Sacred Sins Chapter 18
’’You don't step foot out of the apartment until I give you the okay.'
’’Absolutely not,’’ Tess agreed while Ben watched her pin up her hair. ’’I have enough work at home to keep me chained to my desk all day.’’
’’You don't even take out the garbage.’’
’’Not even if the neighbors write up a petition.’’
’’Tess, I want you to take this seriously.’’
’’I am taking it seriously.’’ She chose ribbed gold triangles and clipped them to her ears. ’’I'm not going to be alone for a minute today. Officer Pilomento will be here at eight.’’
Ben looked at the dove-gray slacks and soft, cowl-necked sweater she wore. ’’Is that who you're getting all dressed up for?’’
’’Of course.’’ When he came to stand behind her, she smiled at their twin reflections. ’’I've developed a penchant for the police lately. It has all the earmarks of becoming an obsession.’’
’’Is that right?’’ He bent to brush his lips over the back of her neck.
’’I'm afraid so.’’
He dropped his hands to her shoulders, wanting to remain close, touching. ’’Worried about it?’’
’’No.’’ Still smiling, she turned into his arms. ’’I'm not worried a bit. Not about that or anything else.’’ Because there was a frown between his brows, Tess lifted a ringer to smooth it away. ’’I wish you weren't.’’
’’It's my job to worry.’’ For a moment he just held her, knowing it was going to be hard, unreasonably hard, to walk out the door that morning and trust her to someone else's care. ’’Pilomento's a good man,’’ he told her, as much to appease himself as her. ’’He's young but he's by-the-book. Nobody's going to get in the door while he's here.’’
’’I know. Come on, let's have some coffee. You've only got a few more minutes.’’
’’Lowenstein relieves him at four.’’ As they walked into the kitchen, he ran over the schedule, though they both knew every move. ’’She's the best. She might look like a nice suburban wife, but there's nobody I'd rather have backing me up in a hairy situation.’’
’’I won't be alone at all.’’ Tess took down two mugs. ’’Cops will still be taking shifts on the third floor, the phone's wired, there'll be a unit parked across the street at all times.’’
’’It won't be a black and white. If he makes his move, we don't want to scare him off. Bigsby, Roderick, and Mullendore will switch off with Ed and me on surveillance.’’
’’Ben, I'm not worried.’’ After handing him his coffee, she took his arm to walk to the dining room table. ’’I've thought this through. Believe me, I've thought this through. Nothing can happen to me as long as I'm inside and inaccessible.’’
’’He won't know you're being guarded. When I return- at midnight, I'll come in the back and use the stairs.’’
’’He has to make his move tonight, that I'm sure of. When he does, you'll be there.’’
’’I appreciate the confidence, but I tell you I'd feel a little less edgy if you were a little more so. Look, no grandstanding.’’ He took her arm for emphasis, before she could lift the coffee. ’’When we've got him, he goes back to the station for interrogation, you don't.’’
’’Ben, you know how important it is to me to talk to him, to try to get through.’’
’’You can only block me on this so long.’’
’’As long as it takes.’’
Tess backed off and tried another tack, one that had woken her in the early hours and kept her awake. ’’Ben, I think you understand this man better than you know. You know what it is to lose someone who's an intricate part of your life. You lost Josh, he lost his Laura. We don't know who she was, but we can be sure that she mattered a great deal to him. You told me that when you lost Josh, you considered killing his doctor. Wait,’’ she said before he could speak. ’’You wanted to blame someone, to hurt someone. If you hadn't been a strong man emotionally, you might very well have done so. Still, the resentment and the pain stayed with you.’’
The words, and the truth behind them, made him uncomfortable. ’’Maybe they did, but I didn't start killing people.’’
