They double-parked in front of the building holding the AA meeting Nick had called. It was only about five blocks from Saint Christina's and it was one of a number of meetings listed in Nick Kostmayer's address book.
Robert shut off the engine and picked up Nick's appointment book. "It's interesting to see that there are AA meetings going on almost everywhere and anytime day or night. Anyone who needs help just has to find the next meeting. They could even attend several meetings a day if they wanted."
"Yeah, I know they go on all the time." Mickey shrugged, "They hold them at Saint Chris too. It's strange for Nick to go to another meeting place, I mean why not stick to home?"
"Well," Robert suggested, "perhaps he doesn't want to go in his church. After all it might not be what the parishioners need, to see their Priest right there with them fighting the drink."
It wouldn't make any difference," Mickey said. "This neighborhood's still a close-knit community of people. Anyone who shows up in an AA meeting anywhere nearby would be sure to meet someone they know, then everyone would know it. I'm telling you, I don't think Nick's an alcoholic. I think he's involved in helping out the AA members who need a priest to talk to."
"It's possible, I'm not ruling anything out. Remember, our objective is to find Nick, and in order to accomplish that, we have to look at every clue without preformed opinions." Robert picked up the notes they had made on the case thus far. "You might as well go in and ask around now. Just be light and tactful, and don't let them think you're trying to find out Nick's relationship with the group. They are sure to be rather tight lipped about such things. As his brother, you'll be more likely to gather the information if you make sure to do it in a casual manner."
"I know, I know," Mickey grumbled as he got out of the car.
Robert watched him walk into the door of the building, then continued to look over the notes they had made.
In the time they had spent driving here from Mickey's apartment in Manhattan, they had been able to divide up the list of people and addresses from Father Nick's appointment book. Mickey had chosen a group of names that sounded familiar and Robert was going to investigate the rest.
Robert had also placed a call to Jonah, his favorite Company computer geek, and had gotten him to promise to do quick background checks on each person or family, but so far they'd heard nothing.
From the entries in Nick's appointment book for the previous day, they had put together a rough timetable of his movements. Nick had made a list of the few items he was going to take on the retreat and they would all fit easily into the small duffel bag Mickey said his brother always used when traveling. Nick had even made a note to himself to get on the subway early enough to get to the bus station for the 3:40 bus to his destination. So Robert guessed that whatever had befallen Nick had happened before he could get to the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
From the address section in the back of the appointment book, Robert scanned the long list of names of Nick's parishioners. Father Nick certainly had a lot of contact with people in his community. Many were families with children; Nick had all of the birthdays for each man, women and child listed. As he expected, there were many more women than men, and many had children.
The idea that Nick might have molested any of these children turned his stomach and he didn't look forward to interviewing the people if Nick had been involved in something untoward. He and Mickey would have to tread very carefully not to spread the hurt any further.
He checked his watch. Almost noon. He looked out of the windshield to see that the streets of the neighborhood were moderately filled with women at this time of day. Some were pushing baby carriages and leading toddlers around.
Suddenly, Robert remembered the feeling of his son's five-year-old hand in his. It was a memory that was over twenty years old, but he still could feel the delicate fingers in his and remember how he yearned to protect that small boy from the dangers of life. If anyone had ever harmed his son, he knew how he would have reacted. And now, he was searching for a man who might have done blasphemous things to another parent's child. Red-hot anger clouded his mind for a moment.
Robert made the effort to cleanse himself of emotion. When they found Nick, and when they found out the truth, then they would decide the next step. Police or…"
Mickey opened the car door and slipped in next to him.
"Back so soon?" Robert asked.
"I got the information on Nick, easy. Told the guy manning the phone I was Nick Kostmayer's brother and was supposed to meet him out front. The guy didn't bat an eye. Told me that Father Nick hasn't been around. He had called yesterday and checked the time of the afternoon meeting but never showed. I said that maybe I was wrong about the day I was supposed to meet him and would get to Saint Chris to catch him. The guy said to tell Nick to not be such a stranger and to come to say hello, business or no. All indications are that Nick's not a member of AA but a helper." He grinned at Robert. "Told you."
Robert nodded, not wanting to ask if it was really good news. Nick had been stable enough to call to check on the meeting, but had somehow lost his equilibrium before he could attend. They were closing in on the time that Nick had gone missing, but still, they had no indication what had happened to throw him off kilter and no idea of where he could be now.
"Heard from Jonah yet?" Mickey's cheeks were tinged red from the cold weather and he pulled on his gloves.
"No. If we don't hear anything by noon, we start to call on the people on the lists. But I don't look forward to it."
"Yeah, it's cold as hell out there," Mickey chafed his gloved hands together.
Robert didn't want to tell Mickey that it wasn't the weather that bothered him as much as the idea of interviewing people who might have had a child abused by his brother. The idea chilled him to the bone.
He needed something to warm him – at least physically. He needed a drink. Or a few drinks. But that would have to wait, or –. "What's the best way to gather information without making much effort?"
"Huh?" Mickey said.
"How can one garner all the news of a community without bringing attention to oneself?"
Mickey shrugged. "The usual. Get yourself to a bar or meeting place where people talk and gossip. Blend in and keep your ears open."
"So what are we doing sitting in this car? You know the neighborhood. Where is the most popular lunch counter filled with talkative women – preferably women with children?"
Mickey's look was searing, he understood Robert's implication. "The diner across the street from the elementary school, right next to Saint Christina."
"Good," Robert said, starting the car up, "Then lunch it is."
As soon as he opened the door to the diner, Robert was almost bowled over by the moist heat, the noise and the smell of coffee intermingled with the scent of sweet jellies, maple syrup and fried food. His mouth began to water immediately.
Unlike the usual diners in Manhattan, which were only narrow enough to hold a single row of booths running parallel to the counter, this looked more like a large restaurant. There was a counter, but there were tables and booths spread throughout the place. Most were filled with women and energetic children of preschool age.
The noise was almost deafening.
