|Morning Mass in the cabin bedroom|
Despite the fact that the bed was twice the size of his attic mattress, luxuriously dressed with feather pillows, and a soft patchwork quilt, Fr. Kevin O'Kenney had a rough night. When he did sleep, he had wildly frightening dreams in which an army of red headed babies with sharp pointed fingernails chased him through the pouring rain. But for most of the hours after midnight, he tossed and turned, rumpling the bed coverings into a tangled mess, and staring aimlessly into the black.
By 5AM, he finally gave up and hauled himself out of bed. He hadn't thought to pack a robe, so he slipped on his old clothes, and padded down the hall in search of the bathroom the Sheriff had pointed out the night before. The cabin was quiet and dark, the only sound being a slight whimper coming from behind the door of his sister's room. Maureen had volunteered to take the baby for the night, and no one had declined the offer. The two of them hadn't really spoken about the ramifications of the surprise visitor, but he was sure once they were alone, she'd have plenty to say. Forever the champion of the underdog, there was no doubt she'd advocate for this baby like a mama bear with her cubs, whether or not she had any business doing so.
Once showered and dressed in fresh clothes, Fr. Kevin felt a tad bit better. He thought about wandering down to the kitchen, and making some coffee, but feared he might run into Cassie, an option he wanted to avoid at all costs. Instead he headed back to his room. Maureen had promised to join him for Mass at 7AM, so he moved a side table over, and readied himself for the liturgy. Everything in order, he plopped himself into the rocker, and waited for his sister to make her appearance.
At some point, he must have dozed off, because the rap on the door startled him awake. It was his sister, as expected, the baby asleep in her arms, and dark circles under her eyes.
"Morning, Kev. You sleep as bad as I did?"
"Worse, probably. I had a head full of nightmares I couldn't shake." He looked down at the sleeping baby, and shuddered.
"No doubt. This whole thing is frickn' crazy. Like some kind of goofy soap opera drama. Why
track you all the way out here? It just doesn't make sense."
He couldn't stand the 600 pound gorilla in the room, and finally asked, "You don't really believe this is my baby, do you Mo? I know you tried to beat the shit out of Cassie for saying so, but I need to hear it from your own lips. Just between the two of us."
"Of course not, Kevin. I knew the moment I saw this kid it wasn't an O'Kenny baby. Look how much hair she has! All the babies in our family are bald until their first birthday" Seeing the stricken look in her brother's eyes, she sighed, and added, "Lighten up, Kev. I was just teasing. Of course I never believed for one minute that you would break your vows. How could you possibly think otherwise. I think I know you better than any other soul on this planet. Nobody's perfect, but
when it comes to your devotion to God and the Church, no one is more rock solid. And I dare someone to say otherwise."
He leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Thanks Momo. You don't know how much that means to me."
"No thanks necessary, big brother. Now, you better get going with Mass. I don't know how
much longer this tiny tot is going to stay sleeping. I'm sure she's due for a change and a bottle."
Fr. Kevin slipped on his alb, and began the opening prayers. The peacefulness of the liturgy and the sight of his sister, content with infant on lap, calmed his troubled mind, and although it was just the two of them, Mass felt perfectly right. If this whole baby mess was his current cross to carry, he was grateful for the presence of his younger sister at his side for moral support.
They had just finished up, and the baby began to make her presence known, when there was a knock on he door, and the Sheriff stuck his head in. "May I come in?", he asked.
Maureen looked away, setting her lips in a grim line, and said nothing, forcing Kevin to reply.
"Sure, Sheriff. We were just finishing up Mass." He pulled off the alb, and folded it into a neat square, while he talked.
"I didn't mean to interrupt your service. I can come back later if you'd like." He spoke directly to Maureen, who was doing her best to completely ignore him.
"It's fine. We're finished anyway. What did you need?" It was obvious that his sister wasn't going to say a word to the man, so Kevin answered for them both.
"Well, I just stopped up to tell that I made some breakfast, so your welcome to come down and have a bite, if you're hungry. Fresh coffee too."
The thought of fresh coffee was enticing, but he wasn't about to cross Mo over it. Hopefully, she was hungry enough to consent to the presence of the Sheriff, and his troublesome fiancee. Luckily, Beckett solved the issue for them.
"Cassie's zonked out, and not much of a breakfast eater anyway. So it'd be just the three of us. I was hoping the two of you might be interested in a brisk hike this morning. The weather's cleared, and I really would like to show you around the area. Try to make something worthwhile out of the bad start to the weekend."
Kevin waited for some kind of sign from his sister. He wouldn't mind getting out the confines of this cabin, but again, would follow her direction. After a moment or two of silence, Mo turned around to face the Sheriff, chin held high, and eyes narrowed.
"And just what am I supposed to do with this baby? Strap her to my back like an Indian squaw and tramp through the woods, while you lead on like Big Chief Know It All?"
The Sheriff turned a light shade of red, and Kevin wasn't sure how this whole thing was going to go down. Beckett hadn't struck him as someone used to being insulted, but apparently his sister didn't seem to care.
The Sheriff leaned against the door, folded his arms across his chest and responded. "Miss O'Kenney, I have apologized profusely for yesterday's fiasco, despite the fact I don't think I am entirely to blame. It is still my hope that I can act the part of the good host, and try to salvage something of this weekend. I did call some of my contacts at the Department of Children and Family Services about the child. But because of the holiday, no one can get here until Saturday afternoon. Until then, that baby remains my responsibility. As Cassie will not agree to leaving the cabin, she has volunteered to keep an eye on the little one while we're out. In fact, if the lake was calm enough, I thought maybe we could take the boat out for a bit. Of course, if you'd rather stay inside with Cassie, that's perfectly fine too. Far be it for me to force my company on you."
