ON THE ALBINO FARM – CHAPTER 32

            Religious people often have violent disagreements about mercy.

            In 1281 the French Catholic hierarchy was quarreling with the then freshly minted, Franciscan Order about the nature of God’s mercy.  Several Cardinals were attacked by the humble friars with sharp sticks, and more than a few brown-robed monks were slathered with pitch and set afire in retaliation.  Eventually though, the violence got out of hand and began to interfere with the Church’s revenue stream.  Pope Martin IV was finally forced to call the Thirty-Sixth Council of Paris, demanding that the holy men settle their differences.  It didn’t work.  The conference soon devolved into fistfights, rude spitting, a decapitation — the equivalent of towel snapping in the Middle Ages – or two, and drunken duels in the shadow of Notre Dame.

            But before the meeting broke up, the Bishops, Cardinals, and Abbots were able to agree on one and only one thing:  Jugglers should be banned from the kingdom.  It’s a true fact.  Look it up.

Sally had left me alone in the kitchen, and I was standing there holding Torey’s videotape – the tape — when the ideas started to come together.  I tossed the video in the air, spun around and caught it behind my back.  I picked up the Mother Theresa salt and pepper shakers off the counter and tossed the nuns and the tape into the kitchen air above my head.  Careful of the ceiling, I popped them up, using the palms of my hands – catch release, catch, release.  The white-robed holy woman’s face spun towards me and away.  The black plastic cassette tumbled like the monolith in 2001.  I did a circle, an over the shoulder, and a one-hand shuffle.  I must have looked like a madman.  I was.  Finally, a cloud of pepper hit my nose.  I caught the saints and the sinner.  Then I sneezed.  I sat down at the kitchen table and looked at the tape.

            All video tapes look the same except for their labels.  There’s some drab factory in Taiwan or somewhere.  Some guy makes fifty cents a day, and he produces thousands of these.   Or he puts them in box after box after box.  He loads truck after truck.  They fill up container ship after container ship.  Blank tapes sell by the billions for pennies.  How much was this one worth?  Could it get Mikey his freedom back?  Could it get Torey some justice?  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I held the video in my hands.  I hoped I wouldn’t have to look at its insides again.  I knew that hope was misplaced.  There were so many possible plans.

            Plan A:  I’d leave now and give the tape to Vandy.  Who would have to give it to the D.A. “Slow Joe” Kensington.  He was the Monsignor’s money man.  Kensington would destroy it.

            Plan B:  I’d give the tape to Liz Nice.  She’d take it to her boss at the TV station who would see all his advertising dollars dry up the day after he broke the story.  Kensington’s family owned the station.  He’d give it to Kensington.  Kensington would destroy it.

            Plan C:  I’d call up some ambitious Tirawa newspaper reporter.  They’d show the tape to their  editors, who’d show it to the publisher – Kensington’s wife.  The reporter would be packed off to re-hab and the tape would be destroyed.

            Plan D:  I’d give the tape to some lawyer who dreamed of fat contingency fees.  A jury would give us millions.  Except for the fact that Redlands would probably kill the lawyer, steal the tape, and give it to Kensington way before any jury saw it.  Kensington would destroy it.

            No matter how I ran the scenario, I lost the tape.  I had to think quick.   How could I use the ring clad finger as a weapon?  Stick it like a gun in somebody’s back and whisper, “Stick ‘em up?”  Who were the vulnerable inmates in this prison?  Where was Jethro?

            That’s what I was doing; thinking, plotting, looking for an angle, when I heard all the cars pulling up outside.  The door flew open.  They didn’t even knock.  I set down my coffee so I could keep Kim calm and turned towards the door where I expected to see her.

            My heart actually did stop at that moment.

            I could see Kim and Father Ken outside down a few steps.  And there at the door was my favorite cop.  I was a little surprised.  I really didn’t think he’d be the first one in the door.  I had figured him for third place.

            How many times was Officer James Redlands going to jump on my life today?  Wait, it was a new day according to the Felix the Cat clock on the wall.  It was Friday morning, and there he stood.  This time he was out of uniform.  He was wearing jeans and a nice high neck Scandinavian sweater.  It made him look bigger than ever.

