I think conversation is a dying art, don’t you?
I also think that milk and cookies can help set the right mood for a friendly little chat. Valerie, still puzzled by my star turn in front of the cameras, read my suddenly different mood, bit her tongue, and went into the kitchen. I can have a “mood” too, and she knew it. She returned with the cookies. I sent her back.
“Get some milk, would you please, Valerie? I’m sure Father Core-lee-o-knee would like some milk with his cookies.”
That interesting girlfriend of mine took it all in stride. “Yes, dear.” She was transformed into a housewife.
I could almost see her in a nice cotton dress, white pumps, and an apron. We’d live in a little Tudor brick house full of the aroma of fresh baked cherry pie. There would be two kids, a boy and a girl. I’d call them Punkin’ and Sport. We’d have a nice Volvo station wagon and a goofy neighbor named Ethel. I’d have a rec-room in the basement with a big oak bar. Life would be perfect. We rejoin our exciting program, already in progress.
The priest’s eyes were darting around the room, from me to Val to the front door. Was he looking for a way out?
The phone was ringing. Kim literally shook herself and followed Valerie back into the kitchen. She picked up the cordless by the refrigerator.
“Hello? … Thank you so much… Yes, it’s been terrible… The search? …I’m not sure, just a minute…” God bless her, but Kim was so stupid. “Tools!…” she yelled like a hockey fan.
I didn’t take my eyes off our new friend. “Yes, Kimberly, what is it?”
“Where are the volunteers for the search supposed to meet?” I’m telling you the story just the way it happened. Don’t laugh, I’m not in the mood.
Nothing was going to throw me now. I was in the zone. “The Further Creek Country Club parking lot. They’re starting to organize at seven tomorrow morning.” That should fuck up the Thursday morning ladies’ bridge club and the Tirawa Police Department’s staffing plans.
Kim went along blissfully, “They’re meeting in the parking lot at the country club… Seven… Yes, in the morning…” I tuned out the rest.
Valerie brought in the milk, on a tray, no less. She even had little plates for the cookies, and napkins. I was going to have to buy her a string of pearls. She set the tray down on the coffee table next to a big, you guessed it, coffee table book entitled, “The Big Book of Nazi Atrocities: A Photographic Testament.” Charming. Personally, I preferred the one under it, “A Child’s Guide to the Black Death.” I should note, in fairness, my memory of Kim’s preferred large format photo essays may be somewhat distorted. I’m just trying to give a sense of the setting. The books may have been more akin to “Twenty-five Years of Cat Fancy Magazine Covers.” I can’t be sure now.
I spent a little time just checking out Father Ken. He was short. Valerie says I label everyone as short because I’m tall, and she’s right. So, I’ll be more specific. He was about five foot eleven. It’s always a bit tricky to measure when someone’s sitting down, but I had seen him standing earlier and could visualize him leaving a Kum & Go. You’ve seen the strips by the doors of those convenience type places? They’re green with yellow graphics marking off feet and inches, so that when a crazy meth freak sticks them up, the petrified Pakistani clerk can report the perpetrator’s height to the responding officers. I have often wondered why the measurements start at three feet. Do dwarves rob these places that often?
I figured Father Corleone was about five foot eleven. He had a slight build. He looked like a runner. He had no body fat. He was lean, and his grip, when I shook his hand, had been strong. It wasn’t as strong as mine, but it was firm, and he hadn’t been trying to hurt me. He had long fingers and wore some kind of class ring with a blue stone on his left hand. His hair was gray at the temples, parted on the right, and perfectly in place. I got the feeling he was about my age, thirty-five or so. I had to admit he was a good looking guy.
All right, you’re saying to yourself. “Tools stole money from this guy’s car, parked outside a gay bar. Now he says he’s good-looking. Is there some homeoerotic sub-text here?”
No. But don’t let that give you the wrong idea, either. Some of my best friends are gay. O.K. then, I have one gay friend. Let me explain.
He owns a club called “David’s” and his name is obviously, Ed. Well, you wouldn’t expect him to call the place “Ed’s,” would you? If it was “Ed’s” the place would be full of truck drivers. As it is, only about five percent of the clientele are truckers. I’ve known Ed since we were in prison together. He was my cellmate at Indian City, and the only guy I talked to for almost three years.
Yes, I had a gay cellmate. I was lucky. Do you think he would attack me? Well, thanks for the compliment, but I’m not his type. Ed likes dark Latin men with a little romantic fire. I just don’t fit the bill. The freaks who rape you in prison are not gay. They are simply predators. If they’re on the street, they prey on anyone they I.D. as weak. They do the same thing in prison. Homosexuality has nothing to do with it. The puke who raped me when I was a kid? Call him a pedophile, a psycho, whatever, he was a predator, and I was the weak target. He wasn’t gay. Gay guys like gay guys. Isn’t that obvious? I have never figured out why so many people are confused about this.
Ed was doing six years for selling stolen whiskey. After I took care of that guy who was hassling him, the Frito Bandito gang banger, he owed me a little, too.
