Priests shouldn’t have guns.
It’s just not right. Priests are supposed to give you the last rites, but they’re not supposed to make them necessary.
Cops with guns make me apprehensive. Some of them are just doing their jobs. Some of them grew up watching “Miami Vice.” Experienced hold-up men make me slightly uneasy. The good ones simply show you a gun matter-of-factly and take your wallets. The bad ones grew up watching “Miami Vice.” Amateurs like Lonnie or Father Douglas Hunter scare me to death.
He didn’t look that different than the last time I’d seen him at dear old Assumption. He was still a little guy. He hadn’t gained a pound in twenty years, and he still had the same mousy brown hair, short and wet-looking on his head. His glasses might have gotten thicker, and he might be slightly more slumped in the shoulders, but his posture was still perpetually tense, and his eyes never seemed to blink. I could have sworn the terry cloth bathrobe was the very same one he always wore in that other world where we had been friends. I’d seen him wear the sad thing so many times in the dorm back in Optimism. As Doug took a tentative step towards me, I could see that it still had the seminary emblem on a torn breast pocket. The same old Doug. The same old robe. The gun, however, was new, and it was big. It was an Arnold gun in a Pee Wee hand.
“Doug? Doug? You going to shoot me or say hello?”
He looked at me. He looked at the open video cabinet. He saw the scattered pills. When he looked at the television screen behind me, his face distorted. He fell back. Only the door frame kept him from collapsing entirely. I flinched. I thought the gun would go off accidentally. Then I turned and saw what was on the screen. My head exploded.
The young boy was just standing there with his hands by his sides. He was pathetically naked. Twelve-year-old boys like Torey are all bones and angles. He was just like Torey. My God, there were others. Torey wasn’t the only boy involved. But who was this boy? It felt disorienting.
The image was almost clinical, as if some doctors were examining the awkwardly posing boy for some skeletal abnormality. But it wasn’t clinical. The boy’s eyelids were half closed, his jaw was slack, his mouth slightly open. The perversion of it flickered around the room.
“Turn it off!” Doug had two hands on the gun. With his back pressed against the door jam, he had a steady firing position. Judging by the size of the gun he had — it could have been a big Baretta 92 — he would put a very big hole in the wall behind me. That would be after the bullet had put an even bigger hole in me on its way to the plaster.
“Turn it off!” It was not a time to argue.
“There, it’s off. Put down the gun, Doug.”
He was looking straight at my chest. So was his pistol.
“Nothing to say, Doug?”
“What can be said? What could I possibly say? What do you want me to say?” He was getting a little excited. That was bad.
“Say you remember me, Doug.” I kept using his name. People like to hear their own name. Hell, I was just guessing at that. I hoped I was right. Dear God, I wanted to be right. “Doug, look at me. Do you remember?”
I think he did. But did he remember too much? Would he remember me as the other person on the fourth floor landing? That would be bad.
“Doug, it’s me. Marty Hutchence! Look at me!”
Doug’s eyes left my chest, and he looked at me, finally. “Marty?”
“Yeah, It’s Marty. Remember, I used to call you Spin?” It had been funny once.
“Martin Luther Hutchence, an odd name for an almost Catholic priest.” He was sounding wistful, like men do when they think too far back and recall too much in between now and then. The gun relaxed. It pointed at the floor, but he kept his two-hand grip. There was only one skinny finger on the trigger, but that was enough.
“How have you been, Doug?” Maybe a little idle chit-chat would do the trick.
“How have I been? How have I been? How have I been?” Oh, oh.
“It’s been a long time, Doug.”
“I’ll tell you how I’ve been. I’ve been a priest, Marty. I’ve been a priest. I’ve been a waste of God’s own breath. You want to know how I’ve been, Martin Luther? I’ve been buried. I’ve prayed to myself. I’ve prayed out loud, and I’ve sat in silence. I’ve been followed by Satan himself. That’s how I’ve been! That’s how I’ve been!”
“Why, Doug?” I pointed at the blank screen.
“That?” He waved the gun at the TV. “That….” He hung his head. His shoulder got even rounder. His chest sank.
