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I want people to question what they've grown up with and what is deemed by society, or more specifically, their communities, as right. I grew up attending a private Catholic school, as well as a Luthern school, public schooling, and online schooling--I've been exposed to a wide range of ideas and want to convey that living narrow-minded or persuaded by tradition can be detrimental.
Stuffing her car keys into the back pocket of a reefer coat, Josie yanked its fabric over one shoulder. She stumbled over a “Welcome Home” mat and crashed against the front door. She flipped a tangle of wavy brown hair out of her eyes and reached into her pocket.
“Damn, I’m late.” she mumbled as she pulled out a phone. Shoving it into her purse, she reached for the handle. Stepping outside onto the permafrosted sidewalk leading to her SUV, she pivoted around on a pair of red heels, facing the door.
“Sorry, I can’t talk right now,” she muttered. “I was supposed to pick up Jake fifteen minutes ago.” She fumbled with a collection of keys, then locked the door and rushed past a burly figure. “Maybe we can catch up later.”
He chased after her, then leaned against the car’s bumper. “I missed you today,” he snickered.
Josie gripped the strap of her purse. Her knuckles went white. She could feel the beat of her heart speed and a zing, zing crinkle up and down her spine. Why was he here? Afraid, she threw her purse into the passenger seat, then paused and looked up at him. “God, I’m so sorry. Jake just started karate lessons.”
Up to his nose in a tight, black scarf, he slid his gloved palm on the collar of her shirt and murmured, “Don’t say God, Josie. It’s not that terrible. I was just hoping to see you today.”
“What are you doing?” Confused, she threw his hand off her shirt and hurried to the driver’s side of the car. As she began to pull its handle, he whirled in front of her and slammed it shut.
“You were supposed to come today.” He pushed his body closer. His leather-gloved hand pulled the scarf down to his neck and pressed his chapped lips against her ear.
“It’s required,” he hissed.
Gripping his arm around her waist, he jerked the keys out of her hand and hurled them into the moonlit street.
“Get off me. Get off me!” she shrieked. Her heart pounding, she smashed her heel through the foot of his leather shoe and jabbed the edge of her braclet into his neck. Collapsing against the pavement, he yanked a gun from his slacks and pulled the triggered. Missing Josie, the car’s tire went flat in a steady fizz.
A calico- coated border collie came trampling from behind the house. In a series of barks, she wrenched the gun away with her teeth and pounced on the man’s chest.
“Bella!” Josie gasped as she tore at the door’s handle. It wouldn’t open. Whimpering, she pulled up the hem of her skirt and darted down the street. In a tangle of teeth and fur, the man heaved Bella over his head and into a row of boxwood hedges. She clawed her way out and scampered after Josie. Grabbing the gun, the man drunkenly launched himself at the car’s window and shot it. A rainfall of glass shattered to ground. He put his fat arm through the opening, unlocked the door, and drove after them.
Tears fogging her vision, Josie urged herself to run forward. She could hear her heart throwing itself against her chest and felt the gulps of icy air pierce her lungs. Bella caught up with her. The dog looked up at her red face with crazed eyes and began whining.
“It...”, her upper body hinged forward, aching. “It’s going to be ok,” she rasped. The two were surrounded by the neighborhood’s thick forests. An occasional street lamp blurred past. I just have to make it to the gas station. The gas station. The...
With a sickening screech, she heard the rumble of a familiar SUV thunder behind her. The Shell’s welcoming, “Diesel: $2.47, Regular: $2.18” shimmered in the distance, illuminated by the nauseating headlights engulfing the road. Her heart dropped as she heard its engine stop and the pounding of footsteps get closer and closer and--
Josie felt a throbbing pain twist up and down her back as her knees slammed against a stream of gravel scattered along the street. A pool of dark red, velvety liquid swam beneath her. She heard Bella’s growls, the ripping of claws against fabric, and the man shriek. Their commotion reverberated inside her skull. Pressing her shaking hands against her head she rubbed her temples.