"Hey, gentlemen!" A harried looking woman in an apron shouted at them as they closed the door, "This table just got freed up." She waved them into a booth right by the window.
Robert and Mickey looked at each other for a moment. They had planned to separate once inside the diner, to be able to listen to different conversations, but if they refused the booth they would bring too much attention to themselves. Silently agreeing they sat down together.
"Coffee?" the waitress asked with a smile and slid two oversized menus in front of them. They nodded as they took their jackets off and the waitress scurried away.
"So much for strategy," Robert muttered. Mickey shrugged and picked up the menu.
Robert picked his menu up too and noted that it was slightly sticky. He decided on a number 5, grilled cheese sandwich with salad and a serving of coleslaw. How much could they do to ruin that? Come to think of it, when he looked at the menu again, everything was served with a side of coleslaw.
The waitress came back with large mugs of coffee. "Ready?"
Robert gave his order first, and sipped at the – remarkably good – coffee. After she left, he tried to make out one conversation from another, but with the cacophony going on it was difficult.
"I knew it!" An older woman at the table next to them was saying to a younger woman who was wiping the face of a toddler seemingly covered in whatever it was that had been on his plate. "She was a tramp and this was bound to happen."
"Ma! Language in front of the baby!"
"What? Tramp isn't bad language. I swear, you're too careful around little Arthur. A child can't be protected from life. You'll find that out, soon enough."
Turning away from that not-so-dulcet tone, Robert looked toward Mickey whose ear was cocked toward the group of women sitting behind him. Robert raised his eyebrows. "Anything?"
Shaking his head, Mickey said, "Nothing about kids or abuse. It's all about some woman from the neighborhood who was found dead last night."
The waitress bustled over with both plates. She sat the dishes down in front of them and smiled once again. Then she did a double take at Mickey. "You've been here before, you seem kind of familiar." Then she beamed at him. "Oh, I know, you're Father Nick's brother!"
Mickey smiled. "You've got a great memory. Last time I was here with Nick was months ago."
The waitress nodded, "Father Nick's a sweetheart. Because of him, I'm back at Saint Chris. He's a good man." She looked to her right, "Oops, gotta go. Just yell out if you want anything else."
If the waitress, who is in the middle of all the talk of the neighborhood, wasn't aware of any accusations about Nick – well then, things were looking better. Robert saw what had to be the same thoughts going through Mickey's mind as they caught each other's eye. Mickey's face lost a few of its worry lines.
Robert took a look at his luncheon plate. The grilled sandwich was made of plain white bread, with the obligatory tired sprig of parsley on the side. There was a mound of shredded lettuce and a half of an overripe tomato on it. The salad? The coleslaw was shaped in a generous scoop next to the sandwich.
Robert lifted his fork and thrust it into the slaw. In for a penny, in for a pound, he thought as he lifted a filled fork to his mouth.
Wonder of wonder, it was delicious!
Mickey was chuckling. "You should have seen your face McCall. Looked like you were ready to taste something like that meal of Kim Chee, the Korean pickled vegetable dish, Matsueo served us that time."
Crunching the crisp cabbage, Robert nodded, happy to see his friend's mood had lightened a little. "I was a bit fearful, but this coleslaw is rather good."
"Yeah, this place is known for its slaw. Nicky loves it." Mickey's face suddenly dropped its good humor again. "We haven't found out a thing so far."
"Sorry to bother you." Two of the women sitting behind Mickey had moved and were now at the side of their table. A woman of about thirty was the one speaking, while her friend smiled at them in silence. "We couldn't help but hear. You're Father Nick's brother?"
Mickey remained seated, but Robert started to rise to greet them.
"No sit, eat, eat!" the woman said. "I'm Jane Johnson and this is my friend Olga Szymanowski. We just wanted to say hello, and tell you how much we appreciate all that Father Nick does in this neighborhood."
"Why thanks, ladies." Robert saw that Mickey had on his most charming grin. He was also using his deepest, most husky voice, the one women always responded to. Robert let him continue. Give it ten minutes and these two would tell Mickey everything they knew period, not just about Nick.
"I'm just happy that Father Nick is away at this so terrible time," Jane Johnson went on, "I know he's going to feel bad when he gets back, but it's better that he doesn't have to deal with happened to that Amelia Farell…"
With a start, Robert remembered seeing that name in Nick's appointment book.
"…May the Lord rest her soul – till he gets back. The other Fathers can take care of whatever has to be done. By the time Father Nick gets back, maybe the cops will have found out who murdered her."
"Murder?" Robert whispered, looking at Mickey.
"Father Nick tried so hard to help her, all the Fathers did, but she loved her drink too much. It's just that Father Nick is such a sensitive soul, with such a soft spot for the troubled members of his flock," here the woman gave a deep and loud sigh, "And Amelia Farell was a real handful, what with her drinking and carrying on with anything in a pair of pants who would cough up the money for a bottle of cheap hooch –"
Her friend had prodded her in the ribs and threw her a stern look. "Jane!"
She clamped her mouth shut.
"Sorry," the other woman said, "but Amelia Farell's been trouble since she showed up in the neighborhood a couple years ago, and we know Father Nick was trying real hard to help her. He's such a kind-hearted man. To have someone murdered in this neighborhood is real upsetting." She prodded an elbow at her friend again, "We'll just toddle along and let you two get back to your lunch. Come on Jane."
Smiling now, Jane patted Mickey on the shoulder. "If you see him first, tell Father Nick we said hi. "
"I will," Mickey said.
"Come on Jane, let's leave 'em in peace," called her friend, and with a small wave they turned and slid back into their booth.
Without a word, Robert concentrated on finishing his food. So did Mickey.
As Robert's last swallow of coffee went down, he waved to the waitress for the bill.
Mickey stood up, put on his jacket and stepped closer to Robert so that he wouldn't be overheard, "I'm gonna check out what they said about the Farell woman. If there're no messages from Jonah yet, I'm going to light a fire under him, see what information he can get." Robert nodded and watched Mickey walk out the doors of the diner.
