“Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blest art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus,” intoned the young priest as he knelt within his chambers at the rectory.
He knelt in the middle of the floor between a somewhat rumpled twin bed and an old wooden desk that was covered in various books on theology and a couple old Sports Illustrated issues. He was a tall man with the broad shoulders of an athlete, hair cut short of a dark brown shade. His deep brown eyes were closed as he made his morning devotional prayers.
As his chant droned on and his fingers gradually worked their way through the wooden beads of his Rosary, a figure appeared in the doorway to his room. This priest was much older with gray hair that was growing thin and a wrinkled and tanned faced that showed a life spent laboring for the Lord.
He leaned against the door jamb waiting for the younger man to finish his prayers. His lips parted in a soft smile as he looked at the young man and remembered the day that he had taught this prayer to him when he was but a child. When the child's father had died in a tragic car accident he had become a parental figure to the young man and, with a whispered prayer for forgiveness, he felt pride that he had helped that young and willful child grow to become the man that he saw before him now.
He waited calmly as the prayer was finished and the young priest stood up and turned around. A smile spread across his face and his eyes lit up as he looked at the old man.
“Good morning Henry,” he said in a cheerful voice.
Father Henry Connelly step forward and looked at the tall man. He never stopped being amazed at just how big this young man was. He himself was only five foot five and very thin. Nathan on the other hand towered over him, topping six feet two and with a frame that seemed more suited to a football player then a priest.
“Good morning Father Murray did you have a good run this morning?” he asked knowing that Nathan still ran four miles every morning to stay in shape. He said it was good meditation. Father Connelly never thought of a four mile anything as meditation but then he never had the athletic talent this young man had.
“It was good. I ended up going a little longer today,” said Father Murray as he walked into the hallway with the older priest. “I had a lot on my mind,” he said softly as he stepped into the hallway
Father Connelly merely nodded as they began to walk down the hall towards the doors that lead to Saint Peter’s Catholic High School where they both worked. Nathan was teaching classes in morality and physical education and Father Connelly was the Head Master at the school. In fact, Father Connelly had been there so long that he had taught Nathan’s father when he had been a student here. His lips quirked in a smile as he remembered that a much younger Nathan had once commented that the school had been built around Father Connelly. Since that would make him well over one hundred and twenty years old it was unlikely to say the least.
Quietly they walked down the white painted cinder block walls to the steel doors that led to the tunnel that connected the church to the school. Father Murray stepped forward and opened the door for the older man and smiled as he spoke the predictable,
“Age before beauty,” he said with a crooked smile.
Father Connelly merely shook his head as he walked through the door and into the hallway. He really wished someone would come up with a different line. Though he couldn't help but smile as he thought, “That line is even older than I am.”
It was a comforting thought even though he knew that he'd never get the kids to believe it. Most of them thought he had met Jesus personally and acted as if they expected him to have the pictures to prove it.
The thought of the students turned his eyes to look out the windows that lined the tunnel and looked out over the playground of the grade school across the street. He stopped and looked out the window as the wind caused the swings to sway and the tether ball wind its way around the pole.
Father Nathan Murray had moved a few steps down the hall before he noticed Father Connelly staring out the window. He paused and looked at the elderly priest and, with a slight, tilt of his head and slightly raised eyebrows wondered what his old friend was thinking.
Without looking back at Father Murray, Father Connelly’s mouth curled into a wry smile as he looked into the empty playground and said,
“Do you remember the first fight that you ever got into on this playground?”
“Not really, why?” asked Father Murray as he stepped up beside his friend.
“I do. It was over in that area over there where the merry-go-round used to be,” said Father Connelly ignoring the question and pointing to the spot where a four square court was painted. “You were in second grade and there was a new girl that had just enrolled. She was the first minority student to be enrolled here and was being picked on by some of the older boys.”
Father Murray's eyes grew distant and his lips pursed together as the memory came back to him.
