ON THE ALBINO FARM – CHAPTER 33

            What kind of wine goes with a burglary?

The correct answer is: it don’t matter.  I finished my simple job at Redlands’ house.  His wife wasn’t there, so it was easy.  Then, so as not to waste the trip out into the night, I stopped at “The Confederate Army Mule Barn Liquor Store” where a very nice, historically obtuse, African-American clerk sold me a 1.5 liter bottle of “Little Penguin” for twelve bucks.

            I was only gone maybe an hour.  I made it back to Val’s and opened the big bottle of wine.  I had gotten through half of the over-sweet chiraz before the girls emerged.

I probably looked upset.  I was.  My genius plan was teetering on the edge of failure, and Torey too close to ground zero.  Val tried to comfort me.  She held my hand.  Sally was standing by the sink giving me a death glare.  And rubbing salt in my wounds.

            “Let me get this straight.  You had six video tapes that involved the sexual abuse of your son and possibly others, but you lost them.  Then you gained possession of another tape that showed not only the abuse, but revealed the identity of the perpetrator.  You claimed it was the Chancellor of the Diocese, the Bishop’s right hand man.  But once again, you lost the tape.  Both times, the alleged evidence was taken by a police officer.  Is that about right?”  I figure life must have been simpler in the old days, before we let women become lawyers.

            “Yeah.”  That was my rebuttal.

            “And you are the only one who saw this damning evidence?”  Sally was enjoying this.

            “Yeah.”  I am a master at word play.  “Wait.  Mrs. Peres saw it.  She recognized Shuldik.  And Torey saw it.  I mean, he was there.” 

            “Would she testify?”

            I remembered Mrs. Peres’ face.  There had been a fear of hell in her face. I ran her words back in my mind.  No, she wouldn’t testify.  Weakly, “No.”

            “Would you make Torey testify without any corroboration?”

            “No.” 

            “And besides that, Torey thinks this Shuldik is a great guy.  He’s going to be his altar boy on Sunday.”

            Val jumped in the middle.  “Sally you’ve dealt with kids like this.  It’s not unusual for them to defend their abusers.  They get all turned around.”

            “Stockholm Syndrome, like that.  Sure, I know about that.”  Sally turned back to me, “So you have no evidence.  No witness.  Your brother plead guilty to murder and rape.  And Father Hunter is dead.  What are you hoping to accomplish?”

            It was a very good question.  I heard what Sally was really saying,  “Why don’t you just go get drunk?  Hey, Tools,  Torey is home.  Monsignor Shuldik would surely not be so stupid as to hurt him now.”  Sally was offering me a way out.  All I’d have to do is live up to her opinion of me.  The devil was tempting me.  Jump off the temple wall.  Your Father will save you.

            What Sally didn’t know was that I had launched my soul into empty space way before the Devil came into the kitchen.  Everything was in motion. 

Anyway, she had missed the point.  The monster who hurt Torey, the man who killed Terri,  weren’t acting out of intelligence or stupidity.  It wasn’t an aspect of IQ.  There were other kids involved.  There would be more in the future.  There were no decisions to be made — to stop or go on.  Once begun, the crimes became part of an inexorable destiny.  A man’s demons, when they are fed too often, can turn and eat his free-will.  No, there was no rationality to this reality.  The problem was evil itself.  Evil was pursuing my son.

In the Bible, Job says it like this:  “…Dread came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake.  A spirit glided past my face.  The hair of my flesh bristled.  It stood still.  I could not discern its face…”  Evil comes even to the just man.  I was far from being above it.  So was Torey.  So are we all.

            I don’t know if I believe in Satan.  Maybe you do.  If God expected Lucifer to do nothing but praise him all day and all night for eternity,  I don’t blame him for being a little rebellious.  Surely God isn’t that needy.  Evil isn’t Satan’s invention.  It is ours.

            Evil is real.  You can’t turn your back on it.  You can’t pretend it’s not there.  You can’t feed the monster.  Once it steps into your life, you must fight to push it away.  You cannot destroy it, but you might be able to cut off an arm, or two, or three.  Leo Shuldik had to be cut off.  I knew it that moment sitting there in the kitchen.  I had known it the second I saw Doug blow his head off.  I had decided it when I saw that ring and my naked son.  I was making a list and checking it twice.

It was another one of my great ideas.  Typical, I hadn’t figured on Torey having to put the apple on his head while his alcoholic daddy’s fingers were twitching on the bowstring.  Regardless, it was going to happen.  I saw it all in my head.

            Sally was still going on.  “Valerie, you only saw the tapes in the boxes, but not what was on them, is that right?”