Robert opened his wallet to pay the bill. If Jonah didn't have any information on the specifics of the murder in this neighborhood, he knew that Alice, as a Sergeant in the NYPD would.
Mickey was just hanging the phone up when Robert climbed back into to the car. His gut was churning and he felt his jaw working. Jonah's information hadn't helped the situation.
Robert sat next to him in silence, waiting for him to start,
Mickey looked at his notes and cleared his throat, but his voice still came out sounding strange.
"Amelia Farell, 52, widow. Found late last night, dead in her bed, naked, evidence of sexual activity, penetration. Cops found semen, hair, loads of fingerprints, but the body had no signs of foul play. The woman was a hard drinker, and smoker with a history of mental problems. No known regular boyfriend and wasn't a well liked member of the community – she'd been known to grab onto a man for sex, then extort money or booze by threatening to blackmail him. More than once she told a guy's family or boss that he took advantage of her. A real sweetheart." By the time he finished, he knew his voice was acid.
Robert waited another beat before he spoke. "I don't want to make you feel worse Mickey, but this has to be said. The story sounds familiar. Very like Mrs. Polchow’s death, don't you agree?"
"No!" Mickey temper spun out of control, "There's no way that Nick had anything to do with this – no Goddamn way!"
Robert's voice was stern. "Something has happened to your brother. Something so horrifying to Nick that it brought about a mental break with reality."
Mickey punched the dashboard, feeling pain surging through his knuckles. "I know!"
Frowning, while looking at the place he had punched, Robert said, "If something has brought back the early horror such that he reverted to a childlike state, then perhaps he's reliving that trauma now and would repeat his actions. Did you look in the basement of your old church for Nick?"
Mickey turned his full fury on Robert. "Do you think I'm an idiot? When Hobie told me the addresses of the phones that Nick used, I saw right away that one was in our old neighborhood. I broke into the basement of our old church and tore it apart. Nick wasn't there."
"And all of the phones were quite a distance away from Saint Christina." Robert said, "So he didn't call from there."
Mickey realized that Robert was acting as if he hadn't screamed at him. His voice was matter-of-fact, straightforward, so Mickey inhaled and regained his sense of control. He looked at McCall, "What's next? We aren't any closer to finding out what triggered Nick's breakdown."
"I want to know everything there is to know about the late Mrs. Farell. It seems more than a coincidence that her name is in your brother's notebook and now she is dead."
"Jesus, McCall! First you think he gets off by abusing children and now he's a murderer! Come on – he's a priest and, damn it, he's one of the best people I know. Nick doesn't have a mean bone in his entire body."
"I'm afraid being a priest isn't any guarantee of exemplary conduct – we both know that."
Jesus, he hated when McCall acted so high and mighty. They had both gotten their hands good and dirty in the past.
"You know what being a priest means to Nick. Do you really think he's capable of doing such things? Remember that time he was willing to sacrifice his life? He hoped to save others by trying to stop a bombing attempt all by himself because he couldn't break his vows of the confessional to tell the cops about it. That must mean something!"
McCall shook his head, "In a rational state of mind I have no doubt that Nick would be incapable of any lawless act, but we have to bear in mind that he might have been suffering from a hidden mental problem for years."
Mickey took a deep breath, if necessary he would go up against McCall on this one. "Look McCall, If we find out he did something, I can't turn him in. I won't. He's a better person than I've ever been and he would never have hurt anyone on his own. If he did anything wrong, it's because he's sick. It's not his fault. I should have gotten him help all those years ago instead of leaving it to others."
A sick feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. Nick deserved so much better. He would never survive in a prison or hospital facility.
McCall sighed, "Give yourself a break, Mickey. You were seventeen years old, you couldn't have gone up against your mother or the parish priest."
Still not able to shake the guilt he was feeling, Mickey mumbled, "I know. I just –"
"We'll do what needs to be done and make sure he gets the right kind of help this time. I promise."
Guilt and worry were pressing on his chest, making it hard to talk, "You don't understand, I can't give him up, I have to protect him no matter what he's done. Sending him to jail would be a death sentence for Nick. He would die in prison as certainly as if I put a bullet in his head."
He saw Robert stare at him. Worried. "No need for that kind of talk. Nick needs help and I will see that he gets it. Everything will be okay, Mickey. I give you my word."
"But nothing! Trust me, Mickey." McCall turned towards him and gripped his shoulder for a moment, "You've done it before and I've never let you down."
"I know." He looked his mentor in the eye, "But up 'till now it's only ever been my life on the line."
Before McCall could answer, the car phone rang. Mickey hoped to hell it was Jimmy with some good news. Right now he didn't think he could take any more upsetting information.
Leaning back in his seat, Robert picked up the car phone and put it to his ear, glancing at Mickey for a moment. "Robert McCall."
Other than the odd question and comment, McCall wasn't talking, he was listening. Mickey waited in agony for him to finish the call.
"Thank you, Jimmy. We'll meet you there."
He nearly shouted with frustration when McCall hung up the phone. He needed answers and he needed them now! "Nick called again – didn't he? Where is he?"
"He placed the call from Prospect Park. Jimmy said he spoke, babbling on a lot about places you both went with your father when you were small. It's all on tape. Jimmy's already on his way to meet us at the park."
"Good. What're we waiting for?" Mickey's hopes plummeted when he saw the look on McCall's face. "What's wrong?"
"Jimmy said he could hear children in the background while Nick was talking." McCall started the engine and pulled out into the mid afternoon traffic.
"Oh come on McCall! It's a park for Christ sake! You get kids in parks! Just because Jimmy heard kids it doesn't mean that Nick's messed with any of them." Nick couldn't be guilty of any of the things McCall and Jimmy were thinking about.
What's going on in Nick's head? How will he react when we find him?
Whatever Nick had done he would stick by him. Damn it! They would find him; Mickey wasn't going to give up. He'd find Nick or die in the attempt.
Then a thought hit him like a sandbag. What happens if the police charge him with something?