“What is it, Doug?”
“It’s another soul sucked in, Marty.” This was getting scary. There was a window to my right — an escape route. I needed to find Torey, and Doug was my only link to my son, so I didn’t dive through it yet, but I was very ready.
“You did this? You did this to these kids?” Dangerous questions.
He made a whimpering sound, like pain. “Was it me? No.” He shook his head. “No, it wasn’t me. But it was me, wasn’t it?”
What did that mean? Was he way over the edge? Had he split up like Norman Bates in a Roman collar? “It wasn’t you?” I tried to give him a way out.
“No, it wasn’t me. It was him. He turned me into a servant.” He seemed sure this time.
“Who was it, Doug?”
“You asked me that once a long time ago. Do you remember?”
“I remember.” The pathetic scene at the top of the stairs flickered inside my head. The question I’d asked him in that empty chapel came back to me. This time with more urgency. “Who was it, Doug?” If I pushed too hard, this could go badly. But I had to push a little.
“The answer I gave you then is still true now. I can’t… I can’t tell you. I prayed so hard to Blessed Mary, but I still couldn’t tell you. I haven’t prayed to her in a long time. I can’t tell you now.”
I closed my eyes and saw the figure in black again. I could still feel his solid legs, smell the ginger scent of his neck as I tried to wring it. I was too weak then. Was I strong enough now?
“Who was it? Who is hurting these boys now?”
“I used to love Spike Jones. Do you ever think of the time we played those old records in the common room?”
I didn’t know where he was going. But it was good he was going somewhere. He still had a very big gun, and tears were flowing down his cheeks. Guns and tears are a dangerous cocktail.
“Yeah, Doug. ‘Dinner Music for People Who Aren’t Very Hungry’.” It was the only Spike Jones record I could think of.
“Yes, that was it. The Stradivarius going down the garbage disposal, do you remember?”
I did. I almost smiled, thinking about the Maestro going down with his Strad at the punch-line. I nodded.
“Remember the phone call? The phone rings….Hello?….. You don’t say! … You don’t say! … You don’t say!… Goodbye! …Who was it?… Don’t know. He didn’t say!” Doug was doing all the loud vaudevillian voices — it was a creepy show. “Phone rings… Hello! … You don’t say… You don’t say! … You don’t say! …Goodbye! … Who was it? … Same Guy!” Doug forced a laugh that trailed off quickly.
“Doug…” I could tell he was getting very dangerous.
“Who was it, Marty?” Doug laughed – a crazy little laugh. “Who was it? Same guy!”
I don’t know what Doug Hunter was seeing at that moment, but I don’t think it was me. “Doug?”
“Same guy!” There was another odd sound in his throat as he repeated, “Same guy!”
His eyes weren’t focusing. He was somewhere else. You’re saying to yourself, “Now’s the time to grab the gun!” You’ve watched too many movies. You’ve read too much Robert Ludlum. In my world, the real world, when you go after somebody with a real gun, you are very likely to get shot. And in the real world when you get shot, you do not merely grab your shoulder, grunt, and then proceed to karate kick your foe to death. What happens is the impact tears up your flesh in an ugly way. Bones splinter, and the force knocks you to the floor. Whereupon your fellow combatant walks over and finishes you, if you’re lucky. On a bad day, he walks away, and you lay there going into shock in a growing puddle of your own deep red blood, losing consciousness and then at the end whispering, “Rosebud.” Only there’s no one there to hear you. This was not a movie. I stayed where I was.
“Doug, did you kill Terri?” I needed him here.
He snapped straight like he’d been called to attention.
“Did you kill Terri, Doug?”
The tears were welling out of his eyes. “I didn’t kill her. I didn’t kill her! I loved her, Marty.”
This was something! “Tell me, Doug, tell me.” The words came out in a rush. I didn’t want to lose the moment.
“I loved her. I wanted to…I wanted to marry her. I wanted to go away with her. She wanted to go away with me. I finally found someone, Marty. When she came here. At first, I thought that she was… When he sent her here… But I… She didn’t work for him.” Doug sounded almost childish, like a toddler tattling when something gets broken. “He hurt her.”