“Oh...my...god”, she whispered, looking at her palms. Smothered in blood, they began to blend into the background. Her eyes slowly clouded over. She rested her head on the frozen pavement, facing towards the man and watched as Bella shoved him to the ground and sunk her teeth into his neck. Taking a long, deep breath, her eyelids shut.
“So, let me get this straight...” a tall figure spun around in his leather chair and rests his mound of slicked black hair against a map of Oak Knoll, North Carolina pasted to the wall.
“You’re driving back from Oshira, where you bought some snacks for this week’s youth group, when you see Mrs. Williams lying near the side of the road at Northwest Avenue’s Shell gas station?”
“It’s quite the mouthful, isn’t it?” Father Lawrence chuckled.
The man across from him furrows his eyebrows. He repositions a paperweight labeled Detective Robert Thorpe.
“I’m sorry,” Father paused, “this most definitely is not a laughing matter--”
Interrupting him, the detective growled, “No, it isn’t.”
The priest ignored the blatant comment and continued, “Josie was an active member of the church. She was family,” he sighed, his droopy eyes glancing at the coffee stained floor. “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to murder her.” A long silence continued as the two gazed at the room’s faux wood paneling.
Clearing his throat, Detective Thorpe pushed his black- rimmed glasses up his tan nose saying, “Was there anything, or anyone, else that you could see?”
“Yes, I saw a car. The driver’s side window was broken?” Father Lawrence piped. “I didn’t see anything but the car and her.”
Detective Thorpe stared “No one running from the scene?”
Bing, bing, bing! The intercom hiding beneath a mess of papers interrupted the two. Crumbling them in his palm, Thorpe tossed an array of notes and documents on the floor. Scanning the machine with his finger, he furrowed his eyebrows.
“Ah there it is!” He pressed a bright red button.
“Detective, there’s a very upset child here to see you.” a squeaky voice sounded.”He--,” an odd rumbling came over the machine. The voice cried “No, no honey don’t go in there in yet. Not ye--.” A young boy, around eight or ten, hurtled through the door panicked. Tears and snot gushed down his sickening pale face. Studying his disarray of mis matched socks, soiled jacket, and tear-soaked T-shirt, Father Lawrence raised an eyebrow, then nervously fiddled with a pen. The boy rushed over to Thorpe, clutched his sleeve, and crumpled into a shaking ball.
Unsure, Father stuttered, “S-s-should, shouldn’t you be in school, Jake?”
Thorpe looked at the boy suffocating his leg, then to Father, “Are you serious, Father? The boy’s lost his mother, for godsake!”
Jake crawled up to the detective’s lap and un-wrinkled a photo.
“Bella’s gone too!” he wailed. “You have to find her. You have to!” He wrapped his arms around Thorpe’s neck, sobbing into his tie. Reaching for his leather jacket, he cloaked the shivering child and examined the photograph. It portrayed a beautiful brick home situated within a forest of pine trees. A long-haired border collie relaxed on the grass, grinning triumphantly while holding a frisbee between it’s shiny, white teeth.
“Gramma says she probably just accidently got out. B-b-but I bet that bad guy got em’,” he sniffled.
“Oh?” Detective Thorpe questioned.
“Jake’s grandmother has come to watch him, since…” the priest’s voice trailed off. “Since the incident,” he whispered, his plump body leaning forward .
“I see.” The detective gave an effort to smile at Jake. In an empathetic grin, he said, “It’s going to be okay, Jake. It will be just fine.” Jake pushed his runny nose deeper into the crease of Thorpe’s tie, sighing. He slowly turned towards the priest, “Father?”
Father Lawrence squinted behind his rimless glasses and grunted, “Hmm?”
“I miss my mommy.”
Father looked down at his hands, “Oh.” His eyes peered over his shoulder, “Sorry.”
The boy now sat fully facing the priest, “Will she go to heaven?”
Straightening himself out of the slouch he’d been sitting in, the priest let out an extensive sigh. In a more warm tone, he answered, “Of course she will Jake. All souls go to heaven.”