’’No, you became a cop. Maybe part of the reason you did was because of Josh, because you needed to find answers, to make things right. You're healthy, self-confident, and were able to turn what might have been the biggest tragedy in your life into something constructive. But if you weren't healthy, Ben, if you didn't have a strong self-image, a strong sense of right and wrong, something might have cracked inside you. When Josh died you lost your faith. I think he lost his over Laura. We don't know how long ago it might have been-a year, five years, twenty-but he's picked up the pieces of his faith and put them back together. Only the pieces aren't fitting true;the edges are jagged. He kills, sacrifices to save Laura. Lauras soul. What you told me last night made me wonder. Perhaps she died in what the Church considers mortal sin and was refused absolution. He's been taught all of his life to believe that without absolution, the soul is lost. In his psychosis he murders, sacrifices women who remind him of Laura. But he still saves their souls.’’
’’Everything you say may be right. None of it changes the fact that he's killed four women and is aiming for you.’’
’’Black and white, Ben?’’
’’Sometimes that's all there is.’’ It frustrated him more because he was beginning to understand, even to feel some of what she was saying. He wanted to continue to look at it straight-on, without any angles. ’’Don't you believe that some people are just born evil? Does a man tell his wife he's going out to hunt humans then drive to the local McDonald's and shoot kids because his mother beat him when he was six? Does a man use a college campus for target practice because his father cheated on his mother?’’
’’No, but this man isn't the kind of mass murderer you're talking about.’’ She was on her own ground here and knew her steps. ’’He isn't killing randomly and motivelessly. An abused child is as likely to become a bank president as a psychotic. And neither do I believe in the bad seed. We're talking about an illness, Ben, something more and more doctors are coming to believe is caused by a chemical reaction in the brain that destroys rational thought. We've come a long way since the days of demon possession, but even sixty years ago schizophrenia was treated by tooth extraction. Then it was injections of horse serum, enemas. And in the last quarter of the twentieth century, we're still groping. Whatever triggered his psychosis, he needs help. The way Josh did. The way Joey did.’’
’’Not for the first twenty-four hours,’’ he said flatly. ’’And not until the paperwork clears. He might not want to see you.’’
’’I've thought of that, but I believe he will.’’
’’None of this matters until we get him.’’
When the knock came, Bens hand reached slowly for his weapon. His arm was still stiff, but usable. He'd have no problem holding his Police Special. He moved toward the door, but stood beside it. ’’You ask who it is.’’ As she started to move forward, he held up a hand. ’’No, ask from over there. You don't stand in front of the door.’’ Though he doubted the means would change from amice to bullet, he wasn't taking chances.
’’Who is it?’’
’’Detective Pilomento, ma'am.’’
Recognizing the voice, Ben turned and pulled the door open.
’’Paris.’’ Pilomento knocked snow from his shoes before he stepped inside. ’’The roads are still a mess. We got about six inches. Morning, Dr. Court.’’
’’Good morning. Let me take your coat.’’
’’Thanks. Freezing out there,’’ he said to Ben. ’’Mullendore's in position out front. Hope he wore his long underwear.’’
’’Don't get too comfortable watching game shows.’’ Ben reached for his own coat as he took a last look around the room. There was only one entrance, and Pilomento would never be more than about twenty-five feet from her. Still, even as he bundled into his coat, he didn't feel warm. ’’I'll be in periodic contact with the surveillance teams. Now, why don't you go into the kitchen and pour yourself some coffee?’’
’’Thanks. I just had one in the car on the way over.’’
’’Oh.’’ He looked from Ben to Tess. ’’Yeah, sure.’’ Whistling between his teeth, he walked off.
’’That was rude, but I don't mind.’’ With a low laugh Tess slipped her arms around Ben's waist. ’’Be careful.’’
’’I make a habit of it. See that you do.’’
He drew her close, and the kiss was long and lingering. ’’You going to wait up for me, Doc?’’
’’Count on it. You'll call if... well, if anything happens?’’
’’Count on it.’’ Taking her face in his hands, he held it a moment, then pressed a kiss to her forehead. ’’You're so lovely.’’ It was the quick surprise in her eyes that made him realize that he hadn't made use of all his clever and slick compliments with her as he had with other women. The realization caught him off balance. To cover it, he tucked her hair behind her ear, then backed away. ’’Lock the door.’’