            Valerie was nursing another cup of coffee.  It was two in the morning, Friday morning.  “Yeah, but I believe Marty, Sal.”

            “Yeah, you believe Marty.”  She underlined the “you.”

            I couldn’t take it anymore.  “Sally, why are you so mean to me?  You know I love you.”  I got up and went to the Frigidaire.  I glanced at the poetry book – just to make sure — then opened the refrigerator door.  Damn! Val had only left, at most, a sixteen ounce tumbler full of wine in the bottle.  That wasn’t nearly enough.  I tried to figure out how to sneak out to the package store.  Shit!  It was way past closing time.  Maybe I could head over to Ahmed’s and…

            If Mohammed can’t go to the mountain, bring the mountain to Mohammed.

            The kitchen door flew open like the “Laugh-In” joke wall.  Only it wasn’t Ruth Buzzi.  It was Detective First Class Carl Vandy, and he was roaring, stinking, three sheets to the wind, smashed, feeling lots of pain, drunk.

            “Fuck all of you!”  This was going to be fun.

            “Carl, what the hell…”

            He dropped to his knees.  His eyes were beyond bloodshot.  This wasn’t the sober Vandy I knew.  I mean, I knew he was an alcoholic.  But I’d never seen him drunk before.  I didn’t think his AA buddies would approve.  That didn’t seem important right now.  What was important was that he was teetering and about to beach himself, face down, on the kitchen floor.

            I jumped to him and got my hands under his arm.  That was great, but not real helpful.  He weighed two-forty easy, and now it was a dead drunk, dead weight two forty.  I could keep him somewhat vertical and that was it.  We were entangled there like a warped parody of the Boystown “He ain’t Heavy”  statue.  He was heavy.  I was about to lose him, and the rest of my pride, when Val and Sally came to my aid.  Valerie came because she cared.  Sally came because she didn’t want Val in a group grope without her.

            “You fuckers!  Let go of me!”  Vandy bellowed.  So we all did.  It was a very large thump when he hit the floor.  The neighbors began adding their thumps on the wall.

            “It’s two A.M. fer Chris’ sake!”  They had a point.

            Vandy tried once…twice..he flopped over flat on his back.

            Maybe some social niceties would help.  “Hello, Carl.  What’s up?” 

            “Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.”  I wasn’t sure what he meant.  Then I heard a cell phone ringing, somewhere.  It wasn’t mine, er, Vandy’s.  I’d thrown that one into the night quite awhile a go.  It rang again.  No, it was Vandy’s.  That is to say, Vandy’s new one.  He had a new cell phone.  It rang again.  Vandy just had a puzzled look on his face.  I don’t know if he even heard it.

            I bent over the wreckage and fished it out of his inside pocket.  The sports jacket he had on was a hideous dark blue polyester.  It rang.  I picked up.

            “Hello?”

            “Daddy?  Is that you, daddy?”  It was a young girl.  Probably a teenager.  The voice was on the edge of mature.  I didn’t know who she was, but I was reasonably sure that I wasn’t her daddy.  I hoped so.  I always try not to acknowledge paternity more than once a week.

            “No, I’m not your dad.  This is Detective Vandy’s phone.”

            “Is he all right?  This is his daughter Sammi.  Can I talk to him?”

            I looked down at Vandy.  Drool was running down his cheek and pooling on the linoleum.  I thought we might want to roll him on his side before he pulled a Jimi Hendrix.

            “He can’t talk right now.  Can I take a message?”

            “I just need to tell him that I’m not home because…”  There were some other kids giggling in the back ground.  “Ssshhh!  Ssshhh! I’m not home because I’m spending the night at Jackie’s?”  There was more giggling.

            “O.K., I’m sure that’s fine.”

            “And ask him if I can use the emergency ATM card?  We need money to rent a movie?”  Teenage girls end a majority of their sentences like they were questions.

            “Carl, your daughter’s going to use the ATM card, O.K.?”  The drool bubbled a little.  “Yeah, he says that’s fine, too.  Have fun.”

            “O.K.thanksgoodbye.”  She shotgunned it and disconnected.  I might not be a bad father.  I could do this stuff.

            I set the phone on the table.  The three of us wrestled Vandy into the living room.  A baby grand piano would have been easier.  Val got a blanket and some pillows.  We tucked him in right there on the floor.  I hoped the carpet had been Scotchguarded.  I looked up, and my love gave me a blanket and pillow.  She kissed me on the cheek.