It was Maureen's turn to blush, and Kevin could see the wheels turning in her head. Whenever she was thinking hard about something, she would twist a strand of hair around her index finger, and at this moment, the strand was in a tight little knot. Finally, she released the lock, and stood up, causing the baby to let out a howl. "I need to see to this child's diaper and breakfast. Then, maybe, I'll think about your offer." And with that, she made her way out of the room, being careful to put a wide berth between she and the Sheriff.
Two hours later, the group of three headed out into the woods behind the cabin. Breakfast had been another somber, silent affair, with Cassie making an appearance only a few minutes before they left. She begrudgingly settled herself on the sofa, the baby tucked next to her in the little basket she had arrived in, and hadn't acknowledged either Kevin or Maureen. Not that he minded the lack of conversation. The least amount of contact he had with the woman, the better, and the idea of a couple of hours of fresh air appealed to him.
He was also glad that Maureen had decided to relent and join them. He hadn't wanted to leave her alone with Cassie, but was looking forward to walking off some of last night's angst, and when she had thrown on her poncho, he was genuinely relieved. The Sheriff looked pleased as well, chatting amicably, and pointing out various fauna and wildlife as they walked through a path of towering trees.
The Sheriff's property was vast, seemingly going on for miles. They had walked for about an hour, when Maureen tugged on Kevin's sweater, and whispered into his ear. He tried not to smirk, as she looked rather desperate, and called out to the Sheriff, who had wandered a few feet away.
"Sheriff, do you think we could chill for a few minutes. Maureen needs...um...to make a pit stop."
Becket wandered back, and pointed to spot densely populated with tall, full evergreens. "You should have plenty of privacy over there, Maureen. We'll wait here for you."
Maureen moved toward the trees, her cheeks as bright as the curls on her head, and the two men made themselves comfortable while she was gone. The Sheriff reached into his backpack, pulled out a thermos of steaming coffee, and two tin cups, offering Kevin first dibs. Sipping the custom brew, Kevin leaned against the oak, and gave thanks that the day had taken a more cheerful direction. He surely spoke a bit to soon, as the quiet of the day was shattered by Maureen's piercing screams.
Both men reacted at the same time, dropping the cups and rushing into the grove. Maureen stood with her back to them, staring at a body of a young woman, her throat cut, her right hand sliced off, and jammed into her lifeless mouth.
Shocked, Kevin could only stare, as the sheriff removed his Glock from the back of his waistband, and bent over the body. From the gaping wound across her throat, and the excessive amount of blood pooling around her head, the priest was pretty sure the poor woman was dead, but watched as the Sheriff tried to find a pulse. Rising, Beckett stuck the gun back in his pants, and pulled out a cell phone, dialing what Kevin presumed, was the local law enforcement.
Maureen had buried her head in his shoulder, avoiding having to look at the awful scene a moment longer. But for some odd reason, Kevin couldn't keep his eyes off the unfortunate victim. He had a strange feeling that he had seen this woman before. Where, he wasn't sure, and he racked his brain trying to place the face.
Beckett finished his call, and walked over to where he and his sister were huddled. "I'm sorry, but we're stuck until Sheriff Fenton can get here. This is out of my jurisdiction, but someone needs to secure the crime scene. I'd send you back to the cabin, but I'm not sure you'd be able to find it, and I'd hate to think of you guys wandering around these woods lost, especially since..." He left the words hanging heavy in the air.
"It's fine, Sheriff. We'll wait here with you." He nodded toward Maureen, "If you could keep an eye on my sister, I'd like to pray for the victim."
"Sure thing, Father. But stay three feet away from the vic, and don't touch anything. I'm afraid we've already contaminated the scene...no need to make it worse. "
He sat his sister on a nearby log, and Beckett sat next to her, giving her personal space, but staying close enough to offer assistance. Kevin neared the body as best as he could, and prayed for her departed soul, which he hoped was at peace after such a violent end. Still, he could couldn't shake the feeling that she was not a stranger. The shape of her face, the tilt to her nose looked oddly familiar. He debated sharing his feelings with the Sheriff, remembering the man's annoyance at not being told about the phantom Volvo.
And he meant to. Really, he did. But then the local Sheriff and the crime scene people arrived, and things got hairy. Beckett was busy discussing evidence with Fenton's team, and Maureen, watching everything unfold, suddenly lost her breakfast behind the log they were sitting on. In her defense, Kevin himself found the murder especially gruesome. The throat wound was bad enough, but the hand shoved in the poor girl's mouth seemed unusually personal and cruel.
Fenton took their statements, and after exchanging business cards and handshakes with Sheriff Beckett, the three were free to go. Maybe it was the drop in the temperature, the gathering clouds that signaled impending rain, or the sight of the dead girl burned into his brain. The woods seemed darker, more menacing, than they had earlier in the day. Thinking of Maureen, he worked at keeping his cool, but was happy when the Sheriff picked up the pace of his strides. He'd be happy when they reached the safety of cabin, and then frowned at the irony of that statement.
Copyright 2012 Victoria Rocus
|Murder most foul...|