He pulled it shut behind him, wishing he could shake the uneasy feeling that things weren't going to go as neatly as planned.
`Hours later he was huddled inside the Mustang, watching Tess's building. Two kids were putting the finishing touches on an elaborate snowman. Ben wondered if their father knew they'd copped his fedora. The day had gone even slower than he'd imagined.
’’Days're getting shorter,’’ Ed commented. Sprawled in the passenger's seat, he was warm as a bear in a union suit, corduroys, flannel shirt, sweater, and an L.L. Bean parka. The cold had long since numbed its way through Ben's boots.
The detective came out of the building, paused only a heartbeat on the sidewalk, and flipped up the collar of his coat. It was the signal that Lowenstein was inside and things were tight. Ben's muscles relaxed only fractionally.
’’She's fine, you know.’’ Ed stretched a bit and began isometric exercises to keep his legs from cramping. ’’Lowenstein's mean enough to hold off an army.’’
’’He isn't going to move until dark.’’ Because his face froze if he cracked the window for too long, Ben substituted a Milky Way for the cigarette he wanted.
’’You know what that sugar's doing to the enamel of your teeth?’’ Never one to give up the battle, Ed drew out a small plastic container. Inside was a homemade snack of raisins, dates, unsalted nuts, and wheat germ. He'd made enough for two. ’’You gotta start reeducating your appetite.’’
Ben took a large, deliberate bite of his candy bar. ’’When Roderick relieves us, we're stopping by the Burger King on the way in. I'm getting a Whopper.’’
’’Please, not while I'm eating. If Roderick, Bigsby, and half the station had a proper diet, they wouldn't have been down with the flu.’’
’’I didn't get sick,’’ Ben said over a mouthful of chocolate.
’’Blind luck. By the time you hit forty, your system's going to revolt. It won't be pretty. What's this?’’ Ed sat up straight as he watched the man across the street. His long black coat was buttoned high. He walked slowly. Too slowly, too cautiously.
Both detectives had one hand on their weapons and one on the door handles when the man suddenly broke into a run. Ben had already pushed the car door open when the man scooped up one of the little girls playing in the snow and tossed her high. She let out a quick, ringing laugh, and called out, ’’Daddy!’’
As the breath pushed out of his body, Ben sat back down. Feeling foolish, he turned to Ed. ’’You're as jumpy as I am.’’
’’I like her. I'm glad you decided to risk eating turkey with her granddaddy.’’
’’I told her about Josh.’’
Ed's brows lifted, disappearing into the seaman's cap he'd pulled over his head. That, he knew, was more of a commitment than even he'd believed Ben could make. ’’And?’’
’’And I guess I'm glad I did. She's the best thing that's happened in my life. God, that sounds corny.’’
’’Yeah.’’ Content, Ed began to munch a date. ’’People in love tend to be corny.’’
’’I didn't say I was in love.’’ That came out quickly, the reflex action on the trap door. ’’I just mean she's special.’’
’’Certain people have difficulty admitting to emotional commitment because they fear failing in the long haul. The word love becomes a stumbling block that once uttered is like a lock, blocking off their privacy, their singleness, and obliging them to perceive themselves as one half of a couple.’’
Ben tossed the candy wrapper on the floor. ’’Redbook?’’
’’No, I made it up. Maybe I should write an article.’’
’’Look, if I was in love with Tess, with anybody, I wouldn't have any trouble saying it.’’
’’So? Are you?’’
’’I care about her. A lot.’’ Euphemism.
’’She's important to me.’’
’’Okay, I'm crazy about her.’’
’’Not quite there, Paris.’’
This time he did crack the window and pull out a cigarette. ’’All right, so I'm in love with her. Happy now?’’
’’Have a date. You'll feel better.’’
He swore, then heard himself laugh. Tossing out the cigarette, he bit into the date Ed handed him. ’’You're worse than my mother.’’
’’That's what partners are for.’’