Mickey couldn't believe that his angelic brother would have done anything to harm children or a woman parishioner. The thought of Nick facing prison time made him feel sick. Mickey had done time and knew how cons treated anyone who showed any weakness or who was convicted of abusing kids.
Mickey couldn't control a shudder.
Nick wouldn't last a week. The cons would torture his poor brother, doing things to him that would tear Nick's soul out.
Oh Jesus, come to think of it, Nick wouldn't even survive the trial – the shame of it would kill him.
No, he wouldn't let Nick go to jail. Whatever happened he'd make sure his brother didn't spend a day in prison. He knew what he had to do. It would be kinder than leaving Nick to the mercy of the animals in Attica or Rikers.
Before he gave Nick up to the authorities, he would kill him himself.
When the car turned off Flatbush and into Prospect Park, memories flooded back from Mickey's childhood. He hadn't been here in years.
"Jimmy said the call came from a phone near the Boathouse, so we'll go there and wait," Robert said.
Mickey looked around, "He'd better be here soon, it's getting dark. I don't want Nick spending another night out in this weather."
He was out of the car before it had stopped, and sprinted over to a phone booth next to the Boathouse. There was nothing to see. "Damn." He muttered under his breath. Though he hadn't expected there to be a detailed map giving Nick's location, he had hoped for some sign.
In the distance he could see the playground and despite the approaching dusk there were still a number of kids playing there. He was about to go over and try asking if any of them had seen Nick, when Jimmy pulled up behind the Jag. Mickey saw McCall get out of the car, and so he followed him over to the van.
Once they were all settled inside, Jimmy pressed a switch and Nick's halting voice came over the speaker. Mickey folded his arms and stuck his hands into his armpits to keep them still. He didn't remember the last time he'd felt so edgy.
Mostly Nick muttered incoherently, asking for help and singing the same goddamned song. Nick's tear-filled voice punched holes in Mickey's heart and suddenly he couldn't listen anymore. "Fuck this!" He threw open the back doors of the van and got outside into the open air, taking lungfuls of the cold clean air.
He could still hear the sound of the tape playing in the van and, combined with the shrieks of the kids, it was as though he had moved in time, back to when he and Nick were young and their dad used to bring them to this park.
Those trips to the park were some of the best times he could remember. Humming the tune of Pony Boy under his breath, he started walking. That was the song their Pop would sing to them when he'd lift them up on one of those wonderful horses to ride the carousel. Mickey remembered that there was a statue of a mermaid at the center of the carousel and he and Nick were always mesmerized by it. Half of her was a fish, and she wasn't wearing anything on top.
Suddenly he knew where Nick was! Mickey took off, heading back the way that they had come into the park. From the corner of his eye he saw McCall get out of the van and follow.
Racing, he forked left, following the signs until he reached the boarded up carousel. A notice said that it was only open from April through October. It had been boarded up for two months.
Searching for a way in, Mickey did a fast circuit of the building. The was only one door and it was held shut by an old padlock. It was just the type that was used in Saint Christina's old storage basement, the type that Mickey had taught Nick to open without a key years ago! Touching the lock, Mickey saw that it was open. He tried the door and it only moved an inch. It felt like it had been barricaded. He heard McCall's heavy tread behind him.
"Careful, Mickey." Robert was breathing hard from the run, "If he's in there you don't want to frighten the life out of him."
In annoyance he half turned, intending to tell McCall to butt out, then he realized it was good advice. Going in like a Sherman tank wasn't going to do anyone any good. "Right."
Taking a deep breath he shouldered the door open, then stepped inside and let his eyes adjust to the half gloom. Ignoring the noises from outside, he concentrated on the sounds from inside. Then he heard it – a faint humming noise, as if a child were singing to itself. He headed for the sound, skirting the silent carousel. Then, at the back of the building he saw a huddled shape in the corner.
"Nick? Is that you?" From the sudden stiffening of the figure and the increase in the sound of the humming, he knew it was his brother. With a sigh of relief, Mickey got closer and crouched down until he could almost see Nick's face.
"Nick, it's me, Mickey." As he got closer, he saw the fear and dirt on his brother’s face. His eyes were wide and filled with anguish. Mickey almost lost it then, wanting to grab him and soothe that look of grief away. "I'm here to help you."
"I'm scared Mickey, so scared. You'd better stay away from me. I'm dammed and if you get too close you'll be dammed too." Nick was holding on to his rosary, and as he sang his song again, Mickey heard some parts of the "Hail Mary" mumbled inside the tune. Goosebumps rose all over his body.
Mickey made himself smile and he kept his voice gentle, "Come on, Nick, this is me we're talking about. You don't have to worry about me. Everything will be fine."
"Not this time, Mickey. I've done evil things, things too awful to bear."
Mickey closed his eyes. Whatever it took, he'd get him through this. "It's okay. I'll take care of everything."
Suddenly with a strength Mickey hadn't expected, Nick pushed him away, "You don't understand! I've broken my vows to God!"
Before he could respond, Nick collapsed, weeping as if his heart was broken. Mickey moved back and gathered his distraught brother into his arms and held him close despite his feeble protests. It felt as if all his strength had left Nick. Mickey could feel a chill radiating off him, intermingled with the smell of a man who had spent too much time on the street. He could feel him shaking, though whether with cold or sorrow Mickey wasn't certain.
McCall appeared then, "I'll call an ambulance."
"No!" All he could think of was that he couldn't let Nick go, he couldn't turn him over to anyone else's care. Not now – not ever again.
"Mickey, he needs proper medical care. He might be dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia."
"I'll take care of him like I should have before." He held Nick even closer to his body. "There's no way he's being taken away from me now. I'm going to see him through – this time."
"All right, Mick. All right, I won't argue with you. I'll get the car and we can take him to a safe house for now. Once we are there I can get Dr. Wolfe to examine him. We can take it from there." Robert took his scarf and coat off and threw them to land at Mickey's side. "Start with these. Get them on him. I'll tell Jimmy to bring the van as close as he can. You can help Nick to rest in the back."