His clammy hand reached over and patted Jake’s head, “You’re mother’s soul was quite remarkable. There’s no doubt God will save her.” His left eye strained into a wink. His shoulders curved over again and relaxed into the cushiony leather chair.
Detective Thorpe’s head tilted to the side, his lips pursed, “Are you tired or something, Father? A slight vapor fogged at the edge of Father’s glasses, closest to his blackhead-ridden nose.
He twiddled with his pants leg, “I’m a bit tired.”
Almost too fast, the detective retorted, “You’ve acted odd today. Almost moody, or agitated.” He scrutinized a bead of sweat trickling down the man’s cheek. Father’s hands now twisted the pant leg’s fabric, smothering it in his palm.
Jake’s eyes lightened. He’d been chewing on the sleeve of his blue turtle neck, but unclenched his teeth and whipped his head towards Thorpe. Breaking Father’s silence, Jake exclaimed, “Maybe you could find some new clues, where, where…” Jake’s optimistic face met Father’s. He continued, “Where mommy’s soul went to heaven.”
Father smiled and nodded, “Of course he’ll do that, Jake. Of course he will."
The door of Thorpe’s Chevy creaked open on its rusty hinges. Exhausted from searching four hours for clues in the thick Sioux Forest, the detective slumped into the driver-side’s vinyl seat.
His weary eyes wandered towards the rear-view- mirror. A row of peony pink houses and a frost-covered field stared back at him. Thorpe watched lazily as a lonely brown blur shimmered in the field. Probably a rabbit. He was too tired to care-- he’d been up all night caking a seven foot map with an amalgam of pictures, records, and newspaper headlines. At 1 AM, he’d gone through four rolls of yarn and seven handfuls of tacks, in which he pierced into the layers of documents creating a spider web of leads. Ironically, they led nowhere.
It can’t be the gas station clerk; the camera’s showed him working. It’s not her sister; she was in Vermont. Hell, it’s not even Harry Thompson; he was in St. Jullian hours before the death.
Thorpe bent over the center console and shuffled through a mess of clothes, issues of Law Weekly, and old fast food packaging on his dashboard. He picked out a water bottle filled with day-old coffee. Looking back towards the mirror, Thorpe grimaced. His hair broke through the blanket of gel and now protruded in thick, mangled curls. Behind him, the brown blur suddenly became clearer. He gasped, feeling his breath stab his lungs with a sudden sting. The coffee mug spilled in a whoosh over his lap.
Unheeded, he choked,“Why, why, it can’t be!” Wrenching his head at the mirror’s reflection, then at the window behind him, he crawled between the two seats and towards the back window. His nose pressed against its cold glass.
“It is her! It’s the dog!”
Outside, Bella limped between two of the houses and down a sidewalk leading towards the gas station. Using her front two legs to heave her injured body forward, her hind legs buckled in a nauseating pattern across the concrete. Her fur was matted in dirt-ridden tufts, except for a patch of scabbed, bare skin that oozed, dripping down her fur as she violently shivered in the cold. Making a sudden stop, the dog teetered on three limbs, shaking in the vigorous wind. She faced Thorpe’s car, angling her ears towards the road following a stretch of houses. Thorpe turned his head, pressing his right cheek against the now foggy window. What is she doing? He tried to find what she was listening for, but the only movement was the crinkle of a plastic bag as it lashed through the air and tumbled down the pavement. Tearing into the breast pocket of his coffee-stained shirt, the detective heaved back into the front seat. He rolled down his window, feeling an icy gust hit his body.
Thorpe cooed, “Bella. Bellllllllaaaaaa.”