“I remember now. They were pushing her and calling her the n word,” he said in a low voice. “It made me angry, so I punched Alex and told him to shut up.”
Hearing the growl in the young man’s voice Father Connelly looked up, “It still does I see.”
Father Murray's eyes darted back at Father Connelly then back out the window. “Yeah, I suppose it does.”
Father Connelly stared hard at this strong young man. He felt his gut tighten as he readied himself to take the next step in this conversation. He loved this man like his own son and as any good father would do he had to address troubling topics regardless of the immediate discomfort they may cause. To do otherwise would be to allow his young friend to wander down a path that would lead him to great difficulty.
“Nathan,” he said softly causing the young priest to look him in the eyes. “Is the reason that it still causes you anger because of the racism or the fact that racism was being directed at Latonya?”
He watched as Father Murray frown as he contemplated the question.
“What do you mean?” said the young man through tight lips, his voice taking on an edge that spoke of emotions greater than what would be expected from a simple question like that.
Looking into the young man’s eyes Father Connelly took a step closer.
“You know exactly what that is supposed to mean,” Father Connelly said quietly as he shook his head. Nathan hadn't done anything wrong. At least not yet, and it was his desire to see that this young man didn't do anything wrong that had prompted him to start this discussion.
“Nate, what I'm trying to say is that your feelings for Latonya are on the verge of causing problems for you and the church.” he put his hand on the young man’s arm and squeezed. Well, he tried to squeeze but he might as well have been clutching a rock. The man was so tense.
He held his hand up begging for a moment when he saw Father Murray open his mouth to say something.
“Please, let me just say what I have to say then I'll happily listen to any response you care to give. O.k.?”
At first he thought Father Murray would tell him were to go and storm off, but he was able to relax as he saw the young man take a deep breath to calm himself and nod. With a pat on Father Murray’s arm he continued.
“Ever since that day on the playground you and Latonya have been best friends. You have grown up together and have developed a deep friendship. As I watched you two grow older I knew that you both harbored stronger feelings then either of you were prepared to admit but you let the fact that you are different races keep you from admitting those feelings.”
He watched as Father Murray stared out at the playground, his jaw set and rigid as he listened. The young priests hands clenched and unclenched as he tried to control the feelings that obviously raged through him.
“When Latonya married Randal that made her unavailable and so the tension in your relationship left and you followed your own path to becoming a priest,” he looked back out at the playground and continued, “But, Randal died in Iraq and now all those feelings are coming back for the both of you.”
Father Murray shook his head and whispered, “But, we are only friends.”
“Who are you trying to convince? Me? Or yourself?”
“She doesn't think of me as anything but a good friend.”
“A good friend?” said Father Connelly. “I consider myself to be her good friend as well, but she doesn't look at me all doe-eyed.”
“Who would?” quipped the younger priest eliciting a hard glare from Father Connelly.
“I'm serious Nate,” He said.
“I know it's just how I deal with stress. You know that.”
“Well, this isn't something you can make a joke out of. You are a priest in the Roman Catholic Church and as such you have an obligation to God, the church, and the parish. You have taken vows that are not lightly cast aside,”
Father Connelly paused and took a deep breath. He turned and looked at this troubled young man and nodded to himself.
“Look at me Nate,” he said in a quiet but commanding voice.
The young priest, having heard that tone many times in his life, turned and looked at his mentor.
Father Connelly fixed his eyes on Father Murray's and looked at him for a moment. He didn't want to do this but it was the only way to get Nathan to work out his feelings. There had been many times as a young child he had bottled up his emotions, hiding them from everyone only to have them end up exploding out all at once. Father Connelly knew the signs and was not about to let it happen now.
“Starting tomorrow I'm going to place you on leave,” he felt his heart ache as he watched Father Murray's eyes widen and his breath rushed out as if someone had just punched him in the gut. “I need you to spend this time working through your feelings, possibly go on a retreat to help you clear your head.”
