|Hanging on to a friend|
He grabbed the face of the watch, while Roxanne held the end of the chain, and watched as she scrunched her face in a tight ball of concentration. He did the same, mixing in any prayer he could think of that might be appropriate, as the seminary had never covered time travel in any of its classes. The time piece twisted and vibrated. Grew warm in their hands. And while he could feel a strange sensation in his fingertips, his feet, and the rest of him, stayed firmly stuck where they were.
Tiring of holding her arms up, Roxie dropped her end. "It's no use, Kev. We don't seem to be getting anywhere. I feel as if we're missing something."
"Missing what? The first time...in the bank vault...we didn't have a clue. It just sort of happened. I don't understand why it's not working now."
She kicked the pew in front of her, her body acting out in frustration. "I don't have a clue. It's not like I'm a expert in time travel, either. I still think the watch is the 'conductor' of sorts. It has to be. Just look how it reacts when we both have it. But I think there's more. And I don't have frickn' notion as to what that might be."
"Do you think our...voices...the people whose body we're sharing...know anything about this? Maybe they understand what's going on." The question sounded ridiculous to his ears, but he was desperate enough to clutch at any means of help.
Sliding the watch back into a pocket of her skirt, Roxie shrugged her shoulders. "Don't know. If she's aware of the rules about all this, she's certainly not sharing them with me. How 'bout yours? He giving you any feedback?"
"No. He mostly keeps to himself. Unless I say or do anything he feels is a major blunder. Then he has something to say. Otherwise...nothing. In all honesty, I couldn't feel him at all when I was holding the watch. Felt like just me in there." Seeing the anxiety in her face, he added. "I'm sorry, Rox. I wish I knew what to do. I'm...I'm just at a complete loss as to what to do next."
"It's not your fault, Kevin. If any one's to blame, it's me. I'm the one who pushed to find the lock that went with that damn key. If I hadn't insisted...well...we'd be home now and I'd be enjoying what's left of my vacation. Instead, we're stuck somewhere in the past. In someone else's body. It's all my fault, and you know it. I just can't let things be. Get somethn' in my head, and I'm off runn'."
She was right of course. It had been she who had insisted on tracking down the lock that went with that mysterious key. He himself had experienced a bad feeling about the thing the moment he saw it. Had wanted to shove it back in the box, and leave it to rest in that dirty old storage room. But his pride, and the need to make things "right" with Roxanne, wouldn't let him. For whatever purpose...and he was sure there was a purpose...he had been swept up into this adventure with her, it wasn't fair to make her shoulder the entire fault. "You can't blame yourself, Rox. I could have said 'no' from the very start. The box with the key was in my storage room. As Pastor, it was my property...my responsibility, and I could have shut down the search anytime I wanted to. But I didn't. I was as curious as you were. This situation is just as much my doing as it is yours."
She squeezed his hands, her eyes looking too watery for his comfort. "Thanks, Kevin. You have no idea how much it means to me to hear you say that."
He like her gratitude...and her hands in his...too much, and the emotions that rolled over him startled both he and his silent host. He dropped her hands abruptly, pulling them quickly away, and sticking them into the pockets of his overcoat.
For a second, her expression was one of hurt, but then it was gone, replaced with a look of determination that was all Roxanne Spinelli. She gathered her wool shawl tighter around her head and squared shoulders. "Well, now that we've all played the blame game, we need to figure out how to get back to our own time. Any suggestions, Father O'K...I mean Father Murphy?"
He didn't want to look into those Roxanne eyes. Didn't think he could stand it at that moment. So he looked over her head, and at the heavy wooden crucifix hanging over the altar. "I keep feeling there's more to all of this than just a freak, mystical accident. Like we were meant to accomplish something specific while we're here. Maybe that's the reason we didn't go back, even though we both were holding the watch."
She chewed on the loose strand of hair, reminding him again that it was Roxie in front of him despite the different face and figure. She seemed lost in thought, as if trying to sort through a mental card catalogue in her head. "I did read this book once...with a time travel plot...and I remind you that I am not a huge fan of science fiction or fantasy...where the heroine had to finish some kind of 'quest' before she could travel back into the future. Of course, she also fell in love with somebody in the past, and it complicated matters, and made the whole thing kinda of sad, and silly, and terribly convoluted. But once she had accomplished the set goal, she was able to step back into this hidden cave, and travel back to her own time. Maybe you're right. Maybe we have to 'fix' something first before we can head back to 2013. But just how are we supposed to figure out what needs fixing?"
"Here's the thing, Rox...I think I know the answer to that problem." He pulled out the note from John Webster, and the local newspaper. As she read the article, she began to nod to herself, making little sounds under her breath that sounded like "ah ha..yup", until she finished and handed the paper back to him. "I know this case, Kev. I studied it in one of my forensic classes at Boston College. This is the infamous Parkman murder case. It's a benchmark of Boston criminal history. I guess you could say it was the O.J. Simpson trial of its day. People packed into the courtroom to hear the gruesome details of the testimony. Webster was said to have murdered Dr. George Parkman over an argument about money. He killed him in his room over at the university...Harvard...where he was a chemistry professor. Said he chopped up his victim and buried him under his privy. We studied this case because it was the first time actual forensic evidence was used in court as part of the prosecution."
"That's got to be it, Rox! The reason we're here. Something to do with this murder. How did the trial end for Webster?"