Mickey watched until McCall was swallowed up by the darkness. Nick, meanwhile, had stopped trembling a little. Mickey spoke because he couldn't stand the silence any longer, "It's okay, Nick. I'll figure out what to do."
When he answered, Nick's voice was so faint Mickey had to lean closer to hear, "You should have left me here to die unshriven. I have to suffer eternal damnation for my sins."
What was he talking about? Nick's choice of words worried him. Nick was using the sort of language that he associated with the old school of the priesthood. Nick had never used that language before. What the hell is going on in his head? "Come on, Nick, talk to me."
Nick drew a shaky breath and began to sob, "I didn't want to do it, but I don't know what came over me. I did it. Oh Jesus help me. I did it!"
"We'll get you some help this time, like we should have after Mrs. Polchow hurt you."
He didn't mean to mention the name but suddenly it was as though a dam had broken. Half the time Mickey could barely understand Nick because of the broken sobbing.
"I don't know what happened. All of a sudden, my eyes opened and I was … I was… Oh God! I tried to stop, but I couldn't. I couldn't control what was happening! God! Why did you desert your servant in his hour of need? I only wanted to help and now… She asked for my help and I ..."
"She? Who? Who asked for help?"
"Amelia. She called me, ready to follow the enlightened path, ready place her feet upon the road to sobriety. She called me to help her and I went to the apartment and, oh God! I don't know what happened. Suddenly, I woke up in her bed and I was a beast doing things, awful things … and she was doing things... Oh God, what happened to me?"
Amelia Farell! That was the name of the woman found dead. "You mean you were having sex with her?"
"I fornicated with her. I don't know what happened, why I did it. It's all so fuzzy. I just remember flashes, moments of overwhelming carnality, evil pleasure. Then, when I was finally able to wake up fully, she was dead. Just like before. Oh Mickey, it happened again! How, oh Lord, How?" Nick's sobs were wracking his body. Mickey held on to him even tighter.
Mickey had to ask the question now. He had to know, "What about children?"
"Children? What do you mean children? What about children?" Nick's eyes were wild, "Was there a child in that room? What did she do to children? I don't remember seeing any children there. Please tell me I didn't hurt any children."
He hugged his brother, "No, Nick. It's okay. You didn't hurt any kids."
Nick was so confused that Mickey knew he'd had nothing to do with molesting children. Relief spread through him.
"Thank God." Nick sobbed.
"Everything is going to be okay. I promise, Nick." Hoping that McCall wasn't going to be much longer with the car, Mickey held Nick and rocked him.
He knew now that Nick didn't do anything to children, and that made him feel better. As for Nick's being a murderer? Well, that remained to be proved. But Mickey could handle that for Nick. Mickey could live with that.
In his line of work, he lived with that thought about himself for years.
The bedroom door of the safe house opened quietly and closed again with a gentle click. Jimmy, who was standing next to Robert, turned and stared at the doctor. Out of the corner of his eye, Robert saw Mickey jump to his feet and then stop dead. The trembling of his body was the only visible sign of his internal conflict.
Cameron Wolf nodded at Robert and Jimmy and then stepped over to where Mickey was waiting. "Your brother's resting now. I sedated him and spoke to him until he went to sleep."
"But how is he?" Mickey stepped closer to the doctor. "And keep the words simple."
Cameron put a reassuring hand on his shoulder and Robert was happy that Mickey had already built some trust in him. They had worked together before on some of his Equalizer cases.
"He's been though a traumatic experience, very much like the one he had when he was young."
"But he hasn't done anything wrong – right? He's been victimized, he didn't actually kill –?" Robert heard Mickey's voice roughen and falter and he readied himself to support or restrain his friend. He knew Mickey better than any man, but even he couldn't predict how Mickey would react at this moment.
Robert saw that the sincere expression on Cameron's dark brown face was able to calm Mickey down a couple of notches.
"Nick didn't confess anything specific to me, but he's the type of person to take responsibility for any wrongdoing. He's not sure what happened, from what he says he might have had an episode where he blacked out. He doesn’t remember much, but he knows he had sexual relations with the woman in the bed next to him and that when he woke up she was dead. Then he panicked and ran. Whatever else that occurred, he's now beating himself up for not doing anything to revive her or call an ambulance. He's sure he's responsible for her death."
"Jesus!" Mickey stepped back and dropped into the chair, letting his chin fall onto his chest.
Cameron stood by Mickey's side. "Look, he calmed down a lot after I gave him a shot. I got more soup into him, and we have him nice and warm. He's over the worst of the shock and he's getting some desperately needed rest."
"But we still don't know what happened – really." Mickey said.
"I think it would help if you went into the bedroom and sat with him. He might wake up from time to time and seeing you would reassure him. He loves and respects you."
Robert saw tears in Mickey's eyes as he looked up.
"He said that?"
Nodding, Cameron took his glasses off, wiped them on his handkerchief and said, "Yes, even as a priest, he turned to you for help first. Go on in and let him know you're there and caring for him. See if you can get him to open up and talk about what happened. It'll help him – a lot."
"Yeah, yeah," Mickey stood up and walked to the bedroom door. He stood for a moment as if gathering his strength then he went inside.
When the door had closed, Cameron looked towards Robert.
"I'm here as a favor to you, McCall, but if Nick has killed this woman, he's going to need help, more help than I can give him here. He's going to have to be hospitalized because there's no way that a man like him, with his present mindset about sin, and with his history of abuse attached to a previous death would be able to handle it." Cameron shrugged, "And if he is a murderer, I'm obliged to report him to the police."
"Aww no." Jimmy exhaled.
Robert nodded; he'd have to watch his wording here, so as not to outwardly lie to Cameron. He has been a good friend and helper. "I realize that, but you know me enough to realize that I'm not in the habit of giving anyone a free pass if they have broken the law. I have already called a contact of mine, Sergeant Shepard of the NYPD to discuss the details of this case with her. In fact I have an appointment with her within the hour."
