The five detectives assigned to the Priest homicides logged better than two hundred sixty hours in legwork and paperwork in the week following Anne Reasoner’s murder. One of them had a spouse who threatened divorce, another worked through a nasty bout of the flu, and another around a chronic case of insomnia.
The fourth in the series of murders was the top story on both the six and eleven o’clock news, beating out such items as the President’s return from West Germany. For the moment Washington was more interested in murder than politics. NBC planned a four-part special.
Incredibly, manuscripts were being peddled to major publishers. More incredibly, offers were being made. Paramount was thinking miniseries. Anne Reasoner-in fact, none of the victims-had ever earned such attention alive.
Anne had lived alone. She had been a CPA attached to one of the city’s law firms. Her apartment had shown a taste for the avant garde, with neon, free-formed enameled sculptures and DayGlo flamingos. Her wardrobe had reflected her employer, running to softly tailored suits and silk blouses. She’d been able to afford Saks. She’d owned two Jane Fonda workout tapes, an IBM personal computer, and a Cuisinart. There was a man’s picture in a frame beside her bed, a quarter ounce of Colombian in her bureau drawer, and fresh flowers-white zinnias-on top of it.
She’d been a good employee. Only three days out sick since the first of the year. But her coworkers knew nothing about her social life. Her neighbors described her as friendly and described the man in the bedside picture as a frequent guest.
Her address book had been neatly ordered and nearly full. Many of the names were passing acquaintances and distant family, along with insurance brokers, an oral surgeon, and an aerobics instructor.
Then they located Suzanne Hudson, a graphic artist who had been Anne’s friend and confidante since college. Ben and Ed found her at home, in an apartment above a boutique. She was wearing a terry-cloth robe and carrying a cup of coffee. Her eyes were red and swollen, with bruising shadows down to the cheekbones.
The sound on the television was off, but the
After she let them in, she went to the couch and curled up her feet. “There’s coffee in the kitchen if you want it. I’m having a hard time making the effort to be sociable.”
“Thanks, anyway.” Ben took the opposite end of the couch and left the chair for Ed. “You knew Anne Reasoner pretty well.”
“Did you ever have a best friend? I don’t mean someone you just called the best, but someone who was?” Her short red hair hadn’t been tended to. She combed a hand through it and sent it into spikes. “I really loved her, you know? I still can’t quite grip the fact that she’s…” She bit down on the inside of her lip, then soothed the hurt with coffee. “The funeral’s tomorrow.”
“I know. Ms. Hudson, it’s a hell of a time to bother you, but we need to ask you some questions.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“John Carroll.” Suzanne repeated the name, then spelled it meticulously when Ed produced his notebook. “You wanted to know why Anne would have been out walking alone in the middle of the night, didn’t you?”
The grief and anger were there as she leaned forward and picked up an address book. With the coffee still in her hand, she used her thumb to page through it. “Here’s his address.” She passed the book to Ed.
“We have a John Carroll, a lawyer who was on staff at the firm Ms. Reasoner worked for.” Ed flipped back in his notes and coordinated the addresses.
“That’s right. That’s him.”
“He hasn’t come into the office for a couple of days.”
“Hiding,” she snapped. “He wouldn’t have the courage to come out and face what he’s done. If he comes tomorrow, if he dares to show his face tomorrow, I’ll spit in it.” Then she covered her eyes with her hand and shook her head. “No, no, it’s not right.” Fatigue came through now as she lowered her hand again. “She loved him. She really loved him. They’ve been seeing each other for almost two years, ever since he joined the firm. Kept it quiet-his idea.” She took a big gulp of coffee and managed to keep her emotions in check. “He didn’t want office gossip. She went along with it. She went along with everything. You can’t imagine how much she swallowed for that man. Anne was the original Miss Independence- I’ve made it on my own and like it, single is an alternative life-style. She wasn’t militant, if you know what I mean, just content to carve out her own space. Until John.”
“They had a relationship,” Ben prompted.