"If I remember correctly, they found him guilty. Ended up hanging the man in Leverett Square, I believe. The whole idea of what constituted guilt came about because of that trial. Up until that point, the prosecution in the American legal system had to prove guilt with absolute certainty. This trial introduced that whole concept of 'guilty beyond reasonable doubt'. It was a huge turning point in legal defense, and the study of criminal justice in the United States. The professor for this class was some kinda big shot historian on the subject. Wrote a book, I think. In hind sight, I wish I had payed more attention in class. I like the hands-on forensic work, but the lectures on the history and philosophy...not so much. Do you really think that's why we're here, Kev. Something to do with this case?"
"Has to be, Rox. Why else would I be here...as Fr. Murphy. It's obvious in this note from Webster himself, that he and Fr. Murphy have some kind of relationship. He trusts Murphy enough to have him try and retrieve some kind of research from his lab. He wouldn't ask that if the man wasn't an ally. Someone he could count on. It also sounds like Fr. Murphy knew his family. Was acquainted with his wife and daughters. Could they perhaps have been parishioners of his church?"
"I tend to doubt that, Kev. Not to be mean, but look around...your church here is a wreck, and in bad need of repair. The whole neighborhood here screams working class poor. I doubt that a man in Webster's standing would ever frequent this area. Besides, Catholics were a minority in Boston at this time. Mostly they were the incoming immigrants. If Webster was a Catholic...and I'm not saying he was...it was something he didn't advertise."
"Then I can't imagine what the connection between me...I mean Fr. Murphy...and John Webster might be. There's something big we're missing here." Kevin rubbed a hand over his chin, finding the strange stubble there disconcerting. "Is it possible that the man is innocent? That we were sent here to save him from the gallows?"
In the gathering gloom of the empty church, he could see her shake her head. "That's a stretch, Kevin. From what I remember from my class, it seemed like there was pretty solid evidence that Webster was the guilty party. People testified that Dr. Parkman met with professor on the day the man went missing, and a male human skull and some teeth were found buried under the grounds of Webster's rooms at Harvard. The school janitor was the one who found them. Claimed Webster was acting suspicious, and felt he had to investigate out of loyalty to Dr. Parkman. Like I said before, it was monumental to have such forensic material as part of the evidence. All information points to Webster being the killer. Of course, the news media back then was no better than today. Worse, in fact. The Parkman murder was big business, and sold lots of newspaper. What they didn't know as fact, they made up, and there was a whole group of people, who based their reasoning on what they read in the papers, believed that John Webster was falsely accused and executed. That he was railroaded by a judge too quick to make a legal name for himself, and the wealthy Brahmin social circles who didn't want their dirty laundry aired in public. I think my college professor was among those who didn't believe Webster was guilty. That's was the subject of his book. But like I said. I never read it. Don't even remember the name of it. And it's not like it would help us even if I did. That book won't be published for another 115 years."
"I just can't shake the feeling that our purpose...here in this time...is tied to this case. To Webster himself. I can't explain the hows or whys of it. It's just a feeling I have."
"Well, that's more than I can offer, Kevin. If that's the case, where do I fit in?" She pointed to herself, and added, "Surely, in this role I would have had little contact with either Dr. Parkman, or Dr. Webster. Unless it was to deliver their laundry." She waited for admonishment, that mental "pinch" she was getting used to, from her hostess. But there was none, the logic of the woman obviously agreeing with her own, but adding nothing new to the thought. "Maybe I have nothing to do with this case. Maybe I have something entirely different to do. Another problem to solve."
"I suppose it's possible. But I don't think so. You said it yourself. The watch vibrates only when we're near each other. It seems to take both of us together to work, or at least that's how we got here in the first place. I have to believe our goal is one in the same. We just have to keep digging to figure out all the angles and parts."
"So then...what's our next step?"
"I had originally thought I'd go over to Harvard, and see about these lab papers Webster talks about in his note. But after our discussion, and what I know know about this murder, I think I need to go and see John Webster myself. Get my own feelings about the man, and see if he can add anything to the story we might be missing."
"That sounds like a solid plan, Kevin. I think you should do just that."
"What about you, Rox. Do you want to come with me?"
"I think that would just raise suspicions. A young woman traveling with the parish priest would be fodder for gossip we don't need. I think I'll head back to my...I mean...her house. Geez, Kev...I don't even know what my name is yet. Everyone just calls me 'girl'. Anyway, I have more clean laundry to deliver. Maybe I can just blend in, and pick up information that way. No one seems to watch what they say in front of me. It's like I'm ghost. Maybe we can meet later, and go over what we found out."
"Good thinking. But...I'm kinda worried about you, Rox. Will you be okay? Alone, I mean?"
She looked at him oddly, touched at his concern. "I'll be fine, Kevin. I'm used to taking care of my self at the club. All kind of unwanted advances in that place. What time, and where?"
"It appears I am scheduled to hear confessions here at three this afternoon. I think it would be best if you just get in line as one of the faithful. We'll have some amount of privacy that way."
She giggled, a deep throated sound that was not her own. "Confession? Me? We'll have to hope that the walls of this old church won't come tumbling down. But, you're right. It will offer some
space to chat without being seen. I'll see then, Kevin." She reached out for his hand, and before he could move it away, gave it a pat and a small squeeze. "You take care of yourself, Fr. Murphy. I'm counting on you."
He watched her pick herself off the pew, and wander out the church door. The wind swirled
in through the crack as she exited, and despite the chill of that November morning, Fr. Kevin felt altogether too warm.
Copyright Victoria T. Rocus 2014
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