Robert watched Jimmy's shoulders droop in despair as he turned away from him.
Cameron nodded. "Okay McCall, I know you don't let people get off easy, but you can't blame me for wondering. After all, I know how important Mickey is to you and, well, Nick is his brother.
"No insult taken, this setup might seem strange, but we are still investigating into the crime. When we have found out all there is to know, the right thing shall be done."
Cameron stared at Robert for a few wordless moments, as if trying to read him, and then he nodded again. "Fine, I'll leave this all to you. I trust you – always have." He turned and looked around. "Can I use your phone? I need to call my service and tell them I'll be late getting in today. I want to stick around until I'm sure Nick is stable."
"Of course," Robert pointed to the left, "there's a phone in the other bedroom if you like. And there's an attached bathroom, if you want to refresh yourself."
Cameron grinned, "Showing mutual trust, huh, McCall? Permitting me to call in private would reinforce my discretion, right?"
Robert chuckled, "Really Cameron, you must stop always thinking like a psychiatrist. I also trust you, and I always will. I simply assumed you'd like privacy when you called your office."
"Okay. Good enough. If you hear any disturbance from Nick's room, get me right away."
Cameron gave one more hard stare at Robert, shook his head and walked from the room.
Robert went to the closet and took out his coat. "I should be back within a couple of hours," he said to Jimmy. "Please keep an eye on Mickey. He's extremely upset. If he decides to do anything rash, try and talk him out of it, but contact me immediately. I'll be in the car."
"Wait, McCall," Jimmy said, turning around to face him, "I gotta ask, why did you call in Sergeant Shepard now?" Jimmy's face was etched with sadness, "Look McCall, I've been involved in other cases where it looked bad for your client, where the cops thought they was guilty of the crime. But you didn't call the cops in until your investigation was finished. Why're you calling them in so soon?"
Robert finished buttoning his coat. "Jimmy –,"
"Father Nick isn't a bad guy, if anything happened he didn't do it on purpose, he's done a lot of good and –,"
"No, McCall, I seen how Mickey acted with Nick. He loves the guy. He's his brother. How can you call in the cops already?"
Robert raised his hand to stop any further comments. "I told you that Jonah couldn't find any further information about the Farell woman's death because the detective hasn't filed any reports yet. I'm going to Alice for information, nothing else. I called and asked her to speak to the Brooklyn Detective in charge of the Farell affair. As a favor, she promised to get me the latest intelligence on the case."
Jimmy looked relieved, "She's not coming on board to arrest Nick?"
"I've told her nothing about Nick or his involvement. I've just told her that I have a client and I need some information. That's all."
"She bought that?"
Robert smiled as he walked to the door. "I promised her any pertinent information. And I meant it." He stopped and tucked in his scarf, "I never lie, you know that. But I have been known to bend the truth for a bit, until it can be unraveled safely. And in my own time."
He walked to the door and turned to Jimmy one last time. "Keep an eye on Mickey, I have a bad feeling about him. He's at his emotional limit and I'd prefer not to see what he will do if pushed over the edge."
With that, he left the safe-house.
In the bedroom, Mickey stood looking out of the arched window. The streets below were full of Christmas shoppers – he could see the brightly colored bags and packages. What sort of holiday was it going to be for Nick this year? His brother loved the Christmas services at the church and helping to serve dinner at the shelter for homeless people. Nick wouldn't be doing any of that this year. It was going to take Nick a long, long time to get over this – if he ever did.
Sitting around and waiting was one of Mickey's least favorite pastimes. At least when they were kids and Nick had problems there was someone to go and beat up as payback. Now the most likely cause of his brother's instability was already dead.
He sat down in a comfortable chair next to the bed and looked at his brother. One dim lamp had been left lit in the corner of the room so that Nick wouldn't be in the dark if he woke. Nick was curled in a fetal position on the near side of the double bed sleeping quietly, but the disordered bedclothes showed that it hadn't always been that way.
Reaching out, Mickey pulled the comforter up over Nick's shoulder.
Whether it was his touch or just coincidence, the movement seemed to set Nick off again. Slowly, but then with more violence he began to toss and turn, mumbling to himself all the while.
Mickey patted his shoulder, "It's okay, Nick. I'm here. Take it easy."
Lost in his nightmares, Nick didn't seem to hear and his restlessness increased. Mickey tried again, "Shh… It's okay, Nick. It's Mickey, I'm here and I'll take care of you."
When the moaning got even louder, he kicked off his shoes and climbed onto the bed, pulling Nick into his arms. As he comforted him, Mickey remembered that it had been a long, long time since he'd held another man like this. That last time had been in Nam…
There had been an attack on his ship and in the midst of the screams of the wounded he'd found his buddy, Ray, lying on the deck bleeding. Mickey had yelled for a medic, breathing a sigh of relief when one had arrived. But the medic had taken one look at the massive wound in Ray's guts, shaken his head and hurried off. Mickey had held onto Ray, telling him it was going to be okay, until the last bloody gasp had rattled out of this throat.
Mickey felt Nick's breathing rhythm change as he awoke. "Mickey?" Nick sounded like he had when they were kids, his voice high-pitched and childish.
"Yeah. I'm here." Mickey hugged his brother and rested his chin on top of Nick's head, noting that there was a lot less hair than there had once been. When they were young Nick wore his hair flowing and long. Mickey had always been on at him to get it cut because his blond hair had acted like a magnet for the school bullies. They thought of Nick as sensitive and weak, an easy target – up until they learned that he had an older brother who gave as good as he got.
"I've been bad again," Nick whimpered, "Will I get punished?"
His heart threatening to break, Mickey answered. "No, no. I'll look out for you like I always have."
Nick seemed to accept that, "Thank you. I love you, Mickey."
"I love you too, Nick." It was the truth, Nick was the one person alive on earth that he loved unconditionally.
Recalling what Cameron had suggested, Mickey asked, "Do you remember what happened?"