Inside tess's apartment time went just as slowly. At seven she and Lowenstein shared a supper of canned soup and roast beef sandwiches. For all her talk about not being worried, Tess managed to do little more than stir the chunks of beef and vegetables around in her bowl. It was a cold, miserable night. No one who didn't have to would want to be out in it. But the fact that she couldn't move beyond her own door left her with a feeling of being caged.
’’You play canasta?’’ Lowenstein asked.
’’I'm sorry, what?’’
’’Canasta.’’ Lowenstein glanced at her own watch and figured her husband would be giving their youngest a bath. Roderick would be in position out front, Ben and Ed would be sweeping the area before they returned to the station, and her oldest daughter would be complaining about being stuck with the dishes.
’’I'm being lousy company.’’
Lowenstein set half a sandwich back on the pale green glass plate she'd admired. ’’You're not supposed to entertain me, Dr. Court.’’
But Tess pushed her plate aside and made the effort. ’’You have a family, don't you?’’
’’A mob, actually.’’
’’It's not easy, is it, managing a demanding career and taking care of a family?’’
’’I've always thrived on complications.’’
’’I admire that. I've always avoided them. Can I ask you a personal question?’’
’’Okay, if I can ask you one afterward.’’
’’Fair enough.’’ With her elbows on the table, Tess leaned forward. ’’Does your husband find it difficult being married to someone whose job is not only demanding, but potentially dangerous?’’
’’I guess it's not easy. I know it's not,’’ Lowenstein corrected. She took a pull from the Diet Pepsi Tess had served in thin, scrolled glasses Lowenstein would have kept on display. ’’We've had to work through a lot of it. A couple of years ago we had a trial separation. It lasted thirty-four-and-a-half hours. The bottom line is, we're nuts about each other. That usually cuts through everything else.’’
’’I know. Even when I feel like pushing his head in the toilet, I know. My turn.’’
Lowenstein gave her a long, measuring look. ’’Where do you get your clothes?’’
She was only too surprised to laugh for a few seconds. For the first time all day, Tess relaxed.
Outside, Roderick and a stocky black detective known as Pudge shared a thermos of coffee. A bit cranky with a head cold, Pudge shifted every few minutes and complained.
’’I don't think we're going to see a sign of this dude. Mullendore's got the late shift. If anyone makes the collar, it'll be him. We'll just sit here freezing our asses off.’’
’’It has to be tonight.’’ Roderick poured Pudge another cup of coffee before going back to study Tess's windows.
’’Why?’’ Pudge let out a huge yawn and cursed the antihistamines that left his nose and his mind clogged.
’’Because it was meant to be tonight.’’
’’Christ, Roderick, no matter what shit-shoveling duty you pull, you never complain.’’ On another yawn, Pudge slumped against the door. ’’God, I can hardly keep my eyes open. Goddamn medication whips you.’’
Roderick took another sweep of the street, up, then down. No one stirred. ’’Why don't you sleep awhile? I'll watch.’’
’’ 'Predate it.’’ Already half there, Pudge closed his eyes. ’’Just give me ten, Lou. Mullendore takes it in an hour anyway.’’
With his partner snoring lightly, Roderick kept watch.
Tess was learning the fine points of canasta from Lowenstein when the phone rang. The relaxed girl talk ended with a snap.
’’Okay, you answer it. If it's him, keep calm. Stall if you can, agree to meet him if you have to. See if you can pin him down to a location.’’
’’All right.’’ Though her throat dried up, Tess picked up the receiver and spoke naturally. ’’Dr. Court.’’
’’Doctor, this is Detective Roderick.’’
’’Oh, Detective.’’ Her muscles went limp as she turned and shook her head at Lowenstein. ’’Yes? Is there any news?’’
’’We've got him, Dr. Court. Ben picked him up less than two blocks from your building.’’
’’Ben? Is he all right?’’
’’Yes, don't worry. It's nothing serious. He wrenched his shoulder some during the arrest. He asked me to call you and let you know you can relax. Ed's taking him to the hospital.’’
