Bill pulled the van up to the curb and put it into park. Tom looked out his side window at the huge cathedral they had parked next to. “This is the last place I’d have thought to come.”
“You’d be surprised,” Bill muttered. “We didn’t find anything useful at the public library and I don’t know of anywhere else to look?” Bill got out, not bothering to lock his door. He gazed up at the building with a strange look in his eyes. “I should have come here sooner,” he whispered.
Tom exited and hurried to catch up. “Well, I doubt they’d have a very expansive collection of books here.” He craned his neck to look up at the tall stone steeples.
“We don’t need expansive. We’re not looking for home repair books or novels. The Catholic Church has one of the most extensive historical libraries regarding religion.” He started up the steps to the front doors of the church. “And I think that’s what we need right now.”
Tom hesitated on the steps. “Won’t they think us, well, what are you going to say to them? Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have some text books on catching demons?”
Bill stopped and turned around. “You got a better question?” He continued up the steps.
“I was being sarcastic,” Tom muttered as he followed.
They entered the vestibule of the church and Tom’s breath was taken away. Both his parents were devout atheists and his upbringing had been strictly sectarian, his exposure to churches limited to admiring glances from the outside and watching with interest the well dressed people entering and leaving. He gazed up at the vaulted ceilings at least forty feet above his head, the stonework of the walls alive with colours from the stained-glass windows. Religious iconography, richly dressed in wood, brass and silver surrounded him and in one corner stood a white statue of a woman, her head bent in prayer and covered with a flowing cloak. He moved closer and saw the finely sculptured details in the solid marble; his appreciation for the object as art clearly visible on his face. “Jesus”, he breathed.
“This is as good a place as any to say that name.”
Tom dropped his gaze to a tall, elderly priest with bleached white hair standing in a doorway off to their left. Tom was taken aback by the man’s height. At six foot four he towered over Tom. “I’m sorry, I meant no disrespect,” he stammered.
The big man smiled. “None taken,” he said, “and that’s actually a statue of Mary Magdalene.” The priest cocked a thumb over his shoulder, “We keep Jesus in the big room.”
Bill held out his hand and the man took it in both of his, completely engulfing Bill’s. “Father McClellan, it’s good to see you again,” Bill said a little on the cold side.
“Good to see you again, Bill. It’s been too long.” The priest turned to Tom and held out his big hands again.
“Father McClellan, this is my partner Tom Watson.” Father McClellan looked at Bill as he shook Tom’s hand. “You with a partner?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “Well, well, things do change.” He beckoned them towards the door. “Speaking of change, Bill you should call me Father Steve now.”
Bill shook his head as he led the way through the door. “As a kid, you’d have snapped my ears red for calling you that.” He shook his head. “Just can’t get used to calling you anything but Father McClellan.” Bill’s voice suddenly took on an echo quality as they passed into the huge nave of the church.
“My daughter has been correcting me on what to call you.” he said in casual conversation.
“Eryn?” The big priest chuckled warmly. “You should be very proud of her, Bill. She has the voice of an angel. She’s just won the soloist’s position in the choir.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“You would if you came to hear her sing,” the priest said reproachfully.
“Do you really want to get into this?” Bill asked.
The priest held up his hands in a placating gesture.
Tom stopped in his tracks his eyes widening in surprise and he suddenly felt smaller than he had ever felt. The nave stretched out before him and on either side. Ornately carved pillars rose from the floor branching out high above his head to support the painted ceiling that curved in toward the middle. Huge mosaics covered the walls in between tall narrow windows glazed with stained glass depicting religious figures looking down into the nave. Between the pillars Tom saw row upon row of dark stained wooden high backed benches separated by a wide aisle in the middle and narrow aisles on the sides. Tom’s gaze travelled along the pews till they rested on the raised altar at the far end and the towering cross behind it. Nailed to the cross was the figure of a man who even to one as isolated from faith as Tom, was easily recognizable.
“I look forward to the time that you and I can set aside the past Bill, and maybe be the friends we once were,” Father Steve said, his voice taking on the same lingering echo. He stopped and turned back to the young man trailing behind. “I see you’ve never been in a church before. Or at least not one as grand as our cathedral.”
Tom walked slowly toward them, his eyes still roaming the interior. “Actually this is my first time in any kind of religious building.”