“He hurt her?” I was losing hope that Hunter was going to be any help, and I needed help. “Who killed Terri? The same guy? Doug you’re not making sense.” As crazy as Doug was, I don’t know why I expected him to be understandable. But he had to be. Torey’s life depended on it.
“No.” Doug’s face looked like it was melting. “I killed her.”
That’s when I almost did do something stupid. I considered rushing him. The gun was pointed at the floor, and his eyes were blinded by tears. That moment I did want him dead. But I wanted Torey alive more, and that was enough to stop me. “You killed her? How?” I tried not to let my rage leak out with the words.
“I killed her when I fell in love with her.” Doug’s face looked like the crucified Jesus high on the church’s steeple, ripped with pain. His skin was bleached. His pupils so dilated they reflected the room’s light back at me. A glowing red echo in his eyes.
“You loved her?” Anger slips into pity in a single breath sometimes.
“Yes, I loved her. She told me about her life. She told me everything about her life. She was changing her life. Escaping. I started to think that I could escape, too.” Doug’s body shuddered with memory. “Making love. Make love. Made love.” He was having a vision. Walking in dream time.
Insanity and magic are centimeters apart. Madness can stretch your reality like the deadly gravity of a black hole eats a living star. I was too close to the singularity that Doug had become. All the weight of his anguish had overwhelmed him and collapsed back into itself, contracting and contracting towards a cataclysm. Disconnected images and distorted sensations sprayed out of him in a flood of emotional particles and fragmented artifacts of his memories.
“I don’t know why we ended up together. He hadn’t expected that when he sent her here. He was just trying to buy her off with a job. I loved her. Her skin, her skin, her skin… She said she loved me. She touched me. I’d never let someone touch me. Never let, never let, never let… She said she saw something in me. We just wanted to go away.”
“Doug…” He couldn’t hear me.
“We would have just disappeared, but she was cleaning the big room one day, and she found the tapes. Little boys, little boys, little boys… I confessed to her. I told her my sins. I told her about what happened to me at Assumption. Do you know what happened to me, Marty?”
“I know, Doug. I know what happened.”
“You know, you know, you know…” Dougs words were blurring together as he pushed them out of his mouth. “Terri knew then, too. At first she was going to leave me. But then she looked at the boys on the tapes, and she cried. Terri confessed to me. The boys were drugged. She told me her sin. She was the one who brought the drugs to him. She brought the drugs he used on the boys. She cried , she cried, she cried. I was the slave, the servant. She knew, she knew, she knew… Terri said she was part of it, too. Both of us were. She hadn’t known… but I had… She’d still go away with me. But we had to stop him first. We had to stop what he was doing first, and then we could escape. Terri said we couldn’t be free until we stopped it. All the poor little boys.”
“You could have gone to the police.” I said it like an accusation. I just blurted it out without thinking. The cynical thief actually said that. “…go to the police.”
Doug laughed again, or else he cried. The noise in his mouth was twisted and mutated, neither one or the other. “Terri knew the police. There could be no police. He knew the police. Remember Chaucer, Marty? ‘Do evil as a faithful hound.’ No police, no police, no police… There was a hound loose.”
I remembered the stanza. I’m a really smart guy. Chaucer had been my escape at the seminary. I remembered “the faithful hound” and recited the passage out loud:
“This child I am commanded now to take.
He spoke no more, but seized that innocent
Pitilessly, and did a gesture make
As though he would have slain it ere he went.”
My mind turned black. I shuddered at the implication. Was Torey “the innocent”? What had happened? Doug was a dancing Wu Li master. One foot in now, the other in a quantum past. Had Torey been taken? Doug just went on dancing through time.
“No police. Terri said we would stop it ourselves. Terri liked you, Marty. She told me you had taught her things. She said we’d do it like Tools would do it. Tools, Tools, Tools….”
“Like I would do it?”