            “We all need to get to bed.  We need some sleep.  You keep an eye on Vandy.”  She and Sally headed towards the bedroom.  Sure, boys in one room, girls in the other.  Sally gave me a little look of triumph and headed off in Val’s wake.  This was great.  It was a dream come true.  I was stuck with a drunk, periodically violent, armed man.  Sally was in the inner sanctum.

            I sprawled on the too short couch.  At least I was on high ground if the flood came.  Vandy’s whiskey snore kept me awake.  I was thinking back over the day.  The tape.  Torey.  Best Buy.  Vandy’s walrus bleatings covered any noise I might have made when I went into the kitchen and the fridge.  Half a bottle of wine was going to have to be enough.  I went back to my couch, and popped in a video.  I settled back.  Torey had done a good job adjusting the colors.  I’d never seen such a true picture on the old set.  I picked up the remote and hit freeze.  Then I thought some more.

            The next morning, when I might have slept, Sally was singing in the shower.  That was worrisome.  I could hear someone in the kitchen and smell the French Vanilla.  Val was up and she had a CD on the little player.  It was Nick Lowe singing “The Beast in Me.”  A sweet little plaintive song that spoke right to me.

            I rolled over and looked down at the fleshy landfill known as Carl Vandy.  You could see the stench.  The tail of his sport coat had worked its way into his mouth.  His hair was a comb-over disaster.  But God be praised.  He had not thrown up.  I just stayed there on my back.  If he drank, why did I have a headache?

            After Sal finished, I hit the shower.  I avoided stepping on any suspicious hair near the drain, wrapped myself in a towel, and went in the bedroom to grab some clean clothes out of the closet.  Ms. Rosemond was brushing her hair on the bed.  She looked out from under the black curls falling over her face and paused just long enough to make a disapproving puff of a sound.  Then she started humming,  “Send in The Clowns.”

            I dropped the towel.  She didn’t miss a sarcastic beat.  By the time I was dressed, she had headed into the kitchen.  I checked Milton’s book.  We three sat drinking coffee and sharing some stimulating total lack of conversation.  Felix the clock said it was one in the afternoon.  Then someone knocked at the door.

            Valerie kind of flinched.  It would be awhile before she got over yesterday’s first little visit by Redlands.

            I’m the man, so I answered the knock and opened the door.  It was Father Kenny Corleone.  He looked like he hadn’t slept at all.  We did all the standard greetings and sat him down.  We poured him some java.  He took some creamer and spooned it in his cup.  He stirred very slowly.

            I knew the answer but I asked,  “You didn’t bring the tape back, did you?”  I hadn’t really expected he would.

            “There is no tape.”  He kept looking into his cup for something.  The spoon kept slowly circling.

            “There is no tape!”  Sally said it like she knew all along that there never was a tape.  I gave her a look then that she actually understood.  She took a gulp of hot coffee and shut up.

            I turned back to Ken.  “What do you mean there is no tape?  Redlands had it last night.  You went with him.”  I actually said a little prayer to myself.  I had to have figured this right.

            “Oh, there was a tape.  There were seven tapes altogether.  I watched them all.  I watched them all.”  He kept the spoon in motion.  It seemed very important to him that the spoon keep moving.  Circles and more circles.

            “Was?  You said was?” Valerie leaned over and stopped his hand as she spoke.

            When the spoon was stopped, he took a long shuddery breath,  then another.  He held it together.  It was a close thing.

            “We burned them.  We burned the tapes.”  He looked towards the wall.  “We took them all and poured gasoline on them, and we burned them.  There’s nothing left but a puddle of melted black plastic lava.  There is no tape.  There are no tapes.”  He drank the whole cup in one go.  It banged back onto the saucer and broke it neatly in two.

            “He burnt the fucking tapes?!”  I acted like I was about to hit him.  I can act.  The truth is, I had expected exactly what happened.  All my visions ended with the tapes being destroyed.

            Val broke in.  “Shut up, Tools!  Let Father tell the whole story.  Ken, what happened?”

            “After we talked, Marty, I ran down the block and caught up with Redlands.  When he got in his car,  I jumped in with him.”  Kenny exhaled.

            Father Corleone had some guts.

            “He’s a very religious man, a very devout Catholic.  He hates you, both of you.”

            Val shook a little.  “We know.  I know.”

            “He didn’t know what the tapes were when he took the first six off your table.  He grabbed them because he’d been told to.”

            “Who told him to?”  I knew, but I asked.

            “He wouldn’t say exactly, but…”

            “He didn’t say exactly?” I can interrogate like the coldest bastard in the world when I have to.