"No!" Nick started shaking, "All I know is that I did something terrible."
"Come on, Nick," he kept his voice calming, "Try to remember. I can't make it right if you don't tell me everything."
Nick seemed to think it over for a while. "I'm trying, but it's all so fuzzy."
"Just start at the beginning and take your time."
Nick turned and nestled deeper in Mickey's arms. He put his head on Mickey's chest but kept his eyes averted. "Amelia Farell called me. She lives…" Nick suddenly became rigid, "Oh God, she's dead… I killed her." Nick gulped out the words around dry sobs.
Mickey's stomach took a dive at the confession, but he managed to keep his calm. He couldn't believe that Nick had anything to do with the woman's death – it wasn't the way the universe worked. He was the one who lived with violence. Mickey spoke slowly. "Just tell me what happened."
"It was the morning I was supposed to go on retreat. Yesterday? Sweet Jesus, was it only yesterday?" Nick shuddered and Mickey hugged him tighter. "I'd been having problems with Amelia for some time."
"What sort of problems?"
Sounding more alert than he had earlier, Nick seemed embarrassed. "She'd become infatuated with me – for some reason. A few weeks ago she, she said that she loved me."
"What did you do?"
"What a priest in any parish would do. I told the other Fathers and I told my Bishop. From then on we made sure that I was never alone with her."
"Why didn't you tell her to get lost?" Mickey understood how seriously Nick took the church's teachings on celibacy.
"We couldn't do that. She had a problem with alcohol and she was a widow. We didn't want to alienate her from the church just when she needed the Lord's forgiveness and help more than ever. Father MacLauren took on her counseling." Nick's voice started to sound normal, still weak and frightened, but more like an adult's.
"So what happened yesterday?" Mickey prompted.
"I took a phone call from her in my office and she apologized for her actions toward me lately. She told me she saw that alcohol was the cause of her problems and she wanted to do something about it. Amelia asked me to pick her up at her apartment and accompany her to an AA meeting. She said that if I could forgive her for being such an annoyance, then she could forgive herself and turn over a new leaf. I explained that I was due to go away for a retreat and needed to catch my bus but she begged me. She asked me to share God's strength with her, so she could have the courage to turn away from drinking. She felt sure that the AA meetings would help her – this time." Nick's voice faded into silence for a moment.
"So you agreed to met her at her place?"
"What else could I do?" How could I, in good conscience, turn my back on anyone who wanted forgiveness and my help to place her feet upon the right path? I had to support her taking that first step. It was the right thing to do..."
Mickey waited for Nick to continue, he needed to hear the whole tale.
"When I got to her place she was still wearing her robe. She told me she was nervous about the meeting and couldn't decide what to wear. She treated me like a guest and thanked me for coming to help her. Then she went into the bathroom to dress and I waited next to her bed. It's a one room apartment and there was nowhere to sit."
Nick stopped talking. His breathing increased and then he started to tremble again, "I don't remember how it happened."
"How what happened?"
Nick buried his face in his hands, "God help me, Mickey, I can't remember much, but what I do remember – I can't tell you!"
Mickey pulled Nick's hands down from his face and held onto them. "You have to tell me, or I can't help you."
Nick looked up at him for a long time with tears streaming down his face and then he closed his eyes and bowed his head. He took a deep breath and gripped the comforter, twisting his hand into the padded folds. "I think my eyes were closed, I couldn't see anything. I was floating, my body was bathed in sensations that were so strong and filled with such pleasure… It felt so good – God help me – that for a moment I wondered if I'd died and gone to heaven! At first I couldn't hear anything except the sound of my blood pounding in my ears. But then, as things got clearer, I heard moaning. I couldn't tell where the noise was coming from at first," A look of pure disgust filled his face. "Then I realized they were coming from me!
"I tried hard to open my eyes and see where I was. Though it was fuzzy I saw Amelia was there with me. I could hardly make it out, but she was naked and lying beside me. She had her arms around me, but her face kept drifting away. Then I felt something hot and wet tugging on me… on my…"
Mickey closed his eyes for a moment. He felt sick. Why Nick? What on earth had his brother done to deserve this? "It's okay, Nick. I understand."
"But you don't! I've never felt such unbridled carnality before. I let her do that to me! My soul was lost! I abandoned myself to the base gratification of the act."
Nick was crying freely now and his hands were white and bloodless where he had tightly twisted them up into the comforter.
No wonder Nick was so upset. It was a repeat of all those years ago when old woman Polchow had abused him!
Mickey tried hard to keep his voice level. "What happened then?"
Nick took a deep shuddering breath, "I don't remember anything else until I woke up.
Mickey wanted to let Nick tell him in his own time, but the silence began to stretch out as his brother began to rock in his arms. He could hear Nick recite the rosary over and over.
"Nick, "Mickey said, hugging his brother and trying to keep his voice as neutral as possible, "Tell me what happened."
Shaking, Nick finally spoke. "I looked around the room, and she was on the bed too, naked. At first I thought she was sleeping. I was so scared. It was like a nightmare repeating itself."
Nick wiped some of his tears away with his hand. "I got up to run and that was when I realized that my pants and under shorts were down around my ankles. It looked like I was covered in blood! But then I saw that it was lipstick, blood red lipstick. I was crying so loudly, I was afraid that Amelia would wake up, but when she didn't move, I looked closer and then I realized that she was dead! Oh My Lord! " Nick began to weep again. "I killed her, I killed her! All I could think of was getting away and finding you. I got my pants up, threw my coat on, grabbed my overnight bag and ran."
Clasping the weeping Nick even tighter, Mickey tried to concentrate and be objective like McCall had taught him, but it wasn't easy. He still couldn't believe that his baby brother had brutalized and killed a woman. "How can you be sure of any of this, Nick? You just said that everything was fuzzy."
Nick shook his head, "I did it, what else could have happened? Poor Amelia was a small woman, a lonely widow with a drinking problem. I was the one with power in this situation. Don't you see? I've always known that I have to be more careful than most people…" He looked up toward the ceiling as if for strength, "because people who have been molested as children, have a higher likelihood of becoming abusers. That's what happened. Oh God, after all these years I succumbed to the evil that was planted deep inside me."