“We would manipulate them. Terri and I had the tapes. We would turn one against the other. The Church would protect itself. She was so sure that if we showed the tape he would have to act. And she knew Torey’s father. Mikey was going to be angry. Angry, angry, angry… He would be our protection. He would be our threat against them. The tape, the angry father, the Church – we would stop him. I had a gun.” Doug looked down at the pistol in his hand. “I have a gun. I wanted to just take it and kill all of them. Kill them, kill them, kill them… Terri said we’d go to prison. Terri said we would die. I wanted her, Marty. I wanted her. Forgive me, God.” Doug was looking up at an empty heaven.
“Where’s Torey, Doug.” That was the most important thing to me. Doug’s eyes were drained – the irises fading, losing all their color. I had to ask the question while there was still time.
“Torey was not supposed to come here. We didn’t know he would come here. Terri was here first. We were standing out there.” Doug lifted his arm and pointed the gun towards the dusted, long table outside the tall, panelled door. “Mikey wasn’t coming. He didn’t care about Torey. Terri was surprised. I wanted to use my gun on them, but she told me that she could still make it work. Just like Tools would do it.”
“Soon the Saviour came. The man who would save us all. He asked how much money we wanted. That’s the first thing he said. How much? How much? How much…?”
“You asked for money?” It made no sense. Terri was trying to manipulate the situation. She was trying to get someone to do her dirty work – Mikey, and the “Saviour” were supposed to help stop all the horrors.
“The money was only for Mikey. Terri said that if he got angry it might not be enough — that Mikey would help for money. We just wanted to go away, and then the man asked, ‘How much?’ Terri didn’t even have time to answer when he came in the room.”
“Same guy,” I said it automatically.
A small, almost real smile appeared on Doug’s face. “Same Guy.” I think that was the last time he actually made eye contact with me that night. Then his eyes frosted over, his brow tightened, and as he spoke, his teeth were bared like a startled dog’s. “He came into the room. We were surprised. Terri had planned differently. We didn’t want to talk to him. We didn’t want them together. But of course, they were always together. Should’ve known, should’ve known, should’ve known… Terri was holding the one tape…” Doug’s words trailed off. His breath was ragged.
“The one tape? Terri had the one tape? What do you mean, Doug.”
He shook his head and spoke again. “The one tape. We had found the one tape where he made a mistake. He waved his hand too close to the camera. He waved his hand. He pointed and the camera saw. We saw, we saw, we saw…”
“He made a mistake? What did you see?”
Doug brought the gun up and he pointed it, not at me, but at some phantom. “The mistake was on the tape, and we saw it, the camera saw it. Terri had the tape in her hand, and Torey grabbed it.”
“He wasn’t supposed to be there that night. He grabbed the tape right out of Terri’s hand. Torey was angry. Torey was angry at Terri. And he was angry at me. ‘We’ll get in trouble. We’ll get in trouble.’ Torey thought we were doing something wrong. Terri tried to explain, but the Saviour slapped Terri. I didn’t do anything. I just stood there, and the Saviour, our hope, slapped her. He asked Torey for the tape and held out his hand. Terri shouted at Torey not to give up the tape. She looked at me. Terri told me to tell Torey that he should keep the tape away from them. She looked at me. I was afraid. I felt like Torey. We were going to get in trouble. I told the boy to give them the tape. Terri screamed at Torey to take the tape and run. The man grabbed at Torey, but Terri hit him. She hit, she hit, she hit… That’s when Terri died. He twisted her head. A broken neck. So quick. She fell down right next to that table.” He pointed again out the big double doors.
“Where’s Torey?” I don’t know if I was breathing at that moment. “Doug, where is Torey?”
“Torey ran away. Terri saved him and while Terri died, Torey took the tape and ran. He was scared. I was scared. We were in trouble. Torey ran so fast that he left his backpack behind. The backpack that he always carried with him. Torey ran, and I was alone with them. Terri was dead, and I was alone.”
“Where did he run? Where did Torey go?”
“Oh, they asked me that, too. But I didn’t tell them. They took Torey’s backpack and found the video of his day at the park with his father, and they made that dirty. They would destroy Mikey. They would cover all the tracks. He called the tape Torey had taken a mistake they had to fix. They asked me where Torey went, and I didn’t tell them.”
