David A. Schwinghammer
· Soldier's Gap
· Mengele's Double, Chapter 9
· Seminary Boy, a memoir
· Fisher of Men, Chapter Nine
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Nine
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 8
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Eight
· Mengele's Double, Chapter Eight
· Bereavement Blues
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 7
· Another Planet, book review
· The Three Stooges, book review
· The God Particle
· Empire of Sin, book review
· Science at the Edge, book review
· Obama, a Modern Caesar?
· Americans Need to Pull Together
· Voices of the French Revolution, book review
· Great American Scandals
· Odd Man Out, book review
· Widow's Peak
· Alumni Game
· Girls Who Wear Glasses
· The Do Drop Inn
· Ode to Neve Campbell
· Jacks or Better 101
David A. Schwinghammer, click here
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Suspects begin to emerge in the Andy Leyk murder.
Rally Round the Barber Pole, Boys
"Gossip is mischievous, light and easy to raise, but grievous to bear and hard to get rid of. No gossip ever dies away entirely, if many people voice it: it too is a kind of divinity."
Hendrikson's looked and smelled like every barbershop Dewey had ever been in, if you didn't count the modern kind with the pleasant-smelling, soft-handed girls just out of beauty college.
The witch hazel smell, the lather-making machine, the razor straps, the jar of Tootsie Roll Pops, summoned memories of summer buzz cuts. On the wall, just behind the three barbers, an angler hooked a ten-pound Northern. Below the art work, a cigar box served as a cash register.
To the barbers' left, a giant picture-window faced out onto the street. And, on a table between the first two red-vinyl customer chairs, outdoor magazines collected dust. One of the men waiting for a haircut hid a Penthouse and a Playboy on the bottom of the pile when Dewey, wearing his Roman collar, entered the shop.
"What'll it be today, Father?" Kenny, the overweight, red-faced one in the middle, said, as Dewey settled in the chair and was pumped up to where the barber could comfortably reach his mop.
"Just a trim. I don't really need a haircut."
"Emil suggested you get one, right?" Kenny hypothesized.
The two men waiting in the red-vinyl chairs perked up as he mentioned the pastor's name. One, a farmer wearing an International Harvester feed cap, turned the page on the Field and Stream magazine he pretended to read. The other, a white-haired man with a potbelly mindful of Arnold Schwarzenegger's first pregnant man, continued his kibitzing with Nick Hendrikson, the oldest of the brothers. Grouse hunting season and Nick's dog, supposedly one of the best retrievers ever to snag a bird, seemed to be the topic of discussion.
Nick, whose thick-lensed glasses magnified his eyes, said, "Emil gets his cut every week. Got to look nice for his girlfriend Alicia."
This set off a paroxysm of barking, snorting, and hooting that set Dewey's teeth on edge.
"Heard Father Emil got ‘imself a foreign housekeeper," the third Hendrikson, stationed to Dewey's right, said. According to the name plate on his immaculate white smock, his name was Bob and he sported the most up-to-fashion hairdo of the Hendriksons, short on top and long in the back, like a hockey player. The brothers features were so dissimilar they had to be adopted.
‘That's true ," Dewey said. "Viktorija Gashi, a refugee from Kosova."
"Heard she was living with the Leyks," Nick said.
"She was," Dewey admitted, warily following Kenny's cavalier ways with the scissors in the mirror. If Dewey wasn't careful, he'd leave here with an old-fashioned whitewall.
"Living in the rectory then?"
"Yep. She does some secretarial work for us, besides her household duties."
"Quite the looker, if you don't mind my saying so," Bob said, rubbernecking on the conversation. The man in his chair was bald except for a fringe of orange hair encircling his crown and neck hair that hadn't been mowed for what looked like months.
"Knock it off, Bob," Kenny said. "Father don't notice such things."
"I notice," Dewey said.
"Hear this one?" Bob said. "Why did they crucify Jesus instead of stoning him to death?"