“If you can call it that. She didn’t even tell her parents about him. No one knew but me.” She rubbed her eyes. Mascara had been clumped
Suzanne struggled against the bitterness and grief for a moment. Her free hand began to clamp and unclamp over the lapel of her robe. “She wanted to get married. She needed to marry him. All she could think of was bringing their relationship out and registering at Bloomingdale’s. He kept putting her off, not saying no, just not yet. Not yet. Anyway, she was sinking pretty low emotionally. She made some demands on him, and he dumped her. Just like that. He didn’t even have the guts to say it to her face. He called her.”
“When did this happen?”
Suzanne didn’t answer Ben for several seconds. She stared blankly at the television screen. A woman spun the wheel and hit Bankrupt. Tough break.
“The night she was killed. She called me that same night, saying she didn’t know what she was going to do, how she was going to handle it. It hit her hard. He wasn’t just another guy, he was it for Anne. I asked her if she wanted me to come over, but she said she wanted to be alone. I should have gone.” She screwed her eyes closed. “I should have gotten in my car and gone over. We could’ve gotten drunk or high or ordered pizza. Instead she went out walking alone.”
Ben said nothing as she wept quietly. Tess would know what to say. The thought came from nowhere and infuriated him. “Ms. Hudson.” Ben gave her a moment, then continued. “Do you know if anyone had been bothering her? Had she noticed anyone around the apartment, around the office? Anyone who made her uneasy?”
“She didn’t notice anyone but John. ‘She’d have told me.” She let out a long breath and rubbed the back of her hand under her eyes. “We’d even talked about this maniac a couple of times, talked about being extra careful until he was caught. She went out because she wasn’t thinking. Or maybe because she had too much to think about. She’d have pulled herself out-Anne was tough. She just never had the chance.”
They left her on the couch staring at the Wheel and went to see John Carroll.
He had a duplex in a part of town that catered to young professionals. There was a gourmet market around the corner, a liquor store that would carry obscure brands, and a shop specializing in athletic wear, all tucked within reasonable walking distance of the residential area. A dark blue Mercedes sedan was parked in his driveway.
He answered the door after the third knock. He was wearing an undershirt and jogging pants and carrying a fifth of Chevas Regal. There was little resemblance to the young, successful lawyer on his way up. Three days’ worth of beard shadowed his chin. His eyes were swollen and the skin had folded into pockets that drooped beneath. He smelled like a vagrant who had crawled into an alley on Fourteenth to sleep it off. He took a cursory look at the badges, hefted the bottle for another swig, and turned away, leaving the door open. Ed closed it.
The duplex had wide-planked oak floors partially covered with a couple of Aubussons. In the living area the sofa was long and low; the upholstery on it and the chairs ran to masculine colors, grays and blues. State-of-the-art electronic equipment was displayed on one wall. Along another was a collection of toys-antique slots, banks, trains.
Carroll collapsed on the sofa in the center of the room. Two empty bottles and an overflowing ashtray were on the floor. A blanket was tossed over the cushions. Ben calculated he hadn’t moved much beyond that spot since he’d been notified.
“I can come up with a couple of clean glasses.” His voice was husky but not slurred, as though the liquor had quit doing its job some time before. “But you can’t drink, can you? On duty.” He lifted the bottle again and sucked. “I’m not on duty.”
“We’d like to ask you some questions about Anne Reasoner, Mr. Carroll.” There was a chair behind him, but Ben didn’t sit.
“Yeah, I figured you’d get around to it. I told myself if I didn’t pass out, I’d talk to you.” He looked at the bottle that was barely three-quarters full. “Can’t seem to pass out.”
Ed took the bottle from his fingers and set it aside. “Doesn’t help, really, does it?”
“Something’s got to.” He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, then began to search the littered smoked-glass coffee table for a cigarette. Ben lit one for him. “Thanks.” He drew hard and kept most of the smoke in his lungs. “I quit two years ago,” he said, and. drew again. “Didn’t gain any weight, though, because I cut out starch.”
“You and Miss Reasoner had a relationship,” Ben began. “You were one of the last people to talk to her.”
