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Friday, August 10, 2012

          Sitting in the rectory parlor, Fr. Kevin O'Kenney stared at the blue suitcase with a mixture of horror and curiosity.  During his short tenure as a priest, he had remarkably heard quite a few strange confessions.  But until now, no on had ever left an actual "gift" behind.  And this one would cause him nothing but a headache.

         For the average person, finding a suitcase full of money you couldn't possibly return, would be a reason to celebrate.  For Kevin, it caused a growing state of angst and uncertainty.  The woman had admitted to theft during the process of Reconciliation.  She had told him that the money was taken from several people, and rather than return it herself, she had left him stuck with this financial albatross.  By Canon Law, he was forbidden to speak to anyone, about anything, he had heard during the process of the sacrament.  He couldn't go to the Sheriff, he couldn't ask around town, he couldn't even speak to the Bishop, who would certainly remind him of his vows concerning the process of Reconciliation.  He was simply burdened with the problem of doing with it what he saw fit.  And at the moment, he had no clue as to what that might be.

        Kevin was sure other pastors wouldn't think twice about the dilemma.  They'd figure the unexpected windfall was a gift from Heaven, and the money would make it's way into the parish building fund to finance a desired new project. For some reason, that plan made him uncomfortable, and knowing the people in this town as he did, they would surely keep at him about where the money for the project came from.  He considered dumping the whole of it into some deserving charity, but it was a crazy amount of money, ($450, 000 to be exact...he counted) and deciding which specific one would take some serious thought.

       Tired of sitting and grinding his teeth, he decided he'd try an evening walk to clear his head.  Maybe even stop for a late snack and a double mocha latte.  What he really wanted was a nicely rolled joint, but considering the situation, and the decisions he needed to make, it was probably a bad idea.  So he slipped on his shoes and headed out the door, stopping first to deposit the suitcase and it's troublesome contents, into the church safe.  He poked around in the bushes behind the building, on the off chance he might run into Brian, and insist he clean up the marshmallows still stuck to the stove's burners.  But the little man was no where to be seen, so instead, he headed off in the direction of Starbricks to drown his problems in excessive amounts of caffeine.

        Although it took him slightly out of the way, Kevin turned east to avoid going anywhere near the home of crazy old Peppers .  He knew he should be more forgiving of  the woman's issues.  She was obviously elderly, alone, and fighting her own inner demons.  But his nose still hurt like hell, and with the problem of the suitcase weighing on his mind, he was in no mood to forgive and forget.  If a few additional blocks meant some peace and quiet, it was well worth the extra steps.

       The night was overcast and moonless, and the humidity hinted at rain, leaving the streets of Dollyville silent and empty. Kevin was grateful for the opportunity to stroll unnoticed, his mind going over the events of the past few weeks.  He rounded the corner, and headed past the home of Cassie   McKreedy.  He instantly corrected himself...the home of the missing Franklins, frowning as he remembered how the woman had lied to his face.

       From the street to his left came a low voice, startling the priest out of his thoughts.  "Nice night for a walk, eh Father?"

        Kevin peered into the darkness to find Sheriff Beckett leaning against his patrol car.  "It sure is.   I guess the dreary weather has kept everyone else in tonight, huh?"  Not being able to resist needling the elusive Sheriff a bit, he added, "What brings you out this evening, Sheriff?  No trouble at the McKre...I mean the Franklin's home, I hope?"

        The Sheriff walked toward the house's front porch.  "No, no trouble now.  I was just checking on Miss McKreedy, is all.  She had a bit of trouble with Tessa Peppers this afternoon.  Woman showed up screaming and cursing a blue streak.  Claimed Ms. McKreedy stole her money, and insisted she wanted it returned."

        At the mention of missing money, the sheriff had the priest's full attention.  "Why would she think Ms. McKreedy had her money, Sheriff?"

         "Well, I'm sure you know how Tessa behaves.  Had a run in with her yourself, I hear,"  he smirked and motioned to Kevin's bandaged nose.  "Seems the old gal might be suffering from Alzheimer's.  Cassie...I mean Miss as an accountant and financial planner.  Handled some stocks for Tessa that went bad.  Poor woman can't seem to understand that.  Ms. McKreedy has been kind enough to not press charges, but I did want to make sure she was okay after all of the excitement.  She's not well, you know."

          Kevin wondered if Cassie had other reasons for not wanting to press charges, but held his tongue.  He was about to remind the Sheriff about their scheduled meeting for tomorrow when the man stopped, and began sniffing loudly.

          "Father,  do you smell gas?"

        The priest walked closer to the front steps, and breathed in through his nose.  "As a matter a fact, I do.  Gas leak somewhere, maybe?" As the two men moved closer to the porch, the smell became overwhelming.

         The Sheriff raced up the front steps, and began pressing the bell, and pounding with his fists on the heavy door.  He waited a moment or two, but there was no response.  Shouting up towards the second floor windows he yelled,  "Hello...Cassie?  Are you there?  I need for you to open the door, sweetheart.  You need to get out of the house, hon."  When she didn't answer, the Sheriff turned toward Kevin.  "Father, call 911!  Tell them we need a fire truck and an ambulance here right away...possible gas leak."  He turned back towards the door, and with a solid thump, kicked it wide open.

         From his spot on the sidewalk, Kevin could smell the natural gas pour from the open door.  He pulled out his phone and quickly placed the call.   As he was hanging up,  he saw the Sheriff push through the opened exit with an unmoving Cassie in his arms.  Alarmed at the sight, he asked, "Is she alright, Sheriff?"

         "No!  She's unconscious, Father!  Get in the back seat of the patrol car.  I'm going to lay her across your lap so she doesn't move around on the trip to the hospital."

         "Shouldn't we wait for the fire department and the ambulance?"

         "There's no time.  I don't know how long she's been out, and how much gas she might have inhaled.  Besides, the house was totally saturated.  I'm not even sure it's safe for us to stay here."

          Fr. Kevin awkwardly climbed into the back seat of the patrol car.  The Sheriff positioned the comatose Cassie on his lap, and with sirens blaring, he begin to pull away from the curb. They had only moved to the end of the block, when a loud explosion rattled the car's windows.  Looking out the back of the car, Fr. O'Kenney watched as Margie Franklin's dream house was blown into a million pieces.

Copyright 2012 Victoria Rocus




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