Mickey's heart felt like it was breaking. "Stop it Nick, you're not evil. You must be confused –,"
Nick didn't seem to hear him, "Maybe because it's around my birthday, the same time when it first happened – that I," suddenly he muffled a sob, "that I did this horrible thing. My birthday is usually hard for me. That's why I go on retreat every year at this time."
Mickey stared at his brother in surprise. Over all the years, Nick had never said anything to him about their birthday being a hard time for him. Never once.
"No Nick –," Mickey started to say.
"And maybe because she wasn't dressed when I got to her apartment, it did something to my mind, reminded me of Mrs. Polchow and I snapped." Nick gasped at the revelation. "Oh my Lord, we reenacted what Mrs. Polchow did to me! My God! All the tension I was feeling at the news reports of priests molesting children added with the memories of what had happened to me around my birthday, and then seeing Amelia half dressed and weak, all must have combined to shatter my sanity so I blacked out and then did… everything. No! Oh Jesus, help me," Nick placed his hands together and started to pray with an intensity Mickey had never seen before.
Mickey couldn't think of anything positive to say. He couldn't tell Nick everything was going to be all right because it wasn't. If only Nick wasn't so positive that he'd done it. He wasn't giving Mickey any room to doubt his guilt.
Mickey put his hand on his brother's arm and Nick looked up at him, his eyes shinning in the dim light, as if he had forgotten Mickey was there.
"Nick, tell me what you did next, after you left."
Nick used the palms of his hands to press on his eyes and wipe the tears off. "I walked around in the dark streets confused for hours. I thought about how good life was when Pop was still alive – before all the bad things happened. I remembered we'd all go on the carousel and how he'd sing to us. Then I had a terrible urge to hide somewhere where God wouldn't look for me but, somehow, I just knew that you would find me at the carousel. I called your house, I don't know how many times. I didn't know who else to call – who else could help me."
Mickey spoke automatically, but his mind was a whirl, "I'll help you, Nick. Like I always have. I know a place we can hide."
Nick looked alarmed, "Hide?"
"I know how to get us out of the country without being spotted. We can go somewhere in Europe. They'll never find us."
Nick shook his head, "No, Mickey! I don't want to run away anymore. I have to atone for my sins. If I don't, they will destroy me. I need to confess and then I'll give myself up to the police."
"Give yourself up? You can't do that! Jesus, Nick! If you manage to escape the needle, you'll go to jail for the rest of your life!"
"I know, but I have to do it. My conscience won't let me do otherwise."
Mickey felt himself begin to lose his temper; he'd always hated it when Nick got all righteous on him. "Nick, I know what it's like in jail. You wouldn't last a week."
Nick lowered his head. "It would be justice. I have do penance for my sins, Mickey."
"Penance?" Mickey started to seethe. "It's all a crock! For you, prison would be the worst hell you could ever imagine! Listen to me, Nick. We have to run!"
Nick's face was now set in distress "I'm sorry Mickey, I don't want to hurt you any more than I have. I love you and I know that you would do this for me, but I don't want you to. Please, I want you to help me make my confession and then I want you to take me to the police station." Nick turned to face him and took Mickey's hand in his own. "Give me your word that you won't mention running away again."
Frustration filled Mickey. What the fuck was he supposed to do now? Nick was an innocent – despite all that had happened in his life. The Nick he knew still looked for the best in people. Nick didn't know anything about the real world and it's cruelty. A murder rap would ensure a maximum security penitentiary and Nick would be someone's bitch within the hour. Nick had no idea what a bottomless pit of shit human beings really were.
"Promise me, Mickey. You have to. It will be the last thing I will ever ask of you."
As he looked at his brother's sweet face, his anger turned to grief. Mickey felt tears begin to burn his eyes, "Please don't ask me to help turn you in Nick, not when there are things I can do."
Nick pulled Mickey into his arms – now he was the strong one.
"Let it go, it's in God's hands now Mickey. It is what I have to do. My faith is the most important thing to me."
"No." Nick spoke calmly and Mickey knew he would never be able to change his mind.
Then Mickey knew what he needed to do to protect his brother from his own naivety. He would do it, no matter how hard. He had promised to look after Nick, and now he would. God knows he had enough blood on his conscience so a little more wouldn't make any difference. He figured he was going to hell anyway.
He'd make sure Nick wouldn't go through the torture of an arrest, trial or the hell that awaited him in prison. With love for his brother welling up and overflowing his heart, Mickey saw the way to protect Nick. He would kill him himself.
Whether he would be able to live with the knowledge of what he'd done would be something he'd have to find out.
"I need you to do something for me, Mickey."
Mickey froze. Had Nick read his mind? Did he know what he was thinking?
"Sure, Nick, anything you want."
"I want to make my confession to Bishop O'Toole. He's a good man and I respect him."
Almost shaking with relief, Mickey slid off the bed and stood beside it. "I don't think Robert or Cameron would let me take you to the bishop so how about I bring him here?"
That would fit in with his plans; he couldn't let Nick die without being in a state of grace. He might not believe in any of the Church's teachings anymore, but Nick did. And what he was doing now was for Nick's benefit, not his.
More peaceful than he had been all evening, Nick sank down into the bed once more, "That would be fine," his voice was slurred with exhaustion. He yawned, "Thank you for everything, Mickey. No one could ask for a better brother. I'll sleep until Bishop O'Toole gets here. I can rest now." He pulled the blanket up over his body and fell asleep right away.
Mickey looked at his little brother for a moment. A better brother! If he had been a better brother then none of this would have happened. If he had stopped Nick from going to Polchow's house so many years ago, the way he should have, then what he had to do now wouldn't be necessary.
He had failed Nick before. He wouldn't fail him now.
He rubbed at his eyes, Jesus he was tired. No matter, he could sleep later. When this was over…