“Yes. Saturday night. We were supposed to go to the National.
“You didn’t go to the theater?” Ben interrupted.
“I was feeling pressured. I called her to break the date and told her I wanted to let the relationship cool for a while. That’s how I said it.” He looked up, over the cigarette, and met Ben’s eyes. “It should cool for a while. It sounded reasonable.”
“Did you have fight?”
“A fight?” He laughed at that and choked on smoke. “No, we didn’t fight. We never fought. I don’t believe in it. There’s always a logical and reasonable solution to any problem. This was a reasonable solution, and it was for her own good.”
“Did you see her that night, Mr. Carroll?”
“No.” He looked around absently for the bottle, but Ed had put it out of reach. “She asked me to come over, to talk it out. She was crying. I didn’t want to have one of those tearful scenes, so I said no. I told her I thought it best if we gave it a little time. In a week or two we could have drinks after work and talk about it calmly. In a week or two.” He stared straight ahead. The ash from his cigarette fell on his knee. “She called me later.”
“She phoned you again?” Ed balanced his notepad on his palm. “What time was that?”
“It was 3:35. My clock radios right beside the bed. I was annoyed with her. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. She was high. I can always tell when she’s had a joint. She didn’t have an outrageous habit, just burned a joint now and then to ease tension, but I didn’t like it. It’s so childish, you know,” he added. “I figured she’d done it to irritate me. She told me she’d come to some decisions. She wanted me to know that she didn’t blame me. She was going to take responsibility for her own emotions, and not to worry about her causing any scenes at the office.”
When he sat back and closed his eyes, his dark blond hair fell over his forehead. “I was relieved at that, because I worried a bit about it. She said she had a lot of thinking to do, a lot of reevaluat-ing before we talked again. I said that was fine and I’d see her Monday. When I hung up it was 3:42. That’s seven minutes.”
Gil Norton had seen the murderer come out of the alley sometime between four and four-thirty. Ed noted the times on his pad, then put it in his pocket.
“You’re probably not in the mood for advice, Mr. Carroll, but you’d be better off if you went up to bed and got some sleep.”
He focused on Ed, then looked at the litter of bottles at his feet. “I loved her. How come I didn’t know it until now?”
Ben stepped outside and hunched his shoulders against the cold. “Christ.”
“I don’t think Suzanne Hudson would feel like spitting in his face now.”
“So what have we got?” Ben walked to the car and took the driver’s seat. “A selfish, self-indulgent lawyer, who doesn’t fit Norton’s description. A woman trying to pull back from a bad affair, who goes for a walk. And a psychopath who just happens to be there when she does.”
“A psychopath who wears a cassock.”
Ben stuck the key in the ignition but didn’t turn it. “You think he’s a priest?
Instead of answering, Ed sat back and stared at the sky through the windshield. “How many sort of tall, dark-haired priests you figure there are in the city?” Ed took out a plastic bag of trail mix.
“Enough to keep us busy for six months. We haven’t got six months.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to talk to Logan again.”
“Yeah.” He dipped his fingers into the plastic bag Ed offered without thinking. “How about this? A former priest, one who dropped out because of some Church-oriented tragedy. Logan might be able to get us a few names.” ‘
“Another crumb. In her report, Dr. Court says he’s cracking, that this last murder probably left him disabled for a couple of days.”
“I read it. What the hell is this? Bark and twigs?” Ben twisted the key and pulled out from the curb.
“Raisins, almonds, some granola. You ought to call her, Ben.”
“I’ll handle my personal life, partner.” He turned the corner and went a block before he swore. “Sorry.”
“No problem. You know, I saw this special. It pointed out that in current society, men really have it made. Women have taken the pressure off them to be the sole support-the Mr. Macho who has to handle all the problems and bring home the bacon. Women are generally waiting longer to look for marriage if they look for marriage at all, which leaves men with more choices. Today’s woman isn’t looking for Prince Charming on a white charger. The funny thing is, a lot of men are still threatened by strength and independence.” He plucked out a raisin. “Pretty amazing.”