The dog didn’t budge. Not seeing any cars he shouted, “Come here doggie. Come on. It’s alright.” But, she just stared at him downcast. Her eyes were different; the skin below them sagged, revealing a strained, dark pink sclera-- much like the aftermath of a long cry. They were distant and seemed hazed over, as if she were somewhere else in a land he didn’t know about. Still gazing at him, Bella’s ears suddenly perked up. The hood of a silver BMW sped into view. Thundering up a steep hill, the car’s roar reverberated through the dense air, making his insides churn. Something suspicious about this car and Bella made him queasy. The vehicle’s wheels tore through the avenue faster and faster, belting as billows of exhaust, ice, and dirt jetted behind it. Milliseconds slipped away. The driver came into view behind the steady swoosh swoosh of black windshield wipers. Hunched over the seat belt she fiddled with her radio. Aloof to the stop sign ahead, she whipped through an intersection before the row of houses.
Thorpe projected his body forward. He stumbled over his oxford shoes falling hand first against the curb. Rising to his knees, he jerked his head upward and shrieked.
“BELLA NO. NOOOOOOO!” he exclaimed. Conscious of the coming car, Bella looked at the dark grey mass racing towards her. Ignoring Thorpe’s cries, she paced to the middle of the street and flattened her chest against its surface. Oh my god! Oh my god! That dog’s gonna kill herself! Still trying to find a station, the car’s speedometer ticked; 60 mph, 64 mph, 71, 79, 86. In a desperate attempt, Thorpe pushed himself off his now bruised knees and ripped pants legs and raced to Bella. His hands grasped her body, trying to lever her body towards the curb. She clawed the pavement and pressed harder against its cold surface. Finally lifting her up, Bella growled at him and leapt from his arms, using her hind legs to push him to the ground.
Flailing his arms, his booming voice hollered, “STOP, STOOOOOOPPPPP.” A deafening screech pierced the air. The girl slammed on her breaks, sending the car’s rear skidding towards the curb. Wheezing for air, the detective went cold. In a crush of broken bones and an ear splitting howl, the car crashed to a halt. The dog was dead.
The next minutes were foggy. The detective watched the girl pace back and forth. Crying, her hands wrung together as she weaved through the tangled fur, blood, and flesh scattered across the road. A large lump seemed to simmer in his throat, tears peeking beneath his pupils. Something distracted him from the gruesome scene. He looked down at his palm and unfurled his fingers. A patch of oily, dirt-ridden fur rested in his palm. Thropes eyebrows furrowed. Something was odd about it. He picked through each strand and found a strip of white fabric twisted in a patch of dried blood. Straining to keep his eyes from clouding over, he looked closer. The letter “L” was stitched into the cloth. Unfolding it, he found a small chunk of broken rock. What the hell? He recalled seeing a similar fabric in the pocket of--
“That’s it!” Realizing his suspicions were correct, Detective Thorpe rose to his feet.
Thirty minutes later, Thorpe sat in his car. His hand choked a cellphone as he forced it closer to his ear.
His jaw clenched as a raspy voice chuckled on the other end. A dry sounding man, whose vocal chords were injured from tobacco smoke, chortled, “Arrest the priest? Ha! Might put Smokey Bear in jail too, huh?” he paused, snickering. “Or Barney! How about you arrest Jesus himself?”
“I’m not saying we’re going to arrest him. All I’m asking for is back up. I’m going to try and find the rest of the cloth,” Thorpe hissed.
“What? Without a search warrant?”
“There’s not much time. Jake could be in danger.” He took a worried glance at Bella’s picture. “This whole town could be in danger.”
An odd glugging sound washed over the phone. Thorpe rolled his eyes knowing the sergeant must be swigging alcohol.
His thoughts were interrupted. “Lookie here, detective. I don’t believe you and even if I did, I don’t want this town rebelling against the police force for arresting a public figure.” Simon’s voice rasped.
“You’re supposed to be the deputy sergeant, Simon, not the perpetrator! I need you! ” Thorpe’s ears grew red. His car window began to steam as tiny drops of sweat ran down his forehead. “You know what?” Thorpe bit his lip. “If you won’t help me, then forget it. I’ll just do this myself!”
