Never open your mouth when you’re surrounded by wasps.
That’s just a fact of life.
When Valerie is mad at you, do not, I repeat, do not say a word. Remember when I got hit with the steel pipe? Even if blood is squirting out of you like you were a walking arterial fire hydrant, do not speak. If you can’t control yourself, have a straight razor handy so that you can slice out your tongue before it damns you to hell.
There was a night back a few years, right after Val had found out about my innocent association with Terri, when she was somewhat irritated with me. Her manner was abrupt. Her affect was sullen. The poor girl was like a polar bear who had had it up to here with not being able to get through the big plexiglass wall to eat all the cute children on the other side. I was sure she was being tormented by the issues of her sad past. All I had to do to fix things was say something wise. “Now, sweetheart, don’t do this to yourself.”
The plexiglass shattered. The freezing water poured out. White death was upon me. I was face-to-face with Thalarctus Maritimus unbound. That’s Latin for polar bear.
Suffice to say, my words of wisdom were not well-received. Never open your mouth when you are surrounded by wasps. I was getting that vibe very clearly as I walked out of jail, a free, doomed man.
Looking at her face as I approached the Neon on that sunny afternoon, I saw all the warning signs. Furrowed brow, biting on lower lip, rubbing her fingers with her thumbs, it was clear that Valerie was not to be trifled with. I kept my mouth shut.
“Hello, darling, did you enjoy the slumber party?” Val said.
I smiled weakly, my lips together. I would have rolled onto my back, exposing my vital organs in submission. But we were in public, and my reputation was bad enough.
She was standing on the far side of the car. I couldn’t see if she had a gun in her hands. I stepped to the passenger door, my hands at my sides. I did not reach for the door handle. Assume nothing.
She examined the lamb. She was deciding whether or not she was hungry. No, it wasn’t time to feed…yet.
I did. I put on my seat belt without being told. She started the car, reached over and turned on the radio. A song came on – Nat King Cole was singing, “There was a boy…”
“Marty, On television… I saw… Hell, Marty, Torey’s missing,” Val put her hand on my knee. “I’ve up all night trying to figure out how to tell you. I don’t know…” Val started crying. I’d misinterpreted her mood. Typical. She wasn’t mad, she was worried.
“I know, Val. I saw it on the tube last night, too.” I’m not good at reading my own feelings. At that moment they were boiling – or freezing, I couldn’t tell. Was I sad, or was I angry? The whole rush is uncomfortable for me and people like me. There are a lot of us. We passed a carload of happy people. I remember that I wanted to kill them. That’s kind of the way my emotional life goes – sideways.
“What are we going to do?”
“Tools, don’t shut me out of this.”
“You don’t understand, Val. You know that porno tape Kensington said they found under Terri’s body?”
“Yeah, perverse stuff he said. Jeeze, what did Mikey say it was?”
“It was child-porn, Val.”
“Shit, Mikey was…”
“No Val. Torey was the child. Torey was on the tape naked and…”
Val froze staring out the windshield. A dump truck went by, but I didn’t hear its rumble. Nat King Cole was singing, “There was a boy…” I couldn’t quite focus my eyes.
“We have to… We have to… Fuck!” Val screamed. Then her face got that polar bear look again.
“I have to find him, Val.”
Valerie almost killed a bus load of retirees. My spleen hurt.
“I’m going to help, Marty. We’ve got to find him. We’ve got to…” She killed the radio. “Do you want to know what I found out?”
“Did you find out where Torey is?” That’s all I wanted to know.
“Stop it, Marty. I know it’s terrible. But you’ve got to focus on what we can do here to help Torey. You being all pissed isn’t going to help. The only way we’ll find him is by figuring out this thing with Terri — step by step. Now stop being the avenging angel, or suicidal dad. The roles don’t fit you. Now do you want to know what I found out?”
She was right. I had to be Tools all the way. Totally Tools. I have some talents. It was time to use them for my son. I knew Val wanted to help. And she would. Just maybe not the way she figured. My brain was starting to go into fantasy mode. No, not sexual or anything like that. It’s a vizualization thing. I start putting pieces together. This bit, that bit, do this, do that, push him, use her – whatever was going to get me to my goal. My goal was to find Torey. I’d use Val if it helped. With or without her permission. See, that’s the cold bit I was talking about. I’m not proud of it, but that’s the way I work. And when I’m doing my best work, nobody sees what’s going on inside – nobody.
“Sure. What did you find out.” The emotion was out of my voice.
“I checked out Kensington.”
“I just saw him inside the courthouse with the Chancellor.” I was doing a lot of thinking about those guys. They had a curious relationship. I was curious about more than just that.
“Monsignor Shuldik. Archbishop Kunkle’s keeper.”
“Not surprising. Kensington is the biggest of the Catholic boosters in town.” She was half smiling despite herself. A booster is a supporter or a thief – me for instance. Val had made a little joke.
“I found out there is a sealed conviction.”
“From way back in his pubertyhood?”
“Yeah. Sally’s going to dig it out for me if she can.”
I shuddered at just the mention of Sally Rosemond’s name. “Suppose she’s got a girlfriend on the inside.”
“Marty, you shouldn’t say things like that.”
“I know. Sorry.” I was just a little sensitive about Sally and Val’s friendship. Val was sensitive about it, too.
There was a slight pause in the conversation. Then… “Yeah. She does know a girl who works for old Judge Fantabula. He handled the case.”