Father Steve looked both shocked and pleased. “Well I’m glad that your first encounter is in the sanctity of our fine sanctuary,” he said giving a short bow.
“It’s beautiful,” Tom breathed.
The big priest smiled warmly. “Permit me a brief tour then.” He spread his arms wide; “We are now in the nave of the church where our parishioners sit, stand and kneel during mass. At the back where we entered,” he pointed to a far corner, “is the baptistry were baptisms are performed.” He turned and continued a slow walk toward the alter, “At either side of the altar you’ll find open chapels.”
Tom saw small statues against the far walls to either side their features illuminated by rows of candles. Smaller benches were placed before the candles and he could see some people sitting in them. “I thought chapel was just another word for church?” he asked.
“Yes it is but it, like so many other words in our language can mean other things as well. A chapel is a place of worship, usually smaller and can be a separate building or as in this case, an area set aside to worship an individual saint. The one on the right is for those wishing to light a candle and pray to Saint Jude, the patron Saint of lost causes. A Saint I often pray to in regards to our friend here,” he cocked his head in Bill’s direction. “The other chapel is dedicated to our Virgin Mary.”
“Where do those doors lead to?” Tom asked after seeing a man exit and a woman enter after.
“Those are the confessionals. A place most often visited by our esteemed Detective in the days of his ill spent youth.”
Tom chuckled quietly. He hadn’t realized that Bill was Catholic.
As they neared the raised area of the altar Tom saw in more detail the statue of Jesus and the wounds to his hands and feet. Painted blood dripped down the sides of his face from a crown of thorns adorning his head. He winced slightly at the vividness to which the artist had worked into the figure. “Why show him like that?” he asked somewhat appalled.
Father Steve stopped short of the altar and turned a confused look on Tom. “Like what? Crucified?”
“In such detail,” Tom answered. “The blood, the gash in his side, everything. It looks almost real.”
“The man who created this gift would be pleased at your description,” the priest answered kindly. “It serves as a reminder to us of his sacrifice.” He glanced up at the cross and added, “And we Catholics are a blunt lot.” He turned to face the altar and bent down on one knee, his right hand making the sign of the cross in front of him. He rose and motioned for them to follow him past the altar. He led them through a high arch behind the cross and into a long narrow corridor. “My office is down here.”
Bill had remained silent during the tour but it was clear to Tom that he knew his way around the church as he followed the priest into a huge office and sat down in an old leather wingback chair.
Father Steve waved Tom into a matching chair and moved to sit behind an overly large and heavily carved wooden desk. “Would it be hoping too much if I were to assume you were returning to the fold?” he asked Bill sarcastically.
“You know my feelings on that subject, Father,” Bill answered in a voice that clearly showed they had talked this subject beyond death.
Father Steve lifted his eyes to the ceiling in mock resignation. “I’m guessing this visit is somewhat official?” he asked.
Bill nodded. “Tom here is actually a psychologist. He’s been assigned to me.” He paused for a moment expecting Father Steve to say something but the big man just nodded his head. “Anyway, you can talk freely.” He frowned slightly. “He knows about me.” Again, he expected a response but got only a nod. “We need to do some background research on a couple of cases we’re working on. I think you can help us.”
Father Steve reached down and opened one of the many drawers and pulled out an ashtray and tossed it onto the desk. Bill took out his pack of cigarettes and tossed one to the priest, pausing to offer a light from his lighter before pulling one out for himself. The priest took in a deep long drag and leaned back in the chair enjoying the sensation. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy one of these,” he said contentedly.
“I didn’t think priests were allowed to smoke,” Tom commented, watching the two men blow smoke rings at each other.
“We are permitted some pleasures although smoking is frowned upon; however, I only seem to get the craving when Bill is around.” He eyed the Detective closely and leaned forward, clasping his hands on top of the desk. “You started teasing my curiosity when I saw you coming up the steps. How do you think I can help?”
Bill closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “Do you know about the murder of the young woman a few days ago?”
“Yes, poor child.” The priest made the sign of the cross in front of him and murmured, “May her soul find rest with the Lord. I read about it in the paper.”
Bill nodded. “What you didn’t read in the papers was we found the man who killed her.”
