He watched the woman flip through several pages, seemingly looking for something specific. When he could stand it no longer, he cleared his throat and said, "Can I help you find something over there, Mrs. Peppers?"
For the average person, being caught in the act of snooping through people's private belongings would cause a great deal of embarrassment and angst. But Tessa Peppers was no ordinary woman. She calmly smiled, and looking the priest dead in the eye, explained, "There you go Fr. O'Kenney...now your desk is neat and tidy. Just like a Pastor's ought to be. Ahh... I see you found some tea. How lovely."
Part of him was impressed by her cool demeanor, and the other half, scared shitless. Even in this day and age, people tried to put their best game face on in the presence of clergy. It was a natural reaction to what they stood for, no matter what the religious affiliation. But Tessa seemed determined to gain the upper hand in every situation, and refused to apologize for anything, including bad manners. "To be honest Mrs. Peppers, I'm rather uncomfortable with you handling things on my desk. People come to me with very personal matters...things that are no one else's business. I'd rather they stay that way."
"Oh nonsense, Father. You know me...I'm not interested in anyone's business. I'd just thought I'd make myself useful while you made the tea." She smiled sweetly at him, and settled herself back on the sofa. "I'm just a helpless old woman, trying to be a good Christian." She took a small sip of the tea, and made a face. "I take it you didn't have any English Breakfast, Father."
"No, I'm sorry. This was all I could find. I'm not much of a tea drinker. I think this was left over from Father Cunningham."
" Poor Fr. Cunningham, God rest his soul. Now there was a dedicated Pastor! A true shepherd to his flock."
Kevin knew there was a "dis" to him in her statement, but let it roll off him. "Yes, I hear he was
warmly regarded by his parishioners. His illness and passing was a great loss to the whole diocese."
"Did you know him, Fr. O'Kenney?"
"No, not personally. But as I lived in this town the past four months, I've heard nothing but good things about him. And of course, the whole rectory is a reflection of his tastes." He thought briefly of the hideous pink plaid wallpaper in the rectory's kitchen, and wondered, not for the first time, if his predecessor was color blind."
"Well, a finer man never lived. He always had a kind word, and a happy smile. You know, people traveled from all over to hear him preach the Good News. The place was always packed"
Fr. Kevin shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He knew Tessa was working very hard to get under his skin. The church accounts from Fr. Cunningham's time showed Sunday collections that were average to meager. If people were flocking to the church, they certainly weren't showing their appreciation for his preaching through their generous donations. "As I said, Mrs. Peppers, I am truly sorry I never got the opportunity to meet him."
Putting the cup and saucer down, and looking at him with narrowed, blue eyes, Tessa said, "Father Cunningham was beloved by his people because he knew his place, Fr. O'Kenney. You could take a lesson or two from him."
Fr. Kevin felt his face flush, and his blood pressure rise. Trying not to let the anger show in his voice, he asked, "I'm not sure I understand what you mean, Mrs. Peppers? Please enlighten me."
"Well, Father...Pastor Cunningham attended to church business, and church business alone. He didn't go around getting himself into other people's problems, or sticking his nose where, quite honestly, it didn't belong. He kept himself above all the dirt in this town."
"Mrs. Peppers, I'm still not sure what you're getting at? Are you referring to the murder of Marco Rivera?"
"It's no secret , Father, that you've been hounding Sheriff Beckett for information. And I couldn't help but see all these papers on the subject when I was helping you tidy your desk. I just don't understand why someone of your standing would want to involve himself in such a ..tawdry affair. It's very unseemly you know...you chasing around like a junior detective, worrying about evidence and such."
His patience all but gone, Fr. Kevin leaned forward in his chair and sputtered, "The man died on my front lawn! I owe him the dignity of making sure justice is served, and I'm sorry you, and the people of this town, can't see my responsibility in that." Before he could say anymore, Tessa rose, taking the hammer in hand, and headed for the door.
"Well, I see I've over stayed my welcome, Father O'Kenney. Apparently, I've just made you angry. I'll be leaving now. It's obvious you don't understand my concern for the future of Holy Family Church." The fact that she stressed the word "future" in that sentence, did not go unnoticed. " Thank you for the tea. Good night, Pastor." And with that last curt statement, she stepped off the porch and headed down the darkened street.
Fr. Kevin shook his head as he watched her stamp off into the night. He went inside and shut the door. Turning off the lights in the parlor, he made his way up the stairs to bed. It was late, and he still needed to polish up his homily for tomorrow's Mass. The files about Marco's murder would have to wait until later. Halfway up the stairs, thinking about the day's events, he went back down and bolted the front door.