In the Sight of God
Copyright April, 2000 by Hanley "Doc" Harding
[All rights are reserved by the author.]
My friend, Sergio Arenas was not going to be buying me any more drinks any time soon. As I made my way across the crime scene and approached his lifeless body, I mentally reminisced upon some of the times we had shared. Serg wasn't what you'd call an "exemplary citizen" but he wasn't a common thug or mobster. Out of a shady past from his native Chile, he had immigrated to Miami to create a comfortable living for himself, without stepping on too many of the wrong toes on either side of the law. What Sergio had been, was a pal of mine. As far as my employer, Metro-Dade Police, was concerned, he wasn't wanted for any crimes. And he was always good for some exclusive tidbit of highly useful inside information, which had helped yours truly climb the law enforcement career ladder. So, we had been drinking buddies of a close order... he knew my kids and I knew his. Had known... the past tense of it felt uncomfortable in my gut. Now I would make it my personal business to find out more about Serg than he would probably have ever cared to reveal to me. Oh, I knew about the girlfriend, and even though I was a good friend to Serg's wife, I dutifully kept the secret. And I knew a few of the bad characters he had had "business dealings" with, but had only gotten professionally involved with one of those, also the victim of a homicide -- a particularly brutal one.
As I did a cursory initial examination of the crime scene, I subconsciously began to mentally categorize the info being rattled off by the responding officer:
"...Hispanic ...apparently working late ...no forced entry ...no additional obvious evidence of another person's presence on scene ...no answer when wife called ...no apparent witnesses ...no apparent theft"
"Good and thorough, Larry. I'll note it in the report."
"Thanks, Lieutenant. You need me for anything else...? Lieutenant...?"
"Hmm...? No... no, that's okay. I know where you work if I need ya."
The officer rolled his eyes and motioned to his rookie partner. "Right, Lieutenant... see ya at re-quals." They both ambled out.
Measurements and photos were nearly complete, as the scene tech methodically revealed and recorded all that was available. Now that the uniforms had gone, she looked in my direction.
"Looks like the murder weapon's been wiped," she pointed a gloved finger at a sports trophy lying on Arenas' desk, "and the inner and outer doorknobs, but I get the feeling this really wasn't planned... just some quick thinking prior to a hasty exit."
"Well, hell, Terr... why don't you write the report and I'll just sign off on it."
"No thanks, Eddie. I like the working hours I have now. And you still owe me a dinner from the Willamette case, ya weasel."
"I know, lady, I know. And you got a fancy one coming, too. I've just been so damned busy. Anything else you can give me on this one, I'd sure appreciate it."
"I know who he is, Eddie. I'm sorry. I'll be sure and take extra care with this one. You gonna be okay? You can bend an elbow with me, later, if ya want."
"Thanks, gorgeous. I'll give ya a rain check on that. And that dinner is a solid promise."
"Well... it's after dinner that's gonna count with me, guy."
I smiled with sweet remembrance. "You're a sweetheart, Ter. Lemme know everything you come up with on Arenas here, okay?"
"Sure, Eddie. I'll just finish up here... and I'll call you with everything later."
It was always going this way between us -- she, desperately trying to help me forget a lost wife -- I, too stupid to see what a good thing it would be for me to let her.
God bless her, Terre was a bulldog, professionally returning to her careful scrutiny of the details. She knew her job, never left a stone unturned, and had helped me break some tough cases. And no smart-ass defense lawyer had ever been able to establish a break in the chain of evidence by her. I had sat down and allowed my mind to wander when I heard a tentative "Okay if I come in?" from over my shoulder. I looked around and saw Father Collins' face in the doorway. His gaze was transfixed by Arenas' corpse, and his lapels looked as if they needed a good pressing.
"Hey, Father. How's it goin' with you, today?"
"Certainly a good deal better than for poor Sergio. I was driving back to the church, when I spotted all the activity. What happened, if it's not asking too much?"
"Naw, it's okay, Father. It appears to be a murder."
He looked briefly -- intently -- at me, then back at Serg's corpse.
"Dear God... and he was a friend, wasn't he?"
"Yeah... he was."
"Would it be okay with you if I said a prayer for him?"
"Whaddya say, Terre? Can Father, here, go near the body?"
"It'll be all right... I'm pretty much finished up, here.
"Okay, go ahead, Father... I'd appreciate it, but please be careful and don't touch anything, especially the body."