"Everybody's heard that one," Nick said. "Because it's easier to cross yourself than to pound yourself all over."
This time Dewey joined in on the raucous reaction that ensued. Ironically each man's laugh had a different pitch, like a barbershop quartet.
"You're a good sport, Father," Kenny said.
"I knew he would be," Nick said. "I can always tell. Speaking of the Leyks, I hear Trace Trutwin is about to be arrested. He was Andrea Leyk's boyfriend, you know."
Dewey stared up at the high ceiling. Pressed metal. This place had to be really old. "That seems to be the general consensus," he said, unable to think of a way to change the subject.
"So, then you don't agree?" Bob said.
"Didn't say that," Dewey said. "I don't know who killed her."
"Everybody's got an opinion," Kenny said.
"True, but when you're a priest that opinion gets back to the people involved, and they tend to resent it. If the killer is somebody from town, I'm going to ask him to turn himself in during my Sunday sermon."
"That'll be a step up from Emil's usual snoozer," Bob said. "Word has it Trace flunked a lie detector test. Said he was studying with one of the Terries, but wouldn't give her name. The boy's a regular Romero from what I understand."
"I hear you were out there when Jimminy Miller discovered her body," the white-haired customer said.
"Ignore him, Father," Nick said. "He's a Lutheran."
"No, that's all right. Some hunters found her, but Jim Miller called me to the scene. She was his niece, you know."
The buzzing to Dewey's right stopped as Bob switched off his clippers and turned to meet Dewey's eyes. "Was she raped?" he said.
"I can't tell you that. The sheriff didn't like it that I was there in the first place."
"He's too slick for us, boys," Nick chortled. "We ain't gonna get anything else out of him."
Kenny snipped the long hairs on Dewey's eyebrows with a little mustache scissors, then winked at Nick. "Have to wait for Jimminy to come in for his bi-monthly."
"Anybody ask you to join a bowling team yet, Father?" Nick asked. "We got an opening."
"I think I might like that."
"Good," Nick said. "We bowl on Fridays at seven. What kind of average you carry?"
Kenny slapped some witch hazel onto Dewey's temples, the sting reminding Dewey of skinned knees and Mercurochrome. "I don't know. Something like 170 the last time I belonged to a league."
"Wow," Nick said. "Almost a pro."
"All done," Kenny said, unsnapping the toweling, and plopping out the kinky hairs on the floor. He offered Dewey the mirror.
Alfalfa Schweitzer stared back at Dewey. The image in the mirror much younger than the fifteen or sixteen he usually passed for.
Back at the rectory, Dewey climbed to his third-floor nook, sharpened a dozen or so pencils, threw on a grey sweatshirt and matching pants and fresh tube socks that reached to his knees, and curled up inside the window seat to scribble his Sunday sermon on a yellow legal pad.
Soon he found himself staring out the window. Leaves were falling. Red and yellow and the colors in between.
He tried to force it, but the prose sounded really saccharine and Billy Graham. He wadded up the yellow paper and bounced it off the wall into the wastebasket.
This was mental constipation.
He could kick himself for bragging to the barbers about goading the killer in his sermon on Sunday. Painted himself into a corner is what he'd done, and now he had writer's block. Who was he after all? A rookie priest, so wet behind the ears he'd ordered a young girl to buy prophylactics.
Maybe he could start with a disclaimer. Something like: I realize I'm new here and that this sort of sermon is more typically the province of the pastor . . . Scratch the word province . . . What else? Territory? Suddenly words came faster than he could write: Someone out there knows who killed Andrea Leyk and that person needs to come clean, to get this off his chest. They say people who commit this sort of crime have no conscience, but I don't believe that. I believe this . . .
What did he believe? If the murderer had lost his temper and struck Andrea with his car, as Dewey had intuited when he'd seen her body, the crime wouldn't technically qualify as first-degree murder. But then . . .
Dewey sighed, saw himself in the window pane. God, he had to give this ticklish sermon looking like a Little Rascal. They'd never take him seriously. Maybe a wig.
