. “I should be reassigned to a high school security office.”
Sean chuckled. “High schools are dangerous.” He turned left then right. “Don't be too hard on yourself. Shit like this happens.”
Grace sighed. Not on my shift. Later, she thought, I'll figure out why Chirkin did me a favor.
They parked outside the apartment building near the church and the patrol car quietly arrived without sirens or blue lights. Grace wanted to approach William nice and slowly.
“Stay down here,” Grace said to the officers. It couldn't be necessary to bring up an army of people just to get William. Impossible, she thought as Sean and she climbed the two flights of stairs.
There were four doors on the second floor – two to the right, one just across the stairs and one to the left. Grace quickly looked through the notes she had on William. “Number 203,” she said and put the note pad back into her pocket.
Sean knocked on the door; Grace listened. Nothing. “Again,” she told Sean. There was no response.
Suddenly, a chain rattled and the door to apartment number 202 opened. An older man in gray, filthy pants, a tank top with last week's dinner it looked out. “Are you looking for tha' kid?”
“Yes, we're looking for William,” Grace said and took a step closer to the man. His odor hit her and Grace stopped before she got too close. “Have you seen him lately?”
The man shook his head. “He's been out a lot lately. Went running this morning.” The man started coughing; immediately, he began sweating and considering the force behind, Grace wondered if his entire interior was about to come up. Eventually, he calmed down.
“He used to be a nice kid,” the man panted. “He helped me with the trash, laundry and --.” Looking down, the man paused. “Well, with things like that,” he mumbled.
Grace smiled. No wonder he stinks, she thought. “So, what happened?” she asked.
The man shrugged. “Suddenly, he doesn't seem to care.”
Turning to Sean, Grace nodded.
Before they headed back down the stairs, Grace wrote down the man's name and phone number. He was curious about what was going on, but Grace told him not to worry. Inwardly, she thought about recommending that he should find someone else to look after him.
Back on the street, Sean leaned back against the car. “Any idea where he can be?” he asked, looking at Grace.
Squinting, Grace eyed the traffic passing by. He could be out jogging, she thought, which means he should be back shortly. On the other hand, according to the neighbor he had been gone all day. Gradually, an image of the closed window in the rectory showed up in her mind. Of course!
“He must be at St Matthew's,” she said and smashed the palm of her hand against the car. “Gee, I must be totally stupid these days.”
Sean ordered the officers back into their car. “Follow behind,” he hollered while he jumped into the driver's seat.
Nervous, Grace drummed her fingers against her knee. “I think he's been in the rectory after Malachi died and I'm pretty sure he spends a lot of time in the church.”
“Why?” Sean asked and hit the pedal.
“Like you once said, ‘Guilt overflows.'”
It was just after seven pm when they parked the car outside the church. Grace felt her headache return, but tried to ignore it.
The rectory lay in darkness. “Let's check the church first,” Grace suggested. In the rear view mirror she saw the patrol car pull up and the officers step out. Taking a deep breath, Grace turned to Sean. “He's got to be in there.”
Outside, Sean ordered to officers to stay put. “Wait five minutes before you go inside. If he is in there just take it easy.”
Both officers nodded before they followed right behind up the stairs to the church. Grace put her hand on the doorknob and carefully twisted it. The door opened.
“Five minutes,” she repeated to the officers before opening the door and walked inside.
A faint light filled the church; the chandeliers on the walls were dimmed down and up on the altar four large candles burned. St. Matthew was still not open for services, but someone kept the house of God open to those who needed it.
Grace scanned the pews and in the first row someone was kneeling. Positive it was Brother William, she put her hand on Sean's arm. “You wait ten feet behind me,” she whispered. Her partner was about to object. Grace ignored him. “Ten feet.” She was not risking Sean blowing up in the friar's face.
Quietly, Grace walked down the aisle and stopped at the front row of pews. It was Brother William, rosary firmly grasped in hand. Disheveled and putting off fractured airs. Grace threw a cautioning glance at Sean. With his hands deeply buried in his coat pockets he stopped. Grace stepped into the pew and sat down next to William. He didn't acknowledge her.
“How's it going?”
William's shoulders tensed. “Not so good,” he said staring at the crucifix in front of him. “Not good at all.”
“What are you praying for?”
“Forgiveness.” He looked over his shoulder, up at Grace. “But God is not listening.”
“Perhaps I can help you.”