’’Hospital.’’ She remembered the tray with the blood-soaked bandages. ’’Which one? I want to go.’’
’’He's being taken to Georgetown, Doctor, but he didn't want you to bother.’’
’’No, it's no bother. I'll leave right away.’’ Remembering the woman breathing down her neck, Tess turned to Lowenstein. ’’You should talk to Detective Lowenstein. I appreciate you calling.’’
’’We're all just glad it's over.’’
’’Yes.’’ She squeezed her eyes shut a moment, then handed the phone to Lowenstein. ’’He's been caught.’’ Then she dashed into the bedroom for her purse and car keys. When she hurried back in for her coat, Lowenstein was still pulling details out of Roderick. Impatient, Tess tossed her coat over her arm and waited.
’’Sounds like a clean collar,’’ Lowenstein said when she hung up. ’’Ben and Ed decided to do a few more sweeps of the area and saw this guy come out of an alley and head toward your building. He had his coat open. They could see he was wearing a cassock. He didn't protest when they stopped him, but when Ben found the amice in his pocket, he apparently lost it, started fighting and calling for you.’’
’’Oh, God.’’ She wanted to see him, talk to him. But Ben was on his way to the hospital, and Ben came first.
’’Lou said Ben got a little banged up, doesn't sound serious.’’
’’I'll feel better when I see for myself.’’
’’I know what you mean. Do you want me to take you to the hospital?’’
’’No, I'm sure you want to get back to the station and tie up the loose ends. It doesn't look as though I need police protection any longer.’’
’’No, but I'll walk you down to your car anyway. Tell Ben I said good work.’’
As ben crossed the parking lot to the station house, Logan pulled in behind him and hurried out of his car. ’’Ben.’’ Hatless, gloveless, dressed as he rarely was in a cassock, he caught up with them on the steps. ’’I was hoping I'd find you here.’’
’’Not a good night for priests to go walking around, Tim. We got a lot of nervous cops out tonight. You could find yourself cuffed.’’
’’I was saying late Mass for the sisters and didn't have time to change. I think I have something.’’
’’Inside,’’ Ed said, pushing open the door. ’’Your fingers are going to fall off.’’
’’I was in such a hurry.’’ Absently, Logan began to rub his fingers together for warmth. ’’For days I've been going over everything. I knew you were fixed on the use of the name Reverend Francis Moore and were checking it out, but I couldn't get my mind off the Frank Moore I'd known at the seminary.’’
’’We're still digging there.’’ Impatient, Ben looked at his watch.
’’I know, but I was with him, you see, I knew that he bordered between being a saint and a fanatic. Then I remembered a seminarian who'd been under him and had left after a celebrated row with Moore. I remembered him because the young man had gone on to become a well-known writer. Stephen Mathias.’’
’’I've heard of him.’’ As excitement began to drum, Ben edged closer. ’’You think Mathias-’’
’’No, no.’’ Frustrated by his inability to speak quickly or coherently enough, Logan took a deep breath. ’’I didn't even know Mathias personally, since I was already established in the university when all that went on. But I remembered the gossip that there was nothing, and no one, Mathias didn't know about in the seminary. In fact, he used plenty of inside stuff for his first couple of books. The more I thought about that, the more things clicked. And I remembered reading one novel in particular that mentioned a young student who had suffered a breakdown and had left the seminary after his sister-his twin sister-had died as the result of an illegal abortion. Apparently there was a tremendous scandal. It was discovered that the boy's mother was confined to an institution and that he had been treated himself for schizophrenia.’’
’’Let's track down Mathias.’’ Ben was already heading down the hall when Logan stopped him.
’’I've already done that. It only took me a few calls to locate him. He's living in Connecticut, and he remembered the incident perfectly. The seminarian had been unusually devout, as devout to Moore as he was to the Church. In fact, he served as his secretary. Mathias said his name was Louis Roderick.’’
It was possible for the blood to freeze, for the heart to stop pumping, and for the body to remain alive. ’’Are you sure?’’