Thorpe slipped inside a towering brick church. A daunting, pitch black hallway enveloped his unadjusted eyes. He gulped, wishing to step back into the cool, frost-dusted air--wishing to hop into his car and drive home. Thorpe took a deep breath and patted the outside of his pockets. Reassured by the feel of his gun and cell phone, he wandered onto the hallway’s velvet carpet. Around eight doors came into a view. He could make out two voices talking from behind one. Using the wall to guide him, a dim light caught his eye, where it flickered beneath the fifth door. Thorpe’s fingers fumbled through his pocket and wrapped around the gun. His ear pressed against the door. Gasping, he threw both palms to the door. A familiar child’s voice whimpered. Jake?
He heard the boy’s muffled voice, “I’m just happy that mommy will have Bella to keep her company.”
Father Lawrence began to respond. He talked deeper, however, and harder to hear. Thorpe leaned even closer, so that his ear was like a suction cup to the wooden door.
He could make out the priest’s last words, “...dogs don’t go to heaven.”
Jake cried, “What? But, but…”
Setting his plan into action, Thorpe knocked on the door, “Uh, excuse me? Father?” A long silence presumed. He knocked again. A quiet rustle of papers sounded, followed by a rush of footsteps.
Father’s bellowed, “Why’d you go through the back door?”
“The front was locked,” the detective lied. Father’s face peeked through a gap in the doorway as it creaked open.
“Come in, detective. Jake is--,” the priest trailed off as the boy trudged over and tugged at his sleeve. Father looked down at him quizzically.
“You said mommy went to heaven.”
The priest exhaled and started talking to Thorpe again, “As I was sayin--”
“You said all souls go to heaven! Why not Bella’s?”
Thorpe was now inside Father’s office. His eyes fluttered past the mahogany wood walls and scanned a row of shelves and a flower-designed desk. They darted from its glass surface down to a drawer adorned with wooden roses. A white cloth jutted from the closed drawer’s opening. As to not look suspicious, Thorpe turned his attention back to Father Lawrence. His face was contorted in an irritated grimace.
“My dear boy, we follow the very wise St. Thomas. And, in his words, “animals are innocent creatures.” To be innocent is to be without sin and without sin, animals do not have the gift we have of choosing what’s right and what’s wrong. Possessing choice is possessing free will. Without free will, there is no soul. So, Bella did not have a soul and could in no way go to heaven. I’m sorry. You’ll just have to remember her for who she was on earth.” Father Lawrence sat at his Acme Vendome desk. The office around Detective Thorpe, Jake, and the priest was adorned with intricately designed shelves holding dusty hardback books and the communion chalice, pattern plate, and sacramental bread and wine. A light green chasuble and white alb hung in the corner, hovering over a pair of leather shoes. The priest sat beneath paintings of the 14 stations, while marking in a large book.
On the verge of tears, Jake frowned, “You mean-”. He sniffled. “Bella won’t go to heaven?” He tilted his head towards the ground tears dripping on to the green carpet.
Annoyed, Father rubbed his greasy forehead, up to his dandruff-sprinkled hair. “No, she won’t,” he mumbled coldly.
Jake’s shoulders shook as he let out a quiet sob. The detective scowled disapprovingly at Father’s answer and wrapped his arm around Jake’s shoulder.
Knowing he had to get Jake away from the priest, Thorpe asked, “May I have a word with you?”
The priest nodded. “Jake, go wait outside, OK?” The boy hugged Thorpe, then wandered to a bench outside the parish lobby.
“Father, you’ve been very distant from the community after I questioned you. Now, I attend church often and I’ve known you for years,” he looked at the fold in his shirt where Jake had just hugged him, “But recently you’ve been acting odd and the way you acted in here today was-”
“How did I act?” Father sneered.
“Very un-priestly. You were mean.”
“Un-priestly? Ha! Is that even a word? I was hoping the detective solving the biggest murder crime in Oak Knoll would have a wider vocabulary. Hmmm, pity.” The priest smirked.