William sighed and turned back to the crucifix.
William wore his black jogging suit. Looking at him from behind Grace noticed he was unshaved and his hair was longer than she could remember him having the first time she saw him. For a moment, Grace thought about what to say. Should she make the situation worse by telling him Malachi was his real father? It sounded cruel, yet he would have to know – and he would find out one day or the other. In the background she heard the church door open. Five minutes must have passed, she thought.
She decided to take a detour. “We have caught a man for trafficking of humans today. Perhaps you know him? Andry Chirkin?” Grace noticed William tense again. “For quite some time we have suspected him for the murder of Father Malachi.”
“Forgive me Father,” William whispered his attention at the crucifix. Then turning to Grace he finished, “But Chirkin is a bad man.”
Grace looked down on him. “Yes, he is, but even bad men are worth listening to.”
Clasping his fingers around the wooden pew before him, William shook his head and with a raised voice spoke. “It was his fault Malachi became a bad man!”
“Why is that?”
William crawled up from his knees and sat down next to Grace. He sighed once, then again. “A month or two ago, Malachi said he had to go down to the boxing club so I joined him. It wasn't going to take long, he said.” Someone coughed; interrupted, William turned around. He then turned back to Grace. “You have a lot of people with you, Detective.”
Dark rings shaded his reddened eyes; his lips were white and dry. The young Brother William seemed to have aged ten years in only a couple of days. Fearing he would lose the thread, she said, “Ignore them.”
William turned to the crucifix. “I heard them talk. Malachi objected to something and Chirkin growled, so I snuck closer to hear.” He sighed. “I didn't mean to eavesdrop, Father.” Apologetic, he looked down on his hands and scratched on something that wasn't there. “I heard Chirkin say, ‘The customers love Maria and I want another one like her. No one will miss her, so just get someone.'” William looked at Grace; his eyes were filled with tears. “That ‘someone' could've been my mother, Detective.”
Grace turned away from William and looked at Jesus on the cross. So that is the reason, she thought. You knew, she argued with Jesus. Didn't you? The wooden edifice didn't respond.
“I had to protect her!” William burst and slammed his hands on the pew.
Immediately, Sean was nearby. She turned slightly and could see him from the corner of her eye. “So you killed Father Malachi to protect your mother?” she said softly and looked at William. His expression was as frantic as his voice.
“I had to protect her,” he whispered, tears trickling down his cheeks.
Sighing, Grace took the young man's hand. It was cold. “You should have gone to the police, William. And if you had, we would have figured out who your mother is.” She paused for a beat. “And your father.
William pulled back his hand. “What do you mean?”
After a bit of hesitation, Grace said, “When you were born, your mother couldn't take care of you, so she left you with your father. He moved to Cleveland and placed you with the Ursuline Sister's. Your mother died in Santa Fe , New Mexico , a couple of years ago, but your father kept an eye on you all the time.” William looked confused. “Father Malachi was your real father, William.”
Deadly silent, William stared at Grace his mouth slightly moving as if he wanted to say something. Suddenly, he charged Grace. “No!” he screamed and slapped her across her head.
“Oh crap!” Grace moaned and covered her face with her hands. She heard William taking off but Sean immediately rushed after him.
“Get him!” Sean shouted at the two officers. Stumble and rumble then another scream.
Meanwhile, Grace felt warm blood soaking her hands.
Again, Grace laid in the E.R. looking up at the same dirty ceiling as the night before. She had new stitches; a new bandage, and, this time, some really good painkillers. At the moment, she didn't feel bad. Felt nothing at all.
Sean had hauled William back to the police station. William, William, she thought. I should have known.
A familiar voice penetrated her mind; Grace looked in the direction and saw Fran standing with Eric in her arms talking to the very same doctor as yesterday. Fran looked at Grace. Grace flashed a smile but for some reason Fran didn't smile back.
“Don't mind me,” she muttered.
The doctor suddenly laughed, patted Fran's shoulder then turned on his heel and walked away. Fran looked after him before walking towards Grace.
“Listen, Fran,” Grace said as Fran stopped by her bed. “I was thinking – perhaps I should take a day off.”
Fran's eyebrows quirked and Eric let out a screaming laughter. Conspirator, Grace cussed inwardly and crossed her arms across her chest. “I'm going to take two days off.”
Leaning down, Fran whisked away a strand of hair from Grace's cheek. “Let's go home.”