He printed the words "objectification of women" on the yellow pad in block letters, underlined them, drew a circle around them. Ted Bundy had claimed that he didn't see women as real. He'd blamed the mass murders on a fixation with porn. Those Playboys and Penthouses in the barber shop. Had Andy's murderer sat there ogling centerfolds? Should he tell the Hendriksons he found the magazines offensive and that if they wanted him on their bowling team, they had to get rid of them? Sure. That was just the thing all right. Playboy was almost tame these days, compared to some of the other filth out there. Make them think he was some kind of Jerry Falwell type with a bias against TeleTubbies. Dewey chewed on the yellow pencil, then snapped it, tossed it on the floor, got up and paced, realizing he had terminal stage fright. He'd hash it over with Viktorija. She'd know what to do, and she'd have coffee.
He loped down the stairs and was hurrying toward the kitchen, redolent with chocolate chip cookies, when the doorbell rang. Viktorija padded out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.
"I'll get it, Vicky," he said. She gave him a cross-eyed look. Probably no one had ever called her that.
Gordy Culp leaned on the entrance railing, his blond hair intentionally mussed in the style Robert Redford had originated, a navy-blue blazer draped over one shoulder. "Hey, Duane-ster, how's it hanging?"
"Well I'll be damned," Dewey said, punching Gordy on his upper arm.
"That's a hell of a thing for a priest to say," Gordy said, jabbing him back so hard that Dewey lurched backwards, almost falling. "Aren't you glad to see me?"
"Get in here. Maybe you can help me with a little problem I've got."
"Geez, I hope it doesn't have anything to do with the Leyk killing. Gram's been pestering me with that murder since I got here."
Dewey hooked Gordy's arm, hauling him into the vestibule. "I was just over there begging. She said you'd be here for her birthday, but I guess I thought she meant in a few days. Let's grab a chair; I'm writing my Sunday sermon, and you were always good at speech." He led Gordy into Father Czech's sitting room and pointed to the pastor's recliner near the fire.
"I got you something for your ordination," Gordy said, handing him a present done up in shiny blue paper. "Sorry I couldn't be there for it. Wrapped it myself."
"You got me a present!"
"Don't sound so shocked. We've been friends since Clinton was a virgin."
Dewey ripped open the paper and undid the cover of the little box. "A Mickey Mantle rookie card! I can't take this. Do you know how much this thing is worth?" He sniffed at the card; the good old bubble gum smell still there.
"What's a couple of dollars among friends," Gordy laughed. "There's more where that one came from."
"Where did you get this?"
"I inherited it. How much would you give for an Honus Wagner tobacco card?"
Dewey forgot about the piddling thousands the Mantle card was worth and began to envision the reparation of the church roof in one fell swoop. "How about a left nut?"
"Why not, you wouldn't have any use for it. Seriously, how much?"
"Oh, I don't know. There were only fifty of them the last time I checked, only four in mint condition. Something like a million bucks."
Gordy's face erupted in a rainbow of mirth. "Gottcha!" The smile opened a cut on his lower lip, and he dabbed at it with his handkerchief.
Dewey sank to the carpet. What a cruel trick. "You S.O.B., I should've known. I suppose this Mantle card isn't real either."
"No, that's legit. Got a whole box full of old cards from a client who couldn't pay his bill. I was just testing you is all. Wanted to see how greedy you really are."
Dewey dived at him, locked his head in a full nelson.
"Watch the neck, will you? The football injury."
"Forgot about that," Dewey said, loosening up and finally releasing the hold when it became evident Gordy wasn't playing possum. "Teach you to mess with me, though."
Gordy looked around the room, seemed to notice the dog motif, frowned. Then his face brightened; it always did when the topic was Gordy Culp. "I tell you I got a try-out lined up with an arena football team?"