            Redlands was giving me a disturbing look.  “Psychos, they’re not just for breakfast anymore.”  Did I say that out loud?  I believe I did.  I picked up the video.  I figured that would be  like waving a red cape at a bull.  He was on me in a step-and-a-half.  He almost knocked me off my chair.  I caught my balance and, oops, I dropped the tape.  I am such a fucking butterfingers.  He picked it up quicker than an NHL face-off.  I should have been stunned.  Yeah, that’s the word; stunned.  I acted stunned.  Plan E.

            The rest filed in right behind him.  Kim was all dressed up with her makeup on a bit thick, as was her style the last few years.  She hugged me like a pro wrassler.  I was still on the dinette chair, and her boobs were suffocating me — so was her perfume.

            “Oh, Martin, thank you.  Thank you for finding Torey.  Thank you.”  She let go of me so fast I almost fell over.  “Where is he?”

            “He’s in…”  I started to gesture in Torey’s direction, but it was superfluously redundant.  There was only one direction to go.  I heard her squealing from the living room.  Redlands backed up and stood by the door.  He had the tape in one massive paw.

            Father Ken gestured me outside.  I gestured him in.  I wasn’t getting any closer to Conan than I had to.  The priest had to turn sideways, but he made it in and sat down at the table.

            “How’s Torey?”

            I didn’t take my eyes off the tape. The tape was the whole game.  It wasn’t worth a shit in court.  Not in a Tirawa court.  There was a different trial about to convene, and the judge was a real piece of work.  I looked at Redlands.  I looked at the tape in his hands. 

            Father Ken repeated, “How’s Torey?”

            “He’s O.K., considering what’s happened to him.  Poor molested kid.”  That was for Redlands ears.

            The cop winced at the sound of “molested.”  Catholics are sensitive to the word these days.

            At the tiny dinette, Ken and I were now very close together.  The rest would be quiet, just between the two of us.

            “Torey’s doing O.K., I think.”

            He put his face in his hands.  When he pulled them away, I could see his eyes were filling.  He choked it back.  “Tools, I want you to know… I’ve been thinking about this ever since you told me.  I really didn’t know.  I knew Torey was troubled…I should have known… I should have seen it.  I should have listened more closely to what Torey said… I thought…”  He didn’t know what to think, either.  “Father Hunter’s suicide… Terrible…  It was on the news.  You were there?”

            “I was there.”

            “You’re sure it wasn’t Doug.”

            “It wasn’t Hunter.”

            “Who?”  He was crying, almost.

            “Monsignor Shuldik.  He did it.  He’s on that tape doing it.  Wearing the bishop’s red ruby ring on that tape.” I nodded towards Redlands.  I wanted Corleone to know how important the tape was.  “Shuldik is on that tape,”  I whispered.

            Ken was quick on the pick-up.  His face went through a lot of changes.  Anger?  Hate?  Disgust?  Pain?  It was hard to read.  All the expressions flashed by so quick.  His hands became fists.  Then they relaxed.  He was struggling, but he controlled himself.  “Are you going to the police?”

            I didn’t answer.  I just looked over at the hulking cop in the doorway.

            “I understand.  What are you going to…”

“Don’t ask me that, Father.”

His eyes widened.  He stroked his chin.  “I understand.”

“No you don’t.”  I was a little harsh.

Kenny let it go.  “No I don’t.”

“I’m going to ask for that favor.”

“The favor…  You should understand this.  Shuldik sacked me today.”  He had trouble saying the name.

            “You’re fired?”  My voice got louder than I intended.

            At that moment there was a commotion at the door.  Redlands was distracted.  Liz Nice had led a charge of reporters up the back steps.  He was busy holding them out.  It was a natural reflex for him.  Ken and I could talk a little more freely.  The din covered our words.

            “What happened?”

            “I’m transferred.”  Corleone sounded totally defeated.

            “Transferred where?”  I didn’t really know the guy.  But Valerie did, and she liked him.  I liked him, too.

            “All the way east to Herunting.”  It was a town up in the bluffs full of depressed Norwegian farmers.

            “Herunting?  There aren’t any Catholics there.  What’s going on here?”

            “I am supposed to reflect on the error of my ways.  The Chancellor will announce it at the ten o’clock mass Sunday.  He will celebrate the mass and my departure.”

            “Shuldik will say Mass at your church?”  Wheels started turning.

            “Yeah, a personal triumph for the man.”

            “There’s something else.”

            “What?”