“Love will conquer all,” I quipped.
“Funny man.” Val’s smile had faded.
I changed the subject. “Do the cops know Torey is my son?” You knew I’d told Valerie about this long ago, didn’t you?
“I don’t think so. They are too busy painting a picture of this ‘dad from hell’ persona to hang on Mikey. They already think they know the story. Why should they open any other books?”
“Yeah.” I was stuck figuring out our next move.
“They’re not asking about Torey’s true parentage. They talked to Kim, but apparently she didn’t volunteer that tidbit. It’s the same way they’re so unconcerned about how the body got up to the farm. Could Mikey explain why his St. Christopher was on the path up?”
“Yeah he… wait, I didn’t tell you about the medal… How? Do the cops know? … What?” I ran our night together at the Albino Farm over in my head. Dinner. Sex. Jail. I hadn’t told her.
“You are such an innocent. Listen, after we left the church that night, you acted funny. You didn’t criticize my driving all the way back to my place. You were in one of your ‘secret’ modes. I could tell. I can always tell. So after our little interlude in the kitchen, I waited until you were asleep. It was about, oh, two minutes. I rifled your pockets and found the medal. Were you ever going to tell me?”
“Don’t I always?”
She gave me a look for an answer.
“Mikey’s story made sense. Terri stole it from him.” I was thinking hard. I needed a drink.
“That would fit.” She was working with me again. The team was back together.
“But the video… that I can’t figure. And where is Torey?”
“A cop I know told me that…” She hesitated. Now she was being careful. “…He might be dead.” She didn’t want to say it, but it had to be said.
This is where you would expect me to emote, to react, to plunge into a father’s despair contemplating the loss of his only son. I’ll admit that all that stuff started to burst into flame in my psychic Weber, but I put the lid back on the kettle. Val had already reminded me. I needed to focus to save Torey. Feeling this or that would only get in the way. So I tried to just be Tools. That’s how I handle stuff. At least, that’s how I handled it then. Wait until you hear everything, then judge.
“We’ve got to talk to Kim.” That had to be the place to start.
“That’s where I’m going,” Val said.
Sure enough, we were just crossing Dumpe headed north on Pudd. Don’t laugh. I didn’t name these damned streets. Val hit a pothole and cut off a Happy Cab changing lanes. “And you saw the DA and the Chacellor together.” Val was thinking hard.
“Monsignor Shuldik and Kensington are thick as thieves.”
“That’s not much of a revelation.”
“Isn’t it just a bit odd for a layman like Kensington to have so much pull in the Church?
“Val, you really don’t know church history, do you?”
“I mean even considering history, Marty. Kensington gives bucketloads of cash for buildings, property, programs. Shuldik funnels some back for Joe’s campaigns – all through legal secular comittees, of course. The Pope gives Kensington a big honking purple star garnet. Shuldik gets to run the diocese and even gets a ruby bishop’s ring. Meanwhile, Kunkle drools on his crozier and talks about demons to grade school kids.”
“I heard about that.”
“Kensington keeps claiming that he only knows Father Hunter casually. Says he only met him once, underline once, at an art show opening.”
“But he was at Saint Phil’s the other night with Redlands.” I did have some short term memory cells left.
“Precisely.” She let Kensington’s little unsolicited lie sink in. “St. Philomena’s is supposedly in financial trouble. Hunter is the pastor but the diocese is running the place direct.”
“He’s the real boss there. And Kensington is giving the Monsignor all the cash he needs to keep that old church going.”
Being the clever shamus I am, I replied, “Oh.”
“It doesn’t make since. An old property like that, pretty much out of living parishoners. Why would Shuldik keep it open at all? The Monsignor must have a leash around Kensington’s neck, high-heeled boots, and a big black whip to get all that money.”
“God, Valerie, I don’t want to know that! Spare me the details. Until later anyway, when we’re alone.” I like those kind of details when we’re alone, all the graphic details whispered in my ear.
“You’re a sick puppy.”
“You’ve told me that before. What else did you turn up?” I asked.
“Redlands is officially a rookie cop, right?”
“Right. And he’s not very popular with his peers. Jasmine Moore hates his ass. Vandy would just as soon shoot him as look at him.”
“So why does Redlands work so close with Kensington? Why would a big important DA associate himself with such an obviously whack-o incompetent?”
“One man’s wack-o is…”
“… Another man’s errand boy.”
“The muscle in the conspiracy.”
“Bingo. And meanwhile, Terri had been working at St. Philomena’s as a housekeeper for Father Hunter.”
“Fuck me running.” I’d never actually tried that one.
“What exactly does that mean?” She hit a squirrel. Neither Val nor the flattened animal noticed — consciously.
“It means, I find that interesting.” My God, she’s not even looking where she’s driving!
“So Douglas Hunter – troubled priest – kills Terri and…” Val was thinking out loud.
“Father Hunter? Douglas Vincent Hunter? No way.”
“Why not? Catholic priests are above all that? Haven’t you been reading the papers, lately?” Val was starting to argue her case.
“Oh, they’re capable of that and more. They organized the Crusades, didn’t they? Ran the Inquisition? Oh, they’re capable of anything, as a class. As an individual, Doug Hunter is incapable of almost everything. Remember, I went to seminary with him.”
“You would have made a hell of a priest.” She was being sarcastic.
thing is, I would have made a hell of a priest.