Dewey retrieved the rookie card from where he'd dropped it on the carpet, tucked it in his shirt pocket. "You're not still thinking about pro sports, are you? Isn't a law practice good enough?'
"Yeah, you bet. Ninety hours a week really floats my boat. Besides, once a jock, always a jock. You oughta know that, what with the wrestling gig your senior year . . . . Of course the sport wasn't exactly my cup of tea. I always thought there was something queer about two guys rolling around on a mat."
"You just watch yourself, boy, or I'll give you another licking."
Gordy slapped Dewey on the back. "Gosh it's good to see you, but who was the dish in the apron?"
"She's off limits, but if you must know, she's from Kosova."
"No kidding. Love foreign women."
"Well, she's a Moslem, and they don't go in for any hanky-panky until they're way married and sometimes not even then, so watch your step."
"Party pooper. Well, let's have a peek at that sermon, then. Nothing else to do around here."
Gordy plopped down in the LA-Z-Boy, massaged his chin as he read what Dewey had so far. Dewey sat on the fireplace hearth. "I think you've hit on something here," he said. "These Gopher Prairie types think nothing like this murder could ever happen in God's Country, Minnesota. Even if the murderer isn't one of them, they deserve to get their butts chewed."
Viktorija chose that moment to enter with a tray full of coffee cups, a full carafe, and a plate of the toothsome cookies. "I thought you would like a snack," she said, giving Gordy a smile that would snarl traffic on Spaghetti Junction.
"You didn't need to do that," Dewey said.
"Why don't you stay and help us out," Gordy said. "We're solving the Leyk murder case."
Dewey stood, put his hand on the small of Viktorija's back. "This is my friend Gordon Culp, Viktorija. Gordy, Viktorija Gashi."
"Duane tells me you're from Kosova. That must have been hell. And here you are in good old safe haven St. Gervais, and somebody gets killed. How lucky are you?"
"If you're wondering why Gordy has such a big mouth, it's because he's a lawyer."
"Was I talking too much?"
She put the tray on the coffee table. "I am glad to meet you, Gordon. I am very sad about the death of my friend Andrea, but I do thank Allah for finding me the work at St. Boniface."
"Well, sit down then. Here, you can have my chair. Andrea was your friend then, eh?"
Viktorija perched on the edge of Gordy's vacated seat and Gordy sat Indian-style at her feet. The two could have modeled for an Adam and Eve portrait. Golden-tressed, broad-shouldered Adam, and petite, full-figured Eve. Albeit her haircut was a bit boyish.
Dewey pulled up a green hassock Father Czech used when he wasn't resting his stockings on the golden retriever. He poured coffee, took a cookie.
"Audrey, her sister, invited me to stay in America, but when she married, I and her younger sister became dear friends."
Gordy rested his hand on her arm and she flinched as though she'd been scalded with boiling water.
"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you. Let's see that pad, Duane. We'll jot down what we have so far. My gram has really got me interested in this thing. We'll have it solved in no time."
Dewey reluctantly tossed him the yellow legal pad. "There you go, Sherlock. Knock yourself out."
"Thanks, Watson." He drew a line down the middle. "I understand you were called to the gravel pit where they found her, Duane. Would you describe the body for me?"
"I don't think this is–"
"No," Viktorija said. "Mr Culp he is a professional. I would like him to continue."
Dewey sighed. "She was naked. No jewelry. Her hair was down. I noticed her heels were scuffed with grass."
"That's helpful; that means the body was moved."
"I'd say she was killed on The Runway; that's the road outside town where the volleyball girls liked to in-line skate."
Gordy scrawled on the pad. "Yes, I know. Born here, remember? Let's see. Volleyball player, huh? Pervs love volleyball games. It's those hot pants the girls wear." He glanced over at Viktorija. "I don't want you to get the wrong idea about me, Vicky. I defend a lot of sex offenders, you know."
Dewey slurped at his coffee, nibbled at the scrumptious cookies, spoke with his mouth full. "This is such a joke."