            “When I was at Kim’s right after you called, and we were getting ready to come over here…  Well, the TV stations put the news out.”  We both turned and watched Redlands push the reporters back.  Yeah, the news was out.  No denying that. 

“I couldn’t stop them, Marty.  I’m sorry if I let you down.”  He nodded towards Redlands.  “I was supposed to keep it from getting out.  Keep him from finding out so quick.”

            “It’s all right.  It’s all right.”

            “No, it’s not.  We were heading out the door when Monsignor Shuldik called.”

            “He what?”

            “He called Kim.  He went on and on about how happy he was.  I couldn’t hear much, but I could hear Kim.  I think Shuldik told her I was a suspect in Torey’s case.”

            “What?”

            “He told her something.  She started acting real cold towards me.  All the usual funny looks.”  Ken looked sad.

            “Not a big deal now,” I said.

            “That’s not it.”

            “Go on.”

            “You know how Kim, Mrs. Janus, is impressed by power and privilege…”  Ken had a good take on Kim.

            “Yeah.  She’s always moving up.”

            “Shuldik said he would love to have Torey celebrate his rescue by serving that Mass.”

            “What?”

            “Shuldik asked if Kim would let Torey be one of the altar boys for the Mass Sunday at Infant of Prague.”

            “She said yes.”

            “She said yes?”  I just couldn’t believe it.

            I wasn’t surprised by Kim’s answer.  But I have to admit that I was shocked that the Monsignor would be that bold, that shameless.  I had my plan worked out, but this could fuck it all up.  “Can you talk her out of it?”

            “She thinks I’m a pedophile.”

            “Does Redlands think you’re a…”

            “No.  He treats me like a holy man.  He’s a true believer.  I’m a priest, ergo…”

            “Never tell the puppet about the strings.”

            “What?”

I remember looking at Father Corleone right at that moment and thinking he looked like there were strings on him, too.  “Nevermind, Father.”  I stood up and yelled.  “Goodbye, Torey!  Goodbye, Kim!  They’re going out the front door!”

            Redlands nearly fell over as the mob of reporters stopped pushing in an instant, and as a single mass started sprinting around to the other side of the building.

            “Listen to me, Ken.”

            “I’m listening.”  He leaned in closer.

“I need you to do exactly what I tell you to do.”  I was thinking.  I was thinking hard.  The fetal idea that was kicking up a storm in my devious womb appealed to my warped sense of the dramatic.

            “O.K…”  Father Ken wasn’t so sure.  Fact is, he probably wouldn’t have gone along with me if he had any idea of the outcome.  I wasn’t about to let him in on anything.  Trust is specifically forbidden in the rules of manipulation.  I looked up at the book of poetry on the fridge, and begged Milton’s forgiveness for putting his poetry to such a bloody use.

            “Just do what I say.”  I might have scared Ken.  I think I was kind of over-the-line fierce at that point.

            I noticed Redlands slipping out the door, finally free of the news pirhanas.  The tape was leaving with him.  There was commotion from the living room.  The tearful reunion was over, and the packing up was commencing.  I was sure Torey would take the PS2 with him.  A boy can never have too many game machines.

            I grabbed Father Corleone by his Roman collar and pulled him closer yet.  “You’ve got to go with him.  Go out to Redlands.  Maybe he’ll listen to a priest.  He’s going to follow Kim home with Torey.  You have to be with him.  You’re a priest.  He can’t say no to you.  Go with him.  If you’re with redlands Torey is safe.  Then after, go home with him.  His house.  You’ve got to be there and make sure Redlands watches the tape.”  I pulled him closer and whispered, “Look for a blur.  A hand moving.  Stop the frame.  Look at the hand.  Make him see whose side God is really on, Father.  And listen to me.  No matter what, make him see the Monsignor’s ring.”

            “I will.”

            “No matter what?”

            “I’ll make him see it.”  Up close, the young priest had the eyes of an unindicted co-conspirator.  “I’ll make him see.”  He got up and headed out the door.

            I yelled after him, “Just be a priest!  Be his priest!”

            Father Corleone turned, “I’m a good priest.”

            “Yes you are, Father.  Yes you are.”  I watched him trot off after Redlands.  My conscience started to act up, but I know where the “off” switch is.  I hoped Father Ken Corleone was a very good priest.  I’d just sent him off to Satan’s lair.