“Dr. Court strikes me as being pretty independent.”
“Good for her. Who wants a woman who hangs all over you?”
“Bunny didn’t hang exactly,” Ed remembered. “She sort of draped.”
“Bunny was comic relief,” Ben muttered. And Bunny had been one of his standard three-month affairs where you meet, share a few dinners, have a few laughs, bounce around in the sheets, and call it quits before anyone gets any ideas. He thought of Tess leaning back against his windowsill and laughing. “Look, when you’re in our business you need a woman who doesn’t make you think all the time. Who doesn’t make you think about her all the time.”
“You’re making a mistake.” Ed leaned back. “But I figure you’re smart enough to see it for yourself.”
Ben made the turn toward Catholic University. “Let’s hit Logan before we go back in.”
At five p.m. all the detectives assigned to the Priest homicides but Bigsby were spread out in the conference room. Harris had a copy of all the reports in front of him, but went over each point by point. They traced Anne Reasoner’s movements on the final night of her life.
At 5:05 P.M. she had left her regular beauty salon, where she’d had a trim, color touch-up, blow-dry, and manicure. She’d been in excellent spirits and had tipped her operator ten dollars. At five-fifteen she had picked up her dry cleaning. One gray suit, with vest, two linen blouses, and a pair of gabardine slacks. At approximately five-thirty she had arrived home. Her next-door neighbor had spoken to her in the hall. Anne had mentioned going to the theater that evening. She’d carried fresh flowers.
At seven-fifteen John Carroll had called her and broken their date and their relationship. They had spoken for roughly fifteen minutes.
At eight-thirty Anne Reasoner had called Suzanne Hudson. She’d been upset, tearful. They had talked for nearly an hour.
Around midnight the next-door neighbor had heard Reasoner’s television. She’d noticed it because she was coming in for the evening herself and hadn’t expected Reasoner to be home.
At 3:35 Reasoner had phoned Carroll. Two roaches of marijauna had been found beside the phone. They had talked until 3:42. None of the neighbors heard Reasoner leave the building.
Sometime between four and four-thirty A.M. Gil Norton had seen a man dressed as a priest exit the alley two blocks from Reasoner’s apartment. At 4:36 Norton attracted the attention of two patrolmen and reported the body.
“Those are the facts,” Harris said. Behind him was a map of the city with the murder sights flagged with blue pins. “From the map we can see that he’s confined himself to an area less than seven square miles. All the murders have occurred between one and five A.M. There is no sexual assault, no robbery. From the pattern Monsignor Logan established, we expect him to hit again on December eighth. Street patrols will be working double shifts from now until then.
“We know that he is a man of average or above average height, that he has dark hair and dresses as a priest. From Dr. Court’s psychiatric profile and reports, we know that he is psychopathic, possibly schizophrenic, with religious delusions. He kills only young, blond women, who apparently symbolize an actual person who is or was in his life.
“Dr. Court feels that due to the break in pattern of the murder, and the disorder of the printing on the note left on the body, that he is nearing a crisis in his psychosis. The last murder may have cost him more than he can afford.”
He dropped the file on the table, thinking it was more than any of them could afford. “It’s her opinion that he would have had a physical reaction, headaches, nausea, that would have debilitated him. If he is still able to function on a normal level for periods of time, it’s placing an enormous strain on him. She believes it would show in fatigue, loss of appetite, inattention.”
He paused a moment, to make certain everyone in the room was taking it in. The room was separated from the squad room by windows and Venetian blinds that were yellowing with age. Beyond them could be heard the steady hum of activity, phones, footsteps, voices.
There was a coffee machine in the corner and a jumbo-sized plastic cup for cops with a conscience to drop in twenty-five cents a shot. Harris walked over to it, poured a cup, and added a spoonful of the powdered cream he detested. He drank and looked at his staff.
They were restless, overworked, and frustrated. If they didn’t start cutting down to an eight-hour day, he was going to lose some of them to the flu. Lowenstein and Roderick were already popping decongestants. He couldn’t afford to have them off sick, and he couldn’t afford to pamper them. “We have in this room over sixty years of police experience. It’s time we put those sixty-odd years on the line and catch one sick religious fanatic who probably can’t keep his breakfast down in the morning anymore.”