"Humor me. Why do you think she was killed on The Runway?"
"Ah, because she had a broken hip. I kind of flashed on the car scenario when I touched her at the scene."
"And . . . what were you doing touching her?"
Dewey made a disgusted face and Gordy smiled behind his hand, reveling in giving Dewey a hard time. "I gave her the last rites."
"Anything else? I'm getting quite a list here."
"The forensic people found a tire track."
Gordy frowned, stared up at the picture of the retriever watching his master shoot. "Good. Good. We'll have to get a copy. I have a private investigator that I use."
Viktorija leaned over and touched Gordy on the arm. "I know something. Andrea had a diary."
Gordy looked at her as if she were an especially precocious child. "That should tell us something. We'll get that, too." He turned back to Dewey. "Any witnesses?"
"Only indirectly. There's a girl who worked with Andrea at the Dairy Queen who claims Andrea had another boyfriend, or man friend I should say."
"What's her name?"
"No way, that you don't get. Anyway, the sheriff thinks the co-worker had a crush on Andy's boyfriend Trace, that she made up the mysterious man in a sports car."
"Geez, I'm filling up the whole page here. Sports car, huh? Color?"
"Some kind of light color; she doesn't really remember. That's one of the reasons Sheriff Weaver doesn't think she's telling the truth."
"Hmmpf. What was Andrea wearing that day?"
"I think it was a red top," Viktorija said. "How you call a tank top and the black lycra pants. And she wore an elastic ribbon to hold back her hair."
"Green, I think. She had a whole drawer full of them."
"So, Watson . . . where are her clothes?"
"How'm I suppose to know? John Douglas would say he kept them."
"Who's John Douglas?"
"The FBI profiler Silence of the Lambs was based on."
"Oh, yeah. I remember reading something about him. He was here in the Cities helping out on that case where they found the black woman and her boy in a garbage bag. Minus their heads. Any other suspects besides her boyfriend?"
"A retarded boy who lives on a farm near The Runway," Viktorija said. "He was acquainted with Andrea."
"Give it up, Watson!"
"Negative on your last."
"Make it hard for me. I'll track this sucker down before you can say F. Lee Bailey. Who've they got working on this thing? Can't be just Weaver and Jimminy Miller."
"Ah, the sheriff mentioned something about the BCA being called in."
"Those guys'd fuck up a wet dream. Took ‘em years to get that Dale Jensen guy to confess he accidentally killed his girlfriend's kid. I could have done that bombed on Angel Dust." He checked his Rolex. "Gotta go. Grams will be expecting me back, and I can't afford to offend her. Vicky! It's been real. You and I ought to get together sometime where a priest won't be cramping my style."
"I think I would like that," she said. She smiled again, her whole face lighting up like a contestant on "Let's Make a Deal" who's just picked the door with the Hawaiian vacation.
When Gordy left, Dewey helped Viktorija collect the coffee cups and they took the tray back to the kitchen. When she'd submerged the cups and saucers in water, she said, "Tell me about this Gordon, Father Fischer."
Dewey ate the last of the cookies. "Oh, you don't want to have anything to do with him. He's such a lady-killer."
"Is he not your best friend? What is this lady killer? You are being facetious again."
"Oh, it's just that he's had lots of girlfriends, and he only keeps them until he gets what he wants. I've already warned him that you were Moslem and won't put up with any shenanigans."
Viktorija set the last cup on the drainboard to dry, wiped the spoons on her apron and put them in the drawer. "I wish you had not made me out to be some kind of religious zealot."
"And I wish you had not told him about Roman Platz. I don't doubt for a minute that Gordy will stick his nose in this. His grandmother is almost pathologically interested, plus he's the biggest show-off I've ever met."
"Why is he so attentive of his grandmother? If you do not mind my asking."
"She has money, and money goes through his fingers like prunes through an octogenarian.'
"Mr. Gordon . . . has he ever been married?"
"Close once. Don't bring that up, though. She was killed in a riding accident. He loved her very much, and he blames himself."