’’Yes, Mathias was positive, but when I asked, he went back through his old notes and checked on it. He's willing to come down and give you a description. With that and a name, you should be able to find him.’’
’’I know where he is.’’ Ben spun around into the squad room and grabbed the first phone he reached.
’’You know him?’’ Logan grabbed on to Ed before he lost him as well.
’’He's a cop. He's one of us, and right now he's heading up the outside surveillance on Tess's building.’’
’’Sweet God.’’ As the room in front of him humped into action, Logan began to pray.
Units were dispatched to Roderick's address, others to back up Tess's apartment. Logan was on Ben's heels as they headed to the door. ’’I want to go with you.’’
’’This is police business.’’
’’Seeing a priest might calm him.’’
’’Don't get in the way.’’ They hit the glass door and nearly ran over Lowenstein.
’’What the hell's going on here?’’
Half wild with fear, Ben caught her by the collar of her coat. ’’Why aren't you with her? Why did you leave her alone?’’
’’What's wrong with you? Once Lou called to verify it had gone down, there was no reason for me to hang around.’’
’’When did he call?’’
’’Twenty minutes ago. But he said you were on your way-’’ Though her mind rejected it, the expression on Ben's face told her everything. ’’Oh, God, not Lou? But he's-’’ A cop. A friend. Lowenstein kicked herself back. ’’He called twenty minutes ago, telling me there had been a clean arrest and to pull off the guard and come in. I never questioned it. God, Ben, I never thought to verify with headquarters. It was Lou.’’
’’We've got to find him.’’
She grabbed Ben's arm before he could push past her. ’’Georgetown Hospital. He told her you'd been taken to Emergency.’’
Nothing else was needed to have him streaking down the steps to his car.
Tess pulled up in the parking lot after a frustrating twenty-minute drive. The roads were all but clear, but that hadn't stopped the fender benders. She told herself the good part was that Ben was already fixed up and waiting. And it was over.
Slamming her door, she dropped her keys into her pocket. On the way home they were going to pick up a bottle of champagne. Two bottles, she corrected. Then they were going to spend the rest of the weekend in bed drinking them.
The idea was so pleasant, she didn't notice the figure melt out of the shadows and into the light.
Alarm came first, with her hand flying up to her throat. Then, with a laugh, she lowered it and started forward. ’’Detective Roderick, I didn't know you'd-’’
The light glinted on the white clerical collar at his throat. It was like the dream, she thought in a moment of blank panic, when she'd thought herself only a step away from safety only to find her worst fears confirmed. She knew she could turn and run, but he was only an arm's span away and would catch her. She knew she could scream, but she had no doubt he'd silence her. Completely. There was only one choice. To face him.
’’You wanted to talk to me.’’ No, it wouldn't work, she thought desperately. Not if her voice was shaking, not when her head was filled with the rushing echo of her own fear. ’’I've wanted to talk to you too. I've wanted to help you.’’
’’Once I thought you could. You had kind eyes. When I read your reports, I knew you understood I wasn't a murderer. Then I knew you'd been sent to me. You'd be the last one, the most important one. You were the only one the Voice said by name.’’
’’Tell me about the voice, Lou.’’ She wanted to back up, just edge back one foot, but saw by his eyes that even that small movement would trigger the violence. ’’When did you first hear it?’’
’’When I was a boy. They said I was crazy, like my mother. I was afraid, so I blocked it out. Later I realized it was a call from God, calling me to the priesthood. I was happy to be chosen. Father Moore said only a few are chosen to carry out the Lord's work, to celebrate the sacraments. But even the chosen are tempted to sin. Even the chosen are weak, so we sacrifice, we do penance. He taught me how to train my body to fight off temptation. Flagellation, fasting.’’
And one more piece to the puzzle fell into place. An emotionally disturbed boy enters the seminary, to be trained by an emotionally disturbed man. He would kill her. Following the path he saw laid out for him, he would kill her. The parking lot was all but empty, the doors of the Emergency Room two hundred yards away. ’’How did you feel about becoming a priest, Lou?’’