            Sally came out lugging the Playstation.  Val and Torey followed.  She whispered something in his ear.  He came to me and hugged me.  It was a tentative hug; all arms, no body.  It was the best he could do.  I loved it. As limited as it was, I loved it.  Valerie walked him out.  I was about to stand up and follow.

            Kim reappeared and hugged me again.  “How can I ever thank you enough?”

            I like breasts, but this was a bit much. “Mfff mff fll lmf!”  I said.

            “Maybe you’ll get the reward.”

            “Reward?”

            “With all the great television coverage, it’s up to fifty-two thousand dollars!”  She was so pleased with herself.

            “Reward?”  I would normally be pretty pleased myself.  Though I always feel a bit strange taking honest money.

            “There’s a chance to make some more money, too.”  Kim was excited, almost flushed.  It seemed very off-key.  I had no idea what she was talking about.  I wasn’t really paying close attention.

            “Kim, you can’t let Torey serve that Mass, Sunday.”

            “But the Monsignor has asked for Torey personally.”

            “Kim…”  I couldn’t tell her what I knew.  Kim was too stupid.  Too blind.  I turned to Torey.  “Don’t do it, son.”  I picked the wrong word.

            “Son?  Don’t call me that.”

            “Torey, listen to me.  You know about Shuldik.  Tell your mother.”

            “The Monsignor is a very important man.  He’s always been very nice to me.”

            “Torey!”  I yelled at the boy.

            Kim pushed me away from him.  “Marty, stop it!  Stop it!  You may be his father but you’re… you’re not… not really.”

            They were gone in a cloud of perfume.  The reporters hadn’t caught on to my simple trick yet.  No one had caught onto any of my tricks.  Kim and Torey made it to the car without interference and they pulled away into the night.  Redland was driving his civilian car, a blue Toyota.  Parked across the street, he watched them leave then spun his car around to follow.  I thought I could see someone in the car with him.  It was dark.  I crossed my fingers.

            Torey was my son.  I was his father.  Both facts meant exactly zero.  Welcome to my world.  I’d never protected Torey before.  Why should he trust me now?  He’d seen them kill.  They murdered Terri right in front of him.  Worse, in his mind, he was to blame.  He was part of the Monsignor’s world.  As warped as the bonds were, they were strong.  I had to figure out how to break them.  I wouldn’t be Torey’s father until I could truly protect him.  I swore I would let hell loose to do it.  I swore.

            All I could think about was the tape; the finger and the ring, Father Lee, Leo Shuldik, and his betrayal.  The tape in James Redlands’ hands.  He had to see what I had seen in Pies basement – a red ruby ring.  Everything depended on what happened with that tape.  The tape was the only tool I could use – the only tool that wasn’t human, that is.

            Val and Sally went back into the bedroom.  Usually it would have bothered me, but that night it was just fine.

            I grabbed the phone book off the shelf and tore through the pages to “R.”  “Thank God.”  I must have shouted it.  I didn’t mean to.  Things were happening faster than I liked.  I was ad-libbing.  That was dangerous.  Ask Terri.  “Thank God.”

            Val must have heard me all the way down the hall.  “What did you say, Marty?”

“Nothing.”  I slammed the book shut, and reached under Milton’s poetry on the fridge.  I yelled towards the bedroom, “I’m heading out to get some booze, Val.”

            “Marty…!”  she yelled from down the hall.

            It was too late.  I was out the door. 

I could see the tail lights of Kim’s car heading away north.  I could see Redlands, accompanied by Corleone, I hoped, following.  Another big risk — I was counting on Redlands not killing my kid.  No matter what, Redlands was a good Catholic, too fucking-crazy-good.  I was counting on the old medieval rule of sanctuary-by-proxy.  No killing in front of a priest.

They’d head back to Kim’s house, way up north.  That would give me enough time.  It was only about two miles to Redlands’ modest little bungalow in that little blue-collar neighborhood of his.  I had a quick service call to make.  I was really nervous.

Sometime I drink to calm my nerves, but other times the best medicine for my stress is a nice relaxing burglary.   Music helps, too.  Was it just a quirk of fate that, when I got to the stolen Sebring and went through the CD’s, there was Cyndi Lauper just when I needed her?  I headed towards Redlands’ place singing along.

True colors.

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