Ignoring his rudeness, Thorpe pointed towards the door, “That boy had me take him here so you could comfort him. His mother’s only just been murdered. His dog’s only just been run over. And then you say some bullshit about how his caring, sweet Bella has no soul? What the hel-”
“Robert, I would hold your cursing tongue if I were you!” the priest flung from his chair.
Fuming, the detective’s face went red, “What is a soul to you anyway?” Thorpe’s slipped his hand into his back pocket and clutched his gun.
A slight smile etched into the priest’s pimple-ridden cheek, “The church believes it to be human free will and consciousness.”
“That dog had every ounce of free will in her when I called her to cross the road. She looked right at me and stayed. That dog was completely conscious when she committed suicide.” Thorpe slapped the desk in anger.
Furrowing his bushy eyebrows, Thorpe muttered, “Look, I don’t care about your beliefs, I just want you to comfort Jake. Tell him his dog will go to heaven.”
“That dog was a menace. It will hardly go to heaven!” Father laughed.
“How could you say such a thing?” Thorpe walked around the desk so nothing was between them. The priest inched off his chair and towards an ornate dresser.
The detective continued, “How would you know the dog’s personality? When would you have met her?”
Realizing his flaw, the priest’s eyes went wide. He clutched the edge of the dresser.
“Josie brought her to the church potluck,” he stuttered in fear.
Thorpe crossed his arms, he remembered that potluck. “No, no. She left him at home.”
In a swift motion, the priest swung open the dresser’s door, and wrenched a set of altar bells from its floor.
“What are you doing?” Thorpe exclaimed. Rushing to the priest, he tugged at his collar. Aghast by what he saw Thorpe fell against the desk. There, on Father Lawrence’s neck, were gaping holes in the pattern of teeth marks. Spewing dark orange pus and surrounded by purple bruises,he exclaimed, “What happened to your neck?”
Father paused. He set the bells in his lap and slowly turned towards the detective, “Just a little mishap.”
Thorpe glanced at the white cloth emerging from the dresser.
“I suppose beating dogs are just little mishaps to you too, huh?” the detective snarled.
“I haven’t the slightest idea what you mean.”
The detective recalled the piece of cloth he found in Bella’s fur; an image of the priest beating her with a pile of rocks tied inside the handkerchief hazed his mind.
Knowing his mistake, Father chucked the bells at Thorpe, Lawrence flew to his desk’s bottom drawer. As the bells hit Thorpe’s head, he collapsed behind the desk. Father Lawrence’s sweaty hands sifted through its contents- tissues, an assortment of plastic rosaries, and an advent calendar. Finally, he pulled his Glock 26 firearm from its handkerchief napkin. Knocked out from the bells, Thorpe rubbed his eyes open. His nostrils flared, angry from not arresting the priest earlier. In quick correlation, the two men both sprung from behind the separate sides of the table and pointed their weapons at one another.
Warry, Thorpe uttered, “Father, you don’t have to do this. Just drop the gun and we can work this out.”
Taking a ripped white handkerchief he’d found in the desk, the man wiped a coat of blood off the door knob. He stuffed it into his pocket, stepped over the dead body, then opened the door. Jake was sitting on the couch twiddling his fingers and listening to music on a CD player.
“Is he coming out too?” Jake asked, taking off his earphones.
“No he said he wanted to stay in there and work some.” the familiar face replied. “Well, I suppose I’ll take you home.” He then added, “I’m sorry about your dog.”
“Thanks. And alright, I’ll grab my coat.” Jake began to walk towards the parish front and tried reaching his coat from its tall hanger. Noticing his struggle(the boy was jumping and tearing the air) the man piped, “Here, I’ll help.” Grabbing it, he kneeled down and bundled it around Jake’s scrawny body.
The sun peeked through the thick fog and shone through the parish’s large glass windows, as they walked to the man’s car.
Before reaching it he asked, “Is your grandmother home?”
The man looked away in disappointment, then an idea came to mind. He looked back at Jake eagerly.
“I would very much like to meet her, “ he said-- his chapped lips smirking as he poked a plastic white band through the slits of his black clerical shirt.