Henry watched Nathan frown and his lips press tightly together as he struggled to hold in his emotions. After a moment of silence Nathan looked up, “Why so suddenly?” he asked.
“This is hardly sudden Nate. I’ve tried to get you to deal with these feelings ever since Latonya returned and all you have done is push me off and blind yourself to what everyone else can see as plain as day.”
He watched as Nathan groaned and rubbed his eyes. With a groan he leaned his head against the window. “You don’t really mean everyone else?” he asked.
Father Connelly just looked at him until he turned and looked at him, his face tight with a sick look.
“Do you?” he prompted.
Father Connelly shrugged and patted the young man’s arm. “Nathan, you grew up here. Most of the teachers and faculty of this school knew you when you were a kid. Many of the children here idolized you when you played football in college. They know you to well not to see what is going on.”
They started walking back down the hallway and through the metal doors that lead into the school in silence for a few moments as Father Connelly gave Nathan some time to think. As they approached Nathan’s classroom he stopped and looked back at Father Connelly.
“So, everyone is talking about this?” he asked sheepishly.
He shook his head and patted the young man’s back. “Well, let me put it this way. I overheard the sisters betting on how long it would be before I caught you two in the confessional.” He said in a very stern voice.
Nathan gasped and looked at him wide eyed; he started to stammer something out until he noticed the upward curve of Father Connelly’s mouth.
Not able to contain himself Father Connelly grinned up at his young friend as the taller man glared down at him and growled. “You’re an evil, evil, evil man.”
Father Connelly nodded. “I’ve been accused of that more than a few times in my life.”
“I’m sure you have,” replied the younger man with a chuckle as he opened the door to the classroom. Before he stepped through the doorway he paused and turned back to his friend, “Seriously though, is this causing concern with the parishioners or the students?”
“No one has said anything, if that’s what you’re worried about,” said Father Connelly as he rubbed his chin, looking up into the young man’s eyes. “One of the reasons the Church doesn’t normally send people to be priests in their home towns is precisely because of the familiarity the people feel with a person they have watched grow up. The reason your request to come here was granted was because it was felt that your athletic background and degree of celebrity would help you reach the younger parishioners.”
“I know,” said Nathan prompting Father Connelly to continue.
“Well, you’ve done remarkably well with that. The students always pack the church when you say mass and they seem to hang on your every word,” said Father Connelly looking up at Nathan pointedly.
“And, you’re worried about the example I may set for them if I don’t handle this right.”
Father Connelly sighed as he saw Nathan’s broad shoulders slump from the weight of responsibility. He could only look up at the young man and nod.
“I understand,” said Father Murray as he straightened and even managed to put on a bit of a smile. “What would I do without you to save my but?”
Father Connelly smiled and gripped Nathan’s arm. “You don’t need me to save your but Nathan. That’s what God’s for. Keep your faith in him and he’ll show you the way.”
“He just needs to send you around once in awhile to remind me to open my eyes. I appreciate you talking to me about this, I know it couldn’t have been easy, Thanks.” Said Father Murray with a sincere smile as he reached out and shook Father Connelly’s hand.
Father Connelly attempted to smile as he tried to hide a wince as the young man’s grip, unintentionally, threatened to break his fingers. “Any time Nathan” he said and almost gasped in relief as his hand was released and he brought it down to this side flexing it to get the blood flowing again. “During your free period come to my office I have information on a weeklong retreat that starts Monday. I think it would be one that could help you considerably.”
“I’ll be there,” said Father Murray as he turned and walked into the classroom.
Detective Sophia Tennison stepped into the main room of Club Darkness. As she looked around at all the black and red decor it was easy to see why this had become the hang out of the area's Goth crowd. The room had two levels. The main level that held the bar and several tables and booths and the lower level consisted of a dance floor that lead up to a stage at the vary back of the room. Despite the bright noon time sun the room remained very dark as all the windows had been painted jet black. Everywhere on the walls and, even, the windows there was blood red graffiti that the, apparently, deceased owner had encouraged the patrons to put up.