“Ed and I talked to Logan again.” Ben pushed aside his plastic cup of coffee. “Since the guy dresses like a priest, we thought we’d start treating him like one. As a psychiatrist, Logan talks to and treats fellow priests who are having any kind of emotional problems. He’s not going to give us a list of his patients, but he’s going through his files, checking for anything-anyone who might fit. Then there’s a matter of the confessional.”
He stopped for a moment. Confession was part of the Catholic ritual that had always given him a problem. He could remember well kneeling in that dark little room with the screened panel, confessing, repenting, atoning. Go and sin no more. But, of course, he had.
“A priest has to confess to somebody, and it has to be another priest. If Dr. Court’s right, and he’s beginning to think of what he’s done as a sin, he’s going to have to confess.”
“So we start interviewing priests,” Lowenstein put in. “Look, obviously I don’t know a lot about Catholics, but isn’t there something about the sanctity of the confessional?”
“We probably wouldn’t get a priest to finger anyone who came to him in the confessional,” Ben agreed. “But maybe we’d get another location. Chances are he’d stick with his own parish. Tess- Dr. Court-said he probably attended church regularly. We might be able to find out what church. If he’s a priest, or was one, he’d probably be drawn to his own church.” He rose and went to the map. “This area,” he said, circling the blue flags, “includes two parishes. I’m betting he’s been to one or both of these churches, maybe standing on the altar.”
“You figure he’s going to show up on Sunday,” Roderick put in. He clamped his thumb and forefinger on the bridge of his nose to relieve some pressure. “Especially if Dr. Court was right and he was too sick to make it last week. He’ll need the support of the ceremony.”
“I think so. Masses run Saturday evening too.”
“I thought that was our province,” Lowenstein commented.
“Catholics are flexible.” Ben dipped his hands in his pockets. “And they like to sleep late on Sunday like everybody else. The thing is, I’m betting this guy is a traditionalist. Sunday morning is for mass, the mass should still be said in Latin, and you don’t eat meat on Friday. Church rules. I think Court’s got something when she says the guy’s obsessed with Church rules.”
“So we cover the two churches on Sunday. In the meantime, we’ve got a couple of days to interview priests.” Harris looked at each of his detectives. “Lowenstein, you and Roderick take one parish, Jackson and Paris the other. Bigsby will-where the hell is Bigsby?”
“He said he had a lead on the amices, Captain.” Roderick rose and poured a cup of ice water, knowing there was too much coffee in his system already. “Look, I don’t want to throw a wrench in the works, but suppose he does show up during one of the masses on Sunday. What makes any of us think we can pick him out of the congregation? The guy isn’t a freak, he isn’t going to come in speaking in tongues or frothing at the mouth. Dr. Court points out that he’s just like anyone else except for the fact that he’s troubled.”
“It’s all we’ve got,” Ben stated, annoyed at having his own doubts stated by someone else. “We’ve got to go with whatever advantage we have; at the moment it’s location. We check out the men who come alone. Court also thinks he’s a loner, so he’s not going to come in with the wife and kids. Logan takes it one step further and sees him as devout. A lot of people come to mass and nod off or at least space out. He wouldn’t do either.”
“Spending the day in church gives us the opportunity to try something else.” Ed finished a note then looked up. “Pray.”
“It couldn’t hurt,” Lowenstein said under her breath as Bigsby swung into the room.
“I’ve got something.” He held a yellow pad in his hand, and his red and watery eyes were bulging. He’d been spending his nights with Nyquil and a hot-water bottle. “One dozen white silk amices, invoice number 52346-A, ordered on June fifteenth from O’Donnely’s Religious Suppliers, Boston, Massachusetts. Delivery July thirty-first, Reverend Francis Moore. The address is a post office in Georgetown.”
“How’d he pay for it?” Harris’s voice was calm as he worked through the next steps.