            “Not exactly. Shuldik.  I think it was Shuldik.  Redlands talked about how the Monsignor had spoken about being the Saviour.  He kept repeating that phrase.  Be the Saviour.”  Father Ken’s face looked like he was in pain.  “Somebody was telling him what to do.  Redlands watched the six tapes after he stole them from the apartment.  I don’t think he was supposed to do that.  The tapes shocked him.  It might have even confused him.  He decided to kill you, Marty.  And Val.  Both of you.  He had to protect the church.  He figured you and Val were out to hurt the diocese.  That’s what he thought.”

            Val was very close to panic.  Sally was stroking her back.  I was on the wrong side of the table.  I wanted to hold her.

            The priest continued, “He told me all about it.  He was sure you had made the tapes to use against the Diocese in some sort of atheistic plot.  Torey turned up with you.  It was very clear to him that you two had to die.”

            I caught the tense this time.  “It was very clear to him?  You said was?”

            “We talked about many things.  I am a priest, you know.  And he is very, very, very devout.  We talked about his wife and their problem conceiving a child.  It has pushed him to the edge.  I got that feeling very strongly.  When we got to his house, there was no sign of her.  Redlands wouldn’t talk about her.  I think maybe she’s left him.  We went into the living room.  All the furniture was gone except for an old TV.  That’s where James and I watched the last tape.  I made sure.  Like you told me to.  I made sure he watched that tape.  The one you gave him last night.”  He stopped.  He looked at me like he knew something.

            “Go on.”  He might not have, if I hadn’t spoken.  He was waiting for me to say something else.  I kept my vision to myself.

            “You told me Shuldik was on the tape.”  He was angry.  His hand was back on his collar.  “But…but when I saw it, when I saw the blurred hand… when I freeze-framed that hand… when I saw that ring… that red gem stone… so red… and when Redlands saw the stone…  at first he didn’t seem to recognize…”  Kenny was shaking.  The priest looked at me like he wanted to say something,  but he looked around at Val and Sally and just took another deep breath. 

Kenny went on.  “The ring was frozen on the screen, and the room was very dark.  I said it first.  ‘The Monsignor’s ring!’ I said.”  Corleone gave me a look.  I nodded.  “Look, James, the Monsignor’s ring.  Redlands was suddenly very angry.  He saw it, Marty.  He only has a small television.  The quality of the picture wasn’t good, but the ruby was in technicolor.  He saw.  He exploded.  Redlands just stared at the ring and the naked boy.  As a devout man, he’s heard the Monsignor speak many times at the Catholic Life rallies, at the Purity of Marriage retreats, in the ‘immorality of those people’ sermons.  Redlands had kissed Shuldik’s ring.”

            Father Kenneth Corleone was very angry and sad at the same time.  He held up his cup.  He looked like he was trying to swallow, but he had no spit.  We ignored the broken circle of the saucer.  Sally refilled his cup.  He took a few sips.  I didn’t hurry him now.

            “I think something snapped in him.  Maybe it had broken a long time ago.  I talked to him for maybe two hours after that.  But it was hard making sense of what he said.  He took the tape, all the tapes, and I followed him out onto the patio.  It was morning by then.  That’s when he burned the tapes.  And he… Redlands quoted from the bible as the tapes burned.”

            “Quoted the Bible?  What… what did he say?”  It was important.  I knew it.

            “Something from Hosea.”

            “The Old Testament.  Good.  What was it?”  If Redlands was in the old books maybe things were working.

            Father Ken Corleone closed his eyes to bring the words back.  “He recited the verses that said… God, he was so intense.”

            “What were his words, Father?”

            And Ken recited Redlands’ version of Hosea.  “I reject you, oh priest.  Because you have forgotten the law of God.  I will punish you for your ways.  I will punish you for your deeds.  You have played the whore.  You have forsaken the Lord.”

            Val gave a little whistle.  “Damn.”

            “Precisely,” I said.  The danger quotient was going up, but that was something I had expected. 

            Father Ken’s voice trembled.  I think he thought he had let me, let Torey down.  “I didn’t dare stop him from burning them.. or even try to.  I’m sorry.”  He put his face in his hands.  “I thought he was going to kill me right there.  When he recited Hosea he looked straight into my eyes.  Then he asked me…”

“What did he ask you, Father.”  Val had her hand on his arm.

“He asked me to hear his confession.  I did.  And I gave him absolution.”

            Val squeezed his arm.  “You did what you could, Father.  You did what you could.”

            He looked up.  “There’s one more thing.”

            I didn’t ever imagine he would say what he did then.

            He looked me straight in the eye.

            “He wants to meet with you.  He wants to meet with you alone.  He wants to meet you tonight at midnight.”

            I held my breath.  “Where?”

            “On the Albino Farm.”

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