Walking past the long bar Sophia caught a glimpse of her reflection and paused to straighten her dark blue suit coat. She was a tiny woman standing barely over five feet in height and a petite frame with skin that was a very deep dark shade of brown and she kept her afro cut short and tight. It was easy for her to see why some people mistakenly referred to as a man since she never bothered with perfume or makeup. Not that it bothered her much since she found that being to feminine in this line of work seemed to work against you getting promoted.
Turning from the mirror and putting aside those thoughts she walked towards the back where her partner Detective Thomas O'Rielly was sitting with the poor woman that had found the mess in the basement. They were sitting in one of the booths closest to the large stage. As Sophia looked up at it there was just enough light for her to make out the various types of bondage equipment that hung from the ceiling or were affixed to the wall.
“Crazy place isn't it?” asked Tom, apparently noticing where her gazed was pulled to. “It never ceases to surprise me what people do in the name of fun.”
“No doubt,” replied Sophia as she slid into the booth and smiled at the middle aged Hispanic woman that was gripping a mug of coffee with a white knuckled grip. The woman had dark black hair and, while still probably taller than Sophia herself, seemed to be rather short sitting next to Tom. She could tell the poor woman was shaking and her face was still wet from crying.
“Ms. Garcia, this is Detective Tennison.” said Tom and the woman attempted to smile up at her. As Sophia reached out to shake the woman's hand she noticed the dried blood still on her apron.
“Ms. Garcia, how did that stain get on your apron?” asked Sophia, leaning closer.
The woman's face tightened up as her eyes darted back to Detective O'Reilly. He gave her a reassuring smile and patted her shoulder.
“It's ok Ms. Garcia.” he said softly.
Seemingly reassured the woman nodded and looked over at Sophia.
“Fui al sotano a conseguir una escoba...” started the woman before Sophia shook her head and stopped her.
“I'm sorry but I don't understand. Can you speak English?” she asked.
“Si senorita,” Ms. Garcia said with a nod. “I was going to basement,” she said in a thick Mexican accent as she gestured to a door that was next to the smaller bar that was against the back wall of the room. “To get broom, for trash. Something smelled very bad, I followed to private lounge.” she bit her trembling lip as her dark brown eyes grew a little hazy. She gripped Tom’s large hand in hers with a tight grip for a moment before continuing. “Esos hombre’s pobres...” she muttered softly before remembering to speak English. “Poor poor men. Blood everywhere, my hand touched the wall.... sangre ....de la sangre tanto...” she stammered as her hands covered her face and she started to cry again.
“Sangre?” asked Sophia looking over to Tom.
“I think that means blood.” he said softly as he tried to console the shattered woman. “From what I've been able to gather the whole room is pretty much covered with it.”
“You haven't seen the crime scene yet?” she asked. Tom shook his head no.
“Jimmy was first on the scene and since he didn't know any Spanish I figured I'd try to question Ms. Garcia while he made sure the scene was secure.”
“Don't you only have a year of high school Spanish yourself?” she asked as she stood up.
“Well, that's still better than nothing,” he said with a shrug.
“True,” she said as she started to weave her way through some tables towards the basement door. “See what else you can find out. I'll take a look at what’s down there.”
Sophia found herself wishing for, perhaps, the thousandth time that she had taken her mother’s advice and taken Spanish instead of French. She'd only been able to use French once while it seemed like almost every day she had to find someone that spoke Spanish to do her job.
She reached the door and opened it. There was a short landing that lead to the staircase. The light from the single light bulb was just bright enough to make out the steel door at the bottom of the stairwell. Sitting at the bottom of the stairs was Officer Jimmy Rice. He had a handkerchief out and was mopping his brow as he heard her close the door behind her and turned to look up.
“Are you alright Jimmy?” she asked as she started down the stairs to where he sat.