Father Czech folded his newspaper over on itself, revealing a photo of a young man with the long hair and white robes of Jesus. The headline read, "Jesus Look-alike Brings Hope to Coal Town."
They were sitting in the kitchen, Dewey waiting on the TV dinners he had in the oven, Father Czech having a glass of wine.
Dewey read the cutline. It said, "Carl Joseph, alias ‘Whatsyourname,' has spent nearly a decade spreading the word of God around the country."
"What in the world are you reading?" Dewey asked.
The pastor lowered the paper as if he'd been caught skimming Hustler in the bathroom with the door open. "Ah, nothing much. It's about this healer who's packing the pews in West Virginia."
"Looks like Jesus," Dewey said.
"Something is going on," Father Czech said. "The local doctors say people heal more quickly after one of his hospital visits."
Dewey went to the sink, ran himself a glass of water. "Some kind of mass hypnosis?"
"That's what they said about Fatima when the sun came down and stopped the rain."
"Why do they call him ‘Whatsyourname'?"
"That's what he usually says when he meets people for the first time. They also call him the Prophet, the Messenger, the Mystery, and the Angel. He's been doing this for nine years, in thirteen countries and forty-seven states."
Dewey went to the refrigerator, looked inside. "How come I've never heard of this guy?"
"Probably for the same reason you don't hear about the people who run Meals on Wheels. It's not news unless it's bad news."
Dewey opened the crisper, found an orange, began to peel it. "That and because reporters are notoriously cynical." As he skinned the orange, Dewey took a closer look at the old priest. Overnight more lines seemed to have etched themselves in the craggy face. His eyes were red around the edges, his complexion that of a jaundice case.
"Says here he owns nothing and never takes money for any reason."
"Next thing you're going to tell me he fed the multitude from one basket of loaves and fishes."
"Nope, the people feed and give him shelter."
Dewey sectioned the orange, sat back down, took a bite. Seeds. The juice dribbled down his chin, and he dabbed at his face with a napkin. "Does he really think he's Jesus?"
"Never said so. He walks wherever he goes because Jesus walked, Buddha walked and so did Gandhi."
"What's his message?"
"Pretty conservative actually. Go back to church, follow strict rituals, respect the pope. Listen to this. One of the local priests says, ‘He reaches people we priests haven't been able to reach in all these years. It makes me ashamed.'"
"Do you buy it?"
"Says here the guy is originally from Ohio. Went to parochial school. Dabbled in eastern religions." Father Czech folded the paper back over, tossed it to Dewey's side of the table. He had been with the Bishop all day and was in a funny mood. "Want to read it?"
"I'll take a look at it later."
The pastor rubbed his sandpaper chin, sipped at his wine. "What bothers me is the kid never had to study theology for eight years. Doesn't seem fair."
Dewey glanced at the article. "Says here the people ask him the questions they should be asking their priests: Why do children die? How can we be happy?"
"They've asked me why children die."
"What do you say?"
"The old reliable. God works in mysterious ways."
"Carl says happiness is not loving one person, and it's not having all we want, that true happiness is the great mystery of God's love."
"Speaking of loving one person, I want you to take the marriage course tonight. I've got to take care of some correspondence and work on the accounts."
Dewey shoved the table away, upsetting the pastor's wine glass. "You want me to teach the marriage course!"
Father Czech righted his wine glass, poured himself another splash. "I don't see anybody else around here. Where's Viktorija by the way? It's getting late; she should be starting dinner."
"I gave her the night off."
"You what? But she's just started."
Dewey tore the article on Carl Joseph out of the paper. "Maybe I can use this," he said. "She needs time to grieve. Andy and she were very close. I've got some TV dinners in the oven; I hope you like turkey."
"That's what that smell is." The pastor pushed away from the table, the chair making a scraping noise that shot up Dewey's spine. "I'll get you the course outline for the marriage course."