“Track it down. I want a copy of the invoice.”
“It’s on its way.”
“Lowenstein, get to the post office.” He checked his watch and nearly swore in frustration. “Be there when it opens in the morning. Find out if he still has the box. Get a description.” Yes, sir.
“I want to know if there’s a priest in the city whose name is Francis Moore.”
“There’d be a list of all the priests in the Archdiocese. We should be able to get it from their main office.”
Harris nodded at Ben. “Check it out. Then check out the rest of the Francis Moores.”
He couldn’t argue with basic police work, but Ben’s instincts told him to concentrate on the area of the murders. He was there. Ben was sure of it. And now maybe they had his name.
Back in the squad room the detectives hit the phones.
An hour later Ben hung up and looked at Ed over the rubble on top of his desk. “We got one Father Francis Moore in the Archdiocese. Been here two-and-a-half years. He’s thirty-seven.”
“He’s black.” Ben reached for his cigarettes and found the pack empty. “We check him out anyway. What have you got?”
“I’ve got seven.” Ed looked down at his neatly detailed list. Someone sneezed behind him and he winced. The flu was going through the station like brushfire. “A high school teacher, a lawyer, a clerk at Sears, a currently unemployed, a bartender, a flight attendant, and a maintenance worker. He’s an ex-con. Attempted rape.
Ben checked his watch. He’d been on duty just over ten hours. Let’s go.
The rectory made him uncomfortable. The scent of fresh flowers competed with the scent of polished wood. They waited in a parlor with an old, comfortable sofa, two wing chairs, and a statue of a blue-robed Jesus with one hand raised in benediction. There were two copies of
“Makes me feel like I should’ve polished my shoes,” Ed murmured.
Both men were conscious of the guns under their jackets, and didn’t sit. From somewhere down the hall a door opened long enough to let out a few strains of Strauss. The door closed again and the waltz was replaced by footsteps. The detectives looked over as-Reverend Francis Moore walked in.
He was tall and built like a fullback. His skin was the color of glossy mahogany and his hair was clipped close around a round face. Against the black of his priest’s robe was a white sling. His right arm was in a plaster cast riddled with signatures.
“Good evening.” He smiled, apparently more curious than pleased to have visitors. “I apologize for not shaking hands.”
“Looks like you’ve had some trouble.” Ed could almost feel his partner’s disappointment. Even if Gil Norton had been off on the description, there was no getting around that cast.
“Football a couple of weeks ago. I should have known better. Won’t you sit down?”
“We need to ask you a few questions, Father.” Ben drew out his badge. “About the strangulation of four women.”
“The serial killings.” Moore bowed his head a moment, as if in prayer. “What can I do?”
“Did you place an order with O’Donnely’s Religious Supplies in Boston last summer?”
“Boston?” Moore’s free hand toyed with the rosary at his belt. “No. Father Jessup is in charge of supplies. He orders what we need from a firm here in Washington.”
“Do you keep a post office box, Father?”
“Why, no. All our mail is delivered to the rectory. Excuse me, Detective…”
“Detective Paris. What is this all about?”
Ben hesitated a moment, then decided to push whatever buttons were available. “Your name was used to order the murder weapons.”
He saw the fingers on the rosary tighten. Moore’s mouth opened then closed. He reached out and gripped the left wing of a chair. “I-you suspect me?”
“There’s a possibility you know or have been in contact with the murderer.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“Why don’t you sit down, Father?” Ed touched him gently on the shoulder and eased him into the chair.
“My name,” Moore murmured. “It’s hard to take it in.” Then he laughed shakily. “The name was given to me in a Catholic or-phanage in Virginia. It’s not even the one I was born with. I can’t tell you that one because I don’t know it.”
“Father Moore, you’re not a suspect,” Ben told him. “We have a witness who says the murderer is white, and you’ve got your arm in a cast.”
Moore wriggled his dark fingers, which disappeared into plaster. “A couple of lucky breaks. Sorry.” He drew a breath and tried to pull himself together. “I’ll be honest with you, these murders have more than once been a topic of conversation here. The press calls him a priest.”