’’It was everything. My whole life was formed, do you understand? Formed. For that purpose.’’
’’But you left it.’’
’’No.’’ He lifted his head as if scenting the air, as if listening to something only for his ears. ’’That was like a blank spot in my life. I didn't really exist then. A man can't exist without faith. A priest can't exist without purpose.’’
She saw him reach in his pocket, saw the snatch of white in his hand. Her eyes were almost as wild as his when they met again. ’’Tell me about Laura.’’
He'd come a step closer, but the name stopped him. ’’Laura. Did you know Laura?’’
’’No, I didn't know her.’’ He had the amice in both hands now, but seemed to have forgotten it. Treat, she told herself to hold back a scream. Treat, talk, listen. ’’Tell me about her.’’
’’She was beautiful. Beautiful in that fragile way that makes you worry if such things can last. My mother worried because Laura enjoyed looking at herself in the mirror, brushing her hair, wearing pretty clothes. Mother could sense the Devil drawing, always drawing Laura into sin and bad thoughts. But Laura only laughed and said she didn't care for sackcloth and ashes. Laura laughed a lot.’’
’’You loved her very much.’’
’’We were twins. We shared life before life. That's what my mother said. We were bound together by God. It was for me to keep Laura from spurning the Church and everything we'd been taught. It was for me, but I failed her.’’
’’How did you fail Laura?’’
’’She was only eighteen. Beautiful, delicate, but there wasn't any laughter.’’ The tears began, sobless, to glisten on his cheeks. ’’She'd been weak. I hadn't been there for her, and she'd been weak. Back-street abortion. God's judgment. But why did God's judgment have to be so harsh?’’ His breathing quickened and became painfully loud as he pressed a hand to his forehead. ’’A life for a life. It's fair and just. A life for a life. She begged me not to let her die, not to let her die in such sin that would send her to Hell. I had no power to absolve her. Even as she lay dying in my arms, I had no power. The power came later, after the despair, the dark, blank time. I can show you. I have to show you.’’
He stepped forward, and even as Tess's instincts had her pull back, he slipped the scarf around her. ’’Lou, you're a police officer. It's your job, your function to protect.’’
’’Protect.’’ His fingers trembled on the scarf. A policeman. He'd had to drug Pudges coffee. It would have been wrong to do more, to hurt another officer. Protect. The shepherd protects his flock. ’’I didn't protect Laura.’’
’’No, it was a terrible loss, a tragedy. But now you've tried to give something back, haven't you? Isn't that why you became a police officer? To give something back? To protect others?’’
’’I had to lie, but after Laura it didn't seem to matter. Maybe with the police I could find what I'd been looking for in the seminary. That sense of purpose. Vocation. Man's law, not Gods law.’’
’’Yes, you swore to uphold the law.’’
’’The Voice came back, so many years later. It was real.’’
’’Yes, to you it was real.’’
’’It isn't always inside my head. Sometimes it's a whisper in the other room, or it comes like thunder from the ceiling over my bed. It told me how to save Laura, and myself. We're bound together. We've always been bound together.’’
Her hands clenched over the keys in her pocket. She knew if the scarf tightened, she would use them to gouge his eyes. For survival. The need to live surged through her.
’’I will absolve you from sin,’’ he murmured. ’’And you will see God.’’
’’Taking a life is a sin.’’
He hesitated. ’’A life for a life. A holy sacrifice.’’ The pain rushed through his voice.
’’Taking a life is a sin,’’ she repeated as the blood pounded in her ears. ’’To kill breaks God's law, and man's. You understand both laws as a police officer, as a priest.’’ When she heard the siren, her first thought was that it was an ambulance coming into Emergency. She wouldn't be alone. She didn't take her eyes from his. ’’I can help you.’’
’’Help me.’’ It was only a whisper, part question, part plea.
’’Yes.’’ Though it trembled, she lifted her hand and placed it on his. Her fingers brushed over the silk.