Father Steve’s eyebrows furrowed, “Then you’ve solved the case. How can I help you then unless the man’s asked to see a priest.”
“He’s dead,” Bill said. “Hung himself not long after he killed her.” He waited as Father Steve made the sign of the cross again. “The problem is, I don’t think he did it on his own, or rather of his own volition.”
A frown suddenly appeared on the priest’s face and he shook his head in confusion. “I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Was the man under the influence of drugs? Alcohol?”
“No.” Bill pursed his lips, “I think he was under a...,” he searched for a word that would suit, “an influencing force.”
Father Steve dropped his head. “I know what you’re thinking,” Bill continued. “I just want you to hear me out.”
“Bill,” the priest held up his hand stalling the other, “how many times have we talked about your problem? So many times we’ve both lost count.”
“Then you might want to start having them with me,” Tom blurted out. “I’ll make sure to keep track.”
Father Steve looked at Tom then back at Bill. “He can feel them when they’re present. And,” Bill uttered, “he’s seen my family. Well, sort of seen them.”
“You’ve seen them?” the big man asked. “I thought you were a psychologist?”
Tom nodded. “As much as I hate to admit it, Father.”
“Admit what? That you’re seeing ghosts or that you’re a psychologist?”
“At the moment I’m not sure which.”
“He’s having a bit of a hard time dealing at the moment,” Bill intervened. “His revelation is somewhat recent.”
“A revelation you call it?” Father Steve ran both his hands through snow-white hair. “Okay, I promise to keep an open mind about this, but that’s all I’m going to promise for the moment.” He shook his head, “I have a bad feeling you’re going to ask me to do some sort of exorcism.”
“The church still does that?” Tom asked in surprise.
“Well, it’s still officially on the books, but lately we try other measures, like psychologists. Preferably ones that don’t see ghosts,” he added.
“Well I have no intentions of asking that, Father,” Bill said. He pulled a clear plastic bag from his jacket pocket. Tom recognized it immediately. Bill laid it down in front of the priest who looked at it and translated it almost immediately.
“Death shall taste every soul,” he said out loud. He read it again. “That doesn’t sound quite right.”
“No,” Bill agreed. “Unless my Latin is failing it should read, every soul shall taste death.”
“Yes of course. I remember now.”
“I found this in the dead man’s car. It’s written in his hand.” Bill retrieved the bag and tucked it back into his pocket. “Father, this man is squeaky clean. Led a quiet life with his wife until her death last year. Near as we can figure, afterwards, he didn’t change.”
“So he finally succumbed to despair in his grief, killed the girl then himself in overwhelming guilt,” he offered. He sighed when he saw both men opposite him shake their heads. “This is the part where I keep an open mind?”
They both nodded.
“Father, the day I examined the scene, she, her spirit was there, same as the others. Showing me, guiding me through what had happened. But this time.” he stopped as he remembered the fear coming from her, and the absolute evil coming from the man. “This time it was different. I could feel her fear and I’ve never had that happen before and it wasn’t just fear of being dead,” he searched for words, “it was pure terror, terror at what was coming.”
“I felt it too, Father,” Tom added. “It was terrible.”
Bill cleared his throat and continued. “There was something else too. It came from the man while I was being led.” He hesitated for a moment. “Father, it was evil. I’ve never encountered anything like this before.” Bill was lost in his own memory of the moment. “She was afraid, Father. Afraid for her soul and then she was just ripped away.”
“Ripped away?” Father Steve asked. Over the years he had grown used to Bill’s stories. His confessions about his problem but he had never heard him talk like this before.
“Ripped.” Bill answered. “There’s no other word for it. Something happened to her spirit, Father. Something very bad.”
Father Steve sat silent for a while, trying to digest everything. “So you’re telling me this man was possessed?”
“You are going to ask for an exorcism,” Father Steve said, shaking his head. “I can’t condone this, Bill.”
“No, you don’t understand.” Bill leaned forward. “The man killed himself. And when I got there his spirit wasn’t there. Whatever took the woman’s took his as well.” Bill looked over at Tom for confirmation.
“He’s right, Father. I couldn’t feel anything.” Tom offered.
“There have been more, Father.” Bill said. “Two days ago we investigated a suicide. A young man with no previous indications of depression of other mental illness,” he paused for a moment collecting his thoughts. “He mutilated himself in a way I’ve never seen before. And while he was doing it he left signs that he was crying out for help.”