“The police have yet to determine that,” Ed put in.
“In any case, we’ve all searched our souls and strained our minds trying to find some answers. I wish we had some.”
“Are you close to your parishioners, Father?”
Moore turned to Ben again. “I wish I could say yes. There are some, of course. We have a church supper once a month, then there’s the youth group. Right now we’re planning a Thanksgiving dance for the Teen Club. I’m afraid we don’t pack them in.”
“Is there anyone who concerns you, someone you might consider emotionally unstable?”
“Detective, I’m in the business of comforting the troubled. We’ve had some drug and alcohol abuse, and an unfortunate case of wife beating a few months ago. Still, there’s no one I would even consider capable of these murders.”
“Your name might have been pulled out of a hat, or it might have been used because the killer identified with you, as a priest.” Ben paused, knowing he was stepping onto the hard-packed un-movable ground of the sanctified. “Father, has anyone come to you in the confessional and indicated in any way that he knew something about the murders?”
“Again I can be honest and say no. Detective, are you certain it was my name?”
Ed took out his notepad and read from it. “Reverend Francis Moore.”
“Not Francis X. Moore?”
Moore passed his hand over his eyes. “I hope relief isn’t a sin. When I was given my name and was old enough to learn to write it, I always used the X for Xavier. I thought having a middle name that began with X was exotic and unique. I never got out of the habit. Detectives, every piece of identification I have uses my middle initial. Everything I sign includes it. Everyone who knows me, knows me as Reverend Francis X. Moore.”
Ed noted it down. If he’d gone with instinct, he would have said good night and gone on to the next address on the list. Procedure was more demanding and infinitely more boring than instinct. They interviewed the three other priests in the rectory.
“Well, it only took us an hour to come up with nothing,” Ben commented as they walked back to the car.
“We gave those guys something to talk about tonight.”
“We put in yet another hour of overtime this week. Accounting’s going to hit the roof.”
“Yeah.” Ed smiled a little as he eased into the passenger’s seat. “Lousy bastards.”
“We could give them a break, or we can go see the ex-con.”
Ed considered a moment, then pulled out the rest of his trail mix. It should hold him until he could get a meal. “I’ve got another hour.”
There were no fresh flowers in the one-room apartment in South East. The furniture, what there was of it, hadn’t been polished since it had been bought from the Salvation Army. A Murphy bed no one had bothered to tuck back into the wall took up most of the room. The sheets weren’t clean. The unpleasant odors of sweat, stale sex, and onions hung in the room.
The blonde had an inch of brown root showing in her frizzed mop of hair. She opened the door with the slow, wary stare of the knowing when Ben and Ed showed their badges. She wore snug jeans over a well-shaped rear, and a pink sweater that was cut low enough to show breasts that were starting to sag.
Ben gauged her to be about twenty-five, though there were lines already dug deep at the sides of her mouth. Her eyes were brown, and the left one was set off by a bruise that had rainbowed into mauve, yellow, and gray. He judged she’d taken the hit three or four days earlier.
“No, we ain’t married.” The blonde dug a cigarette out of a pack of Virginia Slims. You’ve come a long way, baby. “Frank went out for beer. He’ll be back in a minute. Is he in trouble?”
“We just need to talk to him.” Ed gave her an easy smile, and decided she needed more protein in her diet.
“Sure. Well, I can tell you he’s been keeping out of trouble. I’ve seen to that.” She found a pack of matches, lit her cigarette, then used the pack to squash a small roach. “Maybe he drinks a little too much, but I make sure he does it here, where he can’t get in trouble.” She looked around the pitiful room and drew deep on the cigarette. “It don’t look like much, but I’m putting money aside. Frank’s got a good job now, and he’s dependable. You can ask his super.”
“We’re not here to hassle Frank.” Ben decided against sitting. You couldn’t be sure what might be crawling under the cushions. “Sounds like you’ve got him pretty much in line.”
She touched her bruised eye. “I give as good as I get.”
“I bet. What happened?”