Doors slammed behind them, but neither of them moved.
’’Get your hands off her, Roderick. Take your hands off her and move aside.’’
Keeping her fingers around Roderick's, Tess turned to see Ben no more than ten feet behind them, spread-legged, his gun held in both hands. Beside him and to the left, Ed mirrored his position. Sirens still screamed and lights flashed as cars poured into the lot.
’’Ben, I'm not hurt.’’
But he didn't look at her. His eyes never left Roderick, and in them she saw that core of violence he strapped down. She knew if she stepped aside now, he'd cut it loose.
’’Ben, I said I'm not hurt. He wants help.’’
’’Move out of the way.’’ If he'd been certain Roderick wasn't armed, he would have rushed forward. But Tess turned her body and used it as a shield.
’’It's over, Ben.’’
After a quick hand signal, Ed walked forward. ’’I have to search you, Lou. Then I have to cuff you and take you in.’’
’’Yes.’’ Dazed and docile, he lifted his arms to make it simpler. ’’That's the law. Doctor?’’
’’Yes. No one's going to hurt you.’’
’’You have the right to remain silent,’’ Ed began when he'd removed Roderick's police issue from under his coat.
’’That's all right, I understand.’’ As Ed snapped on the handcuffs, Roderick's attention focused on Logan.
’’Father, did you come to hear my confession?’’
’’Yes. Would you like me to go with you?’’ As he spoke, Logan put his hand over Tess's and squeezed.
’’Yes. I'm so tired.’’
’’You can rest soon. Come with us now, and I'll stay with you.’’
With his head bowed, he began to walk between Ed and Logan. ’’Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.’’
Ben waited until they'd passed him. Tess stood where she was, watching him, not certain her legs would carry her if she moved forward. She saw him holster his gun before he was across the pavement to her in three strides.
’’I'm all right, I'm all right,’’ she repeated over and over as he crushed her against him. ’’He wasn't going to go through with it. He couldn't.’’
Ben only drew her away to yank the scarf from around her and toss it in a mound of snow. He ran his own hands over her throat to make certain it was unmarked. ’’I could have lost you.’’
’’No.’’ She pressed herself against him again. ’’He knew. I think he knew all along I could stop him.’’ As tears of relief began, she tightened her arms around him. ’’The trouble was, I didn't. Ben, I've never been so frightened.’’
’’You stood between us and blocked me.’’
Sniffling, she drew away only far enough to find his lips with hers. ’’Protecting a patient.’’
’’He's not your patient.’’
She had to take the chance that her legs would hold her a few minutes longer. Stepping back, she faced him. ’’Yes, he is. And as soon as the paperwork clears, I'll start tests.’’
He grabbed her by the front of her coat, but when she touched a hand to his face, he could only drop his forehead on hers. ’’Damn you, I'm shaking.’’
’’Let's go home.’’
With arms hooked tight around waists, they walked to the car. She noticed, but didn't comment, that he'd run over the curb. Inside the car she huddled against him again. No one had ever been so solid or so warm.
’’He was a cop.’’
’’He's ill.’’ Tess linked her fingers with his.
’’He's been one step ahead of us all along.’’
’’He's been suffering.’’ She closed her eyes a moment. She was alive. This time she hadn't failed. ’’I'm going to be able to help him.’’
For a moment he said nothing. He would have to live with this, her need to give herself to people. Maybe someday he'd come to believe that both the sword and words could bring about justice.
’’Do you remember talking about us getting away for a few days?’’
’’Yes.’’ Sighing, she imagined an island with palm trees and fat orange flowers. ’’Oh, yes.’’
’’I've got some time coming.’’
’’How soon do you want me packed?’’
He laughed, but continued to jiggle the keys nervously in his hand. ’’I was thinking we could go down to Florida for a while. I want you to meet my mother.’’
Slowly, not wanting to take a leap when a step was indicated, she lifted her head from his shoulder to look at him. Then he smiled, and his smile told her everything she needed to know.
’’I'd love to meet your mother.’’