“Tell me, Doug. Tell me.” I shouted, and he raised the gun. This time, it pointed straight at me.
“Will you hurt Torey?”
“I’m Torey’s father, Doug. Mikey wasn’t… I’m his father, Doug. Tell me.” I was pleading.
“You’re his father?” He had heard me. “I was supposed to be his priest… his spiritual father.” Doug fingered his Roman collar. “Father, father, father… The faithful hound is looking for Torey. He came back here the next night. He’s always looking, but I won’t tell them. They need the mistake tape back and… I won‘t tell.”
“I’m Torey’s father, Doug. Where is he?”
“I helped them carry Terri up the hill. They wanted to put her in the mud. But I found the soft grass. I found the lilac bush. I said a prayer.”
“You have to tell me, Doug. Please, In the name of Christ. Please.”
“Oh, Marty, it was all in the name of Christ.”
“Please.” I felt my last chance slipping away. “Where is my son?”
Doug looked up at that. His eyes flickered, like a child’s in the middle of a dream. He began to weep. “Your son?”
I was crying, too, at that point. I may have been crying, I mean. “Yes, he’s my son, Doug. He’s my son. Where is he?” I was walking towards him now, very carefully.
“Torey’s best friend here was named ‘Pies.’ That was the boy’s nickname, anyway. I can’t remember his real name now. Torey always went there. I’m the only one who knows about Pies. I have my secrets, too.” Doug was backing into the corner as I approached. He stopped crying, like a switch had been thrown, or a candle smothered. He looked almost peaceful. “I didn’t tell them.”
“You’ve got to remember Pies’ real name! For Terri’s sake!”
“Did you ever hear Theresa read Chaucer?” He laughed. It wasn’t forced. It was a real laugh. I had heard Doug laughing at a Spike Jones record a long time ago.
Doug started to recite the Friar’s Tale…
“Once on a time there dwelt in my country
An archdeacon, a man of high degree
Who boldly executed the Church’s frown
In punishment of fornication known…”
He put the gun to his head.
“The archdeacon failed me, Marty. You didn’t. Thank you.” Doug said that so calmly… and then he pulled the trigger.
Some people say that you shouldn’t try to kill yourself by putting a gun to the side of your head. The way to do it is to put it in your mouth. They may be right, but if a gun is big enough, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot.
Doug’s brains splashed all over the books on the shelf behind him. Pieces of hair and scalp and skull and globs of clotting blood slapped into the leather bindings. Bits of flesh and gore were dripping off a collection of Edgar Allan Poe. Smoke clung to the wood. Gray mixed with vermilion swept in an arch across the ugly abstract painting. A red fog had condensed on Wordsworth and Tennyson. Byron smelled of copper.
Doug’s body relaxed in an instant, as if he had stepped out of the costume. It tumbled into an impossible pose in the corner. Legs and arms pointed in troubling directions. Blood fountained out of the crater in his head. One … two… three… four heartbeats, then it seeped across his chest. Old houses settle over the years. Their floors are often not completely level. The rectory was a very old house. Doug’s blood flowed away from his ruins and flowed like an arrow past me to the table where I had piled the videos.
I have seen people die before. I do not like it.
That was the second time I had seen Douglas Hunter die. I didn’t go to him this time. I didn’t shout. I stood there listening to my own breathing and the ringing in my ears.
I stepped carefully to avoid that viscous stream and picked up the videos — yes, the one in the machine, too. Torey had the tape with the proof. But I wanted all the tapes.
Maybe there was some other way of using them. The tapes were important, but Torey was everything. I was already thinking about “Pies.” I had an idea. I didn’t know if it was a good one.
I was careful not to touch anything as I left. That’s just a habit. Maybe you know better than I. Is this how a story like this one is supposed to go? The hero — there’s a laugh — gets a little more information, and someone dies? Is that the way it’s supposed to go? Am I supposed to feel a little better now because I’m making progress? Do you find this entertaining?
Does he find it entertaining?