When he got out, he opened “David’s.” I stopped in every blue moon. I could get guys to buy me drinks every once in awhile. Then they’d find out I wasn’t gay, and that was the end of that. Hey, why should women get all the free booze? It was all in fun, and all the regulars took it that way. When a stranger would come in, some of them would bet on if I could score a freebie or not. Other than a stray lesbian couple or two, there were no women to make me act stupid. It was a pressure-free environment.
The night I saw that black Lincoln Town Car with the Christian fish outside David’s, I knew it was a stranger. The car spoke to me, “I don’t belong here.” The Jesus fish on the bumper marked it as fair game. There was two hundred twenty-five dollars in a church deposit bag on the front seat, and that’s when I saw the name tag hanging from the rear view mirror and the whole “Core-lee-o-knee” thing happened.
It was a priest at a gay bar. The priests who go to gay bars are hiding something; the fact that they go to gay bars, for one thing. Then they go back to their pulpits and put down homosexuals. In my book that deserves punishment. I admit it — I have my prejudices, too. I hate hypocrites. I realize I do a little rationalizing to justify my own career choice. That’s the way it is in every industry. At least I don’t work for R. J. Reynolds.
So, as I sat there looking at Father Ken, I was judging him, and I had formed an opinion based on my own unique life experience. “Do you like milk and cookies, Father?” Always open with an easy question. You want the subject to get in the habit of answering before the walls go up.
“Yes, I do. Thank you.” He had slipped into his pastor persona.
“Did you see Torey Sunday night?” The easy part of the test was over.
“No.” That was a simple answer.
“Kim says Torey went up there for a meeting. Didn’t he show?”
“There was no meeting.” My built-in stress meter did not register any effort to deceive.
“No meeting for the altar boys?’
“That’s on the first Sunday of the month. Last Sunday was the second.” He was holding a cookie in one hand and a frothy glass of milk in the other. There was a napkin on his Core-lee-o-knee. Sorry.
“I could check on that.”
“Yes, you could.” He took a bite of the cookie. That’s the bad thing about black, it shows crumbs. It’s another reason I was glad I had left the seminary. Sartorial neatness ranked behind women, but it was on the list.
“How often did you see Torey?”
“Maybe a couple times during the week and then Sundays when he served Mass.”
“Were you ever alone with him…ever?”
Father Ken took another bite of cookie and a big pull on the glass. You could see his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed. He had a skinny neck. It would be easy to snap. He looked like a “got milk” ad when he was done.
“I said, were you ever alone with Torey?”
“Yes, I’m sure I have been…” He was giving it some thought. “in the sacristy, maybe… In the hall at school. Yes, I’ve run into him there. I might have been alone with him on the playground. We sat out there on the jungle gym and talked sometimes.”
“He was never at the refectory?”
“I’m sure he…yes, he was. But we were never alone there. Priests have to be very careful about that sort of thing these days.”
“You live alone there?”
He laughed. “No, my mother lives there as the housekeeper. She’s an Italian widow. I’m her only child. There is no ‘alone’ there. Though I wish there were, sometimes.”
“Yes, Torey’s an interesting kid. He told me about his family situation….some other things…” Ken glanced towards the kitchen where Kim was talking on the phone. It had been ringing incessantly since the live shot on the news. She was busily spreading the word about the search party.
“That’s what you talked about?” I was thinking he was being too forthcoming. He was either very honest or very good at lying. I’ve met more of the former than of the latter, very few of either.
“Well, sometimes I talked to him about stealing. He would take things from some of the other kids, even some teachers. Drugs. I talked to him about that.”
“He was doing drugs?”
“I thought he acted like he was – a couple times. Never could be sure. I might have been wrong.”
“Did you punish him? Make him do anything to make it up? What did he have to do to stay in your good graces, Father?” That was a bit harsh. But I was still in a harsh state of mind.
“He had to return everything and apologize. I didn’t let him serve Mass for awhile. That had an impact. Torey really seems to love being an altar boy. But he started stealing again…he’d confess to me without being caught. We talked about that.”
It was ringing true. It made some sort of sense. And it sounded like something a son of mine would do.
“You know Torey’s friend, Greg Jackson?”
“Yes, I did. He was a nice kid. Greg and Torey used to be friends.”
“You did? He was? Is Greg dead?” Kim had said that Torey went to Greg’s, didn’t she? I was a little off balance.
The priest’s little honest laugh again, “Oh, no. Greg moved to ah… yes, San Diego about five months ago. Why?” It was the first question he had asked. Liars always ask more questions than he had.
“Because he told his mom he was spending the night at Greg’s house.”
“Yeah, he’s a smart kid, but he hasn’t built up nearly that many frequent flyer miles, that’s for sure. Do you know where he might have been going all those nights he said he was at the Jacksons?”
“No… not that I can… well…”
“What? Just tell me, Father. Even if you’re guessing, tell me.” I was asking like I had believed him so far. I think I had.
“He talked a lot about his old parish. How he hated it, but he loved it. He was really confused about his feelings. They were strong, too. He would refer to his time there as “the old days.” It seemed funny when a twelve-year-old used a term like that…but…”
“What? Go on.”