The priest shook his head. “I don’t see what that has to do with possession.”
“While we were investigating a scene a young officer took his own life, Father.” Bill said intently. “He took out his gun, put it to his head and blew his brains out.”
Father Steve made the sign of the cross again. Before he could say anything, Bill continued.
“I saw his spirit for a brief moment before it too was ripped away.”
“And I saw the look in the man’s eyes before he killed himself,” Tom uttered sadly. “It was evil, Father.” Tom raised a hand to his forehead. “I have no other word for it.”
The priest looked at the young psychologist, “So what is it that you want from me?”
“Books, articles, historical data...” Bill held up his hands in frustration. “What I need is your help, Father. This thing is going to do it again. And he’s going to keep doing it until someone stops it.”
Father Steve raised his eyebrows. “You know it’s male then?”
The question took Bill by surprise. “I just assumed that it would be?”
“Demons can have masculine or feminine qualities about them.” The priest rose from his chair and went to stand at the window, his hands clasped at his back. “I’m not saying I believe in demons.”
“But you’re a priest!” Tom interjected. “Isn’t that what all this religious stuff is about? Demons and Gods, Heaven and Hell?”
Father Steve half turned to the psychologist, “I’m not saying I believe in demons, but,” he continued, glaring at the interruption, “the Catholic Church, and most other religions do have a history of this belief.” He returned to looking out the window.
“What do you believe in?” Tom asked.
“I believe that there is both good and evil in each one of us. It’s our own decision to chose to do good or to do evil.” He sighed heavily. “Sometimes I worry that religion, in its need to spread the “good word” ends up doing more evil.”
The statement caught Bill off guard and he looked at his friend with worried eyes. “I don’t ever recall hearing you talk like this.”
The priest sighed and lowered his head. “I guess I’m getting old. I don’t teach anymore and lately I’ve been going through the old documents and history books and wondering what the hell we were thinking.”
“Well the Inquisition and Crusades are hard acts to live down,” Tom commented under his breath.
“Its not just Catholicism that’s guilty!” Father Steve retorted somewhat forcibly. “But since I am a Catholic Priest, I must only speak for my own religious institution.” He returned to his seat behind the desk. “Your sarcasm aside,” he said to Tom, “the Inquisition is probably one source you might consider in your search.”
Father Steve stood up again and went to the wall behind him, his eyes moving along the books till they found one that he wanted. He returned quickly to his chair and opened it up, his fingers turning the old pages carefully. “Late in the fourteenth century a book was written that few people today know about, but is probably the most horrible publication in human history and one of the worst recorded times for the Catholic Church.” He closed the book and rested a hand on the worn cover. “It is called the Malleus Maleficarum or The Witches Hammer.”
“Does it give a list of demons?” asked Bill.
“No. There are other books that will give you the names, gender etc, of demons and what they’re most famous for. No, the Malleus became a blueprint or charter for the church during the two hundred and fifty years of the Inquisition.” He tapped the book with his forefinger. “It laid out the foundations for identifying witches, how they were possessed and how to “purge” them of the demons that afflicted them.”
“Is that the... Malleus?” Bill asked, nodding his head at the book.
“Yes, but this is a very old copy. It’s written in Latin. I’ll send you an English translation along with the lists of demons.”
“Thanks,” Bill said. “There was another murder.”
“When?” The Priest asked.
“She was discovered last night, but it was committed over a couple of days.”
Father Steve cocked his head in confusion. “I’m not sure I understand.”
Bill pulled the photograph from his pocket and handed it to the Priest. “Do you know the young woman on the far right? The one without the habit?”
Father Steve bent down to look closer at the picture then sighed and closed his eyes. “It’s Sister Bernadette,” he said at last. The Priest looked at Bill. “How did she die?”
“Her hands and feet were tied to the bed with ropes,” Bill went through the description woodenly, his eyes never leaving his former friend’s. “A heating blanket turned on high was placed over her and two electric heaters placed next to her bed. She was slowly cooked to death.”
The priest’s face went deathly white and he made the sign of the cross several times as he repeated a benediction in Latin.
“That’s not all,” Bill continued. “At the autopsy we found an inverted cross that the killer had carved into her back.”