“Frank wanted another five for beer on Saturday. I’ve got a budget.”
“Saturday?” Ben came to attention. The night of the last murder. The woman facing him was a blonde, of sorts. “I guess you two got into it, then he stomped out so he could go down to the bar and bitch with the boys.”
“He didn’t go anywhere.” She grinned and tapped her ash into a plastic dish that invited you to PUT YOUR BUTT HERE. “He got a shot in, and the neighbors downstairs were beating with that damn broomstick on the ceiling. I got a shot right back.” She let the smoke trail lightly out of her mouth and up her nose. “Frank respects that sort of thing in a woman. He likes it, you know. So we… made up. He didn’t think about beer anymore Saturday night.”
The door opened. Frank Moore had arms like cinder blocks, legs like tree trunks, and stood maybe five feet five. He was wearing a black trench coat that had moth holes in the shoulder, and was carrying a six-pack of the King of Beers.
“Who the hell are you?” he demanded. His free arm was already flexed.
Ben pulled out his badge. “Homicide.”
Frank dropped his arm. Ben noticed the inch-long scratch on his cheek as he leaned over to read the badge. It was scabbed over and looked every bit as nasty as the blonde’s bruise.
“The system eats shit,” Frank announced, and slammed the six-pack onto the counter. “That slut tells the judge I tried to rape her, I end up doing three years, then when I get out I got cops hanging around. I told you the system eats shit, Maureen.”
“Yeah.” The blonde helped herself to a beer. “You told me.”
“Why don’t you just tell us where you were last Sunday morning, Frank,” Ben began. “About four A.M.”
“Four in the morning. Jesus, I was in bed like everybody else. And I wasn’t alone neither.” He jerked a thumb at Maureen before he popped the top on a Bud. Beer fizzled through the opening and added one more smell to the room.
“You Catholic, Frank?”
Frank wiped the back of his hand over his mouth, belched, and drank again. “Do I look Catholic?”
“Frank’s daddy was Baptist,” Maureen supplied.
“Shut your face,” Frank told her.
“Kiss ass.” She only smiled when he lifted an arm. Ed had taken only one step forward when Frank dropped it again.
“You want to tell the cops everything, fine. My old man was Baptist. No cards, no drinking, no-fucking-around Baptist. He kicked my ass plenty, and I kicked his once before I left home. That was fifteen years ago. A two-bit whore railroaded me into prison. I did three years, and if I ever saw her again, I’d kick her ass too.” He pulled a pack of Camels out of his shirt pocket and lit it with a battered Zippo. “I got a job washing floors and cleaning toilets. I come home every night so this bitch can tell me I only got five dollars for beer. I ain’t done nothing illegal. Maureen’ll tell you.” He swung a loving arm around the woman he’d just called a bitch.
“That’s right.” She took a swig from her beer.
He didn’t fit the description, not the physical one, nor the psychiatric one. Still Ben persisted. “Where were you August fifteenth?”
“Jesus, how am I supposed to remember?” Frank chugged the rest of the beer down and crushed the can. “You guys got a warrant to be in here?”
“We were in Atlantic City.” Maureen didn’t blink when Frank tossed the can and missed the trash bag by inches. “Remember, Frank? My sister works up there, you know. She got us a good deal at the hotel where she does housekeeping. The Ocean View Inn. It ain’t on the strip or nothing, but it’s close. We drove up on August fourteenth and spent three days. It’s in my diary.”
“Yeah, I remember.” He dropped his arm and turned on her. “I was playing craps and you came down and started bitching at me.”
“You’d lost twenty-five bucks.”
“I’d‘ve won it back, and twice that much, if you’d left me be.”
“You stole the money out of my purse.”
“Borrowed it, you cunt. Borrowed it.”
Ben jerked his head toward the door as the argument heated up. “Let’s get out of here.”
As the door closed behind him they heard a crash over the screaming.
“Think we should break it up?”
Ben looked back at the door. “What, and spoil their fun?” Something solid and breakable hit the door and shattered. “Let’s go get a drink.”