Dewey paged through the small, dog-eared booklet. The table of contents: Keeping the sacraments, praying together, parochial education. Twenty or thirty years out of date, and that was a conservative guess.
"Think I should wear a robe, go barefoot?"
"Not unless you want to be arrested. I understand Gordy Culp was here this afternoon. Something to do with the church roof?"
"No, he was here to see me. Fell in love with Viktorija right in front of my eyes. It was mushier than one of those soap operas I've seen you watching."
Father Czech peered out from beneath shaggy eyebrows, a knowing look on his mug. He sucked a tooth, said, "You're worse than a mother-in-law, you know it?" Be sure to warn those young people about in-laws. If they don't like what they see, they should scrap the whole idea ‘cause that's what the little wifey is going to be like in twenty years."
"Or the hubby."
"Anything new on the Leyk case?"
"How should I know. I'm not in the loop."
"Oh, I thought you and Jimminy Miller had a thing going."
The dinger on the stove rang and Dewey got the oven mitts, removed the steaming Swansons, set one in front of the pastor, who squinted at the dinner as if it were fake vomit. Dewey got some forks and knives from the drawer by the sink.
"The only satisfaction I get in life, outside my congregation, is food, and you're subjecting me to this offal."
Dewey sat down, took a tentative bite. "Not bad. I was at the barbershop today. The Hendriksons say Andrea's boyfriend flunked a lie detector test."
"Thought your ears looked a little lower. Do you think the boy did it?"
"Nope. Boyfriends kill their girlfriends in the backseat of a car, or in bed. She was out on The Runway in-line skating, and somebody hit her with a car."
"How do you know these things?"
"I'm a big Tom Bosley fan. Father Dowling, remember him?"
"Oh yeah, I forgot about that show. Ricky Nelson's daughter was in it, wasn't she?"
"I thought she was Ricky's wife."
"Coulda been. If you're so smart, why'd the boy flunk the lie detector test?"
"The Hendriksons say Trace was a lover boy. He was most likely despoiling a new temptress. How ‘bout it, he ever say anything to you in the box?"
"He avoids me like the plague. Father Brummer, a retired priest from Holdingford, helps me out some Saturdays."
"I heard you were an ogre."
"Wait until I get you in the box."
Dewey forked up the last grassy-tasting string bean, pushed the rest of the dinner away, wiped his face with a napkin. "When does this marriage course start?"
Father Czech glanced at his watch. "Half hour. Room 104 at St. Teresa's."
"A half hour!"
Five couples, all red-eyed from working all day, sat around the tables in Room 104. The men could have sprung from the ten-most-wanted list on the post office wall. Even Ted Bundy had a girlfriend so that wouldn't exclude these jokers as murder suspects. The women were the spitting images of Bonnie Parker, or maybe the girl from that Natural Born Killer movie Dewey wasn't supposed to have gone to.
One girl was pregnant; another couldn't have been more than fifteen. Her prospective mate had a good ten years on her.
For the marriage class, Dewey had decided he'd better wear the collar and the black suit, but that didn't mean he'd sold out entirely. He read the couples the course outline, then tore it in half, lit it on fire with a kitchen match, and hurled it in the wastebasket.
They all clapped.
"I don't know why you should listen to me anyway," he said. "You've all got more experience in a relationship than I do."
Not necessarily so. Abby and he had gone together his junior and senior years. Also, the topic of sex had been a bone of contention between his spiritual adviser and him at the seminary. He'd never quite been able to "love" celibacy as his counselor had advised.
Dewey shoved his hands in his pockets and began to pace. "One thing I do know is that romantic love is the leading cause of divorce. In other words, couples often have unrealistic expectations regarding marriage. Prince or Princess Charming is going to come along and make you happier than a kid with a brand-new two-wheeler. But your troubles are just beginning. There'll be money problems for one thing, unless you're as rich as Father Czech."
This gibe got a roaring response from the motley crew and Father Dewey was in like Flynn for the rest of the evening.