Father Steve put his face in his hands in grief at the news. “Who could do such a thing?”
“The young man who mutilated himself.”
“Why?” Father Steve asked. “What does this serve?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out, Father.” Bill pointed his finger at the photograph. “Why wasn’t she living at the convent with the other sisters? Why was she left alone, abandoned to die like this?” Bill’s voice rose in anger as he asked the questions.
“She was not abandoned!” the priest said, slamming his hand down on the desk, his own anger rising at the accusation. He took a deep breath before continuing. “Sister Bernadette came to us from France over fifty years ago. I didn’t know her back then but I was told she was full of life, full of love for everyone and everything. She did a lot of good work with children. She loved children. One year she got sick, pneumonia and it almost killed her. The doctors blamed the high fever saying she suffered brain damage. After she recovered she was not the same person.”
Father Steve rose from his seat and paced back and forth in front of the bookcase. “She withdrew from her work, her chores and the people around her. By the time I took over this parish her condition had deteriorated to the point that we thought about having her committed. The sisters decided against it and chose to keep her with them where they could care for her.”
“How did she come to live outside the convent?” Bill asked.
“Sister Bernadette began talking to herself, or rather to people who weren’t there and it soon escalated to the point where she was just screaming incoherently. We finally had to commit her.”
The priest sat back down in his chair, his hands wringing together. “We didn’t abandon her,” he said. “The sisters visited her everyday. I went up and said mass at the small chapel in the hospital for her but after a while she stopped coming and she began refusing communion even in her room. She spent five years there before the doctors discharged her, saying she wasn’t a danger to herself or to others. The sisters found her that small cabin she lived in and paid the rent on it out of the contributions to the church. Soon after she began walking the streets carrying bags and refusing to allow the other nuns to see her or enter the cabin.”
“Classic case of schizophrenia,” Tom offered.
“Yes,” Father Steve answered, his head nodding.
Bill caught a look in the priest’s eyes that sent a chill down his spine. “Who was she talking to, Father?”
Father Steve flinched but remained silent.
“Who was she talking to?” Bill demanded again.
Father Steve gave Bill a look that was almost a plea.
Bill slumped in his chair. “Oh sweet Jesus,” he said in a whisper.
“Bill,” the priest started.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought that it would make things worse for both of you if you met.”
Bill shook his head slowly. “You stupid bastard.”
“I don’t understand,” Tom said, alarmed at what was happening.
“Sister Bernadette could see and talk to them,” Bill said quietly.
“The spirits of dead people?” Tom asked.
Bill nodded. “You should have told me about her.”
“It would have done more harm than good, Bill.” The priest tried to explain. “It would only have fuelled both your,”
“Our what? Our hallucinations?” Bill yelled. He slammed his fist down on the tabletop so hard that the sound made both Tom and Father Steve jump. “All this time I thought I was alone!” He grabbed the photograph and looked at the young face. “All this time,” he whispered at the image. “And now I’m alone again.”
“Not totally,” Tom offered.
“Surely you’re not going to promote this?” the priest asked Tom.
“You weren’t in the alley with us,” Tom said.
Father Steve just stared, unable to find words.
“Why the cross?” Bill asked.
“The inverted cross is one of the components for the Black Mass,” Father Steve answered.
“Devil worship?” Tom said.
Father Steve nodded.
“It’s another message,” Bill offered. “Like the note. He’s leaving little messages for us to find.”
“Now you think this thing is leaving personal messages just for you? If you asked me I’d say you were heading toward paranoia.”
“I’m not asking.” He stood up and motioned for Tom to do the same. “We won’t take up anymore of your time. If you don’t want to supply those books tell me now.”
Father Steve stood up as well. “I’ll put them together.” He looked hard at Bill. “I had hoped it would be under better circumstances that I saw you again.”
They shook hands.
“We can’t always have what we want,” Bill said.
“We didn’t abandon you, Bill.”
“Yeah, you did. The moment you chose to keep me from talking to Sister Bernadette, you abandoned both of us.” Bill turned his back on the priest.
“Bill?” Father Steve called out as Bill and Tom opened the office door.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
Bill thought for a moment. “No. No I don’t. But I can tell you for certain that the killing won’t stop till I do.” He closed the door quietly on the old priest and left.