He finally wiped off his milk mustache. He hadn’t been aware of it. He had not been thinking about himself. No excessive self-awareness; how he was appearing to others, how his voice sounded, his gestures. He wasn’t thinking. He was just talking, just answering me. He wasn’t lying.
“He’d usually call it ‘the old days,’ but sometimes when he talked, it was like he had just come from there. I just thought.. funny…I just thought he had trouble with chronology, with past tense, present tense… Some kids are kind of dyslexic with tense.”
“Like he’d been there recently?”
“Son-of-a-bitch!” I would have thrown the untouched glass of milk at the wall, but it wasn’t mine. I’d already caused enough damage in Kim’s life. But… ”Son-of-a-fucking-bitch!”
The priest continued, “I told that Detective Vandy all about Torey this afternoon. He’s an interesting man.”
“You talked to Vandy?”
“Yes, he was tough but, I don’t know, I liked him. When he was leaving, Detective Vandy muttered something about Father Hunter at Saint Philomena’s to that Hispanic partner of his.”
“Torey’s been back there! God, how many times has he gone back there?” I was losing it. I screamed. “Motherfucker!” Vandy was on the Hunter trail. I was pissed that my diversion might be too late.
Corleone flinched, and Valerie dropped her cigarette in her milk. What a filthy habit. She came towards me.
“What is it?” She’d just listened to the whole conversation without butting in. She’d heard everything but she didn’t get it? What was wrong with her?
I reached for my pocket. Father Ken sat up straight. Did he think I was going for my gun? Did he think I was going to plug him? I probably did look like a mad man. I guess I understood his apprehension. I pulled out my wallet and counted out two hundred and twenty-five dollars. I offered the money to the priest.
“What’s this?” He was just a little on edge. I wonder why.
“Relax, Father. It’s your money.”
“Count it. It’s all there. Let’s just say I found it.” When I made a mistake, I always tried to make it right.
He took the bills. He didn’t count them. His face fell. “In my car, right?”
“Yeah, I found it in your car.”
“You know I’m gay.” It wasn’t a question. He sighed and surprised me by smiling.
“Are you afraid I’ll tell the Bishop?”
His smile turned into a laugh. A light laugh that lasted ten or fifteen seconds. Valerie laughed, too. I turned to her.
“You knew he was gay all along?”
“Of course, you dolt. I’ve worked with Ken on some Gay Rights issues. I even did some legal work to help him set up the AIDS outreach program he runs at the hospitals.”
“Why didn’t you tell me…”
“Because, honey, you had the bit in your teeth. You needed to case him yourself. I know you. Besides, we needed to find out about Torey’s doings Sunday night. I didn’t know what Father knew, either. You were kind of rough on him. I always get excited when I see my big strong man at work.”
“Stop it.” She could be merciless. “Sorry, Ken.”
“He’s your son, isn’t he?”
“She told you?”
“No, but when you were grilling me, I … I talk to a lot of people with a lot of secrets. It just seemed obvious to me.” He wasn’t cocky about being right. In fact, he seemed sad. “You’re going to find Torey?”
“Yes, we will, Father. We will find him.” I liked the guy. He reminded me of Ed. “So what were you doing at ‘David’s,’ Father?”
“Having a drink with my significant other. It was our fourth anniversary. You ruined the party by stealing the money I was going to use on his present.”
“Now I feel great. So the Archbishop knows. What with you doing all that public work, right?”
“Oh, yes, he knows. And he doesn’t like me one bit. He’d defrock me if he could, but priests are in short supply, and my parishioners support me. Well, half of them support me. He leaves me alone most of the time. Heck, most of the time he doesn’t know what year it is. Archbishop Kunkler is getting on in years.”
“Well, the good die young, don’t they?” I shouldn’t have said it, but I did. I flashed on Torey.
“It’s the Chancellor who really runs things. Though it’s rarely mentioned, Shuldik is what you call an auxiliary bishop. He has the ring, as they say.”
“The ring. The big ruby ring,” I mumbled.
“Yeah, it’s a ruby. A symbol of his power. He harasses me every once in awhile. Shuldik’s very conservative. I think my case is edging up on his ‘to do’ list. I suppose he’ll eventually get me. It’s a matter of time.” He looked sad, and he was right. Feudal systems like the Church Hierarchy gobble up individuals. That’s a fact of life in the Twelfth Century. If you don’t believe me, check the calenders in the Bishop’s mansion.
“The Chancellor? Monsignor Shuldik?” The image of D.A. Kensington with his arm around Shuldik’s shoulder at the courthouse flashed.
“None other,” said Father Ken. “Monsignor Shuldik, leader of the Catholic Life League, doesn’t seem to like me much. As a matter of fact, he’s probably using my name in vain at their monthly meeting tonight over at the Chancellery. I believe I’m on the agenda.”
“Because you’re gay?”
Father Ken sighed, “Oh, that’s only one of my problems.”
“Tools!” It was Kim on another phone call.
“Do you have Mr. Cey’s number?”
I laughed. Valerie and Ken didn’t get it.
They must have been