“I've been better, Detective,” he said as he leaned back a bit and took a deep breath. “I hope you didn't have a big lunch.” He stood up as she reached the bottom of the stairs. Jimmy was one of the few people she knew that had darker skin then her, his being so dark as to be nearly blue in tint, but today his face looked almost ashen and he was sweating profusely. As he moved to open the door she noticed how tight his shirt was around his large waist.
“Jim, what happened to that diet you were going to start?” she asked as she poked his side.
“I never started it, though right now I'm wishing I had.”
“That bad?” she asked as he opened the door up and motioned for her to go through.
“Worse,” was all he said in reply as he followed her through the door into the hallway.
Immediately, she was hit by the copper smell of dried blood. As they walked down the dark hallway the scent grew stronger and stronger. Their footsteps echoed on the cement floor as they forced their way down the hall towards the repulsive scent. Jimmy had a handkerchief over his nose and mouth as they walked up to the double steel doors at the end of the hallway.
Sophia found herself trying to breathe through her mouth in a vain attempt to avoid the reek of the pungent odor. It was so strong she could taste the coppery tint of blood and felt her stomach lurch as she started to gag.
“Are you ok?” asked Jimmy as he looked down at her. His hand was resting on the metal of the doors latch. She nodded and he turned the latch and pushed the door open. As it swung wide she was assaulted by the full brunt of the stench. The scent of blood mixed with that of the dead bodies.
Well, pieces of dead bodies. There appeared to be three victims in the room and each one of them had a limb or a head severed. As she stepped into the room she almost slipped on the drying blood that coated the floor in a thin red film. Directly across from the door was the tangled wreckage of two men. Their shattered limbs twisted and bent at unnatural angles. The sharp ends of broken bones protruding in several places. The wall behind them was solid cement but had shattered from some incredible impact that left cracks radiating out in every direction.
As she turned she squealed and stumbled back. She had almost stepped on the pulped flesh of a man’s head that had been smashed into the floor so hard it had shattered the tile and indented the foundation underneath. She knelt down and used the capped end of a pen to push the head so she could see the face. The facial features where completely destroyed as it was clear that the bones of the skull had been broken into countless pieces and flesh had been torn from the right side of the face leaving a gaping hole through which blood mixed with grey pieces of brain seeped out in a disgusting mess.
She looked to the left and on a long couch there was what remained of a naked man that had both of his arms torn off and dropped beside him. The expression of pure terror still frozen on his face. There was a coffee table in front of the couch that had money and white powder spread out over it. The table appeared to be the only thing untouched by blood in the room. Everywhere else from the floor to the ceiling there was blood. More blood then she thought three men could account for.
The signs of gunfire were everywhere. The dismembered arms still clutched an AK-47 and as she looked around she could see dozens of spent casings. Slowly she walked to the opposite end of the room, doing her best to avoid the large pools of coagulated blood, and she could see the holes where several of the bullets had struck the wall. She also noted that near the middle of the room there was a shotgun that was bent into a u shape lying on the floor. As she walked to the center of the room she was able to notice the indents made from the shotgun pellets on the steel doors through which she had entered.
“Jimmy, place a call to the station. Tell them we are going to need a full forensics team and let them know they need to have full bio hazard gear.” She said as she opened the door and stepped back out into the hallway. Jimmy nodded and started to radio it in as they started back up the stairs.
As they walked up the stairs and back to the booth where Tom was conversing with Ms. Garcia she kept running the scene through her mind. She'd be working homicide for five years and never had seen anything remotely similar to what she had seen downstairs. She went over every detail in her mind analyzing it and trying to make sense of it. She'd never seen men as mangled as those men had been. She felt chills run along her spine as she thought about the immense force that must have been used to create those cracks in the wall. “What in the world are we dealing with?” she thought.
“Jimmy, call the Chief. He'll want to know about this right away,” she said.
“Sure thing,” He said as he pulled out his cell to make the call.
“I have a hunch he might have run into something like this before,” she said quietly as she stared towards the basement door.