Father Collins knelt beside Arenas, then turned his face upward to the ceiling and began to pray while I further contemplated the morning's event. The closing roused me from my reverie, "...in nomine Patri, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, amen." ...words I'd heard not a few times during my twenty-some-odd years with the department... but, in Latin? Funny, I thought the Catholic Church was doing all that in English, now... or whichever language the local church congregation spoke. Why use the traditional Latin? To hell with it... I had too much on my mind to concern myself with how priests were saying prayers these days.
Some time later, over a cup of coffee at a Calle Ocho cafeteria, Father Collins and I spoke of Serg.
"As I understand it, Lieutenant, Mister Arenas had what might be termed a 'checkered' past?"
"Yeah, Father... that's about how I'd describe it."
"Well... according to which side you see of it, he either met a just end, or he's gone on to a deserved peace."
Those words gained my wandering attention.
"You seem pensive, Lieutenant."
"Uh, sorry, Father. That previous statement seemed a bit equivocal... coming from a priest, that is."
"Well, I certainly didn't mean to sound judgmental, Lieutenant. I'm sorry if I offended you. After all... he was your friend."
"Yeah, well... no offense taken, Padre. And Serg is past all caring... that's for sure." I pushed the empty cup and saucer away from me. "Listen, Father, I gotta get goin' here. Lotsa paperwork ya know."
"Sure, Lieutenant. Maybe we'll talk some more, another time."
"Yeah, sure, Father... another time." Something was going on, here, but my brain was already running on overload. Maybe I could clear a few cobwebs on the way back to the station.
As we arose from the counter, Father Collins left a dollar as a combined tip, since I had sprung for the coffees. We hit the street and were about to go our separate ways when squealing tires hooked our attention to an old man who had inadvertently stepped off the curb into the path of an obviously speeding green Pontiac Firebird. With a resounding "thump," the old man caromed off the Firebird, which accelerated away, but I did get a good look at the plate and reflexively checked my watch, pulled out my notebook and wrote down the license number and the fact that the driver was a blonde-haired Caucasian male. I then used my portable to call-in the incident. As I turned my attention back to the old man -- who was dying on the pavement -- Father Collins had already swung into action, trying his best to comfort the bloodied old man, who was breathlessly babbling in Spanish for God to have mercy on his soul for all the sins to which he hadn't confessed. As the old man began to calmly accept the imminence of his impending death, Father Collins administered the last rites in the man's native Spanish.
The closing, "...en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espiritu Santo, amen," may or may not have been heard by the old man, as he passed to better days, but it eventually caught my attention... it wasn't the street Spanish typically heard in Miami, but very well enunciated, as might be spoken by a South American.
The ambulance had finally left, with the old man's body. Word-of-mouth had already brought his daughter, sobbing hysterically, to the scene, and I wrapped-up with the responding uniform, who now got back in her cruiser and drove off. Rubber-neckers finally drifted away, leaving the good Father and myself. I locked my eyes to his in firm conviction... too many coincidences. So, I narrowed my eyes and went for it...
"I guess we need to get to the station and have a thorough discussion, Father... don't we?"
"Yes, Lieutenant. I guess, in the final analysis, you probably think I'm not much of a priest..."
"That's between you and God, Father. It's Sergio Arenas' death I'm concerned with... and I think, together, we can close the case." His gaze fell toward the sidewalk.
"Can I phone the church, to have someone pick up the car?"
"We'll drop your keys off on the way to the station." I motioned for him to accompany me. "My car's this way..."
He extended praying hands low in front of him and looked at my eyes again.
"I don't think that'll be necessary, Father." Long experience gave me to believe that Father Collins was not your cold-blooded murderer type. And I really didn't want to parade the parish priest through the neighborhood in 'cuffs.
"Thank you... my son." That "my son" strangely warmed my heart. It suddenly dawned on me that I really did need to call Terre later... I needed to sit and talk with her a long while over that drink she'd spoken of... needed to let her touch my heart as much as she needed to touch it.
On the way in, Father Collins explained that he had grown up in Chile. His family had had "dealings" with the Arenas family, which had resulted in the death of one of his brothers during the time Father Collins had been attending seminary school. Being in the priesthood, he had not vowed revenge, but could not know that somewhere in the future, he would come face-to-face with Sergio, here, in their adopted country. Their verbal confrontation, in Arenas' office, resulted in an incensed Sergio grabbing Father Collins, in order to physically eject him from the premises. Unfortunately, Father Collins had reflexively reacted in self-defense by grabbing a close-at-hand sports trophy to stun Arenas, never meaning to kill him. Had God brought them both to this...? Had this been one of His "mysterious ways?"
As we pulled up to the church rectory, Father Collins took his car keys from a coat pocket...
The ensuing ride to the station was a silent event...