A little later, after he'd written a number of questions on the board, he said, "I want you to take the time to make friends with each other. What don't I know about you? is probably the most important question you should ask your partner. How would you feel if you suddenly discovered after you're married that your spouse is allergic to whiskers, Barry?" Barry was the guy with the elementary-school-aged fiancee.
Again Dewey got a rollicking, foot-pounding response. They simply loved him.
"Take the time to answer these questions on paper. I don't want anybody sticking his foot in his mouth. That means you, guys."
More giggles and guffaws.
Dewey strolled around the room, rubbernecking on some of the conversations. A shy couple couldn't seem to get started, despite the fifteen minutes he'd given them to complete the questions.
He'd anticipated this. "Ask him simple stuff like what's your favorite color?" he told the reticent girl. "Blue," the side-burned mechanic (he had grease under his fingernails) said, "What's yours?"
"Fushia," she said. "It's a kind of red."
Then they were stuck again.
"Favorite TV program?" Dewey said. The other four couples were making so much noise he could barely hear himself talk. "Oprah," she said. "Walker, Texas Ranger," he said. Suddenly a worried expression flitted across her perky little face. "You don't like that . . . what you call it . . . that . . . you know . . . oral sex . . . do you?"
Dewey gulped. Where had that come from? He began to suspect that the Leyk murderer might be a woman. Maybe not Erin Reese, but some other woman whose affections that Lothario Trace Trutwin had been trifling with.
"Now that's exactly the kind of thing you two need to discuss," Dewey said, turning on his heel and making a run for it.
Dewey trotted down the steps of St. Teresa's, whistling the theme from "The Bridge over the River Kwai." That went well, he told himself, breathing in the river smells four blocks away. Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad gig after all.
Father Czech was asleep in his black leather LA-Z-BOY, snoring loud enough to cause Mutt to cover his ears with his paws. A glass of wine was overturned on a table next to the recliner, the purple liquid staining the carpet. Fanned out on the table, a rainbow of credit cards shimmered in the firelight. Had to be thirty or forty of them. A piece of scrap paper covered with the pastor's thick scrawl lay on the floor.
"None of my business," Dewey said, setting the glass to right.
Mutt followed him into the kitchen where Dewey opened the frig, found a slice of cheese. Nothing to drink, though. He strolled back into the pastor's sitting room, munching on the cheese, took a slug out of Father Czech's open wine bottle. He screwed up his face. Dry as hell, almost vinegar. How could he drink this stuff?
The phone rang. Father Czech snorted, his eyes blinking like a fighter who'd just caught an overhand right; then he turned sideways and went back to sleep.
Mutt pawed at Dewey's pant leg. "Need to go for a walk, boy?" The dog whined in reply. "Been holding it that long, huh?"
Dewey picked up the receiver. "Hello. Father Fisher speaking."
A gravelly voice said, "Irv Trutwin, Father. My boy's being questioned tomorrow morning about the Leyk killing, and we were wondering if you could help us out."
"I'd be happy to do what I could, Mr. Trutwin, but I think you'd be better off with a lawyer."
"Don't trust no lawyers. Ron Leyk says you're the man for us."
Suddenly very tired, Dewey rubbed his eyes. "Where would you like me to meet you and when?" he said.
"Ten o'clock at the jail," Trutwin said.
Dewey paged through his appointment book. He had a class. Oh well, he'd have to cancel. Hated like heck to do that. Those girls were actually fun to teach. "I'll be there," he said, dropping the phone on the cradle.
He stared down at Mutt, who blinked back at him with that sideways expression that dogs get when they don't know what the humans are up to now.
"Who killed that girl, Mutt?" he said.
The dog pawed his leg as if to say, "Who cares? I need a fire hydrant and I need it now!"
FISHER OF MEN is a work in progress. Dave Schwinghammer's published novel, SOLDIER'S GAP, is available on Amazon.com.
Site: Mystery Writer
David A. Schwinghammer